Summary: The Cartwright brothers vie for the affections of a beautiful lawyer.
Rated: K+ 28,300
The Lady Lawyer Series:
The Lady Lawyer
The brisk spring breeze ruffled the hems of the lady disembarking from the stagecoach. It was one of those lovely early-spring days when the snows have been gone long enough for the mud to dry, but not long enough for the dust to fly. Even the horses on the streets of Virginia City had an extra spring in their steps. People greeted each other with an energy that had been lacking all winter, when they’d huddled in their cloaks against the bitter winds.Adam, Hoss and Joe Cartwright were among those enjoying the day. The youngest Cartwright brother had a special fondness for spring, as the ladies’ heavy, shapeless cloaks gave way to lightweight shawls and colorful dresses that revealed much more about the wearers’ womanly charms. It could come as no surprise, therefore, that he was the first to spy the lady in the sapphire dress as the stage driver offered her his hand.”Allow me, ma’am,” Joe said gallantly, taking her hand to assist her. Adam and Hoss rolled their eyes. Their little brother never changed.”Thank you, sir,” said the lady, smoothly withdrawing her hand upon reaching the sidewalk.”The pleasure’s mine, ma’am,” Joe replied, touching the brim of his hat and favoring her with one of his special smiles.
Generally, women were quite taken with Joe Cartwright’s debonair manner. Most of the young ladies in Virginia City would have swooned to be the focus of such attention. This one, though, had a glint in her blue eyes that suggested that she just might be finding him amusing, rather than charming. Joe seemed to be oblivious to the distinction, but Adam and Hoss exchanged glances and immediately stepped up.
“Welcome to Virginia City, ma’am,” said Adam, tipping his hat.
“Welcome,” Hoss echoed, doing likewise.
The lady surveyed the three men. Her dimples showed just a bit, but other than that, she kept a straight face. “To what do I owe the pleasure of such a welcoming committee?” she inquired.
“To our good fortune in being present upon your arrival in our fair city,” said Adam, smoothly usurping Joe’s position next to her and earning a glare from his youngest brother. “I’m Adam Cartwright, and these are my brothers, Hoss and Little Joe.”
“Just Joe, ma’am,” said Joe, deflecting Adam’s attempt to cast him as a mere child.
“Well, Just Joe, I don’t suppose you or your brothers are acquainted with Efraim Zelner, are you?” the lady inquired.
“The lawyer, ma’am?”
“Yes, the lawyer,” she replied. “He was supposed to meet me here.”
“Well, ma’am, I don’t see him, but I would be happy to escort you to his office. Before I do that, may I offer you some refreshment?” Joe offered her his arm.
The lady’s smile was definitely one of amusement, a fact that was clearly passing Joe by. “You’re most kind, but I’d simply like to claim my luggage and meet with Mr. Zelner,” she said graciously.
“As you wish,” said Adam. “Hoss, get the lady’s luggage.”
Hoss looked a bit nonplussed at being so ordered about, but he simply said, “My pleasure.” He moved to the front of the coach. “Hey, Jake, gimme Miss-I’m sorry, ma’am, I didn’t catch your name.”
“Simmons. Anna Simmons.”
“-Miss Simmons’ luggage.” As Hoss took down her trunk and suitcases, Adam and Joe told her what a pleasure it was to make her acquaintance.
“Anna, my dear. There you are.” The elderly lawyer strode up the street, arms outstretched.
“Uncle Efraim! It’s so good to see you!” Deftly extricating herself from the Cartwrights, she held out her arms to Efraim Zelner, who embraced her and then stood at arm’s length, appraising her.
“My dear, you look more beautiful than ever,” he said. “And how is Henry?”
“Henry is marvelous,” she replied. “He has three new students, and he’s as happy as I’ve ever seen him.”
“Wouldn’t it have been wonderful if he could have come with you.” It was less of a question than an a musing.
“Wonderful, but quite impossible,” Anna agreed. “Uncle Efraim, have you met the Cartwrights?”
The men all agreed that they had met. “Well, my dear, we must be going,” Zelner said, offering her his arm. The fact that she took it was not lost on any of the Cartwrights.
“Ma’am? Where would you like your luggage?” Hoss asked.
“I’m so sorry. Uncle Efraim, where am I staying?”
“There’s a little house, not far from here. I’ve arranged for you to lease it until we find you a place of your own. Hoss, you know the Palmer place, don’t you?”
“I sure do. Ma’am, I’ll get your luggage down to the house for you lickety-split.”
Anna smiled at him-a smile of gratitude rather than amusement. “Thank you so much, Mr. Cartwright,” she said, reaching for his hand with her free one.
Hoss took her hand. “It’s my pleasure, ma’am.”
As Anna and Zelner walked up the street, Joe mimicked, “‘It’s my pleasure, ma’am.’ Can you believe that?”
“Believe what?” Adam said grumpily.
“Believe that she’s with Efraim Zelner!”
Hoss’ brow furrowed. “Joe, she called him ‘Uncle Efraim.’ That don’t seem to me like she’s with him like you mean.”
Joe shook his head. “Big Brother, let me explain something about women. She comes into town and she doesn’t know anybody. She’s not going to tell them the truth about Zelner. If he really was her uncle, why wouldn’t she be staying with him? Look at him-he’s older than Pa, and she’s young and beautiful. They’re going to pretend there’s nothing going on until the ring is on her finger.”
“And why are you all het up about it?”
“Didn’t you see her? What is a beautiful woman like that doing with an old coot like him? What she needs is a dashing young man to sweep her off her feet, not some doddering old lawyer who spends every night reading his law books until he falls asleep.”
“And do I presume that you believe you’re the one for the job?” asked Adam archly.
“I do believe I am, Older Brother,” replied Joe smugly.
“Well, I guess we’ll see about that,” said Adam.
“But what about Henry?” asked Hoss?
“Who?” Adam and Joe turned to him.
“Zelner asked her about Henry. Who’s Henry?”
“Somebody who ain’t here,” said Joe.
* * * * * * * * * *
The next morning, a pudgy young man, about Adam Cartwright’s age, tapped on the door of Zelner’s law office. “Good morning,” he said, smiling genially. Sunlight glinted off his thinning, slicked-back hair. His complexion was so ruddy that he appeared to have applied face paint. The buttons of his suitcoat strained at the buttonholes over his round stomach.
Anna looked up from the stacks of documents she was sorting. Her desk was in the front room of the office; her uncle’s desk was in the larger room at the back. “Good morning,” she replied, rising. “May I help you?”
The man’s smile widened. “Miss Simmons, I presume?”
“And whom do I have the pleasure of addressing?”
“Ralph Widmark, at your service, miss,” he said, bowing low. He extended his hand, but when Anna reached out to shake it, he swiftly brought her hand to his lips and planted a wet kiss on it.
“How do you do, Mr. Widmark,” said Anna, withdrawing her hand and subtly wiping it on her skirt. She was not going to ask what she could do for him; she had a feeling that she already knew.
“It’s a delight to welcome such a comely member of the profession to our fair city,” said Widmark.
This, Anna knew, was her cue to inquire into Widmark’s profession and to express surprise at the coincidence of his also being an attorney, but she simply smiled. “You’re too kind,” she said, resuming her seat without inviting her visitor to do the same. Her uncle had already told her all about Widmark. Young, inept, hugely self-impressed and fiercely ambitious, he was the prototype of the lawyer who would do anything to win a case. Zelner had had cases against him, and he had been annoyed, but unimpressed, with the younger attorney’s tactics, which had included staging a fight on the street so that the sheriff and the doctor, both necessary witnesses, would be unavailable to testify at various times. Widmark had attempted unsuccessfully to use the delay to convince Zelner that it would be in everyone’s best interests if the matter were to be settled, rather than sending it to the jury. When the jury came back in favor of Zelner’s client, Widmark had stormed out of the courtroom without so much as a pretense of civility.
“I look forward to becoming better acquainted with you while you’re here,” said Widmark.
“I’ll be working very closely with Mr. Zelner, so I’m certain that we’ll see a fair bit of each other,” Anna replied. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I do have some matters which require my attention.”
Widmark tipped his hat. “Of course,” he said smoothly. “I have a great many urgent matters on my own desk, but I did want to come and welcome our newest lawyer to Virginia City. If I may be of service in any way, please do not hesitate to send for me.”
“Thank you, Mr. Widmark,” said Anna, dismissal clear in her voice. She held his gaze, saying nothing more. Finally, he looked away, tipped his hat again, and left.
No sooner had Widmark left than a young boy entered the office. “Are you Miss Simmons?” he asked.
Anna sighed inwardly. Perhaps they should have sold tickets to her first day as a lawyer in this town. “I am,” she replied. “And who are you?”
“I’m Jacob,” he said. “I have a message for you from Mr. Cartwright.”
She smiled. She had expected as much. At least this was more interesting than someone coming in merely to gawk at the lady lawyer. “Which Mr. Cartwright would that be, Jacob?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” the boy said. “They was all together. Mr. Adam gave me the note, though.”
“I see.” Anna opened the note as the boy watched. She read it, pondered it, and sat down at her desk to write something on it. When she had finished, she fished her in purse and found a nickel, which she handed to the boy with the note.
“Jacob, would you be good enough to deliver this to Mr. Cartwright?” she requested with her most dazzling smile.
“Yes’m, I surely would,” Jacob said, his attention torn between the smile and the nickel. “But-which Mr. Cartwright, ma’am?”
Anna considered the question. “The one who gave you the note for me,” she decided. As Jacob ran from the office, she resumed sorting documents. A few minutes later, when Zelner returned, she said, “Guess what, Uncle Efraim. We’ve been invited to dinner at the Ponderosa tonight.”
Zelner grinned. “What the devil took them so long?”
* * * * * * * * * *
As soon as the buggy had arrived in the Cartwrights’ yard, Adam and Joe were there to greet them. Zelner was amused to see the two men subtly jostling for position. Ben and Hoss came outside as the other two tried to outdo each other in helping Anna down from the carriage as if she’d never gotten out of one before.
“Efraim, how are you?” Ben greeted his guest warmly. Hoss shook the lawyer’s hand, and Zelner smiled.
“It looks as if the others are well-occupied with my niece,” he said.
“Your niece?” repeated Hoss.
“Well, my niece by affection,” said Zelner. “Her father and I were close friends in law school. I was the best man when Norman married Anna’s mother. Two of the most strikingly attractive people I have ever seen, and look what a beautiful daughter they had.”
“She is quite lovely,” Ben agreed. “And it appears that she’s already made some conquests here.”
“Hopefully, that will pass,” said Zelner. Ben and Hoss exchanged puzzled glances, but the lawyer changed the subject. “Ben, is that the mare you bought from Wickham last month?” He gestured with his walking stick toward the corral.
“It is,” Ben said proudly. He’d gotten the palomino for an excellent price, and her bloodlines were superb.
“Ain’t she a beauty?” Hoss said. He petted the horse’s neck. “She’s gonna produce some of the finest horseflesh this ranch has ever seen.”
“Do you have a stallion in mind?” asked Zelner.
“Several,” said Ben. “At the moment, we’re leaning toward one that Hoss found in Texas last September. The horse didn’t look like much when he brought him home, but Hoss nursed him all winter, and he’s a magnificent specimen now.”
“You nursed him all winter?” The men had not heard Anna approach, her suitors behind her. “Why did you do that?”
“Because he needed it,” Hoss said simply. “I knew when I saw him that he was special, but he’d been treated kinda harsh, and it just took a little work to make him see what a fine horse he is.”
“Hoss has always been one for bringing home strays,” Adam interjected. “You should see the barn in the fall, after he’s had all summer to find them. Remember the raccoon with the broken paw?”
“Only Hoss would try to splint a raccoon’s foot,” said Joe.
“But he did do it,” Ben pointed out.
“How did you do it without being bitten?” asked Anna.
“You just have to be real gentle, and let ’em know you’re not gonna hurt ’em,” Hoss said. “You just hold the leg right, and-”
“We don’t actually need a lesson in how to do it,” said Adam.
Hoss blushed. “Sorry,” he mumbled. He stepped aside as Adam wrapped Anna’s hand around his arm and escorted her into the house, followed closely by a fuming Little Joe.
Conversation over dinner was lively. Joe and Adam were seated on either side of Anna, and each did his best to attract the lady’s attention, much to the amusement of Ben and Zelner.
“So, what brings to Virginia City?” asked Adam of Anna.
“I came to work for Uncle Efraim,” she said.
“You came all the way from Chicago to work in a lawyer’s office?” said Joe.
“He was the only lawyer I knew who would hire me.”
“But why did you want to work for a lawyer?” Adam asked.
“Because I am a lawyer,” Anna replied.
“You’re a lawyer?” Joe was incredulous.
“That’s what I said.”
“Well, I know, but-”
“But what?” Anna barely showed how much she was enjoying his discomfort. Zelner made no effort to disguise his amusement.
“Well-you’re a lady!”
“No, I mean-”
“What do you mean?”
“Well-ladies can’t be lawyers!”
Zelner burst out laughing, and the other men followed suit, if less enthusiastically.
“Why not?” asked Anna innocently, eyes wide and dimples flashing.
“I think that what my little brother is trying to say is that it’s an unexpected choice for women from this area. However, I think that a woman who is intellectually gifted would find the practice of law to be most interesting, and if she wishes to do it, she should do so.” Adam sat back, clearly pleased with his speech.
“How gracious of you,” Anna said. It occurred to Adam to wonder if he was being mocked, but her eyes were innocent with just a hint of a sparkle.
“Anna has one of the best legal minds I have ever encountered,” said Zelner. “Her father was one of the most brilliant jurists of his generation. Perhaps you have heard of Norman Simmons? No? Well, you missed a great deal. Norman once defended a Negro man on a murder charge. The jury was out for nearly three days.”
“Did he win?” asked Hoss.
“Sadly, no,” said Zelner. “But there was a certain victory in the fact that he kept a jury of twelve white men out that long, deliberating. That jury had to work powerfully hard to convict that man.”
“Did you get to watch your pa in court?” asked Hoss.
Anna shook her head. “Not in that case,” she said. “Daddy wouldn’t permit it.”
Zelner chimed in, “It wasn’t a case that was properly heard by a lady. I was there, though, and Norman was brilliant.”
“He did let me prepare documents, though, so I did know what the case was about,” Anna pointed out.
“He let you do what?” Zelner was shocked.
“He never told you?” Anna countered. “My father treated me like a lawyer,” she explained to the Cartwrights. “He couldn’t have me in court with him for that case, but he never treated me as less of a professional than he was.”
“Have you attended law school?” asked Adam.
“Regretfully, no,” Anna admitted. “Nearly everything that I know about the law, I learned from working for my father. Since he’s gone, I expect to learn a great deal more working with Uncle Efraim. And now,” she added brightly, “I hope to practice law here in Virginia City.”
“But why?” blurted Joe.
“I’m sorry, I don’t understand the question,” Anna said.
“Why would you want to practice law? Don’t you want to get married and have children?”
Zelner had recovered from his shock and was again enjoying himself. “Yes, my dear, don’t you want to marry and have children?”
“Of course,” she smiled, batting her eyelashes at Little Joe. “But who says I can’t do it all?”
“Not I,” said Adam, leaping gallantly into the abyss left by his youngest brother, who was stunned into silence.
“Nor I,” said Ben.
“Miss Anna, if you want to be a lawyer, you should just go right ahead,” Hoss said. “I reckon you’ll be the best lawyer this town’s ever seen-after your uncle, of course.”
On the trip back to town, Anna and Zelner laughed aloud about Joe’s reaction. “My dear, you must realize that young Joe Cartwright represents the rule around here, not the exception,” warned Zelner. “Your desire to work for me and to practice law is not likely to be embraced by the good people of Virginia City.”
“Perhaps not,” said Anna. “But I have at least three Cartwrights who think that I should be able to do this.”
“And I feel quite certain that you’ll easily convince the fourth,” Zelner said. “He already appears to be quite smitten with you.”
“Blond hair and blue eyes can get a woman very far,” Anna said. “But this time, I’m looking for much more than a pretty face and a smooth line.”
* * * * * * * * * *
The next morning, as Anna reviewed a bill of sale, Jacob came into the office. “Good morning, ma’am,” he said.
“Good morning, Jacob,” Anna said. “What can I do for you today?”
“Mr. Cartwright sent these,” said Jacob, drawing a bouquet out from behind his back.
“How lovely,” she said, taking the flowers. “And which Mr. Cartwright was this?”
Jacob thought for a second. “Little Joe,” he said finally. “He wrote a note, too.” The boy dug in his pocket, withdrawing a crumpled piece of paper. “I wasn’t supposed to mess it up,” he said, trying to smooth it out on the desk.
Anna took the note. “We just won’t tell him, and next time, you won’t put it in your pocket,” she said. Jacob looked relieved. She unfolded the note. “My dear Miss Simmons-Please accept this paltry offering as a token of my deep apologies for last night. I have nothing but the highest regard for the legal profession, and I apologize if you felt that I was questioning your ability to practice law. Would you do me the honor of joining me for dinner tonight so that I may continue to express my deep regret for my gauche comments? Joe Cartwright.” Anna smiled. The man was nothing if not persistent. She took a sheet of paper, wrote her response, and handed it to Jacob with another nickel.
It was late afternoon when a man appeared in the doorway. Anna looked up, unsurprised, from the deed she was evaluating.
“Are you still upset with me?” asked Joe.
“Not at all,” Anna said.
“Then why won’t you have dinner with me?”
Because you’re too pretty and too charming and too accustomed to getting your own way, and I’ve already been down that road. “Because I’d like to spend some time unpacking and putting my house in order,” she said.
“I’d be happy to assist you,” he offered. “I’m very good at opening boxes.”
“I’m sure you are, but I must decline your kind offer,” she said firmly.
“I’m also quite good at hanging pictures and putting china away,” he persisted.
Anna laid down the deed in her hand. “Mr. Cartwright-”
“-Joe, I thank you for your offer, but I have said ‘no.'” There was nothing flirtatious in her eyes or her voice. She was calm and polite, but she was not inviting further discussion.
“I apologize for disturbing you, ma’am,” he said. He was barely out the door before her attention was refocused on the deed.
* * * * * * * * * *
“What’s with you, Little Brother?” Hoss asked when Joe missed his third opportunity to jump Hoss’ king.
“Zelner’s niece is something else,” Joe said.
“Didn’t succumb to the Joe Cartwright charm, did she?” said Adam as he tuned his guitar.
“Not yet,” said Joe defensively. “It’s just a matter of time, though.”
“Well, Little Brother, you weren’t terribly supportive of her career plans,” Adam pointed out.
“Just because I don’t lie as well as you do doesn’t mean that I wasn’t supportive,” said Joe. “You know perfectly well that you wouldn’t want your wife being a lawyer. I was just honest enough to say so.”
“That honesty may have cost you the wife,” Adam smiled.
“You think that’s really what she wants?” asked Hoss.
“Well, she seems to feel strongly about it,” said Ben. “In my experience, if a woman feels strongly enough about doing something, the man who gets in her way isn’t going to be happy for very long.” All three of his sons turned to him, startled. “Adam, your mother worked in her father’s ship’s chandler before you were born, and she quite enjoyed it. In fact, she wasn’t all that happy when she had to stop, as much as she wanted to be a mother. And Hoss, you remember how your mother held up an entire wagon train because she was helping one of the mares deliver a foal, and no one was going anywhere until she was satisfied that all was well. And Joseph, your mother was a whirlwind, managing the kitchen and the books and all the business end of the Ponderosa so that Adam and I could be out with the cattle and the men-and all while taking care of a house, a husband and three sons. So, I suggest that you three might want to reconsider the idea that a woman cannot have a profession and a family.”
Hoss and Joe returned to their game, and Adam began to strum softly. “But-can women even be lawyers?” asked Joe finally.
“Anna Simmons appears to think so,” Ben replied. “I don’t know what the law says about it-but I’d be willing to bet that she does.”
“Y’know, I’ll bet she’d be good at it,” said Hoss. “I don’t rightly know what they do besides go to court, but somethin’ tells me that you wouldn’t want t’fight that little gal.”
“Amen to that,” said Joe glumly, and Hoss jumped three of his pieces.
* * * * * * * * * *
The next morning, Anna was in Zelner’s office, sifting through disorganized stacks of documents on his desk, when she looked up to see Hoss Cartwright in the doorway. “Where’s Jacob?” she inquired.
“I thought he was the Cartwright family messenger,” she said.
“No, ma’am, but he did ask if I had a note for you,” Hoss said. “He seems to like coming here.”
“I think he likes the tips,” Anna said. “So, Mr. Cartwright, what can I do for you?” She sat back in Zelner’s chair expectantly.
“Y’know, ma’am, when you do that, you look just like you belong there,” Hoss said.
“That may be the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me,” Anna said. “Please, won’t you have a seat?”
“I can’t stay, ma’am,” said Hoss. “I just wanted to let you know that Joe really is sorry about the other night. He felt powerful bad about the notion that you might think that he didn’t think you should be a lawyer.”
Anna considered this. “And why are you here saying that instead of him?” she asked.
“He don’t know I’m here,” Hoss said. “I’m just tryin’ to help.”
“That’s very sweet of you,” Anna said.
“Well, he’s my little brother,” said Hoss.
“And is that what you do for little brothers?”
“I never had any brothers or sisters. I don’t know how it works. If I had a sister, would she be expected to approach a man for me and tell him how I felt?”
“Oh, no, ma’am. It’s different for a woman.”
“Why is that?”
Hoss considered the question. “I don’t know,” he said finally. “It just is. Now, if you had a brother, he might go and talk to the man for you, but your sister prob’ly wouldn’t. I guess it’s just the way things go out here. People are used to things bein’ a certain way, and it takes them some time to get used to change.”
“What if I had a friend? Could he do that?”
“A friend? You mean like your uncle?”
“Maybe. Or maybe like my friend back home. He’d talk to a man for me if I wanted.”
“You mean this man would go to another man and tell him that you liked him? Why wouldn’t he just keep you for hisself?”
Anna smiled. “You don’t know Henry,” she said. “Henry is my best friend, but we’ve never been-like that. He’s the closest thing to a brother I’ve had, and we’re closer than many brothers and sisters. I truly think that I could tell him anything, and he wouldn’t judge me or criticize me.”
“That’s a special kind of friend to have, all right,” Hoss said. “My brothers are like that for me. They get ornery, and we fight sometimes, but in the end, I always know they’re gonna be there for me, and I’ll be there for them.”
“What would happen if you all wanted the same thing?”
“It’d depend on what it was, I reckon.”
“What if you all wanted the same girl?”
“Well, that’d prob’ly be easy,” Hoss said. “Little Joe, now he’s a smooth talker. The girls in town just fall over when he comes by. You should see him at the dances. He’s a mighty fine dancer, and they’re just about lined up for him. So I reckon he’d prob’ly be the one to get the girl.”
“What about Adam?”
“Well, Older Brother likes different type of girl. He’s more likely to have the ones who want to read and talk about poetry and listen to music. He’s got a guitar, and many’s the night he’s gone courting with that. Does almost as well as Little Joe with it.”
“And what about you?”
Hoss blushed. “I’m not like them,” he said. “Most of the girls around here ain’t lookin’ for a big galoot like me. They’re lookin’ for men like Adam and Little Joe-the kind who can take ’em and show ’em the moonlight and talk purty to ’em. I ain’t much on sweet talkin’. I’m just a plain-spoken sort. I get my hands dirty when I work, an’ I ain’t much on books. That don’t set all that well with the gals who are lookin’ for a fancy life.”
“The fancy life isn’t all that much to look for,” Anna said. “I had it. And now I’m here.”
“If you don’t mind my askin’, ma’am-why did you leave Chicago?”
“I told you-to work for Uncle Efraim.”
“I know that’s what you said, ma’am. But weren’t there any other lawyers in Chicago you could have worked for so that you could have stayed at home?”
“There probably were,” Anna admitted. “My father had some colleagues who would have hired me, I imagine. But I wanted to leave Chicago.”
“Even without your friend?”
“Even without Henry. Of course, he was the one who told me that I should go.”
“He wanted you to leave him?”
“He wanted me to have an adventure,” Anna said. “You’d have to understand. Henry wasn’t just my best friend. He was my only real friend. I spent time with the other girls, but Henry was the only person, other than my father, whom I could really talk to. Neither one of us fit in with the other children when we were growing up, but we fit with each other. We always planned that someday, we would go and have adventures. We planned to go to Europe, and to Africa, and even to China. We’d read stories about these places, and we’d plan journeys and map out routes and work out the details.”
“But you never went?”
Anna shook her head. “Henry-isn’t able to travel. And I made the mistake of marrying quite young, and my husband had no interest in anything that couldn’t be entered in a ledger or found on the society page. So, I stayed, and Henry and I would have tea and plan our adventures, and my husband would snicker at us and say that we should grow up.”
“I’m sorry, ma’am-I didn’t realize that you were married.”
“I’m so sorry, ma’am. When did he pass?”
“He hasn’t, as far as I know. He’s still living in Chicago. He disapproved of my wanting to be a lawyer. So, while I was learning the law in my father’s offices, he took up with the organist at our church. Fortunately for him, she came from money. So, he left me and married her, and now he’s almost wealthy enough to make up for the fact he can’t stand his wife. And I have Henry and Uncle Efraim, and for the moment, that’s quite enough.”
Hoss was stunned at Anna’s matter-of-fact delivery of the story of her life. “Ma’am, I am so sorry, I did not mean to pry into your private life.”
“You didn’t pry. I didn’t tell you anything that I didn’t choose to. You’re very easy to talk to, Hoss Cartwright. Has anyone ever told you that?”
“Yes’m, they have,” Hoss said. “Seems like sooner or later, ever’body tells me their stories.”
“Whom do you tell your stories to?”
“My horse,” Hoss chuckled. “My brothers. Sometimes my pa. But mainly the critters I tend. They’re good listeners, and they don’t laugh.”
“What do you tell them that would make them laugh?”
“Oh, things I think about sometimes,” said Hoss. “Dreams, mebbe.”
Hoss blushed. “I should get goin’,” he said.
“You won’t talk to me? After I told you all about Henry and my marriage? Come on now. You owe me at least one story after all that.”
“All right, jes’ one, but I can’t go longer, ‘cuz Little Joe’s waiting to hear what you said. He’ll think I was in here courtin’ you for m’self if’n I’m not back soon.”
“Then you have to make it a good one, if I only get one.”
“Lessee. Little Joe’s ma died when I was eleven-”
“-Little Joe’s ma?”
“Yes’m. See, Pa married my ma when he was on his way west with Adam, after Adam’s ma died. I was born on the trip west, and my ma died before we got to Nevada. I was just a baby, and I never knew her, even though Pa tells stories about her. When I was about three or four, he went to New Orleans on business and came back with a new wife. She was the purtiest thing I ever seen, and so sweet. She treated me jes’ like I was her own, me and Adam both. I was about six when Little Joe was born. She died when I was eleven. She was the only ma I ever knew. I used to wonder how my pa won a lady like that. Not that he ain’t handsome or smart, but she was so-so beautiful, and full of life and laughter, and jes’ made ever’thing better by being there. After she died, I used to wonder if I might be able to find someone like her someday.”
“And did you?”
Hoss shook his head. “I reckon God only makes one of each of us. But I was lucky, ‘cuz I got to live with her, even if it was just for a little while. I wish you could have met her. I think you’d have liked her.”
“I think I would have, too,” Anna said. “I suppose you’d better get back to Little Joe now and report in.” She smiled. “Just tell me one thing. If he didn’t know you came, why is he waiting to hear what I said?”
Hoss flushed. “Dang, I messed up,” he said. “You weren’t supposed to know that he knew I was here.”
“Why didn’t he come himself?”
“He thinks you don’t like him,” Hoss admitted.
“Why would he think that?”
“Because of what he said about bein’ a lawyer and having a family.”
“But that has nothing to do with whether I like him. He’s entitled to his opinions, same as anyone else. And I’m entitled to disagree with him. You can like someone and still disagree with him. My father always said that if two people agree on everything, one of them isn’t necessary.”
“So, does that mean that you like him?”
Anna laughed. “Tell him the jury’s still out.”
* * * * * * * * * *
When the next day passed without a visit from any Cartwright or Cartwright emissary, Anna was mildly surprised. It occurred to her to wonder if Hoss had relayed her stories to his brothers and their ardor had been dampened, but she rejected this notion as soon as it surfaced. Hoss wasn’t the type to blurt out confidences; of that she was certain. Still, the fact that she’d been married and offloaded could be something that he would feel his brothers ought to know before courting her. It was the type of thing that might make a difference to a man.
When she arrived at the office the next morning, however, there was a vase of flowers by the door. She looked around for Jacob, but he was nowhere in sight. She unlocked the door and took the vase inside. A note was nestled among the flowers. Her beauty and intelligence were proclaimed in mediocre poetry which was, apparently, an Adam Cartwright original. Ah, well. She’d never heard it said that poetry writing was a reliable barometer of a man’s character. To the contrary, Seth had been an excellent poet. She checked to be certain that the flowers had adequate water, set them on the table, and opened a file about a border dispute.
An hour later, Jacob came trotting into the office. “Don’t you have to go to school?” asked Anna.
“I sneak out,” Jacob announced proudly. “I can make more money if I’m out of school.”
“And you think that that’s a good thing?”
“Well-Ma’s been sick, and Pa works over at the livery stable, but her medicine costs a lot. Doc Martin don’t make Pa pay right away, but he’s gotta pay sometime. I heard ’em talkin’. So, I skip school and take stuff to people, and I can make money to help.”
Anna’s face burned with shame at her presumption. “You’re right,” she said. “It sounds as if you’re a big help to your parents. But you still need to get your schooling. So, we’ll do this fast, and then you can get back in time for some of your lessons. What do you have for me today?”
“Mr. Cartwright sent this.” Jacob produced another note and a small box.
Anna didn’t bother asking which Mr. Cartwright. She opened the box and saw four small, exquisitely molded chocolates nestled inside. She beckoned for Jacob to draw closer, and his eyes grew wide when he saw the candies.
“This is going to be a big secret,” she whispered.
“Okay,” he breathed.
“Really. If you tell anyone, I’ll say you’re a big fat liar, and you won’t get to deliver any more notes for the Cartwrights. Cross your heart and hope to die you won’t tell?”
“Cross my heart and hope to die.”
Anna held out the box. “Pick one.”
“For your ma. So she’ll feel better.” Jacob surveyed the chocolates for several minutes before he selected one. Anna wrapped it in her handkerchief.
“Now, you stop on the way to school and give it to her so it doesn’t melt before you get home,” she said.
“Oh, and Jacob?”
“Pick one more for yourself. And then hurry up so you can get to school.”
After Jacob had left with his chocolates and his nickel, Anna opened the note. Joe Cartwright. She wondered what he would think if he knew that half his chocolates had gone to the messenger boy. He would probably not be thrilled.
That afternoon, Jacob brought her more flowers. This time, Zelner was in the office. After the boy had left, Zelner looked quizzically at Anna.
“The Cartwrights are having a competition,” she said. She opened the note. Adam again. At least it wasn’t poetry this time.
“You could do worse,” Zelner commented.
“I beg your pardon?”
“They’re good men, all of them,” Zelner said. “I’ve known them since they came to this area. Ben’s a fine man, and he’s done an excellent job raising his sons. They’re all fine, upstanding young men, and they’re handsome and well-to-do. You’d do well with any of them.”
“And how many of them do you think would be happy to have their wives working in your law office?”
“You must have it all, musn’t you?” Zelner mused. “You’ve always been that way, ever since you were little. You and Henry, planning all your adventures. How is Henry? Have you heard from him?”
“Not yet, but I have only just arrived,” said Anna. “Besides, I get enough mail from the Cartwrights to keep me well occupied. What do you suppose would happen if I were actually to choose one of them?”
“I expect that the others would be quite put out for about five minutes,” said Zelner. “They’re a very close family, and in the end, all they want is the other’s happiness. You really can’t go wrong, no matter which one you choose.”
“Really? And how do you suppose they would feel if I were to choose their father? After all, he’s available, isn’t he?”
Zelner laughed. “You do love to create a scene,” he mused. “That would be interesting-being stepmother to your suitors.”
“Especially when at least one of them is older than I am,” Anna pointed out. “I know that Adam is older, and I suspect that Hoss is about my age. How odd would that be, to have sons older than their mother?”
“Very,” pronounced Zelner. “Perhaps you should reconsider that notion.”
“Why? Do you think that they would be upset if I were to inherit the Ponderosa?” The thought caused them both to double over in laughter.
“What on earth would you do with a ranch?” Zelner gasped between guffaws.
“Milk a cow?” Anna wiped her eyes.
“With your delicate little city hands? Face facts, my dear. There are people who are only fit to sit in an office, and we are they.”
Anna caught her breath. “You know, sometimes I think that it might not be so bad to have a little bit of land,” she admitted.
“You have a little bit of land,” Zelner said. “It’s called your front yard. Believe me, that’s enough land for you.”
“Well, I would like very much to see some of the countryside around here,” Anna said. “Do you suppose that I could persuade one of the Cartwrights to take me for a drive sometime?”
“I’m sure that could be arranged, ma’am.” Anna and Zelner both jumped; neither had heard Hoss enter the office.
“You’re too kind, Mr. Cartwright, but I was simply being silly,” said Anna, recovering her poise. “I couldn’t dream of taking you away from your obligations at the ranch simply to drive me around.”
“Not at all, ma’am, I’d be happy to do it if’n you could wait ’til Sunday,” Hoss said. “I’ve got a mess of chores between now and then, but I’d be obliged if you’d let me take you out for a drive after church.”
Anna was touched. “I’d like that very much,” she said. “But won’t your brothers mind?”
Hoss considered this for a moment. “Frankly, ma’am, I don’t reckon they really need to know, do you?”
Anna smiled broadly. “I don’t reckon they do, at that.”
* * * * * * * * * *
As Anna and Zelner exited the church on Sunday, Adam and Joe jockeyed for position beside her. “Good morning, gentlemen,” she said smoothly, smiling impartially at each of them. “Good morning, Mr. Cartwright,” she added over her shoulder to Ben.
“Good morning, Miss Simmons,” Ben said. “And how are you settling in?”
“Just fine, thank you,” she said. “I’ve had a few people come to the office to gawk at the lady lawyer, but mostly, everyone’s been quite pleasant.”
“Have you had the opportunity to get out of the office?” inquired Adam.
“Not all that much, no,” Anna replied.
“Perhaps a drive in the countryside would be enjoyable,” Adam said.
“That’s a lovely suggestion,” Anna said. She saw Hoss driving up in the buggy. “I believe I will do precisely that. Uncle Efraim, I will be home later.” She stepped to the edge of the sidewalk as Hoss drove up.
“Miss Anna, you jes’ wait a minute, I’ll be right there.” He jumped down from the seat and, with surprising deftness, assisted her into the carriage before resuming his seat. “See you later, Pa,” he called as they drove off.
Adam and Joe stood, open-mouthed. Finally, they looked at each other. “What just happened?” Joe asked finally.
“I think our brother may have gotten the jump on us,” Adam said.
“Well, not for long, he ain’t,” said Joe.
Ben placed a restraining hand on Joe’s arm. “Let them go,” he said. “They’re going out for a drive, and neither one of you will disturb them. I mean it,” he added, seeing the look that his sons exchanged.
* * * * * * * * * *
“This place is unbelievably beautiful,” said Anna. Hoss had spread a blanket on the ground just a few yards from the edge of the lake, and the picnic that Hop Sing had prepared was arranged between them.
“I reckon it’s jest about the purtiest place in the world,” Hoss said. “Not that I’ve seen that much of the world, but I can’t figger anyplace purtier than this.”
“I’ve seen some of the world, and I agree with you,” Anna said. The sunlight sparkled on incredibly blue water, almost blinding in its brightness. Ponderosa pines reached up, straight and tall, as if they would shortly touch heaven. Different birds sang different songs, all mixed together, as the waves lapped at the shore and the breeze rustled the branches. She could not recall ever being in a more peaceful, more beautiful spot.
“Where have you gone?” Hoss handed her glass of sweet tea.
“My husband enjoyed traveling, so we spent a fair time away from home,” she said. “He was never much for staying in one place. We went to Boston and New York, Washington and Charleston, and rounded back through Atlanta and New Orleans before we got back to Chicago. And that was all in the space of a handful of months.”
“New Orleans? Little Joe’ll be mighty jealous,” Hoss said. “His ma was from New Orleans. He ain’t never been there, but he always talks about goin’ someday.”
“It’s quite a place,” Anna said. “To be honest, though, it wasn’t for me. I’m not all that much on night life. I’d rather have a lovely, quiet evening with someone I enjoy talking to than loud music and raucous company. But don’t misunderstand me-many people think that it’s the finest city on earth, and I’m not saying that they’re wrong. I’m just saying that it’s not for everyone.”
“I ain’t never been back east,” Hoss said. “I been all the way to San Francisco, but I never seen the ocean on the other side. My pa used to sail out of Boston back before Adam was born, so he’s been all the way from one edge of the country to the other.”
“Did you ever want to go back east?’ Anna asked, spreading jam on a roll and handing it to Hoss.
“Not really,” Hoss admitted. “I hear it’s nice, but I don’t feel like I need to go there. ‘Sides, I ain’t never heard tell that they got purtier lakes than this one, so there ain’t much point in goin’.”
“Henry and I always talked about traveling overseas, just to see what was there and to meet all the different people,” Anna said.
“You’re mighty fond o’ Henry, ain’t you?”
“I am,” said Anna. “He’s like the brother I never had. He’s someone who would have enjoyed New Orleans. Too bad I couldn’t have sent him in my place. That might have worked out well for everyone.”
“Has he ever been there?”
Anna shook her head. “Henry is crippled,” she said. “He’s always been small, and his bones are sort of twisted. He can’t really walk, and he’s usually in pain. He might go a few steps with a walking stick and someone to hold onto, but he needs a wheelchair to travel any distance. He also tires easily. But, he has enormous dreams, and he’s one of the most intelligent people I’ve ever met. Even with his condition, he tutors, and his students always love him. They start off being afraid of him, and they end up thinking the world of him.”
“Ain’t there nothin’ they can do for him?”
“We used to write to doctors all over the place, asking. The answers were always the same: probably not, but you’ll have to come to our offices in Atlanta or Sacramento or wherever so that we can be certain. And while he’s brave as a bull for me, he couldn’t do that. He couldn’t travel that far for such a slim hope. And so, he sits in his room in Chicago, and a few gifted students enjoy the enormous privilege of studying with him, and that has to be enough.” She fell silent, her eyes clouded over. Hoss surprised himself by reaching over and placing a hand on hers. She looked up, startled.
“I’m sorry, ma’am, I didn’t mean to presume,” he said. He started to withdraw his hand, but she held it.
“No, you didn’t presume. Thank you. You’re very kind. You keep listening to my stories as if they were interesting.”
“They are,” Hoss protested. “I ain’t never known anybody like you. Around here, the gals all want to git married and have babies. I ain’t never known any gal who wanted to do nothin’ else.”
“The girls who want to get married and have babies are probably smarter than I,” Anna said. “I thought that that was what I wanted when I married Seth. It was definitely what he wanted. Even when we did all that traveling, on our honeymoon trip-Hoss, I was bored. I wanted to be doing something, not just being entertained. I think that, perhaps if I’d been doing something during the day, I might have enjoyed going out in the evening, but it wasn’t like that. Everything was about keeping him entertained, visiting these people or dining in that restaurant or attending this show or that party, until I wanted to scream. Everywhere we went, we seemed to be with the same people, saying the same things. It didn’t seem to matter to him that he was just skimming through the world, doing nothing to change it. I remember when we were in New York. We’d just gotten out of a carriage, and a young woman-she couldn’t have been any older than I-approached us, asking for money. She had three little children with her. She started to tell us that her husband had died and they were hungry, but Seth just brushed her off, grabbed my arm, and hustled me into a building. Hoss, my husband was able to see a hungry family and just walk away as if they meant nothing. As soon as we got inside, I gave the butler all the money I had and told him to take it out to the woman. He came back and told me that they were gone. I think that that was the first time I realized that my marriage was a mistake. How on earth I had married a man with no humanity, I’ll never know.”
“Miss Anna, I surely don’t mean to presume, but it don’t sound like he was good enough for you,” said Hoss. “D’you mind if I ask-why did you marry him? I’m sorry, that ain’t right. I shouldn’t’ve asked that.”
“No, it’s all right,” Anna said. “I’ve asked myself the same question a thousand times. Henry tried to tell me not to do it. I think it may be the only time in my life when I didn’t listen to him. I didn’t listen to my mother, either.”
“She said not to marry him?”
“Her advice on marriage was very simple. She always said, ‘Marry your best friend. If he’s not your best friend, don’t marry him.’ Seth wasn’t my best friend, but he was charming and suave and made me feel like the most beautiful woman in the world, and my stomach flipped over when he came into a room. I thought that was enough. I knew Seth wasn’t my best friend, but I figured that since Henry was, and I couldn’t marry him, it was enough to have the spark. Turns out, I was wrong.”
Hoss pondered this. “I ain’t never heard anyone put it the way your ma did, but it makes sense,” he said finally. “I come close to gettin’ married a few times, but it never took. Maybe they warn’t my best friends.”
“I think my mother oversimplified it a little,” Anna said. “I think you have to have the spark, too. Otherwise, I’d probably have tried to marry Henry at some point. But as much as I love him like a brother, there’s no spark. No magic. And if I were to get married, I’d want it all-a best friend who makes my stomach flip over and my heart beat faster.”
“If that’s what you want, then that’s what you should have,” Hoss pronounced. “Now, I think Hop Sing put some cake in here somewhere. D’you see it?” They bent their heads over the basket, looking for dessert.
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