All the King's Horses
Julie Jurkovich

Author’s note:

In chapter 1, I am indebted to Laura Ingalls Wilder for her account of the Indian in town in her book, The Long Winter. Though my account of a similar incident differs from hers, the idea remains hers.

In Chapter 5, the poetry selections are by Walt Whitman.  The first is from ‘Song of Myself,’ published in Leaves of Grass (first edition 1855).  The second is from The Pocket Book of Modern Verse, 1974 edition.

Chapter 1

Adam rode Sport hard as he left Hoss.  Ordinarily, he would have been easier on his horse, but he was distracted, angry,  and anxious to get home.  The  men's taunts rang in his ears as the wind whistled by him:  "Injun lover!  Coward!  Whyn'tcha go live with them, if you love 'em so much?"  The drunken fools!  His temper had almost gotten the better of him.  Hoss had stopped him from fighting just in time.  Good thing reason prevailed in his brother's cool head.

He and Hoss  had finished up their errands in Virginia City.   Then, they rode together in the wagon to the Ponderosa, where they parted.  Hoss went in the house with a heavy heart, while Adam continued recklessly home on Sport.  Sheriff Coffee's remark  regarding the Indian rankled in Adam's memory as he followed the familiar road to the house he shared with his wife of the past several years:  "He's not our problem, Adam!"  The lack of justice behind those words, Adam thought grimly, would return not only on Roy Coffee's head, but on the head of everyone in and around Virginia City, until they had been repaid many times over.

Adam's blood boiled as he thought of the indignities suffered, and those narrowly avoided, by the venerable old man who had visited the town.  The old Indian had entered Smythe's General Store close to the edge of town, and watched all of them.  Upon seeing an Indian,  Adam looked at him, then the men next to Adam turned to see what he was looking at.  Soon, everyone turned to stare at the old man.  Conversation ceased.  Everyone rose, unsure whether or not to draw weapons, speak, or remain silent.

During the next few minutes, not a word was spoken.  The Indian stood still and silent, turning his dark, expressionless eyes at each of them in turn.  His deep brown skin was etched with wrinkles.  The men in the store stared at him, from the band about his head to the embroidered symbols on his collar to the bead work on his belt, and down to the moccasins on his feet, but few of their stares were friendly.

"Big snow come,"  said the Indian.  "Big, big snow.  Come soon.  Come early."

No one spoke.  All the townsfolk were too shocked to reply.

"Big snow, big wind," the Indian continued.  He looked about the store at the gathered men.  "Many moons."  He held up four fingers, then three.   "Big,   big snow - many moons."

He pointed to himself proudly.  "Old!  I have seen!  I know!   You listen."  He walked out of the store as silently as he had entered, mounted his waiting pony, wrapped a blanket sewn of strips of rabbit skin about him, and rode off.

Adam understood him.  He explained to the other townspeople, as they stood gaping after the man, that they were about to have a long, hard winter, and it would last for seven months.  He had been in Nevada Territory since he was a young boy, but had never experienced winter snowstorms that persisted that long.   Virginia City, however,  was still a relatively young city, bustling and sometimes prosperous, but filled with new folks, many of whom were from the East and unfamiliar with western blizzards.

Adam was grateful for the information provided by the Indian.  He certainly didn't have to risk his life by coming to Virginia City to warn the white people, who had taken and ravaged his land, decimated the antelope and buffalo herds, and murdered his people, about an early winter that might starve and freeze them.  But Adam didn't expect that others in the town would feel the same way.

He wasn't disappointed.  An Indian in native clothing, traveling alone, was too difficult to ignore and too easy to hate after the Paiute War.  "You suppose the old savage knows what he's sayin'?"  The speaker 's elbows rested on the counter at the front of the store.  Next to him were his purchases of a can of kerosene, a slab of bacon, and a sack of cornmeal.  Several-day's growth of beard covered his jaw, which moved and bulged with the wad of tobacco he chewed.  He turned his head to the opposite wall and spat a stream of tobacco juice toward a spittoon.  He missed, and the dark brown stream splattered against the wall and ran in rivulets to the floor .

Adam tried to conceal his distaste for Jed Wilson.  The man was a habitual drunkard, and was responsible for much of the trouble currently brewing in Virginia City.  He spoke against the Indians, the Chinese, and the Negroes - anyone whose skin was not white - and stirred up many of the townspeople against them, their homes, their businesses, their customers, and those who defended them.   His cousin, Mike Wilson, had been one of the reasons for the problems at Wilson's Station last year, which had led to the Paiute War.  After Adam had been forced to kill Mike Wilson in self defense, Jed came to town and said he was "gonna git Adam Cartwright for killin' his cousin."  But he was neither gutsy nor sober enough to follow through on his threat.

"I should think so," Adam replied.  "There's no reason for him to endanger his life by coming to town and telling  us something that could save our lives."

"I don't think he means to save our lives," said a voice behind Adam.  "I think he means to scare us off, drive us away."  A chorus of voices rose in agreement.  Adam turned to see Ted  Williams, Wilson's friend and ever-present companion in trouble.  He swayed as he spoke, and the ladies near  him hastened to move away from his whiskey-laden breath.  He had seen the Indian ride into town as he left the saloon, and followed him into the General Store.

"Let's go after him!"

"Let's show those Paiutes and Bannocks that they're dealing with men, not greenhorns!"

"Let's get rid of these Indians once and for all!"

The men stampeded from the store, despite anything Adam did or said.  They were joined by others from the saloon and various houses and stores in town.  Adam dashed to the feed store, found Hoss out front wondering what the commotion was about, and told him the news.  As their horses were hitched to the wagon, they "borrowed" a couple of horses standing at the hitching rail by the feed store, and together they rode to the head of the mob.

The two ringleaders, Wilson and  Williams, who were liberally sharing a flask of whiskey, were leading the mob after the Indian.  As they caught sight of him in the distance, they yelled obscene names and insults to his ramrod-straight back.  Adam and Hoss  rode between them and the Indian and refused to let them pass.  Unwilling to get in a shooting match with two Cartwrights, and being cowards at heart,  as well as drunk, most of them  backed down.

It hadn't been as hard as Adam had feared to dissuade the rest of the crowd .  It was cold, especially outside of town, where there were no buildings to break the brisk wind blowing out of the mountains.  Hoss convinced them that they were no match for an Indian in the wild country, and Adam assured them that this Indian surely had not left his village unaccompanied.  There must be other Indians waiting for him in the hills.  Did they want an Indian attack on their city, and their womenfolk and children endangered?  Besides, Hoss chimed in, they weren't provisioned for winter.  They might have to travel further than they thought, and in this wind and cold, why, they'd soon freeze.

Hoss glanced at the clouds over the mountains, and said he wouldn't be surprised if it snowed soon.  Now, he didn't really think it would snow, or he wouldn't have come into town.  Nonetheless, Hoss made sure this mob of feeble-minded ne'er-do-wells knew that snowstorms in Nevada Territory were fearsome, sudden, and ferocious.  People had been known to freeze to death in a blizzard when they were less than six feet from shelter which they couldn't see.

"You're bluffing!"  someone from the crowd shouted.

Adam smiled sardonically, threw his leg over the saddle horn, and said, "You're welcome to find out, if you'd like."

Most of the remaining crowd had turned around and gone home then, with their enthusiasm considerably dimmed.  Only a few men had stayed to face Adam and Hoss.  "You Cartwrights make me sick," growled Williams.  "Always stickin' up for them Injuns, tellin' everybody what to do!"

The men baited Adam and Hoss with insults, but didn't get a reaction until Ned Tucker, who worked in the livery in town when he wasn't getting drunk in the saloon, said, "Who's with your pretty wife, Adam?  Huh?" He leaned to the side of his horse and spat on the ground.  "You didn't leave her alone with those children, did you?  Especially that pretty oldest girl who looks so much like her!"    He leaned his head back and laughed.  "Maybe we should pay a visit out there some day, boys!"

The other men laughed with him and started to agree that they had to be neighborly, but before the words were past their lips, Adam was on Ned, pulling him off of his horse and flattening him  with a punch.  The other men leaped off their horses to join in the fight, and Adam, despite his fury and their drunkenness, would soon have been overpowered.   Hoss  fired his gun over their heads.  When the men reached for their weapons, Hoss said, "Don't try it!"

Adam drew his gun and backed up his brother.  "Get back on your horses," said Adam, "and go back to town."

Slowly, the dwindling crowd moved to their horses.  "Bossy, ain't he?"  said Tucker.

"Yeah, he's a Cartwright.  Takes after his old man."

"Shut up!"  Adam nearly exploded.  He and Hoss hadn't yet finished their errands in town, and the thought of going back there, while leaving Jenny and the children without him one moment longer than necessary, agonized him.  "Get back in town!"  Adam hissed.  "And leave the men who haven't done you any harm alone!"

Muttering oaths and insults under their breaths, what was left of the mob turned their horses and went back to town.  Hoss and Adam watched them go with a heavy heart.

"Adam," said Hoss, "why do you reckon so many o' them folks hate the Injuns so?  Why, all one has to do is show his face, and ever'body's up in arms!  We ain't had no problem with the Injuns for about a year or so now."

"No," said Adam, "and most of the problems we have had in the past were our fault, not theirs."

As they started back to Virginia City, Hoss asked, "But these folks weren't here when we had those problems.  Most of 'em, anyway.  Lots of 'em are newcomers from the East."

"Yes, they are," Adam stonily agreed.  He stared straight ahead of him, his face expressionless.

"Still can't figure why they hate 'em so much," Hoss ventured to say, more to keep his brother talking to him than to get an answer.

"Because they're different."  Adam urged his horse to a trot and rode ahead of Hoss.

Hoss speeded up a little, but stayed behind his brother.  He worried when Adam was angry, and he had worried a lot about his brother lately.  Today's narrowly averted disaster was one of many injustices in Virginia City.  There had been talk of attacking the Indians and wiping them out, or driving them further into the inhospitable mountains.  Hired guns walked the street when they should be in jail.  The local politicians of the quickly growing town were in the pockets of the mine owners, who were thinly disguised criminals, and the townspeople were at their mercy as well.

Hoss knew Adam couldn't stand much more.  Whenever his older brother had been deeply troubled or angry, he had eventually spoken up. But not this time.   Now, he was becoming more and more silent.  Hoss feared that Adam was consumed by a boiling fury which was barely held in check by his icy restraint, and knew that an explosion couldn't be long in coming.

Adam and Hoss loaded the sacks of feed for the stock at the Ponderosa  and Adam's place in the wagon, picked up more supplies needed by Hop Sing, Ben, and Jenny at the General Store, and purchased fabric and some notions that Jenny had asked Adam to get for her.  As they left town, Wilson, Williams,  and Tucker followed at a safe distance, shouting vile names and jeeringly chanting, "Indian lover!  Indian lover!"   Their shouts followed them out of town, and once Hoss had to grab Adam's arm to prevent his brother from storming back.  Adam finally resumed his icy calm, and they rode in silence until they reached the Ponderosa, where Adam retrieved Sport from the stable and  they parted.

"So long, Adam," Hoss called.  "I'll be by with your part of these supplies tomorrow or the day after."  He received no response, but did not  expect one.  Hoss was glum and silent.  He turned the  the wagon full of supplies over to one of the hired hands,  instructed him on what to unload, and walked slowly into the house.  He dragged his feet over the threshold, sighed a deep, heavy sigh, and closed the door quietly behind him.

His father was at his desk in his study, and called out, "Adam?  Hoss?  Is that you?"

"Yeah, Pa, it's me," Hoss replied quietly.

Ben emerged from his study and looked at his middle son with concern. It wasn't like Hoss to enter the house so quietly.  He had thought it sounded like Adam coming in, but had not expected him to return with his brother.  "What's wrong, son?"  Ben asked.

Slowly and painfully, Hoss recounted the events of their journey into town.  "And the worst part of all, Pa, is that Sheriff Coffee came to us when we were back in town, and after he thanked us for helping, said that no matter what happened with the Indian, he wasn't our responsibility.  Pa, how d'ya reckon he figures that?"

Ben was silent for a minute.  "He has his hands full with the disorder and lawlessness in Virginia City already," he finally responded.  "Guess Roy has decided to focus on the white folks in town, and hopes the Indian problem will take care of itself.  He needs help.  One man, with a few deputies, can't take care of all those problems he's facing."

"Pa, there's something else, too,"  Hoss said.  He hadn't yet told his father what the men had said about Jenny, Adam's wife.  "Those characters Wilson, Williams, and Tucker, they talked about Jenny.  They asked if Adam had left her alone, and said they'd have to pay a visit out there.  That was Tucker, who said that.  Adam flattened him.  But he mentioned Karen, too.  Pa - I don't know if Jenny and the kids are safe out there."

Ben looked at Hoss.  "Are you suggesting I tell Adam he's not capable of protecting his wife and children?"

"No, Pa, of course not," protested Hoss.  But there are the four children, and Jenny being in the family way and all....and only Adam and a couple hands to protect them....Pa, maybe I oughta go out there."

Chapter 2

Ben looked out the window, pondering how to get his eldest son to accept an offer of extra protection for his wife and children.  Adam had been testy lately;  downright angry most of the time.  Jenny wasn't always feeling well, as she was expecting in four month's time, and had two young sons, Adam, Jr. and Benjamin, to care for.  The older two children, Karen and Rose, were a help with the boys, but the girls were still children themselves, and couldn't give Jenny as much help as she needed.

Even though Jenny had been blinded shortly before she had married Adam, she managed her household well.  She had learned her way around the house and yard, with Adam's help.  Her niece Karen, who had come to live with them at the tender age of four after they were married, knew, even at that  time, that she had to help her aunt, and be her "eyes".   At first, Adam had  hired women to help his wife, but Jenny was not happy with them.  The ones she liked could never stay very long, and many of the others were cross with her children and despised Jenny because of her blindness.  One of them told her that she had no business marrying and having children that she couldn't  care for.

Finally, Jenny had one of the hired hands help her when she needed it.  Karen and Rose learned at an early age to keep the floor clear of obstacles and to help with their little brothers.  Adam was often gone, working their ranch or helping on the Ponderosa, and she didn't want to trouble him with household needs.  Even though he loved her very much and had taken great care in building the house to accommodate her, she didn't want her blindness to be a burden to him.

Jenny felt weary and heavy with the child who was due in four months.  Though she was delighted at the thought of another child, she wondered how she would manage another little one.  Young Adam and Benjamin, at ages five and three, were both inquisitive children whose exploratory instincts Jenny and Adam were constantly having to curtail.  Karen and Rose were accustomed to watching out for and playing with  their little brothers, and Adam had fashioned a gate  across the doorway of one room of the house and had fenced off a section of their yard for them to play in, but the boys were constantly finding ways to "escape"  their confinement.

Jenny worried that the girls  were growing up too fast.  She remembered assuming responsibility for her niece when she was 16.  Though many frontier women were married at that age, she had been living with her parents in the East, and had become "mother" to Karen only when her parents, distraught and incapacitated after several deaths in their family and the disgrace of her sister, were incapable of caring for Karen.  She didn't want Karen and Rose to go through the adult responsibility she had endured at their young age, but it seemed she had no choice.  The boys knew perfectly well that she could not see, and even though they were generally well-behaved , there was enough child, and more than enough boy in them,  to take advantage of their mother's blindness.  Karen and Rose had their hands full in keeping them entertained and staying one step ahead of their antics.

Jenny sat down in a chair close to the stove and began to peel potatoes.  She listened to the sounds in the next room to be certain that she heard four voices - two girls, and two boys.  Yes, all  her children were accounted for.

She fought back the urge to cry.  Adam couldn't come home and see her crying, and he was due home at any minute.  He had been so angry and moody for the past several months.  At first, she thought she must be imagining it as a result of her being in the family way, but now she didn't think so.  She used to accompany Adam on trips into Virginia City, while they left the children at the Ponderosa, much to the delight of Grandfather Ben, Uncles Joe and Hoss, and Hop Sing.

But now, Adam refused to let her come with him, and she knew it wasn't just because she was with child.  She wasn't sure why.  She had enjoyed those trips into town.   It was an excursion away from home and the responsibilities there.  Adam wouldn't explain why she couldn't come with him.  She suspected something was wrong, but she didn't know what.  The easy camaraderie and love that they'd had in the early part of their marriage was gone.  Now, their relationship was strained and tumultuous.

Jenny wondered what had happened, and when.   Adam loved her and the children;  of that, there was no doubt.  He anticipated nearly every problem she may have at home, and provided for it.  He made certain that everything she needed for caring for herself and the household was where it belonged, so she could find it, and they both impressed upon the children the importance of putting things away.    He regularly went into town for supplies, and he and the girls put them where she expected to find them.  Because of his thoughtfulness, and Karen and Rose's help, she could manage her household as well as she did.

But Adam wouldn't talk to her anymore.  He used to share his doubts, fears, hopes, and dreams with her.  Now, he was silent, and moody.  Though Jenny couldn't see his face, she knew that something was very wrong, and her husband was deeply troubled.

When she had finished peeling the potatoes, she drew water into a pan from the hand pump Adam had installed from the well to the house, and sliced the potatoes in it.  She placed the pan on the stove, and laid her hand gingerly on top of the stove to feel how hot it was.

"Karen!"  she called her niece.  She heard Karen shut the gate to the other room, and cross the kitchen.  "See if we need wood in the stove, please.  It doesn't feel hot enough."

Karen's long hair was pulled back and fastened at the nape of her neck.  Her blue and white plaid dress rustled as she walked sedately across the kitchen.  She looked so much like her aunt that she could have easily been mistaken as her much younger sister.  She carefully opened the door on the front of the stove.  "Yes, it needs more wood."   She moved to the side of the stove.  "And the wood box is low."  Her speech and manner belied her nine years and indicated a maturity beyond them.

"Tell Adam and Rose to help you fill the wood box," said Jenny.  "Benjamin can stay with me."  Karen returned to the other children, and Jenny heard Adam and Rose scurry across the kitchen and drag the wood box out the door.  Whooping and screaming resounded as they threw wood and wood chips in the box.

Jenny shook her head.  In the house, she did not permit yelling or running.  The children learned to play fairly quietly inside, but once outside, any chore was done with much more fanfare than was necessary.  She heard Benjamin run to the door to join in the excitement.  "Benjamin!" she called.  "Stay in here.  They'll be inside in a few minutes."   His pattering footsteps stopped just inside the door.

Suddenly, the screams and shouts approached the doorway, and Karen's voice vainly attempted to shout "Stop!  Wait!  Stop running!" above the din.  There was a thump, thunk, crash, thumpety-thump-thunkthunk, and Benjamin began crying.  Jenny tried to hurry to him and tripped over wood scattered across the floor.

"What's going on?"  they heard Adam thunder from the doorway.

The three older children looked up at their father, who towered over them like a storm cloud.  Their silence as they sprawled amidst the wood and wood chips attested to their guilt.  Benjamin's screams continued unabated.  Jenny carefully rose and tried to slide her feet through the debris to Benjamin.  Adam stepped over the wood box that was lying on its side in the doorway and picked up his youngest son.  A purple bruise was forming around a cut just below his eye.  He walked around the other children, lifted Jenny about the waist with one arm, and put her in the  chair she had just left.

"I said, what's going on?" Adam demanded.  "Karen?  Any explanation?"

Karen was silent and tried not to cry.  She knew that anything she said would be turned against her, and there was no explanation she could give that would satisfy him.

"I expect you to help your aunt!  Not contribute to misbehavior and chaos!"

"Karen," Jenny spoke up, "you and Rose go to the smokehouse, please, and get me some sausage."  She heard their quiet steps as they gratefully hurried out the door.  "Adam, son," she continued, "clean up the mess, please."  Adam slowly rose to his feet and complied, not daring to complain that he hadn't made the mess by himself, so he should at least have help cleaning it up.

Jenny reached up and touched her husband.  "Is he hurt?"

Adam sat Benjamin in her lap.  "He has a cut below the eye and a bruise there, too," he said tersely.  Jenny heard him draw water in a bowl.  He returned to her side and gently cleaned Benjamin's wound with a cloth and soap.  Benjamin, quieted for a moment in his parents' arms, screamed anew.  Adam managed to clean him up and stop the bleeding.  Then he took him from Jenny.

Karen and Rose returned with a sausage as young Adam finished cleaning up the floor.  "Put wood in the stove," Jenny instructed her son.  She turned to her daughters.  "Are you hurt?"  There was no response.

"Speak up!"  demanded Adam.  "She can't hear you shake your head!"

Jenny sighed inwardly and rose from the chair.  "Girls, come here."  She ran her hands over their faces and down their arms.  "Are you cut or scraped anywhere?  Talk to me, please."

A muffled whimper escaped from Rose.  "I'm all right," said Karen, "but Rose's hand is bleeding."

"Help her get cleaned up," said Jenny.  "Get some fresh water," she added.

While Karen assisted Rose, Jenny moved among the table, the sink, and the stove to fix supper.  She moved confidently, and anyone who didn't know she was blind would have had to look carefully to have noticed that her eyes did not focus directly on what was about her and that she used her hands to help determine where she was.   Finally, the family sat down to a silent meal.

Chapter 3

Later that night, as Jenny and Adam got ready for bed, Jenny ventured to ask, "What happened in town today?"

Adam was silent for a moment.  "Nothing unusual."  He clamped his mouth shut, and Jenny could tell that the subject was closed, as far as Adam was concerned.  She heard a splash as he poured water in the washbowl.

Jenny sat on the edge of the bed and brushed her long, light brown hair.  She wistfully remembered when Adam used to brush it for her. "You were upset when you came home.  What happened in town, Adam?  Please tell me!"

"Of course I was upset!"  Jenny was afraid that Adam's raised voice would wake the children.  "You were on the floor, Benjamin was hurt and nearly had his eye put out, and the older children were running wild!  We're  lucky nothing worse happened while I was away!"

"Adam."  Jenny's voice was quiet.  "They are children, not angels.  They stumbled as they came in the door.  Nothing more."

"Nothing more?"  Adam repeated.  "Nothing more?  I could hear them as I approached the house!  They were yelling at the top of their lungs!  Or didn't you notice?"

"Of course I noticed.  And Karen was trying to get Adam and Rose to settle down and slow down.  I heard her telling them not to run."

"A lot of good it did.  A lot of help she is!"

"She is a help!"  Jenny raised her voice.  "Without her, I'd be nearly lost, while you're gone.  She watches the younger ones, plays with them, reminds them to pick up after themselves, and helps me with endless small chores that would take forever if I had to do them by myself.  They are children, Adam!  And they will act as children!"

Adam pulled his boots off and dropped them on the floor.  "Of course they will, if you don't expect anything more of them."  He splashed water on his face and washed his hands.

"Adam," Jenny said sharply, as she put the brush down on her nightstand, "just what is bothering you?"

She heard Adam getting undressed before climbing into bed.  "I just told you."  He pulled the blankets over him.

"No, that's not it," protested Jenny.  "Adam!  You used to talk to me!  Please!  Talk to me now!  What is wrong?  It isn't just the children, and what happened this afternoon!  What is wrong?"  Jenny tried not to cry, but couldn't stop her tears.   Angry at herself for her weakness, she turned away and groped for  a handkerchief on her nightstand.

As she wiped her eyes and attempted to stifle her sobs, Adam stared at the ceiling.  The events of the day:  the Indian in town, the men who went after him, his and Hoss's narrow escape from the hands of the mob, and not least the veiled threat of Wilson and his cronies against his wife and niece, swirled about in his mind.  What could he do?  How could he protect his family?  They were in danger, not only from the likes of Tucker in Virginia City, but also from any disgruntled Indians who came their way.  Should anyone show up with intent to harm his family, there was no help very close.  And he no longer lived on a ranch with four strong men.  He had a wife and four children to think about.

He had a  fleeting thought of Young Wolf, his childhood Paiute friend, son of Chief Winnemucca.  He remembered hunting with him, riding trails and through trackless wilderness, laughing, sharing stories of their families.  His childhood had seemed so full of responsibility.  Caring for his younger brothers and helping his pa seemed to take all his time.  How he had longed for the freedom of an adult!  Little had he known that he'd had freedom as a boy, and never realized it until now.  Now - when it was too late.

Adam heard Jenny's tears, but felt powerless to console her.  He finally put his arms about her and drew her close to him, but knew he was offering her empty comfort.  In the world they lived in, there was no hope, and scant security.  The white men in Virginia City knew little of the Indians, and did not care to learn about them.  Adam knew that they would turn on him and his family just as surely as they would turn on the Indians.  Any attempt of his to convey respect for the original inhabitants of the land that now supported them was met with contempt and ignorance by most of the men and women in town.

Adam ached inside as he recalled the Paiute War.  A drunken cavalcade had set out to join the U.S. Army to murder the Indians, when all they had done was react to the kidnaping and violation of members of their tribe.  He himself had been taken captive by the Paiute, and nearly killed by  Young Wolf.  He knew that most whites, if given the choice of drunken, debauched white men committing crimes against Indians that would be hanging offenses if done against fellow members of their race, or Indians reacting against grievous wrongs done to them, would side with the white men.   Nor would they see why white men should be punished for any deeds of theirs against the Indians.

The injustice of it all agonized him.  He couldn't endure it; couldn't see one more injustice against his fellow man occur.  Nor could he tolerate any more indifference.  ( He's not our problem, Adam!  )  People had  to care.  They must be able to see that the Indians had been unfairly treated; that they must get back some of their lands, and be allowed to live in peace upon them.  Part of the Ponderosa and part of his own lands were included in what he and his father were willing to see given back to the tribe about them.  But even that was only part of what the Indians used to live on, before the white man came.

And the politicians!  The mayor and other elected officials, as well as the circuit judge that came to Virginia City, were simply tools of the  mine owners and gambling houses.  Everyone was in their pockets - the big men and the little.  Honest men and women, whether or not they were white, scarcely stood a fair chance in that town.  Their businesses were often taken over or destroyed, and bribery and corruption were the norm in the courtroom and in lawmaking.

Jenny  managed to stop crying in her husband's arms.  Though she was grateful for his touch, she knew his mind was far away, and that he was deeply troubled and very angry.  They finally drifted into a fitful sleep.

The next morning,  as they were finishing  breakfast, they heard a buggy drive up to the house.  Young Adam jumped up from the table, followed closely by Rose, and ran to the door.  "It's Grandma and Grandpa!"  he exclaimed.  He ran outside.  Rose followed him.  Jenny went to the door.  She heard Adam and Karen following her.

"Hello!"  Thomas, her father, called.  "How are you?"  The children were chattering excitedly to their grandparents, telling them about their adventures in the woods, and even embellishing their latest accident, when they tripped and dumped the wood pile all over the kitchen floor.  Their grandparents took them by the hand, saying, "Is that right?  You don't say!  Why, I don't believe it!" as their grandchildren wove their tales.   They lifted Benjamin in their arms and fussed over his bruised and cut eye, and sympathized with him as he told them in a tremulous voice how Rose and Adam had run into him with the wood box when they tripped over the threshold.

"You go back and finish your breakfast," said Catherine to her youngest grandson, when Benjamin had finished telling her how he had hurt his eye, "and we'll wait out here a few minutes."

"Nonsense," declared Jenny.  "Come inside and sit down.  We were almost finished."

"It's a nice day," said her mother.  "Not so cold today.  I think we'd like to stay outside for a few more minutes before we come in."

"We've been sitting all the way here," added Thomas.  "We have a few bundles to get together before we come in the house."

"Do you mean presents?" asked seven year-old Rose.  Her hazel eyes danced with excitement, and her dark hair, so like her father's, fell in her face as always, no matter how many times Jenny or Karen braided it or tied it back.

Adam gathered the children and herded them through the doorway.  "Once you've finished eating, you can visit with Grandma and Grandpa, and see any 'bundles' they've brought with them."  Jenny waited until she  heard  them all  go in, then started to follow.

"Hello, Jenny."

Jenny turned sharply toward the familiar voice. couldn't be.  She shivered as though a chill wind had struck her.   "Who..." She couldn't continue.   "You - you sound like -"  She walked toward the voice, then stopped, no longer certain of where she was going.  "Linda?" she finally whispered.  "Is it you?"

There was no response.  "Who are you?"  Jenny asked.  "Where are you?"

Suddenly, Jenny heard the noise of skirts rustling beside her.  As she turned toward the sound, a pair of arms hugged her tightly.  "Yes, it's me, Jenny.  It's me."  The voice was choking, and Jenny could feel the tears and hear the sobs of the woman hugging her.  "Linda?" she asked again, as she slowly put her arms about the lady.  "Is it really you?"

"Yes," said the voice between sobs.  "It's me.  I'm back."

In the doorway, Karen turned, watched, listened, and wondered.  Who was this woman who looked so much like her Aunt Jenny?  Why was her grandma crying?

Adam looked at the woman who was with his wife for a moment before interrupting Karen's speculations.  Though he had never met her, he recognized her name and saw the close resemblance she bore to Jenny, and grimly hoped this would not cause more problems for his family.  He saw Karen watching the pair intently, and abruptly called her to the table.  "Finish your breakfast," he said brusquely.  Though she was no longer hungry, Karen was afraid not to comply.

Karen's musings were interrupted as Jenny and Linda entered  the house arm in arm.  As her eyes threatened to overflow, Jenny said, "Adam, children:  This is my sister, Linda.  Linda, my husband, Adam.  The children: Karen, Rose, Adam, and Benjamin."

Adam stood , as did the three older children, and greeted their guest.  "Ma'am," said Adam.  "It's a pleasure to finally meet you.  Children, say 'hello' to your Aunt Linda."  The children, though bewildered at the sudden appearance of this aunt, nodded politely and said, "Pleased to meet you, Aunt Linda."

Linda looked at each of the children.  She marveled at how the boy Adam resembled his father.  Rose did, too, she noticed.  Benjamin was fairer with wispy light brown hair, resembling his mother.   Linda's eyes met Karen's and faltered.  Jenny felt her sister stiffen, and heard her breath catch in her throat.  She put her arm tightly about her, and Adam looked sharply at her.

At that moment, Catherine bustled through the door, followed by Thomas, who was carrying a load of boxes.  "Now, you just all sit down and let me worry about the dishes," said Catherine.  "Grandpa has some presents for everyone, so go in the parlor with  him!  I'll be in shortly."

Young Adam and Rose leaped from their seats and dashed to their grandpa's side.  "Grandpa!  Can we have our presents first?"  Benjamin turned his chair over as he followed his sister and brother.  "Mine now!  Please!  Hurry!  Please!"

Karen followed more slowly, smiling indulgently at the antics of her younger siblings.  "Come sit down," she said as she took the boys by the hand.  "Grandpa can't give us any presents if you're jumping all over him."  The younger children reluctantly followed her to the parlor.  At the doorway, Benjamin yanked his hand out of hers, tore across the floor, and leaped on the horsehair sofa, where he bounced and promptly slid onto the floor.  He cackled, jumped up again and slid back to the floor.

"Benjamin Joseph!" exclaimed Jenny.  "You know better!  Don't make me send you to the corner!"  Benjamin looked at his mother.  Somehow, she knew what he was doing, even though her eyes didn't look at him the way his father's did.  He looked at his grandparents with big eyes,  then at his father, whose brows were drawn down and mouth was unsmiling, and decided he'd better stop.  He scrunched back on the sofa and sat as quietly as he could, with his hands clasped tightly in his lap.

Chapter 4

A half hour or so later, the parlor was littered with boxes, toys, and articles of clothing.  Karen looked proudly at her new set of baking pans while she carefully cradled a beautiful doll in her arms.  Long, glossy black braids fell down the front of the doll's red silk dress, which was embroidered with silver and gold flowers.

Linda watched and smiled, remembering her delight when she had received that doll as a child.  She had treasured it and taken great care not to play roughly with it.  The doll was one of the few mementos of her childhood that she had taken with her when she left her family and moved to Silver City nine years earlier.  She cleaned its dress and made it look as good as new before giving it as a gift.  She wanted to rekindle the relationships within her family that she had missed so much.

Benjamin knocked the baking pans to the floor and banged them together.  Then he took his new wooden blocks and crashed them into the pans.  Karen hurriedly gave her doll to her mother and snatched her pans away.  When Benjamin howled in protest, his brother nudged him on the arm.

"Benjamin," Adam said.  Benjamin, his face red and eyes wide with indignation, turned toward his brother.  "Those pans are girls' toys.  Don't play with those."  Benjamin stared at Adam, then looked for the pans, which Karen had already taken from the room and put out of his reach.  A whimper escaped his lips.  His grandfather could not suppress a chuckle.

"Benjamin," said his grandmother, "come show me your blocks and your new mittens.  I'd like to see them."  Somewhat mollified, Benjamin grabbed his treasures and charged to his grandma's lap.

Rose proudly held her new rag doll up for everyone to see, while Adam carefully pocketed his toy soldiers to protect them  from his brother and examined his storybooks.  He was pleased to find that he knew most of the words in them.

Suddenly, a tall figure blocked the doorway.  Hoss stood there, with Ben on one side of him and Greg, one of the Ponderosa's hired hands, on the other.  "Hoss!"  exclaimed Adam.  "What are you doing here?  Pa, Greg!  Hello!  Come in!  Sit down!"

"Hello, Adam!" said Hoss.  "Howdy, Mr., Mrs. Barnhart!  And Jenny!  We came over to help unload them supplies we done picked up in town the other day.  We didn't know you were havin'  a party!"

Everyone squeezed together on the sofa and chairs, and the three men each managed to find a place to sit.  "We knocked and called," explained Ben, "but no one answered."

"Too noisy in here, I guess," said Jenny. "Pa, Greg, Hoss,this is my sister Linda."  She place her hand on Linda's arm.  Jenny heard and felt the three men stand  up.

Ben nodded his head toward Linda.  "Ma'am," he said, "it's a pleasure to meet you."  He privately thought that she looked enough like Jenny to be a twin sister, but knew from a previous conversation with Jenny years ago that she was not.

She certainly was a pretty woman.  Her white lawn dress with sprigs of green flowers fit tightly at the waist and cascaded to the floor.  The tight sleeves set off her small hands and long, elegant fingers.  Her dark brown hair was pulled gently back from her face in a Victorian knot, with some hair escaping  in soft ringlets to her shoulders.

Ben waited for his son and hired hand to speak to the lady, but there was only silence in the room.  Finally, Ben looked at Hoss and Greg, and saw them staring open-mouthed.  The silence grew more awkward as the seconds passed.  "Well, Hoss, Greg," Ben finally spoke up.  "Aren't you going to greet the lady?"

"Uh - yeah, Pa," Hoss stuttered.  "It's - it's a real pleasure, Ma'am; uh - I mean - I'm really, really pleased to meet you."  He flushed with aggravation at his nervousness, and swore silently at his tendency to get tongue-tied in the presence of beautiful women.

Greg bowed his head.  "I'm very pleased to make your acquaintance, Ma'am."  He spoke carefully, as though unaccustomed to the words.  He and Hoss remained on their feet, staring at Linda.  Ben in turn stared at them, then turned to Adam with a questioning glance.  Adam winked at his father, then bent his head to hide a smile.  Catherine leaned to the floor to pick up a block that Benjamin had dropped and lingered longer than she needed to retrieve it.

Finally, Adam said, "Boys, Pa, I think you can all sit down now."

"Uh, yeah.  Yeah, Adam.  All right."  Hoss sat down heavily on his chair, which creaked and groaned under the sudden weight.  Adam and Jenny both hid their smiles.

Ben looked about the room for a chance to change the subject.  "Where is Jared?" he asked, referring to Jenny's nephew.  "Did he come with you, Thomas?"

"No, Jared is working in town for Mr. Smythe in the General Store," said Thomas.  "He'll be living there this winter, helping out after school."

"He's 14, isn't he?" asked Ben.

"Yes, he is," said Catherine.  "If he stays in town during the winter, he can continue his schooling.  We thought that was important."

"He can earn some money, too," added Thomas.

"Was he in town yesterday, when that Indian came into the general store?" asked Hoss.  "You didn't mention him, Adam."

"What Indian?" asked Jenny.  Silence followed her question.

"An Indian came into the store while you were there?" Jenny turned her face toward Adam.  There hadn't been many Indians in Virginia City since the Paiute War.

When Adam didn't answer, Hoss said, "Yeah, this big old Indian came in and told ever'one that there was gonna be a long, hard winter.  Everybody got all riled up about it, and went off, half-cocked and half-drunk after him.  Adam came and got me - I was at the feed store -"

"And we stopped them from doing anything," interrupted Adam.  "Now, can we talk about something else?  Anything else?"

Jenny reached for Adam's arm in the silence that followed, trying to gauge by touch what she could not see:  his mood.  She felt his hard muscles, more tense than usual, through his shirt sleeve for an instant before he removed her hand from his arm.

Ben watched his eldest son with concern.  Anxious to restore harmony, he waved his hand at the presents and packaging strewn about and jokingly asked, "What's the occasion?  Early Christmas?"

"Actually, yes," confessed Thomas.  "We're planning a visit to the East, to see some friends and take care of some family matters.  We realize we may not be able to come back before the snow is too heavy to travel, so we're planning on wintering there.  A new couple from town has expressed interest in staying at our home while we're gone.  They'll take care of the stock and look after the place until spring, when we come back."

This was news to everyone.  "I didn't know you were planning on leaving," said Adam.  "When did you decide to do this?"

Thomas didn't answer for a moment.  "Jenny's Uncle Don is very ill," he replied.  "We need to go back to see him."

Jenny felt her mouth go dry as ashes.   Her favorite uncle, sick, and she couldn't leave her family to go see him.  That's why her sister was going with them.  Jenny wondered if Linda would return with her parents in the spring.  She started to rise from  the couch.  "I should put some tea or coffee on.  And we have some cookies, and an apple pie and cherry pie.  Anyone care for some?"

"Yes, Ma'am!" exclaimed Hoss and Greg almost together.  "That sounds right good!"

Adam propelled her up from the sofa,  led her through the debris  on the floor, took Benjamin from his grandmother's lap, and let Catherine guide Jenny through the rest of the parlor and into the kitchen.  As Jenny brought out the cookies and pies, her mother got plates, forks, and glasses from the cupboards.

"When did you decide to leave?" Jenny asked.

Her mother began to set the table.  "We received a letter from your aunt two weeks ago.  She told us that your Uncle Don is very ill, and isn't expected to live much longer.  We knew that if we wanted to see him, we had to leave before winter sets in, and then we might not get back until spring.  So we began making the arrangements right away."

Jenny's heart felt like lead as she contemplated the thought of her parents being in Ohio for the entire winter.  She had never been very far away from them before, even after her marriage.  Her mother had helped her a great deal after the birth of young Adam.  Jenny didn't know what she would do without her nearby.  "When do you leave?"

Catherine avoided looking at her as she answered.  "Next week Thursday."

Rose ran into the kitchen.  "Papa said to come see if you needed help, and if we can eat, 'cause Uncle Hoss is real hungry!"

Laughter from the parlor echoed Rose's words.  Jenny swallowed her dismay, and called out, "Yes, it's ready, Hoss!  You can come eat!  But only if you promise to share with the rest of us."  More laughter resounded as everyone trooped into the kitchen.  The light, running footsteps of the youngsters pattered amidst the solid, measured thumping of the men's boots and the swish of the ladies' skirts.  Jenny felt a tightness constrict her throat as she knew this may be the last time in a long while that her entire family - what was left of it - would be together.

After they finished eating, they left the dishes and went outside.  The children played with their grandparents and Uncle Hoss while the other adults talked.  Though the wind was brisk and chilly, the sun was bright and warm.

Linda led Jenny to the pasture fence.  "You have a beautiful home," she said.  "A lot has happened in your life since I left."

"Yes, it has," agreed Jenny.  "But then, you've been gone for several years."  An awkward silence moved between them.  "I wanted to write to you," Jenny hastily said, "but Mother and Father would never give me your address."   Linda's address and existence were merely two of many secrets harbored by her family for many years.

"Well, tell me what has happened since I left," said Linda, anxious to change the subject.  "It has been so long since I have been able to talk with you that I don't know where to begin!"

Jenny wasn't sure where to start.   "After you left us, we moved a couple more times.  We also took in an orphaned baby.   He was two years younger than Karen.  He died shortly after we arrived here."  Jenny hurriedly pushed the sadness of that memory deep within  her.  "I suppose Mother and Father told you how I was blinded in the accident.  Other than that, since we moved here, our lives have settled down a bit.  I married Adam, and Mother and Father decided that Karen should come live with us."  She paused.  "Karen is such a great help with the younger children.  She is a remarkable child.  She does you great credit, you know."

"No, Jenny," said Linda quietly.  "She does you credit.  You're the one who raised her, who taught her about me.  Mother and Father have told me how you took care of her and kept the household going when they couldn't.  You deserve the credit for Karen, not me."

Jenny nearly choked on the tears she attempted to hold back.  "She's your daughter," she said quietly.  "Not mine.  You deserve at least some credit."  She tightly grasped her sister's hand.

Linda watched Karen as she sat her new doll carefully on a tree stump and placed  tiny china plates, cups and saucers before it.  She talked quietly as she played, seemingly oblivious to the other three children running and shouting about her.

After playing with the children for a while, Hoss finally left them with their grandparents  and went to Adam, who was standing by Greg and absentmindedly watching the domestic scene before him.  "You know, Adam," said Hoss, "this here weather can't last long.  Not if what that Indian says is true."

For a moment, Adam's gaze shifted to the distant mountains. The trees were changing color, standing in stark contrast to the evergreen Ponderosa Pines.  He wondered just how soon a large snowfall would come.  Large white cumulus clouds raced over the mountains and foothills, and an eagle was riding the currents high above them.    Hoss wondered if his brother had heard him.  "You're right about that," Adam finally replied.

"Why don't we go unload them supplies?"  Hoss suggested, and the three men walked to the wagon that had been left near the barn.

"I'll put the horses up," said Greg.  As he unhitched the horses from the wagon, he asked Adam, "Where's your help today?"

Adam heaved a sack of oats over his shoulder.  "In the south pasture, repairing the fence."  He disappeared into the barn, followed by Hoss with a feed sack on his shoulders.

Once the feed and tack for the stock had been unloaded, the two brothers carried the bags of spices, notions, and other supplies into the house.  As Adam put them away  where Jenny could find them, Hoss looked about the kitchen.  "Hey, Adam, how about another cup of coffee?"

"Sure," said Adam.  "Help yourself.  It's keeping warm on the stove."

Hoss found his cup on the table, rinsed it at the sink, and poured himself a cup of coffee.  He sat at the table, picked up the empty cherry pie pan, looked at it regretfully, and began picking crumbs out of it.  Adam raised an eyebrow.  "Little brother, if you're still hungry, we do have more food in the house."

"No, Adam, I'm just cleaning up the crumbs."  He looked up suddenly at his older brother. "Unless you happen to have another one of these cherry pies?"

"No, Hoss.  No.  Sorry.  You'll have to settle for crumbs."  He sat at the table next to Hoss.  "Perhaps you'd like to go out to pasture and graze on the nice, tall grass?  It's going to seed.  The cattle are fond of it.  Maybe you should try it."

Hoss banged the pie pan down on the table and grabbed for his brother.  Adam jumped out of his chair,  turning it over behind him, and ran to the other side of the kitchen.  Hoss glared at him across the table.  "Dadburnit, Adam, that warn't funny!"

Adam shrugged and grinned halfheartedly.  "Sorry, Hoss.  Just trying to think of a way to keep you from eating us out of house and home today."

Hoss glared at him for a moment longer, then sat down and began working on the pie pan again.  "This is the best cherry pie I ever tasted."  When Adam sat down across from him, Hoss ventured to ask, "Was Jared in the store when you were there the other day?"

Adam frowned slightly.  "No.  Not that I saw.  He may have been in the back."

"Why didn't you tell Jenny about that Indian and what he said?"  Hoss asked.

Adam's face darkened, and his teasing, light-hearted mood was gone beyond recall.  "I didn't want to worry her, of course," he snapped.

"Adam, Jenny ain't afraid of the Injuns.  Not like those folks in town, anyhow.  She needs to know 'bout this early winter.  She'd have some ideas of what to do, for the household supplies, cooking needs and such, and things the children might need."

"I can take care of my family, Hoss!"  Adam rebuffed his brother.  "I won't worry her!"  Adam knew if he thought about what had happened in town the other day, he might kill someone, just as he had felt like killing Ned Tucker when the man had mentioned his wife, and as he had wished he could  shoot Williams and Wilson so the world could be that much cleaner.

These feelings frightened him, and he fought constantly to keep them in check.  Using his fists and gun had always been a last resort for him, but more and more often he found himself fighting  a red-hot rage at the world  that left him nearly blind with fury and bloodthirsty for battle.  He bottled his rage and suppressed his fury beneath an icy calm, seasoned with humor and occasionally peppered with sarcasm.  Adam was terrified of what he might do should he see more of the townspeople's "justice", or dwell on the incidents of his day in town with Hoss.

Hoss swallowed the last gleanings from the pan and tried again.  "Adam, you might want to just mention to her that you think it's gonna be a long, hard winter.  See if there's anything else from town she might need.  Or any help she might need with getting things ready for it, like extra sewing, or canning - things like that."

Adam's face was set like flint and his eyes rock hard.  Hoss saw Adam's face and sipped his coffee.  He knew better than to push his brother any further, and he knew that there was more to Adam's  resistance to his suggestion than simply resentment of intrusion into family matters.  If only his brother would talk to him!

Hoss rose from the table and went to the stove.  "You want some coffee, Adam?"  He poured himself another cup.

"Sure."  The sarcastic tone made Hoss wince.  "Help me prepare for battle."

Hoss sighed as he searched the cupboards for a clean cup and saucer.  Failing to find one, he returned to the table and picked up the cup in front of Adam.  "That's not mine!" Adam snapped.

"Well, which one is yours, then?"

Adam pointed to the end of the table.  He didn't take his eyes off of Hoss.

Fetching the cup, Hoss rinsed it and took it to the stove.  He took his time, trying to gather his thoughts and hoping his brother would cool off, though he knew that was unlikely.  He returned to the table and set a steaming cup of coffee in front of him before taking his seat across the table.  "Adam."  He paused as he took a drink.  "Why don't you tell me what's really bothering you?"

Adam perfunctorily took a drink, nearly slammed the  cup into the saucer, and glared at Hoss.  "How can you ask that?  How can you?!  After the other day?  You heard what those men - that scum Tucker, and Wilson, and Williams - said!  I hardly dare leave my wife alone any more!  If they should take it in their heads to ride out here - and they could -"

He paused, remembering how he had heard the children screaming and yelling as he approached the house on his return from town two days ago.  He had been afraid that Indians (or worse) were attacking his family.  Hoss, though sorely tempted to speak up, kept quiet, knowing that more was coming.

"Of course, it's more likely that the Indians would be here first," Adam continued.  "They're getting more restless, angrier, hungrier, every month.  We've hunted their antelope, the buffalo are gone, and we've taken all the good lands for ourselves.  They can't grow or hunt much up in those rocky lands where they've been pushed.  And Pyramid Lake - "  He shook his head in disgust as he thought of the reported mismanagement of that Indian reservation.  No wonder the Indians left it, only to be pushed aside and despised  yet again  by the white men who took their lands and considered them little better than animals.  He thought once more of his long-ago friendship with Young Wolf.  In that kitchen filled with mute reminders of his family and responsibilities, it seemed a thousand years ago and on the other side of the world.

Hoss watched his brother with growing concern.  There was more here than worry about his family.  "Yeah.  It's a real shame about Pyramid Lake.  There's talk of takin' the railroad through Pyramid Lake Reservation, too, once it gets that far.  Don't know what'll happen to the Injuns then.  Reckon they'll have to move again."

Adam slammed his fist on the table, and the dishes jumped.  "That's just it!" he yelled.  "No one cares, no one gives a damn about anything or anyone - except themselves!  Even the sheriff!  You heard him - he said that Indian in town wasn't anybody's problem!  Well, it has to be somebody's problem!  Someone has to care!  People have to see that they can't do this to other people - there will be a price to pay!  Somewhere, sometime, in our life, or later, people will have to pay for what we've done here!  Damn it, Hoss!  We can't get so caught up in what we're doing and where we're going, that we forget what's been here, and don't even see what IS here!  People have to realize, they have to care!"

Adam stopped his tirade suddenly and looked in Hoss's eyes, where he saw only concern and worry.  In total frustration, he swept a few dishes in front of him onto the floor and beat his fists on the table, knocking a few more dishes to the floor.  Then he collapsed in the chair and buried his head in his hands.

Hoss rose and slowly began picking up the broken dishes.  "Adam," he said heavily, "you can't change the world, you know.  Now, in town the other day, you and I  kept one man from gettin' killed.   We may even have stopped another war - for now.  No tellin' about that.  But at least we kept one man alive.  That may be about all we can do."  He retrieved a box from the floor of the parlor to put the broken crockery  in, and took it outside to the garbage pit.

Adam sat silently.  One person at a time.  Yes, that was all he could do.  He recalled the Paiute War, and the unnecessary bloodshed that had occurred there on both sides, including the death of his friend Young Wolf, despite his family's attempt to stop it.  Then he thought about the Indian in the store and the town's reaction, and the threats to his family.  He had never felt so helpless in his life.  One at a time wasn't enough.  Nothing was enough.

When Hoss returned to the house, he went to his brother's side.  "Say, Adam:  Greg and Pa and me, we didn't come out here just to bring over them supplies.  Greg and I'd like to stay for a while, to help you finish gettin' your place ready for the winter - especially if it's comin' on early.  We got everything pretty well fixed at the Ponderosa, and Pa agreed that if you'd like a couple extra pairs of hands for a spell, you can have ours.  No need for you to pay us - we're still on Pa's payroll."  He paused.  "Unless you want to, of course,"  he hastened to add.  "And I promise to try not to eat you into the poorhouse, though Jenny's a mighty fine cook.  Don't know as I wanna eat grass, though, no matter how much the stock may favor it."

Adam laughed despite himself.  He knew there was much left unspoken in his brother's offer.  "Maybe Jenny could find a way to season the greenery for you.  She is a good cook, and if it's food, I'm sure you'd like it."  He stood and thought for a moment.  "How long you planning on staying on?"

"As long as you need us,"  Hoss replied.  "We'll sleep with the other hands - no need to get any rooms in the house ready for us."  Adam started to protest, but Hoss interrupted him.    "You're gonna have company for a little while, anyway.  No need to put us up in the house, too."

Adam looked at Hoss blankly.  "Company?"

"Well -" Hoss hesitated.  "Ain't Miss Linda staying here?  That's what I thought I heard your in laws saying.  She's staying here until they go east.  Least they were talking about that."

That was news to Adam, and his face registered his displeasure.  His sister in-law, here?  He was pleased that his wife was finally reunited with her sister, but ... what did Linda want?  Just to visit with her sister and daughter?  Or did she want her daughter back?   As far as Adam was concerned, she gave up that right when she left the child at birth.  Jenny had raised Karen, and the girl was like a daughter to Adam.  He had no intention of letting someone come within his family circle and take Karen away.

Hoss saw the look on Adam's face, and said, "Adam, she hasn't seen Jenny in - how many years?  And -"

"That was her choice," said Adam.  His brows were drawing down over his eyes.  "Why return now? She could have come back before."

"Adam, you don't know that," said Hoss.  "We don't know what's happened, or what's going on."

"No, we don't," said Adam.  "That's what worries me."

Chapter 5

That evening, Jenny and Linda sat before a fire in the sitting room.  The children, exhausted after playing and visiting with family most of the day, had gone to sleep almost as soon as they climbed in bed.  The grandparents had long ago left for home.  Adam was now in the barn finishing up the chores.  Jenny was snapping beans, and Linda was attempting to  knit and read  Jenny a passage from a book of poetry:

    A gigantic beauty of a stallion, fresh and responsive to my caresses,
    Head high in the forehead, wide between the ears,
    Limbs glossy and supple, tail dusting the ground,
    Eyes full of sparkling wickedness, ears finely cut, flexibly moving.

"That seems so fitting to your life here!"

"What is that?" Jenny asked softly.

"It's from 'Song of Myself', by Walt Whitman," Linda responded.  Father bought me a whole book of his poems on one of his trips back East, after you had moved here."

"There are so few books written in braille," said Jenny.  "Adam, and Mother and Father, have bought me some.  But they can be expensive.  I always loved to read.  But for years, I had so little time for reading, and now I can't."  She was silent for a moment, savoring the quiet evening, her sister's melodic voice as she read to her, and the snap, snap of the beans.  She had forgotten how long it had been since she'd had a peaceful evening.

"Adam used to read to me in the evenings," Jenny continued.  "Even when he was tired.  We both looked forward to it.  But lately..." she sighed and didn't finish.

"I guess he's tired and under a lot of pressure," said Linda gently.  "And I don't think he's very happy about my staying here."

"You're my sister; he knows you're welcome," replied Jenny.  "Besides, you won't be here very long.  You're leaving next week."  She paused.  "I wish I could go with you.  I'd like to see Ohio and our relatives again.  But of course, I can't go."  She bit her lip as she set the beans on the table next to her, wondering if she should ask the question burning in her mind.  "Are you planning on visiting Paul's and Pat's graves?"

"I don't know." Linda's voice became suddenly tight.  "I try not to think of our brothers.  Every time I do, I cry.  I see them, or something reminding me of them, every place I go, every day.  I don't think I can bear visiting their graves."

Jenny nodded sadly.  She had wished many times since they'd left Ohio that she could visit her brothers' graves, and envied her sister the opportunity to do so.  She moved carefully across the room and sat next to her sister.  "Could you read me some more from that book?"

Linda wiped her tears.  "Yes, but - can you keep a secret?"  She whispered, "It's a good thing Mother and Father didn't know some of what is written by this man!"

"Really?"  Jenny was astonished.  "Well...just skip those parts.  If you hear Adam coming, that is!"

So engrossed were they for the next half hour in Linda's reading that they didn't hear the men enter the house.

    I sit and look out upon all the sorrows of the world, and upon
        all oppression and shame,
    I hear secret convulsive sobs from young men at anguish with
        themselves, remorseful after deeds done....
    I see the workings of battle, pestilence, tyranny, I see martyrs
        and prisoners,
    I observe a famine at sea, I observe the sailors casting lots who
        shall be kill'd to preserve the lives of the rest,
    I observe the slights and degradations cast by arrogant persons
        upon laborers, the poor, and upon Negroes, and the like;
    All these - all the meanness and agony without end I sitting
        look out upon,
    See, hear, and am silent.

"Walt Whitman.  'I Sit and Look Out'."  Jenny and Linda jumped and turned at Adam's voice.  He crossed the room in long, slow strides.

"That's right," Linda said brightly.

"May I see it?" Adam held out his hand, and Linda handed him the volume.

"It was a gift from my parents a few years ago," she explained.

Adam looked through the book, turning the pages carefully.  "I have some of these poems in a book upstairs.  This is a big collection."  He stopped to peruse one page.  His lips turned up in a slight, knowing smile, he cocked an eyebrow, and asked Linda in a very different tone, "You say your parents bought you this?"

"Yes, they did," replied Linda, as she hastily took the volume from Adam's hands.

Jenny recognized that tone of Adam's voice.  He used it with the children at times when they were misbehaving.  She unsuccessfully tried to hide a smile and suppress a laugh, which escaped as a disgraceful snort.  She waited for Adam to speak, but when he didn't, she finally gave up and laughed out loud.  Leave it to her college-educated husband to know the poem her sister was reading, appreciate it and the book, yet know the poet's work well enough to disapprove of some of the contents being read to his wife.  She felt as though she and her sister were children again, attempting to sneak cookies before dinner or smuggle candy into the house, and were being interrogated by their father.

"Say, Ma'am," said Greg from across the room.  Jenny jumped anew when she heard his voice.  "If there's somethin' funny going on, can me and Hoss get in on it?  We heard you recite that poem, too, Ma'am, but we didn't hear nothin' funny."

Jenny hoped Greg was joking, because she laughed harder than ever.  She heard Linda start to laugh, too, and that made her laugh even more.

Greg and Hoss, puzzled and suspicious, looked at each other.   "I think maybe we ought to have a look at that book," declared Hoss.

"NO!" shrieked the women in unison.  Linda clutched the book, Jenny clutched Linda, and they both doubled over in renewed laughter.

Adam crossed his arms and attempted to glare sternly at the women, but couldn't hide a slight smile.

Hoss and Greg looked from the sisters to Adam.  "Is there something wrong with that book, Mr. Adam?" asked Greg.

"Yeah, Adam, what's in that book?  Must be awful funny," said Hoss suspiciously.

Adam's smile was growing slightly.  He didn't take his eyes off of his wife.  "It depends on what you call 'wrong', Greg.  It's nothing really - well -" he searched for a word - "bad."

Greg and Hoss looked confused.  "Nothing really bad," they repeated together.

"No," Adam assured them.  "If it was, I'd take the book away from them." He turned, and with a devilish twinkle in his eyes, started to leave the room.

"Adam," Jenny gasped. She had been trying to stop laughing long enough to ask her husband a question.  She heard him stop at the other end of the room.  "Why haven't you read me any of his poems before?"

Momentary silence from Adam was accompanied by stifled hysterical laughter from Linda.  Jenny wished she could see his face.  "Because you haven't asked."  His voice was stern, but Jenny could hear a faint teasing note in the words.

"I'm asking now.  Please?"

Adam's boots slowly thumped across the floor until he stopped in front of Jenny.  "Upstairs.  Later."  The sofa shook from Linda's continued laughter.  Jenny reached before her to touch his arm, and he took her hand in his and squeezed it gently.

"Maybe you better read that book to all of us, Adam, so we can see what's going on."  Hoss's suggestion even made Adam laugh.

"Speaking of upstairs, didn't you men come in to take Linda's bags up to the guest room?" Adam asked.

Greg hurried forward, followed closely by Hoss.  "Just show me where your bags are, and I'll take them up," said Greg.

"I know where the room is," said Hoss, following Greg closely.  "I'll go."

"You'll both go," said Jenny.  "Linda, show them your bags, will you?"

True to his word, Adam read Jenny a few brief passages from his Walt Whitman book of poems that night.  Jenny lay next to him, loving his closeness and the beautiful sound of his voice as he recited the poetry.  His voice used to be sonorous, melodious, and relaxing to her most of the time, but lately, he nearly always sounded impatient, stressed, or angry.  She hadn't heard  him this relaxed in a long time.

Long before she was tired of listening to him, he closed the book and laid it on the nightstand.  Then he turned toward her.  "What other poems did Linda read to you besides 'I Sit and Look Out'?" he asked.

Jenny felt a nervous dread settle upon her. "Oh, there was something about a horse."  She did her best to be vague.

"Something about a horse," Adam repeated in a slightly mocking voice.

"She said it was from 'Song of Myself'," Jenny continued.   "And there were a few other poems - or actually just selections from them.  I don't think she read all of them...."  Her voice trailed off.

Adam turned her on her back so he was looking directly into her face.  He brushed her hair away from her eyes and said, "What were the names of some of the other poems?"

"I don't remember," Jenny replied evasively.

"What were they about?"

"Umm...well...there were a lot of poems, or selections, that she read.  I don't remember..."  She squirmed to get away, but he held her fast.

"Sounds like you paid real close attention."  The mild sarcasm in his voice was unmistakable.

"Adam!  Don't!"  Jenny pleaded.

"Don't what?!  I'm not doing anything except looking at you!"

"I know!  I can feel it!  Stop!"

"Why?  Feel guilty about something?"  He turned her head slightly and blew in her ear.  She squealed and struggled, and screamed when he did it again.  "Some of those poems, my dear, are not fit for ladies' ears."  He nibbled on her ear for emphasis.  "So, why did you listen to them?"

"Well..."  Jenny squirmed.  "He's honest and down-to-earth, more than other poets I've read."  She thought for a moment, trying to put words to her impressions.  "His verse is written in a different style than what I've read before, but he says what he means, and writes about the real world.  What I heard tonight was better than the sugary verse I've heard and read before.  Linda skipped most of the passages that had - something objectionable.  Most of it didn't have anything bad."

Adam nuzzled her ear again, and laughed when she giggled.  "Most of it, hmmm?  Well, let me purify those ears!"

A few minutes later, as Jenny caught her breath and  Adam held her close, he asked, "What did Linda have to say to you today?"

"She didn't have a whole lot to say about the years she's been away.  She worked for and went to church with Mother and Father's friends who ran the boarding house in Silver City, and more or less kept to herself other than that.  She always was a loner, and very independent.  When those friends moved away, she didn't want or see the need to go with them, but she couldn't stay there alone."

"No, it's not safe there for a woman alone," said Adam.  "She's going East with your parents, then?"

"Yes."  Jenny's voice was sad.  "At least I get to see her for a short time."

Adam thought of asking her of Linda's intentions regarding Karen, but thought better of it.  "Does Karen know who she is?" he asked instead.

Jenny shifted uncomfortably.  "I told her about her parents - some - last year, but I'm not sure how much of it she understood or remembers.  I'm afraid to tell her too much about her father."  She was silent for a moment.  "Do you think we should tell her?"

"It depends on what happens," Adam replied.

"I'm not even certain that Karen wanted to understand," said Jenny.  "Less said, the better, perhaps.  But now, Linda's here.  I'm not sure that she wants Karen to know about her.  I'm surprised she's willing to see her, much less stay here with us.  She's trying to put the past behind her.  Hopefully, she can, and we can be a family again."

Adam desperately hoped she was right.

The next morning after breakfast, Jenny set to work canning beans.  Linda helped her, arranging canning jars, lids, and bowls of beans so she could easily reach them.  Then she sat down and began stringing onions.  Rose was sorting potatoes and young Adam was sorting apples, carefully placing the good ones in one bin, and the bad ones in another.

Hoss and Greg lingered in the kitchen.  They had stumbled over one another to retrieve the canning jars from the top shelf of the pantry when Linda had asked where they were.  Jenny had held her breath as she heard them scramble to the pantry, and cringed as they set the boxes heavily on the table, hoping they wouldn't trip over each other's feet and break the jars.  Rose put her dirty hands over her mouth to hide her giggles.

"Anything else I can do for you, Ma'am?" Greg asked.

"Let me get you more twine for them onions," said Hoss.  When he returned, Greg was helping Linda sort the onions by size.  Young Adam snickered as he tossed a bad apple away.

Adam followed Hoss in the door with Karen and Benjamin.  Karen had her apron full of herbs picked in the meadow near the creek.  She had spent the morning resisting Benjamin's efforts to supplement her herb gathering with grass and wildflowers that her younger brother fancied, and keeping him from eating the flowers, while Adam cut down a couple of small dead trees near the creek.

Benjamin pattered across the kitchen to his mother and grabbed her skirts.  "Hi, Mama," he said shyly, and peeked around her skirts at Greg and Linda.

"Benjamin, be careful," Jenny cautioned wearily as she pushed a damp strand of hair off of her face.  "This is hot.  You mustn't hang on me."  Frowning, she turned her face down toward him and sniffed slightly.  "You smell - different.  What have you been doing?"

"I ate the flowers," explained the boy.  "Just like the bunny rabbits!"

Jenny shook her head.  "Benjamin," she chided, "you can get sick doing that.  You must promise me you won't do it again."

"The bunny rabbits don't get sick," protested the little boy.

"Bunnies can eat things that we can't," explained Jenny.  "Don't do that again!  Heavens, Karen, Adam!  He mustn't do that!"

"I tried to stop him," protested Karen.  "Every time I looked at him, he was trying to eat flowers.  And I was supposed to be gathering herbs."

Adam had been watching Hoss and Greg hover over Linda since he entered the house.  "Gentlemen," he finally said.  A slight smile played about his lips.  "I request your services outdoors, please.  Hoss, the wood box needs filling - you can help me with that before we go to the north pasture and drive the cattle down.  Greg, you need to go to the south pasture and help the others finish up that fence repair.  There's still one whole section that hasn't been started yet."  He started out the door.  "Don't make me wait."

Jenny turned suddenly from the stove as he left.  "Hoss," she said, anxious to talk to him before any more time passed, "what did that Indian say in town earlier this week?"

Hoss looked at her, reluctant to speak about it if Adam hadn't already told her.  "Well, he said something about there being a real hard winter coming up.  About how we'd have seven months of blizzards, I think Adam said.  He heard him, not me.  Didn't he tell you about it?"  Hoss had thought Adam might tell her after their talk yesterday.

"No.  He didn't." Jenny turned back to the stove.  "Was Jared in the store when the Indian came in?"

"No, Adam said he didn't see him.  He might have been in the back.  Or at school."

Jenny carefully removed the rack of jars and set them aside.  "Do you think Jared is safe in town?" Jenny turned toward Hoss, her face troubled.

Hoss wondered what to say.  He wanted to assure his sister in-law that her nephew was perfectly safe, but he realized she would know if he lied to her, even if it was a white lie.  He swallowed hard, and finally said, "I reckon that he's about as safe with the Smythe family as anywhere in that town.  There's some rough folks in Virginia City, Jenny, and Roger Smythe has his older sons still livin' with him.  Yes, I figure he's safe there.  Your folks made a good choice for him when they arranged for him to stay there.  Course, he's a widower, so there's no woman's touch in the home, but Roger's a fair hand at cookin' and such."

Jenny turned her attention to the beans again.  "Adam won't take me into town any more."

"Virginia City's a mighty rough place now, Mrs. Cartwright," said Greg.  "Especially for a lady in - well - your condition, Ma'am."

"He took me before, with the other children," commented Jenny.

"You'd find the city mighty changed, Ma'am," said Greg.

"Yes, there's some real rough ones hangin' about on every corner," said Hoss.  "Not safe for a lady."

Jenny thought that some ladies must live there, or go there, but thought it best not to argue.  "I don't want to keep you," she apologized.  "Guess you'd best get outside."

"Anything else we can do for you ladies?" asked Greg.  He and Hoss both looked at Linda.

"No, thank you," Linda replied.  "Don't let us keep you.  We'll be fine."  The two men left the house reluctantly.

As Adam waited for his brother and Greg, he thought perhaps it was good that Linda had come, after all.  She was assisting with preparations for winter, and could help with the children.  Greg and Hoss could help him outside, and he didn't deny that he felt much better with the two extra men on the place.  He couldn't tell his wife of the possible danger they faced, of course.  He simply had to make certain that they didn't inadvertently put themselves in a dangerous position.  At one time, Adam wouldn't have hesitated to allow Karen to pick herbs by the creek by herself.  But that wasn't possible now.  So when he heard Jenny send Karen there,  he went along on the pretext of chopping wood, taking Benjamin to get him out of his wife's hair and away from the boiling water and canning jars.

He looked impatiently toward the door several times as he filled the wood box with the wood he'd chopped by the creek.  Finally, the two men emerged from the house.  He smiled.  "Nice to see you could finally get away.  Now that I have the wood box nearly full, why don't you finish splitting the wood, Hoss, and take the wood box into the house?"

"Sure, Adam," said Hoss, and began splitting more wood and tossing it into the wood box.

"On second thought," said Adam, turning back to his brother, "DON'T take it into the house.  I'LL do that.  If you do it, I may never see you again."

He turned to Greg.  "Ride out to the south pasture - past that creek over there - and help the men with the fence repair.  There's one whole section that still needs to be done.  They should have all the supplies there, but it won't hurt to stop by the shed and get some wire cutters and nails."  Greg left for the stable to get his horse.  Adam took the wood box into the house, barely listening to the laughter and talk of the two women and the giggling chatter of his children, and he and Hoss left for the north pasture.

"You know, Hoss," said Adam, "if you'd rather go back to the kitchen and can vegetables and preserve fruit, and sort potatoes and apples, I'm sure we can arrange that.  I could handle the cattle.  Why, I'm sure the women could even find some sewing for you to do."

Adam forgot to remain at a safe distance from his brother as he needled him, and was rewarded with a slap to his back that nearly knocked him off of his horse and spooked the animal.  Sport ran ahead, prancing wildly,  causing Adam to nearly fall off again.  He laughed, and once he regained control of his horse, cantered him all the way to the north pasture, with Chubb following closely behind.

Chapter 6

Once Hoss and Greg were outside, Linda threw her hands in the air.  "Men!" she exclaimed.  "I don't understand!"

Jenny smiled.  "What's not to understand?"

"They both like you, Aunt Linda," said Karen matter-of-factly.

"Yeah!" said Adam.  "Blech!"  Rose giggled, and Benjamin laughed loudly at his brother's funny face.

"Children," said Jenny, "are you finished with your chores here?"

"Almost," said Rose and Adam almost in unison.

"I'm almost finished, too," said Karen.  She was tying bunches of herbs together to hang from the rafters to dry.

A few moments later, when they were finished, Jenny instructed the three older children to push the vegetable bins against the wall.  "And be careful," she said sternly. "If you bruise them, they will spoil, and then the whole bin will be ruined."  Once that was accomplished without mishap, she had them put the bins of bruised or partly spoiled ones by the door.  One of the hands could take them to the stable and sort through them later and decide what was fit to feed to the stock.  Then she sent them off to play.  "Stay near the house," she instructed them.  "And come back in time to eat!"

The house was finally quiet.  "The men's attention to you makes you uncomfortable, I gather," Jenny said to her sister.

"I can't understand why they're interested in me," said Linda.  I'm older than you!"

Jenny was puzzled.  "I gather you don't look like it!  And what does that have to do with it, anyway?"

"I'm tired of men who only look!  "

"Linda," said Jenny quietly, "both Hoss and Greg are very decent, honorable men, who would defend you to the death if need be, and not just because you're my sister.  They're not just looking.  They're good men.  And they can tell a good woman when they see one, though Hoss has been known to have some lapses in  judgment in that area.  This isn't one of them, though."  She finished with a jar of beans, and began another.  "Did you become acquainted with any men in Silver City?" she asked.  "I thought you might get married there."

Linda laughed bitterly.  "Oh, yes, the family I stayed with when I first moved there - Mother and Father's friends who ran the boarding house - made sure I met young men.  But what was the use?  Once the men found out about me, and you know they would have, I wouldn't have stood a chance.  I took care not to get involved, and not to tell anyone anything.   When Father's friends left, I had to come back here.  The town was too rough for me to stay alone."

"Are you going to stay  here, in this area, or remain in the East?" Jenny asked.

"I'll probably come back here," Linda said.  "I'd like to be close to family for a change."

Jenny worked in silence for a while.  "Linda," she ventured to say, "you had one bad experience with Charles.  There's no need to assume every man is the way he is, or even that all others would condemn you for one - mistake."

"Yes!" hissed Linda.  "The mistake!  Except the mistake has a name:  Karen!  And no one will ever forgive me that one mistake!"

"No one is holding it against you," said Jenny as gently as she could.

"What would Adam say, if he were to find out?" asked Linda.

"Linda, he already knows.  He found out before we were married." She paused a moment to let her words sink in.  "There was a hired hand on the Ponderosa who recognized me after we settled in here, and knew about you.  Turned out he was the one who murdered our brother Pat.  Didn't Mother and Father tell you he was caught and sent back East for trial?  He was found guilty and hung."

As her sister said nothing, Jenny continued.  "So people found out, even here, so far west.  Of course, people believe what they wish, and many people have wished to believe over the years that I am Karen's mother.  So I know what you are afraid of, because I have experienced it.  We passed Karen off as Jared's sister - Paul's daughter, and said her parents were dead.  Didn't Mother and Father tell you this?  They wouldn't let me write you."

"They didn't tell me anything," Linda said dully, "because I didn't want to know anything.  I wanted the past to die; not to think about my daughter, her father, our brothers, anything that happened back East."

"You can't escape it," Jenny told her as kindly as she could.  "It will always catch up to you.  As it caught up to us here - many times.  You might as well face it."

She leaned back in her chair and stretched her legs.  "This little one is starting to kick me," she complained as she rubbed her stomach.  She stood and rubbed her back.  "I need to get dinner together.  The men will be here soon."

Linda helped her clear the table. "At least we finished the beans."

"Amen," said Jenny.  "Preserves this afternoon."

As Jenny added vegetables to the stew she had begun preparing earlier, she gave Linda instructions on how to make sourdough biscuits.  "I never cooked while I was away," said Linda.  "I ate in the boardinghouse or a restaurant."

"You always did refuse to learn to cook," laughed Jenny.  But you learned to sew beautifully."

After lunch, Jenny put Benjamin down for a nap.  Then she and Linda began making fruit preserves.  The girls helped them while Adam went outside with his father.

"You know, I remember Mother doing this when I was little," said Linda.  "I thought it was fun to help then, but as I got older, it became work.  I decided I would rather sew.  When Mother asked me what I would do when I married, I told her I didn't want to marry, and if I did, I'd marry a man who knew how to cook.  Or hire a cook."

"All fun becomes work, I guess.  Unless we make it fun," said Jenny.  She began humming "Ye banks and braes of Bonny Doon."

"I remember that!" Linda interrupted excitedly.  "Father always used to sing it in the morning!"

"He sure did," said Jenny, surprised at the outburst.  "He always sang it in the bathtub, too, if you remember."  The women laughed together.  "The neighbors knew when he was taking a bath," continued Jenny.  "They called his singing the 'Scotch Serenade.'"

"'Scuse me, ladies," said Greg's voice behind them.  "I have the chickens Mr. Adam said you wanted."

"Oh, bless you, Greg!  Put them on the cutting board," said Jenny.  The children pounced on the birds to pluck them and save the feathers.  Rose and Karen were each making feather comforters for their dolls, and young Adam wanted some only because his sisters did.

"Anything else I can do for you, Ma'am?"

" the pantry, a few shelves up, is a big pan."  She described it to him and told him where he could find it.  When he brought it to her, she asked him to put some water in it set it on the stove, which he did willingly.

"Who caught the chickens, Greg?" Jenny asked.

"Oh, I did, Ma'am.  I used to do it all the time for my ma, 'fore she passed on.  Got to be a fair hand at cookin', too, once I was on my own without nobody."  He put his hat back on.  "I'll be going back out to the south pasture if you aren't needin' anything else.  Mr. Adam told me this morning to come back for a spell and make sure you were all right."

Jenny thanked him graciously and assured him they were all right.  "He's such a nice man."

"Both he and Hoss seem like the 'salt of the earth' types," said Linda.  "Sturdy, steady, and reliable."

"They're both all of that and more," Jenny assured her.

"They're not married, are they?" Linda asked suspiciously.

Jenny nearly dropped a jar of preserves in shock.  "No!" she exclaimed.  "Neither of them is married!"

"I was just asking,"  Linda laughed.  "No need to get excited. You'd be amazed how many married men make eyes at single - or married - women."

Jenny shook her head.  "There's enough women about that I'm surprised they're not married.  Haven't found the right woman yet, I suppose.  They deserve someone special, too."

As the days passed, Jenny heard  numerous flocks of birds hastily migrating.  She and her sister were outside one afternoon to remove the washing from the line when a noisy flock of geese, and then another, flew over.  As Jenny removed the clothespins, Linda dropped the garment into a basket to be ironed later by Karen and Rose.  "I think all of these birds are trying to leave at once," Jenny said.  "Even Adam has never seen them leave all together like this.  It's too soon in the season for them to be in such a hurry."

"Well, at least they didn't speckle the laundry this time," commented Linda.  "I'd hate to have to wash it again."

Jenny laughed.  "Yes, that is a big relief.  The girls always hate that, because then they get to wash it again.  One time they let it go, and it was Adam's good shirt that was christened!  Boy, did they hear about that!"   They had a good laugh, and the men working in the yard raised their eyebrows and looked at each other .

Linda lifted the basket of laundry while Jenny carried the tin can of clothespins and kept her hand on her sister's arm as they went into the house.  Jenny lowered her voice as they approached the door.  "I overheard Hoss telling Adam that he thought we might have an early frost, and a blizzard as early as late September or early October."

Linda didn't turn around.  "Mother and Father will have been in Ohio by then, well away from these western blizzards.  But while it is cooler - too chilly for my fancy this time of year - I don't believe it's that cold.  Sounds like that Indian in town has Hoss scared."

Jenny sighed inwardly in frustration.  "Linda, Hoss knows about the outdoors.  He knows everything, from what weather we'll have to how to track a man or an animal.  He's the best man around here to ask about outdoor survival, tracking, or the weather.  The Indians know, too.  How do you think they've survived all these hundreds of years here?"

They entered the house and began preparing supper.  "I hate to say it, little sister, but I'd just as soon rely on the spirit of the coyote than listen to one old Indian."

"It's because he's old that he knows these things," reproved Jenny.  "We don't give the Indians the respect they deserve.  They were here before us.  And it's the spirit of the wolf you would want to rely on.  He's the good spirit.  Coyote is wicked and silly.  He wouldn't be of much help."

Jenny went into the pantry, felt along the bottom shelf, and retrieved a roasting pan.  She brought it into the kitchen and began preparing  roast beef, while Linda stirred up the fire.  Jenny sent Karen and Rose down cellar for some of the fresh beans that were left, as well as potatoes and carrots.  As she put the meat in the oven and told the girls to prepare the vegetables to cook, she said jokingly, "While we're talking of spirits, perhaps we should give thanks to the spirit of the Ponderosa steer who gave us this roast.  The Indians do that, too, you know."

Linda rolled her eyes, shook her head, sighed, and muttered under her breath (or so she thought), "I'm sorry I said anything!"  Jenny smiled mildly.  "I was just joking, sister!"  She wondered at the old rivalry between them  that could flare up so easily.

Once the table was set and dinner was ready to be served, they waited for the men to return to the house and wash up.  Finally, Jenny sent Karen out to see what was keeping them so long.  All the men were watching yet more flocks of birds hurry south, and looking at the northwest sky, which had heavy clouds building up.

"Storm tonight and tomorrow," Hoss said, and Greg and the others nodded and grunted their assent.

"Hopefully rain," said Adam.  "Though it is getting chilly out here.  An early snow is nothing new, but not that heavy a snow."  He noticed Karen standing next to Hoss.  "What's up?"

"Aunt Jenny says supper's ready."

While Karen was outside, Benjamin and Rose had gone to the doorway to wait for the men to come in so they could eat.  Jenny moved close to Linda, who was keeping warm by the stove.  "I didn't want to tell you when the children could hear," she whispered, "but I also heard Adam tell Hoss that several settlers here in the valley have experienced theft of cattle, horses,  meat from smokehouses, and other food, either from the fields before it was harvested, or from where it's stored away - whether in the barn, a shed, or even on the porch of a house.  In a couple of cases, a family's dog was shot - with an arrow."  Linda breathed in sharply, immediately drawing the attention of the two young ones at the door.

"Shhh," Jenny cautioned, jerking her head in the direction of the two restless children whose clothes she could hear rustling about in the doorway.

"Have they been here?" Linda breathed.

Jenny shook her head.  "Not that I know of.  But we don't have a dog right now.  They take time and training, Adam says.  And if the Indians shoot them anyway....But the settlers are angry.  They're talking about going after the Indians."

"Good!" said Linda.

"No, no!" Jenny exclaimed in distress.  "That's not good!  See, they -"

"Here come the men and little Adam," announced Karen.  Adam put a restraining arm on his son to prevent him from hitting the bearer of those tidings.  The men cleaned their boots off, washed up, and everyone sat down to supper.

The rain began during the night.  By morning, the wind was driving  icy pellets against the windows.  As Adam carefully negotiated the slippery yard on his way to the barn and chores,  rain and ice was whipped into his eyes.  In the warmth of the barn, he stood for a moment before lighting a lantern in the semi-darkness and waited for his eyes to stop stinging.

He mulled over the events of the past few days that he hadn't had time or inclination to think about yet.  His mother and father in-law had left yesterday on the stage, five days earlier than originally planned, on their trip East.  This had been a sudden decision on their part,   and when Linda was informed of it, she had expressed her wish to stay with Adam and Jenny this winter.  She really didn't want to go back to Ohio, as there were too many bad memories there.  So she would be staying with them this winter, in order to get reacquainted with her sister and to get to know the family.

Adam didn't understand his reluctance to have Linda here.  She had helped with canning, preserving, sewing (something Jenny couldn't do any longer), and assisted with the children, who had grown to love her in a very short time.  This freed him and the other men to concentrate exclusively on  the outdoor tasks necessary for winter preparation.  Linda's assistance during the coming months could be invaluable, especially with the new baby coming.  It already HAD been invaluable.  Besides, his wife was glad to see her.  She was happier with her sister here.  So why was he in such a foul temper about it?

As Adam fed the stock, he realized that he had counted on a short visit, and thus discounted the prospect of his brother's involvement with her.  But now, with Hoss and Greg here all winter, and Linda here as well.... Hoss and Greg were both smitten with her, there was no doubt about it.  Linda had been cautious around the men at first, though she hadn't snubbed them, but lately she was beginning to warm up to their attentions.  Adam sighed.  It looked like it was going to be a long winter in more ways than one.

The rain mixed with ice changed to ice and snow by mid-morning, and the winds continued to howl, blowing the snow about until the ground was scoured bare in places.  The temperature continued to drop.  By evening chore time, the snow and ice were whirling so fast and thick that Adam could barely feel his way along the clothesline, and from one haystack to another to find his way to the barn.  He chided himself for not tying a rope from the house to the barn that morning so he could find his way more easily.  He was glad to reach the warm and dry barn, and even happier to get back to the house.  Jenny had a bowl of bean soup warmed and a cup of coffee ready for him when he returned.

"Early winter this year," Jenny commented as placed the food before Adam.

"No doubt about it," Adam agreed.  He was still shivering from his trip outdoors.

"Are you sure this isn't just an isolated early storm?" Linda asked.  "It's awfully early for winter to begin."

No, Ma'am," replied Hoss emphatically.  "We're in for a tough winter and that's for sure."  He and the other men sat around the table, drinking coffee and struggling to remain on their best behavior.  For Hoss, this wasn't too difficult, but the other men were especially unaccustomed to being in a household with women and children.  Jenny had insisted that the men stay in the house during the storm.

For two more days the winds beat against the house, and the snow and ice drove against the windows.  When Jenny awoke on the fourth day, she wondered what was wrong, and finally realized that the silence had awakened her.  She went downstairs to stir up the fire in the stove and start breakfast.  Adam came down shortly after her.

"Is it sunny outside?" Jenny asked.

"Yes, and very calm," said Adam.  "Not even any wind."  He pulled his boots on.  "I'm going to string a rope from here to the barn while I have a chance.  Never know when the next storm is going to come."

The household came to life as everyone arose and went to their respective chores.  Linda aroused Benjamin, who declared that it was too quiet outside, and he wanted go outside right away and shout to make it noisy again.  Linda and Karen promised to play in the snow with him later that day if his papa and mama said it was all right.  Mollified, he went to the kitchen for his breakfast.

The weather warmed slightly during the next couple of days.  The snow began to melt, and spread in dirty puddles of slush which was easily tracked inside when Adam returned to the house after finishing the chores.  It froze into solid, treacherous ice when the temperature dropped again at night.  The children begged to go outside, but Jenny refused.  She had no intention of contending with four children covered in snow, slush and mud, or dealing with injuries caused by falling on the ice .

Two days after the blizzard, the women and girls were cleaning up the kitchen after a breakfast of eggs, biscuits with honey, and bacon, when they heard voices outside.  When the voices rose to shouts, Jenny turned toward the door in concern.  The girls began to run to the door, but stopped at a sharp word from Jenny.  She set Rose to sweeping the floor while she and Karen  washed and dried the dishes.

The door opened and Adam and Hoss entered.  Jenny turned expectantly.  "Pa and Joe are here with other ranchers, farmers, and men from town," Adam explained.  "Some of the men claim the Indians have been stealing from them - livestock, food, and supplies.  They want to organize an 'army' to go after them.  Pa's trying to talk sense into them, but only a few see it his way."

"Oh, no!" Jenny shuddered.  This could be the Paiute war all over again.  "Tell them that the Indians can't get enough to eat up in those mountains where they've been driven," she pleaded.  "Tell them that Pyramid Lake is mismanaged, and they had to leave there -"

"I've said it all!" Adam spoke sharply.  "They don't listen!  The only thing they know, or care about, is that supplies and livestock are being stolen, and it's Indians who are responsible!"

"Adam, can't you and your family make them see reason?"

"No!"  She heard him getting his rifle down and putting his gun belt on.  "I have to go with them.  Maybe I can help keep them from doing anything they'll regr- anything stupid."  He hurried toward the door.  "I'll leave Greg here with you.  The rest of the men will go with me."  He opened the door.

"Adam!"  Jenny ran outside after him and put her hands on his arms.

"Don't try to stop me!" he thundered.  "I HAVE to go!"  He pulled abruptly away from her and left to get his horse without a backward look.

Chapter 7

Jenny sat on the floor where she had fallen just inside the door.  "Be careful," she whispered.  "Come back to me."  She hid her face in her hands, and despite her best efforts, began to cry.

Linda helped her off the floor, and led her to her bedroom.  "I'll be back," she promised, "as soon as I get the children settled."

When Linda returned, she sat next to her sister and let her cry, waiting until she was ready to talk.  "Adam has changed," Jenny said once she had calmed down.  "He won't talk to me!  I only know about the Pyramid Lake reservation, and how the Indians were so brutally treated there, because I had Karen read the newspapers to me.  Adam wouldn't tell me anything."

"He most likely doesn't want to worry you," said Linda.

"Not knowing what he's thinking, or why he's so upset so much of the time, is more worrying," returned Jenny.  "He used to share with me what he was thinking and  feeling; his hopes, his dreams....but he hasn't done that for several months.  He used to take me into town; then he stopped.  It was Hoss and Greg who told me why.  And you heard Hoss give me the news about the Indian in town, who warned everyone about the winter coming up.  For a while after you came, Adam seemed better, but now...and he may not even come back!  He won't stand by while those men slaughter the Indians!  That reservation, Linda!  The men who run it get rich, while the Indians starve!  The Indians have no choice but to leave it, if they want to survive!  And here, they're driven into the mountains, while we take all the best land - land that they used to live on!"  Jenny grabbed a handkerchief and wiped her eyes.

"Adam has a strong sense of justice," she continued.  I know he realizes that the Indians are doing what they have to do to survive.  But whether or not he can help the other men to see it that way...."  Jenny shook her head.  "Adam always thought he could get people to see things from his point of view."  Her voice trailed off to a whisper.   "I don't know if he still feels that way."

Both women were silent for a few moments.  "Adam and Ben have long been wanting to give some of their property back to the Indians - the Paiutes, mainly.  Ben and Adam even spoke to men in town about it, some time ago.  They thought they could convince people that the Indians were entitled to live freely on land that was their own, unmolested, and free to live as they wished."  Jenny struggled not to give in to tears again.  "That will never happen, Linda.  Never.  Adam knows it - now.  I think that's when he stopped talking to me, sharing with me:  when he realized that would never, ever happen."

Linda held her sister tightly.  "He's in pain, isn't he?" she said.  He has ideals, hopes, and dreams, and he realizes they'll never be fulfilled.  People have failed him; hurt him."

Jenny protested, "I've done my best -"

"No, not you," Linda interrupted her. "You haven't failed him.  You obviously share his ideals, and understand him - as much as it is possible for one person to understand another.  No, you haven't failed him."

She paused.  "I never realized that about the Indians.  I've seen Indians in Silver City, of course; I knew about the reservations, and heard that some of the Indians left them.  But you and Adam paint such a different picture of it.  I never thought of it that way.

"How terrible," Linda mused quietly, as though speaking to herself, "to lose everything you ever had - your belongings, your entire way of life - and be forced to live in one particular place, with other people - your enemies - dictating what you do, and controlling your food and supplies."

"And even there, to have people cheat you out of your food and livelihood," said Jenny.  "And should you decide to leave, to be hated, feared, and driven into the worst places that no one else wants."

"They're forced to steal," murmured Linda.  "This goes against the principles that this free country of America was founded on."

"That's what Adam says, and I agree with him," said Jenny.

Linda stood and went to the window.  She looked into the deceptively bright sunlight reflecting from the snow in the yard beneath her.  "Sometimes, when a man has ideals, he also has dreams.  Dreams of a better way of life, dreams of better relationships with others, dreams of improving life,  for himself and others.  When those dreams are crushed by reality, and he realizes the ideal is regarded as nothing but a sham, he can take it hard."

Linda turned to face her sister.  "Adam's ideals are not going to be achieved, Jenny.  At least, not in the way he thinks they should be.  They may never be achieved.  People will not give up their land, or share anything with anyone,  because it is the right thing to do.  There has to be something in it for them.   Unfortunately, the Indians are different enough, and their way of life differs so drastically from ours, that most white people are never going to accept them.  Tolerate them?  Maybe.  If they dress white, act white, and live like whites.  But accept them?"  She shook her head.  "It's not going to happen.  Not in our lifetime."

She walked back to the bed and sat next to Jenny.  "From what you tell me, I think Adam knows this.  Possibly, he has always known it.  But he wants to believe that people can change; that things will be different.  Now, he has to face it:  people won't change, and things may never be, will not be, different."  Linda put her hand on Jenny's arm.  "Most people are cruel and selfish, Jenny.  Some of them take great delight in hurting others.  I believe your husband has a hard time handling that particular fact of life, at least right now."

Jenny took Linda's hand.  "You sound as though you know Adam so well, yet you've only been here a short time, and you haven't spoken that much with him.  Most people don't understand him."  She clutched her sister's hand tightly.  "See, he usually has a hard time expressing his feelings.  Sometimes, people see him as unfeeling and uncaring, when he's really just trying to take charge of a situation, or thinking what would be the best way to handle it.  Lately, he's been so angry, and often explosive.  He's been angry with the children, impatient with me, and yelled so much."  She shook her head.  "He has been better since you came," she added.  "Also,  since Hoss and Greg came, he seems more at ease.  I wish he would just talk to me!"

"If Virginia City is as rough a town as Silver City - and I've heard Virginia City is worse - than Adam may have been worried about you and the children," said Linda.  "I think Greg and Hoss are around to provide some protection for you and the little ones, not just to offer extra help.  There has only been one time since I've been here that one of the men, usually Greg or Hoss, hasn't been near the house."

"I didn't think of that," Jenny said quietly.  "Adam has  made sure lately that someone is with us, or near the children, nearly all the time."  She bit her lip, wondering whether or not to ask the question that had been burning in her heart ever since her sister's arrival.

"Linda," she finally said, "nine years ago, I never really knew what happened."  Jenny waited for her sister to say something or move, but heard nothing.  "All I knew was that boys - especially older boys - were saying horrible things to me, about me some, but mostly about you.  Mother and Father took me out of school, and I had to stay home, but no one told me what was happening.  It wasn't for several months that I knew that you - were - in the family way.  We kept moving, and no one would talk to me.

"I know it was a terrible time for you, but it was hard on me, too. We had already lost one of our brothers, then we lost the other one.  For so long, even before you left, I felt I'd lost you, too.  When we moved here, I wished our brothers' graves were here, so I could visit them.  It seemed there should be one for you, too."  She stopped, fighting back tears.  "Mother and Father forbade me to even speak of you.  They never let me see your letters - before I was blind, I mean, of course."  She waited for a reaction.  "When you came back, it was as though you came back from the dead.  Can you tell me what happened?  Or would you rather not talk about it?"

Linda was silent for so long that Jenny touched her to be certain that she was still there.  "I'm sorry; I shouldn't have asked," she apologized.

"No," Linda breathed.  "You have a right to know."

Jenny waited for her to speak.

"I loved Charles very much."  Jenny had to strain to hear her sister's whisper.  "He said he loved me, and we talked of marriage, but not to Father, because neither he nor Mother approved of Charles, if you recall."  She fell silent again.

"After we were - indiscreet -" Linda finally continued, "he seemed....distant.  He wouldn't talk to me."  Again she was silent.  Jenny waited.

"He began to show interest in another girl." Linda's voice was tight with repressed tears.  "That girl was so mean, so cruel to me.  She told me everything she and Charles were doing; where they went...I was in agony, and I hated her, and I couldn't hide either fact.  And I still loved Charles, despite the way he treated me.  I couldn't hide that, either."  She began to cry.  Jenny put her arm about her.

"Boys began to make comments to me.  Charles even boasted when I was around.  He said horrible things.  Mother and Father, when they heard about it, took me out of school, but that didn't help me any.  Then, I found out I was going to have a baby."  She hid her face in her hands.

"I wanted to die.  I couldn't face everything that had happened and that was happening.  I couldn't handle how cruel Charles was, or his new girl, or how everyone delighted in tormenting me.  I can't believe that people can actually take such pleasure in someone else's pain and misfortune.  I have seen it happen over and over again since I left.  Most people - nearly all of them - only think of themselves.  They don't care a straw about anyone else, their dignity, their privacy, their life, or their happiness.  They'll do everything they can to destroy someone who is down, either to make themselves look better by comparison, or  to get whatever they want that the other person has."

Jenny thought of the Indians living about them, and the people in Virginia City who hated the Indians and the Cartwrights for defending and attempting to understand them.  She remembered the good lands that the Indians had been driven from.  She thought of Adam, his regard for the Indians,  and his growing despair over the past year.

"I think you know what happened after I left school," Linda said.

Jenny nodded.  There was no need to discuss that.  She remembered her sister's close brush with death, Karen's birth, and Linda's refusal to have anything to do with her child, and her insistence on leaving once their parents determined to raise Karen themselves.

She hugged her sister close.  "You're back now," she said as encouragingly as she could.  "Karen is a fine young girl, one you can be proud of."

"I've had nothing to do with Karen's upbringing," Linda replied dully.  "But it is good to be back, with Mother and Father, and to see you and her.  And I'm glad to see you so well off.  Mother and Father did keep me updated on what was happening with you.  I thought of you often."

Jenny had a fleeting wish that she had known that long before.  "We'd best go downstairs," she said. "Who knows what the boys are doing!"

When they came downstairs, the children ran to them.  "Is Papa gone to fight Indians?" Young Adam was brimming over with excited awe.

Jenny made her way through her children to the kitchen.  "Your Papa went with the men to the Indian village, yes.   Are the dishes washed?"

"Yes, Mama," said Karen.  "We washed them, remember?  And Rose swept the floor."

"Why can't I go with Papa?" questioned Rose.  "I'd like to see Indians, too!  Are these Indians bad?  Why are people angry with them?"

Jenny put her hand to her face, and struggled with tears.  "The Indians don't have enough to eat, so they have been stealing food and livestock from settlers around here.  The men want to stop that."

"I sure wish I could've gone!"  said her eldest son.

"Me, too," chimed in Rose.  "Why do boys get to have all the fun?"

"This isn't going to be fun."  Jenny's voice was sharp despite her intent to remain calm.  "There will be shooting and killing before it is all over.  And -" she stopped in horror when she realized what she had just said to the young ears before her.  "And your papa has a different idea of how to handle it," she finished lamely.

"How?  What?"  the children chorused.

"He wants everyone to talk and come to an agreement," said Jenny.  She realized as she said the words just how unlikely that was to occur.   "Now, no more questions. Go upstairs and make your beds, if you haven't done so.  You too, Benjamin.  If your beds are already made, entertain yourselves in the sitting room."  Jenny found a chair at the kitchen table and sank into it before she realized she hadn't heard any of her children move.  "Go!" she said sharply.

After they had filed out, Jenny put her head in her hands.  She thought perhaps she should begin getting dinner ready, but breakfast was scarcely over, and who knew when the men would be back?  She could at least bake a pie.  There were canned cherries and blueberries in the cellar.  She stood and went to the door, pausing to take down her shawl and mittens.  She knew exactly where the fruit was.

"Where are you headin', Mrs. Cartwright?"  Greg asked her.

Jenny was startled, as she hadn't heard him in the house.  "I'm going out to get some fruit from down cellar to make pies," she told him.

"'T'ain't safe for you to be goin' out, I'm afraid," Greg said.

"But I need to make dinner, pies, do something," protested Jenny.  "If the men come home, they'll be hungry, and we'll be hungry regardless.  Can you get them?"

"No, Ma'am.  Mr. Adam said I have to keep watch."  Jenny knew from experience gained long ago at the Ponderosa that he couldn't be budged from Adam's orders.

Jenny sighed.  Well, a cake and cookies would have to do.  She got out mixing bowls, cups, knives, and spoons.  As the children returned down the stairs, she called Karen and Rose to help her, and Linda sat by the sewing basket in the sitting room and went to work, after she set Adam and Benjamin to cleaning and shining the boots lined up by the door.  She figured keeping them occupied would be worth the oil and mud on their clothes, especially Benjamin's.

As the cake  baked, Jenny heated up bean soup, made muffins, and put a roast in to cook.  Then she sat down and waited, and waited, hoping that Adam would come home; that he and the other men would return soon.

Finally the women, children, and Greg sat down to eat a silent meal.  Greg insisted on taking a seat near the door, where he could watch out the window.  Jenny smiled despite the worry.  Dear, loyal Greg.  Adam chose well when he left him.  He knew Greg would defend the family with his own life.

After the dishes were cleaned, Linda could sit still no longer.  "Jenny, let me have a gun.  I can shoot - Father taught me how."

Greg looked closely at the women for a moment before turning his attention back to the outdoors.  "Not fittin' that you should have a gun, Ma'am," he protested.  "Besides, Mr. Adam has the guns locked up."

"But she can shoot," said Jenny.   She cocked her head toward Greg and lowered her voice.  "I don't think you'll get the keys from him.  All we can do is wait right now.  And listen, and watch."

"It feels warm in here," whimpered Rose.  "I wish we could go outside and play!  And where is Papa?  Why doesn't he come home?  Did the Indians -"

"Papa will come home when he can," Jenny said.  "Meanwhile, we must be patient, and keep busy.  Let's make up a story."   Jenny and the children had often played this game on long winter days, when the children felt housebound and bored with their toys and books and chores.  "I think Little Briar-Rose just woke up in her castle, but her  prince has to fight to get her away from the evil sorceress.  What happens next?  Karen, why don't you tell us?"

 Karen looked at her aunt with big eyes, swallowed her anxiety, and continued the story.  Before she had finished making up her part, Rose excitedly offered her suggestions, and had to be sternly told not to interrupt until Karen was finished.  After Rose, Adam contributed a part with fancy sword play and shooting, and ended with the prince's army coming in to help.  He even included army maneuvers.  He looked expectantly at Benjamin, who looked about at them, and said, "And the bad guys died and the good guys lived happy ever after."  Everyone laughed.

"Aunt Jenny," said Karen when everyone was quiet, "do you think that maybe the bad sorceress was just doing what she had to do?  Maybe she couldn't get any food, or didn't have any place to live, and she had to do some of those things."  The room suddenly became silent, and Jenny could sense the tension.

Finally, she said, "I think there was more to it than that, Karen.  It's only a story, of course.  But we don't know much about that sorceress, do we?  We only know that she was bad."  Her niece's insight was a sobering slap in the face.  "I shouldn't be surprised," she thought.  Karen of all the children would recognize that this was more than a fight of the good guys against the bad ones.

"Someone's coming!" said Greg.  "Get down, all of you!"

Chapter 8

Adam saw the smoke ahead of him as he rode.  He heard some triumphant shouts and a chorus of excited remarks behind him.  But he remained grimly silent, as did his pa and brothers, and a few others: the storekeeper Roger Smythe, his three sons, and Adam's nephew Jared among them.  At Smythe's suggestion, the party stopped just before a rocky trail into the foothills.  The temperature was hovering just above freezing, and some of the snow and ice was melting in the bright sun.  A light breeze, cold but not not freezing like the blizzard wind, blew from the mountains.

"We don't know what we're riding into up here," said Smythe.  "Some of the trail is still frozen, and that will probably get worse as we go up into the hills.  I suggest that we slow down, and ride more cautiously until we can see the Indian camp.  That way, we won't blunder full-speed with tired horses into something we don't expect and aren't prepared to deal with."

"That sounds good to me," agreed Ben.

"What's the matter, Smythe, Cartwright?  You two afraid of a few thievin' Injuns?  You're the ones who claim they're hungry, so they can't be much of a threat, now, can they?  If they're too lazy to grow their own food and do their own hunting, they may be too lazy to fight."  The speaker, Mr. Wilbanks from the motel, nodded toward the smoke.  "Looks like some boys on our side are doing a good job getting rid of the problem right now.  Let's go join them, I say."

"What Smythe says makes sense!" Adam argued hotly over the other men's voices.  "We can't ride quickly through these hills, anyhow.  Like he said, it's still icy.  We'll have to slow down.  And we need to know what we're getting into.  We don't want our horses to break any legs.  They'll be tired enough after this ride and the slippery trail, anyway."

Most of the men saw the sense of this, and grudgingly allowed Adam and Ben to lead them into the hills.  Part of the trail became so narrow that they had to ride single file.  Smoke drifted down over them, obscuring their view of one another at one point.  After a final long uphill and particularly rocky stretch of trail, the men reached a wide upland meadow.  Adam stopped abruptly at the end of the pass, looking in horror at the sight before him.

Smoke still rose from the charred remains of several Indian dwellings.  Constructed as they were of poles covered with hides and brush, they had burned easily and quickly.  Dead Indians - men, women, and children - lay as they had fallen, shot down while fleeing.  Adam saw one woman struggle feebly to pull her child that was lying next to her into her arms.  Three children huddled together, trying to put as much space as possible between them and the gun a white man held to their heads.

Adam recognized the man:  Ned Tucker, from the livery in town,  the same man whom he had nearly killed for his comments about Jenny.  Williams and Wilson were on horseback next to Tucker, along with about 20 other men whom Adam and Hoss had confronted in Virginia City that day the Indian came to town.  So that's where those men were.  Adam wondered why they weren't with the group from town and the other ranches and farms.  They had decided to beat everyone else at this game, and finish the dirty work before they could be stopped.

Adam rode toward Tucker, wondering why he should resist the urge to shoot the man down where he stood.  Tucker and his friends saw him coming, and leered triumphantly but warily as they saw how many men accompanied him.  "We done got rid of most of the Injuns for you, Cartwright," said Wilson.  "Stick around, why don't you, and watch us finish the job, since you don't have the stomach to do it yourself."

"Let those children go!" Adam harshly demanded.

Wilson's eyes narrowed.  "Who's gonna make us?  Or make us let go any other Injuns we accidentally left alive here?  You?  Your friends?"  His eyes traveled over Adam's companions, assessing their loyalty to their spokesman.  "They're not all on your side, now, are they?"

The other Cartwrights,  Jared, and the Smythes had ridden behind Adam to offer their support.  They were joined by a few other men who had come with them, while some of the others joined Wilson and his friends.  Most of the men hung back, obviously unprepared for the carnage they saw and the cruelty of the men responsible.

"Get out of here, Wilson!" said Ben.  "And take the rest of your scum with you."

"Oh, I intend to," sneered Wilson.  "But we'll let you take the 'scum' - once we've finished with 'em, that is."  He jerked his head toward Tucker.  With an evil sneer, Tucker pulled the trigger, and blasted away the face of one of the children before him.  The other children fell to the ground and lay face down, too terrified to move.

All of the men who had ridden with the Cartwrights sat stunned,  unable to move.  Jared was the first to recover.  His eyes blazed with cold fire as he raised his gun.  Just in time, Roger Smythe pushed the gun barrel up, and the shot went high.  "Can't do that son," Smythe told Jared.  The older man's face was set like flint, and only those who knew him  well could see the anguish in his eyes.  "We have to let the law take care of him."

Smug satisfaction covered Wilson's face.  "Now, you fellas gonna get out of our way and let us finish our job?"

"You'll have to kill us to get past us," declared Adam.

Wilson and several of his friends laughed.  "Why, Cartwright, you wanna die for Injuns, we're only too happy to oblige!"  Wilson tried to stare down Adam, and finally jerked his head toward Tucker again.  But before Tucker could pull the trigger and kill yet another child, Adam fired.  Tucker doubled over and fell on his own gun.

The opposing groups of men glared at one another, conscious of every move the other side made, fingers poised on the trigger.  No one moved for several long seconds.

Ben's voice shattered the silence.  "We can shoot each other down, or you can go back to town - or some other place where you can hide.  We're not leaving here until you do."  He looked over the band of men before him.  "Do you men really want to die to slaughter these Indians?  Because that's what's going to happen to a lot of you if you try to kill any more."

"You're goin' against the law, Cartwright," sneered Williams, from a safe perch next to and a little behind his friend Wilson.  "You can't do that, and you know it.  So do the rest of your law-abidin' friends 'n family."

"Why not?" challenged Adam.  "Who's going to stop us?  You?  Or your 'friends' here?"  He could see that at least a few of those siding with Wilson were horrified at what had been and was being done.

Wilson glared at Adam, then at Ben.  He tried unsuccessfully to stare down and intimidate Little Joe and Jared.  But when he fixed his eye on big, dumb (or so he thought) Hoss, he hastily turned aside from eyes as hard as steel and the unrelenting fury in his face, and the barely restrained power in the huge fists clenched about his gun.

"Let's go, boys," said Wilson.  "Back to town for us.  We've done all we need to do here.  But we won't forget you - not ANY of you!  Y'hear?"  He glared at Jared and the Smythes.

"You'd better hide, Wilson," said Ben.  "Run far and hide fast.  We'll have the law on you sooner than you can say 'jackrabbit'."

Wilson and his partners in crime threw their heads back and guffawed.  "Y'hear that?"  he gloated.  "The law, he says!"  He laughed long and loud again.  "He thinks the law is gonna do somethin' to us!"  When he finally finished laughing, he told Ben, "Let me tell you something, Cartwright.  The law won't do nothin' to us.  These Injuns ain't even supposed to be here.  But it will do something to you:  for killin' Tucker here."

This remark was met by silence.  No one with the Cartwrights had any doubt that Wilson spoke the truth.  Wilson laughed again at Ben's discomfiture, and rallied his men about him.  "Come on!  Let's go!"  Sneering and glaring, they rode away.

Several of them remained behind.  Adam glared at them.  "Well?  What are you still doing here?" he demanded.  He pointed after Wilson's party, who could still be heard as they rode heedlessly away.  "Go with your friends!  You'll be safer in town with them than you will be here with us!"

The men he addressed shifted about nervously.  Finally, one of them said, "We didn't know what they were going to do, Adam.  We didn't mean for this to happen!"

"And what exactly DID you think would happen?" demanded Adam.  "A Sunday afternoon church picnic?"

"We thought - we thought they'd fight!  We didn't think it'd be killing women and children, and old men!  We - we didn't think -"

"You didn't think!  That's right, you didn't!" roared Adam.  He rode toward the men, who pulled away from him.  "Go!"  Adam shouted.  "Go with your friends!"

"Adam!" said Ben.  "Adam, stop!"  Ben rode forward to sit next to his son.  "Are you prepared to help us bury the dead and tend the wounded?" he asked the men.

They all nodded.  "Yes," said the one who had spoken before.  "We'll help however we can."

"But where will we take the injured ones?" asked another.  "We can't take them into town.  Some folks won't stand for it."

"We'll have to do what we can for them here, and get them to the Ponderosa," said Ben.  He looked at Adam.  "We'll need all the help we can get, son."

"Pa, I need to get back home, or send someone, to get Jenny and the children to the Ponderosa."

"You left Greg with them, didn't you?  They'll be safe -"

"No!  They won't!  We don't know where Wilson and his crowd is headed!  They could be going to my place, or the Ponderosa, for all we know!"

"The Ponderosa is well-guarded," said Ben.  "I left several men there."

"All the more reason to get Jenny there," insisted Adam.  "Greg is only one man!"

"Adam, she'll probably be safer in a home with walls around her than moving out in the open," began Ben.

"I'm going to get her!" declared Adam.

Ben saw Adam would not rest until he could see his wife to what he considered to be safety.

"Wilson and Tucker and all them were saying something about how they were gonna get anyone who stood against them about these Indians,"  said one of the men who had been with Wilson.  "They'll likely go back to town now, but, with them, there's no tellin'."

Adam's jaw was set.  "I'm going back."  He started to ride off.

"Adam!" Ben called.  "Don't go alone.  Take Jared, or one of the Smythe boys.  But I'll tell you plain:  I think the women and children are safer where they are than moving in the open, and I need as many men as possible to get these dead Indians in the ground, and the wounded and sick back to the Ponderosa."

"I'll take Jared," said Adam.  "Come on," he called to his nephew.  Adam knew that Jared at age 14 was as good as any man.  He was brave and could handle a gun, and where his aunt and cousins were concerned, he was bound to be just as vigilant as an older man.  As they rode back the way they had come, they could hear whooping and hollering ahead of them.

"You reckon that's Wilson and his cutthroats?" asked Jared.

Adam smiled grimly at the boy's apt description.  "Probably."

Once they left the hills, they speeded up.  A lot of the snow had melted, though there was still plenty on the ground, and there weren't many patches of ice left.  If not for the events of the day, Jared might have enjoyed the weather.  But he had seen Wilson and his friends in town frequently, and knew how they could talk people to their side, as well as what atrocities they were capable of committing.  This afternoon's sight in the hills had not surprised him, though it had sickened and angered him.  He thought of his aunts and cousins with only one man to protect them, and rode faster.
Chapter 9

Jenny, Linda, and the children huddled together on the floor behind the kitchen table.  Greg could see two horses approaching the house.  While they were still too far away for him to identify, one of them neighed.

"That's Adam!" exclaimed Jenny in relief and delight as she recognized Sport.  She rose and hurried around the table, tripping over the children as she went.

As she rushed to the door, Greg called sharply, "Get back down, Ma'am!"

"But it's Adam!" she said.

"We don't know who's with him or what's going on.  Get down!"

Jenny had never heard Greg speak in that tone of voice.  Linda took her sister by the arm and led her back behind the table.  "He's right," Linda said.  "We must stay here until we know it's safe.  He can't protect us if we don't do as he says."

The horses approached the house, and Greg saw Adam and Jared.  He remained at the window, and watched and waited to be certain they were alone.  He had noticed smoke in the mountains that morning, and smoke rising from the northeast just a short time before Adam and Jared rode up.  He could take no chances.

When he was sure the men were alone, he opened the door, calling over his shoulder to the women and children, "Stay where you are!"

Voices drifted into the kitchen from the outside the door.  "Can you see what's happening?" Jenny whispered to Linda.

"No, I can't see outside," Linda whispered back.

"Something's wrong with Papa," moaned Rose.  Karen was struggling not to cry.

"No, I hear Papa," whispered Jenny.  "He's talking; he must be all right."

"Why do we have to whisper?" asked young Adam.

Jenny suddenly fought the urge to laugh hysterically and run outside to see what was happening.  She must stay calm; she must keep control.  She took a deep breath, and said, "I don't know."  Her voice shook with suppressed hysteria.

Linda saw her sister's efforts to keep a straight face and put her hand over her mouth to stop her own nervous laughter.  Then Benjamin cackled gleefully.  "We're hiding from Papa!"  He clapped his hands.  "He won't find us here!"

Suddenly, the door flew open, and they all jumped.  The girls screamed.  "Come out," called Greg.  "It's ok."

The children scrambled from under the table and ran to Adam.  "Papa!  Papa!" they called, and jumped on and hugged him.  Jenny and Linda followed more slowly.

Adam pulled the children off of him.  "Listen to me," he said intently.  "You must go pack some clothes to take on a trip."  He looked at Karen.  "Get enough for a few days at least.  Be quick about it."  He handed Benjamin to Karen.

"Where are we going?" asked Rose.

"To Grandpa Ben's," replied Adam.  "No more questions.  Hurry!"  He looked at Jenny and Linda.  "You, too.  Get clothes together."

"Should we bring some food and supplies?" asked Jenny.

"Yes," said Adam.  "Greg and I can get those together.  Hurry!"

As the women and children went upstairs, Adam told Greg, "We need to keep  a lookout for trouble.  You said you saw smoke just a little while ago, to the northeast?  That could've been Wilson and his gang.  The women and children will be safer at the Ponderosa.  I'll come back here once I get them settled over there."  Greg nodded.

Adam went down cellar and to the shed to grab some food and supplies.  Then he went to the barn and helped Jared harness the horses to the wagon, wishing there was a quicker way to get his family with a few of their belongings to safety.   The quickest route to the Ponderosa was over the fence line.  But he would have to take the road, and hopefully would not meet trouble while on it.

When Adam and Jared returned to the house, Greg was helping Jenny, who had returned downstairs once her satchel was ready,  pack some bread and cookies.  "Where is everyone?" demanded Adam.

"Linda's helping Karen get everyone packed," said Jenny.

Adam strode to the foot of the stairs.  "We have to go!  NOW!" he bellowed.  A moment later, the troop descended the stairs, bags in hand.

"Are the Indians coming, Papa?" asked young Adam.

"No!" Adam nearly choked.

"Then why-"

"Get outside in the buggy.  I'll be out in a minute."  The children did not dare disobey.  They went out with Linda and Jenny.  Jared remained inside.

"I'll be back when I know they're settled and all right," Adam told Greg.

"Mr. Adam," said Greg, "there's no need for you to come back.  You stay there with your family, and take care of them.  I'll stay here, with Jared.  If you want to send some other men back later, go ahead.  We'll take care of things here, and you take care of your family."

"This is my home!" Adam's voice trembled.  "It's up to me to take care of it; protect it!"

"It's up to you to take care of and protect your family," replied Greg.  "Jared here is as good as a man.  And this is his uncle and aunt's place.  He'll help take good care of it, and keep any scum off it.  You go take care of your family."

Adam looked helplessly at Greg for a moment, then shook his hand in gratitude.  "I'll be back to check on things..."

Greg nodded.  "As you see fit, Mr. Adam."

Adam started to leave, then turned at the door.  "We shouldn't be more than a few days, hopefully."

"However long it takes, sir," said Greg.

Adam looked at Jared, then Greg;  then he left.

As he drove the wagon out of the yard to the road, Jenny put her hand lightly on his arm.  She desperately wanted to know what had happened to the Indians, but was afraid to ask.  Benjamin began happily gurgling and singing behind her, and Rose started making up a story that she would tell Grandpa Ben when she saw him.

Quietly, so the children behind her wouldn't hear, Jenny asked, "What happened?"

Adam didn't answer for a moment.  "The Indians are dead."

"All of them?" Jenny gasped.

"Nearly all.  They're bringing the injured ones to the Ponderosa."

"All those men really wanted to kill them?  You - you couldn't stop them, then..."

"It wasn't anyone with us who did the killing," replied Adam sharply.  "Some of them wanted to, yes, but it was Tucker, Wilson, Williams, the scum from town who came out with a gang of cutthroats ahead of us and butchered them all, men, women, children, the old, the young - all of them!  Some of us wanted to stop it, but we got there too late!  They were nearly all dead by the time we arrived."

Jenny realized that the children were silent.

"Why?" asked Karen tremulously.  "Why did they do that?  Why?"

"Because they CAN!" Adam thundered.  "Because they want to!  And because no one will stop them, and no one cares!  And because no one - NO ONE - will do anything about it!"  He shook the reins viciously to speed the horses, and Jenny could feel his arm trembling with his fury.  She removed her hand from his arm, put it in her lap, and struggled to maintain her composure.

As they hurried along the road, more smoke rose, again to the northeast,  but closer to them this time.  Adam glared at it with a baleful eye, set his jaw even harder, and drove the horses as fast as they could go over the rutted, icy road.  Karen grabbed hold of Benjamin as the wagon bounced over the bumpy road, and the children scooted as close as they could to the front of the wagon.

Linda put her arm around Jenny and held her tightly.  For a moment, she wondered how she would be feeling and what she would be doing had she left for the East with her mother and father instead of staying here.  Despite her fear and the ever-present danger, however, she knew that this was where she belonged.  No matter what happened, she was with her daughter and living in the present, not hiding from the past, and she was quite willing to let the future bring what it would, so long as her child, lost to her for so long, was near her.

Adam saw the two riders far ahead, but at first said nothing.  Two horsemen were attempting to ride towards them swiftly, but were slowed down by icy patches and slush-filled holes that their horses might slip on or stumble in.  Adam thought he recognized Cochise and Chubb, but wasn't willing to take any chances.  When he saw yet more black smoke rise, he slowed down, readied his gun, and told the women, "Get back in the wagon, and get the children down."

Jenny refrained from asking questions, and allowed Linda to help her back into the wagon.  The children crawled and scooted to them and huddled down without being told to do so.  As they and the riders approached one another,  a call rang out into the air.

 "Hey!  Adam!  It's us!"   It was Little Joe.  He rode up to the wagon, followed by Hoss.

"Pa sent us out to see if you were on your way," said Little Joe.  "He and the others are getting the wounded Indians back to the Ponderosa now, and he already sent your two hired men back to your place in case you need help there."

Adam glanced at the smoke.  "Looks like we'll need it for sure."

Little Joe looked at the women and children, wondering how much to say.  "You leave Greg and Jared back at your place?"

"Yes.  I'm glad that Matt and Pete will be there to help them.  Where are they?  I haven't seen them on the road."

"Once they'd helped with the Indians up in the hills, Pa sent them after you.  We went ahead of Pa and the others to the Ponderosa, to tell Hop Sing and the other men how many we were bringing, so they could get beds and food ready.  Then we came out to look for you."

Young Adam peered out of the wagon.  "Uncle Joe," he said, "did you get to see Indians?"

"Yes, Adam, I did," replied Little Joe.

"Were they nice to you, or mad at you?" continued the boy.

Little Joe couldn't speak for a minute.  "They were hurt," he said.  "People had hurt them.  So we've brought them home, and we're going to take care of them until they get better."

"Where will they go then?" asked Rose.

Little Joe swallowed hard.  "I don't know."

They continued to move as quickly as possible to the Ponderosa.  Hoss said quietly to Adam as he rode next to the wagon, "Looks like they've burned at least two places today.  You know it's homes of people who've stood against them in the past.  Who's gonna stop them, Adam?"

"I guess we'll have to."

"Aunt Jenny?" whispered Karen.  "Who's burning homes?  The Indians?"

Jenny sighed.  "No.  White men who are angry that some of us don't want the Indians  killed.  They're burning homes of people who have tried to stop them from hurting the Indians."

"Will they -"

Jenny shook her head sharply.  "It's in good hands, Karen."  She didn't dare think of her home destroyed, and her nephew and the men there killed.  Finally, they arrived at the Ponderosa and wearily climbed out of the wagon.

The Ponderosa was a beehive of activity.  There were only eight Indians who had survived the massacre, and they were in the spare room and great room.  Beds were being made, cots set up, bandages rolled, and water was boiling.  Ben was giving one man some laudanum to dull his pain,  Hop Sing was feeding another beef broth, and one of the Smythe boys was treating an old man's wounds with carbolic solution.

When he saw Adam, Ben said, "I'm glad you made it, son.  Turns out you were right about bringing your family here.  Wilson's thugs are burning homes about us."

"I know," replied Adam.  "I saw it on my way over here."  He told his father that Greg and Jared were staying with the two hired men at his home.  "They'll probably need all the help they can get, if Wilson and his gang come there, but after I told Greg what had happened to the Indians in the hills, he said he and Jared would take care of the place, and told me to stay with my family.  Now there's two other men with them, but I still feel my place is there.  But it's here with my family, too."

"You're here now, so why don't you stay here?" said Ben.  "Wilson's a coward at heart.  He'll bully anyone who won't stand up to him.  Even with 20 men around him, if someone fights back, he probably won't stick around long.  And the four men at your place-" he hesitated  as he thought it was really three men and Jared - "are expecting trouble.  They'll be ready for him."

Ben put the children and Linda to work making and helping change beds, washing dishes and bedding, and bringing medical supplies where needed.  He gave Jenny some sheets and old shirts and towels to rip for bandages.

Late that night, Adam and his family were all too exhausted to do any more than splash a little water on their hands and faces, strip off their outer clothing, and fall into bed.   Linda slept in Ben's study.   Adam and Jenny slept in Adam's old bed, while the rest of the family slept on pallets hastily thrown together on the floor.  Even Benjamin collapsed into the strange bed with few whimpers and barely any  tears.

They were too tired and discouraged to talk.  Eight badly injured Indians required more care than they may be able to give, even with the entire Cartwright family, their hired hands, and one of the Smythe boys.  Roger Smythe and the rest of the men had hastily ridden home once the Indians were at the Ponderosa.  Smythe promised to ask Doc Martin to come to the Ponderosa, but made it clear he had to get back home first, and may not be able to get to the doctor, depending on whether the town was turned against him and the other "Indian lovers," as they were often jeeringly called.

Chapter 10

Early the next morning, Adam stirred as the eastern horizon turned gray with the light of dawn.  He looked about him,  remembered where he was, and why he was there.  He closed his eyes and groaned.  Never in his life had he felt more unable to face the day ahead of him.  Even when his stepmothers had died, he had realized that life went on, and that he must go on with it and fulfill his duty to those about him.  Now, however, he found himself wondering if his family might be better off without him.  Hopelessness was consuming him to the point where he felt incapable of providing for their needs, much less of giving them a safe and secure future.  His father and brothers could do the job better than he was doing it.  Jenny's parents could do better by her and the children.

But he couldn't leave.  How could he live with himself if he did?  Even so, how could he stay?  Yet stay he must.  Wearily, he squeezed his eyes shut and wished that the world would stop, and he could simply rest, and relinquish the weight of responsibility and despair that was crushing him to the ground.  He sighed heavily and prepared to get out of bed.

At that moment, Jenny squeezed his hand.  She said nothing, but simply let him know she was there.  Adam squeezed her hand tightly in return, and drew it up to his mouth.  He gently kissed each of her fingers and her palm.  A few tears he couldn't restrain slid down his face.  Jenny turned toward him and gently wiped his tears with her other hand.  Adam took her face in his hands and kissed her deeply.  He wished he could stay there with her and forget the world about him.  He never should have married her.  As much as he loved her and their children, it would have been better never to have brought them into this horrible world.  But he knew better than to voice his thoughts.  He would hurt her too deeply.

"We'd better get up," Jenny whispered.  "They'll be needing our help downstairs."

They both sat up and put on some clean clothes that Adam pulled out of their bags.  Jenny ran a brush through her hair and pinned it back.  "Let the children sleep," she whispered.  "They're exhausted after yesterday."

Adam carried her over the sleeping children sprawled about the floor and quietly shut the door as they left the room.  He helped her down the stairs, where they saw Ben and Jonathan Smythe  eating.

Adam led her to the table.  "Where's everyone else?" he asked.

"Still asleep," said Ben.  "Some of them were up most of the night."

"Did we lose any of the Indians during the night?" asked Jenny.

"No," replied Ben.  "We changed bandages and gave one some more laudanum about an hour or so ago, and they've all been quiet since."  He sipped his coffee.  "You look exhausted, Adam."

"So do you," responded Adam.  "And I got to sleep all night - for what it was worth."

"Where did you get laudanum, without a doctor about?" asked Jenny.

"Hop Sing had it," Ben replied.  "He said something about getting it from a relative in Chinatown, in San Francisco, during one of his visits there a while back.  I wasn't sure about using it, but we've been rather desperate."

Hop Sing brought out more food when he heard Adam and Jenny talking.  Jenny thanked him graciously, guessing that he must have worked harder than any of them, yet still rose early to fix breakfast.

As they ate, one of the Indians in the spare room began moaning and thrashing restlessly.  Ben went into the room, and Adam followed him.  An old Indian lay in one of the beds.  His body stiffened as a spasm of pain racked it, then collapsed and went as limp as a rag doll.  Ben and Adam hurried to his side.

Adam recognized him.  His head was bandaged, and his silver hair  stained with fresh blood.  An ugly bruise covered nearly one whole side of his face, and a bandage around his middle bound some broken ribs.  The bullet wound in his shoulder was bleeding again, soaking the bandage.  Despite his injuries, Adam knew him as the old Indian who had ridden into town to warn the people of the impending hard winter.  Had Adam not received this warning, he may not have had his ranch ready for winter on time.  He didn't suppose anyone in town would recall the warning, or admit that the old man had been right.  Adam was filled with shame and loathing as he thought of how this gentle man had been repaid for his favor to his family.

As Ben and Adam tended the old man's wounds, attempting again to stop the bleeding and change the bandages,  his breathing became heavier and more ragged.  Convulsive coughing doubled him over, causing more pain to his injured ribs.  He gasped for breath and coughed again, spitting up blood this time.  Adam raised him slightly so he wouldn't choke, but the old man gave a few rattled gasps, blowing bubbles of blood as he did so.  He stiffened in one final convulsion, his eyes rolled back in his head, and he went limp in Adam's arms.

As Adam laid him carefully down on the bed, closed his eyes, and folded his hands across his chest, a voice spoke behind him.  "He was puagant."  Adam recognized the word as the Paiute term for medicine man, or healer.  Translated, it meant "one who has sacred power."

He turned to the speaker.  "What was his name?"

"Tavibo," replied the Indian on the pallet.  "He had great power.  He taught that white men die soon in earthquake, and Indians take back what was ours."  He shut his eyes in fatigue.  Adam noticed his breathing was heavy and irregular, too.  Adam turned to leave, but the man spoke again.

"Tavibo's son is young, but he, too will be great.  His name is Wanekia.  That means 'One Who Makes Life' in your tongue.  He says we will get our lands back, but we must live peaceably."

He glared at Adam with as much hate as he could muster in his weakened state.  "We cannot fight you, Adam Cartwright.  Your people are too many, and too strong.  But you take what is ours, and throw us crumbs on reservations, where we do not wish to go."  He attempted to sit up, but his injured leg and side prevented him from doing so.  "I remember you and your father would give us some land, but other whites would not agree.  But this land is not yours to give.  And now you kill us, when we would only try to live on what should be ours."  The man's eyes smoldered with hatred as he glared at Adam from his pallet on the floor.

Adam stared back at him with a haunted, despairing look.  What could he say?  What could he do?  Leave his home?  Anything given back to the Indians, even part of the Ponderosa and Adam's own holdings, along with all the other land he and his father had in mind when they proposed this idea several years ago, would be considered by the Indians to be scraps thrown to them by usurpers from the Indians' own table.

No, that was no answer.  Even if people would give up part of their lands, it was not the solution.  What was the answer?  Was there one?

But he had known the answer all along.  This was a war, despite his best efforts to stop it, to resolve it peacefully, and to give back to the Indians some of what should be theirs.  This war could not be stopped by his or anyone else's efforts.  It was doomed to play out to the end, and his feeble efforts to stop it, to stem the tide, to change the attitude of others toward the original inhabitants of the land about them, were similar to building a sand wall to hold back a tidal wave.  This was a war of one culture against another; one way of life as opposed to another, and it would not stop until one side was gone - either dead or hidden away on reservations.  And Adam had little doubt which side would win.

How foolish he had been to think he could make a difference!  How presumptuous of him to consider himself the Indians' friend!  He was white and living on their lands, helping to push them off.  Yes, he defended them, and treated them as equals when he met them, but he was still an intruder and thief, simply because of who he was.

Adam strode quickly out of the room, running into Jonathan Smythe and Jenny, who had come to the doorway when they heard Tavibo choking.  He pushed past them and went to the kitchen, where he began throwing bread and dried meat in a knapsack, and filled a canteen with water.

Ben followed him.  "Adam!  What are you doing?"

Adam didn't answer.  He didn't know what he was doing.  He only knew that he had to leave; had to get away.  He couldn't stay here and be an accessory to murder and theft.  He couldn't bear  his foolishness.  He had to escape.  What he was doing, and where he was going, he had no idea.  His pa was asking him questions, demanding answers;  Hoss and Little Joe had come downstairs, too, and were trying to stop him;  Hop Sing was chattering away in Chinese, yelling at him for invading his kitchen and taking food; but it all went past Adam in a blur of words and images.  He could see nothing; hear nothing save the voices in his head that told him he was a fool and worse than a fool; that his life was hopeless and pointless, and his children were doomed to live in a world filled with hate and madness.

He went to the door, resisting his brothers' efforts to stop him,  put on his gun belt, coat, and hat, and put his hand on the door latch.  Suddenly, he remembered Jenny.  He turned and saw her stumbling across the room toward him.  He ran back to her and caught her in his arms.

"Adam!"  She ran her hand across his face.  He held her and looked at her, but said nothing.

"You're leaving me!"  she choked.  She tried not to cry;   not to accuse.  Still he said nothing.

"Where will you go?" she asked.

For a moment, she thought he wouldn't answer again.  Finally, he said, "I don't know."

"It's dangerous, with Wilson's men out there," said Jenny, still struggling to keep from  begging him not to leave her.  He didn't answer her.

One of her hands slid down his arm to his hand.  "There may be another storm.  Maybe a blizzard.  Take your gloves.  And muffler.  Please."  Tears fell on her cheeks as she finally cried.

Adam pulled her to him and kissed her as he had earlier that morning.  He crushed her to him and buried his face in her hair.  After kissing her passionately again, he said hoarsely, "I love you, Jenny."

Jenny heard the torment in his voice and knew the torture he wrestled with in his conscience and soul.  She hugged him tightly, ran her hand over his face, to the back of his neck, and ran her fingers through the curls at the nape of his neck.  "I'll be here, Adam," she whispered between kisses.  "I'll be here."

He put her gently down, and as she heard him leave, she felt half of her heart was being ripped away and leaving with him.  She sank down on her knees on the floor and vainly attempted to stop the tears that flowed down her cheeks.

"Adam's gone plumb loco," said Hoss, as he hurriedly put on his gun belt and struggled into his coat.  "Come on, Little Joe, we have to go get him, before he gets himself killed."

"No!"  Jenny looked up from her seat on the floor.  "Leave him be.  He needs to be alone.  Please.  I want him back.  I need him back.  But he needs to go.  He must go."  Her voice sank to a whisper.  "I love him!"  She choked on her tears.

The men,  with their coats only halfway on, stared at her, then at each other.  "I think she's right," said Little Joe reluctantly.  "I think big brother Adam needs to be alone right now."

"But Little Joe!" exploded Hoss.  "It's crazy, goin' out there, with Wilson and all, and them blizzards, and God knows what else is goin' on that we don't know about!  Adam can git himself hurt bad, and no matter what, we need -"

Little Joe jerked his head toward Jenny, and put his finger to his lips.  Hoss looked at her, and stopped talking.  Linda, who had come into the room unobserved as Adam left, helped Jenny up from the floor and assisted her to the couch.  Little Joe propelled his big brother to the dining room table, and breathed in his ear, "We'll get our things together in the stable, and leave later from there.  Give him some time to be alone.  We'll track him, and see later if he wants to talk."

Hoss nodded.  "Not sure talkin's gonna do no good, though.  Mood Adam's been in, I'm not sure what to do."  He looked out the window.  "Sure do hope he's payin' enough attention to what's goin' on around him.  I'm worried 'bout him, and that's a fact."

Chapter 11

Greg and Jared saw the smoke as it blew in their direction.  Most of it dissipated before it reached them, but they strained their eyes looking through and around it to watch for anyone coming.  They hid next to the windows when Greg spied two horsemen approaching the house from the direction of the mountains.  Jared's trigger finger was itchy, but Greg told him to wait and see who he was shooting before he did something he couldn't undo.

"Don't need to be charged with murder at your age," he told the boy.  He almost said "your young age,"  but caught himself just in time.  Jared was responsible and dependable beyond his years, and was also quite a good shot, thanks to Adam's and Little Joe's tutelage, but his age showed not only in his looks, but also in his hotheadedness.  Adam had sometimes teased him that when he became angry, his hair changed from strawberry blonde to fiery red.

Jared was restless.  He had wanted to go to the barn to check on the stock one more time, but Greg had reminded him that they had been cared for before Adam left, and the barn was best left locked.  He had been glad to see the two hired hands sent back by Ben, but he wondered how four of them would manage to protect the place.

"How will four of us keep a thievin' band of cutthroats from burning the place down around us?" Jared asked.

"We'll just have to be quicker and sharper-eyed than they are," replied Greg.

They heard Wilson and his men long before they saw them.  Shouting, whooping, hollering, and shooting into the air, they raced toward the ranch.  Greg and the others each chose a window or a doorway and waited until they rode out of the smoke and into their sights  .  Greg wished there was a way he could fire over their heads to warn them that they meant business, but knew this lot had already killed, looted, burned, and who knew what else, and the blood lust was hot within them.  As the gang rode into view, he said,  "These men won't stop to talk.  We'd best shoot while we can, before they set fire to anything."

Even as he spoke, a bullet ricocheted from the doorway close to Greg's head.  Everyone ducked, then returned the fire.  Several of the riders were shot from their saddles, and the others, not expecting any resistance, veered away, shooting as they rode out of range.

As they regrouped, Greg said, "They'll spread out, and come at us from all sides.  How many of them are left, do you reckon?"

"Hard to say," replied Pete.  "We didn't shoot more than a few of them.  He looked quickly out the window.  "There's maybe four or five down, but two of them are getting up, real slow."  He moved away from the window again.  "We're outnumbered for sure, Greg.  Is Adam coming back?"

"I hope not, not now," Greg replied grimly.  "With this crew of murderin' savages, he needs to stay with his family.  Jared, you go into the sittin' room.  And you two go upstairs.  Get to separate ends of the house.  "

The men scattered to their separate posts, and waited with pounding hearts for their attackers to show themselves.  Shots rang out from the upstairs first, then downstairs as Wilson's men learned that the house was protected from all sides.

After seemingly endless rounds of shooting back and forth, the men in the house heard shouting behind the barn.  It sounded as though an argument had begun. For several moments, none of the defenders saw any of the men outside.  Then, hoof beats sounded.  An exultant whoop resounded from upstairs.  "They're riding off!   Yippee!"

"Stay up there!" ordered Greg.  "It may be a trick."

They waited for several long, agonizing minutes.  Finally, Greg crept to the front  door, grabbing a napkin off the table to wrap around his left forearm.  He had felt the hot sting as the bullet grazed it, and another sting as a piece of broken glass nicked him on the cheek, but paid no attention to the blood as it ran down his face and arm and soaked his clothes.

He picked up a potato from the bin next to the cupboards, opened the door, threw it out, and jumped back, fully expecting a volley of shots to follow.  When nothing happened, he shut the door and locked it.  He wasn't sure what to do.  If Wilson was still out there, he was either biding his time, dead, or injured.  He listened to his heart pound as he waited, straining his ears for any sound from outside.

"Hey, Jared!" he finally called.  "Come in here!"

When Jared entered the kitchen, he stopped short and stared in shock at Greg's bloody face and arm.  He rushed to Greg's side.

"Get down!" hissed Greg.  "They may still be out there!"

Jared stooped to the floor.  "You're hurt!" he exclaimed.

"Shush!  Don't worry about that now!  We have to get outside and see if any of those murderers are round about here anywhere.  And we have to be slow and careful 'bout doing it.  They may just be waitin' for us to poke our noses outside this door.  You tell Matt and Pete what we're doing."

As Jared went upstairs, Greg wrapped another napkin about his arm, and held another to his face in an attempt to stop his bleeding, all the while looking carefully outside for any movement.  He was taking a big risk, but couldn't relax until he knew if Wilson's men were gone or not.

When Jared returned, he attempted to help the older man stop his bleeding, but was rebuffed.  "I'm fine for now, Jared.  Now, listen up."  He gave very specific instructions,  insisting that Jared agree to follow them to the letter.

A few minutes later, Greg unlatched and opened the door while standing to one side.  He took off his hat, and put it slowly around the doorjamb, where his head would be.  Nothing happened.  He stooped down and carefully  peered around the doorway, both ways.  Still, no bullets flew.

"Let's go!"  He ran from the door to the barn, followed closely by Jared.  They both hid behind the watering trough, and looked about.  There was no sound or movement anywhere, except the neighing of horses within the stable and the lowing of cattle from a far-off pasture.  The air was brisk, almost early spring-like.  But Jared's heart was in his throat, and he hardly noticed the weather, except the puddle of semi-melted snow he lay in.

As agreed , they split up and went in different directions around the barn, keeping an eye open for anyone moving about the house as they went.  As Jared rose from the ground behind the watering trough,  he noticed Greg was breathing hard and saw him rub his hand across his eyes.  He also noticed blood had stained some unmelted snow.

Neither of them saw anything or anyone move as they went about the building.  As Jared skittishly peered around the back corner of the barn, he saw men and horses, and jumped back in fright before he realized they hadn't  moved.  He looked again, and realized that they were all dead:  four men and two horses.

As he stooped to look at them, Greg joined him.  "Unless they were  shot within sight of the house and came back here to die, they must have killed each other," Greg noted.  There's five more on the other side, in sight of the house."

"There's one back there, to the side of the tool shed." Jared pointed.  "And another by the south side of the house."

"That's eleven," said Greg.  "How many you reckon there was to begin with?"

"Not sure," said Jared.  He thought for a moment.  "Maybe 20, up in the mountains, but some of them left Wilson and came with us."  He thought again.  "Unless Wilson got more men, I'd say 15, maybe a few more or less."

"There may be others dead we haven't seen," said Greg.

"Should we look for them?" asked Jared.  "In case they're just hurt?"  He looked at Greg's face and arm, both of which were bleeding again.  "You go back in the house, Mr. Greg.  I can look."

"No!  Jared!"  Greg sat on the ground and gasped.  Finally, he said, "Help me with the bodies we've found.  We need to get them buried."

"Mr. Greg, let me help you into the house," said Jared.  "Matt or Pete can help with the bodies, and the other one can tend to you."  He attempted to take Greg by the left elbow to help him up, but the man flinched and pulled away.  Jared went to his other side, stooped down, put Greg's arm around his shoulders, and raised him up.  He barely managed to get the taller, bigger man around the barn before he had to stop and rest, and they were part way across the yard to the house when Matt came running to them.

While Matt tended Greg's injuries in the house, Jared and Pete gathered the dead men behind the barn and started to bury them.  After completing that arduous task, they were trying to decide what to do with the dead horses when the light of day about them suddenly darkened.  They stopped what they were doing and looked at the sky.

Pete pointed to the northwest.  A dark cloud was on the horizon, moving swiftly toward them.

"What is it?" asked Jared.

"Another blizzard," said Pete quietly.  "Bring the tools in the house.  Get your gun.  Quick!"

Jared ran and fetched his rifle from where he had set it against the barn.  Pete took hold of his arm, and together they went around the barn.  The temperature was already dropping rapidly, and the wind was beginning to howl.  As they crossed the yard to the house, the snow hit them like a blinding sheet of gritty ice, and the wind nearly blew Jared off of his feet.  Pete reached up and found the rope above him that Adam had strung there earlier, and was able to find the front door by following it.  He stumbled through the door, dragging Jared after him.

Chapter 12

Adam surveyed the scene of the carnage.  The dead were buried, the injured had been taken to the Ponderosa, and only the ashes remained.  He could see the grave of the victims at the other end of the meadow.  Adam dismounted from Sport, stooped to the ground, and lifted a handful of ashes, which he let sift through his fingers.  He wondered how many generations of hopes and dreams had been burned in this fire, and how many lives were forever changed because he had come too late.

Adam led Sport around the perimeter of the destroyed village to the grave site.  Rocks had been placed around the burial mound.  Further away from the mound and the village was the site of another fire.  Adam went to it and looked closely.  He saw arrowheads and the remains of charred shafts and bows.   Bits of moccasins , blankets, and clothing were also scattered through the ashes.

Adam hid his face in his hands.  This was not only the death of an Indian camp, it could be the death of a culture.  It was the Paiute way to burn or bury the belongings of the dead.  Either his father or one of the other men remembered that, or one of the injured Indians was able to tell them, to make certain that their beliefs were honored and the dead not desecrated.  There probably had not been much left to burn.  Most of the little the Indians had possessed had likely been burned during the attack.

Adam continued around the meadow on Sport until he saw an overgrown path into the tall pine trees leading further into the mountains.  He followed it, guessing it to be an old Indian trail.  The path became steeper and narrower the further he went.  He saw an opening in the trees ahead and made for it.   He looked closely at the ground.  He was certain that someone had been on this trail recently.  The undergrowth was trodden down, and he saw a couple of moccasin prints in the snow that still lay unmelted next to the path.  Bits of clothing had been snagged on weeds and bushes, some of which were growing in the path.

As Adam went through the opening in the trees, he saw the trail turned to go along the edge of a gorge, which quickly widened into a large canyon.  The ground dropped away from the far edge of the trail to a spectacular view of the canyon and the mountains beyond.  The sun still shone below him, but shadows were creeping over the western edge of the canyon.

Adam breathed deeply, but the beauty in front of him could not touch his jaded spirit.  There should not be such loveliness in the midst of horror.  The irony of the grandeur before him juxtaposed to the brutal murders that had occurred a short distance away was like a hot iron in his heart.

He looked at the vista spread before him until the peacefulness of the land slowly began to permeate his soul.  He shut his eyes and listened to the silence.  Who was it, he mused, who once said that the voice of God speaks like thunder in the silence?  He pushed aside the memories of the past several months, and simply listened, watched, and breathed.  A numb calm settled over him, and he realized he was exhausted and hungry.  He thought of the food in his saddlebag, but couldn't muster the energy to turn and get it.   The wind picked up and turned suddenly cold, and he knew he had to find some forage for Sport.  There was nothing by this cliff.

As he turned his horse, a shot exploded behind him.  His right side  burned like fire, and Sport pranced and reared.  Adam almost fell off his back and over the edge of the cliff, but managed to hang on.  He tried to draw his gun, but pain was shooting through his side, and Sport's antics made it impossible anyway.

Suddenly, the daylight faded about him, as if someone had pulled a curtain over a window.  He heard shouts, followed by  agonized and terrified screams.  An Indian ran out of the trees toward him and grabbed Sport's bridle.  More Indians came toward him.  They dragged his frantic and resisting horse into the trees.  Adam's side felt as though it was in a vise.  He couldn't breathe without intense pain, and Sport was jerking, prancing, and fighting to get away from the Indians who had hold of him.

Adam put his hand to his side, and felt his clothing saturated with blood.  As Sport passed under the trees, he doubled over with a cry of agony, and fell off his horse.  Hands caught him and broke his fall to the ground.  Several hands lifted him and carried him quickly over the rough ground, through bushes and undergrowth, and under the tall trees.  As consciousness slowly left him, he heard a loud, screaming howling, and saw something swirling white about him under the trees.  It was cold, so very, very cold....


Jed Wilson opened his eyes.  There were no savages about.  Thank God for that.  He tried to get up, but his limbs wouldn't do what he wanted them to do.  His lungs rattled as he gasped for breath, and the tree limbs and sky above him were blurry.

Damn that Adam Cartwright!  This was all his fault!  If he hadn't tried to stick up for those savages, and stopped him and Williams, and killed Tucker, none of this would've happened!  Some of the men had gone soft and yellow and turned against them when Cartwright showed up, but that was no problem now.  He and Williams had fixed them good.  Their houses lay in smoldering ruins, and their families were dead or driven away.  Those they hadn't fixed yet, they'd fix later.  Meanwhile, they'd gathered enough food and supplies before they burned the places to last them a little while, in case they had to leave town.

Of course, he had kept saying that wasn't going to happen.  No one in town cared about the Indians, and no one there wanted anyone who stood up for them, either.  That's what he always said, and it was true.  But some of the men had their doubts after Cartwright's speech about what they'd done being against the law.  That rattled a few of them, and they thought they might have to go on the run.

The first few houses were easy.  Then they went to Adam Cartwright's house.  A few of them were killed riding up to it, and more were picked off after they surrounded the house and tried to sneak up on it.  That did it.  He had said it'd be easy, and it should have been. Now, most of them were dead.  More of the men got scared and angry, and they'd had a fight and shoot-out among themselves behind the barn. The few of them left then rode off.  Too bad, really.  Jed was hoping that Adam's wife would be home alone, or with the kids.  But now, he figured they'd stay in the mountains for a while, since they'd finally gotten rid of the Injuns.

It was Jed Wilson who had seen Adam riding alone.  He recognized him, even from a good ways off, and had told Williams and the others, "He's mine!"  They tracked him as he rode into the hills, saw him in the meadow where they'd killed those Injuns, and finally drew close to him as he went onto the path beyond.

Jed had smiled as he carefully followed his enemy and waited for an opportunity to get a shot.  Adam was distracted and paying no attention to anything about him.  He offered an easy target on that precipice, and Jed should've hit him square in the back.  With any luck at all, he would at least have fallen over the cliff.  But Adam moved just as he'd pulled the trigger, and then that damn horse of his made it impossible to get a clean shot in.  Next time, he'd shoot the horse!

But something had pierced him in the side.  He looked down to see an arrow deep within his vitals.  Where the hell would an arrow come from?  All the Injuns were dead or injured!  Then he heard Williams and the others scream, and someone hit him over the head.  He saw an Indian run by him before he passed out.

It was cold.  It was so cold.  The light was gone.  Frozen sand scoured his face.  Sand should be hot, not cold.   It felt like ice.  He couldn't breathe.  He stopped shivering, and drifted off to sleep.  The world faded from Jed Wilson as the icy whirlwind of the blizzard overtook him.

Chapter 13

Linda smiled as she finished ironing a shirt.  Hoss was giving an account of a time he spent alone at the Ponderosa several years ago. Even Hop Sing was gone at the time.  The first thing Hoss had done while all alone was to fall in the well while trying to retrieve the bucket and its broken rope.  His cries for help had gone unanswered, save by this dear, stubborn, old lady, who had wandered onto the Ponderosa looking for her "Danny boy."  She was convinced she'd found the prosperous ranch her son had written of in his letters, and had come from Ireland to see her son once more.

Hoss wove a comic account of the tale.  After the lady saved his life by getting him out of the well, he didn't have the heart to tell her that the Cartwrights, not her Danny, owned the Ponderosa.  And he described the great lengths he went to, and the fibs he told, to keep from her that her Danny was really an in-the-gutter drunk, often in jail for disorderly conduct or petty theft.

Karen's mouth turned down skeptically.  "Why didn't you just tell her the truth?"

"Yeah, Uncle Hoss," chimed in Adam,  "especially if  he was just a drunk?"

"Well - ya see - she was such a nice old lady.  And she saved my life!  Why, I mighta never got outta that well!  It's dangerous, down there!  A man's been trapped, and died down in wells!  I couldn't tell her that her son didn't get all this and do her proud!  And besides, she was the best dang cook and housekeeper I've ever seen."

"Oh, so that's it!" called Little Joe from his seat in front of the fireplace where he was helping one of the Indians eat some broth.  "You weren't really so grateful, or reluctant to break bad news to her.  You just didn't want to lose a good cook and housekeeper!  That's why we had to pretend this place wasn't ours for a couple weeks!"

The children laughed long and loud for the first time since they'd entered the Ponderosa the day before.  Even Jenny smiled as she rolled the freshly washed bandages before her.  The only person not amused was Hop Sing, who clanked the dishes and slammed the silverware as he set the table.

"Uh-oh," said Hoss.  "Now I done made ol' Hop Sing mad."  He sighed.  "I'm gonna have to work powerful hard to get him happy again."

"We'll all work on him," promised Linda.

All day, the endless duties of caring for the injured: washing bedding and clothes, giving medicine and food, bathing, and burying Tavibo, had worn them down.  The children helped as they were able, but Benjamin was more of a hindrance than a help, and had whimpered for his papa all day.  Little Joe had swung him up on his lap during a rare free moment, and had read to him from one of his favorite picture books from his childhood.  Hoss had told one funny tale after another to keep his nieces' and nephews' minds from fear concerning their father.   He took all four of them on his lap, wrapping his brawny arms about them (arms which Linda suspected could break a steer's neck), and gently comforted them as they wept for their papa.

"Why did Papa leave?" asked Benjamin, after Adam had thundered away on Sport.

Hoss had taken the little boy on his lap, and the other children had crowded close about him.  "Sometimes, Benjamin, folks have to get away by themselves for a while, to sort things out and  think things through.  Adam - your papa - has had a tough time lately, and he needed to go away for a while.  When he comes back, he and your mama may need to talk.  But we need to be patient, and wait for him."

"He will come back?" Benjamin had tears in his eyes.

"Of course he'll come back," Rose loudly protested.  "Papa always comes home."

"Maybe we should go look for him, in case those bad men try to hurt him," suggested young Adam.

"Your papa is used to taking care of himself," Hoss told the boy.  "He'll be as all right as anyone can be."  Hoss didn't tell him that Adam may not be as alert to what was going on about him as he usually was.  "Now, you kids go help your mama and aunt.  I need to talk to Uncle Joe."  Linda started them on a game of "I Spy" as they helped fold laundry.

Hoss cornered Little Joe in Ben's study.  "What do you say to leavin' now?"

"It's as good a time as any,"  Little Joe replied in a whisper.    The two men strolled nonchalantly through the house to the sitting room.  No one paid them any mind.  The children quickly tired of the game of "I Spy," and were talking of playing hide and go seek as Little Joe and Hoss put on their gun belts and coats.

Rose asked, "Where are you going?"

"Just out to the stable to make sure everything's fixed up tight in case we get another storm," said Hoss.  His eyes met Linda's, and he shifted his gaze quickly, then looked back at her.  He was certain that she knew what he was doing.  As the children debated who was "it" for hide and go seek, she touched her fingers lightly to her lips and blew him a kiss, then mouthed, "Good luck!"

Joe and Hoss saddled their horses, and went to the back of the stable, where their gear was hidden in a pile of hay.   As they loaded the gear on their horses, Joe asked, "Think we can find him before another one of those storms blows up?  Or do you think we'll have another one soon?"

"No tellin' 'til it's almost here, if it's anything like the last one," replied Hoss.  "I'd feel a lot better if we'd gone after Adam this morning, right after he left."

"Might have done more harm than good, Hoss.  You've been around him this winter.  Has he done this before?"

"No, and that's what has me worried, Short Shanks!  He's been moody, yes, and worried about his family and all, but he hasn't gone off like this!  And did you see how he looked?  Why, Little Joe, it's like - the times I've talked to him, it's like -" Hoss struggled to find the right words.  "Like he can't find faith in nobody no more.  He's a man who's lost all hope."

"Well, for his family's sake, he'd better find it," said Little Joe.  "And for his sake, we'd better find him.  Let's hope he's cooled down enough to listen and talk."

They led their mounts out of the stable.  "Speaking of cooling off, did it suddenly get colder out here, or was the stable that warm?" asked Little Joe.

"It's colder, all right," said Hoss.

They mounted and started to ride off.  The wind began to howl, and suddenly the daylight grew dim and gray about them.  Hoss stopped.

Little Joe continued on, then turned back impatiently.  "Come on, Hoss!"  He had to shout to be heard above the wind.

"Little Joe."  Hoss pointed to the sky.

Joe looked, and saw a dark cloud approaching from the northwest.  "Oh, no," he breathed.  "Not another one.  Not now.  Not with Adam gone.  Hoss!  We've got to find him!"

"Little Joe, we can't go out in that!" exclaimed Hoss.

"We've got to!  Adam's out there!"  Little Joe started to ride away.

"Little Joe!" exclaimed Hoss.  He watched as his brother continued to ride away from the house and the storm swiftly approached.  He started after him.  "Little Joe!" he shouted.  "Come back!  Before it's too late!"

Little Joe didn't even answer, but began following Adam's trail.  Hoss galloped Chubb after his brother and cut him off.  He grabbed Cochise's bridle.  "Whoa, brother!  Don't you think?  You can't go into that!"  He indicated the storm, which was ominously near.

"Adam's in it!" shouted Little Joe.  "We have to find him!"  He tried unsuccessfully to rip Cochise's bridle from his brother's hands.

"Adam will see it coming and get to shelter."  Hoss tried to calm his impulsive brother before he got them both caught in the storm.

"You don't know that!" exploded Joe.  "You said yourself he's  not paying attention to what's around him!"

"Little Joe!  You're going to get us both trapped in this storm!  We can't find Adam in it, and we'll freeze tryin'!  Let's get back to the house while we can!"  Black shreds of cloud drifted about them as he spoke.  That was enough to make the two brothers stop arguing and turn their horses for the stable.

The blizzard hit while they were unsaddling the horses.  They hastily grabbed the gear they had packed, and reluctantly went into the storm.  The wind whipped them about so that they came in the kitchen door instead of the main door to the house.  Hop Sing, who had seen them leave on their horses was so relieved to see them that he forgave them for the mess they tracked in on his floor.  He made them take off their wet coats and put them by the stove to dry.  Then he gave them hot soup and tea to thaw them out.

While the men were thawing out, Karen looked out the window at the swirling whiteness. She knew Adam had not returned before the storm hit.  Karen turned to her Aunt Jenny, and saw her fighting back tears as she kept her hands busy folding clothes. Forgetting the other three children were hiding and waiting for her to find them, she approached Linda who was sitting by the fireplace.

"Adam's not back yet."

Linda looked at the girl standing before her.  Karen was so much like her that she would have known her anywhere, yet an invisible wall was about this child whom she had borne but had never raised.  This was the first time Linda had heard Karen refer to Adam by his first name. She always called him "Papa" as did the other children. Her eyes pleaded for reassurance that Adam was all right.

Linda put down her sewing and reached for the girl, but couldn't pull her close.  "Adam took food with him," she reassured the girl.  "He seems accustomed to taking care of himself.  Chances are, he's found shelter and is waiting for the storm to pass.  All we can do is wait."

Karen's eyes brimmed with tears.  "Adam is angry," she whispered.  "He was angry about the Indians when he left.  Aunt Jenny's crying."  Tears ran down her face.

Linda brushed a tear off her daughter's cheek.  "Adam loves all of you very much."  Gratitude swept over her that her child had such a good home.  "He's a good papa to you."  She brushed a strand of Karen's hair from her face.  "And Jenny's a good mama."  As they looked in one another's eyes, the barrier between them melted, and they hugged each another fiercely.

Hoss emerged from the kitchen and saw the two by the fireplace.  He swallowed the lump in his throat, walked over to them, and wrapped his big arms around both of them.  "Don't either of you fret none," he said gently.  He closed his eyes.  "Adam will be back.  He'll be back."  He uttered a silent prayer for his brother's safety as he comforted the woman and girl.

As they ate a late midday meal, Jenny listened to the wind scream and the snow scour the windows, and silently prayed for her husband.  She was grateful for Ben's prayers for him as they gathered at the table.  She could only hope that Adam had found shelter, preferably in someone's house.

As Hop Sing served them, he said, "You want I save food for Adam?"

"Yes, Hop Sing.  I'm sure Adam will be as hungry as a bear when he comes in," replied Ben.

"He no travel in this storm," said Hop Sing.  "But I save food for him from every meal, so there is plenty for him to eat when he get home."  Hop Sing was also conscious of the need to keep a positive attitude, especially around the children.

As they ate, Jonathan Smythe spoke to Ben of their store in town, and what a help Jared had been to them while he stayed there.   Jared was a hard worker, he said, and  when Wilson stirred up trouble against them because they wouldn't go along with his efforts to drive the Chinese out of Virginia City, Jared stood next to the family and defended the store and the right of the Chinese to be there.

While they were talking, Linda said to Hoss, "You left to find Adam, didn't you?"

"Yes, Ma'am, we did."  Hoss was angry with himself for not leaving in time.

"Do you think he'll be all right?"

"Well, Miss Linda, if anyone can take care of himself, it's Adam.  He never had much trouble  before, and I doubt he's  havin' any now.  Least ways, I hope not."

"I'm worried about him," said Linda.  "Worried about more than him being out in the storm, I mean."  She took a drink of coffee.  "Jenny has been worried, as well, for a long time"

Hoss nodded, looking pensively across the room, and put his fork on his plate.  "Yes, Ma'am.  I'm worried, too.  Adam's not - well, not acting right.  He's not himself."

"Adam is a man with a strong sense of justice," said Linda.  "He seems to have reached the end of his hope in regards to how the human race treats its own kind."

"Miss Linda, I think you've hit the nail on the head.  That's exactly what Adam's goin' through - only I wouldn't say it half so fine.  I'd just say he's downright angry."

"I think I know how he feels," said Linda.  "When you have ideals you hold dear, and you or those ideals are betrayed, and mocked....It's so hard to know that what you hoped for may never come to pass."

Hoss looked at her as though he'd never seen her before.  How could she understand his brother so well, when she had known him for such a short time?  "Miss Linda," he said, "I take my hat off to you.  You seem to know my brother pretty darn good."

Linda looked at him somberly.  "I recognize despair when I see it.  And Adam is going to need all the help, encouragement, and strength from his family that he can get when he gets home.  If he gets home."

Hoss looked at her and wondered, then realized he was staring, and looked away.

Chapter 14

Adam was dreaming.  Dreaming of voices, and smoke, and howling wind.  Someone spoke in Paiute, and kept pushing on his side.  It hurt, and he tried to push them away.  Then he was held down.   Adam saw Ned Tucker as he asked, "Where's your wife, Adam?" and heard his jeering, evil laugh.  He saw the old Indian, the puagant, on his death bed, as he said, "Big snow come."

He was cold, and his right side hurt.  He tried to move, and felt sick to  his stomach.  Suddenly, he was back on Sport as he bucked, reared and pranced in terror after a gun blasted behind him.  Adam jerked in terror at the noise and opened his eyes.

The room he was in was dim and cloudy with smoke.  There was a fire on the floor near him, and figures huddled in blankets about it.  Others slept on the floor.  His side hurt.  He tried to shift position to relieve the pain, but only made it hurt more.  He heard and felt pebbles grinding into rock under him as he moved.  He reached his hand out from under the thin blanket that covered him and touched the floor.  It was cold rock.  He was in a cave.

He looked around him.  On the far side of the fire were a few people, huddled together for warmth, with their backs to a dim grayness that was the early morning light.  Adam could hear the shrieking of the wind, and realized  another blizzard must have come while he slept.

On the other side of him, men, women, and children were rousing themselves from sleep and moving sluggishly to the fire to get warm.  Adam heard a familiar nicker, and turned his head a little further.  At the back of the cave lay Sport.  His head was up, and he was looking attentively at his master.

"Hey, Sport," Adam managed to croak.  "Great to see you, buddy!"   Sport tossed his head, stood up, and neighed.  He came to where Adam lay and nuzzled his face and left shoulder.  Adam reached up with his left arm, stroked his head, and spoke softly to him.  He knew his horse was hungry, and wondered how he could get him his oats that he had hurriedly packed before he  rode away from the Ponderosa.  He tried to push himself up by his elbows, gritted his teeth against the pain in his side, and had to collapse back to the floor when he suddenly felt dizzy and nauseous.

He heard someone speak in Paiute.  A couple of the men in the cave turned their heads toward him, then rose from beside the fire and came to him.  They knelt down on either side of him.   One of them scowled at Adam, and without taking his eyes off of him, spoke in Paiute to the older man across from him, whom he addressed as "Egan."  Egan spoke evenly and calmly in return,  at which the younger man returned a  fast, angry, and heated speech.   The elder replied with a brief, decisive discourse, addressing the younger as "Oyte," and ended the conversation with a dismissive wave of his hand.  The young man glared at his companion, then at Adam.  He jumped to his feet and stormed back to the fire, and kept his back turned toward them.

Adam looked uneasily at Egan.  He had heard his own name and his father's name in the Indians' conversation, as well as the word "death" and "puagant."  He tried vainly to recall what had happened to him, and when he had come to this cave.

Egan helped him sit up slightly, and held a gourd to his lips.  "Drink," he ordered.  Adam obeyed.  It tasted like bitter water to him.

"You save our lives, Adam Cartwright," said the old man.  "You make other white men leave.  Our puagant, he went to your village to warn your people of long winter, and he say you save his life there, too.  Your father, Ben, he try to help us, too.  Now, and long ago."

"How did you get away from your village?" asked Adam.

"When white men attack us, many killed suddenly.  No one see them come.  Some of women  in woods, gathering wood and food.  Some men hunting.  Others were putting food and wood and blankets in this cave, to come to during winter storms, or if we need to hide from your people.  White men kill and burn quickly.  They see some of us in woods, and would come after us, but then you come."  He fell silent.

Adam closed his eyes wearily.  "We buried your dead and took your wounded to the Ponderosa, my father's ranch.  They are still there."  He opened his eyes and looked at his rescuer.  "Your puagant:  was his name Tavibo?"

Egan nodded once.

Adam sighed, and closed his eyes again.  "I'm sorry to tell you this, but he is dead.  He died just before I left."  Adam heard an exclamation, followed by quick words in Paiute.  There were moans and cries from others in the cave, followed by swift speech in Paiute and more cries.

The old man raised his hand, and silence fell in the cave.  He spoke to his people, then looked long and silently at Adam.

"I am sorry for your people," said Adam, "sorry for what my people have done to them.  I wish I could do - could have done - more for you."  He grimaced with pain.  "You may come to the Ponderosa  and get your people who survived the attack - or we can bring them to you, if they are ready to travel - after this storm is over."

A Paiute woman brought Adam some food.  He recognized  the strip of dried meat and biscuit as food he had packed in his saddlebags.  There were also dried berries, possibly elderberries and  blueberries, and a type of root.  He ate hungrily, and drank sparingly of cold water which he suspected was melted snow.  How he would have enjoyed a cup of hot tea!

When finished, he lay down, but could not go back to sleep.  He thought of his wife and children. How quickly he had run away and left them!  He desperately hoped they were safe.  He thought of his father and brothers, the people of Virginia City, and the ranchers and farmers about it.  Then he thought of the Indians.  He squeezed his eyes shut.

Sport again approached his master and nuzzled his face.  Adam  called out.  Egan approached him.  Adam explained about the feed for his horse tied onto his saddle.

"We eat your oats, white man," said a voice by the fire.  Adam recognized the hostile voice of Oyte, the younger Indian who had earlier argued with his elder.  "We eat your food.  And if our food runs out, we eat your horse."

A flurry of Paiute words burst from Egan's lips.  One of the women produced the bag with the oats and brought it to Adam, who struggled to a sitting position to fasten it on Sport.  Sport attempted to eat the bag before Adam even got it open, much to the Indians' amusement.  Adam wondered how they could find any reason to laugh after all they had endured.

When Sport was happily munching away, Adam collapsed.  His side ached, and it hurt his side to use his right arm.  He suspected he might only have a very painful flesh wound, but he wasn't sure.  He tried again to remember how he came to be in this cave.  He turned to the old man sitting near him.  "How did I get here?"

"You ride alone.  We see you, hear your horse come.  We know you friendly white man.  We see men following you, the same men who killed our people.  Our men argue about whether to help you.  We go, almost too late."

Almost too late.  At least he came in time, Adam wryly thought.  Better than I did.  "What happened to me?  Do I have a bullet in my side?"  He gingerly felt his side, but it hurt too badly to determine if there may be a bullet lodged there.

"Other white man shoot you.  Your side, your arm, bleed, much blood.  We kill other white men and take you here.  You lose much blood, Adam.  You must rest.  Rest now."

Adam got himself as comfortable as he could.  "When this storm ends, come with me to the Ponderosa.  We will give you some food.  My father will be glad to help you, especially since you saved my life.  Your people who are there need to be with you."

Egan looked at the survivors of his village crowded about the fire, and sighed.  "When this storm ends, we get our people from your Ponderosa.  For those who are dead, we  sing the spirits to the next world.   Then, next Spring, we go west.  West and north.   We find a new land where we can live in peace.  Tavibo, he said we must stay, and live in peace with your people.  But we cannot."

Adam looked bleakly at the old man as he faced the death of his people and the loss of his home with such stoic calmness.  The Indians leaving:  that should make the settlers happy.  But where could they go?  The white man was everywhere.  And even if they found a place where no white men dwelt, it was only a matter of time before it was settled - rather, invaded - and taken away from them.

What could he do against the Wilsons of this world?  Most people didn't care whether the Indians were killed, starved, robbed, moved away, or put on reservations.  As long as they didn't have to see the Indians any more than necessary, or live next to them, whites were indifferent to their plight.

Adam drifted in and out of an uneasy sleep for the rest of the day.That night, he was given more bitter medicine.  He thanked the Indians gratefully for sharing their herbal remedies with him, as he knew that they would need all the supplies they had stored in this cave to see them through the winter.  He was given some porridge made from pinon nuts, and slept.

When he awoke the next morning, the storm still raged outside.  He ate and managed to sit up for a short time, and wondered how he would ever get back home in this condition.  Seeing a doctor was out of the question.  With storms coming this frequently, they would be taking their chances going into town.  That was true every winter, but Tavibo's warning about this winter, and the two early blizzards to bear him out, confirmed to Adam that this winter posed more risks than usual.

Suddenly, in the middle of the morning, the silence rang in his ears.  Adam looked about him to see what was wrong, and realized that the storm had ended.  He managed to stand and, gritting his teeth against his pain, he stumbled to Sport in the back of the cave.  Sport saw his master approach, rose, and neighed.  Adam looked about for his saddle and bridle.

"Adam, you not ready to travel yet.  You must rest."

"I must go," Adam replied softly.  "I must get home.  My family needs me."  He could think only of his wife, his children, his father, and brothers.

"Stay here for another day, maybe two.  Then go."

Adam shook his head.  "No.  Another storm may come.  And my horse will go hungry.  I must go now."

Not long afterward, Adam was on Sport at the mouth of the cave.  Despite intense pain, he had been pushed and helped onto his horse.    Egan was prepared to accompany Adam on foot.  Any horses the Indians had owned had been scattered during the attack on their village.  The injured at the Ponderosa who were well enough to travel would come back with the old man.

Adam's vision darkened as the two of them traveled through the pine woods.  As they entered the meadow, Adam was so dizzy that he closed his eyes and held onto his horse tighter than usual to keep from falling.  They retraced his steps of a few days ago, which was no easy task, considering the amount of snow that had fallen.  In some places, the blizzard winds had blown their path clear of snow.  In others, they had to fight through drifts several feet high, or find ways to go around.

Adam was having more and more trouble with dizziness, blurred vision, and stabbing pain in his side.  He felt hot, and struggled to breathe.  On one slope, when Sport slipped on ice hidden under the snow, Adam fell off and lay still.  His stoic Indian companion dragged him through the snow until they caught up to Sport, then heaved him on the horse.  A moan, then a cry, escaped Adam's lips.  He lay against Sport's neck, and let  Egan lead him.

The old man's steps never faltered as he walked steadily through the snow.   Sometimes he turned aside to skirt a deep drift or avoid some ice or a steep slope, but he knew his way to Ben Cartwright's home.  Ben Cartwright was a white man, but he had been kind to the Paiute.  He cared about his people,  and would live in peace with them,  unlike other white men about him.  He continued steadily on his way, seemingly inattentive to the ragged breathing of the man behind him on the horse.

Hoss saw them first.   When the storm had ended earlier that morning, he and Little Joe had wanted to follow Adam's trail, but knew there would be no trace of it after the storm.  Hoss kept watching out the window while indoors and all around while outside, and finally saw someone approaching the house.  He realized it was an Indian leading a horse that looked like Sport.  As they drew closer, he could see the rider huddled over the neck of his mount.  "Pa!  Jenny!  Everybody!" shouted Hoss.  "Someone's coming!  I think it's Adam!"

Everyone rushed to Hoss's side and crowded about the window.  The children tried to dash outside, but were stopped and told to wait.

"Pa, you and I had better go out and see what's going on," said Hoss.  He and Ben hurriedly put on their gun belts, coats, and hats.

"The rest of you had best stay here," said Ben.  "Let us see what we find."  He looked hard at Jenny, who had fear and hope written in her sightless eyes.

"I want to go with you," she said quietly.

"No, Jenny," said Ben gently.  "It is best that you stay inside with everyone else.  We need to find out what is happening. It may be more than just Adam."  It may not be Adam at all, he thought grimly.

Ben and Hoss left the house and went to meet the pair.  Joe and Linda watched through the windows until duties with their injured charges called them away.  Some of them were now sitting up and eating. Others more recovered could walk a little.  But Jenny couldn't  pretend to help right then, not even to change beds.  She only had ears and thoughts for what went on outside.

It seemed a long time that Ben and Hoss were outside talking with the Indian.  Finally, the door opened, and Hoss and Ben slowly entered, carrying Adam between them.  Egan followed them in.  As they carried Adam to his room, Ben sent one of the hired hands outside to care for Sport, and told Hop Sing to get hot water.  He told Jenny to get some towels.

Little Joe stood at the foot of the steps to prevent the children from going upstairs.  After grabbing some towels she had folded earlier that morning,Jenny went past him and down the hall to Adam's room.  She stopped in the doorway and put her hand to her face. A bad smell assaulted her nostrils.

"The wound is infected," she heard Ben say.  "Where is that hot water?  We need it, and soap.  Also, carbolic solution, and laudanum for the pain."

"Hot water here," said Hop Sing from behind Jenny.  Jenny stepped into the room to let him by.  "Soap here.  I get other things you ask for, but no laudanum.  We out of laudanum.  Use whiskey instead."

Jenny slowly approached the bed, and worked her way around Hoss to the head of it.  She sat down and touched Adam's face, running her fingers over his jaw line, about his ear, and behind his neck.  She cradled his head in her hands, bent her head over his, and kissed him tenderly.  She laid her cheek against his, and felt his burning flesh.  "Where is he injured?"

For a moment, neither of the men answered her.  "On his side, his right side," Hoss said.

Jenny's fingers moved down his chest to his right side.  When she felt the hot, puffy flesh there, her hand jumped as though it would jerk back, but she continued gently, carefully moving her fingers about the injured area.  When she drew too near to the wound, Hoss pulled her hand away.

"We need to clean that out, Jenny.  You'd best leave while we do.  Ain't gonna be too pleasant.  Adam's likely to get upset.  Not a sight for- uh, I mean, it's not something you're likely to want to be around for."

"I'm staying," declared Jenny firmly but softly.  "I'll stay up here, out of your way."  Ben and Hoss looked at each other.  Ben shook his head, and Hoss shrugged.

As Hop Sing laid out the bandages and other supplies, Jenny took Adam's hand and caressed his forehead.  Adam clutched her hand tightly, so that she flinched in pain,  and opened his eyes.  He reached up and pulled her mouth to his, and kissed her deeply.  "Ruth," he mumbled.  Jenny tried to pull away, and her eyes opened in shock.  But Adam held her fast, and kissed her again.  "I couldn't find you!"  His breathing grew more agitated.  "I looked, but I couldn't find you!  Don't leave me again!  Promise me!"  When Jenny gazed at him in bewilderment, he grew angry.  "Promise me!" he demanded.

"Ok, Adam.  I promise.  I'll never leave you.  Never."

Adam kissed her again.  "I missed you, for so long," he murmured.  "You mustn't go with those Indians!  You shouldn't have gone to begin with!"

Jenny's head was spinning with such bewilderment that she wondered if she was delirious rather than Adam, but she assured him, "No.  I won't ever go again.  I'm staying here with you."   She stroked his forehead.  "Rest, now," she whispered.

Adam pulled her down beside him and tried to turn toward her, but cried out in pain as he hurt his side.

"Adam," said Jenny, "you need to rest.  Your pa and Hoss are here, and they're going to fix your side.  You've been hurt.  And they're going to help you get better.  I have to get up now."  She tried to rise, but Adam made no move to release her.  "Adam," she tried again, "Pa and Hoss have to clean out your wound.  I need to move so they can do that."

"No!" shouted Adam.  "You promised!  You can't go!  Those Indians will kill you this time!"  He pulled her face over his and kissed her roughly.  "You promised to stay!  I won't let you leave me again!"

 Ben beckoned to Hoss, who moved to the other side of the bed and took hold of his brother's arms.  It took all of his strength to loosen Adam's grip on Jenny, and he had to pin Adam's arms over his head and sit on them before he was restrained.  Ben held his legs, while Jenny got up.  She touched his cheek one last time, and said, "I'll be back to sit with you later."

"No!"  shouted Adam.  "Come back!  Come back!"  Jenny stumbled out of the room with tears in her eyes and went back downstairs, where she collapsed on the bottom step.  Little Joe put a consoling hand on her arm.

Jenny sobbed.  "I shouldn't have gone up there."  Little Joe didn't say anything.  "Where are the children?" Jenny asked.

"Outside, with Linda," said Little Joe.

Jenny jerked her head up.  "Oh, no!  Not with that bunch of cutthroats on the loose -"

"They're gone," Little Joe assured her.  The Indians killed them when they were following Adam."

"Following Adam?" Jenny asked.

"Egan - the Indian who brought Adam back - saw Wilson and a few others following Adam, up near where the massacre took place," Little Joe explained.  "The Indians who escaped were hiding in a cave, and they shot Wilson and the others, and took Adam to the cave with them just as the blizzard struck."

"They saved his life," murmured Jenny, more to herself than to Joe.  "I didn't know any Indians escaped."

"I don't think Adam did, either.  I'm sure glad they did, though.  Adam wouldn't be alive if they hadn't," replied Joe.  "I'm glad for their sake, too, of course," he hastened to add.

Jenny stood up.  "The children should probably still come in.  If there were only a few of the men after Adam, we don't know where the rest of that band is."

"The children are close to the house," Little Joe assured her, "I've been keeping an eye on them, and you can hear and see trouble coming from a long way off, but if it makes you feel better, I'll tell them to come in."

Before he had finished speaking, the back door opened, and the children ran noisily in, shedding coats, hats, mittens, scarves, and boots as they came.  "It's COLD out there!" exclaimed Rose.

"Did you have fun?" asked Jenny.

"Yeah, but it would've been more fun if the girls weren't such sissies about snowballs," complained Adam.  Jenny hid her smile.

"Little Joe!  Come up here!"  Ben's shout reverberated downstairs.  Little Joe immediately ran past Jenny and up the steps.  Jenny started upstairs, then remembered what had happened the last time she was there.  She couldn't go to Adam.  In order to help him right now, she had to stay away from him.

She felt and heard the children crowd about her.  "What's wrong with Papa?" Benjamin asked in a small voice.

"Papa is sick," Jenny explained.  "He has to get better before we can see him."

Linda called to the children. "Hang up your coats, and get your boots off," she said.  Then I'll mop up the floor, and we'll get something to eat."

Chapter 15

That evening, everyone in the household collapsed, too exhausted to even try to move to get ready for bed.  It had taken four men taking turns to hold Adam down in his delirium, while he called out for Ruth or Jenny.  They also heard him say the names of his children, as well as Wilson, Williams, and Tucker.  Finally, Hop Sing came up with a concoction to make him sleepy, and they managed to get it down him.  Once he calmed down, they finished cleaning and bandaging his side and gladly left him to Jenny's careful ministrations.

Ben and Hoss then helped Egan get the Indians who were fit to travel on the road back to the mountains with some supplies to help see them through the winter.  Egan promised to come back and get the rest of his people later.  Meanwhile, Ben had sent Little Joe and one of the hired hands to Adam's to see if Greg, Jared, and the two hands there were all right, as well as tell them that the Indians had killed Wilson and some of the other men who had attacked the Indian village, and to give them the news about Adam.

Jonathan Smythe needed to get back to his father in town, and offered to tell Doc Martin about Adam.  Ben gratefully accepted the offer, as Adam's fever had continued to soar, and he had been thinking of sending yet another hired hand into town.  With the uncertainty of the weather, he was relieved that someone was already going that way.

All of them, even Hoss, were almost too tired to eat dinner.  After mechanically putting the food in her mouth, Jenny barely managed to stumble upstairs and fall into bed.  She changed into her nightgown and curled up in a chair near the bed so as not to disturb Adam.  He had been sleeping, sometimes restlessly, ever since they gave him what Hoss had called "Hop Sing's brew."  She thought of laying her hand on her husband's forehead to check his fever, but didn't want to disturb him.

She dozed off in the chair, but woke when she felt something brush against her arm.  She jumped and jerked her head up.  Adam had leaned out of bed toward her and had tried to grab her arm.  He had fallen back, and was again trying to pull himself out of bed.

Jenny heard him moving and grunting as he strained himself, and was afraid he'd start bleeding again.  Ben had explained to her that his injury, while a flesh wound, had not been cleaned properly, and as a result was badly infected.  Red lines descended from the wound site down his right leg, meaning the infection was spreading.  They had cleansed the wound with soap and water, carbolic solution, and another time with boric acid, but Adam's fever continued to rise.

Jenny rose from the chair and reached toward him.  He took hold of her hand with his left arm and pulled her onto the bed with him, then struggled to sit up all the way.

"Adam, relax," she soothed.  "Lie down.  You're going to start bleeding again."  She tried to lay down next to him so he would lie down, but he held her fast.

"Why did you leave me?"  His voice was husky and slightly slurred.

Uncertain of his mental and emotional state, she didn't answer right away.  He tightened his arm about her, pulling her closer to his left side and hurting her slightly.  "Why?" he demanded.

"You - you needed to sleep," she said haltingly.  "You couldn't sleep while I was here.  I left,  so you could rest."

"I couldn't sleep while you were gone," he said plaintively.  "Where did you go?"  He rubbed his cheek against her long hair, then kissed her.  He tried to put his right arm around her, but it hurt too much to move it.  Jenny could smell the whiskey on his breath, and recalled Ben asking for it for Adam's pain.

"Tell me where you went!" Adam demanded.

"I - I went downstairs."

"You promised you'd stay!"

"Adam, I was near you!  I was near by!"  She stroked the back of his neck.  "You needed to have your wound cleaned out and -"

"You promised!  Those Indians will kill you!"

Jenny hugged him.  "I'm here now, Adam.  I won't leave you."  They held each other close, but she noticed he didn't relax.  She gently ran her hand over his chest, up to his right shoulder and down his right arm, which she had not felt him use since he had pulled her close to him.  As her hand traveled down his arm, her thumb touched the bandaged area that had been torn when the bullet tore between his right side and arm.  He flinched.  She moved her hand back on his torso, and ran it lightly down near his right side.  She gently massaged around it.

Suddenly, he pulled her back, grabbed her chin, and turned her face toward his.  "You're not Ruth!"

Jenny touched his unyielding arm in a futile attempt to persuade him to release her chin.  "Adam," she said quietly, "I'm Jenny, your wife.  We have four children.  Remember?"

He glared at her for a moment.  His eyes smoldered and and his dark brows were drawn down over his eyes.  He looked about his room, then back at Jenny.  He closed his eyes and shook his head as though to clear the confusion from his mind.  Then he covered his face with his left hand.  "I'm so confused," he moaned piteously, and began to cry.

Jenny had never heard him cry.  She put her arms about him and held him.  "I'm here," she said.  "Our children are safe."  She gently urged him to lie down.  "I'm staying with you," she promised.  "Everything will be all right.  You're sick and hurt, but you'll get better, and so will everything else."  She held him close, and finally felt him start to relax.

The next morning, Ben came into the room and woke Jenny from a fitful sleep.  Adam had tossed and turned all night, first demanding to know where Ruth was, then asking again why Jenny had left him.  He saw Tucker and Wilson threatening his wife, and clutched her closer to his side, insisting that she stay with him.  It seemed to Jenny that every time she  dropped off to sleep, he would awaken her with yet another demand, question, or hallucination.

Adam was sleeping when Ben told them the doctor was there.  Jenny wished he could wait until Adam awoke, but realized the urgency of her husband's injury and resulting infection.  She tried to slip out from under the covers without disturbing him, but Adam stirred and pulled her back.

"Adam," she whispered, hoping he would hear and understand her, "the doctor is here.  He needs to look at you."  Adam didn't move or open his eyes.  Jenny touched his face.  It was burning hot.  She stroked his cheek.  "I need to move, so the doctor can look at you."

Again she tried to get up.  Adam tightened his grip about her.  "Don't leave," he commanded.  His voice was weak, but his grip on her was tighter than she had ever known.

Jenny knew that any attempt on her part to explain or to leave would make him extremely agitated.  She heard the doctor by the bed, opening his bag and pulling out medical equipment.  She turned her head toward the sounds, and whispered, "I need to stay.  He'll get really bad if I try to - get up."

Doc Martin nodded, forgetting for a moment that she couldn't see him.  He noted his patient's ragged breathing, then moved next to Adam, put his hand on the covers, and said, "Adam, it's Doc Martin come to see you.  You've gotten yourself all banged up again, so I've come to put you back together.  I'm going to pull back the covers and take a look at you."  He carefully pulled the covers back by Adam's right side.   Adam stirred restlessly, and tried to use his right hand to pull the covers back over him.  He groaned as pain shot through his side, then yanked his left arm away from Jenny, and pulled the sheet back up.

Jenny put her hand on his arm.  "Adam," she said soothingly.  "It's Doc Martin.  He needs to look at your side and arm."  She gently pulled the sheet away.  "Let him look.  I'm right here, and so is your pa."

Adam allowed her to uncover his right side.  Doc Martin gently pulled away the bandage and probed the area around the wound.  Adam thrashed, and Jenny quieted him, but she noticed his struggles were feebler than they had been the previous night.  She hoped it was only due to exhaustion.

 The doctor lifted Adam's arm and gave it a cursory examination.  Then he pulled out a stethoscope, attached the ear piece, and listened to his patient's chest.  "Doesn't have pneumonia," he remarked.  He moved the instrument around a bit, then put it aside.  He noted and probed the right leg where the red streaks ran down it, at which Adam flinched and moaned.   Doc Martin wondered if the Cartwright luck would run out this time.

He asked Ben to describe what he had done for Adam so far, and  inwardly doubted that much more could be done.  He gave Ben some pills for his son to help him sleep, but knew there was little else he could do for him, except lacerate the wound, clean it, and hope Adam recovered.

"Does he know where he is?" the doctor asked.  "Know his family, those about him?"

Silence filled the room for a moment.  "No," Jenny replied.  "Not all the time.  He keeps thinking I'm  - someone else.  And he keeps asking for - her, too."

"Has he been violent at all?"

Ben cleared his throat.  "Well, it took four people to hold him down last night.  He kept trying to go back to Jenny, when she had to move so we could tend him."

"Ben, I'd going to clean his wound out.  You've done a fine job so far, but I need to do more.  I'm going to give him some ether,  but it'd probably be a good idea to get some fellows in here in case he needs to be restrained while I do it."

"Is there a bullet in the wound?" asked Ben.  "I didn't think so, last night."

"No, it's only a flesh wound," assured the doctor, "but it's badly infected.  If he's been as agitated as you say, then it'll be easier on him - and us - if I put him to sleep before I clean it out."

"Doc Martin," said Jenny.  The doctor turned to her.  "He can't seem to use his right arm.  It's sore, and bandaged, too.  What's wrong with it?"

"Just a surface wound, from what I could see.  The bullet grazed it.  His right side probably hurts when he uses it.  We'll get it cleaned out, and see how he does."

Ben went downstairs to get Hoss.  Jenny tried once again to get up, and found that Adam was in no way as feeble as she had thought he was.

Several minutes later, the three of them stumbled downstairs, bleary-eyed and exhausted.  Adam had fought them with all his strength, and Jenny's efforts to calm him had done little good.  Once the ether had taken effect, the doctor told them to leave while he lacerated and cleansed the wound.  Glad to leave the doctor to his job, they sat down to breakfast.  Jenny thought she was too tired and worried to eat, but found she was starving.

The door opened, and the wind howled in along with Little Joe.  After he had taken his coat off and greetings had been exchanged, Hop Sing brought out a cup of coffee and food for him.  "How is everything at Adam's?" asked Ben.

Little Joe took a long drink of coffee before he soberly answered, "Greg is hurt.  He's lost a lot of blood."

"Wilson's gang?" asked Hoss.

Joe nodded.  "That's right.  Greg and the others were ready for them, and got one covering each side of the house.  None of that gang got in the door, but the windows are broken, and Greg got grazed by a bullet and hit with shards of glass.  They killed several of Wilson's bunch, though, and the rest ran off.  They had just finished burying the dead when the blizzard struck."

"We'll have to send the doctor over there," said Ben.  "Are Jared and the others all right?"

Joe nodded as he gulped his food down.  "Yeah, they got plenty cold during the blizzard, what with the broken windows, but they stuffed rags and clothes in them, and got through ok."  Joe took another noisy sip of coffee.  "How's Adam?"

As if in answer, Doc Martin came downstairs.  "Hello, Little Joe."  He turned to Ben and Jenny.  "Adam is sleeping now.  Hopefully, he'll be able to rest, and his wound will heal.  I cleaned it out as well as I could.  It was nasty.  Get as many fluids down him as you can, and those pills I gave you will help him sleep."

Ben thanked him.  After the doctor examined the Indians remaining at the Ponderosa, Ben paid him for his services.  Then he explained what had happened at Adam's house, and asked him to go there.  Little Joe finished his breakfast, and went upstairs to see Adam, after being warned by Ben not to wake him.

Adam appeared to be sleeping, but his mind was racing.  He saw Wilson and Tucker in the midst of the burned Indian village, holding the children at gunpoint.  Then he was looking over the edge of the cliff, when the blast of a shotgun went off behind him, and he was nearly thrown from Sport.  He saw Jenny, then Ruth.  Next, the Indians were in a long line, walking west and north through the melting snow.  They were leaving their ancestral lands to find a new home, and he couldn't stop them.  He saw Major Ormsby following them.  No, that wasn't Ormsby.  It was someone else, but the army was trailing the Indians.  Adam knew  their flight was hopeless.  They'd be captured, and forced onto a reservation.

He heard Little Joe, but couldn't make sense of what he was saying.  Where was Ruth?  Why wasn't she here, after she had promised to stay?  He thrashed restlessly.

A small, cool hand stroked his forehead.  It felt good.  He seized it, and pulled her next to him.  Her other hand sponged his face with a cool, wet cloth.  He kept tight hold of her hand, then released it and put his arm about her waist.  She left the cool cloth on his forehead, and her hand moved down his arm, then his side.  He heard his pa's voice, and thought he said "Jenny."

Suddenly, the bed jounced violently, sending agonizing stabs of pain through his side .  Raised voices hurt his head.  "Papa" was all he could hear.  Tiny, strong arms clutched him in a fierce hug, which he tried to return, but they were yanked away.  More jumbled voices.  The cloth was removed from his forehead and returned.  It was cool again.  Soft fingers stroked his cheek.

Cool water dribbled on his lips, and he opened his mouth, moistening his tongue and swallowing.  Strong arms lifted his shoulders and head, then the small hand went behind his head and  held it while he drank.  Adam opened his eyes, but the light was too bright and made his head pound.  The arms and hands laid him down again.  The small hands caressed his face and shoulders, until he pulled her down against him.  With Ruth safely at his side, he drifted into a more peaceful sleep.

When Doc Martin returned the next morning after spending the night at Adam's, he gave a report on Greg to the Cartwrights.  Greg should be fine, given rest, good food, and time.  He then went upstairs to see Adam.  Jenny heard him come in the door, and sat up wearily.  Doc Martin looked sharply at her.  "Have you had any rest?"

She nodded.  "He's slept a little better since you came yesterday."

"I was asking about YOU," said the doctor.  "Have you left this room at all?"  His eyes looked sharply over her, noticing her delicate condition.

Jenny shook her head.  "He won't rest without me here.  I sleep when he does, and eat some.  They've brought me food.  He fights them and gets very agitated if I leave."

Doc Martin reached across Adam and lifted her hands in his.  "What happened?" he demanded.

Jenny was puzzled.  "What do you mean?"

"Your hands are badly bruised .  Did he do this?"

Jenny shrugged.  "He's held them tightly, and they hurt, but it's nothing bad."  She winced as the doctor probed them.  "Ow!"

Suddenly, the doctor doubled over as Adam hit him in the stomach.  Adam struggled to sit up, and put his legs over the edge of the bed.  "Adam."  Jenny restrained him.  "He's not hurting me.  Stay with me, please."

Adam looked at her with his brows drawn down.  "You said 'ow.'"  His voice was sleepy.

"Because my hands hurt," Jenny explained.  "See?"  She showed them to him.  "You've been holding them too tight."

Adam looked at her face for a moment and touched her cheek.  Then he took her hand in his, looked at it, and kissed it.

Doc Martin struggled back to his feet.  "Well, the patient is alive and kicking," he wheezed.  "I'm glad you're feeling so much better, Adam.  Now, would you mind lying down and allowing me to examine you?"

Disoriented, Adam looked back at him as though he hadn't seen him before.  "What?"

"Lie down, he said."  Jenny urged him back down on the bed.

Once the doctor had finished looking him over, he said, "You still have a fever, Adam, and may have for a little while yet.  But your wound is looking better than it did yesterday.  You eat, drink, take your medicine, and rest, and hopefully we'll see you back on your feet in a while.  Don't overdo it," he warned.  Jenny nodded to show she had heard, and the doctor went downstairs to report to the rest of the family.

Adam held her close to him.  "I hurt you," he said.

"No, Adam, I'm fine.  My hands are just a little bruised, that's all."

"I hurt you," he repeated.  "I left.  You needed me.  I've yelled -"   His breathing was growing more labored-  "at the children -"

"Adam, you're here now, with me, and all of us.  We're fine.  We need you to get well.  Don't worry about what's past.  Just rest.  Let me get you a drink."  He let her up so she could get a fresh glass of water. She helped him sit up a little and drink it.  He pulled her beside him again, and clutched her tightly to him.

"Stay with me," he croaked in a ragged voice.

"I'm staying, Adam.  I won't ever leave."

"The Indians left," said Adam, confusing his dream with reality.  "I thought maybe you went with them."

Jenny almost told him some of the Indians were still there, but thought better of it.  "No, no.  I'm staying here."  Slowly his breathing evened out, and he went back to sleep.

Downstairs, Linda was growing weary of listening to the children squabble.  It was too cold to play outside, and playing games together or alone had resulted in angry words.  Linda's offer to read a book had generated an argument about what to read.  Finally, Hop Sing told Rose to come to the kitchen with him and help him fix dinner.  Despite the fact that she realized Hop Sing seldom allowed anyone in his kitchen, Rose still thought it sounded like work rather than a privilege, and dragged her feet as she went.  Hoss got down on the floor and crawled around with Benjamin on his back, while Little Joe had a game of checkers with young Adam.  Karen pulled a book from the bookcase and started to read.

Later, as Benjamin slept contentedly in his aunt's lap, Hoss sat next to her cleaning Adam's rifle.  "I'm surprised the Indians sent that back with Adam and didn't keep it," commented Linda.  "They probably feel they're owed it!"

"They're grateful to him," said Hoss.  "Egan knows he helped save their lives.  And they saved his."

Linda nodded and neither of them said anything for several minutes.   The only sounds in the room were the snap of the fire, an occasional cry of triumph from the checkers game, and the rustle of pages as Karen read.

"The doctor seemed to think Adam will be all right," said Linda.  "Was he just saying that because it's what we want to hear, or do you think he was telling the truth?"

Hoss looked at her in surprise.  "Oh, no, Doc Martin's honest.  Adam will probably be up and around soon.  It's hard to keep him down."  He turned the rifle to a different position.  "Thing is, I don't know how he'll be when he recovers.  If he's still angry, or hopeless...."  Hoss shook his head.  "Somehow, he has to deal with that and get on with his life.  Adam never had this much trouble with men like Wilson before."

"When you've lost your faith in human nature, it's hard to go on," replied Linda.  "You have to look past the bad people around you, appreciate the good, and live your life as well as you can.  He's already done the Indians a lot of good."

Hoss shook his head.  "Ah, Miss Linda, I doubt Adam sees it that way. The way he sees it, he probably figures he's done them more harm than good."

"But how could he?"

"Well, when news of a fight with the Injuns gets out, everyone will blame them, not Wilson and the others.  Especially when a lot of white men are dead.  They'll say the Indians should never have left their reservation.  Never mind they can't survive there, or that Wilson started the fighting - and they'll go after them."  Hoss remembered his pa telling him of the Trail of Tears, when the Cherokee tribe of Georgia had lost their lands and were forcibly moved westward.  "But Adam can't change the world.  He can only make things a little better at a time for a few folks at a time."   Hoss looked the rifle over to make certain he was finished.  "I think Adam will come around.  Especially with your sister by his side."

Chapter 16

A few days later, Adam's fever finally broke, and he joined the family at meals.  After another couple of days, he was restless and snappy, insisting on getting out of bed and working.  Ben threatened to tie him to the bed if he exerted himself too soon.  When a week or so had passed, another blizzard came and mercifully ended Adam's determination to go outside and get some work done.  Jenny suspected he wanted to escape from the house and the crowd of people in it, and brood by himself.

The blizzard lasted four days.  Hour after hour, the wind screamed and the gritty snow scratched the windows.  Benjamin thought the storm was trying to get in the house, and was frightened of the voices he heard in the wind.  During the days, there was a dim, gray light inside, and swirling whiteness outside.  At night, there was total blackness.  The weariness of each day added to the next, until they felt there would never be sunlight, trees, grass, or blue sky again.  There would always be screaming winds, blowing snow, cold, and grayness.   They ate two meals a day, as the daylight - what there was of it - lasted so few hours that a third meal seemed unnecessary.  After the men stumbled through the storm to the stable to do the chores, and back in, everyone ate.  They ate again after the men did the evening chores.  In between, they huddled in blankets near the stove or fireplaces, trying to keep warm.

On the fourth morning after breakfast, Karen read a book to the younger ones.  Jenny dozed off to the sound of her reading, the crackling of the logs in the fireplace, and the storm.  Suddenly, the fire gave a loud pop, and coals shot onto the hearth.  Jenny started awake, and realized Karen was no longer reading.

"What happened?" asked Jenny.

"The log popped," said Karen.

"The storm is over," announced Benjamin, and he jumped off of Karen's lap and ran to a window.  Unable to see out, he grabbed a chair and scooted it to the window.

He gazed out on a fairyland.  The sugary drifts lay deep, shrouding the smaller trees, and heaped up to the eaves of one side of the stable.  Benjamin thought it would be fun to climb up to the roof and slide right down.  The sun emerged and turned the scene to glittering white.

"Can I go outside and play?" asked Benjamin.  Everyone laughed, even Adam.   Jenny realized that she hadn't heard the sound of laughter in days.

"After we dig a path for you to get out the door," teased Ben.

As the children bundled up to play, the men prepared to assess any damage done by the storm, and see if any cattle needed to be dug out of snow drifts.  Jenny cautioned the children to stay close to the house.  She said lightly to Adam,  "Don't do anything foolish and get yourself hurt worse."  She knew how useless it was to tell him he should stay inside.

When Adam returned over an hour later, he was alone.  Hop Sing brought ginger tea and poured him a cup as he sat by the fire.  "Hoss and Pa went to look over the cattle," he said.  "Everyone else stayed out to build a snow fort with the kids.  I'm not up to playing yet."

Jenny smiled, and touched his hand.  "I have a feeling that you and Hoss would injure each other in a snowball fight."

He took her hand in his as he drank his tea.  When he stopped shivering, he said, "I had a lot of crazy dreams while I was hurt.  I don't remember everything I said or did, but - well, I might not have known what I was doing.  I think I do remember some things..."  His voice trailed away.

Jenny put his hand to her cheek.  "Adam.  You didn't know where you were or who we were.  You didn't always respond when we spoke to you.  You can hardly be responsible for your behavior, or anything you said, during a time like that."  Her eyes threatened to overflow.  "I'm just glad you're all right," she continued in a trembling voice.  "I was afraid I'd lose you."

"Ah, it was only a scratch!" said Adam.  "It takes more than a bullet grazing my side to keep me down."  He sighed.  "Jenny.  I've been a terrible husband to you, and a horrible father to the children, over the past year."  Jenny shook her head and opened her mouth to deny what he said.

"Listen to me!" He shook her slightly.  "I love our children, but I sometimes wished I hadn't even brought them into this God-forsaken world.  I haven't been able to handle the horrible way people treat one another.  And I've been so worried about you and the children."  His voice nearly broke.  "I know I'm not an easy person to live with, Jenny."

Jenny put her arms about his neck and kissed him.  "I love you," she whispered.  "There is no one else I could ever love, and I could never stop loving you."

He pulled her on his lap and kissed her passionately.  Shouts and screams from the snowball fight in progress drifted into the room.  Adam lifted her in his arms and carried her upstairs.

Later, as Jenny lay in his arms, the baby kicked.  They both laughed.  "I haven't even had time to think about the baby lately," she told him.

Downstairs, the door crashed open and several pairs of feet pounded through the house.  They ran through the living room, past the table, and  into the kitchen.

"You cheater!"


"You hit me in the mouth on purpose!"

"Well, at least you shut up for a minute!"

There was a loud bang as something fell over, and Jenny held her breath, waiting for a crash that didn't come.  A tremendous clatter of dishes resounded from the kitchen, immediately followed by pounding feet across the house.  Hop Sing's angry voice trailed after them.

As the thundering herd stampeded up the stairs, Jenny said, "Ummm, I hope you remembered to lock the door?"

"You think I'd ever leave it unlocked with them around?"

The doorknob rattled.  A timid knock sounded, followed by a couple of bold raps on the door.  Suddenly there was a barrage of pounding on the door.  "Did they bring a battering ram?" Jenny wondered.

"Mama!  Papa!"

"ENOUGH!" shouted Adam.  The pounding and shouting stopped as suddenly as the blizzards began.  "Go back downstairs," Adam ordered through the door.  "Clean up your mess.  Pick up whatever you knocked down.  And hang up your coats!"

There was no sound from the other side of the door.


Feet shuffled away from the door and plodded down the steps.

"Well, I guess they got the idea," said Adam.

"Think we'd better go down there?"  asked Jenny.

"I hate to say so, but yes, I think we'd better get down there - and fast."

Hop Sing's tirade was increasing in volume.  Jenny sighed, and prepared to go downstairs.  At least she had managed to mention the baby.  There was certainly no time to think about it now, either.

As soon as they were downstairs, the children rushed to them.

"Papa, Adam hit me in the face with a snowball!"

"He pushed me into a big snow drift!"

"She kicked me!"

"Well, he punched me first!"

Adam stopped their quarreling and assigned them to separate tasks.  Soon, the room was straightened, the snow they had tracked in mopped up, coats were hung, and Hop Sing mollified.  The children gathered about Adam and listened to him relate a story about a snowstorm when he was young and Hoss a baby.  His father had left on a hunting trip before it began, and almost didn't get back in time.  Adam had been plenty worried, but his pa had come back with food for the three of them.

When Hoss and Ben returned, Hop Sing announced dinner.  As they gathered around the table, they realized that they were hungrier than they'd been in days.  The sun shone brilliantly through the window, reflecting off the snow.  Benjamin held his hands over his eyes.  "Grandfather, the sun is too bright!"  He didn't understand why everyone laughed.

"Enjoy it while it lasts, Benjamin," Ben told his grandson.  "We may be snowed in again soon!"

Hop Sing served roast beef, new potatoes in gravy, fresh baked bread, and apples in a glazed cinnamon sauce.  "Mmm, Hop Sing, it smells delicious!" exclaimed Jenny.

"Yes, it sure does!" agreed Little Joe.

"A wonderful meal to celebrate the end of the latest blizzard," added Linda.

"Yes, celebration meal," said Hop Sing.

Once all the food was on the table, Hop Sing went to Hoss and removed his plate and utensils.  "Hey, Hop Sing, what are you doing?" exclaimed Hoss.  "Wait a minute!  Come back!  How am I supposed to eat without my plate and silverware?!"

Hop Sing turned at the kitchen door.  "Mister Hoss no eat celebration meal," he said angrily.  "Mister Hoss say he like that lady, Danny Boy's mother's cooking, better than Hop Sing's.  You find something else to eat!  No eat Hop Sing's food!  It not good enough to please you, you no eat!"

"Ah, now, come on, Hop Sing!  I didn't mean I liked her cooking better than yours!  I just meant -"

"You say she best cook and housekeeper you ever see," accused Hop Sing.  "You find someplace else to eat!"  The irate cook disappeared into the kitchen.

"Dadburnit!" fumed Hoss.  Everyone was laughing up their sleeves except Jenny and Linda, who felt sorry for Hoss. They knew he had been out in the cold most of the morning, checking on cattle, and digging some out of the snow, and was very hungry.  Linda lifted her plate and gave it to Hoss, who was sitting next to her.

"Here, Hoss," she said.  "You can have my plate, and I'll just eat a little of Jenny's."

"Oh, no  you don't!" said Adam.  "He got himself into this, he can get himself out of it!  Jenny needs her food, with that little one she has."

Jenny blushed.  "I can share with her-"

"No, you can't," ordered Adam.  "You eat your own meal, and Hoss can go hungry this time!"

"If Hoss can't eat, I won't eat," said Jenny.

"Neither will I," said Linda.

Rose put her fork down.  "I won't eat, either."

Adam threw up his hands in surrender.  "Ok!  Ok!  I give up!  But Linda shares with you, Hoss -  not Jenny!"

As the afternoon shadows fell on the land, they finished their meal.  The older children read stories or played games.  Jenny held a drowsy Benjamin who drifted off to sleep while Adam strummed on his guitar and hummed a few songs.  Ben poured himself a glass of brandy and sat by the fire with a book.

Hop Sing and Linda cleared the dishes from the table.  Suddenly, both of them stopped moving, each of them holding a stack of plates or a glass in mid-air.

"Someone's here," said Linda.

"Indians here," announced Hop Sing at the same time.

Everyone stopped what they were doing and looked up.

"How many?" asked Jenny.

"Two," they replied.

Adam put down his guitar and went to the window.  He recognized Egan and Oyte, the two who had argued by his side while he was lying injured in their cave.  Ben was already opening the door and inviting them in.  Egan stepped boldly in, but Oyte held back, scowling, then slowly and reluctantly followed his elder.

Ben and Egan exchanged greetings, and Egan introduced Oyte as his medicine man.  Oyte ignored Ben's outstretched hand.  When Ben introduced his family, Egan's gaze lingered on Jenny and the children.

"You have many children and grandchildren," he noted.  "The earth looks with favor upon you."

"I am greatly blessed," agreed Ben.

"Our children lie dead," hissed Oyte.

Ben and Adam looked bleakly at him.  There was nothing they could say or do to change that immutable fact.

"We come to get our people," said Egan.  "They will return with us now."

The three remaining Indians were still weak, and Ben didn't think they were ready to travel.  But he saw the determination in Egan's eyes to have his people with him, as well as the obvious hatred written on Oyte's features, and thought it best not to argue.

"Why don't you stay here for tonight, and get a start early tomorrow morning?" suggested Ben.  "The sun sets earlier, and you won't have  a lot of light to travel by, if you leave now.  And the injured may have a hard time traveling, especially in the dark and cold."  Egan accepted Ben's offer gladly, though Oyte's face darkened.  He said nothing and clenched his fists at his sides.

Ben had Hoss and Little Joe get together a few more supplies to send and horses for the injured Indians to ride on.  The wind picked up, though there was no sign of a blizzard.  A few clouds blew over,  putting the house alternately in bright sunlight and deep shadow.  After a light supper, the children were sent to bed, and the rest of the household followed shortly after.

"Where will the Indians go?"  Jenny asked Adam that night.  "Back to the cave for now, of course, but next Spring, will they stay there, or go back to the reservation?"

"They're going West," Adam replied in a tired voice. "West and north."

"They told you?"

"Yes.  Egan told me."

"The same thing will happen to them there, won't it?  No matter what anyone tries to do to help them?"

"Yes," Adam said shortly.  "No matter what."

Jenny wondered how much more she should ask.  "Do you think all of Wilson's gang was killed, or are some of them still on the loose?  Is there any way to know for sure?"

Adam was silent for a minute.  "From what Hoss and Little Joe told me, I think they're all gone.  Joe went to our house after I got back, and he said Jared told him they'd buried 11 of them.  Egan told Hoss that they killed four who were following me.  Wilson didn't have that many around him - 20 at the most, who were willing to follow him into the mountains to do his killing - and some of them left him when they realized what a monster he really was."  He sighed.  "I hope they're all gone.  But there will always be more like Wilson."

Jenny lay close to him, and put her arms about him.  "It's good to have you back, my love," she whispered in his ear.  Adam pulled her close to him and kissed her.

Chapter 17

The next morning after breakfast, the household gathered outside just before sunrise to see the Indians off.  Two of the three convalescents were on horseback; the other, despite his injuries and weakness, insisted on walking with Egan and Oyte.  Jenny shivered despite her layers of warm stockings and extra petticoats as well as her warmest coat, hat, mittens, and a blanket.  She pulled Benjamin close to her to keep him warm.  She would have preferred that he stay in bed, but he had begged to be allowed to get up early and see the Indians leave.

Egan stood in front of Ben.  "We thank you, Ben Cartwright, for your help to us, now and in the past."

Ben extended his hand to him.  "Anytime you need help, you have only to ask."  They shook hands.

"I only wish we could do more," said Adam, as he shook Egan's hand and bid him farewell.  Oyte, who had been gazing steadily into the distance, waiting for his leader to finish with this necessary but unpleasant business, suddenly turned his coal-black eyes on Adam.  Adam felt the venomous hatred before he saw it, and looked sorrowfully at the man.  His words, any words, were so inadequate, as were his deeds. The past could never be fully mended.

Their farewells complete, Egan led his people toward the mountains.  They followed him in single file.  Suddenly Adam recalled his dream of Egan and his tribe in a long line going west, west and north.  As they moved into the distance, he could see, as in his dream, a never ending line of the original inhabitants of the land moving west, followed by the army.  The utter hopelessness of it all again descended upon him as he knew the Indians' fate was certain:  life on a reservation or death.

He heard an indignant scream and a giggle behind him, and turned to see Adam putting a handful of snow down Rose's back.  Karen scooped up a mound of snow and threw it in her brother's face.  Young Adam began making snowballs, which Benjamin tried to take.  Rose and Karen moved to an undisturbed part of the yard to make angels in the snow.

"The earth looks with favor upon you."  Adam heard the voice again as he watched his children.  The sun rose above the horizon and shone through the trees.  A cold breeze began to blow, lifting the snow and blowing it about on the ground.

Suddenly, Benjamin ran toward his father.  "Papa!  There are voices in the wind!  Does that mean we're going to have another storm?"   He clutched his father's leg and looked about him fearfully.

Adam smiled at him.  "I don't see one anywhere around," he assured him.  He, too, could hear the sad, wailing cries that surrounded them.

Between them and the departing Indians, the blowing snow spiraled upward in a vertical column, a frozen mist hanging quivering in the air,  like an apparition returned to visit the now-desolate, desecrated land, as those who had lived there for so long  prepared to leave it behind.  Adam tried to look once more at the Indians as they departed, but the blowing, drifting snow concealed them from sight as though a billowing curtain had dropped behind them.

Many had shed blood to take this land; others to keep it.  Adam wished neither to take it nor keep it from anyone.  He would have shared.  But the land was his now.  He could raise his children on it, and leave it as a heritage to his grandchildren and great-grandchildren - unless, of course, someone stronger took it from him or his children after him.  But for now, it was his:  his to till, to tend, for raising cattle and horses, to live on.

Adam looked at the house where he had lived most of his life, and an overwhelming sadness consumed him.  An era had passed.  Never again would this land be the same.  The voices of the land continued to cry out, and Adam knew they were crying for justice.  He knew surely that justice would be rendered; that he and his family, and those after, would pay.

He recalled the useless battles, the senseless bloodshed, the wasted lives, and the pointless, feeble efforts he and his father had made for peace.  In the Spring, Egan and his tribe would ride to the end of their way of life as they had always known it.  They realized it; so did Adam.  Yet, they rode on.

Adam picked up Benjamin and went to the other children.  "Are the Indians gone, Papa?" asked his other son.

"Yes, Adam," he replied.  "The Indians are gone."

"Papa, will you help us build a better snow fort?" Rose and Adam both asked.

"Hey!" exclaimed Joe.  "What's wrong with the snow fort I helped you build yesterday?!"

"Oh, nothing much, Uncle Joe," said Rose.  "It's just that Papa does these things so much better.  We want him to be on our team this time.  You and Hoss and Grandfather can be on the other."

Everyone laughed.  "Five against three?"  Joe asked.  That doesn't sound fair!"

"Sounds plenty fair to me, little brother," said Adam.  "You have three men, and I have four kids to whip into shape!"

"Whip into shape?" Karen asked indignantly.  "We beat Uncle Joe bad yesterday!  You should have seen him and the others after we won!"

"Pa, you and Joe start buildin' our fort," said Hoss.  "I have to take Miss Linda into the house."  With his arm about Linda, and hers about him, they went back to the house.  Adam followed with Jenny after telling the children he would be back out.

"I guess we're going to have to think about going home soon," said Jenny.  Though she looked forward to her life getting back to some semblance of normal, she realized with a pang of sadness how much she would miss Adam's father and brothers. She wondered if Adam missed them sometimes, too.

"Yes, we need to get back," said Adam.  "It's time.  Matt and Pete boarded up the broken windows, Joe tells me, so we can get through until Spring, when we can get some new windows."

"It'll be good to be home again,"  Jenny sighed as they entered the house.  "But I'll miss your family, and this house."

"We can always visit."  Adam helped her out of her coat.

"You want something hot to drink?"

"No, I just have to go back out there and get cold again."  Adam led her to a chair near the fireplace.  "I'll see you in a while, my love."  He pulled her close and kissed her, noticing that Hoss and Linda were kissing at the other end of the room.  He rubbed his hand over her belly, feeling the new life there, then helped her sit down and gave her the braille book she was reading.  It was rare that she had uninterrupted time to herself, and she hoped she wouldn't regret that she had left her family outside in yet another snowball fight.

Adam headed to the door.  "Come on, Hoss," he called to his preoccupied brother.  "That can wait.  The kids can't!"

Hoss gave Linda one last kiss before he hurried to the door.  "You think they started without us, Adam?"

"Oh, probably."  The two brothers plowed through the snow toward the battlefield.  Benjamin had already stolen young Adam's growing cache of snowballs. He had taken them over to Ben and Joe and thrown them at their faces while they were preoccupied with constructing the perfectly designed fort.

Adam strode up in the nick of time to prevent a full battle between his two sons over the theft of the snowballs.  "All right, everyone: listen up!  Let's get busy and build this fort so no one can ever beat us.  Adam, you and Benjamin make this wall taller and stronger."  Young Adam rolled his eyes at the mention of his younger brothers "help," but complied.  "Rose and Karen, patch up this wall along here.  I'll make a tall barricade in the front, with lookout and shooting points..."

Hoss smiled.  His brother was nearly back.  Some of this was a brave front, but not all.  Adam was on his way back to all of them.  Hoss figured it'd be worth letting him and those kids cream him, Little Joe, and his pa if it helped Adam.  Why, he was so happy, he'd lay down and let them win, but that wouldn't be any fun.

The trampling to and fro quickly obliterated the tracks of the Indians about the yard, and those not wiped out by the preparations for battle were quickly covered by the drifting snow.  Adam realized, even in the heat of the battle, that all visible trace of the Indians was gone.  But he also knew that their footprints were etched deep within the earth and could never be completely erased.


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