Summary – A young woman’s sudden departure from Virginia City leaves heartache and anger behind. After an eight-year absence, she returns home hoping to reconcile with the ones she left behind.
Rating – T, Word Count – 9751
Bound by Love
1870 – St. Louis, Missouri
Etta Randolph sat in the doctor’s office, nervously lacing and unlacing her fingers. She knew the answers but when the doctor confirmed them, she still went cold inside. Her heart pounded and her thoughts raced with the news. A month or two, maybe a bit more, to put her affairs in order….that wasn’t much time. Barely maintaining her composure, she thanked the doctor and left his office. Letting out a deep sigh and attempting to put on a cheery face, she walked down the hall to the waiting room.
Out in the waiting room a handsome boy ran into her arms. Etta put on her best smile for her seven-year old son. Here was her reason for living. She cupped her hands around his face and studied his warm, hazel eyes, then drew him into another hug. Remembering her promise for his good behavior, the two headed outside in search of an ice cream shop.
The bright sky cheered Etta some, but feeling the softness of her son’s hand in hers lightened her step and they strode down the walkway. “Scott, after we have our treat we’re going to pack and take a trip. We’re going to visit your grandparents.”
“In Nevada? Really? Will there be cowboys and horses? Can I ride one, Ma?”
Etta grinned and nodded. Scott was beside himself with excitement. He had always wanted to meet his grandparents but his mother had said that Nevada was too far from St. Louis. She now told him it was a good time to go.
A few days later they were on their way taking a couple of trains, then stagecoaches the rest of the way. Young Scott took in every detail of the trip and talked a lot about being a cowboy and riding horses, and fishing with his grandfather. Etta smiled and hugged her son. He was the light of her life and no matter how sad or afraid she might be over her illness, little Scott always brought joy back to her heart.
On the last part of the trip, Etta and Scott had the stagecoach to themselves. After so much excitement and feeling the effects of the long trip, Scott finally stretched out on the seat and fell asleep with his head resting in his mother’s lap. The rhythm of the coach over a smooth section of trail helped Etta to relax as well, and she began to think about what lay ahead. It had been a difficult decision to leave all those years ago, and she felt she deserved her father’s wrath. She was greatly concerned over her father’s reaction upon her return but there was another she had hurt as well. Would he ever be willing to forgive her actions? As Etta absent-mindedly stroked her son’s dark hair, she thought back to the circumstances that led to her departure from her home and family.
Eight years earlier, 1862 – Virginia City, Nevada
An unseasonably warm October day seemed to have brought everyone out of their homes in Virginia City. Etta was surprised at how crowded the streets were when she arrived. She had several errands to do for her mother, finishing up at the mercantile. Etta had just left the store with the weekly supplies for her mother and was placing the packages in the buggy when she saw Adam Cartwright heading up the boardwalk toward her. He was caught up in conversation with his brother Hoss and hadn’t seen her.
Being a shy, plain girl Etta never received much attention from the young men in town. But the Cartwright brothers were different. Her father, Zach Randolph, and Ben Cartwright had been good friends for years, so it just seemed natural that she became friends with the brothers. She enjoyed their company at family dinners and church picnics. Recently, some of the girls in town had become jealous of her friendship with the brothers and felt she was wasting an opportunity to be married to one of them. In fact, a young lady with her eye on Adam made such a comment to Etta just before she left the mercantile.
“Are you and Adam Cartwright courting? I see you with him at all the socials but I can’t believe he would be serious about some as plain as you Etta.”
“You’re mistaken, Caroline. Adam and I are just friends. We have been for years.”
“Well, one might never know that by the way he looks at you at the church socials. It’s not fair for the girls who really have their sights set on him. You need to quit spending all your time with him and let others have a chance.”
Etta shrugged off the girl’s offending remarks, but now, having just seen Adam leisurely walking beside his brother, she was suddenly anxious to get home.
Rushing to climb into the buggy, she stepped on her skirt and lost her balance. A hand gently took her arm and steadied her while she attempted to untangle her feet from her skirts.
“Thank you, I’m fine now.” She turned and found herself face to face with Adam. She noticed Hoss leaning on a hitching rail a few feet away.
“Are you alright Etta? You’re not hurt are you?”
“No, actually I’m fine. Thank you for your assistance, Adam. I better be going now. My parents will be expecting me home.”
Adam assisted Etta into the buggy and noticed she was shaking. “Of course. Etta, is something wrong?”
“No Adam, really I’m fine. I thank you for your assistance.”
Adam released his hold on her hand. “I hope I’ll see you at the Harvest dance this Saturday, then?”
Adam’s warm smile caught Etta off guard. Why hadn’t she noticed those dimples before? “In truth Adam I hadn’t realized it was this Saturday. I’m sure Mama, Papa and I will be there. Thank you for mentioning it.”
“Wonderful.” Still smiling, Adam stepped back from the buggy and tipped his hat to Etta. She flicked the reins and drove toward home. Adam watched after her until she turned a corner, and then he continued on into the mercantile with Hoss lumbering behind.
Etta’s ride home was anything but peaceful. She should have enjoyed the beautiful weather but her thoughts were in turmoil over her encounter with Adam in town. Caroline’s words in the store kept coming back to her and were mixing with Adam’s warm smile at the buggy. By the time Etta arrived home she was in a quandary about Adam. Having been friends with him for so long she’d never taken time to realize just how handsome and kind he was. When he gently touched her arm it had sent chills through her. Had Caroline’s observations been correct? Was Adam’s interest in Etta more than friendship? As Etta brought the buggy into the yard her mind was scrambling to find an excuse not to go to the dance but her heart was saying otherwise.
The Harvest Dance was a big celebration in town and she knew her parents wouldn’t allow her to miss it. As it turned out, it was the start of a new and deeper friendship with Adam. She had danced with several young men and the Cartwright brothers that night but found Adam to be the most cordial. He never pushed her to do anything. In fact they spent quite a bit of time partaking of the food and talking. Both discovered they had many things in common such as books, music, and Etta’s cooking. Etta had brought two pies and a large container of venison stew. It was all she could do to keep Adam from going back for thirds and not leaving some for other guests. During the weeks after the dance, they attended other social and church functions. By the time of the annual Cartwright Christmas party, their relationship was becoming serious.
In January, Adam had made plans to officially ask Etta’s father for permission to court her. Etta was so nervous when Adam arrived but her mother, Martha, quickly took control, suggesting she and Etta head to the barn to see to an injured horse. An hour later, Etta was hugging everyone as her father delivered his blessing on the courtship and marriage. Before Adam left, a June wedding had been chosen, with an official announcement to be made by mid-February.
The months seemed to fly by with Adam and Etta spending as much of their time together as possible, in spite of winter snows and spring ranch duties. Their love deepened and both were finding it difficult to wait until June. In early May, Etta began to feel overwhelmed with the final preparations for the wedding. She felt tired all the time, irritable, and was losing her patience with everyone. Becoming concerned by the changes in her daughter Martha suggested Etta visit Doctor Martin, to be sure she wasn’t coming down with something.
Etta did just that and Paul, after listening to her describe her symptoms, decided to run a few blood tests. After a half hour of waiting in Paul’s office, Etta finally got her answers, but they were not what she was expecting.
“Etta, I’m truly sorry. I’m not sure what else to say. If it’s what I think it is, I don’t have the medicines to help you but there are doctors who do.” Paul wrote some information on a piece of paper and handed it to Etta. “The closest doctor is in St. Louis; he’s a colleague of mine from back East. I know your wedding to Adam is close so I recommend you travel there as soon after the wedding as possible. I think it was discovered early enough that some treatments could work well.”
Unable to sit still any longer, Etta left her chair and headed for the door. “Thank you Doctor Martin. I…I’ll consider your advice.”
“Etta… you need to tell Adam right away. He needs to know about this.”
Etta nodded and, without another word, left the office. Once she was out of town she pulled the buggy off the road into a grassy area and let the tears come. After several minutes of uncontrollable sobbing, she steadied her breathing and tried to think of what to do. How was she going to tell her parents or the Cartwrights? She needed to see Adam but he was busy with roundup for two more weeks. Panic was setting in as she fingered the paper with the doctor’s address on it. St. Louis was so far away. How could she marry Adam knowing she was sick….what kind of life would that mean for them, for their children…..? Etta let out a deep shuddering sigh; there seemed to be only one solution.
As soon as she arrived home, she began packing. Her parents were busy with other activities so she had the little house to herself. She quickly packed all she could carry, gathered some money she had been saving and packed some food. Finally, she wrote a letter for her parents and one for Adam, and left them on the table. Her heart broke with every word but it was the only path she could see.
When she arrived in town, she was forced to wait several hours for the next stagecoach heading east. When passengers started loading, her parents arrived. Her mother was in tears and speechless, but her father had much to say. He took her by the arms, right on the boardwalk, and shook her.
“Daughter you are not gettin’ on that stage. What are ya thinkin’, runnin’ away like this? You dishonor my name actin’ like this. If you’re sick we’ll see to your care an’ so will Adam. How dare you do this to me, shame me like this!”
Etta pulled away from her father and climbed into the coach. “I’m sorry Mama, Papa; it’s the only thing I can do. I promise I’ll write to you. Please tell Adam how sorry I am, and that I love him. I love you both.”
“Daughter, I’m not doin’ your biddin’. An’ this isn’t showin’ your love for us either. If you leave now you might as well never come back!!”
Martha grabbed her husband’s arm. “Oh Zach you don’t mean that!”
He shook his arm loose. “I do mean it, woman. If our daughter can’t face this with people who care, then I can no longer call her my daughter.” He turned his back on the stage.
“Oh Zach! No! Etta please…”
“Stage is leaving folks.”
A small group of curious onlookers had gathered and now they stared at the spectacle before them, Zach Randolph red-faced with anger, Martha openly weeping and Etta with deep sorrow in her eyes as the stagecoach pulled away. Murmurings began to fill the silence in the street, as the onlookers began to connect the woman on the stage to the Cartwrights. Zach grabbed Martha’s arm and led her to their buckboard. “Come on woman. We’ve got things ta do at home.” For Zach that was the end of the discussion. Life would go on, without his daughter. For Martha, her heart was torn in two. Arriving at home, she left Zach to his work and took the buckboard over to the Ponderosa. Instead of discussing the wedding it was going to be a somber time as she told Ben Cartwright what had just happened, hoping to find some resolution to the nightmare that had begun.
In the following months, Etta had contacted her mother, letting her know how to reach her. They were the only ones who kept in touch and it was painful for both. Her mother had written that Adam had gone to St. Louis to look for Etta but, having not found her or the doctor, returned an empty man. Martha didn’t tell her daughter about the rumors and gossip around town, which she believed led to Adam eventually spending more time in San Francisco. Just a few years later, he took a second home in San Francisco to handle the Ponderosa business from there. Ben had said he came home every few weeks on business or to help with ranch duties. That was the hardest thing for Etta to read. A few weeks after leaving she knew she had done the wrong thing but then she found out that something more than her illness would keep her from traveling, so slowly time and events kept her in St. Louis much longer than she had planned. With the doctor’s recent news, she knew she had to return home and make things right, if it wasn’t already too late.
The coach driver hollered down that Virginia City was near. Etta took a deep breath as she begin to waken her son. So many years had passed now and Etta had managed to put most of her troubles behind her, but still she had regrets for her decision to leave. Watching her son stir and look around sleepily she had to smile. He was a beautiful, loving son who was her life, and she knew he was her only connection to her first and only love. Etta knew it was past time to go home. She needed, no wanted, to see her family again and make sure there would be a home for Scott.
The landscape began to change over to buildings signaling that they were on the outskirts of Virginia City. Etta became more excited and nervous. How would her parents receive her? How would she tell them her illness hadn’t been cured? Seeing the town come into view also made her think of Adam. Her mother said he never seemed to get over Etta’s leaving. Etta wondered if she would even see Adam, considering he was dividing his time between the Ponderosa and San Francisco. She wanted to make things right and ask his forgiveness for the unfair way she had treated him but she was also afraid to face his reaction. She knew she had hurt him badly.
As the late afternoon sun sank lower toward the mountains, the stage came to a stop at the station and Scott fairly jumped out of the coach when the door was opened. He ran a short way down the boardwalk and back to the stage, eyes wide with excitement.
“Ma, look at how big the town is. Not as big as home but it’s bigger than you described. Look ma, cowboys! Ma, when can I learn to ride a horse? Will Grandfather be here to meet us?”
Etta stepped from the coach and ruffled her son’s hair. “Scott, I know you’re excited but we must get our bags and rent a buggy. There will be plenty of time to explore the town in the coming days. Come help me with the luggage, please.”
Scott dutifully obeyed as the coach driver handed the bags down to the lad. The station master helped Etta hire someone to drive them to her home, and soon they were on their way to their final destination.
When Etta finally reached her home night had enveloped them. Scott had become silent as he leaned into her arm. As the driver pulled into the yard Etta was pleased to see a lamp still lit in the main room. She was encouraged by the welcoming sight but her stomach was still in knots. She almost wished she’d waited until the next day. Slowing her breathing she asked that Scott remain with the driver for just a few minutes. With more and more dread she walked to the door and knocked. In seconds she found herself enwrapped by her mother’s arms, tears streaking down both women’s faces. Finally separating, Etta turned and signaled for Scott to join her and for the driver to leave, after he deposited the luggage on the front porch.
Etta put her arm proudly around Scott’s shoulders as she spoke to her mother. “Mama, this is Scott, your grandson. Scott this is your grandmother.”
“Oh what a lovely child. ‘Grandmother’ sounds so nice.” Martha bent down to look at Scott and give him a hug. Hearing a sound behind her she turned and looked sheepishly at Ben Cartwright. She’d completely forgotten he was still in the room. Ben had been visiting since the afternoon and had been persuaded to stay for supper. Just before Etta arrived he and Zach had just finished their traditional arm wrestling contest and Zach had gone to fetch some water so Martha could wash the dishes.
“Oh, Ben, forgive me. Etta?”
“Hello, Mister Cartwright.” She tried to look the man who would have been her father-in-law in the eye but couldn’t. He at least had a warm smile for her. She did notice that he kept glancing at Scott then back at her. Suddenly Scott was moving toward Ben’s gun, which was hanging on the back of a chair. Ben knelt down and patiently answered all of Scott’s questions about it. Etta couldn’t help but laugh when she saw how intrigued Scott was. Hearing footsteps behind her she realized he father had arrived. His entrance into the house darkened the previously light mood. Everyone stood rooted to their spots as Zach slowly moved into the room and placed the water buckets in the kitchen.
“Hello, Papa. I’ve come home.”
Zach turned his back on everyone.
“Papa, I’ve brought someone to meet you. This is Scott, your grandson.”
Ben noticed Zach’s back tense before he spoke in clipped tones. “I told you if you left not to bother comin’ back and I don’t know who this boy is but he’s not my grandson. I’m leavin’ this house now. When I get back I want both of you gone from here.”
Etta and Martha gasped. Ben’s black brows knitted together and his eyes darkened at the harsh words. He instinctively pulled Scott closer to himself as Zach brushed by Etta and left.
“Mister Cartwright, would you please take Scott outside?”
Ben quietly guided the boy outside so mother and daughter could talk. Ben’s own thoughts were in a whirlwind, trying to piece together all the tiny parts of this encounter with Etta. He thought Etta looked pale and weak. Did that mean she still had her illness? And what of the boy, her son. Who was the father? After his initial shock of seeing the dark haired boy for the first time Ben chose not to follow that path. He’d just have to wait for Etta to answer that question for him.
A cool breeze stirred in the trees and brought the sound of a coyote. Scott looked up listening to the lonely howl. Ben stepped closer to give Scott some comfort. He wondered what must be going through the child’s mind.
“Mister Cartwright, why is my grandfather angry with me and Mama?”
Ben’s breath caught as he considered the hateful way Zach had acted. He knew what Zach had said to Etta all those years ago and that Zach had never changed his mind about her. But here was an innocent child feeling the pain those choices carried.
“Scott, I don’t think he’s angry at you or your mother. Sometimes people can seem angry at others when they are really angry at themselves.”
Scott took a while before he spoke again. “Mister Cartwright, I hope he stops being angry at himself. I sure would like him to love me.” *
Stunned by the depth of the child’s words, Ben watched as Scott moved away. He was reminded of another child, so serious yet so sensitive.
After a while, the door opened. Martha looked to Ben with a question as Etta placed her arms around Scott. “Ben, I was wondering if you’d mind taking Etta and Scott back to town so they can stay there for a few days. Just until Zach comes around in his thinking.”
“Nonsense. I’d consider it a pleasure if they would stay at the Ponderosa. We have plenty of room.”
“I knew you would offer, Ben, but Etta didn’t believe me. Then it’s settled. Scott would you like to help Mister Cartwright get the buggy ready?”
“Oh would I!” He ran off toward the barn, behind Ben.
“Mama, thank you, for everything.”
“Now don’t you fret, Etta. Your father will come around. Just give him a little time.”
Etta remained silent. Time was all she had, but how much she didn’t know. It didn’t take long for Ben to have the buggy ready. He drove it around to the porch and helped Etta into the seat, to sit beside Scott. As Ben guided the buggy away from the house, Buck’s reins tied to the back, Zach watched from behind the barn. He sniffed to clear his nose, then walked determinedly toward the house. He didn’t understand his friend’s graciousness toward Etta but if that’s the way Ben Cartwright wanted to be, that was fine by Zach, as long as she was out of his house. He entered his home and closed the door, on the night and his troubles.
* From “The Love Child” – Season 12, Episode 9
The evening had grown late when Ben, Etta and Scott arrived at the Ponderosa. Warm, inviting light emanated from several windows of the ranch house, and the lanterns in the yard cast a welcoming glow to the tired trio. Etta and Scott were exhausted and Ben learned they had not had any food since early afternoon. He escorted them into the house, leaving the buggy and Buck in the care of one of the hands. Although Ben’s friendliness toward Etta had put her at ease on the ride to the ranch, she still felt nervous to be around Adam’s family. Entering through the front door Etta found comfort in the gentle fire at the hearth and the tentative though welcoming smiles from Joe and Hoss when they greeted her. She could see their concern behind those smiles but it helped that she didn’t see the hatred she had felt with her own father.
Ben turned to indicate a tall, lean boy standing timidly near the settee.
“Etta, Scott, this is Jamie Hunter. He’s staying with us for a time.”
Jamie smiled shyly at Etta, then invited Scott to join him by the fire to watch a game of checkers between him and Joe.
“Hoss, would you ask Hop Sing if he can prepare a light meal for our guests?”
Ben led Etta to the settee, then settled into his own chair. He kept an eye on her as everyone else returned to their evening activities. He was concerned she was barely holding up. He hoped a light meal and some rest would help to settle her in.
After a quiet meal of reheated stew, Etta and Scott excused themselves to retire for the evening. After Ben had showed them to their rooms he returned to the downstairs. Etta helped Scott settle into bed and he was asleep before she left the room. In her own room she tried to unpack but was too exhausted. She quickly changed to her night clothes and crawled into the soft bed. As the concerns of the day passed away Etta drifted off into a healing sleep.
As the morning sun crept across the floor and brightened her room, Etta felt a small hand rubbing her cheek which brought her around. She found Scott smiling at her and asking if she was alright.
“I am now. Did you sleep well, Scott?” Etta was surprised to see Scott already dressed.
“Yes Ma. Mister Cartwright said it would be okay for me to come up and see if you were awake. I’ve already had breakfast and Jamie’s going to take me fishing this morning. Is that alright Mama?”
Etta sat up in bed and notice how bright the room was. She felt embarrassed to have missed breakfast. “Of course, Scott. I hope you and Jamie have a good time. Why don’t you go back down stairs and I’ll join you in a few minutes.” She kissed her son on the forehead then watched him skip out of the room. She was pleased that he had settled in so easily with the Cartwrights. Jamie was turning out to be good friend for Scott.
Rising and dressing quickly, she went downstairs to find Ben sitting at the table with a cup of coffee and reading the newspaper. Jamie and Scott were just leaving for their fishing adventure. After a hug, Etta sent Scott on his way. She joined Ben at the table.
“I’m sorry I missed breakfast. I guess I was more tired than I realized.”
“It’s quite alright, Etta. You needed your rest. Hop Sing can bring something out now if you’re ready to eat.”
As Etta nodded, Hop Sing appeared with a light breakfast of eggs, toast, hot cakes and strawberry jam. He also poured tea for her and refreshed Ben’s coffee before disappearing back into the kitchen.
As Etta ate she and Ben discussed the day’s plans and some of the news in the paper. While the conversation was light, Etta was aware of an undercurrent of tension at the table. Etta had a pretty good idea what he was thinking but she wasn’t ready to discuss it. After breakfast Etta went to her room to unpack while Ben left to return her parents’ buggy and run errands in town.
At the Randolph’s home, Ben took some time to speak to Zach. It was a tense conversation with both men being stubborn, but Ben finally got Zach to see that he wasn’t getting any younger and his selfish anger was keeping him from enjoying his daughter and grandson. Zach still refused to see Etta or Scott though so Ben left. After that visit, Ben stopped by town to send a telegram to Adam to let him know Etta was home. While he waited for a response Ben bought some clothes for Scott. The boy needed some ranch type clothing and boots since all he had with him were city clothes. After his shopping trip Ben checked to see if a response from Adam had arrived. One had, and with the cryptic answer he had expected. As he rode home, Ben hoped he had done the right thing by letting Adam know Etta was back home. But then if he hadn’t, in another few days Adam, who was returning anyway to go over some new business prospects, would have found out, and Ben felt that method would have been much worse.
The next two days passed quickly for Etta and Scott. Joe and Jamie kept the boy pretty busy with barn chores, riding lessons and fishing. Etta’s mother had come to visit while Ben and Hoss handled the ranch duties. Late on the third morning, Etta was in the kitchen helping Hop Sing make some pies for dinner. Just as the pies were put in the oven, heavy footsteps were heard on the front porch, and the door opened and closed.
“Well I guess Jamie and Scott must be back early. I’ll go see to them Hop Sing and make sure they bring their fish to the kitchen door.” Hop Sing smiled as he began to clean up the dishes.
Etta cleaned her hands, and shed her apron, then walked out to the main room.
“You boys are back…..”
Any other words were lost as a tall, dark-haired business man turned and looked at her. She cocked her head and scanned the face. Despite the beard, the eyes were unmistakable.
“Hello Etta.” His smooth voice was just as she remembered it, but it had a coolness to it this time.
“I…well, I….” The room began to spin and Etta reached for the back of the nearest chair to steady herself. Adam moved quickly to turn the chair so she could sit in it.
“Hop Sing, bring some water, quickly.”
“No, I’m fine really.”
“Mister Adam, you home early. Missy Etta, what wrong?”
Adam poured water into a glass and held it for Etta to sip from. Hop Sing watched her closely, knowing about her illness, then looked at Adam.
“I was able to leave San Francisco earlier than planned. Etta became dizzy. Perhaps a light snack would be in order Hop Sing, to hold us until lunch.” Hop Sing nodded and hurried back to the kitchen to prepare a tray with sandwiches, tea and coffee.
“Etta, let’s sit by the fire where it will be more comfortable.”
Etta nodded and allowed Adam to assist her over to the settee. He lowered himself into his father’s chair. Once settled they remained silent until Hop Sing served the snack then retreated to his kitchen. He knew there a long and difficult conversation was coming.
After the sandwiches were gone, Etta sipped her tea, glancing nervously at Adam now and then. He sensed her anxiety and knew he needed to speak first. He took a deep breath and finally broke the ice.
“Pa wired me to let me know you were here. I’ve been living in San Francisco for about three years. I have my own engineering firm but I also broker business deals for the Ponderosa which brings me here fairly often throughout the year. I’m here now to discuss some timber and cattle contracts with my father. I’ll be here about a week then I have to head back to San Francisco for my other business.” He paused to study Etta more closely, noting her pale coloring and the dark circles under her eyes. He scooted forward in the red chair to get a bit closer. “Are you feeling better Etta? Was the doctor in St. Louis able to help you?”
She remained silent, her eyes locked on her lap.
“Etta, please look at me.”
She shook her head. “I can’t Adam. I’m too ashamed of what I did to you. I loved you yet I couldn’t trust you enough to tell you that I was…was sick. I’m so sorry. I didn’t want to leave the way I did but I felt I didn’t have any choice. I brought shame on my family and yours by not facing the truth. Papa told me that if I left, I might as well stay gone. Doctor Martin told me to tell you everything but I was so scared and I couldn’t see how we could have a life together if I was going to be so sick.” Her voice broke and words failed her. Adam face grew dark for a moment as her words came tumbling out. Some things he knew from her one letter to him but others, like her father’s reaction, he was hearing for the first time. He took a slow breath to settle his emotions.
Adam reached for her hands to calm them from their frantic twisting. His voice was quiet. “What did the doctor tell you? It’s alright Etta. I won’t be angry, I just want to hear the truth. All of it.”
Tears dripped onto their joined hands as she continued. “For a while, the doctor in St. Louis was able to help me but recently the old symptoms came back and….he said there was nothing more he could do.” She finally looked up into Adam’s eyes and watched as the truth of those words sank in. Along with the sadness and shock, she also saw something else. Could he still love her, after all that had happened? By that time Adam was kneeling in front of Etta and she collapsed into his arms. He slowly rubbed her back as she cried inconsolably into his chest. The front door opened and Ben, seeing what was happening, immediately ushered Jamie and Scott back outside, closing the door quietly behind him. The returning party made their way to the kitchen while Adam continued to console Etta in the living room.
A short while later, Ben found Adam sitting in his blue chair, after having changed to his ranch clothes, his fingers steepled in front of him and his eyes focused on the fire. Noticing his father’s glance at the stairs Adam said that Etta was resting in her room. Ben poured some brandy for them both then sat in his chair and waited.
Adam held the glass of amber liquid for a while before taking several swallows. He let the brandy slide down his throat, needing every drop of the strong drink to calm his raging emotions.
“Pa, did you know that Zach told Etta not to come home? How could he turn his back on his own daughter when she needed him the most?”
“I don’t know son. I knew Zach changed a lot after that day. He wouldn’t ever let me talk about her and you. I never understood why.” Ben set his glass down. “I’m sorry Adam. You don’t know how many times I’ve wished all this had turned out so differently.”
“No more than I have, Pa. Did you know she’s dying?”
Ben’s eyes grew wide and darkened as he stared at his son. “No.”
“She told me this afternoon. That’s why she came home, to make things right again. What I don’t understand is why she stayed away for so long. She said she’d gotten better. Why didn’t she come back then?”
Ben shook his head, he had his own suspicions but wouldn’t reveal those now. “I believe only Etta can answer that for you, son.” He took another sip of his brandy. “What do you plan to do now?”
“I don’t know. I need more time. I have to be back in San Francisco by Monday to meet with the city officials about a new project. My firm has a very good chance of winning the contract but I have to be there.”
“That’s six days, son. Let me and Joe go over the contracts you brought, then I’ll meet with you to discuss any questions we have. That should give you some extra time with Etta.”
Adam nodded. “Thanks Pa.”
Hop Sing came out then. “Mister Cartwright, lunch ready. Everybody wash up now.”
“Thank you Hop Sing. Will you prepare a tray for Miss Etta when she wakes up?”
“I’ll go get the boys and join you at the table.”
Adam turned at his father’s words. “Boys?”
Realizing his mistake and before Ben could respond, the door flew open emitting Jamie and Scott. The boys were laughing over a joke when they stopped to see Adam looking at them.
“Hey Adam. You got here fast.” Jamie’s smile quickly faded when he realized Adam was staring at Scott. Jamie quietly excused himself to go wash up.
Ben tried to smooth over the situation as best he could and moved to put his arm around Scott. He looked at his son. “Adam, this is Scott, Etta’s son. Scott, this is Adam, my oldest son.”
Ben felt Scott tense but then he pulled away and moved toward Adam, holding out his hand. “‘I’m pleased to meet you Mister Cartwright. You’re Joe’s and Hoss’ brother aren’t you?”
Ben could see so many questions cross his son’s face, but Adam remained cordial and took Scott’s hand. “I’m pleased to meet you too, Scott, and yes I am.”
Before anything else could be said, Ben sent Scott into the kitchen to wash up. He headed to the table and indicated Adam do the same. Joe and Hoss entered a few minutes later and lunch began. It didn’t take long for the younger brothers to sense the unspoken tension in the air. Ben silently acknowledged that one more conversation needed to be held, and quite soon.
After lunch, Hoss and Jamie found work in the barn while Joe took Scott out for a riding lesson. Casting a look at his father, Adam volunteered to take a lunch tray to Etta. He slowly walked up the stairs and hesitated outside her door. Knocking quietly, he entered to find her sitting at the window. She didn’t acknowledge him as he set the tray on a small table. Moving the table closer to her he pulled an extra chair up to join her. He let her eat in peace while he tried to figure out how to ask the question that now troubled him.
Voices and laughter rose from the yard through the open window. Adam stood to get a better look and peered down to where Joe was helping Scott ride a pony. The scene brought a soft smile to Adam’s face as he recalled teaching Joe to ride, but then a new feeling took over, one of jealousy. He turned back to the table to find Etta watching him. Was that fear in her eyes?
“Etta….” Why was it so hard to ask what he’d already surmised?
Etta moved away from the window and the sounds of laughter below. Once again she began wringing her hands then stopped as she turned back toward Adam. “Adam, I…Yes,” she lowered her eyes, “Scott is our son.”
Adam didn’t move. Trying to calm his breathing, he waited for more.
“When I left, I didn’t know I was carrying our child. I found out about a month later when the doctor in St. Louis began running tests before my treatments. The doctor has assured me he’s a perfectly healthy seven year old.”
Etta could see Adam’s jaw twitching. Not sure what else to say she waited for him to speak.
“Why Etta? Why didn’t you write to me, tell me about Scott? I went to St. Louis and tried to find you but the addresses I’d been given failed.” He moved toward her and placed his hands on her shoulders. “I loved you, I…I still do. I’ve never stopped loving you Etta. My God, Etta, he’s our son!” Adam gestured toward the window. “ He needs both of us, especially now that you’re….” He couldn’t say the word, not yet. He’d just gotten her back and now he was going to lose her again.
Etta pulled away from Adam, tears streaming down her cheeks. “How can you say you still love me Adam, after what I’ve done to you? I ran away before our marriage, I didn’t trust you to care for me. I hurt you. I lied about our son by not telling you. I don’t deserve your love, and I don’t deserve to stay here any longer.”
Adam reached for Etta and turned her around. “Look at me and say those things. Let me see all that in your eyes, Etta, and then I’ll believe you.”
She looked at him but couldn’t repeat any of it. “I’m sorry, Adam.” Her voice a whisper. “I never stopped loving you either. When Scott was born, and as he grew, he became my life, my only link to you. I was wrong to leave and wrong to not trust you to help me through the illness. Can you forgive me?”
Adam took her in his arms and rested his head on hers. For a moment he stood there enjoying the feel of her in his arms again, but he also knew he could forgive her. “Yes, Etta. I can forgive you.” He stepped back and gently took her face in his hands. “I love you and, if you agree, I still want to marry you. I want to give you what you deserve, all my love, and I want to give our son a proper family and his rightful name. Will you say ‘yes’?”
Her heart was pounding and she felt she might faint but she nodded. “Yes, Adam, I’ll marry you.”
Adam drew her closer and kissed her gently, then more passionately. It was Etta that pulled away first, leaving Adam with a questioning look. “What’s wrong?”
“Adam, it’s Scott, he doesn’t know about you. I thought I might never see you again. I didn’t want to give him any false hopes. I have to tell him now but I don’t know what to say.”
Adam took her trembling hands in his. “Would it help if I were with you when you tell him?”
“No, I think I need to tell him myself. It might be easier on him that way.” She looked up to see disappointment in his eyes. “Please understand, I’m all he’s ever known. I think it’s best this way.” A thought occurred to her. “Is there a place close by where he and I could have a small picnic? That might make it easier to tell him. He loves the outdoors.”
“Yes, there’s a path behind the house that leads to a view of the lake. It’s a short walk but it would give you the privacy you need.”
“That sounds perfect. I think he and I should go this afternoon as soon as he finishes his riding lesson.”
Adam agreed. After one last kiss he took the tray downstairs while Etta cleaned her face and freshened up. In the kitchen, Adam asked Hop Sing to prepare a small basket of snacks for Etta and Scott explaining they were going to take a walk to look at the lake. Hop Sing readily agreed, sensing something was about to change in the family dynamics. A half hour later they were on their way and Adam sat with his father, telling him all that had transpired upstairs. He asked Ben to keep the news private until he and Etta decided on a time to tell the rest of the family.
After their walk to the overlook, Etta and Scott played a short game of tag then collapsed on the blanket to rest. At the edge of the woods, mother and son sat on a knoll, mesmerized by the beauty of the deep blue lake, enjoying the warmth of the sun and the sweet cakes Hop Sing had packed. Etta turned to look at her son. She smoothed his dark hair as she studied his young face. She still couldn’t get over how easy it was to see Adam in her son’s face.
“Scott, I have something I’d like to talk to you about.”
Noticing how his mother was struggling with her words, Scott voiced his question. “Mama, when will Grandfather stop being angry at himself so he can love us?”
Surprised by her son’s question, she had to ask, “Who told you that, Scott?”
“The night we got here, I asked Mister Cartwright why Grandfather was so angry with us and he said that sometimes people aren’t really angry at others but angry at themselves.”
Etta looked away. Ben Cartwright always had a way with words. She had valued his wisdom all those years ago.
“Mister Cartwright’s a wise man. I don’t really know when your grandfather will be over his anger, but you know what?” She looked at her son once more. “I think perhaps it’s time I talk to him and see what I can do to help him. What do you say to that?”
Scott smiled. “I hope it works. Grandfather needs us and we need him too, don’t we Ma?”
Etta had to hug her son in answer for she was too emotional for words. Taking a deep breath, she decided to press on with her planned conversation.
“Scott, what would you say if I told you that you have two grandfathers?”
Scott stopped playing with a stone he’d found and stared at his mother. “What do you mean?”
“Well, my father is your grandfather, right?”
“So, your father has a father too, and he’d be your grandfather too.”
Scott screwed up his face trying to figure that out. Suddenly, his eyes grew big. “Mister Cartwright? Is he my other grandfather?”
Etta smiled. “Yes, Scott, he is.” Etta paused to see if he would ask the next question.
Scott didn’t hesitate. “Ma, is Mister Adam my father?” His mixed expression of curiosity and worry brought tears to Etta’s eyes. She pulled him close and kissed the top of his head.
“Yes, Scott. Adam is your father.” She then slowly told him all about Adam and how she had fallen in love with him. She told Scott about how Adam grew up on the trail west, and had helped his father build the Ponderosa.
Looking her son in the eyes, she wanted to make sure he understood what came next. “Scott, before you were born, I left this place and left Adam before we were married. It was because of my illness. I never stopped loving him and he still loves me. And he loves you too. He wants the three of us to be a family. Do you understand what that means?”
Scott pulled away from his mother and scooted toward a tree. He needed to think about all he’d just heard. Etta waited with her heart in her throat, fearful she’d said too much too soon.
For several minutes, nothing happened. Scott just stared off at the lake, fingering the small rock he held. Etta started to move toward him when she saw Adam standing a few feet away in the woods. He motioned for her to stay put as he gently made his way to them. He sat down by Scott and looked at the lake, drawing up his knees and resting his arms on them.
“The lake’s kind of peaceful right now. But during storms a lot of waves move across the water.”
No response but Adam noticed Scott stopped fingering the rock he’d been holding.
“My guess is that you’re feeling like a storm’s all around you right now, huh?”
Scott barely moved his head.
“Do you know what to do if you get caught in a storm, Scott?”
The response came as a whisper. “You get inside the house. It’s safe inside.”
“That’s right, Scott. You want to be with your family, right?”
Scott nodded, then looked up at Adam with moist eyes. “Mama says you’re my father and that we’re a family.”
“That’s right Scott. Do you want us to be family?”
Scott eyed the lake again then looked at his mother. She gave her son a soft smile. Scott turned back to Adam.
“Yes sir. I’d like that.” Etta quietly gasped and brought her hands to her mouth, joyful tears filling her eyes. Adam felt a small hand come to rest on his knee. He smiled at Etta and slipped his arm around Scott. Leaning over the boy he whispered, “I’d like that too, son.”
After watching the sunset over the lake, the new family headed home. Scott held his mother’s hand as Adam led the way back to the house. As they came around the back of the house to enter through the kitchen, Adam stopped and swung Scott up onto his back. Together the pair entered the kitchen as Adam pretended to be a horse. Etta followed, laughing at the antics of her two ‘men’. All three took time to greet Hop Sing, then washed for dinner. At the dinner table Adam made his announcement that he and Etta were going to be married as soon as possible, thus making them a new family of three. Joe, Jamie and Hoss immediately whooped and hollered, while Ben called for Hop Sing to bring their best champagne.
Etta asked that they keep the news quiet until she could speak to her parents, which she planned to do the next day. Adam also announced that he would have his friend, and the vice president of his company, meet with the San Francisco officials the following week. That would make it possible for Adam to spend extra time at home, where he felt he was needed the most at the moment. For the first time since she had left all those years ago, Etta finally felt her life was what it was meant to be.
The next day began early with a full family breakfast before everyone went their separate ways. Hoss headed out with the hands to check the herd and fences. Jamie and Scott went fishing while Ben and Joe worked on the new contracts Adam had brought home.
Adam took Etta to see her parents. She wanted to talk with them alone so he reluctantly agreed to head to town for his errands. He needed to send a telegram to San Francisco and meet with a few business people.
Martha was on the front porch mending clothes and was thrilled to see Adam and Etta together. When Etta said she needed to talk to her father, Martha figured out why pretty quickly. She said Zach was down by the creek trying to clear some brush. Etta bid Adam goodbye and headed toward the creek. Martha prayed silently for all to work out.
Etta found her father sitting on a stump, resting from his work. Hearing footsteps on the path, he sat a bit straighter waiting to see who was coming. When he saw that it was Etta, he turned away slightly. Etta didn’t miss the gesture, but it only made her more determined get through to her father.
Zach grunted a greeting. “What’re ya doin’ here, girl. Ain’t no place for ya to be.”
“I came to see you Papa. I have some news and wanted to share it with you.”
“You jest get on back to where you’re stayin’. Ain’t no news I need to hear from you.” Zach moved off his stump and returned to his work.
Etta was shaken but not surprised at her father’s reaction. Recalling her discussion the night before with Adam about her father, and Adam’s encouragement, she felt his presence with her now as she pressed on.
“Papa, you don’t have to say anything, just listen. Adam’s home and, well, he and I have had a chance to talk about all that’s happened. It was hard Papa, but we talked and worked things out. He’s forgiven me for what I did eight years ago. Papa, he’s told me that he still loves me and I love him. We want to get married and I want you and Mama to be there when we say our vows. Papa, if Adam can forgive me, can you do that too? Please? I’m sorry Papa for leaving and not trusting you to care for me. I was scared and didn’t know what to do.”
Zach kept his back to her but spoke loud and clear, “It was wrong of you to leave without tellin’ us the truth. It weren’t just the sickness, it was the baby too. You sinned, child, and that ain’t forgivable, not in my book.”
Etta finally lost her composure when her father admitted the source of his anger. She sat on the stump, hoping to regain her courage to continue. She felt like Adam was right behind her giving her that courage. “Papa, you’re right. I did sin, but not against Adam as you might think. Papa, Scott is your grandchild but he’s also Adam’s son.” Zach spun around at that news. “Yes, it’s the truth and Adam knows, he knows everything. Papa he still wants to marry me and be Scott’s father. Please forgive me for what I did all those years ago. I’m sorry I hurt you. Papa I love you and Mama, and I need you both so much right now.”
Zach dropped the branches he’d been holding and stared at his daughter. Something hurt him deeply inside to see his Etta sobbing in front of him. Ben’s words about being too old to let his anger keep him from enjoying his family stung him as well. He took a tentative, wobbly step toward his daughter, then another and finally fell to his knees at her side. He placed a callused and aging hand on top of her trembling hands. Etta turned her face to his and saw tears streaming down his face. Father and daughter fell together.
Though the tears Zach mumbled, “You really gettin’ married, daughter?”
Etta pushed away and smiled. “Yes, Papa.”
“Then I reckon we best be gettin’ on back to th’ house and tellin’ your Ma.”
Zach pushed himself to his feet as Etta stood. Together both walked back to their home. By the time they arrived they were talking nonstop about Adam and Scott and the future. Martha’s heart sang when she heard her husband and daughter coming. The smiles on their faces confirmed her prayers had all been answered.
Two days later, Adam Cartwright and Etta Randolph were married in a quiet family ceremony held at the Ponderosa. Young Scott stood by his father and proudly handed his mother’s ring to the minister at the appropriate time. The rest of the celebration continued with a family dinner and a bit of dancing for the couple.
Over the next several days, Adam spent time with Scott on fishing trips and teaching him to ride. Scott had learned to ride so quickly that he and Adam had begun taking short rides away from the house. Father and son were quickly becoming inseparable, and Etta felt the years they were separated melt away as if they’d never happened.
The Ponderosa contracts were returned to San Francisco with their attached bids, and were ultimately accepted. Adam had also heard that the city officials had chosen his company, and two others, to take part in the continuing construction of the eastern waterfront and roadway system of the Port of San Francisco. Adam returned to San Francisco with his family to oversee the start of his company’s part in the waterway system and to show Etta and Scott around the city.
After two weeks in the city, the family returned to the Ponderosa. On a picnic the next day, Etta became very sick. She was rushed to the house and the doctor was sent for. When Paul Martin left the bedroom, Adam was holding Scott in his lap and they were talking quietly to Etta. Downstairs Paul relayed the sad news that Etta only had a few hours remaining. He knew he needed to stay so he quietly removed himself to the kitchen in order to give the family their privacy.
Upstairs, Adam embraced Scott as the child wept for his mother. Etta smiled weakly at the loving scene before her. Her voice was weak but her words were strong, “I am…so happy….and… blessed to …have had …you both ….in my life. I love you….both so much.”
She attempted to reach for her son, who climbed out of Adam’s lap to lay beside his mother. Adam took Etta’s hand in his and gave her a gentle kiss. Etta closed her eyes and smiled. She took one last deep breath and then was gone. Adam and Scott remained where they were for a time before Adam leaned over to kiss his wife one last time, then he picked Scott up and together they left the room closing the door quietly behind them.
Months later, Adam and Scott had settled into a routine on the ranch. Adam handled most of his San Francisco business from Nevada knowing he’d be making occasional trips to California. He had also begun to pick up construction projects from Virginia City and Carson City. Scott attended school in Virginia City with Jamie, and had become an accomplished horse rider with Joe claiming he took after his uncle quite well in that area. Scott also spent many an afternoon with Etta’s parents, enjoying games, fishing and swinging by the creek. Still settling into fatherhood, Adam chose to remain at the Ponderosa but knew in time he would build his own home with Scott working alongside him. On days when he missed Etta deeply, he had only to look upon his son and see her warm smile mixed with his own golden eyes. Adam knew in those moments she was watching over both of them.
A/N – This is a WHI for The Love Child (Season 12, Episode 9) and my response to the Bonanza Brand, Better Late than Never Challenge for the 2017 Missing Man challenge (Add Adam to any episode from Seasons 7-14).