Birthday Gift

 

by Linda B.


My thanks to the following people for their assistance in competing this story:

Kathy Eriksen - her never ending sources of information.

Barbara Peeling - her medical expertise of which I have none.

Michelle Killie - my chief editor and American linguist. 

Margie Johnson - for convincing me I could do this and all her encouragement.

Vicki Christian and Patricia Thompson-Dumas - whose epic masterpieces enticed me to start somewhere.

Pernell Roberts - for being the person that he is, because his performances in Bonanza encouraged me to write this.

Lorne Greene, Dan Blocker and Michael Landon - who may be gone but never forgotten.

The setting for this story is a few weeks after Adam was found by his father and brothers injured in the camp of Ruth Halverson, THE SAVAGE. It also explains how Adam became sick and nearly died in ELIZABETH, MY LOVE.

It is not necessary to have seen these episodes, but the story does interconnect with them.

Adam woke with a start, as he sat upright the sheets fell off his body to pool across the top of his thighs. After blinking a few times he chuckled to himself, the expression on his face changing from puzzlement to a big smile of delight as he remembered what day it was. This was the one day of the week that his father let he, and his two brothers, Hoss and Joe sleep in.

Adam saw the early morning sun shining through the windows and noticed it was the usual time he had to get out of bed. Even on Saturdays there was no avoiding waking up at the regular time. The only time he ever slept in was if he’d been out late on Friday night, which was rare.

Adam’s social life was limited, but by his own choice. He didn’t go out of his way not to go out but it wasn’t a big a deal to him like it was to his brother Joe. His little brother made sure that he was out every Friday night. 

Adam smiled to himself as he thought of what Joe’s head might be feeling like this morning. He’d heard him stumbling up the hallway to his room very late last night. Their father didn’t approve of excessive drinking but would usually turn a blind eye where his youngest son was concerned.

He flopped back onto the pillow and gave a big, loud yawn as he stretched. The hard muscles on his body rippled with movement as he extended his long arms and legs, then folded his hands under his head. “Saturday” he murmured to himself, gazing at the ceiling. He had decided last night that he would take a ride into Virginia City in the morning and call by the general store.

His friend Pete, the owner of the store, had sent a message to him to let him know he had a parcel from Boston waiting for him to collect. The only thing Adam could think it could be was some new books that he had on order. He smiled again to himself, his eyes twinkling with humor at the possibility of new books to read. Glancing over to the full bookshelf, he knew that most of the books stacked neatly on the shelf had been read, by himself, at least twice and some even more. He could tell his favorite by the rough spine, Paradise Lost, which had originally been his father’s. His mother, Elizabeth, had enjoyed reading the book as well. On her death the book had been kept for him, by his father, until such time as he could read it himself.

With his father’s full support, Adam was always trying to find ways to improve the productivity of the ranch and the books he’d ordered contained the latest agricultural information available. Pasture improvement being one of the latest to come under his scrutiny after he had read some articles in the newspapers his father received from Boston.

Windmills had been another, he remembered but that had never panned out. His trip to see them had been interrupted by circumstances. Adam quickly changed his train of thought, the windmills brought up too many unpleasant. memories. He didn’t want to dwell on them at the moment, for they involved his beloved Ruth. 

When Adam returned from college, his father had encouraged him to become involved in the running of the ranch. Ben knew that he had a quick mind and wanted his eldest son’s new ideas and input on the workings of the ranch. He encouraged the same from Hoss and Little Joe but it was Adam whom he relied on the most. Aside from the fact that Adam had always wanted to go back east to study, it had taken a lot of convincing by Marie, Ben’s third wife, before Ben had agreed. At the time Ben didn’t think that Adam was responsible enough to go east alone but he had shown his father, in the months preceding Marie’s death, that he could be trusted. When Marie died, Adam had taken over the responsibility of his brothers and the ranch because Ben had been devastated by her death. Adam had then taken two years before he finally went to college. 

Neither Hoss nor Joe envied Adam and his extra schooling, although Joe had missed his eldest brother while he had been away. When Adam did return the relationship between them had become strained. Adam still remembered his brother as Little Joe and tried to protect him as much as he could. Joe, on the other hand, wanted to be in control of his own life and resented Adam’s help.

Sitting up in bed, Adam thought he might as well get an early start. Reaching for his jeans, which he’d slung over the chair the night before, he slipped them on while still sitting on his bed. He ran his hand over his face and felt his chin. Stubble roughly scratched his hand and he decided that a shave would be a good idea as well as a bath and clean clothes. His shirt was left hanging over the chair, his father shouldn’t mind if he didn’t wear it to the breakfast table, after all he was going to take a bath straight after. He’d wait and see what happened. If his father insisted on a shirt then he’d put one on but if nothing were said he’d stay as he was. Adam smiled at the past lectures he and his brothers had received from their father on that subject. 

Ben Cartwright always insisted his three sons make themselves respectable at the dining table. Even after a hard day’s work he expected them to wash and tidy themselves before sitting down for their meals. Adam was no trouble. There had never been any problems in this regard because he had either Inger or Marie to check his hands and face as a young boy. Hoss and Little Joe were a different matter all together. Aside from slamming the front door when they came into the house, much to Ben’s annoyance, he had to remind them constantly to wash before every meal. Sadly neither woman had been able to spend much time to work with the boys on that matter. Hoss hadn’t known his mother and Joe too young to learn to have made a habit out of it before his mother had died in a riding accident. 

Adam padded to the door in his jeans and bare feet. He quietly opened the door, so as not to disturb the rest of his family. As he opened the door and stepped out into the corridor, he collided with his father, who had just come from his room on his way downstairs.

”Sorry Pa, you’re up early.”

”I’m sorry too son and so are you. Something going on today I should know about?” Ben questioned his son, giving him one of his piercing looks. He knew that Saturday was sleep in day for his family, and was surprised that Adam was up and about so early. Usually if Adam woke early, he’d spend most of the morning reading one of his favorite books in bed. 

Many a time he’d gone into Adam’s room and found him with his nose in a book, not bothering to even look out his window to see what the day was like. He was curious to know why today was different.

”No, just want to get into town early that’s all.” Adam said, giving one of his rare smiles to his father.

”Oh?” Ben asked, waiting for his son to explain himself.

”Yeah, my parcel from Boston has arrived, which I hope is those books I told you about.”

”Which ones were they again son?” asked Ben, as they walked down the hallway. Both men nearly the same height but Adam wider in the shoulders and chest.

”Pa. I told you about them last week - the new pasture improvements.”

”Oh that.”

”Yeah that.” said Adam getting a little annoyed. Trust his father not to be listening when he told him about the new grass seed.

”You weren’t listening when I told you about them were you?”

”Don’t get your feathers ruffled so early in the morning Adam, I’d just forgotten about them. 

Come to think of it now, didn’t I say I’d look at them when they arrived?”

”Yeah, sure.” grunted Adam, then instantly sorry he had. He knew how busy his father was and for him to remember a conversation from a few weeks ago was a little unreasonable. Although Adam had taken over a lot of the financial paperwork and kept an eye on the running of the ranch his father still had plenty to deal with each day.

Ben stopped walking. looked his son in the eye, hands on his hips. Adam could see his father’s anger and dropped his eyes to his feet.

”Adam,” the agitation showing in his voice “You know I’m always open to your suggestions regarding anything to do with the Ponderosa, so don’t get snappy with me.”

”Sorry Pa. I…”

Ben threw his arm across his eldest son’s shoulders. “Now son, let’s go down for some breakfast and I promise I will read the books and give it some good thought…once you’ve studied them too and worked out a plan of action, of course.

”But of course.” Adam said with a smile, relieved his father was back in a good mood. He never liked to anger his father and tried to maintain an even relationship with him. That had proved to be difficult for both of them in the past, both were as stubborn as each other. Ben knew which side of the family that trait came from.

Adam and Ben continued their way down the stairs, as always Hop Sing, their Chinese cook had breakfast ready and waiting for them.

”Did you tell Hop Sing what time we needed breakfast today Pa?”

”No.”

”How does he do that?” Said Adam, shaking his head in disbelief.

No matter what the time in the morning, breakfast was always ready for them.

Ben opened his mouth to tell Adam to put a shirt on. Suddenly he remembered that last night, while at dinner, Adam had asked Hop Sing to have a bath ready for him after breakfast. He knew Adam enjoyed his baths and held his comment back.

”Mr Adam, your bath water ready when you ready.”

”Thanks Hop Sing, I’ll just eat this and get my gear.” Said Adam as he sat down to a big plate full of eggs, bacon and toast. He started to quickly hoe into them. Ben watched his son eat and shook his head. Then he remembered why he wanted to speak to Adam this morning.

”Adam, while you’re in town could you stop by the telegraph office? There should be a message due in from San Francisco.”

”Sure Pa.” Said Adam, pushing himself from the table, having already finished his meal. He’d made light work of breakfast, keen to get a move on into town. He was already thinking ahead to what he needed to take to the bathroom when his father’s voice interrupted his thoughts.

”Adam, I know you’re eager to get to those books, but did you actually taste breakfast?” Joked Ben, a grin on his face.

Adam looked at his father and returned the grin with a slight smile. “Thanks Hop Sing, it was good.”

Adam turned, strode across the room and took the stairs two at a time. His bare feet treading silently on the stairs. For a big man Adam could move as silently as a cougar, thanks to his spare time as a youth, spent with the Paiute Indians. They’d taught him how to track, hunt and move the Indian way.

”Hop Sing, at least I can sit and enjoy breakfast.” It never ceased to amaze him how quickly his sons could eat. Adam not so bad as Hoss, but this morning was different. He smiled to himself as he thought of Hoss and his eating. Out of all his sons, he could really put away his food, not one helping but usually two or three. Many a time his brothers had sat back in awe of his appetite. If they had tried to eat the same amount of food they’d be sick.

Hop Sing looked at Ben, while he cleared Adam’s dishes away, “Thank you Mr Ben, today Mr. Adam like Hop Sing food, just like Mr Hoss.”

Ben laughed, then continued to eat his breakfast at a leisurely pace. As usual Hop Sing’s cooking was first rate. But then he’d been
part of the family for so long that he knew what food each man enjoyed.

Back in his room Adam began collecting his gear for his visit to the bathroom. Thanks to his years at college, Adam had become particular about bathing. He enjoyed bathing and the feel of clean, fresh clothes. On the ranch getting dirty was a way of life, but Adam tried his hardest to make sure he looked respectable. It was a habit which Hoss enjoyed joking him about.

As he left his room he stopped, carefully checking the hallway for any unexpected encounters, one collision was enough for one day. He knew that Joe wouldn’t be up at this hour after his late night and the only other person he was likely to run into was his big, younger brother Hoss. Running into Hoss would sit Adam on his backside.

Seeing the way clear, he stepped out of his room, his arms filled with what he needed for the day. He made his way to the water closet, a small smile just touching his lips.

Having sensed, rather than heard Adam walking down the stairs, Ben looked up from the newspaper he was reading in his favorite chair. As he watched him, he suddenly remembered that Adam’s birthday was next Saturday. His eldest son was a week short of thirty. He could still remember the day he was born back in Boston, as though it was yesterday. Elizabeth would be proud of him if she could see him now, fit and healthy. Elizabeth, My Love how he has grown into a fine man. I wish you were here to see him.

A bit too guarded with his feelings but that’s to be expected after all he’s had to endure as a young boy. He studied his son closely; noticing that his eyes were still without the light that used to shine so brightly in them.

With his shirt off, Ben could see Adam’s face and body were well tanned. Often times he’d stripped off his shirt, while working in the hot sun. His chest and shoulders were well muscled from the heavy work around the ranch and there wasn’t an ounce of fat on his body. It was an ongoing joke between Adam and Little Joe as to whose muscles were the biggest. 

Joe and Adam had told Hoss to stay out of the argument because his size meant he didn’t count. It wasn’t often Adam and Joe saw eye to eye; this had been a rare occasion. Ben smiled to himself as he watched Adam struggle to avoid dropping his clothes. 

Adam’s workload had been lightened due to his injured leg. His bruises and leg had healed and there was no sign of the limp, which he’d carried the past few weeks but Ben noticed that Adam would often look towards the mountains, his face sad and eyes haunted. The loss of Ruth had hit his eldest son hard  

He and Adam had had a fierce argument regarding Adams’ wish to leave the ranch at a busy time to see windmills. After finally realizing how important they were to Adam, and ultimately the ranch, Ben had agreed to his request. It had been on this trip to see the windmills, when Adam had found the love of his life in Ruth. From what he Hoss and Joe had slowly learned shortly into the journey, Adam heard a woman’s voice and climbed onto a ledge for a better view. He could see the woman, Ruth, being threatened by Shoshone braves. After being forced to kill one brave, he’d been shot with an arrow in the leg, by a second. Adam killed him, had overbalanced and fallen down the cliff face, further injuring himself on the head. Ruth rescued him, took him to her camp in the mountains and cared for his injuries.

The Shoshone had returned the two days later, desperately wanting Ruth, who was known to them as White Medicine Woman, to come to their village but by this time she and Adam had fallen in love. When he’d learned of her death, Adam had been overcome with guilt. There had been a way to escape the Shoshone, but for some reason, unbeknown to Ben, they had not left her camp when the opportunity arose. Ben asked for the reason from Adam but he had simply shaken his head and turned away, but not before he’d seen the pain in Adam’s eyes. Now she was dead and Adam was still blaming himself. Despite Ben and his two son’s efforts, they couldn’t ease Adam’s pain of the loss of her.

When they had found him, disoriented in Ruth’s camp, Adam had pleaded that he be able to go after her, but Ben had convinced him that to do so would put her in danger.

Instead Ben had asked his friend, Chief Winnemuca of the Paiute’s to find out any information about Ruth if he could. The Chief had returned with the bad news, that not many of the Shoshone had survived the epidemic that had swept their village. 

Many of the women and children had died, including a white woman. It was not certain whether it was Ruth or not because all the bodies had been buried as quickly as possible to avoid any further spread of the disease. There was no trace of her, and Adam was certain that if she was alive she would have come to him by now. He had told her of his father and brothers and where the ranch was. Wanting her to become comfortable with being part of his family and knowing that they would welcome her, as his wife, with open arms.

Ben was pleased to see him with a faint smile on his face. At least Adam’s mind was off Ruth, for a while. The books, which were the other love of his lie, created a pleasant distraction.

”Will you be staying in town tonight Adam?”

Adam stopped by his father’s chair. He leaned on the back, deep in thought. 

”Not sure yet Pa. I’ll see how things go. Did you want me to bring the telegraph home this evening or can it wait until tomorrow?”

”Tomorrow’s fine.” replied Ben

”Okay.” said Adam and left for the long awaited bath and shave.


********


Ben sat back, enjoying reading his paper in peace until he heard Hoss and Little Joe clattering down the stairs. As usual there was a familiar tone to their conversation. He enjoyed the teasing banter between his two younger sons, if only Adam would join in he’d be happier. He noticed that once again they were back discussing tonight’s dance. The same subject had come up last night at the dinner table.

”Joe, there is no way you’re gonna get past Mr Hanson to see Becky.” Hoss had seen Mr Hanson’s face after the last dance in which Little Joe had been involved in a ruckus. He wasn’t too happy about the association between Little Joe and his daughter continuing. His daughter’s reputation was nearly embarrassing after being with Joe Cartwright.

”Do you want to have a bet on that Hoss? How about $50?” Little Joe replied quickly, rising quickly to Hoss’ tease. Unbeknown to his older brother, Joe knew that Becky had been pestering her father into allowing them to go together to tonight’s dance. She had told him she was certain she’d won him over. Like most daughters they could wrap their father around their little finger when they wanted to. Joe had laughed when he heard her say that. He could do the same with his father if he really tried hard. He’d been able to do the same with his mother, Marie when she was still alive, much to his older brother’s annoyance.

”Joe, after last night you ain’t got $50.” Hoss declared. After Joe’s Friday nights in town, gambling and drinking in the saloons, Hoss knew Joe would always be short of money. There was no way he’d have $50 left; he wasn’t that good a poker player. He smiled to himself because neither was he. Adam, with his controlled expressions, was the best player amongst the Cartwright boys.

”Joseph, what’s that about a bet and last night? Have you been gambling in town again, even though I specifically told you not to? What time did you get in last night?” Ben raised his head from the paper and eyed his youngest son. He disliked his sons gambling, especially Joe. Adam could hold his own in a poker game because no one could tell whether he was bluffing or not. Hoss was too easily read and never bothered to play, Little Joe was another matter. He took too many chances and would loose his weekly salary in one night, if his older brothers let him.

”Mornin Pa.”

”Morning Hoss.”

”Er nothing Pa. Hoss thinks Mr Hanson won’t let me take Becky to the dance tonight.” Joe said quickly, trying to change the subject away from gambling. If his father had heard him come in late last night, there was a good chance he was in for a lecture this morning, even if it was Saturday. Sooner or later it would come out that he’d lost most of his money at the poker tables. He glanced around the room, searching for his older brother. Joe knew Adam was awake because he’d heard him and Ben talking at the table. Joe knew that he wouldn’t have woken Hoss up last night and if his father was asking what time he came in, then it was possible only Adam heard him. If anyone would get him into trouble it would be Adam, but he couldn’t see him anywhere. Hopefully he’d gone for the day and wouldn’t say anything to Pa.

”Have you asked Mr Hanson?” Ben knew that he hadn’t been off the ranch all week because of the roundup. He wanted to know what Joe would say.

Laughing out loud, Hoss replied for Little Joe, “No Pa, that’s the problem. Joe wants to take Becky, Becky wants to be with Joe but because of what happened at the dance last month Mr Hanson’s sure gonna say no for sure.”

”Well Joseph, you’d better ask Mr Hanson this morning hadn’t you? That way if he says no, Becky can still go to the dance with someone else. Somehow I don’t think he’d mind her going without you.” Ben watched his youngest son’s face fall, knowing full well from Adam and Hoss that Joe hadn’t started the fight but was caught up when a stray punch landed on his jaw. He’d thrown one back and got further involved, more than he wanted to.

”But Pa, it wasn’t my fault what happened at the last dance. Besides I don’t want her to go with anyone else. I really like Becky.” Out of all the girls in town, Joe enjoyed Becky’s company the most. Her face would light up whenever she smiled and she always laughed at his silly jokes.

”No buts Joseph - this morning and that’s final.”

Adam, who had walked into the end of the conversation said “Joe little buddy, you need your head read if you think Frank Hanson’s going to let you go out with Becky again.” He gave a small laugh. He’d been in the store when Hanson had found out about the fight at the previous dance. Hanson had ranted and raved, vowing never to let his daughter be seen in Joe’s company again.

Quickly turning on Adam, Joe snapped back. “You stay out of this Adam.” Irritated that Adam was amused by his problem with Becky’s father. 

Adam had warned him to be careful and stay on his best behavior, but the fight hadn’t been his fault last month. He hated when Adam was right and, of course, this was one of them.

Ben watched the exchange between his two sons, wondering how Adam would handle Joe. If he could get through this argument with his little brother, he was on the way to recovering from Ruth’s death. So far Adam had avoided any form of confrontation with his family, he didn’t want to loose control of his feelings. 

Hoss was about to step in to break them up when Ben quickly grabbed his sleeve, tugging to get his attention. When he gave his father a quick glance Ben shook his head.

”Sure Joe.’ Continued Adam, “What time will you be in town?”

”What do you want to know that for?” snapped Joe, still irritated by Adam and the line of questions. He wasn’t too sure whether Adam was going to say anything about the late night and that made him edgy.

”I’ll pass by Hanson’s store and pick you up off the street. Mind you I don’t think I’ll have much to pick up by the time Becky’s
Pa’s finished with you.” With the hint of a smile, Adam turned and started climbing the stairs.

”Where are you all fixed up so early to go Adam?”

”Just into town that’s all Hoss.” Adam said lightly over his shoulder.

”What? Now?” Hoss asked. He knew Adam liked early starts but to go into town this early meant that there was something Adam
was up to. He wondered what it was but knew his brother well enough to know he wouldn’t just come straight out and say what it
was. You had to pry to get Adam to open up, unless he wanted you to know. 

”Yes, I just wanted an early start so that I’d have some breakfast on my plate to eat. By the time you two get through there’s never anything left for anyone else.” Hoss gave Adam a huge smile, glad to see him sharing a joke. There had been very few light moments with his brother over the past weeks and he was as concerned about him as he knew his father was. Adam was always quiet and kept pretty much to himself but he had been more so lately. He wanted his old brother back, the one he could talk to late at night when he needed to. Adam had kept his door locked ever since he’d come home. Hoss hated locked doors.

Little Joe glared at his older brother. He could enjoy a joke with Hoss but when it was Adam who made the joke and he was right it made him mad. “That’s because we’ve been doing your share of work too Adam.” Joe began, still angry with him. 

Adam stopped halfway up the stairs. Ben could see Adam’s shoulders stiffen, his hands clenched into tight fists. Angrily Ben turned to Little Joe, trying desperately to warn him off from continuing .He couldn’t believe how Joe could be so insensitive at a time like this. He heard Hoss suck in his breath. Turning around slowly, Adam gave his brother a withering look. 

”Would you like to say that again Joe, only this time to my face?” Adam’s voice was menacingly soft, devoid of emotion, his eyes hard, body like a set bear trap ready to snap shut on his little brother.

”Joseph….” Ben said sternly. Joe looked at his father, who he could tell was angry. Ben’s eyes blazed out at him from under his frown. Joe looked back at Adam in horror, aware that he had gone too far. He could tell Adam was even angrier than his father was. Any other time Adam would’ve let his comment roll off him and come back with something just as quickly and twice as cutting. Little Joe hadn’t meant to hurt him but what he’d said sounded harsher then intended. He immediately felt sorry. Although Adam hadn’t said anything specifically to any of his family, they all knew how he felt about Ruth’s death.

”No Adam, I’m sorry I said that. It’s been a hard few weeks while you’ve been healing, that’s all.”

Only Joseph could put his foot in his mouth and get his brother upset the way he’d done.

”Little Joe didn’t mean nuthin by that Adam. Besides I’ve been doin most of your chores anyways, so he’s got nuthin to whine about. Have you Little Joe?” Hoss volunteered, trying to simmer the situation. He could see how wound up Adam was and wanted to calm him down as quickly as possible. If Adam started a fight with Joe, in his state of mind, it’d take both him and Ben to separate them. He knew who’d come out the worst from a fight.

”That’s right Adam, I’m so very sorry. It was a stupid thing to say and I really didn’t mean it. I really didn’t.” Joe said sincerely. Having a fight with Adam was always around the corner, but he’d really cut him with his stupid comment and felt guilty for having done it. 
 

Adam struggled to control his anger and wanting to avoid any further words, he turned and started back up the stairs. He stopped at the next step, gripping the railing until his knuckles turned white. Quietly he said, “I had a good reason Joe, a very good reason.” He looked at his father. “I’ll being staying in town tonight after all Pa. Maybe I’ll see you at church, then again maybe I won’t. It’s not doing me any good.” Adam’s voice was still soft as he shrugged his shoulders. He spoke only to his father, as if his brothers weren’t even in the room.


”Fine Adam. Enjoy yourself in town today.”

Adam continued up the stairs, his movements’ stiff with barely contained anger. He strode into his room, closing the door quietly behind him but really wanting to slam it. He didn’t because he didn’t want Joe to have the satisfaction of knowing he’d gotten to him. He cursed to himself, knowing that Joe had done just that.

Angrily he sat on the bed and pulled his socks and boots on. Next a clean, white shirt and black ribbon tie, which Hop Sing had left out for him, neatly pressed. He noted that once again Hop Sing had done an excellent job on his shirt and wanted to tell him so, but not wanting to go down stairs just yet. He was just too angry with Joe and wanted to avoid him for a long as possible.

Joe’s comment had brought all his feelings about Ruth back to the surface. The pain and sadness he felt for Ruth and what they might have had cut through him. He didn’t know whether he could survive her loss without loosing his mind, he had given his whole heart and soul to her. The guilt and remorse he felt for not leaving, when they should have, was slowly destroying him.

He remembered Chief Winnemuca words about her death, that he’d seen your body in the village. He hadn’t told his father about that. The Chief had told it to him, after his father had walked away. The Chief had felt it was only Adam who would want to know for he had seen the anguish on Adam’s face when he mentioned a white woman’s body had been found.

Chief Winnemuca had known Adam since he’d arrive in the valley with his father and young brother. Adam, the ever-curious boy that he was, had made friends with the Paiute. He and Young Wolf, the Chief’s son had become close friends in their early years on the ranch. The Chief had even given Adam his Paiute name of He Who Thinks Much.

Adam lowered his head into his hands. He stayed there, letting the tears flow silently for the first time since he’d come home, for how long he didn’t know. 

Finally he raised his head and wiped his wet face with both hands. “I’ve got to get over you, I can’t live like this anymore. One way or the other it must end.” He said aloud to himself. His thoughts drifted back to that fateful day. The day by the river when he had given Ruth the ring he’d made for her… 

She had watched him shave with a razor of her father’s she’d found in the old trunk kept at the back of her hut. When he’d cut himself on the chin, she’d laughed and suggested that it would be safer if he let his beard grow. Adam had seen her face light up with a smile that brought a smile to his face. He instantly fell in love with her, a strong, independent woman. 

When she’d told her story of how she came to be on the mountain, alone, called White Medicine Woman by the Indians, he had held her in his arms to comfort her. Telling her story to him had brought dark, hidden memories to the surface, which had frightened her. She had raised her head, gazed deeply into his eyes trying to see the hate she felt he must feel for her. Instead she found only love  the corner of his eye, he’d seen the Shoshoni arrive at her camp.

There was an illness sweeping their village and they wanted White Medicine Woman to save them for they believed her to be a spirit. Ruth and Adam both realized the danger she was in should she decide to go with them. Ruth told them they would have her answer in the morning. Once they were alone, Adam had suggested they leave as soon as it was dark, to avoid the Indians.

They were supposed to have left camp that night, but after the Shoshone had gone late in the afternoon, Ruth had turned to him and kissed him passionately, looking him directly in the face. She had known the Shoshone wouldn’t let her leave but said nothing to Adam, afraid of what he might try to do. Ruth knew his injuries were worse than he thought, his body slowly recovering from the ordeal, still weak. He would be no match for a Shoshone brave, they would have kill him instantly.

”Adam, love me.”

”Ruth I do love you so very, very much.”

”No Adam… love me.”

”Ruth...?” he questioned, knowing what she meant but not sure she understood the full consequences.

”Yes Adam, make love to me, now, for I fear there may never be another time again.”

”Are you sure Ruth? You do know you may become with child if we do this.” In his heart Adam wanted to but he needed to know Ruth was certain about what she was asking.

”I know Adam, but we will always be together when we leave tonight, but first....”

Gently Ruth reached out for his hand and led him into her hut. They kissed, holding each other close. Adam regarded Ruth deeply, searching in her eyes, her face for any fear of what they were about to do. 

She smiled. “Yes Adam.” Holding her arms open to him.

Then he knew that making love was right. He kissed her neck and she shivered. Her hands ran gently across his chest, feeling the softness of the hair, the firmness of the muscles underneath. Ruth gently pushed him away from her and started to undress him. Adam reached over and did the same to her, caressing her body with his hands, his eyes, enjoying seeing her naked for the first time. She had no fear of him when she saw him naked, standing before her. 

They kissed again, their breathing becoming faster. With their bodies pressed firmly together, Adam gently lowered her onto the furs on her bed. Adam needed all his fortitude to control himself until he heard Ruth cry out for him. Their passion met, carrying them along in waves of ecstasy. They clung together, each content, comfortable with the other. During the night when they had woken, reached for the other, they had met each other’s desires with the same intensity as the first. 

Late the next morning Adam woke first, leaning on one elbow he looked down at the woman he knew he wanted for his wife. Waves of extreme love, of wanting to protect her, keep her safe in his arms swept over him. He’d never felt this way about a woman before. He wanted to wake her up, to tell her how he felt, then decided against it knowing that they’d have the rest of their lives together for him to tell her everyday that he loved her. He’d always kept his feelings at a distance, hidden, not wanting to let anyone get close to him, to hurt him. But this time, this was different. He finally understood how his father had felt about his mother.

Softly, as he looked back down a her face he said “You’re a very lucky man Adam Cartwright, to have such a beautiful woman love you.” Ruth’s head lay surrounded by her golden hair, her breasts rising and falling with each breath, a content smile playing on her lips. 

Suddenly she opened her eyes, having sensed that someone was looking at her. She stared straight into Adam’s warm dark eyes. The love that she had seen in them last night was still there. Smiling at her, he tenderly kissed her sweet lips. Ruth returned his smile, her face glowing with her love for him.

”Good morning my love.” He said as he gently let his fingers caress her face, wanting to sear her image in his mind forever. Adam continued the caress down her neck, softly across her shoulder and breast. She felt her skin tingle at his touch, not wanting him to stop. 

”Good morning to you too my love.” Ruth replied, her voice quivering. 

As Adam watched her face the expression on it changed from one of happiness to fear as realization suddenly crossed her mind. Her eyes darted from Adam’s face to the doorway, it was light. “Oh no Adam, it’s late, we
should have gone last night. The Shoshone will be able to track us in the light.” Fear shone on her face. Now that it was light, the Shoshone would never let them leave. Even if they tried, with only one horse it was going to be slow and dangerous. Ruth was afraid, for Adam more so than herself. She knew they would kill him for being a white man who brought the disease amongst them.

”Never mind Ruth, we can leave tonight. I rather enjoyed what we did instead.” Adam said with a look of contentment and a cheeky grin on his face. He tried to reassure her, even though in the back of his mind he knew she was right. They should have traveled in the night. 


Ruth shyly smiled back. “So did I Adam, but the Shoshone...” Adam leaned over and smothered the rest of the sentence with a long kiss. Ruth wrapped her arms around his body, enjoying the feel of his skin, his smell so different from hers. The hairs on his chest tickled her nose and she laughed.

”I’m hungry.” Adam said breaking apart from another, more intense kiss. “How about I put some clothes on and see if I can catch some fish for breakfast? I’ll leave you to get dressed, although I’d rather stay and watch,” a grin on his face, “I can’t get enough of you. When you’re ready meet me down by river, near the log you showed me yesterday.”

”Alright Adam.” Ruth was still showing concern about the Shoshoni, but happy to have Adam nears her. Although she lived alone for as long as she had, she enjoyed the feelings of security Adam gave her. She knew she was going to enjoy their life together, even if it was just with him and she never saw anyone else.

”I’ll have a surprise for you when you arrive Ruth.” He said while struggling into his jeans.

”Ow.” He said as he hurt his leg on the rough fabric.

Ruth laughed. “My brave warrior.” She said, as he hobbled out of the hut.

Her face had lit up when he’d given her the ring, saying that it meant that he wanted to marry her, for her to be his wife. How they had both laughed about ‘the obey’ in the vows. She said she wanted to think about obeying. How they never got to think about it...together.

Adam stood up from the bed and walked to his desk, hesitating before opening the top drawer. Inside, at the very back was a small package - the ring, wrapped in soft cloth. Adam looked at it, hesitant to touch it, but knowing he had to. His fingers gently brushed the cloth. Slowly, reluctantly he closed the drawer, shutting the images from his mind. Wanting to shut them from his heart. Raising his trembling hands to his face, he brushed away the tears, which had started to roll down his face. 

He turned, walked to the mirror to brush his hair.

As he reached for the brush there was a firm knock at his door.

”What is it?” Barked Adam. If it was Little Joe wanting to come in and talk, he’d decided he wasn’t going to let him say another word. What had been said was already too much for him to handle.

Ben heard the sharpness and pain in Adam’s voice. He hesitated before answering, should he continue or leave him alone. He steeled himself, knowing that he had to enter, for his son’s sake. “It’s me Adam, may I come in?”

”It’s unlocked.” Adam said shortly. He had been expecting his father, knew he wanted to help heal the rift between his sons.


The door opened and as Ben walked slowly in Adam turned his head towards his father. Taking a quick glance at Adam’s face, it said it all. By the expression on his face Ben could see he was very upset. Adam turned back to the mirror, not wanting to meet his father eyes and started to brush his hair - unsure whether he wanted to listen to his father.

”Adam...” Ben began, but Adam quickly cut his sentence off.

”Pa, don’t say anything. Nothing.... nothing will help. Just leave it alone, in fact leave me alone. I have to get out of this house. I’ll get the telegraph if it’s there for you.”

”Thank you son.” He put his hand on Adam’s shoulder, wanting to offer some physical comfort. Adam shrugged it off and stormed out. Ben followed him out of his room and down the stairs.

He didn’t want him to go into town, not in this state, but was powerless to stop him. His eldest son was old enough to make his own decisions. 

As Adam strode across the great room to the door, Little Joe and Hoss stopped talking and watched him. Adam glared at Joe, but said nothing. Joe opened his mouth to speak but Hoss grabbed his arm and shook his head. By the time Little Joe had looked back from Hoss, Adam had picked up his gunbelt, hat and coat and hurried out the door, slamming it behind him.

Hoss and Little Joe watched their father walk slowly down the stairs. The expression on his face indicating that he hadn’t been able to reason with his eldest son. Without giving his two remaining sons a glance, he strode over to his chair and sat down.

Ben reached over to the table, picked up his newspaper and settled into the chair. The paper rustled loudly in the quiet room, the ticking from the grandfather clock was the only other noise.

Joe began “Pa....”

”Joseph, I don’t want another word said about this, do you understand?” Ben said bluntly, barely controlling his anger.


”Yes Pa I’m...I’m sorry.”

”It’s too late for sorry son, too late.”

Little Joe raised his head to look across the table at his other brother, waiting to see if he’d say anything. Hoss began to dig at his breakfast, moving the food around with his fork. He pushed the plate across the table and threw the knife and fork down with a loud clatter. Little Joe realized then that not only were Adam and Pa angry with him but also Hoss. Hoss was upset enough not to finish his breakfast.

 

**********

 

As he strode purposefully across the room to the door, Adam could feel his father’s and brothers’ eyes on him. His gun belt was on the sideboard, reaching for it he decided to buckle it on outside. Grabbing his hat and coat down off the hook he left the room, needing to get away from them as quickly as he could. He couldn’t control himself enough to say a word, so he said nothing.

If anyone had spoken to him he knew he would have said things that he’d later regret. 

Outside he stopped by the hitching rail and slowly let the air out of his lungs. Taking a deep breath, he hadn’t realized that he had been holding it. He threw his hat and coat on and buckled the gun belt up while he strode across the yard to the barn. 

Inside Sport, his favorite horse nickered to him. Adam walked to him and gave him a long pat. He closed his eyes and lent his forehead against the horse’s neck. Taking a few more deep breaths to calm himself, he opened his eyes. “Let’s go to town boy. The ride’ll do us both good.” He said as he saddled the horse. He led Sport out of the barn and as he grabbed the saddle to swing himself up he looked over the top, noticed his father had come outside and was standing on the porch, watching him.

Ben raised his hand in farewell as Adam turned and rode out, not bothering to return the wave. He lowered his arm slowly. “I can’t help you son. You have to get over this yourself. Just like I had to. You have to find your own peace of mind, I hope you can - for your sake. Just remember I’m here for you.”

‘Damn’ thought Adam as he rode out of the yard. He knew he should have waved to his father,

even though it wasn’t his fault he’d still taken it out on him. In fact it wasn’t Joe’s either. It was his own wallowing in self-pity and guilt about Ruth, which had caused the argument.

Adam noticed that when he’d pushed off to swing into the saddle, the muscle in his leg hadn’t twinged at all. With his leg healed he knew he had to get the rest of him healed, to get over Ruth. “Snap out of it Adam Cartwright.” He said out aloud. Sport’s ears flicked back at the sound of his voice. “Come on boy let’s have a run.” Adam said as he gave the horse a flick with his heels. Sport quickly responded and in no time both rider and horse were tearing down the road, wind whipping in their faces. 

”Slow up Sport.” Adam said as he eased back on the reins, the town buildings just coming into sight. The horse slowed its pace until he was at a walk. Both Adam and Sport were breathing hard. “That felt good boy, really good.” said Adam and he did feel better than when he’d left home. They continued the walk into town; the man and horse enjoying the cool of the morning, Adam letting the horse cool down.

Adam rode through the streets and stopped in front of the livery stable. As he climbed down from his horse, Zac the owner walked out from the stable, wiping his hands on his apron.

”Hello Adam, you’re in town early today.” He said, reaching for the reins as Adam handed them to him.

”Yeah Zac, bed Sport down for the night will you. Oh and give him a good measure of oats and a good rub down Zac, I gave him a bit of a run on the way in.” Adam flicked a dollar bit to Zac as he led the horse away.

”Sure thing Adam. You sure you won’t be needing him again today?”

Zac’s father had owned the livery and on his death five years ago, Zac had inherited the business. Ben had been reluctant, at first, to use his livery because Zac was inexperienced and it had taken a few words in his father’s ear by Adam to convince him to trust Zac. Since then he and Adam had become best friends and his business had thrived because the Cartwrights kept using it.

”No I’ll be right. I’m staying in town tonight.”

”Going to tie one on Adam or go to the dance?” Zac had known Adam for years and could tell by his expression that Adam was troubled. 

”Maybe both Zac, maybe both.”

Although he felt like it he decided he’d better not get drunk, not if Joe was coming into town to speak to Frank Hanson. He didn’t want Joe to see him drunk; he never let anyone from his family ever see him drunk. There’d been plenty of times since Ruth’s death when he’d had too many and stayed in town to sleep them off. His father never asked questions when he came home the next day but the way Ben looked at him, Adam felt he knew. All Ben asked of him was that he was paying him a full day’s wages, he expected a full day’s work.

Adam walked out of the livery and strolled crossed the street to the mercantile.

”Hello Adam.” Pete said, as he walked in the store, the bell over the door giving a tinkle. “I’ll be right with you.” He turned back to continue serving the woman who was standing in front of the counter. She turned around at the mention of Adam’s name and smiled up at him.

”Why Hello Adam.”

”Hello Susan, nice to see you.” He gave her a brief smile, which didn’t touch his eyes, then looked away. He didn’t feel like talking to Susan, not today anyway.

”Nice to see you too Adam. I haven’t seen you for quite a while. Are you going to the dance tonight because I think you’re a bit early if you are.” She said with a soft laugh.

”I don’t think so.”

”Oh? I haven’t seen you since our last dance. Why not Adam Cartwright?” Susan was disappointed he wasn’t going and it showed. Adam usually filled a number of places on her dance card and he was an excellent dancer. She enjoyed his company and made a point of letting him know whenever they were together.

”I’ve not wanted to go, Susan; as simple as that.” Said Adam sharply.

”Alright Adam, I’m sorry I asked.” She said softly, hurt by his tone of voice. They’d know each other for years and she hadn’t expected him to treat her the way he did.

”Sorry Susan, I seem to be apologizing a lot today and it’s still only early.” Adam confessed, feeling bad about snapping at her. He could tell by the sad expression on her face that he’d hurt her feelings.

Susan deliberately turned her back on Adam and spoke curtly to Pete. “Are you finished yet, I’d like to go now?”

”Yes Miss Susan, here you are. That’s twenty five cents.”

”There you are. Good-bye Pete.” She said, ignoring Adam, who stood behind her, his eyes fixed firmly on his boots. 

Susan turned quickly, brushing by Adam.

”Susan...” Adam began, “I’m ............”

”Goodbye Adam.” It was her turn to be sharp. ‘I deserved that.’ he thought.

”Adam what’ll it be?” said Pete, feeling the tension between them but not knowing what to do.

Adam continued to look after Susan as she left the shop, remembering the good times they’d had. He decided he wanted more of her company. Later in the day, he would call in to see her, apologize and ask her to accompany him to the dance.

”Adam?” Pete repeated.

”Yeah. .Oh, Pete. Sorry, do you have my package from Boston?”

”Here it is Adam, I kept it under the counter. I thought you’d be in soon to collect it. Pretty heavy, more books perhaps?” Pete laughed, he knew full well that the packages that came for Adam from Boston were always heavy and full of books.

”Pete you guessed it in one, I hope. Let’s have a look.” Adam reached into the pocket in his jeans and drew out his pocketknife. Opening the knife he slid the sharp blade into the wrapping, using his left hand to hold the parcel still. The keen edge of the blade slid easily through the paper and straight across the palm of Adam’s left hand.

”Damn” exclaimed Adam. He stared at his hand in surprise then raised it closer to his face to inspect the damage.

”Clumsy fool, I haven’t done that in a while.”

Concerned for his friend, Pete peered over the counter at Adam’s hand. “You alright Adam? How bad is it?”

”Don’t worry, it’s not deep; had worse before.” Adam reassured Pete as he wiped the blood away with his bandanna, which he’d just withdrawn from another pocket.

”Won’t take long to stop bleeding. Now let’s see what we have in here.” he smiled, reaching back for the opened package. He deftly withdrew one book from the wrapping and read the title.

”Hey, you’re right.” Said Adam with a smile, just touching the corners of his mouth. “Thanks, I’ll take them to my hotel room and read them later. I’ve got a few things to do today and I don’t want to get them torn or lost. Goodbye Pete and thanks.”

Chewing thoughtfully on his bottom lip, Pete hesitated, should he ask Adam or not, then decided why not.

”Adam….What just happened then between you and Susan? You used to be the best of friends, in fact I thought you two were getting a might serious a while back.”

”Just drop it will you Pete?” said Adam, keeping his eyes on the door, avoiding Pete’s. 

Pete sighed, he wasn’t going to get Adam to talk today about a tricky subject like Susan.

”Okay Adam, whatever you reckon. I’ll see you later at the saloon?”

”I think so Pete, unless I’ve got my head stuck in one of these books.”

”Yeah, that’d be right.” Pete, of course, knew how much Adam enjoyed his books.

 

**********


As Adam departed the mercantile he thought about what had happened between him and Susan. He stopped at the railing outside the store and leant against it, deep in thought. 

Susan and he had been good friends. Having a few dances together had been a standing arrangement between them for months. He knew Susan always left room on her dance card for him. What was so different now? ‘Me.’ he thought, ‘And this time I took it out on her, earlier it had been Pa and Joe.’

Giving himself a sigh, he shook his head and straightened up, shifting his hold on the package under his arm. Adam sauntered across the street to the International Hotel, intending to put the books in his room. Adam climbed the stairs and entered the Hotel. He nodded to Herb, the desk clerk for his key. Since he’d been spending more nights in town lately he’d become a regular at the Hotel. 

”Morning Mr Cartwright, your usual room?”

”Yes thanks Herb.”

As Adam signed the register book, Herb took down the key for number 10 and placed it on the desk beside the register.

”Will you be wanting breakfast brought to your room tomorrow Mr Cartwright?”

”No thanks, I’ll use the restaurant.”

”Very well Mr Cartwright. Enjoy your stay.”

”Okay, thanks.”

Adam picked up the key and walked across the foyer. A familiar voice called out to him from the restaurant door.

”Good Morning Adam, you’re in town early today.” Said Sheriff Roy Coffee, as he wiped his mouth with his napkin. The Sheriff always enjoyed his breakfast in the restaurant, before making his rounds of the town.

”That young brother of yours goin to behave himself at the dance tonight? I wouldn’t want to throw him in jail, although I’ve a good mind to after the last dance.” He said with a smile.

Adam caught the expression on Roy’s face and grinned himself. Roy had known Adam since he was a youth and they both understood each other. He knew how hard Adam tried to keep Joe out of trouble and how much Joe resented him for it.

”Well I’ve warned him, you’ve warned him, so maybe between the pair of us he might just listen. Anyway you know the trouble last time wasn’t his fault, you said so yourself. And you know, as well as I, that trouble just seems to follow my little brother around.”

”Are you in town to go to the dance?”

”Not at this stage Roy, but if you like I’ll go and keep an eye on him if you want. I came into town to go to the mercantile and then the telegraph office.”

”I’d like knowing you were at the dance Adam. That way I know Joe won’t get into mischief and I won’t spoil his night by locking him up. Your Pa’d be pretty angry if I locked him up too.” 

Roy added, knowing how much Adam tried to protect his father from his brother’s goings on. Roy Coffee was sure Ben Cartwright heard only half of what mischief his youngest son got into. Adam saw to that, although Roy wasn’t sure whom Adam was protecting the most. He smiled to himself at the thought of Adam standing between an irate Ben and mischievous Little Joe Cartwright.

”Alright Roy, I’ll go.” Adam said reluctantly. If Susan didn’t accept his apology, he’d have to go alone to the dance. He wasn’t looking forward to that at all.

”Thanks Adam, I knew I could count on you.”

”Sure Roy.” Said Adam as he shook Roy’s hand in agreement, then turned and started up the stairs.

Strolling up the hallway Adam stopped. He turned his head both ways, trying to locate the noise he thought he’d heard. He heard nothing. Thinking he was imagining noises, Adam stepped forward again. As he went by room 3 he heard a faint voice calling for help, a man’s voice. Adam knocked on the door - there was no answer. He tried the doorknob, finding the door wasn’t locked, he pushed it wide open, not sure what to expect. His hand was resting loosely on his gun, just in case it was needed. 

He peered inside the room and found a stranger was lying on the bed. He was wet with perspiration and holding his head as if in pain. As Adam walked nearer to the man he could see the pain written over his face. He reached over and felt the man’s forehead, noticing there was a fresh cut on his forehead. He was hot with fever.

”You need help, I’ll get the Doctor.”

”Wait.... some water, please.” Whispered the stranger, pointing behind Adam with a slightly raised hand.

Adam turned, walked over to the pitcher and poured out a glass of water for the stranger.

”Here you are.” He said and carefully helped the man sit up to drink. The man gulped the water down and fell back into the bed exhausted.

”Thanks, I needed that.” Whispered the stranger. Adam wasn’t sure whether in pain or just worn out.

”I’ll get someone to get the Doctor for you. You’d better get him to see about that cut on your head, it’s still bleeding.

”Thanks again.” The man said.

”It’s all right. Glad I could help.” said Adam and he left the room. 

As he ran down stairs, he realized he’d left his books in the man’s room. He turned around and went back into the room. Again there had been no answer to his knock and when he looked in the man had apparently passed out. Adam picked up his books and headed down the hallway and stairs to Herb.

”Herb, there’s a customer of yours in room 3. He looks pretty sick. Can you send someone for Doc Martin, I think he’s needed?”

”You mean the mine inspector, Mr Nash, in 3?”

”Whoever Herb, he didn’t tell me his name. All I know is he’s unconscious and needs the Doctor.” “I heard he was involved in an accident in one of the mines early this morning. It appears a rock fall occurred and he and a few of the miners were injured. Someone said there was blood everywhere. Is it anything to do with that?” said Herb remembering an earlier conversation between two men in the foyer.

”I don’t know, just get the Doc will you.”

Realizing Adam wasn’t in the mood for a chat, Herb quickly agreed to Adam’s request.

”I’ll get Bobby to go for the Doc straight away Adam.”

”Good. I’m going up to my room to put this in there, then I’ll be out again.”

”Alright Adam.”

Once again Adam walked up the stairs and this time entered his own room. He put the package on the bedside table, checked the room was in order and went back to the foyer. As Adam stepped through the doorway to go out into the street, he collided into Doctor Paul Martin.

”Uhh” they said, both laughing.

”Hey Paul this is the second time I’ve been collided with today.”

”Who was the first Adam?” Said Paul, with a big smile. “Couldn’t have been Hoss otherwise you’d have had to see me about setting a bone or two.”

Adam laughed again “No it was Pa, thankfully.”

”Well got a patient to see Adam, I’d better get a move on.”

” Yeah I know, I heard him in his room calling for help and went in to see what I could do.” Adam could see Paul was only half listening to him, he didn’t go on. “See you later Paul.”

”Mmmm” said Paul, thinking about what was ahead. 

As he stepped outside, Adam heard Paul ask Herb what room his patient was in.

 

**********



Adam stood for a few moments looking up and down the street, trying to decide what he had to do next. While he stood there his stomach made a growl. He’d taken all morning to get his books and it was midday, no wonder he was hungry. He spun around, stepped back inside the Hotel and made his way through to the restaurant. With his piercing brown eyes, he scanned the room, searching for a vacant table. Locating one near the center of the room he made his way over to it, weaving around the tables and slid down onto the seat.

”Hello Adam, what’ll it be today?” Danny the owner said, with his usual smile.

”Danny, good to see you.” and Adam returned the smile. “I think a steak and vegetables will do today. Are you cooking or is Leslie?”

”Leslie is.”

”Well it’s definitely a steak, but only if Leslie cooks it. She knows the way I like mine done.” Adam joked. He was starting to feel a lot better already, except for what happened with Susan. He’d eat his lunch, then call in to see her.

”Don’t let her hear what you just said, otherwise I’ll never get into the kitchen.”

Danny, do us all a favor - stay out. Please?” Adam pleaded.

”But who’ll wash the dishes Adam? I can do them better than Leslie.”

”I’m glad of that Danny, real glad.” Adam smirked as he thought of Danny washing dishes, with an apron tied around his waist, flashed across his mind.

”I won’t be long with that order. Coffee in the meantime?” asked Danny, holding a cup and pot of coffee in each hand.

”Yeah, thanks.”

Adam sat thinking in the restaurant as to what he had left to do before he’d go to his room and read the books. As it was nearly midday he still had time to get the telegraph for his father and then maybe have a few beers with Pete sometime after lunch. He smiled to himself thinking about the beer and Pete. The two always seemed to go together. He then thought about whether to go to the dance tonight it Susan didn’t accept his apology. Danny bringing him his steak soon interrupted his thoughts. 

”Enjoy your meal Adam.” He said, placing the plate down in front of him. Adam stared down at the plate; it overflowed with a large steak and a huge mound of vegetables.

”Thanks Danny, I know I will.” Adam replied, watching Danny refill his cup.

Adam sat enjoying the steak and ate the meal in no time, leaving the plate empty except for the bone. After such an enjoyable meal, he was back to feeling relaxed. He leant back in the chair, tipping back until it rested on the rear legs. Glancing over the other customers as he did, Adam sipped the last of his coffee. Danny and Leslie had plenty of customers in the restaurant. He was happy for them because he knew they were honest, hardworking and enjoyed their success. Having finished his coffee, Adam leant forward and sat the chair back on all four legs.

He pushed himself up from the table and made his way over to Danny to pay the bill.

”Give my regards to Leslie will you?” Adam said, as he reached into his pocket for his money. “Tell her, as usual she knows how to cook my steak properly, not like someone else I know.” He said, meeting Danny straight in the eye and trying to keep a straight face.

”You go on in and say them yourself Adam, otherwise you’ll be in trouble with the cook and so will I too, for not sending you in.”

Adam laughed and walked into the kitchen. As he pushed the door open he stopped. Susan MacDonald was also in the kitchen, talking to Leslie, their backs towards him. Adam smiled to himself, was this meeting planned or what?

”Hello again Susan. Hello Leslie.”

”Why Hello Adam. Susan was just telling me what an unpleasant man you are today. Get out of bed on the wrong side today did we?” Leslie said sweetly.

”Touché Leslie.”

Adam looked at Susan, who returned his gaze, a smile just starting to appear on her face.

”Susan, I truly am sorry about this morning. I had a rough start to the day back home and I took it out on you. I shouldn’t have. Will you forgive me?” He gave her one of his best smiles, which lit up his whole face and eyes.

”I forgive you Adam Cartwright how could I not?” They both knew she loved his smile and couldn’t resist it when he gave her one. She’d told him often enough in the past, that it was now a private joke between them.

”Go on Susan.” prompted Leslie.

”But you have to pay a price for forgiveness.” Susan said laughing.

”Most certainly Miss MacDonald, whatever the price, I will gladly pay.” Going along with the two women, but thinking he knew what was planned.

”You are hereby ordered to accompany Miss Susan MacDonald to the dance tonight and to occupy the majority of her dance card as she so chooses.” Susan said in mock severity.

”Miss MacDonald, what a harsh price to pay, but if it is pleases the court, I will honor the ruling. Shall I call for you at about 6pm?” Asked Adam, laughing once again. He was enjoying the fun, even though it was at his expense.

Susan replied “6pm will be fine, thank you Mr Cartwright.”

”Thank you Miss MacDonald.” with that Adam tipped his hat. “Ladies, I bid you leave.” and left the kitchen. On the way out he heard the women burst into laughter and giggles.

”Private joke Adam or can you tell me?” Asked Danny as he saw Adam smile at the laughter coming from the kitchen.

”You had to be there Danny, but I think I’ve just been setup.”

”If I know Leslie, like I do, you were definitely setup. After all Susan and Leslie are the best of friends.”

Adam acknowledged that comment with a good laugh of his own which Danny joined in.

”See you at the dance tonight then Adam?” Danny called out as Adam stepped out of the restaurant.

”Yes I’ll be there.”

Once again Adam nodded to Herb as he walked through the restaurant to go outside

**********


Outside Adam realized that he’d better go to the telegraph office before Robert closed early for tonight’s dance. Adam strode down the street, saying Hello to those he knew along the way.

”Hello Robert, how are you today?” he said as he stepped into the office.

”Hello yourself Adam, I suppose you’re here to collect your Pa’s telegraph. Mr Cartwright told me he was expecting one.”

”Sure am.”

”Here it is.”

”Thanks Robert and I’ll see you at the dance later on.” Said Adam tucking the telegraph into his coat pocket.

Robert gave Adam a grin. “As always I’ll be there.”

”You never know your luck Robert, one of those fine ladies is going to take a liking to you and you’ll be heading down the aisle in next to no time.”

”How true, Adam, how true. Soon, please, would be nice.” Robert said in a pleading voice. They both laughed at the thought. “I suppose you’d want me to be your best man.”

”But of course, who else Adam.”

Adam made his way back over to Pete’s again. While talking to Robert, he decided to collect the mail, if there was any to collect. The earlier incident with Susan had caused him to forget that chore. As he walked in the door to the mercantile, Pete looked up, smiling at him.

”Time for that beer Adam?”

”Yes I think so. Any mail for us, I forgot to ask you earlier?”

Laughing Pete said “I wonder why you forgot Adam, something else on your mind at the time?”

Pete glanced over his shoulder into the Cartwright’s pigeonhole. “Nope.”

”Let’s go.” said Pete, taking off his apron and throwing it on the counter. “I’ve worked up a good thirst today.”

”I’ll only have one or two with you Pete, because I’m going to the dance after all.” Adam said slyly as he stood patiently outside the mercantile while Pete locked the door.

”Oh, who with?”

”Susan MacDonald.” Adam looked at Pete from beneath his eyebrows, a smirk on his face, waiting for Pete’s reaction to his news.

”Susan, you’re kidding me aren’t you? How’d you fix up getting into her good books? From what happened this morning I thought you were a gonna with her.”

”I can thank Leslie Stevens for fixing that problem.” Adam laughed as they entered the saloon, telling Pete about his lunch and the conversation after it.

Stan the bartender looked at Pete and Adam and said “The usual beers gents?”

”Yes please.” They both replied, laughing at each other. They collected their beer, headed for the nearest empty table and sat down. 

”I’m not even going to taste this one Adam.” Pete said as he proceeded to down the beer.

”I’ll go a bit slower on mine if you don’t mind. I’d better not have too many before the dance otherwise I’ll be back in Susan’s bad books again.”

”Sucker. Glutton for punishment eh?”

Pete and Adam had been friends ever since Pete’s family had moved to Virginia City. They were about the same age and had taken to each other’s company from the moment they’d met at school. Pete, always the joker, had offset Adam’s reserved manner. That was why he could just say what he did then and get away with it. He knew Adam would take it lightly and play along with the fun. Adam would get his own back on plenty of occasions.

”No, not that. I just want to enjoy Susan’s company that’s all.”

”Sure Adam, sure.”

Pete looked up at the bar and caught Stan’s eye. Stan held up two fingers as he leant under the counter for the glasses. Pete shook his head and held up just one. Stan nodded and poured the one beer. Adam was sipping his beer, but enjoying it just the same as Pete. With his hands full of drinks, Stan walked out from behind the bar. Passing by their table, he placed one glass down and picked up the empty.

”There you are Pete. You right I see Adam, a bit slow tonight on the beer, you’ve gotta be going to the dance.” Stan gave Adam a wink as he moved to the next table and left the remaining beers on the table.

”Yeah Stan” called out Adam. Can’t have too many, it’ll ruin my dancing.”

Just then Little Joe pushed the doors open and stepped into the saloon. He stopped when he saw Adam was already there. He was reluctant to venture in any further in case his brother was still mad at him. Joe didn’t like his big brother to be angry with him, like most boys, he idolized his big brothers, but especially Adam. He had had to help raise him and Hoss when first Inger and then Marie had died. What he wouldn’t do just now to have Adam smile at him and Joe regretted what he’d said this morning. It had just slipped out in anger. The brothers stared at each other, until Adam, with a smile, signaled his brother to come over. Joe, grinning like a Cheshire cat came over, pulling a chair along with him.

”Hello Big Brother, not mad at me any more?” said Joe using his best pleading voice. It’d always worked on Adam when he was little, so he decided to try it now.

Adam had decided enough was enough with their fight. At least this time there were no punches pulled like there had been on other occasions. Both of them were stubborn enough to get on each other’s nerves. They were opposites in nature. Adam - quiet and reserved - always thinking before acting, while Joe was outgoing and loud. Many a time Adam had rescued Joe from some problem or trouble, just because he had jumped in, boots and all. There had been times when Joe hadn’t wanted to be rescued and had resented Adam’s butting in. 

Those times usually had the brothers trading words and then more than likely punches. Adam could see Joe was happy and guessed that he’d been to see Mr. Hanson, who had allowed Joe to take Becky to the dance.

”Hi Joe, no I’m not mad at you anymore. You look pleased with yourself. I guess Frank Hanson’s letting you take Becky to the dance huh?”

Surprised Joe replied “Yes, how could you know?”

Adam and Pete laughed. “I know you too well, little brother - you can’t keep too many secrets from me, besides you had a grin a mile wide when you walked in here.”

Joe laughed at that, happy to see Adam starting to get back to his usual self.

”What are you doing tonight? You going to spend the night in here?”

”Well Joe I guess I’ll see you at the dance. Roy Coffee wants me to keep you on a short rein otherwise he’s going to throw you in jail.”

”Oh No. Pa’ll kill me if anything happens tonight.”

”He’ll have to wait in line.”

”Why? Who’d be first?”

”Mr Hanson, then Roy Coffee, then me.” Adam said watching the look of fear cross over Joe’s face. He couldn’t tell which one he was afraid of the most.

”Why you Adam?”

”Because I’m going to the dance with a lady and if you mess me up you’ll be in big trouble.”

”No kidding. Who you going with?”

”Susan...Susan MacDonald as a matter of fact.” Said Adam, going slightly pink with embarrassment. He could feel his face going red and he didn’t know why he should be feeling embarrassed. It wasn’t as though he’d never been out with Susan before.

”Yee haa. The Cartwright boys are out on the town tonight.” Yelled Joe.

”Is Hoss coming into town too?”

”Yep and with Betsy-Sue.”

Adam laughed and Little Joe joined in. Hoss’ shyness around pretty gals was a source of amusement to his brothers. Neither Adam nor Little Joe was backward in coming forward when it came to asking a pretty girl for a date. 

For Hoss, even the thought of a walk alone was enough to tongue-tie him. Although he could easily handle the roughness of men and animals, women made him extremely shy. Many a girl had walked away in frustration of not being asked out.

”Well Joe he’s finally gotten round to asking her huh?”

”Sure looks that way Adam, and about time too.”

”Now we all know how shy Hoss is.” said Pete enjoying the conversation, “I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the other way around.”

”Who cares which one did the asking Pete, just as long as we’re all in town at the dance.” Joe said.

Adam, who had just finished his beer, looked at Pete who nodded and then at Little Joe. “Beer Joe?”

”Yeah Adam.”

Adam called out “Stan”, when he had his attention, “Three beers when you’re ready.”

”Okay Adam, be right with you.”

”What’s Pa doing Joe?”

”He decided to stay home Adam, there’s enough trouble about with us three in town. He said he had some paperwork he wanted to catch up on and with the house quiet he’d get it done quicker.” 

”What paperwork was it?”

”Oh something about that timber quote you and he did sometime ago.”

”He didn’t mention anything to me about it.”

”Uh Adam, you weren’t in the best of moods when you left this morning, remember?”

With that Adam glanced at Joe, who was unsure how his brother was going to react to his statement. Adam gave him a small smile as he reached across the table and gave Joe a slap on the arm. “No I wasn’t was I. I wonder who upset me?”

Joe returned Adam’s smile with his usual cheeky grin and drank the last of his beer in relief.

Adam looked up at Stan when he brought the beers over to the table. He reached into his pocket and brought out enough money to pay for the round. “Here Stan, this is for tonight’s rounds.”

Pete started to protest. “Pete it’s getting late and I need to go to the Hotel and freshen up for the dance, otherwise Susan will have my hide. After all I am paying penance and I need to be on my best behavior.” Adam said.

Joe looked at Adam puzzled. “What penance? What’s going on?”

”Never mind Joe, never mind it’s a private joke. I’ll tell you about it later or maybe tomorrow. Anyway don’t you have too many to drink otherwise Hanson’s gonna skin you if anything happens tonight at the dance. You and Becky are still on thin ice, even if he said Okay for tonight. Then there’s Roy to worry about.

”How’d you know that Adam?”

Adam just smiled at Little Joe and winked. He tipped back his glass and drank the last of the beer, then stood up to leave. “See you both later.”

”Sure Adam.”

”Yep” said Little Joe.

When Adam stepped into the Hotel foyer Herb beckoned him over to the desk.

”Adam, you know that man in 3, Mr Nash?”

”Yeah.” Adam wasn’t listening too hard to Herb. He was thinking about the dance with Susan- in fact he really was looking forward to her company.

”Well it turns out Doc Martin says he’s real sick and looks like he might even die. He wants to know who might have touched him today.”

”Oh?” said Adam, still not paying attention. Herb looked at Adam, who was glancing up the stairs, he could see he wanted to go to his room.

”Never mind Adam. I can see you’re busy, Goodnight.”

”Yeah night Herb.” 

 

**********

 

Joe watched Adam swirl Susan MacDonald around the dance floor. Hoss wandered over and stood beside Little Joe, also watching Adam and Susan.

”Sure looks as though Adam’s having a good time don’t it Little Joe?”

”Yep, Hoss it sure does. Pa’ll be pleased when we tell him.”

”Yeah, I think he was gettin worried some.”

Joe looked at Hoss “We all were weren’t we Hoss.” 

Little Joe was thinking about earlier the same evening as Hoss and Little Joe were heading out to the barn, their father had called them both back. He told them how concerned he was about Adam and that if they could, make sure he didn’t stay in his hotel room all night or in the saloon for that matter. Both of them had never seen their father so worried about Adam. Ben even thought that Adam was so depressed and guilty about Ruth’s death that he might do something stupid. That thought hadn’t crossed either of their minds until their father had mentioned it. Luckily for them, Joe had come across Adam in good spirits at the saloon and had told Hoss as soon as he’d seen him arrive with Betsy-Sue. Hoss’ face had broken into a big grin when Joe had told him the news. Hoss had kept an eye out for Adam when he’d arrived in town, but Adam had already left the saloon to pickup Susan and they missed seeing each other. 

Just then Adam and Susan passed by, both were smiling. Adam looked at Susan, she laughed and so did he. It was obvious that they had both thought of the same thing - this afternoon in the restaurant.

Susan said “Oh Adam, I need to stop, I’m getting out of breath. You’re working up a sweat too. Your forehead’s all sweaty.” She reached up to gently run her hand across his brow, he felt hot to her touch.

”If you insist Miss MacDonald, we shall tear ourselves away from the dance floor and have some refreshment.” Adam said, still playing the part.

”Stop it Adam.” Susan insisted, but enjoying the game nevertheless.

”Okay” Adam said, “I could use a drink too come to think of it.” He didn’t tell her that he felt lightheaded. He didn’t think the two beers was enough to do that to him, not after some of the nights he’d had in the past few weeks.

They made their way through the crowd to the punchbowl. He poured them both a drink before suggesting they go outside for some fresh air. Outside the air was much cooler. Adam turned to Susan and raised his glass.

”Here’s to good times, with good, dear friends.”

”Yes Adam, I’ll drink to that.” 

”Susan.....” “Adam....” they started at the same time. They laughed together.

”You first Adam.”

”No you Susan, I insist.”

Looking up at his sparkling dark eyes, she said “Adam, thank you for a wonderful night. I’m sorry Leslie and I cooked this up.” Susan laughed at the pun, so did Adam. She loved the way his whole face lit up when he laughed.

”Susan, I’ve enjoyed your company so much tonight. I’d like to see you again, if I may?”

”Adam, I’d like that. I’ve enjoyed your company this evening too.”

”Would you have dinner with me on Tuesday evening? We’ll surprise Leslie and Danny and eat at the restaurant.” Suggested Adam.

”Yes, I accept Adam.”

”Good, around 7pm suit you?”

”Yes, fine.”

They both laughed at the small talk.

”Let’s finish this drink and get back to the dancing. Susan MacDonald, you’re going to have sore feet tomorrow.” He laughed and Susan watched his eyes brighten with humor.

”We’ll see about that Adam Cartwright.”

The remainder of the evening went all to quickly and all too soon the dance ended. Adam met Joe and Hoss outside with their respective partners.

”Are you two both going home tonight?”

Hoss and Little Joe nodded. “Yes Adam, Pa’s got us workin hard tomorrow.” said Hoss.

”Will you tell Pa that I have the telegraph he was waiting for and that I’ll be home tomorrow morning. I’d give it to you now only it’s back at the Hotel.”

”You stayin huh Adam?” Asked Hoss.

”Yeah, all my gear is in the hotel and I’m feeling a little bushed.”

”Must have been all that dancing with Susan.” Little Joe joked.

”Don’t you let her hear that.” said Adam, even though the women were standing beside their men. They all burst out laughing.

They all said their good-byes and the brothers each headed off in the direction of their partner’s homes. 

Adam wrapped his arm around Susan’s waist allowing her to snuggled closer to him. His body felt warm to her, even through his clothes. They were silent, each to their own thoughts, not wanting the night to end. As they came to Susan’s house they could see a light was still on.

”That’ll be Father.” said Susan. “He always waits up for me.”

”That’s good of him, at least he cares for you.” Adam said dryly, then he smiled.

”I’ve had a lovely time Adam.”

”So have I Susan, I’ll still see you on Tuesday night for dinner?”

Adam stopped at the bottom of the stairs and turned Susan towards him.

”Yes Adam, Tuesday at 7pm. I’ll be here, waiting for you to call.”

Adam leaned towards Susan to kiss her, just then her father stepped outside. Adam reluctantly backed away. He whispered “A kiss would have been nice, it’ll have to keep until Tuesday now.”

She giggled, covering her mouth with her hand.

”Susan.” her father said firmly, “Inside please, it’s time Mr Cartwright was leaving. Goodnight Mr Cartwright.”

”Goodnight Adam” 

”Goodnight Susan, Mr MacDonald,” he called after her, “and thank you for a pleasant evening.”

Adam slowly took his time walking back to the Hotel. The night air was cool and crisp. He loosened his ribbon tie, still feeling hot from all the dancing with Susan. Raising his head he studied the stars, searching for his favorite, the North Star. His father had taught him, as a little boy, how to navigate by this Star. As he continued his walk, he remembered his father telling tales of sailors, lost after severe storms, using the Star as their guide home. Adam had in turn, taught both Hoss and Little Joe the same knowledge of the Star. He was still thinking of sailor stories when he opened the door to his room.

 

********

 

It was mid-morning when Adam handed his father the telegraph. Ben read it quickly.

”I was expecting you home earlier Adam.” Ben realized as soon as he’d spoken that it sounded like he was chastising a child. Adam was not a child by any means and entitled to return home whenever he chose. 

”Sorry Pa” he said as he gave his father a wry grin, “I slept in, then had breakfast in the restaurant before coming home. I didn’t think the telegraph was urgent, otherwise I would have come home last night with it.”

”No, nevermind Adam, it was your night out and I shouldn’t have said that as though you were a child. I’d like you to read this through and tell me what you think.”

”Sure Pa.” Adam said as he reached for the slip of paper. He read it out loud “Urgent Need Of Indication Of Lumber Available 2nd Next Month For Railhead Stop Can You Supply As Previously Discussed Stop Edward Simmons Stop

”Hmm, we’ll have to make a check of the trees and get them marked properly first. To meet this order we’re going to have to start cutting immediately.” Suggested Adam.

”Yes I agree Adam. I want you to go because you know what trees we’ve decided to cut. The boys have to check on the north range and bring in any strays.”

”It’ll take four days to check and mark Pa, I was planning on going into town on Tuesday evening.”

’Damn’ thought Adam, ‘there goes my evening with Susan. Now I’ll have to tell him about Susan. It doesn’t appear that Hoss or Little Joe had said anything to him.’

”Oh?” said Ben, surprised that Adam wanted to go to town midweek.

Smiling slightly Adam replied “Yes I was going to take Susan MacDonald to dinner. I met her last night at the dance.”

”I’m sorry son, but I’d rather you do this - you know how important the correct information is.”

’Damn’ thought Ben, ‘why did it have to be this week the details were needed.’ He could see that Adam had been looking forward to meeting Susan again. Resigning himself to the situation, Adam replied. 

”It’s all right Pa, I’ll get going early tomorrow morning if you like.”

”Thanks son, I’ll get Hoss to ride in with a message to Miss MacDonald for you.”

”Thanks.” Adam went up to his room and started packing for the trip.

’Just dandy.’ he thought, ‘Susan is going to be annoyed because I’ve broken the dinner date.’ Adam understood the importance and how much his father needed the lumber contract. The money from the contract would allow them to cover the winter feed, with plenty of cash left over to start upgrading the breeding herd. Adam was allowing himself four full days to sort out and mark the trees. He’d meet his brothers on Friday in the north pasture and ride on back home with them. He ran his hand across his forehead - he could feel his head starting to pound. “Probably from thinking about what Susan’s going to say to me when I get back.” He said aloud and laughed.

”Oww that hurt.” he said rubbing his forehead again, only harder, to try to ease the pain. 

”Adam, suppers on the table.” yelled Hoss from the bottom of the staircase. 

Adam quickly finished his packing, slung the saddlebag over the chair and headed on down the stairs to the table. Hoss and Joe were seated, but not their father.

”Where’s Pa?” He asked Little Joe.

”He went up to his room to check on some papers.”

”Yeah?

”Yeah, he said he’ll be down soon and to start without him.”

Adam sat down gingerly, unfolded the napkin and placed it on his lap. His head was still thumping and he hoped that eating might ease the pain. He had only had a coffee and toast that morning for breakfast. He had no appetite, and blamed it on the beers and punch the night before.

Hop Sing came out from the kitchen, holding a large platter of roasted pork in his hands

”Yum, roast pig, my favorite Hop Sing, it smells wonderful.” Delighted Hoss attacked the meat with his fork.

Adam took one smell and look at the meat and nearly vomited. He couldn’t stand the smell. He swallowed back the nausea. Hoss glanced up from the plate and saw Adam’s face go white as a sheet. “What’s wrong Adam?”

Little Joe looked up from his plate at his brother too. It took a few more swallows before Adam could answer Hoss.

”I’ve just decided that I’m not hungry. I think I’ll go outside for some fresh air. Hop Sing take my plate away, I’m not eating dinner tonight.”

Hoss and Joe glanced at each other, then at Adam. He usually enjoyed roast pork too. Beads of sweat had broken out on his forehead. Adam put his hands on the table to help push himself up, his arms were shaking He stood up slowly, a frown on his white face.

”Adam are you sure you’re all right?” Joe asked concern showing on his face.

Adam looked at Joe. “Yeah, umm just not feeling too good. I think I need to get some fresh air. Don’t tell Pa, whatever you do, you’ll only cause him to worry and he’s got enough to worry about, without adding me to the list. I’ve got to get that survey done for him. Don’t worry, I’ll be fine in the morning.”

He opened the door and slowly shut it quietly behind him.

”What do you think Hoss? Should we tell Pa about him not feeling too good?”

”Just do what he says Joe, Adam knows what he’s doin.”

Inside Hoss wasn’t so confident. He had seen Adam fight being sick and could tell it took some strength to do so. He’d never known Adam to get headaches but then, even if he did, he wouldn’t mention it to anyone. Usually the first time you knew Adam was ill was when Pa told them so. If, judging by the fact he didn’t eat supper and needed fresh air, he must really be feeling ill.

Hoss also knew that Adam would not let anything get in the way of helping their father win the lumber contract. Both Ben and Adam had spent hours on the submission and spot-marking the trees on their map. When Ben had insisted on Adam going tomorrow, both he and Little Joe had understood why. Neither of them had accompanied Ben and Adam to the site and wouldn’t know where to start. Yet he couldn’t help being concerned for his older brother.

”Shush, here comes Pa.” Said Joe, in a whispered voice.

Walking quickly, Ben came down the stairs and sat down, he didn’t like to be late for supper. Noticing the empty chair opposite him, he turned towards Hoss.

”Where’s Adam?”

”He’s finished Pa.” Hoss lied. He didn’t want to lie to his father, but felt that he had to tonight, for Adam’s sake. He kept his eyes on his food, not wanting to face his father.

”And gone outside for a bit of fresh air.” said Little Joe, looking at Hoss.

Ben thought that was a little strange, but let it go.

”Just as long as he gets an early start tomorrow. I need you boys to cover for him for the next few days.”

Joe asked “How long is he going to be away for Pa?”

”It should be until late Thursday or early Friday, I think Joe. You’ll both be busy rounding up strays in the north pasture to worry about him. Why do want to know how long he’ll be away for?”

Joe glanced at the door. “Have you forgotten what day Saturday is?”

”Saturday?”

”Yeah Pa, Adam’s birthday.” Hoss whispered.

Ben looked as his sons. “I had forgotten that. I was too busy thinking about that contract to remember. He should be home on Friday morning at the latest.”

”Phew, the little party Hoss and I have planned should still be okay, do you think? He’ll definitely be home on Friday.” Joe looked at Hoss.

”Yeah Joe, we’ll just keep an eye out for him, while we round up them stray beeves.”

”Who’s coming Joe, Hoss?”

”It’s just us Pa, but we’ve just gone a bit extra this year after all he will be 30.”

Just then Adam walked in the door. He looked at his father and brothers seated at table. Ben gave him a nod.

”Did you enjoy supper Adam?”

”What? Oh yeah Pa. I’m going to turn in. I’ll need to get an early start in the morning.”

”Goodnight Pa.” He gave Little Joe and Hoss a piercing stare, making sure they knew he didn’t want them saying anything about him to their father. Ben noticed the way Hoss and Joe glanced between themselves. He thought there was something going on between his three sons, hopefully one of them would tell him. He made a mental note to ask them once dinner was over. Turning back to Adam, he watched him make his way across the floor and up the stairs.

”Goodnight Hoss and Joe, see you on Friday in the north pasture.”

”Night Adam.” said Hoss giving him a wink.

”Goodnight Adam, have a good trip. Make sure you do the job carefully, I’m counting on you. We need this contract to help ease us through the coming winter.”

As Adam crossed the floor he could feel his father’s eyes on him. ‘I should say I can’t go, but if I do I’ll be letting him down. This is too important for him.’ he thought, ‘I’ll make do. This headache should go after a good night’s sleep.’ he gave himself a little smile.

Walking up the stairs was difficult. Every time he put his foot on the stairs, the jolt went straight up his backbone to his head. Adam hurried up the rest of the stairs, hoping that his father wouldn’t notice his discomfort and question him. Quickly he opened the door to his room, closed it quietly and gratefully sat on the edge of the bed. 

He leaned down to take off his boots and felt his head scream at him. He quickly lifted his head back up and that hurt even worse. He decided to make all his movements slow. Moving his head gently to one side confirmed his theory - it hadn’t hurt. Gently he lifted his left foot off the floor and grabbing his boot, gave a tug. The boot came off after a little struggle. He grimly thought, one down and one to go as he placed the boot beside the chair. He had the same trouble with the right boot. Easing himself slowly off the bed, he turned and folded down the bedding. Unbuttoning his shirt and taking it off, he laid it over the back of the chair, where the saddlebags were ready for tomorrow morning’s early start. Unbuttoning his jeans next, he slid them off and laid them on top of
the shirt. He decided to wash his face, thinking that it might help. He walked naked to the wash stand and found he’d forgotten to fill the water pitcher up. Getting dressed again and walking past his father to fill the pitcher didn’t appeal to him, so he let the thought go.

Adam went back to the bed and eased himself down between the sheets. Enjoying the comfort of the bed, he thought about the next four nights of only blankets, saddle and hard ground to lie on.

Like most men, he enjoyed snuggling into a comfortable, cozy bed. He tucked the second pillow under his left arm and cuddled into it.

Despite the thumping in his head, he was soon sound asleep, after all it had been a busy, but enjoyable weekend. 

*********


The headache soon woke him early the next morning. Remembering the previous night, he slowly sat up and threw his legs over the edge of the bed. Next he stood up and walked to the chair where he’d left his clothes. He put on his jeans then his shirt swiftly buttoning it up. Socks and boots on and he was ready. He thought about shaving but decided against it because one extra day’s growth wasn’t going to make much difference. He sat down on the bed and rechecked his gear.

”All I need now is hat, coat and gun. Better get a rifle too, some fresh meat will be good for dinner instead of just beans and jerky.” he said aloud to himself.

Picking up the saddlebag and throwing it over his shoulder, he made his way downstairs. Looking at the clock, as he passed it on his way to the kitchen, he realized it was 4.30am. He did say he wanted an early start. Sitting the saddlebag on the sideboard beside his gunbelt, he walked into the kitchen. Hop Sing had a pot sitting on the stove. As Adam lifted the lid and peered in at the meal the smell wafted up to him. He quickly put the lid back on with a clatter, as once again a wave of nausea swept over him. Adam leaned against the wall and shut his eyes, as another threatened him. He felt sweat breaking out all over his body, his legs threatening to collapse under him.

Hop Sing, who had just been woken by the clatter of the lid, entered the room, chattering away in Chinese.

”You all right Mr Adam?” He had expected to see Adam in the kitchen, but not leaning against the wall, obviously ill.

Adam jumped, startled by the sound of Hop Sing’s voice. He hadn’t expected anyone else to be awake at this early hour.

”Yeah.....Yeah I’m fine Hop Sing. Go back to bed, it’s still early.”

” No it alright. Hop Sing get plate of stew for you?”

”No No.” Adam said hastily, “I don’t feel like breakfast this morning, must be too early. I’ll eat somewhere along the trail, but thanks anyway. Bye Hop Sing.” and he quickly left the kitchen before the smell of food got the better of him.

”Bye Mr Adam.” Hop Sing was puzzled, usually Adam liked his stew for breakfast. That was why he’d made it up especially for him, because he knew Adam wasn’t going to get much good food for the next few days. Having decided it was no use going back to bed, Hop Sing began getting the kitchen ready for breakfast for the other members of the Cartwright family.

Beating his hasty retreat from the kitchen, Adam reached for his gun belt and buckled it on. Grabbing his saddlebag, coat and hat he quietly opened the door and let himself out into the cool fresh morning. He stopped outside to put the coat and hat on then walked quickly across the yard and into the barn with the saddlebag in his hand. 

As usual Sport greeted him with a nicker. He saddled him up with little fuss and noticed that someone had put his favorite rifle, bedroll and slicker near the saddle rack. He wondered who had put them there, because he’d forgotten them himself. Then he realized he hadn’t packed any provisions for the trip. Adam thought this headache is really causing problems, how could he have forgotten so many things. He’d been on plenty of trips like this before and never forgotten his bedroll, let alone food. 



He led Sport outside, tied him to the corral and turned to go back inside to collect a bag of provisions from Hop Sing’s kitchen. As he put his hand on the door latch to go inside, it was opened for him, taking him by surprise. Hoss stood in the doorway, the provisions bag in his hand and a worried expression on his face. 

Unable to sleep through worrying about him, Hoss heard Adam get up and decided to keep an eye on his brother, at least while he was still at the ranch. Knowing that Adam would never, directly ask him for help, Hoss decided to check on him, just to make sure he took everything he would need. From the top of the staircase, he watched Adam go into the kitchen and heard the exchange he had with Hop Sing. Judging the way Adam had walked out of the kitchen, Hoss knew that he was still feeling sick. After Adam had stepped outside and shut the front door, Hoss quickly ran down the stairs, entered the kitchen and spoke to Hop Sing,

” Hop Sing, did I hear Adam say he didn’t want any breakfast this morning?”

”Yes Mr Hoss.”

”Did he grab any food at all to take with him?”

”No Mr Hoss, not one piece. Mr Hoss, Mr Adam not very good, maybe he sick?”

Not looking directly as Hop Sing Hoss said. “No he’s fine. Find me a bag will you and I’ll fill it up with grub, before he rides out. He’s gonna need food for the trip, whether he thinks so or not.” He quickly stuffed the bag, thanked Hop Sing and went to the front door, hoping to catch Adam still in the yard.

Fortunately for Hoss, Adam met him at the door.

”Good timin’ Adam, I think you’ll be needin’ this somehow.” Hoss said as he handed over the bag. “I know you like livin’ off the
land but some jerky might come in handy.”

”Thanks Hoss, I did forget it. By the way, umm did you put the gear in the barn for me?”

Hoss gave him a little smile. “ Yep, I did that last night, after you’d gone to bed. I thought you might find them handy too.”

”Younger brother, there are sometimes I wonder what I’d do without you. I’m supposed to look after you, not the other way round.” and he gave Hoss a smile back.

” After all these years I think it’s about time I returned some of the favors. You feelin’ better this mornin’ Adam? Cause if you ain’t I can go in your place. Me and Little Joe talked it over last night and I decided to go if’n you couldn’t.”

”I’ve still got a headache but I’ll be all right Hoss. Don’t worry about me. And thanks for the offer. Thank Little Joe for me too. Tell

 
him I’ll see him on Friday morning.”

”See ya Adam.”

”Bye Hoss.”

Adam tied the bag to the saddle and quickly mounted up, swaying slightly in the saddle. He grabbed the saddle horn and straightened himself up, hoping that Hoss didn’t see what happened. As he turned Sport to ride out he looked back, gave Hoss a tight grin and wave. He tried to reassure his younger brother, to let him know he’d be all right by himself even though he wasn’t feeling comfortable with the idea either. He knew Hoss would come with him if he asked, but Adam knew that their father couldn’t afford to have both of them away in the mountains at the moment. Adam couldn’t take up Hoss’s offer to mark the trees because he wasn’t experienced enough to make the decisions, as he himself was.

Hoss waved back. He could tell Adam’s grin was forced. Hoss had seen his older brother sway and grab the saddle horn to stop himself from falling off. In the early morning light he’d also seen the pale, drawn face and tired eyes. He hadn’t got much sleep that night either, worrying about Adam. Concern for his brother swept through Hoss, knowing that Adam was going to be alone for 4 days. If something happened… it would take too long to reach him.

”He’s sick, too sick to be going into the mountains by himself.” Hoss said to himself, as he shook his head. “Dadblame stubborn fool, just like him not to say a word to anyone, especially Pa.” 

He could see Adam was determined to complete the survey, no matter how ill he felt. Adam’s stubbornness and his promise to his father would make him resist asking for help, even when he obviously needed it.

”Well Adam, I’ve got to admire your guts, but I sure hope we don’t have to go lookin for ya. You’ll be pretty darn hard to find in them hills.”

Sport eagerly broke into a trot as Adam nudged him out of the yard.

”Lets go boy, the sooner we start the sooner we’ve finished.”

 

**********

He’d barely covered 3 miles before his head was pounding from the movement of his horse’s hooves against the ground. After rising sharply up through his body, the pain stopped in his head, as if held in by his hat. There was still another 4 hours of steady riding before he made it to the section he had to survey for his father and could stop for a rest. Against his better judgment, Adam kept on pushing the pace. He knew that if he stopped, there was no way he wanted to start again. 

All through the first morning, Adam slowly felt his body getting weaker. The ride had sapped his energy so much so, that when he climbed down off his horse to have a break, he had to suddenly reach out and grab his saddle to stop himself from collapsing onto the ground. Besides the continual headache, he was starting to feel very tired and thirsty. Adam gulped down the urge to vomit and took a long, cool drink of water from his canteen. The way his thirst was heading he knew he’d have a few trips back and forth to the creek to keep the canteen full. 

Feeling sure that his legs were back to normal, he reached into his saddlebag and pulled out the map he and his father had prepared when they’d completed the initial survey. His job for the next few days was to mark each tree they needed to cut with a blaze.

He knew from that previous trip, that most of the trees in the area chosen were suitable for logging but for the loggers to select the correct trees they had to be marked. Adam searched his saddlebag again, this time he drew out a tomahawk to use to blaze the trees. Checking the map to make sure his bearings were correct, he strode across to the first tree and began chopping in a blaze.

Day two of his survey had started out the same as day one, only this morning he’d managed to make and eat breakfast. After a ride down to the creek to fill his canteen, he’d checked the map and ridden back up to start working.

Adam clung to a tree, for comfort more than balance, as his stomach heaved again. His legs buckled, too weak to hold him up as he vomited, and he slid down to the base of the tree. With his body shaking with effort, he lent his head against the rough bark and closed his eyes.

He dragged in deep, ragged breaths, trying to control the nausea threatening to engulf him yet again. He knew there was nothing left in his stomach from breakfast because three times already he’d been physically ill and it was only mid-morning.

Slowly the nausea faded and he struggled to open his eyes. He forced his eyes open, knowing that if he didn’t, he’d fall asleep where he was. He had too much work to do for his father to give into the tempting urge to sleep. Adam struggled to remember the last time he’d felt so terribly tired, so horribly ill.

Sliding his hands off the tree, he lent over on all fours, chest heaving from the exertion. With his head hanging, he gasped for breath as he felt the headache return, barging it’s way across his forehead.

Gathering his feet under him and using the tree as support, he pushed himself upright. His head swam, dizziness caused the ground to rise up towards him, then recede. He couldn’t breathe without panting. His chest felt as though he’d tight bandages wrapped around it, constricting his breaths. Gradually he felt his body come back under his control. 

He raised his head, trying to get his bearings. At the rate he was going he wasn’t going to get the survey finished. Adam forced himself to move, with only today and another two days left, if he didn’t hurry up they’d miss the contract. He knew how important this contract was to his father, to them. If he didn’t complete the work on time…he didn’t want to think about that any more.

Adam kept working, hard for the rest of the day, stopping only to take a drink and refill the canteen when he’d emptied it. 

By the evening of the last day he could barely crawl into his bedroll, after banking the fire. Again he’d missed eating another meal, not being able to force the food into his mouth. His body was terribly weak from lack of food and wracked by violent spasms of dry retching. He dragged the crumpled survey sheet out of his pocket and struggled to read it. The figures and markings blurred before his eyes. 

Rubbing his eyes with the back of his hand, he studied the sheet again, just making enough sense to know that he’d completed what he’d set out to do. Placing the survey sheet back into his pocket, he lay back down and dozed, fitfully on and off during the night.

**********


Hoss sat on the tack box, his strong back leaning against the rough wall of the barn. Deep in thought, he absently twisted the whittling knife in his hands. He was thinking so deeply, he didn’t hear Little Joe lead Cochise through the doors and into her stall.

Joe stopped short when he noticed Hoss, surprised to find him in such a quiet state.

”Hey Hoss.” Yelled Joe.

”What’s the matter?” cried Hoss, jumping up from the box, startled from his thoughts.

”You alright?” continued Joe, concerned for his brother, he ran over to him and placed his hand on Hoss’ shoulder. It was so uncharacteristic for Hoss to be so moody.

”What? Oh Yeah, sure Little Joe, just thinkin’.” 

”What about? It concerns Adam doesn’t it? Want to tell me about it?”

Hoss flicked his eyes up at Joe, then back to the knife in his hands. His fingers picked at the sharp blade.

Joe could see Hoss wanted to talk, to say what was on his mind. Hoss usually talked with Adam when he was worried, but this time Adam couldn’t help. With a sigh he sat on the edge of the seat and patted the box, indicating Hoss should sit back down with him. Joe stretched his legs out, crossed his ankles and wiggled his feet while he waited for Hoss to sit down. Crossing his arms he lent back against the barn wall, waiting for Hoss to speak.

”What have you got for Adam for his birthday? Asked Hoss.

Joe was surprised by the question and started to wonder what had brought this question from Hoss. It wasn’t what Joe had been expecting to talk about.

Joe replied, “Haven’t decided yet. Pete at the mercantile said Adam had been looking at a new penknife at his store. I was thinking of maybe getting that for him seeing as how he borrowed my spare on account of the Shoshoni taking his. Why do you want to know?”

”Nuthin’ really. I just want to give Adam something special this year, that’s all.”

”Why because it’s his 30th?”

”Yeah, that too.” 

Joe thought about Hoss’ answer. He’d missed something in Hoss’ reply.

”Got anything in mind? Oh you weren’t planning on giving him the penknife were you? If you did I’ll find something else to give him.”

”No, go ahead and get him that Joe, I’m sure he’ll appreciate it. What I’m really wantin’ to do is get him somethin’ to help him about Ruth.”

”That’s going to be hard. What did you have in mind?”

”Tell me if this is stupid, but I’d like him to have somethin’ to remember her by, somethin’ that I can make.”

”That sounds like a great idea Hoss. Do you know what you want to make for him?”

”Well I’ve done some sketches and I’d like you to tell me what you think.”

”Sure Hoss, anything to help you and Adam.”

Hoss pulled out a large scrap of paper out of his pocket. He carefully unfolded the paper and handed it to Joe. On it were a number of pencil sketches. Mountains, trees, the lake, rivers, clouds and shapes of faces.

”I’d like to whittle a present for Adam, with some of these designs on it.”

”Are you going to put all of these sketches together on the one or what?” questioned Joe, as he studied the designs.

”How does a carving to sit on his table sound? I could use some of that soft wood that’s lyin’ around. It’s got a great grain runnin’ through it.”

”Hey Hoss and maybe a mountain at the back and trees. How about water across the front? But what’s with the clouds and face? How are you going to put that in?”

Hoss stared at his sketches, his mind searching for possible answers for the design. Suddenly he smiled at Little Joe and threw his arms around his little brother.

”I’ve got it Joe. I’ll make a wall plaque so’s he can hang it on the wall. I’ll use the mountain, pine trees and water in the bottom half. And in the top the clouds …” Hoss didn’t finish his sentence. His mind flying in all directions as to the design.

”Now where’s all that wood been put? I’m gonna need a piece about a foot by a foot. Thanks little brother, you’ve been a big help to me.” Hoss stood quickly, leaving Joe sitting by himself on the tack box.

Joe sat in bewilderment. He’d never seen Hoss so excited about a present before. He’d managed to cheer him up and he didn’t quite know how he’d done it. With a sobering thought he realized how much Hoss cared for Adam. He knew Hoss was concerned with Adam being away and feeling ill. But he hadn’t known the depth Hoss felt Adam’s loss of Ruth. Tears sprung to Joe’s eyes as he felt Hoss’ love for Adam. When Adam received the present, he would be able to feel every ounce of love and passion Hoss had put into it. Joe wondered who needed the help the most in this family - his father, Hoss and himself for not being able to comfort Adam or Adam. 

Joe slowly followed the sounds of his brother as he searched about the barn for the appropriate piece of wood. 

**********
 


The past four days had been hell. The completed survey sheet was safely tucked away in his saddlebag but he felt he’d paid dearly for it. Again this morning he’d woken up weak and nauseated. Again breakfast had been out of the question. The headache hadn’t gone, if anything was worse, he couldn’t think straight. There had been no escaping it. Every time he bent over the pain would intensify. If he managed to get to sleep, it wasn’t for long as the pain would wake him up. His whole body ached. He felt miserable and irritable. Most of the time he was swapping between shivering even at midday, when the sun was at its warmest or breaking out into sweats. He’d lost count of how many times he’d filled the canteen and every time he got off the horse, the harder it was to climb back on. He couldn’t satisfy his thirst.

As Adam rode down the hill mid-afternoon, he could see Little Joe herding a small group of cattle towards home. They were still quite a way from the ranch and herding the cattle would make the ride that much longer. He wasn’t sure whether he could hold out long enough to help Joe herd them in or just keep on going. 

Adam wiped his face with his bandanna. The afternoon was warm, but not enough for him to be this hot. He felt his body break into a sweat. He reined his horse in and reached for his canteen. As he lent over to get the canteen his head started to thump again, this time much worse than he had experienced before.

”Aaaah” he cried and grabbed his head with both hands, swaying in the saddle.

”Adam, are you Okay?” called out Little Joe, who had just seen his brother and rode up to greet him. He’d been expecting him to ride down from the hills all morning. Hoss had told him about how ill he thought their older brother was and to keep a close lookout for him. 

He noticed Adam’s face was pale and drawn; his eyes red and hollow. Joe quickly glanced over his brother’s body; aware that he’d
lost weight, his black shirt looked darker then normal as it clung to the outline of his body.

”No Joe, I’m...” Adam never finished the sentence. He fell out of the saddle, hitting the ground hard.

”Adam.” Joe yelled, jumped of his horse and ran to Adam who was lying where he fell. He gently rolled him onto his back. Blood was trickling from a cut across his left eye and from a corner of his mouth. Adam’s glazed eyes were open, staring at nothing but the sky. His body a mass of sweat and his wet shirt clung to him. Little Joe could hear Adam’s teeth chattering between his gasping for breath.

Adam struggled to speak, “Joe…. Joe help me.” 

”Adam, what’s wrong? Hold still I’ll get help….” Joe’s voice was full of concern. He’d never seen his brother like this before. It frightened him. He and Hoss should never have let him go alone on Monday. What had happened to him?

”Joe, it’s my head.” His body stiffened in pain and he lost consciousness.

”Adam.” Little Joe cried as he shook his brother. “Adam.”

Joe reached for his gun, pointed it to the sky and fired off three shots. This was the family’s standard call for help. He knew Hoss and his father weren’t too far away. He had no sooner holstered the gun when his father and brother came charging up. Ben hadn’t intended riding to the range with Joe and Hoss that morning but was keen to meet Adam and discuss the results of his survey. Joe and Hoss looked at each other, horror on their faces. Ben missed the look, too intent on Adam. Hoss knew something was going to happen because Adam had left sick, but he was unprepared for what Adam looked like now. He threw another glance at Joe. When their eyes met, they each saw the guilt reflected in the other’s eyes.

”Joseph, what’s happened to Adam?” Cried Ben as he jumped off his horse and rushed to Adam.

”Pa, he just fell off his horse. He just came riding down the hill to me and said his head was hurting.”

Ben quickly knelt beside Adam and felt his forehead. “He’s burning up with a fever. Where’s this blood on his mouth coming from? Hoss go back to the ranch and get the wagon from the barn. Joseph go fetch the Doctor, now.” 

Joe threw himself on Cochise’s back and galloped off in the direction of Virginia City, but not before glancing back at his father and brother. Hoss climbed on Chubb and set off in a gallop toward the ranch house. He too looked back at his father crouched beside Adam.

When he looked back at his son’s face, Adam’s eyes were open. Ben could see the pain in them.

”Adam, son, hold on we’re getting help for you.” Ben reached for Adam’s hand, grasping it tightly, trying to comfort him through the contact.

”Pa....Pa.”

Ben looked into his eldest son’s face, he could see Adam was in agony by the hardness in his face. There was also something else in
his eyes. Fear. His son was afraid, very afraid.

”Son, what’s, happened? What’s gone wrong?”

”Pa... my head. My head it’s as though it’s ready to burst. I can’t stand it much longer.”

”Hold on Adam, Hoss is getting the wagon and Joseph’s gone for the Doctor. They won’t be long.”

”Pa... I...need … water.” he croaked, his tongue feeling thick in his mouth. Adam couldn’t believe he could hurt so much. He’d never experienced pain as completely as this. His whole body was engulfed in agony. There was a new pain in his chest, cutting through the pain when he breathed in. Every part screamed at him. The worst was his head, he felt like it was going to explode. His could feel his heart pounding in his chest and he was cold. No, he was hot. He couldn’t even tell which one any more. He realized he was lying on the ground, then his vision blurred as blackness crept at the edges of his vision. It was beginning to creep inwards. 

Adam screamed in agony and fear. “Paaaa”, but not a sound escaped his lips.

Ben ran to his horse for the canteen. When he knelt beside him, Adam’s eyes were closed. Ripping off his bandanna, he poured out some of the water onto it and bathed Adams’ face. He let the water trickle into Adam’s mouth, trying not to choke him. 

”Adam, Adam.” Ben reached to feel for Adam’s pulse. He managed to just find it. It was faint but racing so fast he couldn’t count it.

”Oh Adam, my son. What’s happened? How can I help you?” he cried in anguish.

Ben looked at Adam. “What the hell happened to cause this?’ he thought. He reached down and touched his son’s face gently. He felt hot and clammy. Beads of perspiration had formed on Adam’s top lip and forehead, the blood from his cut dribbled down the side of his face. His clothes were wet as though he’d been caught in a shower of rain. Even in his unconscious state Adam’s body twitched in pain or was he shivering, Ben wasn’t sure. How could his son have gone from happy on Sunday to this... this in four days? He had felt the agony and his terror in his son’s voice. Ben felt the pain as it wracked his son’s body. 

He could feel Adam’s fear, for it was also his own. As he looked down at Adam’s face, he felt tears swelling up from deep within, and he cried as he had seldom cried, only three times before.

Ben held Adam’s hand until Hoss arrived with the wagon. Washing the sweat and blood from his face, then cooling it with clean water.

”How is he Pa?” Hoss asked, seeing the tears on his father’s face, fearing the worst.

”Hoss I don’t know. I just don’t know. He’s alive, but barely. Quick lets get him into the wagon and back home.” Ben bent over to lift Adam up.

”It’s all right Pa, I’ll get him in the wagon, it’s the least I can do, now.” Hoss gently lifted his older brother into the wagon. Adam moaned. He had thrown a pile of blankets and pillows into the wagon to soften the ride home. Hoss tied the horses to the wagon while Ben covered Adam. Ben then climbed into the wagon and cradled Adam’s head in his arms.

”Help’s on the way Adam. Hold on.” Ben said reassuringly for as much as Hoss’ sake as well as Adam’s.

Fortunately Adam stayed unconscious for the long ride down from the mountain pasture to the ranch house. He cried out, once in agony, when Hoss couldn’t miss a rut and the wagon had bounce severely, almost throwing Ben out

**********


When they arrived, the Doctor and Little Joe met them in the yard. He’d only arrived shortly beforehand. Joe had tried to explain what he knew of Adam’s condition to the Doctor, but he seemed strangely familiar with the symptoms. 

”Ben take him straight up to his room, I’ll examine him there. Joe tells me Adam said his head was hurting. Did he say anything else?”

”No, nothing. Yes, wait a minute, he said he was thirsty. I went to get my canteen and by the time I came back he was unconscious. Hoss will you take Adam upstairs?”

”Sure Pa.”

”Pa, I’ll help Hoss.”

”Gently boys, gently.” said the Doctor, “Don’t bump his head at all.”

Adam groaned and his head lolled back as Hoss carried him in his arms up to his room.

Ben and the Doctor followed behind them.

”Hoss, Joe has Adam said anything to you in the last few days or done anything differently?’

”Paul, he’s been out checking on some timber since Monday morning. We don’t know what happened. “ Replied Ben, not taking his eyes of Adam as Hoss laid him on the bed.

”Has he been off his food, not eating?”

”He didn’t eat dinner Sunday.” said Hoss.

”Yes, come to think of it I think so too Doctor. Hop Sing mentioned something to me, but I wasn’t quite listening.” Ben turned, at the door he said “Hop Sing, Hop Sing come up stairs please, we’re in Adam’s room.”

”Yes Mr Ben? Mr Adam sick?”

”Hop Sing had Adam been different the past few days, before he left?”

Hop Sing thought for a few moments. “Yes Doctor, he not eat much, not breakfast on Monday. He say had headache.”

”A headache” the Doctor repeated.

”Ben, Hoss, Little Joe, any of you not feeling well, any headaches, nausea or lack of appetite? Any cuts or open wounds on your hands. Anywhere where you may have come in contact with Adam?” 

Paul Martin watched each man as they inspected their hands and arms, making sure they looked carefully.

”No.”

”Not me Doc.”

”No way, I never go off my food Doc.” Replied Hoss.

”Well that’s a relief to know that you three seem to be okay.”

Concerned, Ben asked. “What do you think it is Doctor?”

”Let me examine Adam first Ben. Then I’ll let you know, but I have a good idea already what I think it is. Now all of you outside
please.”

Little Joe and Hoss left the room and went down stairs with Hop Sing to wait in the great room. Ben stayed outside Adam’s room, pacing the hallway while Paul conducted his examination.

Two and a half hours later the door opened and Paul came out. He met Ben’s eye straightaway, concern etched on his face. He and Ben walked down the stairs; he wanted to tell them all at the same time.

 

"Ben, Adam is very, very ill. There is no easy way to tell you this, but the truth is it’s out of my hands. There is nothing more I can do. The wound on his head is clean, and it doesn’t need bandaging. He’s got three broken ribs, one of which was digging into his left lung and causing internal bleeding. I’ve repaired and bandaged them, but that’s not my main concern for him. I’ve managed to give him a sedative to help ease the headache and pain but......”

”Doctor? What exactly does that mean?”

”He’ll reach a point of crises sometime tonight or possibly tomorrow, the next 24 hours are critical. If he passes it, all well and good, if not... Stay close to him Ben, I’ll stop by in the morning.”

”Is there anything we can do to ease his pain, help him in the meantime Doctor?”

”Keep him as still as possible Ben. If it’s what I think it is, the headache is a symptom of his brain swelling and pressing against his skull. Falling off his horse and hitting his head hasn’t helped his chances.” Ben looked at the Doctor, stunned by what he’d just been told. Hoss and Little Joe glanced at each other, than back to their father, their distress showing on their faces..

”Yes Ben it’s as serious as that. I think he has meningitis.” Paul looked into the worried faces of the three men in front of him. He took a few moments to compose himself then added.

”Ben...in most cases...it’s fatal. If the brain swells anymore it will kill him. There’s no doubt about it.” He gave Ben an even look in the eye and took a deep breath. They had to know the truth.

”So far there have been seven deaths in town. In each case the brain swelling has caused their death. I don’t know how or where this illness has come from. The only clue I have so far is that everyone who has become infected has had a cut somewhere on their body. I can only assume, not that I should as a Doctor, that somehow this has caused the infection. Herb at the International Hotel told me that Adam had helped the first victim, a Mr Nash in the hotel on Saturday night. I can only guess that Adam had a cut on him somewhere too and as he helped Nash he became infected too. There’s not much known about the disease, I can’t even tell you howto cure it. All I can suggest is keep his head still as much as possible. Ben, there’s also something else you should know.”

Dreading any further news but noticing Paul’s eyes, Ben reluctantly nodded his head for Paul to continue.

”Nash is dead.”

Ben stared at Paul in horror. Hoss and Little Joe crossed the floor to stand beside their father as he staggered with the information, ready to catch him if he collapsed. 

”Will cold compresses help keep the swellin down Doc.” Suggested Hoss, “like we do for horses legs when they swell up?”

”We’ll try anything Hoss, that might help, at least it can’t hurt.” Said Dr Martin as he picked up his bag from where he’d placed it on the table.

”Thank you. Hop Sing will show you out.” Ben said in a daze. Adam, he had to get back to Adam. His son needed him.

”Pa, Hoss and I’ll take turns on sitting up with him.”

”Yeah Pa. Pa Adam’s gonna pull through this all right. Don’t you worry none. He’s tough and strong. You go on up and get some
rest.”

”No, no you boys get the sleep. I’ll sit up with him. This is my responsibility, I sent him up the mountain.”

Slowly Hoss said, “Pa, I think there’s somethin’ you should know. I shoulda told you sooner and then you could have stopped him from goin’.”

Ben swung around at Hoss, anger flashing in his eyes. “You knew about this, you knew he was sick and you said nothing?”

”Pa, I knew about it too.” Said Joe, helping Hoss defend his inaction. “ Adam didn’t want you to worry about him. He knew how important the contract was and that he’d get it done for you no matter how sick he was. He told us not to tell you, that we couldn’t get it done in 4 days and it had to be him. None of us knew how sick he was, not even Adam himself.”

Rubbing his hand across his face, Ben replied, the anger gone in his voice, replaced by regret.

”I sent my own son away for 4 days when he was sick. No contract and no amount of money is more important than his life - any of your lives. You should have told me.”

Ben turned away from them and slowly walked up the stairs. Joe and Hoss followed, turned into their rooms but wanting to stay with their father and Adam. 

*********


Adam was lying in bed, sweat covering his face and chest. Ben squeezed the washcloth that was in the basin and wiped Adam’s face. Adam moaned softly as the water cooled his flushed face.

”Adam I can’t loose you too. You’re all I have left of Elizabeth. You are like your mother in so many ways. She would have had great joy in watching you grow into the man you are now.”

Adam moaned again, his eyes flickered open. He stared wildly about. “Pa, Pa where are you?” He cried in anguish, arms reaching out - searching.

”Here son, here I am.” Ben reached out and grabbed hold of one of Adam’s hands.

”Pa, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it.” Adam’s head started to thrash from side to side. His face awash with fear - sweat running down his face and neck. Ben tried to hold his head still with his remaining hand.

”I’m sorry, I didn’t listen to her and now she’s dead. I didn’t mean for her to die. I don’t want to die. Pa? Pa?” 

Adam started to struggle in bed. Ben reached over to hold him down by the shoulders, concern and alarm showing on his face. 

”Adam I’m here, it’s all right Adam.” Ben tried to reassure his son.

”Where is she Pa?”

”Who Adam? Who are you looking for?”

”Pa, where is she? Why did she have to die, I wanted her to be my wife? Why?”

Ben whispered “Ruth.”

Adam began thrashing again, only more violently.

”Stop Adam. Stop or you’ll hurt yourself. Keep your head still son.”

”No, no.” Adam threw his arms about, caught Ben on the side of his face and knocked him stunned to the floor.

”I’ve got to find you Ruth...”

Adam threw the covers off, lunging out of bed. His legs failed him and he fell hard onto the floor hitting his head. Ben rushed to him as Adam yelled in pain. He was breathing hard. His body shining with sweat.

”Why Pa? Why me? Why do they keep on leaving me alone? What have I done wrong?” Adam cried in agony, trying to get up off the floor.

”Who do you mean Adam?”

”Don’t leave me alone, Pa. Please, I don’t want to be alone.” He stared into his father’s eyes.

”Adam, I don’t. Come on I’ll help get you back into bed.”

Adam started fighting his father’s help.

”No I’ve got to get Ruth, I need her.”

Adam started to flail about with his arms and Ben couldn’t get a strong grip on him.

”Adam, Adam stop, you’ll hurt yourself.”

”Ruth…let me go. Don’t stop me, you can’t stop me, I have to be with her.”

Ben could tell he was loosing the battle, his son, in his delirium was too strong for him.

”Hoss, Hoss.” He yelled. “Get in here quickly, I need your help.”

Hoss came storming into the room, still fully clothed. He rushed to his father and brother.

”Help me hold him down. He wants to go and find Ruth.”

Hoss grabbed his brother and helped hold him down on the floor with his strong arms. Tears began to stream down his face as he saw his brother’s pain. Ben heard a sobbing noise and looked towards the door. Little Joe stood there, his face white, sharing his brothers’ agony in silence. Tears on his face too.

Adam continued to struggle, but was unable to break Hoss’s hold. Slowly his struggles became weaker, until exhausted, he finally stopped altogether. Ben and Hoss let go of Adam, he was unconscious again. Ben placed his hand on Adam’s chest; he could feel a
heartbeat.

”Let’s get him into bed Hoss. Help me lift him up.”

”Pa. I’ll do it.” Hoss croaked, his voice breaking with the strain he had just gone through of having to forcibly hold his brother down. He lifted Adam up in his arms. Adam’s head rested gently against Hoss’ chest. Ben helped Hoss lie him on the bed, softly moving a pillow under his head. He looked at each son. Little Joe still stood in the doorway, leaning against the side. His face wet with tears, but no longer crying, his arms hugged against his body.

”Go back to bed Joseph.” Ben said softly. Reluctantly Little Joe turned and left the room, glancing back at his family. Next Ben looked at Hoss. He could see that Hoss regretted having to hold down his brother. Hoss’ face could always show his feelings, so open, just like one of Adam’s books. 

Ben whispered “Hoss....Hoss. It was for the best son. We had no choice; he would have hurt himself if we’d let him go. Go to bed son, it’ll be better in the morning, you’ll see.”

Hoss raised his head, glancing from father to brother. He climbed off the floor, from where he’d knelt beside the bed and went to his father. Ben hugged him, reassuring him he said “ Hoss, he’s sleeping now. I’ll call you should I need you again.”

Hoss stiffened in Ben’s arms. “I don’t think that will happen now. He’s quiet. Now go to bed son.” Ben hastily reassured him. 

Ben wasn’t sure himself, but Hoss needed comforting words. Reluctantly Hoss let go of his father. Looking at Adam’s face, which was now relaxed, he said “Don’t ever tell him what I done Pa, please. I don’t ever want him to know that I held him down when he
was sick.”

Ben could sense the regret, sadness in his Gentle Giant of a son’s voice. As Hoss moved to leave he glanced from brother to father, then back to brother. He didn’t want to leave but left anyway, his head hung low.

Looking at Adam’s sleeping face, Ben was aware how drained he felt. He lowered himself into the chair. Adam’s face was relaxed and peaceful. His chest just rising and falling enough for Ben to see he was still breathing.

 

**********

 

Adam’s eyes flickered open, looking around he found he was in his own room. 

He turned his head and saw his father asleep in the chair. He was holding his mother’s music box in his hands. He looked tired. He wondered what had happened. Adam tried to call his father but nothing happened, his mouth was dry.

”Pa...Pa...” this time sound came out.

Ben leapt out of the chair, woken out of a sleep he hadn’t intended. He looked straight into his son’s eyes. His dark eyes returned his gaze. They were clear, no sign of pain in them at all. Ben studied Adam; his hair was matted from perspiration, his face pale and drawn. As his eldest son gave him a faint smile he was aware just how close he’d come to loosing him. To have lost Adam would have devastated him. He was the only link he had with Elizabeth. 

The task of having to forcibly hold Adam down last night had cut him to the core of his soul. He felt relieved that Adam had woken up and spoken to him. 

”Pa....?” Adam asked again.

Ben noticed the questioning tone of Adam’s voice in those three words.

”Thank God.” Ben prayed.

”Adam.” He went and placed his hand on Adam’s forehead.

”The fever has gone. Any headaches or pain son?” 

”Yes, my chest hurts. I’m just a bit tired and stiff as though a horse has sat on me.”

Ben smiled slightly and said to himself ‘Not a horse, a Hoss.’ but he replied “Well you did give me a good fight Adam.”

”Was it a long night?”

”No, not too long. I, I had company.” Ben said as he placed the music box back on the desk beside Adam’s bed.

”Memories?” asked Adam. Ben nodded and sat back on the chair, facing Adam. He could see by the look in Adam’s face that he
wanted to talk.

”I had memories too. All kind of mixed up, in a dream. I was on a clipper ship, sailing on a dark and black sea. And then all of a sudden the sun came up. I guess it was one of stories, you used to tell me as a boy huh?”

”Memories and dreams are precious things Adam. They’re always there when you need them most.”

”How long have I been sick for?

”It’s Saturday Adam. Yesterday and last night were bad, but I think the worst is over. Doc Martin will be calling in today to check on you.”

”What happened? All I remember is having a headache and wanting to be sick. I lost track of the days. I think the survey is completed, it should be in my saddlebag. The last thing I remember is seeing Joe and riding down to met him, that’s all.”

”Do you remember the man you helped last Saturday in the International Hotel?” Ben asked, the reason for Adam’s trip forgotten for the moment.

”Umm, yes, I think so.”

”Well it turns out what he had was meningitis. He gave it to you by accident, when you helped him. He was involved in an accident in the mine and quite a few miners in Virginia City were infected as well. You’re one of the lucky ones son. Most of the people he infected died. He’s dead too.” Ben stated bluntly.

”Oh.” Adam suddenly aware of how close he’d been to death. Stunned, “Is everyone else.... Joe, Hoss, you. Are you all Okay?”

Ben smiled. How typical of Adam to ask about his family. He was always amazed at the love shared between his sons and him. “Yes Adam, we’re all fine. Hoss and Joseph would like to see you. Are you feeling up to it?”

”Sure Pa.” Adam gave him a little smile. He tucked one hand behind his head.

Just as Ben stood up to get the boys, Hoss and Little Joe stuck their heads into the room.

”See I told you he was awake.” Said Little Joe. “I didn’t think Pa was talking to himself.”

”Adam.... it’s good to see ya. You all right?” Hoss asked concern still on his face as he walked into the room, with Joe following.

”Yeah Hoss, I’m all right, hungry, thirsty and tired but other than that Okay. I could do with a bath too.” He said with a smile.

With that Ben, Hoss and Little Joe all started laughing. Adam was definitely feeling better.

Adam looked from one face to the other. “What’s going on?” he asked perplexed.

Hoss brought his right hand from behind his back, in it was a wrapped parcel.

”What’s this for?”

Smiling Hoss said. “Happy birthday Adam.”

Adam had to think hard. Had the week gone by that quickly that it was the Saturday of his birthday? “Hey, you’re right it’s Saturday isn’t it.”

”Yes son, it’s Saturday.” 

” We didn’t think you was gonna make it, big brother. Open your gift.”

Ben watched the smile on Hoss’ face. Joe had told him how Hoss had spent hours using his whittling skill on what he’d made for Adam. Ben reached over to Adam, holding him carefully as Joe packed the pillows behind Adam’s back to support him as he sat up
to open the gift.

Adam slowly unwrapped the gift. He was surprised at how weak he felt. 

The wrapping came away to reveal a flat wooden carving. The scene of a high mountain peak, ponderosa trees and a stream winding it’s way across the foreground. There was a blank section in the sky among the clouds.

Adam raised his eyes to Hoss. A wondering look on his face. “Is that what I think it is…”

”Yes Adam it’s The Mountain of The Dead. I hope you don’t mind. It’s not finished either.”

”It isn’t?” questioned Little Joe, glaring at Hoss. “I thought you said you’d give it to Adam when it was finished.”

”No you didn’t listen, like always. I said I’d give it to Adam for his birthday. I didn’t say it was gonna be finished. Besides I can’t finish it, not yet anyways.”

”Why not Hoss?” asked Adam “It looks great, um, except for the bit in the clouds.”

”Yeah well that’s the part I couldn’t finish.”

”Why couldn’t you finish it son?” Ben asked softly. Understanding the way Hoss felt about his oldest brother and the recent loss of Ruth, he felt that he knew what Hoss was about to say.

”Adam…I wanted to whittle Ruth’s face in the clouds, looking down at you, but you never said what she looked like. I couldn’t finish it…..” Hoss’ voice trailed off. He looked down at his hands; ashamed he couldn’t complete Adam’s gift.

Adam gripped the carving tightly in his hands, closing his eyes he fought off the tears threatening to fall down his face. He knew how proud Hoss was of his whittling. To give this to him on his birthday and not completed, must have hurt him. 

”Hoss…thank you. Thank you so much. I’ve plenty of time to tell you what Ruth looked like. Don’t be upset because it’s not finished. It’s….” Adam voice broke. He didn’t finish his sentence as the tears, which had threatened earlier, now fell silently down his cheeks.

Hoss stooped down and gathered Adam in his strong arms, comforting him. 

”I made it so that you’d always remember Ruth, and the time you shared together.” 

Over the top of Hoss’ shoulder, Adam slowly managed to control his emotions long enough to speak to his precious family.

”Thank you Hoss, Pa, Little Joe. It’s a wonderful Birthday Gift.”



******End*******

 

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