Garden Party (by BettyHT)
“Adam, what are you doing back here? Don’t you like your party?”
“It’s a garden party. I feel like an exhibit. Maybe I’ll win the blue ribbon and the ladies will bid on me to see who gets to take me home.”
“You didn’t seem to mind when you were dancing with all those ladies. In fact, it seemed you were positively delighted. It didn’t look like you were suffering.”
“No, it was nice to have them in my arms even if it seemed all they could talk about was how wonderful the Ponderosa is, how wonderful it is that I’m back home, and how wonderful it would be to see me with children. It was all too obvious. I have no interest in prancing around trying my best to make every woman who wants me as a suitor happy with a dance. They ought to dance with Hoss. He would love to have a wife. They could dance with Joe but I’m not sure he’s ready to settle for one woman. At least they would both enjoy the effort. I don’t want to be part of it.”
“Why not if you’re enjoying the dancing?”
“It doesn’t please me and I can’t please all of those ladies. I can’t even likely please one of them. You can’t please everyone or even anyone so you have to please yourself.”
“That seems to be a very selfish attitude.”
“Sometimes you have to be selfish.”
“You can’t fall in love if you’re selfish.”
“I don’t believe in love.”
“If you don’t believe in love, you’ll never find it.”
“Good because I don’t want to find it. Right now, I decided that what I wanted most was some quiet and a chance to sit without someone trying to see if I was interested enough to fall in love with them. I’m not interested in falling in love with anyone so sitting here suited me just fine.”
“Does my presence here bother you?”
“Not unless you think I’m going to fall in love with you, but I saw you hanging on Joe’s arm most of the afternoon so I suspect that isn’t an issue. I hope you didn’t come back here to make him jealous because I can assure you he will be, and I don’t want that to happen.”
“Joe’s not in love with me. I’m just his latest fling. He’ll forget me as soon as the next pretty blonde crosses his path. I know I’m not his type.”
“How would you know that? How long have you known him?”
“We went to school together so I’ve known him for years.”
“I don’t remember you, and I picked him up from school so often I lost count.”
“I’m not that surprised. I was that little Paiute girl with the long braids that sat in the back of the room with the others who weren’t white. My mother’s husband sent me away to school in San Francisco when I was fourteen. He wanted me to be more white. My mother nearly died when I was gone, but he never told me.”
“You’re Irae. I never would have guessed. I know it must have been terribly difficult for you to have a mother who was one of the taken. That tattoo on her chin never let her forget.”
“More importantly it never let anyone here forget. She isn’t allowed in any of the women’s groups. She has no friends.”
“I didn’t know that.”
“It wouldn’t matter if you did. There’s nothing even the Cartwrights can do about that. Her husband is even ashamed to be seen in public with her. I’m probably the only person she sees other than my brother and his family when they visit. I think that’s why her husband tolerates me staying there even though I’m half-Paiute. He at least feels enough for her that he wants her to have some company every day. I can’t imagine how hard it must have been for her while I was gone.”
“How long were you gone?”
“About as long as you were. I was away for six years. I’ve been back since I turned twenty.”
“But no husband yet?”
“That’s rather blunt, but I’ll answer it. I am rather old to be unmarried. Women my age are usually looking after several children by now. However, I may look more white in how I dress and how I speak, but everyone here knows I’m half-Paiute and proud of it. I will never forget half of who I am. There isn’t a white man here who would accept that. There is no room in the Paiute world for a woman who wants to keep her white side and live in the white world. So that’s why I will never marry. What about you? You were blunt and I answered, so isn’t it your turn now?”
“I don’t know why we’re baring our souls to each other, but you answered my question so it’s only fair that I have to answer yours. I’ve paid the price of a heart full of tears, and I don’t need to pay that price again. There are no more regrets for me because I’ve learned to forget.”
“That’s a bunch of malarkey, a bunch of words that sound like poetry or a song. Is that how you evade answering questions?”
“It worked with my father for years.”
“It won’t work with me. I don’t think you’ve forgotten. I think you’re still running from whatever happened.”
“Who knows? Maybe you’re correct. When I met that woman and her little girl, I never knew I would fall like a fool. She teased me and kissed me but her heart was full of lies. She told me she cared for me and that we would never part so I gave away my heart. I was a fool. When I knew she lied to me and was seeing my cousin behind my back, she won her victory over me. She destroyed my heart and I have none to give to another. I don’t want to play that fool’s game again. Women seem to like that game, but I don’t want to play. I would rather never try than to fail like that once again.”
“That would be Laura Dayton? I spent my days nursing Mama, but her husband would bring back-stories from town. Your triangle story was something that he found quite entertaining and told us all the details as he learned them.”
“Yes, that would be Laura. I told my Pa that I never really loved her, and that it was the idea of being married that I loved, but that was a cover story to make it go down easier. I’m not sure he believed me, but he never challenged my version of events. It made life in the family easier. I am glad that Will and Laura sold the ranch and moved to California though.”
“It must have been difficult to see them.”
“Adam, I don’t think your heart is destroyed. I think it was wounded and now you’ve hidden it away behind a wall and no one is allowed near it.”
“Hey, Adam, what are you doing with my girl? There are lots of ladies out there wondering where you are. You didn’t need to sneak off with Irae.”
“I didn’t sneak off with Irae. I walked back here for a break, and she happened to walk back here soon after. And Joe, she’s not a girl. I’ll leave the two of you now and head back to my destiny or what Pa thinks I ought to be doing.”
“What do you mean she’s not a girl? Hey, come back here. What did he mean by that, Irae?”
“I think he meant that I’m a woman not a girl.”
“Well, that’s just silly. We call pretty ladies girls all the time. The ladies like it. It makes them feel younger.”
“Yes, maybe it does, for some. Well, I’ve had a chance to rest. I suppose you’d like to dance some more.”
“Well, I thought maybe we could have some private time seeing as how you’re already back here.”
“No, Joe, a proper girl wouldn’t do that. A proper girl would spend time dancing and then go home with her mother and her mother’s husband when the dance was done.”
“All right, I guess some dancing is what it is then.”
Dancing with one lady after another until the dance was over, Adam found himself imagining that it was Irae in his arms each time. It helped relieve the boredom of the insipid conversation he was forced to endure, and something about her intrigued him as none of the other women did. He found their blatant interest in him as a potential husband a complete turnoff. But Irae had talked to him as a person not as a potential spouse. She had talked of important matters and shown interest in his life without insinuating that she had any idea of what he ought to do next. He knew he would dream about her, but also knew that was as far as it could go. His prickly relationship with his youngest brother would never survive Adam actually taking or attempting to take away a woman in whom Joe was interested. Joe’s suspicion of that had been enough to ignite the young man’s temper in the past.
As Adam lay in bed that night, he thought about what had brought him home. He had taught courses, learned, built buildings, and traveled over much of the world. None of it had brought him the peace he had been seeking. Somehow he had thought that taming the wanderlust and fulfilling his goals would make him a happy man, but he had failed to achieve any measure of happiness. Seeing his family had made him happier than he had been in six years, but almost immediately some of their old behaviors had surfaced and his resentment had begun to build. His father wanted to direct his life, Hoss wanted to depend on him, and the rivalry with Joe was being reignited. He wanted none of that. He wanted to forge a new role for himself but couldn’t see how he could do it. He had two job offers and was ready to throw them out there as a smokescreen because he didn’t want to work for anyone else either. He tossed and turned barely sleeping at all before hearing his father and then Hoss walking down the hall and down the stairs.
After shaving and dressing, Adam joined his father and Hoss for breakfast. Hop Sing had made Adam’s favorite foods for breakfast, and Adam was sure to compliment and thank him profusely earning big grins from the family cook and friend. Joe arrived at the table when the others were having a final cup of coffee. Joe didn’t look happy.
“What’s the matter, Joe? That little gal not letting you kiss and hold her like you want to?”
“Hoss, that is not a proper mealtime conversation. And don’t tease your brother so early in the morning. I don’t want the day to start badly. We’re all together again. I’d like some nice family time if that’s not too much trouble for you.”
“Sure, Pa. Sorry, Pa.”
Adam said nothing but he was thinking much as he had been thinking the day before. It was all too much like the atmosphere that he had grown to dislike so much and which had helped push him to leave. There had been things pulling him away as well, but those things were gone. The push factors were still in place. He knew if his father called him ‘boy’, he was likely to say things that he would never be able to take back. He remained quiet and stared into his coffee cup.
“Adam, is something wrong. Didn’t you sleep well?” Ben almost said ‘boy’ but caught himself before it slipped out. He knew it was a sore point with Adam and had resolved not to use the word. He found it difficult however.
“I guess it is strange to be back and things are the same but different. I didn’t sleep well.”
“Tonight, hopefully, it will be better.”
“Yes, I’m sure it will.”
More banal conversation ensued until Joe finished eating. Ben offered to have Joe join them but he had other plans. In fact, if at all possible, he hoped to have other plans most of the time. He resented the way his father had acted since learning that Adam was returning, and he felt that it meant that his contributions were not seen as being as important as what Adam had done. Ben knew that something was bothering Joe but assumed as Hoss did that it was Irae.
After breakfast, Adam rode the Ponderosa with Ben and Hoss who wanted to show him all the changes that had been made while he was gone. He was suitably impressed by what he saw and told them so. He was especially shocked to see a paddlewheeler on the lake and to find that it was financed by the Ponderosa. Ben’s chest puffed out noticeably with that one and Hoss’ look of delight couldn’t have been more joyful. By that evening, Hoss and Ben were talking about how they thought that Adam could work back into the Ponderosa but he stopped them with one sentence.
“I’m not sure I’m staying. I’m back for now, but I can’t promise you how long that will be. I know that’s probably a disappointment to you, but I have to be honest. For now, I’ll do any small jobs you want me to do, but I don’t want to take on any long term commitments that I might not be able to finish. I have several job offers that I’m mulling over and I haven’t decided if I’ll take any of them or stay here. I have a lot to think about.”
Joe muttered something that sounded like “I knew it” and stomped outside. Ben swallowed his disappointment, but Hoss had a hangdog look that communicated better than any words how he felt. For the next week, Adam did small jobs around the ranch usually working alone. He preferred it for it gave him the time he needed to think about things. Just over a week after Adam’s welcome home party, Joe arrived at the breakfast table in a foul mood.
“What’s the matter with you? Irae still being a bit standoffish with you?” Hoss was hoping to tease him out of his bad mood. It didn’t work.
“No, she isn’t. She broke it off with me yesterday.”
“Son, I’m sorry, but if she broke it off with you, then why were you so late getting home?”
“I went to the saloon afterwards and talked with friends until late. Then I rode home. You know, I don’t understand it. I asked her if there was someone else because I thought we were getting on fine until about a week ago.” Suddenly, Joe whirled on Adam. “Adam, you didn’t have anything to do with this, did you?”
Putting up his hands in surrender, Adam tried to keep the peace. “Joe, I haven’t seen her since the party. I had nothing to do with this.”
“Well, she was different after she talked to you at your party. What did you say to her anyway?”
“Nothing that could explain why she broke it off with you. We talked about her mother and how lonely she is. Irae talked about her mixed heritage and how she wants to keep both.”
“Well, that’s ridiculous. She’s as white as anybody else if she wants to be. She doesn’t have to be Paiute.”
“She doesn’t have to be except that she is. She won’t deny who she is.”
“Adam, her mother didn’t have a choice. She was taken and one of the men took her as a wife. She had Irae before she was brought back, but Irae was raised with us.”
“Except she sat in the back of the schoolroom with the other nonwhite students, and everyone knew she was half-Paiute. They still know, and it won’t go away simply because someone wants it to go away. That may be why she broke it off. If you wanted her to deny her heritage and she wanted to keep it, then there was a problem that couldn’t be compromised.”
“So, you’re home a week and you know all about it. You stay away from her. I’ll win her back if you don’t interfere any more.”
“I didn’t interfere. I talked with the woman about things, and we were honest. Perhaps that’s what she’s looking for from you. Maybe she wants you to be honest with her about what you think about her heritage. No, wait, if you do that, she will break it off with you. You don’t want a half-Paiute woman. You want her to hide that part of herself.”
Hoss grabbed Joe as he moved to go toward Adam. Ben stood and looked sternly at both of them. “I will not have this in my house.”
“What? Honesty is forbidden?”
“I will not accept that tone of voice either.”
“Then I guess you don’t want me here because I am nothing if I can’t be honest and express what I’m feeling. I’ll pack my things and go to town.”
“No, Adam, that isn’t what I want. I want you to stay.”
“Let him go, Pa. It’s what he wants to do anyway. He’s been looking for an excuse to leave ever since he got back here.”
“Joseph, you’re not helping. Maybe we could all agree to talk about this tomorrow. Perhaps cooler heads can work through this much better. Please?”
Grudgingly, both Joe and Adam nodded and Hoss sighed in relief.
The next morning, Ben was up very early. He had not slept well and wanted to talk with Adam before Hoss and Joe were there. He was relieved when Adam was the first down the stairs and apparently had the same thought asking if they could eat and take a ride. Ben agreed and within a half hour, they were riding out on the Ponderosa until they reached the spot where they had first seen Lake Tahoe almost thirty-five years earlier.
“Adam, you’ve changed. I don’t know what you want.”
“Pa, I don’t know what I want either, but I know I don’t want things to be the way they were before. I don’t want to be ordered around like a boy. I love my family and I love the Ponderosa. It’s just that I need to find my own way.”
“You didn’t find what you wanted on your travels?”
Adam dropped his head. When he looked up at his father, his pained expression showed Ben that answer as well as any words could have conveyed it. “I did things I wanted to do, things I dreamed of doing. I went places and met people, and none of them filled the hole inside. Pa, I don’t know what I want or what I need.”
“Do you think it could be those job offers you have?”
Dismounting, Adam leaned against his horse and stared out over the lake. “No, I don’t want to work for someone else. I want to work for myself.”
“What can you do like that while you’re here?”
“I don’t know.”
“How about if you take some time and think about it. You can talk with me about it. We’ve done a good job in the past of working things out together even if sometimes there was a lot of thunder in those conversations. You know it was how we got to the gist of the matter, don’t you? It never meant I didn’t respect you or your ideas.”
“I always know that when I get a chance to cool down. At the time, I don’t always remember.”
“Son, I have to admit, that’s true for me too.”
The two made eye contact then and chuckled.
“Joe comes by that temper naturally too, doesn’t he. I’m surprised that Hoss can be so even tempered most of the time. Must have been Inger’s side of the equation.”
“Now don’t you go forgetting the temper she had. She gave me a tongue-lashing or three when we were on the trail. I’m sure you remember that.”
Adam had to grin. He did remember, and he remembered how much he had enjoyed listening to her lay down the law to his father. He had thought that no one could do that. It had been a revelation to him. “Maybe that’s where I learned to talk back to you.”
“It could be. She set a bad example for you. I don’t remember you arguing with me before Inger. Yes, I guess we can blame her for that. Of course, she taught you all sorts of other things such as how to treat a woman and how to love your brother. She was a special woman. I had the great privilege of marrying three special women. I wish you could find someone like that.”
Looking out over the lake, Adam said nothing but did think about Irae. His father must have seen something in how he stood or in his expression.
“Adam, do you have someone in mind already? I know there were a lot of very nice women at the party who were very interested in you.”
Reluctant to answer, Adam realized that as he thought about Irae, a lot of the depression he was feeling lifted. He thought about her dark eyes and the animated way she talked about what she thought was important. He remembered watching her dance with Joe and how naturally graceful she was. It was complicated though, and he thought it best if he didn’t mention her name at this point. “There was one woman who was more interesting than the others. I don’t want to make a commitment though. I want to see if she’s interested in me or in the Ponderosa. There’s time.”
“Are you going to keep doing small jobs around the ranch while you think about what you want to do?”
“In a way, I will, but as I’ve worked, I’ve seen some things that I think can rejuvenate that southeast pasture. I’ve cleaned out some watering holes and patched up some fences, but I think if I move some of the fence lines and clear out the brush from some gullies, I can improve the irrigation and get some better grass growing in the lower sections as well as open up some areas for grazing that are blocked at this point. I’ll do all the work myself so it won’t take away from anything you have planned. There won’t be much in the way of expenses because I’ll move fence lines instead of putting in new ones. Would that be all right with you?”
Grateful that Adam had asked that last question, Ben smiled and nodded. “That sounds like a good project. It will get you back into the swing of ranch business.”
“And keep me from butting heads with Joe.”
“Well that is an added bonus.” Ben smiled. He understood that Adam and Joe were going to have to work out their differences as they always did with tension at first, arguing, and eventually love would win out and they would want to mend the relationship and see the other smile. It had been a complex but loving relationship for a very long time, and it wasn’t likely to change any time soon. If Ben had known of Adam’s interest in Irae, he would have been much more worried. By the time they rode home, Hoss and Joe were working on some repairs to a wagon. Ben explained what Adam was going to do and it seemed to satisfy both of Adam’s younger brothers. For the time being, peace had been restored in the family.
As Adam was working in the pasture later that week, he found a berry patch that had been well camouflaged behind a screen of brush. He ate a number of the berries and then had a thought about sharing them. He got a pail into which Hop Sing had packed his lunch and filled it with berries. Instead of heading for home, he quit two hours early and headed for the nearby Dawson ranch. He crossed the boundary of the ranch and noted the condition of the stock wasn’t very good and that fences were not in good repair. As he neared the house, he saw that the corral gate was jerry rigged to stay closed and some patches had been applied to the stable wall but weren’t well done. He had no idea that Lucas was that bad at ranching. When he pulled up in front of the house, Irae came outside and stood in clear question as to why he was there.
“You said that your mother was lonely and didn’t get any visitors. You said even the Cartwrights couldn’t do anything about that. I’m here to try to make a difference. I found some berries. I have a full pail here. I thought your mother might like them and we could chat for a bit.”
Irae smiled then and Adam felt his heart swell. He had made her smile. He climbed down from the wagon and got the pail from the back of the wagon. The jostling of the wagon had made the berries settle.
“I guess that it’s more accurate to say I have three-fourths of a can of berries. They seemed to have settled together on the ride over here. I swear the can was full to the brim when I started.”
Laughing lightly, Irae pushed open the door and gestured for Adam to enter. “I believe you. Mama, we have a guest.”
The look on Martha’s face as she emerged from the kitchen was one that Adam would never forget. She was clearly nervous about how he would react on seeing her but she was so hopeful that he would not leave that his heart broke for her and how lonely she must be. He resolved that she would be invited to any party held on the Ponderosa if he had a say in the matter.
“Good afternoon, Mrs. Dawson. I’m sorry I didn’t give you any advance warning, but I found these berries and thought you and your family might like them.”
Adam handed the berries to Martha and she took them as if they were precious. Adam noted the parallel lines of the tattoo on her chin. It had faded with time or he wasn’t as shocked to see it as he had been when he was much younger and had first seen her after she had been rescued. She had been holding her daughter who was dressed as a Paiute and she had that dark tattoo on her chin. Now she was dressed as any white woman would be and the tattoo seemed less prominent. Adam shifted his gaze from her chin to her eyes and could see that she knew he had been staring at her chin. He was used to it now though and that moment had passed. They talked for about an hour until Adam said he had to go because otherwise his father would be sending out someone to look for him. Irae walked with him. He climbed up into the wagon.
“Come back again. Mama enjoyed your visit very much.”
“And you? Did you enjoy my visit too?”
“Yes, I did. Now will you come back?”
“Nothing could keep me away.”
Adam left, but every few days, Adam found a reason to stop by the Dawson ranch. He learned that Lucas was seldom there any more. He spent a lot of time hunting and drinking. The hired hands who stayed were the older men who would have a difficult time finding work anywhere else but who also had a difficult time keeping up with the demands of what had to be done on the ranch especially without someone there to keep them working as hard as they should have been. Adam promised to spend Saturday there to help fix some of the worst of the problems. He was packing up the wagon on Saturday morning when Ben asked him where he was going. He had noted how much Adam’s mood had improved over the previous two weeks and hoped that there was a good reason for it and that the reason might be a woman. What he heard though dismayed him more than reassured him.
“I’m going over to the Dawson ranch. Lucas hasn’t been home in some time, and there are some repairs that need to be done. I’ve been visiting with Martha and Irae a few times over the past two weeks. They’ve been lonely. Well, Martha especially has been lonely and welcomes my visits with a big smile. I know it makes her happy. When I told her I was coming today, she said she was making a picnic lunch and not to bring any food this time. We’re going to have a picnic lunch when I take a break.”
“Son, do you think it’s wise to get involved with the Dawsons?”
“Why? Because Martha was taken and is tattooed, because Irae is half-Paiute, or because Joe was involved with Irae?”
“You know all of the reasons. You obviously thought about that and decided to do it anyway. Why must you always choose the hard way to do things?”
“Maybe because sometimes the hard way seems to be the best way or the right way. Now, I promised to be there early so if you don’t mind, I’m heading out now.”
“Adam, you’re not involved with Irae, are you?”
“If involved, you mean, have I kissed her, no. If involved, do you mean, have I developed an admiration for her, a respect for her, an interest in listening to her ideas, then yes.”
“Son, a relationship with Irae will mean all sorts of trouble for you. Joe was already feeling pressure from his friends simply because he was seeing her for a short time. If you spend time with her, you will be hearing about it too.”
“Pa, gossip has never been much of a concern for me.”
Ben knew that, but he also knew that there were things that were much more ugly that could result. He had been secretly relieved when Joe had said that Irae had broken off their relationship. He had never spoken against the woman, but her dogged refusal to fully accept the white world was going to make her future in that world a rocky road. Any man walking by her side was going to have trouble.
When Adam arrived on the Dawson ranch, he was rewarded with an Irae smile and a smile from Martha who was hanging laundry from the line. She no longer retreated into the house at his approach knowing that he would greet her and talk with her. He noted that about half the clothing was men’s clothing and wondered if Martha was washing the hands’ clothing or if Lucas was back. Irae answered the question before he could ask.
“Lucas got back last night. He was reasonably sober for a change. He must have run out of money to buy liquor. He’ll be back for a while now. He usually is. He may even come out to help you today. When he comes back from these trips of his, he’s always very contrite and promises never to do it again, but of course, he always does.”
“Why do you and your mother stay?”
Irae shrugged. “Where would a tattooed mother and a half-Paiute daughter go? This is our home. We have no other place to go. Mama says that she promised for better or for worse, and she figures that he got some of that too when she was taken and held for over a year. He was alone and then ridiculed when she came back with me. Many men would not have even taken her back after that, so I have to at least give him credit for that.”
“Has he really taken her back?”
“They had my brother, so yes, they live as husband and wife when he’s here. They had my brother, but he’s too ashamed of the whole situation to live here. He visits once or twice a year, but we’ve never visited him. You can bet his friends and neighbors know nothing of us. He moved far enough away so that no one would know. I think he would prefer it if I could somehow disappear.”
“I wouldn’t like that.”
“Thank you, Adam. You have made a difference in our lives. Have I ever apologized for how rudely I told you that even the Cartwrights couldn’t help us because you certainly have?”
Irae began to help Adam unload the tools from the wagon and then get lumber from the stable and the woodshed. They talked as they worked and walked together. “I’ll accept that gladly because I have enjoyed every minute that I’ve been here. I’m more relaxed here than I am anywhere else. I don’t know why, but I am. Even as I ride in this direction, I relax.”
“I know little of my Paiute heritage, but I do know that they say you can run like the wolf when you seek the right path but shake like the hare when you make the wrong turn.”
“So perhaps I have finally put my feet on the right path. I like the image. I wish I knew where it was going.”
“One can’t always know where they are going. There would be no excitement, no joy, in a life that had no surprises, no challenges.”
“Irae, why do you persist so strongly in hanging onto your Paiute heritage when you know so little of their ways? You were only a few months old when you were brought here.”
“Because one has only to look at me to see that I am different. When I was very young and still innocent, I didn’t know. But when I was five and went to school, then I knew. Little Joe was one of those who helped me know. He brought some soap to school one day. He said it was his mother’s special soap. He said he would help me get the dirt off my skin so I would have skin like his and then the other children wouldn’t pick on me and call me names. He meant to be kind, but that night, I cried because I knew that I would always be seen as inferior even though I didn’t have a word for it yet.”
“But you went out with Joe.”
“He means well, but he doesn’t understand. I had to break off our relationship. We had no future, and he was thinking as if we did. He said once that if we had children, they would be white because they would be three-fourths white so no one would know that there was any Paiute in them. He thinks it’s that easy.”
“He was talking about having children with you? I had no idea that he was that serious about the relationship.”
“I’m not sure that he was. You know how Joe can be. He’s so impulsive. He starts making big plans and building huge dreams on the smallest of foundations. I like him, but when I kissed him, there was no fire, no passion for me.”
“But I’m sure Joe was feeling something.”
“Probably, but don’t two people have to feel something for it to be passion?”
Irae had set some tools down beside the stable wall and stood turning toward Adam. When she looked up at him, they were only inches apart. He looked down at her and began to lean toward her when he caught himself and straightened up.
“Well, I better get to work. When you go back to the house, you can tell Lucas that I’ll appreciate his help when I work on the roof. I don’t want to be up there alone without someone spotting me or holding a guide rope. Your stable roof is rather steep.”
“Yes, it is. It sheds the winter snow rather well. But, Adam, didn’t you want to kiss me a moment ago? What’s wrong? I thought you liked me.”
“I do like you, very much in fact, but I don’t want to do anything to jeopardize our relationship. It seems that with me, when a relationship deepens, it also goes sour. I never managed to keep a relationship with a woman when I was here. For six years, I was a traveling man, and went all over the world. I kissed and loved a girl in every port and big city I visited and each place I lived. None of them are waiting for my return.”
“I never thought I would see this day.”
“The day that Adam Cartwright showed me that he was a coward.”
Irae watched Adam’s brows bunch tightly and saw how his jaw muscles were working hard. His lips were pressed tightly together and that gorgeous lower lip was compressed into a thinner line. His dimple had disappeared and she worried that perhaps she had pushed him too far, but in the weeks he had been visiting, he had been a bit standoffish with her. She had wanted to know the reason, and now that she did, she wanted to prove him wrong. Adam reached for her then and she willingly moved into his arms. His embrace was strong but slowly softened as she pressed her body against his. She felt the power of his muscles as he held her but she wasn’t worried for she knew this man would never hurt her. He moved one hand up and brushed a stray lock of her dark hair away from her face and tucked it behind her ear. His hand caressed her cheek and tipped her head back slightly as he bent down then and brushed his lips softly across hers gradually increasing the pressure until she yielded her lips and mouth to his passionate kiss. She was as joyful as she could remember being. She reveled in the sensation of the fire and the passion of being kissed by a man who ignited her inner soul. Adam had one thought.
“Goodbye, heart, I’ve lost you again. She has it, but please, God, let her handle it with great care. I can’t bear to be hurt again.”
As he rested in bed that night staring at the ceiling, he had to wonder if he hadn’t rushed headlong into a situation with a lot of trouble, but then he remember how his heart had soared when he kissed her and decided that she was a woman who was worth a lot of trouble.
“What are you doing with my daughter?” Lucas Dawson had walked around the corner of the stable to see Irae and Adam locked in a passionate embrace. “This must be why you been sniffing around all this time. Martha says you was here being a friend to her and to Irae. You ain’t being a friend. You’re a damn sneak trying to take what ain’t yours to take.”
At hearing Lucas’ voice, Adam had released Irae from the kiss but not from his arms entirely. He kept one around her waist. She looked defiantly at her mother’s husband that everyone knew was not her biological father.
“I am not your daughter.”
“The law says you are. You were whelped from my Martha and she was married to me at the time and still is. You’re my daughter, and I got a say in who gets to come calling on you, and I don’t want him here.”
“I’m almost twenty-eight years old. I can choose who I want to come calling.”
“Not as long as you live here you can’t. You live under my roof, you go by my rules.”
Lucas had her there, and Irae knew it. She would never leave her mother and had no other place to go anyway. Lucas sneered as he saw her realize her dilemma. Adam hoped to smooth over the situation.
“I’m sorry for the kiss, sir. I should have asked your permission to call on Irae before I ever kissed her. It wasn’t something we planned. It just happened.”
“You expect me to believe that this was the first time you two was stuck together like that?”
“Lucas, we never kissed before this morning. You know that I have never lied to you, and you know that Adam is an honest man. We’re sorry that we had you walk in on that display, but I have to say I’m not sorry I kissed Adam.”
“You kissed him?”
“Of course. You know me well enough to know that no man gets anywhere near me unless it’s my idea. Now Adam came over here to help patch the stable. He’s very good with building things. Can we please try to get along?”
Lucas looked over at Adam. “They oughta send this girl up to them treaty negotiations they’re having so much trouble with. Dang girl could convince a horse that it’s a cow and make it give milk ifn she was a mind to.”
Adam smiled at Lucas and then at Irae. “I bet she could.”
“Well ifn you’ll let her loose, we’ll get to work, and I’ll accept that you’re both telling me the truth.”
With a smile, Adam released Irae and picked up his tools and moved toward the stable. She slapped his butt as he turned to go startling him and making Lucas laugh.
“You didn’t know what you got yourself into when you got interested in that one, did you, now? Go on inside, Irae. Your ma was looking for ya.”
By noon, the stable looked quite a bit better with patches that were properly sealed. Adam had moved to the roof and replaced damaged shingles and nailed down loose ones after he had gone inside to inspect the roof supports to make sure that they were sound. Irae and Martha set up lunch on the porch and called to Lucas and Adam when they saw Adam come down the ladder as Lucas held it to make sure it didn’t slide away from the steep roof because of the slight grade to the ground at the side of the stable. Adam had admired how well Lucas had landscaped around the stable so that there would never be any water running into the stable. All storm water would drain away into a large pond that was a safe distance from the corral. As they packed the tools back into the wagon, Adam made an offer.
“After lunch, sir, I can fix that corral gate for you if you like.”
“I like, but don’t you dare call me sir. That gets my back up like nothing else. People are people and nobody is better than anybody else. We worked side-by-side like friends so I’m Lucas and you’re Adam and anything else is just damn insulting.”
Looking at Lucas a bit surprised at first and then smiling, Adam nodded. “Yes, Lucas, I agree, and I can see that Irae gets a bit of that spirit from you.”
They were far enough from the house that Irae and Martha couldn’t hear but Lucas lowered his voice anyway. “I do think of her as my daughter but the dang girl has this romantic notion that the Paiute see her as some kind of princess. She thinks that her father was some great warrior chief and that she’ll be welcomed back someday as the great savior of her people. She sees them as some kind of noble folk living in a paradise that whites is trying to ruin. She has no idea how they really live. If I could show her what I see when I hunt and when I get wild horses to sell, it might change some of those notions of hers, but right now, I don’t know what to do about her.”
It was at that point that Adam began to realize how complex the Dawson family relationships were. He didn’t know what to say. It was clear that Lucas loved his wife and Irae who he considered to be his daughter, but he left for long periods of time and his ranch was slowly deteriorating. Adam decided to ask about that issue first. “Lucas, why do you go away for so long and leave your family here? It’s clear to me that you love them. Your ranch is falling apart while you go off hunting and barely make enough to feed and clothe them.”
“What do you know about it? You been gone. You don’t know how people talk about Irae. You don’t know what they say about her and things they say she does. You don’t know what they say about Martha. I got to hear these damnable things every time I go to town. I got to hear them every time I walk in the bank, go in a store, or try to have a beer. I have no friends. I can’t even walk in my own bunkhouse without wondering what those men have heard and repeated about my family. Even my own son is ashamed of them. Thomas comes to visit but he don’t go to town. He comes here. He visits. Then he packs up his wife and kids and heads home. He’s ashamed of this family and I can see it in his eyes. His wife and kids stare at Martha and stare at Irae. I hardly care if that boy visits here ever again.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t know. My father warned me that if I was interested in Irae that things would be difficult. He never mentioned anything specific.”
“I gotta say that of the people around here, your pa is one of the decent ones. He never said nothing against us that I ever heard. He even let Little Joe call on Irae but I knew that wouldn’t last. Your youngest brother ain’t the kind of man to tame Irae and get her to see the world the way it is. He’s too much of a romantic just like her. I’m guessing that’s what drew them together. It’s over now, but at least she got to go to some dances and that party at your house which probably made some people made. Martha said Irae broke it off with Joe. Seeing her with you earlier, I know why. She’s got her sights set on you, but you knew that already. You got your sights set on her?”
“Lucas, I think it’s a little late for that. Now we better get up to the house for lunch, don’t you think?”
The conversation at lunch was light and friendly. Lucas couldn’t remember a time when he felt like his house was a home like it was at that moment. When he and Adam walked back to work on the corral gate, the hired men rode in ready to end their day. Lucas was going to let them do that. Adam asked him why they got to quit early on a Saturday. Lucas looked at him and turned to the men.
“There’s some cows down in that lower pasture that should be brought up and put with the main herd. There’s no bull with them so there won’t be no calves in spring unless they get moved. You’re not done for the day until they’re moved.”
“But Lucas, that’ll take at least four hours.”
“Yes, and that means you’ll put in a reasonable day for a day’s pay. What’s your objection to that?”
There was no possible way for the men to argue with that so they turned their horses and headed out to do as Lucas had ordered them to do. He stood watching them go even as one or two looked back to see if he was watching. He was so they kept on riding. Adam smiled a bit as he watched. Lucas caught a hint of that smile when he turned back to walk to the corral.
“You think you’re pretty smart, don’t you, Adam?”
“Well, maybe you are because that felt damn good. I forgot what it was like to be the boss. It got to be too easy to turn away and let things slide. I’m thinking I won’t be doing that any more. It felt good to act like a man again. You want to come visit us and call on Irae, you do that, but you remember to treat her with respect. She deserves that.”
“I will always treat her with respect. I can promise that.”
“Good, now let’s get this corral gate fixed. That daughter of mine wants some time with you before you go, I’m thinking.”
There was one conversation that Adam couldn’t avoid any longer though.”Joe, I need to talk with you.” Adam had walked out to the stable to see Joe late in the afternoon on Saturday as Joe was getting ready to head to town. He was skipping dinner to have more time for entertainment. Adam wanted to say something to him about Irae because he wasn’t sure if any of the men from the Dawson ranch knew anything and if they would say anything if they were in town. He knew how people liked to gossip about the Dawsons so he didn’t want to risk it.
“Well, you better talk fast, older brother, because there are cards, women, and whisky waiting for me in town but maybe not in that order.”
“Joe, I’ve been visiting at the Dawson ranch over the past two weeks. I’ve been trying to be a friend. Today I went to help fix the stable and the corral fence.”
“Yeah, well that’s real nice of you, Adam, but hardly enough to take my time away from a trip to town.”
Getting a bit exasperated, Adam decided to say it. “I didn’t plan it, but I kissed Irae.”
“Oh, I doubt that very much.”
“What?” That reaction by Joe left Adam nearly speechless. It was nearly the opposite of anything he had expected his youngest brother to say.
“Exactly what I said. Irae kissed you is more like it or she told you to kiss her. She doesn’t do anything she doesn’t want to do. I should know. I only got one kiss. She kissed me once, but when I tried to follow up with another kiss, she was moving away. She never gave me another chance. If you’re thinking you have to worry about me being jealous, don’t. I was a bit that night at the party when I saw the way she looked at you, and maybe a little bit when she broke it off with me and I was fairly certain it was because of you. But I’m over that now. At least you gave me a couple of weeks to get ready for it. Best of luck with her. I have the feeling you’re going to need it. Now wish me luck. I have high hopes for the night.”
“Good luck, and thanks, Joe.”
As Joe rode out, Adam walked to the house thinking about what Joe had said and hoping that Irae wasn’t manipulating him. He hated when women did that. He gave his heart and sometimes they treated it as a plaything. He decided that perhaps he needed to be more careful for a time. He had promised Irae he would take her on a picnic the next afternoon. He hoped it would be a chance for them to talk and get to know one another.
The next morning, Adam went to church services with his father and brothers. Several men came up to him after services to warn him about Irae. They all had the same story. They had heard stories about her and her ways. Their wives had heard far more than they had heard in every instance. They said they were only concerned for Adam’s welfare. If not for Ben and Hoss, Adam might have lost his temper and gotten into some fights, but in each case, one of them ushered Adam away as the other thanked a friend or neighbor for the helpful attitude if not for the information that they were told was most certainly in error. By the time they left, it was certain that they were the subject of many of the conversations of the people gathered in small groups around the church and across the grounds where carriages and wagons sat and horses were tied off to trees or ground tied.
“I warned you. I heard enough of that garbage last night to make me want to puke at least ten times over. It seems all anybody was wanting to talk about was Adam and Irae now that she’s done with Joe. It jest bothers the dickens outta me the way people like to let that rotten stuff spew outta their mouths no nevermind for the harm it does.”
“Yeah, Hoss and I talked when we rode home together. We figured it was going to be worse by today when men took the stories home and the women got a chance to get the gossip chain clanging away.”
“That’s enough. We don’t need to repeat any of those terrible things that were said. We know they’re not true. Irae may be a headstrong girl, and she may make it difficult for her parents and for anyone who knows her, but she would never do the things that the gossips say. They have been telling terrible tales about Martha and then Irae for far too long. I wish I knew of a way to stop it, but arguing against it seems to have no impact whatsoever.”
“She’s not a girl.”
“Irae is not a girl. She’s a woman. She deserves respect and admiration for finding a way to survive everything that she and her mother have been forced to endure.”
“Of course she does, Adam, but don’t you think that her continued efforts to be Paiute hurt her mother? Have you considered that side of it? Her mother never wanted to be a Paiute wife. She was taken against her will, made to marry a Paiute man when she was already married to Lucas, and then forced to bear a child with him. It must be very difficult for her to look in the mirror each day and see those stripes on her chin which were meant to prevent her from ever leaving and also to see the child she was forced to bear.”
That stimulated several thoughts for Adam. One was that now he realized what was so unusual about the parlor, kitchen, and washroom of the Dawson home. There were no mirrors of any kind. He also knew one thing was absolutely true. “Martha loves Irae with all of her heart.”
“Of course she does. A parent loves their child unconditionally. All I meant to say was that it must be difficult to be reminded constantly of what happened because the evidence is there beside you every day.”
Then Adam wondered if that was another reason that Lucas had gone on those long hunting trips. For a short time, he could forget all that had happened. Each time was a short break but it was a respite from all those years of constant pain. His heart was pained for all of them. Ben watched his son and realized that the conversation was pushing Adam even more in the direction of finding a way to help the Dawson family. There was only one thing he could say.
“Adam, if you can work out a plan to help them, you can count on my full support.”
“Ifn you come up with one of them fancy plans of yours, Adam, I’ll be behind you all the way. You know that, dontcha, older brother?”
“Me too, Adam. Irae may have broken it off with me, but I still like her. It just didn’t work out for the two of us. If we can make their lives better, I’m in.”
“Thank you. Lucas did say that Ben Cartwright was one of the few who was always kind and respectful. I knew he meant his sons as well. He singled out Joe in particular for treating Irae well and for inviting her to the Ponderosa for the party. He knew how important it was to Irae. He didn’t expect to see me there next, but he’s getting used to the idea. I told Irae that I would take her on a picnic this afternoon. I would like to have her and her parents over for dinner on one of these Sundays too if that’s all right.”
“Of course it’s all right. It’s more than all right.”
“I hope they like fried chicken. We could ask Hop Sing to make a big platter of fried chicken for a special dinner, and maybe some of them special mashed potatoes with the butter in ’em, and them biscuits that practically melt in your mouth, and maybe a nice big couple of pies.”
“There you go. You got Hoss party planning. C’mon big brother, let’s ride for home before you drool all over your best jacket.” Joe kicked Cochise into a gallop.
“You young whippersnapper. I’ll show you.” Hoss took off after his younger brother.
“Sometimes it’s hard to believe that my sons are men with all sorts of responsibilities and accomplishments.”
Chuckling, Adam snapped the reins to drive the carriage home. He planned to get a picnic lunch and then head to the Dawson ranch. He couldn’t help smiling more as the thought about it because every time he thought about Irae, he smiled. Ben noticed. He still had reservations about his son seeing Irae even if he would never voice them again, but he was very happy to see that Irae brought out such joy in his son so quickly. He had noticed the melancholy in Adam and had worried about it, but that was no longer a great concern. He knew he had Irae to thank for it.
“Thinking about Irae?”
Looking at his father to see what kind of look he had, Adam was pleased to see that he looked happy to see his son smiling about Irae. “Yes, I am. Pa, she makes me happy.”
“Then she must be the right one for you. Any of these other problems, we’ll work on together. Adam, remember that. I think you’re going to find that you need some help this time. Don’t try to do it all yourself. I want to help, and your brothers want to help.”
“Thank you, Pa. I’ll take you up on that offer as soon as I can figure out how to change what’s in people’s hearts.”
“I know. It’s not going to be easy. But you need to worry about what’s in their minds too. People with hate and jealousy in their minds can be very dangerous.”
The lake was as calm as Adam had ever seen it. He and Irae could see the sand lying in ridges beneath the blue waters where the waves had molded it to look like nature’s washerboard. Large dark flat rocks pounded by centuries of waves rested on the bottom as larger rounded boulders protruded from the water like tiny white islands with brown rings at their base where the water had earlier washed up against them. There was a rocky promontory that jutted out into the lake and the dozen or so trees on it were reflected in the lake too adding their green tones to the blues of the lake. In the distance, the mountains were mirrored on the surface of the lake and the sky was clear and blue. Adam smiled to see Irae’s fascination with the beauty of his favorite spot on the lake. There was no place here to dive in but there was the option of wading out into the shallow water that would be warmed by the sun on such a calm day.
“I suppose all sorts of people come here. We won’t be alone for long with our picnic.”
“No, very few people come here if any at all. Hoss doesn’t like it because there are no fish. It’s too shallow. Boys don’t like it because they can’t swim here and there are no stones for skipping. The only access is through the Ponderosa so most people from town aren’t likely to come this way.”
“So you picked wisely.” Irae smiled coquettishly at Adam or as much as she could.
But Adam gave her a sincere response. “I brought you to my favorite spot on the lake.”
“Why is it your favorite spot?”
“I can find peace and a place to think. I can walk in the water or just sit and think. It’s quiet. There’s nothing to jar the senses here.”
“Yes, I can see that. Adam, can we walk in the water?”
“If you take off your shoes and hike up your skirts, we can.”
Irae looked a bit alarmed. “You will be a gentleman though.”
“Irae, I know you haven’t known me very long but surely you know the answer to that already. Have I given you any reason not to trust me? After all you did come with me today and even your mother trusted you to be alone with me.”
“I’m sorry. It’s just that sometimes, oh, never mind. It doesn’t matter.”
“Yes, I can see that it does matter. What are you thinking?” Adam reached to turn her around to face him because she had turned away. She was rigid and he wondered at that, but she did turn toward him. He tipped her face up to him. “Irae, tell me what happened.”
“It’s too shameful to talk about.”
“I’ve heard all sorts of stories. Is it that?”
That was met with a vehement ‘No!’ as Irae stalked away from him. It was the reaction he had hoped to elicit. Now that she was angry, it told him that the gossip was all false but it also meant that she was probably more ready to talk. He was correct.
“That’s all lies spread by men who want to build themselves up by tearing me down. Men, boys really, used to try to catch me alone. They seemed fascinated by me but I wasn’t fascinated by any of them. I said no to any of them calling on me so they decided to do it by force. They would grab me and touch me and try to get their hands up my skirt. I fought them as hard as I could. They never did what they said they did, but afterwards they would brag that they had me. They made it seem like I was willing. Men would come to call on me and soon it was clear that they believed those stories and thought that there was some quick benefit that they could get. They were wrong. But I didn’t know that as soon as I let them kiss me that they would think that it was an invitation to do more. Finally I didn’t let any man call on me and I didn’t even go to town. The gossips didn’t stop their nasty stories though. Lucas kept hearing stories. He knew they weren’t true because he knew I stayed close to home to be safe, but it bothered him to have to hear them over and over and the comments that other men made. It was Joe who made a difference. He didn’t treat me like I was some easy woman. We met by accident one day when I was out riding. He asked if I would like to go riding with him and that’s how it started.”
“Sweetheart, I believe you. I don’t believe the stories that the gossips are spreading. I know you, and you would never do what they say. I believe you.”
“Oh, Adam, I have never loved anyone as much as I love you at this moment. You hardly know me yet you trust me more than many who have known me much longer.”
“You love me?”
“Of course I do. You don’t think I would have let you kiss me otherwise, do you?”
“Irae, I love you too. It’s a love that can grow. I hope that we can be together and let our love grow.”
“Adam, I want that too. Now, can we go walk in the water? It looks so beautiful. I want to be part of it.”
Watching Irae slip her shoes and socks from her feet and baring her legs to her knees stimulated Adam not only mentally but also physically. He loved seeing the smooth curve of her calves and the soft unblemished skin of her legs. He had to look away so that he could maintain his self-control because the very last thing he wanted to do on this day was to make any kind of physical advance on Irae. He was worried about her thinking he was like other men. He wanted her to think of him as special. They walked in the lake hand-in-hand for nearly an hour before returning to the blanket Adam had spread under a tree for their picnic.
“My feet are cold. The water seemed warm but now my feet feel so cold. Could you rub them for me, please?”
If Irae had been trying to torture Adam, she couldn’t have done a better job. He was as physically uncomfortable as he could imagine being at that moment. She seemed oblivious to his discomfort though talking about the beauty of the area as he rubbed her feet and lower legs to stimulate the circulation so that the blood flow would warm her feet again. About the time he thought he might lose control and slide his hands right up her legs and caress her thighs, she announced that her feet were getting warm again and thanked him for his help. If she had been a more experienced woman, he would have been angry with her for teasing him so unmercifully but she was apparently unaware of the effect she had on him. When he moved beside her and she reached for him to kiss him, she did become aware of that and was a bit frightened it seemed.
“Sweetheart, it’s natural. It doesn’t mean that I would force myself on you, but it does mean that I could use some time to cool my ardor. Being so close to you and touching you was a lot of desire to hold back.”
“You don’t blame me?”
“Of course not. It would be like blaming this lake for being so beautiful. You’re a desirable woman. There’s no need for you to apologize because I desire you.”
“Well, I’ve had men tell me that it’s my fault and they say I owe them something.”
“You owe me nothing. Now, let’s have some lunch. I am hungry.” Adam pulled the picnic basket between them and dropped a large napkin across his lap. Irae smiled and Adam nodded. They ate their lunch and then leaned back and stared at the sky through the branches of the tree and talked about what they wanted from life. Adam suggested that they should take a ride up to one of the Paiute camps so that she could see how the Paiute lived. Irae liked that idea very much.
“I can’t do that for a while. I have some work I have to get done here, and then there’s a cattle drive I promised to help Hoss and Joe do.”
“So no more Sundays by the lake?”
“Two more Sundays by the lake if you wish but that will be it for nearly two months probably. I’ll be busy working away from your ranch too before the cattle drive so I’ll likely only see you on those two Sundays unless I can get away some other times.”
“I’m going to miss you so much.”
With another kiss, they said goodbye, and almost a week later, Adam took a bath, shaved carefully, and dressed in a clean shirt and pants before heading over to see Irae. He took some teasing from his brothers but didn’t mind. They were happy for him, and he was happy too. When he rode into the yard of the Dawson ranch, he was pleased to see that things in fact looked better than they had before. There were some horses in the corral and men were working with the branding iron on some yearlings. He noted that as he dismounted at the house after Irae rushed out to kiss him. He kissed her once, but then held her off.
“If you don’t want more stories going around town, you need to be a bit more circumspect in how you kiss me when the men can see you. Now, what’s going on down there?”
“Lucas had the men do a herd count and bring in all the calves and the yearlings that hadn’t been branded. The calves were easy, but they’ve spent a lot of yesterday and today branding the yearlings. Lucas told them they get to go to town today when they’re done so they’ve been working hard.”
“It looks like a couple of younger men working down there too. I don’t recognize them.”
“You wouldn’t. They’re Paiute like me. Well, they’re half-Paiute like me. They have no place so Lucas said they could work here. You know how hard it is for the men they call ‘breeds’ so they were happy to get the job offer. Lucas met them when he was doing some hunting. They were hunting and trapping too. They know your brother Hoss.”
“That’s a bit odd though. The Paiute don’t turn away young men because they’re half white.”
“Their father was a white trapper. Their mother left the tribe to be his wife.”
“Oh, that makes more sense then. They weren’t raised as Paiute just like you weren’t. They know nothing of the Paiute ways.”
“Adam, I know about the Paiute.”
“How much do you know?”
“I’ve heard stories and read about them.”
“When I get back from the cattle drive, we are going to take a ride to Winnemucca’s camp. You need to see how they live. It is very different from how you live.”
“Mama says that too, but how could you know that?”
“I spent a lot of time with the Paiute when I was a boy, and then I spent quite a bit of time with them against my will during the Paiute War.”
“Oh, I remember now. You were held hostage, but they let you go.”
“No, I escaped. They were going to slit my throat in front of the soldiers, but I got away before they could.”
“Adam, they wouldn’t have done that. You were their friend.”
“Irae, they would have done it. Some of them might have felt badly about it, but they would have done it. I knew it, and they knew it. My father and my brothers knew it.”
“Adam, they can’t be that different from us.”
“Sweetheart, they have their own ways. You know nothing of them. It is not right nor wrong, but it is very different from what you know. I respect their ways but I do not want to live their lives even if I wish that they would be allowed to do so.”
“You think I’m naïve.”
“In this, yes, I think you are.”
“I’m not as naïve as you think. I’ve had to face a lot in my life.”
“I know that you have, and I am not trying to diminish that. What I think may have happened though is that you have seen the ugliest side of the white culture and how cruel and unforgiving it can be. You have created this fantasy that the Paiute are some noble and wonderful people who would never do any wrong. They are people like any other. There are those who are good people and those who aren’t. They make mistakes and even good people there sometimes might do bad things. They are human beings, not saints.”
“What has made you so cynical?”
“Irae, the Paiute who was going to slit my throat and told me he was anxious to do it was the man who had been my best friend among the Paiute. He was going to use the knife my father had given him many years before. It’s not that I’m so cynical. It’s that I want to walk into any situation with my eyes wide open.”
“Well, it seems cynical to me. Maybe we should stop talking about this for a while because you’re only making me upset. Mama baked a pie today. I’m sure she’ll want you to stay to supper if you can.”
“I can. I was hoping you would ask. I have this evening to spend with you and tomorrow. Then I’ll be gone all week on roundup. I hope that I can get away for next Sunday but I can’t make any promises. Then I’m going to be gone for a month and a half. If the weather is bad, it could be longer. We’re taking the largest herd on a drive that we’ve ever taken so we have to take a different route to be sure that we’ll have enough grass and enough water.”
“I’ll miss you every day when you’re gone.”
“Let’s not talk about that now. Let’s spend the time enjoying the beautiful day and evening, and tomorrow we can go on a long picnic to the lake again if you want.”
For a short time, Adam and Irae walked and talked about pleasant things and then were called to dinner. Martha smiled and talked about all the things that had happened that week. She had made a new dress and wore it for dinner. She had turned an older dress into an apron and some towels. She was very proud of her fancy work, and Adam complimented her on what she had accomplished. After dinner as the two women cleaned up, Adam and Lucas walked out to the porch and shared two cigars which Adam had brought with him for that purpose.
“Adam, I have to thank you for a lot of things but the biggest one is making Martha smile again. This house has been more of a home this week than it’s been in a long time. Martha is seeing some hope for the future again. She’s hoping that you and Irae have a future together. I know it ain’t been long, but you thinking on that as a maybe?”
“Well, I don’t want to push you none, but I do know that ifn you asked, I’d be saying yes. Just so you know.”
“I expect you know that you better treat her right.”
“All right. We’re good then.”
At that point, Irae walked out to join them hoping of course that her father would go inside. He did.
“What were the two of you talking about?”
“Did he ask you if you were going to call on me?”
“He knows I am. I’m already here.”
“You are curious, aren’t you?”
“Of course I am. Are you going to tell me?”
“No. I will kiss you though, if you want me to?”
“Of course I want you to kiss me, but I want you to tell me what you were talking about too.”
“You can be infuriating some times.”
“Good. You’re learning more about me. Still want me to kiss you?”
Shaking her head, Irae moved closer to Adam and then couldn’t help it and smiled. He reached for her and pulled her close kissing her gently and then with more and more passion.
“We need to go for a walk.”
Adam took Irae’s hand and led her down the porch steps and around the side of the house. They walked to the large oak tree that grew there and shaded the house on hot sunny afternoons. Adam leaned up against the tree and tried to will away his intense physical reaction to Irae. It didn’t work because she moved up close to him and pressed herself against him as she stood on tiptoes to kiss him. She had to be aware of his reaction but it didn’t bother her as it had at the lake. Adam wrapped his arms around her and slid his hands down her back until they naturally cupped her buttocks and pressed her even more tightly to him. His tongue plunged into her willing mouth as she experienced the first truly passionate kiss of her life. With more will power than he thought he possessed, Adam moved his hands up to her waist and pulled away from her.
“Irae, you have to tell me to stop. We can’t kiss like this and have you think that I can stop every time.”
“But I want you to kiss me like that. It makes me feel, I don’t know, alive, I guess, all over.”
“It does that for me too, but I won’t be able to stop myself and I’ll want to do even more.”
“I think I want you to do more.”
Groaning in frustration, Adam dropped his forehead against the top of Irae’s head. “Sweetheart, you truly do not know what you are doing to me, but tonight, I have to go. I will be here tomorrow about eleven. We’ll go on a picnic. We can talk more then.”
“And kiss more?”
Stepping away from Irae, Adam dropped his head and rubbed the back of his neck. “Yes, of course we can. But, oh, hell, there’s nothing that I can say that will make a difference with you, is there?”
Irae laughed that laugh that reminded Adam of the finest crystal. He shook his head and walked with her to where his horse waited. He tightened the cinch and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek before mounting up.
“Go on in the house now. I can see Lucas waiting for you by the door.”
Adam waited for Irae to climb the porch steps, turn, and wave before he wheeled his horse and rode out. Lucas opened the door for Irae and smiled. He expected he was going to have a son-in-law very soon.
The next morning, Adam was up early. He found it difficult to sleep because he was thinking about Irae who brought out so many conflicting thoughts and emotions in him. He loved her, her laughter, her joy in life, her smile, her courage, and so many other things about her. Yet he wondered if he was ready to deal with her naiveté, her temper, her lack of discipline, her emotionalism, her fears, and her bitterness which surfaced at times. He knew too that there would be a lifetime of dealing with her Paiute half that many would never forget and which she wanted to embrace. He wasn’t sure how he felt about that either. He didn’t want her to have to deny a part of herself but knew how difficult it was going to be to make it part of their lives. As he walked down the stairs, his father looked up from the dining table and correctly read his son’s demeanor. He waited until Adam was seated and had a cup of coffee before asking a question.
“Are you thinking seriously about a life with Irae?”
Always skilled at evasion, Adam did his best. “That’s a loaded question to begin the morning. Some might ask if the work this past week went well or if I think that six days is enough time for such a big roundup. By the way, it was a good week. We got everything squared away just as you wanted.”
“I am pleased that my sons were able to get everything squared away just as I wanted, but if you didn’t want to answer my question, you could have said so. I know it was personal. I was only trying to help you if you were struggling with making that decision.”
“I’m not struggling. I want to take time to get to know her better and let her know me. It seems like it might be going too fast.”
“You’re going to be gone for the next week, and then you’re going to be gone for at least a month and a half. That should slow things down for you enough don’t you think?”
Looking up a bit sheepishly, Adam nodded. After so many years, it seemed strange to get advice from his father. He knew what his father said was true, but he also knew that what was bothering him most was the fear of failure because every relationship he had ever had with a woman had ended and none had ended well. He could only hope that this time he would be more successful because he wasn’t sure what another failure would do to him.
“You’re not going to church this morning?”
“No, the minister had to go to Carson City because of a family emergency. Some of the members of the congregation are going to fill in. I’m more comfortable on mornings like this just reading from my Bible and thinking about the verses.”
“I think I’m going to read in my room for a while. Then I’m going to ride over to the Dawson ranch and take Irae on a picnic.”
“Do you want to bring her here for dinner this evening?”
The unexpected invitation made Adam smile. “I think she would like that.”
“If Lucas and Martha would like to join us, that would be nice. We haven’t seen them in a long time. Why don’t you ask them? I’ll tell Hop Sing to be ready for a larger group just in case.”
“Thank you, Pa. I think that’s going to make the day go a lot better for all of us.”
Ben didn’t completely understand why his simple gesture had caused Adam to think that but he was happy to help out in any way that he could so he smiled and nodded as if that was what he meant to do all along. A few hours later, Adam hitched up the team to the carriage and drove off to pick up Irae and take her on a picnic to the lake. They walked in the water, they kissed, they talked, and they touched. The relationship was becoming more intimate emotionally and physically. Adam had invited Martha and Lucas to the Ponderosa for dinner though so he had an out when it seemed that things were going to go too far.
“Irae, we have to stop. We need to be presentable when we go back to the ranch. Your parents are going to be able to tell if we’ve done any more than hug and kiss. Now, behave yourself.”
“Adam, have you made love to many women? Have you taken women to your bed?”
“Why do you want to know?”
“Because I don’t know how to do any of that. You’re not going to want to find a woman who knows all about those things, are you? I’m willing to do whatever you want me to do.”
“I want you to be yourself. I want you to do nothing more than what you find comfortable. We have lots of time. There’s no need to rush.”
“But you’re going to be gone. What if you find someone else? I’ve waited so long to find a man who makes my heart sing and my mind soar on the wings of eagles. I don’t think that I shall ever find another man like you.”
“Well, you won’t have to find another man like me because you have me right here and right now. You must have a very different idea about cattle drives than I do because all I will see for a month and a half will be mostly the backsides of a thousand cattle walking in a cloud of dust most of the time. I have to tell you that is not a pretty sight.”
“I’ve read about cattle drives and the celebrating at the end with the whisky and the women. What if you find a woman at the end of the drive that you like better than me?”
“So, what? You want to give yourself to me so that I won’t be tempted by another woman who offers herself to me? Irae, that’s not how love works. Men are not that shallow no matter what you may have read. I had no idea that you read those kinds of books.”
“I wanted to know about love. I wanted to know what men wanted from women and there weren’t any men I trusted enough to ask.”
“You can ask me.”
“What does a man want from a woman?”
Grinning, Adam pulled her close and kissed her. She put her hands on his chest and pushed back just a little because she knew he was teasing her.
“Not that, mister smartypants. Emotionally, what does a man want?”
“Trust, tenderness, love, support, caring, and time together.”
“That’s what women want too.”
“Then when two find each other and want to give that to the other, then you have a pair.”
“Are we a pair, Adam?”
“We’re getting there, Irae, we’re getting there.”
“Which part don’t we have yet?”
“Trust is the hardest part to build and the easiest to destroy. We still have that to build.”
“How do we build trust?”
“It takes time. We do things together and build it together.”
“The we live our lives building on that. Love can motivate and make even the most ordinary things seem special because you’re doing them with someone who makes your heart sing.”
“I know what you mean. Walking with you in the water in the lake is such a simple thing, but it’s the best thing I can remember doing because I’m doing it with you.”
“Irae, we’ll have many more things like that. Just give it time. Give us time. Love is also patient.”
“I’m not a patient woman, but I guess I’ll have to be because you’re going to be gone for a long time. I will miss you so much. It seems like I’ve known you for far longer than I have. Maybe that’s part of being in love too. You feel like that person is a friend who knows you as well as anyone else does. Adam, I think I’ve told you things that I’ve never told anyone else. I trust you that much and the only reason I think that I do is that I love everything about you.”
“I’m not perfect. There are things about me that you won’t like.”
“Oh, silly, I know that just like I know that there are things about me that you won’t like, but the funny thing is that I don’t care about those things because they’re not important things. The important things are the ones that I love.”
“Good. I feel the same way. Now let’s go see if your parents are ready to go to dinner.”
At dinner, Ben had to swallow his smile several times as he saw Joe and Hoss doing their best not to stare at Martha’s chin. They had not seen her for years and had been very young the last time they had seen those tattooed stripes that marked her forever as one of the taken. Gradually as everyone began to tell stories and by the time that Adam and Hoss did their best to top each other with their tall tales, the mood lightened and there was no more discomfort felt by anyone.
“Yes, with Adam singing songs, and the stories that he and Hoss can tell, the men on the trail drive will be well entertained. There’s never a dull moment on a trail drive with those two.”
“Hey, Pa, ain’t you forgettin’ our younger brother there. Now as for keeping a trail drive interesting, there ain’t no one can top our Little Joe.”
“Yes, but that’s what worries me.”
“Hey, now this was supposed to be a friendly little gathering. When did it turn into pick on Joe night?”
“Oh, how about that time you got me fight for money but we brought an elephant home instead?”
So then they had to explain the Old Sheba story to their guests and then there were stories about Hoss and about Adam until it was getting late and Adam had to give the Dawsons a ride home. Martha came up to Ben and had the biggest smile that Lucas could remember her having since the birth of her son or perhaps even since their wedding. She took Ben’s hand between hers.
“Thank you so much, Ben Cartwright. You have shown me that I can still have great joy in this lifetime, and your son has shown me that I can have great hope. You have a wonderful family. You have many reasons to be very proud.”
“Martha, thank you for being so forgiving.”
Surprised at that statement, Martha was slow to respond. “There is nothing to forgive.”
“Oh, yes, there is. We should have invited you here years ago. It has been much too long since you were here on the Ponderosa.”
“That wasn’t your fault. We didn’t come at your first invitations so I understand why you stopped inviting us. I’m pleased that our children though bridged the gap between us. It was good to renew our friendship and I will never let it lapse again.”
“Good. Then perhaps once this trail drive is over, we can get together again?”
“We would enjoy that very much. Wouldn’t we enjoy that, Lucas?”
“We sure would. Thank you, Ben. It’s been a great evening.”
The ride to the Dawson ranch was pleasant and once Martha and Lucas were inside, Adam gave Irae a quick kiss promising to do his best to see her the following Sunday.
“You mean I might not see you before you leave?”
“It’s possible. We leave very early on that Monday. If we don’t get everything done that we have to get done, then I will have to work Sunday to finish up. I’ll get here if I can. That’s all I can promise.” Irae frowned. “Now, remember, love is patient and endures all things.”
“Yes, but being in love with someone is a lot more difficult than I thought it was going to be.”
Once more, Adam was reminded that despite her age, Irae was very young. She had spent so much time isolated on the ranch that she had not learned much about how adults interacted. He knew he was going to have to be more patient and hope that she was willing to learn quickly. He got his first surprise on that count the following Sunday. It was a very long week of hard work and sleeping on the ground and dealing with the elements. Adam was very tired by Sunday morning but rode home, cleaned up, shaved, put on clean clothing, and rode to the Dawson ranch to keep his promise to Irae. He had about five hours before he had to ride back to where the cattle were gathered for the drive that was to begin the next morning. He did smile when he saw Irae waiting on the porch for him. She ran to him and kissed him as soon as he dismounted.
“I know you must be tired so I put a picnic out by the big oak in back. Mama suggested it. She said I shouldn’t expect too much of you because you’ve been working hard all week.”
“Thank you.” Adam was worried though that Irae had some high hopes of an entertaining afternoon with him. He wasn’t sure that he was going to be good company at all. He had hoped to spend a short time with her and perhaps grab a nap at home before the ride back to the herd. Her first request of him startled him and made him leery of what she had planned.
“Now take off your vest and your shirt. Mama told me what I was to do.”
“Irae?” It was only that she said her mother had given her these instructions that gave him the confidence to follow them and what she said next.
“Please, trust me. You said love is built on trust. Well, trust me.”
With a wary eye on Irae, Adam took off his vest and shirt.
“Now, lie down on the blanket there. On your stomach.”
Adam did as instructed and then felt her hands on his back. She moved slowly and softly over his back gradually increasing the pressure until his sore stiff muscles began to relax. She worked the muscles in his lower back up to his shoulders. He was going to tell her she didn’t have to do this for him but she told him to hush.
“Mama said you would be sore. She said she used to do this for Lucas when he was out working hard when he was a young man. She said then he could sleep so much better. You can fall asleep if you need to. I’ll keep working on your back until your muscles seem relaxed.”
Soon, Irae felt Adam’s body relax and she heard his breathing become soft and regular. She assumed he had fallen asleep. She continued to gently massage his back and then his shoulders and upper arms until she thought that she must have relaxed all of his muscles but by then she was very stimulated. She lay down beside him on the blanket only to find that he wasn’t asleep. He wrapped an arm around her and pulled her close.
“Thank you. That was a wonderful thing to do for me.”
“Mama talked to me this week. She said I’m selfish and only look to see what you can do for me. She said I needed to see what I could do for you. And you know what, it did feel wonderful to do that for you. I liked it very much. Did I make you happy too?”
“Yes, you did. Very much, but if I lay beside you like this for very long, I’m going to want to do a lot more so I think I would like to put my shirt back on if you don’t mind.”
“Yes, she talked to me about that too. She said she could tell that I’ve been teasing you too much and that I needed to stop that. I’m sorry for doing that. I didn’t know how much that must have bothered you. She explained a lot to me that I didn’t know.”
“It did bother me in some ways, but I also wanted to do those things with you. I would have stopped you otherwise. I’m not a boy.”
“Oh, I know that. Adam, I do love you, and I want you to be happy. I just don’t know if I can make you happy.”
“Irae, you are not responsible for my happiness. I am. You are only responsible for your own happiness. If being with me is what you want and it makes you happy, then that’s good because I like being with you because it makes me happy. It’s my choice and it’s your choice.”
“That’s very complicated.”
“Perhaps, but what it boils down to is that we both have to feel that it’s right or it isn’t right for either of us. It feels right to me though. I wanted to come over here and I smiled as soon as I saw you. Anything that makes me smile when all I wanted to do was take a nap has to be a good thing.”
“Do you still want to take a nap?”
“Not any more.” Adam leaned toward Irae and kissed her gently. “What’s in that picnic basket?” They had a light lunch that Martha had packed for them. Adam leaned back and looked up through the leaves at the puffy clouds floating by and began saying what he thought each one could be. Irae sat behind him to look at the same clouds through the same opening in the leaves. Adam leaned back until his head was in her lap. She caressed his forehead and leaned down to kiss him before once again looking up to the clouds. They talked and Irae could tell how weary he was even if he had said he didn’t need to a nap so she brushed her fingertips gently over his eyes closing the lids.
“Sleep a little. You need to rest. I’ll be right here beside you.” Irae rested one hand on Adam’s shoulder and one on the picnic blanket as Adam napped with his head in her lap. She knew that in the coming weeks she would remember this moment and this contact with him and it would comfort her when she felt lonely. About an hour later, Adam awoke and the two of them took a walk so that they could kiss and be more intimate away from the prying eyes of her parents or the ranch hands. Just before dinner, Adam mounted up to ride out. He needed to be back with the herd by nightfall so he didn’t have time to stay for dinner. He promised that he would be back as soon as he could and waved as he rode off.
Six weeks later, exhausted but proud that he and his brothers had successfully finished the largest cattle drive in Ponderosa history, Adam walked to the desk in the hotel planning to order a bath, a big dinner, and a room in that order. He got none of them.
“Adam Cartwright? Sir, we have a number of messages for you.”
The clerk handed over three messages that had apparently been awaiting his arrival. Adam dropped his saddlebags and opened the first one. It was a telegram from Sheriff Roy Coffee saying that Lucas Dawson wasn’t expected to live long but in one of his lucid moments apparently had named Adam as his executor. Roy wanted him in Virginia City as soon as was possible. The second message was from his father telling him that arrangements had been made for him to travel by train to Carson City and from there, he would travel by stage to Virginia City. Everything was at a lawyer’s office that was named. The third message was from Irae. It was short and only said that she hoped he could come home soon because she needed him.
As Adam was reading his messages, Hoss and Joe walked into the hotel in a jovial mood that was quickly squelched and each one had a message from their father too. Theirs in effect told them that Adam was leaving and that they should handle whatever needed to be done so that he had no further responsibilities because he had to return as quickly as possible to help the Dawson family.
“What up and happened with the Dawson family, Adam?”
“Something has happened to Lucas. He seems to be dying and has named me the executor of his will. I need to be there to handle all the legal arrangements. I’m sure he would like to talk with me before he passes too.”
So with weeks worth of beard and trail dust, Adam headed to the lawyer’s office where he was given instructions, tickets, and some information on what had happened. He still didn’t know much but he did know that Lucas had been beaten and was dying as a result of those injuries. The lawyer did not have any information as to why he was beaten or when it had happened, but he had received the instructions with directions to purchase the tickets more than a week earlier. Adam was at the train station less than an hour later. He got a lot of stares from the other passengers and none wanted to sit anywhere near him which suited him just fine. He sat and stared out the window as darkness fell wondering what had happened.
After several days of travel, Adam arrived in Virginia City. He stepped off the stage looking much as he had when he had boarded the train except that he had managed to find some water and shave. But he had not been able to get a bath anywhere and didn’t have time to stop in a bathhouse or a hotel along the way. He had sent a telegram to his father alerting him to when he would be arriving, and as he expected, his father was there with a carriage waiting for him. Roy Coffee was sitting on the bench outside the stage depot speaking with Ben as the stage pulled up.
“Adam, it’s good to see you son, but I’m sorry that you had to rush home after receiving such news.”
“I’d like to take a bath before we head out to the Dawsons. Is there time for that?”
“There’s time. I talked to Doctor Martin this morning as he left to go out there. He thinks that Lucas has one or two days left. He hopes that he’ll still be conscious this morning, and he was going to tell him that you were expected.”
A very quick trip to a bathhouse while Ben bought a few things for Adam at the general store, and the two of them were on their way to the Dawsons. Ben told Adam the whole story as he bathed and then as they traveled.
“While you were gone, Lucas began making more trips to town. He decided he wasn’t going to let people treat him like some kind of criminal because of what had happened nearly thirty years ago to his wife. On some of those trips, Irae went with him and then on one trip, Martha went with him. The response in town was much as you might expect. The good people were nice and welcoming, and the riff raff were rude and obnoxious. Things were said that were crude and mean. Lucas got into a fight with one man and broke his nose. He knocked the man into the dirt and kicked him when he was down. You know that Lucas can be a very angry man, and I guess all that anger from over the years came boiling out. Clem had to pull Lucas off the man. Well, Roy fined both of them which made Lucas mad, but of course it was fair. You can’t have brawling in the streets every time someone says something you don’t like. Then about two weeks ago, Lucas went into town for supplies and didn’t come home that night. In the morning, Irae and two of the hands went looking for him. They found him at the bottom of the gully near that turn in the road. At first, it looked like an accident, but when they pulled him out, it was clear that he had been beaten. They must have waited until he slowed for the curve there and then jumped him. They beat him and then dumped him in the wagon and shoved it over the side. He’s been bleeding inside ever since and Paul can’t do anything about it. He had hoped it would stop but it hasn’t and he’s slowly dying.”
“Did he identify the men who did it?”
“He says he’ll tell you. I don’t know if he thinks you’re some kind of avenging angel or something, but you know you can’t go after them yourself, don’t you?”
Adam only frowned. “I knew nothing of this business with me being his executor. When did that happen?”
“Apparently he originally had his son Thomas as executor but he told Roy and Paul that Thomas would likely sell the place and leave Martha and Irae destitute or nearly so with no place to live. He said he knows you won’t do that so he wants you to handle things.”
“I will. I guess I’ll probably stay at their house tonight and until the end.”
“I thought you probably would want to do that. I packed a valise for you. I’ll take your dirty clothing with me and bring back anything you need tomorrow. I’ll bring a horse too. Anything else you think you’ll want?”
“No, I think you’ve thought of everything. Thank you, Pa. This is going to be a very difficult time, and having your support is important.”
They had reached the Dawson home by then. Adam got out and was met by Irae at the door of the house. She was strangely diffident but Adam assumed it was because Lucas was dying. Ben came in to ask if there was anything he could do. Paul said that their food was running a bit low so Ben said that he would bring supplies in the morning. He left then walking out with Paul.
“Is Lucas still conscious?”
“Just barely. He wants so badly to speak with Adam. I’m afraid that conversation will likely be about his last. I doubt he’ll make it to tomorrow morning.”
Inn the bedroom, Lucas revived a bit on seeing Adam. He had seen a drawing that Adam had given Irae of a hummingbird. He had asked Irae to have paper and pencil at his bedside. He told Adam what he had seen and had Adam draw those things. When he was satisfied that the drawings were accurate, he lay back and closed his eyes. Irae stepped forward as Martha clasped Lucas’ hand.
Lucas opened his eyes. They were wet with tears. “You haven’t called me that in years. Thank you for letting me know you didn’t forget that I was the one who was your father in my heart.” Lucas turned slightly toward Adam. His voice was weak but his words were clear. “Take care of my darlings for me, Adam.”
“I will, Lucas. I will take care of them for you.”
“I know you will. I know you will. You can send something to my boy, but don’t give away my Martha’s future and my Irae’s for that ungrateful whelp.”
Lucas closed his eyes and never opened them again. He fell into a deep sleep much as Doctor Martin had said he would, and sometime in the night, his heart gradually slowed and then stopped. Martha didn’t wake Adam and Irae who sat together on a settee that had been brought in for them. There was nothing they could do. She woke them at dawn to tell them he was gone.
When Ben got there later with supplies, Adam gave him the sheets of paper with the drawings. Lucas had accurately described the spurs on the boots that had kicked him and caused the fatal injuries. The men had been masked but had not thought to remove the distinctive spurs they wore. The drawings that Adam gave to Ben to give to Roy were as good as any identification a witness could make, and now the men would be charged with murder. Lucas had known that and waited to make sure they were not arrested when the charge would only have been assault.
For the next day and a half, Adam stayed at the Dawsons to help with the arrangements for the funeral and the burial. Many people who had not visited nor seen Martha in years were there to help and to offer support. The tragedy had opened their eyes to their own failures. What Adam didn’t understand was that Irae was somewhat distant from him. She accepted his hugs, but there was no warmth from her. When they walked into the house after Lucas was buried, Adam got his things from the bedroom that had been Thomas’ and said he thought he should go home, she simply nodded. Adam looked to Martha wondering if she was going to give him any insight but realized that she was still in the midst of grief and mourning.
“Irae, I need to go into town tomorrow to handle the legal end of what happened. But by next week, I should have all of that done. Do you still want to take a ride up to the Paiute camp?”
Irae nodded. “Yes, I guess that would be a good idea. Let me know when you want to go.”
There was something else going on besides the grief at Lucas’ death but Adam had no idea what it was. He said goodbye to them but headed to the bunkhouse to make sure the hands knew what their work was for the next few days. Until he could hire a foreman or make some other kind of arrangement, he was going to have to handle work assignments on the Dawson ranch. Once he finished that, he rode home but his mind was still on Irae and what might have happened to affect their relationship.
For the next week, any contact that Adam had with Irae was almost impersonal. She accepted his hugs but he realized that she would have accepted a hug from his father or brothers too. There was nothing to show that she found his hugs at all special. He could see too that Martha was still in deep depression over losing her husband. Thomas finally arrived but left after only a few hours when he found out that Lucas had named Adam the executor of his estate. He was angry about that and wanted Adam to hand that position over to him as the only male heir. Adam refused because he had promised Lucas that he would see to the future of Martha and Irae, and he intended to keep his promise. He had little doubt that Thomas would seek the opinion of an attorney, but he had already consulted with one and had been assured that he was on sound legal footing. There was nothing that Thomas could do. He made arrangements for some things to be shipped to Thomas and had some money sent to him in a bank draft. That was the extent of Thomas’ inheritance except that he was given a new will that stated that he would inherit the ranch in the event that Martha and Irae preceded him in death and that Irae left no child or children to inherit the ranch. He was certain that Thomas then expected the ranch to go to his children some day so he hoped that satisfied him for the time being.
About a week later, the weather was good and Adam had all the legal matters in hand. He told his father that he still needed more time as he intended to take Irae to the Paiute camp. Ben had some concerns though.
“What about Martha? Are you going to leave her there all alone so soon after losing her husband?”
“No, some of the women have said that they will come to stay with her that day. They’ll do a sewing circle. Martha does like to sew so that should keep her busy. She needs to get herself busy with some projects. Doctor Martin thinks that will help lift her melancholy.”
“All right then. Do you think that Irae is ready to face what she’s going to find?”
“I don’t know. I’ve told her what she’s going to see. She says she’s ready, and if we wait too long, they’ll be moving down into the lower lands for the winter. I’d like her to see them in the high country first. The low country living is so much worse that it would be an even bigger shock for her to see how her mother lived for a time. I don’t think Martha has ever been able to tell her what it was like, and Irae has this romantic notion of them living an idyllic life in nature with waterfalls, plentiful food, and beauty all around.”
“There is some of that.”
“Yes, but she needs to see all of it. I won’t push it too far though. We’ll only visit Winnemucca’s camp. Then we’ll ride back.”
“That’s a long ride for one day. You may not make it back.”
“I’ve thought of that. I expect we won’t make it back. We’ll stay in a line shack if we have and ride back tomorrow morning.”
“Adam, the two of you aren’t married. Do you want to do that? You have to think of her reputation.”
“Pa, by now you must have heard the stories. They’re saying we’ve done far worse than that already. No one will even know we’re staying together in a line shack if we do. Except you and I, and I assume we can trust you not to spread any gossip.”
“Of course I would not do that, but I do want you to think about what others will think. Adam, what are your intentions with Irae? It seems that you were courting her, but now I’m not so sure.”
“I think I was, but now I don’t know how she feels about me. Something seems to have changed in that, and I don’t know why. It’s another reason I want to spend a day with her. I want her to have a chance to tell me what she’s thinking. She won’t be able to hold back. Sooner or later she’s going to tell me.”
“You have no idea what happened?”
“I have one idea, but it should have brought us closer not further apart. Pa, I can’t say more. I need to speak with Irae. We need to talk this out.”
“Yes, but Adam, remember that she’s been through a lot these past few weeks.”
“I know that, but there’s something else going on. I want her to trust me enough to tell me what that is. If she can’t, then we don’t have a future.”
With that, Adam left the house and Ben said a silent prayer that things would work out for him. Despite the difficulties in the relationship and the future, he had come to see that Irae was good for Adam. She drew out the best in him and challenged him. He needed that. She also was willing to give of herself. He needed that too. She needed his strength and his protection as well as his love. They could be very good together but both were wary of trusting the other. Until they worked through that very big obstacle, their future was very much in doubt. Ben wondered too at those last comments of Adam and worried about what could have happened between them and what it could mean for their future.
As Adam rode to the Dawson ranch, he remembered that last Sunday before the trail drive. He had thought that it would have brought them closer together, but now he wondered if he had gone much too far too fast and had caused a fracture in their delicate relationship. They had gone for a walk, kissed, hugged, and then become much more passionate. He had told Irae that she had to tell him no or he might not be able to stop himself. He desired her so much. He remembered the rest of it so clearly because he had relived it every night of the trail drive and it had made him smile every time.
“No, Adam, I don’t want you to stop. I want you to love me completely. I don’t want you to leave here without knowing that I love you completely too. I want to give myself to you now. Please love me, Adam. Show me your love.”
When they had joined together, Irae had felt his tears. Adam had to tell her that they were tears of his immense joy at having found the woman who completed him. He wanted to spend the rest of his life with her, and she had professed the same to him. They had not wanted to part, but life had not allowed them any more time together at that point. Work had kept him away and Irae had to deal with many terrible things while he was gone, but he didn’t understand what had happened to break that bond he thought they had forged. He meant to find out if it was still there and dreaded finding out at the same time for he feared the answer he might get.
The ladies from the sewing circle were at the ranch by the time Adam arrived, and Clementine Hawkins, bless her heart, had everything well arranged for him.
“Adam, dear, you might be getting home quite late, so we thought it best that Irae might stay over at your father’s house tonight. That way, Martha can visit with me in town. I never get to show off my Harry’s things to hardly anyone any more, and she’s a dear and has agreed to be my guest tonight. Isn’t that wonderful? We’ll come back here sometime tomorrow, ducky, if that’s all right with you?”
“Mrs. Hawkins, that is a wonderful idea, as you say, if it’s all right with Irae.” Adam turned to Irae who had an unreadable expression. She nodded though so the plan moved forward. Adam helped her mount up on her horse feeling the stiffness in her once more. They rode off with waves for the women but no conversation between them. They rode for nearly an hour until Adam forced the issue.
“What have I done? I love you. I thought you loved me, and this is killing me.”
Pulling up her horse, Irae didn’t look at him. She stared at the mountains in the distance and remained silent for several minutes. Adam waited but not patiently because he was more and more worried. His worry did not lessen when she finally spoke. “I will tell you what’s been bothering me so much but not until after we visit Winnemucca’s camp. I have to see it, and I don’t know that I’ll be able to do much of anything if I have to talk with you right now. Can you please give me the rest of the day at least?”
For the few hours it took to ride to Winnemucca’s camp, Adam said very little other than what was necessary. He had heard how Irae’s voice had nearly broken when she had talked to him earlier and knew that she had something very emotionally charged to tell him. He worried what it might be but knew better than to push the issue. He was pleasant and polite but kept his distance. When they were at Winnemucca’s camp, he treated her as he would a guest on the Ponderosa so that no one there had any idea that this was the woman that he had thought only two weeks earlier that he was sure he was going to marry. On the drive, he had thought it through and made that decision. He had planned to court her but follow whatever timetable she wanted to set. He had hoped to buy a ring at the end of the drive, but those plans had been upended by the messages he had gotten and the urgent request that he return. Now he didn’t know what to expect. He had another ring and had tucked it into his vest pocket but now thought that was a moot effort.
As Adam and Irae walked among the Paiute, and she saw how they lived and what they ate, he knew that his message was getting through. She was not suited to this life and never would be. Nothing in her background had prepared her for this. When she saw that they were skinning some skunks for their meal that would also include pinyon nuts, she declined to eat with them. Adam made their apologies and said that they needed to get moving so that they could get to the cabin that they would use for the night. Before they left, Chief Winnemucca’s daughter brought a gift of soft leather moccasins and a beautiful leather bag decorated with porcupine quills. Adam brought out the gifts that he had brought. He had two steel knives, two ropes of tobacco, a container of sugar, and one of coffee. Both Adam and Winnemucca said that the gifts they were receiving were far more valuable than what they were giving and they were forever indebted to the other. With smiles, they shook hands. Winnemucca spoke softly to Irae.
“It was not our people who took your mother. We did not do that. I think it was some of the Pyramid Lake people who lost so many of theirs to the white man’s sickness. They feared they would disappear. They did not mean to harm those they took. They meant to treat them with honor. They did not know the ways of the whites were so different. I am sorry that you are of two worlds now.”
“I realize now that I know nothing of your world.” Irae’s words echoed her sadness.
“You came to see us. It shows us the truth. It is in your heart and in your blood. That is all that matters. Everything else will turn to dust, but that will last forever. I wish you well in your life journey.”
Once more, Adam helped Irae mount up but this time she was less tense. He hoped that soon she would be ready to talk with him. They rode out of the camp in silence and he could see that she was deep in thought.
As Adam rode back with Irae, he brought her to the two sites of the Paiute War. The first was where the Paiute defeated the militia and the second was where the military killed many of the Paiute and where Adam’s boyhood friend and Chief Winnemucca’s son, Young Wolf, had died. He spoke with sadness of all that had been lost because of those two encounters. It made Irae start talking if only in general terms.
“Do you think the fighting is over?”
Looking out over the terrain, Adam sighed before answering. “The Paiute won’t fight again. But the same problems persist. They’ll probably accept the reservations that are being offered. There will be more fighting though. There are other tribes who are still so upset and haven’t yet faced the insurmountable odds and the devastating losses of a war against whites.”
“Why does it have to be war?”
“It shouldn’t be, but you’ve seen their culture. You’ve heard how many whites talk about them. There doesn’t seem to be a way to bring the two together without fighting.”
“But why do they have to come together? Why can’t they just live here the way they are and the whites live where they are?”
“It would be so simple if only things could work that way, but they sit on rich resources that many want to exploit. They want the gold and silver, the timber, and anything else they think might be here. Greed drives so many.”
“Even your family.”
Taken aback at first, Adam had to admit there was truth in that. “Yes, we have added far more than we need. Pa always wanted to make the Ponderosa bigger but never at the expense of our neighbors. We have always tried to work with our neighbors. We share what we can and try to help as much as we can.”
“Adam, what did Chief Winnemucca mean when he said to thank your father for his gift and that he would send a gift in spring. He said your father’s gift would help them through the winter once more.”
Each fall when we do roundup, there are cattle that won’t do well on a drive and might not make it through the winter. We collect those and add a few and drive them to Winnemucca’s Paiute. It’s their winter meat supply. We live on land they lived on for many years. They still hunt and fish on that land but white hunters and trappers killed off most of the game. That benefited us in many ways but devastated them. We try to make up the difference.”
Irae had not known that. There seemed to be a lot about Adam and the Paiute that she did not know. “You called many of them by name.”
“When I was a boy, there weren’t many whites here. I spent quite a bit of time with the Paiute. I know many of them, some of their language, and many of their customs. They taught me how to set snares, how to catch fish their way, and how to track.”
Once Adam had said all of that, he expected Irae to talk about it but instead she seemed lost in thought. However, she had opened up much more and seemed like she was not so cool toward him any more. He hoped that those were all good signs. Once they rode for another hour and the sun was lower in the sky, he knew he had to tell her that they needed to ride a bit harder to get to the line cabin before dark. She looked at him with an expression that he couldn’t decipher and agreed. Once they reached the line cabin, he took the bedrolls he had taken along as well as the saddlebags with provisions and carried them inside. He told her to relax while he took care of the horses. He got water from a nearby creek for the horses and a bucket for the cabin as well. He grabbed bundles of grass from the meadow and brushed down each horse before carrying the saddles and saddle blankets into the cabin. There was only one bed in the cabin. He saw Irae looking at it and at him.
“You take the bed. I’ll use the saddle blankets and make a bed next to the fireplace. Looks like I need to go scrounge up some wood too. Whoever was here last didn’t restock the wood bin. I’ll be right back.”
“Adam, what do you want me to do?”
“There’s food in the saddlebags and probably in that box next to the fireplace. You could see about fixing us something to eat. There should be a pot, a kettle, a pan, and things like that in that storage box too. I’ll be right back with more wood for the fire.”
“It’s dusty in here.”
“I’ll bring something for that too. Be back soon.”
By the time Adam was back, Irae had beans cooking. She was waiting to cook up potatoes with bacon and onions until the beans were softened. Adam handed her a bundle of thin branches with the leaves still attached.
“You can use it for a broom. I’ll get another one if that doesn’t clean up enough.”
After tossing some grass on the floor, Adam directed Irae to brush everything toward the door. By the time she did that, the floor was reasonably dust free. Adam took the blanket from the bed and shook it outside and then laid it over the mattress once again.
“If you put your bedroll over that, you should be fairly comfortable. The fire will keep things warm enough.”
“You knew we wouldn’t make it back today.”
“I suspected we wouldn’t. If you didn’t want to stay at the camp very long, we could have, but you were very interested so that meant we couldn’t make it back. I thought you understood that. It took us over five hours to ride there.”
“I know. I wish you had said it before we left though.”
“Would it have made a difference?”
Even though Irae knew she was being difficult and unfair, she was frustrated and couldn’t seem to help herself from taking it out on Adam. She had something difficult to tell him, and now she had to tell him with no avenue of escape if he took the news badly. She was so mixed up after what she had learned that day that she didn’t know what to think. She got busy cooking their dinner so she didn’t have to think too much. Adam watched her and had a good idea that she was avoiding conversation with him but knew she couldn’t avoid it indefinitely. He waited. Once they ate their rather ordinary dinner, Adam helped her clean up. Then there was nothing left to do in the hour or so they had before darkness settled in and it was time to sleep. She sat on the bed and knew she had to talk.
“When I talked with Joe once about what it would be like for me if I ever had children, he said he didn’t see that there would be any problem. He said my children would be three-fourths white so they would be raised white and no one need ever really know that they were one-fourth Paiute. When I was with you, at first, I thought that you might think the same way. I wasn’t sure though. You spoke about my fantasy of the Paiute life and I thought you didn’t think too much of the Paiute, but then you said they ought to have the right to live their lives the way they wanted to live them. I was confused about that, but I wasn’t confused about you. I knew that I loved you.”
Adam heard her say that in the past tense and dropped his head. He was worried that she no longer loved him. It was what seemed to happen every time he gave his heart to a woman.
“I loved you in a very romantic way. Now I love you in a different way. I think I only realized it completely today. I trust you. I knew that when we came here. I knew that you wouldn’t do anything that I didn’t want. You would respect me and my wishes. I don’t know any other man that I could say that about. You’re not the gallant dashing hero who is perfect in every way. You’re a man. You have faults just like any person does. Just like I do. But what’s so wonderful is that you don’t let that bother you. You go on and do your best.”
Adam felt better but wondered then why she had been so standoffish. “I came back when your father asked. I did all that I could. Why did you shut me out?”
“Because you asked that I give it time and let our love grow if it could and see if we could have a future and I ruined it.”
“How could you have ruined it? We’re here. We’re talking. You said you love me. I love you. I don’t see what could be wrong.”
“You said to be patient. But I wasn’t. Now, I’m late. I pushed you into it, and now I’m late.”
With that, Irae began crying. For a moment, Adam was in shock. Then he moved to her and wrapped his arms around her. He knew she didn’t want to hear anything from him at that moment so he said nothing. He held her and nothing more. She sobbed into his chest and he caressed her back keeping her in his arms until the sobs diminished to light shudders. He moved to where he had put his bedroll in front of the fireplace and got her to lie down next to him. He pulled the blanket over them and pulled her into him. He waited until he felt her heart rate calm. Then he started to talk very softly.
“I don’t know exactly what order I should say these things so hear me out all the way before you say anything please. First of all, you didn’t push me into anything. I wanted to love you very much. If you recall, I told you to tell me no if you wanted me to stop. I didn’t want to stop but I would have if you told me to stop. I have to say that every night on that cattle drive, I relived that time with you. I smiled and went to sleep thinking of you. If you are with child, then that child will be raised knowing all of his or her heritage. Of course, like you and like me, the main culture will be white but that doesn’t mean that we can’t teach about the Paiute culture and keep in contact with the Paiutes. There is no need to sever that tie. However, being late doesn’t mean that you are with child. It’s less than two months. We’ll go into town so that you can see Doctor Martin. If he confirms that you are with child, we’ll get married right away.”
“Adam, I don’t want you to marry me because of that.”
“Irae, give me your hand.” Adam guided her hand to his vest pocket. “Reach in there and take out that pouch and open it.”
Irae did that and found the ring.
“I wanted to buy you a ring at the end of the drive but I didn’t have that chance so I brought this ring that I had at home. I was hoping to get a chance to ask you. So, Irae, will you marry me?”
“Oh, Adam, yes, I love you, and I will marry you.”
“There’s just one thing.”
“You may never tell your mother or my father that I proposed to you while we were resting in my bedroll in front of the fireplace in the line cabin. I am going to propose again tomorrow in some very romantic setting and that is the story you are going to tell everyone. Is that very clear?”
“Yes, Adam, that’s very clear, and I think you should propose to me in the garden behind your house where we met the night of the garden party.” The plan was set then.
As Adam thought about it, he could hear Hoss’ words even though Hoss didn’t know yet what Irae and Martha had proposed. “Adam, you’re a damn fool. You’ve got something more precious than anything that money can buy, and you’re willing to throw it away cause it didn’t work out just the way you planned. Well, life is messy, older brother, and don’t always go according to plans you make. Get that through your fool head, why don’t ya.” The past two days had been full of discussions of changes that might take place and the benefits and drawbacks of each one. He liked change usually, but it had been almost overwhelming when he thought about how much his life could be altered if he embraced all the possibilities.
Most important of all, he and Irae had gone to see Doctor Martin who had said that she was not with child. Apparently all of the stress of what had happened had caused her to be late. Adam had been relieved on that score but had insisted that he wanted to marry her. She said he didn’t have to marry her, but he reminded her that he had brought the ring without knowing that she was going to give him that bit of news, and he reminded her that he had proposed in the garden and that she had accepted. He had told his father and her mother that they would marry in six weeks. That would be barely enough time to satisfy the gossips, but it would be sufficient if he could manage to control his urges until they were wed. He had managed it in the line cabin with some difficulty especially the next morning when they had awakened together betrothed to one another and once more trusting in each other and open with each other. That morning, they had packed up and ridden to the Ponderosa and walked to the back of the house to sit on the bench where Adam formally proposed to Irae before they went into the house and announced the news to the family. The next stop was to tell Irae’s mother who nearly collapsed in tears of joy and relief. Her sorrow at Lucas’ death and Thomas’ coldness was offset by her joy at her daughter’s future. Next they had gone to town to see Doctor Martin and then to the minister to set the date for the wedding. By the time Adam got home, his father and brothers had all sorts of questions.
There were bugger questions and changes to be made. The next day when Adam stopped at the Dawson ranch to schedule work for the men, Martha and Irae had another surprise for him. Martha suggested that he move into the house when he married Irae and that he become the owner of the ranch.
“You can still work on the Ponderosa as you are needed, but this ranch would be completely yours. You know that this could be a fine quality ranch with someone like you running it. It’s a lot smaller than the Ponderosa of course but with land bordering Pyramid Lake, it has plenty of water, it has timber, it has good grazing land, and good access to the roads. I’d like to see what you could do with all of that.”
For quite a while, Adam had made arguments that he was so busy with the Ponderosa that he couldn’t see how he could possibly run a ranch the size of the Dawson ranch too, but Irae countered with an argument for which he had no answer.
“How did they run the Ponderosa for nearly six years while you were gone? I’m sure they’ll find a way to manage with a little less of you.”
So, Adam was riding home knowing he had a wedding to plan and wondering how he was going to explain to his father that he was considering leaving again but not going too far away. If he did, he would be available on a part-time basis on the Ponderosa, but he would have a ranch of his own to run. He rode into the yard of the Ponderosa and saw that everyone was home. When he went into the stable, Hoss was there. That was a godsend because he could try out the idea on his brother before he had to mention anything to their father or their more emotional younger brother. Hoss could tell that Adam had something on his mind and waited for him to tell him. He could always tell when Adam wanted to talk and knew when it was serious by how long it took his older brother to find the words to say it. His older brother was so good with words that it had to be something very important to him to take so long to explain himself. Hoss finally got impatient.
“Hop Sing done made roast pork for dinner. Ifn you take too long to tell me what’s on your mind, it could get dried out so spit it on out, would ya?”
“Martha wants me to move into their house when I marry Irae.”
“That’s not too big a surprise. Must be more to it for you to be acting like a cat walking on hot coals.”
“She and Irae want me to take over the ranch and run it.”
“Well, hot diggity. That’s perfect.”
“You always wanted a ranch where you could try out your ideas. This is just what you needed. You got just what you wanted. Pa always wanted a ranch that was bigger and you always wanted a ranch that was better. He always wants to have the final say and you always chafe at having to take his orders. Those things put you two at odds more times than I can remember. This way, you both get your way. There’s more Cartwright ranch, and you get to try out any newfangled idea you want and Pa can’t say no to ya. You get to make your own decisions and Pa will have to ask you for your help when we need it. How is that not perfect for ya, for both of ya?”
At first, Adam frowned. He leaned against Sport’s stall and thought about what Hoss had said. Slowly a smile formed until it was a full-fledged grin. “Hoss, sometimes I think you are the smartest man here. I think things through to their most complicated possibilities worrying about what could go wrong, and Pa sees things as wrong when they don’t fit his preconceived ideas of how the world should be. You see through to the heart of the matter without any problem at all. You are brilliant, brother, brilliant.”
“Hoss is brilliant?” Joe had walked into the stable to hear only the end of Adam’s statement.
“Yes, he is, little brother. Tonight at dinner, I have an announcement to make, and I hope you will support it. I know Hoss will. It should make things a whole lot more peaceful around here. Right, Hoss?”
So Adam told Joe on the way to the house. Joe thought that their father wasn’t going to like it, and that was an understatement, but by the next morning with some time to digest the news, Ben was conciliatory.
“Adam, I’m sorry for how I reacted last night. I had a plan of seeing you build a house on the Ponderosa and seeing my grandchildren here. Hearing that they wouldn’t be here shocked me. That is no excuse for not congratulating you on your news. I know it must be something that you want very much, and I’m glad that you have it. I know you’re only a short distance away. I hope that your ranch and ours can work together. Have you and Irae thought of a name for your ranch yet?”
“We haven’t even talked about it. I hadn’t even decided to accept their offer until I thought about it and got home. I’ll tell them today. I think that I’ll see if they want me to move over there right away. I can stay in the bunkhouse until the wedding. It would make running the ranch go a lot smoother if I was there and could see what has to be done before winter sets in.”
“That’s probably a good idea. If you need any help, you can call on me. I’ll do all that I can to help.”
“Thanks, Pa. Hoss and Joe said they would help too. It feels good to have the whole family pulling together for me like this. It feels great.” Adam paused for a moment. “Pa, there is one thing I would like. I’d like that garden bench in back. I asked Irae to marry me when we were sitting on that bench. I’d like to make a garden at our house and use that bench if you don’t mind.”
Ben was a bit reluctant to part with that bench. “We all carved our initials in that bench when you made it for the garden.”
“I know. It would mean a lot if I could have that bench with me.”
With a tear in his eye, Ben nodded. “Yes, son, you can have that bench, but could you promise to make a new one for us that we can all carve our initials into so that we have one here too?”
Adam nodded and then quickly changed the topic before a tear could fall down his cheek. “Irae wants Doctor Martin to walk her down the aisle. She wants a church wedding. I’m concerned about her mother. What do you think?”
“You’re worried about what people will say and how much they’ll stare?” Adam nodded so Ben continued. “Now that she has been in town a few times and has been with the sewing circle, it may be all right. Most of the people at church will be those who are invited. We’ll have the meal here if that’s all right with you and Irae so there will only be invited guests. There shouldn’t be a problem.”
“There shouldn’t be, but she’s still in mourning, and Thomas will probably be here so that will likely put her on edge too. He’s not going to be happy about any of the news.”
“Yes, I was wondering about that. What are you going to do about him? I expect he’s going to have some major objections.”
“I plan to offer him financial compensation. I have enough investments to give him a sizeable settlement and still have a good bankroll to improve the ranch and have money to back us up in an emergency.”
“If he won’t accept it?”
“Then he gets nothing except the things that Lucas specified that I send to him upon his death. And he inherits the ranch upon the death of Martha and Irae and any children that Irae has. That isn’t going to happen.”
Joe was more concerned though. “Adam, you don’t know Thomas. He was right behind me in school. He was a mean one. He was the kind who liked to hurt kids just to see them cry. Don’t underestimate what he would do. I can see why Lucas and Martha were so disappointed in him that they didn’t mind so much that he moved away and didn’t visit much. There’s something wrong with him. Something in him isn’t right.”
“Joe’s right on that score. I never had much to do with him, but there was always something wrong about how he looked at ya. He looked like them cows that get mixed up in some jimson weed. He looked plumb loco but in a wicked kind of way. You watch your back with that one.”
Ben could feel the hair on the back of his neck stand up. He knew that he had heard a story about Thomas Dawson once. He tried to remember what it was. It would be weeks before he remembered, and then it chilled him to the bone.
After moving to the Dawson ranch, Adam thought that he would see more of Irae. There was some time in the morning when they had breakfast together in the house, and they did have dinner together but that was the extent of it. He found that the ranch had been neglected far more than he had thought. There were cattle counts and surveys to do, cattle to be culled, cattle to be moved, fences to be repaired, and hay to be brought in and all had to be done before winter if they wanted any kind of herd in the spring. The older hands weren’t used to working the long days and threatened to quit. Adam told them they had every right to do so and that ended most of the grumbling. The two young half-Paiute men, Morgan and Mason, were top hands learning quickly and excellent horsemen. Adam planned an excursion into the hills to bring back some horses once the wedding and honeymoon were over and the two young men looked forward to that. Adam wanted to keep them busy breaking and training horses over the winter months. He also hoped to add to the stable and corrals as well as a forge and a storage shed. Martha was ecstatic because Adam was doing exactly as she had dreamed he would. Irae added a few items to his list including a smokehouse and a chicken coop as well as an indoor water pump and a large washroom with water closet. Adam had already told her he was going to create a garden for her and Martha. Adam rarely got back to the Ponderosa so Ben made a trip to the Dawson ranch on a Sunday afternoon with some things he thought that Adam should have with him.
“Welcome, Ben. Adam and Irae aren’t here. They took a ride to the lake. Those two needed to stop working for a few hours and relax. I’ve never seen two people who work as hard as those two can.”
“I brought a few of Adam’s things. I had hoped to see him. I haven’t seen him in two weeks.”
“I know. I’m sorry about that. I’m sure that once he gets things better organized around here that he’ll have more time. My Lucas was just starting to get things turned around again but so much was left for Adam to do.”
“I’m sorry that Roy never found the men who did it.”
“I know. It’s very strange. After all this time, you would think someone might have come forward with something. It’s as if they came here to do that and then left.”
“I’m sure that Roy will keep looking.”
“I know he will, but now I will look to the future and not back. The past holds sadness but the future is joyful. Perhaps this time, Adam and Irae did not get the news that they will have a baby but soon I hope the news will be different.” Then Martha realized what she had said and looked to Ben wondering if he had known.
“Don’t worry, Martha. I has suspected as much even if they didn’t tell me. Adam is a responsible man, and I trust he will do the right thing no matter what.”
“Well, then, bring those things in and we’ll have some coffee and wait for them to get back. Will you stay to dinner and visit with us? It’s only a week to the wedding now. We have much to talk about.”
“Yes, there’s much to talk about. Is Thomas going to be here with his family?”
Ben never expected the look that he got with that question. It was clear that Martha would rather not talk about Thomas but she did. “Thomas will be here, but he said that he is coming by himself, or rather with legal or business representatives. He will not bring his family because he says that we have treated him dishonorably. He refused Adam’s generous offer and has demanded an exorbitant amount to settle without opposition. Adam consulted with a lawyer who said that Thomas has no legal standing to oppose anything that has been done. Once he and Irae are married, there will be nothing that Thomas can do.”
“Will he try to disrupt the wedding then?”
“He may try, but you know your son, and I know my daughter. They will be married next Saturday, and nothing is going to stop it.”
“I hope that’s true.” But Ben was nervous. He had remembered that incident with Thomas when he had been interested in courting the woman he eventually married. The other man who had been courting her had an accident and was found dead in the woods partially consumed by grizzly bears. He had been out working on a fence line on his ranch. It was unusual for a grizzly to attack someone who was working. No one was able to track the bear who did it, and some had said that they smelled honey on the body although it was almost impossible to tell by the terrible condition of the corpse. Some thought that the man’s head looked like it had been bashed in by a rock rather than being mauled or bitten by a grizzly. The grief stricken family never pursued the questions, but Ben remembered Hoss and Joe both saying that they wondered if Thomas had something to do with it especially as soon after he was courting the young woman. Hoss said he thought that by what he had seen that someone had knocked the man senseless and then covered his upper body with honey. A bloodied body covered in honey would have been a big temptation to a hungry bear if there was one in the area. Thomas was a hunter well trained by his father and would have known such things.
“Ben, you look worried.”
“Martha, I am worried. I don’t want Thomas to do anything to try to ruin what Adam and Irae are trying to do here. The two of them have enough to face without any more trouble.”
“I know they do, but they are strong, and they are even stronger together. They’ll be fine together. I know they will.”
“Will Thomas stay here when he comes for the wedding?”
“I told him that he could but he wrote and said that he would be staying in town. In fact, he should already be here if his last message was accurate. He said that he was going to ‘check into things’ to see what he could do about what was happening. Now you know he can’t do anything about anything, but Thomas always thought he could control what other people did.”
“Perhaps he did sometimes.”
“He was a spiteful child and very difficult to manage. He was expelled from the school. I don’t know if you knew that. Members of the school board came here and said they would hold an expulsion hearing unless we simply kept him home so that’s what we did. It is the same as being expelled but without the notoriety of being formally kicked out. He said he will attend the church portion of the wedding only. That’s what he said and that’s just as good.”
“You never know what he might say or do, do you?”
“No, what he said when he was here after Lucas died was mean enough. After he said everything else in his messages to me, then he said he will do an ‘inspection’ of the ‘family’ property. I don’t know what he means by all of that. He doesn’t own anything here any more. It will all be in Adam’s name officially on Saturday. All of the papers are already signed.”
“But what if Adam isn’t here on Saturday?”
“Oh, but why wouldn’t Adam be here? Oh, Ben, you’re thinking of that poor man who got eaten by the bear, aren’t you? Ben, Adam knows about that. Irae told him the story. He’s being very careful. Even today, he asked Morgan and Mason to keep watch while he and Irae are at the lake to be sure that no one approaches them when they are unaware.”
“He trusts them that much?”
“Then perhaps next Saturday, we can all work together to keep my son and your daughter safe, because frankly, I fear for the two of them.”
“Yes, Ben, let’s all work together.”
At the lake, Adam and Irae had spread a blanket under a tree and were relaxing with each other. It was the first time since they had been in the cabin it seemed that they had time to talk about their future in a serene setting. There was only one thing that seemed to intrude.
“Adam, it seems strange doing this with two men watching us.”
“Sweetheart, they’re not watching us. They know exactly where we are. They’re watching in the other directions. They know there’s no danger here except if you attack me.”
“And when you talk like that I want to attack you.” Irae launched a tickle attack then that ended with her underneath Adam as he pushed her hands above her head and leaned down to kiss her as she struggled beneath him to get away. That is she tried to get away until the kiss because that made her forget that they had been tussling as she lost herself in the kiss. Adam released her hands which began to roam until he grasped her wrists gently.
“You need to stop that for about a week. Then you can explore all you want. But for now, you need to stop because it’s difficult enough for me without you pushing the limits like that.”
“I’m so sorry, but it’s hard.”
“Yes, it is.” Adam’s grin made Irae start laughing very hard.
Up in the trees in the distance, three men watched and listened. They knew they could get no closer without alerting the sentries. They had greatly underestimated the two. They moved slowly off and returned to town to formulate a new plan. When Adam and Irae packed up the blanket and the picnic basket to return to the carriage, Morgan walked to them with the bad news.
“There were men who approached but must have seen that there were sentries. They did not come too close but close enough to see the two of you by the lake. They must have been watching the house to see you come this way. They followed you and meant to come upon you by surprise. It was wise for you to have us here.”
Irae turned to Adam and saw the cold fury in his eyes. “Oh, Adam, it has to be Thomas. Please, don’t go after him. We can be careful and avoid him. The law is on our side.”
“The law won’t do us much good if he kills one or both of us. You don’t have any doubt that’s what he planned to do here this afternoon, do you?”
Irae dropped her head. She knew he was correct.
“He followed them to be sure that they left and did not set an ambush for you on the way back to the ranch. He will join us back at the ranch unless there is a problem. He knows the warning shots to fire.”
Because Thomas was a planner, there was no impromptu ambush. Adam and Irae got back to the ranch safely. Once there, Ben and Martha could see how upset Irae was and how angry Adam was. The couple explained what had happened.
“Adam, perhaps you and Irae should stay at the Ponderosa until the wedding.”
“Pa, he won’t attack us here. His specialty is sneak attacks and catching us or one of us alone. We won’t go anywhere alone. I knew that. We’ll have the hands watching out for us, and Morgan and Mason will do sentry duty as much as we need them.” Adam was developing a suspicion about what had happened to Lucas but wasn’t ready to share it yet. He remembered what Thomas had said when he found out that Adam was the executor of the estate and had exclaimed that it wasn’t supposed to work out that way. Adam had something he wanted his father to do. “Pa, when you get a chance and go to town, could you send a few telegrams for me? I’ll go write them out right now.”
“Of course, I’ll do anything I can to help.”
“Tell Hoss and Joe what’s going on, please, and tell Roy when you see him. The more who know and keep an eye on Thomas, the better it’s going to be for us.”
On Saturday morning, Hoss and Joe rode over to the Dawson ranch to escort Adam to town for the wedding. For extra protection, four Ponderosa hands rode as outriders as they went to town. The other hands rode with Martha and Irae in the carriage as Ben drove and Morgan and Mason were the outriders. There was no trouble getting to town. When they got to the church, there was an air of festivity that the town hadn’t seen in quite a while. A Cartwright son was getting married. The town had anticipated this for twenty years and much like Ben, the citizens had begun to wonder if it would ever happen. The seats inside the church were reserved for invited guests, but the windows were open and there were many who were waiting outside and planned to listen to the ceremony and the singing. Irae was completely unprepared for the crowds and the yells and whistles as she moved to the church. Doctor Martin was there to help her, and Ben took Martha’s arm and escorted her to the church. She was more scared than she had been for a very long time. Thomas tried to get to her side, but Hoss and Joe made sure that he followed behind and was not able to interfere. His look was murderous but there was nothing he could do. Martha had said he had chosen his role and was going to be forced to live it. Ben had nodded and said they would make sure that happened.
In church, Thomas was seated behind his mother and Ben and beside Joe and Hoss until the ceremony began when Hoss moved up to stand beside his brother. Clementine Hawkins moved up to stand beside Irae after Doctor Martin walked her up the aisle to stand beside Adam. Clementine was absolutely glowing with the honor as she adjusted Irae’s train and veil. She had been such a godsend and had treated Martha so well that Irae had decided the best thing to do was to have her stand beside her. Ben had nearly choked on his food at the dinner when Irae had announced it. It meant that Clementine would ride with Ben back to the Ponderosa for the dinner. Adam couldn’t help grinning as he stole a look at his father who was looking decidedly pale as he watched Clementine assume her position as matron of honor standing proudly beside Irae and holding her bouquet of flowers as she turned to Adam. Adam turned his eyes to Irae then. Her green and ivory gown was perfect for her darker complexion, and dark hair that was placed in a very attractive arrangement of waves and curls on her head. Adam imagined loosening those tendrils later but had to stop those thoughts as he felt a familiar reaction starting and didn’t want to embarrass himself in church. He looked into her eyes and lost himself there for a moment and nearly didn’t hear the minister ask if he was ready to say his vows. Hoss gave him a little nudge in the back and he heard snickers from the audience but the only one he recognized was Joe’s. He nodded and looked to the minister who was barely suppressing his own smile. He read the vows and Adam solemnly agreed to each and every one of them. Then it was Irae’s turn and she spoke her answers softly but with conviction. When Adam slipped the ring on her finger, there seemed to be a collective sigh from the female guests. Some sighed in appreciation of the romantic moment and others in frustration that the odds of snagging a Cartwright husband had just diminished by one although some appreciative glances were being cast over Hoss as he stood there by Adam.
Then it was time to kiss the bride. Adam had always imagined that he would do a grand romantic kiss perhaps in a sweeping theatrical style but instead, he knew that the best way to start a marriage was to let his wife know that she was now the most important part of his life. He wrapped his arms around her and kissed her gently but with enough ardor to let her know that but also showed her all the respect he had for her and showed the same to the community. He whispered, “I love you”, as he released her. Irae smiled up at him. “I love you.” Then the couple turned to face their guests. The minister put one hand on Adam’s shoulder and another on Irae’s.
“May I present to you, Mr. and Mrs. Adam Cartwright. They have married in God’s presence, and are blessed in his name.”
Walking to the door of the church, arm-in-arm, Adam and Irae stopped and waited there with Hoss and Clementine to greet each and every one of their guests starting with Ben and Martha who were also asked to join the reception line. Martha was somewhat reluctant but Ben insisted that the mother of the bride should be in the receiving line. Hoss and Adam had to smother their grins when Ben kept Martha between him and Clementine who was in her glory standing in that line next to Irae. Once all the guests had left the church, Adam and Irae walked among the people who had been outside the church and wanted to wish them well. Unknown to Irae, Adam and Ben had set up drinks and sandwiches in the social hall and everyone at the church was invited to go there for refreshments.
“I’m sorry we can’t have all of you at the Ponderosa, but Irae and I will stop at the social hall before we leave town to say hello to all of you there.”
As it turned out, the whole family stopped in at the social hall much to the delight of the people there who were having a good time. Adam and Irae left the social hall to a showering of rice much as they had left the church. Irae was surprised because rice wasn’t that easy to get in Virginia City.
“Irae, my father has been waiting twenty years or so for this. Did you think he wouldn’t get everything he wanted for a wedding celebration?”
“Ooh, does that mean we’ll have fireworks later?”
“Well, that would be more Hoss’ department or Joe’s but I would suspect we’re going to see some, yes.”
“I love fireworks.”
“I’ve got some of my own planned for later.”
“I expect that you do. After six weeks of waiting, I bet they’re going to be great too.”
“Oh, I certainly expect they will be. It was a month and a half of a cattle drive before that and then two weeks of settling your father’s estate and never mind. Now, I have to stop talking about that so I can drive.”
“Adam, did you see where Thomas went after the wedding?”
“No, he never went through the reception line. I told Morgan and Mason to keep watch. If he’s up to anything, they’ll let us know.”
“Do we still have outriders?”
“No, but if you look up on the hills, we have sentries. They’ve been in place since we got to town. They’ve been watching this route to make sure nothing was set up. As long as we can see them, we’re safe. Joe and Hoss are up ahead too. I’m sorry that we have to live like this, but your brother worries me a great deal.”
“Adam, there’s something you’re not telling me, isn’t there? We need to trust each other with everything so you need to tell me.”
“I was planning to tell you but I didn’t want to tell you today.”
“Tell me. You can’t worry me any more than you already have. What has Thomas done?”
Adam glanced at Irae and knew that she understood her brother well. “I asked Pa to send some telegrams for me last Saturday. I got a reply yesterday from the sheriff in Ruby and through our bank. There’s no sign of his wife or his two kids. Their clothes and stuff are still there. Roy checked with her folks here and they haven’t heard from her for a long time. They’re very worried. Thomas has been having financial troubles and is suspected of doing some rustling up in that area. His ranch is for sale but there aren’t any buyers because of the last winter. The ranchers are barely hanging on and no one has any extra cash to buy land. He’s broke.”
“You think he’s harmed his wife and kids?”
Adam said nothing but that was exactly what he was thinking. Hoss and Joe had told him about the woman Thomas had married. She wouldn’t leave him voluntarily. He waited for Irae to start putting together more of the puzzle. It didn’t take long.
“Then he wants to kill you to get the ranch here, so he might be the one who had Lucas killed. Oh Adam, he might have killed Papa!”
“He may have come here to get money and found the turmoil that you and I had stirred up. He may have taken advantage of it. Remember what he said when he confronted me over the will when he got here after Lucas was buried. He said it didn’t work out the way it was supposed to work out.”
“Adam, there’s something else about him that I never told you. I’ve never told anyone because until now I could never accept that it was true. One of the men who tried to have his way with me said that Thomas was the one who told him to do that with me. He said that Thomas said I let him do things with me so that any man would be able to do things with me. He told him that I let boys and men do things with me. I never wanted to believe that my own brother would ever say anything like that. I couldn’t believe it, but now I have to wonder. You would never believe anything like that, would you?”
“Irae, don’t ever forget. I know that I was the first man you were ever with. I know it, and I am forever so blessed to know that you gave that gift to me. I would not have thought any less of you if you had already been with a man, but I know you never were.” Adam pulled up the horses and stopped the carriage in the middle of the road to give his wife a kiss. No one in the other wagons and carriages thought it was anything more than a newlywed couple needing to do that, but for Adam and Irae it was so much more meaningful.
“Thank you, Adam, thank you. Now we need to get moving before the tongues start wagging too much behind us. We’re going to hear about this anyway.”
“Aw, what kind of wedding would it be if the bride and groom couldn’t be teased a little especially about kissing?”
Of course, the newlyweds did hear about it and were teased about it, but there were good wishes, smiles, and many hopes for their future happiness too. As soon as the sun began to dip below the trees, Joe and Hoss headed to the pasture to ready the fireworks. The guests were invited to walk to the fence line where benches had been set up. This time, Hoss and Joe had arranged for the hands to take care of the horses so that none of them would panic when the shells began exploding in the sky, and everyone in the house was warned when the show was about to start. With the music of the afternoon at the gaily decorated Ponderosa, the grand buffet dinner with barbequed beef and crates of champagne, and then the fireworks show, it was the spectacular wedding celebration that everyone had expected. After the show, guests began to depart and the cleanup got underway. Adam and Irae prepared to go to the Dawson ranch for their honeymoon. Martha was going to spend a few days in town with Clementine and they were riding back with Doctor Martin. Morgan and Mason were escorting Adam and Irae back to the ranch but Hoss and Joe decided that wasn’t enough protection. They enlisted two more hands and followed along behind the group riding out to the sides and watching for any signs that anything was amiss. There were Dawson hands who had been stationed in the house and the stable at the ranch all day and they came out to report that nothing had happened and then they retired to the bunkhouse. Adam and Irae relaxed and went inside.
“Joe, I feel the hairs on my neck standing up. Something still ain’t right here. I think I may just stay here tonight.”
“Hoss, I got the same feeling. We can send the two hands back and tell Pa we’re staying here and why. It may not make much sense but he’ll understand.”
Morgan and Mason walked up to Hoss and Joe and asked if they had the same funny feeling that they did. The four men decided to stake out the four geographic corners around the house and wait to see what might be making all four of them so uneasy.
Up in the bedroom of the house, Adam and Irae had no idea that they had so many guardian angels as they celebrated their marriage. The four who watched for intruders kept the three who had intended harm far enough away that they could do no harm and could see nothing of what happened that night. They had to take their small cans of lard and bacon grease and their matches and slither off into the night. Thomas has hoped that because he had done nothing for a week that they would relax their guard. When he saw the men positioned all around the house, he knew that the risks of getting caught were still too great. He quietly signaled the others and they retreated once more.
Within the house, Adam carried Irae up the stairs to the bedroom and through to the bed where he set her down. He kissed her then and held her close to him savoring the moment as she did. There was no rush for they had the whole night to themselves and weren’t expected at the Ponderosa until dinner the next day. They were not going to travel far until they were sure of what Thomas intended. Both Adam and Irae hoped for a nice trip over the winter but weren’t going to take any chances. Meanwhile they had their wedding night and felt safe knowing that they had friends and family watching out for their safety.
“Adam, do you want me to get this dress off and put on the lovely wedding gown my mother made?”
“Sweetheart, I would rather help you get this dress off and save the gown for another night if you don’t mind. It seems very warm in here right now. I thought perhaps we might want to shed some clothing to be cooler.”
“My love, shedding some clothing is not going to make me any cooler. The way things are going, I think that you know it’s only going to make me a lot hotter.”
With that, Irae unbuttoned a few of Adam’s shirt buttons and slid her hands inside his shirt. She loved the feel of the hair on his chest and couldn’t imagine a more masculine sight than those curls of hair that formed a line in the middle pointing down. The thought of it made her breathing speed up as did her heart rate. Adam noted that and began unbuttoning her dress in the back as she continued to open his shirt and then tug it from his trousers. Taking turns and helping as needed, they soon were wrapped only in each other’s arms. Without letting go of Irae, Adam leaned and then fell onto the bed taking her there with him.
“It was so nice of your mother to let me move my big bed from the Ponderosa here. We’re going to enjoy this bed very much.”
“Hmm, show me how, cowboy.”
With will power and patience, Adam caressed and kissed and explored even though Irae several times tried to hurry him. “No, sweetheart, we hurried the first time. This time, I want to show you every pleasure I can. We have all night.”
“Oh, Lord, you can’t take all night. I’ll die if you take all night.”
“Well, we can’t have that.” Adam moved then to join with her but still paused often so that the pleasure was extended until he could no longer hold back and then the two felt their passions ignite and explode together. Adam collapsed pulling Irae with him and they lay joined together for a long time.
“Adam, I hope we made a baby tonight. I want that for us.”
“The night is still young too.”
“There’s more? I’m exhausted, but I feel wonderful too.”
“Swing around then and we’ll sleep for a while. I have some surprises for you, but if you’re too tired, they can wait.”
Sitting up then, Irae turned to him. “Surprises?”
Laughing, Adam sat up too and moved from the bed to light a lamp. He knelt then and reached under the bed pulling out an intricately decorated Paiute basket. It was small but beautiful. He handed it to Irae.
“I traded some cloth and glass beads and a scissors for that. I want our home to have some reminders of the Paiute culture, especially the best of that culture. That is yours to keep any small treasures you have or you find.”
Opening it by pulling off the woven and decorated cap, Irae found a small box of Ghirardelli chocolates inside. “Oh, I found a small treasure already.”
Once more, Adam knelt down and pulled a cloth wrapped parcel from under the bed. Adam grinned as Irae ripped the brown paper from it finding a rabbit fur blanket. She smiled up at him but then that turned to a frown. “Mama may not like these kinds of things in the house reminding her of her time of captivity.”
“Sweetheart, that tattoo on her chin reminds her every day. But I know what you mean. I thought that these things would remain in our bedroom here. The rabbit blanket we won’t use until winter. It’s much too warm to use now. I’ll put it in the closet.” Adam rolled up the blanket and took it to the closet. When he returned he had boxes from the seamstress shop in town and put those on the bed.
“How did you sneak all of these in here?”
“Morgan and Mason did it when we were gone. They’re very good at things like that. All of this was in the bunkhouse until today.”
Once again, Adam grinned as Irae opened the boxes and this time found a green riding outfit of a blouse and split skirt with matching gloves, hat, and jacket all with ivory trim.
“They had your measurements because of the wedding dress, so it was easy to order more things for you. They’re ready to make more dresses for you as soon as you pick out the colors you want. When we go to San Francisco, you’ll want a variety of dresses so I’ll let you work that out with the ladies but I wanted to give you something to wear here when we go riding. When you picked ivory and green for your wedding dress, it gave me the idea to give you a casual outfit in the same colors. I hope you like it.”
Irae sat on the bed clutching the outfit and looking dejected. “I didn’t get you anything.”
Kneeling before her, Adam took the items from her hands and set them aside. Then he took her hands and looked up into her eyes. “Sweetheart, you have given me everything. I was so down and lost and didn’t know what I wanted. Now, you have given me a future. You have given me your love and your trust. I didn’t know what I wanted and you gave me what I needed. I cannot ever give you enough things to repay you for what you have given me.”
Irae sat staring into his eyes for a moment and then grinned.
“You don’t think it’s funny that the two of us are naked on our wedding night with you kneeling before me, and we’re talking so seriously? What married couple does this on their wedding night?”
That was all the invitation that Adam needed. Irae asked if he was going to turn the lamp down and he said he wasn’t because he wanted to see everything this time and she shouldn’t be too bashful especially after what they had already done. She shrugged and agreed that made some sense. Then he surprised her by doing a few things she never expected and she was a bit shy about them at first but everything seemed so natural with Adam that she relaxed and enjoyed the sensations and asked him what she should do for him. By the early morning hours, they fell into an exhausted sleep with both very pleasantly satisfied by the whole day and the night too.
While Adam and Irae enjoyed their wedding night blissfully unaware of any problem, outside, Joe made his way over to where Hoss was keeping watch. Morgan and Mason had moved over to talk with Joe and then had made their way back to take up positions to make sure no one could approach the house without being seen. Joe whistled softly a few times so that Hoss would know it was him and wouldn’t do him any bodily injury.
“Hoss, you know how you can smell Hop Sing’s biscuits a mile away?”
“Yeah, well I don’t smell any right now.”
“You smell anything else?”
“No, nothing out of the ordinary. Just smells like the usual night air.”
“What did you smell earlier?”
“Nothing much. Smelled like a ranch usually smells.”
“Did it smell like the men were cooking?”
“Course it did. It was after dinner. There’d be smells of cooking in the air.”
“What did you smell exactly?”
“Well, I think I smelled bacon maybe, and maybe something else.” Hoss thought about that for a moment and suddenly knew why Joe had asked him about that. “But we sent food over here from the buffet. Nobody here did any cooking today. They had barbequed beef and all the fixins. They had all they could eat. There shoulda been no smells outside here cause we put all the food on a big table inside the bunkhouse for the men to eat. If there was bacon smells here it was because somebody probably brought bacon grease.”
“And if they did that, they meant to fire the house but do it without leaving any sign that it wasn’t anything but an accidental fire. Anyone would think that a newlywed couple might forget to take care of something and not notice the first signs of a fire.”
“Dadburnit, Joe, that jasper was right here and we missed getting him. He had to be really close if we could smell what he was carrying with him.”
“It was a darn good thing we stayed, Hoss. If we didn’t, we might not have had an older brother by this time. He’s out to kill Adam. That’s the second time he’s stalked him like prey. I think it’s time we sat down with our older brother and worked out a plan like we do when we got a pesky wolf pack or a grizzly bear. It’s time the hunters become the hunted.”
“You think he’s long gone now?”
“I’m sure he is. He’s like that wolf pack or that grizzly. He’s a hunter. He knows when the odds are against him so he’s backed off and he’ll be waiting for the next opportunity. We need to set a trap for him before he gets an opportunity that we aren’t ready for.”
“Yeah, like tonight. It was only cause something made us feel uneasy that we stayed. Ifn we hadn’t he mighta waited until he had a chance and then fired the house. It woulda been a close thing whether Adam and Irae woulda been able to get outta there alive.”
“Hoss, he grew up in that house. He would know how to set the fire so they couldn’t get out. We need to set a watch until morning. Let’s get a few of the hands to help out in a couple of hours. We’re going to be too tired to watch well if we try to stay up all night.”
In the morning, the peaceful breakfast that Adam and Irae expected to have was interrupted by Hoss and Joe. Adam saw how tired they looked with dark circles under their eyes. They were wearing the clothing they had worn the night before so he knew they hadn’t been back home yet.
“I’ll thank you first because although I was going to be upset by the intrusion, I can see that you must have been working on our behalf last night. What’s happened?”
Irae intervened before Adam could say more. It wasn’t the usual honeymooners’ breakfast, but these were unusual circumstances which all of them understood. “Adam, invite them in for breakfast first. They can tell us while we have some coffee and biscuits together. Hop Sing sent some ham too if I could find it in all of these baskets.”
Soon there were plates of biscuits, ham, preserves, butter, and coffee on the table. With plates and cups for four set out, Hoss and Joe joined Adam and Irae at the table and began the story with sensing something wrong the night before and ending with their theory about the bacon grease. Adam agreed with Joe’s assessment of what they had to do. He looked at Irae and took her hand in his.
“I’m sorry, but we can’t truly celebrate our marriage until this threat is eliminated. We’ll be safer on the Ponderosa too.”
Somewhat reluctantly, Irae agreed. “Yes, you’re right. I’ll pack our things and we can go there with Hoss and Joe. Perhaps one of the men can go tell Mama. She should stay with Clementine and not come back here until this is settled one way or another.”
Once Irae had gone up the stairs, Adam turned toward his brothers with a dark look. “There’s only one way to settle this.”
“Spider traps? What the heck are you talking about?” The family had gathered the next day to discuss the problem of Thomas, and Hoss wondered what Adam wanted to do with this idea he had gotten from Morgan and Mason. The family was sitting by the fireplace and wondered the same thing.
“Some of the desert Indians use this method to attack prey or surprise their enemies. They dig a hole in the sand and cover themselves almost completely. They lie still and wait sometimes for hours until their target gets close. Then at a prearranged signal, they all jump up and surprise their victim. Thomas isn’t going to walk into any situation when he knows there are witnesses. He wants to do this so that no one knows it was him. Yet he’ll want a chance to gloat if he can get it.”
Worried that Adam was assuming too much, Ben had a pointed question. “Son, what if you’re wrong and he simply shoots you and moves on?”
“That’s why we have to try to bribe one of his men to turn on him. If we can offer enough of a bribe then we have insurance. There’s only one problem with that.”
“What’s the problem?”
“Roy doesn’t want to offer us to offer amnesty because the man may have committed crimes here. If we can’t offer immunity from prosecution, then money won’t matter.”
“As far as we know, they haven’t broken any laws here, have they? They broke laws in Wyoming probably but that’s not our concern. I’ll go to Carson to see the governor about this. We’ll get that offer of amnesty if you can get close enough to one of those men to offer that and money to turn him to our side.”
“All right, is everyone clear on the plan then? Joe, your job is to get close to one of the men working with Thomas. We already know they like to drink and play poker so you’re the natural there. Hoss will be your backup, and we’ll have others watching to make sure nothing bad happens. Pa will contact the governor. Once that’s done, I’ll do my part.”
Hoss leaned forward and tapped Adam on the knee. “And what’s your part, older brother?”
“I get to go to town and act the damn fool. I’ll meet you and Joe in the saloon for a beer and say I’m tired of running scared of Irae’s brother and she may be afraid to live on the ranch but I’m not. I’m heading over there to work on the new corral the next morning. Then I’ll stop at the store for the appropriate supplies and head on out to the ranch just like I said I would.”
“But if he figures it out and knows it’s a trap, he’ll ambush you on the way.”
“That’s what I think he’ll probably do. And where’s the best place for that?”
“Ah, that sandy hill with the boulders up each side. Lots of places for ‘spiders’ to hide there, ain’t there?”
“That’s what I was thinking, but we need more than one plan. Thomas is a crafty one. He’s backed away at least twice now when he thought the odds were against him. If he senses a trap or thinks something is amiss, he’s going to back away. This has to look legitimate enough that he won’t or he’ll go for the secondary target, and I don’t want that to be Irae. So, anyone have any ideas?”
“Adam, I don’t like either of your ideas. Thomas is my brother but he is not at all like anyone in my family. He is sneakier than anyone you’ve ever met and he’s got the instincts of a wolf. He’ll smell the plan out. You won’t be able to trick him.”
“Then the only thing to do sweetheart is to be ready for that too.”
“You’re going to go through with this no matter what I said?”
“Only because we have to. Sweetheart, Thomas has to be defeated or we’ll never be safe. There is no way that I can allow that. I don’t think anyone in my family will accept that either.” Adam looked around at his father and brothers who nodded in agreement with his statement. Irae saw it too.
Ben was the only one who said anything. “Irae, you and your mother are as much a part of this family now as are my sons and Hop Sing. We will do what we have to do to protect you, and right now that means a united front against Thomas. He’s the one who has chosen to make war on you and Adam. He was given a fair offer but he wants it all. Adam is right. He has to be stopped.”
“You won’t kill him, will you?” Irae looked to Adam with that question.
“I know he’s your brother, but he means to kill me and you if he can. If he tries to kill me or you, then I may have to kill him to defend us. I won’t if I don’t have to but I won’t make any promises on that score. I won’t ask anyone else to make promises like that either.”
“Adam, how could I live with the knowledge that my husband has killed my brother?”
“Irae, just pray that he won’t force it to come to that.” Adam hoped that was true, but he knew it probably wasn’t. He thought that Thomas was a killer, and that he had no reservations about killing family. He was waiting for word from Ruby about Thomas’ wife and children. He didn’t expect the news to be anything but bad, and he knew that Roy was talking with people about the attack on Lucas thinking that Thomas or at least the two men who rode with him had been responsible for that as well. Unfortunately there was unlikely to be any evidence to tie Thomas to either of those so he was going to continue to be a threat unless they could catch him in the act of being a murderous criminal. It was a dangerous ploy but even Ben had conceded that it was probably the only way.
It had seemed like such a good plan. Every part of it worked. Joe made friends with Randy who rode with Thomas. They drank and played cards together and eventually Joe was able to get him away from Curt who was a harder, more suspicious type. Randy was offered a large sum of money and the amnesty as arranged by Ben for helping them against Thomas. He agreed to the terms. The trap was set when Adam came to town seemingly upset and claimed he was heading to the ranch the next morning to work on the corral. He bought the supplies and rode out of town with his brothers keeping watch. The men hit as expected the next morning. Adam rode out with his supplies in a wagon and made it all the way to the ranch with no ambush. Hoss and Joe followed him there. They stood on the porch of the ranch house and talked.
“What happened?” Joe was frustrated.
“He must have sensed something was wrong. I don’t know how but the man seems to have a knack for avoiding trouble.” Adam sighed in similar frustration. “Well, I’ve got a lot of work to do here. I may as well stay and work. I’ll work in the house though. I don’t feel the need to expose my back to a bullet. Come and collect me at the end of the day, would you?”
“We will. What should we tell Pa? He’s gonna be a mite worried, ya know?”
“Hoss, tell him what happened, or really, tell him what didn’t happen. I guess we need a new plan. Tell Morgan and Mason to take a look around. See if they can find anything.”
“I will, but then I’m going to town. I want to know where that Thomas is. Joe can go back to tell Pa what happened.”
“Heck, no, I’m going to town with you. I’m not letting you travel alone. Nobody knows what that crazy Thomas is up to now.”
“Well, we’ll send the men back to Pa then. Morgan and Mason can look around here, and you and me can look around town. Adam, you stay put, you hear. We’ll be back later for you. I’ll let your men know when I see ’em that you’re here working.”
With that, Hoss and Joe left heading toward town, Morgan and Mason headed off toward the trees behind the house to see if there was anything unusual there, and the Ponderosa men headed back toward the ranch as Adam headed inside his house to work on the improvements he planned for his new home. A cold voice stopped him almost as soon as he shut the door.
“Now that worked as well as I hoped it would. Set that toolbox down nice and easy and drop that gun belt. Then you can turn around nice and slow.”
Doing as he was told, Adam turned when he finished the first two tasks to find himself facing Thomas and Curt. “I should have known you would have another plan.”
“Yes, you should have, but no one plans better than I do. It didn’t take long to figure out what you were trying to do, and then it only took a bit of persuasion to get Randy to tell us what he knew. No one will ever find his body either. We did the same thing we did with that cow of a wife and those mewling brats I had. Bash ’em a bit, drizzle bacon grease and honey on ’em, and put them outside a grizzly den. Mama bear and cubs eat to their heart’s content and nobody ever finds nothing. Heck, they don’t even know where to look.”
“Is that what you plan to do with me?”
“Nope, you’re going to have an unfortunate accident with an awl, I think. It’s gonna puncture an artery and you’ll bleed to death before help arrives. Very sad really, but you should thank me. You won’t have any mongrel brats with that half-breed squaw of yours. Don’t worry because I won’t kill her. I’ll send her back to her people. She can have little Injun babies for some drunken Injun.”
Doing his best not to lose his temper, Adam wanted to hear the rest of the story so he asked as calmly as he could what he wanted to know. “Did you have Lucas killed to try to stop me from marrying Irae?”
“Of course I did. I needed some money and he wouldn’t give me any. I was supposed to inherit but he wrote a new will after he got hurt. Why would he name you? It didn’t make any sense until I realized he wanted to buy a husband for that bitch. It’s her fault you have to die. Now it can be easy or it can be hard. That’s up to you.”
“I’m not going to die today, but you might. There are at least six guns on you right now.”
“You got ’em. I got to say that. I saw everybody ride out.”
“No, you saw them look like they were riding out. There were already three people upstairs waiting for you to make your move. They signaled us from upstairs when we rode in. We stood on the porch and talked loud enough for you to hear.”
“You couldn’t know we would be here.”
“No, we couldn’t. We planned for you to be in several places. This was one of them. We had another group waiting for you on the Ponderosa. We would have adjusted if you weren’t any of the three places we had prepared. We were ready to shift on the go if we had to make some changes. Once Sheriff Coffee alerted us that you had left town, we knew the game was afoot so we started moving our men into position. You could drop your guns now and walk out of here alive.”
“That’s true.” Sheriff Coffee’s voice startled Thomas who turned briefly but it was enough time for Adam to drop down and retrieve his pistol. He had another one in his belt but he preferred the larger caliber and familiar feel of his Colt revolver. By the time Thomas turned back and aimed at Adam, it was too late. Adam fired as did several others and Thomas was dead. Curt raised his hands.
“I didn’t kill nobody. You heard him. He killed those people.”
Roy moved toward him with Clem and disarmed him. “Handcuff him, Clem. He’s an accessory to several murders at least. Take him into town. I’ll be there as soon as I get statements from Adam. We can roll this body up in a blanket and you can take him too. Their horses are in the barn. We saw them put them there after they tied up the men in the bunkhouse. Oh, you might want to untie them too.”
By then Adam was standing again and surveyed the room with two broken windows and blood on the floor. He sighed. Hoss and Joe walked in and looked around.
“Dadburnit, looks like you got more work to do, older brother. I’d give ya a hand but Pa and Irae are gonna be wanting to know what happened. I’m thinking that Joe and me oughta ride on over there and tell ’em what happened.”
“Oh, no, you don’t. You two broke those windows. And I think some of those holes in Thomas were made by you too. Roy will want your statements. We can send the men back with the story of what happened. You can stay and help. I’m sure Pa and Irae will be coming here, and then Irae and I will have to go to town to tell Martha. I think she expected it, but it will still hurt. It’s going to hurt Irae too.”
It was a more somber mood then as Hoss and Joe as well as the others realized that a family tragedy had played out. It was a victory but also a great loss that had to be endured. It would also reopen the wound of Lucas’ death although now they knew the killers and that would close the book on it. It would take time to heal all of the wounds though.
After working nearly twelve hours again that day, Adam slipped into bed next to Irae and wrapped an arm around her and closed his eyes. He would have gone to sleep as he had done the previous several nights in blessed contentment, but he felt her slight shudders and wondered what was wrong.
“I’m sorry. Was I too cold when I slipped in beside you? I know you felt so warm and cozy that I should have realized I was disturbing you.”
What he got for an answer shocked him. Irae began crying. He pulled her to his chest and she sobbed into him. He had no idea why but held her until the crying lessened to occasional whimpers and shudders. “Can you tell me what’s wrong?”
In a halting voice, Irae only asked him the same question.
“Irae, nothing’s wrong. I’m the happiest I can remember being.”
“Then why don’t you want me?”
“Want you? Of course I want you. I love you. I want you with me for the rest of my life.”
“But for the last five nights, you get into bed and go to sleep. You don’t do anything else.”
Suddenly, Adam knew. “Sweetheart, I have been working twelve to fourteen hours a day with hardly a break for lunch. Pa has been pushing to get some things done and then I get back here and try to finish projects that have to get done before winter. If I don’t get those walls done for the new washroom and the new bedroom for your mother, then I can’t work on either of those extensions this winter. I eat dinner while I’m working. Within a few weeks, we could see a drop in temperature and possibly snow. It has nothing to do with not wanting you. It has to do with being exhausted and not having any energy left to do anything except sleep. I’m sorry if you thought anything else.”
“I thought men had to do that every night. On our wedding night, it was three times.”
“I know. I could hardly walk the next morning. And I know it was every night for quite a while there but I had waited for so long I was like a starving man who’s been invited to a banquet.”
Irae smiled at the analogy. “So now you have a full cupboard and you think you can just come in to grab something whenever you feel hungry?”
Sensing a trap, Adam was reluctant to answer that one. “Ah, what’s the correct answer to that question? Is it that perhaps the husband ought to ask his wife if she’s hungry too?”
“That’s a good answer. The wife happens to be starving.”
“Hmm, tomorrow is Sunday, and the husband won’t be working so perhaps he could manage to have a light snack tonight with his wife, and perhaps they could have a hearty breakfast in the morning. Would that suit his starving wife?”
“I like that plan.”
Nine months later, Martha was enjoying her new bedroom with separate parlor when she heard Irae scream. She ran from her first floor room into the main room of the house to find Adam at the top of the stairs dressed in only his pants. She could tell from the look on his face that it was time. She calmly went up the stairs to soothe him and her daughter. She told him to get dressed and get one of the hands to go for the midwife. She helped Irae put clean bedding on the bed and rolled up the wet bedding and took it to their new washroom to soak in a large tub of soapy water. She heated some water and got some clean towels and took them upstairs. By then, Adam was back and helping Irae into a clean gown and back into the bed. Irae was walking very gingerly and awkwardly with the swollen belly that she had. By morning, the rest of the Cartwrights were there, Hop Sing was busy in the kitchen, and Doctor Paul Martin had come too. He had patched up so many Cartwrights, he was determined to be there for a joyous occasion. He and Martha helped the midwife until about eight in the morning, there was a cry and then silence from upstairs. Adam stood at the base of the stairs staring intently up at the closed door of his bedroom. Paul came out after fifteen minutes and with a smile signaled to him to come up the stairs.
“Your son is a quiet one, but strong and healthy. Go in and see him.”
As Adam stepped through the door, Martha and the midwife were finishing up. They were wrapping the afterbirth, and the midwife had just finished tying off the umbilical cord. Martha handed some soft cloths to Adam.
“You and Irae can wipe him clean. It’s a good thing for parents to do together. Slow and gentle, and you don’t have to get every bit of it. We can clean him up a bit more later. Then wrap him up tightly in that soft blanket and Irae can hold him to her. He’ll like that.”
Too choked up to say anything, Adam did as instructed. When their son was wrapped and Irae was holding him, Adam couldn’t hold back any more. The tears flowed freely as he reached out a hand and touched Irae’s cheek and then touched their son’s head. Finally he talked through the tears.
“I never thought I would cry at this moment. I thought I would be so happy I would be jumping up and down, but I’m crying with joy instead. It may not look like it but I could not be happier at this moment. Irae, thank you so much. I love you, and I love our son. Do you still love the name we picked for a boy?”
“I do. It’s a proud name, and I like the nickname you said we could use. It suits the area and the heritage so well.”
The two sat quietly for some time touching their son and watching him as he slowly closed his eyes and rested in his mother’s arms as Adam wrapped an arm around Irae and held her close. After about fifteen minutes, Adam suggested that perhaps they ought to let the rest of the family have a peek at the newest member. He stood and opened the door to find them all outside waiting for an invitation to enter. Ben of course was first. Adam sat by Irae again as Ben and then his brothers came close and took a good look at his son.
“Son, what are you and Irae going to name your son?”
“He’s Lucas Adam Cartwright. We decided on the name some time ago if it was a boy. His initials will be LAC.”
Adam and Irae had been looking at Martha as they made they announcement waiting to see her reaction and hoping she would be happy. She was. She smiled like they had not seen her smile in some time.
“My first grandson and named after my two favorite men. Now that’s a name to be proud of. Thank you.” Martha nodded. “Now, I should go help Hop Sing get brunch set out for everyone, and I’ll bring a tray up here for the two of you. Irae, you’re going to be treated like a queen for the next week, and don’t even think about arguing about that. It’s a mother’s right in this situation, and your husband is going to back me on this one.”
Ben was happy with the whole situation, but when they were setting the table for brunch, he had a question. “Adam, why is it significant that his initials are LAC?”
“Lac means lake in French. His nickname will be Lake fitting the heritage of this area and giving some homage to his Paiute heritage without being blatant about it. We’ll know, you’ll know, and when he’s old enough, he’ll know, but I doubt that anyone else will ever see the connection.”
“That’s very good. Lake has very smart and loving parents. He’ll do well.”
“He’s got a very loving and smart grandfather, a wonderful grandmother, and two terrific uncles too. He’s a very lucky boy.”
“Hey, Joe, he said we’re terrific uncles. You suppose he’s gonna still say that after we tell Lake some of them stories about him?”
“Yeah, Hoss, and how about when we teach Lake some of those tricks Adam taught us about how to get away with stuff so Pa wouldn’t catch us?”
That got Ben’s attention. “Wait a minute. What tricks that meant that I didn’t catch you?”
Adam shook his head and grabbed the tray of food meant for him and Irae and headed up the stairs. He did have an interesting family. By the time he brought the tray downstairs a few hours later when Irae and Lake had fallen asleep, he found that Be had decided that a garden party the day of the christening would allow them to invite more people, Adam had to grin. Ben noticed.
“We were thinking that with the nice weather we’ve been having, and we haven’t had a party in quite a while, that a garden party would be very nice. We could invite a lot of people that way. I don’t know why you think that is funny.”
“Pa, don’t you remember. You had a garden party to celebrate my return from traveling all over the world. It seems now that it’s come full circle. I met Irae at that party, and now we’re having a garden party to celebrate the christening of our son. Perhaps you ought to invite a lot of women to this party and see if you can get Hoss and Joe started on this same journey. It worked out very well for me. Why don’t you pour a round of brandies? I’ll be right back and we’ll drink a toast to a garden party.”
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