Ben stood and raised his glass to his youngest son and his fiancée and with huge pride looked at his eldest son with his wife and children and Hoss with his beautiful red-head. He felt a true patriarch what he had always wanted for his sons.
Laura was delighted as she congratulated Nita. She had grown very fond of the younger girl as she spent more and more time with Laura in San Francisco after meeting Joe and she knew how much in love Nita was. Everyone seemed pleased especially as Adam was so much in evidence and obviously delighted and Nita seemed to have relaxed with him.
Only three people noticed Hoss’ hesitation, his father, Adam and Carole and none of them commented although rather surprised. Joe was too excited and no-one else knew Hoss well enough to see past his act, not even Sue.
Carole asked Beth to choose some material suitable for Nita’s wedding dress when she went into town in an hour or so. Hoss was driving her in as he had some arrangements to make with his wedding only ten days away. Joe said that he would go with them as he had telegrams to send and arrangements to make, wanting to confirm the date and get the announcement in the paper. No-one was surprised at that but they were all surprised when Adam announced his intention of joining his brothers. Carole had seen the look that Adam gave his big brother and could guess exactly why Adam was going but knowing that he would hate anyone else to know, she helped to cover by producing a list of things that she required. As Hoss was driving Beth in on the buckboard it would be available to collect some stores and with such a houseful she always needed something, Adam accepted the list and her instructions to collect the material, provided Beth chose it for him.
Joe was so pleased with himself that it took the combined efforts of his brothers and his father to get him started for town. Nita in contrast seemed to be in a dream, very happy but hardly aware of all the congratulations. On the way to town Joe hardly stopped talking as he sorted out his thoughts on what had to be done, the arrangements to make, just what he wanted. Hoss made a definite effort with Beth along. She was a close friend but still an outsider, he teased Joe unmercifully for the second time he hadn’t been able to resist copying an older brother when they got married. Joe was too excited and pleased with life to worry about anything and didn’t notice the effort that Hoss was having to make but it was all too obvious to Adam. Adam hid it well but he couldn’t help worrying, wandering what was eating at his big brother, it was so unlike him.
For the moment they all had jobs to do and knowing they would take varying times, with Joe having the longest list, they arranged to meet at the Washoe Club for a celebration dinner, just the three of them. Adam made his first move to book one of the small dining rooms where they could be private, hoping that Hoss would arrive well before his little brother. It was very difficult with so many houseguests to find time for a private chat and he badly wanted one.
Adam collected the stores and two bolts of material that Beth had chosen and after thanking her for her help he headed over to the Washoe club and ordered himself a beer at the bar downstairs as he waited for Hoss. Roy saw him go in and came over to join him. He was very sombre and Adam asked what was wrong, forgetting all about weddings for the moment. Roy sighed heavily, “That Preacher McKenna has been stirring all round town. He gets quite an audience and he’s been attacking you and your family.”
“Seems largely to have forgotten that but according to him the Cartwrights are the personification of evil and sum up what is wrong with this town, I don’t think many people take him too seriously, you four are too well known but he’s good entertainment and they listen. I just don’t want trouble. You react and people will start taking him more seriously.”
“Easy Roy, I don’t want trouble either.”
“Yeah well it’s not really you who worries me, but Beth said that Little Joe was in town and Hoss too. You know your brothers especially Little Joe.”
“Actually today I think Joe has other things on his mind, he’s pleased with the whole world. I shouldn’t worry but I’ll have a word with both of them. What do you know about this preacher?”
“Not much, he just drifted into town a couple of months back.”
“Could you make a few enquiries for me, especially in San Francisco? I think he may have some sort of tie up with Hearst.”
“I’ll do what I can I have a few favours owed, Anyway I don’t like what he’s doing.”
“Thanks Roy. I shall be in town on Tuesday, got a court hearing for the Consolidated Virginia, If you can dig up anything fill me in then, Keep my brothers out of it, just for the moment, I don’t want anyone going off half-cocked. They’ll be in and out for the next few weeks.”
“Yeah I suppose you’ll be busy with the wedding.”
Adam grinned “Make that weddings! It’ll be in the paper tomorrow, Joe and Nita took the plunge this morning, Joe’s making the arrangements now.”
“If I don’t see him, pass on my congratulations. She’s real beautiful.”
“She is that and she loves him very much, I think it will work out as well as his first marriage.”
“That don’t seem so long ago I must be getting old.”
“More than three years, she’s been gone not far short of three years even though sometimes it feels like yesterday. It was what she wanted, Joe to find someone else.”
“He’s still a young man. It was probably inevitable, best thing anyway. Ain’t nobody going to begrudge him another chance. We all knew how hard he took Marie’s death. Still with two weddings you will be busy.”
“Just slightly. I reckon we probably have a fortnight between them, at least its winter and nothing much else to do.”
Half an hour later Hoss came in to join Adam, having finished his list of jobs. With Joe not there Hoss had no need to hide his uneasiness, knowing full well why Adam had decided to join in the trip to town. Adam left word with Quincy, the bartender, to tell Joe where they were and suggested they go straight up. Once there he ordered coffee and brandy and for once Hoss joined him. The brothers agreed to wait until Joe arrived to order food. Hoss sat down on the window seat and stared down to the busy street, “Joe’s bound to be a while yet.”
“I hope he is. I want a word.”
Hoss wouldn’t look at his brother “I had a feeling you did, sudden decision to come along.”
“What’s wrong Hoss?”
Hoss parried with another question, “Do you think Joe noticed?”
“Joe is hardly noticing anything this afternoon, looking at the world through rose tinted glasses, a haze of champagne and delight. In fact apart from me I’m fairly sure only Pa and Carole noticed.”
“Well that’s something.”
“You still haven’t answered my question.”
Hoss looked up at Adam for the first time “I can’t help thinking that for once our little brother is making a terrible mistake.”
That was rather more outspoken than Adam had been expecting even though he’d known that some thing was wrong and he sipped his brandy, studying his brother intently before he answered. “I thought you and Sue were getting on quite well with Nita?”
“Yeah, she’s been nice enough to us, but I got eyes Adam. It’s been hard to sit by and watch the way she treated you. I only kept quiet ‘cos it was tearing Joe apart anyways and I didn’t want to make it worse.”
“That’s why I contrived to talk to her alone this morning. We’ve come to an understanding, I don’t think there’s any need to worry. In her own way she was just trying to defend Joe from what she saw as my condescension. She thought I belittled him and didn’t trust him.”
Adam smiled “I think I convinced her of that but she doesn’t know us and she misunderstood, things like ‘little brother’, she thought I meant it in a derogatory way, not as a term of affection. You and I have defended Joe often enough she was only doing the same.”
“Well maybe, but I still don’t like the way she treated you. How much is that hard cynical bitch the real one? ‘Cos if she is she’ll break Joe’s heart.”
“I’m sure it isn’t, just a shell to hide behind. Laura has seen a lot of her and she says Nita has changed a lot since she’s known Joe.”
“Yeah," Hoss sighed “Well I don’t trust Laura’s judgement, she chose Will instead of you.”
Adam frowned at his brother, he hadn’t realised that still rankled, “That was my fault Hoss, not Laura’s.”
“Maybe, I don’t know. All I do know is that one way or another you got pretty badly hurt then and Laura sure didn’t help.”
“Hoss, it was my fault. I should never have proposed to Laura, I didn’t love her, not the way I do Carole. She was a means to an end, a way to get the children I wanted. If I’d really loved her, she would never have turned to Will.”
Hoss stared down into his glass and then drained the brandy, “I don’t know Adam. I had to watch you spend weeks in a wheelchair and then struggle back to your feet. I know that was an accident but it didn’t help what they did, Then you ran off to Europe and you didn’t mean to come back, that was real hard to take. It’s the one time in my life that I’ve set out to get drunk and the first two bottles barely made an impression. I stayed drunk for three days but it didn’t really help. I never wanted to see Will again. I don’t think Joe really understood then just how much he was gonna miss you but I did.”
Adam swallowed hard “I never realised Hoss.” he put his hand out to grip his brother’s shoulder. Hoss had never spoken of those days before. Hoss looked up “I didn’t intend you to. It was hard enough for you anyway and we could only sit and watch. Joe was hit hardest on his 21st birthday. For days beforehand he went into town to get the mail and although you sent a parcel and a long letter well in advance it didn’t arrive until two days after his birthday, some strike in New York. Whatever we tried to do to celebrate Joe hadn’t heard from you and you weren’t there. I hated Will and Laura then and I think Joe did too, but when we went with Pa to San Francisco, we had to go see them. Pa had lost you we couldn’t cut him off from Will too, but I found it very hard to begin with. It was a bit easier when we knew you’d come back eventually but even when you were friends with them again, I’ve never really felt the same.”
Adam bit his lip, not knowing what to say. Hoss put his arm round his brother’s shoulders “Adam I’m not trying to get at you, I know why you went and it was all a long time ago, I had to stand by and watch you go away, making a mistake I was sure, but I couldn’t stop you. Now I’m scared Joe is making an even bigger mistake and unlike you, he won’t be able to change his mind once it’s done.”
Adam gripped Hoss’ arm “I paid for my mistakes Hoss. If you missed me, I missed all of you. Especially in the days after I heard about the fight. Pa tried to gloss over it but there was no way to gloss over Jim Willy’s death, or how nearly you’d died. I paid then for the injury I nearly did Laura and the harm I did to you three. If you’d died when I was so far away and I hadn’t even tried to help …”
“Noone wanted you to pay for anything. You didn’t do us harm, it was just that we missed you, knowing you weren’t fit and unhappy and we couldn’t help.”
“Enough of that Hoss, its ancient history but I hope you’ve forgiven Will. He couldn’t help falling in love and he stopped me making the same mistake you’re worried about Joe making.”
“I suppose so, I didn’t think of that. There’s noone to stop Joe,”
“Is it just the way she treated me that worries you?”
“Mainly, something in her character that just ain’t nice.”
“She’s been a very unhappy girl for a long time. According to Joe she doesn’t get on with her step-mother or her father. She loves him very much, surely you can see that?”
“Yes and Joe loves her I guess.”
“Then why so doubtful?”
“Do you think he’s kidding himself, she’s very beautiful and after Marie he’s been pretty lonely? Maybe a bit like you and Laura he wants to get married too much?”
Adam shook his head decisively, “No. There would have been easier people to fall for, not a girl in San Francisco. After first meeting her he didn’t even know when he would be able to get back to San Francisco. It was a freak that he went this autumn. Anyway you know how awkward he was while you were marking up, you told me about it. Joe wasn’t looking for love he was fighting against it, because of Marie.”
“Maybe.” Hoss looked entirely unconvinced and very worried and Adam didn’t know what to say to convince his brother. He’d seen Hoss’ hesitation in congratulating Joe but finding Joe’s news allied in Hoss’ mind with his own disastrous episode with Laura had really brought home to him how strong Hoss’ misgivings were. Adam poured out some more coffee and hoped that Joe would still be quite a while as he tried to work out how to put Hoss’ mind at ease.
Hoss himself was surprised by the depth of his fears and the very clear memories of Adam running off to Europe, a time he had seldom thought of since Adam found Carole and settled down happily. Nita seemed pleasant enough most of the time but he had been infuriated by her treatment of Adam and he wasn’t at all sure that she was right for Joe. Maybe his worries were accentuated because unlike Nita he knew that Adam had problems of his own and just how hard a time his brother had had a few weeks earlier. He knew that Adam was still not sleeping well and he was feeling protective towards his brother. Unable to help on Adam’s major worries he, like Joe and Ben, was eager to protect Adam every other way.
Adam had been a lot less worried by Nita’s attacks on him than either of his brothers, mainly concerned at their effect on Joe. Now as he saw the effect on Hoss too, he kicked himself for not acting sooner as Edwin had suggested, He could have stamped on it earlier if he’d realised how badly both his brothers were reacting, Now he settled down to the task of persuading Hoss to his own point of view. “I can remember a time Hoss when you were very doubtful about Joe’s marriage to Marie.”
Hoss looked up at that surprised and Adam went on “Pa and Marie got off to a much worse start than Nita and I. It’s ironic really I tried to persuade Pa that that wasn’t a disaster but right for Joe, that he had to accept Marie or he’d lose Joe. That Marie would be Joe’s wife for the rest of Pa’s life and yet she only had months to live. Now I’m faced with the same problem, trying to persuade you that it isn’t a disaster.”
Hoss frowned “Do you know I’d completely forgotten all that trouble. I wouldn’t have thought that week, after I got home and before Joe reached you, that I’d ever be able to forget. Pa looked terrible, even worse than when you left I think.”
“It proved irrelevant in the long term, that was a perfect marriage, only one thing wrong Marie’s early death. But that first day when I told you and Carole about the baby you were very worried, and I couldn’t even tell you that it wasn’t Joe’s baby.”
Hoss grinned more freely than he had since Joe came in with his news. “I asked you then what you thought of Marie and relied on your judgement. You said that she’d make Joe happy because they loved each other and you were proved right. So I guess I can only do the same again.”
Adam smiled, “Same applies Hoss. She adores him, it will be alright. She has fallen for the ranch too, I think it means more to her than to Sue and I’d guess in time more even than Carole.”
“It just seems so odd Adam, I mean Leland Stanford’s daughter!”
Adam laughed “Probably in the eyes of the work, it’s a very predictable match between two of the most important families in the west.”
“That’s what worries me, it ain’t like Joe.”
“What’s with you and Laura trying to take over, I’m the worrier in this family! I am positive that Joe is marrying her despite her family connections, not because of them.”
“Yeah but she’s so unlike Marie.”
“Hoss if she was like Marie we’d all be worried sick in case he was fooling himself, trying to replace Marie when that’s impossible. Joe himself says that she’s as important to him as Marie was; why not trust our little brother’s judgement? He proved to make a very fine choice first time.”
Hoss thought about that for a moment and then he asked “You think she’ll stop getting at you? ‘Cos I ain’t sure how long I’m gonna be able to keep quiet.”
“I’m sure Hoss and she did apologise for it, stop worrying.”
Hoss nodded and relaxed slightly and if he hadn’t stopped worrying Adam was confident he would at least be able to hide it. In a few days Adam was confident that Hoss would be able to see for himself that everything was alright. Hoss was deep in thought and for quarter of an hour neither brother spoke but then Adam considered his watch again and Hoss said “Joe ought to be here by now.”
“Oh it can take a long time; sometimes the vicar and Dan for that matter aren’t easy to get away from.”
“You don’t think he’s got into trouble?”
“Joe is so pleased with life this afternoon I’d doubt anything would annoy him enough to get him into a fight. He can take care of himself.” Despite the confident words Adam felt uneasy and the minutes dragged past. Ten minutes later he was on his feet pacing up and down wondering if they ought to go and look for Joe, Hoss remained by the windows and stared out, not even really seeing the busy street until he became aware of the crowds gathering outside the Palace, “Adam there looks like trouble over at the Palace.”
Adam lent over his big brother to look and finished what Hoss was thinking “If Joe went to see Dan, chances are he’s in the Palace but even so it needn’t be anything to do with him.”
Hoss was already getting to his feet, “When is there ever trouble near Joe without him at least getting involved?”
Adam didn’t answer but he was already at the door and telling the startled waiter that they’d be back later, he led the way over to the Palace. By the time they reached the outskirt of the crowd they’d heard Joe’s name mentioned and seeing the Cartwright brothers the crowd made way for them to push their way in.
Joe had had no thought of trouble as he went along to the Palace, his last stop before joining his brothers. Everything in his world was marvellous, he’d got the wedding arranged for just over three weeks time, on the 22nd as he’d wanted, all the telegrams were sent and he’d started the various arrangements knowing exactly what was needed especially having jogged his memory as he’d helped Hoss. Now he had to tell Dan and get in the paper and he could go for a celebration meal with his brothers. So he was light-hearted as he went over to join Dan at his usual table, near the bar in the corner. He didn’t even consider the other people in the saloon; the animosity around town seemed to have disappeared since the meeting. Dan wasn’t altogether surprised at Joe’s news but he enjoyed weddings at the Ponderosa and knowing just how hard Joe had taken the death his beloved Marie and he was honestly delighted that Joe had found someone else. He made no attempt to hide his delight, although teasing Joe about copying his brothers again.
Joe was just refusing a celebration drink explaining that his brothers were waiting for him when Preacher Mckenna came to stand over him, frowning heavily. Joe didn’t want trouble and tried to excuse himself but the Preacher said, “Wait. I must talk to you. The youngest, maybe the least affected.”
“I’m not interested in anything you might have to say.”
“You cannot marry; take an innocent girl into that sink of iniquity.”
Joe held onto his temper with an effort, “I’ve already heard your views on my family and you couldn’t be more wrong I don’t want to hear anymore. I’m free to marry whoever I like and I’ll have God’s blessing on my marriage.”
“You take the Lord’s name in vain. Too many years of evil influence, how can you know?” The Preacher looked pityingly at Joe and Joe got to his feet “I’ll see you Dan.” He was about to walk away not wanting trouble but the Preacher turned and addressed the saloon as a whole, “It is too late for this man but there are children out there, being brought up by the Devil’s own man. We must rescue them while they are still young enough to be saved. They have his blood and it will be hard to redeem them but if we act now their souls might be saved. These devils should not marry, bear children to corrupt their innocence.”
Joe lost all hold of his temper at that. He’d stopped halfway across the saloon and now he turned back and Preacher or no, this man wasn’t hiding behind his cloth any longer. Joe went back to the man and gripped his arms. “My brother is a better man than you can imagine and those children couldn’t have a better father. I’m warning you, set one foot on our ranch and I’ll have you arrested for trespass and if you dare say another word against my family I’ll sue you for libel and malicious mischief,” Joe shook him hard once trying desperately to keep control and not to hit out as he wanted. The Preacher was silent until Joe turned to go out again but then he said “The Devil’s own, will you stand by and watch a man of God attacked and do nothing?”
Joe swivelled round “You wear his cloth but you don’t know God at all and you started this attack!”
The Preacher was furious and the emotion on his face seemed to galvanize some of the men, most of whom barely understood what was going on. Dan yelled to Joe to watch his back and Joe dodged so that the gun-barrel aimed at his head just caught him a glancing blow on the ear. It didn’t knock him out but the sight of blood seemed to excite a lot of the men and almost at once he was under attack from all sides. Dan came to help him and a couple of other friends pitched in and within a minute the saloon was a seething mass of fights with a few bystanders hurrying out of the way and the rest happily joining in the brawl. Joe was slightly stunned by the first blow and, under attack by three of four at a time, he was taking a lot of punishment fighting desperately with his back to the bar to stay on his feet. He knew if he once went down then the boot would go in and he risked serious injury. He lost all track of time, unsure how it could end but buoyed up by the fury he still felt at this second unwarranted attack on his family.
Adam and Hoss pushed their way into the saloon and at first couldn’t make out which side was which in the chaos. Then they saw Dan fighting hard if inexpertly and moved over towards him and only then did they see their brother as Joe sent one man in front of him flying, Joe’s face was covered with blood but he was still on his feet giving a good account of himself so they shelved worries and fought their way over to him, Hoss bodily throwing men out of the way. Neither arrived unmarked but they were just in time as one particularly vicious blow to Joe’s stomach put him down, He wasn’t even aware of his brothers for a moment clinging onto the bar rails trying to get his breath, just grateful that noone was hitting him for a moment. Hoss and Adam took up position either side of him to protect their brother and fought anyone who got close enough to hit. Both were more than busy as the miners tried with sheer weight of numbers to force the brothers to the ground. Luckily the miners tended to get in each others way but even so the brothers had no time to see what was happening. Dan had finally caught a beauty and his knees had given way, he was slumped in a chair in the corner where he’d fallen. He was watching the fight, no longer capable of taking part and assuming with Adam and Hoss there that he wasn’t needed. Then he saw a man draw a knife and seemingly head for Joe’s defenceless back as he lay his head resting on his arms on the bar rail trying to get enough breath to pull himself up. Dan was too far way to do anything and instinctively yelled a warning “Adam behind you.”
Adam had just sent one man flying and hearing the alarm in Dan’s voice as it rang out over the noise in the saloon, he turned and seeing the knife in the man’s hand aimed at his brother’s back he had drawn and shot the man in the shoulder before he had consciously taken in what was happening. At the sound of the shot many of those fighting hesitated but one of Adam’s erstwhile opponents and picked up a chair and broke it over Adam’s head. Adam sank to his knees at the blow but he didn’t lose his senses and he was still holding his gun and managed to train it on the man who had just hit him, as he raised the chair leg to hit again, “That’s enough.”
Hoss in the temporary respite had drawn his gun too and with his back to the bar he said “That does it.”
Adam managed to get back to his feet and lent against the bar trying very hard to keep the gun steady and hoping noone realised how the scene was going round on him. Hoss, taking care to keep his gun steady, lent down and hoisted Joe to his feet too. Joe’s gun had fallen from its holster in the struggle but to the brothers’ relief Roy was forcing his way in with several deputies. Roy recognised Joe’s gun and jammed it back into the holster and them told Adam and Hoss to put theirs away, “Right what happened this time?” he asked an edge of anger to his voice. Hoss shrugged “I don’t know. It was well under way when we came along, we just tried to protect Joe.”
Roy looked down at the man Adam had shot, “And him?”
Adam said “I shot him; he had a knife aimed at Joe’s back. It’s there.” Roy picked it up “Okay you three get out of here. I’ll see you later but don’t leave town until we’ve talked. Go see Doc.”
Dan, staggering slightly, joined the three brothers as Hoss helped Joe down to Doc’s. Adam refused all assistance even if the scene did have a tendency to go round on him, Doc was in the surgery cleaning up and as they came in he sighed, “Not again this is getting monotonous. Can’t you keep out of trouble for five minutes?”
Adam sat down by the sink and began mopping the blood from his face, “Try talking to Joe. All we did was rescue him, He and Dan took on the whole saloon on their own.”
Dan protested that there had been several others on their side and anyway it hadn’t been from choice. Adam sighed resignedly “It never is Joe’s fault, It just happens to him. What started it this time?”
Joe mumbled “I had words with that preacher again.” Then as Doc began cleaning the cut on the side of his head he winced, “Ouch! Go easy Doc that hurts.”
Adam was cross with his little brother, he’d promise Roy that there would be no trouble and less than an hour later they were in the thick of it. The sheriff had reason to be angry, “Damn that pipeline it’s been nothing but trouble, Couldn’t you have ignored him Joe, today of all days!”
Joe didn’t want to tell Adam what had been said, although he knew eventually he would have to, and with his head swimming from the pain of Doc’s stitches; he just let things float and made no answer. Dan had washed his face and felt better although sore and bruised and he answered Adam “It wasn’t anything to do with the pipeline Adam. Really Joe did very well to land out and hit the Preacher he only shook him.”
“You did what!” Adam exploded. “Whatever else he is, he’s wearing God’s cloth, no wonder the whole saloon went for you if you laid hands on him. Have you taken leave of your senses Little Joe? I thought you’d grown up.” He was furious with his brother unable to imagine sufficient provocation to justify what he could only see as Joe’s stupidity, Hoss was aching and sore and he’d been very worried about both his brothers, so he wasn’t feeling any kinder towards his little brother than Adam was.
Dan looked from one angry face to the other and then looked over at Joe “Are you going to tell them the provocation or am I.”
“I will Dan but later. Just leave it.” Joe could understand his brothers’ anger, but Adam was already badly shaken by the physical attack and he wasn’t upsetting his brother in front of outsiders, not even such close friends as Doc and Dan, Something about his attitude and the way that he looked at Adam had the effect of calming both his brothers as they realised there was something going on that they didn’t know.
Doc turned his attention to Adam who also had a bad cut on his head and Joe sat quietly waiting for the world to settle. Ten minutes later the worst of the injuries were attended to and the four were spreading ointment on their bruises; Adam turned to his youngest brother “Okay Joe, you’d better fill us in before Roy arrives. I don’t think we’re his most popular people at the moment.”
Joe hesitated and Doc said “Come on Dan let’s go and make some coffee.” Dan nodded and the brothers were left alone. Joe had no choice, Adam would inevitably hear it eventually and it was better coming from him in private. Even so he couldn’t look at his brother, staring out of the window as he told them verbatim what the Preacher had said. As he listened shock etched itself on the big man’s face and he moved closer to his elder brother, putting his arm round Adam’s shoulders as though physically warding off the accusations aimed at his brother. Joe told his brothers what he had said in reply and that fighting had then started, after which it was all a blur, he hadn’t even been sure when they arrived. As he finished Adam pulled away from Hoss and went over to Joe and gently gripped his shoulder. “I’m sorry Joe I shouldn’t have yelled at you. Dan was right, you did very well not to hit out at him. I’m not sure I’d have been so restrained.”
Joe turned at that “It’s so unfair Adam, just because he calls himself Preacher, people listen.” To his surprise Adam was reasonably calm and even managed a half smile, “They listen, but they don’t believe, not anyone whose opinion we care about. Remember what Dan said before, he goes too far. We are too well known for people to believe him.”
Joe studied his brother’s face, seeing the inevitable anger but less pain than he had expected and he slowly calmed down. Adam went to open the door and let Doc and Dan in with coffee. Dan had told Doc the cause of the trouble and both were surprised to see how calm Adam was. Adam accepted the coffee and grinned at his old friends, “It’s alright. Joe’s told me, he had reason enough for trouble for once. I’m going to have to do something about the Preacher.”
“Like what Adam?” asked Dan
“At the moment I haven’t the faintest idea, the man is a fanatic and not susceptible to reason, but I’ll think of something.”
“Be very careful won’t you.”
“I always am. Now we have a dining room booked at the Washoe Club and I for one am hungry, so if you’ll tell Roy where we are I think we’ll wander over.” His brothers nodded and thanking Doc for his help they went over to the club. Neither Hoss nor Joe was much interested in food but they wanted to be on their own, unsure how much of an act Adam was putting on.
Roy had already heard exactly what had happened in the saloon and he got more details from Dan. Knowing the three brothers, he knew that with such an attack on Adam in Joe’s hearing trouble was inevitable. Joe had, for him, been remarkably restrained and if anyone was to blame for the trouble, it had to be the Preacher. He went over to see the brothers and found them all very quiet and showing all too many signs of the fight. Roy didn’t stay long and made it clear that he didn’t blame them for the trouble but asked them to try and avoid any more. He promised to try and find out about the Preacher’s background as a priority and then left them to finish their meal in peace.
None of them could finish the food and Adam ordered three large brandies and lent back in his chair. “We’re going to have some explaining to do when we get home. There’s no way to avoid them knowing we’ve been fighting as soon as we get in.”
“Dan’s gonna have to put it in the paper Adam, too many people heard.”
“I know that Joe so we have to tell them. First though I think we ought to warn the Vicar.”
“Why?” asked Hoss puzzled.
Adam bit his lip and looked at his brothers “I don’t suppose it will come to anything but he might just… If what he said in the saloon is anything to go by, he might query the banns.”
“He can’t do that!” Hoss said horrified.
Adam smiled “Calm down big brother. At worst he can cause a scene, he can’t actually have any effect, the banns will be read legally as planned but we ought to warn the Vicar of possible trouble.”
“I was planning to take Sue down to hear the banns.”
Joe nodded “Nita and I are going too.”
Adam frowned but seeing the obstinacy on his brothers’ faces he said, “Well we’ll just have to try and ensure that Preacher McKenna doesn’t get a chance to interfere, but I still think we warn the Vicar, and you two will have to warn Nita and Sue. They are neither of them likely to have hysterics or faint, but they ought to be warned what to expect.”
“How about this evening?” Joe asked, not looking forward to telling his father. Adam was only really worried about Carole, it was an attack on her as well in many ways and he knew she was still unsettled and more easily upset than normal. His brothers recognized his fears and waited patiently for him to think it out. Adam poured himself another brandy “Marvellous we come to town to make wedding arrangements and end up in a fight! It’s going to take a lot of explaining.”
“How?” asked Hoss.
“God knows!” said Adam frankly “They all know us too well but I suppose we’ll just have to tell them exactly what happened. I just want the chance to tell Carole on her own, she gets easily upset at the minute.”
“We’ve got time to think about it on the way home.” Joe pronounced “I for one have had enough of this town for one day.”
Adam nodded, the buckboard was loaded and ready to go and he wanted to get home too. They rode out of town together in silence each deep in their own thoughts, there was no easy way to tell everyone else. Finally Adam roused himself, “Joe you never said, how did you get on with the arrangements, before all this blew up?”
Joe sighed, “Funny I was so full of it when I went to see Dan and yet I haven’t even realised I hadn’t thought of telling you.”
“Come on Joe we’ve been in fights often enough it’s not that important. One evil fanatic hitting out and trying to hurt. The more we let it hurt us the better he’ll like it. He’s not worth it. The important thing is that you have arranged your wedding. When is it?”
“On the 22nd, a fortnight after Hoss.”
“Fine. Hopefully by Hoss’ the bruises will have faded, now what else have you done?” Adam was determined to stop his brother brooding and slowly as Joe outlined the arrangements he’d made he began to recapture some of the excitement he had felt earlier. Adam fell back slightly as Joe and Hoss argued about the best way to deal with flowers and drinks, he was lost in his own thoughts, worried about Carole’s reaction and more angry about the aspersions against him that he had let his brothers see.
Joe hesitated not wanting Adam to get too upset, but on the other hand wanting a word alone with Hoss. Deciding that Adam was alright for the moment, he dropped his voice “Hoss there’s one thing you haven’t made clear.”
Hoss frowned but guessed what Joe meant, “I can’t make up my mind little brother, that’s if’n you’re talking about best man.”
“Exactly. You see I’m lucky, I’ve two brothers and this is my second wedding. You acted as best man last time so this time I shall ask Adam. I thought maybe he could get into practice at your’s first.”
Hoss laughed, “You don’t change little brother, always arranging things for me.”
“I’ve hardly interfered at all.” protested Joe
“Well anyway if that’s what you want. After all I was best man for both of you, made it hard to choose,”
“Let’s tell him his two new jobs, might cheer him up a bit.”
Hoss twisted to look “Taken it harder than he tries to make out.”
“I know but I think he’s mainly worried about Carole. I hope she doesn’t get too upset.”
Hoss grunted “You just worry about telling Pa and leave Carole to him.” Then he called “Adam, hey wake up.”
Adam pulled alongside “What’s the matter?”
“Nothing wrong. Just Joe and I have come to a decision, the same one.”
Adam looked puzzled but then as Hoss said “Will you be best man next week?” and Joe added, “And a fortnight later?” Adam smiled freely for the first time since he’d gone over to the saloon. “You know I will. I’d be delighted.”
They were close to home now and Adam kept things light-hearted as they rode in with Joe wrangling with Hoss about his wedding being a mere dress rehearsal. They spared time to put the horses away and loaded up with the stores intended for the main house, leaving the rest in the buckboard for Adam to take home. Then they hesitated, none of them wanting to be the first one through the door, faced with the inevitable questions. Eventually Adam forced a grin, “Come on you two, there’s no way to avoid it.”
Joe hid behind his big brother and Hoss said, “You’re the one with the persuasive tongue Adam. You convince them it’s nothing to worry about.”
Adam sighed “I’m no miracle worker. Let’s get it over with.” The three brothers walked in, not surprised to find everyone sitting round the fire. None of them had worried about the brothers, knowing they had intended to eat in town, but as they took in the brothers’ battered appearance all the women paled and Ben and Will both came to their feet. Adam dumped his load and went straight to Carole and gripped her shoulders. “Take it easy all of you. Yes we’ve been fighting again, but the damage is purely superficial and honestly it wasn’t our fault.”
Ben had hastily scanned his three sons’ face and what he saw reassured him. They looked rather sheepish and although cut and bruised none of them appeared seriously hurt, so he said resignedly, “It never is. You elected spokesman Adam?”
Hoss and Joe both agreed with that and Adam smiled wryly at his brothers’ conspiracy. “It’s really Joe’s story but it wasn’t his fault. He was just telling Dan about the wedding in the Palace when Preacher McKenna started on us again. He went too far and Joe just warned him to stay away from the ranch. The Preacher incited then, asking if they would watch a man of God attacked and do nothing, Joe hadn’t done anything Pa but it got into a fight. Hoss and I broke it up. Even Roy admitted it wasn’t our fault.”
Ben frowned knowing full well that Adam was hiding more than he was saying, but he would get the details later and Adam was relieved when Edwin broke in to ask whether they had actually achieved what they had gone to town to do. Joe willingly accepted the change of subject and filled them all in on what he had arranged.
Carole was trembling slightly and Adam spoke quietly to her and then smiling reassuringly at his father he led her upstairs to the room that had been his for so long. Carole pulled away from him as they went in and shut the door, leaning against it. “Right Adam I want to know what happened.”
“I told you.”
“You glossed over it and just how badly are you hurt?”
“Just one cut which needed some stitches, someone broke a chair across my head, luckily I’ve got a thick skull, just a headache. Otherwise bruised and sore, Joe and Hoss are much the same. Joe took the worst of it but he’s alright.”
“What happened? Joe wasn’t in the mood to start trouble.”
“He didn’t start it, Come on darling sit down.” Adam pulled her onto his lap. “It wasn’t nice, an attack on me, on the family again. Just try and keep calm, he’s not worth worrying about, a fanatic.”
Carole frowned “Go on.” And Adam told her exactly what had been said. Before he finished she was in tears and very glad that Joe had again spoken up for his brother. Adam kissed her gently and tired to calm her down but in the end he just held her close and let her have her cry out, it was better than getting tense again. His head was pounding and he was relieved when she became quiet and he kissed her. “Easy love, it’s not that important.”
“How dare he, how dare he?”
“He can’t do anything darling, he can only talk, I’ll find a way to handle him but it’s bound to take time.”
Carole bit back her sobs, fighting for control, seeing how tired and headachy her husband was and slowly she began to relax slightly, much to Adam’s relief. In fact she had taken it better than he had feared and he felt better than he had on the way home.
Downstairs Joe and Hoss were steadfastly avoiding any discussion on events in town, keeping the conversation on the arrangements they’d made, but all of the others were very curious and it was only a matter of time before someone’s curiosity erupted, Ben saw the way neither of his younger sons would meet his eye and he was faintly amused but he was more anxious as to what exactly had happened.
Adam left Carole to wash her face and when she insisted that she was fine, he said “I’d better go and have a talk to Pa before he explodes. I don’t think either Joe or Hoss are going to fill him in if they can possibly avoid it.”
“Are you alright darling?”
“Angry of course but otherwise I’m fine. I know that my God approves of my life, my conscience is clear and I have never asked him for help and failed to get it, so why should I worry about what some fanatic says?”
Carole nodded, knowing him well enough to be sure he was telling the truth. “Go see Pa, I’m alright.”
“Bless you darling.” Adam went down and considered the stilted conversation that was going on and shook his head. Everyone was going to have to know, his brothers couldn’t keep avoiding the object much longer. He poured himself a brandy “Still avoiding the details Joe?”
Joe looked up sheepishly and Adam smiled, “Its no good, one of them will have apoplexy in a minute.”
Ben commented, “You still seem to be the spokesman Adam.”
“Dan was there so it’ll all be in the paper, not nice I’m afraid.” Adam considered then, all close friends or family apart from John Mills and even he was an easy going chap and they got on well. “You want to know understandably. Joe, Hoss, I don’t know if you want to tell Nita and Sue.”
Both his brothers shook their heads and Hoss pulling Sue down on his knee said “If you don’t mind doing it Adam, go ahead.”
Adam sipped his brandy leaning against the mantelpiece. “You already know the outline. The main thing I omitted was the actual attack Preacher McKenna made. I think you’ve all heard about the meeting in town before Christmas. He took up where he left off, trying to persuade the people in the saloon that we shouldn’t marry and that in particular I shouldn’t be allowed to bring up innocent children, who were already at a great disadvantage tainted by my blood.” Adam couldn’t completely hide the anger he felt as he told them exactly what had happened. Nita and Sue were both close to tears, Laura openly crying by the time he’d finished and all the men were furious but Ben was the first to react. Going over to Adam he smiled at his youngest son, “You couldn’t have done anything else Joseph, at least you tried to stay within the law. For once Adam was right, it wasn’t your fault.” He gripped his eldest son’s shoulder feeling the tension in him “Are you alright Adam?”
“Angry but its not that important.”
Edwin spoke up “You’re right, one fanatic talking nonsense. Getting upset about it just makes him too important. You’ve had harsh words aimed at you before.”
Adam smiled at his friend knowing how many harsh words and worse he’d had to fight after his brother assassinated Lincoln. “True Edwin and we will again, an obvious target, I just wish I knew some way to shut him up. We’re not even doing a very good job of ignoring him, simply because he’s a preacher. It keeps ending in fights.”
Hoss sighed “I’m getting bruises on bruises and Doc is gonna throw us out one of these days.”
Edwin shrugged “I shouldn’t worry. Strikes me his accusations are getting wilder and wilder. He’ll get less and less attention, noone is going to take him seriously.”
Adam stretched his aching arms and back, “You’re right Edwin, anyway enough of that. You all know exactly what happened so let’s forget about it. We have two weddings to plan for and that is very much more important.” To his relief he was successful in changing the subject.
Late that night when Carole had fallen asleep in his arms Adam was restless and eased himself out of bed. He waited long enough to make sure that Carole didn’t awake and then went downstairs. He forced himself to concentrate on the details of the court case arranged for Tuesday, he’d known he would have to find two or three hours quiet to finalise his submission and try to anticipate any likely problems and now was as good a time as any. He worked steadily for three hours and then went to make himself some coffee. He has just settled down to work again when he heard someone moving around, he was about to investigate when there was a tap on the door. He called “Come in” and to his surprise it was Nita. She had been too restless to sleep and had heard him making coffee, Adam put his pen down, “What are you doing up Nita?”
“Too excited to sleep. I heard you and smelt the coffee.”
Adam pointed to the cupboard in the corner “Cups in there, get one and help yourself. Though I don’t suppose it’ll help you sleep.”
Nita frowned as she poured her coffee, seeing what he was doing. “Joe wouldn’t approve, working at three in the morning.”
“Joe often disapproves of me, but like you I couldn’t sleep, so I might as well get on.”
“I’ll go back to my room and let you get on if you want.”
“No, the back of it is broken anyway. Pull up a chair by the fire and I’ll make it up a bit.”
“Are you sure?”
Adam knelt down and made up the fire. “I’m sure. Is anything worrying you Nita? Joe gets into fights fairly often you know. He’s pretty good at looking after himself and he wasn’t much hurt.”
“No. I know he’s alright. I don’t like what was said of course and I know Joe is worried he’ll try and disrupt the reading of the banns even maybe the wadding, but he can’t actually stop them.”
“We may not be able to stop him causing a scene in the church in town but I can promise that he won’t get near either wedding, not here on our ranch.”
“I think Joe’s more worried than me. I’m used to harsh words printed and spoken about my family, usually with a lot more reason than this insanity.”
“Have you told Joe that?”
“No, do you think I should?”
Adam nodded, “I know my little brother, harsh words don’t really worry him. He’s only upset in case you are hurt.”
Adam agreed “Probably especially me or me and Carole, It was aimed primarily at us.” He considered her as she looked worried “Is Carole alright?” and to Nita’s surprise he laughed. Adam lent back in his chair totally relaxed “It’s alright Nita, not the strain showing. Just thinking twenty four hours ago we were barely on speaking terms.”
She smiled “Do you know I’d forgotten, so much has happened today, this morning seems an age away.”
“Agreed and anyway we both said we’d forget the past. I’m just glad we can little sister, or am I going to get into trouble for that too?”
“Strangely I think I like it, my own brother has never called me sister.”
“Oh you don’t get off so lightly round here. A ready made family as well as a husband.”
“In that case I thin k I will try and do what Joe would want. You aren’t doing anymore work at this hour of the morning, you look stiff, sore and worn out and I’m sure you have a headache so finish your coffee and go back to bed.” Nita bit her lip wondering if she’d gone too far but Adam just smiled “I wonder why my little brother always chooses obstinate bullying women!” The affection in his tone robbed the words of any sting and he smiled broadly at her before doing what she said. Nita followed him up and as they reached his bedroom door, Adam kissed her forehead, “Welcome to the family Nita, I warn you I can come the big brother if I have to, you won’t always get your own way.”
She smiled delighted and then went off to her own bed wondering how she could have been so wrong about him, understanding at last why the brothers were so close.
Despite his late night Adam was still down early and finding Carole much calmer after a good night’s sleep, he was so light hearted that the rest were all surprised. Adam had no intention of explaining why, except to his two brothers, for different reasons. Joe was over early and said that Hoss and Sue would be following soon. Joe was surprised not to find Nita up and wondered if she’d been upset by the trouble the previous day. Adam recognised the concern and taking his brother’s arm he led him firmly into the study and shut the door. “Cheer up Joe she’s earnt a lie in, a very late night.” Then he briefly outlined their belated coffee meeting. Joe was incensed with his brother working so late but Adam told him to shut up and went on to explain how Nita had given him his orders and ushered him upstairs to ensure he obeyed. Joe listened almost in disbelief “She did that?”
“She did Joe; you’re going to have your hands full if you think you’re going to be boss!”
“I know that already, I didn’t get far with Marie and I don’t think I’ll get any further now but I’m glad to see that she’s got you sorted at last.”
“I don’t know why I always have such trouble with your wives Joe and Sue’s no better.” Adam moaned but his brother just punched him “Carole gives me my orders so why should you escape? Anyway if you behaved sensibly none of us would have to interfere.”
Adam just laughed, seeing Joe’s delight at this added proof that the two he loved were getting on terms. Later in the morning Adam was able to get Hoss on his own and told him about the early morning encounter. Hoss listened in silence but as Adam finished he grinned. “Maybe you’re right again Adam at least she has more sense than you.”
“Such faith brother.”
“I have great faith in your judgement in most ways Adam but not when it comes to your own health. Nita had learnt that lesson fast.”
“It was odd Hoss, for a moment there it could have been Marie talking. So unlike in so many ways and yet…”
“I’ve thought a lot about what you said yesterday and I’ve watched them together and the way she looks at you. It sure has changed, I feel a lot happier about it now.”
“I’m glad Hoss. Anyway with only just over a week to go that’s the least of your problems.”
“It don’t seem possible, but everything is going almighty smoothly. Guess we’ve done it before, know exactly what to do.”
“Well maybe in some ways but I can’t get any sense out of Carole, or any of the other women, they are only thinking about dresses!”
Carole was equally determined to dress Nita and she had the bolt of material that Beth had chosen. She showed it to Nita to get her opinion. Beth knew that she already had the white satin and had chosen a bolt of heavy white lace to go with which Nita adored on sight. Nita’s pleasure in the idea of Carole making her dress and the material had gone along way to reconciling Carole to the younger girl, that and Nita’s changed attitude to Adam. Carole had been as infuriated as Hoss at Nita’s bitching at Adam but she could see the difference, the slightly puzzled look as Nita considered Adam trying to reclassify him and finding he didn’t fit into any of her preconceived ideas.
Adam was right all the women were trying to decide on a design for Nita’s dress, the best way to use the lace. Carole had a vague idea but she wasn’t ready to put it down on paper yet but everything the others suggested were too ordinary for her.
Adam saw Joe deep in conversation with Will and wandered over. This latest wedding was causing problems, Will couldn’t extend his visit indefinitely even though this wasn’t his busy time of the year. John Mills was in the same boat, a couple of extra days were one thing but two weeks was another matter. On the other hand both Meg and Laura were very eager to stay, both fond of Nita, they wanted to be there to support her, knowing that her only family might prove more than a little awkward. Adam joined his cousin and Joe as Will finished outlining the problem. Will didn’t want to miss the wedding either but he had jobs to do. Adam suggested “just as an idea, how about leaving Laura and the kids here for the fortnight, you head back to San Francisco, maybe go a day or so earlier than planned, get ten days at home and then come back and collect them. Means a lot of travelling for you.”
“I hadn’t thought about that, it might be a solution. With the railroad to Reno I can hire a horse and cut down the time, not bother with the stage.”
“Think about it, “Joe urged. “I’d really like you to be here and Laura, you’ve both been so very good to Nita in San Francisco”
Will considered his youngest cousin but Joe obviously meant it and a little extra travelling was a small price to pay to keep on the sort of terms he’d thought at one time he would never achieve. “I’ll have to have a word with Laura but if Adam doesn’t mind looking after my brood for another fortnight I think it might work out.”
Adam laughed “You know they are very welcome, Meg too if she wants to stay even if John can’t.”
Both Laura and Meg were enthusiastic and although their husbands pointed out it was hardly flattering they agreed. John couldn’t get back but Will would escort Meg home, glad of the extra help with the twins. Nita was very pleased to have their support, both had become very good friends. She had already had one reaction to her news by telegram, collected in the mail that morning. So far she hadn’t plucked up the courage to show it to Joe. It was from her brother and was short and to the point, “Have you gone mad. Father will never allow. Come home at once.”
Ben had brought her the telegram and he’d seen her face when she opened it. Finding himself alone with her later in the afternoon he said tentatively, “I hope that telegram wasn’t bad news.”
Niota sighed, “Not news at all. All too predictable and I’m afraid there will be others.” She pulled it from her pocket “My brother’s reaction,”
Ben read it swiftly, “You expected it?”
“Oh yes and my father won’t approve either, but I’m of age and there’s not a thing any of them can do.”
“I have written to your father inviting him and as many of your family as can manage it, to stay at the Ponderosa. Do you think they’ll come?”
Nita shrugged “I don’t know. In some ways I hope they don’t. My father will only try to cause trouble and my brother and sister are even worse. Joe knows my father disapproves.”
“It can hardly be a surprise to your family, anymore than it was to us.” Ben commented rather puzzled.
“Father assumed I’d be scared off by the rough land. In fact I love it but then he’s never bothered to know me or care about how I feel. Mr Cartwright I doubt if you can understand a man like my father. For him children are only there as pawns to reflect credit on him, dress smartly and attend the right functions and the rest of the time we don’t exist, he never noticed when I was unhappy. You care about your sons and I understand now why Joe cares for his family. I don’t, they’ve never given me cause to.”
“I’m very sorry for that child.” Ben considered her gravely but to his surprise Nita smiled “Don’t be Mr Cartwright. I didn’t know what I was missing until now and as Adam says I’m not only gaining a husband but a ready made family as well and this one is different, it does care and already matters more than my own.”
“In that case Nita how about joining Carole and the boys, Mr Cartwright sounds terribly formal. I answer better to Pa.”
“My own father never allowed anything except Father, now I’m glad of that. You shall be Pa and thank you.” Nita smiled up at him and Joe seeing it came over and caught her in his arms. “What’s going on here?”
“I was just warning Pa about my family’s reaction, the first instalment has arrived.”
Joe’s eyes twinkled as the Pa registered and even the telegram had no power to really worry him. “You brother is probably right, you are mad, but you’ve come home already.”
“You don’t mind?”
“I’d prefer them to approve but then I didn’t expect them to, it doesn’t matter as long as you’re happy.”
“I am.” Nita said nestling close and Ben left them together to go and pigeonhole Sue and persuade her to drop the formal name as well, it would be odd to have all his three sons settled and happily married, hopefully with families like Adam. It was what he had always wanted for them.
Sue was as pleased as Nita at the invitation to call him Pa and willingly agreed. She had already grown very fond of her new family and wasn’t even nervous of the wedding only a week off.
As neither girl would hear of not going to church to hear the banns read, virtually the whole party decided to go in case of trouble. Meg and John volunteered to stay behind and with Peggy’s help look after the younger children. Adam and Hoss had made their own arrangements to try and prevent trouble. Half a dozen of their closest friends amongst the hands, led by José and Jess, had let for town well before the service to keep an eye on the roads to the church and if possible to prevent the preacher reaching the church. Adam had been very clear about the limits on their actions, there must be no physical force, not so much as touching the man. He warned them not to overstep the limits he set, not wanting to give the Preacher any additional ammunition, knowing that with Hearst’ backing the Preacher would delight in taking them to court. Even so he had avoided telling his father what they had arranged, sure that his father wouldn’t approve.
It was quite a cavalcade that headed for town with all four buggies, the surrey and the buckboard to transport everyone to town, even so Adam was riding , tired and stiff his back was playing up enough for him not to want to drive and Ben took Carole, Edwin and Jim in the surrey. Adam rode alongside and considered his friend who rarely got up on a Sunday morning for church. “You know Edwin you didn’t have to come.”
“You’re expecting trouble; sometimes an outsider can be more outspoken than the family.”
“Probably won’t materialise and anyway it isn’t your problem.”
“My brother wasn’t your problem either Adam, Don’t forget I’m the world’s expert on harsh words.” Edwin spoke lightly but the pain of old memories was clear in his eyes. Adam smiled “Thanks for coming old friend.”
“What else are friends for?” Edwin countered.
Adam made no further comment, as far as he was concerned the past was a long time ago and anyway Edwin didn’t owe him a thing but he knew neither Edwin nor Jim believed that.
Both Nita and Sue refused to worry about what might happen and did their best to cheer the brothers up but Hoss and Joe had seen the effects of the Preacher’s words before. Even though they knew the words were nonsense it didn’t stop them hurting, hating to hear the accusations levelled at their eldest brother, sure he was more vulnerable than usual at the moment. Both tried to hide their fears but the girls loved them and knew them too well for it to be very effective, Hoss had filled Joe in on what he and Adam had arranged but it seemed doubtful whether José and the others could achieve much.
All of them were on edge as they walked in to take their place in church, filling two complete pews. The vicar came over to speak to them; everything was going fine so far, no problems. Ben rose to his feet and spoke very quietly to the Vicar. “Adam warned you of possible trouble I understand.”
“Yes Ben he told me. I have heard some of the accusations which have been aimed at him. Most unfair all of them but I can’t ban another preacher from my church, whatever he is reported to have said.”
“We understand that of course. It’s just one way and another Adam has had a lot to take recently and Carole, she is easily upset at the moment.”
“If Preacher Mckenna does come, I’ll do all I can to prevent trouble. It’s a shame that such a happy occasion should be marred by fears. It’s not often a family has two marriages so close together,”
“Most of them couldn’t take the strain! I’m beginning to wonder if we’ll all starve before it’s over.” Ben smiled “Really we are very happy, both the boys have chosen very well, Nita and Sue are beginning to fit into the family already.”
Ben resumed his seat next to his youngest son and twisted to see Adam talking quietly to Carole, seemingly calm. Edwin was next to him and watching the door, worried for his friends. Just before the service was due to start Jess and José came in. Edwin touched Adam’s arm and nodded towards the door. Adam looked round and Jess’ eloquent shrug told him that the hands had failed. Joe and Hoss had seen Jess too and none of them were surprised as the gaunt figure of preacher Mckenna walked in and took up position at the end of the pew just the other side of the aisle from Edwin and Jim, considering the Cartwright party with an expression of sorrow. It didn’t need the whispered introductions to tell any of the others who had just come in, the four Cartwrights had all tensed as he appeared. The rest of the party considered him in curious interest, he looked what he claimed to be, a man of God, even if he didn’t act that way.
Adam put his arm round Carole feeling her shudder slightly but she relaxed against him, mainly worried by that threat to Joe and Hoss on what should be a happy day. Nita and Sue both glared at the Preacher, daring him to cause trouble. Ben gripped his youngest son’s arm “Easy Joseph just ignore him.”
All of them were grateful when the Vicar started the service and as he’d chosen hymns known well by all of them they relaxed slightly as they sang along, although Adam was very aware of the Preacher, who made no attempt to sing just staring unblinkingly at the Cartwrights. Edwin moved forward slightly to block the Preacher from Adam’s view and Adam catching his friend’s eye smiled faintly and then added his dark brown voice to the others.
For a while the service proceeded as normal but everyone was on edge awaiting the announcements, expecting trouble then. The Vicar was uncomfortable but he had no intention of allowing anyone to cause trouble in his church, especially when that trouble was aimed at such good friends and the accusations were so wrong. From his voice noone would have guessed at the turmoil in his mind as he stood to make the announcements. He spoke quietly and the whole church seemed to wait expectantly. Many of the people had recognised the Preacher and they had all heard about the attacks he had made on the Cartwrights.
To everyone’s surprise the Vicar started by welcoming his fellow preacher to his church, Adam had taken Carole’s hand wishing he had been able to persuade her to stay home and Joe and Hoss were both sitting close to their girls for mutual comfort. In many ways the girls were more relaxed than the three brothers, who had seen at first hand the trouble Preacher Mckenna could cause. They all sat listening intently with prayers for no trouble.
The Vicar smiled at his congregation “We are not often honoured by a visiting man of God and he is very welcome to join our celebrations and our efforts to honour God. Today is a special day in another way especially for six members of our congregation, who within the next weeks are entering the holy state of matrimony. This particular day I have the rare pleasure of reading the banns for two members of the same family.” He smiled directly at the Cartwrights. “You are not the most regular members of my congregation but then it is a long way in from your ranch and I realise that you are often away working. While I would welcome your more frequent attendance I know that few, if any families, in this town fulfil the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ more fully in their lives than you do. I have known you many years and it gives me great pleasure this day to read for the third time the banns for the marriage between SueEllen Riley and Eric known as ‘Hoss’ Cartwright and for the first time the banns between Nita Margaret Sanford and Joseph Francis Cartwright. I pray that God will make your marriages as fruitful as that of your eldest brother and I am sure that he will look favourably on all of you.”
Very simply the Vicar had cut the ground from under Preacher Mckenna’s feet and fanatic or not he recognised that. Furious he stood up and walked out. Adam looked round and caught Jess’ eye and jerked his head ordering Jess to follow him. Jess nodded and both he and José slipped out.
The Vicar just raised his eyebrows at the preacher’s hasty exit but made no comment and moved onto the formal reading of the banns. Ben and his sons were all slightly embarrassed by the Vicar’s kind words, but that was far outweighed by relief that the service was proceeding without a scene and they all relaxed. Although none of them really listened to the sermon, each with too much to think about.
Afterwards Ben tried to thank the Vicar for what he had said but the Vicar wouldn’t let him finish. All he had done was to speak the truth and in God’s house he could do no less. Ben accepted his dismal of the subject sure his old friend knew exactly how he felt and they finalised the arrangements for the first wedding the following Saturday.
The rest of the party was exuberant with the release of tension and they headed home singing, Adam pulled up halfway as he saw Jess and José coming. Jess apologised for not being able to prevent the Preacher going into the church but Adam shrugged “I always knew that it was long odds against you being able to do anything. Anyway thanks to the Vicar it didn’t matter, even if he didn’t spare our blushes!
“He just told the truth.” Said José loyally
“Enough of that or I’ll be blushing again. Where did he go?”
“Straight to Hearst’s hotel suite. No hanging around he was let in at once.” José reported.
Jess added “There was some sort of argument going on, I’d guess his failure wasn’t popular but although we could hear raised voices we couldn’t make out the words and we didn’t want to hang around too long.”
“Do you think he knew you were following?” Adam asked.
Both men shook their heads. José added “I’m sure he didn’t, we kept well back and he was in such a fury I reckon we could have ridden alongside without him noticing.”
Jess agreed, “He certainly intended to cause trouble if he could.”
“Thanks very much, no need to mention it to Pa.”
“What are you going to do Adam?” José asked curious but Adam just shrugged “I haven’t the faintest idea yet but I’ll have to do something. Choices are strictly limited with a man of the cloth.”
His two friends could only warn him to be careful and then decided to cut back to town if he didn’t want anything else. Adam grinned “You have already done a lot more than I really have a right to ask.”
That was shrugged off with a comment from José “What are friends for.”
Adam said “Go enjoy yourselves but don’t get into any trouble, least not on our account. Just remember any protecting of the Cartwright name, we can do it ourselves.”
With a couple of rude comments about his doubts of their ability to take care of themselves, Jess and José headed back. Adam kicked Blackie on to catch up the rest of the party, who had barely noticed his absence.
Adam pulled up alongside Edwin, deep in thought. Edwin was curious and asked what he’d found out and knowing it would go no further, Adam filled his friends in, Jim frowned trying to remember something he had heard about Hearst. Eventually it came to him “May have a good reason for spending time in Virginia City just now. Just before we left San Francisco I heard that he was in trouble there. He’d been bribing some of the local officials to get his place exempted for local taxes.”
Adam shrugged, “It’s not unusual they all do it.”
“Sure and it’s well known. That’s not what really worries people. It’s the crude way he did it and the fact that it is on the verge of public knowledge. Noone cares about him doing it, but he shouldn’t have been found out.”
“You’re a cynic Jim Forrester!” Adam laughed “But I don’t mind betting that you’re right. I’m not sure if it helps though. Just how widespread was this information?”
Jim shrugged but Edwin said “Not very they were hushing it up on condition he got out and stayed away for a while. We only learnt about it from a rather drunken town official whose name I have forgotten. He was showing off pleased that he could make a millionaire do as he wanted.”
Adam settled down to extract every last detail from them. He might just be able to use it, he could do with some sort of hold on Hearst to make him back away from their business. At first both Edwin and Jim protested that they didn’t know anything more but under Adam’s skilful questioning both were surprised just how much they did remember. By the time Adam had sucked them dry they were home and Adam forgot all about it for the moment and enjoyed a light hearted meal with his family and friends as everyone relaxed.
The following morning Adam firmly shut himself up in the study and tried to settle to the details of his submission to the court the next day. The outlines were complete but he still had the details, the precedents, other court decisions to draw up and with more than one mine involved in the Consolidated Virginia, more than one set of papers had to be drawn up. It wasn’t particularly complicated but it all took time. He worked through the morning, just emerging once to collect some fresh coffee. Then knowing that he had several hours of work left he asked for his lunch on a tray, Time was getting short and he knew he shouldn’t have left it to the last minute. The assay reports were exactly what he had required but he had come across a couple of awkward decisions, not strictly relevant but he was fairly sure they would be dragged in and he had to prepare an answer in case. He began to think he would be tied up all night at the slow rate of progress and he cursed the whole proceedings, wishing he had pulled in another lawyer for the detailed backup but it was too late now.
Ben was busy preparing the tax statements for the new land and so Hoss, Sue and Joe came over on their own after lunch, The rest were still sitting around the table and Joe noticed that no place had been laid for his brother “Where’s Adam?”
Carole said “In the study he’s been working all morning preparing for tomorrow. He’s not in a very good mood, it’s not going very well.”
Joe frowned but made no comment pouring himself a coffee. He wandered over to Nita and lent over her “Darling would you mind if we postponed that ride for a day or so. Sounds to me as though Adam needs some help and Pa’s already up to his ears in paperwork. I’ve been helping him this morning but he won’t be finished until late, so it looks like time I did some work.”
Nita smiled up at him “We’ve got the rest of our lives to go for rides, you do your share. I know it’s a working ranch.”
Joe kissed her, “Bless you darling, between us maybe we can get things finished fairly quickly.” He straightened up and grinned at Carole “I’d better report for duty, sounds like he needs a legal secretary and looker-upper.”
Carole was relieved to hear Joe’s offer, when she’d collected his tray Adam hadn’t bothered to eat much and had impatiently asked to be left alone to get on and she knew things weren’t going as smoothly as he’d hoped.
Adam looked up as Joe opened the door rather gingerly, carrying two cups of coffee one for his brother. Impatient of any interruptions Adam said “Thanks for the coffee Joe but I’m busy. I haven’t time for socialising.”
Joe smiled “So I see, I haven’t come in to disturb you. You look as though you could do with another pair of hands. What do you want me to do?”
Adam lent back at that “I thought you were taking Nita out?”
“I was but that can wait this submission can’t and you know I can help. Nita knows it’s a working ranch and she expects me to play my part.”
Adam needed help and he knew he could trust his brother to note the relevant points and save him hours so he nodded, “Thanks Joe I could do with some help. I was beginning to think I’d be here all night.” He pushed a book over “That’s the problem.” and he went on to explain how he was tackling it and the notes required. The brothers had always worked well together and with the extra help Adam got more efficient and they made good progress.
Hoss brought in coffee about an hour later and told Joe that Nita was going out for a ride with the rest of them. Joe busy with his notes grunted barely taking it in and Adam said, “Tell Nita thanks from me. Hopefully we’ll be finished by dinner time. Enjoy your ride.”
Hoss left his brothers to get on, knowing there was no way he could help with a legal problem, that wasn’t his forte. He shut the door behind him and smiled at Nita “They are very busy. Adam said to say thanks to you, with Joe’s help he hopes to be finished by dinner.”
“No reason for him to thank me.” Nita insisted, “Joe ought to do his share; he’s an equal partner in the ranch and the mines. Why should Adam work himself into the ground so Joe can squire me around?”
“Well we all take turns to carry the work if’n someone wants a break.” Hoss said very defensively, feeling rather guilty with all his family working but Carole saw that and moved over. She linked arms with her big brother-in-law “What Hoss really means is that he is normally lumbered with his brothers’ chores as they go off gallivanting, for several months once as we played in Europe.”
Hoss grinned at her “I didn’t mind.”
“We know that Hoss, but you of all people needn’t feel guilty when for once it’s the other way round.”
Hoss dropped a kiss in her forehead “I don’t, not really. We’ll be back in good time for dinner, don’t work too hard Carole.”
Carole watched them leave not sorry for a couple of hours alone with her children even if she had Eve and Dawn too. Peggy was off on some ploy of her own while Edwin and Jim were rehearsing so she could relax, confident that Kam Su had the food under control. It was nice to have friends there but after more than a fortnight and knowing that they’d there as long again she sometimes missed a chance to play quietly with the twins like she usually did
By dinner time everything except the neat copies for the Judge were done and the possible secondary arguments were completed as far as Adam could guess what would be needed. As they came out to see who else wanted sherry Adam was trying to convince Joe that he could manage the neat copies on his own after dinner, it wouldn’t take more than a couple of hours, but Joe wasn’t having any of it with both of them it would only take an hour. Adam looked over at Nita “Come on Joe you’ve already done your share,”
Nita wandered over and to Joe’s delight she said “I shall be sewing so provided you think Joe’s handwriting is legible enough you might as well use him Adam.”
“Such faith!” Joe moaned “”You just haven’t seen Adam’s scrawl!”
Adam made one more attempt at protest “I can manage Nita.”
“Of course you can, but why work longer than you have to today? You’ll be busy tomorrow.” Nita parried.
Adam subsided “I wish I knew how other men manage to control the women of the family.” Joe punched him lightly “It needs all of us to din some commonsense into your thick skull.”
“Watch it little brother, you’re still not too big to go over my knee”
Joe laughed “Go get the sherry.”
Adam made a conscious effort to relax once he and Joe had finished. He was as well prepared for the court hearing as he could hope to be and it should go their way without too much trouble, but although handling a lot of legal problems both for the ranch and the mines, he only occasionally had to go into court. He was more nervous than he would show and he hoped none of them guessed. He would much have preferred to go to court alone or perhaps with Joe or his father to help out and give moral support but he couldn’t prevent the others coming and he knew that virtually the whole party was intending to come and that made him even more nervous.
His brothers and Carole saw more than he wanted but as he was obviously trying to hide it they didn’t comment. There was noway to help although Carole held him close in bed that night trying to get him to relax with limited success. Long after she had gone to sleep Adam lay awake running over his argument for the next day, He was determined to get into town early and decided to get his father to ride in with him and leave the rest of the party to follow.
He was up early and had breakfast before anyone other than Carole and Laura had appeared, Adam explained what he wanted and they both agreed it was sensible so he collected all his papers and rode over to the main house. Hoss and Joe were quite happy to bring the rest in and Ben rode in with Adam. He had showed Adam the tax statement and Adam ran through it before they left, glad to think of something different for a while. He only had a couple of suggestions and Ben quickly made the necessary changes. They rode in silence for a while but then Ben asked “Nervous Adam?”
“More than a little I was hoping it didn’t show, I don’t often have to go to court.”
“I shouldn’t worry. From what Joe said you have a good case.”
“I know that, he was a big help yesterday, I was beginning to wonder if I’d ever finish.”
“He needs to pull his weight. Anyway noone is gong to see how nervous you are apart from Carole and your brothers.”
“Maybe Laura too. Noone else knows me that well.”
“You’re still fond of her?” Ben commented
“I always was Pa, that was the problem, anyway it’s mutual. I wonder how I could have been so stupid. I never realised how hard Hoss took it until the other day.”
“He missed you but Hoss doesn’t often say much. Have you reconciled him to Joe’s new bride yet?”
“You don’t miss anything do you Pa?”
“I’ve had plenty of time to get to know you three. Hoss hated the way she treated you.”
“I think I’ve talked him round, he’ll give her a chance and she’ll do the rest. I like her Pa.”
“So do I, plenty of character there. Joe will have his hands full, just like he did with Marie and I don’t see why it shouldn’t suit him just as well.”
Adam laughed “We all will, she’s swung right round in the last few days and she gives me my orders too.”
Ben was pleased to see his eldest son relax as he brought the conversation round to his brothers and he went on with the arrangements for Saturday. Adam was hoping that the present he’d ordered for them had finally arrived and he stopped off at the post office first to find to his delight that it had. He carefully carried the large package over to Beth’s and asked her to look after it until he was heading home. She was perfectly willing and Adam undid it and showed her, wanting to ensure that it had arrived safely. Luckily it had and Beth was enthralled by it. Adam swore her to secrecy and then went over to the courthouse where Fair and Mackay were waiting. The brief interlude had done marvels at steadying his nerves and he was perfectly in control as he joined them and his father. Even so he was glad when the Judge called the case, for a few minutes he was very aware of his guest behind him but as they got into the legal details he became totally focused. Joe had joined him at the table and as anything was needed he had it ready to hand over. As Adam had tried to point out it was a civil case wit no obvious excitement, a long legal wrangle over the niceties of the law, boring for outsiders who wouldn’t understand much of what was going on. It lasted just over two hours and, despite the high priced lawyers the Bank had called in to act for the Gould and Curry, Adam got the decision without even a recess, in a long but firm judgement.
Fair and Mackay were the first to congratulate him and for once even Jim thanked not only Adam but also Little Joe too, the charge had been worrying him. Adam joined his party and after he had quietened them down said “I warned you it would be very dull.”
Adam didn’t realise just how impressive his and Joe’s command of the law, the ability to see exactly where it was going next, had appeared to the rest. Nita was so proud she was nearly bursting. Adam saw that and although much amused, he made it clearer than he would normally have bothered to, just how grateful he was for Joe’s help. However it was Edwin’s reaction which had him laughing outright, Edwin insisted that Adam was more of a dramatic actor than he’d ever guessed, that if he was this bad in a quiet civil case, Edwin could just imagine the histrionics Adam would throw in a murder case, and this was the man who was always telling him to underplay!
Adam excused himself to go and see Roy and collect some things. Hoss offered to go with him they’d had too much trouble recently but Adam laughed, “Not this time big brother. Sometimes I need you out of the way with a wedding coming up.”
Joe looked up questioningly and Adam shook his head “I don’t want you either.”
Edwin and Jim got to their feet “I’ll look after him.” Edwin promised and seeing the utter disbelief in their faces Jim laughed, “We can shout loudly for help.”
Adam grinned, “As the main person I want to see is Roy I think I will be quite safe even with this pair as bodyguards!”
The three men headed out and Adam used his friends, loading them up with parcels as he bought what he needed with two weddings coming up. Then he sent them off to dump the lot at Beth’s and check their theatre booking and the arrival of the rest of their company. Despite his brothers’ fears, Adam was certain of his own ability, he’d been looking after himself for a long time.
Roy was expecting Adam and he had something for him, although unsure how much it would help. He had got a long letter from a friend in San Francisco, Preacher Mckenna was well known, he had been at the centre of a raging controversy. He had been the preacher for a small church on the outskirts of town and far too puritanical for his flock. Then he started cursing them when they didn’t attend or went to a neighbouring village. Hearst had owned most of the property in the area and stepped in when people started to leave their homes. He had set the Preacher up in a mission on the Barbary Coast where the man had worked for two years with only occasional trouble amongst the shifting population. Then suddenly it was closed down and the Preacher disappeared just about the time he first appeared in Virginia City. It completed the tie up with Hearst but other than that gave them no useful lever. Adam reread the letter and then thanked Roy for his trouble. Roy asked “What now, I heard the Vicar stopped him on Sunday and you can keep him away from the weddings but he is still stirring in town.”
“How much attention does he get?”
“A lot less than he did at first but he still has some effect.”
“Hearst set him on. I suspected that anyway and this proves it, so he can call him off.”
“If you can make him!”
“Maybe Roy, I think my own contacts can help now, I wish I knew why he’s bothered anyway, just what the pipeline has to do with him.”
“Maybe he’s just setting out to move against the Cartwrights as such and the pipe is a means to an end. You’re getting very powerful, big mine owners these days. Maybe even bigger than he is.”
“The thought had crossed my mind too Roy but I don’t really see any reason for it. Nothing that hasn’t been true for several years. Anyway I’ll get a few people digging.”
“No trouble Adam.” Roy warned
“If I find out anything I’ll let you know and I won’t go outside the law,”
Roy frowned “You know the law too well Adam I want to know what you intend.”
“I don’t know myself yet Roy but I’ll talk it over before I go ahead, will that satisfy you?”
“Fair enough. It ain’t that I don’t trust you, but it wouldn’t be the first time the Cartwrights have taken the law into their own hands.”
Adam smiled wryly “I can remember more than one occasion when you’ve taken off that badge and joined us. At least once when I wasn’t even here.”
Roy grinned “Everyone needs a holiday and sometimes the law can’t act but I need to know after all this is the 1870’s, law and order must reach Virginia City eventually.”
Adam made a few discreet enquiries, sent off some veiled telegrams and got a few friends moving and then joined Edwin and Jim at the theatre. They were inevitably totally pessimistic at the chances of ever getting a show on. It took Adam more than an hour to get then out and having collected his things from Beth they headed home.
There was nothing else he could do until his enquiries bore fruit and apart from a long talk with Will so that his cousin could start some checks in San Francisco on his return, Adam put all thought of trouble away,
Ben enlisted all his sons’ help to clear everything on Wednesday so that they could forget about work and concentrate on Hoss’ wedding. As they got the last pay packet made up Ben sat back “Well that’s done.” He considered his sons “Three more days and the bruises will just about have disappeared, if you can manage to stay out of fights!”
Hoss grinned, “We’ll try but I gotta go to town tomorrow,”
Adam nodded, “That makes two of us but if we leave Joe at home it should be safe enough.”
Joe was indignant at that, it had none of it been his fault, but with Hoss agreeing with Adam, Joe found himself talked down for once much to his father’s amusement.
Sue was getting very excited at the prospect of the wedding and with Carole and Laura helping she had just about everything ready. Even Nita’s trousseau was well on its way to completion. Nita had sent a letter asking for all of her things to be sent on but apart from the telegram from her brother she had only had a brief acknowledgement of her news. The only encouraging sign was her father’s intention of arriving several days before the wedding although she didn’t know if anyone else was intending to come.
Sue had a few friends from the hospital but no relatives to invite and she didn’t care. Carole had expected Sue to become nervous, remembering how she’d felt before her own wedding but Sue was still living in a happy dream, getting something she had never expected and so much more beside.
Hoss was outwardly his usual placid self and if he was quiet that wasn’t unusual. Sue didn’t suspect just how nervous he was underneath and apart form his father and brothers only Carole did. Everything was well up on schedule with this third wedding they knew exactly what needed providing and even Hop Sing had the extra help from Kam Su as well as two relatives from town. Hoss stayed out of the way when he was told to but as everyone else seemed to be swept up in the excitement, especially Sue and his little brother, it all seemed to be happening further and further away and have nothing to do with him. It wasn’t exactly cold feet just an inability to believe it had anything to do with him. Even as he sat watching Sue busy with some job she seemed to be a dream and the only reality was the odd moment when he could hold her close.
Ben had a quiet word with his eldest son when Adam came over to collect Hoss. He asked Adam to try and get his brother to talk “He’s getting very tense. I tried last night and got nowhere, maybe you can get him to open up.”
“He’ll be fine Pa.”
“I know that Adam. She’s a fine girl and just right for him but that doesn’t prevent nerves, I remember what you were like.”
Adam smiled, remembering his sudden nerves when he didn’t want to get married. “Seems ridiculous looking back but I don’t think Hoss will be as stupid as I was. Still I’ll see what I can do.”
Hoss was ready and Adam picked up his coat “Buckboard all ready so let’s go.”
Hoss nodded “You taking Blackie or joining me on the buckboard?”
Adam hesitated he normally preferred to ride he found the buggys or buckboards on the rough roads made his back ache, weakened by too many injuries over the years. He had never admitted his reasons to his family; it was just something he accepted, a small price to pay to live an active life. This time he decided it would be easier to talk to his brother and to his family’s surprise he said, “I’ll leave Blackie here if you can contrive not to fall off the buckboard this time.”
Hoss grinned he’d taken a fair amount of teasing about falling off buckboards twice that year but he didn’t care, it had gained him his beautiful fiancée. Adam asked Kirk to look after his stallion and swung up next to Hoss, taking the reins from him and moving out. Hoss frowned trying to remember the last time Adam had used the buckboard “You don’t often drive the days Adam, any reason?”
“Just prefer to ride if I can,”
Adam shrugged “No real reason.”
Hoss stared at his brother, “Does your back still play up?”
Adam smiled, “Occasionally but that’s inevitable, you’ve had old injuries. You know that they can ache at times. It’s nothing. I have never driven much.”
Hoss let it drop and sank back into his own thought and for a few minutes Adam concentrated on moving onto the main trail for town and then he looked at his brother “What’s the matter Hoss? You look worried.”
Hoss shook his head but Adam didn’t let it drop even if that was what his brother appeared to want and pressed, “Come on old son, you’ll feel better if you talk it over.”
Hoss caught his brother’s eye and saw the affection and compassion there. “I don’t’ know Adam I don’t think I can explain.”
Adam smiled “Do you remember going up to the Lake with me the night before my wedding? I was scared stiff that night; I didn’t want to get married. You and Pa both helped me then. You said it was perfectly natural to be scared of a big change in my life but that I’d be fine on the day and I was.”
Hoss remembered that night as though it was yesterday, his brother just back on his feet or barely even that, needing his support physically and emotionally. He relaxed slightly, knowing Adam would understand and suddenly wanting to talk. “I remember Adam, Funny Joe was calmer than you and he had a lot more to worry about, but at least you had an excuse. You were nowhere near fit. What’s my excuse?”
“Why should you need one? It's only me Hoss, if you’re nervous I can understand. Noone else has noticed apart from Pa and if they had they would understand too. Pa said it when I was in the same state; we’ve both been bachelors a long time before taking the plunge. You’re only a little younger than I was, settled in our ways I guess and its hard to imagine what a difference it will make to be married. Joe was barely twenty four when he got married and of course this is the second time for him, so he has something to compare with.”
“I guess you’re right. Sort of feel ashamed for being so scared.”
“I did too. Seemed such a silly thing to be scared of. It is really, but perfectly natural. It will be alright Hoss, you love each other.”
“You always wanted to get married, I didn’t not really. Some times over the last few years I sort of assumed that I wouldn’t I couldn’t see me finding someone to …. Not like Carole and Marie.”
Adam smiled “You always did underrate yourself big brother. Sue adores you, and you are perfect in her eyes. You mean every bit as much to her as I do to Carole.”
“Its funny I believed that a few weeks back, I do now I guess, when we’re on our own, when I can hold her, but the rest of the time I ….” Hoss broke off and sighed.
“Take it easy big brother.”
“It’s no good Adam I never was any good with words.”
“Nonsense you’ve helped me with words often enough and sometimes just by being there. You know its going to be alright, don’t you?”
Hoss hesitated for a minute “Don’t seem to know anything right now Adam. It’s as though it’s a dream, all happening a long way away and nothing really to do with me. Everyone else is getting all excited and I don’t feel nothing. I make all the arrangements but I did that for you and for Joe, just another job.”
Adam smiled faintly “And you said you were no good with words! I know exactly how you feel Hoss and I can promise you that you will wake up, probably early on Saturday morning but at the latest when Sue comes to join you in front of the vicar. Then the only reality will be you and Sue and the vicar.”
“I wish I could believe that.”
“You can Hoss. It will be fine, you and Sue are perfectly matched and she’s a lovely girl, Noone can say there won’t be problems in the future but you start with all that you need for a marriage as happy as mine.”
Hoss impulsively grabbed his brother’s arm “Do you think I’m doing the right thing? I know it’s too late to back out but….”
“It’s not too late or at least no more than anytime these last weeks. It was too late the moment the pair of you fell in love. You know its right Hoss, you didn’t even hesitate. You need a wife, children of your own, not just an Uncle to mine.”
Hoss sighed “Logically you’re right and I don’t even want to back out. I just don’t know what I do want. Can’t seem to think at all, sort of floating.”
“I know the feeling Hoss but I think you do know what you want. You seemed very certain at Christmas; you want your lovely red-headed nurse.”
“I guess so,”
“Trust me Hoss, cold feet and nerves don’t mean a thing.”
“I think I feel better for talking.”
“You know where I am, any time, or Pa will understand too. I just wish I could do more to help but as you told me, you’ll be fine on the day and I’ll be around if you need me.”
“You always are.” Hoss said, simply stating a fact and then he smiled “Your marriage didn’t come between us, I guess mine won’t either.”
“Nothing can Hoss you know that.”
“I didn’t once and then I don’t think I could have married. Isn’t that stupid? Brothers ain’t supposed to be that important.”
“We aren’t just brothers though, we are friends and noone has ever denied the importance of friendship. It would be wrong if we stopped you finding a woman but I don’t think we ever did. The only thing stopping you was finding the right one. It took me even longer to find Carole but I knew almost as soon as I met her and you did too or you wouldn’t have been such a perfect patient.”
Hoss grinned and to his brother’s relief he relaxed. “Alright Adam don’t look so worried I’m okay and I’ll come for a talk if I start getting in a state again. You can tell Pa that you’ve done your job.”
Adam laughed “You’re as bad as he is for not missing anything.”
Hoss was surprised just how much better he did feel, remembering how upset Adam had been just before his wedding at least proved he wasn’t the only one.
Their chores in town went very smoothly and having loaded the buckboard they went into the Palace for a beer before returning home. Dan was there “You two hiding out while all the work is done?”
“Not a hope” Adam groaned, “I could do with a good excuse at the moment. Any news round town?”
“Preacher seems to have disappeared for the moment.”
“Can’t say I’m sorry but we’ll still have a few guards out on Saturday in case he decides he wants to join the party.”
“Am I allowed out early Hoss?” Dan enquired.
“Sure but you know the penalty, you get all the last minute chores while we get changed.”
Hoss was much more relaxed on the way home and Ben quickly recognised that and murmured his thanks to his eldest son. The main room was beginning to look very festive as they rearranged the furniture and put up decorations.
Late on the Friday evening Hoss came over and asked Adam to go for a ride with him. Adam immediately got his hat and coat. Going out he found Joe had already saddled Blackie for him and the three brothers rode up to the Lake together. Hoss liked having them both there but he was quite relaxed. Everything had slipped back into place once his brother forced him to put it into words and he was just excited. Once Adam realised that the three became positively light hearted and wended their way home eventually singing loudly. Ben considered them fondly, he knew they hadn’t been drinking but they were almost intoxicated. Adam had seen Carole off to bed before he came out and he joined his father and brothers in front of the fire for another hour, full of memories of the past and anticipation of the morrow.
As before Will had been pushed into service to give away the bride and Laura with Carole’s help was getting Sue ready. Adam was trying to stop his children getting dirty or fiddling with the flowers and other unusual articles round the house. Eventually he went and poured himself a drink. Joe noticed, “Hoss is supposed to be nervous, not you.”
“The word is harassed little brother. One problem we didn’t have last time was three children. I’m under strict orders to keep them clean and tidy.”
Joe grinned but decided to help his brother out “Come on Mark, David. Come upstairs with me. I promised to let you look at that big picture book sometimes, Now seems like a good time.” Adam smiled appreciatively as Joe led the twins off and with just Marie he picked her up and went to see how Hoss was getting on. Ben was busily checking the presents in one of the spare rooms, the men already busy in Hoss’ room and Hoss was using Adam’s old room. Hoss was glad of some help with his tie and then to both brothers surprise the sound of the piano came from the end room where it had been stored ever since Marie’s death. They looked at each other and then as one moved into the corridor. Adam recognised the music it was the start of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata but he couldn’t imagine who was playing. Hoss was pale as though for a moment he thought Marie had come back and Adam gripped his arm, “She never played Beethoven.”
Adam knocked on the door and Nita turned guiltily from the piano, “Come in.” She looked at the brothers guiltily “I’m sorry I shouldn’t have touched it. Carole said to use this room to change and it was staring at me.” Hoss broke out laughing at the look on her face “Its okay Nita. Belongs to Joe anyways and you sure play beautifully.”
“Not really I can only play a little from memory, need the music and it’s none of it mine.” She frowned “Was this Marie’s?”
Adam nodded “She played by ear, songs mainly but like you she had a nice touch. Noone else plays although she started to teach me but we didn’t get far. Probably needs tuning.”
“Did Joe buy it for her?”
“No, my wedding present to them Joe will be glad to see it used again. Maybe I’ll learn yet.”
Nita relaxed as she realised that they didn’t object but she intended finding out Joe’s opinion before touching it again and she firmly closed the lid, “Let me take Marie for you Adam. I’m ready.”
“Very lovely you look too.” Commented Adam as he handed over his daughter. “Tell Pa we’ll be down in a couple of minutes.”
The brothers watched her go down and Hoss smiled, “More and more like Marie, it’s amazing.”
“Still worried about that one?” asked Adam.
Hoss grinned broadly “I ain’t worried about anything now. You’ve got the rings and I can’t forget my lines. It’s my day and even the weather is cooperating.”
“Time we went down, unless you want a drink first?”
“Don’t need one Adam, no doubts not now.”
“Good, then let’s go and enjoy ourselves,” Hoss nodded and the two brothers went on down where the Vicar had just arrived and they joined their father over by him Ben was surprised how calm Hoss was but Adam just shrugged as his father looked questioningly at him. It wasn’t an act or at least not as far as he could tell.
Joe brought the twins down and joined Nita and Dan grinned at Adam, “You’ve got your family well trained. What happens when they start producing?”
“My brood will be older and they will be well in practice to look after their own.”
“Trust you to have it well planned!” Adam smiled but he moved away and began getting people to their seats, it was nearly time. As he went over to greet the last arrivals, Jess caught his eye and Adam went over “Anything wrong?”
“No, just thought you ought to know José turned the Preacher back when he tried to leave the road?”
“He was on our land?”
“Yeah we were careful to make sure of that and we are keeping close watch. He’s being tailed back to town but he started back with no real argument.”
“Fine. I promised Hoss and Sue there would be no trouble so keep a close eye.”
“Of course we will and we’re being very careful.”
“I know, thanks Jess.” Adam went back in and joined his big brother who suddenly had tensed up and was biting his lip as he waited for SueEllen. Adam said softly “Easy Hoss. Carole’s just come down so Will and Sue will be down in a minute.”
Hoss nodded and made a conscious effort to relax, everything was ready and waiting. Ben stood slightly to one side and had a feeling of déjà vu, this was the third wedding here for his sons and in a fortnight there would be another, what he’d always wanted. He looked at his two eldest sons, both very smart and his youngest with Carole and his own bride-to-be, looking after Adam’s three children. All his family looked relaxed and excited and he felt a lump in his throat as he watched Will lead SueEllen down the stairs.
Sue had hardly been able to believe her eyes as Carole settled her dress and train for her, the necklace and hairpiece Adam had given her, setting off the beautiful white material, just a very fine veil which Nita had made, as Carole was determined to show off Sue’s beautiful hair. Sue knew she had never looked so lovely or so feminine and she was so happy that she was radiant. Carole had finally finished settling the dress and train and kissed Sue. “Hoss will be so very proud of you Sue with every reason.”
Sue stood tall, for once she had no reason to worry about her height with Will and Adam a good three inches taller than she was and Hoss even more. Proud and radiant she walked down the stairs like a queen. Adam touched his brother’s arm as she appeared and they both turned to watch her come down, Hoss was so proud that he could hardly believe that this was all his and he had no eyes for anyone else as Sue came to join him in front of the alter of flowers.
Hoss’ voice was husky as he made the responses and Sue’s was very low. As they exchanged the matching rings Hoss’ hand shook slightly and he had a job to slip it over her finger but the Vicar was quick to help. The simple ceremony didn’t take very long and as they went to sign the book Carole and Ben joined them. Joe made no attempt to do so, glad to be able to use the children as an excuse. More moved than he had expected very glad for his brother. He had never seen Hoss look happier but for Joe there were all too many memories. Mark’s questions had never been more useful to Joe than they were then. Brought back to the present by his nephew Joe took Marie and let Nita get up and then with children was the first to congratulate Hoss and Sue. Hoss grinned “I don’t know how you did it Carole, so very different from Marie’s, but that dress is gorgeous. She looks like a queen. Thank you from both of us
Carole kissed him “I enjoyed doing it and I’m already very fond of Sue, we get on so well. Every happiness in the world to both of you Hoss. I’d wish you luck but I don’t think you need it.”
“I’ve already had all the luck I need when she fell in love with me I still don’t know why.”
“Well I do. If I didn’t already have Adam I could have fallen for you myself. You’re a kind gentle loving man and I don’t know a nicer person.”
Hoss was taken aback “Carole I….” but Adam came to his rescue “You’re embarrassing him darling. Quite right, even if he is my brother, but that’s enough for now. Come on Hoss let’s go and get the drinks, let Hop Sing get the tables laid.”
Joe and Will helped and everyone was soon ushered over to the barn for sherry, as they had before. Edwin took the chance to congratulate Carole on Sue’s dress, he had seen Marie’s and knew how different they were, she was as clever at designing dresses as her husband was with houses.
Sue knew virtually everybody there for the wedding breakfast and she was at her ease, so very happy. Beth stood with Ben as he watched Hoss and his bride do the rounds to speak to everyone “Amazing what love can do. She looks so different from the shy rather awkward girl I brought out to Adam’s.”
“She’s lovely in her own way and so well matched to Hoss. I’ve never seen him so happy.” Ben said quietly it was what he had always wanted and today was Hoss’ day with his brothers leaving him the centre of the stage. The breakfast was delicious and even Hoss and Sue did justice to it. Only Joe was unable to manage much, but as he was still taking charge of his nephews at his own request that as easy to hide. Adam read out the telegrams, not that there were very many, most of Hoss’ friends were present, but one long one from her parents brought a tear to Sue’s eyes. Hoss put his arm round her and with this new family all around who had already come to mean so much to her she couldn’t feel sad for long, especially as she looked at the ring on her finger and her wonderful big husband. Adam felt a pang as he read the final telegram at both his and Joe’s weddings there had been telegrams from Charles Dickens. Although it was so long since he’d seen him Adam still missed his friend’s letters and for a moment the shock of his death came back, but he pushed the thought aside as his brother rose to thank everyone for coming and for their good wishes.
Then it was time to go upstairs and open the presents, a large number had been piled up in the spare room, although more would be arriving during the evening. For a moment Sue looked stunned by the pile but Hoss just passed her one to get started on and asked Adam to make out a list so they didn’t get confused. Sue was glad of a few minutes with just the family, almost overwhelmed by all the excitement.
Only Ben, Adam, Carole, Joe and Nita and inevitably Dan had joined the newly weds as Will and Laura looked after all the children. At one point Adam Carole and Joe all burst out laughing and as Nita and Sue both looked puzzled Hoss explained “Both Adam and Joe got a pair of those when they got married. Now we got some. Noone has yet worked out what they are.”
Sue turned them over “One dark one white, if you keep collecting them you could use them to play checkers.”
Adam chuckled, “That’s the most constructive suggestion I’ve heard yet.”
Sue turned her attention to a big box from Will and Laura, it was a lovely dinner service and she was delighted while Hoss undid an elegant coffee pot from Nita. She had felt uneasy knowing that Joe had already bought his present and opted for a separate one. Hoss kissed her in thanks and then turned to a large parcel from his little brother, He caught Joe’s eye and his little brother looked so cheeky that he put it down again. “It won’t explode or something will it little brother?”
Joe tried in vain to look innocent and then said “I think Sue had better undo it. It’s sort of for her but I reckon you’ll appreciate it.” None of his family knew what he had bought and were all as taken aback as Hoss when Sue undid it. At first it looked like a pile of lace but as she shook it out she found three matching sets of filmy lace nightgowns and negligees and an elegant bedcover, Adam was vainly trying to keep a straight face as his father told Dan that it was not for the paper and Hoss didn’t know whether to laugh or be angry. However Joe had judged Sue more accurately than the rest and she was absolutely delighted, she had never had anything so feminine and Hoss seeing her very real pleasure laughed “You push your luck little brother.”
“You’ll appreciate the pretty sight later on.” Joe commented and then ducked away as Hoss aimed a punch at him
Then they turned their attention to the last parcels both from Adam and Carole, one in a large box and the other a flat parcel. Hoss undid the larger first and found a new saddle but when he picked it up he was amazed at how light it was. He considered his big brother puzzled and Adam grinned
Adam had noticed Hoss’ saddle was well worn and several months earlier had designed a special one for his brother. It looked exactly the same as normal but with use of bracing instead of solid material Adam had cut the weight by half although he was confident the strength wasn’t affected. He explained briefly how he’d achieved it and made Hoss laugh at the arguments he’d had in getting it made. Hoss had been very impressed anyway, he rode heavy enough and the weight saved was a godsend, but now he knew that his brother had spent time designing it specifically for him, it made it even more important.
Hoss was still lightly puzzled as it was very much a gift for him but that was explained as Sue undid the flat parcel. She quickly realised that it was a painting but it wasn’t until she’d propped it up on the bed and stood back to look that she realised what it was. The subject of the painting was the Mountains of Mourne, a view so very similar to the one she had grown up with, that for a moment she was almost transported home again. She stared at the large oil painting for more than a minute, saying nothing after the first ooh of surprise. Hoss had read the name of it and remembered her mentioning the mountains once when she had been talking about home, in the days while Carole was so ill and upset. Obviously Adam had remembered but Hoss was surprised his brother had been taking anything in then. Eventually Sue went to Adam and Carole “It’s just the way it looked at home, I don’t know how you knew.”
“A friend of mine knew the artist and he said it was accurate, I’d seen and liked the painting so when you mentioned it, I wrote him on the off-chance he’d sell. I’m just glad you like it.”
“Like it!” she said “Oh Adam it’s like having a piece of Ireland here with me, it’s beautiful.” She kissed him and Carole and Hoss grinned broadly, “Thanks Adam, it’s a lovely painting anyway. One day I’ll take her back and see for myself.”
Then Ben suggested going across to Hoss’ bedroom. Hoss knew what his father had been up to but Sue was astounded at the change in such a short time and as Hoss thanked his father she went over and gave Ben a big hug. So thrilled with everything she was close to tears and the rest left them alone for a few minutes, although Ben warned his son that the other guest were beginning to arrive.
As they went out Adam teased his little brother, he’d been very lucky to escape with his hide intact after his choice of present. Joe defended himself “Sue liked them and she’ll look lovely for Hoss.”
“I’m not denying that but you should have left him to get them.”
Joe snorted “He wouldn’t think of it and anyway he wouldn’t have the nerve to go in and buy then,” Adam couldn’t argue with that and then seeing some old friends he moved over with Carole to greet them.
Joe was trying hard to fit into the party mood but although very happy for his brother he found it hard.
Hoss held his new wife close, telling himself over and over that she was indeed his wife but still hardly able to believe it. Sue pulled away after a minute and going back to collect the painting she rested it on the mantelpiece where it fitted perfectly. Hoss put his arm round her shoulders “Looks nice.”
She rested her head on his shoulder; she had never expected to find one that fitted her so well. “I could almost believe the artist was staying in Lisnacree. It’s almost exactly the view I had from home. I still can’t understand how Adam knew.”
“You’ll get used to him, he don’t miss much; although I must say he’s surprised me too this time. Still the idea ain’t strange. He carries that picture of the Lake around with him if he’s gone for long; Pa gave it to him on his wedding day. The remarkable part is finding the picture; still he’s always had a lot of odd friends. Talking of friends we’d better go meet some of mine.”
Even with strangers Sue felt so much more confident and knew how lovely she looked, so she was relaxed and unworried. Hoss introduced her around never letting her go, his arm round her.
Dan wandered over to Ben “I told Hoss he’d have to get a redhead to complete the trio and he’s gone and done it.”
“Good job Joe has chosen another blonde or it would ruin your plan Dan.”
Dan frowned, “He doesn’t look too happy about it at the moment. Is he okay?”
“Of course. He’s very fond of Sue. Probably too many memories, with luck he’ll get them out of the way today and be free to look forward to a fortnight’s time.” Ben was sombre for a moment but then seeing Hoss was ready to dance, he punched Dan’s arm “It’s a day to celebrate and I’m going to ask Beth before Roy gets there.”
Hoss led Sue out to start the dancing and his family swiftly followed suit. Nita didn’t try to talk as she danced with Joe sensing the effort he was making to appear light hearted and she made no comment when he slipped away, leaving her with Edwin. She knew enough of the guests never to be short of a partner or someone to talk to. Joe stayed around enough not to cause comment but every so often he couldn’t keep up the act and he disappeared for quarter of an hour. Luckily he was outside later in the evening when Carole came out for some fresh air. She was on her own but unworried with several others doing the same thing. She wandered over to the corral, looking up at the mountains where the snow was clear in the moonlight.
Joe saw Carole but he didn’t want to talk to anyone until he saw a figure come out of the shadows and approach her. It was the Preacher and he recognised Carole as Adam’s wife. Carole knew him instantly but she was mainly anxious to prevent him upsetting Hoss and Sue, this was their day. The Preacher took her arm and told her that she must take her children and leave the Devil’s man. In time she could still earn redemption but she must leave before it was too late. Carole didn’t want to cause a scene and tried to pull her arm away “Please leave I don’t want to talk to you.”
“You must listen; I want to save you and the children,”
Carole had never been more grateful to see her brother-in-law emerge from the shadows and come over to her. Joe also tried to keep things quiet, “The lady asked you to leave. This is private property and you’re trespassing.”
“It’s God’s property.”
“God is already well represented here. It is also my ranch and I am asking you to leave peacefully. We don’t want any trouble.”
Several people had noticed the trouble and gathered round and Joe asked one of the hands to find Preacher McKenna’s buggy, José had come over and he shook his head “Sorry Joe. We saw him back to town once.”
“Not your fault José, but if you wouldn’t mind repeating that.”
José and Red saddled up and as the Preacher started to protest Joe said “We don’t want to hear, just leave quietly.” He had his arm round Carole’s shoulders and she was relaxed with him there to cope. Word had spread and Roy came over but Joe smiled “No trouble Roy, the Preacher is just leaving,”
The buggy was brought over and the Preacher got into it unable to argue against the cold indifference with which Joe treated him. As he got up Adam and Laura came out to investigate having heard a rumour, Adam saw the Preacher and then realised that Carole was there and he broke into a run going to his wife. He was very pale, scared she’d been upset and took her in his arms. Joe said “Don’t come back Preacher. This is our ranch and next time I will charge you with trespass. You have been warned so be very careful. José and Red lined themselves up one either side or Joe ordered them to see him off the ranch and then smiled at all the others who had gathered, “No trouble folks, why not go back in, enjoy the dancing.”
As they dispersed Adam said bitterly, “He shouldn’t have been allowed to get this far.” Then he led Carole off wanting to be alone with his wife, unsure how upset she really was, knowing what wounding things had been said before.
Joe watched them go and Roy said “As he doesn’t seem likely to give you any credit I will. You handled that very smoothly Joe.”
Joe smiled and nodded but as Roy moved off Laura linked arms with Joe. “What is wrong with Adam and Carole?”
Joe stiffened “Nothing is wrong.”
Laura smiled “Come on Joe. I’ve known there was something ever since I got here. I know your brother very well and I’ve known Carole for years. She’s no weakling to dissolve into hysterics over a few harsh words, so why is Adam so worried about her? He’s been treating her as though she was a delicate piece of china all holiday. It’s not like either of them.”
“Carole is just a bit easily upset at the minute.”
“I loved your brother Joe, in many ways I still do. It’s more than that; I’ve seen the ache in his eyes when he looks at her. Why is she easily upset, she’s not pregnant or he’d have told me and anyway she always takes that in her stride.”
“No it’s not that, nor likely to be.” Joe hesitated but as Laura looked intently at him he protests “It’s not my story to tell.”
“Something happened to Carole?”
Joe gave way, “Alright she was kidnapped abut two months ago. We found her and the two men are dead but she was very badly treated still not fully recovered.”
Laura frowned, “Raped?” She didn’t need Joe’s nod, in many ways it wasn’t a surprise and she could understand , it explained so many things that had puzzled her over the last weeks, “I’m sorry Joe I shouldn’t have pried but I’m very fond of them both and with another fortnight here…”
“Its okay but I don’t want to talk about it, especially not today. She’s very much better but it was hard on all of us especially Carole and Adam.” With a conscious effort Joe forced the thoughts away and said “Come on I haven’t danced with you all night.”
Adam held Carole close, “What did he say to you?”
“Not very much Joe came over very quickly and he was marvellous, didn’t let the Preacher say anything.” She snuggled close to him “I’m alright Adam I’m fine. Don’t look so worried. This is Sue and Hoss’ day, lets go back in and don’t you dare upset them.”
Adam kissed her, thanking God for her strength and slowly he calmed down and they followed Joe and Laura in. When the music stopped Adam joined his youngest brother at the punchbowl and very quietly thanked him for handling it so well. Then as Hoss came over they changed the subject and suggested it was time for the cake. Hoss agreed and sent Joe to tell Hop Sing. He was so happy as he watched Sue chatting to Carole and their father that Adam just savoured the expression on his brother’s face.
Hoss noticed and grinned “I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy.”
“You’ll find plenty more over the years Hoss, of that I’m sure, just as I have. Wait until you hold your own child.”
“I’m content with what I’ve got at the moment.”
“You enjoy it brother you’ve more than earnt the right.” Hoss took his brother at his word and enjoyed every minute of his day but at last it was time to take his bride upstairs and shut out the world. As his brothers before him he ordered a final waltz and then from the stairs thanked everyone for their presents and their good wishes before leading Sue upstairs.
Sue was shy but she couldn’t resist Joe’s present and although a virgin she wanted the big man she adored just as much as he wanted her, and to Hoss’ delight she came to him with passion. He couldn’t believe his luck and long after she was asleep in his arms, he lay awake remembering every moment of a perfect day.
He wasn’t the only one lying awake; neither of his brothers were asleep either for very different reasons. Joe had been badly shaken by just how strong his memories of Marie and his first wedding had been. Everything was so similar that for a moment he’d felt as though Marie would appear, ethereal in her wedding gown. He wished now that they had arranged something totally different but it was too late to change now and the Preacher’s arrival had showed the risks that would have been involved, He loved Nita very much and he wanted to marry her but he was tormented by memories of his equally beloved Marie, He dreaded ruining Nita’s day in a fortnight with similar memories. Unable to sleep he had abandoned his bed and sat for hours staring out of his window trying to sort out his thoughts.
Adam was awake because, like Hoss, he was very happy. Carole had moved close to him in bed once the children were settled. She knew he was still worried in case the Preacher had upset her and she wanted to put his mind at rest and maybe with memories of her own wedding night brought back vividly by Hoss’ marriage. She pressed very close to him but Adam pulled away slightly. He had given her his word but he was only human and he still desired her very much, Carole took his hand and put it on her breast and Adam said “Carole I…” She kissed him with passion but he broke away “Are you sure darling?” Carole just smiled and reached for him. Adam accepted her decision and with infinite gentleness and tenderness he took her, thrilling as he felt her respond. Carole was equally delighted to find she didn’t have to act, the past was past, and her body responded to Adam as it always had. Afterwards totally relaxed in his arms she said “I’m just sorry it took me so long,”
“Don’t sweetheart, you’re marvellous and it’s alright now.” Adam didn’t have to ask, he knew her too well; she was his as she always had been. He didn’t want to sleep and lay holding her hoping that Hoss was as happy as he was. He dozed for a while but very early Carole was awake again and she moved closer to him as she realised he was awake too; more passionately than the night before they finally put the past behind them.
Laura was up very early as Will wanted to be on his way to Reno and she took Marie, David and Mark down with her twins to allow Adam and Carole to have a lie in for once. Eventually Adam got up tucking Carole in to get some sleep; he would look after the children and anyway wanted to see Will and John before they left.
Despite a virtually sleepless night Adam was more at peace than he had been in months and totally relaxed. Laura recognised the difference as soon as he came down and she poured him coffee and then gave him a hug. Adam frowned puzzled, considering her and then he smiled “You know what happened.”
“I pried it out of Joe. I knew something was wrong, but it isn’t anymore is it?”
Adam shook his head in mock disgust “Is it that obvious?”
“Only to me and probably your father and brothers, we all love you Adam.”
Adam pulled her close and kissed her. “I still don’t understand why I didn’t fall in love with you Laura.”
“Ancient history. It’s all worked out very well we’re both happy with our own families and better friends than we ever were.”
Adam smiled and as Will came in to get his breakfast he said, “It’s a pity you can’t stay Will. Still we’ll see you in twelve days and I’ll look after Laura and the kids.”
Will grinned looking pointedly at Adam’s arm still round Laura’s waist, “I wouldn’t leave her if Carole wasn’t here!”
“Oh you won that fight cousin, I just hope you know how lucky you are; she’s a remarkable woman, almost as remarkable as my Carole.”
Will could see how light hearted his cousin was even if unlike his wife, he didn’t realise the reasons. Fond of Adam he accepted it and they had a hilarious breakfast but when John and Will were ready to leave, Adam was eager to go out and get some fresh air himself. He was too exuberant to want to be stuck inside on such a clear crisp morning. Meg and Laura assure him that they would take care of the kids until Carole woke up and so Adam saddled Blackie and rode a short way with the other men. Then arranging to see Will in a few days and shrugging off John’s thanks he said goodbye and cut up towards the Lake. He tied Blackie on a long rope to graze and walked up to the point, remembering again Hoss’ words about being closer to God there. He said a very heartfelt prayer of thanks for his wonderful wife and her full recovery Now he could begin to forget the events of the autumn and if his memories would always have the power to hurt, he was too aware of how very lucky he was to care. Carole was fully recovered and by some miracle the terror his sons had known didn’t seem to have had any effect on the little boys.
Adam stood staring out over the Lake, more in tune with the peace and magnificence there than he’d been in quite a while. His own marriage was perfect again and his big brother looked to be finding that same joy. In under a fortnight Little Joe would be joining them again and the growing family all seemed to be fitting together so well. Hardly aware of the time, Adam wandered along the cliff by the Lake, it was too cold to stay still, so happy he was seeing everything as though for the first time, the view clearer and somehow more magnificent than it had ever been.
Joe had stayed in his room until fairly late, no nearer sorting out his thoughts but not wanting anyone else to see. He finally achieved some measure of control and very thirsty went down to get some coffee, even though he didn’t want food. He might as well not have waited, Hoss and Sue were still in their room, his big brother for once finding something more important than his breakfast and only Ben was at the table. However good his mask it wasn’t enough to fool his father but as Joe obviously didn’t want to talk, Ben kept to a few casual comments about the previous day. He could imagine what the trouble was but if he could help Joe would come to him. To Joe’s relief his father made no comment when he just had some coffee and then said he was going for a ride. Joe also headed up to the Lake but he was so lost in his thoughts that he didn’t even notice Blackie as he tied Cochise up and headed up to his wife’s grave.
Joe knelt down by it but for once he couldn’t get any feeling of her nearness. Thoroughly confused and overtired he felt drained and empty, he couldn’t talk to her or even pray. He was no longer sure if he wanted to marry Nita, unable to visualize either her face or Marie’s. Cold he got stiffly to his feet and began to walk along the cliff, following his brother although he didn’t realise.
Adam was the first to realise that someone else was there as he heard a twig crack and he turned slightly tense, ready to draw although not really expecting trouble. He wasn’t particularly surprised to see his brother and was about to call to Joe when he took in the expression on his brother’s face, almost reminiscent of the pain he’d shown in those first hours when he’d sat up by the Lake, alone cold and empty unable even to break down trying to take in his bereavement, Adam hesitated unsure if his brother would want even him around but it was too late to back off and get to Blackie as Joe had seen him. Joe knew his brother often sought solace up by the lake when things were going wrong. Remembering Carole’s encounter with the Preacher he was suddenly scared that she had been more affected than he’d thought. As fear flared for his sister who had already endured so much, Joe forgot his own confusion and moved swiftly over to his brother “Is Carole alright? That Preacher didn’t….” Joe stopped as he saw the glow in his brother’s eyes. Adam smiled “Carole is fine, one hundred percent alright. She’s wonderful.”
Joe considered his eldest brother; there was a reverence, a sheer delight and almost disbelief in Adam’s eyes. An expression he only remembered seeing once before when Adam had first brought the twins down to show his family. Even in his own misery Joe couldn’t help responding to the delight, the near ecstasy in his brother’s eyes. He didn’t need any explanation, only one thing could have that effect on Adam and Joe knew that he need not worry about Adam and Carole anymore, they were one again. Joe gripped his brother’s arm “I’m so glad Adam, now you can really begin to forget.”
Adam knew Joe understood, words had never been essential for communication between them and something like this would never be put into words but that didn’t make the understanding any less. He covered his brother’s hand “Thanks Joe, I was so full of thanks I had to come up here and try to… Maybe I ought to get back. Carole was still asleep so I’ve landed Meg and Laura with the children.”
Joe knew that his brother was prepared to go away and leave him alone but Adam was the one person he could talk to and he couldn’t face Nita until he had sorted himself out, he wasn’t getting very far on his own, “They won’t care Adam, I’m glad you’re here.”
“If you want to talk Joe…”
“How much did you notice yesterday?”
“Enough. I was watching you just before Will and Sue came down.”
“Who else do you think noticed?”
“Pa and Carole, maybe Nita a little but you put on a pretty good act for her, the only thing is she loves you and that makes her harder to fool. I doubt if anyone else did and I’m sure Hoss didn’t everything was perfect for him.”
“I hope so. I haven’t seen him this morning. Its funny Adam I didn’t expect it. But it was all the same, even most of the people were the same. I could see Marie, that lovely dress that Carole made, ethereal and beautiful. So many memories. I wish to hell I’d arranged a wedding in town.” Joe shuddered “Oh God Adam what am I doing?
Adam put his arm round his brother’s shoulders feeling the tension in him “Take it easy Joe,” he hesitated not knowing what to say to help his brother but before he could speak Joe pulled away and burying his face in his hands he went on “She’s not there, not even up here. I can’t even remember her face today. What am I doing to her? My Marie.” Joe fought for control, taking in great gulps of air while Adam could only grip his brother’s shoulders in mute sympathy, Slowly Joe straightened up and Adam said “Do you remember before we went to Europe. I told you the message Marie had left for you. She wanted you to find someone else to love you and bear you children. She knew that you had too much love to give to waste it. You know it was what she wanted and you love Nita, it will be alright Joe...”
Joe looked straight at his brother for the first time “It’s too late to back out I have to go through with it. I couldn’t hurt Nita like that.” To his surprise Adam smiled “It’s only a few days since Hoss was saying that it was too late for him to back out. He calmed down and I’ve never seen him happier than yesterday.”
Joe frowned “I knew the big moose had got very tense.”
“Oh he wasn’t as bad as I was. The night before my wedding I think I’d have cut and run if I’d been physically capable and if Pa and Hoss hadn’t talked sense to me. You love Nita and I know you still love Marie, but Joe you’re a young man. You need a wife to share your bed give you children just as I do. Someone there to share your life, your hopes and fear, the good times and the bad. You’ve known that joy once, you can’t live without it. Not with someone who loves you so much waiting to take that place.”
Joe threw a stone across the Lake watching it sink “I was so certain Adam. Logically you’re right but yesterday it was as though Nita didn’t exist. I missed Marie so much it could have been three years ago.”
Adam said slowly, “Maybe it would have been better to arrange something different but I really don’t believe it will matter. With any luck your memories will have expended their force yesterday. Last time you were worried, nervous, scared that Marie would be snubbed. I said then that the only important people were the pair of you and the Vicar joining together in the sight of God two people, who were very much in love. You said it yourself Joe, Nita is as important to you as Marie. I know you; you’re in love, both of you, just as Carole and I or Hoss and Sue. It’s right Joe and, when it comes to the point, you won’t have any memories or doubts, the only reality will be you and Nita and those promises to each other, with God’s blessing.”
Joe stared at his brother for several minutes, thinking over what he’d said and searching his brother’s face as though he’d find the truth there, then he turned and walked back to the cliff edge. Clear in his mind he could see Marie as she lay dying, more at peace than he’d ever known any dying person. Hear her voice as she thanked him for the love they’d shared, the happiness of their few months together, more than most people had in a lifetime; and as once before he could hear her voice in the message she’d given Adam for him. He remembered again his own wedding but it was those few precious minutes when they made their vows oblivious of the world. Now she was with him again, he hadn’t lost her and she insisted that nothing in this new love was a betrayal of those vows. Slowly as his certainty about what he was doing seeped back Nita’s face became clear to him too and it was almost as though the two women had made their own pact to love and care for him. Strangely Joe knew that the memories which had tormented him yesterday wouldn’t be there in a fortnight. His Marie approved of Nita and she wouldn’t let this other girl’s wedding day be any less marvellous than her own. Joe didn’t even realise his face was wet with tears as he turned back to his eldest brother, at peace with himself again.
Adam recognised that at once and wordlessly handed Joe a hankie. Only then did Joe realise and wiping his eyes he smile ruefully. “I must be more tired than I thought, I didn’t even realise.”
“It doesn’t matter. You know where I am if you need to talk.”
“I know but somehow I don’t think I will need to now. I’d like to come and see Nita.”
Joe stopped to pray by this wife’s grave and this time she was there, he joined Adam over by the horses and gripped Adam’s arm momentarily “Thanks.”
Adam just smiled it was more than sufficient to see his brother back at peace and they headed on down to the house to see Nita and Carole, very content in their enlarged family group and looking forward to the next wedding.