Home to Stay

by:  Lyn R.


Adam got off the train in Reno and hired a horse for the final leg of his journey. He had enjoyed his time in Boston but after four months had begun to feel hemmed in and with his final law exams finished he was free to go. He was now a fully qualified lawyer and feeling very pleased with himself, but eager to get home.

He had been back east for five months and although he knew that everything had been going well on the ranch, he wanted to see for himself. He had been homesick on occasion while he was in Europe but there was so much to see, so many things he had dreamt about, that he had been able to forget most of the time. The last five months in Boston had seemed never ending. As a student, years earlier, he had thoroughly enjoyed himself, but his grandfather had been there and the other students had been his own age. This last five months Boston had seemed very parochial compared to Cambridge and the other students very young.

His old roommate had made some comment about Adam’s earlier engagement, and word had spread that he was a potential husband. The Ponderosa was becoming famous, since Ben had had so many people visiting, some of them very influential in Eastern society. Adam Cartwright was a favoured guest round town. For a few weeks Adam had enjoyed the musical evenings and balls but as word spread of the involvement of the Cartwrights in the rich silver strikes in Virginia City, every match making mother deciding that he would be an excellent catch.

Adam found the work that he had to complete didn’t occupy all his time and he was fed up with the light talk and matching minds of some of the people he had to deal with. Ben had wanted him to make contacts, but contacts with the husbands seemed to always bring the wife and the simpering debutante daughter. He compared them with Beth, and if she had been unlikely to cope in the wilds of Nevada, these brightly coloured girls reminded him forcibly of a flock of butterflies and they would survive about as long in a Nevada winter.

There had been some saving graces and he’d enjoyed renewing his friendship with Oliver Wendell Holmes Jnr and meeting a bright young engineer George Westinghouse, who was using the Harvard library. Even so the minute Adam had completed his final examination, he had booked a ticket west. Harvard would send him his certificate and Adam knew the work well enough to know he would have passed out near the top of the class, so he didn’t need to await the results. That had allowed him to head home only just over five months after he had left and this time he was going home to stay.

His family wouldn’t be expecting him for several weeks yet so he took his time, reacquainting himself with the land that he loved. He was riding through the north pasture heading for Lake Tahoe. The open country with the majestic pines and the azure jewel of the lake gave him more peace of mind that he had had in the last months. He rode up to the promontory where Joe’s mother was buried, the trees there were the most majestic of those on the ranch and were a living record of the efforts the Cartwrights had made in the field of conservation. They had often been laughed at for failing to turn the timber into money, but the Ponderosa remained a major source of timber while the surrounding Sierra’s were denuded. Adam dismounted and settled back into his usual spot. The very land seemed to welcome him in this spot, where for all his family peace was most easily gained. The beauty there typified the land that they had taken and made their own. Adam was totally oblivious of time as his memory roamed wide over the past, thinking of the times when he had badly need the peace of this spot to bring his problems into perspective.

Eventually Adam headed back to the horse, the Ponderosa was home but the main reasons for calling it home were his father and his two hard headed brothers and suddenly he couldn’t wait to see them.

Ben was sitting staring into the fire waiting for Hoss and Joe to come home. They had joined José on hopefully the final delivery of feed for the herd. The weather had broken but the grass was still only just beginning to grow so the last of the stored hay was needed to keep the cattle healthy. Ben hadn’t seen his sons for four days but was expecting them back. He knew they were intending to go to town for the Saturday night dance, the last one they were likely to have a chance to attend for a while as the work on the ranch picked up with the spring roundup.

Ben had missed his sons but at least he could expect to have their company at the roundup and his thoughts turned to Adam, the eternal scholar. His eldest son had not returned to Europe as he had learnt where his heart belonged but he was expected to be in Boston for six months in total and it would probably be mid-June before Ben could hope to see him. Ben loved all his sons equally but with Adam away the burden of the ranch always rested more heavily. Hoss didn’t understand contracts and figures very well and Little Joe, although now 23, was still impulsive. Ben grinned at the thought, he wouldn’t want his youngest son any different but he did miss his eldest son’s calm logical brain and good sense, to say nothing of his aptitude for figures, which always made the accounts much easier. Ben knew that he could be impulsive himself but where the ranch was concerned he had learnt not to be. It was easier when his son was there to act as a sounding board and Ben found himself deep in the past remembering times when he had relied heavily on Adam for just that.

Hop Sing watched his master and saw he was deep in the past but everything seemed to be alright and Mr Cartwright, although lost in his memories, seemed happy so Hop Sing was content. There was no real trouble on the Ponderosa. He headed back into the kitchen and on impulse decided that a bigger stew was needed and began to throw some more meat into the pot.

Adam rode out of the trees and saw the ranchhouse below him. As he watched two horses, a black and a pinto came into the yard from the south. Even at that distance Adam had no problem in recognising his brothers and he grinned broadly. He knew from the way Joe danced Cochise that all was right with his world and he rode on down to rejoin his family.

As they were going into town the boys just asked for their horses to be watered and cooled off while they went in for some food themselves. Dan Tolliver was there and took the two horses willingly. Hoss greeted his father and then headed for the kitchen to get some food. He returned more rapidly thrown out by Hop Sing, who believed in running his family his way and the stew would be ready in half an hour.
Hoss sat down sighing heavily as he grabbed an apple “Dadburnit I’m hungry now.”
Little Joe laughed “If you eat half as much as you usually do Sue-Ann won’t be able to get her arms round you.”

Ben shook his head “I just wish one of you would settle down with a girl. I would really like some grandchildren before I’m too old to enjoy them.”

Joe giggled “Well you can’t expect Hoss to marry Sue-Ann, she can’t cook.”
Before Hoss had the chance to retaliate they all heard the sound of a horse coming into the yard. Ben asked “Either of you expecting anyone?” but both of them shook their heads. Unexpected arrivals at this time of the year could all too often herald trouble and a slight tension replaced the gaiety in the room. Ben told Little Joe to go and check who it was and Joe wandered out. At first he couldn’t see anyone and the horse was a stranger, then Adam came round the hitch rail. Joe took one look and let out a loud whoop, before dashing over to his eldest brother. He yelled “Pa Hoss get out here.” Then grabbed Adam giving him a big hug, before standing back grinning widely.

Ben and Hoss looked at each other and Ben got to his feet “Sounds like a real popular visitor”, then he followed his big son to the door. Hoss reached it first and stopped dead in surprise “Goddarn it, it’s real good to see you,” Ben tried to move past his big son and see what all the commotion was about and Hoss moved out of his way. Hoss and Joe watched their father’s face as he saw his eldest son. They knew he had missed Adam and now here he was, a good six weeks earlier than they had hoped.

Adam moved towards his father “You’ve now got a fully qualified lawyer in the family.”

Ben didn’t really care about qualifications at that moment, it was enough that his son was home. He went forward to put his arm round Adam’s shoulders as though he needed the physical contact in order to believe his eyes. “It’s been a long time Son, welcome home.” Ben led Adam inside, while Hoss took the horse over to the barn and, with rare tact, Joe decided to go to the kitchen and warn Hop Sing that there would be four for dinner.

Alone with his eldest son for a few minutes Ben didn’t speak, his eyes searched Adam’s face, but what he saw reassured him, all was well. “How have you made it home so soon we weren’t expecting you for about six weeks?” The plan had been that Adam took his exams and while he waited for the results he made some contacts in New York, Boston and even Chicago. A ranch always needed contacts for buying and selling; it could be the difference between success and going under.

Adam smiled “Well I was confident that I had passed so I decided I didn’t need to wait for my results they will send the certificate and I had met so many people anyway. It seemed a waste of time and I was bored and lonely so I came home. ”

Ben hugged his son and with his voice thick with emotion “God its good to see you Son.”

Adam said “I picked up a telegraph in Reno I passed, second in my class Pa. I still need to go through the formalities, here and in California to join the bar in both states, but otherwise I am fully qualified. I just hope it is useful round the ranch. Important enough to make up for what I have put you all through these last years.”

“You haven’t put us through anything.”

“Pa, you saw Hoss at my going away party, don’t lie to me. We both know what I have put you through, for reasons I deemed sufficient, but now I am home and I will make it up to my brothers.”

“All they ever wanted was for you to be happy Son. Anyway where are they?” Ben yelled for his sons and as they appeared so did Hop Sing and Adam went to greet him “Good to see you old friend, I’ve sure missed your cooking and it smells like stew.”

Hop Sing grinned, all his family were home, his four favourite people together, the way he liked it. He had learnt English from the nine-year-old Adam when he first came to the Ponderosa and the place always seemed incomplete without him. He said "I make plenty stew, had feeling be many people, ready in ten minutes.”

Ben sat back and watched his three sons chatting busily, all talking at once as they tried to catch up on five months of news. He was very content, his family complete again.

Then as they ate their meal Joe remembered the dance, he and Hoss both had dates and had to go. He looked over at his eldest brother “You gonna join us at the dance in town this evening? It’s gonna be a long time until the next one.”

Adam looked at his father and shook his head “No I think I’ll give it a miss, I’m a bit tired after the journey so guess I’ll stay home.”

Ben laughed at his eldest son “A ride from Reno tired you out Son, you must be getting old! Go along with Hoss and Joe. I have some accounts to do and then tomorrow we can catch up with all the news.”

Adam grinned “Well if you put it that way, can’t have little brother thinking I’m old can we?”

Adam looked over at his brothers “What new girls do we have in town, since I am going unattached?”

Hoss started to enumerate the ones he didn’t think Adam had met and those he knew who were still unattached, but then Little Joe broke in “The new school-marm Adam, she’s just your type.”

Adam stared suspiciously at his littler brother, memories of Abigail Jones very clear in his mind. He wasn’t reassured at the imp of mischief, which shone through Joe’s attempts to look innocent.” Adam tried to get his little brother to elucidate but Joe wasn’t co-operating and slowly as the conversation moved on Adam forgot about it.

Once they had finished their meal Adam took his bags up to his room to change. He wasn’t surprised a few minutes later when there was a tap on his door. Adam was standing staring out of the window and he didn’t bother to turn “Come on in Pa.”

Ben moved over and gently rested his hand on the back of Adam’s shoulder, needing the contact. Adam turned slightly “I always loved this view, seeing it again makes me feel I’m really home.”

Ben sighed slightly “In a year you will be restless to be off again.”

Adam shook his head decisively “Not this time Pa. I’ve a feeling that I’ll find what I’m looking for here. In fact I have come to the conclusion that I can only find it here.”

Ben studied his son’s serious face and he squeezed Adam’s shoulder “It will come of it’s own accord Son, You won’t make the same mistake again will you?”

Adam shook his head “Laura. Have you heard from her and Will?”

Ben nodded “She’s expecting a baby at the end of the year. Do you still miss her?”

Adam sighed and turned to look up at his father “Not her so much as the idea of my own family. Kids of mine. I’m thirty Pa, it’s past time.”

Ben grinned and said “It will come when it’s ready. Didn’t any of the girls in Boston seem attractive?”

Adam snorted “I wrote you about those match making mamas, their daughters would no more survive here than a butterfly in winter.”

Ben laughed and then seeing his youngest son heading down stairs he suggested that Adam had better get changed and join his brothers. Ben headed back to his own room, thinking about his eldest son. Adam was meant to be a family man and he couldn’t believe that in time he wouldn’t learn the joys of his own children, but it had to be the right woman and Adam hadn’t been lucky in love during his life. Sometimes Ben thought that those early years had caused his son to lock his feelings up so tight that no woman had ever broken through to him, the only people to have penetrated that shell, apart from his brothers, had all been young children. He just prayed that eventually Adam would find a woman who could do the same. Ben thought of his own three wives, he had been so lucky with all to them, only to lose them too soon. Still he had then with him always in the sons each had borne him and in the memories of the wonderful days he had shared with them. He prayed that each of his sons would find that same joy one day.

As Ben went down he found all three of his sons ready and Hoss had saddled Sport for Adam. They waved goodbye and set out for town. They chatted as they rode, Hoss and Joe either side of their brother, as close as Sport would allow. The normally long ride to town seemed to pass in a flash and they were engulfed by the hustle and bustle of Virginia City. Even on a Saturday night the mines were working and the mills adding their noise. but it seemed that all those not working were celebrating and the result was bedlam.

Adam swung away from his brothers as they went to collect their dates, arranging to see them down at the dance later. Adam headed over to the sheriff’s to see Roy. He was in luck Roy was in his office and delighted, if surprised, to see Adam “Hey boy I didn’t know you were back. Last time I spoke to Ben he said it would be six or eight weeks afore you came home.”

“Well I finished up rather faster than I had feared and came on home.”

“How does all this seem after Boston?”

“Noisy! Still at least it’s alive. Sometimes Boston seemed half dead and I began to think I could never make polite conversation again!”

“Ben in town with you?” Roy asked.

“No Pa had some work to finish, I came in with my brothers for the dance.”

“Well I will be dropping by later so I’ll see you down there.”

Adam took his leave of Roy and wandered down to the Palace for a beer before he headed to the dance and saw Dan de Quille over by the bar. Dan grinned as he spotted Adam’s approach and signalled for a drink, Adam grinned “Beer please Dan.”

“You qualified now?”

Adam nodded “Formalities here and in California but that’s just pay the fee.”

“That’ll be a big help at the ranch.”

“That’s why I did it. The amount of legal work keeps growing and it’s a waste of time having to check with a lawyer every time just because people only accept contracts drawn up by one.”

“I’ll bet Ben’s pleased to have you back, he in town.”

“No he was finishing off some accounts. I came in with Hoss and Joe for the dance.”

“I was just going down there myself so if you have finished that beer let’s go.” The two men wandered down the street chatting easily as Dan brought Adam up to date with some of the latest developments in town. Dan was a very old friend and he regularly visited the Ponderosa to refit for the chaos of life in Virginia City as he put it. He’d known all the Cartwrights for a number of years but somehow he could never feel that he understood Adam. The other three he could read like a book, they were largely predictable, but in line with most people he couldn’t figure Adam. Despite that they had become good friends, two of the few locally who read widely, and they often exchanged books and discussed what they had read.

As they neared the dance hall the conversation had drifted to the books that Adam had bought in the East and had en-route to the ranch. They were still discussing books as they went into the hall. Adam had got hold of one of the few books to emerge from Russia ‘Crime and Punishment’ by Doestevsky. Adam hadn’t been very happy with the translation and had got hold of the original French translation to compare. Dan had heard of the book and wanted to read it but he didn’t read French so Adam promised he could borrow the English version. As he chatted to Dan Adam suddenly became aware that a very beautiful brunette was listening to them with apparent interest. He knew he had never seen her before, about five foot five, she had a curvaceous figure, which most men would appreciate and Adam certainly did. Her hair neatly dressed on top of her head showing a long slender neck and big eyes with a slightly unusual shape set off by long eyelashes. Adam was just considering her full lips when Dan realised he had lost his audience and for once it was easy to read Adam. Dan smiled and then moved forward to greet the brunette “Of course you two won’t have met. This is Carole King, she’s our new school teacher. Carole this is Adam Cartwright from the Ponderosa.”

Adam held out his hand and she shook it, with a pleasantly firm handshake. He remembered the mischief in his youngest brothers and wondered why, certainly she was very lovely and as she joined in their conversation he found she was well read. She had also heard of the book but failed to get a copy and as she read French, Adam promised to loan her that copy as soon as he had completed it.

Then he invited her to dance. She accepted but he began to wonder why as she seemed to stiffen up as soon as they moved out onto the floor. She barely spoke and wouldn’t look at him, leaving Adam very puzzled. When the dance finished he led her over to the buffet and got her a glass of punch and, with his hands no longer touching her, she seemed to relax and began to chat again.

Adam was puzzled by her reaction but he didn’t have any time to dwell on it as various friends noticed his presence and came to welcome him home. For a while he was the centre of a crowd and she slipped away and then he decided that he had enjoyed the going away party so he fancied a homecoming one. He managed to pigeonhole Hoss for long enough to check that there was nothing on next Saturday and then he started inviting people. The Ponderosa parties were famous and everyone accepted until he asked Carole. She shook her head “I don’t think I can, it’s a long way out of town from what I have heard of your ranch.”

“Lots of people will be coming out from town. I can get Dan to bring you out, he always joins us.”

“Well I’ll think about it.” She agreed. Adam found himself staying by her chatting for the next half an hour and the time went past very rapidly, so he was surprised when Joe came over to say that they were leaving. Joe and Hoss had to escort their dates home but Carole was very clear she did not need any escort and just took her leave of him. Adam went to fetch their three horses from the livery arranging to meet his brothers outside the Palace. As he walked down to the Livery Adam realised that although Carole had been willing to talk to him, they had spent the whole time discussing books, totally impersonal; not once had she said anything about herself, nor expressed any curiosity about him. Neither had she allowed him any opening to try and arrange to see her again. Fresh from being chased by the simpering young ladies of Boston, Adam found it a very refreshing change but he had to admit to himself that he was slightly piqued by it. He would wait for the party and then see what happened.

Joe teased his brother on the way home “I told you that the new school-marm was your type.”

Adam looked very suspiciously at his little brother, who was grinning broadly, he shrugged “She is very lovely.”

Hoss took pity on him “Lots of guys in town agree with you there but no-one got anywhere in taking her out, just the brush off. Reckon if you do get a dance with her it’s like dancing with a statue, seems she’s taken a vow against men.”

Adam nodded at that “Well I’d have to agree with them there, but I think she would be worth melting. I reckon there’s fire under that shell.”

Joe asked enthusiastically “You taking on the job?” but his eldest brother just laughed “Have a heart Joe I’ve only seen her once and I’ve only just escaped the Boston Mama’s.” Then Adam changed the subject to the party he had been arranging for the following Saturday, just laughing at Joe’s concerns that he had gone ahead without checking with Pa first. Joe was impressed despite himself, he wouldn’t have dared to do the same, but he had to admit in the euphoria of having his eldest son home Adam would probably get away with it.

It was late when they rode in but Ben was still sitting by the fire. He hadn’t been able to go to bed without seeing Adam again, just to reassure himself that he wasn’t dreaming. Joe and Hoss guessed as much but they, like their father had missed Adam, and for once they forbore to tease him. The four Cartwrights sat round the fire drinking coffee until Adam yawned widely and pulled himself to his feet. “I don’t care if it does show I’m getting old. I’m tired out and I’m going to bed.” He headed for the stairs but unusually for him he gripped the shoulder of each of his family in turn as he headed for the stairs, “Goodnight all see you in the morning.”

Once upstairs he heard his family following him up and he stood by the window for a moment staring out into the moonlight at the land that he loved. He was at peace with the world and with himself and fell asleep as soon as he got into bed.

He overslept in the morning still on Boston time and it was nearly nine before he was finally dressed and shaved and headed down. Ben smiled “Good afternoon Son. You want breakfast?”

“I’ll settle for coffee and maybe scrounge some cookies but I think I’ll wait for lunch. Don’t think I want to push my luck with Hop Sing first day home.”

“Probably the best time to do it.” Ben said dryly and revelled in the broad grin that Adam gave him displaying his dimples. “Yes but I have already done enough in arranging a party next week.”

Ben shook his head at his son and then he began to fill Adam in on the current position at the ranch. There were no major problems for once and the ranch wasn’t over-stretched on their current contracts but there were the usual problems over details. At this time of year there were always reports of damage as the hands gradually moved out over the far reaches of the ranch. Then the roundup was planned to start over the next few days, although most of it would wait until after the following weekend, since as Ben said, his son had seen fit to declare a holiday then. Adam just grinned knowing exactly how seriously to take that complaint and anyway as he said they had his expert assistance, which would save them several days work.

His brothers had been out completing the essential chores and they came in arguing furiously over who had forgotten to close the tack room door. Ben demanded why it mattered and rather sheepishly Joe admitted that there was a family of skunks in there.

Adam fought to keep a straight face as his father made it clear to his brothers that whoever was responsible for the original mistake they had better work together very carefully to get the animals out again, before they sprayed everything. Joe turned on him anyway and asked what he would do about it.

Adam shrugged “Maybe try bribery, a trail of small pieces of meat might entice them out.”

Hoss grinned broadly at that “Sure worth a try brother, Come on Joe lets get something from Hop Sing.”

Ben had to laugh as his younger sons disappeared again and then he and Adam sat dawn to go over the thousand and one details involved in running a ranch the size of the Ponderosa. By lunchtime Adam was reasonably up to date and began to feel he had never been away. Just as his brothers reappeared for food, Ben picked up the details required for a new contract to deliver cattle to the army. He looked at his son with great pride “You can draw this up.” The army always insisted on registered lawyers drawing up contracts and this would be the first time the ranch made use of his new expertise. Ben smiled seeing the pleasure on Adam’s face.

“We’ve none of us said very much in the excitement of having you home but I hope you know how proud of you we all are.”

Hoss and Joe had heard that and they both added their agreement. Adam could hear the pride in his father’s voice, see it in the look on Ben’s face and he had an enormous lump in his throat. Adam felt the years fall away to a time when he had returned from college before, the first person to go east from Nevada and return with a degree to tell them he was a qualified engineer. He blushed hotly for the first time in years and Ben signalled his younger sons to get coffee. Ben knew no further congratulations were necessary, his son knew how they all felt and words had never been needed between them.

Over the next week Adam slipped back into the life he had known for so many years. Ben was sufficiently concerned about his son to ensure that he spent the first three afternoons doing paperwork, sure that his son was out of practice at riding full time. Adam was grateful even if his brothers were amused, none of them missing Ben’s motives. By the end of the week Ben had run out of excuses and Adam’s muscles had got used to the work and he was working full time with his brothers; branding the calves which had been born close to the house, the easy part of the roundup. Just occasionally a twinge from his back reminded him that although far better, he still had to take a little care in the way he moved. Hoss caught him once and it took Adam’s best efforts to persuade his brother that nothing was really wrong. It was hard work physically but he’d always enjoyed it, as he did the work semi-automatically his mind was free to wander. He found himself thinking more and more about Carole King. He couldn’t explain why, even to himself. She hadn’t seemed particularly interested in him and although she could talk about the things which interested him, he had met any number of women in Boston who could do exactly that without giving them a second thought. He tried to put her out of his mind but as the week went by he found he was looking forward to the party mainly in the hope that she would be there and he could become better acquainted. He spent his evening reading the French edition of Crime and Punishment so that he could finish it and lend it to her. It took him a long time as his French wasn’t marvellous and he had to use a dictionary quite frequently. Ben watched intrigued but could only assume it was his son wanting to use his brain. He just hoped it wasn’t a symptom of the restlessness Adam had shown over the last years.

Adam finally finished the book on Friday night but then he faced the thought that he had no intention of handing it over at the party. He wanted an excuse to see Carole alone.

When Saturday came all the Cartwrights were busy preparing for the party and Ben was surprised to see the sparkle of anticipation in Adam’s eyes. He knew all his sons enjoyed a party but it was a long time since Adam had looked like that in anticipation of one. Ben couldn’t think of any particular reason and casual questioning of his younger sons revealed nothing. Joe just shrugged “I guess he’s just glad to be home” while Hoss suggested that his brother was looking forward to seeing old friends. Ben wasn’t convinced but with no other suggestions forthcoming he had to accept them.

Once the party started he saw his eldest son’s gaze go to the door every time a new arrival came, but that wasn’t so surprising as so many of Adam’s old friends came to greet him. Then Dan arrived, but he was alone and Adam knew she wasn’t going to come. He felt let down although he knew she hadn’t definitely agreed. Still he was good at hiding his feelings and only his father guessed as Adam’s eyes lost their sparkle. Ben was puzzled he couldn’t imagine who Adam was missing, as everyone he could think of was there. He hadn’t been near Adam when Dan arrived and so he didn’t think to ask Dan. Still Adam was the centre of the party as it was to celebrate his homecoming and he did seem to be enjoying himself, never short of a partner to dance with and pleased to have a chat with some of his old friends.

The party went with a swing as usual for the parties at the Ponderosa and by the time the last guests had gone home sometime about one in the morning, the four collapsed into chairs. They looked round at the mess and with one accord decided to leave it until the morning. They sat idly chatting about some of the guests and Joe commented “I thought you asked the schoolmarm.”

Adam nodded “I guess she’s still a statue.” Something in his voice made Ben look up, but there was nothing on his face to lead to any suspicion that he had given her absence a second thought and Ben dismissed the idea. Hoss and Joe were busily debating the relative claims to beauty of Sue Ann and Katie, their respective dates. Joe finally demolished his brother by saying “Well at least Katie can cook.” On that point they all headed for bed.

Adam lay awake for an hour trying to work out why he had felt so let down. He had only spoken to Carole for about an hour all told and she had certainly not given him any reason to think she would give him a second thought when he was not there. At last tired out he fell asleep at the point where he had decided he was being foolish.

Foolish or not, the following morning he decided he had to go and see her, using the book as an excuse. The previous evening his friend John had told Adam that he was holding a crate from Boston for him, so that made a good excuse. Ben suggested he collect the mail as well while he was there. Adam nodded “Sure I’ll have lunch in town so see you this afternoon.”

Ben wondered aloud if his son was up to something, Joe grunted “Sure he is, getting out of the clearing up! Typical eldest brother.” Ben laughed at Joe but he had to admit that maybe Joe had a point, Adam was adept at getting out of tidying up.

Adam found himself singing on the way to town. It felt good to be alive, with his own strong horse beneath him and he had to admit to himself, that however senseless it was, the prospect of seeing Carole was the main reason for his mood. He was determined to try and persuade her to go for a ride with him, although he realised from what his brothers had said that his chances weren’t very high.

He rode into town and to keep his conscience clear he did go and pick up the crate, emptying out the books so that he could transport them on Sport. He even collected the mail and spent half an hour with Dan, but then he wandered down to the school house. It had living accommodation at the rear and he knew that was where he would find Carole King, if she was home.

In fact he could see her out working in the garden as he walked up. Even in her old gardening clothes with her hair slipping from its neat bun, she was very lovely. She looked very puzzled to see Adam and he felt his heart sink, but he smiled “I had to come to town this morning and so I thought I’d drop by with that book you wanted to borrow.”

She took off her gardening gloves and wiped her hands, she really had no choice but to invite him in for coffee, which she did rather begrudgingly. She did apologise for not coming out to the party the previous day but she was very busy. She kept the conversation firmly on literature and when in desperation Adam almost blurted out his invitation to go for a ride, he was firmly refused. She seemed very eager for him to leave and Adam could only thank her for the coffee and take his leave. It was a long time since he had been so emphatically snubbed by a woman. Normally his looks and charm, to say nothing of the Cartwright name and money, had led to them chasing him.

He left town very disconsolate, without bothering with lunch. He headed up to Lake Tahoe, trying to work out whether he really liked her or whether his pride was hurt at being snubbed. Then feeling it wasn’t worth pushing his nose in where he obviously wasn’t wanted and anyway admitting he was getting nowhere, he made up his mind to forget about her. The decision was far easier to take than it was to carry out, but he did push her to the back of his mind sufficiently to hide his uncertainty from his family.

Meanwhile in town Carole had watched Adam ride away. She was cross with herself, she knew she had been rude and she had promised herself that she would stop reacting that way to men. Part of the trouble was Adam himself, he was far too attractive and yet he was a rich powerful man. Carole went back inside lost in her memories. She was determined that she wasn’t going to be hurt again.

Carole had come west straight out of her Ladies College and her New England seclusion. Buck Addison had swept her off her feet. He was a businessman in San Francisco and had been so kind and generous, treating her like a princess. To Carole Buck had epitomised all that was good and decent in a man and, when he asked her to marry him, she was thrilled and couldn’t imagine anything better. For three months she had gone around in a dream waiting for the wedding, which was fixed for the spring. Then shortly before Christmas she began to hear rumours about the Acmé Land Company, Buck’s company. They had promised to sell land to some settlers at $2.50 an acre and the men had built homes and begun to harvest their first year’s crops when the company insisted that they pay for the land and the improvements at an average of $40 an acre. The rumours were rife in Frisco but Carole had tried to ignore them Buck was away and she was sure her perfect gentleman knew nothing about it. He would straighten things out when he came back. Matters came to a head two days before Buck was due back in Frisco. The settlers had been given notice, either to pay up or to quit. They had responded by delivering payment at the originally agreed rate. That night a band of five gunmen tried to throw the settlers off their land forcibly, but they were ready and met fire with fire. Three gunmen and four settlers were killed and it hit the headlines in the local press the following morning. Carole was furious at the way they seemed to lay the whole blame on Buck, but when he returned she had a bad shock. Buck was absolutely furious as well, but at the five gunmen, whom he called incompetent. He had ordered no killing; just told them to give those goddamn nesters a lesson and five of them had been insufficient. Carole had pulled away from him hardly able to believe her own ears and horrified she had asked “You knew about the increased rate?” Buck had just looked puzzled “Of course I knew I ordered it.” Carole had tried to make him see that it was wrong, that he had gone back on his word but Buck couldn’t see that he had done anything wrong. He did see she was upset and had tried to cajole her out of it. After all it was just business, nothing for her to worry her pretty little head about. She had stood there staring at him. Suddenly all the comments she had heard over the last weeks, heard but closed her mind to, came back and she saw her perfect gentleman in a very different light. Buck couldn’t understand as she drew away from him but she couldn’t talk, not then. Eventually he left saying he would return in the morning and would hope to find her in a better mood. All that long night Carole lay awake, seeing her fiancé as though for the first time and by morning she had decided what she had to do. She had had a long talk with Buck that morning and he seemed proud of what he was, a self-made man. If others allowed you to do them down that was their problem and they shouldn’t moan about it later. She was horrified to find he was actually proud of his ‘short cuts’ and when she tried to explain to him that they were wrong, he just told her that she didn’t understand business. After three weeks of quarrelling about it, she had given him an ultimatum, either he gave up his ‘short cuts’ or her. When he didn’t even take that seriously she had taken off her engagement ring flung it at him and booked passage back to New England. That had been four years earlier but it still felt like yesterday. She had loved him very much and had been very willing to meet him halfway but he wouldn’t give at all and she knew she couldn’t live that way.

Carole had spent three years in New England, but she felt hemmed in by the formality and she had to get away. Having seen the excitement and the action in the west, she wanted to be part of it again and when she had seen the job of teacher in Virginia City advertised she had applied. Gaining the job she had set out west again to try and build herself a new life.

Carole was now twenty-six and knew if she wanted a family it was high time she settled down. The trouble was that having been so badly hurt she no longer trusted her own judgement, badly disillusioned and hurt once she couldn’t face that again. She knew her reputation around Virginia City of a beautiful statue and tried not to react to men the way that she did. The more attractive she found them, the more tense she became and with it cold and rude.

Carole was attracted to Adam but he was another rich and powerful man and once bitten, twice shy. However she was puzzled, sure she had hard his name before. Someone had mentioned it back east just before she left home to come to Virginia City.

Over the months she had been in town she had become friendly with Dan de Quille, one of the few people around who shared her interest in books. When she next saw him Carole couldn’t help trying to satisfy her curiosity and asked about Adam, explaining her odd feeling. Dan shrugged “Could be, the Cartwrights are known right across the nation, the Ponderosa is famous and Adam has spent time in the East, he’s just come back from five months there.”

Carole shook her head “No I don’t think it came up as a friend of a friend, it was something new.”

“Adam designed the flume that Ben uses to bring lumber down the mountain or maybe the square set shoring, he designed that with Philip Deidersheimer.”

Carole smiled “That was it, no wonder I didn’t remember I thought he was a rancher, not a miner.”

Dan laughed “I’m sure that Adam wouldn’t describe himself as a miner! He’s always hated going down the mines but he is a qualified engineer.” He settled back more comfortably in his chair and proceeded to tell Carole the story of the cave-in at the Ophir and how Adam and Philip Deidersheimer were trapped down the mine until Hoss helped the rescue effort. Then the pair had combined to design the square set shoring and despite opposition had introduced it into the Ophir, the effectiveness of the new method selling it to the mine owners, despite its increased cost.

Carole was fascinated by the story and began to think that there was more to Adam than she had seen at first. Over the next six weeks she met Dan frequently and found he was quite willing to talk about his friends from the Ponderosa. She began to feel that Adam wouldn’t let her down but she knew that Dan was his friend and probably biased. However she found herself looking for Adam at the Saturday night dance, but he wasn’t there nor were his brothers and she didn’t want to come out in the open and ask about him.

Adam had tried to stick to his decision to forget her but it wasn’t working at all well. Every so often he would find her face drifting up in front of him. He felt sure that there was something worth having under that cold façade, maybe because he often hid his own feelings behind a mask. However he had been hurt too often to want to push in where he was obviously not wanted. Luckily it was very busy as always on the ranch and there was a lot for him to do. Going to bed physically tired prevented him staying awake thinking in circles and wondering. Ben noticed Adam doing that little extra each day, which he usually only did when he was seeking oblivion in exhaustion. Still his son seemed happy enough and was even tempered so Ben decided he must be mistaken.

For three weeks Adam had no real time to consider anything but the immediate job as he was trail boss on the main drive and by the time he got home all he wanted was a long soak in a hot bath. Even then he got roped in to help finish the harvest.

On the Wednesday night all three brothers collapsed exhausted in front of the fire and started planning a weekend off, including the dance on Saturday. Ben sat back and watched his sons, glad to have all of them home safely and the bulk of the work for the season complete. It had been a good year for the ranch with no big developments eating up money and they would make a large profit. Even more important this Christmas all three of his sons would be home with him and that meant more than any money could.

The following day was hot and humid and all of the Cartwrights found themselves watching the sky as a storm built up. Uneasy Ben ordered all the hands to be on the lookout, scared of fire if lightning struck, as it had been very dry for weeks. Around the house Ben and his sons kept close watch, the storm seemed to be coming straight towards them. Plenty of thunder and lightning but no rain was falling at last not near the house.

Adam was watching when the lightning hit and it was the worst possible place, catching the last heap of winter feed, which hadn’t yet been stored in the barns. Even worse the wind was blowing the flames straight towards the barns storing the rest of the feed. Adam called for his brothers and started to try and put the flames out but it had got too good a hold and was gaining on him. Ben ordered Joe to pull in as many hands as he could, while Hoss went to try and help his eldest brother.

Soon every available man was in the yard and leaving Adam with six men to try and contain the fire, Ben had everyone else on the job of moving the feed to safety, essential if the stock was to survive the coming winter. Everyone laboured hard and as soon as one barn was empty Hoss had some men help him pull it down hoping to form a fire-break.

Adam and his men had done a titanic task in holding the fire from reaching the first barn for so long but when the fire finally jumped the gap, the barn went up so quickly, they barely had time to realise the barn was on fire before it was collapsing. Adam was yelling a warning to his father that they couldn’t hold it any longer and didn’t see the end wall collapsing until too late. Then, absolutely exhausted, he didn’t move out of the way fast enough and was hit by a burning timber. The men with him yelled for help and Hoss was with them within seconds. The timber was the main central roof timber of the barn and, although the end wasn’t burning, the men didn’t have enough strength to lift it off Adam. Hoss, seeing the burning timber lying across Adam’s right arm, gained the strength needed and threw it off Adam. Then he picked up his brother and carried him to safety before more could come down.

The fire was more or less under control and Ben and Joe left the men to watch it and followed Hoss into the house. Adam was unconscious, an end timber had caught his head a glancing blow as the main roof timber gave way, and his arm was very badly burnt. Ben took one look at the injury and sent Joe to town for Doc Martin. Joe hovered for a moment “He is gonna be okay?”

“I’m sure he will be Son but that’s a deep burn and I need Doc’s advice on the best way to treat it. Hoss and I will look after your brother go get Paul.”

Joe nodded and ran over to get Cochise and headed for town fast. Dan saw Joe riding in at speed and heading over to Doc’s, so scenting a story he hurried over there. Dan was sorry to hear that his old friend had been hurt but Joe told him he was sure Adam would be okay. At Dan’s prompting Joe filled in a few details about the accident, while Doc collected what he needed to treat his patient. Dan knew Adam very well and offered to come visit in a few days, when the unwilling patient might need distraction. Anyway it was sometime since he had been out to the Ponderosa. Joe grinned “You’re welcome anytime Dan and by then we may need rescuing, he gets like a bear with a sore head when he’s ill.” Then as Doc was ready Joe hurried out to help harness up, so that they could get back to his brother as soon as possible.

Adam was still unconscious when the Doc got there, with his father and brother sitting anxiously by his bed. They had managed to get Adam undressed and into bed but had left his right arm strictly alone. Ben was very pleased to see Paul and went down to meet him, hurrying him upstairs “Adam’s has been out for hours Paul, no sign of coming round and he has a really bad arm.”

“Just calm down Ben and let me have a look at the boy, he has the Cartwright hard head, so try not to worry.”

Doc made no attempt to bring Adam round until he had cleaned up the burnt arm. The beam had caught Adam’s right forearm and, although Hoss had had it off him very quickly Adam’s arm was burnt from the wrist to the elbow. The burns were very deep in a couple of places and blistered heavily across most of the area. Doc studied it carefully and then began cleaning it carefully removing the bits of wood and dirt embedded in the skin, grateful that his patient was unconscious. It took Doc more than an hour and then he spread some soothing ointment on the arm and gently bandaged it up. By the time Doc had finished Adam was showing signs of coming round and Doc sat back letting him come to in his own time. Doc had already examined the head wound and he suspected that Adam would have concussion. As Adam stirred and opened his eyes he found the room going round on him and as the nausea hit him, he muttered “Gonna be sick.”

Doc was there to expertly support him as Ben held the basin ready and when the paroxysm had passed, they eased him back onto the pillows. Doc checked his eyesight and then lifted two books from the bedside table “You’ll be alright in a few days with your thick skull but meantime no reading, so I’ll remove temptation.” He fed Adam some pain-killer and told him to get some sleep.

Ben asked Hoss to keep an eye on his brother while he went down with Paul to check on the best way to help his son. Doc was glad of a coffee and then he sighed heavily “Okay Ben I know you’re worried about that eldest boy of your’s seems to me you’re always worried about one of them.”

“Sometimes seems that way. How bad is he?”

“Nasty concussion, you’ll need to wake him up every couple of hours during the night just to be on the safe side but I’m sure it will settle down over the next few days. That arm is going to be out of action for several weeks at least. It’s a real bad burn and it’s gonna be very painful, but it will heal. Main problem is making sure no infection gets in. He’s not going to enjoy having it dressed, it’s raw but you are going to have to do it twice a day. Clean off the old ointment and put on fresh. It’s going to give him merry hell for the next couple of weeks but he’s tough. Keep him in bed until the concussion clears and then let him up if he wants. I’ll be back out in a couple of days to check on him.”

“Thanks Paul.”

“Right now I’m heading home at my own pace, without Little Joe trying to beat all records!”

Apart from being woken for a few minutes every couple of hours Adam slept through until late the following morning, but by then the Doc’s forecast was proving all too accurate, his arm was giving him merry hell. He didn’t want anything to eat and not even coffee, just accepting a sip of water, but even that made him feel sick. He just wanted to be left alone but Ben had to change the dressing. Ben called Hoss up to help him. The merest touch caused Adam agony and with the best will in the world he couldn’t hold his arm still which made the pain worse. Hoss had to hold his arm still while Ben wiped off the old blood and ointment and spread fresh. Adam had his work cut out not to cry out with the pain and by the time Ben had re-bandaged it he had all but lost his senses.

Ben let him rest quietly for half an hour to recover and then gave him a little brandy before feeding him some broth. Adam weakly apologised, what a fuss to make over a little burn. His father told him not to be stupid and then broke it to him that his arm had to be re-dressed twice a day. Adam shuddered involuntarily at the thought but just said “I’ll try not to be a nuisance.”

“Call if you want anything, I’ll just be downstairs. Try and get some sleep Son.”

Later in the afternoon Little Joe went up to see his brother. Adam was awake although he had his eyes closed as the dim light in the room hurt his head even with the curtains closed. Joe was about to slip out again when Adam’s deep voice said “I’m not asleep Joe, sit down for a bit.”

“How do you feel brother?”

“Sore and tired but I’ll be fine in a few days. Not sure exactly what happened.”

“The barn collapsed and you were caught by a couple of the main timbers.”

“I sort of remember a burning timber coming down and putting my arm up to fend it off, then I was here.”

“Well Hoss managed to clear you. I don’t think even he could have lifted that timber alone normally but with you trapped, big brother had even more strength than usual and he carried you in once he had you clear.” Joe grinned broadly “You might like to hear the story in the Territorial Enterprise.” He picked up the paper and read Dan’s article. In his usual way Dan had made the story sound rather more exciting than Adam felt was justified, but he was more intrigued by just how Dan had found out about the events on the ranch. Joe grinned “Oh Dan saw me heading for Doc’s and scented a story, he came over and cross questioned me while Doc was getting his things together.”

Adam laughed “Well it won’t do Hoss any harm with Sue Ann.” Joe could only agree and then he had to submit to questions from Adam who was concerned how much feed had been lost. Considering the severity of the fire they had lost surprisingly little. As Joe was there Ben enlisted his help in redressing Adam’s arm. This time Adam did pass out from the pain. Joe was horrified “Has he really got to go through this twice a day, wouldn’t it be better to leave it alone to heal?”

Ben sighed heavily “I know how you feel Joseph but it’s a bad burn and if infection gets in he will lose his arm, if not his life.” Little Joe had to admit that they couldn’t take any risks even if it did cause Adam pain. Joe stayed with his brother and when he came round later in the evening, he tried to persuade Adam to eat something with very limited success.

Adam couldn’t get comfortable, his head throbbed and his arm felt as though it was on fire, so he got little sleep that night. By morning he was running a temperature but still felt as if it were a lot of fuss about nothing. He tried to be cheerful during the day but he was hard put not to bite his family’s heads off as they tended him, especially when Ben came to change the dressing.

Meanwhile in town Carole had read Dan’s report in the paper. When she saw him she stopped him and inquired after Adam. Dan smiled “Doc says he has concussion and a badly burnt arm, but he will be alright. If I know Adam it will be a lot sooner than Doc predicts.”

“Even so I suppose he will be laid up for some time?”

“Several weeks by the sound of it but I’ll know more tomorrow, I’m driving out there.”
Carole asked “Could you take back the book Adam lent me. I’ve finished it and if he’s laid up he may want it.”

Dan hadn’t missed the fact that she often turned the subject to Adam and he had seen the look on Adam’s face when he arrived at the party alone. So now he decided to try his hand at match making and said “Why not take it back yourself? The drive out to the Ponderosa is very pleasant and I’d enjoy the company.”

“I couldn’t”

“Why not? If I know the Cartwrights anyone who can distract Adam’s attention and keep him quiet for an hour will be welcome. He was never the world’s best patient, he doesn’t like staying in bed. At the moment he’s not allowed to read so he’ll be worse than ever.”

Carole, feeling very daring, said “If you’re sure they won’t mind, I would enjoy the drive.”

She spent the night in pleasurable anticipation but by morning she had decided it was too forward. She had only met Adam twice and didn’t know him. She had been rude and sent him away the last time they met. When Dan turned up to collect her, she said, “I’ve changed my mind. You can take the book back. I hardly know Adam and I don’t know the other Cartwrights. I can’t intrude.”

Dan took her arm and turned her back into the house “You are talking nonsense Carole, now go and get your bonnet. All of them will be glad to see you and I have been looking forward to company on the drive. You can’t let me down.”

Carole let herself be bullied into mounting the buggy and Dan headed off before she could change her mind. She had to admit that Dan hadn’t been lying when he said the ride to the Ponderosa was worth seeing, but Dan insisted that there were other more beautiful parts of the ranch. He suggested that she should get someone to show her around. She had hardly been out of town since her arrival and the peace was wonderful. Then all too soon the ranch house came into view and she began to worry about her reception.

When they arrived she found she had no need to worry, Dan introduced her to Ben Cartwright and both Hoss and Little Joe claimed to have met her before. Ben made it very clear that she was welcome, insisting that his eldest son would be very pleased to see someone other than the family. He escorted her in for coffee and about twenty minutes later Joe came down to say his brother was awake and eager to meet their visitors. Joe grinned “Adam knows that Dan is here but I left you to surprise him.”

Carole was nervous, but as Ben took her arm and escorted her upstairs she had no choice but to go. Adam was sitting up in bed, he was still very pale and Ben was worried whether he ought to have visitors yet. Then as Carole moved through the door Ben saw Adam’s eyes light up, much to his surprise.

Adam had been cursing the visitors, he didn’t feel like being polite but at least with Dan he could be himself and Dan would go away and chat with Ben. He couldn’t imagine who the surprise visitor was and Joe wouldn’t tell him. Then to his pleasure he saw Carole standing in the doorway next to his father. As he smiled she gained confidence and moved over to the bed. “I was so sorry to hear that you had been hurt. I thought I ought to come and return the book you lent me, in case you wanted it while you were laid up.”

“Thank you very much.” Adam smiled “It’s good to see you again.”

She slipped into the chair by his bed and asked how his arm was, Adam insisted that it would be fine in a week or so. Then as Dan came in Adam had to talk to him as well. Ben joined the group but Hoss and Joe excused themselves. Soon Ben and Dan were chatting away, leaving Adam and Carole to make conversation. She was embarrassed now that she had come and Adam was finding it hard work. Carole didn’t miss that and after about quarter of an hour she bit her lip and said “Adam the main reason I wanted to come out was to apologise, for being so rude when you brought the book round.” She smiled at him “I’m still not used to the hustle and bustle of Virginia City and I find I’m on the defensive the whole time.”

Adam was intrigued by the way her eyes lit up as she smiled and he grinned broadly “Don’t worry about it, but if I happened to call round next Sunday with a spare horse and a picnic basket, do you think I could find a rider for him?”

Carole blushed, but she had to admit that he would have a good chance. Then she considered him “But you won’t be well enough.”

Adam dismissed that “I’ll be out of bed tomorrow and I can certainly ride to Virginia City on Sunday, it’s a week off yet.”

Carole had to accept that “Alright, if you provide the horse, I’ll provide the picnic.”

Adam agreed, promising to send word if anything should come up to stop him, either a message or drop by himself on the Saturday. With a date settled both of them relaxed, knowing they weren’t going to be snubbed and they began to chat easily. Carole had been brought up in Hillsboro only eighty miles from Boston, and it had been the highlight of the year to visit Boston each fall. They even knew some of the same people and Adam found she shared his opinion about most of them. The time went by very fast and Adam was amazed when his father said it was nearly tea time. Ben went to the top of the stairs and called for Hoss and Joe. When they came up he asked Joe to take Dan and Carole downstairs and Hoss to help him change the dressing on Adam’s arm.. Adam wanted to go downstairs for tea but, after the pain of the dressing, he had to admit he didn’t feel much like it and Ben brought him up a tray.

Over tea Carole was rather quiet and Ben thought she looked a different girl to the one, who had been gaily chatting with his son. She liked what she had seen of the Cartwrights and was very impressed by the ranch house, but she felt rather overawed by the completely male atmosphere. After the meal they went outside and she was shown the area round the house. Ben managed to get Joe on one side and just dared him to tease his brother over her visit. Little Joe promised to be good and then took her over to the stables to see his favourite horses.

Ben and Dan were left alone for the first time and Dan said “I hope you didn’t mind me bringing her along but I couldn’t resist the chance to try my hand at match making."

“I assume you mean Adam, but how did you know?”

“I saw Adam’s face when I arrived alone at his welcome home party, she was supposed to be coming with me. He was disappointed and this summer every time I meet her somehow the subject always comes round to the Ponderosa and especially Adam Cartwright.”

Ben shrugged “Well she seems a nice girl but where Adam is concerned I have given up something always seems to go wrong.”

“Well we can only wait and see but a wedding here would be good news, fill my paper.” Ben punched him gently and invited him to come in for a game of chess before he had to leave. Once they had finished their game Dan decided it was time to make a move. It was getting late and if they were to reach Virginia City before dark they needed to go. Hoss went to collect Joe and Carole and they all went up to say goodbye to Adam. He was dozing but Ben woke him, sure his son would want to see them before they left.

Adam promised to see Carole on Sunday and then watched them leave from his window. He returned to bed and tried to analyse his feelings, he had only met her three times and yet already she was important to him. He didn’t get far but he fell asleep very content, to pleasurable dreams.

Carole was very quiet on the way home and Dan teased her, she was supposed to be company on the long drive. She tried to chat but wasn’t getting very far and soon lapsed into silence. She had to admit to herself that Adam attracted her in a way that no man had since Buck. She couldn’t help remembering that Buck had seemed just as fine a gentleman in the early days and she wasn’t going to let herself be hurt again.

The next day Adam got up and, with Hoss’ help, he got dressed and went downstairs. His arm was still very painful but his head felt much better. He was slightly surprised at the lack of comment from his family about Carole’s visit; but he was too unsure of himself to want to talk about her. So he just thanked his stars that with all the work to do they were far too busy to wonder about it. He made up for any lack of surprise on their part, ranging from the idea that she had used an excuse to come and see him because she liked him, to a fear that she had just wanted to get out of Virginia City and he had been incidental. At least she had agreed to come for a picnic and he began to plan where to take her. Not that there was any real choice, he knew he would take her to Lake Tahoe, even if it did effectively mean two trips to town. He decided he needed to get out riding on Wednesday to build up sufficient stamina for the trip.

Ben wasn’t keen on Adam riding alone yet. He knew that it only needed a slight touch on his right arm and Adam would be out cold. However he knew his stubborn son too well to waste time arguing with him. He had to let his son have his own way, saddling Sport for Adam and watching him ride out. Then Ben sat around worrying instead of getting on with his accounts until Adam rode back into the yard. Adam had taken no harm from his outing and had enjoyed getting out of the house so Ben tried to relax. At least his son’s arm was perfectly healthy but seemed to be taking its time in healing. Ben shook himself, it was only a week since the fire.

On Friday and Saturday Adam was very quiet, scared she would back out again. He was irritable with his family, hating the restrictions his arm still imposed on him and now it was beginning to heal, it was itching terribly. He put the blame for his mood on his arm and thought that his family believed it, but none of them were fooled although for once they forbore to tease.

In town Carole waited on tenterhooks all day on Saturday, waiting for the message to say that Adam couldn’t make it, but it didn’t arrive. She was up early on Sunday preparing a picnic designed to impress any man.

Adam set out early on Sunday with a white mare in tow. He took it easy on the ride to town to conserve his strength, knowing it would be a long day. However he had timed it well and arrived at the school house just before ten, expecting to have to wait. In his experience women were seldom ready on time, but Carole had been watching for him. As soon as he rode up she went out meet him, offering coffee before they left.
Adam accepted willingly, it was a lovely day but there was a chill in the air, not surprisingly as it was autumn. Slightly cold the hot coffee went down well. While they drank Carole asked where they were going.

Adam smiled “It rather depends on how good a rider you are.”

Carole laughed softly “You don’t have to worry about me. I have spent most of my spare time on horseback since I was a child. It’s only since I came here that I haven’t ridden, nervous about riding alone round land I don’t know. I can stay in the saddle all day.”

“Well we won’t do that, there’s far too good a smell coming from that basket, but if you can manage twenty miles, there is a spot up by Lake Tahoe which I think is the most beautiful in the world. I’m biased of course but I would like a second opinion.”

“Sounds interesting.” Carole took the empty cups to the kitchen but they could wait and collecting her hat she was ready to go. Adam helped her up onto the white mare and she settled herself expertly in the saddle checking the cinch and adjusting the stirrup leathers. Adam swung up on Sport and sat back to watch. She was very lovely, dressed in a plain dark red blouse and black divided riding skirt, her hair down just tied back at the nape of her neck and a simple hat with a single flower on the side also red matching her blouse. Adam appreciated the lack of frills, she didn’t need them, a simple elegance set off her curvaceous figure and she was very graceful.

Carole felt his eyes on her and glanced up blushing slightly but Adam smiled and led the way out of town. Sport hadn’t had as much exercise as usual and he was dancing alongside the mare, until Adam spoke to his horse telling him to settle. Carole was fascinated as the horse did exactly that just tossing his head occasionally to make his point. Adam kept him at a walk until they were clear of the traffic in town and then having checked that Carole was okay he allowed Sport to break into a lope, the mare following easily alongside. Adam was a good guide, he knew the Ponderosa like the back of his hand. He showed her where it started and took the prettiest route to the lake. She was most impressed, the scenery round Virginia City was stark and dry only mesquite bushes growing and no green vegetation. Even some little way from town the Sierra’s had been denuded of the trees which had in the past given them their beauty. Here on the Ponderosa the care given to the land and the methods of conservation that the Cartwrights had always employed had added to the beauty of the land. Adam suddenly realised that he had been talking for far too long and almost sheepishly he said “We are very proud of our Ponderosa and I guess we find it more beautiful than an outsider. I hope I’m not boring you.”

“Oh no! You have every reason to be proud. It is glorious.”

They were only a short distance from the lake and Adam challenged her to a race up to the point they could see ahead. She accepted kicking the mare on. At first Sport matched her easily but then his master pulled him up much to the horse’s disgust, letting her go ahead alone. He rode up slowly to find her still in the saddle staring spellbound at the view. He stopped a little way back and didn’t say a word. It was fully two minutes before she turned to him, her eyes glowing. “Adam I’ve never seen a more beautiful or peaceful spot.”

Adam smiled “It should be seen alone for the first time. It’s our church.” She looked puzzled and he hastened to explain “If we are in trouble or worried all four of us tend to head here. It’s so peaceful and it somehow puts your troubles into perspective.”

She turned back to look at the view again “I can see what you mean.”

Adam swung down and led the way over to his normal spot. She joined him but then saw three graves close by, all of them obviously tended and curious she asked “Whose graves are those?”

“Come and sit down and we can talk in comfort.” They settled themselves on a ledge where Adam always sat and the very earth seemed to welcome him. He lazed back and stared over at the graves “The oldest grave is nearly 22 years old and Joe’s mother is buried there.”

Carole was confused, “Joe’s mother? But I thought you were brothers?”

Adam grinned “Sorry I tend to assume everyone knows, but there is no reason why you should. Joe and Hoss and I are half-brothers. We each had different mothers. Pa married three times. My mother died giving birth to me. Then Pa left Boston and headed west. He married Hoss’ mother when I was five but she was killed by Indians on the plains, Hoss was only about three weeks old. Little Joe’s mother died after a riding accident when he was four.”

“I didn’t realise, you all seem so close.”

“Guess we are, all four of us. Building a ranch out here, there is trouble at times, from nature, from Indians, sometimes from men who want what we have. We all know we can rely absolutely on the others. Guess we are friends as well as family.” Slightly embarrassed at what he had said Adam laughed at himself “I’m getting sentimental in my old age. Sometimes they are the most annoying, interfering, aggravating people that God ever put on this earth; especially that imp Joe. We have the normal family arguments but Pa doesn’t allow them to last long. It might have made a difference if any of us had known our mothers. I remember Hoss’ mother and Joe’s but my brothers only knew Marie, Joe’s mother. Most of our lives there has only been Pa.”

“I didn’t mean to pry Adam.”

“No matter, it isn’t a secret. How about you, do you have any siblings?”

“One brother five years younger than I am. We were never particularly close. In Hillsboro I am related to half the town and the cousins of a particular age tended to play together.”

“Your parents still there?”

“Mmm. They weren’t very pleased with me heading west again. I think they had expected me to have got the wanderlust out of my system, but I felt hemmed in back east.”

Adam was intrigued that she had made the journey west twice but left her to tell him when she was ready, for now she was looking at the other two graves and he bit his lip suddenly serious “Let’s have lunch and then I’ll tell you about those graves.”

She could see that the memories weren’t pleasant and was quick to deny any need for Adam to tell her anything, but he smiled, “It’s been a long time since I spoke of them. I think I’d like to tell you.”

They opened the picnic basket and lazed in the sun, making a good meal. Eventually Adam lent back unable to eat anything more and Carole put the remains back for tea. Adam stared out over the lake and Carole watched puzzled by the changing emotions reflecting on his face.

Adam turned on his side and looked at the two graves “Those graves are a husband and wife, Ross Marquette and his wife Delphine. Ross was my best friend from my early teens, I was best man at their wedding. For four years things went along okay. Ross was trying to build a spread on the borders of the Ponderosa but he wasn’t doing too well. Then we all had a very bad winter, lost stock to disease. I hadn’t been seeing so much of them. I went to Europe and then I was hurt in a run in with Cochise.” Carole could see the guilt on his face as Adam went on “I should have known something was wrong, if only I had noticed earlier I might have been able to help.”

“What happened?”

“Ross became ill, mentally ill. He started beating up Delphine, I took her over to our home to recover. I thought I could find a way to help, but by then Ross was breaking the law. He changed his brand and stole a new herd from the Ponderosa. By the time I heard he was involved with a gang robbing stagecoaches and they killed all aboard. Roy Coffee had a posse out after him. Someone said they hoped his wife was safe and I realised I had left her unprotected at the ranch while we were out on roundup. I left Pa and my brothers to join Roy and went home but I was too late. A lifetime too late.
Ross had been to the house and beaten her up, she died in my arms, still loving him and unable to understand how he could have hurt her. She asked me to help him but he had to be stopped. I followed him but he was sure I was out to kill him and kept shooting. I didn’t want to kill him but he left me no choice. I don’t think he even knew. He thought it was ten months earlier and couldn’t understand why he was in the middle of nowhere, he wanted me to get him home to Delphine, but he died in my arms as well. They are buried here. Maybe if I had looked after Del better we could have cured Ross, or if I had only realised sooner.” Adam’s voice faded away and he sat up grasping his knees, looking down at the ground hiding his feelings, as he fought to regain his composure.

Carole had sat in silence, watching the play of emotions across Adam’s face as he relived those terrible days when his best friend changed into a monster. She desperately wanted to help him and tentatively said, “Why should you blame yourself?”

“I was his best friend. If anyone could have helped it had to be me and I didn’t even realise what was going on.”

“It must have been so hard to kill a friend, but he was a murderer.”

Adam sighed “No not really. It was his illness, not him.”

Carole frowned slightly as she looked at him “I can’t really imagine you killing anyone.”

Adam got to his feet and looked over the lake, wondering whether he was ending things before they got started, but he had to tell her the truth. His voice was low but steady as he said “Can’t you? I don’t know how many men I have killed, it must be more than thirty.” He turned recognising the shock on her face and he tried to explain “With a ranch like the Ponderosa, we hold timber, water and land that other people want. In order to hold it we sometimes have to fight for it. We fight using the law whenever we can, but the law out here is enforced with a gun. When we are attacked we have to defend ourselves. All of us have been hurt and nearly died in defence of this land or of what we believe to be right and other men have died.”

Carole saw that he didn’t want to talk about it anymore and changed the subject but she was ill at ease. Her quiet chivalrous gentleman had more deaths to his ‘credit’ than Jesse James. Adam had seen her flinch at his disclosures, but although he hated having to kill he was incapable of standing by and watching injustice or giving into attacks. He would do anything to protect his family and if that necessitated killing so be it. If he was to ever build anything with Carole she had to know his past, but from the East violence wasn’t as familiar to her and he would give her all the time she needed to adjust to the idea.

Carole was uneasy for a while and the conversation became forced but then almost against her will, Carole found herself telling Adam about her first visit west. She described her time in San Francisco and her involvement with Buck Addison. As she explained why she had left him and returned East, Adam realised why she had been so ill at ease with him to begin with. She got to her feet and walked closer to the edge laughing softly “Strange I only ever told my mother at home and now I’m telling you, a virtual stranger. It must be this place.”

Adam moved behind her and gently gripped her shoulders “Maybe you felt the need to remember the past. Talking about it can somehow purify you and leave you free to face the future. I’ve always found that when something happens which worries me, or upsets me, I feel better for talking it over. If you have no family around to talk to then you need a friend. I hope you will come to feel that I am a friend.”

She relaxed back against him for a moment but then moved away. After exchanging so many confidences they both felt the need to get away and think and with one accord packed up and headed for town. Adam didn’t go in with her but he did ask if he could come round for coffee on Friday evening, as he would be in town anyway. Carole made it clear that he would be welcome and then watched him ride away. She was so puzzled by this gentle cultured man, who had killed so often.

Adam returned to Lake Tahoe alone and sat there, watching the moonlight on the lake. He knew she was shocked because he had killed but if she couldn’t believe in him sufficiently to know that the killings had been forced on him and were like killings in battle then he knew they could never have anything together. He wasn’t going to justify himself to any other person, but he knew that brought up in New England the law of the gun was not what Carole knew. He was willing to give her time to understand. Thinking over her story about Addison he realised Carole was in a sense like him. She was cold because she was scared of being hurt again and, with a pang of jealousy, he thought that she must have loved Addison very much, if four years later she was still so affected. If she loved the man that much, Adam was impressed by her character, giving him up on a principle.

Late in the evening Adam knew he had to get home, but he was very tired and he was clumsy as he tried to mount Sport, while holding onto the mare. He knocked his injured arm and the pain doubled him over. He had the greatest difficulty in holding onto his senses and he felt the blood running down his arm. He knew he had to get home and have it seen to. Summoning all his strength he managed to get into the saddle and set off for the house. Luckily it wasn’t very far and Sport was happy to head to his own stable but Adam was all in when he reached the house. Adam was only conscious of two things, the pain in his arm and the need to stay in the saddle.

Ben had been worrying over Adam all day, not at all sure he was fit enough for the long ride he had planned. As it got late Ben became even more worried and he was sitting out on the porch watching for his son. As he saw Sport come in with his barely conscious burden, Ben yelled for Hoss and then hurried over to his eldest son. Hoss and Joe ran out hearing the worry in Ben’s voice and between them they got Adam down from Sport and Hoss carried him in while Joe took the two horses over to the stable. For once Joe went and got a hand to take care of the horses and ran in to find out how his brother was.

Hoss had taken Adam straight up to his own bed, where Ben very carefully undid the bandages. Hoss fed his brother some water and Adam won back to some form of control “I knocked it.”

Ben started to try and clean it but as he did so Adam sighed softly and passed out to his family’s consternation. At least Ben was able to clean it up and put on fresh ointment but his sons hovered looking very worried. Ben smiled reassuringly at them “He hasn’t done much damage, probably only set it back a day or so.”

Joe frowned “Then why has he passed out? I have seen older brother refusing to give in when he was seriously hurt, now you say it isn’t much.”

“I’m sure it is very painful Joe but I think he is just exhausted. Kept going until he reached help and then his mind allowed him to sleep. I’ll finish bandaging this and then we’ll let him rest.”

Joe frowned “I think I’ll sit with him for a bit, just in case he needs anything.”

“Sure Son but I think he will sleep until morning.” Ben went down with Hoss relieved to have Adam safely home. He decided that Adam wasn’t riding out alone again until his arm was a lot better. It could have been serious if Adam had passed out earlier and been out in the cold weather all night.

When he went up to bed Ben checked on all his sons, Joe had obviously decided his brother wasn’t going to wake and had gone to bed. As always he had thrown off his covers and Ben pulled them up round his youngest son, the nights were getting cold. He ruffled Joe’s hair gently, to outsiders his oldest and youngest sometimes seemed to be at loggerheads, but Ben knew the depths of love between them.

On that thought Ben went through to check on Adam. He found his eldest son very restless. He was talking in his sleep and tossing around. He kept saying “A killer, how many, how many?” Ben was worried that Adam would hurt his arm again and he gently woke his son. Adam was aware that he’d been talking and he asked his father what he had said. Ben told him and asked “Do you want to talk about it Adam?”

“No not now. I’ll be alright Pa. Please just leave me alone.”

Ben could only agree, his eldest son was a grown man and had to find his own way through. If he could help he was confident that Adam would come to him, but a private man Adam usually sorted things out by himself.

Adam lay awake for hours thinking of the various men he had killed, either to save his own life or someone else’s. Then there were the full-scale fights the Cartwrights had been involved in when men died and no-one knew who had killed them. At last in the early hours his exhaustion released him into sleep and he slept late the following morning.

Adam was very quiet during the day, wandering around the house unable to settle. He couldn’t write so he couldn’t help with the accounts, or play his guitar. He didn’t feel like reading and Ben had insisted that he take it easy in the house. Hoss and Joe had ridden up to the lumber camp for a couple of days and Ben was busy. Adam wasn’t even hungry, just toying with his food that evening and eventually pushing the plate away barely touched. Ben bit his lip and tried to finish the accounts after the meal but his gaze kept going over to his son in his favourite blue chair. Adam was staring at the same page of his book but he couldn’t concentrate to read. Ben kept adding up the same column of figures coming to a different answer every time. In the end he put it down and went over to his son “Adam you’ve been reading that same page for nearly three quarters of an hour, you’re off your food and you look exhausted. What is the matter?”

Adam looked up seeing the concern on his father’s face. He wasn’t getting anywhere trying to work it out for himself just maybe his father could help. “I think I would like to talk now Pa.”

“I’ll get some coffee, I’m getting nowhere anyway, the same figures have given fifty different totals.” He got coffee and brought the brandy and two glasses over but for now Adam just took coffee. Adam moved over to sit on the table staring into the fire, nursing his right arm to him, while Ben sipped his coffee and waited for Adam to start.

It was fully five minutes before Adam said “You know I took Carole up to the point for a picnic. She asked about the graves. I told her about Ross and Delphine.”

Ben knew that Adam had always blamed himself tragedy, believing whether rightly or wrongly, that if only he had noticed sooner what was happening, he could have helped Ross. “Are you still blaming yourself for that?”

“No it’s not that.” He bit his lip “She said….”

Ben waited and when his son didn’t go on he said gently “What did she say Adam?”

Adam straightened his shoulders, but to his father it looked as though the weight of the world was on them. “She said that she couldn’t imagine me killing anyone. I told her I had killed over thirty men. She, he swallowed hard She looked at me horrified and stepped away. Made me feel as though I was a brutal killer and then I realised I couldn’t even remember how many men I had killed. Not even those I killed knowingly, let alone those killed in a fight when it’s anyone’s guess whose gun the bullet came from. What sort of man am I Pa? Not to even remember.”

For a moment Ben didn’t say anything, he knew soft words of sympathy weren’t what Adam needed. His son needed real help and Ben tried to think out how best to do that. Eventually he said “Adam how many of those deaths do you have on your conscience?”

“I’m not sure what you mean Pa, in some ways all of them are.”

“Let me put it this way. In how many cases would you refrain from shooting if you had to do it again?”

Adam considered that for a moment and then he said “Well I suppose, under the same circumstances, I guess I’d do the same even with Ross, but that’s not the point.”

“I disagree Son. I think that is exactly the point. You did what circumstances forced you to do. Maybe one day the world will improve and then men won’t be forced to kill, but here and now, we can only enforce right by violence. You are incapable of standing by and watching the weak oppressed and I hope you always will be. You wouldn’t be my son otherwise. The circumstances which make killing the only answer must be changed but that no one man can achieve. Each time right prevails, albeit by violence, brings the time a little closer when force won’t be needed. The reason you don’t remember the men you have killed is simply because you are at peace with yourself over their deaths. You did what you had to do. If there was a case where you had killed when any other avenue was open, it would haunt you, but that has never happened. Maybe to anyone from the East where the days of violence are past, the killing of another man may seem terrible, but we are in the middle of a war. We try and fight for the right and the weak, and there are precious few who do so. One day our side will grow so that we don’t need guns but that day hasn’t dawned yet.”

Adam sat watching his father’s face and he knew that Ben was doing more than trying to help his son. He was stating the code by which he had always lived and to which he had brought up his sons. When Ben finished speaking Adam didn’t say a word, he sat staring into the fire, thinking over what his father had said. He realised that those beliefs were bred in him. He had lived by them for thirty years and they sounded right to him. He knew he couldn’t change whatever he did and those same beliefs had made his father what he was; maybe stern and ready to fight for what he thought was right, but compassionate and tolerant of all races and creeds and always ready to help and look for the best in everyone. Adam stood up and moved over to grip his father’s shoulder. He didn’t say a word but Ben knew by the expression on his son’s face that he was at peace with himself once again.

Meanwhile Carole was sorely puzzled. She was very attracted by Adam and he was a self-admitted killer. She had been brought up to believe that killing was wrong and she had turned against Buck for what he did and yet she knew he had never killed anyone himself, even though some of his actions led to deaths. She felt she ought to be repulsed by Adam and yet she was still drawn to him, even to the point of telling him about Buck. The one story he had told her she totally exonerated him from all blame and yet it was the one case where he blamed himself She slept very badly that night and kept losing attention at school as she thought round in circles. By the time she dismissed the pupils she had made her mind up and went looking for Dan. She was in luck the reporter was just coming out of the hotel and willingly joined her for coffee. Over the last months with time on her hands and books difficult to come by she had borrowed a number of back editions of the Territorial Enterprise to find out about the history of Virginia City and she was sure that Dan would lend her some more. Her only problem was explaining to him the stories she wanted to read without letting him know why she wanted them.

Dan sat amused as Carole tried to explain what she wanted. He would have laid odds that all she really wanted were stories involving Adam but she couldn’t come out and say so. Carole talked round in circles wanting some of the stories where violence had occurred, using an excuse that some of the kids had been talking about stories they had heard and she wanted to know the actual facts. Dan promised to look some out for her having a shrewd suspicion the stories she really needed to read. Carole thanked him very much, she knew that Dan brightened up some stories but he was basically truthful about real events, even if some of his stories were pure fantasy. She knew he was a good friend of the Cartwrights but she could trust him to record the true facts of the case whatever his personal feelings.

Dan delivered a large pile of papers to her later that evening and everyone involved a fight or trouble round town, always involving the Cartwrights and Adam prominent amongst them. She found stories about fights over land, water and timber, trouble at the mines from cave ins to ownership. There were attempts by various people to form monopolies of water, the mills even transport and food, in every case the poorer people were being attacked and the Cartwrights led the fight against. When the Indians were attacked or any group persecuted there were the Cartwrights helping out. Several times she found one or other of the family had been badly hurt but it never prevented them from fighting for what they believed in. In every case she found the Cartwrights fought for the weak and the right and learnt that killing had been forced onto her quiet gentleman. She hurried home every day that week and swiftly cleared her marking so she could curl up with the papers. By Thursday evening she was eager to see Adam the following day, worried about how her reaction to his killing people would have affected him.

Adam had slowly begun to use his right hand a little although it was still painful but at least he could take over the ledgers for his father and time didn’t hang quite so heavily on his hands. He was quiet but that wasn’t particularly unusual and he seemed at peace so Ben gave up worrying about him. When Hoss and Joe returned from the lumber camp they were able to report it was all tidied up and safe for the winter. Slowly they all began working round the million and one chores that were needed to ensure the ranch was ready for winter. Adam took over the ordering of all the different supplies, while his brothers checked on wood and feed and Ben had the men storing everything as it arrived. A number of the hands had already pulled out for California, but would return with the spring, others would winter on the Ponderosa. Some of them had their families there while others had just come to call it home.

Adam had been even tempered all week but by Friday morning he was beginning to worry just what sort of reception he would get from Carole and twice he bit Joe’s head off for no real reason. Joe knew his brother’s arm was still painful and he just walked away for once, but the second time Adam did it Hoss intervened “Don’t know what’s wrong with you brother but it ain’t Joe’s fault so stop taking it out on him.”

Adam sighed heavily knowing Hoss was right “I’m sorry.”

“Ain’t me you need to say that to.”

Adam nodded and headed up to find his little brother He knocked on Joe’s door and waited for the “Come in.” Joe was standing staring out the window and turned as his brother came in. “Forgotten to lecture me on something?”

“Nope. I came to apologise, I shouldn’t take my bad temper out on you.”
Joe was about to come back with a smart crack about there always being a first time when he turned and saw the confusion in his brother’s eyes. “It doesn’t matter Adam I know you don’t mean it.” He hesitated and then asked “Is there something wrong?”

Adam smiled ruefully “To be honest Joe I don’t know. I hope not but I guess I’ll find out tonight.”

Joe knew that his brother was going to see Carole again that evening and he grinned “My money is on you big brother, go melt that statue. You looked to be making considerable headway from what I saw. She couldn’t talk about anyone else.”

Adam punched him gently “I’ll try to live up to your faith in me.” He felt better just for Joe’s attitude and the brothers went back down together and Joe was delighted when Adam accepted his suggestion that they ride to town together after dinner.
They chatted easily on the way to town but Adam wasn’t sure how long he was going to be in town and wouldn’t make an arrangement to ride home together. Joe thought about pushing him but it had never worked and anyway his brother’s arm was much better than it had been the previous week. Adam grinned as he watched the thoughts chasing themselves through Joe’s mind his face so expressive that Adam could predict exactly what Joe was thinking “Joe I have enough trouble getting Pa to stop fussing, without you setting up in competition. I am a big boy and I have been taking care of myself for a long time now.”

“I should know better. I don’t like it myself when Pa fusses.”

“I’d never have guessed!” Adam gripped his brother’s arm momentarily “See you back home, thanks for the company.” Then he swung down tying Sport to the hitch rail outside the school house. He wasn’t at all sure what reception he would get when he went to see Carole and he was quite serious, he had been very glad of Joe’s company to stop him brooding all the way in. Still if she didn’t want anymore to do with him after his disclosures the sooner he knew the better, he just hoped she didn’t feel that way. The walk up to the front door seemed far longer than he ever remembered and he bit his lip as he knocked, but the smile with which she greeted him went a long way to lifting his spirits. He went in and she brought through coffee and two delicious looking cakes.

Adam sat down and relaxed “I was worried that you wouldn’t want to see me again after what I told you on Sunday.”

Carole had the grace to blush and Adam looked questioningly at her. She said “I was worried by what you said and I couldn’t visualise you or your family as killers, so I borrowed some of the back copies of the Territorial Enterprise. I’m sorry that I thought you were a killer, for even a moment you always fought for what was right and even Christ did that.”

“I hate killing but sometimes there just isn’t a choice out here.”

“I realise that now Adam, like killings in war.”

Adam was very thankful to find she believed as he did but he was embarrassed and said “You don’t want to believe everything you read in the newspapers. Dan exaggerates a lot and he’s biased, sometimes I think he loves the Ponderosa even more than we do.” Then he turned the conversation onto a more impersonal plane and they spent the evening discussing books and music, where he was delighted to find their tastes were similar and she was as knowledgeable as he was.

She couldn’t play any musical instruments and Adam promised to teach her to play the guitar when his arm was better. Her acceptance was like balm to his soul as it seemed to mean she was also thinking in terms of a long term relationship. The time flew past as they talked and when Adam eventually checked his watch he was shocked to find it was nearly midnight. Adam pulled himself to his feet “I’ll be getting you a reputation” but she only laughed “I know my reputation round town. I am a cold frigid woman. I wouldn’t mind losing that at all!” Then suddenly serious she asked “Will you be alright it’s a long way to the ranch and its very dark?”

Adam grinned, “I know every step of the way and I always did like riding in the dark, anyway Sport can find his own way home.”

It seemed natural to both of them to arrange to meet the following night at the Saturday dance and when Adam asked if she could keep Sunday free again she was delighted to say yes.

Adam rode home slowly, he was happy and at peace with the world in a way he hadn’t been for several years. He didn’t think of anything in particular on the way home but just savoured his contentment, which even the nagging pain in his arm couldn’t mar.

Ben was waiting up for him when he rode in, worried about his son’s health and scared he might have received a snub from Carole, but one look at Adam’s face dispelled all his fears. In some strange way Adam looked younger, he looked happy and expectant as he had in his early twenties. Over the years that look had gone to be replaced by a look of slight strain and bitterness as he failed to find what he was looking for and one love affair after another went wrong. As Ben watched his son go up to bed, he prayed that Adam’s search might at long last be over. He had learnt to hate the almost cynical look Adam had begun to wear when they were talking about love and he knew that the last few affairs had made a deeper impression when they went wrong than when Adam was younger.

In thinking about marriage Ben had gone far farther than Adam had even thought. As far as he was concerned he had found a friend, one who had come to mean a lot to him in a very short time but he had been disappointed too often to think further than that for the time being. He knew he was contented and at peace with the world in Carole’s friendship and he didn’t want to risk it.

For the next six weeks Adam met her regularly two or three times a week but as if in reaction against early confidences their conversation was mainly devoted to books, music and places. Carole had never been out of America and couldn’t hear enough from Adam about his experiences in Europe. Although he had been mainly studying in Cambridge he had taken full advantage of the long holidays to visit France, Italy, Switzerland and Germany. He had been mainly interested in the architecture with his original degree in engineering and architecture but he had also seen many great works of art and heard some superb music. Once Adam was sure that she was genuinely interested, he was quite happy to spend hours reminiscing. His father had been interested but his brothers weren’t and anyway there were usually many more immediate problems to discuss, so he had never been able to talk about his time in Europe in that way. He was also able to tell her about the people and fashions abroad as he had moved in high society and roughed it among the locals. He had always had the gift of getting on with people whomsoever they might be, maybe because he was genuinely interested in them. In the course of the many hours they spent discussing abstract ideas and ancient history, they learnt more about each other than any amount of personalised talk could have given them. Talking generally beliefs and interests inevitably showed through and Adam was delighted to find Carole in tune with all he found important.

The only time over those weeks when their conversation came back to personal matters was the day that Adam first left the bandage off his burnt arm. It had healed well although it was still rather tender to the touch and from lack of use the muscles were weak. It was very badly scarred although the Doc thought that the worst of the scarring would fade in time. His family had all helped dress the wound and were well aware of the extent of the injury and Adam hadn’t given it much thought once the nagging pain eased. However Carole saw it now for the first time and realised just how badly his arm had been damaged. She was horrified and insisted Adam roll back his sleeve so she could examine it. She sat back frowning “I didn’t realise how bad it was. You must have been in agony.”

Adam tried to push it off, the burns were only superficial but she was conscience stricken “I thought you were making a lot of fuss, not doing any work, but now all I can do is apologise.” Adam laughed at her “Don’t worry I’ll make the most of your conscience, next time I get a splinter or something I shall come for all the attention I can get.” Carole had to laugh at that and went to make coffee.

Due to his bad arm Ben had put off getting his son to go to San Francisco, where he wanted him to arrange contracts for beef and timber and also the shipping arrangements. Now with November drawing to a close he knew that it would have to be done soon or Adam wouldn’t be home for Christmas. Thus a week after the bandages had came off, he asked Adam to arrange a trip. Apart from the army contracts, it was the first time the Ponderosa has made full use of his new qualifications and Adam couldn’t help feeling proud, particularly when he saw the delight in his father’s eyes. Adam also knew he would miss his meetings with Carole very much and there was the fear that maybe she wouldn’t miss them as much. However it had to be done and he made arrangements to set out on Monday morning and hoped to be home about a week before Christmas. Christmas Day had always been a fairly quiet family day at the ranch and the Cartwrights normally held a big party on Boxing Day. This year Adam wanted to see Carole on Christmas Day, but he didn’t want to give too particular an air to it, so he asked Ben if he could arrange a dinner party. He wanted Ben to ask Beth and Dan, Sue Ann and her widowed mother, Katie and her parents, Roy Coffee, Paul Martin and a couple of others. Ben laughed at his son but promised to arrange it, complaining that it was a lot of people to feed just because Adam wanted to see one! Adam just grinned at his father. His youngest brother had taken to teasing him, asking how good a job he was doing of melting the shell, not that Adam cared. He was used to the teasing and would have felt something was very wrong if his family hadn’t teased him. He still wasn’t sure how he felt although he knew he loved being with her. Adam could sense the uncertainty in Carole and he wasn’t sure how thoroughly she had got over Addison, but he was prepared to give it all the time she needed.

On the Wednesday night Adam went to see Carole as usual and told her that he was going to Frisco on Monday for three or four weeks. He was pleased to see the look of disappointment in her eyes as she said “I will miss your visits.”

“Will you come out to the Ponderosa for the day on Sunday? I keep coming here but you haven’t been out since the fire.”

Carole agreed and Adam promised to pick her up early for church and then drive her out to the ranch. He was there on time and they sat together in church in the pew behind his family. It was the first time Carole had met his family since they had begun seeing each other regularly and she was nervous at the prospect. As they drove out she admitted to Adam that she was nervous of Joe and Adam’s jaw dropped in amazement; it wasn’t the usual reaction of women to his little brother.

Carole smiled briefly but she wouldn’t change her mind and she explained “It’s the way he looks at me. He makes me feel old and school marmish. Then I get totally tongue tied and can’t think of anything to say.”

Adam gently reached over and tilted her face up towards him. He smiled down at her “I’ve not said very much to you but surely your mirror has told you that you are a very beautiful woman. I think you’re by far the most beautiful in Virginia City and I can assure you that Little Joe has not missed that fact. Anyone less like the old idea of a spinster schoolmarm scared of her own shadow is difficult to imagine.” Carole blushed but Adam just grinned broadly and went on “If my little brother worries you put on your best teacher accent and he’ll think he’s back in school and act like a ten year old. I know it works I’ve done it many times.” Carole laughed at him but Adam turned more serious “Little Joe is a terrible flirt and you didn’t react when you first came here. Sometimes I think he’s too good looking and charming for his own good and he isn’t used to failing but when you get to know him I think you will like him. I know I’m biased but he’s kind-hearted and a more generous friend it would be difficult to imagine. He’s always reliable when you need him and he’s a hard worker, he’s pulled his weight round the ranch for a long time now. Give him a chance.”

Carole was well aware that Adam thought a great deal of all his family although it was the first time he had been so explicit but she wasn’t worried about whether she liked them, as she said she was far more worried whether his brothers and father would like her. Adam didn’t see that as a problem “Just be yourself and they can’t fail to.” In fact all three has noticed how content Adam was since he had been seeing Carole and were predisposed to like her.

The day wasn’t an unqualified success. Adam did his best to put Carole at her ease and she tried, perhaps too hard, but in front of his family she became overawed by the male atmosphere and barely spoke. All of them tried to make conversation but she was reduced to answering in monosyllables and they found it uphill work. After lunch Adam took her outside and alone together she immediately became more natural, although she was dejected by her odd behaviour in front of them. Adam refused to worry about it, she would get used to his family. He asked her to come and join them at Christmas, promising that there would be several other women there to give her moral support. Carole accepted gratefully it was her first Christmas alone and she had been wondering what to do.

Then as she shivered Adam put his arm round her “Come on lets go back in, its cold out here. I once promised to teach you how to play the guitar and I will once I get back from Frisco, but you haven’t even heard me play. Maybe when you have you won’t want me to teach you.” Carole laughed at him and said “Well lets at least see if you can manage a simple song.”

They went inside and settled by the fire. For now they had the room to themselves and Adam grabbed his guitar. He hesitated a moment and then said “I’m not making excuses but I haven’t played much since before I went to Boston so I may be a bit rusty.”

He checked it was in tune and then played a couple of simple tunes. Carole sat contentedly watching his face as he played. Then Adam decided to show off and play a Spanish flamenco. It was highly complicated but he started off fine, then in the middle he found he had forgotten it and tied himself in a knot ending with a terrible discord. Carole laughed at him “I don’t think that was quite right.”

Adam pulled a face at her and said “Do you know Scarlet ribbons?”

Carole nodded and he began to play and sing and she joined in. Little Joe was upstairs in his room and heard them and he wandered down and joined in. Carole hesitated as Joe threw himself into a chair and joined them, but as he grinned at her she joined in again. Adam got them started on a round song but Joe kept going wrong so Adam threw a cushion at him. Hoss had been checking one of the horses in the barn but hearing the guitar he came in too. “Its ages since you had your guitar down Adam. Lets have Greensleeves I always liked that.” Adam obliged singing with it and Carole realised just how good a voice he did have. She had an attractive contralto herself and when Adam suggested some carols, her voice fitted well with his. They ran through several carols, the two good voices enough to keep Joe at least in tune, even if Hoss was slightly erratic. When it came to Silent Night all the others left it to Adam and enjoyed the beautiful carol.

Ben was standing watching from the kitchen door. Carole was a different girl as she laughed and sang with his sons and he was delighted to notice her eyes hardly left Adam’s face as he played. As he finished Silent Night Adam firmly put the guitar down “I’m out of practice.”

Carole immediately moved over to him “Have you hurt your arm?” Adam smiled up reassuringly “No its fine, just a bit tired.” The singing had broken the tension Carole had felt and she chatted naturally over tea, but soon afterwards she had to get back to
town. Adam said goodbye to his family and then drove her into town. He was going to stay at the hotel and catch the early stage, leaving Joe to collect the buggy the following day.

Carole was quiet on the way to home but when Adam said goodbye and said he hoped to see her before Christmas. She impulsively kissed him and wished him a good journey. Adam swept her up in his arms and held her tight, kissing her. Then he put her down again “Be good and spare me a thought occasionally. I shall miss you.” Then he had to leave but Carole stood watching until he was out of sight.

In San Francisco. Buck Addison had spent the years since Carole left him making money. He had extended his holdings in California and six months before had decided it was time to venture further afield. Nevada was the obvious place and he had sent out agents to bring him all the details they could about the situation there. Two men had gone to Virginia City and amongst their errands, one was to send him copies of the local newspaper. From one of those Addison had discovered Carole was working as a school teacher in Virginia City. He had never forgotten her, in his own way he had loved her and she had dealt him the most severe blow to his pride that he had ever had. He had thought when she first left that she would come crawling back and when he learnt she was again in the west, he thought that maybe it was the prelude to an ‘accidental’ meeting. However the weeks passed and she didn’t leave Virginia City. He had his men find out the gossip about her and in time they reported that her name was being linked with that of Adam Cartwright. Addison already knew all about the Cartwrights and the Ponderosa. He had made it his job to know all the major powers in Nevada

When Addison learnt that Adam was on his way to Frisco, he decided to check on this man, who was taking over his ex-fiancée. In a fit of pique Addison decided to try and make life difficult for Adam in Frisco.

When Adam arrived he went to his usual hotel and spent the next day looking up old friends. Then he started to make the arrangements for the contracts. Ben had done all the preliminary work in the Summer and only final terms had to be agreed before the contracts were drawn. Addison took several days finding out where Adam was and by the time he discovered who Adam was doing business with, terms had been agreed. Addison was far too wily to show his hand when he couldn’t win and apart from ordering all the main shipping available on the dates he knew Adam would want, he made no further move.

Adam had to spend time booking several smaller shipping outfits to take the cargo on the appropriate dates. It wasted several days and he didn’t have the contracts finalised and signed until the 18th December. As soon as the job was completed he sent a telegraph home and then collecting a few essential belongings he set out for home. The normal route to Virginia City over the Sierras was blocked by very heavy snow fall and several people warned him, that with the passes blocked, there was no way to get east until spring.

Adam was absolutely determined to get home for Christmas, he had missed too many over the last years. He knew he couldn’t force the normal pass there were too many steep drops but he thought he could force a way through further north, heading into the Indian Reservation north of Reno.

Adam took a stage north-east towards the Sierras as far as Oroville, which was as far as the stage was travelling, reaching there on the 21st of December. He made some enquiries and discovered that the route was still just passable as far as Pottola along the middle fork of the Feather river. He was able to hire a horse to go to Pottola, although he had to throw in twenty dollars even though he was planning on leaving the horse at the livery in Pottola, which had a reciprocal arrangement.

It was nearly eighty miles to Pottola but by travelling slowly and riding far into the night Adam made it by late on the evening of the 22nd. He only had another 60 miles to go to Reno but now he had to climb over the Sierras Adam knew the route well and it was a good two days ride at the best of times. Even then he would have the long ride home from Reno. It was too late now to get in touch with his family, there was no telegraph in Pottola. All he could do was put his best efforts into getting home on Christmas morning even if he had to ride all night and hope that they weren’t too worried.

In Virginia City Ben was very worried about his son. He knew that Adam had intended to sign the contracts on the 18th and then head home. That should have given him just enough time but then the heavy snow had arrived earlier than usual. Ben knew that the normal passes were blocked and he also knew that Adam would move Heaven and Earth to get home to his family for Christmas. Adam certainly wouldn’t let a little snow stand in his way. Ben knew his eldest son was sensible and having grown up in Nevada Adam knew his way around the mountains a lot better than most. Ben also knew that even experienced men had lost their lives in the Sierras in winter.

Ben had to go to town to collect some stores as his sons dealt with feeding and checking the stock. Carole saw him coming out of the store, as she walked down to the dressmakers, and went over to see if he had heard anything from Adam. She had heard that the pass was blocked and was worried. Ben smiled as she came over “Nice to see you Miss King.”

“Have you had any word from Adam?”

“He should have started home on the 18th but we haven’t had any word since.”

“The passes were blocked by then. Will he have stayed in San Francisco?”

Ben shook his head “I very much doubt it. I’m sure he’s on his way home, he won’t want to be away for Christmas.”

Carole bit her lip “Are you worried about him in the mountains?”

Ben was going to deny it but then looking at her, he grinned and said “Yes I am. But Adam would undoubtedly tell me off. There is no-one in Nevada who knows his way around in the mountains better than Adam and he won’t take any unnecessary risks. If he can’t get through he will wait it out, however much he dislikes it.”
Carole forced a smile “Adam invited me out to the Ponderosa on Christmas Day but if he’s not going to be there, I don’t think I’ll come. I don’t want to intrude.”

Ben gripped her arm “Don’t be silly, we are expecting you and you will be very welcome whether Adam is there or not. Anyway if Adam gets back on Christmas Day and finds you are not there, our lives won’t be worth living.”

Carole smiled more easily “Thank you Mr Cartwright. If you are sure, then I will come.”

“Good, now try not to worry too much my son is a survivor. He’ll be fine.”

Carole felt rather better than she had, both because of Ben’s reassurance and just from the way he had treated her. However it was still hard to settle that night all too aware of the heavy snowfall. School had already broken up for the holiday and she didn’t even have the distraction of the children as the hours dragged past.

Meanwhile Adam had managed to buy a strong horse and early on the 23rd he set out for Reno. He was travelling as light as he could, only carrying his father’s present, a writing stand with matching pen and pencil and the guitar he had bought for Carole. He was well wrapped up in his thick logging coat but wasn’t bothering with a bedroll. He knew once he started he had to keep going, there wouldn’t be any time to really rest, just enough to tend the horse. He had plenty of jerky with him knowing he was unlikely to be able to light a fire and he was carrying oats for the horse. Adam had thick gloves and he had a scarf tying his hat down to stop his ears getting frost bitten. At least the snow had stopped falling and Adam was able to make reasonable progress for the first six hours, making nearly twenty miles up into the foothills. Then he hit the steep climb to the pass. Adam had dismounted and was leading his horse. He had primitive snowshoes but even so sunk in with every step. Twice he stumbled and fell, having slightly crossed the snowshoes. The second time he was winded and he had to take a break. The wind was biting and Adam knew he was making less than a mile an hour but he had no choice but to keep going. A few minutes later he was able to use a cliff for some protection and he gave the horse some oats and chewed some jerky. Even though he was protected from the worst of the wind it was still bitterly cold and after twenty minutes Adam was so cold that he was glad to move on. At least the effort of trampling the snow down enough for the horse kept him warm. He pulled the brim of his hat down against the glare and kept going but he was making even slower time than he had feared. Tired out Adam began talking to the horse in an attempt to keep himself awake “I know I’m mad but its Christmas and I want to see my family.” He laughed at himself “Okay I admit I want to see Carole I sure have missed her. I wonder if she has missed me at least a little.” The horse was slowing too as it tired but Adam pushed on. As it got dark he lit one of the pitchblende torches he was carrying, he reckoned on another four miles to the top. Adam was tired but he was far too stubborn to give in and kept pushing on.

Addison had his spies out and he learnt the Adam was trying to force a way through the Sierras, despite the heavy snow. He had managed to see Adam in his hotel and his dislike had grown on finding him a very good looking man. He already knew that the eldest Cartwright son was a highly qualified cultured man and to have looks as well was just pure aggravation. However he hadn’t realised just how much he disliked Adam, until he found out that Adam was trying to force the pass through to Virginia City and found himself hoping that Adam would die. Addison made up his mind then and there to try and win Carole back and, if he failed, then he would ensure that the man she had chosen instead was destroyed.

Ben had tried to make Christmas Eve as normal as possible for his other two sons, but all of them were worried about Adam. Joe kept jumping up to go look out the door as though he could make his brother materialise and Hoss was continually drumming with his fingers. Stopping momentarily as either his father or his brother complained, only to start up again shortly afterwards. Each was optimistic in words at least but as the evening dragged on, it was hard to maintain the optimism in their hearts. Ben went through the motions, reading the story from St Luke as he always had and leading the singing of carols, but they missed Adam’s velvety baritone and after a couple of half hearted efforts they stopped by mutual, if silent, agreement. Joe restless wondered aloud where his brother was “I thought he’d be home this evening for sure.”

Hoss grunted “I’ll bet he’s doing his best to get here. He promised not to miss any more Christmases.”

Ben irritably told his sons that speculating did no good and suggested they headed for bed. It was the promise that scared him more than anything. Like his sons he was sure that Adam would be doing his very best to get home, make good on his promise and he was scared what that might mean. Ben knew only too well what conditions were likely to be like in the mountains. Both his sons knew him well enough to see the fear behind that statement and Hoss gripped his father’s shoulder “Big brother ain’t no fool. He knows those mountains jest as well as me. He’ll wait it out if he has to.”

Joe added “Sure he does. Adam’s fine Pa, he’ll be home just as soon as he can get here.”

Ben smiled grateful for his sons’ encouragement but none of them found it easy to get to sleep, as each of them visualised the white hell it could be up in the mountains.

Meanwhile Adam was forcing his way ever upwards into the teeth of the wind. The only consolation he had was the knowledge that there were no steep drops along the way so as long as he was heading upwards he couldn’t get lost or fall. He didn’t dare stop until he reached the far side of the pass, for a blizzard would finish his chances of getting through and it was beginning to snow again. Long before he reached the top Adam had admitted to himself that this trip was foolhardy and knew he should have waited it out in California. He had no choice now but to go on and hope that conditions were easier on the far side of the mountains.

Eventually just before midnight he reached the summit and, as if giving him best, the wind died away and the snow stopped. There was a full moon and now it broke through the clouds showing the beauty of the mountains, pristine with their new coat of snow. For a few minutes Adam rested enjoying the view. It almost felt as though he was the only man in the world and the first to see the beauty before him. It was far too cold for him to rest long and he slowly began to make his way down. The snow was still deep and both man and horse were tired but the animal followed him, seemingly as eager as Adam himself to get out of the snow.

Apart from short stops to rest when he found some slight protection, usually only for ten minutes or so, Adam kept moving all night. By nine in the morning they were out of deep snow and he was able to ride but with a tired animal he couldn’t push it beyond a walk. Even then he had to rest the horse twice for an hour or so, using the remaining oats when they had reached a mountain stream and he could water the animal. It was early evening before he finally rode into Reno where he headed straight for the livery stable.

Adam knew the owner Mitch well, he had once worked on the Ponderosa. Mitch came over to greet him “Good to see you Adam. You and that ole horse sure look exhausted. What you been doing forcing the pass?” Mitch cackled at his own wit but he looked disbelieving as Adam grinned “That’s right old timer I bought him in Pottola yesterday.”

“You’re having me on!”

Adam shook his head “Nope. He’s a good animal. Can I leave him here to recover and hire one to get home? I’ll get one of the hands to bring it back and collect him in a few days, after Christmas.”

“Sure Adam and I’ll take real good care of this old chap, seems you worked him real hard.”

“Too hard but I need to get home.” Adam stroked the horse’s velvety mussel “Take it easy old fella you’ve earnt it. Give him some warm mash will you Mitch while I go grab a meal for myself.”

“You ain’t heading on home tonight are you?” Mitch frowned in surprise it was still a long ride down to the Ponderosa.

“Christmas day tomorrow Mitch and I have guests coming so I need to get home.”

“Take it real easy boy you look exhausted now.”

Adam grinned “I’ll be fine. Just need something other than jerky, be back in less than an hour.”

“I’ll have a good one ready for you Adam.” Mitch watched him head down the street to the hotel for food, shaking his head, those Cartwrights each one as stubborn as the rest.

Adam was as good as his word and he was back three quarters of an hour later, ready to set out on the last leg of his journey. Mitch had done him proud, a good strong Morgan with a very easy pace on it, comfortable to ride and covering the ground deceptively fast. Even so it was nearly three thirty before he reached the ranch. It was a real effort to find the energy to care for the horse and then taking his presents in with him Adam let himself into the dark ranch house. Adam left a note on the table to say that he was home but please not to disturb him until ten o’clock and then, absolutely exhausted he went up to his room. He got as far as pulling off his boots and belt but then collapsed onto the bed and went straight to sleep.
Ben was up early, he was still very worried about his eldest son and anyway it was tradition for him to set the scene for his sons on Christmas morning. Early as he was Hop Sing had been up for more than an hour and the house was already beginning to fill with marvellous Christmas smells. Ben went into the kitchen and Hop Sing was ready with coffee, then he said “Did you see what was on the table?”

Ben shook his head but Hop Sing wasn’t being helpful and just grinned at him. Puzzled Ben went back into the dining room and found Adam’s note. He felt as though a great weight had been lifted from his shoulder, his son was safe and well and his family was complete for Christmas. He went back into the kitchen and gave Hop Sing a broad grin and then said "Your present is in the study, do you want it now or later when the work is easier?”

“Melly Christmas Mr Cartwright. We have presents after bleakfast, when the others are down.”

Ben grinned and wandered outside. It was a beautiful day, cold but clear and the Ponderosa looked very beautiful with its covering of snow. He was leaning on the hitch rail, looking at the scene and remembering the past when he had been building his ranch. Ben was barely aware of anyone joining him until his youngest son spoke “Merry Christmas Pa.”

“Same to you Son. Adam got home sometime during the night but he dares us to wake him before ten.”

Joe grinned very broadly “Thank God. It’s good to have him home.” The pair linked arms and went in for breakfast.

Hoss was up as well, but he had headed straight to the kitchen to find out when breakfast would be ready and Hop Sing had told him about Adam. It was a light hearted trio who sat down for the meal, looking forward to a couple of days just relaxing. They decided to hold presents until Adam joined them but on the stroke of ten they headed upstairs to wake Adam.

Adam was fast asleep although the mute testimony of his clothes showed his exhaustion when he got home. Adam hardly ever slept in any clothes, let alone dirty ones. Ben scanned his son’s face for signs of strain but Adam looked peaceful just dirty and unshaven. Ben gently shook his son’s shoulders but Adam didn’t want to wake up and he just burrowed deeper into his blankets, trying to ignore them. Hoss wasn’t having that and pulled them off but Adam just curled up into a tighter ball throwing his arm over his face. Little Joe giggled and wet a cloth “Wake up brother, it’s Christmas and I want my present.” He lifted the wet cloth threateningly.

Adam opened one eye and said “Don’t you dare little brother.”

Little Joe deliberately let a few drops fall and tried to step back behind Hoss but Adam was too quick for him, an arm snaked out and he grabbed his brother. Little Joe fought but it was no use Adam frog marched him over to the basin and put his head in it, until Joe yelled for mercy. Then laughingly Ben ordered them to stop fighting, they had visitors coming in two hours. Adam ordered them out and got changed and shaved.

When he came down Ben noticed his eyes were still red rimmed and had deep black shadows under them and his son was moving very stiffly, as though his back was hurting. Ben passed him over some coffee “Rough trip Son?”

“Slightly. I’m just a bit short on sleep got in, sometime after three.” Adam smiled “I’m okay Pa I’ve missed sleep before, but I am hungry.” Ben yelled for Hop Sing and he bustled in with food ready for Adam and for once not even a lecture for missing breakfast. Adam ate rapidly and then grinned at his little brother “Okay Joe I won’t try your patience any further.”

Adam hauled two large parcels out from behind the desk and pushed one to each of his brothers. He had designed saddles especially for them, incorporating the pine tree brand and both his brothers were delighted with the beautifully tooled soft leather. Much to Adam’s surprise, his father who had known what he was doing had had a third one made for Adam himself. Ben was delighted with his writing set but asked if it was meant as a hint to deal with the bookwork and let his sons deal with the practical details. Adam laughed at his father, that would be the day.

Joe handed his eldest brother a parcel obviously containing books but when Adam opened it he was taken aback as it was three novels by Russian authors, in the original Russian! Adam turned them over, not knowing quite what to make of it and Joe savoured the expression on his face. Then Hoss passed over another package of books and grinned triumphantly. Adam frowned but when he opened it he found both dictionaries and grammars also in Russian. The two younger brothers grinned widely at him and Hoss explained that they didn’t want him to let his brain go rusty with lack of study. Joe cackled “Anyway I for one am fed up with your moans about the translations. Now you can read the original.”

Ben grinned, as for once his eldest son was speechless. Adam was delighted at the thought that had gone into it and he was always interested in enlarging his knowledge but he decided he couldn’t let his brothers away with it. He placed the books carefully down “Thanks a lot both of you and those dictionaries and grammar will be real useful. Mind you the only real way to learn a language is to speak it and luckily I do know the British ambassador at the Russian Court.”

The thought of their brother going off again, all the way to Russia, horrified both Hoss and Joe and Ben savoured their expressions and the mischievous twinkle in Adam’s eyes, before breaking in and informing them that the Russian Court spoke French. Outraged Joe threw a cushion at his brother but Ben called them to order, their guests were due in just over an hour.

Hoss and Joe went off to organise drinks and give Hop Sing a hand in setting up another table and setting them out. Ben drew his eldest son over to the study and asked him about the trip. Adam gave him the outline and Ben could fill in the details for himself. Ben shook his head “You should have stayed over.”

Adam got to his feet restlessly “I’ve missed the last three Christmases Pa and I promised Hoss that I wouldn’t miss anymore.” He smiled at his father “Not just for Hoss, for me too its kinda lonely at Christmas without you three, anyway I want to see Carole.” Then before his father could pursue the subject, Adam reverted to the problems he had had in Frisco, he couldn’t understand why it had been such a problem to book shipping. There had never been any trouble before. The two men tossed it around for a few minutes but eventually decided it was just one of those things. Ben had noticed how careful Adam was not to allow any discussion of Carole and realised that his son wasn’t sure of himself or her as yet.

By some miracle everything was ready just before the guests started arriving. Carole had had a miserable morning. She missed her family and she had had no word from Adam. She had convinced herself he was either snowbound in California, or dead or dying in the mountains. She had almost decided not to go but Ben had been most insistent that she was expected and she couldn’t be rude. However Dan who was driving her out had given up trying to make conversation, his reassurance that Adam could look after himself falling on deaf ears.

All the guests were staying overnight at the Ponderosa for the usual Boxing Day party and they made enough noise to hide Carole’s lack of conversation as they achieved. Adam had gone to his room to finish wrapping Carole’s present and there were only three Cartwrights visible as the buggys arrived. Carole was determined to hide her disappointment and she had a fixed smile on her face much to Ben’s private amusement.

Adam hard the buggys arrive and he ran downstairs to join his family. Ben was watching Carole as Dan helped her down and as she turned to greet them he saw her face light up as she saw Adam just behind the other three. Adam pushed forward and demanded a Christmas kiss, which Carole was more than happy to give him. Then he escorted her inside oblivious of all the other guests to the amusement of both Ben and Dan.

Carole demanded to know when he got home and Adam said “Not until after three this morning, so I had no time to let you know I was home.” Carole could see all too many signs of tiredness and decided not to ask about the trip, instead to his delight she told Adam how much she had missed his visits. Adam made it clear just how much he had missed her but then, as other people started coming in, he had to be polite and say hello to them too.

Joe and Hoss were busily escorting them to their rooms to dump coats and luggage. The three brothers had given up their rooms and were going to use the bunkhouse for a couple of nights, but Ben had refused Joe’s mischievous suggestion that Carole be given Adam’s room.

Adam led the way upstairs to the guestroom where Carole was going to be staying and excused himself telling her to wash up and he would see her downstairs. However he was back in a couple of minutes as he didn’t want to give Carole her present in front of other people. She was surprised but then Adam passed her the guitar he had brought back from Frisco.. She was thrilled but said “You shouldn’t have, its far too much.”

Adam grinned “I can’t teach you if you can’t practise.”

Carole moved over to her bag and got out a large package. She passed it over to Adam. It was obviously a book but once Adam unwrapped it, he was spell bound. She had sent east and her mother had found a book on the architecture of Europe. It was mainly illustrations and showed many of the places he had seen and told her about. Adam smiled at her “You couldn’t have bought me anything I’ll value more and with that he took her in his arms. She nestled there as though it was where she belonged and then she pulled away very slightly and turned her face up to be kissed. Adam kissed her gently at first and then more passionately, holding her very close. Adam knew now what he wanted and prayed that she wanted it too. For a long moment they held each other but then Adam heard his brother calling for him and the spell was broken. He wasn’t going to rush anything, not now, but he knew they had taken a long step forward they could no longer just be friends.

Carole broke away and told Adam to go down she would follow in a moment. Then she sat down on the bed to compose herself. She had come to realise in her absence what Adam meant to her and she was now sure that he felt the same. One day he was going to ask her to marry him and she knew what her answer would be, but for now she was content in newly discovered love and she wanted to enjoy that first. When she was calmer she went downstairs where Joe was serving coffee.

For the first time Carole felt at ease with all the Cartwrights and she gave Joe a bewitching smile. Apart from the short time while Adam was playing guitar just before he left for Frisco, Joe had never seen her acting naturally and he had never seen her smile except at Adam. Now he knew what his brother meant when he said there was something under the shell worth having. Joe had never got near her before but now he exerted all his charm and Adam had by no means a monopoly of it. Adam was pleased to see her chatting happily with his little brother, he wanted her and his family to be good friends. As Joe talked Carole began to realise that although he was a flirt he had many of Adam’s qualities and saw why the two brothers were so close. She hadn’t forgotten Adam’s comments on his little brother and now she began to see what he meant.

Adam was chatting to Dan and Roy and he was intrigued and slightly concerned to hear that two men had been asking questions around town about the Ponderosa. Roy said “Lots of questions, they wanted to know the main strengths and weaknesses of all the main mines, mills, banks, ranches, even timber holdings in Virginia City but just recently all their questions have been about the Ponderosa.” Ben joined them and like his son wondered is someone was planning to move in on the Ponderosa. It wouldn’t be the first time that someone had decided the Ponderosa should be in different hands.
Roy had no idea just who the men were representing, the only thing he knew was that they had come in from California.

The men had been around for several weeks before Dan and Roy had put two and two together about their casual questions. Roy bit his lip “Look this is just an advanced warning since the questions have settled on the Ponderosa.”

Adam smiled “ We’ll bear it in mind but its Christmas day. Don’t lets talk about trouble, we’ll consider it after Christmas.”
Roy agreed “ Sure Son, I don’t think anything will happen yet. It’s just a general warning to keep your eyes open”

Beth came over to join them. She was a widow a very old friend of both Ben’s and Roy’s and at one time Ben had thought of marrying her but she knew he didn’t really need anything apart from his sons and his ranch. They had reached an understanding to remain good friends. Beth smiled at the four men “You are all far too solemn for Christmas Day.” She linked arms with Roy and took him off to get her a sherry. Ben moved closer to his eldest son as Dan wandered off “Don’t mention this to your brothers, not for a couple of days anyway.”

“Sure Pa.” Adam wandered out into the kitchen to see how long dinner would be, only to find Hoss had beaten him to it. Hop Sing turned angrily and told Adam that dinner would be ready in twenty minutes but only if he kept his big brother out of the way. Adam grinned but Hoss turned on Hop Sing “You shouldn’t keep us waiting with all those wonderful smells coming outta the kitchen.”

Adam wasn’t about to push his luck and he grabbed Hoss arm and led him out tossing a grin over his shoulder to Hop Sing as he went. He deposited Hoss by Sue Ann and s asked her to keep his brother out of the kitchen or they would all starve. She laughed at him but put her arm round Hoss,

Adam went to help Joe pour our sherry all round and Hop Sing was as good as his word. Twenty minutes later the feast was served. Adam was very contented he had Carole next to him and all his family around him but to his horror he found he wasn’t hungry. He’d had far too little sleep over the last five days and it was catching up on him as he relaxed. He carved one turkey while Ben carved another but having done that he was only picking at his food. Carole worried about him asked “Are you alright?”

Adam grinned at her “Of course I am.” He made an effort but wasn’t getting on very fast. Then he noticed Hoss and some of the others had finished and forestalling his father he went to the kitchen and fetched a third turkey. It gave him the opportunity to take his plate into the kitchen and throw the food away, without Hop Sing seeing it, but Ben had noticed. Then he cut off seconds for all who wanted it. When they were all drinking coffee Ben had a quiet word with his son but Adam reassured him, he was fine just a mite tired.

During the afternoon Adam played his guitar for them and everyone joined in singing carols. Ben forgot his worries; he had to agree with his youngest son as Joe commented that Adam looked years younger as he sat on the arm of Carole’s chair playing. Adam was completely contented but he was also absolutely exhausted as his hard trip caught up with him. Eventually he passed his guitar over to Joe “You can play accomplishments as well as I can, take over please, I need some fresh air.”

Adam wandered outside needing fresh air, hoping it would wake him up. Carole followed him out and found him leaning on the hitch rail surveying the view, She asked anxiously “Is anything wrong?”

Adam turned and smiled down at her “How could there be anything wrong? You are here with me.”

“I’m not kidding you look so drawn and you hardly ate anything at dinner.”

Adam put his arm round her “Don’t look so worried. I’m just a bit tired. I’ve only had about twelve hours sleep in the last five days and I feel as though I walked back from California.” He kissed her forehead “ With you at the end of the journey, it was well worth it.”

Carole was going to tell him to go and take a few hours sleep but Adam pulled her closer, shushing her with a kiss, and then he began pointing out the mountains of the Sierra Nevada, which showed very clearly from where they stood. Then as it was getting cold they went in. As they came in Beth was talking to Ben about his new nieces. Laura had had twins, two girls, about three weeks earlier. Carole felt Adam tense up next to her as they overheard and Ben and Beth stopped speaking very abruptly. Carole was very puzzled but she just stayed close to Adam as he said “I didn’t know she had had her baby. Are they all well?”

Ben nodded “We heard while you were in Frisco and I’d forgotten to tell you today.”

Adam nodded “I expect Will is delighted.” Then he went and poured himself a large brandy. He hadn’t told Carole about Laura and he suddenly realised he would have to as she obviously hadn’t missed the byplay.

Beth turned to Ben “I’m so sorry but I thought he was outside.”

Ben smiled at her, “Not your fault. I should have told him. He knew that she was pregnant but it must have been a shock to hear like that.”

Carole was obviously puzzled even though she didn’t ask outright. Adam swallowed hard “I’ll explain later. Will is my cousin and Laura is his wife.”

Carole accepted that but it didn’t explain the tension she had felt, not only in Adam but also in Ben and Beth.

Little Joe had seen the incident and he guessed that Adam hadn’t told Carole about Laura. He knew that it would be very difficult for his eldest brother to explain, he’d been hurt physically and emotionally by events, even if he hadn’t really loved Laura. Even now when Adam was happy in his new love his memories weren’t pleasant and Joe knew his brother was near exhaustion. Joe went over to his father “Should I tell her what happened with Laura. I don’t want to interfere but Adam hates talking about those days and she ought to know.”

Ben wasn’t at all sure, he knew just how little his eldest son liked any interference in his personal affairs, but in the end he said “You can make the offer to Adam, but it’s his decision and do it tactfully.”

Joe went over to the window and joined Adam and Carole. After about five minutes Carole excused herself to go and get a book she wanted to show Adam, which suited Joe fine. He stared out of the window not wanting to embarrass his brother “You haven’t told her about Laura?”

Adam sighed heavily “I thought she would know the main story, considering what gossips the women in town are. Then I think I could tell her how I felt.” He rubbed his aching eyes “I just can’t bring myself to tell her what happened, stupid isn’t it but it makes my back ache just to think about that time.”

Joe gripped his shoulder affectionately “I don’t think it’s stupid. Look I don’t want to interfere but if you want me to tell her what happened, I will.”

Adam didn’t say anything but Joe could feel the tension in him, see it in every line of his body. Joe decided he had better back out and he said “If you want me to stay out of it just say so.”

Adam turned round to face his brother, his total exhaustion even more apparent “No Joe. She has to know and I can’t do it. I’d be very grateful if you would.” He turned away and Joe could hardly hear his brother as Adam went on “I love her Joe and I’m so scared. I can’t bear the thought of anything going wrong. Scared she might think I’m doing the same again and I’m not.”

Joe squeezed his shoulder “I know Adam, don’t worry.” Then as Carole returned with the book the brothers fell quiet. Adam stared unseeingly at the picture she had wanted to show him and then saying that he needed a drink he excused himself. Hardly surprisingly Carole looked a little cross and Joe said “Please Carole, Adam knew that I wanted to talk to you.”

Carole was very puzzled by that, feeling suddenly cold, wondering what he wanted.
Joe persevered “Look I know I’m interfering but I am very fond of Adam. We realised that you didn’t know about Laura. Adam wanted to tell you himself, but he hates talking about it, so I said I would tell you what happened.”

Carole was intrigued “I realised there was some mystery but she’s his cousin’s wife isn’t she?

Joe nodded “She is now, but at one time she was engaged to marry Adam.”

Carole went pale, whatever she had expected it wasn’t that. Joe went on “Adam hadn’t been very lucky in his love affairs and at that time I guess he was frustrated. He had been going out with Laura for several months, must have been nearly nine months. She was a widow with a small daughter Peggy. Peggy was about five and real cute. Adam was very good with her and that little girl just about hero worshipped him. Because Adam and Laura went around together so much every one sort of assumed that they were getting married, but Adam didn’t seem to know his own mind. That sure ain’t like my eldest brother. Anyway eventually he proposed and they became engaged. Don’t misunderstand me I am sure that Adam loved her but Pa was never sure whether he loved her as a wife or more as a sister, and Peggy’s mother. He thought Adam was more in love with the idea of his own Ponderosa and a family than he was with Laura, I agree but you’ll have to make up your own mind. Anyway once they were engaged Adam began building a house for them. He didn’t tell Laura what he was doing wanting it to be a surprise and he wouldn’t accept any help, not even from Hoss and me. He was busy with the house and seeing less and les of Laura. He wouldn’t name a wedding day until the house was closer to completion. My cousin Will was living with us and somehow he ended up escorting Laura quite a bit of the time. I think he was already in love with Laura, anyway about then he started talking about moving to Frisco to live. I think that brought it home to Laura that she had fallen out of love with Adam and in love with Will. Anyway whatever the reason one day they both discovered how the other felt. They are both very honest people and they went to tell Adam. He was as usual working on the house and he saw them coming down. He was pulling in a beam on the roof and he moved too fast. He fell from the roof with the beam on top of him.”

Carole’s hand flew to her mouth as she stifled a cry at the picture Joe had painted. Joe gripped her arm “Easy Carole You’ve seen my brother he’s fine now.”

“But he wasn’t?”

“No. We were very worried about him for all too long. The fall damaged his back and for a time he was paralysed from the waist downwards. Initially he was in a lot of pain and stuck in bed. There was all too little we could do to help. Even when he was moving around in a wheel chair it was long odds whether he would ever walk again. We were warned that anything, which might upset him, had to be avoided, it could bind him to a wheelchair for life. Laura had moved in here with Peggy to help nurse Adam. Sometimes it seemed the prattle of the little girl was about the only thing which eased big brother’s pain.” Joe bit his lip and his face showed the horror of those days when he had been so worried about his brother. Taking a deep breath Joe went on “Under those circumstances Will decided to leave. Adam needed Laura more than he did and they couldn’t risk breaking his heart as the fall had his body. Unfortunately they were talking it over in the barn and Adam overheard. I don’t know exactly what, but enough for him to realise Laura was in love with Will. He told her o go to Will but she wouldn’t and Will wouldn’t take her if the price was to tie Adam to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. Will always believed that Adam was being noble giving her up, but Adam told Pa that he had come to realise that Pa was right and she was just a means to an end; that he was more in love with the idea of his own family and his own house than he was with Laura. You’ll have to make your own mind up. Certainly Adam loved her enough for the desire for her happiness to get him back on his feet. As Will was leaving Adam forced himself to his feet and told Laura to go with Will, he didn’t need her anymore. They left that same day.”

“And Adam?”

“It took several months for him to be able to move around at all freely and even then Doc warned him it could be a year before he could ride and work round the ranch. Adam went to Cambridge then to study law.”

“You found that hard?”

Joe smiled “I hated the idea. I have my arguments with big brother. He can be a mite bossy and when I was younger he was worse than Pa at treating me like a kid. But he was always there, often bailing me out when I didn’t listen to him and I really missed him.”

“Why didn’t Adam tell me himself?”

Little Joe shrugged “I can only tell you what I think. Two reasons I guess. Firstly he hates talking about that time, it holds only painful memories for him. I think he assumed you would know at least the main outline of the story from the gossips in town. Secondly I think he’s scared that you might believe if he was willing to marry without true love once that he would do it again. I’m sure he wouldn’t but again you’ll have to make up your own mind. I just know that he suddenly realised that you didn’t know and he felt you had the right to. And he so desperately tired that he’s off his food and he couldn’t face doing it, so I put myself forward.”

“You love your brother very much don’t you?”

Joe was silent for a moment and then he said “He’s always been there to get me out of trouble, he taught me nearly all I know and even when he disagreed me he seems to understand. But I don’t think I knew how much he meant to me until he was away in Europe.”

“Thank you for telling me Joe. Now I think I’d like to talk to Adam.”

Joe said “I imagine he’s in Pa’s room, we are using it as a changing room while people are here.” He told her which one it was and Carole headed up stairs. She found Adam standing staring out of the window in his father’s room. He was miles away lost in his memories and from the tension she could see they weren’t very pleasant. She moved over to him and gripped his arm but Adam pulled away. He couldn’t look at her as he asked “Did Little Joe tell you?”

Carole smiled at him “Yes.”

“Don’t despise me for not telling you myself.”

“I don’t, but can you explain why you didn’t?”

Adam shrugged, sighing deeply “I’m not even sure myself, but somehow when I think of Laura and what happened it makes me feel ill. I don’t know, maybe its because I’m ashamed of myself. I nearly did great damage to both of us.”

“Maybe its because you were badly hurt.”

“I’ve been hurt before. and soon forgotten it, but I would have destroyed Laura and God knows what harm I would have done to Peggy.” Adam turned away from Carole and stared out “I did love Laura, still do, but not as you should love a wife. She was a good friend and she was Peggy’s mother, I loved that little girl, wanted a family of my own. I didn’t want to lose them, lose the companionship but everyone was talking marriage. Then Laura was hurt and I was so scared I was losing her I convinced myself I was in love.”

“Then just what do you think you did wrong?”

“When I was hurt I had time to think but I was still going to go through with it. That was wrong.” Adam waited tensely but then she moved closer and gently curved her palm round his cheek “That’s all I wanted to know now we can forget it.”

Hardly daring to believe it Adam turned and gripped her arms as he stared intently nto her eyes a slight frown on his face. Carole asked “What’s wrong?”

“You haven’t asked the question I expected.”

“You mean whether it’s the same again?” she said with a slight smile and Adam nodded. She moved closer to him and snuggled up against him “Maybe I’m conceited but I have seen your face light up when I walk in, I’ve felt your kisses. I know it isn’t.”

Adam pulled her very close at that and kissed her soundly but then they became aware that people were coming up to change and Carole slipped out to do the same. Adam was going to have a quick wash but sat down on the bed for a moment. Totally relaxed and contented he lazed back for a moment and that was his undoing. His exhausted body finally rebelled against his iron will and he fell fast asleep. He didn’t stir when his father and brothers came into change and Ben tucked a blanket round him and left him to sleep. The guests were all old friends and his son’s health came first.

Carole was surprised when Adam didn’t reappear but Ben told her his son was fast asleep. She nodded “I thought it was catching up on him. Twelve hours sleep in five days on a trip like that isn’t near enough.”

Ben rather hesitantly said “I suspect he’ll sleep until morning. I’m afraid its rather rude having invited you here.”

Carole smiled “No it isn’t. In a way its quite a compliment.”

Ben was mystified for a moment but then as she wandered over to talk to his youngest son he realised what she meant. Dan had noticed Adam’s absence and he asked “Not a lover’s tiff I hope?”

“No just the opposite.” He studied Carole as she talked with his other sons and went on “I hope this works out, I’d like that girl as a daughter-in-law.”

The following morning Adam was woken by Joe “Come on big brother you have more than slept the clock round, time to wake up.”

Adam grunted and then opened his eyes to find it was broad daylight “What’s the time?”

“Nine thirty. You came up to change at five thirty yesterday and slept right through. Pa joined us in the bunkhouse.”

Adam was shocked “What must our guests think of me?”

Joe laughed “You mean what does Carole think! Don’t worry they all saw how exhausted you looked and Carole seemed to think it was rather a compliment that you felt enough at home with her to go to sleep, instead of attending on her, but I shouldn’t push your luck.”

Adam jumped out of bed. He felt different again after his long sleep but before he did anything else he needed to thank his little brother and he squeezed Joe’s neck affectionately “Thanks for telling her about Laura you did a fine job.”

“No problem. If you can get yourself ready we are going to go riding. Pa has the older women and Roy roped in to help arrange things for the party tonight so Hoss, Dan Sue Ann, Katie Beth and Carole are coming with me up to the lake.”

“You’re short a man.”

“I never noticed!” Joe commented and got a pillow thrown at him, as he exited the room leaving Adam to wash and change. Adam was down quickly and had a hasty breakfast, making up for his lack of hunger the previous day, while his brothers saddled the horses with Dan’s help.

It was a cheerful group that went up towards the lake. Beth had been given the job of chaperone by Sue Ann’s mother but she made no objection as everyone paired off They straggled into the point which all of them knew well and then dismounted for the picnic lunch which Hop Sing had provided. The jokes got poorer but no-one cared as they lazed and chatted. It was too cold to sit still and the pairs all went off for a walk. Adam and Carole hardly spoke as they walked alongside the lake but it was a companionable silence. When Adam stopped and looked at her she came naturally into his arms. Adam kissed her passionately and then he held her at arm’s length “I love you Carole.”

She smiled radiantly at him “I knew but I have been longing to hear you say it. I love you so very much Adam.” Adam pulled her closer and kissed her again. For a long time they stood close together so very content just to be together, oblivious of the time and the cold. Then Adam heard Hoss call for him and he realised that it was time to go home.

The others were waiting for them and the whole crowd headed back to the Ponderosa. It was a good party and Ben watched his eldest son who was the life and soul of the party. His happiness was an almost visible aura round him as he played and danced, with Carole next to him the whole time. He tried to persuade her to stay on for a few days but she wouldn’t. She had no clothes with her and anyway needed time to think and enjoy her newly found love but she did want him to come to town the following evening which Adam willingly agreed.

It was late when the party finally broke up and Adam escorted Carole out to the buggy He kissed her firmly before helping her up next to Dan promising to be in town mid- afternoon the next day. Then he stood and watched her out of sight before going back in to grab a cup of coffee. The others were still seeing guests off and when they came in Adam was lazing back quietly picking out Silent Night on his guitar. The other three collapsed round the fire and no-one was arguing when Joe proclaimed it had been a great Christmas. They sat idly chatting for half an hour, the clearing up could wait until the following day. Finally Adam pulled himself to his feet and proclaiming that he for one was tired he headed for bed, closely followed by the others.