And the War Came – Book 2 of A HOUSE UNITED series (by Pulitzer2016)

Summary: The Civil War has broken out, and Adam travels east to attend his cousin Josie’s graduation from medical school.  To get away from the danger of the war, Josie returns to the Ponderosa with Adam, where she must learn to fit in to a new way of life as she struggles to establish herself as a doctor.

Rating: K+   Word Count: 40,979

A House United Series:

The Hardest Goodbye – Book 1 of A House United
And the War Came – Book 2 of A House United
Thenceforward and Forever Free – Book 3 of A HOUSE UNITED

 

And the War Came
Book 2 of A HOUSE UNITED series

By Sarah Hendess

 

Ponderosa Ranch
Western Utah Territory
November, 1859

             Twenty-nine-year-old Adam Cartwright sat on his bed and studied the ferrotype of himself, Little Joe, and Josie. He had never intended to let nine years pass before seeing Josie again, but he had never been able to get away long enough to travel all the way to Washington. Ben had continued to expand the Ponderosa until it reached its current 600,000 acres, so there were always fences and line shacks to mend, cattle to round up, cattle to brand, cattle to drive to market, timber contracts to negotiate, horses to break, and now mines to open and manage. Josie had spent the years continuing to assist her father in his clinic, and shortly before her sixteenth birthday, she had matriculated to the Hartford Female Seminary for some higher education before applying to medical school. So Josie had been busy with school and nursing, and Adam had been busy on the Ponderosa, but not a day went by that the cousins did not sense each other’s absence.

“Hey, Older Brother!” Hoss’s voice thundered up the stairs, snapping Adam back to the present. “You comin’ down to supper, or are me and Little Joe gonna have to eat your share?”

Adam smiled and set the ferrotype back on his bureau. Hoss had a knack for unintentionally cheering people up, and Adam kept smiling as he made his way down the stairs to defend his supper from his brothers.

******

            Adam sat at the foot of the supper table opposite his father and surveyed the spread. As usual, Hop Sing had laid out a feast: roast beef, baked potatoes, carrots, beans, and biscuits. Adam suddenly felt ravenous. Ben blessed the food, and the four men dug in.

While they ate, Hoss mentioned he was going into Virginia City the next day. It was a grubby little town that had recently sprung up as a result of the huge Comstock Lode silver strike made earlier that year. Men had been gold mining the region for nearly a decade, but it was now clear the region’s wealth would come from silver, and miners had flocked into eastern California and the western Utah Territory by the thousands.

“Hop Sing asked me to pick up some groceries,” Hoss remarked. “Told me if I could find a pumpkin while I was there, he’d bake a pie!”

Adam said he would ride along. “I really need a haircut,” he grumbled, brushing that damn lock of hair out of his eyes. “And I should post a letter to Josie. If I don’t answer her soon, she’s going to think we’ve all been scalped.”

Ben smiled. “I was in town today myself and heard some interesting news about your cousin’s part of the country.”

The three sons snapped to attention, waiting for their father to continue. Ben had tried to sound casual, but Adam’s stomach dropped, and he lost his appetite. The political situation between the northern and southern states had been strained for most of his life, but tensions had risen so high in the past decade that Adam – along with thousands of other Americans – feared a war. And when war broke out, Adam knew, Washington, DC, would be right in the thick of it. Reminding himself that Josie was now 150 miles farther north at medical school in Philadelphia cheered him only slightly.

“Do you remember the abolitionist John Brown?” Ben asked.

“Yes!” Adam affirmed.

“Maybe,” Hoss said, furrowing his brow. “Sounds kinda familiar.”

“No,” Little Joe sassed as if he thought his father were crazy for asking such a ridiculous question.

Ben shot his youngest a stern look while Hoss kicked him swiftly under the table. Little Joe inhaled sharply at the stabbing pain in his shin and apologized for his cheekiness.

Adam ignored Joe. “Didn’t Brown disappear after those murders in the Kansas Territory a few years ago?”

Ben nodded. John Brown, an abolitionist originally from Ohio, and a few of his sons had moved to the Kansas Territory in 1855 hoping to turn the territory into a free state. His tactics were not peaceful. In May 1856, Brown, four of his sons, and two other men dragged five pro-slavery supporters out of their homes in the middle of the night and hacked them to death with broadswords in what became known as the Pottawatomie Massacre. One of Brown’s sons had been captured, but Brown himself had disappeared.

“He’s back,” Ben said. “He turned up in Virginia just a few weeks ago.”

Ben proceeded to tell his boys about John Brown’s raid on the federal arsenal in Harpers Ferry, Virginia. An overzealous abolitionist, Brown had planned an elaborate scheme to take over the arsenal, where he expected the slaves in the area to rise up against their masters and join him. They would seize the weapons from the arsenal and travel south, freeing slaves and terrorizing slaveholders as they went along. If all went as planned, John Brown would start the war that would end slavery in America forever.

Things did not go as planned.

On the night of October 16, Brown and his men, including three of his sons, successfully cut the telegraph wires and then secured the bridges into Harpers Ferry, but they foolishly let an express train continue from the Ferry to Washington, DC, allowing its passengers to alert every town along the nearly seventy-mile route of the trouble in Virginia. Meanwhile, angry townsmen had cornered Brown and his men in the nearby engine house and cut off Brown’s only avenue of escape. By the morning of the 18th, ninety Marines, dispatched by President Buchanan and led by one Brevet Colonel Robert E. Lee, arrived, rushed the engine house, and took a wounded Brown captive. John Brown’s “war” on slavery had lasted less than thirty-six hours and had cost seventeen lives, including two of Brown’s sons, six townspeople, and one Marine. He had not freed a single slave. Instead, his men had killed a free black man at the train station, and Brown had incurred the wrath of both North and South – the South because he had tried to wage war on them, and the North because they did not want to be associated with Brown’s brand of militant zealotry.

When Ben finished his tale, all three young men sat silently as they tried to process the greater ramifications of the event.

“Is there gonna be a war, Pa?” asked Little Joe.

“I don’t know,” Ben admitted. “I certainly hope not. War – any war, for any cause – is a tragic waste of lives. But if it does come to war, at least we’re all safe, way out here on the Ponderosa.”

“We’re not all safely here,” Adam said. He pushed away his plate, suddenly repulsed by the meal that moments ago had been so appetizing.

Hoss intuited what was bothering his older brother.

“Josie ain’t in the thick of it anymore, though, Adam. She’s all the way up in Philadelphia.”

“It’s not that far, Hoss,” Adam countered. “Philadelphia is only 150 miles north of Washington, and there’s a railroad connecting them.”

“We don’t even know for sure there is going to be a war,” Ben reassured Adam. “And if there is, my brother will ensure his family’s safety, the same as I would.”

Adam murmured his agreement, and the conversation shifted to the work they needed to do around the ranch over the next few days. They were expecting snow soon, and Ben wanted their winter stock moved to more sheltered pastureland and the line shacks checked one last time for weather-proofing.

The rest of the family ate heartily, but Adam could force down only a few bites of roast and potatoes. When he caught Hoss eyeing his still nearly full plate, Adam pushed it toward him and excused himself from the table. Ben watched with concern as his eldest mounted the steps toward his bedroom, but after nearly thirty years, Ben knew better than to press Adam, especially when he was upset. Adam would speak up in his own time.

Once Adam was out of earshot, Little Joe turned to his father. “Pa?” he asked as he unconsciously rubbed the old scar on his right forearm. “Josie really will be all right, won’t she?” Little Joe adored Josie as much as Adam did.

“Of course she will,” Ben confirmed, though he thought to himself that it might be time to write a letter to his brother.

******

Back in his bedroom, Adam sat at his writing desk next to the window and composed his reply to Josie.

Ponderosa Ranch
Utah Territory
November 7, 1859

Dear Josie,

Please forgive the tardiness of my reply to your letter of September 11. Hoss and Little Joe “accidentally” set an angry bull loose in the middle of Virginia City two weeks ago, and we have all been busy helping the businessmen repair the damage to their storefronts.

Virginia City is growing rapidly. I have never seen a town go up so quickly! It is nice to have a town closer than Carson City. It takes only two hours to ride into Virginia City as opposed to the four to reach Carson City, so we can go into town much more frequently. Little Joe and Hoss have been enjoying the saloon – when the barkeeper is not throwing Little Joe out for being too young, anyway. We are hoping to have a telegraph office in town by the end of next year. I will enjoy getting news much faster than we do now.

I am glad to hear you are settling in well at medical school. I am extraordinarily proud of you, and I am certain you will make a fine doctor. The world needs more good doctors, especially here in the West. One of Carson City’s doctors, our old friend Dr. Paul Martin, has moved into Virginia City and set up a practice. It is good to have a doctor closer, though he has quite a large territory to cover – pretty much everything between Virginia City and Placerville, California.

Your roommate sounds lovely, too. However, if she returns to Boston for any length of time, you might warn her about Aunt Rachel.

Life here on the Ponderosa goes on pretty much the same as it always has. We will move our winter stock to safer pasture tomorrow, patch up a few holes in the line shacks, and then enjoy a few months with a lighter workload.

Pa told us tonight at supper about John Brown’s attack on the arsenal in Virginia. I am sure you have heard of it, but, Josephine, please be cautious. It gives me great comfort to know that you are not currently in Washington, but I fear this tension between North and South will boil over into war, and when it does, it most certainly will be near Washington. I implore you to stay out of the city when that happens. I know Aunt Rachel can be difficult, but the Stoddard home would be your safest refuge. In the meantime, monitor the situation closely and enjoy your studies. I hope to attend your graduation when you finish.

I miss you, too.

Love,

Adam

 

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
December, 1859

Josie finished reading Adam’s letter and sighed as she added it to his other letters in the drawer of her writing desk. She had kept every letter he had ever sent her – about eight per year since she had left the Ponderosa in 1850 – and had brought them all along to medical school in case she felt lonely. But he could be such a know-it-all! She hated when he called her “Josephine.” It was always the precursor to him telling her what she ought to do. But if their situations were reversed, she knew she would be begging him to get away from Washington, too.

She, too, was worried about the potential for war. There had been talk of a possible uprising at John Brown’s execution in Virginia a few days earlier, but Virginia’s governor had ordered 1,500 troops to keep order around the gallows, and very few civilians had been permitted access. The hanging went off without incident, but Josie was among thousands of Americans chilled by Brown’s last words, published in newspapers across the nation.

When they appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer on December 3, Josie read them aloud to her classmates.

“I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land can never be purged away but with Blood. I had as I now think, vainly flattered myself that without very much bloodshed it might be done.”

When she finished, all the young ladies sat quietly, not knowing what to say.

“Do you really think there will be a war?” Michaela asked no one in particular.

“I don’t know,” Josie replied grimly, “but if there is, we are all going to have a lot of work ahead of us.”

******

The rest of December passed quietly. Josie and Michaela helped each other prepare for their exams, and both young ladies passed with honors. They parted in good spirits at the holiday break.

Josie spent a comfortable Christmas with her parents in Washington, DC, and assisted her father in his clinic, but there was a pall over the city. The political tension had bled over into the general populace, and everyone was on edge. When Josie expressed this observation to her father one night after supper, Dr. Cartwright confirmed her analysis.

“The city’s not been the same since the John Brown scare,” he said. “The immediate danger passed, but everyone is uneasy about the presidential election next year. Several Southern states are already threatening secession if a Republican wins.”

Josie waved a hand dismissively. “Oh, Papa, they have been threatening secession for most of my life. It’s just bluster.”

Josie had a point. For most of the nation’s history, various factions had threatened secession whenever they were not getting their way. More recently, John C. Calhoun of South Carolina had threatened secession during the debates that brought California into the nation as a free state in 1850. There had even been talk of it during the presidential election of 1856. But Josie believed that if any states were truly going to secede, then they would have done so by now.

Jacob was not convinced. “Maybe, but then again, maybe not,” he replied. “The political situation has grown increasing volatile over the past decade – take John Brown, for example. Such an act would have been unthinkable when I was young. No, Josephine, I am afraid war may actually come. And soon.”

Josie’s hazel eyes went wide. “What will you do if it does, Papa?”

Jacob laid a reassuring hand on his daughter’s shoulder. “I’m a doctor, sweetheart. I will render assistance as I am able and bound to do.”

“So will I,” Josie affirmed. “Goodnight, Papa.” She bid her mother goodnight as well and mounted the steps to her bedroom.

A wave a sorrow washed over Jacob as he watched his only child’s retreating figure. Josie believed she would graduate medical school at just the right time, but Jacob felt the timing could not be worse. He had heard horror stories from colleagues who had served as Army doctors during the Mexican War of 1846-1848 and had seen firsthand the debilitated condition of many of the soldiers who returned to Washington. His heart ached at the thought of his daughter being exposed to what certainly would be a worse conflict, much closer to home.

“Jacob.” Hannah spoke softly to her husband, who continued staring up the now empty staircase.

“Hmm?” Jacob was lost in thought and did not turn around.

“What are your intentions?”

Jacob heaved a sigh and turned toward his wife. “I was lucky during the Mexican War. It was far away and brief, as wars go, and I was able to serve from home, rehabilitating returning soldiers. This war will be different. Brother against brother is the most vicious kind of fighting. It will be brutal, it will bloody, and it will be right here.”

A thrill of fear shot down Hannah’s spine. She was grateful that the glow from the sitting-room fire cast warm hues on her face, which she was certain had gone white. “In Washington?” Her voice betrayed her with a tremble.

“Consider it, my dear,” Jacob said, crossing the room to sit on the settee next to Hannah. “The goal in any war is to capture the enemy’s capital, and Washington is entirely surrounded by slave-holding states. If the slave states do secede, we will be an island in a sea of rebels.”

Hannah paused to process this. Deep down, she had known this was a possibility, but hearing her husband voice it aloud brought a disquieting sense of reality to it. “But, Jacob, you are forty-five years old. Surely you would not be expected to go to war.”

“Not as a common soldier, no. But I’m a doctor with a good deal of surgical experience. If I did not offer my services to my country, I would never be able to hold up my head again. I would never again be able to look you or Josie in the eye. But don’t fret, darling.” He took both of his wife’s hands in his. “They do not place the doctors on the front lines. I will be back, well away from the fighting.” Even as he spoke them, Jacob knew these words were not entirely true. Army surgeons during the Mexican War had often operated right on the battlefield as the fighting raged, dodging bullets just like the soldiers.

“What about Josie?”

“What about Josie?” Jacob replied. “She’s a woman. The Army certainly would not put her in combat, regardless of her sharpshooting skills.” Josie had kept up with the shooting Adam had taught her on the Ponderosa and was now a formidable markswoman with a variety of firearms.

Hannah smiled. “She will want to be a battlefield surgeon right alongside you. She’s devoted to you,” she added unnecessarily.

“I know.” Jacob ran a hand through his graying hair. “But the Army would never allow it. They would probably permit her to be a nurse here in Washington, but Josie would never abide that, and nor should she – not once she has completed medical school. No, when this war begins – and it will, maybe not for another year or two, but it will – I want you and Josephine out of the city.”

“We will go to Boston. I am sure Rachel would be glad to have us, and perhaps Josie can find a position at one of the hospitals or with Michaela’s father.”

Jacob agreed this plan was sound. “A female doctor is much more likely to find acceptance in Boston than Washington anyway,” he opined.

Though she disliked the idea of her husband as a battlefield surgeon, Hannah was comforted knowing her family at least had a plan in the event of war. She kissed Jacob goodnight and climbed the stairs.

Jacob remained on the settee for another hour, staring into the dying fire, his mind churning. Hannah had taken the inevitability of his going to war remarkably well, and he was relieved by her willingness to vacate the city. No, he would not have to worry about his wife. His daughter was another matter. Josephine was as beautiful, kind, and charming as most of the Stoddard women, but she had a stubborn, hard-headed, independent streak that was all Cartwright.

“Josie won’t like being sent to Boston,” he muttered into the guttering flames.

******

Josie returned to Philadelphia in early January 1860 and was met by a flushed and breathless Michaela, who shared the happy news that her beau David had proposed to her over the holidays. She extended her left hand and flashed a beautiful diamond engagement ring. They were planning to wed the following year as soon as the young ladies graduated. Josie squealed with delight and hugged her friend tightly as the girls jumped up and down. Many of their classmates were plainly envious of Michaela, but Josie was genuinely thrilled for her. Unlike most of the young ladies, Josie had no current interest in marriage. Her first priority was establishing herself as a physician. She could worry about a husband later, if she decided she even wanted one. That month on the Ponderosa when she was nine years old had revealed to her how very much work men could be.

Josie found her second term at medical school even more engaging than her first. The curriculum was less prescribed in the spring, and the students had some freedom of choice with their classes. Josie selected courses in surgery and obstetrics and attended fascinating seminars on effective quarantines and the importance the smallpox inoculation, which, she proudly informed her classmates, her father had been providing to his patients for nearly twenty-five years.

The semester passed quickly, and before it seemed possible, Josie and her friends were bidding one another farewell for the summer. Josie had already planned to spend part of her holiday with Aunt Rachel in Boston – her mother’s idea, not hers – and she and Michaela looked forward to spending time together in the city. Josie cheerfully departed Philadelphia in late May.

******

Stoddard House
Boston, Massachusetts
July 4, 1860

Dear Adam,

Happy Independence Day! Thank you for your letter of June 16. It is amazing how quickly the Pony Express can deliver the mail.

How exciting that Virginia City will have (or “had” by the time you get this letter) fireworks! I do hope you kept a close eye on Hoss and Little Joe. It would be just like the pair of them to spirit some away to set off later on their own. Do you remember our first Fourth of July together in Washington? That was the year they laid the cornerstone of the Washington Monument. I could not see over the crowd, so you lifted me onto your shoulders. Then we ate so much ice cream I woke up in the middle of the night with a horrible bellyache. That was so very fun.

I spent June at home with Mama and Papa and assisted Papa in his clinic, where we were quite busy. I do not know why, but summer in Washington brings a flood of little boys with bumps, cuts, sprains, and fractures. I must have sewn two hundred stitches in the first week. But, as Little Joe can attest, I am quite skilled with stitches.

Much to Aunt Rachel’s dismay, I have spent nearly every day here in Boston assisting Michaela and her father in his practice. As you may imagine, Aunt Rachel has voiced no small number of aspersions regarding the decency of my chosen profession for, as she calls me, “a young lady of breeding.” I have half a mind to ask her when, exactly, hailing from a long line of sailors began making one a member of the aristocracy, but you should be very proud of me as I have managed, somehow, to hold my tongue, despite my weariness of being compared to a saloon girl. I believe she is simply put out that I have been spending my time in the clinic rather than accompanying her to her abolitionist meetings where she can show me off.

The Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society supports Mr. Lincoln in the presidential election this year, though as none of its members is permitted to vote, I fail to see what difference their support makes. Do not mistake me, I am myself an ardent abolitionist, but I feel stymied by the limitations placed upon my sex.

I have read in the newspaper that many southern states are intent on seceding should Mr. Lincoln win the election, but I do not believe this threat will come to fruition. The South cannot survive alone. It has very little railroad track, very few schools (and none as good as Harvard!), and nearly no large cities or industry. The world is changing too rapidly for man to live by cotton alone, and I feel confident that cooler heads will prevail.

Do let me know as soon as you determine whether you are able to attend my graduation next spring. Try to bring Hoss with you, if you can. Even Aunt Rachel would be pleased to see him again. And you must send me a telegram as soon as your office in Virginia City is operational! How wonderful it will be to send one another messages in mere moments instead of weeks!

Please give my best to Uncle Ben, Hoss, and my partner in crime, Little Joe.

All my love,

Josephine

 

Ponderosa Ranch
Near Virginia City, Utah Territory
August 1860

Nevada was hot in the summer. It did not steam like the boggy District of Columbia did, but the arid summer sun beat down on man and beast alike, baking the earth until it parched and cracked. Interspersed with their ranch duties, the four Cartwright men spent much of their free time in the cool waters of Lake Tahoe on the western edge of their property. Hoss and Little Joe especially enjoyed horsing around in the lake, where Hoss, who had topped out at six feet, four inches and 300 pounds, would hold his younger and much smaller brother underwater and then pretend he could not find him, asking Adam and Ben if they had seen the boy. Only when Little Joe’s struggling reached a frantic pitch would Hoss release him, and the young man would shoot, sputtering, to the surface.

“Oh, there you are, Little Joe!” Hoss would exclaim in mock surprise as Joe spit out half the lake. “Here I thought you’d gone home.”

Little Joe had turned eighteen in July, and it was clear he would remain the smallest member of his family. Though not short, he stood an inch below his father and Adam, and four inches below Hoss, and his body had a wiriness to it that would never entirely leave him, even in middle age. A number of young ladies in the area had recently taken notice of Joe, and Hoss and Adam had twice overheard their father lecturing Little Joe on the importance of acting “honorably” with young ladies. The older brothers teased Little Joe about this to no end.

One morning, Little Joe mounted his horse, Cochise, to ride into Virginia City, ostensibly for a new pair of boots for the upcoming cattle drive to San Francisco, but also most likely to visit one of his many female admirers. Hoss and Adam wandered into the front yard to see him off.

“Now Joe,” Hoss said seriously, “don’t you go doin’ nothin’ dishonorable, you hear?”

Adam burst into gales of laughter. Little Joe glared at his brothers, then kicked his pinto and galloped off.

Hoss grinned. “Think he’ll still be sore by the time he gets home?”

“Most likely,” Adam said with a smirk. “Especially if he discovers what I left for him in his saddlebag.”

“What’d ya leave him?”

“Oh, just a little note that says, ‘Honor is a virtue.’”

When the brothers’ laughter faded enough that they could catch their breath, the pair decided it might be best for them to be out when Little Joe returned home.

******

Just after the first of August, Ben, Adam, Little Joe, Hop Sing, and a dozen ranch hands drove most of the Ponderosa’s cattle to market in San Francisco. Traveling about fifteen miles per day – any faster and the cattle would lose too much weight to fetch a good price – it took about two weeks to get there. Everyone hoped Ben would consent to stay in the city for a while, but after two days’ rest, they set off for home.

Without the cattle, they made it home in four days. As Adam had hoped, there was a letter from Josie waiting for him; Hoss had brought it from Virginia City a few days before. The letter revealed little of import, but Adam treasured it all the same. Despite Aunt Rachel, Josie had enjoyed her summer in Boston and was excited to be back in Philadelphia for her second and final year of medical school. She mentioned neither the upcoming presidential election nor the Southern states’ increasingly vehement threats of secession if the election did not go their way. Adam assumed correctly that Josephine was fully aware of the situation but declined to mention it because she knew Adam was also watching it, and she did not want another plea from him to take refuge with Aunt Rachel in the event of war. Adam dashed off a reply, telling Josie about the cattle drive, including the bit where Ben had tripped backward over a tree root and landed squarely in an enormous pile of cow manure. After sealing his own letter, Adam tucked the one from Josie into the drawer of his writing desk alongside every other letter she had ever written him. He sometimes spread them out in chronological order to see Josie’s handwriting evolve from the scratchy scrawl of a child to the flowing script of a young woman.

Fall was a pleasant time on the Ponderosa. Once the cattle were sold, the ranch’s workload lightened considerably until spring. The Cartwright men checked the house, bunkhouse, and barn for any drafts or leaks, making minor repairs as necessary, and made sure their retained cattle were in protected areas before winter set in, and then the brothers enjoyed their extra free time. Adam caught up on his reading, Hoss on his whittling, and Little Joe on his socializing. In general, they were all contented, especially when the fall produce came in and Hop Sing started baking pumpkin pies again.

Despite their outward contentment, they all kept a wary eye on the political situation. The presidential election of 1860 was sending waves of anxiety and anger across the entire nation, both North and South. And it was complicated. There were four men running for the nation’s highest office. The progressive new Republican Party had nominated Abraham Lincoln, the former Congressman from Illinois, while the Democratic Party had split along sectional lines. The Northern Democrats nominated Lincoln’s erstwhile political opponent Stephen Douglas, also from Illinois, while the Southern Democrats nominated the current vice president, John Breckenridge. Meanwhile, a new moderate party, the Constitutional Union Party, had formed out of a group of aging politicians and nominated Tennessee slaveholder John Bell. Adam felt certain there was no way this election would end peacefully.

On November 10, all four Cartwrights rose earlier than usual to ride into Virginia City. The town’s new telegraph office was opening that morning, and they expected to receive the results of the presidential election from four days ago.

A crowd had already gathered outside the telegraph office by the time they arrived, and the Cartwrights had to position themselves five or six rows back from the telegraph office door.

“Well, hello there, Ben!” Roy Coffee, the town sheriff, hailed the Cartwrights’ patriarch. They all greeted the congenial sheriff, who then turned to Adam. “How’s your cousin, Josephine, Adam? She enjoying medical school?” Not typically the exuberant sort, Adam had not been able to stop himself boasting to nearly everyone in Virginia City about his cousin’s medical school acceptance.

“Yes, sir!” Adam replied. “She’s at the top of her class.”

“We would expect no less,” Roy said, smiling. He had not met Josie during her visit to the Ponderosa all those years ago, but if Ben Cartwright and his boys were any indicator of the family’s quality, Josephine Cartwright would do well for herself. “When does she graduate?”

“May 18,” Adam answered.

“I didn’t realize she was graduating on your birthday, Adam!” Hoss interjected.

Adam grinned. “Yep! It’ll be the best birthday present I’ll ever get.”

By that time, the crowd was growing restless waiting for the news. After another ten minutes, Little Joe grew bored and began to wander off after a pretty young lady who had batted her eyelashes at him, but Hoss grabbed his arm and pulled him back. An eternity later for the squirrely Little Joe but only ten more minutes for everyone else, Morris, the new telegraph operator from Carson City, stepped out of the office. A hush descended over the crowd.

Morris cleared his throat and waited for all eyes to turn to him, relishing the attention. When he felt he had created adequate suspense, he announced, “The next president of the United States is Mr. Abraham Lincoln!”

The crowd erupted, half in triumph, like the Cartwrights, who supported Mr. Lincoln, and half in outrage. Within seconds, men on opposing sides had begun exchanging fisticuffs, and women and children were fleeing the area. Little Joe was about to dive into the melee when Ben grabbed him and hustled him away, Adam and Hoss trailing closely behind and occasionally dodging a flying townsman. Ben dragged his youngest son into Virginia City’s hotel, the International House, and plunked him in a chair in the dining room, where he ordered four coffees.

“Why’d you drag me away, Pa?!” Little Joe protested. “That scuffle looked like fun.”

Ben opened his mouth to reply, but he was cut short by several sharp reports of small-arms fire. Adam flinched, and Hoss’s eyes grew wide as saucers. A chagrined Little Joe shrank in his chair.

“Are they shootin’ because Mr. Lincoln won the election, Pa?” Hoss asked in astonishment.

Ben felt a surge of love for his middle son who had difficulty comprehending unkindness of any sort, and he hoped that the impending conflict would not leave Hoss jaded toward mankind. “Yes, they are,” he answered grimly.

“D’ya think we should go help the sheriff?”

“No, Hoss, we are going to stay right here and drink our coffee.”

As if on cue, the waiter arrived with a large pot of strong coffee and four mugs.

“If it’s this bad in Virginia City, imagine how bad it must be in Washington,” Little Joe mused. Hoss kicked him under the table – a frequent occurrence – just as Little Joe noticed the ashen expression on Adam’s face. Horrified realization washed over him. “Oh, Adam, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean anything by it. My mouth just got ahead of my brain.”

“It’s ok,” Adam reassured him as he passed Little Joe the cream. “You didn’t say anything I wasn’t already thinking.”

“Don’t you boys worry,” Ben told his sons. “Josie is safely tucked away in Philadelphia, and Jacob told me in his last letter that if Washington, DC, becomes unsafe, he will send your Aunt Hannah to Boston.”

“Yeah, but what about Uncle Jacob?”

“He’s a doctor, Hoss,” Ben explained. “He’ll go where he’s needed.” Ben was displeased by the thought of his younger brother joining the Army, even if doctors were put back away from the fighting, but he was proud of Jacob’s sense of duty to his country.

“They’ll need him in Washington,” Adam predicted. “This war isn’t far off now.”

“I hope you’re wrong,” Ben said, “but I’m afraid you’re not.”

“That war wouldn’t have anything to do with us way out here in the territory, though, would it, Pa?” The concern was clear in Hoss’s voice. He had no desire to see a battle.

“Not directly, no. I wouldn’t expect fighting to come this far west. But everyone in Nevada is originally from somewhere else, and those loyalties don’t fade away, as you’ve seen this morning. The Southerners are terrified that Mr. Lincoln will take their slaves away, and even though slavery isn’t allowed here in the territory, the men originally from the South still believe they should have the right to own slaves.”

The four men sat and sipped their coffee for several long moments, each lost in his own thoughts. When his mug was empty, Ben strode to the window to check on the situation outside. Satisfied that Sheriff Coffee and his deputies had dispersed the mob, Ben announced that he was headed to the mercantile. He instructed his sons to rejoin him at the hotel for lunch and while staring directly at Little Joe, admonished them all to stay out of trouble.

Adam shook his head in bemusement. “Thirty years old, and I’m still being bossed around by my father.”

Little Joe gave him a sly smile. “You could always get married,” he suggested.

“And give up the privilege of living with the two of you? Never!” Adam grinned and threw an arm around each of his brothers. In truth, he had considered marrying and had even been engaged once, but the young lady had run off with someone else, which had put Adam off of courting for quite some time. In hindsight, Adam decided that had probably been just as well. It had never felt right to leave his father’s home while his brothers were still young; if Ben had married again, things might have been different, but Adam had felt responsible for helping to raise his brothers. Now that Hoss and Little Joe were grown, however, perhaps it was time to reconsider the matter. He could easily help to run the ranch from his own home elsewhere on the property. Ben had promised each of his sons a section of the Ponderosa for their own when the time came, and Adam had selected a piece near the lake he intended to ask for, but he was in no hurry. He did sometimes long for a woman’s companionship, but he had never minded solitude. Life was more predictable that way.

The three brothers exited the hotel and, blinking in the bright sunlight, sauntered back down the wooden sidewalk to the telegraph office to conduct some important business. Surprisingly, there was no line for the telegraph. Considering that this was the first day of operation for the new office, the brothers had expected to wait in a long queue of other people anxious to send a message zipping across the continent to relatives back east.

“Oh, Sheriff Coffee sent everyone home,” Morris explained as he handed the Cartwrights a piece of paper and a pencil so they could compose their message. “The ones he didn’t send to jail, that is.”

Little Joe started to laugh until Adam reminded him he had attempted to join the men who were now cooling their heels in the town jail and suggested that they focus their energies on writing their telegram. Hoss began dictating a Dickensian message about everything he had seen and done in the past two weeks, but Adam pointed out that telegrams needed to be short. Instead, Adam suggested “Dear Josephine, Best of luck on your exams next month. You are a credit to our family,” which Little Joe contended sounded like a message from someone’s grandmother. When Adam lost his cool and shouted “Well, what do you suggest, if you’re so smart?!” such a heated argument broke out among the three brothers that Morris, being new to town and unfamiliar with the Cartwright brothers, wondered if he needed to call for the sheriff again. Fortunately for him, Charlotte Larson, who had watched Little Joe when Ben and Hoss were back east for Adam’s Harvard graduation and had recently moved to Virginia City with her husband, entered the office just then and assured Morris that this was normal for the Cartwrights. She shoved past the squabbling young men and ignored their racket as she composed a telegram to her sister in Denver. She handed Morris her message and payment and turned to leave. She paused just long enough on her way out to crack each of the brothers smartly upside the back of the head before sweeping out the door with an audible “Hmph!”

Reunited in their indignation, the brothers conducted a more subdued debate and finally settled on a message that Adam contended was ridiculous, but Hoss pointed out that at least it was short.

Morris swallowed his laughter when he saw the final message, scratched out in Adam’s neat penmanship:

“Hi Josie STOP Love Adam Hoss Joe STOP”

******

The Cartwrights avoided Virginia City for a while to give the town time to settle down, but two weeks later, Little Joe returned to make a deposit at the bank for Ben and came home with a reply from their cousin:

“Hi everyone STOP Love Josephine STOP”

They all had a good chuckle over the telegram while Joe handed out the mail he had picked up in town: the New York Herald for Ben, Scientific American for Adam, and as usual, nothing for Hoss or himself. Ben’s smiling face fell into a grim mask as he scanned the Herald’s lead article.

Adam watched the evolution of his father’s expression and asked what was wrong. Wordlessly, Ben passed him the paper.

“South Carolina threatens secession,” Hoss read aloud over Adam’s shoulder. “Well, so what? They been threatenin’ that for years, haven’t they?”

“Yes, they have,” Ben confirmed, “but I’m afraid that in the wake of Mr. Lincoln’s election, they may actually go through with it.”

Adam continued skimming the news article. “It says here that Mr. Lincoln won only forty percent of the popular vote,” he said. “That means a majority of the voters cast their votes for other candidates. The people of South Carolina feel they weren’t adequately represented in the election.”

“They can’t just secede, though,” Little Joe scoffed, but then his bravado faded. “Can they?”

Ben put a hand on the eighteen-year-old’s shoulder. “You saw Virginia City the day the election results were announced. If they gather enough angry men with guns, they can, and they will.”

******

The Cartwright men stayed as busy as possible over the next few weeks to keep their minds off the nation’s troubles. By the time mid-December rolled around, Adam had repaired drafts both real and imagined on the house, barn, bunkhouse, carriage house, and every line shack and outhouse on the property. Hoss had rounded up and counted every head of cattle three times, Little Joe had created two woodpiles that rose halfway up the side of the house, and Ben had set enough traps in the alpine region to ensnare every small animal in the Utah Territory. They continued to avoid town, both for fear of bad news and to avoid the increasingly hostile tensions between the townspeople. Even Little Joe, who loved a good fight, was put off.

Three days before Christmas, Hoss could no longer avoid Virginia City. He and Adam had ordered a new saddle for Little Joe’s Christmas present, and one of them had to pick it up from the saddler, and Hoss had lost the coin toss. He set out early in the buckboard one morning, bundled up against the frigid December air. That afternoon, Adam sat next to the giant fireplace in the great room and read A Christmas Carol while he waited for Hoss to return. It had begun to snow, and Adam grew anxious; Hoss should have been back already. Adam caught himself reading the same paragraph for a third time and gave up trying to concentrate on the story. He tucked a battered playing card between the pages to mark his place and set the book on the coffee table. Hooking his thumbs in his pants pockets, he strolled to the window behind his father’s desk and peered out. The snow was falling heavily now, increasing Adam’s concern for his brother. It was hardly a blizzard, but Adam knew exactly how cold a snowstorm could be.

“At least he dressed warmly,” Adam muttered to himself. His thoughts drifted to another snowy December day eleven years earlier when he had so foolishly flown into the streets of Boston with no coat, hat, or gloves. This transitioned to the memory of sitting on a bed snuggled up next to Josie, still a little girl, as the two of them read books and ate candy together in companionable silence. Adam smiled at the memory and speculated how pleasant it would be to return to that moment even briefly. Provided he could skip the willow bark tea this time. Adam Cartwright had matured in many ways over the past decade, most notably as a shrewd businessman who now oversaw all of the Ponderosa’s mining and timber operations, but he still despised tea.

He was relieved just then to see a dark, hulking shape glide into the front yard, and he knew it was Hoss in the buckboard. Adam waited until Hoss had clambered down from the wagon, pulled a large, blanket-wrapped bundle from under the seat, and turned the wagon over to a ranch hand before he opened the door. No sense inviting Old Man Winter in for supper. Hoss hustled through the quickly accumulating snow, thrust the bundle at Adam, and plowed into the house, where he dropped onto the enormous stone hearth with a loud “Whew!”

Adam sniggered.

“What’s so funny?” Hoss demanded.

“You look like an overgrown snowman.”

Hoss stood up again and glanced at himself in the mirror above the sideboard by the front door and conceded that his older brother was right. All six feet four inches of him was coated in snow from the peak of his ten-gallon hat to the tips of his enormous boots. Even his pale eyebrows were frosty, creating a sharp contrast to his brilliant blue eyes, which were all that was visible of his face between his icy scarf and his hat brim.

“I’m meltin’ fast, too,” he said, observing the growing puddle around his feet. “Help me, would ya?”

Adam set the saddle on the floor by the burgundy-striped sofa and took his brother’s wet outerwear from him as the large man peeled off his hat, scarf, gloves, and coat. Adam draped them to dry over a grate he set in front of the fire.

Hoss rubbed his arms vigorously. “I’ll tell you what, Older Brother. Next year, we either have to order Little Joe’s present earlier – say, September – or you get to be the one who drives through a snowstorm to fetch it.”

Adam grinned. “Agreed. And speaking of our darling baby brother, you better take that saddle upstairs before he comes in and ruins the surprise. He’s got to be nearly finished helping Brady blanket the horses. You go on up; put on some dry clothes. I’ll meet you in your room after I mop up Lake Cartwright here.” He gestured to the mushrooming puddle of melted snow that was now spreading dangerously close to their father’s prized Oriental rug.

Hoss agreed, picked up the still-wrapped saddle, and headed upstairs while Adam dashed to the kitchen to ask Hop Sing for some dishrags. Adam knew precisely where the dishrags were, but Hop Sing had no tolerance for any of the boys, as he still called them, messing around with his kitchen, particularly when he was in it cooking supper. All four Cartwright men knew that asking Hop Sing for what they needed was the much less painful route than taking it for themselves, as Hop Sing was known to strike out with whatever cooking implement was nearest to hand. Hoss claimed to still have nightmares of Hop Sing’s heavy wooden rolling pin from an incident five years ago.

Adam sopped up the erstwhile Lake Cartwright, tossed the sodden rags in the laundry, and bounded up the stairs to Hoss’s room.

Hoss heard the footsteps outside his door. “That you, Adam?”

Adam confirmed it was, and Hoss invited him in. Adam slid into his brother’s bedroom and secured the door behind him. Hoss was sitting on the edge of his bed and pulling thick woolen socks over his feet. Behind him was the new saddle, its polished mahogany surface gleaming in the yellow light of the oil lamp on Hoss’s night table. The musky scent of new leather hung heavily in the air as Adam ran an admiring hand across the seat.

“Josh sure does beautiful work,” he said, his eyes never leaving the saddle.

“He sure does,” Hoss agreed. “That man’s a regular arteest.”

The craftsmanship of the saddle’s structure was of the highest quality, but it was the engraving on the fenders and saddle jockeys that caught the eye. On both sides, Josh had carved stunning portraits of the Sierra Nevada peaks, complete with ponderosa pines so intricately designed in the foreground that Adam was surprised he could not smell their familiar crisp scent. Adam generally was unconcerned with material possessions apart from books, but he caught himself thinking that perhaps it was time he bought a new saddle for himself, too.

“He done a real purty job with Lil’ Joe’s name, too,” Hoss observed.

In an elegant script across the cantle, Josh had engraved “Joseph.” It was the one detail on which Hoss and Adam had disagreed.

Adam shook his head at the monogram. “I still contend it’s ostentatious.”

“Course it is!” Hoss said. “And that’s precisely why Little Joe’s gonna love it. Ain’t no Cartwright ever born been flashier than that boy.”

Hoss was right, of course. If there was one thing Joseph Francis Cartwright enjoyed more than a good fight, it was drawing attention to himself, especially if young ladies were nearby.

“You’re right,” Adam agreed and rose to leave. “Come on, we better wash up for supper.”

He turned to go, but Hoss caught his elbow. Adam turned back to his brother, one eyebrow raised.

“Adam.” Hoss’s brow creased with concern. “Something I ain’t told you yet about my trip to town.”

Adam raised his other eyebrow and waited for Hoss to continue.

“Some news come in across the wire. It’s South Carolina, Adam. They’ve seceded.”

Adam dropped heavily onto Hoss’s bed, nearly sitting on the new saddle’s left stirrup, which Hoss snatched away just in time. Adam drew one hand slowly across his mouth in an unconscious gesture Hoss recognized as Adam’s way of keeping his composure while he processed difficult news.

“Oh my god,” he breathed, staring across the room to Hoss’s closed door but seeing nothing. “It’s happening. It’s actually happening.”

“Would appear so.” Hoss was concerned that all the color had drained out of Adam’s face, and he laid a hand on his brother’s shoulder. Adam found Hoss’s heavy, broad hand reassuring. It was solid, familiar, and reliable.

“Maybe it won’t be so bad, though.” Hoss forced optimism into his voice. “Maybe if we let South Carolina go real quiet-like, everyone’ll simmer down, and this whole problem will just go away.”

“It won’t just go away,” Adam said. “South Carolina will want to take control of federal forts in their state, and the government can’t let them do that. They can’t allow hostile forces to seize United States property. No, Hoss, this is going to end in a fight.”

******

For a few days it seemed as though Adam might be wrong. When Christmas arrived, it was no different than any other for the Cartwrights, though a bit more subdued for Ben and Adam, who worried about the region of the country they had once called home. Hoss and Little Joe, however, had little experience with the world east of Texas, and to them the trouble with South Carolina might as well have been all the way in China.

On Christmas morning, the two youngest Cartwrights charged down the stairs like children to attack the pile of gifts under the Christmas tree in the great room. True to Hoss’s prediction, Little Joe was over the moon with his new saddle. Always emotive, Little Joe dived on Hoss and Adam with exuberant hugs of thanks. Hoss accepted the embrace happily and swung his little brother around in a wide arc, but Adam stiffened and patted Joe awkwardly on the back, unsure of how to react to such a display from his fully grown brother.

Ben chuckled at Adam’s discomfort, but he still felt a sadness hanging over him. He and Adam were both Boston natives and felt the sudden amputation of South Carolina as if something in their nation’s soul had been ripped away. Ben worried about his country, but more pointedly, he worried about his younger brother. The Army had not needed Jacob Cartwright’s surgical services during the Mexican War, but Ben knew Jacob would be needed now that the war would be fought practically in his own backyard. Still, Ben did his best to enjoy Christmas, if for no other reason than to avoid worrying his two youngest sons and to prevent his eldest from stewing over the situation they were all powerless to change.

At midday, after the remaining gifts were opened – a new whittling knife for Hoss, Wilkie Collins’ novel A Woman in White for Adam, and a gun belt for Ben – the four Cartwrights persuaded Hop Sing to join them at the table for a huge dinner of roast turkey, dressing, potatoes, green beans, biscuits, gravy, and a late-season apple pie. Ben opened a bottle of wine he had bought over the summer in San Francisco, and the five men toasted their good fortune.

After feasting themselves halfway into oblivion, they all retired to the great room. Adam tucked into his new novel, and Hoss picked up a chunk of firewood and began whittling with his new knife, holding the wood over a bucket to catch the shavings. Stupefied by the large meal, Ben and Little Joe drowsed by the fire – Ben leaned back in his favorite burgundy-leather armchair with Little Joe opposite him in the old blue armchair with his feet propped up on the wide coffee table.

“Joseph, get your feet off the table,” Ben murmured, his eyes half closed.

Joe complied and pulled his new saddle into his lap to look it over once more. He had wanted to run out to the barn to try it on Cochise but had changed his mind when he opened the front door and stepped into knee-deep snow.

All in all, it was a lovely, cozy Christmas, and Benjamin Cartwright felt immeasurably blessed as his eyes drifted lazily around the room to each of his three sons. Impish, impetuous Little Joe, whose quick temper and penchant for mischief were always forgiven when he unleashed his brilliant smile. Tall, sturdy Hoss, who had the strength of five men but was the kindest, gentlest human being God ever created. And reserved, resourceful Adam, whose cool logic in emergencies had rescued himself and his brothers on more than one occasion. Ben carried a hole in his heart for each of the three wives he had lost, but he was grateful for and comforted by the sons they had left behind. Never feeling more blessed, Ben Cartwright dozed off.

******

The snowfall kept the Cartwrights and their hands confined to the ranch until after the new year, and when they did make it back to Virginia City, they were able to resupply their grocery stores but not to collect their mail. The snowfall had made the stage lines impassable, and deliveries were delayed several weeks. Even the Pony Express riders were unable to get through. Adam was disappointed because he had wanted to post a letter to Josie, but fortunately, the telegraph wires were unaffected, so he sent his family in Washington, DC, a short message to with them a happy new year.

A week later, the Ponderosa foreman, Baxter, charged into the yard, his horse lathered up despite the cold.

“Mr. Cartwright! Mr. Cartwright!” he shouted as he leapt from his horse.

Alarmed, Ben and Adam sprang from their seats at Ben’s desk where they had been reviewing the ranch’s financial ledgers. They raced out the front door, grabbing their revolvers off the sideboard as they passed.

“Baxter, what is it? What’s wrong?” Ben demanded. He was relieved to see that his foreman was uninjured and unpursued. The man had torn into the yard like his hair was on fire.

“Three more states, Mr. Cartwright,” Baxter gasped. “Three more states have seceded.”

Despair swept over Adam, but he kept his face passive enough that Baxter noticed nothing. The ruse did not work on Ben, though. Stoic as Adam could be, Ben could always tell when something was troubling him.

“Come inside,” Ben said to Baxter. He grasped Adam’s elbow and turned him toward the house. Once inside, the three men sat down in the great room, and Ben pressed Baxter for details.

“It’s like I told you, Mr. Cartwright. Three more states seceded just in the last couple days. Mississippi, Florida, and Alabama. Word in town is the rest of the South ain’t far behind.”

Adam pictured a map in his head. “With Alabama, Florida, and South Carolina out, Georgia can’t be far behind, Pa.”

Ben grunted in agreement and thanked Baxter for the news. The foreman left to finish his day’s work, leaving father and son sitting together in front of the fire, whose cheerful crackling now seemed out of place. They were silent, both men lost in thought. Ben had been seventeen years old when the nation celebrated its fiftieth birthday. He had spent it in Boston, where he lived with his parents and a then-twelve-year-old Jacob. Ben had taken his younger brother to all of the festivities that Fourth of July, much as Adam had taken Josie around Washington, DC, on an Independence Day twenty-two years later. There had been music, contests, dancing, and so much food! Ben and Jacob had stuffed themselves with pie and cookies until they were both green around the gills. Their mother’s quilt had won a blue ribbon. Ben had always hoped to celebrate the nation’s centennial with his own children and if he was lucky, a grandchild or two, and his heart sank as it now occurred to him that he may never have that chance.

Adam did not know how to feel. He abhorred the thought of war for any reason, but he also could not rid himself of the memory of the slave auction he had witnessed that one summer in Washington during his college years. War was evil, but slavery was also evil. Was it possible that one evil could eliminate another? If so, could a war be considered good? Was it ethical to kill one group of men in order to set another group free? The paradox made Adam’s head ache, and he ran his hand across his mouth in that same gesture of puzzlement Hoss had recognized just before Christmas.

Ben and Adam were so deep in thought they did not notice Hoss and Little Joe come in the front door. The two younger men hung their hats and coats on the pegs next to the door and placed their gun belts on the black sideboard. They saw their father and brother’s solemn state and exchanged quizzical looks.

Little Joe decided to try to lighten the mood. “Whatsa matter with you two?” he chirped. “Somebody die?”

“Not yet, but they will.”

Adam’s cryptic reply puzzled Hoss and Little Joe further, and Hoss furrowed his bushy brow in concern.

“C’mon now,” Hoss said. “What’s goin’ on?”

Ben beckoned his younger sons to sit in the armchairs near the fire to warm up, and he filled them in on the news. Hoss stared blankly into the fire, and Little Joe dropped his head and rubbed his hands through his hair, causing his brown curls to stick out at wild angles.

Ever hopeful, Hoss tried to offer some comfort. “Well, maybe they’ve all got it out of their craws now. They’ve made their point. Maybe this’ll all just fade away.”

Adam was irritated by Hoss’s optimism, but then he realized he was just jealous of his younger brother. In all of Hoss’s twenty-six years, his positive outlook on the world had never ceased to amaze Adam, who wished he could share it. But he knew Hoss was dead wrong on this count.

“No,” Ben spoke Adam’s thoughts aloud. “This isn’t over. I fear it’s going to get worse before it gets better.”

******

Ben’s prediction came true. By the first of February, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas had all voted to leave the union in what would become known as the Secession Winter of 1860-1861. The entire nation – North, South, and West – waited with bated breath to see what would happen next.

On February 9, 1861, commissioners from the seceded states met in Alabama and adopted a provisional constitution for the Confederate States of America and elected Jefferson Davis provisional president. It seemed at the time that the Union would take no action to stop these events. Abraham Lincoln would not take office until March 4, and the lame-duck President James Buchanan appeared content to sit back and do nothing to turn the tide – though what exactly he could or should have done, no one could say.

On March 2, the Cartwrights got a surprise when they rode into the ever-expanding Virginia City and heard the news that Nevada was now its own territory, separate from Utah. Adam posited that Congress must be setting up to admit more free states. Though Virginia City’s sentiments were divided, most of Nevada was strongly pro-Union, and despite the territory’s small population, Adam thought it possible they would see statehood within the next few years. In any event, the three brothers enjoyed sending Josie their first telegram from the new Nevada Territory.

Adam rode into town again on March 6 to read the news of President Lincoln’s inauguration two days prior. The nation had been on tenterhooks before the inauguration as rumors of an assassination plot swirled. Fortunately, the inauguration proceeded peacefully, and Adam was intrigued by the new president’s address in which he insisted he would use all powers at his disposal to reclaim federal property in the seceded states but assured the slave states remaining in the Union that he would not “interfere with the institution of slavery where it exists.” He also seemed determined that the Union would not start a war, promising the South that “the government will not assail you, unless you first assail it.”

Adam felt the new president had played both sides masterfully, but he still believed war was imminent. It was only a matter of time.

******

Ponderosa Ranch
Near Virginia City
Nevada Territory

March 7, 1861

Dear Josie,

This is my first letter written in the new Nevada Territory! Though I wish it were under happier circumstances, I find it quite exciting to be among the original citizens of a new territory. Several of our friends are already working on Pa to run for governor when we reach statehood, and I would not be surprised if he did.

All is well on the Ponderosa. Our mining operations have been growing exponentially, so I have been kept quite busy. Hoss and Little Joe send you their best. They are sorry they cannot come with me to your graduation in May, but Pa needs them to help prepare for a cattle drive to San Francisco in July. It will be our largest drive to date – nearly 10,000 head – so Pa needs all the help he can get. Though I expect Pa also wants to keep an eye on them. Those two have been trouble lately. They came home from a hunting trip last month with a Shoshone baby and nearly sparked an Indian war. We sorted it out, but Pa has been keeping them both on short reins.

I am glad to hear that Philadelphia has been peaceful and your studies have not been disrupted. I know you are disappointed that none of the hospitals would accept you and your classmates for internships, but you can be proud of the work you are doing in the poorhouses and asylums. Those people are truly “the least of these,” and the care they receive from you may be the only act of compassion they ever experience. Never let anyone tell you this work is unimportant.

Has Uncle Jacob ordered the new sign for the clinic yet? I pray that Washington, DC, remains safe. Keep a weather eye on the situation, Josie. Study hard, and I will see you in two months for your graduation!

Love,

Adam

Philadelphia
April, 1861

Michaela smiled as Josie finished reading Adam’s letter to her.

“I am so excited I will finally get to meet the famous Adam Cartwright! I hope he stays long enough to accompany you to my wedding.” Michaela and her fiancé, David, planned to wed at the end of May, only two weeks after graduation.

“I expect he will,” Josie replied. “It would be silly to come all this way just to turn right around and go home.” She added Adam’s letter to her collection in her desk drawer and then crossed back to Michaela and sat next to her on her bed. The girls were chattering excitedly about the plans for Michaela’s wedding reception when their friend Katherine poked her head in the door.

“Oh, there you are, Josie!” she said.

“Yes,” Josie said, her voice good-naturedly sarcastic, “how unusual to find me in my own room.”

Katherine playfully stuck her tongue out at Josie. “I was just downstairs, and I thought I would bring you your newspaper.” She handed Josie the evening edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer. “Not good news, I’m afraid.” Katherine dropped onto the chair next to Josie and pulled a few pins out of her hair, allowing the flaxen tresses to tumble around her shoulders.

Josie and Michaela peered at the main headline for that evening of April 11, 1861. “Warlike rumors,” it pronounced. Josie began reading the story aloud.

“Washington, April 10 – The metropolis has been at fever war-beat to-day, and there has been     no end of canards flying about, from the White House to the Capitol – from the Departments to       the newspaper offices. Half of our population believe that fighting has actually commenced at           Fort Sumter, and nearly all apprehend danger here.”

Josie’s heart sank as she read the rest of the article. Union troops had been holding onto Fort Sumter off the coast of South Carolina to prevent the Confederacy from seizing it, as they had done with federal forts throughout the seceded states, but the Union troops were running out of supplies. President Lincoln had wanted to resupply the fort even before his inauguration, but the Confederacy made it clear that they would consider such a move an act of war. President Lincoln was being cautious – he did not want the Union to fire the first shots of a war – but the newspaper said the troops at Fort Sumter would run out of food by April 15.

“That’s only four days from now!” Michaela cried.

“It gets worse,” Katherine said. She had read the story before bringing the paper upstairs. “President Lincoln has begun fortifying Washington, DC.”

Josie blanched. “Oh my God,” she whispered. She knew her father would evacuate her mother, but Jacob would never leave the city. Her father, the man by whom she measured all others, would deliberately leave himself in harm’s way. Dizziness swept over her, and Michaela clasped her hand in support.

“President Lincoln must be really worried about Maryland and Virginia,” Michaela posited.

The other two young ladies nodded. Neither Maryland nor Virginia had yet seceded, but common sense dictated that they must; they were both slave states. Additionally, the lower South had no industry, so the Confederate States of America would need the manufacturing capabilities of the Tredegar Ironworks in Richmond if they were going to survive a war. But this put Washington, DC, in a precarious position. If Maryland and Virginia both seceded, then the Union capital would be entirely surrounded by the Confederacy.

The women sat in silence, Josie’s mind racing, and Michaela and Katherine unsure what to say to their Washington-born friend. Their vigil was broken by yet another classmate popping in the door.

“Oh, there you are, Josie!” Lydia exclaimed.

Josie threw her hands in the air in exasperation. “Why is everyone so surprised to find me in my own room?!”

“Pardon me!” Lydia huffed, tossing her head. “A telegram just arrived for you, and I thought I would do you the favor of delivering it.” She thrust a sheet of paper toward Josie.

“Thank you, Lydia,” Michaela said as she rose and accepted the telegram. “Please excuse Josephine. We’ve had some difficult news.”

Lydia halfheartedly patted Josie on the shoulder and flounced out of the room.

Michaela handed Josie the telegram; she fervently hoped it did not contain more bad news. Josie read the telegram and fell backward onto the bed in relief.

“It’s from Papa!” She thrust the telegram in the air for her friends to read. “He and Mama will arrive on the train from Washington tomorrow.”

“Wonderful!” Katherine exclaimed. “That should be a load off your mind.”

“A bit!” Josie laughed weakly. “Enough that I can focus on studying again, at least.” She sat up and grabbed a textbook she had unceremoniously dropped on the floor that afternoon. “Who wants to read about typhus with me?”

Michaela and Katherine groaned but gathered around Josie and the book.

******

The following day, Friday, April 12, 1861, Josie slipped away early from her work at the poorhouse to meet her parents’ train. As she stepped into the warm spring sunshine and headed toward the train station, she noticed an unusual number of people racing up and down the streets. Philadelphia was a busy port city and people typically bustled about, but something in the spring air was different. It slowly dawned on Josie that the crowds were much more excited than usual. Businessmen normally walked briskly with their heads down, but today they were chattering with one another like nervous birds. Josie tried to catch snatches of conversations as she passed, but everyone was talking over each other so quickly she could make no sense of any of it. She had a terrible suspicion, however, that she knew what everyone was on about.

When she reached the train station about thirty minutes later, Josie stopped a porter and asked what the news was.

The young man was shocked she did not already know. “Why, it’s war, miss! President Lincoln tried to resupply Fort Sumter this morning, and the Confederates began firing!”

Josie thanked the young man and sank onto a bench to wait for her parents’ train.

Had anyone been paying attention, Josephine Cartwright would have appeared frozen in time. While everyone in the station rushed around, babbling about the war, Josie sat still as a statue.

“How can they be excited?” she thought. “Don’t they understand what a war is?”

But of course they didn’t. Not in the way Josie and her medical colleagues did, at least. In her studies, Josie had read descriptions of the gruesome, horrifying wounds men had sustained during the Mexican War thirteen years ago. And amputations, scarring, massive blood loss, and disfigurement were but a fraction of the story. In any war, far more men died of illness than injury. Wars were perfect breeding grounds for epidemics.

When the train from Washington arrived, Josie rushed across the platform into her father’s arms. Tearfully, she told her parents of the war’s outbreak. Tears spilled down Hannah’s cheeks, and Jacob held his daughter more tightly, burying his face in her soft, dark hair.

“Let’s go to our hotel,” Jacob said. “We have a lot to talk about.”

Over supper that evening, Jacob and Hannah filled Josie in on their plans to continue to Boston, where Hannah would stay with her sister.

“But you intend to return to Washington,” Josie said to her father as she cut into her lamb chops.

“Yes. I’m a surgeon. The Army will need me, and I intend to offer my services.”

“I’ll come home immediately after graduation,” Josie said. “I will run the clinic while you are away.”

Jacob and Hannah shared an uncomfortable glance.

“Well, actually, sweetheart,” Jacob began. Josie looked up at her father. Her intuition was running high today, and she sensed what was coming. “Your mother and I have decided you will not be returning to Washington while the war is going on.”

Josie cocked an eyebrow but stayed cool. “You have, have you?” she asked.

Jacob knew he was in for an uphill battle. Josie had just pulled off a singular impression of her Uncle Benjamin when he believed someone had another think coming.

“Yes.” Jacob sat up straighter in his chair, trying to appear authoritative. “President Lincoln has called for troops to protect the city, and it’s no place for a young lady. After graduation, you will join your mother in Boston.”

Josie’s silverware hit her plate with a loud clatter. “Boston!” she cried. Diners around them turned to stare.

“Yes.” Jacob nodded his head once for emphasis. To his and Hannah’s very great surprise, Josie broke out not in a diatribe but in crazed laughter. Her parents gaped at her in bewilderment.

“That’s ridiculous!” Josie said when she had recomposed herself enough to speak. “Can you imagine me living in Boston?” Josie was downright incredulous. “Worrying about corsets and hairstyles and teas with the ladies’ abolition society and trying to think of inane things to say. It’s absolutely preposterous. Besides, what would I do there?”

“You’ll be a doctor, of course,” Hannah said. “We thought you might be able to work with Michaela’s father.”

“Michaela is all the help he needs at a practice his size,” Josie countered and turned to her father. “And you can’t honestly expect that any of the hospitals would take me on, Papa. Not as a doctor, anyway. And if I end up as merely a nurse, then there was no point in sending me to medical school, was there?”

“I am sure you will be able to find a position,” Jacob said.

“No, I won’t. And you know it, Papa. Boston has dozens of doctors; they don’t need me.” Josie played for time by dabbing at the corners of her mouth with her napkin. “It’s a shame, really,” she muttered. “All those doctors in Boston when Adam’s forever lamenting in his letters the absolute dearth of doctors out w-” she cut off abruptly, her eyes huge, pupils dilated. “Oh my goodness!” she cried.

“What?” Jacob said.

“That’s it!”

“What’s it?” Hannah asked.

“Out west!” Josie exclaimed. “Papa! Send me to Nevada! Send me to Uncle Ben! I could be useful out there. Adam said they have only one doctor for the entire span between Virginia City and California.”

“Oh, Josie, I don’t know.” Jacob cast an uncertain look at his wife.

“The West is such a rough place,” Hannah added. “I don’t know that it would be appropriate for a young lady.”

“It was appropriate enough eleven years ago,” Josie argued.

“Josephine,” Jacob said, “that was different, and you know it. That was a short visit. We could be talking about years here. I don’t believe for a second the people who say this war will last only ninety days.”

“It’s dangerous, Josie,” Hannah said, laying her hand gently atop her daughter’s.

“Mama, it’s Adam. What could be safer? He and Hoss and Little Joe and Uncle Ben, why, any of them would die before they’d let anything happen to me.”

“I’d rather not put them in that position,” Jacob countered.

Josie knew she was losing this argument, but she was not going down without a fight. The thought of living with Aunt Rachel, possibly for years, gave her the courage to openly defy her father for the first time in her life. She stared straight into his dark brown eyes and very calmly said, “You can’t stop me, Papa.”

“Excuse me?” Jacob was dumbfounded.

“I said you can’t stop me,” Josie repeated evenly. “Adam will be here for my graduation next month, and you can’t stop me from returning to the Ponderosa with him. I am twenty years old, and I have enough money saved up to pay my own passage. If I ask Adam to take me away from this war, he will. I am going to Nevada, and that is the end of it.”

Jacob sighed and cast a despairing look at Hannah, who nodded. “All right, Josie,” he said, suddenly feeling very tired, “you win. I will wire Ben in the morning to let him know.”

Josie was astonished. She had never expected her parents to agree, and now it hit her all at once. Their fellow diners turned around once more as Josie shrieked with excitement and leapt out of her seat to embrace both her parents.

“Thank you!” she whispered in her father’s ear as tears of joy streamed down her face. “Thank you, thank you, thank you!”

******

When Josie returned to her dormitory that evening, she rushed into her room, ready to burst over her news.

“Michaela! I have the most exciting news! You’re not going to believe it!” She cut off when she realized her roommate was sobbing face-down on her bed, her coppery hair swirled over the covers. Josie raced over to her friend and sat on the bed next to her. She placed a tentative hand on the other girl’s shoulder. “Michaela? Michaela, whatever’s the matter?”

Michaela lifted her head just enough to blurt out the word “DAVID!” before she dropped her head into her arms and commenced sobbing once more.

Josie’s heart dropped. She knew Michaela’s fiancé, also a doctor, was joining the Army like Jacob planned to, but surely he could not have already met with tragedy. The war was only eighteen hours old.

“What about David, Michaela?” Josie shook her friend’s shoulders, hoping to snap her back to her senses. “What happened? Michaela, you’re frightening me!”

Michaela raised her head and slowly pulled herself into a seated position next to Josie, who put an arm around her and drew her close. Josie handed Michaela her handkerchief, and Michaela dabbed at her eyes while she tried to catch her breath.

“I’m sorry,” she hiccupped.

“It’s all right.” Josie smoothed Michaela’s hair and brushed it off her forehead. “Whatever it is, we’ll work it out. Just take a few deep breaths and tell me all about it.”

“David’s postponed the wedding,” Michaela sniffled.

“What?! Why?”

“The war. He said it wouldn’t be fair to me for us to get married and then him immediately go off to war, so he’s postponing the wedding until it’s over.” She took a long, shuddering breath as she fought to hold back a fresh round of sobbing.

“Oh, Michaela. Michaela, I’m so sorry,” Josie said. “I suppose you can’t change his mind?”

“No,” Michaela croaked. “I tried. He says the war couldn’t possibly last more than ninety days, so it makes more sense to wait.”

“I’m so sorry,” Josie repeated. She did not know what else she could possibly say, so she simply sat there, her arm still around her best friend.

“Anyway,” Michaela changed the subject. “What’s your news? It sounds exciting, and I could use a little happiness right now.”

Josie felt guiltier than she ever had in her life. Michaela was already losing her fiancé for God knew how long, and now Josie had to break the news that she was leaving, too.

“Oh, it’s– it’s nothing, really.” Michaela gave her a look that said she knew Josie was full of it. Josie sighed. “All right. My father refuses to let me return to Washington after graduation. He wanted to send me to my aunt’s in Boston, but I persuaded him to let me return to the Nevada Territory with Adam.”

Michaela had pulled a face when Josie mentioned her aunt – she had met Rachel Stoddard and resolved to avoid the woman’s end of town when she returned to Boston – but her face lit up when Josie said she would be heading home with Adam.

“Josie, that’s wonderful!” Michaela’s tear-stained face now glowed with excitement for her friend. “You talk so much about Nevada and your cousins, and now you get to live there with them!”

Josie was amazed that Michaela could be excited for her in the midst of her own sadness, and her heart broke as she realized she would soon be saying goodbye to the dearest friend she had ever had.

“I know,” Josie said, still in disbelief over her luck. “And I’ll be useful. They need more doctors out west.” She caught Michaela’s eye. “But I’ll miss you,” she whispered as a tear trickled out of her eye.

“I’ll miss you, too, Josie,” Michaela said, embracing her friend. “But this is the right path for you. I can feel it.”

Josie smiled through her tears. She felt it, too.

 

Ponderosa Ranch
Nevada Territory
April, 1861

Ben Cartwright stepped into his oldest son’s bedroom to see a pair of long, denim-clad legs sticking out from under the cherry-wood bed.

“Adam?”

The half-concealed figure jumped in surprise, smacking into the underside of the bed with a yelp of pain. Adam wriggled out from under his bed dragging a slim traveling trunk behind him. Both the trunk and his black shirt were coated in a fine layer of dust. He sat up, scowling, and rubbed the rising lump on the back of his head.

“You could have knocked,” he said.

“You would have jumped anyway,” Ben pointed out. Adam shrugged his shoulders, and Ben continued. “Packing for your trip?”

“Yeah. Seeing as how I’m leaving tomorrow, I thought it would be a good idea.”

Ben smiled, but Adam had a pensive look on his face that told his father he had more on his mind than his upcoming journey. Ben pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and knelt next to his son to dust off the trunk while he waited for Adam to release the bee in his bonnet.

Adam knew his father was onto him and decided not to beat around the bush. “Pa, there’s something I need to tell you.”

Ben said nothing; he just sat on the floor next to Adam and leaned against the bed.

“There’s been a lot of talk in town,” Adam continued. “Now that the war’s broken out, a group of men are heading east to join the Army to fight for the Union. After Josie’s graduation next month, I intend to join them. I’ll already be near Washington, so I can join a regiment there. I’ve given this a lot of thought, Pa, and as a native New Englander, I feel it’s my duty.” He nodded once for emphasis and waited for his father’s rebuttal.

Ben was stunned speechless. He had expected one of his sons would want to fight in the war, but he had assumed that son would be Little Joe, not Adam. He gave himself a moment to collect his thoughts.

“Adam,” he began, knowing that would have to appeal to logic to get through to his eldest. “I understand wanting to fight for a cause you know is right, and I commend your sense of duty to your nation. But consider this: you are in a unique position to be of much greater assistance to the Union by staying here in the territory than by joining the Army back east.”

“How so?”

“What will the Army need to fight this war?” Ben asked. “First of all, money, and lots of it. You are currently overseeing mining operations that could contribute tens of thousands– possibly hundreds of thousands – of dollars to the Union war effort. Second, timber for ships and fortifications. You’ve been doing a spectacular job these past few years negotiating the timber contracts, and I see no reason why you couldn’t negotiate a few with the Army. Finally, food. We have ten thousand head of cattle here on the Ponderosa, which we can drive to market to help feed the Army. And clothe it, too. They’ll need miles of leather just for shoes! Trust me, there is plenty you can do to assist the war effort right here from the Ponderosa.”

Ben’s cool reasoning caught Adam off guard; he had expected Ben to shout at him, and he had to admit that his father had made some good points.

“I don’t know, Pa. Thousands of other men will be giving their lives for their country. It feels cowardly to stay home.”

“Thousands of other men don’t have access to the resources we control here.” Ben plucked a dust bunny from his son’s hair. “But it’s up to you, son. You can ease the burdens of those thousands of men, or you can be just another dead soldier on a battlefield far from home.” He paused to let his words sink in, and then he reached into his pocket and pulled out a folded sheet of paper that he passed to Adam. “But here’s something that might help you decide.”

Adam looked at his father quizzically as he accepted the paper. He unfolded it and saw that it was a telegram from his Uncle Jacob. His eyes grew huge as he read the short message:

“Washington unsafe STOP Hannah going to Boston STOP May I send Josie home with Adam STOP”

Adam leapt to his feet and bolted for the door.

“Where are you going?” Ben called.

“Virginia City to wire Uncle Jacob back, of course!”

Ben broke into laughter. “You think I didn’t already do that?”

“Oh. Right. I suppose you would have.” Adam ran a hand through his wavy hair and began pacing the floor. “Josie gets the bedroom at the end of the hall. She loves getting the daylight, and that room has windows on two sides. Please have Hop Sing wash the windows while I’m away, and don’t let Little Joe help. He always leaves terrible streaks on the glass.”

“Adam-” Ben tried to interrupt, but Adam kept prattling away.

“Maybe we should get new curtains in that room. You should ask Mrs. Larson. She’ll know what would be appropriate. Maybe a new bedspread, too…”

“ADAM!”

Adam stopped abruptly and looked over at his father, who was still sitting on the floor against the bed.

“Breathe, son.” Ben rose to his feet and placed a hand on Adam’s shoulder. “I will make sure everything is taken care of. The house will be shipshape by the time you get back with Josie. You just enjoy your trip.”

Adam grinned. “I will, Pa.”

“You know, it’s funny,” Ben mused. “Don’t get me wrong, Josephine is certainly welcome here, and I’m thrilled she’s coming, but I wonder why Jacob doesn’t just send her to Boston with Hannah.”

“Probably because he doesn’t want to see Josie stand trial for the murder of one Rachel Stoddard,” Adam deadpanned.

“No love lost between those two, eh?”

“That’s putting it mildly.”

Ben chuckled, patted Adam’s shoulder, and left his son to pack. As he headed toward the stairs, he broke into a wide smile. Adam had started whistling, all thoughts of joining the Army forgotten.

******

Adam woke before dawn the next morning and wolfed his breakfast. Hop Sing shook his head.

“You get sick, not Hop Sing fault.”

“Don’t you worry about my stomach,” Adam said between mouthfuls of scrambled eggs. “You just worry about getting Josie’s bedroom ready.”

Hop Sing shot Adam an annoyed look and headed back into the kitchen, muttering Chinese words that would have been impolite in any language. Hop Sing did not need reminding to prepare Josie’s bedroom; he was just as excited as the rest of the family that Josie was coming to stay. Ben had let Adam tell his brothers and Hop Sing the previous evening that he would be bringing Josie home with him after her graduation, and the hooting and hollering that followed Adam’s announcement nearly tore the roof off the house. Little Joe had actually shed a few tears of joy, but when Hoss had called him out on it, he had insisted he had a speck of dust in his eye.

The entire family accompanied Adam into Virginia City that morning to see him off on his stagecoach to San Francisco. Adam had never been so excited to board a stage. He had been thrilled two years ago when he and Little Joe headed east to see Josie and her parents, but he had known that visit would be far too brief. This time, he was bringing Josie home with him. While no one knew how long Josie would stay at the Ponderosa – the war would determine that – Adam felt confident they would have her at least through Christmas, and he hoped there would snow. Josie had a good arm as well as a good eye, and Adam desperately wanted to see her crack Little Joe in the back of the head with a snowball.

His stage ride to San Francisco was uneventful, and Adam arrived in good spirits. Before checking into his hotel, he stopped at the telegraph office to wire his father and Josie to let them know he had arrived safely and his ship to Panama would be departing on time the next day.

San Francisco had mushroomed since the gold strike of 1848, and Adam was not surprised to find the telegraph office busy. He stepped into line and settled in to wait. As he stood there, Adam could not help overhearing bits of the conversations of the people around him.

“Virginia’s seceded…”

“…say there’s been a riot in Baltimore…”

“The troops can’t get to Washington…”

Adam’s concern mounted, and as soon as he sent his telegrams, he dashed outside to the street corner to buy a newspaper from the boy he had spotted there when he got off the stage. He stepped into the shade of a general store’s awning to read the front page, which revealed that Virginia had, indeed, seceded four days earlier on April 17. Then on April 19, there was a riot in Baltimore when troops headed through the city to protect Washington had clashed with Confederate sympathizers there. Four soldiers and twelve civilians had been killed, and there was concern that this riot would prevent enough federal troops from reaching Washington, DC, in time to protect the city from the rebels. As Adam refolded the newspaper, he thought he could not get to the East soon enough.

 

Philadelphia and Ponderosa Ranch
April – December, 1861

Despite their busy final exams schedule, Josie and her classmates kept a wary eye on the situation in Maryland. Josie, especially, was terrified the state would secede, so she was relieved when on April 29 the state’s legislature voted against leaving the Union. Meanwhile, the troops who had been delayed in Baltimore finally reached Washington, alleviating fears that rebels would overrun the capital.

Josie received a second telegram from Adam when he reached Panama City at the end of April. Then during the first week in May, just as the graduating medical students finished their last exams, they got word that Arkansas had seceded and Union General Winfield Scott was fortifying the high ground around Washington, DC. Michaela’s fiancé was sent with the troops who went to Arlington Heights, just outside Washington. Now that the medical students were finished with their exams, they had ten free days before graduation in which to watch and worry. While Josie was not afraid for her own safety, she found herself eager to beat west and get away from the collective anxiety.

The morning of May 15 felt like it would never end. Adam’s ship was due in port that afternoon – he was able to sail directly to Philadelphia this time rather than disembarking in New York City – and the first half of the day crawled so slowly that Josie checked all of the clocks in the dormitory to be certain that they were still ticking. When lunchtime finally arrived, Josie was too excited to eat much, despite Michaela’s cajoling. After lunch, Josie, Michaela, and Katherine headed for the wharf. Josie’s parents and her aunt were unable to get a train from Boston until the following day, so Josie’s friends were more than happy to accompany her to meet this cousin they had heard so much about.

An eternity later, a ship steamed into the harbor. By the time it docked and the gangway was lowered, all three young ladies were bouncing with excitement. Adam spotted them from the main deck where he was standing next to a lawyer, David Powell, whom he had met on the journey and with whom he had shared many long conversations about the legal ramifications of the Southern states’ secessions.

“There she is!” Adam said to Powell as he pointed out the bobbing gaggle of young ladies. Along the way, Adam had told Powell why he was traveling east and about the younger cousin whom he was to take home with him.

Powell squinted at the collection of young women waiting for Adam. “A blonde, a brunette, and a redhead! Not bad, Cartwright.”

Adam chuckled. “Only the brunette is mine. I don’t know who the blonde and the redhead are, but I think I might like to find out.”

Powell chortled and slapped Adam on the back. “Best of luck to you!”

“You, too.” The men shook hands, and then Adam took off toward the gangway.

“Adam!” Josie shrieked with glee when she recognized her cousin disembarking. She sprinted toward the ship, leaving her friends behind. Adam caught her as he hopped off the end of the gangway onto the dock. He snagged her around the waist and swung her in a circle before pulling her into a tight hug. Josie wrapped her arms around his neck and tried in vain not to cry.

By then, Michaela and Katherine had caught up to Josie, and they caught their breath as they watched the cousins’ reunion, Josie clinging to Adam as if her life depended on it.

“My goodness, they could be brother and sister!” Michaela whispered to Katherine, who agreed.

Josie and Adam broke apart, and Josie turned to her friends. “Michaela, Katherine, this is my cousin, Adam Cartwright. Adam, these are my friends, Michaela Quinn and Katherine Addison.” She gestured to each young woman as she introduced them. Michaela and Katherine suddenly realized what a very handsome man they were meeting and smiled goofily as they smoothed their dresses and hair.

Adam tipped his black hat to them. “Ladies,” he said.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” Michaela said. “Josie’s told us so much about you and your brothers.”

Adam sighed. “Oh dear. And here I was hoping to make a good impression.” He flashed them a smile.

Katherine and Michaela giggled. This Adam Cartwright certainly was charming.

Josie rolled her eyes. “Well, Adam,” she said, “let’s get you off this dock and over to your hotel. I expect you would like to wash up before supper.”

Adam arranged with the porter to have his trunk delivered to his hotel, and offering Josie his arm, he led the quartet off the dock.

Over supper that night at Josie’s favorite restaurant, Adam filled her in on the details of his trip. It had been uneventful, though the journey from Cristobal to Philadelphia had taken two days longer than usual because the ship’s captain had to cut a wide path around the southern ports, particularly near Fort Sumter. Most of their conversation, however, focused on their upcoming westward journey.

“I thought you might like to travel up to Boston for a week or so to visit some of your college friends before we head home,” Josie told him as they finished their main courses.

Adam smiled at Josie’s reference to the Ponderosa as “home,” but then he sighed and leaned back in his chair. “That was my original plan, but with the blockades going up at the southern ports, I think it might be best if we departed sooner rather than later.”

Almost as soon as the war had broken out, General Scott had ordered a blockade of all southern saltwater ports and intended to stop all commerce on the Mississippi River in the hopes of choking the life out of the Confederacy. It was a bit slow in setting up, but Adam wanted to be well clear of the South by the time the blockade was complete in case the Navy made it difficult for passenger ships to pass by.

“Are you sure?” Josie asked. “Aunt Rachel will be so disappointed!” She gave him a wry smile.

Adam chuckled. “Well, she’ll just have to get her fill of me over the next three days. How did she take the news of you coming back to the Ponderosa with me, by the way?”

Josie hesitated. “W-e-ll… we may not have mentioned it to her yet.”

Adam cocked an eyebrow as a smile spread across his face. “What have you told her, then? Isn’t she expecting you in Boston right after graduation?”

“We haven’t told her anything. I expect she assumes I am coming to Boston, but we never said that I was. Mama thought it might be better to wait as long as possible to tell her, so she has less opportunity to make a fuss.”

Adam laughed out loud. “Your mother is a smart woman,” he said as their coffee and dessert arrived.

The cousins dug into their chocolate gateau with enthusiasm. As they ate, they agreed that since there was a ship departing Philadelphia for Cristobal on May 20, the Monday after Josie’s graduation, there was no sense in waiting to depart. Josie beamed with joy.

“We will be home in time for Little Joe’s birthday!” she declared. “Oh, won’t that be fun!”

“He’ll be thrilled to have you there. He’s missed you. We all have. Even Hop Sing was excited to hear you were coming.”

Josie smiled at the mention of the cook. True to her promise, she had never uttered a word to anyone – not even to Adam – about Hop Sing’s ability to speak perfect English.

“He’s probably hoping I can help keep you all in line,” she said.

“He’s going to be disappointed.”

Josie shot Adam a wicked grin, which he returned. He then pulled out his pocket watch and checked the time. “I better get you back to your dormitory. We wouldn’t want you breaking curfew three days before you’re set free.”

Josie pulled a face. “That curfew is ridiculous! The men at the Pennsylvania Medical School don’t have one.”

“True, but I bet you get a lot more studying done.”

Josie grinned in agreement, and Adam beckoned for the bill. Once it was settled, he escorted Josie from the restaurant and walked her the few blocks back to her dormitory. Josie wished she could invite him up to see her room and meet more of her friends, but the house mothers had a strict ban on men in the dormitory; only the students’ fathers were allowed inside. Josie bid Adam goodnight on the porch, but rather than hugging him as she typically would, she shook his hand. He looked at her inquisitively.

“In case one of the dormitory mothers is watching, which they most likely are,” she explained, tipping her head toward the window that took up most of the upper half of the front door. “Too many of the girls have used the ‘he’s my cousin’ story for them to believe it even when it’s true, and I would rather get to bed without a lecture about minding my proximity.”

Adam threw back his head and laughed. “The life of the American woman is far more complicated than most men realize.”

“You have no idea. Goodnight, Adam.”

“Goodnight.”

Josie spotted the mischievous twinkle in his eye a second too late. Adam wrapped an arm around Josie’s back, dipped her deeply, and planted a big, sloppy kiss on her cheek. When he straightened back up, he looked directly into the window and winked before leaping down the front steps, out of range of Josie’s wrath. He hit the sidewalk laughing wickedly.

“Thanks a lot!” Josie shouted as she wiped her cheek in rage.

“Goodnight, my darling!” he called in a mocking falsetto just as the front door swung open and one of the dormitory mothers leapt out.

“Josephine Cartwright!” she screeched. “Just because you are graduating in three days does not mean you can go around throwing yourself at every scoundrel who tips his hat to you on the street!”

Adam missed the rest of the tirade as he scooted down the sidewalk. He laughed all the way to his hotel several blocks away.

******

Josie was still furious with Adam the following afternoon when he came by the dormitory to walk her to the train station. The house mother who answered his knock was, fortunately, not the same woman he had winked at the previous evening and was delighted to meet one of Josephine’s cousins from the Nevada Territory.

“I declare, you could be her brother!” the lady exclaimed.

“Yes, ma’am, we do hear that often.”

When Josie reached the door, she gave Adam an icy glare, but she waited until they were on the sidewalk well out of earshot of any nosy dormitory mothers before she laid into him. She unlinked her arm from his and spun to face him.

“You, Adam Cartwright, are an incorrigible rascal!”

“Moi?” Adam asked, his hazel eyes wide and his right hand over his heart.

“Vous!” Josie spit back. “Do you have any idea what an ear-blistering I got last night? It’s a miracle they let me out today, even to meet my own parents!”

This was too much for Adam. The innocent expression vanished, and he howled with laughter all over again. Josie brandished the small handbag she was carrying.

“It’s! Not! Funny!” she hollered, clubbing him with the handbag after each word. Pedestrians around them turned and stared, but Adam kept laughing.

“I’m so sorry, Josie,” he gasped between peals of laughter. “But if you had seen the look on your face last night –” He broke off laughing again.

Josie cast him a disgruntled look and waited for him to compose himself. Adam’s laughter eventually faded but left behind a huge, dopey grin on his face. Josie raised the handbag again, but her rage dissipated in the light of Adam’s smile.

“That’s something Little Joe would have done, you know,” she chastised as she fought back the smile playing about the corners of her mouth.

“I know! You think he’ll be proud of me?”

Josie rolled her eyes at her cousin, who rubbed his shoulder where Josie had struck him with her handbag.

“That hurt, by the way.”

“Good!” Josie declared. “I hope it leaves a bruise!” She tried to sound stern, but her smile broke free, and she giggled and shook her head. She linked her arm back through Adam’s, and the pair set off once more for the train station, Adam still beaming with pride and Josie silently plotting her revenge.

******

Jacob, Hannah, and Rachel’s train arrived right on time, and all three of them greeted Adam with enthusiasm. Adam suspected, however, that if Rachel knew he was taking Josie west the following the week, she would have been less excited to see him. While Rachel barked orders to the porter about their luggage, Hannah pulled Adam and Josie aside and told them she intended to give Rachel the news over dinner that night.

“I hope that if she is in public, she will keep her choicest comments to herself,” she explained. Adam and Josie both doubted this but kept silent, not wanting to dash Hannah’s hopes.

All throughout supper that evening, the cousins waited for Hannah to broach the topic. But every time the conversation headed that direction, she lost her nerve and changed the subject. Jacob and Josie threw her increasingly anxious glances, and Adam fidgeted in his seat.

“What is the matter with you, Adam?” Rachel asked. “Is there something wrong with your chair?”

“No, ma’am.” Adam cast his eyes down to his plate like a child. Rachel stared at him suspiciously but let it go.

“Anyway, Josephine,” she said, “I thought I would let you choose which bedroom you would prefer, though I think you will find the corner room most to your liking. It gets the most daylight and has that lovely fireplace that makes it so cozy in the winter.” She beamed at her niece, who replied with an uncomfortable grimace. Josie nudged her mother’s foot under the table.

“Actually, Rachel,” Hannah said. “Josie is not returning with us to Boston.”

Rachel’s hand flew to her throat as she gasped in surprise and horror. Her eyes shot over to glare at her brother-in-law.

“Merciful heavens, Jacob Cartwright, you do not intend to take the child to Washington, do you?”

“No, of course not,” Jacob huffed. “I would not place my only child directly in the path of the war! Quite the contrary, in fact. I intend to send her far away from this dreadful conflict.”

To everyone’s surprise, Rachel’s face lit up with joy. “Oh, Jacob!” she breathed. “You are finally sending her to Europe!”

Adam inhaled the wine he was sipping and set off coughing and sputtering. Josie slapped him on the back, not because she thought it would help but because it gave her an excuse to turn her face away from the table so no one could see how hard she was fighting to contain laughter. Hannah hid her face behind her napkin.

Jacob flushed. “Not exactly,” he said.

“Well, where then?”

Jacob glanced uncomfortably at his wife, who stepped in to rescue him.

“She is returning with Adam to Nevada,” Hannah declared.

There was a pregnant pause as Rachel digested this bit of news. Surprising everyone for a second time in as many minutes, she laughed.

“Oh, Hannah!” she said when she got her mirth under control. “You had me going there for a moment! Sending Josephine to Nevada. How ridiculous!” She laughed again, but she trailed off as she noticed everyone else’s serious expressions.

“It’s true, Aunt Rachel,” Adam said. “Josie’s coming back to the Ponderosa with me.”

“You’re serious!” she exclaimed, looking from Adam to Jacob to Hannah and back again.

“Yes,” Josie said. “Mama and Papa wanted me to go to Boston, but I felt I could be more useful out west.”

“Useful?” Rachel echoed in bewilderment. “My dear child, you are a woman. Why are you concerned with being useful? You should be more concerned with finding a husband, and believe me, you will have much more luck among the gentlemen of Boston than you would among those crude men out west.”

“Like you did, I suppose,” Josie muttered under her breath.

“What was that?” Rachel snapped.

Adam laid a hand on Josie’s arm to keep her from repeating herself more audibly. “Nothing, Aunt Rachel,” he said.

Jacob realized he had better take control of the situation before it got out of hand. “Rachel,” he said gently, turning to his sister-in-law, “Josie will receive her medical degree on Saturday, and it is important that she is able to use it. Boston is full of doctors, while the West is nearly devoid. Hannah and I have discussed this, and we have decided this is the right solution for our daughter, and that is the end of it.”

Rachel said nothing, but she looked as if she had just lost her best friend. Remembering a conversation he had had with her many years before, Adam spoke up.

“I don’t mean to take her away from you, Aunt Rachel,” he said, catching Rachel’s eye. “We all just want Josie to be safe and happy, and you and I both know she would not be happy in Boston. And I promise that my father and brothers and I will do everything in our power to keep her safe.”

Josie, Jacob, and Hannah all beamed at Adam in gratitude.

“Yes,” Rachel agreed as she gazed back at her nephew. “Yes, I know you will. And you might just find our Josephine keeping you safe, too.”

Josie was startled. In her entire twenty years, this was the first compliment she had ever received from Rachel. Josie draped her arm around Adam’s broad shoulders.

“Don’t worry, Aunt Rachel,” she said brightly. “I will keep an eye on him.”

Rachel smiled. “Then it’s settled. Now, where is that waiter with our dessert?”

The family would never understand why Rachel Stoddard chose that day to be magnanimous, but none of them was willing to question their luck. They all tucked into their ice cream with fanfare, grateful that the family was united in both body and spirit, at least for a few more days.

******

Josie’s graduation two days later was beautiful. True to her prediction of eleven years earlier, Josie graduated with highest honors as valedictorian of her class. Even Rachel beamed with pride throughout the ceremony, her previous objections to Josie’s vocational choice seemingly forgotten. When the college president announced “Doctor Josephine Elizabeth Cartwright, summa cum laude!” the Cartwright clan burst into rapturous applause even as they dabbed at their eyes. Jacob was nearly overcome as his baby girl accepted her diploma and became a physician in his footsteps.

Adam could not have been more proud as he watched Josie uphold the Cartwright family tradition of accomplishing something people had said was impossible. Ben had heard that word “impossible” countless times as he and Adam journeyed west over the course of several years, yet he had built the largest ranch between California and Colorado. Josie had been rejected from several medical schools who had told her women could not become doctors, but she found a school that would train her, and she became a physician anyway. The Cartwrights – male and female alike – did not take “no” for an answer.

After the ceremony, the family returned to Josie’s dormitory to help her move out her belongings. Hannah and Jacob accompanied Josie upstairs to her room while Rachel waited outside in the carriage with Adam, who was still not allowed inside even though all of the women were moving out. While they waited, they chatted about Adam and Josie’s travel plans. Rachel was pleased that Adam had been able to secure a two-bedroom suite with a balcony for the journey from Philadelphia to Colón aboard the SS Morning Star. She was so interested in learning about the journey that she even suggested she might like to make the trip herself someday. Adam nearly fell out of the carriage in surprise.

Upstairs in the dormitory, Josie gazed around the room she had called home for the past two years, empty now except for the bare furniture. She and Michaela, assisted by their families, had packed quietly, unsure of what to say. Josie once more found herself swept over with guilt that Michaela’s own happy plans had been postponed. She also realized she was about to say goodbye to her best friend.

The fathers carried the heaviest items to the porch, where Adam helped to load them into the waiting carriages. Michaela and her family were spending the night at a hotel and departing for Boston at noon the next day on the same train as Jacob, Hannah, and Rachel. Once the carriages were loaded, the families boarded, giving the two new doctors some privacy to say their farewells.

Michaela and Josie embraced for several long moments, tears flowing down both their faces.

“You must write me and tell me all about the West,” Michaela whispered into Josie’s ear as they clung to one another.

“I will, I promise. And you must let me know when the wedding is rescheduled. I don’t care how long a journey it is; I will be there.”

They stepped apart and faced each another, still holding onto one another’s arms.

“Good luck, Josie,” Michaela said.

“Good luck, Michaela.” Josie kissed her friend lightly on the forehead, clasped her hand a final time, and joined her family in the carriage. She sat next to her father, tears streaming down her face. Jacob put a comforting arm around her shoulders and drew her close. He beckoned to the driver, and they pulled away.

The family was staying at the swanky Continental Hotel, where that night they had an enormous celebratory dinner. They made toast after toast to the newly minted Dr. Cartwright, to Adam and Josie’s upcoming journey, and to the safety of the Union. Heady from all the champagne, Adam thought his eyes were playing tricks on him when he saw the waiter carrying a gigantic cake to their table. He figured the cake must be part of the celebration for Josie, but the waiter placed the huge confection in front of him instead of his cousin. Looking down at it, he saw the words “Happy Birthday, Adam” scrawled in icing across the top.

“Happy birthday!” the rest of the family cheered.

Adam blushed. He was flattered the family had remembered his birthday but felt that tonight was not an appropriate time to recognize it.

“O- Oh,” he stammered. “You really shouldn’t have, I-”

“I told you he’d protest,” Josie interrupted with a smug smirk.

Adam shot Josie an exasperated look. “Today is about you, not me.”

Jacob laid a hand on Adam’s arm. “This was Josie’s idea,” he told him.

“Happy birthday, Cousin-Cousin.” Josie leaned over and gave Adam a quick hug around the neck. As she reached over to him, her index finger swiped up a large blob of icing from the edge of the cake and deposited it neatly in Adam’s left ear. He cried out in surprise.

“Josephine!” Jacob, Hannah, and Rachel declared in unison.

“That’s for the other night,” Josie said sweetly and planted a wet kiss on his cheek.

“No, no,” Adam said in response to the horrified expressions on his aunts’ and uncle’s faces. “I deserved that.” He swabbed his ear with a corner of his napkin and wiped his cheek with his shoulder.

“Yes,” Josie agreed. “Yes, you did.” Her father raised an eyebrow in her direction. “It’s a long story,” she explained.

“Thank you for the cake, anyway,” Adam said to Josie as he dabbed the last remnants of icing out of his ear. He glanced back down at the cake and smiled. “This really does look delicious.”

Adam reached for the knife the waiter had brought and cut into the cake. He passed around slices – even the usually abstemious Rachel accepted one – and everyone dived in. For at least one more night, they could forget the war and enjoy something as simple and innocent as a birthday.

******

The Cartwrights spent the following day preparing for their journeys from Philadelphia. Jacob, Hannah, Rachel, and Adam did not have much to pack, but Josie had to sort all of her belongings from her dormitory room into two categories: things to take to Nevada and things to send to Boston with her parents for storage. She had already given away a few of her formal dresses to Michaela and Katherine because she knew she would have limited need for ball gowns for Nevada, but she wanted to take all of her medical textbooks and reference books to help her as she set up her practice. Adam packed her books into a trunk, and he smiled when he came across well-loved copies of The Children of the New Forest and Frankenstein. Josie complimented Adam on the way he had managed to fit all the books into the trunk like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, and she tucked a quilt over top of them to hold them in place and keep them dry. The lid of the trunk did not quite close over the fluffy quilt, so Josie sat on the trunk while Adam strapped it shut.

Supper that night was a subdued affair. The family was not looking forward to saying goodbye to one another the following morning. Josie, especially, felt conflicted. She was excited to go west with Adam, but this would be the farthest she had ever traveled away from her parents. Even when she was at school in Hartford Jacob and Hannah had traveled up to see her or she down to them every couple of months. There would be no such option out on the Ponderosa, and no one could predict how long the war would last. She was also terrified for her father’s safety. He was accompanying Hannah and Rachel back to Boston but had to report to the Army in Washington by June 1. Jacob sensed his daughter’s ambivalence and cast her several encouraging smiles across the table during their meal.

Josie tossed and turned in bed that night, unable to sleep. Sometime around one a.m. she gave up and decided to read for a while. No sooner had she lit the lamp then she remembered that all of her books were packed neatly in her trunk. Not wanting to undo Adam’s precise work – and uncertain she could get the trunk closed and latched again on her own anyway – she flopped backward onto her bed and stared at the ceiling for an hour before drifting into a fitful sleep.

Jacob and Hannah slept no better in their room next door. Hannah accepted the fact that she would not sleep that night, but Jacob dosed himself with several shots of brandy in the hopes it would help him doze off. Unfortunately, all it did was make him drunk, so he lay in bed wide awake and slightly nauseated. He tried not to disturb his wife, but Hannah was a perceptive woman.

“She will be all right,” she said, laying a hand on her husband’s shoulder as they lay next to one another. “Ben and the boys will take good care of her. Not that Josie needs taking care of.” She laughed lightly.

“I’m not worried about her on the Ponderosa,” Jacob said. “This is the right decision. I just hate seeing our family split apart.”

Hannah sighed. “I think we will see thousands of families split apart by the time this war is over,” she replied. They were already hearing reports of families in which brothers had joined opposing armies. Even the great Colonel Robert E. Lee, a thirty-two-year veteran of the U.S. Army and a former superintendent of the United States Military Academy, had resigned his army commission to take command of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. The war was splitting all types of families.

“Unfortunately, I think you’re right,” Jacob said. “At least you and Josie will be with family, even if you’re not together.” He rolled over, wrapped an arm around his wife, and pulled her close. Hannah eventually drifted off, but Jacob lay awake until dawn.

Rachel, too, spent most of the long night lying awake. She was a meticulous woman who liked predictability, and this “civil” war as people were calling it was upsetting her sense of order and control. Up until now she had been able to pretend that the war did not affect her; Jacob and Hannah coming to stay in Boston had been merely a pleasant family visit, and Adam was in Philadelphia for no other reason than Josephine’s graduation. But in the morning the charade would end. Josephine would board a westward-bound ship with Adam and sail away. In a few more days, her brother-in-law would return to Washington to join the Army. Rachel could pretend no longer. The war had come home.

In his room across the hall, Adam had no trouble falling asleep, but he awoke an hour and a half before dawn, which was early even by his standards. He tried to go back to sleep, but images of Uncle Jacob under fire on a battlefield kept invading his thoughts, so he opened his trunk and dug out his copy of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” After only a couple of pages, however, he discovered that a story about slavery was not a good distraction under the circumstances, and he returned the book to his trunk. He pulled out his sketchpad and a pencil instead, flipped to a clean page, and began scratching out a building design that had been flitting about his mind the past few days. He was very pleased with the way his brainchild was taking shape, and he was so absorbed in his sketch that he barely noticed the time passing. Before long the sunlight was filtering through his window, so Adam stowed his sketchpad and pencil and hauled himself out of bed to wash up and dress for breakfast.

All five family members stumbled bleary-eyed into the hallway. Josie was massaging a kink in her neck she had gotten from sleeping sideways on her bed with no pillow, Jacob was nursing a vicious hangover and cringed at every sound, and Adam’s chin was bleeding freely from a spot he had nicked while shaving. Rachel drew a handkerchief from her pocket and reached out to press it to her nephew’s chin, but in her own fatigue she misjudged the distance between herself and Hannah and clocked the younger woman in the nose with the back of her hand. Hannah snapped her head back and collided with Jacob, who stumbled backward, holding his head and groaning. Rachel dropped the handkerchief onto the floor and reached for her sister while apologizing profusely. Josie drew out her own handkerchief and attended to Adam’s chin.

“Goodness, Adam,” she said, examining the cut. “What were you trying to do? Perform surgery on your own jaw?”

“I didn’t even notice,” he yawned. “But that would explain why my aftershave stung so much more than usual.”

Josie rolled her eyes and applied the handkerchief. While she waited for Adam to clot, she gazed around at her family: her aunt still apologizing to her mother for hitting her in the face, her mother dabbing under her nose to check for bleeding, her father leaning with his forehead against the wall and his fingers in his ears to block out the commotion, and her cousin bleeding through one of her best handkerchiefs. She shook her head.

“We are a sorry lot this morning,” she observed.

“Shhhhhhhh,” Jacob said, his forehead still pressed to the floral wallpaper.

When Adam finally stopped bleeding, Josie ducked back into her room to toss the ruined handkerchief in the waste bin, and after peeling Jacob off the wall, the family headed downstairs to the dining room for breakfast. The clamor of the other diners and the clink of silverware on china was agony for Jacob, who even in a quiet room would have been too nauseated to eat. He nursed a cup of coffee, and Hannah, whose nose had fortunately not been damaged by her older sister, periodically patted his knee. He excused himself early from the table to check them out of their rooms and arrange for their luggage to go to either the wharf or the train station.

Adam and Josie’s ship was set to depart at ten o’clock and the train to Boston not until noon, so after breakfast the family headed for the wharf. Adam had splurged on first-class tickets, so he and Josie were among the first passengers to board. Adam felt a powerful surge of déjà vu as the family stood in a circle, not sure who should begin the goodbyes. Josie wished Hoss were there to set everyone at ease. Finally, Rachel broke the spell and embraced Josie. Startled, Josie stiffened against her aunt’s grasp. Rachel was not the hugging type, and even if she had been, she still had never exhibited any particular fondness for her niece. Josie patted her clumsily on the back.

“Godspeed, Josephine,” Rachel whispered in Josie’s ear. She broke away from Josie and hugged Adam, who reacted every bit as stiffly as Josie had done. “Take care of her,” Rachel instructed her nephew.

“Yes, ma’am.”

Her farewells said, Rachel dabbed at her eyes and stepped behind Jacob and Hannah, leaving Josie face-to-face with her parents.

“Oh, Mama!” Josie cried, rushing into her mother’s arms. The two women burst into tears and clutched each other for several long moments. “I promise to write,” Josie sobbed.

“I know you will,” Hannah choked out. She took a few shuddering breaths, and then stepped back, cradling her daughter’s face in her hands. “I am so proud of you, Josie. More than you will ever know. I love you so much.”

“I love you, too,” Josie whimpered.

Hannah stepped over to Adam and hugged him tightly. “Take care of her,” she whispered into his ear.

“I will. I promise.”

Josie faced her father, whose squinting against the painfully bright sunshine caused the corners of his dark eyes to crinkle. He reached his arms out to her, and Josie threw herself into them, still sobbing.

“Hush now,” Jacob said as he stroked his daughter’s dark hair. “You’re off on a grand adventure.”

“And you’re off to war!” Josie wailed. “Papa, please be careful. You have to come home. Promise me you’ll come home!”

“I’ll do everything I can, Josie,” Jacob said sniffling. “That much I can promise.”

“I love you, Papa!”

“I love you, too, darling.” Jacob was weeping openly now, and he made no attempt to hide it. He and Josie held each other until the ship’s horn announced that first-class passengers could begin boarding. Jacob released his daughter and turned quickly to Adam. The men shook hands at first, and then Jacob pulled his nephew in for a warm embrace. “Take care of each other.”

“We always do,” Adam replied. “And she’ll have my father and Hoss and Little Joe looking out for her, too.”

Jacob stepped back and gave his nephew a skeptical look.

“Well,” Adam said, “forget I put Joe on that list.”

Everyone laughed through their tears as the ship’s horn sounded a second time.

“Go, go!” Jacob said, shooing Adam and Josie toward their ship. Josie gave her father one last embrace and then turned toward the ship, tears still streaming down her cheeks. Adam put an arm around her shoulders, and together they headed for the gangway.

******

A crewman decked out in dress blues met Adam and Josie at the top of the gangway.

“Good morning sir, miss,” he said, tipping his hat. “Welcome to the Morning Star. May I have your name, please?”

Adam gave it, and the crewman’s eyes widened. “Oh, Mr. Cartwright!” he exclaimed, straightening up. “Welcome aboard! Jones here will direct you to your stateroom.” He indicated another crewman standing to his left. “And please join us tonight for dinner and a reception with Captain Pike.”

“Thank you,” Adam said, and he pressed a silver dollar into the man’s hand.

Adam and Josie followed Jones down a hallway and up a flight of stairs to their stateroom.

“Here we are, sir,” Jones said as he pushed open the heavy oak door.

Josie gasped as she stepped into the parlor of their suite. The parlor alone was nearly as large as the sitting room in her home in Washington, DC. On the opposite side from the door was a large window with a window seat, and next to it another door that led onto their private balcony. In a small alcove near the balcony door was a dining table for when they wanted to take meals in their stateroom. The parlor had a plush red carpet, a long settee, and two leather armchairs next to a mahogany coffee table. To the right and left were additional doors that led to the suite’s two bedrooms. Adam smiled in approval.

“This should do, don’t you think?” he said.

Awed by the luxury of it, Josie merely nodded, her mouth agape. “You shouldn’t have spent so much,” she said when she found her voice.

Adam chucked her under the chin. “Consider it a graduation present. Besides, Hoss and Little Joe insisted I bring you home in style.”

Jones led them across to the bedroom door on the left. “Your bedroom, Miss Cartwright.” Adam whispered quickly to Jones, who corrected himself. “My apologies. I meant Dr. Cartwright.”

Josie barely registered the correction; her mouth had dropped open once more. In the center of the room stood an enormous four-poster bed with rich, velvet curtains. A matching mahogany chest of drawers and a wardrobe stood handsomely against one wall, and a red armchair that matched the bed curtains sat in a corner next to the window. A small door opposite the window led to Josie’s private washroom. Her trunks had already been delivered and set at the foot of the bed. Josie had stayed in high-class hotels before, but she had not been expecting such luxury on board a ship. When she had last traveled west eleven years ago, their staterooms had been comfortable, but nowhere near this opulent. She tried not to imagine how much this suite had cost. Josie stepped slowly into the room and approached the bed. She ran one hand admiringly down the crimson curtains and turned to Adam.

“Thank you,” she breathed.

Adam smiled. “Nothing but the best for the new Dr. Cartwright.” He pressed a gold coin into Jones’s hand and thanked him for his assistance. Jones bowed and slipped out of the stateroom.

While Adam checked out his own bedroom – a smidge smaller than Josie’s but every bit as posh – Josie sat on the edge of her bed and smiled as she sank slightly into the feather mattress.

“Adam really shouldn’t have spent so much,” she muttered to herself, even as she silently admitted that she was pleased he had. She let herself fall backward onto the plush mattress and sighed as she made contact with the soft down blanket. Sleepiness descended on her like a heavy cloud as the previous night’s restlessness caught up to her. She blinked twice and then decided she would just rest her eyes for a few moments. She was sound asleep within seconds.

That was how Adam found her ten minutes later when he poked his head in to see if Josie wanted to stand on the balcony with him as the ship pushed away from the dock. One corner of his mouth curled up in a half-smile as he gazed down at his sleeping cousin. It struck him how people always looked younger when they were sleeping. Josie could have been a little girl of seven or eight again. Adam considered waking her but then decided that casting off was not all that exciting. They had no one to wave to on the dock anyway.

“Besides,” he thought as an enormous yawn split his jaw, “Josie seems to be on to something.” He returned to his own room, pulled off his boots, laid down on his bed, and fell asleep.

It was just after two p.m. when Adam stirred again, so he used the suite’s bell system to ring for a crewman. Jones reappeared at their main door within moments, and Adam asked him to please bring up some sandwiches and coffee since he and Josie had missed lunch.

Josie awoke just as the sandwiches arrived, and she emerged from her bedroom massaging that same kink in her neck.

“I have to stop falling asleep like that,” she groaned. “How long was I asleep?”

“Nearly five hours,” Adam said, rising from the settee and glancing at the clock that sat on the shelf along one wall of the parlor.

Josie glanced out the windows and saw nothing but water. “I guess I missed the castoff.”

“So did I. I thought about waking you, but a nap seemed like a better idea.”

“Thank you,” Josie replied. She crossed to the table and sat down, staring greedily at the ham sandwiches Adam had ordered. “You better hurry up, or I might eat all of these without you.”

Adam grinned but knew she was not joking. When Josie was truly hungry, she could give Hoss a run for his money. As they ate, he told her about the captain’s dinner and reception the crewmen had mentioned when they boarded. All first-class passengers aboard the Morning Star were invited to dine with the captain on their first evening, and as the residents of the finest stateroom, Adam and Josie were to be seated at the captain’s own table. Josie’s eyebrows shot up when Adam mentioned they were in the finest stateroom, though looking around at the décor, she realized she should not be surprised.

“How did you manage that on such short notice?” she demanded. They had decided to sail on this ship less than a week ago, when all of the best staterooms should have already been booked.

“That was sheer dumb luck. I was just hoping for second class, but when I went to book our passage, the man at the ticket office mentioned they had had several cancelations due to the war, so I asked if any of those had been first class. And, lo and behold.” He gestured grandly to their parlor.

“I am glad I did not give away all my best gowns,” Josie said.

They finished their sandwiches and coffee and then returned to their bedrooms to unpack. Josie dived into her trunk of fanciest gowns, hoping that at least one of them would not be too wrinkled to wear to dinner that evening. She was relieved when she extruded her favorite sapphire-blue gown and discovered the silk was not terribly crushed. She hung the gown from the bar in her wardrobe and flitted back into the parlor to ring for a maid. When the maid arrived, Josie gave her the gown with careful instructions for steaming out the wrinkles and a request for assistance in dressing before dinner that evening. The maid tried to assist Josie with the rest of her unpacking, but Josie sent her on her way, saying she was perfectly capable of hanging up her own dresses.

The maid returned early that evening with Josie’s gown perfectly steamed. Adam was reading a book on the settee and looked up in surprise when Josie announced she was going to start dressing for supper.

“It’s still two hours until supper.”

Josie smiled at him indulgently like a parent to a child. “That should be just enough time,” she replied.

“It takes two hours to get dressed?”

“For a woman in the East attending a high-class formal dinner, yes.”

Adam shook his head in astonishment.

“One of the many reasons I am grateful to be headed to Nevada rather than to Boston,” Josie said as the maid ushered her into her bedroom.

Josie did indeed require two hours for dressing. The maid helped her strip off the cotton day dress she was wearing and wrapped a corset around her torso, overtop her chemise. Josie gripped one bedpost as the maid cinched the laces on the corset. Having been squeezed into a corset far too often for her liking, Josie inhaled deeply just before the maid yanked on the laces. If she held her breath through the lacing, when she exhaled, she would have a half inch of breathing room inside her corset. It was a trick she had learned during her first trip to the Ponderosa when she was watching Hoss saddle a horse. He had shown her how the horse held its breath while he cinched the saddle. As soon as he turned away, the horse exhaled, leaving the saddle’s cinch loose. If he did not tighten it a second time, the saddle – and its occupant – would slide right off the side of the horse within a few strides. Josie thought that horse was brilliant and employed its strategy every time she had to wear a corset. Fortunately, Josie had yet to encounter a lady’s maid who figured out her trick.

After the corset, the maid grabbed Josie’s bell-shaped hoop skirt and tied it around her waist, securing the front flap closed with straight pins. Finally, Josie was ready for her gown. The maid slipped it over her head and buttoned up the back for her. Josie admired herself in the mirror that sat in one corner of her room. Josie was generally disinterested in fashion, but she adored this gown. The azure silk was striking against her black hair and pale skin, and it was cut in the most current style with a low neckline, short, puffed sleeves, and a gathered waist. The neckline and the full skirt were trimmed with delicate black lace. The maid stood back and admired her.

“It’s beautiful, miss,” she said in a light British lilt.

“Thank you.” Josie smiled and spun around to make the skirt twirl before sitting in front of the dressing table for the maid to style her hair.

If Josie felt being bound into a corset was uncomfortable, she believed that having her hair styled was sheer torture.   If left to her own devices, Josie would pull her long hair into a simple braid, which she would coil around itself to create a plaited bun. It was easy and practical for her medical work, but formal evening affairs called for formal evening hair, and Josie had yet to find anyone who could style her hair without yanking on it. This young lady, however, was surprisingly gentle. She deftly wove one broad braid across Josie’s hairline and pinned the end in place behind Josie’s right ear. The rest of Josie’s hair she left cascading in a fashionable waterfall style around which she wrapped another thick plait. As a finishing touch, she tucked several sprays of pure white lilies-of-the-valley securely into the top braid. The flowers fairly glowed against Josie’s black hair, and the young maid smiled with satisfaction at her completed work.

“I dare say, that’s my best yet,” she said.

Josie was stunned. Most lady’s maids were unsure what constituted a proper style for a woman of twenty years and left her looking like either a child or an old schoolmarm. This was perfect. It was youthful, but not childish.

“It’s gorgeous,” Josie breathed.

The maid smiled. “Thank you, miss. Do you need anything else?”

“No,” Josie said, glancing at the clock on the wall. It was nearly time to go. “Thank you very much.” She dropped a few coins into the maid’s palm and sent her off. She slipped a pair of low-heeled black silk slippers onto her feet and grabbed her black lace gloves from the dressing table. She pulled on the gloves as she headed into the parlor.

Waiting on the settee in his best suit, Adam leapt to his feet when he saw Josie’s bedroom door swing open. Josie stepped into the parlor, and Adam instantly understood why she had needed two hours for preparation. He felt a bit sad at how grown-up his little cousin had become. He also felt horribly inadequate and underdressed. He had considered purchasing a fancier Eastern-style suit before leaving Philadelphia, but there had not been enough time for the necessary tailoring. He now hoped that if he stayed a step behind Josie as they entered the dining room everyone would be so preoccupied staring at her that no one would look at him. He also wondered if it would be inappropriate for him to wear his gun to dinner. He had recently upgraded his old Colt Walker .44 to the much lighter, more reliable Remington Army .44, and he thought it might not hurt to show it off a little.

Josie could almost hear Adam’s mind working as he stared at her. “What’s wrong?” she asked in mild alarm. She glanced down at her dress to see if there was a noticeable tear or stain, and then another thought occurred to her. “Is this too fancy?”

Adam’s jaw worked up and down a few times before he emitted any sound. “No,” he croaked. “You look absolutely stunning. I look like I just rolled in on a stagecoach.” He glanced down at his simple black dress pants and jacket, white shirt, and black string tie.

Josie smiled sweetly at him. “I think you look very dashing.” She remembered the care Adam had taken in college to dress like his classmates so he did not stick out as a country bumpkin, and she sensed his wish that there had been time for him to more properly attire himself for their first-class status. “Come along, Mr. Cartwright,” she said. “We do not want to leave our admirers waiting.”

Adam grinned, offered Josie his arm, and escorted her from their stateroom.

******

As Adam had both hoped and feared, all eyes turned to Josie as the cousins swept into the grand dining room. But overall, the dinner and reception were a smashing success. Captain Leonard Pike was a friendly and gracious man who invited Adam and Josie to visit the bridge the following day, which they happily accepted. Both of the cousins enjoyed meeting and speaking with some of their fellow passengers, most of whom were intrigued by the idea that a young lady had recently completed her medical degree. Many of the men were interested in hearing about the Ponderosa and Adam’s life out West. For the most part, everyone avoided the topic of war, all of them too well bred to discuss politics over supper. Adam and Josie had an enjoyable evening and retired to their stateroom at the end of the night exhausted but exhilarated.

Their journey southward down the coast passed pleasantly, though it took nearly three weeks as Captain Pike gave the southern states’ seaports a wide berth. They reached Colón, Panama, on June 7 and immediately boarded a train across the isthmus. After two days in Panama City, they had sent telegrams to both their families and were boarding the ship that would deliver them to San Francisco.

Josie loved the journey to San Francisco. While she had relished traveling in style from Philadelphia to Colón, she had been a bit on edge every time they passed a southern port. But now, on the western side of the continent, they were far away from the war, and Josie allowed herself to revel in her excitement over returning to the Ponderosa. Their stateroom on the ship to Panama, while not as opulent as that on the Morning Star, had a private balcony, too, and Josie and Adam spent many evenings on the balcony, taking in the cool sea air, playing chess or checkers, or discussing whatever they happened to be reading. Their stateroom was portside, so as they approached the California coast, they spent more time on the main starboard deck so Josie could see the sea lions along the shore. Her delighted laughter over the creatures’ antics had changed little in the past eleven years, and Adam felt like he was twenty years old again and taking his cousin on her first big adventure. It pleased him to see that the little girl he had carried on his shoulders so many years ago had not disappeared.

Josie was stunned when she caught her first glimpse of San Francisco. In 1850, San Francisco had been a squat, dirty town, home only to miners and speculators. Now, it was a real city with a busy port and bustling streets that extended for miles in every direction. Josie stared around in awe as she and Adam disembarked from their ship.

“It grew just like you said it would,” she said.

Adam grinned. “It sure did. The Ponderosa sells most of its beef here in San Francisco. Between the miners and the businessmen, it’s a hungry city, and I expect it will keep growing.”

He led Josie away from the wharf and hailed a cab to take them to their hotel. They would depart on the stagecoach for Virginia City in two days, and Josie thought she would die of anticipation. They took lunch in the sitting room of their suite, and Adam suggested they go shopping to fill the afternoon.

“This is a good opportunity to pick up presents for Little Joe’s birthday,” Adam explained, “and I thought you might enjoy checking out the apothecary.”

Josie beamed with excitement. She hoped the apothecary was a good one. It would be much faster to receive medical supplies from San Francisco than from one of the cities back east.

After lunch they departed for the merchants’ district, where Josie was pleased with the apothecary. Adam enjoyed listening in as Josie chatted knowledgably with the druggist about disinfectants and poultices. Once they left the apothecary, Adam led Josie into a shoe store.

“Why are we here?” she asked.

“We need a pair of boots,” Adam announced to both her and the shoemaker.

“Certainly, sir, what size?” the shoemaker asked.

Adam pointed to Josie’s feet. “About that size.” He gave Josie a sly smile.

Josie tossed her head back and laughed. “I sense a tradition forming.”

“Now, Josephine, don’t you go expecting a new pair of boots every time we come to San Francisco,” Adam teased.

“What color, miss?” the shoemaker asked.

Josie did not hesitate. “Black,” she declared.

            A short time later, Josie and Adam exited the shoemaker’s, Adam carrying Josie’s new boots under one arm; she had opted not to wear them with her dress this time around. They stopped at the mercantile to select birthday gifts for Little Joe; Adam picked out a pair of mahogany saddlebags that would match his Christmas saddle perfectly, and Josie purchased a blue-checkered shirt for him. Adam thought this a bit odd, but he knew better than to ask questions where Josie and Little Joe were concerned.

They had the following day free, and Josie begged to see the infamous Barbary Coast, but Adam gave her an unequivocal no. Instead, they took afternoon tea with some old friends of Ben’s, who were delighted to meet his beautiful niece from Washington, DC. After supper that evening, they retired early, knowing it would be their last truly restful night until they reached the Ponderosa five days later.

The stagecoach to Virginia City was much as Josie remembered it: hot, dusty, bumpy, and disappointingly devoid of mountain lions. As they caught their first glimpse of the snow-capped Sierra Nevada range, Josie giggled and reminded Adam of the last time they had made this journey and how Jacob had yelled at him and Hoss for telling her about the Donner Party. Adam laughed at the memory, causing the elderly couple also in the coach to look aghast at the cousins and wonder what was so funny about cannibalism.

They rolled into Virginia City in the late afternoon on July 3 – a day after Little Joe’s birthday, unfortunately, but still in time for Independence Day. Josie gazed in wonderment at the new little town, scarcely believing that so many businesses could have sprung up in just under two years.

Adam caught her staring. “It’s pretty amazing, isn’t it? The stores and businesses here meet all the Ponderosa’s needs for groceries, supplies, and banking. We hardly ever go into Carson City anymore.” He stuck his head out the window a ways and looked ahead toward the stagecoach depot. “It looks like we have a welcoming party.”

At the depot at the end of Main Street, Ben, Hoss, and Little Joe waited, shifting their feet and repeatedly checking Ben’s pocket watch. Joe let out a loud whoop when he saw the stage approaching, and Ben had to grab hold of his youngest son’s shoulders to keep him from tearing into the stagecoach’s path. All three of them were grinning so widely that their cheeks ached.

Adam was first out of the coach, followed by the elderly gentleman. As the older man helped his wife down from the coach, Adam greeted his family. He received warm handshakes from his father and Hoss and an exuberant hug from Little Joe before turning back to the stagecoach and extending his hand to Josie, who was just emerging from the little door.

Ben’s breath caught as he gazed upon his niece for the first time since she was a child. The skinny, knobby-kneed little girl who had raced around with Little Joe was gone. The figure who emerged from the stagecoach was a slender, comely young woman who so resembled his late wife Elizabeth that Ben’s heart ached, both for the loss of his first wife and for the years he had missed with his niece. Ben felt a strange sense of apprehension as he watched Adam help Josie down from the coach, but when Josie’s feet hit the ground and she squealed “Uncle Ben!” as she threw her arms around his neck, the apprehension vanished, and Benjamin Cartwright felt nothing but joy.

Josie stepped back and gazed through happy tears at her uncle. Ben’s face was more lined than it was when Josie last saw him, and his hair, once nearly as dark as hers and Adam’s, was now completely gray and on its way to silver. But his velvety brown eyes and affectionate smile were unchanged.

“Oh, Josephine,” Ben said, still holding onto her arms, “you certainly have grown up beautifully. We’ve missed you.” His eyes shone at her.

“I’ve missed you, too.”

“Hey there, little cousin,” said a shy, deep voice from behind her.

Josie turned and faced Hoss, who was now three inches taller and about seventy pounds heavier than the last time she had seen him.

“Oh my goodness, Hoss!” Josie sprang into his arms and let him swing her around as they embraced, tears streaming down both their faces. When Hoss released her, she pounced at Little Joe, whom she had seen only two years previously but had missed every bit as much. The cousins hugged excitedly, both of them jumping up and down in a most undignified manner. When they stopped jumping, they stood there grinning at each other for several moments.

Shaking his head at the youngest two Cartwrights, Adam began loading their luggage into the buckboard. Hoss lent him a hand, and they had the luggage loaded in no time, and Hoss lifted Josie onto the buckboard’s seat as if she weighed no more than a feather. Adam climbed into the seat next to her and picked up the reins while Ben, Hoss, and Little Joe swung onto their horses. Adam clucked to the horses, and they rolled out of town toward home.

******

As they trundled down the road toward the Ponderosa, Josie leaned her head back and let the hot sunshine beat down on her face. She smiled as she inhaled the fresh air and thought how horrified Aunt Rachel would be if she knew Josie were letting herself freckle.

Aboard his tall buckskin gelding, Buck, Ben smiled as he watched his niece take in the breeze and sunshine. Josie had blended seamlessly into the family during her last visit to the Ponderosa, and she had left an almost tangible hole in their lives when she had left. “She may be Jacob’s daughter,” Ben thought, “but she belongs in my world.”

Ben reined Buck up alongside the buckboard. “Wait until you see the new house, Josie. Your Cousin-Cousin did a fine job designing it.”

Adam shot his father an irritated look at the mention of Josie’s silly nickname for him. He did not mind Josie using it, but he did not want the moniker to become public knowledge, either.

Josie giggled. “I can’t wait!” she exclaimed, throwing her arms out wide. Adam ducked and barely avoided being smacked in the face by Josie’s flying right arm.

Josie did not have to wait long. Though the ride from Virginia City to the ranch house took two hours, it was still only half as long as the ride from Carson City, and Josie was so busy soaking up the scenery and chatting with her uncle and cousins that she hardly noticed the time passing.

“Ooohhhhhh,” Josie breathed when the house came into view. “Adam, it’s beautiful!”

The two-story house was built from sturdy logs cut on the Ponderosa and was larger than Josie’s home in Washington. A deep, covered porch spanned nearly the entire length of the front of the house, which rose to a neat peak above the second story. A hitching post stood on each side of the dirt front yard with a large barn opposite the house and a bunkhouse to the side. Josie thought it was absolutely perfect.

Adam smiled sheepishly at Josie’s praise. “Just a little something I thought up,” he said.

He pulled the buckboard to a stop in front of the house, and two ranch hands emerged from the barn to take the horses as Ben, Hoss, and Little Joe dismounted. Adam jumped down from the buckboard and walked around to the other side to help Josie down. Josie thought how useful it would be to have a few pairs of blue jeans so she did not have to worry about modesty while climbing up and down out of wagons, and she resolved to do some shopping soon. Adam set her lightly on the ground just as Hop Sing emerged from the house.

“Hop Sing!” Josie squealed, running over to him and giving him a warm hug.

“Dr. Cartlight! So good to see you again!”

Josie cringed at Hop Sing’s slaughtering of her surname. “I haven’t forgotten,” she whispered in his ear, then drew back and gave him a mischievous smile. Hop Sing raised one eyebrow almost imperceptibly but gave no other indication he had heard Josie’s comment. He turned to Adam instead. “Where you want luggage?”

Adam gave directions for his and Josie’s trunks, and he, Hop Sing, Hoss, and Little Joe started carrying them into the house. Josie stood outside for a moment to admire the house.

“Which window is mine?” she asked Ben.

“You, my dear, get two windows,” Ben proclaimed. He took her hand and led her to the corner of the house. “That one,” he said as he pointed to the last window on the front. Then he led her around the corner to the side of the house and pointed at another window. “And that one. You’ll get light in your room pretty much all day long.”

Josie beamed with pleasure.

Just then, Hoss came around the side of the house. “Hey, Pa, Adam’s getting impatient about getting the rest of this luggage inside.”

“So, take it inside, Hoss!” Ben barked. He did not understand why this would require his attention.

“You’re the boss!” Hoss said and swung Josie over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes.

“Hey!” Josie shouted in surprise. “Put me down!” Hoss ignored her protests. “I mean it!” She tried to sound stern, but she was laughing too hard to be credible. She pounded her fists playfully on Hoss’s back as he carried her through the front door.

“Where d’ya want this one, Adam?” Hoss boomed.

Adam acted as if there was nothing unusual about Josie being treated like luggage. “Last bedroom at the end of the hall.” He cocked his head in the direction of the staircase. Little Joe cackled at the sight of Hoss lugging Josie up the stairs.

Defeated, Josie let her arms and head drop limply against Hoss’s back as he made his way across the great room and up the stairs. “This is so undignified,” she moaned into his shirt.

Hoss tromped into Josie’s bedroom and swung her off his shoulder and onto the floor. He set her down a little harder than he intended to, and Josie’s knees buckled. She nearly fell, but Hoss grabbed her arm just in time.

“Sorry ‘bout that, Josie,” he said, blushing. “You’re lighter than Little Joe.”

“Carry him around often, do you?”

“It’s faster than waitin’ for ol’ Shortshanks to catch up.”

Josie smiled and looked around her new room. The walls were the same mottled gray as the rest of the house, and the furniture was all fine walnut, polished to a deep shine. The bed sat against one wall, and an oil lamp hung from the wall just next to it. Hanging over the bed was a framed map of Washington, DC. To the right of the door were a tall chest of drawers, a wardrobe, and a dressing table with a tall mirror. Next to that was a small washstand. A writing desk was placed under one of the windows, and next to the other window were two empty bookcases, waiting for Josie to fill them. Next to the bookcases was a crimson armchair for reading. The windows all sported gray Venetian shutter blinds and new curtains of sapphire-blue lace, which coordinated perfectly with the bedspread. A plush floral-patterned rug in shades of blue and red covered the floor next to the bed. Josie adored it, but her favorite touch was sitting on the bed itself. There, in front of a stack of fluffy pillows, was a brand-new black cowboy hat with a silver-studded band, just like Adam’s. Josie laughed in delight and popped the hat onto her head, cocking it over her right eye at the perfect rakish angle.

Ben, Adam, and Little Joe stepped into the room just then and chuckled at Josie in her new hat.

“How do you like your room?” Ben asked.

“It’s perfect! Thank you so much!”

Adam looked around approvingly; this was his first look at his father’s efforts with the room, too. He was especially touched by the map of Washington, DC. Josie would have a little piece of home watching over her every night as she slept.

“Well done, Pa,” he complimented.

“I had a little help,” Ben admitted.

“Mrs. Larson?”

“Yep,” Ben said, then quickly added, “but the map was my idea.”

“The hat was my idea,” Hoss boasted, hitching his thumbs in pants pockets and puffing out his chest.

All eyes turned to Little Joe, who suddenly became very interested in an imaginary stain on wood floor.

“I- I didn’t have any ideas,” he murmured.

“That’s a first,” Adam muttered.

Little Joe stuck out his tongue at his older brother, who grabbed him in a headlock with one arm and mussed up his hair with the opposite hand. Joe hollered in protest.

“Come on, little brother,” Adam said, releasing Joe. “Let’s give Dr. Josephine Cartwright the grand tour.”

Adam, Hoss, and Little Joe took turns showing off various bits of the house to Josie. She was duly impressed by the washroom, with its commode, sink, large tub, and Adam’s clever use of pipes from the kitchen to heat the running water. A small stove next to the tub provided additional heat in the winter and allowed them to boil water upstairs if needed.

“That is, by far, the biggest bathtub I’ve ever seen!” Josie declared.

“It had to be,” Adam said. “Otherwise Hoss wouldn’t fit.”

Josie stared longingly at the tub; she had not had a proper bath since San Francisco, and she yearned to wash off the scent of sweat and horses.

But there was more house to see first. The men led her downstairs and let her take in the great room. Josie had never seen such a gargantuan fireplace; it was as tall Hoss and looked large enough to burn two or three entire ponderosa pines at a time. Opposite the fireplace was Ben’s study. Josie admired the map of the Ponderosa that hung over her uncle’s leather-topped desk and then followed her cousins toward the dining room and kitchen.

Hop Sing proudly showed off his kitchen and invited Josie to avail herself of it at any time.

“Sure,” Hoss grumbled, “let Josie into the kitchen, but ol’ Hoss gets beat with a rolling pin.”

Hop Sing heard this and turned on Hoss. “Dr. Cartlight not steal cookies!” he scolded, poking Hoss in his ample belly.

“That he ever noticed anyway,” Josie whispered to Little Joe, who snickered.

After the tour, Little Joe wanted to saddle up some horses and take Josie down to the lake, but Ben recognized the fatigue in his niece’s eyes and suggested that perhaps Josie would prefer to settle in and wash off the trail dust. Josie smiled gratefully at her uncle and within twenty minutes was sinking up to her chin in a tub of hot water.

“Adam is a genius,” she thought as she held her breath and ducked her head underwater.

She washed her hair and scrubbed her body all over until her skin glowed pink. Then she sat back, closed her eyes, and basked in the water until it went cold. She pulled the drain plug and watched the water swirl down the drain and disappear.

“Brilliant,” she said. “Positively brilliant.” She was used to running water in Washington, of course, but she had never expected such a fine example of modern conveniences way out here in the Nevada Territory, where most people did not have a proper outhouse, let alone an indoor washroom.

“I must never underestimate Adam,” she said to herself as she stepped out of the tub and wrapped up in a big fluffy towel. She poked her head out the door to check that the hallway was empty and then flitted quickly back to her bedroom, where she pulled a day dress out of her trunk and got dressed. Even this simple dress was fancier than the everyday wear she had seen on the women in Virginia City, but at least her hair would not be a problem. She had noticed that the women here in the West did not wrestle their hair into the fancy up-dos that women in the East were expected to sport every day. A loose bun or a single braid was perfectly acceptable here, and Josie marveled at how much time this would save her every day. For now, she left her long hair loose to dry and headed back downstairs.

All four men leapt to their feet when Josie appeared at the top of the stairs, and she smiled. Uncle Ben certainly had instilled his sons with manners. She glided down the stairs and crossed to the settee, where she sat down between Adam and Hoss.

“Your turn!” she told Adam. “Though I must apologize, I’m certain I did not leave you any hot water.”

Adam shrugged his shoulders and ambled upstairs to clean up. While they waited for Adam to finish his bath, Ben, Hoss, and Little Joe asked Josie all about medical school, and she enjoyed telling them about Michaela and Katherine. When Adam reemerged twenty minutes later, clean shaven and wearing a fresh shirt and jeans, the family sat down to supper. Adam forfeited his position at the foot of the table to Josie, as befitted her new position as the lady of the house, and Adam sat down next to Little Joe. They all folded their hands and bowed their heads as Ben said grace, then dived into the food. Josie was delighted to see that Hop Sing had made roast venison; she had not had venison since her last trip to the Ponderosa.

As they ate, Ben told Adam and Josie about the Independence Day festivities planned in Virginia City the next day and asked if they would like to go. The cousins nodded vigorously. Adam loved watching the fireworks display, and Josie was excited to meet some of the townspeople, especially the town doctor, Paul Martin. She wanted to speak to him about setting up her own practice out on the Ponderosa to service the ranchers in the area.

After supper, Adam and Josie presented Little Joe with his birthday gifts. He was delighted with the saddlebags – they would match his saddle perfectly – and he guffawed when he saw the shirt Josie had bought for him.

“I owed you a shirt,” she said, smiling. “I promise I won’t slice a sleeve off of this one.”

Joe grinned back. “I promise to stay out of that tree.”

“That should not be hard, considering it became firewood over a decade ago,” Josie pointed out.

The two youngest cousins laughed while Ben, Hoss, and Adam looked on in mild befuddlement. They were all pretty certain Josie and Little Joe were referring to the incident that led to Josie’s first attempt at stitches, but they did not understand the connection with the shirt. The remains of Little Joe’s ruined shirt from that afternoon at the duck pond had never been discovered. The three of them looked at each other, shrugged in unison, and let the matter rest.

Exhausted from their journey, Adam and Josie retired early that evening. The stagecoach way stations had improved little over the past decade, and Adam was grateful to be back in a bed that was long enough for his tall frame. He considered reading for a bit but knew he would not last more than two or three pages, so he lay back, stretched his legs out to their full length, and folded his arms under his head. Adam typically sailed along on an even emotional keel, but tonight he was atypically upbeat. The house he began building eleven years ago was finally complete. His little sister was home. Adam closed his eyes and fell into the deepest sleep he had known since John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry.

In the next bedroom down, Josie was grateful that she could climb into bed without first inspecting it for bugs. She sank back against her pillows and sighed happily.

“Dr. Josephine Elizabeth Cartwright,” she whispered to herself, “you have arrived.” She giggled, blew out her lamp, and instantly fell asleep.

******

Josie awoke the next morning to strong daylight pouring through her window. She sat up and was alarmed to see the clock read a few minutes past eight a.m. She realized she had forgotten to set her alarm clock the night before.

“Everyone else must have been up for hours!” she cried as she threw back the covers and sprang to the floor. She threw on the same dress she had worn the previous evening, braided her hair, and scurried down the hall and down the stairs.

To her surprise, everyone else was just finishing up breakfast. Once again, they rose to their feet as Josie entered the room.

“I’m so sorry, Uncle Ben,” she said breathlessly as she sat down in the chair Hoss drew out for her. “I forgot to set my alarm clock. First time I’ve ever done that.”

Ben waved a hand dismissively in her direction. “We’ve all made that stagecoach ride from San Francisco. It’s exhausting. I’m glad you slept so well. Besides, it’s a holiday. Once we’re done eating, we’ll load up in the buckboard and head into town.”

Josie polished off her scrambled eggs and sausage in record time, and the family was soon on its way to Virginia City, Ben driving himself and Josie in the carriage, and Adam, Hoss, and Little Joe aboard their horses. When they reached the meadow outside town where the festivities were being held, it seemed that all of the Nevada Territory and most of California had already arrived. Several of the Cartwrights’ friends recognized them as they rode up, and by the time Ben had helped Josie down from the carriage, more than a dozen people were gathered around them, anxious to meet Benjamin Cartwright’s niece from Washington, DC. Josie was stunned.

“We may have told a few people you were coming,” Little Joe explained.

“A few?” Josie asked, laughing. “It looks like you told the entire territory!”

Josie found herself caught up in a whirlwind of introductions, most of which she had no hope of remembering. Everyone was complimenting Ben on his beautiful niece, asking Josie about Washington and the war, and exclaiming how Adam and Josie looked like siblings. Ben and Adam corrected several people who referred to her as “Miss Cartwright.” Josie was “Dr. Cartwright,” and they wanted everyone to know it. Dizzy from the flurry of people, Josie was grateful when Little Joe extricated her from the pressing throng and took her across the meadow to meet some of his own friends. She was shaking hands with Joe’s friend Mitch when a tall, slim young man with unruly dark-blonde hair stepped forward.

“Hi, Josie,” he said softly.

“Hello…” Josie trailed off in confusion. The young man sounded like he already knew her. “I’m sorry, but have we met?”

The young man blushed and kicked at a clod of dirt. “I guess you don’t remember me. I’m Simon. Simon Croft. We met in-”

“Carson City!” Josie finished. “Oh my goodness, Simon!” She pumped his hand emphatically. “I do remember you – quite well in fact. I just didn’t recognize you. You’re so grown up.” She smiled at him – a gesture he quickly returned.

“Maybe we can have some more dances tonight,” he suggested.

“I’d like that.” Josie smiled at him, pleased to discover another person besides her cousins whom she already knew.

Adam showed up just then and greeted Joe’s friends. He raised an eyebrow at Simon, but the younger man was still staring at Josie and did not notice.

“I think Pa wanted to show you off some more,” Adam said to Josie.

Josie sighed and bid her new acquaintances farewell. Adam led her back to Ben, who introduced her to some more of his friends, including Virginia City Sheriff Roy Coffee.

“Why, Ben,” he said as he shook Josie’s hand, “she is even lovelier than you described.”

Ben smiled proudly. “Words don’t do her justice.”

Josie shook her head in mild embarrassment as Roy looked from her to Adam and back again.

“Are you sure they aren’t brother and sister?” he asked.

“Yes,” Ben said. “Quite.”

Roy turned back to Josie. “Well, I do hope you enjoy Virginia City. We are certainly glad to have you, and I’m sure your old uncle here is glad to have a woman around the house.”

“Thank you,” Josie said, “though I do not expect he’ll find me much help. I intend to set up a medical practice as soon as possible, so I hope to be busy.”

“An ambitious Cartwright,” Roy mused, then grinned. “Imagine that. Well, I have some more people to see, so you all have fun today!”

“We will, Roy, thank you,” Ben said.

“Uncle Ben, is Dr. Martin here?” Josie asked. “I was hoping to speak with him.”

“Unfortunately, Roy told me that Paul was off delivering a baby. I doubt we’ll see him today.”

Josie was disappointed – she really wanted Dr. Martin’s advice – but she decided she could drop in on him when she came back to town to buy clothes.

They spent the rest of the morning looking at the quilts, pies, and dresses the ladies in town had brought in for judging and stopped periodically so Josie could meet more people, including some of the owners of neighboring ranches. Ben greeted everyone by name and asked about their homes and families, and Josie’s admiration for her uncle increased as she saw how much people respected him. Adam, too, seemed to have earned the esteem of the citizenry, and Josie had never been more proud to be a part of the family.

As they were heading back toward the carriage to collect their picnic lunch, however, Ben did something that Josie found incredibly odd. All morning he had been greeting friends and neighbors and delighting in conversing with them. But as they approached the carriage, Ben froze mid-step and ducked behind Adam and Josie. He pushed them a little closer together so their shoulders were touching and ordered them not to move. He even pulled off his hat so it did not stick out from behind Adam.

“Uncle Ben!” Josie declared. “What in the world-”

“Shhhhh!” Ben cut her off.

Adam chuckled as he recognized the approaching figure who had inspired his father to hide.

“Well, hello, Widow Hawkins!” Adam greeted the woman cheerily, if a bit too loudly. “However have you been?”

“Oh, Adam Cartwright!” the widow exclaimed in a thick Cockney accent. She was past middle age, perhaps a dozen years older than Ben, and she had gussied herself up for the day’s festivities. She wore a white, lace-trimmed dress with matching gloves, hat, and parasol, and had wrestled her gray hair into a teetering up-do. She grasped Adam’s outstretched hand warmly. “So lovely to see you! And ooo’s this? Well, she must be that cousin of yours we’ve all ‘eard so much about! But where’s your father? I was ‘oping to chat with ‘im today, that fine specimen of a man.” She looked distinctly put out.

“I’m afraid we left him behind us somewhere,” Adam said. Josie barked out a single “HA!” but managed to transform it into a faux coughing fit. She dared not catch Adam’s eye.

“Oh, that’s too bad,” Widow Hawkins replied. “I’ll ‘ave to keep my eyes peeled for ‘im, I will. But if you see ‘im first, you tell Ducky I said ‘ello.”

“I’ll certainly do that.”

“And please tell ‘im not to be a stranger. Ee’s always welcome ‘round my boarding ‘ouse, ee is. Of course,” she paused for dramatic effect, “if ee can’t make it, you’re always welcome yourself, dearie.” She patted Adam on the cheek, winked at him, and swept away. Adam and Josie rotated as she passed them to keep Ben concealed from view.

When the older lady was out of earshot, Josie burst out laughing.

“Ducky?!” she shrieked. “Ducky?”

Ben peeked out around Adam to be certain Widow Hawkins was gone and then emerged, settling his hat back onto his head. He glared sternly down at Josie, but his niece only laughed harder. She was so overcome that she rested one hand on Adam’s shoulder for support while she drew out her handkerchief and wiped the tears from her eyes with the other.

“That was nothing,” Adam said. “You should see what ‘appens when she actually gets ‘old of ‘im.” He mimicked the widow’s accent perfectly.

Josie doubled over in fresh hysterics.

“You should watch out yourself, ‘Dearie,’” Ben sneered. “She seems to be less choosy these days about which Cartwright she ensnares.”

Adam’s smirk vanished as he contemplated the truth of this statement. “Let’s just go get our lunch.”

As they reached the carriage and Ben extracted their picnic basket from underneath the seat, Hoss jogged up to them.

“Pa!” he gasped as he caught his breath. “Pa, Widow Hawkins is here, and she’s lookin’ for ya.”

“Yes, we noticed,” Ben replied. Josie snorted but otherwise contained herself. Adam smirked again. Ben glared at them both. “One of you go get Little Joe and tell him it’s time to eat,” he ordered. He turned toward the carriage and pretended to fuss with a bolt.

Adam ran off to collect Joe, while Hoss and Josie spread out their picnic blanket and lunch.

“Poor Pa,” Hoss whispered to Josie. “The widow’s been tryin’ to sink her claws into him for years.”

“Yes, she didn’t strike me as Uncle Ben’s type.” The cousins shared a smile but hushed up as Ben turned back toward them.

After they ate, Josie relaxed in the shade of a large oak tree and watched the men pitch horseshoes. Little Joe got bored with the game pretty quickly, and he and Josie crossed to the other side of the meadow to watch the children’s three-legged race. Joe was unimpressed by the youngsters’ efforts.

“We coulda beat ‘em,” he said with a sly smile at Josie.

They spent the rest of the afternoon watching and participating in the various games. Josie learned that the Cartwright brothers were Virginia City’s reigning tug-of-war champions, and she and Ben cheered them on to another victory.

After the match, Josie and Ben were waiting for their victors to rejoin them when a blond lady in her early forties sidled up to Josie and stuck out her hand.

“You must be Miss Cartwright,” she said.

“Dr. Cartwright, actually,” Josie corrected her with a friendly smile.

“Oh, yes, of course,” the woman scoffed. “I’m Mrs. Laurel Bailey, my husband runs the barbershop here in town, and as I understand you’ll be here for a while, I’d like to invite you to join the Virginia City Ladies’ Guild.” She said the group’s name with reverence and smiled at Josie as if this invitation were the greatest honor one person could ever bestow upon another.

Josie cringed inwardly and hoped her face did not betray her. Ladies in groups had always filled her with a sense of apprehension and dread and were one of the primary reasons, along with corsets, that she had refused to live in Boston for the duration of the war. She flashed what she hoped was a gracious smile.

“That’s very kind of you. I expect to be busy setting up my medical practice, but I will certainly keep it in mind.”

“Your medical practice?” Mrs. Bailey asked in disbelief. “My dear, Virginia City already has a doctor.”

“Yes, but Dr. Martin is the only doctor between Carson City and Placerville. That stretches one man awfully thin.”

“Yes, of course.” Mrs. Laurel Bailey sounded unconvinced. Then she sneered, “Well, if you can manage to find the time, we would be delighted if you would deign to grace us with your presence.” She nodded to Ben and flounced away.

Josie stood befuddled for several moments as she watched Mrs. Bailey’s retreating figure. She turned to her uncle.

“Did I say something wrong?”

Ben’s heart nearly broke at the sight of Josie’s big hazel eyes glistening with rejection. He laid a reassuring hand on her shoulder.

“No, sweetheart. You’re just a reminder to her that some women have more important things to do than sit around and gossip. Don’t give her another thought. She isn’t worth it.”

Adam watched this interaction from several yards away where he was rehydrating after his exertions during the tug-of-war match. He could not overhear the conversation, but he was certain Josie had just become the target of one of Mrs. Laurel Bailey’s infamous disparaging remarks. That woman could give his Aunt Rachel a run for her money, and Adam’s blood boiled. He was only slightly appeased when he saw his father comforting Josie. He wanted to march over to Laurel Bailey and slap her right in her ugly mouth, but having been raised better than to strike women, Adam instead marched over to the booth where the cooks from the town’s hotel were churning ice cream. He bought two enormous bowlfuls and rejoined Josie and Ben. He handed Josie one of the bowls.

“Thank you!” she exclaimed. Her eyes lit up, all traces of dejection gone, and she dug greedily into the ice cream.

Hoss and Little Joe had caught up to them by then, and Hoss stared jealously at Josie’s ice cream.

“Hey,” he protested, “where’s mine?”

Adam used his spoon to point over his shoulder to the ice cream stand. “Back there, waiting for you to buy it yourself,” he said and took a huge bite of his ice cream. “Mmmmmm,” he sighed, closing his eyes happily. “That is good.” His eyes popped open, and he smirked at Hoss.

“Dadburnit, Adam,” Hoss grumbled. He grabbed Little Joe’s arm and dragged him toward the ice cream stand.

“Get me one, too, while you’re over there!” Ben called. Little Joe turned and saluted his father as he stumbled along behind Hoss.

When the sun went down that evening, the townspeople all migrated to the dance floor that had been built for the occasion. Josie honored her uncle with the first dance, and then danced with Adam, Hoss, and Little Joe in turn. She realized too late that she should have avoided dancing with Joe, who despite his reputation as a ladies man, was not a skilled dancer and repeatedly stomped on her feet. She sat down for a few moments to rest her aching dogs, and she was watching in amusement as Ben ducked behind people to avoid being spotted by Widow Hawkins when someone thrust a cup of lemonade under her nose. Josie glanced up right into the deep brown eyes of Simon Croft.

“Thirsty?”

“Yes, thank you!” Josie said, accepting the lemonade. Simon sat down on the bench next to Josie and sipped his own cup of lemonade.

“So here we are again,” he said.

Josie smiled. “Yes, here we are.”

The pair chatted for several minutes. Simon told Josie about the success of his father’s ranch and how pleasant it was to have the Cartwrights as neighbors, and Josie filled him on her life in Washington and her time at medical school.

“So you’re a genuine doctor, same as Doc Martin?” Simon asked in amazement.

“Genuine as they come.”

“Wow,” Simon said, running a hand through his ornery hair. “A lady doctor. Imagine that.” He smiled at her. “You must be real smart, like Adam.”

“Oh, no. I’m much smarter than he is.” They both laughed.

The band fired up a new song, and Simon extended his hand to Josie. She smiled and accepted it, and the couple set out onto the dance floor. Simon had not lost a step since he and Josie had last danced, and they once again caught the attention of everyone on the dance floor.

Adam was taking a breather from dancing with the banker’s daughter, Mary, when he caught sight of Josie and Simon.

“Him again,” he muttered as he toyed with his gun belt.

“What’s the matter?” Mary asked, her blue eyes wide.

Adam gestured toward his cousin and her dancing partner. “Simon Croft.”

Mary followed Adam’s gaze and saw Simon and Josie. “They dance very well together,” she observed. Adam grunted in reply, setting Mary to giggling. “You’re like a big old mama grizzly,” she teased. “The Crofts are a delightful family. Simon won’t do anything inappropriate.”

“Darn right he won’t,” Adam grumbled, his right hand resting on his Remington.

Mary giggled again. “Come on,” she said, tugging on his arm. “Let’s dance some more.”

Adam let Mary lead him back onto the dance floor, but he kept a careful eye on Josie and Simon the rest of the evening. When the band announced its last dance just before ten o’clock, Adam excused himself from Mary’s company and sought out his cousin. He approached Josie and Simon and extended his hand. “Dr. Cartwright?”

Josie grinned and then gave Simon an apologetic glance. “Sorry, Simon. My last dance always goes to Older Brother.”

Simon nodded and graciously extended one arm, indicating his concession. He stepped off the dance floor and went in search of more lemonade, leaving Josie and Adam to their dance.

Josie lit up when she heard the music begin.

“A waltz!” she declared. “Perfect.”

Josie beamed throughout the entire waltz. For a few minutes, she was nine years old again, sweeping around a dance floor with her favorite cousin. Adam could hardly believe his luck. Just three months ago he was planning an all-too-brief trip east which he had expected would end with another painful goodbye. Instead, Josie was here in Nevada, living on the Ponderosa like she had always been meant to. At the end of the song, Adam pulled Josie into a tight hug, which she happily returned. Then they rejoined the family to watch as a few men from the mining camp set off dozens of brilliant fireworks. It was a perfect ending to a wonderful day.

After the fireworks, Ben circulated through the crowd to say a few goodbyes, and Josie took the opportunity to slip away from her cousins and say goodbye to Simon.

“Thank you,” she said, shaking his hand. “I had a lovely time.”

Simon smiled. “My pleasure.” He hesitated for a moment, still holding onto Josie’s hand. “I was wondering,” he said slowly, “would it be all right if I called on you sometime?”

Josie completely missed his meaning. “Of course! Uncle Ben says neighbors are always welcome on the Ponderosa. Everyone would be glad to see you. Goodnight!” She skittered back to her family, leaving behind a flummoxed Simon.

“That ain’t exactly what I meant,” he said, scuffing his boot along the ground.

******

Josie spent the next few days unpacking all of her things – the books took the longest – meeting the ranch hands, and organizing the medical supplies she had brought with her. At the beginning of the following week, Adam drove her into town so she could buy some clothes and order in some more supplies.

“Pay attention to the route we’re taking,” Adam told her as he helped her up into the buckboard. “I want you to know how to get to town and back in case you ever have to make the trip alone.” He was determined that Josie would know everything he could teach her about living in the West so she would never be helpless.

Josie paid close attention during their journey as Adam pointed out various landmarks, and before she knew it, they were rolling to a stop in front of Cass’s General Store, where Josie selected several shirtwaists, a few simple skirts, including two split skirts for riding, and a couple pairs of blue jeans. The store owner’s daughter, Sally, was fascinated to meet a female doctor and asked Josie all sorts of questions about women’s seminaries. Sally and Josie were close in age, and Adam hoped they would become friends. He knew Josie missed Michaela, and it would do her good to have some female companionship nearby.

After Adam loaded up the buckboard with Josie’s purchases, he told her they needed to stop at the bank to transact some business for Ben before they went over to the International House for lunch.

“Actually, Adam, would it be all right if I met you there in about an hour? I wanted to pop into the clinic and talk with Dr. Martin.” She gestured across the street to the clinic.

Adam studied his boots while he considered this. Ladies were generally safe in Virginia City, but he disliked the idea of Josie going off on her own so soon after arriving. She did not yet know who was friendly and who should be given a wide berth.

“I don’t know,” he said, shifting his weight from foot to foot.

Josie grinned. “Don’t worry. You know what a careful girl I am.” She hitched up the hem of her skirt just high enough to reveal the Derringer strapped to her right ankle.

Adam’s eyes popped. “Where did you get that?”

“It was a graduation gift from Papa. I’ve been wearing it since we left Philadelphia.”

An image of Josie strapping the Derringer to her ankle underneath the blue gown she had worn to the captain’s reception as they sailed out of Philadelphia flashed through Adam’s mind, and he shook his head. “You wore this on Independence Day?”

“Of course.”

Adam thought that maybe he did not need to worry about Simon Croft so much after all.

“All right. I’ll see you at the International House in an hour.” He pointed down the street to the hotel. “Just remember, you only get one shot with that gun.”

Josie grinned. “Some of us only need one.” She pecked him on the cheek and crossed the street to the clinic.

Josie hesitated, her stomach fluttering, before she knocked on the clinic’s door. She enjoyed speaking with professional colleagues, but more often than not the men who dominated the medical profession did not recognize her as such. She also feared that Dr. Martin would think she was attempting to displace him, which was certainly not her intention.

“Pull yourself together, Cartwright,” she muttered to herself. She took a deep breath and knocked firmly on the door.

Dr. Paul Martin himself answered her knock.

“Good morning,” Josie began brightly. “I’m –”

“Dr. Josephine Cartwright!” Dr. Martin finished for her. He chuckled at the surprised expression on the young woman’s face. “I’ve heard a lot about you. I would have recognized you a mile away. You look just like your cousin Adam.”

“Well,” Josie said, collecting herself, “I like to think I’m prettier than he is.”

Dr. Martin laughed again. “That goes without saying.” He extended his hand, which Josie shook. “Dr. Paul Martin, at your service. Please, come in.”

Josie stepped into the clinic and looked around. It was smaller than her father’s clinic in Washington but well outfitted with shelves and cabinets of bandages, instruments, salves, liniments, and medicines. Dr. Martin had a desk in the front room, and there was a door next to it that Josie presumed led into the exam room. She nodded approvingly. Dr. Martin gestured to a seat in front of his desk, and Josie sat down. Once she was seated, he settled himself in his chair on the other side of the desk.

“So, Dr. Cartwright, what can I do for you this morning?” He was a middle-aged man, about Ben Cartwright’s age, and he had a pleasant face and friendly demeanor that set Josie at ease.

Josie was encouraged by Dr. Martin’s use of her professional title. “I was hoping to get your advice on setting up a small practice for myself out on the Ponderosa.” This was where it got sticky, and Josie took a deep breath. “But I want you to know, I’m certainly not trying to take anything away from you. Obviously, you’re the senior physician here, and –”

Dr. Martin waved a hand to cut her off. “Dr. Cartwright, I could not be more pleased that you have come to Virginia City. Your presence here provides me with a unique opportunity.”

“Oh?”

“Yes. For the first time in fifteen years, I can take a vacation.”

Josie stared blankly at him for several moments and then laughed. “You have no idea how relieved I am! I’ve been wanting to speak with you, but dreading it at the same time.”

“I’ve been wanting to speak with you, too,” Dr. Martin said. “I agree it’s an excellent idea to set up a practice out on the ranch. Having another doctor closer to the ranchers and miners would take a huge load off my shoulders. But I also have a proposal.”

Josie raised an eyebrow but said nothing. Dr. Martin marveled again at her resemblance not only to Adam, but also to Ben; she shared many of his mannerisms. He wondered which of Hoss’s and Little Joe’s qualities she harbored as well.

“It’s going to take the townspeople some time to get used to the idea of a lady doctor, so how would you feel about working out of this clinic two days a week, say, Tuesdays and Fridays? It would give me some much-needed time off and give you the opportunity to gain the trust of the citizenry. You can use the supplies here and repay me for them out of the fees you charge.”

Josie was stunned speechless. She was so touched by Dr. Martin’s offer and acceptance that she nearly burst into tears. “I would love that,” she said at last, her voice choked with emotion.

“Wonderful! I’m sure you’re still settling in at the Ponderosa, so why don’t you come in next Tuesday?”

“Perfect.” Josie smiled broadly, and she reached across the desk to shake Dr. Martin’s hand again.

They chatted a few moments more about frontier medicine. Dr. Martin was both surprised and pleased that Josie’s father had been using willow bark tea to treat fevers and aches and pains for so many years; most eastern doctors scorned the natural remedies from the West. He laughed as Josie recounted Adam’s reaction to his first cup of willow bark tea.

“Adam’s the easiest of the three,” Dr. Martin warned Josie. “You should see the fuss Little Joe puts up anytime I have to get medicine into him.”

Josie giggled and glanced at the clock over Dr. Martin’s desk and realized she was to meet Adam in five minutes. She leapt from her seat and apologized to the doctor for having to rush out. He shook her hand once more and said he would see her on Tuesday.

Josie rushed out of the clinic and scurried down the street to the International House, where Adam was already waiting. Relief crossed his face as he spotted Josie nearing the hotel; he had been about to set out looking for her. Josie surprised him by tackling him with a huge hug; she was clearly excited about something. Adam led her into the hotel, and over lunch, Josie told him all about her meeting with Dr. Martin.

After the cold reception Josie had received on Independence Day at the hands of Laurel Bailey, Adam was relieved her meeting with Dr. Martin had gone so well.

“We’ll have to get you on a horse if you plan to come into town twice a week,” Adam said. He laughed at the dismayed expression that crossed Josie’s face. “It’ll come back to you,” he assured her.

When they returned to the Ponderosa that afternoon, Adam helped Josie carry her purchases to her bedroom and then instructed her to put on a pair of her new jeans and join him at the barn. Knowing what Adam had planned, Josie changed her clothes as slowly as possible. By the time she finally made her way down to the barn in her new jeans, a red shirt, and her black boots and hat, Adam had already saddled and led two horses out of the barn: his own chestnut gelding, Sport, and a second gelding, a tall blue roan with a black mane.

Adam smiled as he watched Josie trudge through the yard, her head down and boots scuffing through the dirt. He knew she was reluctant to return to horseback, but if she were going to have any sort of independence, she was going to have to ride.

“Geez, Adam!” she exclaimed when she looked up at the horse Adam had selected. “Did you have to pick the biggest one in the barn?”

Adam grinned. “Josie, meet The General.” He gestured to the gelding. “He’s a tall old man, but an old man all the same. Very gentle, and he could make his way to and from town blindfolded. You remember how to mount up?”

Josie nodded and slowly approached The General, who nickered and nudged her with his nose as she approached. Josie smiled despite herself and rubbed the animal’s nose. He bent his head down so Josie could scratch all the way up between his ears.

“He’s a big flirt, too,” Adam said.

Josie gave The General a final pat and stepped over to the horse’s left side. She stuck her left foot in the stirrup, grabbed the saddle horn, and hoisted herself into the saddle. Adam nodded approvingly and set about adjusting her stirrups.

“Oh thank goodness,” Josie muttered. She thought she might have died of embarrassment if she had thrown herself into the dirt like she had done the first time she attempted mounting a horse.

Adam sprang expertly onto Sport and led Josie slowly out of the yard. He considered taking her down to Lake Tahoe, but he remembered how sore they had both been after that ride when he had returned from college and decided to keep her first ride out short. He took her down past the old house, long since converted to a carriage house for all their various wagons, and toward the Ponderosa’s high country, though he turned them around long before they reached that difficult mountainous terrain. Adam caught Josie glancing nervously down at the ground from time to time, but otherwise, she seemed fairly steady in her saddle. An hour later they were back at the house, and Josie slid gratefully out of the saddle and onto the ground. She led The General into the barn behind Adam and Sport and paid close attention to Adam’s refresher course on untacking and grooming a horse.

“A good rancher always sees to his horse before himself,” Adam instructed. Josie nodded and finished picking out The General’s hooves. They heard several horses trot into the front yard, and they stepped out of the barn, Adam draping an arm around Josie’s shoulders.

Ben, Hoss, and Little Joe, sweaty and dusty from a day rounding up cattle for the upcoming drive to San Francisco, slid off their horses and greeted Adam and Josie.

“Just get back from a ride?” Ben asked.

“Yep!” Adam confirmed. “She did great, too.” He tapped the brim of Josie’s hat with one finger, pushing it down over her eyes. She giggled and tipped it back up.

“Aw, Josie,” Hoss said, “you’re cute. Ain’t she, Joe?” Little Joe nodded in agreement. He felt Josie resembled him in that regard.

“Well, come inside,” Ben said, smiling. “It’s nearly time for supper.”

Adam and Josie followed the rest of the family indoors. As they ate supper, Josie told Ben, Hoss, and Little Joe about her conversation with Dr. Martin and his offer to let her work out of his clinic two days a week. The men were all delighted by her news.

“Josephine, that’s wonderful!” Ben exclaimed. “You’ll enjoy working with Paul. He’s a good man. I expect there’s a lot you both can learn from each other.”

“And think of all the riding practice you’ll get going back and forth to Virginia City all the time!” Little Joe teased.

“Ugh,” Josie replied.

“Take a wagon,” Hoss suggested.

“No,” Josie said. “Horseback is simpler, and probably faster, once I get used to it.”

“One of us will go with you,” Adam said. “I’ll ride into town with you on Tuesday, and Hoss or Joe can meet you at the end of the day to come home.”

Josie wrinkled her nose. “I can’t let you do that. That’s eight man-hours gone. I’ve been paying attention on our way to and from town, and you said yourself The General could get to town and back blindfolded. I’m sure he and I will be fine.”

Adam shifted in his seat and glanced over at his father. Josie noticed the exchange and knew Adam was working up a lecture on safety and hoping for support.

“I’ll wear my Derringer and take a rifle,” she said.

“You’ve got a Derringer?” Little Joe asked, suddenly interested.

Ben waved off Little Joe’s question. “She’s got a point, Adam. We can’t accompany her indefinitely. Tell you what, Josie. One of the boys will accompany you each way the first week, and if you’re feeling comfortable with the route and The General at the end of the week, then you can ride alone after that.” Adam opened his mouth to protest, but Ben raised a hand to silence him. “From what Jacob has told me, Josephine is more than competent with a gun. If we get her comfortable on horseback, there’s no reason to believe she won’t be perfectly safe going to town and back on her own.”

Josie beamed triumphantly while Adam screwed up his face in disgruntlement. Ben decided it was a good time to change the subject.

“Now, Josephine,” he said, “tell me about this Derringer of yours.”

******

Josie’s first week working with Dr. Martin was thrilling. Eventually he would take off the days she was in the clinic, but for the first few weeks they worked alongside one another to acclimate Josie to the way Dr. Martin ran his clinic and to give the townspeople time to adjust to the idea of a woman doctor. It was not easy; Josie quickly grew accustomed to the looks of sheer disbelief and often disdain on the faces of the patients, and she pretended not to hear the comments they made when they thought she was out of earshot.

“Ain’t natural.”

“I don’t want no woman stitching me up!”

“How can we even be sure she’s really a doctor?”

But after the first week few weeks, when Josie was successfully riding alone to and from town, the comments began to change, particularly among Dr. Martin’s female clientele. After the first month, Dr. Martin began taking his days off and leaving the clinic in Josie’s hands, and Josie found herself nearly inundated with female patients who came to her with all sorts of questions and complaints they had been too embarrassed to discuss with Dr. Martin. Josie was grateful for the extra classes she had taken in obstetrics and gynecology, and she reviewed her medical school textbooks frequently. Poor Hoss had the embarrassment of his life one night when Josie was reading one of her textbooks on the settee. He glanced over her shoulder as he passed behind her on his way to the stairs and saw a diagram of the female reproductive system. Having no idea what he was looking at, he asked Josie about it, and completely unabashed, she explained it to him thoroughly in very straightforward, clinical terms. Hoss flushed deep crimson from the top of his head all the way to his toes while Ben, who was sitting nearby in his burgundy armchair, choked on his brandy. Little Joe, who had been sitting on the settee next to Josie, scooted away to the far side of the sofa as he attempted to pick his jaw up off the floor. Adam burst out laughing.

“Relax, gentlemen,” he said. “It’s just science.”

Adam never grew comfortable with Josie riding to and from Virginia City alone – even if it was only two days a week – but even he could not help but be pleased with how fulfilling the work was for Josie; she always came home from the clinic smiling and excited. She was even taking a shine to The General, and she often slipped him an apple or a lump of sugar in the mornings before they rode off together. All of the Cartwright men were happy that Josie had a distraction from the war news.

The situation back east continued to worsen. Both Union and Confederate forces had been slowly amassing outside the Union capital, the Confederates even taking advantage of the rail lines that ran toward Washington in the first-ever instance of troops being moved into position by train. By mid-July, it was clear that the forces would soon clash. Most northerners, however, remained optimistic that the Union army would crush the rebels in their first battle, thus ending the war before it had a chance to really begin.

That was not to be.

When Josie rode into town by herself for the first time on Tuesday, July 23, the townspeople were abuzz. It reminded her ominously of that terrible day in Philadelphia when she had learned war had broken out, and rather than go directly to the clinic, she stopped first at the telegraph office. The news was as she had feared. The Union and Confederate armies had struck each other only two days earlier in what was being called the Battle of Bull Run. More alarmingly, the battle had taken place near Manassas Junction, Virginia, only twenty-five miles from Washington, DC. The initial reports coming over the wire were sketchy, but the battle had been a clear Confederate victory, and there was concern that the rebels would pursue the fleeing Union army all the way back to Washington and take the capital.

Dizzy, Josie clutched the telegraph office’s counter for support, ignoring a snide remark from one of the townsmen about how perhaps she needed a doctor. Her father was at that battle. She knew her father was there. He had joined the army forces in Washington, and if there was a battle that close to the city, Jacob would have been part of it. She reminded herself that he would not have been in the thick of the fighting, but this brought little comfort. Josie wished she had not been so eager to start riding to town alone. She would have given anything to have her uncle or one of her cousins with her just then. It was her sense of duty that rescued her. Dr. Martin was waiting for her at the clinic, and she might have patients to attend to. Josie took a deep breath, smoothed the front of her skirt, and strode out of the telegraph office and over to the clinic, her chin up.

When Josie returned home that evening, Adam and Ben were waiting for her on the porch. Adam had wanted to ride out partway to meet Josie on her first solo ride home, but Ben had stopped him, reminding his son that even if Josie forgot the way, The General would always find his way home to his stall and supper. As soon as Josie rode into sight, Adam could tell that something was wrong. His heart leapt into his throat as he launched out of his chair and bolted for his cousin. She slid down off the horse, buried her face in his chest, and sobbed. Alarmed, Ben raced over to them.

“Josie!” Adam shouted, trying to pry her arms off of him so he could look at her properly. “Josie, what happened?!” His heart pounded, and he could not catch his breath. Ben helped pull Josie away from Adam, and the two men nearly knocked heads as they both checked her for injuries. Hoss and Little Joe had heard Adam shouting and came running out of the house, hands on their revolvers.

“Battle!” Josie finally managed to bark out between sobs. “Near Washington!” She dissolved into tears once more.

“Oh, thank God!” Adam exclaimed. Four sets of startled eyes looked up at him in horror. “I just mean that Josie isn’t hurt,” he sputtered. He turned to his cousin. “I thought you’d been attacked.”

Josie shook her head and hiccupped, tears still streaming down her face. Ben knew they would get no more information out of her just then, so he put his arm around her shoulders and led her to the house, beckoning to Little Joe to take care of The General. Ben’s stomach churned as they crossed the porch and entered the house. A battle near Washington. Surely Jacob was there. But was he safe? The thought of his younger brother injured – or worse – on a battlefield made him nearly frantic, but he knew he had to keep his composure for Josie’s sake. He sat Josie down on the settee and gestured to Hoss to pour her some brandy. Adam handed her a handkerchief, and Josie sat for a few moments between her uncle and Adam as she dabbed her eyes and sipped her brandy.

“There now,” Ben said, laying his hand on her shoulder. “Tell us what happened.”

Josie related what little she knew. There had been a battle on July 21 only twenty-five miles from Washington, and the Confederates had won handily. Now there was concern that the rebels would seize Washington.

“That’s all I know,” she said, her voice steadier. “There wasn’t any news yet about…” she took a shuddering breath, “about casualties.” She took the last gulp of her brandy, and Hoss rose to pour her another. He brought it back along with brandies for himself, Ben, and Adam.

Adam caught both her eye and his father’s. “He’s all right, you know,” he assured them both. “If the fighting was that close to Washington, I bet Uncle Jacob didn’t even go all the way out to the battlefield. He’s probably fixing up soldiers in his own clinic right now, as we speak.” Ben and Josie nodded in agreement. Neither of them truly believed Adam’s words, but they desperately wanted to. In unison, all four Cartwrights lifted their brandies and drained them in a single draft.

As it turned out, Adam was nearly right. They agreed to wait until Josie returned to the clinic that Friday to try to get more news about the battle; any word earlier than that would most likely be unreliable. The suspense was terrible. Late Thursday afternoon, however, they got some relief. Just as the Cartwright men were returning to the house after their day’s work, Simon Croft came galloping into the front yard.

“Mr. Cartwright!” he called as he swung off his palomino mare. “Mr. Cartwright!”

Ben hustled over to the young man. “Simon! What’s wrong? Is there trouble over at the Lucky Star?” He and Simon’s father, Peter, had helped each other often over the years with everything from digging wells to chasing off cattle rustlers, and he couldn’t bear the thought of any harm coming to the Crofts or their ranch.

“Oh, no, sir. I was just in town, and Morris asked if I was coming back this way. He had a telegram for you. Said it seemed important.” Simon thrust a small rectangle of blue paper toward Ben.

Ben took the telegram from Simon and read it. He nearly melted on the spot and grabbed Hoss’s shoulder for support as he handed the telegram to Adam.

Adam read the telegram aloud. “I am safe STOP Tending to soldiers STOP Rebels not in Washington STOP Love Jacob STOP.” He grinned. “I have to take this inside to Josie!” Adam took two steps toward the house, then stopped. He turned back to Simon. “Simon, thank you for bringing this out here. You have no idea what a relief this is to our family.” He extended his hand to the younger man.

Simon was surprised. While Little Joe and Hoss had been his friends for years, Adam had always been aloof toward him. But not wanting to look a gift horse in the mouth, Simon shook Adam’s proffered hand. He wanted to see Josie, but it did not feel like an appropriate time, so Simon bid the family farewell, swung back onto his palomino, and set off for home.

Josie dissolved into tears once more when Adam handed her the telegram, but this time they were tears of relief. Adam poured her another brandy.

“You know,” Josie sniffled, holding up her brandy, “this stuff is terrible.”

Adam smiled. “Now you know how I feel about tea,” he said and patted her on the head.

The whole family rode into town together the following day in hopes of getting the full story of the Battle of Bull Run. The casualty list was now available, but fortunately, they did not need to check it for familiar names. There were nearly 5,000 casualties – mostly wounded – on the two sides, with the Union suffering two-thirds of the losses. It was the bloodiest single day in American history to that point.

“A waste,” Ben said, shaking his head over the 600 men on each side who had been killed or mortally wounded. “Every single one of them a waste.”

Fortunately, the Confederate Army had been too disorganized to pursue the fleeing Union soldiers, and Washington, DC, was safe, at least for now. President Lincoln called for another 500,000 recruits and began enhancing the fortifications around the capital. By the end of the war, Washington, DC, would be the most heavily fortified city in the world.

Though it was now apparent that the war would certainly not be decided in ninety days, it was also clear that both sides needed time to regroup, and there would be no more major battles the remainder of the year. For now, at least, Dr. Jacob Cartwright would remain in Washington. Josie set off for the clinic that morning relieved, if not entirely happy.

Adam was dismayed to learn that the war would continue indefinitely, but at the same time, it meant that Josie would stay on the Ponderosa a bit longer. Despite the sadness of the whole situation, he could not help but smile. Josie would be with them for Christmas.

******

Ben, Hoss, Little Joe, Hop Sing, and ten ranch hands set off on the cattle drive to San Francisco at the beginning of August, leaving Adam in charge of the Ponderosa. Without the assistance of his father and brothers, Adam had to work longer hours, and on the days she was not in the clinic, Josie often accompanied him as he rode around the ranch tending to their remaining cattle. She did not much care for these long rides, but focusing on sticking in her saddle helped keep her mind off the war. Had it been anyone else, Adam would have been annoyed to have a beginner rider slowing him down, but his short patience was greatly extended where Josie was concerned. Besides, Adam decided, the riding practice was good for her. They took turns cooking supper in the evenings, and spent the short hours before bed much as they had their evenings on their journey to Nevada – reading or playing chess. Josie preferred the faster pace of checkers, but Adam was so thrilled to finally have a chess opponent worthy of him that Josie indulged him.

It was during this time that Josie got her first patient at the ranch. One evening in mid-August, just as Josie and Adam were finishing washing the supper dishes – throwing nearly as much water on each other as they did on the dishes – they heard a wagon come tearing into the front yard. Adam rushed to the door and opened it a crack, one hand on his revolver that sat on the sideboard next to the door. He dropped his hand and opened the door a bit wider as he thought he recognized the driver of the wagon.

“Ross?” Adam called. “That you?”

“Yeah!” Ross Marquette, Adam’s best friend since childhood, called back.

Adam rushed out the door to the wagon as Ross reined the horses to a stop. If Ross was racing into the Ponderosa’s front yard after dark, something bad must have happened. Adam soon spotted what it was. Ross’s wife, Delphine, was hunched over in the seat next to Ross and was clutching her left forearm. Even in the weak moonlight, Adam could see she was white as ghost. He hollered for Josie, who came sprinting out of the house. She took one look at Delphine’s pale countenance and ordered the men to bring her inside.

“What happened?” she asked as Ross carried his wife across the porch.

“She tripped over some lumber I had left in the yard and landed on her arm,” Ross said. “I hadn’t warned her it was there, and she couldn’t see it in the dark. I can’t believe I was so stupid!”

“It’s ok, Ross,” Delphine said in a thin voice. “It was an accident.” Ross grunted but did not agree. Adam knew his friend would beat himself up for this for weeks.

Josie directed Ross to lay Delphine down on the settee. The poor woman was so wan Josie was afraid she would faint if she had to sit up again. Josie knelt next to her patient and spoke in soothing tones.

“Hi, Delphine, I’m Josie. Don’t worry, I’m going to get you all patched up.”

Delphine gave her a limp smile. “Adam’s told us a lot about you,” she whispered.

“Uh oh,” Josie said, eliciting a shaky laugh from Delphine. “Now, let me see your arm.” Delphine hesitated, but extended her left arm, resting it in Josie’s waiting hand. Josie gently ran a hand down the woman’s forearm, pausing when she reached the swollen wrist. Delphine gasped in pain, and Ross grabbed her good hand.

“I’m afraid it’s broken,” Josie said. “I’m going to have to set it. Adam, would you please get my medical bag, a couple splints, and some bandages from my room? They’re all on that second bookshelf nearest my bed.” Adam raced upstairs and soon returned with the requested items. Josie unlatched the bag and removed a brown-glass bottle and a rag.

“Delphine,” she said, as she soaked the rag with the pungent liquid from the bottle, “I’m going to give you some chloroform. It will put you to sleep so you don’t feel me setting the bone.”

Delphine nodded bravely, and Josie placed the sodden rag over Delphine’s nose and mouth. “Just breathe normally.” Delphine was soon asleep. Josie gestured to the rag with free hand. “Adam, hold this in place. If her breathing gets shallow, remove it for a few moments, then replace it.”

Adam did as instructed, but wished that Hoss were there to relieve him of this responsibility. Hoss had always been the family healer and would have known instinctively what to do. Even Little Joe would have been a welcome presence. He could have cracked a joke to distract Ross, who was sweating buckets as he stood behind the settee, holding fast to his wife’s hand.

Josie checked once more to make sure Delphine was unconscious, then she took firm hold of the bottom of the woman’s hand in her own left hand and gripped closer to the elbow, below the fracture site, with her right. She took a deep breath and pulled Delphine’s hand away from the elbow to realign the bones. There was a sickening grinding sound as the two pieces of bone settled back into place against one another, and Adam cringed. Josie ran her hands over the wrist to ensure it was properly realigned and reached for a splint.

As Josie aligned the first splint, she and Adam heard a faint “Uhhhh.” They looked up just in time to see Ross swoon.

“Ross!” Adam cried. He let go of the chloroform rag and leapt around the corner of the settee to catch his friend before he struck his head on the hard floor. He caught Ross under the arms and gently laid him down on the floor. Adam looked helplessly from his friend to his cousin.

“Is he breathing normally?” Josie asked.

Adam checked and confirmed that he was.

“All right,” Josie replied. “Just leave him there.” The rag had slid off Delphine’s face, and she was beginning to stir. Josie did not want her to wake up yet, so with one last forlorn look at his friend, Adam returned to Delphine and reapplied the chloroform. Josie finished splinting Delphine’s arm and used a couple of the bandages to wrap the splints firmly in place.

“There!” Josie said as she finished. “When she wakes up, we’ll fashion a sling for her.” She pulled another small bottle of liquid out of her medical bag along with a syringe. She studied her patient, trying to determine her approximate weight, and filled the syringe partway with the liquid. She deftly injected it into Delphine’s good arm.

“What’s that?” Adam asked.

“Morphine. For the pain. Go ahead and remove the chloroform. Let her wake up.” Adam pulled the rag away as Josie put her supplies back in her medical bag. “You did very well,” Josie complimented him. “Better than Ross did.” They both glanced over the settee at the still-prone form of Ross Marquette.

“He always did have a weak stomach,” Adam commented.

Josie dug a small bottle of smelling salts out of her bag, unplugged it, and jammed it under Ross’s nose. The slim man jerked awake.

“Dell?” he asked.

Josie smiled. “She’s fine. She’ll be coming around any second now. I set the bone and gave her a painkiller.”

Ross grinned at her. “Thank you,” he said as he pulled himself up. He grasped Josie’s hand in both of his. “Really, thank you.”

“You’re quite welcome,” Josie replied. “I think you should spend the night here. Delphine isn’t going to feel like making the ride home tonight.”

Ross agreed, and Adam ran off to check that the guest room off the dining room was made up. As he fluffed the pillows, he felt a surge of pride in his little cousin. She had stayed so calm throughout the procedure, even when Ross fainted, and had not hesitated once.

In the great room, Delphine was coming around, and her good hand reached for her husband.

“How you feeling, Dell?” Ross asked.

“Silly,” Delphine replied with a giggle.

Ross looked questioningly at Josie.

“It’s the morphine,” she explained. “It’s a bit inebriating. She may have some interesting dreams tonight.” She paused, wondering how to phrase her next question. “I have to ask, though. What brought you here? Why didn’t you ride into town for Dr. Martin?”

“Adam and I have been friends for over fifteen years,” Ross replied. “I trust him with my life, and I know he trusts you with his. That’s good enough for me.”

Josie beamed.

“Besides, the Ponderosa is closer to my ranch than town is.” Ross grinned good-naturedly at Josie, who laughed. She could see why Adam liked Ross. He had a good sense of humor and a kind smile that made you forgive whatever friendly taunt he threw your way.

“What do I owe you for this?” Ross asked.

“Doesn’t feel right to charge Adam’s best friend,” Josie said. “You just tell everyone in town what a good job I did fixing up Delphine, and we’ll call it even.”

Ross grinned again, flashing a perfect set of straight teeth. “You got it.” He shook Josie’s hand.

Adam returned then, bearing a bit of an old sheet. “I thought we could use this as a sling.”

“Perfect!” Josie replied. Ross helped Delphine carefully into a sitting position, and Josie tied the sling around her neck and guided her injured wrist gently into it. “How does that feel?”

Delphine giggled goofily again. “I don’t feel a thing!” she said in amazement.

Ross shook his head and helped Delphine stand up. He led her slowly into the guest room and lowered her onto the bed, where she promptly fell back asleep. Once he was sure she was resting comfortably, Ross moseyed into the kitchen, where Adam and Josie had returned to finish washing the dishes.

“If she wakes in pain tonight, please come get me,” Josie told him. “I can give her a little more morphine if she needs it, and tomorrow I’ll send you home with a few opium pills. She should only need them for a day or two.”

Ross thanked her again and then helped them finish up the dishes. He had spent enough time at the Ponderosa over the years that he knew the house as well as any of the Cartwrights did. Once the dishes were put away, he returned to the guest room to sit with his wife. Adam and Josie returned to the great room and flopped onto the settee.

“Good work, Dr. Cartwright,” Adam said, ruffling Josie’s hair, which was coming loose from its braid.

“Thank you!” Josie replied. “I just hope Delphine sleeps all right tonight.”

“She should. Ross would never dream of poking in on you, but if Delphine is bad off, he’, and I’ll come get you.”

This was good enough for Josie, and she got up and walked over to the small table near the fireplace where the Cartwrights kept the chessboard on permanent display.

“How about a game?” she asked.

******

Delphine slept well that night, and Josie sent her home the next morning with a small packet of opium pills and instructions to return in a week so she could see how her wrist was healing. True to his word, Ross told everyone who asked that Dr. Cartwright out on the Ponderosa had fixed up Delphine, and Josie began receiving the occasional patient out on the ranch. Since most of the men were away on the cattle drive, Josie utilized the bunkhouse most of the time she needed to see a patient, but she knew this was only a temporary arrangement. Eventually she would need a small clinic on the ranch if she were going to continue seeing patients there.

Toward the end of August, Josie came home from town one afternoon with a telegram from Ben saying that they were on their way home.

“That’s strange,” Adam said after he read the short note. “Pa told me they were going to take a few days off to enjoy San Francisco. I guess he changed his mind.” He was mildly disappointed. It had been nice to have a quiet house the past few weeks.

Four days later, Ben, Hoss, and Little Joe trotted into the front yard, followed closely by Hop Sing in the chuck wagon. Adam and Josie stepped outside to greet them, and Josie detected fading bruises on each of their faces.

“What in the world?” she muttered.

Adam noticed it, too, but the testy look on his father’s face told him not to mention it. Adam plastered on a smile and ambled over to take Cochise’s reins from Little Joe as the young man slid off the pinto. Adam thought he would do his exhausted baby brother a kind turn and groom his horse for him.

“How was San Francisco?” he asked, giving Little Joe a kind smile.

Joe wheeled around, nostrils flaring in rage, and decked Adam right in the face. Completely unprepared for the blow, Adam went down hard, landing on his back in the dirt.

“Adam!” Josie squeaked. She ran over to him, pulling a handkerchief out of her pocket as she went. She knelt next to the dazed Adam as he sat up, blood pouring from his nose. “I don’t think it’s broken,” Josie said, inspecting Little Joe’s handiwork, “but you’re going to bleed for a while. Here.” She handed him the handkerchief, which he pressed gingerly to his face.

Satisfied that Adam had not suffered irreparable damage, Josie leapt to her feet and stormed up to Little Joe. She shoved her face directly into his and saw that he was, in fact, sporting a fading black eye. Josie had half a mind to blacken the other one for him.

“What was that for?” she hollered, her fists clenched at her sides.

Little Joe was nonplussed. He had assumed Adam would hit him back, so this was an eventuality for which he was entirely unprepared. He sputtered for a moment, then spit out, “Look, just don’t ask about San Francisco, all right?”

Josie turned to Ben. “Later,” Ben said, sliding off Buck and leading the tired animal into the barn. He made no comment regarding Little Joe’s unprovoked attack on Adam, which struck Josie as odd. Ben never tolerated scuffles between his sons. It was as if he were too worn out to care.

Hoss leaned in to his cousin, and Josie spotted a days-old bruise on his face, too. “I’ll tell ya later,” he whispered and followed Ben to the barn.

Josie turned back to Adam, who was still sitting in the dirt and holding Josie’s handkerchief to his nose.

“Did it stob?” he asked stuffily, removing the handkerchief so Josie could see his face.

“Looks like it. Go wash your face.” She took the sodden cloth from Adam and sighed as she realized he had just bled through another of her handkerchiefs.

“Oooohhhh, I’m gonna get that little pup,” Adam said as he stood.

Josie started to follow Adam into the house, but then she thought twice about, walked back over to Little Joe, and kicked him hard in the shin. She smiled in satisfaction as he began hopping up and down on the opposite foot, clutching his injured shin.

Little Joe gave Adam and Josie a wide berth the rest of the evening. After a subdued supper, Ben went upstairs for a bath, and Little Joe went out to the barn to check on Cochise, leaving Hoss alone in the great room with Adam and Josie.

“So,” Josie said, sitting down on the settee next to Hoss, “what happened?”

Hoss sighed heavily.

“A sad story is about to begin,” Adam quipped.

Hoss sighed again and launched into his tale. “Well, things were going ok until Pa got shanghaied.”

“What?!” Josie exclaimed, not sure whether to be horrified or entertained.

Adam shushed her. “Maybe you better start at the beginning,” he suggested.

Hoss did. His story was a bit rambling and confusing at parts, but Adam and Josie were able to determine that two of their ranch hands were shanghaied, and when the police refused to help, Ben, Hoss, Little Joe, and Hop Sing tried to find the men themselves. In the course of their search, Ben fell into a trap in a saloon on the Barbary Coast and was shanghaied himself. Hoss soon fell into the same trap when he went looking for Ben, but Hoss, taking advantage of his size, managed to wrest some answers out of the men who grabbed at him. Adam and Josie lost the main thread of the story right about there, but it seemed that eventually Hoss, Little Joe, and Hop Sing located Ben aboard a ship down at the dock and got into a huge fight while rescuing him.

“That explains the bruises,” Josie said as Hoss wrapped up his saga.

Adam shook his head. He had never been so glad to have missed a cattle drive.

******

Ben, Hoss, Little Joe, and Hop Sing recovered quickly from their ordeal in San Francisco, and within a few days, the family regained their usual camaraderie, though Little Joe did crawl into bed one night to find his sheets full of poison oak. The young man scratched for the next week and ran through Josie’s entire supply of calamine lotion. Adam feigned ignorance, but one morning at breakfast, Josie glimpsed a small spot of red rash on his wrist.

“You should have worn longer gloves,” she whispered to him.

Adam pulled the cuff of his sleeve down over the spot. “I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he insisted, but Josie noticed the small smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.

August faded into September, and the Cartwright men began prepping the ranch for winter. On the days Josie was not in the clinic, “her boys,” as she had begun referring collectively to Adam, Hoss, and Little Joe, enjoyed taking her with them on their rounds of the ranch. She proved adept at spotting cracks and drafts in the line shacks. One afternoon while she was out with Joe, the cousins came across a huge, fourteen-point buck. In perfect unison, they pulled their rifles from their scabbards, took aim, and fired. The deer collapsed, and Little Joe and Josie exchanged grins, each believing they had been the one to bring the animal down. Upon inspection of the animal, they discovered two neat bullet holes, side by side, right through the buck’s heart.

“Now that’s what I call teamwork,” Little Joe said, nudging Josie in the ribs with his elbow.

Adam learned to worry less about Josie riding alone to and from town, but he was always relieved to see her ride into the front yard at the end of the day. Josie was a little annoyed that Adam still waited for her on the porch, but his overprotectiveness was sweet in a way, and she always greeted him with a big smile. One Tuesday evening in mid-September, however, Adam did not get his smile from Josie. His brow wrinkled in concern.

“Everything ok?” he asked as Josie dismounted. He no longer panicked so easily, but he was unsettled every time Josie looked unhappy.

“Sure.” Josie gave him a quick hug and started to lead The General to the barn. Adam grabbed the reins from her.

“I’ve got him. You go inside and wash up. Hop Sing’s cooking up the last of that deer you and Joe brought in.”

“Thanks.”

Adam watched her plod toward the house, her long, dark braid coming loose, and the weight of the world seeming to rest heavily on her shoulders. She looked so small, and Adam wanted nothing more than to fix whatever was bothering her.

Josie was the last to arrive at the supper table that evening, and before she sat down, she handed Ben a letter. “This came for you.”

Ben tore open the envelope and extracted the letter. “It’s from your father!” he exclaimed. He skimmed the letter. “It says he’s doing well and expects to be in Washington until after the first of the year.” Then his brow wrinkled. “Josie, he says to ask if you need any help with your bank draft. Did you need to send money to someone?”

“No,” Josie replied, her voice barely above a whisper. “Papa wrote me, too. He sent a deposit to the Virginia City bank for me.”

“That was nice of him!” Little Joe said. “I wish my father would send money my way once in a while.”

Ben glared at him. “You work for it, same as everyone else. What my brother does with his money is his business.”

“It’s for my birthday,” Josie mumbled into her mashed potatoes.

Adam slapped his forehead. Of course! Josie’s birthday was on the twenty-third, less than a week away. And this would be her first birthday without her parents. Even when Josie was away at school, Adam knew Jacob and Hannah had traveled up to see her on her birthday. In his own excitement over having Josie at the Ponderosa, Adam had not considered that she might be homesick. Josie was fitting into their lives perfectly, but of course she would miss her parents. Adam remembered that feeling. When he went away to college, he had immediately fallen in love with Harvard and made lifelong friends, but he had still missed his father and brothers, especially around the holidays and his birthday. He should have realized Josie would be no different, particularly when one considered her precarious social standing in Virginia City. More and more people in the area were accepting her as a doctor, but it was difficult for her to meet other young people her age. She spoke to Sally Cass occasionally when she was in town and Simon whenever he came by the ranch, but she had no close friends. Adam decided to do something about that.

After supper, Josie excused herself to her bedroom, saying she was tired and was going to bed early. Ben, Hoss, and Little Joe watched anxiously as she disappeared up the stairs. Adam, on the other hand, saw this as a brilliant stroke of luck. As soon as he heard Josie’s bedroom door close, he gathered his father and brothers and told them what he guessed was bothering Josie.

“Oh, goodness,” Ben said, sitting down in his armchair. “I completely forgot her birthday was coming up. Of course she’s homesick.”

“What can we do?” Hoss asked, his bushy brow furrowed in concern.

“I think we need to have a birthday party,” Adam said. “A surprise one.”

“That’s a good idea, son,” Ben said. “Her birthday is next Monday, so let’s have a party here on Saturday evening.”

“We should invite all the people we know who are around her age,” Adam said. “Help her make some friends.”

“Sally Cass,” Hoss said.

“Reverend Lovejoy’s daughter, Patience,” Ben suggested.

“I can ride out to the Lucky Star tomorrow and invite Simon and his little sister, Rebecca,” Little Joe offered.

Adam considered this for a moment. “No, Hoss can ride out to the Lucky Star. I want you to go into town tomorrow and hand out the invitations to anyone you think should be invited, especially young ladies.”

Little Joe grinned. He liked the sound of this job. “What invitations, Adam?” he asked.

“The ones we’re going to write up tonight.” Adam crossed the room to his father’s desk, where he took out a stack of blank paper, four pens, and two ink wells. He carried all these to the dining room table and set them down. “Shall we, gentlemen?”

The Cartwright men spent the rest of the evening writing out several dozen invitations. They jumped every time they heard a creak from upstairs, terrified that Josie would catch them and ruin the surprise. By bedtime, everyone’s hands were cramped and stained with ink, but they had a neat stack of invitations, and they toasted their cleverness with shots of brandy.

It was hard keeping their secret from Josie the rest of the week. They all hated to see her miserable, and they were grateful when Friday rolled around and she spent the day at the clinic. Hop Sing spent that day making the biggest cake he had ever baked, and Ben got two entire pigs cooking in the smokehouse. The response to the invitations had been overwhelmingly positive, and the Cartwrights were expecting nearly fifty people the following evening. At Hoss’s insistence, they had even enlisted a few musicians from town to provide music.

“Josie loves dancin’,” he pointed out.

At breakfast Saturday morning, Little Joe asked Josie if she wanted to go fishing down at the lake. She raised one eyebrow at him suspiciously.

“You promise not to climb any trees?” she asked.

“Promise.”

“All right.”

Ben and his sons let out a collective sigh of relief. They needed to get Josie out of the house so they could prepare for the party, and they did not have a backup plan if she had not agreed to go with Joe. Josie looked at them quizzically but did not feel like inquiring. She had not felt like doing much of anything the past week, and she only agreed to go with Little Joe because she knew it was just a matter of time before Adam or Ben started lecturing her about getting out of the house for something other than work.

As soon as Josie and Little Joe trotted out of sight, Ben, Adam, Hoss, and Hop Sing sprang into action. Rather, Ben, Hoss, and Hop Sing sprang into action while Adam gave orders about placing the decorations just so and making sure the house was spotless. The guests had been instructed to arrive around four o’clock – a little early for an evening party, but there had been uncertainty about how long Little Joe could keep Josie interested in fishing, so they decided that earlier was better.

By five o’clock, the front yard was packed with the Cartwrights’ friends and neighbors. Adam and Hoss looked around approvingly at the dozen and a half young ladies in attendance.

“Sending Little Joe around with the invitations was a good idea,” Hoss complimented his older brother.

“I had a feeling we’d get a good turnout if Casanova invited them,” Adam said, smiling at his own cleverness.

A few moments later, Josie and Little Joe rode into the front yard, a long string of fish hanging from Little Joe’s saddle.   Both of them were wet and muddy, as if they had been trying to throw each other in the lake, which, Adam surmised, they probably had been. Adam watched as Josie stared at the crowd and decorations, her mouth hanging open. As she slid down from her saddle, everyone yelled “SURPRISE!”

Adam went over to her. “Happy birthday!” he exclaimed, grinning. Much to his surprise and dismay, Josie burst into tears and buried her face in his shirt. His arms automatically wrapped around her as he looked over her hat at Little Joe. Joe met his brother’s bewildered gaze and shrugged his shoulders. This was not the reaction any of them had been expecting or hoping for.

Adam pulled Josie back a little ways so he could look at her. “Josie, what’s wrong?” he asked as Ben jogged over to join them.

“You threw me a nice party, and look at me!” Josie wailed. “I’m a mess, and I smell like dead trout!” She plunged her face into Adam’s shirtfront once more.

“Oh, we didn’t think of that.” Adam looked helplessly at his father.

“Hey, Josie,” Ben said, “don’t you worry about a thing. You just go upstairs and get cleaned up. We’ll keep the party going for you.”

Josie nodded as well as she could with her face pressed into Adam’s chest. She took a deep breath and stepped back. “I’m sorry,” she said, wiping her eyes. “I really am happy about the party. I’m just-”

“Surprised?” Adam finished for her.

Josie smiled feebly at him. “Yeah.”

Adam smiled back down at her. “Go on.” He nudged her toward the house. “Get cleaned up.”

Josie scampered into the house, waving shyly at the guests as she went. Ben turned to the crowd and announced, “The birthday girl will be back in a bit. I suppose we should have picked a cleaner activity to keep her occupied this afternoon.” The guests laughed and returned to socializing.

When Josie reemerged forty minutes later, she was all smiles. She had bathed and put on a dress of green-sprigged calico that complemented her hazel eyes. Hopeless with styling her own hair, she had pulled it up into a braided bun, leaving down a few wisps of black hair to frame her face. All eyes turned to gaze at her as she stepped onto the porch.

“You know something, Pa?” Little Joe said as the Cartwright men admired her. “We’ve got ourselves the prettiest little gal in Nevada.”

“We sure do,” Ben agreed.

“That’s because she takes after the Stoddard side,” Adam quipped. Ben sniggered and Hoss and Little Joe stuck out their tongues at their older brother, but Adam paid them no attention. He was already striding toward Josie. He took her arm and introduced her as the guest of honor. Josie blushed while everyone applauded. Adam then handed Josie off to Sally Cass with a quiet suggestion that she introduce her to some of the other young ladies.

“With pleasure!” Sally said. “Come on, Josie, I’ll introduce you to Patience Lovejoy.” Adam smiled as he watched Sally and Josie flit arm-in-arm through the crowd.

Despite its rough beginnings, the party was a resounding success. Before Ben had even produced the barbecued pork, Josie found herself surrounded by a gaggle of girls her own age who were all fascinated by her medical degree.

“Did you really set Delphine Marquette’s wrist?” Patience Lovejoy, the reverend’s daughter, asked in awe.

“Yes,” Josie replied, and the young ladies gasped. Josie giggled. “It wasn’t hard.” She paused. “Though it would have been easier if Ross hadn’t passed out on the floor.” The young ladies burst into peals of laughter.

“It must be hard, for you, living out here with all these men, and no other women for miles,” a girl named Margaret Crawford opined.

Just then, one of the Cartwrights’ new ranch hands, a handsome young man named Jimmy, walked by and tipped his hat to the ladies. Six sets of eyes, including Josie’s, followed him as he passed.

“Oh, it’s not as bad as all that,” Josie said distractedly, eliciting another gale of giggles from her new friends.

After everyone had eaten their fill of pork, beans, and biscuits, Hop Sing proudly carried out the enormous cake he had made. The cook had spent most of the afternoon getting the icing just right, and everyone complimented him on his handiwork. The cake would not fit in the oven in its entirety, and Adam was impressed with the way Hop Sing had baked it in sections and then fitted them together; Hop Sing would have made a fair architect. A thick layer of white frosting over the entire confection hid the seams, and on top, Hop Sing had carefully written “Happy Birthday Josie” in red icing. Josie cut the first slice of cake and then handed the job off to Hop Sing so she could get back to her friends.

Ben instructed the musicians to start playing as everyone finished their cake, and for the next two hours, the partygoers danced. Josie, Sally, Margaret, and Patience partnered up with one another for the Virginia Reel and shrieked with laughter as they tripped over each other’s feet and landed in a big, giggling pile. Adam’s heart soared as he watched Josie cut loose with her new friends. Ben watched the interaction, too, and clapped Adam on the back.

“Good job with the party, son,” he said. “I haven’t seen Josie this happy since before Bull Run.”

“Me either,” Adam said. “I know she’s been happy here, but I think these friends are exactly what she needed.”

As Adam had expected, Simon Croft did invite Josie to dance, but Adam was pleased to see the young man did not monopolize her time. Simon understood that as the guest of honor Josie needed to circulate among her guests, and he gave her all the time and space she needed to meet everyone. By the end of the evening, Josie had danced with Ben, all three of her cousins, Simon, Dr. Martin, Sheriff Coffee, Ross Marquette, Joe’s friend Mitch, and the banker’s son, Thomas. Simon had to act quickly to get a second round of dancing with Josie toward the end of the evening. They danced to two songs before they heard the musicians announce their final number of the evening. Simon was not surprised to feel a tap on his shoulder, and he turned to face the smiling countenance of Adam Cartwright. No words were needed this time – Simon stepped aside so Adam could dance with Josie. The cousins swept around to the waltz Adam had requested. As the song ended, Josie hugged him tightly.

“Thank you for my party. It was wonderful.”

“Happy to do it,” Adam replied with a grin.

It was nearly midnight when they finished bidding farewell to the last of their guests. A few of the ranch hands, Jimmy included, stayed up to help the Cartwrights clear away the tables and the leftover food. It was nearly two a.m. before anyone got to bed, and they were all relieved when Ben announced that everyone should sleep in the next morning. Josie cheered and kissed her uncle and cousins goodnight before skipping upstairs to her bedroom. Adam collapsed into bed that night exhausted but overjoyed that Josie’s birthday had been such a big success. He fell asleep with a smile still flitting about his lips.

Next Story in the A House United Series:

Thenceforward and Forever Free – Book 3 of A HOUSE UNITED

 

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2 thoughts on “And the War Came – Book 2 of A HOUSE UNITED series (by Pulitzer2016)”

  1. Absolutely love this story. You are giving us another side of the Cartwright men’s emotions. So loving and caring of their new family member.

  2. What a wonderful story! Josie is a great character, and I love the way you included Dr. Quinn in her youth. I’m impressed with your research. Thank you for sharing this story. I look forward to reading more about Josie.

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