The English Rose (by Diana G)

Summary:  Adam rides into the mountains seeking to regain control of his emotions.  But a meeting with a stranger leads to events that he cannot control.

Rating:  T  (29,285 words)

 

The English Rose

Adam stormed from the house, the speed of his departure matching the blowing of the tempestuous late summer wind whistling around the eaves of his home.  Irritation showed on his normally composed features and was reflected in the lengthening of his usually compact stride, as he headed straight to the barn.  He saddled Sport, and in a few minutes he was riding out of the yard, pulling his hat down firmly on his head as he kicked the horse into a gallop along the trail that would eventually lead him high into the mountains.

 

The grandeur of the rocky peaks and the panoramic views over Lake Tahoe always put things into perspective for Adam, and allowed him to put his feelings back where he tried to keep them, hidden behind the appearance of equanimity that he presented to the world.  The loss of three mothers before he was out of his late teens, had driven him to conceal his emotions deep inside, where they could not hurt him as long as he did not acknowledge them.  On the rare occasions when his emotions got the better of him, Adam always found peace among the rugged beauty of the Sierras, and after four anger filled miles he pulled the horse to a walk; it wasn’t Sport’s fault that he had argued with his father.

 

As he reached a bluff where he could look down on the now distant ranch house he stopped, stepped slowly out of the saddle, and squatted down on the ground, which was softened by the carpet of pine needles that had fallen and lain undisturbed over the centuries.  He picked up a handful and let them slip through his fingers, watching as they were carried off by the gale, and thinking that his relationship with his father might drift away as silently.  When was Pa going to admit that his family could benefit from the expensive education he had given his son? Adam wondered.  Three years at college had to be good for something, surely?

 

At twenty-nine, Adam considered that he should have done enough to gain his father’s respect for his ideas.  But every time he came up with a new plan, whether it was for improving the stock, or better systems for managing the bookwork, or simply to ease conditions for Hop Sing in the kitchen, he had met resistance.  He was trying to use his knowledge and skill to drag Ben’s thinking into the second half of the nineteenth century, but it was only after lengthy and often heated discussion that his father would make a decision, sometimes agreeing, sometimes not, and his dissent left Adam disillusioned.

 

He picked up another handful of brown, dry pine needles, and after letting a few fall from his hand he threw the rest angrily away, thinking that if he couldn’t get the respect he felt he deserved from his father, perhaps it was time that he looked elsewhere.  It was at moments such as this, when he was at odds with his father, that he no longer felt comfortable at home; the walls hemmed him in and he felt constricted by Ben’s attitude.  He had always wanted to travel, maybe now was the time.  Adam snorted derisively, it was not the first time that he had had such a thought, but he had never acted on it and had no intention of doing so now.  He simply needed to escape from the house for a while, into the solitude of the mountains.

 

He shivered as he stood; the wind was taking away the heat of his body, and cooling his temper.  He smiled ruefully.  In his haste to get away from the house he had not thought to bring his jacket with him, or even any supplies.  Lack of food did not bother Adam; he had eaten a good breakfast, enough to see him through the day, and he was a skilled hunter.  He would be able to catch something for supper, and only needed water to drink.

 

He remounted Sport and rode back to the narrow track he had been following, deep in thought.  He knew that arguments with his father were inevitable; they were so alike, stubborn and hard-headed.  But while Adam would occasionally reach a point where frustration got the better of him, Ben could always reason his way through their heated exchanges.  It was one of the many attributes that Adam admired in his father, who over the years had learned how to manage his temper, because he knew that he still had a way to go before he could reliably control his own.

 

Adam was looking forward to a day spent alone among the stately ponderosa pines, for which his home had been named, and as his subconscious affinity with his horse told him that the animal was ready to run, he loosened the reins.  Man and mount enjoyed the freedom of the forest and they both found release from the restrictions of life as Sport took off along the track, feeling the wind in his mane and tail.  It was probably the noise of the restless air rushing past that prevented Adam from hearing the rending sound from up ahead as a branch high up in a tree, weakened and no longer able to resist the force of the wind, finally gave way and separated from its growing place.  It dropped slowly through the intervening limbs, until it fell free and came crashing down on the lone rider, striking him on the side of the head.  It completed its journey to the ground, tangling itself among Sport’s legs and bringing him to his knees.

 

Adam was fighting to stay conscious and in control of the horse, but when Sport went down he was unprepared for the sudden demand on his precarious balance, and was catapulted over the horse’s head, towards the trees.  Through the creeping greyness in his mind, Adam saw a thick trunk coming towards him and managed to twist in the air, so he avoided hitting it with his head, but his arm and shoulder crashed into the rough bark.  The shattering pain robbed him of what little awareness remained, and he fell to the ground and lay still.

 

Sport made it back to his feet and whinnied noisily at his undignified fall.  He stood for a moment, his tack rattling as he shook himself, before trotting a little way up the track and then putting his head down to munch calmly at a clump of lush grass.

 

 

**********

 

Adam’s first thought on coming back to consciousness was that he was fortunate to be still in the land of the living, though the pain from his shoulder made him wish that awareness had not returned so completely.

 

His second thought was that the blow to his head had driven him out of his mind.  He could hear words spoken, but they made no sense.

 

He was sitting up and someone was behind him with their arms around his chest, trying to lift him.  “Come on, me old china, if ya can’t get on yer plates, then I’m goin’ to ‘ave to red rag ya.”

 

Adam recognised it as a man’s voice, and the words as English, spoken with a broad English accent, but apart from that he was at a loss.

 

“W…wait…wait,” he managed to utter through the pain, “my shoulder…”

 

“Yer in a bit of a two and eight that’s fer sure, but just let me get ya over to me nice warm Jeremiah and I’ll take a butcher’s.”

 

Putting aside the linguistic problem until he felt able to cope with it, Adam tried to stand, and with the stranger’s help, he made it to his feet.  The man pulled Adam’s right arm over his shoulder and helped him across the track and into the woods on the far side, where Adam saw that there was a small camp among an outcropping of rocks, and he gratefully sank down beside the sheltered fire, cradling his left arm with his right.  Every movement sent shafts of pain coursing through his shoulder and down his arm, so he turned his head carefully, until he was able to squint up at the man who stood before him.  He matched Adam for height at over six feet, but there the similarity ended.  This man was stout, and stood with a slight stoop that was accounted for by his age, somewhere approaching sixty Adam guessed, seeing grey hair that circled his head from ear to ear leaving a bald pate that shone dully in the sunlight above wide set eyes and a broad, friendly grin.

 

“Who…who are you?” Adam asked shakily, as he put up a hand and felt the small swelling above one ear and the stickiness of blood from a gash on his forehead.

 

“Me name’s Edward, Edward Mulherne,” the man answered in a deep, strong voice.

 

Adam wiped the blood from his fingers and extended his right hand.  “Adam Cartwright,” he said as he shook hands with Mulherne, careful not to move his left shoulder.

 

“Pleased to meet ya, I’m sure.”  Mulherne picked up his canteen and a cloth, then knelt down in front of Adam to wipe away the blood from his forehead, taking the opportunity to observe him more closely.  The entirely black clothing and dark, strong features were imposing, Mulherne thought, and beneath jet black hair, clear brown eyes gave him an impression of someone you didn’t mess with, even though at that moment they reflected the pain of the injuries the younger man had sustained.  When he was satisfied that the bleeding had stopped, Mulherne stood.  “Now, just sit right there, and I’ll go and get yer Charing.”

 

“My what?” Adam was confused, as far as he knew he did not possess such an object.

 

“Yer ‘orse,” the man explained, as though it should be perfectly obvious.

 

Adam nodded his head slowly, indicating an understanding he did not have, and closed his eyes.  He had decided that he was probably unconscious and dreaming, and he was prepared to wait until the world started making sense again.

 

After a few minutes, Mulherne returned leading Adam’s large sorrel, which he tethered beside his own sturdy palomino and a pack mule.  Squatting down by the fire, he filled a tin cup with tea from the smoke-blackened pot standing on the small rocks that encircled the flames, added a spoonful of sugar and stirred it in as he carried the drink over to where Adam sat.

 

“Mr. Cartwright,” he called, and Adam opened his eyes.  “I thought ya could do with this.”  He smiled as he held out the cup.

 

Adam reached out with one hand to take the offered refreshment, wincing as his shoulder protested.  “Thanks.”  He sipped the liquid slowly, and the strong, sweet drink revived him.  His headache was fading fast, and he had found that as long as he did not attempt to move, the pain in his shoulder died to a dull ache, with only occasional spasms of searing agony.  Even the simple act of breathing had to be done carefully, and he inhaled slowly as he looked at Mulherne.  “What are you doing out here?”  The man was dressed in a grey city suit and brown brogues, hardly the clothes for travelling through the wilderness of the Sierras.

 

“I’m goin’ to see me bottle.  She wrote and invited me to visit.  I got an ‘alfpenny dip to San Francisco, and bought the Charings, but I ‘ave to admit that I’m Jack Frost.  She’s got a cat near a place called Floriston; ‘ave ya any idea where that might be?”

 

Adam nodded as he recognised the name of the town, but was bewildered by the rest of what he heard.  “You are English, aren’t you?”

 

“Course I am,” Mulherne laughed, “I suppose me accent gives it away.”

 

“Then…I mean, why…?”  Adam was trying to think of an inoffensive way to ask his question, until finally he decided to come straight out with it.  “Why don’t I understand half of what you’re saying?”

 

“You don’t…oh me goodness, I’m sorry.  When I’m alone I tend to drop into the vernacular.  That means…”

 

Adam raised one eyebrow. “I know what it means.”

 

“Right.  Well, I’m from London see,” Mulherne puffed out his chest as he continued proudly, “a Cockney born and bred, and all me folks use the rhymin’ slang, so I forget I’m usin’ it.  Sorry, an’ all that.”

 

“Don’t worry about it, but if you could just remember that I’m a poor ignorant westerner who has trouble following you occasionally…”

 

“Course I can,” Mulherne agreed, thinking to himself that Adam Cartwright was neither poor nor ignorant.

 

“You were saying something about going to see your ‘bottle’?”  Adam frowned as he used the familiar word in an unfamiliar way.  He sipped his tea, happy to continue the conversation which was taking his mind away from the pain in his shoulder.

 

“I meant me daughter.  She got took away by me trouble…sorry, that’s to say me wife, when she ran off with a rich gent from Chicago.  Said that I was so wrapped up with me business I didn’t ‘ave no time fer family.”  Mulherne shrugged as he admitted, “I suppose she was right.  I didn’t realise what I was losin’ until it was too late.”  He looked up again and smiled.  “Then, four months ago, this letter arrived from me daughter.  Told me she’d just got married and was livin’ out ‘ere.  I want ‘er to ‘ave the business.  I’ve made enough bread to last me two lifetimes and I’m thinkin’ of retirin’.  So ‘ere I am.”

 

“You’re a baker,” Adam deduced.

 

“What?  Why’d ya say that?”  Mulherne looked puzzled.

 

“You said you’d made enough bread…”  Adam stopped as the Englishman burst out laughing.

 

It was a minute before Mulherne could control himself enough to speak.  “Oh me goodness, no, I didn’t mean that. I mean I’ve made enough money.”

 

Adam was getting annoyed.  He was fighting against the pain in his shoulder and now felt he was being made to look a fool.  “Then what business are you in?”

 

“Meat.  I started with a little stall in Smithfield, that’s London’s meat market, and now I’m one of the biggest dealers on the ‘field.”  Mulherne laughed and Adam thought that joviality came easily to the older man’s features.  “Me Pa would ‘ave been surprised, ‘e never expected me to amount to nothin’.”  Mulherne would have continued with the story of his journey, but he saw Adam frown and heard him inhale sharply as he moved his shoulder and a bolt of pain shot through it.   “Here’s me rabbitin’ on, and you need some ‘elp with that.”

 

Adam shook his head carefully; any movement brought a screaming protest from his shoulder. He was happy to just sit for a while and didn’t relish the thought of anyone touching him.  “No, it’ll be fine.”

 

Although Adam tried to push his hand away, Mulherne was insistent.  “Don’t worry.  I’ve cut up more carcasses than you’ve ‘ad ‘ot dinners and I know what goes on inside a man, it ain’t no different.”  Mulherne ran his large, powerful hands over the bones under the black shirt.  “I don’t think anythin’s broke, but you’ve put the joint out.  I’ll ‘ave that fixed in no time.”  He looked Adam straight in the eye, “This is goin’ to ‘urt, but I’ll be quick and then it won’t ‘urt so much.”

 

When he saw Adam hesitate, then nod, Mulherne took hold of his left wrist and quickly pulled the arm straight.  Adam’s breath hissed through his teeth, which were clamped together against the pain, as Mulherne twisted his arm and then suddenly hit the injured shoulder hard with the heel of his hand.  Adam groaned and hunched over, holding his left arm with his right hand and breathing quickly.  He sat for a minute to get over the shock, then realised that most of the pain was gone.  He straightened again, and smiled thinly.

 

“Thanks…feels better already.”

 

Mulherne smiled.  “Told ya it would.  Now, ‘ow about somethin’ to eat?”  Adam shook his head, the last thing he felt like was food.  “Well, I’ll make enough fer both of us and see ‘ow ya feel when it’s ready.”  Mulherne went to the bundles that were lying to one side of his encampment, and came back with beans and meat which he put in a pot with some water and a handful of herbs.  He also held a strip of dark red material that he had torn from a longer length, and when he was satisfied that the meal would look after itself for a while, he fashioned a sling for Adam’s arm.  “I bought some cloth when I was in San Francisco, thought I could find a dressmaker to run up a frock fer me daughter,” he explained, as he tied it in a knot behind Adam’s neck.  “That’ll support yer shoulder, and give yer muscles a rest.”

 

Adam nodded his thanks.  “You said you were going to Floriston?”

 

Eyeing the forest, which looked the same in every direction, Mulherne laughed. “Yes, but I’m not sure where I am now.”

 

“You’ve come too far south, you’re on the Ponderosa.”

 

“I thought I was in Nevada.”  A frown creased Mulherne’s forehead.

 

Adam smiled, “You are, but the land round here is the Ponderosa.”

 

“What’s that?”

 

“My home.  It’s a ranch.  We’re in the meat business too.” Adam saw brows raised in enquiry, and explained.  “We raise cattle.”

 

“So what’s over there, would that be Floriston?” the Englishman asked hopefully, pointing to the far hills in front of him, to the north.

 

Adam smiled.  “No, that’s the Ponderosa as well.”

 

“And over there?” Mulherne pointed to his left.

 

“And there,” Adam assured him.

 

When the older man then pointed wordlessly to his right and raised his eyebrows, Adam replied equally silently, with a nod.

 

Mulherne’s eyes opened a little wider.  “I see.  Big place then, this Ponderosa.”

 

“Biggest there is.  In these parts anyway.”  Adam allowed a tinge of pride into his voice, which did not go unnoticed.

 

“Do you own it?”

 

“Strictly speaking, no.  It belongs…to my father.”  Adam had hesitated because it seemed to him that, by putting the facts into words, he had a new perspective on the disagreement with Ben.  His father did own the ranch, and while that legacy would pass on to his sons one day, at that moment Adam knew that he had no right to dictate what happened there.   Before he could think further about it, Mulherne was speaking.

 

“So what were you doing out here, falling off yer Char…yer ’orse?”

 

Adam lowered his eyes.  “Just riding.”

 

Mulherne sat stirring the contents of the cooking pot.  “Listen mate, if you and me’s goin’ to get acquainted, then there’s no point in not bein’ ‘onest with each other.”

 

“I was just riding,” Adam insisted, not wanting to elaborate.

 

Mulherne realised that there was more to it, but left it alone.  “You said that you know Floriston.  If I ‘elp you to get back ‘ome, would ya point me in the right direction?”

 

“I won’t need any help, thanks.  I assure you I can manage,” Adam said, a little sharply.  He did not relish the thought of returning so soon, but now he was able to think rationally, he was more embarrassed at his behaviour than angry with his father.  He accepted that Ben had every right to question any of his ideas, and Adam admitted to himself that he had left before they had properly talked through his latest plan.

 

“I think it would be best if I come with ya,” Mulherne insisted, not realising that Adam had no intention of going home immediately.  “That arm might prove a bit troublesome.  You could ‘ave strained the ligaments and that can feel as bad as breakin’ it.”

 

Mulherne served up their meal and, as Adam accepted a small portion from him, he remembered his manners.  The man was feeding him and had taken care of him, yet he was turning away the offered assistance.  Besides which, Adam knew he could find it difficult to be out alone with his shoulder as it was, and he allowed his common sense to overcome his feelings.  He smiled, trying to make up for his abruptness.  “Okay, thanks.  It’s over a day’s ride from here to Floriston, so if you would like to spend the night at the ranch, you’d be welcome.  Tomorrow, I’ll set you on the right road.”

 

“I’d be obliged, thank you.”  While they ate, Mulherne told Adam how he had come to be on the Ponderosa.  “I left San Francisco on the stage coach, but then I decided I’d try me ‘and at managin’ for meself.  Bought the ‘orses and gear and set off.  But ridin’ ain’t so much fun as I thought it would be.  I ‘ave to stop and get out of that blasted saddle more often than I want to, even ‘alf a day’s ridin’ gets the better of me,” he said, rubbing at his back.  “I’m copin’ all right with the campin’ bit, but still ain’t much good at findin’ me way.”  He laughed with self-mockery.

 

“You seem to be doing just fine,” said Adam, pointing at the plate with his fork.  “This is good food.”

 

“I’m looking forward to seeing me Rosie,” Mulherne said quietly after a pause, and Adam wondered if this was more slang.  Then he smiled to himself as Mulherne continued.  “That’s me daughter.  She must be…”  Mulherne raised his eyes and started to count on his fingers, “…twenty-four by now.”

 

“How long is it since you’ve seen her?”

 

For the first time, Mulherne looked sad.  “Thirteen years.”  Then he brightened.  “But that’s all behind us now.  I want ‘er to come back with me, and ‘er ‘usband, of course.  Ya see, she’s the only close family I got left, now me Mum and Dad are brown… I mean, dead.”

 

“What will you do if she doesn’t want to go to England with you?”

 

Mulherne glanced up, and Adam could tell by his surprised look that he had not considered the possibility.  “Then I guess it was all fer nothin’.”  He paused, then continued slowly, “All the work and the struggle means nothin’ if you got no one to pass it on to.  What’s the point to it?   That’s the only reason…”  Mulherne stopped as he saw that his words had stirred something in the American, whose eyes were staring at nothing, his mind elsewhere.

 

For Adam, Mulherne had put into words what he had always known at the back of his mind, but had never put into coherent thought.  Now he knew the reason that he always dismissed any thought of leaving.  Ever since his time at college in Boston he had wanted to find out more about the world, to travel to new places and meet new people.  But he had come home, waiting for the time when he could leave again, believing that, somehow, he would know when that day came.  Now he knew what he was waiting for – that time when he was certain that either one or both of his younger brothers were willing to take on the responsibility of the ranch.

 

But what if they did not want to?  What if they wanted to make lives for themselves away from the Ponderosa?  Adam shied away from those questions, knowing what his answer would be.  Nothing in this life came free, and Adam knew the price he would pay for the sacrifices his father had made for his education and for those years spent in the east.  He would remain on the ranch to take over from Ben, because, as Mulherne had said, his father’s struggle to build their home would be for nothing, if there was no one to pass it on to.  He would stay willingly, though not entirely without regret,

 

Adam looked up at Mulherne and smiled, sharing an understanding.  “You’re right, what’s the point.”

 

They had finished their food, and the older man gathered up the plates, scrubbing them with some dry pine needles before putting them away in the bundles, and then clearing the rest of the camp.  Adam started to help, but Mulherne insisted that he rest.  Once all was packed, and the mule loaded, they rode together back to the house.  In the yard, they dismounted and Adam led the way inside, where he was immediately confronted by his father.

 

Ben had been seated at his desk and had risen as he heard footsteps approach and the front door open.  “So, you decided to come back,” he said, standing with his hands on his hips, facing his wilful eldest child, then he noticed the sling and his paternal instincts asserted themselves.  He glanced over Adam’s shoulder at the stranger who had followed him in, but his immediate concern was for his son.  “What happened to you?”

 

“Got knocked off my horse and put my shoulder out.”  Adam stood aside.  “Mr. Mulherne fixed me up.” He turned to his rescuer.  “Edward Mulherne, this is my father, Ben Cartwright.”

 

“Pleased to meet you, I’m sure,” Mulherne said politely.  The two men shook hands and Ben raised curious eyebrows as he heard the foreign accent.

 

“Won’t you sit down?” Ben invited, and guided Mulherne to a seat, while Adam went to the kitchen to ask Hop Sing to make some tea.  Mulherne was explaining his presence, and his destination, when Adam came back and sat quietly; he was not sure quite how things stood between himself and his father, after his abrupt exit that morning.

 

“How is it?” Ben asked, watching as Adam removed the sling and tested his shoulder carefully.

 

Adam searched the strong features and ebony black eyes, but saw nothing except concern.  “Seems fine, just needs a bit of rest,” he assured his father.  The muscles felt a little stiff, but the joint itself was free of pain.

 

“Then I think it would be best if you took Mr. Mulherne to Floriston.”  Ben smiled.  “If you wanted to go and talk to Andy McFarlane about those cattle you were interested in, it wouldn’t be far out of your way.”

 

Adam stared at his father.  It was ‘those cattle’ that had been the subject of their argument, and he understood that he had been forgiven for his earlier behaviour.  “If you’re sure, Pa?”  Adam wanted to be generous in his turn.  “I know you weren’t keen on the idea of Herefords on the ranch.”

 

Mulherne joined in; this was a subject he understood.  “Herefords give the best meat, it’s rich and full of flavour, and they’re well covered.  Get ya a good price in them fancy restaurants in San Francisco.”

 

Adam nodded his agreement.  “That’s what Andy told me.  I know that the preference here is for Longhorns, but I think we would find a ready market for a small herd of them.”  In the face of Mulherne’s support, Adam’s enthusiasm for his project returned.  “I thought we could try cross-breeding them with the Longhorns.  Herefords mature much earlier and we could get a better turn around on the herds.  If I could get the Longhorn hardiness, combined with Hereford meat, I think we would have cattle that…”

 

Ben cleared his throat, and Adam stopped as he realised that he had got carried away.  “Let’s wait and see,” Ben said, leaving his options open.

 

Noting that that particular conversation was at an end, Adam said he was going upstairs to change and offered to show Mulherne to the guest room.  At the door Adam paused.  “I want to thank you, Mr. Mulherne, for what you did today.”

 

“Don’t ya think it’s time you called me Edward?  ‘Mr. Mulherne’ makes me sound like me father, and I ain’t that old, not yet anyway,” he laughed.

 

Adam smiled.  “Then no more ‘Mr. Cartwright’, it’s Adam, okay?”

 

They shook hands in friendship, and parted.

 

Ben’s younger sons, Hoss and Little Joe, arrived home at the same time that Adam and Edward reappeared downstairs.  Ben introduced them to Mulherne, who was taken aback by Hoss’ large size and Joe’s ready smile and open face.  They were so different, both to each other and to Adam.

 

Before Ben could explain the reason for the Englishman’s presence, Hoss had noticed the cut on Adam’s forehead.  “What happened to you?” he asked, frowning.

 

“I…had a little accident.”  Adam did not want to admit that he had come off his horse; he knew that Joe, a natural horseman, would rib him unmercifully about it.

 

It was Mulherne who filled in the details.  “Yer brother fell off ‘is ‘orse, that’s ‘ow we met, out in the woods.”

 

Joe’s eyes lit with the predicted pleasure.  “You fell off your horse?” he said slowly, as a devilish grin spread across his face to be replaced almost immediately by mock seriousness as he turned to face Adam.  “Well, big brother, perhaps it’s time I gave you a few lessons on how to stay put.  First thing in the morning, I’ll saddle up old Bessie and meet you at the coral.  She’s gentle and shouldn’t be too difficult for you to handle, there’ll be no danger of you falling off her.”

 

Adam sighed and raised his eyes heavenward, looking for the patience to deal with his brothers.  “For your information, I did not fall off Sport.  I got hit by a loose branch, and either one of you would have ended up on the ground, as I did.”  He turned to the man beside him.  “Thanks to Edward it was nothing too serious.”

 

Hoss joined in teasing his brother, who was six years his senior and twelve years older than Joe.  It was not often that the younger brothers could take the opportunity to remind him of their comparative youth, and Hoss was going to make the most of it.  “But don’t you think you’re a bit old to be takin’ a fall like that?  Perhaps you should be usin’ the buckboard more, just in case, you know.”  As he spoke he draped one of his powerful arms across Adam’s shoulders, but withdrew it quickly as Adam gasped and shrank away from him.  Hoss frowned with concern, “What’s up?”

 

“Yer brother ‘urt ‘is shoulder,” Mulherne informed them. “Dislocated it was, but I put it right.”

 

Hearing Mulherne’s words, Joe realised that Adam had suffered more than the scratch they could see, and all thoughts of teasing vanished.  “Are you all right?”

 

Adam eased his shoulder.  “Yeah, it’s just a bit sore still.  But like Edward said, he fixed it.”

 

“And we’re very grateful to him.” Ben saw Hop Sing hovering by the dining table; his silent signal that supper was ready.  “Now, how about something to eat?”

 

As they took their seats, Edward reflected that it had been a long time since he had seen a family so at ease with itself, and he hoped that such times were not far off for himself, once he got reacquainted with his daughter.

 

The following morning, after breakfast, Adam and Edward set off for Floriston.  If they pushed the horses they could have made it that day, but not before dark, so in deference to Adam’s still aching shoulder muscles, they did not hurry.  Both men were enjoying the other’s company and the day was fine, the wind having abated.

 

They sat either side of their camp fire in the fading evening light and talked quietly.  Adam described the life in the ‘wild west’, which Edward had read about but was finding the reality very different, and much less exciting.  In exchange, Edward told stories of the characters he knew in London, while Adam listened, fascinated; here was a man who was living close to the life Adam had only read about in novels.  Then he remembered his puzzlement over Edward’s words of the day before.

 

“Would you tell me about that…what did you call it…rhyming slang?”  Adam was always curious about things that he had not come across before.

 

Edward nodded.  “It started ‘bout twenty years ago, when the Peelers…the police force that is, got organised.   Crooks used it to confuse ‘em.”  He laughed.  “They don’t take much confusin’, if you take my meaning.  Any’ow, it just grew, and everyone in the ’field uses it now.  Can’t make yerself understood else.”

 

“But why do you use those words?  What was it you said?”  Adam tried to remember some of the words that had mystified him.  “You used the word ‘Charing’, and said that means horse.  But there’s no rhyme there, so…?”

 

“A lot of the rhymin’ is done by more than one word; it’s really Charing Cross.”  Edward pronounced the words deliberately so that Adam would understand them, then went on to explain, “That’s an area in London, but we shorten it to ‘Charing’.  That way, apart from it bein’ quicker, no one who don’t know it would guess what yer talkin’ about.”

 

“Ah, I think I see what you mean,” said Adam.  “So,” he pointed at the trees, “a pine could be…a glass of wine, but you’d just say ‘glass’.”

 

Edward smiled and nodded.  “You sure you ain’t got no cockney in ya?”

 

Adam smiled as well.  “Just because I understand how it works doesn’t mean that I understand what you’re saying.”

 

Mulherne assured Adam that he would try not to use it, and as usual laughed at the remark, and Adam’s grateful acceptance.

 

After a pause, while he refilled their cups, Adam asked, “Exactly where does your daughter live?”

 

“She and Jason ‘ave got a ranch.  ‘Ere,” Edward dug into his jacket pocket and handed Adam a piece of paper, “she wrote me directions.”

 

Adam took the letter, and nodded as he held it close to the fire so he could read it.  From the clear instructions, he would be able to take Edward straight to his daughter, before going to see Andy McFarlane about buying his small herd of Herefords when he sold up and went back east.

 

Early next morning they approached the ranch.  Adam observed, with a critical eye, that the yard was untidy; rusting tools lay where they had dropped, there was a broken rail on the corral, and straw spilled from the door of the barn.  In contrast, the single storey cabin was neat, the windows gleaming, the steps swept, and a splash of colour was added by small yellow and red flowers in pots either side of the door.

 

They drew up in front of the cabin, where Edward dismounted, but before he had taken more than a step towards the house the door opened slowly and a woman appeared.  She was slim, dark haired and, Adam thought admiringly, very pretty.

 

Rosemary Wyatt hesitated for a moment, balancing her image of her father against the man she saw standing before her.  Older, and with less hair, but otherwise just as she remembered.  Her dark brown eyes opened wide in wonder.  “Daddy!” she cried, “You came!”  She ran down the steps and threw her arms round Mulherne and he hugged her, lifting her off her feet.

 

“Course I came, I missed me little girl.”  They stood for some minutes, rocking back and forth in each other’s arms, until Mulherne remembered the man who had been his guide.  “Adam ‘ere showed me the way, otherwise I don’t think I’d ever ‘ave found ya.”

 

Rosie stood away from her father and turned towards the darkly handsome, black clad stranger, while Edward introduced them.  “Adam Cartwright, this is me daughter, Rosie.”

 

Adam touched the brim of his hat in greeting and, as Rosie looked closer, she saw the store bought clothes and the finely worked saddle, and her eyes opened wide.  “Are you one of the Ponderosa Cartwrights?” she asked.  Her words showed no trace of her father’s accent, but were more reminiscent of the precise, clipped vowels of New England.

 

“Yes, ma’am.”  Adam smiled at the description.

 

“Well, thank you for bringing my father to me.  Won’t you step down for some tea?”  Her heart was beating nervously at being faced by a member of the powerful family that she had heard tell about, but she would not let that distract her from the common courtesies.

 

Adam shook his head; these two did not need him to invade their reunion.  “Thanks, but no.  I have a call to make, and I should be getting along.”  He turned to Edward.  “I hope I’ll see you again some time.”

 

Edward went to Adam and held out his hand.  “You can be certain of that.”

 

Adam waved as he left, and Edward put his arm round his daughter’s shoulders as he turned her towards the house.

 

**********

 

Two weeks later, Ben and Adam were finishing a quiet breakfast as they discussed the day’s work ahead.  Usually the whole family would eat together, but Hoss was taking a small herd to Reno and Joe had persuaded their father to allow him to go as well.  Adam was still eating when there was a knock on the door.

 

Ben put a hand on Adam’s shoulder.  “I’ll go,” he said, rising from the table.

 

Jake, one of the hands, nodded a nervous greeting.  “Mornin’, Mr. Cartwright, got some mail for ya.”

 

Ben frowned as he took the letters.  He did not approve of any of the hands, or his sons, spending the night in town when they had work to do the next day, but Jake must have done so to have returned so early.  No doubt he had collected the mail in the hope of blunting his boss’ cutting reaction.  “What are you working on today?” Ben asked pointedly.

 

“Gatherin’ strays down by Glenbrook.”

 

“Then don’t you think it’s time you headed out?”

 

Jake nodded a sketchy reply.  “Just goin’, right now.”  He retreated gratefully out of Ben’s presence.

 

“Jake spent the night in town and collected the mail,” Ben said, as he returned to the table to finish his coffee.  “Can I leave it to you to speak to him about it?”  He glanced through the envelopes in his hand, and passed a letter to Adam.  “There’s one for you.”

 

Adam put down his fork and chewed thoughtfully as he saw the unfamiliar writing, then tore open the envelope.  After reading the contents, he left his unfinished breakfast and went to sit on the sofa in front of the wall of stone that was the fireplace, staring at the flames dancing around the large logs in the grate.  Ben noticed his stillness and came to sit opposite him, in the stuffed leather armchair off to one side of the hearth.

 

“What is it son, bad news?”

 

Adam glanced up, “It might be; it’s from Edward Mulherne’s daughter.”  He passed the letter to his father, who read it and handed it back.

 

“What are you going to do?”  Ben was concerned.  It was a cry for help, and he did not want his son to walk into trouble.

 

Adam did not answer immediately and Ben could see he was considering the question as he read again the letter in his hand which was brief, but conveyed its message succinctly.

 

“Wyatt Ranch

Floriston

Nevada Territory

 

September 5th 1859

 

 

Dear Mr. Cartwright,

 

My father has told me that he considers you to be a friend, and I believe that he is in need of one.

 

Recent events here lead me think that his life might be threatened.  I know of nowhere else to turn, and I ask for your help, if you are willing to give it.  Perhaps it is just a daughter worrying for her father and imagining things, but I am afraid that he is in danger.

 

My father does not know I have written to you, and if you choose not to come I will understand.

 

Your servant

Rosemary Wyatt.”

 

Adam stood, folding the letter and pushing it into his back pocket.  “I don’t know what this is about, but she obviously thinks Edward needs help.  The least I can do is go and find out.”  Then he added, “If you can spare me.”  When Ben agreed, Adam headed for his room, returning a few minutes later with his saddle bags packed.  After a visit to the kitchen for some basic supplies, he was ready to leave. Ben came to stand beside him, by the front door.

 

“Take care of yourself.”  He put his hand on his son’s shoulder.

 

Adam smiled as he opened the door.  “Don’t worry, Pa, I will.”

 

Ben watched him leave and, as he shut the door slowly, he thought to himself that people were fortunate to be able to call Adam ‘friend’; he never hesitated to go to their aid, sometimes to his detriment.

 

When Adam rode into the small yard the following morning, all was quiet.  He dismounted, went up the two steps leading to the front door, and knocked.  It was opened by a man a little younger than Adam, shorter by half a head, and slimmer.

 

“Yes?” the man’s attitude was not welcoming; his close set blue eyes narrowed and his mouth was pencil thin.

 

“I was looking for Mrs. Wyatt.”

 

“Why?” again the abrupt tone was evident.

 

“I am a friend of her father’s.  Is he still here?”  Adam said evenly.

 

The man turned and shouted into the house, “Rosie!  There’s someone here to see your father.”  He walked away, back into the house, leaving Adam on the door step.  A minute later Rosie appeared, wiping her hands on a towel.  She put her fingers to her lips as she put the towel down, then closed the door and tilted her head, indicating that Adam should follow her.  She went down the steps into the yard, heading for the barn.  Once inside its seclusion, she turned.

 

“Mr. Cartwright, thank you so much for coming.  I didn’t know what to do, I’m so afraid for Daddy.”

 

Adam sat down on a pile of feed sacks and patted the space beside him.  “Why don’t you sit down and tell me about it,” he said, taking off his hat and dropping it on the ground.  “And the name’s Adam.”

 

Rosie sat down, but as she started to speak she got to her feet and paced back and forth, clasping her hands nervously.  “When Daddy first got here everything was wonderful.  Jason made him welcome, and we spent hours catching up on what has happened since I left.  Then, it must have been two days after he arrived, he was here in the barn when a sack of feed fell from the loft.  It would have fallen on him, but I came in and saw it start to move and shouted at him to get out of the way.”

 

“Well, these things happen,” Adam interrupted.

 

“That’s what I thought at first, but too many other things have happened.  There was the team that bolted with the wagon and nearly ran him down, the cattle that stampeded when he was out on the range, the snake he found in his bed, and yesterday the cinch on his saddle broke and …” She stopped pacing and faced Adam, her dark eyes large in her oval face.  “Oh, Mr. Cartwright…Adam…I’m frightened for Daddy, for what might happen, and next time…”  Rosie hesitated to continue.  If she was right, then there was only one person who could be responsible.  “It must be Jason who’s doing it, there isn’t anyone else here.”  As Rosie finished speaking she turned away, wringing her hands.

 

Adam got to his feet and stood behind her, placing his hands on her shoulders and turning her to face him.  Seeing the anxious brown eyes looking up at him he hesitated, and for a fleeting moment her troubles were the furthest thing from his mind.  She was beautiful and vulnerable and he wanted to embrace her, to hold her close, to protect her.  But she was married and unavailable and in need of help, not complications.  Adam had to take a deep breath as he felt his heart beat hard in his chest and was going to step back, away from the feelings she engendered, but he saw again the anxiety and put his arms round her reassuringly.  He was skilled at hiding his emotions, and he called on that ability as he held her.  She was tall, and she rested her cheek on his shoulder.

 

“You know that a ranch is not a particularly safe place to be.  Why would your husband want to hurt your father?” Adam asked reasonably.  He loosened his hold of her so he could see her face.  “If you are so sure about this, why didn’t you go to the sheriff in town?”

 

Rosie did not move away, relishing the kindness being shown to her by the man who had come in answer to her plea.  “Because the sheriff is away, and the deputy is Frank Wyatt, Jason’s brother.  He wouldn’t believe me, any more than you do, and what if he did?  Could I rely on him arresting his own brother?”  She buried her face in his shoulder, sighing deeply at the hopelessness of the situation, and he stroked her long, dark hair.

 

Suddenly Adam felt a tight grip on his arm and, as he was pulled away from the woman, a fist landed in his face. He fell to the ground on his hands and knees, and was shaking his head to clear it when he was kicked in the stomach.  He rolled onto his back, the breath whooshing out of his lungs, and he lay still, trying to gather his shattered senses.

 

“Jason!  Leave him alone!” Rosie cried, hanging on to her husband.  But he pushed her carelessly away, and she fell awkwardly.

 

Wyatt didn’t wait to see where she landed; his attention was wholly on Adam.  “I’ll teach you to come here, interfering.”  His boot connected with Adam’s ribs, but before he could withdraw it for another blow, Adam grabbed his ankle and pushed, causing him to overbalance backwards.  Wyatt struggled to his knees, but Adam flung himself across the floor and forced him down again.  They grappled, exchanging ineffectual blows until Adam got on top and landed a fist on Wyatt’s chin, laying the man out cold.  Adam pushed himself to his feet as Rosie ran to him.

 

“Are you all right?” she asked, and Adam could only nod, not having the breath to speak as he brushed straw from his shirt and pants,

 

He picked up his hat, left the barn, and walked over to the trough, where he scooped up a handful of water and sluiced it over his face.  He straightened, rubbing at his ribs, and looked at Rosie.  “Where’s your father now?”

 

“In the house.  When the cinch broke he fell from the horse.  He wasn’t badly hurt, but he was shaken up by it.”

 

“Is he well enough to ride?” Adam demanded.

 

“I suppose so,” Rosie said, far from certain that her father should be out of bed.

 

“Then go and get him.  Let’s not give your husband any more opportunities.  I’m taking you both away from here.”

 

Rosie started towards the house, but then turned back and cocked her head to one side.  “In the barn, when I told you what had happened, you weren’t convinced that Jason had anything to do with it.”  A tinge of satisfaction could be detected in her words; Adam had not believed her and he had paid for his doubt.  “But now you’ve seen what he’s like…I suppose that persuaded you?”

 

Adam fingered his bruised cheek.  “No.  Your husband hit me because he objected to my ‘interfering’, as he said, when I would have expected him to be upset at you being in my arms.  That doesn’t make sense,” he explained.  “Now, go and get your father, I’ll get the horses ready.”

 

Rosie ran into the house, while Adam went back to the barn.  As he finished saddling the horses, Jason began to stir and Adam went over to him.

 

“Wyatt.”  Adam got no response and repeated the name, louder.  “Wyatt!”

 

Jason sat up, rubbing his head.  “What?”  He looked up and climbed slowly to his feet when he saw who had spoken.

 

“I’m taking your wife and her father to the Ponderosa.  If you want to see them, that’s where they’ll be.”

 

Wyatt was furious.  “What gives you the right to take my wife anywhere?”

 

Adam collected the reins of the horses and started to walk out of the barn.  “She thinks you’re trying to kill her father, and until I find out otherwise I don’t think they’d be too safe here.”  As Wyatt advanced on him, Adam drew his gun.  “Don’t try it,” he said quietly.  “Just stay in here until we’re gone and no one need get hurt.”

 

Wyatt looked at the gun and then at Adam, seeing a confidence in the brown stare that unnerved him, and he backed off.  He stood in the barn, bewildered by the turn of events, until he heard the sound of horses moving away.  He swore loudly as he pounded his fist against the barn door, then hurriedly got his own horse ready and swiftly covered the short distance into town.

 

Adam led the way off the main road and into the forest, where they followed the narrow tracks.  Rosie kicked her horse until she was beside Adam, leaving her father to follow behind.

 

“Why are we going through the forest, wouldn’t it be quicker along the main roads?” she asked with a worried frown.

 

Adam nodded.  “Yeah, it’d be quicker, but if your husband decides to follow us he’ll expect us to have gone by the easier trail. I think it’ll be safer to go this way, even though it will take longer.”

 

“Jason’s a good tracker, the Sheriff always wants him with the posse if they have to find someone.  He’ll soon find out that we came this way.”

 

Adam frowned.  That was a skill Adam hadn’t thought to find in the young rancher and it had him worried, but he smiled at Rosie, trying to reassure her.  “Let’s hope we can keep far enough ahead of him.  We’ll be on the Ponderosa by morning, and at the house soon after noon.”

 

“What happens if Jason tries to take me back?”

 

“If you don’t want to go then we’ll stop him.”

 

Rosie was curious. “We?”

 

“At the Ponderosa you’ll have not only me, but my father to protect you.  And my brothers will be home soon.”  Adam looked at her and smiled reassuringly.  “You haven’t met my family yet, but believe me, no one’s going to make you do anything you don’t want to do when faced with them.”

 

“How many brothers do you have?  You make it sound like an army.”

 

“Only two, but they’re more determined than any army.  Don’t worry, you’ll both be safe there.”

 

Rosie hoped that he was right as she dropped back to ride beside her father.

 

Adam had a feeling that there was still a chance Jason might catch them, if he picked up their trail as Rosie thought he might, and they rode steadily, following the terrain as it sloped steeply upward, forming the hills that would lead them to the land that was the Ponderosa.  He had tried to talk to Edward, but got only wan smiles and brief replies.  It was obvious that the older man was struggling to stay with them, his head was down and his shoulders slumped, and Adam called a halt sooner than he would have liked.

 

He helped Rosie down from the saddle, then went to Edward, who was on his feet but leaning against his horse.  “Come on, I think you’ve had enough for now.”

 

Edward looked up and nodded silently.  Adam held his arm and sat him down on a fallen tree trunk, leaving him in Rosie’s care, then he led the horses a little distance away and tethered them among the trees, where they would not be spooked by the smell of the smoke from a campfire.  He knew he could trust Sport, but was not so certain about the Wyatt animals.  He loosened the cinches and made sure that they were settled, then went back to the camp and handed Rosie his saddle bags. “There’s coffee and a pot in here, can you start a fire and put some water on to heat?” When he received a nod and a small smile of agreement, Adam picked up his rifle.  “Then I’ll go and find us something to eat.”  He looked up at the sky.  “There’s still a while before sun set, so once we’ve eaten and your father’s rested, we’ll go on.”  He started off into the trees and was soon out of sight of the camp.

 

Adam went silently, his feet making no sound.  He had been walking for ten minutes in the shade beneath the branches, when he saw movement up ahead.  He stopped and raised his rifle, drawing a bead on the rabbit that was crouched down, its teeth nibbling busily at the blades of grass in a small clearing.  He fired, and hit the animal cleanly in the head.

 

By the time he made it back to camp, Rosie had a fire going and coffee brewing.  Adam prepared the rabbit and skewered it with a stick, holding it over the flames to cook.  Rosie poured them all some coffee and sat down next to her father to drink it.

 

Her presence beside him stirred Edward, who had been lost in his thoughts, and he looked at Adam.  “What made ya come back?”  The short rest had brought back some strength to his voice.

 

“Rosie sent for me.”  Adam smiled at the young woman.  “She was worried about you.”

 

“She shouldn’t ‘ave bothered you.”  Edward looked at his daughter, and told her seriously, “You shouldn’t ‘ave involved a stranger in our troubles.”

 

“I hope that you don’t consider me a stranger,” Adam declared.  “She knew I was a friend of yours, and she had every right to ask for my help, and I’m glad she did.”  Adam turned the rabbit slowly over the fire as he spoke.  “So, do you want to tell me about it?”

 

When Edward did not speak, Rosie put her arm round his shoulders.  “Daddy, I was worried.  Something was happening, but I wasn’t sure what, or why.  I couldn’t ignore it.”

 

Edward reached up and patted her hand as he smiled at her.  “I s’pose yer right.”

 

Adam glanced at the pair, then turned back to concentrate on his cooking.  “Meeting Jason today was not a pleasant experience.”  He checked the rabbit and waited, but received no comment from his companions.  “I’ll tell you what I think, then if you tell me I’m wrong, I’ll take you both back,” he said, looking at Edward. “Is it a deal?”  Edward glanced up, and Adam was surprised to see fear in his eyes; the Edward Mulherne he had come to know did not seem to be afraid of anything. “I think that in the conversations you had with Rosie you mentioned that you had made a lot of money, and it, and the business, would go to her if anything happened to you.  Wyatt took this information, and decided to speed that process.”  Edward did not contradict him, so Adam continued.  “Have you thought what would happen then?  Once Rosie has the money, her life is in danger as well.”

 

Edward sighed.  “I know,” he answered, his voice subdued as though he did not want Rosie to hear, and Adam suddenly realised what it was the man was afraid of; he was scared for his daughter, not himself.  After a long silence, Mulherne spoke.  “What happens when we get to the Ponderosa?”

 

Adam decided that the rabbit was cooked, and pulled pieces off and handed them to Rosie and Edward.  “I don’t know,” he admitted, “but it will give you time to think about what you want to do.  I would suggest that the safest place for both of you would be back in England.”

 

They all ate the meat, at the same time digesting the enormity of Adam’s suggestion.  Once they had finished, Adam left Edward and Rosie clearing the camp while he went to get the horses.  He was about to replace his rifle in its scabbard, when he heard the deafening sound of a shot close by.  He raced into the camp, sliding to a halt on the loose covering of pine needles, shocked to see Jason walking out of the trees and aiming a rifle squarely at Rosie, who was crouched over the motionless figure of her father.  Adam took only a second to assess what he saw, then raised his own rifle as Jason heard his arrival and turned towards him.

 

“Drop the gun,” Adam ordered.

 

Jason hesitated, but seeing again the determined stare that he remembered from their encounter in the barn, he pursed his lips and threw the rifle down angrily.  Adam went slowly towards Rosie, all the while keeping his eyes on Wyatt.  As he reached the woman, he glanced down at her.  “How is…?”

 

Before he could finish the sentence, Jason leaped on him.  Adam remained on his feet but was forced to drop the rifle as he swung at Wyatt, connecting with his chin and knocking him to the ground.  Hearing the scuffle, Rosie looked up, and was surprised to see the small clearing filling with men.  She shouted a warning, but Adam was concentrating on picking up his rifle and only had time to register that she had spoken before he felt a crushing blow to the back of his head, and dropped like a stone as he instantly lost consciousness.

 

When Adam’s senses gradually returned he rolled onto his back and lay staring at the sky, waiting for the world to come into focus.  He turned his head carefully, and his breath caught in his throat as he saw Rosie on her knees, her father’s head resting on her lap.  Edward was speaking, but so quietly that only she could hear the whispered words, then his head fell to one side and Rosie stared across at Adam.  He could see that her cheeks were marked by streaks of tears as she looked again at her father, whose eyes stared sightlessly at the darkening forest, and Adam recognised the stillness of death.

 

“All right, on your feet.”  Adam heard the words and turned his attention from the sad tableau to the man speaking, who was pointing a gun squarely at his chest.  He struggled to stand, frowning as the pain in his head threatened to overwhelm him.  As he made it to his feet, Adam studied the stranger in front of him; apart from the addition of a bushy, drooping moustache, he was an older version of Jason.  If Adam had any doubt about the identity of the man before him, it was banished by the silver star on his grey shirt, which marked him as a deputy sheriff; this had to be Jason’s brother, Frank.  “Take off your gun belt, slowly,” the deputy ordered.

 

Adam looked from Frank’s sneering face to the rifle in his hands, and shrugged.  He bent down to release the thong round his thigh, then straightened and released the buckle, holding it as he let the rest of the belt drop.  Adam was ready to jump the deputy when he took the belt from him, but Frank was too careful.

 

“Drop it,” he ordered.  As Adam let the belt fall to the ground, Frank jerked the rifle up, indicating that he should back off.

 

Adam started to walk backwards, but after two small paces he stopped and tensed as he felt a gun pressing into his back.  He looked over his shoulder and saw a big man standing close behind him, and another man, smaller, further away.

 

“Well done, deputy,” the bigger man said.  “You was right to be worried.  Shame we were too late to stop him killing the old man.”  As he spoke he pushed his gun harder into Adam’s back, and snarled in his ear.  “Hangin’s too good for the likes of you.”

 

Adam rounded on the man.  “I didn’t kill him, it was…”  Before he could finish, Frank’s rifle struck him in the back and he fell to his knees.

 

“Shut up.”  Frank pushed the barrel of the rifle into the back of Adam’s neck, and he shivered involuntarily at the touch of the cold metal.  Frank noticed and mistook the reaction for fear.  He smiled.  “One more word from you and you’re dead, understand?” The rifle did not move as Frank ordered the men to find a rope, and soon Adam’s hands were tied securely behind his back.

 

Jason was slowly climbing to his feet, rubbing at his chin.  He decided that it was time for him to act the aggrieved husband and son-in-law, and he approached Adam, who was still on his knees.  He grabbed a tight handful of black hair and pulled backwards, until Adam was looking up at him through narrowed eyes.

 

“You killed my wife’s Pa.  I should finish you right here,” he snarled.

 

“Rosie knows I…” Adam started to say, but was again silenced, this time by Jason landing a fist on his jaw, sending him crashing sideways.  As Adam lay on the ground he could see the big man standing behind the deputy, smiling, and knew he would afford no protection from the Wyatt brothers and their scheming.  But as Jason leaned down and lifted Adam by his shirt front, about to hit him again, the smaller man of the posse put out a hand and grabbed his raised fist.

 

“That’s enough,” he ordered quietly, but his voice was strong and Jason let his hand drop.  “Don’t hit him again.”  Adam thought that he had found an ally, but the man’s next words showed that he was wrong.  “We don’t want him showing up in court too battered, the judge might take pity on him.”

 

Jason pushed Adam down onto the ground as he released his grip.  He turned away, crossed the camp and roughly took hold of Rosie’s arm, pulling her away from Edward and onto her feet.  She resisted, shouting at him to let her go and tugging her arm to get it out of her husband’s grip, but when Jason hit her across the face with his open hand, Rosie stopped struggling.  The men around the camp watched, but said nothing; a wronged husband was allowed a show of anger.  Adam saw Rosie’s face become a stony, defiant mask as she let Jason put her on her horse.  Once she was mounted, the deputy turned to Adam.

 

“Okay, you next.”

 

Adam got slowly to his feet and walked towards Sport.  Resistance was useless in the face of the guns aimed at him and, with help, he mounted.

 

Frank came up beside him.  “I don’t want to hear a word outta you.  If you give us any trouble, you won’t live long enough to stand trial.”  When the rifle was pushed forcefully under Adam’s chin for emphasis, his eyes narrowed in anger and he clamped his mouth shut.

 

The deputy went back to pick up Adam’s discarded rifle, turning his back on the other men as he examined the weapon.  His brows rose as he smelled the barrel, and he smiled, but his face was serious when he turned back and called to the men of the posse.  “This gun’s been fired.”  The two men took turns to verify the evidence for themselves as Frank returned to Adam.  “So it must o’ been you who shot the old man.”

 

Adam was about to explain the he had been hunting, but again he felt the rifle under his jaw and he stayed quiet.  Frank nodded.  “That’s good, keeping your mouth shut like I told ya.  You’ll have your day in court – before they hang you.”  He laughed inwardly as he walked towards his own mount; this had turned out better than they had planned.

 

It was evening as they rode into Floriston.  People turned to stare at the procession making its way slowly down the main street, and Adam could feel their eyes on him.  He knew they were jumping to conclusions about what they were seeing; the posse returning with a body, and a prisoner – a murderer caught and being delivered to justice.  He felt acutely uncomfortable as the centre of so much attention; he was being brought in like a common criminal, his hands tied, his horse being led, and he stared straight ahead longing for the ride to be over, even though it was going to end with him in jail.

 

Frank pulled up and drew his gun.  “Get down.”

 

Adam managed to dismount with help from Jason, but as he was pushed towards the jail he turned, anger at his situation showing on his face.

 

Jason sneered.  “Go on then, try it.”  He pulled his gun from its holster and Adam stopped, knowing they were just looking for an excuse to shoot him.  He became aware of the small crowd that had gathered and he started up the steps, anxious to get away from the watching eyes; some curious, some pitying and some downright hostile. He followed Frank into the front office, where the deputy collected the keys from the desk, and then went through the double doors that led to the back of the jail.  He walked past the first of the empty cells, and opened the one that was furthest from the doors.

 

“In there.”  Once Adam was safely locked up, Frank told him to turn round and come close to the bars, so that he could untie the rope that bound his hands.

 

“You don’t think you can get away with this, do you?” said Adam, as he rubbed at his wrists.

 

“Can’t see why we wouldn’t.  We got a witness who saw you do it.”

 

Adam frowned.  “Who?”

 

“Rosie.  She’ll do anything that Jason tells her.  She’s scared of him, and rightly so.”

 

“But no one’s going to believe that I would shoot Mulherne, what reason would I have?”  Adam protested.

 

“You was in love with his daughter and knew all about the money that was comin’ to her, and had persuaded her to run away with you.  Her old man didn’t like that, so he followed you and tried to stop you, and you shot him.”  Once started on relating the story, Frank was happy to fill Adam in on the details of the evidence they would produce in court.  “Jason’ll tell the Judge that he caught you in the barn with Rosie in your arms, and that you attacked him and then made off with her.”

 

Adam wondered just how much Frank would tell him, and if he would let slip anything that would help his defence.  “How are you going to explain Jason being in the clearing ahead of the posse?”

 

“He was so upset at you takin’ Rosie, he wouldn’t wait for the posse.  Rode out ahead of us, but seems he got there just too late to stop you.”

 

“You took a risk didn’t you?  Suppose you’d caught up with him?”

 

Frank laughed.  “I ain’t that stupid,” he sneered.  “I made sure we didn’t go too fast.  Once I heard the shot I knew we was okay.  Course, your rifle being fired was an unexpected bonus, and that’ll be all it takes to hang you.”  Frank smiled as he saw Adam realise how the evidence was stacked against him.  “Now, you sit quiet like, the circuit Judge’ll be here in a week and we can get this over with.”  Frank walked away, closing the doors behind him.  Adam could hear laughter from the office, and he kicked the bunk in frustration.

 

The cell was small and dark, the only light coming through an unglazed window set high in the outside wall.  Adam sat on the single bunk in his prison, his elbows on his knees, and he hung his head as dark, despondent thoughts filled his mind.  He guiltily remembered his feelings towards Rosie as he stood in the barn, and the memory did nothing to help him think clearly.  He could well have run off with her at that moment.

 

He shook himself to clear his thoughts, he had to concentrate on the present problem.  He went over what Frank had told him, but could find no flaw in their plan.   He might be able to persuade the court that he had been hunting with his rifle, and that he had enough money of his own and was not interested in Rosie’s inheritance.  But if they asked him under oath if Jason had found Rosie in his arms, he could only answer ‘yes’, and that single word could hang him.  Would Rosie lie to protect her father’s murderer, and how was he going to get word to his own father about what had happened?  It could be that the first Ben would know about it was when his son’s body was sent home.  Adam sighed hopelessly.  Unless he could contact the outside world, there was no one to help him, and he couldn’t at that moment see a way out.  He stretched out on the bunk, and it was nearly dawn before he fell into a fitful sleep.

 

When Frank brought him breakfast, Adam told him that he wanted a lawyer.  He did not think that it would do much good, but if the deputy could be persuaded, at least it would enable him to get in touch with his father.  To Adam’s surprise, Frank agreed without argument, and an hour later reappeared followed by a tall, elderly, bearded man whose clothes had seen better days; frayed cuffs on the jacket of his suit, and stained pants that were an inch too short.

 

“Here’s yer man, his name’s Solomon, but it don’t exactly fit,” Frank laughed, as he backed out of the doors.

 

Adam frowned at Frank’s remark but his spirits rose as he thought that now he would have an ally who could contact his father for him, and he addressed his would-be lawyer through the bars.  “My name’s Adam Cartwright, and I think I need your help.”

 

The man cupped a hand to one ear.  “Eh?”

 

Adam spoke louder.  “I need your help!”

 

“Sorry son, you’ll have to speak up.”  Solomon’s voice was rough, reflecting his age.  “Cain’t hear a word you’re sayin’.”

 

Adam sighed, then called out to Frank.  “Sheriff…sheriff!”  Frank put his head round the door.  “I need some paper, and something to write with,” Adam told him.

 

Frank smiled slyly, and came back with paper and pencil.  Adam wrote a few words and handed the message to the old man, who looked at it, then at Adam.

 

“Son, I ain’t never learnt readin’.”

 

Adam pinched the bridge of his nose and took a deep breath, trying to stay calm, then he called again to Frank.

 

“What is it?”  Beneath the bushy moustache the deputy was already smiling, as he approached the cell.

 

“This man’s not a lawyer, he can’t even read!”  Adam shouted.

 

“I know that.” Frank’s smile disappeared as took Solomon’s arm and, after handing him a dollar, pushed him through the doors, then he faced Adam with a sneer.  “You didn’t think I was really goin’ to get you one, did you?  Just wanted you to know that you’ll get what I give you.”

 

“And what happens when I tell the Judge that you refused me a lawyer?”

 

“I didn’t refuse, you just didn’t like the one I got for you.  You can tell the court anything you like, no one’s gonna believe a murderer.”  Frank turned away, shutting the door firmly and cutting off any reply.

 

Adam hammered his fist into the wall, then stood shaking his hand against the pain his action caused and let rip with a flow of words that would have shocked his father, if ever they had been uttered in his presence.  He knew he was trapped, and through his anger he began to feel helpless, alone and impotent in the deputy’s hands.  He paced the cell, trying to bring himself under control; he would not let Frank get the better of him, but just then he was at a loss how he could take any action to save himself.

 

As he moved to and fro in the small space, Adam began to think more rationally.  He decided he would act in his own defence in court.  He was intelligent and knew the facts of the case, all he had to do was persuade a jury that he was innocent.  He laughed mockingly at himself; that was all he had to do!  He had no doubt that the men of the town who were chosen to make up the jury would have been persuaded by the deputy, before the trial, of the murderous actions of his prisoner.  Adam sighed, he knew he didn’t stand a chance.

 

Through his thoughts, he became aware of sounds coming from the outer office.  He recognised the muted tones of Frank and his brother, and he realised why Frank had chosen that cell; he was too far away from the closed double doors to be able to make out what they were saying.  Then he heard a soft voice calling his name from outside the window.  He stood on the corner of the bunk so that he could look down through the barred opening.  Peering up at him was Rosie.

 

“You shouldn’t be here,” Adam whispered.

 

“It’s all right, I followed Jason, he doesn’t know I’m not at home.”  She looked nervously left and right, then reached into the pocket of her black skirt.  “I brought you this.”  Rosie held up a revolver.

 

Adam hesitated as he looked at the weapon.  He did not like the idea of shooting his way out, that was no way to clear his name, and innocent people could get hurt.  But if the opportunity arose for escape, a gun would increase his chances of getting away.

 

“You know I could kill you brother-in-law with that, don’t you?” he said, holding her gaze, watching for her reaction.

 

Rosie nodded.  “But somehow I don’t think you would do that without cause.  Please, take it.”

 

She was right; he would never shoot anyone deliberately, not even to get out of the hole he was in now.  He reached down.  “Thanks, now go.”

 

“Is there anything else I can do for you?” Rosie asked.

 

Holding the gun in his hand, Adam considered her offer.  Was it right to let her help, knowing that she would be putting herself in danger?  But he knew that, even though he was now armed, if he was going to get out of this mess without bloodshed he would need some assistance.  “Can you get word to Roy Coffee, the sheriff in Virginia City?  Tell him what’s happened, and to let my father know?”

 

“I’ll go myself.  Tonight, once Jason is asleep.”  She hung her head and then looked up again.  “Then I’m not coming back, I won’t testify against you.”

 

“Get Roy to take you out to the Ponderosa, you can stay there, and you’ll be safe.”  Rosie nodded, and was about to turn away, when he stopped her.  “Wait.”  He remembered he still had the letter she had written to him, and he reached into his back pocket.  “Take this with you.  My father knows that you wrote to me, and it’ll prove to Roy who you are.  It might convince him that you’re telling the truth.”  Adam thought how badly Jason had misjudged his wife.  She might be scared of him, but not to the extent that she would lie to send another man to the gallows in his place.  Then another thought struck him and he spoke forcefully, desperate that his instructions be followed.  “Tell my father that I said he is not to come to Floriston.  Tell him to let Roy handle it.  He’s the law, it’s his job.” Adam was far from certain that Ben would take any notice of his instructions, but he had to try to keep his father out of harm’s way.

 

“Very well, if you’re sure.  But won’t your father be worried?”

 

“Of course.  But he can’t protect you if he comes here.  Make him understand that he mustn’t come.  Who knows what Frank or Jason might do if he turned up here?”

 

Rosie nodded, unconvinced, as she reached up and took the paper, tucking it into the top of her cream coloured blouse.  “I must go, I have to be home before Jason.”  When she had disappeared round the side of the building, Adam lay down on the bunk, hiding the gun under the mattress.  It was not a moment too soon; Frank appeared through the doors that separated the cells from the outer office.  He stood and looked at his prisoner, then, without a word went out and shut the door.

 

**********

 

Breakfast the following morning was the same meagre and tasteless fare that Adam had come to expect of meals in the jail, but he forced himself to eat.  Starving wouldn’t help him get out of the situation he was in; he needed his strength, and to keep his mind alert for any chance that offered.  He remembered the tasty rabbit he had shared with Rosie and Edward, and he smiled grimly; the shot he had fired might yet get the animal revenge for its death.

 

Frank had not come into the cell with the tray, but as usual had pushed it under the bars, covering his prisoner with his gun, while Adam lay on his bunk breathing heavily.  He was conscious that, deep inside, he was still angry, and was wary that the emotion might drive him to do something foolish if the deputy came too close.  He needed to channel that anger into a sensible plan.

 

Frank collected the tray, pulling his gun and standing back as Adam pushed it under the bars.  The deputy made him move away, and then bent to pick it up. He was taking no chances with his prisoner, and Adam realised that Frank was not going to be careless enough to allow him any opportunity to escape.

 

Adam felt at the stubble on his chin.  “Can I shave?”

 

“Shave?  No, I ain’t trusting you with a blade, you must think I’m stupid.”

 

“But you’ve got your gun, what could I do with a razor?” Adam reasoned.

 

“The answer’s ‘no’, so don’t bother asking again,” Frank insisted, then he smiled.  “Don’t want you turnin’ up in court looking too presentable.”

 

Adam glared at him, thinking that, yet again, the deputy seemed intent on proving that he held the upper hand.  As Frank turned away, laughing, Adam stood breathing hard, then he smiled wryly to himself.  It seemed to him that he had spent most of his time in jail being angry at the deputy, when he should have been trying to think of a way out.

 

He started to pace back and forth as he forced himself to calm down; four strides to the door, turn, four to the wall, turn.  If he was going to defend himself in court, he needed to argue his case clearly, and he ran through the facts and suppositions in his mind.  He knew what Jason and Frank had done, and thought he knew why, but there was one thing that was bothering him; why had Frank and Jason brought the posse with them?  They could have killed him in the forest and still have blamed him for Mulherne’s death without the risk associated with a trial.  No one would know the truth.

 

Gradually the answer came to him.  The men of the posse would be witnesses to the fact that he had apparently been caught red handed.  It would be much easier, and quicker, for Rosie to claim her inheritance if there was a trial, then there would be no doubt about her father’s death, and who had caused it, and the money would be forthcoming immediately.  Too many bodies might have raised questions they didn’t want to answer, especially if one of them was a Cartwright.  Better for them to let justice be seen to be done.

 

Through his thoughts, he heard raised voices from the office and he heard the words ‘gone’ and ‘witness’.  It seemed that Jason had come to report Rosie’s absence, and Adam smiled quietly to himself at the brothers’ reaction to this sudden and unexpected defect in their plan.  The sounds died away and he heard the outside door open and close, then there was silence.

 

Adam was lying down again when Frank brought him lunch, shoving the tray beneath the bars.  When he returned to collect the empty plates, Frank came into the cell, first making his prisoner get up and lean on his outstretched hands against the opposite wall, and Adam frowned at the change of routine.  Once Frank had gone, Adam returned to his pacing; it was the only exercise he got and it helped him to think, but his thoughts were not pleasant ones, centred as they were on what would be the inevitable result of the trial, if he could not prove his innocence.  His life depended on Rosie reaching Roy Coffee, but even if she did, there were no guarantees that his friend could help him in the face of the evidence Frank could present in court.  He knew the Virginia City sheriff would do everything he could under the law, but Adam despaired that it was that same law that was going to see him hanged.  Even without Rosie, Adam knew that he would condemn himself, simply by telling the truth – Rosie was in his arms, he had taken her from her husband, and he did know about the money.

 

A pain was forming behind Adam’s eyes as dismal, depressing thoughts chased themselves round and round in his mind.  When his pacing brought him to the bars of the cell he put his hands out to grip them, resting his tense, aching head against the cool metal of the door.  He felt movement – and realised that Frank had forgotten to lock him in!

 

Adam started to push the door open, and then paused, remembering how careful Frank had been on his visits to the cell.  Perhaps he hadn’t forgotten.  With Rosie gone they had lost their eye witness, and, maybe, they had decided not to risk the case coming to court, and Frank had left the cell open on purpose; a prisoner shot trying to escape as good as admitted his guilt.  Was that why the deputy had changed the routine and entered the cell? Adam wondered.  He collected the gun from beneath the mattress, and crept silently towards the double doors, holding his breath, listening.  There was not a sound from the office, which did not surprise him; if he was to be shot escaping, then Frank would wait for him to emerge from the jail.  Like many such buildings, there was only one door, to make it easier to defend from angry lynch mobs out for blood.   Adam would have to come out of that door, and Frank would gun him down in the street so that everyone would see the deputy had no choice in exercising his duty.

 

Adam retreated into the cell, lay down on the narrow bunk, and waited.  While he would take any opportunity to escape, he was not going to walk into a trap that Frank had set; he had to make his own chances.  Ever since Rosie had given him the gun, he had thought long and hard whether he would attack the deputy, or use it only to defend himself.  But it seemed as though that decision had been taken out of his hands.  He smiled a thin, grim smile; if Frank was planning to shoot him, then he was in for a nasty surprise.

 

“He’s not going to take the bait.”  Jason chewed nervously at the corner of his mouth, as he watched the door of the jail from the shelter of an alley on the opposite side of the street.

 

His elder brother shook his head in disgust.  “He ain’t done much except lie on his bunk.  Perhaps he ain’t found out the door’s open.”

 

“How long are we gonna wait?”

 

“We’ll give him another hour.  I’ll take a turn up and down the street, let folks know that I’m watching things.  If he ain’t come out by then, we’ll have to do something about it, the sheriff’ll be back any day, and then it’ll be too late.”

 

Jason frowned.  “What d’ya have in mind?”

 

Frank smiled.  “There’s more than one way to skin a cat, and this cat’s gonna get skinned, whether he likes it or not.”  He walked off, tipping his hat to a lady as he made his way slowly up the street.  He kept one eye on the jail, looking for any sign of movement, but all was still.  He chatted to passers by, giving the impression of the dutiful lawman checking on his charges, then slowly walked back.

 

“Okay, I’ve had enough of waiting.”  Frank’s eyes shifted back and forth, showing his impatience.

 

Jason caught his arm looking to his older, wiser brother for guidance.  “What are we gonna do?”

 

“You go collect his dinner from the restaurant while I watch the jail.  It’s early, but I wanna get this over with.  When I take it to him, he’s gonna jump me,” Frank smiled nastily, “only he don’t know it yet, and then I’m gonna have to shoot him.”

 

Jason nodded his agreement to the plan, then set off to collect the meal, passing the time of day with the woman who ran the restaurant while he waited for the tray to be prepared, then he and Frank headed for the jail.

 

Inside, Adam heard someone coming and closed his eyes, as though asleep.  He felt completely calm, the frustration of being unable to help himself had passed with the prospect of taking action, and he was prepared for whatever Frank was planning.  The faint metallic squeak of the cell door told him that it had been opened, and he yawned as he looked round, his eyebrows rising in apparent surprise; Frank had not got him leaning against the wall, as he had earlier.  Out of the deputy’s sight, Adam’s hand crept under the mattress until he was gripping the gun, because if he was right, then this was the moment when Frank was going to shoot him, making it look as though he had jumped the deputy.

 

Frank put down the tray and stood back, his gun held loosely.  “Guess you didn’t know the door was open, but that don’t matter now.”

 

Adam sat up slowly and turned, the hand holding the gun concealed behind his back.  “That was careless of you, I might have escaped,” he said casually as he stood.

 

“No.”  Frank took a step back and raised his gun.  “But, like I say, it don’t matter.  I ain’t aiming for you to go to no court.”

 

Adam saw the knuckles of Frank’s finger whiten as it tightened on the trigger, and he brought the gun from behind his back and fired.  Frank crashed back against the bars, his eyes opening wide in shock, then he sank to his knees.  “How…?” He never finished his sentence, but pitched forward and lay still at Adam’s feet.

 

Adam went out of the cell towards the doors to the office, which were standing ajar.  He peered through the narrow opening, and was just in time to see Jason advancing towards him, smiling.  When it was Adam that appeared in the doorway, Jason was shocked for a moment.  He saw that Adam was armed, but that did not stop him drawing his own gun, intent on finishing their plan.  He had time to register one thought; that it would be even more convincing if he shot the prisoner who had just shot the deputy.  But that was the last coherent thought he would ever have.  As Jason pulled the trigger, Adam sidestepped and fired – with deadly accuracy.  Jason sank to the floor and lay still, but his shot had found a mark.  Adam was spun round as the bullet tore through the top of his left arm.  He hit the desk and grabbed at the edge of it for support, but then straightened quickly; it wouldn’t be long before someone came to investigate and he would rather not be there when they did.

 

Without waiting to study the carnage he had perpetrated, Adam opened the door and broke into a shambling run towards the livery, his right hand still holding the gun and clutching tight to his left arm.  People were beginning to stop to see what the noise was all about, but no one seemed inclined to challenge the escaping prisoner, who was armed and apparently not afraid to use his weapon.

 

Stumbling into the livery, Adam immediately found the ostler, who stared wide eyed at the man who was dripping blood on the straw-covered floor of his stable.   Adam pointed his gun menacingly, and told him to get Sport saddled.  The ostler shrugged and did as he was told, while Adam sagged against a post, watching the doors until his horse was ready.  He tucked the gun into the waistband of his pants, mounted and rode out.  As he hit the street he heard men calling after him.  They had found the bodies and, as Adam made his escape, a handful of braver citizens ran for their horses.

 

Adam was almost out of town when he saw an approaching rider, who drew his gun and turned his horse sideways to block the way.  Adam kicked Sport to go faster and headed straight at the man, oblivious to the threat from the weapon.  The bay filly sensed the approaching sorrel and shied, throwing its rider to the ground.  Adam steered Sport round them, and was gone.

 

He rode hard through what was left of the afternoon, heading towards Virginia City and hoping to find Roy Coffee before he left for Floriston.  It was closer than the Ponderosa and would give him a chance to explain to the sheriff what had happened and what he had done, and trust that Roy would be able to help him.  He went at first along the main road, then by progressively smaller tracks, until he was hidden by the forest.  He avoided riding up the valley floor; although the quicker route it was too open and offered no chance of concealment.

 

He stopped among the trees and listened.  He could hear the faint sounds of men shouting back and forth but they were some distance behind him, and he thought that he could usefully spare time to tend to his wound.  The bullet had gone straight through his arm, leaving two gaping holes. Adam tore off his sleeve and tried to tie the material tightly round his arm in an attempt to stop the flow of blood.  But he was doing it one-handed, and he watched the black material slowly take on a red hue as the vital, life sustaining fluid soaked into it, then started to seep from beneath the make-shift bandage.  He knew he didn’t have much time for rational thought.  He set off again, picking his way over the rough ground, grateful that Sport was sure footed and would not step foolishly into a leg breaking hole, which left Adam free to concentrate on where he was heading.  It was becoming increasingly difficult for him to think clearly, loss of blood and the pain from the wounds were already beginning to cloud his mind, and he found the way more by instinct than sight.

 

Sport was walking steadily through the woods with only occasional guidance from Adam.  Through the fog that was gathering in his head, Adam heard the sounds of horses and the voices of the posse.  He realised that they were closing in on him and a surge of adrenalin let him sit up straighter in the saddle, desperately trying to think.  He looked around; the forest was thick, the trees close growing and their branches shading the ground to the point of darkness.  Off to one side he spotted a hollow where no trees grew, but it was filled with a lush growth of ferns and large sagebrush bushes.  Adam dismounted and slowly led Sport into the defile, where he pushed the horse until he was under the cover of the silver leaved sagebrush.  He stood beside Sport, resting his cheek against the silky neck as he put his hand on the horse’s nose, whispering calming words to him to keep him quiet.

 

Adam heard the riders approach.  They were going fast, too fast to be following a trail, and Adam held his breath as they neared.  He had left obvious tracks in the soft ground, but some of the path had been rocky, and he had also taken every opportunity to use the small streams that ran through the forest to disguise his trail, knowing that it would take a good tracker to follow him, and with Jason dead it seemed that they did not have one.  The ground shook as they passed Adam’s hiding place, then the pounding hooves faded into the distance.  Adam hung his head, and his legs felt weak as relief flowed through him, then he slowly led Sport out of the hollow and took off at an angle to the path.  Knowing how close the posse had come to catching him had left Adam shaking, and he clung to the saddle for support.

 

Occasionally he stopped to listen, and could hear the posse moving further away, until he could not hear them at all, but as night fell he pushed on.  He wouldn’t risk them finding him; they might decide to string him up before he could explain what had happened, and why.  By the faint light of dawn he found his way back to the road into Virginia City.  All night he had ridden as fast as he dared, but the full light of morning showed him bent over Sport’s neck, no longer able to sit straight in the saddle, and his left arm was hanging limp.  The intelligent horse was walking, following the road and needing no guidance.

 

Adam had his eyes closed and was desperately fighting to stay on Sport.  He laughed out loud when a vision of his youngest brother floated into his mind.  Joe was telling him that if he fell from his horse twice in three weeks, then he was not the skilled horseman that he professed to be.

 

He heard the sound of hooves, which got louder as he listened, and to Adam’s failing senses the single horse sounded like an army.  His heart sank; he was in no condition to resist the men of the posse.  Then he felt a gentle hand on his arm.

 

“Adam?  What on earth happened to you, boy?”  Roy Coffee asked, shocked to see the state of his friend.  He immediately took in the black bandage round Adam’s otherwise bare left arm, and the blood that ran down and dripped slowly from his finger tips.  Roy could see that his unshaven face was drawn and pale, and he looked exhausted.

 

Blinking owlishly, Adam tried to get his eyes to focus.  “Roy…posse…after me…don’t let them…hang…me…,” he managed to croak.  Then he smiled foolishly, “You win…Joe…”  He closed his eyes, slipped sideways, and fell to the ground.

 

**********

 

Adam came round slowly and cracked open his eyes.  His stomach tightened as he turned his head and saw that bars formed one wall of the room he was in.  He frowned as he realised that this cell was part of the jail in Virginia City, and he wondered if the posse had got to Roy and told him of events in Floriston.  Adam knew there was no denying that he had shot the deputy and Jason, and had no defence against that if Roy did not believe the rest of his story.  The fact that he was locked up told Adam that the Sheriff might take some persuading.  He had hoped that Roy would believe Rosie when she told of how Frank and Jason had plotted to blame him for Edward’s death, but if Roy had him a prisoner then he must at least have doubts about his innocence.

 

He shifted on the cot, but was stopped by the pain of the bullet wounds.  Added to the tiredness he felt, the effort of trying to persuade the Virginia City sheriff suddenly seemed too much, and as despair overwhelmed him, Adam put an arm over his eyes and tried to retreat from the challenge facing him.

 

When he heard footsteps approach he uncovered his eyes, and they opened wide as he saw Roy pull the door open and enter his supposed prison.  It registered in his sleepy mind that Roy had not used a key; the door had been left open.  He remembered another cell with an open door, and the consequences of that discovery, and he shivered.  He started to sit up to greet the sheriff, but before he could get his shoulders off the bed a wave of exhaustion left him shaking, and he let his head rest back on the single pillow.

 

Roy sat on the opposite bunk and studied his friend.  “Well, how are you this evening?”

 

Evening?  Adam vaguely recalled Roy struggling to get him back on his horse that morning, but nothing since.

 

“What…how long…?” Adam asked weakly.

 

“I found you this morning, and brought you into town.”  Roy indicated the cell they were occupying.  “From what little you said, I figured you’d be safer here than at the Doc’s.  He’s stitched up the holes in yer arm, and says you can go home, if you’ve a mind ter.”

 

Through his stupor, Adam realised that Roy’s words meant that he was not a prisoner, but he did not feel like moving at all, let alone riding home.  “Great,” he said with little enthusiasm.

 

“Yer Pa’s in town, I sent word to him when you turned up.”  Roy saw Adam take a breath.  “And before you ask, when I met you I was on my way to Floriston to find out just what was going on.  Care to tell me about it?”

 

Adam took another breath, covered his eyes with his arm, and slowly told Roy what had happened.  The elderly sheriff listened intently until the story was finished.

 

When Roy did not speak, Adam opened his eyes and turned towards him.  “You do believe me, don’t you?”

 

“What?  Oh yeah, I believe you.  That young lady, Rosie Wyatt, was here yesterday and told me more or less the same story, about the deputy and her husband.  No, I was just thinking how easy a law man can go bad.”

 

Adam looked at him gratefully.  “Not all law men, fortunately.”

 

They heard the door to the street open, and Ben appeared.  He looked down at his son, and frowned when he saw that Adam was still pale.  He turned to Roy.  “How is he?”

 

“I’m fine,” Adam said with as much annoyance as he could muster, mad at not being asked the question directly.

 

Ben sat beside Roy and examined Adam with his eyes.  “’Fine’ is hardly how I’d describe the way you look.  I’m going to stay in town tonight, and I’ll take you home in the morning.”  He saw Adam nod his acceptance, and continued.  “D’you want to stay here, or should I get you a room at the hotel?”

 

Adam was about to speak, but Roy made the decision for him.  “He should stay put.  It’ll be safer for him to be here, where I can keep an eye on any trouble.  When the posse don’t find him, it can only be a matter of time before they show up in town.”

 

Adam was going to object, he had spent quite long enough behind bars.  But when his father agreed for him, Adam found that he was too tired to argue.  Ben stood, preparing to leave.  “You get some rest now, and I’ll see you in the morning.”

 

As sleep started to claim him, Adam was grateful that they had decided he need not move. “Al’right.”  He closed his eyes.  “’Night Pa.”

 

“Goodnight son.” Ben waited by the cell door until he was satisfied, by Adam’s regular breathing, that his son was asleep.

 

The following morning Adam sat up slowly, still feeling the effects from the loss of blood; despite a night’s sleep, he felt exhausted.  He looked down and realised that someone had undressed him, then he noticed that his clothes were lying on the only chair in the cell.  Along with his pants, which appeared to have been washed, were his boots and a new black shirt.  Adam swung his legs off the bed, and held onto the side of the bunk until the room stopped spinning.  He stayed sitting as he started to dress, relishing the feel of clean clothes.  With some careful manoeuvring, he managed to get his arms into the sleeves of the shirt, but as he tried to pull on his pants a sharp pain shot down his arm and through his shoulder, forcing a groan from him.

 

“Ya need some help?”  Roy asked, as he approached the doorway of the cell.  He had been sitting at his desk, reading wanted posters, when he heard Adam moving about.

 

Adam’s independent spirit brought the word ‘no’ as far as his mind, but his common sense made him nod and say, “Thanks.”

 

Working together, they had the job done in a few minutes, finishing with Adam still sitting on the cot and pushing his feet into his boots as Roy held them steady for him.  The sheriff fetched a bowl of hot water, a towel, and a razor, and Adam was grateful to be able to return to the look that Frank Wyatt had been so determined he would not present to the court.

 

Adam put the bowl aside, finally ready to face the world, but swayed as he stood, grabbing hold of the bars for support, and Roy could see his eyes rolling his head.

 

The sheriff studied the pallid features of his friend.  “You sure you should be standin’ up?”

 

Adam nodded carefully.  “Much as I appreciate your hospitality, I don’t want to spend any more time in this cell than I have to.”

 

Roy shook his head at the younger man’s stubbornness, but he took hold of Adam’s arm and guided him to sit behind the desk in the office.  “You wait here and I’ll go tell your Pa that you’re ready.”

 

Ignoring Adam’s protests that he was perfectly capable of going himself, Roy gave him some coffee and left before he could see his friend’s frustrated reaction; first they were making decisions for him and now Roy wouldn’t let him walk across the street.  Adam had no time to think more on the subject because Roy hurried back through the door, followed almost immediately by another man, tall, muscular, and with an air of authority.  Adam could see the shine of a sheriff’s badge on the tan vest of the man, who looked vaguely familiar.

 

The newcomer saw Adam sitting behind the desk, and advanced across the room, his hand resting on his gun, ready for any resistance.  “Good work, Sheriff, you got him.”  He turned to Roy.  “But why haven’t you got him locked up?”

 

“Now hold on there, I ain’t got no one.  And he ain’t locked up ‘cause he ain’t done nothin’,” Roy informed Floriston’s Sheriff Richards, then went on to recount what had happened.  He told the story with no emotion, just giving the facts as he knew them from Rosie and Adam.

 

When Roy finished, Richards stood looking at Adam, considering what he had heard.  He turned to the Virginia City sheriff.  “But you’ve only got their word for it.  As I hear tell, this fella,” he jerked his thumb over his shoulder at Adam, “was running off with Mrs. Wyatt.  It makes sense that their stories would be the same, but that don’t make them the truth.”

 

Roy hesitated, and from the corner of his eye he saw Adam slowly rise, his tense stance indicating that he was ready to resist any attempt to take him back.  Roy went to the desk and put his hand on Adam’s shoulder.

 

“You just settle yourself down, I ain’t about to let no one take you nowhere.”  Roy rummaged in a drawer and handed Richards the letter that Rosie had written to Adam.  “Read this.  I think that’ll show you they’re telling the truth.”

 

Richards read the letter, and his eyebrows rose slowly.  He looked thoughtfully at Adam, and then spoke to Roy, as he assessed what he had been told.  “This note could’a been cooked up between them.  But I heard a lot about you, Sheriff.  You got a reputation for being honest and straight forward, and not one to be influenced by a man’s position.”  He eyed Adam, making sure that he took his point.  “So if you say he’s okay, then I got no reason to doubt it.”  He walked across the room and, much to Adam’s surprise, held out his hand.  “I’m sorry, Mr. Cartwright, for all the trouble.  I was outta town.  Rode in as you left, in a bit of a hurry as I recall.”  He smiled, “Nearly ran me down.”

 

It was then that Adam remembered where he had seen the sheriff before.  “I hope you didn’t hurt yourself, falling off your horse like that.”

 

“No, and I’m glad I didn’t shoot you.  Seems that would have been a mistake on my part.”

 

“I’m glad you believe what Roy’s told you.”  Adam nodded his head towards the door.  “Will you be able to persuade the rest of them?  I don’t like the thought of having to watch my back all the time.”

 

“Don’t worry ‘bout them, they’ll do as I tell ‘em.  Sheriff Coffee’s word is good enough for me, and it will be for them.”  With his hand on the door handle, Richards turned.  “Any time you feel like visiting Floriston, you’ll be welcome.”  He opened the door and left, and a minute later Roy and Adam heard the posse’s noisy departure.

 

“Roy,” said Adam as he sat down heavily in the chair, “I have never been more impressed by your spotless reputation than I am at this moment.”

 

Roy laughed.  “All that clean living had to come in handy sometime.”

 

They both looked round as the door opened again.

 

“What was all that about?” Ben asked.  He had seen the crowd of men outside the jail, and had hurried over from the hotel.

 

“Ben, take your boy home.  I think he’s had enough excitement to last him a while.  That was the posse from Floriston, they won’t come bothering him again.”

 

Adam drained his coffee and got to his feet, holding onto the edge of the desk for support and vainly hoping his father wouldn’t notice.  “Let’s go,” he said, trying to sound confident of his ability to complete the impending journey.

 

Ben looked at him, and frowned. “You sure you want to ride all that way, you don’t look all that great.  Why don’t you stay in town today, and tomorrow morning I’ll come back with the buckboard?”

 

“Pa, I just want to go home.”

 

“Okay,” said Ben, nodding, “but we’ll take it easy, there’s no need to hurry.”

 

As Adam passed the sheriff, he held out his hand.  “Thanks, Roy.”

 

“No problem, just don’t make a habit of it,” Roy smiled, then he showed Adam the sling that Doc Martin had left for him.  “Paul thought you might need this.”

 

Adam nodded, and waited as Roy tied it behind his neck.  Adam was silent for a moment, as he remembered Edward doing the same for him only three weeks before, then he shook himself and smiled.  “Thanks again.”

 

Ben and Adam travelled slowly back towards the ranch.  Despite the support that the sling provided Adam could not keep his arm still, and his muscles screamed at him with every involuntary movement.  Ben surreptitiously kept an eye on his son.  He could see that Adam was hurting, and it was obvious, from the way his back was bent and he swayed back and forth with the movement of the horse, that he had still not recovered from the loss of blood he had suffered.  They were half way home when Ben suggested that they should stop for a rest, and Adam gratefully dismounted and sank to the ground, leaning against a sturdy pine, his head spinning.

 

Adam took a drink from the canteen Ben handed him, and then he studied the hide covering of the container, avoiding his father’s eyes as he spoke.  “You didn’t go to Floriston.”  Adam was tired, and he wasn’t sure whether he wanted to say it as a statement or a question, and in his confusion it came out as an accusation.

 

Ben looked at him and raised his eyebrows.  “I thought you didn’t want me to,” he said defensively.  “Mrs. Wyatt told me you were adamant about that.”

 

Adam picked at a loose thread on the edge of the canteen.  “I know, but I didn’t really expect you to take any notice.”

 

“Why not?”  Before Adam could reply, Ben continued.  “When Mrs. Wyatt told me what you said, I could see that you were right, it might have put you in more danger.  I wanted to come and find you, of course I did, I wanted to get you out of there if I could, but because of your message I was willing to let Roy handle it.  It’s not like you to say something if you don’t mean it, and I respect that.”

 

Adam studied his father silently for a few seconds.  “Do you?” he asked quietly.

 

“Do I what?”

 

“Respect me?”

 

Ben was stunned.  Why did Adam have to ask that?  “Of course I do.”  Then Ben, ever alert to the feelings of his sons, realised what was behind the question.  “Does this have anything to do with Andy McFarlane’s cattle?”

 

“In part, yes, but it’s not just that.”

 

“I told you we’d buy them, and then you can try your ideas.”  Ben thought about what Adam had said, that it was not only those cattle that had made him ask his question.  “Adam, do you ever stop to think what it has meant to me to have this ranch?  To have a safe, secure home for all of us?”

 

“I don’t see…”  Adam was confused by the apparent change of subject.

 

“I built this with sweat and blood, and with help from my sons, and more so from you, as the eldest.  You are, and always will be, my child, and it is very hard for me to grasp that you have grown into a man who knows as well as I how to run it, and when you come up with ideas to change things that have worked very well for years, I don’t find it easy to admit that you’re right.  But, more often than not, you are, it just takes me a while to get used to it.”  He grinned, “I guess I’m getting set in my ways.”

 

Adam stared at Ben.  This was a side of his father that he had never seen; he was admitting to a weakness that Adam had always assumed was stubbornness.  “Pa, I don’t want to take over.”  Adam took a long breath, he was having trouble organising his thoughts as he succumbed to his tiredness, and he spoke progressively more slowly.  “If I make suggestions for what I see as improvements…it’s because I feel that I owe it to you…to use the education you fought so hard to give me.  I can help…”

 

Ben watched Adam’s eyes close and his head drop onto his chest as exhaustion finally won.  He rose and went to the horses, where he took Adam’s blanket from the bed roll behind Sport’s saddle, then came back and knelt in front of his son.  When Adam felt a hand shake him gently, he opened his eyes slowly and reluctantly, then made to get to his feet.

 

Ben put a hand on his shoulder to stop him.  “We don’t have to go just yet.  You rest.”  He eased Adam down until he was lying on the ground, and then laid the blanket over him as he fell instantly asleep.

 

Adam stirred an hour later, and insisted that he felt well enough to continue their journey home.  Ben took a long look, and seeing the determination behind the pale features, he reluctantly agreed.  When he had got the horses ready, he went back to his son and took his arm, helping him to his feet.

 

Adam stood and looked at his father, his eyes soft.  “Pa, I’m glad we could talk.”

 

Ben returned the look.  “We don’t do it often enough.  And I’m sorry that you had to get shot to give us the opportunity.”

 

“So am I,” Adam agreed, smiling.

 

The rest of the journey home was accomplished without trouble, though Ben still kept a close eye on Adam, who sensed his father’s scrutiny.  Before their talk, Adam would have been annoyed at what he saw as his father’s fussing over him, but as they went on their way, he occasionally turned to Ben, and then they would exchange easy smiles of love and understanding such as they had not shared in a long time.

 

When they drew up in the yard, Ben offered to settle the horses.  “Rosie Wyatt is here, I gather you told her to stay.”

 

“Yeah, she couldn’t go back to her home once Jason knew she was missing.  He might have been inept, but he wasn’t stupid.”

 

Adam gratefully handed Sport’s reins to his father and made his way slowly into the house; despite the rest he had had, the ride had left him exhausted.  Rosie was sitting on the sofa, and when he saw her he stood up straighter, as he tried to put his tiredness aside.  He held out his hand as she came towards him.

 

“Rosie, it’s good to see you.  Are you all right?”

 

She nodded, then gently touched his injured arm as she searched his face.  “The posse was here yesterday, looking for you.”  Sheriff Richards had told her how Adam had cold-bloodedly attacked the Wyatt brothers in order to make his escape, and Rosie knew that he must have used the gun that she had given him.  She was looking for some reassurance that her complicity had not been misused.  “What happened?”

 

Adam gestured towards the sofa.  “Sit down, I have to talk to you.”

 

Once she was settled, Adam told her that the sheriffs of Virginia City and Floriston both accepted that he was innocent, and then explained why he had shot and killed Jason and Frank.  “I had no choice.  I think they had decided that they wouldn’t risk a trial without you, they couldn’t be sure that I would be convicted.  They both tried to shoot me.”  He pointed at his arm resting in its sling.  “This was Jason’s bullet.  I had to defend myself.  Rosie…I’m sorry…I didn’t set out to kill either of them.”

 

As she listened to his story, Rosie relaxed; he was not the uncaring murderer that the posse had made him out to be.  “I do understand.  Adam, I should explain something to you.”  Rosie looked down at her hands as they rested in her lap, then back up into the brown eyes that were watching her intently.  “I never loved Jason.  I married him to get away from my mother.  Mummy ran off with a man from Chicago; he had a lot of money and I think she was tired of Daddy working long hours and leaving her alone.  She and this man were married when they reached America, even though she and Daddy were still wed.  Then they decided they didn’t want me around, so they sent me away to school, in Maine.  I was gone for six years.”

 

Adam nodded to himself; that explained her accent.  Rosie was still talking, “When I returned, I was ignored, unwanted, and very lonely.  I was not allowed to socialise, Mummy was frightened that I might let slip that she was still married to Daddy.  Then one day I met Jason; he nearly ran me down in the street, and we got talking.  He worked on a big ranch, and had come to the rail head with some cattle.  His life sounded so exciting, so different.  I had only known him a few days when he offered to take me away, and I jumped at the chance.  We were married quietly, and Mummy gave us some money to buy the ranch.  I think she wanted to make sure that she was rid of me.”  Rosie took a deep breath, as she recognised that the rejection still hurt.  “We moved to Nevada.  It was only after we bought the ranch that I discovered Jason was a bully, and idle, and…well, not the man I would have chosen to spend my life with.”  She shifted her gaze from Adam’s scrutiny of her, embarrassed at admitting to the circumstances of her relationship with her husband.

 

“Well, you’re free of him now.  Rosie,” she looked up at him, “I haven’t had a chance to tell you how sorry I am about your father.  I didn’t know him for very long, and I regret that.  In the short time since I met him, we became friends; he was a good man and you can be proud of him.”

 

Rosie nodded.  “I know.  I just wish we’d had more time together.  Without help from my mother, it took me over a year to find his address, and to contact him.”  A tear crept down Rosie’s face and Adam slipped his arm over her shoulder and pulled her closer, stroking her hair as she leaned against him.  He held her for a long time, neither one wanting to break the contact, but they heard footsteps approach the front door and backed away.

 

“Are you all right, my dear?” Ben asked, coming towards the sofa. He could see that she had been crying.

 

Rosie smiled.  “Yes, thank you.  I am just so relieved to see that Adam is safe.  If you don’t mind, I’ll go upstairs for a while.”

 

“Of course,” said Ben, and Rosie disappeared to the privacy of her room.

 

As Ben watched, Adam lay back against the sofa and closed his eyes, fighting against the tiredness that seemed to be his constant companion.  Ben could see the pallor beneath Adam’s tanned features. “And how are you?”

 

Adam smiled thinly.  “I’m fine Pa, don’t worry.”

 

“Well, you don’t look it.”

 

“Thanks.”  He paused.  “I was thinking about Edward.  I should have been able to protect him, but I didn’t.  Rosie only had her father for a few days, and they were filled with worry for her.  What sort of memory is that for a girl to have?  Then I killed her husband and her brother-in-law.  She’s got no one left, I took her family from her.”

 

“Adam, you listen to me,” Ben said sternly, and Adam turned his head to look into the dark, sincere eyes.  “If you hadn’t gone there, and got them away, Edward would probably have died anyway.  And you said that then Rosie would be in danger as well.  You did what you had to do, and I’m sure that Rosie will understand that.”

 

Adam nodded slowly.  Of course his father was right, he had had no choice, but that did not make it any easier to live with.

 

**********

 

Breakfast next morning was a quiet affair.  Ben was watching Adam and could see that his arm was troubling him.  Adam was thinking over the events of the past days, and realised he was lucky to have survived.  He knew that he would have stood little chance without Rosie’s help.  Rosie was thinking about her father and fighting against tears that threatened to fall.  Adam noticed and decided that she would be better off out of the house, where she would feel free to express her sorrow.

 

He turned towards her.  “How about a walk?” he suggested. “I think it would do you good to get out for a while.”

 

The woman looked surprised.  “What about your arm?”

 

“A walk won’t hurt it, and fresh air will do us both good.”  After a night’s restful sleep, Adam was feeling his strength return.  It was a feeling that he enjoyed and he was ready to take advantage of it.

 

Rosie walked out into the yard ahead of him, her dress making soft rustling noises as she moved.  She had arrived at the ranch with only the clothes she wore; she had not dared to stop to pack anything, afraid that Jason would discover she was leaving.  Ben had sent into town for frocks, and the undergarments he thought she might need, and with the help of Mrs. Atkinson, who ran the dress shop, Rosie now had a new wardrobe.

 

They wandered slowly away from the house and up into the surrounding hills, until they could look out over the forest, but Adam’s eyes were more occupied with his companion than with the beauty laid out before them.  He had thought that Rosie was pretty, but until now he had not had the chance to appreciate just how lovely she was, with her dark hair falling around her shoulders and forming a frame about her face that brought out the warm hues of her eyes.  The red morning dress she was wearing, which was outlined with white lace at the neck and cuffs, had taken his breath away when he saw how it hugged her curvaceous figure.

 

The colour of the material reminded him of the cloth that Edward had bought with him, and he spoke gently.  “Rosie, I wish that things had turned out differently for you.  That you could have had more time to get to know your father.”

 

Rosie nodded silently.  She took a deep breath.  “So do I.”  She was standing a little in front of Adam and he could see, by the rise and fall of her shoulders, that she was fighting against her tears.  He went to her and turned her to face him.

 

“Let it out, Rosie.  Don’t fight it.”

 

She leaned against him and, as he used his right arm to embrace her, she buried her face in his shoulder and let the tears fall, reflecting her sorrow at what she had lost and what might have been.  Gradually her sobs faded, but still she let Adam hold her.

 

Eventually she pushed away from him.  “Thank you, I feel better now.”

 

He saw that she had a puzzled look on her face.  “Why the frown?” he asked.

 

“I was just thinking.  Daddy said something to me, before…he died.  But it made no sense.”

 

“What was it?”

 

“He said things that I didn’t understand, then he called me his mother.  Do you think that he didn’t know I was there?”

 

Adam saw it was important to her that Edward had been conscious of her presence, and he thought hard about what he should say to help her.  He did not want to give her easy platitudes, as meaningless as they were facile.  He recalled the conversation he had had with Mulherne, when he had not understood the Englishman’s words.  “What did he say, exactly?”

 

Rosie took a breath, her tears close to the surface as she thought of those last moments with her father.  “He said he had ‘come all this way to see my teapot’,” she hesitated, thinking that Adam would not believe her.  “That’s what he said.”

 

Adam smiled as he heard her American accent repeating the seemingly out of place English words.  “Go on.”

 

“He said, ‘then I end up brown bread’.  He told me to ‘remember, my darling, that you’re my little mother, and I love you’.  Adam, I don’t understand.”  She looked at him, bewildered and seeking reassurance, but she saw his smile and it made her angry.  “I knew you wouldn’t believe me.”

 

He put a hand on her arm.  “I do believe you, more easily than you know.  Rosie, your father was a Londoner, remember, and they have their own way of speaking.  He was close to dying when he said what he did, and would have used the words that came easiest to him.  Let me think about it. I make no promises, but I might be able to work out what he meant.”

 

Rosie looked at him gratefully.  “If you can, that would be wonderful.  I hate the thought that he didn’t know I was close to him at the last.”

 

She turned away; speaking her father’s final words had upset her, and she started walking through the woods.  The heady scent of the pines was refreshing and she breathed deeply, trying to banish her tears.  Adam walked beside her, letting her wander where she would and they followed a path deeper into the forest.

 

When Rosie stumbled over a tree root, Adam reached out to prevent her from falling and she clutched at him, gripping his injured arm tightly.  Adam groaned, and Rosie instantly released her hold on him.

 

“Oh, Adam, I’m so sorry.  Are you all right?” she said anxiously.

 

Adam took a couple of breaths and nodded.  “Yes, but can we sit down for a minute?”  He looked round and guided her towards a fallen tree trunk, where he cradled his arm, waiting for it to stop throbbing.  She looked at him, her eyes full of concern at what she had caused.

 

He put a hand on her arm and squeezed it gently.  “Really, it’ll be all right in a minute.”

 

“But it was so careless of me, I shouldn’t have…”

 

“Rosie, forget it.”

 

She smiled thinly and after studying Adam for a moment, allowed her gaze to wander, taking in the pine forest with its far vista of the mountains.  She took a deep breath.  “Do you know, for the first time in my life I am really alone, without parents or husband.”  Her voice caught as she continued, “I really miss Daddy.”

 

“Why don’t you stay at the Ponderosa, until you decide what you want to do,” Adam suggested gently.

 

She shook her head.  “That would be too much of an imposition, I couldn’t do that.”

 

“Rosie, if it wasn’t for you, I would have been facing a very short future.”  Adam smiled encouragingly.  “I would like you to stay.”

 

Rosie held her breath and all thoughts of tears vanished, as she looked up into his eyes.  Was she imagining that they were inviting, enticing even?  She searched his face, and saw kindness.  But was there something else?  “I think I would like that, too.”

 

**********

 

The funeral of Edward Mulherne passed quietly a few days later.  Adam had persuaded Rosie that her father should be buried on the Ponderosa, and the body had been brought back from Floriston.  Rosie had asked Adam for help in selecting a quiet spot, overlooking the lake, and Edward was laid to rest within sight of the grave of Ben’s third wife, Joe’s mother, Marie.

 

The burial service had a small attendance; Hoss and Joe had returned from the drive, and they stood beside Ben, opposite Roy Coffee and Doctor Paul Martin.  Adam’s injured arm was supported by a black sling, but the other he put round Rosie, as they stood together at the foot of the grave, facing the Minister, and she clung to him looking for the strength to get through the short ceremony without breaking down.  As the brass handled wooden coffin was lowered into the ground, he felt her stiffen, and heard her breath catch in her throat as the minister said the words that brought with them the realisation that her father was really lost to her.

 

After Rosie reached down to the pile of earth that had been dug out to form the grave, and had thrown a handful onto the coffin, each man present did likewise, standing for a moment in silent reflection.  Then it was over.  As everyone prepared to leave, Rosie held Adam back while the two ranch hands, who had volunteered their services as grave diggers, used their shovels to replace the earth.  She watched as it was tossed into the grave, knowing that the father she had regained so briefly was disappearing for ever from her life.

 

“Goodbye, Daddy.  I love you,” she whispered, then turned away as tears spilled from her eyes.

 

Adam took her hand and led her away from the graveside to where the buggy, with its patient grey pony, was waiting.  He helped her into it, climbed in beside her, and drove slowly back to the house, to allow her time to compose herself after the emotion of the burial.  Rosie stood outside the front door and took a deep breath.

 

“Are you ready?” Adam asked her.

 

She nodded nervously.  “Yes.”

 

They went in, and the men came up to her, one by one, to express their condolences.  Then Joe handed round glasses of sherry, and Adam cleared his throat for silence.  They all turned to him.

 

“I didn’t know Edward Mulherne for very long, and I regret that.  In the short time between meeting him and his death, I got to know a man who would not hesitate to help someone in trouble, who was unfailingly cheerful and had a love of life that he carried like a torch for all to see.  His legacy is his business, which he built by dint of hard work, and,” he turned to Rosie, “a beautiful daughter, who can be proud of his memory.”  He raised his glass.  “Rosie, we drink to your father, Edward Mulherne.”

 

They all repeated the toast, and then Adam spoke again.  “I would like to propose another toast, a more personal one.  Rosie, if it wasn’t for you I would not be here today, and I thank you for that.  It took great courage to do what you did for a man who was a stranger to you.”  His eyes sought out the sheriff.  “And to you, Roy; but for your belief in me, Richards would have taken me back to face a hangman’s rope.”  Finally he turned to Paul Martin.  “Paul, I have to thank you for your care.” He smiled as he remembered all those times when Paul had treated him, or one of the family.  “Yet again your expertise was called upon, and not found wanting.  Pa, Hoss, Joe, please raise your glasses to ‘friends’.”

 

As the Cartwrights joined in Adam’s acknowledgement of what he owed to their visitors, Rosie also raised her glass, quietly saluting her father’s friend, who had come in answer to her plea.  There was a moment’s silence, and then sentiment was set aside as the men fussed over Rosie, trying to help her forget the sadness of the day.  She smiled quietly to herself; never before in her life could she remember so many men being so thoughtful towards her.  At one point, she had to excuse herself as the kindness broke through her control, and she went to her room to recover.

 

There was a soft knock on the door, and she opened it to see Adam standing outside.

 

“Are you all right?”  His voice was gentle and full of concern.

 

Rosie smiled.  “Yes.  I just needed a minute to myself.  Adam, your family are wonderful, as are Roy and Paul.  It just overwhelmed me for a moment.”  She took his arm as she shut the door.  “But I’m fine now, let’s rejoin them.”

 

Hop Sing was serving dinner, and as she sat at the table enjoying the meal, Rosie made sure that she let them all see what their care and consideration meant to her, as she smiled and laughed at the stories they told.

 

Later that evening, after Roy and Paul had gone, Adam and Rosie were the only ones not in bed. They were sitting together on the sofa, quietly drinking coffee and talking.

 

“I don’t know what I am going to do now,” she said.  “I will put the ranch up for sale, and then I must decide on my future.”

 

“You don’t have to decide anything just yet, do you?  Pa says you can stay here as long as you like.”  Adam realised that he didn’t want Rosie to leave; he enjoyed having her about the place.  Until his arm healed, he was relieved of most of his ranch duties, and it had given him time to find out more about her, that she liked the same things he did; music and books, or long discussions about philosophy and the human condition.

 

Rosie also enjoyed the time spent with Adam, sharing things with him as she had never been able to with Jason.  “Well, I will stay, just while I sort out the ranch.  There are things I must do before I sell it, though I must admit that I don’t relish going back there on my own.” She looked at Adam, and her eyes searched his face and saw again the inviting and enticing look she had wondered if she had imagined.

 

“You don’t have to do it alone,” Adam assured her softly.

 

They stared at each other for a long minute in silence, then Adam slipped his arm from its sling and reached out with both hands to hold her shoulders, ignoring the protest from his half healed muscles.  He had stronger sensations running through him, which left no room in his mind to acknowledge his discomfort.  He pulled her towards him, and she moved willingly into his arms, lifting her face towards him.  He could see the desire in her eyes and the way her lips moved in anticipation, moist and longing for his touch.  He watched them and for a moment he held back, making her wait.  Then he put his head down slowly and felt the softness of her kiss, and it sent a thrill through him.  The kiss was long and deep, ending in an embrace as they held each other close.

 

Rosie’s head was spinning.  “Oh Adam, what’s happening?”

 

“Don’t you know?” he laughed softly.

 

Rosie acknowledged that the racing of her heart when she had first set eyes on Adam had nothing to do with nervousness at meeting him, but more to do with that indefinable attraction of one person for another, which she could now admit freely.

 

“Yes,” she said on a long breath, her mouth against his neck, and Adam felt a shiver of pleasure go through him as the warmth of the word brushed against his skin.

 

After more kisses that made the blood pound in Adam’s ears, they parted reluctantly.  He sat and stared at her, and Rosie looked down, embarrassed by his close attention.

 

Adam noticed her reaction.  “I’m sorry, was I staring?”

 

“Yes, but I don’t mind.”

 

“It’s just that I have never seen anyone so beautiful, and I want your face imprinted on my mind so that, when you’re not near, I will be able to recall every detail.”

 

She looked up at him.  “I feel the same.  Don’t move, don’t say anything.”

 

They managed to sit, gazing at each other, for ten interminable seconds, until they could stand it no longer.  Adam put his hands round Rosie’s waist and gently eased her off the sofa, until they were kneeling on the floor, facing each other.  Her arms went round Adam, her hands feeling the strong muscles in his back as she pulled him tightly against her.  At the same time his hands wandered from her waist to caress her throat, and Adam felt her shiver at his touch.  He let his hands pause, enjoying the reaction he elicited from her, then he slipped one hand down her back and the other into the nape of her neck, holding her mouth against his, and the kiss they shared was deeper and more passionate than before.  Suddenly Adam jerked his head up as he heard footsteps on the landing and they rose guiltily, smiling at each other as they sat demurely on the sofa.

 

Ben appeared at the head of the stairs.  “Don’t you think it’s time you two were in bed?”

 

Adam winked at Rosie, and pulled her with him as he stood.  “Yeah, Pa, we’re just coming.”  He sent Rosie ahead of him up the stairs, and stood by her door to bid her goodnight.  He held both her hands.  “I won’t be able to sleep, knowing that you’re in the house, just a few feet away.”

 

Rosie laughed.  “I’m sure that you’ll sleep very well. You’d better, I should go to Floriston tomorrow, to arrange for the sale of the ranch, and I would like it if you came with me.”

 

Adam bowed low.  “Your wish is my command, my lady.”

 

Rosie kissed his cheek quickly and disappeared into her room, leaving Adam staring at the door.  He went to his own room, where he lay in the darkness, conjuring up a vision of her face.  It was still with him when he fell asleep.

 

**********

 

They had decided that neither of them wanted to stay at the cabin, but would instead take rooms at the hotel in Floriston.  As they rode into town, Adam noticed that he received curious glances from several people, but the first person he spoke to was the sheriff, who greeted him warmly.

 

“Good to see you.”  Richards held out his hand.  “How’s the arm?”

 

Adam no longer wore the sling, and as he shook the sheriff’s hand, he smiled.  “Healing.”  His smile vanished as he looked up and down the street.  “You told me you could convince the good citizens that I was innocent, but…”

 

“Don’t worry about them,” Richards said, watching people on the opposite side of the street as they stopped, wondering, before they moved on.  “They just want to see the man that got away with murder while escaping from my jail.”

 

Adam was shocked by the statement.  “Got away!  I thought that you believed Roy.”

 

Richards laughed.  “I do, and so do they, mostly.”  He became more serious.  “Is there anything I can do for you?”

 

“No, thanks.”  Adam smiled at Rosie, who was standing uncertainly behind him, then turned back to the sheriff.  “Mrs. Wyatt is selling the ranch, and I’m just here to help her.”

 

“You staying at the hotel?”  When Adam nodded, Richards continued, “Then I’ll walk you over.”  He took Rosie’s elbow, and escorted them across the street.

 

They entered the cool darkness of the lobby and Richards approached the desk.  “George,” he said to the elderly clerk, “two of your best rooms for our guests, and charge them to the sheriff’s office.”  He turned to Adam and Rosie.  “Have these on the town, our way of saying ‘sorry’ for what happened.”

 

Adam started to protest, “No, really…”

 

Richards pulled him to one side and explained.  “When George gets through spreading the news that you are here as my guests, no one will doubt what I told them.”

 

“I see your point,” Adam smiled.  “Okay then, thank you.”

 

The sheriff had his hand on the door handle.  “See you before you go?”

 

“Does the jail get its food from the hotel restaurant?”  Adam asked, remembering the tasteless meals he had endured.

 

Richards frowned.  “No, why?”

 

“In that case, would you care to join us for dinner?  My way of saying ‘thank you’.”

 

Richards laughed, accepting the invitation as he walked out of the door.

 

The telegraph wires from Floriston to San Francisco were busy, once Adam had persuaded Rosie that he had contacts there who could speed the sale of the ranch.  When he was not writing or answering messages, he was at the ranch, helping her to decide what to keep, what to throw away, and what to leave behind.  Often Adam found himself standing, staring at Rosie, and had to look away quickly when she caught him.  He was uneasy at being in the home that Rosie had shared with Jason, going through his belongings.  It gave him an unreasoning, and totally unfounded, feeling that he might have intended to shoot Jason all along, knowing that then Rosie would be free.

 

They were sitting together on the porch, at the end of what was to be their last day at the ranch before returning to the Ponderosa.  Adam had dragged out the small sofa from the parlour, and placed it to face the sunset that was throwing shafts of red and gold onto the few clouds that dotted the sky.  The air was chill, and they sat close together, Rosie snuggled in Adam’s arms.  She had thought that she would hate to return to the scene of so much unhappiness for her, but having Adam there with her made her feel safe, comfortable and relaxed.  She turned to look at him, thinking that they were not feelings she had ever had with Jason.

 

She sighed and Adam looked at her.  “What are you thinking?”

 

“Oh, I was just remembering being here with Jason,” she replied honestly.

 

Adam looked down, he could not meet her eyes.  “Rosie, you know how sorry…”

 

She interrupted him.  “No, don’t.  I wasn’t thinking that I was happy, quite the reverse.”  She took a deep breath.  “I’m glad he’s gone.  I don’t know how much longer I could have stayed with him.  The only reason that I didn’t leave was that I had nothing, and nowhere to go.  He made sure that I never had any money of my own – so I was trapped.  But I think it would not have been long before even that didn’t matter; I would have gone, penniless and homeless.”

 

“Well, that shouldn’t be a problem now.  From what your father said, you will be a wealthy woman.”  Adam moved his gaze to stare at the sinking sun, afraid of what she might say in reply to his next statement.  “You could go anywhere you want, you won’t have to stay in Nevada.”

 

“That’s true,” Rosie said in agreement.

 

There was silence between them while they both considered the implications of her choices.  Then Adam ventured, “I would like it if you stayed here.  Rosie,” Adam turned towards her, “I think I love you.”  He smiled.  “No, that’s wrong.  I know I love you.”

 

Rosie smiled as she settled back into the comfort of his embrace.  “Then I’d better not go anywhere.”

 

 

**********

 

Adam’s arm recovered, and he resumed his duties about the ranch.  Sometimes they took him away for the night, and he lay under the stars dreaming of Rosie as he fell asleep.  Other times she would ride with him, to the logging camp or out to one of the herds, and those were the times he liked the best.  Having her beside him, seeing her smiling with her new found freedom, gave him a pleasure he had not felt in a long time.  They grew closer, only seeming happy when they were together.

 

One day they were in the north pasture, enjoying the waning warmth of the fall sunshine.  They had eaten lunch and would soon have to return to the house, but in the meantime they lay side by side in the long grass at the edge of the woods.  Adam stretched out his arm and Rosie moved until she could rest her head on his chest, and he let his arm fall onto her shoulders.

 

Rosie released a button on Adam’s shirt and slipped her hand inside, until it was resting lightly on his stomach. Her fingers moved against the short hairs, and she smiled as his muscles tensed in response.

 

She felt him take a breath.  “I’ve been thinking about what your father said,” he told her, and her hand stopped moving.

 

“Oh?” Rosie replied, wondering what he was going to say.

 

“Those words you were worried about, you remember?”  Adam did not want to stir unhappy memories for her, but he knew that she still fretted over it.

 

Rosie withdrew her hand and pushed herself up until she could see his face.  “I remember.”

 

Adam sat up and took her hands.  “If I’m right, then I don’t think you have to worry about him not knowing you were there.”  He went on to explain about the rhyming slang that Edward had used when they first met.  “Do you remember me saying that I believed he reverted to the language that came easiest to him, at the end?”

 

“You think they were slang words?”

 

“Yes.  Something happened that gave me a clue to their meaning.  Last week, Hop Sing said that he needed someone to go into town because he had broken the lid of the teapot.  Edward told me that sometimes not all the rhyming words were used, and what Hop Sing said set me to thinking; add ‘lid’ to ‘teapot’ and you have ‘teapot lid’, it could mean ‘kid’.  He came all this way to see his kid – you.”  Rosie nodded, hopefully, and Adam continued, “He once told me that his parents were dead, but he first described them as ‘brown’, I think he would have said ‘brown bread’ but he was trying not to confuse me by using slang and changed it to ‘dead’.”

 

Rosie looked at Adam, and he could see she was eager to hear the rest.  “Go on.”

 

“Well, him calling you his ‘little mother’ was more difficult to sort out, but last night Joe was cleaning his gun, and it suddenly came to me.  Joe’s gun has a pearl handle, mother of pearl.”  He paused and smiled, “That could be what he meant, mother of pearl for ‘girl’.  He said, or meant to say, that you were his little girl,” Adam put up a hand to brush a stray lock of hair from Rosie’s forehead, “and he loved you.”

 

Rosie gazed at Adam; could he be right, had her father’s words been explained?  “Oh, Adam, thank you, thank you.  If that’s what he meant, then he must have known it was me with him.”  She threw her arms round him and hugged him.  “Thank you.”

 

Since her father’s death, Adam had noticed that Rosie was never completely happy, never free of her worry over what he had said to her.  Now Adam had offered her his explanation she threw off that worry, and her face was alive, her eyes sparkling.  He lowered his head to kiss her, and as Rosie pulled him closer he smiled to himself, thinking that there was every chance they would be late home for supper.

 

They continued to spend their days together, when Adam’s duties permitted, and when they did not Rosie waited impatiently for his return to the house.  Every evening after supper, they sat side by side on the sofa, talking with the rest of the family or enjoying reading to each other, and Ben was waiting expectantly for his son to tell him that their relationship had flowered into something more permanent.  He was still waiting, when a letter arrived for Rosie.

 

“For me?” she queried, as Ben handed it to her when she returned with Adam from a day watching him mend fences and helping him to clear springs on the south range.

 

Rosie tore it open, then walked across the room and sat on the sofa.  Adam moved to sit beside her. “What is it?  Is something wrong?”

 

She looked up and shook her head.  “No, but I have to go to England.”

 

“Why?  For how long?”  Questions tumbled around in Adam’s mind.

 

“I don’t know how long.  They need me to sign some papers, and it has to be done there.  There are matters they want to discuss with me before they’ll hand over the money, and whatever I decide to do with the business there are arrangements that have to be made.”  Rosie handed Adam the letter and, as he finished reading, he looked round at his father.  Ben nodded silently, knowing that these two needed to talk, alone.

 

Ben closed the front door behind himself, and Adam turned to Rosie.  “You don’t have to go.”

 

“I do, if I want my father’s inheritance.”

 

Adam looked at her, his heart beating hard in his chest at the thought of being without her, even for a short time, and thought that he would go with her.  Then he recalled the feelings he had had, of wanting to get away yet knowing he could not leave, and he wanted to say the words that would bind her to him there; words of the love they shared and of his desire for her to be part of his life for ever.  He took her in his arms, but before he could speak she put her finger on his lips to silence him.

 

“Don’t say anything.  I have to go to London, but the money is not the real reason.  Daddy worked all his life to build that business, it is his legacy to me, and I cannot ignore it.  I don’t know yet whether I will keep it, but if I do I will have to find someone to run it for me, and if I sell it, it must be to the right person, someone who will let it continue as Daddy intended.  I would be betraying his memory if I did anything else.”  Rosie looked round the room.  “This is your legacy from your father, you can’t reject or desert it, any more than I can.  I understand that you have to stay, and I hope that you can understand that I have to go.”

 

Adam nodded slowly and sadly; she was right.  He was sitting in the middle of the inheritance Ben wanted to pass on to his sons, and Adam knew that he was not ready to discard that responsibility.  He stared into her eyes.  “I understand.  When will you leave?”

 

“Straight away.”  She smiled as she held his hand.  “The sooner I go, the sooner I can come back, if you want me to.”

 

Adam pulled her towards him and embraced her.  “Of course I want you to.  We’ll go into Virginia City tomorrow and book your passage.”  He suddenly realised that there would be only a few more times when he could hold her and his voice shook.  “God, I’m going to miss you.”

 

She rested her head on his shoulder and didn’t reply, afraid that if she spoke her tears would fall and she would change her mind.

 

**********

 

Rosie and Adam stood on the sidewalk outside the Overland stage office, waiting.  Their conversation was filled with awkward silences, neither eager for parting, but knowing that it was inevitable and wanting to get it over with.

 

The driver emerged from the office and announced that he was ready to leave.  An elderly couple mounted the coach and Rosie was about to follow, when Adam called to the driver.

 

“Sam, can you give me a minute?”

 

Sam nodded.  “Sure, Adam, but don’t be long, gotta tight schedule.”

 

Without bothering to answer, Adam grabbed Rosie’s hand and pulled her into the alley next to the office.  He turned her so that she was leaning against the wall and facing him, then he took her hands in his.

 

“Don’t say anything,” he stopped her, as she took a breath and opened her mouth to speak.  “When that letter arrived, I was going to say something, but then I saw that you wanted and needed to go to London, and I decided that I would wait, so that whether or not you returned would be your choice, freely made.  But I can’t, I have to know before you leave.  Rosie, will you marry me?”

 

She searched his face, and saw only love.  She laughed.  “Of course I will, did you ever doubt it?”

 

Adam took her in his arms and sighed.  “Oh, Rosie, if only you didn’t have to go.”

 

“But we both know I have to, don’t we.”  She looked up into his face, and he nodded slowly, then he kissed her.  It was a kiss filled with want and desire, and they pressed close to each other oblivious to the curious glances they received from people passing by.  They knew that it would be the last contact they would share until Rosie returned, and they let their bodies melt together, longing for the day they could set their emotions free, as husband and wife.

 

They were interrupted by Sam calling Adam’s name.  They parted reluctantly, and Adam led Rosie out of the alley and handed her into the coach.

 

“I’ll be counting every hour until you return, then we’ll never be apart again,” he promised her, as they held hands through the small window of the coach.

 

Rosie pulled his hands to her lips and kissed them gently.  “I’ll be back as soon as I can, nothing will keep me from you.”  Their grip was torn apart as the stage pulled away.

 

Adam returned alone to the Ponderosa, but his thoughts were moving ever further away, as the woman he loved went to take up her inheritance.

 

Winter set in and the barren days and cold, empty nights gave Adam too much time to think, he lived only for the moment that Rosie would return.  At the back of his mind was always the thought that she might not come back; that the lure of her business and the life in London might prove stronger than her love for him.  He prowled the house and range, working as hard as ever, trying to ignore his worries.  He made himself think of the future, of Rosie returning to him and of a life shared with his new wife in a new home, which he would build for her.

 

One day, in the middle of February, Adam was in Virginia City, and he took the opportunity to collect the mail.  As he looked through the assortment of letters he stopped and smiled; there was one from Rosie. She had written to him many times in the weeks she had been away and he recognised the neat, precise handwriting immediately.  He stopped on the way home, tethered Sport, and after clearing away some snow from a fallen tree trunk, he sat down staring at the envelope in his hand.

 

When her letters were brought to him at home, he would retreat to his room to read them; he did not want his family to see his reaction, or for them to intrude on the emotions the letters provoked.  He opened each one with a vague feeling of unease, praying that he would read words of love, not of parting.  Thus far his prayers had been answered, and her letters left him needing her to be with him.  But having the letter already in his hand he could open it in the isolation of the forest and he smiled as he read, her news adding warmth to the weak winter sun.

 

18 Monson Road

London

England

 

January 4th 1860

 

My darling Adam,

 

It is so long since I have seen you that it is as though my time in Nevada might have been a dream.  But then I remember your touch and your words, and I know that you are there, waiting for me.

 

I know from your letters that you are as anxious for my return as I am, and the knowledge warms me.  It reminds me that you still want me, even after this separation which seems like years, though in reality it will only be a few short months.

 

I am delighted to write that you will not have to wait much longer, I have booked passage on The Hungarian, sailing from Liverpool on February 8th  bound for Maine, and so, with luck and good connections, I could be once more in your arms seven weeks from that date.

 

Please, do not come east to meet me, instead wait, and I will let you know when I expect to be in Virginia City.  I remember our parting, and dream that when I see you again it will be in that same place, by the stage office, and it will be as though I had never left.  I still remember your words on that occasion and I know that when I return it will be to you, and a life spent by your side, from which I will never again allow events to part me.

 

My days are filled with emptiness, but my nights are full of images of you, and my heart sings to know that soon we will be together, always.

 

All my love

Rosie

 

Adam put his head back, closed his eyes, and fought against the tears of relief that threatened now he knew she was returning.  He sighed, knowing that in the time it had taken the letter to get to him, she had already left on her journey and soon his life could continue on the course of which he had been dreaming all winter.  He worked out the dates and smiled.  It was likely that the day she would arrive in Virginia City would be the 21st of March – the first day of spring; a time when the warmth returned to the land, as she would bring her warmth into his life once again.

 

He sat in the forest, dreaming of Rosie, until the chill of the afternoon told him it was time to move.  He went back to Sport and, as he rode home, a smile was never far from his lips.  He was bedding down the horse for the night, when Ben came into the barn.  Ever since Rosie’s departure he had been watching Adam, seeing his restlessness and knowing part of the reason was his concern that she might decide not to return.  As the day wore on and there was still no sign of him, Ben was worried, and when he heard Adam ride in he wanted to assure himself that all was well.

 

“You’re late, son,” he said as he walked across to Sport’s stall.  When Adam looked at him, Ben saw a brightness in his eyes that had been missing for many weeks.

 

“I’m sorry, Pa, I got held up,” Adam said, then smiled.  “She’s coming home.”

 

There was only one person that Adam could be talking about, and Ben did not pretend that he didn’t understand.  “That’s wonderful, when?”

 

“Should be about six weeks.”  Adam knew they would be the longest weeks of his life.

 

As they walked together out of the barn, Ben put his arm round Adam’s shoulders.  “It’ll be strange not to have you about the place all the time, but you know that I’m happy for you, don’t you?”

 

Adam stopped and turned to his father.  “I’ll still be here.”  Then he said, with a laugh in his voice, “This is where I work, remember?”  Ben was about to walk into the house, but Adam held his arm.  “Pa, there’s something I want to say to you.”  His tone had become more serious, and Ben looked at his son curiously.  “On our way home from Virginia City, after I was shot escaping from the Wyatt brothers, we stopped and talked honestly with each other, do you remember?”  Ben nodded.  “You know better than anyone that I don’t find it easy to share my thoughts, but talking to you then helped me to understand how you felt about this place, and I want to say something to you now, about how I feel.”

 

Ben studied the expression on Adam’s face, then guided him to the chairs on the veranda.  Once they were both seated Ben turned to him.  “What is it, is there a problem?”

 

“No, not at all.  But there are things that need to be said, before I leave to start a life with Rosie.”  Adam took a deep breath, he had been thinking about this moment and what he would say.  “I wanted to thank you, for looking out for me all these years.  For bringing me up to be the man I am, and the husband I hope to be.  I’ve never let you know how much I value what you’ve done, and I know it wasn’t always easy, that I wasn’t always the easiest person to live with.  But this has been my only real home, and while I may in future have another place that I will call home, I will always be thankful for the life I had here, with you.”

 

Ben swallowed hard against his rising emotions, he had never heard Adam talk in this way before.  “Son, I did what I had to do, to make a secure future for you and your brothers.  Over the years I have had many misgivings that perhaps I failed you as a parent, dragging you across the country when you were just a child, until we found a home here.  But knowing that you feel it was worthwhile, and seeing the man you have become, I am not sorry that I did it.  Yes, you will have another home, but there will always be a place here for you.”

 

Adam rose and held out his hand to his father.  “Thanks, Pa.”  Ben took his hand and there was silence as they stared at each other, until Adam turned away and walked into the house.  Ben stood for a moment, wondering if Adam’s willingness to open the inner door to his thoughts was a result of his joy at Rosie’s imminent return, or if it was a permanent change in his usually taciturn son.

 

**********

 

By the fourth week of February, Adam was waiting anxiously for news from Rosie telling him that she had arrived in Maine and was ready to continue her journey west. So when a rider appeared in the yard waving an envelope in his hand, Adam rushed to meet him.

 

“Got a message for ya, Mr. Cartwright,” said Billy Jenkins, who helped out with errands at the stage office.

 

Adam smiled broadly, and, after handing Billy a few coins for his trouble, tore open the envelope expectantly.  But it was not from Rosie, it was from Granville Mauston, an old friend of his in Boston, with whom Adam had shared his good news and who was waiting for his invitation to the wedding.  Adam’s hand shook as he read the words, and his face paled.

 

His hands dropped and he threw back his head.  “Noooooo!” he cried at the uncaring sky.

 

Inside the house, Ben heard the cry and raced out into the yard.  He saw Adam, his face screwed up as though in pain, and he rushed towards him.

 

“What is it?  Are you hurt?”

 

Adam couldn’t speak.  With a trembling hand he held out the telegram to his father and turned away, wrapping his arms round his chest, trying to hold together a heart that was breaking.  Ben read the words. “HUNGARIAN WRECKED CAPE SABLE NINETEENTH STOP ALL LOST STOP DEEPLY SORRY STOP DETAILS FOLLOW STOP GRANVILLE FULL STOP”

 

Ben read the short message again, then turned and put his hand on his son’s back.  “Adam…I’m so…this is terrible news.”  He moved his hand to grip Adam’s arm gently.  “Come inside.”

 

Adam’s shoulders rose and sank, then he turned to face his father.  Ben’s breath caught in his throat as he saw the pain in his son’s eyes and the paleness of his face, and he wanted to hug him close, to tell him that everything would be all right, as he had done when Adam was a boy and the agony of life’s disasters could be assuaged by a caring embrace.  Before Ben could move, Adam shook his head and his voice was husky with the tears he was resisting.  “I’m all right, I think I’ll just go for a ride.”

 

Ben would have protested that Adam shouldn’t go off by himself, but he had already started towards the barn, and Ben knew that his reticent son would shed his tears unobserved.  Ben sighed; the fact that Adam wanted to be alone was not a good sign, and he wondered if it marked a return to the quiet introspection that he hoped Adam had left behind.

 

A few minutes later Adam led Sport from the barn and mounted silently, as Ben held the horse’s bridle and looked up at him.  “You know I’m here, if you need to talk.”

 

With a muted “I know Pa, I won’t be long,” Adam was gone.  Ben turned slowly and went back into the house, where he would sit and wait anxiously for his sorrowing son’s safe return.

 

Adam rode out of the yard, and followed the track into the mountains.  Where before he had found peace in the quiet grandeur he now found only painful memories of Rosie, as he passed places where they had been together.  He stopped when he reached the north pasture and recalled telling her of the meaning of her father’s last words.  That memory brought others flooding back, as he thought of the afternoon they had spent together, lying in the long grass; her touch, her kiss, her gentleness.

 

He turned away, the images too painful, and kicked Sport into a gallop, heedless of where he was heading.  He slowed as he found himself at the place where he had been knocked from his horse, so many months ago.  Now the warmth of late summer was gone and the chill of winter filled the air, but Adam could not feel it.  His body had no feelings other than his love of Rosie, and that filled him until it overflowed.  He dismounted shakily and wandered blindly into the forest.  Perhaps not blindly, Adam realised numbly, as he found himself again at the spot where Edward had been camping when they first met.

 

The thought of Rosie’s father brought with it a duty that Adam felt he had to perform, and he mounted Sport and set his head towards the lake.  It was almost dark by the time that Adam stepped out of the saddle beside the grave of Edward Mulherne and stood, facing the headstone, deep in thought.  Rosie had gone back to England to take up her inheritance from her father, but that legacy had proved not to be his business, or his fortune, but an untimely death.

 

“Edward, I’m sorry…” he started, then thought that if indeed there was an afterlife, Edward would already know that Rosie was dead, and if there was not, why was he standing there talking to a patch of earth?  “I want to tell you how much I loved your daughter,” he stopped and swallowed hard, forcing back tears.  “I wanted to take care of her and give her my love and as much happiness as it was in me to give.  But I can’t do that now; it’s up to you to take care of her.”  He glanced across the headland to where he could see, in the fading light, Marie’s grave, then he turned back.  “I can’t go to her grave to say goodbye, for she has none, so I’m asking you to say it for me.”

 

He pressed the heels of his hands into his eyes as he felt tears burn in them, then he stopped resisting and let them flow.  He threw back his head and cried to the winds, “Rosie, I love you!”  Then his emotions finally overcame him, and he slowly sank to his knees, then fell forward, stretching out on the frozen ground and weeping bitter, lonely tears.  His fingers dug through the snow, until they could cling to the grass, looking for the solidity of the earth as his world fell apart.

 

Back at the ranch, Hoss and Joe had returned from their day’s work, and Ben told them the news.  They both wanted to go in search of their brother, but Ben stopped them, knowing that Adam wanted to be alone, and trusting him to return when he felt able to face them.  They spent an uneasy evening, hardly speaking, thinking about the son and brother who was suffering but would not let his family into his sorrow.

 

It was nearly midnight and Joe and Hoss had reluctantly gone up to bed.  Before they parted outside Hoss’ door, Joe looked into his larger brother’s blue eyes.

 

“If Adam ain’t back in the morning, I’m going looking for him,” Joe declared.

 

“Then you can come with me.  I was plannin’ to do jest that.”  Hoss lowered his voice.  “I don’t care what Pa says.  If’n Adam’s hurtin’ we should be there.”

 

“First light?” Joe suggested.

 

Hoss nodded.  “If you think you can get up.”  Hoss smiled softly, Joe’s affinity with his bed was well known to his family.

 

“We might not have time for breakfast.” Joe smiled in return; Hoss’ appreciation of a good meal was also renowned.

 

They stopped smiling.  What was equally well known to both of them was Adam’s more introverted nature.  He was likely to loose himself in his grief, and they needed to find him, quickly.  Sorrow, and his need to be alone, could drive him into the mountains and, at that time of year, such a journey could prove fatal for the unprepared.

 

Joe turned away towards his own room, but stopped when he heard the front door open.  He raised his eyes at Hoss and was met with the same understanding expression.  Many times that evening, their father had gone to the door, opening it in the hope of seeing Adam return, but always he faced an empty yard, and silence.

 

This time, however, they did not hear him shut the door, and Joe crept to the head of the stairs.  He motioned to Hoss, and they stood looking down, watching Ben who was standing by the open door.  Then they smiled at each other as they heard the slow tread of footsteps; their brother had returned.  Hoss pushed Joe gently, and they descended into the great room.

 

Ben steered Adam towards the sofa, before going to the sideboard and finding a blanket from one of its cupboards and draping it around Adam’s shoulders as he sat, staring at the flames in the hearth.  His brothers could see that his eyes were red in his pale face, and he was shivering with cold.

 

Joe went wordlessly to the small table beside the stairs and poured a large glass of brandy, which he held out to Adam, whose hands shook as he took it with a small, grateful smile, which barely moved his lips. Hoss sat down and draped an arm over Adam’s shoulders, trying to give him warmth and comfort.  He held Adam’s shaking hands and guided the glass to his lips, making him drink.

 

Joe sat down on the opposite side of Adam, while Ben sat on the coffee table, facing him, and when he looked into his son’s troubled eyes, Ben’s heart cried.  He saw that the doors to Adam’s inner self, which had begun to open and let the world in, had been slammed shut.

 

“Son, you know how sorry we are.”  Ben spoke the thought that was in all their minds.

 

“Thanks Pa, I know.”  Adam stared into the glass, not able to look at the sympathetic faces, afraid that the love he saw there would make his tears return.  “I should never have let her go, I should have tried harder to stop her.”  His voice broke, but when he spoke again, he had it under control.  “She didn’t need that money, she would have had plenty if she’d stayed, I would have seen to that.”  They sat silently, waiting while Adam let out his grief in words.  “But she said she was going because it was her father’s legacy to her, and she couldn’t ignore it.”

 

“I can understand that,” Ben said.

 

“I told her that I did,” Adam shook his head sadly from side to side.  “Maybe if I’d said that I didn’t understand, she would still be here.”

 

“But you do, don’t you?”  Ben said quietly.  “You couldn’t pretend to Rosie, or yourself, that you didn’t.”

 

Adam nodded slowly, and finally looked up at his father.  As the two men stared at each other, shared memories of what it had cost to build the Ponderosa flashed between them, and Adam knew it would be a betrayal of all that his father had done to ignore his heritage.  He realised that, despite the short time that Rosie and her father had spent together, she had gleaned from Edward the knowledge of what it had cost him to build his business; the lost wife and child, the long, arduous hours, and the fight against competitors.  She had taken that knowledge into her heart, and gone back to ensure that it was not wasted.

 

Seeing his family around him, and feeling the love that flowed out of them towards him, Adam could not stop the single tear that crept silently down his cheek at the thought of the love he had lost.  He stood, and they watched as he went to the window behind the dining table and gazed out at the night that matched the darkness in his heart, now the light had gone from his life.  He raised his glass and spoke quietly.  “Wherever you are sleeping, that is where my love sleeps, my English Rose.”

 

The End

 

 

Notes:

 

Glossary:

China = china plate = mate

Plates = plates of meat = feet

Red rag = drag.  Also: Red rag to a bull = pull

Two and eight = state (as in: condition)

Jeremiah = fire

Butcher’s = butcher’s hook = look

Charing = Charing Cross = horse

‘alfpenny (pronounced ‘aypenny’) dip = halfpenny (haypenny) dip = ship

Bottle = Bottle of porter (beer) = daughter

Jack Frost = lost

Cat = cat and mouse = house

Trouble = trouble and strife = wife

Bread = bread and honey = money

Rabbiting = Rabbit and pork = talk

Brown = brown bread = dead

Teapot = teapot lid = kid

Mother = mother of pearl = girl

 

The ‘Peelers’, whom Edward mentioned, get their name from the founder of the first organised police force, Sir Robert Peel (1788-1850).  Though that term has fallen into disuse, the British police still have a legacy of their origin, being widely known as ‘bobbies’.

 

‘The Hungarian’, a steamship of the Allen Line, left Liverpool on February 8th 1860 bound for Portland, Maine.  She was wrecked in a storm on the night of the 19th, on the west side of Cape Sable, Nova Scotia, with the loss of all aboard, estimated variously at between 130-140 passengers and crew.  Listed among the passengers was a Mrs. Wyatt, who was travelling alone.

 

 

 

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