The Tahoe Ladies


This is a collaboration by four otherwise intelligent women who decided to write the real story behind it all.  You see, we discovered what the Ponderosa really needed: women. Not “girls”, not “ladies” but women. Flesh and blood, strong and reliable women. Women who could hold their own either with a gun, a horse or an argument. and wouldn’t be shoved into the background (or the kitchen) just because the “menfolk” were there.  And, we knew that these women had to be just as passionate as they were tough. After all, if all the cowboys kissed their horses, how did we populate the West?  When we started to flesh out our Ponderosa women in discussion, we argued amongst ourselves about what they would have to be like, physically as well as personality-wise.
And this is that story.  It is dedicated to our fathers, our husbands, our lovers but most importantly, to our sons

Chapter One The Taking of a Heart

    When she came to Virginia City, she'd had no idea just what she wanted from her life and Nevada wasn’t planned to be her final destination. It just happened that it was for a very simple reason: she was out of money.  She had pawned nearly all the valuables she had just to get that far. Now that money was gone. And she had one thing left. That she might have trouble replacing it later, she considered, but right then and there she was hungry, tired and cold.

    So upon leaving the stage platform, she inquired as to the whereabouts of the nearest doctor.  The gentleman who gave her directions had leered at her because even as tired and travel-worn as she was, she was still a beautiful woman. To dispel the notion he might have had that she was also a weak woman, she picked up her bags once more and headed down the street, fully aware the man was still following her with his eyes.

    Doctor Paul Martin was just finishing with his patient that morning when he heard the outer office door open and close.

    “You know Ben, those boys of yours could have taken care of that wood,” he admonished as he helped the older man get his vest back on.  Two weeks ago, his friend Ben Cartwright had badly sprained his back while chopping wood and it was only with a great deal of effort on his sons’ part that he had come to see the doctor at all.

    “Paul, I’ll remind you again that I am not an old man.  I can still chop wood!” Ben Cartwright admonished and it sounded to Paul Martin as though he was a bit touchy concerning the whole incident. But then of course, the doctor still didn’t know all the details. He did know however that Ben was still threatening to take a stick of that chopped wood to his son Joseph for something said about “getting on in years.”

    “Well, you still need to take it easy for another week or so. Give your muscles time to heal before you start taking Joe on.  Considering how that young man has filled out in the last few years, you may want to think real hard about taking him on at all! That is if I were you,” the doctor cautioned. He still remembered the tiny fussy little boy who had lost his mother much too young and grew up in the shadows of big men, over -protected and rebellious. He had watched that youngest of Ben’s sons grow up and was surprised from time to time how much the devilish young man had changed over the years and not just in physical appearances. But emotional ones too. The feistiness was still there but the death of his beloved brother Hoss followed by the loss of his wife Alice so soon after they married had tempered the flame.

    Ben just snorted. “ I can still handle my son!  Now how much do I owe you?” Ben half bellowed as the two old friends stepped out of the inner room together.

The young woman waiting there turned at the sound of their voices. Although she wasn’t really all that tall she carried herself like she was: head up, shoulders back.  Unlike the other ladies of her day, she wore no hat or bonnet, so one of the first things both men saw was her auburn hair, which fell nearly to her waist, held back only by a ribbon at the nape of her neck. And her worn traveling clothes couldn’t hide her full figure. But what took their full attention were her eyes. Blue, so blue it was like looking into the ocean, and they were flashing angrily right then.

    “My apologies, ma’am.  I am not usually given to staring at pretty ladies but, in your case, I am afraid I may have to make an exception,” the bigger of the men said to her when she caught him staring at her. She'd had a remark about manners on her lips ready to hurl but was taken aback when he made the apology.

    “Yes miss, what can I do for you?” Doc Martin stepped up to try and diffuse the situation quickly.  Every red head he had ever known had a quick temper and judging from the set of this one’s expression, she was no different.

    “I wonder if we can make a deal, sir. I've an excellent surgeon's traveling kit here I am willing to part with for some ready cash. Say, oh, twenty dollars?”

    Ben and Doc Martin both were looking at the leather bound kit together, the doctor in awe.  He had seen only one like it, in San Francisco and knew they usually went for much more than twenty dollars. Suspicion grew quickly in the doctor’s mind.

    “Where did you get this, miss?” he asked, thinking it might have been stolen from a colleague.

    Lifting her chin again, she said, “I am a surgeon. Doctor Honor Whitaker," and she put her hand out. Martin shook her hand and found some strength there. “I assure you that it is mine to sell. I seem to have fallen on a spate of bad luck and as such, am forced to part with it.”

    “Well, I don’t know...” Paul seemed to hesitate, wanting the kit but also knowing what it took to part with something like that. As a doctor, the last things he would have wanted to part with were his instruments.

    The other man spoke up. “You're a real doctor?” and when she nodded, continued by saying, “Seems to me that you could do better for yourself if you kept your tools and went to work somewhere you were needed.”

    “Would that this were so, sir! But it is obvious, at least to me, that this town has a fine physician all ready. My decision is not an easy one to make,” she explained, with fingers crossed behind her back that the questions and doubts would cease.

    “I don't make too many snap decisions, miss, but I think I'll make one right here and now. I'll buy it from you under one condition: that you stay here and work with Doc Martin. He needs help and if you are what you say you are, you would be doing this town a service.”

    Paul Martin was a bit taken aback by what had just been said. Yes, there were times when he needed help but he couldn’t afford an assistant. What was Ben trying to do to him? And he said so right out loud.

    “Now, just think on it Paul. How many times in the past have you wanted someone to give you a hand?”

        The woman reached out and collected the kit as the two men started arguing. If the big man had stayed out of it she would have the money right now and be headed towards a meal. As it was, her head was reeling from hunger and she felt hollow. The men didn’t even notice her as she headed towards the door; they were so intent on their argument.

    They did notice when she slumped to the floor.  Exhaustion and lack of food had caught up with Doctor Honor Whitaker and she found she could go no further.

    It was late afternoon when she came to herself. There was the doctor across the room from her and when he heard her move, came towards her with a cup in his hands.

    “Drink this,” was his order and she sipped the sugar water, grateful for something to possibly stop the pounding in her head.

    “You weren’t stretching the truth one bit about a run of hard luck, were you?” The doctor looked at his patient critically as he took her wrist and felt for her pulse. Good, steady, strong. “Does your head hurt? How about your shoulders? “ As he spoke, he moved his hands expertly over her, looking for other signs of possible injury. There were none.

    “I seemed to have troubled you more than I expected, sir. I apologize,” she said, true remorse in her shaky voice. “I have no money to pay for your services so why don’t you just keep the kit?” She tried to push her way around him and stand but he shoved her back onto the cot.

    “It isn’t going to work that easily for you, Doctor Whitaker.  If you were really a doctor, you would take up the offer and stay here.  I need help badly. This town needs another doctor badly.  If you don’t want to stay and work with me, that isn’t a problem either. I will understand, I think,” he said, pulling a blanket over her chest.

    “But I have no means of…” she started to get up again but again he stopped her.

    “That has been all taken care of, Doctor Whitaker. The man who was here earlier, Ben Cartwright is his name; well, he is a patient of mine upon occasion. When he left here, he overpaid me. Now I could have chased him down but I think he would have rather I used the extra to make sure that you have a good meal and a good night’s sleep.”

Paul started explaining but by the time he had finished with his speech, she was again asleep, not having heard all of it, only up until she heard the name of her benefactor: Ben Cartwright.

    “That laudanum took long enough to work,” the other doctor said grumpily, turning back to his inventory to put the bottle back.

    She awoke the next morning to clear and bright sunshine.  And the smell of food as a tray had been left beside her with a pot of coffee.  There was no one about so she pulled it over to her and ate with relish, sitting up in the bed and enjoyed, for the moment, the wonderful feelings it all brought to her. She was into her second cup of coffee when she heard footsteps coming and Doctor Martin stepped into the little room he had moved her into the night before.

    “Well, Doctor Whitaker, you are taking on a better look to your cheeks this morning,” he said brightly, picking up her hand to take her pulse. He knew that she was fine but had the overwhelming urge to just touch her, she had looked so angelic, sleeping.

    This time she had the strength to pull back her hand when he held it longer than she thought necessary. “Yes and I think that I shall be going on my way, sir”

    The other doctor was more than just a bit crestfallen. He would try once more. “Please reconsider.”  He put as much pleading into his voice as he dared. One look at her convinced him that she would not. What demons were chasing her? he wondered.    “Well then,” he sighed and from his vest pocket, he took a twenty dollar gold piece and put it into her hand.

    She got up from the bed and dressed after he left the room. Down the steps, she found him at his desk in the small front office, waiting.  She set the physician's kit at his elbow.

    “No,” he corrected, putting the handle back into her hand.

    “But the twenty dollars…” she stammered.

    “The twenty dollars came from Ben Cartwright.  He said to give it to you when you decided to leave and for you to keep the kit.  He knows the value of good tools in competent hands”. What Paul Martin didn’t tell her was that Ben had also offered to pay his “assistant’s” salary for a year should she decide to stay.

    For a long moment, she looked at the gold piece in her hand, thinking that it had been a long time since someone had been this kind to her without wanting something in return. But she didn’t want to take charity from this stranger and would return the money.

With that thought, Honor Whitaker spoke seven fateful words: “Where do I find this Mr. Cartwright?”

    On her borrowed horse, Honor was able to easily follow the doctor’s directions to the Ponderosa where he had told her she would find her benefactor. It was a bright early autumn day and the crisp air made her feel good. The breakfast hadn’t hurt either she reasoned with herself.  Once she had returned the money and the horse she would find another way to get on her way.  It wasn’t as if she had to go anywhere, she just didn’t know if Virginia City was where she wanted to stop. She tried to lay it off on her restless nature, this desire to push on but as she rode on, the beauty of the land and mountains around her gave her a peace that she hadn’t felt in a long time. Instead of fighting it, she let that peace flow through her. She decided it wouldn't hurt, at least for the moment.

    When she crested that last rise, she looked beyond the sloping valley floor and up to the magnificent log home that graced the opposite side. Mentally, she compared the house to the fleeting image she remembered of the man she had but briefly met the afternoon before: Strong and solid looking.  And considering what he had done for a total stranger, wealthy to boot? Maybe , she thought as she chastised herself for being so shallow, he was just a kind man.

    As she rode past the lower corrals, she looked at the horses there. The cattle over in the adjoining meadow were not the ordinary long legged ugly steers she had seen on her way west but white faced Herefords. Upon getting closer to the house, she decided that perhaps what she should do is simply thank the man for his generosity and keep the money as he obviously had it.

    So she had her mind made up when she dismounted in the yard, walked up to the massive door and lifted the knocker. It sounded loud in this tranquil setting but when no one answered the first time, she did it a second time.

 And still no one answered.

So she opened the door and stepped in and was surprised by what she saw: the great stone fireplace, the massive walnut furnishings, the rich carpeting on the floor and the huge dining room table with its white cloth. The smells coming from the kitchen made her mouth water.

    “I had a feeling you would be here today,” came the baritone voice right behind her and she nearly jumped out of her skin.

He put out a steadying hand to her shoulder, which she simply glared at. Thinking it was better to keep the hand, he pulled it back onto his hip.

    “I came to return the twenty dollars Doctor Martin said you had given him on my behalf.  Thank you, sir, but that was not the deal I was willing to make with him. Or you for that matter.” Digging in the ragged pocket of her skirt, she found the piece. She stepped up closer to him, pulled his hand out and slapped it into it. “Now good day, sir.”

    And out the door she went, mounted the now tired horse and trotted from the yard, back towards town.

 Ben had no idea what to make of her. She obviously needed the money. Or at least a job. Yet there she stood, barely chest high to him, fierce as could be, red hair flying and blue eyes blazing, saying “no.”  It suddenly struck him where he had seen that sort of stubborn streak before.  He had raised him and called him Joseph.

Out on the road, Honor was now angry with herself. She hadn’t meant to do that. I had been the plan to just take the money graciously, say "thank you" and leave.  Her temper had flared, why, she didn’t know, for the man had been most kind. Beyond that, the smell of the food was tantalizing; the warmth of the fire blazing welcoming.  Maybe what had angered her so was his comment about knowing she was going to be there.  It didn’t matter now.  She was headed back to town. Once she got there she would collect her things and move on. How, she wasn’t quite sure. And the longer she rode, the more confused she became about what she was really doing with her life. She didn’t want to stay but yet she didn’t have the wherewithal to leave either.  Maybe she would stay on and work with this other doctor for a while until she got some money put by.

Deep in thought, she was letting the worn old borrowed horse just walk along. Okay she told herself, let’s take this one step at a time. Let’s tell Doctor Martin that he has an assistant for a while.  See what happens.  If you like the ways things are going, stay. If not, in 6 months, pack up and leave. Virginia City isn’t Philadelphia or even San Francisco. It isn't like it's home! But then neither of those places is home… any more.

The coming of the lady doctor was a success for Virginia City immediately. Doctor Honor Whitaker and Doctor J. Paul Martin made a loose partnership; each would have their own practice but share the job of the clinic and would trade off on manning it. But as a lady, Honor Whitaker also drew the attention of many of the eligible bachelors in the area. She was polite in dealing with them, firmly shaking her head "no" when they came calling, bearing gifts of wildflowers and the like.  Paul Martin finally asked her what they needed to bring her to get her attention because the confusion around their medical practice needed to stop. For that she had no answer. He had to have one, if only for his own peace of mind.

He was out at the Ponderosa, checking up on Ben Cartwright’s back problem and decided to tell Ben just what he thought of his new colleague.  They were sitting having lunch together. One of the bonuses of being the Cartwright doctor was that you were always invited to partake in a meal of Hop Sing’s cooking while you were there.

“She is an extremely competent physician, Ben. The only problem is that she is a very beautiful woman, too! And because of it, we have had more than a dozen ‘suitors’ dropping by the clinic just to flirt with her have.  She has been nothing if not professional about it all but it is distracting! Don't know which ones are the patients and which ones are the lookers any more."

“Well, Paul, it sounds to me like the young lady is not at fault in the least.”

“But Ben, she is at fault. If she would just pick one or two and go out with him, the others would go elsewhere, at least for a while. But she won’t go out with any of them.”

About that time, the doctor and Ben heard the front door open and around the corner came Joe and Candy.

“You two are kind of late for lunch,” Ben scolded as the other two sat down at the table and reached for platters. "“Get the herd settled in the south pasture? Winter coming on we don’t want them getting itchy hooves and go wandering.”

Accepting a cup of coffee from Hop Sing, Joe looked over at Doc Martin and smiled. “No ‘Gee son, glad to see you back home. Been a long two weeks without you. How was it?’ Just that we are late for lunch. What ever happened to gratitude?” Joe complained half-heartedly, his lop-sided grin taking in everyone at the table.

Ben had a sharp retort readied but remembered their guest and just glared at his son. Then he noticed that Paul Martin was staring at his son across the table, jaw slightly agape. “Is everything all right, Paul?” Ben asked.

“That’s it! It never dawned on me… Should have, but didn’t” the good doctor was saying.

His face a question mark, Joe turned to his father. “Has he been acting this way long? Think he’s sick or something?”

As fall moved into winter, the overcast skies and shortening days lent a quiet somberness to the Ponderosa. The herds had been moved into the lower pastures and enough firewood cut.  Now was the season the two men in the big house felt their losses all the more keenly.  There simply wasn’t enough work to keep their minds occupied and, with Jamie away at college finishing his studies, the house seemed enormously empty. Perhaps because of his age and life experiences, Ben felt the emptiness far more than his son did. And since Joe seemed somehow content with the emptiness, Ben knew it was up to him to change it. And Paul Martin had supplied the key ingredient.

Joe had finally gotten beyond the loss of his beloved Alice. He had dated some women but just watching the fleeting expressions on his father's face, knew his father wasn't exactly enamoured of them. He had to agree upon closer inspection. Most of them, Joe felt, were out for one thing and one thing only: The Ponderosa. He didn't matter as long as they wound up with the ranch and all it represented. That was more than a little disheartening and after a few times, he just let the whole matter drift into limbo.

 So it was that when Ben insisted he go with him to the Cattleman’s Club for dinner that late winter evening, Joe, more to silence his father than anything else, had agreed to go. He was certain his father and Doc Martin had set something up. But what could it be? Joe knew that he and his father were going to be having dinner with Paul and his wife and the new doctor in town. Could there be anything less sinister?

     There they were, dressed in their finest when, half an hour late, the door to the Cattleman’s Club opened and in walked the Martins with Honor Whitaker in tow. The clatter of silverware on china halted for just that single moment in time then resumed. The dress Honor wore that night was a sky blue silk, bodice cut low enough to show that she was every bit a woman. Her hair hung loose to her waist in an auburn cascade that rippled and caught the light like a million stars. It was obvious to every man there when she walked that she didn’t just walk into the room; she possessed it.

 Ben didn’t realize he was holding his breath until he heard his son beside him groan softly. Before Ben could move or say anything, Joe got up from their table and went towards her.

The first words Joe Cartwright said to the beautiful woman were spoken softly but with humor. “We have been set up,” he whispered then smiled at her.

Everyone in the dining room that night saw her smile and take his arm to be escorted the rest of the way into the room and to the table to be seated. What they hadn’t heard was her  “We sure have.”

“Doctor Whitaker is my partner now, Joe. She's a tremendous assistant,” Paul crowed, a little too enthusiastically for Joe's taste

Smiling that particular little lopsided grin of his, Joe looked the lady square in the eye and said, “Doctor, huh?”

Doctor Honor Whitaker settled into Virginia City life well. She made her practice one for women and children primarily, but she turned no one away from the clinic door. Much to Paul Martin's dismay at times, she seemed to take her Hippocratic oath too seriously. Although the clinic was busy most of the time, there were only so many chickens, so many jars of preserves and loaves of fresh bread the two of them could handle. Honor's patients, unlike Paul's, seemed to stem from the poorer side of the community and insisted on paying her in goods. But, with a deep sigh for a conscience rubbed sensitive, Paul let her continue. After all, it was what being a doctor was really all about, he told himself repeatedly, having another bite of fried chicken.

There was another good thing and it followed the arranged dinner meeting between Honor and the Cartwrights. The onslaught of suitors one by one fell to the side until only one in particular stood out: Joseph Cartwright. Even though after the first evening at the Cattleman’s Club, she was more than a little embarrassed by the attention, Joe wasn’t. Nor was Paul Martin. She would tell no one that when he took her hand that first night, her stomach had lurched and her knees weakened. Instead, she tried time and again to duck the advances of the rancher until Paul Martin put his foot down.

"Go out with him," Paul had insisted that winter afternoon when they had seen the last of their patients for the day. He finished with the silent thought that it would be good for both of them, Joe and Honor but tacked on the thought that it would be good for him too.

"No," she stated flatly and started to slip into her woolen cloak.

"Why not? Trust me, Honor; Joe Cartwright is a gentleman if I ever met one." Paul deliberately turned away from her as he spoke because he flinched. It wasn't a lie he was trying to hide from her. Joe was a gentleman and Paul knew he was, but he also knew him as a fun-loving and impetuous young man who had been much too good looking for his own good at times. True, Joe had settled down some over the years, but that had only enhanced his allure to most of the female of the species.

"I don't want to look like some husband hunting woman, out to snag a rich husband for myself. I am a doctor, a healer, and a husband would just get in the way of things. Besides, I am not interested in him," she protested but suddenly became all thumbs as she tried to tie the bow to close her cloak.

"Is that why you get all flustered and go red-cheeked when he shows up?" Paul coolly asked, still keeping his back to her as he arranged his instruments for the second time.

"He is just so-" she started then became just exactly what the other doctor had just described: flustered and red-cheeked. It aggravated her to lose her composure so and she nearly stamped her foot but she knew it would be a dead giveaway that he was right. Instead, she whirled and headed out the door for her boarding house only to return and sheepishly fetch her shawl. It didn't help that she could hear him chuckling.

Telling herself that it was more to appease her working companion than her own curiosity, she yielded to Joe's persistence and kept a date. He took her to a barn dance that spring evening and when she felt his hands on her shoulders, she very nearly fainted. To calm her skittish nerves, she tried to look at him with a critical eye.  He was now in his mid-thirties. Those smoke green eyes could sparkle and twinkle and he apparently loved to wink at her as they danced.  His laugh and lighthearted manner set her at ease as he whirled her around the barn floor and out into the night.  She found herself wanting to run her fingers through all those gray-frosted curls as they stood there in the magical moonlight together for the first time. As she leaned against his arms, she became intensely aware that he was a strong man even though he had a slight build. Still trying to maintain her calm professional appraisal, she pressed her hand to his chest and felt the beating of his heart, its rhythm perhaps a bit fast but strong. His hands, she noted as they caressed her face, were gentle and knowing. But she lost all critical point of view when he kissed her. Thinking back over the emotions that had flooded her, she thought maybe Paul Martin was right: Joe Cartwright made for an all right date. But would he ask her out again?

For their second date, she consented to a picnic with him one warm early summer Saturday. He took her riding and showed her the beauty that was his home, the beautiful Lake Tahoe region with its towering pines.  He told her that her eyes were the same color as the lake and, while she thanked him for the compliment, she considered him just so much a charmer. Charmers were a dime a dozen in her world. All she had to do to find one was lift her skirt enough to show a little ankle and half the men in Virginia City became one. But what set this man apart was when she caught him absolutely speechless while looking at her and obviously desiring her. Yet he made no untoward move on her!

     Finally, high up on the east side of the lake, they stopped for lunch. They ate in silence, enjoying not only the view but also each other’s company.

“I have a confession,” she said as they lay back in the warm sunshine digesting their meal.  She watched as Joe merely raised an eyebrow in her direction. “Ever since the barn dance at Reilly’s last spring, I have wanted you to do something for me.”

His pupils dilated as she watched him and she had an idea of what was running through his thoughts. She couldn't have been more wrong.

He took a moment for the lump in his throat to clear then simply came up with a weak “What?”

“Do you think that you could kiss me just once more? Like you did that night?” she asked, a picture of guilty innocence.

Again that night as she lay in bed, she ran down his list of attributes which was, strangely enough, getting longer and longer. He was still a charmer and that hung like a bright red sign on the negative side of her list. There had to be more substance in the man she would marry, she reasserted to herself. Then, with a self-deprecating laugh at what she had just done, rolled to her side to sleep. She had just thought of Joseph Cartwright as husband-material. Well, she sighed; Paul Martin would be pleased.

It wasn't nearly as hard to convince her the third time around. He invited her to the Cattleman’s Fall Ball, the height of the year's social events for bustling Virginia City. She dressed with care in her sky blue gown, the only fancy one she owned. With the same consideration she gave to the tending of her patients, she fixed her hair, sweeping it up off her shoulders. It proved to be the right thing to do since when Joe appeared at her door, he gave her small box. Her blue eyes wide in delight, she opened it to find nestled there a diamond pendant and a cascade of diamonds for each ear. With shaking hands and voice, she tried to give it all back but he would have none of such foolishness. He draped the necklace around her throat as she watched in the hall mirror. Something within her caved in at the sight the mirror gave back to her. Was it just the sparkle of the diamonds, dancing and twinkling in the lamplight? Or was it what she saw in his eyes? She was never sure.

Ben saw her again that evening. Watching her and his son, he allowed himself that satisfied smile that only a parent has the rights to. There were other eligible, landed men there that night and they tried to horn in but it was as if those diamonds had branded her Cartwright property.  Each and every time the intruders were met with her simple 'no, thank you' and to Ben's chagrin, that included himself. It was all right though because Paul Martin, his co-conspirator, got the same treatment.

Once the ball ended, she still didn't know what to make of things. As they rode towards her boarding house, she shifted through what she had learned that evening and with a sad sigh, realized the only items added to her list of his qualities was that he could waltz divinely and had excellent tastes when it came to jewelry. And that he was warm to sit next to in the carriage. But where was that magical something she called substance- that something that would put him above all the rest of the men she had met? Maybe he didn't have it.

She got her answer when a young Negro boy approached the carriage.

“Are you the doctor lady?” he asked.  When she said 'yes', he told her that his mother was in labor down in Shantytown and needed help. Without a second thought, she hauled the boy into the carriage and told Joe to take her home for her bag.  The boy pleaded that there was no time.

Less than a half-hour after leaving the bright lights, beautiful clothes and elegant manners of the ball, Honor Whitaker was arm-deep in a difficult birth in a dirty shanty. She was mindless of the conditions around her and the others there. The other Negro women in the shack were astounded that here was this elegantly dressed woman, down on her knees, trying to help one of them. They drew back, at first afraid of the intensity and the sheer concentration the woman gave to their friend's plight but little by little, as the night wore on and the white woman stayed and helped, they lost their inborn fear .At dawn, with the birth of the tiny squalling baby the women, all of them, had found a new friend.

When she finished with the woman, Honor was surprised to realize that during the whole horrible ordeal, Joe had been right there with her, wiping the mother’s forehead, giving her sips of water and speaking soothing words. But more than anything else, he had shared her delight at the sound of the newborn baby's lusty cry.

Honor was exhausted and after she had given instructions to the other women there, turned to Joe, placing a hand on his arm that shook with fatigue.

“Take me home, please,” she begged softly and felt herself being picked up and carried to the carriage.

  She was nearly asleep when he opened the back door to her lodgings to carry her in and place her on the narrow cot. She didn’t even murmur when he undid the buttons of the now ruined gown and threw it away. She never felt the warm water washing away the blood and sweat from her face and body. All she knew, surrounded by the haze of exhaustion, was that she thought she loved him. Honor would have chuckled at her own thoughts but couldn't find the time between being awake and being asleep. One thought made her smile as she drifted off to sleep: she had discovered that he had "substance."

Thus began the extended courtship that half of Virginia City watched with mostly silent amusement. The other half, the notably unwed, single female half, watched with dismay. When a party or dance occurred, Doctor Honor Whitaker was bound to show up on the arm of Joseph Cartwright. Fans fluttered before pursed lips and eyes watched the handsome couple with ill-disguised jealousy. When tongues wagged, it was speculation for the pair never made overt moves. Were they headed for the altar or not? If not, why did they keep seeing one another? You only had to look at their faces to see that they were in love so what was the hold-up?

For their part, Joe and Honor kept silent, laughing in private at the antics going on around them.  Whether the desire was to drive them apart or push them together with the gossip, they shrugged it off and went about their lives. They even found the machinations of J. Paul Martin and Ben Cartwright amusing since it became more obvious who were the guilty culprits behind putting them together in the first place. In short, they enjoyed driving the town crazy.

"You know," Paul Martin suggested bluntly one late fall afternoon between patients. "A nice Christmas-time wedding would be nice." On this subject he discovered he never was one to ease gently into it.

Honor turned from her reading by the clinic window, a distracted look on her face and a gentle "Hmm?"

"You are going to marry him, aren't you?" the good man pressed, taking off his glasses and cleaning the lens on his shirtsleeve.

"Him who?" she teased, knowing full well what her partner was up to.

Paul pursed his lips and frowned, his hands suddenly fumbling with his spectacles. "Joe Cartwright, is who! And don't tell me that you don't love him!"

Her brows lifted as she closed the book she had been thumbing through. "And you think I should marry him," she said flatly, and shook her head slowly. "Why? Because you think I love him?"

"I know you love him and more importantly, he loves you! I have never seen two people more in love with one another yet, the way you act, it's like there is something between you that you can't see over. For God's sake Honor, marry him!"

He wondered if he had pushed too far when he saw her eyes brighten with tears but she again only shook her head sadly. Nibbling her lower lip, he thought he heard her say something like "I wish I could."

"Well, why can't you?" he exploded but it was in vain as she simply gathered her things and said she had a housecall to make. He didn't see the smile on her face as she slipped out the office door. She had never said where that housecall would be and it wouldn't hurt Paul Martin to go on wondering a while longer. But as she rode towards the Ponderosa that afternoon, she thought back over what he had said. Yes, she came to the grudging admission; she had fallen in love at some vague point in time over the past year. But had Joe? She was pretty sure that he did but did he love her enough to get beyond a secret she carried deep within her soul? Or, once she told him, would he simply turn and walk away from her? She had no answers but kept thinking that if it were true love, it wouldn't matter. But what was true love and how could she know?

With the coming of that second Nevada winter, Honor Whitaker found herself more and more drawn into life at the Ponderosa. No longer did she go just for the parties and occasional Sunday dinner. When her work took her that direction, she could always count on a place to stay should night catch her. From the first night, Ben Cartwright made her welcome and even teased her about returning the gold piece. She blushed uncharacteristically and looked at her hands clasped in her lap. Joe, one arm across her shoulders as they sat together before the fire, laughed and teased her as well. When they went for a stroll in the cold moonlight, she was sure she had seen the curtains twitch.

"We're being watched," she commented and let him put his arms around her. Above them the stars seemed close enough that she could have knocked them down with a wave of her hand. She looked up to study them and found him studying her instead. She changed her view and looked straight ahead, afraid of what she felt when she looked into his eyes.

"Does that bother you?" Joe asked, drawing her warmth closer. "Me neither," he replied when he felt her shake her head against his chest. "If it's too cold out here, we can go back inside." He could feel her shivering against him.

"No, I like it like this," she admitted and let her fingers catch at the buttons on his shirt. "Joe, I have something I need to tell you."

"Tell me later," he encouraged and lifted her chin so he could kiss her. She surprised him with the return of his passion and he moved to deepen the kiss. Honor drew back a bit and tried to speak but he leaned down and whispered "later" again. He covered her mouth with his, demanding her full attention. Her knees seriously weakening, she clung to him and the kiss. Later, she thought, later was soon enough.

She came to the decision that night that winter in Nevada was a glorious time to be in love. It was easy to love Joe, she came to realize. He was fun loving and had a sense of humor she enjoyed yet at the same time could be serious about the most mundane things that would bore her witless. But one thing he was, she found out as the winter drew out, was a passionate lover. Careful about appearances for her sake if not for his, they kept that newfound part of their relationship a closely guarded secret. Yet the physical joy it brought them continued to pull at them and they found that it was easy to give in to. And hard to ignore.

But that second winter brought heartache with it as well. They had been together that Sunday afternoon, decorating the Ponderosa ranch house for Christmas, acting so much like a married couple that even Ben began to wonder if they had eloped, then caught himself wishing they had. When it came time to put the angel on top of the tree, he watched Joe hoist the squealing woman by the waist up the steps and hold her while she placed the decoration on top of the tree. This, he caught himself thinking, was what love was supposed to be all about. It was late in the afternoon when she complained a little about a headache and asked if she could lie down to rest a while before dinner. When Ben went to wake her in the guestroom an hour later, he found her in full fever.

For three days, Joe wouldn’t leave her side. Finally her fever broke and it seemed as though everyone breathed a sigh of relief. She was weak following the fever and Doc Martin sadly suggested that she not stay there in the cold mountains that winter but go some place warmer.

 It was with great sorrow that Joe watched her leave, headed down from the mountains, reportedly to San Francisco, just after Christmas. Those people who saw him there at the stage depot spread the word. He loved her and had let her go. And it had broken his heart.

But he was anything if not persistent and when the first buds of spring graced the high passes, Joe went searching for her. Again, those who saw him leave on the afternoon stage spread the word: Joseph Cartwright had gone after the woman he loved to return her to his side. Of course, the gossips said that she had gone to away that winter to recover from a miscarriage; that she was married already and that Cartwright money had bought off her first husband. Why, Joe had been seen in Carson City buying a ring! On and on the gossip went. In the end, it all didn't matter because when he did return, she was with him and in apparent good health. And they were still in love with one another. And not married since she moved into a little rented house on B Street and he went home to the Ponderosa. Yet the good citizens of Virginia City saw a distinctive pinto tied outside that gate quite often; often enough that the mothers of eligible daughters decided to look elsewhere for husbands. Plainly, Joseph Cartwright was taken. When he went to Sacramento on ranch business for a week, the good lady doctor came up missing at the same time. Tongues all over Storey County wagged.

Finally, Ben had had enough and asked his son point blank about his intentions concerning the elegant doctor. “Are you ever going to ask her to marry you? Or are you two just going to go on like this forever?” he roared.

Joe raised both eyebrows and said as calmly as could be, “I have asked her every time I have seen her from the first moment I saw her. Unfortunately, she can’t hear me when I ask because I am saying it in my heart.” He turned and walked from the room. Ben, his dropped jaw snapping shut, decided he would never ask again.

Summer moved into fall and on into winter. Finally, two days before Christmas, Joe told his father he would be back later that evening. He had to go into town to get his father a very special gift, he said. Ben protested that the weather was making up horribly and that after Christmas would be just as well. No, his son showed his infamous stubborn streak and left that afternoon, never saying to anyone what he was after. He was gone all that afternoon and by the time twenty-four hours had passed, Ben was anxious to say the least but tried to control himself. After all, Joseph was a man now, although to a silent Ben, he would forever be his 'little boy'.

    On towards midnight, Ben stirred from his chair where he had fallen asleep awaiting Joe’s return. At first he though he had heard something but sank back, ready to wait a little longer.

Out in the yard, in snow rapidly piling up to mid-calf, Joe helped Honor dismount. “You take care of the horses. I’m cold and I’m going inside,” she said and kissed him before heading for the door, leaving him in the cold.

Once she stepped inside, she saw Ben sitting asleep beside the fire. She went closer to the fire to warm herself and her movements awoke him fully.

"Well," he smiled as he greeted her smile with one of his own. "This is a pleasant surprise."

Standing quickly, he helped her strip off the heavy coat from her shoulders and the shawl from her head.

“Not really a surprise, is it?" she teased momentarily then sobered. “Merry Christmas, sir,” she said softly and let her gloved hands fall gently to the arms of the man holding her as though she were made of spun glass.

“Merry Christmas. Have you seen Joseph today? He left here yesterday afternoon, saying he had to get me some special gift,” Ben asked and saw the sunrise in her smile as she looked up at him. "How about some brandy to warm you up?" he offered and moved towards the decanter on the sideboard.

“Actually, yes, to both questions. Joe is outside putting up the horses right now.  I told him I wanted to talk to you first.” She paused, starting to pull her gloves off, then looked up at him with those clear blue eyes again as he handed her a glass and turned to sit back down in his chair. Nervously, she cleared her throat and set the glass aside. Before he could react to the change washing over her, she was kneeling before him. “I took something from you, sir. Something valuable but I hope that I can make it up to you in the future.” She pressed her hand against his knee and Ben looked down at the slim fingers. There was an ornate gold band on the third finger of her left hand. “I took your son’s heart. We were married in Judge Snyder’s chambers yesterday afternoon.”

Ben rose to his feet, taking her with him. He held her hands in his and smiled broadly. “You took his heart years ago, you know. Just after you took mine. Welcome to the family." Finally, he thought as he hugged her.

Chapter Two    A Daughter to Hold

And that was that…but not quite. The newly weds decided to wait until the spring to start building their new home and to Ben that was just one more blessing. During the dark day of winter, he dreaded the somber silence of his home. No, his new-daughter-in-law brought something to the house that had been missing: happiness. Just watching Honor and Joe together could make Ben smile, remembering his own days as a newly wed.

 There was one continuing problem however. Even though she was now a married woman and Joe had been most patient in dealing with the issue, Honor would not give up her practice. Ben witnessed some of the most bull headed arguments when they discussed it in his hearing.  But he also could hear that the arguments never went to bed with them. He was rather proud that this new force in their lives would not be ruled by them. She had a mind and will all her own and wasn’t afraid to exert either. He watched his son try to talk her out of it so often that when the discussion would start, usually after she had been gone for a period of time, he knew just how it would end.

“I am surprised at you, Joseph. You are usually good enough with women to talk them into or out of anything,” he teased one evening after a discussion at the supper table when Honor had gotten up and gone into the kitchen in a huff.

“The last thing I talked her out of was her clothes on our wedding night,” Joe confessed a bit bewildered by this headstrong woman. Ben raised his brows, surprised by the directness of the statement.

She came out of the kitchen just then to hear him. With her head high and her hand sweeping across his shoulders as she went by, she haughtily said, “ I don’t remember that there was too much talking that night!” but Ben saw she was smiling.

Finally, they reached a compromise and Ben secretly heaved a sigh of relief. She could keep her practice going as long as she moved it onto the ranch.  The plans drawn up for their new home were brought out and an addition planned for her clinic. Since most of her patients were from the outlying area, it seemed a good compromise.  In the meantime, they would convert the harness room there at the main house into her an office area. That first winter they spent a great deal of time working on it, cleaning it, building walls and shelves. When it was finally finished, Ben was as surprised as everyone else that it did indeed look like a doctor's office, not like a converted harness room, even though it had grown to take over the feed room as well.

Standing there in the center of the main room, Candy, drafted as well to help, clapped a hand to Joe's shoulder. "Better get used to it, old buddy. I think this is just the first 'building project' she'll have for you!" he teased. "Come spring, when we start that house of yours, I'm betting - well, let's put it this way- you can throw out those plans of yours."

Brow furrowing as he leveled a shelf, Joe was only half listening when he commented "What makes you think that? Those are good plans. Drew them up myself."

"Joe," Candy chuckled and sighted down the edge of the crooked shelf Joe had just fixed. "Didn't you say Adam was the architect in the family?" Pushing Joe aside, he realigned the shelf and nailed in the brace a little higher up the wall. "They may be your plans but I think Honor has a set of her own. Might not be on paper - yet. And I'll bet you a month's wages that when your house is built, it looks nothing like what you drew."

"Deal," Joe muttered then nudged Candy into silence when Honor pushed through the doorway carrying some of her books.

She refused the offer both men extended to help carry her books and in the fading early winter afternoon light, plopped them onto the counter. Telling them that there were more in the house, she did ask that they bring them out. Lugging the heavy trunk between them, complaining that Honor collected medical books the way some women did bric-a-brac, the two men wrestled it into her clinic.

Neither was surprised to find her standing on a chair, hammer in hand, moving the same shelf down to where she could reach something placed on it.

Smiling at Joe's scowl, Candy whispered "Wanna pay me now?"

There was, however, a pall that shadowed the decision to allow her to continue her medical practice. Since Honor had treated anyone and everyone who came to her for help, she was beginning to be a target for some of the more radical elements that believed this should not be.  The fact that she was now a Cartwright did not seem to protect her in the least.  It did, however, afford her the comfort of knowing that someone would go with her if it were to a housecall she didn’t know or trust. Those times were few and far between since she truly believed in the goodness of humankind. Her men, wiser in the ways of the West, weren't so sure.

Then came the afternoon that Joe and Ben had secretly dreaded since the problems and outright threats began. They came home to an empty house.  A quick search showed that her horse was gone, as was her medical bag.

"All Hop Sing said was that someone, a man, came and said his wife needed help. Something about a bad burn," Joe said, optimism warring with suspicion. "Would have thought he would have brought her here instead of taking Honor to her."

"Well, the way the weather is making up, maybe he didn't want to try. Maybe his wife is burnt so bad, in such pain -" Ben, shoving his hands into his pockets as he stood before the fireplace, quit talking, realizing that his words were only trying to convince himself. They both wanted to head out and search for her but in which direction? How long had she been gone? The light blowing snow obscured any tracks. Trying to think logically and sensibly through his own rising doubts, Ben suggested, "Why don't we just wait a bit. She could come riding up any minute now and chastise us for being foolish."

One hour stretched into two and the storm outside picked up, soft white flakes of snow that had floated languidly in the cold air before now drove to the ground.

“She’s probably holed up with whoever she went to help,” Joe tried to express a peace he was actually far from feeling. Ben tried to agree, trying to bolster his son, but he too had a growing panic. The day turned swiftly into night. Curbing the desire to race headlong into winter's fury, they went to bed, knowing realistically that there would be no sleep.

Both men were awake well before dawn. The snow had stopped but the temperature was now bitterly cold.  And worse upon worse, her horse had come back alone. They both wordlessly saddled their horses and went in search of the warmth in their lives she had become.

Tracking her horse was no problem in the fresh snow; controlling the panic was. The horse had taken a direct path and as it was, they found her not an hour and half later. To Ben’s greatest relief, she was alive, unconscious but to their horror, saw that she had been beaten. And although she had pulled her clothing back to a semblance of right, that she had been raped. Quickly, gently, they wrapped her in blankets and, settling her across the saddle in front of her husband, headed for home.

The doctor summoned from town confirmed their fears. Yes, she had been raped and rather brutally at that. She had also suffered a miscarriage. Honor had told no one that she was three months pregnant.  The only thing that had kept her alive was the fact the cold weather had virtually stymied the blood loss.

The room was dark, the only light coming from the glow of the coals in the fireplace at the foot of the bed. Yet in the dimness, Honor could see Joe sitting there beside the bed, asleep in her favorite rocking chair. She longed to reach out and touch his face, seeing the strain there that she knew she had caused. She dared not move, afraid that the motion would awaken him but then she nearly chuckled aloud. If nothing else, her husband had proven time and again that he was a deep sleeper. The thought of lying wrapped in his arms caught her and a short sob broke through into the night. Seeking to muffle her cries, she turned and pressed her face into the pillow.

"Shh, it's gonna be all right," the whisper in her ear said and the arms she had just thought of encircling her, did so. Honor pressed back against them, shaking her head, crying softly. The arms continued to hold her, her body now shaking both in memory of what had happened and the denial that she deserved the love now given her. Again, the voice whispered to her, the arms protected her and the body now pressed to hers spoke of love.

Her recovery was slow and painful. Where once had been an intense fire in her, Ben saw only coals glowing. She took no interest in her work any longer. She was merely content to sit and watch the winter turn into spring. For long hours she would stare into the bleak winter landscape, held in her husband's arms yet never acknowledging his presence.  Finally, Ben decided he had to do something before she simply melted before his eyes.

He chose one afternoon while Joseph was busy with the branding and away from the house.  Hop Sing and Candy had gone into town for supplies and it was just the two of them home alone.

“Honor, we need to talk about something,” he said, approaching her and settling across from her on the porch in the bright April sunshine. When he looked at her, he saw the same intense blue eyes, but like her hair, they lacked luster, life. Within her something was missing. There was only a vacant blink of her eyes as the sole outward sign that she had heard him as she looked up at him, saying nothing.

“I will never forget how you came to me and told me you and Joe were married.  With the exception of the birth of my sons, it was perhaps the most wonderful moment of my life.  That is how important you have become to me. Why, even the first meeting there at Doc Martins’ office, I knew you were something special. Something…” He just let his words hang between them a long moment. “Now, I feel as though you are slipping away from us, little by little. I want you back, Honor. So does Joe. You must know that. What can we do? I'll do anything, just come back to us. We need you."

“You can’t turn back time.”

“No I can’t,” he admitted and reaching out, caught both her shaking hands in his to hold. She tried to pull them back but he wouldn’t give in to her. “I know that you were scared, Honor. We were too, so afraid. We still are. Are you?”

It was then that she exploded and had Ben not been holding both her hands, she would have run. As it was, she had to just let it all go and Ben found himself holding the hands of a wild woman. "Scared? Afraid?  I didn’t think that you men knew the meaning of the words much less the emotion behind them. Two others have never held you big men to the ground; you never had your clothes torn off as you helplessly scream and kick. You've never had your dignity stripped from you time and time again just because…just because you tried to help someone else. So don’t speak to me of fear!” As she finished, unable to pull away from him, she collapsed to her knees at his feet, crying and shaking with the long pent up emotion.

Ben knelt there with her and held her while she cried. He wanted to cry for her because what she said was true: In that sort of thing, women knew real fear and pain; men knew but a shadow. With no knowledge of how to help her, all he could do was hold her.

When she was cried out, he continued to hold her awhile longer. He spoke with her as though she was his daughter, not his son’s wife, in low tones that spoke of love and a father’s protection. In him welled up all the care and love that came from being a parent that some how over the years had gotten put aside because he had raised sons, not daughters.  And in those hours there grew a relationship between them that had not been there before. He found something that he had not known was missing in his life: a daughter to love and cherish.  She found peace and understanding.

"No," she said flatly.

"But you must remember something about the man who did this!" Joe reasserted. Once more, Honor had said that she remembered nothing of the man who had attacked her, beaten her and left her to die along that snowy road.

"What if I did? What would you do?" she hissed but she knew the answer. She had known it from the beginning. "Hunt him down?"

"Like the animal he is, yes!"

She pulled her robe closer around her as she sat beside the hearth. The fire there kept her warm but his words still sent a shiver of ice down her spine. "Kill him?" she continued.

"Yes!" Joe exclaimed, his eyes narrowing as he paced the sunlit room. He came to a stop looking out the window, his back to her so she couldn't see the hate in his face. "With my bare hands, I'd kill him!"

"No-" she began but Joe whirled on her.

"Honor, the man is a monster. He deserves to die. If you won't tell me, tell Roy Coffee. Tell Clem Foster. Tell someone so the man can be dealt with. He's a killer, sweetheart."

She shook her head no. How could she tell Joe that she knew what he would do if the man were caught? The scene had played out in her imagination many times since she had awoken to find herself wanting to be in her husband's arms that night. She had no doubt that Joe would do just what he had said: kill the man with his bare hands.

"How can you use those words together - killer- then turn and call me 'sweetheart'? I took an oath to protect life, Joe."

Joe ran a hand through his hair. Why didn't she understand? As a man, if he didn't go after this monster, how could he even think of himself as a good husband? Slowly, weary of the argument, he sat on the foot of their bed, his hands between his knees. He finally said the words that had plagued him. "Honor, he killed my child."

Taking a deep breath, Honor slipped unsteadily to the floor and eased herself to where Joe sat. "No, he killed our child," and some day, she would have the advantage and the man would pay but it would be at her hand, not Joe's. Until then, haunted by the memory, the pain and the fear, she would say that she couldn't remember who it had been. She truly wished she couldn't.

Chapter Three The Quiet Coming

As spring rolled into summer, there was no longer any talk of Joe and Honor living anywhere else but the sprawling main house at the Ponderosa.  Plans for the new house were put away. The spark that was Honor came back as she grew once again in trust and determination. But this time, there was no recklessness as there had been before. Oh she still loved Joe with all her heart and soul and seemed to think that it was her God -given right to tell him when she thought he was wrong. But the newly reborn Honor was more cautious and would allow her husband and her father-in-law to protect her now. It was, as she phrased it, all right to stand on her own two feet as long as his was beside hers.

Now that she had found the courage to start taking an interest in life, her patients again filtered back. One afternoon found her seeing some of the Negro families from the surrounding area there. She asked one of the children, a little girl, what grade she was in at school, as she looked into the child's ears and felt along her throat.

“I’se don’t go school, Miz Doctor” she was told.

“Why not?” Honor asked in all innocence.

“Cause I’se got no shoes and no school.”

Honor looked down at the little girl’s feet. They weren’t much smaller than her own. “If I got you some shoes, would you go to school?” she asked the child. When the child nodded, Honor promptly sat on the floor and took off her own shoes and stockings, pulled the child onto her lap and helped her put them on. The adults standing around and waiting saw what was happening and, after a moment’s panic, started to laugh and holler. Look what the lady doctor was doing now!

As the child stood up and admired her new footgear for the first time, one of the men spoke up. “Miz Doctor, them shoes is mighty fine but we still ain’t got no school for her’n to wear ‘em to.”

“I’m going to see about that as well. Can we close the clinic early today?  I have something I need to discuss with some people.”

Thus through the need of one little girl for a pair of shoes, education came for all the children in Storey County. It didn't matter what color the child was or where his parents came from or even if the child had parents: there was schooling if they wanted it.

 And from that day on, Honor Cartwright bought more shoes than any three women in the state of Nevada did.

That was also how Anne Spencer came to the Ponderosa.

When Honor approached her father-in-law and husband with the idea for a school for the Negro children, they didn’t know what to make of it. After all, wasn’t this the type of thinking that had gotten her almost killed? Once again, she was taking on the established rule.

“I’ll make a deal with you.” Joe told her at supper that night, Candy and Ben watching with barely concealed glee at the way she was handling her husband, notably a stubborn man himself. “You get someone else to teach it. You have enough to do with the clinic. You do that and I will help you with it. Hell, I’ll even build it for you!”

“You mean hire a teacher?” she exclaimed. “Where would I get the money to do that?  Usually the county would pay for such things but you know this county won’t part with a penny for those children!”

“That would be a problem, wouldn’t it?” Ben teased a bit. “But I think we can work something out. A loan perhaps? What sort of collateral would you be putting up, Mrs. Cartwright?”

With an over-abundance of joy, she turned to her husband, about to speak when he raised his hand and said, “You can put up any collateral you want with the exception of the ranch.  And your jewelry.”

For a moment, she was crestfallen for her jewelry was worth more than enough to get things rolling. Then looking back to Ben she asked rather matter of factly: “How much are scalps going for now? I just happen know where there is one handsome specimen I could probably get easily. Very easily in fact.” She looked back at Joe slyly, fingering her butter knife.

 They all erupted in laughter at her playful manner but it was clear to them that she would have her way.

After scouring the area for possible teachers and finding none that would take on the project, Honor wrote to her alma mater back east. She needed a teacher, a qualified teacher who was up to the challenge that not only the children would present but also the one Society would.  There was no such thing as a school for these black children.  After all, they couldn’t learn. Or could they? When word got out what she was doing, more threats came. She never went without an armed guard now, fearful of the same thing or worse as last winter. Places that had done business with the Cartwright name for decades suddenly would not deal with them. Through it all, Ben knew that she was right and, even though it meant changes for him, he supported her.

Finally there came a letter. The handwriting was concise and tidy.  The words were like an explosion:

“My name is Anne Spencer.  I was a teacher here in Kentucky until the Colored school I taught in was burned to the ground.  All of my students and their families are scared and will not return to my classes. I will come and teach at your school but it will be on my terms. I will have no child turned away from the school because she or he is of a different skin color.”

What the letter didn’t say was that Anne Spencer, a devout Quaker, was on her way to Virginia City and the Ponderosa already.

The foreman for the Cartwrights went by just the one name: Candy.  He enjoyed his independence at the same time he relished the solidity of the family whom he had come to know. They never questioned him about a past he wanted to stay buried and, for that alone, he was willing to give them his loyalty. He always knew just where he stood with them and he made sure they knew where he stood.  This business of the Colored school bothered him more than just a bit but he had seen Honor and the children and knew that this was, at its very core, a good thing to have happen.  And like the other men in her life, Honor Cartwright had captivated him as well. You could only say “no” to those blue eyes for so long before the guilt made you cave in. If the truth were to be told, long ago one of the many suitors who had come knocking at her door was Candy.  But he also knew that she was too headstrong for him to handle so he had gladly stepped aside for his good friend Joe to have a go at her. He had also promised himself that if something ever happened to her because of Joe, Candy would not hesitate to step in and defend her. He sometimes caught himself watching the two of them when they thought no one was watching. Maybe, he told himself, it was that stage in life he was at that he envied them.

Thus it was that Candy, on his way home from town and mailing a letter for Honor, happened across a woman walking down the dusty road. She was all by herself, lugging a satchel. He pulled the buckboard team to a halt beside her and asked: “Where are you headed, ma’am?”

She squinted up into the sun at him and told him that she was on her way to a place called the Ponderosa to meet with someone named Honor Cartwright. He offered to give her a ride but she said that it was a good day for walking.  There was something quaint about her speech that made Candy smile at its soft sibilance.

“Please, I insist. Besides, Honor would flay me alive if she knew I let a lady walk all that way.”

“Then thou knowst her?”

By that time, Candy was on the ground, hoisting the heavy satchel into the wagon, wondering how this woman who barely came chest high on him had managed to lug the thing around. “Yes ma’am, I know her real well. I work for the family. My name is Candy and yours is….?”

She looked down at the hand he offered to her then without making use of it, climbed up into the wagon.  “Anne Spencer” she said as she settled into the wagon seat, watching as he sat next to her. “Tell me about this woman,” she asked.

Candy clucked to the horses, tipped his hat back to get a better look at his passenger and said brightly, “Well, watch out for your shoes.”

He stopped to deliver his passenger in the valley below the main house. There, Honor, Joe and four black men were raising wall studs on the new school house building. As usual, there were half a dozen children about, some helping the adults, some just there. As she sat looking down from the high wagon seat, what struck Anne most was the woman. She was about the same age, but taller and more willowy, with wild hair that kept sweeping across her pretty face. Her clothes were of a finer cloth than Anne had ever seen. She was non-plussed why this woman was down there with those men working! As she struggled down from the wagon seat, Candy hollered that he had found the teacher. Anne watched as the woman turned to her and came bounding down the slope towards her. It was then that she saw that the taller woman had on no shoes!

Suddenly, the little Quaker woman was engulfed with children. As she looked down she saw their eager upturned faces awash with glee. And they were calling her 'teacher'. Her heart melted.

That afternoon, sitting in the shade of the big tree in what would always stand in the school yard, Anne told Honor about the teaching she had done back in the hills of Kentucky and the terrible things she had witnessed that made her want to come west. Foremost was the burning of her school and the fear on their faces as she desperately pleaded with her students to come back once the school was rebuilt.

"You'll meet with opposition here too," Honor warned, pulling at the grass blades as they sat together. "But here, you'll have support too. Not just from me and my family but from them." She gestured to the adults who, straining on ropes, raised another stud wall. "They want this for their children. They want it bad enough to come on their days off to help build the school. And the children want it. Maybe that makes it all the more worthwhile, knowing the children want an education. Your job, if you want it, is to give them that education."

Anne watched the children. There were some of the older ones helping the adults but there were more of the younger ones. They studied her with the same intensity she did them. "I want the job."

 Honor Cartwright whooped for joy and calling the children over started an impromptu game of hide and seek. As the women and children played, the men toiled and raised the wall, shored it in place and began on the next wall. Finally, with the sun headed for the western horizon, the men stopped, packed away their tools and the Negroes gathered their children and headed towards their homes. With an introduction to Joe, the three of them headed up the hill to the big house Anne had only had a glimpse of.

At the entrance to the grand house stood a barrel chested man, older than Honor’s husband but with strong presence about him to Anne's way of thinking and gauging people. With his booming voice he came out to greet them, taking the little Quaker woman in completely with a massive bear hug. Looking down at her now bare feet, he simply said, “I see you've already met Honor.”

Chapter Four: Of Horses, Women and Tendencies of the Herd

That evening at dinner, Anne was taken aback with the whole family. Here were people like she had never known. They laughed and jested with each other, making light of one thing after another. When something serious arose for them to discuss, they did so, plainly and openly. They were strong, both in manner and speech, even the woman, and it frightened Anne. So used to quiet, the uproar surrounding her made Anne wonder if she had made the right decision. Her frightened silence finally registered.

"Don't take it personal, Miss Spencer," Candy leaned over and sotto voce told her. "They're just real happy to have someone willing to take on the teacher's job. They ain't like this all the time." He smiled at her then gave her a wink.

"Aren't," she corrected and couldn't understand why they laughed. Seeing Candy blush and his face screw itself to one side, she wanted to laugh as well. "I guess you can take the teacher out of the classroom but not the classroom out of the teacher."

For the remainder of the evening, Anne studied the one question in all of the mix: the man who had given her the ride, Candy.  There he sat at Mr. Cartwright’s side, a sign of power.  Yet he was not a Cartwright but a hired hand, as she understood the term. He was treated the same as though he were a member of the family and Anne didn’t understand. And the little Oriental man called Hop Sing, she couldn't fathom his position within the whole either. Anne had listened to the respect in her voice that Honor spoke with when she had asked him turn down the bed in the guestroom for Anne even though she protested that she couldn’t stay.

“What are you going to do, walk back to town?” Candy asked with a smile, then thinking it over, said sheepishly, “It is a nice night for a walk.”

Anne looked down abashedly as well, clearly embarrassed by the implied intention of the man seated beside her. "Yes," she said softly, "it would be a nice night for a walk but there is no place I want to go." She couldn't understand the laughter that circled the table. Her new found friend Honor saved her further embarrassment by throwing something at Candy and telling him to behave.

There was never a formal agreement for Anne to teach at the school. Nor was she ever allowed to consider living any place other than the Ponderosa. As the school building rose up behind them, she held classes under the big tree in the schoolyard.  The children adored her and followed her every instruction. Best of all perhaps, at the end of every day, Candy would magically appear, ready to walk with her back to the main house. He always asked her, teasing her, if it was a good day for a walk. She would blush and look aside as he chuckled.

Anne had never had the attention of a man, much less one like Candy.  For one thing, he carried a gun.  She knew that he occasionally drank in a saloon and that he had been married once. But he was a kind man. Most of all, to his credit, Honor trusted him. As the sisterhood between them developed, she began to trust him as well. After all, if Honor could trust him, she felt she could as well.

“Let me teach you how to ride,” he proposed one afternoon once school was let out. “You can go a lot further and a lot faster that way.”

“I think not. I’m afraid of horses. And I don’t understand why thee would want to go further and faster than thine eyes can see,” she explained with her patient teacher’s voice.

When he laughed aloud, she was startled, angry that he would make light of her fear so. Was she to be the blunt of some joke?  In a huff, she gathered up her skirt and headed up the slope towards the house. Candy, truly not understanding, went after her, and grasped her arm to stop her. She went rigid with fear. He felt the tension shoot through her and let her go. With angry and firm steps, she stalked away, her back ramrod straight. Candy felt something rise up in the back of his throat. He threw both hands into the air and muttered to himself about how fast a woman could change.

After a strained and quiet supper that evening, Joe asked him to help with something in the barn.  Nodding to the ladies, they adjourned there and before Candy could say anything, Joe pounced. “What the Hell has happened between you and Anne?  What did you do ‘cause I know she wouldn’t hurt a fly!  You know if this gets screwed up, Honor is going to scalp me and probably you too.”

Candy told him briefly and succinctly, then stood stunned as Joe laughed so loud that the women in the house surely heard him. Slipping through the barn door behind them, Ben joined the younger men.  Once he had heard Candy out, he sat himself on the feed bin and proceeded to talk to Candy as he had his own sons years before.

“There are more types of women than you can count, Candy. And, like a good horse, you have to know what sort of woman they are before you can get anywhere with them. And you have to know how to deal with that sort of woman.  Now take Honor. She is one Hell of a handful of a woman. She’s like a thorobred that is just itching to get out and run just for the pure fun of it. You could never take her and hitch her to a plow or make her a cutting pony, ready to do what you wanted her to do. No, she would break your neck, and hers, to get free. Anne, on the other hand, is that patient little brown mare that you would feel safe on even if you were so tired you thought you couldn't stay in the saddle.. She may not be as flashy as that thorobred but she will get you where you want to go as long as you don’t try to rush her.”

Candy tried to envision Anne as a little brown mare plodding along the road and it fit precisely with how he had met her. More over, he saw something in her about what Ben was speaking: patient understanding.

 He turned to say something to Joe but saw his friend was turning away. “Hey where you off to? You got help me with this!”

The reply that came back was “ Got to go saddle my thorobred for a ride.”

Ben just shook his head and smiled. Why there weren’t a dozen little ones under foot now, he had no idea. God knows they worked at it enough.

“Little brown mare, huh?”

With his newfound knowledge, Candy proceeded with more caution and a good deal more care. Ben watched this romance grow and slowly bloom. By the end of summer, Anne, quiet and shy Anne was seen more than one place with the Ponderosa's foreman.

As she became aware of what was happening in her tranquil life, she sought out her friend for advice. For the first time in her life, Honor was speechless. Finally she simply asked "What do you want from life if you couldn’t teach any more?"

 Anne thought about it as they rode the buckboard home together from town where they had picked up some books sent by Anne's family back east. “I am not sure what thee is asking of me. Is thee not pleased with my teachings of the children? Is there something else I should be instructing them in? Just tell me and I shall see to it…” she said in a panic.

“No, your teaching is fine. The children learn more and more every day. And more of them are coming to the school every week. I may have to threaten to scalp Joe again to get him to build another room onto the school. What I meant was, do you ever see yourself outside of the school? Say married? Raising your own children? Keeping house, cooking and the like?”

Anne looked at her hands and answered in so soft a voice that Honor wasn’t sure she heard her right. “I know nothing of men except what the Bible tells us, that we must submit to them in all things.” It was then that Honor got a lesson in what it was like for this woman to grow up as a Quaker woman. Until the day she married, she was not allowed to look upon a man older than she. Women, although equal in God’s eyes, were for one thing only: the bearing and raising of children. Anne's own mother had died in childbirth, screaming in agony. She had wanted no part of any of it. So she had left her home where she would soon have been married off and went away to teach far from her Pennsylvania home.

“You mean to tell me that no man has ever even kissed you? “ Honor asked incredulous. Anne, her head still down,  shook it from side to side. “Never? Ever?” Still no.

Since, they were nearly back to the main house, Honor pulled the horses to halt just as they crested a slight rise. She needed time and inspiration. There, spread before them in the dying light was the herd of cattle the men had been working on, getting ready to take them to market in Sacramento. From this distance, they could only tell who the men were by the horses they rode and Honor had immediately picked out Joe’s pinto but she soon spied Candy’s flashy bay gelding. She gestured with her hat towards him. Anne’s eyes followed.

“Being with a man, being married is more than just children and cooking and keeping house. It's -" and she floundered for a few moments, looking for the right words. Finally, watching what was happening before them, she found them. "Some times it’s more like riding herd on a bunch of cattle. None of them, cattle or men, want to go the way you want them to.  But with the right tools, like a good horse and knowledge of the herd’s tendencies, it can be done.  Candy is just the “herd” for you to learn on.  He is patient and not in the least bit rambunctious that I've ever seen. And I think he has had his eye on you for quite some time. What you need now the knowledge of the herd’s tendencies.  And that lesson, you aren’t going to get in school.”

By the time Anne had learned the tendencies of the herd, she and Candy were engaged. The morning of her wedding the following spring, Honor came to help her prepare for the biggest day of her life.  She could scarcely believe that she, still shy and quiet, was doing this thing.

Honor brought a small box to the bride that morning. With a good deal of hesitation the new bride opened it. To her surprise, there was nothing in it and she looked up at Honor confused.

“That,” Honor said, “is what men know of us. Remember that about the herd.  They know nothing of us; we have to lead them.” When Anne just continued looking at her with complete bewilderment in those wide and innocent brown eyes, Honor just shook her head and said, “Well, I’ll be around if you need help."

Chapter Five Of Hearts and Mind

There was a good bit of discussion that winter about who would teach the children when school opened again in the spring. Standard practice would never let a married woman teach and Anne was very much a married woman now.  She and Candy had settled nicely into a newly-built cabin not far from the school that.  They still gathered at the main house on Thursdays and Sundays for dinner with the Cartwrights and Candy still worked as the foreman for them, but they were determined to lead separate lives from their employers, even if the employers didn’t quite see it that way.

  Now had arisen the question about Anne continuing teaching. Ben recalled with amusement that Honor had had just such a desire at one time but for the most part the men stayed out of the discussion. Neither of the younger men wanted to butt heads with their wives since they were the ones doing the arguing, not the men. Anne said that it just wouldn’t do, she was married now and Society just didn’t think that it was proper for a married woman to work outside the home.  Honor scoffed at the idea.  After all, she had been married for several years and still kept her practice going.

“And what dost thou do with the money thee makes by being a doctor?” Anne asked point blank, her head cocking to one side as it often did when she was making a point.

“Most of my patients pay me in chickens and vegetables and the like.  Lucy comes in once a week and cleans the clinic.  Mrs. Taylor has been making my dresses for years.  Everytime she has another child, I am good for at least 3 more dresses.  So whatever I do with ‘money’ is kind of a moot point.”

“So, thou sees, thy situation is different. Thine husband is a tolerant and wealthy man. Thy being a doctor doesn’t threaten his ability to provide for thee.  If I continued to teach school and bring home money for doing it, how would Candy feel? Probably threatened and feeling as though what he was doing wasn’t enough for us.”

Honor thought a long moment. She had to argue Anne out of quitting teaching. She had no idea how hard it had been to find someone in the first place. And now she was looking at having to do it all over again? She half way wanted to kick herself as she had helped to bring all this about by coaching Anne in the ways of love. And pushing Candy is the same direction.

“What can I say or do to make you want to stay on teaching?” she asked and there was a hint of true desperation in her voice that the other had never heard before. But instead of answering her, Anne simply turned and walked away.

For the next week, the women didn’t speak to one another about the situation. The men felt as though they were all walking on eggs. Finally, after a miserable Thursday dinner, Joe decided to have a long discussion with his stubborn wife.

He waited until she was getting ready for bed that night, sitting at her mirror, getting ready to brush out her hair.

“You know, one of the things I fell in love with you over was your hair,” he said, taking her brush and starting to brush down the long length of it. "Rich, silky to my fingers.  I love the way it falls around your shoulders. Sometimes late at night when you snuggle over next to me, I can smell flowers in it.” He paused waiting for her to say something but saw by her reflection in the mirror that her eyes were closed and her face suffused with a tranquility seldom seen there when she wasn’t sleeping. He kept brushing.

“I also love you for the way you speak your mind. If you have an opinion, you’ll voice it sooner rather than later.” Her eyes flashed open. “But I suppose what I love best about you is the fact that you let people be just exactly what they are.”

She reached back and took the brush from his hand. “Stop beating around the bush. What are you after tonight?”

“Let Anne decide what is best for her.  You are trying to force her into staying on as teacher when she feels that maybe she shouldn’t. That should be her decision. Not yours.  I know you don’t want to go through the hassle of finding a replacement but maybe you should decide what you want most: a teacher for your school or a friend. 'Cause if you keep after Anne like this, you will only have one or the other.” With a short and less then patient huff, he turned from her and crawled between the covers of the big bed they shared.

 She sat there another moment looking at her reflection in the mirror but not really seeing herself, but quiet Anne as she had said her vows of devotion to Candy. Honor knew then what Anne had known: that she was going to quit teaching. It was part of her vows, that “to love, honor, obey and keep thyself only unto him.” With a heavy sigh, Honor, got up and blew out the lamp and slipping from her gown, slid into to bed beside her husband.  The sheets were cool and she curved herself into his side.

“Okay, you all win.  I’ll start tomorrow looking for another teacher,” she groaned and knew Joe was smiling in the dark. “Is there anything else I should do?” she whispered as he rolled over on his side to face her.

 As his arms went around her and just before his lips caught hers she heard him say, “ Make babies.”

So by the eve of the first day of school that spring, Honor still had not found a suitable replacement for Anne and it looked as though the children were either going to have to do without a school or Honor was going to have to teach it herself.  That she knew would anger her husband no end.  Part of the deal with even having the school was that she would not teach in it and still do her “doctoring” as they called it.  She couldn’t not practice medicine.  It was who and what she was but the children pulled at her heartstrings. She had even tried to enlist the aid of Ben.

“After all, Joe pretty much runs the Ponderosa now. And I know of no other man as well educated…” but Ben held up his hand to silence her, a feat Joe, Candy and Jamie looked on with awe at.

“I am not saying 'no' to those children, Honor. I am not saying 'no' to you.  I am saying that I will help you as I have in the past: find another teacher, help pay for the teacher but I will not teach. I am too old for such. I should be dawdling my grandchildren on my lap right now, not taking on another profession!” With those final words blurted out, Ben saw Honor’s face crumble and a glance to the side showed him a shocked look on his son’s face. He had gone where he had told himself he never would: into their private life as husband and wife. Now, angry with himself, he stomped out to stand on the front porch and get control of himself. He had never meant to turn the discussion in the direction it had gone. It had just happened and now he couldn't bring back the words.

He was still chastising himself when he heard the front door open then close behind him. He recognized Joe’s footsteps and felt his son’s hand on his shoulder.

“I’m sorry, Pa,” came the hoarse whisper, so full of emotion it was to the breaking point.

Without turning, Ben whispered, “No, I am sorry for what I said in there. I shouldn’t have”.

“No, You're right. You should be a grandfather by now.” Joe walked past his father and out into the night air, alone.

Ben nearly called him back but didn’t.  When he went back into the house, Honor was no where to be seen. Candy simply pointed towards the doors behind the dining room that led to Joe and Honor’s room.

He went to the door and tapped gently, calling her name.  The door was partly open and Ben could see her sitting at the mirror and see the tears streaming down her face.  It was the first time he could remember seeing her cry like that. He pushed the door on open and went to stand with his big hands on her shoulders.

“Honor, I am sorry. I shouldn’t have said...”

“Said what?  What was truly in your heart? That you want grandchildren and that Joe and I are a big disappointment to you because we haven’t produced any?” Her words held such hurt in them that they were hard to hear.

“No, you don’t understand,” he tried again but Honor stood and whirled around in one motion.

“I would give up my practice, the idea of the school, everything…everything….to have a baby.  I feel so empty some times when I have just delivered a baby and seen the light in the mother’s eyes when she sees that child for the first time.  I guess that is why I have taken to those children.  I want to be a mother, Father Ben, don’t misunderstand that one bit, but so far, God hasn’t found me fit to be one yet. Except to someone else's children. Not my own.”

Ben just looked at his empty hands as she whirled away from him to stand and look out the windows. Through those same windows, she could see her husband down by the corrals, head down. She touched the windowpane. As hurt as she, Ben saw him too. He turned to leave the room but at the doorway, stopped and without looking back at her said “You and Joseph have never been a disappointment to me,” and he closed the door softly behind him.

The next morning, the first day of school that spring, dawned bright with the air brisk and clean. It was with a start that Honor awoke to hear the school bell ringing out loud and clear. She hastily dressed and tore out of the room, nearly colliding with Joe as she headed for the door. She ran down the slope all the way, not stopping until she could see the front door of the schoolhouse. The last of the children were just going in as she reached the steps and took them two at a time.

There, to her amazement, at the blackboard stood Anne. As though it had happened everyday of her life, Anne took in the spectacle of her friend, chest heaving from exertion, hair completely awry, holding onto the sides of the doorway to remain standing, eyes wide with amazement.

“Is there something we can do for you, Mrs. Cartwright? We were about to say the Lord’s Prayer.” Her eyes, those same doe-like innocent eyes, blinked rapidly as she spoke.

Later that same day, Honor made it a point to go down at recess and speak with the teacher. “I thought that you weren’t going to teach now that you were an old married lady, Anne,” Honor said, biting into one of the many apples from the teacher’s desk. “What made you change your mind? I certainly hope that last night…”

“No,” Anne answered quickly to save her friend what she believed would have been embarrassment. “ When I woke up this morning, it was as if God had spoken to me, telling me that here I had this wonderful gift of being a teacher and that if I didn’t use it, it was denying Him. I thought that by doing what Society said was right I was doing what He thought was right. He told me that I was wrong to think the two, God and society, were the same. So I came back to teach.”

Chapter Six  Answers

The blossoms on the trees turned into leaves as spring turned into summer and the days lengthened. The new calves and foals frolicked in the greening grass. That early summer found the Cartwrights and their hands the busiest they had been in years, mending fences, chasing stock, cutting hay and an abundance of time honored chores that never seemed to get all done.  It wasn’t the hard work that tired the men out but the constancy of it.  To Candy and Jamie, it seemed that one thing after another cropped up that had to be finished. And when things really got behind, Ben found himself unhappily drafted as well to mend fences.  From sun up to after sundown, the work never seemed to let up and tempers began to wear a little more than thin.

The cattle had busted through a section of fencing that Candy and Jamie had repaired just the week before.  That put sixty head of prime breeding stock loose just when they shouldn’t have been.  It had taken five men three days to round them all up and get them back into a corral until their holding pasture fence could be repaired. Again.

“Why didn’t the fence hold?” Ben was roaring mad that morning and everyone knew it, especially Candy and Jamie who were sitting there at the breakfast table, studying their plates carefully. Candy's cup of coffee, shared every morning with his bosses, held his attention for some odd reason. Jamie, newly graduated from the University of the Pacific with a degree in agriculture, much to his father's delight, wondered when he would get to use some of  his hard earned education for something other than mending fences.

It was then that Joe came out of their bedroom. He crossed behind his father’s chair and took the plate Hop Sing was handing him. Setting it down on the table, he sat there at his father’s right hand, which had just pounded the table, making the silverware jump.

“Can you holler any louder?  I don’t think they heard you in town, Pa” was all he said. Ben just glared at his son, still red in the face.

Still mad, Ben raised his voice again, this time directed at his son. “Oh, did I wake you from your beauty sleep?”

Joe picked up his coffee cup and took a long drink, studying his father over the rim as he did so, gauging just how far he should go.  “No, but Honor said something about hers. She also said something I couldn’t quite understand.  She was kind of mumbling in her sleep. Something about if she couldn’t get a good nights sleep she was going to move to town.”

Eyes locked now on his handsome son, Ben pulled in his horns a bit. He wasn’t sure whether his leg was being pulled or not but the last thing he wanted was for Honor to leave this house and not come back.  Joe just continued to eat his breakfast, as if nothing was in the least bit upsetting by what he had said. Finally, Joe couldn’t not look at his father for the silence in the room was almost overpowering. It was then that Ben saw that unmistakable twinkle in those green eyes and knew Joe had gotten around him- again.

“All right,” Ben said softly but with enough force behind his words to get Candy and Jamie’s complete attention. “I will calm down and stop shouting but I want that fence fixed today.”

And just as he said “today”, Honor stepped into the room, leaned down and kissed her father-in-law’s cheek with a bright “Good morning. Did you sleep well, Father Ben?” as she took her place next to Joe.

“I’m sorry if my shouting disturbed you, Honor,” was Ben’s contrite answer to her.

Joe’s shoulders dropped, his head went back and his eyes closed. He slowly shook his head with a grimace on his face when her reply was “ Shouting? I didn’t hear any shouting.  Are you all right, Joe?”

“For a dead man, I am remarkably well, sweetheart,” was all he said before everyone at the table but her was laughing. Poor Honor had no idea what was going on but decided it was a “man thing”.

The men quickly finished their meal and coffee in better humor now.  Without even being prompted, Joe volunteered to fix the fence himself so Candy and Jamie could go chase any strays that may have eluded the other men.  That amounted to “ take the day off but make it look like you are working. Ride around, relax.  If you can get a hold of a fishing line without it being seen, go fishing but don’t catch anything. Maybe sneak into town if you dare but be back at nightfall.”  It was a time-honored tradition that Ben knew about but would turn a blind eye to if it were done right.  And over the years his younger sons had perfected it to an art form.

Just as they were prepared to leave the yard, a man on a sorry mule rode in.  Behind him on a long lead was one of their cows, not the breeding stock but an old cow beyond her prime.  And behind the cow was another mule bearing a young boy, barely old enough to ride.  Their clothes were little better than rags and the man’s slouch hat was far from new.

Ben stepped up to greet the man with an outstretched hand and a friendly “Howdy.”

The man slid from the mule and handed Ben the lead rope.  With his hat in his hand, the man introduced himself as Leroy Singer and that was one of his children,   Jesse.

“We found this cow over on our place and thought that she needed to come home.  We don’t want no trouble with our neighbors. You know thinkin' that we stole her, ner nuthin' like that.”

Ben was taken aback by the man’s honesty for in truth if he had found the cow at the man’s sad little farmhouse, he would have given it to the man. “Singer, you said your name was, right? You bought the Kelly place last fall, didn’t you?  As I recall, you have a whole passel of young'uns, don’t you?”

“Yes sir,” came his soft-spoken reply, “Jesse here is number six.  There is one after him and the missus is gonna have another one real soon.”

“Well, congratulations then Mr. Singer!  I tell you what, why don’t you keep that cow there? As I recall, she didn’t have a calf last spring so I think her breeding days are over but she may make a good meal or two for you and your family.” Ben tried to hand the lead back.

“No sir, I don’t take no charity from no one.  It's your cow; I just brought her back is all.  I don’t expect nuthin’” and threw a leg over his mule then turned the balky beast back the way they had come.

Ben and Candy just stood there watching, incredulous.

“Did you see how the eyes on that kid lit up when you said for them to take the cow home?  I bet they haven’t eaten anything like that in weeks, that kid looked so hungry,” Candy said, shaking his head.

“Sometimes a man can get too proud for his own good…or for the good of his children.  And he has seven children and another one on the way.  I tell you what, Candy, if you and Jamie don’t mind today, how about taking this sorry excuse back over that direction and when you are close enough, put the poor thing out of its misery.  Do some rough butchering on it and take some of it over to them.  Tell them that you can’t possibly get it all back here without it going to waste so if they want to help you haul it over to their place, they can have it all.  Don’t want it to lay out and attract wolves or the like, you know.”

“Good plan Mr. Cartwright.  I’ll snag Jamie before he gets his fishing …....”

“And then you two can finish rounding up any strays,” Ben finished for Candy as Candy realized the mistake he had just made.

Later that evening at supper, Jamie talked about the sorry plight of the Singer family that he and Candy had witnessed that afternoon.  But mostly, he spoke of the oldest of the offspring there, a daughter.

“I think Mrs. Singer said her name was Cathy.  She was trying to keep the other kids in line and not go hog wild over that meat. She can’t be but maybe seventeen or eighteen, Pa, but she looks as though the whole world is on her right now.  I mean, Mr. Singer is so ramrod straight and Mrs. Singer is just kind of overwhelmed by it all. She don’t look good at all.”

Ben listened to what Jamie had said, wondering if there was a way a man as proud as Leroy Singer would let someone help him. Probably not, but he thought he would think on it for a while.  Jamie said his good nights and went up the steps to bed.  Honor and Joe still sat on the sofa, but soon said good night as well as off in the distance there was heard a faint thundering.

“Good,” Joe said once the door to their room closed and Honor lit one of the lamps, turning it low. “The heat should break now.  Maybe we can get some sleep” he moaned as he pulled his shirttail from his waistband.

“Do you really want to sleep right now?” Honor came to stand in front of him and reached up and started undoing the buttons on the front of his shirt.

“Maybe not….” Sliding her hands up under the shirt and over his shoulders, he shrugged out of it and just let it fall to the floor. “But then it has been a long day-” yet with a gentle shove and a smile, she pushed him so he would fall across the bed, but he was too close and his feet stayed on the floor. Looking up at her standing over him now, he knew just how much he loved her and would show her but first…

Before he could complete the thought, she was leaning down towards him, running her hands up his thighs, across his stomach and on up across his chest, leaving a trail of sudden fire behind them. He could see the tops of her breasts now and her hair was spreading like a silken curtain around her shoulders. A low moan of pure animal pleasure escaped him, watching her.  With catlike grace she crawled up to straddle his hips, her long skirt pulled up high on her legs as she leaned down to kiss him, her hands still running over his chest and shoulders. He pulled her down hard to him and slid one arm around her to hold her while the other hand found the buttons at the front of her dress. Long years of practice came into play as he undid the buttons without her feeling a thing but his lips on hers that he raced down her neck.

As she pulled back, her dress top fell away. Looking down at her full breasts now exposed, all she said was “But you said you were tired…...” His hands went to those lovely golden globes as if they had minds of their own. Gently he massaged them until her nipples were standing hard to his touch. She leaned back to let him, an arch to her back that let her hair fall behind her now.  She could feel his solid thighs up behind her, cradling her, holding her and she leaned against them. Her hands continued to stroke his chest and stomach, loving the very feel of him.

 Finally, nudging her with his legs, Joe brought her down on top of him and he rolled her onto her back and began to kiss every part of her he could reach.

Just as he was about to take one of those nipples to his lips, there was a brief knock at the door. Without thinking, he shouted “What?” and heard the door open.

To say that Ben was embarrassed was an understatement.  Of course he had been a married man and knew that his son and Honor did the same things that married couples did but here it was staring him in the face.

Joe started to roll to his wife’s side, keeping his eyes glued to his red-faced father as Ben stood there mouth moving but no sound coming out, one hand on the door knob.  Then Joe decided that moving wouldn't be a good idea either, exposing Honor like that.

“Mr., uh, Singer, is, uh, here, uh. Honor. Says his, uh wife, uh, needs help,” Ben stammered out, finally

Honor reached down between them and grabbed the top of her dress and with a little nod, Joe rolled to his side, allowing her to sit up and pull herself together, quickly

Voicing a control she was actually long from feeling, Honor, buttoning like a mad woman called back over her shoulder, “Tell him I’m coming.” But Ben still stood there as if having taken root in his embarrassment. Honor, buttoned up now, brushed beyond him as he still stood with one hand on the doorknob.

Joe was still laying across the bed, one arm thrown over his face and breathing heavily, searching for control.  He wasn’t angry with his father, but annoyed, and truth be told, a bit embarrassed as well. Ben began to stammer an apology but wasn’t doing very well when Joe raised his hand to stop him. He just got up from the bed and, scooping up his shirt from where it had fallen, he shook it out in front of himself as he walked past his father, shrugged it back on.

“And you wonder why you have no grandchildren yet.”

Jamie had been awakened by the pounding on the front door and had gone to saddle Honor’s horse while Ben went to get her. Mr. Singer just stood there, hat in his hand until she came out into the main living area.

“You the doctor they talk about?” he asked.

Honor was pulling on her riding boots and looking for her bag so she didn’t see the sneer on his face as he asked. Standing straight, she smoothed her skirt down and pushed a stray lock of hair back from her cheek. There was her bag on the sideboard by the front door!

“Yes I am, Mr. Singer, so let’s go see about that wife of yours, shall we?” Without looking at him, she breezed by and out into the dark yard. Jamie had her horse ready for her and she mounted quickly, turning the gelding’s nose towards the road.

“Maybe I should come with you, Honor,” Jamie offered, more than a little anxiously.

“You and your brother can be so protective it gets in the way sometimes. Now go back in the house and go to bed. Doctor’s orders. Mr. Singer?” Why Honor was in a huff, Jamie didn’t know, but she and Mr. Singer were riding out of the yard by then.

Jamie, sorry to be left out of it, turned and headed back into the house scratching his head. Back in the living room, Joe was still trying to get his shirt tucked in.

“Where’s Honor?” he asked, more than a little perturbed by the turn of events this evening.

“She and Mr. Singer just rode out. I offered to ride with them but Honor said no.”

“God, I wish she wouldn’t do that!” Joe hissed, letting go with a long low groan as well. Then he rubbed both hands across his temples and down his jawline.

Jamie laughed as he slipped by his older brother. “You know, you look just like Pa when you do that,” he teased, skipping up the steps to bed.

Joe looked at the floor a long moment, trying to decide if he should saddle his horse and go after her or go back to bed.  He knew if he followed her, she may very well and good take his head off and hand it to him.  Still and all, he had a streak of protectiveness about his wife that was easily as wide as the Ponderosa, if not wider. His mind was all but made up when he felt his father’s hand on his shoulder.

“She’ll be fine,” Ben said softly. He had that same streak, the same inclination. “Come on, let's go to bed, son. Tomorrow is another long day.”

Joe just nodded. His father was most likely right, about Honor being all right and about tomorrow being a long day. “Yeah, you’re right Pa, but I think first thing tomorrow morning, I’m gonna fix the lock on our bedroom door.” With that characteristic twinkle in his eye, Joe patted his father’s back and headed off to bed.

But sleep wouldn’t come easily for Ben so after tossing and turning a good while, he got up and went downstairs to read. He was sitting there, an unread book open in his hands, lost in memories of yesterdays when he heard the door open. Half way into his reveries he expected to see Joe or Hoss come through the door after a wild night in Virginia City, trying to sneak in well past midnight. But it was Honor who came in quietly and set her things down on the credenza by the door.

“I would have thought you would've gone to bed by now. Are you feeling all right?” she queried softly. She came closer, looking at his face with concern in her blue eyes.

“I’m fine,” he said then added “now.”

She sat down on the sofa to pull off her boots. He could tell that something was bothering her because she would normally not lingered. Part of him fussed that he should apologize about earlier barging in on her and Joseph and he started to apologize. To his surprise, she just gave him a smile and a little laugh.

“Wish I could have seen your face too but the look on Joe’s was priceless when that door opened,” she chided and Ben felt a bit better by her attitude.

“How is Mrs. Singer?” Ben changed the subject.

“She should be all right,” she allowed but the feeling of concern still radiated from her. “But her baby didn’t make it. Baby boy, born dead.” Between the man and his daughter-in-law passed a wave of emotion that only those who have lost someone too early can feel. “Tell me something, Father Ben,” she said, pulling her feet up under her as she sat on the sofa and looking into the fire, not at him. “When you were married to your wives, were you ever mad enough to…hit them? I mean really hit them?”

Instantly, Ben was on his feet and towering over her, concern in his eyes. “Has Joseph…?” was all he could get out.  The mere thought of his son…

Honor looked up at him, a great sadness to her face. “Of course not.  You know as well as I do that he loves me. No, he never would hurt me. Not like that. No.” She reached up and touched her father-in-law’s clenched fist. “It's just that I know all men aren’t like him. Or you, for that matter.”

Ben settled his rage quickly then returned to his chair before answering. “No, I was never even tempted to.  A man doesn’t raise his hand to his wife.  Why are you…”

“But you punished your sons when they disobeyed you, didn’t you?”

“Of course I did.”

“But to the point where it left marks, bruises?” she questioned.  After all, she considered the size and musculature of her father-in-law compared to a child and realized that with a temper pushed past tolerance, it could happen.

“Never. Oh, I wanted to many a time, especially with that husband of yours when he was growing up.  He wasn’t the most obedient child ever put on God’s earth.  Sometimes I think if it hadn’t of been for Hoss and Adam, I would have never gotten him to adulthood.  But, no Honor, I may have sent them to bed without supper, or gave them the worst chores to do for a week but to physically harm one of my sons?  No. Why are you asking?”

“There at the Singers’ tonight, trying to help her, I kept finding bruises where there shouldn’t have been on her.  When I asked her about them, she just gave me all kinds of excuses. She bumped her knee on a chair. Walked into something else. But when I was settling her after the baby had been born, Cathy, the one Jamie is so taken with I think, I saw bruises on her arm that looked just like a man’s hand print.”

“Honor, please don’t go there alone again.  If that man is hitting his wife and punishing his children to that degree, I don’t want you in that sort of danger.”

“I won’t.” Ben breathed a sigh of relief when he heard a touch of underlying fear in her voice. “But I will need to go back and check on Mrs. Singer later today.  I told her that she needed to stay in bed for at least a week, she was so weak.”

“One of us will go with you.”

Honor stood and stretched, saying that she needed to get to bed. Ben thought that he would as well, now that she was home all right. On impulse, he put his massive arms around her shoulders and kissed her forehead.

“Thank you, Father Ben,” she whispered up to him, “For helping him grow into the man he is.”

“You are welcome.” He meant it.

Late the following morning, Honor arose and after breakfast, decided that she should ride over and check up on Mrs. Singer.  But she remembered that she had promised her father-in-law, and herself, that she wouldn’t go there alone and there was no one home but she and Hop Sing. The little Chinese cook said that the men were in a whole variety of places doing myriad jobs that morning from what he knew. She screwed her face around a bit and decided that what she needed was just to go find one of them to go with her.

She had her horse saddled and ready to go when she heard Jamie ride in.

“Hey Jamie! How about ride over with me to the Singer’s?" she called from the barn, trying to sound normal.

“Sure,” the young man answered, not even dismounting. “Pa said that you were going over today and I was kind of hoping to catch you before you did.” Honor saw his face light up with delight and smiled herself. Jamie often got lost in the family shuffle, Honor knew. He didn’t have the same links within the family structure that Joe did; being an adopted child often did that, even though now he was passed the rough and tumble years of being a kid.  Oh he knew that he was loved by the big bear of a man that he called 'pa', and he also felt as though he had earned the title of 'brother' from Joe as well. But there were still times when he knew that he was an outsider looking in at the two of them.  Honor had gone a long ways of helping him adjust to those feelings when he had returned from school awhile ago. She was an outsider as well, not born a Cartwright but with the Cartwright name. That, she explained, made them special, the fact that they had been chosen. Sure, the reasons were different for both of them, but the outcome was the same. Did Jamie feel any less loved when his father and older brother were discussing something that had happened when he wasn’t there? No, of course not. But sometimes the feeling of not being a true Cartwright bothered him and nothing anyone could do, or say, would change that. So the two of them had formed an unspoken bond and created for each other a support sometimes needed. Today, Honor wasn't sure if she needed the support or Jamie did. Either way, the outcome was the same: they would travel together.

At the Singer homestead, Honor was surprised to find Mrs. Singer, Emma she had said was her name last night, was up and about. She tried to order the gaunt woman back to bed.

“No, it’s okay now.  You see Leroy don’t care for no slackin’ about.  I’m fine,” was all she would say but Honor insisted on examing her anyway. Shooing Jamie out the door, Honor had closed it firmly behind her, putting Jamie into the yard to wait.

Jamie had seen Cathy coming up the little rise with a bucket of water and went down to help her. “That bucket seems almost as big as you,” he called out in a friendly way and gave her his best smile. He got one in return. She sure was a pretty thing, he thought, not for the first time since seeing her.  Her hair was a chestnut brown and her eyes were a hazel green. Today, there was a smudge of dirt across one cheek.  She wasn’t very tall, he noted to himself, wouldn’t come much above stirrup height to a good riding horse and she had a slender build to her. She was still growing into being a woman, he could see, but he didn’t care. He had seen lots of women and had followed his brother’s advice about dating them. Lord knows, until Joe had hit upon Honor, his big brother had trotted many of them by without being serious about them.  Jamie had been hot on his heels in that department, taught well the art of flirting by that same brother. Those were lessons not forgotten right then looking at the petite Singer girl.

“Your name is Jamie, right?” She acted as though she was checking her memory. She was pleased by his attention but wouldn’t let him see it right then. My goodness, she thought to herself, look at those red curls.  He is a right nice looking fella. Got a nice sound to his voice too and as his hand reached out to take the heavy water bucket from her, their hands touched for the first time.

“I’ll carry that for you.  Where were you headed with it?”

She bit her lip and gestured with her chin over towards where they had been doing some laundry.  Jamie headed that way, Cathy following, looking at his back and thinking nice shoulders on him. Slim in the flanks as well. Probably from hard work on that big ranch his Pa owns.

“Is she your Ma?  The doctor lady?” Cathy asked as Jamie poured the water into the waiting tub. She had noted that both had reddish hair.

“You mean Honor? No, she’s my brother’s wife, ” Jamie explained then snapped his fingers as if all of a sudden he'd had an idea. “Say, there’s a dance at the Ponderosa next Saturday night. Would you like to come? It would be lots of fun.” He'd been practicing the words for the entire ride over, just hoping for this sort of opportunity. Once he'd said them, he realized his timing was off and he silently berated himself for blundering when he had told himself the night before that he would be patient.

But her face fell. Jamie, who only knew he had blurted it out but not what he had said wrong, stood there, swallowing the pain in his throat.

“Don’t think so.  Even if Pa would let me, them other folks would look at me funny.” The hurt in her voice now made Jamie hurt as well. “I wouldn’t belong. I can’t dance.  I don’t got no fancy party clothes and all that stuff.”

“I don’t care about all that,” Jamie insisted and was hurt again because he could see that she was almost crying.  He just wanted to make her smile again.

“Well, you may not care but I do.  If I go to a dance with a handsome man, I want to make him proud of how I look too.” Jamie almost laughed because he could tell that she'd come close to stamping her foot.

A plan came to him right about then.  He knew just how to get just what he wanted. Yes, indeed! The lessons he had gleaned from Brother Joe were certainly coming in handy today. But just then Honor was coming out of the house. For some reason when he saw her looking at them over by the wash tubs, talking, she looked angry and he heard a short sharp sigh escaped her.

“Hey Honor!” Jamie called when she gestured towards the horses, obviously anxious to be away from this place. Mrs. Singer was expressing her thanks as Jamie and Cathy came over to the horses as well. “You know how you were saying just the other day how tough it was gonna be to get the house all fixed up for the party next Saturday?”

Honor was confused for she had made no such complaint.  Hop Sing ably took care of all of that but one look at Jamie’s eyes told her to go a long with him.

“Well, how about if we hire Cathy on to help you out?” Jamie continued, rattling on like Honor had never given the slightly bemused expression.

“Cathy is needed here,” came Leroy’s voice from the side of the house. No one had seen him walking up.  He laid his shotgun down along with the two rabbits he had shot earlier and came to stand behind Cathy, his big hands on the girl’s shoulders in a cruel clutch. Honor noted that Cathy flinched at her father’s touch and warning bells went off in her head.

“Well, Mr. Singer, I do need considerable help getting things ready. Your wife says that she is doing fine.  And I would be willing to pay for your daughter’s services.  Say two dollars a day? Five days, that would be ten dollars, Mr. Singer. Just what I am going to charge you for looking after your wife last night. That would make us even, sir.” Honor knew she had hit the right chord.  A man like Singer won’t want a debt to go unpaid and she knew he had no way of coming up with the ten dollars she was demanding. Still she was scared when she saw an ugly look come to his eyes. “What do you say?”

It took him a moment to come up with an excuse.  “That’s a long way to walk and I ain’t gonna give her my mule every day to ride over there and back.”

“She wouldn’t have to do that.  If you and Mrs. Singer agree, she can come and stay at the Ponderosa while she helps me. It would be better that way. We can get more work out of her for our money. We can bring her back next Sunday after she cleans up after the party.  And don’t worry, I will watch out for her, sir.”

Finally, Leroy’s common sense kicked in and he ordered his daughter to go get her things; she was being hired out. When she came back a few minutes later she had a pitiful little sack in her hands.  By the time Cathy returned with her pitiful sack of belongings,  Honor was screaming silently, mounted her horse and waiting with uncharacteristic impatience to get away from that snake of a man. Jamie sensed it but couldn’t understand it. He wisely stayed quiet, though.

With Cathy up behind her, they rode away.  Jamie saw that the sprite of a girl didn’t look back. Not even once.

Back at the ranch house, Cathy expected to be put to work right away but was surprised when Honor pointed her towards the bathhouse instead. “Bath first, then some clean clothes, then some lunch. Then maybe some house work,” the older woman had insisted.

Cathy, bare feet shuffling on the planking of the bath house floor, bit her lip.

“I don’t have another dress, ma’am. Just this one.”

Honor took Cathy’s face in her hands and tipped it up gently so she could look into her eyes. “I know you don’t; I do.  I know a lot of things, Cathy, that you may not think I know. Like what happened to your ma yesterday, and why that baby was born dead. Why you have bruises on your arms,” Honor saw a look of pure terror go through the girl. “No,” she said quietly, “He won’t come here and hurt you. We’ll see to that, my family and I. But you have to promise me something.” She paused waiting for the girl to nod her head that she understood everything. “You have to promise me that if anyone, and I do mean anyone, lifts a hand to hurt you again like that, you will come and find me.” There was such intensity to the way she said those words that Cathy had no choice but to believe in her.  This woman had such a powerful way about her that it half frightened the girl but, in her heart of hearts, this was what she had hoped to become someday. She could never see this woman taking the kind of beatings her father had been giving her and her mother all those years.

Tears began streaming down Cathy’s dirty face and Honor’s heart broke for the young one. She had only been guessing about some of it but from the looks of it, she had been right. The more she studied the slightly built girl, the more she herself wanted to do damage to the brute that had hurt her. Serious damage.

It was pushing sundown when the men rode into the yard together.  Cathy and Honor had been working on cutting down one of Honor’s dresses when they heard the horses. Putting it down was no problem for Honor. She hated to sew and as such didn’t do such a good job of it.  Cathy on the other hand, enjoyed the feeling of the fine fabric and was doing a better job. Funny, Cathy had thought, you’d think someone who sewed people up could do a better job on cloth . Upon hearing the horses in the yard though, both women got up and went out onto the porch.

If the house had been a delight to Cathy’s eyes what she saw then truly overwhelmed her.  Here was a big man, bigger than her father, stepping down off a big buckskin. And there was the man who had brought them that side of beef the other day that had tasted so good. He had a woman up behind him that Honor greeted, calling her Anne. They were all laughing at something the other man on the prancing pinto had said. Cathy knew without being told that this man was Honor’s husband. When he came over to Honor, he grabbed her around the waist and, picking her off the ground, whirled her about. Unlike when her father did that to her ma, Cathy could see that there no malice in it.

Honor, shrieking to be put down got what she wanted as Joe put her back on her feet. Then she turned serious.

“Joe, Father Ben, can we talk a moment?”

The other woman came towards Cathy and introduced herself as Anne Canady. She was Candy’s wife, she explained then softly said. “Let’s go on inside.  I think my friend has some explaining to do.”

When Anne had Cathy in the house, Honor turned back to face her husband and father-in-law.  She quickly outlined what she had done. And why. She had even called Leroy Singer a snake.

“Yeah,” Joe said, anger creeping into the word, “ he’s a snake all right and now you may very well have gone and taken a stick to that snake and made him mad.”

“I couldn’t get Emma to leave so I did the best I could and got that girl out of there.  Joe, if you had seen the fear in her eyes when her father touched her!”

“Say no more, Honor,” Ben said. “We understand what you did.  What we have to do now is make Leroy Singer understand what he did. And that may not be so easy.”

Truer and more prophetic words were seldom spoken.

By Saturday, Honor and Anne had transformed Cathy Singer from a frightened girl into a blossoming young woman.  It wasn't the clothes or the shoes that had done it. Nor the bath or the hair fussing but the easy confidence that the two older women had given her that made the biggest difference. That and the fact that for once in her life she saw a family that truly respected one another. Out of love for one another, not fear.  She came to understand that this love was available for anyone from this big man Ben Cartwright, not just his son Joseph. She learned that Jamie had been adopted into the family years before and was treated very much an equal. That even though Candy and Anne were not Cartwrights, they were still considered to be part of the family. That Honor was held in a special place by all of them, Ben included. Honor, encouraging her into womanhood in so many small ways, who had vowed protection from a force bigger than what Cathy could explain to her. She caught herself trying to find a way to tell the woman how afraid she was and not just for herself any longer.

As the lanterns were lit to illuminate the yard area for dancing outside as well as in, Cathy thought the whole house and yard took on a fairytale atmosphere and here she was, some princess in the story.  Little did she realize that Jamie was looking at her in just that same way. By now, he was thoroughly in love with the little waif of a woman.  Her hair now shone a brilliant chestnut as it hung in long waves down her back. Anne and Honor had purposely picked a rich green colored dress to bring out the color in her eyes.  The two women knew just what was happening and had agreed that it just might be a good thing, this young love. That and there was nothing like young love to bring spark to their own married lives.

“Dost thee feel like a matchmaker sometimes, Honor Cartwright?” Anne asked her, watching as Jamie danced with Cathy that first time.

“No, not really. I’m a doctor, remember? I fix things.”

“I don’t recall Candy being 'broken' when I first came. Just look what thee did with me and Candy.”

Honor gave her a level look. “Maybe you were both broken but didn’t know it.” She patted Anne's arm then went in search of her own husband.

By the end of the party, Cathy knew she didn’t want to leave here. Ever. She would do whatever she had to in order to stay within the boundaries of the love she felt, not just for Honor but now with a creeping awareness, for Jamie was well. But Sunday she was supposed to go home to her father. That, she feared justifiably, would end her relationship with any and all of these people. She was surprised then when Jamie asked her to go for a ride with him, instead of helping to clean up from the party the night before. The fact that he even had a picnic basket with him helped sway her decision.

“But I am supposed to go home today,” she said sadly but he had insisted, saying that that was going to be taken care of. In response, he pleaded and she relented.

The older Cartwrights and Hop Sing were making a good headway in the clean up when Candy rode back to the house in a hurry.  The fence had broken and those blasted cows were out again. Quickly, Ben and Joe went to their horses and rode out, leaving Honor and Hop Sing just standing there looking at one another.

“Now are they chasing cows or just getting away from real work?” she asked Hop Sing before getting on with the job at hand.

When Jamie and Cathy returned, the whole place was cleaned up and Hop Sing was making supper in the kitchen. Picking at some of the cold roast chicken on the kitchen counter, Jamie asked where everyone was.

“Mr. Ben and Joe go chase down cows that get out again, looking for bull. Missy Honor sleeping.  She very mad.  Missy Cathy’s father come to take her home but Missy Honor tell him that she no go. She stay here.  Father very upset but he leave. You stay, yes, Missy Cathy? You good help in kitchen.” By the time he had finished, the little celestial was fairly beaming with delight.

She and Jamie had discussed that same thing that very afternoon. Cathy didn’t want to leave but thought that perhaps if she did go home she could reason with her father and he would let her come back, supposedly to work there.  That way she and Jamie could see more of one another without bringing on any more of her father's wrath.

Hop Sing made his speech again when not long after Jamie and Cathy returned so did Ben and Joe. But this time the reception it got wasn’t the same as the first time. He saw Joe’s eyes flinch as he told of Honor standing up to Leroy Singer.

 “She’s taken a bigger stick to that snake again,” Joe said and Ben agreed.  “I’ll go have a talk with her.” Before he could move there was a shout from the yard and no one needed to be told that it was Leroy Singer.

“Hey! Cartwight!” it boomed again

Looking quickly at one another, the three men went out, Cathy trailing, hanging back, afraid because she alone could recognize the cold anger in her father’s voice. As they came to a stop on the porch, Joe put his body in front of Cathy’s but she could still see her father.

“I want my daughter back, Cartwright!” he shouted from the back of his mule.

Ben moved a step ahead, going to try and reason with him if possible. “She isn't finished here. Besides, what if she doesn’t want to go home with you right now?”

Singer repeated his demand.

“Well right now I am afraid that I won’t allow that. I don’t think that you’re in any fit mood-” but Ben never finished his sentence.

“I want her back!  Knew you would try this, you high and mighty Cartwrights.  So I’ll make you a trade.  My daughter that you took for what I took this afternoon.”

He threw something small at Joe.

Joe caught it just before it hit his chest and knew instinctively what it was without even looking at it. His fingers went white as he held his fist tight. It had been a long time since Ben had seen such blatant and dark anger on his son’s face and he had no idea why it would be there so evident.

“You stinking son of a bitch.” Ben heard Joe roar as he lunged past his father. Ben could see the shot gun that Singer had held alongside the mule’s neck and

grabbed at his son. He was afraid that Singer would shoot just for the Hell of it. But Singer just sneered and laughed as Ben fought to hold his son back, nearly in vain.

“Joseph,” he shouted but understood when all Joe did was hold up what he had caught. In his trembling fingers, Ben recognized Honor’s wedding ring.

“Tomorrow at noon, I’ll give you yours if you give me mine. I’ll be waiting down at the fork in the road leading to my place.  Don’t be late or yours might not be in the same shape she was when she left ya. She’s a mighty pretty woman…now," Singer snarled and turned his mule around.

 “Singer,” Joe shouted and the mule paused, “You hurt her in any way and I promise you that I will chase you through the gates of Hell.”

The man nudged the mule and rode on. Ben used every ounce of strength he had to control his son and keep him from going after the man on the mule.

“But he wouldn’t have taken her home, Mr. Cartwright.  Ma would have sent one of the boys sneaking down here to tell you. My ma is a good woman. Sure, she can’t deal with Pa sometimes when he gets into a black mood but she wouldn’t want no harm to come to Honor,” Cathy sobbed as Anne tried to soothe her. At first she had told the Cartwrights that she would return to her father so her father would let Honor go. She herself didn’t really believe it but wanted to with all her heart. She also knew that without a doubt Joe and Mr. Cartwright would kill her father right then and there if they found Honor had been hurt and she said so to Anne.

“We have to be able to get her back without getting anyone hurt in the process,” Anne softly told her. “But right now, Cathy, let the men do the talking and the planning they need to do. Men don’t go about fixing things the way we women do.  Thee saw what Joseph would have done if Mr. Cartwright hadn’t held him back. And believe me, it hurt Mr. Ben to have to do that. Honor is special to him too but in a different way. Now thee knows that as a Friend, I do not believe in violence and hurting people. But I too feel an anger within my soul for what thy father has done, not just to Honor, but to these other people as well. But most of all, I feel anger for what he has done to thee and thy mother. And I am praying that God will see to it that all this can be resolved without any more hurt coming to us all.”

So Cathy had listened to the planning in silence but making her own as she did. In the middle of the night while they thought she was sleeping, Cathy slipped away from the mainhouse. No one saw her leave. As she stood on the side of the slope behind the house and looked down at the lights there, she knew that she had to go. Anne had been right: that the only way to stop anyone from hurting any more was for her to put a stop to it herself. So she had slipped out the back door.

Just before daybreak, she came to the glen where she knew intuitively her father would be.  He had dragged her down there many times, at first to slap her around for whatever slight disrespect he imagined she had given him.  Then later, with her mother pregnant again, to use her to, as he said, “to teach her to satisfy a man’s needs." He had been very cold and uncaring as he had used her time and again. Recently he had taken to doing it several times a week, not caring that it was his own daughter. When she threatened to tell her mother, he simply backhanded her hard enough that she fell. He had stood over her and laughed. She tried to hide from him after that but he kept finding her.  Yes, she knew where she would find her father and Honor Cartwright. Just as the light was breaking through the trees, she saw that she was right.

Honor was on her knees, her eyes wild as she watched the man before her.  His eyes were glassy as if he was drunk but the only thing he was drunk on was power. Several times in the night, he had come upon her and used his fists on her. At first she had tried to fight back and get away but the man was bigger and stronger than she was.  Even so, she fought and scratched at him until he tired of it. Then he just simply tied her hands behind her back and gagged her.

“Gone take some of the fun out of it for me,” he said as he wrapped the filthy bandana around her mouth, pulling it cruelly taut. “I usually like my women to scream some.  Your man like that too, does he?  Naw, didn’t think so. Seen him around. He’s soft. Ain’t no way for a man to deal with a woman. Guess that means you ain’t never been with a real man then, don’t it?” As he carried on his monologue, used his knife to slit her blouse open down the front. “I’ll fix that problem for ye cause I know how.”

It was the same horror back in front of Honor. The two men who had hated what she did so much that they had--no, this was different. This was just a hate of all things female that this man had. Her fear of such unexplained hate paralyzed her.

Cathy stood back in the shadows and watched and listened to her father.  In her mind’s eye, she saw him doing the same to her as he had in the past, but this time there seemed to be a difference. There would be no other way to deal with the situation. She couldn’t let her father do again what he had done to her. But she remembered the strength of her father as he had held her down. How?….

Then she saw his shotgun just a little ways off to his left, leaning against a tree. He wasn’t paying attention but she knew he would see her if she moved around too much. Reaching down, and never letting her eyes off him, she felt around until she found a rock.  It had some heft to it and she judged that it would just right. She let it fly and it struck him hard full in the chest with enough force that it knocked him backwards and he fell heavily. Cathy was up and running full speed before the rock even hit home. She ran straight for the shotgun and grabbed it a split second before he would have.

When he saw who it was, he grinned evilly and said “Now give me that gun, child.  You ain’t never used it and might hurt yourself.” What he said was true but right then and there she didn’t care. All that she knew was that she was going to make it stop for her, for her mother, for Honor and any other woman her father ever touched. As he took a step towards her, she pulled both triggers at once.

And Leroy Singer would hurt no one again

Until the day she died, Honor Cartwright would remember the look on Cathy’s face as her father had fallen face first into the dirt at her feet, half of his chest blown away by the shotgun blast. Even though she had just brutally killed her own father Cathy was not crying.

Chapter Seven  Desires Fulfilled

The days had turned hot early that spring and everyone and everything seemed to suffer.  One morning, it was so hot that the men called work early.  It was too hot for the horses, much less them. When Joe went back to the house, he found Honor still lying in bed. It wasn’t unusual, as he felt she was still not fully recuperated from the beating Leroy Singer had given her. What did appall him was the fact that she was so pale.

His hand on her forehead awoke her and she saw the fear in his eyes. “No fever,” he said but was not relieved one iota.

“Go on with your diagnosis, doctor,” she teased and he took her to be all right, even though she was so very pale.

“Hmm. No visible wounds so we can rule out shooting, stabbing and the like.” He tried his best to look serious as he lifted the sheet and looked down the length of her, liking what he saw, his brows wiggling.

“Keep going.” She smacked the sheet down across her.

“Okay,” he said, getting into the game with her, “ you haven’t been feeling poorly lately have you, miss?”

“Only just recently, doctor, and it is missus.”

Joe didn’t know just exactly what to say next. She obviously wasn’t feeling too bad if she could tease with him like this.  He just spread his hands and gave her an imploring look. “You could help me out here. After all, I am not a doctor, you know.”

Rising up from the bed, Honor locked her hands behind his neck and smiled at him. “No,” she reminded him, leaning into him, “But you are going to be a father."

Ben and Candy heard the hollering all the way down by the corrals. Ben didn’t need to be told as he had seen that lately, Honor had been having a little trouble looking at breakfast.  Joe hadn’t see it as he was usually up and gone before her. Candy gave him a quizzical look, but told what was suspected, Candy scratched his chin, closed one eye and squinted as his employer.

“Think you could give Anne the same talkin’ to that you gave Honor?” As much as he denied it, Ben could never convince Candy, or anyone else for that matter, that he had said nothing of import to cause this chain of events.

If the men of the Ponderosa had thought that Honor was beautiful before, now they thought her magnificent. As her pregnancy thickened her waist and bustline, it softened her features and she positively glowed. By fall, she no longer rode astride but conceded to their wishes and drove everywhere on her rounds.  Her elegant strawberry roan gelding was put to pasture and replaced with a handsome black carriage horse and gleaming harness.  She stood her ground though when it came to her continuing to practice medicine.

“My being pregnant doesn’t stop me from knowing what I know.  I will continue practicing medicine until I decide to stop. And we will not have this discussion again!” That was that. Ben knew that down the road a piece, Honor would have to at least slow up. Or at least he hoped she would.

Chapter Eight   Finding the Truth

Jamie had gone and gotten the mail from town that morning.  In with the normal pile of letters and notices was a letter addressed to Dr. Honor Whitaker. Honor was down resting when Ben took it to her. Not wanting to wake her, he simply left it on her nightstand and tiptoed back out of the room. He was completely lost in a letter from an old friend when an hour later, she into the living room. She was so pale that at first Ben was afraid something was wrong with her or the baby.

“No,” she said hoarsely and Ben saw that she had been crying. “No, I’m fine. But I need to take a trip, Father Ben, to San Francisco. Alone.”

Ben had always loved the way she called him “Father Ben” but now it sent a shiver down his spine. “I don’t think in your condition that would be a good idea. San Francisco is quite a ways, remember? What ever you need, we can have-”

She cut him short when she said, “I need to go. My mother is dying. I need to go to her. Alone.”

“But I am sure Joe-” he started again but again Honor cut him short.

“He never met my mother and I don’t think now would be a good time to do so. Please help me,” she whispered yet she wasn’t pleading.

“I don’t believe I ever heard you even speak of your parents, Honor.”

“I’ve had my reasons. Now excuse me. I need to go and pack. Would you have my buggy..” And before she could finish, Ben was towering over her.

“Not until you explain all this to me.  I will not see you endanger yourself or my grandchild. So you need to tell me just what is going on.”

With those clear blue eyes brimming with tears, she told him “You may not like what you hear.  It may well change what you have always thought of me, Father Ben.”

“Let me judge that. Now?” He raised his brows as he held her arm.

“Like I said, I had my reasons for never talking about my past, my parents.  Well, parent.  I never knew who my father really was.  You are what I ever envisioned a father being to me.  But I did know my mother. I actually grew up in Sacramento, not that far from here really.  My mother was a madam of one of the whorehouses there.  My father was like as not some drifter who had the two bits required for a dance.  By the time I was old enough to know how to tie a bow, Rose- my mother would never let me call her 'mother'-owned both houses and was buying another in San Francisco.  She’s an astute businesswoman, apparently.  Last I heard, she owned three in ‘Frisco and controlling ownership of one in Philadelphia! At any rate, she sent me to boarding school in Boston when I was old enough.  She had me tell people that I was from a rich Southern family who had gone to Europe to avoid the War. I halfway wanted to believe it myself. Anyway, she even supported my learning medicine. Jokingly said that a good whorehouse needed a doctor in their hip pocket all the time. I thought that perhaps if I came back we could have a relationship, you know a real mother and daughter one. That afternoon that you met me, I had cried all the way here from Sacramento.  Rose wanted no relationship. So I came on to Virginia City to practice medicine and put Rose and all she stood for behind me.  But a piece of me was afraid that if someone found out the truth, I would be run out of town.  I didn’t count on falling in love with your son. And I knew that if he found out, he might not love me back. After all, he was from a wealthy family, one socially accepted. Tell me truthfully - how would you feel about your only son seeing the daughter of a whore?” When she finished, she hung her head.

Honor felt a familiar hand on her shoulder and Joe, his voice softened with years of loving this woman, whispered into her ear. “As long as I love you and you love me, it doesn’t matter. Are you going to tell Pa the rest of it?”

“Maybe you should.”

Ben waited a long moment watching emotions play across their faces. He had seen them like this before. The rest of the world didn’t exist right then and there. There were no words that needed to be spoken between them for them to understand one another. Finally, Joe wordlessly nodded and taking Honor, sat on the sofa, facing his father, letting her lean against him. Ben had seen then sit like this for hours at a time, staring into the flames, lost in a world of love all of their own making.

“You remember that first Christmas when Honor got sick. Well, the gossips were right. She did have a miscarriage.  I didn’t know when she left just exactly where she was going but I knew I had to get her back so I hired a Pinkerton to follow her. That was how I found out that she was already married.”

Ben’s heart plummeted.  For some reason he had always thought that he had brought his sons up morally right and here was Joseph telling him that the lessons hadn’t hit home. That he had taken a woman to bed without the benefit of matrimony, much less considered the fact that she was another man’s wife. His blood roared in his ears and it was with a great deal of effort that he remained silent as his son continued.

“When they told me that she was married, I couldn’t let it go at that. I loved her.  I had them check up on him. Seems he was a lawyer, living in Monterey. And that he had left Honor back in Philadelphia, told her he would send for her when he struck it rich in the gold fields. He never did either one. In fact, he had a whole new wife and family. Before I went to bring Honor home, I made a detour to Monterey.  Sought out her husband. When her husband found out who I was and what I wanted from him, we made a deal.  I gave him ten thousand dollars and he gave Honor a divorce decree, no questions asked, nor answered.  And I brought Honor home, determined to go ahead and marry her right then and there. She had other ideas, though.  She said she didn’t want all of Virginia City knowing about the divorce and all and if we had a big wedding like I wanted that someone was bound to find out. So..”

“That quick fall trip to Sacramento.” Ben finished for Joe and watched as he nodded. “Is there anything the harridans in town weren’t right about?” Honor shook her head. “But Judge Snyder said he married you two that Christmas Eve.”

“Honor's first marriage wasn't legally over with until the following spring. I had lied to her in Sacramento when I told her it was over and done with, just so she would marry me then. But she found out." Joe smiled crookedly at her and hugged her to his side briefly. As Ben watched, she returned the smile when Joe continued. "So we got married twice. I would marry her all over again, today, tomorrow.”

“But then, just before Christmas, Judge Snyder married us since Nevada's waiting time is shorter, we found out. And because I was pregnant again. I wanted it to appear that we had just gone ahead and done it on the spur of the moment.  And, no, Joe didn’t know I was pregnant. I guess you never thought to count the months, did you, Father Ben? When I was attacked…” Ben nodded but had to admit that he never had, just had assumed as did everyone else, Joe included, that the pregnancy was the result of their wedding night. “And now I tell you about my sordid past what you must think of your daughter-in-law now?”

By now Ben’s emotions were beyond explanation. He was angry that he had been obviously lied to in the past.  He was distraught that the moral and upright son he thought he had raised wasn’t. That Honor, beautiful, elegant, gracious Honor wasn’t what she had appeared to be at all. He looked at them sitting there across from him, his son’s arm about her shoulders as he was whispering something to her. All of a sudden, all that in the past didn’t matter. It was past and what did matter was that they still loved one another and had from the beginning.  Anything that they had done had been done because they loved each other and the fact that they hadn’t been honest with him about their actions was of no consequence.

Ben got up and went and poured a glass of claret. It went down in one gulp and he poured another for himself before he turned to his two adult children.

“Can you forgive me, Pa?” Joe asked, coming and pouring his own glass full. “I know it didn’t happen the way you would have wanted it to but the results are still the same.”

Ben straightened his shoulders and looking Joe in the eye said “I will not forgive you for lying to me for all these years.  Or you either, Honor, for lying to your husband. And me, for that matter about your past. But it is that, past.  What I will forgive both of you for is having feet of clay….if you will forgive me for being an old man who sometimes listens with his head instead of his heart. Now let’s talk about how we can get you to your mother before it is too late.”

In the end, Joe went with her.  He was rather blunt with her when he told her that he didn’t care what his mother-in-law did for a living. All he cared about was seeing that his pregnant wife was taken care of and he had the most practice at doing that.

Chapter Nine  For Yesterdays Lost

San Francisco was now a thriving metropolis, boasting restaurants, hotels and sights beyond belief.  There in the Bay they saw ships, their masts standing tall, even one that was a steam-driven ship, wonder upon wonders. Honor was surprised that her husband wasn’t overcome by all the noise and bustle. She had assumed somewhere along the way that he just wasn’t as worldly as she. But he handled himself with his typical grace and poise. They checked into the Carlton Hotel, a rich place if there ever were one, and Honor, now truly exhausted from it all, went to bed and fell asleep directly. Joe went out.

Down in the center of town, he went to visit an old friend that he hadn’t seen for years.  At the door, he told the butler, who recognized him immediately, that he knew she wasn’t well but hoped that she would see him anyway. The butler left him in the ornate foyer for a moment and, upon returning, said he would show him in.

“Been a long time since you were here last, sir.  I trust that all is well for you.”

“Things have been very well, thank you, Daniel. Very well indeed.”

Daniel showed Joe into a large bedroom, all done in white and gold.  It was crowded with fancy furnishings, flowers and the like and it was a bit overpowering.  In the huge four posted bed, lay an older woman, blonde hair now gone gray but the eyes were still blue and even though she wheezed when she tried to breathe, she called his name with joy.

 “My, my!  Joseph Cartwright, you have become a very dashing man. Why if I weren’t in the shape I am in, I would delight you to a night like you haven’t had in God knows how long! Hell’s bells, I might just do it anyway and die a happy woman.”

Joe chuckled, took the woman’s thin hand in his and kissed it. “Now you can’t be talking to me like that,” he teased but sat on the bed and still held her hand, bringing out all his courtly charm to shower upon her.

“Well, I may not be able to, uh, shall we say delight you but I am sure I have a young lady or two who would absolutely claw one another’s eyes out just to see to a handsome buck’s needs.”

“No, I’m a married man now.  With a baby on the way to boot. I didn’t come here for that.”

“Not this time, huh?  Does she treat you well, this wife of yours?  Well, she must since you, you randy devil, haven’t been down here to see me in oh so long. And I bet she is gorgeous.”

“Yes, Momma Rose, she is.  In fact, looking at you now I know why I love her.  Because when I was just a lad, still wet behind the ears, my brother Adam brought me to a madam for my first taste of love. And you know a young man remembers his first love all his life. Yes, I know why I love her so much….she is your daughter, isn’t she?”

Rose’s face fell a bit. “Yes,” she whispered now. “She is my Honor. I’ve kept track of the goings on up the mountain, you know.  Know that she has done things, some people might say good things. Others don’t see it that way, I know. But I want to hear from you about her.   Tell me about my daughter.”

And through the long afternoon, Joe sat on the side of an old madam’s bed and told her about the woman he loved. How she tested him daily, how she would tease him and how she would love him. And how he loved her. Several times, Rose had a coughing fit and Joe would say that he should leave but she insisted that he stay and talk to her.

 Finally, late afternoon rays were slanting into the room.

“I have to go back to the hotel, Rose. Honor's probably awake by now and wanting to know where I got off to.  And I am sure the last thing she wants to hear is that I have been in a lady’s boudoir all afternoon long.”

Rose chuckled a bit. If the truth were to be told, she was sure this man had spent many an afternoon in some woman’s bed, be it his wife’s or someone else’s.  She was rather proud of the man he had become over the years and her earlier teasings were only half teasings. He was known among her girls in the past as a tender and consummate lover and she would have welcomed him to her had her health allowed it.

“Will you be bringing her back here yourself?  I do want to see her, you know.  Try to make up for being the mother I wasn’t for all those years…” Joe promised that he would see to it that Honor came to see her first thing tomorrow morning.

“And don’t worry, Joseph, I won’t tell her that I was your first love all those years ago. A wife always wants to believe that she was the first, you know.”

Joe kissed her hand again, then thought again and leaned down and kissed the older woman’s lips with all the same intense passion he ever kissed his own wife with.

 She deserved it, he thought. No, a man never forgets his first taste of a woman's love.

The next morning, Honor dressed in the absolute finest she could find and afford. Considering that it was San Francisco and that her husband had money, it was plenty and she felt oddly conspicuous about it. She was showing her pregnancy well now and no longer trying to fight the expansion of her figure. Instead, she had decided to delight herself and her husband with it. That morning, they had both felt the baby move for the first time and Joe was in absolute awe of the whole process. But, Honor knew the real reason why she was taking such care with her dress this morning.  She had to show her mother what she was like. Indeed, that she had become everything her mother had wanted her to become.

To their horror when they arrived at Rose’s, Daniel was draping the front door in black bunting.  Honor collapsed in tears into Joe’s arms and never saw the wordless expression pass between Daniel and Joe.

The funeral was a grand one for Rose had known many an influential person in the State. The audience for her service was filled with not only politicians, but also lawyers, bankers, merchants, wealthy ranchers from all over California, businessmen from all walks of life. And there were the little people she had known as well: the milkman who always was paid too much for his wares because she knew he had a large family; the two sisters who made the clothes for the old madam and her girls; the liquor man who when he delivered always had one with her. And the list went on and on.  Why even the saloons and gaming houses all closed so everyone could attend Rose’s funeral. And in amongst all those people, important and not so important were Honor and Joe, lost in the crowd.

Three days after the funeral, they presented themselves at Rose’s attorney’s office for the reading of the grand old madam's Last Will and Testament. They were alone with Mr. Tatum who had known Honor when she was a little girl and was surprised that she was here now.

“Can we just get this over?” she insisted.

“Well,” Mr. Tatum ahemmed loudly, then opening the folder and adjusting his glasses” I, Rose Kemper, being in sound mind, etc etc.” then he stopped reading and looked at Honor directly. “You must understand that when she wrote this many years ago, you were still back east.  You had married Thaddeus and she wasn’t very happy about it, you know.”

“Keep reading, Mr. Tatum” Honor hissed.

“All right, all right…being in sound mind etc etc I leave all my worldly goods…” and he stopped again. “Mrs. Cartwright, you must understand about your mother’s disposition at the time she wrote this.”

“Read!” Joe nearly shouted at the little man.

“ ‘I leave all my worldly goods to the people who have earned them: my current girls and the bouncer in each house shall receive the business and all the material goods therein. With the exception of one item which I leave to my daughter.  I leave my daughter the one piece of jewelry she never thought I owned.’” At which point, Mr. Tatum took from his desk drawer a small velvet box and handed it to Honor.  With a fearful glance at Joe, she opened it.  There, nestled in the black velvet was a plain gold wedding band, obviously worn. Inside was the faint inscription  “D.K. to R.K. Sept 9, 1846.”

“I was born 11 months later.” Honor whispered through her tears and taking it from the little box, slipped it on her own finger, right next to the wedding band Joe had given her years before. "I never thought she married my father."

Chapter Ten:  Full Circle

It had been a long time since he had been home. He wasn’t even counting the months but the years it had been and he had no idea why he was returning now.  He just was. Getting off the train in Virginia City, he was surprised to see how much the town had grown. The fact that it now had rail service was a part of that growth.  When he had last been there, only the stage or a good horse could get you out of town. But what surprised him more than anything else was the fact that as he walked down the main street of the town he had come of age in all those years ago, no one recognized him nor he anyone else.

He rented a horse at the livery stable and the owner asked him where he was headed. To say “home” was on his lips but he wasn’t sure about that. Instead he just told the liveryman that he was headed to the Ponderosa Ranch and waved away any suggestion as to how to get there. He probably knew the way better than the other man.

Now riding out in the clean mountain air, he felt a little foolish about his trepidations. He decided that even though his clothes now marked him for an Easterner, this was still home to him, these mountains and open spaces.  As he rode along, in the distance he heard cattle bawling and even heard the neigh of a horse.  He wanted to push the rented horse a bit, anxious now to complete his journey but resisted the impulse. It had been a long time since he had ridden horseback and even now knew that tomorrow he would be paying for this one. He had decided though to take the short cut up the back slope of the hills. This would lead him across a small meadow, crossing the little river there and into the back of the sprawling Ponderosa ranch house.

As he came down the slope, off to his immediate right he heard water splashing and the high pitched yelps of what sounded like several women down at the river. Curious, he thought to himself and decided a slight detour would be in order to investigate.

What he saw did surprise him. There in the middle of the river were three women all right, but they were in no harm that he could see, and he could see plenty from that vantagepoint. He sat the horse and watched them, thinking they were like three nymphs come down from Mount Olympus.

The one he paid closest attention to was a long limbed auburn haired beauty with full and graceful lines to her back.  She and the smaller of the brunettes seemed to be teaching the other to swim. Funny, he thought, he had taught his youngest brother to swim right there too.

Down in the river, Honor, Cathy and Anne were enjoying themselves that afternoon. Clad only in their chemises and pantaloons, they had been lolling about in the cool water for the better part of the afternoon, getting away from the summer’s heat. They had been doing their best to teach Anne how to swim and were having little luck, but more because they were having so much fun than any ineptitude on anyone's part. Suddenly though, Cathy had lost all interest in the play.

“Honor, someone is watching us. He’s up there," she hissed and gestured with her chin. The auburn haired Honor resisted the urge to turn around and look for herself.

“Recognize the horse?” she asked and when she heard “no” decided that they needed to be very cool and calm about it all. “I think we need to teach whoever this is a lesson about being a peeping tom, ladies. Game?” She quickly sketched out her plan to the other two younger women. “Now go.”

He watched as the two brunettes left the river slowly, heading away from him and going into the deepest shadows.  That left the willowy one all alone in the water and she lazily laid back in the water. His attention was drawn to her like metal filings to a magnet.  To say that she was beautiful, he decided, was an understatement. What struck him most was that although she was obviously pregnant, she was still graceful and lithe as she moved in the clear water, coming towards him now.  At the rivers’ edge, facing him not a hundred yards away, he could plainly see every detail of her through the wet white cotton fabric and it nearly took his breath away. Very slowly and deliberately, she raised her arms and pulled her long hair back, looking off to her left. It was almost, he thought, as though she knew he was there and was tantalizing him. Like flute music to a cobra, ran through his thoughts but he couldn’t tear his eyes away from her.

He heard a slight rustling in the grass but paid no attention to it. When the rock clipped his head, the last clear conscious thought he had was that he shouldn’t have been where he was, then he simply fell heavily from the saddle to the ground.

Honor had seen him and then just as quickly seen Cathy’s rock find its mark. For she had sent her to do just that, circle around to the left of him and nail him. She quickly gathered her dress to her and pulled it on. Exhibitionism wasn’t really her strong suit. At any rate, as she ran up the slope, tugging on her clothes, she saw that little Cathy was rolling him onto his back, her clothes and hair dripping water down onto him.  In one fell swoop, Honor flung back his hand and grabbed the revolver stuck in his belt and put herself between the stranger and Cathy.

Whether it was because the rock had really merely grazed him or the water having dripped into face, he came to quickly, finding himself looking up into the barrel of his own gun. Behind the gun, held in a two-handed grip, was the woman he had been watching. He started to get up, but she put a damp bare foot to his throat and shook her head no. He laid back down but kept his eyes glued to her.

Time stretched out for him, looking into her face, hoping to find a little compassion at least. Her blue eyes were narrow little slits, and hard looking.  No compassion there , he thought. She was still breathing a little hard but the gun wasn’t wavering one iota. He took the moment to study her. She was older than what he had taken her for and on the ring finger of her left hand holding the gun was a wide gold band. For just an instant, he was glad she was someone else wife, not his. Then he heard sounds of men and horses coming.

After all his long years at sea and then in Boston, running his grandfather’s shipping business, he was never as glad in his life to see what he saw then. Oh, it took him a moment to recognize the man for the other had not been a man when he had left all those years ago.  Now he saw the other calmly reach over to take the gun from the woman.

“Honor,” the voice was soft yet he remembered it, “Give me the gun.” Her facial expression didn’t change and the gun’s aim still hadn’t wavered so more forcefully came, “Honor, give me the gun.” The third time he said it, she seemed to have heard him and, uncocking it, handed off the revolver.

“And take your foot off his chest, too, sweetheart. That isn’t exactly the best way to welcome your brother-in-law home.” Joe reached his hand down and pulled his oldest brother Adam up and to his feet.

“This is your wife?” Adam asked his brother, gesturing at the redhead who had held a gun on him and planted her foot on his chest. When Joe just nodded, said “You are a braver man than I ever took you for, little brother” and they fell together laughing and hugging while the two women just looked at them.

By evening, the incident was a laughing matter, almost. Adam had been properly introduced to the three ladies he had seen and he was taken in by all three. The one who had run down and away from the river to “get the men” had been Candy’s wife Anne and although Adam had never met them until then, decided he liked them both.  “After all,” he said, “Candy’s wife hadn’t hit me with a rock or held a gun on me.” And Cathy was soon to be Jamie’s wife.The pert little brunette was taken aback somewhat by this new older brother-in-law’s courtly and educated mannerisms. But the one who still held the greatest interest for him was Honor for she was an enigma to him: not only beautiful woman but also an educated one at that.

Adam had heard her fussing earlier and was surprised to hear the patience in his brother’s voice. "But he was watching us!”  He couldn’t hear what Joe told her after that but upon seeing her dressed for dinner, he couldn’t help himself to not pay close attention to her again.

With a glass of sherry poured for her when she entered the main living room of the sprawling ranch house, Adam approached her. “I wish to apologize, Honor, Cathy, Anne, my ladies all, ” he said, smiling and dipping in their respective directions, his glass held out ”for my, shall we say, momentary lack of discretion.” Little Cathy blushed, Anne just nodded her head at him but Honor just stood there, blue eyes boring into him. “But never have I seen a more beauteous trio of water nymphs in all my travels.” He handed Honor the glass he carried.

She stood there, looking into the liquid for a long moment, considering throwing it in his face. Looking into his dark rugged and handsome features, she remembered what Joe had told her about his leaving years ago.  That he and Joe had not been on the best of terms for a long while when Adam had just up and left; that his father had been hurt by it all. And please don’t say or do anything to damage what little there was left.

With her head up, eyes dancing in the lights, she pointedly asked him “Did you like all of what you saw?”

Adam felt like that cobra again and for the life of him, couldn’t imagine a way to answer her that wouldn’t get him in trouble. Joe saved him from making a complete ass of himself a second time that day.

“It’s all right Adam, I learned years ago that there are only two types of men that aren’t in the least affected by my wife. And you aren’t blind. Or dead. But if I catch you again, we can take care of that.” Honor smiled a rueful yet beautiful smile at him but the line in the sand was drawn. Adam knew he didn’t want cross it.

The table was set and as the extended family sat down to eat, Adam found himself between Anne and Cathy. Ben intoned the blessing, thanking the Good Lord for Adam’s safe return. Hop Sing, with Cathy’s help, had prepared a true feast, harkening back to earlier days for the dishes Adam loved.

Ben had been watching his two blood sons carefully. The years apart had made them more physically alike, he thought. The long years of hard work there on the ranch had filled out Joseph’s chest and shoulders but he was still narrow through the waist. He still wasn’t as tall as Adam but what he would lack in height would be easily made up in speed. He had also grown more like his oldest brother in temperament, even though the flashes of hot headedness still arose upon occasion. Joe was more in control now, due more, Ben thought, to Honor than anything else. What Joe had said, while it had the outward appearance as a joke, had a very real undercurrent of a threat to it. And as much as Adam was trying to not watch her, his eyes kept roaming back to Honor, Ben saw.

Finally the meal was drawing to a close and Ben suggested that they withdraw to the living room and let Hop Sing serve dessert there. It was plain to Adam that this scenario had been played out many times before as they seemed to take their places, his father in the big red leather chair, Jamie and Cathy on the edge of the big fireplace, Candy and Anne on the far end of the sofa. Adam carefully chose the blue chair, furthest away from where Honor sat with his brother at the end of the sofa closest to their father. As they settled in, Adam noticed that she sat well back into Joe’s side, and his right hand came protectively across her bare shoulder as she placed her hand high on his thigh.

Adam thought and Pa said they had been married for better than five years now! But they still act very much like newlyweds. Can’t decide if she is flirting with me or teasing him. Hope she figures out what she wants real soon cause I don’t think I want him mad at me now. He ain’t my “little” brother any more.

There was a little more bright and spirited talk before Ben cleared his throat and the younger ones stilled themselves. “What are your plans, Adam? Going to stay around after Jamie and Cathy’s wedding?”

“Well I really hadn’t thought that far into the future, Pa.”

“That’s a switch,” came Joe’s quick retort. Ben just glared at Joe and then at Adam. Joe dropped his gaze, silently chastised.

“I’d like you to consider staying a while,” Ben said evenly.

Adam shifted uncomfortably, looking for a reply.

“But first, let me have a say about some things.” When Ben felt all eyes glued to him, he continued. “Adam is my first born and as such, has had to help me carry some awful burdens. He helped me long before you were born, Joseph, to plan and start this ranch.  This house that we sit in right now, he planned and then helped me build it, log by log and stone by stone.  I could not have done it without him. Because each and every one of you has come to be sustained by this, you all owe Adam a debt of gratitude and respect.”

Jamie and Cathy exchanged a long, uncertain look.  Candy tightened his arm about his wife, wondering about his future here should Adam decide to stay.

“But Adam,” his father addressed him squarely, “There have been some changes here since you left. Good changes, brought about by some of the people here in this room, that need to stay.  I offered Candy a job and against his better judgment, he took it."  An embarrassed chuckle circled the room then died as quickly as it had come. "He has come to be a loyal and trusted friend, not just our foreman, but our friend. He has proven his worth more times than I can count and I have grown to respect him. I expect him to stay just as long as he and Anne want to stay."  Candy could feel the coil of uncertainty unwind within him and he gave Ben a tight smile that spoke of his appreciation of the words just spoken.

"Jamie came when we needed him most. And when he needed us the most too. Your brothers and I asked him to become a part of this family and he agreed, taking on the name as well as the responsibilities of helping to continue this ranch. Like you, he has sought out an education and returned home, bringing new-found knowledge and ways. Now that he's set to take a wife, he has shown to all of us that he is ready for a more active role in the operation of this ranch. I intend to see that he has the chance to do so, the same way I did you years ago. He and Cathy are giving us the possibility of a bright future.”

Adam smiled at the young man for he truly did like him. Jamie blushed a little at the praise and ducked his head to hide it. Cathy tightened her hand in his.

“And Honor has changed some things around here as well.  One of the things she changed is the way we look at our place in the world. She has a habit of forcing us to take a more out front stand on some issues, like the colored school and how the miners are treated.  She doesn’t do it to profit the ranch but to profit us as a people.”

“But these are all changes that you can readily see and acknowledge.  There is one that even I hadn’t seen until just this afternoon. It’s not that it has been hidden, it just came on so gradual that I never noticed it until now. When you left here, Joseph was still a very young man, younger than Jamie is now. Reckless, perhaps. And you didn’t care for it. Or him." Adam started to say something but his father's curt gesture silenced him. "But it came to me this afternoon that he is a man on his own two feet now. It wasn’t some rite of passage that did it, but the every day, day in and day out support and effort he has given to the land. And me.  And now that I have stepped back, he runs the ranch. In a very real sense, he has simply continued what you started, Adam. For that constancy alone, he commands respect from each and everyone of us here, you especially, since he has watched over your part of this legacy as well as his own.” Ben sat back to let the silence fill the room. No one said a word.

Adam saw Joe dip his head behind Honor’s shoulder and thought that perhaps she had whispered something to him.  It was then that his brother arose, uncoiling his body from the sofa and his wife.  He set his wineglass on the table behind her, caught her eye and kissed her gently on the cheek.  Joe then turned to his father and as gently as he had his wife a moment before, touched his father’s hand, whispering “thank you” as he did.

Turning back he took the two steps he needed to stand before Adam, straight, strong and powerful of build. Their eyes locked and for a moment, Adam was lost in time. Here was not the brother that he had fought with so long ago. He looked for the changes his father spoke of and saw them and more.

  Slowly, ever so slowly, not saying a word, Joe extended his right hand, palm up, to his brother. The message was clear: “respect me or don’t. It doesn’t matter because I know I am a man.”  Finally, Adam brought up his own hand and took his brother’s, surprised by the strength of the grip.

“Welcome home, Adam. Stay, ” was all Joe said as Adam stood, still holding his hand. Then, his voice uncharacteristically husky with emotion, Adam, threw an armaround his brother's shoulder, said, “ I think I will”.


Very late that evening, as Ben Cartwright sat alone in the quiet house he reflected on the real changes that had taken place in his life the past few years. Unspeakable loss had been tempered by great joy. The coming of new faces and new loves into his house while old ones lingered and watched approvingly.

Slowly, his glass of wine finished, he got up to go to bed. Tomorrow, he thought and sighed, would be a good day.

And so the story continues………….


This story in its original form was written not quite four years ago. It was the very first story for the four women who became known in the fanfic world of Bonanza as the Tahoe Ladies. We had done nothing with it, other than post it to two sites, since writing it. We never read it again until we were asked by friends to repost it. What we found when we read it made us cringe for we have learned so much about writing since completing it. There was only one solution: rewrite the story. Sounds easy, right? Not really for you see, the real impetus behind this story died of cancer in May of 2001. From beginning to end, she was the driving force behind it. To go back and rewrite the story was like going back and rewriting history. Also, original notes were gone and only two of the original Tahoes remain actively writing. But toughest of all, while reworking scenes, memories of happier and more innocent times came flooding back, making us pause and reflect But true to our commitment, for Old Ben Cartwright wouldn't have let his sons out of a promise so we couldn't back out either, we finished the rewrite. This is it. And while there are numerous changes in it, we hope that what we have learned has made it a better story. We are pretty sure it has, since it has made us better people.

This revision is dedicated to the first Tahoe Lady, for it was her idea in the first place. Thanks Katie, for the road that led to yesterday and the one that leads to tomorrow.

Irish and Becca
The last of the original Tahoe Ladies

Author Feedback -- 
The Tahoe Ladies
Site Owner Feedback
Complaints, Opinions, Recommendations?

About this Site
Who do we think we are? 
Why are we doing this?
Our Fan Fiction Criteria
Standards & Practices
  Bonanza Fan Fiction Master Index
Alphabetical by Title
Bonanza Fan Fiction Master Index
Alphabetical by Author
Adam Stories
Joe  Stories
Hoss Stories
Ben Stories
Whole Family Stories
Young Cartwrights
Just for Fun [Comedy Lite]
Post-Timeline Stories
Jamie, Candy, Hop Sing, Griff
Alternate Universe
Death Fics
Fan Fiction Resources
Character Bios & More
Bonanza Fanfic Links
Site Forum
Input & Opinions from Readers, Authors, Site Owners