HERITAGE OF HONOR

Book Three



A Dream Imperiled



by

Sharon Kay Bottoms

CHAPTER ONE

A Small Cloud on the Horizon


 

N

o fire burned in the huge stone fireplace that dominated the main room of the Ponderosa ranch house.  Much as Ben Cartwright relished the idyllic charm of firelight’s warm glow on the faces of his loved ones, the summer heat wouldn’t permit the fire he kept burning whenever possible.  The light from the hanging lamp above him wasn’t quite as romantic, of course, but it served to light a scene that never failed to enchant him.

      The lamplight fell on the golden head of his beautiful wife Marie as it bent close to the dark-haired one of fourteen-year-old Adam.  Though Adam had been slow to accept his father’s third wife, he had come to look upon her as a friend and, in these last few months, a teacher.  Tonight, as they waited for their cook Hop Sing to call them to supper, she was helping him conjugate French verbs in preparation for his studies at the academy in Sacramento.  Adam wasn’t sure he’d be taking French this fall, but he enjoyed study and the language was both interesting and beautiful.  He wouldn’t count his summer hours wasted even if he couldn’t immediately put the new knowledge to use.

      Ben’s second son, chunky six-year-old Hoss lay sprawled on the striped Indian rug shaking a rattle in the face of Ben’s third boy, a gift doubly precious because both Joseph and his mother had almost perished at his birth just seven weeks earlier.  Hoss was grinning because the baby was awake for a change, Hoss’s chief complaint being that his new brother spent far too much time sleeping.  His parents didn’t share that opinion, for despite his diminutive size, Little Joe could emit the most ear-piercing shrieks, with which music he generally chose the middle of the night to favor his mother and father.

      Hoss, Ben recalled, had been an easy-going, sunny-dispositioned baby, happy as long as he was well fed, sleeping through the night by the time he was a few weeks old.  Not so Little Joe.  Everything bothered him——a wet diaper, an empty tummy or too bright a shaft of sunlight falling across his face——and he had no qualms about letting the world hear his discontent.  But the smile Ben flashed as the baby’s tiny fingers waved at the rattle plainly declared his prideful joy in the newest member of the family.

      As his brown eyes swept the scene, Ben’s face reflected the satisfaction of a man watching his dreams unfold.  For so many years settling in the West had been just that, a dream.  It was a dream he had shared with three wonderful women:  Adam’s mother Elizabeth, the daughter of a New England sea captain, with whom the dream had been birthed; Hoss’s mother Inger, the Swedish shopkeeper whose gentle courage had brought him to the brink of its fulfillment; and, finally, Marie, the Creole beauty with whom Ben hoped to share the flowering of all he had dreamed before.  With her and with his three sons, each a cherished gift from one of Ben’s beloved wives.  Ben released a sigh of deep contentment, and Marie looked up briefly to smile at him, her emerald eyes shining with quick comprehension of his sentiment.

      A loud insistent knocking battered the front door.  Ben started to get up, but before he could leave his mauve armchair, a soft-slippered shuffling told him Hop Sing had, as usual, hurried from the kitchen to answer the door.  And, as usual, he was chattering complaints in a mixture of Chinese and broken English.  The little Cantonese cook, whose life Ben had saved and who had, in gratitude, attached himself permanently to the Cartwright family, took fierce pride in protecting the areas he considered his exclusive territory, which included both answering the door as a proper houseboy should and, of course, the kitchen.  As absolute ruler over that domain, Hop Sing did not welcome interruptions at mealtime, and it was the unseen caller at the door who was the intended recipient of the expletives being hurled in its direction.

      Hop Sing opened the door and a fiery-headed, grinning boy of fifteen with a newspaper folded under his arm sauntered in.  “What’s for dinner?” Billy Thomas snickered in answer to the Chinaman’s grumbling.

      “Loast beef,” Hop Sing grunted.  “Maybe so, you stay, eat?”

      “Why, thanks, Hop Sing,” Billy replied enthusiastically, “I reckon you talked me into it.”

      “Hmph!” Hop Sing snorted and stomped back to the kitchen, secretly pleased to have another person to savor his food.

      “What’s the matter, Billy?” Ben drawled.  “Pantry running so low at your place you have to sponge a free meal wherever you can find it?”

      Billy just grinned.  “Why, I figured it was the least you could do after me riding all this way just to deliver your paper.”  He drew the latest issue of the Scorpion from under his arm and tossed it to Ben.

      Ben scowled eloquently.  As pleased as he was to get the local news earlier than usual, he knew better than to credit Billy Thomas with so selfless a motive.  Obviously, the boy was up to something.  Had his mother Nelly been there, she’d have been sure to point out that the “something” was bound to be mischief.

      While Ben perused the paper, Billy said hello to Marie and Adam, then wandered over to the cradle.  Bending over it, palms on his knees, he asked, “Well, how’s life treatin’ you, little Wet and Wail?”

      Hoss glared up at the older boy.  “That ain’t his name!”

      “Isn’t, Hoss,” his father corrected absently.

      “Yeah, Pa,” Hoss sighed.  He’d done so poorly in school last year that Pa was making him spend the whole summer doing lessons, but Hoss’s grammar showed little improvement.  “But that ain’t——I mean, isn’t——his name.”

      “It’s what we used to call you,” Adam laughed.

      “No such thing!” Hoss denied vigorously.

      “Oh, yeah,” Billy confirmed.  “Little Chief Wet and Wail, to be specific——’cause that’s all you did, just like this one.”

      Hoss’s lower lip thrust out.  “Little Joe’s a sweet baby,” he announced, “sweet as pumpkin pie.”

      “Pumpkin pie!” Billy hooted.

      “Especially when his diaper needs changing,” Adam commented dryly.

      “Pa, make ‘em quit,” Hoss demanded.

      “Oh, hush, Hoss,” Ben chided softly.  “They’re just teasing, and if you want my opinion, Wet and Wail’s a far more accurate name than Pumpkin Pie.”

      “You are all so cruel, to make sport of my sweet little François,” Marie said, rising and lifting her baby to her shoulder.

      As she had expected, everyone groaned.  “Pumpkin Pie sounds real fine next to that!” Billy snorted.

      Standing next to Marie, Hoss patted the baby’s back.  “You like that better, don’t you, Punkin?  Sure you do.”  Little Joe’s head bobbed back and forth in what Hoss took as a gesture of agreement.

      Marie flashed Ben a triumphant smile that let him know she’d tossed out the baby’s French middle name just to make peace by giving everyone something they could join forces against.  Ben wagged a playful finger at his wife to tell her he’d seen through her stratagem.  He was sure he’d seen through Billy’s, as well.  “This article about the upcoming dance wouldn’t have anything to do with giving us the pleasure of your company tonight, would it, Billy?” he asked with a smirk.

      “Dance, what dance?” Adam demanded, reaching for the paper.  Ben handed it to him, and as Adam read about the grand ball to be held at Lucky Bill’s hotel in Genoa, his black eyes brightened.  “We’re going, aren’t we?”

      “Sort of interferes with some other plans we’d made,” his father pointed out.

      “The picnic?” Adam asked.  “I don’t see why.  That was gonna be the Fourth of July, Pa; the dance isn’t ‘til the fifth.”

      “Oh, the energy of youth!” Ben chuckled.  “Two major outings——in opposite directions, I might add——in two days is more than my poor old bones want to think about.”

      “You are not old, Ben,” Marie scolded, “only thirty-six.”

      Ben smiled.  Compared to her mere twenty years, thirty-six certainly felt old, but he didn’t contradict her.  Nor did he mention the true cause of his reservations.  Marie had suffered through a difficult breech delivery and still seemed to tire easily.  Ben hesitated to plan more than her recovering strength could stand. “Yes, my love,” he said agreeably, “but I still think—”

      “Oh, of course, we should change our plans,” Marie interrupted.

      “No picnic?” Hoss wailed.

      “But, Hoss, think what fun a dance will be,” Marie urged.

      “Not as much as a picnic!” Hoss protested.  “I’d rather fish at Tahoe any day as flounce around a floor with frillies.”

      “Here now, I’ve got an idea,” Ben said.  “What if we picnic at Washoe Lake instead of Tahoe, like we’d planned?  It’s closer, so we could get home early and be ready for another day of fun.”

      “Tahoe’s a better place,” Hoss muttered, still disgruntled.

      “I know,” Ben said, “but there’ll be other times.”

      A broad grin split Hoss’s face.  “My birthday!” he yelled.  “Like last year!”

      The first response to Hoss’s idea came from his little brother.  Along with wet diapers, an empty tummy and bright light, Little Joe had little toleration for loud voices in his ear.  He screamed vociferously and Hoss looked immediately chagrinned.  He reached for the baby and when Marie released him, rubbed the small back until Little Joe began to settle down.  “There, there, Punkin Pie,” Hoss soothed.  “Brother’s sorry.  Don’t cry, Punkin.”

      “Dinnah leady; you come now!” Hop Sing scolded from the dining room.  Everyone laughed and dutifully filed around the table to the appropriate chair, Hoss still holding the little brother he obviously adored.

      “How about it, Pa?” Hoss ventured more quietly.  “A picnic at Tahoe for my birthday?”

      Ben chuckled.  “Sounds fine.  You’ll relate the change in plans to your folks, Billy?”

      “That’s why I’m here,” Billy grinned.  “Ma and Pa figured you might want the dance instead of the picnic, so I offered to ride over and ask.”

      “And arriving at dinnertime is just a coincidence,” Ben said with a dubious arch of his blue-black eyebrow.

      Billy helped himself to a slice of roast beef.  “That’s right,” he cackled.  Then he turned an ominous face toward Adam as he passed the platter to his friend.  “Real reason I came is to let buddy boy here know I’ve staked my claim to Miss Sally Martin for the dance.”

      “She know that?” Adam taunted.

      “I asked and she said she’d come with me,” Billy replied loftily, “so keep your hands off, boy.”

      “Fat chance,” Adam informed him as he piled his plate full of beef.

 

* * * * *

 

      Nelly Thomas, seated in a straight chair in her bedroom, gave a contented sigh.  “Lands, Marie, but you got a gentle hand with hair.”  The Cartwrights had taken Sunday dinner with the Thomases and since they wouldn’t have time to return to the Ponderosa before the grand ball that evening, had brought their evening clothes along.  The men had long since been dressed, but the ladies were taking their time, taking as much pain with their toilet as if tonight’s ball were hosted by President Buchanan instead of hotel owner William Thorrington.

      Standing behind Nelly, Marie gave the light strands another stroke.  “You have nice hair to work with, Nelly, fine but so thick.”

      “Well, I sure never thought it could be fixed fancy as you’re doing,” Nelly tittered.  “Won’t I be a sight at that ball tonight?  Folks won’t know me, all primped up like a china doll!”

      “You will look beautiful,” Marie purred.  “I would like to steal that gorgeous green gown.”

      Nelly gave her head a slight shake.  Green would have been the perfect color for Marie, of course, almost a match for those unusual eyes of hers, but the dress was much too large for the Creole woman’s slight figure, even this soon after her pregnancy.  Besides, Marie’s blue satin, crafted by a New Orleans dressmaker, was stylish beyond what any other woman in the valley would be wearing.  She’d be the one taking every man’s eye tonight, and that would have been true had she worn faded calico.  Marie was the beautiful one, Nelly thought, and she had to know it for all her acting unconscious of her looks.  A good thing Ben Cartwright wasn’t the jealous type.

      “There!” Marie said, stepping back, brush still in hand.  “Take a look, Nelly.”

      Nelly stood, approached the mirror over her washstand and gasped.  That couldn’t be her reflected in its polished surface!  Forget other folks not knowing her; Nelly didn’t know herself.  “Lands, I wish I had your talent with hair,” Nelly cried, turning to hug her young friend in appreciation.

      “And I yours in handling children,” Marie sighed.

      Nelly’s hug turned compassionate, concerned.  “What is it, honey lamb?  Adam ain’t bein’ fractious again, is he?”

      Marie smiled.  “No, all is well between us, except that I shall miss him when he goes to school.”

      “Well, you don’t have to cross that bridge for another couple months,” Nelly said, then smiled.  “Now, I know Hoss ain’t givin’ you a lick of trouble, so it must be our new little darlin’.”

      Marie nodded.  “Ben keeps talking of how different he is from Hoss, how much less he eats, how much more he cries.  I am sure I’m doing something wrong, but I am too ignorant to know what.”

      “You’re not doing anything wrong,” Nelly soothed.  “Children are different, that’s all, and if anyone ought to know it, it’s Ben Cartwright!  Why, the three I birthed were different as night and day, so how Ben can expect three boys by three different mothers to be anything alike is beyond me!”

      “Little Joe seems all right to you?” Marie asked anxiously.  “He is so small.”

      “Started out that way,” Nelly agreed, “and likely will be all his life.  Honey lamb, he’s you all over, even got your eyes, and you’re small.  I reckon his appetite fits his size.  You can’t go comparin’ him with Hoss.  That boy could eat a side of beef when he was Little Joe’s age!”

      “You are exaggerating,” Marie accused, but she was smiling again.

      “Not by much,” Nelly laughed.  “And don’t fret about the cryin’ either.  Little Joe’s extra sensitive, that’s all.  Likely he’ll grow out of it, but if you ask me, a baby that hollers about wet diapers is just showin’ good sense.”

      Marie laughed.  “Then I think I have the most sensible baby there ever was.  Ben teases me about bathing him every day, but my little boy likes to be clean.”

      Nelly bit her lip.  A daily bath went beyond her ideas of what was best, but she didn’t want to make the young mother feel more insecure than she obviously already did.  “Well, let’s see what the menfolk think of our finery,” she suggested.

      “‘Bout time,” Clyde Thomas grumbled as the bedroom door opened, but the complaint died on his lips when he caught the first glimpse of his wife.  “Nelly, hon,” he purred, “you look plumb gorgeous.”

      “Wow, Ma!” Billy exclaimed.  “Never knew you was such a looker.”

      Nelly blushed, but she was obviously pleased.  “It’s Marie’s doin’,” she deprecated.

      “She done good work,” Billy agreed, “but it ain’t all her, Ma.  Can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, you always said, so she must’ve had somethin’ pretty fine to work with.”

      “Oh, go practice your flatterin’ ways on that Martin gal,” Nelly laughed.  “You gents ready to go?”

      “Thought I was,” Clyde chuckled, “but maybe I ought to dude up some more if I’m gonna be seen with the likes of you, Nelly gal.”  Clyde’s worn tweed suit did look a little ragged next to his wife’s polished appearance.

      Nelly hooked an arm through his elbow.  “You’re duded up enough for me.”

      “And altogether too duded up for fighting off those miners who are bound to throng your lady tonight,” Ben teased.

      “Best worry about your own duds,” Clyde sniggered.  “That gal on your arm ain’t exactly hard on the eyes, Ben boy.”

      “Pa, do I have to go?” Hoss pleaded again.  Having no interest in dancing, he had offered to stay at the house and watch the baby.

      Five-year-old Inger Thomas, her strawberry blonde hair set off by her new red calico, answered before Ben could.  “‘Course, you have to go, Hoss.  You’re my partner.”

      Hoss frowned.  As girls went, his mother’s namesake was nice, but he felt clumsy as an ox when it came to dancing.

      Sharply dressed in his gray cutaway jacket and maroon satin vest, Ben offered Marie his arm.  As they walked outside, Marie whispered, “I hope we have made the right decision.  What if the music makes Little Joe cry?”

      “If it does, we’ll ask Lucky Bill if we can’t bed the boy down in a spare room,” Ben said.  “I’d rather not leave them home alone, and Hoss can use a little work on the social graces.”

      “Now, Ben, don’t turn a dance into a lesson,” Marie scolded gently.  “Poor Hoss thinks he has had little else this summer.”

      “All right,” Ben laughed as he handed her up to the seat of their buckboard.  “No lessons tonight.  We’ll just dance our toes sore.”

      Strains of lively music greeted the party as they entered Lucky Bill’s Hotel.  Clyde took a firm grip on Nelly’s elbow.  “I may not be able to hold you for long,” he said, “but the first dance is mine.”

      Nelly stroked his short auburn whiskers.  “You don’t hear me arguin’.”  She willingly let herself be led to the dance floor.

      “I’d like to grab you while I have the chance,” Ben chuckled, “but I see another fellow already has you tied down.”

      Marie smiled, knowing he meant the baby in her arms.  “Take the basket over by the others,” she requested.  “I want Laura to see how our little one is growing before I put him down.”  Ben nodded and carried the basket to the side of the room where two other babies lay snoozing.  Ben sent a quick prayer heavenward that Little Joe would follow their cooperative example. 

      Seeing no help for it, Hoss took Inger’s small hand and headed for the dance floor.

      Billy spotted Sally Martin dancing with her father and made a beeline to cut in.  Though, technically, Sally was Billy’s date for the evening, his family owned only one multi-passenger vehicle.  He hadn’t wanted the whole family along when he picked up Sally and she hadn’t wanted to ride horseback in her new evening gown of violet silk, so the young couple had agreed to meet at the dance.

      Adam started after Billy, intending to challenge his friend’s claim to the young beauty, when another pretty face caught his eye and he veered toward her instead.  “Thocmetony!” he cried, grasping her bronze hand as soon as he reached her.  “What a surprise to see you here!”

      “Instead of in my grandfather’s karnee, you mean?” the Paiute girl asked with a mischievous smile.  “I live here in Genoa now, with the Ormsbys.”  She turned toward the younger girl standing shyly at her side.  “You remember my sister Elma?”

      “Elma?” Adam asked, brow furrowing.  “That’s not the name I remember.”

      Thocmetony laughed.  “We took Christian names while we were in California.  Mine is Sarah, remember?”

      “I remember,” Adam said with a smile, “but I still think your Indian name has a prettier meaning, Shellflower.”  Shellflower was the English equivalent for the pink desert flower after which the thirteen-year-old Paiute was named.

      Sarah’s deep gold flesh darkened from the neck up.  “And I still think of you as Red Man, Adam,” she said, “but perhaps it is time to put aside childish things.  The Ormsbys prefer white women’s names.”

      “And white women’s dress I see,” Adam added, noting the simple yellow gingham his friend wore.  “You look real pretty in it, Sarah.  Would you like to dance?”

      “It is new to me, but if you will be patient, I would like to learn,” Sarah replied, taking the hand Adam offered.

      “Good, and you can tell me all about why you’re living with the Ormsbys instead of your own folks,” Adam said as he led her to the dance floor.

      “That is simple,” Sarah responded.   “My father wishes us to have the white man’s learning.  We will go to Genoa school soon, but now Elma and I do housework and help serve the stage passengers to earn our board.”

      Giving his partner an energetic twirl, Adam nodded.  He knew William Ormsby owned a local store, which also served as a stage stop for the Carson Valley Express.  “I’ll be taking that stage before long,” Adam offered, “when I leave for school in Sacramento.”

      “Ah, I will see you then, at least,” Sarah said, flushed with the vigor of the dance.

      “Maybe more,” Adam said.  “Maybe I’ll just”——a hand tapped him on the shoulder.  Adam frowned as he glanced sideways and caught sight of Billy Thomas.  “What are you doing here?” Adam demanded.  “Thought you had a partner.”

      “Hard to keep around here,” Billy shrugged, “with all these miners cuttin’ in.”

      “You’re no miner,” Adam grunted.

      Billy just grinned.  “No, but I’m cuttin’ in, same as they done me.  What’s your name, pretty?”

      The Indian girl smiled, pleased as any other to have two fellows vying for her attention.  “Sarah,” she said and took Billy’s hand.

      Across the room Laura Ellis was smiling into the face of Marie’s baby.  “Ooh, you pretty thing, you,” she cooed.  “You’re just the prettiest baby boy I ever saw, yes you are.”

      Little Joe evidently appreciated the compliment, for he smiled cheerily, his little head bobbing as his bright eyes took in the new surroundings.

      Marie giggled.  Clyde says that most fathers have to keep a shotgun handy to protect their girls, but Ben will need one to drive away all the girls that will want to marry our beautiful Little Joe.”

      Laura laughed.  Clyde’s right.  This one won’t have to do much skirt-chasing; they’ll chase him.  But you’ll probably be the one wielding the shotgun to hold them at bay!”

      Mais oui, I will,” Marie began, but she was suddenly aware of a swarm of men swooping down on her.  She wasn’t surprised.  Even in populous New Orleans men had flocked around the Creole beauty, but here in Carson Valley, where anything in a skirt was a rare and cherished sight, the homeliest woman would be the recipient of more requests for a dance that she could possibly fill.  The fact that Marie was beyond argument the loveliest woman in the room guaranteed she’d be kept busier than most.

      Recognizing the man leading the pack as James Finney, Marie made a desperate search of the room for Ben, but he had his back to her, talking to Dr. Martin.  Marie remembered with distaste the last dance she’d shared with the man everyone called Old Virginny, after his home state.  Not only had the miner tromped on her toes, his breath had reeked of alcohol.  But Marie would have considered herself ill-mannered to turn him down.

      Just as Finney was stretching out his scrawny fingers to claim his prize, another lanky man stepped in front of him and, sweeping off his black stovepipe hat, announced loudly, “Henry T. P. Comstock at your service, ma’am.”  Comstock didn’t ask for a dance; he simply assumed it was his for the taking.  He gripped Marie’s elbow and guided her toward the dance floor.

      “But, my baby,” Marie protested.

      “I’ll see to him,” Laura called, her lips twitching with amusement.

      Irritated, but not despairing, Old Virginny and the scruffy miners behind him turned hopeful eyes on Laura, who merely laughed.  “I’m in charge of the refreshment table tonight, gents; I’m too busy right now to dance, but maybe later.”

      “Maybe, for sure,” called a not unhandsome miner in his middle twenties, who was far to the rear of the pack.

      Laura smiled at the likeable young man who, like Finney, had come west as a teamster for John Reese in 1851 and stayed to mine the nearby canyons.  “All right, Sandy; I’ll save my first dance for you.”  Sandy Bowers might be a little rough around the edges, but he was good-natured and open-hearted.  Laura figured she’d enjoy dancing with him far more than her friend was likely to be enjoying her turn around the floor with pompous Henry T. P. Comstock.

      Finishing his conversation with Paul Martin, Ben searched the room for Marie.  He spotted her and groaned audibly.  “I should know better,” he explained to the doctor.  “I should know better than to expect a dance with my own wife.”

      “I imagine she’d welcome your cutting in,” Martin chuckled.  “Old Pancake’s dance technique is a mite vigorous for most ladies’ taste.”

      Ben smiled at the miner’s nickname.  Though Comstock had only been in the territory about a year, his reputation for laziness had earned him the moniker of Pancake because he rarely went to the trouble of making sourdough bread, choosing to drop the batter on a hot griddle instead.  “You’re right; it would be an act of charity,” Ben said, the smile on his lips belying the solemnity of his tone.

      “Charity,” Martin scoffed.  “On that note, I believe I’ll adjourn to the punch bowl.”

      “If James Finney hasn’t drunk it dry,” Ben commented saucily.

      Ben claimed his wife for a dance, but couldn’t for long hold off the eager horde seeking the same privilege.  Throughout the evening partners changed regularly as lonely men satisfied their craving for female company.  Even Hoss lost his partner, to a gray-whiskered miner, but he didn’t care.  The boy navigated a straight course to the refreshment table, where Mrs. Ellis obligingly filled his plate full of sandwiches and cookies.  Hoss plunked himself on the floor behind the table next to three-year-old Jimmy Ellis and settled down to enjoy his favorite part of any social gathering.

      Ben counted himself lucky to have danced with every woman, young and old, at the dance, so whenever he lost his latest partner to another eager-faced gentleman, he contented himself with roaming the room in search of a neighbor with whom he hadn’t chatted in a while.  He couldn’t help noticing, however, that many conversations seemed to break off abruptly when he approached.  The occasional snatches he caught were disturbing, for their tone was almost belligerent.  “I stand with Brigham,” one of Ben’s closest neighbors, Alec Cowan, hissed to another Mormon.  “If the United States thinks it can”——in response to the other man’s curt nod, Cowan broke off and pasted a thin smile on his face.  “Hello, Mr. Cartwright.  Warm for July, isn’t it?”

      “July’s always warm here,” Ben replied lightly.  “You’ve lived here long enough to know that.”  There wasn’t much else to say about the weather, though, and Cowan seemed disinclined to discuss anything more serious, at least until Ben wandered off toward the refreshment table.  As he left, a quick glance over his shoulder told Ben the heads of his Mormon neighbors were once again bent in earnest grappling of some problem that evidently wasn’t considered the business of any gentile in the territory.

      Hating to feel shut out by his neighbors, Ben nonetheless shook off his irritation.  Tonight was a celebration in honor of the birth of their nation and a rare opportunity to come together for fun and frolic.  He didn’t intend to spoil it by worrying over how other folks acted.  Passing the three baskets of babies, Ben peered into the one nearest the refreshment table, hoping to see a slumbering son, but Little Joe was wide awake, face smiling, arms and legs kicking.  To Ben’s imagination, it seemed as if the tiny boy were keeping time to the music, almost dancing in his basket.  “Like parties, do you, Little Joe?” Ben asked gently.  “Well, Pa’s glad to see that——mighty glad to see that.”  He let the baby waggle his finger for a moment, then headed for a glass of punch.  He was thirsty.

      As he stepped toward Laura Ellis, however, he once again had the unpleasant experience of seeing a conversation broken off the moment he came within hearing distance.  The two blond-haired, blue-eyed Grosch brothers had been talking animatedly with Mrs. Ellis, but, spotting Ben, they stopped, and though they greeted him amiably enough, they soon wandered away in search of dance partners.  “What is going on?” Ben all but exploded to Laura.  He’d gathered that the Mormons were talking about Brigham Young’s growing controversy with the new President, but though that couldn’t possibly concern the Grosches, sons of a Universalist minister, the two brothers were acting equally secretive.

      “Oh, you know miners,” Laura laughed nonchalantly, “always chattering about some big strike they hope to find.”

      Ben arched an eyebrow.  Perhaps that’s all it was in the case of the Grosch brothers, but Laura’s answer seemed just a bit evasive.  Then he shook his head.  No sense imagining slights where none were intended.  “That middle boy of mine left anything for his famished father?” Ben joked.

      From behind the table Hoss looked up and grinned.  “It’s good, Pa; better get some while you can.”

      Ben laughed loudly.  “Sound advice, if ever I heard it.  Fix me a plateful, would you, Laura?”

      “My pleasure,” she said smoothly and began to cover a plate with sliced meat and cheese, sandwiches and cookies.

      In the wee hours of the morning, Ben lifted the basket containing his, at last, sleeping son and herded his family toward the door.  They paused to express their appreciation to their host, Bill Thorrington.

      “Glad you could come, folks,” the powerful man with the handsome face and convivial manner said.

      “It’s been a real pleasure,” Ben replied earnestly.  “Like to stay longer, but these youngsters are getting drowsy and we still have a long ride ahead.”

      “We’ve got vacant rooms, if you care to spend the night,” Lucky Bill suggested with a cheerful grin.

      Ben chuckled.  “Thanks, but I favor my own bed.”  He loaded his family into the buckboard, Marie on the seat beside him and the two older boys in back with the baby between them.  “Did you have a nice time?” he asked his wife.

      Marie snuggled close.  “Especially when I was dancing with you.”

      Ben laughed.  “Didn’t happen often enough for my taste.”

      They rode in silence for awhile.  Then Hoss asked, “Pa, what’s a monster vein?”

      “What?” Ben asked.  “Where’d you hear that, Hoss?”

      “Them Grosch boys,” Hoss yawned.  “They was sayin’ somethin’ about findin’ a monster vein.”

      “Oh,” Ben smiled.  “I imagine they were just dreaming of a big gold strike, son.  Not too likely around here.”

      “Somebody’s gonna give ‘em six hundred dollars,” Hoss reported.  “They told Jimmy’s ma——”

      “Hoss, it is not polite to eavesdrop,” Marie chided.

      “Yes, ma’am,” Hoss muttered.  “I wasn’t aimin’ to.”

      “I’m sure you weren’t,” Ben said.  “I feel like I’ve been eavesdropping all night, too.  Something’s going on among our Mormon friends.”

      “It troubles you?” Marie asked, for she’d heard an edge to his voice.

      Ben shrugged.  “I don’t know enough to be troubled.”

      “I heard some folks talking about leaving the valley,” Adam said.

      “Oh, I hope not,” Marie said.  “There are so few of us now.”

      Ben laughed.  “Few?  Why, there’re more than five hundred people settled this side of the Sierras, ma’am.  The territory’s growing by leaps and bounds!”

      Marie tittered softly, knowing she was being teased about her cosmopolitan upbringing in New Orleans, so different from life in sparsely settled western Utah.  “Yes, it feels very crowded.  Perhaps it would be well if some left.”

      She wasn’t serious, of course, but her words proved prophetic.  Within two weeks sixty-four of the Cartwrights’ Mormon neighbors had departed for Salt Lake City.  Ben could only surmise that the Mormons felt threatened by President Buchanan’s desire to install a secular governor in place of Brigham Young, who had held tight rein over the territory for the last decade, and had left to close ranks against the intrusion of the United States in the affairs of the Saints.

      The repercussions of that exodus by far exceeded the small drop in population.  The Utah legislature soon rescinded the creation of Carson County, attaching it to Great Salt Lake County for elective, revenue and judicial purposes and demanded that all records of probate and county courts be sent to Salt Lake City.  Ben, along with everyone else remaining in western Utah, was infuriated by the transfer.  Salt Lake City was, as always, too far away to provide effective government, and now the former Carson County wouldn’t even have a representative to voice their concerns.  They were back to the situation that had existed when the first squatter government was set up, and once again the cry to separate from the territory of Utah rang through the hills and valleys along the eastern Sierras.


CHAPTER TWO

Unexpected Reunion

 

 

S

ighing, Marie handed the slate covered with figures back to Hoss, who was sitting cross-legged on the carpet before the fireplace.  “No, Hoss.  Five plus three is not nine.  And two plus four is not five.  Try again.”

      Hoss groaned.  He was tired of sums.  He cast an imploring glance at the cradle near him.  If Little Joe would just wake up, his mother would have to stop his lessons long enough to care for the baby.  But Little Joe showed no signs of providing the relief his older brother craved more than cookies, heretofore the first love of his life.  Hoss stared at the printed problems and, hiding his fingers beneath the coffee table, began tediously to count out the answers.

      A rap at the door made the boy’s head jerk up and drove the total he’d just calculated from his mind.  Marie frowned.  “Whoever it is does not concern you, Hoss.  Do your sums.”  Supporting his weary brain on a crooked elbow, Hoss slumped over his slate once more.

      Hop Sing answered the door and waited for the tall, well-muscled stranger to announce himself.  “Is this the Cartwright place?” the man asked hesitantly.

      “Pondelosa,” Hop Sing replied with an air that indicated everyone should recognize the name of the Cartwright’s ranch.

      The man swept an unruly lock of brown hair from his sun-bronzed face.  “Yes, but what I need to know——”

      Smiling, Marie came to his rescue.  “I am Mrs. Cartwright,” she said pleasantly as she walked toward the door.

      The stranger’s gray eyes clouded with bewilderment.  “Mrs. Cartwright?” he stammered.  “I—I’m sorry, ma’am, but it was Ben Cartwright’s place I was looking for.  I thought this place matched the directions I was given.”

      Marie’s golden head tilted.  Mais oui,” she replied.  “I am Mrs. Ben Cartwright.  My husband is not here now, but should return shortly.”

      “Mrs. Ben Cartwright,” the man mumbled, shaking his head as if trying to absorb words that made no sense.  “Ben’s married again?”

      Marie laughed softly.  “Ah, I see.  It has been some time since you saw my husband?”

      “Six years, ma’am.”

      “Then you could not know,” she said.  “We have been married just over a year now.  Please come in, Monsieur——”

      “John,” the man replied as he entered and walked toward the furniture grouped before the fireplace.

      Oui, Monsieur Jean,” Marie repeated.  “You are an old friend of Ben’s?  From California, perhaps?”

      An impish smile lifted one corner of John’s mouth.  “Oh, Ben and I go back a lot further than that,” he commented as he sat in the blue armchair near the cradle.  He stared in amazement at the sleeping baby.  “Ben and I were boys——and, I hope, friends——together back in New Bedford.”

      Marie clasped her hands in delight.  “Oh, Ben will be so pleased to see you, I know——and you will, of course, stay with us.  We have plenty of rooms, though not all are furnished yet.”

      John’s eyes scanned the large room, taking in the stairs to the second story.  “Yes, I can see how it might take time to furnish this much house.  Ben’s doing well, I take it.”

      Marie thought that question a bit presumptious, even for a boyhood friend, but she nodded politely.  She laid a slender hand on Hoss’s head.  “Six years ago, you said.  Did you meet this boy then?”

      John laughed.  “We met, but he was a good deal smaller then, eh, Hoss?”

      “I don’t ‘member you, mister,” Hoss said with a grin, tickled that the man knew his name without being told.

      John gestured toward the cradle.  “Your boy, ma’am?”

      Marie nodded.  “And Ben’s, of course.  We call him Joseph.”

      The stranger’s head rose abruptly.  Then he smiled.  “A fine name,” he said softly, as if it had special meaning for him.

      Just as Marie sent Hoss to the kitchen to request Hop Sing to serve coffee and cookies for their guest, the youngest Cartwright woke, crying, as usual, to have his diaper changed and his stomach fed.  Marie excused herself and took the baby upstairs to clean and nurse him.  In the meantime Hoss happily munched cookies with John and bemoaned his sad fate of doing lessons all summer.

      “Aye, matey, but how will you learn to navigate without knowing your numbers?” John asked.

      “You a sailor?” Hoss asked.  “My Pa was, too.”

      “Aye, most New Bedford boys dream of going to sea the way youngsters out here dream of herding cattle or panning for nuggets,” John laughed.

      “Was you on the same boat as Pa?”

      “No, never that,” the man chuckled.

      Little Joe rode downstairs in his mother’s arms, head almost erect, not bobbing nearly as much as it had at the dance earlier in the month.  When they reached the first floor, John stood.  “Do you think I might hold the lad?” he asked.

      Marie, always overprotective when it came to her precious Joseph François, immediately felt nervous.  She didn’t want to relinquish her boy to a total stranger, but John’s arms were outstretched and he was, after all, a guest and an old friend of Ben’s.  With a gracious smile that belied her true feelings, Marie let him take Little Joe.

      Far from sharing her qualms, Little Joe chortled contentedly as the man bounced him playfully.  “We’ll get along fine, won’t we, wee Joseph?” John chuckled.

      Hoss snickered.  “Little Joe’s what we call him, mister.”

      “Suits him,” John said, “like your name does you.”

      Outside, Ben and Adam had just arrived home from their day’s work.  “Looks like the Thomases are here,” Adam commented, seeing the wagon and horses in the yard.  “I thought they weren’t coming until tomorrow night.”

      “That’s the way I heard it,” Ben mused.  Hoss’s birthday had been the day before, but the picnic at Lake Tahoe had been planned for Sunday.  The Thomases were to spend the night Saturday so they could get an early start the next day.  Yet here their wagon sat a day earlier than expected.  Ben’s puzzled brow drew into still greater furrows when he glanced inside that wagon.  The wooden crate aroused no questions.  Probably something Nelly was bringing for the meal, but a seaman’s bag?  Where had they even found one in this land-locked territory?

      Ben sauntered toward the house, running his fingers through dark brown hair, sprinkled here and there with a few gray hairs.  He opened the front door and walked in, expecting to see Clyde and Nelly.  His mouth dropped in total shock, however, when he saw the man holding his youngest son.  “John!” he shouted joyfully and rushed to embrace him, baby and all.

      “Uncle John!” Adam, walking in behind Ben, cried.

      “Uncle John?” Marie asked, totally perplexed.  “But—but you said you and Ben were friends.”

      John chuckled, mischief glinting in his gray eyes.  “I said I hoped we were.  We are friends, aren’t we, little brother?”

      Marie dropped onto the sofa, overcome.  “Your brother?” she whispered.  “That John?”

      Ben laughed.  “My brother,” he responded, “and I see I’ll have to take him to task for playing such a trick on my bride.”

      “Take me to task!” John snorted.  “What about the trick you played me, keeping both a new wife and son a secret?”

      “Secret?  No,” Ben protested, “I wrote you——about Marie, at least.  I’ve been a bit slack in writing about Little Joe, I confess, but I promise I wrote about my marriage.”

      John shrugged.  “I never got it.  Likely, the letter’s lost at sea.”

      “It happens,” Ben admitted, then gave his brother a chagrinned smile.  “Let me introduce my wife Marie, then, brother.”

      John chuckled.  “We’ve met.”  He bounced the baby on his arm and Little Joe responded with an excited gasp.  “Her and our father’s namesake.  I always hoped to name a boy Joseph, but you’ve beat me to that, as you did other things.”

      “Easier to name boys if you stay home long enough to have them,” Ben observed, a trifle self-righteously, it seemed to John.

      John arched an eyebrow in a gesture so reminiscent of Ben’s characteristic one that their resemblance became pronounced.  “Don’t start that,” the older brother warned.  “I came near disowning you after you sent a certain letter correcting me for my vagabond ways.”

      Hoss edged close and stared into John’s face.  “You really my uncle?”

      John ruffled the boy’s straight sandy hair.  “Aye, lad, your wayward uncle finally on his way home.”  He looked back to Ben.  “The letter angered me, Ben, but I finally saw the wisdom of your words.  I have been too long away from my wife and my boy.”

      “You’re not going overland?” Ben asked anxiously.  It was late in the season for such a journey.

      “No, I’ll go back to San Francisco, then by way of the isthmus,” John said, “but I wanted to see you once more before I left.”

      “You picked the best time,” Hoss declared.  “You gotta come to Tahoe with us day after tomorrow, Uncle John.  It’s the purtiest place there is.”

      “Wouldn’t think of missing it, lad,” John smiled.  “In fact, I’ve brought along a contribution for the outing.”

      Adam gave a knowing grin.  “I bet that’s what’s in that crate outside.”

      John uttered a loud laugh.  “Always was hard to hide anything from your sharp eyes, Adam.  Come along, then and help me carry my things inside.”  He offered Marie a repentant smile.  “That is, sister, if I’m still invited to stay after the trick I played.”

      “You are most welcome,” Marie said, “but, please, no more tricks.”

      John nodded and raised his right hand.  “Upon my word, no tricks.”

      Ben threw an arm around his brother’s broad shoulders, broader even than his own.  “Let’s get your gear in, matey, and unhitch that team.  I notice you stopped by the Thomases first.”

      “How else was I to get directions?” John demanded.

      “Aye, but we’ll need to get the rig back to them tomorrow, for they’re coming on that picnic, too,” Ben laughed.

      As they walked outside, John shook his head, perturbed.  “They didn’t tell me that when they insisted I take the team, and after carrying that load from the stage depot to their place, I was more than eager to accept the kind offer.”

      “I’ll fetch them,” Adam offered.  “It’s the least I can do for my favorite uncle.”

      “Keep butterin’ me up, lad, and I just might find a special keepsake for you in that bag of mine,” John laughed.

      Trotting behind them, Hoss nibbled his lower lip, hoping Uncle John would find something for him in that bag, as well.

 

* * * * *

 

      The picnickers set off early Sunday morning, August 2nd, as soon as they’d finished the mammoth breakfast Hop Sing served.  Ben and John rode on the seat of the buckboard, wanting to spend as much time together as possible, since John planned to leave the next day.  Clyde perched directly behind them on a box of food for the picnic.  The ladies sat gossiping at the back of the buckboard with Inger and Hoss near them, taking turns holding Little Joe.

      Hoss was put out by the bigger boys’ insistence that they wanted to ride alone, but he consoled himself with the thought that Little Joe was better company anyway.  He, at least, never pushed his big brother away and always seemed glad to see him.  Hoss’s dog Klamath trotted along beside them, yipping in happy expectation of exceptional table scraps.  Klamath had been on picnics before and recognized the signs of good things to come.

      Billy and Adam were riding behind the wagon, close enough for everyone in the buckboard to hear Adam’s recital of how brave Uncle John had fought against pirates while he’d been at sea and had given Adam the cutlass taken from one of the blackguards.  Ben smiled, as he had when John regaled the boys with his exploits on Friday night.  Having sailed himself, he suspected more than half of the story had substance only in John’s imagination, but he didn’t say anything.

      After everyone was in bed Marie had whispered that she thought the tale too stimulating for small boys so near bedtime and the gift too dangerous.  Ben had made light of her worries.  “All boys enjoy tales of adventure,” he’d argued, “and you know Adam will be responsible with that cutlass.  He won’t be out playing pirates with it at his age, and it’ll spark a lot of interest hanging on his wall at the boardinghouse in Sacramento.”

      “All right,” Marie had conceded, “but I am glad John’s gift to Hoss was better suited to a little boy.”  John had brought Hoss a lacquered Chinese chariot, complete with a driver in a square hat and two red-plumed horses guided by matching reins of silken cord, a gift which seemed to excite Hop Sing as much as Hoss.  Evidently, the toy reminded the Cantonese of one he’d had when he was a boy in Kwangtung Province.

      John’s other gift, the crate of juicy California oranges had pleased everyone..  The Cartwright boys had more opportunities to enjoy citrus fruit than youngsters back east, who were lucky to find an orange in their Christmas stocking, but they had the fruit rarely enough to think it a treat.  Hoss had wanted to feed one to Little Joe, but had finally agreed the baby would probably choke on the pulp.  Hop Sing helped him squeeze out enough juice to give the baby a few spoonfuls.  The tiny mouth had puckered piteously, but Little Joe hadn’t cried, so Hoss insisted his little brother really liked oranges and was glad Uncle John had brought a whole crate.  The remark had brought a chorus of laughter, for everyone knew who was most glad of the oranges——or anything else that appeared on the table.

      Some of the oranges were in the buckboard now, to be eaten by the shore of Lake Tahoe, along with fried chicken, bread-and-butter pickles, beef and cheese sandwiches and assorted pies, cakes and cookies.  Far more food than any of them should eat, Ben mused, but the boys, especially, tended to grow ravenous on the extra exercise of swimming, fishing, and running among the trees.  Klamath would be lucky if he got the scraps he craved.

      “You headed for Zephyr Cove, Ben?” Clyde asked when Ben made a slight turn to the south as they neared the lake.

      “Best place I’ve found so far,” Ben commented.

      “Yeah, it’s a fine one,” Clyde agreed.

      “Zephyr Cove?” John asked, lips curving gently upward.  “You’ve taken to naming your new world, eh, brother?”

      Ben jerked John’s hat down over his eyes.  “Actually, Adam’s the one who came up with that name,” he chuckled, “and just wait ‘til you get a feel of that zephyr that comes across from the opposite bay this afternoon.”  Ben looked over his shoulder to wink at Clyde.  As both of them knew, that afternoon wind was too strong for anyone but a vocabulary-crazed boy to call a zephyr.

      Ben pulled the wagon to a halt near the shore of a crescent-shaped inlet, well sheltered by tall Jeffrey, ponderosa and sugar pines.  He reached up to clap John’s shoulder.  “Well, brother, what do you think of our picnic site?”

      John said nothing at first.  He vaulted over the side of the buckboard and walked to the water’s edge, Ben ambling along behind him.  Staring at the incredibly clear water, its depth making the lake so blue the sky above seemed pale and washed out by comparison, the older Cartwright heaved a sigh of contentment.  “No wonder you don’t miss the sea, little brother, with this in your backyard.”

      “The fragrance is different, but it gives me the same feel as the sea,” Ben admitted.

      “You ever sail her?” John asked with a sudden sharp look at his brother.

      Ben shook his head.  “No boat.”

      “We could build one, couldn’t we, Pa?” Adam queried.  He had just swung down from his horse and trotted over to his father.

      “Oh, Adam!” Ben scoffed.  “No time for that with you off to school in three weeks.”

      “Next summer then,” Adam suggested, and in his own mind it was a commitment.  “Think what fishing we could do from out in the middle, Pa!”

      “And what exploring,” John chuckled.  He knew his inquisitive nephew.

      Adam grinned, then shrugged and returned to his original reason for rushing up to Ben.  “Can we swim before lunch?” he begged.  “There’s time.”

      “Now, that sounds fine!” John declared.  “Wouldn’t mind a dip myself.”

      “Water’s pretty cold,” Ben informed him.

      “Spoken like a true landlubber,” John jibed.

      Ben threw a light punch into his brother’s ribs.  “We’ll see who cries ‘uncle’ first, Uncle John!”  He looked over his shoulder.  “Marie, we’re gonna take a swim.  Need anything before we leave.”

      “Just the food box,” Nelly called, “but Clyde can get it.”  In answer to Clyde’s frown, she said, “Well, someone’s got to watch the young ones.  You know Hoss won’t want in that cold water.”

      “Or any other deeper or colder than a bathtub,” Inger snickered.  Hoss gave the little girl, whom he usually counted a friend, a hard glare.

      “Mind your manners, young lady!” Nelly ordered brusquely.

      “Yes’m,” Inger said quickly.  “Could we pick berries, Ma?”

      “After lunch,” Nelly replied.  “You and Hoss watch Little Joe while Marie and me set out the food.”

      “That what I’m supposed to do?” Clyde grumbled, setting the food box at his wife’s feet.  “Watch them watch the baby?”

      “Oh, go on with you!” Nelly capitulated.  She faced Marie, arms akimbo.  “Honestly, men ain’t nothin’ but babies grown big.”

      Marie smiled.  She didn’t see anything wrong with the menfolk carrying on like boys on a summer holiday.  Ben worked so hard most days, she couldn’t begrudge him a little fun, even if her day so far resembled work more than play.

      Ben and John swam side by side, each taking strong strokes through the sapphire ripples.  They easily outdistanced both the two boys and latecomer Clyde Thomas.  Finally tired, they turned to float on their backs.  “How far across is it?” John asked, hands sculling lightly at his side.

      “Oh, ten, twelve miles,” Ben replied.  “All the way to California.”

      John turned his head.  “That’s California, is it?  I never heard of a Lake Tahoe in California, Ben.”

      “They call it Lake Bigler over there,” Ben laughed, “but I prefer the Washo name.  I think it means ‘big water in high place.’”

      “Any of them around?” John queried.

      “Might be,” Ben conceded, “but it’s nothing to worry about.  I get on with my neighbors, brother, red and white.”

      “You’re happy here, aren’t you, Ben?”

      “Couldn’t be happier,” Ben replied dreamily.  “What more could any man want than a loving family and land so grand it draws his heart to God?”

      “Nothing,” John said quietly.  “Time I remembered that, I guess.  The loving family, at least, I have, if they haven’t disowned me by now.”

      “They wouldn’t,” Ben assured him.  “Every letter I get from Martha speaks of how she yearns to have you home.”

      “Won’t know that boy of mine,” John said edgily.  “When I see how Adam’s grown, I realize the years I’ve missed with Will.”  Adam’s cousin was a year older than Adam, so John could gage his own boy’s growth fairly accurately by observing his nephew’s.

      Ben didn’t respond.  The thing he’d most criticized in his brother was his separation from his family.  It was outright neglect in Ben’s eyes, but there was no need to chide John now when he’d plainly seen his own error.

      “We’d better head back,” John stated.  “We’re getting pretty far from the others.”

      “Yeah,” Ben agreed, but made no move to turn from his back.  “John, do you think there’s any chance of your bringing your family out here.”

      “Oh, I’d like that,” John sighed, “but I doubt Martha would hear of it.  Not a pioneering bone in her body, I fear, but I’ll ask, Ben.  I think I could be content in a land like this, more than on that Ohio rock pile we call a farm.”

      “There’s good land here for the asking,” Ben said.  “We lost more than threescore neighbors last month, so you could pick up a place, improvements and all, for little or nothing.”

      “I’ll ask, Ben,” John repeated, “but don’t hold your breath.  After what I’ve put her through, Martha deserves the last say, and I’m afraid it won’t be to your liking——or mine.”  He turned to his stomach.  “Beat you back to shore,” he challenged and began to pull away with smooth strokes.

      Ben turned quickly and swam after his brother.  John, of course, had a slight head start, but Ben suspected his brother would have won the race anyway.  John, half a head taller, had arms and legs to match and had always been a step ahead of his younger brother in any competition they’d ever waged.  The other three swimmers soon followed the Cartwright brothers to shore.

      The picnic cloth was spread, so everyone gathered around it, appetites whetted by vigorous exercise and brisk mountain air.  John finally flopped back with a groan.  “Haven’t had a feed like that in years,” he declared.  “How do you avoid growing fat enough to butcher, Ben, with such as this in your feed trough?”

      “I work it off, brother,” Ben chuckled.

      “Aye, farming’s hard work,” John grunted, obviously dreading his return to it.

      Adam grinned.  “We call it ranching out here, Uncle John.”

      “Hoss!  Do not feed that chicken leg to your baby brother!” Marie said sharply.

      “He’s just playin’ with it,” Hoss mumbled.  He’d been dangling the chicken just out of Little Joe’s reach and watching the tiny fingers stretch for it.

      “Food is to eat, not to play with,” Ben scolded.  “Don’t be teaching your brother bad habits.”

      “Yes, sir,” Hoss muttered and put the chicken leg to better use between his teeth.

      “You ladies goin’ berry pickin’?” Clyde asked.

      “Sure are,” Nelly replied.  “May go up to one of the higher meadows and see if them Washos left us any strawberries.”

      “You clear out if you see injuns!”  Clyde ordered tautly.

      “Oh, they are peaceable,” Marie argued.  A year before she’d been terrified at her first sight of a “wild” Washo, but she’d lost much of her earlier fear of the tribe of gatherers.

      “Might not be if you pilfer their food supply,” Ben cautioned.  “Don’t dispute them over a few berries, my love.”

      Marie sighed.  “I cannot go, anyway.  I couldn’t pick many berries with Little Joe on my hands.”

      “I’ll see to him,” Ben chuckled.  “Might teach him how to bait a hook.”

      Everyone laughed at the idea of Little Joe’s holding a fishing pole in his diminutive hands.  “We’ll be expectin’ a fine mess of trout to fry up for supper,” Nelly challenged.

      “Ah, and a brimming pail of strawberries to nibble for dessert,” Ben threw back at her.

      The party split along gender lines, the ladies taking Inger with them to pick strawberries and the male contingent electing to angle for trout.  Marie had nursed Little Joe before she left, so the baby was sleeping contentedly on a pallet in the shade of one of the Ponderosa’s namesake pines.  The men and boys enjoyed a couple of hours uninterrupted fishing and had collected a good supply for supper when Little Joe woke and threatened to drive away every fish within sound of his earnest cries for attention.

      Ben was pulling in a steel-blue silver trout, large enough to put up quite a fight, so he hollered to Adam, “See to him, will you?”

      “Yeah, sure,” Adam muttered.  He’d had his fill of changing diapers when Hoss was a baby and never volunteered for the chore, but with nothing on his hook, he had no good reason to refuse.  He elbowed Billy’s ribs.  “Come on; give me a hand.”

      Billy scowled, but came along.  One sniff told both boys a dirty diaper was, as they’d feared, the source of Little Joe’s discomfort.  “I ain’t never changed a smelly diaper in my life, and I ain’t startin’ now,” Billy stated flatly.

      Adam gave his friend a hard look.  “No one’s asking you to, yellow belly.  You want to hold this little stinker or fetch the diaper?”

      “I’ll fetch,” Billy said quickly, holding his freckled nose between his thumb and index finger.

      “Figures,” Adam snorted, picking up the squalling baby.  “Come on, nuisance,” he grumbled.  “Let’s get you cleaned up.”  He followed Billy back to the wagon, holding the baby while Billy scrounged through the wagon in search of the basket that held the baby’s things.

      “Hey, I got an idea,” Adam called as Billy returned with the diaper.  “Take him a minute.”

      Billy’s nose crinkled, but he took Little Joe and held the bellowing baby at arm’s length.

      Laughing at Billy’s expression, Adam started to shed his shirt and trousers.

      “What you doin’?” Billy demanded.

      “I figure the easiest place to clean him up is out there,” Adam replied, jerking his dark head toward the sapphire lake, “and I could use another swim.”  Stripped to his underwear, he took Little Joe, pulled off his soiled diaper and started toward the water.  “You comin’?”

      “Yeah, I reckon I had my fill of fishin’,” Billy said, pulling off his own outer clothing and trotting after Adam.

      When his naked buttocks hit the chilly water, Little Joe uttered a loud shriek of protest, his small legs kicking furiously.

      “Hey, none of that,” Adam scolded softly.  “I’m not putting up with another little brother that’s scared of water.”  He bounced the baby gently and Little Joe slowly settled down.  “There, see,” Adam soothed.  “Just like a big bathtub, and you know you like baths.”

      Billy reached out to tickle the baby under his chin.  Little Joe grinned and began to spat the water with his tiny palm.  “He likes it,” Billy cackled.

      “Sure, he’s got good sense,” Adam replied loftily.  Supporting Little Joe firmly with one arm, he used the other hand to wash the baby’s bottom.

      “Let’s go out deeper,” Billy suggested.

      “Okay, but not too far,” Adam said.  “I’d better not get in over my head with this little squirmer to keep hold of.”

      Billy had no similar constraint, of course, but loyalty kept him close.  Adam finally laid Little Joe on his chest and lay back to float.  Billy, assuming a similar position, sighed contentedly.  “Now, this here’s the life.”  Little Joe babbled in apparent agreement.

      A sudden shriek of terror ripped the air.  Back amid the rocks where they’d been fishing, Ben leaped to his feet.  “That’s Marie,” he cried.

      “Injuns!” Clyde yelled.  “I knew we shouldn’t’ve let the womenfolk go off alone!”

      The two husbands took off with John and Hoss right behind them.  They clattered down the rugged slope to their picnic area and found Marie screaming hysterically at the water’s edge.  Ben enfolded her in his arms.  “Marie, what is it?”

      Marie couldn’t speak.  Sobbing uncontrollably, she pointed out toward the lake.  Ben’s anxious gaze followed her finger.  Then he coughed with relief.  “Oh, sweetheart, he’s all right,” he soothed, holding her with one arm and waving Adam in with the other.

      The gesture was unnecessary.  Adam had begun moving shoreward at Marie’s first shriek.  Soon he and Billy were wading out of the water.  Little Joe started to cry, his fingers fluttering back toward the lake.  He liked his new playground and didn’t appreciate being deprived of it.

      Marie snatched Little Joe from Adam’s arms.  “Oh, you horrible boy!” she fumed.  “How could you?”

      “Marie, Marie,” Ben chided softly.  “No harm done.”

      “No harm!” Marie sputtered, her emerald eyes glinting.  “How can you say ‘no harm’ when the water’s icy, and just feel that wind!”  From the glimmering green bay on the California shore a stiff gust, Adam’s so-called zephyr, had begun to blow.

      While Marie cradled her shivering, shrieking infant, she rounded on Adam once again.  “See how you’ve upset this baby!” she spewed hotly.

      “Me?” Adam yelled, his own temper erupting.  “He was just fine ‘til you made him come out!”

      Still perturbed, Marie stalked away and with Nelly’s help, dried and dressed the baby once again.

      “Oh, the joys of family life,” John chuckled.  “Maybe I’ll not be in such a hurry to go home after all.”

      Ben’s eyes narrowed, but he smiled when he saw he was being teased.  “Remember, brother,” he said saucily, “ladies are made of both sugar and spice.”

      “And a little of either goes a long way,” Clyde cackled.

      Ben gave his friend a push as punishment for his sass.  “Hoss, can you go back and bring all those fish we caught?” he called.

      “Sure, Pa,” Hoss grinned.  “It’s about time to fry ‘em up, don’t you reckon?”

      “I reckon,” Ben responded with a wink at Adam.  “I reckon Marie needs something to fry besides your gizzard,” he sniggered.

      “I didn’t mean any harm,” Adam alleged, hanging on, as usual, to his offense, “and I don’t think it did him any.”

      Ben put an affectionate arm around his oldest son.  “I don’t think so, either.  All things considered, I’d just as soon this boy had an early introduction to the water.  Less likely to turn out like his other brother.”

      “My thoughts exactly,” Adam said with a determined nod.

      “Don’t tell me you’ve sired a cowardly landlubber,” John accused gruffly.

      “Afraid so,” Ben admitted, obvious embarrassment in his tone.  “I’ve tried to be patient with Hoss, but he’s terrified in anything over his waist.”

      “Toss him in; let him sink or swim,” John instructed loftily.

      “No,” Ben said sharply.  “I remember how that method felt, big brother.  I’m not sure I’ve forgiven you yet for throwing me in the drink.”

      “I wouldn’t’ve let you drown,” John protested.

      “I know that now,” Ben replied, “but I’ll never forget those first few moments of absolute terror.  I won’t do that to a boy of mine.”

      “Better a moment of fear than a lifetime of it,” John sputtered defensively.

      Seeing Ben bristle, Clyde started to laugh.  “Like the man said,” he cackled.  “Ain’t nothin’ like the joys of family life!

      Suddenly realizing the ridiculous spectacle they’d been presenting, Ben and John started to laugh, too.  “Come on, little brother,” John said.  “Let’s see if you remember how I taught you to clean fish.”

      Ben chuckled.  “Had more experience lately than you, I’ll bet.”

      John arched an eyebrow and gave his younger brother a sly smile.  “You’re on, little brother.”

      The three boys took charge of gathering wood and building a fire while the men raced to see who could skin and filet the most fish.  To Ben’s disgruntlement, John won, as usual.  “You forget, little brother,” John laughed, “that fish are readily had at sea.  I’ve had as much experience at cleaning them as you, my boy——maybe more.”

      With a shake of his head, Ben delivered the trout to the ladies.  Nelly was the expert where frying fish was concerned, Marie’s experience leaning more to gourmet cuisine, so the older woman dredged the pieces in cornmeal and set them sizzling while Marie set out the cold items left from the noon meal.  Inger sprawled on the pallet alongside Little Joe and soon fell asleep, having missed her afternoon nap.  Klamath curled up at the foot of the pallet and sniffed the air in anticipation of his share in the feast to come.

      While Klamath enjoyed the scraps of the meal, the human partakers sat dreamily around the fire, reluctant to leave though each knew they couldn’t afford to stay much longer.  Inger cozied up to Ben.  “Tell a story, Uncle Ben,” she demanded.

      Ben laughed and put an arm around her.  “My stories are likely to seem tame after the ones John’s been telling my boys.”

      “No, I want yours,” Inger insisted.  “You tell the best stories.”

      Ben gave the strawberry curls a tender tousle.  “I do have one that might fit the occasion.  Learned it from Tuquah awhile back.”  Tuquah was the Washo man who worked off and on at the Ponderosa.  “It’s about how Lake Tahoe was formed.”

      “I haven’t heard that one,” Adam said.

      “I’ve been saving it,” his father chuckled.  His voice dropped and he began.  “Once upon a time, when the world was young, a Washo brave was running from the Evil One.  He was a strong runner, but the Evil One was closing in when the Good Spirit appeared and gave the Washo lad the branch of a magical tree.”

      “What made it magic?” Hoss asked, eyes wide.

      “Each leaf had the power to create a body of water,” his father explained.  “If the Indian boy dropped a leaf when the Evil One drew near, the water would be an obstacle between them.”

      “And he could get away!” Hoss grinned.

      “That’s right,” Ben said.  “Well, the Washo brave ran harder than ever, but he was getting tired and the Evil One was catching up.  Right here where we’ve been picnicking today he decided to throw down his first leaf.  He picked one off, but the Evil One was so close, the brave panicked and instead of dropping the single leaf, he dropped the rest of the branch.”

      “Oh, no!” Inger cried.  “Did the Evil One get him?”

      “No, no,” Ben assured her.  “Why, you see what a huge lake that branch formed, don’t you?  It took the Evil One hours to get around it.  The brave ran on to the west, looking over his shoulder from time to time.  Finally, he saw that the Evil One had rounded the south shore of the new lake and was closing in again.”  Ben could feel the little girl shiver against him, so he hurried to the story’s conclusion.  “The Indian had only one leaf left, so he dropped it.  A smaller lake was formed and it took the Evil One just long enough to go around it that the brave had time to cross the mountains safely and escape into the valley of the Sacramento.”

      Inger sighed with relief, but Hoss’s lips were puckered in thought.  “What lake is that, Pa?” he asked.  “The little one, I mean.”

      “It’s called Fallen Leaf Lake, son, for obvious reasons,” Ben smiled, “and I hear it’s a fine one for fishing.”

      “I want to go there,” Hoss said eagerly.

      “We might sometime,” Ben said.  “But now, friends and family, I think it’s time we packed up and headed for home.”

      Everyone groaned, but there was no argument, not even from the children.  They all knew it would  be dark before they reached the Ponderosa as it was, and everyone except the youngsters had to be up early Monday morning.


CHAPTER THREE

Memorials and Memories

 

 

I

n the faint light of dawn’s first rays, Ben and Clyde hitched the Thomas wagon, while John gathered his belongings and the two ladies said their farewells.  Billy Thomas yawned sleepily as he saddled his roan horse.  He was accustomed to rising about this time, but today it seemed harder than usual to get his eyes open and functioning.

      Adam, on the other hand, was fully alert as he tossed saddle blanket and saddle on the back of his sorrel mare with snowy mane and tail.  Ben looked up with surprise when his oldest son led the horse out of the barn.  “Where do you think you’re going, young man?” he demanded, but his voice wasn’t harsh.  Adam generally had a good reason for any actions he took.

      “I figured to see Uncle John off,” Adam replied casually.  “That’s all right, isn’t it?”

      Ben smiled.  “Yeah, that’s all right.  Don’t get many chances, do we, son?”

      “No sir, not many,” Adam said, giving his bulging saddlebag a pat.  Not many chances for what he had in mind once he got to town, either.

      Billy leaned close to his friend’s ear.  “What you got planned?” he whispered.  It didn’t seem reasonable to him for Adam to ride all the way into Genoa just to say good-bye.

      “None of your business,” Adam whispered back, then mounted with a maddening grin.  Billy didn’t have to know everything.  Fortunately, Uncle Clyde could be counted on to keep the mischievous redhead hard at work at home this morning, so Adam wouldn’t have to put up with any nosy interference.

      Ben, however, remained totally unsuspecting of Adam’s hidden motive for the early morning ride until they had separated from the Thomases and gone on to Genoa, so John could catch the first stage for the west.  Saying good-bye to his uncle appeared to be the last thing on Adam’s mind as he sauntered into William Ormsby’s store on Main Street, which also served as the stage depot.  While the men asked Ormsby when the next stage would leave, Adam edged along the counter until he stood before the Paiute girl now known as Sarah.

      The girl smiled broadly, her straight, white teeth gleaming in welcome.  “Adam,” she said.  “I did not think you meant to leave for school so soon.”

      Adam shook his head.  “No, I’m here a few weeks more.  My uncle’s taking the stage back to Placerville this morning.”

      “Ah,” the girl responded, then looked demurely at the counter between them.  Feminine instinct told her Adam was deliberately making an opportunity to see her.

      “Can you get free?” Adam asked.  “I brought something to show you.”

      “I will need to stay until the stage leaves,” Sarah said.

      “Me, too,” Adam replied.  He’d have to keep up the appearance of being in town to see Uncle John off, of course.

      “Hi, Adam,” giggled a little girl who had sidled up to him moments before.

      Adam gave her a quick glance.  “Hi, Lizzie,” he said.  Ormsby’s nine-year-old daughter warranted no great attention in Adam’s eyes.  It was clear from the worshipful gleam in young Lizzie’s brown eyes, however, that Adam Cartwright was an idol worthy of lasting devotion.  She folded her arms on the counter and stared up at him, hoping he’d throw one more glance her direction.

      “We’re in luck,” Ben said to John.

      “Aye, only an hour to wait,” John agreed.

      “And that’s just about what I’ve got available,” Ben chuckled.

      “You needn’t wait for me, if I’m keeping you from your work,” John sputtered.

      Ben laid a calming hand on his brother’s shoulder.  “Not work exactly.  John Reese, who’s sort of a leader hereabouts, has called a meeting of some of us for ten this morning.”

      John raised an eyebrow.  “You into government, Ben?”

      Ben laughed.  “What government?  Look, we’ve got time for a cup of coffee.  Why don’t we walk down to Lucky Bill’s and relax ‘til stage time?”

      “So long as we don’t miss it,” John said.

      “Not a chance,” Ben chuckled.  “We’ll have a front row seat at the hotel.”  He looked around for Adam, spotting him between two pretty girls, only one of whom seemed to have his undivided attention.  Ben frowned, suddenly understanding his son’s eagerness to rise early that morning.  That little schemer!  Then Ben shrugged.  So what if Adam were attracted by a pretty face.  Normal enough for a boy his age.  Besides, he’d soon be safely installed in Sacramento with enough bookwork to keep his mind off the Paiute princess back home.  And from the moon-struck look on Adam’s face, the sooner the better.  “Adam, we’re going over to the hotel.  You coming?”

      Adam shot a questioning look at Sarah.  “I’ll ask,” she whispered and went in search of William Ormsby.

      “Naw, I’ll hang around here,” Adam called.

      John laughed.  “You’re losing him, Ben,” he taunted as the brothers walked outside.

      “Not that way, I’m not,” Ben snorted, “not at fourteen.  Losing him soon in another way, though.  Don’t know how I’ll stand nine months with him gone.”

      John said nothing.  Nine months may have seemed long to his younger brother, but John couldn’t help comparing that short span to the time he’d been away from his own boy.  Not nine months, but nine years, almost, from the time he’d left home until he’d get back.  Half a lifetime for a boy.  What a fool he’d been to let the years slide past!

      The brothers found a table by the window, for John felt more anxious than ever to avoid missing the stage, and sipped hot coffee by the cupful.  “Tell me about this meeting of yours,” John said after the first cup.

      Ben shrugged.  “Not much to tell.  It’s just a preliminary meeting, anyway.  We’ve tried for years to establish a real government for this part of the territory, but everything we’ve worked on has come to naught.  Salt Lake City is just too far to provide any real help, and now they’ve taken back what little they’d given.”  He nodded as a waitress offered to refill his cup.  “Let’s not talk about that,” he said to John.  “I’m likely to have my ears full by evening.”

      John laughed.  “All right, little brother, we’ll talk of other things.”

      “Like your moving west,” Ben suggested.  “I’m gonna write Martha myself and add a little brotherly persuasion.”

      “A little womanly persuasion might be more useful,” John mused.

      Ben’s head lifted.  “Marie?  Yeah, maybe so.  I’m sure she’d be glad to write and give Martha a special invitation to join us out here.”

      “Throw in a few words about that grand house and having your own hired servant,” John suggested, “and maybe Martha won’t think it’s all uncivilized wilderness out here.”

      “Hide the truth, eh?” Ben teased.  “Hired servant, indeed!  I assure you, brother, it’s Hop Sing who gives the orders in that house!”  The brothers laughed, for as short as John’s stay had been, he’d had opportunity enough to understand what Ben meant.

      William Ormsby had agreed to Sarah’s request for a few minutes to talk with Adam, so the boy and girl had walked across the street to the triangular green area that served as Genoa’s public square.  Sitting down beneath a shady cottonwood, its dark leaves stirred by the drifting breeze, Adam opened one of the books he’d brought for Sarah.  “This was my first primer,” he said.  “I thought you might like to take a look at it, to give you an idea of what you’ll be studying this fall.”

      “Oh, yes,” Sarah cried, eagerly reaching for the thin volume.  She turned it over in her hands.  “Is this all the white man’s learning?”

      Adam laughed.  “Not even close, but this book will teach you the white man’s language——well, English, anyway——then you can read other books that will teach you anything you want to know.”

      “Like those?” Sarah asked, pointing to the other two volumes in Adam’s hands.

      Adam opened the blue-backed speller.  “This one goes with the primer,” he said.  “It teaches how to put letters together in the right order to make words.”

      “Ah, good, and the red one?”

      “Arithmetic,” Adam explained.  “How to count, add and subtract.”

      Sarah laughed.  “I can count.”

      “Yeah, but there’s more,” Adam insisted.  “Anyway, I thought you might like to borrow the books ‘til school starts.  Then, I’m sure, the Ormsbys will get you your own.”

      “I like much,” Sarah said, chocolate eyes shining.  “Thank you, Adam.”

      Adam opened the primer to the first page and began to teach the Indian girl the alphabet.  Sarah was a quick learner and before long could successfully recite the twenty-six letters that would become building blocks in the white man’s language.  Adam had just started to show her some three-letter words when six horses charged down Main Street.

      Sarah sprang to her feet.  “Oh, I must go!” she cried.  “I promised to help if there were passengers.”

      “Yeah, I have to go, too,” Adam said, “to say good-bye to my uncle.”  The two youngsters joined hands and ran across the street.  Adam found his father and uncle standing on the boardwalk in front of the store and endured a little good-natured ribbing from both.

      “Come give me your farewell, boy,” John teased, “since that’s why you came to town.”

      Adam grinned and willingly wrapped his arms around his uncle’s broad chest.  Then Ben took his son’s place, holding John in a long embrace.  There was mist in both Ben’s brown eyes and John’s gray ones as they gazed fondly at each other.  In each face was mirrored the fear that they might never meet again, though they hoped differently.

      “Write when you’re safely home,” Ben urged.

      “Aye, and you keep the mail service busy, too, little brother.”

      John stepped into the stage, the driver flicked the six reins, and the horses leaped away.  Ben and Adam stood on the street, waving until the coach faded to a dot in the distance.  Then Ben turned to his son.  “Now, if you have no further business in town, young man, you’ll find your chores waiting at home.”

      “You be home for supper?” Adam asked.

      “Should be,” Ben said.  “I don’t expect today’s meeting to hold long.  Now, no more dawdling, Adam..  Off with you.”

      Adam nodded to show he’d heard and, gathering the reins of his sorrel, mounted and rode toward the Ponderosa, while Ben headed toward Gilbert’s Saloon, where the meeting was ready to start.

 

* * * * *

 

      Later that afternoon Ben walked down to the garden plot where his two sons were gathering fresh vegetables for the evening meal.  “Adam, come here, son,” he called from the edge of the garden patch.

      Adam carefully made his way across rows of green beans and around hills of cucumber and squash to meet his father.  Hoss hadn’t been called, but he followed gladly in his brother’s wake, tromping green leaves with almost every step..

      “You need me, Pa?” Adam asked.

      “Sure do,” Ben said brightly.  “Committee wants me to ride up to Honey Lake and invite folks there to our conference on creating a new territory, and I’d like you to accompany me.”

      “A new territory?  That’s exciting, Pa!” Adam exclaimed.

      “Me, too, Pa?  You want me to go, too?” Hoss pleaded eagerly.

      Ben gave the boy’s chunky shoulder a consoling pat.  “Not this time, Hoss.”

      “Aw, Pa,” Hoss wheedled.  “I’m as good company as Adam.”

      Adam gave his younger brother a hard look, but Hoss didn’t notice.  His imploring eyes were focused on Ben’s face.  The expression he read there was kinder than  Adam’s, but just as firm.  “I said no, Hoss,” Ben stated.  “It’s going to be a long, hard ride, with little time to spare.”  He reached out to ruffle the boy’s sandy hair.  “Besides, I need you to watch out for Mama and Little Joe while we’re gone.”

      Hoss’s lower lip thrust out.  He knew perfectly well Pa didn’t really trust him to take care of his mother and baby brother.  That was just the kind of excuse grownups gave kids to make them feel better about something there was nothing to feel good about.

      The look didn’t escape Ben’s notice.  “No pouting,” he ordered gruffly.  “Finish picking the vegetables and bring them up to the house.”  He threw an arm around Adam’s slender shoulders.  “You come on with me.  We’ll need to get our gear ready this evening ‘cause we’re leaving before dawn.”

      Leaving Hoss to take out his irritation by snapping beans off their vine with far more energy than the task required, Ben and Adam walked toward the house.  “Why’d you want me along, Pa?” the ever curious Adam asked.  “You don’t really need me.”

      Ben smiled.  “Because we don’t have much time left to be together before you head off for school.  It won’t be much of a trip, I’m afraid.  The mass meeting is scheduled for August 8th, so we’ve got five days to get there and back.”

      “We’ll be pushin’ it,” Adam murmured.  “It’s a good ways to Honey Lake, isn’t it?”

      “A good ways,” Ben agreed.  “That’s why I couldn’t take Hoss along.  He’d slow us down.”

      “That’s a fact,” Adam grinned.  Hoss was comfortable on a horse now, but he still preferred a walk to a gallop.  “I guess we’ll be in too much of a hurry to stop by Pyramid Lake, too.”

      Ben laughed.  “No, no time for a visit with our Paiute neighbors this time.  Why do you care, though?   I thought the only Paiute you were interested in these days was staying in Genoa?”  Adam’s face flushed crimson as Ben pulled him close in a light-hearted, one-armed embrace.

      The sun was still asleep when Ben and Adam left the next morning, as was the rest of the household except Hop Sing.  Although Ben hadn’t expected it, the inexhaustible Cantonese had prepared their breakfast and had a substantial lunch packed, as well.

      The two Cartwrights headed north, riding hard all day, too hard to enjoy much conversation.  But when night fell, they made camp and cooked the beans and bacon they’d packed for the trail.  As they sat next to each other, spooning beans from their tin plates, Ben finally had a chance for the talk he’d been looking forward to all day.  “You getting excited about leaving, son?”

      “Yeah, Pa,” Adam answered.  “Not much longer now.”

      “Not much longer,” Ben agreed, but his voice revealed a faint tinge of regret.  “Any qualms, boy?”

      Adam looked offended.  “I’m not scared, if that’s what you mean.”

      Ben chuckled.  “Not exactly, but there is a difference between courage and cockiness, Adam.”

      The offense melted from Adam’s visage.  “I know that, Pa,” he said quietly, “and I think I know the difference.”

      “Good,” Ben said.  “It’s natural enough for you to see only the good in going away to school, but there’ll be some rough times, too, son.  After all, you’ve never lived away from your family before, and that can be hard the first time.  I remember how lonely I felt when I went to sea after my parents died.  I think you’ll miss us a bit, as we will you.”

      Adam grinned.  “I will, Pa; I know that.  Especially at Thanksgiving and Christmas and my birthday, but I’ve already thought it through and decided it’s worth it.”

      “I think so, too,” Ben smiled, “and likely you’ll make new friends who will keep you from pining away from loneliness.  I want you to be sure to keep in touch with us, however.  We can trust Snowshoe Thompson to get mail to us twice a month, even if the mail stage can’t get through, so I’ll expect a letter with every post, young man.”

      “You’ll get it, Pa,” Adam promised, “and I’ll be expecting letters from you, too.”

      “You’ll get them,” Ben promised in return, “but I don’t want you to write just to me, Adam.”

      Adam’s brow furrowed.  “You mean Marie?  You want me to write to her separately?”

      Ben shook his head, laughing.  “Only if you like.  I meant your younger brother, Adam.”

      “Which one?” Adam teased.

      Ben slapped his son’s leg playfully.  “I had in mind the one who can read.”

      A mischievous glint flashed in Adam’s black eyes.  “Like I said, which one?”

      Ben frowned.  “Don’t mock your brother, Adam.  He’s doing better and will improve even more quickly if he can look forward to reading mail of his own.”

      “I’ll write Hoss, too, Pa,” Adam pledged with a grin.

      Ben smiled then.  “You’ll need to keep it simple——and print, not write——but I think you’ll find it’s worth the effort.  You boys have always been close, and writing to one another will help keep you that way, as it always has you and Jamie Edwards back in St. Joseph.”

      Adam nodded thoughtfully, then mused, “No way to keep close to Little Joe, I guess.  You think he’ll even remember me by next spring?”

      Ben shook his head.  “No, you’ll have to start over with him, I’m afraid.”

      “It’s funny,” Adam yawned, his body responding to the long day’s ride, “but I never thought I’d want another brother.  Now I think I’m gonna miss watching him grow.  He’ll do a lot of that this year.”

      “Yeah, you’ll miss a lot,” Ben said, but what he was really thinking was how much he’d miss his oldest son.  He took Adam’s plate.  “Turn in, son,” he suggested.  “We’ve another hard day ahead.”

      Through the months he’d spend away Adam would cherish that trip with his father, the days of steady riding side by side and the nights of talking around the campfire.  It had been a long time since Adam had spent so many hours alone with his father.  They left him with much to mull over on lonely days in Sacramento——his father’s hopes and dreams for him, as well as much advice on handling himself in the new situations he was likely to encounter.  Adam sopped up his father’s wisdom as thirstily as he had his first lessons in the little primer he’d loaned the Paiute girl and found it even more useful once that guiding voice was distant.

      The Cartwrights reached Honey Lake and delivered invitations to all interested in forming a new territory to convene at Genoa on August 8th..  Though technically the Honey Lake settlers lived in California, their location on the eastern side of the Sierras gave them more in common with the residents of western Utah, so they expressed great interest in joining them to petition Congress for the new territory.  Though they had almost no time to prepare, several men quickly gathered their gear and hit the trail behind Ben and Adam.  No more opportunity for private talks then, but Adam listened with interest to the political discussions that flared around the campfire on the way home.  The men’s reasoning made sense to him.  Now if only Congress could be made to see clearly how men like his father needed to be set free of Salt Lake City’s government in name only and how men like Isaac Roop and Peter Lassen needed a government closer than Sacramento, from which Honey Valley was separated for months out of the year by snow-blocked passes.

      Ben had only one night at home before the mass meeting began in Genoa.  Expecting to be gone overnight, since the meeting wasn’t scheduled to begin until 1 p.m., he packed a carpetbag and secured lodging at Lucky Bill’s Hotel.  When the delegates gathered, Ben was gratified to see representatives from Eagle Valley, Carson Valley, Willow Town, Ragtown, the 26-Mile Desert, Humboldt River Valley and Lake Valley near Lake Tahoe, as well as the ones he’d escorted from Honey Lake. Ben felt proud to be numbered among such prominent settlers as William Ormsby, Richard Sides, Elijah Knott and James McMarlin, the clerk who had taken over Spafford Hall’s Station and renamed it after himself.  A good selection of men, not numerous enough, Ben feared, to make an impression on Congress, but men who understood the problems well and could articulate them effectively.

      Articulate they did, hour upon hour, grievance upon grievance.  No one disagreed about the problems; the discussions all concerned the best way to present them to Congress.  Even a visiting Californian, renowned journalist James M. Crane, who was in their area to collect material for a series of geologic lectures, was asked to address the meeting.  He spoke for over an hour to rousing applause, for his extensive political experience made him an excellent orator.

Finally, the debate culminated with the drafting of a memorial listing their reasons for requesting separation from the Territory of Utah.  The memorial, written down by Richard Sides, declared that no law existed in western Utah except theocratic rule by the Mormon Church and complained vigorously about the recent rescencion of Carson County, along with its courts.  With western Utah reduced to little more than an election precinct, no one cared to vote because their vote carried no weight in far-off Salt Lake City, now the county seat.  The factor of distance was a major grievance for both the Honey Lake residents and those of the former Carson County.  Cut off by snow for four months of the year from California and from Salt Lake City by hundreds of miles, the settlers felt the only solution was a government of their own, one that could actually be in touch with them.  In conclusion, the memorial requested the formation of a new territory to be called Columbus with Genoa as its capitol.  Its boundaries were to be the Sierra Mountains on the west and the Goose Creek Mountains to the east, with the Colorado River forming the southern boundary and, of course, the border of Oregon Territory on the north.

      A vote was taken to determine who would carry the memorial to Congress.  Ben was pleasantly surprised to find his name suggested, but he politely declined.  He didn’t feel he could leave his wife and young sons alone that long, not when the territory abounded with unattached men equally qualified.  In the end James M. Crane, who had demonstrated his ability to present their case, was selected.  After that a committee of twenty-eight was appointed “to manage and superintend all matters necessary and proper in the premises,” and this time Ben couldn’t talk his way out of serving, though he suspected the position would carry no real authority unless and until Congress approved their petition.

 

* * * * *

 

      Hoss grinned happily as he walked through the woods beside his brother Adam.  Since Adam was leaving for school in just one week, Ben had made both boys a gift of that time.  “Make some memories,” their father had said and had released them from all but the most urgent of their regular chores.  For Hoss it was enough that he’d been set free from the interminable book learning of the summer.  Not until school actually started would he have to do more lessons, his father having finally decided he’d earned a vacation, however short.

      Adam had suggested that they set some rabbit snares.  “I’m in a mood for rabbit stew,” he’d said, feeling sure no one in Sacramento could prepare one as savory as Hop Sing’s.

      “Yeah, me, too,” Hoss had said agreeably and had begged Hop Sing to prepare them an extra large lunch to take along.  Hop Sing, as always, had exceeded even Hoss’s hopes, for the Chinese cook liked to see his family well fed.

      Adam stopped to set the first snare.  “You watch me close,” he urged Hoss, “so you can do this yourself once I’m gone.”

      Hoss, licking his lips in anticipation of the tasty rabbits he’d be bringing home, studied Adam’s actions carefully.  “I can do that easy,” he said.

      Adam stood.  “Okay, I’ll let you try setting the next one.”  About ten yards away he stooped to point out a good spot for Hoss.  “Let’s see you do it, boy.”

      Hoss squatted beside his brother and made the attempt.  Adam shook his head.  “Close, but he’ll slip that noose easy as a snake slithers through sand,” he said and showed Hoss how to make his trap cinch tighter.  Hoss tried again at the next location and won his brother’s smile of approval.  “Now you can snare all the rabbits you want all winter long,” Adam announced.

      “Let’s eat,” Hoss suggested.

      Adam laughed.  “It’s early yet, greedy belly.  Let’s set a few more snares.”

      “How much rabbit stew you plan on eatin’?” Hoss scoffed.

      Adam laid an instructive hand on his brother’s shoulder.  “You can’t count on taking one in every snare, little brother.  If we catch more than we need, the men in the bunkhouse will like having stew, too, and you can always use the pelts.”

      Hoss’s face brightened.  “Can I have the skin, if we get a rabbit?”

      “I don’t have any use for it,” Adam chuckled.  “What do you want one for?”

      “To make me a pouch like yours,” Hoss explained quickly.  Adam had made a rabbit skin pouch in which to store his marbles, and Hoss had eyed it longingly ever since its creation.  “You’d show me how, wouldn’t you?”

      “Sure,” Adam agreed.  “The pelt should be good enough for that, but the best ones for trading can’t be had ‘til later, when the rabbits put on thicker fur for winter.”

      “Tradin’?” Hoss pondered.  “What could I trade ‘em for, Adam?”

      “Pocket knife, maybe,” Adam suggested, “if Pa’ll let you have one.”

      Hoss shook his head.  “Ain’t likely.”

      Adam had a different opinion; he figured Hoss wouldn’t have to bring home many rabbits before Pa decided to teach the boy to skin them himself and agreed to his having the tool to do it.  He’d let Pa and Hoss work that out on their own, however.  In the meantime he offered an alternative.  “Maybe you’d rather keep them anyway.  If you get enough, you could take them to Aunt Nelly.  I bet she could turn them into a nice Christmas present for Marie or Little Joe.”

      Hoss’s toothy grin flashed.  “That’d be the best!  Somethin’ to keep ‘em good and warm this winter.  That’s a good idea, Adam.”

      Adam tousled the youngster’s hair.  “You’re welcome to it.”

      Hoss’s countenance drooped just a bit.  “I’m gonna miss you, Adam,” he muttered gruffly.

      “You’ve got another brother to take my place,” Adam laughed.

      “He can’t do anything,” Hoss moaned.

      Adam chucked the other boy’s pudgy chin.  “Don’t tell me you’re ready to call him ‘Wet and Wail’ now!”

      “No!” Hoss sputtered loyally.  “He’s still my Punkin, but I sure wish he’d take to trottin’.”

      Adam shook his head, grinning.  “It’ll happen soon enough, take my word, and then you’ll wish you had a rope to tie him down.  I remember how it was with you.  Underfoot and into everything.”

      Hoss shrugged.  He didn’t want to call his older brother a liar, but he found it hard to believe Little Joe would ever afford the kind of companionship he enjoyed with Adam.  “We have good times together, you and me,” Hoss said, trying to explain what he was feeling.

      Adam understood.  “Yeah, I’ll miss you, too, but I’m gonna be writing to you and I want you to do the same.”

      “Really to me?  Just me?” Hoss asked, blue eyes shining.

      “Yeah, sometimes just to you,” Adam promised, genuinely glad his father had made the suggestion when he saw the pleasure it gave his younger brother.  “You ready for lunch now?”

      Hoss was always ready to eat, so he bobbed his head happily and helped Adam search for the perfect place to spread out the riches of the basket Hop Sing had packed to overflowing.


CHAPTER FOUR

Farewell to Adam

 

 

W

hen the rap sounded on the door, Marie, for once, had no desire to race Hop Sing to answer it.  She had her hands full——both literally and figuratively——with her baby son.  Nothing seemed to please Little Joe today.

      Hop Sing bustled to the door and opened it, a warm glow in his almond eyes.  “Missy Laula,” he bubbled.  “Missy Cahtlight be velly happy see you.”  He’d been with the Cartwrights long enough to know their favorite visitors on sight.

      Marie came at once to greet her friend, giving her a soft kiss on the cheek.  “Missy Cahtlight is indeed happy to see you,” she said, “or anyone else who is not crying.”

      Laura Ellis laughed, reaching for Little Joe.  “What’s wrong, little one?” she cooed, holding him to her shoulder and patting the small, vibrating back.

      “Oh, he has been fussy all day,” Marie sighed.  “Hoss and Adam are spending extra time together this last week, and I think Little Joe misses his playmates.”

      “Acts more like colic to me,” Laura mused, rubbing Little Joe’s tiny tummy, “but we can try your theory.”  She looked down at the dark-eyed three-year-old standing beside her.  “You want to play with the baby, Jimmy?” she asked sweetly.

      Jimmy pulled his finger from his mouth long enough to mutter “Unh-uh.”

      Marie laughed at the embarrassed look on Laura’s face, then bent over to bring herself to Jimmy’s level.  “That’s a good, honest boy,” she said.  “How about some of Hop Sing’s cookies, instead, Jimmy?”

      The little boy beamed his response, so Marie took his hand, led him to the kitchen and delivered him to Hop Sing’s care.  Hop Sing wasn’t overly fond of little boys in the kitchen and assumed the best way to keep them out of his way was to give them plenty to eat, so Jimmy soon found himself faced with a pile of cookies guaranteed to spoil any boy’s dinner.

      By the time Marie returned to the front room, Laura seemed to have soothed Little Joe’s present discomfort.  Marie fought down a pang of insecure jealousy.  There were times she felt that every other woman had better mothering skills than she, but today she was too grateful for a quiet baby to worry much about whether he was more responsive to someone else’s touch than to her own.

      “I think he’s got a little gas on his tummy,” Laura said, “but he’s just about cried himself out now.”

      Marie nodded and seated herself beside her friend.  “It is so good to see you,” she said.

      “I brought those clothes I’ve been making for Adam,” Laura replied softly to avoid disturbing the baby, whose eyes were beginning to blink drowsily.

      “You did not need to make a special trip, or were you in the neighborhood?” Marie giggled.

      Laura chuckled.  The Ponderosa wasn’t in anyone’s neighborhood, unless you counted the Mormon ranchers in Washoe Valley.  You had to want to visit the Ponderosa to travel that far into the hills.  “Sort of,” she said, lips twitching..  “I delivered some laundry and some news to the Grosch brothers at American Flats.”

      Marie looked momentarily puzzled. “The news was important?” she asked, since her friend didn’t normally deliver the laundry she did for many of the local miners.  They were always glad to come to her.

      Laura nodded gravely as she stood to lay the sleeping baby in his cradle by the fire.  “I had to tell them of the death of a friend,” she said quietly.

      “Oh, I am sorry,” Marie said quickly.  “Was it anyone I know?”

      “I don’t think so,” Laura answered.  “George Brown.  He runs——well, ran——the trading post and mail station at Gravelly Ford on the Humboldt.”

      Marie shook her head; neither the man’s name nor the geographical description had any meaning for her.  “Was he a good friend?  Are the brothers much grieved?”

      Laura gave an almost bitter laugh.  “Well, a friend who believes in you when no one else will is as good a friend as most of us need,” she said cryptically, “but I’m afraid the Grosch boys were grieving more for the $600 Brown promised them than for the man himself.  Whoever killed Brown robbed him, too.”

      “They need money?” Marie queried.  “Perhaps Ben could——”

      “No need,” Laura said with a secret smile.  “I’m going to sell some of my land in California, and they’ll make me a partner for the use of it.”

      Marie pressed her slender fingers against her lips to stifle her amused smile, but it just wouldn’t stifle.  “You are to be a mine owner?  Ah, soon you will no longer be willing to make clothes for my boys, so rich you will be.”

      “Hmph!” Laura snorted with mock offense.  “I might have more chance of that than you think.  The Grosches think they’ve found——oh, never mind.”

      “You are keeping secrets now?” Marie chided.  “Am I not a friend to be trusted?”

      “You are,” Laura smiled, “but I gave my word to keep this particular secret.”

      “Ah, you must, then,” Marie smiled back.  “So I need not worry about the brothers?  You have solved all their problems?”

      Laura sobered quickly.  “No, not all, and I’m kind of worried, Marie.  Seems Hosea hit his own foot with a pick while he was out mining.  He was soaking it in a tub on the porch when I went by, and I didn’t like the look of it.  Looked mighty red to me.  I told them they ought to call Dr. Martin, but they didn’t want to waste money.  Ethan was boiling up a poultice when I left.  Hope it does Hosea some good.”

      “But you said you would give them money——” Marie began.

      “Ah, my friend, that will be for mining,” Laura intoned mystically, “and you don’t know the Grosch brothers if you think they’d touch that.”  She stood up.  “I’d hoped Adam would be home, so I could check the fit of his trousers, but it’ll be past dark by the time I get home now.  I spent more time at the Grosches than I’d planned.”

      Marie laid a restraining hand on her friend’s arm.  “You must not think of leaving now,” she scolded.  “Stay the night, Laura dear.  Hoss will be happy to sleep with Adam, so you and Jimmy may use his bed, and I would like your opinion on the things I am packing for Adam.”

      Laura nodded, easily convinced.  “Truth to tell, I’d rather wait ‘til morning to drive home.”

 

* * * * *

 

      The day had finally come——the day toward which Adam had aimed all his yearning hopes, the day his father had dreaded with equal intensity—the day of Adam’s departure for Sacramento.  Ben was going with him this first time, of course, to see the boy well situated and settled in, so he’d still enjoy his son’s company a few more days, but there was a clenching around Ben’s heart already.  He and Adam had known few separations, the only lengthy one being Ben’s trip to New Orleans just over a year ago.  They’d been apart months then, both during and after the trip, for Adam had felt betrayed when his father returned home from his errand of mercy with a new wife and had remained distant until he’d finally come to love Marie, too.  Ben laughed lightly.  Just so he doesn’t come home with a wife to surprise me! he thought, amused by the foolishness of the notion.

      From her seat next to him on the buckboard, Marie turned quizzical eyes to his suddenly merry face, but Ben didn’t feel required to explain his abrupt change of mood.  Adam, who perched, beaming, on his trunk full of belongs in the back of the wagon, likely wouldn’t appreciate the humor of his father’s thoughts.  No, Ben wouldn’t spoil the radiance of that countenance with a careless joke.

      Hoss’s normally sunny face, however, looked dismal today.  The week he’d spent making memories with Adam had done them both good, but it seemed to intensify Hoss’s misery now that he was losing his constant companion of the week before.  He was disgruntled, too, that his hard-hearted father wouldn’t take him along to Sacramento.  “Don’t be ridiculous, Hoss,” Ben had scoffed in answer to the boy’s passionate pleas.  “You know school begins next week for you, as well as Adam, and you can’t afford to start late.”  Hoss had moped in soundless eloquence at that rejoinder.  As if it weren’t bad enough to be losing his brother and the chance to explore the wonders of Sacramento’s candy stores once again, Pa had to bring up school!  Hoss saw nothing but gray skies on his horizon, and his countenance reflected the gloom.

      The buckboard pulled to a halt along Main Street in Genoa near Ormsby’s store.  All five Cartwrights trooped inside, for even Little Joe was along to see Adam safely off.  Ben moved directly to the appropriate counter to purchase the tickets, while Adam meandered over to the one manned by Sarah Winnemucca, as she now called herself in the white man’s fashion, Winnemucca being the name by which most white men knew her father Poito.  Hoss pressed his nose against the jar of licorice at that same counter, while Marie examined the yard goods at a table across the store.

      “See anything you like?” Ben asked, coming up behind his wife.

      Marie smiled and shook her head.  Ormsby carried only the most practical of calicos, and nothing on that table appealed to Marie’s fine sense of fabric.  “Did you get your tickets?”

      Ben nodded and, slipping an arm around her slender waist, drew her out to the porch.  “I wish you were coming,” he whispered in her ear.  “You could fill your arms with silks and satins in Sacramento.”

      “I have clothes enough,” Marie replied, “and you know I cannot come with you.  I must see Hoss to school.”

      Ben chuckled.  “Yeah, he wouldn’t be likely to go without a shove in the right direction.”  He touched his wife’s smooth cheek with a tender hand.  “You’ll be all right,” he assured her.  “Enos will handle the men, and you can count on him for whatever you need at the house.  And there’s always Clyde Thomas.  He’d do anything for you.”

      “And you must not forget Hop Sing,” Marie teased.  “He will let no harm come to his Pondelosa.”

      Ben pinched her small nose.  Hop Sing’s possessive pretensions weren’t really a cause for banter; the little Chinese cook took them too seriously himself for others to discount.  But Marie was probably right.  Let anyone so much as threaten a hair on one of their heads, and he’d have to contend with a meat-cleaver-wielding Chinaman, a daunting prospect for most felons——or innocent bystanders, for that matter.

      Hoss wandered outside, glum as ever.  Seeing the downcast face, Ben stooped and put his arms around his second son.  “Perk up now,” Ben soothed.  “Pa’ll be back before you know it, and we’ll plan a trip of our own, soon as I can spare the time.”

      “Just you and me, honest?” Hoss queried, excitement edging his voice.  Adam had taken such trips with their father before, but Hoss had always been the tag-along third when he got to go at all.  If Pa took him by himself, it had to mean Pa thought he was growing up.

      “Just you and me,” Ben agreed.  “Think about where you’d like to go, son, but nowhere too far.  It’ll have to be on a weekend, so you won’t miss school.”

      Hoss’s chin bobbed up and down quickly, his mind already running through possible destinations.

      Adam joined them, having said his good-byes to his Paiute friend, just as the stage rolled to a stop at Ormsby’s door.  With the help of the stage agent, his trunk and his father’s carpetbag were soon loaded.  Nothing left then but to say good-bye to those who were staying behind.  Adam took Little Joe and held him close for a minute.  “Gonna miss you, little fellow,” he whispered, then looked up at Marie.  “You, too, ma’am.”

      “And I, you,” Marie said softly, placing a kiss on his cheek as she took Little Joe back.  “I hope the French we learned will be of use to you.”

      “It already is,” Adam said.  He meant that the lessons had been useful in drawing him closer to his stepmother, and though he didn’t say that clearly, he had a feeling she understood.  Then Adam turned to Hoss, who wrapped him in a tight bearhug, holding on as if he meant to keep his brother there by sheer force.

      Adam laughed.  “Don’t squeeze me in half, little brother.”  But Hoss didn’t turn loose until his father spoke his name firmly.  His real name, too——Eric.  No point in either arguing or resisting when Pa went that far.  Hoss released his older brother.

      As soon as he did, Adam wrapped him in a return embrace, not as hearty as Hoss’s, of course, because the older boy was no match for the younger in bodily strength, but Adam’s hug was just as full of affection.  “The first letter’ll be to you,” Adam promised and felt rewarded by the toothy grin he got in response.

      “Best get aboard,” Ben said after giving Marie a good-bye kiss and planting another on Little Joe’s wispy curls.

      “Right,” Adam said brightly and dashed for the buckboard to get his guitar.  Not trusting it with the rest of the baggage, he planned to carry it all the way to Sacramento.

      As the stage pulled out, Hoss turned to his mother.  “Want me to drive home?”

      Marie smiled.  “Yes, please, but not just yet.  First, there is the matter of your pay.”

      Hoss cocked his head, not understanding.  He needed no pay for driving the team.  The responsibility was its own reward.

      Oui,” Marie replied in answer to his unspoken question, “but I am afraid a penny’s worth of licorice is all I can afford.  Will that be enough, monsieur driver?”

      Hoss gave a happy crow.  “Plenty, ma’am.  Just the right price for a ticket on my stage!”

 

* * * * *

 

      Molly Maguire pushed the door open with a stout arm, freckled to the elbow beneath her rolled up sleeve.  “I’m still sprucin’ up the rooms,” she said, “but this one’s ready and a fine one for your boy, I’m thinkin’.”

      Ben entered, with Adam following, and looked with satisfaction at the immaculate quarters.  Far from being Spartan, snowy curtains framed the window that looked out on the yard behind and thick comforters graced the two narrow beds on either side of it.  Next to each bed stood a simple pine chest of drawers and mirrored washstand and on the wall nearest the door a sturdily crafted desk for each of the room’s would-be occupants.  “This looks fine,” Ben said, “real homey, even.”

      “I try to keep it that way,” Mrs. Maguire said with a warm smile beneath her freckled nose.  “You’re the first one in, school not startin’ for a few days yet, but you’ll soon have company enough, me boy.”

      “Yes, ma’am,” Adam replied politely.  He’d liked Mrs. Maguire on sight; it had been impossible not to, for she exuded a kind of motherly warmth that made her the ideal proprietress of a rooming house designed for schoolboys far from home.

      “You’re welcome to use the other bed if you’re stayin’ over a few days,” Molly said to Ben.  “No extra charge, unless you take your meals here.”

      “More than fair,” Ben smiled, “and I will be staying a couple of days, at least.  We may be dining out most of the time, however, a last treat for the boy, you know.”

      Molly Maguire laughed as she flipped her dark auburn hair across her shoulder.  “Most of the boys think my cookin’s a treat, but your lad will have plenty of time to sample that.  If you’ve no more questions, I’ll be gettin’ back to me work.  I’ll bring fresh towels soon.”

      “No hurry,” Ben assured her.  “We’ll be out most of the afternoon.”

      As she left, Adam walked across to the window and looked down into the yard.  It was a small one, but there was a wide swing under a trellis covered with climbing roses.  “Marie’d like that,” Adam murmured.

      Ben gazed over his shoulder.  “Yeah, it’s real pretty,” he agreed.  “I’m glad you have a room at the back of the house.  Should make it quieter for studying.”

      “Yeah, they were right at the school,” Adam said.  “This’ll be a good place to stay.”

      “The best available, they said, and that’s what I want for my boy.”  After enrolling Adam that morning, Ben had inquired about lodging for his son and been referred to Molly Maguire, who had opened the rooming house to earn her living after her husband was killed in a mining dispute two years before.

      Adam turned around.  “Thanks, Pa,” he said softly.

      “For the room?” Ben laughed.  “What did you think I’d do, pitch a tent for you in the schoolyard?”

      Adam grinned, picturing the tent in his mind.  “That could get cold, even in California.  What did you mean when you said we’d be out all afternoon?”

      “Well, we have to move our things from the hotel, of course,” Ben said.  “Then there’s a few errands to be done.”

      Adam gave his father an inquiring look, but Ben just laughed in a way that told Adam he’d get no answer.  Pa was a man who liked to spring surprises, usually good ones, so Adam decided to bide his time and let the day unfold.

      They checked out of the hotel they’d stayed in the night before, brought their things to the boardinghouse, then went in search of lunch, both ordering vegetable soup and rhubarb pie.  “Where to next, Pa?” Adam asked as his father laid a token tip on the table, the service having been only average.

      “Boot store,” Ben said.  “I brought a pattern of Hoss’s foot, remember?  And I figure you could use a new pair to start school with, too.”

      Adam gave his father a contented grin.  He knew he’d been right to keep his mouth shut and just trust the kind of surprises Pa had planned, and the first one confirmed his decision.  After ordering boots for the boys, Ben turned to Adam on the street.  “Don’t even ask where we’re headed next; you’ll see soon enough.”

      Adam grinned and fell into step beside his father as they walked down J Street, turning in at No. 87, Beal’s Daguerrean Studio.  “Me or you?” Adam asked.

      “You, of course,” Ben said.  “This is where Marie and Hoss had their pictures made last year, and I’ve wanted one of you ever since.”

      “I’d like having one of you, too, Pa,” Adam said quietly.

      Ben gazed tenderly down at the boy.  “Gonna miss your old pa, are you?  With all those wonderful new books to read?”  They hadn’t purchased any of Adam’s required texts yet, but just reading the list had made the boy drool with anticipation.

      “A picture’d help,” Adam pressed, knowing that he had a good chance of getting his way.

      The photographer approached them.  “Mr. Beal?” Ben asked and when the man responded in the affirmative, continued, “A picture of each of us, please, to remember each other by.”

      “I’d never forget you, Pa,” Adam whispered as the photographer set up the materials needed, “but I’ll treasure the picture.”

      “My pleasure,” Ben smiled, “and I have a few more tricks up my sleeve, young man.”

      Adam knew better than to ask.  Take your pleasures one at a time; that was the way to keep them coming when it was Pa they were coming from.  Pa’s tricks that afternoon including a fitting for a new suit and the purchase of several small items of clothing.  The final stop, however, was the biggest surprise of all.

      When Ben first announced that they were going to the bank, Adam assumed his father needed to draw out some money for expenses after spending so much on his son, but as they walked toward the establishment Ben favored, he explained a different purpose.  “I’ve tried to provide you with everything you’ll need while you’re here, Adam, but there may be things I haven’t thought of or some emergency may arise.  If you’re ill, for instance, I don’t want you to hesitate to call a doctor.  I’m going to open an account in your name in the amount of two hundred dollars.”

      Ben smiled as Adam’s mouth gaped in astonishment.  “That should be far in excess of what you’ll actually need, and I only expect you to use it for necessities.”

      Adam nodded soberly.  “I understand, Pa; I won’t touch it unless I have to.”

      Ben rubbed the boy’s neck affectionately.  “I know I can trust you, Adam, but you should understand that I also consider necessities some things you might not ordinarily place in that category.”

      “Now I don’t understand,” Adam said.

      Ben chuckled.  “Oh, a night at the theater, perhaps.  As long as you choose wisely, I consider that part of your education and, therefore, necessary.”

      “Shakespeare,” Adam chirped happily.

      “You can’t go wrong with him,” Ben agreed, “but I don’t mind your sampling some other playwrights.  Just don’t overdo it.  About once a month, I’d say, give or take a play.  You’re welcome to dinner out with your friends once in awhile, too.”

      “But don’t overdo it,” Adam grinned.  “I won’t have to if Miss Molly’s cooking is as good as she claims.”

      “I’ll be buying you a ledger,” Ben went on, “and I’ll expect a strict accounting of every penny you spend.”

      “It’ll be an honest one,” Adam promised as they reached the bank.

      “Adam,” Ben chided gently, “I wouldn’t expect anything else from you.  Don’t you think I know my own boy?”  Adam flushed with pleasure at the compliment.

      Their banking business completed, the two Cartwrights again found themselves on the sidewalk.  “That should about finish our business for the day,” Ben said, “unless you can think of something I’ve forgotten.”

      “My textbooks?” Adam suggested.

      “Oh, no!” Ben hooted.  “You’ll get those before I leave, but I will not have your nose in those books while I’m here.  I plan to enjoy you, young man.”

      “Dinner, then?” Adam proposed instead.  “I’m getting kind of hungry.”

      “Yeah, me, too,” Ben admitted.  “Let’s go by a couple of theaters first, though, and see what’s playing.  You won’t miss those books if you’ve a play to watch, I’ll wager.”

      “No sir!” Adam declared, beaming happily.

      They headed first for the Forrest Theater at 2nd and J streets.  Adam, always alert for reading material, found himself glancing in the windows of every store they passed, reading posted notices of sales and events in the community.  Suddenly, he jerked to a stop.  “Pa, look!” he cried, staring at a poster that announced the opening of the California State Agricultural Fair in large block letters.  “Wouldn’t that be a fine thing to see!”

      Ben paused to glance at the notice attracting his son’s attention.  “Not today,” he laughed.  “October 10 through 17, it says.”

      “Could——could you call that a necessity?” Adam asked, a note of wheedling in his tone.

      Ben’s eyes brightened.  “I’d say so, and maybe not just for you.  What would you think if we met you here that week and went together?”

      “Fine,” Adam agreed eagerly, “but who’d you have in mind?”

      “Why, all of us, of course,” Ben said.  “Hoss would have to miss a little school, but I think the experience would be worth it.”

      “But Marie?” Adam queried, his nose crinkling.  “She wouldn’t like it much, I’m guessing.”

      “Oh, I’ll be able to tempt her easily enough,” Ben chuckled.  “She’s been wanting to get some more things for the house.  And Little Joe’s no problem; Nelly Thomas would gladly look after him while we’re away.”

      “Unh-uh,” Adam declared, head shaking in vigorous denial.  “You don’t know your own wife if you think she’d leave her precious baby boy with anyone.”

      Ben arched an eyebrow, not liking to admit his son was a sharper judge of character than he.  In this instance, however, he had a feeling Adam was right.  Pulling the boy away from the window, Ben made light of the suggested problem, though.  “We’ll just bring him with us then.”  The more he mulled the idea, the more he liked it.  Yes, it would be a fine opportunity to let his friends in California meet his bright-eyed youngest boy, and Marie would relish showing him off as much as Ben himself.

      Seeing his father lost in thought, Adam grinned, sure he could guess the gist of the thoughts.  He was pretty sure, too, that Pa’d have a harder time convincing Marie than he had any notion as he walked along J Street toward the theater.


CHAPTER FIVE

Mormon Exodus

 

 

“P

a!” Hoss cried happily as his father rode up to the Ponderosa ranch house.  Ben swung down from his bay gelding to accept his second son’s heartfelt welcome home.

      The Ponderosa’s foreman, Enos Montgomery, who had taken the bay to meet the stage on the evening of Ben’s anticipated return, grinned and gathered up the gelding’s reins.  “I’ll stable your mount, Mr. Cartwright,” he offered.  “You’ll be wanting to see the missus right away.”

      Ben smiled his thanks.  “That I will,” he said.

      Marie, alerted by the ever vigilant Hop Sing of her husband’s arrival, glided out the front door as quickly as she could with a baby in her arms.  “Oh, Ben!” she cried.  “I am so glad you are home again.  We have missed you.”

      Ben kissed her and took the baby.  “And what about you, sweet boy?” he asked, cuddling the child against his shoulder.  “Did you miss Pa?”

      Little Joe responded with a vigorous burp.

      Marie giggled.  “I just fed him,” she explained.

      Ben scowled playfully at his youngest.  “Some welcome you give!” he snorted, then laughed and held the baby high overhead.  “I’m glad to see you, just the same.”  Little Joe laughed and kicked his bare feet energetically.

      “Oh, Ben, be careful,” Marie cautioned.

      “Marie, my love, you worry too much,” Ben chided, but he brought the baby down obediently.  He needed to stay on Marie’s good side if he hoped to persuade her to follow his plans for the second week in October.  “How’s school?” he asked Hoss as the four Cartwrights headed inside.

      Hoss’s face screwed up piteously.  “Plumb awful!” he reported.  “Except for recess.  I like that fine.”

      “Oh, fine!” Ben guffawed.

      Hoss frowned.  Pa didn’t seem to understand how important it was that things were going well at recess.  Last year even that brief break had given him no respite from the misery of school.  The taunting of his Mormon schoolmates had been torture for the boy who, to that time, had considered everyone his friend——well, everyone except Jewel Larrimore, who remained a safe distance away in San Francisco.  But Hoss had gotten off to a better start this year, even if Pa was unlikely to see it that way.  The two youngsters who had repeated last year’s jeer of “fat, stupid gentile” the first day had been made to pay for their mockery with a blow from Hoss’s solid fist and quickly decided to mend their ways.  There wasn’t as much to mock, anyway, for Hoss’s summer-long schooling had paid off.  He still wasn’t a good student, but he was, at least, keeping up.

      Hoss trotted to catch his parents and scooted next to his father on the sofa as soon as Ben sat down.  “Pa, I been thinkin’, like you said,” he began.

      “Huh?” Ben responded absently, bending his face to blow kisses at the baby perched, with support, on his knee.

      “I been thinkin’,” Hoss repeated with strained patience.  “About our trip.”

      Ben’s large head jerked up.  “Oh, yeah, well I’ve had an idea of my own, Hoss, if you don’t mind Mama and Little Joe coming along, too.”

      Hoss’s face fell.  “You promised!” he squealed.  “Just you and me.  You promised, Pa!”

      Ben looked genuinely shocked, having never dreamed that good-natured Hoss would object to a change in plans.  “But, son, I think you’d enjoy what I have planned much more than the little trip I promised you.”

      Hoss clearly looked dubious.  Marie, certain Ben’s plans were wonderful before she even heard them, asked the question Hoss wouldn’t.  “What have you planned, Benjamin?”

      Ben flashed her a grateful——and hopeful——smile.  “A trip to the California State Agricultural Fair at Sacramento next month,” he announced triumphantly.

      Hoss’s face cleared at once, and his blue eyes brightened.  Sacramento?” he whispered in awe.  “Honest, Pa?”

      “Oh, but no, Ben,” Marie murmured almost as quickly.  “That is not possible, not for me.  I do not even think it wise for Hoss.”

      “Mama,” Hoss whined.

      Ben patted his middle boy’s stocky thigh with a silencing hand and turned his most persuasive smile on his wife.  “Why, dearest, there’s no reason in the world you can’t go.”

      “There is this one,” Marie said, brushing Little Joe’s soft curls.

      “No, no,” Ben cooed soothingly.  “He won’t be a bit a trouble, though you could leave him with Nelly Thomas if you’d rather.”

      “No!” Marie cried sharply.  “He stays with me——always.”

      “Fine,” Ben said with a grand attempt at nonchalance.  “We’ll take him with us.”

      Marie frowned exquisitely, feeling she had been tricked and not liking the feeling.  “I have not said I would go,” she declared hotly, “and you may cease practicing your wiles on me, monsieur.”

      Ben shifted Little Joe to his other knee and took her hand with his now freed one.  “Marie, I would very much like you to come to California with me,” he said directly.  “You’ve been wanting to furnish one of the guest rooms.  This would be a good opportunity for that, and I’d really like to show off our beautiful new son to my friends in California.”

      “But, Ben, it is such a long journey for a baby,” Marie protested.

      “Not by stage,” Ben argued.  “You could ride in comfort, my love, and cover the distance much more quickly than we have before.  Only eighteen hours to Placerville.”

      “B—but Little Joe may not be a good traveler,” she argued, “and you know how loudly he can make his displeasure known.  Would you want to be trapped in the stage with a screaming baby for eighteen hours?”

      It was the one problem Ben hadn’t foreseen, but he quickly countered her objection.  “We won’t know ‘til we try,” he said, “and if the boy doesn’t do well, you can stay in Placerville with Ludmilla Zuebner while I take Hoss on to the fair.”

      For the first time Marie looked as though she were giving the proposed expedition some thought.  “Well, perhaps,” she conceded.  “Still, Ben, there is Hoss’s schooling to consider.  He has barely begun, and I would hate to see him fall behind again.”

      Hoss groaned inwardly.  School——the one fly in the pudding.  Pa’d never let him miss school for anything as interesting as a trip to Sacramento.  His plunging spirits rose to new heights, however, as he listened to his father explain the educational benefits of a trip to the state fair.  “Besides,” Ben continued, “we can take along his books and he can study in the hotel of an evening.”

      “But what about the weather?” Marie queried.  “Is not October late to be making a trip to California?”

“It could be a problem,” Ben admitted.  “It does occasionally snow that early in the Sierras, but the roads aren’t usually impassible until later.  We’ll keep an eye on the weather, and if there’s the least hint of danger, we won’t go..  I wouldn’t put you or our boys at risk.”

“Well——” she murmured thoughtfully.

      Sure of victory now, Ben beamed expansively.  “Let me tell you what I thought we could do,” he began.  “First, of course, we’ll stay overnight at Placerville.  Ludmilla and the girls will need time to dote on our new baby.  Then, on to Sacramento.  We’ll take in a night at the theater in addition to the fair, and I thought we might have Little Joe’s portrait taken at Beal’s.  That way we’d have one of all the boys, since I’ve already had Adam’s taken.”

      Marie suddenly smiled, clasping her hands like a happy child.  “Oh, yes,” she said softly.  “I would like that.”  Then another thought struck her and she reached eagerly to touch Ben’s cheek.  Mais oui!” she cried..  “We will all be together.  Why not a family portrait?”

      “Why not, indeed!” Ben enthused.  “Then, if the weather seems to be holding, I thought we might go on down near Monterey and let my dear friends the Paynes meet my beautiful bride and her beautiful baby boy.”

      “They them folks that gave me the birthday party that time?” Hoss asked.

      Ben pulled him close.  “That’s right, son.  You’d like to see them again, wouldn’t you?”

      “Yeah, sure,” Hoss agreed readily, “especially if they got more ice cream.”

      Ben and Marie both laughed.  “Oh, Hoss,” Ben chided.  “Think of something besides your stomach once in awhile.”

      Hoss gave them a sheepish look.  “They’re nice,” he said.  “I’d like to see ‘em even without the ice cream.”

 

* * * * *

 

      Just two days after Ben arrived home, breakfast was interrupted by someone knocking on the door.  Setting the platter of scrambled eggs on the table, Hop Sing frowned.  Unexpected guests were not welcome at the breakfast table.  Not by Hop Sing, at least, as he informed the guest in vociferous, and thoroughly unintelligible, Chinese when he answered the door.

      Ben rose quickly to rescue the unknown caller.  “Ethan, come in,” he called when he saw the tow-headed young man dressed in the traditional red flannel shirt and denim britches of a miner.  “Just in time for breakfast.”

      “Uh, no, thanks,” Ethan Grosch muttered, twisting his slouch hat between his hands.  “Uh, Mr. Cartwright, I’m looking for work, if you need an extra hand.”

      Ben had all the hands he needed, but something in the young man’s face prevented his making a quick reply.  “Mining not going so well, son?” he asked softly.

      Ethan flushed crimson.  “Enough to eat on,” he said, “but I’m in need of extra cash, Mr. Cartwright, enough to pay back what I borrowed to bury my brother in a decent set of clothes.”

      Marie suppressed a shocked outcry, stood and came quickly toward the two men.  “Oh, Monsieur Grosch, I am most sorry to hear of your loss.”

      “Thank you, ma’am,” Ethan said quietly, raising clouded blue eyes to her compassionate face.  “Hosea’s beyond the pain of this world, and I can’t begrudge him the leaving, suffering as he was.  I’d like to get my debt paid quickly, though, Mr. Cartwright.  I—I have business in California that won’t keep, but I can’t leave owing any man.”

      Ben nodded, appreciating the young man’s dedication.  “I won’t need anyone until we start roundup in about a week,” Ben confessed.  “Be glad to use you then, son, but ranch work doesn’t pay much.  Mind if I ask what you need?”

      “Sixty dollars,” Grosch replied.

      “I could loan you that,” Ben offered.

      Grosch smiled crookedly.  “Wouldn’t that just be trading one debt for another, sir?”

      Ben shrugged and nodded.  “Guess so.  Some of the other ranchers in the valley might need help now.”

      Ethan shook his head.  “I’ve been asking, but it seems no one’s looking to hire right now.  I’ll keep looking, and if I don’t find anything else, I’ll come back in about a week, if I may.”

      “Glad to have you,” Ben said.  “Now, how about that breakfast?  I know bachelor cooking, and I’ll wager you had nothing but biscuits and bacon before you left this morning.”

      “Just the biscuits,” Ethan admitted with a wistful glance at the bountiful breakfast spread for the Cartwrights.  “If—if there’s plenty—”

      Marie reached to take his hand.  “There is plenty; come,” she urged and gently pulled him toward the table.

      After eating, Grosch left to continue his search for work.  “I was sorry to have to put him off,” Ben said to Marie when the bereaved brother was gone, “but he’d have quickly realized I didn’t have any real need of him.”

      “Of course, he would,” Marie assured him, then shook her head, frowning.  “I do not understand this need for money, though, Ben.  Surely, he need not work here for money, for Laura Ellis has promised him some.”

      “Just another debt to be paid, my love,” Ben pointed out with only half a smile.

      “No, you do not understand,” Marie insisted.  “The brothers are making Laura a partner in their claim.  I do not know how much she was to give, but, surely, Ethan is free to use it as his own.”

      Ben disagreed.  “He’d see that money as an investment, Marie, and, therefore, off limits to his personal use.  At least, that’s how I’d see it, and I’ve always felt the Grosch brothers were honorable men.”

      “Honor is a fine quality, mon mari,” Marie said, “but I have seen it cost men their lives.”

      Ben took her hand and held it to his lips.  “This isn’t New Orleans, my love,” he whispered.  “The Code Duello does not reign here.”

      Marie nodded, saying nothing, but she continued to feel uneasy about Ethan Grosch and the price he might yet pay for honor.

 

* * * * *

 

      The news arrived in Genoa September 5th, but the Cartwrights didn’t hear it until the next day when they took Sunday dinner with the Thomases.  Clyde was so gleeful he could hardly contain himself until his guests were seated in the parlor.  “Welcome to the celebration, folks,” he burbled.  “Ain’t got no fatted pig, but my woman’s done killed two fat hens in honor of the occasion.”

      “What occasion?” Ben asked.

      Before Clyde could answer, Nelly interrupted.  “Lands, I ain’t celebratin’ nothin’ except that them two hens done quit layin’ and I don’t see no use in feedin’ ‘em if they won’t give eggs.”

      “Well, they done quit layin’ at a proper time for celebratin’, anyhow,” Clyde cackled.

      “Celebrating what?” Ben demanded.

      “Why, gettin’ shed of another nest of Mormons,” Clyde announced, handing his friend the previous day’s copy of the Scorpion.  “The whole hive, if we’re lucky..”

      “Marie, come help me set the chicken to fryin’,” Nelly suggested, “and leave these men to their foolishness.”  Marie stood readily, taking Nelly’s rare request for help in the kitchen to mean that she wanted to share the news in her own way.

      Ben had no difficulty finding the article that had Clyde so excited, for in large letters the headline read “A CALL TO ALL SAINTS.”  Ben scanned the words quickly, growing more sober with each sentence he read.  Alarmed by rumors that President Buchanan was sending soldiers to Utah to enforce the rights of the federal government against the Mormon theocracy, Brigham Young had ordered the return to Salt Lake City of all Mormons in the Carson Valley, with the further charge of bringing as much ammunition as possible with them.  The Saints, evicted from the settled regions of the east, would not give up their sacred city so meekly this time.  “If it is war President Buchanan wants, then war he will get,” declared the Scorpion’s publisher Stephen Kinsey in an accompanying editorial.

      Ben tossed the paper down.  “You think this is a cause for celebration?” he asked tersely.  “If the Mormons answer this call, it’ll depopulate the valley, man!”

      “Good riddance to bad rubbish,” Clyde snapped.  “Or maybe you like takin’ orders from Brigham Young.”

      Ben’s eyes narrowed.  “You know better.  The man’s a law unto himself, considers himself governor of the territory by divine appointment and——”

      “And every one of them so-called “saints” follows him around like a feeble-minded sheep,” Clyde groused.

      Ben arched an eyebrow.  “Not quite all, but I agree most of his flock considers his word a law that supercedes the law of the land.”

      “Right!” Clyde exclaimed, firing his index finger at Ben’s nose.  “And we’re better off rid of such puling lambs.”

      Ben pushed the finger away.  “You’re not thinking, Clyde,” he argued.  “I find their religion and their idolatry of Brigham Young repulsive, but the Mormons built this territory, and we won’t be stronger if they leave.”

      “We’ll form our own territory,” Clyde insisted.  “Already in the works, ain’t it?”

      Ben shook his head in disbelief at the other man’s naiveté.  “You can kiss the Territory of Columbus good-bye, my friend.  With even less residents than when we petitioned Congress, we’ll be lucky if they so much as read our memorial.”

      That remark effectively dampened Clyde’s elation, and for the first time he found himself considering that, perhaps, after all, Mormon neighbors were better than none at all.

      Nelly called everyone to dinner, but though the chicken was crisp and savory, Ben had no appetite for it.  He couldn’t help wondering how many settlers would return to Salt Lake City to defend their faith and pondering what that would mean for those left behind in Carson Valley.

 

* * * * *

 

      Over the next three weeks it became clear that, as Ben had feared, the settlements on the eastern side of the Sierras were going to experience a dramatic drop in population.  Some of the Mormons, taking Brigham Young’s order as an urgent call to arms, headed out almost immediately, abandoning their ranches and taking time only to load a wagon with their families, a few personal possessions and all the ammunition they had available.  Most, however, made more prudent preparation for the long journey and took more provident care of their possessions.  With more sellers than buyers in the territory, the market was glutted with property for sale, and the prices dropped far below the previously perceived value of the land.  Even so, few of those remaining in Carson Valley were disposed to buy from the departing Mormons when they could take the land for nothing within a matter of weeks.

      Ben couldn’t resist casting a hungry eye on the ranches in Washoe Valley, for the later immigrants from Salt Lake City had carved their homes from land he had once hoped to call his own.  Much of it adjoined the Ponderosa and would make a profitable addition to his holdings.  One evening after the boys were in bed, Ben broached the subject to his wife.  “I’d rather not lose our neighbors,” he explained after discussing the possibilities with her, “but if they’re set on leaving, this could be the opportunity of a lifetime for us.  It would mean some sacrifice, though, and I hate to ask it of you.”

      Marie looked pensive.  “I do not understand, Ben.  What sacrifice?”

      “No genuine hardship, I promise,” Ben said firmly.  “I won’t stretch our finances that thin, but it could mean foregoing some of the finer things.”

      “Like our trip to California?”

      Ben smiled.  “No, we’ll still manage that.  Adam and Hoss are both looking forward to the fair, but you might have to be more circumspect in your purchases.”

      “Oh, if that is all,” Marie laughed, “it is no great hardship.  I did not marry you for your money, Benjamin.”

      Ben cast a rebuking glance at her teasing face.  Though he’d considered himself prosperous when he met her in New Orleans, he knew she could have had her pick of far wealthier men.  “Will you be serious?” he chided.

      Marie sobered instantly, fearing she had given offense.  “I don’t quite understand, Ben,” she said quietly.  “If they are abandoning the land, what need will you have of money?”

      Ben took her hand, the gesture a plea for understanding.  “I can’t just take it, Marie.  Call me foolish if you like——I’m sure I’ll hear it from others——but I can’t take a man’s property, hewn out of a hard land, and give him nothing in return.  I can’t afford to pay the real value of the land——at least, what it was before this crisis——but the little that’s being asked now I will pay, even if I have to pay it out over time.  I couldn’t call the land my own if I didn’t.”

      “I understand,” Marie said, pressing his hand to assure him of her support.  “With you, it is a matter of honor.”

      Ben grimaced, recalling her recent remarks about Ethan Grosch’s sense of honor.  “Marie, my love,” he vowed, “you need never fear that I would place my honor above either you or our sons.”

      Marie snuggled close to him.  “I have feared nothing since that morning in New Orleans when you risked your life to vindicate my good name, my honor.  You ask me now to sacrifice a little comfort for yours, and I tell you, Ben, it is no sacrifice.  Buy the land, and we will work together to build it and preserve it for our sons.”  Ben wrapped strong arms around her and kissed her with the same passionate fervor he’d felt that morning in New Orleans when she agreed to be his bride.

      The word spread quickly.  Once the Mormon ranchers learned someone was willing to pay actual cash for their property, Ben found himself besieged with more offers than he could possibly afford.  True to his word to Marie, he used his available funds cautiously, refusing to consider any properties that did not border the Ponderosa.  Several hopeful sellers left disappointed, but unable to argue with Ben’s reasons for declining their offers.

      Late one afternoon Ben caught his breath in anticipation when Hop Sing ushered the Cartwrights’ closest neighbor into the front room.  If there was a piece of property Ben coveted above all others, it was the one belonging to Alex Cowan.  “Alex, good to see you,” Ben greeted him heartily——a shade too heartily, he scolded himself the minute the words were out.

      “And you, Cartwright,” Cowan responded.

      Ben spread a welcoming hand toward the fireplace.  “Have a seat, please..  Getting chilly out these evenings.”

      “Aye, it is that,” Cowan replied, taking the seat nearest the fire.

      Ben settled onto the sofa, close to the other man.  “You didn’t bring Eilley with you?”

      “No,” the Mormon answered tersely, almost biting the word off half-said.  “I’ll come straight to the point, Cartwright.  I’ve heard you’re in the market for land in Washoe Valley and paying as fair a price as can be expected these days.”

      “I’m trying to,” Ben said, working saliva into his suddenly dry mouth.  “Are you planning to leave the valley, then?”

      “I am,” Cowan said, his face grim.  “No true Saint would refuse our leader’s call.”

      “You’ve been a good neighbor,” Ben said quietly, “the kind I’ll hate to lose, but I’ll be honest with you.  There’s not a piece of property I’d be more interested in buying than yours.”

      “It’s not for sale,” the Mormon muttered.

      Ben’s brow furrowed.  What on earth had brought the man here if he didn’t want to sell his property?

      “What I was wondering,” Cowan explained quickly, seeing Ben’s bewilderment, “is whether you’d like to lease my land.”

      “Lease?” Ben queried.  “You’re planning to return, then?”  Ben had heard that some of the Mormons were offering to rent their land in the hope that, once the immediate crisis ended, they could come west again.  Foolish hope for most since, if they returned at all, they’d probably find their property already occupied.

      Cowan, however, shook his head.  “Not likely,” he said, his face taut with stubborn pride, “but my wife refuses to return to Salt Lake City with me.  Obviously, her devotion to the faith and to me is less than her devotion to the land, so we’ll be separating.”

      Ben pressed his mouth shut, not daring to make a comment on the Cowans’ marital discord.  “She’ll be staying on at the ranch, then,?”

      Cowan nodded.  “I can’t, of course, sell the property out from under her.  She’ll need the cabin to live in, but she won’t be farming or running cattle, so the pastures are available if you need extra grazing land.  I’d like Eilley to have a little outside income she can count on.”

      “I see.”  Ben fought to keep the disappointment from his face.  He’d have gladly purchased the property outright, but with all the cash he’d expended lately, it would be some time before he could afford to fully stock the pastures he already owned.  He had no reason to lease more, but he hated the thought of anyone else’s using that particular plot of land, so close to the Ponderosa.  And, perhaps, if Cowan later decided to sell, he’d be in a better position to bargain for the land if he held it on lease.

      Ben made a quick decision.  “I’m interested, Alex,” he said, “but I’ve bought so much this last week or so that I couldn’t afford to pay much to lease property I may not need for some time to come.”

      “I won’t ask much,” Cowan stated bluntly.  “You know as well as I there aren’t likely to be other offers.”

      “No,” Ben replied honestly, “but I have no desire to hold your feet to the fire just because I know that.”

      “I’m sure we can come to terms, then,” Cowan said, and after brief negotiation Ben found himself in possession of a lease on his favorite property with an option to buy should Cowan or his wife later decide to put it on the market.

 

* * * * *

 

      A haze of purple splashed the sky when Ben rode into Genoa early on the morning of September 26th——not actually into town, of course, for the Mormon wagon camp was just outside.  Ben expelled a long breath as he saw the wagons beginning to line up.  He was in time, then, to see the party, many of them friends and neighbors, off on their journey.

      He rode to the head of the line and paused at the wagon of each person he knew to give them his best wishes for a safe trip.  He offered his prayers, too, though he wasn’t sure these “saints” would value the prayers of a mere “gentile.”  No matter.  God, Ben was sure, would.

      Whatever they may have thought of his prayers, however, the Mormons seemed to appreciate his gesture in seeing them off.  Few of those remaining in the valley had thought it worth their time to venture out this morning, though Ben could see John Reese and his nephew Stephen Kinsey standing opposite him.  Kinsey had a notepad in hand and was jotting down something.  Ben smiled.  Notes for an article in the Scorpion, of course.  After all, this was about the most newsworthy event the territory had seen in quite some time.

      Seeing Kinsey apparently counting the wagons as they rolled past, Ben began to keep his own tally as he said farewell to others down the line.  When he reached the last one, he turned and rode back toward Reese and Kinsey.  “I count one hundred twenty-three,” he offered.

      “Matches my count,” Kinsey said with a smile.  “Glad of the confirmation, Cartwright.”

      “Welcome,” Ben said.  “Any tally on the number of people?”

      “Not as precise,” Kinsey admitted, “but around four hundred fifty.”

      Ben whistled.  “Big loss to the valley.”

      “Huge,” Reese grunted.  “Only about two hundred of us left now, thanks to Brigham Young’s infernal interference, and I suppose you know what that means, Cartwright.”

      “No Territory of Columbus,” Ben muttered in defeat.  “No hope of a working government.”

      “We still have our Committee of Twenty-eight,” Reese insisted.

      Ben shook his head.  Reese had to know, as he did himself, that the Committee couldn’t function effectively without real governmental authority behind it, but neither man wanted to voice the grim reality.  Ben tipped his hat in farewell and rode northeast.  He’d managed to sneak out of the house before Hop Sing caught him that morning, so he’d had no breakfast.  Hungry now, he knew he could count on Nelly Thomas to offer him a plate of her best, so he aimed his bay toward the Thomas cabin on the shores of the Carson River.

      He found, as always, a hearty welcome from Nelly and a snickering one from Clyde.  “Out early beggin’, ain’t ya?” Clyde teased.  Don’t that yeller fix breakfast these days?”

      Ben scowled at his friend, who, of course, knew better than to question Hop Sing’s breakfasts, having eaten that meal at the Ponderosa himself.  “I’ve been seeing off our Mormon friends,” he admitted and waited for the sparks sure to fly..

      “Your friends, maybe,” Clyde snorted.  “I never called ‘em that.”

      “Snakes is what he calls ‘em,” Billy chuckled, slopping a sizable pool of sausage gravy over his biscuits.

      “Mind your tongue, boy,” his mother cautioned as she spread plum jam on little Inger’s biscuit.  “I never heard your pa speak such language, even of Mormons.”

      “Pa speaks all kinds of language you never hear, Ma,” Billy snickered and ducked the exasperated cuff she aimed toward his ear.  A good thing, too, for Nelly had forgotten the jam-smeared knife was still in her hand.  She missed his ear, but Billy’s tangled red tresses sported dollops of sticky purple.

      Ben smiled wryly.  Clyde watched his words around Nelly, true enough, but, like Billy, he’d heard Clyde blast the air with cuss words when there were only men around.  Not often, though, in all fairness.  It took a lot to rile his old friend to profanity.  Ben tried hard not to push that far.

      “Marie busy gettin’ packed up for your trip?” Nelly asked, grabbing up a napkin to repair the damage to Billy’s hair.

      Ben leaped at the welcome change of subject.  “Yeah, she’s started, although we don’t leave for two weeks.  I didn’t realize what a major expedition I was suggesting when I mentioned taking Little Joe along.  A whole carpetbag just for diapers!”

      Nelly laughed.  “You know you can leave him here, if you’re a mind.”

       “You know I can’t,” he replied with a significant arch of his eyebrow, and they all laughed at the intended joke at Marie’s expense.

      “Tell Marta I’ll be over her way a couple of days after you pass through,” Billy grinned.  “We got to pick up supplies for the winter.”

      “Marta?” Ben chuckled, tossing a wink at Billy’s father.  “I thought it was Sally Martin you were sparking.”

      Billy shrugged.  “Yeah, when I’m here, but there’s other daisies in other fields.”

      Ben roared with laughter.  “Billy, my boy, we’d send you to sea, except you’d leave a broken heart in every port.”

      Billy figured he knew just how to get back at Ben.  “I reckon Adam’s sniffin’ a few daisies in Sacramento, too,” he declared, grinning triumphantly at the horrified look on Ben Cartwright’s face.


CHAPTER SIX

Darkening Clouds

 

 

T

he sun shone brightly as Ben turned his team toward the Thomas cabin by the Carson River.  “Thought we was goin’ to Genoa,” Hoss commented.  “You didn’t say nothin’ about seein’ Uncle Clyde and Aunt Nelly.”

      “I thought we might beg a meal,” Ben chuckled.  “Should be close to noon by the time we get the lumber loaded.  I’m just stopping to see if it’ll be all right to eat with the Thomases afterwards.”

      “It will be,” Hoss said.  He’d never seen Aunt Nelly turn down a request for food.

      “I’m sure it will be,” Ben smiled, “but it’s only fair to give the cook some warning.”

      “Yeah, maybe she’ll bake a pie,” Hoss bubbled.

      “Oh, Hoss,” Ben laughed.  “That’s not what I meant.”

      Clyde Thomas exited from his trading post and gave Ben a wave.  “Didn’t expect to see you here of a weekday.  What’s up?”

      “Just going in to the sawmill for a load of lumber,” Ben replied as he climbed off the buckboard.  “Gonna build a birthing barn.”

      “Should have got it the other day, when you was seein’ them Mormons off, saved yourself a trip,” Clyde teased.

      “Didn’t want to be slowed down by a wagon that day and you know it,” Ben muttered back.  “I just stopped by to ask Nelly if we could take lunch with you.”

      “You don’t have to ask that,” Clyde scolded.  “You and your folks are welcome anytime.”

      “We was hopin’ Aunt Nelly’d bake a pie, if we gave her warnin’,” Hoss declared.

      “Hoss!” Ben exclaimed.

      Clyde guffawed.  “Now the truth comes out.  You run in the house and tell her that, Hoss.  Tell her we’d all like pie.”

      “Yes, sir!” Hoss cried and ran for the cabin.

      “I did not ask for pie,” Ben protested.

      “Good.  More for me and Hoss,” Clyde cackled.  “You want some help loading that lumber?”

      “Reese’ll help load it,” Ben said, “and I wouldn’t want to take you away from your trade.”

      Clyde scowled.  “What trade?  Ain’t had anyone stop by all week.  Not that I’d’ve had much to sell if they had.”

      “Provisions getting low, huh?”

      “Yeah, always do this time of year.”

      Ben chuckled.  “That’s why I buy mine in bulk when they’re plentiful.”

      Clyde clapped his friend on the shoulder.  “Yup, we learned that lesson early on, didn’t we, Ben boy?”

      “Sure did,” Ben agreed.

      Although Hoss had been looking forward to the trip to Genoa, he decided to stay and supervise the baking of the dried peach pie Aunt Nelly had promised him.  Clyde took his place on the buckboard seat beside Ben for the short drive into town.

      They turned off Main Street down the side road to the Reese mill, where Ben ordered the lumber he needed and, with Clyde’s help, loaded it.  Then, their tummies yearning for fresh pie, they started to leave.  When the wagon pulled back onto Main Street, however, Ben noticed a large crowd gathered in front of Ormsby’s store.

      Ormsby was standing on the wood slat porch, trying to address the crowd, but Ben couldn’t hear what the merchant was saying for the noise of those milling the street.

      “Looks like trouble,” Clyde commented.  “Reckon we ought to check it out?”

      “I think we’d better,” Ben replied as he reined the team to a halt.  He and Clyde both climbed down and headed across the street.  “What’s happened?” Ben asked a man on the outskirts of the crowd.

      “Couple of dead bodies found out in the mountains,” the man said.

      Ben’s countenance grew grave.  “Have they been identified?  Any idea how it happened?”

      “Yeah, it’s them traders from east of here, John McMarlin and James Williams,” the man replied, “and it was injuns done it; them bodies was full of arrows.”

      Pained, Ben closed his eyes.  “Paiute or Washo?”

      The man shrugged.  “Nobody knows.  Ormsby’s tryin’ to line up volunteers to go after the bodies, but I ain’t about to head into them hills if there’s injuns on the warpath.”

      “I ain’t scared of injuns,” Clyde declared.  “I reckon Ormsby can count on me.  Have to go back to my place for my horse, though.”

      “Think I could borrow Billy’s?” Ben asked.

      “What about that load of lumber?”

      “Hoss can drive it back to the Ponderosa,” Ben replied.  “If we’ve got Indian problems, I want to know it sooner, rather than later.”

      “Yeah, let’s see Ormsby,” Clyde said.

      “Glad to have you,” Ormsby responded to their offer of help.  “Some of these folks are ready to fly off the handle and charge into Winnemucca’s camp.  Maybe you can help calm them down.”

      Ben said nothing, but he doubted he could have much effect on the crowd.  He’d had too many people yell “Indian lover” at him to feel he had enough influence to counter fear fueled by accusations of Indian attack.

      The force of that fear was indicated by the number of men in the party, thirty in all.  For safety’s sake, Ormsby had refused to leave until the group reached that size.  They came upon the bodies, just before darkness descended, beside a steep, switch-backed trail.  Evidently, McMarlin and Williams had made their first overnight camp here, and the rescuers did the same, eager to make an early start back to Genoa the next morning.  As reported the bodies were riddled with arrows, making it hard to refute the charge of an Indian attack.  Neither body, however was scalped or mutilated, and the only property missing was the money with which the two traders had planned to buy supplies in California.

      “Injuns wouldn’t have no use for money,” Clyde grunted and Ben nodded his agreement.  This looked to him like the work of white men masquerading as Indians.  It was some consolation to Ben that his best friend accepted that assessment, but no one else seemed to.  To them, the arrows were the most convincing evidence and the Paiutes the most likely source for those feathered messengers of death.  To resounding applause, William Ormsby announced he would send a courier to Winnemucca, summoning the chief to Genoa to answer the accusations.  “If he refuses, it establishes his guilt,” Ormsby declared.

      The summons itself was an insult and, if improperly framed, might only exacerbate the conflict.  Feeling that he, of them all, was the most likely to approach the Paiute leader with respect and persuade him to come to Genoa in peace, Ben volunteered to ride to Winnemucca’s camp to deliver the message.  Ormsby accepted gratefully, but as Ben saddled his mount to leave the next morning, Clyde told him he was being “a consarned fool.”

      “Someone’s got to do it,” Ben muttered.  “Do you know any man better suited to the job?”

      Clyde looked away and, without a word, mounted his own horse.  He didn’t relish the job Ben had given him of telling Marie, but figured it was the least he could do.  If Ben can face a whole injun camp, Clyde thought, I ought to be able to handle one hysterical female.  Then he scowled, wondering if, after all, Ben hadn’t taken the easy job.

      As Ben rode into the Paiute camp at Pyramid Lake, he observed carefully the demeanor of the Indians.  The Indians were busy, not with preparations for war, but for the approaching winter.  Men were building their karnees thicker than usual, while women busily sewed rabbit skins into robes to keep out the icy wind and children ran here and there, either playing games or getting underfoot as they tried to help their parents.  Some of the older ones, recognizing Ben, ran to welcome him to the camp.  Hardly the behavior of Indians on the warpath, Ben thought wryly.

      As he approached the central karnee, Winnemucca walked out and stood tall in the doorway.  “You are welcome, Ben Cartwright,” the Paiute chief stated with dignity.

      “It’s good to see you again, Poito,” Ben replied, using the name by which he had first known the Paiute.  He wanted to emphasize their long-standing friendship as a preparation for the unpleasant words he would have to speak later.  “Have you been in good health, my friend?”

      Poito grunted, nodding toward the karnee.  Ben nodded in acceptance and entered the Indian’s home, sitting with crossed legs on the ground.  “I hope also to visit with Captain Truckee before I leave,” Ben began.  “Is he also in good health?”

      “He grows weak with the years of his journey,” the Paiute replied, “but he has strength to travel a few moons more.  He will be glad you come.”

      “Yes, Captain Truckee was always a good friend,” Ben commented, “and I have counted that friendship a privilege.”  Unlike his father-in-law, Poito had less trust of the white man, though Ben was an exception, having years before saved the life of the chief’s son.

“I see your people are preparing for winter,” Ben continued.  Though the words seemed like idle conversation when he’d come on so grave an errand, he knew it was important that he follow all the courtesies of a visit between friends.

Poito nodded.  “It will be a hard time, with so many white men taking the wild game.”

Ben took the thinly veiled hint.  “I can spare a few head of cattle to help my friends through the hard time,” he offered.  He thought the beef a small price to pay for continued friendship with these potentially violent neighbors.

When Poito dipped his chin in acknowledgement of the gift, Ben took a deep breath, readying himself for the difficult words he must say next.  “I have come to you as a friend, Poito, but what I have come to say is most serious.  Would it not be well if we smoked together before we have words, so that we may look into each other’s faces and read each other’s hearts?”

Poito grunted his acceptance, then waited for Ben to offer a gift of tobacco, as he usually did.  It was a breach of courtesy Ben regretted, but he hadn’t taken tobacco with him to Genoa that day and hadn’t taken time to stop by the Ponderosa before coming to Pyramid Lake.  Poito’s brow wrinkled, as if he read in Ben’s silence a signal of the seriousness of the matter he had come to discuss, and he rose to prepare the pipe.

After sharing the pipe, Ben came straight to the point.  “Poito, two men have been found dead in the mountains.”

“Many fools cross mountains,” Poito grunted.

      “Yes,” Ben agreed, “but it was not the mountains that killed these men.  Many arrows pierced their bodies.”

      Poito immediately understood the unspoken accusation.  “Not Paiute arrows,” he alleged.

      “I believe my friend,” Ben said quickly, “but there are those whose fear clouds their reason.”

      “Would I make war while my daughters live in the white man’s camp?” Poito asked, the curl of his lip emphasizing the four-inch bone worn through his nose, which made him look ferocious, although Ben knew him to be peace-loving unless provoked.

      “No, you would not,” Ben agreed.  “I bring a message from the man with whom they live.  William Ormsby asks that you come to Genoa to help him learn who is behind these murders.”  It wasn’t quite the message Ormsby had dictated, but Ben planned on leaving Pyramid Lake with his hair intact.

      Poito drew himself up, holding his spine rigid.  “No, I do not go to the white man’s camp.”

      Ben leaned forward, ready to plead for the chief’s cooperation, but Poito held up a silencing hand.  Natchez and Numaga go with you.  They will know who made these arrows.”

      “Good,” Ben said, breathing more easily.  It was a good compromise:  it avoided the possibility of insult to the chief, but provided able representatives in his son and the warrior the whites called the Young Winnemucca.

 

* * * * *

 

      Hearing hoofbeats thunder into the yard, Marie rushed out the front door.  As she had hoped, Ben was vaulting off Billy’s roan, quickly encircling her in his arms.  She hadn’t, however, expected the entourage he brought with him and could barely conceal her alarm.  “Ben, what——”

      Ben held a finger to her lips.

      “Pa!”  Hoss yelled, running out of the barn.  The he stopped abruptly and, like his mother, stared anxiously at the dark-skinned visitors.  Hoss was old enough to have picked up the tension when his father and Uncle Clyde came back from town, and though he’d never been fearful of Paiutes before, he regarded them warily now.

      Ben smiled persuasively at his wife.  “I’ve brought some guests for dinner.”

      “Some!” she whispered anxiously.  “Ben, there must be a hundred of them!”

      “I hadn’t counted,” Ben said wryly.  Evidently intending to make an impression on the white population, Winnemucca had sent a hundred warriors with his official envoys.  Natchez and Numaga will be dining with us in the house, and we’ll need to provide food for the others outside.”

      “Do you wish to tell Hop Sing this?” Marie hissed in his ear.

      “You’re in charge of the kitchen,” Ben replied slyly.  “You tell him.”

      “Coward,” Marie accused and, ordering Hoss to come with her, hurried inside.

      By the time the guests entered, Marie had managed to compose both herself and, by some miracle, the Chinese cook.  Natchez and Numaga perched uncomfortably on the sofa as Ben loaded his pipe with fresh tobacco and offered it to each man in turn.

“We will have café soon,” Marie said graciously, though she carefully placed herself between the Indians and her children. At her orders, Hoss had already posted himself protectively in front of the cradle, where Little Joe lay sleeping.

      “Thank you, my love,” Ben said.  When the coffee arrived, the Indians cautiously sipped the unfamiliar brew, then began to drink with noisy, appreciative slurps.

      Hop Sing’s eyes flicked this way and that, like a watchful snake, as he placed the food on the table.  At Marie’s instruction, he served Hoss in the kitchen, and though he would normally have hovered around the table to make sure everyone was giving proper attention to the meal, Hop Sing seemed content to stay in the kitchen tonight.  He absolutely refused to carry the platters of sliced beef outside to the other Indians, so Ben delegated the task to Hoss, an action which earned him a barrage of abuse once Marie had him alone in their bedroom.

      After being placated with kisses, Marie huddled close to Ben’s side beneath the covers.  “I fear for you, Ben,” she whispered.  “If all does not go well, it is you who will be blamed——by both sides.”

      “Then you’d better pray that everything goes well,” Ben said lightly, brushing her golden hair with another kiss.

      “I am serious, Ben,” she rebuked.

      “I know,” he murmured, “and it is a serious matter, but there’s no sense in borrowing trouble.  I do think you should keep the children close to the house until everything’s settled, though.”

      Mais oui.  There was no need to tell me that, mon amour!  When you bring Indians to sleep at our doorstep, you may be certain that I will keep our children safe inside.”  Though Ben had offered Natchez and Numaga a bed in the house, the Indian leaders had chosen to stay outside with the other warriors.

      “Yeah, but I meant even after I’m gone,” Ben continued, “until we know which way the wind is blowing.”

      Emerald eyes glistening, Marie nodded, then laid her head on his shoulder.  She remained in his arms throughout the night, listening to the steady rhythm of his breathing.  Ears stretched for the faintest sound of movement that might be a moccasin creeping up the stairs, she herself could not sleep.  Like Hop Sing, she eagerly anticipated the unexpected guests’ departure from the Ponderosa, but she dreaded it, as well, for Ben would be riding with them, into dangers her active imagination painted in lurid colors.

 

* * * * *

 

      Since the Paiutes had made it clear that they preferred to enter town without an escort, Ben rode into Genoa alone, straight to the Ormsby house.  “Winnemucca wouldn’t come himself,” he reported, “but he’s sent his son, as well as Numaga, in his place.  They should be here within the hour.”

      “Young Winnemucca, the war chief?” Ormsby asked, black brows meeting.  “That doesn’t bode well.”

      “It needn’t bode ill,” Ben said stiffly, “but I’d advise you to treat them with respect.”

“I don’t need your advice on handling Indians, Cartwright,” Ormsby declared.  “I know the Paiutes as well as you.  I have two living in my house, remember?”

Ben thought there was considerable difference between two young Paiute maidens and one hundred stalwart warriors, but he shrugged, unwilling to dispute the point.  “They’re not coming alone,” he warned.

      “War party?”

      Ben shook his head.  “A display of strength, perhaps, but they come in peace.”

      “Well and good, then,” Ormsby announced.  “We’ll get to the bottom of these killings quickly.”

      Knowing Clyde would be interested in what the Indians had to say and calculating that he had time, Ben rode the single mile to the Thomases, feeling a little disconcerted by Ormsby’s demeanor.  Not that he’d expected a lavish display of appreciation, but a word of thanks would have been welcome.  He didn’t find one waiting in the Thomas parlor, either.  In fact, when Nelly learned that one hundred Indians had camped outside the Ponderosa ranch house the previous night, she stated flatly that it was a wonder any of the Cartwrights still had their scalps.

      “They’re honorable people!” Ben snapped.

      “To a point,” Clyde admitted.

      “Well, my parlor is past that point,” Nelly muttered.  “Don’t you be expectin’ me to invite ‘em in here for a cup of coffee, Ben Cartwright.  I’ll just bet Marie was fit to be tied when you paraded them redskins into her front room!”

      “Fit to tie me would be more like it,” Ben chuckled.  “I won’t invite the Paiutes in for coffee, Nelly, but you’ll offer me a cup, at least, won’t you?”

      “Lands, yes!” Nelly exclaimed.  “Should have done that first thing.  She poured him a cup, then asked, “Did you have your breakfast ‘fore you left?”

      “Yeah, a hurried one,” Ben said.  “Don’t really have time to eat now, though.”

      “Well, you stop back by here when it’s all over,” Nelly urged.

      “Got no more time for jawin’, woman,” Clyde said edgily.  “I want to be in town when them injuns ride in.”

      The two men reached town shortly before the Paiutes made their entrance.  With Natchez and Numaga in the lead, the Indians rode in from the northeast and proceeded down Main Street, past hotels and boardinghouses, saloons and stores.  The procession was impressive, as the Indians had clearly meant it to be.  All along their route stood the town’s residents, watching as the Paiutes’ long, dark hair swished back and forth across their erect backs, covered in traditional rabbit skin robes.

      Numaga swung gracefully from his paint pony to stand before William Ormsby.  Behind the merchant, Sarah and Elma Winnemucca flanked Mrs. Ormsby, the two girls obviously interested in the discussion about to take place.  Without any inquiry about the health or welfare of the older Winnemucca or Captain Truckee, without even the courtesy of smoking together, Ormsby displayed an arrow taken from the body of one of the white men and demanded that Numaga identify its origin.

      Ben gasped at the abruptness of Ormsby’s behavior and chided himself for not being more specific in his request for respectful treatment of the Paiutes.  He’d assumed, with the two Winnemucca girls in his household, Ormsby would know the proper ritual to follow, but the man was obviously either ignorant or unconcerned.

Though Numaga certainly saw Ormsby’s manner as discourteous, he maintained his dignity.  “Arrow is not Paiute,” he stated.  “Is Washo..”

      “I accept your word, Numaga,” Ormsby said, “but to demonstrate to all that the Paiutes bear no guilt in this matter, I ask you to go to the Washo chief and instruct him to turn those responsible over to us for judgement.  You may assure the chief the men will be treated fairly, as any white man.”

      Ben saw Numaga’s six-foot frame stiffen, his face grow hard, and Ben felt his own muscles tighten.  Though Ormsby had claimed to know the Paiutes, this one request revealed how shallow was that knowledge.  The Paiute and the Washo were traditional enemies, only at peace now because the harshness of the environment made the war for survival take precedence over tribal rivalry.  To ask a Paiute to deliver such a message to a Washo was the grossest insult Ben could imagine, but the damage was done.  The words could not be unsaid.

      Ben expected Numaga to refuse haughtily, but the Paiute war chief, obviously anxious to preserve peace with the white men, agreed to send five warriors to Captain Jim of the Washo tribe.  The rest of the Paiutes would remain in town until the matter was settled Numaga, eagle-like nose raised regally, informed the white merchant.

      “Don’t much cotton to havin’ them savages camp out in town,” Clyde muttered as he and Ben rode back toward Clyde’s cabin.  “Sure will make my Nelly skittish, havin’ ‘em so close.”

      “Yeah,” Ben said.  “So long as we don’t make them skittish,” he added, meaning the Paiutes.

      “You’re aimin’ to head back to the Ponderosa I reckon,” Clyde said tentatively.

      It was clear to Ben that Clyde was hoping he’d say no, and while Ben’s dearest wish was to return to his home and family, he felt he needed to stay.  With both Indians and settlers edgy in each other’s company, any spark could ignite an inferno.  Maybe Ben could help prevent that, and even if he couldn’t, he’d at least be there to defend his friends.  “I think I’d better stay, if you’ll loan me the use of a bedroll,” he said quietly.  “I warned Marie I might not get back tonight.”

      Clyde looked relieved.  “You can take Billy’s bed,” he said, then reached over to lay a hand on his friend’s arm.  “You got to promise me, Ben, you won’t let them injuns touch my two girls.”

      “Oh, Clyde,” Ben groaned.

      “I mean it.  I’d rather see ‘em dead than squaw to some red devil.”

      “You know I’d do all I could to keep them from harm,” Ben assured him, “but I’m hoping it won’t come to that.”  If Clyde was asking him to take the lives of Nelly and Inger to prevent their disgrace, that was a promise Ben wasn’t sure he could carry out, but he’d do his best to see Clyde’s wife and daughter were not taken captive.

      The Paiutes scattered throughout town, picketing their horses and unpacking supplies on any vacant spot they found.  They dug fire pits and sat huddled around them throughout a frosty afternoon.  As darkness fell, the fires were visible, even a mile away as a jittery Nelly called her family and Ben to supper.  She, however, merely pushed her food around her plate with a fork.  “Don’t reckon I’ll sleep a wink tonight,” she muttered, laying the fork aside.

      “Me, neither,” Inger whimpered.

      “Aw, there ain’t nothin’ to be scared of, Ma,” Billy soothed, shoveling in boiled carrots as though not getting enough were the greatest danger facing him.  “You got three men here to protect you.”

      “Don’t give yourself airs, boy,” Clyde snorted.  “You ain’t more than half-growed yet.”

      Billy jerked his chair back and stood abruptly.  “Doggone it, Pa, I’m fifteen.  I carry my own weight around the place, and I reckon if it did come to fightin’ injuns, I could shoot as straight as you.”  The boy tossed his napkin to the table and stalked out.

      “I swear,” Clyde grumbled, shaking his head, “I don’t know what gets into that boy.”

      “He’s not a boy, Clyde,” Ben said softly, “or, at least, won’t be much longer.  He’s at the age when boys get an itch for a man’s respect.”

      “You bein’ an expert, I reckon,” Clyde snuffled.

      “No,” Ben chuckled.  “I’ve seen the same symptoms in Adam, that’s all, and he’s a year younger.  And I suspect, old friend, if you and I could remember our own feelings at that age, they’d be no different.”

      Clyde grinned then.  “Reckon you’re right.  I oughtn’t to twit the boy.  He does do a man’s work, and if trouble comes, I’ll be mighty glad to have him close at hand.”

      Billy, who rarely stayed angry for long, burst back in.  “Hey, there’s somethin’ goin’ on in town,” he reported.

      “Injuns?” his father asked, getting up.  Nelly’s hand flew to her throat and Inger leaned close to her mother.

      “Yeah,” Billy replied.  “Looks like they’re building a big fire.  Figured you and Uncle Ben might want a look see.”

      “Now, Billy, you come back here and finish your dinner,” his mother ordered.

      “I ain’t hungry,” Billy said, turning away.

      “Billy, you mind what I say!” Nelly protested, voice quavering.

      Clyde placed a supportive hand on his son’s shoulder.  “I reckon the boy’s old enough to know when his own belly’s full, woman.  Leave him be.”  Billy tossed his father a grateful look and headed outside, Clyde and Ben right behind him.  Since they didn’t have three horses available and the distance was short, they just walked. Nelly didn’t want to stay alone, so she took Inger’s hand and followed them.

They all headed to the center of town, where residents of Genoa flanked the triangular plaza, watching a huge bonfire splash the sky with an auburn glow.  Ben saw people he knew and counted friends on the other side of the fire, but he didn’t cross to greet them.  It didn’t seem like a night for socializing, especially when the Paiutes began to shuffle ceremonially around the fire.  The warriors raised their knees high, bringing them down again with repeated thuds.  Their heads moved up and down, back and forth in rhythm with their stomping feet, and they chanted loudly, “Hey yah, hey yah, hey yah.”

      Nelly, holding tight to Inger’s hand, slipped to Clyde’s side.  “Sends shivers up my spine,” she whispered.  “You reckon it’s a war dance?”

      “Maybe,” Clyde said, pulling her close to his side, “but you got nothin’ to fear, Nelly gal.  Like our boy said, you got three men to protect you.”

      Billy looked back over his shoulder and grinned.  It was the first time he’d ever heard his pa call him a man and it felt good.

      The white spectators watched the dance in almost total silence.  Then, as the thudding footsteps ended, the wailing of coyotes accented the eeriness of the night.  William Ormsby stepped into the fire’s dwindling light, and said, as a host might at the conclusion of a dress ball, “We will sing the Star-Spangled Banner.”

      Ben gave a short laugh, for it seemed a strange way to conclude an Indian ceremony.  As the citizens began to sing, however, he realized Ormsby had made a wise suggestion.  The patriotic music seemed to remind the men and women of Genoa that they were part of a great nation, and the deep breaths they took trying to reach the high notes provided an automatic relaxation.  Everyone went back to their houses feeling a little lighter in spirit.

 

* * * * *

 

      As Ben stepped out of the cabin early the next morning, the crisp air made his cheeks tingle.  Each morning seemed colder than the last, but so far there’d been no bad weather.  Ben didn’t want to be caught away from home with a storm on the way, so he was glad to see the clear, almost cloudless, sky.

      No one else was awake yet.  He, Clyde and Billy had taken turns keeping watch through the night, Ben standing guard during the early morning hours.  There’d been no real need for the precaution, as Ben had predicted, but he knew his friends felt safer knowing someone was keeping an eye out for Paiutes.  Ben had a feeling similar watches were being kept in the households of Genoa, and there were probably wakeful Paiutes sitting around their fire pits, too.  There was wariness on both sides.

      When Ben reentered the house, Nelly was in the parlor.  “Everything’s quiet,” he assured her.

      Nelly nodded.  Clyde and Billy’s still sleepin’, but I can fix you some breakfast.”

      Ben shook his head.  “Don’t go to extra trouble; I can wait for them.”

      Though she normally would have insisted on serving her guest, Nelly sat on the sofa, seeming satisfied to cook only once.  “When you reckon them other injuns’ll get back?”

      Ben shrugged.  “Hard to say.  Depends on how much argument the Washos put up.  Should be today, though.”

      “Can’t be soon enough for me,” Nelly murmured.

      Ben understood her eagerness to have the Indians out of town and was glad she didn’t have long to wait.  Before noon the Paiutes rode in, followed by eight or nine Washos on foot.  Their chief, Captain Jim, was even taller than Numaga, standing over six feet, but with none of the Young Winnemucca’s noble bearing.  Most of Captain Jim’s height was in his upper body, which was slumped as he walked into town.  Though his short, heavy legs were bare, his wide feet were clad in light-colored buckskin decorated with beadwork and porcupine quills in a flying-geese pattern.  The rest of his apparel drew attention to his better features.  A rabbit skin robe was draped across his broad shoulders, and his round face, which made his head seem even larger than it was, was framed by five or six strands of bone necklace, constructed to resemble the rib cage of some animal Ben couldn’t identify.  Obviously, Captain Jim, like the Paiutes, had dressed to impress, but the wary way he carried himself detracted from that impression.

      Ben, Clyde and Billy moved to the front of the crowd gathered before Ormsby’s store.  Again without preliminaries, Ormsby held out the arrows found in the bodies of McMarlin and Williams.  “Do you know who makes such arrows?” he demanded, his manner that of one who already knew the answer.

      Captain Jim spoke slowly, as if measuring every word.  “You ask me if these are my people’s arrows.  I say yes.”  Murmurs began to ripple through the crowd behind Ben.  Clearly, they felt the response constituted an admission of guilt.

      “You must bring the men responsible——and all the money——and they will not be hurt and all will be right,” Ormsby announced.

      “I know my people have not killed the men,” Captain Jim protested, “because none of my men have been away.  We are all at Pinenut Valley, and I do not know what to think of the sad thing that has happened.”

      Numaga stepped forward, regarding Captain Jim with unwavering black eyes.  “You must bring the men within ten days or the Paiute will fight at the side of our white friends.”  The statement amazed Ben.  Was Numaga so fearful of arousing the white population that he had become their advocate?  From the expressions he saw on their faces, he was sure Natchez and the other Paiutes were also stunned. 

      In previous battles the Paiute had subjugated the Washo, even denying them the privilege of riding horses, so Ben was not surprised to see Captain Jim give in to the threat.  With eyes downcast, the Washo leader agreed to bring in the guilty parties within the time specified.

      “Looks like we’re gonna see justice done after all,” Clyde commented as they returned to his home for the noon meal.

      Ben didn’t respond.  He couldn’t get away from the look on Captain Jim’s face when he first denied knowledge of the killings.  He’d looked completely believable.  Perhaps, however, the chief didn’t really know the whereabouts of all his braves.  Ben certainly couldn’t account for the moment-by-moment movements of his hired hands, and they were far fewer in number than the Washos.  Perhaps further investigation would produce the guilty men.  For the time being, there was nothing Ben could do, so he returned to the Ponderosa to calm the fears of his wife.

 

* * * * *

 

      On the seventh morning after Ben’s departure, a slight figure slipped out of his house and headed toward the Ponderosa under an ebony sky.  The boy rode hard, harder than was wise in the dim light of the waning moon, but the luck of youth rode with him, and he arrived without incident.

      Billy flung himself from his roan and ran to the front door, pounding it loudly.  When there was no response, he ran to the south side of the house.  Grabbing a pine cone, he tossed it at the window he knew was Ben and Marie’s.  “With my luck, the only one who’ll wake up is that baby,” Billy muttered, his breath condensing in white puffs.  Then he grinned.  Waking Little Joe was probably the surest way to get the others out of bed anyway.  Should have aimed at his window in the first place, Billy chuckled to himself.

      Just as he was about to choose that course of action, the window opened and Ben stared out.  “Hey, let me in!” Billy yelled up.  “It’s cold out here!”

      “What on earth!” Ben ejaculated.

      Marie stirred in the bed behind him.  “Ben?” she queried.  “What is it?”

      Ben shut the window and started to put on his robe and slippers.  “Billy Thomas,” he said, “though what on earth brings him here this early, I can’t imagine.”

      Marie sat up.  “More trouble, you think?”

      Ben shrugged.  “With Billy, who can say?  Maybe he just got lonesome for Hop Sing’s cooking.  Stay in bed, my love; I’ll see what he wants.”

      Shaking her head, Marie waited until Ben had left, then rose and slipped into her warm flannel wrapper, thinking how infuriating even the best of men could be.  As if she could rest when something was obviously wrong!  With all the tension in the territory, that something just might be an Indian attack.  Perhaps Billy was the sole survivor from Genoa!  Shivering, and not just from the cold, Marie hastened downstairs.

      Ben gave her a reproachful look, but explained quickly.  “Captain Jim brought in three men last night to answer the charges.  They locked them up for the night, but evidently Ormsby intends to question them this morning.  Billy knew I’d want to be there, so he came to fetch me.”

      “Pa’ll have my hide,” Billy shrugged.  “He said not to bother you, but Ma’ll feel better.”

      Mais oui,” Marie replied.  She glided over the floor to rest her petite palms on Ben’s chest.  You will be careful, mon mari?”

      Ben took both slender hands and tenderly kissed her delicate fingertips.  “I will be careful.  You watch out for our boys; keep them close to the house today.”

      Marie smiled.  There had been no need for that instruction, as Ben well knew.  Citing the cold weather and Hoss’s need for extra time with his books, she had kept the boys inside almost constantly since the first threat of Indian trouble.  She started for the kitchen.  “I will prepare your breakfast.”

      Ben stopped her with a hand on her elbow.  “No time for that, Marie.  We’ll eat in Genoa.”  Marie nodded, anxious eyes following him as he exited the house with Billy.

      Billy’s mount was tired, so he stabled it at the Ponderosa and borrowed Adam’s sorrel for the return trip.  The sun was rising by then, so the two riders were able to run their horses in the better light.  They rode straight to Genoa, assuming Clyde Thomas was already there.  As they entered town, they passed the encampment of the Washos.  Though the air was frosty the Washo women seemed oblivious to the cold as they rocked back and forth on their knees, keening and wailing rhythmically.  Praying, probably, Ben thought and wondered if they’d been at it all night.

      While Billy led the two horses the livery stable, Ben headed directly for the Ormsby house.  “I understand you have three Washo prisoners,” Ben began as he encountered Ormsby.

      “That’s right,” Ormsby replied.  “Captain Jim brought in the guilty trio last night.”

      “We don’t know they’re guilty,” Ben pointed out.

      “That’s what trials are for, Cartwright,” Ormsby said stiffly.

      Ben’s brow knitted.  “You’re going to put them on trial?”

      Ormsby drew himself erect.  “I will question the men to see if there’s sufficient evidence to hold them.  If there is, I intend to send them to California for trial.  That should satisfy you, Cartwright.”

      “It does,” Ben said at once.  He couldn’t have been more pleased to hear that the matter would be heard before a more appropriate legal authority than a vigilance committee.  With Indians involved, it seemed paramount to Ben that the highest standard of justice be administered.  If the Paiutes and the Washos saw the proceedings as fair, surely an uprising could be avoided.  Ben suspected that hope was what had motivated Ormsby.

“If you’re looking for volunteers to escort the prisoners to California, I’m available,” he offered, knowing the duty might interfere with his family’s plans to visit the agricultural fair.  Marie wouldn’t like taking the stage alone with the boys, might even refuse to go, but if they had to sacrifice their pleasure outing to maintain peace in the territory, the price seemed a small one to pay.

      Ormsby nodded.  “Appreciate it, Cartwright.  That will bring our party up to thirty.  Should be enough to prevent any attempt to rescue the prisoners.”

      “Yeah,” Ben muttered, hoping there’d be no such attempt.  Following Ormsby out, he noted the whipped attitude of the Washo men as they were led from the small house in which they’d been held for the night.  Their hang-dog expressions made them look guilty, but as he passed some of the Paiutes, Ben heard them debating among themselves whether these were, indeed, the killers of McMartin and Williams.  Ben hoped Ormsby’s interrogation would be rigorous enough to remove all doubt that they had the right men.

      Almost every resident of Genoa pressed close to hear the questions Ormsby put to the three Washo men, using Numaga as his interpreter, and the mood of many was ugly as they hurled degrading epithets at the Indians.  Young boys aped their elders, hooting and jeering at the Indians, repeating the same vile catcalls they heard the men shouting:  “Consarned Diggers!  Bug eaters!  Filthy bastards!  Killing sons—of—bitches!”

      Ormsby tried in vain to quiet the crowd so the interrogation could proceed in an orderly manner.  Hours passed as he asked questions and strained to hear the answers over the ranting of the crowd that met the Indians’ every protestation of innocence.  Ben’s stomach started to rumble, for he’d had no breakfast nor lunch, and it was now the middle of the afternoon.  The mob showed no signs of dispersing, though, so he couldn’t afford to give attention to his belly.

      The cries of the crowd grew more heated.  No longer content with name-calling, they began to yell threats, “Hang the red devils right off!” becoming the prevalent theme of their bellows.

“This is pointless,” Ormsby finally muttered and gave orders for the thirty men who would march the Washos to California to assemble at his hotel.  As they started down Main Street toward the Indians, Clyde Thomas fell in beside Ben, bringing the number of armed men to thirty-one, more than enough to ensure the safe removal of the accused.  “Billy can tell Nelly and Marie what we’re doing,” he said.

      When the Washo women saw the marchers, however, they misunderstood their intent.  “Oh, they have come to kill them!” one cried, and the others joined in her wailing.  Ben’s knowledge of the Washo language was only rudimentary, but he managed to pick up a word here and there and piece together the gist of what the women were screaming.  Protesting the innocence of their men, the Washo women accused Captain Jim of picking them only because they had no fathers to speak up for them or maybe because they had no children in need of a father and, thus, could be spared.  Ben wasn’t sure which.  “Something’s not right here,” he told Clyde.  Clyde just looked back at Ben, clearly confused, not knowing what to believe.

      Ben spotted Sarah Winnemucca standing to one side and made his way toward her.  As a Washo woman threw herself at Numaga’s feet, clutching at his buckskin-clad legs, Ben asked Sarah, “What’s she saying?”

      Sarah leaned close so Ben could hear her interpretation.  “She says, ‘Oh, you are going to have my poor husband killed.  We were married this winter, and I have been with him constantly since we were married.  Oh, Good Spirit, come!  Come into the hearts of this people.  Oh, whisper in their hearts that they may not kill my poor husband.  Oh, good chief, talk for him.  Our cruel chief has given my husband to you because he is afraid all of us will be killed by you.’”

      The woman spun to face Captain Jim, her face contorted with the fear and outrage swirling in her heart.  Again Sarah interpreted her words for Ben:  “You have given my innocent blood to save your people.”

      “Dear God, no!” Ben moaned.  “That can’t mean what I think it does, can it?”

      The other white guards had now reached the prisoners, and the screams of the women grew louder.  Natchez moved toward them, obviously trying to reassure them that the white men were only taking the men to jail, not to kill them, but the women refused to be consoled.

      Suddenly, as if driven to desperation by the uproar around them, the three accused men panicked and bolted across an open meadow toward the Carson River.  But they never reached the shelter of the cottonwoods along the river.  Almost by instinct, their white pursuers took aim and fired.  Two of the Indians fell immediately, the third dropped to his knees, raising his arms in surrender.

      The women rushed to the meadow to cradle their dying husbands, rocking the limp bodies and keening over them as hot blood sprayed their bare arms and soaked through their dresses.  Still in shock, Ben watched the grisly scene.  He hadn’t fired a shot, would have prevented the killings if he could, but he still felt responsible, cursing himself for not seeing soon enough the terror that spurred the Washos’ flight.

      Sarah Winnemucca had raced to the meadow at Ben’s heels.  Now, as she stood with an arm around her sobbing younger sister Elma, Ben heard her say, “It is enough to make the mountains weep.”

      “Save your sympathies, girl, for those more deserving,” Ormsby’s wife muttered, taking tight grip on Sarah’s arm and pulling her back toward town.

      “But I am sure the men were innocent,” Sarah murmured.

      “How came the Washo arrows there?” Elizabeth Ormsby countered.  “The chief himself has brought them to us, and my husband knows what he is doing.”  Looking up, she saw Ben staring at her and, lifting her head in defensive pride, marched the two Winnemucca girls back to the store.

      Captain Jim looked down in sorrow at the grieving widows.  “It is true what the women say,” he said, so softly only a few heard him.  “It is I who have killed them; their blood is on my hands.  I know their spirits will haunt me and bring me bad luck while I live.”

      Ben turned away, no longer hungry.  Had there been food in his stomach at that moment, he would have vomited it up.  Little Elma Winnemucca did become ill over the events of that afternoon, and her brother Natchez, no longer willing to leave his sisters among the whites, decided to remain in Genoa until she was able to travel.  No one objected; no one felt threatened.  The white settlers, so rabid with rage before, now passed the Indians with averted eyes.

      Ben was glad the trouble had ended in time for his family to make their anticipated visit to California, and not just for the boys’ sake.  He wanted to put some distance between himself and Carson Valley, to give his heart time to heal itself of the pain and guilt he carried.  He scrawled a quick note to Adam, telling him they’d be a couple of days later than planned, and left it with the postmaster, then rode home at a gallop, as if trying to outrun the stench of Genoa justice. 


CHAPTER SEVEN

California Expedition

 

 

A

s the stagecoach hit another rough spot, Ben glanced apologetically at Marie.  “Not much longer now,” he promised, “and they use a better quality coach between Placerville and Folsom.

      Marie smiled feebly.  “At least, Little Joe does not seem to mind the bumps.”

      “Mind!” Ben hooted.  “He’s positively in his element.”

      Little Joe, whose traveling capacity had been the greatest concern to his parents, had embraced the new experience eagerly.  Before they’d traveled ten miles, Ben knew his real concern would be to keep the curious little lad inside the coach, for Little Joe insistently stretched toward the open window, fascinated by the scenery rushing past.  When he grew tired of sight-seeing, the rocking motion of the stagecoach seemed to lull him to sleep, so the only real problem arose when he needed a diaper change, no small feat in the fast-moving vehicle, and no welcome occurrence to any of the other, thankfully tolerant, passengers.

      Hoss soon tired of looking out the window, but he never seemed to weary of reading the letter Adam had sent just to him.  Of course, Adam had written about boring things like what subjects he was taking at the academy this term:  geometry, American history and Greek, in addition to the reading, writing and elocution he was required to study each term.  Hoss sympathized, though, with Adam’s disappointment in being refused a place in the French class and shared his hope that he might be accepted next term if he made a good start with his Greek.

      Hoss had been most interested in reading about Adam’s roommate Harold Lissome, a boy just one year older than Adam.  He sounded nice, and the nicest thing of all had been Harold’s offer to bunk in with someone else so Hoss could sleep in his brother’s room.  Adam had made it sound like they should do it to give their parents time alone, but Hoss didn’t think that made sense.  How could they be alone with Little Joe sleeping in the same room?  No, Hoss understood his brother really wanted to be with him, and he had begged to be allowed to stay at the rooming house.  Eyes twinkling at each other, Ben and Marie had quickly agreed.

      The stage pulled to a stop before the depot in Placerville and all the passengers climbed gratefully down.  Now can I hold my brother?” Hoss demanded petulantly.  He’d asked earlier and discovered his parents didn’t trust him to keep a good grip on feisty Little Joe in the moving coach.

      “Mercy, yes,” Ben teased, plunking the boy into Hoss’s outstretched arms.  “I’ll gladly carry the baggage that doesn’t wiggle.”  He collected their assortment of carpetbags and led the way to the Empire Hotel, where he usually stayed when he had a layover in Placerville.  There was an adequate restaurant just off the lobby, but the Cartwrights would, of course, eat at Mama Zuebner’s Cafe a block or two down the street on the other side.

      Though they were hungry, they took their time getting situated.  Marie wanted Ludmilla Zuebner and her daughters Katerina and Marta to see Little Joe at his best, so she fed and changed him into clean clothes, as well as a fresh diaper.  Then she quickly brushed her gold tweed traveling dress free of the dust it had collected on the road.  Ben and Hoss freshened up their own apparel and washed their faces and hands, and everyone was ready for the evening meal.

      Entering the cafe, Hoss licked his lips in anticipation.  Hop Sing cooked really well, and Mama even better, when the Chinese cook let her in the kitchen, but Mama Zuebner still reigned supreme in Hoss’s estimation.  She didn’t cook fancy things like Mama sometimes did, but Hoss, who had cut his teeth on Nelly Thomas’s homespun meals, preferred plain fare anyway.

      Both Ben and Hoss, however, began to wonder if they’d get to eat at all.  Ludmilla, normally so busy she could spare little time to visit with her old friend Ben, evidently had all the time in the world when there was a new baby to ogle.  Her two flaxen-haired daughters were just as absorbed in examining his tiny fingers, only laughing when they took tight hold on one of Katerina’s braids.  Little Joe, Ben noted somewhat ruefully, was responding like a lone rooster in a henhouse.  Being the center of attention suited him just fine.

      Ludmilla finally took her eyes off the baby long enough to notice the hungry-eyed boy standing by.  “You look like you need plate of stew right away,” the buxom German said with a deep, rolling laugh.

      “Yes, ma’am!” Hoss crowed.  “Oxtail stew, if you got it.”

      “I got,” Ludmilla chuckled.

      “And—and will you have Hangtown Fry for breakfast?” Hoss queried quickly.  Pa fixed the combination of scrambled eggs and oysters for breakfast every New Year’s Day, but here, where the dish had originated, Hoss hoped it might appear on the menu more regularly.

      “Hoss,” Ben chided softly, but Ludmilla just gave the boy’s sandy hair a light rumple.  “For you, I have,” she whispered conspiratorially.  Hoss grinned, content that his needs would be met, however much distraction Little Joe created.

      Marta, evidently, intended he should create little, at least during the meal.  “I’ll hold the baby while you eat,” she offered and took him from Marie’s reluctant arms.  “Come on, Little Joe.  You want to see the kitchen where we cook all the good food?”

      Little Joe seemed content, but Marie fluttered into an instant panic.  Ben could read it in her face and quickly put his arms around her.  “You’ve got to quit clinging to him, my love,” he chided gently as he seated her at the table.

      “Yes, Ben,” she murmured, “but you know why.”

      Ben nodded.  He knew exactly why Marie could barely tolerate having the baby out of her sight.  Her first child, the one fathered by Jean D’Marigny, had been taken from her at birth by Jean’s autocratic mother and had died within weeks of yellow fever.  Marie’s intense attachment to Little Joe had as much to do with that remembered horror as it did love for the boy himself.  “You know I wouldn’t let anyone take our baby,” Ben whispered very softly to keep Hoss from hearing..

      Marie gave him a weak smile, reassured, but still uneasy.  She knew her fears were irrational; that did not, however, make them less real or less difficult to discount.

      “You have to admit it’s easier to eat without a baby in your arms,” Ben smiled as the food was served.

      Marie laughed lightly.  That much, at least, was true.  She relaxed a little, then fully when Marta returned to sit with them at the table and her precious baby boy was once more under her protective gaze.

      After Ludmilla closed the restaurant for the night, they adjourned to her house for a lengthy visit, sharing news of mutual friends.  “Oh, Marta,” Ben said suddenly.  “I’m supposed to tell you that Billy Thomas will be through in a few days.”

      “As if I cared,” Marta declared, tossing one long braid over her shoulder, but the sparkle in her blue eyes told Ben she did care and would be looking forward to seeing her old friend from the Overland Trail.  Ben found himself hoping friendship was all the German girl wanted from flighty Billy Thomas, with his impish urge to sniff the daisies in every field he wandered through.

      Back at the hotel Marie carefully padded a dresser drawer for Little Joe’s bed, but the baby would have none of it, making his displeasure known, as usual, at the top of his lungs.  In his nightshirt Ben walked the floor with the wailing baby, patting the small back consolingly.  “Now, what do you want to carry on like this for?” Ben asked softly, then lowered his voice still more so Marie couldn’t hear.  “Pa won’t take you on any more trips if you keep this up, and you know how you’d miss that nice swinging stagecoach.”  Probably what I need now, Ben told himself.  Probably put you right to sleep.  Since there was no stagecoach available, however, Ben kept pacing and patting.

      “He can sleep in my bed,” Hoss offered.

      “No!” Marie cried sharply.

      “He’s too young for that, Hoss,” Ben explained.  “You wouldn’t want to roll over on him and smother him, would you?”

      “I wouldn’t!” Hoss protested.  “You don’t trust me with nothin’.”

      “Of course, we do, son,” Ben soothed, “but you need to trust my judgement in this.  It can happen so quickly you don’t realize it when a baby’s this small.  He’ll settle down soon and sleep in his own bed.”  Ben hoped he was telling the truth and was gratified to see that Little Joe did, indeed, settle down and, once fully asleep, made no further protest over his unfamiliar bed..

      After hearty helpings of Hangtown Fry Monday morning, the Cartwrights boarded the stage for Folsom.  Marie moaned softly.  “Ride in comfort on the stage, you said,” she complained, but she smiled gently as she spoke the rebuking words.

      “Only twenty miles,” Ben laughed, “then we’ll switch to the train, and that, you must admit, will be a comfortable ride.

      “I can hardly wait,” Marie sighed.  “It seems I am the poor traveler in the family.”

      “And here’s the best one,” Ben replied, dandling Little Joe on his knee.  “You happy now, baby?  Ready for a nice, bouncy ride?”

      Marie groaned.  Ben was cruel to remind her again, but this stagecoach, its body swinging on leather thoroughbraces, rode like a hammock slung between two trees.  Nonetheless, Marie was grateful to leave the stage and board the infinitely smoother train for the final twenty-two miles into Sacramento.

      “Want to hold your brother?” Ben asked when they’d taken their places.

      “Can I?” Hoss asked eagerly.

      “Sure; the train won’t bounce around like the stage, so I think you can handle him,” Ben replied, handing the baby over the wooden seat in front of him where Hoss was sitting.

      Hoss immediately held his little brother up to the tiny window beside him.  “See, you got a nice view from here,” he told Little Joe.  “You’re gonna like trains even better than stagecoaches.”

      Little Joe reached out to pat the glass with his palm and cocked his head curiously.  There’d been nothing between him and the open air on the stagecoach and he couldn’t figure out the meaning of this transparent barrier.  Then the train started to roll and a look of near ecstasy sparked in the miniature emerald eyes.  No doubt about it:  Little Joe liked movement.

      Adam was there to meet them when the train pulled into the station in Sacramento.  Hoss, who had surrendered Little Joe to his mother as soon as he caught sight of his other brother, waved wildly to get Adam’s attention.  “Adam!  I get to stay with you at your place, like you wrote I could,” he yelled as he ran over to him.

Adam gave his younger brother a stout clap on the back.  “That’s good, Hoss.  It’s on the way to the hotel, so we’ll drop your gear off there.”

      “And eat!” Hoss cried.  “You said the food there was good.”

      “It’s good,” Adam said, “but Pa may have other plans.”

      Hoss turned to his father, who had just walked up, baggage in hand.  “How about it, Pa?  Lunch at Adam’s place?”

      Ben laughed.  “Mrs.. Maguire’s not expecting us, son.  There may not be enough for extra guests.”

      “There’s always plenty,” Adam assured him, “and she is expecting you ‘cause she knew the train would be getting here before noon.”

      “I would like to see the cuisine Adam is served,” Marie said, her motherly instinct aroused.

      “Dinner at the rooming house it is, then,” Ben said brightly.  “We’ll need to hire a carriage.”

      “I hired a surrey and team,” Adam said.  “I took some money from the bank for it.”

      Ben smiled his appreciation of his son’s forethought.  “I’ll reimburse you,” he promised.  “Now, would you care to explain what you’re doing out of school at this hour, young man?”

      “I got permission,” Adam assured his father, “but I have to go back after lunch.  I have the whole day off tomorrow, though.”

      They loaded the surrey with their carpetbags and Adam, looking and feeling very manly, drove them to the rooming house.  Mrs. Maguire came from the kitchen to greet them as they entered.  “Oh, what a darling boy!” she cried, reaching for Little Joe as soon as she saw him.  Marie released him, always proud to see her handsome boy fawned over.

      Molly Maguire fingered the baby’s soft, dark golden-brown curls.  “Oh, you little beauty, you,” she cooed.  “We’ll get along just fine, won’t we?”  She smiled at Marie.  “Now, you mustn’t worry about a thing.  When Adam told me you’d be bringing a baby along, I told him I’d gladly keep the little one for you whenever you like.”

      Marie’s panicky hands stretched toward her baby.  “Oh, we could not think of imposing,” she said quickly, taking Little Joe into her arms again.  “Adam was presumptuous to suggest it.”

      “I didn’t,” Adam inserted defensively.  “She offered.”

      “Indeed, I did,” Molly laughed.  “It’ll be a pure joy to me to coddle a baby again.  I had none of my own, my husband dyin’ young as he did, but I helped raise seven younger brothers back in the old country.”

      “Oh, is that why you opened a boardinghouse for young boys?” Ben chuckled.  “I wondered what had caused you to take such leave of your senses.”

      Mrs. Maguire’s blue eyes twinkled.  “Aye, boys are what I know best, but I haven’t had one as young as your babe in a long while.  It’ll pleasure me to watch him for you, and no more talk of imposing, me girl.”

      “You are a godsend, Mrs. Maguire,” Ben said enthusiastically before Marie could counter with another reason for keeping her baby glued to her breast.  “Now, Marie,” he added quickly as she turned a baleful glance his direction, “I want to take you to the theater tonight, and you know you can’t take a baby there.”

      “Of course not,” Molly Maguire urged.  “Leave him with me.  I—I promise you can trust me.”  She had evidently noted Marie’s anxious concern.

      Marie took a deep breath.  “Yes, yes, I’m sure I can.  I’ll keep him with me ‘til tonight, though.  I’ll need to nurse him through the day.”

      Molly smiled.  “Aye, he’ll keep happier if his tummy’s full.”  She could not, of course, know the reasons behind Marie’s near fanatic attachment to her child, but she was too secure herself to take offense at it.  The little mother just needed reassurance, that’s all, and she was glad to provide it.  “Well, now, it’s about half an hour ‘til dinner is served, so perhaps you’d like to see Adam’s room.”

      “Oh, yes,” Marie murmured.

      “I’ll show you,” Adam said.

      Hoss hefted his carpetbag under his arm.  “I’m stayin’ with my brother tonight,” he announced.

      “Aye, I know,” Mrs. Maguire chuckled, smoothing his wind-tousled hair, “and it’s welcome you’ll be, child.”

      Hoss grinned happily, obviously feeling very grown up to be spending a night away from his parents.  When Adam ushered his family into his room, Hoss immediately demanded, “Which bed is mine?”

      “Neither one,” Adam replied, a wry smile lifting one corner of his mouth, “but you can borrow Harold’s.”  He pointed to the bed furthest from the door.

      Hoss plopped his carpetbag in the middle of his borrowed bed and looked out the window.  “Ooh, a swing!” he hollered.  “Can I swing in it, can I?”

      “I guess so,” Adam said, “if you can catch it free.  The older boys like to sit there with their girls at night.”

      “It’s free now,” Hoss pointed out.

      “Go ahead,” Ben laughed.  “We’ll call you for lunch.”

      “Can I take Little Joe?”

      “Oh, I don’t know,” Marie worried aloud.

      “Sure, he’ll like it fine,” Ben decided.  “Just hold on to him.”

      “‘Course, I will,” Hoss declared, hugging the baby tightly as he hurried out the door.

      “What do you think?” Adam asked Marie.

      “I think, perhaps, your father is a little careless with his youngest son,” she said, perturbed.

      “I meant my room,” Adam added quickly.  The other boarders would be hurrying in for the noon meal soon, and he didn’t want them to hear his parents quarreling.

      “I think it is a nice room,” she replied, distracted momentarily from her motherly concern, “and you are keeping it very tidy.”

      “Yeah, well, Harold’s that kind of fellow,” Adam responded.  “Makes it easier when you think alike.”

      “Two of a kind, are you?” Ben smiled.

      Adam shrugged.  “In lots of ways.  He’s not as good a student as I am, but he tries hard.  I’ve been helping him, and he says he’s doing better this term because of it.”

      “That’s good,” Ben said.  “Made any other friends?”

      “Oh, sure,” Adam replied as if the answer should have been obvious.  “I especially like Martin Gallagher.  His father’s a state senator, and he lives at home, so we only see each other at school.  We’ve had some great times talking about assignments and books we’ve read, though.”

      “It is good you make friends,” Marie commented.  Responding to a loud whoop from below, she hurried to the window.  “Oh, Hoss, not so high!” she cried in terror for her baby.  Little Joe, of course, with his established love for motion of any kind, was gurgling happily without a trace of fear.

      Peering over her shoulder, Ben added authoritatively, “It’s not that kind of swing, son——slow and easy.”

      Reluctantly, Hoss settled the swing into a gentle rock.  “Sorry, Punkin, but Mama’s fussin’,” he whispered.  “It was fun while it lasted, huh?”  Little Joe babbled a response Hoss was sure was an affirmative one.

      “I should probably build that boy a swing,” Ben chuckled, “one he can swing high as the trees in.”

      “Without his baby brother,” Marie said firmly.

      “Of course, my love,” Ben soothed.  “I agree that Little Joe’s a bit small to fly so high.  See, I’m not as careless as you thought.”

      “Or quite as careful as you ought,” Marie smiled.  Ben chuckled and nodded acceptance of her rebuke.

      “I guess it’s time we went down to lunch,” Adam suggested.  “The other fellows will be coming in soon.  You can meet Harold then.”

      “I’d like that,” Ben said, “but before we go down, lay out your suit.  We’ll take it to the hotel with us when we check in, and you can meet us there after school.”

      “My suit?” Adam queried.  “Oh, for the theater tonight, but you’ll have to come by here, anyway, to drop off Little Joe.”

      “Yeah, but you’ll need to be dressed earlier,” Ben said.  “Marie’s had a marvelous idea.  We want to go by Beal’s and have a family portrait made, then we’ll have dinner and a night at the theater.”

      “That’s a grand idea!” Adam bubbled.  “Could I have an extra copy, to keep here?”

      Mais oui,” Marie assured him.  “Now, please show us the way to the dining hall.”

      “Okay,” Adam agreed.  “Then I’ll go out and fetch Hoss.  He won’t want to miss dinner.”

      “Oh, no!” Ben guffawed.  “Or any other meal!”

      After a satisfying lunch, at which the Cartwrights met a number of Adam’s rooming mates, they checked into the Orleans Hotel.  Since Adam would be in school several more hours, the others elected to spend the afternoon shopping.  “I really don’t think we ought, Ben,” Marie argued as he directed her into a furniture shop.  “We have little money to spare, and with Adam away, his bed is available for guests.”

      “Provided they show up during the most inclement season for travel,” Ben commented wryly.  “You know we need another bed.  Otherwise, we have to shift the boys around whenever anyone comes.”

      “But the expense, Ben,” she protested anew.

      “We’ll keep to something simple, inexpensive,” Ben agreed, “but I don’t want you worrying about money, Marie.  That is my concern.”

      Oui, mon mari,” she whispered meekly.

      Both of them were oblivious to the itching ears listening in or the worried pucker on their middle son’s brow.  Hoss made up his mind not to ask for any candy, but couldn’t help smiling when they bought him a sackful without being asked.  Back at the hotel, while they waited for Adam, he rubbed a piece of peppermint across Little Joe’s tongue, careful not to actually put the candy in the baby’s mouth.

      When Adam arrived at the hotel, everyone freshened up and changed into their fanciest clothes.  Even Little Joe wore a long, lacy dress with lace-edged bonnet and new linen booties purchased that very day.  It was the sight of that beautifully decked out baby, though, that caused Mr. Beal the most concern when they stated their desire for a family portrait.  “I don’t know,” he fretted, stroking his whiskerless chin.  “Hard for children of any age to sit still long enough, and a baby——”

      “Oh, we’ll keep him still,” Ben assured him with his usual foundationless confidence.

      Mr. Beal agreed to try and, by the time the daguerreotype had been taken, everyone felt themselves wrung out.  Little Joe saw no reason to sit still in a room full of unfamiliar and interesting sights, and Ben finally had to clamp the infant’s arms to his side and forcibly hold him motionless, or as close to motionless as they were likely to achieve.  Ben considered himself immensely fortunate that Little Joe withheld his scream of protest until their image had been taken.

      “The picture may be somewhat blurred,” Beal warned, “but if you’re determined to have the entire family in the picture, I doubt we can do better.”

      “We’re determined,” Ben said firmly, “and if the portrait is less than perfect, we’ll understand, Mr. Beal.  Thank you for your patience.”

      He gathered his family around him on the street outside the Daguerrean Gallery.  “That took longer than I expected, thanks to wiggle-worm here, so we’ll need to eat soon to make the curtain at the theater.”

      “Marty says the Alexandria Cafe is the best in town,” Adam reported.

      “The senator’s boy?” Ben asked.  “Well, he ought to know, I guess.  Can you show us the way, Adam?”

      “Yes, sir,” the oldest Cartwright boy replied, “and we go right past the rooming house, so we could leave wiggle-worm with Mrs. Maguire.”

      “I need to feed and change him first,” Marie said quickly, “and get the things he’ll need for the evening.”

      “Hotel first, then,” Ben said brightly.  “We’ll get our youngest squared away, then have a night on the town.”

      Adam and Hoss beamed their pleased responses, but Marie just looked resignedly into the eyes of the baby she felt she was abandoning and snuggled him close.  Her gloom lasted until she read the menu at the Alexandria Cafe.  “Oh, Ben!” she squealed with delight.  “They have escargot!”

      “Huh?” Hoss asked.

      “Snails, mon chéri,” his mother translated.  “Would you like some?”

      “Ugh, no!” Hoss sputtered.

      Ben worked hard to suppress the smile twittering on his lips.  “I understand it’s considered a delicacy, but I believe I’ll stick to the lamb.”

      “Yeah, me, too,” Adam said.

      Hoss decided he might as well go along with his father and brother.  He didn’t read well enough to scan all the choices quickly before they needed to turn in their order, and lamb, at least, sounded safe.  Safe and good, he concluded as he spooned another dollop of mint sauce over his meat.  Mama could keep her nasty old snails.  “What play we gonna see?” he asked as he cut another bite.  “That old Shakespeare feller again or something good like Pocahontas?”

      “Neither one,” Adam reported.  “I looked at all the playbills yesterday and asked around school.  Harold says we should see “The Lady of Lyons” at the Sacramento Theater.  He says it’s kind of sentimental, so we figure Marie will really like it.”

      Marie’s fork paused as she was prying another snail from its shell.  “Oh, but you must not choose just to please me.”

      “And why not?” Ben demanded with a wink.  “You put up with our choices the last time we were here.  It’s your turn, my love.”

      “Well, what do you know about this play, Adam?” Marie inquired, sipping her white wine.

      “Only that it’s a love story and that this actor, James Stark, is supposed to be the best there is,” the boy replied.

      “Let’s give it a try, then,” Ben decided.

      Hoss frowned.  “A love story?  That don’t sound no good at all.”

      “May I remind you, young fellow, that Pocahontas was a kind of love story, too?” Ben said, his eyebrow arching in a way that told Hoss he’d better watch his tongue.

      “Yes, sir,” Hoss mumbled and secretly gave up all hope of enjoying the evening’s entertainment.  As “The Lady of Lyons” began, he was sure his despair was warranted, for he found the plight of the gardener’s son in love with the beautiful Pauline, daughter of his employer, both ignorant and boring.  Adam, on the other hand, found himself identifying with the man in his earnest quest to make himself worthy of his lady love by learning to paint and write poetry.  Obviously, the humble gardener had poetry in his soul, too, for what could be more poetical than his declaration that “art became the shadow of the starlight in those haunting eyes”?

      Hoss thought that kind of language just plain sappy, but his tender heart became incensed when Pauline rejected letter after letter from her ardent admirer.  “She’s mean,” the country boy whispered to his slightly more sophisticated brother.

      “Shh,” Adam hissed.

      The plot became more entangled as the proud Pauline spurned the advances of twenty others who sought her love.  Finally, two rejected suitors decided to wreak revenge on their cruel-hearted mistress.  The agent for their sinister plan was Claude Melnotte, played by the excellent-as-reported James Stark.  The angry suitors pooled their funds to disguise Claude as a royal prince, who would woo and wed Pauline, then leave her to languish in a miserable hovel.

      When the wedding night took place, even Hoss began to feel sorry for Pauline.  Then, just when things looked their bleakest, Claude repented of his evil intent, confessed his true identity and offered to divorce Pauline.  Hoss gave a vigorous nod of approval, but he couldn’t understand why Pauline now refused to leave Melnotte, still considering him the prince of her heart.  How stupid could a girl get!

      Claude rushed off to war, a move Hoss heartily approved, and became a general, returning home only to find his wife on the auction block, being sold to pay her father’s debts.  But Claude had prospered in his new career and offered three times the amount owed to buy back the woman he had once tricked into marrying him.  The curtain fell as the reunited lovers grasped each other in heartfelt embrace.  Hoss stood and cheered ‘til his embarrassed older brother jerked him back into his seat.

      Laying her head on Ben’s shoulder, Marie sighed in contentment.  Ben looked into the shimmering emerald pools of her eyes and smiled.  “Enjoy it?”

      Mais oui,” she murmured.  “Claude is so much like you, mon mari.”

      Secretly considering Claude cloyingly sentimental, Ben laughed.  “I hope not!  But you are a jewel worth any price, my love.”

      “Did you not do as much for me as he for Pauline?” Marie asked.  “You know of what I speak.”

      “I don’t,” Hoss piped up.  “Did Pa have to buy you, Mama?”

      “No!” Ben scoffed.  “And now’s not the time for that story.  There’ll be a brief intermission before the afterpiece, so if you boys want to stretch your legs, do it now.”

      “Yeah, come on, Hoss,” Adam said.

      Hoss willingly followed Adam into the lobby.  “What’s an afterpiece?”

      “A piece that comes after the first one, of course,” Adam answered airily.

      “Oh,” Hoss said.  “I hope it ain’t got as much kissin’ and squeezin’ as that last one.”

      Adam laughed.  “I don’t think so.  It’s supposed to be a comedy.”

      “Huh?”

      “A funny play.”

      “Oh, yeah, that’ll be better.”

      The boys returned to the theater to watch “The Irish Tutor.”  Hoss didn’t understand many of the jokes, but the general merriment of the audience was contagious, and he found himself laughing even when he didn’t know why.

 

* * * * *

 

      A shaft of glimmering white from the almost full moon shone through the window between the boys’ beds.  Adam had dutifully tucked Hoss in as soon as their parents dropped them off at the rooming house and picked up the peacefully slumbering Little Joe.  Both boys, however, were still too keyed up from the evening’s entertainment to go directly to sleep.  They lay on their sides, facing each other, whispering in the dark.  After talking about his new classes and teachers, Adam inquired how Hoss was doing in school this year.

      “Couldn’t be better,” Hoss giggled.  “Ain’t no more school!”

      Adam propped himself on his right elbow.  “What do you mean, ‘no more school’?”

      “Just what I said,” Hoss bubbled.  “Mormons done took off and ain’t no kids left in Franktown.  Lucky Bill even dragged the log building off to Carson Valley to use for a stable, so no more school.”

      “That’s too bad,” Adam muttered, easing down to his pillow again.  “I got Pa’s letter about Brigham Young calling the Mormons back to Salt Lake, but he wasn’t sure how many would actually go.”

      “Plenty,” Hoss reported.  “Pa went to see ‘em off, and he counted a hundred twenty-three wagons.  The paper said four hundred fifty people.”

      Adam whistled softly.  “Can’t be many left.  What about Genoa?  Are they holding school?”

      “Don’t think so,” Hoss yawned.  “Mama’s gonna start givin’ me lessons when we get home.”

      Adam frowned.  Marie could do all right, he supposed, with reading, writing and simple arithmetic, but Hoss wasn’t likely to learn much else with her as a teacher.  Well, he didn’t take to book learning like his big brother.  Maybe the three R’s were all he could handle.

      “Adam,” Hoss asked tentatively, “will that fair cost much money?”

      “What do you care?” Adam snickered.  “You’re not paying.”

      “I—I was just wonderin’,” Hoss stammered.  “The fair sounds like fun, but we done spent a bunch on dinner and the play and——”

      Adam’s brow furrowed.  “Since when are you so all fired worried about money?” he demanded.

      “Well, now that we’re poor——” Hoss muttered.

      Adam sat up abruptly.  “What do you mean, ‘we’re poor’?”

      Suddenly feeling he’d spoken out of turn, Hoss pulled the covers over his head and said nothing.  Adam got out of bed and shook his brother’s shoulder roughly.  “I asked you a question, Hoss, and you’d better answer.”  He jerked the covers to reveal his younger brother’s anxious eyes.

      “I—I think maybe Pa don’t want you to know,” Hoss whimpered.

      “Well, I want me to know,” Adam hissed.  “You speak up right now..  Who says we’re poor?”

      “Well, nobody, exactly,” Hoss replied, lips trembling.  “They mostly quit talking when I’m around, but Pa bought up a lot of that Mormon land, and Mama acts like we gotta be real careful.  She—she didn’t buy the bedroom stuff she really wanted.  Said it was too expensive.  Don’t tell Pa I told, please, Adam.”

      Adam tucked his brother under the covers once more.  “Don’t worry,” he said.  “You won’t be in trouble, but I have to ask Pa, Hoss.  If things are rough, I have to know.  Else how can I do my part?”

      “Don’t let Pa be mad, please,” Hoss pleaded.

      “He won’t be,” Adam assured him.  “Now go to sleep.”

      Hoss wasn’t completely reassured, but Adam had protected him on other occasions, so Hoss felt he could trust his brother.  Besides, after the long journey, a day full of activity and an unusually late evening, he was too tired not to do as he was told.  Soon he was snoring noisily.

      It wasn’t exactly music to Adam’s ears, but he had little choice but to listen to his brother’s nasal orchestration.  He couldn’t sleep, not with Hoss’s unwittingly planted seeds of concern sprouting in his brain.  It would be like Pa to spare his boys worry over money, but Adam wasn’t a little boy anymore.  Pa didn’t need to spare him the way he did Hoss, and Adam intended to demand an explanation first thing in the morning.

      As the boys ate breakfast at the boardinghouse the next morning, Hoss, having slept away his fears, thoroughly enjoyed the ham and eggs.  Adam, however, toyed with the small helping he’d taken.  Pa could be stubborn, especially if he thought his sons were out of line, and while Adam wasn’t really afraid to ask the needed questions, he was nervous.  Wanting to talk to their father alone, Adam sent Hoss to play on the swing in the backyard.  “I’ll call you when they get here,” he promised.

      Expecting to pick up the boys and go, Ben had left Marie in the carriage with Little Joe.  Adam met him in the foyer and asked him into the parlor.  “I need to talk to you,” he said soberly.

      Ben’s near-black eyebrows knitted together, but he waited until he and Adam were alone.  “What is it, son?” he asked anxiously.  “Where’s Hoss?”

      “Outside swinging,” Adam said.  “It’s not about him.  Pa, are——are we hard up for money?”

      “What gave you that idea?” Ben asked gently.

      “Hoss said you’d bought a lot of land lately, and——well, he thinks we’re poor now.”

      Ben laughed.  “Not in land, at least.”  He sat down on the parlor sofa and patted the spot next to him.  When Adam joined him, Ben answered his son’s concerns.  “Look, Adam, there’s no need for either of you to worry.”

      “I’m not a little boy, Pa,” Adam insisted.  “If you need to take me out of school, I’ll understand.”

      Ben grabbed the boy’s hand and pressed hard.  “Absolutely not.”  He stood abruptly and paced across the room.  Then, turning, he eyed Adam with pain.  “Why is it no one in my family trusts me to take proper care of them?”

      “I do, Pa,” Adam said quickly, “but, well, you didn’t tell me, and Hoss said it was because you didn’t want me to worry.”

      Ben frowned.  “Hoss has an overactive imagination,” he said severely.  “The only reason I haven’t told you is that it happened right before that trouble with the Washos I mentioned at dinner last night, and I was too occupied with that to write.  Then, we’ve been busy since we arrived, and I just haven’t thought to tell you.”

      “Then tell me now,” Adam insisted.  He could be as stubborn as his father when he thought himself in the right.

      Ben returned to the sofa.  “Sure, son; there’s no secret.  I bought some land that adjoins the Ponderosa.  It’s good land, a good investment, but cash is going to be a bit shorter than it’s been the last year or two.  That doesn’t mean there isn’t enough for our needs——like your schooling.  Besides, silly son, that’s already paid for.”

      “But you could get a refund if you needed it,” Adam choked out.

      Ben drew the boy close, knowing what a sacrifice Adam was offering and feeling proud of his willingness to make it.  “I don’t need it,” he assured his son.  “Despite Hoss’s report, we are not poor.  I’ll be needing to put extra cash into building up our herd, so we’ll have to watch ourselves.  But we’ve got plenty to live on, plenty to school you with, and plenty to spend on a day at the fair.  Now, you relax and enjoy yourself, ‘cause if you don’t, I may have to blister your britches.”

      The teasing words brought a smile to Adam’s face.  “You’re not just making light of it because of my age, are you?” he asked for extra reassurance.

      Ben took his son’s cheeks between his palms.  “I wouldn’t do that, Adam.  As you said, you’re not a little boy; you’re a young man.  Sounds like I do have a little boy who could use some setting straight, though.”

      “Yeah, he’s worried,” Adam acknowledged.

      “Well, maybe I’ll just have to buy him something special at the fair,” Ben laughed.

      “That ought to do it,” Adam grinned.  “I’ll go get him.”

      “Yeah, and hurry,” Ben advised, “or Marie will whip us all for keeping her waiting out in that warm sun.”  Adam nodded brusquely and ran to get his brother.

      Ben shook his head in consternation.  A father did what he thought was best, tried to spare his boys needless worry, and somehow they found their way to it like iron filings to a magnet.  Maybe it didn’t pay to spare them; maybe he ought to just lay out the facts, even with a boy as young as Hoss.  A wry smile twisted Ben’s mouth.  For now, at least, he could avoid explaining his every move to Little Joe.  That was some consolation——some, but precious small.

      Soon the Cartwrights were loaded into the surrey and on the way to the California State Agricultural Fair.  As they drove, Ben tried to reassure Hoss that they were not paupers and he could feel free to enjoy himself.  Hoss welcomed the release, for everywhere he looked inside the fairgrounds, he saw things to crave.  He dutifully followed his parents as they viewed the exhibits of apples, pears, grapes, peaches, nectarines, figs and almonds and gladly tasted each.

      “We’ll buy some to take home before we leave,” Ben said, “so decide what you’d like best.  We can only carry so much on the stage.”

      Next they visited some of the exhibits for fruits and vegetables of unusual size.  They all gaped open-mouthed at the 93-lb. beet that had taken first prize, but the winning pumpkin was even more impressive, weighing in at a whopping two hundred and sixty-four pounds.  “That’s what I want!” Hoss yelled.  “Think of the pies it would make!”

      Ben laughed.  “I don’t think that one’s for sale, son.  Besides, we grow all the pumpkins we need at home.  We’ll save our money for something a little rarer, I think.”

      “Nectarines, then?” Hoss begged.  “They were good, and we can’t get them at home.”

      “All right, nectarines,” Ben agreed.  “Now, are you boys ready to try your luck at some of the games?”

      The youngsters’ eager shouts said they were, and soon both Hoss and Adam were testing the strength of their arms and the accuracy of their aim throwing hard balls at targets.  Hoss had the strength, but his aim was wild, and while Adam’s balls hit dead center, he couldn’t seem to throw hard enough to knock the soft-bodied targets from the ledge.  Finally, with a grimace of determination, Adam flung his last ball and whooped with triumph when the target flew off backwards.

      “Hurray!  You get a prize!” Hoss hollered.

      “No, you do,” Adam grinned.  “Pick what you want, Hoss.”

      Sheer rapture lighted Hoss’s pale eyes as he scanned the choices pointed out to him by the man who ran the game.  “That one,” he cried, stretching his stubby finger toward a fuzzy monkey on a stick.  The man nodded and brought the toy down to Hoss’s eager hands.  Another hand reached for the monkey almost immediately, and Hoss held it near so Little Joe could touch the monkey’s fur.  The baby gurgled with delight.

      “Anybody hungry?” Ben asked.  They all were.  The booths lining both sides of their path wafted enough tantalizing aromas to stimulate hunger in a well-fed man, and none of them had eaten since breakfast.  Each wanted something different, and Ben indulgently let them have whatever they wanted and as much as they wanted.  A sausage for Hoss, along with a popcorn ball and some salt water taffy, roast chicken skewered on a stick for Adam and Marie, and a meat pasty and fried peach pie for Ben.

      Everyone except Marie came away stuffed to overflowing.  “They have ruined their dinners,” she chided Ben softly.

      Ben simply laughed as he pulled her close.  “It’s an occasion, my love, and it won’t hurt them this once.

      Marie smiled.  “I suppose not, but if we are to stay much longer, I must find a place to feed our smallest son.”

      “No, I think we’re ready to go,” Ben said.

      “Fruit, Pa,” Hoss protested.  “You promised.  Nectarines.”

      “I hadn’t forgotten,” Ben scolded.  “They’re on our way out.”

      With the surrey loaded with a crate of apples and pears, another of almonds and smaller bags of more perishable fruit, the Cartwrights headed back to town.  Seated in the back with Adam, Hoss dangled the little monkey over the front seat just out of reach of Little Joe’s waving fingers.

      “Can we leave the foodstuff in your room until we come back from the Paynes?” Ben asked Adam as they pulled up before the rooming house.

      “Sure,” Adam replied.  “May I eat some and share some with Harold?”

      “Yeah, but don’t try feeding the whole household,” Ben laughed.  “I want some to take home, young man, and, after all, we’re poor now.”

      “Pa!” both boys protested.  After a day of being treated to anything they wanted, neither was now concerned about the family finances, but they didn’t think their previous worry was a fit subject for teasing.

      Only Ben and his two older sons returned to the fair that afternoon.  While they visited the livestock exhibits, Marie put Little Joe down for his nap and, after he awoke, went shopping.  There were Christmas gifts to be purchased, best done while the boys were absent, and she wanted to find something special for Ben, as well.

 

* * * * *

 

“There it is,” Ben said as the Spanish-style ranch house came into view.  “That’s Rancho Hermoso.”

      “Oh, it is beautiful, as you said,” Marie murmured and immediately began brushing back the tendrils of golden hair that had blown loose in the wind as they rode in the hired buggy toward the Payne’s home.  She touched her fingers to her tongue and wiped a smudge of dust from Little Joe’s cheek.

      Ben laughed.  “Will you quit worrying?  They’ll love you, dust or no dust, and nothing could hide that baby’s handsome features.”

      “They’re nice folks, Mama,” Hoss, tightly sandwiched between his parents, assured her.

Marie smiled in weak acknowledgement of their consolation, but it didn’t ease her tension.  When Ben had told her that Rachel Payne was his wife Inger’s dearest friend on the trail west, he had intended Marie to understand that the same friendship would be given her.  Marie couldn’t help remembering, however, those early months when Adam’s loyalty to Inger had made him hostile to his new stepmother.  Maybe Inger, whom Marie had never heard described as less than an angel on earth, had that effect on everyone.  Maybe love for her made people stingy in their acceptance of the one who tried, not to take her place, but to fill her function in the Cartwright home.

      As they drove into the yard, a slender, dark-haired woman stood waiting on the porch, flanked by a brown-haired boy on one side and a girl with blonde hair and her mother’s hazel eyes on the other.  The children were the first to meet the buggy.  “Uncle Ben!” Susan squealed.

      Ben quickly jumped from the carriage to swoop the little girl skyward.  “Susan, you’re growing prettier all the time.”  He let her down and turned to greet her six-year-old brother, who still hung close to his mother’s skirts.  “What’s the matter, Samuel?” Ben chuckled.  “Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten your Uncle Ben?”

      “I ‘member him,” Sammy said, sticking a tanned finger at Hoss.

      “Yeah, we had fun, huh?” Hoss said.

      “You youngsters take Hoss inside and ask Mañuela to give him a glass of lemonade,” Rachel Payne suggested.  Then, smiling, she approached the woman still seated in the buggy.  “You must be Marie,” she said, extending her hand.  “I’m so glad you were able to visit us.  I’ve been dying to meet you since Ben wrote that he’d married again.”

      “Thank you most kindly,” Marie said, nerves making her words somewhat stilted.

      Rachel didn’t seem to notice her guest’s discomfort.  “Well, you certainly didn’t lie, Ben,” she laughed.  “She’s an absolute beauty, just like you wrote.”

      “Oh, Ben, you did not,” Marie demurred, blushing furiously.

      “I always speak the truth,” Ben teased.

      As he reached to help his wife from the buggy, Rachel stretched her arms toward the baby Marie was holding.  “Let me take him.  Ooh, you little doll,” she cooed, snuggling the sleeping baby close to her breast.  “You’re just about the most beautiful baby I ever saw, yes, you are.”  She smiled down into Marie’s face.  “It’s not hard to see who he takes after.  Why, he’s a perfect picture of you.”

      “That he is,” Ben muttered with chagrin.  “Not a trace of his ugly father anywhere.”

      “Oh, Ben, you are not ugly,” Marie protested.

      “No, I always thought Ben a fine-looking man,” Rachel agreed, “but he is right about one thing.  I don’t see a trace of him in this baby.  He’s you, my dear.”

      Marie smiled, pleased, as always, to see her baby admired.  “His hair is a little darker than mine,” she said.  “That, I think, is from his father.”

      “Well, maybe that much,” Rachel acknowledged with a light-hearted laugh.  “Now, let’s get in out of this heat, and I’ll show you to your room.  I had Sammy’s old crib put in with you for the baby, so we’ll just put him right in it.  Remind me of his name, will you?”

      “Joseph,” Marie whispered lovingly.

      “We call him Little Joe, though,” Ben, arms loaded with baggage, added as he followed the two women into the house.

      “He surely is, compared to Hoss at this age,” Rachel chuckled.  “Lands, that boy just keeps growing, Ben!”  She showed them into the guest room and laid Little Joe in the crib.  “I’ll have some fresh water drawn for you,” she said, taking the pitcher from the washstand.  “You’ll want to freshen up and change into something more comfortable, I’m sure.”

      “Yes, thank you,” Marie said.  When Rachel left, she turned to Ben with a smile.  “You were right.  These are fine people.  I am sure now I will enjoy our visit.”

      “Oh, you will,” Ben declared.  “Wait ‘til you get a look at Jonathan’s horses.”

      Marie had her first look at the horses an hour later when Samuel and Susan each took a hand and led their pretty new friend down to the pasture.  Horses of every size and color cavorted in the waving grass.  Hoss, who’d brought up the rear, climbed onto the fence and leaned over the top rail to stare at the frolicking animals.  “They’re gooduns,” he commented.  “Can we ride ‘em?”

      “Not today, Hoss,” his mother answered.  “It is too close to dinnertime.”

      “Oh, yeah,” Hoss said, not disappointed.  He’d rather eat than ride any day.

      “We’re having arroz con pollo,” Susan offered.  “Mama said Uncle Ben liked it, and we hope you will, too.”

      “I am sure we shall all enjoy the meal very much,” Marie replied.  “Perhaps we should return now, so you children can wash your hands and faces before dinner.”

      “Yes, we should,” Susan agreed.  Tidy by nature, she felt inspired to immaculacy by Marie’s ladylike appearance.  Both Hoss and Samuel scowled, but only to each other.  Hoss knew better than to let his mother see his reluctance to clean up, and Sammy knew tattletale Susan would carry the slightest hint of misbehavior straight to their mother.

      They arrived with time to spare, a good thing since Little Joe decided to wake shortly after his mother entered the house.  By the time she had nursed him and settled him down in the crib with some of Samuel’s old toys to keep him quiet, dinner was ready and the other three children served and eating in the kitchen with Mañuela.

      “Ah, arroz con pollo,” Ben enthused, “my favorite of all Mexican dishes.”

      “There’s flan, too,” Jonathan Payne laughed.  “As I recall, that was your favorite of all Mexican dishes.”

      “Yeah, well, Mañuela does justice to anything she cooks,” Ben praised, “but I have to admit dessert’s my favorite part of any meal——Yankee, Mexican, French or Chinese.”

      “Chinese?” Rachel sputtered.  “You’re not serious!”

      “No, he is not,” Marie corrected.  “Our cook is Chinese, but his cuisine is not.”

      “Oh, you have a cook now,” Jonathan teased.  “And you thought we were getting high and mighty when you first saw ours!”

      “Not high and mighty,” Ben corrected.  “I just saw it as a sign of prosperity.”

      “Well, I guess we’ll take it the same way, then,” Rachel tittered.  “Glad you’re doing so well, Ben.”

      Ben shook his head.  “We’re doing well enough, but I assure you Hop Sing is not the best indication of that.  What you have in Mañuela is a dependable household assistant.  What we have is a dictatorial tyrant.”  Ben threw up his hands.  “I never even hired him!  He just attached himself to us, unasked.”

      “And we are most grateful he did,” Marie rebuked softly.  “You know what a help he is.”

      Ben chuckled.  “Yeah, if you don’t mind putting up with the annoyance.”

      “He does not annoy me,” Marie smiled.

      “True enough,” Ben accused.  “You he treats like a princess.  The rest of us are just dust-laden enemies to his housecleaning.”

      “Why didn’t you just say the rest of you were males?” Rachel offered airily and Marie joined her laughter.

      They finished the main course, and Mañuela cleared the table before serving the flan.  While she was dishing it up in the kitchen, Ben asked if he might request a favor.  “We purchased some Christmas gifts for Adam while we were in Sacramento,” he explained, “and I was hoping I could leave them here and have you mail them at the right time.”

      “We certainly will not!” Rachel declared to Ben’s surprise.

      “Oh, I’m sorry,” Ben stammered, confused.  “I just couldn’t think of any other way to get them to him.”

      “Well, I can,” Rachel contended.  “The idea of letting that boy spend Christmas in a lonely rooming house, Ben!  He’ll come here, of course, and celebrate the holiday with us.”

      “Oh, how kind you are!” Marie cried.  “That will be so much happier for Adam.”

      “Yes, indeed,” Ben murmured gratefully.  “I don’t know how to thank you.”

      Jonathan slapped his friend on the back.  “No need between old trailmates like us.  We don’t forget what a good friend Adam was to our Johnny.”

      “Sharing Christmas with him will be almost like having our own boy with us again,” Rachel said, hazel eyes shimmering.  Marie’s hand closed in sympathy over Rachel’s larger one.  She, too, had lost a son, and suddenly the apprehension she’d felt at being compared to Inger faded into mist.  The loss she shared with Rachel forged a bond between them, a friendship that was their own and whole, not the fragmented leavings of a relationship remembered by one and held in awe by the other.

 

* * * * *

 

      “She’s a fantastic rider, Ben,” Jonathan observed admiringly.  The two men stood outside the corral fence watching Marie trot the chestnut stallion.  Though Ben had been offered a mount of his own, he’d excused himself, preferring to watch his wife’s enjoyment of a spirited mount.  “I get all the riding I care for at home,” he’d joked.

      Now he laughed.  “I never told you how I met her, did I?”

      Jonathan leaned back against the corral rails, anticipating a good story.  “Only that you met her in New Orleans, when you went to tell her how her husband died saving your life.”

      Ben’s eyes grew momentarily sober at the memory of Jean D’Marigny, hearing again his awful screams as the stampeding cattle he’d just turned away from Ben thundered across his body.  Ben shook himself.  “Well, that was how I was supposed to meet her,” he smiled, “but she almost ran me down my first day in New Orleans.  I saw a fiery black stallion charging down on me and just managed to jump clear in time.  Then I saw the rider, the most amazingly beautiful woman I’d ever seen.  I nearly dropped of shock when I learned she was the woman I’d come halfway across the continent to see.”

      “Rachel would say you were meant to meet,” Jon chuckled.  “Wait’ll I tell her that story!”

      “Just don’t tell her in front of Marie,” Ben cautioned, “or I won’t hear the end of it.  My beloved wife has no memory of the incident and becomes incensed when I bring it up.”

      Marie rode up to them.  “May I take him outside the corral, Jonathan?  He wants a good run as much as I.”

      “I guess you can handle him,” Jonathan snickered.

      Marie cocked her head, wondering why his mouth was twitching so hard, then, as if to show him she was well capable of handling any horse, she rode to the opposite side of the corral and jumped the fence.

      Jonathan whistled.  “How do you keep that one home in the kitchen, Ben?”

      “Hop Sing rules the kitchen, remember?” Ben grunted.  “It’s our new little son that keeps her in the house, and, of course, our animals don’t have the mettle of that stallion, so there’s less temptation.”

      Jonathan smiled.  “Be glad to sell you that one.  Marie likes him, I can tell.”

      Ben sighed and shook his head.  “Yeah, but I can’t.”

      “Make you a good deal,” Jon offered.

      “Don’t tempt me,” Ben said.  “I told you last night about the land I bought recently.  I’m short of cash now, and likely to stay that way ‘til we’ve gotten the herd built up, so I’m afraid my wife will have to content herself with our tame Carson Valley horseflesh for the time being.”

      “Too bad,” Jon sympathized.  “A woman who rides like she’s part of the horse ought to have a fine one.”

      “Someday,” Ben said.  “She wouldn’t take it now, knowing how things stand with us, but someday I’m going to buy her the best.”

      “You know where to find it,” Jonathan chuckled.

      “I do, for a fact,” Ben laughed.  “Now, how about showing me that new bull you’re so proud of?”

 

* * * * *

 

      After three restful days at Rancho Hermoso, the Cartwrights headed home.  Though they would have liked to stay longer, enjoying the company of Marie’s new and Ben’s long-time friends, the calendar read the 18th of October.  The skies looked pleasant, without foreboding clouds on the horizon, but as they all knew, snow sometimes fell in the Sierras as early as October.  California boasted a more congenial climate, but it wasn’t home; Washoe Valley was, so they pointed their faces eastward, glad that they were carrying with them memories to warm them through the winter to come.

They returned to a land still shrouded by clouds of dismay.  More and more residents of Genoa were beginning to believe the Indians they had killed were guilty of nothing but fear.  When later investigation proved that McMarlin and Williams had been murdered by white men over money won in a card game and the arrows placed in their wounds to divert suspicion, the whole territory seemed sick at heart.

      After the two actual murderers were found guilty and hanged, Captain Jim pursued Natchez and his sisters, who had left Genoa as the first major snowstorm of the winter was breaking.  Approaching the brush shelters the Paiutes had made in the Pinenut Mountains to wait out the storm, Captain Jim appeared without warning out of the swirling blizzard.  Elma screamed, for to her he looked like the spirit of one of the innocent dead.

      Captain Jim walked defiantly to Natchez, told him that the real killers had been found and demanded payment for the two men he had lost.

      Insulted, Natchez refused.  It was unseemly for a Washo to make demands on a Paiute, and the chief’s son stood on his hereditary pride.  “It is you who ought to pay the poor mother and sister and wife,” Natchez declared.  “You gave them up yourself; we only did our duty.”  Although Captain Jim remained in camp, arguing with them throughout the night, he could not change the Paiute’s mind and could not himself be appeased, even when Natchez condescended to loan him a pony so they could all ride into Genoa and verify Captain Jim’s report.

      Ben, in town to pick up the mail, was there when they rode in and he watched with sorrow as the Indians later departed, heads held high, eyes scornful of the white man’s rush to judgement.  Natchez would not even look at Ben, the man who had once saved his life, when he passed.  That in itself told Ben how deeply the relations between white man and red had been strained by the blood spilled in a meadow outside Genoa.  From that day on he regularly strapped on his Colt’s Navy revolver whenever he left the house.


CHAPTER EIGHT

Holiday Rescue

 

 

F

rom long-standing habit Ben, with Clyde Thomas as his buying agent, had laid in his winter supplies early and in abundance.  In the Sierras winter could arrive early and last late, and a wise man left nothing to chance that concerned his family’s survival.  Ben made more preparation than usual this year, however, not for the human residents of the Ponderosa, but for the livestock that had to face the winter in the open.  With extra pastures to stock, he didn’t want to lose any of the new calves to winter kill, so he built a two-stall birthing barn for cows about to calve.  He then placed all the calves seven to ten months old in a special feed lot, where they could receive the best hay during this critical stage of their development.

      Marie, also, found herself busier than usual.  Little Joe, of course, needed regular attention, and Hoss’s schooling required close supervision, but the fruits of the harvest had to be saved for the winter months, as well.  Even Hop Sing, tyrannical lord of the kitchen domain, had to admit he needed help in this crucial season, so he and Marie became allies in the quest to stock the larder with the preserved products of the garden.  Carrots, turnips, parsnips and potatoes were stored in the root cellar, while the remaining cucumbers were turned into pickles and the cabbage into sauerkraut, the final two functions with the help of Nelly Thomas, for they were new skills to both Hop Sing and Marie.  Pumpkins, squash and onions went to the dry storeroom, where they’d keep for weeks, along with the fruits and nuts purchased in California.

      Hoss, whenever he was freed from the prison of schoolwork, took to the woods to set rabbit snares as Adam had taught him.  Soon the Cartwright table and that of their ranch hands groaned under his success with fried rabbit, rabbit stew, rabbit fricassee, rabbit pot pie and rabbit with dumplings.  Hop Sing began scolding, in clamorous Chinese, whenever another harvest of rabbits appeared, and, to keep the peace, Ben finally had to admonish Hoss about the number he was bringing home.  It was a matter of self-preservation:  not only was Ben tired of eating rabbit, but of helping Hoss skin them, as well.  “You don’t have to single-handedly feed the entire ranch, boy,” he scolded, “and you might consider leaving a few for our Indian neighbors.  Rabbitskin blankets are all they have to keep them warm.”

      “I ain’t takin’ that many, Pa,” Hoss argued, “and I need the skins, too.”

      “Whatever for!” Ben snapped, growing irritated.  “We feed and clothe you quite well, young fellow, and there are plenty of quilts and blankets for your bed..”

      “Yes, sir,” Hoss gulped.  “They ain’t for me, but it’s a secret, Pa——a Christmas secret.”  He and his father were alone in the barn or he wouldn’t have felt safe sharing even that much.  The rabbit skins weren’t intended for his father, after all, so in a pinch Pa could be told.  Hoss was definitely feeling a pinch.

      Ben’s face softened.  “Oh, planning ahead, are you?”

      Hoss’s double chin bobbed quickly.  “Yes, sir.  Aunt Nelly’s gonna help me make somethin’ nice and warm for Little Joe——Mama, too, if I get enough skins.”

      Ben laughed.  “I wondered what you and Nelly had been consorting about.  I saw you whispering in her ear last Sunday.  All right, Hoss, but let’s take Aunt Nelly what you’ve got so far and see if you need more before you head into the woods again, all right?”

      “All right,” Hoss agreed, “but don’t let Mama see.”  Ben promised he wouldn’t.

      Though he hadn’t made the point strongly to Hoss, Ben was concerned about how their Indian neighbors might fare during the winter.  Since the coming of the white man, both Paiute and Washo had found it more difficult to follow their traditional lifestyle of hunting and gathering.  Game was still available, but harder to find, and while Ben no longer cut the piñon tree for firewood, many white men did, either in ignorance or apathy, and that staple of the Indian diet was going the way of the wild game.

      Ben did what he could, taking a few beef north to the Paiutes of Captain Truckee and Winnemucca and some southwest to the Washo, but he couldn’t supply two nations singlehandedly.  He took Hoss along on these trips, to the boy’s delight.  While Hoss would have been delighted with anything that gave him a day off from his books or time alone with his father, he also gleaned the lessons Ben was trying to teach him, lessons as important as any found in books.  Hoss understood that the Indians were as much his neighbors as the Mormons had been and he came to realize he had a responsibility to them, as well as to people he genuinely loved like the Thomas family and other friends in the valley.  White men had caused part of the Indians’ troubles, Pa said, so white men ought to help solve them when they could.  To Hoss, it made perfect sense.

      One of the Washo leaders, however, came up with his own creative method of getting help from the white man in feeding his people.  Tuquah, a Washo who worked irregularly on the Ponderosa, brought the news to Ben, and Ben shared it with his family one evening during the second week of November.  “Mark your calendar, my love,” he ordered.  “We’re invited to a dance this Saturday night.”

      “Oh, good!” Marie cried.  “I haven’t danced in so long.”

      Ben’s chin twitched.  “You won’t be dancing at this one, either, my love.”

      Marie tilted her head and examined Ben closely.  Definitely a twinkle in his brown eyes, a decidedly mischievous twinkle.  “What kind of dance is this, where we do not dance?” she demanded, her lips forming a petulant pout.

      Ben laughed, recognizing in her expression the need to stop his teasing.  “It’s a demonstration of Indian dances, Marie.  Captain Jim of the Washo tribe has invited all white men to observe, so long as they bring a sack of flour as the price of admission.”

      “A sack of flour?  That is a strange ticket,” Marie smiled.

      “A perfectly logical one for hungry people,” Ben said soberly.

      “Oh, Ben, are they truly hungry?” Marie murmured sympathetically.

      “Shouldn’t be, if this idea works,” Ben commented.  “It’s a wise people who learn to adapt to changing times and make the best of them.  Looks to me like the Washo are doing just that, and I feel we should support them in the effort.”  Though he didn’t say it, he couldn’t help wishing the proud Paiute would be equally adaptable, but they clung to the old ways, fast proving unprofitable.

      “Oh, yes, we must!” Marie cried.

      “Yeah!” Hoss agreed.  “We got enough flour, Pa?  For all of us to go, even Little Joe?”

      Ben guffawed.  “They won’t charge for him, Hoss!  And, yes, we can afford the ticket.  We’ll all go.”

      “Hurray!” Hoss yelled, then turned to his little brother.  “How about it, Little Joe?  Want to see Indians dance?”  Little Joe, just beginning to respond to the sound of his own name, turned and babbled something to his brother.  “He wants to go,” Hoss reported.

      Ben shook his head.  Was it possible the two boys actually communicated?  Common sense scoffed at the idea, but Hoss was convinced, and it was no secret Little Joe responded as well to his big brother as to either of his parents.  A unique bond united Ben’s two younger sons, so maybe they did understand one another, even without the benefit of language.

      The Washo dance was a success.  Not only did it provide the Indians with a supply of flour for the winter, but it offered the white attendees an interesting display of native dances and games, as well as a deerskin when the entertainment ended.  The hide was valued at only a dollar, so it wasn’t a good trade for flour worth eight dollars a sack, unless you counted the gain of a good time into the bargain.  That and the satisfaction of helping his neediest neighbors made Ben feel he’d gotten more than his money’s worth..

      A week later Marie and her friend Laura Ellis were still recalling the Indian festivity fondly.  Ben had spoken to Laura at the dance to request that she assist with the annual Thanksgiving feast for his ranch hands, and she was at the Ponderosa the following Saturday afternoon to discuss the arrangements with the lady of the house.  Laura’s help was probably unnecessary, now that Hop Sing was part of the household, but neither Ben nor Marie wanted to deprive her of the extra income she needed and undoubtedly depended on.  However tight their own finances, hers were more so, especially since the Mormon exodus had taken away many of the former customers of her laundry and baking business.

      If Laura guessed the hiring of her services was an act of charity, she kept her own counsel.  She needed the money and wasn’t too proud to take it, provided she could give something in return for what she received.  Somewhat like the Washos in that, with their token deerskin in return for the virtually donated flour.  She and Marie had worked well together for two holiday dinners the previous year, so they had no difficulty in determining what to serve this time and how to divide the work between them.

      Business satisfactorily completed, Laura and Marie sipped tea and nibbled ginger cookies Hop Sing prepared and served in the front room near the fire.  “Oh, I’ve got some bad news, I’m afraid,” Laura said after they’d laughed together over some of the white men’s attempts at imitating the Indian dances the previous week.  “Ben will want to know that Allen Grosch has left for California.”

      “Oh, dear,” Marie sighed.  “Ben tried to tell him it was too late to start over the mountains.”

      “As did we all,” Laura sighed.  “You know Allen wouldn’t leave until his debts were paid.  Ben wasn’t the only man who urged him to wait for spring, but Allen wouldn’t listen.  Men and their stubborn pride!”

      “Yes,” Marie agreed readily.  “It is a great fault with them.”

      Laura nodded in agreement with her friend’s assessment of men.  “At least, the fool had sense enough not to go alone,” she commented.  “R. M. Burke went with him.”

      “That only means two fools have gone,” Marie observed, “but they have, perhaps, a better chance to survive together.”

      To hear her talk, one would have thought Marie a veteran pioneer instead of a fledgling westerner.  The irony didn’t escape Laura, but she thought too highly of her friend to point it out.  “Grosch is a fool,” she said instead, “and to prove it, you need only look at who he left in charge of his cabin, books and papers.”

      “Who is that?” Marie asked, taking another sip of the warm tea.

      “Henry Comstock,” Laura sniffed.

      “Oh, dear,” Marie sighed.  She didn’t know the miner well, only that he was exactly Ben’s age, but shared nothing of his industry.  Ben, she knew, would consider Old Pancake a poor choice for any responsible position.

      Over tea and cookies the two ladies continued clucking over the foolishness of men late into the afternoon.

 

* * * * *

 

      The Thomas’s table groaned under the abundance spread for the annual Thanksgiving feast they were sharing with the Cartwrights.  Ben felt as if he should groan, too, from the sheer excess of what he’d already stuffed into his stomach.  And dessert yet to come!

      Hoss, on the other hand, seemed to have ample room for whatever was put before him.  “More meat, please,” he requested politely, holding out his plate..

      “Lands, you’ve got an appetite for stuffed grouse, ain’t you, boy?” Nelly chuckled, forking another piece onto his plate, along with a dollop of sage dressing.

      “Or anything else,” Ben muttered, shaking his head in disbelief.  Where did that boy get his appetite?  His mother had been large-boned, but not a heavy eater, and Ben certainly couldn’t pile food in with half Hoss’s relish.  His brother-in-law Gunnar, of course, could.  Maybe Hoss took after him.

      “It’s good,” Hoss said, delving in again.  “Not as good as that turkey we had once, but mighty fine, all the same.”

      “Yeah, how about that, Billy?” Ben teased.  “Couldn’t bag us a big bird this year, huh?”

      Billy grinned, not in the least perturbed.  He knew——and knew the rest did, too——that his early success in shooting a Thanksgiving turkey was likely to go unequaled.  The wild birds just couldn’t be found nearby anymore.  Too many settlers had scared the few there’d been so far into the hills a man would have to be more than lucky to find one.  “Tell you what, Hoss,” he offered.  “I’ll see if I can’t shoot us a nice, fat goose or two for Christmas.”

      “Yeah!” Hoss cried, licking his lips.

      Ben arched an eyebrow at the impudent redhead.  “Need I remind you, young fellow, that you’re taking Christmas with us?”

      Billy wrinkled his nose disdainfully.  “I ain’t forgot.  Dinner and dancin’ at the Ponderosa on Christmas Eve, but I reckon you won’t turn down a goose if it flies into your oven.”

      Ben laughed.  “Oh, no.  All contributions gladly accepted.”

      A resounding squall came from the parlor, where Little Joe had been napping in Inger’s old cradle near the warm fire.  Marie patted her lips with her blue-checked napkin and slid her chair back.

      “Why don’t you let me check on him, honey?” Nelly offered.  “You ain’t finished eatin’, and I can change a diaper handy as you.”

      “I’ve had plenty,” Marie smiled.  “Joseph probably wants his Thanksgiving dinner, and how can I refuse when he is what I am most thankful for this year?”

      Nelly nodded.  Much as she hated to see a guest leave the table underfed, she knew nothing but his mother’s breast was likely to satisfy a hungry baby.  As Marie went into the other room, Nelly found herself thinking of the other missing member of the family.  “It’s a shame Adam couldn’t get home,” she sighed.  “Sure do miss him here today.  Don’t seem natural him off all alone this time of year.”

      “Oh, he’s not alone,” Ben said.  “He’ll be spending Christmas with the Paynes, as I told you before, and we got a letter last week telling how he’d been invited to take Thanksgiving dinner with that senator’s son he’s friends with.  I’m sure he’s enjoying himself, maybe even feasting on that turkey we can’t get here.”

      Clyde spooned gravy over his second helping of mashed potatoes.  “Consortin’ with senators, is he?  Ain’t you afraid he’ll get high and mighty on us?”

      “What you mean ‘get’?” Billy cackled.  “Adam always was high and mighty!”

      “That’s mean!” Inger sputtered.  “And him your best friend!”

Billy calmly reached around Hoss to yank one of his sister’s strawberry blonde braids.

“Ma!  Make him quit!” Inger yelled.

      “The both of you mind your manners,” Nelly ordered, taking their altogether too normal wrangling in stride.

      “Adam mention anything of that Mormon fracas over to Mountain Meadows?” Clyde asked between mouthfuls of potatoes.

      “Yeah,” Ben said quietly.  “Nothing we hadn’t heard already, though.”  He wished Clyde hadn’t brought up the horror of that day last September when the Mormon’s fear of invasion by the federal government had born bitter fruit in the eastern part of the territory.  The news hadn’t reached California until mid-October and had taken longer to filter back over the Sierras.  By this time, however, everyone in Carson Valley had heard the grisly tale of the massacre of the Fancher Party, a group of one hundred and forty immigrants from Arkansas and Missouri.  The Mormons had incited an Indian attack against them and, under the guise of protecting the travelers from the red men, had savagely shot all but the children under seven.

      “Happened about the time them Mormons up and left here,” Clyde commented.  “They had to know what was up and how it would set with decent folk..”

      “Oh, Clyde, you can’t believe that,” Ben scolded.  “You know how slowly news travels out here.  That Young’s recall to Salt Lake City reached here the same time the massacre was taking place hundreds of miles away is bound to be coincidence.  The Mormons here knew the atmosphere was ripe for trouble, no more than that.”

      “Your opinion,” Clyde scoffed.  “I say old Brigham was plottin’ to start a war, even then.”

      Ben shook his head.  Sometimes there was just no arguing with Clyde.  The man was set in his opinion about Mormons, and nothing as simple as plain fact was likely to change it.

      “Who’s ready for dessert?” Nelly suggested, sensing the tension between the two men she cared for most.

      Ben groaned, unable to face the prospect of another bite, but Hoss piped up cheerfully.  “Me!  I want pumpkin pie, a nice big piece——for starters.”  Ben cut him a hard sideways glance.  No, the boy wasn’t joking.  Leaning his head in his palm, Ben watched his middle son pack away bite after bite of pumpkin pie.  Watching from across the table, Clyde cackled, all vision of Mormon desecrations vanished in savoring the by-play between Ben and his boy.

 

* * * * *

 

      From the first of December on, the weather turned from chilly to outright cold.  Marie, who’d taken to wearing flannel nightgowns at the first hint of frost, shivered day and night.  Hoss greeted the sight of her sufferings with a gleeful twinkle in his eye, for Aunt Nelly had assured him he’d brought in enough rabbit pelts to make something warm for his mother, as well as for Little Joe.  It was too bad, of course, that he couldn’t present his gift right away, when Mama obviously needed it, but Hoss consoled himself that the weather would be even colder around Christmas and his mother would be truly grateful for what he’d worked so hard to provide her.  If only he could think of something equally fine for Pa.  So far, it was a puzzle Hoss couldn’t solve.

      Ben and Marie, though many of the gifts they’d give had been purchased in California, were busy making a few homemade ones, too.  Each evening after supper Marie knitted away at a set of winter wraps for Little Joe:  sweater, leggings and booties of pale green yarn.  Ben, who had prevailed on Hoss to donate his old blocks to his baby brother, worked each night at sanding and painting them to look like new.  Better than new, actually; the blocks had been plain when Hoss owned them.  Now the letters carved in each side stood out in bold red against a light blue background.

      In addition to their preparations for Christmas, the parents were busily engaged in a contest.  Feeling that Little Joe’s babbling vowel sounds were ripe to turn into real words, they vied to see whether his first one would be “mama” or “papa.”  Marie was certain she had the advantage, for she spent more hours each day with the baby than Ben could, but Ben demanded his right to cuddle his youngest at night, whispering the appropriate syllables in his ear.  Behind their backs Hoss took every opportunity to breathe his own name to Little Joe, but so far the youngest Cartwright had refused to repeat any sound he heard.

      Christmas Eve arrived with no clear victor, so the competition was willingly laid aside as Ben and Marie gave warm greeting to each arriving friend.  Laura Ellis was there first, of course, because she was again assisting with the refreshments, and Doctor Martin soon arrived with a blooming Sally on his arm.  Billy Thomas, coming in shortly after the doctor and his daughter, made a beeline for the first daisy in sight, thrilled that Adam wasn’t there to vie, as always before, for the pretty girl’s attention.

      Billy soon found, however, that he had an even more formidable rival for the attention of everyone there in a skirt.  Sally and Sarah Winnemucca, who had come with the Ormsbys, gathered with the other ladies around a single male figure, whose slightest coo held them enthralled.  Billy drew Hoss aside.  “How early does he bed down?” he hissed in the younger boy’s ear.

      “I dunno,” Hoss muttered, pulling away and heading for the refreshment table for another cookie.

      Fortunately for Billy, Little Joe soon showed signs of needing sleep, and Hoss was commissioned to put his little brother to bed.  Leaning over the crib, Hoss whispered, “Hoss.  Say ‘Hoss.’”  Little Joe yawned, but made no sound other than a weary whimper.

      Downstairs, Ben spotted Clyde Thomas by the punch bowl and ambled over.  “You have something for me?” he queried, a smile lifting one corner of his mouth.

      “Done put your present under the tree, greedy britches,” Clyde muttered, licking a drop of punch from his upper lip.

      “I meant my mail,” Ben chuckled.  Snowshoe Thompson had been due in that afternoon, and since Ben had known he would be busy all day with preparations for the party, he’d asked his friend to pick up his mail.

      “Sorry, Ben,” Clyde said.  “Snowshoe didn’t get in today.”

      “You’re kidding!” Ben exclaimed.  “He’s never late.”

      “Hardly ever,” Clyde admitted.  “Hope he ain’t got lost in the mountains, what with the snow and all.”

      Ben hooted at the idea.  “Not Snowshoe!  He told me once there was no way for him to get lost in a narrow range like the Sierras.”

“Narrow!” Clyde yelped.  “Tell that to the emigrants that got stranded there.”

“Yeah, I know what you mean,” Ben chuckled.  “Well, I’d better mingle with my other guests.  Don’t drown in that punch bowl.”  He clapped Clyde on the back as he turned away.

Meanwhile, Clyde’s son was dividing his time between the two girls nearest his own age.  Lizzie Ormsby, on the other hand, however much she tried to catch his eye, sparked no interest.  Ben, noting the little girl’s pouting face, motioned to Hoss as soon as he came downstairs.  “Ask Lizzie to dance,” he ordered briskly.

      Hoss frowned.  He didn’t enjoy dancing in the first place, and Lizzie Ormsby was two years older than he.  “If I gotta dance, I’ll ask Inger,” Hoss grunted.

      “They’re both your guests, boy,” Ben admonished sternly.  “Be polite to both.  Lizzie’s older; ask her first.”

      Hoss scuffed his shoe against the floor.  He still didn’t want to dance, but he couldn’t think of any argument that would get him out of it.  “Yes, sir,” he muttered glumly and headed toward Lizzie.

      Ben cast an eye around the front room, from which the furniture had been cleared for dancing, to make sure all his guests were having a good time and had someone with whom to either dance or converse.  There were more men than women, of course, though the balance was better here than it would be at the annual New Year’s Eve frolic a week later.  That inequality couldn’t be helped, but every lady, at least, had a partner, and the men who didn’t seemed content to wait their turn beside the punch bowl.  One man, in fact, looked as though he’d rather be taking refreshment than dancing with the lady in his arms.  Feeling his duties as host involved rescuing such men in distress, Ben cut in on Dr. Martin.

      Eilley Cowan seemed slightly disturbed by the change of partners, but she smiled graciously.  “Isn’t that Dr. Martin a handsome man?” she asked Ben.  “And so educated!”

      “Yes, a fine man,” Ben agreed as he twirled Eilley away from his grateful friend.

      “Such a pretty daughter he has, too,” Eilley gushed on.  “A shame to let her grow up without a mother, though.  A girl that age needs a woman’s advice.  He really ought to marry again, don’t you think so, Ben?”

      Ben worked hard to keep from laughing.  He had a feeling Eilley would be among the first candidates for the job if Paul should ever decide to marry again for his girl’s sake.  Considering Eilley’s two prior marriages, all too lightly set aside, Ben didn’t think her a proper mate for the doctor with his unfading memory of his wife Agatha, who had died tragically in a fire several years before.  “That’s his decision,” Ben said as they glided smoothly to the fiddle’s music.  “I know better than most men that you can’t rush the mending of a broken heart.”

      “Oh, of course,” Eilley agreed quickly, “but you also know better than most that it takes a good woman to do the job.”

      Ben glanced across the room at Marie, now dancing with the subject of their conversation.  For him it had been true, yes, that a good woman was the balm for his healing.  Ben wasn’t sure the analogy held at all for Paul Martin, and he was certain that even if it did, Paul’s balm was unlikely to be the as-yet undivorced, but husband-hungry Mrs. Cowan..

      The hour grew late and the younger guests sleepy, so Ben and Dr. Martin gathered the children close for the annual reading of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.  The adults drew near, as well, remembering, with pleasure, hearing the two men read the story the previous Christmas.  Ben put his heart into the tale, at least all of his heart he had available.  One small corner was reserved for the person to whom he’d first read this story six years ago on the eve of Christmas, 1851.  Tonight of all nights, Ben missed Adam, but the wide-eyed wonder with which Hoss and the children of dear friends heard the story, some for the first time, reminded him of his eldest son, who loved a new story above all things on earth.  Though he knew the Paynes would do everything possible to make Adam’s Christmas a happy one, Ben had a feeling his boy might be thinking wistfully of him tonight, as he was of Adam.

      The ghost of Christmas Past was just escorting Ebenezer Scrooge to an isolated schoolroom, where a young student had been left behind for the holidays, when the reading was interrupted by loud thumping at the door.  Ben paused, wondering who could be calling so late on a snowy evening, since all his expected guests had already arrived.  He put his finger in the book while Hop Sing scurried to open the door.

      A tall man, wearing only a Mackinaw jacket against the cold, lumbered in.  As he lifted his wide-brimmed hat, his charcoal-covered face swept the room.  Ben smiled broadly and, laying the book on the mantel, came forward to greet the unexpected guest.  “Snowshoe!  Glad you made it in safe.  I don’t know how you heard about our party, but we’re pleased you could come.”

      “No, not party,” Snowshoe Thompson muttered.  “I come find doctor.”

      Paul Martin came forward.  “I’m the doctor.  Someone needs me?”

      “Yah, need bad.  I find trapper——James Sisson——in mountains thirty miles west of Genoa, trying to amputate own feet,” Snowshoe explained.  “I say ‘Wait; I get doctor.’”

      “I’ll get my bag,” Paul said at once.

      “Were you able to get Mr. Sisson into Genoa?” Ben asked.

      Thompson shook his head.  “No.  Too weak.  Twelve days he have no food, no fire.  I chop good pile of wood, leave some biscuits, dried sausage——all I carry on trip——come for help.”

      Ben’s expression grew grave.  “Do you need help?”

      “Yah,” Thompson admitted.  “I figure six men.”

      Clyde stepped to Ben’s side.  “Got two here, I reckon, and the doc makes three.”

      “Yeah,” Ben said.  He smiled softly at his young guests.  “Sorry, children, but I’m afraid we won’t be able to finish the story tonight.”  His dark eyes roamed the room.  “Anyone else willing to come with us to help a man in critical need?”

      Enos Montgomery stepped forward.  “I’ll go.”  No one else volunteered.

      “We can pick up a couple of men in Genoa,” Ben assured Snowshoe.

      Marie drew Hop Sing aside and told him to package up sandwiches and cookies for the men to take with them.  Heading bobbing rapidly, Hop Sing scurried to the kitchen to do her bidding.

      Hoss scrambled up from his spot by the tree.  Pa, Pa,” he called, running forward.

      Ben absently stroked the boy’s sandy hair.  “What is it, son?”

      “Pa, it’s Christmas Eve.  You ain’t going off tonight, are you?”

      Ben squatted down and took both of Hoss’s shoulders.  “Son, there’s a man out there, maybe dying.  I have to go, same as I’d want someone to do for me if I were the one in a tight spot.”

      “Yeah, but it’s Christmas, Pa,” Hoss whined.

      “That’s enough, Hoss,” Ben said gruffly.

      Handing Ben his warm jacket, Marie laid a calming hand on his cheek.  “I am sure Hoss wants you to be here when he opens his gifts, Ben.  Perhaps, if you see Santa on the road, you could collect them, so our son will not be tempted until you return.”

      “Huh?”  Ben suddenly saw what she was trying to get across.  “Oh, yeah, sure.  Bound to run across the old boy tonight.  I’ll——uh——have him leave our presents in Genoa and bring them back with me.  How’s that sound, boy?”

      Hoss wisely kept his mouth shut, for he thought the whole conversation ridiculous.  Meet up with Santa, indeed!  What kind of fool kid did they take him for?  A baby like Little Joe?

      Snowshoe Thompson’s face split in a wide grin.  “Yah, I chase him down on my ski-skates,” he added to give the boy extra assurance.  Hoss just shook his head and turned away.

      Ben laughed as he plunged his arms into the jacket Marie held for him.  “Wish we all had a pair of those.”

      “We make some when we get to Genoa,” Snowshoe suggested.

      “Good idea.  We’ll make better time,” Ben said, giving Marie a swift kiss and heading for the door when Hop Sing handed him the package of provisions.

      Clyde looked as if he were sorry he’d volunteered for the expedition.  Skimming over the snow on ten-foot long slats of wood was not his idea of a way to save time.  More likely, they’d all crash into the first pine that got in their path and need the doctor’s attention worse than the man they were going to rescue.  He’d already given his word, however, and had too much pride to back down.  Giving Nelly a quick smack on the lips, he followed Ben and Snowshoe, with Dr. Martin and Enos close behind him.

      When they left, Sally Martin picked up the volume they’d been reading.  “I can’t make it as exciting as my father and Mr. Cartwright,” she said, “but would you like to hear the rest of the story, children?”

      “Yes!” a chorus of young voices responded.

Marie smiled gratefully at the doctor’s daughter.  Oui, let us continue.”

Along with the other children, Hoss sat cross-legged on the floor.  Sally read the story well, but while he enjoyed it, it wasn’t the same. Christmas wasn’t likely to seem like Christmas without Pa, either.

 

* * * * *

 

      The first few miles after the rescuers left Genoa made Ben wonder if they’d made a mistake in taking time to construct ski-skates like Thompson’s.  He hadn’t expected to glide as swiftly as the more practiced Norseman, of course, but he hadn’t counted on being awkward as a mule on stilts, either.  Eventually, he and the other novices gained more confidence and made better time.

      As the sun began to climb, a light snow that grew slowly heavier dusted down on the six sooty-faced men.  Like Snowshoe, they’d coated their faces with charcoal, to prevent snow blindness.  A good thing; otherwise, they’d soon be the blind hauling the lame, Ben mused.  Not precisely the problem the Good Book warned against, but still one he’d rather not face.

      “Not quite the way I planned on spendin’ Christmas mornin’,” Clyde muttered as Ben helped him to his feet after the older man hit a small rock and sprawled sideways into a snowdrift.

“Don’t tell me you’d rather spend Christmas rocking beside your own hearth?” Ben chuckled.

“Doggone right, I would!” Clyde snorted.  “And don’t pretend you feel different!”

Ben shook his head.  No sense denying the truth.  He would rather be home, watching his boys’ wide-eyed pleasure as they emptied their stockings.  Little Joe’s first time.  He’d looked forward to that.  He’d enjoy the celebration more, however, knowing he’d done his best to help a fellow creature whose only Christmas wish was survival.  He and Marie could wait for their Christmas fun.  Little Joe, too, for that matter, since the baby had no notion of what Christmas was supposed to be like.  As he glided further into the mountains, though, Ben found himself worrying about Hoss.  Hard for a boy of seven to put off his pleasures.  Shouldn’t have been so hard on him last night, Ben chided himself and resolved to make it up to his son when he returned.

 

* * * * *

 

      Not seeing any point in getting up early, Hoss had slept late that morning.  Even Little Joe was awake before him, but the baby had, of course, retired earlier, too.  Hoss wasn’t exactly moping as he dragged down the stairs, but he didn’t look happy, either.

      “Good morning, Hoss,” his mother called from the sofa.  “Merry Christmas..”

      “No, it ain’t,” Hoss mumbled, scuffing his feet on the bare floor.  “Ain’t nothin’ merry about a Christmas without Pa.

      Oui, I understand,” Marie murmured sympathetically.  “That is why our true Christmas must wait until he returns, but we can make merry, mon chéri.”

      “Don’t see how,” Hoss grumbled.

      “By choosing to,” his mother said, patting the seat beside her.  “I know it is hard to wait for your gifts, but——”

      “It ain’t that,” Hoss protested.  “I ain’t a baby.”

      “No,” Marie said firmly.  “Our baby is behaving much better.”

      Face flushing, Hoss glared at Little Joe, who was smiling and babbling contentedly in his mother’s lap.  “He don’t understand,” Hoss muttered defensively.

      “That is true,” Marie said, “but you are old enough to.”

      Hoss nodded.  “Yeah, I know Pa had to help that feller, and I’m proud he did.  It’s just that I had plans.  It was gonna be the most special Christmas ever.”  He’d waited weeks to surprise his mother and putting it off another day seemed unbearable.  “Pa will be home tomorrow, won’t he?”

      “I do not think that is possible, mon chéri.  If he is, it will be very late.”  Hearing Hoss’s deep sigh, Marie took his hand.  “Is there nothing I can do to make this day merry for you?”

      Hearing the wistful longing in her voice, Hoss looked up quickly.  No wonder folks treated him like a baby.  Here he was squalling, making his mother unhappy when he’d hoped to give her so much delight this morning.  Time he straightened up and remembered that behaving himself was what made his parents happiest of all.  “Yeah,” he said at last.  “Could I have pancakes for breakfast?  They’re my favorite.”

      Marie kissed his cheek.  Mais oui.  My good boy shall have his favorite breakfast for Christmas.  For that, at least, we will not wait.”

 

* * * * *

 

      James Sisson lifted a feeble hand as his rescuers entered the deserted cabin where he’d taken shelter from the elements.  The fire was flickering low, but still burning.  “You——you made it back,” Sisson murmured.

      “Sure, I make it,” Thompson boomed back, “and I bring doctor.”

      Paul Martin came forward.  “I’m the doctor.  It’s your feet that are injured?”

      “Frostbit,” Sisson grunted.  “Don’t think there’s any savin’ ‘em, doc.”

      “Let’s have a look,” Paul said and began gently unwrapping a foot swaddled in strips of gray flannel.

      “We should get this fire built up,” Ben suggested, placing the last log on the hearth.

      “Yah, I chop more wood,” Snowshoe stated.

      “I’ll tote it in,” Enos offered.

      Clyde stood warming his hands at the meager flame remaining on the cabin’s hearth.  “Anything I can do?”

      “Find something to boil water in, Clyde,” Paul requested.  Clyde nodded and began to search the sparsely furnished cabin.

      Ben unwrapped one of the packages he’d brought from the party.  “Brought you a taste of Christmas, Mr. Sisson,” he said, showing him the sugar-dusted cookies.

      A smile came to James Sisson’s face, and he stretched scrawny fingers forward.  “Thought I was in heaven when Snowshoe left them biscuits and sausage,” he said, “but this really is a Christmas blessing.”

      “Okay to let him have one?” Ben queried the doctor.

      “The whole pile,” Paul said.  “Sugar’s the quickest nourishment there is.”  He finished his examination and covered the cookie-munching patient gently.

      “Bad, ain’t it?” Sisson mumbled.

      Paul nodded.  “I’m sorry, but they’ll both have to be amputated.”

      Ben looked away, dreading the man’s despair.  This was no country for cripples.

      Sisson, however, faced the prospect with grim acceptance.  “Figured as much.  Was gonna do the job myself, but I’d sure rather have you do it proper, doc.”

      Paul walked across the cabin, motioning Ben to follow.  “We’ve got a problem, Ben.”  In answer to Ben’s questioning look, he continued.  “I’m out of chloroform.  I’ve had to do more surgery than I anticipated since the passes were blocked, and I’ve just run out.  If I don’t amputate his feet, Sisson will die, but without anesthetic, the shock may kill him anyway.”

      “None to be found this side of Placerville or maybe beyond,” Ben muttered.  “You think maybe Snowshoe?”

      Paul looked anxiously back at Sisson.  “It’s a lot to ask, after all the miles the man’s traveled already, but the rest of us are too inexperienced with these ski-skates to make good time.”

      “Probably get lost, too,” Clyde added from behind them.  He’d walked up to hear to final part of the conversation.  “We ain’t used to these mountains in winter.”

      “I’ll ask him,” Ben said and, pulling his jacket tighter, headed out into the wind.

      On hearing the need, Snowshoe Thompson immediately volunteered to ski to Placerville for chloroform.  “You can get Sisson back to Genoa?” he asked.  “Better there, I’m thinking.”

      “We’ll get him back,” Ben promised.  “Somehow, we’ll get him back.”

      Snowshoe left almost immediately, but the remaining rescuers stayed in the cabin until morning.  Being unused to both the ski-skates and the wintry slopes, none wanted to hazard the trek eastward by night.  Dr. Martin bathed Sisson’s frostbitten feet in warm water and wrapped them in clean bandages.  With nothing to ease his pain, the injured man spent a restless night, even with the doctor’s constant attention.  While the others slept, rolled in blankets on the earthen floor, Sisson’s  moans repeatedly disturbed their slumber.  For all of them, the sun rose too early.

      The powder-covered pine boughs were tinted in tones of rose and lavender as the men set out for Genoa the morning after Christmas.  Four of them carried the litter they’d formed of tree limbs and blankets, while Dr. Martin skied beside them, keeping close watch on his patient’s condition.  Their progress was slow, for, loaded down as they were, they couldn’t ski even as fast as their limited abilities would otherwise have permitted.

 

* * * * *

 

      Ben slipped soundlessly into the silent house, carrying in paper-wrapped bundles previously hidden in the barn and placing them beneath the tree.  Now they’d be ready to celebrate Christmas, but what Ben was most ready for at that moment was his down-filled pillow.  Not wanting to waken his family, he pulled off his boots downstairs and tiptoed up to his room.  He stood for a moment, gazing at the cascade of golden hair shining in the moonlight that caressed his wife’s pillow.

      As beautiful as that view was, however, Ben was exhausted.  He slipped into bed beside her.  Marie stirred slightly, then her eyes opened.  “Oh, Ben, you are back,” she cried softly, arms reaching for him.

      “Shh, yes,” Ben murmured, stroking her cheek.  “Go back to sleep, my love.”

      “Monsieur Sisson, you found him?” Marie murmured.

      “Yeah, he’s back in Genoa,” Ben replied.  “Not out of danger yet, but I’ve done all I can.  What I want now is a good night’s sleep, sweetheart.” 

      Mais oui.  You have earned it,” Marie said, kissing his forehead.  She drew his head onto her shoulder and cradled it until he fell asleep.

 

* * * * *

 

      Hoss eased the door to his parents’ room open and peered through the crack.  A wide grin split his face when he saw two figures mounded beneath the blankets.  Pa was home.  Now they could celebrate their delayed Christmas.  He pattered back down the hall in his bare feet, stopping at his bedroom to pick up a few packages to slip beneath the tree.

      Hustling back up the stairs, Hoss opened the hall door to the nursery.  He figured to do his parents the favor of getting Little Joe up and dressed; then they’d be ready to open presents.

      “Ben, Ben.”

      The tone of the summons was urgent, but Ben snored on.  He’d been awake the better part of three days and nights before retiring and counted each minute precious.  Then he felt himself shaken awake by a slender, but demanding hand.

      “Ben, there is someone in the nursery.”

      “Bound to be Hoss,” Ben muttered groggily, rolling over and burrowing deeper into his downy pillow.

      Marie pulled the covers back and sat up.  Feeling the movement, Ben finally opened his eyes.  “Where are you going?  It’s early yet.”

      “But, Ben,” she whispered, “if he wakes this early, Little Joe will be fussy all day.”

      Ben moaned.  All too true, and nothing was likely to spoil the day quite so much as a cranky baby.  He dutifully pulled back the covers.  “You stay here and keep warm,” he ordered.  “I can handle it.”

      “No, Ben, you are exhausted,” she protested.

      “Too cold for you ‘til I get the fire built,” Ben muttered.  “Stay in bed.”  Still yawning, he stumbled into the next room.  Sure enough, there stood Hoss, leaning over his baby brother’s crib, whispering the younger boy’s name.  That tactic having failed, he was just reaching in to do Little Joe the same dubious service Marie had performed for Ben.

“Hoss, what do you think you’re doing, boy?” Ben hissed.  He pulled Hoss’s hand back, but in so doing gave it the final impetus needed to jerk Little Joe from contented slumber into ear-piercing wakefulness.  “Now, look what you’ve done,” Ben grumbled, trying to pat Little Joe back to sleep.

      “It’s Christmas,” Hoss said, as if stating the obvious.  “He wants his presents.”

      “He doesn’t know what a present is,” Ben grunted, “and you’ll be lucky if Santa doesn’t leave a bundle of switches in your stocking instead of the candy you’re hoping for.”

      “Aw, Pa, you wouldn’t, would you?” Hoss whined as his father continued futilely rubbing Little Joe’s heaving chest..

      “Huh?” Ben asked absently as he put a probing finger into the baby’s diaper.  Drenched.  Obviously, there’d be no getting Little Joe back to sleep until he’d been made more comfortable.  “Get me a fresh diaper, boy.”

      Hoss scurried across the room and brought back the requested garment.  “You wouldn’t, would you, Pa?” he asked more plaintively.

      “Wouldn’t what?” Ben asked, laying the diaper on his shoulder while he unfastened the wet one.

      “Switch my presents for a bunch of sticks.”

      Ben laughed.  “That’s Santa’s decision, not mine, but I’d watch my step if I were you, boy.”  He set aside the soiled diaper and reached for the fresh one.

      “Pa, I know about Santa,” Hoss explained patiently.

      “What do you——”  Ben’s mouth clamped shut when the stream of urine struck his cheek, and he pressed the clean diaper quickly over the erupting fountain.

      Hoss laughed.  “He got you good, Pa!”

      “Yeah,” Ben chuckled in response.  He bent his head into the crib and made a face at his youngest.  “Is that a proper Christmas greeting for your weary father, little one?  No, it is not.”  Little Joe hiccuped as his whimpers began to peter out.  Ben looked up and grinned at Hoss.  “Another diaper, if you please.”

      Hoss scampered across the room and back again.  This time Ben kept the old diaper over the baby until the new one was in place beneath him, then deftly slid the first away while bringing the second up.  “Should have remembered that trick,” Ben muttered, “saved myself a shower.”

      “Huh?” Hoss asked.

      Ben looked up and smiled.  He’d forgotten he had an audience for his comments.  “This is my third son,” he explained.  “I’ve been sprayed before.  Haven’t changed this one’s diapers much, though.  You kind of lose the hang of it if you don’t stay in practice.”

      “Oh.”  Hoss grinned.

      “I would be glad to give you more practice,” Marie giggled from the door to the adjoining room, “but I do not know how to put that in your stocking.”

      “Thanks,” Ben said wryly, “but I’d rather have a bundle of sticks.”  He frowned at her eloquently.  “I thought I told you to stay in bed, young lady.”

      Marie shook her head, emerald eyes twinkling with mischief.  “And you will nurse our son, as well?  This I must see!”

      “Yeah, me, too!” Hoss cackled.

      Ben dug iron fingers into his second son’s brawny shoulder and herded him toward the door.  “Now, what’s this you think you know about Santa, boy?” he demanded.

      “I knew since last year.  Pa, I been to school,” Hoss said dryly, feeling that should explain everything.

      It did, as Ben’s nod indicated.  Nothing a schoolboy wouldn’t tell, if he thought it gave him an inch of exalted authority over another.  “Well, don’t tell Little Joe,” Ben urged.  “Leave me one boy I can play with for awhile.”

      “I won’t,” Hoss promised, “and you can still play with me.  I know how to pretend.”

      Ben chuckled.  Obviously, that was true.  Even in the face of the fantasy he and Snowshoe had concocted about chasing down Santa and having their gifts delivered to Genoa, Hoss had said nothing.  Not one word of what he’d learned the year before until this morning and that under the threat of a stocking full of wooden sticks instead of peppermint ones.  Just as obviously, Ben didn’t know his middle boy as well as he’d thought.

      Busily sucking in his breakfast, Little Joe stopped crying, but no amount of rocking could soothe him back to sleep.  Marie finally gave up and brought him, thoroughly awake, downstairs where Hoss was busily pinching and poking each package labeled with his name.  “You should not start without me,” Marie scolded, a pout on her soft lips.

      “We wouldn’t,” Ben assured her, “but how do you keep a boy from pinching when his Christmas is delayed this long?”

      “Pa pinched, too,” Hoss reported, eager to disperse the guilt.

      “That I believe!” Marie laughed.  “Now, then, which of you naughty pinchers shall open the first gift?”

      “I want you to open the presents from me first,” Hoss declared, having evidently concluded, without being directly taught, that it was more blessed to give than to receive.

      “Presents from you?” Marie asked, pleased.  “There are presents from you, mon chéri?  Oh, yes, let us see them now, s’il te plait.”

      “By all means,” Ben agreed heartily, “though I don’t know how you managed to sneak them under the tree.”

      Hoss hooted happily.  “Uncle Clyde brought ‘em in right under your nose the other night, with the ones from them!  I had help,” he explained to Marie as he placed a package in her hand.  “I trapped the rabbits, but Aunt Nelly made the stuff.”

      “A gift from two hands is doubly blessed,” Marie said gently, untying the twine that held the brown paper around the soft package.  As she drew out the short fur cape, lined with satin, she gave a cry of delight.  “But it is beautiful!  And how warm I shall be with this around my shoulders.  Oh, thank you, mon chéri.”

      “You like it?” Hoss asked eagerly.

      Mais oui!” his mother declared, pressing a kiss to his cheek to emphasize her pleasure.  She slid the cape over her shoulders and nuzzled the soft fur with her petite nose.

      Little Joe reached up from his perch in her lap to pat the cape.  “Ooh,” he cooed approvingly.

      “This one’s for Little Joe,” Hoss said, presenting his next gift.  “Guess you’ll have to help him unwrap it.”

      “Here, I’ll do it,” Ben said, reaching for the package.  A furry bunting and booties soon emerged, perfectly sized to keep the smallest Cartwright snug on any outdoor outing.

      “Oh, this is wonderful, Hoss,” Marie said, rewarding his other cheek with a kiss of its own.  “Little Joe does not know how to say thank you, but he will appreciate the warmth.”

      Hoss gave his father a chagrined shrug.  “I thought and thought, but I never could come up with anything for you, Pa,” he said.  “I’m sorry.”

      “Come here, Hoss,” Ben said with a smile.  When Hoss came close, he hefted the bulky boy onto his knee.  “Hoss, you give to me every day of your life,” he assured his son.  “You give me your love and your cheerful obedience and more help around the place than I have any right to ask of a seven-year-old boy, even one as strong as you.  No need to fret about putting a present in my hands when you’ve given so much already.  Besides, I had my share of those rabbits, too.”  They all laughed, remembering how much rabbit meat they had consumed over the last few months.

      “Adam sent presents, too,” Hoss announced.  “You want them next?”

      Ben laughed.  “Well, if you’re going to be that patient about your own gifts, I have an idea.  Let’s give the baby his first; then we can set him down to play while we enjoy opening ours.”

      That idea seemed agreeable to all, so Little Joe was presented with his new clothes and blocks and placed on the rug to examine them to his heart’s content.

      “Aunt Nelly sent him something, too,” Hoss said, “but I don’t know what it is.”

      “It’ll keep,” Ben said.  “Time you opened your own, boy.”

      “Okay,” Hoss agreed readily and plunged into the pile he’d set aside earlier.  He was happy to find a bag of marbles of his own, although Adam had never been selfish in letting him play with his.  The treasure box Uncle Clyde had made fascinated Hoss with its numerous compartments for rocks, bird eggs or whatever else a country boy found worth collecting.  The best gifts of all, though, were the hunting knife in its own leather sheath and a smaller knife to carry in his pocket.

      “Now, you can skin all the rabbits you like without borrowing my knife,” Ben teased, “and you can whittle with the smaller one, maybe learn to make things as fine as Uncle Clyde.”

      “Nobody’s that good,” Hoss declared, “but I aim to work at it.  Thanks, Pa.

      “You’re welcome.  Now, where are these gifts from Adam, and how did they get here?  Nothing came in the mail,” Ben commented.

      “I brung ‘em back in my carpetbag,” Hoss grinned, “when I stayed at Adam’s place.”  He fished the packages from beneath the tree.

      “And kept them secret all this time?  I’m impressed, son!”

      “I put ‘em under the tree this morning before I went to wake——”  Hoss prudently stopped.

      “Don’t remind me!”  Ben yawned expansively.  “It’s not too late to hunt up a bundle of sticks for your stocking, boy.”

      “Ben, do not tease,” Marie chided.

      “Yeah, well, here’s yours, Pa,” Hoss said hastily.  “It’s a book, I reckon.”

      Ben laughed as he took the hard, rectangular package.  “Yeah, I’d say so, knowing Adam.  That’s what you’re getting from your brother, too, you know.”

      “I didn’t know!” Hoss declared.  “How’d that get here?”

      “In my carpetbag.  How else?” Ben stated.  Adam had thought of everything, even the small, soft flannel shirt in which Marie had dressed Little Joe that morning..  “Ah, Whitejacket,” Ben read from the cover of the book.  “I’ll enjoy that these long winter nights.”

      “You know the story?” Marie asked.

      “I haven’t read it,” Ben admitted, “but I’ve read Moby Dick, which is another sea-faring tale by the same author.  Adam probably picked this in memory of my sailing days.”

      Oui, I am sure,” Marie replied.  “Adam would think of that.  Did you see what he sent me?” she asked, holding up two lace-edged handkerchiefs.

      “Very pretty, my lady,” Ben smiled.  “Your book’s under the tree, Hoss.”

      Unlike his older brother, Hoss placed no great value in books, but a present was a present, so he dutifully unwrapped the volume.  “Hey!” he yelled, holding up the thin volume with paper cover.  “It’s about Kit Carson!  Remember him, Pa?”

      “Not likely to forget him,” Ben stated emphatically, taking the book and flipping through the pages.  “You’d better take what you read with a grain of salt, though, boy.  Most of this is probably made up out of whole cloth.”

      “Yes, sir,” Hoss replied dutifully, but secretly he couldn’t wait to read the adventures of the hero he’d met as a young boy.  Except for Adam’s copy of Aesop’s Fables, it was the only book he’d ever thought worth the trouble of reading, which still came hard to Hoss.

      Ben and Marie exchanged gifts next, each chiding the other for spending too much in this year of economizing, but privately pleased nonetheless.  Finally, only one gift remained.  Hoss sat on the rug beside Little Joe, tugged the twine aside and lifted away the paper.  “Look what Aunt Nelly made you, Little Joe,” Hoss said, plopping the calico rabbit into his brother’s lap.

      “Ooh,” Little Joe murmured, his fingers closing around the tail made of real rabbit fur.

      “Just what we need, another rabbit!” Ben guffawed.

      “But why did she use real fur?” Marie moaned.  “It will go straight into his mouth.”  Not only the tail, but the ears, as well, were made from scraps of Hoss’s rabbit skins.

      Little Joe clutched his new rabbit by one furry ear, while he picked up a red and blue block and tossed it at his brother’s nose.

      “Here now,” Ben scolded.  “I did not give you those to throw at Hoss.”

      “HaHa!” Little Joe cried.

      “Oh, you think that’s funny, do you?” Ben chuckled, wrinkling his nose at the baby.  “Well, Hoss doesn’t.”

      “HaHa,” Little Joe said again.

      Marie laughed and picked up her baby.  “Is that all you can say, mon petit?  I had hoped for a gift from you this Christmas, a gift for Mama.  Mama,” she repeated suggestively.

      Ben took the boy from her arms.  “None of that,” he chided.  “If this boy has a Christmas gift in his pocket, I’m sure he wants it to go to Pa.  Little Joe gave him a bright grin.  “That’s right——Pa.  You want to say ‘Pa,’ don’t you, baby?”

      “HaHa,” Little Joe said.

      Marie sniggered.  “You see what he thinks of that idea!”

      “Well, it’s close,” Ben said, smiling.

      Little Joe leaned away from Ben, stretching toward the boy still seated on the rug.  “HaHa,” he urged.

      Marie covered her lips with her fingers.  “Oh, no!” she cried and burst into uncontrollable giggles.

      “What?” Ben asked.

      “His first word,” Marie babbled incoherently.

      “Pa,” Ben grinned maddeningly.  “His first word will be Pa.

      “No, Ben,” Marie tittered, her head wagging from side to side.  “He has already said his first word, and it is not Pa——nor Mama, either.  It is Hoss!”

      “HaHa,” Little Joe declared in confirmation, small arms reaching for his brother.

      Hoss grinned and scurried to his father’s side.  “Want to come to HaHa, baby?” he asked, arms outstretched.

      Little Joe came readily and snuggled up against his brother’s neck.  “HaHa,” he cooed contentedly while his flabbergasted parents looked on.

 

* * * * *

 

      The front page of January’s first issue of the Scorpion was devoted to an account of James Sisson’s rescue and successful amputation.  While all the volunteers were commended for their willingness to spend a holiday in assisting a fellow creature in need, Snowshoe Thompson was credited with saving the trapper’s life.  Unable to find chloroform in Placerville, he had gone all the way to Sacramento and back.  In all, Thompson had skied four hundred miles in ten days, a feat of heroic proportions, as editor Stephen Kinsey declared.  “He must be made of iron.  Besides, he never thinks of himself, but he’d give his last breath for anyone else——even a total stranger.”


CHAPTER NINE

Population Shift Northward

 

 

T

hroughout a frosty January Marie enjoyed the warmth of her fur cape, and while Little Joe couldn’t express his feelings, he seemed happy every time he was bundled into his rabbit skin bunting and carried into the fresh air.  In fact, he seemed to prefer a chilly excursion to a warm spot by the fire.  Not so the rest of the family, although Ben counted himself blessed by the remarkable mildness of that winter.  Only three quickly disappearing snows had fallen, and while the mornings were chilly, by noon the weather was usually quite pleasant.

Firewood was still a constant need, however, and while Ben had men available to chop down the trees, he didn’t feel right about letting them do all the work while he sat idly by the fire.  He saw to it that even Hoss did his fair share in providing wood for the kitchen.  Splitting kindling was a job for a youngster, after all, not a full-grown ranch hand, and Hoss did it well.  Ben secretly thought his middle son would have preferred any chore to the task of learning his letters.

      The sun set early these short, winter days, and Ben was glad.  He disliked the cold, but the early darkness meant work had to end sooner than in the lingering daylight of spring and summer and gave him more time to spend with his family.  Little Joe, just beginning to pull up and ease his way around the furniture, held everyone’s attention until he grew drowsy and was carried off to bed each evening.  Afterwards, the rest of the family settled into his or her chosen spot:  Ben, in his mauve armchair, lost himself in Melville’s Whitejacket, while Hoss sprawled on the sofa to explore the wilderness with Kit Carson.  Marie chose the blue chair opposite Ben to catch up on her mending or stitch a new dress from the green silk she’d been given for Christmas.

      All other activities were set aside, however, when Snowshoe Thompson arrived with letters from Adam, as well as one from Ben’s old friend, Josiah Edwards.  Ben, who had ridden into Genoa expressly to meet the mail carrier, delivered Hoss’s letter, then opened the one addressed to him and Marie and read it aloud.  Adam first expressed appreciation for the Christmas gifts he’d found waiting at Rancho Hermoso when he arrived there to spend the holidays.  He hadn’t expected anything, but was thrilled with the surprise and with each gift his parents had selected.  He didn’t list them in the letter to them, of course, but Hoss got a full report in his, as well as a description of the horses Adam had been able to ride while he visited the Paynes.  He waxed particularly eloquent about the glossy black stallion that had been his favorite mount.

      To his parents, Adam confided his pleasure in being able to promptly post his journal, faithfully kept, to his friend Jamie back in Saint Joseph and expressed the hope that he might receive the one Jamie recorded for him much earlier this year.  Then he reported the marks he’d received for his first term’s work.  “Top of his class in virtually every subject,” Ben said, beaming with pride.

      “He is such a good student,” Marie agreed.

      Hoss grimaced.  No one had made any comparison between him and his scholarly brother, of course, but he couldn’t help feeling they were thinking what they were too kind to say to his face.

      Ben turned next to the letter from Josiah.  His friend had read about President Buchanan’s request for troops to deal with the Mormon conflict in the printed text of his annual message to Congress on December 8th and was, of course, concerned that his friend might be endangered.  “Josiah doesn’t seem to realize how far we are from Salt Lake City,” Ben chuckled.  “I’ll have to write and assure him that the troops are not breathing down our throats out here.”

      “But he is a teacher,” Marie objected.  “Surely so learned a man—”

      “Is not always aware of simple practicalities,” Ben smiled.  “The same distance would seem much closer to an easterner, my love.”

      Oui, that is true,” Marie conceded with a smile, remembering her own concept of distance when she lived in New Orleans.  “Do you think there will be fighting, Ben?” she asked thoughtfully.

      Ben shook his head.  “Hard to believe it’ll come to that——Americans fighting other Americans.  May we never see that day, Marie.”

      Oui, may we never see that,” she agreed.

      Ben waited until the boys were both in bed before he delivered the other news he’d picked up in town.  “Snowshoe Thompson brought word of a friend of ours, Marie,” he began quietly.

      “Oh, who is that?” she inquired.

      “Allen Grosch.”

      “Oh, Monsieur Thompson has seen him?” Marie said, her face lighting.  “He did make it to California, then.”

      “No, Marie,” Ben whispered hoarsely.  “That is to say, he did, but not out of the mountains, not alive.”

      Marie blanched.  “He—he is dead?”

      Ben nodded.  “I warned him he was leaving too late, and as I’d feared, he and his friend Bucke were caught in a snowstorm, must’ve wandered for days——the last five without food or fire, Thompson said.  Toes froze, then their feet.  By the time they stumbled into the camp of a Mexican miner, their legs were frozen to the knees.”

      “Ah,” Marie moaned.  “This is terrible, but they were safe then, oui?”

      “Yeah,” Ben said, “but in terrible condition, dearest.  Bucke let them amputate one leg and the other foot, so he survived, but Allen refused to let them do what was needed.  Gangrene set in and he died——about a week before Christmas.”

      Marie brushed a tear from her cheek.  “From gangrene, like his brother.  And he could have been saved, if only he had done as Monsieur Bucke and Monsieur Sisson did.  Oh, Ben!”

      Ben crossed the room to put his arm around her.  “It’s a hard land, my love, for those who don’t respect it.”

      “As you always shall,” Marie murmured, slender fingers reaching for his face.  It was more plea than statement.

      “As I always shall,” Ben vowed, kissing the fingers so close to his lips.

 

* * * * *

 

      On a rare wintertime visit a week later, Laura Ellis fumed at length over Henry Comstock’s usurpation of the Grosch cabin.  “Not only does Old Pancake act like the place is his own now,” she ranted, “but the Grosch’s claim papers have mysteriously disappeared!  All their books and other papers, too.  It’s obvious to me that Comstock intends to jump the claim and search for their monster vein.”

      “Monster vein?” Marie asked.  “What is that?”

      Laura took a deep breath.  “It’s what I couldn’t tell you before, dear, because I’d been sworn to secrecy.  Allen and Hosea were convinced they’d found a huge vein of silver.”

      “Silver!” Marie cried.  “But I thought they were gold miners.”

      “I know.  That’s what everyone else is looking for, but the Grosches seemed to think the real riches of this territory would be in silver,” Laura elaborated, then sighed.  “We’ll never know now, I guess.  I don’t mind losing my investment half as much as I do seeing that disreputable old codger claim the place for his own.  This soon after a man’s death, it’s indecent!”

      Henry Comstock was, in truth, no older than Ben, but his unkempt appearance did seem to warrant calling him an “old codger,” so Marie didn’t correct her friend.  “Could you not fight him——legally, I mean——to recover your investment?  Ben would help you, I am sure.”

      Laura shook her head.  “The only paper I have entitles me to a claim neighboring that of the Grosch brothers, and without their claim papers, who can say where that is?  Trusting one another as we did, we never thought to make it more specific.  I wouldn’t have a leg to stand on in a court of law, Marie, assuming I thought it worthwhile to take the matter to Salt Lake City.”

      “It is a long distance,” Marie agreed.

      “And what would I do with a silver claim if I had it?” Laura chuckled.  “I know nothing of how to operate one.  No, I’ll have to settle for making my living with the work of my hands.”

      Marie took her friend’s hands in her own and pressed them warmly.  “Let us be thankful they are strong ones,” she smiled.

      “I am thankful,” Laura said, smiling back.  “It just makes me furious to think of the foolish waste of those boys’ lives.  It’s a tragedy, Marie, to see young men cut off in the flower of their days.”

      January was a month for tragic news, it seemed, for the mail Snowshoe Thompson brought toward its end included a grievous report that struck even closer to home for the Cartwrights than the death of a one-time neighbor.  Ben returned from Genoa that afternoon with such a long face Marie was immediately concerned.  “You look disappointed, Ben,” she said.  “Was there no letter from Adam?”

      “Yes, one for us and one for Hoss, as always,” Ben replied absently.  He drew them from inside his vest and handed them to her, wandering aimlessly toward the warmth of the fireplace.

      “Hurray!” Hoss cried.  “Can I read mine to Little Joe?  He ain’t likely to be asleep yet.”  Marie had just taken the baby upstairs for a nap.

      Oui, that is fine,” she said, handing the letter to Hoss.  Surprised she’d made no objection to disturbing the baby, Hoss took it and ran up the stairs, while Marie came to place soothing hands on her husband’s back.  “What is wrong, Ben?  Did Adam send bad news?”

      Ben turned around and took his wife in his arms.  “No, not him.  There was a letter from John, as well.”

      “But that is good,” Marie remonstrated.  There had been one short letter from John earlier, to let them know he’d arrived home safely, but no news since, and Marie knew how earnestly Ben had been yearning for word from his brother.

      “Martha’s gone, Marie,” he said quietly.

      Marie paled.  “John’s wife?  Oh, no, Ben.  How sad for him!”

      Nodding, Ben closed his eyes.  “She was a good woman——a little rigid, maybe, but she had a kind heart.  She treated Adam like her own when we stayed with them.”

      Marie reached up to stroke his cheek gently.  “It is sad for you, as well, mon mari.”

      “Yeah,” Ben sighed, “but mostly for John’s sake.  You’ll see when you read the letter.  My brother’s grief-stricken, can’t quit blaming himself for all the years they spent apart.  Says over and over he should have listened to me, gone home when I first urged it to him.”

      Oui,” Marie agreed, “but he must go on, Ben.  He has a son still to raise.”

      “Practically raised now,” Ben muttered.  “Will’s older than Adam, my love, by about a year.  Anyway, that’s another grief for John.  The boy’s taken offense at the years his mother had to struggle alone to keep that farm going, feels it weakened her and contributed to her death.  He’s full of anger, blames his father.”

      “Will they come west now, do you think?” Marie asked.

      Ben’s head lifted.  “I don’t know, but I definitely intend to urge John to come here.  Family should be together in time of sorrow, and the Mormons left plenty of good land.”

      “You must write him, too, to be patient with young Will,” Marie counseled.  “It is grief for his mother’s death he feels, more than anger at his father, I am sure.”

      “Yeah, I’ll do that,” Ben said, guiding her toward the sofa.  “Now, shall we read Adam’s letter.  Pleasanter news, I trust.”

      “You did not read it in town?”

      “No.  Wish I had, but I was so anxious for news of John, I opened it first, then didn’t have the heart to read anything else,” Ben sighed.

      Marie opened the envelope.  “It is just as well.  You have more need for cheery news now.”  And as they read together the latest news of their son, the smile returned to Ben’s face.

 

* * * * *

 

      Answering the door on the final Saturday of the month, Hop Sing beamed a warm welcome to one of the Cartwright’s most cherished friends.  “Ah, Doctah Mahtin, Missy Sally, come in, please.  Mistah Ben away now, but I tell Missy Cahtlight you here.”

      Marie came downstairs, carrying Little Joe, who was immediately confiscated by a doting Sally Martin.  “It is good to see you, Doctor Martin,” Marie said brightly.  “You will stay for dinner, oui?”

      “Yes, ma’am, our intention exactly,” Paul Martin smiled.  “I’d hoped for a game of chess, but Hop Sing tells me Ben is away.”

      Marie laughed.  “No, not far.  He and Hoss are at the birthing barn, helping one of the mother cows.”

      “Sounds like a job for you, Papa,” Sally giggled.

      “Mind your sassy tongue, girl,” her father said, crinkling his eyes merrily.  However he sounded, it was obvious he doted on the girl, who resembled her mother more every year.  “If Marie will point the way, I think I will see if Ben needs a hand.  I have so few human patients lately, I might as well concentrate on the animal kind.”

      Marie went into the yard with Dr. Martin and pointed him in the right direction, then returned to the house, a puzzled look in her eyes.  “What did your father mean when he spoke of few patients, Sally?  He seems too busy to visit here often.”

      Sally giggled.  “Oh, you know Papa, always teasing.  He probably meant that a lot of the miners have moved further north, near Devil’s Gate, but they’ll send for him if they’re really sick.”

      “Put Little Joe down,” Marie suggested proudly, “and see how he gets around now.  The miners think to do better near this Devil’s Gate?”

      Sally set the baby on the floor and watched, fascinated, as he began to crawl.  “From what Billy Thomas tells me, they’re making about ten dollars a day there, twice what they were bringing in closer to us.”

      Marie sniggered.  “And what does Billy know of mining?”

      Sally grinned.  “You know Billy, nose into everything.  He’d make a good reporter, if his grammar were fit to read.  He says Mr. Comstock went prospecting a couple of days ago with John Bishop and Old Virginny and they made a strike just below the divide.  Yesterday prospectors from Johntown and Chinatown headed there, too, so Billy says.”

      “Yesterday?  You’ve seen him since then?”

      “He came by this morning,” Sally replied.

      “You see him often?” Marie asked, womanly curiosity aroused.

      “Pretty regularly,” Sally replied and the two women sat close, exchanging purely feminine chatter about the relations between male and female.

      Paul Martin, meanwhile, had made his way to the birthing barn and greeted his friend Ben.  “I’m afraid our little mother here’s having a hard time,” Ben said, worry in his voice.  Hoss, seated beside the cow, was stroking her side consolingly.

      “Let me have a look,” Paul offered and Ben readily accepted.  After a cursory examination, the doctor gave a short laugh.  “Must be something in the air here on the Ponderosa.”

      Ben arched a quizzical eyebrow.

      “It’s a breech, Ben,” the doctor explained.

      “Like Little Joe, Doc?” Hoss asked, biting his lip.

      “That’s right, Hoss, like Little Joe,” Dr. Martin replied.

      “But that’s bad, ain’t it?”

      “Well, we’ll see,” the doctor said gently, mindful of Hoss’s love for living things.  “We may be able to convince the little fellow to turn around the right way.  There was no persuading your little brother to do the same; he seemed determined to do things the hard way, but maybe the calf won’t be as stubborn.”

      The calf did prove more tractable than Ben’s third son.  With Dr. Martin’s assistance, he entered the world face forward, with a healthy bawl and a hearty appetite for his mother’s milk.  “Don’t know how we’d’ve managed without you,” Ben said as they walked back to the house.  “You’ve earned your supper tonight, doctor.”

      Paul laughed.  “Seems like I always have to pay for my supper, one way or another, when I come here.”

      Ben slapped his back.  “Well, at least I can promise you a hefty fee.  Hop Sing tends to outdo himself when company comes.”

      Over dinner they discussed the new mining field and how it might affect businesses further south.  “Miners still have to eat,” Paul said wryly.  “They’ll come where the food is, but an enterprising man might do well to bring it closer to them.”

      “And what about you?” Ben suggested.  “Ever think of moving to Franktown?  Seems a shame the Mormons had to leave so suddenly, just when the little town was showing such promise.  They’d even begun replacing their log cabins with frame houses, and there’s a start of lovely Lombardy poplars along the streets.  Plenty of vacant houses in Franktown, my friend, and we’d love having you closer.”

      Paul laughed.  “Plenty of vacant houses,” he agreed, “but not an occupied one to be found.  I have to leave Sally alone so much, I’d rather live where she has neighbors to call on if there’s need.”

      “Yeah, I’d probably feel that way if I had a pretty girl to watch out for,” Ben said, smiling at the doctor’s daughter.

      Sally blushed.

      “Of course, there’s something to be said for moving her away from some people,” Ben teased, “like a certain mischievous redhead.”

      “Who buzzes around my bright blossom altogether too often,” Paul laughed, while Sally’s blush deepened.

      “Ignore them,” Marie suggested.  “They should not talk about Billy when they are behaving like mischiefs themselves.”

      “I’m used to it,” Sally said with a toss of her brown hair.  “I’ve told Papa time and again that Billy and I are just friends, but he insists on making more of it.”

      “Just so Billy doesn’t!” Ben chortled.

      “Ooh!  Go play chess,” Marie ordered spicily, “and leave us to more sensible company.”

      “She means Little Joe,” Ben confided naughtily to the doctor, who grinned, but knew better than to rush in where angels feared to tread.  That, as any acquaintance of the Cartwrights could have affirmed, was exactly the territory on which a man was trespassing when he made less than worshipful comments about Marie’s precious baby boy.  It was a wonder even Ben could get away with it.

 

* * * * *

 

      Pleasant weather continued through February, so the Cartwrights and the Thomases were able to meet for Sunday dinner each week.  It was the Thomases turned to play host on the twenty-first, one day following Billy’s birthday, and the fare was unusually festive.  Although Billy had cut his cake the day before, there was still enough left to provide everyone a slice for dessert.

      “Bet Adam ain’t havin’ as fine a birthday as me,” Billy bragged.

      “Billy, you hush that sass,” his mother scolded.  “Lands, where are your manners?”

      “Just teasin’,” Billy grinned.  “Ain’t like the old days when we could share a cake, though, is it?”  Though Billy was a year older, his birthday fell just two days before Adam’s on the calendar, and the two had sometimes shared a celebration on the day between.

      “Well, it’s nothing to tease about,” Nelly rebuked, “with Adam’s folks missin’ him like they’re bound to be.”

      “Sorry, Uncle Ben,” Billy said, but his blue eyes were still twinkling.

      “I can see how much,” Ben chuckled tartly.  “We miss Adam, of course, but I can assure you he’ll be having a fine birthday tomorrow.  I wrote instructing him to treat himself and a couple of friends to dinner and a night at the theater or whatever other celebration they agreed on.”

      Billy’s face fell.  “Hey, how come I never get a party like that?”

      “Where would you go?” Clyde scoffed.

      “And who’d want to go with you?” Inger added, pointing her pink tongue at her scowling brother.

      “It would be a fine thing, Billy, if there were theaters and fine restaurants this side of the mountains, oui?” Marie inserted, hoping to make peace.

      “Yeah!” Hoss agreed between bites of fried chicken.

      “Well, now, maybe that day ain’t so far away as you think,” Clyde said, leaning back and hooking his thumbs in his waistband.

      Ben arched an eyebrow.  “You look like a man bursting with a secret,” he accused.

      “That’s just what he is,” Nelly laughed.  “Been fit to bust with it for days.  Go ahead and spit it out, Clyde.”

      “Reckon you ain’t heard we’re gettin’ us a new town ‘twixt here and your place,” Clyde began.

      Ben’s brow arched even higher.  “A whole new town?” he quizzed skeptically.  “Nothing in the Scorpion about it.”

      Clyde scowled.  “That’s ‘cause this here’s gonna be a decent town, not another hive of Mormons.”

      Clyde!” Nelly cried.  “Now don’t start that.”

      Clyde waved her concern aside.  “Ben knows my feelin’s.  But that’s all beside the point anyway.  You heard of Abe Curry, Ben?”

      “No, don’t recognize the name,” Ben admitted.

      “Well, he’s new hereabouts.  Been tryin’ to buy some property in Genoa, thought he could get a good deal since them fool Mormons left so much behind,” Clyde elaborated.

      “I would have thought so, too,” Ben commented.

      Clyde shook his head.  “Naw, them what’s left is seein’ to it prices stay high, askin’ a thousand dollars for a hundred-foot frontage in town.”

      Ben whistled.  “That’s steep.”

      “Too steep for Curry,” Clyde confided, “so he set his sights elsewhere, bought up most of Eagle Valley Ranch, tradin’ post included.”

      “Oh, yeah?  Better be careful, my friend, or he’ll be taking the lion’s share of your business,” Ben chuckled.  “With the mining interests moving north, Eagle Valley will be closer to the customers.”

      “Our thinkin’ exactly,” Clyde grinned.  “Me and Curry, that is.”

      Ben cocked his head and gave Clyde a close scrutiny.  “What are you up to?” he asked suspiciously.

      “Movin’ closer to our friends, that’s what!” Nelly piped in gleefully.  “Curry made Clyde a good offer, so he’ll be doin’ his blacksmithin’ alongside the post and helpin’ out there, too, in the busy season.”

      Marie clapped her hands.  “Oh, that is good news!”

      Nelly glowed.  “Ain’t it?  Give me a hand with the dishes, honey lamb, and we can talk it over our own way.  You gents are welcome to the parlor.”

      “Call me if Little Joe wakes,” Marie said as Ben followed Clyde into the next room.

      “He does that quite well for himself,” Ben teased and scampered through the doorway as Marie fired a wadded napkin at his back.

      “Race you to the seesaw,” Inger challenged, swatting Hoss’s arm.  Hoss took his time about following.  The seesaw wasn’t going anywhere, and Inger couldn’t play on it ‘til he got there anyway.  Considering himself a man at the exalted age of sixteen, Billy followed the men into the parlor, prepared to make himself take interest in adult topics.

      As she retrieved her linen weapon, Marie frowned thoughtfully.  “I am glad you will be moving closer, Nelly, but one trading post does not make a town, as Clyde said.”

      “No,” Nelly agreed, carrying a stack of plates to the sideboard where her dishpan was set up, “but Curry’s got big plans.  There’s two or three cabins near the post now, but Curry aims to lay out a regular town site, figurin’ the place’ll grow.  Says he’s gonna hire a regular surveyor to lay it out proper, with wide streets and a big plaza.”

      Marie brought another stack of dishes to set atop the plates.  “I did not know we had any surveyors here.”

      Nelly laughed.  “Honey, every miner was somethin’ else back in the States.  I ain’t sure we got a surveyor in the territory, either, but if there’s one to be found, Curry’ll see to it Carson City gets a proper layin’ out.”

      Marie smiled.  Carson City?  Monsieur Curry has already named the town?”

      “Lands, yes!” Nelly said, lifting a pail of water to fill the dishpan.  “He’s got big dreams, Marie.  Like our menfolk, he’s hopin’ to split from Utah and form a separate territory.  If that happens, we’ll need a capital city, and Curry figures he’ll have the jump on any other town around.”

      Marie laughed.  “There is only one other of any size, and Genoa has been here longer.”

      “True,” Nelly said, lathering up a pan of suds, “but as mad as Curry is over the high-handed treatment he got there, he’ll do his dead-level best to drain off all their trade.”

      “Your Carson City would be more convenient for us, to be sure,” Marie agreed.  “Will you move soon?”

      “I reckon,” Nelly sighed.  “Those cabins they got there now ain’t near so roomy as what we got here, and I’ll sure miss havin’ my parlor.  Don’t know what we’ll do with the furnishin’s ‘til we get somethin’ better built.”

      Marie took a dishtowel and began drying the dishes as Nelly drew them from the water.  “You will store them with us, of course,” she said practically.  “I still have more rooms than furniture.”

      Nelly laughed.  “Honey, I was hopin’ you’d offer.  Now tell me how that little sugarfoot of yours is growin’.  Talkin’ up a storm yet?”

      Marie smiled, happy, as always, to talk about her favorite subject.  “Only three words so far——HaHa, Mama and Pa, which he learned in that order, to Ben’s dismay——but I expect more at any time.  Oh, and he crawls so fast now!”

      The ladies chattered on over the dishes, sharing the excitement of Little Joe’s development and comparing it to that of the youngsters Nelly had raised, her own three and young Hoss Cartwright.

 

* * * * *

 

      After a mild winter, March turned suddenly stormy, with rarely a day when snow didn’t fall.  Fortunately, on a Saturday just past the middle of the month, the very day the prospective residents of the new Carson City planned to move, the sky cleared.  Ben Cartwright pulled his team to a stop in front of the Thomas cabin near Carson River.  Clyde and Billy finished loading the kitchen table into their own wagon, then climbed down to welcome Ben.  “Thought we’d get the jump on you,” Billy grinned, “but you’re up early.”

      “Thank Little Joe for that,” Ben chuckled.  “He decided to make a short night of it, so we figured we might as well come on.  I dropped Marie and the boys off at your new place.”

      “We got things planned out pretty good, I think,” Clyde said.  “Figured to load most of what we’ll take with us in our big wagon and use yours for the furniture we’ll be storin’ at your place.”

      “Sure better than loading it twice,” Ben smiled.  “Let’s load those things first, then I’ll go on over and pick up the Martins’ things and Mrs. Ellis’s while you finish here.”

      Abraham V. Z. Curry, feeling that any respectable town should boast a physician, had offered the use of one of the cabins standing near the trading post in Eagle Valley to Dr. Martin, and he’d accepted.  Sally was a good enough cook and housekeeper that she chafed at life in a boardinghouse, and with the Thomases practically next door, Paul knew she’d have someone to turn to if problems arose while he was on a call.

      When she heard about the new town, Laura Ellis had approached Curry and won his approval for transferring her laundry and bakery to the budding Carson City, as well.  Such businesses, Curry felt, could only speed the development of his dream capital, so he willingly donated the final cabin to Mrs. Ellis.  Although he had originally planned to stay there himself until his sturdy stone house was completed, he moved his bed to a small room at the trading post.  It wouldn’t be for long; his new house was practically finished.

      Working together, the two Thomases and Ben quickly had the Cartwright buckboard loaded with the parlor furniture, then Ben helped move the few items that were so bulky or heavy that three men could lift them more easily than two.  Leaving Clyde and Billy to complete the transfer of goods to the wagon normally used to freight in supplies, Ben drove to the boardinghouse inhabited by the Martins.  “Look, Mr. Cartwright,” Sally bubbled.  “Mrs. Cosser made us up a basket for lunch.  I’m not sure there’s enough for everyone, but wasn’t that a kind thought?”

      “A very kind thought,” Ben agreed, “and don’t worry; if we don’t fill up at noon, we’ll make up for it at supper.  Hop Sing packed a basket of food, too.”

      “With his usual tendency to overstuff it, I presume,” the doctor smiled.

      “Wouldn’t be Hop Sing if he hadn’t,” Ben laughed.  “You have everything packed or has your mind been too much on your stomach?”

      “Very funny,” Paul scowled.  “Certainly, we’re ready.  Didn’t have that much to pack, after all.  Mostly clothes.  I do have that table I rigged up for examining patients, though; it’s mine to take.”

      “Well, let’s load it in,” Ben said brightly.  “Clothes can fit most anyplace.”

      “I suppose,” Paul chuckled, “but you be careful loading my instruments and medicines, young fellow.”

      Ben laughed.  Thirty-seven years old and the man referred to him as a young fellow!  “Oh, I will, grandpa,” he assured the doctor, who Ben figured to be no more than five years his senior, about the age of his brother John.

      Loading the Martins’ goods didn’t take long, and the distance to the Ellis cabin was short.  Young Jimmy, playing in the yard, was the first to see the wagon drive up.  “They’re here, Mama,” he yelled, running inside.

      Laura came out swiftly.  “Didn’t expect you quite this soon,” she said, wiping her hands on her apron.  “I’ve been making sandwiches for the noon meal.  We won’t make it there by then, will we?”

      “Doubt it,” Ben said.  “My load’s not too heavy, but yours and the Thomases is.  We’ll probably stop long enough to eat.”

      Ben and Paul hefted the heavy cookstove into Laura’s buckboard first, then beds, tables and chairs.  Though she didn’t have as much furniture as the Thomases, it was too much for one buckboard.  Fortunately, Ben still had a little room left in his, and they managed to cram everything in one wagon or the other.  Ben led the way, with Jimmy and Sally riding beside him, while Laura rode on her own wagon, with Paul driving.

      The little caravan easily overtook the Thomases’ plodding ox-drawn freight wagon, but Ben was surprised to see only Clyde there.  “Where’s your family?” he asked as he drew up alongside.

      “Took the buckboard on ahead,” Clyde explained.  “Nelly got to frettin’ that Marie was tryin’ to clean up them cabins all by herself and knew she could make better time than me.  Ain’t much but kitchen gear in the buckboard.”

      “Yeah,” Ben said.  “Billy’s driving, I suppose.”

      “Yeah.”

      “Well, let’s get this train underway then, folks,” Ben called cheerily.  “You lead the way, Clyde, so we don’t leave you behind.”

      Clyde nodded and chirruped to his team to get them moving.  “Kind of reminds you of the old days, don’t it?” he called back to Ben.

      Ben acknowledged the comment with a wave of his hand.  Yes, it did remind him of their trek west.  Without the hardships, though, he realized, chuckling to himself.  No cooking over a fire of buffalo chips, no dry marches across arid deserts, no churning rivers to ford and no Diggers shooting poisoned arrows.  By comparison, this was a tame journey.  To pass the time, Ben found himself reminiscing to young Jimmy and Sally about the earlier one, glossing over the hardships and concentrating on the landmarks they’d passed or the excitement of his first buffalo hunt.  Jimmy, especially, listened with fascination until the sun rose high and stomachs began to rumble.

      The caravan rested briefly after the noon meal, mostly for the sake of the animals.  “When we were on the trail, we’d rest two hours at noon,” Ben explained to Jimmy, “but we’re only going a short distance today, and the animals can rest all day tomorrow.”

      “Mama says Sunday is the day of rest,” Jimmy confided.  “She don’t do no work, then, except for fixin’ dinner.”

      “That’s work enough,” Ben agreed.  “Your mama works hard all week and deserves a day of rest.”

      “Yes, sir,” Jimmy agreed, “but I’m gettin’ big enough to help some now.”

      “That’s the spirit, son,” Ben said, giving the boy an approving pat.  “Now, let’s lie back and stretch out a few minutes before we hit the trail again.”  Ben eased into a reclining position, laying his hat over his face.  Jimmy flopped down beside him and stuck his hat over his nose, too, wanting to be as much like Mr. Cartwright as possible.

      Finally, the three wagons pulled into Carson City.  Ben had to smile at such an illustrious name for a collection of five buildings, one under construction.  Still, it was a good beginning for a town, and he couldn’t help hoping Carson City would prosper.  Closer to supplies, closer to friends——Ben had every reason to wish the little town well.

      Nelly and Marie were sitting side by side on a quilt spread on the grass behind the Thomases’ cabin, with Little Joe napping between them, when the wagons pulled in.  Nelly rose and hurried to the front.  “You made good time,” she called.  “Howdy Laura, Sally.”

      “Hello, Nelly,” Laura called as Dr. Martin helped her down from her wagon.

      “See you waited for us to unload that wagon,” Clyde grumbled.  “Billy too busy to help his Ma, I reckon.”

      “Don’t be criticizin’ the boy,” Nelly chided.  “He’d’ve helped if I’d asked, but there weren’t much point in just settin’ stuff on the ground.  Ain’t nothin’ inside to put it on, Clyde.

      Clyde lifted his hat and wiped sweat from his brow.  “Reckon not.  Where’s that scamp got off to now, though?”

      “He took the younguns off for a romp,” Nelly said.  “Ought to be back soon; I told ‘em not to stay gone long.”

      Marie, who’d taken her time to avoid waking Little Joe by a sudden movement, came around the corner of the house, carrying him.  “Have you had anything to eat?” she asked.  “Hop Sing sent plenty.”

      Ben placed a light kiss on her cheek and brushed the baby’s downy curls.  “We’ve eaten, thanks to Mrs. Cosser and Laura.  We’d better get right to work if we expect to unload three households by sundown.”

      Marie nodded and stepped out of the way.  There was nothing she could do to help until things were unloaded, and nothing then if Hoss didn’t return to watch the baby while she worked.

      The three men first unloaded the Ellis wagon.  Since she owned less than the Thomases, the job wouldn’t take long, and the ladies could begin arranging things there while the men moved the other families’ belongings to their respective cabins.  They’d just set Laura’s last crate off the wagon when Billy came striding up with Hoss and Inger in tow.

      “‘Bout time you showed up,” Clyde grunted.

      “Hey, I came soon as I saw your dust,” Billy blurted out defensively.  “You got in earlier than we expected.”  Seeing Sally, he tempered his tone quickly, doffed his hat and said hello.

      “Hello, Billy,” Sally smiled.  “There’s still plenty of work to be done.”

      “Plenty for us ladies, too,” Nelly said.  “Show us where you want things set, Laura, and we’ll have your place lookin’ homey right quick.”

      “Hoss, take Little Joe behind the cabins and watch him,” Marie said, placing the baby in his big brother’s arms.

      “Okay, but I’m hungry, Mama,” Hoss said.  “Ain’t we got somethin’ to eat?”

      “We had some sandwiches left,” Laura said.  “Jimmy can get the basket for you.  Keep him out from underfoot, too, will you, Hoss?”

      “Yes, ma’am,” Hoss said.  As the oldest of the four youngsters, he was, of course, expected to be the responsible one, but Hoss didn’t mind.  Little Joe was still asleep, and neither Inger nor Jimmy was the kind to run off and get into mischief.

      Many hands make light work, as the old proverb states, and sooner than seemed possible, three cabins were in reasonable order and the weary workers gladly ate every scrap left from three originally bulging picnic hampers.  They’d made a fire, just to make coffee and keep warm, and while the sleepy youngsters stretched out on a blanket and Billy and Sally took a stroll in the moonlight, the adults enjoyed a brief time for conversation as they sipped a cup of hot brew.

      “I think we’ve got the beginnings of a fine town here,” Paul Martin commented.

      “I know I’ll feel safer with good neighbors close,” Nelly observed.  “Whatever Clyde thinks of Mormons, there was more law and order in the valley with them here.”

      “Yes, I’ve heard there’s been a real rash of crime lately,” Dr. Martin said.

      “And your consarned committee of twenty-eight doin’ nothin’ about it,” Clyde grumbled with a significant nod at Ben.

      Ben shook his head.  “What can we do?  We have no authority to back us up.”

      “Well, got some now, I reckon,” Clyde said.  “You part of that mass meetin’ they had a few days back?”

      “You know me better than that!” Ben scoffed.  “I was invited, but when I saw they were set on forming a vigilance committee, I had no desire to be part of it.  I don’t believe in vigilante justice.”

      “Better than none, I say,” Clyde argued.  “Ask San Francisco.”

      “Yeah, I know,” Ben muttered, pouring himself a second cup of coffee.  “I know all the arguments for taking the law into your own hands, but I think there has to be a better way.”

      “Like lettin’ rustlers drive off that herd you’re so proud of, I reckon,” Clyde sniffed.

      “You know better,” Ben said again.  “Sure, a man has to protect his home and property, if it comes to that; but holding trials and hanging offenders, that’s a job for legally constituted authority.”

      “Of which we have none, Ben,” Paul pointed out quietly.

      “I know,” Ben agreed, “which is why I don’t condemn those who support the vigilance committee, but it’s not a road I choose to follow.  Too close to mob rule for my taste, and mobs are hard to control.”

      “Ben, should we not start for home?” Marie suggested.  “We still have far to go.”

      “I’d invite you to stay the night, but we’re a mite crowded just now,” Nelly laughed.

      Marie smiled.  “Thank you, but it is I who will make an invitation.  Please, you must all come to dinner at the Ponderosa tomorrow.  We have worked so hard today that tomorrow should be a true day of rest.”

      “Except for Hop Sing, I take it,” Laura giggled, “but I accept, gladly.”

      The others quickly did also and the Cartwrights took their leave, arriving late that night and tumbling wearily into bed, determined to sleep late.  All except Little Joe.  Having had his full complement of naptime the day before, he was ready to rise early and begin a new day.


CHAPTER TEN

Springtime Reunion

 

 

A

pril began not much differently than March ended, although the precipitation that fell was more often rain, rather than snow, at least in the valleys.  In the Sierras snow still prevailed; in fact, the mountains were covered with a thicker blanket than at any time during the previous winter.

      The first of April dawned gray and cloud-covered, and before noon the showers came——a slow, drenching rain.  For once Hoss didn’t spend his lesson time with his eyes yearningly gazing out the window.  He finished early and was rewarded with permission to play with his little brother until time for evening chores.  Little Joe was delighted with Hoss’s imitation of a puppy nipping at his heels as he crawled around the front room.  Tiring of that game, Hoss was inspired to prepare a surprise for their father.

      Ben came in early that afternoon, deciding it was futile to work in a downpour, however softly the droplets fell.  He slapped water from his hat, then removed his slicker, left it just outside the front door and walked in.  “Pa!” Little Joe cried happily.

      Ben beamed at the boy.  Nothing ever sounded as sweet to him as that one syllable, no matter which of his sons voiced it, but it was still new to Little Joe’s lips and, therefore, all the more precious.  “How’s Pa’s sweet baby boy?” Ben cooed.

      “He wants to show you somethin’,” Hoss announced, taking both the baby’s hands.  “Up, Punkin,” he ordered.  “Stand up.”

      Little Joe pushed up to stand beside his brother.  Nothing new in that, of course; the boy had been able to pull up for some time now.  But Ben caught his breath when Hoss held just one of Little Joe’s hands as the child took one, two, three little steps before he flopped onto his backside.  Swooping the baby up to the ceiling, Ben crowed with delight.  “Ooh, you bright boy!  When did you take this up?”

      “Today, mostly,” Hoss reported.  “I been workin’ with him.”

      “And a job well done it was,” Ben said, giving his middle boy a proud smile, “but unless my eyes deceived me when I put up my horse, you have some chores that need doing in the barn, too.”

      “Just gettin’ to ‘em,” Hoss said.  “Can I take Little Joe?  He ought to learn how to milk the cow, you know.”

      Ben laughed.  “I think he’s still a mite small to take over your chores, young fellow.”

      “That ain’t what I meant!” Hoss protested.  “I just meant he could watch.”

      “Not today,” Ben chuckled.  “He doesn’t need to go out in the rain.”  He brought his face close to the baby’s and clucked, “You need to take another step or two for Pa, don’t you, sweet boy?”  Little Joe grinned and willingly performed again for his father as Hoss hurried into his jacket and ran through the raindrops for the barn.

Spring finally tiptoed in, like a guest unsure of her welcome——sunny days interspersed with snowfalls or thunderstorms until finally the warmth came to stay.  With it came the busiest time of year on the Ponderosa and elsewhere throughout the valley.  Clyde Thomas had new fields to break to the plow, but Ben found himself so occupied with his own work, he rarely found time to help his old friend.  Fortunately, Billy had grown into a stalwart young man, able to do his share of the plowing and planting.

      Hoss found it harder than ever to keep his mind on his books when the bright sunshine beckoned so invitingly.  As if warm weather were not enough distraction, the increasingly mobile Little Joe provided still more.  How could anyone expect a boy to study his lessons when a small hand patted his book, demanding attention?  Marie would gently lift the baby away, setting him at the opposite end of the low table from Hoss.  For a few minutes Little Joe would play with his blocks or nibble his bunny’s ear, then he’d remember that what he really wanted was brother Hoss, pull himself up and make his way, hand over hand along the table, back to the object of his devotion.  “You are incorrigible,” Marie would scold fondly as she removed him once more, but the kiss with which she ended her rebuke was unlikely to prevent repetition of the behavior.

Once the weather cleared, Hoss took that to mean his little brother could now accompany him wherever he went, so whenever it was time to milk the cow or gather the eggs, Little Joe could be seen clinging to his brother’s hand as they ambled toward the barn.  Once they got there, Hoss expected Little Joe to sit quietly and watch him do the chores.  Sometimes the baby cooperated, but frequently Little Joe wandered off to explore on his own, and the more steps he was able to take without Hoss’s guiding hand, the further he wandered, until Hoss began to think the company wasn’t worth the nuisance.  It was hard to milk a cow while keeping one eye peeled on Little Joe to make sure the toddler didn’t stroll into an occupied stall.

      Another member of the family definitely considered Little Joe’s new-found ambulatory skill a nuisance, to judge from the stream of Chinese that erupted whenever Hop Sing heard the clatter of pans pulled from a cupboard and looked down to find the young culprit smiling benignly up at him.  “I’m sorry, Hop Sing,” Marie would say each time she ran to rescue her baby.  “He is gone before I know it.”  She would take Little Joe’s hand and lead him back through the dining area into the front room, cautioning him against bothering Hop Sing, but the next day found the baby toddling back into the kitchen without qualm or conscience.  Of course, since Hop Sing was as likely to reward him with a cookie as a scolding, Little Joe was slow to learn that he wasn’t wanted in the kitchen.  In fact, it was obvious from his demeanor that the youngster couldn’t conceive that he would be unwelcome anywhere.  “Spoiled rotten, that’s what you are,” Ben regularly told his youngest, most fervently while in the midst of spoiling the baby himself.

      In previous years Adam had taken charge of the family garden, but he was still in Sacramento when planting time arrived, so Hoss took on the responsibility.  Late in April he set out onions and potatoes, with the dubious help of his younger brother.  Bare toes squishing in the moist dirt, Little Joe paddled through the plowed furrows alongside Hoss.  When Hoss dropped a piece of potato into the ground and patted the soil over it, Little Joe at once flopped down to thump the ground with the flat of his hand, too.

      “That’s right,” Hoss said.  “Pat it down firm, Little Joe, so it’ll make lots of potatoes.  You like potatoes, don’t you?”

      “No,” Little Joe said.

      “You don’t?  Aw, I don’t believe that,” Hoss argued.  “Taters taste good, little brother.  Onions, too..  Like onions, Little Joe?”

      “No,” Little Joe smiled.

      Hoss grinned.  “You don’t know what you’re sayin’, do you?”

      “No,” Little Joe assured him.

      “Oh, quit sayin’ that,” Hoss said, wriggling his finger into the baby’s side.  “You quit sayin’ that.”

      “No, no,” Little Joe chortled, squirming away from the tickling finger.

      Hoss shook his head, still grinning.  “I better teach you some more words.  I know.  You got another brother, Little Joe.  He’ll be comin’ home real soon now, and it’d surprise the punch out of him if you could say his name.  Say ‘Adam’ for me, Punkin.”

      “No,” Little Joe giggled, trotting down the furrow while Hoss clambered up to give chase.

 

* * * * *

 

      With Little Joe riding on his arm, Ben paced the boardwalk in front of Ormsby’s store in Genoa.  Marie, just as eager to meet Adam’s stage as her husband, stood quietly behind him, amused by his agitation.  One would think Ben was expecting the governor of California instead of his own son!  Hoss had chosen to pass the time by examining the jars of candy inside.

      Little Joe wriggled, reaching and stretching, obviously wanting down.  “Oh, all right,” Ben said when he caught sight of Hoss coming out of the store.  “Go to Hoss.”  He set the toddler down and watched him trot quickly toward his older brother.  “Hang onto him, Hoss,” Ben cautioned.  Lately, Little Joe had shown a propensity for vanishing at any and every opportunity, and it would be just like him to decide to explore the street the exact moment twenty-four galloping legs stormed into town in front of the stagecoach.

      Little Joe obviously didn’t appreciate being held back in his adventures, even by one hand, but he was willing to tolerate it as long as Hoss kept on the move.  Up and down the walkway the two brothers paraded until Hoss heard a rumble coming toward them and knew the stage would soon arrive.  He snatched up Little Joe and ran back to the front of the store.

      Adam jumped from the door in the side of the coach, the first passenger to disembark.  “Pa!” he shouted, flinging his arms around his father.

Ben returned the embrace with an almost crushing bear hug.  “Look at this, will you?  I do believe the boy’s missed us, Marie.”

      Marie came forward and pressed a gentle kiss to Adam’s cheek.  “As we have him.  Welcome home, Adam.”

      Merci, Marie,” he said, using the French term in honor of their lessons together.  “It’s good to be home.”

      “Hey, Adam!” Hoss yelled.  “You bring me anything?”

      “Yeah, greedy belly, I did,” Adam laughed.  “You got something there for me?”  He reached to take the baby from Hoss.  “Missed you, too——yes, I did,” he told his youngest brother.

      Little Joe took one look at the unfamiliar face and started to whimper and squirm.  “HaHa,” he pleaded.

      “He wants me,” Hoss announced proudly.  “Reckon he don’t ‘member you, Adam.”

      “Reckon not,” Adam said, handing the baby to Hoss with a touch of disappointment.  “We’ll have to work on that.”

      Hoss brightened.  “Hey, yeah!  We been workin’ most a month on somethin’, ain’t we, Little Joe?  Know who this is?” he asked, pointing at the other boy.  “Your brother Adam.  Say it now.”

      Little Joe cocked his head back at the stranger.  “Ah-um,” he repeated dutifully, although, for him, the word had no meaning, just a sound Hoss liked to hear.

      Adam laughed.  “Well, aren’t you the smart one!”  He ruffled the baby’s soft curls.  “Funny, too.  Won’t let me hold you, but you know my name, huh, monkey?”  Little Joe grinned, beginning to warm to the stranger.

      “Yeah, and look what else he can do,” Hoss declared, setting the toddler down.  Little Joe immediately demonstrated his skill by trotting off down the boardwalk.

      “Hoss, I told you to hang onto him,” Ben chided.

      “I’ll get him,” Adam laughed.  “He moves fast!”

      It was no problem, of course, for Adam’s longer legs to catch Little Joe’s short ones, so he didn’t bother running.  Little Joe halted, anyway, when he ran into a ruffled skirt.  Clutching it, he looked up and queried, “Mama?”

      Bronze hands reached down to lift the youngster.  “No, not Mama, little Running Deer,” she laughed.

      Adam stood grinning at the pretty Paiute girl.  “Hello, Sarah.  Nice to see you.”

      Sarah smiled, her almond eyes lighting.  “It is good to see you, Adam.”

      “I heard you’d gone back to your people,” Adam said, “after”——he broke off awkwardly, not sure whether to mention last year’s misunderstanding over the deaths of McMartin and Williams.

      “Things better now; I come back,” Sarah replied.  She, too, seemed reluctant to speak of the painful incident.

      Caught between two virtual strangers, Little Joe wriggled uncomfortably.  Adam took him from Sarah and set him down.  Pointing, he ordered, “Go back to Hoss.”

      “HaHa,” Little Joe called, running back the way he’d come.

      “Little brave run good,” Sarah said, smiling.  Then she frowned.  “No, that not right.  Him run——well?”

      “He runs well,” Adam corrected.

      Sarah shook her head.  “English not easy.  Too many rules.”

      Adam laughed.  “I wouldn’t worry, if I were you.  Plenty of the fellows at my school have trouble with the rules, and they’ve had years more practice than you.  You’re doing fine.”

      Sarah smiled again.  “I study hard, learn much.”

      Adam gave her a puzzled look.  “But I thought the school here closed when the Mormons left.”

      “Mrs. Ormsby teach me,” Sarah explained.

      “Adam,” Ben called, “we need to be leaving, son.”

      Adam waved to show his father he’d heard, then turned quickly back to Sarah.  “I’ll be seeing you,” he said, brushing a light kiss on her cheek.  Beneath the deep bronze of her face, a rosy gold flush appeared, but Adam didn’t see it.  He’d already turned his back to walk toward his waiting family.

      “What’s the hurry?” Adam said as he climbed into the back of the buckboard, where Ben had already stowed his luggage and guitar.  “Sarah and I haven’t had a chance to talk in nine months.”

      “Talking isn’t all you were doing, young man,” Ben muttered, flicking the reins.  “You watch your step with that girl, Adam.”

      “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Adam said.

      Ben frowned over his shoulder.  “I saw you kiss her, young man.  You need to remember that she’s Paiute.”

      “So what?” Adam asked sharply.  “People are people, you always taught us.”

      “True enough,” Ben replied, “but cultures are different.  What you intend as innocent flirting, she might take as something more serious.”

      Adam hooted.  “Pa, we’re friends, just friends.  I’m too young to think about getting serious——with Sarah or any other girl.”

      “She, on the other hand, is exactly the right age!” Ben snapped.

      “Girls mature earlier than boys, mon ami,” Marie said, reaching back to touch Adam’s hand.  “Your father means only that you should be careful Sarah does not misunderstand your friendship..”

      “Precisely,” Ben agreed sharply.  “If there’s anyone we don’t need a misunderstanding with, it’s the Paiutes.”

      “All right, Pa, I’ll watch myself,” Adam promised.  “Is that why you hustled me out of town, to avoid riling the Paiutes?”

      Ben chuckled.  “No..  We’re expected for lunch at Carson City, and it’s a fifteen-mile drive, son.  We’ll be late, as it is.”

      “Hey, great!  I’ve been wanting to see the new town——and Billy.”

      Ben smiled.  If seeing Billy Thomas was Adam’s first goal, he couldn’t be as girl-crazed as Ben had at first feared.  Even if he were, Carson City would offer a pretty substitute for the Paiute girl.  Sally Martin, Ben thought with satisfaction, was a safer object on whom Adam could practice his youthful flirtation.  If her dealings with Billy Thomas were any indication, Sally could handle any boy’s nonsense without entertaining ideas none of the youngsters were as yet old enough to consider seriously.

      It was past noon when the Cartwrights arrived in Carson City, but Nelly had planned lunch in expectation of a late arrival.  “You’re a mite earlier than I expected,” she said, coming out to greet them.

      “May I help?” Marie asked at once.

      “Oh, I’ve had plenty of help,” Nelly laughed, nodding back toward the open doorway, through which Sally Martin had just exited.  “Laura’s bakin’ the bread at her place.  Figured we might as well have a big celebration, invite the whole town——well, practically.”

      Sally moved slowly to where Adam was talking animatedly with Billy Thomas.  “Nice to have you home, Adam,” she said softly.

      Adam turned to grin at her and his mouth dropped.  “Sally, you’re even prettier than I remember,” he said in open admiration.

      “Don’t they have any pretty girls in Sacramento?” she teased.

      “A few,” Adam admitted, “but I’ve been busy with my books, you know.”

      “Yeah, I’ll bet!” Billy scoffed.  “I’d like to see the day even you’d pick a book over a pretty girl!”

      “Not today, for sure,” Adam said, giving Sally a swift peck on the cheek, probably more to irritate Billy or his father than to impress the girl.

      Sally didn’t even blush, just smiled and took Adam’s arm.  “Let’s show Adam around town, Billy,” she called over her shoulder.

      Billy’s eyes glinted and at first he planned to stay behind and sulk.  When Adam gave a glance back, though, he shuffled forward, feeling he had as much right to his friend’s company as any fickle girl.

      “Billy looks jealous,” Adam laughed to Sally while the other boy was still out of earshot.

      “Serves him right,” Sally snickered.  “The way he’s been flirting with that German girl over at Placerville.”

      “Marta?  Who told you that?” Adam asked.

      “His father,” she whispered as Billy strode up.

      “Well, what do you think of our town?” Billy demanded.  “Looks puny to you after Sacramento, I reckon.”

      “Anything but San Francisco would,” Adam chuckled.  “I like Curry’s plans for this place, though.  Pa wrote that he’s bringing in a surveyor to lay the town out, but not on the Mormon plan like Genoa.”

      Carson’s gonna be a better place every way than that hive of Mormons,” Billy boasted.

      “Oh, not you, too,” Sally protested.  “You sound just like your father.”

      Billy grinned impishly.  “Naw, I ain’t that bad.  Just proud of our own town, that’s all, and you should be, too, Miss Prissy.”

      “I am,” Sally declared with a flounce of her head, “so don’t get uppity with me, Billy Thomas.  Just look how we’re growing!”

      “Yeah, I can see,” Adam said.  “Two more houses going up than what Pa wrote about.”

      “The one to the left is Mr. Ormsby’s,” Sally reported, “and what’s that other fellow’s name, Billy?”

      “Stebbins, Martin Stebbins,” Billy answered.

      “Mr. Ormsby from Genoa?” Adam asked.  “I saw Sarah Winnemucca there when I came in, but she didn’t say a word about moving.  Of course, we didn’t get much chance to talk,” he muttered, still perturbed at being rushed out of town by his father.

      “She and her sister will be coming here with the Ormsbys when the house is finished,” Sally said, “and I’ll surely be glad to have other girls close to my age in town.”

      “Yeah, havin’ other girls around sounds right good to me, too,” Billy declared, hoping to get a rise out of Sally.

      The Martin girl only laughed, easily seeing through Billy.  “Never knew you were that fond of Lizzie,” she teased, “but she’s a little too grown up for you, isn’t she?”

      Billy’s face flamed and he scowled at both her and Adam, having seen the winks they exchanged.  “Better be gettin’ back.  I see ‘em settin’ out the food, and I reckon neither one of you is so grown up you care to be last at the table.”

      “Not with Hoss around,” Adam grinned.  “We’d better hurry.”

      Earlier that May morning Clyde, Billy and Paul Martin had carried out both the Thomas’s table and Laura Ellis’s and placed them together so there’d be room for everyone.  The women congregated near one end and the men at the other with the youngsters in between.  That insured that each gender could converse on the topics they preferred, the children——who’d rather eat than talk——forming a buffer.

      The men, of course, chose politics.  “Hey, Adam,” Clyde called toward the center of the group, “any news from Sacramento?”

      “I brought the latest issue of the Bee,” Adam said, buttering one of Mrs. Ellis’s fluffy yeast rolls.  “You’re welcome to read it, sir, but it’s mostly the same old thing——Kansas.  They’re gonna put the state constitution to a vote.”

      “‘Bout time they let the folks that live there have a say in their own government,” Clyde grunted.

      “I’m sure Stephen Douglas would agree,” Ben commented.  They were all aware of the continuing battle over statehood for the Territory of Kansas.  Even in isolated western Utah, they’d heard how President Buchanan, in early February, had asked Congress to admit Kansas as a slave state despite the rejection of its pro-slavery constitution and how Stephen Douglas had accused the president of violating the concept of popular sovereignty.  The men gathered at the table were in basic agreement with Douglas.  Ben and Paul were both Yankee born and bred, while Clyde’s mid-western upbringing still disposed him to an anti-slavery position.

      The conflict over Kansas had gone on so long that Ben was amazed the free staters there had energy remaining for the battle.  But would he give up, in their place, and accept the unacceptable?  No, Ben decided, when it came to an issue of clear right and wrong, a man had to fight with whatever strength he had and trust God to renew it, should it flag in the midst of the struggle.  But Ben’s real prayer was that the conflict would never extend beyond the borders of Kansas, certainly never reach far enough to affect their lives in the distant west.

 

* * * * *

 

      “Ah, Mistah Adam, good you be home,” Hop Sing bubbled, beaming and bowing in eloquent respect to Mr. Cartwright’s number one son.

      “Thanks, Hop Sing.  Good to see you,” Adam replied, setting his carpetbag down just inside the entrance.

      “When do I get what you brung me?” Hoss demanded.

      “What he brought you, Hoss,” Marie corrected as she removed her shawl.

      “Yeah, but when?” Hoss persisted, grammar being much less important to him than an answer to his question.

      From the lofty plain of adolescence, Adam laughed at Hoss’s childish impatience.  “If you’ll carry my bag upstairs, I’ll get it for you now.”

      Hoss frowned.  “I ain’t carryin’ them heavy books.”

      “Those heavy books, Hoss,” Ben reminded him, setting Little Joe down.  “You’re not carrying those heavy books.”

      “That’s right, I ain’t,” Hoss declared emphatically.

      Ben groaned.  The boy was hopeless, grammatically hopeless.

      “I’ll carry the books,” Adam said.  “Wouldn’t trust you with them, anyway.  You carry the bag.”

      “Okay,” Hoss agreed, picking up the carpetbag and heading up the stairs.

      Adam followed.  So, also, did the youngest Cartwright, at least until he reached the stairs.  Unable to climb, Little Joe whimpered in protest, little palms beating on the bottom step.  “HaHa,” he cried, arms stretched imploringly upward.

      “Not this time, little one,” Ben laughed, catching the baby up in his arms.  “Your brothers deserve some time alone.”

      “And this one needs a nap,” Marie said.

      “Good luck,” Ben chuckled.  “He doesn’t appear to be in the mood.”

      Leaving their parents to deal with that problem, the two older boys hurried into Adam’s room.  “Wait’ll you see this,” Adam enthused, pulling out a rolled-up sheet of paper from his bag.

      Hoss spread it open on Adam’s bed.  “A picture of a boat?” he muttered, disappointed.  “I was hopin’ you’d bring me some candy.”

      “I did, greedy belly,” Adam said, “but this is even better, and it’s for both of us.”

      Hoss shook his head, not understanding.

      “Look,” Adam explained, pointing to the drawing, “it’s a plan for a boat we’re gonna build this summer.”

      Hoss’s face brightened.  “You mean a real one?  One we could sail in?”

      “That’s right,” Adam said.  “Good idea, huh?”

      “Yeah, if——”

      “What?”

      “If you really know how.  You ain’t never built a boat, Adam.”

      Adam set his lips stubbornly.  “Well, I know I can.  I’ve been talking to every steamer captain who’d take the time, and I learned a lot.  Besides, Pa knows boats, and he’ll help, I bet.”

      “Pa’s awful busy,” Hoss reported.

      “Roundup?” Adam asked.

      “Yeah.  They start brandin’ tomorrow.”

      Adam nodded.  “I’ll need to help with that, but I still think we could get a boat built by the Fourth of July.  Think of the fishing we could do from the middle of Lake Tahoe, Hoss!”

      “Yeah!” Hoss cried, catching his brother’s enthusiasm.  “Let’s ask Pa right now if he’ll let us do it.”

      “Okay, but first things first,” Adam chuckled, digging into his carpetbag for the package of assorted candy he’d bought before leaving Sacramento.  “Better put this in your room ‘til after supper.”


CHAPTER ELEVEN

Justice Disputed, Friendship Disrupted

 

 

B

en pulled the buckboard to a stop before Lucky Bill’s store in Genoa shortly before noon on Wednesday, June 16th.  While he didn’t need many supplies, any excuse was as good as another on mail day.  He didn’t frequent Thorrington’s place often.  The new enterprise in Carson City was closer to home, although it still carried little beyond basics.  When Ben had needs beyond those, he usually gave his business to Ormsby, but one of the items on his list today was chicken feed, and Lucky Bill generally gave him a better deal on it.

      He walked inside and presented Thorrington with his list, smiling at the youngster standing with his father behind the counter.  He liked to see a father and son working together.  “Oh, and I need some paint, if you have it,” Ben added.  “Preferably red.”  The paint was for the boat the boys were busily building, and the request for red had come from Hoss.

      Lucky Bill laughed.  “Nope.  I’ve got whitewash, but that’s it.”

      “No, I’m afraid that won’t do,” Ben said.  “I’d better see if Ormsby has any.”

      “Might,” Bill conceded.  “He carries more fancy goods than me.  Got something else you ought to have a look at, though, Cartwright.  You won’t find the like of it at Ormsby’s.”

      Ben arched a questioning eyebrow.

      “Out back,” Thorrington said, gesturing with his head.  “Just take a minute.  Jerome here will load your supplies.”

      Ben shrugged and followed the tall merchant outside.  He had time to spare since the mail stage was running late, and his curiosity was aroused.  When he saw the sleek chestnut thoroughbred in the corral, he gasped.  “What a beautiful animal, Bill!  Where’d you find a racehorse out here?”

      “Friend of mine brought him in from Honey Lake Valley,” Thorrington grinned.  “Nothing in the territory can touch him, Ben, and the price Edwards is asking is well below his value.”

      “Ooh, don’t tempt me,” Ben chuckled.

      “Knowing livestock like you do, you can see what quality he is,” Bill urged, “and I’ve heard that wife of yours sits a fine saddle, too.  Of course, this animal might be too strong for a lady.”

      “Not my lady,” Ben boasted.  “She could ride anything, and I’d love to give her a mount like this.”  He sighed.  “Can’t do it, though.  I bought too much land this year to spare anything for riding stock.  I have to concentrate on building my herd.”

      “Too bad,” Bill said.  “Edwards is in a hurry to sell, and at the price he’s asking, this beauty won’t last.”

      Ben shook his head.  “Sorry, but I can’t.  Thanks for showing him to me, though.  It’s a privilege just to look at an animal this fine.”  His head came up as he heard the sound of galloping hooves.  “Must be the mail.  Look, Bill, I’ll be back for those supplies and pay you then.  I’m hoping for a letter.”

      “Who ain’t?” Bill laughed.  “Bring back mine, if I get any?”

      “Sure, glad to.”

      Ben hurried to the post office, but it was already crowded.  Even with the exodus of the Mormons, on mail day the room was always packed, and it didn’t pay to be last in line.  Ben managed to fall in only three feet from the window.  Looking up the line, he grinned.  Trust Billy Thomas to elbow his way to the front.  As the young man passed him, eyes glued to the envelope he’d just received, Ben edged a toe across his path.  Billy walked right into it and stumbled, but Ben caught him, laughing.  “You seem mighty interested in that piece of mail, son.  Didn’t know your pa was expecting such an important letter.”

      Billy grinned, pushing his shock of red hair back from his forehead.  Not Pa,” he bragged.  “This is all mine.”  He waved the envelope under Ben’s nose.

      “Mighty fragrant,” Ben said, taking a deep whiff.  “Who’s sending you that kind of mail, young fellow?”

      Billy turned the envelope so Ben could read the return address.

      “Marta?” Ben asked, incredulous.  “I thought she had better sense.”

      “Hey!  A girl could do a lot worse,” Billy retorted.

      “Don’t see how,” Ben muttered dryly, then grinned at the boy.

      “You expectin’ mail,” Billy asked sociably, “or just hopin?”

      “Hoping, mostly,” Ben admitted, “though if I don’t get something from that brother of mine soon, I may disown him.”

      “Well, here’s your chance,” Billy cackled.  “You’re next.”

      Ben stepped to the window and his face brightened as he was handed a letter with John Cartwright’s name on it.  “Anything for Lucky Bill?” he asked.  There wasn’t, so Ben turned away, shaking his head as he saw Billy scanning the lines of his letter from Marta.

      He was tempted to read his own letter then and there, too, but preferred to wait until he had a little more privacy.  He peeked over Billy’s shoulder, not really reading, just teasing the boy.  Billy hastily folded the letter and stuffed it in his vest pocket.

      “Might burn a hole in there,” Ben warned with twitching lips.

      Billy shook his head, grinning.  “It ain’t that fiery,” he said.  “How’s Adam comin’ with that boat?”

      “Oh, fine,” Ben replied.  “In fact, I’m going over to Ormsby’s now to see if I can find some paint for it.”

      “I’ll walk along with you,” Billy offered.

      Ben nodded, then smiled wickedly.  “Good thing you hid that letter from Marta if you’re up to what I think you are.”

      Billy laughed.  “You know me.”

      “Yeah, always sniffing the daisy that’s closest,” Ben sneered.  “I’m gonna tell you what I told Adam, young man.  You curb your flirting ways with Miss Sarah, or you’ll have Winnemucca and her whole tribe down your throat.”

      “Yes, sir,” Billy grinned.  “One little sniff or two won’t hurt, though.”

      Ben groaned and walked into Ormsby’s, shaking his head.  Boys the age of Billy or Adam just didn’t understand how much trouble one little sniff could cause.

      Billy took his sniff and Ben bought his paint, yellow instead of the requested red, but Ben didn’t figure Hoss would be overly disappointed.  As the two emerged from the store, they became aware of loud voices just down the street.  “What’s going on?” Billy wondered.

      Ben shook his head and, as curious as Billy, moved toward the sound of the disturbance.  Suddenly, he thrust the can of paint into the young man’s hands.  “Here, hold this,” he ordered and began to run toward the scuffle in the street in front of Lucky Bill’s store.  Screaming in protest, Bill struggled against the men holding him, arms pinioned behind him.  In front of the store, young Jerome was yelling for the men to let his pa go.

      Ben shoved men aside, trying to reach the merchant.  “What’s this about?” he demanded.

      “Vigilante business,” a man snapped, shoving Ben back.  “No concern of yours, Cartwright.”

      “Wait a minute!” Ben shouted.  “What business do the vigilantes have with Lucky Bill?”

      “That horse, Cartwright,” Bill panted.  “They think I stole it, but I swear I didn’t.”

“Horse stealing ain’t the half of it,” one of the men holding Bill snorted.  “You’re wanted for murder, Thorrington.”

      “Murder!” Lucky Bill hollered.  “I never killed a man in my life!  This is crazy.”

      Ben thought so, too.  He knew Lucky Bill had a reputation as a sharp gambler, perhaps a less than honest one, but he’d never heard anything worse of the man.  Even that vice was tempered by Bill’s tendency to give away almost as much as he gained to anyone with a sad story to tell, sometimes even to the very man from whom he’d won the money..

      Billy Thomas pushed in close to Ben.  “Get out of here, boy,” Ben grunted.  While he was still concerned about Thorrington, he felt a more immediate responsibility for his friend’s impetuous young son.

      “What you men gonna do to him?” Billy demanded, ignoring Ben’s restraining hand.”

      “Shut up, boy,” one of the mob yelled.  “Vigilantes ain’t answerable to no milk-faced pup!”

      “That’s not so,” an authoritative voice rang out.  “We vigilantes welcome scrutiny.  Every judgment we make must be open and above board.  Answer the boy!”

      Ben turned to see William Ormsby pushing his way through the crowd.  “Now, what’s the charge against this man?”  Ormsby demanded.

      Ben blew out a relieved puff of air.  He didn’t approve of vigilante justice, but Ormsby, at least, was a fair man or had been in all Ben’s dealings with him.

      “Murder!” came the accusation, and the crowd rumbled in agreement.

      “Who’s he supposed to have killed?” Ben demanded.

      “Well, not him, exactly,” one of the accusers admitted.  “The murderer is William Edwards from California, but this man’s been hidin’ him out at his ranch, tryin’ to sell the horse Edwards stole!”

      Ben glanced sharply at Thorrington.  He knew Lucky Bill had been participating in the sale of the horse, but no one as yet had given him reason to believe the horse stolen or, if he were, that Bill had known about it.  “You got a bill of sale for that racehorse, Bill?” he asked quietly.

      Ormsby lifted a hand.  “Wait a minute, Cartwright.  No evidence will be taken here on the street.  Charges being duly brought, we’ll hold this man for trial tomorrow afternoon, with John Cary as judge.  Bring him to my store and we’ll lock him in the storage room.”

      Still resisting, Lucky Bill was dragged down the street.  “Where’s Edwards, Thorrington?” his two main accusers demanded as they trailed him down the street.  “Where you got him hid?”

      “I don’t know,” Bill yelled.  “I’m not hiding him.”

      Most of the crowd followed the procession to Ormsby’s store, but a group of five closed in, instead, on Thorrington’s young son, Jerome.  “You know where that killer is, boy, you’d best speak up,” they snarled.  “Your pa’s sure to hang if you don’t, and maybe you alongside him.”

      The youngster blanched and turned anxious eyes toward Ben.

      “Don’t threaten the boy!” Ben snapped.

      “No threat,” one of the men growled.  “Just tellin’ the youngun what’s bound to happen if Edwards ain’t found.”

      “And——and they’ll let my pa go if they got Edwards instead?” Jerome stammered.

      “Sure, son, no reason to hold an innocent man, is there?”

      Jerome bit his lip.  “He’s camped out in a canyon back of our place.  Said he didn’t want to make extra work for Ma.”

      “Come on, boys, let’s get him!” the ringleader shouted and the five took off east toward Thorrington’s Clear Creek Ranch.

      Chin trembling, Jerome looked up.  “I did right, didn’t I, Mr. Cartwright?”

      Billy Thomas answered instead.  “Sure, you did.  You had to speak up to save your pa.”

      Ben rubbed the youngster’s shivering shoulders.  “Go home to your mother, boy; she’ll need you.”  Jerome nodded and, wiping the tears from his eyes, went to close up the store.

      Billy Thomas turned to Ben.  “I better get home,” he said.  “Pa’ll want to know about this!”

      “Yeah,” Ben muttered absently, wondering if he should see the Thorrington youngster home.  No, the boy was upset, but too old to appreciate a nursemaid.  Better to let him take the news to his mother by himself.  Ben’s attention jerked suddenly back to Billy.  “Where’s that paint I gave you, boy?  You just drop it in the street when you came running, looking for trouble?”

      “No, of course not,” Billy growled.  “I ain’t a fool kid, even if that is how you’re treatin’ me.  I seen your wagon there in front of Lucky Bill’s and put the paint in back.”

      “Oh,” Ben said, regretting his sharp words.  After all, Billy hadn’t volunteered to take charge of his goods.  Would’ve served me right if he did toss that paint in the dirt, Ben thought with chagrin, though “Thanks, Billy,” was all he said.

      “Sure,” Billy shrugged, easily appeased.  “You gonna be comin’ in for that trial, Uncle Ben?”

      “Yeah,” Ben muttered.  “Yeah, I’ll be here.  You tell your pa.”

      Ben walked back to his wagon, jaw clenching when he saw the supplies loaded inside.  He hadn’t had a chance to pay Lucky Bill for them and didn’t want to delay Jerome with business now.  Thorrington would just have to trust him, though the man probably had more important matters on his mind——like the preservation of his life and the future of his wife and child if the charges held up.

      Ben drove home slowly, pondering what would become of the territory if they couldn’t find an effective means of law enforcement.  So far the vigilantes had only tried and sentenced a few minor offenders, but a charge of murder carried a heavier penalty.  Would they really sentence a man to hang?  And if they did, what made their so-called justice different from any other mob lynching?

      When the wagon pulled into the yard at the Ponderosa, both Adam and Hoss came running to meet their father.  “Did you get the paint?” Adam asked eagerly.  “We’re almost ready for it.”

      “Yeah, did they have red?” Hoss queried, trotting up at Adam’s heels.

      “Huh?” Ben asked.  “Oh, yeah, the paint.  No, I had to buy yellow, Hoss.”

      “That’s all right,” Adam said.  Seeing Hoss’s disappointment, he put an arm around the younger boy’s shoulder.  “Yellow’s a good color, Hoss; it’ll look like sunshine on the lake.”

      Hoss looked up at his big brother and smiled.  “Yeah!  Like sunshine.  That’s good.”

      Ben handed the reins of the horses to Adam.  “Unload the supplies and unhitch the team, will you, boys?”

      “Sure, Pa,” Adam said, brow furrowing.  “Something wrong?”

      “Yeah,” Ben said.  Without explaining, he walked toward the house.

      The furrows in Adam’s forehead deepened.  Something really was bothering Pa.  Adam wanted to help and decided the best way to do that was to complete the chores his father had given him.  Show himself a man and maybe Pa would confide in him like one.  “You start unloading, Hoss,” he directed, “while I unhitch the horses.”

      Inside, Ben pulled off his hat, hanging it on one of the pegs to the left of the front door.  Marie came to greet him with a kiss, but the one he returned carried little of his usual passion.  The young Creole immediately sensed that something was wrong.  “No mail?  No letter from John?” she asked, stroking his rough cheek.

      “What?” Ben asked, pulling himself out of the cloud in which he’d moved ever since leaving town.  “Oh, yeah, there was a letter from John.  I’d forgotten.”

      Marie’s emerald eyes clouded.  “What could make you forget that?” she pressed.

      “Trouble in town,” Ben muttered.  “Tell you later.  Let’s see what that brother of mine has to say.”

      “Yes, let’s,” Marie urged, hoping the news would brighten his countenance.

      It didn’t.  Ben had waited for months for his brother’s reply to his suggestion to come west with young Will, and when it finally came, the answer was not the one he’d hoped for.  According to John’s letter, Will was infuriated by the suggestion that they abandon the place his mother had slaved to preserve.  His father, he felt, owed it to her memory to spend as much time there as he’d spent gallivanting around the west and the Pacific Ocean.  John felt he couldn’t refuse.  He’d delayed answering Ben’s letter in hopes Will would change his mind, but it was clear the boy’s anger ran deep.  Maybe in time Will would forgive him and be willing to move on, but John wouldn’t risk losing the boy by insisting he do so now.

      “John is wise,” Marie said.  “I know the decision saddens you, mon mari, but I am sure it is the right one.”

      Ben nodded soberly.  “It is, of course.  That boy’s broken-hearted; he’s got to be given time to heal.”  Ben sighed deeply.  “Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea asking them here, anyway.  Maybe they’re better off in settled territory where——”

      “What is it, Ben?”

      Ben took a deep breath and exhaled slowly.  Then he began with Lucky Bill’s offering to sell him that beautiful thoroughbred and ended with his being dragged off to Ormsby’s storeroom.  “Mob justice,” Ben muttered.  “What kind of place is that to raise a family?”

      “You think Lucky Bill will be found guilty?” Marie asked.

      Ben stood abruptly and began to poke at the fire.  “I don’t know; I couldn’t tell if they had any evidence or not.  Maybe that’ll come out at the trial.”

      “You will attend?”

      “Yeah,” he said sharply.  “For all the good it’ll do.  They won’t put me on the jury, not after how outspoken I’ve been against the vigilance committee, but maybe having people like me there to scrutinize their so-called justice will make them give Thorrington at least the semblance of due process.”

 

* * * * *

 

      It was still well before noon when Ben crossed the Carson River, ironically over the toll bridge in which Lucky Bill was a partner.  White puffs of cottonwood seed floated in the air, drifting with Ben as he rode into Genoa.  He wasn’t sure where the trial would be held, but he could see a crowd forming on the triangular green at the center of town.  Riding to the Main Street side of the triangle, he dismounted, tied his bay to a nearby shrub and walked onto the green.  “Trial being held outdoors?” he asked the first man he met, a young lawyer named Richard Allen.

      “Yeah, lots of folks interested in this one,” Allen said.  “I, for one, can’t believe Lucky Billy’s involved.”

“Me, either,” Ben said.

“Well, it should be starting soon.”

      Ben nodded and moved back to his horse.  He wasn’t all that hungry yet, but now was probably the best time to eat the sandwiches Hop Sing had packed.  Chances were he’d have even less appetite later.  As he pulled a sandwich from his saddlebag, a young voice called out, “Hey, got any more?”

      Looking over his shoulder, Ben saw Clyde give Billy a half-hearted clout on the ear.  “You’ll have Ben thinkin’ your ma don’t feed you,” Clyde scolded.

      The corner of Ben’s mouth quirked upward.  “I know Nelly better than that!  Probably stuffed you to the gills before she’d let you out the door.”

      “I admit it,” Billy joked, “but us growin’ boys need lots of grub.”

      Ben gave a short laugh and handed his sandwich to Billy, taking another from the bag for himself.  “I’ve got one more if you’re still growing, too,” he told Clyde dryly.

      “Don’t mind if I do,” Clyde said.  “Bound to be hungry before this is over.”

      “You think it’ll be a long trial?” Ben asked.

      Clyde shrugged.  “Could be, with two men to try.”

      Ben glanced sharply at him.  “They found Edwards?”

      “Yup, brought him in last night and locked him up with Lucky Bill.”

      “Right where Jerome said he’d be,” Billy added.

      “Well, I hope it is a long trial,” Ben said soberly as he unwrapped his sandwich.  “As serious as the charges are, I hope the jury takes its time.”

      “Depends on how strong the evidence is, I reckon,” Clyde remarked.  “Way I heard it, the men that caught him came all the way from Honey Lake, pretendin’ to be horse buyers to smoke out who had that thoroughbred.”

      Ben shook his head.  “Sounds bad, I admit, but it’ll take more than that to convince me Bill’s guilty.  You’ve got more confidence in this kind of justice than I do.  Maybe you’ll get a seat on the jury, get a chance to make it a fair trial.”

      “Naw,” Clyde muttered.  “I ain’t that high thought of.  It’ll be committee members does the judgin’, and I ain’t joined.”

      That surprised Ben slightly, having heard Clyde express approval for the committee on a number of occasions.  On the other hand, Clyde had always been more bark than bite, never one to push himself to the front.

      The trio had just finished their sandwiches when William Ormsby, curly black hair blowing in the wind, exited his store.  Behind him, under guard of acting sheriff W. T. C. Elliott, one of the men who had trailed Edwards from Honey Lake, walked the two defendants, faces drooping, steps dragging.  Ben, Clyde and Billy moved closer.  So did the other spectators.

      John L. Cary called the proceeding to order; the eighteen-member jury was selected, all known vigilance committee members; and the first trial, that of William Edwards, began.  Men from Honey Lake Valley gave testimony of the shooting of rancher Henri Gordier and the theft of his herd of cattle and a thoroughbred racehorse.  The men, each a neighbor of Gordier, had examined the horse in Lucky Bill’s corral and identified it as Gordier’s property.

      The crowd listened in hushed attention as the witnesses admitted that a man named Snow had, at first, been accused of the murder, but after Snow’s hanging, the truth began to leak out and the Honey Lake Valley citizens realized they’d hung the wrong man.  Later evidence all pointed to William Edwards, whose sudden flight added to the suggestion of his guilt.

      When Edwards took the stand in his own defense, he denied any knowledge of Gordier’s murder, but his inability to produce a bill of sale for the horse Bill Thorrington had tried to sell on his behalf weighed heavily against him.  Finally, under the pressure of bombarding questions, Edwards broke down, weeping, and admitted he had killed the Frenchman, rustled his herd and stolen the horse.  Seeing suspicion mounting against him, he had ridden into Utah Territory, taking only the horse, and sought refuge with his old friend Bill Thorrington.  “But Bill never knew what I’d done,” Edwards insisted.  “I lied to him, same as to everyone else.”

      The jury deliberated only a short time before returning a verdict of guilty and sentencing Edwards to be returned to Honey Lake Valley and hanged at the scene of his crime.  “Can’t say that weren’t a fair trial,” Clyde declared, his steely eyes daring Ben to say otherwise.

      Ben shook his head.  Hard to argue with the verdict when the man confessed.  Hard even to feel sympathy for someone who had knowingly allowed an innocent man to hang in his place.  “His testimony seems to vindicate Thorrington, though,” he told Clyde.

      “If he’s tellin’ the truth,” Clyde said, “and it ain’t just a case of old friends hangin’ together.”

      “Which they’re likely to do if they find Lucky Bill guilty,” Billy joked.

      Ben groaned, and Clyde turned snapping eyes on his son.  “Ain’t no call for that kind of nonsense,” he sputtered.  “You shame me like that once more, boy, and you’ll be too saddle-sore to mount that roan of yours.”

      Billy took the hint and wiped the saucy grin off his face.  “Yes, sir, I’ll straighten up,” he vowed.

      “See that you do,” Clyde grunted, turning apologetically to Ben.  “Shouldn’t’ve brought the boy, I reckon, but I figured he’d handle himself better than this.”

      “He’s young,” Ben muttered tersely.  “Living’s still a game to him.”

      Billy flushed and stalked away.  He was willing to admit he’d gotten out of line, but he didn’t see why they’d come down on him so hard, why they kept treating him like a kid, when he knew himself to be a man.  Hadn’t he done a man’s work this spring, plowing and planting those fields?  Sure, sixteen was young, but it made him a young man, not a fool kid.  He decided he’d view the second trial from the opposite side of the green.

      William Thorrington was not charged with the murder originally cried against him but with being an accessory after the fact to the crime.  The way the crowd was rumbling as testimony was taken, however, made Ben fear the penalty would be the same, although the evidence was shaky, at best.  The worst that could be said against Lucky Bill was that he’d given Edwards shelter.  If he knew of Edwards’ crime, that would make him an accessory to murder, Ben agreed.  But Edwards himself had said that Bill did not know.  In Ben’s mind, that raised enough doubt that he would have voted against conviction, had he been on the jury.  But he wasn’t.  Bill Thorrington’s fate was in the hands of eighteen men who had taken it upon themselves to determine justice.  Ben could only hope that the man’s renowned luck in gambling would deal him a winning hand today.

      That reputation as a gambler, though, seemed to be weighing against the defendant, at least according to the crowd milling about as they waited for the jury’s deliberation.  Ben, of course, had known of Bill’s skill at the game of thimble-rig, and knew enough to stay away, as he did from most gambling opportunities.  Life itself was a big enough gamble in Ben’s eyes, and other than a sociable hand of poker with well-known friends, he never participated in gaming.  Thorrington was known as a sharper, however, by too many people to be dismissed, but the man wasn’t on trial for gambling; he was being tried for murder, and it didn’t matter what else he was guilty of, so long as he was innocent of that charge.  Ben was sure he was.

      “Jury’s taking a long time,” Ben commented to Clyde as they waited.

      “Reckon that pleases you,” Clyde muttered.  “I didn’t plan on bein’ gone this long.”

      Ben arched an eyebrow.  “Free to leave anytime you like, I suppose.”

      Clyde uttered a harsh laugh.  “Reckon I’ll see it through.  Don’t understand what’s takin’ so long, though.  Seemed cut and dried to me.”

      “Yeah,” Ben agreed.  “Just not enough evidence to convict.”

      Clyde’s blue eyes narrowed.  “I heard plenty!  He’d’ve been danglin’ by now if I’d been on that jury like you was wantin’.”

      Ben’s mouth gaped.  “You’re kidding!  On what evidence?”

      Clyde spat a stream of brown tobacco to his right and turned back to Ben.  “Don’t it strike you suspicious that Edwards was holed up in that canyon behind the ranch?  When we got guests, we keep ‘em in the house.”

      “Yeah,” Ben admitted.  It was the one thing that had raised suspicion in his mind.  “Does kind of make it look like Bill knew Edwards needed a hiding place, but who can say what story the man told?”

      Billy ambled up, hands stuffed in his pocket.  “You don’t got anymore of them sandwiches, do you, Uncle Ben?” he asked.

      Ben shook his head.  “Sorry, son.”

      “Where’d you take off to, boy?” Clyde demanded.

      Billy waved his arm behind him.  “Over there, across the green.”

      “Huh!  View better over there, I reckon,” his father muttered.

      Billy shrugged.  “Naw, but they’re sure makin’ interestin’ talk.  I never knew Lucky Bill was a Mormon, Pa.”  Billy knew his father’s ears would perk up at that and his irritation be deflected to a new target.

      “He’s not,” Ben growled, seeing through Billy’s stratagem and not liking it.  “Thorrington’s a gentile, same as we are.”

      “I don’t know, Uncle Ben,” Billy argued.  “Folks been sayin’ he’s got a second wife hid out.”

      “Yeah, I’d heard that,” Clyde grunted.  “It had passed my mind, but I remember now.  That Thorrington’s had a passel of practice at hidin’ things, seems to me.”

      “Oh, Clyde,” Ben protested.  “For the love of mercy!  The minute anyone mentions the word ‘Mormon,’ you lose all sense of objectivity.”

      Face flaming, Clyde pulled himself upright and glared at his old friend.  “Who made you judge and jury over everything under the sun, Ben Cartwright?” he snorted.  “Thorrington’s innocent just ‘cause you say so, ain’t that the way of it?”

      “No, but because the facts don’t prove him guilty,” Ben insisted.  “Look, Clyde, I have no quarrel with you.  I think you’re wrong, and I think you’re letting your feelings color your judgment, but you’re entitled to your opinion.”

      “And you to yours,” Clyde grunted, “wrong as it is.”  Ben chose to keep his mouth shut.

      The ensuing silence made Billy uncomfortable.  Secretly, he leaned to Ben Cartwright’s opinion, but he didn’t dare say that in front of his father.  He had to go home with Clyde and didn’t relish meeting the wrong end of a birch branch when he got there.  Finally, he noticed the jury filing back into place and felt he’d found a safe comment to make.  “Guess we’ll find out what them men thinks real soon.”

      “Hush up, boy.  I want to hear them, not you,” his father growled.

      Billy pressed his back against a nearby pine, breath held.  He’d caught a glimpse of Jerome, standing near his father, and all of a sudden the trial wasn’t just a way to pass time anymore.  Real folks, one of them a boy younger than himself, were about to be raised to the peak of joy or tossed into a gully of despair.  Billy felt his stomach knot up like it was his own pa on trial.  Up to that moment he hadn’t really cared which way the verdict went, but when it was read, an involuntary groan welled up in his throat.

      No one heard it, not even the two men standing closest, for at the same instant the crowd roared its approval and a woman’s shriek pierced the shouting.  The sound died down briefly as the judge delivered the sentence.  Like Edwards, Thorrington was sentenced to hang at the scene of his crime——in this case, the ranch where he had hidden the murderer. As the sheriff came forward to take Thorrington into custody to await the appointed day of his death, Mrs. Thorrington clutched her husband possessively, and Ben started forward.  Clyde threw an arm across Ben’s chest.  Irritated, Ben shoved the arm aside and walked boldly toward the weeping woman.  Clyde started after him, then stopped, satisfied that Ben wasn’t putting himself in danger when he saw him move toward the woman instead of those guarding the man.

      A few others had moved toward the distraught woman, as well, trying vainly to comfort her.  “Mrs. Thorrington,” Ben began, scarcely knowing what to say, “if there’s anything I can do for you”——he stopped, uncomfortable under the fixed stare of her glazed eye.

      “Do?  You want to do something?” she screamed.  “Stop them!  Stop them!”  The woman collapsed, crumpling to the grass, her boy’s arms swiftly encircling her neck.  Another woman leaned over the pair, whispering something into Mrs. Thorrington’s ear.  Feeling useless, Ben walked away.

      He couldn’t get away, however, from the challenge Mrs. Thorrington had shrieked at him.  Her voice haunted him as he rode home, haunted his dreams throughout a restless night.  Stop them, she had pleaded, but how could he?  One man against an angry mob.  Ben wrestled with his conscience all night long.

      He woke to a soft hand stroking his whiskered cheek.  Mon mari, what is wrong?” Marie asked tenderly.  “You moan so in your sleep.”

      “I’m sorry,” he said, kissing her fingertips.  “I didn’t mean to disturb you.”

      “Ben, you treat me as a child,” Marie pouted.  “I am your wife, meant to share your troubles, not to be protected from them.”

      Ben pulled her down to his breast and sighed, running his fingers through her golden hair.  “Dearest, there’s nothing you can do.”

      “About Monsieur Thorrington?  No, and nothing you can do, mon mari.”

      Ben gently pushed her away and sat up.  “Maybe not, but I have to try, Marie.”

      “Ben, no!” she whispered, her voice urgent, but soft, aware of Little Joe’s presence in the next room.  “You cannot fight the vigilantes.”

      “I’m not talking about fighting,” Ben assured her, taking both cheeks in his weathered palms.  “Bill’s not scheduled to hang until tomorrow.  That gives me time to talk to some of the vigilante leaders, try to make them see reason.”

      “But, Ben, he was tried and convicted,” Marie argued.  “What can you say that will change that?”

      “It wasn’t a legal trial, Marie,” Ben insisted.

      “But you told me you once served on such a jury.”

      Ben nodded.  “And argued——successfully, I might add——against invoking the death penalty.  Only the authorized government should take on that responsibility I contended then and still do.”

      “You think they will listen again, as they did before?” Marie queried.

      Ben took her hands, pleading for understanding.  “I don’t know, my love, but I have to try.  You see that, don’t you?”

      Marie smiled weakly.  Oui, my love, I understand, but be careful.  Oh, Ben, be careful!”

      Ben kissed her.  “I will, sweetheart.”

      Marie spent the day moving aimlessly from one room to another, telling herself repeatedly there was no reason for worry, yet worry stalked her footsteps.  Only the occasional needs of her baby could distract her thoughts for long from her husband’s quest for justice.  Where was Ben?  What response was he receiving?  And if it were the one she feared, would Ben be content to stand by and watch William Thorrington hang at dawn on Saturday?  Or would he take foolish action to try to stop the execution?

      Her nervous fidgeting at the noon meal told the boys something was wrong.  Adam, who tended to feel himself responsible for the ranch in his father’s absence, demanded an explanation.  Marie told him briefly what his father was trying to accomplish.

      “They’ll listen,” Adam assured her.  “Folks around here respect Pa.”

      “But they seem so sure Monsieur Thorrington is guilty, Adam,” Marie murmured.  “There are others who feel as your father, I am sure, but there cannot be many.”

      “Don’t worry,” Adam soothed with a boy’s implicit trust in the wisdom and infallibility of his father.  “You through yet, Hoss?”

      “Almost,” Hoss muttered.  “Don’t rush me.”

      Adam laughed.  “As if I could, slow poke.  I’ll see you outside.”  He smiled at Marie.  “We should have the boat painted in an hour or so.  Why don’t you come out and take a look?”

      Marie nodded.  “I will.”

      By the time an hour passed, Little Joe was awake from his nap and toddled happily at his mother’s side to see the new boat.  “Ooh,” he cooed and reached for the sunny yellow shape.

      Adam pulled his hand back.  “Unh-uh.  Don’t touch.”

      Little Joe whimpered piteously and stretched once more for the object of his desire.

      “It’s still wet, Punkin,” Hoss explained, futilely.  Little Joe began to wail stormily.

      Marie lifted him and spoke sternly or, at least, as sternly as she ever spoke to her precious baby boy.  “If you are going to start that, Joseph, I will have to take you back inside.”

      Little Joe understood only one word, but ‘inside’ was sufficient threat to make his sobbing subside to a mere whimper.  Marie smiled and patted his back soothingly.  “It is a beautiful boat, boys, and I am sure you will enjoy it.”

      “Yeah,” Adam agreed with satisfaction.  “I wish it was our turn to have the Thomases here.  I’d sure like Billy to see it this Sunday.”

      “A week will make no difference,” Marie laughed.

      Adam grinned.  “No, I guess not.  It needs another coat anyway, but there’s plenty of time.  We wanted it ready for the Fourth, you know.”

      Oui, I know,” Marie said, gazing down the beaten road to the house.  No sign of Ben yet, but she hadn’t expected an early return.  She knew Ben wouldn’t rest until he’d talked to everyone who had the power to overturn the vigilantes’ decision.

      He hadn’t arrived by the time Hop Sing set supper on the table.  “Where Mistah Ben?” the irascible cook demanded.  “Dinnah leady now!”

      “I will wait for Mr. Cartwright,” Marie said firmly, “but you may prepare a plate for the boys if they are hungry.”

      “Not for me,” Adam said, black eyes glinting.  “Perhaps the children should eat,” he added loftily, daring anyone to relegate him to the classification of a youngster.

      “I should probably feed Little Joe,” Marie said, “and put him to bed.  He’s getting sleepy.  Would you like to eat now, mon chéri, or wait for Pa?”

      Recognizing her characteristic name for him, Hoss jumped up.  “I’ll eat now,” he said.  What was the point of putting off a good meal just ‘cause Pa was late?  Pa’d want him to eat, Hoss figured, following Hop Sing into the kitchen.

      The Chinese cook snuffled, his ire only slightly ameliorated by having one member of the family ready to eat his food while it was at its best.  To Hoss, however, he smiled benevolently and dished up a heaping plate of roast beef with roasted potatoes, carrots and green beans seasoned with bits of bacon.

      When he finished, Hoss offered to take Little Joe to bed.  The baby looked too sleepy to keep him company for long, but anything, even turning in early himself, was better than sitting around downstairs, where everyone was either angry, worried or too busy playing grownup to be any fun.

      The night was dark, the wind chilly, when Ben rode in and wearily wrapped the reins of his bay around the hitching rail before the house.  “I’ll see to your horse, Mr. Cartwright,” the ranch foreman offered, coming out of the bunkhouse when he heard the horse neigh.

      “Thanks, Enos,” Ben said and walked into the house.

      He was met practically inside the front door by a barrage of Chinese, interspersed with rebukes in English.  “Why you late?” Hop Sing demanded.  “Dinnah all cold, velly bad, you unnahstand?”

      “Yes, yes, I understand,” Ben muttered, “but I’m not hungry, Hop Sing.

      Hop Sing stomped his slippered foot.  “Nobody eat, velly bad!”

      “That is enough, Hop Sing,” Marie said, coming between them to pull Ben toward the sofa.  “You can see that Mr. Cartwright is too tired to eat now, and he is also too tired to listen to your chattering.”

      Hop Sing’s cheeks puffed out.  “Maybe so, Hop Sing go back China.”

      “Feel free,” Ben growled.  He’d had his fill of hopeless argument for the day.

      Hop Sing caught his breath, turned and stalked into the kitchen.  He had, of course, no intention of returning to China.  He owed too great a debt to Mr. Cartwright to ever leave him.  But an uneaten meal revealed a disturbed mind, in Hop Sing’s opinion, so he made the threat to balance the concern he felt.  Mr. Ben had troubles, and Hop Sing knew no better way to counter them than to offer a warm, filling meal.  If Mr. Ben wouldn’t let him do that, there was nothing left but to feign great displeasure and stomp off, in hopes that Mr. Ben would remember the next time and submit rather than endure another such scene.  The tactic worked more often than not, but it was unavailing that night.

      Once Ben was seated, Marie sat beside him, running her fingers through the hair at his temple.  “You have had a long day,” she whispered, “and I think it did not go as you hoped.”

      Ben shook his head and lay it against her shoulder.

      “They’re still gonna hang Lucky Bill, Pa?” Adam, perched on the table before the sofa, quizzed.  “I was sure you could talk them out of it.”

      Ben sighed.  “Sorry to disappoint you, but your father’s not quite as convincing as you thought.”

      “It is sad, Ben,” Marie murmured, “but you have tried your best.  You must take comfort in that.”

      Ben looked at her sharply.  “I don’t find that thought very comforting, Marie, not when it means an innocent man’s death.”

      Wisely, she said nothing, merely nodded and stroked his forehead with a soothing hand.  Ben smiled——a weak, weary smile that conveyed no joy.  Then, the words having taken this long to register, he remembered Hop Sing’s querulous complaint.  “Haven’t any of you eaten?” Ben queried.

      “Hoss did,” Adam reported, “and Little Joe, of course.  We decided to wait for you.”

      “And I’m still holding you up.  I’m sorry,” Ben muttered.  “I have no appetite, but you two should eat.  This is my worry.”

      Marie closed her small hand over his.  “Your worries are mine, Ben.”

      “Mine, too,” Adam declared.

      Ben uttered a short, humorless laugh.  “Oh, Adam; you’re just a boy.”

      It was the worst comment he could have made.  “Pa!” Adam protested.  “I’m going on sixteen.”

      Ben arched an eyebrow.  “And still have a ways to go to get there.  For mercy’s sake, Adam, be a boy while you can——and go eat your dinner.”

      Adam resented his father’s attitude, but his stomach told him he really was hungry.  Deciding that ignoring it in no way enhanced his status as an adult, he went into the kitchen and requested a plate of food from Hop Sing.

      “Humph!  ‘Bout time somebody make good sense,” the little Cantonese announced, reaching for a clean plate.

      “Shows good sense, Hop Sing,” Adam corrected.

      “Ah, so?  Show good sense,” Hop Sing repeated.  He had early learned that Adam was his best resource for learning English.  “Mistah Ben, Missy Cahtlight show good sense pletty quick now?”

      Adam shrugged.  “Maybe Marie.  Pa’s showing no sense at all tonight.”  Though Hop Sing didn’t catch Adam’s real meaning, he shook his head in vigorous agreement with the boy’s disapproval.

      Ben lay as still as possible in his bed that night.  He couldn’t sleep, but he knew if he tossed the way he had the previous night that Marie’s sleep would again be disturbed.  So he lay staring at the ceiling, trying to convince himself he’d done his best, that there was nothing more he could do, but over and over his tired brain hammered a single theme——“Stop them, stop them”——the words Mrs. Thorrington had screamed at him.

      In the gray light of the half moon, he slipped quietly from his bed and began to dress as noiselessly as possible.  In her sleep Marie’s hand touched the empty pillow beside her, and her eyes opened as she sensed something wrong.  Sitting up quickly, she saw Ben pulling on his boots.  “Where are you going?” she whispered.

      Ben came to sit beside her.  “I’m going to stop that hanging, Marie.”

      Marie suppressed a cry of alarm.  “Ben, you cannot,” she pleaded.  “They will kill you!”

      “No, no, I’ll be all right,” he assured her, though he’d spent the night wondering whether he’d ever see another..  “I’m sorry, dearest, but this is something I have to do.”  He kissed her swiftly, stood and headed for the door.

      Marie sprang out of bed.  “No, Ben!” she shrieked, forgetting the sleeping children in her panic for him.  She ran across the room and threw her arms around him.  “I won’t let you go!”

      Ben pried her hands away.  “Marie, don’t do this,” he begged.  “I have to go.”  He walked into the dark hall.

      Without stopping to throw a peignoir over her gauzy nightgown, Marie ran after him, bare feet oblivious to the cold, hardwood floor.  “Ben!”

      Two more doors opened.  Adam ran into the hall, instantly alert, while Hoss stared, bleary-eyed, from his doorway.  “What’s going on?” Adam asked.

      “Help me stop him, Adam!” Marie begged.  “He is going to get himself killed!”

      Hoss jerked awake, terrified.  “Who’s gonna kill Pa?” he cried.

      “Marie, please,” Ben begged.  He looked from one son to the other.  “There’s nothing here to concern you boys.  Get back to bed,” he ordered firmly.

      “What are you doing, Pa?” Adam demanded.

      “Who’s gonna kill my pa?” Hoss yelled.

      “Answer them!” Marie ordered hotly.  “Tell your sons what a fool they have for a father!”

      “That’s enough,” Ben shouted.  “I cannot stand by and watch an innocent man hang, and nothing you say can make me!”

      Marie clutched at him, sliding to the floor, her cheek pressed to the top of his brown boots.  “No, Ben, no,” she sobbed, clinging to his ankles.

      “Marie, let go of me!” Ben commanded brusquely, grasping her arms and flinging her off.  He moved swiftly for the stairs.

      Another shriek reverberated down the hall, not Marie this time.  The angry voices had awakened the youngest Cartwright and he was declaring his indignation to the heavens.  “Take care of our boy,” Ben said softly from the head of the stairs.  “Take care of all my boys.”  His voice choked and he ran downstairs, stopping only to take his Colt’s Navy 41 from the cabinet beside the door.  Though Ben had rarely carried a firearm until the misunderstanding in Genoa had strained relations with the Indians, he was competent in its use, and he knew he’d need it this morning.  Mere words had already failed.

      Weeping, Marie stood and headed toward the nursery, Hoss’s bare feet padding down the hall after her.  Adam, face set with determination, went back into his room to hustle into his clothes.  Grabbing his breech-loading .45 Sharps and ammunition, he moved silently through the house and trotted across the yard into the barn.

      Ben had just finished saddling his bay when Adam came in and reached for a saddle blanket.  “Just what do you think you’re doing?” Ben demanded.

      “I’m going with you,” Adam declared.  “Two have a better chance than one.”

      “Don’t be ridiculous, boy,” Ben snapped.  “This is not some adventure out of a storybook.”

      “I know that,” Adam sputtered, “but I know you’re likely to get yourself killed if you try doing this alone.”  He threw the blanket on the back of his sorrel mare.

      Ben snatched it off.  “You’re not going,” he said bluntly, “and that’s an order.”

      “Oh, yes, I am,” Adam insisted stubbornly, arms akimbo.  “You can’t stop me anymore than Marie could stop you.  Quit treating me like a kid, Pa!”

      Ben drew his arm back and slapped the boy, hard, across the face.

      Adam’s hand flew to his stinging cheek.  He couldn’t ever remember his father’s striking him, not that way.  Hot tears swam in his eyes.  “Pa, let me go,” he pleaded.  “If you can’t stand by and watch Lucky Bill hang, how do you expect me to stand by and let you be killed?”

      Ben grasped him by both arms, his fingers digging painfully into the boy’s flesh.  “I’m ordering you to stay here, Adam,” he said firmly, then his voice became tender.  “Look after Marie and your brothers.  I’m counting on you.”  Ben led his bay out of the barn, mounted and galloped toward the valley.

      Running outside, Adam watched his father ride away.  Tears coursed unashamedly down his cheeks.  He knew what his father meant.  There was a good chance he wouldn’t be coming back, and he had to know that Marie and the little boys would have someone to care for them and provide for them.  Adam realized his father had paid him a great compliment in giving him that responsibility, a man’s responsibility, but he didn’t want it.  Pa had told him last night to be a boy while he could, and suddenly Adam found himself wishing his boyhood could go on forever, because that would mean he still had a father to take care of him.

      Ben rode his bay harder than he ever had before, and the animal, sensing his urgency, galloped past the dark skeletons of the pines on each side of the mountain trail.  Occasionally, Ben slowed where the footing was uneven or to give the gelding a chance to catch his breath, then urged him on again.  The hanging was scheduled for dawn, and Ben couldn’t afford to be a minute late.  Even seconds might make the difference.

      Though it was still too dark to see the scenery flashing past, the land made its presence known through Ben’s other senses.  The crisp, pine-scented air sent waves of nostalgia rippling through him, and, drown it out though he tried, Ben couldn’t silence the fear that he’d never again breathe the air of these hills he loved so much.  As he entered the valley, it was the pungent fragrance of sage that pierced his nostrils and whispered to him of home.  The feel of the cool breeze against his unshaven face, the yelp of a distant coyote——every sight, sound and smell a siren’s voice calling him to stop, to turn his horse and gallop back to the comfort and peace of home.  But another voice blared louder, the voice of his conscience, sounding surprisingly like that of Thorrington’s wife.  Fool’s message though it shouted, Ben had to respond.  He couldn’t live with himself if he didn’t.

      The sun was rising, but a purple haze still hung in the air when Ben rode onto Bill Thorrington’s Clear Creek Ranch.  Standing in black silhouette against the lavender sky was a single tree, a wagon pulled beneath it, and around the wagon hangman and spectators stood, waiting for the designated hour.  There was no sign yet of Lucky Bill.  Probably inside, being given a few last moments with his family.