The Lawyer

Lyn Robinson


 Adam stood watching the buggy out of sight taking Laura out of his life. As it vanished so did his strength and his legs would no longer support him. He would have fallen to the ground but his father was there to support him, as he had been all Adam’s life. Ben eased him back into the wheel chair and Adam buried his face in his hands.

Ben didn’t know what to say, his son’s comment that it was Laura’s marriage to Will not to him that had been under discussion, seemed to resound in his head. His son was always such a private man and now when Ben was sure he needed help, it was impossible it penetrate Adam’s reserve.

For now Ben concentrated on Adam’s physical state. Despite all Doc Martin’s hopeful prognosis, none of then had been sure that Adam would walk again after his horrific fall, until now. Now he had made it back to his feet, Ben wanted the best advice to ensure that his son didn’t over do things. He wheeled Adam back inside and poured him a coffee and a brandy, putting both within easy reach. Then he left his shaken son and went out to the bunkhouse to get one of the hands to take a message into Paul to get the Doc’s advice. Anyway he felt that Adam was best left alone for a while.

Will couldn’t face his cousin or his Uncle and sent word from Virginia City asking for Laura’s belongings to be packed and sent to town along with her daughter Peggy and Peggy’s possessions which had made their way to the Ponderosa over the last weeks. Will tried to write a letter to Adam but couldn’t find the words so he just wrote to his Uncle, trying to apologise for the harm he’d done and for leaving him in the lurch with the work around the ranch.

Ben read the stilted note and with Hop Sing’s help collected everything they could find. Peggy had been out on her pony and Ben managed to intercept her before she went inside. He couldn’t find the words to explain to the young girl and just told her that her mother had been called into town and wanted Peggy to join her there. Joe had just got back and he asked his youngest son to escort the child, promising to explain later.

Joe was very puzzled but knew his father too well to press for explanations now. He had seldom seen his father so drawn unless one of them was seriously ill and he couldn’t imagine what was wrong. Part way to town Joe was even more alarmed as he saw Doc’s buggy heading out to the ranch. He didn’t want to upset Peggy, who was already bewildered by the tensions she sensed, but he had to speak to Doc.

Paul Martin had known Joe all his life and knew what he was going to ask before Joe opened his mouth. “Take it easy Joe, nothing wrong. Your father sent word that Adam had made it back onto his feet. Just wanted me to check him out and advise on how to help him best now.”

Joe was totally taken aback by that. He would have expected his father to be delighted, they had all been so worried about Adam. However that wasn’t what he had seen on his father’s face. Still at least it was good news and the young man, who still hero-worshipped his older brother even if he’d never admit it, grinned broadly. “I knew it would take more than a fall to keep Adam down.”

“Just take it easy on him for a while yet, he’s still very weak.”

“Sure Doc. Anyway I must get Peggy into town. I’ll see you later” The two wagons passed and headed in opposite directions.

Joe found Laura at the International Hotel but she wasn’t in any mood to talk. Thanking him for bringing her things and especially her daughter, she abruptly took her leave of him. Joe wasn’t at all sure what was going on but it had been a long hot ride and he decided he had earnt a beer. He headed into the Bucket O’Blood and had just collected his beer and taken the first long drink when he noticed his cousin sitting in a corner. Puzzled Joe went over to him. he had thought that Will was out with Hoss at the herd.

Will looked up as his cousin pulled out a chair and swore under his breath. He had crossed swords with his youngest cousin before and Joe was the last person he wanted to see. Joe sat down sipping his beer “Didn’t expect to see you here?”

“I’ve already told your Pa, I can’t put off going to Frisco any longer. Adam’s a lot better and you can cope without me.”

“Going without saying goodbye?”

“Yeah well I’m sorry about that Joe. I left word with your Pa for you and Hoss but I need to head out now.”

Joe frowned seeing something in his cousin’s face but for once in his life, he didn’t push and as Will said goodbye, he let his cousin go.

At the house Adam tried to drink the brandy his father had left him but he couldn’t swallow. For now he felt numb and totally exhausted. He couldn’t believe what had happened since he got up this morning, couldn’t accept that Laura had gone, that Peggy had gone. He didn’t seem able to think at all, everything was whirling round him and it was hard even to breathe.

He had no idea how long he sat his head in his hands, when he felt his father’s hands on his shoulders. As he had so often Ben was lightly massaging the back of his neck trying to ease the tension he could feel in his son’s muscles. Slowly Adam lifted his head, the mask down to try and hide how he felt from the world. Ben bit his lip but for now he concentrated on his son’s physical state “Paul is here Son.”


“Adam you got back on your feet. I just want Paul to make sure you’ve done no harm and to advise us how best to help you now.”

Adam frowned but he knew how worried his father had been and for his sake he would submit to Doc’s ministrations. He did ask his father to take him up to the privacy of his own room and Ben wheeled the chair up the ramp that Hoss had built.

Once Adam was upstairs Ben went back down to try and fill Paul in before he saw his patient. Paul had known Ben a very long time and was taken aback at his sombre expression. “Did I get it wrong? Hank said that Adam had got back on his feet.”

“Yes he did.”

“Then what’s wrong? You should be delighted.”

“He forced himself to his feet to reassure Laura that he didn’t need her any longer, so she could leave with Will.” Ben couldn’t meet Paul’s gaze and he stared into the fire as he spoke.

“Dear God” breathed Paul “How is he?”

“You tell me, you’re the Doctor. I’d say he’s about in shock. He’s barely said a word.”

“Let me at least check his physical state. Whatever the reason, if he can make it back to his feet now he should make a full recovery. I suggest you have a large drink while I go and see your son and try not to worry.” Paul patted Ben on the back and then headed upstairs and went in to join Adam.

Adam had managed to propel himself over to the window and his whole attitude made it clear to Paul that he wanted to be left alone, but Paul was still determined to check his physical state. He mover over to Adam and lightly gripped his shoulder “How does your back feel Adam? And for once I would like a straight answer from one of the Cartwrights.”

Adam sighed heavily but he knew just how worried all his family were and for their sakes he would co-operate with Paul. “Alright Doc. My back is sore, aching more than a little.”

“Adam you walked earlier. I want you to do it again. Think you can?”

“Sure. I told Pa I’m fine no reason to bother you.”

Paul moved over to sit on Adam’s bed about six steps from the window. “Adam can you get to your feet and walk to me?”

Adam turned his chair and considered Paul for a moment, but he knew that Ben wasn’t the only one who needed the truth about his physical state. “Okay Doc.” He gripped the arms of the wheelchair and as he had earlier, levered himself to his feet. Doc could see the pain it cost Adam written all too clearly in the tightness of the muscles round his mouth and in his eyes, but the determination to do it alone was also written clear on his face. It was a real effort for Paul to sit still but he managed it as Adam slowly walked across the room to him. As soon as he could reach, Doc gripped Adam’s arms and helped him to the bed.

Adam sank onto it fighting hard to keep his breathing under control. Doc lifted his legs up for him. “How does your back feel now?”

Adam swallowed hard fighting for control “As though its on fire”

“Just try and relax, breathe deep.” Doc gently felt round the injury, hearing the sharp indrawn breath so eloquent of pain “Easy Adam, nearly finished.”

“I’m okay Doc.”

“You’re not but you will be. Just rest now”

“Doc I need to know.”

Doc sat down next to the bed, he had known Adam most of his life and knew him very well. “It’s going to take time but you will make a full recovery. You have to accept it will take time and the harder you push now the longer it will take.”

Adam lay still for a moment, knowing he could trust Paul and if Paul said he’d make a full recovery he would, but just what did he mean by a full recovery. Adam forced his aching body to turn to face Paul “You say time. How long before I can ride a horse?”

Paul hesitated but he couldn’t avoid Adam’s intense gaze “It will take time, at least six months, maybe much longer”

“Break horses?”

Paul shook his head “If you have any sense, never. There will always be a weakness.”

“So what do you mean by full recovery?”

“You’ll walk.”

“Not what’s needed to do my share round here.”

“Neither your father nor Hoss break horses and in time you’ll be able to ride.”

“Meanwhile they carry me as they have these last weeks.” Adam said bitterly.

Paul sat back “Adam, how often have you carried your brothers and this ranch over the years, without begrudging a minute of your time?”

Adam turned his head away and Paul knew he had crossed the line, relationships between the Cartwrights were nothing to do with outsiders.  Before he lost Adam totally Paul tried to make him understand that he must progress very slowly. He explained exactly what exercises he should be doing and warned him to limit his attempts to walk, no more than three short walks tomorrow, such as he had just done and always with someone there to ensure he didn’t fall.

Adam acknowledged the advice and Paul knew this member of the family was more realistic than most and would probably obey. Eventually he left Adam to rest and he went to reiterate his advice to Ben. He didn’t go into the long term prognoscis, leaving Adam to discuss that with his father in his own time.

When Doc had gone Ben went up to join his eldest son. at first Adam ignored his father but then he looked up “Where’s Peggy”

“Joe took her into town to Laura along with all their possessions.”

That seemed to shake Adam more than anything else that had happened that long day “How could he. Didn’t even give me a chance to say goodbye.” His voice broke and he buried his face in his hands. Ben just heard him whisper “I was going to be her father.”

Ben gripped his shoulders “Don’t blame Joe I asked him to do it. She’s only five she’s not old enough for this.”

Adam took that much in “Sorry”

“No need Son.” Ben poured out a brandy and tried to get Adam to drink it but Adam pushed it away. “I don’t want to get drunk. I just need some time to think. Need to be alone.”

“Alright Son. Just call if there’s anything you need.” Ben hated to just leave but Adam was a grown man and he had to find his own way through.

Adam was relieved to be left alone but he couldn’t think clearly. His back was on fire and he seemed to be thinking in circles. Finally his physical weakness released him into sleep.

Downstairs Ben insisted his younger sons ate their supper before he would discuss the day’s events. Joe had told his big brother as much as he knew but neither were sure what it meant. Eventually Ben moved over to his normal red chair by the fire taking the brandy with him and his sons were even more worried when he poured out three large brandies. He seemed to be having trouble knowing where to start and Hoss asked “Pa. I don’t understand. If Adam is back on his feet ain’t that good news?”

“Of course it is Son. Although Paul reckons it is still going to be quite a while before he can move freely even inside the house.” Ben forced a smile “Still he does think your brother will make a full recovery.”

Hoss grinned happily “Well I’ll sure drink to that.” but Joe had been watching his father and the smile didn’t reach Ben’s eyes “If that is the good news, just what is the bad?”

“Your brother’s marriage is off. Laura is going to marry Will”

That bald statement lost Joe all hold on his temper “That weasel!  I should have thrown him out when he first turned up here. So that’s why the sudden rush for Frisco.” His voice was rising and Ben put a hand on his arm “Keep your voice down Joseph. I do not want your brother disturbed.”

“I wish I had –“

“Enough Joseph. This is not your business.”

“But Pa -”

Hoss intervened “Pa’s right shortshanks. Adam don’t need us interfering.” He turned to his father “How is Adam?”

“Very shaken. I don’t know exactly what happened but he forced himself to his feet to show Laura that he didn’t need her and that she could leave with Will. He’s physically exhausted and I’m sure his back is painful. He has lost a prospective wife and daughter. At the moment he needs time alone to try and sort out his feelings.”

“She weren’t good enough for him.”

Ben smiled gently and took a sip of his brandy “I know how you feel Hoss but I shouldn’t say anything like that to your brother.”

“Yes Sir.”

Ben reached out and gripped his big son’s arm “Easy Hoss your brother is a very strong man. For now we must give him the time and space he needs. Be there to give physical support when he wants it. As to the rest, he knows he has our sympathy and our support but he’ll be better if we avoid actually saying anything. He’s still weak, let him lead in what he wants to talk about.”

Hoss and Joe nodded, promising to do as their father wished but they were glad to escape out to the barn, where they could vent their feelings about Will and Laura to each other without watching their language.

Ben checked on his son on his own way to bed and to his relief Adam was sleeping peacefully. It took Ben himself a long time to get to sleep. He wasn’t at all sure how Adam would take this, yet another romance going wrong. He’d seen his son retreat into himself and get more cynical as he lost his dream of wife and family again and again.

Adam awoke in the early hours and in the dark things slowly came clearer. He was honest enough to realise that he was more upset at losing Peggy than he was at losing Laura. He heard his father’s voice months earlier, asking him if he was more in love with the idea of his own Ponderosa than he was with Laura. He remembered equally clearly his own scathing comments about Laura’s first husband, who had only stayed because of the child, not loving her and hurting her badly.

It suddenly dawned on him that he had been planning to do exactly the same and would equally have hurt her. In the long dark hours before dawn he admitted to himself that he had known for weeks that he didn’t really love Laura, but he couldn’t go back on his word. He remembered all his plans and dreams for his perfect house, the children so clear and yet their mother was never more than a shadowy figure.

By daylight Adam overtired, was thoroughly depressed. He didn’t like himself very much at the moment and his family’s sympathy was the last thing he needed. He reacted as he always did, cutting himself off, trying to hide his feelings, the mask down even for those who knew him best.

Joe and Hoss were very quiet, unsure what to say hardly able to believe any girl would choose Will over their brother. Hoss could at least help his brother physically over the next days as Adam slowly forced his aching body to recover, to move, a little further each day.

For the first week he hardly left his room. Hop Sing tried to tempt him with his favourite foods but with little success. Ben had persuaded him not to lock the door, just in case he needed help but had to promise that none of them would come in uninvited. Knocks on the door were usually ignored or met with a brusque “I’m alright, just leave me alone.”

Just once Adam invited his youngest brother in to ask for his help. Joe couldn’t help worrying, his brother looked drawn and grey. Adam had lost a lot of weight and the dark circles under his eyes were testament to lack of sleep. For outsiders the mask might have worked but Joe had known Adam all his life and to him the pain was all too obvious. Joe bit back the concerned questions for once, he couldn’t make things worse. All he could do was to promise to do anything he could to help.

To his surprise Adam asked him to go and burn down the house that he had spent so much time building.

Joe couldn’t stop himself “Are you sure?”

“Yeah. Bloody silly place to build.”

When Joe returned to confirm it was gone Adam showed relief and that evening did at least let Hoss wheel him down for dinner, even if he only picked at his food.

Over the next two weeks, Adam slowly began to walk around more freely in the house, although needing Hoss’s help to handle the stairs. He took over all the paperwork and dutifully carried out all the exercises Doc had advised, but he still had far too much time on his hands. More and more often he heard Doc saying it might be six months before he could ride at all. He though of all the jobs he would normally be doing, now his family had to carry him. Even worse they were having to help him physically and he knew they were all worrying about him. Particularly his father, but Adam had seen the concern in his brothers’ eyes.

He couldn’t face months of being a burden and he couldn’t imagine asking another woman to share his life here. The dream he’d had of a wife and children here on the Ponderosa were somehow sullied by the way he had planned to treat Laura. He still needed a family of his own and maybe the only way to fulfil that need was to leave the Ponderosa. Torn by his desire for a wife and children and his love for his father, brothers and the very land of the Ponderosa, Adam found it very hard to think straight.

At first he felt it was running away but then he rationalised it. He was no use on the ranch for the foreseeable future but if he returned to his studies and qualified in law, the ranch always needed legal expertise. Increasingly so as the ranch expanded and they became more involved in the mines and other projects off the Ponderosa.

For two nights Adam hardly slept as he tried to think through this new idea, but eventually he made up his mind to see if it was a real possibility. That decision made he was at least relaxed enough to get some sleep as he laid his plans to explore the possibilities.

The next morning Adam joined his family for breakfast for the first time. After four hours sleep his back wasn’t too bad and he ate more than he had in weeks. To Ben’s surprise, when they got up to go Adam joined them. Ben hesitated as Adam got his hat “Just where are you going?”

“Only as far as the bunkhouse, I’d like to borrow young Liam to run some errands for me.”

“I can send him in.”

“He’ll be more at ease in the bunkhouse.”

“Are you sure, it’s a long way?” Ben could have kicked himself even as he spoke. Walks between the main house and the barn or bunkhouse had never struck any of them as long before.

Adam was remarkably patient, understanding the concern. “Pa I have to get out sometime.”

Ben’s plans at breakfast had entailed Joe heading for the breaking corrals, Hoss to the herd and himself to the lumber camp. He knew changing any of those would be a slap in the face for Adam but he couldn’t help worrying. Liam and Hop Sing were both too small to cope with his large son.

Adam knew his father very well and for the first time since Laura had left, he smiled and it actually reached his eyes “I know I’m still weak, but as long as I take it slow, I’ll be fine.”

Ben was so pleased to see Adam smile that he accepted his eldest son’s judgement. Hoss went to help his brother but Adam shook his head. ”Time I started coping on my own.” Reluctantly the other three did as he asked and went to the barn to get their horses ready. As they came out Adam had made it to the bunkhouse. He was shaken by just how painful it was to move on the rough ground. It took all his considerable acting ability to hide how he felt from his family and wave them off.

He was glad to sit down on one of the bunks and called Liam over. He had chosen the youngster deliberately because he knew Liam couldn’t even read his own name. However he was very reliable and could remember detailed instructions. Adam had already written out several letters and telegrams and he gave them to Liam with his instructions to get them all sent off. All replies were to be kept until Liam came and collected them. Adam didn’t want his family involved until he was sure what he wanted to do.

Once Liam left, Adam gave himself half an hour to rest before he attempted the walk back. Halfway Hop Sing came out to help steady him, ignoring Adam’s half- hearted protest. He helped Adam in and lifted his legs up onto the couch “Rest I’ll bring coffee”

With his back very painful Adam did exactly that. He was shaken by how much a short walk had taken out of him but all it meant was increased effort on exercises, he had to get fit enough to take care of himself,

An hour later Adam made it back to his room and pulled out the Latin and Greek books that he had used at Harvard. If his plans were to work he would need to revise and get back to the standard he had once achieved. Sitting quietly over the books and using his brain was ideal. That night for the first time he was mentally tired and slept well feeling rather better the next day.

Determined to get mobile Adam slowly walked over to the barn where his brothers were doing the inevitable chores. He had moved over to make a fuss of Sport before either noticed him. Then Hosss spotted him and moaned, grinning hugely “Dadburnit Adam you trying to give me a heart attack?”

“Sorry Hoss”

“Glad to see you on your feet.” Joe chimed in “About ready for your share of the chores?” He was only joking and was taken aback at the fleeting pain on his eldest brother’s face. “Hey Adam I’m just joking.”

“Sure Joe.” Adam turned back to his horse, needing the support as his legs threatened to give under him. Hoss and Joe noticed that and the brothers’ gaze met. Joe questioning should they do something, but Hoss shook his head. Adam would ask if he needed them.

Adam eased himself down onto a bale of hay to rest and chatted about his brothers’ plans for the day. He was going to miss them both and needed to store up memories. When they had finished, he accepted Hoss’ help back to the house for breakfast.

That set the pattern for the next month. Adam slowly extended his walks round the ranch and spent many hours revising. He had received encouraging answers to his original telegrams and Liam had been to town several times with follow up telegrams. Adam had enlisted the help of two of his professors from Harvard, and with his own record and wealth, he had gained a provisional offer. Now he had to discuss his plans with his family, firstly his father.  Before he did that he wanted to talk to Doc Martin. That meant going to town and he had yet to leave the ranch since his accident.

Hoss had to go in for supplies and at breakfast Adam announced his intention of joining his brother. Ben put his knife and fork down and considered his son. “Are you sure, it’s a long way to town?”

“If I’m tired I can get a room at the hotel and Doc’s there. I’m not a child Pa.”

“I know that son but it’s a father’s perogative to worry.”

“I’ll look after him Pa.” Hoss interjected

Adam allowed his anger to show “I’ve been looking after myself for a number of years in case you haven’t noticed. I’ll be fine.”

Ben knew his eldest son too well to carry on the discussion and Adam had seemed rather better over the last few days, so he’d leave Hoss to look after his brother, even though he knew he would worry until they were home.

Hoss helped his brother up onto the wagon and offered a cushion or blanket, but the look Adam gave him was sufficient answer and he headed out. Hoss took it slowly doing his best to avoid the ruts and holes.

Adam found it far more painful than he had expected but he did his best to hide his pain. Hoss knew him far to well and was all too aware of his brother’s problems but there was nothing he could do about it and knew Adam didn’t want any discussion. He dropped Adam off at the telegraph office as he asked, arranging to meet later. Hoss bit back the anxious words telling Adam to be careful, but it was written all over his face, and Adam gripped his arm a moment “I’m fine.”

The telegram Adam had been waiting for was there and Adam knew it was decision time. For now he slowly and carefully headed over to Doc Martin’s. He was pleased to find that Doc was in and that there were several people waiting. He sat down to await his turn, grateful for time to recover.

When Adam moved in to speak to Doc, Paul was amazed to se him, hardly able to believe he had made it into town. Adam moved in, rather stiffly, but seeming steady enough and not showing any sign of pain. Doc didn’t take too much notice of that he knew Adam very well and his ability to hide his feelings. “Well I’m delighted to see you in town. You’re recovering far faster than I expected to make it this far.”

“Not fast enough Doc.”

Paul questioned him carefully and checked the range of movement. Adam was truthful and admitted to the pain that he was in. At the end of the examination Paul was amazed that he had made town, still fit enough to walk around but puzzled “Why have you put yourself through this Adam? You knew I was coming out to the ranch in a few days to check you over.”

“I needed to know if I could.” Adam bit his lip, he’d have liked to go over to the window, look out hide, but wasn’t sure he could make it to his feet. “Paul I know I’m on the mend but I need to know the prognoscis. When will I be able to ride, help out on roundup, at the lumber camp?”

Paul considered his friend, he’d known Adam since his early teens, knew what a strong man he was, but also how hard he took not being able to carry his share. He owed Adam the truth and he gripped his shoulder feeling the tension “You are much better but it’s still going to be at least six months, probably a year.”

Adam nodded, it was what he had expected. “What about travel?”

Paul was thoroughly puzzled “What sort of travel?”

“Stagecoach, train, boat.”

Paul assumed Adam was thinking of going to San Francisco, maybe boat from Sacramento. He considered Adam carefully “I think you know as well as I do. It will be painful, particularly the stagecoach. I assume you came in on the buckboard?”

“Yeah Hoss drove me.”

“Hoss knows you as well as anyone, he’ll have taken the easiest possible path and taken it slow. You can reckon on it being two or three times as painful. You know how close to collapse you were on arriving. How much further are you talking about going?”

“Okay so it will be painful. I can cope with pain. Will I do anymore damage?”

“Probably not, depending on how far you overdo it.”

“Thanks Paul.”

“Your family has been worried quite enough about you, don’t do anything rash.”

“I know that Paul. Little though they may realise it, they are the most important thing to me. But I will not, can not be a burden to them.”

“You know none of them consider it like that.”

“Not now but in six months time? When I’m still a liability.”

“Not even then.”

“You’re probably right. I do know how generous they all are, but by then I won’t be fit to live with.” Adam eased himself to his feet “Leave me to tell them Paul.”

“Of course. Just don’t be too hard on yourself.” Adam smiled wryly and then slowly made his way over to the Bucket of Blood. The nearest saloon and where he had arranged to meet his brother.

Roy saw him and came over, delighted to see Adam back in town after his horrendous fall. He joined Adam in a beer and, as word spread, several more friends popped in to see him.

Hoss found his brother seemingly relaxed and happy, on his third beer and joined him for half an hour before they headed home.

Adam was very glad to get home and Hop Sing had a hot bath ready to ease his aching back. He had at least proved to himself that he could cope with the pain of travel and still be in control. That removed all but the final obstacle. Now he had to talk to his father and then his brothers, try to make them understand.

Adam barely closed his eyes that night as he prayed for the words to make them understand that he had to go; for himself and because he loved them. That it wasn’t any lack in them, in him maybe, but never in his family.

The next day was Saturday and Ben was leaving the afternoon free for Hoss and Joe,. With Adam ill they had been carrying a heavier than usual load. Joe suggested going fishing wanting to help Adam. His brother looked even more drawn this morning than he had for the last weeks and maybe if the four of them got away from the house for a few hours it would help.

Adam looked over at Joe smiling ruefully, he knew just why Joe was suggesting it and he didn’t want to turn his brother down, but he needed to talk to his father. “Can I take you up on that tomorrow Joe?”

“Well sure if you want. Take a picnic up after church”

“Sounds great little brother.”

“What do you want to do today?” Ben asked puzzled

“I was hoping you’d take me up to Marie’s grave Pa.” Ben was taken aback, it was the last thing he’d expected but he was quick to agree, seeing how important it was to his eldest son.

Hoss and Joe went out to the barn to get started on the morning’s work. Joe asked “What do you make of that?”

“Adam wants to talk to Pa about something, when he’s done it, he’ll tell us tomorrow.”

“I got that far big brother, but what is the big secret?”

“If’n we knew that, it wouldn’t be a secret.” Hoss said earnestly and earnt a punch from his little brother.

Ben tried to make the trip as easy s possible on his son, but Adam was lost in his thoughts and barely seemed to notice the jolting. It wasn’t that far up to the lake and Adam straightened his shoulders as Ben pulled up. He accepted his father’s help to get down and slowly moved over to his usual spot, the very ground seemed to welcome him. He stared out over the lake trying to fix every detail in his memory it might be a long time before he would see it again.

Ben hesitated but as his son seemed more content than he’d been for weeks. He left Adam in peace and went over to tidy Marie’s grave and ask for her help for their eldest son.

Adam was grateful for a few minutes to get his thoughts in order. Now he had his father alone he had to tell him his plans. Ben came slowly back over but Adam seemed glad to see him. Adam was pensive “The trees always seem a little straighter and taller here. Hoss once said that it seemed closer to God here. Funny my big brother always says he can’t find the words, yet so often he gets it exactly right.”

“Maybe because Hoss always speaks from the heart.”

“Guess so.”

Ben sat down next to his son “Its very beautiful today, so clear.”


Ben waited for his son to tell him what was troubling him but he was taken aback as Adam said “I went to see Doc in town.”

Ben showed his alarm, he’d thought Adam was making steady progress although aware he was having more pain than he would admit. Adam reached out to grip his father’s arm “Take it easy, nothing new. It’s just that my back is going to take a long time to recover. Doc reckons a minimum of six months before I can even do a gentle ride, probably a year before I could manage on roundup or up at the lumber camps.”

“You’ve been very ill Son. As long as it needs, your brothers and I can cope. You do a lot of work round the house anyway.”

“It’s not fair Pa and I don’t think I can live with that. I don’t want to be a burden.”

“You know none of us thinks of it that way.”

“Of course I do. You’re all too generous, but I do. I’ve had it for weeks now, you find me things to do, but anytime I want to move out of the house, I have to drag one of you with me. I make more work for all of you than I contribute. I can’t carry on like this.”

Ben felt cold and swallowed to get control of his voice before he asked rather hoarsely “What are you suggesting?”

“You know I have considered going East again. I think now is the right time to go. I’ve been lucky with various investments and I have enough money to keep myself.”

Ben had known in his heart what Adam was going to say but it didn’t make it any easier to hear. Adam could see his father was upset and he tried to reassure him “Pa I’m not talking about leaving for good. I can’t pull my weight here but life would be a lot easier if I was a qualified lawyer, so I thought I would use the time to go back to college.”

Ben tried to look at it from his son’s point of view, although his first instinct was to do all he could to stop him “I take it you have made some plans?”

“Yes I’ve been offered a place at Cambridge, they will accept my Latin and Greek passes from Harvard so that I can effectively miss out the first year.”


“In England.”

Ben was shocked “Why so far? It’s not even the same legal system.”

“The basics of jurisprudence are the same and I can complete the course at Harvard to get the final qualification here. I’d still have to pass the bar in Nevada.”

With dread Ben said “How long is the course?”

“Nominally five years but it won’t take that long.”

Ben got to his feet and walked nearer to the lake staring out unseeingly at it. He was not a young man and five years was too large a proportion of the years he had left. His eldest son had been his companion on the long journey west and his help and support over the years of building up the Ponderosa, his right hand man. He relied heavily on his son’s calm logical thinking as well as his expertise in so many areas. He had missed Adam so much when he went to college before, and had feared then that his son would not return, now that fear redoubled. He turned back to Adam “You still haven’t said why so far or even how you are going to get there.”

Adam fought back to his feet and turned his back on his father to look out over the lake. “I need to get right away – I miss Peggy and Laura.” He couldn’t explain any further but neither did he need to.

“It’s a long way Son and you’re not fit.”

“Most of it I can go by train or ship and the first part is stagecoach. I don’t imagine I’ll enjoy it much but I can cope. Doc says I won’t do any harm.” Adam turned back to face his father “Pa I’m sorry to leave you all, it’s not that I don’t love you or love this ranch but just now I need to get away.”

“When would you go?”

“Next Friday. I have booked my passage.”

Ben was shaken to find it was so soon but Adam was a man and had the right to make his own decisions, much as he would miss his son. He moved forward and gripped his son’s shoulders. “You have done so much to build this ranch and to help your brothers. We will all miss you but you’ve more than earnt the right to put yourself first for once, you’ve put everyone else first for a very long time.”

Adam smiled as he met his father’s gaze “Thank you Pa.”

Ben put his arm round his son and for once Adam gratefully accepted it and hugged his father so relieved at the way Ben had taken it. Ben asked “Do you want me to tell your brothers?”

“No I owe them too much. I have to do it myself, try to make them understand. Hoss will I think but Joe has the right to yell at me.”

“You may be underestimating your little brother, he’s grown up a lot in the last couple of years.”

“I know that Pa. If he hadn’t I wouldn’t be free to go, but I know he can help you now.”

“Maybe you need to tell him that.”

“I intend to.”

To Adam’s relief his brothers had already headed into town for the Saturday dance before they got home. Exhausted by the emotional stress of telling his father Adam forced down a little food and then headed for bed.

Ben found it far harder. He dreaded the idea of his son leaving in less than a week but he could remember advice from the Reverend many years ago. When Adam wanted to go to Harvard, the Reverend told him that to hold his son in the long term he had to let him go in the short term. He couldn’t help believing the same was true now. In the long term his brothers and the very land itself would prove too strong and Adam would have to come home. Ben headed up fairly early, not wanting to face questions from his sons.

In fact he did them an injustice, without even discussing it the brothers had headed to town early, not wanting to see their father or Adam. They were all too well aware Adam was talking to their father and both had suspicions they didn’t want to admit, maybe not even to themselves, about the topic under discussion. They would wait until the following day and let Adam tell them personally.

Hoss found it slightly easier to put it to one side and enjoy the dance with Bessie Sue. He had a great deal of trust in his eldest brother and was sure in the long term Adam would be there for him.

Joe couldn’t seem to settle, the girls he usually flirted with seemed shallow and boring. He remembered so clearly how he’d missed Adam when his eldest brother went to college. Now he dreaded what his brother was going to say. Every time he stopped dancing a different memory seemed to fill his mind. He could see his brother protecting him, hiding what he’d done from their father, rescuing him from trouble and then maybe yelling at him but always reliable, always there.

It was a very quiet breakfast for once but to their surprise Adam insisted on joining them for church. Hoss and Joe expected their father to protest but he just asked them to go and get the buckboard ready. Ben was concerned that it was a long way to town and back if Adam was then going up to the lake with his brothers, but it was insignificant compared to a journey to England via New York.

Adam was determined to see some of his old friends one more time and to build up the memories he’d need for the years ahead, He spent half an hour after church chatting with old friends he hadn’t seen for quite a while, reassuring them on his fitness. Trying very hard to hide his pain and move with something like his normal grace.

It was almost a relief when Ben came over and gently touched his arm “We ought to be getting back.”

“Sure Pa.” Adam had to accept his big brother’s help up onto the buckboard, but he was good at hiding his feelings and he wasn’t going to allow anything to interfere with his fishing trip. He had to talk to his brothers.

Ben would have loved to stop his eldest son but he knew Adam’s plans and his sons needed the time together. Joe did tentatively suggest they left it for another time, thinking Adam looked drawn and tired, but Adam was insistent that he was fine. Just to be on the safe side Hoss filled a hip flask with brandy in case it was needed.

Hoss took it as slow and steady as he could and for once Adam was willing to accept his brothers’ help over to the river. They settled themselves and for a while fished in near silence. Adam pulled in his second trout but made no attempt to rebait his line. Joe was the first to notice and looked at his brother “You want to call it a day?”

“I didn’t really come out here to fish.”

Hoss nodded “We sorta guessed that.”

Adam wasn’t surprised, his brothers knew him very well. “I need to talk to both of you but it’s just not easy.”

Hoss came over and gently gripped his shoulders “We ain’t gonna jump down your throat. Just tell us.”

“You may feel like it.” Adam murmured catching his youngest brother’s eye “Please just hear me out.” Hoss and Joe both nodded but Adam found it hard to go on. Eventually Joe said “Adam you’re scaring me.”

Adam reached out and gripped Joe’s arm “I’m sorry Joe” He sighed “First and most important, please believe me my decision has nothing to do with you. You two, Pa and this land are the most important things in my life and nothing can change that.”

Hoss and Joe looked at each other, although Adam rarely said anything, both knew how much their elder brother cared for them and felt responsible for them. Both knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that if the circumstances required it Adam would willingly give his life to save either of them Joe was about to say as much but Hoss shook his head.

Adam smiled ruefully not missing the byplay “The problem is I’m not going to be able to do anything round the ranch for quite a long while. Doc reckons my back is going to take time to recover.”

Joe couldn’t keep quiet at that “Hell Adam Doc’s always pessimistic and anyway you do a lot of paperwork, contracts and things.”

“It’s not enough Joe. I can’t live like that, just a burden to the rest of you.”

Hoss protested “You know we don’t feel like that.”

“Of course I do big brother.” Adam looked affectionately at his two brothers “I’ve know you all your lives and I know just how generous you both are. But that’s not really the point. It’s what I feel. You both know I have occasionally thought of travelling, now seems like a good time to do it.”

“You can’t!” Joe burst out “You’re not fit. You get sick miles away from us, then what?”

“I’m not ill Joe. Just very limited in what I can do. I can’t ride, but I’m only intending sitting on a coach, train, boat whatever.”

Hoss tried to smooth things over. Little though he wanted his brother to go “Well you’ve more than earnt a holiday Adam. You’ve always done more than your share round here.”

“I’m not exactly talking about a holiday Hoss.”

“Then what?”

“I’ve been thinking about studying law for some time. More and more of the things we get involved in need a qualified lawyer. Now seemed like a good time.”

Joe stared at him in horrified disbelief  “That could take years.”

“Joe, you’re grown up now. You can help Pa. I know he can rely on you, in a way he can’t rely on me for at least the next year and maybe longer.”

Joe barely seemed to listen to what Adam had said, he just stared at his brother and almost whispered “How long?”

“I’m not sure. They will take my Harvard degree into account, at least the Latin and Greek so I can effectively miss the first year and I expect to be able to combine some of the second and third year courses to graduate faster.”

Joe asked again “How long?”

“Nominally five year but it would be a maximum of four. I don’t expect it to be that long.”

“Four years away from us back in Boston and you’d only be able to come back a couple of times, even now it takes so long.” Joe protested bitterly “How can you Adam? How can you think of doing that to Pa?”

Adam looked away from his little brother, up at the mountains “It’s not exactly in Boston Joe. I’m going to England, to Cambridge.”

Joe glared at him and then got up and walked off so furious with his brother, he didn’t trust himself, not wanting to say something he would regret.

Adam wasn’t surprised but just hoped his brother would come back. He tunred to Hoss “Well? You’ve not had much to say.”

“Guess not. It’s all fixed ain’t it? When do you go?”

“On Friday.”

Hoss hadn’t been expecting that and he knelt down and put his arms round Adam and hugged him “I’m sure gonna miss you.”

Adam lent his aching head on Hoss’ shoulder, glad of his big brother’s warmth and strength. “That’s going to be mutual Hoss but I’ve got to get away, not just my back, it’s ...” Adam’s voice trailed off but Hoss knew he was thinking of Peggy and Laura. Hoss didn’t even realise the order he had put them in, but he did know his brother very well.

“You do what you need to Adam but you make real sure that you write regular and you come back when you’re ready. I’ll look after Pa and Joe and this ranch.”

“You don’t have to tell me that Hoss. I’ve been relying on you for many years.”

“You sure you’re fit enough to go this soon?”

“I’ll be fine I promise. I’m only going to be sitting.”

“You were very tired by a trip to town and I was taking it easy.”

“I’m not fooling myself Hoss. I know I won’t enjoy the stagecoach but it’ll be easier on the train. I won’t do any harm I have checked with Doc. If I’m to make the beginning of term I must go now.”

Hoss nodded “Okay. Look you rest for a bit, I’ll go find our little brother.” Hoss had just got to his feet when Joe’s voice came from behind them “No need I’m here.”

Joe hadn’t gone very far and had overheard his brothers’ conversation. He was very pensive “You really going on Friday?”

Adam could only nod “I have to.”

“Like Hoss I really will miss you, but its your life. Guess you’re entitled to do what you want.”

“I have to get away Joe. I’m sorry.”

Joe helped his brother up and gave him a hug “No need to be sorry. Just promise you’ll come back when you’re ready.”

“You have my word. In time I will, I just don’t know how long it will be.”

“Never seems quite right around here without you bossing me around big brother, so you make sure you come back.”

Adam pulled his little brother close “That I will Joe. But I don’t reckon you need me bossing you around now, reckon you’re full grown.”

Joe swallowed hard to ensure his voice was under control “Never thought I’d get you to admit that Adam and in front of a witness too.”

Adam could only try to force a grin, close to tears himself. Hoss recognised how emotional both his brothers were and knew Adam wasn’t strong enough for it, so he intervened “Bout time we got back or we’re gonna be late for supper and Hop Sing’ll be chucking it out.”

The next few days were very hard on all four Cartwrights. Each tried to carry on normally, but as Adam slowly collected the few things he was taking with him, his planned departure loomed large in all their thoughts.

Adam had never found it easy to reveal his feelings but he was driven to try and tell each of his family just how much they meant to him and how much he was going to miss them. He sought time with each away from the others.

Hoss was by far the easiest, words not really needed between the brothers. Hoss accepted Adam’s  plans, confident that his brother would return to the family and the land that he loved. Adam was more grateful for his big brother’s calm acceptance than he could ever say. He spent time with Hoss but it was practical matters, the care of Sport, the next areas for logging, support for their father that filled their conversation. Hoss found himself studying his brother’s every move scared he wasn’t fit enough for the long journey. Adam studied his brother equally intently , trying to impress his brother’s face and every inflection in his memory.

Adam made the most of every minute he could with his father. Since he was a baby, his father had been the keystone on which he’d built his life. From the early years when the two of them walked west across a continent to the long years they had worked together to build the Ponderosa and to make a good life for Hoss and Joe. Adam knew that no-one in the world could read him better than his father and he was sure that Ben knew exactly why he had to leave. It was unspoken between them but Adam kept hearing his father’s question “Was he more in love with the idea of his own Ponderosa or with Laura?”

Ben was storing up every memory he could, dreading his son going but knowing that the only way he could hope to keep Adam in his life was to give him the freedom to do as he wanted. Ben was sure that it was the disastrous outcome of his engagement rather than his physical injuries that was leading to Adam’s decision. It didn’t help, he still couldn’t find any way to dissuade his son.

Adam was only too aware he was hurting his father and he didn’t want to, but all his life he had dreamt of the fulfilment Ben had found three times, with each of his wives. As various affairs went wrong it got harder and harder, he’d begun to fear there was some lack in him. By his age his father had married twice and had two sons. This time was different, he felt as though he had sullied all his dreams. He had planned to carry on and marry Laura knowing he didn’t love her, exactly the same as her first husband. Everywhere he looked round the ranch there were memories of love’s that had gone wrong. He couldn’t offer this to any other woman but he still needed a wife and children. Maybe somewhere else he could fulfil that need.

In time his father would accept what he was doing, all Ben had ever wanted was for his sons to be happy. Adam knew his father would never doubt the love he had from his eldest son, anymore than Adam could doubt his father’s love, even though it was seldom explicitly spoken or even shown to outsiders.

Adam was far more concerned about his little brother. He knew it had taken a long time for Joe to forgive him and get back to their old relationship after his time at Harvard. Joe had seen it as desertion by his older brother and although much older now, Adam wasn’t sure his feelings had changed very much.

Adam tried to find time to speak to Joe but after their time at the lake, Joe seemed to be avoiding him. It was easy for Joe to do with Adam unable to move freely or ride.

On Wednesday night Adam waited for his brother to come in and go to his room and then went over to join him. It was nearly midnight and Joe was brusque “It’s late and I’m tired, can’t this wait?”

“Not really Joe. I only have tonight and tomorrow.”

“Whose choice is that?” Joe said bitterly, turning away to look out of the window.

“Please Joe I don’t want to argue.”

“What do you want Adam? I thought we said everything up at the lake. I told you it’s your life, do what you want.”

“I don’t want to leave with any ill feeling between us.”

“Have you thought what you’re doing to Pa? He’s not getting any younger.”

“He’s not that old, I will be back and I’ll keep in close touch.”

“It’s not the same.”

“I know that Joe but I need to get away, not stay here as a burden.”

Joe whirled round and glared at his brother “Hell Adam, lie to yourself if you must but don’t lie to me. You’re recovering and you do plenty round here. You aren’t a burden and you know it.”

Adam moved stiffly over to stand next to his brother “I don’t know Joe maybe it is an excuse, but I am very limited in what I can do. You should understand how frustrating it is.”

For the first time Joe relaxed a little, aware of his brother’s pain. He moved close and put his arm round Adam’s shoulders “Don’t take no notice of me I just know how much I’m gonna miss you.”
            “Joe, that’s mutual. When I left before you were a child and I know you resented me going but now you’re grown. I’m relying on you to help Pa and Hoss and I hope, in time, to allow me to come back as your friend, as well as your brother.”

Adam turned and the brother’s gaze locked for a long minute and then Adam pulled his little brother close and hugged him. He couldn’t put into words just how much his little brother meant to him but in that moment Joe knew exactly how he felt.

Joe swallowed hard to ensure control of his voice “Adam you’ll always be my brother and always welcome.”

On Thursday night none of the Cartwrights could sleep. Ben heard someone moving around in the early hours and went down to investigate. He found his eldest son staring at the map of the ranch behind the desk. “You should be getting some rest Son, it will be a long day tomorrow.”

Adam turned slowly “I can sleep on the stagecoach and the train. You’re the one who will be doing a full day’s work.”

Ben moved over to grip his shoulder’s “Okay so neither of us can sleep. Do you want a drink?”

“Sounds good Pa.” Adam moved over to put some more wood on the fire. He had been trying to make sure everything in his home was impressed in his memory but the most important were his family, especially his father and he was grateful for the company.

Ben poured two brandies “You will write as you go, just to let me know that you’re alright?”

“I have given you my word Pa.”

“If you should be ill, promise to let me know, one of us can come.”

“Pa, I’m not ill just restricted in what I can do.”

“I know son, but I also know you’re still in considerable pain.”

Adam wouldn’t meet his father’s gaze but neither could he deny the pain “If it makes you feel better, I promise to send word if I need help.”

Ben relaxed a little and they sat in a companionable silence, too much on their minds that couldn’t be put into words, knowing nothing was going to change.

Adam found himself holding an imaginary conversation with his father. So many questions he couldn’t answer and would dearly have loved to ask, but he had no intention of upsetting his father more than he already had.

Ben watched his son seeing the changing expressions on his face, although to an outsider Adam would often seem to wear a mask, it was never proof against his father,

Adam stared into the fire “What’s wrong with me Pa? By my age you had found two women willing to share your life and you had two sons, since then you found another. I can get women to go with, even to bed, very easily but that last step. The commitment. Is it me? They run or I do and yet I want children so much. Could I be half the father you have been? You were right I didn’t love Laura not the way I should have. I guess I loved Peggy more. You warned me. Ruined all my dreams. I have to try and build it elsewhere. I love you Pa, why can’t I tell you or my brothers? But it’s not enough Pa, it’s just not enough.”

Adam looked up to see his father watching him, but he couldn’t find the words to explain. Ben smiled “Adam you are my eldest son, we shared things when you were young and nothing can ever change that. I love you very much and you have spent so much of your life helping to build my dream. Now you need time to build your own. Wherever that takes you and whether you come back here or not, can’t change the way I feel, or your brothers. All any of us want is for you to be happy and at the moment that isn’t happening here.”

“Pa, I   - “

Ben shook his head “No need to say anything Adam. I’m going to try and get some rest. Try and get some yourself.” Ben headed up to his room, he’d guessed more than Adam would have wanted about the thoughts going through his son’s mind. He knew Adam found it hard to open himself up to anyone. His son has lost too much at a young age, had to grow up too fast, left alone so much as a very young child, always hiding his needs to help his father, responsible for his brother when only a child himself. He had shut himself in, if he didn’t care he couldn’t get hurt and yet Ben knew just what a sensitive caring man his eldest son was, when anyone got past the shell he hid in. Ben was convinced that someday his son would meet a woman, who wouldn’t just penetrate the shell but tear it away. Too many women had been attracted by his son’s charm and good looks, some by the money, but none of them had really got to know him. Maybe somewhere away from the ranch it would be easier. He prayed that his son would find happiness, even if that meant he never returned to the Ponderosa.

Joe had heard voices but stayed in his room guessing his father needed time with Adam but he couldn’t sleep and came down early for breakfast. Hoss was already there, looking tired and drawn. The day he had been dreading had arrived and for once he wasn’t interested in food and barely touched the plate Hop Sing put in front of him.

Adam moved stiffly down, praying he could keep control over the next hours, now he has got so close, he just wanted to make the break. He poured some coffee, pleasantly surprised to find his hand steady.

Hop Sing bustled in “You eat, long journey, you eat.

“I’m not very hungry”

“Number one son need food, you eat and take basket with you.” Hop Sing put the plate down and Adam could see that his family weren’t the only ones who would miss him. Adam forced a smile “Thank you Hop Sing I will really miss your cooking.” He forced himself to eat at least he didn’t have to talk while he had a mouthful. There was so much he wanted to say but he didn’t know how.

As he sipped his coffee Adam met his father’s gaze and suddenly he felt more at ease. He could see understanding in his father’s eyes and he knew that all the things he wanted to say weren’t necessary. his father knew how he felt and as he looked at his brothers he was confident they knew too.

Adam managed an easy smile, actually reaching his eyes and showing his dimples. “I really will miss you, all three of you and Hop Sing to say nothing of the ranch. I hope you all know how much you matter to me. And how much it means to know that I can leave, do what I need to and come home.”

There was absolute silence as he spoke and for each man it was as though Adam had made a promise to come back. Until that moment each had had an unspoken fear that he would never return. Even Adam had been unsure but in that moment, he knew that his heart was here with his family and with the land. Whatever the future held he would have to come back he was bound to this land. He had found that in Boston but when he came home he was still drawn away to the East remembering all the things he was missing. Now ten years older he was going to leave again by his own choice but he couldn’t build his whole life somewhere in a foreign country, away from all he loved. In time he would return.

As the four headed for town with Hoss and Adam on the buckboard, Ben and Joe riding close beside them, the four talked far more easily than any of them had expected, almost teasing Adam about his trip and all the culture he’d get. Joe pronounced his bossy brother would be unbearable when he came home after exposure to Europe. They dared Adam not to keep them up to date with his activities weekly letters demanded by his brothers and Adam willingly promised that, as long as someone replied. He could remember just how vital letters from home had been while he was in Boston.

All too soon Virginia City came into view and with the parting getting ever closer all fell quiet. Hoss seemed to have trouble keeping the horses moving, as they slowed to a walk. Even so they had time for a beer before the stage was ready to go. None of them were prepared to show emotion in town in front of strangers and everything had already been said. Adam couldn’t put his feelings into words but he gripped both his brother’s shoulders and caressed their necks, gentle gestures that told the recipients exactly how he felt. A quick hug for his father and Adam eased himself up onto the stage. Even then Roy and Doc Martin came to shake his hand and wish him all the best. Adam, fighting for control, was very grateful when the stage moved out.

The three Cartwrights left behind stood almost like statues watching the stage leave. Ass soon as it was out of sight Joe turned and moved swiftly over to Cochise and left town at the run, just wanting to be alone. Almost until the last minute Joe had been praying something would happen to change his brother’s mind. It was only in the last couple of days he had finally realised Adam was actually going to go. Joe often argued with his bossy eldest brother but he had always relied on Adam. So often over the years Adam had extricated him from trouble, sometimes lecturing him or even tanning his hide when he was younger but always there to protect him from the outside world and even sometimes from their father. Now Adam was gone and one of Joe’s bulwarks against the world wasn’t there and Joe needed time to come to terms with it.

Hoss realised even better than Joe just how much he was going to miss his older brother. It had been very hard when Adam went to Boston years earlier, now it was even harder. Hoss had lots of casual friends but only two really close ones, his brothers, they had always been more than enough for him. He had relied heavily on his brother’s quick intelligence and logic to find the way out of problems and to explain things in terms that the rest of them could understand. Adam so often planned the way forward to deliver what their Pa or his brothers wanted.

Hoss was shy with outsiders worried by his large size and he’d always depended on his brothers, Now Adam was gone. After this morning he was confident that in time his brother was coming back but that didn’t help, not now when he could be facing four or five years without him. Hoss watched the stage out of sight and then turned and headed into the Bucket O’Blood. He bought himself a bottle and moved over into a corner. The expression on his face was enough to keep everyone away. This wasn’t the genial giant they were used to seeing. Hoss drank more than two bottles trying for the first time in his life to lose himself by getting drunk, but it didn’t help. All he could see was that empty place at table, that empty room that meant his brother was gone.

Ben had seen what his son was doing and he could understand why, although sure it wouldn’t work. In many ways he would have liked to join Hoss but it couldn’t help. In many ways it was hardest for him. He never thought of himself as old, but there was no doubt that five years could be a large proportion of his remaining years. Adam had been his companion ever since he was a baby and of recent years his right hand on the ranch. He had come to rely on Adam so heavily, often taking his son’s judgement above his own, based as it was on clear thinking, intelligence and good general knowledge.

Ben retreated into a shell refusing to discuss his feelings even with such good friends as Roy and Paul Martin. He busied himself on some mundane banking and checked his stock holdings as he waited until Hoss was ready to go home. He needed to make sure that his big son got there safely.

On the stage Adam stared out of the window, no more aware of the view than he was of the other people on the stage. He fought to keep control and hide his feelings, lost in memories of his family, and wondering whether he was doing the right thing. Even the pain in his back barely registered until the stage hit some rough track, where the road had partially washed away. Then Doc Martin’s warning, that he would find the journey hard and put himself through unnecessary pain, proved all too accurate. Adam could only bite down and endure and pray that Paul was equally accurate when he said that he wouldn’t do any real damage to his back.

There were three other passengers, a drummer and a middle aged couple, who ran one of the local stores. They were on their way to visit their daughter in Reno for the imminent arrival of their first grandchild. Adam knew Mr and Mrs Davies vaguely, they usually came to big parties at the Ponderosa or he met them at church. Mrs Davies had been watching the younger man, she knew from gossip round town that he wasn’t long back on his feet after a horrendous fall. As Adam got paler and paler she became more concerned and when she heard a sharp indrawn breath, so eloquent of pain, she reached over and patted his arm “Are you alright Adam? Do you need us to stop the stage?”

Adam swallowed hard but he looked up and forced a smile “Just a mite sore, nothing really wrong. Thanks anyway Mrs Davies.”

She looked unconvinced but Adam had always been the least approachable of the Cartwrights, especially when he retreated into his shell as he did now.

It seemed to take an age to get to Reno but at last they arrived. The driver Pete was an old friend of Adam’s and poking his head in to help Mrs Davies down, he said “Stay put Adam. I’ll drive you over to the train station once the others are away.”

“Thanks Pete.”

Adam was relieved to get some help and Pete carried all the luggage in and got it booked through. He tried to thank his friend but Pete shrugged it off, it was nothing compared to the help Adam had given him over the years. He grinned at Adam “You just make sure you get your butt back here before too long. Got a lot of friends gonna miss you.”

Adam shook hands with his friend and went to find his berth on the train. He had known he was pushing his luck in travelling so far so soon and he had booked a first class carriage with a sleeping berth and restaurant car. He was able to lie down on the bed and ease his back as he waited for a train to leave, but he had never felt further from sleep.

He couldn’t stop himself thinking round in circles, thinking of the friends and particularly the family he’d left behind, knowing he was hurting them and yet unable to stay. Wanting a wife and children and yet feeling that he had desecrated that dream by what he had planned to do to Laura. It wasn’t losing her so much, although that had hit his pride hard, but in the weeks since, he’d had time to realise that he was no better than her first husband. Like Frank he had stayed for Peggy and the prospect of children, fooling himself into believing it was love. Maybe somewhere far away he could rebuild his dream, find his own family, but if he did he knew he might never be able to return to the Ponderosa. Torn in two by his conflicting needs Adam changed his mind a thousand times over the long journey to New York. So often he was on the verge of getting off at the next stop and going back but always the knowledge that he could do little round the ranch tipped the balance.

He slept little and ate less, reaching New York feeling weak and ill again. His back had been continually aching from the movement of the train and his legs barely seemed to support him as he left the train. He had two days before his ship left for England and he spent time writing to each of his family, even Will, trying to make it clear how much they mattered to him and reassure them that he was alright. He even went to an opera but when he came back out he could barely remember the composer.

He felt as though he was moving through a fog, far removed from everyone and yet there was a certain peace from the fact that none knew him. When he went on board the ship it was as though he’d finally decided what to do, the die was cast. The first night out he slept right through dreamlessly, for the first time in weeks.

There was a certain excitement in being aboard an ocean going ship and Adam remembered so many of the stories his father had told him when he was a child. He had loved to hear about his father acting first mate for his grandfather Abel Stoddart. Now on a similar, if more up to date ship, Adam felt closer to his father than he had since leaving the ranch.

Adam was also intrigued as an engineer by the workings of the engines and he soon made friends with the crew. Between his time with them and the revision he still needed to do, the time moved much more swiftly than on the train. The sea was calm and the movement of the ship, such as it was, didn’t bother him, so his back began to feel a little easier.

For once Adam could have matched his little brother’s volatility as his mood swung from one extreme to another. Homesickness vying with excitement as he faced the future alone in a different continent.

At the ranch his family slowly won through to acceptance of his absence. In some ways it wasn’t that unusual, Adam had always taken on a lot of the travelling required for ranch business, but normally he was only gone for a few weeks at most. Now he was going to be away for years. It wasn’t the first time and when he went to Harvard Ben had had to face the fear that his son might not want to return,. This time that fear was far stronger and Ben knew his sons shared it even if none of them would put it in to words, as though that would make it more real. The certainty they had felt that last morning eroded quite quickly when faced with the empty chair at table every day.

Joe, rather to his father’s surprise, began to show some interest in the ranch books. Previously he’d always avoided the paperwork leaving it to his father and eldest brother. Joe didn’t enjoy the bookwork but he could hear Adam telling him he was grown and Pa could rely on him. He felt the need to live up to his eldest brother’s faith in him. To Joe’s surprise, he found he could cope with all the accounts and even manage rather faster than his father. All the time Adam had spent drumming the basics of mathematics into him had worked and he could cope and help their father. Even more surprising he found great satisfaction is taking some of the load from his father.

Hoss did his best to remain cheerful and to demonstrate to the others his certainty that Adam would be home and a lot sooner than five years. It was the best he could do to carry out his promise to his older brother that he would take care of everything, and he did his best to hide his own fears that the brother he loved and relied on would only return for fleeting visits.

It didn’t help that there was little work they could do outside as the weather closed in, snow early that year trapping them in the house and not even able to get the mail from Virginia City to see if there was any word from Adam. They tried to keep busy and avoided talking about Adam but none of them could avoid thinking about him, especially late at night in the privacy of their own rooms, all worried about him, his physical health as well as his future plans.

Eventually they each got a letter from New York but those didn’t exactly help. Adam had tried to be cheerful but his weakness was evident in his handwriting and the underlying uncertainty was all too obvious to those who knew him so well. They exchanged letters but that just confirmed their concerns. Each wrote a long letter back but knew it would take many weeks before those would reach Adam in England.

Adam was very on edge as they came into dock at Southampton. A new country and despite his confidence in his ability to cope, he was uneasy. Even in Boston he had often felt he was looked down on as a country yokel, here in England where all Americans were considered to be second class, he hated to think what someone from Nevada would be classed as. Despite his fears the idea of landing in a land with so much history was exhilarating, the land of Shakespeare and the entry point to Europe. The land of the Pilgrim Fathers and the origins of the laws and the democracy which were so much part of his homeland, Adam had dreamt all his life of coming to England and to Europe, now he was here. The reasons for his presence and the heartache caused by the events of the last months still hung in the background of his thoughts, hovering over him, but for now Adam gave himself up to the excitement of his new life.

Southampton was a big bustling port, but Adam’s friends amongst the crew had given him sound advice, and he was able to transfer his belongings to the Royal Hotel in the centre of town. The hotel provided an excellent meal and was able to book him on a train for London and arrange for him to transfer to the train to Cambridge. Adam went through all the formalities arranging for himself and his baggage and then relaxed to enjoy the couple of days he had before he had to move on. He had a look round the docks and the old town with its remnant of city wall.

That evening Adam found it almost impossible to sleep, he missed his family more than any day since he’d left home. While on the ship his father had seemed close, so many memories, now suddenly he was in a strange land, and those he loved were several thousand miles away. He was on his own and he knew he had overdone things, his back was aching fiercely. Feeling unfit and lonely, he was more unsure of himself than he’d been in a very long time. The night seemed very long and he slept very little. By morning he had a pounding headache to add to his backache and it was a real effort to get out of bed, After a couple of cups of coffee he felt more human and headed down to the sea. He felt more peaceful standing staring out over the sea and tried to think through what he wanted.

Adam knew he could go home and his family would welcome him without any questions, but nothing had changed. His back was mute testimony that he couldn’t pull his weight round the ranch. Neither could he imagine finding someone else to fulfil his dream, Laura hadn’t done anything wrong, it was all his fault. He had planned to marry her, knowing he wasn’t in love, and he knew he would have ended up hurting her, just as her husband had, but he needed a wife and family of his own, so it had to be somewhere away from the Ponderosa.

Slowly Adam thought through all the possibilities but the decision he’d made six weeks ago still seemed the only possible one. His mind made up Adam returned to town to have a look around an old church and a museum in a tower, part of the old wall. Fascinated by the history going back much further than the United States had even existed, he was able to forget his sore back.

In the late afternoon he found a good bookshop and treated himself to a history of Britain which he began reading over his evening meal. His ability to lose himself in books stood him in good stead and he was relaxed enough to sleep that night.

Adam had debated stopping off in London but he decided to leave it until he felt better. Cambridge wasn’t far from London and with the terms only eight weeks long he should have plenty of time to see London and with luck some of the rest of Europe. For now he wanted to see the Master of the college, establish himself and find out just how practical his plans really were. Later there would be time to contact his friends in England, Lord Marion Dunsford and his wife Beatrice and Charles Dickens in particular, plus a couple of college friends now working in England, John Stevens and Danny Coombs.

The stage left Southampton at 10 am and by the time it reached London in the late afternoon. Adam’s back was forcibly reminding him that he should limit his travel for the next few months. The stage had been crowded and Adam had kept to himself. Normally he would have been able to travel by train but a crash the previous week had shut the line and Adam knew he was lucky to get a seat on one of the extra coaches.

Eventually the stage pulled up at an Inn in Central London and Adam gratefully eased himself out of the stage. There were plenty of urchins around and two willingly carried Adam’s bags and led him to Liverpool Street, the railway station for Cambridge. Adam didn’t have long to wait before his train came in and he sank down into the first class carriage for the final lap of his journey from the Ponderosa to Cambridge.

There were plenty of horse drawn cabs vying for custom at the far end and Adam loaded his luggage, for the final time, with the help of a porter. He checked again the telegram with its instructions to present himself at the Porter’s lodge sometime during the current week. He was a day earlier than he had originally planned but his back had made it very clear that it wasn’t up to sight seeing yet.

As always when he was nervous and on edge Adam hid behind a facade of cool and in control and only his close family would have realised just how much his stomach was churning, as he once again wondered if he had made the right decision.

When the cab drew up at the Porter’s Lodge of King’s College Adam eased himself out, straightened his shoulders and moved forward with apparent confidence. There were two other younger men introducing themselves to the Porter. He had a long list and was marking them off and giving then a key and a map to show exactly where their rooms were.

When it cam to his turn Adam also got his map and key but the Porter was studying him with far more interest “You’re the gentleman from the far reaches of the United States?”

Adam smiled “I guess I am.”

“Special note for you here Sir. Once you have settled in could you go and see the Master of the College, Professor Amesbury.”

Adam was lightly taken aback at that but the Porter was quick to reassure him, “The Master said to make it clear that there wasn’t a problem. Just some matters he wished to discuss to clarify exactly how we can help you.”

“Well that’s very kind of him and of you, may I enquire your name?”

“Oh I’m Bert Waggoner, mostly just called Bert.”

“Very pleased to meet you Bert and thanks for your help.”

“Your luggage will be brought to your room shortly Mr Cartwright.”

“Thanks again.” Adam moved away to let the next man in. Most of them looked younger than Joe to him and he wondered again whether he was doing the right thing, but the beautiful old buildings gave him a lift. At least the long journey was over and he had five days in hand before the start of term proper.

Intrigued to see where he was going to be living for the next few years of his life Adam followed the map through to a paved courtyard and to the labelled stairs where he had been allocated a room. It was on the first floor and two doors opened off a small landing, his room was to the left as he went up the stairs. The key turned easily and Adam went in to find room was a misnomer. There was a small suite, a bedroom opening off the main room which was well equipped with bookcases and a desk looking out over the paved courtyard. in the back was a bathroom and also a small kitchen, while the bedroom was palatial with a four poster bed. To Adam’s relief the bed had a nice hard mattress, which would support his back. Adam was taken aback by the suite of rooms far better than he had expected and he again checked his map to make sure he was in the correct place. It all seemed correct and  as he reassured himself, the key had fitted.

Someone had the fire lit in the main room and there were a few basic supplies in the kitchen and Adam soon had some coffee brewing, as he sipped it he could only wish he had Hop Sing’s knack of making coffee. His was better than his father’s, but that was the limit of his claim and the prospect of drinking his own brew for months was not enticing. He consoled himself that maybe practice would improve his efforts.

There was a knock on the door and Adam found two men with his luggage, including the large trunk sent direct from the ship. Once it was brought in one man left, but the other man lingered. Adam was feeling for some change when the man introduced himself. “I’m Cameron Sir. I do this stair.”

Adam frowned a little at that statement “Just what does doing the stair entail Mr Cameron?”

“No Mr, Sir, just Cameron.” The man smiled “I guess it entails just about whatever you gentlemen want. Six of you on this stair. I do the fires, make the beds, do the laundry, order any supplies you want, general cleaning. Most anything else you need, I can make the arrangements.”

“I see Cameron.”

“Is there anything you need at the moment Mr Cartwright?”

“Did you get the coffee and things?”

“Yes sir. we reckoned being American you would drink coffee.”

“You reckoned right.” Adam smiled “And I’m very grateful but how do I pay for it.?”

“We keep an account Sir. You can settle monthly or termly, as you like.”

“Monthly I think, but shouldn’t I pay in advance?”

“Oh no Sir, the college has funds to cover that.”

Adam relaxed once he was sure no individual was out of pocket. Certainly the college fees both for tuition and board were quite high and no college would have survived nearly four hundred years without being able to control its finances.

Adam swiftly washed and shaved, changing his shirt before considering his map again and heading over to see the Master. He expected to have to make an appointment and was surprised when he was shown into a large ground floor study looking out on beautiful grounds. An elderly man, with silver hair reminiscent of his father, stepped out from behind a large desk. “Mr Cartwright, welcome to King’s”

“Thank you very much Professor Amesbury or do I call you Master?”

“Professor is fine.”

“I’m puzzled Sir, you can’t possibly meet all freshmen, so why me?”

Professor Amesbury chuckled “Well young man we don’t have many people joining us from the wild west of the United States. Particularly with a letter of recommendation from Harvard, which I must admit intrigued me.”

“I see.” Adam smiled slightly “I guess my education has not been exactly standard.”

“A long way from that. Just how much schooling did you have?”

“I’m not sure, a month here, a month there. About three months when my father managed to get a tutor. Unfortunately the lure of gold in California was always too strong. Particularly with my imps of brothers not wanting tutors, so none stayed very long. My father taught me a lot and managed to get me books and when I set my sights on college he managed to get some help. From a minister who had recently arrived for Latin and Greek. An engineer in Sacramento who helped with mathematics, usually by post but I was able to stay with him for a couple of weeks twice.”

“Otherwise you were self taught?”

“With my father’s help.” Adam smiled “I must admit it was a rare treat for me to go to Harvard and find people who could answer so many of my questions, things which had puzzled me for years.”

“Yet you still managed to graduate second in your class and several years later you are still remembered very clearly.”

“Well I was used to working hard and quickly. While I was studying I still had to help my father establish our ranch. It didn’t leave many spare hours.”

“I presume that’s why you think you can complete your Part One in eighteen months instead of three years?”

“Well you have granted me some exemptions from first year courses.”

“Provided you brought recent work.”

“I had plenty of time on the ship to do that Sir and I trust it will prove satisfactory.”

Professor Amesbury steepled his fingers and considered the man sitting in front of him. Lean and muscular, he looked very different from the normal undergraduates, a sense of power emanating from him. The Professor was sure any work he submitted would be far more than merely satisfactory.

“It is still a heavy workload.”

“I’m used to hard work.”

“Provided your work is to standard we will do all we can to facilitate your wishes.”

“I’m very grateful.”

“Please indulge an old man’s curiosity. I have no right to ask, but why the law and why here?”

“Well I always wanted to see Europe and just now I can’t really help at the ranch, a minor back injury. As our ranch and investments grow, we end up with more and more legal problems. Contracts need lawyers.”

“This is British law.”

“I know that but the basis of our American law is the same and if I decide to practise in America, Harvard has agreed to accept this Part One and I can complete my degree there. If I decide to stay in England I would hope to complete my degree here.”

“I see. Well whatever you decide we are happy to facilitate. I hope you enjoy your time at King’s I shall watch your progress with interest.”

Adam headed back to his room, delighted by his reception although unable to avoid the thought that the college knew he came from a rich silver mining are and might just be hoping for some sort of endowment in addition to the large fees. Whatever the reason, everyone seemed genuinely welcoming.

Adam was very tired by the time he got back to his room. He’d been overdoing things ever since he landed in England and it was reacting on his back, which was aching fiercely. Once he reached his room he made some coffee and had just sunk down into a chair with relief, when he heard a series of bangs and crashes outside his door.

For a moment Adam hesitated, tired and sore the last thing he wanted was to get back to his feet, but the curiosity got the better of him. He levered himself up and went over to the door. As he took in the piles of books scattered over the landing and halfway down the stairs and the young man sitting ruefully in the middle of it rubbing his elbow, Adam began to grin broadly. There was something about the whole situation, which reminded him forcibly of his youngest brother. He could have written the scenario. In a hurry, left everything to the last minute and trying to carry far too much. Adam lent against the doorjamb “Are you alright?”

“Oh yes. Been more bruised often falling from my horse. Mainly my dignity hurt.” The young man got to his feet “Guess we’re going to be neighbours, I’m Johnny Sutherland.”

“Adam Cartwright”

“You’re the American?”

“Well I’m certainly an American.”

Johnny grinned “Don’t think there are many in Cambridge!” He came over and offered his hand “Pleased to meet you.”

“I’d help you pick this lot up but I have a slightly awkward back at the moment.” Adam was embarrassed by his inability to help but was sure, if he bent down, he wouldn’t be able to get up.

“No matter. It’s my own fault trying to do too much at once.”

“I can offer you coffee or tea when you have those in your rooms.”

Johnny grinned “You Americans are supposed to be good at making coffee so I’ll give that a try.”

Adam laughed “I don’t think my brothers would agree in my case but you’re welcome to judge for yourself.”

Five minutes later Johnny tapped on the door and heard “Come on in the door is open.”

 Intrigued by the older man Johnny was full of questions, where was he from, why Cambridge, what family had he; and they all came bubbling out not giving Adam a chance to answer.  Adam ginned and poured two coffees “Do you want milk or sugar?”

Johnny took both while Adam had his usual black coffee and they went through to sit down. Johnny frowned slightly as he watched Adam ease himself carefully into a chair. “What did you do to your back?”

   “I had a bad fall, it’s on the mend just taking time.” Adam didn’t want to go into details and that was written all over his face so Johnny backed off. “Someone said you’re from the wild west of America?”

Adam grinned at that “Well I was born in Boston the civilised East and returned for a while to study at Harvard but my father headed west when I was little more than a baby. We settled in what is now Nevada.”

Adam saw the complete confusion on the younger man’s face and added “Nevada is just inland from California. We’re about 230 miles east of San Franscisco.”

Johnny grinned “Geography isn’t my strong point but I have heard of San Franscisco, in fact that New York and Virginia City are the only towns I can name.”

He was surprised at the laugh that Adam gave but Adam was quick to explain that his family owned a ranch just outside Virginia City.

“Do you have a gun like the wild west shows?”

“Yes, I’d normally wear one of them at home. We need it when riding range, rattlesnakes, cougars, sometimes as a signal.”

“Have you ever shot anyone “ Johnny asked eagerly, but he was quick to see the shutters come down and he lent forward “I’m sorry I shouldn’t have asked. My father’s always telling me I let my tongue run away with me.”

Adam relaxed a little “It’s okay. I have had to use my gun in a fight on occasion but I’d rather forget it.”

He turned the tables asking about Johnny and soon had a detailed resume of his family. Johnny was the spoilt youngest child and only son with four older sisters. His father was the Earl of Northumberland and was determined his son and heir would not be totally spoilt and despite his wife’s protests he had sent the boy away first to school and now to Cambridge. Johnny was to learn two things, enough law to help him control their estates and take his place in the governance of the county and the country. More importantly in his father’s estimation he was to learn to stand on his own feet.

Adam sat back and listened, enjoying the youngster’s exuberance. Slowly they worked out that they would both be in the same classes for part of the time, although Adam would be taking a number of second year classes and had exemption for some of the classes Johnny had to take. Johnny was intrigued at the idea of seeing more of this man, but eventually he could see Adam’s near exhaustion, and headed off to his own room, leaving Adam to settle down with a book.

Over the next weeks Adam found that Johnny’s reaction to him was mirrored in many others round the University. He was a novelty and had to parry all too many questions. Missing his family and the ranch he could have done without the daily reminders. Gradually things settled down as he busied himself in his work and became a familiar figure round the college.

Most of the undergraduates walked a little carefully round him, an older man, seemingly very self contained, they weren’t sure what to make of him. Johnny was different, he had continued to go into Adam’s room several times a day for coffee and a chat and often sat next to him in lectures. When he was stuck he was well aware that Adam could help, answer just about any question he had.

Adam, missing his brothers, treated Johnny almost as a substitute, chiding him if he let his work slip, encouraging him to do his best and there to help with any problems.

Adam spent long hours studying, ensuring that he was fully in control of the material for both the first and second year courses. It wasn’t too difficult but there was a lot of memorising. The hours spent with books did at least give his back time to recover and he was beginning to move more easily than at any time since the accident. Adam made time each day for the exercises Doc had taught him but he was beginning to miss the physical exercise, which had been so much part of his life on the ranch. Without it he was sleeping badly and spent long hours unable to sleep, missing his family and trying to make up his mind whether he could face a life away from them or a life with them, but with no wife and children of his own. In those long dark early hours of the morning it seemed impossible he could have both; he had desecrate his dreams by continuing to plan to marry Laura, once he knew he didn’t love her. Often after these nights he was in a black mood first thing, but Johnny became adept at cajoling him out of it.

Six weeks into term Adam noticed that the younger man was in a block mood of his own. Adam poured him coffee and watched Johnny take it to the window, turn as though about to say something and then turn away again. He reminded Adam very forcibly of Little Joe, when his brother was in trouble and needed his help but wasn’t quite sure how to ask for it.

Adam eased himself over and he gripped Johnny’s shoulders “I can’t help until you tell me what’s wrong.”

Johnny jumped under his hand but settled down quickly “How did you know?”

“Years of experience with younger brothers. Come on Johnny it may not be as bad as you fear.” Adam could feel the tension in Johnny’s shoulders.

“My father will – “


“Oh hell He’ll be so disappointed in me. So many of my friends at school, their father’s were just never around. Mine, well he’s remote, but I know what I do is important, the family honour-“

“What have you done that is so bad?”

Johnny sighed heavily “She’s pregnant.”

Adam had half guessed what was coming. He had been worried and had warned Johnny that he was spending too much time at a local pub. He thought for a moment and the hesitantly asked “I take it the baby could be yours?”

Johnny flung over to the sofa and threw himself down on it “I guess so.” Adam frowned at that and moved over to sit down next to the young man “Easy Johnny. We need to talk before you do anything.”

The young man had come to trust the quiet American, although he couldn’t believe Adam would be able to sort this out. Still he was willing to try and he sat up a little staring into the fire “What do you want to know?”

Adam gripped Johnny’s shoulder, as he would have done to comfort one of his brothers, “You said you guessed it could be yours. You have been intimate with this girl?”

Johnny looked up, confusion all over his face, “I think so. I didn’t mean to, but I was drunk.”

“Do you remember?”

“Not really. I remember waking up in the bed next to her and we - .” he blushed.

Adam fought to hide his smile and completed the sentence “You had no clothes on.”

Johnny wouldn’t meet his eye but he nodded. Adam went on “Did you do anything further then?”

“God no! My head felt as though it was going to fall off.”

“When was this?”

“About four weeks ago. I didn’t go back for a week but then - .”

“You couldn’t stay away.”

Johnny hung his head “I’ve only talked to her, she’s so sweet and then last night she was so scared and upset, not knowing what her father will do. I had to force her to tell me.”

“Did you make any promises?”

For the first time Johnny met Adam’s gaze and he straightened his shoulders “I told her I would look after her. What else can I do? It’s my responsibility.”

Adam smiled at him “Will you let me check that it is your responsibility first?”

“I don’t understand?”

“Well four weeks is a very short time for a girl to be sure, this may be nothing more than a false alarm.”

“Do you really think so?” a glimmer of hope lit up Johnny’s eyes and Adam patted his back “It wouldn’t be the first time, let me check around a bit before you say anything to anyone else.”

Johnny was far from eager to confess to his family and willing to let Adam do what he could. Later that evening, armed with a detailed description of both the pub and the young lady in question, Adam found the pub. He made no attempt that first night to get into conversation with her, just getting a beer and chatting to the bartender. He let it drop that he was from the silver mining centre of Virginia City and left the impression that he was very wealthy but with strict parents.

Two nights later he went back and the young girl Annette came over to talk to him. Adam did his best to show interest in her, although she seemed very young to him. He couldn’t see any sign of deep worry but had to admit he had only just met her.

 Two more visits got him increased attention from her and then on the next evening when he sipped the beer it tasted odd. Adam was careful to dispose of it on the floor while pretending to drink it and then acted drunk. It was no great surprise to be invited up to Annette’s room and Adam sat on the bed, his head in his hand. She suggested he lie down but unlike her usual victims, Adam grabbed her arm “Well my pretty lady what are we waiting for?”

“No Adam.”

“You bring me up to your room and then you say no.” Adam seemed suddenly very much bigger.

“You weren’t feeling well.”

“Come on Annette, I’m sure it not exactly the first time.”

“No you’re wrong, I’ve never been with a man.” she protested, so scared of this man, who seemed to loom over her, so much older suddenly. She tired to pull away but couldn’t. Adam asked “I take it you’re not pregnant then.”

Indignantly she tried to slap his face but Adam lazily blocked her move and all she could do was protests “O course I’m not.”

To her surprise Adam let her go at that and sat back smiling “A friend of mine will be very glad to hear that.”

She stared at him almost mesmerised and slowly began putting things together “Who do you know Johnny or Matthew?”

“Oh trying it on two of them are you?”

She glared at him no longer looking nearly as young or innocent, “Why not they have plenty of money. They can afford it.”

“How much do you charge to let them off the hook?”

“None of your business.”

“Probably not but the police and the college authorities will be interested.”

Suddenly really scared she screamed for her father, who ran the pub, but with so many people in and out no-one heard her. Adam was quick to block her escape “You answer my questions and you may get out of this more easily than you deserve.”

She stared at him but could see he wasn’t going to budge and the big man radiated power, seeming a totally different person to the student she had been chatting to over the last evenings. She sat down on the bed “What do you want?”

“Again I’ll ask, how much to let them of?”

“It varies depending what father thinks they’re worth one hundred pounds to maybe seven hundred pounds.”

“For Matthew and Johnny?”

“Matthew is going to pay one hundred and fifty pounds and father thinks Johnny might be worth a thousand, his father is an Earl.” her eyes filled with tears “He’ll kill me for letting you know.”

“I won’t let him hurt you.” Adam assured her “How old are you?” He was surprised by her answer “Twenty two, but Dad like me to look young, gets the men in and gets them more concerned.”

“How did you think you could get away with it? The men must see you aren’t pregnant after a bit?”

“I have five Uncles in different towns, we move around. You’d have been the last one here and I’d have moved to Oxford.”

“All in university towns?”

“She shrugged “Good picking, plenty of young men.”

“Does someone else come here?”

“My sister or a cousin.”

“How long have you been working this?”

“A few years.”

“And your father?”

“Rather longer.”

Adam whistled softly surprised at that, he had thought this was an opportunistic crime and that he could scare the girl off but now he realised he had stumbled onto an organised group. In many ways that complicated matters as he would have to bring it to the notice of the authorities, while at the same time keeping Johnny out of it. Maybe the other young man could help, but he needed a surname.

Annette had no hesitation in furnishing both surnames when asked and Adam learnt the other man was Matthew Harris, a student at Trinity College. Adam continued to question her and got the names of her Uncles, cousins and the pubs and towns. Then he told her, for her own sake, she would do well to keep very quiet about their conversation.

He slipped out quietly and went back to his rooms where he spent several hours writing down all the information he had gathered and making two copies. He was going to throw a well organised crime ring into disarray and he was well aware that it wouldn’t be popular. He needed to think out how best to deal with it but he needed some protection.

Over the weeks Adam had learnt that Cameron could answer most of his questions and along with the porter Bert made a formidable duo, so he decided to enlist their help, to keep his notes safe and to protect his back. Even so he got his gun out and cleaned it, not about to leave himself vulnerable.

For now he had no intention of telling Johnny everything but he was able to put the young man’s mind at rest, assuring him that it was a mistake Annette wasn’t pregnant. Johnny was all for going to see her but that was the last thing Adam wanted and he made Johnny promise not to go near the pub, for at least a few days and not without letting Adam know. Johnny was puzzled but so relieved that he was willing to do anything Adam asked.

Adam didn’t sleep much that night but by morning he was much clearer in his own mind what he needed to do. A long talk with Bert was first on his agenda. He was pleased, but not surprised, to find that Bert was in touch with the Porters at all the other colleges. He was able to give Adam an introductory note to the Porter at Trinity college, so that Adam could see Annette’s other victim. Bert also knew several people in the police and was able to tell Adam the best man to contact, but before he did that Adam felt the college should be informed. Bert was able to tell him how to arrange an interview with the Master.

Adam had to attend a couple of lectures but then spent the rest of the day passing on the information he had found out to the correct authorities. It was evening before he was able to go to Trinity College and get the Porter to direct him to Matthew Harris. Adam knocked on the student’s door and heard a drunken voice say “Go away.”

Adam wasn’t about to give up that easily “Come on Matthew let me in. I have good news.” Eventually when he had hammered on the door for nearly five minutes he heard the man inside stagger to the door and open it. Matthew stared blearily at the stranger “I don’t know you.”

Adam took advantage of the door being open and pushed in “No you don’t, but you do know Annette.”

The young man tried to hit Adam at that but he was so drunk he nearly overbalanced. Adam helped him into a chair “Easy boy I’m on your side.” Once he had the youngster in a chair Adam got a damp cloth and put coffee on. With years of experience of dealing with drunken younger brothers, he was sure that Matthew wouldn’t take in anything until he had sobered up some.

It took Adam best part of an hour to feed Matthew coffee, and then deal with the very sick young man, but eventually Matthew was sitting up, feeling very sorry for himself, but reasonably sober. “Just what business is this of yours?”

“I have a young friend fell in the same trap you did. I’ve just come to let you know that Annette is not pregnant. Chances are you didn’t ever have anything but a drugged sleep in her bed and you don’t owe her anything.”

Matthew stared at him “You telling the truth?”

“My word on it.”

“How did you know about me and Annette. I haven’t told anyone and I don’t even know you.”

Adam grinned faintly “She tried the same trick on me, but I have a few years more experience, so it didn’t work. I persuaded her to give me a few facts. She won’t be trying it again round here. I take it you haven’t paid her yet?”

Matthew shook his head and groaned as he discovered that was a mistake. Adam passed him some more coffee “Just take it easy.”

“Thanks. I hadn’t paid, still been trying to figure a way to get that much without having to tell my father.”

“No need to tell him anything unless you want to. You haven’t done anything wrong.”

The younger man hung his head “I meant to, I wanted to.”

Adam smiled “Most men do, don’t worry about that. If we were held guilty for all our thoughts, we’d all be in trouble.”

“I don’t even know your name?”

“Adam Cartwright. I’m at King’s College and if you are going to be alright, I should be getting back.”

“If there’s anything I can do for you just let me know.” the two men shook hands and Adam headed back. He was nearly back to the college when two men came out of an alley and tried to get him. Adam was all too aware that he might be a target and he had his gun in his waist-band, not liking to wear a holster round Cambridge. He knew he was very vulnerable and he couldn’t afford to get into any hand to hand fighting; his back was better but not up to that. As they approached Adam moved swiftly to get the building at his back and drew his gun.

The two men stopped suddenly seeing the large gun. They’d been paid by Annette’s father to beat up the American, but no-one had said anything about guns. They looked at each other and one said “He won’t shoot.”

Adam said conversationally “I shot and killed my first man at sixteen, before that I had only wounded them.” He thought about a warning shot, but was sure that there would be a very different reaction to it here in Cambridge than back home in Virginia City. He did level the gun and cocked it. The two men looked at each other but neither wanted to be the first to move against him. Adam took a step forward and much to his amusement the pair fled. Even so he was glad to get back into the security of the college. Hopefully it would all die down over the next weeks and he was going to be very busy with his work in the college. With Bert and Cameron looking out for him, Adam reckoned he should be safe enough.

For the next few weeks Johnny was almost a nuisance, hanging around underfoot and almost hero worshipping the older man, until Adam threatened to hogtie him to get some peace. Johnny laughed but he did realise that he’d better back off a bit. He wasn’t going until he had Adam’s promise to join him for a long weekend at his father’s hunting lodge.

Adam wasn’t at all sure he had a lot of work to do and he wasn’t feeling sociable. He was very homesick, missing his father and brothers even more than he had expected and rather to his surprise missing the lake and the wide open spaces of his home. Eventually Johnny wore him down and Adam gave in and promised to go. Then he told Johnny to go and complete his own essay, Adam not only had the one from the class they shared, but two second year ones which needed to be completed, if he was to be away from Friday to the Monday evening.

Johnny was glad to be going home. He had fussed at his sisters babying him but he had missed all the attention. They weren’t going to the main family home in Northumberland but to their hunting estate in Leicestershire and he was very eager to introduce them to his new friend.

Adam was glad to get away for a few days. Much as he was enjoying the beautiful architecture and access to the magnificent library, he was missing the physical activity and the fresh air, which was usually such a large part of his life.

They used a carriage to travel in, sent by Johnny’s father. It was well sprung and the roads were good, but Adam found his back quickly let him know that it was far from fully recovered, and it was aching steadily as they pulled up in front of a large mansion.

Adam had been to similar houses in Boston and New York, so he was able to hide his nerves and go in with at least an air of confidence. He moved rather stiffly but with an in-built grace, which wasn’t missed by two of Johnny’s sisters, who had comes out with their mother to meet them.

Johnny introduced his friend to his mother Lady Eleanor and his two sisters closest to him in age. Elizabeth, known as Beth, and Sophia, next to him in age. Another sister Isabella the second of the four girls was also there but she was out riding. She was a grass widow at the moment her husband serving in the Army in India. Elizabeth was a widow, her husband of four years had died of appendicitis eighteen months earlier leaving her with a two year old daughter. Sophia was engaged to a younger son of the Duke of Norfolk, a match which had greatly pleased her parents, but Johnny was sure his sister was really in love. Adam had heard so much about Johnny’s family that he had no difficulty in identifying the three women in front of him.

Adam acknowledged the introductions and then stood back and watched amused, as the three fussed over Johnny sure he’d lost weight and wasn’t eating properly.

Johnny eventually extricated himself and turned to his amused friend, in considerable embarrassment. Adam grinned “It’s okay you should see the way my father and brothers, even our cook, fuss over me when I’ve been away.”

“You mean it?”

“Oh yes. Pa is the world’s champion fusser.”

“Come on lets show you up to your room and then we can join all the family for afternoon tea.”

Adam found Johnny’s sisters easy to talk to, although his mother seemed rather austere. They were intrigued by the would-be lawyer from America. Johnny had filled his letters with Adam said this and Adam said that. His parents had been very insistent that he bring this new friend to visit, concerned that the older man was exerting so much influence on their only son and that they knew nothing about him.

Adam found himself answering all sorts of questions about his family and for a while he enjoyed describing his ranch and talking about his father and brothers. Then Sophia asked “Why did you leave it, sounds as though you loved it there?”

Adam fell very quiet and Lady Eleanor glared at her daughter for being so inquisitive. Adam swallowed hard “I felt the need to study law always useful on the ranch.”

Johnny signalled his sister to back off and changed the subject asking Isabella about the horses available on the estate. She was happy to extol the virtues of a new stallion that their father had bought a few weeks earlier. Adam was glad of the change of subject and happy to join Johnny in going to see the stallion after the formalities of tea had been completed. The stallion was superb, part Arab and Adam could discuss the horse on equal terms with his friend and the head groom. The horse was going to be used for stud but it was rough broke and the Earl intended to have it trained for him to ride.

Johnny was intrigued just how much Adam seemed to know aboiut training stallions. Adam laughed at him “We used to catch the wild horses, break them and train them for the army. Now we mainly breed our own , but they still have to be broken. My youngest brother Joe takes charge of most of it now, but for years it was my job, Hoss was too heavy.”

“Surely you hired men to do it?”

“Men to help yes, but we never asked any man to do a job we couldn’t. I’ve had the aches and bruises after rough breaking seven or eight in a day more times than I want to remember.”

“I wouldn’t know how.”

“You learn to feel the horse, react to its moves almost before it’s made them. The corral is hard when you fall, so there’s every incentive to learn.”

Adam and Johnny were surprised to hear a chuckle come from behind them and when they turned Johnny was even more surprised to see his father “Good afternoon Sir, we weren’t expecting you back so early.”

“I managed to complete my business yesterday and got an early start.” the Earl said briefly and then nodded towards Adam “How about introducing me.”

“Sorry Father. This is Adam Cartwright, my friend from college. Adam, my father the Earl of Northumberland.”

Adam smiled and offered his hand “Pleased to meet you Sir and thank you for your hospitality.”

“You are very welcome young man. I was interested in your conversation about horses. You said that you breed them?”

“Its part of our operation Sir. I am part owner of a ranch in Nevada, the western United States. We breed cattle and horses along with lumber and mining operations.”

“Yet you are here studying law in Britain?” He saw Adam poker up at the implied question and was quick to back down “None of my business. Any friend of Johnny’s is welcome here.”

“I have my reasons Sir.”

“Tomorrow maybe Johnny can show you the Estate, we can mount you well.”

“I’ll look forward to it.”

The Earl nodded and turned away to speak to the head groom, even more puzzled by this man his son had become so friendly with. This was no youngster but a strong mature man, who would be capable of exerting a huge influence on his impressionable son. The real question was the direction of that influence, for good or evil. The Earl was determined to have the answer to that question before his son returned to Cambridge. So far he was quite impressed, but the one thing he was already sure of was that this man was clever and wouldn’t be that easy to read.

Meantime Adam had enticed the stallion over and it was begrudgingly allowing him to make a fuss of it, in return for an apple. The head groom was impressed, the horse wasn’t usually that friendly. Adam patted the horse’s velvety muzzle once more “Well this old fella will be easy to train. Any horse which likes apples and attention can be trained, a bit of bribery works wonders.”

Johnny had warned Adam that they dressed for sinner and Adam had a new suit, his favourite black but with a white shirt. He was used to official functions and escorted Elizabeth into dinner while Johnny took his eldest sister.

Once they had finished the first course, Adam found he was under quiet but intensive questioning, about his family, his background and his plans. It wasn’t the first time and he was adept at giving descriptions, which revealed nothing that he wanted to keep to himself. He was rather more forthcoming on his plans for the vacations. While in Europe he had every intention of seeing as much as he could and already had plans to visit Paris at Christmas.

The girls in particular were intrigued by that, even more so when Adam explained his main reason for going was to meet up with an old friend Charles Dickens, who was going to be in Paris then. That led onto the story of Charles Dickens’ visit to Virginia City. Although Adam downplayed his own part in events, the Earl was quite intrigued by the insights into the Cartwright family that Adam’s story offered.

Adam spent half an hour staring out the window. In his head he knew he was pushing his luck getting on a horse but he had missed riding so much. He needed to get the air into his lungs, away from buildings. It might not be the Ponderosa but it was pretty country and as long as he was careful, he was sure he could cope. For a moment as he got into bed he was honest enough to admit to himself that he was acting more like his youngest brother, but he knew he would do it all the same.

After breakfast Adam found all three of Johnny’s sisters joined them down at the stables. Johnny offered Adam a choice of horses but Adam insisted that he’d have the most placid animal. Johnny frowned and then remembered Adam’s bad back “You sure you’re up to riding?”

“Yes but I won’t take any chances so placid as possible.”

It was a beautiful morning and the mare Johnny brought out was an attractive bay. Adam wasn’t too proud to use a mounting block and eased himself up. The saddle seemed strangely insubstantial compared to his own, but he settled himself as comfortably as he could. The feel of a strong horse between his legs was great and brought back so many memories. He gently moved the horse forward and through a few basic manoeuvres. His back felt okay so he moved out with Johnny and his sisters. The estate seemed small to Adam, used to the thousand square miles of the Ponderosa, but it was quite large enough for a gentle ride to the northern boundary and back to take a couple of hours.

Once sure his friend was okay Johnny joined Isabella and Sophia on a gallop but Adam opted out, preferring not to push his luck and Elizabeth stayed with him. At first they rode in silence and then Adam said “I can find my way back okay, you don’t have to stay at my pace.”

“Oh no I’d prefer to “ she hesitated “Unless you’d rather be alone of course.”

“No.” Adam smiled “Just seems a little slow compared to your sisters, but I am trying to be careful, no unnecessary risks.”

“Johnny said you’d hurt your back?”

“I took a fall and it’s left my back rather weak for the moment. It’ll be fine just taking a while and I haven’t been on horseback since.”

“We can go back to the house if - .”

“I’m fine, enjoying it, even if it’s rather slower than I’m used to.”

Elizabeth was quiet for a while and then began pointing out some of the features round the estate. Adam found her easy to talk to and she encouraged him to use her pet name, Beth.

Adam found himself telling her why he had chosen to come and study law, unable to cope with the physical rigour of work round the ranch, although he kept his engagement and its disastrous finish to himself.

She asked the most pertinent question and the one he couldn’t answer “Where was he going to practise once qualified?” Adam was still torn and he wasn’t about to discuss it with strangers and pushed his horse into a canter back to the stables. He dismounted very carefully but his back felt okay. He was more relaxed by the ride than he had been in weeks and he made a fuss of the mare before one of the stable hands took her away to untack.

Neither of the eldest members of the family was at lunch, so it was much more informal and Johnny kept his sisters amused with his tales of life at the University. A lot of them involved Adam too and the sisters looked on him, even more favourably, as they learnt how Adam had helped their little brother.

Late in the afternoon they went out for a  walk and Adam again found himself with Beth. The Earl had joined them this time and Johnny had gone off with his father. Despite his intentions, Johnny was used to confiding in his family and found himself telling his father just how he had been trapped by Annette, and more importantly how Adam had extricated him. The Earl was trying to see what the American was aiming to get out of it, but as he heard more details of the other boy and Adam’s swift recourse to the authorities, he began to calm down. It didn’t save Johnny from a severe lecture but he felt better without secrets. Adam had said as much to him, but Johnny had discounted it until face to face with his father.

Adam noticed the difference that evening. Things were more relaxed and the conversation pleasantly varied. He slept well and made no argument when offered a ride again the following morning.

The mare he’d ridden the previous day had managed to cast herself in her box overnight. Although the stableman had managed to get her up on her feet, there was no way she was fit to ride. Johnny was slightly concerned at the alternative, a rather spirited chestnut gelding who tossed his head and had to wear a martingale. Adam was actually rather taken with the gelding, who reminded him forcibly of Sport.

“Just don’t overdo things Adam, Max isn’t such an easy ride.”

“Don’t you think I can handle him?” Adam asked with a raised eyebrow.

Johnny grinned “I’m sure you can Adam, it’s your back I’m not so sure of.”

“I’ll be careful.”

Adam had every intention of doing exactly that and when Johnny, Isabella and Sophia headed off for a gallop, Beth stayed with him. Adam felt awkward “I’m fine on my own you know.”

“You ask Johnny, I’m a lot better than I was, I used to be scared of horses but my Lady is a quiet ride and she suits me, we neither of us like to go too fast.”

Adam accepted that he’d seen she was nervous and Lady was a pretty little grey mare, who seemed very placid. A few minutes later he had reason to change his mind. They had been gently cantering along a flat path when a pheasant fluttered up just under Lady’s feet. The mare panicked and bolted with Beth off along a side trail.

Adam had been along there the previous day and he knew there was a fairly steep drop at one side half a mile along. It only took Adam a few seconds to realise the danger, but he had already instinctively given Max the order to go and he pushed hard. The gelding reacted well and with a much longer stride was beginning to catch the little mare.

As they broke out of the trees onto the cliff-top the other members of the family saw Beth. Too far away to be able to help, all of them pushed their horses towards her. Then Johnny saw Adam appear and cut between Beth and the cliff edge.  Johnny could barely bear to watch, so scared for his sister and his friend.

Adam was slowly pulling level and as he came alongside he began edging Lady away from the cliff and talking soothingly to both Beth and the horse, until he could reach over and grab the reins and snub Lady in close to the gelding. As he did so he felt the jar in his back, but for the moment cut himself off from the pain, as he slowed both horses. Once he got them to a stop, he could only sit still and leaning over try to ease the agonising pain in his back.

Beth had been so scared she could hardly believe that she was safe, the horse still. She hadn't realised the cost that Adam was paying. It seemed to take Johnny and his sisters forever to reach the pair, although it was less than five minutes. As they came closer it was obvious to all of them that Adam was in trouble.

Johnny went to his friend while Isabella and Sophia went to their sister. With their help she dismounted and burst into tears on her eldest sister’s shoulder.

Johnny gripped Adam’s arm “What’s wrong?”

Adam fought for control of his voice but it was still husky with pain as he said “Ricked my  - back – fine – in a  - minute.”

“Let’s get you down.”

“No!” Adam was insistent, they were a long way from the house and the only way to get back was on horseback. He knew if he got down there was no way he could remount, so he had to stay where he was.

Johnny tried to argue, but he was quickly aware that Adam wasn’t even listening as he fought his own private battle with the pain. Johnny turned to his sisters to find Beth a little more under control and beginning to worry about the man she was sure had saved her life. “Is Adam alright?”

Johnny tried to smile but couldn’t do it and he just bit his lip not knowing what to say. Adam had slowly won back some measure of control and he heard both the concern and the near hysteria in Beth’s voice. “Easy Beth. I’ll be fine. Just need a hot bath.”

Johnny let his breath out relieved to hear his friend sounding better, but Isabella was by no means convinced. As the eldest she took charge, ordering her youngest sister to head straight home. As soon as Sophia got there she was to send for the Doctor and arrange for a hot bath. Then Isabella turned to Adam “Should Sophia have a carriage come out and meet us?”

“No. Easier on the horse.” Adam tried to straighten up a little but his back spasmed again and he slumped back down. He took several deep breaths “I’ll be okay, just take it slow.”

Johnnny took Max’s reins and remounted his own horse, moving out at a slow walk. Adam gripped the saddle and tried to ignore the waves of pain emanating from his back, sending sharp stabbing pains down his right leg in particular. Slowly he won control, if it got no worse he could cope. He lifted his head, anxious about Beth. He saw her riding alongside, desperately pale and looking scared. He managed to straighten up a little and once he was sure he had control of his voice, he said “Cheer up Beth. No real harm done.”

“But Adam you’re hurt.”

“Just moved wrong. Could have done it anytime. Be fine in a day or so.”

“My fault.”

“Rubbish. Just accident.”

Johnny looked back to see his sister relax a littler and was even more grateful to his friend. He was determined to get Adam back to rest properly and to a doctor. It seemed to take forever to get back to the house, although it was less than an hour, but as they approached the house Johnny began to worry how he was to get Adam down, without doing any more damage. He was very relieved as they walked into the stable-yard to see both his father and their family Doctor.

The Earl moved forward seeing how worried both his children looked and as he came closer he could see why. The journey had taken its toll on Adam, who was barely holding onto consciousness. Isabella had told both her father and the Doctor what little she knew. She did know that Adam had had some sort of back injury before coming to England. The Doctor had been very insistent that Adam was moved as little as possible, until he’d had a chance to check.
            They had already discussed how to get the injured man off his horse and the Earl had two large stable hands standing by. The Earl directed his son to lead Max over by the terrace steps, where he had bales of hay placed with a stretcher on top of them. He had judged well and the stretcher was just about the same height as Max. Johnny could see what he was trying to do and edged the gelding into position.

The Earl moved forward, he was used to taking charge. “Right Mr Cartwright, don’t try and do anything my men will lift you onto the stretcher and then we’ll get you to bed.”

Adam lifted his head and acknowledged that he understood. He did his best not to tense against the movement and found himself wishing Hoss was there, he didn’t trust anyone else the way he did his big brother. Determined not to worry his friend or Beth, Adam bit down and endured as he was moved across to the stretcher, not realising just how eloquent the quiet in-drawn breath was as he was moved.

Within ten minutes he was on the bed in the guestroom, shoes and belt removed and all but Doctor Fraser had left. Adam was glad to lie down, but he was still on his side, unable to straighten out totally. The Doctor gave him some water and then asked just what was wrong. Adam briefly explained the injury he’d had and when and then what had happened that day. The Doctor asked a few questions mainly about the effects of riding and just what he had been doing at the instant he felt it go. Then he apologised but he had to examine Adam “Go ahead Doc. I’m used to trusting in experts.”

“Alright young man but no heroics. I need to know exactly where it hurts and how badly.”  Adam accepted that and steeling himself as the Doc prodded at his back, making the pain flare up again. He was as accurate as he could be and eventually the Doc sat back. ”Right I don’t think there’s any long term damage, you have wrenched a couple of muscles and with the weakness from your original injury you have inflamed the nerve slightly. I have some liniment that will help the muscles. Then heat treatment, bed rest and some pain killer to help you relax and you should feel a lot better in a couple of weeks.”

“I have work to do. I must get back to Cambridge.”

“Not for a few days anyway. You are staying right where you are.”

“I can’t impose on the Earl.”

“I’ve known him for a very long time and you saved his daughter. I’ll guarantee that he won’t see it as an imposition.”

“Beth would have been alright.”

“She’s not the horsewoman her sisters are. At the very least she could have taken a very nasty tumble. Now you drink this down, it’ll take the edge off the pain and maybe help you to relax and then I’ll go arrange for some hot bricks. The heat will help.”

Johnny brought the bricks in himself anxious to see how Adam was despite the Doctor’s fairly cheerful prognosis. Adam got him to place the bricks close to his back and relaxed a little as the heat began to ease the tenseness in his muscles. “Is Beth alright?”

“Not hurt, thanks to you but she is worried about you.”

“No need I’ll be fine in a day or so.”

“Doc said a couple of weeks!”

“I know my back rather better than he does, it’ll be okay in a couple of days although I will have to impose foot at least one extra day. I don’t think I could face travelling tomorrow.”

“There’s no way my father would let you.” That just produced a raised eyebrow, it had been a long time since Adam had allowed his own father to dictate to him, let alone anyone else’s.

It was nearly dinner time and Johnny had to go dress, but he had already arranged for food to be brought for Adam. Adam didn’t really want it but forced down a little and was grateful for fresh hot bricks and a for a glass of wine.

He had just about managed to straighten out, without setting off the cramps which hovered over him, when there was a knock on the door. To his surprise the Earl entered at his invitation. “I’m very sorry Sir to be such a nuisance.”

“Rubbish you were hurt looking after my daughter. We owe you a great deal and anything you need we will try to provide.”

“That’s very generous Sir. I hope I won’t have to impose for more than a day or so.”

“My Doctor was implying that it would be longer.”  A fleeting smile crossed Adam’s face as he murmured “Your Doctor isn’t used to Cartwrights.”

The Earl smiled and then more serious he asked “I hope you won’t think me impertinent Mr Cartwright, but I am slightly surprised that you and my Johnny have become such good friends in the last few weeks.”

Adam looked questioningly at the older man who smiled “I’m very fond of my only son, but he has been spoilt by his mother and sisters consequently he is very immature. He is also a lot younger than you.”

“We have been rather thrown together, rooms across from each other on the same landing and sharing some of the same lectures.” Adam bit his lip and then added “I have younger brothers at home.” He looked away unable to let the Earl see his feelings, but the older man nodded understandingly “You miss your brothers?”

“Inevitably. My father often had to be away on business and when they were younger I used to be responsible for them.”

“My son seems to have grown up a lot in a short time.”

“Well being independent can do that.”

“Maybe. It’s one reason I wished him to go without his own tutor.” The Earl sat down and looked at Adam “I wanted Johnny to bring you down because his letters were full of your name. I knew you were a strong influence on him, but I needed to know what sort of influence.”

“That’s reasonable Sir, my father would wish the same if Joe suddenly became very friendly with someone Pa didn’t know.”

“Joe is your youngest brother?”

“Yes” Adam laughed “A charming impetuous youngster, who could find more than his share of trouble, but he’s growing into a strong and dependable man.”

“I’ve a feeling you may have had some influence on that.”

“I like to think so.”

“I’m happy that you are using that same influence on my son.” Adam was embarrassed and didn’t know what to say but the Earl knew men and had no intention of making Adam feel uncomfortable “Anything we can do just tell us. I hope you can get some sleep and feel better tomorrow.”

Adam found it very difficult to sleep. Every time he tried to move the pain in his back woke him up and by daybreak he was more than ready to get out of the bed. He eased himself over to the edge and taking his time slowly moved his legs down onto the ground and then, using the bedpost, got himself to his feet. To his relief his legs took his weight and he very slowly and stiffly edged his way over to the window. He waited until the pain eased and then tried the exercises Doc Martin had shown him. To his relief he could manage most of them, albeit with very limited range of movement and at the cost of considerable pain. More reassured by his own efforts than anything a strange doctor said, Adam eased himself back onto the bed to recover.

He had barely sat down when there was a quiet knock on the door. When Adam said come in, one of the footmen appeared “Is there anything we can get you Sir?”

“A hot bath would be much appreciated.”

“I’ll arrange it Sir.”

Adam nodded and as the man left he shut his eyes, trying to control his breathing as cramp threatened, but he wasn’t given much time. Johnny had sent the footman and hearing that Adam was awake he had come in. Johnny was very worried as he studied his friend “Dear God Adam.” Adam put the mask up and hid how he felt and swallowed hard to try and get his voice under control and then said “Take it easy. I’m fine. Be heading back to Cambridge tomorrow.”

“Doctor Fraser said that it would be a week at least!”

“I know my back better than he does. A hot bath and I’ll be out and about this afternoon.”

Johnny wasn’t sure but Adam was as good as his word, moving stiffly but otherwise able to hide all trace of pain. Only he knew the effort that it took him, but he was determined to reassure them, especially Beth. He joined the family for dinner and partook of all the courses, although taking very small portions. After the meal everyone went through to the drawing room and Isabella went over to the piano.

Johnny had heard Adam sing at college and suggested his friend join them in some carols as it wasn’t long until Christmas. Adam hesitated, unsure he’d be welcome, but as Isabelle started to play he found it easy to join in. His rich deep voice was a very welcome addition to the sisters’ sopranos. Adam found it very relaxing, he’d always enjoyed singing and he knew he had a good voice. Even so he excused himself early, his back threatening to cramp.

Johnny was very dubious about them going back the next day, but he couldn’t dissuade Adam. Adam knew how much work he had waiting and he wanted the time to go to Paris, so he needed to be caught up. He was still determined to complete his part I in eighteen months. Wherever he decided to settle, he needed to move on with his life, he was no longer a kid.

After Adam went to bed, Beth started cross-questioning her brother about him. She had been attracted by the tall handsome stranger. Then he had saved her life, now he’d captivated her with his singing. Johnny couldn’t answer her main question was Adam staying in England. He didn’t know and he was fairly sure that Adam himself didn’t know. Although pleased that his family liked his friend, Johnny wasn’t too sure about Beth’s interest, but he didn’t dare query it. As a widow Beth had considerable freedom.

The journey back to Cambridge was just as hard as Johnny had feared and, by the time they reached the college, Adam was all in. Very worried Johnny went into see Bert and get his help to get Adam up to his room. Adam was too sore and tired to even protest and he was relieved to lie down on his bed not even able to face undressing. Johnny pulled his boots off and loosened his belt and then pulled a cover over. Adam was asleep almost instantly and wasn’t even aware of Cameron and Johnny checking on him later in the evening.

Over the next week Adam had to force himself to move and found sitting in lectures very painful but he knew he only had himself to blame. Adam did his best to keep it to himself and not snap at well meaning friends. Unable to sleep much he was at least well up on his work and as the pain eased off, he went ahead with his plans to visit Paris.

Without realising it Adam’s letters home revealed more of his feelings and uncertainties than he would have wanted. His family all knew him very well. Slowly the rest of his family has adjusted to the empty chair at the table and to Adam’s absence from their family gatherings. His brothers had picked up many of his jobs, but Ben found out just how much of the load round the ranch his eldest son had covered and was kept very busy.

Each letter that arrived was passed round to all of them and Hop Sing, irrespective of whom it was addressed to, and so far Adam had been meticulous in writing to each weekly. Occasionally a letter had a private insert, not to be shown, as Adam knew their habits. The first letters showed Adam’s deep uncertainty and an underlying bitterness. Ben, at least. was scared by these letters, he felt Adam was on the verge of deciding never to return.

Slowly the letters had sounded more cheerful as Adam began to settle into his work at Cambridge and insensibly Ben relaxed a little.  Then came the letters written the week after his visit to the Earl’s estate. Joe was first home and he sat down by the fire, with the mail he’d collected, to read his brother’s latest missive. Adam hadn’t said anything about his back and had tried to give a light-hearted account of his visit but once he had read the letter Joe frowned and reread it. Something was wrong but he couldn’t put his finger on what was wrong.

Hoss came in and stared down “What’s the matter with you Little Brother?”

“Probably nothing” Joe got restlessly to his feet “Here, letter from Adam” He passed it over “I’m getting coffee want some?”

“Please” Hoss read the letter and then went over to poke the fire. Joe passed over coffee and Hoss waved the letter at him “This got you worried too?”

“I guess so, but I don’t know why.”

“Ain’t his normal writing, sort of stilted.”

Joe  nodded, realising his brother was right. They both knew their brother’s hand very well and although recognisably Adam’s writing it wasn’t his usual flowing script. “What do you think it means?”

“Not sure.” Hoss prevaricated not wanting to put his fears into words “Is there one for me?”

Joe shook his head “No, not for Pa either” He wandered over to the window “Maybe he thought I wouldn’t notice.”

Hoss heard the bitterness in his voice “Come on Shortshanks, that ain’t so. Adam knows we pass the letters round.”

Joe accepted that. Twice he had had an insert for him alone. “Do you think he’s hurt?”

“Maybe. Seen his writing go like that when he’s tense ’cos he’s in pain.” Hoss admitted “But he don’t say nothing.”

“When did big brother ever admit he was ill?”

“Even so Joe if’n he was ill when he wrote the letter, that was weeks ago. He’s probably fine again now.”

“Yeah maybe” Joe didn’t sound convinced.

Hoss went on “Don’t say anything to Pa.”

“No, he’s upset enough anyway with Adam running off.”

“Don’t be too hard on Adam. You know why he went.”

“I can understand Hoss, don’t make it any easier. I know how much Pa misses him.”

“You saying you don’t?”

“No.” Joe admitted

“Good job, ‘cos I wouldn’t believe you.”  Hoss put the letter down on the table “Come on Little Brother, let’s get the chores done afore Pa gets home.

Ben was late in, worried by events in town, pressure from the Bank of California and although equally concerned at his eldest son’s letter, he did not want to discuss any of his problems with his other sons, not yet.

It was a very quiet trio at table and Ben excused himself and went back to work on the books not wanting to talk. It didn’t help, he couldn’t get anything to add up. All he could see was his eldest son’s neat hand in so much of the ledger. For now he couldn’t concentrate on his current problems, he found memories of his eldest son impinging, sure that something was wrong with Adam. Adam had never been forthcoming about his problems even when living at home and he knew Adam wouldn’t write about his problems. He could only pray that whatever was wrong, it would pass soon and Adam would be alright, but he slept badly that night.

Joe tried to lighten things the next morning seeing how drawn his father looked. He said “Old Yankee granite head will be impossible to live with, now he’s friends with Earls and visiting Paris and all that.”

Ben pushed his plate away “I hope we get the chance to find out.” Then he headed out to the barn leaving his younger sons staring at each other in consternation. Ben hardly ever left his meal partway through.

Joe bit his lip “I didn’t mean to upset him.”

“It weren’t you Shortshanks, he’s just worried about Adam.”

“Do you think he’ll come home?”

“I sure hope so, it don’t feel right round here with him away.”

“Pa said it was a five year course.”

“Yeah but Adam reckoned he’d get through faster than that.”

Joe sighed heavily “Even so it’ll be what four years, three at best.” Hoss had no answer to that and just suggested they get on with the day’s work

Twice before the Christmas break Beth made time to visit her brother in Cambridge, each time bringing one of her sisters along. Johnny wasn’t surprised that she also managed to involve Adam and the pair were becoming good friends.

The second visit was only ten days before Christmas and Adam was explaining his finalised plans to visit Paris. He sat back eventually and considered her “What have I said? You’re frowning.”

She looked up at him “Nothing you’ve said, maybe the way you said it.”

“I don’t understand.”

“You’re about to visit Paris for the first time. You have told me several times how much it means to you to see things you have only read about.”

Adam stared at her bemused “Wasn’t that what I just said?”

“Then why is it you sound as though it’s a job you have to do, and not a particularly pleasant one at that.”

Adam got to his feet and went over to the window “I want to go.”

“Do you? I assume you do want to visit Paris.”

Adam turned “I’ve wanted to see for myself for as long as I can remember. Paris and Rome and Venice, London, all those places with history, art and music.”

“Then what is wrong? Is it because its Christmas?”

“Probably.” Adam turned back to the window and stared out “I left presents for them all with Hop Sing.”

“Who is Hop Sing?”

“Our cook, housekeeper, nurse, friend. He’s been with us since shortly after Joe was born and in his own way runs us all.”

“But leaving presents isn’t the same as being there.”

“I missed Christmas before, when I was at college in Boston, but at least I had my Grandfather and I was younger. Somehow family didn’t mean quite the same. I thought I would be able to keep busy, hide if you like and not feel too lonely.”

“Now you’re not sure it will work?”

“About sums it up. I’m here, because I want to be. Stupid isn’t it. My choice and yet part of me wants to be there. Always been my problem. Torn in two, wanting two different lives at the same time.”

“I don’t think it’s stupid to miss your family but I’ll bet you enjoy Paris. Anyway you know they will be thinking of you, even if you are a long way away. You can tell them what you are doing, write to them. I know that you can build a picture in words.”

Adam relaxed a little and changed the subject. Beth deserved to enjoy the present, she had enough tragedy in her life without him loading more on her. Just because he couldn’t make up his own mind what he wanted out of life.

In one way she was right, there was so much to see round Paris, combined with the effort needed to communicate in a foreign language that he only occasionally felt pangs of homesickness. Charles Dickens was in Paris and Adam was able to renew his friendship with the older man. Charles introduced him to Alexandre Dumas and his son another Alexandre. That led to access to a number of literary and musical salons. Adam spent time at Versaille and saw more art and heard more music than he had in his life. It was just the early hours when exhausted, his back throbbing he couldn’t get to sleep that he found his thoughts heading back to the Ponderosa. He took Beth’s advice and instead of lying there feeling sorry for himself, he wrote long letter to his father and brothers, describing what he had seen and who he had met.

Adam didn’t realise that those letters, often with a mention of Beth as she was on his mind for suggesting he write, led to real concern at home. Hoss was the first to notice how often the Earl’s daughter got a mention. He looked so worried about it that Ben laughed at him “Don’t you think your brother is good enough to go with the daughter of an Earl?”

Joe piped up “He’s good with all those long words, knows art and music, I’m sure he’ll fit right in.”

Ben nodded his agreement “Of course he will. Your brother is handsome and can charm a bird out of a tree when he wants to.”

Hoss looked up “You two got it all wrong I ain’t worried about Adam not fitting in. Just that he’ll do it too well.”

Ben frowned “I don’t understand Son.”

“Adam can fit right in in England but that fancy lady she ain’t gonna want to come here, not to the wilds of Nevada. If’n Adam is serious about her ...” Hoss tailed off.

Joe frowned “She’ll keep Adam there in England.”

Ben shook his head “Your brother hasn’t given any hint that he is serious about this woman.”

“When does Adam ever tell us anything straight out?” Joe demanded.

“We have enough to worry about without your brother. When he decides what he wants to do he will let us know. For now lets concentrate on things we can affect.” Ben turned away from his sons and went back to the books, but the story they told him was still uniformly depressing. He missed his eldest son more than he was willing to admit, particularly now when it seemed someone was going to try and bankrupt the Ponderosa, Noone but Adam knew the ranch so well, only he could really understand the problems Ben faced. Maybe it was time he laid it all out with his younger sons and put them in the same position. His mind made up Ben called Hoss and Joe over “Did it ever occur to you that someone shrewd enough and determined enough could bankrupt the Ponderosa?”

The early part of the spring term was very busy for Adam as he tried to complete two years work in one but things eased off a little towards the end of February. Sitting quietly studying had helped his back a great deal and he could forget it most of the time. It was only when he was overtired that it made its presence felt. He willingly accepted Johnny’s invitation for another weekend with his family.

Over tea the first afternoon Beth gravitated to his side “Did you enjoy Paris?”

“Very much.”

She considered him for a moment as he sat there smiling at her and then nodded “You’ve made up your mind.”

“Adam frowned “What do you mean?”

“You’re going home. Finish the course in America and be a lawyer in Nevada.”

Adam stared blankly at her for a moment and then confused got to his feet and walked over to the window. He had been so busy over the last weeks he had decided to leave considerations of his options until later and had tried not to think about the future. That was made easier as he was rushed off his feet in the present.

Beth gave him a few minutes and then went over and tentatively put her hand on his arm “I’m sorry Adam I didn’t mean to upset you.”

Adam looked down at her and smiled “You haven’t. Puzzled me maybe. How did you know I had made a decision when I didn’t know?”

“But you have?”

“Yes I believe you’re right. Somehow it’s the only possible decision for me. I just had to accept it. But how did you know?”

“You’re so much more relaxed and I’ve heard you talk about your family.” She smiled at him “Oh I had a few dreams of my own Adam Cartwright but you’ll never fit into the polite society of England while your heart is back on the Ponderosa.”

Adam heard the echoes of her words from the past and smiled ruefully “Someone told me almost exactly that many years ago. I guess I’m a slow learner.”

“When will you go back?”

“Not until I’ve competed my Part I, another year and a half maybe.”

“Why not now?”

“I nearly did great harm. In a sense this is my penance so that I can go home and rebuild my dreams.” Adam laughed at himself “Anyway this is probably my only chance to see all the things I have dreamt of over the years. Build up the memories so I don’t need to run away again.” He shook his head “Why can I talk to you like this Beth? Things I wouldn’t dream of telling anyone else, not even my family.” he smiled “Maybe especially not them!”

Beth took his arm “Let’s walk.” Adam willingly went out onto the patio with her and they walked slowly round the herb garden “You didn’t answer my question Beth.”

She smiled “None of this is quite real to you.”

Adam stroked her arm “Seems very real to me, very solid.”

“You know that’s not what I mean. Your real life is there, on your ranch with your family. This is time out. Time to see things, build up memories, friends who will never be part of that life. Won’t be able to throw your words back at you or make demands you can’t satisfy, because we shall be left behind.”

“Makes me sound very hard.”

“I didn’t mean that. Just that sometimes it’s easier to reveal things to those not so intimately involved in your own life.”

“If things had been different..”

“No Adam don’t let’s spoil things. I couldn’t fit into your life anymore than you could fit into mine. We are lucky to have some time together as friends and that we can always be.”

Adam kissed her forehead and then excused himself. He needed to think. The decision was made and he was sure that it was the right one but he still needed to consider all the implications. He’d thought of finding a wife and settling here, and he knew it wouldn’t take much for him to fall very deeply in love with Beth, and he was sure that she would reciprocate. If he was ever going to fulfil that plan it would be easy with Beth but she was right, too much of his heart was back home on the Ponderosa to ever be happy here. It was not only his father and brothers but the very land itself. So much of his time and energy over the years had gone into improving the ranch, it had more of a hold on him than he had ever realised.

Once sure of his decision it was as though a great weight had been lifted from his shoulders. For the first time in a long time he was beginning to feel fit and as his physical fitness improved so did his confidence. He knew he was on top of the work and could complete the work for the first two years by May. The third year course leading up to the part one consisted of completing two courses, normally one before and one after Christmas plus a dissertation. Adam had already had preliminary discussions with the Master. There were two courses before Xmas with students opting for one or the other and it was possible for Adam to do both and omit the one in the spring term, which was really irrelevant if he was not practising law in England. If he could complete the dissertation too he would be free to head home next January and be there as the work restarted in less than a year. Meantime Adam had four months to tour Europe and build up the memories that would sustain him over the years to come. Remove the need to come back to the ‘civilised world’. His basic plan clear Adam was more relaxed than he had been in years.

He still felt the need of a wife and child, but now he was prepared to leave it to fate. It would happen when it was right and somehow he had faith that one day it would. Beth had given him back the faith in himself, that he had it in him to make a woman happy, to make the commitment. It was just the problem of meeting the right woman. For now he was content to enjoy Beth’s company as a good friend,

That evening was one Beth and all her family would remember for a long time. Adam was in a zany mood and he was very willing to entertain them and treated them to a range of western ballads as well as more traditional songs. The girls joined in on some of them but on others they sat back and enjoyed his rich baritone.

Now he was sure what he wanted to do Adam wasted no time in seeing the Master and ensuring that it was possible. The Master was concerned that he would be more than doubling his workload but he had already seen proof of Adam’s ability to cope. It was obvious that Adam would be at the very least in the top three of second year student if not top, despite his unorthodox work schedule. Even so the Master was very relieved to find Adam was planning time out over the summer. He had half expected Adam to be staying in Cambridge to complete the dissertation. Adam shook his head “I’ll give it some thought while I’m away but I have planned to see parts of Europe all my life, now is my chance, probably my only one.”

“You are talking about a very heavy workload with two courses and a dissertation by Christmas.”

“I do realise that and if I have to I will take an extra month or so to complete the dissertation. I just wanted to ensure that the rest would be sufficient to complete the Part I.”

“Pass both of those courses and the dissertation along with your exams next month and it will be. I take it that you will be completing your course at Harvard?”

“Yes Sir. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time at Cambridge but I shall be practising back home in Nevada, so I need to complete the course in the United States.”

“We shall be very sorry to lose you Mr Cartwright. From what I hear you have been a very good influence on some of our students.”

“Well I have certainly learnt a lot from some of them Sir.”

Adam found the work went very smoothly and he found time to lay detailed plans for his extended vacation. He wasn’t saying anything in letters home, as he wasn’t quite sure when he would get back, but the tone of his letters changed subtly.

Ben was caught up in the fight with the Bank of California, often barely seeing Hoss and Joe, but now he began to look forward to his eldest son’s letters, although he couldn’t put his finger on why. It was impossible to send replies as Adam was wandering round Europe on an unknown schedule but Ben’s few pleasant thoughts were of Adam. For almost the first time in his life Adam was doing exactly what he wanted. Ben was all too aware of the pressure he had put on his eldest son most of Adam’s life. From the young child left to amuse himself, and then barely old enough to look after himself he was also helping to care for Hoss. For awhile acting as the surrogate father to his youngest brother and then the long hard grind as they built the ranch. Once before at college Adam had time to himself but since his return Ben was sure that the number of times that Adam had put his own needs first could be counted on the fingers of one hand.

It was mid June when a letter to Joe brought comfort to all of them. For once all three were at the house and Joe had just come in from breaking horses to find a letter from Adam. He took it upstairs with him to read as he washed up but came dashing back down, shirtless, towel round his neck unwilling to wait to share his news. “Listen to this Adam’s been making some sketches of Venice.”

Hoss was tired and irritable “So what he’s always sketching.”

“Let me finish. He says that he’ll show them to me soon, when he comes home.”

Hoss frowned and Joe grinned broadly “Don’t you see Hoss, no if’s or but’s. He says when he come home and he says soon.”

“You said yourself three or four years, he ain’t been gone one yet.”

“And you said he’d find a way through faster!” Joe grinned at his father and brother “Adam says he’ll be home soon and he’s never lied to me.”

Ben poured three brandies “I think that’s what I have been sensing in his letters. I just knew he was happier in himself. I guess it’s because he has decided to come home.”

Hoss looked up at that “He said he’d come back and as Joe said he don’t lie.”

Ben got restlessly to his feet and poked the fire “I never doubted that he would come back Hoss but I had my doubts that he would stay.”

Joe looked down at his letter again and realised that there was still no guarantee of that. His excitement burst like a bubble and he asked quietly “And now?”

“I think its more likely he will stay than I did a few months ago but at least he will be home and for now he is enjoying himself. He’s earned that.”

Hoss and Joe thought of the number of times that they had relied on their elder brother. Sometimes to take the full weight of the Ponderosa on his shoulders and always to be there for them and both of the brothers could only agree with their Pa, Adam had earned time to enjoy himself.

Pleasant thoughts of Adam were soon buried under immediate problems as Ben did all he could to protect his beloved ranch at a higher cost than ever before. He came close to paying the highest price of all as Hoss was badly hurt but God in his infinite mercy gave Hoss the strength to survive. The ranch was slightly damaged, financially they had lost quite a lot, but involvement in the mines repaid that tenfold and by the end of the summer Ben only had bad memories.

The fight between the famous ranch the Ponderosa and the Bank of California had made a number of the papers and Ben decided he had to let his eldest son know exactly what had happened. He could only write a long letter and send it to Cambridge to await Adam’s return but he waited until he could be sure that Hoss would make a full recovery.

Adam had spent the summer wandering round Europe. He had plenty of money from his investments but in fact barely needed to touch it. He had always enjoyed playing poker and found a few lucrative evenings at the gambling club he was introduced to in London had given him a healthy profit. He had spent time in Rome, Florence, Naples and Venice before moving through Switzerland and Austria and into Bavaria, where he was fascinated by King Ludwig’s new castle. He enjoyed the Alps, but used to the Sierra Nevada, they just reminded him of home.

Adam enjoyed the art, architecture and music in the big cities, with letters of introduction to many of the local intelligentsia and rulers but he also spent time working his way along the Rhone in a canal boat and helping with the wine harvest in Southern France. Often he had to rely on making himself understood in either French or German. He had learnt a little Italian along the way and a lot about the people of Europe. It was an idyllic few weeks for Adam, a time out of his normal life that he would never forget but as it drew to an end he knew that much as he had enjoyed it, he couldn’t make this wandering his life. He had roots and family and he needed to get back to them, needed it so badly he could almost taste it.

Eventually tanned and fit Adam headed back to Cambridge determined to get a quiet week’s work done on his dissertation before the start of term. He found a large pile of mail in his room, not surprising as he had been out of touch for four months, and eagerly looked for letters from home. Finding a big thick packet from his father Adam made coffee and then sat down to catch up on the news. What he read came as a huge shock and once he had finished the letter he checked again that Hoss was recovering.

Bitterly angry with himself Adam drank nearly a complete bottle of brandy but it didn’t help. He felt ashamed, he had been playing for months thinking only of his own pleasure and enjoyment while his family were fighting for their ranch and his beloved big brother nearly dying for it.

Adam knew he could easily have studied in Boston and been able to return within a couple of weeks. His back might have been a good enough reason to return to his studies but his trip to Europe was pure self-indulgence. For several nights he barely slept, fiercely self-critical at the best of times, he blamed himself for letting his family down, for not being there when he was needed.

He had written long letters home to each of his family, but in particular to Hoss, trying to apologise for not being there when they needed him, self blame evident in every word. What Adam didn’t realise as he sealed the letters was his love and care for each of them was also there in each word, along with the implicit promise that he would be home.

At the Ponderosa as Hoss slowly recovered all of them were heartened by Adam’s letters sure he cared and would return and perhaps less aware of how much he blamed himself for his absence. Ben was most in tune with his eldest son and he saw the self-blame and couldn’t help worrying about Adam.

In Cambridge Adam was sunk in deep depression blaming himself so much but at least he got through a great deal of work, not wanting time to think. He tried to cut himself off from all his friends barely managing a polite word to anyone and locking himself in his room apart from lectures, barely eating existing on coffee and brandy.

Johnny wasn’t about to be shut out and despite several mornings when Adam did his best to throw the youngster out, Johnny wouldn’t give up. Unable to get through to Adam himself Johnny enlisted his sister’s help and Beth came on a visit.

Despite his mood Adam couldn’t be rude to Beth and found it very difficult to avoid her. When Johnny had them both in his room and had provided high tea, he excused himself. Beth went straight to the point something was badly wrong and Adam might feel better if he talked it out. Almost against his will Adam found himself giving her an abbreviated account of his news from home. Beth knew him well enough to read the self-blame but made it very clear she didn’t agree. Adam wasn’t psychic and if no-one told him there was a problem it was ridiculous for him to blame himself for not responding to it. Put that way the logical side of Adam’s nature had to agree even if his instincts told him that he should have known. Somehow it did help and he relaxed a little and slept better than he had in weeks.

Adam set about the remaining work he required to do with single-minded determination. If he couldn’t be there to help his family he would as least make sure the time he spent away wasn’t wasted, he would be the best lawyer he could.

By the end of term Adam had completed his dissertation and passed both courses with the highest honours. He was able to concentrate on packing all his things, the momentoes he had gathered round Europe and the presents he had for his family.

Johnny had arranged for Adam to join his family for a New Year’s ball and then a long weekend in London before Adam left on a ship bound for New York on the 12th January. Johnny was determined that one day he would go and visit his friend in Nevada and Adam didn’t rule out returning to Europe for a vacation but both knew that they would have to rely on letters to keep in touch.

Beth found it a bitter, sweet weekend. She was very fond of Adam, a man unlike any other she had ever met and it would have been so easy to throw all sense out of the window and give in to emotion, but she knew herself too well. She couldn’t live in the world that Adam had described, anymore than she could cage him in the polite society that was her home.

Somehow she put thoughts of missing him from her and enjoyed his company one last time. Adam was more than willing to dance, go riding and to sing for them again. He had gained a great deal through his friendship with Johnny and his family.

As the days slipped past in a whirl of engagements, final visits to places and people Adam felt as though his current life was slipping into a dream and his real life was coming back into focus. Standing with Johnny watching his belongings move onto the ship that would take him to New York, Adam was just eager to get home. He hadn’t notified his family what he was doing unsure how long it would take him to make the journey. He was determined to make it as fast as he could. He was going home.