Each Day ~ Life Begins Anew (by Dogwood)

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Summary:  The beginning of a path Adam didn’t realize lay before him.  The outcome is one that changes his life forever and opens the door to unknown and life changing challenges.

Rating:  T  (223,014 words)

 

Each Day ~ Life Begins Anew

Spring. It was a brisk and sunny morning as the patriarch was comfortably settled on his steed. He had stopped to view the vastness of his surroundings and was satisfied within himself of what he viewed as great accomplishments and profound beauty. He remembered the days of struggle and quietly gave thanks for what laid before him. This time alone, although brief, was a quiet respite from the business that was before him. He breathed in his surroundings once more and smiled … a smile that inwardly warmed his heart and touched on his humility.

His thoughts were quickly deferred back to the ranch where he left his sons debating over the work that was to be completed before sundown and who would do what. They are grown men now, and if they cannot figure out what and who is to do it, I am not going to let it ruin what for me has started as a glorious day. With that he turned and sped off to Virginia City.

The city was alive with the daily rustlings. As he approached the office of Attorney Morgan, he heard a voice call to him, “Ben …. Ben Cartwright.” As he turned, he saw his good friend and neighbor Hank Sanders. “Well Hank, it is so good to see you. It has been so long since you and Margaret have been to the ranch. I really miss our times together and the chess games.”

“I know Ben. It’s been the same for us as well. With the winter thaw now and the weather changing, we’re trying to get the stock settled on another range. Besides, with the weather we had this year, it was so hard to get about.”

“Yeah, same with us. But we have a chess game that’s yet to be finished and I don’t think that we’ll have any more excuses,” he said with a hearty laugh. “By the way, how are Margaret and James? Still love Margaret’s apple pie.”

“Margaret is doing well and as you can see so am I,” as he spread his hand over is stomach. “James is settled in Carson City and working on extending land rites for the cattle we hope to bring up from Texas. Emily is expecting in August so he’s a busy but happy man.”

“That’s just great to hear,” he said as he felt just a little pang of jealousy. James was married with a child on the way. Ben had his three sons at home and so far, no sign of marriage so no sign of a grandchild.

“Hank, I’d love to continue this conversation, but I have to see Morgan and then go over to the bank. If you’re going to be around in about an hour, how about we get something to eat at the International House and really catch up?”

“Sounds great. My business should be finished by then.” They bid each other so long with a chuckle, handshake and a slap on the back.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Things at the Ponderosa were finally being taken care of but not without some complaining.

“If’n pa gets back and he sees that the loose shingles on the barn ain’t in place there’s gonna be heck to pay Joe,” said Hoss.

Joe responded sourly, “It wasn’t my choice to have to climb up there and do the repairs. I’m better at tracking down the strays in the south meadow and getting the fence mended.”

“Maybe so Joe, but we pulled straws and you got the short one, so I think you should be getting started. I’m going to start checking the fencing in the south meadow and begin putting in them new posts. Now if you wanna trade with me, I’m willin’.”

Joe thought about it for a moment. Knowing the extent of his brother’s labors, he decided to get the nails.

Having witnessed the banter from inside the house between his brothers, Adam shook his head and finally strolled over to the barn to saddle up. He was off to the upper range to see what the winter snows had done to the fences and surrounding areas. Although it was a beautiful spring morning, he took his coat as he knew the temperatures would be cooler and the ride a long one. With this in mind he thought about his return, which would be late, but knew his father was depending upon his report of the inspection.

Being the person he was, Adam couldn’t leave without making a few remarks to his siblings.

“Joe …. anything you need before I head out?”

“Now why would I need anything?’ Joe responded sarcastically from the roof of the barn.

“No real reason other than it just appears that if you’re going to fix the roof, you might need a hammer along with the nails and shingles you have up there. Just a thought.”

Joe rolled his eyes and thought, always a comment from older brother. Adam continued getting set in his saddle with a slight smirk on his face.

Hoss yelled to Adam, “Don’t ya go worryin ’bout little brother. I’ll be checking on him from time to time and make sure the work is done proper.”

Adam responded, “If you’re doing your job, how do you expect to check on little brother here …. never mind don’t tell me. You’ll be back for lunch!!”

Hoss gave a grin because his brother knew him very well.

“One last thing,” Adam stated as he was riding out, “be sure to save me some dinner …. no matter how late I get home.”

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Ben joined Hank at the International House. It was as if their friendship had never been interrupted by the long winter they’d experienced. They placed their order and sipped coffee while waiting.

Hank offered first, “Ben, I guess your boys are really an assist to you running your place.”

“Yes they are, but they’re also a might bit of a problem especially when they get their dander up, which seems to be quite a lot.” It was then that their food arrived.

“Ben, I don’t know if you’re aware or not, but we’ve had an addition to our family.”

Been looked up quizzically, “A new addition?”

Hank smirked and began to inform Ben of the new addition. “My niece has been with us the past five months.”

“I wasn’t aware of that Hank. I’m sure that she’s a joy to have.”

“Well Ben, at first it was a bit of a problem with adjusting. She’s the daughter of my brother and sister-in-law that died in a fire last Fall. You recall I think when Margaret and I left for St. Louis.”

“Yes, I certainly do. I was ever so sorry to hear that news.”

“It was a shock, but we’re getting on. As it turned out, we didn’t want her to be left alone and asked her to come to stay with us while she sorted out what she would do. It was like pulling teeth but Margaret and I are so thankful that she is here. I believe it’s had a healing effect on all three of us.”

“Well, generally I know what’s going on but had no idea she was with you. Guess when the weather settled in, we just seemed to be sheltered in our own little worlds.”

“She arrived just before the first snowfall. She is a wonderful person and I would truly like for you to meet her. She’s brought warmth and joy to our home.”

“Well then,” said Ben, “we shall meet her and the sooner the better.” He smiled a gracious grin and after taking another mouthful, said, “let’s make it sooner. The weather is better now and the roads are clearing. How about coming for Sunday dinner … a week from Sunday?”

“I’ll check with Margaret and send one of my hands over to the Ponderosa to confirm. I’m sure Margaret would also like a chance to see you, the boys and get away.”

“Let’s count on it,” Ben said happily.

Ben noticed a distant look on Hank’s face but said nothing.

Noticing Ben saw the change in his demeanor, Hank said, “Thanks for the invite. Ben, when time permits, I feel there’s more I should perhaps share with you about my niece. I guess it’s because I’ve had no one outside of Margaret or my niece to talk with about what happened.
Ben rested his hand on Hank’s shoulder and gave a gentle nod of understanding. They shook hands. It was left there for the time being and they parted their ways.

TWO

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Hank Sanders picked up the mail along with the long awaited package his niece had been expecting. He knew she would be very happy to receive it. He then crossed to the mercantile, checked his order of supplies which had been loaded into his wagon and began the journey home.

Margaret and Claire finished up the luncheon dishes and decided to sit on the porch to enjoy the beauty of the early afternoon sun. With still a bit of a chill in the air, Margaret brought two shawls to take the chill away. Margaret loved her niece dearly and knew that she was still some distance away from being the person she once was. She tried to be respectful of her privacy and did not push the conversation.

“Aunt Maggie,” said Claire, “I really thank both you and Uncle Hank for all that you have done to provide me a sense of belonging and love.”

“No thanks is necessary Claire. We’re family in every sense of the word.”

“I know,” Claire stated somewhat remotely. “I know that Uncle Hank and you have also struggled with the loss of my parents. Sometimes it is as if a bad dream. I move on and then there is a pain that tugs at my heart. I know I must return to St. Louis to clean up some matters, but have been putting it off. I guess it is now time to make plans to do it and I think the sooner the better.”

“Yes dear, I know you’re right. Hank and I will both support you with the matters that you need to clear up. But one thing we will not put up with is your stubbornness and not pursuing your gifts.”

Claire smiled and gave her aunt a quick hug. Maggie put her hands on her nieces and they sat in quiet together awaiting the arrival of the supplies and Hank.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

“Hey Joe,” yelled Hoss. “Are you building a house or fixing the barn roof? You been up there for the last four hours. I already finished the posts in the south pasture and you don’t seem to have gotten past the front side of that roof.”

“I’ll have you know that quality work takes time,” quipped Joe. “Besides, without Adam or pa around, I can take my time to be sure it is done to the best of my ability.”

“Ability is one thing Joe, but with this nice weather I wonder how much ability came between you and your naps up there. Lucky, you have not fallen off the roof.”

Joe figured his brother knew that the job should have been completed some time ago but Spring had sprung for him and he had taken some time to rest a bit.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

“Uncle Hank!! They have arrived. Thank you for picking them up.”

With a quick kiss to her temple, he watched as Claire removed her new art supplies and paints. He had found that this was one way she could express herself. An accomplished pianist as well, he was saddened that he did not have a piano for her to play but her painting could now continue.

“I kinda thought that’s what was in that large box. I guess we won’t be seeing you around too much now.”

“Now uncle, that’s not so. There is so much beauty to capture on canvass around here that I am just excited about getting started once again.”

“Claire,” Maggie said, “just be sure that if you go off to be creative that we know when and where.”

“And with whom,” smiled her uncle. Claire just grinned and took her package of supplies into her room.

“How were things in town today Hank?” quizzed Maggie.

Hank was not hearing the question from his wife but was thinking of a time that was from an unpleasant past that had to do with his niece. To see her joy this afternoon for some reason caused him to remember. He said nothing. When he turned, he saw Maggie with her hands on her hips and saying, “Did you hear me? I asked how things went in town today.”

“Sorry dear. Went well. And by the way, I ran into Ben today. He really looks well and has invited all of us to dinner a week from Sunday. I told him I would check with you and let him know if we could make it.”

“Well, if it is an invite from dear Ben, the answer is always yes. Just let him know”…. ummmmm, I guess I will bake an apple pie.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Ben grumbled over the mail received and the invoices that needed to be recorded. He wished that Adam had returned to lend a hand but knew that he would be late. As he looked up, he saw Joe coming into the house with several bruises on his hands. Grinning to himself, Ben thought he would not say anything but rather ignore the damage. He felt it might be a lesson learned and no comment was necessary when concentration on the work at hand should have been primary for his youngest son.

On the other hand, Hoss, biting an apple could not hold his tongue, “Well, little brother, having a problem with your thumb and a couple of other fingers? By the way, how’s your backside?”

In amazement Joe queried, “And how did you know about that?”

“Well, I heard Hop Sing laughing so hard I had to find out what was so funny. He was pointing and when I looked out of the kitchen window I saw you picking yourself up off the ground. Guess your little nap did cause more damage than the hammer.”

Ben just shook his head and watched as Hoss laughed and then he himself joined in. His day started off great and he was not about to let anything ruin it.

“Boys,” said Ben, “dinner is ready, so get cleaned up and let’s eat. Joseph, if you need me to get a pillow for you to sit on, just let me know.”

“Thanks pa,” said Joe as he went to wash up for dinner.

 

 

THREE

* * * * * * * * * * * *

The hour was late when the eldest Cartwright returned home. He was glad to be back. He quickly took care of his horse and proceeded to the house. He couldn’t decide if he was hungrier or more tired. He decided to split the difference and grab a quick bite (hoping something was left for him from dinner) and then get to bed.

As he entered the house he was surprised to find his father and brothers still sitting up although Hoss was nodding in his chair. As he removed his gun and hung up his hat and coat all he could do was sigh.

“Home at long last?” called out Joe. “Glad you’re back son,” said Ben. “How did things look?”

Adam really did not feel like answering any questions but could muster a few words, “Yes” as he faced Joe and “not as bad as we may have thought” to his father. Recognizing the weariness of his son and thankful that this task was behind them, Ben said, “Good. Let’s talk about it in the morning.”

Adam nodded thankfully and headed into the kitchen where he found a plate of food left for him in the warmer. He picked it up and headed across the great room to the stairs. As he began the climb, without looking back he said, “Good night and Joe, I’m glad to know that you have a few fingers left and are still in one piece.” Adam, having noticed his brother’s condition, could not help but smirk as he turned onto the landing heading toward his room.

Hoss who was nodding on the sofa, heard the exchange and said, “Nite big brother. I’m gonna call it a night too.”

* * * * * * * * * * * *

The morning was an early one for Hank Sanders. He was out before sunrise and talking to his foreman about the day’s work. With the weather beginning to break, all the plans worked out during the latter winter months now needed to be put into place. He and his foreman mounted their horses to look over the lower pastures and consider the fencing he knew would be sorely needed. No time to lose any more stock than was necessary. He was certain that he would be back in time for breakfast.

As the daylight started to spread through the window, Claire Hammond Sanders was awakened by the light. She had retired early the evening before and felt rested and clear-headed. She however did not want to get up yet. Besides, she did not hear her aunt bustling about in the kitchen. She lay comfortably under the covers and thought about the conversation she had with her aunt the day before.

Nervousness began to settle in a bit as she considered the courage she must muster to return to St. Louis to complete the affairs that had surrounded the passing of her mother and father (something that she could not bring herself to deal with at that time). She was so distraught that she was unable to clearly put affairs in place or truly face up to the fact that they were no longer with her. She wondered, ‘how could two such wonderful people’ adopt her, educate her, love her, and provide a wonderful and caring environment for her and then leave her in a flash in a fire? Her visit to Nevada was forced but she was lingering in the thought that this was the best thing for her. Her aunt and uncle could share their pain and grief with her and together they forged a stronger bond and were getting on with life.

She was nervous about making the trip but vowed that she would call upon her inner strength. After all, she was a strong intelligent woman, who had now come to grips with this tragedy and would call upon all of her being to do what needed to be done. Done, complete, finished … she thought. Today my life begins again.

The letter she had received from her parent’s attorney indicated that she needed to complete all business with the estate within the next forty-five days. Today she was going to decide for the return and send a wire to an investigator she had been secretly working with over the years. She wanted to try to find her ‘real’ parents. This was the memory that she was not able to totally erase. Although thoroughly happy and content with her adoptive parents, questions would surface from time to time. However, if no leads were still to be found, she vowed she would accept that and move on. Her questions she felt were easy and simple. Her parents understood completely and never held anything back from her. They loved her totally and unconditionally for twenty years of her life. She was their child!! They were her parents!!

Hearing sounds in the kitchen now; she arose from the bed and stretched in front of her window. Her little demon appeared …. Who were my mother and father? Why was I left as an infant at a children’s home? Did they love me? Was I not a child they wanted? Is my name really Claire Hammond born on May 20th? Why did I spent almost six years in those horrible conditions?

As quickly as these thoughts surfaced, she dismissed them. They were are part of her, but they were not going to rule her life. Her life was a gift and she was going to live it to the fullest and give to others as best she could.

 

 

FOUR

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Hop Sing was busily getting breakfast ready. The smell of freshly made coffee was evident as Adam came down the stairs. He sat at the table and poured himself a cup. Hearing another set of footsteps, he poured another cup as he heard a hearty, “Good morning.”

Looking around he was not surprised to find that it was his father.

“Morning, pa.”

“I thought you might have slept a bit longer this morning. You looked pretty tired when you came in last night.”

“I was but I’m fine now.”

Sitting down Ben said, “Thanks for taking the trip to the upper range. What’s the condition of things?”

While drinking his second cup of coffee, Adam recounted to his father his findings that turned out to be better than he anticipated, but some repairs were needed.

The smell of food entered the dining area followed by Hop Sing carrying the morning’s breakfast. “Morning Mista Ben, Mista Adam. Food good ‘n’ hot. Eat now. Youngest son funny man,” he chuckled as he recounted yesterday’s fiasco and left to return to the kitchen.

“Somethin’ smells mighty good this mornin,” said Hoss as he came down the stairs and immediately sat down and began to fill his plate. “Where’s the house builder?”

Adam quizzically looked at his brother. He saw the bandages on Joe’s fingers and hands when he arrived last night but did not know about the fall. Hoss thought it better that he say nothing more.

“Buried in his bed as usual,” Adam said.

“Well he better rise and shine soon, spouted Ben, “there’s a ton of wood needing to be chopped and the tack room needs to be cleaned.”

Both Adam and Ben watched Hoss fill his plate for the second time. It would be Joe’s loss if he did not show up for breakfast pretty soon.

Between mouthfuls, Hoss said, “So Adam, what’cha find on the upper range yesterday? We gotta lot of work ahead of us?”

“Some. Most of the fences are in good condition. There is some shoring up that will need to be done on the western ridge and a lot of tree limbs that need to be removed. Some of it can be used for posting. Should only take a couple of days to get it done.”

“Guess we got lucky this winter,” said Ben. “but we better get the materials we need now.”

“Adam, make a list of what we need so that we can pick up what is available in town and order the rest. I’d like that work done quickly.”

Looking over his coffee cup at his father, he reached into his shirt pocket and handed him a slip of paper. Ben offered up a small grin as he looked at the list of all the materials that would be needed.

“I thought that Hoss and I could get an early start into town today to arrange for the materials,” Adam said dryly.

“Sounds like a plan,” said Ben.

Chewing, Hoss just shook his head in the affirmative.

As the three men finished up their meal and rose from the table, Joe appeared. Knowing that he was once again late to breakfast, he made no excuses other than to say, “Good morning, I’m starved.”

“Good morning little brother,” Adam greeted. “From the looks of your bandages, I would say you worked really hard to put the barn into shape. All finished?”

“All finished and better than new,” retorted Joe, “ready to tackle whatever gets thrown at me today.”

“Glad to hear it son, because there is a ton of wood needing chopping and a tack room that needs organizing and cleaning. I’m sure that you can do it with the same ease as repairing the roof,” chuckled Ben. “And when that is done, the stock needs to be feed and the horses groomed.”

Joe rolled his eyes. He had to learn to get up earlier and head off some of the assigned chores that were passed out at the breakfast table. Geez! Ranch life!

In passing, Hoss slapped Joe on the back and said, “I left you some breakfast.”

Both Ben and Adam looked at their son and brother and just shook their heads as they headed out the door.

“Hey wait for me,” shouted Joe.

“Better hurry little brother,” said Hoss.

“On time and hurry are not a part of Joe’s vocabulary,” Adam said quietly.

Outside Ben instructed both Hoss and Adam to take the wagon into Virginia City to begin to pick up the needed supplies. He was heading off to a meeting of the Cattlemen’s Association in Willow Bend and would return around noon. While there he hoped to find new ranch hands seeking work.

Without knowing it, Hoss and Adam would also find a new neighbor in Virginia City.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Claire was cleaning the breakfast dishes as her Aunt Maggie sat and shared another cup of coffee with her husband.

Wiping her hands and returning to the table, Claire sat down. “I am going to return to St. Louis and plan to go into Virginia City today to make the arrangements.”

Although her aunt was not surprised, her uncle was. “When did you decide this?”

“I think it had always been decided but I was not sure when I would leave. You both know that settling of dad’s estate must be done. I am sure that I can handle this now.”

Hank looked at her and understood her need to be independent in this matter. He looked at Maggie and then back at Claire. “I understand,” was all he could muster.

Sensing something else in her uncle and from the expression on her aunt’s face, she knew they had questions.

Claire placed her hands in front of her on the table and said, “I think we need to talk. We have been able to do it rather easily in the past and I want to share with you some of the things that I have been thinking about. Before you say anything, I want to speak what is on my mind.”

Claire had always been one to cover her true feelings, showing only what she wanted others to see of her, but she was honest when it came to those she cared about. She was not about to back away from what she was thinking and had to lay it out for them no matter how painful it might be.

She began, “I’m going back to St. Louis to face the loss I’ve experience and try to put it in the past. I know Uncle Hank that you loved dad and mother very much and miss them as much as I do.”

Maggie reached over and took her hand. She was fearful of what would be coming next.

“I will settle the estate,” she continued. “Many of the personal belongings have been stored and I will need to go through them. As for me, I am uncertain if I will remain in St. Louis and pursue a life there or start fresh somewhere else.”

Both Hank and Maggie held their breath to hear what was coming next.

“I have been here for several months now and cannot continue to live in your home without contributing. I have a lot of unanswered questions, but need to make a decision on where I can direct my life.”

“You have a home here Claire,” said her aunt passionately. “We love you and if it is your heart’s desire, we want you to stay here with us for if you wish. We are family.”

Claire understood the heartfelt words of her aunt and saw the deep questions within her eyes.

Hank felt a need to speak. “Claire, you are a grown and educated woman. I would not be telling you the truth if I said you’re not returning would sadden me. What I will do is accept your decision and support you. I love you and know that you will come to terms with what you see for your life.”

“That’s just it uncle. I want to be independent and accomplish some of the goals that I had set for myself before …..”

“Just do one thing Claire,” said Maggie, “make sure the decisions that you make are not emotional decisions. This may be hard for you when you return to St. Louis, but you have found a peace and joy with us here and I know that for a fact! We have plenty of room here for you, your belongings, and would never overstep our boundaries with you. If you should wish to not live in this house, I am sure that you could find other suitable arrangements. As for your independence, being the woman that you are, I am sure that you would be able to find your niche’ and be an asset to the community.”

Claire looked at her aunt with full understanding of what she was saying.

“Claire dear,” said her uncle, “I know your schooling in the East and your life in St. Louis was quite different from what we have here. I also know that you have grown to love the beauty of this country, the peace and serenity, and have made some wonderful friends. I ask that you consider these things also.”

Claire rose from her seat and hugged both her aunt and uncle. “I love you two more than you will ever know. Thank you for allowing me to be the person that I am.”

With that she walked out the door headed for the barn to saddle her horse.

As they heard the sound of the hoof beats leaving, Hank and Maggie watched her ride off both wondering what would become of her and what would now become of their lives.

 

 

FIVE

* * * * * * * * * * * *

The ride to Virginia City was a determined one for Claire as she was a woman on a mission. An accomplished rider who could set a horse with the best of them, she rode along at an even pace taking in the surroundings that were beginning to come to life again … as if taking their first breath of Spring air. She knew that she would have to capture this on canvass.

She rode up to the stage office and dismounted quickly. She took in a deep breath and then entered.

“Good morning,” she said to the agent.

“Morning ma’am. How can I help you?”

“I would like to book passage to St. Louis. I need to know the schedule and the costs.”

“St. Louis, umm,” queried the agent. “Just hold on a minute and I’ll look that information up fer ya.”

As the agent went about gathering the details, she looked out at the activity on the street. Getting caught up in the faces of the people and the activity, she barely heard the agent calling her.

“Ma’am,” the agent called, “transportation from here to St. Louis, with the connections, leaves every other Tuesday morning at 7:00 AM prompt. So, if you have plans to book transportation you have already missed the stage for this week. You must wait until a week from next Tuesday for passage.”

Claire looked at him and noticed the pride with which he imparted this information to her. She thought, this will work out fine. I’ll have time to wire the attorney in St. Louis about my arrival. She would also be able to let her friend and confidant Amelia know that she would be coming and have her contact the investigator.

Claire said, “The timing for travel will work out fine. I’d like to purchase a ticket.”

“What about your return ticket, ma’am?”

“A one way ticket will be sufficient, thank you.”

The agent smiled over his glasses, collected her payment and prepared to give her a receipt. “Who should I make the receipt out to?”

With a sense of strength she responded, “Claire Hammond Sanders.” She then turned on her heel and headed directly for the telegraph office.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Hoss and Adam were laughing with John McKenzie as they were loading materials for the work to be done. John had done business with their pa since he arrived in Virginia City twelve years earlier.

“Hoss you never seem to amaze me,” he quipped. “You can load a wagon faster than any man I know.”

“All in a day’s work,” responded Hoss.

“He continues to be one up on me,” said Adam. “What he doesn’t seem to realize is that the faster he gets it done, the faster we have to return to the ranch.”

Hoss just looked at his brother and slapped him on the shoulder. “Big Brother here is good at a lot of things and pretty smart, but there are just some things that I can handle better.”

Adam just gave him a sly look.

They shook hands with John and started on to the lumber mill. “Remember me to you pa and tell him I’d like to see him next time,” John called.

“We will,” said Adam. “If brother here gets too big for his britches, I think I can arrange for him to come and help you.” With a wave they were off.

* * * * * * * * * *

Exiting the telegraph office Claire felt confident, at least for the moment. She’d accomplished the main tasks that she had come to town for. Thinking of one additional item that she wanted, she headed for the Mercantile.

Upon entering she saw Amy Wheeler. She along with Amy and her husband had arrived on the same stage when she had come from St. Louis. They immediately formed a friendship that had lasted over the months and through the winter.

“Amy!”

“Claire!”

Each hugged the other as if they were long lost schoolmates.

“Claire, you look wonderful and I am so surprised to see you. I knew there was an extra special reason for me to come into town today.”

“Amy it is great to see you also. I’ve missed being able to get out to your ranch and I think about the times we’ve spent together and the laughs.”

“I’ve missed the times as well and really miss you playing the piano at the house. I’m still waiting for the lessons you promised. Inheriting a piano and not knowing how to play can be a problem. But as Josh states, it does fill up a space where there is missing furniture.” They both laughed.

For some unknown reason, it seemed that Amy brought out laughter in Claire and on the occasions that they spent time together, they would always laugh about something. Today it seemed would be the same.

“I just wanted to pick up some pencils and a few pads of paper,” said Claire.

“Drawing and painting again?”

With a smile Claire responded, “Well yes I am.”

They continued to chat amiably as they made their purchases and their packages were wrapped. When finished, they left the store and continued to talk. From a distance, it seemed as if someone had told the other something humorous. The laughter continued along with some animated talking.

All the purchases made for the work to be started on the ranch, Hoss stated, “Ya know, I could do with something to eat before we head back Adam.”

“Now why does that not surprise me?” was Adam’s response. “We might as well take the time since we have no idea when we will be able to get back to town.”

“Big Brother you made one right decision. Jes follow me.”

As they were seated at a window table in the International House, Hoss began to look over the menu.

“Hoss, why bother reading that? You know practically every item on it.”

“Well brother, said Hoss, “Ya never know when they may add something new or fancy.”

Adam crossed his arms and sat back in the chair. From his vantage point he saw two women across the street in front of the Mercantile. One he recognized as the wife of Josh Wheeler, the other he could not recall having seen before.

As he focused his curiosity was peaked wondering who this person was and why had he not seen her before. The woman dressed neatly in riding clothes was waving goodbye and proceeding down the street. Although she was across the street, he studied her as she walked. He noticed the way she carried herself with a sense of assuredness. More so, he noticed a beauty about her that he could not ever remember seeing. She was slim in build, seemed to have a sparkle in her eyes, beautiful raven hair that was tied with a ribbon and she was much more than beautiful. He wanted to know more about her. No, not know more about her …. she had made an impression on him and he wanted an opportunity to know her.

Adam continued to watch as she mounted her horse and proceeded to ride away.

 

 

SIX

* * * * * * * * * * *

The day had all but gotten away from Claire. She was joyful that she had the time with Amy in town. She was also glad that she would be visiting Amy the next day. Secretly she was relishing the fact she would have the opportunity to sit and play the piano once again, which she sorely missed.

Walking into the house, she did not see her aunt. She knew her uncle would be out on the ranch somewhere and return in time for dinner. As she put away her newly purchased items, her thoughts returned to all she had done today. She began to think about her plans for leaving in less than two weeks. She would explain in detail at dinner what her plans up to this point would be. It was not going to be easy, but having taken the initial steps, the rest leading to her departure would be as difficult or at best a little easier …. certainly, not more difficult.

Hearing the back door shut, she walked into the kitchen to find her aunt coming in the door.

“How was your trip to Virginia City?” queried her aunt.

“It went well. I could settle the things I needed to today and will explain to you and Uncle Hank at dinner tonight. I also saw Amy and am going to visit her tomorrow.”

Her aunt looked at her trying to keep a positive presence about herself and said, “I’m glad to hear that. This is a beginning for you.”

“Yes,” said Claire in almost a whisper.

“Well, since I’ve just inspected where my garden will be put in, I’ll wash my hands and you and I can start dinner.”

Claire said, “Sounds great. I’ll get things started.”

* * * * * * * * * *

Ben had already returned from Willow Bend. He was discussing with some of the ranch hands the assignment of work.

“Er, Mr. Cartwright,” said Milt a long-time hand, “With all that you’re a talkin’ bout, seems to me that its gonna take a lot more hands then what’cha got.”

“True, Milt. By next week, the first of the newly hired hands will be on board. Shortly after that I believe that the balance of those needed will also be hired. We’ll start the immediate and necessary work that we are able to do now.”

“OK,” nodded Milt. “Jes wanna be sure that we’re able to keep up.”

“Understood,” said Ben. “Right now, you know what you’re to do, and I’d like it if today’s jobs could be finished today.”

Milt and the men with him nodded their heads and headed off.

Ben sighed as he entered the house. He walked over to his desk and looked at the pile of paperwork that he attempted to complete but did not quite finish. Dreading this task, he went to the kitchen to get some coffee and returned to try again. Things went well for the Ponderosa at the Cattlemen’s Association meeting and he envisioned a profitable year ahead. He could not say that much for the mound of paperwork the lay before him. He felt his mood beginning to change for the worse.

“Hey pa,” said Joe. “I didn’t know you were back.”

“I’m back. Where are your brothers?”

“Haven’t seen them since they left this morning. Guess they should be back soon.”

Looking up, not smiling, he said, “Did you finish your chores?”

“Of course pa,” Joe said happily as he ate a sandwich. “Why are you asking?”

“Just wanted to make sure that your backside and hands did not keep you from completing them. Also, tomorrow morning I want to see you at the breakfast table with the rest of us. We have a lot to do.”

Joe acknowledged his father’s words and thought once again … Geez! Ranch life!

The sound of a heavily laden wagon was approaching.

* * * * * * * * * * *

During dinner that night, Hop Sing seemed to once again out do himself. Joe found it easier to sit and Hoss was glad to see that extra helpings had been prepared. There was little discussion taking place and Ben wondered what was going on.

“OK. Why is everyone so quiet? Can’t be that you’re all so hungry that you’ve lost your tongues,” he said rather grumpily.

All eyes raised and stared at their father. “What? What?” said Ben.

Hoss looked up and sheepishly said, “Well pa, ever since we got home you kinda seemed in a … a mood.”

“A mood? How can you say that?”

“Well pa,” added Joe, “forgive me for saying this, but when you’re in a mood … ‘er bothered by something, we just figure it is better to let you be.”

Ben gave a glaring look at all three sons and noticed that Adam just continued to eat and ignore what was taking place at the dinner table.

Ben was at a loss for words when Adam spoke up. “Pa, I was thinking that tomorrow I would start tackling some of the paperwork on your desk. I know you have some details to take care of on the sale of the horses to the Harrison’s.” Adam knew the stress the paperwork put on his father and this was his way of clearing it up and getting his father back to normal.”

Ben looked and nodded. Hoss and Joe knew what Adam was doing and were glad that dinner could now get back to normal. Dinner was back to normal with animated conversation except for Adam. His mind had wandered back to the vision he had seen earlier that day. Who was that woman?

As they finished their dinner and rose from the table, Ben said, “Oh by the way, I saw Hank Sanders yesterday and I invited them to Sunday dinner a week from Sunday. I expect that you will clear your calendars and be here.”

“Always good to see them,” said Adam.

“Great pa, Hank can spin a yarn to bust your sides and Margaret makes an apple pie that is out of this world,” said Hoss.

“Food, food, food,” said Joe laughingly.

“Hoss they are good friends and invited guests, I HAVE NOT asked Margaret to bring a pie!”

“Yes sir,” quipped Hoss with a pout on his face. But I bet she does!!

* * * * * * * * * * * *

“I know she must settle things, Maggie. I just didn’t think she would be leaving this soon,” moaned Hank as he put on his nightshirt. “It has been a struggle for me to lose a brother and sister-in-law and now it appears that I am losing a niece as well.”

“Hank, you know that this is something that she has to do. We’ve both known it for a long time. For her to get on with her life, she must face the past and put things in order. I don’t want her to return to St. Louis, but it must be. I can only try to accept the decision she has made and the decisions that she has yet to make,” Maggie said sadly.

As Hank climbed into bed he asked, “Maggie, what can we do? What if she decides not to return to Nevada?”

“We will accept that fact and do all we can to help her. This is not easy for any of us.”

“It is hard to accept. We are the only family that she has, or at least the only family we know about. I don’t want to be down in the mouth about this, but I am beginning to feel a loss.”

Turning out the light, Maggie said, “Hank, she is a grown woman and should find her own way. She loves us and we are going to go on each day as we have been with love and joy. Besides, whether she leaves in the next two weeks or the next two years, we would still feel a sadness.”

“True, Maggie … I …. I just don’t know if she will come back.”

* * * * * * * * * * * *

The days seemed to be passing just as quickly as the spring had sprung. Ranchers and merchants were busy. Claire was spending a lot of time with her aunt, uncle and friends. She knew in her heart the reason but decided to only look forward … continuing to pull on the love being shown to her as strength.

As she sat up on the bluff finishing a painting, she reached into her pocket and pulled out the two telegrams she had received earlier in the week.

He father’s attorney in St. Louis was expecting her and had wired her that he would have all the paperwork ready for her and also assist her in finalizing any loose ends. She was thankful as she knew she would be seeking more from him than just settling an estate.

Her second telegram from Amelia warmed her. She thought of her trusty friend she had grown up with. She was the one person that she shared her secret concerns with in detail other than her parents. Amelia had planned for her to stay in her home while in St. Louis and would provide her with any details she could gather regarding the investigation when she arrived. She could not wait to see how Nevada might have changed Claire.

Claire collected her materials and headed home. When she entered her bedroom, she looked at all the things that were out of place due to her packing. She sat for a moment and then walked to her closet and deposited a carefully wrapped package on the shelf. This was not going to go with her to St. Louis.

Tomorrow she would be going to dinner at the Cartwright home with her aunt and uncle. She had met several people during her short stay in Nevada, but for some strange reason, not the Cartwrights. The senior Cartwright was a good friend of her uncle and he spoke highly of him. Her aunt loved the ‘boys’ as she called them, especially the appetite and sensitivity of the middle son.

She walked to her window and looked out at the surroundings for what seemed like an eternity to her. Well she thought finally, I better at least find something to wear to dinner.

 

 

SEVEN

* * * * * * * * * * *

Breakfast at the Sanders was light and upbeat. The day before them was a beautiful sun-filled day. Claire had already had a conversation with her aunt about her plans for the morning. With a glint in her eye, she caught the eye of her aunt.

“Uncle Hank, it’s such a great morning, how about you taking a ride with me over to Amy and Josh’s house? I’d like to drop off a package.”

Her uncle was pleased with the invitation and stated, “I’d like nothing more than to take that ride with you.” He knew this would be a special time and wanted to grab every moment he could with her.

“When do you want to leave?”

“How about now,” she said cheerfully.

“Sounds great to me. If we’re going to leave, I’ll go and saddle up the horses and meet you outside,” he said as he departed for the front door.

Looking at her niece, Maggie walked over and embraced her. “I know I don’t need to say this to you, but thank you.”

Claire embraced her back. They both knew how important this time alone would be for the two of them.

“There’s nothing to thank me for Aunt Maggie. Now I better hurry before I get left behind.”

With the horses saddled, Claire bounced out the front door followed by her aunt. As she climbed into the saddle, her aunt called, “Now the two of you don’t stay away all day. We have Sunday dinner at the Cartwrights.”

“Maggie, you’re a worrier. We’ll be back in plenty of time. Besides, don’t you have a pie or two to bake?” grinned Hank.

Maggie just waved and entered the house to start the baking.

* * * * * * * * * *

They started out at a brisk pace, feeling the air brushing across their faces as they moved across the meadows with the beautiful mountains looking down upon them. If was as if each was being given a loving embrace by nature. The last ride he had taken like this was when his son James had advised him, rather surprisingly, that he was going to be a grandfather. That was a joyful moment. Today was also a joyful moment as he noticed the strength and happiness his niece could enjoy. He was certain that this was mixed with a bit of nervousness and sadness as he watched her, but was thankful that she had come so far along. He was also thankful that she had brought him along with her. Whatever, in this place and at this moment, he could accept the changes that life had handed them.

Arriving at Amy and Josh’s home, they found that no one was around. Claire was not surprised as she already knew they would be in Wells Valley this morning. This was just her excuse to be alone with her uncle. Perhaps not a fair thing to do, but she wanted their time together not to be linked to an expression such as, “Uncle, can we take a ride so that I can talk to you?”

“Well, it does not appear that anyone is around. I’ll just leave this with a note on it for them,” she said as she placed the small package in front of their door.

As she mounted and turned to her uncle, he gave her a look of endearment and they began to take the long way back.

“Uncle, let’s stop for a moment and enjoy some of this beauty,” she said. They both dismounted and began to walk arm in arm.

Quietly she said the things that had been weighing on her heart. “I know my leaving is a worry to you. It’s not that I want to go, but we both know that I must. My leaving here is a matter of practicality if nothing else.”

He listened to each word as she spoke. She continued, “I am happy in a somber sort of way if you can understand that. I may not be putting my words together in a way that are making sense … but … but I must start to put the pieces back together. When I thought the puzzle of my life had all but fallen apart, your brother adopted me. My parents loved me with such a richness and pride that I could become the person that I am today. That was a gift. They also through their love and dedication to me, gave me a family in the persons of you, Aunt Maggie and James. I became the richer for it.”

Hank was clearly understanding her expression of love for him as she spoke and he felt a lump forming in his throat. He took her hand and put his arm around her shoulder as they continued to walk.

She continued, “The pieces of the puzzle are still being put together, even today. I think the two of us can agree that it’s not complete yet…. and until it is, moving forward for me is not possible. So, I think you can understand my departure. I am not letting go of what I found her, but rather, I am going to put to rest what I left behind.”

Hank mustered the words, “You’re a special lady. I could not be happier and prouder of you than I am at this moment.” He then kissed her on her forehead and they both smiled.

“Things happen in life my dear,” he continued, “that we do not always understand. Some of them are painful. Where we fail is when we stay with the sad memories which do not allow us to grow. What brings new life and happiness, is how we remember the good things from our hurts, tuck them away into the private spaces of our hearts, and look forward to the continuation of life. When moments of remorse settle in, we have that treasure in our heart that we can always pull out to get us through. For Maggie and me, you’re that kind of treasure for us.”

Having said these words, he knew that he would now be able to let her go to St. Louis with his concerns and worries lessened.

Stopping and facing her squarely, he looked with intent and said, “Claire, you’re a little too smart for your own good. This morning has turned into a healing that I think you had already planned.”

She laughed and hugged him, “Uncle you seem to have me figured out. There is still something that I know concerns you and Aunt Maggie. I know you’re wondering whether I will remain in St. Louis or return here to Nevada. To be honest I cannot answer that now. “

“That is not something that we will pressure you on, dear.”

“I know that,” she responded. “But I need you to promise me something.”

“What is it Claire?”

“If I decide to stay in St. Louis, which is likely, that you will send me the rest of my belongings. If I should decide to return to Nevada, that you will be willing to allow me to ship all my belongings to you and Aunt Maggie, including my piano.”

“You’ve got me over a barrel you little minx. But yes, I agree,” and he hugged her that much harder.

Both knew from that moment whatever the decision, they would always be in contact and their bond would be strengthened by visits. Besides, she had a niece or nephew on the way.

The sun stroked them both with gentle hands and warmth – a symbol of the springing forth of new life for the both.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

The table at the Ponderosa had been set with beautiful linens and china. The aroma coming from the kitchen was delicious and Hop Sing was busily completing the finishing touches as he hummed.

“Daggonnit,” spouted Hoss. “That Hop Sing jes won’t let me in the kitchen.”

“He’s afraid if you do get in there, we’ll be eating leftover sandwiches. You know your taste testing becomes a couple of full course meals,” touted Joe.

Hoss tossed a book at his brother who quickly ducked.

“Hoss! Books are valuable and we don’t throw them,” shouted Ben.

“Yes sir,” he grumbled looking at his brother.

“You need to be more careful brother, I’m dressed like a gentleman,” Joe quickly added as he arose from the duck, “and don’t want to get into it with you today and mess up my shirt and tie.”

“Yeah,” said Hoss as he tried to loosen his tie a bit.

Adam just looked over at the scene and continued to just rest on the settee.

“What have you got to say, Big Brother?” asked Joe.

“Nothing that would be of any consequence to either of you. Just waiting to share in a wonderful meal with friends” and then continued sarcastically, “and the two of you as well.”

Ben decided not to comment. He was very happy and was busy seeing that all the details of the dinner would be up to his expectations. He did make one mistake and the three sons could hear shouts in a language they did not quite understand. They did know that their pa had entered a territory that was forbidden and Hop Sing was loudly letting him know it.

“Whew,” said Ben, “That was a real mistake.”

Adam laughed and said, “Trouble pa?”

No response was forthcoming.

“Don’t you think Mr. Fashionable that it’s time to put on your tie?” asked Joe. “We don’t want to suffer alone.”

Adam looking at his younger brother just raised an eyebrow. He slowly rose and walked up the stairs to his room to retrieve the tie. As he stood before the mirror, he was always amazed at the way Hop Sing could launder a shirt. His shirt was whiter than snow and superbly pressed. He finished getting the tie in place when he heard a carriage approaching.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Ben rushed out the front door and greeted his friends. “Hank! Margaret! So glad that you could make it. It has been much too long.” He gave Hank a pat on the back and a warm hug to Margaret.

“Ben, you look wonderful and I am so glad that you invited us,” stated Maggie. “It has been much too long. You’re looking just wonderful … just wonderful.”

Ben noticed Hank assisting Claire out of the carriage. “Ben, I’d like you to meet my niece Claire.”

Ben quickly took her hand and slyly said to Hank, “You old codger, you never told me you had your niece with you. I’m totally embarrassed that we didn’t know and could have been more hospitable neighbors.”

Turning to Claire he said, “It’s my pleasure to welcome you to our home. Please, all of you, come in and get comfortable. We have a lot to talk about and catch up on before dinner.”

“We sure do,” said Hank. “There is a chess game that as I recall still needs to be finished and I believe I was giving you a real beating.”

Ben just looked as Maggie said, “Hank, the chess game can wait. Ben, I’ve brought dessert. An apple pie and an extra if needed.” She was sure that Hoss would be able to eat one of her pies all by himself.

Joe and Hoss met their guests as they were entering the door. Ben introduced Joe and Hoss to Claire. They both took a swallow and made the appropriate welcoming greetings as they looked at the beautiful lady in front of them.

Nudging Joe, Hoss said, “We should have them over for dinner more often. She is really somethin’ to look at.”

Joe just looked at his brother and said, “Hoss, for you it would have to be either visiting with her or dinner. I somehow don’t feel that she can compete with food.”

Coming down the stairs to join the guests, Adam almost lost his footing as he gasped internally at the woman that was standing in the great room. This very woman had interrupted his thoughts with regularity over the last week. She was now here in their home? How? What?

Reaching the bottom of the steps, Adam exhibited a smile as he greeted Hank and hugged Margaret warmly. As they were getting seated he was awaiting an introduction which came almost immediately.

Hank said,” Adam, I’d like to introduce you to my niece Claire. Claire, this is Adam, Ben’s eldest son.”

Joe nudged Hoss in the side and nodded his head toward Adam having seen a change in his facial expression when he first glanced at Claire. Hoss smiled as he was aware what Joe was trying to say.

Adam was not quite sure how he greeted her. He was still caught up in the surprise of her being in front of him.

It’s very nice to meet you Adam,” Claire responded as she took a seat. “My aunt and uncle have spoken of all of you so often that I feel as if I know you.”

All Adam could think of at that moment was it might have been nice if her aunt and uncle had spoken of her.

Ben offered to prepare refreshments as they waited for dinner. Adam went to assist.

As the brothers were talking and laughing with the Sanders, Adam found his eyes focusing on Claire. She was truly beautiful but he had the feeling that she was not vain about her herself. The darkness of her hair was radiant, long lashes framed the bluest of eyes. She was dressed in a rich burgundy dress and jacket piped with cream lace. Small peal earrings adorned her ears. She was attired in a manner that was rich in its appearance and that totally complimented her. He was just wondering if he had forgotten to take in any thing else about her. Probably so, but he felt that would come later. Right now, he was just glad that she was there, and he was certain that he would have a lot of questions for her.

 

 

SEVEN (continued)

* * * * * * * * * * *

They had adjourned to the dinner table. Ben sitting at the head with Hank to his right and Maggie to his left. Next to Maggie sat Claire and then Hoss. Joe took his usual seat across from Hoss with Adam taking the seat at the end of the table opposite his father.

Ben tapped his glass and stood up, “I want to make a toast.” As all raised their glasses, Adam noticed the slender delicate fingers of Claire’s hands.

“To true friends, family and the future. May we always be close and committed to ourselves and those close to us.”

As they drank, Adam noticed that Claire took just a meager sip and placed her glass on the table.

The dinner conversation was very active with Hank telling stories, Ben recounting how Maggie and Hank had become such dear friends of their family and each one trying to talk over the other.

Adam could not help taking sly looks over at Claire. He watched as she spoke, laughed and saw that she was perfectly comfortable to be sitting at this table. Both he and Ben were very impressed and marveled at the intellect she exhibited and her composure.

“So Miss Sanders,” said Joe, “how are you enjoying your time here in Nevada?”

“Please call me Claire. I have really enjoyed it.”

“Enjoyed it Miss Claire?” said Hoss. “You ain’t seen anything until ya see the flowers blooming all over the place.”

“Yeh,” piped up Joe. “There’s nothing like it anywhere. And if you like, I would be happy to show it to you.”

Both Hank and Maggie looked at Claire as she responded, “I am infatuated with the beauty that’s here, however, I’ll have to decline your gracious invitation as I am returning to St. Louis on Tuesday morning.”

The look of shock was seen on all faces but none more so that Adam’s. I just met her and now she’s leaving???

“Well, perhaps on your next visit Claire,” said Ben. “Maggie tells me that you are an accomplished pianist and painter.”

Claire overlooked the ‘next visit remark’ and said, “I do play the piano and paint a little.”

Hank boasting said, “This little niece of mine is a great artist and a virtuoso of the piano.”

“Who are your favorite composers?” asked Adam.

The look on Hoss and Joe’s faces was once again understood by these two brothers. Here comes Adam trying to turn the conversation into something other than a down to earth conversation.

“I enjoy classical music very much and that has been my concentration,” said Claire. “I particularly like Pachelbel, Mozart and Bach.”

“Where did ya concentrate on these people?” asked Hoss.

Looking directly into his eyes as she spoke, she explained that she had played piano from the age of nine but studied in her later years at the Conservatory of Music in St. Louis and the Conservatory of the Arts in Washington.

“Mighty impressive,” said Ben. “I’m sorry that we have no piano here for you to play something for us.”

“Now pa, Claire is a guest,” said Adam, “Surely if we had one, it would not be polite for us to ask her to play.”

Claire looked at Adam and smiled. It was then that she realized that he had a quiet way about him and seemed to join in the conversation when he had something meaningful to say. She had the feeling that he was very wise and took in much more than he let on. He was someone to be studied she thought. She had already taken in his good looks and polite mannerisms. Yet she sensed something else, but was not able to put her finger on it.

As they adjourned from the dinner table to have coffee in the great room, Maggie called Hoss aside and said, “The second pie is for you.” She winked and joined the others.

Adam stood beside the hearth with his mind racing. Joe was being teased by Maggie and Hoss had snuck back to get another piece of pie.

“Well, Mrs. Sanders, if you think you can, I’ll put the checker board up right now,” said Joe.

Maggie laughed and said, “Best two out of three.”

“You’re on, said Joe.”

“You’d better keep an eye on little brother,” said Adam.

“Hank, I’d like to show you the new mare you asked about,” said Ben.

“Sounds good to me. Besides, I’d like to light up my pipe.”

As they announced their departure, it appeared that no one was listening. They closed the door.

From the hearth, Adam saw Claire wander over to the library in his father’s office area. He decided as a host, he would join her.

As he approached, she heard the footsteps. She turned quickly.

“I’m sorry if I startled you,” he said.

“I guess I didn’t hear you coming. I hope you don’t mind if I look through these shelves.”

“Feel free Claire. If there’s anything that you’re looking for just ask. I’m not sure if we have it, but there is a pretty good chance that we do,” he smiled.

As she turned from him to continue searching the shelves, he had noticed the deep blue of her eyes and gained a much closer look at her. She was truly beautiful. As she moved along, he caught the gentle scent of her perfume. She had just arrived and was now leaving. His thoughts began to wander. What am I doing?

As she turned, Adam motioned her to a seat. Maggie and Joe were deep in their game of checkers and Hoss had still not reappeared.

“So Adam Cartwright, tell me something about yourself,” she said.

Adam raised an eyebrow and sat down across from her. “There’s not a lot to tell. I’m the oldest as you know, I love this country out here, work the ranch, and have a try to keep my brothers in line.”

She laughed and then said, “OK. But what is the real down to earth Adam like? There must be more,” she said as she looked over at the books on the shelves.

Adam sighed, “I love music, reading, traveling and people.” He thought did I really say people? She was fast causing him to lose some of his composure. He felt as if he had known her longer than the last few hours and sensed something deeper within her. He also had the feeling that she was like him in some ways – – keeping people from truly getting to know her or seeing her emotions.

“My turn,” he said. “What is the real Claire Sanders like?”

“Touché,” she said. “I grew up in St. Louis. My parents were the brother and sister-in-law of my uncle. Always seemed to have a passion for the arts particularly painting and music, and just came out for a visit to see my aunt and uncle.”

“Having attend two conservatories, you must have been intent in pursuing your music,” Adam said leaning forward.

He saw the look of passion in her eyes as she replied, “Yes. I love the music of the masters. Being able to sit for hours and playing their pieces is like being somewhere else. I guess it’s what I miss most about being out here. Not having the ability to play. But all has not been lost as I’ve could paint.”

Adam was intrigued with what she had just said and a thought ran through his mind but he kept it to himself.

As they sat looking at each other, they saw Hoss returning from the kitchen. Somehow, they both sensed what he had been doing, and looking at each other they laughed. She has a beautiful laugh he thought.

“Claire, I know that you’re leaving on Tuesday, but I would like to come by and take you somewhere tomorrow morning if you are available.”

“Adam, I think that I would enjoy that. Kind of a mystery and a last hurrah since I will be leaving.”

“Fine then,” he said, “I’ll pick you up at 10:00.”

“Sounds great,” she said as she rose to go and view the heated checker game.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Ben listened to what Hank had said, and as his friend just placed is hand on his shoulder. As he too knew what heartbreak felt like, he said, “Thanks for letting me know that I am truly your friend. I know that what you have told me was not easy. Whatever I can do, I will.”

“Thanks Ben,” said Hank. “That means quite a lot to me. I hope that Claire will be fine.”

The men entered the house as Maggie was just finishing up the third game of checkers. She had already won the first two.

“You know Maggie,” said Joe, “I’m just trying to be a gentleman and let you win a few.”

“Joe, even if you were trying to be a gentleman, I think you would still lose,” she laughed heartily.

They had finished their brandy and Adam once again noticed Claire had declined the aperitif. Not unusual I guess he thought.

The sun was getting lower and Hank said, “It has been a wonderful day Ben, but I think we’d better be on our way.”

“I hate to see you go but I understand,” Ben said to his dear friend.

As they walked out to the carriage, Hoss gave Maggie and extra special hug and whispered into her ear, “Nothin’ like your apple pie.”

Maggie just laughed and tapped him on the shoulder.

The feel of a gentle assist into the carriage was special for Claire. She looked at the soft eyes of Adam as he said, “I’ll see you tomorrow at 10:00 sharp.”

This time Hoss nudged Joe and said, “How’d Adam do that?”

All Joe could do was shrug his shoulders.

As they drove off, they all realized what a special day it had been, but none more so than Adam.

 

 

EIGHT

24 Hours of Meaning and Understanding

* * * * * * * * * * *

What was I thinking? thought Claire as she tossed in her bed. She had slept soundly and now was fully awake. I hardly know the man and I have accepted an invitation to go off with him this morning to who knows where. What must he think of me? She chastised herself for what she termed less than proper behavior. However, it was now too late to do anything about it.

As she rose and put on her dressing gown, a smirk came across her face. She found herself thinking of the man with the soft voice, deep eyes and gentle manner. Who really is Adam Cartwright? There must be a story behind him. Well, it was almost certain that she would never really have the chance to find out.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

The door closed and the three men looked up as he entered the house.

“Well howdy brother. Thought you might have slept in this morning. Not like you to not be the first one down to breakfast.”

Adam just shot a look at Joe and said, “And how would you know?”

“Guess you cain’t answer that one little brother.” laughed Hoss. “If’n I was you, I would jes keep eatin. Seems like it would be safer.”

“Thanks for your astute wisdom,” Adam said to Hoss. “Little brother here should take a lesson from you.”

Ben just listened to the banter – something he was used to but wished sometimes would occur someplace other than when they sat down to eat.

As he looked at Adam he said, “You were out early son.”

Both Joe and Hoss looked at Adam eagerly waiting his response.

“Yeah pa,” was all that Adam said.

Joe started to say something to Adam but Hoss gave him a look. If Adam had more to say, he would say it. Butting in where it was not wanted was not going to get this day off to a good start. After all, he knew his brother.

Joe just twisted his mouth and continued to eat.

As they finished breakfast Adam went to his room and returned promptly.

“Pa, you have the contracts ready for me to drop off?” asked Adam.

“They’re all right here. Also, stop by Willard’s and order those blankets we talked about. I’d like them here before the end of next week when the new hands arrive,” Ben said as he handed the documents to his son.

Adam took the contracts from his father and putting on his hat said, “Have a good day.” He closed the door and was gone.

There was an exasperated look on the faces of Joe and Hoss. No real explanation of what their brother was up to was mentioned and they both knew that this morning Adam was going to see Claire. Why no mention of this??

Ben looked at his two sons and shouted with his hands on his hips,” Don’t you two have work to do?”

* * * * * * * * * * *

Adam arrived at the Sanders ranch just before 10:00. He had not been there since late summer and was surprised at the work that had been completed and the quality of the stock that was being moved as he approached. He thought to himself, Hank has done a great job and has a lot to be proud of.

As he approached the house, he saw Margaret in the garden. Hearing him approach she said, “Adam, I’m glad to see you. I guess this could really be a sign that we will be seeing more of the Cartwrights.”

“If you keep baking those apple pies, I know one Cartwright that you’ll see more than you care to.” He said jokingly.

“Come on into the house, Claire is ready I’m sure.” She took his arm and led him into the house. He wondered what she and Hank thought of his whisking away their niece on such short notice.

“Good morning Adam,” a voice said pleasantly as she entered the room.

“Good morning Claire. I think we have a pleasant day for our outing.”

“Yes, it certainly seems so although I’m still wondering what you’ve planned,” she said with a quizzical expression on her face.

“Well if it’s with Adam, you can be sure that you will thoroughly enjoy yourself,” her aunt stated. “Now the two of you get out of here so that I can get on with things,” as she ushered them out the door.

“We should be back by mid afternoon,” Adam said matter of factly.

“Enjoy yourselves,” Margaret said as the buggy pulled off.

Adam had noticed everything about Claire when she had entered the room. There was no mistaking her extraordinary beauty, gentle manner and beautiful blue eyes. He hoped she would enjoy his surprise.

Claire as well had taken stock of Adam. He was a handsome man, tall and muscular, tanned and well spoken. She could not explain it, but she was very happy to be in his company.

As they drove toward Virginia City, the soft spring air blew and he caught a hint of her gentle cologne. She was enjoying the moment and said very little.

The silence was broken when Adam said, “I know the cat does not have your tongue. Aren’t you the least bit curious as to what I have up my sleeve?”

“I’m not going to give you the satisfaction of my quizzing you. I’ll just be surprised.”

He looked at her smiling and said, “If that’s the way you want it.”

She laughed and said, “That’s exactly the way I want it.”

Adam pulled up in front of the Virginia City Concert Hall. As he reached for her hand to assist her down, he enjoyed the feel of the softness of her fingers. He wondered how in such a short amount of time he could be sensing and feeling a change coming over him as far as she was concerned.

Claire looked up at the building somewhat bewildered. She then looked at him and saw that he was half smiling.

“Come with me,” he said as he placed his hand at the small of her back and escorted into the building.”

“Now do you want to know what this is all about?” he chided.

She looked at him mysteriously, “Yes, I really do. If the truth be told, I have wanted to know all along,” she laughed. They both laughed looking at each other. She was amazed how easy it was to look at him and could laugh freely.

“Right this way,” he ordered. “There!”

“What?” she said surprised. “It’s .. its.”

“Yes, it’s a piano.”

Stunned she was hardly able to get the words out, “But how? Why, When?”

“Too many questions Claire. I’ve arranged for you to have the place to yourself for a few hours. You indicated that you really missed playing the piano and I thought this might be a nice treat for you. As for how I arranged it, just know that it is all taken care of.”

She looked at him with her eyes full. She did not need to say anything else. He sensed what she was feeling from the look on her face.

“Adam, thank you so very much!”

“Your thanks are to take advantage of this instrument. I will leave you for a short time to yourself and return. If you’re so inclined, maybe I can hear a selection or two before we go off to the next event.”

She touched his hand and could only muster, “Adam, how can I thank you for this?”

“Just play and enjoy. I should return in about an hour or so.” He held her hands for a moment and then turned and left her alone.

She was overwhelmed with the special thought and caring he had shown in arranging this for her. She had only mentioned to him last evening that she missed playing the piano. She began to feel a warmth growing inside her. She sat behind the piano with just the faintest of tears filling her eyes. Her hands found the keys and they came to life. She was feeling a missing part of her life returning.

The time seemed to have passed quickly as Adam took care of ranch business and stopped to talk to a few friends. Noticing the time, he headed back to the concert hall. He heard the faint sounds of music as he approached and decided to walk in quietly and listen a bit.

As he stood to the side of the hall, he watched as she played with an ease and he loved what he was hearing and viewing. When she finished her piece from Bach, he said, “Bravo! Bravo! Encore!”

She turned and smiled a rather embarrassed smile. “I did not hear you come in,” she said.

“That was purely by design. You’re playing is certainly that of a virtuoso. You are truly gifted.”

“Thank you Adam, I do love playing. If it’s time for us to leave, let me at least thank you by playing something for you. Sort of your own private concert,” she said enthusiastically.

Adam sat down and said, “I couldn’t think of anything better.”

Softly and very adeptly she started. The piece she selected was Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 8 in C Minor (titled “Pathétique”). She’s not sure how she chose this piece – as historically it was what was considered the beginning of the Romantic period for Beethoven’s compositions.

Adam was so amazed and enthralled with her excellence. As he continued to listen, he began to find himself lost in another space which her artistry had taken him. He was speechless.

She rose from the piano and he just considered her deep eyes. She walked slowly to him with her arms outstretched and wrapped them around him in a hug. He responded with his arms around her as she said, “Thank you for freeing me and for a gift that means more than you can ever know.”

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Their next stop was lunch at the International House. It was a quiet lunch. Claire was feeling that she was beginning to see the hidden sides of Adam. Adam on the other hand was struck by what he had heard earlier and the joy that was radiating from her face. He still felt she was holding something deep inside but was not going to press her. She just shown with a radiance that he wished he would be able to see more often. He just wanted to enjoy their time together. They had lingered over their lunch. Other luncheon guests caught sight of the two and began to wonder who this woman was with ‘the’ Adam Cartwright. The two of them were oblivious to any of this.

They left and strolled leisurely back to the buggy. Adam guiding her occasionally with his hand placed gently on her back.

He assisted her gently into the buggy as if she would break.

She looked at him and said, “Adam, this has been a wonderful day. I shall never forget it.”

He looked at her deep blue eyes and said, “It’s not quite over.”

She was once again surprised and said, “I cannot imagine what possibly could be next.”

He just looked at her and said, “You don’t have to imagine. I’ll show you.”

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Adam pulled the buggy once again to a halt and assisted her down. “Just want to show you something I am sure that you will never forget and perhaps you will one day paint,” he said as he ushered her through a thicket. Before her held one of the views he found most overwhelming.”

“Adam, this is magnificent. It just takes my breath away,” she said as she beheld the beauty before her.

“I feel the same way and often come here,” he replied.

She walked forward and sat down on a rock. He watched her has she did and knew that this was a day that he would not forget. As he joined her, she again thanked him for giving her this day.

Unable to restrain himself any longer he said, “I’m glad that we met, but I am sorry that you will be leaving tomorrow.”

She looked at him directly and replied, “There are some things that cannot be changed and I will be leaving tomorrow.” She was hoping that her tone did not come across as brash.

Adam nodded. Noticing the change of his expression she said, “Your face, whether you know it or not, says a lot.”

Adam lifted an eyebrow. Was she able to read him so aptly?

Looking out at the site before her she then turned and looked at Adam. “Adam, there have been several things that have occurred in my life that I have to work out. They are not all easy, but I must go home and put my life … er them together. To start anew.”

He noticed a hint of sadness in her expression as she said this and wished that he could be the one to put ‘her life together again’.

His curiosity was peaked, but whatever it was would have to be put aside. He just wanted to enjoy the remaining time in this place with her. What is happening to me? he thought.

As time drew for them to head to the Sanders ranch, Adam helped her up and they both for a lingering moment stood looking at each other. With a smile, they gave each other a hug. She held him knowing that she was feeling something for him that she did not want to admit and did not want to impact what lay before her.

As they arrived at the ranch, Hank was sitting out on the porch. “Glad to see you back. Hope you have a good time.”

Claire walking over to her uncle and kissing him on the cheek said, “It could not have been more perfect.”

Adam walked over and shook Hank’s hand. “Got a great niece don’t you think Adam?”

Adam responded with, “She’s remarkable.”

Wiping her hands on her apron, Margaret walked out to the front porch, “I thought I heard voices out here.”

“Well at least your hearing isn’t going,” Hank said teasingly.

Margaret just nudged Hank. She was thrilled to see the joy emanating from her niece and noticed the look that Adam had in his eye when he looked at Claire. Somehow, she also sensed some feeling for Adam in her niece.

“Adam, I was just preparing dinner, please stay and join us,” Margaret encouraged.

Adam would have liked nothing more, but he knew there was ‘family time’ needed between the three of them now, and he did not want to intrude on that.

“Thank you Margaret, but I do need to get going. Perhaps another time.”

“You don’t know what you’re missing,” quipped Hank.

“I’m sure it is my loss, but I must be going.”

Margaret wished Adam a safe trip home and went into the house.

Hank rose from his seat and said, “I’m glad you and Claire were able to spend some time. Tell your pa I’ll be over on Friday to go over the lumber plans.” He patted Adam on the back, looked quickly over at Claire and went into the house.

Wanting to stay but knowing he should leave, he walked over to Claire and took her hands saying, “You have given me a wonderful day. I’m glad that we were able to spend it together.”

“Adam, I am the one to thank you for your kindness, patience and understanding,” she said quietly, “You’ve given me a wonderful gift.”

He wanted to say and do more, but he merely squeezed her hands and smiled. He turned, climbed into the buggy, gave her a grin and drove off. She stood there remembering the look in his eyes and feeling a sense of being renewed.

* * * * * * * * * * *

The morning came early for Claire, her aunt and uncle and for Adam. Adam had not slept comfortably the night before. His thoughts were of Claire and her aunt and uncle’s last evening together. He could not help but sense the feeling that was going through Hank and Margaret who had known and loved her long before he met her. His feelings at her leaving were very strong, but their feelings had to be emotional and deep.

Again he arose early, saddle his horse and headed out.

As he arrived at the stage depot, he saw Claire with her aunt and uncle waiting for the stage to start boarding. He was not sure if he was overstepping his boundaries or not, but felt a need to see her off. Seeing the smile on her face was the only answer that he needed.

As the hugs and kisses were given, Claire embraced the two people she loved dearly and choking back tears said, “This is a beginning. I love you and that will never change.”

“Dear,” said Margaret, “I know that you will find what you need and my heart goes with you.” As she tried to collect herself, she continued, “When you arrive, you wire us immediately.”

She looked at her uncle. The ride they had taken together had settled many things for them. They looked at each other for a length of time and then embraced, “I love you,” he said. “Wherever you are, know that we are there with you.” They hugged once again, each trying to control the emotions that they felt.

As this was taking place, Adam stood next to Margaret with his strong hand around her shoulder. He could feel the shaking of her body. He wished he could do something.

As Hank released Claire, he looked at Adam and joined his wife.

Adam walked over to Claire wondering how quickly one could come into your life and then be gone.

Claire offered a smile but Adam could see that she had tears in her eyes. “Adam,” she said, “I’m surprised to see you here but glad that you came.”

“I could not let the person who gave me my very first private concert go without saying goodbye,” he tried to say lightheartedly.

“You have given me something over the past day that I will always remember.”

She looked at him as if to try to remember each feature of his face.

“Let’s Board! Pulling out!” came a loud shout.

As she embraced her family again, she walked over to Adam and embraced him as well. He felt as if he was losing something and did not want to end the embrace.

As he assisted her into the coach, he too looked at her long and hard. He then handed her a package.

Surprised, she said,” What is this?”

“Just something for you to open after the stage pulls out,” he said.

The passengers on board, the stage pulled out. Margaret shed tears as Hank tried to comfort her. Adam could only look as the stage disappeared into the distance.

Claire looked at the carefully wrapped package that Adam had given her. As she unwrapped it, she found a beautiful leather journal for her personal entries. Inside the front cover, he had written,

“Each Day ~ Life Begins Anew.” Adam.

 

 

NINE
* * * * * * * * * * *

Adam mounted Sport after a few lingering moments spent with Hank and Margaret. Few words were exchanged as they were aware of the emptiness that was engulfing them. The stagecoach had departed.

“Adam,” called Hank, “Be sure to come by the ranch soon. We’d like to have you visit us.”

Adam knowing that this was a sincere request said, “You can count on it.” He gave them a caring look as he tipped his hat and slowly headed home.

“You know Hank,” said Margaret, “We’re not the only ones that were touched by Claire. There goes a young man that doesn’t show his feelings easily, but in this case I can see he is wearing his heart on his sleeve.”

“Woman’s intuition?” asked Hank.

“No,” responded Margaret, “just a fact.”

As they arrived back at the ranch, Hank’s foreman came over. “Mr. Sanders,” he called, “Your niece asked that I give this to you when you returned from town.”

Hank took the envelope and thanked him. Upon entering the house, he looked at the neatly written handwriting. Nervously Margaret said, “Open it Hank.”

They sat down next to each other and he opened the letter.

Dear Aunt Maggie and Uncle Hank,

In my hour of need you came and comforted me. Together, we’ve been able to weather quite a lot. This would not have happened to me or for me if it had not been for your love. I treasure this dearly.

I thank you for understanding me through our discussions and the circumstances that I needed to come to terms with. I have been strengthened throughout all of this and know now that I can attend to all the matters that are required of me.

I shall never forget the graciousness of your home and because of my love for you both, I have left a package on the shelf in the closet in my room for the both of you.

I will be well, you can be assured of this. I’ll have you in my heart always. What I think we’ve learned together is that in life there is pain, but when one has special memories, there is always a joy and a tomorrow.

Thank you for all my tomorrows to come,

Love,
Claire

As Hank and Margaret walked into her bedroom, Margaret removed the package from the shelf. As she untied it and opened it up the tears streamed down her face. They looked at it together – it was a painting that Claire had done of their home with the sun rising behind it. Enclosed was a small card that read, “With love in my heart for a home that heals.”

* * * * * * * * * * * *

The days following Claire’s departure were busy ones at the Ponderosa. The work was almost fully underway. As Ben rode across the ranch, he was once again excited at the prospect of getting it running at full speed. He noticed both Joe and Hoss were also seeming to ramp up as well. Must be the change in weather he thought. After all it had been a long winter and being able to spend so much time outside was making all the difference.

Adam was busy as well, but his father had noticed a change in him. He worked hard, but had become a bit more withdrawn and, if possible, more serious. He thought he might have an idea what the cause was … and believed that it was not Spring fever. He decided they would talk. He’d probably get nowhere with his stubborn and private son, but thought he would give it a try at the right moment … which was none.

Several more days passed with great activity on the ranch. For a change, even Joe was rising earlier than had been his habit. It was now Saturday and the younger Cartwright’s were heading into town for the evening.

“Sure you ain’t gonna change your mind and come with us Adam?” Hoss shouted from the upstairs hall.

The response he received, was a well-placed one word, “No.”

“Adam, are you gonna come or not? Should be a good time!” Hoss yelled again.

Adam sighed as he rose from his chair and walked over to the bottom of the stairs, “Hoss,” he said, “If you’re within listening distance of my voice, my response was No.!! Now for heaven’s sake, please stop shouting in the house.”

“Sorry Adam,” Hoss whispered ever so quietly as he laughed.

Adam went back and sat before the fire. He tried to engage in reading the newspaper once again.

As his brothers came down the stairs like a herd of buffalo, both Adam, along with and Ben who had now entered the room, grimaced at the noise. Adam just put the newspaper down in his lap and looked at the fire.

As they headed out, Joe called, “Last chance!” Without looking Adam just waved his hand.

Ben shook his head and reminded them, “Leave the town and the people in one piece! I want no reports about bad conduct and no bills for damage.”

Hoss nodded and Joe cheerfully said, “Nothing to worry about pa.” As fast at they had come down the stairs they were out the door.

The sudden quiet in the house on most occasions was a welcome comfort for Ben. This evening it was not as he watched Adam in a space of private solitude.

Ben poured two brandies and walked over to join his son. Seating himself on the table in front of the hearth, he handed one to Adam.

“Adam,” Ben said in his quiet fatherly voice, “I sense that something is troubling you. I just want you to know that I am here if you want to talk.”

Adam turned to his father and took a sip of the brandy. Ben could see that Adam was deciding whether to converse with him or not. As he rolled the small glass between his hands, Adam looked at his father and said, “It has to do with Claire!”

Although Ben had sensed that this might be what had been on Adam’s mind, to hear his son say it was no small gesture on Adam’s part.

“What about Claire?” asked Ben.

Adam rose and started to pace a bit. The words did not come easy for him but he said, “She was someone that I met ever so briefly but cannot get out of my mind.”

Ben merely raised an eyebrow and decided to let his son continue. “I feel as if there is something missing within me since she’s been gone …. something that I cannot get back. It’s not something that she took … but something that I gave of myself to her without really realizing it I guess. I don’t know if she even realized it.” Adam again sipped his brandy.

“Adam, I am sure that the short amount of time you spent together, she realized beyond a doubt what you gave to her,” Ben said. “Sometimes as people … good, decent and caring people, we give selflessly of ourselves to others without a thought. This is a good thing. What is important to understand is with this kind of giving, if there are other things surrounding the reason for it.”

Adam just looked squarely at his father as he said, “I enjoyed our time together. I also sensed something deeper that she was experiencing and found myself wanting to help her through it. I was hopeful of getting to spend more time together … but she’s gone now.”

“Adam? asked Ben, “Would you say that you were falling in love with her?”

“Pa, I don’t know for sure. I think time would tell. I certainly would have liked the opportunity to find out.”

“Then I suggest that you write her in St. Louis.”

Adam just glanced at his father.

“Sit down Adam,” said Ben. He continued in his soft fatherly voice, “Claire had to return to St. Louis. I’m not at all sure if circumstances had been different that she would have, but there was a need.”

Adam wondered what his father was going to divulge.

Ben continued,” Claire came here not because she really wanted to. Hank and Margaret urged her to.”

Adam looked at his father with a sense of not understanding.

Ben continued,” She was apparently teaching at the conservatory in St. Louis when she received word that a fire had broken out in her father’s warehouse. It seems her mother had taken lunch to him …. well, to make a long story short, they both perished in the fire.”

Adam’s look became more somber. He was not believing what his father was telling him.

“I know Hank and Margaret went to St. Louis because of a death in the family, but never had any idea,” Adam recalled.

“Adam, that’s because it was the way Hank wanted it.”

Adam rested his chin on his hand as he listened to his father continue.

“Claire had no other family members in St. Louis and took it quite hard. For a period, she was under the care of a doctor. Hank and Margaret left as soon as they received the news. Of course, Hank was devastated at the loss of his brother. Claire was the sole heir and needed to handle her parent’s estate. Still too shocked, she was unable to do so. It appears that Hank planned through an attorney for these matters to be handled when she could. They returned here with Claire. Certainly, upon their arrival back, Claire was not of a mind to be sociable which can be easily understood. The weather changed and of course the winter settled in.”

“So she had to leave to handle her parent’s affairs?” asked Adam.

“That’s a major part of it son,” responded Ben. However, there is more. “Claire was an adopted child. Hank’s brother and sister-in-law were not able to have children of their own. One Christmas they were taking gifts to the Children’s Home not far outside of St. Louis. When they arrived, they saw Claire alone in a corner. She was about six or seven years of age. She had been from one home to another. As Hank has recounted to me, she was dropped off with a family that already had a house full of children when she was just a few weeks old. The only thing with her was a note indicating her name and date of birth. She had been mistreated over her early years and was finally taken by the Children’s Home. The poor treatment and abuse she was subjected to caused her to be introverted and hardly speak. His brother and sister-in-law saw promise in this child and could adopt her. They helped her to heal and grow as they provided her with love and a home. So, you can see how the loss of her parents took its toll on her. The only ones she had left in this world were Hank, Margaret and their son.”

Adam was overwhelmed by what he had just heard. Ben could see the sadness in his son’s eyes as he lowered his head. Ben reached over and touched Adam on the shoulder.

“Son, I just thought that you should know. I do believe if things were different she would have stayed.”

“I see things more clearly now,” he said sadly. I’m glad that I could do the things I did for her while she was here. It’s so hard to believe that from her beginnings she has turned into this beautiful and talented woman who walks with a sense of pride, self-assuredness, a sparkle in her eyes and a wonderful laugh. She’s a person one would want to be around.”

“Yes,” I would agree son. “But I do believe that even when we think we are the strongest, we often need someone .. a friend to be there for us.”

Adam stared into the fire. He had finished his brandy and decided not to have another. After a few moments, he said, “Thanks pa. I think I’ll call it a night” and proceeded to his room.

Ben watched him go. He did not know what this revelation would now mean to Adam, but felt he should be told.

Adam walked into his room and lit the lamp. He knew what he needed to do. No! He knew what he wanted to do. He opened his desk drawer and took out his stationary.

 

 

TEN

St. Louis

* * * * * * * * * * *

She had arrived. As Claire stood at the station in St. Louis, she breathed deeply. She felt physically drained. The trip from Virginia City had been arduous at best, but the feeling she was experiencing at this moment was not from her trip. She tidied her clothing and began to look around for Amelia her girlhood friend.

As she walked out to the street in front of the station, she felt overwhelmed. She knew this had been her home but she wondered what is it to me now? She felt a sudden tingling flow down her spine and her breath shorten. Grabbing hold to a railing, she composed herself and could look at familiar sites before her. It was as if she’d been away for an eternity. She had not been. She had left the hurt and pain that had caused her to run away. Yes, run away she thought.

The city was noisier and more bustling than Virginia City. The familiarity of her surroundings suddenly became clear to her. She left and now had returned. Along with her return, she had now come face to face with her pain and her fears. She prayed that she would be strong enough to handle all of it.

From a distance she heard someone calling, “Claire! Claire!”

As she awoke from her daydreaming, she turned and saw someone running toward her with open arms extended. It was Amelia. Joyful to see her friend, at the same time she began to feel a sadness engulf her to her very center. It has now started she thought. My journey for my life.

She swiftly ran toward Amelia. The two hugged each other for what seemed an eternity. When they broke away, the both found themselves trying to speak at the same time.

“Claire,” said Amelia excitedly, “I’ve missed you so very much and I’m so glad to see you. How are you!!? There is so much to catch up on.”

“I’m just fine Amelia,” she replied with a smile. “You look wonderful also. I’m so glad to see you my dear friend.”

Eyeing Claire, she said, “Well, you’ll have an opportunity to see a lot of Isaac and me. Now where are your bags so that we can get moving?” Amelia was always a very energetic and enthusiastic person with great drive. Something that Claire always admired.

Claire had indicated the bags that she would carry with her and before they left the station, Amelia planned for the larger bags to be delivered to her home.

As they rode through the busy city streets, memories resurfaced for Claire. Right now they were OK as she and her best friend held hands and made straight away to Amelia’s home just on the outskirts of town. She did notice that Amelia took a route that did not pass the remnants of the burned-out warehouse.

From their early teen years, the closeness that these two shared was akin to that of sisters. So often they understood each other without having said a word. Claire knew that this was still the case.

As they arrived at her home, they quickly entered. Amelia escorted Claire into the all-familiar parlor.

“It’s just as I remember,” said Claire. “Your flair for decorating has not changed in the least.”

“Thank you for saying that,” retorted Amelia, “However, I am not at all sure that Isaac would agree with you. He seems to think that I have a passion for spending money.”

They laughed at that remark. “When does Professor Isaac get home?” asked Claire.

“Professor Isaac arrives today around six. So, we have plenty of time to catch up, rest, or whatever you would like.”

Claire walked over and looked at the photos that were displayed. She saw one of both she and Amelia when they graduated. Smiling, Claire turned and said,” Amelia, I cannot thank you and Isaac enough for opening your home to me.”

With hands crossed in front of her Amelia replied, “Our home is your home. Besides, I need you close by so that we can continue as we left off. You know that we were always doing something that just seemed to make sense to the two of us but left others concerned. I would venture to say that we were cut from a cloth different from some of our counterparts.”

Claire had a reminiscent look on her face. She said, “We were always conjuring up the unimaginable. But it was certainly a lot of fun.”

With that Amelia said, “Let’s get you settled.” She led the way upstairs to a bright cheerful room she had prepared for Claire. This room and her home would be open to Claire if she wished to remain there. Amelia knew it was not the time to discuss Claire’s plans or thoughts. This would come later. Even though it was hard for her, she knew her dear friend and Amelia vowed that she’d follow her lead – besides, she was certain that Claire was filled with mixed emotions that had not yet been settled within her. Their late-night conversations would become a reality once again, and she would wait.

“The room is as I remember it,” said Claire. “There were so many times that we spent here just talking about … about …. I guess so many things that I cannot recall them all.”

“Yes, we certainly did and I’m sure that we will again. Now, I’m going to fix some tea, so you get settled and I will be down in the kitchen when you’re ready.”

As Amelia walked out the door, she stuck her head back in and said, “Claire, I’m glad that we’re friends and that you’re here.”

Looking at Amelia she said, “Being here with you is important for me.”

As Amelia departed to prepare the tea, she clearly understood what her friend had just said. She knew it to be Claire’s way of saying she would be needing Amelia to help her through what lay ahead. Amelia breathed a sigh as she put the kettle on and thought, Claire does not understand how strong she has been for me over the years. Now it is my turn to be strong for her.

Entering the kitchen just as Amelia was placing cookies and tea on the table, Amelia seeing Claire yelled, “Stop!”

“What?” questioned Claire.

“Just want a chance to look at you. Your last letter to me sounded upbeat and I wondered the reason. I just want to get a good look at you.”

“And?” asked Claire.

“You look great. We’ll have to talk about Nevada,” she said with a smile.

They sat and enjoyed their time. Noticing that Claire appeared a bit tired, Amelia said, “Why don’t you go up and rest. It’s been a long trip for you. Besides, I need to run a quick errand before preparing dinner and should be back shortly.”

“I think I will.”

“Great,” said Amelia. “Is there anything that you need while I’m out?”

“Nothing that I can think of.” Having said that she walked over and quietly embraced her dear friend. Somehow it was as if they had not been separated. The friendly hug was a means of Claire to be comforted and for Amelia, who felt Claire’s pain, to try to let her know that she was not alone with all that she needed to come to face with.

Claire began to place her belongings in the dresser and hang items in the closet. She lifted the leather-bound journal that Adam had given to her. Rubbing her hand over the soft leather cover, she placed it upon the table next to her bed.

Claire sighed deeply and sat for a moment in the chair by the window. She knew that just two blocks away was her home. She was not sure if she was ready to face it … but she would. She also thought it strange that Amelia had not mentioned anything about the work she had been doing to try to help her find her biological parents. This had been kept a secret from Amelia’s husband Isaac as well.

“Ah well,” said Claire out loud, “What was I expecting? I’ve only been here for a few hours. Just be patient and take it slowly.”

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Having slipped off her shoes, she reclined on the bed and was engulfed by its softness. As she looked upward at the sunlight streaming through the window, she wondered about her aunt and uncle. She was certain that they had found her small gift. She could only imagine their reaction when they opened it. She smiled and closed her eyes to remember them. Thank you. Tomorrow I will wire them that I have arrived safely.

Looking at the gift from Adam, she felt a sense of missing a dear friend. How was he? What was he doing? Had he become more than a friend to her? Why was he continuing to enter her thoughts? Her time with him was one of the most wonderful times she had ever experienced and she knew that she missed him and wished they had had more time together.

She eased herself more comfortably onto the bed and wondered what his reaction would be to what she had planned. Opening the journal, she reread his six written words … Each Day … Life Begins Anew. Adam.

She laid the book aside and knew that she would be filling the pages. Pulling the comforter over her, she thought of those words and of Adam as she drifted off to sleep.

 

 

ELEVEN

* * * * * * * * * * *

She awoke to voices and the aroma of food cooking. Claire turned over and realized that the sun had already gone down. Could she have slept that long?

She arose and lit the lamp. Looking into the mirror she realized that she could use a little care and grooming. While sleeping, Amelia must have brought her fresh towels and water. She took the time to wash and refresh herself.

In the dining room, Amelia was setting the table for dinner. Her husband, the Professor Isaac Thomas, had already returned for his busy day at the university. He and his wife were having a conversation as she worked.

“What do you think the impact will be on her as she starts to address her loss and settle the business?” Isaac asked.

“I’ve been carefully thinking this over even more since she arrived today,” replied Amelia. “She seems to be herself … or as best she can be under the circumstances. I know that this will be a process that she must face and I want both you and I to be here for her. She seems to be somewhat stronger than when she left for Nevada.”

Isaac nodded his head in agreement and said, “There’s no question about it. A loss of a loved when even when expected is not easy to bear. Whatever you and I can do, we will do. I hope that your speculations about her time away are correct.”

“Thank you dear,” she replied. “Right now it just seems that we’ll try to be as normal and understanding as we can and aid her with what she needs.”

“You two have been the best of friends. If there are any confidences that the two of you need to share, I will understand. My concern is not only for her but for you also.”

Claire stopped what she was doing and looked at her husband. “Isaac, what are you saying?”

“I’m merely saying that the closeness you two share can take its toll on you as well. I know what you experienced during this tragedy and the hurt you felt when you thought your actions and affection for her were inadequate. You, yourself were devastated.”

Amelia was aware of what her husband was saying. “Yes, you’re right Isaac, but I had you. Claire had no real family here, just us. There was nothing else I could do but selflessly be there for her. There was no question.”

He nodded and showed her an understanding look. Just then they heard someone enter the dining room.

Amelia looked up and Isaac rose from his seat and approached Claire. He lifted her up off her feet and twirled her around with great enthusiasm. He put her down and gave her a great hug. Claire had always admired his outgoing nature and honesty. He was a person that could not easily hide his emotions. Six feet tall, with green eyes and sandy blonde hair, he did not look like the typical college professor. He had excelled in academics all his life and was drawn to the academic arena. Learning for him was a joy. He had met Amelia when they were undergrad students and they had become attracted to each other immediately. One thing that Claire knew about Isaac was that he was intentional in processing information and looking beyond what seemed reasonable. He relished challenges. Claire counted on this when it should be needed.

“Isaac, you look wonderful. The typical college professor,” quipped Claire.

“I don’t know if I should take that as a compliment or not, “ he said.

“It is a compliment,” she assured him.

“Well, since we are all here now, dinner is served,” Amelia said as she placed the food on the table.

As they sat, there was a brief and awkward moment. Claire knew that an opening to the conversation had to be made. Before she could start the conversation, Isaac asked,” How was your stay in Virginia City?”

Claire looked at Amelia and then at Isaac. “Before I answer that, I want you to know that I completely understand if there is a feeling of being uncomfortable. I myself feel it. One thing I have not done with either of you is to hide my feelings and I don’t intend to start now. Please forgive me if there are times that I may not seem myself, but I am going to work through this so that my life can go on. I am going to offer my apologies to both of you now for the days I may not be at my best, ask that you speak your minds, don’t coddle me, and having said that, thank you for caring enough to help me through all of this and allowing me to stay here in your home.”

Before either of them could say another word, she continued, “My stay in Virginia City was not easy at first. My uncle was struggling with his loss and then trying to ensure that I would be well. Over the months that I have been away there was a period of adjustment, sorrow and coming to terms with the loss.” She also had a way of speaking candidly and both Amelia and Isaac knew it. They felt fortunate that she felt able to speak this easily with them.

“The weather there is a bit different than here. Before long the winter months settled in and we were pretty much confined to the ranch.” It was during this time that I could work through the loss with my uncle. I’ll not say that I am one hundred percent there, because I am not. But I will try my best to get on with the life that I have been given.”

Amelia looked with esteem at her friend. That was the Claire she had always known and cared about. “Sounds like there was progress made.”

“Yes,” responded Claire, “Just enough to help me to make this journey home to settle things.”

Having heard her words, Isaac asked candidly, “What are your plans Claire?”

Without hesitation, she quickly responded, “Several things. First, to send a telegram to my aunt and uncle tomorrow to let them know that I have arrived safely and where I can be reached. Second, I already have an appointment scheduled with the attorney at 11:00 am will go to see him. Third, I will take time to pull all of my resources together, based upon what he advises, and take care of matters in order of their importance and my ability to do so.”

“Sounds like you have a plan in place,” Isaac said as he completed his meal.

“It is a plan of sorts, but I do know that it can change.”

“Change can be a good thing,” Amelia said as she brought coffee into the room.

Claire looked into her cup and then raised her head and quite pointedly asked the question, “ Tell me what the two of you are thinking?”

Surprised and caught off guard, neither Amelia nor Isaac knew exactly what to say. Amelia looked at Claire and said caringly, “I’m worried about how all of this is going to affect you.”

Claire responded, “Thank you for your honesty.” She then looked at Isaac waiting to hear his thoughts. Claire had a way of looking directly at a person when she asked a question. When she asked a question, she was seeking the truth, no matter what it might be. Isaac understood this all to well.

“My concern is the impact this has made on you. How strong you are and if you’re able to face everything and heal. Before you left with your family you were not able to. Now you’re back and I don’t suspect that any of us sitting around the table know how all of this will play out and the emotions that will surface.”

“Thank you for your honesty Isaac, “Claire said. “I was sure that I would be able to count on the two of you to tell me exactly what was on your minds.”

Amelia looked at her husband and then back at Claire. The trio’s bond and honesty with one another was as strong as ever. She was thankful for that.

As they ate their dessert, Isaac asked if she wanted him to take the time to accompany her to the attorney. She looked up and said, “For the first pass, I would like to go alone. What I may want support with is when I must visit the warehouse site and then enter my home.”

He nodded, perfectly understanding coming to terms with something that was not addressed the months before.

Claire felt as if she was able to open up and let her true self come through with the two of them. This was not the persona that she showed to most people.

For whatever reason, it just came out, “I met a man during my last two days in Virginia City. We spent some time together and I have a fondness for him. What I did not know is how friendly my aunt and uncle were with his family. He was truly a friend to me without really knowing it and in the short time we spent together, I’ve come to believe that if I ever needed help, I would be able to call upon him.

Both Isaac and Amelia appeared shocked. Claire just smiled. She had just divulged something personal at a time neither of her hosts expected this to come out of her mouth. She even surprised herself.

Looking at one another they just laughed with joy.

Claire assisted with the cleaning up of the dinner dishes as Isaac went to prepare his lessons for the next day.

As they finished, Claire turned to Amelia and found the need to ask, “Have you been able to get any further information regarding the location of my parents?”

Amelia said, “I have just a little bit for you, but let’s discuss this when Isaac is out of hearing distance.”

Claire said, “ Come with me. I cannot put you in the position of keeping a secret from your husband.”

Surprised, Claire took Amelia’s hand and pulled her into Isaac’s study. Amelia was speechless.

As they entered, Claire looked at Isaac and said, “There is one thing that I left off the list of things I plan to do since I have returned home. I should have mentioned this to you and Amelia at dinner.” She squeezed Amelia’s hand to let her know that she was not going to give away the fact the Amelia had been helping her all along, “Since I have returned, I am going to try to find my biological parents also.”

Isaac just put down his pen.

 

 

TWELVE

* * * * * * * * * *

Hearing the stirring from downstairs, Claire decided she’d better rise and get started for the day. After all, this was the first day of putting her life together.

When she walked into the kitchen, Claire said, “Good morning,” as she sat down and poured herself a cup of coffee.

“How did you sleep?” asked Isaac.

“I rested very well,” she responded a bit pensively. Amelia placed the breakfast plate before her.

Amelia joined them at the table. Looking from Isaac to Claire she said, “What is the schedule for your plans today?”

Before she could respond, Isaac said, “You certainly shocked me last evening.”

Claire knew exactly what he was referring to and said, “I’m sure I did. Please do not misunderstand me. I loved my parents more than anything in this world. They taught me there is meaning and reason for everything. When I said I wanted to try to find my biological parents, it has nothing to do with my love for them. We were open and honest. But when you know that you had a mother who gave birth to you, there is a piece of you that wants to know who she was, who my father was, what my heritage is.”

Isaac, being a logical person asked,” Claire, are you sure that this is something that you want to do? If I can speak candidly, you have not begun to truly experience the loss of your mother and father. You have not been to the warehouse, your house or the cemetery for that matter. I fear that adding this will only cause you more heartbreak and grief. I’m not going to tell you not to take this on, but I am going to ask that you consider your actions and the possible outcome. Just a caution as I care for you.”

Before Claire could get her words out he continued, “If you should be able to find out anything, have you thought of the consequences? What will you feel and what will you truly gain having never known or had contact with them? How will you be affected if you cannot find out anything? Will there ever be a time that you would be able to put this behind you? After all, it has been over twenty years and you have a life ahead of you.”

Claire felt her blood rise but kept she from saying what kind of life can I ever have without knowing. She calmly said, “Isaac, it is not easy for me to explain. With my parents now gone, I will never close that chapter in my life for I will always love them. But I am praying that I can be a whole person who knows, good or bad, what my heritage was. This is something that belongs to me! It was taken away from me! I may not ever know my true beginnings, but I would be less of the person that I have become if I did not at least try.”

Listening to this conversation, Amelia spoke. “Claire, remember this … whatever was taken from you as you state, was given back to you a hundred times over. You’ve had what I believe has been a life that you were happy with. You were educated and have great talents. I know that this does not make up for wanting to know your beginnings, but what I’m trying to say is that if you never knew your beginning, the beginning that was given to you and that you dwelled in, may have to be who you really are.”

Claire was beginning to feel strained. As she took a deep breath, she said to Isaac and Amelia, “I hear what you both are saying. Isaac, you are being logical and honest which I know is because you do care … and Amelia, this may go nowhere, but I feel that I at least have to try.”

Amelia looked at Claire and was beginning to understand her despair. She quietly said, “Promise me that if nothing comes of this search, that you will leave it behind you and move on. Please!”

Taking both Isaac and Amelia’s hands in her own she said, “I promise.”

Isaac rose from his seat, kissed Amelia, and then touched Claire on her shoulder. “Gotta get going. Should be home around 3:00 today.”

Amelia followed her husband to the door. Claire sat at the table with her eyes closed thinking of the truths that had just been spoken and trying to accept the honest words that had fallen upon her ears. She was also trying to muster the energy to get dressed and head to the attorney’s office. Focus she thought. Focus. Focus. Focus.

Amelia cleared the breakfast dishes while Claire was dressing. When she entered the kitchen, Amelia said, “I hope that you’re not upset with Isaac or me. Neither of us meant to hurt you in any way.”

Claire looked caringly at her and said, “I would not have it any other way. Besides, I am seeing things from only two eyes. Between you and Isaac, there are four.” Amelia breathed easier and grinned the familiar grin that Claire knew so well.

“Amelia, I am going to take my time, but when I return let’s sit down and talk about what you were able to find out. I have very little information as you know, but I would like to discuss it. Right now, I am going to send a telegram and see the attorney.”

Time was moving on so Claire collected her papers and let Amelia know that she would be leaving for the morning. Amelia wanted to go with her but decided against it since she felt that this was something that Claire at least wanted to start on her own.

* * * * * * * * * * *

It had been days since Claire had departed for St. Louis. Adam maintained a calm exterior, however the woman who had departed a few days earlier had left a void within him. The knowledge his father shared confidentially with him pained him greatly. His suspicions about her were sadly true. He wanted to be there … to comfort her when she needed it. He felt as if a flame had been extinguished in a corner of his life. Why and when did this happen to me? He could not longer deny to himself the feelings he had for her. It just did not make sense to him. He had to be honest with himself, “To thy own self be true!” With no idea what would come of his growing feelings, he had no idea where to place them nor what she felt, thought or even needed … especially from him. Perhaps she had arrived in St. Louis and he was no longer in her thoughts. The letter he had penned he would mail to her once he obtained her address. He would then just wait to see how she responded.

Hoss was riding the fence line when he saw Adam.

“There you are Adam, been lookin’ fer ya,” he said as he rode up to him.

Adam rested his arm on the horn of his saddle and pushing his hat back said, “Was I supposed to be lost?”

“Adam you can really be cantankerous. Margaret Sanders was by the ranch looking fer ya,” he spouted.

Adam just looked at Hoss waiting to hear the rest. Not hearing anything right away he said, “Is there a message Hoss?”

Trying to tease his brother a little bit, he said, “Oh, she left a message.”

Becoming a bit exasperated waiting for Hoss to relay the message, he said quietly, “What the devil is the message?”

Hoss knew that continuing along this path was only going to lead to angering Adam. “She said to tell you she received a telegram from Claire. She has arrived safely in St. Louis and is settled.”

“Is that all?”

“Yep brother,” said Hoss, “That was all.” Hoss then headed for the upper meadow.

 

 

THIRTEEN

* * * * * * * * * *

The day was clear and bright. The blue of the sky was accented with white clouds that the sun could sneak through. As she walked through the streets, she breathed their scent in deeply. So much was returning to her so quickly. She realized that her aunt and uncle knew by now that she was safe. She would write to them shortly.

Glad that she had chosen to walk, she didn’t know why she expected things to change. After all, she was only gone a few months, not a few years. Before she knew it, she stood before the Law Offices of James and Pritchard. She poised herself and upon entering was greeted by a cheerful woman. “Yes, may I assist you?” she said.

“Yes, good morning. I’m Claire Sanders and have an appointment with Mr. James.”

“Ah yes, Miss Sanders, “please have a seat. It will be just a moment.”

She disappeared behind a pair of dark oak doors and Claire sat down. She looked around. She had only been here twice before with her father. Once when he needed to sign some papers for his freight company and the last was shortly before his death. The setting was one of richness and welcoming. It could not go unnoticed however that is was a place of business.

The rich doors opened up and she heard a woman’s voice say, “Miss Sanders, please come in. Mr. James is ready to see you now.”

Claire felt a sudden unexpected wave of anxiety come over her. She rose and was not at all sure how her feet moved her into the office of Attorney Dale J. James, Esq. He was a man of about her father’s age she assumed. His hair was almost completely white and he wore glasses that she was afraid at any moment would fall from his face. The office was neat but packed with files and a multitude of books. He ushered her into a soft leather seat and then sat across from her.

“Miss Sanders,” he spoke in a very relaxed tone, “I’m so sorry for the loss that you have suffered. I know that you have not had an easy time of it, so I have taken the liberty to try to put in order items that are necessary to settle the estate.”

She looked at him and thought, settle the estate. This was not like deciding on what type of new hat to purchase. Composing herself, she said, “Thank you for your kind words and the work that you have done on my behalf.”

“Excuse me,” he said, “I have forgotten my manners. May I offer you some tea?”

Just as she was about to answer, there was a soft knock on the office door and the receptionist entered with a tray already set up with tea. He smiled and said, “Thank you Sarah.”

He looked at Claire and said, “She is truly a remarkable assistant.”

Without asking her, he poured the tea and handed her a cup. At least this gave her something to do with her hands she thought.

He continued, “Your uncle, as you know, had been in touch with me early on. I believe that he has provided you with papers that I forwarded on to him for you.”

Sipping her tea, she stopped and replied, “Yes, he did. I have reviewed them and have them with me.”

“Before continuing,” he said, “I want to say if at any time this becomes difficult for you, we will stop immediately. I want to ensure that you’re as comfortable as possible. If we go along and there are any things that you do not understand, stop me and ask for clarification.”

She was appreciative that he was a caring man and seemed to be concerned about her comfort.

“Mr. James,” she said, “My father valued you and your services very much in his dealings. I am going to lean on his wisdom in selecting you to put everything to rest.”

He nodded and said, “Thank you. Then let’s begin.”

Claire was becoming overwhelmed with all that had been covered. She was the sole heir of the estates of both parents. As he went through the litany of items, the primary ones were the family home and land, all deposits and securities held at the various financial institutions, and the family business … Sanders Freight Company.

He looked at her and said, “Is this too much for you? Would you like to take a break?”

She placed her cup on the table and stood up. She walked toward the window. As she turned her gaze fell upon him. She spoke in almost a whisper,” Mr. James, this is too much for me. I don’t mean it in the sense that I cannot continue, but the reality of the events I felt was very real to me.” As her eyes misted over she continued, “But now dealing with finalizing these details, …..”

He walked over to her and took her hand. As he did, she laid her head upon his shoulder and sobbed. Composing herself, she wiped her eyes and he said, “You have truly been strong through all of this and I do understand it is not an easy task. You should feel no embarrassment about your tears.” She felt comfortable with his easy manner and the compassion that he was exhibiting.

“Thank you,” she said. “I’d like to continue.”

He was surprised at her response and had wished that she had not come alone. They both seated themselves once again.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

“That takes care of the first piece,” he said. “All transfers of ‘personal’ property and assets will be duly processed and copies filed. You will have the final papers in about two weeks.”

She had signed numerous documents and was tired. Her practice was to read before signing … something that her father had stressed to her. He spoke, “You have been left with a moderate number of liquid assets. Certainly, if handled wisely, you should be able to get along.”

She breathed a sigh and said, “It does not matter what I am left with. I just wanted to be able to get this done. Now, you said the first piece was taken care of. Is there more?”

Seeing that she was looking a bit fatigued, he said, “Well yes, there is the matter of your father’s business. I would recommend that we deal with that later in the week or early next week. Right now, the business is running smoothly and being carefully looked after.”

The business!! She knew that it had provided a good and comfortable living for them, but she had totally forgotten about it.

“Oh, Mr. James. With all that we have covered today, I didn’t even think of it.”

“I don’t feel that we need to cover any more today,” he said softly. We’ve made great progress.”

He walked over to his desk and from a drawer removed an envelope. Handing it to her he said, “I want you to know that your father and I had become more than business acquaintances. We shared a mutual respect. I want you to know that I will be available to you any time of day or night. You need not be concerned about calling upon me.”

“Thank you so kindly,” she replied.

Seeing her eyeing the envelope he said, “This envelope contains important items which you can review when you are ready. Most importantly are the keys to your home on which all locks have been changed.”

She stood up and said, “Mr. James.”

He interrupted her immediately and said, “If you are at ease with it, I would like for you to call me Dale.”

Considering his caring eyes saying, “I will try. For now though, I need to be on my way. I will go through all of this and make an appointment to continue the business end of things. Right now I cannot handle anything else.”

“I understand. One last thing before you leave,” he said, “ … please leave your contact information with my assistant.”

She nodded and quickly exited.

When she reached the street, she just clutched the envelope to her as her tears found their way down her face.

 

 

FOURTEEN

* * * * * * * * * *

Claire began a slow walk not sure of the direction she was heading. Her head was filled with the inexperience of handling a new series of life changing events and the responsibility that came with it. From somewhere deep within her she recalled a poem from her schooling by Emily Dickinson.

I HELD a jewel in my fingers
And went to sleep.
The day was warm, and winds were prosy;
I said: “’T will keep.”

I woke and chid my honest fingers,—
The gem was gone;
And now an amethyst remembrance
is all I own.

Without realizing where her feet had taken her, she found herself outside the St. Louis Conservatory of Music. Staring at the entrance of a place she always found joy and comfort in, she entered. Hearing music from the practice rooms she just wandered the all too familiar halls finally coming to an empty room. Looking around she entered and sat. She had used this room for practicing and for her teaching. For some unknown reason, she felt that she was supposed to be here at this place and now. Putting her belongings down, she sat at the piano and began to play. She began to feel a painful peace begin to well up in her.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Lunch at the Cartwrights was an event. Hop Sing prepared tasty mid-day meals that the men always welcomed with relish. After all, most of them, except for Joe, had arisen early and had worked hard that morning. It was now time to fuel the fire for the balance of the workday.

“Glad to git somethin’ to eat,” said Hoss. “Feel like I ain’t had nothing all day,” he said as he sat down.

“Hoss,” teased Joe, “Your days seem to be only just a few hours.”

He looked at his brother as he was filling his plate, “I cain’t hep it if I need more food than the average person.”

“That’s the appropriate word I would say,” Adam said as he started to eat, “Average … and you dear brother are not if anything … average.”

The words made no difference to Hoss.

Ben began discussing the work that remained for the afternoon. It would be hard and tedious, but as he spoke to his sons, he indicated that it was meaningful work and could be finished before the next meal … dinner.

As they were finishing up, Hoss said, “Adam, did ya do anything about the message I gave ya from Margaret?”

Adam continued to look at his plate wishing that Hoss had not brought that up. He did not respond and the next words he heard were from Joe.

“What message was that?” he asked. “Some secret going around that we don’t know about?”

Hoss had realized what he had started and was sorry as he looked sheepishly at his older brother.

Adam realized that there was nothing else he could do without causing more curiosity so he just stated, “Claire has arrived and is settled in St. Louis.” Nothing more was going to be said on the subject as far as he was concerned.

Ben just looked at his oldest son wondering what he was thinking. He was sure from Adam’s reaction that he was not about to find out.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

As Adam finished up the balance of the afternoon tasks, he directed Sport in a direction away from his home. He knew he would be late for dinner, but that did not matter to him. He wanted to take care of something.

As he dismounted and walked to the door, he knocked softly. Within a moment, Margaret opened the door wiping her hands on her apron.

“Adam.” she said surprised. “Come in, it’s good to see you.”

He removed his hat and entered the neatly kept home. When he did so, he remembered the day he had picked Claire up for their outing.

“I hope this is not an intrusion.”

“Not at all,” Margaret said pleasantly. “I was sorta expecting you. Come into the kitchen while I check on the dinner.”

He followed her into the kitchen and was motioned to a seat. She promptly placed a cup of coffee in front of him as she sat down to join him.

He was not sure how to start so Margaret did. “I guess you received the message I had left with Hoss the other day.”

Adam nodded accordingly still trying to find the words for the question he wanted to ask.

She continued, “We were happy to get the wire from her. It was simple. Just stated she had arrived and was settled,” which I told Hoss. “I want you to know that I am not a busy body, but sensed something in Claire that you brought out in her and was important to her. Her last day with you was a happy one for her and I wanted to keep you apprised.”

Finally able to muster his voice, he said, “That was a good day for the both of us I believe. I thank you for letting me know that she is safe.”

Margaret looked at Adam’s face as he sipped his coffee and saw that there was something else behind his warm and gentle brown eyes. It was now hard for her to say the next words but she did, “Adam, I am worried about her and how she is handling her return and all the emotions that she is dealing with. She does have her dear friend Amelia and her husband, but with her so far away, I cannot help but feel a loss at not being with her. Hank and I have talked and have just decided to keep her in our prayers and wait to hear from her again. She is strong and whether she wants to admit it or not, I know within my heart that she can use a friend …. a friend like you.”

Adam was surprised with the observation that Margaret had made. Without knowing the how or why of it he said, “Margaret, she has been on my mind. I, too, am concerned about her and would like to be supportive of her as well. The reason I stopped by was to see if you had an address for her as I would like to send a quick note off to her.”

Margaret was pleased with what Adam had just said and it showed in the gleam in her eyes. “I certainly do.” She quickly went to get paper and pencil.

Adam thought, was he making a foolish move revealing this side of him, but he knew he had to do this.

Margaret returned and gave him the neatly written address. He looked at it and stood up.

“Thank you Margaret,” he said as he folded the paper and put it into his pocket.

As if able to read his thoughts she continued,” Adam, I’m glad that you stopped by and that you’re going to contact her. I think she would really appreciate it.”

He was glad to know that she did not think it unwise of him to do so. “Margaret, if the truth be told, you are a very wise woman and I thank you for your understanding and keeping me advised.”

She walked over to Adam and said, “I know you must leave, but know that both Hank and I are so very glad that you came into her life at the time you did.”

He wondered what she meant by that but knew from the look on her face that she was happy they had made contact. She took his hand and walked him back through the parlor. She then pointed.

He looked up and saw a beautiful painting of the Sanders home. Overtaken by the detail and beauty of it, he said, “Did she do this?”

Margaret with her hands folded could only muster, “Yes. You can see how special she truly is to us. She left this as a gift for us.”

“It is truly beautiful,” he said as he walked over and looked at it. He was filled with an emotion that he did not recognize, but was warmed by it.

“Thank you for sharing this with me,” he said.

Margaret just gave him a warm hug, which he in kind responded to.

As she looked at him as he was departing, she knew that she had sensed closeness to Claire well up in him after having seen the painting and was sure that he needed it.

As he rode away, he knew what his mind and heart told him to do … and he was going to do it.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Claire returned to Amelia’s. The look on Claire’s face caused some concern on Amelia’s part.

“How did it go?” asked Amelia searching for some answers in Claire’s face.

“It went,” she responded. “It was a bit more difficult than I had expected but I did accomplish some things.”

“I’m glad for you,” responded Amelia still waiting to hear more.

Claire just looked at her and said, “I want to think some things through right now Amelia, so I hope you won’t be offended if I go to my room and rest a bit and go through some of the documents that the lawyer gave me.”

“No, not at all. I’ll leave you to do what you need to do. I’m here for you.”

Claire said quietly, “Yes, I know…and I’m sure that I WILL need you. My mind is a bit fuzzy right now, but I know I’ll want to share and talk to you later.”

“You do what you need to and I am here whenever needed.”

Claire smiled and then excused herself. As she entered her room, she placed the envelope on the bed and thought, for whatever reason, of Adam Cartwright. She reached over and picked up the journal he had so caringly given to her and opened it. She began her first entry.

 

 

FIFTEEN

A Friendly Talk

* * * * * * * * * *

Before long Isaac arrived at home laden with books and papers. Three o’clock came rather quickly. Claire heard him as he entered the house. How quickly the time had passed.

She came down the stairs and found him putting his things in the study. She peeked in and said, “So, how was your day professor?”

He looked up and said, “Ah the life of a professor and a department head. Sometimes there are not enough hours in the day.”

“Tough day?” Claire asked.

“Let’s just say I’ve had better days. Tonight there’s a department meeting that I must sit through and they can be rather tedious and opinionated.”

Claire laughed slightly, “The life of academia. Speaking of academia, I stopped by the conservatory today. Was a nice feeling to be there.”

He looked at her and could see this meant a lot to her.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Dinner over, Isaac left to return to the university.

Claire joined Amelia in the parlor. Claire took a seat and Amelia knew they would talk.

“OK,” said Amelia, “I know that look. I’m ready to listen.”

“You’ve still got the knack of knowing me,” responded Claire.

Amelia just gave her a half smile.

Taking a deep breath Claire began. “Amelia, so much has happened in such a short time,” she began. “I know that I didn’t handle the loss of my family very well. It was a shock. The truth of the matter is that there are pieces that I am not sure how I will handle.”

Amelia looked at her and said, “What kind of things?”

Claire recounted what Isaac had said the night before. “Isaac’s questions,” she said matter of factly.

Continuing, Claire said, “The lawyer has done a wonderful job in expediting matters for me. Everything has been taken care of now except for the business.”

Amelia said, “The business?”

Claire just put her hands up in a motion for Amelia to just listen while she continued to speak. “Yes, the business. There was a lot to cover, sign and read. I finally could not handle any more of it. We’ve made an appointment for me to see him on Monday morning to go over the papers on the business. I opened the envelope he gave me. In going through it, I found keys to the house and copies of the death certificates.” She continued to speak for fear that she would break down and not be able to continue.

“Amelia, I need to go into the house, but I feel as if I cannot. I need to .… to see the condition … go through things … and come to terms with all of this. I KNOW I cannot do this alone and don’t want to. I also know that I can’t stay here with you and Isaac forever. I just don’t know what to do. I find that it is taking everything I have just to face up to the things I already have.”

“Claire, you will not have to handle these things alone,” she assured her,” but you must find a way to get it done. Whether you do it, I do it, Isaac does it … or we do it together. You cannot run away from an awful truth.” Amelia was sorry for the tone she used, but she was speaking what was in her heart.

“Thank you Amelia. I’m trying to be strong but I must say that I am consumed with anxiety to the point of almost becoming sick. Now I should go to the business and don’t know how to deal with the sight of that place.”

Amelia leaned forward and looked directly at her dear friend. “Claire, I’m going to say some things that may anger you, but I feel for me to be a true friend I need to say them. Where is it written that you should be more than what you are? To not allow yourself to be human? You are hurting still and as I look at you, I am not going to tell you that my heart is not breaking for you. You don’t have the corner on pain in your life. For you to move forward, at some point you are going to have to face all of it … pain and all. This may not make sense to you right now, but it would be so much easier if you let down that façade you use to separate yourself from others and let us in. Both Hank and I can see what is happening to you. We can’t help you unless you allow us to. Yes, you’re a strong person, but tears openly or in secret do not provide the path forward all by themselves. We all face different kinds of pains and hurts … what can hurt more than you know is running from it and facing it alone. You need to let someone in if you can.”

“Amelia,” she said, “I’m afraid to face any more pain right now. It hurts too bad.”

Amelia could not contain herself when she said, “Does it hurt too bad to try to find your actual mother and father as well? Are you trying to destroy yourself totally? You deserve some joy and happiness. You’ve given so much of that to others. What I see is your need … but you’re not able to really seek it, not even from me.”

“Please give me some time,” was all she could say.

Amelia just nodded and they sat quietly for a few moments each digesting what the other had said.

Knowing that Claire had not touched on the information that she had, she offered, “I’m sorry for the things that I said.”

“No don’t be, at least we can talk to each other this way. We’ve always could.”

“I have some information from Mr. Poole. He seems to have a promising business here since he arrived from Springfield. I guess his experience as a sheriff there helped him to be able to sort out some things. As far as finding information on your biological parents, here is what I have.” She handed several pages to Claire.

She watched Claire closely as she reviewed the information. Claire finally raised her head looked at Amelia and then laid her head back against the chair. She thought to herself, why can’t I just let this go?

Amelia was waiting for her to say something, and finally, “This is not much more than what I had gotten from him.”

“I don’t know what you had gotten from him, but this is the most current information that he has. He doesn’t believe that there’s much more that he can do. However, he does know that you were going to return and has left it open that you can call upon him to discuss his findings.”

“But this just says that he has located only one family that cared for me in my early years before the Children’s Home .. but they are now all deceased. He has exhausted all leads. I can’t accept this,” Amelia. “I am going to see him.”

“If that is what you want to do,” Claire, “but making yourself ill is not going to make this matter better.”

Claire just looked at her and nodded. I’m acting like some pitiful child.

Changing the subject Amelia asked Claire about her time in Nevada.

Claire explained her getting settled and coming to terms with things with her aunt and uncle. The regaining of her confidence and feeling as if she was once again alive. She further described the territory and the beauty and peace she found there.

Amelia saw a look of peace become a ‘real’ part of Claire’s composure. She then said, “Tell me about this Adam person.”

Claire was surprised by the question but did remember that she had mentioned his name. As she began to speak of him, she could feel herself blushing.

“Adam is a wonderful man,” she started. “I came to meet him quite by accident as I didn’t know that my aunt and uncle were good friends with his father. His father owns a very large ranch called the Ponderosa that is in Virginia City. His name is Adam Cartwright. He has two brothers and they along with his father pretty much run the ranch. They are well respected in the Comstock area.”

“Is that all?” quizzed Amelia.

Actually blushing now, Claire continued. “We spent one of the most beautiful days of my life together. He gave me a gift of joy, happiness and beauty all in the space of one afternoon.”

“Sounds like a miracle worker,” Amelia laughed.

“I guess in some ways you can say that he is …was. He is the oldest of the brothers; well-read and educated in the East; is strong in body and spirit; has a gentleness about him that is endearing; his hair is dark like mine but he has rich brown eyes that say so much.”

Amelia, wondering asked, “And how do you feel about him?”

“I don’t really know Amelia. He is tall and I might say quite handsome. He exudes confidence but the inner quality that is part of him is what has attracted me to him. I felt during our time together that … that … it was almost as if we had known each other for a long time. I know that he will always be there for me if I need him and always a friend. I cannot help but think of him and I find that I do miss him. Somehow, he has managed in a short afternoon to stir up emotions that I did not know existed. I would like to see him again.”

“Ummm, sounds like this could be serious. Should we try to arrange that?” laughed Amelia.

“I hardly think that would be possible,” she responded. “Besides, I have no idea what if any impression I may have made on him. From the talk around Virginia City, he is being sought by many of the available ladies.”

“But none as beautiful, caring and as talented as you I bet. If he is still available, I dare say he has not met that one special lady.”

Claire just smiled. “Perhaps one day I will get to see him again. But right now, I have work to do.”

 

 

SIXTEEN

* * * * * * * * * *

Claire awoke the next morning feeling sick. Not an emotional sickness but a physical sickness. She had been feeling a bit squeamish for several days but thought it would pass. This morning it seemed to be getting worse. Not one to give in to physical discomfort, she was determined to try to self-medicate herself and make the trek to see Mr. Poole, the investigator. As she arose from her bed, she needed to steady herself. The sensation of the room spinning had finally stopped. Looking into the mirror, she realized she had a tired look about her. Some hot tea was sure to help. She managed to take care of her morning routine and dressed.

As she entered the kitchen, she noticed a note lying on the table from Amelia. It read, Taken Isaac to the station for trip to Springfield. Will stop to pick up mail and return. If you’re not here, I will see you when you return, Amelia.

Claire was sorry that she didn’t remember Isaac would be gone for a week. She’d like to have said goodbye. She managed to fix herself some tea but could not bring herself to eat. She collected her thoughts and left for the office of Mr. Poole.

The outdoor air was refreshing. Just what I needed she thought. Strolling along, she still did not feel herself but found that she could manage. From a distance she thought she recognized a familiar face. As he came closer into her view, she was happy to see this face. She had remembered how he would carry himself and knew that they had much to talk about.

They both stopped and looked at one another. “Claire Sanders,” he said. “Imagine my running into you like this.”

“I can’t imagine that I am standing here with you at this moment. I’ve been thinking about you and my music,” she said cheerfully.

“We’ve missed you. Can we grab some refreshment to catch up or are you short for time?”

Knowing how she felt and where she was headed, she wanted to take this opportunity to ‘catch up’. He guided her across the street to a small teahouse. Once inside they found a small table.

“I’m sorry for your loss,” said Dr. Monroe, director of the St. Louis Conservatory.

“Thank you,” she replied sincerely.

They talked about the school, what growth had taken place, the students that were presently studying and before she knew it, almost half an hour had passed. She was enjoying seeing her mentor once again. The tea had made her more comfortable.

“Claire, I don’t want to be presumptuous, but you are sorely missed at the conservatory. Regrettably I had to replace you, but as you know, you are really not replaceable.” She grinned.

“Although all classes do have instructors, I would like to ask that you consider coming back as an instructor. For the time being it would be for the summer session and certainly fulltime going forward if you are interested.”

“Dr. Monroe, I would like the opportunity to consider this offer. Presently I am not sure what my plans will be, but I will consider the summer teaching session. May I let you know within the next few weeks?”

“Certainly Claire, but please do. There are teachers that will be away this summer and enrollment is increasing. While you are making up your mind, please feel free to come in and play anytime you wish. You may want to consider joining the ensemble once again. As I recall, you loved that group very much.”

“Thank you Dr. Monroe. I may just do that.”

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Entering the inner office she knocked on the door. As the door was opened for her, she saw the familiar face of Thad Poole.

“Welcome Miss Sanders, “he said. “Please have a seat.”

She seated herself and looked across the desk at him. He was just as she remembered. His office was somewhat in disarray but that was the norm. Fortunately, his skills and mind were not the same.

“Mr. Poole, I want to thank you for the work you have done and for following up with Amelia Thomas while I was away. However, the last documents she provided me with did not show any more promise in finding my mother and father than what we had tried before I left.”

“Miss Sanders,” he said as he placed his oversized hands on his desk, “I know that this is not an easy thing for you to hear, but when we entered this search, we had very little to go on. Actually, nothing really.”

“I understand that Mr. Poole but ….”

He interrupted her, “I also told you that at best it would be a stretch and that I’d do all that I could base upon the information you gave me. I care about what you are trying to do and have done my best using all resources and people available to me to try to get a lead … that would lead somewhere.”

Not wanting to hear what he was telling her, she said “Mr. Poole, this is the beginning of my life that we are talking about.”

“I understand that. But I also can be blunt Miss Sanders. That was a life that you cannot remember. The life that you’ve been afforded these many years … in essence is your life. I am not going to say that you don’t have a right to find out about your beginnings. I give great stock to your adoptive parents for even telling you about your beginnings.”

“You’ve been engaged to try to assist me Sir, not to give me your opinions!” she found herself saying angrily.

Relaxing a bit he said, “I apologize. That was very rude of me. I guess I’m disturbed that I do not have anything more to give you than what I already have. I would like to help you further, but I cannot. The only family we could identify as a source that cared for you was in Kansas City. They were the ones who brought you to the Children’s Home here. Shortly after bringing you in, their age caught up with them and they are now deceased. We can find no trace of their having any living relatives.” He looked at the despondent appearance of his client. “Miss Sanders, we have checked with all staff at the Children’s Home and previous employees as well all with no results. I’m sorry”

Reluctantly she looked at him and said almost inaudibly, “Thank you for the work that you have done.”

She rose from her seat and grabbed the back of the chair to steady herself.

“Miss Sanders are you alright?” he asked in a concerned tone of voice.

“I’m just coming down with a little something, but I am fine now.”

He escorted her to the door. She turned and looked at him saying, “Mr. Poole, I didn’t want to give up but it seems that I have to. Thank you for all that you have done.”

“No thanks necessary. If there is anything that comes to mind or that you find, I’m prepared to start again. For now, I would suggest, if I may be so bold, that you try to move on.”

She left quietly and began walking back to Amelia’s. She had not noticed that it had started to rain lightly.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

The Ponderosa was abuzz with activity. It was the day of the Cattleman’s Association Gala to be held in Carson City and it was a formal affair. Adam was quite comfortable with the attire required and Ben was excited to be a part of it as he was on the Board of Directors.

Hop Sing was neither excited nor happy. He had been heating water for baths all day long as well as having polished up the surrey for the trip. He was now carrying two buckets to fill the bath once again. The first bath he prepared was for Mr. Ben. The second bath was for Hoss but Adam had found his way into the warm steamy water. He was not going to bet on which of the remaining brothers were going to get into the bath next.

As he was coming down the stairs, he heard bickering between Hoss and Joe as to who was getting into the bath next and said, “Mista Joe, Mista Hoss, water now in tub. No care who gets in tub, I not fixing any more baths today! I fix and you let water get cold.”

“Hop Sing what are you talking about?” asked Joe. “We were ready to get into the bath.”

“Not so, first you ask me to fix and then you leave. Water get cold.”

“There was just a small matter I had to take care of is all,” Joe said.

“Humph,” mumbled Hop Sing, “now I have matter to take care of!” and he hurried into the kitchen.

While the bantering was going back and forth between Hop Sing and Joe, Hoss had quietly and casually gone upstairs and was now relaxing in the tub. “Ahhhh he said.”

When Joe looked around, he found Hoss nowhere in sight and ran up the stairs. He heard humming coming from the bath and said, “Hoss that’s my water.”

“Little brother, it may have been your water, but it is definitely mine now.”

Joe just slammed his hand on the door and walked back down the hallway.

Adam secretly smiling opened his door and asked, “Joe is there a problem with the water?”

Sarcastically he turned to Adam and said, “No … no problem with the water … just the people around here,” and stormed down the stairs.

Somehow Ben was able to get his sons all bathed and dressed. Hop Sing had abandoned them long ago and now Adam was standing next to the hearth in typical fashion with his arms folded across his chest. He looked dashing and most comfortable in his formal wear of tailcoat and trousers, with an ivory faille vest and satin tie. He watched as his father paced back and forth and said boisterously, “Where the devil are those two?”

In his Adam speech, he said, “They are probably still trying to figure out how to put on their clothes.”

Ben becoming more agitated by the moment said, “They will be dressed within the next five minutes if I have to do it myself!”

“Shall I start timing?” said Adam.

Ben just shot him a glance that spoke for itself.

As the two lagging sons came down the stairs, Adam remained in his position to observe what was going to happen next.

“It’s about time you two got down here,” yelled Ben.

“But pa,” said Hoss. “These clothes jes don’t feel right. I look like something outta one of Adam’s books.”

Ben just stood looking at the two of them with a tight grimace across his lips as he continued to listen to them.

Hoss was making a face that Adam had not seen before and loved this moment.

“This tie is just plain choking the life outta me and this coat looks funny. Don’t know why we must go to this fancy shindig. After all we’re not members of the Cattleman’s Association,” said Hoss.

“You’re going because you are my sons and you will … I repeat … you will enjoy yourself, behave like gentlemen and have a wonderful time! Is that understood?”

As Ben checked the time, he said, “The Sanders should be here any minute now.”

Still waiting to hear from the one remaining sibling, which Adam knew was to come regardless of his father’s bellowing, he was not the least surprised when Joe said, “Pa, I think I look real handsome. I’ll probably make a real impression on the ladies. Feel sorta special in these duds,” as he stroked the lapels.

“You should for money I paid for them for you and Hoss.”

“Pa, we really appreciate it, we really do … it jes that …well Adam here wore these clothes back east and knew exactly what he was purchasing for himself. I ain’t seen too much of these kinda duds out here,” Hoss said as he swallowed hard.

“Stop complaining brother. We’re sure to have a good time,” Joe said. “I just don’t know how to sit down in this coat.”

Ben fully exhausted by this day’s nonsense said plainly, “Joseph, I don’t care if you sit or stand all the way to Carson City!”

Adam just said in a moderate tone as he finally moved from the hearth, ”There was a time when men who were concerned with the propriety of their appearance could easily change up to four times a day.”

“Concerned with what?” asked Hoss.

“Pro .. propo … pro, oh, forget it Hoss, “said Joe.

Just then a carriage drove up and it was Hank and Margaret Sanders.

Ben walked out to greet them. Followed by his sons doing the same.

“Margaret you look lovely. Hank you should be very proud of this lady.”

Margaret always good for a laugh said, “He better be!”

“She knows that she is the apple of my eye,” winked Hank. “The way all of you Cartwrights look this evening is certainly going to start a lot of talk in Virginia City and you would certainly break a lot of hearts.”

Joe nudged Hoss in acknowledgement.

“You men are very striking in your attire. I’m glad to be in the company of so many fine-looking men,” Margaret said.

“We’re the ones who are fortunate to have you in our midst,” said Adam.

She looked at Adam and only wished that Claire were here. He wore his clothes with an elegance that befitted his character. He was more handsome, if that were possible, this night.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

“Claire, what were you thinking?” Amelia said. “If you were not feeling well you should have said something and stayed put today.” She was upset that when Claire had returned home, she was wet almost clear through. Hearing her coughing and not being able to keep food down, she felt she was right in chastising her.

“Amelia, I felt much better earlier in the day and thought I could ….”

“Could what? What you could have done is to use your head. You are burning up and I’ve sent for the doctor.”

“You are exaggerating this whole thing. I’m sure to be better in the morning,” Amelia. “I didn’t mean to cause you worry and extra work.”

“If you are in this house and my friend, I’m going to make sure that you are kept healthy and safe,” was Amelia’s response.

She assisted Claire into bed and covered her up. The pain going through her head was almost unbearable as Claire finally laid her head upon the pillow. She felt very chilled and Amelia gave her some water to drink.

A knock on the door … “That must be Dr. Hayes. I’ll be right back,” said Amelia.

Claire just took a deep breath and was very sorry that she did. Her chest ached along with her head.

As Amelia opened the door she greeted the doctor.

“Hello Amelia,” he said shaking the rain from his coat. “You seem to be in good health, so who is the patient?”

“Doctor its Claire Sanders. She has been back for just a few weeks now and it seems that she has come down with some sort of a cold.”

“Well, let’s look and see.” He followed Amelia to Claire’s room.

Upon entering Claire recognized the familiar face of her family physician, Dr. Parker. Her first recollection was the care that he had given to her when her parents died.

“Well Claire, I ‘m happy to see you. I wish I could say that you’re looking well but you’re not.”

“It’s good to see you as well Dr. Parker. If the truth be told, I don’t feel so well.” She realized that Amelia was still in the room when she said this.

Doctor Parker opened his bag. He turned to Amelia and said, “Would you mind leaving us while I examine our young lady?”

Amelia just looked from Claire to the doctor and left the room.

What is taking so long? thought Amelia. It had already been over an hour.

She heard a door close quietly upstairs and met the doctor at the foot of the stairs.

“How does she doctor?” she asked concerned.

“She’s a very sick girl,” Amelia. “I’m afraid she has pneumonia. I’ve given here something to help with her discomfort and try to bring her temperature down. Right now her lungs are fairly clear, but I am concerned that they may become a problem.”

All Amelia could do was just sit down and digest what the doctor had said.

“What should I do Dr. Parker?”

“Right now see that she takes the medication that I have left on the table next to her bed and has plenty of fluids. I’m going to arrange for a bed in the hospital first thing in the morning.”

Hearing this Amelia was alarmed. He just patted her hand and said, “This is just a precaution and whatever extra care she requires can be administered there. Right now she is resting. Should you notice any drastic change, send someone for me right away.”

She escorted the doctor out of the door and went to Claire’s room. As she opened the door, in the dim light she could see her lying there and hear her labored breathing. She sat in the chair across from the bed and thought, how can so much befall my dearest friend?

 

 

SEVENTEEN

* * * * * * * * * *

The Cartwrights managed to survive the festivities of the night before. The Cattlemen’s Association Gala was once again a time for members to socialize and to make deals. Competition was often fierce and very competitive between the hand shaking, dancing, eating and imbibing.

As the tired Cartwrights began to stir one by one, Ben had decided that this would be a day for a little less brawn to be used and a lot more brain. He had been able to pre-arrange a meeting to discuss the sale and purchase of cattle to buyers in Missouri the evening before. This would certainly be a difficult negotiation and there was a deadline looming. He’d agreed that he or a representative would meet the buyers in Missouri as soon as possible with the proposal and he intended to see that it happened. Looking at the handwritten note to be wired to confirm the meeting, he would send Hoss into Virginia City to get it off.

He paced about the great room knowing he could not be in two places at once. This could be an enormous coup. He was due in Sacramento to discuss timber sales and the renewal of that contract. He felt exceedingly good with the potential for growth and new business. After all, he was a Cartwright and a competitor. He had no other choice but to send Adam, leaving the running of the ranch to Hoss and Joe with the able assistance and guidance of his three foremen.

He heard footsteps on the stairs and looked up from the desk to see Adam slowly making his way down.

“Morning pa,” said Adam. “Couldn’t you sleep?”

“Adam, come over here, I need to talk to you.”

Adam heard the tone in his voice and said, “Sure pa, but can I at least get some coffee first?”

“Sure son. As a matter of fact, I’ll join you.”

With coffee in hand, Adam sat across from Ben and slowly sipped the hot brew that was now awakening all his senses. He could see the sun beginning to ease its way into the room and felt a new and beautiful Nevada day about to start.

Ben looked at Adam and realized what a trip to Missouri could mean for the ranch and possibly for Adam.

“Adam, I would say that last night’s event was a success. I made some excellent connections and potential for new business for the Ponderosa.”

Leaning back into the chair, Adam knew that more was coming and could only envision the plans and extra work that his father had in store. If not for all of them, certainly for him.

“I’d say so pa, especially since Hoss was not choked to death by his tie and Joe didn’t have to stand all the way to Carson City.”

Ben just shook his head.

“So what is it pa?” Adam said seeking an answer to why his father wanted to speak to him.

Trying to put things in the proper context before speaking, Ben looked at his son sitting before him. He was aware of the seemingly missing piece Adam was experiencing with the departure of Claire. He knew, without Adam telling him, that Adam had sent off a letter to Claire. Another instance of Adam being a very private person. He was also keenly aware that Adam had mentioned her very little. In reality not at all after their talk.

“Son,” he said, “I had a rather long discussion with the Pearson Group last night. I think it went very well. There’s a strong possibility of their buying a large herd if we can put a proposal together and get it to them in short order. We’d have to be sure that we could deliver and negotiate our price against others seeking the same contract.”

Adam listened to his father recalling that it had all been done before. He could only think that he would have to spend the time working out the details.

“So pa, what’s the problem? I can start working on it right after breakfast. We’ve done it before. You just need to fill me in on the details and I’ll start working on it.”

“I was hoping to hear you say that son,” Ben said as he stood up from the desk. “The only concern I have is getting it to them quickly and I can’t do it.” Turning to face Adam he continued, “I have to be in Sacramento for the negotiating of the new timber contracts so I’ll need you to handle this.”

Putting his cup of coffee down he leaned his head to the side and rested it on his hand. “How soon does it have to be delivered?” Adam asked casually.

“Within the next two weeks and you’d have to be there for the delivery and the business negotiation,” Ben said as he walked toward his son.

“Whew, doesn’t leave us much time, pa. Guess I’d better get moving,” he said as he started to stand.

Looking directly at each other, Ben continued, “Adam, you’d be going to St. Louis for this meeting and would need to leave on Tuesday morning’s stage.”

Adam heard his father but was uncertain that he heard the words ‘St. Louis’.

 

 

 

EIGHTEEN

* * * * * * * * * *

The moving of Claire to the hospital went smoothly. Her temperature had not dropped and she continued to cough which caused pain in her chest. Dr. Parker was awaiting her arrival. As Claire was moved into her room, Amelia tried to follow, however the nurse quietly closed the door. She found a seat and sat. Shortly after, the nurse exited the room. Amelia tried to get her attention but to no avail. While she looked out the window trying to understand all that was going on, she noticed as she turned around that the nurse had re-entered the room. Her mind was unable to focus clearly on what she should do. Should she contact Isaac? Claire’s aunt and uncle? She was uncertain. She stopped and decided that she would calm herself and just wait. She wanted to see Claire and know her condition. Then she would know what to do.

As Dr. Parker came out of Claire’s room, Amelia stood. Dr. Parker walked over to her and said, “Come with me Amelia,” as he escorted her to an office down the hall.

A sense of fear suddenly enveloped Amelia, “How is she Dr. Parker?”

He took his time and sitting on the edge of the desk said, “She’s resting right now. However, it is pneumonia and I’m concerned. Now, it does not appear to be as severe as I had thought last night, but she’s a sick woman.”

This was not what she expected and was not what she wanted to hear.

“It’s hard for me to say what direction her condition will take. Her being out in the rain did not help at all. My concern is to get her fever down and decrease her heart rate. Her lungs are inflamed which is a prime source of her pain especially with her coughing. The coughing, chills and her shallow breathing are something that we are treating her for now. The next twenty-four hours should tell us more. She is a very strong woman and …. I’ll do my best to get her back on her feet. Right now it is best that we take care of her here.”

With a sigh, Amelia said, “I understand. May I see her?”

“Only for a moment. We have no knowledge of when she started feeling ill or even how she came to this point. A factor that may have come into play is stress and her pushing herself too much. I’ll be checking on her regularly throughout the day and night. Right now, she is uncomfortable which is expected and she’s feeling very tired and suffering from some malaise as well.”

Seeing that Amelia was hearing his every word he continued, “I’ve been treating the two of you for quite a while now. I suspect that with recent events, this may have taken a toll on her. The best thing now is for you to get up and go visit our patient. Keep in mind that you are not to stay for very long.”

Amelia, ever so grateful for Dr. Parker’s care said, “Thank you.”

He patted her back and chuckled saying; “You two have always been a real pair ever since I started caring for you. I think she could stand to see a friendly face rather than my wrinkled face right now.”

Amelia left and walked to the door of Claire’s room. Upon entering, she saw the pallid color on her friend’s face. She pulled a chair over and sat down. Ever so quietly she said, “Claire.”

Opening her eyes she tried to offer a smile, but was barely able to do so. Weakly she tried to reach her hand out to Amelia. Amelia took it instead and placed it next to her on the bed and just held it.

“Thank you.” Barely audible she continued, “I guess between the two of us we add up to one.”

“Shhhh. No need to talk. I just want you to rest and get better. I’ll stay here if they’ll let me.”

Claire closed her eyes and believed she understood what Amelia had just said. So much was going through her mind that was not clear to her. She was not sure if it was the fever that was clouding her thoughts. She could not imagine having a fever and being so extremely cold. She had vague memories of dreams, which she could not fully recall. Why? She was tired and through all of it she seemed to sense the care of a person or persons who were of an ethereal nature surrounding her. She looked at Amelia without the ability to speak.

“Claire, listen to me. I’m going to contact your aunt and uncle. I think it’s best.” She saw the negative expression that shot from Claire’s eyes. “Furthermore, I will contact the attorney and any others that you have business dealings with and cancel your appointments until you’re well again. You don’t need to be concerned about such things right now.”

With what little strength she had, she pleaded, “No. Promise me that you will not contact my aunt and uncle. Please!! I need your promise,” she pleaded as she started to cough again.

It was not what Amelia wanted to do, but she conceded to Claire that she would not contact her family at least for the time being. She saw the wave of relief that came over Claire. I’m not at all sure that I am doing the right thing she thought.

She held her hand until she had fallen asleep. The nurse came in and informed her that she had to leave.

As she left the room, she thought, she just must be all right … she just has to be!!

* * * * * * * * * * * *

The silent figure from the shadows was aware that Claire had returned to St. Louis. There was a bittersweet feeling surrounding the return. Why did she come back from Nevada? It did not matter right now … knowledge of her condition and actions would be carefully watched, as always from a distance. As the hour was late, the feet found their way to Claire’s room without being seen. Opening the door ever so quietly, the dark eyes found what they sought. There lying in the bed was Claire. After careful observation, the door was closed just as quietly. In a moment the door leading into the hospital had become a door leading out of the hospital. Claire had no awareness of this secret visit.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Hoss and Joe had spent most of the day fixing fencing and literally enjoying the time outside. They were also joking and laughing at big brother who was buried in the house under a ton of paperwork.

“Let’s call it a day little brother,” said Hoss. “I’m getting real hungry and want to get an early start into town.”

“I’m with you Hoss. I wasn’t planning on going into town, but that doesn’t sound like a bad idea. Mind some company?”

“Thought you were all powerful tired.”

“Nah, since the work is now done, I feel like a good meal and cleaning up will be enough to get me through the entire evening.”

“Look,” said Hoss. “I said I was going to town but I didn’t say I was a stayin all night.”

Joe put his arm on Hoss’ shoulder and said, “Let’s get back to the house. I need to educate you about the social graces of being social. Besides, with big brother buried under all that paperwork from pa today, life was a little more pleasant out here.”

Hoss just looked at him and said, “Adam is helping’ this ranch. He knows the best ways to help pa … and if’n he’s helping’ pa … that helps us too.”

“Yeh, you’re right … but don’t you tell Adam what I just said. He’s already a Mr. Know It All.” They mounted their horses and headed straight away to home, comfort, food and a night out.

Inside the house Adam leaned back in the chair and threw the pencil onto the desk. He rubbed his eyes and looked at what he had been working on for most of the day. He was as satisfied as he could be at this moment that he’d worked out every detail for the sale of stock to the Pearson Group. During his work, Ben had been there to discuss the market and their strategy. They looked at every aspect of what would be needed to clinch this sale. Ben was always impressed with his son’s ability to see the big picture, understand the art of negotiating and to get the job done. Adam took these matters seriously and Ben was certain that his education was not for naught. Seeing him sitting back from the desk he said, “Well son, it appears that you have everything pretty much in order.” He realized how much he valued Adam’s expertise and prowess in the business matters of the ranch. What on earth would he do without him?

“Pa, I think we’ve got it together now. I would however suggest that you contact some of your close associates in the association and find out who else might be looking to sell to Pearson. Any little bits of information can only help us.”

Ben nodded in agreement and said, “I’ll get another wire off right away. I believe that Hoss indicated earlier that he was planning to go into town this evening.”

“That would work pa … but we’d need a response before I leave for St. Louis. If there were any changes that I’d need to make, I would have to know before I leave. At least I could work them into our proposal while traveling if necessary.”

Adam leaned forward resting his chin on his folded hands. He seemed to be focusing on something without looking at it. His mind was already in St. Louis.

Looking at his son, Ben realized his son was not thinking of the Pearson Group.

Stepping into Adam’s comfort zone, he said, “Claire?”

Adam looked up quickly when he heard his father say her name. Yes, he was thinking of Claire and now didn’t mind his father knowing.

“It’s OK son … some things a father knows.”

Adam was not taken aback by these words. He just looked directly at him with the deepness of his eyes speaking for him.

“As a matter of fact I was thinking of her and I’m sure that you know I’m going to try to see her while in St. Louis. She’s been gone for a while now and I’m concerned how she is getting on. I also want to understand my feelings for her. I’ve written to her but have not heard from her. It would much simpler if I knew that I was not inviting myself into a space that she wants to remain closed to others.”

“Adam,” Ben said caringly, “sometimes we should take a risk. Some of the most difficult ones are the very ones that show the most promise. Besides, St. Louis is some distance and who is to say that a letter is not on the way?”

Adam looked at his father and understood his wisdom. “I care about her .. I know this for a fact,” he said honestly. “How and why this has all come about is nothing that I can explain except to say that she has made an impact on my life. She is someone that I must get to know better if that is possible and until I know differently, I am going to try to ensure that that becomes a reality.”

The meaningful way in which his son had just expressed himself was not common for Adam. Had this woman made this much of a difference on his private son?

“Adam, do whatever it is that you need to do. I hope that whatever it is you’re seeking you find. I would caution though son, to be able to accept any outcomes graciously.”

“Pa, I’ve thought of that as well. But I can’t accept anything graciously until I know what it is.”

With that he rose from his seat and went up to his room. When he entered, he looked into his mirror. His thoughts were of his trip and of seeing Claire. He was a man that had two missions … one to make a sale and the other to become reacquainted with a woman that he had not been able to get out of his mind. He did not want to admit the intensity of his feelings for her since she had departed and he wanted desperately to understand them … but as he saw his reflection in the mirror, he said aloud the very words he had written in the journal he had given Claire, “Adam Cartwright, each day … life begins anew.”

 

 

NINETEEN

* * * * * * * * * *

Two locations with two very different scenarios playing out. Adam was all set to leave Tuesday for St. Louis. He was contemplative about his arrival and what the outcomes would be – certain for sure that he would be able to handle the business side of it – but in his own fashion was not willing to set expectations as far as Claire was concerned. Could fate have hit at a better time he had thought. He had ridden out to the Sanders ranch to visit and let them know that he was headed for St. Louis. The Sanders were more than happy with this news – they knew they would get a first-hand report on the progress and well being of their niece. Secretly they knew if she needed assistance it would be taken care of willingly and discretely. It was just Adam’s way. Adam had offered to deliver anything to Claire from them. He was not able to provide them with his return date.

The day-to-day operation of the Ponderosa had been planned with the pending departure of Adam. Even though this was done, Ben did have some apprehension. He was thankful that his trip would be of a shorter duration than Adam’s. All the paperwork would be ready upon his arrival, just a signature or two, after all his travel was not as distant and he’d quickly return to the ranch. His leaving was scheduled to take place ten days after Adam’s departure – control would remain for that time. Both Hoss and Joe were fully aware of the responsibility that was being entrusted to them – Ben making it abundantly clear – as only he could – that he expected no problems upon his return. On the other hand, Hop Sing wasn’t sure of what to expect. He had experienced the antics of the Cartwright sons when elder Cartwright was not around. Now with Adam away also, he was going to exert himself to be sure that the house at least remained in one piece and that the two remaining sons were well nourished.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Amelia had spent practically day and night at the hospital with Claire. She did wire Isaac about Claire and tried to reassure him that she was on the road to recovery. He would be returning in two days. Following up on her promise, she had postponed all legal activities Claire had scheduled with no problem. What continued to trouble her was that she had not contacted Claire’s family. She continued trying very hard to honor her dear friend’s request – but was truly torn.

Isaac had returned home as was expected and was a comfort and help to Amelia. He knew her worry and wished she had informed him of the seriousness of Claire’s condition in her wire. When he did not accompany Amelia to the hospital, he ensured that she was at home resting. He’d then make the trek to see her alone. Not only was he there to support and assist his wife and friend, he made himself available to further follow-up on Claire’s affairs.

Amelia had both a letter for Claire as well as a wire she wanted to deliver. Not knowing what was in them, she had hoped with Claire improving that she would be well enough to read them and they’d be a comfort to her during her recuperation. It had been a little over a week and Claire seemed to be coming along. Dr. Parker could not have foretold Amelia and Isaac what they found when they next visited. Claire had regressed almost to the condition that first brought her to the hospital. He was very concerned because of her weakened condition and her low ability to fight infection. He was not going to let her suffer and was determined to do all he could to heal her.

* * * * * * * * * * *

The trip had been one that he’d made several times before. This time it was different – it seemed to take forever. He arrived. Settling into his hotel room he had arranged for a bath. While waiting, he began to unpack. Looking at the suits he had brought with him, he’d arrange to have them pressed. With a few days to spare before his meeting with the Pearson Group he was going to head to the Thomas home and see Claire. Certainly by now she would have received his wire and expect him to call.

He looked out the window at sights that he’d remembered. The streets below were extremely busy this early afternoon. The temperature was pleasantly exhilarating and he could not wait to freshen up and make his appearance at the Thomas home. As his thoughts turned to the prospect of seeing Claire, he felt a warmth and nervousness come over him. He knew it was because he could not deny his “friendly” feeling for her.

Bathed and shaven, he selected a crisp white shirt, black trousers and dark gray jacket. Standing before the mirror as he tied his tie, he looked at his eyes. Claire had told him that his eyes had a way of revealing what he was feeling.

Checking the address, he began to walk rather than ride. Feeling the air and sun touch and engulf his spirit, he realized this was an impetus adding to his impatience. A myriad of things was running through his mind – particularly the vision of Claire.

Isaac and Amelia were sitting at the kitchen table discussing the turn of events. “Amelia, there is nothing else that we can do now,” he said. “We must contact her aunt and uncle. You kept your word as best you could, but now there is a setback. We’ve no choice.”

Knowing that he was speaking what her heart was telling her, she agreed. “I’ll prepare the wire.” She looked at him and he reached for her hand.

“She is going to come through this Amelia.”

All she could do was look at him and say with a smile of hope, “I know she will. But she will still have so much to deal with.”

He rose and gave her a reassuring kiss on the forehead. “Let’s just handle one thing at a time.”

There was a crisp knock on the door. Not really expecting anyone and with Isaac having gone into his study, Amelia went to answer the door.

Standing before her was a man. Not an ordinary man. Her senses told her that this was Adam Cartwright. If it was, he was more handsome than Claire had described.

“Yes, may I help you?” she asked.

Removing his hat he said, “I’m Adam Cartwright from Virginia City, Nevada. I had wired Claire that I would be here on business and would be stopping by to see her. Is she available?”

Thinking of her poor manners, she invited him. “Excuse my manners, its — it’s just that I was not expecting you.”

Adam didn’t know what to make of this statement. He had sent the wire. At that moment, having heard voices, Isaac entered the room.

“Isaac, I’d like you to meet Adam Cartwright a friend of Claire’s from Virginia City. He’s here to see Claire.”

Not knowing what to make of the look on their faces, he asked casually, “Is Claire here? If not, I can return at a time that she is. I’d like to be able to say hello and perhaps visit with her while in town.”

Isaac said, “Mr. Cartwright please have a seat. I …. I…. Well there is something I think we need to talk about.”

Amelia excused herself and went to bring coffee. She felt that something stronger was probably called for but it was yet too early in the day.

As she re-entered the room, Adam rose. She set the tray down and joined her husband on the settee. There was no point in making small talk and Isaac tended to be direct.

“Mr. Cartwright.”

“Please, “Adam said, “I’d appreciate it if you both would call me Adam. From your expressions, it appears that something is wrong. I’d like to know what it is and I’d like to know now.” His words were direct yet gentle.

“We had no idea that you were coming, Adam,” Amelia responded.

“I don’t understand. I mailed a letter to Claire and sent a wire which should have been received days ago.”

“That may be well and true Adam, but Claire has not received your correspondence.”

Hearing Isaac’s response, he leaned forward and with a bit of frustration said, “It’s obvious that something is wrong and I’d appreciate your getting to the heart of the matter. Now what is it?”

Amelia fidgeting with her hands said, “She has not received the letter or wire as she … she… well she is in the hospital suffering from pneumonia.”

Adam sat back in his chair in disbelief at the words just spoken. It was if someone had thrown cold water on him. How could this be? Why the devil was no one contacted?

“I know what you must be thinking Adam, but Claire was very adamant about not making any contact whatsoever. She pleaded with Amelia not to divulge her condition to anyone. She was steadily improving. With the turn of events today, Amelia and I decided to send off a wire to her family.”

“What do you mean the turn of events?” He did not care about the tone of his words this time.

Upset mixed with concern and anger were rising in him. He was determined not to explode right then and there. There was more that he needed to know.

“She came down with pneumonia about ten days or so ago. Apparently she had not been feeling well but said nothing.” Amelia said. “She came home one evening very ill and I called the doctor. It was then that he diagnosed her condition and had her moved to the hospital.”

Adam did not believe what he was hearing. Someone should have contacted her family at least. He would address this later. Amelia saw the concerned look on his face and sensed his upset, but continued.

“She was making progress and seemed to be getting better. When we went to see her this morning, Dr. Parker advised that her condition had again worsened. That was when I could no longer keep the promise I made to her and was getting ready to wire her family when you arrived.”

Adam rose from his seat and said, “Where is she?”

Isaac walked over to him and said, “She is at this hospital across town.”

All Adam could say was, “How do I get there?”

Isaac putting on his jacket said, “I’ll take you.”

Amelia grabbed her shawl and as Isaac opened the door the three figures left.

The ride to the hospital was quiet. Both Isaac and Amelia could not find any words to say. They both saw the pain and anguish in this man’s face and felt it best to remain quiet and leave him to his feelings and thoughts. Adam stared straight ahead internalizing his feelings as only he could. This was not at all what he had expected. He should have known.

Adam assisted Amelia from the surrey and entered the hospital. As she was leading him to Claire’s room she abruptly stopped. She touched his arm and he turned toward her. She saw the look in his eyes and tried to imagine what he must be feeling. This man truly cared for her dear friend. As Isaac joined them, Amelia said, “Adam, we love Claire too. You just need to know that.”

Hearing her words, he said gently, “She’s fortunate to have the both of you here.”

Arriving at her room, Adam stopped not knowing what to expect.

“Adam, we’re going to leave you to visit with Claire. When you leave, please come by the house for some dinner, no matter what the time,” Isaac said.

He looked at both understanding their bowing out to leave him time alone with her. He said, “Thank you, but I’ll not be leaving.”

Amelia gave Adam an unsuspected hug and whispered in his ear, “Her doctor is Dr. Parker.”

Isaac just placed his hand on Adam’s shoulder and he and Amelia departed.

 

 

TWENTY

* * * * * * * * * *

The room was of a moderate size with just a bare minimum of amenities. Clean and tidy, it belied to the beholder the fact that this was a hospital. He didn’t move but allowed his eyes to view the surroundings that were totally the opposite of the vast openness filled with air, sun, mountains, the beauty of creation and life he had just left behind. Soft light flowed through the window and came to rest peacefully on the inner walls of this space. He felt the energy of quietness and stillness in this space that seemed to be seeking a release into the world that lay outside these walls and the land from which he had traveled.

He allowed the two windows leading to his soul and spirit to rest on the person who had continued walking through his thoughts since the first time he had seen her on a Virginia City street. Claire Hammond Sanders.

Standing next to the bed, he smiled as he recalled that day when he had viewed her for the first time from the window of the International House. What he recalled was her laughter and the smile that radiated her inner person. Now, the windows to his soul aided him with the gentlest of touches to extend his strong arm out so that his fingers touched the face that lay before him. He continued to remember.

As he sat on the side of her bed he would not allow his heart to be heavy. She appeared as if a child that would awaken to the newness of the day and once again be driven by her inner spirit. After several minutes, he took her hand in his. He knew that his thoughts of her as ‘friend’ were truly more than that to him. He’d been fooling himself. Whatever her feelings, which he knew she would once again have the fullness of, he’d not deny any longer these emotions and allow them to flow within him entirely. As he held her still hand and stroked her slender fingers, he was engulfed with abstract emotions that were not neatly tucked into their proper Adam Cartwright places.

Still holding her hand, he reached with the other to stroke her face and touch the dark shining hair that was lying on the pillow …. hair that framed her beautiful face just as the frames that surrounded the beautiful paintings that she had created and would create again. In the quiet of this space and time he was devoured by his humanness which he kept well hidden and let his vulnerability wash over him. He was with Claire at this moment and no matter what her feelings for him would be, he loved her and would always carry the memory of his first time seeing her. He had now admitted to himself that he loved her. He knew for certain that his caring and ultimately coming to love this woman was not out of a sense of duty or circumstances. Long before he knew of her losses and now her illness, his heart had already been swept away by her. He realized now she’d stirred emotions and played his heart just as she so eloquently played her music … continued to play when she departed Virginia City … and now once again as the windows to his soul watched her.

Hearing the door open, he turned and watched as the figure of a man entered. Looking directly at him Dr. Parker said, “Excuse me, but you really shouldn’t be here.”

Adam stood and said, “There is no other place that I should be right now. I’m Adam Cartwright from Virginia City, Nevada. A close friend of Claire’s and her family there.”

He walked over and shook Adam’s hand. “I’m Paul Parker, Claire’s doctor.” Adam acknowledged him. Dr. Parker saw the concerned and caring look on his face. Having come for a specific reason he said in his professional tone, “Mr. Cartwright, would you mind leaving for a moment while I check on her?”

Adam looked at Claire and then at the doctor, “Certainly, I’ll just be outside.” With that he quietly left the room.

In the hall he felt a sudden reality set in. He was not in control of these circumstances … he was always in control, particularly of himself. This was different and he had to deal with it. Sighing deeply for the first time, he knew that he would.

The door opened and Dr. Parker exited the room. He walked over to Adam and said, “Mr. Cartwright I’ve tended to Claire. Now is there anything I can do for you?”

With his back erect and a surge of his energy springing forth he said, “Yes. How is she? Will she be OK?”

Escorting Adam over to a chair he sat down. He spoke candidly to Adam. “Mr. Cartwright, I don’t generally talk to persons who are not related to the patient. However, in this case, I believe that I can talk to you since you know her and her family. She has pneumonia and has had a setback. Why? … I’m not at all sure. However, she is stable at this moment, which is good. During her waking hours and even when she is not awake – we wake her and force fluids in addition to her regimen of treatment. Believe me, we are doing the very best that we can. Claire has been a patient of mine now for many a year. I promise you one thing, I will do all that I can to see that she is restored to perfect health. She is a strong person and that is something in her favor.”

“Thank you Dr. Parker. I had no idea how ill she was as I was traveling to St. Louis. It came as a surprise. She is a very special person to me and I won’t leave her now. I would hope that you understand that.”

“It isn’t hospital policy,” but hearing the emphasis on the word ‘won’t’ from Adam he thought carefully and said, “perhaps you being with her as you can will be an aid to her. I’ll make arrangements so that you are not asked to leave.”

“Thank you for understanding doctor. Please let me know of any changes in her condition no matter the hour. If I’m not here, I can be reached at the Carrington Hotel or through Amelia and Isaac Thomas. Right now, I’d like to go back and be with Claire.”

Dr. Parker rose and nodded his understanding. As Adam headed toward her room, the doctor sensed more than a friendly caring for Claire. If his intuition proved to be true, perhaps his presence was the very medicine that Claire needed.

As he entered the room, he noticed that a light had been lit which gave off a soft hue. He pulled a chair over to the side of the bed and sat back. He had not realized how long he sat there but stroking his neck he realized he was still wearing his tie. He undid it and took it off as well as his jacket and hung them on a post in the room. Unbuttoning his collar as he sat back down, his inner spirit willed her to be well again.

He found himself speaking to her in his deep voice ever so quietly. Claire. It’s Adam. I’m here to be with you and to see to it that you are well again. You are merely taking the well-deserved rest that should have been yours all these months – but in another way. It’s strange how we are made to stop so that a new path can be put before us to move ahead on. That path awaits you and will be better than you could ever imagine. You’ve told me that my eyes speak for themselves. When you awake the first thing I want you to see are my eyes. I’m going to remain here as much as possible for you in any way that you wish. Right now I want you to heal. He continued . . . . healing for me has been people around me that love and care for me, the smell of the pines, the blue of the sky, the brightness of the sun and the cool clear water that has been provided to all of us with love that is overwhelming. It is a promise of a new and better day. As I sit here I cannot help but remember the time we spent together. I see the radiance of that day so clearly. The sun could not shine brighter than your smile and your appreciation of all that surrounded us like a blanket. The fresh spring flowers, the soft breeze blowing and the clouds so close that we could have reached out and touched them. I want you to have that again and I know within my heart that you will.

He felt tiredness come over him and taking her hand in his, he laid his head on her bed. Having apparently dozed off, he was awakened by a hand stroking his hair. As he lifted his head, he realized that the sun had gone done and had to remind himself where he was.

He heard his name in a way that gave him purpose, “Adam.” Claire said. As she looked at him in the light, he appeared to her as if an angel for the whiteness of his shirt shown ever so brightly in the light. “Please turn up the light for me – I want to be certain that it is you,” she requested weakly. He did so and returned to her side.

“Claire, if you needed to get away and rest this is not the way to do it,” he said trying to be light-spirited.

She smiled and continued to stroke his face and hair. “Fair enough. I asked that the light be turned up so that I could be sure that it was you.”

“It’s me and there is only one of me.”

Looking at his face for answers, he took her hand and gently held it to his lips. This was her answer. She offered a weak smile and said, “I don’t know how you got here, but I’m glad that you are.” She began to cough and hold her chest.

Adam was not sure what to do to comfort her so poured her some water. Gently lifting her head, he gave it to her.

“Wonders never cease,” he replied as he replaced her head on the pillow and the glass on the table. “What is important is that we get you better and out of this room.”

She looked drained and said, “What is important to me is that you are here with me and that I care for you very much. I know this to be true.”

He had not expected to hear this and was amazed by her candidness, especially now. He noticed that she was looking deeply at him and wondered about this. He was not able to speak at this point and just looked deeply into her eyes. Even in her sickness, she was more beautiful both inside and out than any person he’d ever met.

“Your eyes are talking again and saying very much. You’ve given me an unspoken answer.” With that she slowly closed her eyes and with the briefest of smiles on her lips returned to sleep.

As he continued to hold her hand, an answer he thought. To what? He hoped he knew the question. He sat back in his chair and gave thanks.

 

 

TWENTY-ONE

* * * * * * * * * *

Several times during the night Adam was awakened either by a nurse entering the room to tend to Claire or by her coughing and soft moaning. He could hear the strain as she breathed. Through his tired eyes, he could see the struggle that she was fighting. He slept in spurts.

As the sign of daybreak began to show itself, Dr. Parker entered the room. Reviewing Claire’s charts, he placed them on her bedside and asked Adam to leave. As he began to examine Claire, she awakened and he said, “Well Claire, you’re looking a bit better. Your temperature has come down a bit and that should help you to feel a little better. What I need you to do is to cough. We’ve got to help you clear your lungs. I know this isn’t a pleasant thing for you, but it’s necessary. Now, I’m going to place these pillows into a position so that you can rest upward and I want you to cough.”

He assisted her and she felt the discomfort from moving. Her body was aching but she knew she wanted to be well.

As she started to expel a cough, she did not know what to grab for first, her chest with the sharp cutting pains she felt or her head. Dr. Parker just held her and urged her to continue. When he felt that she’d done enough. He rested her back into an upright position. Looking at her he realized this had been a painful effort for her. He knew that it was a very necessary thing.

Taking in short breaths she asked, “How am I Dr. Parker?”

Removing his glasses he volunteered, “Claire you’ve been a very sick lady. Pneumonia is not something that one takes lightly. We were lucky to get you here when we did thanks to Amelia. The treatment was started but for some unknown reason you regressed. You’re now in the midst of fighting a battle to reach the road to recovery. You’re still a sick young lady but each day will tell. Right now, you’re weak and ache. Your chest is full and we’ve got to get that cleared. The other thing is to do exactly as we ask and rest … plenty of rest. We’ll continue to monitor your progress and treat you accordingly.”

“No, I don’t feel well at all. I can’t remember a time when I’ve felt so poorly. I just want to get better and go home.” She closed her eyes for a brief moment and continued, “There seems to be so much that I cannot remember right now. I’ve had dreams and somehow I’m unable to separate the dreams from reality.” She started to cough once again and Dr. Parker gave her a drink. She turned on her side to try to find a comfortable position and continued to speak, “How long have I been here?”

“How long you’ve been here is not what really matters Claire, it’s how long you’ll remain here that we should concern ourselves with.”

“But there are so many things that I need to take care of and I need to do it as soon as possible.”

“Your friends have made contacts to put matters on hold for you. Your worrying about things is not going to help you. Now put those things out of your mind and let’s just get better. You can then attend to those ‘matters’ later. I don’t want you worrying about anything other than getting well. Is that clear?”

The door opened and a nurse brought in a tray of broth and tea. “I want you to try your best to get all of this down.”

She’d heard his words and knew that he was right, but it was hard for her to put those things out of her mind. Looking at the tray just delivered she said, “I’m not hungry … but I’ll try.”

“Good, now I’ll send in someone to assist you and return in a few hours to check on you again. If you should need anything, a nurse is right outside. Remember, cough!”

“Thank you Dr. Parker.”

“Just do as I ask Claire. I want you well again as much as you want to be well.” He walked to the door. Through the open door, he motioned to Adam to return, said a few words to him and then left.

She looked up and saw the figure of a man she’d thought was in one of her dreams. It was Adam Cartwright. He approached her bed and was glad to see that she had been adjusted into a different position. He could view her more fully. Although she still appeared weak and pale, to him she was beautiful.

“Good morning Miss Sanders,” he said. “I see that there is some nourishment here for you and I’m going to assist you in getting every bit of it down.”

“Adam, I thought I was dreaming. You are really here!”

He reached for the broth and sat next to her bed. She watched his every move noticing that he was beginning to show a shadow of beard and looked weary. But I was dreaming she thought. I know that I was!

“Well if you thought you were dreaming, I hope it was a good one. Now, you have to finish all of this so let’s get started.”

* * * * * * * * * *

Amelia and Isaac had finished their breakfast and were preparing to head for the hospital. They both wondered if they would find Adam still there. Just in case, she was preparing some hot coffee for him. She felt he would at least need that. Perhaps he’d be able to get back to the hotel for a good breakfast and some well-deserved rest.

“Adam seems to have been quite concerned about Claire,” Isaac said. The way he mentioned that he would not be leaving the hospital last night kind of surprised me. I guess as a friend of hers, he was surprised to find out her condition.”

“Isaac, I believe that he feels more for her than friendship.” Isaac raised an eyebrow and looked at his wife.

“Claire had mentioned him to me although she did not say her feelings were strong, but she did say that he was a ‘good’ friend,” was Amelia’s reply. “From his reaction, yesterday, I would say that he cares very much for her. He seems like a very determined and strong willed individual. I hope he can will her to good health and soon.”

“It seems that you have him somewhat figured out. I’d like to know more about him .. but right now, I’ll accompany you to visit with Claire and then go over to the university.”

“Isaac! You just returned from a trip and today is Saturday. Why do you have to go to work today?”

“Because my dear, I was away on a trip and as head of the department, there are some things that I need to check on before Monday. I have no intention of doing it tomorrow and will be home as quickly as possible. I don’t want to be there either.”

She clearly understood his tone and there was no changing his mind. “Amelia, please get the coffee and let’s go.”

* * * * * * * * * * *

Claire managed to get most of her liquids down. They seemed to have no flavor. When she had finished she unwillingly started to cough. The pain was still excruciating and she tried not to let Adam see it. He was astute and aware that it hurt her very much. Knowing her pride, he said nothing other than offer her a drink which she declined.

Not being able to contain the questions that went through his mind he asked, “Why didn’t you let someone know that you were ill?”

Her look was almost as pained as her coughing. “I asked Amelia not to send a wire. I didn’t think that things would turn out as they have. I didn’t want to worry Uncle Hank and Aunt Maggie. They were already concerned about my handling the matters here and this would only have added additional worry for them. I’ll have to speak to Amelia about wiring you.”

“Claire, when you have people that are your family and you’re this ill, you don’t shut them out … you let them in to be there for you. You can’t go through life by yourself. People care more about you than you realize and even though you want to save them the pain and worry, it’s unfair of you to have done this. By the way, Amelia did not wire me. I came here on Ponderosa business and with the hope of seeing you.”

Claire did not like what she felt was a lecture especially since her head was aching. “Adam, it appears that you and I have some similarities. I dare say that you would have reacted in very much the same way.”

He merely said, “Perhaps.” Seeing her weariness return he rose and sat beside her on the bed. He touched her face and she just closed her eyes. “Claire,” he spoke her name softly, “I’m not here to cause you anguish but because I want to be here. You’re important to me and I care about you’re getting well. It means very much to me.”

Hearing the gentleness in his voice, she gazed at him and knew he was sincere with his words. Through the haze that surrounded her she let his words run through her mind. She was comforted to hear them and felt a closeness that she wanted to understand. She wasn’t sure if it was love on her part, after all they had not spent a lot of time together, but she knew she felt something very strong. She wished that everything could be put behind them and start anew. “Adam, I’m a very independent person and tend to be private with my feelings. I’m strong-willed as well and make decisions that sometimes are not what others think appropriate. I … I … sometimes do not allow myself to feel. Perhaps it’s because …..” she let the words trail off and did not finish.

He had watched her struggle with the honesty that he so admired in her. “Whatever it is, in your own time and space, I’d like to be able to take that walk with you if you’ll allow me. No pressure, just the ability to reach out and be able to find one another in whatever way it is meant to be.”

She heard the compassion in his voice and saw the sincerity on his face. How could she not take that walk? “You have no idea what you’re getting into or where it may go, but thank you,” she said.

He took her hands in his and not being able to put off any longer what he had wanted to do from their day together, took her into his arms and held her ever so gently. He felt her arms embrace him as well and knew there would be a walk. Releasing her, he placed his hand on her face and kissed her forehead and then her lips softly. She laid back and he could see the confusion on her face … a confusion that he hoped to put to rest.

Still holding her hand he said, “You get some rest now. I’m going to leave but will return later.” Feeling his face he said, “I think I could do with a little cleaning up and need to send a couple of wires.”

She saw the look on his face as he said those words and asked, “Is one of those wires going to my aunt and uncle?”

He was not going to hide it from her, “Yes, we both know it’s the right thing to do.”

She nodded and said, “I guess you’re right … but please try to word it so that they don’t worry.”

He could have said more in his fashion but chose not to. Gathering his tie and coat from the hook, he walked back to her bedside, “I’m staying at the Carrington Hotel if you need me for any reason. I’ve met Isaac and Amelia and like them quite a lot. I’m very glad they were here with you and are true friends.” He decided not to wait until she had fallen asleep again. Her eyes were beginning to close … he just leaned forward and kissed her cheek and was then gone.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Upon his exit he met Isaac and Amelia. They could see the tiredness in Adam’s face.

“We’re just going in to see Claire, Adam, how is she?” asked Isaac.

“She’s just dosed off. She seems to be holding her own. The doctor should be seeing her again shortly.”

“She’s a fighter. I’m sure each day she’ll be better,” Amelia said.

“I’m sure,” was all that Adam could muster.

“Adam, I brought you some coffee but see that it’s not necessary now.”

“Thank you for the kind thought Amelia. I’m going to return to the hotel now and clean up a bit. There are a few business matters that I need to attend to as well. I’ve told Claire that I’ll be sending a wire to her aunt and uncle and she understands.”

“Adam I’m glad to hear that,” Amelia said as she placed her hand on his arm. “I should never have promised her not to contact them. I’m glad that she understands now.”

“She does.”

“How about joining us for an early supper tonight Adam?” said Isaac. “I’m going to be spending a little time at the university now but think you might enjoy a comfortable meal. It also appears that you could stand a bit of sleep after your trip and last evening.”

Adam showed a slow smile and replied, “You’re right on both counts. What time should I arrive?”

“How’s five o’clock sound?” asked Amelia.

“Sound perfect.”

* * * * * * * * * * *

The hotel room still showed the signs of his not having spent the night there. He tossed his things on the chair and walked over to the desk. Rubbing his eyes, he sat and prepared the wires. After carefully re-reading them, he took them to the front desk and asked that they be sent immediately. He then asked that he be awakened at three o’clock and a bath ready for him at that time. Returning to his room, he merely took off his boots and laid himself on the bed. Within a few minutes he was asleep.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Adam awoke shortly before the three o’clock knock on his door. He felt refreshed and knew he would feel even better after a bath and shave.

Amelia had returned from the hospital and was preparing for dinner while Isaac was in his study. She was wondering what this dinner would reveal.

Feeling like himself, he left the hotel and proceeded to the hospital. Upon arriving, he went directly to Claire’s room. As he slowly opened the door, he saw that she was wearing a pale-yellow gown and that her hair had been brushed from her face and tied with a ribbon. He thought Amelia must have done this for her. Placing his hat aside, he sat for a while in hopes that she would awaken. She did not. He rose and putting his hat on, just touched the foot of her bed, knowing that he would return within a few hours.

As Adam entered the Thomas home, he could smell the aroma drifting from the kitchen.

“Adam,” said Isaac. “I’m glad that you were able to come. There’s nothing like being away from home and having a home-cooked meal. Amelia is a great cook and I’m sure that you’ll enjoy it. Here, let me take your hat,” Isaac said as he ushered Adam in and offered him a seat.

Adam saw the orderliness and warmth of the home. Perhaps … one day … he thought. As he heard footsteps, he rose as Amelia entered the room. “Adam, I’m so glad that you’re here. Dinner should be ready shortly. Please, sit down.”

“I’m honored that you invited me. You’ve a lovely home here.”

“We like it,” she responded, if you can overlook these books that Isaac seems to have all over the place.”

“Just part of the job,” Isaac said.

“What might that be?” asked Adam. “You mentioned something about the university.”

“Yes. I’m a professor at the university here.”

“Explains the books,” was Adam’s reply. “Some in Virginia City along with my brothers would say I have too many as well.”

Seeing that Adam and Isaac were getting acquainted, Amelia excused herself to get the dinner on the table.

“That was an excellent meal. I don’t know when I’ve had finer with such pleasant hosts.”

Amelia could see the charm that must have attracted Claire to Adam. Not only was he tall and good looking, but also to her he appeared reserved and confident in who he was. She thought it not a self-absorbed confidence, but a confidence that came with his background … he was an educated man which was obvious, well spoken, well mannered and seemed to have a deep sense of right and wrong which extended into privacy. In some ways she saw him as a mystery. This was the man she saw sitting at her table and she liked the person he was very much.

As the dishes were cleared and the coffee brought in, Isaac began, “I’ve been accused of being too direct.”

Adam picked up his cup and said, “There’s nothing wrong with that. As a matter of fact, I prefer that and one could possibly say the same about me.” As Amelia re-entered the room, Adam pulled the chair out for her.

Isaac continued, “Amelia was a friend of Claire’s long before we met and were married. Claire has been an integral part of our lives for many years. Now she’s in a precarious situation at best, and we’re trying to assist her. I believe you’re feeling the same way. Am I right?”

Adam was not disturbed by Isaac’s directness and rather appreciated it. “Her well being is my primary concern.”

“I thought so. Perhaps we can review what has transpired to bring us to this point.” Adam didn’t want to advise that his father had given him information after Claire’s departure from Virginia City and thought he would let their story just unfold.

Isaac volunteered, “I don’t know how much you are aware of but for us to assist her, perhaps you should hear the story.”

Adam just nodded. Amelia’s look was one of questioning. She was unsure of what they should divulge to Adam. Seeing the look on Isaac’s face she knew that Adam needed to hear all they had to say, as they had always been there.

“Adam, we want Claire back as she was. We want her healthy and happy,” Amelia started. “I’m going to share some things with you because I know that she is special to you and that you’d do nothing to compromise the trust that Isaac and I are placing with you.”

Adam’s rich dark eyes were focused on the two of them as Amelia continued. “She and I grew up together from the time she was about seven or so. When I first met her, she was not outgoing and somehow we just became friends. I believe she’d not had a good life until she came to live with the Sanders. Claire was adopted, which is something that was never kept from her. They loved her dearly and she them. There was such a closeness and bond between them. Things changed drastically for her when she discovered that her parents had died in the warehouse of her father’s company. She took this loss extremely hard and tried to do all we could for her. While in Nevada, we wrote to each other and I felt that being away perhaps was a good thing. She indicated from her letters that she would be returning and take care of things. Isaac and I only prayed that she would be able to do this as neither of us felt that she had truly accepted this loss. In addition, Claire was determined to … to…”

“To seek out her biological parents,” Isaac said almost disapprovingly.

Adam had heard much of what they had recounted but had no idea of this newest revelation.

“Her parents?” he asked surprised. “But with all the years that had passed, what would be the purpose of this?”

“Precisely! Adam when she first arrived here we discussed this very matter. Somehow, she felt compelled to do everything by herself and was not going to let this matter lie until there were no options left for her,” was Isaac’s comment. He rose from his chair and moved about the dining room – Amelia’s saddened eyes following him. “I challenged her on this I’m afraid. I just saw no point and did not want her to be hurt any longer. Perhaps I said some things that she did not want to hear but I felt it necessary.”

Unknowingly to them, in many ways Adam could understand the need Claire had to rediscover her beginnings.

“Adam,” Amelia said quietly, “Our only concern was what was best for her. We had no idea that she was going to become so ill and didn’t want her to have prolonged misery. Being her friend, I knew what she was doing. We both have further concerns because she did begin to put some things to in place but has not yet returned to her home, the storage facility that is housing many personal items, nor has she made her way to their graves.”

Adam leaned back in his chair. He looked at the lace tablecloth trying to digest all that was just said. After a brief moment he said, “Thank you for sharing this with me. However, I have some comments that I’m going to make and trust you’ll receive them in the way I intend them. One thing I’ve found in Claire is her inner spirit. Her drive. I believe there are moments in anyone’s life that we’re unable to accept or even deal with now they occur. That denial can become a cocoon that shrouds us until we are emotionally able to do so. But we’re human beings that can be resilient. I believe Claire to be, and when the time is right, either for her or for you and I, we find the strength no matter how it comes to face up to matters and move on. I know that Claire can do this. As for her seeking her parents, sometimes no matter how much it may hurt us, if we love someone, we let them do what they deeply believe in their hearts and minds they need to do, and if necessary, are there to love and care for them when their search comes to an end. Loving someone means being there without judgments. Our mistake can be the concern for ourselves not being hurt further rather than the person. Right now my only concern for Claire is her healing in all ways.”

Both Amelia and Isaac listened to Adams caring and eloquent words of reason. They both realized how much they had come to like and admire him. The trio had become friends in those brief moments.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Evening was just settling in when Adam arrived back at the hospital. He wondered if the telegrams had been delivered to his father and the Sanders. Well, he thought he’d know soon enough.

As he entered, Dr. Parker was just leaving her room. “Ah, Mr. Cartwright. Seems like you’re becoming a fixture here,” he said.

“Hopefully, that won’t be the case for long. How is she?”

“I’m happy to say the she is showing signs of improvement. I’ve just given her something so that she will rest this evening. I’d suggest that if you’re going to see her, that you do it now. She should be drifting off for a good night’s rest in about ten minutes. If she still shows signs of progressing, I may try to get her up for a while tomorrow.”

“Thank you for all you’re doing doctor.”

The doctor just patted Adam on the shoulder and headed down the hall.

Upon entering the room, he noticed that Claire was still awake and looking at the window.

“Wanting to get outside?” he said putting his hat down.

She turned her head slowly and the smile she gave him was one that put his fears and worries away. He was happy that she was still awake.

“I was looking at the sun go down and was imagining painting something like that once again.”

“And you will. You’ll paint many more things.”

“I’m praying that to be so. I just feel so weak.”

“Comes with the territory, was Adam’s response. “I just saw Dr. Parker. He said he gave you something to make you sleep tonight. I think you should take advantage of it.”

Trying to laugh she said, “I think he gave us both something. I’ll be able to sleep here and you should be able to get a good night’s sleep at the hotel.”

“Are you trying to get rid of me?”

“No. Just concerned that you take care of yourself.”

“Ummm he said. It appears to me the shoe is really on the other foot.” They both chuckled. “I think it’s time you got settled.” Adam reached over and turned the lamp down. He then rearranged her pillows and made sure she was securely covered. He then pulled up a chair, sat down and took her hand in his.

She was thankful for his caring and his being there. Who really is this Adam Cartwright who has struck such a chord in my heart and my life?

“Just close those beautiful blue eyes and rest.”

“If I do, I won’t be able to see your face.”

“You’ll see it again when you wake up. I’m staying with you as you fall asleep.” He rose and pressed his lips ever so gently on the closed eyelids and then found her mouth.

As he sat back in the chair, she moved slightly and drifted off. Adam wasn’t sure how long he remained and watched her sleep. She had stolen his heart.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Upset was looming as Adam was seen entering Claire’s room earlier. He had not come out. Hopefully he was not going to stay the evening once again. Things needed to be addressed and could not if he was there and present. There wasn’t the opportunity to gain access to Claire’s room last night and that possibility presented itself once again.

There were still things to be settled as far as Claire’s inheriting the business. How would these things be taken care of now with her so closely visited by not only two people, but three, one of which who appeared as if he could be a hindrance. Silently departing in the shadows, this would have to be rethought now.

 

 

TWENTY-TWO

* * * * * * * * * *

Leisurely strolling to the hotel, Adam felt the chill that was settling in for the evening. Not extreme, but it took his thoughts back to Virginia City. Moving past the Saturday evening strollers, he thought of what his two brothers might be up to – especially on Saturday night in Virginia City. He realized that since his arrival the day before, he hadn’t spent a lot of time thinking about what might be taking place at home. He needed to clear his head. Rather than go to his room when he entered the hotel, he headed for the bar. It seemed to be somewhat busy with guests but he could find a table that provided a good view of the room and away for the busyness. Somewhere in the room he heard the soft music of a piano playing. He ordered a drink and tried to relax. Tomorrow he would review the proposals that he’d present to the Pearson Group on Monday. He felt secure that all was in order, but being Adam Cartwright, he’d re-check to make sure that all was as it should be.

Finishing his drink, he then ordered another one. Not that he wanted it but he was not ready to retire for the evening. He thought about his brothers, particularly Hoss. Somehow he wanted to hear his innocent words of wisdom right about now. Hoss had a way of making the most complex matters seem easy to figure out – just simple logic. Right now he was wondering why he could not see things logically. What he had come to St. Louis for he had found. However, he found more than he had expected and was uncertain what he would do.

* * * * * * * * * *

The wires Adam sent to his father and the Sanders had been delivered late Saturday evening due to a shortness of someone to deliver them. His father was sitting in the great room as Hoss and Joe were just putting the finishing touches to themselves as they planned to head into town. Hearing a knock on the door, Joe said, “You expecting someone pa?”

Ben looked up from his chair and said, “No, not me.”

“Evening Little Joe,” said Josh. “Have a wire here for your dad. Sorry I didn’t get it out here earlier, but with Clyde out sick and all, there was just no one to bring it.”

“Thanks Josh. It’s not a problem.” Josh bid goodnight and Joe closed the door.

Walking over to his father Joe handed him the wire and said, “Must be from Adam I suspect.”

“I’m sure it is.” Ben took the envelope eagerly and began reading.

Hoss came closer, “Adam sure ain’t missin nothin here on the ranch. He’s probably livin high on the hog there in St. Louis.” Hoss spouted. “Specially since he probably means to see Miss Claire while he’s there. Boy, I’d like to make that trip some time. Pa, how’s ‘bout next time I go?”

“What’s this about Claire and Adam? Am I missing something here? Something going on between the two of them? How come nobody told me? Seems strange. Besides he just met her and then she left. Geeez!” Joe spouted without taking a breath.

“That’s ‘cause you need to use your eyes more and keep yer mouth shut. You might learn somethin,” laughed Hoss.

Looking at their father’s face, they could tell that something was wrong.

“What is it pa? Adam all right?” asked Hoss.

“Yes, Adam is fine.” Ben read the telegram aloud.

Benjamin Cartwright
Ponderosa Ranch
Virginia City, Nevada

Arrived safely STOP
Meeting confirmed STOP
Will advise outcome of same STOP
Claire ill – pneumonia STOP
Not sure when returning STOP
Will advise STOP

Adam Cartwright
c/o Carrington Hotel
St. Louis, Missouri

Ben slowly put the wire down. This was not the news that he had expected to receive.

“Does it say anything else pa?” asked Hoss. “Wonder how sick Miss Claire is. Must be something serious if’n Adam ain’t comin straight back.”

“Pneumonia is serious you lunk,” Joe said.

“I’m afraid it’s probably very serious,” was Ben’s response. “Knowing Adam … well you know your brother. Just wish there was more news than this.” Ben started to walk from his chair to the hearth.

“Well pa, Adam ain’t much fer a lot of words. He jes gits right to the point.”

“Yes, you’re right Hoss. I’m just wondering how he’s handling this. More importantly, I’m wondering if Hank and Margaret received a similar wire.”

Flustered Joe said, “Would someone please tell me what’s between Adam and Claire?”

“Joe, you know your brother. He keeps things close to the vest. From what I know, he’s grown very fond of Claire and I’m sure this illness is a major concern to him,” was Ben’s response.

“When did all of this happen?”

“Joe, it was happenin right before those blind eyes of yours,” Hoss said. “As I told ya, Adam ain’t gonna say anything, but it wasn’t too hard to figure out what was goin on with him.”

Joe just shrugged his shoulders. Ben’s thoughts were of his son and what all this would ultimately mean. How could he be of help? He was leaving for Sacramento on Monday morning.

“I’m going to stop by the Sanders place tomorrow after church. See what Hank and Margaret know and if there is any way I can help them.”

“Makes sense, pa. What do you think we can do?” asked Joe.

Looking at his two sons he remarked, “I’m sure Adam has things under control as best he can. There’s nothing we can do right now so I’d suggest that the two of you get a move on and enjoy yourselves. Oh, by the way, remember there IS church in the morning.”

* * * * * * * * * *

Looking around the bar Isaac found him. Isaac approached the table and Adam looked up surprisingly.

“Isaac, I’m surprised to see you.”

Isaac sat down and said, “I’m a bit surprised also. But thought I’d take a leisurely stroll and found myself making my way over here.”

“By accident or intentionally? What about Amelia?” Adam queried.

“She knew where I was headed. Besides, I won’t be long.”

“Can I buy you a drink?”

“Could use one,” said Isaac. Adam beckoned the barman and Isaac ordered.

Looking at Isaac he was wondering what the real reason was for this visit on a Saturday night without his wife.

“Truth be told Adam, I wanted to speak to you … possibly get a chance to know more about where you’re from and you.”

“Sounds good.”

They found themselves talking about their backgrounds and education, their common similarities, what Isaac did, Adam’s life on the Ponderosa and ultimately found that in their storytelling they were laughing at some of the stories they began to tell each other. Somehow this time together provided each with a new perspective on the other. It also released some of the tension of the past few days which each of them sorely needed. Neither of them spoke of Claire during this time. It was just a time of enjoyment and relaxation. Both were grateful for this. They realized that time had gotten away from them. Departing the bar still laughing, there was a weight that seemed to be lifted. As Isaac was departing, he said, “Amelia and I are expecting you for Sunday dinner. Amelia said not to come back home without getting a yes from you. So see you at two o’clock?”

Smiling he said, “The two of you are spoiling me. I’ll be there.”

“Good, see you then.” Isaac departed and Adam headed for his room to read and sleep.

He felt as if his body was being lifted. Feeling a knawing within him he turned and found himself headed back to the hospital. The hour was late and the hospital quiet. There was a strange stillness in the halls and the lighting seemed poor. His better sense said he was foolish in making this trip back. He didn’t know why he was doing it. It was something that he could not control. One last check he thought. As he opened the door to Claire’s room he was in shock. Claire was not there!!

 

 

TWENTY-TWO (continued)

* * * * * * * * * *

A chill went through his body. What had happened? Looking around his surroundings her realized that this had been a dream. But what a dream! To dream that Claire was missing … this was totally absurd. What was going on in his subconscious mind? He had just left her a few hours earlier and she was settled for the night. Get yourself together Cartwright he thought. He got up and readied himself for bed finishing by getting some water. He shook the image of his dream away and tried to concentrate on the local newspaper before going to sleep. Sleep he hoped would be peaceful now.

* * * * * * * * * *

Sunday morning in Virginia City was beautiful. The mountains still showed snow on the peaks but that was to be expected. It wasn’t going to be a restful day for Hank and Margaret. If anything, it began as a day of worry. They had received a wire from Adam as well. Hank had read it to Margaret.

Hank and Margaret Sanders
Virginia City, Nevada

Have seen Claire STOP
She has pneumonia STOP
Is being well treated STOP
Am with her as are Amelia and Isaac STOP
Her physician is Dr. Parker STOP
Will remain to aid her STOP
She asks you not to worry STOP

Adam Cartwright
c/o Carrington Hotel
St. Louis, Missouri

Re-reading the wire again this morning, they both were very worried. They showed a strong façade when they attended church. Immediately after church, they greeted their friends and then solemnly made their way home.

“I’m not sure what we should be doing now,” Hank said. “My urge is to go to St. Louis.”

“Adam made no mention in the wire the severity of her condition,” was Margaret’s response. “I feel as if we should be going as well. She has her pride and I’m sure doesn’t want to worry us. Somehow I just cannot sit here without knowing more.”

“I know Maggie. I’m very worried as well. I think you should plan on going to St. Louis.”

“Hank, without you?”

“I’m going to wire Adam for more details. That will determine if I join you or not. Right now, there are major projects taking place on this ranch with investments that need to be looked after. Without James, here, I’m concerned about leaving now.”

Margaret just looked at the pained expression on her husband’s face. She knew how torn he was. “Make the arrangements Hank. I’m going. I am praying that the answer you receive from Adam will be a good one.”

“I as well Maggie. She’ll be better. She’s being her independent self I’m sure and is reaching to meet her responsibilities head on. This is probably just a setback for her. She’s going to succeed.”

Hearing the sound of a horse, Margaret looked up as Hank went to the door. It was Ben Cartwright.

“Ben,” yelled Hank. “Come on in.”

Entering he greeted Margaret who was glad to see him and showed him to a seat. Ben did not know where to start. Fingering his hat Hank was aware that there was something on his mind. “What brings you out here on a Sunday Ben?”

Trying to find the words he was interrupted by Margaret. “You’ve heard from Adam haven’t you?”

He looked at her squarely and said, “Yes, I have. I received a wire from him last night.”

“Ben,” she said quietly. “We’ve also received a wire from Adam. If you’re here to tell us about Claire, we know.”

In many ways Ben was glad that he was not the one to break the news. With a little relief, he said, “I cannot tell the both of you how sorry I am about this situation. I’m glad that I needed to send Adam to St. Louis on business. I just had no idea he was going to find Claire ill.”

“None of us could have imagined that this was going to occur. Our concerns were with her coming to terms with what she left behind and being able to move on,” Hank offered.

“Ben, I’m going to St. Louis. Hank and I have agreed. He’d go as well … but … well with the business of the ranch crucial now it’s impossible for him to go with me.”

“I understand. I just want to ensure both of you that whatever we can do for you, the boys and I will do.”

“It’s just consoling to know that Adam is there. I’m sure that he has her best interests at heart and will see that things are taken care of as well as her,” Margaret looked worried as she said this.

“I know he will. I’m going to send a wire to Adam first thing in the morning to get more information. I also want you to know that I’m putting no pressure on him to return.”

“Ben we appreciate that,” Hank said calmly. “Knowing Adam for all these years, if he believes that he needs to be there I’d dare say you would have a hard time convincing him otherwise. I do know however that you could certainly use him back here as soon as the business there is finished.”

Ben nodded in agreement. Yes, he needed Adam. “You know my son!”

Ben rose and as he was leaving he hugged Margaret, “She’s going to be fine … just fine. Your being there will be an extra asset. You’ll be able to gain peace of mind as she gets better and be there if she needs you.”

Margaret knew what Ben was trying to say … if she needs me to assist her with facing the house, the business and her emotions.

I’ll stop by tomorrow to see if there is anything you need or I can do.

As Ben mounted his horse, Hank looked up at him and started to speak. “You don’t need to say anything Hank. We’ve been friends much too long. I’ll be by tomorrow.”

“Thanks Ben. You’re a good friend. Look for you tomorrow.”

* * * * * * * * * *

Sunday in St. Louis was a quiet day. At least quieter than Saturday night. With all the paperwork completed for his meeting, Adam looked at his watch. It was almost nine o’clock. Checking himself in the mirror, he could not help but think of his dream. He did not believe dreams foretold the future … but it was an odd dream and one he would rather forget.

He stopped to buy some flowers to take with him. She deserved much more than this, but he at least hoped that she’d be able to enjoy them. He energetically scaled the steps to the hospital. As he approached her room, he noticed that a nurse looked at him with a slight smile as she said good morning. Wasting no time, he found his way to Claire’s room. He knocked quietly but heard no response. Could she still be sleeping?

He gently opened the door and didn’t see her in bed. As he looked toward the window with the sunlight shining through, there she was. She was sitting up in a chair propped with pillows looking out of a window she wished she were on the other side of.

He was both surprised and excited. Standing there with her unaware of his presence, he could see her hair falling loosely over her shoulders. He placed his hat aside and walked over to her, and reaching around in front of her with his arm, held the flowers in front of her.

She looked up and smiled. He wanted to embrace her but did not. “Adam, these are beautiful. Thank you,” she said as she began to smell the fresh spring flowers.

“Nothing to thank me for,” he said as he pulled a chair over to sit next to her.

“There’s really quite a lot to thank you for.”

“OK if you insist,” he quipped. This brought laughter from both. Claire coughed a bit but he noticed it was not as severe as it had been.

“So tell me, how did you manage to be sprung from the bed?”

“Dr. Parker wanted me to be able to start trying to become a bit more mobile. I guess he felt this would be good for me. I know that I’m glad to be out of it but I don’t see where I have been mobile.”

“Just let the doctor do what he knows to be best for you.”

“It does feel good to be out of that bed. I’m just so ready to leave. I feel much better than I have and just really want to be able to go ho …..”

He heard her words dwindle. “Home?” he asked.

She looked at him and said, “Yes. I need to go home. Really home.” Seeing the puzzled look on his face she continued, “I’ve not been in my home since I went to Virginia City. I had thought by this time I would have taken care of that.”

He now knew what she meant. She’d not returned to face the house that was filled with the former memories of her life and that of her parents.

“What can I do to help you? Whatever you need, I’ll see to it that it is taken care of.”

“Just like you’ve tried to take care of me?”

He looked at her skin that was beginning to regain its color and the brightness that was returning to her eyes. Was she reading his eyes again? “It seems that the doctor and the nurses did most of the work.”

“Perhaps they did, but it was important to me to have friends here and you.”

“Well, I’m glad to hear that. What are friends for if not to help their friends?” He could not believe that he had just said that. After all, he had all but told her of his love for her and had kissed her and embraced her.

She looked at him and said, “Adam, I do feel quite a bit better and I know I’m going to get well. There are so many things that you don’t know and I will share them with you.”

“Whenever you’re ready. But in the meantime, while you are still somewhat confined, what do you need done?”

She thought a moment and said, “Let me think about that and I can let you know. There are just some things that I’ve set my mind on and have to do myself.”

“Trying to prove how strong you are?” Ouch! Did he say that too? What was he thinking today?

“No, not trying to prove how strong I am but rather not running away from matters that need to be addressed.”

He understood the determined look on her face and just nodded. He was appreciative of her hard-fought battle and the strength of her character to face whatever demons lurked over her. He was seeing yet another part of Claire Sanders.

Feeling tired, she asked Adam to assist her back to the bed. He rose and lifted her like a feather and gently placed her on the bed.

“You know Sir Galahad, I’ve really could have walked.”

“Perhaps, but I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to show how gallant I am.”

She laughed and he continued, “Chivalry is akin to my nature.”

Settled now, he placed her flowers on the side table where she could view them.

“Adam, I truly wish I was not here. I’m not trying to sound melancholy … but it’s true,” she said as she began to cough.

He quickly reached to pour her some water and gave it to her. Settling back against the pillows she looked at the gentleness of this man. Where was all of this going, she wondered.

He too was seeking answers in her gaze. He knew that no answers would truly be forthcoming until she was well and out of here. He also knew there would be no answers if neither of them asked the questions. This did not seem to be the time to do so.

As she settled herself more comfortably, she looked directly and said forcefully, “Adam, people are only as strong as the weakest part of themselves.”

It may have been abstract to hear these words, but he understood and she knew he would.

He took her hand in his and said, “Besides being an artist, you’re also a philosopher.”

“Not really … just a thinker and a realist.”

He smiled and she could see that he enjoyed what he had just heard her say. He thought to himself, sounds like me.

She turned to face her spring flowers. She began to close her eyes and he knew she would be asleep soon. “You rest now, I’ll return early evening.” He stroked her hair and reached down to kiss her cheek. “Be well,” he whispered.

He held her hand until she had fallen off to sleep and quietly left.

 

 

TWENTY-THREE

* * * * * * * * * *

The meal with Amelia and Isaac was a pleasant time spent. Adam felt as if he had known them longer than his short time in St. Louis and there was a fondness that they found toward him as well. He was like a breath of fresh air to them and they also knew, even if he did not, to Claire also. As the afternoon moved on they did begin to talk about Claire. The conversation about her was not one of judgment or criticism, but rather their concern that she could manage her affairs and move on to true happiness. They all agreed to give her space but be there if and as needed. Amelia was the one who pointed out that Claire would need someone even if she did not admit it. She also revealed from her longtime friendship with Claire that she could be stubborn and often would keep her emotions in check. Adam hoped that he would be the one she’d learn to share her emotions with. If she did not, he knew what he was going to do. And he was going to do it now.

Leaving Amelia and Isaac, he promised to stop by the next day. Right now, he was going to settle something, at least on his part.

For the first time in the last few days he was certain and needed to take care of this. There were no questions in his mind. Regardless of the outcome, he would take care of this and hope for the best.

The warmth of the sun that afternoon seemed to be surrounding his thoughts and feelings. As he strode the street, his strides had a purpose and a meaning that only he could devour. Each step was bringing him closer. As he turned down street corners he found that he was beginning to turn the pages of his life. A life that he knew had worth and promise. His eyes looked forward and he saw the long stretches of streets before him. These were to him as the long stretches of a life promised and he would do all possible to ensure that he reached the end of it … but not alone. His heart feeling the adrenalin that was now pumping surged him forward letting his inner emotions out … finally. There was no way he would not do this.

As he entered the all too familiar building he found the door to her room. He did not knock. As he entered he tossed his hat aside. She looked up and watched him stroll toward her. The look on his face was one of tenderness and his eyes were telling her much. He sat down beside her on the bed and scooping her up gently kissed her with a tenderness that she had not known. As he released her he slowly smiled. He knew. Pressing his lips to hers once more she responded.

“Claire, I love you,” he said. “I believe I’ve always loved you since the first day I saw you. There was no way that I could not tell you this. I want you in my life and cannot imagine facing tomorrow without you.”

She smiled and her eyes twinkled as she touched his face gently. “Adam, I love you. I’ve been afraid to feel I guess, but I know that I do love you. I love you very much.”

They embraced and he knew that much lay before them and they would make that walk together. There was no longer any question about this and they both knew the answer in their hearts to the questions that had long plagued them both.

Life today was filled with sunshine and promise which they both embraced as they embraced each other.

 

 

TWENTY-FOUR

* * * * * * * * * *

The morning came early. It was a dreary and rainy day outside the dining room window.

A new week was beginning in both St. Louis and Virginia City and life was beginning to show signs of it.

Adam was eating breakfast in the dining room of the hotel. He had about forty minutes before he needed to be at his meeting with the Pearson Group. Finishing his coffee, he placed his papers back into his case. He knew that there’d be fierce competition with this deal and had no intention of returning home unsuccessful. He believed he had a competitive edge due to a proven track record for previous sales of beef in this area and several surrounding states. The concern was the price. He’d negotiated before, he would do it again.

As he was preparing to leave, the desk clerk came over to him. “Excuse me, Mr. Cartwright, I have a wire here for you.”

Taking the wire, he offered his thanks and opened hit. He read it.

Adam Cartwright
c/o Carrington Hotel
St. Louis, Missouri

Sorry to hear of Claire STOP
Concerned, advise her condition STOP
Understand need to remain STOP
Advise outcome with Pearson STOP
Advise your condition STOP
All here miss you and wish for best STOP
Advise when you will return STOP

Pa

He folded the wire and placed it in his pocket. He would answer this afternoon after his meeting and when his head cleared regarding Claire. He quickly rose and headed to his meeting.

He arrived ten minutes early and was seated in a conference room rich in dark paneling, a table that extended almost the length of the room and rich leather chairs. He was advised that George Pearson would be with him in just a few minutes. He took a seat and let his fingers tap the table in blank thought. As he was stretching the collar of his shirt the door opened. He rose.

“Good morning Mr. Cartwright,” said George Pearson. Two associates followed him.

“Good morning. Thank you for arranging your schedule to meet with me,” Adam said confidently.

“I’d like to introduce you to my associates Joshua Kendell and Edgar Crone.”

“My pleasure gentlemen,” Adam said as he shook their hands. He eyed each of them keenly and knew the game that was about to be played.

“Please gentlemen,” said George Pearson. “Let’s be seated. We’ve a lot to accomplish today and I’m certain that Mr. Cartwright didn’t come all this way to waste precious time.”

Adam was now beginning to review the hand that he was being dealt.

George Pearson pulled out the proposal. “Mr. Cartwright … er .. you don’t mind if I call you Adam, do you?”

“Please do.” Adam could see that the game was going to be interesting. “If I may be so blunt, I don’t intend to return to Nevada without the contract.” He had just tossed out the first card.

* * * * * * * * * *

Amelia saw to it that Isaac was covered head to toe to protect him against the elements.

“Amelia, if I put on anything else I’m not going to be able to move. This is my long day and by the time I get to class I’ll be exhausted from wearing all this.”

“Isaac, the weather looks as if it’s not going to bet better, if it turns worse this afternoon it’s better that you be prepared for the worse. Besides, it is NOT your turn to get sick.”

“Still thinking about Claire? He asked as he collected his books and kissed her.

“Just a little. She gave us all a good scare but Dr. Parker says that she’s making good progress.”

“I’d say our prayers were answered. Gotta go … see you tonight.” With that Isaac in all his extra clothing was out the door like a flash.

Amelia had a few errands to run but her first stop would be at the hospital. She wanted to see Claire and speak with Dr. Parker once again. As she was heading for the kitchen, there was a knock at the door. Opening it, she was presented with a wire that was marked for Claire Sanders c/o Isaac and Amelia Thomas. Closing the door, she placed the wire on the table near the stairs along with the earlier wire and letter that had been sent to Claire and the leather journal. She’d take these to Claire this morning. Finishing quickly what she needed to in the kitchen, she collected the items that Claire had asked for and readied herself to leave.

It was a busy morning at the hospital and through all of it no one seemed to notice an additional presence blending in with the morning activity.

Dr. Parker had just finished his examination of Claire. He grinned and said, “You’re doing very well little lady. You’re going to be as good as new … and my guess is quickly. You’ve had a tough time of it.”

“I can’t thank you enough Dr. Parker for the care that you’ve given me. I didn’t know how ill I was. From the looks I could discern on my friend’s faces, I guess they were pretty worried.”

“Claire, if the truth be told, they had plenty to worry about. Now, I have other patients to see and I want you to be sure to get up at least two to three times today for at least 30 minutes each time. The rest of the time I want you resting and if possible, sleeping. I’ll see you this afternoon. Is that clear?”

“It’s very clear. I’m in a hurry to leave here.”

As Dr. Parker was heading out the door he looked at her with a smile and asked, “It doesn’t happen to have anything to do with your young man does it?”

Before Claire could respond he had shut the door and was gone. She just laid her head back and smiled. She thought of the smile on the face of Adam and closed her eyes.

Amelia took the long route to the hospital. As her buggy moved, she did what she frequently did which was to ride past Claire’s home to check on the security of the house. She would then drive past Claire’s father’s freight warehouse. She had been doing this since Claire left for Nevada but had not mentioned it to anyone. She knew the attorney had planned for security of these properties, but for some reason she couldn’t identify to herself, she also had to do it.

Now satisfying herself that everything seemed to be intact, she headed toward the hospital. She felt the joy of knowing that her dear friend would be well again physically, but was uncertain how Claire would handle the other matters. She thought to herself, why worry about something that has not taken place? Just share in the well being that’s been given to Claire and the rest will be taken care of.

As she entered Claire’s room, she was amazed to see her looking so much better. Her color had almost returned and the twinkle in her eyes was returning. She put her packages down, removed her cloak and walked over and hugged her.

“My, you’re looking like a different person Claire.”

“After all I guess I’ve been through anything would be an improvement.”

“Ummm perhaps.” Amelia sat on the side of the bed. “I brought you some fresh nightgowns and your robe and slippers.”

“Thanks so much. When I felt poorly I really did not care how I looked. I just wanted to feel better.”

“Well now you can feel better and look better. I also brought you some cologne and ribbons for your hair.”

“Amelia, you’ve thought of everything!”

“Oops, not everything. Here are a few pieces of mail that had come for you when you were so ill and a wire that just arrived for you just this morning. I also brought your journal and I promise I have not looked in it.”

“Thank you.” She took the wire and as Amelia watched her opening it she hoped that it would be positive news. Finishing reading it, she placed it in her lap and looked at Amelia. “My Aunt Maggie is coming to St. Louis. Amelia …. I’m glad she’s coming.”

A gleam shown in Amelia’s eyes. She saw that Claire was letting down her self-imposed barriers. Perhaps this was a good sign. “What about the other pieces of mail I brought?

“Just put them in the table drawer and I’ll read them later. Right now, I know what’s in them.”

As Amelia did so, she noticed the spring flowers. “A secret admirer?” she said teasingly.

“Probably won’t be a secret for much longer,” quipped Claire.

Amelia hopped onto Claire’s bed as they had done so many times before and was ready for some ‘girl-talk’. She took Claire’s hands and said, “So, what is it?”

“Nothing much really, it’s just that Adam told me that he loves me.”

“Eeeeek!” squealed Claire. “That’s so wonderful! When and how?”

“It was last night. I didn’t expect it but in his way, he was straight to the point, looked me directly in the eye and just said it.”

Amelia could hardly contain her excitement. “Well, what’s the rest of it? I know there must be more. What did you say? What did you do?”

Remembering that moment, she smiled and said, “What do you think? I told him that I loved him too and then we kissed.”

All Amelia could do was hug her long-time friend and say how excited she was.

“Now Amelia, this just happened and no one knows. So please don’t divulge this to anyone … not even Isaac right now.”

“It’s just like being schoolgirls again. I am so happy for the both of you. He’s a very handsome man. I’m sure he has been sought after by many a lady.”

“I’m truly happy. It’s just all so new … but it is really true.” They hugged again.

Claire shared with Amelia Dr. Parker’s discussion with her this morning. This was better news that excited her. Putting the clean nightwear in her drawer and hanging her housecoat in the closet, Claire said, “Would you please give me a fresh gown and leave my robe on the end of the bed?”

“Sure thing,” Amelia said almost singing, her happiness showing. She assisted Claire in changing into a soft peach gown with the simplest of pleats down the front and lace outlining the tiny pearl buttons. The color was just right to bring out the color of Claire’s face and her eyes.

“Now what time is Adam coming? Amelia asked.” She knew this newly professed love was not going to keep him away – not one bit.

Claire smiling looked at Amelia and said, “I’m sure he’ll be coming today but I have no idea what time. He had a business meeting this morning.”

“Well, let me help you with your hair and then I really need to get going. I’m also sure that you need to get some rest.” She turned to Claire holding the brush and ribbons. With the hint of tears in her eyes she looked at her and said, “I’m so happy that you’re going to be your old self again and that you’ve found someone who truly loves you. You know, I thought from the moment Isaac and I met him that he cared for you more than he wanted to show or even say.”

“That’s my Adam,” Claire chuckled.

Finished assisting Claire, they hugged each other. “I’ve got to leave for now, but will try to see you later in the day if possible. When Adam arrives, please tell him that we are holding him to his promise to stop by today and that dinner is at six o’clock if he cares to join us.”

“Thanks for all that you’ve done Amelia. I really owe you,” said Claire.

“My dear friend, I aim to collect.” She waved and blew a kiss

* * * * *

This situation had not been easy. Now it seems as if she was getting better. When would she be released? What would be the easy way to get through what needed to be done? As easy as it was to enter, experience had proven that it was just as easy to exit. The mind was thinking, thinking, thinking.

The negotiations went well as far as Adam was concerned. He left feeling that he had controlled the deliberations with flair and a wisdom that exceeded their expectations. He was promised a decision by the end of the day tomorrow.

It was now early afternoon and he was famished. This would have to wait. Exiting the business offices onto the street, he breathed in the air and felt invigorated. Now, to go and see my lady. He was off. The weather did not deter his walking and he rather relished it.

The time had gotten away from Claire. She was awakened for lunch and was now wide-awake. Adam entered the hospital and was stopped by the nurse at the desk. She informed him that Dr. Parker had wanted to see him. He showed a look of concern, but she said, “Nothing to worry about Mr. Cartwright. He’s in his office right down the hall.”

He caught the look in her eyes and said, “Thank you,” as he made his way to the office.

The nurse was hard pressed to take her eyes off this tall handsome man with the sleek physique and charisma that set him apart from anyone she had met before.

His conversation with Dr. Parker was informative and brief. He left and headed to Claire’s room making just a brief stop along the way.

He knocked lightly waited a moment and then entered. She knew who it must have been as no one else ever knocked. His smile was his initial greeting. Removing his coat and hat, she thought this is the most remarkable thing to have happened to me. Her heart was aflutter. He went over to her bed and sat on the side.

“My love, how are you today?”

“Dr. Parker says I am doing quite well and I do feel better.”

“You look radiant and your beauty makes up for the weather outside.” He then kissed her.

“If you keep this up you’re going to cause me to blush.”

“I guess blushing is going to continue because I can’t help but want to embrace you and kiss you to wellness.”

He noticed the soft color of her gown and the way her hair had been brushed so that the dark shining tendrils fell to her shoulders. The highlights of her hair showed even in the lighting of the room. She was exquisite he thought as he caught the scent of her cologne. He knew he would always remember it. Kissing her quickly, he said, “Are you feeling tired?”

“No,” she replied. “I just had a two-hour nap.”

“Good. I’ll be right back.”

He left the room and she wondered where he had gone. Within minutes, the nurse came in with a wheelchair.

“Miss Sanders, I’m here to help you and then you’re going to be taking a little ride if you feel up to it.”

“But … I don’t understand.”

“Don’t worry, I think you will like this.” She helped her sit up and put her robe and slippers on.”

“What is this all about?”

“Nothing major. You’re just going for a ride.”

Once settled in the wheelchair, she placed a light cover over her and left.

“All set?” he asked returning to the room.

“Adam, what is this all about?”

Stooping to be on the same level with her, he merely said, “This is your chariot and we have permission to leave this room. Now, if you’ll permit me to drive you, we are going to the solarium for a little while.” With that she took his face in her hands and kissed his cheek.

He was very careful as he wheeled her. As they arrived in the solarium, he carefully placed the chair beside the window and drew up a chair.

“I saw Dr. Parker and he said if you didn’t feel tired, it might be a good thing to get you out of that room.”

She was happy and just rested her head on his shoulder for a moment. As he placed his arm around her, she sat up.

“Adam, I’m not sure that we should be seen this way.”

“Is my lady embarrassed? Or is it the eastern education?

“I think it may be a bit of both.”

He laughed and said, “Well then, I’ll just hold your hand. That shouldn’t create too many misconceptions.”

He looked at the way the light from the window highlighted her skin and eyes. He felt he was one lucky man.

“I received a wire today from my aunt. Adam, she’s headed for St. Louis.”

“Thought she might be. I’m sure that she wants to see for herself that you’re getting better. Who knows, by the time she arrives you may no longer be in here.”

“I certainly hope so.” She continued, “How was your meeting?”

“If I do say so myself, I think that it went pretty well. Won’t know until tomorrow what the outcome will be but believe we have a good chance for the beef contract.”

“Adam, that’s wonderful. I’m sure you’ll be successful. You have an excellent business mind and presence.”

Kissing her hand he said, “I think that’s enough business talk. I’m done for the day and just want to spend the time with you.”

They shared the next little while in the solarium.

“OK my lady, I think this is enough for your first release from your room. Besides, I promised Dr. Parker I’d not let you over do it.”

“So, now it comes out! You and Dr. Parker are in league with each other.”

Adam just smiled and carefully wheeled her back. Assisting her ever so gently into bed as if she were a fragile flower, he knew that his heart would never be anywhere but with her. She put her head on his shoulder and her arms around his neck. They both felt the tenderness and love of the other’s embrace. Adam stroked and kissed her hair as they continued their tender embrace. How could they be this lucky?

Releasing her, she laid back. Taking her hand tenderly in his, he reached into his pocket and removed a small book. Looking at him, he read to her as she fell asleep.


Romance, who loves to nod and sing
With drowsy head and folded wing
Among the green leaves as they shake
Far down within some shadowy lake,
To me a painted paroquet
Hath been—most familiar bird—
Taught me my alphabet to say,
To lisp my very earliest word
While in the wild wood I did lie,
A child—with a most knowing eye.

Of late, eternal condor years
So shake the very Heaven on high
With tumult as they thunder by,
I have no time for idle cares
Through gazing on the unquiet sky;
And when an hour with calmer wings
Its down upon my spirit flings,
That little time with lyre and rhyme
To while away—forbidden things—
My heart would feel to be a crime
Unless it trembled with the strings.

(Edgar Allen Poe)

 

 

TWENTY-FIVE

* * * * * * * * * *

Several days had passed since the rain swept beginning of the week. Adam had successfully won the contract he was seeking for the Ponderosa and had wired his family. His father had departed for Sacramento, and by Adam’s calculations, if all had gone as expected, should be returning by the end of the week. With some reservation and concern, Hank had seen Margaret off for her trip to St. Louis. He was concerned but she assured him that all would be well. Hoss, Joe and Hop Sing oversaw the day-to-day running of the ranch, and Claire was about to be released from the hospital. Time and situations were moving along without notice of the concerns and circumstances that needed to be dealt with.

During this time Adam had been busy. He had drawn up what he wanted and delivered it to the craftsman. He’d spent quite a bit of time with Isaac, Amelia and Claire. It seemed as if all were more relaxed with Claire being almost her old self. Amelia found it hard not to give away the secret that Claire had shared with her, especially when Adam was around. She found that she just wanted to burst and give him a huge hug. However, that was not to be for now.

Dr. Parker had departed Claire’s room. She was overjoyed. He had advised her that she would be leaving the hospital the next day for home. He had some arrangements to make, but would return to go over everything with her. She was pleased that when her aunt arrived in two days she would not have to visit her in the hospital. She would now need to make her own arrangements.

Isaac and Amelia stopped in on the way to the university. Amelia was joining him for the staff and spouse luncheon. They entered her room.

“Amelia, if I didn’t know better I’d say you had never been ill at all,” said Isaac.

“I wish that were the case,” she responded.

After a little bit of small talk and answering the questions from Amelia, Claire said, “I have some news. Dr. Parker says that I can leave tomorrow.”

“That’s wonderful,” was Isaac’s reply. “We’ve been waiting for this moment. We’ll make sure that you’re well taken care of and have no problems.”

Amelia was pleased and thankful. “Claire, I prayed that this day would come. I’m so happy. Your room is waiting for you and Isaac and I have arranged a room for your aunt.”

“Thank you Amelia, but I don’t want to overburden either of you. You’ve done enough for me already.” She thought for a moment and said, “One of the first things I want to do is go home and see the conditions.”

“Certainly dear,” said Amelia. “But we want you to take it slowly and do it when you’re ready.”

“Amelia, I’ve been ready for quite some time now. I just could not do it while I was in here. However, I don’t intend to put off the things that I need to do and I know that I will be fine. You just need to trust my judgment, both of you.”

Isaac said, “We do. From your tone, I believe you’re right. But you won’t mind if we but in a little,” he asked whimsically. He could see her determination exuding forth and the ability he thought she would have to deal with all of the issues.

“My plan is to move on with life … and that’s what I intend to do.”

”I’m sure that Adam will be glad to hear this news Claire. He’s been the ever-concerned man,” Amelia said hoping she was not giving anything away.

“Yes, he has.”

Amelia and Isaac left and Claire found herself wandering around the small room, looking at her belongings that would make the trek with her tomorrow. She was looking forward to seeing her aunt and Adam. Her mind was trying to consider what lay ahead for her. She sat and penned two notes, one to the manager of her father’s freight business and the other to her attorney. She would talk to Adam about these matters.

* * * * * * * * * * *

“Look Joe,” said Hoss. “If’n we don’t’ get those people off this property and soon, we’re going to have a whale of trouble.”

“I gave them notice two days ago to move on. Seems like another visit is in order.”

“Well, this time I’m gonna go with you. Let’s git mounted.”

Why at this particular time would a group of homesteaders try to take Ponderosa land for their own? Didn’t they realize that they had crossed the line?

Riding into their camp, they abruptly stopped their horses. One of the men, somewhat older that the others, came toward them and placed his hands on his hip. One hand not too far from his gun, which Joe had noticed.

“This is Ponderosa land,” said Hoss. “My brother here told you that you needed to move on. Now I’m telling ya. You need to be packed up and gone today. What’s yer name?”

“Not that it makes any difference, but I’m Andy Wales from Kentucky. This here’s my wife May, my three sons, Sam, Danny and Ed and my daughter, Mary.”

Both Joe and Hoss recognized a mean streak that came through as he spoke. They also saw the other hands that had traveled with them herding the cattle.

“It would be a pleasure to meet you under other conditions,” said Hoss. “But fer now, you’re on our land and you need to go and now.”

“You Cartwrights seem to think you own the whole world.”

“Not the whole world.” Said Joe. “Just this piece of it and we don’t allow trespassers.”

“There’s no room for discussion on this,” was Hoss’ response. “Now I would suggest that you just break camp and start moving.”

There was a strange look in Andy’s eye. “If you’re looking for grazin land, you’ll find it about fifteen miles southwest of here. You can probably put in a claim as a homesteader.”

“We like it here. Plenty of grass and water. No sense making the move,” Andy said. “I’m sure that we can work something out.”

Pushing his hat back on his head, Hoss said, “I’m trying to be real polite about this, but you ain’t makin it easy. Now, I’m only telling ya one more time …. get off this land and now.”

Anger shown in Andy’s eyes. “And if we don’t?”

“You don’t want to know the answer to that,” quipped Joe.

Andy’s wife seeing that trouble was looming said, “Andy, it’s their land. We have no right to it. Besides another’s day’s journey should bring us to a place where there would be no problems.”

His only response to her was, “Woman, mind yer place,” and pushed her away.

From the corner of his eye he saw a glint of something shiny. Quick as could be, he fired. Hoss pulled his gun. From behind the tent, one of Andy’s sons had taken bead on the Cartwrights and was about to fire. Joe was too fast and winged him in the arm. As he fell, his rifle went off.

“Now we told you, and tried to do it peacefully,” said Joe. “If it’s trouble you want, you’ll certainly get it if you stay here. Now we’ll be back before dusk and want to find you gone.”

“You’ll be sorry for this Cartwright. You can’t just push people around because of your name. You think you’re better than anybody else,” was Andy’s rebuff.

“No sir,” said Hoss. “We just know what’s right and what’s not. And as fer as I can see, what you’re doing … it ain’t right. Now yer on our land and we want you gone. Sorry ‘bout your son there, but ain’t no way he was going to shoot one of us.”

Still holding their guns, Hoss and Joe took inventory of the camp. The other brothers and hands had moved their hands away from their weapons. “We’ll be back at dusk.” They backed their horses out and finally turned and headed back to the ranch.

Tending to his son, Andy said to his wife, “The Cartwrights are gonna be sorry.”

* * * * * * * * * * *

He’d answered the earlier wire he had received from his father. Probably should have done it yesterday he thought. He then went to the bank to ensure that the deposit from the Pearson Group had been wired to the Cartwright account in Virginia City. The purchase of beef was a coupe for the Cartwrights and would certainly open many more doors.

Today was the day. Claire was coming home. Amelia had stated to Adam that he could use their buggy to pick her up. She wanted an excuse to allow them the time to be alone and said that she wanted to make sure that she finished preparing her soup and the room.

Adam thanked Amelia, and he departed her home for the hospital. Claire was dressed and ready. She was somewhat nervous, but ever so glad that she was leaving. She had promised herself that she would never let herself get into this condition again.

Adam knocked and entered her room. He noticed that she was ready. “Adam, I’m so glad to be going home,” she said as she hugged him.

As he held her, something seemed to move up his spine. Home? He thought. Where will home be? Perhaps he should not have even thought of this as he had only professed his love for her but had not yet asked her hand in marriage.

“That’s where you belong,” he said. Releasing her he asked, “Are you all ready?”

“Not quite. I must wait for Dr. Parker. He should sign the papers to release me and then he wants to give me some last instructions.”

“Well then, that being the case, can I at least put your things in the buggy?”

“Certainly. I’d like to expedite my departure,” she said with a smile.

“I’ll only be a moment.” With that he collected her things and was gone. She sat on the side of the bed waiting for Dr. Parker. Adam returned quickly but Dr. Parker had still not shown up.

“No Dr. Parker yet?” he asked.

From the look on her face he knew the answer. He walked over to her and lifting her from the bed hugged her. “I promise, there will never be a time that you will suffer again.”

Pressing her head against his strong shoulder she said, “And how are you going to guarantee that?”

“I’m a Cartwright remember?”

“Yes Adam, you are a Cartwright!”

At that moment the door opened and Dr. Parker entered. Seeing the two in an embrace, he smiled to himself and thought, I was right in my assumptions. Releasing Claire from the embrace, Adam put his arm around her waist and looked at the doctor.

“Well, I’m glad to see that things are progressing on several fronts,” he said. Adam just looked at him with a knowing look and Claire gave a smile.

“Now Claire, everything is all set for you to leave. I’m giving you this medication that I want you to take daily so the infection does not return. You can return to your normal activities, BUT within reason. I want you to rest each day and not become overtired. You are also to drink plenty of liquids and can take any food that you can tolerate. If there is any sign of fever, headache, coughing or chest pain, you are to see me as soon as possible. Right now, I want to see you in one week’s time. But remember what I just said.”

Adam responded, “You don’t have to worry Dr. Parker. “I’ll be sure that she does as you say.”

Dr. Parker looked at Claire and said, “It appears that your young man understands, do you?’

She walked over to Dr. Parker and hugged him. “I do understand. I’ll do everything that you’ve said. There’s a wonderful life awaiting me and I don’t want to jeopardize it in any way. My aunt will be arriving tomorrow and I’m sure that will be a help.”

Holding her shoulders he said, “Good. Claire, you gave me a scare. I believe I can share that with you now. I can remember you with the dark curly locks sitting on my examining table. What a beautiful and talented woman you turned out to be. But, if I remember clearly, you have an independent streak and can be difficult.” They both laughed and hugged once again.

Adam was happy to see this exchange and anxious to start their walk together.

“Now young man. Take this woman and see to it that she gets on with her life. She deserves every happiness and from the look of the two of you, I believe that will be the case. Now get!”

Adam assisted Claire with her wrap and walked her to the buggy. He assisted her into her seat and then joined her. She was smiling and felt the gentleness of the spring weather. How good it felt to be outside. He reached over and kissed the side of her forehead.

She placed her hand on his arm and looking directly at him said, “Adam, before we get to Amelia’s I want to make a stop first.”

Looking at her puzzled he said, “I think that you should go directly to Amelia’s. Can’t whatever it is wait?”

“I’m going to be stubborn on this Adam. I won’t be settled until this is done. I promise I will then go directly to Amelia’s.”

“Claire …” he started to say, but she interrupted him.

“Adam, please take me to my house.”

He heard her words as words of pleading and knew that he could not say no. She had too much on her heart and mind. Looking at her he realized that she would be able to do this on her own strength but wanted him to be with her. She was letting him slowly into her life and her soul.

Much to his disdain he said, “I’m not going to argue with you. If this is what you want to do, I’ll honor your wish. I must warn you however, if I feel that this is too much for you, I’m carting you directly to Amelia’s.”

“Thank you Adam. My experience has been that you do know how to cart someone.”

She directed him through the streets to her house. The sunlight and fresh air was softly saying that spring would be giving way to the summer. But for now, it was a gift that both could appreciate, and they were appreciating it together. As she pointed out the house, he realized that as he had walked through this area he had passed this house several times. He had no idea. It was a lovely home with grounds to match. Someone had apparently been keeping it up. He sensed that there had at one time been much love and joy in this place. Could there be again? She sat and stared for a moment. His heart was racing.

Looking at the house and then turning to him, she could see the concern showing on his face. “Adam, you asked what you could do to assist me, remember?”

He simply nodded.

“Well, I do need assistance. I’d like to visit the freight company and review the status of the company and the books. My attorney has indicated that he believes everything to be intact, but I need to know. I trust you to be able to examine these things and advise me. Would you do it?”

“Claire, I’ll do it and more if you ask.” She handed him one of the letters she penned and gave it to him.

“This is a letter of introduction that I’ve written so that you should have no problem with the release of information. As I’m able, I will go to the freight company as well. But for now, I would like you to do this.”

As she turned to get out of the buggy, he went around and assisted her. She was light as a feather. “Ummmm …,” he said. “When your aunt gets here, I’m sure that she’s going to see to it that you gain the weight you’ve lost.”

She realized that her clothing was a bit loose fitting, but would not always be. She reached into her bag and removed the keys that were given to her by her attorney.

Standing with his arm around her, he felt a slight shudder in her body. He wondered if this was such a good idea. She stood taking in all she could of the exterior of the house. The only true home that she’d ever known. She was determined to remember the good memories of this space and tuck them away so she could recall them when needed. She was thankful for the time she had here.

“I’m ready,” she said to Adam. He took the keys and guided her up the pathway and the stairs to the front porch. Reaching the door, she took a deep breath and turned to him. He saw her as a little child trying to be brave. Her eyes said so much, but he knew the will of this woman.

She wanted to say something but couldn’t seem to find the words. He saw the thick lashes that framed her blue eyes look downward and then at him. She nodded her head. He was thankful that he was with her. Unlocking the door, they entered.

She moved into the entranceway. Adam closed the door but kept his distance. All the while watching her reactions. He knew that this was something that she needed to face. As she looked around, she noticed that everything seemed to be in place. Nothing had been covered over and there was a fresh smell that permeated the house. The attorney had thought of everything. It was apparent that not only had he arranged for the outside to be maintained, but the inside as well.

As if alone in this space, she began to move through the all too familiar rooms. As she stood at the base of the winding staircase, she was taken back many years to the days when she would slide down the banister and be reprimanded for doing so. She walked into the parlor and looked at the décor. Nothing had changed. Just that two people that lived here were no longer here. She moved through the room gently touching things as she went. His eyes were still on her and he wondered what she was feeling. He was not going to let her out of his sight.

She wandered into the kitchen and remembered. She smiled.

She then wandered into her father’s study and saw all the books and papers as he had always kept them. She recalled the time he was working on some important papers and she ran in and knocked over the ink. She smiled.

Finding her way to the dining room, she remembered the wonderful meals they had shared. The discussions that took place here. The times that she showed her independence and was sometimes punished for it. She smiled.

As she continued to move, Adam wanted to go to her, but he could see that she was coming to terms with things and this was not the time to interrupt. She needed to see, feel and know. She entered the living room and saw the seat her father sat in. She walked over and once again she remembered the many times she sat in his lap. The stories he had told her and their laughter. She smiled. But now her smile seemed to be a bit sadder. She knew that Adam was watching her. She did not look at him. She viewed the fireplace and the chair that her mother used to do her sewing. She recalled the very spot where she’d sit in front of her mother as she sewed and talked to her.

She made her way to the mantle and looked at the photos there. Her father, her mother, the three of them on her graduation day.

The darkness of his eyes was upon her. He was going to be her rock, not for just now … but for always.

She began to look around the room but did not consider one corner of it. He noticed the neatness and the paintings that hung in the room. He was sure that she did these. Moving away from this space, she began to head toward the stairway. He watched her. As she stared upward, she turned to look at him and began to speak, “This is still a beautiful home. There is so much love and caring here.”

She began to climb the stairs. He followed at a distance. As they reached the landing she was now talking. She entered the first bedroom, which was a guest room. “Nothing seems to have changed in here,” she said. “We’d use it for guests and friends that would stay with us.” Her hands roamed over the various items in the room. She departed for the next room, which was her room. Opening the door, “She saw the room almost as it was the day of the fire.”

He sensed that this was her personal space. The room seemed to fit her. In one corner was an artist’s easel.

“This was my room from the day I came here. It looks like I’ve not been away.”

“It’s a lovely room Claire,” was all he could say. He knew there was so very much going through her. She walked over to her dresser and reminisced about the items there. She opened her music box, but as the music played, she closed it immediately.”

“My parents gave this to me when I left for the conservatory in Washington. If I had this I would always be close to them and home is what they told me.”

Adam just listened. She picked up the box and ran her fingers across the top. This time she opened it and listened to the music. She was beginning to heal.

Her next stop was a room that was bright and filled with sun. It was her parent’s room. She opened the door and entered. Adam was right behind her. He wondered if she would weep now that she’d returned. He wondered the effect this was and would have on her.

“My parent’s room,” she said. “Adam, it’s as if they’re out and will be returning later in the day. I loved them so very much. They gave me a wonderful life.”

“I’m sure they did. You have so much that you’re taking in right now.” He was not going to ask her his other question. She backed out of the room and closed the door. She proceeded to go back down the stairs. He did notice that there was one room that she did not enter and he wondered why.

She wrapped her arms around herself and re-entered the parlor. Finally, she walked over to the corner. There she saw the baby grand piano that was a gift to her from her parents. Sitting atop of the piano were photos of her at different stages in her life and a photo of she and both her parents together. She opened the piano and as she touched the keys began to shudder. Adam walked closer thinking it was time to leave.

She turned to him and he could see that her eyes were heavy laden with tears that were about to fall. He walked toward her to hold her. She put her hands up in a gesture to stop him.

“This was my life,” she said as she gestured around the room and the house. “This is the gift that was given to me,” she said as she pointed to the piano.

No matter what she wanted, he was not going to let her be. He walked to her and wrapped his arms around her. If anything, he needed to try to console her. She may be trying to be strong, but everyone needs someone. He knew she needed him. It was just unspoken.

Holding her he felt her shaking. “Adam, I miss them,” she said and began to cry. Her tears were as if a storm had erupted. She cried with the deepest pain that could rise from the inner soul of a person. He just continued to hold her and talk to her quietly. She continued to cry forcefully as she laid her head upon his chest. He just held her that much more tightly. He walked her over to the settee and they sat down. Reaching inside his coat pocket he removed a handkerchief and gave it to her. As she lay with her head against his chest, her tears continued to flow. She could not control them. He kissed her head and stroked her hair. He was feeling her pain within him. Oh, if he could have changed things for her.

They don’t know how long they sat there embraced in one another’s arms. Claire was reliving so many things and Adam was thinking about what effect this would have and what the future would hold.

Finally she spoke. Sitting up and looking at him she said, “I’m all right now. This day had to come. I had to face the reality of what happened and I’m glad that you were with me.” She sighed. “I know now that I can begin to move forward.”

Looking at her tear-stained face and reddened eyes, he reached to wipe the few remaining tears from her face. “I understand more than you know Claire. Sometimes when we lose something or someone that we truly love, it’s as if life cannot go on. The pain is too deep and we close ourselves off from others fearing the worst in our lives but not understanding that there is purpose and life that must go on. You’re during that. But you’re not alone and never will be.

“I love you Adam.” She said this with a strength that amazed him.

“And I love you.”

They sat entwined with each other. He saw that she was beginning to show signs of tiredness. “Claire,” he said. “I think we better go now so that you can rest and before Amelia sends a posse out looking for us.”

She kissed Adam gently. He looked at the woman he would love forever and those extraordinary eyes. He kissed her with the gentleness that he knew she needed now and embraced her as if he never wanted to let her go.

Helping her on with her wrap he said, “Ready?”

“I’m ready Adam. I know I’m going to be all right.”

 

 

TWENTY-SIX

* * * * * * * * * *

Arriving at Amelia’s, Adam assisted Claire down. The door suddenly swung open and Amelia rushed out the door. “You two have had me worried. I expected you quite some time ago!”

“We had something to take care of, but it’s done now,” shouted Adam. He helped Claire down and she headed toward the house. Adam collected her things and brought them in behind her.

Looking at Claire with her hands on her hips, Amelia said, “What could have been more important than you getting home and getting settled in? You’ve just been through a very serious illness. If you weren’t going to come straight home, I should have been told.”

“Just a minute Amelia,” said Claire sternly. “First, let me get my wrap off and sit down for a minute if you don’t mind. I know that I probably caused you some concern but that was not my intent. When I was finally able to leave the hospital, I asked Adam to drive me to my house.”

“You did what?” exclaimed Amelia. She then looked at Adam and back at Claire. Adam joined them and took a seat. He was going to see how Claire would handle her dear friend’s upset. He was certain that they had been down this road one time or another before for a variety of reasons.

“Amelia, whether you understand it or not, or whether you approve or not, I needed to put some closure behind me. Adam was not willing, but I coerced him into it. He was with me the entire time and made it perfectly clear that if need be, he would cart me right out of there and here to your house.”

Amelia just flashed her eyes at Adam. He caught her look, and looking back, very calmly took a seat.

Amelia continued to look at Claire as she spoke. She was still showing signs of concern. “Why didn’t you tell me yesterday that this was your plan?”

“I couldn’t tell you yesterday because I hadn’t made up my mind until late last night. Unless any of you can read minds, no one knew what I was planning on doing.”

Finally Amelia noticed the puffiness surrounding Claire’s eyes and realized that this had probably not been the easiest thing for her to do.

“Claire, I’m sorry for being upset with you but I was worried. I had no idea where you were and was anxiously awaiting your arrival.”

“I do understand that. But there is something that you need to understand as well. I was with Adam and he was certainly not going to let anything happen to me. I’ve not come to any type of closure here in St. Louis. The months I spent in Nevada were just an escape. I couldn’t continue running and I decided to stop. That’s why I came back! This certainly isn’t news to you. This was important to me Amelia. You, perhaps more than anyone else should understand this! I didn’t do it for you, for Isaac, my aunt or uncle, or even Adam … I did it for me,” she said pointing to her chest as a few tears found their escape. She felt herself getting angry and was not going to allow it. Was it the stress of what she’d just been through?

“Listen to these words Amelia, I had to! I had to for my sake and only hope that you can understand that. I did what I needed to do and on my own terms. I had no idea what I would feel, but I knew I had to face things.” Her eyes began to fill with more tears.

Amelia was somewhat understanding and said, “But why today, Claire? I’m sorry for upsetting you but I was just so concerned. I’m sorry if I’ve hurt you.”

“Because this was a new beginning for me. I was able to survive the pneumonia and the setback. Nothing of tomorrow is promised to any of us and if I felt well enough, this was my way back. There’s a piece of me that you know better than anyone else that drives me. I ran away from it …. I refuse to run any longer. Amelia, there’s no way I can be the person that I need and want to be until all of this is settled. I must be true to myself and can accept things as they are. If that’s being selfish and inconsiderate, I’m not going to apologize for it. I’m being selfish for my sake now and no one else’s. If I can be OK, then my relationships and life will be OK.”

Adam sat listening. Hearing her words, he felt pride in her ability to voice what she felt and stand her ground, particularly now which had been draining for her. He figured she could stand her ground with anyone, including him. His face carried the look of concern tempered with love while he took in all that was being discussed around him.

Clearing his throat to gain attention, Amelia looked at Adam.

“Amelia, if you tell me where to put Claire’s things I’ll move them, “he said as he stood. He felt that there were some things that needed to be said without him present. Amelia gave him directions to Claire’s room.

“Amelia, I’m sorry for the way I spoke to you,” said Claire.

“It’s all right. We’ve had these discussions in the past.”

“But circumstances were different.”

“Yes,” said Amelia. “They were different.”

“You are my closest and dearest friend. A true confidant. My words were the end of what was a trying afternoon. I’m sorry I lashed out at you that way.”

Moving to sit closer to Claire, Amelia said, “I’m seeing signs of the Claire I knew and I’m happy for you.”

Claire recounted what the afternoon had been like to Amelia. Gathering herself she said, “I feel as if a weight has been lifted. It was difficult, but I have so much love that has been stored in my heart by those two people that I will never be without them. As for my being inconsiderate of you and your concerns, I didn’t mean to do that to you. Please forgive me.”

“Let’s just say that it’s a draw.” They both were laughing as Adam walked down the stairs. Inwardly he was smiling.

Taking Claire by the hand and helping her up, he said, “Can I assume that everything is settled?” The two women just smiled at each other. “By the way, if I recall, the doctor said, you should be resting now.”

“Adam, I’ll see to it that she gets right into bed,” was Amelia’s reply when she heard this. “By the way, can you return for dinner? Say six o’clock?”

“I’d be happy to but I feel that I’m really imposing myself on you and Isaac.”

“Nonsense. We love to have you and Isaac likes to have someone who can give him a run for his money about academics. Besides, this is a celebration for a few reasons.”

He touched Claire’s face and not caring that Amelia was present, embraced her and kissed her. She whispered into his ear, “I love you.”

* * * * * * * * * *

It was still early and Adam went directly to Sanders Freight and Shipping. He was not going to waste any time. He was surprised to see the size of this operation. As he walked into the lobby a gentleman took a long look at this stranger and walking over to him said, “Good afternoon, sir. May I help you?”

“Yes, I’d like to see Tyler McGill.”

Not knowing who Adam was and wondering what he wanted with the current head of Sanders Freight and Shipping, he asked, “Do you have an appointment?”

Adam looked at him and said precisely, “No. I’m afraid I don’t have an appointment. What I do have is a letter that needs to be delivered to him.”

Hearing these words, he said, “I believe that Mr. McGill is in his office. Please wait here while I see if he can see you Mr. … Mr…”

“Cartwright. Adam Cartwright.”

Within moments a medium gray-haired man came down the stairs. Extending his hand toward Adam he said, “Mr. Cartwright? I’m Tyler McGill. How can I assist you?”

“I’ve a letter that will explain. Can we talk in your office?” Adam noticed that the man who initially greeted him was closely watching him.

“Certainly, Mr. Cartwright. Please follow me.”

Having entered the office he offered Adam a seat. “Now you say that you have a letter for me?”

“Yes,” said Adam as he gave it to him.

He watched as Tyler McGill read the letter Claire had written. Putting it down he said, “Well Mr. Cartwright, this is a surprise. I heard that Claire had returned to St. Louis and was expecting her. I thought she’d get in contact sooner, but with the circumstances I guess…”

“Mr. McGill, as you can see from her letter she as owner has given me authority to review the books and status of the company for the past six months. I am acting presently in the capacity as her agent. This will mean that I’ll need your competent assistance and that of others as required. She herself will be available later.”

“Mr. Cartwright, her father was a wonderful man with a fine head for business. He grew this company from nothing to the largest of its kind in Missouri. His loss was a great shock to all of us.”

Adam just looked and listened to his words.

“I’ll be happy to do whatever I can for Miss Sanders and ensure that whatever you need is at your disposal. I can understand her need to get a handle on the business especially since she has been away.”

Adam simply nodded, “That would be appreciated.”

“When do you want to get started?”

Taking a slip of paper from his pocket that he took the time to make out when he left Claire and Amelia alone, he handed it to Tyler McGill and said, “First thing tomorrow morning. Here are the items that I would like to start with. I would also appreciate it if you could identify a space where I might be able to work.”

Realizing that he was not going to be dealing with the average person, he reviewed Adam’s list and said, “I’ll be certain that these are available to you. I’m sure that you will find everything in order.”

Rising from his seat, Adam extended his hand and said, “I’m sure I will. Thank you for your time. I’ll see you first thing in the morning.”

He left as quickly as he had arrived. Tyler McGill realized that Adam was not going to be someone that could be easily buffaloed. He came across as much too efficient and much too smart.

As Adam exited the door of the business, he was watched as he departed.

* * * * * * * * * *

Meandering back to the hotel, he recounted the happenings of the day. Soon it would be another day. No matter the stresses of the day, he knew they would ease and become a little lighter with each passing day. Besides, Margaret Sanders was arriving tomorrow.

He walked past the entrance to the hotel. Several blocks away he entered the craftsman’s shop. Looking up from his work the owner said in his Swiss accent, “Ah, Mr. Cartwright. It is good to see you. I am almost finished. Come, let me show you. Come.”

Adam could hear the pride in his voice. Removing his hat, he placed it on a table and walked over to where Fredrik Van de Berghe sat. Going to his safe he carefully removed a felt covered tray. Setting it on the table between them, he gingerly wiped his hands and uncovered his creation. He gave Adam an eyepiece to examine the quality.

Looking at it he thought this is exquisite. Examining the stones, he was impressed with the quality of them and the excellent workmanship and detail.

Anxiously awaiting Adam to say something he said, “Well Mr. Cartwright? I’ve worked extremely hard from the sketch you provided. This is a beautiful piece. I hope that you are pleased with it.” Fredrik was excited and was anxiously awaiting a response from Adam.

The response came. There was a glint in his eyes. Looking up he was extremely pleased. “Fredrik, this is beautiful work. The stones are perfect. It’s just what I had in mind. You’re a true genius.”

Smiling broadly, “Mr. Cartwright, I do a lot of things for my customers, but it has been a long time since I’ve had an opportunity to work on something like this. Are you sure you’re it meets your expectations?”

Looking at the ring, he was in awe of the outcome. His eyes showed his delight and Fredrik was delighted. He said, “I’m more than pleased.”

“I’m so very glad. I hope the young lady will be as pleased, no?”

“Yes. “I’m sure she is going to be extremely surprised and pleased.”

“I have just a few details I want to finish. You can pick it up tomorrow afternoon. I will be sure that it is in a beautiful box to match the exquisiteness of the stones.”

“Thank you Fredrik. You’ve done a magnificent job. I’ll arrive tomorrow around three o’clock.”

“My wife says that you must be quite a gentleman to can put so much care into designing a beautiful ring like this.”

“It wasn’t hard Fredrik, the woman is quite beautiful.”

“Perhaps after you give her such a beautiful ring, you will stop by and let me meet her. She must be very special.”

“She is.” He picked up the ring.

He held in his hand the beginning of their future together. An engagement ring he’d designed especially for her. It had to be right. After all her eyes were the reason he chose what he did. The center of the ring consisted of a raised setting in which sat the clearest diamond of one and a half carats. Adjacent to the center diamond were four sapphires, two on each side. Seven smaller diamonds each encircled each sapphire closest to the diamond. It was her. He was happy. Now how to ask the question to which he knew the answer. His heart was beating wildly.

* * * * * * * * * *

Claire was resting well as Amelia closed the door. She smiled thinking of her friend she just looked in on. She felt she’d accomplished as much as she needed to do at this point and decided that she would take a brief rest as well. As she lay across her bed, she thought of Adam and Claire. Somebody better say something quick she thought. This secrecy is wearing me out. But how could it be a secret any longer? They kissed each other right in front of me. Ugh!!

As Adam arrived back at the hotel, he felt relieved. He went to the bar for a brandy. He recounted the activities of the day and looked forward to dinner. He thought what type of turmoil must have been taking place on the Ponderosa. If his calculations were correct, his father should be returning from Sacramento in two days with the timber contracts sown up. He was glad that whatever went amiss during his absence he could not be blamed for. Joe and Hoss had come into their own, let them do the explaining. He missed them. As he thought of them, he had no idea that there was a problem with a family from Kentucky that Joe and Hoss had driven off the Ponderosa. People that were meaner than mean and who were not going to forget being forced at gunpoint off the land. To make matters worse, Joe had shot one of their sons in the arm.

Adam went to his room, and began to review the items that he would tackle first thing in the morning. When finished, he asked to be awakened at five o’clock. He was going to rest as well. After all, he was not on the Ponderosa.

Five o’clock came before he knew it. He quickly took a bath and dressed. Looking at his appearance in the mirror, he was satisfied with the way he looked but thought before returning to Virginia City, he might purchase some new clothing pieces.

The rain had stopped as he left the hotel. He stopped by the front desk. The clerk said, “Ah, Mr. Cartwright, I have your item here.” Bending down, he presented him with a fresh variety of spring flowers that Adam had ordered. He gave his thanks and left.

Arriving at Isaac’s and Amelia’s home, he thought, I’m becoming a pest. I’ve been here three times in one day. What on earth are they thinking? He knocked on the door and was greeted by Isaac.

“Adam, come in. Glad you’re here.”

“Thanks for tolerating me Isaac.”

Isaac just laughed and saw the flowers in his hand.

“These are for Amelia,” Adam said. “Sort of a piece offering.”

“As men we seem to lose more battles than we win sometimes,” Isaac quipped.

Amelia entered the room and looked lovely in a dark green dress that brought out the highlights of her auburn hair.

“Adam, glad you can put up with us once again,” she said.

“I think that should be reversed. If your husband doesn’t mind, I’ve brought these for you.”

“They’re lovely Adam. I’m going to put them in water. They’ll look beautiful on the dinner table.”

“Come in and sit down,” said Isaac. I was about to pour myself a brandy, can I get you one?”

“Yes, I’d enjoy it.”

“I understand that you’ve had an interesting day for yourself,” chuckled Isaac.

Adam looked at Isaac and realized how much he liked him. Smiling he said, “I wouldn’t call it interesting exactly, I’d say that it was eventful.” They both laughed.

“I need this and more,” said Isaac.

“Rough day at school?” asked Adam.

“Not as rough as tomorrow is going to be.”

“Why is that?” asked Adam.

“I’m presenting a theory on the Napoleonic Wars in a debate. It should prove to be interesting since I seem to be in the minority with my thinking.”

“Well perhaps we can discuss it. I do recall some of my college classes and what I’ve read since.”

“I knew it,” Isaac said as he slapped his leg. “I’d really appreciate it Adam, however, I’m not at all sure that Claire and Amelia will.”

“Well Isaac, have you ever heard the saying – – – where there’s a will, there’s a way?”

At that moment Claire descended the stairs. Adam stood, as did Isaac. She looked resplendent. Isaac carefully watched Adam. She was attired in soft champagne that exposed just a hint of her shoulders. The softness of the fabric moved ever so gently. She was a vision of beauty. Her hair was up in a fashion he’d not seen before. She was radiant and he had eyes for nothing else at that moment.

“Claire, you look lovely,” he said.

“Thank you Adam,” she responded with a gleam in her eye.

Now Isaac was looking at Claire.

Amelia quickly joined them.

“You two look quite lovely this evening,” Adam said. “It is a pleasure to be dining with you ladies.”

“It will be a pleasure if you and Isaac don’t discuss the Napoleonic Wars,” Amelia retorted.

Adam and Isaac just looked at each other. Isaac winked.

As they were about to enter the dining room, Adam stopped Claire and said quietly, “You’re beautiful. More beautiful than you know,” and quickly kissed her.

The table had been adorned with the flowers that Adam had brought. Claire had given Amelia a hand in getting the food to the table. They laughed and had a wonderful time during dinner. Just as Claire and Amelia were clearing the dishes and getting ready for coffee and dessert, Isaac stood.

“I’d like to propose a toast,” he said. With their glasses raised, he continued, “In thanksgiving to good friends and good health. May they always walk hand in hand.”

Turning to Claire he said, “To Claire who has fought the good fight and won it, may she always be showered with peace, happiness and good health. May we remember this moment and continue our bonds no matter where they make take us.”

Having finished the toast, Amelia rose to get the dessert. Claire rose to assist her but Amelia said, “You’ve done enough for one day since you insisted on helping with dinner. Now stay put and I’ll be right back.”

Claire started to say something, but Amelia cut her off.

“You’d better listen to her Claire,” Isaac said. “You know how she can be.”

Adam’s eyes had drifted repeatedly toward Claire during dinner and had not gone unnoticed. After all, he was seeing her glow of health returning and she looked beautiful. She had been looking at him as well. He was extremely handsome. The tan of his skin against the stark white shirt, the warmth of his eyes, his tone of voice, and the cleft in his chin added to something when he smiled. He was just articulate, handsome, caring, understanding and he loved her. She was more than happy.

As Amelia brought the coffee and dessert, she could not contain herself anymore. “Excuse me for being me, Adam and Claire, but I believe that I am speaking for both Isaac and myself. Would you like to admit now that this is more than a passing interest you have in one another?”

Adam looked at Claire with the warmest of eyes and said, without taking his eyes off her, “Amelia, it is more than a passing fancy.” He then lifted his coffee cup and brought it to his lips as he continued to watch Claire’s reaction.

“I knew it,” shouted Isaac pounding his hand on the table. “It was impossible for me to be wrong. It was evident from the very first.”

“Sometimes things are evident to others that are not evident to those involved, “said Claire with a smile.

“Only in your case Claire,” was Amelia’s response. “You’re too darn stubborn to just let go and accept what’s right in front of you.”

“Amelia, let’s not start another discussion like the one we had earlier,” Claire said. “Adam and I have found something between us.”

Adam, leaned his chin on his folded hands, just kept his eyes on his special lady. Although he said nothing, he eyes said it all. He was happy.

“I’m glad that’s settled,” said Amelia. “I don’t know how long I would have been able to go on. If I waited for either of you to say something, I’d be old and gray.”

They all laughed. Adam and Claire looked at each other with their happiness showing. Isaac foresaw a life between them but said nothing. For the time being, Amelia had said enough.

With dessert and coffee over, Claire insisted on helping Amelia clear things. As they walked between the kitchen and dining room, Claire said nothing and knew that it was eating Amelia up. She would let her stew for a while.

In the parlor, Isaac had quickly engaged Adam in the Napoleonic Wars. Adam was well versed on the topic and Isaac was greatly impressed. Their discussion was intense. Isaac was appreciative for this time with Adam. The ladies entered the room.

“Claire, are you feeling tired,” asked Adam.

“Not in the least Dr. Cartwright,” she said. “It’s been wonderful.”

Adam joined Claire on the settee. As the small group continued to talk, the Napoleonic Wars having been defeated by Amelia, Claire said I have something to share with you.”

Both Isaac and Amelia were on the edge of their seats in anticipation.

“This may come as a shock to you, but please hear me out and try to understand. As you know my aunt will be arriving from Virginia City tomorrow. After careful thought, I’ve decided that she and I will move back into my house while she is here.”

There wasn’t a sound for a moment. Adam looked at her and said, “Are you sure that you want to do this Claire?”

“I’m very sure Adam. You know Aunt Margaret and between us we’ll be just fine.”

Claire turned to Amelia and Isaac. “I know that you didn’t expect this. I’m so appreciative for all you two have been to me over the years and for what you have done for me recently, but I do have to give you back your space and pick up the pieces. After today, I know that I can do it.”

Amelia walked to Claire. Claire stood up and they both hugged each other. They understood more than the men that were watching.

Adam realizing the hour was beginning to get late exerted his manners and stood indicating that he would leave. Isaac informed him that he was going to get another cup of coffee. Amelia just said, “I’m going to join him in the kitchen and continue discussing the Napoleonic Wars which I know very little about. It’ll make him feel smarter.”

“Thank you for a lovely evening once again Amelia.”

She felt she had the right to hug him and did. “Adam, it was my pleasure … I truly mean that. And you don’t have to rush off.” With that she left the room.

“Could they have been more obvious?” asked Claire.

“I doubt it, but rather enjoyed it and the dessert and coffee,” he said in his deep voice never taking his eyes from her.

Claire walked him to the door. He leaned against the door with his arms crossed. His gaze continued.

“What?” asked Claire.

“Oh, before I forget. I went to see Mr. McGill today. I’ll be meeting with him first thing in the morning. I’m sorry that I won’t be able to go with you to meet your aunt.”

“Mr. Cartwright, you work quickly. Don’t worry about Aunt Maggie, she’ll be fine. Perhaps when your day is over you can stop by the house.”

Still leaning, he looked deeply at her and said, “That’s a date.”

Nothing was said for a moment. He then approached her and held her shoulders. “Claire, are you absolutely certain that you’re ready to return to your house?”

“Quite certain Adam. Remember what you wrote in the journal you gave me … Each Day … Life Begins Anew. I can’t forget that. It has spoken quite a lot to me.”

He held her tighter and she him. “I just want to be sure that you do what you’re supposed to and that you will be all right.”

“I will be. Besides, with friends like Isaac and Amelia just two blocks away and you and Aunt Maggie around, how could I not be?”

He looked at her and kissed her. Upon releasing her, she was smiling. She wrapped her arms around him and kissed him soundly.

 

 

TWENTY-SEVEN

* * * * * * * * * *

It was going to be a day of arrivals. Ben Cartwright back to the Ponderosa and Margaret Sanders to St. Louis. Circumstances in both locations could not have been more different.

She had not yet gotten up. Amelia went upstairs to check on Claire. Upon knocking, she heard, “Come in.”

Amelia entered and found Claire buried under the covers. “Everything OK?”

“I guess you could say so. I’m just very tired …. .”

“I wonder why?” asked Amelia.

Peaking out from under the covers Claire looked at her. “I did too much yesterday and I realize it. When I started to feel tired during dinner I should have said something.”

“ I guess I wasn’t thinking either. I shouldn’t have invited Adam for dinner and just let you get yourself settled. You should have said something.”

“We were having such a wonderful evening I just didn’t want to spoil it.”

“We’d have understood.”

“Yeh, I guess so. Right now, I just want to lay here and rest a while if that’s OK with you.”

“Claire, take all the time you need. I’ll just be downstairs.” With that Amelia closed the door and Claire closed her eyes.

* * * * * * * * * *

Sanders Freight and Shipping was just opening when Adam arrived. He looked around for Tyler McGill. Seeing him nowhere in sight, he stopped the first person he saw and asked if McGill were in. The response he received was not what he had expected. He was informed that Mr. McGill had not yet arrived. Adam just sighed and thought to himself, this is not the way to start the day.

Before long, Tyler McGill walked into the building and greeted Adam. He apologized and explained he had an early appointment that caused his lateness.

Escorting Adam to his office he said, “Mr. Cartwright, I’ve made arrangements for the items you requested. The office across the hall is set up for you if you need it. I’ve already placed on your desk copies of the organization chart, stockholders and investors, our prime clients and annual overhead and operation costs. Much of this information is of a confidential nature and I’m certain you will handle it as such.” He reached into his coat pocket and took out a set of keys.

“Mr. Cartwright, these are the keys to that office”

Adam understood and responded, “You can be assured that all information will be handled in a most discrete and ethical manner.”

“Before you get started, however, I’d like to give you a tour of the business and introduce you to people that can provide specific information.”

“Thank you for your cooperation. I’m ready when you are.”

They left the office. Adam was impressed with the size and organization of the business. As he and Tyler McGill made their rounds, Adam noticed the location and faces of the various employees. Certainly, they were wondering who he was. He did not appear to be just another new client. McGill had started talking from the time they departed his office explaining the areas, who was in charge, what work was done, and how each of the areas and the people in charge impacted the business. He spoke with pride about the operation and the size of their client base. He was more than knowledgeable about all aspects of this business and did not mind showing it. The outside shipping docks and crating areas were piled high with items either coming in or going out. He pointed out that this was a very busy area and that their turn-around time in shipping and receiving was a critical point for them. They could either lose money or make money here. McGill jokingly said to Adam, “They call this area the honey pot.”

They returned to the office area and Adam used his key to open the door. He entered the office and noticed that is was bright and well organized.

“I hope this will suit you. I’ve also taken the liberty to make Mrs. Lawson available to assist you. Since today is Saturday, she’s not working but I will make the introductions when you’re next here.”

“You’ve been quite thorough,” Adam replied. “I’m hopeful that this will not take that long. There’s one thing I neglected. I’d like to meet the head of your Accounting Department sometime the early part of next week.”

“I’ll be sure that’s taken care of.” With that McGill left Adam to begin his work.

Adam looked at the files on the desk, removed his jacket and rolled up his shirtsleeves. He picked up the first file.

* * * * * * * * * *

It was late morning when Claire finally made her way down the stairs. She felt much more refreshed and promised herself that she would make it a point of resting each day until she had regained all her strength back. As she entered the kitchen, Isaac was sitting at the table reading the paper.

“Good morning Isaac.”

“Hello Claire. Wasn’t sure if you were hibernating or what,” he joked.

“No, I wasn’t hibernating, but I was certainly close to it,” she laughed. “I feel so much more rested now.” She took a cup of coffee and sat down.

“Thank you for your kind words last night and the hospitality Isaac. It was great fun and I’m glad that you and Adam seem to have hit it off.”

“Yes, I had a good time. Adam is a great person and very knowledgeable. I hope we can have many more conversations. I’d really enjoy that.”

“I’m sure he would also and perhaps you will.” She rose from the table and asked, “Did the delivery boy come and pick up the list of items I need for the house?”

“Oh, yes he did. Said he’d deliver everything around three o’clock this afternoon.”

“Can’t have Aunt Maggie arriving with no provisions in the house. I don’t know what she’d think.”

“I’m sure she wouldn’t think anything out of the way Claire. I’ve heard so much about her that I can’t wait to meet her.”

“She is one person that once you’ve met her, you won’t ever forget her. By the way, where’s Amelia?”

“She’s next door at the Hawley’s. Seems that Caroline needed her help with some curtains she was trying to hang. She should be back soon. Besides she wanted to help you get your things together before we left to pick up your aunt.”

“There’s not much for me to get together as I never really had the chance to unpack,” she half chuckled.

Looking at her Isaac said, “How are you really feeling today Claire? And I mean about everything.”

She looked at him knowing what he was asking. She took a moment and then answered, “I’m feeling almost myself but know that I have some recuperating yet to do. I’m pleased that my aunt will be here. She’s a character and will certainly be good company. I’m going home and know that I’ll be adjusting … especially emotionally. And as you know, I’m very fond of Adam.”

“Claire, do you think you’re going to be OK going back to the house right now?”

“Isaac, I have to. It may not be easy but I feel that I can do it. I’m not the only person who has lost someone they love. I’m going to work through each day and I know that it will take time.”

At that moment Amelia entered the kitchen through the rear door.

* * * * * * * * * *

Isaac, Amelia and Claire where waiting at the depot for the arrival of Margaret Sanders. They didn’t have a long wait as the train arrived on time. Immediately Claire recognized her aunt. Claire shouted, “Aunt Maggie!”

Hearing the familiar sound of her voice caused her to turn and see the face of her niece. Before she knew it, Claire had thrown her arms around her and hugged her tightly.

“Aunt Maggie, I’m so happy to see you.”

“Ah Claire, I am happy to see you as well. I’m so glad that I can be here with you. I was very concerned and now that I see you, I feel so much better. Let me look at you. You had us quite worried.” They hugged each other, which was something they both needed. A sort of reassurance.

Claire turned and walked her aunt over to where Isaac and Amelia were waiting and made the introductions. Margaret looked thankfully into their eyes. “I can’t thank either of you enough for all that you’ve done for Claire. Knowing that you were here for her provided her uncle and I with some solace.”

“Mrs. Sander, “spoke Isaac, “No thanks are in order. Claire is a special friend and person to us. We would have done nothing less.”

Turning to Amelia she said, “Claire has spoken so very much of your friendship that I feel I know you. I hope that she had not given you too much trouble.”

“Claire has given me lots of trouble over the years, but I would not change one single thing,” she quipped. “Now, let’s stop standing here and collect your things. Our carriage is right over here and we can then be on our way. Surely you will want to freshen up and perhaps take a rest.”

“That would be just prefect.”

Isaac asked, “Which bags are yours? I’ll get them for you?” Margaret identified her belongings. With that Claire took her aunt’s arm and followed by Amelia walked to the
carriage for the ride home.

It had only been a few months since Margaret and Hank had been to St. Louis. Although she’d been there several times before, today was as if it were the first time for her. She was facing different circumstances now with her niece. As they settled in and began the ride, she noticed how busy the city seemed. Quite different from Virginia City. The conversation was casual as they made their way to Claire’s house. When they arrived, Margaret said nothing but looked at Claire, as did Isaac and Amelia. Margaret was a bit surprised that this was where she was going to be staying. She thought to herself that Claire must have been managing even with all that had happened to her. My niece is a strong-willed person she thought. She’s facing life. After all, when she left us she did say that she was going to put her life and things in order. She was going to move on. Margaret felt a sense of comfort but had noticed that Claire’s color was not as rich as when in Virginia City and that she had lost some weight. She knew that they would have time to discuss all of this and fix it.

Isaac, the gentleman, assisted each of the ladies down. The trio stood before the house and took a quick gaze. It was as she remembered. Amelia knew the condition from her periodic spying. The one thing Amelia had not seen was the interior since Claire had left. They walked arm in arm to the door and Claire unlocked it. Entering, it was exactly as Amelia remembered and Margaret saw the same. Amelia felt a sense of release for Claire. She now knew that her visit yesterday was necessary for her and understood the meaning of getting on with one’s life. She felt hope and the comfort for her dear friend that she believed would come each day. Margaret found the home well attended to and filled with memories. She knew that Claire was dealing with these memories and they would have talks. Being here for her niece was very important to her. She would not be able to leave her until she felt all was as it should be.

Claire asked Isaac to take her aunt’s bags to the guest room and then headed for the kitchen. Although the supplies still had not been delivered, she had the makings for both coffee and tea. She offered to prepare them something, but Amelia and Isaac declined and indicated they needed to be on their way. They would return in the early evening for a short visit if that were fine with them. It was an act of consideration on their part. They wanted to leave the two of them together.

“That will be fine,” Claire responded. “I believe that Adam should be stopping by as well.”

“Let’s just not overdo as we did yesterday.” Amelia said.

“Overdo?” asked Margaret.

Claire quickly looked at Amelia but this did not dissuade her from continuing.” Yes. The doctor indicated that Claire should rest each day and not become overtired of fatigued. Yesterday she made a few stops upon her release from the hospital and then we had dinner at our home last night that ran a bit late. It seems my friend here was feeling tired during this time but didn’t let us know. In its way, it took a toll on her.”

Claire just gave a stare at Amelia for divulging this information.

“I see,” said Margaret. “Thank you for letting me know. I’ll see this does not become a repeat of the same.”

All Claire could do was sigh and roll her eyes.

“If you will excuse us,” Isaac said as he started to escort Amelia toward the door, “We’ll take our leave now and check in later. Amelia, we should be leaving now so that Mrs. Sanders can get settled, Claire can get some rest, and you can manage to keep your stories to yourself.”

Amelia just looked at him and followed. Extending their goodbyes, Amelia could not leave with one last word. “Your supplies should be here any minute now and we are just two blocks away.”

Isaac hurried her out the door but not before she could throw a kiss goodbye.

“They are wonderful,” said Margaret cheerfully. She and Claire embraced.

“Yes they truly are,” said Claire. “I’m very glad that you’re here. How is Uncle Hank? I want to know everything but let’s get you settled in first. We have a lot of catching up to do.”

“And let’s both get some rest as well,” said Margaret. “I didn’t come all this way for you to have a relapse.

They both started to ascend the stairs. Midway up they heard a knock on the back door. It was the delivery of the supplies Claire had ordered. Joining Claire in the kitchen, they unpacked the items and put them away. They were now well stocked and Margaret said, “I see that we can have a wonderful meal tonight. Now let’s go and get that well-deserved rest. The both of us.”

Claire just smiled and they both headed up the stairs with arms wrapped around each other.

Entering her room, Claire just sat on the bed and looked at the pieces of her life that were distributed around the room. She felt a hurt, but there was nothing she could do about it. Remember the joyous and happy times she told herself. She realized that this would be the first time that she’d be sleeping in this house again without her parents. She corrected herself. They would always be with here no matter where she was. She reached for her journal and began to write. When she finished, she pulled the coverlet over her and facing the window so she could view the beauty of the sky and clouds, she found that she was also facing the beauty of life. She closed her eyes.

* * * * * * * * * *

The day had fast gotten away from Adam. He hadn’t realized that it was getting to be past two o’clock. Putting down the last file, he stretched back in his chair and rubbed his eyes. He spun the chair around, got up, and walked to the window. From his viewpoint, he could see the ‘honey pot’. As he looked, he could see that all the gates leading into the warehouse area had been locked. Something caught his eye. With the wind blowing slightly, one gate was wavering back and forth. He realized that this gate had not been locked. This was odd he thought.

He walked backed to the desk and organized the notes he had made from the files. He was going to return the files but put the notes into his case that would leave when he did. It had been a meaningful day he thought to himself; however, his gut instinct said that there should be an independent audit of the business. He would mention this to Claire after his conversation with the head of the Accounting Department the following week. During the time that he was working, not one person, not even Tyler McGill had come by to see how he was doing. He thought that odd as well but cast it aside as it would have been somewhat of an interruption and he was trying to find his way through all the paperwork he’d requested. He stood had unrolled his shirtsleeves. Put his coat on, picked up all the papers and left the office. He locked the door.

Walking across the hall to McGill’s office, he knocked. He heard a voice say,” Yes, come in.”

Looking up McGill said, “Well Mr. Cartwright, how’d things go for you? Hopefully you have some good news to provide Miss Sanders.”

Adam not giving anything away just said, “I could accomplish several things. I’m returning these files as they are priority information.”

“Oh yes, quite right Mr. Cartwright. I’ll see to it that they are properly put away.”

“I’ve locked the door to the office and if you don’t mind I’ll retain the key.”

“That’s not a problem at all.” Adam was smart enough to know that there were other keys.

As he was leaving the office he stopped and turned. “Just one thing I want to mention to you,” he said. “From my window, I saw that the gates to the warehouse area were locked except for one. Perhaps someone needs to check that out.”

“That can’t be but I’ll get someone on it right away.”

Adam said his goodbye and indicated he would be returning the following week. He departed the building.

Outside the air cleared his senses. He didn’t mind working in the office, but there was a lot to be said about the out of doors, especially now of year. He started a leisurely stroll stopping in a few shops. Before he knew it, he had made purchases that would be delivered to him at the hotel. Feeling invigorated he thought of seeing Claire and wondered how she and Margaret were getting on. He’d find out soon enough. He made his way to the shop of Fredrik Van de Berghe. Opening the door, the bell attached to the door signaled his entrance. Frieda was attending to the shop. Looking up she said, “Good afternoon sir. How may I assist you?”

Just then Fredrik entered from the back room. “Mr. Cartwright. I was hoping that you would come early.”

“I hope I’m not too early.”

“Is this the young man with the eye for designing such beautiful jewelry Fredrik?”

“Yes, my dear. This is the one. Mr. Cartwright, I would like to introduce to you my wife Frieda.”

“It’s my pleasure to meet you. Your husband is an exceptional craftsman.”

“Tis true. But you are exceptional also.” As she said this Fredrik was collecting Adam’s prized possession. “The person who will receive this must be very special to you. I would like sometime to meet her.”

“Perhaps that can be arranged.”

Fredrik put before Adam the finished product. As he looked at it his eyes brightened and a sudden sense of contentment filled him. “Fredrik, this is magnificent.”

“I shall wrap it for you.” Frieda went to get gift paper while Adam watched Fredrik wipe all traces of prints from the ring. He gently then placed it into a blue velvet box lined with white satin. Frieda came with elegant paper and wrapped the blue velvet box and placed a very simple ribbon it. Adam now settled the account with Fredrik and received the papers of authenticity.

“Mr. Cartwright,” said Frieda. “I hope your life together will be as beautiful and wonderful as this ring.”

He looked at the two of them and saw the love and admiration they shared for each other. He said, “I believe that it will and can only hope that it shows as much in time as the love the two of you share.”

He carefully put the package into his pocket and bid them a farewell.

Entering the hotel, he realized that he’d not eaten anything. He entered the dining room and ordered a sandwich, coffee and dessert. As he sat at the table, he rolled the box in his hands thinking about what he was going to do. He had never felt this way before. She had to say yes.

* * * * * * * * * *

Margaret joined Claire downstairs. They had both rested but it was obvious that Margaret was more tired. Claire let her sleep. Claire had walked out into the yard and over to the barn. Inside and in pristine condition was the carriage that belonged to her parents. This had been maintained as well. She would have to plan to get the horses back. No sense in walking all over St. Louis she thought. She could drive a carriage with the best of them. Besides, with Aunt Maggie here now, she was not going to have her walk everywhere.

She entered the house and found her aunt roaming around the kitchen.

“And what might you be doing?” asked Claire.

“Just getting the lay of the land. Can’t start dinner if I don’t know where things are.”

“Did you rest well?”

“Yes dear. I guess I really needed it but I feel so much better now.”

“Now Aunt Maggie, I don’t want you doing too much while you are here.”

“I’m not. I’m just going to act as if I were home in Virginia City,” she quipped.

“Then that means you’ll be doing too much while you’re here,” said Claire.

They gave each other knowing looks and smiled. Claire found her way to the utensils and sat at the table paring vegetables. Her aunt joined her. This is the way it had been in Virginia City and Claire relished it. What a blessing to have her here. She gave thanks. With the pots beginning to simmer, Margaret sat down with Claire.

“So my dear,” she said taking her hand. “We’ve lots to talk about. I’m not going to push. Only when you’re ready.”

“Thank you Aunt Maggie. There is so much to tell you and so much I’ve found out about myself that I want to share with you … and I will. We’ll have the time to go through everything. I’m just so glad that you’re here.”

“Speaking of here,” she said. “Where’s Adam? He’s been here for a while now.”

She saw the slight smile on Claire’s face. “Adam will be by a little later. He’s anxious to see you.”

“I would hope so. He’s a wonderful boy … er ..excuse me … man.” Margaret continued, “Is there something that I should know? You had a strange look on your face when I asked about Adam.”

Claire could not contain what she felt. “Aunt Maggie, Adam and I have been seeing each other since he arrived … before I took sick, while I was sick and even now.”

“Oh,” Margaret said with a slight smirk on her face and a raised eyebrow. “Is there some news in the offing?”

“If you are asking about a wedding, I’ve not been asked. But I can tell you that we care for each other very, very much.”

“That’s wonderful dear. I’m so pleased for the two of you.”

“Not any more than I am.” Claire just laughed which was a wonderful sound for her aunt to hear.

They finished dinner and let it warm in the kitchen. They would eat when Adam arrived. Claire found her way over to the piano and sat down. She began to play. Margaret stood in the doorway of the parlor and watched her. She’s going to be all right. She noticed a figure approaching the door from the window and quickly went around another way to reach the door. She didn’t want Claire’s playing to be interrupted. Upon opening the door, she saw it was Adam and quickly joined him on the porch. Adam had heard the music and was surprised.

Trying to shush him, say hello and hug him at the same time was difficult.

“Margaret, I had to come a little early just to see you and give you this.” He hugged her.

“You’re looking just fine Adam. Just fine.” Half turning toward the door, she said, “Just listen. She’s playing. Something she really missed when she was staying with us. I always loved to hear her play.”

“When did this start? You must be the inspiration. I know you’ve a way of making things happen,” he said.

“Claire helped me finish dinner and while I was still in the kitchen she went to the piano and started playing. It’s just wonderful.”

“Margaret it is wonderful. She’s come a long way in a short time. Let’s go in.”

They entered the house and the music became louder. Hearing the door shut, Claire looked up and saw two people she really loved. She stopped playing.

“Adam, hello,” she said. She rose from the piano and met him in the middle of the parlor.

His eyes were telling her something that her aunt could not see. The depth and intensity of them were piercing. He took her hands and kissed her cheek.

Margaret saw the chemistry between the two of them and was overjoyed. Placing his arm around Claire’s waist, he turned her and said to Margaret, “How do you think our lady looks?”

“Aside from needing just a few more pounds on her, she looks just wonderful to me. You’ve all taken good care of our little girl.”

“That’s not an easy task as I’m sure you’re aware,” said Adam.

“Ah, I’m going to stay neutral on that,” Margaret responded.

As Adam took a seat, Claire said, “I went over to the barn and found that the carriage has been maintained in wonderful condition. All I need to do is to retrieve the horses.”

“And what might you be considering doing with horses?” her aunt asked.

“Well as I get better, we’ll need a way to get around.”

“Are you sure the carriage is in proper working condition.”

“Umm, well I really don’t know. I just looked at it. It was clean, shiny and looked OK.”

“Is that how you determine it would be in working order?” asked Adam.

Thinking she said, “I suppose not. I was just exploring and when I saw it I was thinking this is a means of transportation.”

He stood up. “Claire get a wrap. We’ll check it out.” He continued, “Margaret, do we have some time before dinner?”

“Certainly Adam, I was not going to serve for about another thirty minutes or so.”

“Fine then. You don’t mind if we inspect the barn and the carriage to see if Miss Lady here is correct, do you?”

“Go right ahead. I want to pen a wire to Hank.”

Claire put on her wrap and she and Adam walked out the back door. Margaret checked the pots and then went to the study to draft the wire to Hank.

The sun was beginning to lower itself in the sky as if preparing for evening. It had not given up its rays just yet but the battle would be lost before long. He walked with his arm around her waist. She fit perfectly. The steps across the yard were beginning to feel very comfortable to him. A trip that started so many miles away had found both a beginning and an end … an alpha and omega. The tangible things surrounding them were becoming intangible to Adam. He allowed the space to envelope him and the woman that he loved. He saw the approach not to a carriage but to a time for the two of them. She took his hand and he knew right then and there that their walk had started. He needed to give it a destination. He would wait no longer. As they walked around to the entrance of the barn, there was a bench beneath a blooming dogwood tree that faced the mountains. He walked her over and then took her in his arms and kissed her with the passion of a man in love. He released her and suddenly they were kissing each other once again. When they ended their embrace, he sat her down on the bench and joined her.

Looking at her, she smiled at him. He saw that her eyes had become a deeper blue if that were possible. She touched his face and his eyes. He hugged her for a moment and then looked at her face while stroking her hair and the few pieces that had been blown across her face by the breeze.

“Claire,” he said tenderly and quietly. “I’m very much in love with you. You make me whole. You’re the balance in my life. I have always imagined life ahead of me … but there is no life ahead of me if you’re not in it. Claire, will you share your life with me by becoming my wife?” He’d not planned to ask her this way or even today. It didn’t matter anymore. He acted on his emotions and they could not be held in check.

She took his face in her hands and kissed him. He embraced her as she did. It was a kiss that neither would forget.

She looked at him and said, “Yes.”

Reaching into his pocket he took out a beautifully wrapped package, which he presented to her.

Her expression was one of surprise. “Adam, what is it?”

“Let’s see. Logic says a way to find out is to open it.”

His heart had finally left his chest. He was absorbed by her and watched as she opened the package. Dropping the ribbon and wrapping paper, she rubbed her hands over the soft blue velvet case.

“Oh Adam,” she said nervously. She opened it, and looked at him her eyes filling with tears. “This … this …” her voice was breaking. “This is the most beautiful ring,” she could not continue as now she was crying.

He took the box from her, removed the ring and placed it on her finger. Wiping the tears from her eyes she could see that he was smiling. She hugged him and kissed him with all the love that she could possibly feel for another person – especially the one with whom she would spend the rest of her life.

“I love you so very much,” she said. Looking at her hand she said, “There are no words to describe how I feel about this moment or this ring. I’m actually speechless.”

“My love, you’ve said all that you need to.” With that he embraced her fully and kissed her.

 

 

TWENTY-EIGHT

* * * * * * * * * *

It’s been said that joy comes in the morning, but for Adam and Claire it came in the afternoon. The haze of the last few days had suddenly seemed to lift; two people had made a commitment to one another with the promise of facing a new tomorrow standing before them. The new day would be one that presented opportunities to be overcome, strength that would be called upon, faith as that of a mustard seed, and a belief that all things are possible. They would be tested and tried. As the afternoon sun began to lower in the sky, two people re-entered a home once filled with love to a home that now was willingly awaiting them with open arms to capture their love.

Hearing them return, Aunt Margaret looked up. Something was different. Adam moved slowly into the parlor while Claire went to put her wrap away. Margaret looked at the two of them. She said nothing.

With his arm around her waist, he looked directly at Margaret and said, “My manners tell me that before I formally ask to take a woman as a wife, I would speak with the father. Since this cannot be, I should speak to her family. Well, we’re all in different places now and you’re here. I’ve just asked Claire to marry me and would appreciate your blessing. She’s said yes.”

Filled with happiness for the two of them, she thought she would play a little game with them before expressing her joy and congratulating them.

“Well Adam, I think I should probably discuss this with Hank and with Claire. Certainly, she is a grown woman and has her own mind. But there are several unanswered questions, particularly the time that you’ve known each other. Then there’s the courting period, and so forth. Forgive me if I appear to be old-fashioned on this, however, I believe my thoughts are valid.”

Claire looked shocked at hearing he aunt’s words. She could not believe that there would be the slightest possibility that she would disapprove. Her aunt rose from her seat and walked over to the two of them.

Adam was more reserved hearing this response. “Margaret, all of your points are valid and I would never consider for a moment suggesting that they aren’t reasonable.”

Adam was about to continue but Margaret could not contain herself any longer. With the biggest smile on her face, she clasped her hands in front of her and said, “This is wonderful news and don’t worry about consent! You have my blessing and I know Hank’s as well. I was trying to tease both of you a bit.”

Claire and Adam released a faint sigh of relief.

“Adam you’re the perfect gentleman trying to do the gentlemanly thing. All I can say is congratulations! With that she embraced her niece as her eyes misted and then hugged Adam. This was truly a joyous occasion. She hugged Claire again, and again, and again.

The rest of the afternoon was spent with warmth that had not penetrated this house that had lain dormant for many months. They shared their happiness and Margaret could not get over the most beautiful ring she’d ever seen. Claire was truly blessed with this caring man.

* * * * * * * * * *

Ben had returned from Sacramento with timber contracts signed. Adam had won the contract with the Pearson Group. This would prove to be a profitable year for the Ponderosa. He could get a brief rest before it was time for dinner. Hop Sing was finishing up the last details of dinner when Hoss and Joe walked into the house. They were very noisy and Ben realized that he was at home once again. They did manage to wash up and then joined Ben at the dinner table. Hop Sing had prepared a special dinner for Mista Ben.

“Hop Sing,” said Ben. “Things look wonderful. Thank you for making such a special meal.”

“Hop Sing always happy when head of house return,” he said and quietly returned to the kitchen.

As they were preparing their plates Ben said, “I’ve given the two of you a break in not asking the obvious, but one of you please fill me in on what’s been happening since I was away.”

Joe piped up as Hoss was busy devouring his food. “Well pa, we were able to make sure that all the fencing is shored up, the streams are running smoothly once again since the blockages have been cleared away, we’ve brought down the two herds from the western pasture, and Hoss and several of the hands road the timber line to take stock of things there.”

“Umm … sounds good Joe, but I thought Adam had checked the timber lines before he left.”

“Yeah pa he did. But one of the men said that there seemed to be something strange in the area. There were signs of a campfire. Thought I’d better make sure it was checked out.”

Waiting for further explanation, Ben finally had to ask, “And what did you find out?”

“Oh, we found that someone had camped there,” said Hoss. “But he was probably passing through. There was no sign of anyone around when we got there. From the tracks, it was just one person.”

“Strange anyone would camp up there because it’s still cold in that area,” said Ben. “We’d better keep a watch on it.”

Hoss nodded his head and then continued, “We had some trouble with trespassers too but we handled it.”

“What trespassers? How did you handle it?”

Well pa,” said Joe. “I found them out near Pine Point where they were camped. They had a fairly good size herd and I just let them know that they were in the wrong place and had to leave.”

“Well, did they leave?”

“No sir,” said Hoss. “A few days later Joe let me know they was still there. We rode up to make sure they left. That there Wales fella refused and said he was a stayin’. I tried to reason with him, but he ain’t the reasonin’ kind. Pa, I swear that he has the meanest disposition in a person if’n I ever did see one. One of his sons pulled a gun on us and Joe had to shoot him.”

Ben put down his fork. Looking from son to son he asked, “Did you kill him?”

“No, wasn’t aiming to,” said Joe. “Winged him in the arm. I didn’t have any other choice. When we went back they were gone.”

“I’m sorry that it came to that,” Ben said. “We don’t need any more trouble than necessary.”

“Pa, Joe and I did try to reason with him, but he was hard-nosed about it and we had to force him out.” He paused. “Jes one thing.”

“And what’s that?”

“Pa, I have a strange feeling ‘bout him. He’s one mean and ornery cur. With someone like that, there’s no tellin’ what he might do. He was more than mad.”

“Did either of you think to tell Sheriff Coffee about this incident? Hmmmm?”

Both brothers looked at each other and then shook their heads.

“Great, said Ben. “Just great! Tomorrow I want one of you, and I don’t care which one, to ride into town and make a report.”

Just then there was a pounding on the door. “Mr. Cartwright! Mr. Cartwright!”

Rushing from the table, Ben opened the door. It was Rusty from the camp near the north ridge. Breathlessly he said, “I’m sorry to bother you boss, but ya better come quick. There are trees on fire in the north section just above the timberline. Some of the men are on their way to try to put it out.”

Nothing needed to be said. Joe and Hoss had already strapped on their gun belts and grabbed their hats. Ben was right behind them shouting orders to get as many hands as possible with shovels, axes and picks to head to the north ridge immediately.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Sitting high upon a hilltop, Danny Wales watched as the fire began to spread. Because it was above the timberline, damage would be done but probably not excessive because there was still snow on the ground. This was just the first of many warnings to come for the Almighty Cartwrights he thought. His pa was madder than a hornet over being forced off the land and the shooting of his son. He promised they’d be sorry.

Danny reached into his saddlebag and pulled out a half empty bottle. Taking a drink, the liquid burned his insides. He laughed to himself as the red and amber flames reached toward the darkening sky. His job was to start it and wait. He took another drink.

It was not long before he heard horses and wagons. Well at last he thought, they’re on their way. A sneer crossed his lips. He saw two men he would have rather shot than the fire he started, but his pa gave him orders. He pulled the collar of his coat up around his neck and slowly turned his horse toward home.

As he rode in, his pa was sitting whittling. “How’d it go son?”

“No problem at all pa. The Cartwrights will have their hands full tonight.”

“Good. Now go and fetch yourself some supper. We’ve got a lot to do tomorrow.”

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Ben, the boys and about fifty of their hands worked the whole night to put the fire out. Hop Sing had prepared plenty of hot coffee and drove it to the site. The work to put the fire out was not easy. Hop Sing remained to tend to any injuries. The men were exhausted, embers still smoked and a once promising group of trees was no more.

Placing a blanket around his father and handing him a cup of hot coffee, Hoss said, “Pa, we can handle it from here. Why don’tcha head on back to the ranch for some rest?”

“I’m fine Hoss. Just glad the damage wasn’t more severe than it could have been. Good thing there was snow on the ground.”

“Yeah, your right there pa.”

“Excuse me Mr. Cartwright,” said one of the hands. Ben and Hoss looked up at him. “I don’t think this fire was an accident. I think it was started.”

“Whad’da you mean started?” Hoss asked as he stood up.

“Well a couple of the boys found these.” He held up two empty kerosene pails. “We kinda think that this was poured over a section of the tress and then lit. Don’t seem to be any other explanation for this here fire, ‘specially now of year.”

Ben took the pails and had to agree with him. Turning to Hoss he said, “Where’s Joe?”

“He’s with Hop Sing. Got a few burns and Hop Sing is a tending to them.”

Tossing his blanket to the ground and dumping his coffee, Ben strode angrily over to his men and asked to be shown where the containers were found. This was too much of a coincidence since someone had been camped in that area. In his mind, there wasn’t any way that a campfire left unattended could have caused this fire. Besides, Hoss checked the area and whoever had been camped there had already left. This fire was a set fire!

Taking a stroll to ensure that his men were in good condition and to take a final look at the damage, he called them together.

“Men, we’ve had a problem here tonight. I want to thank all of you for working to keep a terrible situation from getting worse. Right now, we’re all tired and pretty beat. This is not over in many ways. I’m going to try to get to the bottom of this and find out how and who set this fire,” he said as he raised the kerosene pails. “Heaven help the person that was responsible. He’ll be sorry to experience my anger. Until I do, beginning this moment and until further notice, patrols will be maintained of the timber area. Our loggers should be arriving within a few days. Some plans should be reworked but that’ll be accomplished. Right now I need volunteers to take up the first watch. I’m asking for volunteers as I know how tired all of you are. You’ll be relieved in shifts of eight hours with food and drink brought to you. Now, who is willing to volunteer?”

Ben felt good to see the hands of many of his men go up. He chose a dozen and dismissed the others. He’d work out a schedule for the other watches. Motioning to Hoss and Joe who had just returned, they mounted their horses and headed home. Ben was bone tired but more than that, he was angry. Very angry.

Reaching the ranch house, all three dismounted and before they could put the horses up, Ben ordered Joe and Hoss into the house. With his hands on his hips he said, “Tell me about these folks that were trespassing. Where did they go?”

“Ain’t rightly sure,” said Hoss. I told them they could probably file for homesteading over near Carson City. Maybe that’s where they went.”

“Well I want to know. Let’s get cleaned up and you and I will head in that direction Hoss. Joe, I want you to go into town and report the trespassing and shooting and now this fire as well. Take those two pails with you.”

“Yes sir,” said Joe.

“Pa, we’re all dead tired and plum wore out. Don’tcha think it might be better to get some rest first and then follow up on these here things?”

Hoss was surprised at his father’s reply. “We’re not sleeping until we start to get some answers.”

“But pa,” said Joe. “Hoss may be right. Being more rested we might be able to think a bit clearly and …..”

Joe was not able to finish his sentence. His father was extremely mad and there was going to be no discussion about the matter. “I’m tired too. But no one, and I repeat no one, comes onto this land and intentionally does damage to it. Do you both understand? I’m not wasting time and neither will you. Now get cleaned up!”

* * * * * * * * * * * *

The sun was rising in St. Louis. It would once again be a beautiful day. The evening had passed quickly and Adam had made an early departure to ensure that both Margaret and Claire had time to catch up and rest. He would see them today.

As he lay in bed, he was happier than he had ever been. There would be a Mrs. Adam Cartwright. He wished his family were present so that the two of them could share the news. For now, he would talk with Claire and work out how they wished to handle it.

Claire did not sleep as well as she expected. She was too excited. After Adam had left, she spent time talking to her aunt about her illness, the business matters and Adam.

The common thread that lay between the two of them, were details. What would they be and how would they approach resolving them? There were business items still pending and Claire still having a need to make a last pass at gaining information regarding her biological parents. She’d not mentioned this in any detail to Adam and knew she had to. These could wait. She held her hand in front of her and the light from the window caressed her ring. She loved it. She was going to be married. She was going to be Mrs. Adam Stoddard Cartwright. She felt giddy and just snuggled into the bed once more with a smile on her face.

She’d see Adam later in the afternoon. He told her that he would bring her up to speed on what he’d done at the freight company the day before.

Right now, Claire was missing Adam and her Uncle Hank. Adam was missing Claire, and his father and two brothers.

Like an atom that had exploded, he knew that there were many pieces that needed to come together. His hope was that this could be done, and quickly.

 

 

TWENTY-NINE

* * * * * * * * * *

Sunday could not have been more different for Virginia City and St. Louis. None of the inhabitants of these remote locations had any idea of what was taking place. In one there was a family that was facing willful destruction of their property and in the other an excitement of healing and of a pending marriage.

Ben, Hoss and Joe were enroute to Carson City. Somehow getting washed and putting on fresh clothes provided a little more energy for their ride. The tiredness had not gone away, it remained, but they were now overtired and Ben’s temper matched his tiredness. Ben had left distinct instructions with his foreman as to what was expected and what authority they had on his behalf. Joe had felt this type of tiredness in a way especially after staying out all night in Virginia City. It was Sunday morning and their thoughts could not be further away from church services at this moment.

They rode up to the sheriff’s office in Carson City. The sheriff was someone Ben had known for many years. Entering the office Ben said, “Morning Raif.”

“Ben, Ben Cartwright. What brings you to Carson City on a Sunday morning?” He could see the piercing eyes of the senior Cartwright and knew that something was wrong.”

“We’re looking for a family from Kentucky. They may have moved into this area a week or two ago. Their name is Wales.”

“Any particular reason you’re looking for this family?”

“Look Raif,” said Joe. “Can you tell us or not? Both Hoss and I can describe the family. They were driving a herd of over 800 head or so and should have been heading in this direction.”

Ben tried to quiet Joe. “My boys had some trouble with them trespassing on the Ponderosa and trying to homestead. They had to be forced off. There was some trouble. Last night my Pine Point timber was set afire. We’re looking to talk to them.”

“Mighty serious charges you’re spouting’ Ben.”

“Look, I’m not spouting’ any charges, I just want to locate them and find out if they know anything about it. Now can you answer the question or not?” he said as he leaned his weight on the sheriff’s desk.

“Ben, I do believe I know of a family that has set up roots about six miles out of town near Colely Flats.”

With that Hoss and Joe turned toward the door when Raif said,” First of all, you’re not going to find them there and second, you’re not going to start anything in this town. I’m going with you.”

“Whad’dya mean we ain’t gonna find them there?” asked Hoss.

“Because I saw them ride in this morning and they all went to church. So, if you want to speak with them you’re going to have to wait until church is over.”

Joe let out a sigh and pushed his hat back. “I hate waiting.”

“Well waiting has its advantages,” said Hoss. “It can sometimes help to calm a situation before we go storming into something that we cain’t handle. Besides it gives us a chance to think things through. So, be patient little brother. There ain’t no way we ain’t going to get to the bottom of this.”

“Boys, “said Ben. Let’s grab a seat outside and watch the church. When church is over, you can point them out to me.”

As they were waiting Joe asked, “Pa, do you think we should contact Adam?

Hearing the question, Hoss raised his head to await the answer.”

“No. Adam is handling some personal things in St. Louis and will be home soon enough. We can handle this.”

“But pa, Adam’s always been the one to hep ya with the paperwork. After the fire, don’t’cha need to do some figuring or something for the timber contracts?”

“Hoss, I said no for now. The timber that was lost was not part of what is going to be cut and sold.”

Raif walked out of his office and said, “I guess church should be just about over. The four men headed toward the church standing a good distance from the entry. Soon they saw people exiting.

“There pointed Joe, there’s the Wales family and there’s the son I shot.”

His neck hairs began to rise. He smiled slightly and thought to himself that he’d done the right thing. Andy Wales and family had attended church and made their presence know in the Carson City Area. As they moved closer to their buckboard, Raif approached the family and said. ” Excuse me. I hate to bother you folks on a Sunday mornin’, but I’d like to talk to you.”

Andy turned and saw that there were now three Cartwrights. “What about?” Me and the family here was just getting’ ready to head home.” He saw the depth of anger in their eyes and decided to have his wife and daughter go wait for him in the buckboard. His sons remained. There was a mean look from the son Joe had shot.

“Wales, I’m Ben Cartwright. I know you’ve already met my sons.”

“Yeah, what of it?”

“I understand that you tried to settle on my land and they had to force you off. That’s the reason your son there has a bad arm right now.”

Wales continued to look at Ben. “The point was made and we moved on,” he said.

“Seems they have another problem now,” said the sheriff.

Looking at the Cartwrights and then spitting on the ground he said, “Well, sheriff if they have another problem I guess that’s their problem.” Wales turned to head toward the buckboard when he heard is name, “Wales!”

He turned to look at an angry Ben Cartwright. “Someone deliberately set fire to some of my prime timber last night. I have reason to believe that it was either you or one of your sons.”

“Boys,” he said to his sons. “Get in the buckboard. As for you Cartwrights ya can believe what ya want. We ain’t done nothin’ and I’m a warnin ya … don’t start nothing you cain’t finish.”

“Is that a warning Wales?” asked Ben.

“Consider it what you want. But don’t go a messin’ where you don’t belong and don’t go messin’ with ma family. You may be bite’n off more than you can chew.” He walked away.

“Wales. This isn’t over. If I’m wrong about you and your boys, you’ll know it. But if I’m not, there will be nowhere any of you can hide. That’s a fact!”

Wales climbed up into the buckboard and as he passed them he said, “Sheriff, I want you to remember that these here Cartwrights threatened me and my family. If I need to file a complaint, I’ll do it.”

Ben looked at Raif and said we need to talk. They walked back to the jail and Ben and Hoss explained all the details to him. Joe remained outside fuming. As they left, Ben said, “I hope I don’t have to return, but be assured that we will be back if necessary. Sheriff Coffee in Virginia City will be visited as well.” They rode off in a cloud of dust. If anything was accomplished, it was that Ben was able to see his possible foes and offer a them a strong warning.”

* * * * * * * * * * * *
Claire and Margaret joined Amelia and Isaac for church. The service was something that Claire had enjoyed. She was very happy to see familiar faces and friends. As they departed, Amelia and Isaac took up the conversation that had ended when they entered the church. They wanted to know when she, Margaret and Adam could join them at their home for coffee and dessert. They also could not get over the fact that she was getting married. Claire promised that it would not be too long before they would get together. Right now, she wanted to get home and take care of some personal things. Feeling a bit tired, she positioned herself on the settee and picked up a book. Margaret had made her a cup of tea and told her to rest. Putting the book down Claire said, “Aunt Maggie, can we talk for a few minutes?”

“Of course dear, I’m always here to listen to you.”

Claire raised herself up and faced her aunt. “I’ve a lot on my mind and am trying to sort all of it out one piece at a time.”

“Seems like the reasonable way to do it dear.”

“I’ve not visited the cemetery since I returned home and am going to do it. I need to begin to look through all the things here in this house and decide what I should do with them.”

“Do you remember the doctor’s orders?”

“Yes I do. You needn’t worry. I’ll be taking it slow and easy. I’m sure I’ll not get away with very much since the two of you are here.”

“Certainly not dear. As for Adam, I’ve known him since he was a young boy. He’s in it for the long haul now.”

“Speaking of knowing Adam. Can you tell me what you know of the family and of him? He seems to be a bit humble when it comes to discussing himself. I’d be interested especially since you and Uncle Hank are such good friends with the Cartwrights.

“What time do you expect Adam?”

“He said early afternoon. He had a few things to take care of this morning.”

“Claire, I know the engagement just happened, but have you and Adam had any discussions on the details?”

“No we really haven’t but I’m sure that will be happening very soon,” she smiled.

She laid back and said; “Now Aunt Maggie, fill in the missing pieces on the Cartwrights and Adam please.”

Margaret began to reminisce about the days when they arrived in Nevada and met the Cartwrights. As she talked, she turned only to find Claire having fallen asleep. She rose and put a covering over her, removed her shoes and placed the book on the table. This conversation would continue at another time.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Adam had returned to the Sanders Freight and Shipping Company very early. He had not intended to work on Sunday, but something told him he should. He’d been introduced to the head of Security the previous day. He allowed Adam into the building after having him sign in. Going to his office, Adam reviewed his notes and began to go through the files in the office. Some things were not adding up for him and he was not sure if it was his imagination or better expertise was required. After a few hours, he looked out the window. It had only been a day since he stared out this same window and something was now different.

He looked down at the freight dock. Before he left yesterday, there were many more items stacked on the dock. The workers had all gone home and as far as he knew, there was no night crew. How could the number of items have diminished? Could this somehow relate to the one gate that was left open he had informed McGill about? He locked the office and took a walk to the freight dock. Looking around, he noticed the remnants of wheel tracks. This was not good. He knew for certain that something was not right. He’d say nothing until he could better formulate his thoughts. For now, his work for today was over.

 

 

THIRTY

* * * * * * * * * *

Shortly before three o’clock there was a light knock on the door. Margaret answered it and saw that it was Adam. He removed his hat and she invited him in. Showing him the warm smile he had always remembered, she hugged him and said, “Hello Adam. I’m trying to get used to the idea that you’re going to be my nephew-in-law if there is such a thing.”

Taking her by her shoulders he kissed her cheek and said, “I hope you can tolerate me.”

She lightly hit his arm and said, “Come on in, Claire should be waking soon. She was feeling a bit tired and while we were talking she fell asleep in the parlor.”

“Has she been feeling all right?” he said with some concern showing.

“I’m sure she’s getting better, but I don’t think that she’s resting as well as she needs to. After yesterday’s events, I’m not sure she slept that well last night.” She winked at him as she said this. “I was just doing some needlepoint in the den. Why don’t you just wait in the parlor? I’m sure she’ll be pleased to see you when she wakes up.”

Adam nodded and quietly entered the parlor as Margaret disappeared. He took a seat next to the hearth. As he recalled it was the chair her father often sat in. He laid his head back and focused on her. He thought how many times in recent days he had sat next to her as she slept. This time, it was different. She looked relaxed and there was just a faint sound of her breathing. Margaret is a manipulator he thought.

As he sat there watching her, he started to focus on the things he himself needed to be responsible for. He had responsibilities to his family and the ranch. He’d completed the beef deal. Under normal circumstances he would have already returned to Nevada and taken up his duties once again. He had to admit that this was tugging at him a bit especially since his family had no idea of the recent occurrences. The last wire from his father said he understood and to take the time he needed. This was a very busy time and in many ways, he knew he needed to return. Looking at the woman sleeping, he knew in his heart that he could not leave her now nor did he want to. There were still adjustments she was going through and needed to finalize. Although it had not been brought up, there were the plans for the marriage. What did Claire feel? Would she want to remain in St. Louis or return to Nevada? Whatever she wanted, he knew that it would be hers … even if it meant leaving Nevada. He loved her that much and more. He sighed and thought he needed to wire his father. A letter would take too long.

He closed his eyes and thought of her needs as related to the business she now owned. He’d suggest to her that he can meet with her attorney and possibly engage an independent audit firm. This made the best sense to him.

Not wanting to awaken her, he rose and walked into the den where Margaret was. She looked up, “Still sleeping?”

“Yes,” he said as he sat down.

Margaret could see that there was something in his eyes that said he wanted to talk. She put the needlepoint down in her lap.

“What is it Adam?”

Rubbing the back of his neck he said, “I’m not sure. Claire seems to be coming along but you’ve known her almost all her life. What do you think she really needs right now?”

She looked caringly at Adam and thought a moment before she said, “I believe that she now has what she really needs and that is you.”

This was not the answer he was seeking and Margaret sensed that. She continued, “If you’re asking me what she needs to do to move on, that’s something only she can answer. What I do notice is that she seems to have come to terms with things and is moving on. I believe that she is regaining her confidence and determination. I think that even if we don’t agree with her way of doing things, we can only try to understand and support her. Now, mind you, I’m not saying that we should agree with everything. I don’t think that’s what she’d want. But I do believe that she has to take the lead on straightening up matters here.” She looked at him as she spoke and realized that he was taking in her every word. “Adam, Claire like most of us, needs some time, space and understanding. I believe that all of us need to be patient. She knows there’s a wonderful life ahead of her with you. Be patient, “she said as she reached over and touched his hand. “It may be hard for you because you want her happiness … but remember; sometimes happiness that will be lasting comes with a price. Sometimes we don’t want to pay that price but in the end, the cost is not that high.”

He smiled at her and said, “How did you get to be so smart?”

“It’s not hard when the person I’m talking to already knows the answers.”

They both heard a rustling sound and looked up. Claire had awakened and found them in the den. “So, are the two of you sharing secrets?” she asked.

Adam rose and walked over to plant a kiss on her cheek. Margaret just blushed.

“If we were sharing any secrets that’s exactly what they will remain,” Adam said.

Claire sat down and placed one of her feet under her. This was a way that she had always loved to sit. Perhaps not accepted in polite society, but she was at home.

“Claire,” said Margaret. “Where are your shoes?”

“Right where you left them. Didn’t feel like putting them on right now.”

“But Adam is a guest!”

“Well, I just think that our guest should get used to some of my quirks. And before you say anything else about how I’m sitting, I’ve always done this and you know it. There’s nothing showing that shouldn’t be.”

Margaret rose from her seat and said, “I told you Adam. I’m going to start dinner and leave you two to talk.”

* * * * * * * * * * * *

“I’m sorry that I was sleeping when you arrived. I guess I was a bit tired.”

“Claire are you feeling well?”

“Yes Adam. I find that I just get tired sometimes. Dr. Parker did say that I might feel this way.”

“You haven’t forgotten that you have an appointment to see him this week.”

“No, I remember.”

He went and sat next to her. She leaned against him.

“Adam, you spent the day at the business yesterday. What do you think?

“I’m not an expert. The first concern I had was to establish that the accounts are all in place and recorded accurately. The operation is of a much larger scale than I had originally thought. McGill was very forthcoming with my requests. I would say that from the perspective of someone who had not run the business or reviewed the financials, there could be some things that would be missed.”

“So what are you saying?”

“Claire I’m saying that there is only so much that I feel capable of doing. I have somewhat of a handle on some things but it’s too early to tell. My honest thought is to talk to your attorney and then engage an independent audit firm to come in to assess all aspects of the business.”

“Sounds like sound advice. Do you think it’s necessary? McGill and my father had worked very closely together for many, many years.”

“You asked my opinion, so I’m giving it. I do believe it to be the right thing to do. Whether you keep the business or sell it, a new owner needs to be aware of all the details surrounding it. I feel this is the best course of action.”

“It’s sound advice and I’ll make an appointment with the attorney for this week. I’d like you to go with me because of your business sense if you don’t mind.”

She could see a strange look on his face. “What is it Adam?”

Trying not to establish any worries on her part he said lightly, “I think your father had an excellent business and business sense. All areas should be considered. One of interest would be the dock for the freight that is shipped in and out. This is the ‘honeypot’ per McGill.”

“Honeypot?” she asked.

“Yes, where money is made or lost.”

He took her hand in his and fingered the ring with his thumb. She turned and they kissed.

“Since there is a marriage that is coming up, I think we should discuss it.”

“You’re reading my mind Claire.”

“One thing that is a bother to me is that Aunt Maggie, Isaac and Amelia know, but none of your family does and right now neither does Uncle Hank.”

“Yes, I’ve thought about it and don’t know how to word a wire to all of them or even if that’s what you’d want to do.”

She sat up and turned to him. “Adam, please hear me out. Now if you don’t agree, we can discuss it. But this is what I was thinking. Why don’t we tell them in person?”

He was puzzled and she knew it.

“Adam, I’ve had roots here in St. Louis for most of my life. But my life now is going to be with you. I’ve thought about it and want to return to Nevada with you or any other place that you decide. I know how much you love that country and I came to love it as well. I could not imagine remaining here. I want to go back.”

He was not sure what he was hearing. Was Claire saying that she wanted to give up the life she’d led here and move to what some would consider a ruthless and rugged land? He could only stare at her and try to read her eyes.

“Claire are you sure of this? In a heartbeat, I’d move here to St. Louis for you. I want you to be happy and whatever it takes I’ll do.”

“Adam, I’m very sure. Now if you want to do something for me, let’s plan on going home. That’s what I really want. We could tell them when we arrive.”

He could tell from her look that she really meant what she was saying. How could he love anyone more?

“Claire, you’re truly amazing. I guess I should get used to your making decisions that I could never imagine.”

“Isn’t it fun finding out things about one another?”

Kissing her hand he said, “That works two ways my love. I’m certainly going to enjoy the discovery.”

Laying her head upon his chest again, she could hear the beat of his heart and feel the hardness of his chest. He continued to stroke her hair and didn’t want this time to end; however, he knew that there would be many times ahead.

“I’ve been busy thinking about things Adam. I hope with Aunt Maggie’s help, I can get through the items in here and decide what to do with them.”

He sat her up and faced her square on. “Claire, you’re making life changing decisions. I would only ask that you be certain about your decisions.”

“Adam, I’m making these decisions with my head. Certainly, there is a piece of my heart that will be connected, but there is nothing that can be done about that. I’m trying to be prepared for the sadness of closing this house, but the memories that are the most important to me are here in my heart. My plan is to sell the house.”

“Claire ……”

She put her hand on his lips, “Adam, even if you never walked into my life, this is not where I’d want to continue to live. I knew that I wanted to return to Aunt Maggie and Uncle Hank’s home when I headed for St. Louis. So don’t be concerned. I’m content with this decision. What I’m not clear on is what to do with the business.” She was quiet for a moment and continued. “I want to go to the cemetery. Something I’ve not told you is that I’ve been seeking my biological parents for a while. Not out of disrespect for my parents, but to at least try to know my roots. I’m going to give it one last try.”

Adam felt a pain in his heart because although she said these words lightly, he himself knew the need to be able to know your mother and father. “Do you think you’re putting too much strain on yourself? Let’s take it, as you said, one piece at a time.”

She grinned at him and said, “I think we’re going to make a pretty good pair.”

“You’ll get no argument from me on that.”

Standing up, she took his hand and said, “Well we can’t keep too many secrets from Aunt Maggie so I think we should let her in on what we’ve decided except looking for my roots. I’d like to pick the time to talk to her about that.”

They entered the kitchen and found Margaret getting dinner underway. Margaret noticed the two and said, “If you come into the kitchen, you’re gonna work for your dinner.”

“Not a problem Margaret. I can peel anything pretty well,” said Adam. “Besides we can talk.”

“Here you go Adam, start the potatoes.”

Hearing a rather loud “Ouch!” Margaret said, “It always helps if a lady puts her shoes on.”

Adam just smiled and picked up the paring knife.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

The men of the Wales family were sitting around mulling over the events of their run in with Ben Cartwright and his sons.

“Yes sir, we sure have the almighty Cartwrights taken down a peg or two,” said Andy.

“Pa, he sure doesn’t sound as if he’s going to back off this thing,” said Sam.

“Mebbe not, but we’re going to take our time ‘cause I ain’t finished with them yet. No one is gonna run me off the land and then shoot up one o’ my boys.”

“I think we should bide our time. We don’t wannna give them any reason to come after us,” said Danny.

“They probably wouldn’t a come after us if you didn’t leave the kerosene pails out there.”

“Look,” said Danny. “It was a mistake, but they cain’t prove where they came from.”

“Be still all of you.”

“But pa….”

“I said be still! We owe the Cartwrights another visit before I’m finished with
em. Will just wait it out. Now find somethin’ to do and git outta my sight until dinner. I got some thinking to do.”

 

 

THIRTY-ONE

* * * * * * * * * *

Bright and early Monday morning Adam was back at Sanders Freight and Shipping. Claire was going to try to arrange an appointment with the attorney for the next morning and would advise Adam. Being an early riser, he arrived before most of the employees. He did find that just down the hall a rather pleasant woman with gray hair was hanging up her wrap. Knowing that he’d not met her on Saturday he walked over to her.

“Good morning.” She turned with a pleasant look on her face. “I’ve not had the pleasure of meeting you. My name is Adam Cartwright and I will be here for a few days.”

She extended her hand warmly and said, “Mr. Cartwright, it’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m Sylvia Lawson. I was told that you would be coming in this week. I’m available to assist you with whatever it is that you’ll need. Please don’t hesitate to call upon me.””

Adam appreciated her warm reception and very pleasant attitude. He was also glad to note that she appeared to be an early bird. “Thank you, Mrs. Lawson. There are several items that I’ll be looking over. I’ll be working most of the time right down the hall.”

“Oh yes, Mr. Sander’s office.”

Adam had no idea that he was working in Claire’s father’s office. “Mrs. Lawson, when you have a few minutes, would you mind coming in? I’d like to get more acquainted and have a few questions you might have the answers to.”

“Certainly. I was going to get some coffee first. May I also bring you a cup?” she said smiling.

“Mrs. Lawson, you have no idea how much I would appreciate that. Thank you.”

There was something that seemed genuine about Mrs. Lawson. Adam felt that there possibly could be a trust level established between the two of them. He would have to be careful, as he was not knowledgeable about the employees. There were those who were what they portrayed themselves to be and he was certain there were those who were not.

Within a few minutes, there was a knock on the door. Opening the door Mrs. Lawson came in with coffee for two and some muffins. She noticed that Adam had been looking at the freight area. She felt a slight chill. Adam turned and was surprised. He’d not expected this extra-added treat.

“Mrs. Lawson, I expected coffee not the muffins.”

“Mr. Cartwright, it has been a habit with me for over the last 15 years. If you don’t care for one, I won’t be offended.”

“It’s a pleasant surprise,” he said smiling. Closing the door, he said, “Please have a seat.” He did not want this to be a formal conversation so did not sit behind the desk but across from her.

“I won’t keep you away from your duties long, but felt it would be appropriate for you to know a little about me and my reason for being here.”

“If I may be so bold,” she said. “Mr. McGill has been very thorough. He stopped by my home on Saturday afternoon and filled me in. I hope you don’t mind.”

“No, not in the least. I’m sorry he felt the need to disturb you on your day off.”

“It was perfectly fine. My husband and I were really doing nothing at all.”

“So you understand my reasons for being here?”

“I believe I do. With Claire, er … Miss Sanders now the sole owner of this business, you’re just overseeing some of the details on her behalf until she’s able to be brought up to speed and officially run things here.”

“That’s the gist of it. I suspect that she’ll be coming in fairly soon,” Adam said finishing his muffin.

There was a rather strange look on Mrs. Lawson’s face and Adam wondered what she was thinking. He would wait until she volunteered the information.

“Mr. Cartwright, I worked for Paul Sanders my entire fifteen years here. I was truly devastated over the loss. Claire would pop in as often as she was able. She was his pride and joy and was always friendly and outgoing toward me. He shared almost everything he worked on and often left details to me. I’m not bragging, but we’d established a compatible working relationship and in most cases, I knew just about as much as he did.”

“That’s says quite a lot for you. You should feel honored. And please, call me Adam if you feel comfortable.”

“Thank you. I felt that he treated me as a person and respected me as I him. With things the way they seem to be now, I’m not sure what is going on. That is why I’m very glad that you’re here.”

He raised his eyebrows. “With things the way they are, I don’t quite understand.”

Even though the door was closed, she looked over her shoulder. “I’m stepping out on faith with you. I’m sure that Miss Sanders would not entrust just anyone to come in and examine the books and the operation of this company. She’s a very bright person and since you’re acting on her behalf, I hope you don’t mind my sharing some things with you. Please don’t see me as speaking out of turn, but there are some things that are not the way they used to be.”

“Mrs. Lawson, whatever you share with me will stay with me. My concern is merely to see that all things are in order.”

“Mr …er … Adam, during the time that Miss Sanders has been away, there have been changes in personnel. Some left after the fire and while the warehouse was being repaired. There have been new hires and quite frankly they don’t seem to be the type of persons that Mr. Sanders would have hired.”

“I’m not sure that I’m following you.”

“I think in some ways you are. When I came into the office you were looking at the freight dock. I believe that you feel there is something amiss there.”

“Why should I feel that way?”

“You appear to be very alert. If you were here on Saturday, I’m sure you saw the dock. I am willing to bet that looking at it first thing this morning you notice that something is different from when you left Saturday at the end of business.”

“There was a large insurance payout for the items destroyed by the fire. That’s all been settled. However, as I look over the records that come across my desk, it appears now that the manifests indicate lower numbers of items being received and shipped than is the case.”

“Are you saying that there is theft going on Mrs. Lawson?”

“I can’t say for sure. But I do believe that something is going on. Paperwork that I once received is not coming to me, at least not all of it. I was concerned about one shipment and went to the dock. I knew for a fact that there were sixteen cases that had been received. When the paperwork reached my desk, it indicated only twelve cases. This is not the first time that this has happened. I was given a warning that I was not to be on the docks as it was not safe for me. I believe that was just an excuse as I used to accompany Mr. Sanders on many occasions.”

“Have you spoken to anyone about your assumptions? Mr. McGill perhaps?”

“No. With the new employees hired after the fire, I’m not certain whom I can trust. I hope that I can trust you.”

Leaning forward he said, “You can trust me. Our conversations are confidential. It appears that we both want the same things. Who are the new persons who were hired and who did the hiring?”

She reached into her pocket and pulled out a small book. She handed it to Adam. Taking it in his hands, he flipped through the pages. It was a log that she’d been keeping identifying shipments, dates, hires and dismissals. He was surprised and very much so.

She looked at him rather timidly and he said, “It appears that you have been keeping this for the last four months or so.”

“That’s correct. I’m not overly cautious, but there was a new personnel manager hired and he’s been the one hiring the new workers. He’s not very pleasant nor are many of the new workers. He has hired a new security person and another five dockworkers. I believe that was about the time I stopped receiving all the paperwork. I was told that it was being handled in a different way and that I would be receiving the final copies. I’ve tried to document what I’ve noticed. I hope that as you go through all things, you’ll find that I am mistaken,” she said as she put her head down.

“Mrs. Lawson, do you mind if I hold onto this and review it more thoroughly? I’d like to check some things out for myself and will return it to you with nothing being said to anyone.”

Feeling comfortable with his words she said, “Certainly not. Now I better get back to my desk. Mr. McGill should be arriving and I do have work to do. Thank you for listening to my ramblings.”

He rose and escorted her to the door, “Not at all. And thank you for your candidness.”

After she left, he sat in the chair and mulled over what had just taken place. He was not going to jump to any conclusions, however, he would neither dismiss what he’d seen himself or the information just shared with him. He took off his jacket and went to work. Before he knew it, it was almost noon and he felt the pangs of hunger. It appeared the McGill had shown up but decided not to interrupt him. He would speak to him later. Right now, he was going to get something to eat.

As he went down the stairs, something pulled him in the direction of the warehouse and the dock. He wound his way through the warehouse looking at the neatly marked pallets of outgoing items. He stopped to see the signage placed on several of the shipments and the dates for the shipping. As he was making his way through the warehouse toward the dock he heard a loud yell,” Hey you! What do you think you’re doing?”

Adam turned for two reasons. One, he did not care at all for the tone of the question and second, he wanted to know who might have the audacity to address him in this manner. As he stood taking in the person that was approaching him, he noticed that he was not approaching him empty handed.

“I asked you a question. Now who the devil are you and what are you doing in here. This is off limits. Understand?”

Adam calmly responded, “Am I to assume that you’re speaking to me?”

“Don’t see anyone else here abouts, do you?”

“No, I don’t. However, I’m not hard of hearing either.”

“Look this is private and no one is allowed in here. Now who are you or do I have to resort to other means to get an answer?”

Adam sized the man up. He then folded his arms and said quite sternly, “I might ask you the same thing. I’m accustomed to answering questions that are put to me in a proper manner. Also, I would not suggest that you even consider ‘other means’ to get an answer out of me. I’m advising you that wouldn’t be a wise thing to do. Now if you want to identify who you are and speak in a civil manner, perhaps we can both get some answers.”

Adam could see that this was just irritating him. He was hoping for no trouble, but if it came he would not back down.

“I’m security for the warehouse. Name is Jeffers. Now if you’ll follow me, I’ll escort you outta here and see to it that you don’t return.” He lifted a hefty hammer as if to hit Adam and reached and grabbed Adam’s arm.

Anger erupted in Adam and he immediately took Jeffer’s arm and made a u-turn twisting the arm behind the man and slamming him up against a pallet causing him to drop the hammer.

“I told you that trying anything of this nature would not be wise.” Jeffers was winching in pain.

“Now, how’s about I escort you out of here and you don’t return. I’m an agent of the owner and have all the rights and privileges to be anywhere and to go anywhere I so desire. I would suggest next time you consider your tone of voice and actions before you speak or try to implement them,” said Adam as he pushed Jeffers to the outside dock. Reaching the outside Adam let him go.

Jeffers turned and was red faced. “I don’t care who you are. I heard that you were here. I was doing my job.”

“And might I add very poorly at that,” said Adam. Persons having lunch in the area were beginning to mill around to see what was going on.

Adam continued, “I’m sorry that this had to happen but I don’t take kindly to people that approach me with the intent of wielding a hammer against me or anything else for that matter. Now I would suggest that you collect whatever belongs to you and I’ll see to it that your pay is at the front desk at the end of the day.”

Ready to pounce on Adam Jeffers said, “You can’t fire me. And this is not over.”

Adam was not being polite in the least, “Look, I just fired you. It’s over as far as I’m concerned. Now get off the property. I’m not going to say it a second time.” Adam’s eyes were glaring and he was not going to back down. With that he turned and walked back into the warehouse. Great way to start the week he thought.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Amelia had joined Claire and Margaret. After having coffee, they discussed what Claire needed to go through in the house. It was decided that they would acquire containers for the items to be kept or needing to be gone through a second time and to find a single location in the house for the items that would not be kept. They also decided they would work one room at a time. This was not going to be an easy task, but they did agree that they would set no timeframe for completion and only work a certain number of hours each day.

Margaret was pleased that Claire seemed to be up to the task and that she and Adam would be returning to Virginia City. Amelia on the other hand, was saddened that her dear friend would be moving away. She would sorely miss her but was happy that Claire had found Adam and a new life awaited her. As they began to start the tasks they embraced each other. There was not a lot to say and they all had mixed feelings. This was a sad time but they’d try to work in an upbeat manner to get through everything. No one denied there would be sentimental feelings all around.

They were well into their work when there was a knock on the door. Amelia was closest to the door and opened it. Standing there in somewhat of a panic-stricken mode was Dr. Monroe from the St. Louis Conservatory of Music.

“Excuse me,” he said. “I’m looking for Claire Sanders.”

“May I ask who you are sir?” asked Amelia.

“Oh, excuse me. I’m Dr. Monroe from the conservatory and it’s most important that I see her.”

Opening the door she showed him in. “Please wait here.”

Going into the dining room she said to Claire, “There’s a Dr. Monroe here to see you. He’s seems very excited.”

“Dr. Monroe? I’m not sure what he’s doing here but I guess I’d better go see him.”

“Hello Dr. Monroe,” she said. “Please have a seat.”

Margaret and Amelia stood in the doorway of the parlor.

“Claire, I’m very sorry to disturb you. I know that you’re taking care of several things, but I’m desperately in need of your assistance.”

“My assistance? I don’t know how I can assist you.”

“Well Claire, the Annual Gala for the benefit of the Children’s Home and the conservatory is scheduled for this Saturday evening. If you recall, it’s a rather formal affair with dinner and dancing. I’m not concerned about the dinner and dancing. I’m concerned about the concert by the Ensemble.”

Claire was looking at him a bit puzzled and wished he would get to the point. She sat back in her chair as he continued.

“Claire, we need your assistance. Jennifer Holbrook has sprained her wrist and will be unable to play. You’re the best pianist here and I’m asking you to take her place. Now I know this is really short notice but I’m sure that you would do an excellent job.”

Claire listened and then Margaret spoke up. “Dr. Monroe, my niece is recovering from a recent illness and as you can see, we are taking care of several matters. I don’t see how she could possibly take on anything else particularly now.”

“Excuse me, but I would not make this request if there were any other options open to me. Mrs. … Mrs.”

“Sanders. Margaret Sanders.”

Addressing both Margaret and Claire, “Please believe me. I’ve tried to find a replacement from as far away as Kansas City and Springfield without success.”

Turning to Claire, “I truly understand and have empathy for what you’re experiencing. You’ve known me for many years and I would certainly not ask you this favor if there were any other options available to me.”

“Dr. Monroe, I do understand the importance of this event and the audience that will be in attendance, however, I must respectfully decline. Right now, I’m trying to handle a number of things in moderation and this is an impossibility for me right now.”

“Claire you’ve been a member of our staff and recognize the importance of this event and the monies that are raised each year. This is the only fundraiser that is sponsored and the attendees come from miles around and make generous pledges. One of the highlights is the concert that takes place in the early evening.”

“Dr. Monroe, I’m sure that there must be someone who can play. Besides, I’ve not touched the piano in any meaningful way for quite some time.”

“Claire, your expertise on that instrument has never waned. The selections to be played are all that you have instructed and played yourself. It’s not as if you would have to learn anything new and we’d make a concession for you with one evening’s rehearsal before the event. I’m at a loss as to what else to do.”

“Dr. Monroe, I truly wish that I could be of assistance to you but I’m afraid that I cannot. I’d only have a week to prepare and I’ve several things to take care of. I also need to safeguard my health. I hope that you understand.”

He was a dejected man. Claire excused herself for a moment and went into the kitchen taking Amelia and her aunt with her.

“I want your true opinion,” said Claire. “My mind says that I should not do this, but my heart says to me that I would enjoy it very much. If I were to pace myself, I believe that I could do it. Now having said that, I know all that needs to be accomplished and the assistance that both of you are giving me. What’s your opinion?”

Both Amelia and Margaret looked at each other while Claire waited.

Amelia spoke, “Claire I say do it. I know you well enough to know that you’ve made up your mind already. Besides you really want to do this. So why are you asking? Are you seeking our approval? Stand by your decision.”

It was now Margaret’s turn. “Claire, music and art are a part of who you are. If you’re able to restructure what needs to be done so that it doesn’t impact you or your health, then I say do it. You really love music and it will probably be the last time you’ll have this opportunity. I agree with Amelia; your mind is already made up.”

“You’re both right. I do want to do it but wanted your approval. I need to take a piece at a time in getting through all things. Right now, because of the reasons I’m here and the things I’m doing, I just felt that I needed support.”

“Why now Claire?” asked Amelia. “You’ve never asked before.” With that they all laughed.

“One other thing Claire, your mind is made up. Now you just need to see that Adam has an enjoyable evening,” said her aunt.

Claire returned to the living room. Dr. Monroe stood up. Claire directly looked at him and said, “Dr. Monroe, I’ll do it. But there are several conditions. The pieces must be what I’ve already played time and time again; the rehearsal can only be done once and if I reach a point of tiredness I must stop. I will also require four tickets for the entire event.”

“Oh Claire, I cannot thank you enough. You have saved the event and I just don’t know how to thank you. I’ll see that the music is sent over to you tomorrow and will work with you to make this an easy event. The tickets are yours.”

“I’m going to enjoy it I’m sure. I must advise that I’m to see my doctor this week and must adhere to his advice.”

“Understood, Claire. The Conservatory and I are deeply indebted to you.”

“You’re welcome Dr. Monroe.”

“Well let me bid all of you goodbye as there are arrangements that I need to take care of.” With that he left.

Claire leaned against the door after he departed and found both Amelia and Margaret looking at her with their arms crossed.

“What?” said Claire.

 

 

THIRTY-TWO
Heartfelt Conversation

* * * * * * * * * *

The day was beginning to shut down and the sun no longer cast long shadows. A calm breeze blew without a real clue the direction from whence it came. It caused a restful and serene sense as one looked at the still snow capped mountains in the distance. The signs of spring were becoming more abundant with fragrances disseminated through the air by the breeze. The streets still carried the sounds and voices of activity.

He was not tired and decided to walk. The walk passed the St. Louis Conservatory of Music. Signs were posted announcing the Gala Event with the name Claire Sanders. Being well rested from the afternoon nap, she came downstairs. Her aunt and Amelia asked if she would be fine while they went to top some shopping. She indicated she’d be fine and apologized for not wanting to go. She assured them that she was fine in the house.

* * * * * * * * * *

They day proved to be fruitful and he gave thanks for that. Having changed clothes and shaved, his mind was wondering about the sign he’d seen. When did this happen?

Claire opened the door and he stepped in. Putting his hat down, he took her in his arms, told her of his unconditional love followed by a long lingering kiss.

She escorted him into the parlor. Signs of packing were evident. She hugged him not wanting to let go. She was happy and knew they’d both found something rare and unique. The sensitivity and gentleness of this relationship showed more than promise.

Claire looked into Adam’s rich eyes and said softly, “I’m in love with you more than you can possibly know. If I hadn’t told you, it has to do with you the person. I began to love you from the inside out, which I think is most important.” She moved back a few steps and staring at the face that hid much and often said much, she chuckled and said, “It was later that I fell in love with your handsomeness.”

While Claire was talking, Adam’s face showed his infamous half smile as his eyes heard and his ears listened.

He walked toward her and said with a twinkle in his eye, “My love, what brought this on and why are you so free in expressing yourself? Aren’t you afraid “proper educated lady” that your aunt might hear?” he asked as he wrapped his arms around her.

“You’re in my every waking moment. Besides, Aunt Maggie and Amelia wanted to do some shopping.”

“Oh, I see,” he said charmingly.

She saw the twinkle in his eye. “And you didn’t go?”

“I just felt that I wanted some time here. Can I get you some tea or coffee?”

“Perhaps later.”

It had always been easy for him to talk with her and to her. He loved her more than life itself, but was concerned with what he had to say and how he would say it. She had taken a seat in her mother’s chair and watched him. He walked over to her. She said, “Ok. What happened cat got your tongue?”

He pulled up a footstool and sat right in front of her. He leaned his arms on his knees and took her hands.

“Adam, I’ve news for you.”

“Oh, and what might that be? Or should I say what time is the gala?”

“Adam, you know?”

“Sometimes providence allows one to know things before they‘re told.” He continued, “Claire I’m very happy for you.” He paused and then decided he needed to be forthright with his thoughts and concerns.

He looked up at her and said, “Claire there are some things that I’m concerned about and want to say. Now before you say anything or interrupt, let me finish. OK?”

She wondered what he was leading up to and just nodded her head.

“Most times it’s very easy for me to say what’s on my mind. I may put this poorly but I’m saying it because for the first time my life’s been changed in a way I could never imagine. You’re my life now and for always.”

She realized something greatly concerned him and was going to remain silent if she could.

“Claire,” he paused. “Claire, I feel that you’re doing more than you should. You’ve just recovered from an illness. I’ve willingly done all you’ve asked and I will continue to do so. You’re a strong, intelligent and determined woman who needs to stop and look at what she’s doing.”

Claire started to speak in defense of herself, but Adam gave her look.

“Claire as I look around, you’re packing, you’ve been to the attorney whom we’ll see again tomorrow, upon your release from the hospital you wanted to come to this house after not having been in this house. I must say that I was worried for and about you. You want to look into another avenue to find your parents, your making plans to sell this house, you’ve not visited the warehouse or gone to storage to see what items are there. And forgive for saying this, as I truly care, but you’ve not been to the cemetery since your return. Now I see that you’re performing at the gala. How much can you actually do?”

He was sounding firm but caring in a quiet tone of voice. His looked directly at her as he said these words in a soft baritone voice.

“Additionally, you have horses that have been cared for during your absence that have to be retrieved, your biological parents, and a prosperous business that needs attention. I don’t think you’re sharing all you feel. What are you trying to prove? If it’s for me, you’ve nothing to prove ever. What you need to do is be selfish and do for yourself.” He paused.

Claire could not contain herself any longer. “Adam, I’m not trying to prove anything. There are just things that I have to do.”

“Does that include wearing yourself down and possibly becoming sick again?”

“Listen to me Claire. There are matters to address. What I’m suggesting is to look at what needs to be done, list the priorities and set a reasonable timetable. Right now, I see things that could be detrimental to you. Do you understand me?” He tried to ask this question with as much love and concern as possible. The soft tone of his voice made an impact on her.

“Adam,” she said as she took a breath and laid her head back in the chair. “I hear what you’re saying. I don’t know if I have an answer that would make sense to you.”

“Try me. All I’m saying Claire is that there are ways that we’ve not looked at together. I have a few thoughts. First, let’s make a list. Place the easy tasks on one side and the more difficult one on the other. Then let’s review them.”

She knelt beside Adam. She placed her head on his shoulder and hugged him. He held her with one arm and stroked her hair with the other. He knew he did the right thing, but why didn’t it feel right? He knew the answer. He found that his protective emotions were pretty much in check but felt a hurt.

He stood and assisted her up. They walked over to the settee. Sitting next to each other there was a bit of quietness.

Suddenly, they both started to speak at the same time. They laughed.

“Adam, let me tell you a few things and see if you agree. When I’m finished let me know honestly what you think.”

He turned her and held her in a way the he could see her.

“I was very nervous about coming back here. The memories haunted me. My initial thought was to take care of everything and move on. What I didn’t realize was the magnitude. I started driving myself and trying to maintain a countenance that was not telling.”

He understood this very well and knew she was more than comfortable sharing with him.

“I tried to be strong. But what I’ve learned through all is that I am strong. There’s nothing wrong with hurt when it comes. You can’t experience true happiness without it.” She stood and walked to the center of the parlor lightly pacing. She turned to him and said, “You’re a very wise man and when something matters you address it. I needed that talking to. Is that how our life together will be?”

“It’ll be shared and will work both ways. I believe you did need to hear those words. Besides, you can be opinionated, “he said casually.”

“Adam, you’re very much the same.”

“Touché. Claire, you’re a woman that doesn’t care about material things. You’re extremely beautiful inside and out but this does not affect you at all. You’ve a centered spirit, down-to-earth and are a loving and devoted person to everyone,” he said. “Especially me.”

“You mentioned all the things that need doing. I realize I’m only one person and can’t do it alone.”

He walked to her and took her by the shoulders. “Others were placed in your life so that you would not have to do anything alone. If you feel overwhelmed, stop and think the reason why. If you’re depressed, you can figure that out and there’s no shame in crying or wanting time to yourself. If you want me with you, I’ll be there. You’re human and no judgments.”

He placed his hand in the middle of her back and turned her around to look at their surroundings. “Darling, I’d like to suggest some things to you. First you need to rest each day even if you don’t feel like it. As far as the packing up of the house, we’ll hire a company that specializes in these things to come in and do it for you. The personal things you can handle. We’ll see the attorney tomorrow at ten o’clock and identify the process for putting the house on the market when ready and ask him to search out the best accounting firm for auditing purpose of the business. Next week or later we’ll find a time that is reasonable to visit the storage space, and only when you’re ready, visit the business, the warehouse and your parent’s graves.”

“Adam, I just wanted to get through it quickly not realizing what it was doing to me or others around me.”

“I know. You’ll never be left alone and if I can help and I’ll do my best to see you’ll not hurt anymore. I care and love you unconditionally remember? Do you think we can have some coffee or tea now?”

They went into the kitchen. Adam leaned in the doorway looking tenderly at her as she went about preparing the beverages. She put the kettle on but did not realize that she had knocked over a plate. As it crashed to the floor, she covered her mouth with both hands. He saw her reaction and went to her. As they cleaned up things, she said, “Adam, I’m not perfect by any means.”

He held her and said, “Never say that. You’re beautiful to you core. You’re also humble enough to recognize the strength in that.”

“I don’t want to let you down.”

“Where’s your confidence? That could never happen,” he said tenderly.

They sat, had tea and some of Aunt Maggie’s apple pie. Claire said, “I was rushing. I’m only going to do perhaps two or three things this week, which should not take longer than and hour or two at most. Lawyer tomorrow, Dr. Parker on Thursday. If everything has been held in abeyance this long, a week or ten days more should not make a difference. Beside Aunt Maggie and Amelia won’t be heartbroken I’m sure.”

“Aren’t you forgetting something?” he asked as he was placing his plate and cup into the washing pan.

“No, I don’t think so.”

“How about telling me about this concert and gala?”

“On my gosh!” she said. “I had no plans to attend or even play. Dr. Monroe came by early today when Aunt Maggie and Amelia were here. The pianist has sprained her wrist. He’s been unable to find a replacement anywhere. He asked me to do it and … and I want to. I’ll not be teaching at the conservatory or playing these concerts anymore. He understands that I need approval of the Doctor. He’s also agreed to supply pieces that I’ve either taught or am proficient with. He’ll deliver the music tomorrow. This is the only fundraiser for the conservatory and for the Children’s home. The concert is at 7:00 o’clock followed by dinner and dancing. I asked for four tickets.”

“Don’t know if I’ll be going. I had my private concert in Virginia City,” he teased.

“Well, I’ll just have to find someone to use the ticket,” she teased back.

As she walked to the wash pan and placed her dishes in it, he swung her around and kissed her passionately. She then hugged him and they kissed again with a love that would be theirs for eternity.

Releasing her he said, “Darling, is it white tie?”

“Yes,” she said.

Leaning up against the counter, he pulled her to him. Holding her only as he could, he thought of the day when they would stand this way in their own kitchen.

 

 

THIRTY-THREE

* * * * * * * * * * * *

One who was always quiet and controlled had not been for a moment. Because of the love of a woman, Adam had lost his control. The woman who would become his wife caused this. He gave her a lecture from his heart for lack of a better word.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

The Ponderosa was settling back into day-to-day operations. The anger rang extremely true, but Ben knew they needed to move on. He didn’t have real proof on who committed the fire. He was wise knowing that carrying this event in the forefront of his mind would cause the inability to move forward for any of them. There was additional work to be done. As investigations continued, he’d follow up with the sheriffs for new leads and keep eyes and ears open. Time had passed yet nothing had turned up. Hoss was moving forward but there was one that was not moving well.

“Pa, I know we’ve had this conversation and I don’t want to argue with you, but I’m sure who did this. We can’t just let this go,” said Joe. “This is not getting taken care of and someone has to pay for this.”

“Joseph, I’m glad that you don’t want to argue with me. It’s been a while now. None of us have any proof. The Wales family seems to have settled and we’ve had no further problem with them.”

“That may be the case pa,” Joe said raising his voice. “But you can’t tell me that you don’t have the same suspicions. I know it’s a fact that they were responsible. I don’t know why you don’t see it. I don’t know why you aren’t doing more that you are,” Joe said extremely angry.

Hoss spoke up and said, “Joe that could maybe be the case. But unless you have one of them there crystal balls, we’ve got nothin’ more to go on. If anything,’ we’d be the ones ending up in jail. You need to let up on it a bit little brother. I’m not saying to give up, but it’s been a few weeks now and it’s not the first time that someone’s done somethin’ like to before. We’ve jes been lucky that it wasn’t us.”

Trying to tone down the conversation that was raging in Joe and before his father was going to get into a real argument with his youngest son; Hoss decided he needed to try to reason with him. “Joe,” he said. “Sure ‘nuf you’re angry. We all are. What pa’s sayin is not that he’s givin’ up, but we just ain’t got enough to go on. Ya just cain’t go off half cocked Joe. They may have done it, but we don’t know fer sure.”

“Hoss, you were there when I shot his son. Anyone in their right mind is not going to let a person get away with that!”

“Joseph Cartwright. I understand your upset … I really do. Things will conclude … but it’ll be done the right way. Do you hear me? The right way! We’re not going to lower ourselves to the level of people like the ones who caused our damage. I didn’t raise any of you to do that,” said Ben. “Furthermore, we’re not taking the law into our own hands on a maybe.”

“Do you understand me Joe?” Ben’s eyes were full of anger this time because he didn’t seem to be able to get through to his son.

“Pa, Joe,” sighed Hoss. “This here bickerin’ back and forth ain’t doing nothin’ as far as I kin see but plum puttin’ a wedge between you two.” He sighed and said, “We don’t always agree upon a lot of things, but we’ve been able to work them out. Right now, I feel as if I’m in the middle and I ain’t quite sure I like it. This is where Adam seems to settle things down.”

Before Ben could get his words out, Joe grabbed his hat and headed out the door. Ben slammed down his paper and said, “That brother of yours has always had a short temper.”

“I’ll go talk to him pa. His dander is just up. He needs to cool down a bit,” Hoss said as he went to find his younger brother.”

Ben slapped Hoss on the shoulder as he left. All Ben could do was shake his head.

Hoss walked over to the corral where his brother was brushing down his horse. With his hands in his pockets, and his head down, he was not sure what he was going to say to his brother. He leaned against the corral and said, “I remember the first time you broke a horse right out here Joe. Adam and I saw you git thrown and you were out for a few minutes. Jes goes to show how hard your head is.”

“Well, I can break horses with the best of them. Now did you want something?”

“Not really, but to try to understand what’s eatin atch’a.”

He put the brush down, turned and looked at Hoss, “Was I really that bad?”

“Well you weren’t good. I do have to admit that I’ve seen you much worse than that little spat with pa …. it’s usually with Adam though.”

Hoss’ words seemed to settle Joe a bit and he said, “Hoss, finish brushing this horse will ya? I need to go see pa.”

Hoss smiled to himself as he knew Joe was going to eat crow again. That boy must like it cause he ain’t learnt yet that steak tastes better. He continued brushing and shaking his head with a smile.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The Cartwrights had retired for the night. The day had been a long and hard one. The hands worked hard bringing a herd down to the west pasture. This was part of the stock purchased by the Pearson Group that would be delivered mid-summer.

It was quiet and dark. Only a hint of the moon shown but the stars were bright. They were settled in for the night. Joe was sleeping with covers a strew and a foot hanging out of the bed. Hoss was flat on his back snoring as he generally did. Shots were heard. What time was it?

Ben jumped from his bed, lit the lamp and grabbed for his gun. Even though Joe could not arise in the morning, this type of thing seemed to always get him up. Hoss was the one who had to be awakened. Rushing down the stairs and out the door, Ben and Joe tried to get some idea when the shots came from. As their eyes adjusted to the darkness, they were almost knocked over when Hoss came dashing out the door.

“Where did the sounds come from?” Joe said.

At the same time, hands were coming out of the bunkhouse. Hoof beats could be heard quickly approaching the house. It was Casey, one of the wranglers on watch over the herd in the west pasture. His news was not good.

As he stopped his horse quickly, he jumped down and said, “Mr. Cartwright, the herd just brought down today has been stampeded.”

“Stampeded?”

“Yes sir.” “Chuck, Jim and I were riding fence around the area. Suddenly there was a shot and everything went crazy.”

By this time, the hands knew what was going on and had begun to saddle horses. Ben and the sons dressed quickly. When they went out the door, their horses were already saddled. They all knew the seriousness of this. This herd had just been brought down that day and was not familiar with the area. Had it still been on the upper range, they would not have been as easily scared.

As they were approaching they saw a herd arising. This appears as if the earth is heaving up with an accompanying roar, a swish like sound, and the clashing of horns. While the cattle were running, the pounding of their feet on the earth sounded as the roll of many muffled drums.

Ben shouted out, “Start the cattle milling.” The hands knew to start the cattle running in a circle, instead of straight away. If the herd was not scared too badly and not running too fast, the critters will follow their leaders

Hoss knew that there was a real problem particularly since the light was bad. If they could accomplish their purpose of stopping the run that would be jes fine. If not, cattle would be scattered hither and yond.

The discussion Ben had with Joe earlier in the afternoon leaped to the forefront of his head. Could Joe have been right after all?

Hours later with daylight shining, Ben entered the house and just tossed his hat. Hoss followed. Joe remained to check fencing with a few of the hands. He also wanted to get a count of how many might have been lost or hurt.

“Pa,” said Hoss trying in his way to make the situation seem better than what it really was.

He received a sigh from his father as Hop Sing brought hot coffee.

“Ya know pa, a scattered herd ain’t really so disastrous. We could eventually gather the cattle and those we can’t locate now … er, during the roundup.”

Ben looked at his son and knew what he was trying to do. “Hoss, I’m concerned about all of the stock, but a bit less about the breeding stock becoming scattered. What I AM concerned with now is our contracts for sale, especially the large contract with Pearson. The market cattle we can’t lose track of and be delayed in their sale until after the roundup.

The door opened, Joe entered dirty and tired.

“Well little brother what’s the damage?”

“It’s not too good and it’s not too bad. I could use some of that coffee and we can use more help. Was hard to pick up any signs of where the shot came from with the herd having run all over the place.”

Ben’s feelings were being worn on his sleeve. He was certain that this was deliberate. Hoss just looked at Joe so that he didn’t put his foot in his mouth. “We have to look at the books and get a handle on this herd,” said Ben. “I’ll ride into town and get Roy.”

“What else do you want us to do, pa?” said Hoss.

Ben turned and both Hoss and Joe knew.

“I don’t want to do this,” said Ben. “It’s been a while now and I don’t think I have a choice.

Wire Adam to come home!”

 

 

THIRTY-FOUR

* * * * * * * * * * * *

It wasn’t something that one could put their finger on. For a while now there was a strange nagging feeling that would resonate. It was quickly acknowledged and then quickly rejected.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Isaac and Amelia were just finishing breakfast. Isaac had late classes today and was enjoying a leisurely second cup of coffee. “So, the event is Saturday evening?”

“You know perfectly well it is,” laughed Amelia. Margaret and I are going shopping again. Now before you get excited, Margaret didn’t expect this event and needs some things. I’m just helping her.”

He continued to half read the paper. “I’m fortunate to have the formal wear from these painful events that I have to drag you to from time to time.”

“Yes,” she mused. “There have been some very painful ones!” Isaac laughed and tried to hit her with the newspaper.

Rising from his seat he said, “OK, my sweet. I’m off. Have a good day with Margaret and Claire. Just leave a little money if possible.” He picked up his case and kissed her. “Wish I could stay home,” he said, winked his eye and was out the door.

Margaret and Claire were just finishing the breakfast dishes. There was a knock at the door. Claire sighed and raised her eyes upward, “When you open that door it will be Dr. Monroe.”

“How can you be sure?”

“Because Dr. Monroe is the only person I know that knocks that way and he’s the type of person that will not lose a moment when he’s on a mission. In this case, Saturday night’s concert.”

Margaret was glad that she didn’t make a bet. “Good morning Dr. Monroe, please come in.” He removed his hat and escorted the lady with him inside.

“Mrs. Sanders, please let me introduce Clara Woods, director of the Children’s Home.”

“My pleasure to meet you,” said Margaret. “Please come in and have a seat. Excuse the disarray. I’ll get Claire for you.”

Upon entering the kitchen, Claire was smiling. “Told you who it was, didn’t I? He’s a wonderful person but not necessarily considerate of the hour.”

“Well my dear niece, he’s not alone. A Clara Woods is with him.”

They entered the living room and Dr. Monroe stood. “Good morning,” said Claire. “I didn’t expect you. I thought you’d be sending the selections over for me.”

“Claire, let me introduce to you Clara Woods, the director of the Children’s Home.”

“It’s my pleasure to meet you Mrs. Woods. May I offer you some tea?”

“No thank you dear. When James mentioned that he’d found someone to play Saturday evening on such short notice, I asked that I come along with him this morning to thank you personally on behalf of the children. As you’re aware having grown up here, this is one of the largest fundraisers in St. Louis each year. A large portion of the proceeds goes to the children. So, I thank you on behalf of all of us.”

There’s no thanks necessary. I’m happy to do it. Now all I have to do is find the keys on the piano and something to wear,” Claire mused.

“To wear?” asked Aunt Maggie.

“Yes. The participants in the ensemble wear black and white. But I’ll work that out later.”

“Claire, if you have a few minutes, could we go over to the piano so that I can just point out a few things that you need to know?”

Since the room was going to become a bit noisier, she asked Mrs. Woods to join her in the dining room. There was something about this woman that was warm and caring. Her being with the children and seeing that they were taken care of, and adopted if possible, seemed to suit her.

The sound of music began to lilt from the parlor. Margaret watched, as Mrs. Woods seemed to flow with the music. “She’s plays quite beautifully doesn’t she?” asked Mrs. Woods.

“Yes she does. She’s gifted not only with musical skill but also as an artist. We’re quite proud of her.”

“And so you should be.”

While sitting and waiting for Dr. Monroe, Margaret noticed Mrs. Woods taking in the surroundings. Something bothered her but Margaret tried to cast it aside. I wonder. It couldn’t be, could it? The music had stopped and both Claire and Dr. Monroe joined them. At the same moment, there was another knock on the door. It was Adam. As he entered he kissed Claire on the cheek and greeted Margaret. Claire made the introductions.

“Mr. Cartwright, it’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance. Are you musically inclined as well?” asked Dr. Monroe.

Adam just laughed and said, “Not so you would notice.”

“Well, we’ve taken up enough of your time this morning and will now take our leave. I’m sure that we’ll be seeing you Saturday evening?” he said to Margaret and Adam. “Oh, before I forget,” he said reaching into his pocket, “Claire here are the four tickets to the gala.”

“We’ll be there. It’s not often I get a chance to hear my niece perform in public,” said Margaret. With that the two left.

Margaret walked into the kitchen followed by Claire and Adam. Without thinking, she poured him a cup of coffee and placed fresh baked buns on the table.

“Well,” said Adam. “Dr. Monroe accomplish all that he needed to?”

“Yes he did. He’s really a wonderful man and teacher. I had just forgotten a few things that he so aptly pointed out to me. Friday evening will be the rehearsal. So, I’m locked in for three hours,” she said grinning at her aunt.

“It’s been a busy morning here. I guess I should get my things together as Amelia will be here soon.”

“Margaret, I had breakfast before coming over, but there’s nothing like your muffins and coffee. I wonder if this trait will be part of what Mrs. Cartwright brings with her.”

Margaret said, “You’ll have to wait to find that out.”

“Aunt Maggie, is there anything I can do for you while Adam and I are out?”

“No, I don’t think so dear. Amelia is just going to assist me in finding a gown for the gala, but thank you for asking. What about you? Are you all set?”

Adam looked at Claire as she said, “I’ll see what’s upstairs. I’m sure I’ll find something. And before you say anything Aunt Maggie, I really don’t need anything new.”

Adam laughed to himself thinking; well at least she’s frugal. There was another knock on the door. Margaret answered it as Claire went to fetch her wrap and hat.

“Morning everybody,” said Amelia especially shouting it up the stairs as she’d seen the hem of Claire’s skirt turn onto the landing. A shout came back.

“I’m ready when you are Amelia,” Margaret said as she adjusted her hat.

“Adam, how are you this morning? I guess you two have a day planned.”

“I’m just fine. We’ve just a few things we’re going to try to take care of. Please tell Isaac it would be nice to get together.”

Adam walked the two ladies out the door as they yelled their good-byes to Claire. He looked at the music scattered on the piano as he waited for Claire. Hearing her footsteps, he leaned against the entranceway to the parlor and watched her descend the stairs. She was a vision and even more so since she seemed her healthy self again. She was modest and not self-absorbed unlike some woman in Virginia City who’d flaunt themselves and any beauty of this sort. His Claire was just the opposite.

As she reached him at the door she said, “I’m sorry for keeping you waiting.”

“I’d wait for you till the end of time.” He tilted her chin upward and bent to kiss her.

“We have a ten o’clock appointment. Do you think we’ll make it?”

The two of them departed not aware that they were being watched. As they headed off in one direction, eyes followed them until they could no longer be seen and then turned and went in the other direction.

They arrived at the office of Dale James. He greeted Claire personally and warmly. He extended his hand to Adam and said, “Ah, Mr. Cartwright, it’s a pleasure to see you once again. Please come in.”

Seated comfortably in his office he said, “Claire, I’m sorry to hear of your illness but can assure you that we’ve maintained all things for you. I saw to it personally.”

“Thank you Mr. James … er Dale.”

He smiled at her and a comfortable setting was now in place.

“Let me say Claire that your letter of introduction for Mr. Cartwright was most helpful. We’ve been able to accomplish several things to expedite matters for you.”

Claire gave Adam a knowing glance and then looked at Dale and spoke. “I’m going to sell the house. It’s a decision that was not made hastily. The other is something that I will ask Adam to address with you.”

Dale looked at Adam. He’d just caught his glasses before they fell from his nose. Adam discussed what he’d done at the freight company and asked recommendations for a bonded and secure auditing firm to go through the business top to bottom. This would be independent from any internal controls already existing within the company. All reports would be provided to Miss Sanders or himself only. Additionally, he would like a list of security firms that were above reproach.

Dale James sat back in his chair and realized that this young man was very wise and knowledgeable. The conversation continued for another thirty minutes or so between the three of them. As they rose to depart, Dale suggested that they make another appointment for Thursday, at which time he believed he’d have the resources Claire and Adam were seeking.

“Dale, I understand why my father worked with you. I appreciate what you’ve done.”

“Claire, if it weren’t for your father, my business and career might have been much different. We were very close friends for years and it’s refreshing to become a closer friend to you and I hope Adam.”

Adam extended his hand and indicated he would see him on Thursday. He’d make an appointment on the way out.

“Before I forget Claire, I hope I’ve not overstepped my boundaries on this one, but I have arranged for your carriage and Cameo to be hitched up and they are downstairs at the rear of the building.”

“But how and when?”

“How was not hard since we’ve maintained the care of your property and home. As for when … well that was when I saw that you would be performing this Saturday. Can’t have you without proper transportation or being late for the event. I haven’t been to this wonderful concert since last you played,” he said as he winked at her. “Now don’t worry about the care and feeding of Cameo. Jeb will be by each morning and evening to tend to her. Now when you’re ready for Rusty, let Jeb know when he comes by. I’ve had him put the saddles in your barn already in case you want to go riding.”

She hugged him and thanked him.

“Dale, thank you for all that you’ve done. I’ll meet with you on Thursday and you can advise me at the hotel if anything other comes up from our earlier discussion, said Adam.

“Happy to,” he said as he put his hand on Adam’s shoulder. “Do me a favor, take care of this lady.”

 

 

THIRTY-FIVE

* * * * * * * * * * * *

The wrath of Ben Cartwright had erupted fully. There was to be no rest for anyone until all cattle were accounted for. Sheriff Coffey had been notified. Hoss was an expert in reading tracks. At first light, all three were back out seeking answers.

“Pa, too hard to tell what tracks are ours or somebody else’s with all them cattle a runnin’ and us tryin’ to stop em,” said Hoss.

“I was afraid of that,” Ben said angrily. “Get mounted! We’re going to Coley Flats.”

“Now you’re talking pa,” said Joe.

“I’m not talking. Heaven help the ones who stampeded this herd. They may have heard of Ben Cartwright, but they haven’t seen my wrath. If it’s the Wales family, they’ll have more than they can handle. Let’s ride.”

Arriving in Carson City, Ben stopped to let Sheriff Raif know he was in his territory and headed to the Wales place in Coley Flats. The fire was one thing, but stampeding a large herd was another. He was going to get answers. If he could not get them legally, he would find another way.

“Now Ben, the stampede could have been started by a number of things.”

“Sheriff,” said Joe. “There’s no mistake what started it. A gunshot. We all heard it.”

He stood rubbing his head. “What makes you really think that it could be them? You don’t have any proof.”

“Maybe no proof,” said Ben. “But I’m sure we have cause to believe they’re guilty.”

“We forced them off our land and they tried to shoot us. Joe was quick ‘nuf to get one of em first,” said Hoss. “There ain’t no doubt in my mind it’s them.”

“I’m finished talking,” said Ben. “We’re riding out to their farm now.”

“Ben that could be considered trespassing as well,” said Raif.

“Well then you better get your hat because were riding now,” Ben growled.

A short time later, the four men arrived at the Wales home. Coming up to the house both Mary and May Wales were in the yard.

“Howdy ladies,” said Raif. “Is yer husband here?”

May Wales sent her daughter to the barn to get her husband. Coming out of the barn he saw the man he’d been expecting. He walked over to the four mounted men.

“Howdy Andy,” said Raif. “The Cartwrights had a large herd stampeded last night. Do you happen to know anything about it?”

“Look, he already accused me and ma boys about some fire. Now yer back about some stampede? Get off my place and leave us alone. Now!”

Ben leaned down and growled, “I’m here to tell you and your boys we aren’t going to put up with any kind of trouble from anyone. If it comes, the perpetrators better beware.”

Joe tapped Hoss on the arm and pointed. Riding up were two of Andy’s sons, Danny and Ed.

“Trouble pa?” asked Ed.

“Not so fer. But if’n these here Cartwright’s keep a messin with us they’ll know what trouble is. And sheriff, I’m a lettin’ you know that these Cartwrights are not allowed on my land or they’ll suffer the consequences. We’re trying to stay away from trouble but you git on the wrong side of us and you’ll see mean. And I mean real mean.”

“And what might that be?” asked Joe. “Sneaking up and trying to shoot one of us again?”

“You got a smart mouth,” said Ed as he approached Joe.

“I’m just speaking the truth and all of you here know it,” retorted Joe.

In a flash Ed pulled Joe from his horse throwing him to the ground. As he tried to kick him, Joe turned his ankle and threw Ed back. He was able to get in a punch to Ed’s jaw before he received a strong punch to his mid section. All the men were now on the ground breaking up the fight when a shot was heard.

“Now listen all of you,” yelled the sheriff. “The Cartwrights are leaving. Wales, you need to keep your son in check. That’s a warning to ya.”

Spitting into the dirt, Ed gave Joe a look of hatred. Joe was brushing off the dirt and placed his hat on. Mounting their horses, the sheriff said, “I ain’t looking for no trouble from either of ya. But if it comes, I’m warnin’ ya, my jail is ready and able to take all of ya.”

“Jes be sure to keep em away from us,” said Andy. “They may have a name and money, but that don’t make no never mind to me. Now git and don’t show your faces on my place again.”

Hoss was the last to mount his horse. He was quietly looking at the hoof prints that were in the small area where he was mounted. He would remember them.

Ben looked at Andy, “Remember what I said. We aren’t looking for any more problems and if there’s just a hint you and your family have something to do with our misfortune, we’ll be back … and that’s a promise.” With that they turned and left the dust clouds behind them.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Adam had an early meeting with Dale James. His letter of introduction from Claire provided him the entrance into the matters of her father’s business and the circumstances surrounding the operation of that business.

Their conversation lasted for over an hour. Adam was initially cautious but believing himself to be a good judge of character, the conversation took a different tone. He shared circumstances that had occurred at the company and only touched lightly on suspicions.

Dale James set another meeting for later in the week and had promised to pull together as much information about the business as he could within that time. Claire would need to know as much about the business from the day of its inception.

After departing Dale James’ office, Adam headed for Sanders Freight. As he walked in, he noticed that a few of the workers were looking at him rather strangely. He walked upstairs to his office, unlocked the door and entered. Within a few minutes, Mrs. Lawson knocked on the door and entered.

“Good afternoon Mrs. Lawson. I guess I should have advised you that my hours and days here would be sporadic. In future, I’ll be sure to let you know what my plans are,” said Adam.

“That’s not a problem for me Mr. Cartwright. Is there anything that I can get for you?”

“Not presently. Is Mr. McGill in?”

“Yes, he is. I think he’s going to pay you a visit.” Adam raised his eyebrows.

In a soft voice she said, “It has to do with the firing of the warehouse foreman.”

Adam stood up and said, “Well I’ll save him a trip. I’ll go and see him.”

She liked the way he tackled matters head on. As he was leaving he said, “Mrs. Lawson, I have a little something for you, but suggest you open it when you’re alone.” It was her book of notes. With that he headed to McGill’s office.

He knocked and heard, “Come in.”

Adam walked in and took a seat without being invited to do so. “I want to speak to you about the situation that took place with the warehouse foreman.”

“I’m glad you brought it up, McGill said. “I think it’s important we get a few things straight.”

“Such as?”

“Adam, there’s a process that’s followed here. Whatever the difficulty that took place while I was away could probably have been handled differently. I’m not sure there was a need for dismissal. Right now some employees are just plain angry. We’ve not had this type of problem before.”

Adam responded cynically, “And I’m sure the employees that are angry are new employees. As far as the dismissal, that may be your opinion. From what I’ve learned in the short time I’ve been here is that things may not be what they seem. I’m not saying there are inaccuracies, but I’d suggest you check any insurance payouts, shipping ledgers and bills of lading. Before Miss Sanders arrives, I’d suggest you have a total audit done or one at least started. If that’s not being done, I’m surprised.” Adam was not raising his voice, but the sternness was clear. “As far as handling the warehouse foreman situation differently, I hardly think so. I have the run of this facility and he knew it. I don’t take lightly anyone attempting to do me bodily harm with a weapon of any kind. I did what I deemed necessary and don’t intend to discuss it further.”

“Adam, I understand your feelings, but I think there may have been some confusion on the part of the employees.”

He stood up and said, “Well now there’s no confusion,” and walked out the door.

 

 

THIRTY-SIX
The Truth

* * * * * * * * * * * *

The day was getting late and Mrs. Lawson had come in to say good night. She slipped an envelope onto the edge of his desk. He noticed the look on her face. He felt Mrs. Lawson was providing him with additional information. Adam wished her a pleasant evening and indicated he would be in late morning or early afternoon. He did not open the envelope at that time but thought he would take it to the hotel for reading.

She was finishing up the last thirty minutes of practice for the day, dinner was prepared and she was waiting for Adam to arrive. They were going to take a quick ride before dinner. The music acted as a sedative for her aunt and she was so pleased to hear her niece play. It was too early for Adam to arrive, so the knock on the door came as a bit of a surprise. Claire stopped playing and rose to answer it. Upon opening the door, she saw that it was Clara Woods from the Children’s Home.

“Good afternoon Mrs. Woods,” said Claire. “Please come in.”

“I’m sorry for dropping in unexpectedly but was passing this way and hoped you wouldn’t mind if I stopped to thank you once again for assisting us this weekend.”

“Not at all, “said Claire. “Please come in and have a seat.”

“You know, our children come from many different circumstances and any resources that we’re able to obtain make a great difference in their lives.”

Claire listened. “Let me get us some tea. Please, it will just be a moment.”

“Thank you so kindly. I don’t mean to be a bother to you.”

“It’s no bother. Make yourself comfortable,” Claire said as she went into the kitchen.

Clara Woods looked around her surroundings. She rose and saw the little black dancing specks on paper that when put together in the right combination made beautiful music. This was something that she could not do. She thought that Claire had been practicing. She saw photos of her on top of the piano at different stages of her life and then walked over to the mantle to look at the photos there. The house was a good-sized home and had a warm ambience to it. Margaret was coming down the stairs. Mrs. Woods was not aware of her presence but Margaret stopped and watched as Mrs. Woods looked over the piano keys, music, but most especially the photographs. As Claire entered the parlor, Mrs. Woods placed a photo down. Margaret then joined them in the parlor wondering what Mrs. Woods was about. There was that strange feeling again.

“Aunt Maggie, Mrs. Woods just stopped in for a moment. Come and join us for some tea.”

“It’s a pleasure to see you again Mrs. Woods,” said her aunt.

Claire poured the tea and placed the cookies before them.

“I was telling your niece how much this concert means to all of us at the Children’s Home. I just had to thank her again personally since I was in this area.”

“I believe that if the truth be told, she is excited to be playing. I’ve been hearing her practice and she’s very comfortable.”

“Claire, how did you come to study the piano?” asked Mrs. Woods.

“I’m not really certain. I was always one to draw and sketch. It came easy and there were always materials around that I could use. As for the piano, I can only remember that my mother had one and she started to teach me to play the scales when I was about eight years old. I enjoyed it and eventually I started to take lessons. Now it’s an important part of who I am. I guess I was meant to have this gift.”

“And to use it as well,” Mrs. Woods said.

Listening to the back and forth conversation, Aunt Maggie asked, “Mrs. Woods, how did you come to be connected with the Children’s Home?”

She stared at her teacup for a moment and then looked up and said, “I was working at a home that was being closed due to lack of funds. There was a position available here as an associate and I was fortunate enough to get it. After a number of years, I became the director.”

“It must be rewarding,” said Claire.

“Yes, it certainly is.”

“How long have you been here?” inquired her aunt.

“Let’s see, this June it will be twenty years.”

That feeling again.

There was a familiar knock on the door. “Excuse me,” said Claire.

Opening the door she let Adam in. After a passionate kiss, he said, “Are you ready for that ride?” Claire did not respond but led him into the parlor. He walked in and kissed Margaret on the cheek and then turned and greeted Mrs. Moss. “It’s a pleasure to see you again. I trust that all is going well with the preparations for Saturday evening.”

“It seems that everything is in place. The committee has worked hard.”

“Mrs. Moss was in the neighborhood and wanted to thank me again for filling in at the last moment,” said Claire.

“I’m sorry I’ve taken so much of your time. I heard you say that you were planning to take a drive Mr. Cartwright, is that correct?” asked Mrs. Moss.

“That’s quite all right,” Claire said as she held Adam’s hand.

“No. When you have plans with your young man from out of town every moment you can spend together is important. Besides, I need to get back to the home.”

That’s it!

“Claire, you and Adam go take your ride as planned. I’d like to visit a bit more with Mrs. Moss if she has the time.”

“I don’t want to be a poor hostess,” said Claire. “Adam and I can ride at anytime.”

“My dear, you’re not a poor hostess. I shouldn’t have just dropped in the way I did.”

“Listen,” said Aunt Maggie, “It’s been some time since I could chat with someone around my age since I arrived, and if Mrs. Moss doesn’t mind, I’d like to continue to visit with her for a while. So, go and get some air and some time together.”

Adam assisted Claire with her wrap and said they’d be back shortly. They made their way out the door toward the carriage housed a short distance away in the barn.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

“May I get you more tea Mrs. Moss?”

“No thank you, and please, call me Clara.”

“If you’d prefer,” said Margaret looking very intensely at Clara.

Clara was beginning to feel uncomfortable. Trying to make small talk she said, “It appears that those two care quite a lot for each other.”

“They do,” said Margaret. “I’d not like to see anything upset that relationship and more especially, my niece.”

The look on Clara’s face was one of puzzlement.

“Who are you Clara Moss?” asked Margaret.

“I don’t know what you mean. You know I’m the director of the Children’s Home.”

“Excuse me, but I think that you may be more than that.” Margaret was choosing her words carefully for fear of making a mistake. But deep down inside she was sure. She rose and poured herself another cup of tea. Sipping it she looked at the woman sitting before her. She could see a slight resemblance in her eyes and her chin.

“Well, I serve on a few committee’s here and …..”

Before she could continue Margaret interrupted her. “I’m sorry to be so forward, but you know my niece was adopted from your Children’s Home. She wants to try to find out who her parents are. Can you possibly assist with that?”

“I doubt very much that it would be possible after all these years.”

Putting her cup on the table, Margaret said, “I don’t know if anyone else has noticed it, but there is a resemblance between you and Claire. Did you ever notice that?”

The look on Clara’s face was shock. Margaret knew she was right. Her feeling was true.

“You’re Claire’s mother aren’t you?” asked Margaret.

There was a long period of silence. Margaret never took her eyes off Clara.

Finally Clara looked at Margaret and said, “How did you know?”

“It really started out as a feeling. Something I cannot explain exactly. However, when you visited here with Dr. Monroe there was something about you. Then you show up here today and I saw you looking at her photographs. You were in this area for twenty years and knew that she and Adam were seeing each other. For someone to meet her for the first time, you knew too much. I believe that your visit with Dr. Monroe was really a means for you to come back and see her.”

“That’s not exactly true. I’ve seen her grow up from a distance. Today, I did really want to thank her again for what she’s doing. She has turned out better than I could ever imagine.”

“I don’t mean to be rude,” said Margaret. “But why didn’t you raise her yourself? Do you realize that she has had a piece of her life missing all these many years no thanks to your selfishness? My brother and sister-in-law came into her life at a very crucial time and in essence saved her after you left her on a doorstep. How dare you! They were loving and caring and never, never kept from her the fact that she was adopted. Now here you are. What are your plans?”

Clara stood and began to pace the room. “I can’t blame you for being angry. I was young and my parents didn’t approve of the man I was in love with. We ran away and were married. When he found out that I was pregnant, he became mean and said he never wanted a child. We stayed together with things getting worse. I really loved him and when Claire was born I made a terrible mistake, which I realized when it was too late. I didn’t want to lose him, so placed her with a family I felt would take care of her.”

“Just so you could be with him,” Margaret said coldly.

Clara turned, looked at Margaret and said, “Yes. Even after having given her away, things for us did not change.”

“How could you give away your child like that?”

“It seemed the thing for me to do at the time. When I finally realized what I had done, she was no longer with the family I had left her with.”

“Did you really think that you deserved this child back after what you did?”

“I know that I can never make up for that, but I did try. I followed a path for as long as I could to try to find her. When I did, she was here in the Children’s Home.”

“That was six years later,” Margaret said even colder. The look on her face was not much warmer.

“Yes, it was six years later. I was able to get a job at the home and at that time your brother and sister-in-law were in the process of adopting her. They seemed so warm and loving that I could not interfere with the adoption. My hope was to be able to be around her.”

“You mean you weren’t going to try to rekindle a relationship with her before the adoption?”

“I didn’t know how. She was so withdrawn and I didn’t know how to help her.”

“That’s because you had caused all the damage that had already been done to her.”

“You’re right. By getting the job here in St. Louis I could try to make a difference to other children that came to the home. In the meantime, I knew where she lived, would make secret trips to see her, went to school affairs secretly and to her concerts. I saw her growth and the happiness she had with your brother and sister-in-law.”

“You mean her parents!”

“I deserve that. She came out of her shell, they educated her very well and she has turned into this beautiful person that I’m proud of. I remained in St. Louis so that I could just catch glimpses of her even from afar. When the fire claimed ‘her parent’s lives, I was broken for her and went to the funeral. When she left St. Louis, I had no idea where she was. I saw her on a city street one day and the next thing I knew she was sick and in the hospital. You can’t imagine my feeling having to sneak into the hospital to see her for the briefest of moments.”

“No I can’t imagine. But you only have yourself to blame for all this.”

“That’s very true … but you must believe me. I’ve paid for my poor decision every day I have taken a breath.”

Margaret looking at her said, “I have a forgiving nature, but I am also very straight forward with my words. Have you thought that you were meant to feel this way and learn from what you did to her? I say to her because you could have made a choice. Claire could not.”

“Whether you believe it or not, I’ve gone on to do good with my life. I cannot undo any of this without causing more pain. I don’t want to do that.”

“Clara, she’s my niece. I love her more than you could even possibly begin to imagine. I will not have her hurt by this nor will others that love her as well. Now what is your plan?”

“It’s too late I fear to do anything now. I can’t bring hurt to her again. I’ve never told this to anyone and I don’t plan to tell her ever.” She looked directly at Margaret when she said this.

“How do I know that this is true?”

“You don’t. You only have my word.”

“I’m sorry to know the truth. You can’t imagine how sorry, but I do speak my mind. I’ll never intentionally hurt Claire. As for you, I’ll not treat you any different than I have since I met you. I don’t ever expect to see my niece hurt over this. Am I clear on this point?” Margaret could see the pain that emanated from Clara. There was nothing she could do to help her as she’d brought this on herself out of pure selfishness. She may have changed her life over the years, but she would always pay.

“Thank you,” was all she could say.

Margaret walked over to her and gave her a hug. Looking at the broken woman in front of her she said, “Be proud of who she is and look forward. Now, I think that it’s time that you leave.”

_____________________

Clara Woods had departed carrying a lifelong secret. She left an unwelcome gift with Margaret … the same secret. What would she do now?

 

 

THIRTY-SEVEN
Individual Thoughts

* * * * * * * * * * * *

It was about an hour before Adam and Claire returned. Adam, as had been the norm, would remain for dinner as time permitted. Claire went about assisting with setting the table and getting the food on. Adam had noticed a slight change in Margaret, as did Claire. Claire looked at Adam and quietly shrugged her shoulders. As they sat down to dinner, their conversation seemed to be lagging in discussion from other meals.

“Aunt Maggie,” said Claire. “You seem so quiet this evening, is there something bothering you?”

Adam looked toward Margaret to see her expression and hear her response.

“No. Nothing is wrong. I was just thinking about Hank and wondering how things are progressing with James, Eve and the baby.” This made sense but didn’t seem everything to Adam.

“I’m going to write a letter to both so they know what’s going on.”

“Things are progressing,” said Claire. “Adam and I’ve talked and realize the things we need to take care of. The packers and movers have been hired and it appears that the house will be packed within a week or so. I’ve seen the attorney about the sale of the house. Besides, you and Amelia have been a tremendous assist in helping to pack the important things that I want. Some of them will be packed and shipped to Uncle Hank by the end of the week.”

Adam still felt a sense of something strange and tried to read Margaret with his eyes.

“I’m very pleased for the two of you. There will certainly be a new life evolving in Virginia City with the two of you. Adam, you’ll be breaking a lot of hearts when the news is out that you’re getting married and it is not one of Virginia City’s own,” said Margaret.

“Well Margaret, one’s mind does not always dictate who one will spend the rest of their life with. It’s the heart as I’m sure you’re aware and Claire has mine totally,” he said as he looked over toward Claire.

These comments seemed to relax Margaret and she became somewhat her old self. “It’s so hard to write to Hank and not tell him this wonderful news.”

“Aunt Maggie, it would be so unfair to tell Uncle Hank and Adam not have the same chance to tell his family. We’ve discussed this and agree a letter is not the way to do it. Knowing you though, you’re very good at keeping a secret.” Claire did not know how right she was at this moment.

“Yes, dear. I can keep a secret with the best of them.”

Claire got up to get the dessert and coffee. Adam looked at Margaret. He saw there was something weighing heavy on her. He’d try to get her to speak with him about it when the time was right.

“Margaret, are you all right?” he asked.

“Yes, just getting a bit nervous with all the changes. Claire is returning to her old self with self-assuredness and a sense of peace. Even as we pack up personal belongings of her parents and her own personal things, she is doing very well.”

“I’m glad to hear it. You know that I’ll always help as I can. One thing I do realize is that she does have a mind of her own. I need to give her space and be there when needed, as I know she will be for me, for you and Hank, and for my family. We’re all very fortunate and she is very special.”

“Yes, you’re right Adam.”

Claire returned with coffee and dessert. When everyone was settled in she sighed and said, “I’m planning on going to the freight company tomorrow morning.”

Margaret was surprised but Adam felt that this would be coming and was just waiting for Claire to make the decision.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Arriving back at the hotel there was a wire waiting for him. He retrieved it from the desk clerk and went to his room. He also had the packet from Mrs. Lawson he wanted to look over. Removing his jacket and tie, he hung them up and noticed that his clean laundry had been placed in his room.

Opening the wire it read:

Adam Cartwright
c/o Carrington Hotel
St. Louis, Missouri

You are missed STOP
Please advise at earliest your return STOP
Circumstances here require your assistance STOP
All here are well STOP
Hope the same in St. Louis STOP

Love,
Pa, Hoss and Joe

He read the wire several times and from his experience knew that there was something amiss. He didn’t know what but knew he’d not receive a wire worded this way if all was going smoothly.

He’d stayed much longer than any of them had expected. He’d known for some time in the back of his mind that he would need to be leaving, but put it off. He had a personal need to be with Claire. Now it seemed there was a problem at home and he needed to address this as well. As he stretched out on the bed, he mulled over the wire and his thoughts wandered to his family and what might be going on. He’d respond to them first thing in the morning after he worked out what and how he would handle it. He could not leave without being sure Claire was doing well. The truth was that he realized that she was doing well and he really didn’t want to leave her.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Adam
For some reason his mind took him back to the years when they had arrived in the Nevada territory. He remembered the strength and courage his father always exhibited and the visits to the woodshed when needed. But most of all, he thought deeply about commitment and family. Although he spoke very little of these things, he knew that it was understood. There was a bond between all of them that was forged through hard times, hard work, losses that could not be measured nor the impact made upon each of them, but in the end losses they survived to enable them to laugh another day and love one another in ways that most people would not understand. He loved his father, Hoss and Joe. The truth of the matter as he saw it was they were all very different but therein is where their strength as a family lay. His father was a kind man, with expectations that his sons would be kind and strong men. Would understand right from wrong and grow to make decisions using their minds and make a difference in their surroundings. He was a listener and carried burdens in exemplary fashion. He was a strong role model and a man that allowed his sons to be the persons that they were.

As he thought about Hoss, he smiled. Hoss was like a bridge over troubled waters for the family. He thought of the many times that Hoss was the one that made what seemed like a formidable problem solvable with the simplest of solutions. He was as a kindred spirit with Hoss and had learned so very much from him. He needed to tell him this more. Hoss had understood so much about Adam without Adam having to say a word. His spirit was that of love, peace and fairness. He loved Hoss for his way of just seeming to know and understand. His strength came from a heart that was kind, caring and tender.

Joe was a handful. He was lively, created problems, liked to play jokes and needed saving from the woodshed from the time he could remember. He, too, was his own person. A person that Adam was proud of for the man he had grown into. Each had their own private corners of their lives, but Joe had the ability to cause explosions of fun and laughter without really having to think about it. Adam remembered the times that he and Joe would argue, which seemed all the time at one point during their lives and still occasionally occurs. What a family he thought, but I would not change a thing.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Claire
She just finished making an entry in the journal that Adam had given her. It was a blessing to her during this time as she captured her feelings and thoughts. It was a healing and soothing way to come back. Whether Adam knew it or not, it was the medicine of her words and remembrances captured in this journal that awoke the person that she had always been. Things happen in and for strange reasons she thought. There was no way he could possibly have known the gift of this journal would have done so much. She made herself comfortable and thought back years earlier.

Her first memories were of being moved to a home that she struggled to find her place in. She moved from one place to another. Finally, fearful of acting or speaking out, she was placed in the Children’s Home in St. Louis. This was life changing for her. Paul and Emma Sanders took her home with them. With love and patience, they waited as she began to have trust in people once again. They showered her with gentle love and consistency on a daily basis.

She remembered a soft yellow dress with yellow ribbons that had been purchased for her. It had been her favorite. There were the rides and stories. She remembered being fearful of moving forward in school but was assured that she was up to the task. Grinning she remembered that she was. She made friends quickly after that and Amelia became her best friend and confidant. They had become inseparable. Music was something that her mother enjoyed and shared with her. Her father would listen to hours of endless practicing that must have grated on his nerves – but he never said a word and just praised her. He would take her with him when he could and always showed a pride in his daughter.

She recalled the time that she asked about her background. They held nothing back from her and she was thankful. Her parents were honest and straight forward with her always. During the holidays, they would take gifts to the Children’s Home. She knew she had lived there. As she grew and her music skills improved she took more lessons that showed proficiency for the piano. She was sent to school in Washington, D. C. and when she graduated, her parents were there. She returned home and had filled Amelia in on everything she had done while Amelia attended college in St. Louis where she met Isaac. She was the maid of honor at Amelia and Isaac’s wedding. Turning on her side, she thought of the times they just did things as a family. Holidays were always a special time. She realized that she had been inquisitive most of her life and would sit and ask questions upon questions of her parents. There were times they would just have to say it was time to stop. She smiled.

Her later years were a special event for her as she was doing what she loved best. Her relationship with her parents was a treasure. They had figured out that she had a need to know her past but she never pushed it. They seemed to know more of what she was thinking at times than she did. She closed her eyes and remembered all the times they would correct her in the ladylike behavior that was expected, including wearing shoes in the house. Her spirit was allowed to soar. Her need and desire for family was foremost a part of her inner soul. Perhaps of her circumstances, she was not sure. But what she was sure of was that family connections were most important to her. She was now on the verge of moving to another place, with her remaining family, and a man that she never thought she would ever meet in the way that she did. She was loved and loved them. Her parents were now gone, but she was not alone. She was filled with so much of them in her spirit that there was no way that she would ever be without them. What they had given to her, she thought, many people never receive in their lifetime. I love you and I thank you. I am who I am because of you. Mommy and daddy, I love you.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Margaret
Having just finished two letters to be posted in the morning, one to Hank and the other to her son James and his wife Eve, she put her pen down and sat beside the window.

Life is a funny thing. So much had happened in the blink of an eye. She was blessed with a wonderful husband and son. Now she was going to be a grandmother and have her niece living with her again in Nevada for a short time. Regardless of the time in her house, she would be with them. Her family would be growing. She closed her eyes and remembered when her son James was born. Hank had been even more attentive the last three months such that he was about to drive her crazy. She had to think of things for him to do so that she could have some time to herself.

Now she was here in St. Louis and would shortly be returning home. Here again a common theme raised its head, ‘family’.

She was terribly distressed with the death of her brother-in-law and sister-in-law. She did her best to comfort Hank, as this was his only sibling. They were people of faith and had made it through. She also realized that they were blessed to be able to assist Claire. Now Claire was going to be married to a remarkable man. The family name, Cartwright, did not impress her but the people they were and the quality of the person that would soon become her husband did. Who would ever have imagined this? Wait until they all hear the news.

Her mind wondered to the conversation that she’d had with Clara Moss earlier in the day. She was troubled as to what to do. Claire had a right to know her mother, but she didn’t know how to handle it and she prayed for an answer. She could not keep this secret yet she had said that she would not hurt Claire. She wondered if knowing would hurt Claire. She did not know what to do. She only knew she could not live a lie. She was always an honest person. She would pray for guidance. No matter what had transpired over the last twenty years, this was Claire’s mother. The thought of the action that needed to be taken caused her to shiver. She knew it wouldn’t be right not to give her niece a piece of her life back that had been missing for so long. The rest perhaps would come from her family, Adam, Amelia and Isaac and the Cartwrights.

Oh, how a mind works. You can’t erase your thoughts. You can only embrace them and then do the right thing. Margaret would have to make a decision.

 

 

THIRTY-EIGHT

* * * * * * * * * * * *

The morning came faster than he had expected. He’d spent quite a bit of time trying to decide what he’d do as his heart was torn between two places. He could understand what was necessary for all concerned and made his decision based upon his head and not his heart. Logic was forced to override his feelings. He’d decide to return home as soon as possible and would explain to Claire. He believed in her and because of his faith in her knew she would understand. Any future for the two of them would be dependent upon resolving issues in Nevada. It was not an easy choice but it was the only one he could make for their future and their happiness.

Adam stopped by the front desk to drop off the wire to be sent advising of his arrival and to plan to return to Virginia City. He then went to the dining room to have breakfast. As he drank his coffee, he sat back in his chair and tried to clear his head. He thought of Claire’s visit to the freight company this morning and its effect if any, his family, Margaret’s uneasiness last evening and the envelope that Mrs. Lawson had given to him. There were quite a few pieces that he was balancing.

She finished breakfast and went to finish dressing. She had put on a gray suit trimmed in black with a white blouse. Her aunt had asked that she drop her off in town so that she could mail the letters and then do a little bit of shopping. Jed had come and harnessed the carriage and was cleaning the barn. The movers would return at one o’clock to do some packing and Amelia would arrive around two o’clock. The day would be a full one and she still had a few hours of practicing to do.

“Aunt Maggie are you sure that you don’t want to meet me and we can come back together?” asked Claire.

“No dear, I’m not sure how long all of this will take. Besides I have my key. You just take your time and do the things you need to. We can discuss them later.”

“Well if you’re sure. Would you take this letter to mail for me to Amy along with yours please?”

“Just put it in the pile in the foyer. I just have to get my hat and I’ll be ready.” Before she left to retrieve her hat, she turned to her niece and said, “Would you like me to go along with you?”

“Thank you Aunt Maggie. I know what you’re thinking, but I can do this. Really.”

Her aunt was satisfied that she would be able to handle things to come. Within minutes the two ladies were on their way. Claire dropped her aunt off at the post office and then continued toward the freight company. They’d see each other at home later in the day.

Margaret had other things on her day’s agenda besides the post office. She posted the letters and then took a leisurely stroll through the streets that were now showing signs of life. She enjoyed the city but it could not compare with the beauty of the Nevada territory. It was the same sun, same blue sky and clouds, but it was not home. She was looking forward to her return home but knew she could not until she’d resolved an issue. The air was light and she just took her time. Her sleep the previous night had been interrupted by her thoughts. Her steps were leading her to a meeting that she knew she had to have and the decision she had made. She had arrived at her destination and saw some children with their caregivers in the yard. She looked the building over and although she found it to be a pleasant environment, found it hard to believe that Claire had once been a resident here.

She made her way up the stairs and entered. It was neat, clean and bright. The sound of voices could be heard in the distance. As she walked over to the reception area, she was greeted warmly. She asked to see Mrs. Moss. She gave her name and took a seat while Mrs. Moss was located. Her decision was an honest decision and her conversation was going to be an honest conversation. She had to do this. Honesty was an important trait that she always exhibited and refused to live her life carrying a lie. She heard footsteps and when she looked up she saw Clara Moss approaching her.

“Good morning Mrs. Sanders. How can I help you?”

“I would like to speak with you if you don’t mind. It’s important.”

She looked at Margaret and asked her to follow her. They walked down the hallway in silence and through a set of double doors to an office at the end of the hall. Opening the door, she ushered Margaret into the office and asked an assistant to not disturb them.”

Upon closing the door Clara sat down. The discussion of the previous afternoon still lingered in her mind as well. She too, had difficulty in getting a good night’s rest.

Margaret started. “I came to see you because I cannot keep a secret which ultimately becomes a lie that I would have to live with. I’m not that type of person. To be blunt, Claire must know the truth and it must come from you.”

Clara Moss was taken aback by these words. She was also somewhat surprised to hear this coming from Margaret Sanders particularly since she had stated she did not want her niece to be hurt.

“I can’t do it. It’s been too long and I’ve made a terrible error that cannot be corrected. I think it best if I leave things as they are.”

Margaret tried to understand what she’d just heard but continued, “I disagree. There is no closure for either of you this way. You will continue to live your life with a pain that is unimaginable and if you love Claire as you say, you owe her this knowledge no matter what the consequences. In its own way, it brings closure to a long period of not knowing. You not knowing her feelings toward you and Claire for once knowing her beginnings. Certainly, neither of us knows the outcome of this revelation, but it has to be done in my mind and I am not the one that should do it.”

“Mrs. Sanders, she seems to be getting on with her life and this could only be a deterrent to the happiness that she has now begun to find returning to her. This would serve no positive purpose now.”

“You’re wrong,” said Margaret. “I thought about this most of the night and know the type of person she is. She has every right to know the circumstances that surround her life. It is not easy for you and I’m not at all sure that it will be a comfort to Claire. But I do know this, she is understanding and will at least find a peace with knowing. Whatever comes of this knowledge will be what it will be. You must rid yourself of this weight and will provide Claire the knowledge she seeks. Whatever the outcome, a weight will be lifted that will allow both of you to get on with your lives as should be.”

Clara Moss heard the sincere words and got up from her seat and came to sit next to Margaret. “There have been so many times I’ve wanted her to know the truth. Time kept passing and she grew into an adult. I saw no reason to divulge this information to her or upset the family life that she had.”

“That’s where you are wrong now. You probably thought that you were doing the right thing. But you now know that she’s had this knawing demon residing in her for many years. She’ll never be alone. That will be seen to especially from the man she loves and who loves her. But what about you? From my vantage point I cannot say the same for you. I believe that with all the good work you’ve come to do with your life after giving her away, you’ve learned quite a bit … but I know that each day has had to be painful for you. If you don’t do this, you will go through the rest of your life not knowing what the outcome would have been. Whatever it is, it will provide closure for the two of you … good or bad.”

There was a silence that seemed to penetrate the office for a long period. Clara Moss was thinking and Margaret was hoping.

Looking at Margaret she said, “You’re a kind and caring person. You’re also honest. You’re right. I hurt each day. Perhaps the truth will set me free as the expression goes. I’ll need to think about what you’ve just said. Your honesty is rather contagious. I’m afraid to be candid with her. It has been so many years and I’ve been wrong all of them. To tell her the truth now frightens me. I don’t know if I’ll be able to get the words out and to accept her reactions.”

“If you love her and understand this need of hers you’ll be able to find a way. Believe me, I understand what you’re saying more than you realize. When a chance is provided to you, it should be taken no matter what the risks. It may also be the last chance you ever get as tomorrow is promised to no one.”

Clara looked up with moistness in her eyes. “There is such a risk in doing this. I’m not sure that I’m capable of telling her.”

“With all you’ve done these many years watching her grow, the angst you’ve felt, you have leaned on being ashamed of your actions and used your fears as a crutch. In life there are always risks.”

“I suppose you’re right. I do love her even though we did not share a life together. I don’t know if I have the strength to do this on my own.”

Margaret took her hand and said, “We’re never alone. What we are asked to do are the right things with our lives.”

The tears came freely to Clara and Margaret just waited. When she collected herself, and wiped away the tears Margaret said, “Claire is a survivor. She deserves the best and the truth. You need to be able to trust in doing the right thing. One never knows where the truth will lead, but it is better than carrying a lie to your death. Now, you know what she wants. She’ll be moving away shortly perhaps never to return. The choice is yours and only you can set it right in the proper manner. If you choose not to tell her, I’m afraid that I will have to. That is not my choice but I will do it. If she falls it will not be for long as she will have her family and Adam to be there and help her through this. Perhaps I’m forcing you into this, but I know within myself that it’s the right thing to do. I only hope that you can see your way clear to tell her, accept the consequences, and then get on with life such that it will be if as you truly say, you love her.”

Margaret had done what she intended. The rest would be left up to Clara.

“Clara, Claire will know the truth one way or another before we leave St. Louis,” Margaret said.

Clara looked at Margaret. She believed this would be the right thing to do. She’d known it from the time that Claire had returned to St. Louis. Even more so when she had been so ill with pneumonia and could not be present or do anything for her but pray. What was she to do now? How and when would she do it if she found the courage? Was she strong enough to accept the consequences? The bottom line for her as she understood it was the question, did she love her enough to take the risk?

 

 

THIRTY-NINE

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Claire pulled the buggy into the yard of the freight company. It all looked the same to her at first until she turned and looked toward the warehouse. She saw new lumber that had been used to replace that burned in the fire. It was a reminder of a past event but one that did not cause her pain this day. This was all part of her acceptance and moving ahead. There was no going back and she knew it. As she stepped down from the buggy she saw familiar faces that acknowledged her and expressed their pleasure at her presence. She felt like she did on many a day when she would come to visit her father. This was comforting to her.

Entering the offices, she again saw familiar and friendly faces that she so well knew. They engaged in light conversation and the air was filled with a fondness that she welcomed. A few employees that were there from the time she was a child embraced her. She was glad to see them and they knew it. Secretly they were glad that she had returned.

She slowly looked around and it was as if it were only yesterday. Not much had changed. The smell, the activity and the ambience of the business were the same. She thought to herself, the more things change the more they remain the same. She looked upward toward the business offices and slowly made her way up the all too familiar staircase. Reaching the landing she saw the hallway before her that contained the offices of the general manager, the accounting department and Mrs. Lawson’s desk area where she would always get a sweet before she left with her father. A chill came over her for the briefest of moments. At the far end of the hall was the office of her father. She’d spent quite a bit of time in there. She placed one foot in front of the other and made her way toward Mrs. Lawson who did not hear her approach.

“Hello Mrs. Lawson,” Claire said.

Looking up in utter surprise, she said, “Claire!” Rushing from her desk she approached Claire and gave her a loving hug that Claire returned. “Oh my. Claire, I am so … so ….” she could hardly contain her emotions. “I’m so happy to see you. I’ve missed you so very much that you cannot imagine.” Her emotions had now reached their peak and all she could do was to embrace her again and say, “I’ve missed you so very much here. You’re a bright light. My heart is so much lighter now that I see you.”

“Thank you Mrs. Lawson. I cannot tell you how happy I am to see you as well. You have always been such a special person to me. Seeing you makes this visit for me that much easier. How’ve you been?”

Smiling behind mist filled eyes, Mrs. Lawson responded, “I’ve been doing well.”

“I’m not going to be here too long today, but be assured that you will be seeing more of me. I just came in to get reacquainted again and look around.”

“Oh, my dear I understand. The young man that is working on your behalf is wonderful, customer focused and a no nonsense person just like your ….,” her voice trailed off.

“My father was?” Claire said. “It’s all right Mrs. Lawson. We both miss him. Adam Cartwright has been very helpful and is quite trustworthy. He’s indicated that you are very much on top of things and very helpful to him.”

“I’m just trying to do my job and help where I can. He’s easy to work with and is very committed to doing a good job for your interests.”

“I’m just going to look around for a moment and stop in to see Mr. McGill.”

“Oh Claire, I’m afraid that Mr. McGill is at the Commerce meeting this morning. He won’t be in until after lunch.”

Claire had forgotten about those monthly meetings. “Has Mr. Cartwright come in yet?”

“I’m afraid not. He had mentioned that he would be in late morning or early afternoon today.”

“I see,” said Claire. “I’ll just take a walk through and look at things. Can you unlock the door to my father’s office for me?”

“Certainly Claire. That is where Mr. Cartwright has been working.” She retrieved the keys and slowly walked with Claire down the hallway.

She took in everything. If it had been dark as night she would have known her way around. Reaching the door to her father’s office, Mrs. Lawson opened it and Claire entered. Mrs. Lawson remained in the doorway. Claire walked in and looked around. She saw the chair she spun around in as a young child. She walked over looking at the shelves, the pictures and awards on the walls and then the large desk that was always stacked high with papers of one sort or another. She noticed now that there was a clean space with neatly stacked files placed there. Adam, she thought. She took a deep breath and turned to Mrs. Lawson. Removing her hat she said, “Mrs. Lawson, do you have a few minutes to spare? I’d like to walk through this whole facility and would appreciate your accompanying me if you don’t mind.”

“It would be my pleasure.”

Placing her hat and bag on the desk she adjusted her jacket and said, “Shall we go?”

Mrs. Lawson locked the door behind them and as they passed her desk she picked up a pad and pencil. She was ever ready. Her first stops were to the offices adjacent to her father’s office. She wanted to ensure that she had the chance to speak to as many of the employees as possible. Those who were not in their offices she left a note of greeting for.

As they moved to the first floor, eyebrows raised and Claire made her way to each and everyone that she saw. She knew she was here but she was not sure that she was back. To look at her it appeared that she was totally in charge. In a way, she was by means of her walkthrough and greeting of each person. Mrs. Lawson admired her in what she had set about to do. Her father would have been proud of her. They finally reached the warehouse. With Mrs. Lawson following closely behind, Claire walked slowly and took in every space. Claire met several new faces, introduced herself and quietly asked Mrs. Lawson to note their names, as she wanted to be sure that she knew everyone employed there. She made her way out to the shipping and receiving docks. Here she looked at the operation before her and spoke to the workers. Walking the grounds of the plant and facility she felt refreshed and idly chatted with Mrs. Lawson. She made quite an impression during her tour of the plant and facilities. As might be expected, there was quite a lot of discussion regarding her visit and what was going to happen. Having completed the tour, she realized that it was going on the noon hour.

Returning to the upstairs, she thanked Mrs. Lawson for her time and for the notes she had taken. She also requested that she advise Mr. McGill that she had been there and would be in contact shortly as she’d like to meet with him. He could send word to her at the house if he so desired as to what would be a good time. However, he was to be aware that she would be back.

Mrs. Lawson made a note of all of this and willingly and happily stated she would take care of all of this. Returning to her father’s office, the door was ajar. As she entered, Adam was sitting at the desk. He looked up and gave a slight smile. “Hello Mrs. Lawson … Claire.”

“Mr. Cartwright, good day. Um, if you don’t mind it’s almost lunchtime and …..”

“Mrs. Lawson, take your lunch. As a matter of fact, I think I may invite Miss Sanders to lunch if she has the time.”

“Thank you. I’ll return in an hour. Claire I’ll put these notes into an envelope and leave them for you on my desk.” With that she closed the door and was gone.

Adam sat back and just gazed at her.

“What?” asked Claire.

He rose and strode toward her. “You’re amazing. You look like the executive in charge. I saw you walking through the yard and talking to the workers. You were quite an image and looked like a woman to be reckoned with.”

She grinned and said, “Do you think you’ll be able to reckon with me?”

He kissed her. “How are you my love?”

Just holding each other she said, “I believe I’m OK. I needed to do this and …..”

“You did,” he finished the sentence. “Whatever you’re feeling now or feel later please don’t keep it from me. Can we agree on that?”

She looked at his tender caring request and responded that she would.

“Well then, how about some lunch?”

“How about dinner? I’ve spent more time than I had planned and the packers will be at the house by one o’clock. So I should be getting back.”

“It’s not what I wanted to hear, but I do understand.” He thought for a moment and said, “How about I take you and Margaret to dinner. I don’t have the wherewithal to cook, but you’ve been feeding me and I think it is time I fed the two of you. How about I pick you up at six o’clock and take you both out to dinner?”

“Adam, that would be so nice and I know that Aunt Maggie would be pleased. I’ll tell her and we’ll be expecting you then.”

She walked over to the desk and picked up her hat and bag. She kissed him again and he saw the strength that had returned to her. He felt what he would be telling her shortly about his return to Nevada might be able to be understood more easily. As she was opening the door he said, “You look lovely today Claire. I love you.”

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Claire had not been gone for more than thirty minutes or so when there was a knock on the door. He looked up from what he was working on and said, “Come in.”

Standing before him was Margaret. He immediately rose and escorted her to a seat closing the door behind her.

“This is really some day. Claire just left for home a short while ago.” Seeing her expression he continued, “Don’t be concerned. I was not here when she arrived but she seems to have managed well. I’m sure we’ll talk about it later. Just so you know, I’ve invited you both to dinner this evening.”

Margaret smiled and gained her composure. Adam knew that there must be an important reason for her to have come to the office and wondered if it had anything to do with his suspicions that something was wrong.

Leaning over toward her he asked quietly, “What is it Margaret?”

Without hesitation she said, “I’ve found Claire’s natural mother.”

Always calm and reserved he remained as such. “You found her mother? But when and how?”

“Adam, I wasn’t certain at first. It was merely a feeling. But I confirmed it yesterday. It was purely accidental.”

He said nothing in his Adamness but just waited for the rest to be revealed to him. He would take it all in and sort it out before making comments or asking questions.

“I became aware of certain things when you were not at the house. As I would think of them from time to time, I began to have a strange feeling. Yesterday brought it all together. The fact is that Clara Moss is Claire’s natural mother.”

Adam sat back in his chair and looked at Margaret for a moment. “Are you certain of this?”

“Yes Adam. I confronted her yesterday and she admitted it. I visited her this morning and talked to her again. Since then I was just walking and thinking. I decided to see you and to tell you.”

“Then Claire doesn’t know?”

“No. She doesn’t know yet.”

“You say yet. What are you saying?”

“I’m saying that I feel that Claire has the right to know and told Clara Moss this. There is no way that I could have kept this a secret from her. You and I both know that not out of disrespect for her deceased parents but out of her need to know her beginnings she had been looking for her natural parents and had said she was going to give it a last try before leaving St. Louis.”

He was puzzled somewhat and wondered how long the strength that Claire was showing would last. He knew that she was functioning through pressures that even she was not aware of. Margaret recounted what had transpired the previous day and her conversation of this morning so that Adam knew everything.

“So, if I understand you correctly, you believe that Mrs. Moss will speak to Claire and tell her the truth?”

“Adam, I’ve encouraged her in my way to do so. It’s a means of putting some closure to this for the both. I believe she will do it but am not sure when.”

He was worried but would not admit or show it to Margaret. “I understand what you’re saying and I too believe that it’s best. Knowing your natural parent is important regardless of the circumstances. For Claire especially, as she’d expressed a deep seeded need to know. From the look on your face, I can see your concern.”

“You don’t think I need to be concerned?”

“Margaret I’m not saying that. She’s your niece and you cannot help but be concerned for her well-being. I have to believe that her knowing the truth will be better for her than wondering for the rest of her life who she really is. How this will affect her is a different matter all together. I think that’s your concern at this moment and it’s mine also.”

“I’m wondering if I did the right thing. She has come so far.”

“She’ll continue to go far. This I know of her. Even if this is a setback for her, she will move on with knowledge that she won’t have to worry about ever again. I’ll be there always and help her, this I know of myself.”

Margaret just sat for a few moments as Adam gazed at her. His mind was working overtime.

“Margaret, we can only do what we’ve been doing. I don’t want this to absorb us such that we are not the same people we were. We’ve not changed but something we’ve no control over has changed. It comes with life. Whatever comes, I’ll deal with it.”

“Adam I thought you would understand. I hope that you do not think harshly of me.”

“No I don’t Margaret. I just know that you are an honest and forthright person. This is not something that you could have let lay. You could not have become complicit in this lie.”

“Thank you Adam. I better get home now. I just needed to share what I knew and didn’t know what else to do right now. I truly don’t want to interfere with your lives.”

“Margaret, you not interfering. You’re just being the gentle loving person that you’ve always been. This will pass and we’ll all be the better for it. It would just be helpful if we knew the action that Mrs. Moss was going to take and when.”

Margaret rose and sighed, “Yes that’s true. We’ll wait and see what materializes. Thank you. I’ll get home now. You’ve made me feel better.”

“No thanks necessary. Remember, we’ll soon be family.”

She hugged him lightly and then left.

Adam wondered. He was not sure, but left hurriedly from the office, scribbled a note for Mrs. Lawson and left the office. He was torn between two loves, but one outweighed the other.

 

 

FORTY

* * * * * * * * * * * *

He’d always prided himself on making rational and appropriate decisions. He believed that he’d done it again but with the revelation of the latest news he knew that he could not depart St. Louis. He would not leave a part of himself to have to fend for herself without him … not now … not ever.

He made his way through the busy streets to the telegraph office. Upon arrival he had to wait, as the clerk was finishing up the sending of a message. While doing so he quickly scripted a new message. Reading it over to ensure that it was precise, he returned to the counter to arrange for it to be sent.

The clerk read the message over and said, “Ummm. Adam Cartwright. I was just in the midst of sending messages that were brought over from Carrington House. Think there was one with the same name.”

“Are you saying that you’ve not sent the messages yet today that you received from the hotel?”

“Nope. Messages are delivered to me from the hotel late morning and I had others before those.”

“Well, I need to replace my original message with this one if you would be so kind.”

The clerk took the new message and said it would be sent within the next fifteen minutes. Adam tore up the original message, paid the clerk and left. In the message, he’d advised his family that he’d received their wire, however he had matters outside the Pearson Group contract that needed to be addressed here. He was sure that his father would understand and he also knew there was a need for him to return and indicated that he would as soon as he could. Now was not the time to do so and he would explain. He’d keep them apprised of his return date.

He’d returned to the office and just gave a nod to Mrs. Lawson. The information that she’d given him proved what he had thought. Shipments in and out had been adjusted to reflect lesser amounts than had been received. Someone was stealing and putting the freight company in a precarious position. This would need to be addressed as quickly as possible. He was not certain to what extent it was happening but it appeared that it began within the last three months.

* * * * * * * * * * * *
Shortly before six o’clock Adam arrived. He noticed great strides made with the packing up of the house. Things on this front were moving right along. Margaret had heard him arrive and thought she’d remain upstairs to give them some time together.

Releasing her from a kiss that he’d wanted all afternoon, he looked at the beautiful woman who made him complete. She was lovely and he knew she loved him. Their life would be rich in each other’s gifts. There was so much that he wanted for her and to do for her. All in time he thought but right now they’d go and have a leisurely dinner.

Margaret made her presence known. The threesome departed. Adam had selected a small restaurant on the eastern side of St. Louis known for its epicurean delights, ambience and service. The eye contact between Adam and Margaret spoke volumes and would be put aside. This was going to be an evening out for relaxation and time together. They enjoyed each other’s company, shared stories and laughter. It was a reprieve from the matters that still were a part of their lives. Each one was more relaxed and at peace than they had been for the past few days. It seemed as if they put all concerns and worries away for the evening and just embraced the presence of each other. They took their time and just shared these moments together. Adam was pleased to have them here with him. He also could see deeper into the relationship between these two women.

Margaret was also enjoying seeing another side of Adam. She saw more of a lighter side of him and enjoyed his laughter and broad smile, which was something that she’d not always been privy to. He comforted her with his demeanor and control without knowing it by the way he seemed to be controlling their evening out. That was Adam.

The evening seemed to fly by. Returning home, Claire went to make some coffee. Margaret walked over to Adam and said, “Thank you for your thoughtfulness. It was a wonderful evening out and good to laugh.”

He sat down and said, “I had a good time also. It was the least that I could do. The week has flown by.”

Claire returned saying that the coffee would just be a few minutes. Both Margaret and Adam noticed how energized she seemed to be. She was happy and they wondered how long this was going to last. Forever Adam thought if he could manage it.

“I wired home today to advise I’d be staying on longer. Want to give Joe and Hoss a taste of what it’s like to work the ranch without me.”

“Let’s just hope that it doesn’t backfire on you,” mused Claire.

Adam just raised an eyebrow and nodded. “That could become a problem I’d not thought about.”

“I’m sure Hank is either finished or finishing up the work getting the new herd branded. I’ve always known it to be necessary but felt sorry for the poor animal,” said Margaret.

“It’s a necessity. Yes, hard work, but a necessity,” Adam said quietly.

“You’re missing home and Uncle Hank aren’t you Aunt Maggie?” asked Claire.

Margaret smiled and said, “What, me miss that stubborn and opinionated man? No. Just don’t know the condition I’ll find my house in when I get home. The last time I was away, when I returned home, it took me a week to get just the kitchen back in order.” Laughter abounded once again.

“Speaking of home,” said Claire looking at both her aunt and Adam, “That’s something that we’ve not discussed. This had been such a wonderful day I don’t want to dampen it, but it’s something I’ve thought about and think we should discuss. In many ways, I’m seeing it as something joyful.”

Ears seemed to perk up and Adam looked at Claire as she was identifying her thoughts. He was pleased to see that she was making decisions and was acting on them. They had not had a lot of private time to discuss arrangements, plans or even her return to Virginia City.

“Claire,” said her aunt. “Perhaps these are things you and Adam need to discuss alone.”

“Yes, there are some things, but what I’m about to say has an impact on you as well. All the personal and important items are securely packed. The legal matters are taken care of or in the process of being taken care of, such as the sale of this house, except for the business. That is something that I want to discuss with the attorney and I’ll be seeing him again tomorrow. The storage spaces have been gone through and all things of value have been identified, sealed and ready for shipment.” She paused to see their reactions. “If things are cleared up as I am hoping, I would think that I would be ready to return to Virginia City within a week to ten days.”

“That’s ambitious,” said her aunt.

“I’m not sure that’s it’s ambitious, but rather a reality. Certainly, there are memories but they will be carried with me and with matters cleared up, I see no reason for not making tentative plans to return.” She excused herself and went to get the coffee.

Adam had been listening to this and his mind was once again working. His appearance seemed one of outward pleasure as he heard her speak, inwardly he was wondering about what was yet to come. He’d remain the person he was and be ever present.

Returning with the coffee, she set it down and served each of them.

“Well there is a small matter of a wedding,” said her aunt sheepishly.

“Yes, Miss Sanders,” said Adam. “You’ve seemed to put everything into perspective. What are the plans for our wedding?” he asked smiling. “I just want to be sure that I follow your plans.”

She smiled at him and said, “That is a matter I do have thoughts on but we’ll need to discuss that.”

“I’m happy to discuss that and the sooner the better. I’ve had some thoughts on the subject as well.”

Margaret rose and placed her empty cup on the try. “Some things are better discussed without a third party. I’m going to call it an evening and go to bed.”

Adam stood and walked her to the stairs. “Thank you for such a wonderful evening Adam. It has been a long time since I’ve had the opportunity to share in such laughter and be with two people I love. Thank you for including me.”

He hugged her softly and said, “You’re always included. Have a pleasant evening. I’ll be around if needed by you or Claire.”

She looked at him and he knew what was on her mind. He said nothing. She could read his eyes and saw comfort in them. She bid goodnight to Claire and went up the stairs.

Claire removed the cups into the kitchen. When she returned, she joined him on the settee. He’d removed his jacket and as he put his arm around her, he removed his tie as well. She turned his face to hers and kissed him. She wished that they were already married. He returned her kisses several times over.

Sitting quietly nestled in each other’s arms; Adam talked to Claire about his suspicions at the freight office. He knew this was not romantic but she needed to know now before the meeting with the attorney in the morning. They shared their concerns and what actions would be taken. Something had to be done and immediately about this situation. He reminded her of the appointment with Dr. Parker as well for the following day and she teased him about being a worrier. She assured him that she felt fine and that the doctor’s report would give her a clean bill of health. They held each other and Adam fully realized his completeness with her in his life.

“There is the matter of a ceremony called a wedding,” he said. “Any thoughts?”

“Many,” she said looking at her ring.

* * * * * * * * * *

She had arisen early. Aunt Maggie was out in the yard talking to Jed. He was a dear caretaker of the horses and had been dedicated to Claire’s parents.

Claire was practicing again trying to get in a quick hour before departing to see the attorney and the doctor. She had a rehearsal with the Ensemble that evening at six o’clock and tomorrow was the gala. She felt a sense of becoming anxious and was trying to plan each activity so that she would not become overexcited. She wanted some quiet time as well. She would just pace herself.

Adam had been in the office since seven o’clock. It was now half past eight and McGill had arrived.

“Good morning, Adam. You’re an early bird.”

“Not really, just wanted to get an early start. Have you a minute?”

“Certainly,” he said as he entered, closed the door and took a seat.

Adam put down his pencil and began to discuss with him some of the things that he was concerned about. He’d come to the realization that the best interests of the company were McGill’s as well. With the passing of Claire’s father, so much had fallen into his lap and McGill was just turning the corner to clear all matters up.

He looked at Adam and indicated he’d had some suspicions that things were not as they should be. He wanted to be certain before making any accusations and was trying to maintain a steady and credible business operation. He was glad that Adam felt he could share his concerns and said so. Together they would be sure that the business was what it once had been. They shook hands and McGill agreed that all discussions would remain of a confidential nature.

Adam indicated the he had to leave and was not certain the hour he’d be returning. McGill understood. It was now going to be business as usual for him as Adam put his coat on and departed. He stopped to say a few brief words to Mrs. Lawson and informed her he’d be back later in the day but could not give her a time.

As he arrived at Claire’s he saw Margaret and Jeb in the yard. He walked over to speak with them and began discussing arrangements to move the horses when time to Nevada. During the discussion, he could hear the piano coming from the house. Well, he thought to himself, tomorrow is white tie and tails. He wished that his family could be present, even if it meant that Joe had to stand up because he didn’t know how to sit in tails and Hoss complaining because the collar was too tight. He smiled and just listened for a moment. The music stopped and he checked his watch. It was time to get on with the day’s events.

As he was escorting Margaret to the house, she said, “Thank you so much for last evening Adam.”

“There’s nothing to thank me for as I’ve said. Could not have thought of a better way to spend an evening than with two very lovely and dear women.”

Margaret heard his charm and charisma coming through. It was something she thought was just a part of him and she loved it. Before they approached the rear entrance to the house, she felt compelled to stop him. “Adam, do you really think most things are really coming together?”

“Yes. Yes, Margaret I do. Claire has been active with the help of you and Amelia and as she said, things do look well for the move to Nevada.”

“But, there is still the matter of Clara Moss.”

“Yes, that’s true. What I don’t want to happen is that we are pulled into a situation where we are allied with her lies. I won’t be a part of that. If she does not come forward to have a discussion with Claire, Claire must be told before any of us leave here. I will never lie to her.”

“Thank you Adam.” They entered the house and found Claire putting her hat on.

Seeing the two of them Claire said, “Another day to finish a task or two.”

“Let’s just make sure that the tasks are completed and you have some time for yourself,” her aunt said.

“I think that we should be back early so I’m sure to have some time.”

“Good. I’m going to spend some time with Amelia later this morning. If I’m not here when you return, I should be shortly after that.”

She kissed her aunt and then departed with Adam for the attorney’s office. Margaret waved to them as they drove off and was glad that things were coming together and that Adam was remaining. She needed him in her own way for support just as Claire needed him for his love and her support.

There was a knock on the door and a handwritten note was delivered for Claire. The return address was Clara Moss, Director, the Children’s Home.

 

 

FORTY-ONE

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Dale James, Attorney at Law and an assistant had gathered corporation papers, documented and investigated allegations, interviewed and located one of the most thorough and prestigious accounting firms and a security and investigation agency. He felt prepared for the meeting he’d have this morning.

Arriving promptly, Claire and Adam were escorted into Dale James’ office. After the amenities were over Dale introduced Ryan Wilcox to them and advised that he’d be handling the monitoring of decisions that were made this day.

“It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance,” said Ryan.

“Ryan is one of the brightest young minds in the firm. He and I have been working diligently on your behalf Claire to ensure that there is always a presence available to you. As I had informed Adam, I have some other matters that I’m finishing up which will require some of my attention.”

“That’s appreciated,” said Adam.

“Thank you Dale. My goal is to ensure that I have a clear understanding of the business and a complete audit. My father prided himself on making sure that all aspects were in order and I need to ensure the same.”

“Well Claire,” said Dale, “That’s precisely what we’re prepared to do. We’re considering this as we would a sale of a business. The new owner needs an accounting which you have already recognized.”

“Miss Sanders,” said Ryan. “Considerable time has been spent on your behalf and I do believe that we’re prepared to implement all necessary to give you that accounting.”

Adam was impressed with this young man and his intelligence. He was going to take a back seat and allow Claire to manage the affairs assisting only when he thought he was needed. So far, he was impressed with her capable ability to know what she wanted and to express her expectations. Her education was not at all wasted.

“Dale, at our last meeting, you were asked to identify an independent agency for auditing purposes. Also, because of concerns, a security agency that would be accountable to safeguard and protect the items entrusted to Sanders Freight Company. These are important matters and I’d like to know where we stand in this regard.”

“You’re cutting to the chase, so to speak Claire. We’ve been able to identify several sources for you,” said Dale. “Ryan, perhaps you can fill Miss Sanders and Mr. Cartwright in.”

“I’d be happy to,” he said. “First, we sought out an accounting firm that has had no ties to employees or utilized the services of Sanders Freight and ranks in the top three agencies in Missouri. The foremost one was the Callahan Agency. They are available to start immediately given your consent and a signed agreement that I happen to have a copy of here for your review. They will work on your behalf seven days a week to ensure that everything is covered with full reporting and recommendations.”

Claire listened as Ryan continued and Adam watched her take control of the situation. He saw Dale James looking at her as well over his glasses.

Ryan continued, “We’ve been supplied with documentation that indicates there may be some mishandling of shipments in and out. Because of this, we contacted an independent security agency that would cover the business 24 hours a day and be present, as the auditors require. They will also investigate any transactions that seem irregular. That agency is Talbert and Company. We’ve used their services before and believe them to be the best available. I also have an agreement for you to review if you are so inclined to use their services.”

“You seem to have done a thorough job in a short period,” said Claire. “My concerns are that all irregularities be addressed as quickly as is possible and the operation once again regain the status that it has always prided itself on.”

Dale chimed in and stated, “Claire, that is what we’re here for. I believe that we have delivered to you the best options available, an immediate start time for both agencies and are confident when all is completed, you will have restored your confidence in the business and any credibility that you may have lost.”

“It seems that you’ve delivered what was requested. Would you mind giving us a few minutes to review these contracts and then provide you with my answer?”

“Certainly. Take the time that you need. We did indicate to both agencies that we’d contact them by wire immediately after our meeting with you. Ryan and I will be outside when you’re ready.”

“Thank you Dale.” Dale and Ryan exited the office.

“Adam, what do you think?”

He looked at her with pride for her control and handling of this business matter. “I think that you’re doing a thorough job. Shall we read over the contracts?”

Claire read and in some cases re-read the contracts. This was something that her father had taught her. Never sign anything without reading it and understanding it thoroughly. Also, be certain the people you are working with are above reproach.

“Adam, I don’t see anything in either of these contracts that would cause me not to want to engage them. Do you?”

“No Claire, I don’t. I think Dale has done his homework and, like you, feel that you should engage them.”

She valued his judgment and felt comfortable with her decision. She rose and opened the door to ask Dale and Ryan to come back in.

“I am prepared to enter into agreements with both agencies as spelled out in each of the contracts. I’d like to ask you to exercise the engagement of them on my behalf with the earliest start dates. Preferably a coordination of both agencies starting at the same time.”

Adam listened and thought it wise that she had presence of mind to have both start at the same time.

“Claire, you’re doing the appropriate thing. If you will just sign the contracts, we will get a wire off to engage them for a Monday morning start and confirm it to you,” said Dale. “Ryan here will be in contact with you regarding the start times and be present on site as required. He may have a need to contact you at odd times and even over the weekend.”

“That’s not a problem.” If I cannot be reached, you can certainly leave information with Adam.

“Thank you for attention to detail, “said Adam.

“I’ll take care of this right away and deliver to your home copies of the contracts,” said Ryan as he left to set things in place.

Offering their good-byes, Adam and Claire left with Dale indicating neither of them should hesitate to contact him or Ryan if anything of question came up. He then became more social and indicated he was looking forward to hearing her play tomorrow evening.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Upon reaching the outside, Claire just breathed in the air. Something else had been started. Adam reached the small of her back and with his other arm turned her around. He was standing fairly close to her and she was looking around to see who might be viewing them.

“Did I tell you how very much I love you today?”

“Only about a dozen times and it’s not even near noon yet,” she responded.

“I’m very proud of you my love. You have a great mind and handled that extremely well. If I’m ever in trouble and need an opinion, I know something else about you now.”

“And what is that?”

“That I can trust your judgment and logical decision making.” He was very close to her now and within kissing range.

“Adam, I think we need to move ourselves along. People are beginning to look at us.” He could not help himself but kissed her.

“Adam, this is a public street.”

“And so what if it is? I love you.” Smiling he assisted her into the buggy.

They left and briefly made a stop at the freight company. There were eyes on them and a curiosity of what was going to come next. Things needed to stop until some answers were determined. What they could get away with would not continue for the time being. They needed to be careful …. very careful.

Claire and Adam spoke briefly with Mrs. Lawson. Adam remained to speak with Mrs. Lawson while Claire made her way to Mr. McGill’s office. Mr. McGill was pleased to see her. Claire indicated that she was sorry that she’d missed him the previous day but wanted to stop to say hello. She had another appointment but wanted him to know that she’d be in the office early Monday morning. They shared a few brief words and then Claire indicated that she needed to leave as she was getting short on time for her next appointment. Adam was finishing his discussion with Mrs. Lawson and indicated that he would not be returning to the office again until Monday and wished her a pleasant weekend. In shaking her hand, he found that she had placed several pieces of paper that were folded ever so small into it.

“You have a pleasant weekend as well, Mr. Cartwright.”

“Claire, it’s always so good to see you here. I know you’re leaving but my Mister and I will be at the concert tomorrow evening. We would not miss the Ensemble playing and hearing you.”

“Thank you for coming out for the event.” Claire’s softness and sincere appreciation showed.

They left to continue their marathon of a day. There was a feeling of disgust at the interruption of their plans at Sanders Freight. The eyes that followed them realized they needed to recheck that they’d left no traces of what they had been doing. What seemed to be working like clockwork was now being interrupted and they were not at all happy about it.

It was approaching eleven o’clock and Claire had a follow-up appointment with Dr. Parker. She and Adam had accomplished much this morning and he was concerned about what she had yet to do. Was he being over protective of her? He thought perhaps so but it was beyond his control. He understood it and it was OK.

While she kept her appointment with Dr. Parker, he indicated that he would go across to the library at the university and seek out a few books. He would not be long. He did not want to impose himself on her. He waited until she entered the building and then made his way.

Dr. Parker entered the examining room and saw a remarkable difference in Claire. “Well Claire, you look like a different person. I’m going to have a nurse come in to assist you and then will examine you.”

“Thank you Dr. Parker.” Within moments the nurse entered and assisted Claire.

He conducted a very thorough examination of her and was pleased with what he found. “Have you had any problems that I need to know about?”

“None that I can think of other than feeling tired at times.”

“Have you been resting as I indicated I wanted you to do?”

“Yes, I have.”

He raised his eyebrows as he had a feeling that this was not entirely true.

“Now what is that look for?” she asked.

“You may have progressed to a point that I’m happy with but I find it hard to believe that you have rested as much as you should have. I see that you’re playing tomorrow evening.”

“One of the reasons for seeing you is to get a clean bill of health from you and to be sure that I’m fine to do it.”

“I would say it’s rather late to get my approval don’t you think?”

She could not hide her embarrassment at his remark. “I guess that it is.”

“Claire get dressed and then we can talk, OK? You can meet me in my office.”

He left and shortly thereafter she found her way to his office.

Having seated herself in a chair, he said, “As your physician, I’m pleased that you are recovered as well as you have. But I must advise that you still need to take care of yourself. A relapse is not unheard of even though you are doing well. I want to check you in a week’s time again.”

“Is that necessary Dr. Parker?”

“Claire, I’m going to be honest with you because I feel that I can. You’re in the midst of putting a lot of things in place. I hate to bring up past experiences, but you’ve had a very hard time of it. You were devastated to a point of needing my medical attention with the loss of your parents. You seemed to have improved during the time you were away and then were hit with pneumonia and a setback that was more serious than you know. When I asked that you take it easy, I had to trust that you would and that those who cared for you would see to it.”

“I understand Dr. Parker. You are correct in your assessment; however, I do feel much better and believe that I am doing things with the assistance of others in moderation. I cannot just sit around. I’m not an invalid.”

“That is all well and good, but what I don’t think you are reflecting on is the stress that you are under. Often time one does not even realize it until it is too late. Your resistance is still low and my hope is that you are not hit with any undo obstacles or stresses that could cause a problem. Not even the slightest problem. That would not be a good thing for you. You should realize that although you are doing well presently, you are not totally out of the woods. So, I need you to continue to take it easy and follow my instructions young lady. Understood?”

“Understood.”

“Good, let’s set up an appointment for you in five days.” With that he got up and walked her out of his office. Adam had returned as we leafing through the books that he had picked up when they arrived at his nurse’s desk.

“Ah, I see your fiancée is here.”

Claire looked at Dr. Parker in amazement at his statement and realized he knew from looking at the ring on her hand. He just smiled and advised her to set up her appointment while he went to greet her young man.

“Hello Mr. Cartwright. It is so good to see you again.”

“Hello Dr. Parker. How is she doing?”

Dr. Parker looked over his shoulder as Claire waited for the nurse to finish up what she was doing to set a new appointment.

“Mr. Cartwright, I’m not sure how much she will tell you, but she is doing well. I told her that I want to see her in five days as a precautionary measure. She’s come a long way but is still susceptible to some problems. I don’t believe that there will be any if she does as I’ve instructed. I’ve encouraged her to continue to rest and above all, from her history, I don’t want her to become overtired or deal with an undo amount of stress. Her resistance is still building and things of this nature could cause problems.”

“I understand. We’ve been trying to ensure that she does what you have asked. However, I’m sure that you’re aware of the matters she has been dealing with. Her aunt and I are doing our best to take the pressures off her without stripping her of her independence. We’ll continue to work through this with her.”

“Good. If there are any signs of overtiredness please let me know. I’ve also given her a tonic that will build her up again.”

“Thank you for being direct with me Dr. Parker.”

“Just thought you should be aware. She can be stubborn and if that is the case I would suggest that you just sit on her.”

“I’ll take good care of her.”

Claire joined them.

“Everything all set Claire?”

“Yes, Dr. Parker. Thank you.”

The twinkle in his eye was genuine as he looked at the two of them. He started to turn but stopped and said, “Congratulations!”

* * * * * * * * * * *

Adam assisted Claire into the buggy and they proceeded to return home.

“Adam, it is so good to be outside in the air. It’s even better to be with you.”

“Flattery will get you everywhere,” he responded. He continued to think of what the doctor had said.

“Understand that you are almost fit as a fiddle,” he said.

“Yes. Dr. Parker gave me a good report. Just wants to follow-up with me next week.”

“Ummmm, and what is that all about,” he asked as he slowly drove the buggy through the streets toward her home.

“He wants to make sure that I’m not overdoing it or becoming overstressed.”

“Would you tell me if you were?”

“Adam Cartwright! You and Aunt Maggie are watching me so closely that I can hardly get away with anything. If you two aren’t then its Amelia.”

He had his own personal thoughts but would keep them to himself for the time being.

“You have a few things to do between today and tomorrow. I want to make sure that you don’t overdo.”

“I’m not. I just wish that we had the space and time to just be together and share in the quiet that I so love.” Her words caused his heart to jump. Soon he thought … soon.

“Perhaps I can arrange that,” he said. “I’ll work on it as I’d like it as well.”

They pulled into the yard of the house. It was now shortly after the noon hour.

He assisted her down and looked at her tenderly. He would always be there to take care of her.

“I love you more that you can imagine,” she said as she reached up to meet his lips. Their embrace was yet another impassioned plea for time just for the two of them. Right now, they were sharing themselves with circumstances. He stroked her face and she took his hand. They walked into the house together secure in their love for each other.

Hearing the sound of the back-door closing, Margaret called out, “Claire? Is that you?”

“Yes. It’s us.”

“Oh, my dear, you just missed Amelia. She said that she’d try to drop off the things you asked for probably right after dinner.”

“That will be just fine.”

“How did everything go?”

“You have a wiz of a niece. Accomplished all that she set out to do today. I was quite impressed with the manner in which she handled herself.”

Claire turned to Adam and said jokingly, “You’re just now impressed with me?”

“Let’s just say that I’m more impressed.”

Claire was putting her cloak away when she saw the note addressed to her.

“Aunt Maggie, when did this arrive?”

“What dear?”

“This note from Clara Moss.”

Hearing this Adam’s heartbeat quickened. He shot a glance at Margaret who just shrugged her shoulders.

“I was on my way out and it was delivered for you. Almost forgot that it was there.”

Claire opened it up as Margaret asked Adam if he would care for a cool drink and perhaps some lunch. His response was that he would take the cool drink but did not really care for anything to eat. During this small talk, he had his eyes on Claire.

She opened the envelope as she entered the parlor. Stopping she read the note.

“Mrs. Moss has invited me to Sunday brunch at Café del Mar at eleven o’clock. Indicates that I can provide an answer tomorrow at the gala. If this is not a good time I can advise what would be workable for me. Ummmm …. Wonder what this is about. She seems nice enough. Perhaps a thank you again. She does seem to go overboard.”

“Yes,” said Margaret. “Perhaps she just wants to show her appreciation again.”

There was a sense of nervousness permeating the room that Claire was not aware of.

Adam walked over to Claire and took her by the shoulders. “I’m going to leave you for now but will pick you up for the rehearsal at five-thirty. Remember what Dr. Parker said. Have something to eat and then it is important that you get rest.” He said this to Claire, but in a manner that Margaret heard the instruction as well. He knew she would be sure Claire rested.

Not embarrassed, he kissed Claire and hugged her. “I’ll see you later my love.”

As he neared the door, he turned to Margaret and said, “Take care of our lady.”

He left, but would be back. Margaret’s heart was racing.

 

 

FORTY-TWO
Coming to Terms

* * * * * * * * * * * *

“Dadburnit pa,” said Hoss. “If’n Adam doesn’t get back here pretty soon I’m liable to kill Joe.”

Ben looked up from his paper and said, “If that’s the way you feel.”

“Huh?” said Hoss. He realized that his father was not really listening to what he was saying.

“Pa, did you hear what I said?”

“Sure Hoss, you said if Adam doesn’t get back here soon that you were going to kill Joe.”

Looking strangely at his father, he realized that he was listening. He figured that his father was not going to let the stress that was welling up between Joe and Hoss bother him. Ben finally put the newspaper down and gave his middle son his undivided attention. “What is it Hoss?”

“Oh, I guess nothin’ really. Jes that Joe just seems to half do the chores and then criticizes the work I’m doing. I’m getting fed up is all.”

At that moment Joe walked into the great room and picked up an apple. “What’s going on?”

“Nothin’ much cepting trying to figure out how not to kill you,” said Hoss.

“Yes Joe, it seems that your brother here has a penchant to do you bodily harm.”

“Why me? He’s just upset because of the wire that Adam sent,” said Joe. “He wants to know what’s keeping Adam in St. Louis when your message indicated a need for him to return as soon as was possible.”

“Jes cain’t figure it. Adam wouldn’t stay on if everything was OK.”

“From the gist of the wire,” said Ben, “Adam indicated that he’d rather not spell out in a public wire what is taking place. However, did assure that the Pearson deal is fine and that there are some matters that he is involved in and would return later and keep us advised. He also stated that he was fine. We just have to trust him. Whatever we’re going through we can handle and I believe that he knows that. He doesn’t make these types of decisions lightly and he is honest in his responses.”

“Yeah,” said Hoss with his hands in his pockets, “But there sure seems to be a lot of secret stuff going on. Ain’t like Adam to do anything like this. Guess we’ll just have to wait.”

“Guess so son, “said Ben. “I’m sure there’s nothing to really worry about except the two of you being able to work out the chores.”

“Besides, he probably needed a break from your big brother,” laughed Joe.

“Well, don’tcha go telling him this, but I miss him around here. Thank goodness, we’ve not had any more problems.”

“Ben just raised his eyebrows and said, “We’ve been lucky but at the expense of extra hands working more hours. We’ve managed before and we will again. Besides, he should have received the wire I sent in reply.”

“As Joe was finishing up his apple he said, “All I can say is that when big brother gets back here, he better have a pretty good reason for staying away.”

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Adam had returned to the hotel to rest himself. The wire received from home indicated that all had settled down and his father understood whatever his reason for remaining certainly was not a frivolous one. Everyone was fine. Just keep them apprised and take care of whatever he had to. He stared at the ceiling as he lay on the bed and tried to think through things clearly. He was certain that he had a look on his face that his family would recognize as his being in deep thought with something weighing on his mind, however, this time alone with quiet, was what he wanted. Resolving the matters that clouded his mind, he then opened one of the books he’d gotten from the library and lost himself in it.

Awakened by her aunt, Claire was surprised that she’d slept as long as she did.

“What time is it?” Claire asked. It’s going on five o’clock. I thought you could use the rest.”

“Perhaps you’re right, but I’ll need to get my things together and be ready when Adam comes to pick me up. Rehearsal starts at six.”

“Dinner will be ready in just a few minutes. I’ll wait for you downstairs.”

“Thank you Aunt Maggie.”

It was a mere fifteen minutes when Claire made her way downstairs. Changed and refreshed, she went to the piano and placed her music into her case, checked to be sure that she’d not forgotten anything and then placed it by the door. She quickly ate her dinner and got her wrap out.

Sitting in the parlor, she said “Aunt Maggie, I thought I was fine, but now I feel nervous about tomorrow evening.”

“Haven’t you felt this way before my dear and then given a wonderful performance? Besides, you’ll be with your friends from the Ensemble.”

“Yes, you’re right. I guess it’s just been a while since I’ve done something like this.”

There was a knock on the door and Margaret let Adam in. Claire collected her things and Adam assisted her with her wrap.

“Margaret, if you don’t mind, perhaps I can come back and visit with you once I’ve dropped Claire off. She’ll not be finished until nine o’clock and ….”

“Adam, I would love it,” she interrupted. “Besides, I baked an apple pie today that you might want to try.”

“I’ll see you shortly.”

Claire kissed her aunt and they departed.

Having assisted Claire into the buggy they were off. “Well sweetheart, it won’t be long now.”

“No, it won’t be Adam. I’m not sure that I’m up to this. I just told Aunt Maggie I was beginning to feel nervous.”

“Can’t be. The lady who was wielding her power and might today. Not possible.”

She leaned her head on his shoulder but knew that she was feeling something. He too sensed something different about her. She was a bit more withdrawn and quiet than she had been.

“Adam, I feel as if I really need some time alone with you. Do you think we can take some time after rehearsal?”

He heard the tone of her voice knowing she was trying to keep it light and responded, “I need some time with you as well. I’ll take care of it.”

They arrived at the conservatory auditorium and before they departed the carriage, he looked at her with a broad smile of reassurance on his face. “Thank you for the gift,” he said.

She was puzzled and said to him, “What gift?”

“First this one,” he said as he kissed her passionately, “and for the beautiful music you’ll play.” In that instant, he had relaxed her. He assisted her down and walked her to the entrance. Others of the Ensemble were arriving and she waved to them. “I’ll return for you at nine promptly. Now I have another date.”

“Another date?” she asked.

“Yes. Margaret and apple pie.” They both chuckled and she entered. Kissing her on the cheek he returned to visit with Margaret for the next few hours. When he arrived he noticed another buggy outside. Upon being welcomed into the house, he found that Amelia and Isaac were there. Amelia had come to drop off some things and then she and Isaac were going to visit an ailing professor friend.

Adam entered and was very glad to see them. They had already started on the pie and coffee. Isaac said, “Good to see you Adam. You better hurry and join us. This pie is wonderful.”

“I plan to. Amelia, it is good to see you as well.”

“Same here Adam although I’m not happy that you will be taking my best friend away from St. Louis,” she kidded.

As he was helping himself to pie, he said, “Some things were meant to be.”

“I agree whole heartedly,” said Isaac. “There is no better match in the world outside of you and I Amelia, than Claire and Adam.”

Adam half smiled at the comment.

Amelia being privy to Claire’s mood sways that were rare asked, “Was she nervous when you dropped her off Adam?”

Margaret looked up and said, “Yes. She was before she left here. I imagine she was the same with you Adam.” He nodded yes.

“That’s always been the way with her. She’s fine up to the final rehearsal and then all the nerves come out. When it’s time for the performance she’s her old self again. I’ve never been able to figure it out.”

Margaret looked at both Isaac and Amelia. “This will be a first for me and I am going to thoroughly enjoy it.”

“I’m sure that you will Margaret. The pie was delicious, but I’m afraid that Amelia and I will need to rush off. I told Professor Wilkes we’d stop by and the hour is moving on.” They rose and moved toward the door.

Having said their goodbyes and agreeing on where they would meet the following evening, they were off.

Adam helped Margaret clear the table and wash the dishes. He noticed for the second time this evening something wrong with two women he cared about. He took her by the shoulders and ushered her to a seat in the kitchen. He sat down facing her and asked, “What’s troubling you Margaret?”

“My concerns about Clara Moss and the invitation she extended to Claire.”

“I’m not going to tell you not to be concerned but neither of us knows what is on the horizon. What I’m going to do is ask that you look forward to an enjoyable evening tomorrow and let this lay. Anything other than that now is not going to allow you to enjoy the day or the evening. Claire is fine and, if you don’t mind, if she’s not too tired this evening, I’d like to take her for a short drive after the rehearsal.”

“Yes, you’re right Adam and by all means take that drive.”

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Adam arrived shortly before nine o’clock and leaned against the buggy. For whatever reason there was a lot of activity. He wasn’t sure if this was normal or because of the event. He did know that the hotels were full and there were an inordinate number of visitors that appeared to have arrived in the city.

He did not have to wait long. Doors opened and he heard talking and laughter. He saw that Claire was caught up in that and it warmed him. Saying her good nights and extending hugs, he watched with a smile on his face. She was absolutely ravishing and her smile was something that matched the joy of a fresh morning sunrise. He just watched until she saw him and made her way to him. As she approached him, she hugged him and just clung to him.

“Well my lady, all the nerves gone now?”

“Adam it was wonderful. And yes, all the nerves are gone now.”

He placed her case in the buggy and then assisted her in. As he did so he could smell the sweet scent of her cologne. He started the buggy and she noticed that it was not the direction of the house.

“Adam, this is not the way home.”

“If you recall, I did indicate that I’d arrange for some time for ourselves and it’s all taken care of.”

She lay her heard on his shoulder and they rode in quiet. Just being in his presence was more than she could have ever hoped for. He drove to the far end of the park and stopped the buggy so that it overlooked the city.

She turned and rested her back against him. He put his arms around her. “Cold?” he asked.

“No, just enjoying the quiet and being here with you. Is this how it will be for us?”

“It will be better than this.” They sat in quiet for a few minutes each in the other’s space.

“I’m bothered Adam. I need to talk to you.”

He turned her to face him. “What is it Claire?”

“Adam, for some reason this afternoon I began to feel unsettled and still do.”

He searched her face for answers.

“I’m feeling a nervousness that has nothing to do with the concert tomorrow. I’m also sensing a feeling of loss that perhaps I’ve continued to push away. With this concert, perhaps I’m feeling the loss of my parents and they’re not being there. I’m not sure what I’m feeling. But I’m feeling something and need you. I wish I could explain it better.”

Holding her close to him he softly brushed her hair with his hand and said, “Let’s try this out Claire. Could it have something to do with your not visiting the cemetery since the funeral? You’ve been handling many things, but you’re getting closer to some type of closure and this is a piece you’ve neither discussed or taken any action on.” Adam was direct and he knew it. However, he tried to say it as compassionately as he could.

She moved back from him, and looked at him. Even in the darkness of the evening, he could see that he was close to a nerve.

“I’m not trying to upset you in any way my love, it’s just something that I’ve noticed. You’ve been so strong and each person has a breaking point from which they grow.”

She reached to touch his face and knew that he was right. “Adam, I’ve been afraid to go and don’t know why. No matter what I’ve told myself or others, there’s a piece of me that is fearful of making that visit.”

“Claire, I do think you know why. I think it’s because you sense some sort of finality if you visit their gravesites. There’s still some grieving you haven’t done yet and whether you can see it or not, there is life.”

“Adam, you are right. I’ve been hiding parts of me I didn’t want others to see. With you, I can open up, be loved and not judged.”

“I’m glad.” He kissed her hand and touched her face.

She could see his eyes and knew how much he felt for her. He was direct in a loving way and she felt safe and secure with him. She wanted to be able to return it … but she knew he meant for her to be on the receiving end right now.

“I think that it’s time that I got you home.”

“I wish we were going to our home,” she said.

“No more than I do.” He started the buggy homeward.

He walked her to the door and told her he would say his good night here. She needed to get in and get rested.

They embraced and kissed. She held him and he could feel the softness of her as she rested against him. He hoped her evening would be a restful one. He didn’t want to leave her.

Lifting her chin with his fingers, he said, “There’s nothing that we cannot face together. Just remember that.”

* * * * * * * * * * * *

The day was filled with great promise. As Claire lay in her bed, she recalled the many wonderful times she had in this house. Yes, she would miss it but it was on her path to another life. She arose and walked to the window. The view she’d seen so often seemed to have taken on a new life and meaning this morning. She gave thanks for all that she had been given and for the ability to see brightness once again in all that had befallen her. She believed what had happened in her life was meant to be so that she could be stronger to handle things yet to come. Faith? Yes, she had it and was a devout person.

She dawdled long enough she thought. She quickly dressed and headed downstairs. She did not see her aunt at first. When she entered the kitchen, she could see her in the yard checking sprouts that were beginning to poke their lazy heads up through the rich earth. She grabbed a cup of coffee and joined her in the yard.

“I thought you would sleep much later Claire. A big evening tonight.”

“Aunt Maggie, I think that you’re much more excited than anyone else. It will be a fun evening and I’m sorry that Uncle Hank isn’t here.”

Margaret rose. They intertwined their arms and started to walk slowly about the yard. The closeness of these two needed no words to be spoken. It was clear, definite and stronger than any words.

“Aunt Maggie, I feel full and happy today … a peace that I’ve not had before. Even though I’ll soon be leaving here, I’m not sad. I was blessed with a life that could have been so very much different.” They continued to walk as the rays of the sun began to reach higher into the sky.

“Claire,” said her aunt. The sun is a promise of a new day. Today is especially for you for reasons that only one authority understands. Rain can wash away our sadness, wind can give flight to our hopes and dreams, snow in its whiteness provides hope and the night wraps us safely and lovingly in a cocoon.”

Margaret sat on the back porch with Claire sitting on the step before her. She was proud of this woman before her. As if a child, Claire laid her head in her aunt’s lap and smiled. Margaret caressed Claire’s hair. They sat this way feeling the warmth of the sun and the soft breeze of the wind.

Claire stood up and said energetically, “What shall we do today Mrs. Sanders?”

Playing into the fun and levity that Claire was exhibiting she responded, “Well, Miss Sanders, I’m going to be a lady of leisure for a while. Then this evening I’ll be dining and dancing with the society of St. Louis.”

They laughed. Claire said, “If you don’t mind, I’m going to take a little ride.”

“My dear, please do. I’m just enjoying this time sitting here and thinking of my becoming a grandmother in a few months. Hard to believe.”

“I’ll be an aunt,” said Claire.

With a gleam in her eye, Margaret retorted, “Someday I’ll be a great aunt.”

Claire jumped up, kissed her and went to saddle Cameo. As she rode out of the yard she waved and said she’d be back soon. Margaret knew within herself where she was off to. She just said a quiet ‘thank you.’

Margaret did not know how long she had sat just enjoying the day.

“Don’t mean to interrupt pleasant thoughts,” she heard the voice say.

Looking up she saw Adam. There had been no answer at the front door so he decided to come around the back. He walked over to Margaret and kissed her on the cheek.

“Adam, good morning. If I were some years younger, I’d give my niece a run for her money.”

“Speaking of your niece, where is she? Thought I’d stop by and say hello then leave her to take care of whatever she needs to for tonight.”

“She and Cameo went for a ride.”

She saw the look of slight disappointment on Adam’s face.

“What is it Adam? Can’t stand to be away from her?”

She’d hit the target. He could not help himself but gave an embarrassing grin. “Margaret, you’re very astute. I hope you can’t read me as Claire says she can.”

“I believe if you ride west toward the mountains for about two miles you’ll find her. Now shoo, I’m enjoying the sun and the air.”

Giving her a knowing look which they both understood, he just nodded and was off.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

She dismounted and could smell the dogwoods before she saw the beautiful blooms. The ride on Cameo was exhilarating. This is where she needed to be at this moment. She closed her eyes and let nature engulf her. When she opened them, she felt a sense of calmness and peace surround her which seemed to lift her to the top of the distant mountains. The blue of the sky and the white of the clouds seemed to say that all is well and will continue so.

A short time later he dismounted and saw in the distance the woman wearing the riding clothes he’d first seen her in. She was walking up a small sloping hill. He sat down and leaned back against a tree. He watched her slow deliberate movements.

She reached her destination and sat on the adjacent bench. She read the names several times. Quietly she spoke,” I miss you. There was never any doubt of your love for me. You may not be physically here but I know each day that I walk, you’re with me.” Her eyes were beginning to fill. “I think of so many things that we did together and I guess that is what I will miss most.” She let the tears fall.

From his vantage point, he could see her making her way through this struggle. He wanted to go to her but knew she needed to do this. He just watched and waited as his heart ached for her.

She cleaned off some of the debris and knelt before them just remembering and feeling. She gently placed the flowers she brought with her. Remaining on her knees she wrapped her arms around herself and could find the peace she had been seeking. In order to seal it, she could not control the emotions. Rocking back and forth, healing rivers flowed down her face. She eventually stood and rubbed her hands across the headstones. Moving backward, she looked up at the sky and then back at their graves. Thank you.

He saw her coming down the slope and heading in his direction. He stood and she saw him. When she reached him he asked, “Everything OK?”

With reddened eyes and a confident voice, she turned to him and said, “Yes.”

 

 

FORTY-THREE

* * * * * * * * * * * *

He returned to the hotel. Thoughts of his family and the ranch were not lost during the time he’d been in St. Louis. He missed them although he found it hard to say – but in his way showed it. Removing stationery from the desk, he sat and penned a lengthy letter home. His thoughts also wandered to a ‘new home’ that would be shared by two people that would become one.

Moving over to the chair by the window, he looked out at the busy street and thought of the morning that had swallowed Claire up in the depths of her emotions. She had reached down in the midst of her expressed fears and waged a battle against the force that was draining her of life. She had to reach this point and win the battle. She did it – and did it alone. Against the enemy she faced, in his mind’s eye he could still see her taking the battleground and with her being – face this enemy and win the war. It came with a price he thought, but she had paid it in full.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

She’d returned home and spent time practicing for a little over an hour. Her aunt went about finding things to do to occupy her time. When she’d finished her practicing, she sat with her aunt telling her what she’d done that morning. Her aunt felt relief that this had been accomplished. Although she’d not mentioned it to her, she knew that this was something needing to be addressed. Today was going to be a good day with this milestone having been passed. Everything was in readiness for the evening. For her aunt, there was an air of excitement. Before she went to rest, she reread the invitation from Mrs. Moss and advised her aunt that she would accept the invitation to meet her for brunch the following day. What harm could this do? Indeed.

Lying on her bed, she looked at the gown she would wear this evening. Smiling to herself, she remembered the day her mother had taken her to be fitted for it. It was the occasion of her first master performance.

As she began to close her eyes, she thought of Adam, their love and fell to sleep.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The day had passed quickly. Adam’s freshly pressed clothing had been delivered to his room. It had been some time since he’d dressed in white tie but was refreshing for him in its own way. Looking forward to the evening ahead, he was prepared for an exceptional evening. Another memory. He was proud, no matter how it happened, that Claire was a part of this evening. He’d almost finished dressing. The studs for his shirt had given him a problem but this was not something new to him.

Finished, he took one more look at himself. He accepted his appearance as he saw his reflection in the mirror. It had been some time since he had been to a formal affair. Certainly, there was none of this magnitude in Virginia City. He was dressed in black tails and trousers, white silk faille vest over a wonderful quality white shirt and white silk tie. The contrast of his hair color, tan and the brightness of his shirt were striking. Hop Sing would be proud – or perhaps jealous of the care given to his clothing. He’d managed to get the black studs into his shirtfront and cuff links on. The one thing he had trouble with was the wearing the white gloves.

Claire needed to be at the concert hall early so he had to get a move on. Dr. Monroe was sending a carriage for Claire, Adam and Margaret. If Adam was correct, the carriage was outside awaiting him and would then make its way to Claire. The concierge asked that Adam wait while he made sure that the carriage was brought around. Amelia and Isaac would meet them. He deposited his letter with the desk clerk for mailing and then strode across the lobby toward the exit to wait. By no means did he go unnoticed. Many eyes were on him, especially from the female population. His appearance was that of an extremely handsome, confidant and elegantly dressed man of means.

He stepped into the carriage and headed for Claire.

Things were busy at the Thomas household as well. Isaac was just about dressed and Amelia needed some help with her gown. He said, “What would you do without my expertise?”

“I guess I’d have to call a neighbor,” she said. She looked in the mirror. She was now finished. Her accessories and the upswept auburn hair complimented the color of her emerald green gown.

“If I was not already married to you, I would be first in line to try to gain your attention,” said Isaac. He walked over to her and kissed her telling her how he loved her.

“You look quite handsome Isaac. White tie and tails seem to agree with you.”

At the Sanders home, Margaret was regaled in a lovely deep blue gown that Amelia had assisted her in finding. The jewelry she wore were a few simple pieces that Claire presented to her. Margaret knew that these had belonged to her mother and was pleased that her sweet Claire would share them with her.

Admiring her niece, she said, “You look absolutely beautiful dear like something out of a dream. Adam is sure to be breathless when he sees you. Is there anything you need?”

“Thank you for the compliment and your support. I have everything. Now I just must get through this evening,” she said as she ran her hand over the piano. The light shone brightly on her ring. What a freeing day this had been for her and it was not over yet.

Staring at the piano keys and running through a piece in her mind, she did not hear the knock on the door. Margaret let Adam into the foyer.

“Hello again Margaret. My, you look very beautiful and elegant.”

“Thank you for saying so. I might say that you’re quite dashing.”

“I’ve tried to do my best to compliment two of the loveliest ladies in St. Louis this evening.” His charm was ever present and she appreciated it.

She smiled and said, “Claire is in the parlor. Seems like some hurdles were crossed today I’d say.” She paused for a moment knowing he understood and then said, “I’ll excuse myself until you’re ready.”

He looked at her and indicated he knew what she was referring to. She just squeezed his arm and went up the stairs.

He started to enter the parlor but stopped. She was standing against the piano with her back to him. He saw her hands moving to a song that had no sound. Without her turning around she was exquisite and the sight of her took his breath away. If he felt this way seeing her from the back, he wondered what he would feel when she turned around. The gown that adorned her frame was simple but very elegant. It was off black in color as the Ensemble only wore black and white for performances. The fabric was rich. Certainly it had to be one of a kind made just for her. It suited her. He’d never seen her shoulders before and now he could see the soft radiant skin from which an elegant neck held her head. Her hair shown with the sheen of a thousand lights which she wore very simply away from her face twisting into a French braid that was secured at the nape of her neck with a pearl and ruby comb allowing her distinct beauty and eyes to be highlighted. She did not care for a lot of fuss with twists and curls in her hair – just a few tendrils at the nape of her neck and framing her face.

She turned and found him looking at her with eyes she’d not seen before. She smiled. “Do you approve?” How could he not at the sight of her? This was St. Louis. Virginia City might have a little problem with this gown. The cut of the gown was straight across with a deep fabric border that simply framed both front and back embracing her shoulders allowing the softness of her shoulders, back and neck to be seen. The bodice had been designed to enhance her figure and was accented with tiny black seed pearls that cascaded downward into a V that accented her waist. The seed pearls also adorned the hem of her skirt. She wore the simplest of jewelry – dangling petite pearl earrings and a single pearl around her neck.

A tender smile came across his face as he walked toward her never letting his eyes fall from her. “Words escape me. You’re so beautiful and so elegant. I’m glad I’m your escort.” She smiled and he took hold of her by the shoulders feeling her soft flesh beneath his hands. All he could say was “Claire,” before their lips met. He kissed her never wanting her to be away from him any waking moment.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Departing the carriage, they were escorted in via the private entrance. Dr. Monroe greeted them and embraced Claire excitedly. He helped her remove her full-length black velvet cape that was lined in white satin. He apologized to Margaret and Adam but indicated that he needed to whisk Claire away. They’d see her again after the performance for dinner and dancing. She was able to give her aunt a brief kiss and merely able to touch Adam’s hand.

“Shall we find our seats?” asked Adam as he offered his arm to Margaret.

Their seating was reserved and would provide a wonderful view and sound. The acoustics of this venue were outstanding. As seats were being filled, Amelia and Isaac joined them. Shortly thereafter, Clara Moss arrived and sat a few seats away. She acknowledged Margaret who could not help but quietly gasp and Adam. Her expression did not show any uneasiness. Adam just took Margaret’s hand and casually talked to Isaac and Amelia. This was not going to be an evening filled with what ifs.

A welcome and introductions were made. The lights were dimmed and the heavy curtains were opened. As the applause rose, the twelve-piece ensemble was in place and the evening started. The selections and music took Adam to a place and time that he so enjoyed. Margaret felt sentimental. As he looked at Claire, he was proud of her. She looked radiant in the light and one could see that she loved playing. The Ensemble was excellent and went through selections such as — “Forgotten Melodies” by Medtner; “Drei Klavierstucke” (pieces for the piano); Schubert; Sonata No. 3; Sonata in E-flat, K282 by Mozart; and Ballade No. 2 in B minor by Franz Liszt before a five-minute intermission.

The lights came up to raucous applause and the words “Bravo! Bravo!” The four of them stood. Isaac looked at Adam and said, “I can tell that you have enjoyed what you just heard. Somehow you look a bit stunned.”

Adam give a sheepish smile and said, “I’m truly impressed. I so enjoy this music and have not had the pleasure to hear anything like it since my days in Boston and once or twice in San Francisco. It’s particularly special since Claire is a part of it.”

“Yes, she is really outstanding as a pianist,” said Amelia, “As are the other musicians.”

Margaret was enthralled and wiped a few tears from her eyes.

The second half began and contained selections from: Beethoven, and Chopin.

She had made it through and for the first time truly caught sight of her loved ones. She smiled as the Ensemble took several bows. Claire curtsied with elegance and grace. Before the last closing of the curtain, she smiled and through a kiss to Adam. He totally admired her.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The guests found their way to the grand ballroom. Tables had been assigned and when they located their table, they noticed the place cards. Clara Moss was seated at their table next to Dr. Monroe. Dale James was also seated at their table. To her horror, Margaret could not believe this was happening. Seeing the look on her face, Adam reminded her of the wonderful evening they’d had thus far. It did not matter this night of all nights who was at their table. This was special and they were going to enjoy it and have a wonderful time and memory.

It took a while for the members of the Ensemble to make their way through the ballroom to their tables. They were being congratulated and given accolades for their performance. By the time Claire could wade through the well-wishers and find her table dinner was being served. Seeing her arrival, the men stood as she joined them. She excused herself and asked if they would excuse Adam for just a moment as there was someone that wished to see him and they would not be able to wait.

Adam followed her down a hallway and into a practice room. “Who is this person who wants to see me and can’t wait?”

“It’s me.”

He smiled and they kissed with a passion that flooded the two of them. “I just needed to feel your arms around me and to thank you.”

“Thank me for what?”

“For everything. Now I think we’d better be getting back.”

They entered the ballroom and many of the eyes from the hotel were on them. They were a spectacular pair.

Much conversation took place over dinner with many praises of Claire’s performance. Clara Moss seemed genuinely pleased and managed to be a lively part of the conversation and constantly looked at Claire. This was something that both Margaret and Adam had picked up on.

With dinner out of the way music for dancing began. Claire rose and walked over to Clara Moss. Their heads were animated and then there were smiles. She’d confirmed the brunch for tomorrow.

As Isaac and Amelia took the dance floor, Dr. Monroe who asked Margaret and then Dale James who asked Clara Moss followed them. Adam rose and gently took Claire’s hand in his. He moved her chair and they took the floor.

They danced as one. She fit him nicely and moved like a feather in his arms. Truly this was a special day and two special people were a part of it. Feeling his strong and gentle hand against her back, they moved almost effortlessly. “I love you Claire Sanders. You’re amazing and my life will never be the same again.”

“ I love you Adam Cartwright and I would hope that neither of our lives will ever be the same again.”

 

 

FORTY-FOUR
Mother and Daughter

* * * * * * * * * * * *

It was a beautiful Sunday morning. Clara Moss had extended the invitation with a commitment to telling Claire the truth. Sitting in the restaurant she was now vacillating. Could she go through with it?

Claire arrived shortly before eleven o’clock. Her buggy was taken care of for her and she entered the Café del Mar. She saw Clara Moss and joined her.

Smiling she said, “Good morning. Thank you for extending this kind invitation to join you.”

“It was my pleasure Claire,” please sit down. “Wonderful evening last night – I want to thank you once again.”

“You didn’t have to invite me here as a thank you. I enjoy my music so it was a special treat for me to be asked to play.”

“That’s obvious.”

They placed their order. Clara had made certain that they were seated in a remote location of the café that was pleasant and away from many Sunday patrons. Claire could see from Clara’s actions and searching for words that something was on her mind.

“Is everything all right? Seems that you’re bothered Mrs. Moss.”

It was going to be now or never. “I actually invited you here to discuss another matter with you.” She found it hard to look Claire in the eye.

“I’m sure it cannot be that serious. Perhaps I can help you with it.” It was then that Clara looked at her daughter. Claire sipped her tea and Clara saw the bright blue eyes that she remembered from years ago. Part of her mistake.

“Claire, I know you’ve been seeking your natural parents and that you were also a resident of the Children’s Home when the Sanders adopted you.”

This had peaked Claire’s interest. “Is there some information that you can provide regarding my parents? I’d been seeking them for a while now and using various services but with no success. I’d just about conclude to forget it and move on. For some reason if it’s not to be – it’s not to be,” she said with a lost look in her eyes.

Clara looked at her for what seemed an eternity. She could only pray what she was about to say was the right thing and that they both could accept the reality of it. Their meal was delivered. As Claire unfolded her napkin and placed it in her lap, she heard the words, “I’m your mother Claire. I … I don’t know how else to say it but directly or it may never be said.”

From somewhere the words just bolted from Clara’s mouth to Claire’s ears. Claire looked across the table at the woman who had just said these words. “You’re my mother?” She put her fork down and continued, “I find that hard to believe.” Her mind now was flooded with so many questions and she needed answers. She was shocked at what she’d just heard. She was not sure that she could comprehend and understand the answers even when she heard them. She was also fighting the shock of this revelation and had no control of her emotions. This news coming this way – it can’t be true she thought. She felt a sickness creeping into the pit of her stomach.

“Yes, Claire. I’m your natural mother. You can’t know the anguish I’ve felt for so long with your not knowing. I … I’m ashamed but feel that you have a right to know.”

Clara was continuing to speak but Claire was still trying to digest the words I’m your mother.

“I know you’re wondering about so much now and I’m prepared to tell you the story. It’s one that I’m not proud of.”

Claire said nothing … she couldn’t. She felt her anxiety level rising and had to regain control of it.

“I need to get all of this out and would appreciate your listening. I’ll understand if you just leave, but I hope you will hear me out. I was young and in love. My parents were not happy with the man I was in love with and wanted to marry. So, we ran away and married. Within a year I was expecting you. My relationship with my parents had diminished considerably and I felt I could not return home. Perhaps it was pride, but they had been right. This was not the person I should have married. We moved to Clinton, Missouri. He became abusive and was away most of the time. He took to drinking and was not pleased with a child on the way.”

Claire looked at her when she said this.

“I tried everything I could to cause him to have a change of heart but he just got worse. Times were difficult at best for us and with a child on the way, it was almost impossible for the marriage to thrive. We struggled and seemed to move farther and farther apart. I loved him so very much regardless. As my time came closer, I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to leave him. I thought he needed space and time. Just the two of us.”

What she was hearing was hard to hear. She could no longer look at the woman speaking. All she could do was listen. She could not even move. She had to control her feelings and her breathing.

“When you were delivered, you were the most beautiful child I could have ever imagined. Your eyes were as blue as his and you were bound for special things which I knew could not be given to you.” Ashamed now and speaking in low embarrassed tones she continued. “When you were two weeks old, he said it was time to move on. I knew that I could not make the marriage work with you and that you deserved more. I made the decision to find a family I thought would take care of you and love you. I placed you on the doorstep with a note. I know that this was a shameful act, but I loved him, wanted to make our marriage work and would come back to get you.” She reached into her bag and removed a sheet of paper that she gave to Claire.

Claire did not pick it up.

“I was young and so much in love that I dared to give you up for him. Time passed and he was bound to have a life without me. When he left, I went back for you, but you were no longer with the family I left you with. They’d placed you in a home in Litchfield, Missouri. When I arrived, the home was overcrowded and infants were moved to other locations. You weren’t there. I was beside myself and did everything I could to find you. My search continued for six years until I found you here. During that time, your father died. I returned home to my parents several times during the six years for support and guidance. My father was not accepting of me and my mother did all she could. I left again to try to get my life in order and find you. I know that I made a grievous and selfish mistake at your expense and have forever been truly sorry. I took a job in a children’s home in Windsor to try to be of assistance to other children but it was not long before funding was cut and the home closed. I was able to find a position here in St. Louis and this is where I found you. At the time adoption was underway for you by the Sanders family. They seemed so caring and able to provide you with all that you needed that I did not intercede. My hope was that I would be able to be around and see you grow and flourish which I did. What you must know is that I loved you through all those years and I love you now. The name that you have is my mother’s name. Both my father and mother passed away within a year of each other. I have no siblings. I just dedicated myself to the well-being and care of children hoping I could make a difference.”

Claire’s eyes were clear as she looked at her mother. She now had the truth she had been seeking. What she did not expect was the pain she’d feel finding it out and in this way. She felt betrayed and cheated. “I’m not sure what to say to you or what I feel. Time will only tell.” She felt broken but no more so than the woman who had just revealed her soul to her.” She stood and looked at the face that was her mother. Looking down at her she said, “I need to leave. I am trying to understand how hard this must have been for you.” With that she picked up her things and left the café.

She had no idea of the hour. She drove the buggy to the park and just sat. She realized that she still held in her hand the paper that was given to her. With shaking hands, she unfolded it. It was her birth certificate. She was unable to move and didn’t know what to do. She just prayed.

It was going on two o’clock and Claire had not returned home. Margaret was trying not to worry but it had been three hours almost and Claire had not returned. She went to the barn and asked Jeb, who was bringing in fresh oats, if he’d go to the Carrington House, get Adam Cartwright and bring him directly to the house. Jeb nodded and hitched up the buggy and was gone in a flash.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Adam was lying on the bed with his hands clasped behind his head. He felt he should have insisted on taking Claire to the café and picking her up but she’d declined his offer. She said she’d see him later in the day. He thought to himself, is this some sort of a test? It was then he heard a knock on the door. Upon opening it he saw that it was Jeb.

“Sorry to bother you Mr. Cartwright, but Mrs. Sanders asked that I get you and bring you to the house.”

The words were a shock to his system. “Is everything all right? Is Claire at home?

“I don’t know if everything is all right or not. She just asked that I come and get you. Miss Sanders was not at home as far as I know.” It took him less than a minute to get himself together.

“Let’s go,” he said to Jeb.

Claire had managed to retrieve her senses and directed her way back home. Hearing the buggy pull up, she opened the door and saw the direct opposite of the person she’d seen the night before.

“Claire, I was worried about you. Dear are you all right?”

Claire entered the house and leaned against the door that she’d just closed. Looking at her aunt she said, “I’m fine. I just found out that Clara Moss is my mother. After all these years.”

Margaret cupped her hands over her mouth in fear of saying the wrong thing. “What can I do for you?”

“Aunt Margaret, I need some time. I have to sort this out and then I can talk. Right now, I’m not able to. I just want to go to my room and rest.”

“Certainly dear,” she said as her spirit drained from her at the sight of her niece.

“Things will be fine. I just need the time,” she said in a voice that was weak. She then went up the stairs and Margaret heard the door close quietly.

A few minutes later there was a knock on the door. She knew who it was and threw open the door. Adam entered and she ushered him into the parlor. Trying to keep her composure she had him sit.

“When I sent for you I was very worried as Claire had not returned. She just arrived home and has gone to her room.”

Adam’s look of concern showed as he looked at the stairs.

“She knows that Clara Moss is her mother. Oh Adam,” she said twisting her hands, “I was worried about how she would take the news when it came.”

“We both were. How is she?”

“She says that she’s fine and just needs some time to sort things out. Said she couldn’t talk about it right now.”

The concern he showed on his face could not be hidden. “Margaret,” he said calmly and controlled, “Any news of this nature has an impact and we were both aware of it. The most important thing is our support of her, of her pain and the fact that we are both here.”

“Yes, you’re right. I cannot imagine her finding this out being alone.”

Although not proper, he asked the question anyway out of respect, “Margaret, would you mind if I went up to see Claire?”

She just touched his arm lightly moving him in the direction of the stairs. “I’ll be here. Take the time that is needed.”

As he approached her room he knocked lightly. There was no answer. He opened the door and found her lying on her side looking out the window. Entering he closed the door behind him, walked over and covered her with a quilt. She did not move. He sat down on the side of the bed and held her hand. He saw a piece of paper on the floor. Picking it up to place on the bedside table, he noticed it was her birth certificate.

Without looking at him she said, “Adam, I’m OK. Really. I just need to sort things out and want to rest a bit. I’ll be able to talk about all of this later. I’m not shutting you out, it’s all too new right now. The other thing is that I don’t want to worry you and Aunt Maggie.”

Brushing her hair with his other hand, he was hoping in his heart that everything would be OK as he said. “I know my love. I’m going to stay here with you.”

She pulled his hand to her lips and kissed it without looking at him. She just held it next to her heart and closed her eyes.

He thought to himself, if this is a test for us … it is some test!

 

 

FORTY-FIVE

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Adam stayed with Claire for quite a while even after she’d fallen asleep. The rest would be good for her although what to expect from her after the revelation of the news disturbed him. He finally rose and quietly left her room and made his way downstairs.

In the parlor he found Margaret in the chair by the fireplace – she had fallen asleep. Not wanting to wake her, he looked around for something to read. In seeking reading material, he stopped at the piano. Her gift on this instrument had provided life and enjoyment to so many the evening before. It was a wonderful memory. How quickly things can change, he thought, but had known sooner or later it would come. Finding a book, he sat on the settee and opened it. He tried to read, but was unable to concentrate. So many thoughts were going through his mind … what must be going through the mind of the woman asleep upstairs? Yes, a strange turn of events in such a short period of time.

Claire awakened and just lay there for a few moments. She was surprised that she’d fallen asleep, but with the events of the previous evening and today, she suspected that she needed it. She arose and looked at the paper on the bedside table. My birth certificate. She didn’t hurry to leave her room. She needed to think and didn’t wish to speak with her aunt or Adam just yet.

The sun was beginning to set when she felt she’d thought things through … at least for now. Perhaps tomorrow would be different – but tomorrow had not come yet. She left her room and found her aunt still sleeping in the chair but did not see Adam. Perhaps he’d left she thought. Hearing a sound on the porch, she looked out the window and saw his hands bracing him as he leaned forward over the porch railing staring off into the distance. If she knew him, he was thinking. Grabbing a shawl from the hook, she wrapped it around her and quietly joined him.

Turning to her he lovingly pulled her to him. As he held her, she turned and leaned herself against him. He wrapped his arms around her and they looked into the distance together in quiet.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The sun was sinking lower and taking the warmth of the day with it. He felt her shiver slightly but did not suggest they enter the house. He’d just be there and take his lead from her.

“I’ve come to some resolution,” she said almost in a whisper.

He continued to hold her tighter but remained quiet. This was her time and her moment.

“I want to finish what’s necessary and leave Adam. I came back to take care of unfinished business and it’s almost complete except for the business end of it. Tomorrow will be the start of that and I’m hopeful matters concerning it will be quickly remedied. I’m not sure what to do with the business, keep it or sell it, but I’m sure a Dale James, and a financial advisor can offer suggestions as well as you. In the meantime, I believe that if there is an adequate person to run it in my absence until I decide whether to sell it or not, that would be workable.”

He listened to her voice as she spoke with confidence and what appeared to be an honesty of her true feelings.

She turned to look at him and continued. “I’ve come to another decision as well. My meeting with Clara Moss was more than a shock to me. I needed time to accept it as well as try to understand it. I was thinking also of something that Isaac had said to me when I first arrived back home. He had asked me why I would continue to seek my parents and how I would respond if I could find them. He also expressed his concern that it might cause me more pain and anguish. Adam, I had always felt that it was something that I needed to know to be a complete person. I’m not sorry about finding out. I guess I thought I never would, but I have.”

He continued to let her have her space and talk. He just held her gently to him wrapped in his arms and listened as she spoke.

“I’m going to go see her. It’s the only thing that I can do. She’s my mother, a person I’ve never known. She’s also a part of the person I am. I’m trying to understand and accept this fact. I have no idea what I’ll say to her exactly, but the woman that spoke to me today has made mistakes. She was honest about it at a great risk. What I heard was hard at first, but I believe there’s a reason why all things happen the way they do. We don’t always understand them but need to learn to accept them. I can only imagine what she has been through these years and the hurt she’s had to live with in the shadows. I can’t leave her that way. I don’t think she was expecting me to rush to her with open arms, but rather she gave what I would consider a gift that others would not. She gave me the truth … she gave me myself. I don’t hate her but have a sense of sorrow for her. I know within my heart that I can forgive her and perhaps I already have. She has to know this. What will be from that point on I can’t say. But I do know that it’s the right and only thing for me to do.”

Adam felt the woman he held in his arms was truly remarkable with a love and compassion within her that matched none other he’d ever experienced and she was going to be his wife. He held her tightly and kissed the top of her head realizing how hard the day had been for her yet she understood another’s pain and could forgive. He understood it and smiled.

“You’re truly a remarkable woman Claire Sanders,” he said.

“Not as remarkable as you may think Adam.”

“You are and you have a loving heart and a forgiving spirit. You’re also a woman to be reckoned with as you have shown.”

He scratched the back of his neck and said, “Since I brought up the subject of having to reckon with you, I need to tell you something.”

She looked at him not knowing what he was going to say.

He faced her squarely and said, “There’s something you need to know.” He paused and tried to find the words to continue. Calmly and quietly he said, “I became aware a few days ago that Clara Moss was your mother. Now before you say anything else, we just wanted to give her a chance to tell you.”

“We, you mean someone else knew as well?”

Before he could respond she said, “Aunt Margaret. It had to be Aunt Margaret – the day she asked her to remain while we took a ride.”

“Claire, we knew that you wanted to know. It was only fair to give her the opportunity. My personal feeling is that you should know. We’d agreed that if she did not tell you, we would before we left St. Louis. Nothing was going to be kept from you. You deserved that much.”

She stepped back from Adam and looked at him.

“If you’re upset by this I can understand. Know one thing, I was not going to keep this from you. I would have told you no matter what the consequences.”

She turned and walked to the other side of the porch. Understanding Adam’s fairness and sense of responsibility, she knew he was telling the truth and he wanted to give her natural mother a fair chance. He had. She could not be angry with either him or her aunt.

“Adam, I understand and appreciate what you did. It’s clear to me why you didn’t tell me earlier.”

He had earned a sigh of relief and was grateful.

The wind was picking up and it was almost dark. She knew her aunt had been awake now for some time as the lights in the house were lit. She was just letting the two of them talk.

“Adam, will you take me to see Clara Moss? I’d like to go now.”

He was somewhat surprised with the request but saw that she was comfortable with things and would not deny her this.

“Yes, Claire if you’re certain.”

“I’m certain Adam. Very certain.”

They entered the house and Claire said, “Aunt Margaret, I’m leaving for a while. Adam is going to take me to see Clara Moss.”

Her aunt was shocked and looked to Adam. He politely gave he a reassuring look and nodded his head. Claire went to get a warmer wrap.

Margaret had a bewildered look on her face and Adam confidently told her all was well. Confirmed she should not worry and he was certain that Claire would talk with her at length upon their return. This comforted Margaret greatly.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

They reached the Children’s Home and entered. A lot of activity was going on as they were greeted by a whirl of young children running through the foyer as a caretaker was chasing after them.

“May I help you?” she asked as she continued to try to get the children in tow.

“Ah yes,” said Claire. “I realize that it is an awkward hour, but I was in hopes of seeing Mrs. Moss.”

“I’m afraid she’s gone up to her quarters to take supper.”

“It’s rather important and I wouldn’t disturb her otherwise. Would you please tell her that Claire Sanders is here to see her?”

Still trying to rescue the running children, Adam said, “I’ll try to handle them if you can deliver the message.”

She looked at the three still running in circles and said, “If you’re sure. I’ll just be a minute.”

Adam put his hat aside and cleared his throat. He took two large strides and could pick up two of the children, one in each hand. He walked over to a large bench and sat down with them. He believed that the one lone child would not continue running while his friends were not.

Adam entered conversation with the two and before he knew it, he had their full attention as well as the third child. He had brushed hair from their eyes and had managed to tuck in shirttails. As Claire looked, Adam had their undivided attention with a story of some sort he was telling them. The smallest of the three and the most active had managed to find a spot in Adam’s lap. There were grins all around.

Footsteps were coming down the hallway. “Mrs. Moss can see you. She asks that I have you wait for her in her office. Please follow me.”

Claire looked at Adam and said, “Adam, would you please come with me?”

He rose and after prying two little boys from his legs, he tousled their hair and followed Claire.

They entered the office and had a seat. Claire’s countenance was one of a woman on a mission and one of determination.

The door opened and Adam stood as Clare Moss entered the room. She greeted him pleasantly and then looked nervously at Claire.

As she sat down, Claire said, “I needed to speak with you and did not feel that it could wait until tomorrow. I believe the day has been long enough for all of us.”

The seat Adam had taken was to the rear of the office behind Claire. This again was her time and space.

“I’ve come to tell you that I’m appreciative of your honesty today. Needless to say, I needed time to sort things out and I believe that I have.”

Clara Moss had no idea what was coming next but was at least appreciative that the woman speaking was calm and reserved. Adam just observed from his corner vantage point.

“Claire, I believe that I do understand,” said Clara. Her nervousness was obvious.

“I want you to know that I hold no malice against you. I believe that I can understand what you went through when I was born and the heartbreak that you must have lived with these years. What I want to say to you is that I forgive you … and …and thank you for being honest with me.”

Clara was beside herself with relief and her emotions were catching up with her. This is not at all what she expected.

“I’m still reeling somewhat from the events of this day, but I want you to know that I could never hate you. I’m not sure where anything goes from here, but needed to put some of your worries to rest.”

She could see the tears welling in the eyes of Clara Moss. Clara stood and walked around the desk to stand directly in front of Claire.

“I must admit that I did not know what your feelings would be or if I had caused you more agony. I wasn’t even sure that I would see you again.”

Claire found her emotions building as well. “Please know this, although I have forgiven you for the years, this is all very new. I can only be honest to say that I recognize you for who you are and have no idea now if or where things will go. I would like at some point to perhaps get to know you.”

The tears now fell freely from Clara. Claire rose to give her a hug to try to comfort her. Adam saw the reactions of the two ladies and realized that this was a soothing moment for Claire as well.

Claire turned to Adam indicating that she was ready to leave. He joined her side and Claire said, “You know Adam Cartwright. I’d now like to introduce him to you as my fiancée.”

Clara was hard pressed to get the words out, but did. “I knew there was something special about the two of you, and I congratulate you both.”

Quietly Adam responded as he put his hand around Claire’s waist, “Thank you. Is there anything that we can do for you?”

She looked at the two of them and said, “You’ve already done more than you can possibly know.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

They left the home and walked through the front doors. As they reached the outside, Claire abruptly stopped. Adam caught her.

“Claire what is it?”

“I guess I’m feeling everything now.” She looked at him with a peaceful glow in her eyes. “I did what I needed to do and I’m happy for it. I hope you can understand.”

Smiling he kissed her. “I understand more than you can know.”

Once in the buggy, Claire said to him, “You were so right.”

“Right about what?”

“The inscription you wrote in the journal you gave me the day I left Virginia City for St. Louis. You wrote “Each Day … Life Begins Anew.”

Taking her hand in his, they headed home and to Aunt Margaret.

 

 

FORTY-SIX

* * * * * * * * * * * *

The evening was one that no one could have imagined. The pieces to an unfinished puzzle were beginning to come together. Some pieces still needing to be put in place and the hands that would do it were not sure just yet where they fit. There was no doubt that when the puzzle was completed, it would be truly a finished work and time to begin another puzzle of life. This would be a new joy in the lives of those who made up the puzzle. There could only be the promise now that life would move on as it was meant to. Expectations were not set high but were a part of the integral fabric that would weave in and out of so many things yet promised. The realization of so much and the acceptance and understanding were very clear. Yes, life given was given for a reason … and the reason was continuing to reveal itself.

The hope to finish things in St. Louis was a priority with her moving on. She wanted to expedite as quickly and reasonably as possible the ability to move to Nevada. Much had happened and time had passed for all. It was time to get back to home, family and the beauty of the land. It had been much too long for all to be away and she realized the gift Adam had placed in his love for her to remain with no reservations. Time to go she thought. She’d make plans to have the already packed items shipped. She’d discuss with Adam and Aunt Maggie travel arrangements. She was sure and was moving ahead with what seemed the approval of the two that had been there to support her through all of this.

The focus had been solely on her and her needs, which she knew. It was long past the time that she gives of herself to those who were so much a part of her life. She had been watched over and loved. Love was important to her and she’d tried to show it amidst her tribulations. Adam was her priority as he was her life. He’d not pressured her about their life together and it was time that they made their plans. He had been patient with her and when he looked at her, his countenance and presence overshadowed the tribulations and poured out an ethereal signal of his profound love for her. It could not be denied in any setting as it sprung forth from his very being like a beacon in the dark. What a love he had for this woman. He was a man who placed her above all things … even his own need for her. He waited and exhibited control while waiting.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Claire spoke at length with her aunt informing her of all that had taken place. Margaret embraced the news presented to her and was easily able to comprehend what Claire had done and the reason. She was proud of her. If Claire did not have any ill feelings against Clara, she could not either. Perhaps in some fashion they were cut from the same piece of cloth.

It was now Monday morning and time to start completing the puzzle. Adam would meet Claire at the freight company and Aunt Maggie would arrange for the items they’d packed to be shipped.

There was a knock on the door. Claire opened the door to see that it was Ryan Wilcox.

“Well good morning Ryan. I had not expected to see you here. Please come in.”

“Thank you Miss Sanders. I’m here to accompany you to the freight company and to thwart any issues that may come up this morning. I am also going to oversee the start-up work that both the security firm and the auditors will perform.”

“Well you are being quite thorough. May I offer you some coffee before we depart?”

“No thank you ma’am. I’m fine.”

“Well I’ll just get my things and will be right with you.” Claire entered the den and told her aunt that she would be heading to the freight office. Her aunt acknowledged her words and kissed her cheek lovingly. As she left the den, she looked at all the items that had been packed to be put in storage as needed, and the few that were kept separate to go to Nevada. Things were progressing.

Ryan escorted her into his carriage and before she knew it she was at the freight company. A meeting had been set for eight o’clock with Mr. McGill, Ryan, Adam and herself. She’d arranged with Mrs. Lawson to have a separate room available for representatives of the Callahan Agency and Talbert and Company. They’d receive their instructions once the meeting was concluded with Mr. McGill. She did not expect that this would take very long.

When she arrived, Adam was already in the office. Mrs. Lawson had already set up a location to accommodate the persons expected. Claire asked Ryan to wait a moment, as she needed a few moments with Adam.

She entered the office and he immediately gave her a warm smile. Rising he said, “I think this seat is for you,” pointing to the seat her father had occupied and that he just rose from.

Oh,” she said. “And what is the occasion?”

“My dear, this is your company and this is your meeting. It only seems appropriate that you have the seat of authority when McGill arrives.”

She gave him a quizzical look and moved toward the seat and him. She removed her hat and he then scooped her up in his arms and gave her a kiss that touched him to the core. We’ve got to get back to Nevada soon he thought.

She quickly went over the notes she had and then invited Ryan into the office. Ryan greeted Adam and they conferred on the occurrences that would take place this day. Claire was as prepared as she felt she could be. She knew there might be some issues with the sources she’d hired, but that was something that could not be helped. It was necessary.

“Miss Sanders if I may,” said Ryan in an official voice, “If there are any matters that you are unclear of, I can always step in for you.”

“I certainly appreciate that Ryan. It may be necessary.”

Adam just stood by the window looking at the woman that was brighter than she knew. She’d handle this perfectly fine. He was confident.

Mr. McGill entered the office followed by Mrs. Lawson.

“Good morning, Mr. McGill – Mrs. Lawson,” Claire said. “I’d like to introduce you to Ryan Wilcox an attorney that is working with Dale James, and of course you both know Adam Cartwright.”

He acknowledged them and seeing that Claire motioned him to a seat, he made himself comfortable, as did the others.

“I’ve asked Mrs. Lawson to be present to take any notes that may be needed.”

McGill was a bit confused about this meeting, but she was the owner and he was the employee. He figured he’d know soon enough.

The gauntlet was Claire’s and Adam was going to see how she would swing it. He thought she looked as if she belonged behind the huge desk.

“Mr. McGill, I’ve made some arrangements as I indicated earlier to you I would. I’d like you to understand what will take place from today on is merely a means for me to understand the financial and operational processes in place for Sanders Freight and Shipping. I’ve not been involved with my father’s business and the burden has fallen to you. To assess the company and its position, which is an arduous undertaking, I’ve decided to pull these pieces together.”

“That seems to make quite a lot of sense Miss Sanders. I … I did not take too many liberties other than trying to ensure that all was running smoothly until some assemblance of operational changes were identified to me.”

“And I do appreciate all that you have done to ensure the company maintained its reputation and high standards of operation. What I’ve done is to put in place, effective today, two agencies that will assist with the accountability of Sanders Freight and Shipping.”

He looked at her rather uncomfortably. Was he going to be replaced?

From their seats both Ryan and Adam watched how she handled this matter. So far, so good.

“Now, the first thing is that there will be matters that need to be kept confidential. I know you will understand this as I unfold what I’ve put in place and the reasons for it.”

He just nodded and Mrs. Lawson maintained her position as she took notes.

“Now, from what I understand, the year end audit was conducted internally for the period ending December of last year. The quarterly reports showed a decline which I wish to know more about. Having come into this position, I feel it necessary to work with you and the other managers to have a complete and total audit done of the company. From the information, I’ve been given, it appears that an independent audit is long overdue. To that I end, I’ve engaged the Callahan Firm to start a complete audit beginning today. They will be arriving shortly to start. From my perspective, anyone starting out afresh would need this type of service. I believe that you had agreed with me on this point.”

Mrs. Lawson lowered her head smiling to herself and McGill just looked straight at Claire and nodded in the affirmative.

Keep going Claire, thought Adam, you’re really handling this well and pulling no punches. The words ‘reckon with’ came to his mind.

She continued, “Ryan will be present to represent me when I am not able to be here and will also serve as the liaison between you representing the company and myself.”

“I understand Miss Sanders. I think this is a wise decision. I’ll make every effort to assist them with whatever information is required and see that the staff does as well.”

“It appears in my position the only rational one for me. Now, there is more. In reviewing the profit and loss statements particularly for the first quarter of this year, there has been an inordinate rise in the claims reported for loss, which translates to company losses as well as our credibility. This is something that needs to be halted and addressed. I’m trying to be diplomatic here but it appears that the losses may have something to do with items entrusted to Sanders Freight and Shipping being pilfered away.”

This shocked Mr. McGill. “I know that we’ve had claims processed for loss, but had not thought of theft.”

“I don’t care to think of theft either as it reflects on the personnel working here, but in review of the claims submitted, all were for loss and none seem to appear for damage. That seems unusual and raises a question in my mind.”

“You’re making an excellent point Miss Sanders.”

“I’d like to ensure that this information is confidential. Certainly eyebrows will be raised with what I am about to share with you, and I would expect that you will handle this matter with tact and discreetly. I’ve engaged another firm to shore up the security here and identify any areas where there are problems – and any personnel as well. Albert and Company Security will work in conjunction with the present security that is in place. All findings will be reported back to Ryan Wilcox and myself. This is not something that is comfortable for me to even consider, but with the reports received, it seems the appropriate thing to look into. You will have your hands full as it is. Contact on site here will be with you as well to ensure that what they need is provided to them. I’m sorry if this places you in an awkward position, but I’m sure that you will be able to effectively make the transition.”

McGill sat further back in his chair and said, “Well Miss Sanders, that is certainly quite a lot that you’ve just dropped on me. I understand your reasoning and will certainly be of service. It’s just a lot to digest all at once.”

“I’m sure that it is, however, this company meant a lot to my family as it does to me now. I’m new and we’re now starting with a new page. All I can see is a fresh and clean start again for all of us.”

Ryan’s eyes were on her and she knew it. He’d not interrupted her, so she thought that perhaps she was doing fine.

“One last thing I’d like to ask. I’d like to ask that you set up a meeting for nine o’clock tomorrow morning so that I can meet with all the heads of the various departments. Perhaps Mrs. Lawson will assist with that.”

“Certainly. If I may say so, you are taking the bull by the horns and I am happy about that. This has always been a company that I’ve been proud to work with.”

“Thank you Mr. McGill. Now, I’m going to meet with Albert Security and the Callahan Agency in a few minutes. They will be on the premises at will. Information will be provided to you as to the outcome of that meeting by Ryan.”

“You’ve been most thorough. I do have quite a bit to take care of and will await the information. And please, if you need to reach me, even at home, please do.”

Claire stood up to end the meeting and thanked both Mrs. Lawson and Mr. McGill. As they departed, Mrs. Lawson, with her head slightly bent, looked at her with a sheepish smile on her face. The door closed behind them.

Claire slumped into her seat and asked, “How much time before we meet with the others?”

Ryan looked at his watch and said, “About twenty minutes Miss Sanders. If you don’t mind, I’d like to see Mrs. Lawson for a moment regarding the notes that she took.”

“By all means.”

Looking over at Adam on the other side of the desk, she wondered what the look on his face was about.

“Whew,” said Claire. “How can anyone do this daily?”

“Just the way you did my dear. You handled yourself quite well and it seems you have quite a head for business.”

“Perhaps with the help of you and Ryan, but it’s not something that I would want to do daily. Besides, if you will forgive me, you men don’t give the same respect and regard to businesswomen.”

“I will forever give you respect for your business acumen. You certainly showed that you mean business … and you did it in such a pleasant manner.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Margaret had accomplished quite a lot. Amelia dropped by to assist and visit. Knowing that their departure was eminent, she said she had spoken with Isaac and they wished to give a party since Claire would be leaving. She wanted Margaret’s thoughts on it. Margaret thought it to be a good idea but suggested that she speak with Claire. Amelia agreed and said she would try to speak with Claire that afternoon.

With the second meeting completed and Ryan on watch, Claire decided that she would leave. She stopped to briefly speak to Mr. McGill and then with Mrs. Lawson. She gave her a professional handshake rather than a kiss and hug this time. “I’m very proud of you Claire. You don’t know the difference you made in just a few hours. By the way, you were marvelous Saturday evening.”

Claire found herself feeling a bit humbled but mustered a polite “Thank You.” With that she and Adam left.

“Feeling hungry?” asked Adam.

“Perhaps a bit, but more reflective on what just took place this morning.”

“You conducted business my love, and I might add, extremely well.”

They had walked a bit and Adam suggested that she join him for lunch at the Carrington House. That was a wonderful idea she thought. He took her arm and they strolled leisurely to the hotel and into the dining room.

After being seated, they found their eyes on one another. This was refreshing for both of them and they’d take all the time they wanted.

Adam reached for her hand, which she was glad for. Just to feel his touch meant so much.

“Well Mr. Cartwright, it seems we’ve been so busy with my issues that I find that I’ve really been neglecting you and your needs. I didn’t mean to.”

Chidingly he said, “I’ll have to agree with you there.”

Her look was one of puzzlement and then she realized that he was toying with her.

“Adam, I love you more than you can possibly know. I am so anxious to return to Nevada with you and I know that you should have returned long ago.”

“Perhaps, but know this, wherever you are is where I will always be. What remains in Nevada will be there when I get back. Besides, I might be more appreciated when I return.”

She smiled, “We’ve not discussed what is on your mind or plans for our wedding and life together.”

He looked at her in a way that caused her to melt. “Claire, my hope is that you will be happy with the life. As far as the wedding, we can plan it any way you wish. I just want to be able to be one with you and can’t wait for that to happen.”

“Nor can I Adam. I also cannot wait to see the expressions on the faces there.”

“It will certainly be a surprise I’m sure. But I’ve thought of many things while here.”

“Such as?” she queried.

“Such as our wedding day, where we will live initially, the house I plan to build, and a family which I would look forward to having with you.”

“You’re a romantic!” she exclaimed.

“Call it what you will, but it’s how I feel. You’re a beautiful person inside and I cannot imagine reaching for any horizon without you by my side.”

Their lunch arrived and they continued to discuss some of Adam’s concerns as well as the excitement of their wedding day. This was a special time for them … just the two of them.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Ben sat in his chair looking through the mail that Hoss had picked up in town. Reading the letter from Adam, he was bewildered by his request, but then knowingly just smiled to himself.

 

 

FORTY-SEVEN

* * * * * * * * * * * *

The honesty between the two of them was forthright. Adam looked to return to the Ponderosa, Margaret to return to Hank, her son and daughter-in-law and the baby due in a few months. Claire was another matter he thought.

Their conversations had covered many things, but he wondered what their lives would be like. He was anxious to find out.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Amelia and Isaac were happy with the prospect of planning a gathering for Claire. She had, after much pressure from Amelia, consented to the gathering they planned for her. Amelia had argued that she was leaving for a new life and it was only the right thing to be able to see friends and colleagues before her departure. Claire asked it be kept to a small gathering. Plans were under way and Isaac was as excited as Amelia. Saturday evening it would be.

Amelia had arranged to meet Claire at the freight company at noon. There was so much to do and she wanted to remain a part of it. Especially one part.

She arrived at the freight company at eight o’clock and entered the office of her father. Adam had not arrived as yet or else he was somewhere in the building. Removing her hat and wrap, she walked over to the desk. She rubbed her hands along the rich wood and thought that this should go to Nevada as well. She’d already had Mrs. Lawson remove all photos and awards from the walls and have them packed for shipment.

Walking across the hall to McGill’s office, she knocked and was told to enter. Upon her entering, McGill stood and said, “Good morning Claire. Please, have a seat.”

“I wanted to have a few moments of your time.”

“Certainly, any time at all.”

“Thank you. I wanted to talk candidly with you. I’m not sure what you feel after yesterday’s meeting and the work that is underway. I want to assure you that it has nothing to do with your running of things and that I know this could very well be somewhat problematic for you. I’m hopeful that after this morning’s meeting that will all be put to rest.”

“Claire, please know that I do understand. I’m not concerned about any problems that I may face. As you know, I worked with your father for over ten years and want the same things for this company that you do. I’m not thin-skinned and can handle it. If changes are necessary for the continued success, I will work with you and anyone you choose to ensure that goal is reached and maintained.”

“I’m glad to hear that. I had some reservations. I know you care about this business as much as my father did. I really want to see that it continues to prosper. If I’ve made it difficult for you, that was not my intent.”

He rose and took a seat next to her. “Please don’t be concerned about any of that. I think what you’re doing is appropriate. With the loss of your father, I believe I took too many things on myself that clouded my ability to see the whole picture and what was going on. This audit and investigation into the operational side was and is needed. I’ve fallen short in this regard and apologize to you.”

“I’m glad that you understand. I believe that the meeting this morning with the department heads will clear up some of the concerns that may be surrounding the business. I’m sure there are questions running wild with the different persons on the premises.”

“Claire, I’m sure that you will clear up these matters in a matter of minutes. This will make quite a difference. You seem clearly to understand the importance of communication. All the department heads will see you at nine o’clock.”

She thanked him and indicated that she would like him to be seated with her and Ryan Wilcox. He felt a comfort level with this request and watched as she left. She returned to her office and there was a knock on the door. She opened it and it was Dale James with Ryan Wilcox. She’d only expected to see Ryan.

“Please come in and have a seat.”

“Claire, I’ve stopped by as matters I’m handling seem to be ending and I can devote more time to your affairs. I just wanted to see how you are and how things are going. I know that Ryan is more than thorough.”

“He’s certainly been on top of things and is managing well. As for the audit and security, that has just begun and I have every confidence it will be completed thoroughly.”

Dale took her hand and with a fatherly smile said, “We’ll do everything that is necessary and more. Now, I’m going to leave you for now, but Ryan will stay on. He and I will meet at the end of the day to go over any of the details and outcomes that are revealed and report them to you.”

“Thank you Dale. This is so helpful and you are very thoughtful.”

He just smiled and bid her good day. Ryan indicated that he wanted to check a few things and would meet her for the nine o’clock meeting.

She walked over to the window and looked out. What she would say at the meeting would be minimal and she would try to answer any questions as best she could. The sun was beginning to stream full force into the office and she was beginning to feel somewhat anxious. She was proud of what had been accomplished by her father, but this was not something she wanted to handle. She would of course, but then wanted a respite from it. She wanted to leave and just be free to enjoy the sun, the air and her dreams. She was suddenly feeling very tired.

Where was Adam? She was certain that he would have been there by now.

Mrs. Lawson entered the office and inquired if she was ready to attend the meeting she’d called. Claire turned to her and indicated yes. She inquired if she’d seen or heard from Adam. Mrs. Lawson stated that she had not. Claire just let out a sigh and the two left.

Claire mustered her internal strength and greeted the men as they entered. Just as she requested, McGill sat with her and Ryan. She thanked them for their presence and the work they had done and were continuing to do for the company. As she looked around the room, she realized they were people she’d seen time and again as she had visited the business. Now she was addressing them in the place of her father. She knew they probably had their reservations about her. Putting those thoughts aside she continued.

The meeting began and she was very direct and clear about her expectations and the skills that each of them and their departments had contributed to the success of the business. The road for her was a bit difficult as she explained honestly and felt it necessary to engage the services of others to assist her obtain a clear understanding of the operation. Further, she explained the services that she’d engaged were not to put anyone under a magnifying glass but to update all present of the company’s position and to use their expertise along with that she’d hired to enhance and grow the business. She was trying to engage their resources as a part of the findings that were being delved into. She further explained the process that would take place and indicated the roles that both McGill and the law firm of Dale James would play in this.

She saw a sign of approval seemingly come forth. Offering to take questions they did come.

Quietly, Adam made his way into the rear of the room and took a seat to watch and listen.

The meeting ended approximately two hours after it had begun. Each of the department heads took time to speak to Claire and thank her for her candidness and honesty. They were proud of what she was doing for the welfare of the company and realized that it translated into their welfare also. She had made an impact and they were happy to work with her and her agents. All of them were happy except for the security department head.

She’d created a new energy within Sanders Freight and Shipping which was something that she’d not realized.

The room emptied and Adam walked over to her. He looked at her and knew she was feeling something. He embraced her and said, “It would appear that your work for today is done.”

“I was looking for you earlier and wasn’t sure where you might have been.”

“I’m sorry, but I had something necessary to take care of. Now, if we can escape this place for the afternoon, I think there are some things that we need to do and talk about.”

She sighed and lay against his chest. He hoped to be able to replenish her energy. Besides they needed to talk. If he was correct, which he believed he was, he felt that this morning’s meeting would be one she could take care of and when it was over she’d need something more than the walls of the business.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Adam indicated that he would wait for her outside while she retrieved her things. She indicated she wanted to speak to Ryan for a moment to be sure everything was covered and then would join him.

Making her way out the door she found Adam resting against a carriage. He assisted her into it and slowly drove off.

“I love you Claire and thought that an afternoon together would be something nice. Actually, I just want to be alone with you.”

She touched his hand and was appreciative of his thoughtfulness. “What did you have planned?”

“If you can wait a few more minutes, you will find out.”

He made his way toward a spot he’d found that overlooked the lake. She watched him carefully as he took a few things from the carriage. He spread out a blanket and took out a picnic basket. He then returned to the carriage and helped her down. Kissing her he said, “I thought this might be a relaxing change for you. I took the liberty of having the hotel make us a special lunch and it took a bit longer that I had anticipated.”

So that was the reason that he was late she thought. He was ever the thoughtful one. They made their way to the blanket and sat. She rested in his arms, which he wrapped lovingly around her, his head resting against hers and she said, “Adam, you’re full of surprises. This is such a wonderful way to rest and be close to you.”

“Whether you admit it or not, you need this. All work and no play you know…” She nuzzled closer to him.

“Oh, and in case you’re concerned about your appointment with Amelia, I had breakfast with Isaac early this morning and it’s been changed.”

“Seems like you’ve thought of everything.”

They enjoyed the lunch and she saw the contentment that surrounded him in doing the simplest things for her. They both reached for the basket and their hands touched. They needed to say nothing about their feelings.

The time spent was personal to them. Both felt an urgency to be together. They were happy, laughed, and confessed their longing to depart for Nevada. As they were spending this precious time together, her belongings were being crated for shipment. Looking at him she said, “Adam, I know there are several things going on, but I’ve spoken with Dale James and he’s indicated that should I depart next week, he could arrange for oversight of the business for me. I so want to leave. Do you think it possible?”

He felt a surge through his soul and said, “Anything is possible.”

 

 

FORTY-EIGHT

* * * * * * * * * * * *

The next few days passed quickly with an abundance of details being finalized. Work and auditing was being covered at a quick pace by the number of auditors that were on site. Employees of Sanders Freight and Shipping also rolled up their sleeves to assist in any way necessary. Updates were being supplied with regularity – and with the assistance of Ryan Wilcox and Dale James, it appeared that a reporting of the findings would be available by the end of the week or the beginning of the following week.

Adam had spent a fair amount of time following up on details regarding the loss of items and the payouts the company had made through their insurance coverage. Things were beginning to fall into place, especially with the information passed on by Mrs. Lawson. The security company was turning up details that exceeded expectations. They could identify inaccuracies with the auditors in loss reporting and were moving full well ahead to identify the sources and the receivers. This combined information was proving to give a full reporting of the status. If information proved accurate, there would be arrests made in the short term before the business was back on track. It proved stressful for Claire, however Dale James and Ryan Wilcox assured her that it was necessary and that she should not be overly concerned at the prospect of what would be found. In the end, it was anticipated that all would be able to be back on track and running smoothly.

Claire met with Dale James to discuss her intentions to move on to Nevada and identifying a business manager to oversee Sanders Freight and Shipping Company. This was not unexpected. He’d sought out prospective agents that would work in partnership on her behalf with company management.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

It had been decided. They would be departing for Virginia City the following week. Margaret had questioned the ability for them to move away with some matters still unsettled. The attorneys confirmed this would be possible. All matters would be seen to and information continuously flowing to Claire for her attention. Additionally, with a business manager in place for the overall affairs and reporting of the business’ status, all would be manageable.

Claire had arranged to visit Clara Moss on two separate occasions with another planned before her departure. There was an uneasiness during the first visit but during the second visit there seemed to be an emergence of appreciation one for the other. Their conversations were revelations of each to the other. The need for Claire to get to know the woman who had given her life was being fulfilled. Clara on the other hand was pleased that she could speak candidly to her daughter. A bond was being formed, the closeness of which was yet to be determined – yet a bond that had existed for many years and would be defined over a period of time by the two of them. This was understood with forgiveness given as a gift and acceptance humbly of that gift. The peace between them had been formed and was no longer a cold mystery but a warm and soothing tonic.

The house was merely a shell now with items having been removed. Passage had been booked and wires sent to advise of their return. Amelia was busy with the plans for Saturday evening. Amelia had Claire promise to do a little shopping with her since their previous day of shopping had been cancelled by Adam’s picnic. It was to be a few hours for the two of them. Claire wrapped her father’s gold watch carefully and placed it into her bag. Since they were going shopping, she thought she’d take care of a small matter as well.

It was a beautiful day for the two of them. Not unlike the days they had spent for many years. Amelia was her gregarious self and had Claire laughing. As they were passing many of the small shops, they passed the shop of Fredrik Van de Berghe – the jeweler.

“Amelia,” said Claire. “I need to stop here for a moment.”

“Going to make a purchase before you leave?”

“No, just something that I’d like to take care of.”

Entering the shop the bell attached to the door tinkled to announce their arrival.

“Good afternoon ladies,” said Fredrik Van de Berghe. “How may I assist you?”

Removing her gloves, Claire opened her bag and presented her father’s watch to him. “I’d like to have this watch cleaned and polished.”

He examined it and said, “This is an exquisite watch. There are very few in existence like it. I’m sure that I can attend to it and present it to you as if it were new.” He examined it more closely and saw that is was of Swiss origin. He felt a sense of pride. Putting down his eyepiece he saw the ring on her finger. This was the woman!

“Mama,” he called. “Come quickly.”

Claire and Amelia were not sure what all the fuss was about. His wife appeared rather hurriedly and said, “Fredrik, what is it?”

“Mama, look. This is the woman. She is wearing the ring that Mr. Cartwright designed. This is his betrothed!”

Both Claire and Amelia were taken aback by this statement. Claire had never thought of Adam designing a ring for her.

“Excuse me, but I had asked Mr. Cartwright to bring the woman in that was to receive this ring. I had thought she must be a special person and I can see from looking at you that you are.”

“Now Fredrik, don’t embarrass the young lady.”

“Thank you for the compliments. It is a most beautiful ring and the craftsmanship is wonderful. I’m so glad to have the opportunity to meet you.”

“We are as well and wish you a wonderful life together.”

Amelia was amused by the goings on and watched as Claire made the final arrangements for the care of her father’s watch. When finished, Amelia said, “Adam is truly an innovative man. I had no idea that he’d designed your engagement ring.”

Claire smiled and said, “Nor did I. I suppose our life together will be full of surprises.”

Amelia escorted Claire across the street to the dress shop. This is where they would do some shopping this afternoon.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Adam had visited the Pearson Group as a courtesy since he’d be departing St. Louis shortly. The time spent went extremely well and he was able to make some additional contacts that could prove productive down the line. Upon leaving he decided to make a stop at the freight company.

As he went up the stairs he stopped to speak to Mrs. Lawson. He saw that she appeared a bit uneasy. Realizing that this was not the place to talk, he asked her to join him in the office.

“Mrs. Lawson, you seem a bit uncomfortable, is everything alright?”

Looking around as if they were not in a private space, she said in almost a whisper, “Mr. Cartwright, something is amiss. I heard the head of security talking about shipments that needed to be moved immediately from the West End Station warehouse when I was delivering the daily tally sheets. There were no shipments that needed moving as all had been accounted for on my manifests.”

He assisted her to a seat and then asked,” You mentioned the head of security. Are you speaking of the agency we’ve hired?”

“No Mr. Cartwright. The person that was talking is Tom Porter. He was hired soon after the death of Mr. Sanders. I came upon the conversation that he was having purely by accident. I’m sure he doesn’t know what I heard. I was hoping that you’d return as I didn’t know what to do and I am really frightened.”

Adam listened carefully to Mrs. Lawson’s accounting of what she’d heard and then assured her the matter would be taken care of. She returned to her desk and within minutes he was off to the warehouse. Upon arriving, he casually took a walk-through nodding to the workers that were there. He finally saw the person he was seeking. He walked over to Judson Morris and they left together. Judson Morris was the chief investigator and responsible for the security firm that was now in place. Indicating his need to speak with him privately, they took a walk outside and Adam recounted the information he’d just been given.

Judson was a professional in every sense of the word. This new information tied in with what his men had leads on but were unable to prove. He put his men into action. Leaving half of his men at the freight company with the existing security staff, he took the others with him to the West End Station. He didn’t want to alert anyone to what was taking place. Adam insisted he accompany them against the better judgment of Jud Morris. Jud tried to argue but saw there was no point to it.

They saw movement as they approached. Dismounting a short distance away, they made their way on foot. Adam went to reach for his gun but realized that he was not wearing one. As they got closer, they heard directions being given to hurry the loading – they needed to get out of there. Hearing this, Jud gave directions for his men to split up and surround the entrance to the warehouse. His guess was that there were three men moving the missing merchandise from what he could tell. As they separated to stop the thieves, a fourth man appeared out of nowhere behind Adam. Not realizing that someone was behind him, Adam felt a sudden and sharp pain leveled against his body by this person. A haze of darkness surrounded Adam and he fell helplessly to the ground.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Their shopping done, Amelia and Claire stopped for tea. They were enjoying the afternoon and soon their conversation turned to Saturday night’s events. Claire had asked that it be kept small and intimate which Amelia agreed to, but she did ask that Clara Moss be invited.

“Claire, it’ll be our pleasure to extend her an invitation. I’m happy that you’ve been able to accept knowing that she is your mother. You know Isaac and I were worried.”

“Yes, I know Amelia. You had reason to worry – I just wouldn’t admit it.”

“We know you Claire. You didn’t fool us.”

 

 

FORTY-NINE

* * * * * * * * * * * *

The element of surprise had overtaken Adam – but the element of surprise had also overtaken three men trying to hasten a quick getaway with stolen merchandise. Credit had to be given to the information supplied by Mrs. Lawson.

Jud Morris and his men were able to overpower the culprits as they were loading the stolen merchandise. With their weapons drawn, Jud and his associates found no trouble with two of the culprits who dropped their wares while a third tossed a barrel at one of the security men and tried to get away. A chase ensued – but he was not successful in his attempts at escape.

The culprits were held at gunpoint while a few of Jud’s men looked into the wagons to see what they were so hurriedly loading. Quite a haul of various goods were packed and some of them still contained the shipper’s information or Sander’s Freight identification labels. There was no way they were going to be able to explain this away.

Jud wasted no time in trying to get information from the three of them. Facetiously he said, “Do you fellas have a bill of sale for these things?”

With no response forthcoming, he just motioned to his men to get them out of there. “We’ll see what the law can get out of you. From what I can see, you’re all facing some hefty jail time.”

Speaking out of the side of his mouth, one of the captured culprits curtly said, “Time is just time. Means nothing to me.”

Jud promptly retorted,” Just keep in mind, there’s good jail time and then there’s bad jail time. I suspect in this state that you’re going to get the latter. I don’t want you to think that this is personal, but before you leave I want you to know that we’ve been watching you for a few days now and I know who you are.” Addressing each of them he said, “You’re Moe Jebson, wanted for theft in Wyoming, and you two brothers, Linc and Sal Campbell are from Springfield, wanted for assault and theft. We’ve done our homework – too bad you didn’t do yours. Now for the last time, tell us where this stuff is being sold.”

“Take a walk creep,” was what he heard.

“Get ‘em outta here and down to the authorities. We’ll safeguard this stuff until arrangements can be made with the law to get over here and retrieve it,” Jud said.

Reluctantly the culprits moved out of the warehouse. Kyle Lang looked at his boss and said, “Looks like they were making good money from this stuff.”

“They probably were – but it’s over now. Once matched up with the loss reports we’ll know just about how much.”

“Hey boss,” said Kyle, “Adam Cartwright …. Where is he?”

During the scuffling and mayhem, thoughts of Adam were not a focus. Now they were.

“We better try to find him. Hopefully he’s alright,” said Jud rather grumpily.

Lying beside the warehouse Jud and Kyle could see a foot. Moving some crates, they found Adam.

“Is he?”

“No, he’s alive,” said Kyle. “I will say that he’s going to have a whale of a headache when he comes to.”

They tried to rouse Adam and within a few minutes he came to. He felt the back of his head where he’d been struck and then looked into the faces of both Jud and Kyle. Helping him to his feet he said, “Jud your advice was practical and I should have taken it.”

“Doesn’t matter now, you seem to be alert enough but I would suggest you see a doctor.”

Rubbing the back of his head, he sat down on a crate and was filled in on what had happened. “If you’ve taken the men into custody, there is still one or more out there. I didn’t knock myself out. This is not finished by a long shot. I’m going to get to the bottom of this and I think I know where the bottom lies.”

“Look Cartwright,” Jud said rather annoyed, “I think you need to just let us handle it and stay out of the way. We were hired to take the risks – not you.”

Adam stood up defiantly not liking the tone Jud used and said, “I hear you. But as I said, I believe that I can get to the bottom of this is short order. Now, your assistance will be needed and I can fill you in on the details.” Still rubbing his head, he said, “First I’m going to have a doctor look at this lump emerging on the back of my head and then there is a visit to be made. It’s your call. You can come with me and earn your pay or I’ll take care of it myself. It’s up to you.”

Kyle, hearing the tone that was used by Adam knew that he meant business and was not going to back down from his position. Jud knew it as well and liked this man. He felt that in some ways he saw in Adam the same determination that was a part of him.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Adam saw Dr. Parker from a purely practical standpoint. Although his head ached he was a bit lightheaded. Dr. Parker indicated that he would be good as new but needed to take it easy.

Jud stood up as Adam left Dr. Parker. His attitude was not pleasant and he was not certain that Adam’s theories and plan were on target – but he’d agreed to it. They left and with speed they made their way back to Sanders Freight and Shipping. Upon their arrival, Jud went to check on his other security men and give them instructions. He’d then join Adam.

Adam went up the stairs and just gave Mrs. Lawson a confident nod. He asked if Mr. McGill was in and she indicated that he was but was preparing to leave. He then asked her to join him in his office.

Once the door was closed, he said, “Can you give me a black ledger and the combination to McGill’s safe as quickly as possible?”

“Certainly Mr. Cartwright. Right away. Is everything alright?”

Ruffling through papers on the desk he said, “Things are just fine and before you know it they’ll be better. Now if you can get those items for me.”

Adam sat down and waited for Mrs. Lawson to return and for Jud to arrive. He had the answer, he was sure of it. Taking the items from Mrs. Lawson, he asked her to wait for Jud and inform him that he’d be in Mr. McGill’s office. With that he placed papers into the empty ledger and proceeded to McGill’s office.

He knocked on the door and entered not waiting for a response. The look on McGill’s face was one of surprise which Adam had expected. He purposely did not take a seat but leaned against a filing cabinet.

“Adam,” McGill said, wiping his brow. “I thought you had left for the day. I was just leaving for an appointment.”

“That was my intention but something came up.”

“Oh, is it anything that I can help with?”

Adam’s look was piercing as he looked at McGill and said, “I’m sure there is plenty you can assist with, but first I want to know where you’re selling the items that you’ve arranged to be stolen from here.”

Trying to make light of Adam’s comment he said, “Surely you must be joking. It has just been determined that there was a loss by theft. The security company that Miss Sanders has hired is considering this matter along with the company audit. I’ve given full support to all parties concerned.”

“You’ve given support – but not to assist the company. What you’ve been doing is trying to cover up things.” With that Adam picked up the black journal and through the corner of his eye watched McGill’s demeanor as he opened it up and started to move some papers. “It appears that perhaps I’ve been mistaken with all that has been taking place lately, but I don’t think so per these entries.” He had realized in their first meeting that McGill had cautiously closed and covered a black journal like the one he was holding. If he was right, McGill had kept his records in the safe which Adam knew the combination to have been changed.

“I’m sorry to hear that Adam. Whatever I can do to show you that I’ve had nothing to do with this I will do.”

“There’s nothing that you can do I’m afraid. You’re meticulous in your record keeping and from what I can see in this ledger; there is a complete listing of items taken, the dates and how you managed to liquidate them. There is also evidence from the three men we picked up today that you were the one who conceived this scheme.” Adam knew that this was not the case, but was sure that McGill was not aware they’d not talked.

“Now Adam, you’re really reaching assumptions that I don’t appreciate.” Seeing the journal in Adam’s hands McGill felt that his office had been compromised and the ledger found. He casually looked over to the safe which did not escape Adam’s view.

Adam made his way over to the safe and using the combination that Mrs. Lawson had given him started to open it.

“That is private information Adam! You’ve no right to open that safe!”

“I’ve every right and you know it.” He felt a slight dizziness but it soon passed. Catching himself, McGill rose from his seat and inquired if he was alright. He knew that Adam was not up to his normal healthy standard.

“I would suggest that you just take your seat again,” Adam said curtly, “while we finish the business that I’ve come here for.” Adam continued to proceed to open the safe. Mc Gill didn’t know that Adam only had the old combination and was bluffing.

“That will be enough Adam.” he heard coldly.

Turning and standing up he saw that McGill held a gun on him.

“Well, that’s more like it. This tells me quite a lot.”

“You had to stick your nose into things that did not concern you.”

“Ah, but they did concern me,” Adam said smugly. “However, your holding a gun on me is not going to help you now. You knew too much about what was being put in place and you were the only person that was privy to information that was garnered by the security company besides Miss Sanders, the attorneys and myself. I know that you met with Jud this morning for an update and so it had to be you who arranged for the merchandise to be moved. Further, none of this happened until you hired the dock workers and security company.”

Moving to the back side of the desk McGill said, “Give me that ledger now Cartwright.”

“I don’t think so. You’ve already sealed your fate and there is no way that you are going to get out of here now.”

Trying to gather things up he said again, “The ledger … on the desk and now!”

Placing the ledger on the edge of the desk Adam said, “I’m curious about something. Why? Why put yourself in this position after all the years you worked here? You were making a good living I would suspect were comfortable.”

“He owed me. Sanders worked hard and so did I. He knew I had a problem with gambling and had helped me out a few times. He finally said he wouldn’t do it anymore and if I didn’t clean up my ways he was going to dismiss me. I couldn’t allow that. When he died in the fire, I was in so deep that I had no other choice or I would have been dead also. You’re hearing all of this but it won’t go any farther than this office.”

Adam was listening to the confession of a man that now was not the professional and polite business man he presented himself to be. He had a cold streak that ran through him and Adam was sure that if they left the office neither would return. He was just hopeful that Jud had cleared the floor as he’d requested and that he and his men were outside the door.

“You know it was so easy until you stuck your nose into things. Then there was Miss Sanders coming back and stirring things up. I was out of debt but the ease in which I could make money and follow my plan to leave was interrupted.”

“So why did you just knock me out and not kill me this afternoon?”

“It was merely to be sure that you did not see me and provide time for me to get back here and clear things out. Besides, a gunshot would have spoiled everything.”

Standing up Adam said, “So what happens now? Surely you don’t think I’m going to let you get away with this.”

“I’d say I have the upper hand right now and you don’t have a choice.”

Sizing things up Adam sighed and said, “I’m sorry to tell you this, but a Cartwright always has a choice.” With that he pushed the desk forward into McGill forcing him to drop the gun. Within a split second the door opened and Jud entered and just halted his men. Adam had rushed McGill and with swiftness forced a punch to his left jaw. As McGill struggled to return the blow, Adam ducked and was able to connect his fist with McGill’s mid-section and then an upper punch to his chin which knocked him over the desk and onto the floor. McGill did not get up and Adam just rubbed his hand.

Jud had his men pick McGill up and cart him out. Looking at Adam Jud said, “Well, I’ll listen to you next time. You seemed to have been in control of this situation. I’m glad that I wasn’t on the receiving end of your vengeance.”

“Not vengeance,” said Adam. “No one is going to attack me or threaten me with a gun without recourse. I told McGill and I’ll tell you as well, a Cartwright always has choices and we’ve been known to make the right ones. Now you can finish the job you’re being paid for. I’m done for the day.”

 

 

FIFTY

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Calmly and carefully the events of the previous days were each examined. No one would have thought when she returned to St. Louis she’d be required to handle as many issues as presented themselves. She’d just completed the final legal pieces that remained. All of this seemed a bad dream that she had finally awakened from. If nothing else, she realized there was always a purpose for circumstances that surround you. She’d returned home facing demons – what she would leave with was a growth and maturity that had lain dormant within her. Now released and set free she was capable of being fulfilled – with emotions, actions and life. She saw herself as being reborn to live a life that she was to live to the fullest and share with those she encountered her. It was a gift.

The house was barren now except for the essentials. Their travel was set. Relief surrounded her with warmth and she’d made her way through a place she was only to pass through enroute to her next stop – a stop that would be with Adam Cartwright. Adam had arrived and they were on their way to not say ‘good bye’ to friends but rather to share warm memories and happy times that could be tucked away with joy.

Isaac and Amelia had outdone themselves. Although Amelia had tried to keep the guest list small, it was almost impossible to do. They’d advised Claire to arrive around seven o’clock. They rode to Amelia’s each with thoughts of their departure. Margaret was quiet. Adam believed Claire was probably experiencing emotions that he hoped she’d share with him. As they approached the house, Claire said, “I hope Isaac and Amelia have kept this to a small gathering.”

“Don’t tell me you’re afraid of crowds,” said Adam.

“No, not crowds, but sometimes a small intimate gathering can be the most meaningful.”

Adam thought he’d have to remember this. Claire did have moments that were special to her and she often exposed a side of herself to him that let him know the importance. He escorted them to the door and they were greeted by Isaac.

“Come in, come in,” he said. “We’ve been waiting for you to arrive.”

Amelia quickly joined him and greeted them – giving Claire a hug. As Isaac took their wraps, Adam noticed that it was a bit more than an intimate gathering. Some of the people he knew, others he was sure he’d know before the evening was over. Playing somewhere on the first floor he could hear music. This was going to be a festive and enjoyable evening.

Amelia excused herself and dragged Claire away. Isaac escorted Margaret and Adam into the dining room where he led them to a table fully laden with what Hoss would have called a feast to beat all.

“You’ve really outdone yourselves. This is so wonderful of you to host this evening for Claire,” said Margaret.

“We wanted to do it. She’s been an integral part of our lives and has touched others – it was only our way of saying how much we appreciate and love her,” said Isaac.

Adam sipped his punch as he wondered where Claire was. He was also listening to what Isaac had been saying. Excusing himself for a moment, Isaac escorted Margaret to introduce her to a few of the other guests. As he turned and looked around, Adam saw Dale James, Dr. Parker, Mrs. Lawson and her husband, Dr. Monroe among others and then his eyes fell upon Clara Moss who was quietly speaking to someone he did not know. Without hesitation, he walked over to Clara.

Turning, Clara saw Adam and an immediate grin came across her face. “Good evening Adam. It’s a pleasure to see you again.”

“Clara, I’m happy that you could be here. I’m sure that Claire appreciates it as well.”

“Adam, there is …..”

“Clara, you don’t have to say anything,” he said fondly. “It’s a new evening for us all. Now may I escort you to the beverage table?”

“Yes. That would be nice. Thank you.”

“I’m not sure where Amelia has taken Claire off to,” he said.

“Laughingly she said, “Well I’m sure that she’s somewhere in this house.”

She found it easy to speak to Adam and could point out to him who some of the persons were.

Within a few minutes Isaac called for the attention of everyone. Claire had found her way back to her aunt and Adam. “Now that I have your attention,” he said, “I’d like to make a general introduction and a toast to our guest of honor.” Amelia just looked at her husband shaking her head. Isaac always had a way of getting to the heart of things.

“I’d like to introduce you to our special guests. First, it’s my pleasure to introduce to you Margaret Sanders, aunt of Claire and Adam Cartwright, um … um…a very dear friend of Claire’s – both from Virginia City, Nevada.” Both Margaret and Adam graciously acknowledged the introduction although with a slight bit of embarrassment. Isaac continued, “Now I know I don’t need to introduce you to this young lady, but Claire Sanders is the reason that we are here this evening.” She stood next to Adam and looked at him. He knew what she was asking without speaking. He winked at her and smiled broadly, placing his hand around her waist.

Lifting his glass, Isaac continued, “A toast to a very special person. Someone that has entered our lives and our hearts in a very special way. May she be blessed with joy, peace and tranquility as she moves on and shares herself and her art with others. To Claire!” They raised their glasses in a celebratory toast.

Claire blushed and felt Adam’s grip tighten. “I’m overwhelmed by your presence here and thank you all. I’m leaving but want you to know that none of you are being left behind. I will carry you with me always.” She was beginning to fill with emotions. “They say the value of a person’s life is measured not by what they have, but rather by the friends they have. I would have to say that I am very rich.” She paused to retain her composure. Continuing, “One thing Isaac did not mention in the introductions is that I will be temporarily living with my aunt and uncle and shortly afterward with Adam Cartwright who is more than a friend – he and I will be married in Nevada and making our home there.”

There was a round of applause and congratulations all around. Adam kissed Claire’s cheek and the party got into full swing. It had turned into a going away party and engagement party. It was a wonderful event, with good food, laughter, some tears … but a joyous time. Claire was serenaded later in the evening by her friends from the Ensemble and even Adam, who was given Isaac’s guitar, sang and rendered a selection. The St. Louis Conservatory of Music presented her with a special plaque and the Ensemble presented her with a music box in the shape of a grand piano. The night was glorious and filled with emotion.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Prepared for bed, she picked up her journal and made an entry.

I have been put on this earth for a reason that I have yet to understand. That is merely the mystery of life. As I look back on times past, I have no regrets. If I am honest, I was given a start in life that was shaping me for what would always lie around the next turn.

Over the years I’ve made friends and one very close, Amelia, who I know in her way understands so very much about me. She and Isaac have been very close that I cannot say it is easy to say goodbye to them. I know we will see each other again and I truly hope often.

I was given the opportunity to be cared for and about. My parents and I spent many moments together growing with one another. They are my strength and will always be a comfort to me. My family is another aspect that has always remained central in my life.

I can remember so very much about this house that I will leave tomorrow for last time – but will not cry out of sadness. If tears come – they will come because of the memories and the love that is overflowing in my heart which is already filled.

I give thanks and know that my faith is and will remain strong. I have always wanted to be able to touch others in a way that would make a difference. I hope that I’ve done that. Whatever I’ve given of myself – I find I receive in return. Thank you. I think about myself and can honestly say that ‘I like the person that I am.’ I have no idea how many people say that to themselves or even think about liking themselves. One thing I do believe is that if you do not like yourself – you cannot truly and honestly like others.

So I seek not to focus on the past – but build upon it. I’m smiling now as I write. I have just come from a magnificent gathering of friends that meant so very much to me. I’ve climbed over the hills and mountains that I had allowed to close me off from life. It’s been said be careful what you ask for as you might get it. I’ve found Clara Moss (my mother) and have both made and given peace to her. She needed forgiveness and I could give it. We will remain in touch and I am thankful for her. I’ve the gift of art and music that I can share with others freely, the love of my family and the love of a gentle man – caring in his ways – who shares the world of his love so freely with me and dreams of things yet to come with a humbleness that only warms my heart more and more for him. I love him dearly and will always.

So as I leave this place, I go with so much more than I had expected. It is a road well traveled and a path to whatever may lie ahead. I have no regrets!

She closed the journal and placed it on her nightstand. She snuggled down in her bed, gave thanks, thought of the party, Adam and Virginia City. Tomorrow would be the day that her life would begin again. She smiled and thought, ‘I like the person I am.’

 

 

FIFTY-ONE

* * * * * * * * * * * *

The sun rose promising the beauty of a new day, Claire and her aunt were also rising. Everything was in readiness for their new adventure – departure to Virginia City, Nevada. Adam was dressed and leaned against the hotel window looking out at the still quiet city that lay before him. He’d acquired new friendships and new experiences during this trip that had changed his life and enhanced his perspectives. His thoughts turned to home and family. He left home on business that would change the Ponderosa and was now returning with his life having been changed. How providence comes into a life he thought. He’d made new friends and embraced new experiences. These would not be easily forgotten nor easily taken away. He smiled as he thought of reactions that would be forthcoming from his family. His family …. They’d always been the foundation of who he was. He smiled as he thought of the different personalities that made them a family. Family – for many years now that also included Hop Sing who was as much a Cartwright as grits and gravy – to coin another one of Hoss’ expressions. He missed them and imagined them sitting at the breakfast table … Joe dragging himself down the stairs still half asleep … Hoss inhaling the smell of the delicacies prepared for breakfast and having consumed two plates before his brother could eat one … his father, sitting at the head of the table discussing the day’s work or trying to control a temper for something gone awry. It would not be long now.

Jeb had the carriage ready to drive them to the depot. He had also taken care that the horses would be delivered to Virginia City. Looking at his watch, he departed for the Carrington Hotel to pick up Adam. There were a few things that Claire had asked him to do and this was one of them.

The few remaining bags had been placed in the foyer of the house. Claire had walked out into the yard and was taking a last look. She was filled with a feeling of excitement laced with a bit of solemnity. Her aunt watched as she strolled through the yard and picked one of the spring flowers. She was feeling emotional for Claire – but looked forward to her return to Nevada. Claire re-entered the house and carefully placed the flower inside her journal. She looked at her aunt and gave her a reassuring smile. Together they walked arm in arm through the house – room by room. Each room spoke a beautiful memory and together their chorus sang of peace, joy and life.

A knock at the door announced the arrival of Adam. She opened the door and saw her future standing before her. Their embrace was warm and when he released her they held each other for a few moments. He wanted to give her whatever time she needed. Looking at him, she smiled and he could feel that she needed no more time in this place. She just said, “I’m ready sweetheart.”

Jeb placed their bags into the carriage and then climbed up taking the reins in his hands. The door was closed for the last time and locked. Adam escorted Margaret and Claire to the carriage. Margaret settled herself and watched as Claire stood taking a last look at the house as if making sure all the memories were in place. Without saying a word, she turned and let Adam assist her into the carriage. He climbed in and closed the door. The sound of the horse’s gait said farewell to the life in this house. They headed in the opposite direction of the depot. One last moment of farewell had been planned which they would share together. Their conversation was light and spoken in soft tones … almost as if they were trying not to awaken someone.

The carriage came to a halt and Adam opened the door. Assisting the two women down, the sound of birds singing in the trees greeted them as they walked the carpeted pathway of new spring grass to the place where the final farewell would be said. The blueness of the sky was sprinkled with white clouds that seemed to be moving just as the three of them would be moving. The sun had risen higher in its greeting and seemed to stop as Claire stopped. Facing the resting place of her parents, she bowed her head and quietly said a prayer. Her aunt walked over to look at the site and remembered. Adam placed his arm around Claire and she him as she laid her head against him. Letting go of her, she walked over to her aunt and touched her arm. They looked at each other and both smiled. One final silent look and they turned to head back to the carriage. Claire stretched out her arm to take Adam’s hand.

They arrived at the depot. Still rather early, the surrounding area was becoming busy. Margaret took a seat as their bags were loaded on the stage.

“Adam, I’m glad we’re finally able to go home,” said Claire with brightness in her blue eyes.

“Home, my love? Did you say home?” Adam teased.

“Yes I did and you heard me. My home in Nevada and with you.”

Not caring about her eastern learned principles or ladylike behavior, she reached up to meet his lips with a kiss and embrace.

“Umm,” said Adam. “Seems I remember not long ago your concern of what people thought of this type of behavior on a city street. I love you and I love the fact that you don’t feel inhibited.” He touched her face and kissed her forehead.

She had no response but to show redness on her face.

“Aha, you are embarrassed. Could it be your emotions have run amuck? Whatever, I love it and I love you.”

Before they knew it, Amelia and Isaac were making their way toward them. They could not let any of them leave without seeing them off. There was the last bit of chatter between all of them and Isaac presented Adam with an original edition of a book he knew he would appreciate. Amelia tried to keep her composure as she looked at her dear friend. She gave her instructions on what she expected with Claire promising. Claire reached into her bag and presented a small box to Amelia with a note. Amelia found it hard to say goodbye and her emotions were now reaching Claire. They embraced for a long time and each had tears in their eyes. Their bond as friends would never be broken and Amelia assured both Adam and Claire that she and Isaac would be dancing at their wedding so be sure to give them time to get there. She was nervous and could not seem to find a handkerchief in her bag. Adam reached into his pocket and gave Claire his. Isaac remarked how well Adam was already taking care of her. They laughed.

The driver announced they would be departing in five minutes. This was it. Appearing from around the corner of the building approaching them was a figure that hoped the stage had not left. Somehow Claire sensed this presence. She turned and saw Clara approaching her. She walked to meet her. They all understood the privacy these two needed. Margaret stood next to Adam resting her hand on his arm as they looked on. It was obvious that they were speaking but their private words were out of hearing range. As mother and daughter talked they held each other’s hands. They finally embraced each other with an energy that said more than their words had. Each lost control as the tears of caring and reconciliation sprung forth. They made promises to one another … they would stay in touch.

Together they walked back to the others. The stage was boarding now. Final hugs and kisses were given. Margaret spoke to Clara in a caring manner and while hugging her thanked her for her strength and courage. Adam placed his strong hands on Clara’s shoulders and took the liberty of kissing her lightly on the cheek. His reassuring look into her eyes spoke as his words to her did. He’d take care of Claire and knew this would not be the last time they would be in contact. Amelia walked over to Clara and placed her hand on her shoulder. Seeing this from her friend, Claire felt a sense of closure and appreciation. The stage pulled out. Tears quietly fell from Claire’s eyes. This was an emotional moment for her and she often reacted in this way. They were not tears of sadness but tears of joy.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Ben reread Adam’s letter. He had done what Adam asked but did not clearly understand it. He knew that he was on his way home now but had no idea when he would be arriving. He didn’t realize that Adam had planned it this way. He placed the letter back into the desk drawer and just pondered things and his eldest son’s return. A lot of work had been done on the ranch and now paperwork that needed Adam’s touch. Each of his sons had been away from the Ponderosa for various reasons and had been missed. Somehow this time was different. He couldn’t put his finger on it, but he believed he noticed the lack of Adam’s presence missed more this time in Hoss, Joe and even Hop Sing. He prayed for safe travel home.

 

 

FIFTY-TWO
(The Arrival)

* * * * * * * * * * * *

The noise that came out of the kitchen and followed them across the yard as they headed to the barn was a mixture of yelling in an incomprehensible language accompanied by flailing arms. They could not seem to get out of earshot and away from the wrath of this petite man. They’d been warned not to come into the kitchen and test his cooking many, many times. However, number two son could not resist the aroma of the evening’s meal and had snuck in and tasted the delicious dessert being created in the mixing bowl. He thought that this was going to be a mighty good cake. Sneaking out of the kitchen, he ran into number three son. Enticing him to follow, they snuck back into the kitchen so that he could also have a chance to taste what would be their dessert for the evening. The coast was clear and they were just about to exit the kitchen through the door that led to the outside when purely by accident Hoss’ hand hit the bowl and it went crashing to the floor. The sound brought the petite cook out of the pantry and set off fireworks that would have rivaled the fourth of July.

Knowing what was coming they tried to make an escape. Here were two of Ben’s sons being harassed and chased across the front yard by a boisterous but rather small man whom they outweighed at least four times over. For some reason, Hop Sing could put fear into their hearts and was not afraid to speak his mind – doing it loudly and in Chinese.

Ben heard the commotion and finally decided he needed to go and settle things. Within the period that Adam had been away, these two sons had managed to cause more havoc both on and off the ranch in their free time than he could any longer tolerate. They had also set off Hop Sing he now feared, one time too many times, and didn’t wish to have the cook pack up to live with cousin number twelve in San Francisco as he had threatened.

Swinging open the front door, he stormed out and yelled, “What the devil is all this noise about?”

The commotion didn’t stop. Placing his hands on his hips he yelled at the top of his lungs, “Hold it! Stop this and stop it now!” Suddenly there was quiet. Taking a deep breath, he said in a quieter voice, “Will someone please tell me what’s going on?”

All three started to speak at the same time. “One at a time,” he yelled as he raised his hands.

Hop Sing was waving his cooking spoon in Ben’s face as he said, “I work for you for long time now. I do good job for you and sons. You want special meal, I fix. I clean. I wash clothes. I do all cooking. All I ask is stay out kitchen. Hop Sing tired of Mista Hoss and Mista Joe in kitchen making mess – taking food when not ready. Now make mess in kitchen and ruin dessert. They no listen and I not cook for you tonight. You finish cook and clean tonight.” Having said that he handed Ben the cooking spoon and walked away into the house.

“But .. but Hop Sing,” called Ben trying to regain his attention, “let’s talk this over.”

“Nothing to talk about. I see you tomorrow. Go to town to visit cousin.” With that the kitchen door slammed.

He turned and looked at his two sons. They knew they were in for it now as they saw the look on his face. “In the house now! Both of you!”

“Yes sir,” said Joe quietly as he walked past his father.

Hoss just followed knowing his father’s eyes were on him, when from out of nowhere a horse sped by with Hop Sing in control. Ben grimaced and looked at his son. “Now!” he yelled.

He followed the sons into the house. Giving them a glaring look he walked into the kitchen to observe the conditions. What he found was dinner cooking and an unsightly mess. Totally frustrated he returned to the great room.

“I’ve had it. Your antics have been more than any father should have to stand especially at your ages. The last straw is that we’ve lost Hop Sing for the evening and there is one heck of a mess in the kitchen.”

“Pa, we’re sorry,” said Hoss. “It’s jes that everything smelled so good I jes wanted to taste it.”

“Even knowing how Hop Sing feels about any one of us in the kitchen when he is trying to prepare meals?”

“Pa we didn’t mean anything by it. It was just tempting and if Hoss here hadn’t been so clumsy, we’d have made a clean getaway,” said Joe.

“You’re missing the point! You are to stay out of his way when he is preparing meals! You both know that and this is inexcusable. Now we have no one to finish dinner and the kitchen needs to be cleaned up. I’ve had all I can stand since your brother has been away and will not tolerate anything else.”

“Sorry pa,” said Hoss. Not hearing anything from Joe, he looked at him and finally heard an apology.

“Now,” said Ben. “There’s the matter of cleaning the kitchen and getting dinner on the table. I think the two of you better get started and I want that kitchen spotless when Hop Sing returns in the morning.” He heard the words yes sir from the two of them as they turned and headed to where all the trouble had started.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

They were finally rounding the last bend before entering Virginia City. The trip had been long and uncomfortable but would soon be over. There was a stiffness that they felt and the periodic stops along the way were welcomed so that they could stretch. They’d traveled a great distance and throughout the trip had met a variety of different people. As she looked out of the window, Claire remembered this is how she had met Amy. She’d be glad once again to see her. She looked over at Adam, who she could not imagine could sleep inside the coach. He’d just tipped his hat over his face, crossed his arms and was sleeping. The thought of being back was exciting. Claire and Aunt Maggie continued talking quietly and both were excited as they approached the end of the ride – the beginning of a future.

They’d only indicated in their wires the approximate arrival date. Adam planned to rent a carriage and manage to see all got home. It was almost that time. This land could not have been more different from St. Louis. Claire sensed the excitement swelling in her aunt as they continued to hit the bumps and make the winding turns. The driver was wasting no time in getting the coach in on time.

The last bump they hit caused Adam to fully come to. What Claire did not realize is that from under his hat, when he was not sleeping, he was gazing at his wife-to-be. This was his secret and he had thoroughly enjoyed it. He was happy and had spent considerable time contemplating how the announcement would be made to family and friends.

The stage pulled in with an abrupt stop. Virginia City was announced by the driver. They were finally home. Nothing had changed – it just seemed bigger and brighter. As he assisted Claire down from the coach, he said in a tender voice, “Welcome home.”

It didn’t take Adam long to load their belongings into the carriage before they were on their way. The town was a welcome site and the tiredness of the trip seemed to have melted away. The drive to Margaret’s home was made short by the conversation which had become lively. If nothing else was observed – the vastness of land and the beauty seen as far as the eye could see was not escapable. This would be the land where new life would begin.

Appearing as a small speck it became bigger as they got closer. The Sanders ranch lay just ahead. Margaret was excited to be home. Hearing the carriage pulling into the yard, Hank came out of the house and was elated to see not only his wife but his niece. He rushed to the carriage calling, “Margaret.” He helped her down with a broad smile on his face. Hugging her with all his might he was pleased to have her back. He then saw his niece and hugged her as warmly.

Collecting himself he said, “Well it’s about time the two of you got back here. I can’t run a ranch and a house at the same time.” They could see the happiness on his face and felt the safety and security of being back in this place of warmth and meaning.

Walking around from the other side of the carriage he saw Adam and extended his hand to him. “Adam, it’s good to have you back as well. I can’t thank you enough for taking care of my favorite ladies.”

Smiling and feeling the sincere meaning of his words, Adam said, “Hank it is good to be back. As for taking care of the ladies, they did fine just by themselves.”

“Well, let’s get inside. This is not the place for a reunion,” Hank said as he placed his arms around Claire and Margaret.

Entering the house it seemed almost as if Claire had never left. Margaret gave a quick look around and saw that the house was in fine condition and wondered how Hank had managed all of it. They seated themselves and began a quick recount of their travels home. Adam knew he needed to be getting home himself but did not want to leave Claire. His feelings were of joy as they’d weathered so much together and now the reality was setting in that they were back and that they’d be married. Hank noticed the closeness of his niece and Adam and looked to Margaret for an explanation amidst his smile. Margaret just looked at the two-young people and left it to them.

There was no point in ignoring what was becoming obvious. Adam just rubbed the back of his neck with his hand and quickly looking at Claire spoke. “Hank this is not at all the way I planned to do this – but nothing has been the way I planned it. I … I must admit that I’ve not done this before and it seems rather like closing the barn door after the horse is out … but I love your niece and have asked her to marry me. I would like to have your blessing.”

Hank was speechless for a moment and looking at Margaret he saw her nodding with a smile that reinforced Adam’s words. She was bright eyed and smiling. He turned quickly to gain a better look at his niece and walked to her. Seeing the look on her face he touched it gently and still looking at Claire said, “I can’t think of anything I’d be happier about.” He hugged her and saw the joy on her face. Turning to Adam he said, “Congratulations Adam … welcome to the family,” as he embraced him as well. His joy with this announcement could not have been more ecstatic. He just looked at the two of them with an endearing look, perhaps with thoughts of his brother, and it appeared that his eyes had become misty. Quickly he said, “This call for a celebration.”

“Uncle Hank,” said Claire, “The celebration is our being together once again. There can be nothing more special than that.” He nodded and continued to show his happiness with his family being home once again, his niece having returned and getting married, and his soon becoming a grandfather. Life was good.

Not wanting to but knowing he needed to, Adam announced, “I do have to get home. My family doesn’t know I’m back or any of this news. If it’s not too short a notice, I’d like to invite all of you to dinner tomorrow evening and share this news with my family.”

They could see the happiness on Adam’s face and said they would be there promptly at six o’clock. Adam still standing with his arm around Claire indicated his need to get home. He’d stop by in the morning once everything was settled to see Claire and warned Margaret not to bake any pies. It had been a long and tiresome journey and he knew they needed to rest. Saying his goodbyes to Margaret and Hank, Claire walked Adam out.

“It’s hard for me to say good night to you Adam. I’m happier than I can ever remember being.”

He kissed her and was already missing her. “I’ll stop by in the morning. We’ve a lot to discuss and arrange for.”

* * * * * * * * * * * *

The drive to the Ponderosa was relaxing and peaceful. His mind was filled with so many thoughts. He laughed to himself at the prospect of sharing his news with his father and brothers. They’d have to wait until tomorrow evening. Having been away he wondered the condition of things at home – particularly his father’s disposition. He could hardly imagine what troubles had plagued his home. The light of the day was slowly fading and he could feel the need for food, a bath and rest. As he approached the Ponderosa, he stopped the carriage and looked at the setting. In his mind, he knew what he hoped to do. Seeing the lights from the ranch pouring out into the surrounding land, he moved the carriage closer and imagined greeting his family and had having a well missed dinner with them.

The kitchen had been put back into a semblance of order and both Hoss and Joe were trying to salvage some of the food they let cook too long. Ben sat in his chair reading the paper as his two younger sons were getting the dinner on the table. Without warning, the door opened and Adam walked in. “Well isn’t anyone going to say welcome home?”

Ben jumped up from his seat and greeted Adam. “Welcome home son. We’ve surely missed you. Did you have a good trip?”

“Adam? Did somebody say Adam?” asked Joe coming out of the kitchen with a plate of biscuits. Seeing his brother, he almost dropped the plate.

“Hey Hoss, Adam’s home!” yelled Joe.

Hoss came out of the kitchen and seeing his brother said, “Welcome home Adam. Boy, am I glad to see ya.”

“It’s good to be home and for some strange reason it’s good to see the two of you as well,” he said with a huge smile. Sniffing the air, he asked, “Is dinner ready? It’s been a long day and I’m hungry and tired.”

“Well dinner is sort of ready such that it is. I’ll explain what I mean in a minute. Why don’t you get yourself cleaned up and we’ll all have dinner? It’s good to have you home son,” said Ben.

“Good idea. I’ll just put these things upstairs and be down.”

The look on the faces of both Hoss and Joe were looks of worry. They’d not had a chance to undo what they’d done to Adam’s room. With having to clean up the kitchen and try to finish dinner – they knew they needed to put Adam’s room back the way it was. But who knew that he would be arriving today of all days? They were heading back toward the kitchen when they heard Adam yell, “Joe! Hoss!” Walking to the top of the landing Adam asked, “Can someone tell me what has happened to my room? Or am I to assume that this is someone else’s room?” He was not grinning now and was too tired for this type of a joke.

Looking at his sons Ben waited for an answer. “We were going to put it back especially after the trouble we caused today but didn’t get a chance pa,” said Joe meekly.

“Put what back may I ask?”

From the landing Adam said, “It seems my room has been rearranged and nothing is in the place it is supposed to be.”

The redness on their father’s face did not go unnoticed. This was certainly going to be an evening to remember.

Adam was not as angry as he might have been but was not going to let his brothers off the hook. He knew that they did it because they cared for him in their own special ways. He was secretly happy for this joke and felt they were just like little children once again. In his wisdom, Adam knew, although he always seemed to project a countenance of seriousness, that allowing the child inside to come out from time to time was a good thing. They’d put everything back in proper order while he sat with his father after dinner. He’d then get as good a night’s rest as he could. He was glad to be home.

Dinner had not been what any of them expected but they managed to eat some of it at least. Adam could only imagine what had taken place that day. His brothers had gone upstairs to put his room in order and he sat on the settee looking into the fireplace as the tiredness of the trip began to fall upon him. His father offered him a brandy and then took a seat near the hearth. He looked at his son and was proud of the man he saw. He’d no idea from Adam’s beginning the man he would become and could appreciate him for his specialness to the family and most importantly to him. He loved all his sons and all for different reasons. Knowing Adam had much on his plate during his time away, he was not going to enter a long conversation now but allow him to relax. Tomorrow was another day. His son quietly sipped the brandy and was once again in a thoughtful mode. This was something that Ben was not unaccustomed to. This time was a bit different as he saw a hint of a gleam in Adam’s eyes and his quietness was that of a man thinking ahead. Besides, he’d not totally let his anger erupt with the prank his brothers had played on him and perceived something was on the horizon.

“Pa?” said Adam.

“Yes son?”

“Did you get my letter?”

Lowering his glass Ben responded that he had.

Adam just finished his brandy, put his glass down and closed his eyes.

 

 

 

FIFTY-THREE
The Announcement

* * * * * * * * * * * *

The morning on the Ponderosa was a welcome change from St. Louis. He could not sleep any longer so decided to get up. He opened his window a bit and could smell the sweet fragrance of the pines. He stretched and decided to start the day.

Dressed he made his way down the stairs. The aroma of fresh coffee and the sound of breakfast being prepared drew him immediately to the kitchen. After what he knew to have happened the previous day, he thought twice before entering forbidden territory.

Looking up in surprise Hop Sing said, “Mista Adam. You’re home. So glad to see you.”

“I’m glad to see you as well and happy to be home.”

“You maybe can straighten out your brothers now you home.” Shaking his head he continued, “They make things messy all time and get in way. Hop Sing getting tired. Don’t know how much more can take.”

Adam listened. Helping himself to a cup of coffee he said, “Well you know those two. I’ll see what I can do. By the way, I would like to ask a favor of you and realize that it’s rather short notice. I’ve invited the Sanders to dinner tonight and wonder if you would prepare enough for three additional people?”

Hop Sing turned to him and said, “I make special dinner for you and set nice table. Glad you home now – you been gone too long and travel long way.” Adam wondered if Hop Sing was quick to please since he knew dinner was poor the previous evening when he’d arrived. Before he wore out his welcome, he thanked Hop Sing and decided to leave the kitchen. As he turned the corner to the dining area, Joe and Hoss were just crossing the great room heading to the table.

“Hold it,” said Joe. “Adam did you just come out of the kitchen?” Hoss looked at his elder brother as Joe asked the question. He noticed that Adam was still in one piece and there was not a lot of yelling going on.

“Yes I did. Why?

“Because Hoss and I cannot get anywhere near the kitchen without the fear of losing our lives – and here you can go in and out with no trouble.”

“Perhaps that’s the reason,” said Adam. “The fact that I am no trouble.” He sat at the table as his brothers took their seats. Footsteps were heard coming down the stairs and they knew their father was ready for another day.

They all greeted each other, glad to be together again. Adam made no comment about his bedroom.

“Pa,” said Hoss. “You know Adam was in the kitchen jes a little bit ago and survived?”

“Oh really?” he said as he placed his napkin on his lap and looked at his sons. At that moment Hop Sing brought breakfast out and just shot an irritable look at Joe and Hoss. He greeted Ben amiably but said nothing to sons number two and three. Ben was just appreciative that the time he’d spent with his cousin seemed to have appeased the wrath of the day before. Eyeing his two sons – they knew what he was thinking. Before Hop Sing could return to the kitchen, both Joe and Hoss offered an apology. Hop Sing grunted. Ben and Adam smiled as they started to fill their plates.

Breakfast was delicious or either they were extremely hungry. Considering the state of the previous evening’s dinner, it was determined that they were hungry. The conversation was animated and Adam was brought up to date on some of the happenings around the ranch. Refilling his coffee cup the conversation turned to his time in St. Louis. He talked around many of the things that occurred and focused on the Pearson Group contract. That was a coup for them. Sipping his coffee, he said, “Pa, I hope you don’t mind but I’ve invited the Sanders for dinner tonight at six.”

All three looked at Adam somewhat surprised. Ben said, “I think that’s a splendid idea. Kind of short notice but I’m sure we can manage. Be good to see them again. Besides, I’m sure Margaret would appreciate the gesture.”

“Thanks pa.” He rose from the table and said, “There’s a lot I need to catch up on. I’ll be back in a bit.” He put his hat on a left. Ben just looked knowing there were many things to discuss including a better understanding of the letter Adam had sent from St. Louis. He knew his son and knew they would talk.

“What do you suppose is up with him?” asked Joe. “He didn’t even mention what we did to his room.”

“Don’t know little brother, but if I were him and had been away as long as he has, I sure wouldn’t be inside either. Ain’t nothing prettier than this here country in the Spring. I’d be out seeing the countryside on a day like this even if only for a little bit,” said Hoss.

“Yeah, but there’s work to be done,” said Joe.

“Ha,” said Ben. “Since when has that worried you?” Laughter broke out. They were together as family once again including Hop Sing.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

The ride to the crest was life giving. He didn’t realize how much he’d missed being able to take these rides and now with a purpose. He and Sport had reacquainted themselves and made their way. Finding what he’d only imagined in his mind, he turned and headed for the Sanders ranch. When he arrived, he found Margaret inspecting her garden plots and Claire helping her. Hank and his foreman had already departed for the north ridge to check on some of the fencing. Seeing Adam brought a smile to their faces as he dismounted and approached them.

“Good morning. Seems like the last time I was here you were doing the same thing Margaret.”

“Morning Adam. Not quite. Last time I was only inspecting. This time I’m planting.”

He stood corrected. He made his way over to Claire and knelt where she was planting. “Good morning my love. You’re so lovely – even with the smudge of dirt on your face.” Wiping it away he kissed her gently ignoring her aunt. Margaret decided to make herself scarce and entered the barn to gather more plants. She was happy for the two of them.

She hugged Adam with a passion that said ‘good morning’ and just smiled. He helped her up and they sat in the swing. She took off her gloves as they sat and talked of their future. He spoke to her of his thoughts and she listened. She spoke to him of her thoughts and he listened. They were beginning to make decisions together – as one – and it was beginning to fill them. They were both excited about dinner and revealing the news. For a reason which they both understood, they could not help but smile. Needing to return, he saw Margaret carrying some seedling trays out of the barn and rose to go and assist her. Once they were placed in the garden, he indicated he had to get back but would see them at six. He kissed Claire good-bye and waved to Margaret. “They still don’t know,” he quipped. Mounting Sport he headed off. Claire could only imagine him riding off that way from their home.

When he returned he rode the perimeter of the south pasture, talked to some of the hands and then headed toward the west hills. He wanted to see what damage the fire had done. Returning he ran into Hoss.

“Hey Adam, what’cha doin up here?”

“Just wanted a firsthand view of the fire area.”

“Yeah, it was somethin’. Never seen pa so angry. He actually forgot himself but finally realized what he was doin’. Got the law watchin’ out for things now though.”

“Doesn’t sound like pa,” said Adam.

“Naw it don’t but you ain’t never seen a group as miserable and ornery as the Wales family. Ain’t had no trouble lately though.”

“I noticed the extra hands on the ranch and was wondering why.”

“Well we were gonna need ‘em soon enough. Pa jes hired them sooner.” Noticing something about his brother he said, “Adam, I know you jes got back and all, but what in tarnation happened in St. Louis? Kinda had us concerned for a while.”

“A lot Hoss. A lot. I’ll tell you about it soon.”

He saw a look in his brother’s eyes that puzzled him. He sensed something. Knowing Adam, he felt he’d know when he was ready to tell.

“Adam, whatever it is, ya know I’m here fer ya.”

Adam just lightly punched Hoss’ arm and said, “I know.”

* * * * * * * * * * * *

The day had flown by. Each of the Cartwright’s had managed to accomplish tasks that needed doing. The paperwork was still waiting though. As they entered the house to get bathed and ready for dinner they noticed the table. Hop Sing had set it with fine linens, china and crystal. He’d found spring flowers and created a centerpiece. He had created a beautiful setting.

Removing his hat and gun Joe looked and just whistled. “Wow, who’s coming to dinner the King of England?”

“Sure is pretty,” said Hoss. “I don’t care if it ain’t the King of England if the dinner tastes as good as that table there looks.”

“You know,” said Joe. “I think this is Hop Sing’s way of apologizing to us for the way he acted yesterday.”

“Don’t be so naive,” said Adam as he walked by heading upstairs. Joe was still thinking that was the reason. It had to be.

For the second time in the same day, Adam was seen coming out of the kitchen unscathed. “Now if that don’t beat all,” was all Hoss could comment. Joe just shrugged his shoulders.

Sitting in the great room awaiting their guests, Ben looked at his son who appeared to be somewhere else again. Looking at all of them he thought to himself, they do clean up well even though Hoss did not always want to put on a tie. Adam just looked at his hands as Joe headed toward the table.

“Joseph!” shouted Ben which caught all their attention. “I want this to be a pleasant evening for all of us so I would suggest that you come away from that side of the room until Hop Sing is finished.” It was more of an order than a suggestion.

“Sure pa, OK.”

The sound of a carriage entering the yard was heard. Adam was on his feet in a split second and opened the door to greet their guests followed by Ben and his brothers. Warm welcomes were made all around and they entered the house. The sounds of laughter and activity rang throughout the great room. Dinner not being quite ready, Ben offered libation to each of them and they made themselves comfortable. Claire looked beautiful as usual in her simple yet elegant way. As she approached Adam she said, “If you don’t stop looking at me that way, they will know before the announcement is made.”

“If you weren’t so beautiful and consented to be Mrs. Adam Cartwright, I might not be looking at you this way.”

Hop Sing announced dinner was ready and they all adjourned to the dining room. Margaret commented on how beautiful the table was set. It was all that she and Hank could do not to give away the secret. Seating this time for dinner was just a bit different – Claire sat to the left of Adam.

The meal was excellent. The conversation exhilarating. The laughter and sharing of friendship and stories was a “who can top this?” exercise. Ben laughed hard slapping his leg as Hank told a story and Joe almost fell off his chair. Even Hop Sing’s disposition had mellowed. He cleared away the dinner dishes and then brought coffee. Quickly disappearing, he peeked around the kitchen corner to see Adam. Adam looked at Claire and her blue eyes spoke. Adam nodded to Hop Sing.

Returning with a tray of glasses filled with champagne he placed it on the table. A quiet came over the room as the looks on all but four faces were puzzled.

“Well, said Joe, “If Hop Sing is trying to make up for yesterday, he sure is going overboard.”

Adam rose from his seat at the end of the table and eyes turned to him, particularly the eyes of his father. The silence the permeated the room could have been cut with a knife. “My trip to St. Louis and being here with all of you started a long time ago. We have no idea what may come into or go out of our lives. There is just a promise of life that is to be shared and lived. We’ve been through a lot the four of us, some more than others. But the center of all has been the love and respect we share as a family. We have disagreed, been taken to the woodshed when necessary, laughed together and cried together. But we’ve always loved and respected ourselves and one another. I’ve learned that is something to be shared. I’ve not said much about St. Louis but it was a transition in my life. I found a greater appreciation for you my family while being absent and I found a love that I want to share. No, not want to share but need to share. I’ve also found the person that I love, respect, who has filled a place in my heart that I cannot ever think of being empty again. That person is Claire. I’ve asked her to be my wife and she has consented.”

Adams words touched Hoss and he was wiping away bits of water from his eyes. Ben jumped from his chair. Joe shouted and Adam assisted Claire from her chair and with his arm around her placed a kiss soundly on her cheek.

“Congratulations son,” said Ben. Making his way over to Claire he said, “I can’t tell you how ecstatic I am. Welcome to this hodge podge of a family. I’m so happy. But when? How? Oh, never mind.” He kissed her on the cheek and hugged his eldest son. He was a happy man.

Joe and Hoss were showing brotherly love to Adam and hugging their brother. They now knew why he was not overly upset with their practical joke. Adam was being practical and calculated in his announcement. It was a joyous moment for all of them and a noisy one. Claire was being swept off her feet by Hoss and Joe just twirled her around.

Understanding what the champagne was for, they lifted their glasses, including Hop Sing who was misty eyed. This was truly a celebration of life and love.

 

 

FIFTY-FOUR

* * * * * * * * * * * *

The evening was truly a celebration of love and family – but even more than that if imaginable – a sharing of the souls of two people joined by providence with their families.

As the news of the announcement settled down somewhat, they all went into the great room continuing to digest it. Faces still smiling, the talk began to center around what plans were in place. Questions came from Ben at first. Both Claire and Adam were not able to share much as there was still much to be decided. Both wanted to be joined as one as soon as possible; however, there were details that they were still working on and would conclude shortly. They would then share them.

What had gone unnoticed was the engagement ring that Claire wore. As Hop Sing brought in more coffee and cake, he set it on the table and promptly cut a slice for Claire and prepared her a coffee. Claire was seated in the blue chair next to the hearth with Adam sitting on the arm of the chair. The look on both their faces was what one would expect of two people about to be married. As Hop Sing handed Claire the dessert, he noticed the ring. “Missy Claire, such a beautiful ring on a lovely hand. Sapphire stones bring happiness, good fortune and joy.”

“Why thank you Hop Sing,” she said. “I was not aware of that.”

“True Missy Claire. You soon be member of family. I do anything for you that you ask. I very happy for you and Mr. Adam. Make good life together.” As he bowed and made his way out of the great room, Joe popped up.

“Ring? Let me look.” During the excitement, no one had thought of an engagement ring nor asked to see it. Whistling, Joe said, “That is some ring. Guess big brother here really means business.” It was then that Ben and Hoss looked at the lovely hand that the ring adorned. Yes, quite a lot had taken place in St. Louis.

Ben was still pleased to hear the news and in looking at the couple, it somehow took him back many years. He could see parts of Elizabeth in the man that sat next to Claire. He was feeling more than happiness. Knowing his son and feeling a sense of Claire, he asked, “Would the two of you mind if we planned an engagement party for you? Inviting friends and neighbors? Could be held here,” he queried with his eyes twinkling.

Adam knew that Claire liked small intimate gatherings. He placed his arm around the back of her chair and was about to speak when she said, “If Adam has no objection, I think that would be a pleasure. I’d like to meet more of the neighbors and your friends as well as invite some of the friends that I’ve made.”

Adam was surprised by this woman that had said she liked the smaller gatherings. She looked at him and could see he understood what she did not say. “I’d rather enjoy it pa. I’d like to share this news with our friends.” What he knew is that she had done this for him. If she were going to make her life here, she needed to be able to share in community with Cartwright friends and neighbors. He placed his hand on her shoulder and lightly squeezed it.

“Great!” said Ben. “Margaret and Hank, we can get started on the planning as soon as you’d like.” Turning to Adam and Claire he remarked, “Oh, of course the two of you as well.” They all laughed. It appeared that Ben was still very much elated.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Hank and Margaret departed. Adam and Claire remained for a while longer talking and sharing. Ben, Hoss and Joe saw a marked change in their brother and son. They also saw a woman that they were certain was a wonderful match for Adam and would bring much happiness to him and to them. She was very beautiful – more especially an internal beauty and sensitivity that radiated. They also knew that Adam had probably met his match. They were already in love with her in their own ways as well. Adam had seen Claire home and was returning to the Ponderosa. While they were gone discussion between the two brothers and their father took place over the news. They were getting sentimental and remembering what life had been like and some of the idiosyncrasies of their brother. They finally left to go to bed and Ben sat in thought for a moment when he heard Adam return.

Closing the door and hanging up his coat and hat he said, “Still up pa? Thought that you’d have gone to bed.”

“Joe and Hoss just went up. I was on my way as well.”

“I don’t want to keep you up,” he said as he sat in the blue chair that Claire had sat in earlier that evening.”

“I’m not sure that I would have slept well,” he chuckled. “How about a brandy?”

“I’d like that.” Adam was quiet and received the brandy with a welcome.

Ben sat in the chair across from him. They were quiet for while when Adam spoke.

“Pa,” he said as he rolled the glass between his hands. “I didn’t say anything about my time in St. Louis or Claire. We’d decided we wanted to tell you in person. I also hope that I didn’t cause you any unnecessary worries.”

“Well, I wasn’t sure what was taking place in St. Louis and must admit I felt that you had some feeling for her – especially when you stayed on. I was also concerned when you wired that she had pneumonia and when Margaret departed for St. Louis. I know you well enough to understand the decisions you made to remain were important and sensible. I also have no regrets that you did not return sooner.”

Adam looked at his father as he spoke and then looked down at his glass. “I’m not sure exactly when it happened. I’ve known various women but no one like Claire. None that I can say I loved. She is special and I’ve felt empty when apart from her.”

Ben just sipped his brandy and looked at the son who was sharing with him in the lateness of the evening and in the soft light of the great room. “Son, we often have people pass through our lives and then suddenly when we don’t expect it – there is the one person that can turn our world upside down.”

“Was that the way it was with you and my mother?” Having asked the question, he was almost sorry that he did.

Thinking back and with a smile on his lips he said, “Yes. I think I knew from the moment I first met her she was the one for me.” Seeing Adam smiling and rubbing the side of his head he said, “What is it?”

“You know pa, the day I first saw her was when Hoss and I were in town. I saw her through the window of the International House and knew I wanted to know her. I had no idea that she was Hank’s niece. The next thing I knew was that she was here for dinner and then leaving. I thought I’d never see her again.” His mood changed a bit which Ben noticed. “When I went to St. Louis, I had to find her and see her. She’d been in my thoughts for some time.”

“We know son. We could tell that there was something disturbing you when she left.” Seeing the look on his face, he continued, “Yes. All of us – Hoss and Joe as well. Just thought it was something that would pass with time.”

Adam had to smile. “Well pa, it didn’t pass with time. I … I think I was falling in love with her the moment I saw her. I cannot truly put into words my feelings of love for her – but she has made a difference to me that cannot be measured. I look at her and feel as if I’m the most fortunate person there is. When she smiles, or speaks, or I feel her touch, it’s as if I’m filled with a breath of life. She’s a beautiful person. I was attracted to her physical beauty initially but in getting to know and talk to her it became so much more. She is a wonderful person inside that means so very much to me. She also is a humble person and doesn’t even realize it. She has a beauty as a loving, feeling and caring person that I’ve not found in anyone else. She brings me joy and happiness. I can’t imagine my life without her in it. She’s so easy to love.”

Hearing his son speak from the heart, Ben felt that this was probably the most special conversation they’d had together in this very room.

“Yes son, she is a lovely woman. I can see her love for you when she looks at you. I’ve often wondered whether any of you would find that one special person to make you more complete. I’ve raised you as best I could, but I’ve always known that you needed more than me, the ranch and each other. You’re experiencing a feeling and will have a life that will be more than you can possibly expect. I’ve always admired the man you’ve become. I’ve not always agreed with you on some things, but that’s the way it is between a parent and child. You hide your feelings and emotions well, but you were not meant to. Now with Claire in your life, you will have a closeness between you and a sharing that will bring you closer together than you are now. That is special and rare. All you need to do is to accept it and give in kind.”

Looking at his father with softened eyes, he internalized his father’s words. Sensing something in Adam he asked, “What is it son?”

He just finished his brandy and put his glass down. “You’ve always given us support and imparted your wisdom. I’m in a place I’ve never been. I hope I can be the husband and father you’ve been. Claire deserves so very much and I want to thank you for giving me your wisdom. I… I….” he paused for a moment and then looking directly at his father said, “I want to thank you for being the father you’ve been and for raising me to be the person that I’ve become.”

If Ben had not been emotional earlier, he certainly was now hearing his firstborn son thanking him for who he was. What Ben knew, is that the person he’d become was in great part due to the woman that was his mother as well. He was touched by his son’s words.

“I’m glad for this conversation,” said Adam. “When I sent you the letter, I was concerned about Claire being able to adjust to living here. I attended a concert that she was a part of and it was overwhelming to see her love for music and hear her play with the St. Louis Conservatory of Music Ensemble. We have nothing of that nature here which is why I asked you to make contact the with Arts Association. I realized that they had wanted to create a musical presence here in the Comstock area with talented artists for some time. I thought that this would be a way she could continue her love of music.”

“Seems like you’ve thought of a lot of things as relates to Claire. I did get a response from Professor Miles regarding this matter. He is quite excited to further discuss it. I guess you can share the information with Claire and set up meetings if she is interested with The Arts Society and Professor Miles.”

“Thanks for doing that for me. As for the wood purchase I asked you to consider, that has to do with a home I wish to build for Claire and me. In the meantime, I’d like to have your permission to use the house we lived in when we first arrived here in Nevada as our first home if Claire agrees or one of the other vacant properties. I know that any of them will need some repair, but I know it’s doable.”

“Son, I’m sure it is. Tomorrow, let’s look at where you are looking to build. She deserves the best.”

Adam stood and looked at the fire that was getting low and then back to his father. “I’m a happy man pa. I know Claire loves me and I also know that all of you here love me as well. Let’s call it a night. Tomorrow is a new day!”

 

 

 

FIFTY-FIVE

* * * * * * * * * * * *

As the days passed, they had gotten back into the routine of running their ranches. Hank and Ben had more work building up as time passed and were working feverously to keep pace. It appeared they would have a good year. Margaret was finishing up some items she was making for her soon-to-be grandchild. She and Hank were going to Carson City on Saturday to visit their son James and his wife Eve. If everything was on schedule, Eve should deliver within the next two months.

Time with Claire was somewhat limited to the evenings as Adam worked to bring the books of the Ponderosa current. It had kept him inside more than he would have liked, but they were now complete to the joy of Ben who did not relish this chore of running a ranch. Plans were also being arranged for the engagement party which would take place the following week at the Ponderosa. Margaret, Hank and Ben had put their heads together and were excited about the planning and event. Claire and Adam had left the party planning to the three of them and only added a name or two. Both Adam and Claire knew it was not going to be a small event and decided to spend more time on plans for their wedding and where they would live. They’d control the wedding.

This afternoon for themselves, Claire and Adam drove into Virginia City to see Reverend Fowler. Their appointment was for two o’clock to discuss a wedding date and other details. News of the engagement had begun to spread around the town and Joe had teased Adam about all the broken hearts he was leaving behind. Finishing their meeting with Reverend Fowler, Adam dropped Claire at the mercantile while he went to the post office to pick up mail and to post Claire’s letters. He’d noticed she’d written to Amelia and Isaac and Clara Moss.

As she was finishing her purchases, Claire was approached by two ladies who introduced themselves to her. She was polite and cordial to them but they were somewhat aggressive in their approach and were seeking details of the upcoming wedding, where she met Adam and more. Mr. Henry, the shopkeeper attempted to interrupt this intrusion on Claire’s privacy but was unsuccessful. He knew they were just seeking fodder for gossip. Suddenly a voice was heard, “Hello Paul … ladies,” said Adam tipping his hat to them. Walking over to her he said, “Claire are you ready?” She breathed a sigh of relief and looking at Mr. Henry thanked him for his assistance and wished the ladies a pleasant afternoon. Taking her packages, he took her arm and escorted her out of the store. As he was placing her purchases into the carriage she said, “Your timing was perfect. Seems like there’s a lot of curiosity over our wedding.”

Smiling he said, “I think it’s the opposite. I think the curiosity is really over you.” They took the rest of the afternoon to ride out to look at the possible places where they would be starting their life together. It was an exciting time for them and Adam enjoyed looking at Claire as she gave each site the once over. He could determine from her looks which of the options she would prefer. They settled on where their first home would be and discussed working out a plan to get it in order. He had arranged for one more stop before taking her home.

He started the carriage – both enjoying being together and the beauty of the surroundings. There was a bit of a breeze blowing that allowed the smell of the pines to permeate the air. A beautiful afternoon. Claire just rested her head on Adam’s shoulder with his arm around her as he drove leisurely. He finally made a turn in the opposite direction of the Ponderosa. She didn’t care where they were going as long as it was with him. Before them, she could see the beauty of the mountains, the blue lake in the distance and the green valley spread before them. It was a beautiful site. He helped her down and they sat wrapped in each other’s arms enjoying their surroundings.

What do you think of this location?” he asked.

“I think it’s one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. I wish we could stay here for the rest of the day.”

“How about the rest of our lives?”

Surprised, she turned to him and said, “Adam, do you mean it?”

Kissing her and then grinning he said, “Yes. This is where I plan to build our home if it meets with your approval.”

She was speechless for a moment. Her thoughts returned to what she knew as a real ‘first home’ and now what would be her ‘real home’ with a man soon to be her husband. Her eyes misted over as he smiled broadly. She spoke quietly. “Adam, I couldn’t think of a more perfect place. I just love it – it’s a wonderful place for our home.”

Wiping the tear from her eye that was ready to fall, he talked to her about the house, location of the rooms and other plans he had for it. He’d show her the plans when he met her for dinner. “Can I expect tears to fall whenever you’re happy?”

“It’s hard to say – but my suspicions are that it is highly probable.” Between laughter and talk of what was to come, they nestled together for a short while longer.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Breakfast at the Ponderosa was just about finished when Adam joined his family. Knowing he’d come home and had worked late into the evening, Hoss said, “Well big brother, tried to save some breakfast fer ya. Wasn’t sure if you were plannin’ on getting’ up today or not.”

Adam just responded, “Oh?”

“Besides,” said Joe, “We were just waiting for you to come down so we could make sure you got your share of the work for today. Since your engagement, we don’t see you much in the evenings anymore. I guess it must be all the planning you’re doing on the house. When are you going to show it to us?”

Adam just looked at Joe as he was filling his plate and said, “When the plans are finally finished.”

“Guess Claire has her own ideas on the house,” chuckled Hoss. Thought you had the plans locked up tight.”

Ben listened to the banter going back and forth and said, “It wouldn’t hurt the two of you to take some time to concentrate on something for a change.”

“We are concentrating pa, but can’t seem to find enough time to let Adam know.”

“And what is it that I’m supposed to know?”

“Well, Hoss and I are ready to help you with fixing up the house. We’d like to see this wedding get moving ….”

“Hold on,” said Hoss. “Adam, Joe jes wants to get your room. He figures the sooner you have a place to live the sooner you’ll be sayin’ I do.”

“That’s not entirely so. I know that you want to start the building of your new house, but in the meantime, you’re moving into the original house and it needs some work,” said Joe defensively.

Ben thought it was time he interjected his thoughts again into the conversation. “Adam’s room is not up for grabs. He’s not indicated what the plans are yet and until they are, stop scheming on who gets what – especially his room. Besides, we’ve a lot to do on the ranch as well as for the engagement party.”

“That’s really gonna be a humdinger of a party. I cain’t wait. Pass me some more of those hotcakes will ya,” said Hoss.

Adam just looked around the table and said, “The wedding plans are coming along. I do have a favor to ask of the two of you though if you think you can carry it out with a sense of decorum and dignity.”

“A sense of dignity and what?” asked Hoss.

“Decorum Hoss, decorum,” Joe piped up.

“Well, whatever. If’n I don’t understand it and I can sure learn it, Joe.”

Adam smiled and said, “I’d like the two of you to stand up with me at the wedding.”

“Yahoo!” shouted Joe so loudly it brought Hop Sing running out of the kitchen.

“I thought hard and long about this,” kidded Adam. “Since everyone else was busy, it left just the two of you. Well?”

“Adam, I’d be proud to stand up with you on your wedding day. Plum proud,” said Hoss.

Ben admired his eldest son for what he’d just done. It was another facet of Adam that made him special to all of them. As this was settled, they heard a carriage pull up in the yard. Rising from his seat, Ben opened the door and found it to be Claire and Amy Wheeler.

“Well, good morning Claire … Amy. What brings you this way? Won’t you come in for some coffee?

“Thank you Ben, but no. Amy and I are heading into Virginia City to take care of a few things. Uncle Hank asked me to drop off these papers for you to take to the Cattleman’s Association for him. He and Aunt Margaret are headed for Carson City to see James and Eve.”

“He said he’d have them dropped off but I didn’t expect you to be doing it.” Hearing voices, the brothers went outside to see who their father was talking to. A smile appeared on all their faces and greetings were exchanged. Adam had commented quietly to Claire that it was great to see her this morning but he really didn’t expect to see her until she came for dinner that night. She let him know just as quietly that she was full of surprises and wanted to see him as well.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Amy was going to be a bridesmaid for Claire and, although she had not heard from Amelia yet, she was certain that she would be her maid of honor. As they arrived in town, they laughed as they went about their shopping and visit to the dressmaker. Upon leaving, they ran into Sheriff Coffee who greeted both warmly. They talked for a bit and then he bid them good day saying, “Now you ladies be sure to be careful getting home.”

As the two of them were headed out of Virginia City, they passed Hoss and Ben on their way into Virginia City. They made brief conversation and each went their own way. As Claire made the turn to head to Amy’s house, there was a commotion and from out of nowhere two men approached them. One grabbed the reins from Claire’s hands and stopped the carriage. Both women were frightened. They’d never seen these men before.

“Well now, what an unexpected pleasure to see two such fine ladies.”

They just looked at the men and remained silent. The second man said, “You don’t seem too friendly. Hospitality in Nevada Territory is supposed to be friendly.”

“What do you want?” asked Amy.

“Well since you asked, we’re a bit down on our luck and could use a few dollars for a bath and a meal.”

“I’m sorry, but we don’t have anything to give you,” said Claire. “Now if you would be so kind, we’d like to be on our way.”

“Look, we saw the two of you in Virginia City and know you must have some money or something of value. So why not be friendly and hand it over.”

Claire tried to move the carriage but the other man was holding fast to the reins and the horse.

The man dismounted and walked to the carriage. “Now my patience is wearing mighty thin. Give us whatever cash you have and any other valuables.” With that he grabbed Claire’s bag and Amy’s. Tearing them open, he found cash. Not as much as he wanted but it was more than the two of them had. He then proceeded to rip open the packages that were in the carriage. Amy yelled for him to stop. That he’d taken all they had.

“Little lady, I’d advise you to be quiet.” From his vantage point on the horse, his partner could see that Amy was wearing a ring.

“Hey Sam, if’n you got all their money, I see that one of ‘em is wearing a gold ring. We might as well take their jewelry.”

Fear had settled into both women. How could this be happening? As he reached for Amy’s hand, Claire started to push him away. Amy tried to keep him from taking her wedding ring but he was much stronger and overpowered her. Claire tried to assist her friend but was pushed down into the carriage. As Amy struggled, the horse reared and she was thrown from the carriage hitting her head and the ground very hard. Seeing her friend lying still on the ground, Claire tried to get up to help her. She was pulled from the carriage as the mounted rider just laughed. Claire struggled with him as he tried to remove her ring, she was able to scratch his face as she struggled which angered him. He said, “Why you …” and with his might slapped her several times across the face with her finally falling to the ground.

“Well brother, we have some money and some jewelry that should bring us a pretty penny. I think we’ve done enough here.”

They rode off leaving the two women lying still on the side of the road.

 

 

FIFTY-SIX

 

* * * * * * * * * * * *

 

Unimaginable circumstances had played themselves out on what started as a fun-filled day between two friends. They’d shared with each other their dreams and hopes for the future. Even more than that, they shared in the anticipation of their futures. What lay on the horizon before them could not have been foreseen.

 

Rolling over, she could taste the blood mixed with dirt that had now covered her face. She was trying to clear her head as she raised herself into an upright position. She felt her face and saw the red that appeared on her fingers. Looking around, she realized what had happened and the element of fear froze her for a moment. Amy! Amy! She had to be able to reach her friend. As she managed to stand, she could see her friend lying still on the other side of the carriage. She had to get to her. Claire made her way around the carriage and to Amy. She could hear her moans and tried to gain her attention. She had no idea how badly she was hurt, but knew instinctively that she needed help. Yes help, but from where and how? She didn’t notice any blood but could recall the fall that Amy had taken from the carriage. Claire knew what she must do. She retrieved the canteen from the carriage and returned to Amy. Using a handkerchief, she wet it and began to wipe Amy’s face. Amy’s eyes opened and she looked up at Claire.

 

“Don’t move Amy,” said Claire as calmly as she could. “Can you tell me how you feel? Where you have pain?”

 

Hearing her voice, she closed her eyes and said, “My shoulder and my head hurt terribly.”

 

“I have to go for help Amy but I don’t want to leave you alone.” Claire could not keep her still. After a second try with Claire’s assistance, Amy was able to sit up.

 

“Amy, do you think you can make it to the carriage?” Claire was fearful that the men might return and felt they needed to escape this place as soon as they could.

 

“I think I can Claire.”

 

“Let’s see if I can get you into the carriage and I’ll take you to Doctor Martin right away.” Stumbling a bit from having hit her head, Amy could get to her feet. Claire helped her to the carriage and, after a pause, into the seat. Her heart racing and pain racing through her shoulder and head, Amy carefully laid her head against Claire’s shoulder and they made their way.

 

Doctor Martin was fast and efficient in the care given. He was taken aback by the sight of the two women and could not believe what had happened to them in the early afternoon. He sent an associate to fetch Sheriff Coffey and made a stern request that nothing of this incident be said to anyone but the sheriff. He wanted to safeguard their privacy, if that were at all possible. Amy had suffered a severely bruised shoulder but nothing broken. The blow she suffered to her head was not life threatening but produced a bump and bared watching. She was very lucky indeed in the manner she’d fallen as there was no concussion or fracture. He finished tending to Amy as her condition seemed more severe and left her to rest on one of the beds. He also gave her something for the pain she was experiencing. He now joined his assistant who had started to tend to Claire in another room. She would be fine; however, her face would show the remains of the beating it took. The bruises were already becoming more prominent.

 

“How is Amy?” asked Claire. “She took a nasty fall and I was afraid to move her.”

 

“She’s going to be fine. She has a severely bruised shoulder and her head injury is not life threatening. The force of the fall did cause her to lose consciousness, but she’ll be fine.”

 

“Oh, I’m so relieved. I was afraid it was more serious. Can I see her?”

 

“Not right now. You need to rest a bit as well and I want to keep these compresses on your eye and cheek for a while longer. I’ve sent for the sheriff and he should be here shortly. Now you just lie still. I’m going to make arrangements to send for Amy’s husband Josh and we’ll have to make arrangements to get you home as well.”

 

Get me home! How do I explain this to Aunt Maggie and Uncle Hank? What about Adam? Oh, thank God Amy is going to be OK.

 

Sheriff Coffey arrived and spoke first to Claire and then Amy. While doing this, he sent for Josh. He could not believe what had happened to these two women whom he had wished a safe trip home to not more than two hours earlier. Now he was getting information on what had happened so he could arrange to find the persons responsible. No time would be wasted on this matter. He was also aware that havoc would break loose when Adam Cartwright found out about this situation and needed to take measures to curb what was surely to be anger from the eldest Cartwright.

 

Josh was not at the ranch and was found leaving the feed and grain mill. He rushed to Amy. His ire was raised to its height seeing his wife and her condition. Sheriff Coffey now had a second person he had to settle down. He assured Josh that he was leaving to take the necessary measures to bring the culprits to justice and pleaded with him to just take Amy home and care for her. He would be by and keep him informed and this would not go unresolved. It was hard as Josh was irate, but Coffey restated his plans and pleaded that he do as requested. He hurried out the door back to his office. Crossing the street, he saw Hoss coming out of the Cattleman’s Association office. Quickly changing his direction, he approached him. The conversation was short and to the point.

 

“But where? We jes passed them on the road about an hour ago. I gotta get pa,” said Hoss.

 

“Hoss … your brother Adam … I know what this is going to set off in him and I need you and your pa to settle him down. Now Claire seems fine and will need a ride home. I’m headed to get things started to find these two men and I’ll be checking in with you. The last thing I want is anyone taking the law into their own hands. That’s what I’m here for and that’s what I’m gonna do. I don’t want to have to go after anyone else right now other than these two men. Now I hope you Cartwrights understand that, especially Adam. I mean it!”

 

“I hear ya Roy,” said Hoss. “But know this, it’s not something that any of us kin take lightly.”

 

“You heard what I said Hoss.” With that Roy headed off to his office. Hoss headed to the livery to get his father.

 

Claire was finally able to see Amy. Stretching out her one good arm toward her friend Amy hugged Claire. It was then that Claire realized how her face hurt. The look on both their faces was of anguish and shock. They’d work through this. Josh was taken aback by the appearance of Claire and became more unsettled by what had happened to the two of them. Doctor Martin indicated that Josh could take Amy home, but she would have headache and pain. He supplied medicine for both and insisted that she get rest. Amy and Claire talked for a bit longer trying to decipher what went wrong to a day that started out perfectly. Although neither admitted it or even understood, they were in a state of shock and loss of their most valued possessions.

 

Hoss and Ben rushed into Doc Martin’s office. They found Claire and the looks on their faces said more than she wanted.

 

“Claire, I’ve just spoken to Doctor Martin and we’re going to take you to the Ponderosa,” said Ben. Doctor Martin has given approval for you to leave. I’m so sorry that this has happened and we’re going to take care of you.”

 

“Thank you Ben, but I really would like to go back to my own house.”

 

“Ya cain’t Claire,” said Hoss. Hank and Margaret won’t be back from Carson City until late this evenin’. Besides, they’re expecting you to be having dinner with us and Adam bringing you home well after they git back.”

 

“That’s right Claire. So, come with us and we’ll see that your made comfortable. You can’t be alone now.”

 

Their arguments against her staying alone made sense. She also realized all that had happened was beginning to take hold of her and she didn’t want to be alone. What she feared now was Adam’s reaction.

 

As Hoss tied his horse to Claire’s carriage, he said to his father, “Adam is gonna go through the roof. That poor gal, do you think she knows what her face looks like? Ain’t somethin’ she can cover up and right now if I could find those two I’d break them in half m’self.” Ben saw the sad and caring look on his son’s face along with the knowledge of how angry Hoss was. So was he.

 

“Hoss, I understand. Lucky she was not beaten any worse. What I’m concerned about as well is your brother’s reaction. We’ll have to see that it does not get out of hand. Now let’s get this carriage in order so that we can quietly take her to the ranch.

 

* * * * * * * * * * * *

 

Arriving at the Ponderosa, Ben told Hoss to get Hop Sing while he assisted Claire from the carriage into the house.

 

“What’s all the excitement about?” asked Joe who was just finishing cleaning his gun.

 

“It’s Claire,” said Hoss. “She was robbed and beaten this afternoon. Where’s Adam?”

 

“She was what?”

 

“Stop askin’ questions and don’tcha go sayin anything about how she looks. That sweet thing needs our help now and I asked ya, where’s Adam?”

 

Joe was puzzled, but when he saw Claire being assisted to the house by his father, he just mumbled something inaudible. “Adam went to the south pasture with Gabe to check something. Said he’d be back early.”

 

Ben seated Claire on the settee while Hop Sing was rushed into the great room. Ben, Joe and Hoss circled around her to try to comfort her. Hop Sing rushed back to tend her bruises. “Missy Claire, Hop Sing fix good. Hop Sing not leave you – but here to help.”

 

She could muster a sincere thank you as he tended to her and then looked at the three faces staring down at the care that was being given her. She looked at them and told them the story of the afternoon. She also expressed her concern over how Adam would react. Assuring them that this would all pass and that she was fine, she wanted to be certain that Adam could remain in check and them as well. She asked for their help.

 

“Whatever you want Claire,” said Hoss compassionately. “You’re one of us and we’ll take really good care of ya. Adam too.” She knew by looking at the eyes of this brother what he was saying to her and he made her feel comfortable.

 

‘I’m going to get you some tea,” said Ben. “You boys make her comfortable.”

 

Joe and Hoss looked at each other and could feel her pain. They were also aware of the wrath of their elder brother that was to come. ”How about we get you settled so that you can rest a bit. Pa is sure to have the tea for you is just a minute,” said Joe.

 

“Joe I appreciate it. I feel … I guess right now I don’t know how I feel. I’m glad to be here with all of you. As she looked up at Joe and Hoss she said sadly, “They stole my engagement ring as well.” She just clasped her hands and put her head down.

 

“Claire, how about you try to lie down for a while? I think you could probably use it. And don’t worry about Adam, we’ll take care of him as well,” said Joe using all the restraint he could muster. He’d like to take the gun he was just cleaning and go searching himself. He assisted her to the bedroom off the dining area. She sat on the bed and Joe inquired if there was anything else he could do for her, she just tried to smile at him and said no. He quietly left the room.

 

Ben returned with Hope Sing’s special tea. Not seeing Claire, he shrugged his shoulders. Hoss just pointed toward the room. Ben knocked and entered. Within a couple of minutes, he came out and joined his sons.

 

“Well pa … what do we do now?” asked Joe.

 

Ben sighed heavily and sighed again as he looked at the closed bedroom door. “We let her get some rest.” Then looking at his sons said, “We wait for Adam.”

 

About an hour later Hoss quietly opened the door to the bedroom and saw that Claire had fallen asleep. Good he thought. He walked over to where his father was trying to work at his desk and said, “I’m gonna set outside and wait for Adam.”

 

“Good idea son.” He knew that whatever was to come, Hoss had a way with his brother.

 

Hoss did not sit very long before he saw his brother approaching. As Adam waved to him, he rode Sport into the barn. Unsaddling the horse and beginning to brush him down, Adam saw the shadow of his brother.

 

“What, all finished with your work for the day?” he said to Hoss.

 

Hoss approached Adam slowly not knowing how to say what he had to say. He stood watching Adam take care of Sport. Getting no response, Adam turned and saw his brother standing with his hands in his pockets. A clear signal to him that something was wrong.

 

“What is it?” queried Adam.

 

“Well, I got somethin to tell ya. I guess the best way to say it is straight out.”

 

Adam stopped what he was doing and looked directly at him.

 

“Adam, Claire is in the house. Now before you go in there, she’s fine. She and Amy were robbed this afternoon.”

 

Adam dropped the brush he was holding and started to make his way quickly to the house. Hoss grabbed his arm and stopped him. “Adam, she don’t look quite like herself. She’s been to Doc Martin and will be fine but she was beaten around her face.” He just stared at Hoss for a moment and then made is way to the house. Hearing the door open, Joe stood up and Ben rose from his desk.

 

Not seeing her Adam said, “Where is she?”

 

“Son, she’s in the bedroom over there sleeping. You’ve not seen her yet, but use your head. Roy is already on this.” He said nothing but went to the door and turned the handle and entered. She was still sleeping. He stood still and looked at the small sleeping frame lying under the quilt on the bed. It brought back memories of seeing her in the hospital in St. Louis. Walking quietly over to the far side of the bed, he pulled up the chair and sat beside her. He did not expect to see what he saw. Her face was swollen and discolored. Her left eye was also swollen. Feelings of not being present for her filled him. He’d let her down. He also felt an anger that surpassed any that he’d known. This could not happen – much less to the woman he would marry. Something had to be done. He just sat and looked at her with a pain in his heart. While she slept, he left the room.

 

He entered the great room and immediately the eyes of his family were on him. He closed the door and walked over to them. Leaning on the back of the settee he said, “She’s sleeping. Now someone tell me what happened.” The stiffness of his body and the look in his eyes spoke loudly.

 

“Son, it appears that when she and Amy were returning from town, they were stopped by two men who robbed them. Amy is going to be fine and so is Claire.”

 

Adam just looked at each of their faces. “Have you seen her? Don’t tell me she’s fine!” he said intently.

 

“Adam, she has been hurt, but she’s safe now and here with us,” said Hoss.

 

“That may very well be,” he said as he started toward the door to put his gun on and retrieve his hat, “But I’m going to find Roy Coffey and get this finished.”

 

Ben walked over to Adam and said, “I can only imagine how you’re feeling right now. We all are upset.”

 

“That’s right Adam. This is not easy for us either. We’re as mad as you are,” said Joe.

 

Adam just shot his eyes at Joe. “What is that supposed to mean?”

 

“It means that we want to find the men that did this too. But there is a way in which it needs to be handled. Your going off now in this state is not what is needed. You’re angry and what is needed is for you to be here for her when she wakes up,” said Ben.

 

“Roy is already on this Adam,” injected Hoss. “Let him handle it. If you can think for a minute, you know this is the right way.”

 

They heard the door open and Claire walk out. Turning to see here, she looked past them to Adam.

 

“Adam, don’t leave here. You’re angry and this is not going to change what’s happened.”

 

“What’s happened should not have. I’m going to find Coffey and get to the bottom of this,” he said with an intense anger that was softly audible.

 

She walked closer to him and he looked at her face. The pain cut through him. “Adam, this is not going to help anything. I’m going to be fine. I’m here with you and your family. We’re all upset in our own ways, but for you to leave here in this state is wrong. You’re not thinking clearly. I know what my face looks like. There was a mirror in that room. I’m angry too for what happened today, but I can’t change that. What can be changed is that we stay here, deal with it as best we can, talk through what needs to be said, and take things one moment at a time. I need you here with me! Not out with the sheriff trying to find the men who did this and worrying about you and your safety. That’s not your job and I don’t want that added burden right now! Your job is to be here with me and to take care of me as I would you.”

 

Ben looked at Adam as he was hearing her words and then at his two sons. They were more than amazed at this young lady that was taking their brother and son to task in a way that made sense and made sense to each of them.

 

“Claire, when I think of what could have happened to you and the persons that would do this it’s not something that I can accept.”

 

“You’ve already been told that the sheriff is taking care of this. Let him. When he needs you he’ll let you know. You can share your anger and I’ll understand it. But if we talk about anger, it should be me that is angrier than you.”

 

Adam put down his gun belt and his mood somewhat changed. He walked to Claire and embraced her for a long time. He was hurting but more than that, she had touched him with her words where his family would have had more trouble doing the same thing. He held her as if their lives depended on it. The hurt he felt could be seen clearly by his father and brothers.

 

“Claire, this is not over,” he said. ” I’m going to stay on Coffey to be sure they’re found and punished. That’s a promise.”

 

“We need to talk Adam,” she said quietly. He looked at her and just touched her face ever so gently. Although it hurt she tried to smile. His look was still one of anger and pain – but she tried to understand it. There was more she needed to tell him – the ring!

 

Realizing that the family was still present and had witnessed all of this, Claire turned and asked, “Am I still invited to dinner?”

 

“Ah yes Claire,” said Ben. “I’ll check with Hop Sing to see how long it will be before it’s ready.”

 

“Thanks Ben. Adam and I are going to take a walk.” They went outdoors.

 

“Whew!,” said Hoss. “Claire is really something. We’re pretty lucky to have her.”

 

“Yes,” said Ben. “She is special but I don’t know how far she’s really gotten with Adam. I’m also concerned about how Hank and Margaret are going to take this as well.”

 

“Yeah, did you see the way she calmed big brother down?” piped up Joe.

 

“Naw, Joe he ain’t calm. Truth be told we ain’t calm either. She’s just showed us a different way of looking at things. I’d still like to break ‘em in two.”

 

* * * * * * * * * * * *

 

The irony of the day was that Hank and Margaret Sanders were visiting their son and daughter-in-law in Carson City. Returning home to Carson City, Sam and Danny Wales were still laughing over what they’d done to two young ladies in Virginia City and the extra things they’d picked up when they were returning from the Tax Office there. Their pa would certainly be surprised hearing of their extra fun and games – in the Wales fashion.

FIFTY-SEVEN

* * * * * * * * * * * *

They managed to get through dinner. Hop Sing had prepared something soft and some soup for Claire as her mouth was a bit swollen. The conversation, what there was of it, was strained at best. Claire thought that perhaps this was not the wisest idea that she remain for dinner after all. The feelings of the four men that sat at the table with her were as visible as if they were written on a school chalk board. She also began to feel self-conscious about the way she probably looked and realized that this was yet another reminder to add fuel to the already festering anger that they all felt. Oh, why had she decided to stay?

Dinner finished, they moved from the table to the great room. Ben went into the kitchen to speak with Hop Sing for a moment. Adam’s demeanor was strained at best laced with concern over the wellbeing and health of Claire; however, he tried to react as if things were normal. He was controlling his emotions, mostly anger, and was also at a loss for words. This did not go unnoticed by Hoss and Joe. They were in the same situation. Each time Hoss looked at Claire, the softness of his personality would turn to sorrow for what she’d experienced and his own personal need to make sure that the culprits were brought to justice. He also felt for his older brother whom he knew blamed himself.

No longer able to tolerate a situation that she was finding unbearable, Claire said, “It’s getting late and I believe my aunt and uncle should be home by now. I think it’s time that I left for home.” There was no disagreement with her statement as they were all uncomfortable. Ben exited the kitchen and had a small package for her. Hop Sing had indicated that he would prepare some special formula to reduce the swelling very quickly and ease the pain. He’d promised it to her but would not tell her what it contained.

As she rose and turned to Adam, he went to get her wrap. “Thank you all once again for what you’ve done today. I’m just very sorry the about the circumstances. The next time you see me I’ll be looking like my old self,” she chuckled. Adam placed the wrap around her and Claire said her goodnights. Making their way to the door, Claire clutched the package from Hop Sing. They all walked out as Adam assisted Claire into the carriage and tied Sport to the back.

Joe could not contain himself and said, “Adam, you’re coming straight back aren’t ya?”

Adam looked at him knowing the reason for the question. Seeing the look on their faces he said, “Don’t I always?”

The ride under other circumstances would have been more pleasant. Who could these men be and what had Roy Coffee turned up – continued to cross through Adam’s mind. Also, the thought of the effect this would have on Claire worried him. She held his arm as they rode. He focused on the road. Finally, Claire said, “Adam, you’re thinking. I’d like it if you could find it possible to talk.”

He heard her soft words. She waited and he finally said, “It’s just hard for me to see you hurt and to know that it could have been much worse. Sometimes I wonder if this territory will ever become civilized. It just seems like life is always such a struggle and one must be on the defensive. It’s not always easy here and I guess I forget that sometimes.”

“Adam, no matter where people are, there are those who try to take advantage of others. Everything that progresses has had to start somewhere. I’m thankful that we’re able to be together,” she paused and then continued, “I’d like you to drive me over to Amy’s tomorrow if you don’t mind. I’d like to check on her.”

He looked at her and wondered where her calmness came from. She’d made sense in her statement but knew he was a long way from being there at this moment. She knew it too.

Upon pulling up to the house, he wondered the reaction of both Hank and Margaret. He helped her down and she looked at his sorrowful eyes. “Adam, we’re both alright. Before you leave here I need to be able to believe that.”

He bent down, kissed her gently and just held her. He knew how easy it was to have someone come into your life and how quickly they could be gone forever. The lights in the house were on which meant her aunt and uncle were home. After time sharing honest feelings and making a few new decisions, Adam said, “I guess we should go in and let them know what’s happened.” She touched his face and told him she loved him. She asked him not to do anything foolish and jokingly reminded him that he’d now seen the best and worst of her and wondered if he wanted to change his mind about marrying her. She caused him to smile at that and assured her that nothing would ever change his love for her or his plans to share his life with her. He opened the door for her and they entered.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Finishing dinner with his family, Andy Wales walked outside to light his pipe and was joined by his sons. The pipe smoke rose into the crispness of the evening air. He sat in his chair as was usual for him after dinner. He placed his feet on the porch rail and looked out into the night. Before long, he was joined by his son Sam. Looking over at him he just cast a look of disgust and returned to puffing on his pipe. “Don’t know what to do with you and your brothers. Only one of you that has some sense I don’t have ta beat into ya is your sister.”

“Now that ain’t so. We been doin’ all you taught us fer a long time.”

“Umph,” was the reply as he continued to puff.

“Well we really did it today.” Andy just looked at his son. Moving closer to his father, he started to whisper so that his mother and sister couldn’t hear. Reaching into his pocket he pulled out a worn handkerchief. Before he could begin to unfold it, his brother Danny joined them.

“Did you tell him yet Sam?”

“Jes ‘bout to.”

“I ain’t got no time fer foolishness,” barked Andy. “Besides, the story ya told about how yer face got scratched with some feisty saloon gal don’t sound right to me yet.”

“This here ain’t no foolishness pa. Jes didn’t want ta say anything in front of Ma and Mary.”

Putting his pipe aside, he looked at the two boys and said, “It better be good. Now git to talking and make it quick.”

Sam unraveled the handkerchief and produced the money along with the two rings. “Look a here.”

Andy’s eyes grew in size. This was not at all what he expected. The boys recounted how they came by the haul and what they thought they would be able to do with it. Andy asked if there were any witnesses and if they could be identified. They assured the two women were so frightened they probably would not even be able to remember their own names. The laughter that spurted forth was short lived. Andy was pleased with what they brought home, but angrier than a wounded bear. His sons didn’t understand it. “If the two of ya were born with brains you sure ain’t used ‘em. Virginia City is not that far away. Stealing cash is one thing and maybe this gold wedding band – but this other ring is one that we can’t do nothing with around here. Don’t see anything like this and if the law is looking fer ya, this is sure to put you in jail. Besides, I know where the scratches now came from. Now put these rings somewhere they won’t be found until we can find a way to get something fer ‘em so that we can’t be traced to ‘em …. and you Danny stay on this ranch ‘til those scratches are gone.”

“Pa, we thought you’d be pleased. Besides it was fun. Ain’t had none since the Cartwright stampede.”

“The two of you heard me.” He refilled his pipe and lit it. Puffing once again and rubbing his chin he said in a threatening tone, “The Cartwrights ain’t fully paid for shooting Ed and bringing the law in here. We ain’t finished with ‘em jes yet – and we need to be careful. You did good. Now git while I git to thinking.”

* * * * * * * * * * * *

The ride from the Sanders ranch back to the Ponderosa gave Adam a chance to think. He needed to clear his head and get the image of Claire out of his mind. The Sanders showed the concern and worry both he and Claire knew they would as well as upset. It was Hank’s parting words that made an impact on him. Hank told him that this was not something easily accepted by any of them, but it could have happened to anyone at anytime. They needed to be thankful both women were going to be fine. He’d stand by both Adam’s and Josh’s sides to ensure the guilty were found, prosecuted and would be relentless in seeing that Roy Coffey did not let this drop.

The ride to the Ponderosa seemed short. It was still early and he knew his family would still be up. He didn’t want to enter another conversation over the occurrences of the day or what the next days would bring. Neither did he want any advice – but knew that he probably was not going to be able to escape it. Having tended to Sport, he turned toward the house and breathing deeply, walked in to face his family.

Removing his hat and gun, he turned to see three faces looking at him. Placing his hands on his hips he just looked. Strolling across the great room toward the stairs he stopped and turned to them. “Claire is home safely with Hank and Margaret, I’m concerned about the effects of this on her and Amy, I’m doing the best to control the anger and revenge I want to exact, I don’t want to discuss any of this tonight and there is not going to be an engagement party.” With a look of despair mixed with anger he turned on his heel and bid his family good night.”

They watched as he made his way up the stairs and heard his door close.

 

FIFTY-EIGHT

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Morning arrived. The sun was already bright and the sky the clearest blue with soft mounds of white clouds. This was going to be a beautiful day – outside. Inside – a different story. Adam had not slept well the night before, still seething from the occurrences of the previous day. His father and brothers slept poorly as well. Nothing was settled for any of them and here was yet another day that faced them with uneasiness.

Hop Sing had prepared breakfast and Adam could smell the aroma of coffee seeping upstairs. He knew he would not be able to put off any longer what he had to do. He also knew that the conversation he did not want to have with his family was something that he was not going to be able to avoid. He heard footsteps going toward the stairs. From the sound of them he knew it to be Hoss. He finished dressing and made his way downstairs to the breakfast table. His father and Hoss were just sitting down. The mood seemed to be one of discomfort for the three of them. Of course, it was not unusual for Joe to be the last one to join them.

As he sat down at the table he said, “Good morning.”

“Morning son,” came from Ben followed by “Mornin’ Adam,” from Hoss.

They started to prepare their plates when Joe finally made his way to the table. “Good morning. Looks like another nice day,” he said. Joe had the ability to continue speaking long after he should have stopped. This time it was no different. “What are we going to do about this situation? We can’t let it go and we need to be doing something. Coffey hasn’t been here and we’ve no idea where or who those men are. I think Coffey needs some help.”

There was quiet after he spoke. Ben just looked at him in a pained way to indicate that this was not the time to bring this up and that he should not have said what he did. Hoss just looked cautiously over at Adam and then back to his plate. The conversation was going to be had he knew – but why did Joe have to be so quick? He also knew Adam’s look. Adam was going to deal with this in his own way.

They continued to eat in quiet for a bit and Joe could not contain himself any longer. “What? Didn’t anyone hear what I said? Isn’t anyone going to answer me?”

“Joe,” said Ben. “We heard you. This is not a pleasant situation for any of us and it will be dealt with in the proper way.”

A fork dropped to the plate and Adam, folding his hands in front of him and leaning his chin on them said, “You do deserve an answer – you all do. I’m going to find Roy and get any information from him that I can. I’m then going to do my own looking.” His words were measured as he spoke and his demeanor one of controlled anger.

Knowing his brother, Hoss knew that a fuse had been lit in him. He looked at his father who also knew this to be the case and there was going to be no controlling Adam’s actions now. His body language and words told that story.

“There’s not a lot to say. What happened to Amy and Claire yesterday … well, it’s not over. There’s no way I can do nothing about it. No one either in their right mind or foolish enough to abuse and rob two defenseless women has the right to be roaming around free. They’re not going to get away with it and I’m going to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.” His words were harsh and direct.

“Adam,” said Ben. “We’re on your side and as upset as you. We want them brought to justice as well – but it has to be done within the law. We’re here to help.”

“Let me correct you pa, none of you are feeling what I’m feeling,” he pointedly said.

“Adam, I think what pa meant was ….” Hoss could not finish his sentence.

“I know what pa meant. I heard him. There are some things a man has to do. I didn’t start this but I’m sure going to see that I finish it.” His words resonated across the table. Joe’s eyes were focused on his brother.

“Adam, whatever assistance you need – you got it,” said Joe.

“Same here Adam. What happened just ain’t right. Now if you’re headed out, I’m riding with ya. I think two of us can accomplish more than jes you alone.”

Casting his eyes at his younger brother he said, “Hoss, I don’t need a babysitter.”

“Perhaps not, but you sure can use a brother. End of discussion. Now let me know when you’re ready.”

Adam cast an uncertain look at Hoss and threw his napkin on the table. “Let’s go.”

Ben was glad that Hoss was forcing his way along with Adam. There was no telling what was to come of the day and Hoss could read and sometimes reason with Adam.

As the two of them moved toward the door Joe asked, “What about me? Surely there must be something I should be doing.”

Adam just shot a quick glance at him as he strapped on his gun belt. Hoss said, “Just be around Joe. We’ll sure ‘nuf git ya when we need ya.”

As they were making their way toward the barn to saddle their horses, Ben touched Adam’s arm and said, “Son, you know the things I’ve tried to teach each of you. I know I can’t stop you from doing what you feel you need to … but remember there’s a right way and a wrong way. I’m asking that you do things the right way and if possible, let the anger not rule your actions and temper. Joe and I will be here for whatever else is necessary and in case Roy shows up with information.”

He just nodded and then turned to join Hoss saddle the horses.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

It wasn’t quite seven o’clock when Adam and Hoss started out to Virginia City. Adam was wasting no time as they made their way. Hoss tried to have a conversation with Adam but just gave up as his answers were just one word answers and he was moving quickly.

They pulled up at the jail and with one swift movement Adam was afoot and tied Sport. He was inside Sheriff Coffey’s office before Hoss could blink.

Hearing someone enter, Coffey turned around and seeing Adam Cartwright knew this was not going to be pleasant. He’d expected a visit from Adam yesterday. Sitting down to his desk with his coffee in hand he said, “Adam, what can I do for ya?”

Hoss remained standing by the door as he watched his brother lean forward on Roy’s desk. “You know what you can do for me Roy. I want to know what you’re doing about finding the men that robbed Amy and Claire yesterday. I also want to know what information you have.”

In is easy but direct manner he replied, “Adam I don’t want any trouble over this. I will tell you this, we spoke to people that may have seen any strangers in town yesterday. I’ve gotten statements from both women and descriptions as best they could give. We rode out to the scene and have scoured the area. I’ve also sent wires to all the surrounding towns with descriptions. Soon as I finish this coffee we’re ‘bout to start out again.”

“Roy, you need to be out there now – not sitting here drinking coffee,” Adam fumed.

‘Don’t go tellin’ me how to do my job Adam.”

“If you don’t want me to tell you how to do your job it just might help if you actually did it.”

That was the comment that did it for Roy. He was not going to take this from any one, not even the Cartwrights whom he’d been friends with for years.

“You listen here Adam,” Roy said as Hoss moved from his position by the door to stand near Adam. Standing Roy looked Adam squarely in the eye and said, “I’m only going to take so much from you and that’s only because I know you and yer family. I know your fiancée was accosted and you’re mad. Anyone would be, but it’s going to be handled proper. If not, I got plenty of space for you just behind that door,” he said sternly.

Adam just sighed and did not respond to Roy at that moment. Hoss placed his hand on Adam’s shoulder.

“Roy, when you head out I’m going with you,” Adam said sharply.

“In your state of mind I don’t know if that’s the best thing.”

‘I’m going,” said Adam. “I’ll be waiting outside.” With that he turned on his heel and yanked open the door and walked out followed by Hoss.

Within a few minutes Roy came out of the office. Stretching he looked up and down the street. He was waiting for his deputies to arrive and then would be on their way. Hoss observed his brother. Seeing Adam’s resistance in the way Roy was going about things he asked, “Adam, what’cha want to do? We can go with Roy or take the information he gave us and head out on our own.”

Looking at his brother who was staring off into the distance, Adam finally said, “Let’s ride.”

Roy saw them mounting and called to them to stop. They did not look back but rode out of Virginia City at a swift pace. Their path would take them the route Amy and Claire had taken the day before.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

The Wales family was moving about ready to start the day’s chores. Ed was trying to manage his gun since he’d been shot by Joe. The use of his arm was returning and the pain reminded him of the person who had shot him – Joe.

“Put the dad-blamed gun away and make yourself useful,” yelled Andy.

Ed didn’t listen and was finally met with a blow across his hand by his father. “Ya heard me the first time – I ain’t gonna have to repeat myself. We’ll have time enough to get even with those Cartwrights.”

May looked at her husband and wished he’d not be so forceful with her sons. After Ed headed toward the barn she said, “You had no call to do that Andy. Ed’s just trying to get the full use of his arm back.”

“Maybe so. He can do some chores to help get the use back. Now you and Mary need to tend to your chores and leave the running of this ranch and the thinking of how we handle things to me. ‘Nuff said,” as he shot a piercing look at her.

As Ed approached the barn he could hear his brothers talking. He stood by the door and listened as they laughed about what they’d done the day before and what they were planning to do with the jewelry.

“You heard what pa said about hiding them rings,” Sam recounted.

“Look,” said Danny. “We can get a pretty good dollar fer ’em ‘specially the fancy one with them blue stones.”

“Pa will beat the life outta ya if you don’t leave ‘em hid like he said.”

“Don’t make no difference. Once he sees the money it’ll change his mind.”

Hearing this discussion between his brothers, Ed remained outside the barn. Peeking through the small opening, he watched as his brothers wrapped the rings in a cloth and placed them under several bales of hay. As they were making their way toward to barn door, Ed quickly moved and made himself scarce.

Adam and Hoss had followed the path taken before the robbery the day before. As they turned off the main road heading toward Amy’s house, there were few tracks as this was not a main road. They rode slowly with Hoss’ ever keen eye looking for tracks that may have been made by the two men. They saw the carriage tracks and then Hoss noticed something he’d seen before and he knew when and where he’d seen it. For the time being he said nothing to his brother. He pointed out to Adam where the men had entered the area and the tracks leading out of the area. It seemed they were headed west. As he peered at Adam he saw a pained and solemn look. He was sure he was probably trying to imagine what had taken place there.

“Adam you OK?”

With a pause he said, “Yes. I’m OK. I need to go see Claire. I promised to take her to see Amy and I’m concerned about how she is today …. but I don’t want to stop trying to find these men.”

“Adam, I’m here with ya. Claire needs ya and you need to see her. It’s written all over yer face. Now I kin do some more tracking and we can meet at Walker’s creek, say in about three hours.”

Adam paused for a moment. He heard the concern and sincerity in his brother’s voice and knew that he’d not let him down. He touched Hoss on the shoulder and said, “Three hours then.”

As he saw Adam ride off, Hoss knew what his brother was going through. His brother’s pain and anguish had become his.

 

 

FIFTY-NINE

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Ben was getting ready to head out when Hank Sanders rode up. He knew this was not a social call. Hank appeared as if he’d not rested well the night before. No one had.

“Howdy Hank,” Ben greeted his friend and neighbor.

Hank dismounted and made his way over to Ben. Seeing the look on his face Ben offered him some coffee which he readily accepted. Calling to Hop Sing, Ben requested the coffee and the two men sat down outside.

“Ben, I’ve come to talk to you about what happened to Claire yesterday.”

“I thought that might be the case. How is she today?”

“She’s coping with what happened. Seems some of the swelling has gone down. Margaret and I suspect that she’ll be fine … eventually.” He paused for a moment and then continued, “I’m madder than a hornet over this. I’ve been thinking on what needs to be done and what is being done. Whoever these men were are out there right now doing who knows what. I’m not one to go outside of the law, but this is my niece I’m talking about and her close friend. They could have been killed. I can’t stand for that type of thing happening and want your help to find them. They’ve got to be punished.”

Hearing the rage in Hank’s voice, Ben tried to remain as calm as he could. “Hank, I know this whole thing came as a shock to you. I hear your rage, understand it and feel the same. I’ve tried to think this through and although I’ve not said anything to Adam, there has to be closure to bring these men in. Roy Coffey is working this through, but I know that I can’t remain out of it. What I’ve tried to do, especially with Adam, is maintain some control over my feelings. Adam … is another story. He’s made up his mind that he’s going to find them and has already left. Fortunately, Hoss is with him. His frame of mind right now is out of control with rage. Just as I feared the worse for Amy and Claire, I am worried about him now. I was just saddling up to go into Virginia City to see what I could find out.”

“Ben I give Roy until the end of the day only at Margaret’s pleading. But if there is no news, me and my men will be riding out. That’s a promise,” he said angrily.

“Hank, if nothing turns up, I’ll ride with you. The only thing I ask is that we do this the right way. I know it’s hard to swallow, but I’ve got to exert control as well. Two wrongs will not make a right.”

“They should have thought of that before.”

“I hear you loud and clear Hank. Adam and Hoss should be returning later today with some news. From that we can move out. In the meantime, I’m going to ride into Virginia City.”

Just as he finished those words, he heard the sound of horses. Rounding the path leading to the ranch was Roy Coffey and his deputies.

“Howdy Ben … Hank. Is Adam here?”

“Why no Roy. I thought he was with you. He left earlier this morning to see you.”

“Well he and Hoss both saw me. Me and Adam had a bit of a set to and then he rode off.” Ben did not welcome this news.

“What have you come up with Roy?” asked Hank.

“We don’t have too much to go on now. Been searching through the general area and it appears we’re gonna have to extend the search area.”

“That means more men. Me and my hands can ride with you and cover more ground quicker. We can be ready in less than an hour.”

“Hank, you’re right. We do need more men, but only if they follow my orders.”

“Roy, you’ve got two more with me and Joe. Besides, there’s no time to waste as the trail could start to get cold.”

Roy looked at both men and agreed. Two things about Roy Coffey were that he’d do the best he could not turning down additional assistance if he needed it, and he’d be in charge with no questions asked always.

There was no sigh of relief for either Hank or Ben, but they both wanted this over. Ben more so because he was unsure of what Adam would be getting into. Adam could be relentless which in this case could prove to be bad. They agreed to meet in an hour at Points Crossing. Hank departed for his ranch, and Roy and his deputies rode out as Ben went to get Joe. They’d be ready.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Hoss found more than he wanted to on the trail. He knew he needed to follow his instincts which were to tell Adam a minimum of information for fear of an all-out war. He’d handle it his way. His neck began to tighten as he thought of who the perpetrators might be. He hoped this was not the case, but believed he was right.

Adam arrived to meet Hoss as planned.

“How’d ya find Claire and Amy?”

“They’re healing,” was all he said. Hoss figured they were back to the one or two word answers again.

“What did you come up with?”

“Well Adam, I found that the tracks were leading west as I suspected. I think the best thing fer us is to head that way. Only town in that direction is Carson City. Beyond that there ain’t a real town for about another fifty miles or so. It may be that they are holding up there. Jes one way to find out. ”

He looked at his brother and nodded. His way of saying thanks and then in hurried tones he said, “Well then it’s Carson City.” They mounted and headed in that direction.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

.
With his pa out digging post holes, Ed Wales found his way back to the barn. His brothers were helping his father. He wanted to get a look at what was hidden under the bales of hay. Making certain that he was not seen, he entered the barn and made his way over the spot. He carefully moved the hay and found what he was looking for. As he unfolded the cloth, he was surprised to see two rings. One gold band and the other something – he was not sure what – but sensed it would bring a pretty penny. He carefully wrapped them back up and placed them in his pocket and then put the hay back in place. He thought to himself, it would serve his pa and brothers right if he were to take these into town and see what he could get for them. His brothers he was sure weren’t smart enough to know how to sell them and his pa … well it would serve his pa right for what he’d done to him that morning. As far as he was concerned, they didn’t tell him anything about these rings and if they were missing, his pa was sure to point to one of his two brothers. Certainly not him.

Running out of wire Andy muttered under his breath. He wanted this job completed. One thing he could not tolerate was the laziness of his sons. His ire was rising to the surface as the wire was supposed to be brought home the day before. His sons had gotten so caught up in their “fun” activity of harassing the women that they’d forgotten. Wiping the sweat from his brown, he yelled for Ed and Sam. Cursing under his breath at the thought of the day’s work having to be halted.

‘What’cha yelling fer pa?” asked Sam.

“You and Danny were supposed to bring fencing wire with ya yesterday. Well now we’re almost out and this here fencing ain’t gonna git finished today. Now git the wagon and fetch that wire.”

“But pa, it’s getting late in the day. I don’t see why it can’t wait until tomorrow,” was Sam’s reply.

“I didn’t ask ya what you thought boy. Now git your brother Ed and fetch that wire. He ain’t much good for more than that right now anyway.” Seeing the look on Sam’s face he said loudly, “Boy you best git to movin before you can’t. I ain’t got time for your laziness. And don’t be all day about it. When ya get back, we’ll put it out so that this can be finished early in the morning. Ain’t gonna waste no more time.”

Sam knew his father’s temper and was not ready to get on the wrong side of it. He hitched up the wagon and then found Ed. They headed out and Ed thought this was just perfect timing. He’d have a chance to seek out prospects for the sale of what was in his pocket. As they made their way to Carson City, Adam and Hoss were doing the same.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

They rode into Carson City slowly and made their way over to the sheriff’s office. They entered and there was just a man sweeping out the cells.

“Where’s the sheriff?” asked Adam.

The man looked up and said, “He went over to Long Ridge. Should be back soon though.”

Hoss remembered the encounter that had taken place in this very office not so long ago. He hoped the sheriff would be cooperative and that Adam could maintain his composure. He knew this was not going to be the case. He’d shown during the ride the fierceness and intensity of finding these men. He would have to be sure if what he expected was true, that he could keep Adam from doing something he’d regret. This was not going to be easy for him as he wanted to settle the score as well.

”Have you seen a man around here with scratches on his face?” Adam queried.

Stopping his sweeping, the man looked up and said, “Nope,” and went back to sweeping.

Hoss nudged Adam on the arm and said, since the sheriff ain’t gonna be back for a bit, why don’t we git something to eat and wait fer him. ‘Sides, there ain’t too much we can do until he does git back.”

Adam did not like the sound of Hoss’ words but knew he was right. “I’m not hungry Hoss but could do with something to drink.” Looking at the man once again Adam said, “I’m going to be in the saloon. Can you let me know when the sheriff get’s back?”

“Fer a price, I’ll do it,” was the reply. Adam sighed and flipped a coin to the man.

“Thank ya kindly. Be sure to let’cha know.”

They left the sheriff’s office and Hoss said, “Adam, maybe you’re not hungry but I am. I’m going over to that there restaurant to git something to eat. I’ll meet ya back in the saloon.”

Adam was standing with his hands on his hips taking in the surroundings about him. The afternoon sun was causing him to squint as he did so.

“Hey brother, did ya hear what I said?”

“Ah yeah Hoss. I’ll wait for you in the saloon.”

Adam walked through the swinging doors to the sound of raucous tones. He went to the bar and ordered a beer. Before he found his way to a table, he asked the barkeep if he’d seen a man with scratches on his face. The answer was no. Finding his way to a table, he tossed his hat on it and sat back sipping the cool liquid. His thoughts began to try to piece together all the loose ends.

Ed was not much use to Sam in loading the wire. He said,” Sam, while we’re in town, why don’t we stop a get us a drink before we head back. I’ll buy since I ain’t no good at helping load this here wire.”

Looking at his brother, he had to agree that he wasn’t any good for manual labor, but since his brother offered to buy him a drink or maybe two, he could overlook it this time. “OK Ed, I’ll meet you in the Silver Star once I’m finished here.” Ed headed down the street and found his way into the bar.

From where Adam was sitting, he could see who entered and who left. Finishing his beer, he waved to the barkeep for another. Where was that sheriff he wondered? His patience was wearing thin. He noticed Ed as he entered the saloon. He appeared to need a bath and haircut two times over. Leaning on the bar and sipping his whiskey, Ed surveyed the patrons. He was trying to find a customer for his merchandise. He spotted Adam and realized he’d not seen him before in Carson City. Perhaps he would be a good source. After all, he was dressed in decent clothes albeit somewhat dusty and had a good quality of boot on his foot. Surely he would have some money on him. He’d watch him and figure it out.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Danny was muttering and tossing hay bales all around the barn. The rings were gone and all he could think of were his miserable brothers. They’d left for Carson City and he was certain they’d taken the rings with them. If they planned to try to pull a fast one, he was not going to let it happen. He tossed out of his mind what his pa had told him about staying on the ranch. His Kentucky blood was boiling. He saddled his horse and quickly sped away.

Sam had just about finished with the loading of the wire. Ed decided that Adam was someone that he would talk to – get a feel for who he was – and if this could be a person he could make a sale to. After all, he was certain he was not from Carson City and would probably be pulling out. What harm could be done? The rings would be no where in the territory if this worked out. He walked over to the table where Adam was sitting. Adam cut his eyes at the stranger that stood before him.

“Mind if I join ya? Saw ya sittin here by yerself and thought maybe we could strike up a conversation while I wait for my brother.”

Adam really didn’t want to be bothered, but thought why not. Anything was better than running the same thoughts through his head time and again. Without saying a word, he motioned to the empty chair and Ed sat down. Adam could sum up the character of this person in one fell swoop. Ed started up a conversation as Adam drank his beer, Hoss was finishing his meal, Sam headed to the saloon to meet up with Ed and Danny along with his anger sped toward Carson City.

 

 

SIXTY

* * * * * * * * * * * *

As the long shadow of the day started to appear, the noise level in the saloon started to rise. From somewhere in the din a lively selection was being played on a piano as cowhands entered to assuage their thirsts after a day’s work. Adam sat nursing his beer. Through stern and cautious eyes, he viewed the person who sat across from him. His look, for those who knew him, was one of disinterest in this conversation … his mind was elsewhere. His patience was beginning to wear thin. Hoss should be arriving any minute and if the sheriff didn’t show soon, he’d move ahead without him. His rage was once again overtaking his conscious thought. Ed continued to talk … perhaps too much. He was saying something that Adam did not quite hear. He didn’t need to ask very many questions of Ed as his imbibing was propelling him to talk freely. Adam could glean quite a bit of information just listening.

“Ya don’t seem to be too talkative,” said Ed.

“I am when I have something to say,” he replied dryly.

“I guess some of us are talkers and some of us are listeners,” was Ed’s glib response. “Seems like ya got something on yer mind. Now if you do, maybe I got something here that can take yer mind off what you might be thinking.”

“Oh? And what might that be?”

“Just something perty special but it will cost ya.”

“I’m not in the mood to play games or make any purchases right now,” Adam responded as he looked for his brother to come through the door.

“You ain’t seen what I got yet. Besides, you look like you might have a few dollars you wouldn’t mind a partin’ with. Think it might be worth a look see.”

“Have your every heard the expression a fool and his money are soon parted?” Adam asked.

“I ain’t sayin yer a fool, but I think that sometimes it’s worth a look see.”

Becoming annoyed Adam sat his empty glass on the table and leaned forward. “I’ve already said I wasn’t interested. Besides it appears that whatever you have is an ill-gotten gain. So, let’s just leave it at that, shall we?”

At that moment the swinging doors parted and Danny strolled in placing his gloves in his pocket. He ordered a whiskey and then looked for his brother. Seeing him sitting in the back he strolled over.

“Hey Danny, pull up a seat. I was just talking to a … to … I never got yer name. This here’s my brother Danny.”

Danny looked at the man sitting across from him. He placed his hat farther back on his head and began to take a sip of the whiskey. Adam just watched and said, “Adam. The name is Adam.”

“Hot diggity,” said Ed slapping his leg. “Jes like outta the Bible with Adam and Eve.”

“There’s a difference. This is not the Garden of Eden,” was Adam’s dry reply.

Staring at Adam, Danny had an uneasy feeling about this man. He seemed to be about no nonsense and was not a person that one would want to get on the wrong side of. He said hello and then turned to his brother, “Better finish up that drink. We gotta get back to the ranch.”

“There’s no real hurry Danny. Jes sit a spell.”

“I’m a sittin’ jes long enough to finish this drink. Then we best be going.”

Adam looked up and saw his brother peering over the doors to the saloon. Hoss was alarmed at what he saw and knew the eminent danger of this situation. Not having divulged all he knew to his brother, there was no way that Adam could know these were possibly the culprits they were looking for. He chose not to enter but signaled for Adam to join him. Adam picked up his hat and put it on. “It’s time I get going. Enjoy your drinks,” was the last comment Adam made as he strolled out the swinging doors.

Taking him by the arm, Hoss walked Adam across the street to where their horses were tied. “Any sign of the sheriff?”

“None.”

* * * * * * * * * * * *

The posse that rode with Roy had split up to cover more ground. The trail they’d picked up was headed west but there was a lot of territory in between. It was still daylight but would not be for long. The thought of spending the night camped out was soon to become a reality for them. They’d come too far to return to Virginia City. They made camp.

Ben and Joe were beginning to feel the irritation of being in the saddle too long.

“Pa, we haven’t found Adam or Hoss yet. As good as Hoss is in tracking, I’m sure he picked up on the possibility of the men headed to Carson City. I can’t see any reason for them to be moving in any other direction.”

Sighing and shifting in his saddle, Ben said, “You’re probably right. We could make Carson City before nightfall if we continue. I’m just not sure what we’ll find but I certainly hope its Adam and Hoss … and in one piece.”

“Pa, you don’t think something may have happened to them do ya?”

“I hope not Joe. I hope not.”

Ben rode over to Roy and told him that he and Joe would be heading into Carson City. If there was no sign of the men, they would begin working their way back toward them. This would cover ground from two ends that would possibly narrow the search and cut down on time.

“Ah, I don’t know Ben. We’ve been in the saddle for over twelve hours today and covered every square inch between Virginia City and here. It’s gonna be dark soon and the men are tired and hungry. What you’re proposing to do may make sense,” he said as he rubbed his chin in thought.

“Roy, pa and I joined up with you later today and have only spent half the amount of time searching. Now we can keep moving. This needs to be resolved soon.”

Knowing that Roy did not want to be told his job, Ben quickly said,” Joe is right. We can continue. I also need to find Adam and if he should be in Carson City, I can keep a tight rein on him.”

“Carson City is not in my jurisdiction Ben. Raif Calhoun is sheriff there and he’s already been wired about this. If they are tracked to Carson City, they will have to be returned to Virginia City.” He wiped his brow and said, “Ben, because it’s you and only because of that, I say go ahead. But, know this. I’ve warned your other two boys but I’m not going to warn you … this is to be done legal if they are found. I believe that you’ll do the best you can to see that it is handled that way if it should come to that.”

“Thanks Roy. If we should find them, one of us will backtrack to let you know and get Sheriff Calhoun involved.”

“Sounds good Ben. We’ll be on the move again at sunrise.”

As Joe and Ben turned their horses to head out, Roy called to them. “Ben, just remember … if you do find them … keep it within the law!”

Heading west, they moved swiftly and cautiously feeling the cooling breeze of the lateness of the day on their faces.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Leaving the sheriff’s office, Adam slammed the door. He’d not yet returned. Hoss realized that he needed to speak to his brother and do it now. Adam was ready to search on his own and was not going to be dissuaded.

“Adam, I think we need to talk. There’s some things I need to tell ya. Now I want ya ta listen before you say anything … and as you always say, think before ya act.”

“What is it Hoss? I’m looking to settle a score and I can’t let that go. You knew that from the beginning.”

“Yep, I knew that from the beginning and still do. If I didn’t care about what happened and you I wouldn’t be with ya right now. I’m madder than a hornet fer sure. Now I know what ya must be feelin’ and I know what you feel ya need to do. I can see from your eyes that there’s gonna be no stoppin ya. So I’ll help ya, but in the right way.”

Adam turned and gave his brother a piercing look. “Then let’s get at it.”

“Jes a minute Adam. There’s some things you need ta know. Them two fellas you were having a drink with – do you know who they are?”

“Not for sure. They just joined me at the table. I wasn’t paying a lot of attention. One was named Ed and the other Danny. Why?”

“Their last name is Wales. Out on the trail today I saw a hoof print that I recognized from when our cattle were stampeded. I saw the same print from the horse Danny Wales was riding when we were at the Wales ranch over in Coley Falls.”

Adam turned and looked with darkened eyes at his brother. He was waiting for the next surprise that he was sure to come. He said, “I suppose the one with his arm in a sling is the one that Joe shot?”

“Yep, Adam. He’s the one.”

Adam turned in haste and made his way across the street toward the saloon.

 

 

SIXTY-ONE

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Bursting through the saloon doors Adam looked at the table he’d abruptly left a short while before expecting to find Ed and Danny Wales. They were not there. He quickly looked around the room. Not seeing them he strode directly to the bar. Hoss remained near the door with his hands on his hips looking around in case they were in fact still there.

Adam leaned over the bar and called to the barkeeper. Indicating that he’d be with Adam in a minute, Adam leaned over the bar and grabbed him by the vest and said, “I don’t have a moment. I need an answer and I need it now.” Pointing to where he was sitting earlier he asked, “Where are the two men that were sitting at that table with me earlier?

Adam’s actions had startled the barkeeper. Stuttering and feeling Adam’s grip tighten he said, “I .. I … I’m not sure. They left just a couple of minutes ago.” Adam shoved him away by the vest causing him to fall up against the wall. Making his way to the door he stormed out. “They can’t have gotten very far. Let’s split up and find them.”

“Sure Adam, I’ll head down this way,” said Hoss as he began to walk away. Adam looked in the other direction trying to think where they may have headed. After all, he and Hoss had just left the sheriff’s office and they didn’t see them. He could only assume that they were perhaps on a side street. Propelled by a force that was taking control of him, he moved to find them. As he was crossing the street, a lone rider was making his way hastily down a well-worn path in the street. He looked at the rider and decided to ask if he’d seen two men heading out of town.

If he knew what was about to come his way, Sam Wales would have heeded is father’s warning to stay on the ranch. Two men were driven for satisfaction at any costs it seemed – Adam from those who accosted two women and Sam – from his brothers whom he believed were cheating him.

As Sam finished tying his horse and stepped up toward the direction of the Silver Star Adam said, “Excuse me ….” He did not finish his question. Sam had turned in Adam’s direction and Adam immediately saw the scratches on Sam’s face. A flash of what Claire’s face looked like and they way she’d been violated took over. Adam threw a punch that knocked Sam into the street with a force that had just about knocked Sam out. Adam pulled him to his feet and hit him with another fierce blow which caused Sam to fall to the ground between buildings. Trying to regain some sense of what was taking place, Sam tried to crawl to his feet. It was hopeless for him as Adam was forcing his punches to land with intent. Adam’s adrenalin was pumping and he’d caught Sam off guard. Lifting his hand to counter the next punch being thrown by Adam, Sam was able to grab hold of Adam about the waist and they both tumbled to the ground. Sam, fearing the worst from the man with the dark angry eyes tried to reach for his gun. Able to free it from its holster, Adam struggled with him and a shot was fired into the air. The struggle continued and Sam was forced to drop the gun. Sam tried to defend himself against Adam but more was driving Adam than Sam knew of at that moment. Adam threw Sam against the side of the building and was about to inflict more punishment when he heard his name being called.

“Adam … Adam. Let him go. You’re gonna kill him.” It was Hoss who heard the shot and came running. He’d pushed his way through the crowd that was beginning to form and made his way toward his brother.

Adam was not hearing his brother. About to level another blow, Hoss grabbed Adam’s arm to stop him. It was clear to Hoss that Sam had been on the receiving end of Adam’s wrath and anything more was not going to do anyone any good. He shouted again, “Adam! That’s enough!”

This time it registered and Adam let go of Sam. Sam just slid to the ground showing signs of punishment he’d just received. Stepping back and trying to catch his breath, Adam rubbed his hand and watched as Hoss picked Sam up. “Adam, I think we need to get him over to the jail. We may even need to get him a doctor.” Adam just rubbed his hand that leveled the pain and nodded. Retrieving his hat and Sam’s gun, they ushered him to the jail.

Inside the jail they took over. Sheriff Raif Calhoun still had not returned. They put Sam in a cell and Hoss poured water and found cloths to try to clean Sam up. It was not an easy thing for Hoss as he was still angry and was now seeing this man in front of him again. He opened the door and placed the cloths and water down. Looking up at Hoss, Sam said, “Cartwright. You into hiring someone to get your revenge are ya?”

“There’s no need for that,” said Adam. “Any of us Cartwright’s can take care of ourselves. We also take care of and defend anyone close to us. The pain you’re feeling now is an indication of that.”

Sam looked puzzled. Adam’s voice changed as he said, “I’m a Cartwright. Adam Cartwright … and you’ve tread in an area that you should not have. You’ve put yourself and your brothers in a position that I would not want to be in.”

“So you’re a Cartwright. Wait till my pa hears what you’ve done. You ain’t seen trouble yet and you had no call to attack me.”

“I didn’t require a call to take care of a matter of two women being accosted and stolen from,” Adam said coldly. “Kentucky may treat women in that type of way, but here in Nevada we don’t – and don’t accept that from anyone. You stepped into territory you should not have trespassed when you stole from and beat the woman I’m going to marry and injured her friend. Now is that clear to you?”

“You’re outta yer mind,” said Sam.

“No Sam, he’s not,” Hoss added. “When I check the hoof print on yer horse, I’m sure it’s gonna match up with the prints found at the scene of the robbery.”

Sam’s look took on a different expression. His face told the story and he showed signs of worry.

Locking the cell, Hoss quickly scribbled a note for Sheriff Calhoun. He and Adam left the office to find two more Wales brothers. Their comeuppance was yet to be levied.

 

 

SIXTY-TWO
* * * * * * * * * * * *

The two brothers stepped outside the sheriff’s office.

“What next Adam?” asked Hoss.

He didn’t reply. His inner mechanics were working. He was feeling the pain in his hand and was calling upon his lost self control to walk him through the answer to his brother’s question.

Hoss looked at him and could see that his anger had not dissipated. He could also see that there was something weighing on Adam’s mind. He knew that he could only surmise what it might be. He sighed as he waited for a response and began to realize the extent of his own anger over this situation. He’d accompanied his brother as a support to him, but examining his own conscience, he too knew that he wanted to exact justice as well. The beating that his brother had handed Sam could have been much worse as Adam released his wrath. He knew all too well that Adam would not behave in this manner if this was not a matter that touched his heart and soul. There was not going to be a release until this matter was settled. He knew it would be – and very soon.

The sun was now setting – a cool breeze began to swirl around them. Adam turned to face his brother. Looking at him, he found it hard to say the words he knew needed to be said – a way to thank his brother for stopping him from doing more harm to Sam Wales. Typical Adam Stoddard Cartwright he thought. He was not going to offer any excuses for his actions as he believed none were necessary.

He spoke direct. “We’ll wait. We’ll wait for Sheriff Calhoun. I’ve just beaten a man and he’s now locked up.”

Hoss looked at his brother somewhat surprised. “Adam, I don’t know what’s goin’ in yer head, but I do know there’s got to be some reason for this change. I ain’t fer sure what it is, but I’m guessing that common sense is taking its place over or right next to yer pain.”

Adam knew Hoss was able to put into the simplest of words his view of things. He was doing it again. “Hoss,” he sighed. “I’m not going to stand here and tell you that this is over for me. There’s still justice to be meted out. But whatever happens next won’t be far in the offing – I’m sure of that. Right now, I see us as having the upper hand. With Sam Wales in jail it won’t be long before his pa and brothers get word of it. They’re sure to show up here. Although I find it hard, we’ll wait and let them find us. In the meantime, …. we wait for the sheriff to return so that he’s involved in this matter. As it stands right now, I can possibly be charged with assault. It could have been worse – it could have been murder.”

Hoss pushed his hat back on his head and just nodded at his brother. They went back into the jail to wait.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Ben and Joe were nearing the crossroad that would lead them to Carson City. Neither said much as they hurried to arrive before the sun had set. Crossing both of their minds was whether Adam and Hoss were safe. If things were as they both thought, trouble was not going to be far off – particularly if the Wales family was involved. They needed to get there quickly.

The door to the jail opened and Sheriff Raif Calhoun and his deputy Cole Bertram entered. Raif recognized Hoss but not Adam. “Well, what brings you to Carson City? I can’t believe that it’s our warmth and charm.”

“We’ve a prisoner for you in one of your cells,” responded Adam.

There was a look of surprise on both the lawmen’s faces. Cole went to look. Within a minute he returned and said, “Raif, sure ‘nuf. Sam Wales is in locked up. Look like he’s been in some sort of an accident.”

The sheriff looked through the door to the cell and closing the door behind him asked, “Tell me what this is all about and under whose authority Sam is locked up.”

“First of all, I’m Adam Cartwright. You know my brother Hoss. You should have received a wire from Roy Coffee, sheriff of Virginia City indicating a search underway and description of two men who robbed and accosted two women there.”

“I’ve been gone for the last fifteen hours and anything that has come in I’ve not had a chance to read. That still does not explain why that man is in that cell and in that condition.”

There was a silence as Adam looked at Hoss, the deputy and then back at Sheriff Calhoun. “I put him there and in that condition,” was Adam’s response.

“Suppose you give me the details,” stated Sheriff Calhoun as he sat in the chair behind his desk.

“There’s not much to tell. The man in that cell is one of the perpetrators of the crime I just mentioned. Unfortunately for him, we met accidentally on the street and a fight ensued. It’s also unfortunate that he received the worst of it.”

“I’m not sure that I understand this. I’m going to need a full report from you and from him as to what happened.”

“I’m sure that you do and I’m prepared to give it. However, there are still two men, we believe his brothers that need to be found and brought in to join him in that cell.”

“Cole,” said Sheriff Calhoun. “Go in there and get a statement from Sam.” Cole moved quickly while the Sheriff looked at both Adam and Hoss.

“I’m waiting Adam Cartwright.”

“Sam Wales and his brother beat and robbed two women in Virginia City. One of them is the woman that I am going to marry. The bruises and the emotional condition that they were left with were and are totally unacceptable. Sheriff Coffey has a posse out looking for them.”

Hoss was reading a not-so-welcome story look on Sheriff Calhoun’s face and then cleared his throat in hopes that Adam would not freely place himself in jeopardy of being locked up as well.

“That doesn’t explain how he got into that cell or his condition,” spewed Sheriff Calhoun.

Adam sighed and said, “He’s in that condition as the outcome of a fight and in that cell because he needs to be officially arrested for his actions.”

“We’ll see how what you tell me and what Sam tells Cole adds up.”

“That’s fine with us Sheriff,” said Hoss. “In the meantime, there are two brothers that need to be found and talked to right quick.”

“The bottom line is simply this,” said Adam whose anger was once again rearing its head. “I, and I’m speaking personally, set out to find the men that committed this crime. A person involved in the outcome of this crime is very close to me. We know that the one who did the beating was severely scratched on the face. In tracking the men, all signs led here. We waited for you for more hours than I care to count. Ultimately, we set out to try to attempt to locate more information and if possible the men. Sam Wales, in his stupidity just happened to ride down your main street, and just happened to stop not far from me, and just happened to look at me with the scratched face and it just happened that a fight broke out in which he received the short end. Now we need to find his brothers as they are somehow mixed up in this. We need you to help us to find them so they can be identified and transferred to Virginia City for trial.”

Within a few minutes Cole exited the cell area. “Well?” asked Sheriff Calhoun. “What does he have to say?”

Cole rubbed the back of his neck and said, “He says he ain’t got nothin’ to say. Wants to have his pa brought in here.”

“Look Sheriff,” said Hoss. “We didn’t start this trouble but we aim to try to get it settled. Now I’m sure if you look through that pile of paper on yer desk, there’s bound to be somethin’ there from Sheriff Roy Coffee.”

Picking up a stack of mail and wires, Sheriff Calhoun looked at Adam. “I can understand I think what really happened here. Your hand did not just manage to increase in size from just plain flexing it. It’s obvious to me that you were seeking to settle the score.”

“Look at it anyway you wish, Sheriff, but we’re wasting time not trying to locate his brothers,” was Adam’s dry response.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Their wagon’s wheel began to loosen as they were headed back to the ranch. Ed and Dan were forced to stop on the road to repair it. Hearing hoof beats, they saw a patron of the saloon approaching who was obviously on his way home. The rider slowed his horse and inquired if they needed any help. The response was a flat and cold no. He started to ride on when he stopped, laughed and said, “Looks like this is not gonna be a good night for any of you boys. You may not need help, but your brother sure took a beatin’ and is in jail. Maybe he can use some help.”

 

 

SIXTY-THREE

* * * * * * * * * * * *

The words resonated in their ears. Their brother was in jail? How could that be? Pa told him to stay put on the ranch.

They’d finishing repairing the loose wheel and were trying to decide what to do. They could continue home with the fencing wire they were sent to get. After all that would not cause a problem for them with their pa or they could head back to Carson City to see if it were true about their brother.

Danny made the decision. “Git in the wagon. We’d better git home to pa and make sure that Sam is not at the ranch.”

“What if it’s true he’s in jail?”

“If’n it’s true, Sam’s gonna have a larger problem than jes bein locked up.” They headed for home.

Pulling into the yard, Ed saw his sister. “Where’s Sam?”

“Ain’t seen him for a spell. Don’t rightly know,” answered Mary.

Danny had made his way over to the barn to look inside for Sam. He didn’t find Sam but saw that the hay bales had been disturbed. Inspecting this sight, he found that the rings he and Ed had hidden were gone. This might explain part of the news but he had to find his pa. Rushing from the barn he was stopped by Mary.

“Danny, what’s wrong? Ed jes asked for Sam and you look like you’re upset ‘bout somethin’.”

“Jes get outta my way Mary. I gotta find pa,” he said as he shoved her out of his way.

This was one time too many for Mary. She and her ma had taken abuse and bad treatment from their father much too long and now were getting the same from her brothers as well. Her heart was good but her temper was riled. She’d had enough. Her problem was that she had no way to get away from this family and could not leave her ma alone to have to fend with them. She rushed into the house to tell her ma that something was terribly wrong.

Ed and Danny found their way down to the creek where their pa was. He heard the quick steps and turned to face the sound.

“You boys sure took yer time getting back here with that fencing wire. We’re starting at sunrise.”

Reaching their pa, Danny said, “Pa, where’s Sam?”

“Ain’t seen that no account fer a while. Done looked everywhere fer him and found his horse gone. He’s gonna have the devil to pay when he gits back here.”

“Pa,” continued Danny, “I think Sam’s in jail. Claude Colby passed us on the road and said that he was. Weren’t sure was true – so we rushed home to see if’n he was here.”

“What are we gonna do ‘bout this pa?” asked Ed. “Colby said he was also in a fight.”

The anger seething from their pa was nearing the point of erupting.

“That stupid brother of yours. I told him to stay on the ranch. Well he ain’t no where ‘round here. Saddle yer horses – we’re goin to town to find out what happened and git him home.”

Hearing the sounds coming from the barn, Mary and her ma came out of the house. They headed toward the barn as the three Wales men rode out.

“Andy,” called May. “What is it? Where ya goin?”

“Goin’ to get that no-account son of yours. Seems like he done got in a fight and got himself locked up.”

“But how could that be? He was here on the ranch like you told him to be,” she said worriedly.

“Woman, we ain’t got time to waste. You sure didn’t give me children worth much.”

His words stung her. Mary put her hands on her mother’s shoulders as she watched her husband and two sons speed off.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Sheriff Calhoun finished talking to Sam Wales in hopes of getting some information from him. He’d left his deputy in the outer office with Adam and Hoss to be sure they didn’t leave.

The conversation did not prove productive in Sheriff Calhoun’s estimation. He returned to where Adam and Hoss were. Tossing the keys on his desk, he sat down and reared back in his chair.

“You Cartwrights have been nothing but trouble each of the last few times you’ve come to Carson City. First it was the fire. Then it was the stampede. Now you’re here with a “new Cartwright” saying there was a beating and a robbery. So far you ain’t provided any proof. Now don’t git me wrong. I know your father and have a great deal of respect for him – but it seems like he’s got something stuck in his craw with the Wales family. Now Roy Coffey is a different story.”

Hoss’ temper was getting the best of him. “Sheriff, ain’t none of us Cartwrights had a problem with the Wales until they tried to shoot my younger brother and me. His son got shot and it’s been one thing after another from them.”

“Listen … your pa came riding here with two of ya to confront the Wales because of the fire. You weren’t able to prove anything then and it doesn’t seem that you can prove anything now … but I’ll check it out. It’s the least I can do.”

Adam, although not calm stood up and said, “You stand corrected sheriff, it’s what you’re supposed to do.”

Hoss put his hand on Adam’s shoulder to signal he needed to remain in control. “Sheriff, I hear what you’re saying – but can you answer something for me?” asked Adam.

“Fine Cartwright – what is it?”

“You just came from talking to Sam. What did he tell you, and further, what are you going to do about this situation?”

The sheriff stood up. He walked to the other side of the office and whispered something into his deputy’s ear. There was a nodding of heads and the deputy left. Turning to face Adam he said, “We’re going to pay a visit to the Wales to check out your claims. I’ve jes sent my deputy to the telegraph office to see if there is a wire there from Roy Coffey and to have him send a wire.”

This was all Adam could take. “I’ve already told you that Roy Coffey is out on the trail looking for these men! Any wire you send now he won’t receive!”

“Just hold your horses Cartwright. Sam says the two of you had a mutual disagreement and that it ended in a fight. You just got the better of him and he doesn’t intend to press charges against you. Until I get a wire from Coffey or some confirmation of the charges, I can only hold Sam for a short time.”

The blood was rushing to the face of Adam as he leaned over the back of a chair and lowered his head. Hoss knew that Sheriff Calhoun was known to be cautious in how he handled matters but seemed to him to be dragging his feet on this. He was feeling the frustration.

Taking a shotgun from the gun rack, Sheriff Calhoun said, “Let’s get mounted and head out to the Wales place. My deputy will meet us.”

There was merely a sigh from Adam as he placed his hat on his head. As they turned toward the door, the door was flung open with such force that it hit the wall. Andy Wales and his two sons along with what seemed like the wrath of the ages burst into the office. The entrance caused Adam and Hoss both to reach for their guns.

“Where’s my boy?” shouted Andy Wales.

“Jes one minute Wales,” Calhoun said. “This is my office and your presence here will be only and if only I allow it. Now you jes simmer down and we’ll all git some answers. If you can’t control yourself, you’re going to have a problem.”

Ed and Danny both recognized Hoss from earlier confrontations. They did not recognize the man that stood across from them with venom in his eyes.

“Wales, I got your son locked up in the cell here. I was just on my way to see you. Now, I’ll talk to you. Your two sons need to wait outside.”

“My sons ain’t going anywhere. Now I want ta see my boy!”

He primed the rifle he held in his hands. “I’m only gonna tell you once. Your boys wait outside! And when you come into this office you act like you’ve got some sense.”

Andy looked at his boys and nodded toward the door. They slowly turned and left. Calhoun uncocked the rifle and put it down. Turning to Adam and Hoss he said, “You two can wait outside as well.”

“I hardly think so,” said Adam. “As accusers, we have the right to remain present. So, unless you want to use that rifle on us, we’re not leaving.”

Frustrated by lack of rest and this situation facing him, Calhoun knew that Adam had a point. He begrudgingly conceded.

“Sheriff I wanna know what yer holdin’ my boy fer,” Wales yelled.

“Your son is being held on suspicion of robbery and assault,” Calhoun said candidly. I’ve a complaint from Adam Cartwright and have reason to believe the sheriff of Virginia City is searching for two men – one possibly being Sam. I’m waiting for a response to my wire.”

“This is hog wash! Who is it he’s supposed to have assaulted and what did he rob? From what I understand, he’s the one that was assaulted.” Without waiting for a response, he continued, “I demand to see Sam and I mean right now!”

‘I’ll let ya see your son Wales, but you better calm yourself down first.”

Andy Wales turned to Adam and Hoss. “Your family has been a messin with us far too long. That’s somethin’ we’ll take up later. You jes remember that.”

Sheriff Calhoun opened the door leading to Sam’s cell, took Andy’s gun and led him in as Adam and Hoss watched. Leaving the door to the cell area open, he returned to the office area.

“I’m going to hold Sam for twenty-four hours Cartwright. If I don’t get word from Roy Coffey by then – I’m going to have to release him.”

 

 

SIXTY-FOUR
Conclusion

* * * * * * * * * * * *

The sound of the word ‘release’ from Sheriff Calhoun’s mouth to both Adam’s and Hoss’ ears were as if ineptness had crept into the sheriff’s ability to take charge. The sun had not set and the day was moving into night. The attitude of the two Ponderosa brothers was becoming as dark as night. They’d come too far to see that justice was done and were certain to make sure that the trip was worth it.

Andy Wales was speaking to Sam in quiet but angry tones through the jail cell bars.

“But pa,” Sam said trying to defend himself. “Ed and Danny took them rings and I know fer sure they were going to try to sell ‘em.”

“Boy keep yer voice down! Ya don’t know nothing of the kind. I told you not to leave the ranch with them there scratches. It would be a dead giveaway. Now I gotta find a way to git you outta here before they’re able to find proof of what you and Danny did. Them rings and your being stupid have caused all this here trouble.”

‘I’m sorry pa, but the sheriff says he can only hold me for twenty-four hours with no evidence. I should be able to walk outta here same time tomorrow.”

“You are a sorry son,” he said in disgust. “You best hope so. Gotta get those Cartwrights off our backs and see to it that you don’t end up in here permanently,” Andy said quietly. “You best be glad that you got a beatin from that Adam Cartwright … cause you certainly know what you would a gotten from me. Now you keep yer mouth shut and don’t say a word. The other Cartwright seems to be a bit too smart.”

There was no reason for Adam and Hoss to remain just sitting in the sheriff’s office. Sam was locked up for the night and there didn’t seem to be any more that could be done here by them. Deputy Bertram returned to the sheriff’s office to find that the Wales were in town so no riding out to their ranch.

Entering he said, “Raif, there’s nothing fer you from Virginia City … no wire from Sheriff Coffey so far. Clayton says the line between here and Virginia City is down. With luck it should be up and running tomorrow.

“Great! Just great!” muttered Adam as he rose and walked to the other side of the office. Hoss just pushed his hat back on his head and sat in a chair near the window in disbelief.

“I want you to listen to me,” Calhoun offered. “I know you’re very serious about these charges. I also know that Sam probably would not be in the condition he’s in and locked up in that cell if you weren’t near sure. What you gotta understand is that I need proof. I can’t do anything without it. It’s just your words against his.”

“As soon as Andy is through talking to his son, I’m going to question him. I then plan to speak to each of his sons alone. To be honest with the two of you, I have a hunch that you’re dead right. I just need to be able to have more and will make the effort to get it. They have a questionable reputation around these parts and I would venture to guess their luck is running out. Knowing them the way I do, they may each tell a contradictory story that will get us to the bottom of this. I know you may not think it much at this point, but that is the way I’m gonna handle it for now … it’s the only avenue I have now.”

Adam cut his eyes at the sheriff and said, “I hear ya. We’re going to the telegraph office to see if the wire that Roy Coffee sent to the other towns can be sent here. It could be that the line is only down between Virginia City and here. I don’t think your deputy thought of that,” said Adam.

“Perhaps he didn’t Cartwright,” responded the sheriff. “But if that will keep you outta our hair while we work out the details and get their stories, then you best get going. Cole will keep an eye out to see that we don’t lose ‘em.”

As Adam and Hoss opened the door, Calhoun said, “Cartwright! We’ll do everything we can. I don’t want any more trouble right now … so a word to the wise.”

With his hand on his hip as he listened to the sheriff, Adam asked, “Which way to the telegraph office?”

* * * * * * * * * * *

Exiting the sheriff’s office, they noticed Ed and Danny were seated just a short distance from the door with their heads close together in conversation. Adam turned on his heel and was about to head toward them when Hoss put a heavy hand on his brother’s shoulder. “Not now Adam. We jes about got ‘em. Let’s check on that wire.”

“Hoss, you know the truth as well as I do. It’s something that neither of us can deny.”

“Ya heard the sheriff Adam. He’s tryin’ to work it through. Besides, we know where they are.” Not saying a word, Hoss’ heavy hand ushered Adam across the street to head to the telegraph office. Once across the street Adam stopped and turned. Instead of moving on, he folded his arms and leaned against the building. “Adam, whatcha doin’?” questioned Hoss.

He waited before he answered. He was sizing up the two figures through eyes that were sharp and keen. He wanted to quietly give them a sign that they were not intimidated. The gauntlet was cast. Making certain that he and Hoss were seen, he slowly turned and proceeded on to the telegraph office. “Hoss I’m just playing a little psychological game with them,” he said through clenched teeth.

“I hope you knew fer sure what you’re doing big brother.”

“I hope so too.”

* * * * * * * * * * * *

“Wonder where there a going,” thought Ed out loud.

“Keep your thoughts to yerself,” said Danny.

Standing up and not paying heed to his brother, Ed pulled his arm away from Danny and began to follow Adam and Hoss. “Hey Cartwrights!” he yelled.

Danny rose from where he was seated knowing that his brother had too much to drink and was just asking to start trouble. He himself had a self-loathing for the Cartwrights and welcomed an opportunity to settle the score as well. They’d come this far with troubles plaguing them so he didn’t see any reason not to carry it farther – regardless of what was going on in the sheriff’s office. After all, Sam had taken a beating and it was done by the Cartwrights.

Hoss and Adam kept walking at Hoss’ urging. Ed approached closer and yelled, “I’m a talking to you two.”

It was too late. Ed had opened a new scenario that pride would not allow either of the Wales brothers to back away from. There was going to be a confrontation. The Cartwright’s had to pay for what was done to Sam and for his being locked up.

Knowing that Adam was ready to oblige him, Hoss said,” Let’s just git to the telegraph office. No point in us letting them rile us.” Even though he said it, Hoss knew they were both riled and it wouldn’t take much for either of them to lay waste to them.

Moving down the side street toward the telegraph office, the taunting continued by Ed and Danny who now joined him.

Adam had reached the point of no return. He turned slowly and walked toward the brothers. Hoss followed closely. Stopping within a few feet of the Wales brothers Adam said angrily, “You should have backed off. Now its trouble you’ve got.” With that he grabbed Ed by his shirt collar and threw him to the ground. Hoss immediately drew his gun as he saw Danny make a move for his – but he was quicker.

“I’m not thinking your gonna need that gun on your hip – so I reckon the smart thing would be fer you to just drop it to the ground,” said Hoss.

The look on Danny’s face was one of contempt but he conceded to Hoss’ demand.

The light that shown from the street lamp and the moon cast a glimmer on something sparkling that lay on the ground next to Ed. Realizing what had fallen out of Ed’s pocket, fear and the element of discovery overtook Danny. In a split second he started to run.

“Watch this one Hoss,” Adam commanded referring to Ed and chased Danny. His speed was that of a jaguar on a hunt. He’d seen the rings lying beside Ed on the ground and the fuse was lit. Adam’s intellect told him that Danny was the second man. Neither of the two men described had an arm in a sling.

Hoss kept his gun on Ed as he bent down to pick up the shining objects. The look on his face as he picked them up frightened Ed. He inched his way back until he could go no further. He was cornered and saw no way out. The strength of the middle Cartwright son was powerful as he lifted Ed from the ground with one hand and threw him stumbling toward the jail. He placed the priceless items into his shirt pocket and with gun pointing at Ed just said, “Git movin’ before I plum forgit myself and make mincemeat outta ya.”

Danny was running with a fear he’d not known for a long time. Catching up to him, Adam leaped through the air and tackled Danny to the ground. He was in control of his anger and was directing it against Danny. The explosion was now taking place. The first blow hit its intended mark. The second did the same. Danny was able to move from the onslaught of the third and land a crushing blow to the jaw of Adam followed by a blow to Adam’s mid-section. Stumbling to his feet, fierceness controlled the next attack on Danny. With the swiftness of the ferocious jaguar, Adam caught Danny off balance and countered Danny’s attack toward him with a series of punches that would rival those of Hoss. His wrath had done this and he was satisfied as he saw the limp figure lying on the ground before him. Adam tasted blood and wiped his mouth. Danny tried to get up but saw the figure of a man in black with anger to match standing over him. He was beat and was not ready for more.

From behind him Adam heard running. As he weakly moved back from Danny, Sheriff Calhoun and his deputy were making their way toward the scene. Their guns drawn, not knowing what they would find, they realized another war had been raged again by Adam Cartwright. This time however he did not escape unscathed from harm. Deputy Bertram rushed over to Danny while Sheriff Calhoun stopped to check on Adam.

“Are you OK Cartwright?” asked Calhoun.

Rubbing his face he replied, “Yeah. Yeah, I’m fine.”

“We have what we need now,” said Calhoun.

“Glad to deliver,” Adam said cryptically.

“Cole get him up and over to the jail with his brothers,” ordered Calhoun.

Adam bent down to pick up his hat and walk to the jail with the law enforcement of Carson City.

“Where’s my brother?”

“He’s at the jail,” responded Calhoun. “He told us where to find you.”

As they made their way out of the alley, they heard the sound of a hoarse and angry voice.

“Jes stop right where ya are and turn around slowly. Keep them hands away from them guns.”

Andy Wales was standing with a shotgun pointed directly at them. “Now, easy does it. Jes lift them guns out nice and easy and toss them this way. NOW!”

“You’ve lost yer mind Wales,” said Calhoun. “Your sons are a bad breed and asked for what they’re gonna get.”

“They ain’t gonna be railroaded by the likes of the Cartwrights. This is all a frame and if I can’t get justice then I’ll take it.”

Looking at his son who was now standing he said, “Danny get them guns and git over here.”

Danny hurriedly did what his father asked. He now too was holding a gun on the sheriff, deputy and Adam.

Hoss had been with Adam since they left the Ponderosa. He was now at the jail which was a distance from where this new set of circumstances was taking place.

As Sheriff Calhoun started to speak, Andy Wales said, “Shut up! Now we’re going to get to the jail and get my boys. Start walking.”

“I don’t think that is a reasonable thing to ask considering the position you and Danny are in,” said Adam.

“Ain’t no time to get cute Cartwright. This rifle is ready to fire and by the looks of things, it’s the only way to get justice for my sons.”

“Ah, I beg to differ with you Wales. Your sons will get their justice,” Adam said sarcastically. “Now as for the position that you’re in, just turn around and say hello to my pa and brother.”

Looking over his shoulder, Andy Wales saw standing behind them with their guns at the ready Ben and Joe Cartwright. Sheriff Calhoun reached down and retrieved his gun as did his deputy. Andy and Danny Wales had been quietly surrounded and dropped their weapons.

As the two Wales were marched off to the jail Adam said, “Hi pa … Joe. Always nice to see you two.”

“Seems like we were on time,” said Joe. “Always knew you couldn’t do everything by yourself,” he chuckled.

Ben put his hand on Adam’s shoulder. “How are you son?”

“Glad to see you two and a bit sore. Right now we need to go and see about Hoss.”

* * * * * * * * * * * *

The door to the jail opened as Andy and Danny Wales were shoved inside. Their weapons were put aside as Deputy Bertram opened the door to the jail cells and added two more Wales.

Hoss’ mouth dropped open with all four of the Wales now in jail but was concerned over the well-being of his brother. Hearing steps approaching the door, he was surprised to see not only Adam but his pa and Joe as well.

“Hot diggity,” said Hoss. “Sure am glad to see you two.”

“Are you OK Hoss?”

With a coy smile on his face Hoss replied, “Never better. Sorry ya had to make an unnecessary trip all the way to Carson City.”

They laughed. “You mean big brother here and you aren’t glad to see us after we came all this way?” asked Joe chidingly.

The sheriff put the keys on the desk and looked at the entire Cartwright family before him. Shaking his head, he said, “Ben Cartwright … somehow I knew that last time you were here was not really going to be the last. Seems kinda funny.”

“What?” asked Ben.

“I’ve got four Wales locked up in them there cells and four Cartwrights standing here in front of me.”

“Well you seem to have everything under control now,” said Ben. “I’m sure that Roy Coffey will be around to collect them and get them back to Virginia City.”

“I’m sure he will and you can be assured that they will be here ready and waiting.”

“Excuse me,” said Adam. “I think you have something that belongs to me. Proof of the crime.”

Sheriff Calhoun looked directly at Hoss. Grinning Hoss reached into his pocket and walked over to Adam. “Here ya go brother. Just make sure that you take care of these.”

Looking at his brother he took the rings. He saw Claire’s blue eyes in the stones. “Not anything to worry about. This is being returned to where it belongs.”

On their ride home, they chattered through their tiredness. There was an unspoken bond between all of them.

Seeing the smile that came across Adam’s face very briefly, Ben asked, “Why the smile?”

“Oh, no particular reason pa. Just my mind wandering.” Yes, his mind was wandering to the inscription he’d written in the journal he’d given to Claire when she first changed his life. He knew it to be true then, and he knew it to be true now …. “Each Day …. Life Begins Anew.”

~ * ~ * ~

 

 

SIXTY-FIVE
Continuing On With This Story

* * * * * * * * * * * *

The ride back to the Ponderosa seemed never ending, but the lights that shone forth from the ranch were like beacons extending a welcome and solace for the men who would soon be within its walls. The hour was either very late or very early depending upon how one looked at it. As they had found their way home in the darkness, they came upon the camp of Sheriff Roy Coffee and advised him of the evening’s events. He would finish the job at first light.

Dismounting their horses in the embrace of the Ponderosa’s welcoming light, they stretched to ease the discomfort of the ride and loosen their muscles. Hop Sing came out to ensure that the family had returned safely and advised he’d put fruit and fresh linens in their rooms. He’d been concerned and was now satisfied seeing they were alright.

“Hop Sing glad to see all of you home. You keep me from getting well deserved sleep,” he said. “Now, I go to bed. If you want breakfast early, you fix for yourself. Else wait until Hop Sing get up. Hop Sing need rest too.” Looking at Adam he said, “Mista Adam I bring something right away to fix your face just like for Missy Claire.” With that he disappeared.

There appeared four different expressions from the faces of these tired men. Without speaking, they all knew they would not be rising early. Not only had they been in the saddle for what seemed like an eternity, but they had been without sleep. The adrenalin that had pumped in their veins was now waning and the events were beginning to make their impact on each of them. They deserved the comfort of their beds. They also knew that Hop Sing would not say how worried he was and his waiting up for them was a way of showing he cared. After all, he was an important extension of their family.

Joe and Hoss went to put the horses away as Ben and Adam went into the house. In the light Ben could see that his eldest son seemed to have a weight lifted from his shoulders and did not expect Adam to discuss it. Having both removed their guns and hats, for a moment they shared a look between father and son of understanding and knowing. Ben just nodded to him and softly patted him on the back. There was a special relationship between all the Cartwrights, but Ben shared a special one with each of his sons. He breathed easy as he was making his way toward the stairs and to bed.

The loud talk that was coming toward the door would have caused one to think it was morning. The door opened and Joe and Hoss walked in laughing about something. Turning to face his brothers Adam said, “It appears that the two of you are not as tired as the rest of us. Pa and I are going to bed and would appreciate your consideration in allowing us to get some sleep.”

Looking at Adam and his father who was standing at the foot of the steps to rest and comfort, Joe said, “We’re tired too big brother but Hoss just said something that was funny.”

Moving toward the stairs to join his father Adam said, “Just what we need right now is levity. It’s been a trying day.”

“But you gotta hear this before you go to bed,” Joe chimed.

“Joseph! It’s late and all of us need to get some rest. Now!”

“Sure pa we’re on our way,” yawned Hoss. “But when putting the horses away it just came outta me.”

“I suppose I should ask what it is so that I can take care of my hand and face and get some sleep,” Adam said dryly.

“That’s our big brother,” said Joe. “No sense of humor.”

“Humor is not what any of us needs at this hour. What some of us need is sense.” Adam continued. “Common sense is not common.”

Joe turned down the lights as all headed up the stairs. Joe and Hoss continued to chuckle. Slapping Hoss on the back Joe said, “A Wale of a day! Hoss that’s a gem. A Wale of a day!”

A smile crossed the lips of both Ben and Adam as they closed their doors.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

It was the middle of the morning when Hank and some of his men returned to his ranch. Hearing the horses, Margaret rushed out the door. As Hank headed toward her, she saw the weariness on his face and was anxious to know what had happened. He gave her a warm hug and said, “Everything has been taken care of.” They turned and entered the house.

“Let me get you something to eat and drink while you tell me all about it.”

Hank sat down at the kitchen table and sighed. “Where’s Claire and how is she?”

Placing the fresh coffee in front of him she responded, “She’s healing well but I know she was very concerned about you and Adam as was I. She’s taken her paints and is down at the lake. I didn’t want her to go far. At least I can see her from this window. I guess it’s her way of working through this while waiting.”

Maggie put a plate of food before Hank and sat down. Hank began to recount to her what had happened. She was glad that this was over, that all were home safe, and no one was dead.

At the Ponderosa life was slowly beginning to stir. Hoss was the first one down followed by Ben. Hoss’ hunger seems to have caused him to rise. He was very happy to smell the aroma of food cooking. He couldn’t wait for it to be placed on the table.

“Morning Hoss,” said Ben.

“Mornin’ pa,” was Hoss’ response as he poured coffee for his father and himself.

“Umm, just what I seem to need this morning.”

“I know what’cha mean pa. Wonder when Adam is going to get up.”

“Well, whenever he does it’ll be fine. He’s dealt with a lot over the last couple of days.”

“Pa,” said Hoss. “I was thinking about Adam. You know he and I sometimes have our squabbles. But one thing I know about him. He’s not just my brother but a man that I’m proud to be related to. I now know he had a lot on his mind when he was in St. Louis and then here with those miserable Wales hurting Claire and Amy. Adam may be stubborn, but when his dander is up, he’ll always be there for those he loves and cares for. Even in Carson City, I know he struggled with what he wanted to do and what he knew to be the right thing. I know we’re all human but … well … I could see that he was having a hard time trying to control what he wanted to do and what he finally did. Now maybe folks won’t agree with the way he went about it, but the time we spent together just showed who he is. He’s a person that will not ever let us be taken advantage of or hurt. I kinda see him as a ‘quiet protector’ who doesn’t have to speak to let us know how much he cares for us.”

Ben smiled because what his middle son had just said spoke volumes of the love he had toward his oldest son. “Hoss, I couldn’t agree with you more. You are very perceptive and intuitive.”

“Pa, I ain’t too sure what them words mean exactly, but I know ya understand what I was trying to say.”

“Hoss, you said it better than I could have. I understand and I’m certain that Adam appreciates and understands as well.”

Hop Sing brought in steak, eggs and biscuits and placed them on the table. The two walked to the table. They were famished.

Adam finishing dressing and looked at the remnants of his time spent in Carson City. He had a few bruises that did not appear too bad in the morning light. Perhaps whatever Hop Sing gave him had something to do with that. His hand was still somewhat sore as was his mid-section. However, it was not something that he’d not experienced before. He’d be fine in no time. Looking in the mirror he realized he’d be much better when he saw Claire. There was no time for him to be slow. This was a new day and he needed to see the woman he loved. He picked up the ring that was the key to all of this, tossed it into the air catching it in his hand, and placing it in his pocket.

His steps were energetic as he walked down the stairs toward the breakfast table. Just as energetically he said, “Morning pa … morning Hoss. Hope there is something left for me.”

“Better hurry up son because Hoss here is on his second plate and may try for thirds.”

Adam just grinned and walked into the kitchen. He thanked Hop Sing for his concoction that was healing his bruises. He then asked that Hop Sing prepare a simple basket as he wanted to spend time with Claire.

Grinning broadly Hop Sing said, “First you eat. I fix special for you and Missy Claire in no time. Missy Claire pretty lady and I like much. Only lady I let give me hug. Only lady I let work in my kitchen.” However it came out, Adam understood what Hop Sing meant and just smiled as he went to see if there was any breakfast left for him.

“How are you feeling today Adam?” asked Ben.

Looking up from sipping his coffee, “I’m feeling satisfied. As soon as I finish breakfast I’ll be gone for most of the day if not all of it.”

“Oh?” said Ben. He realized what Adam was probably up to and was not going to interrupt his plans.

“I see there’s no sign of our younger brother,” quipped Adam.

“I’m sure that if you was to look under all them there covers on his bed, you’d be sure to find him there somewhere,” said Hoss. They all laughed.

Hoss’ face lit up. He was thinking more clearly now that nourishment had been taken. “Pa why don’t we jes let Joe sleep? Poor young’n, probably needs the rest.”

“If things were a bit different I’d say no. But it’s obvious that there’s not going to be a lot accomplished today anyway.” Ben got up and went over to his desk.

Adam realized that Hoss was up to something. “Are ya finished eatin Adam?”

Leaning back from the table he said, “Yes. Now I have to get going.” Adam rose from the table and went to the barn to hitch up the carriage. Hoss looked at his father who was going through some papers on the desk. He quickly rose from the table and stuck his head into the kitchen. He realized that his whole body was not welcome in Hop Sing’s kitchen and he did not want to set him off. “Hop Sing, Joe is not gonna eat breakfast this morning. Just wanted to let you know,” said Hoss.

Mumbling something in Chinese, Hop Sing went to clear the table and clean the kitchen. Hoss walked out the door with a grin on his face. He walked over to his big brother and saw that he was just about finished hitching up the carriage.

“Goin somewhere brother? I’d a thought we’d traveled enough so that you’d want to stay close to home.” he joked.

Adam grinned at Hoss but said nothing.

Things were back to normal. Hoss thought. Brother was being his old self again. Hoss placed his hand on Adam’s shoulder as he led the carriage out to the front of the house. Hop Sing brought out the basket which he happily placed into the carriage. Adam went into the house to tell his father he was headed out. Ben smiled.

Hoss was pacing and kicking up some of the dirt in front of the house. Adam climbed into the carriage and looking at his brother said, “I’m not sure what you’ve done to Joe, but I’m sure he’s not going to appreciate it.” With that he grinned and started off. Hoss just smiled and went to saddle Chub.

Joe bounced down the stairs. Ben looked up from his desk. “Mornin’ pa. Boy am I hungry.” Joe walked over to the table and found there was no food anywhere. This was strange he thought. He could smell the aroma of food that had been cooked but where was it?

Walking into the kitchen, Hop Sing turned and looked at Joe. “What you want here in kitchen?”

“Ah I was looking for breakfast,” said Joe.

Joe did not get breakfast but a chastising in a loud language he did not understand and was chased out of the kitchen. Ben just smiled and continued to work at his desk. Hoss sat on the porch and laughed heartily. Joe went to the settee and sat down. His breakfast would be an apple or two. He sighed.

 

SIXTY-SIX

* * * * * * * * * * * *

The Ponderosa homestead was diminishing in size as Adam started on his way but the Ponderosa land that lay before him extended farther than one’s eye could see. The thoughts of the past few days remained fresh in his mind. There wasn’t any way to dismiss them totally as it was yet too soon. Adam was not one to intentionally seek revenge and generally applied logic and clear thought before acting. He reprimanded himself for his thoughts surrounding what had happened but found a way to justify the actions he’d taken. Sometimes the choices one had to make he found to be clear cut. The significance of right from wrong was part of his person. There was a thin line when it came to family or those he loved put in harm’s way. When that line was crossed, logic still rose to the surface but the need to act partnered with that logic.

As he made his way to the Sander’s ranch, he had already decided his plan of action. He had a stop that he needed to make first. That was to try to put two friends at ease and then spend time with Claire.

Moving slowly through pines and off the Ponderosa, the smell of the tall timber wafted through the air. As the sun shone through the trees he felt an embrace of being at home. The carriage moved carefully as he approached the turn he needed to take. As he did, a quick memory of what had taken place flashed before him. He shrugged it off as all were now safe and he knew moving on was necessary. Within minutes he could see the house before him. With a steady rhythm of the horse’s gait, he arrived at the home of Josh and Amy Wheeler.

He approached the door when he heard someone call him, “Adam.”
“Morning Josh,” he said as he walked over to him. Shaking hands, he could see the look on Josh’s face as if he was waiting for news. Adam ignored it for a moment.

“Adam, with all that’s gone on I didn’t get the chance to thank you and Claire for visiting to check on Amy.” He rubbed his hands on his pants and continued. “I’m sorry that I didn’t ride with Sheriff Coffey and you. I didn’t want to leave Amy alone.”

Adam pushed his hat back and said, “Josh, how long have we been friends? Ever since you and Amy moved here right?”

“Sure Adam, but why are you asking?”

“Because you should know that no apologies are necessary. You were doing what was needed … taking care of your wife. Something that I hope to do soon.” A pang of guilt ran through Adam as he still felt he should have been present for Claire. After all, he’d promised that he’d always take care of her.

Josh looked toward the door to the house and said, “I was afraid when I got the news – that she was terribly hurt. Thank goodness it wasn’t worse than it was.”

“How is she?”

“Amy is remarkable. She had me take her for a change to see Claire yesterday. She’s doing well despite her shoulder. Doc says she should be herself in a week or so.” He looked at the eyes of Adam that seemed to be drifting off towards the road he’d just traveled. “Thinking about what happened?”

“Ah what? What did you say?”

“Adam, I believe that we share some of the same anxieties over this incident and some guilt.” Adam turned and looked directly at Josh.

“Meaning?” asked Adam.

“Meaning just this. Both of us want our women to be safe and secure. To feel that no harm will come to them. If you’re like me, I believe there is a twinge of guilt you’re feeling because you didn’t stop this from happening. I know I felt that way. It makes sense … but as Amy pointed out to me … there was no way anyone could have imagined this.”

Adam listened knowing that Josh was reading him like a book. He said nothing but nodded his head.

“You’ve not mentioned what happened. There must be something to tell,” he said almost as a question.

“Yeah Josh I do. I also have something else.” Reaching into his pant pocket he pulled out a small gold circle and placed it into Josh’s hand.”

“Amy’s wedding ring,” he said in surprise. “She’s not said anything more about it but I know the loss of this hurt her deeply.”

“Well then I would suggest that you see to it that that loss is eliminated,” Adam said in a soft voice.

“But how Adam … how did you get this?” he asked holding the ring in his hand.

Adam sat on some uncut lumber placing his foot on a high piece so that he could lean on his knee. Josh joined him. Recounting what had happened in Carson City; Josh listened intently and seemed to hear the words, although the last part of Adam’s message caused him to think.

“So it’s not over then Adam,” said Josh. “Although they had the rings – both Amy and Claire have to make a positive identification.”

Sighing Adam said, “That’s about the size of it. I guess when Roy gets them back here he’ll contact you.”

“And then a trial,” Josh said quietly.

“Yes, a trial,” Adam confirmed.

Standing up he slapped Josh on the arm and said, “I need to see a special lady right now and would suggest you get that back on Amy’s hand.”

Walking Adam to the carriage Josh said, “Adam, I can’t thank you enough.”

Climbing into the carriage and picking up the reins he said, “That’s true Josh, you can’t thank me enough. But when Amy is feeling like herself again and Claire as well, I think your thanks would be to join Claire and me for dinner,” he said laughingly. “Now I’ve a ring to return myself.” Josh watched as Adam drove off and then headed directly for the front door.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Margaret and Hank were going over the supply list when they heard the sound of the carriage. Hank went and opened the door as Adam walked in.

“Adam!” exclaimed Hank. “Come on in son. Maggie, Adam’s here,” he called.

Placing his hat down Hank ushered Adam into the kitchen almost knocking Margaret over as they entered.

“Adam, I’m so glad to see you. I was very worried about you,” Margaret said. “It seems that I had cause to worry.” She noticed the bruises on his face. “Let me get Claire. She needs to know that you’re back and alright.”

“I am anxious to see her Margaret. I also have a picnic basket in the carriage; however, I’d like to visit with you two for just a bit.”

“I expected to see you today,” Hank offered. “Coffey has things in hand from what I can tell and the law will take over the rest.”

Margaret placed a cup of coffee in front of Adam as he said, “Yes, the law will take over.”

Hearing Adam’s comment Margaret felt what had happened caused Adam some uneasiness. He continued to drink his coffee expecting Claire to show up at any moment. Because of the concern shown by Margaret and Hank, he assured them both that he was fine. The gears of justice were in place and he’d be much better once he’d seen Claire. He questioned how she was doing and wanted the truth. They looked at him and he knew they would be direct with him. They wanted her safe as much as he. She’d done well but found it a bit difficult to understand some of the ways of the West. It was very different from St. Louis and she was trying to digest the way men could be put into harm’s way in a split second. She’d admitted this was going to be an adjustment for her – she knew this. They informed him of her worry about his taking off after the men when there was a sheriff who was doing that. She’d also expressed her concern for his safety. Putting his empty cup down he looked around and Hank finally said, “She’s out by the lake.”

Adam rose and made his way out the rear door. As he reached the edge of the porch, he looked at the figure sitting near the water’s edge some distance away. She appeared so tiny and as if a part of a painting herself. He just watched her and felt joy and longing engulf him. He smiled to himself and focused on the painting before him. It was a work of art that needed nothing more than a frame. He was not sure how long he stood just watching her. Being able to watch her without her knowing was special to him. She was who she was. He was also reconciling himself to the fact that life had its bleak and dark sides … but then there were the bright and meaningful sides that were contained within one’s heart and could not be compromised.

The steps to reach her were deliberate and quiet. As he stood behind her for the briefest of moments, he saw the work that she had begun. She had captured the brightness of the sun glistening across the lake – not unlike the way her hair shown before him now. She had put her paint brush down and was staring ahead.

He moved closer and in the softest of voices said, “Don’t tell me you’re finished for the day.”

She rose and turned quickly. Within seconds they were feeling the closeness of one another. Both were safe. Looking at Claire he could see the brightness of her eyes. She saw the warmth that radiated from Adam’s eyes. Suddenly Claire moved back from him and looked. Without warning she started to laugh.

Hearing her laughter caused him to smile. “What is so funny my beautiful one?”

Trying to speak through her laughter she pointed at him. He was standing with his arms folded across his chest waiting her response. Still laughing she said, “We’re bookends!” The laughter continued to radiate from her. He didn’t understand the reason but loved the fact that she had a wonderful laugh and used it.

Her laughter was contagious. “Look at us,” she said. “I have bruises and you have bruises …. We are bookends!” Now understanding, he started to laugh along with her and, together they seemed to shut the rest of the world out with the simplest of actions … laughter.

Having collected themselves she said, “Adam ….” He placed his hand gently over her lips.

“I know. There’s much to say and talk about. If we can compose ourselves long enough, Hop Sing has prepared a light picnic for us. I thought we’d take a ride and enjoy it. Besides, I need to be alone with you.”

“That’s funny. I desperately need to be alone with you as well.”

They kissed tenderly feeling the passion that began to grow. Adam had a very subtle way of awakening feelings within Claire that she’d not felt before. In time. He helped her gathered her things. Walking toward the house, their smiles rivaled the brightness the sun was providing.

* * * * * * * * * * * *
He’d encouraged her to bring her painting materials along with them but she chose not to. They rode to a section on the Ponderosa that she’d not seen before. It was an area that he found to be particularly special to him in an ethereal way.

Claire did not wait for Adam to assist her down from the carriage. She was taken by the surroundings and just wandered backwards and in circles to take in the expanse and aura of this space. He watched her as she beamed in her surroundings.

Seeing that he’d taken the basket and blanket from the carriage, she made her way over to assist him. Adam spread the blanket, sat himself down and placed his hat to the side. Resting against a tree he watched as Claire took a seat and began to delve into the carefully prepared basket. Before he knew it, she was not laughing but chuckling.

“OK, what is it this time?” he asked as he noticed her opening a note.

“It’s from Hop Sing.”

Adam was surprised that in the midst of their basket a note had been placed for Claire.

“How sweet,” she said as she finished reading it. She folded it carefully and placed it into her skirt pocket.

Adam lifted his eyebrow waiting for her to reveal what was in the note. Claire just found her way over to him and nestled herself in his arms. This is where she wanted to be.

“Well,” he said as he held her to him and smelled the freshness of her hair, “I guess you aren’t hungry and I suspect that there is some secret between you and Hop Sing.”

She sat up and faced him. “No secrets. Now let me see what we have to take care of an appetite.” As she turned to remove the morsels from the basket, he took her arm and pulled her to him. His kiss was assurance he needed. His heart was full.

They finished lunch and Claire put things away. Adam rose and taking her hand assisted her up. “Let’s walk,” he said. He placed his arm around her and she him. There were things that needed to be said and although a grown man, being mobile sometimes helped him to say what he needed to.

They came to a spot that was filled with the colors of spring. Flowers lay before them as if a carpet to lead their way. Walking in the midst of the carpet, he picked one and placed it in her hair. “We must really look like a pair,” he quipped.

“We’ll heal.” She paused and then continued. “Adam, I’m not going to keep anything from you. I was angry with you when I found out that you and Hoss had left to find the persons responsible for what happened to Amy and me. In thinking about it, I realized that I was being selfish and this was part of you and the culture of the West. I need you to assist me in getting acclimated here.”

He heard the sincerity of her words. “It is different here Claire and I will help you. But somehow, you don’t strike me as needing too much help.”

“I haven’t struck you yet Adam Cartwright and don’t plan to. I just want you to know that I was very worried about your safety.” Walking a few steps from him, she stopped and turned. “I want to be here. We had this discussion at length in St. Louis. This is my home now and soon it will be our home. I’m determined to be able to adjust to the differences here and yet can appreciate both. Does that make sense to you?”

“It makes perfect sense. I’m not sure what this is based on other than what happened to you.” He’d said those words before he could stop himself.

“Don’t sell me short Adam. What happened to me could have happened to anyone in any place. This was merely an example of a lesson for both of us to learn.”

He looked at her puzzled. Before he could think of a response to her statement she continued.

“We make promises that we hope to keep.” She walked to him and placed her hands on his arms. “You need to know that what happened to me was something that you could not have stopped. You were there when I needed you and that’s what counts. So, any guilt you have is not something for you to carry. Throw it away and let’s move on. You’ve reinforced what I already knew about you. You have a temper that sometimes cannot be reckoned with. This was one of those times but I believe they are far and few between. There’s no reason for me to try to understand it – because I already do. I know why you did what you did. When I first argued with you not to leave in the state you were in, it was because I was fearful of the anger you were filled with and only thought of what could have happened to you.”

Scratching the side of his head he said, “Well you said what you had to and rather strongly I must admit. You didn’t even care that your soon to be family was in the room.”

She smiled sheepishly and said, “I’m not going to apologize for that.”

“Good. That’s the woman I love. I’m sure we’ll have some very interesting differences of opinion.”

“Adam,” she said as they turned to walk back to the picnic site. “I want to know what happened.”

He knew this conversation was coming and was prepared. He told her the entire story just leaving out one minor detail. That he would take care of shortly. He felt free to be able to tell her of the inner turmoil he faced – the reason for it – and his ability to fight with himself to stay within the boundaries of the law.”

He found it so easy to speak truthfully and openly to Claire. He knew it was more than love. He saw a strong and spirited woman with a beautiful soul. Perhaps that was a part of it. She did not judge but rather expressed her feelings freely to him as well.

They discussed the need for a formal identification of the perpetrators and a trial. He watched her reaction as he told of what was yet to come. Although not spoken, he would be with her and she knew it.

He sat down on the blanket they’d finally reached. She sat next to him and stroked his face. He twirled her silken hair in his fingers. The kiss that ensued was filled with complete love and passion. Almost as if they were one. He kissed her once again lightly on her lips.

Taking both of her hands in his he said, “Claire, I adore you and I love you more than one can imagine. My life has been only half whole. It has been that way for some time … for the right person …. the right moment. You complete the part that was missing so I am now whole.”

His words were soft, tender and caring. She was moved by the feeling that was in them. She could do nothing but look at him as he spoke. He lifted her slender hands to his lips and kissed them. She leaned forward and kissed his lips.

“Claire, in this place and at this time I am once again committing myself to you wholly and with the love that is beyond words.” With that he reached into his shirt pocket and removed the ring that was her. He placed it on her finger and asked,” Will you share your life with me as my wife?”

She was overwhelmed at the site of her ring once again being gently placed on her finger. “Yes Adam. I will share my life and all that I am with you.”

As they embraced, Claire thought to herself, how often does a woman receive two proposals?

 

 

SIXTY-SEVEN

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Roy Coffey was on the case early that morning. Signing the proper papers, he handed them to Sheriff Calhoun to collect the three Wales sons and transport them to Virginia City. Charges would be preferred against them in his jurisdiction. Andy Wales would remain in Carson City and tried there. His charges stemmed from attempting to assist Danny flee from potential arrest and threatening both officers of the law and citizens with deadly force.

“This has been some kinda search Raif,” Coffey said. “I’m glad it ended as quickly as it did. You know the Cartwrights and I have been friends for good many years. It’s a darn shame that something like this had to happen. Now taking these three back to Virginia City is going to cause some real commotion. But, I guess there’s no way around it.”

Sitting back in his chair and listening to the words of his fellow lawman, Raif Calhoun just kind of grinned at Roy and said, “I’m glad the Cartwrights live in your town. They seem like a decent enough lot, but it appears when they get a burr under their saddle, they stop at nothing. That eldest Cartwright seems to be smart. Darned if he didn’t give me a run for my money.”

“Ah Adam just had something personal invested in this matter. They’re a very close knit family and generally go about things pretty much the right way. Now, I’m not making any excuses for any of ‘em, especially Adam. He and I had words before he arrived here. You’d have to know them as I do to understand the lengths they’d go to protect and safeguard one of their own. They can and do get pretty testy and out of sorts but it don’t last long and it’s only when someone has been hurt or unjustly treated. More often than not you’ll find them being of help to ya.”

“That may be,” Raif said grinning. “But those two Cartwrights had already had a fight and then locked up one of the Wales boys before I got back to the office. If’n I ever want to take a vacation I might just see if they want the job while I’m gone.”

“Well,” said Roy. “I doubt they’d want your job but they did help with mine. Now I need to get these three on their way.”

“You get your men Roy and we’ll get them ready to ride.”

Roy went to the door and had his deputies come in to ensure that there would be no problems in getting the Wales three out and onto their horses. There were a few of the posse sitting outside waiting to help escort them.

Andy Wales was in a separate cell and was fit to be tied. “Dad blame sheriff and those Cartwrights. Turning to his son Sam, he walked over to the cell bars and looked him squarely in the eye. “This is your fault you poor example of a man. I told ya to stay home until your face healed. Now you’re gonna be hauled off to Virginia City and stand trial. Got no idea what will happen to ya! To any of ya! I ain’t raised ya to end up in prison. I taught you better on how to handle things.”

“But pa,” said Sam. “Ed and Danny had already headed to town and Ed had the rings in his pocket. I know what you told me but you cain’t trust ‘em. You know that. They was gonna sell them – I’m sure of it. I may have made a mistake but the bigger mistake was these two here not leaving them rings along.”

“Just shut yer mouth. And I don’t wanna hear from you other two either. We gotta figure a way outta this and right now I don’t have any thoughts on what that might be. I’m gonna be stuck in this here jail for a while. One thing you better dang sure remember when you leave here is to say nothing – and you don’t know nothin’. You got that? Ya keep ya mouths closed and don’t answer any questions. I’ll see to it that we keep in contact. They cain’t hold me but for so long and I’m sure I can git off or at least an easy sentence.”

He’d finished giving advice to his sons when they heard the rattling of keys and the door open to the cell area. Walking in Raif said, “Roy, these are the Wales. This one here is the pa. These three over here are yours. Danny, Ed and Sam.”

Roy eyed them and realized he’d probably not have too much trouble getting them to Virginia City. What would be a problem was the trial that would take place ultimately. There was sure to be no way to keep this quiet.

Handcuffs were placed on each of the three through the cell bars. Once done, Roy’s deputies drew their guns and Raif unlocked the cells. As the three men walked out, they each looked at their father who just stared at their departure with a dismal look.

Before they were able to enter the outer office area, the jail door opened and both Mary and May Wales walked in.

“I’m looking for my boys and their father,” said May.

Pushing his hat back on his head, the deputy said, “Ma’am, they’ve all been arrested and we’re a gittin ready to move the boys to Virginia City.”

“Arrested!” exclaimed May. “For what reason?”

“I want to see them please. I don’t understand any of this,” was Mary’s response.

Hearing the voices from the outer room, Raif asked Roy to watch over the boys until he came back in. In the meantime they were ushered back into their cell.

“Mrs. Wales,” said Sheriff Calhoun as he closed the door behind him.

“I understand my man and boys have been arrested. I’d like to know why and I’d like to see them.”

“Well now Mrs. Wales, we were just about to transfer your sons to Virginia City. Your husband we’ll be keeping here. Please have a seat and I’ll try to explain the situation and then let you see them for a brief bit. But there’s not a lot of time as they need to be on their way.”

She sat down with her daughter Mary behind her. Sheriff Calhoun recounted the charges against the sons and the occurrences of the night before. He held nothing back from either of them. As he watched the looks of exasperation on their faces, he paused to be sure his words had set in. He finally asked if they knew anything about this matter to which they responded they didn’t.

They collected themselves and May stood up. “I can’t believe this of my boys. There has to be some mistake.” She shook her head and placed her arm around her daughter. “Can we see them now?” she asked.

He walked to the door an opened it. May and Mary hurried into the cell area and saw Roy Coffey and his deputies standing there. Looking at the cell that held her husband, Andy stood up and looked at his wife and daughter. She had no idea what to say to her husband. Mary was shocked. She’d never been in a jail before.

May turned and looked at her sons. She saw the handcuffs on them and her eyes filled with tears. Danny dropped his head so as not to see his mother’s face. She walked over to the cell under the watchful eye of Sheriffs Coffey and Calhoun.

“Tell me these charges are not true,” she pleaded. “There has to be a mistake. This cannot be true,” she said almost pleading.

“Ma,” said Danny. “They’re makin a mistake. We ain’t had nothing to do with what they are a sayin’. Once we git to Virginia City it will all be straightened out. Now that’s all we can say. It ain’t true.”

“Mrs. Wales,” said Roy. “You can see them in Virginia City. Right now we have to be moving along. If they aren’t guilty, then they’ll be released. Now if you would be kind enough to stand back.”

She looked at Roy and dutifully moved away from the cell door. Sheriff Calhoun unlocked the door and the three sons were led away as she and her daughter looked on in disbelief.

Wiping her eyes, she turned to her husband and walked over to his cell. Mary stood still has her mother said in a whispered and angry tone, “I hope you’re a happy man Andy Wales. You’ve always had to do and have things your way. You’ve operated by the law of Andy Wales and you and I both know that it has not always been above the law. These boys never had a chance with the type of learnin and things you taught ‘em. I pray they’re not guilty … but if’n they are, it’s your fault and I won’t ever be able to forgive you for that.”

“Listen here May,” Andy said. “Them boys are being railroaded. I did what I had to do to try to hep ‘em and they done locked me up. Now there ain’t much I can do fer ‘em from here.”

“You should’a thought about that before,” she snapped. “You ain’t the only one with problems. What are Mary and I supposed to do with the ranch? Have ya thought about that?”

“Woman that’s the least of our problems. Now you need to git over to Virginia City and find out what’s happening to them boys and let me know. I’ll figure somethin’ out about the ranch.”

“I’ll do what I need to do. I’m not listening to you now or ever again. You’ve been nothing but a hard headed, rough-neck that can’t be talked to or reasoned with. I’m tired of it and it’s over! I’ll support the boys and you if there ain’t no proof that you’re guilty. If you’re all guilty, there’s nothing else that either Mary or myself can or will do. You’ve made the decision for us.”

“May listen to me and come back here!” he yelled.

“I can’t hear ya Andy. And for the first time I’m a gonna do what I should’a done long ago.” With that she and Mary stormed out of the jail and left Andy calling for her to return.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Dinner at the Ponderosa was just about to be served. Still awaiting the arrival of their father, Hop Sing was beginning to raise his voice an octave. Adam continued working on drawings he started after his afternoon with Claire while Hoss and Joe were waiting not too patiently for Ben to arrive so they could have dinner.

“Wonder what’s keeping pa?” asked Hoss. “I’m getting mighty hungry.”

“That’s not news Hoss,” quipped Joe. “You’re hungry even in the middle of the night.”

Adam just smiled at the conversation that was starting up between his brothers. This was one that he was not going to enter.

Picking up an apple, Hoss bit into it and then walked over to Adam. “Adam you been drawing ever since ya got home. Ain’t ya finished yet?”

Sighing, he put his pencil down and looked at his brother. “Hoss, to answer your question I’m just about finished. There were just a few details that needed to be worked out.”

Biting into the apple again and looking over Adam’s shoulder he saw the marvelous house that Adam had designed for he and Claire. “Ya know, that house looks mighty big from here. If’n little brother over there keeps givin me trouble, you might have a boarder.” With that he devoured the last of the apple.

“You think Adam and Claire are gonna want you under foot and eating all their food?” asked Joe. “Besides, newlyweds don’t need any additional company. Where is your sense?”

“My sense is right where it should be,” responded Hoss as he went to get another apple.

“Ya could’a fooled me. How would you feel getting married and starting your life out with your beautiful new wife? Would you want someone else living with you? Uh? Where’s your romance Hoss? Geeeez,” Joe said as he now took an apple and shook his head.

“Guess you kinda got something there,” Hoss said slightly blushing.

Rolling up the drawings and putting them in a case, Adam stood up and said, “You’ll both be welcome to our home when it’s built … but not for the first year.” He then passed both brothers and placed the case on the credenza.

Hop Sing rushed out of the kitchen and shouted, “You eat now! Dinner already overdone. Eat now or not be any good.” He then rushed back into the kitchen.

Just then the door opened and Ben entered. Looking up Joe said, ”Hey pa. Sure glad you’re finally here. Now we can eat.” He rubbed his hands together and tapped Hoss on the shoulder as they headed toward the dinner table.

Both Adam and Joe looked at their father as he hung up his hat and took off his gun. Sitting down at the table Hop Sing brought in their dinner. “Hope still good. I work hard. You no appreciate.”

As they were filling their plates Joe asked,” Any news on the Wales boys pa?”

“I didn’t stop by the jail but I do know that Roy has them locked up nice and tight. I imagine that he’ll probably have Claire and Amy come in tomorrow to make the identifications.”

“Ya mean them two gals gotta look at them boys face to face?” asked Hoss.

“You must have missed too much food Hoss if you have to ask that question,” quipped Joe.

Adam said nothing but continued to eat.

“I’m afraid they will have to make identification of the men and then formal charges will be made against them. Once that happens then of course a trial. It’s what’s called due process son.”

“Due process,” said Adam critically. He sighed and continued to eat.

“Well near as I can figure, there ain’t no way they can’t be found not guilty,” Hoss said assuredly.

“Yeah, and both Claire and Amy will probably have to testify,” said Adam somewhat remorsefully.

His father saw the concern on Adam’s face and decided not to avoid the conversation but to finish it and get on to something else.

Hop Sing entered with coffee. Thinking dinner was about over, Hoss asked if everyone had enough to eat. All of them said almost in unison, “Help yourself.” The laughter that erupted was needed. Hoss filled his plate again and was satisfying himself.

Adam rose and said, “I’m going over to the Sanders before it gets too late. I won’t be long.”

Joe looked at his brother getting his gun and hat. “Hey Adam, didn’t you just see Claire this afternoon? Seems likely that you’re going to wear out your welcome older brother.”

“You’re asking that question is the very reason you have to wait one year little brother.”

Ben was confused. “What’s this about one year?”

“Ah pa, we’ll explain it to you later.” Joe then helped himself to more coffee.

“Since you’re leavin for a while Adam, I guess you don’t want’cha cake.”

Rolling his eyes he just looked at Hoss and said, “Enjoy!”

Rising from his chair, Ben wiped his mouth and said, “Adam, I forgot. There’s some mail for you.” He walked over to the credenza where he had placed it when he came in. Rifling through he found the letter and handed it to Adam as he was opening the door.

“Give my future daughter a hug for me and let Hank and Margaret know that I asked for them.”

“Will do pa,” said Adam. He closed the door behind him and suddenly stopped. The letter was postmarked St. Louis and from Clara Moss.

 

 

SIXTY-EIGHT

* * * * * * * * * * * *

The early evening shadows were beginning to find their way across the horizon as Adam made his way to the Sanders ranch and to Claire. He was excited at the prospect of starting the building of their home and their life together. He was also nervous. Their afternoon together had put to rest some of the final details they’d decided on. What was left was confirming the consent his father had given for the land and purchasing the materials to start the work. The house they’d found on the Ponderosa as their temporary home required some work which Claire indicated she was eager to start. He laughed to himself at having told Hoss and Joe they’d have to stay away for the first year.

Even during the turmoil that might raise its ugly head surrounding the arrest of the Wales men, Claire had affirmed her resolve to move forward with whatever was required of her. He wondered if the events would have a lasting effect. Yes, she was a strong woman, sometimes stubborn, had a vision, was willing to struggle for what she wanted, and was strong of mind and spirit. Sometimes he felt a little bit too spirited. He grinned to himself because he liked the person she was. She wasn’t a person that was totally dependent upon others but would admit her shortcomings and struggle to overcome them … although not shown too often; she also had a bit of a temper. What a match he thought!

Prior to dinner, one of Sheriff Coffey’s deputies had been to the Sanders ranch indicating that Claire and Amy needed to come into the office the next day to identify the men who robbed and assaulted them. This would be the first step toward their prosecution. The news had not come as a surprise, Adam had spoken of it to her. She planned to go into town in the morning with her aunt and uncle to do what was necessary and attempt to get on with her life. She had a lot to look forward to and many things to take care of in a short period of time. Her uncle had gone out to talk to his foreman about the next day’s work and her aunt was sitting finishing some items for the soon to arrive grandchild. Claire watched as her nimble fingers worked the delicate details and could only imagine what life would be like with a little part of her to love and take care of. She decided to go up to her room for a moment to gather her sketch pad. She also wanted to reread the letter that she’d received today and send a response as well as write a letter to Amelia and Hank.

My Dearest Claire,

I write this letter in hopes of a continuation for a relationship that can be built between you and me. There are so many thoughts and feelings I have now that you caused to be freed within me by the kindness and understanding you gave so graciously prior to your departure.

As we discussed, neither of us knows where this road of ours will take us, but I am pleased to know that you are willing to try – as am I. Perhaps it was providence that has you and me at this place and at this time. Whatever it is, I trust that we can continue to be friends at least. It is too soon for either of us to expect more than that.

You’ve given me forgiveness and a joy that I thought would be lost from me forever. I thank you for that. You have also given memories that remain so clear that one would think they just happened.

I pray that you are safe and well and that your marriage to Adam will be filled with joy and happiness. I am so pleased to have been able to see into a part of your new life. I admire him and I love you. Please give my regards to Margaret as she is a special woman. I am so glad to have spent time with her.

With my appreciation and love,
Clara

Claire smiled, folded the letter and put it into her desk drawer. As she was about to start her letter to Amelia, she was called by her aunt. Going downstairs she found Adam talking with her uncle and aunt in the parlor. There was a mutual grin between the two of them. She approached Adam and he kissed the side of her head.

“How about a brandy Adam?” asked Hank.

“No thanks Hank. Perhaps another time.”

“Suit yourself but I hope you don’t mind if I do.”

Margaret looked at Hank in the way only she could and put her sewing down. “After your ride over here Adam how about some coffee?”

“Coffee would be fine Margaret.”

Claire continued the conversation. “Deputy Miller was here earlier Adam. I have to go into Virginia City tomorrow to make identification. We’re going to leave early in the morning to get it over with.”

He raised his eyebrow and said, “Oh?”

Hank interrupted and said, “They did good work and we’re looking to put this whole nasty situation behind us.” Thinking quickly he said, “Adam why don’t you come with us?”

Adam looked at Claire since her uncle had made the request and not her. He was looking for an unspoken request. He saw it in her eyes. Not trying to sound anxious or exhibit the feelings he still had, he spoke calmly looking at Claire. “I wouldn’t think of Claire doing this without me being there. What time?”

Claire leaned back further against the settee as Adam placed his arm around her. She smiled internally as she realized that Adam’s response was one of protectiveness and a subtle way of letting her uncle know that she would soon be his to care for and that would not be much longer.

Margaret returned to the parlor with coffee for everyone. As the cups were being passed around she gleaned a sense of the conversation. “Adam, we’ve talked about what will happen now. Do you think that this whole matter can be expedited?”

“I can’t say Margaret. A lot depends upon when the judge will be here but I’m sure there’ll be no delay if it can be helped.”

“Well I want to see it resolved as soon as possible. Claire and Amy should never have had to experience such an incident,” spouted Hank.

“Uncle Hank that’s true. I want it resolved also. But Adam and I are going to move on with our plans and our lives. They’ve not been diminished by what’s happened. We’re dealing with it and are going to deal with it. The one thing I’m asking you and Aunt Maggie to understand is that if anything, we all should have learned something from this. Once it’s over we have to let it go or else none of us can move forward. I’m sure that there will be a lot of discussion and gossip – well so be it. Tongues will always wag but they will soon find something else to gossip about. So tomorrow I go to see Sheriff Coffey and do what’s necessary.”

Margaret just smiled over the edge of her coffee cup and looked at the expression on Hank’s face. Claire had said it all and rather well.

“Well my soon to be better half has said it quite clearly,” said Adam. He looked at her and said, “I could not have said it better myself.” She was a bit spunky.

Hank smiled and then the conversation turned to their plans for the wedding. The date was set and they started making a list of all that needed to be done. What started out as a somber evening now had become a joyous one. Margaret looked at the time and said, “Hank it’s getting a little late and I suspect that we should leave these two sometime for themselves.” They excused themselves and bid Adam goodnight.

Claire rose and collected the cups. She took them into the kitchen with Adam assisting her. As she started to wash them, she leaned over and kissed him slyly giving him a towel to dry the cups and saucers.

“Is this the way our life will be?” he asked. With wet hands, she placed them around his neck and kissed him soundly. He responded and a breaking of china was heard.

Looking at the broken cup she said, “I hope our life will not be full of broken china!”

* * * * * * * * * * *

Adam returned home to find his family still sitting up. Joe and Hoss were arguing over a checker game. As was usual, Hoss was accusing Joe of cheating.

“Back so soon Adam?” asked Hoss.

“I would think that is obvious brother,” Adam said as he sat down.

“How are things at the Sanders?” asked Ben.

“Believe it or not, they seem to be under control. Claire has to go into town tomorrow. I’ll be going with her.”

Hearing Adam say this, they all looked at him. He just ignored it and said, “Pa, before I leave in the morning there are some things I need to check over with you.”

“Sure son. Whenever you’re ready.”

“Thanks. Well that’s it for me. I’m going to call it a night. Got a few things to do.”

Joe started humming the Wedding March as Adam walked up the stairs and Hoss chimed in. Adam just paused and then shaking his head continued to his room. He removed his boots and flopped on his bed. Reaching into his pocket he removed the letter with the St. Louis postmark. He opened it.

Dear Adam,

Life is difficult at best to live honestly and honorably. To give up that part of life is painful. However, to be given a second chance is a blessing.

This letter is a letter of thanks for the trust you put in me and the wisdom you imparted. To thank you also for not judging me but rather providing a sense of what was right in a situation that had been wrong for too long. You indicated to me if you recall that anything worthwhile means some risk. The outcome being one that we must be willing to accept even if it is not what we were hoping for … the only way we can be free. That is quite a lot of wisdom from a young man. I see why Claire loves you with all her heart.

You are both extremely unique and special people. Regardless of the direction our paths take us, I have peace now and knowledge that you will have a life that is full of promise and joy. Second chances are rare. To not recognize them is being blind.

With warmest regards,

Clara Moss

Adam read the letter a second time. Putting it down, he placed his hands behind his head and stared at the ceiling.

 

 

SIXTY-NINE

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Ben had awakened early and was in the barn. Adam saw that the door of the great room was slightly ajar. He could hear Hop Sing singing in the kitchen as he was preparing breakfast and walked in.

“Good morning Hop Sing. Is the coffee ready?”

“Mornin’ Mista Adam. Coffee ready … on stove.”

Adam strolled over to the cupboard and retrieved a cup. As he was pouring a cup, he looked out the window and saw his father. He poured a second cup.

Stirring a pot Adam heard, “Missy Claire. She get note? Yes?”

Adam looked at him and nodded.

“Good. She lady that make good Cartwright family member. I want to remind her of how special she is and not hide shadow … to let shadow be visible.” He smiled and went on singing.

So that was what was in the note he’d left for her. Hop Sing had his bits of wisdom he’d pass on from time to time. They were not always understood at first but with a little thought they always proved to have a point of wisdom. He strolled out the side door and made his way to sit on the veranda. Ben looked up and saw him. Adam raised a cup indicating he had coffee for him. Ben stopped what he was doing and joined Adam on the veranda. Removing his gloves, he took the cup and sat down.

“Going to be a great day son. Just smell the air.”

“Um uh,” was Adam’s comment as he swallowed his coffee. “Pa I wanted to talk to you again about the property on Whisper’s Edge.”

With a huge smile on his face he said, “Pretty place and a great place for a home. I think it’ll be wonderful for you and Claire. Good land with plenty of sweet water, great view and not too far so I can get to see my grandchildren. Your plans are finished and I think it’s time you got started on building.”

Adam looked at his father. They’d not spoken much of children but as Adam slightly blushed he realized his yearning to be a father. He placed his hand softly on his father’s shoulder and merely said, “Thanks pa.”

“You know this land has always been for you boys. You’re the first to get married and I’m glad to be able see this day coming. Whatever you need, just ask. There’s no greater joy for me right now than the marriage of you to Claire.” He was quiet for a moment and then looking at Adam with a tenderness continued, “Your mother would have loved to have seen the man you’ve become and the woman that is to be your wife.”

Adam was caught aback by his father’s mention of his mother. The words he felt deeply and understood the depths to which one could care for another. His father had not forgotten after all these years. He was touched and could only look into the caring eyes of his father. They seemed to twinkle as the edges of his mouth formed a smile.

Father and son finished their coffee. The day was now more beautiful for each of them with a lot to accomplish. Standing up Adam indicated he needed to be heading to the Sanders ranch. Looking out over the greenness, he placed his hands on his hips and stood.

“Everything alright Adam?”

“Yeah pa. Everything’s fine. Just allowing my shadow to be visible.” With that he touched his father’s arm and headed to get Sport.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

They arrived at the Virginia City jail early. Assisting Claire from the carriage, Margaret, Hank, Claire and Adam entered. Roy looked up as they entered. “Good morning,” he said. “This won’t take long. Please ladies have a seat.”

“Now as my deputy told you this is merely a formality that has to take place. The outcome of your identification will determine where we go from here.”

“Where we go from here?” asked Hank. “There should be no question about that.”

“Sanders I understand your feelings in this matter. Let me do my job. I want this to be as easy on your niece as possible. OK?”

“Sorry Roy. It’s just that …”

“It’s alright Sanders. Now as I was saying, I need Miss Sanders to look at the men I have in custody and to tell me if any of them were involved in the incident. That’s all there is too it. We’ll complete some paperwork and the rest will be handled from there. Will be over with before you know it. Now Miss Sanders, I’m going to take you in there and all I want you to do is take a good look at them. I don’t want you to say anything. We’ll come back out here and you then give me your answer. Understood? ”

She breathed deeply and said, “I’m ready Sheriff Coffey.” She stood and started toward the cell area with Roy. Her three supporters started to follow as well.

“Ah, folks, I need to ask you to stay here. I’ll see that this is as painless for her as can be. She needs to do this alone with me.”

Begrudgingly they understood and resigned themselves to wait.

Roy opened the door and allowed Claire to enter. He then closed the door. Three pairs of eyes were on the door. Roy slowly escorted Claire to the center of the area. “OK you three, stand up and face this way. You know the drill … you’ve already done it once.”

They stood up and faced the voice. Roy quietly spoke into Claire’s ear that she should just take her time and then let him know when she was ready to leave. She nodded and raised her eyes to gaze at the three figures in front of her. Turning to Roy she indicated that she was ready. He escorted her out of the cell area.

Pulling a chair out for her to sit, Adam asked if she were alright. She indicated that she was and took his hand. Her aunt and uncle waited to hear what she had to say.

“Miss Sanders thanks for coming in,” said Roy. “Now please tell me if you can identify any of these men as the ones involved.”

Adam felt her hand tighten on his as she responded. “Two of the men were the perpetrators. The third one I’ve never seen before. It was the man with the grey shirt and the man with the plaid shirt. The one with the plaid shirt is the one I scratched after he pushed Amy from the carriage.”

“Are you absolutely certain?”

“Yes sheriff. I’m absolutely certain.”

“Well then, you’ve just identified Danny and Sam Wales. That’s just fine. If you’ll just write your statement down as to the way the events happened and sign it that’s all I need for now.”

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Margaret put her arm around her niece as they left Roy’s office. Adam remained behind. “What’s next Roy?” he asked.

“Well both women identified the same men. They will stand trial. Judge Holmby will be coming through next week and I suspect these two will be put away for a long time. The other will be charged as well and serve time too I’m sure.”

Adam rubbed the side of his head with his forefinger and asked, “Is there any way that they won’t have to appear in court? That there statements can stand alone if notarized?”

“I can’t say Adam and I understand why you’re asking. That would have to be the judge’s call. In the meantime, I’m going to file the paperwork and see about making sure these men have a lawyer.”

He asked Roy to keep him advised of events and thanked him.

Joining the Sanders on the street he found them preparing to leave Virginia City. He walked over to Claire and asked how she was. “I’m fine Adam. Really. I’m fine.”

“OK. If you don’t have anything planned for this afternoon, I think we have some things to take care of.”

“Look forward to it Adam. I’ll meet you at the Ponderosa.”

“Claire! You can’t go off traipsing around the countryside by yourself,” exclaimed her uncle.

“I think he’s right Claire,” Adam added.

“I can’t stop being myself. The Ponderosa is not that far and I can get there safely. I’ll be there at noon.”

“Claire please think about this. We’d all feel better if you let Adam pick you up or we could drive you.”

“Aunt Maggie if this incident hadn’t happened there would be no question with me making the trek by myself. We can’t have all of our lives disrupted by this.” Realizing she was not thinking about them, she conceded. “OK. You can either drive me or send one of your ranch hands Uncle Hank. I don’t want Adam to have to make a triple trip.”

That settled, Adam indicated that he needed to get to the post office and would take the opportunity to handle a few matters while he was in town. He’d see her at the Ponderosa at noon and would deliver her home safely. Deciding not to kiss her on the city street which would not be the appropriate thing to do, he tipped his hat at her with a wink. He watched as they drove off and then headed in the other direction.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

There was plenty of activity on the Ponderosa. A large herd was being moved to a lower pasture and ready for count. The contract with the Pearson Group needed to be structured so that delivery could be made on time. This was a coup for the Cartwrights and things were moving along ahead of schedule. From the timberline, progress was moving along equally as well on the timber contract Ben had closed for delivery to Sacramento. The only thing that was not moving along well was Ben keeping the paperwork up to date. Although not far behind, he was determined that between he and Adam they would stay on top of it.

Adam returned home and found his brothers repairing harness. He realized the amount of work a ranch required. Life was different here from San Francisco and St. Louis. There was however a quality here that neither of those two cities could match. He knew he and Claire would visit those cities again. At least he wanted to. No. He’d make a point of it.

Seeing their elder brother they wanted to know what had taken place in Virginia City. Adam gave them the details and said it was now a matter of waiting.

“How ya feelin’ about all this Adam?” asked Hoss.

“I’m just looking for it to be over I guess.”

“Yeah Hoss. We have a wedding to plan and a sister to tease the dickens out of,” laughed Joe.

“Joe if’n I was you I’d leave well ‘nough alone. As it is we cain’t visit them for a year. You’ll have us plum banned from their place forever.”

“Adam doesn’t mean it. Brother here needs to laugh more and we can certainly supply that. Besides, we’re standing up with him at the wedding. When is it anyway?”

“All of that can be changed Joe,” said Adam as he turned and headed toward the house.

“Dadburnit it Joe. I’m telling ya, don’t git on the wrong side of Adam now. He’s got a lot on his mind.”

“I’m sure he does and who better to help him but you and me?”

“If it’s really helpin’ that’s one thing. But if yer a gonna do somethin dumb be sure to leave me outta it. We done been through too much just now.”

Adam was reviewing the paperwork on his father’s desk and realized that within an hour or so he could have it all caught up. He rolled up his sleeves and started. Coming in through the back door was his father.

“Son you’re back already. How’d it go?”

“Claire identified the two men. They’ll stand trial and their brother will be charged as well.”

“Umm,” Ben said frowning.

“Something bothering you pa?”

“No, not really I guess. Was just wondering about their father Andy Wales.”

“So am I. I’ve asked Roy to keep me updated on what’s happening.”

“Good. How you coming with that paperwork? Everything for the cattle and timber sales seem to be moving along well. I told you this was a great day.”

Adam just looked at his father and said sort of tongue and cheek, “Paperwork is now done and the day is going to get better. Claire should be here around noon.”

 

 

SEVENTY

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Mary and May Wales did not have a peaceful night’s rest. They were overwhelmed with the turn of events that had affected not just one son, which might have been understood, but all three sons and their father. They’d spent time into the wee hours of the morning discussing what should be done and what they would need to do to care for themselves. May had always been a person who remained in a marriage that she realized was not good. She’d also taken abuse and had seen her sons raised in a rough and tough fashion with little concern for others. It seemed to be the way Andy came along in Kentucky and his family before him. She’d hoped that their marriage would have changed that, but over the years she became defeated in her attempts and prayed that she’d be able to tolerate it and something would change for the better. She was a woman of faith and during the night she called upon that faith for understanding and guidance. Baring her thoughts and prayers with her daughter Mary, they shed tears and prayed for strength to do what they both new and believed to be the right thing to do.

Though tired, they ate a quick breakfast and rode into Carson City. Stopping at the church they went in and prayed once again. When finished mother and daughter looked at one another and then found the pastor. They talked with him for some time. He had become a solace to both women as they attended services each Sunday. He listened very attentively to them and tried to give counsel without telling them what to do. Feeling as if a weight had been lifted from her shoulders, May questioned Mary about her feelings and what she felt. Mary was very forthcoming with her feelings, the hurt she felt, and her feelings for her brothers and father. She further shared that continuing to be in something that was wrong was not going to be of help to any of them. She was in support of whatever her mother felt was necessary. They left the church and headed for the jail.

Crossing the street to enter the jail, they both ran into Sheriff Calhoun who was heading in that direction.

“Good morning ladies,” he said. He opened the door for them. He saw a tiredness and concern on their faces and felt a sense of sorrow for them.

“Please have a seat,” he motioned to them. “What can I help you with?”

“Sheriff,” said May. “Can you tell me what’s going to happen to my husband?”

Looking at her he knew he’d have no good news to provide but the truth was never pleasant. These two women did not deserve the heartache they were facing.

“Mrs. Wales, I’m afraid your husband has been charged with obstruction of justice, wielding a deadly weapon with intent to do harm and threatening a law officer. He’ll have to stand trial and face whatever penalty or fine meted out by the judge.”

“I see,” she said quietly. “So, you’re telling me that there may not necessarily be a jail sentence – perhaps just a fine?”

“That’s what I’m telling you but the chances of not facing a jail sentence I would suggest would be very slim. As I said, I would not count on it. These are not charges that I believe would be taken lightly.”

Digesting this information, she then asked, “Can my daughter and I see him?”

He rose and took the keys off the hook, opened the door to where her husband was confined and allowed her to enter. He left the door open.

Seeing his wife enter and approach the cell, Andy stood up. He didn’t appear that he’d had a restful night’s sleep either. If anything, it was probably best he was behind bars as his body language indicated a wrath that no one should have to face.

“Have ya any news of the boys?” he growled. “Ya been to Virginia City yet?”

May was slow to respond. She just stood staring at the man that fathered her children and that she’d spent too many years with. Not responding as quickly as he’d like, he became more enraged.

“Woman, do you hear me talking to ya? What’s happenin to them boys?”

“Pa,” said Mary. “You’re yellin as you always do and if you want to hear what we know, please just stop yellin. It ain’t never helped anything.”

He paused at the words his daughter spoke to him. “When did ya get so uppity missy? I’m your pa and ya need to be respectful.”

All the while May was looking at the sight of the man behind the bars who seemed to be someone completely different than the one she’d married years before.

“Yes you’re my pa. I love ya and if anything, I’ve always been respectful … but that didn’t stop you or my brothers from being hateful and hurting ma and me. Now I’m asking ya to talk sensibly and stop the yellin – please.”

He looked at his daughter as if he’d never seen her before. He just tightened his hands around the cell bars.

“Andy,” said May. “We’re on our way to Virginia City now. We’ll find out what we can and then let you know.”

He tried to get a few words out but before he could May continued, “We’ll do what we can to try to help all of you. But know this Andy Wales, if you’re guilty there’s probably nothing we can do for any of ya but try to do what is right and get this mess over with.”

“Woman ya know what ya gotta do. Them boys ain’t done nothing that wasn’t called fer. They is high spirited is all and don’t mean no harm to no one lessin’ they have a call to be. Me, I was just a doin what I needed to ‘cause no one was gonna listen to ‘em and them Cartwrights were tryin to break up this here family. They’s the cause of all this trouble. Them boys ain’t guilty! Now git yerself to Virginia City and see what’s happinin to ma boys.”

May looked at Andy and said, “We’re on our way now. Is there anything you need? The sheriff seems to think that you’ve got yourself in a mess of trouble and you may be facing some jail time.”

“All I can say is to git me a lawyer so’s I can git justice and git the devil outta here – and be quick about that.”

“We’ll do what we can – and if I was you Andy Wales, I’d take this time to think about the person you are and what you’ve done to Mary, me and the boys.” With that May turned to walk out and Mary just walked over and touched her pa’s hand. She then left leaving Andy just staring as the door was closing. May stopped and thanked Sheriff Calhoun for allowing them to see Andy and indicated that they would be returning. She also asked if he could locate an attorney for her husband. He indicated he’d it do right away.

May and Mary got into their buggy. Before leaving for Virginia City May asked Mary for the box that Andy had hidden in the root cellar. Rechecking the contents, she felt there was enough money to take care of the legal matters. She had added to that the monies she secretly kept aside from purchasing supplies.

“Ma, pa ain’t gonna be happy about this.”

“Maybe not Mary, but how did he think we were gonna be able to pay for a lawyer or two? What your pa has yet to learn is that ya reap what ya sow.” They started off for Virginia City.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Hop Sing had heard that Claire was coming to the Ponderosa so decided he’d make a nice lunch. He was becoming more attached to this lady who he was now referring to as ‘special lady Claire’.

Adam sat outside waiting for Claire to arrive. His brothers were headed into the house to clean up for lunch. As they were passing him Hoss hunched Joe and said, “Seems Adam thinks looking down that there road it’s gonna hurry Claire getting here.”

“Maybe he needs a magic wand to hurry her up,” laughed Joe.

Adam was ignoring his siblings as he knew they were up to something and were not going to stop if he decided to indulge in their conversation.

“Guess the cat has his tongue,” said Hoss.

“I certainly hope not, because he’s going to need it to say I do.”

“You know Joe, I never thought about it like that.” Looking upwards and then pointing his finger at Joe he continued, “I think I heard it said somewhere that love takes yer breath away. Maybe that’s the reason he can’t answer.”

Adam turned and looked at his two brothers. He was slightly smiling at them. This caught them off guard and they then decided it was time to go and clean up – they feared they’d said enough in the teasing of their brother.

Within minutes Claire arrived. She was in riding clothes now and thanked her uncle’s ranch hand for bringing her over. Before he left, Adam called to him and shook his hand, “Clive, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen you. Would you like something to drink before you leave?”

“It’s good to see you as well Adam. No thanks on that drink – I need to be heading back. Maybe we’ll get to see each other and have a chance to talk at the cattlemen’s meeting.”

“Probably so. Thanks again Clive,” Adam said as he tethered Claire’s horse and Clive headed out.

He looked at her and a wide smile crossed his face. Noticing that she’d changed her clothes he said, “This is different from what you were wearing this morning. Do you change your clothes often?”

Claire just nudged Adam in his side with her elbow as he put his arm around her and walked her to the house. “You haven’t seen anything yet,” she joked.

“Claire,” called Ben as she entered the house. “Adam said you were coming over. I hope that you haven’t had lunch as we were getting ready to sit down and I think that Hop Sing has something delicious prepared.”

“No, I haven’t Mr. Cartwright and I’d certainly enjoy having lunch with all of you.”

“That’s great except for one thing – call me anything but Mr. Cartwright. You’re going to be my daughter-in-law very shortly.”

She thought for a moment, smiled and said, “Well then would you mind if I called you dad?”

Adam beamed and Ben hugged her. “I’d be ever so honored daughter.” Ben then released Adam’s grasp on Claire and escorted her to the table.

Hoss and Joe came from the wash room to take their places at the table. Noticing that Claire was seated next to their father they greeted her warmly. Adam just looked across at her. She fit in very nicely.

Hop Sing brought lunch out. He also greeted her and noticed that her face showed hardly any signs of bruising. He was happy that his remedy worked.

“So Claire,” said Joe. “I want to thank you for coming into big brother’s life. He’s generally a real pain to get along with and now he’s like a real pussy cat.”

“Joseph,” said Ben.

“No really,” Joe continued. “Pa I’m sure you’ve noticed it as well. We can at last live with him.”

Claire just looked over at Adam.

“I’d say that the difference has been made in my life. Sometimes Joe we’re the ones that put up the walls that cause us to have difficulties with one another.”

Adam just continued eating and thought, “good shot!”

Hoss grinned as did Ben. It seemed if Joe wanted to continue this line of conversation that they would just let him and enjoy it.

“Now are you saying that we build walls?” Joe asked.

“Not in the material sense Joe, but sometimes we make things more difficult than necessary. Besides, each of us is different, likes different things, reacts in different ways to situations and sometimes we just need to take an honest look at ourselves.”

“You can sure say that again Claire,” Hoss chimed in. “Joe sure can react. I don’t think he’s looked at himself ‘cept in his mirror.”

“Now Hoss, I was trying to understand what Claire was saying. She makes quite a lot of sense. Having her in the family will be a big help – she’s gonna marry Adam and I think a female in the family will be something special. A … a …. a different perspective on how we see things.”

Ben almost dropped his fork at Joe’s comment and caused Adam’s eyebrow to raise.

“It’s not important Joe,” she said. “Besides we’ll have plenty of time to figure it out.”

“So Claire,” said Hoss. “I guess you and Adam have a lot of planning to do, things to get ready for. We haven’t had this much excitement around here in a long time.”

Before she could respond Joe was at it again. Laughing heartily he said, “That’s the truth. We haven’t had this much excitement around here since Hoss and his little green men.”

Claire did not understand what Joe was referring to and Hoss was turning a shade of crimson.

“Ah Claire,” Adam interrupted, “I’ll explain it to you at some point. Hoss, would you please pass the rolls?”

As he was passing the rolls to Adam, Joe decided he’d reach for one first. His quick move to grab a roll caused Hoss to drop the platter and rolls started landing over the table. Hoss trying to catch those he could, accidentally knocked over Joe’s water glass which promptly caused Joe to feel a coolness on his legs.

“Joe! Hoss!” yelled Ben. “Cut out this behavior. You both know better than that. What do you want Claire to think?”

“Yes sir, we do know better,” said Hoss. Little brother here was just showing his rudeness Claire. This is part of the real Joseph Francis Cartwright. Welcome to the family.”

Claire just smiled and saw Adam looking at his father and then to her. She just put her head down and continued to eat. Joe was angry that Hoss had used his middle name.

“Ah brothers,” said Adam quietly. “This has just been an accident. Let’s just finish the meal Hop Sing prepared and show Claire that we can act as if we’ve been raised properly.”

Fuming Joe continued to wipe his pants. Hoss just smiled. Ben just shook his head and leaned over and said something quietly to Claire.

“Of course dad,” she said.

The word ‘dad’ caused both Joe and Hoss to stop. They looked at each other which did not go unnoticed. Joe mouthed the word ‘dad’ to Hoss with a strange look on his face.

“If you’ll excuse me I need to see Hop Sing for a moment,” said Claire. As she rose from her seat and headed to the kitchen the men stood.

Once seated again, Ben growled, “Well I’m at least glad to see that you still have some sense of manners. This is just ridiculous behavior and I want it stopped right now. What do you think Claire is going to think of you two?”

“Pa, she cares a great deal for them and you,” said Adam. “So there’s no worry what she thinks. Besides, I’m the one she’s going to live with and these two I guess she’ll just have to tolerate.”

Returning from the kitchen, “Did I hear you say tolerate Adam?” Claire asked. “Please, don’t get up.”

She handed Joe a plate with rolls and butter on it and then placed a fresh platter of hot rolls on the table.

Noticing that he was served his own plate of hot rolls Joe said, “Thank you.”

As Ben assisted her in being seated once again, Claire said, “This has been a wonderful meal. I dare say I think I look a bit better than the last time that I was here for dinner. Oh, and Joe, the reason you have your own plate of rolls and butter is because I’m just trying to help you in dismantling your walls.” She laughed heartily as did the rest of them. Joe got the point and he also joined in the laughter.

“I’m going to like having you for a sister Claire. You’ve a great sense of humor. If you change your mind about marrying brother here I’m available.”

With lunch over, Adam, Claire and Ben went to sit on the veranda with coffee. They were discussing the wedding plans, the home they’d live in and the building of the new one. Ben was very excited over the prospect and asked if he could offer some suggestions. Told that his thoughts were very welcome, he was most appreciative and seemed to be bubbling with joy and energy. The wedding would be in two months’ time which seemed an eternity to him as well as Adam.

Adam and Claire were going to ride out to take a last look at what would need to be done to their temporary home. He’d then have dinner with Claire, see her home and return after that. As they were mounting their horses, Joe called to Claire.

“Claire, wait a minute. I’ve got a little something for you.”

Adam wondered what his brother could possibly have for her and leaned forward on his horse.

Claire opened up the napkin and found a roll with a note stuck to it. It said Welcome to the Family. She laughed. Ben was happy to see the laughter and the teasing that helped them all relax. Claire expressed her appreciation and she and Adam started to ride off. She pulled her horse up and turned around. Seeing Joe walking back to the house, she looked carefully and then stood in her stirrups. Taking careful aim, she threw the roll and successfully hit Joe in the back of his head. She and Adam then rode off to take care of matters laughing as they rode.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Things in Virginia City were buzzing with the news of the Wales brothers. May and Mary arrived and went directly to see Roy Coffey. Upon entering, he recognized the two women.

“Good afternoon Mrs. Wales … Miss Wales. I suppose you want to see your boys.”

“Yes sheriff if that is permitted. I’d then like to talk to you.”

“Certainly Mrs. Wales. If you and your daughter would kindly leave your handbags out here while you visit, I’ll see that nothing happens to them.”

He opened the door and led them in. May tried to retain her composure. Roy left the door open and then returned with two chairs for them to sit on.

“Take as long as you want,” he said. “I’ll be just outside here.

 

 

SEVENTY-ONE
Feelings and the ‘Truth’

* * * * * * * * * * * *

The three brothers looked at their mother and sister from a space they had never imagined themselves in. Their lives had been one of hard times and hard living. Through it all they had no regrets and their sense of right and wrong was written according to the laws of Andy Wales. Now they were in jail awaiting the justice that would be levied against them according to the laws of Nevada.

The space was small and rather uncomfortable. Ed and Danny were in one cell and Sam in the other. In their minds, they’d really done nothing wrong but seek retribution and had a little fun. It didn’t register that what they’d done over the last month would be considered breaking the law. After all they had always followed what their father taught them and demanded. They were just seeking as they interpreted from the Bible ‘an eye for an eye’. After all, Ed was shot. They looked at their mother and sister. Somewhere from within Ed a sense of the heartbreak that shown on his mother’s face bothered him.

“Hi ma,” Ed said. “You and Mary doing OK?”

“We’re doing as well as we can. How are you boys?”

“We’re fine but we’ll be better when we get outta here. Any word on when that will be?”

She looked at Ed and then the other two boys, “I can’t believe that you’re asking that question. I’m sure you must know the seriousness of the charges. This is not just one of your childish pranks this time. You did bodily harm and stole. As far as I know you’ve been identified and will now stand trial. Can you understand that?”

“Aw, come on Ma – we didn’t do anything wrong. We were just having a little bit ‘o’ fun,” said Sam. “The only problem was when I was punched by that Adam Cartwright for no reason and hauled off to the jail. It was just a mistake and I didn’t even press charges against him. Things just got out of hand from there.”

She looked at her three sons with a pang of sorrow for them. Had she done such a poor job of trying to undo what they’d learned from the father? She had tried to instill some sense of goodness in them and could not believe that she’d failed entirely.

Her face showed the anguish that she was feeling but she was going to continue. “Look at me!” she ordered. The boys seemed hesitant to do so. “I said look at me!” Her tone now was quiet but stern. It even caused Mary to sit up in her chair.

With their eyes now focused on her, she continued. “I love you boys more than you probably can imagine. Just as I love Mary. I don’t know where I went wrong along the way in your growing up – perhaps I should have been stronger and more demanding of you three. I can’t undo what is. What I’m feeling now is the hurt that I guess I knew one day would come. My only thanks is that none of you have been killed.”

“Ma,” said Ed. “We know we were not the easiest to raise. We didn’t want to hurt you in any way. We weren’t any different than the rest of our family in Kentucky. There must be a way to fix this.”

“You didn’t want to hurt me?” she asked. “Look at me. What do you see? Look at your sister. You can’t imagine the grief we’re carrying now. If you didn’t want to hurt either of us, you shouldn’t have done what you’re accused of and who knows what else. You are going to have to stand trial. There’s no way to get around that fact.”

“Ma you can’t be serious,” said Danny.

She looked at him with a sharpness in her eyes. “Danny Wales, you were the first to be born. I hoped for so much for you. None of you are lacking a brain. Your father is not here to interrupt my talking to you. So, you listen to me! I want you to hear what I have to say and then I want you to think about what is right and what is the truth … and I want you to look at Mary and me while I’m talking.”

She settled in her chair and Mary took her hand. “I want you to tell me the truth. I have my suspicions about what the truth is in this matter. I also suspect you were somehow involved in the Cartwright’s fire and the stampede. Look at Mary. You love her. I know you do. How would you react if someone robbed her or abused her?”

Her son’s eyes showed a looked of being caught.

“I’m the only mother you will ever have in this life. I have prayed that somehow this wrong can be made right. Regardless of what you have done I still love you and believe in all three of you. The life we’ve been living is over. If and when you get through this, I’ll be there for all of you. I can only ask that you know in your heart that you have a chance to pay your debt and can have a decent life. But you have to want it and things will have to change. Now, if you can’t find that possible to do, Mary and I will be moving on to start a life that you will not be welcome in. I have come to terms with things and am sorry that you’re in jail. I blame myself in many ways for this. But I know that you’re not all bad.” Tears began to form in her eyes and Mary held her mother’s hand tighter.

A change in the demeanor of Ed caused him to drop his head.

Gaining her composure, she continued. “Now I’ve given you my facts. You need to give me something – and that is the truth. I know what your father told you. He’s not helping you with bad advice and a bad temper. Because of it he’s in jail in Carson City. We’ve had hard times but not as hard as they’ll be if you don’t think about the consequences of your actions and turn yourselves around. If you do that I will always be there for you and so will Mary. I want the opportunity for you to be able to be men! To stand up and take what is coming to you. In the end, we will all be able to hold our heads up and get on with a good life … the way it should be.”

She stood up and walked closer to their cells. “I’m going to ask you one time to tell me the truth and also the sheriff. If you don’t, the only way I can help you is to tell the sheriff what I know and suspect. I’ll always stand by you when you do right. I can’t stand by you when do wrong. They’re getting a lawyer for you – but you have to do your part as well.”

The words of their mother rang through their ears. They saw her pain and knew from her words and the expression they’d never seen before, that something had changed within her. That she meant what she said. She would tell.

She placed her hand through the cell bars and touched each of them. Mary said quietly, “We love you.”

“Since it’s getting late, Mary and I will be staying in town for the night at the hotel. We’ll stop by in the morning so you can let us know what you decide. Just remember, an end needs to be put to this hate, lying and way of living. If you don’t do what is right, I will.” With that she and Mary walked out of the jail.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Adam and Claire had spent quite a lot of time checking every part of the house that would shelter them temporarily until Adam could build their home. As they walked through and around the house, Claire added to the list that had been begun by Adam. This house would give them enough room for themselves and the ability to entertain family and friends – perhaps not at the same time if Adam had his way and Claire’s piano was placed in the parlor. The three bedrooms upstairs were sizeable and bright. Adam thought one could be a studio for her to paint in and perhaps the other a place for him to work. The concern over furniture was limited as the belongings from her home in St. Louis would be arriving within the next few weeks. This would work for the time being. Adam had spoken at length with Claire about purchasing what she wanted for the new house when the time came. He wanted it to be hers although he let her know that he did have definite opinions about certain things. She had laughed at him and said it was to be their home and she would enjoy their discussions regarding the furnishings. The plans for the building of their home and the location had been identified. It was going to take time to complete, but Adam had indicated that he’d like to get started on it as soon as everything was completed on their temporary first home. He wasn’t sure how much could be completed prior to the winter settling in, but Claire had reminded him that it just gave them something to look forward to.

Walking together, they had a sense of a wonderful life ahead of them. They said very little for a while but just nestled against each other as they walked. They turned and gazed upon the house. It appeared to be quaint and beautiful in Claire’s mind. Adam caressed her gently and kissed her head.

“Mrs. Adam Cartwright,” he said. “Has a nice sound.”

“Umm it does. But so does Mrs. Claire Cartwright,” chuckled Claire.

“Are you up to riding into Virginia City?” he asked. “I’d like to drop off a list of things to be ordered and thought we might have some dinner. If not, I can do it another time.”

“I’m up to anything you are. Besides, I like doing things with you and being alone with you.”

He saw a puzzled look on her face and asked, “What is it?”

“Just something silly I guess, but I’m not really dressed for dinner.”

“No one will be looking at what you’re wearing,” he said and soundly kissed her.

They approached the house and Claire said, “I received a letter from Clara.”

“Oh,” was the response she got. “How is she?”

Reaching the porch to the house Claire sat down. “From the letter I can only assume that she is well. I’ve written a reply but have yet to post it.”

“How are you feeling about her?”

Looking at her hands she said, “I want to get to know her. I want to know more about me. I feel that with time we can forge a relationship of some sort. We’ve gotten to this point that we can’t deny our relationship and we cannot go backwards …. I like her.”

He smiled as she looked at him. “Well, I like her to. Besides, I received a letter from her as well.”

Claire was surprised to hear it. Adam recounted how she thanked him for what she had called his being of help to her and wishing them a wonderful marriage. “We are inviting her to the wedding aren’t we?” he asked.

“I’d like to.”

“Fine. Then we shall. With the way pa is going about making up his invitation list and your aunt and uncle, we’d better get started on our own to make sure there’s room for those we’d like to invite.” Adam knew that Claire enjoyed smaller gatherings and the excitement of their nuptials was growing larger by the moment.

“Adam, at some point we have to curtail these invitations. I know that it’s important to your father and my aunt and uncle that they invite all the Comstock, but I really don’t know many of these people and I think I would like a little bit more intimacy.”

“Well my dear, you have every right to that. All WE need do is to inform them of what we decide. Besides, I’d be perfectly happy with just you, the minister and me.”

“Do you think it will be that easy … I mean to try to curb the invitation list?”

“If you’re worried about hurting feelings, just remember that this is the first day of the beginning of our lives and it should be what we want.”

“Mmmmm. Sounds easier said than done.”

“Listen Claire, I agree with you. We have to set limits. So that’s what we’ll do. I think our families are adult enough to understand our wants and go along with them. We’ll just stand our ground.”

“Adam, I’m concerned about the Wales and what’s going to happen next. I … I suspect there will be a trial and I’m …”

“Worried …concerned?” he asked.

“Yes. There’s already a great amount of talk around town I understand and even though you haven’t mentioned anything to me about yesterday, I know you’re seeking punishment for them.”

“Claire, they broke the law. With that comes punishment which usually translates to time in jail.”

“I know Adam, but I wish this could be handled in a way other than publicly. I’ve spoken to Amy and she feels the same way.”

He knew that there was more and experience proved if he waited she would be forthcoming.

“Adam, Amy and I talked. She’s fine and so am I. We’ve gotten our belongings back. Can we … we not pursue this matter and perhaps let it go?”

He wasn’t sure that he’d heard her correctly. “Claire, they broke the law. They could have hurt you and Amy more seriously than they did. They robbed you. The law has just punishment for things of this nature. Surely you aren’t suggesting that they be set free! Remember the way both you and Amy felt? Remember the suffering that you’re both continuing to go through? No man or men has any right to put a woman through that. I cannot entertain the thought of their going free. They hurt an important part of me – you. It’s not revenge I’m talking about. It’s paying a price for doing wrong.”

She was slow to answer hearing the tone of his voice change. “I hear what you’re saying. It’s just that I guess all of this is just really settling in now and … well, I’d like it to go away. I’m beginning to feel nervous about this whole matter.”

“That’s understandable Claire. But I’ll never be far from you and you’ll certainly not have to face this by yourself. You didn’t ask for this to happen and it’s not your fault or Amy’s.”

“I know. I’m just a little nervous and afraid.”

He hugged her to him to reassure her. It worked.

They rose to walk to their mounts and head to Virginia City. Adam watched Claire. Her hair was shining in the sunlight and his heart was shining within. He felt a need to be with her. Before she could mount her horse, she moved to him to accept the kiss and embrace she knew was coming. The depth and passion of the kiss between them spoke volumes of what was ahead. If only today was the wedding day Adam thought.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

The ride to Virginia City was exhilarating. The smell of the pines surrounded them as the breeze of spring seemed to usher them forward. Adam was impressed with the skill Claire had for riding. He wondered where’d she come by it. Certainly not at the Conservatory of Music. Before they knew it, the city lay before them. They rode leisurely into town. However subtly he handled it, Adam was keeping Claire’s mind off the men in the jail and her away from it.

They took their horses to the Livery and then began to walk toward the Mercantile. As they strolled down the street, Adam ushered her around persons by placing his hand in the small of her back. He was very aware of some of the glances that were coming their way. He didn’t mind as he was proud to be seen with Claire. Some of the women who wished to be in Claire’s position, just stared.

He finished ordering supplies. Delivery was set for early Saturday morning. As Claire wandered around the store, Adam quietly spoke with Jason. He was checking on a special order that he’d placed when he returned to Virginia City. He was told that it should be complete and arrive on schedule or before. Jason would let Adam know.

As Claire looked at fabrics, she was eyed by two women who walked up to her and said, “Hello. I see that you’re with Adam Cartwright. I guess you are the fiancée? I’m Lottie Smoot and this is Maude Burton. We’d like to welcome you to Virginia City and hope that you’ll find it a friendly place.”

“Well thank you. I’m Claire Sanders and certainly appreciate your welcome. I’m sure our home here will be amongst a friendly community,” she smiled.

Adam seeing the situation Claire was in decided she needed rescuing from the chair and vice-chair of the Virginia City gossip committee.

Taking Claire by the elbow, he nodded to them and said hello. He wished them a good day and then excused himself and Claire.

“It should be against the law for anyone to be that beautiful and articulate,” said Lottie.

“Lottie, you’re just upset because she’s going to become a Cartwright. Try to say something nice or just be quiet.”

As Adam and Claire headed toward the International House, he said, “Well you’ve just encountered two who are probably seeking an invitation to the wedding. They head the rank and file of most of the gossip in town.”

“Sounds like they’ll have something else to talk about now. Adam, is it my imagination or are people looking at us?”

“It’s not your imagination and they are not looking at us – they are looking at the beautiful future Mrs. Cartwright.”

They entered the International House and were seated in a quiet corner as Adam had requested. Claire smiled at him from across the table. “I’m really enjoying our day together.”

“That’s the way it should be. Now, how hungry are you?”

As they were looking over the menu, two women entered. One was a bit older than the other and seemed drained. They were seated and graciously accepted the menu.

 

 

SEVENTY-TWO

* * * * * * * * * * * *

The irony of the situation was that dining in the International House were the very people that were most affected by the happenings of the last twenty-four hours. Two who were enjoying time together and their meal and two that were overwhelmed with the unknown circumstances they were about to face while eating a meal they hardly tasted.

The sun was beginning to lower in the sky when they walked back to the Livery to retrieve their mounts. They headed out of town at a leisurely pace just enjoying the colors painted across the sky by the sun’s mysterious rays reflecting against the mountains. It was a painter’s palette. The day had been longer than Claire was used to, particularly on horseback and she was relishing the sight of home. Adam sensed the weariness that was coming over her but she continued to talk and laugh. They rounded the last bend as the sun finally disappeared and saw the lights of her aunt and uncle’s ranch reaching out to welcome her home. They dismounted and one of her uncle’s hands saw her. He offered to settle her horse and she thanked him. Adam entered the house to give his greetings to her aunt and uncle. They asked him to stay but he knew the weariness Claire was feeling and decided to not accept the invitation. Claire walked him out as he was leaving. They stopped for a moment.

“Thank you for a lovely day,”

Stroking her face gently he said, “There’s nothing to thank me for. We’ll have many days like this.”

Kissing her good night he released her. She embraced him tightly. He knew something was bothering her. He remained close and said, “Don’t borrow trouble Claire. We’ve come far and what you’re worried about – just put it out of your mind. You’re half a Cartwright now and when something happens to one the others of us are always there. You’re safe and will remain so.”

Looking at the glimmer of his eyes in the moonlight she knew he understood her worries about the trial. She managed to give him a slight grin and said, “Why are you so wise? You know what I was thinking.”

“I think I had the upper hand. It’s obvious you’re tired. When you’re tired your guard is down. Besides you’d already told me of your concerns.”

“Do you think they’re foolish?”

“No. Not at all. I just want you to put them out of your mind and get some rest. Perhaps on Saturday we can get together with your aunt and uncle and my pa to tell them what our final plans are and move the wedding planning along. How’s that sound?”

Trying to stifle a yawn she said, “Sounds like an excellent idea. How about joining us for breakfast here?”

She laid her head on his shoulder. He whispered to her. “I love you. Now you’re tired and need to get some rest. I’ll be by tomorrow.” She watched him as he mounted his horse and followed his silhouette against the moonlight until he was out of sight.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Sheriff Calhoun grimaced after delivering dinner to Andy Wales. His deputy knew what was bothering him. The Circuit Judge would hear Andy’s case the day after tomorrow. Experience with the judge that was coming through Carson City was that he pronounced light sentences unless there was a loss of life. Calhoun knew there was a high probability this would be the case also.

Calhoun sent his deputy in to collect the tray that should be empty by now.

“Deputy, this food wasn’t enough to fill a body up. I need more.”

“Wales, this is it for tonight. You better just be glad you got this.”

Wales sat on his cot and stared at the deputy as he pulled the tray from under the cell. “Ya know,” said Wales, “I guess I needed this little rest. Won’t be long before I’m outta here. You and I both know that’s the case. ‘Sides when my missus gets back tomorrow and brings me a lawyer by, I’ll be a free man,” he laughed.

The deputy just looked at the man who sat laughing as he picked his teeth.

* * * *

Adam walked in and placed his gun on the credenza and hung up his hat. He greeted his father and brothers and sat on the hearth.

“Had dinner Adam?” asked Ben.

Rubbing the side of his head and sighing he rose and poured himself a brandy. “Pa?” he said as he raised the decanter indicating if he should pour a brandy for him.

“No thanks son. I don’t care for any.”

Walking back to sit in front of the hearth he said, “Claire and I had dinner in town.”

“Does that mean she can’t cook?” asked Joe. “Good thing she’s not marrying Hoss if that’s the case.”

“Joseph, mind your manners,” Ben said.

“Joe cain’t ya see that there’s something on big brother’s mind?”

He sipped from his glass. “Claire and I accomplished quite a lot and then had dinner in town. I’m going to finish this brandy and then call it a night.”

“Ah, guess brother here is getting nervous. A might early for that ain’t it?” asked Hoss. Adam just finished sipping the brandy and smiled inwardly. The teasing was only going to become more intense.

Rising and heading for the steps, he stopped and turned to his father. “Pa, you’re invited for breakfast at the Sanders with me on Saturday morning. Also, Claire is not pleased with the pending trial and she and Amy feel as if they would like to drop the charges against the Wales.”

He started up the stairs with three mouths gaping open. “You ain’t serious,” said Joe. “She got nothing to fear because we’re not going to let anything happen to her.”

Ben just looked and knew there was more. It would come out when Adam was ready.

“She knows. We’ll talk about this in the morning.” He continued to his room and the door was closed.

 

 

SEVENTY-THREE

* * * * * * * * * * * *

The lives of individuals are often what they make of them. One does not ever truly know what each day will bring. With devotion and support – whatever comes our way can be handled if one is open to acceptance of wisdom, love and willingness to perpetuate what is right.

The gifts we are given are to be shared. The wrongs we commit are to be corrected. The families we have are to be loving. Our lives ultimately are and will be what we make of them.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Four days passed quickly. Things were moving along swiftly for the concerned parties: the Wales, Sanders and Cartwright families. Sheriffs Calhoun and Coffey also had their hands full.

Mrs. Wales and her daughter had returned to their ranch and were trying to decide if they should stay in Nevada or return to Kentucky. The running of the ranch was not something they could do alone and they realized it. They’d reached the point of having to make this decision because the stubbornness and meanness of her three sons was not changed by her talk to them and their trial was slated to be held at the end of two weeks. She felt the weight of the world on her shoulders and was trying to put aside the hurt she felt in order to concentrate on what made sense. Regardless of her feelings and anguish, she’d arranged an attorney for her sons. Their fate would be left up to a jury in the Virginia City Court House.

She also faced the problem of Andy Wales. He was her husband and leaving him was not going to be an easy task for her. His temper had not diminished before or after his day in court. She knew the abuse that he inflicted upon her and Mary would only increase because of his temper and the situation his sons were in. She was certain he blamed her for all their circumstances.

Andy was tried by the Circuit Court judge in Carson City a day earlier. He was represented by legal counsel he’d had May arrange for. Things did not turn out as badly as May had expected – or perhaps she secretly had hoped for. Sheriff Calhoun had feared the judge hearing the case would hand down a modest sentence. Although he’d recounted in detail the actions of Andy Wales and the threat he had posed along with his sons, the judge was not swayed in his ruling nor allowed the pending charges against his sons to be heard in his court. Andy stood and faced the judge smugly. He was given a stiff warning and reprimand by the judge and then sentence was passed – one year in prison … suspended. He was required to spend an additional ten days in jail, pay a fine and have no encounters with the law for a period of one year. If a problem should arise or he was arrested within that one year period, he would immediately be sent to prison to complete the full sentence. Sheriff Calhoun was livid. He believed this would happen with the judge assigned but hoped it wouldn’t. He could have been killed by Andy Wales.

The shock that overtook May was visible on her face. There rose in her a sudden sense of fear. She’d held her daughter’s hand during the sentencing phase and did not believe what she’d heard. When Andy heard the sentence, he turned to May and Mary with a smug look followed by a grin. He’d be home sooner than later. May’s heart began to race as she felt fear grip her – she needed to think quickly. Wishing she had someone to turn to, she realized she needed help. Watching in disbelief as Sheriff Calhoun and his deputy marched Andy out of the courthouse, Andy just looked at her and Mary as he was being led through the door – he winked.

As she thought about the happenings of the previous day, she sat and talked to Mary about her concerns and what they should do. She decided to prepare dinner and then the two of them would go into Carson City in the morning to see Andy.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Roy Coffey sat in his office as the attorney for the Wales brothers visited them. He was a man of principle and knew every man had the right to legal representation. Although he believed in his heart that there would be no way that the three brothers could be found not guilty – he could not help feel that it was a waste of the taxpayer’s money.

As he waited for the lawyer to depart, he ruminated on the wire he’d received early that morning. It was from Raif Calhoun informing him of the outcome of the Andy Wales trial. Roy rubbed his chin and began to think what this could mean to the prisoners in his care. He was clearly aware that Andy Wales was one that would not let his sons go to prison easily – the last thing he wanted was trouble around this matter. Should a problem arise he’d not only have to deal with Andy Wales, but also with Josh Wheeler, Hank Sanders and the Cartwrights – particularly Adam. He’d already had a heated discussion over this matter with Adam and knew that this time it would not only be Adam Cartwright but all four of them. As his mind worked over the ‘what ifs,’ he was mapping out a strategy that he knew he needed to put in place without any hesitation.

The lawyer left and indicated that he’d return in the morning for a short period to finish the work he needed to do. Roy had nodded in understanding and watched as the attorney walked away. He then went to see how the brothers were. They just looked at him with a reticent stare and made themselves comfortable. Danny grinned and then just stretched out on his cot and started to whistle. Roy closed the door and decided he needed to let all the involved parties know the outcome of the Andy Wales trial. He’d ride out when his deputy returned and stop at the Wheeler home first. The Cartwrights would be his last stop.

One would have thought a carnival had come to town. Excitement and interest could be found almost anywhere. The town, it seemed, was engaged in constant speculation over the Cartwrights. Wherever Roy went, he heard discussion and the gossip concerning the trial and Amy and Claire or the wedding between the oldest Cartwright son and the niece from St. Louis of Hank and Margaret Sanders. Yes, there was an edge of anticipation on all fronts and Roy Coffey wished it would all go away. His deputy arrived and Roy departed with a sigh to inform the first of the three families the status of Andy Wales.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

The plans for the wedding were almost solidified after the Saturday morning breakfast. The date had been set, arrangements had been made with the minister and the church, Hank would give the bride away, Joe and Hoss would stand up with their brother – Amelia would be Maid of Honor with Amy as bridesmaid.

The discussion over the invitation list did not go as smoothly as had been hoped for. Although both Claire and Adam indicated the desire to keep it as small and intimate as possible, they realized that this was not going to be the case. Claire wanted to please her aunt and uncle and because Ben was so ecstatic – he wanted this to be an event shared with friends and partners in the Comstock that had known his son since his early childhood days as well as business associates from as far away as San Francisco. Adding to that those both Adam and Claire had on their list, the bride and groom to be were certain it would be a glorious day – but not small. Secretly they had conceded to one another that they’d lost this battle but were sure that they would win the war.

The order for the invitations had been placed and would be ready within the week. In the quiet time, Adam and Claire spent together discussing the wedding, he began noticing a change within himself. He just shrugged it off.

Claire on the other hand had concerns and nervously decided to find a discrete way to enlist her aunt’s wisdom. The other matters as related to her getting married would be discussed with her best and dear friend Amelia. She realized now was a time that she really needed a mother and knew that Clara was not able to fill that space. She would however receive an invitation to the wedding. She missed her mother and father.

Amelia had wired that she and Isaac would arrive a week and a half before the wedding. She would also be bringing with her the items they’d purchased the day they went shopping together. She and Isaac planned take some time to vacation after the big day but wanted to be of assistance to Claire and Adam. Isaac looked forward to time with Adam and continuing the discussion on Napoleon.

Saturday morning arrived, Adam ate breakfast and then indicated he was going over to the house to start some of the repair work. The materials needed were to be delivered that morning. What surprised him were his brothers wondering why he’d not asked for their help. He’d not meant to offend them in any way but the truth was that he felt they’d worked hard during the week and should not have to put in another days work. Hoss was the one who indicated that he was so happy to be getting a sister that there wasn’t anything he would not do. So, he was going to help his brother. Joe let his older brother know his excitement and stated he was going along to help as well. Hoss chided Adam not to let Joe anywhere near a roof. They laughed heartily. Finishing their breakfast they stood to leave. Ben indicated he’d try to ride out later if he could. If not, he’d be sure that Hop Sing prepared lunch for them and see to it that they got it. His heart was warmed as he watched his sons walking toward the door. Both Joe and Hoss had put their arms around their older brother and were laughing as they left. A wonderful brotherly love was not spoken – but was being shown. Ben felt proud of his boys. Thoughts were focused on joy and happiness on this day – not on the prospect of facing a trial.

Claire was not going to be able to join Adam as she was going to Carson City with her aunt and uncle to visit their son and his wife. The baby was due very shortly and they’d be staying the night. Claire and Eve had become friends and she wished to spend time with her. The Sanders family would be leaving shortly and return Sunday evening unless the baby decided to make its entrance sooner than what was intended.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Ben was working at his desk and enjoying the quiet of the morning. Hearing hoof beats, he walked to the door and opened it. Roy Coffey had arrived and dismounted. He’d been to the Wheeler ranch to deliver the news. He’d then stopped by the Sanders ranch but found no one at home. He’d now made it to the Cartwrights. Ben had invited Roy in for coffee and to hear the message Roy had to deliver. Listening to Roy’s words, he thought about the difference between the three sons he saw lovingly and happily leaving his home that morning facing a joy for one of their own which would take place shortly and change their lives forever – especially Adam’s. He then became a bit somber as he thought of the three sons locked in a jail cell in Virginia City facing a future of uncertainty. Uncertainty that included a father by the name of Andy Wales.

 

 

SEVENTY-FOUR

* * * * * * * * * * * *

The day had been a productive one for the three brothers. There was work to do but it was made easier by the hands that labored. As they looked at all that was accomplished, Adam stood with his hands on his hips taking in what he’d start on next. He knew with all that needed to be accomplished on the Ponderosa, he’d not be able to get back until the following Saturday. With any luck, perhaps sooner, but he didn’t think so. Joe and Hoss had put in a full day and did so happily with a little kidding from time to time. They collected their tools and stored the materials away. It was time to go home. In a few short weeks, when Adam had to go home, he’d be coming here. He felt internal warmth and then that strange feeling once again. What was it? Hoss slapped him on the back and suggested they get going. He’d drive the wagon. Adam took the passenger seat while Joe hopped in the back and stretched out as they made their way. They were feeling somewhat tired but at the same time pleased. Hoss began to sing a little ditty on the way back. Adam just looked over at his brother and Joe pulled his hat down over his face.

Ben had completed what he set out to for the day and thought his sons would return early. After all it was Saturday and that usually meant Virginia City – except for Adam. He mulled over the message Roy had delivered earlier in the day and he’d share it when they arrived.

Before long he heard the laughter of his sons who were teasing each other as they arrived home. Ben’s heart was warmed by this although he knew it could be short lived. The door opened and they walked in almost in the same way they had walked out that morning.

“Well, how’d everything go?” asked Ben. “It appears that you survived each other.”

“It went well pa for the first go,” said Joe. “It’s not in bad shape and the plans Adam has for the use of the house I have to admit make sense.”

“Sounds good. I’m assuming that you got the lunch Hop Sing made.”

“Sure did pa. It came right on time. Now I’m gonna clean up ‘cause by my clock, it should be just about dinner time,” said Hoss.

Adam looked at his father. “We did accomplish quite a lot today. After another Saturday like this, the place should start to look good.”

“Well I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m going to wash up for dinner. I’m hungry,” said Joe.

Hop Sing poked his head out of the kitchen and said, “Good you home. Dinner almost ready.” As quickly as he poked his head out he disappeared.

Within minutes the family had gathered at the table. “How’d things go here today pa? Have you gotten the last of the drovers for the Pearson account? That herd is just about ready,” said Adam.

“We’re just about set on that. Last of the hands should be here Monday and then they should be on their way Wednesday. I’ve wired the Pearson Group and once they’re on their way, I’ll wire them again.”

“Sounds good,” said Adam. “We should be finished with the last of the details by the end of the day on Monday.”

“Since we’ve got the Pearson herd together and the timber is almost set to ship, I think we should get a few days off,” laughed Joe.

Looking at Joe, Hoss said, “That’s the right attitude Joe. Laugh ‘cause pa is sure to have somethin’ else planned.”

“Oh, there are some things to be done but perhaps we can make it a light couple of days.”

“Sounds great to me,” said Hoss.

“See. I told you.” Joe chuckled.

Adam had noticed that his father was engaged in the conversation but there was something different. Looking at him he asked, “What is it pa?”

Both Joe and Hoss looked at each other wondering why Adam asked that question.

Ben put his fork down and said, “Roy was out here today. He came to tell us that Andy Wales had his day in court.”

“Guess they must have thrown the key to the jail away on him,” spouted Hoss.

Sighing a bit Ben continued. Adam instinctively knew what was about to be said.

“No. Just the opposite. He has to put in ten days in jail and pay a fine. The sentence he was given was for one year but the judge suspended it. If he breaks any laws – he’ll be put in jail to complete that one year.”

“You’ve got to be kidding pa,” Joe commented. “There’s no way he should be free. He was attempting to free prisoners and was threatening to kill Adam and the sheriff.”

“That may very well be the case Joe but that’s the ruling. There’s nothing that can be done to change it.”

Adam remained quiet for a moment knowing that the eyes of his family were on him. “So Wales will be free to cause trouble once again. What kind of incompetent representative of the judiciary oversaw that trial?” Adam asked as he threw his napkin onto the table. He then pushed his plate away and rested his folded arms on the table.

The look on Adam’s face was disbelief. Hoss turned to Ben and said, “Pa there must be a mistake.”

“No Hoss, I’m afraid not.”

“Hard to believe,” said Joe. “At least there’s no way for the brothers to be set free. That has to be an open and shut case.”

“Well according to Roy, he’s sure that will be the case,” said Ben.

“And I suppose that when the trial starts here it will be about the same time that Wales gets outta jail in Carson City,” Hoss added.

“Probably so. Roy says he’s making arrangements so that the trial goes smoothly and there’s no trouble.”

“Yeah, but can he make sure of that?” asked Adam.

“You know Roy. He’ll make sure,” Ben said addressing Adam.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Ben returned from the barn and found Adam sitting reading. “What, you’re not going to see Claire?”

He looked at his father and smiling said, “She’s in Carson City – remember?”

“Ah yes, a little bundle is on the way. Forgot about that.”

Footsteps were heard coming down the stairs. It was Joe in his regular clothes. “Have you forgotten it’s Saturday night brother? Thought you’d be ready to head into town.”

“I know what day it is but just decided to stay in.”

Adam raised his gaze to look at his brother and Ben asked, “You feeling alright?’

“Yeah pa. Just thought I’d stay put for the night.”

Adam could not help himself and said, “Well that’s a first.”

“Maybe so but you getting married is a first,” Joe said cheerfully.

“Touché my dear brother, touché,” Adam said.

Hearing sounds on the steps again, they turned to look as Hoss descended to the great room. He wasn’t dressed for a Saturday night either. Ben looked and thought to himself this was a first also. Perhaps it was knowing that Adam was going to be leaving their home soon and this was a way of trying to spend some time with him. After all, they’d been together all day and this could possibly be a continuation of that.

“Now don’t tell me that I worked you so hard that you’re too tired to go into town.”

“Nah Adam. Jes don’t feel like it. Jus thought I’d stay home fer a change. Joe how ‘bout a game of checkers?”

“You’re on Hoss. But no cheating.”

“Me? You’re the one I think cheats,” bellowed Hoss.

Adam just returned to his book with a smirk on his face. He knew that Joe was the one that was going to cheat. The board was set up and Hoss and Joe started.

It wasn’t long before Hoss said, “When is Claire coming back Adam?”

“She’s due to return tomorrow evening if everything is OK.”

“I see,” said Hoss. “Guess that’s the reason you’re looking so glum this evening. Guess ya miss seeing her.”

Adam didn’t respond. It was starting.

“Oh, he misses her – but I’m sure he’s thinking about her. Have you noticed how he’s been working? You can tell his mind is always on her,” Joe quipped.

“I think you hit on something Joe. Adam has been a bit different lately. Yes sir, I guess being in love and about to say ‘I do’ probably does that to a person.”

Staring at the checkerboard Joe chimed in, “Now you know that Adam always remains calm and reserved. But something must have changed since he’s been a happier person and just plain pleasant to be around.”

Ben listened to this bantering back and forth and smiled to himself. My sons he thought.

“Cupid’s arrow must have hit him pretty deep Joe. Won’t be long now.” Hoss started humming the Wedding March as he moved his checker piece.

Adam tried to remain unmoved by the conversation. Ben chimed in that if Joe stopped to recall, he’d been hit by his sister-in-law to be in a different way. The laughter that sprung forth caused a sense of relaxation to permeate the room. Adam put his book down recalling how Claire had hit Joe in the head with a dinner roll and laughed heartily.

“Hop Sing,” shouted Ben.

He quickly appeared from the kitchen. “Yes Mista Cartwright.”

“Is there any more of the cake left from dinner?”

“Yes. Hid it from family.”

“How about fixing some coffee and bringing out the cake?”

In no time the Cartwright’s were eating and drinking coffee. The feeling Adam had experienced several times before returned. His life would be changing soon. He wondered what was bothering him about this fact.

They talked about their brother and the wedding. They joked with him about his being just so set in his ways they wondered how he ever found a woman to marry – much less the time. Adam took the teasing in stride.

“Be careful Hoss. Brother here is probably counting the days. Everyone in town is talking about all the broken hearts he’s leaving.”

“Now I thought you were the one who left broken hearts,” said Adam as he cut another piece of cake.

“Me? No. I just keep moving from one lady to another. Just haven’t found the right one,” said Joe. “Besides there’s plenty of time.”

“I can’t see how there can be any left,” Adam said snidely.

“We’ll I for one am looking forward to the wedding. Sure is going to be a real fancy shindig. I even ordered a new pair of boots,” said Hoss proudly.

“Hoss there are a few things that you have to get right you know. You should know how to greet people at the church in the right way, and then you have to be able to dance the waltz at the reception. The way you dance, we’d better have a doctor on hand to tend the feet of the ladies and especially Amy,” laughed Joe almost putting his elbow into his cake.

“Pa, Adam – is Joe right?” Hoss asked.

“That’s usually the case for the wedding party to dance a waltz,” said Ben.

Hoss appeared a little surprised. “Also Hoss, remember them fancy duds we wore to the Cattleman’s Association Gala?” Well, if I were you I’d try not to gain any weight so you can fit into it … along with your new boots.”

Looking at Adam he asked, “Is that so Adam. You want us to wear those fancy duds?”

A twinkle came into Adam’s eye as he nodded in the affirmative to his brother. “Claire and I have discussed the arrangements and plan to have a formal wedding – so you’ll wear those clothes.”

“Now Hoss, that shouldn’t be a problem for you – should it?” asked Ben.

“Well no pa. I guess what makes me nervous is having to waltz with Amy Wheeler in front of all them people.”

Hearing Hoss’ comment, Adam spilled the remainder of his coffee onto the table. He quickly used his napkin to clean it up. Joe looked at his brother and said, “I guess Adam is getting nervous. Betcha as time gets closer he’ll be dropping things all the time and probably forgetting things too.”

The strange feeling that Adam had been experiencing he could no longer deny. It was nerves. He had to admit to himself that he was nervous about getting married. He was not changing his mind because his love for Claire grew more every day. He was just nervous. Trying to be the logical person he prided himself to be, he accepted the fact although he had not foreseen himself ever in this position and decided to keep this as his secret.

He’d gotten lost in his thoughts and when he looked up, Ben was counting 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3 as Joe was trying to usher Hoss around the great room. Adam just started to laugh and shook his head at the sight. Joe was moaning each time Hoss landed on his foot at the count of 3.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Sheriff Calhoun entered the cell area with Andy Wale’s breakfast. He slid the tray into the cell and noticed that Andy had managed to scratch the numbers one through ten on the wall. He’d already crossed out the number one.

He picked up the tray placed for him and said, “Don’t look so mad Sheriff. I only got nine more days to go and then I’ll be outta yer hair.”

“I wouldn’t look so happy Wales. You’re going to do your year sentence. You can count on that. With any luck, you’ll probably do even more than that. You’re too nasty a cur for anything else to happen to ya.”

“You’d like to see that wouldn’t ya sheriff? Well Andy Wales aint gonna be around to hear your wishes much longer. See, I only got nine more days,” he said as he pointed to the wall laughing.

The sheriff walked out thinking that Andy’s words might prove to be true. As he was talking to Andy Wales, Mary and May Wales were making their way to the Carson City jail.

 

 

SEVENTY-FIVE

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Activity was very busy at the Sanders home in Carson City. Claire’s cousin James was glad to see his parents and Claire. He’d not seen Claire since she came back to Nevada. Eve was thrilled as well. She’d not been feeling well and the doctor indicated the baby could arrive any time now. Her parents were on their way from Skylerville and should be arriving within the next day or so.

They’d finished dinner some time earlier and just sat around the kitchen table. Hank was proud of what his son had accomplished in their business endeavors and the fact that anytime now he was going to be a grandfather. James was remaining close to home and Eve kidded about the fact that wherever she was – so was he. He was nervous and Eve was glad that Margaret was there. This was a first child and she felt uncertain about what she could expect. A woman’s presence was what she needed to ease her concerns and Margaret could do that.

She rose from the table and James wondered if she was alright. She assured him she was – she was just going to sit in the parlor. Claire marveled at the spirit Eve was in and the fact that a new life would be shortly entering the world. Margaret joined them. As they settled, they talked about the new life coming soon and whether they had decided on a name and numerous other mother-to-be things. Before long, Margaret rose to collect the packages she brought for Eve. Presenting them to her, Eve thanked her and like a little child began to open them. Claire collected the wrappings from Eve as Margaret looked on. The items seemed so tiny Claire thought. Margaret had put in many hours to ensure that all the details were just right.

As Eve was opening the second package she felt a sharp pain. Placing her hand on her stomach, Margaret immediately rose and went to her. Claire looked on in shock. It passed. Eve said she’d been having discomfort for the past week. She guessed her baby would be born soon as the doctor indicated. She smiled and assured them she was fine. Margaret sized up Eve and knew that the birth of the baby would be soon – very soon she thought.

Opening the second package, she found several knitted blankets. As Eve clutched them, the reality was settling in, if it really hadn’t before, that this was a journey she could not change her mind about. There was one more package that Claire handed to Eve. It was a silk covered book with ribbons and lace for Eve to capture the life of her new child in. Inside the front cover, she’d written the words Adam had written for her. She understood the significance of those words more than she ever thought she would … “Each Day ~ Life Begins Anew.”

The hour was beginning to grow late and Margaret rose stating that she was going to get things settled for them to sleep that night and excused herself. Claire offered to assist but Margaret suggested that since she’d done the dishes and cleaned the kitchen, she could at least get all the beds set. Besides she felt it would be good for the two of them just to chat.

Eve wanted all the details about the wedding and the plans. She apologized that she was not able to be of much assistance to Claire but that if the baby arrived soon – she was certainly going to be at the wedding. Besides, she wanted to see all the faces of the ladies that Adam had not chosen. They laughed. Claire felt closeness to Eve – as if she were a sister. She was glad that they would be staying the night and would have more time to spend with each other.

James and Hank sat in the kitchen drinking coffee. James was happy that his parents were there. He had not told them how special they were and how much comfort they provided now. His father laughed and recounted how he felt and reacted when he went through the same thing his son was experiencing. The conversation eventually turned to the events that happened with Andy Wales. James had not heard all the details other than the stories some were telling around town. He also didn’t want to discuss any of this in front of Claire or Eve. Hank filled him in on what happened and the fact that he was glad Andy Wales was in jail. Listening to his father, James realized that he’d not heard of the sentence. He informed his father of what he knew. Hank was angered at his son’s words and asked if he were certain. James informed him he was as certain as he could be. Hank turned red in the face. If Wales was going to be set free – he wondered about the trial in Virginia City and the wellbeing of Claire. James understood his father’s feelings and shared the concern over Claire’s safety. Hank ensured James that he along with Adam and the Cartwrights would be ever present so that she would be find. They both agreed not discuss it in the company of the women.

Before long the laughter between Eve and Claire seemed to carry throughout the house. Margaret returned and indicated she thought it was time that they turned in. Tomorrow would be another day. They said their goodnights and made their way to their bedrooms. As she was going up the stairs, Eve had another pain, but it was not as sharp as earlier. She said nothing but took James’ arm and went to their bedroom.

They were all settled for the night. Claire could not help but wonder what the scene was like during the encounter Adam and Hoss had here a short time ago. She dismissed it and turned over pulling the comforter over her. Thinking of Adam and Eve she laughed to herself. Just like in the Bible she thought …what a great family! As she closed her eyes, she thought of how much she missed Adam and when they would start a family of their own. She loved him and wanted to give him a family as wonderful as he was. She fell asleep thinking of this.

The sun was rising when the house was awakened by James’s voice. It was time. Eve was going to have the baby!

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Andy Wales had not slept well. The visit he received earlier in the day from May was not one he was pleased about. She’d gotten enough courage to indicate that she was going to stand beside him and remain with him if he could change his ways. If he could not, then she and Mary would have to leave. This enraged him – but she made clear her feelings. She was standing her ground.

He told her she’d never leave him – that she was going to be by his side as he tried to help his sons. She realized that he didn’t hear what she’d said. She couldn’t change her mind now. Before she left she reminded him she had to do what was just and right regardless of the circumstances. She was not going to be intimidated any longer by him. She also told him in detail about her visit with the boys and what she’d told them. Reaching inside herself she’d told Andy of her disappointment at their decision not to consider her words – remaining ornery and uncaring. The last thing she said before leaving was that jury selection would start on Monday. His lack of sleep was caused by her words and counting the days until his release. He was not going to be able to get any news of his son’s circumstances now and this worried him. He had to think what to do. If anything, he had time in his cell to do just that.

* * * * * * * * * *

Adam awakened early and looked forward to the day. It was Sunday and he didn’t think there was any reason to rise early. There was plenty of time before heading to church. He would just remain in bed for a while. His thoughts turned to Claire and all the things he knew they needed to do. The weeks would be passing by quickly. He laughed at himself for being nervous and thought about what Claire might be doing. Soon he’d not have to wonder. He’d see her tomorrow.

Feeling a true familial relationship he made himself get up. The day was going to be another bright and sunny day. He looked out is window and saw his father strolling outside. The night before with his father and brothers was fun. They had talked, laughed, told stories on each other, drank brandy, teased one another and before they knew it – time had reached almost two o’clock in the morning before they went to bed. Imagine his brothers not going into Virginia City. His brothers were a caring pair even through all the ups and downs they’d had.

Turning he saw the photo of his mother his father had given him many years before. He wished he’d had the chance to know her. The smile on her face he felt was her smiling at him. He was a happy man and hoped that he could be the husband Claire deserved. He promised his mother that he would love Claire with all his being. Elizabeth had not only given him life, but also a gift that showed in the smile on her face in the photo – the gift of being able to love with his whole being.

Breakfast was done and the Cartwrights headed off to church. The ride was one that seemed shorter than usual. As they pulled the carriage up to the church they saw Roy Coffey. Roy greeted them and tried to read the face of Adam. The trial was going to happen. His words as they were about to enter the church were that jury selection would begin the next day for the Wales brother’s trial. They all stopped and Roy was then able to read to look on Adam’s face. Ben thanked Roy and they entered the church for service.

 

 

SEVENTY-SIX

* * * * * * * * * * * *

“It’s a girl! It’s a girl!” They recounted the excitement James had shown with the new arrival to the Sanders family early on Sunday morning. Eve had a somewhat difficult time but within six hours of wearing out the carpet in the parlor by James the small sounds of a cry were heard. When the doctor indicated that James could see his wife and child, James leaped up the stairs like a gazelle. It had been a nerve wracking time for all of them. Hank had gone to get the doctor and Margaret and Claire, along with James, tried to care for Eve and comfort her.

Margaret watched her son and tried to reassure him that nature was just taking its course and things would be fine. She couldn’t help but remember Hank at the time James was born. She and Claire sat in the parlor while James spent time with Eve and Margaret recounted the event.

“Men tend to react in situations like these,” she’d said to Claire. “I found that between trying to give birth to James I was also trying to comfort Hank until I couldn’t anymore.”

“So what happened then?” Claire had asked.

Margaret told her, “The doctor sent him to the kitchen to boil water.” At that they both laughed.

As they waited Margaret had looked at Claire and said, “You know, I can’t wait to become an aunt.”

Claire bashfully had replied, “Well ….” Without finishing the sentence. She knew that Adam loved children and she also wanted a family. A real family that she could know.

They’d now returned to the ranch. As far as she knew, word had been delivered to Adam about the baby and the reason she was not returning on Monday. They stayed on until Wednesday to assist Eve and the baby. The new grandparents had arrived.

She changed her clothes and walked into the kitchen. “Aunt Maggie, I’m going to ride over to the Ponderosa and see if Adam is there.”

“Claire, I’m not sure you should do that. Why don’t you let me get someone to go with you?”

“Aunt Maggie there’s no reason. The Wales are in jail – all of them – so I don’t think there should be anything to worry about.”

“Claire ….” She was interrupted and couldn’t finish the sentence.

“Aunt Maggie, I’m going to ride over. I’m not worried and you shouldn’t be either. Now not another word about it. I’m sure that Adam will see me home. If he’s not there I’ll come right back.” She kissed her aunt on the check and bounded out the door to saddle her horse.

She’d only been gone for a short while when Hank came in. “Maggie,” he shouted. “I was wondering when you and Claire would be getting back. How’s our grandbaby?”

“She’s just beautiful and has great lungs.”

“Where’s Claire?”

She turned to the window and said, “She’s gone over to the Ponderosa.”

“When? Did she go alone?”

“Now Hank, I tried to get her to have someone ride with her but she wouldn’t hear of it. She said with all the Wales men locked up in jail that there was no reason to worry. She’d made up her mind.”

Hank sighed and knew that his niece did have a mind of her own. “Perhaps she’s right. It’s still hard not to worry about her.”

“I know – but we have to try. Besides, soon she’ll be Adam’s worry.” Hank hugged his wife and they both laughed.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Adam and Joe had a busy morning. The herd was now on its way for delivery to the Pearson group and there was a sigh of relief. This would be a big payday for the Cartwrights and they wanted to be sure that nothing was left unattended to.

They were now in the barn attending to their horses and the tack. “So brother, are we working on the house this weekend?” quizzed Joe.

Brushing his horse, Adam looked at his brother and said, “That’s my plan.”

“Great. When is the paint going to arrive? I can at least get started on that part. At least I won’t be falling off the roof.”

Adam’s smile became very broad. “No, I don’t want you to fall of the roof. I need you at the wedding. Painting will be just fine brother.”

“You know it’s going to be different around here with you getting married. Most times when you left we knew you’d be coming back sooner or later. Now you’re not going to be coming back unless Claire throws you out,” laughed Joe.

“I’m only going to be a mile and a half away. Besides Claire would have no reason to want to throw me out.”

“You seem pretty sure of yourself.” Joe paused and then he continued. “I’m really happy for you and Claire Adam. She’s a wonderful match for you and I can see how much you two love each other. I’ve never said this to you much with our disagreements and all, but … but … well you’ve made quite a difference in my life and helped me in ways that have shown me what one can achieve if they put their minds to it. I’m proud that you’re my brother,” he said as he put his hand on Adam’s shoulder.

Adam found it hard to answer but said, “Thanks Joe. You’ve really been a pain more often than not over the years.” They smiled. Joe knew what his brother was saying to him.

Joe left his brother and headed toward the house. Before he knew it, he saw Claire approaching. He stopped while she dismounted.

“Hello dear sister. Glad you’re back. Big brother has been sulking around since you’ve been gone.”

“Hi Joe. We just got back this morning. Where is Adam?”

“Can’t wait to see that pompous brother of mine ummm?

“That pompous brother of yours is going to by my husband. Now when you pick on him,” she said as she poked him with her finger, “You’re picking on me as well,” she laughed.

“Ok, ok . I know when to steer clear of trouble. Why don’t you go and make him happy? He’s in the barn.”

She quickly kissed Joe on the cheek and hurried off to the barn. As she entered, she saw Adam working on the tack. Quietly she approached him and said, “Howdy cowboy. I understand your girl is out of town and thought that maybe you and I could get acquainted.”

Adam turned and his heart started to beat faster. “Well umm …. I’m spoken for,” he said as he approached her and placed his arms around her. “She has my heart so I’m afraid our getting acquainted is out of the question.”

They could not contain themselves and through their laughter they embraced. The four and a half days of being apart seemed like an eternity. Feeling Claire in his arms once again and the smell of her cologne awaked his senses. He kissed her cheeks, her hair and found her lips again. They were in a world of their own.

“Oh, excuse me.” It was Ben.

They turned and faced the voice. Ben was slightly red in the face. Adam placed his arm around Claire as she said, “Hello dad. I was just saying hello to Adam.”

“I see that,” he said as he walked closer to her. “I understand that you are officially an aunt. Congratulations,” he said as he kissed her on the cheek.

She smiled broadly and said, “Yes I am. She’s a beautiful little girl. James and Eve are really fortunate.”

Before he realized what he was saying Ben said, “Well I hope it’s not too long before you and Adam are fortunate as well.” Realizing what he’d said he offered, “I’m sorry Claire. It just somehow came out.”

“Pa I don’t think an apology is necessary. But you’ll be the second person to know when it happens. I’ll be the first.”

Taking the opportunity to be herself Claire said, “Adam you stand corrected. Your father will be the third person. You’ll be the second. I’ll be the first.”

Ben knew that this woman was going to be the center of attention in this family. He took her hand and said, “When you two are ready come on into the house. I’ll see if Hop Sing can get us something to drink. I want to hear all about your trip to Carson City and we have some wedding matters to discuss.”

Ben left the barn and when Claire turned to Adam she saw his arms on his hips and a look on his face. “Claire, what were you thinking riding over here alone?”

“Just that Adam. I was thinking. I saw no reason not to. I wanted to see you because I missed you. It’s hard to be away from you. I’ve had this conversation with Aunt Maggie already. I saw no reason to become unable to move about freely especially since the people we’re most concerned about are in jail.”

Knowing that fear can control one’s ability to be themselves he knew that she was right. He just wanted her safe … protected.

“Claire I’m just concerned about you. For a short time … at least until the trial is over let’s make sure you don’t travel about by yourself.”

“Adam that is not realistic and I’m sure you know it. But if it will make you more comfortable I’ll agree to it. So then, I guess you’ll be seeing me home later.”

He pulled her to him and kissed her passionately.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Roy Coffey was counting the days until the trial would start. It was now Wednesday and the jury had been selected. The trial would start on Tuesday morning. What he was concerned about concerned the case and the fact that Andy Wales would be released from jail in Carson City on Monday. He’d received a wire from Sheriff Calhoun informing him of that. He’d already been to the Wheeler house and informed both Amy and Josh that Amy would have to testify in court. There was no way to get around it. He’d ride out to the Sanders ranch and see if they’d returned from Carson City. He’d have to deliver the same message.

“Hey sheriff,” yelled Andy. “Sheriff!”

“What is it Wales. I can’t run in here every time you want something.”

Laughing Andy said, “I’m a guest of the City. I need some paper and a pencil. Got me some writin’ to do. Now kin ya handle that?”

“You’ll have to wait for it. I got some work to catch up on.”

“I’ll wait but don’t make it too long. I got something to write and wanna git it done before I git outta here on Monday morning,” he laughed. He knew Sheriff Calhoun was still angry over the verdict. To make matters worse, the numbers he’d etched on the wall in his jail cell now showed a mere five days to go.

May Wales entered the jail and asked permission to see her husband. Sheriff Calhoun felt sorry for the woman having married a man the likes of Andy Wales. He opened the door to the cell area for her.

“Hello Andy.”

“Hey May. Sure is good ta see ya. Won’t be long and I’ll be getting outta here. Where’s Mary?”

“Mary’s at the ranch trying to catch up on some things. She’ll be in to see you.”

“Listen May, I’ve only got five days. Now the sheriff is gonna git me some paper and pencil so I kin write a note. I want ya to deliver it to the boys. You been visitin them ain’t ya?”

“I’ve been visiting them Andy. The reason I’m here is to tell you that their trial will start on Tuesday morning. I’m worried Andy.”

“Tuesday morning uh?” he said as he started to pace inside the tiny cell. “Ain’t nothing to be worried ‘bout. Well, I’ll have to think of something. At least I kin be at that trial. All three of us will be at that trial. We’re not gonna let them boys be railroaded and we’re gonna support them. You done got ‘em a lawyer ain’t ya?”

“Yes, they have a lawyer. We had to use some of the money you had hidden in the root cellar. Andy, Mary and I plan to be there. We can go as a family but I need you to promise not to cause any trouble.”

He smiled when she mentioned the money he’d hidden. It was put aside for when he needed it and he couldn’t think of anything better right now. Reaching through the cell he took her hand. “May, I ain’t gonna do nothin’ but what is right. Ya can count on that.”

I’ve got to get back to the ranch and Mary. We’ll be going into Virginia City tomorrow but we’ll stop by to see you first.”

“Good May. I should have ma note written by then so you can deliver it. Now you best get back to Mary. I’ll see you tomorrow. Now I’ll jes take it easy,” he said has he reclined on the cot.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Ben was glad to see Adam and Claire finally make it into the house. He was in good spirits not only because the cattle were on their way to the Pearson Group but also because the lumber would be on its way to Sacramento on Friday. In the meantime, he signed a contract with the Army to supply horses once again. So far it seemed as if it would be a promising year for the Cartwrights – but a lot of work.

“Come on and sit down you two. I’ve got some things I want to talk over with you.”

“Dad I think you’re more excited about this wedding right now than Adam and I are.”

“You know Claire, you may be right. Hop Sing! Some lemonade please,” Ben shouted.

Quickly Hop Sing brought a pitcher of freshly made lemonade with some freshly made cookies. “Missy Claire so good to see you. Not same when you not here.”

Smiling she said, “Hop Sing I’m always happy to see you. These cookies look wonderful.”

Hop Sing was smiling and bowing to Claire. “You special lady to me. Make BIG difference in many ways. Always happier when I see you.”

“Thank you Hop Sing,” said Claire. “You’re very wise and there is a lot I need to learn from you.”

“I teach. You’ll learn much. Let me know when ready.”

Claire said she would and Hop Sing bustled off into the kitchen.

“Now when we last met to discuss the wedding,” said Ben, “I believe we’d come to decisions about the reception.”

“Pa you know we did but it seems you’ve thought of something else,” said Adam waiting to hear what his father had to say. He could see he was excited because of the gleam in his eye.

“Well if you and Claire agree, I can make arrangements with a photographer in San Francisco to take photos of the day. Since you’re going to be holding your reception at the Virginia City Concert Hall, I’ve also got a connection in San Francisco that can put all the decorations in place, tables, everything. Any style you want and any color.”

“Well,” said Claire sort of overwhelmed. “It appears that you’ve been busy.”

“Pa, we appreciate you considering these things for us,” Adam chuckled. “The only reason we’re holding the reception at the Virginia City Concert Hall is because of the number of guests invited. We knew they’d not be able to be accommodated here or at Hank and Margaret’s. Now having said that, I think this may be getting out of hand a bit.”

“Getting out of hand? When my son is getting married? Now this is just a suggestion you two. Nothing more. Maybe you can think about it. That’s all I’m asking,” Ben said looking at the two of them excitedly.

“Claire reached and put her hand on Ben’s and said, “We’ll talk it over and then let you know.”

Noticing her smile and look toward Adam, Ben asked, “What? Did I do something wrong?”

“No pa. You should just see your face.”

“Well it’s not every day that a Cartwright gets married. Especially my firstborn son.”

“Don’t you think we’re perhaps overdoing it a bit? After all, the guest list has grown instead of decreasing. Claire and I personally would love to have the reception here.”

“So Adam you’re telling me that using the Virginia City Concert Hall for the reception is because the wedding is so large?”

Noticing the look on Claire’s face Ben realized that this was the case. He sat back in his chair. I guess I got too carried away and didn’t realize the pressure I was putting on the two of you. Why didn’t you stop me? Do Hank and Margaret know about this?”

“Dad, my aunt and uncle don’t know. All they know is what you do – the things we discussed about the guest list. If you recall, we did say we wanted to keep it smaller. Before you say anything else, Adam and I realized the importance and the pride you have in us getting married and wanting to share that with others. That’s why we pushed and saw it was a losing battle and decided to leave things as they were. But what has happened is that more and more names have been added. I think we can revisit the list and invite only those we really need to – which will still be a fair number of people.”

Looking at his son he said, “Adam, is this true?”

Putting his arm around Claire Adam said, “It is. The ceremony is something that we’ll not bend on. The reception will still be at the Concert Hall because the invitations have been printed but all of us need to look at the guest list and trim it.”

“You’re right. I guess I just got so carried away with things,” said Ben.

“I’d like to make a suggestion,” said Claire. “Since this is our wedding, I’d like it to be special for Adam and myself and our families. I have a personal need to share it with those that mean the most to me. The others will be people that will become closer friends of mine. So, if we could really look at the guest list in that regard, I think it would be the best way.”

Adam looked at the way Claire was twisting his father around her finger. He knew she was going to make a good partner and addition to this family.

“Claire you’ve got it,” said Ben. “But at least consider the photographer. The boys and I will revisit the list.”

“I’ll talk to my aunt and uncle as well. I think we’ll all end up with a wonderful day.”

“Good, now how about some lemonade?”

* * * * * * * * * * * *

The door opened and in walked Joe with Hoss.

“Hey Claire. Good to see ya. Adam hasn’t been himself since you were gone,” said Hoss.

Sitting to have some lemonade, Hoss said, “They set the date for the trial. Gonna start first thing on Tuesday morning. Guess you’ll have your day in court Claire.”

Adam shot him a look as did Ben. He realized if he opened his mouth, it should have been to drink the lemonade only.

“Oh, I hadn’t heard,” said Claire. “I guess I’ll be hearing from Sheriff Coffey.” She tried to show a brave front but felt a sinking feeling inside.

Adam rose and said, “Claire we need to get going if we’re going to stop by Amy’s on the way.”

She rose and joined Adam. “I may be presuming a bit much, but I wouldn’t hold dinner for Adam tonight,” she said smiling.

From joy to dismay in less than ten seconds thought Ben.

Adam kissed Claire on her cheek, picked up his hat and they left.

“Guess I put my foot in my mouth uh pa?” said Hoss. “Wouldn’t want to hurt Claire for anything.”

“I’m sure it’s OK. Just next time but a cookie in your mouth instead,” said Ben.

Sensing her mood now he asked, “What is it?”

“You know what it is Adam. The trial. I shouldn’t be concerned or nervous over it but for some reason I am.”

They rode along at a leisurely pace. “I’ll be with you Claire.”

“I know that Adam. I guess I’m just sorry that this whole thing happened.”

“You’ve put a lot of things behind you Claire – but first you dealt with them. I believe that you’ll be able to do the same with this.”

She smiled at Adam and said, “Thank you for the vote of confidence.”

Adam just said three words as they rode along. “Sweetheart, you’re welcome.”

 

 

SEVENTY-SEVEN

Trials and Tribulations – I

* * * * * * * * * * * *

The next few days were busy and passed exceedingly fast. Sheriff Coffey advised Claire of her need to appear in court – Adam and Hoss as well. Sheriff Calhoun from Carson City was commanded to be present.

Claire had sent off several letters – one to Clara and a wire to Amelia and Isaac confirming the date of their arrival for the wedding. Josh had driven Amy and Claire into Virginia City so that Amy could be fitted for her gown for the wedding and to pick up the wedding invitations. The guest list had been trimmed to the satisfaction of the bride and groom. Claire, her aunt and Amy sat and dutifully hand addressed all the invitations which were now mailed. Adam with the help of his father and Hoss had marked off the land where their final home would be built. Once the work required on their temporary home was completed, Adam would begin to start some of the beginning phase of the build and hire hands to assist in clearing the land. Claire had him promise to do what he could within reason but not be hardnosed about stopping long enough before the wedding day to find time to relax and complete any final details that needed to be done. It was now Saturday and the Cartwright brothers were making final repairs and starting to paint the home Adam and Claire would start their lives in. Plans had been made for Amy, Josh, Adam and Claire to have lunch following church the next day.<