Spanish Land Grant chapter 1 - Lost Friend?

by Lyn Robinson

Three weeks after Christmas Adam and Carole were sitting in the study, both reading and enjoying the peace and quiet. Much as they had enjoyed all their visitors it was very pleasant to be alone after a more than hectic year. The children were all in bed and, as they had seen the rest of the family that afternoon, neither of them were expecting a visitor. When they heard the knock on the door Carole looked questioningly at her husband but Adam just shrugged. He had no more idea than she did, but putting down his book he went to investigate. To his surprise Jess was at the door but he was even more surprised to find his old friend very hesitant and obviously unwilling to come into the house. Puzzled Adam asked what was wrong but Jess rapidly reassured him and then murmured, “It’s a lovely evening.”

Adam studied him for a minute and then suggested that they go for a ride. From the relief which showed on Jess’ face it was obvious that it was exactly what Jess wanted but Adam still couldn’t understand why or why Jess hadn’t just asked. Telling Jess to go and saddle Blackie, he went to get his boots and coat, to say nothing of explaining to Carole. Not that there was a great deal he could tell her, just that Jess was on edge for some reason and needed to talk. Carole knew just how close the two men were and told Adam to go and sort Jess out. She was content with her book and would see him later.

When Adam came out pulling on his thick leather coat, Jess was mounted and waiting for him. Adam swung up on Blackie and grinning he said, “Lead on Jess. Wherever you want Carole expects me when she sees me.”

Rather to his surprise Jess headed of towards town and then cut north, certainly the most unexpected part of the ranch. Jess kept just ahead of his friend and then suddenly came to a stop, looking down towards a ranch house well below them. Adam knew it well, the Ferguson ranch, and he also knew that with Jed Ferguson’s death in the autumn, his children Cleve and Laurie had put the house and the land up for sale. Laurie had never really settled after spending six years back east with her grandmother in her teens, after the death of her mother. On her return she had been mentally disturbed, causing trouble between the two ranches for a while. Adam remembered that all too clearly but then catching Jess’ eye he recognized his friend’s uncertainty. Having seen the house Adam could make a good guess what Jess wanted and turning to him Adam said, “It was always a good ranch. How much is Cleve asking for it?”

“More than I can afford alone.” Jess said. It was the reason he had brought Adam out but now he felt very awkward.

Adam grinned broadly, “Sounds as though its time I redeemed a long standing promise.”

Jess couldn’t meet his eye and Adam dismounted, waiting for Jess to join him and then said, "Pa was worried who might buy this ranch. We share some water rights and it would put all our minds at rest to know that you owned it. Apart from a few short weeks we’ve always been able to rely on the Ferguson’s.”

“I’d need to borrow half the price Adam.”

“When I first offered you a loan, you accepted. You’d risked your life to carry me up a cliff, a long time ago. We didn’t know each other very well but since then you know as well as I do just how much I have come to rely on you. Not only me but my whole family.”

“Yes, but it’s a lot of money ….”

“Let me finish Jess. I don’t like the idea of losing you from the ranch but at least if you buy this I won’t be losing you as a friend as well. You’ll make a good job of ranching, we all know that and it isn’t exactly unexpected.”

“Not just the ranch.” Jess blushed suddenly and Adam couldn’t help laughing, “So that little girl from the Bucket O’Blood has finally got to you.”

Jess couldn’t answer and Adam went on, “That saloon is becoming a marriage market, what with Marie and now Liza. Have you asked her yet?”

“Last night. Will you be my best man?”

“Of course I will Jess, with great delight. She’s a lovely girl and very sweet.”

“Saloon girl.”

“So what? My sister-in-law was too. Now how much do you need for this place?”

“He’s asking $35 000. I have about $18 000 but I’ll need a bit for running expenses.” Jess hesitated.

Adam interrupted him, “I’ll loan you $17 000, interest free repay when you can, however long it takes.” Jess was slightly disappointed, he had wanted $21 000, but it barely had time to register, although Adam didn’t miss the slight lowering of his friend’s gaze, as Adam went on, “And as a private wedding present, just between us, I’ll give you a cheque for $10 000.”

Jess was taken aback; he knew that his friend was rich but even so …. For a minute he couldn’t organize his thoughts but then he protested, “You can’t. It’s far too much, for just a hand.”

Adam gestured at the ranch, “Ranch owner soon, anyway you aren’t just a hand, you’re my friend, one of my closest friends and if I want you to have a present then I’ll give you one. You know I have money and how often have you given me so much more than money can ever repay.”

“I suppose you haven’t! Like that forest fire, you saved my life twice over.”
“I told you once before we’ve gone a long way past owing each other. Start off here properly, without too many money worries and over the years we’ll still be able to help each other. We used to make joint drives with the Fergusons, maybe get back to it.”
“I’d like that.” Jess smiled and almost formally offered his hand, “No more arguments Adam, but many thanks. Will you help me negotiate the sale tomorrow?”

Adam was pleased with the request, ”You’ve just hired yourself one lawyer, fee one beer. Now when is the wedding to be?”

“I was waiting to see how long it will take to buy this place before settling on a date.”

“Cleve is usually fairly reasonable and it’s been on the market for several months. I hear Laurie is eager to sell, so it shouldn’t take long.”

“Still hard for most folks to get a loan, banks edgy after the California collapse.”

Adam couldn’t deny it, with the mines operational and riches pouring out every day the town had rebuilt fast, businessmen getting money fairly easily, but in the countryside and for anything with any hint of speculation money was very tight. In some ways that was a good thing but it did hit decent men along with the chancers. Still Adam guessed that the salutary effects of the bank crash wouldn’t last past the spring.

Adam promised to keep both the engagement and Jess’ plan for the ranch secret until the deal was signed; apart from Carole. He had no chance of keeping it from her and anyway she would have to cover for him the following day. Jess knew that he could trust Carole, but he didn’t want to tempt fate by telling anyone else until his dream actually came true.

Adam had met Liza several times but overawed by Jess’ grand friends she had barely spoken to Adam. Now that she was to become his best friend’s wife he wanted to know more about her. Jess needed little encouragement, she was his favourite topic of the moment. For a while Jess had hesitated, he was a couple of years older than Adam, 17 years older than Liza, but in the woman starved west that wasn’t exactly unusual. A lot of younger men, cowboys, miners or clerks were hardly in a position to afford a family. Liza had been born and brought up in the gold mining towns, first in California and then in Denver, Colorado. She had left Denver just under a year ago, both her parents had died of fever within three days of each other and she had to get away. She was reasonably domesticated, but unable to earn a living as a seamstress and fed up with trying to exist on the pittance paid to a waitress, she had opted for a saloon. At least for a girl with looks as good as hers the pay was comparable to miners, a necessity in a town like Virginia City where living was expensive. Liza had at least fallen on her feet in her choice of saloon, few owners protected their girls as Don McBride did his. It was the reason Joe had begged a job for Marie there so long ago.

Jess had been attracted to her almost as soon as she appeared and had seen her regularly since, apart from the month he’d been helping Adam on the drive. Even after the fire he had made one of his first jobs to check on Liza. Over the weeks as refugees camped on the mountain Liza had had a chance to show her domestic prowess, helping out at the campsite which Jess had adopted as so many of the hands had done. It was during the weeks that they worked together that Jess first came to think of marriage. As he saw more of his goddaughter Jess had slowly begun to feel attracted by the idea children of his own. His own family had been torn apart by the Civil War and for a long time Jess had drifted, determined not to get involved so he couldn’t be hurt again. Over his years on the Ponderosa the stupidity of that idea had slowly penetrated as he became more involved than he had ever expected, first with Adam and then the rest of the family and some of the long time hands. He slowly realized that he liked the involvement, it was becoming necessary to him, that he enjoyed the extra responsibility Adam gave him. Slowly the urge to have a place of his own, his own family, had become stronger and over Christmas he had made up his mind to at least make a few inquiries about the ranch which he knew was for sale. When he found out the price and knowing that with Adam’s promise he could manage it, he had summoned up his courage and proposed to Liza. She had been delighted, her dreams coming true and when he told her his plans for the ranch she had become even more excited but a little scared. His involvement with the Cartwrights worried her, big businessmen, they were way out of her class and she found it hard to believe Jess when he insisted that none of the Cartwrights would sit in judgement, that they would accept her as a friend. Even knowing that Joe’s first wife had worked in the same saloon she found it impossible to believe and his second wife was from a very different, privileged, background. Jess had finally given up trying to reassure her, knowing that time would prove his point.

Jess explained to Adam that initially at least Liza was going to be shy and uneasy. It wasn’t the first time Adam had faced that problem, his reputation made many people uneasy when they didn’t know him, but he was confident he would be able to break down her unease as he had done with his brothers’ wives. Jess knew just how silver tongued his friend could be and was sure that Liza would come round. He sincerely hoped so, wanting them to be at ease with each other, both were so important to him.

Eventually as it was very cold the two men retreated home, arranging to meet early the following morning and ride into town where Jess had arranged to meet the Fergusons at their lawyer’s office. The lawyer was Ken Sedd, an old timer whom Adam knew well and often dealt with. He was a good and very straight forward lawyer so Adam envisaged no real problems.

Jess headed straight back to the bunkhouse and Adam had to see to Blackie before going in. Carole had seen him ride in and was waiting for him, her book forgotten, curiosity obvious on her face. She had grown very fond of Jess too, often relying on him to look after her pig-headed husband, knowing Adam would accept more fussing
from his friend than he would from his family. Joe had made use of it too on more than one occasion.

Carole had to wait as Adam collected coffee and brandy, he’d got thoroughly cold as they talked. As Adam sat back into a chair by the fire, he commented n the weather savouring the curiosity on his wife’s face and then with no further comment he sipped his brandy. Carole could see that whatever Jess had wanted Adam was pleased by it, a glint of excitement in his eyes, but as he still made no comment, she threatened him with a cushion. Adam laughingly raised his coffee cup in defence, “My little brother has been teaching you bad habits.”

“Explain or else!”

“Jess is going to leave the ranch.”

Carole was puzzled by that, if it was true Adam would be upset at losing a friend but he wasn’t. Then she remembered the pretty brunette who had accompanied Jess to the various festivities around Christmas, although her name wouldn’t come to mind. “That brunette?”

“Her name is Liza and Jess asked her last night. I don’t really know her but from what I’ve seen she seems very sweet. Jess is delighted.”

Carole smiled broadly, “That’s marvelous. I hoped he would marry one day, have kids of his own. He’s so good with ours, not only the twins but even Anne.”

“Jess seems to have realized it’s what he wants.”

“We’ll all miss him round the ranch.”

“Mmm, but he’s not going too far afield. Main reason he wanted to talk to me. He wants to buy the Ferguson ranch.”

Carole was well aware how convenient it would be to ensure that the ranch went to friends and it would be nice to have Jess settled close by. It fully explained the twinkle in her husband’s eye and she assumed that Adam would help financially. Adam had no secrets from his wife and he outlined exactly what he had proposed to Jess, although he didn’t intend telling anyone else, this was private between him and his friend. Carole whole-heartedly agreed, over the years they had come to owe Jess far more than mere money could ever repay. She was insistent that on her own behalf she wanted to give them a wedding present, she wasn’t quite sure what yet, but something. Adam made no attempt to dissuade her, it would stop the inevitable questions that would arise if there was no obvious present from them. Carole wasn’t at all surprised to hear that Adam was to be best man but she was pleased, knowing her husband’s reaction. They went up to bed reasonably promptly but lay awake talking for hours, reminiscing over the times when Jess had proved such a valuable friend.

Jess was round to collect Adam early and Carole congratulated him, giving him a big hug and making it very clear just how pleased she was that he would remain close by.
Jess had long been on easy terms with his friend’s family, in many ways almost an adopted member of it and was very pleased with her reaction.

Adam was still finishing his breakfast, sorting through some papers he needed, taking advantage of the trip to town to complete some routine business. Perfectly at home Jess pulled up a chair and poured himself some coffee, but the three older children had heard his voice and erupted from the kitchen. Jess was a firm favourite with them and he found himself with no hands free to drink his coffee. Adam watched amused, his wife was right Jess was meant to have kids, much more at ease with them than most men.

Eventually relative peace was established and the two men left for town. The ride seemed to pass very quickly as they discussed the arrangements necessary for the purchase. In town a little early they went down to the Bucket O’Blood first. Liza was on duty, looking bright and fresh in the early morning light. Jess called her over and kissed her, causing Liza to blush furiously. Adam offered his congratulations and put his best efforts into putting her at ease, but for now at least he had to admit to total failure. Liza answered him in monosyllables, still unable to think of him as anything but the rich powerful business man with a reputation for brilliance in so many fields, well out of her class. Realizing that he was getting nowhere, Adam decided to leave the engaged pair in peace for quarter of an hour, he had to drop some papers of at John Marye’s place, his stockbroker and then arrange the finances at the bank, he would meet Jess at the lawyers.

Jess found Liza relaxed as soon as Adam left and chided her gently. Adam was a good friend and only in town to help them, giving time and money for no personal gain. She knew he was being accurate but she still couldn’t relax, still it was soon forgotten with so much to discuss. Jess promised to come back and let her know how the negotiations had gone as soon as the meeting was over.

Jess felt very nervous as he went over to the lawyers. He had never in his life made a commitment of anything like this size and he was very grateful for Adam’s moral support, as well as relying heavily on his friend’s technical expertise.

Both the Fergusons were present, but although they knew an offer had been made for the ranch they didn’t know who was interested. They were both surprised to see Adam walk into the office, assuming that he was there on behalf of his family. When they had first decided to sell Cleve had given first refusal to the Cartwrights and he wasn’t best pleased to find them apparently interested months later when they had initially refused. Adam didn’t need any interpretation of the look on Cleve’s face. The ranch was reasonably priced for what it was, but that included the house, barns and corrals, none of which the Cartwrights needed, so the price per acre was higher than they had been prepared to pay for land they didn’t really need. Adam grinned “It’s alright Cleve I haven’t changed my mind. I am just here acting as a lawyer for a friend, he should be here any minute.”

Cleve accepted that and offered coffee, then casually he asked, “Can your friend meet our price?”

“I think that will be up to him to say. Still you won’t have much longer to wait, he’s coming over now.”

Cleve looked out and recognized Jess striding purposefully across the street towards them. He knew that Jess and Adam were close friends but he was worried, not really believing that a hand could have amassed the sort of money needed to buy his ranch. Suspicious that Jess was just acting as a front man for the Cartwrights to somehow reduce the price and gyp him. Cleve met his sister’s eye to see equal suspicion there. Both of them were determined not to reduce the price by so much as a penny, they weren’t going to be cheated.

Jess came in and Adam introduced Jess to Sedd and the Fergusons and as his friend seemed totally tongue-tied he went on to state that Jess was interested in buying the ranch, free and clear. Cleve was the first to speak, “We really want a cash deal so that my sister and I can split the proceeds. We each have our own plans. I’m not interested in holding a mortgage or anything like that.”

For the first time Jess found his voice, “Has anyone asked you to take anything but cash?”

Cleve was still very suspicious, “We’re asking $35 000 and I’m not prepared to bargain. We could have sold several times at a lower price but its well worth what we’re asking. We can wait.”

Adam was ready to step in if it was necessary but he left it to Jess and his friend really didn’t need his help. Jess had relaxed a little and said, “I agree the price is reasonable and I can pay cash.”

Cleve looked at his sister, both were surprised, they knew that Jess was a sort of foreman on the Ponderosa but even so hands weren’t paid the sort of money that allowed them to amass capital. Their attitude was very obvious and Jess laughed, “Lots of people made money in the stock market this year and I had a very good advisor. Now I’m getting married so I’m cashing in.

Adam was relieved to see his explanation was believed, indeed it was only the truth but it was nice to see the suspicion fading from Cleve’s face and his sister’s. They had been friends for many years and Adam hadn’t wanted to part on bad terms. He made a mental note to thank Jess later, the Fergusons didn’t have any right to an explanation. For now he put his best efforts into settling the legal details, determined that Jess’ title to his new ranch should be as ironclad as their title to the Ponderosa. It wasn’t too difficult a job as the Ferguson ranch predated the rise of Virginia City just as the Ponderosa did. There had only ever been the one claim to the land and Ferguson had long ago taken Ben’s advice and legalized his claim, registering it and paying the required tax when Nevada became a State in 1864. Jess sat back and left his lawyer to cope, until an hour later Adam told him to sign the document where he pointed and then grinned, “Give the man a cheque Jess, get his receipt and all we have to do is register it at the land office.”

Jess did as he said, knowing Adam had already made arrangements at the bank for the cheque to be covered and Adam grinned, “Congratulations Jess you own a good ranch there.”

Adam offered his hand and Jess shook it before passing over the cheque to Cleve. The Fergusons were delighted, they had begun to wonder if they would get their asking price. Land was still not selling well after the crash of the Bank of California. They all settled back to celebrate and Cleve opened a bottle of champagne. Adam and Jess stayed for half an hour and Cleve passed on some advice on the land he knew so well. Cleve was sure that Jess would be able to make a go of the ranch, it had been very successful over the years. Adam agreed with him, it was good land, one of the earliest settled in the area.

Eventually Adam and Jess made a move and Adam offered to register the ownership for Jess while he went to tell Liza. She found it hard to believe that he was now the owner of a substantial ranch and that she would become a rancher’s wife, a person of substance round the town. Jess, with a ranch of his own which he knew needed only minimal work before they could move in, was very eager to get the arrangements made for the wedding. He proposed to have the banns called the next Sunday and then the wedding on the first possible Saturday. Liza was assuming that it would be a quiet wedding but Jess soon disillusioned her. He had made many friends since settling at the Ponderosa and he was determined to show off his beautiful brunette to all of them. Liza was scared to think of it and couldn’t imagine where they could have a large wedding in town, scared everyone would know she was a saloon girl. Jess recklessly promised her that the wedding would be out of town, probably at Adam’s house. At first Liza thought that was even worse, but Jess looked so pleased that she couldn’t say anything and at least it would be away from town. Jess noticed her hesitation and was determined to get her out to the ranch, to get used both to it and to his old friends, but he couldn’t commit Adam to too much without asking him and for now he left it.

Adam had been doing many of the jobs that always needed doing and a couple of hours later he dropped by the Bucket O’Blood to pass over the registration documents. Rather to his surprise Jess was ready to ride back with him, he had expected his friend to have arrangements to make in town. Jess couldn’t make any firm plans until he’d had a chance to talk to Adam and was deep in thought as they rode out of town. For a moment Adam considered his friend, so silent and then he began to grin. He recognized the look, so like Little Joe when he was younger, “You might as well spit it out Jess. What have you volunteered me for?”

Jess looked up startled, but he was used to Adam’s ability to draw correct conclusions on very slight evidence and Adam’s grin was sufficient evidence that he wasn’t cross. Jess relaxed, “Alright. Would it be possible to arrange for the wedding out at the ranch? I know it’s an imposition but she’s sorta nervous about town. It don’t need to be very big.”

“Rubbish.” Adam pulled up, “Look if you’re only riding home to talk, why don’t we sit here for a bit, get everything settled. Then you won’t have such a long ride back.
“Makes sense.” Jess dismounted ground tying his mare and Adam joined him, perching on a convenient rock. “Right Jess I assume you’ll arrange it for about a month’s time?”

“Yeah, if I can.”

“Still very quiet at this time of the year, a wedding would be fun. Carole will enjoy it, be a first at our house if that will suit you.”

“It would be marvelous.”

“Fine but it won’t be a small wedding Jess, you know too many people.”

“I don’t want ....”

Adam interrupted, “We’ll enjoy it relax, we’re all used to arranging large parties, weddings too for that matter. Just one point and it’s entirely up to you. Liza is very on edge and she’ll have a lot to do for the wedding. Why don’t you bring her out to the ranch for a couple of weeks beforehand?”

Jess had wanted to bring her out for a day but he hadn’t thought of longer. Adam went on, “It’s up to you but we have two spare rooms all made up and if you come and stay too it might give her a chance to find her feet.”

“How about Carole? She’s had a real busy year, just about the first chance you two have had for some peace and quiet.”

“She will be very pleased I promise you. Carole loves weddings and she’s very fond of you.”

Jess rubbed his hand across his mouth, unable to find words for a minute but then he looked up at his friend. “I’ll take you up on that Adam. I was gonna ask you to lay on a small dinner party but as always you’re a step ahead.”

“Go back to town, tell the Vicar and start making the arrangements. Get Liza to hand in her notice, you’re both welcome as soon as you can arrange it.”

Jess didn’t know how to thank his friend and just punched Adam’s shoulder gently, not realizing how obvious it was in his eyes. He headed back to town at speed, much to Adam’s amusement. Adam went on home at a more leisurely pace to fill Carole in.
He wasn’t particularly surprised to find that Jess’ news had reached the ranch before he did. Cleve had made no secret of his success in selling the ranch and why Jess had bought it.

The whole family had congregated at Adam’s guessing that he would know all about it and they were sitting around drinking coffee when Adam rode in. The three girls were most interested in Liza, who would inevitably become part of their circle but his father and brothers were delighted at the news the Ferguson ranch was going to a friend. Adam was bombarded with questions from everyone but before he could even begin to answer them he had to satisfy the children’s demands for attention, first the twins and then Marie. Once he had pacified them and established himself with coffee in his favourite chair, he was able to pass on the detailed news. Once they were all discussing it Adam pulled Carole down on his lap and quietly filled her in on the invitation he had given. He knew Carole too well to be surprised at her support but he was pleased with her obvious delight. Carole was quite excited at arranging a wedding and she quickly enlisted her sisters’ help,

Jess saw the Vicar and got all the dates fixed before he went back to Liza. Going into the saloon he spotted Liza near the back and going over swung her round triumphantly before sitting down with a beer. Liza could see the excitement in him but for a minute Jess just sipped his beer and studied her, hardily able to believe his luck, she was so lovely and so gentle. Then he began to explain what he had arranged. He passed on Adam’s invitation and as she showed signs of panic, Jess took her hand. “Please don’t worry. I’ll be right there and when you get used to Adam and Carole I know you’ll like them.”

Liza wasn’t at all sure but as it was what Jess wanted, she went along, giving in her notice and arranging to leave the following Sunday and go out to Adam’s. She consoled herself that at least Jess would be there and Adam had been decent enough to invite her, although she felt she was far beneath his notice, a rich powerful Cartwright. Slowly they settled to plan and arranged to go and inspect their new ranch the following day.

Liza was overwhelmed at first as they looked round the house but slowly calmed down and began to check exactly what they would have. It would need more furniture eventually but the Fergusons had left enough to get them started. Even so by the end of the day they had a long list of things to buy and Liza had measured up the windows for curtains. They bought a great pile of things the next day and Jess took some of it out to the ranch before swinging by Adam’s.

Adam was pleased to hear that they were coming on Sunday and Jess ran over his plans and the arrangements he’d made. Then he settled to appease the children used to attention from him.

When Sunday came Liza was close to panic but Jess helped her to pack her remaining possessions and get them onto the buggy he had borrowed from Carole. Then he drove her out one arm reassuringly round her shoulders. He had moved into Adam’s the night before, much to the delight of the kids. He quietly reminded Liza exactly who the family consisted of, both those she would meet today and those she was bound to come across in the next few days. Liza was getting more and more nervous and all too soon they reached Adam’s house. Liza had been there before with Jess, but only as one insignificant member of a large party, this was so very different.
Adam and Carole both had very vivid memories of how scared Marie had been years earlier in similar circumstances and were determined not to overwhelm the young girl. Thus the rest of the family had been ordered away for one day at least.. When Jess and Liza arrived, Adam greeted them and invited them in by the fire for some coffee to warm up. Once they were settled he left them alone and went to put the buggy away and tend the horses. That didn’t last as David and Mark realized that Jess was back and rushed down the stairs to attack him. Liza couldn’t help but laugh as Jess fended them off long enough to put his coffee down and then ended on the floor for a romp, which Marie came to join. It broke a lot of the tension she was feeling as she loved children and longed for one of her own.

Carole came in, attracted by the noise, with a sleepy contented baby in her arms, having just finished feeding Anne. She sat down, smiling at Liza, but it was Jess she spoke to, “You’re not supposed to encourage them Jess.”

Jess looked up outraged, “Fat lot of choice I get, call them off Carole, I want my coffee.”

Carole performed her magic and in a tone of voice none of the kids argued with, just said, “Enough kids, let Uncle Jess have his coffee in peace.”

It proved to Liza that Jess hadn’t been fooling himself when he claimed to be an adopted member of the family but it just made her feel more of an outsider. That didn’t last long as the twins switched their attention, simultaneously as ever, onto a new adult. They considered her gravely and then Mark gave his considered opinion, “She’s very pretty.” Followed by David, “She looks nice.”

Adam heard his young sons’ comments as he came in and picked up the boys, one on each hip, “Your taste is excellent, I only wish the same could be said of your manners.”

Liza was blushing hotly, but Marie feeling left out and ordered to leave Jess alone, saved her by clambering up onto her lap. The presence of the children broke the ice and almost without realizing it she found herself explaining to Carole just what they were changing at the ranch. Carole wasn’t pushy but showed her obvious interest and before she knew what had happened, Liza found she had relaxed and even ate a good meal. After the meal they all retired to the study for coffee, Liza was a little taken aback by the sheer number of books but despite them and all the rumours she had heard about Adam in town, she had to admit that Jess was right, Adam and Carole were very easy to get on with. When she went up to her room, she was much more relaxed than she would have believed possible.

Nita and Joe were over early the nest morning, bringing young Adam. Joe had agreed to ride down to Carson City with his eldest brother, to the mint, and Adam had insisted on an early start. Liza could see the curiosity in Nita’s eyes but again the baby helped to break the ice and Liza soon found that Nita wasn’t judging her on her background either. Nita had learnt a lot since first meeting Joe and knew that the society dictates which she’d grown up with were irrelevant.

By the time Sue wandered over with Johnny, she found all the women deep in discussion of wedding dresses. Carole had offered to make Liza’s dress as she had for all her sisters-in-law. Liza had accepted gratefully and much to his surprise Jess found himself redundant. He took the opportunity to ride into Virginia City, to hand out invitations and make various arrangements.

Over the next week Liza relaxed totally and began to thoroughly enjoy herself, finding a family life which she had never known. All the Cartwrights made it very clear that Jess was an adopted member of their family and she as his chosen bride would become part of their extended family too.

All the arrangements for the wedding were made, with considerable experience in what was involved, it didn’t take long. Cleve and Laurie had finally cleared all their possessions from the ranch and several days Liza and Jess rode over to rearrange things as they wanted. Adam went along on the Saturday before the wedding and helped Jess with some of the heavier items and then drew up some plans for extra shelving either side of the main fireplace As he sat back with coffee he seemed miles away and Liza felt awkward with him, as she’d done initially. She knew that Adam and Jess were friends but he was a rich and powerful man, they shouldn’t have asked him to do menial tasks such as moving furniture. Jess poured fresh coffee and considered his friend in concern. However he wasn’t worried about asking his friend for help, just scared his friend had overstrained himself, maybe hurt his back still very scarred from the fire and damaged in earlier accidents. Jess asked worriedly “Are you okay Adam?”
Adam brought back to the present by the question looked up and saw the obvious concern on their faces. Liza said “We shouldn’t have asked, not your job lugging furniture around.”

Adam smiled “I volunteer Jess to move ours often enough.”

“That’s different Jess works for you.”

“Not any longer, maybe I ought to fire you Jess! Anyway it’s never been part of a top hand’s job. He helped as a friend, same as I did. Anyway I’m fine.”

“Your back?” Jess pressed

“It’s healed no problem. I didn’t mean to alarm you, I was just thinking. Only a suggestion but we could make a covered way out to the barn, same as I have. It’s nice not to have to get wet every time the horses need feeding.”

Jess sat back for a moment that was the last thing he’d expected. Then he went over to the window, the barn was across the yard and he didn’t see how it could be done easily, although the idea was attractive and he’d seen its utility at Adam’s.

Adam went over to join him as Jess stared out, “Do you like the idea? It’s your ranch I don’t want to interfere.

“Oh yes I like it very much, I’m getting lazy in my old age but I don’t see how.”

Adam got out paper and sketched what he meant. It was rather more involved than a simple covered way, he was suggesting a small expansion at the side of the house, a porch cum utility room, with a dogleg passage going two sides of the yard alongside the corral. Liza was fascinated as she saw the plan come alive in front of her eyes, but she couldn’t help protesting, it was far too complicated it would take months.

Adam laughed at her, “Rubbish. If you want it we can have it finished before the wedding. Half number one bunkhouse sitting doing nothing and both my brothers need the exercise. They’re not the world’s best workers, but at least they’re cheap.”

“You can’t Adam.”

“Why not? Nothing else to do. We could measure up now, get Jack Catfish to cut the wood tomorrow.”

Liza looked at Jess in concern, she liked the idea and a room to dump dirty shoes and clothing would be very handy but it seemed a major job and they didn’t have the right. Jess went over to her and put his arm round her shoulders, “You may as well get used to him my love, when he looks like that there ain’t no point in arguing.”

Adam looked up worried, “I’m not trying to force you Jess. It’s your place. Just seemed a way of making life a little easier, but if you don’t want it all you have to do is say.”
“You know we want it Adam. Liza’s just worried about the amount of work involved. You’ve already done an awful lot for us.”

Adam laughed at that, “Nonsense by the time Hop Sing and the others start arranging the food we’ll be glad to get out of the way and they will be happy to have us out from underfoot.”

Jess gave his wife-to-be a hug, “You finish measuring up for those curtains. We’ll measure up outside.” The job didn’t take very long and Adam headed home to sketch out exactly what was needed and list the supplies he would require. It wasn’t a difficult job as he could see exactly what was required in his mind’s eye. Then he planned it out and made a list of exactly what lumber was required and re-saddled Blackie to head up to the mill and get Jack Catfish to start cutting it from their supply of seasoned wood. He was glad of an excuse to let Blackie stretch his legs, blow away the cobwebs. On the way home he stopped by the main house to let his father know what he was up to and to enlist a volunteer labour force from the bunkhouse. Ben wasn’t worried, he knew how capable his eldest son was and it shouldn’t prove a long job with Adam’s organizing ability. Adam easily obtained help, most of the hands who were wintering at the Ponderosa were long time friends of Jess’ and willing to do anything which would help his new venture off to a good start. Adam left it until morning to tell his brothers but with Nita and Sue busy with their babies and the wedding preparations, he didn’t expect them to mind.

By mid-morning the three brothers, Jess and some twenty hands, including José were at the old Ferguson ranch. Adam started by marking out the new doors, to the house and the barn, which would be needed. He left his brothers in charge of establishing those to the detailed plans he had drawn up the previous night. Adam and Jess began marking out the path of the covered way. Adam had decided in consultation with his friend to provide a permanent corridor with decent flooring and that meant foundations but by late afternoon when fading light called a halt, it was beginning to take shape. The next day Jack delivered the lumber and Adam was confident that at most three days would be needed to complete the job. Considering that it was the beginning of February the weather was being remarkably cooperative.

The following day curiosity brought all four women out to investigate. Ben drove over with them, bringing two of the light buggies. Hop Sing and Kam Su were looking after the children. As they came into the yard Liza watched Adam and Joe struggling with a large corner timber. Hoss wandered over and seeing the absolute horror on her face he said, “They’re a bit on the puny side but they’ll manage between them.”

She shook her head, “I hadn’t realized just how much hard work there would be. We have no right.”

Hoss was puzzled “I thought Adam volunteered.”

“Well yes but....”

Ben intervened “Don’t worry about it. Hoss is right. All the men here are friends of Jess. They owe him a lot over the years, glad to repay a little.”
“But your sons are ....”

“Friends. Come on Liza relax. Money Adam can give and never notice, this way he and his brothers show Jess that he matters by giving some time and effort. We’ve all come to rely very heavily on Jess the last few years. We’ll miss him on the Ponderosa but at least with you both close by we don’t lose a friend.”

Liza finally came to realize that Jess did really matter to these rich powerful men and as long as she made him happy then she would matter too. She accepted that they enjoyed being able to give help, in all its forms not just financial as a thank you to Jess.

Slowly as the week progressed everything was completed, the covered way was done, curtains up and the house ready for the bridal couple. The dress was finished and the furniture rearranged at Adam’s ready for the large wedding party, guestrooms prepared for a few people who would be staying over night. Hop Sing had as usual taken complete charge even if it was Kam Su’s kitchen, the Cartwright’s remained his family even if all three boys were off married in houses of their own. On the Friday Adam rode in with Jess to collect the flowers and confirm last minute details with the vicar.

Jess was very quiet on the ride into town and Adam didn’t disturb his friend, Jess didn’t rouse from his reverie until they reached town. There were a lot of last minute jobs and the two men separated to get on faster, arranging to meet at the Bucket O’Blood later. Adam was finished first and he was sipping a beer, talking to Don McBride when Jess arrived. Don was handing over to one of his relief bartenders the following day and coming out for the wedding. The second involving one of his girls at the Ponderosa, he was hoping that it would be just as happy and much longer lasting. Jess ordered a whisky but he tossed it off almost at once and was obviously eager to get home so Adam pushed his beer away and got to his feet, “Come on then, let’s get these flowers home and into water before they wilt.”

“You can finish your beer, ain’t that much of a rush.”

“It’s okay Jess. Let’s go, I promised Carole I wouldn’t be late.”

Jess accepted that and they rode out, Adam waited until they’d negotiated the worst of the traffic and then he said, “I’m not really in any great rush Jess and the flowers won’t come to any harm for an hour or so. Do you want to talk?”

Jess stared at his friend for a moment but he was so confused and tense that he knew he needed to and Adam was the only person he could face talking to. “Please. Could we ride up by the Lake?”

“Sure.” Adam suited the action to the word and cut off towards the Lake. When they arrived the two friends tied up the horses and left them, walking along by the lake as it was too cold to sit still. As Jess still didn’t say anything Adam asked, “Cold feet Jess? I did before my wedding. If I hadn’t been in a wheelchair I’d probably have cut and run.”

“I just don’t know anymore. I’m a lot older than she is.”

“Not exactly unusual out here, few men can afford to marry early. She’s not worried by it, she loves you very much. You must be able to see that, we all can.”

“Yeah well I love her very much but that just makes it worse. I’m scared of letting her down. Falling flat on my face. I look at that ranch and I’m scared I don’t know where to start.”

“Easy Jess, You know all you’ll ever need to know. It’s a lot less complicated than many things you’ve handled for me. The ranch is in good shape with an efficient crew and even a good foreman in Matt Russell.”

“But suppose things go wrong?”

“You’re not all on your own Jess. Just because you’ve moved down the road, you still have a good many friends who could help out at need. Probably never be necessary, but if you ever need us we’re here.”

“It’s partly leaving all my friends, I’ve enjoyed the last few years.”

“Jess I’ve watched you with my kids, you were meant to be a family man.”

Jess couldn’t deny that and Adam went on, “Anyway you aren’t losing your friends, we’ll still be around. Years ago there used to be a lot of contact between the Ferguson ranch and the Ponderosa, I’m sure there will be again.”

Slowly Jess relaxed but he still felt the need to try and thank his friend, but he couldn’t seem to find the words. He stared out over the Lake for a moment and then he turned to face Adam, “I ought to be able to....” he sighed heavily.

Adam frowned not understanding and Jess turned back to the Lake, embarrassed. “You said if anything went wrong I had friends who would help. I know that’s true and I know who’d be foremost amongst them. I think it’s the only thing which has given me the courage to go ahead.” He hesitated, “I’m trying to say thank you but I don’t know how.”

Adam put his arm round Jess’ shoulder, “No thanks are needed Jess but I think you just did. We never put things into words but you know as well as I do that apart from my family there’s noone in the world means more to me than you do.”

Jess pulled away and met his friend’s eye, offering his hand almost formally, “You know that’s mutual Adam.”

For a moment the friends were quiet and then Jess said “After the war I swore to myself I’d never get involved with anyone again, keep separate, that way I couldn’t get hurt. You taught me that I need people and for that more than anything I’ll always be grateful.”

“You only get back what you put into relationships Jess. I told you once before we were a long way past owing each other anything and I can’t see that ever changing. Once Hoss was scared that my marriage would change what we meant to each other but out here, where so often we need to rely on each other in life and death situations, we do have one advantage. Friendship and trust built up that way don’t change.”

Jess knew Adam was right and he knew he would in the future, as in the past, be able to rely on his friend and in his turn be able to help. Finally relaxing he grinned, “Come on it’s time to go home. I think I’ll enjoy tomorrow now. You’re right I’m not losing anything just adding a wife and hopefully kids.”

Adam had seen him relax and was glad of it. The two friends delivered the flowers, then while Jess went into see Liza, Adam popped over to the main house to deliver the mail he’d collected. Ben was reading by the fire and was pleased to see his eldest son. Adam stopped for coffee and a chat. Ben had noticed how tense Jess was getting and he queried how Jess was. Adam went and poured himself a brandy and standing over by the fireplace he stared into the fire, toying with his glass. “Jess is fine Pa, apart from a mistaken idea that he owes me. Paid me quite a compliment, said I’d taught him he needed people.”

“He’s come a long way since you first took him to Sacramento.”

“He’s given me as much or more than he’s taken.”

“Friendship Adam, a gift without price. You offered him that, man to man, not boss to hand. It’s rare under those circumstances, I have always been so thankful that all three of you do it. We could have become very cut off, all too many do.”

“If we do Pa, it’s because you brought us up that way.” At that Adam finished his drink, “I’d better get back. You’ll be over early?”

“Sure and thank you son.”

Adam gripped his father’s shoulder for a moment, before going out to Blackie, eager to get home to his own wife and children. Jess had enrolled the twins and Marie as pages and bridesmaid, despite Carole’s concerns that they were too young to be trusted. Before the kids went to bed Adam had a talk to them trying to ensure that they knew how important it was to act like very grown up children. Then he read them a bedtime story before tucking them up in bed.

Liza had been getting very nervous but she found Carole easy to talk to and slowly the older woman got her to talk and calmed her down. It didn’t seem possible to Liza, a few weeks earlier she had been so nervous about meeting Carole and Adam, now they felt like old friends.

Saturday morning dawned bright and clear. It was the beginning of February so not surprisingly it was cold, snow was lying even on the lower ground. The sun was out and in the clear morning light the Sierra Nevada was very beautiful, the pines for which the ranch had been named each with their covering of snow. Jess had been restless and he was up early, going outside for some fresh air. Liza was staying in her room, not wanting to see him before the wedding ceremony, that was supposed to be bad luck. Carole had promised Jess that she would stick around give Liza any help she needed. Jess was grateful and pleased that the two women were getting on well. He had no family left as far as he knew and Adam was his closest friend, with the ranches close it would inevitably have been awkward if Liza and Carole had not got along.
Adam had been up even earlier, trying to clear a couple of legal queries that he had been putting off before anyone else was up. Seeing Jess out in the yard, Adam collected another cup of coffee and wandered out. Jess was glad to see him but quite calm now, just normal excitement and the two friends just stood chatting until the cold drove them inside.

Both Joe and Hoss were over early with wives and babies. Adam had enlisted help from his sisters to look after the twins and Marie and get them dressed as late as possible since Carole was busy with Liza. Sue took over the two babies and Nita took the other three off. Adam gave a sigh of relief, he loved his children but found four of them all under five a real handful in their mother’s absence, marveling how easily she managed on her own. Joe grinned at his brother “You’ve got them well trained.”

“What the kids?” asked Adam in amazement but Joe shook his head, “No! Your sisters-in-law.”

“Let’s see if my brothers are as well, work to be done.” Joe sighed but he joined his brothers and Jess in setting out drinks and tables outside in the barn and seats inside for the ceremony. By eleven everything was ready and Adam called a halt for coffee and doughnuts. He went upstairs on his own to make sure that the presents were all set out ready in one of the spare rooms. Carole had bought a beautiful dinner service as her present and for public consumption, Adam’s. Adam wasn’t sure what his family had bought otherwise but there were several large boxes and a multitude of parcels from them and from many of the hands. Pleased with the pile awaiting his friend, Adam tapped on Liza’s door to see what, if anything, she and Carole wanted. Carole was glad of coffee and said that Liza was well on the way to being ready and just excited. Carole had already done her hair, like Carole she was a brunette and Carole had enhanced her natural wave giving her a little extra height and sweeping it back at the sides, as she had a slightly round face. She had a very good figure, much as Carole’s had been before the children, these days she was slightly thinner. Carole had opted for a neat well-fitted gown in a heavy brocade with a long brocade train and had given it tight sleeves with long pointed cuffs decorated with tiny white beads. The wedding was arranged for midday and by eleven thirty Liza was ready. Carole took her across to her own bedroom where there was a full length mirror. Liza couldn’t really believe what she saw, she had never looked so beautiful and so elegant, at least Jess wouldn’t need to be ashamed of his bride.

Adam went up with Jess to get changed and they were back down as the Vicar arrived. Ben was holding Anne but hearing her father’s voice the baby made it very clear that nothing would placate her but attention from him and Adam collected his daughter before joining Jess and the Vicar. Anne quieted in her father’s familiar arms, the tie forged in the first weeks of her life was still very strong. Adam had to stop Anne pulling at Jess’ hair, “Could be an unusual wedding, if I can’t persuade someone to take care of her.”
“I don’t care she’s my goddaughter, probably had more to do with me taking the plunge than anyone apart from you.”

Adam laughed but seeing his youngest brother he beckoned Joe over, “We’ll try and keep it a little more orthodox. Joe can you keep her quiet please, even if you have to let her play with your hair.” Joe took the baby but although protesting Anne quieted quickly as she began to play with his curly hair, for once eliciting no protest.

Adam recognized the tension in is friend, “Not long now Jess.” Jess looked up swiftly and Adam gripped his arm, “Easy Jess, you can’t even forget your words.” Slowly Jess relaxed and as everyone took their seats and the Vicar took his position, all was ready.

José had been bullied into giving the bride away. He knew her best as the two friends spent a lot of their spare time together.. Hoss signaled to José, who was waiting at the top of the stairs and he went and knocked on the door to signal that they were ready. Liza had been waiting for over a quarter of an hour. Now the time had finally come she was just excited, thrilled at her dress, so much more elegant than she could have dreamt. The three little children were ready, the twins smart in their first long trousers with white lacy shirts, feeling so grown-up and Marie lovely in a soft blue dress. The twins were taking one corner of her train each and were thrilled to be important while the little girl would walk just behind with a basket of flowers.

Carole and Nita settled Liza’s veil and with a final check on the children went on down. Carole had her fingers crossed, they were still very young but seemed to understand Daddy’s instructions. Adam and Jess saw them come down and knew the bride would be following. Adam saw the thumbs up sign Carole gave him and whispered “All ready Jess.” Then the whole congregation turned as José led Liza down. She was very lovely and the three serious little children gave many a lump in the throat, especially their fond grandfather.

Jess had known that Carole was making her dress but hadn’t a clue what she intended. Now it seemed impossible that this vision of loveliness and elegance had anything to do with him but then her hand was in his and the Vicar began the marriage service. Jess went through it almost in a trance, automatically making the responses and it wasn’t until the register was signed that he came back to earth and hugged his beautiful wife. Now it was done and Liza was his, he was delighted with life and it showed. Adam had never seen such a glow of delight in his friend’s eyes.

Hop Sing had ensured that Jess wouldn’t miss out on anything, this wedding was important to his family and anyway he liked Jess, knowing how much he’d helped over the years. The food, drink and music were all superb and Liza still found it almost impossible to believe it was all in her honour. After the wedding breakfast Adam led the way upstairs for the bridal couple to open their presents. The babies were all asleep but the three older children wanted to come and Liza insisted that they should. Hoss held Marie so that she could see and the two little boys stood tightly holding onto Adam’s hands, one either side, watching everything eagerly. Liza was taken aback by the great pile of parcels, but thrilled by the visible evidence of just how many friends her new husband had.

Opening the parcels took a long time and Liza was thrilled by some of them. Hoss and Sue had bought a lovely cut glass decanter with matching glasses, Joe and Nita had got her a fully fitted out work basket while from Carole and Adam there was the dinner service. However it was Ben who surprised them most, he had produced a set of ledgers and writing set but more importantly a fully paid up membership of Nevada’s Cattleman’s Association, valid for five years. Jess was only too aware of how difficult it was to gain entry into this most exclusive club. It meant he had responsibilities but it also brought benefits that most new ranchers would think themselves lucky to gain ten years after starting out. He knew just how much Ben had had to do to get him accepted even with the backing of the Ponderosa and he stared at the document, speechless. Even Adam hadn’t known what his father was up to and he smiled appreciatively, before leaving the twins for a moment to go over to his father, “Thanks Pa, that was thoughtful.” He gripped Ben’s shoulder for a moment and no further words were necessary. Jess came over and offered his hand formally to his erstwhile boss. “I don’t know what to say Mr Cartwright. Thank you so much and I’ll try to live up to your faith in me.”

“I have no doubts about that Jess. You’ll be an asset to the Association.”

With all the multitude of minor presents opened Adam and Carole helped the newly weds to set them out and then cleared the room leaving Liza and Jess alone briefly. Liza looked round “I still can’t believe all this is for us. Everyone has been so kind.”

“You deserve it, the most beautiful bride ever.” Jess took her in his arms, so very happy with life. They went back down to allow the others to inspect the presents and to start the dancing. Jess was enjoying the party but at about ten o’clock he wanted to take her back to his new ranch. He had already arranged to borrow Carole’s buggy and Adam went out and harnessed up the horse when Jess asked. Hoss had already ensured that everything would be ready at Jess’ new ranch. He had asked Kam Ling to go over, light fires, warm beds, ensure a supply of food, freshly baked bread, soup, casseroles, all the newly weds could need for the next few days.

Jess tried to thank his friend as Liza said her goodbyes but Adam just laughed at him, they had all thoroughly enjoyed the wedding.

Adam watched Jess help Liza up into the buggy and stood lost in thought as they drove away. It would seem very strange not to have Jess on the ranch, he’d come to rely very heavily on his friend. Still at least Jess wasn’t going very far afield.

Jess was delighted to find everything ready for them and after a coffee to warm up, he took Liza upstairs to bed, delighted to find that she wanted him as much as he wanted her. Eventually she slept in his arms and Jess cuddled her to him, trying to believe that all this was his.

At Adam’s the party continued for another couple of hours but eventually Adam managed to clear them out and his own family went home to their own houses. Adam sat back with a brandy and Carole curled up on the sofa next to him. They were very pleased with the way things had gone, Adam had promised Jess a first class wedding and they had fulfilled that promise. Even more important, they both felt that Liza had got over her fear of these ‘rich important people’ and come to accept them as friends, so that their close relationship with Jess would continue. On that cheerful thought they retreated to bed.

The following day Jess had one of his hands return the buggy. It felt strange but good to be issuing orders rather than taking them. He also sent an invitation to all seven Cartwrights to join them for a small dinner party on Wednesday night. Liza wanted to show off her new home and in some very small measure say thank you for all they had done for her. Carole was on her own at the house as Adam had been called up to the mill, some problem with the main saw. A few minutes work on the telegraph was sufficient to allow her to accept on behalf of all of them.

Liza enjoyed cooking and she put her very best efforts into her first dinner party. She was using many of their wedding gifts and had worked hard all day, cleaning and polishing, so that the house looked immaculate. Jess helped out although he wasn’t very bothered but he appreciated the glow of excitement as she prepared to entertain in her own home. Rather to her surprise Liza wasn’t even nervous. She had got to know the Cartwrights well enough to know that far from looking for flaws, they would be easily pleased, delighted that she and Jess were so happy.

It was a foul day, cold and snowing quite hard so Ben drove the three women over in the covered surrey leaving his sons to ride, slickers over their thick leather coats protecting them from the worst of the weather. The covered way proved its worth as Ben was able to drive right into the barn and then escort his daughters in under cover. Two hands were waiting to take care of the horses and the three brothers dumped wet slickers in the porch emerging relatively dry and respectable if very cold.

Jess had hot punch waiting for them and Adam stood over by the fireplace sipping his punch watching Jess and Liza appreciatively. He could see how much hard work had been put in and even more easily the pride on both Jess’ and Liza’s faces, The meal was superb and all of them enjoyed the evening, Even in a few short days Liza seemed to have grown in confidence. With coffee and brandy Adam offered a toast to the future. “Tonight we’ve all had a wonderful meal with good friends. For Pa and the three of us it feels great to come back to this ranch. We used to be frequent visitors and I for one remember some great times in the past. Now I have another to add to those happy memories and in the future I am sure many more. To Jess and Liza every success.”

The family all joined Adam in that toast and then Hoss, Joe and Adam went off to do the dishes, despite all Liza’s protest. They insisted that she had done enough and knowing that she had no permanent help were determined to do their bit. Ben just laughed at her protests, she wasn’t to worry they would do a good job without breaking anything, Hop Sing had them well trained.

The party broke up relatively early as both Sue and Nita had hungry babies awaiting their return, but Adam stayed a while longer, knowing that his father would see Carole safely home. He was just chatting to Jess, delighted to find him so very content with his new life. Jess had been relieved to be accepted by the hands, in many cases showing real pleasure at this change of owner, knowing and respecting Jess. Even the foreman Matt Russell had settled down to get on terms with his new owner once he was sure that Jess was going to keep him on. Jess was full of plans for the ranch and Adam sat back sipping a fine brandy and enjoying his friend’s excitement. He didn’t say very much but encouraged Jess in his ideas and when asked for advice offered it.
It was nearly midnight when Adam got back but Ben was still sitting chatting with Carole. When he saw his son ride in, he went out to get Buck and head on home. He knew that Carole didn’t object to anything her husband did, but sometimes it seemed that Adam took advantage of her good nature. Ben wondered if he ought to say something to Adam but stuck by his firm resolution not to interfere between husband and wife, not realizing how clear his feelings were on his face. Adam just took his leave of his father with a casual, “A very good evening all round see you in a day or so.”

Carole understood why Adam had stayed behind and she wasn’t at all concerned. Adam took her in his arms, “Sorry I’m so late but Jess wanted to talk. He’s more than a little excited.”

“I could see that. Anyway Pa kept me company.”

“Yeah I saw. I don’t think he approves of me tonight. I got the distinct impression I’m in the doghouse for not looking after you better.”

“That’s nonsense.”

“I do end up leaving you on your own a lot of the time, more than I like.” Adam pulled her close and kissed her, “I must be mad.”

“No darling, just conscientious. You have a lot of people who rely on you, outside the family as well as within. Never change Adam. I know how much you love me and you’re always part of me, whether you’re here or not. I’m not lonely.”

Adam crushed her to him. He had always been so grateful for the freedom she gave him to fulfill all his commitments. Then he carried her up to bed, for now at least he could give her every fibre of his being. For once Anne didn’t waken early and it was gone seven before they were disturbed, a real lie in for once.