A Goat By Any Other Name    

Ben Cartwright took a long drink from his second cup of coffee, pushed his plate aside and looked across the breakfast table at his sons. Little Joe had finished his meal, but as usual, Hoss was finishing off the food that had been left on the serving platters. With Adam out of town, there was plenty left. None of the Cartwright men had puny appetites and Hop Sing always cooked with the philosophy that it was better to have too much than too little. A great deal of Hoss's girth was due to that philosophy.

"Boys, I'd like you to ride out to the south pasture this morning and check on those calves. They haven't been separated from the cows long and we need to make sure that they stay healthy. With Adam, gone, I'll be here most of the day catching up with the paperwork."

"Sure, Pa," Joe stood up and looked down at his brother, still chewing on the last piece of bacon,

"Come on Hoss, aren't you finished grazing, yet!"

Hoss swept the last biscuit off the bread plate and started to follow his younger brother out of the door while eating it; but, turned before grabbing his hat and asked. "Pa when is Adam going to be back? I was sure he'd be back this week, Sally Ann sure is gonna be mad if he won't be here to take her cousin to the dance Saturday night!"

Joe giggled, "Yeah, he sure got lucky, there! Hoss, I like Sally Ann; but, her cousin sure takes advantage of the right to be homely!"

"Joseph!" Ben admonished, "That's no way to talk about a lady. Hoss, I'm sure Adam would have been glad to escort Sally Ann's cousin to the dance; but since we don't know when he is going to be home, she'll just have to make due with Joe, here."

"Pa...." Joe squawked but was interrupted by his brother clapping him on the back.

"Great, Little Brother, I'll tell them tomorrow when I see them in town."

"But...but...I was going to ask Patsy Everett.....Pa......" Little Joe looked beseechingly at his father, who was smothering a grin behind his hand.

"Now Joseph, Patsy has more beaus than she knows what to do with and Sally Ann's cousin will only be visiting for a short while. The least you can do is help make her feel welcome." Ben spoke in a voice that brooked no denial.

"Okay, Pa." Joe mumbled, buckling his gun on in disgust.

Joe kept up an ongoing monologue on the unfairness of the situation as they rode out to the south pasture.

"Joe, dad burn it, I'm not the one who said you had to take Geneva to the dance. She might not be too happy,either, now that I come to think about it!"

Joe glanced sharply at his older brother. "Whadaya mean she's not going to be happy. She's got an escort, now doesn't she? I'd think she'd jump for joy. Geneva! Even her name is homely!"

"Now Joe, she's a real nice girl...and I hate to say it, but she cooks better than Sally Ann!"

"Well, naturally, that makes her wonderful in your book. I'll tell you what, I'll take Sally Ann and You take Geneva! I don't care how they cook! Believe me, I wasn't going to ask Patsy Everett because she is a good cook!"

"Aw Joe, Patsy never pays any attention to you for more'n a couple of minutes at a time, anyway, before she starts flirtin with someone else. You can take Geneva and have your five minutes of flirtin with Patsy, too. Geneva sure had her heart set on Adam, she might not even care if someone else takes her or not."

"And just what does our big brother have to offer her that I don't?"

"Uh, well, I don't know, Joe...you know gals just take a liken to him."

"Yeah, well after Geneva spends an evening with me, she won't even remember Adam's name!"

Hoss shook his head in amazement at his brother's sudden chance of attitude. If he lived to be a thousand, he'd never really figure out how either of his brothers' minds worked!

As they approached the south pasture they both pulled up short before they

got to the fence and stared in astonishment. In the pasture, grazing with the Ponderosa herd of half-grown calves was a collection of hairy, goat-like animals in various sizes and colors.

"Joe! What in tarnation are those things?"

Joe shook his head as if to clear it, "I dunno, Hoss, I was going to ask you the same thing!

"They kinda look like goats."

"Nah, most of them are too big for goats...that big black one must be 12 or 13 hands high! Besides, their coats are too long and their ears stick straight up!"

"Where did they come from?"

"How should I know! You'd better go get Pa. He's not going to believe this unless he sees it!"

Ben was not happy at being dragged away from his desk by his middle son's insistence that he had to accompany Hoss to the south pasture to see "the durndest lookin critters you ever laid eyes on!"

Ben was getting more irritated the farther they rode because Hoss's description of these animals made absolutely no sense. "Hoss, be reasonable, how could a herd of big hairy goats have gotten into the pasture with our calves! It doesn't make sense!"

"I know, Pa, but they're there, I seen 'em with my own two eyeballs! Joe did too."

Ben shook his head, "Hoss, if this is some kind of a joke that you and Joseph are playing, I'll make sure you don't have any time in the future to make up any stories!"

"Pa, honest, you'll see!"

Ben, like his sons before him, pulled up short as the pasture came into view.

"What the.........?!"

"See, Pa, I told you."

Ben closed his gaping mouth and rode toward the fence on which his youngest son was sitting.

Joe grinned at his father's bewildered look. "I count 22 of them , Pa."

"What are they? Where did they come from?"

"I don't know but they seem pretty calm, none of them has got upset because I

got this close."

Ben looked at his calves, they seemed to be taking the interlopers for granted as they grazed and frolicked in the warm sunshine. The hairy critters also seemed quite happy as they peacefully chewed grass.

Ben got off his horse to get closer. "Look how they have chewed that grass! It's down to nothing. Those calves didn't do that!"

Hoss climbed up on the fence beside his brother. "You're right, Pa. Cattle don't chew that close to the ground!"

"Shh" Ben cautioned, "What's that noise?"

Joe and Hoss both listened.

"I reckon it sounds like some sort of hummin. Pa."

They all remained silent and listened.

Ben shook his head, "That's what it is all right."

"It sounds like it's comin from them." Joe added.

"What are we gonna do, Pa?" Hoss finally ventured.

"Well, obviously they wandered on Ponderosa land from somewhere. We have to find out where they belong."

"But Pa, who are we going to ask? And how did they get inside the fence? That pasture on the other side of the fence is Old Mr. Stuart's and he ain't never even had cattle or sheep... much less critters like this."

"Yeah", Joe added, "Besides he died last winter and they say that land belongs to his kin in England."

"Well, whatever they are and whoever they belong to, they're not ours and I don't want them penned up with our calves! We're just going to have to herd them to the other side of the far fence."

The boys stared at their father. Hoss scratched his head, "Uh, Pa, how you figure we're gonna be able to do that?"

"Well," Ben answered, a little uncertainly, "We're just going to have to get in there and herd them out the gate on the other side of the fence."

"Get, in there with them?!" Joe gulped, "Are you sure, Pa?"

"Joseph, if we can herd hundreds of heads of cattle, surely we can herd a few hairy...uh...goats." suiting action to word, Ben climbed over the fence. "Well, come on, I haven't got all day to mess with a herd of goats."

Hoss and Joe looked at each other, shrugged followed their father over the fence.

The calves scattered as the men approached, but the strange animals stood their ground, watching the humans with large intelligent eyes as they slowly chewed grass. There was quite a variety in size and color among the small herd. As Joe had pointed out, the largest was all black while the others ranged from black to brown to beige to red to a mixture of two or three colors and stood anywhere from 6 to12 hands high.

Ben was surprised at their lack of reaction but proceeded to wave his hat at them and yell "Yaaah, yaaah" while moving toward the animals. His sons followed suit. The animals made a few wuffling sounds and some took a couple of steps backward while others stood their ground and continued to stare calmly at the intruders. None seemed overly concerned about the fact that there were now three other animals amongst them standing on their hind legs and waving their front ones while making strange noises.

Hoss stopped near a particularly calm tri color and slowly reached out his hand to touch its coat. The animal cocked it's head to one side and gazed up at him with huge brown eyes. "Boy their hair sure is soft, this ones kinda cute."

"Thinking about replacing, Sally Ann, big brother?" Joe snorted while continuing to wave his hat at couple of the animals who were slowly backing up.

Meanwhile, Ben had virtually come nose to nose with a particularly obstinate red one that was almost tall enough to look the Cartwright patriarch in the eye. It wasn't moving, no matter what Ben did. Finally making sure that he wasn't in a position to be bitten or kicked, Ben put his shoulder to the flank of the animal and gently pushed. The animal jumped away quickly, causing Ben to loose his balance and hit the ground just as the animal spit a stream of green juice directly into his right ear.

"Argghhh." the boys turned to see their father scrambling quickly to his feet while a green slimy looking substance slid down the side of his face. They rushed to help him up.

"Pa, are you okay." Joe asked, smothering a grin when he saw the thunderous scowl on his father's face. He handed him a handkerchief and retrieved Ben's slightly crushed and very dirty hat from the ground.

Hoss shook his head, "Some of them critters are plumb stubborn. What's that on your face, Pa?"

Ben furiously wiped the side of his face in disgust, "That, that THING spit on me!"

Hoss and his brother both grimaced in sympathy and looked over to where the red animal continued to stand, chewing contentedly.

Joe shook his head, "Well one thing is certain, they aren't afraid of us!"

"That's for durn sure." Hoss agreed, "I got a few of them over by the far fence but some of them just don't want to move."

Ben gritted his teeth, slammed his hat back on his head and barked "Get the ropes off our saddles. I'm not about to be beat by a bunch of bull headed goats!"

For the next hour and a half the three men, pulled, pushed, coaxed and coerced the twenty-two animals to the other side of the pasture and out the far gate. By the time they were all on the outside of the fence, all three men were hot, tired, disgruntled and damp from where a couple of the animals registered their displeasure at being moved by spitting at their attackers.

Hoss leaned against the low fence and shook his head. "I'd sure like to know where they come from."

Ben irritably brushed long hair of varying colors off his clothes and muttered, "I'm not overly concerned as to where they came from, at this point, I just don't want them in MY pasture!"

Joe eyed the strange animals balefully and flexed a sore muscle. "Someone must have put them in our pasture...they didn't get there by themselves."

As if to disprove Joe's statement, a large spotted member of the herd started toward the fence at a leisurely clip then gracefully jumped over it. Two others quickly followed. Before the Cartwrights could do anything more than gape, all but the two smallest were back in the closed-in pasture and two of the larger ones were making wuffling noises to the smaller ones as if encouraging them to jump the fence. Tentatively, one then the other small beast took a run for the fence and coasted over it to join their friends.

Ben threw down his hat in disgust, "Now what in the Sam Hill do we do?"

As Ben and his two sons stared in consternation at the hairy animals, they heard riders approaching. Three men approached from the far side of the pasture. The Cartwrights immediately recognized two of the riders as Lem and Rab Burris, two local farmers. The third man was a distinguished looking gentleman in impeccable riding clothes perched on a valuable thoroughbred.

The gentleman stopped at the fence and raised a quizzing glass to his right eye. "I say, what are you doing with my llamas?" he asked in clipped British tones.

Ben stalked to the fence, skirting around several inquisitive animals. "Your what?!"

"Why, my llamas. What are they doing in there? We have been searching high and low for them."

Hoss and Joe followed their father to the fence. Hoss shook his head as if to clear it, "Well mister, my brother and I found your Lah-mahs right here with our calves this morning!"

"How extraordinary, who placed them in there?"

Ben looked at the man from out from under his furrowed brows. "They PLACED themselves in here. WE have already removed them once and they all jumped the fence to get back in. Now I suggest YOU remove them and KEEP them out of here."

Lem Burris cleared his throat, "Um, Mr. Cartwright, I don't think you know who you're talkin to, this is Earl Braxton."

"Yeah," Rab piped in, "He's a Lord."

The gentleman dismounted and approached the fence, extending his right hand to Ben.

"Cyril Thrypp-Stuart at your service, sir."

Joe scratched his head, "I thought Lem said your name was Earl Braxton."

Ben interrupted, shaking the stranger's hand "Joseph, I believe what he meant was that Lord Stuart is the Earl of Braxton. I'm Ben Cartwright, these are my sons, Hoss and Joe."

"Quite, Quite." the Earl shook hands all round and then peered once more through his looking glass at his llamas. "They seem to be enjoying the company of your cows Mr. Cartwright, I must make notes at once about this."

Ben looked skeptically at the man, "Uh, right, well first I suggest that you get them out of here and take them home with you. I assume your related to the late Mr. Stuart?"

"Oh, yes, yes, he was my father, the Duke of Thrypp's, younger brother. Never met him, myself, he emigrated before I was born. Had no children, father inherited this land."

"Well it's a good parcel of land, as I am sure Lem and Rab here have probably told you, Lord Stuart, but where did these, uh, lahmahs, come from."

"Oh, I imported them from West Virginia, the foremost llama breeder in your country is located there. Wonderful stock, wonderful stock. Of course, they originally came from South America but Senor Fernando discovered that the foothills and mountains of West Virginia were well suited for this particular animal and has made admirable progress in the breeding them. Fernando llamas are the best lamas this side of the Andes."

Hoss looked befuddled, "But, Lord...er...uh...Earl....why'd you ever want to breed them in the first place. Are they good eatin?"

The earl looked appalled, "Good heavens, you don't eat them Mr. Cartwright! They are beasts of burden. They are related to the camel, don't you know. Smarter and more sure footed in rough terrain than donkeys or burros. However, that is not why I have them. I, Mr. Cartwright, plan to revolutionize the textile industry by using their hair to make cloth.!"

Ben shook his head, "Well, my lord, I wish you all the success in the world but I'd prefer that you would first succeed in removing them from my pasture."

"Eh wot, em yes, of course, of course, though I wish I could convince you that they are quite harmless and will not hurt your stock. They seem to be enjoying the company of the other animals. I'd be glad to pay you for letting me keep them in there with your calves."

Ben shook his head, again, "Sorry, but look at this grass. We're going to have to move these calves to another pasture, your llamas have chewed it down to nothing. Cattle don't graze that close. It doesn't seem to have affected the calves, yet, none of them look like they are lacking food, but it wouldn't have been long before they would have been going hungry."

"Nonsense, Mr. Cartwright, we have hundreds of acres of pasture, I can assure you that no animal would lack for food. Lem and Rab here could rotate the pastures, weekly." the Burris brothers nodded in unison.

Ben continued to shake his head in the negative, "Nope, fraid not. You'll have to get your own herd of cattle for your experiment. These calves are valuable and I don't care to risk them."

"But, he can't just go out and buy a herd of calves, Mr. Cartwright, you know that." put in Rab Burris.

"Too right," added the earl "And I fear that larger steers might intimidate the llamas."

Hoss grimaced as he side-stepped around a medium sized tri-colored llama staring curiously at him while chewing slowly on a clump of grass, " I ain't so sure anything would intimidate some of these critters!"

"But larger steer could injure the llamas...even accidentally."



Ben was adamant, "I understand your concern, Lord Stuart, and I wish you luck; but I can't help you. The boys and I have enough to worry about right now. My oldest son, Adam, is in San Francisco and I am not sure when he will be returning to give us a hand with the branding. Maybe you should trying penning them up with a flock of sheep. Now if you will tell us where you want to herd these animals, my boys and I will help."

Hoss and Joe groaned in unison but joined with their father and the Burris brothers in herding the llamas two miles away from the calves. It was apparent to the Cartwrights that Lord Stuart was the brains and not the brawn of the enterprise as he waved his riding crop ineffectively at recalcitrant llamas. The Burris brothers were, surprisingly, good at herding the hairy beasts which astounded the Cartwrights.

Lem and Rab Burris had, at one time, farmed the small bit of bottom land near the Ponderosa that their mother had left them but was so bad at it that the farm soon failed. Lem and Rab then started hiring out to area farmers and ranchers who needed extra help. They did not last long anywhere because of their ineptitude. They were willing and hard workers but everything they touched seemed to fall apart. They had worked the longest at the Ponderosa but even Hoss, who had unlimited patience, had to admit that if they stayed on any longer the entire ranch and all it's occupancy would be in jeopardy. In the week they had worked at the Ponderosa, one or both had been the cause of two major stampedes, three broken wagon wheels, five runaway horses and Adam breaking a bone in his hand. Their strongest supporters would have to admit that the Burris brothers were "a bit short on brain power". Both lean, spare men with little to say, they were easy going, good natured men who accepted their own failings cheerfully. They were ecstatic about the fact that they had worked for the earl for a month and he seemed pleased with their work. There wasn't a lot that they had to do at the Stuart ranch. The earl kept no livestock except horses...and of course...the llamas. It was easy to feed and water the horses and muck out the stalls. The llamas had taken a little more getting used to but the two brothers had grown sort of fond of the hairy creatures and the llamas responded well to the Burris brothers' gentle care.

After the Cartwrights had gratefully returned to the Ponderosa, Lord Braxton continued to discuss their latest discovery about the llamas with the Burris brothers. "I do wonder if Senor Fernando is aware of how gregarious the llamas are with other animals? This could be a major breakthrough in llama breeding. The happier the llama is, the healthier it will be and the healthier it is the more luxuriant the coat will be and the more luxuriant the coat the finer the wool will be and the finer the wool, the higher quality the fabric will be! Oh I do wish Mr. Cartwright would have listened to me. If he had just let me experiment for a few days, he would have seen that the llamas would not have harmed his calves in any way.

Rab Burris scratched his nose, "Well, Ben Cartwright is a fair man, but he said that he didn't have time to deal with it with Adam gone and not expected for a while. Can't rightly blame him, I reckon. "

Cyril Thrypp-Stuart absentmindedly replied, ""No. no. can't impose on him, these ranchers do seem to have a lot to keep them occupied. Suppose they have enough on their minds already, especially since they are not familiar with the llama, and are unaware of what a very valuable animal it is.

"But they do eat the grass down kinda low." ventured Lem.

"Yes, yes, I'm sure that is a concern for cattlemen; but if they would only observe my llamas for a short period, they would see that the herd does not require a large pasture at once. If only I could convince one of the Cartwrights to come over and observe the llamas for a couple of days. They would soon recognize their worth and with the Cartwrights behind us, llama breeding would blossom out here. As it is, I will have to return to England in the near future. Papa is getting querulous about me being gone so long."

The Burris brothers looked at each other glumly, realizing that when Lord Braxton returned to England, they would lose the best jobs they ever had."

Adam Cartwright heaved a sigh of relief as the stagecoach left the Folkerton city limits. He stretched his long legs and propped his feet up on the seat facing him. It was great to have the coach all to himself. All the way from San Francisco, he had shared a coach with a family headed for Folkerton.

Josiah Whitby, his wife Maybelle and their spinster daughter, Emily, had been experiencing stagecoach travel for the first time and were quite vocal about it's shortcomings. It had been crowded in the coach since all three Whitbys were quite substantial in size and Adam was no runt. This coupled with the fact that Emily Whitby had openly flirted with Adam during the entire trip had kept him very tense. A shudder ran through him as he thought of Emily's high-pitched voice as she batted her almost non-existent eye lashes over protuberant, watery dung colored eyes. She had reminded him of a pampered, yapping pug dog. He was glad to be headed home, at last. He had thought that he would have to spend most of the following week in California trying to track down a cattle breeder; but, yesterday, luck had been with him and he had located the man on the Barbery Coast. Two hours later, contracts in hand, he had caught the last stage of the day headed for Nevada with only minutes to spare. He had not even notified his father and brothers of his change of plans. He figured on getting a horse at the livery stable and riding home. As busy as things were on the Ponderosa with branding season already started, Ben would be grateful for the fact that he didn't have to spare someone to ride into town to pick Adam up.

The tension seemed to easy from his body as he got closer to Virginia City. Adam's chin lowered to his chest as he dozed off. An hour later, he awoke, aware that the stage was slowing down. Looking out the window, he recognized familiar scenery, the stage had come to a slow stop about five miles out of Virginia City. Puzzled at why the stage was stopped, he looked out the other side of the coach. Seeing nothing and no one, he opened the door and leaned out to call up to the driver. The driver was slumped over the reins he was holding as if asleep. Alarmed, Adam, again looked out both windows to see if there were riders approaching from any direction. All he saw was flat open Nevada desert. Jumping out of the coach, he called up to the driver:

"Hey Charlie, you decide to take a siesta or something?"

Getting no response he walked around to the front of the stage. Charlie Hawkins was breathing raggedly while still clutching the reins.

"Charlie! What's wrong with you?"

Charlie continued to gasp but appeared not to be able to speak. Adam immediately climbed up next to the stricken man. Pale, and sweating profusely, it was obvious that the old man was very ill. Adam immediately decided that he needed to get Charlie out of the hot sun. Since the only shelter available was the inside of the coach, he awkwardly maneuvered the other man down from his perch and quickly got him stretched out on the seat of the coach. The old man was barely breathing, now. Adam ran back to the front of the stage and grabbed the driver's canteen. Getting back into the coach, he lifted the Charlie's head and shoulders off the seat and tried to give him water. The old man weakly shook his head and tried to speak but no words came.....instead his whole body stiffened briefly before slumping in Adam's arms. Finding no pulse, Adam gently closed the old driver's eyes and carefully laid him on the floor of the coach so that the body wouldn't fall off the seat.

Backing out of the coach he slammed the door hard with pent-up emotion and kicked the front wheel. "Damn!" he shouted in frustration.

The restless team of horses, startled by Adam's vehement oath, decided that they had tarried out in the middle of no where long enough. They knew that food, water and a rub down awaited them in Virginia City and they could see no reason why they shouldn't be headed that way. Without further ado, they took off toward home at an alarming speed.

Adam stood, dumbfounded in the middle of the road watching the back of the stagecoach disappear over a ridge. This was a nightmare; but, unfortunately he was wide awake. He had been careless to make such a loud noise in the first place, any fool knew better than to do that around a wagon or coach team. Now the stagecoach was headed toward Virginia City at breakneck speed with it's drivers dead body inside the coach and he was stuck<BR>

out in the middle of the desert at high noon. He was closest to the Stuart ranch; but, no one had lived there since old man Stuart had died that winter. He was only about a mile away from Ponderosa land but it was another three miles to the house and barn where he could get a horse and ride into Virginia City and explain the situation. He winced to think of how much damage the stagecoach would do in town before someone got it stopped and the consternation of those who found Charlie Hawkins' remains inside the coach. Sighing from the depths of his boot tips, he started walking.

The Burris Brothers were on their way back to the Stuart ranch with a wagon load of supplies when they saw the Virginia City stagecoach barreling toward them at extremely high speed. Lem gave out a yelp as Rab, who was driving their wagon, made a frantic move to get the wagon out of the way of the oncoming stage. He managed to maneuver the loaded wagon and horses to the far side of the road just as the coach passed them with only inches to spare.

Both brothers let out a sigh of relief. "What in tarnation is Charlie thinking of to be driving that reckless!" demanded Rab as his heartbeat continued to race.

"Can't imagine! He was going so plumb fast that I didn't even see if it was Charlie driving." Lem shook his head and took a deep breath. "Had to be life or death for Charlie to be going that fast. Wonder what's up?"

"Durned if I know, but he shore shaved a couple of years off of my life." Rab grumbled.

The brothers continued on their way for another mile and saw a man walking toward them

Lem peered near-sightedly at the solitary figure, "Now, who in the world......?"

Rab followed his brother's gaze, "Well, I'll be, I think it's Adam Cartwright."

Lem squinted and looked again, "Why it shore is, what in Sam Hill is he a doin' out here alone on foot."

Rab started slowing down as Adam spied the wagon and started waving and running toward them, "Reckon we're about to find out."

Adam took a deep breath as he reached the wagon and recognized the Burris brothers. "Lem, Rab, boy am I glad to see you!"

Rab stopped the horse and pushed his hat back on his head. "Yep, reckon you are. What in blazes are you doin out here a foot?"

Adam told them the whole story as he sat perched on the back of the wagon drinking from Lem's canteen.

"If you can take me to the Ponderosa, I'll get a horse and go on into town and explain the situation. I can't imagine what they must be thinking."

"Well, matter of fact, Adam were headed the other direction toward the Stuart place, we gotta git these supplies there pronto but if you want to come along, we can get you fixed up with a horse."

Lem looked at his brother is surprise. There was no rush on getting back to the Stuart ranch.

Adam was also surprised, "The Stuart ranch, since when has anyone been living there?"

The brothers explained about the Earl of Braxton and the llamas."

"Llamas, huh? I've read about them but have never seen one. I figure a goat by any other name is probably still a goat."

Both brothers tried to convince him that the llamas were much different than goats. Finally Rab said, "Well, you'll see them sure enough, we have to go right by the pasture they are in on the way to the house."

Again, Lem looked at his brother perplexed. The shortest way to the ranch house did not take them by that particular pasture. Rab shook his head slightly at his brother and continued:

"Yep, you'll soon see that we're not a talkin about goats. The earl, he thinks these critters will be as valuable as cattle and they ain't nearly as hard to raise."

"You don't say," Adam answered skeptically, "Well, right now I don't have a whole lot of time to examine llamas. I need to get to Virginia City as soon as possible."

"S'pose your pappy or one of your brothers is a waitin for the stage." Rab commented casually.

"Well, no, actually, I didn't get a chance to wire them. They aren't sure when to expect me."

Rab nodded and smiled to himself as they continued toward the Stuart ranch. When he turned off the side road that led to the pasture when the llamas were Adam asked: Wouldn't it be faster to take the next side road?"

"Yep," Rab agreed, "But it's got some powerful big holes in it and I'm fraid they'll do damage to this here wagon as heavy as I got it loaded."

Again, Lem looked at his brother in surprise. The closest road to the house was actually in better condition than the one they were on.

The road got narrower as they approached the pasture where the llamas were grazing. Rab halted as they came abreast of the fence. "Them there is llamas."

Adam gazed at the curious looking creatures. "Well, I have to admit that they don't look as much like goats as I thought they would. Interesting."

Rab and Lem looked at each other with a gleam in their eyes. Could this be the local rancher they needed to help the earl promote the animals? Lem realized, then, why Rab deliberately took the road near the llamas.

"Well, now," replied Rab, casually, "Why don't you get out and get a closer look. They're real gentle."

Adam started to jump off the wagon then remembered what he had to do. "Uh, sorry, it'll have to be another time, I've got to get into Virginia City as fast as possible."

"Oh yeah," Rab scratched his head, "Well, I'll tell ya, Adam, you've had a rough day. Why don't we mosey over to the house and you can relax and let the earl tell you more about his plans for the llamas and Lem and I will go back in town and tell Roy Coffey about Charlie for you."

Adam shook his head, "That's tempting but I'd better go myself and tell Roy what a fool I was to startle those horses like that!."

"Heck, Adam, the earl would be real happy to show you some hospitality, he doesn't see many people from around here 'sides us," put in Lem, "And we could tell Roy that we found you and the coach and it was me who startled the horses."

"Yep," added Rab, "Roy Coffey wouldn't find it hard to believe that Lem or me caused the horses to take off."

Adam smiled in spite of himself. He had always wondered if the Burris brothers really knew how inept they were. "No, I'd better do it myself, Rab, but thanks for the offer. I'll just have to get back over here after branding is over and talk with your boss."

"But that might be too late," moaned Lem, "The earl will have to take off home to England pretty soon, his pappy is already cuttin up rough cos he's been here so long."

Adam looked at the brothers curiously, "What difference does it make to you two?"

Lem shrugged his shoulders, "We like our jobs and we like the llamas and we're good at takin care of them."

Realization dawned on Adam. The Burris brothers had finally found something they could do well. "Well, I'm sorry fellas but I don't see how I can help you and I'm really in a hurry." he added meaningfully as he climbed back up on the wagon.

The silence was glum as the three continued toward the Stuart ranch house and Adam felt badly, though he wasn't sure just what it was the Burris brothers expected him to do. It wasn't as if HE planned on raising llamas!

Rab pulled the wagon up by the barn doors and all three men jumped off the wagon and went inside the cool, dark building where several horses were stabled. Lem started toward one of the stalls with a harness. "Reckon you can take Comet to town."

Adam was following Lem toward the stall to see the horse when he heard the click of a revolver behind him. Turning slowly he saw that Rab had a Colt aimed him.

"Adam ain't goin back to town, Lem, you are so you can saddle your own horse...after you take Adam's gun away from him, that is."

Lem stared at his brother in opened mouthed amazement, "What the......"

"Get his gun, Lem, don't just stand there a catchin flies!"

Adam shook his head as if to clear it, "Rab, what on earth do you think you are doing, have you gone loco?"

"Nope, just making sure you spend some time with the earl and getting to know more about the llamas. Lem, just put his gun over there out of the way."

Lem obeyed his brother, all the while looking at him as if he had sprouted another head on his shoulders."

"Uh, Rab, don't ya think this might be a little too drastic. Adam ain't happy about this and I don't figure the earl is gonna be too thrilled, either."

"He doesn't have to know what kind of persuasion we used on Adam."

Adam had had enough, "Oh, for pete's sake, don't you think I just might mention to him that I'm being held captive by one of this employees."

"Nope, cos if you cause a fuss, Lem and I will tell Roy Coffey that we saw you and Charlie stopped in the road fighting and you knocked him down and pulled your gun on him causing him to have a fit."

"WHAT??!!! That's ridiculous!" Adam sputtered.

"Rab, I don't think........." Lem ventured.

"There's nothing to think about. Adam is gonna stay here for a couple of days and get to know the llamas. His folks ain't expecting him home til next week anyways."

"But what about the earl, he's not gonna go along with this."

"Lem, the earl don't know a thing about these parts. If we tell him that since we are his workers, he's responsible for our actions he'll have to go along with it or get blamed for the entire thing."

Adam shook his head, again, as if he were waking up from a bad dream, "This doesn't make any sense, Rab, why go thru this farce to get me to spend time with your precious llamas. I told you I'd come over and talk to the earl."

"For you to really get to know the critters, you have to spend some time with them."

"But Rab, " Adam asked patiently, as if talking to a small child, "Why is it important that I spend time with the earl's llamas?"

"Cos we need a well respected rancher hereabouts to vouch for them if the earl is going to be able to continue to raise him around here without a lot of trouble. You know cattle breeders, they don't like sheep, can you just about guess what they'll say about the llamas."

"And you expect me to vouch for the llamas after being held captive and blackmailed by you."

"Oh, the llamas will convince you them own selves. You're a fair man, Adam, you won't hold what I do against a bunch of innocent critters."

"And just what do you get out of all this, may I ask?"

"Lem and I get to keep our jobs and maybe even start our own herd of llamas."

"And you think the earl is going to continue to employ you after he finds out what great lengths you've gone to get him in trouble?."

"He's ain't gonna find a whole lot of hands around here a willin to work with the llamas."

Adam took a deep breath, "Oh come on, Rab, be reasonable. This is absurd, you can't keep me here forever and when you let me go I'm going to tell Roy Coffey the truth, about Charlie and about this whole mess. Why don't we just forget about the whole thing and I'll ride into town and tell Roy about the stagecoach. Tomorrow I'll return your horse and spend some time with the earl and llamas."

"Nope, I've made up my mind, you're gonna stay here for at least a coupla days or you're gonna be blamed for the death of Charlie Hawkins. Everybody liked old Charlie, you ain't gonna be too popular if folks think you caused him to die. It's almost like murder."

Adam decided that he was not getting any where with Rab and thought he would have better luck with the man's employer. Whoever this earl was, he HAD to be smarter and more sensible than the Burris brothers....especially the way Rab was acting now. It was obvious that even Lem was dumbfounded as he continued to look at his brother like he had never seen him before. He probably wasn't at all sure that Rab hadn't been struck by some sort of fit, himself.

"Okay, okay, you win. Lead me to your earl. "Adam proceeded Rab toward the ranch house with, Lem, still dazed, following. Rab rapped on the door. It was promptly answered by an ancient, cadaverous looking man dressed in a black English-style dress jacket, striped waistcoat, stiff white collar and perfectly tied black bow tie. Adam realized with a start that he was face to face with a real English butler.

"Hi ya, Monty, will ya tell the earl we need to talk to him." Rab drawled.

Peregrine Montescue, as always, winced inwardly at the massacre of his name; but, maintained his professional decorum despite the fact that he had noted that Rab was holding a gun to a stranger's ribs. Just when he thought he'd seen every disgrace possible in this savage land, something new assaulted him. Standing back and allowing the motley procession to enter he cleared his throat and answered: "Lord Stuart is still at table, would you care to wait in the library?"

Adam had never been inside the Stuart house and doubted that many had. Old man Stuart had had a reputation as a recluse. He had settled in the area and built his large rambling home about the same time as the current Ponderosa home had gone up. As they entered the entrance way, Adam was amazed to see that the late Mr. Stuart had styled his home like an English manor house. Family portraits hung on the walls as well as a large coat of arms. Standing next to the curving stairway that lead to the second floor was a full suit of ancient knightly<BR>

armor complete with dangling mace and lance. It brought back memories of a recent encounter he had had with a rather eccentric gentleman from back East who had roamed the area pretending to be King Arthur of Camelot. The old gentleman had knighted him Sir Adam. He didn't feel much like Sir Adam at the moment but would even have welcomed the assistance of the ersatz Arthur.

He wished fervently that he could start this day over again. It had been one long nightmare with little hope of waking up anytime soon. He could not believe any of it and felt very badly about poor old Charlie. As far as Rab and Lem went, you learned to expect almost any type of holocaust when they were around; but this latest turn of events was extremely bizarre even by Burris standards. Had working with strange looking animals, earls and butlers finally driven Rab around the bend? Of the two brothers, he had been the least disastrous of the two...if you could consider famine less apocalyptic than pestilence...but even Lem had never done anything so hare-brained as pull a gun on anyone.

Montescue led the three men into the earl's library, briefly pondered on the etiquette involved in offering refreshments to a guest when he was being held at gun point and decided to exit without further ado. Crossing the hall to the dining room, he entered as Lord Stuart finished the last bite of his treacle tart.

"The Messrs. Burris are awaiting you in the library, m' lord, they have brought a...um...guest. Do you require anything more?"

Cyril Thrypp-Stuart's pale greengage colored eyes lit up with pleasure as he finished his dessert and coffee. "A guest?" he pulled the napkin out of his collar and pulled down his impeccable embroidered waistcoat over his rather stout middle. "How delightful!"

Montescue's response was non-committal as he existed to the kitchen in the back of the house where the cook, Mrs. Montescue, was preparing scones for the earl's afternoon tea.

Brigid Montescue was as short and round as her husband was tall and lean. A wisp of faded red-gray hair escaped from her top knot as she took the last of the scones out of the enormous wood burning stove.

"At gun point! Mother Mary and Saint Patrick preserve us!" she crossed herself quickly, her voice betraying her County Cork origins. "Mark my words, Perry Montescue, no good will ever come of his lordship dragging us all off to this heathen land, and with my lady still away." She wagged a flour covered forefinger under her husband's long pointed nose.

Having heard this particular diatribe on more than one occasion, Montescue settled down to finish his own luncheon, putting extra milk in his large mug of tea.

"And did those hooligans bring my supplies? How I am ever expected to set a respectable table for his lordship when I have to depend on the whims of those two gobshites is beyond me. They were supposed to bring me fresh eggs yesterday and didn't they bring two chickens instead....and me with a whole larder of meat on hand!"

Montescue mentally questioned the condition of any eggs the Burris brothers might be transporting but refrained from comment. He had learned that it was never politic to give the voluble Mrs. Montescue any thing more than necessary to expound on. Instead he answered shortly "The wagon is loaded with supplies and I am NOT going to be the one to unload them!"

"And well you should not, Perry Montescue, it's bad enough that you and I are the only servants in this house without you taking on work outside. To think that anyone who has faithfully served the Dukes of Thrypp for over 50 years should be expected to do manual labor!" The cream that she was whipping would be extra fluffy for the earl's scones with all the energy she was putting into her task. Her husband was just thankful that her sharp tongue was being used against someone besides himself. Life with Mrs. Bridgid Mary Kathleen Montescue nee Bridie Murphy was not always easy.

Adam settled into the large leather armchair that Rab had indicated he sit in and looked around in amazement at the large room he was in. It was very obvious what old Hierronimus Stuart had done during his reclusive life in Nevada. The two longest walls of the rectangular room was lined from floor to ceiling with built in bookshelves filled to the top with old leather bound volumes. Under more auspicious circumstances, Adam could have spent days in this comfortable shabby old library browsing through books. The fourth wall, opposite the double entrance door held a large fireplace with a decorative green marble mantle and hearth. Several old leather overstuffed chairs flanked the hearth and to the far left of the fireplace stood a massive leather topped mahogany desk and matching chair. In the corner behind the desk stood a large bust of William Shakespeare on a green marble plinth.

The Earl of Braxton scurried in rubbing his hands together, "Gentlemen, so sorry to keep you waiting." and turned expectantly toward Adam while waiting for Rab to perform the introductions. Only after Adam failed to rise did Lord Stuart realize that Rab Burris had a gun pointed at the handsome young man in his lordship's favorite reading chair. "Oh, I say....." he spluttered stepping back away from the three Americans, "What is the meaning of this?"



Adam cocked an inquisitive eyebrow at the earl standing before him with his pouter pigeon chest and spindly legs sartorially clad in the finest fabrics. As the earl backed away and retreated behind his desk, the Burris brothers both started a flurry of explanations. Rab quelled Lem with a look and continued alone bringing his boss up-to-date on the events of the past few hours. Cyril Eustace Reginald Albermarle Thrypp-Stuart, 9th Earl of Braxton and heir to the 6th Duke of Thrypp was non-plussed. In the short time he had resided in this vast savage land he had had a variety of unusual experiences, especially after engaging the Burris brothers as ranch hands but none had prepared him for this situation.

"Dash it all, Mr. Burris, we can't hold this man captive! One just doesn't imprison one's neighbors, don't you know. It is definitely bad form!"

Adam smiled sardonically, "Not to mention against the law."

"Yes, yes, well, of course, there is that small concern."

"Small, but very important." Adam added beginning to wonder if the earl was as loony as Rab Burris.

"But earl, uh, sir, we're running out of time; you said yourself that your pappy is getting tetchy about you being here so long. If anyone can pave the way for you to establish a llama ranch in this neck of the woods, it's Adam Cartwright, he's well thought of around here and folks are used to his outlandish ideas. He went back east to one of them there colleges, don't you know." Rab stated in a weedling voice.

"But, kidnapping......." the earl whined eyeing Adam and seeing his last chance for getting things in order before returning to England and taking on the myriad of responsibilities awaiting the heir and son of an aging duke. "I don't suppose you would consider being my guest for a few days without coercion, Mr. Cartwright?" he asked hopefully.

Adam shook his head stubbornly. "Under different circumstances, I might have spent some time with you and your pack of llamas; but, I'll be damn if I am going to be forced into anything by these two court jesters of yours."

"Ahem, yes, yes....er.....could we overlook this little misunderstanding and pretend that you are a guest for a few days. Of course, I would never condone Mr. Burris's trying to blame you for this..um..coach driver's demise...if we can take care of that there should be no reason why you can't abide with us for a few days. After all, your family does not expect you for a while."

Taking a deep breath, Adam gathered the last shreds of his patience together and began to respond, "Lord Stuart, I am not sure as to how you do things in England, but out here we take a dim view of being held at gunpoint and threatened. I understand that your llamas are important to you but that does not give you the right to manipulate other people's lives. Unless you plan to murder me to shut me up......and even you and these two idiots can't be that stupid.....you are all in serious trouble. No, my family is not expecting me this soon; however, since my travel valise was on that stagecoach with Charlie's remains, people are going to wonder why I'm not with it. We may not be as sophisticated as the English but we eventually get to the bottom of things. Roy Coffey is no fool and it won't take long for him and my father to start backtracking to San Francisco. Now, I suggest that you lend me a horse and let me get into Virginia City and straighten out the mystery of Charlie's rather spectacular arrival."

"But that just won't do, Mr. Cartwright, it won't do at all. I just had another letter from the pater and he insists that I return home by the end of this month. I'm afraid I haven't time to await your convenience."

Adam let out an exasperated snort, "Do you REALLY think I'm going to be open to anything if I am being held here against my will? What good is keeping me here if I am not going to be any benefit to the future of your blasted goats!"

"Mr. Burris has known you for a long time, and if he says that you are fair and open minded I will just have to put myself at your mercy."


Lem Burris reluctantly tied his horse to the hitching post outside of the Sheriff's office. He looked around to see if there was any visible sign of the stagecoach's unorthodox arrival earlier that day. The Wells Fargo office across the way looked as quiet and sleepy as the rest of the town was this afternoon. Taking a deep breath, he opened the door and stepped inside Roy Coffey's domain.

Sitting behind Sheriff Coffey's desk was Deputy Dawson Jardine, his feet propped up on the edge of the desk and a knife and piece of cedar in his hands testifying to the fact that he had been in the process of widdling something.

"Hey Lem, you still in town? Thought I saw you and Rab ride out a long time ago with your wagon full of supplies." Jardine picked up an old coffee can that substituted for a spittoon and spewed out a stream of tobacco juice.

"Um, we did, Daws, Is Roy Coffey around?" Lem asked uneasily.

"Nope, Roy headed out toward Carson City with a prisoner early this mornin. Anythin I can do for you?"

"Uh, well, you see, Daws, it's like this....Rab and me, we had a little problem after we were headed home this mornin, seems we come up on the noon stage stopped out 'bout 4-5 miles from town with Charlie Hawkins takin awful sick....."

Lem finished the tale as Rab had told him to tell it and was relieved that Dawson Jardine didn't ask too many questions. To Jardine it sounded like a typical Burris catastrophe and put the finishing touches to what he and Doc Martin had surmised about Charlie's death. Doc had said that Charlie had had a bad ticker. When the stage had arrived with it's driver in the coach dead, they had assumed that Charlie had gotten into the coach to rest and had expired while the horses, getting restless had decided to head to the home barn without their driver. Their arrival had scared a couple of farmers driving horses and wagons half to death but no permanent damage had been done.

"Hmm. well, I reckon that about winds everything up, Lem...'cept for the luggage."

Lem gulped. "Th-the luggage?"

"Yep, that stage was hauling a whole passel of boxes and suitcases from San Francisco ."

"A -a passel of suitcases?" Lem's mind worked desperately, according to Adam he had only one valise on the stage. Rab had told Lem to nose around and see if anyone was asking any questions about Adam's suitcase....but a WHOLE PASSEL OF SUITCASES?????!!!!!!

"Yep, Herman's got 'em over to Wells Fargo. A dozen or more....all seemed to be for the Stuart ranch. Reckon you'd best be gettin over there and seein about takin them off of Herman's hands, he ain't got a lot of storage space, you know."

Extremely perplexed and more than a little fearful, Lem crossed the street to the Wells Fargo office where Herman Wetherby was busily moving parcels and packages. Looking up over the spectacles clipped to his nose, he greeted Burris.

"Lem! You shore are a sight for sore eyes. Please tell me that you came for all this stuff going out to the Stuart place. I've got so many boxes and suitcases 'round here that it's drivin me plum loco." He gestured toward a large pile of boxes and suitcases in the corner of the office "Ifin you can take that stuff off my hands, I just might be able to find room for the rest of this."

Lem walked over to the corner and looked down at a large portmanteau. It was labeled "D. Chandry, Stuart Ranch, Virginia City, Nevada Territory". Looking at some of the other bags and boxes he saw that they were labeled the same way. One, however, different from the rest and buried under a large hat box was monogrammed A.C. instead of D.C. Lem guessed that Herman had assumed that all of the luggage went to the Stuart Ranch and had not checked too closely. With a sigh of relief, he picked up Adam's bag and two more and turned to Herman. "I ain't got the wagon, Herman, but I'll git these out of your way and make sure the rest of them are picked up first thing in the mornin."

Herman sighed, "Well, if that's the best you can do, I reckon I'll have to make do......but you make sure you git back in here in the mornin. That early stage is bound to bring in a whole bunch more cargo!"

Lem escaped wit the three valises ran across the street and threw them across his saddle before anyone could question him. Tying them on the saddle horn, he took off quickly. The two old codgers sitting in front of Simms Feed and Seed Store shook their heads in wonder. No one had ever seen one of the Burris brothers move that fast before.


Lady Desdemona Chandry did not wait for Zeke Perkins to assist her in descending from the wagon; but, instead, held her skirts up and jumped gracefully to the ground. Sailing onward like

a majestic ocean liner under full steam, she threw open the door of the Stuart house just as Montescue was about to open it, clipping him smartly on the nose and causing blood to flow profusely.

Without looking at the unfortunate butler, Lady Desdemona started giving him instructions, "Montescue, tell Mrs.Montescue that I wish her to draw me a very hot bath. I also want a light

breakfast of toast and coddled eggs and a strong cup of coffee! Tell Lord Cyril that I wish to see him immediately...and...hmm...pay this person whatever I owe him for transportation in his God forsaken equipage."

Montescue with a handkerchief over his abused proboscis looked wildly from Zeke to Lady Desdemona who was determinedly ascending the stairway towards her bedroom.

"But.....but.....m'lady.......oh my, oh my, Lady Desdimona...please don't....." turning back helplessly to Zeke, he saw the wagon driver unloading numerous pieces of luggage on the front step. Scrambling in his pocket for money, he pulled out several bills and shoved them at Zeke and started toward the stairs.

Lady Desdemona removed her gloves while climbing the stairs and began unbuttoning her pelisse as she opened her bedroom door. The room was in deep shadows since the window faced the west and had not received any morning sun. Shrugging out of the pelisse and throwing it on the vanity stool, she reached up and removed the large, ornate hat pin from her hat. She also removed the combs holding her heavy coil of chestnut colored curls and shook her head so that her hair billowed around her shoulders and dropped almost to her waist. Holding the hat and hat pin in her hands she turned to place the hat on her bed.

From the shadows, a form sat up from the bed and said in a deep, amused voice, "Forgive me if I don't stand up,ma'am; but, as you can see, I am indisposed at the moment." Adam grinned and

held up his right hand which was handcuffed to the bedpost.

"MONTESCUEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!! CYRILLLLLLLLLLLLLLL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" screamed the astonished and outraged lady, brandishing her hat pin at Adam, whose ear drums were still

reverberating from the shrill assault they had just experienced. Instinctively, he laid back and brought his knees and feet up to protect his head, neck and shoulders as the irate lady seemed to be inclined towards attacking.

Montescue stumbled in the middle of the stairway and teetered precariously as Lady Desdemona screamed then regained his balance and forged ahead.

Zeke Perkins dropped the last two bags he was removing from his wagon bed and swallowed his chaw of tobacco, causing him to turn a bilious pea green as it traveled to his stomach.

Mrs. Montescue, in the process of slicing bacon to cook for his lordship's breakfast, heard the blood curdling scream in the kitchen and was convinced that her darkest predictions had

finally come true and they were all being attacked by red savages. Gripping her meat cleaver in her hand she ran toward the front of the house and up the stairs.

The earl of Braxton was in the process of shaving when he heard his cousin and erstwhile fiancee screaming. Narrowly missing his jugular vein when his hand slipped, he grabbed a towel

to stem the flow of blood and rushed from his bedroom and out into the hall.

Rab and Lem Burris didn't hear the scream. When they saw Zeke Perkins' wagon

coming down the lane with Lady Desdemona perched stiffly by the side of Zeke, they decided that they really needed to go out and check on the llamas in the pasture some two miles away.

Cyril Thryp-Stuart, Montescue and Mrs. Montescue all converged at the top of the stairs. Bridie Montescue, seeing blood all down the front of her husband's crisp white bib and flowing from the earl's neck, let out a muffled scream and fell to the floor in a dead faint, dropping the meat cleaver and causing it to clatter down the stairs. Only Montescue's surprisingly quick reflexes kept the woman, herself, from falling head first after the cleaver.

The earl reluctantly ventured toward Lady Desdemona's doorway., "Ahem, uh, Mona my dear, what a...er....delightful surprise, we weren't.....ahem.....expecting you home until....um...next week." staring into the recesses of the room he witnessed his usually calm, cool and collected cousin viciously beating Adam with her bedraggled bonnet while her hair flew around her head like a 19th century Medusa.

Lady Desdemona whirled toward her cousin hat pin in hand and Cyril stepped back in alarm.

"Mona, m'dear, we weren't expecting you back so soon." he smiled nervously

"Obviously! What, may I ask, is going on here? I enter my bedchamber to find a ruffian CHAINED to my bed! This is totally absurd!" she angrily jabbed the air with the hat pin for emphasis, causing her cousin to take another step back and further away from her.

With stammering words, he explained the occurrences of the past 24 hours to his flabbergasted fiancée. "And, so, you see, I wanted him to be as comfortable as possible."

For once in her life, Lady Desdemona Hermoine Anastasia Penelope Thrypp-Stuart Chandry was speechless. She sat down on her vanity chair with a thud, laying the hat pin on the table....much to Cyril's and Adam's relief. Staring first at Cyril and then Adam and then back to her cousin, she absentmindedly started tucking her unruly curls back into some semblance of order. Finally, she spoke in carefully measured tones to Cyril that struck fear in the depths of his soul.

"Well, of course, Cyril, when one kidnaps one's neighbors one does like them to be as comfortable as possible while you are holding them captive."

Adam sat up and watched the proceedings with new interest. Without a doubt, this woman was someone to be reckoned with. He hoped she could pound some sense into Lord Stuart. She certainly seemed capable of it...literally! With the passing of the last 24 hours, he had, at first been extremely angry and then became resigned to the situation and could even see the absurdness and humor in it from an outsider's standpoint. He mentally visualized the looks on his father's and brothers' faces as he explained to them that he had been detained from returning home because their neighbor had kidnapped him so that he could observe a pack of llamas. It struck him extraordinarily funny and he chuckled softly. He hadn't been in a situation like this since he had encountered King Arthur of Camelot outside Morris Flats several years ago. It did break up the daily monotony.

Desdemona glanced sharply in his direction but spoke to her cousin, "I cannot believe that your let those two buffoons pull you into their insane plot. How many times have I warned you about them?"

"Er, uh, but don't you see, m'dear, it does actually make sense, if Adam, here, endorses the llamas, we have a much greater chance of success."

Lady Desdemona gave his a thunderous look through her eyebrows but spoke calmly, as one would with a recalcitrant child, "Cyril, acting obtuse works when handling your parents, but it does not hold water with me. Do you honestly expect me to believe that you intend to keep Mr.Cartwheel captive while instructing him on the finer points of llama care and feeding?"

"Cartwright, m'dear, er, um, actually, I was hoping he would see things my way and cooperate without having to keep him captive, but......"

"And if he doesn't choose to cooperate, don't you think that come Twelfth Night someone in his family might notice if he's not gathered around the yule log with the rest of them to drink a toast to the new year?"

"Well, um, actually, I don't believe they observe that custom, here, m'dear....besides I have had another letter from the pater and he demands my presence at home in time to prepare for our annual Guy Fawkes celebration for the servants and tenants."

"No doubt," Desdemona spit out cynically, "God forfend that he or your brother should take anything on themselves that they can shove on you!"

Cyril avoided getting into yet another discussion about his family's misuse and abuse of him by continuing quickly. "So you see, we're only talking a few days here. It's already near the middle of September."

Lady Desdemona threw up her hands in exasperation, "I refuse to be a part of this ridiculous scenario a moment longer! Get this man out of my room, immediately. You can put a collar and leash on him for all I care!"

Impetuously, Adam began to whine pitifully like a puppy.

Lady Desdemona glared at him and remarked acidly, "You seem unusually cheerful for someone in your position, Mr. Cartwheel."

"Cartwright, ma'am, Adam Cartwright. You have to admit that there is a certain sublime absurdity to the situation. I am merely trying to roll with the punches, as they say."

Looking very much as if she would like to punch both him and Lord Stuart, she gave a most unladylike snort before asking, "And, pray tell, what do you intend to do when my cousin and his two bumbling hench men decide to turn you loose?"

" Well, ma'am, I suppose that would depend on how quickly they do so."

"Meaning you might be willing to forget the entire situation if you were to be released immediately?"

Adam grinned, "Well. now, I'm not too sure about that........after all, I have been severely inconvenienced....."

Lady Desdemona glowered at Lord Stuart but spoke softly and distinctly, " Cyril will you kindly take this man out of my room, he's as balmy as the rest of the population in this dratted country!"

"Er, um. of course, of course, now where did we put the keys to those handcuffs........"

Lady Desdemona sighed from the depths of her soul, "Cyril, how do you expect to control that man by yourself when you unlock the chains? I suggest you find your two cohorts and let them do it!"

By luncheon, Lord Stuart had removed Adam from Lady Desdemona's room and had spent two hours lecturing him on the finer points of Fernando llamas. In spite of himself, Adam became fascinated with the beasts and began asking questions as he and the earl watched the llamas graze in the pasture. Rab Burris had rigged up a kind of horse training lead that could be used to keep Adam captive without totally immobilizing him.

Cyril Stuart had decided that Adam should dine at table with he and Lady Desdemona without bothering to inform the good lady. Securing Adam's lead to the side buffet, Cyril settled down at the head of the table as his cousin swept in. Catching sight of Adam, she stopped short before leaving **** to hold her chair for her in preparation for her sitting.

"What is he doing here, may I ask?"

"Well, Desdemona, m'dear, he does have to eat and we were having such a nice discussion about the llamas just now that I thought we might carry it on during our meal. Adam assures me that he loves veal chops."

Without acknowledging her cousin's answer, Lady Desdemona turned to Montescue, "Montescue, I will take a tray in my room, thank you." turning on her heel she swept back out the dining room door, slamming it behind her.

Adam grinned at the earl , "It seems your cousin is not amused with the position she finds herself in."

Lord Stuart sighed, "It has been extremely difficult for Mona during the past few years. First Charles dying, then our becoming engaged and her insisting on accompanying me to this country. I know she meant well but I cannot believe that the trip has suited her. Mona does prefer to have things peaceful and orderly, as do we all, but, unfortunately, it is easier said than done in a strange environment. I know her intentions were to make a clean break with the past as well as assist me, but it has been more difficult than either of us imagined."

Adam took a sip of a very excellent red wine and asked, "Who is Charles?"

"Charles is...or was....our cousin and Mona's husband. Charles Stuart-Chandry, late of the Queen's Hussars."

"Hmm, my lady does seem to have a predilection to marry her cousins."

"Well, we are a very large and diverse family, don't you know. Charles was my second cousin but I believe several times more removed from Mona. She and I are Thrypp-Stuarts, Charles was a Stuart-Chandry."

"Oh, well that makes all the difference in the world." Adam commented tongue in cheek.

"Yes, yes it does," the earl continued perfectly seriously, "Charles family is on the distaff side of the Stuarts and was not in line for the dukedom. Mona's father, on the other hand, is next in line after my brother at this point."

"Ah, sort of like the houses of Lancaster and York uniting through Henry the VII and Elizabeth of York!"

The Earl of Braxton stared at his guest in surprise, "Hmmmm, you are quite an unusual gentleman, Adam Cartwright....fancy you knowing about our Royal history way out here in the middle of no where!"

Adam replied blandly, "Oh, once in a while you find a stray book on the prairie that some poor pioneer lost while the Indians were attacking. They're usually readable if you don't mind a little blood."

Lord Stuart shuddered visibly then looked at Adam suspiciously, suddenly aware that his "guest" just might be putting him on.

Adam smiled innocently and ate his peas.


Lady Desdemona coming in from her morning ride met Montescue in the hallway. "Montescue, I'll take my tea in the library in about 15 minutes."

"Yes, m'lady" he watched glumly as she headed up the stairs toward her room to change clothes. In the kitchen he told his wife the latest development.

Bridie Montescue was in the process of making up a tea tray for Adam."

"Saints preserve us, didn't you tell her ladyship that Mr. Cartwright is in the library?"

"Wasn't my business to, now, was it? " Montescue took a deep drink from his own tea mug and gingerly put a hand on his tender nose.

"Well, I think it is terrible that Lady Desdemona does not make any effort to get to know Mr. Cartwright. Such a nice young man...and so polite....always says please and thank you...... there's some I could mention who would do good to take lessons from him. And always appreciative of my cooking, he is."

"Now don't you go getting involved in this, Brigid Montescue, it's not our place to tell our betters what they should or shouldn't do. Just put an extra cup on the tray and I'll take it in and Lady Desdemona can do as she pleases."

Bridie put another cup and saucer on the tray and added a small jam crock, "Mr. Cartwright does like my strawberry conserves on his scones. Such a nice man." she clucked.

Montescue shook his head glumly at the loaded try, "There's enough here for a battalion."

Lady Desdemona swept into the library and came face to face with Adam comfortably ensconced in the large arm chair closest to the fire reading a heavy tome.

Momentarily flustered, she mumbled, " Oh, um, excuse me, I thought Cyril was in here."

Adam looked up at the tall, attractive woman dressed in a pale lavender muslin dress trimmed at the neck and sleeves with delicate white lace and grinned, "His lordship rode into Virginia City to send some telegrams, he preferred not to take me with him."

Lady Desdemona started to back away towards the door when she almost collided with Montescue and the loaded tea tray. The aged butler deftly stepped around the surprised woman and placed the tray on the table next to the arm chair facing Adam, "Your tea, madam," he bowed low then asked, "Do you require anything else."

Lady Desdemona stared at the servant dumbly for a moment then finally answered, "Um, no. No, thank you Montescue, that will be all."

Montescue bowed once more then left the room closing the doors behind him.

Adam eyed the tray hungrily and said, "Oh good, Mrs. Montescue made scones. Will you do the pouring out, m'lady?" he smiled broadly at the startled lady. He knew exactly what was going through her mind and he was doing everything he could to keep her from being able to bow out of the situation gracefully.

Realizing that she was trapped, Lady Desdemona raised her head regally and seated herself in the chair across from Adam. She gracefully poured a cup of tea.

"One lump or two?"

"Three." Adam grinned. She picked three sugar lumps out of the bowl with the sugar tongs and added them to the cup she was holding without comment.

"Milk or lemon?"


Lady Desdemona raised a quizzical eye brow but obligingly poured milk into the cup, added a slice of lemon and handed the cup and saucer to Adam. "I hope it's to your liking." she commented stiffly.

Adam grinned and bowed over the cup, "Thank you my lady.....or should I be addressing you as Lady Chandry?" he inquired politely.

"As the daughter of an earl, I retain the title Lady Desdemona despite the fact that I married a man without a title."

"Desdemona....a maiden never bold of spirit, so still and quiet that her motion blushes at herself." he added ironically.

Lady Desdemona gave him a startled look and then replied coolly, "Your sarcasm is wasted, Mr. Cartwheel, there is no part of OTHELLO that my late husband has not taunted me with at one time or another in my life."

"Cartwright, Lady Desdemona, my last name is Cartwright.....just plain Cartwright, no titles or hyphenations."

Lady Desdemona flushed, "I apologize, Mr. Cartwright, I meant no disrespect."

Adam raised one eyebrow but said smoothly, "Of course you didn't. Lord Cyril tells me that your husband was in the Queen's Hussars, in what battle did you lose him?"

"My husband was never near a battlefield. That is why he sold his commission and was leaving the Hussars."

"I see, I'm not familiar with commissions."

"As the fourth son of a baronet, Charles was not in line to inherit unless a plague or something equally disastrous should wipe out the family. Therefore, his father bought him a commission in the army as a Major. During the five years that he was in the Hussars, he never left London. He became bored with being a toy soldier and sold his commission. That night, he and his friends went out to celebrate his freedom. Returning to the barracks a little worse for the wear, Charles ducked into the stables to avoid a sentry and decided to hide in a horse stall. The occupant of the stall took exception to this and kicked Charles in the head. He died instantly."

Adam stared at the woman across from him. She had just described her husband's death with about as much emotion as she would have used to read a shopping list. "I'm sorry," he finally mumbled, "It must have been horrible for you."

Lady Desdemona sighed and looked down at the cup she was holding, "Yes, it was, but in actually, Charles died as he lived, impetuously, with absolutely no concern for the consequences. It was only a matter of time before something caught up with him. I was aware of that from the time he and Cyril and I were children together. "

"Obviously, it didn't dissuade you from marrying him. You must have loved him very much."

Lady Desdemona shrugged her shoulders, "I was very young and very foolish and it was impossible for anyone to ignore Charles when he turned on his charm. There was always an understanding in the family that Cyril and I would marry. Charles was always jealous of Cyril and his title and money. What better way to get one up on Cyril than to elope with me?" she dropped a lump of sugar in her tea and stirred it vigorously."

Adam watched her closely and saw her jaw tighten.

"I'm sorry, Lady Desdemona, but I do not believe that your husband married you just to spite Lord Cyril. For some reason you have tried to convince yourself of that, but I'm not buying it. If you grew up together, he knew you well, he couldn't have taken on matrimony with you without caring for you."

"In other words, he'd be daft to take me on unless he really loved me." she smiled sourly.

It was Adams turn to blush, " I meant no disrespect, my lady, I just meant that......"

Lady Desdemona waved his explanation away, "I'm very aware of the fact that I am not the easiest person to get along with, Mr. Cartwright, Charles knew it but he also knew that my marriage portion was large enough to make up for it. Besides, that was 10 years ago, water over the dam. Charles is dead....but not before he squandered my dowry." she added bitterly.

"I see. And now you are going to marry Lord Cyril and become a countess and later a duchess."

She raised her chin and looked him full in the eyes, "Yes, I am. Cyril wants me as his wife. In the past 10 years he could have married any number of women, including either one of my sisters. I am lucky to have a second chance."

Adam said nothing but busied himself spreading a scone with strawberry concerves. Lady Desdemona watched him for a few moments and then continued, " You know, Mr. Cartwright, contrary to the way that Cyril has been acting lately, he is not a fool. He is greatly handicapped by the fact that his father and brother are wastrels and he is constantly forced to pick up the pieces of their lives. He should have been a fourth son instead of Charles, it would have suited him down to the ground."

"I have trouble visualizing Lord Cyril in the army." Adam smiled

Lady Desdemona smiled fondly as she thought of her cousin and fiancee. The first genuine smile Adam had seen. It lit up her face and took away the haughtiness she wore like a cloak. "Oh, Cyril would not have had to go into the military. His family has enough money to provide an income for as many sons as his parents may have had. As it is, he only has the one brother, Lord Gerard. Gerard is just like his father and should have been the oldest. Cyril would have been quite happy on one of their smaller estates raising llamas and making notations about them." she looked at Adam intently, "You know, the llamas aren't some half-baked scheme of a bored peer. Cyril did a lot of studying and investigating before becoming involved with Senor Fernando. I only wish he would ignore his father and stay here longer."

"Lady Desdemona, I have come to appreciate Lord Cyril's intellect and knowledge about his llamas...however, his actions with regards to me, leave something to be desired. I don't know what nobility can get away with in your country; but here, not only is cattle rustling a hanging offense, but the law also takes a dim view of people rustling, irregardless of the rustler's status and title." Adam shook handcuff connected to his tethering strap for emphasis, took a long sip of tea and eyed his companion over the rim of his cup.

Lady Desdemona visibly stiffened and her chin went up regally, "Mr. Cartwright, it is obvious you are a learned man for I am sure that the average inhabitant of this God forsaken country cannot quote Shakespeare......" she raised her hand imperially to halt the response he started to make, "And please don't waste my time playing the country bumpkin with stories about finding bloody books on the prairie; Cyril has already told me that tarradiddle. I did not find it amusing. Cyril has made a foolish mistake in putting his trust in those two imbeciles that he hired and following through with their hair-brained scheme. However, it happened and here you sit as proof of their idiocy. You must realize that having The Earl of Braxton, heir to the Duke of Thrypp, arrested for kidnapping or "people rustling" as you so quaintly put it, would cause a scandal of monumental proportion should the news filter back to England....as it undoubtedly would. I plan to do everything in my power to prevent such a scandal....even if it means taking you back to England with us in one of my steamer trunks! Therefore, I suggest that you use your intelligence and come up with a plausible plan that would free you and prevent a scandal from tainting our good name." Lady Desdemona stood up and swept out of the room in one haughty, fluid motion.

Adam stared at her retreating back and shook his head in wonder. He had no doubt in his mind that Lady Desdemona meant exactly what she said and he could end up folded in a trunk along with her dresses and other fripperies headed toward England. And, while he had always wanted to visit the British Isles, he didn't think that that would be the most ideal method of travel. He could, of course, just tell them that he would forget the entire incident if they turned him loose now; however, that, suddenly, went against his grain. After getting to know Lord Cyril, he had grown to appreciate the man and had come to rather enjoy being a quasi-guest in the nearest thing to an English Manor he'd probably ever see. He had planned to tell the Lord Cyril, when the earl returned from Virginia City, that he was prepared to let bygones be bygones if he was allowed to leave immediately. He had definitely been encouraged by the human side that Lady Desdemona had shown while talking about her husband and Lord Cyril; but, her sudden retreat back into her supercilious, lady-of-the-manner shell and subsequent threats had put his back up. He didn't care if she was Queen Victoria, herself, no one was going to treat him like this without suffering some repercussions! As far as he was concerned, she had declared war and it had nothing to do with the Burris brothers or Lord Cyril. It was obvious that the earl had no control over his cousin and fiancee; therefore, it was up to him to take her down a peg or two.


The earl of Braxton strolled down the walkway toward the Bank of Virginia City and marveled at the vibrancy of the town. He had never experienced anything like it. London was the largest and busiest city in the world; but, though the fashionable streets of Mayfair were more crowded, the people populating it languidly went about their shopping, stopping frequently to speak to acquaintances, to see and be seen by other members of the ton. Here, too, people stopped and greeted one another or waved gaily from across the street but it was with an amazing energy and vitality he had never witnessed before coming to this part of the country. Boston and Philadelphia were similar to London, but this bustling mining town had an energy all it's own, characteristic, he had discovered, of it's inhabitants.

Opening the door of the general store and post office, he came face to face with Hoss Cartwright. Flustered at meeting the brother of his captive, he stepped back and allowed Hoss to exit.

"Good morning, er, uh earl." Lord Cyril noticed that the large man was solemnly dressed in a dark coat, white shirt and black string tie.

"Ah, yes, um, good morning Mr. Cartwright. Hope all is well at the ...er...uh...Ponderosa?"

Hoss nodded. "Reckon as well as can be expected considering how busy we are and the fact that my oldest brother hasn't got back from San Francisco yet....and, me, my Pa and brother, Joe, had to come to town for Charlie Wilson's funeral."

"Er, yes, I heard about that gentleman's rather macabre demise....but why have they waited so long to have the funeral?"

"I reckon he has a niece and nephew in St. Louis who wanted to be here. Digger Thompson had to put poor Charlie in Isaac Sanford's ice house to keep him until the relatives arrived."

"How unfortunate for Mr. Sanford."

"Worse for his wife. Isaac forgot to tell Kitty that they had put Charlie in there and she went to the ice house last night for a pitcher of milk and found Charlie instead. From what they say, it's a wonder we didn't hear her screams plumb to the Ponderosa!"

The earl paled visibly, "The poor lady!"

"Yep! Reckon Isaac will be making up for that blunder for quite a spell." Hoss put out a large paw to shake Lord Cyril's hand, "Suppose I'd better go round up Little Joe at the Bucket of Blood and find our Pa. Nice seein you again, Lord uh earl."

The earl allowed his hand and arm to be pumped vigorously, "Quite, quite, my regards to your, um family." He gingerly massaged the feeling back into his fingers after Hoss had headed across the street to the saloon in question. At least he had learned that the Cartwrights did not seem unduly alarmed by Adam's continued absence.

Lunch was a subdued affair at the Stuart ranch. Mrs. Montescue arranged a cold collation in the dining room but Lady Desdemona requested a tray in her room and Adam ate off of a tray in the library. Neither seemed to have very good appetites. Bridie Montescue observed the almost full trays her husband returned to the kitchen and shook her head. "A lot of good it done me, going to the trouble to try and feed those two. Why, Mr. Adam didn't even eat his trifle and he does have a sweet tooth."

Montescue cleared his throat and poured himself a cup of tea from the kettle on the stove. "If the look on Lady Desdemona's face when she came out of the library was any indication, the poor man is lucky to be alive...she was that angry!"

Fortunately, Adam's tether was long enough to allow him to roam around the library. He had tried to settle back down to his reading but couldn't stay still. He paced the floor like the proverbial caged tiger. He grimaced at the thought, unfortunately, it wasn't far from the truth. Walking over to the window he espied Lady Desdemona emerging from the barn. She had changed into a light grey frock with very full skirts. She might not have been overly upset over her husbands untimely death but she still wore half mourning for him. Which was a shame, he thought to himself, because her vibrant coloring begged for bright colors. Put her in a rich green or blue and she'd stop men in their tracks....until she hit them with that cool, haughty stare, then they would quickly make tracks the other way.

Following close behind her was a small cria with a red ribbon tied around it's neck. When Lady Desdemona sat on the stone bench under the oak tree near the front porch, the baby llama nudged her arm to get her attention. Lady Desdemona absent mindedly stroked the small animal's fuzzy head and stared at the house. Adam quickly stepped back into the shelter of the library drapes for fear that she would see him watching her. She sat that way for a good five minutes, rubbing the baby llama's head and staring into space until she heard horse's hoofs and saw Lord Cyril approaching. She quickly jumped up and ran toward her cousin with the cria at her heels. The Earl of Braxton dismounted and soon he and his fiancee were in serious conversation. It was clear to Adam that Lord Cyril was not happy with the subject matter though he could not hear their words. He retreated to the chair in front of the fireplace and tried to concentrate on the ancient philosophy of Plato.

"But, Mona m'dear, we shall have to release him before we leave."

"To allow him to go straight to the constabulary and have you arrested for kidnapping? Do you realize what a scandal that would cause, Cyril? It's too horrendous to be contemplated."

"Perhaps we can leave him with the Burris brothers with orders to release him once we are safely at sea."

"Do you honestly believe that those two walking disasters can be trusted to carry through your instructions? And besides, what makes you think that they would willingly be left holding the bag, as it were?"

"But, they are the ones who are the cause of this whole fiasco....which Adam very well knows."

"Oh, be serious, Cyril, they're fellow countrymen, you know who is going to be ultimately blamed."

The Earl of Braxton stared at his cousin in alarm. "Oh, I say, Adam's not the sort, if I am any judge of an honorable man.....and I am......Adam Cartwright is as honorable and fair as they come."

Lady Desdemona put her hands on her hips and glared at the unfortunate lord. "Then why, pray tell, was he shaking his chains at me and threatening you with the law not three hours ago in the library ?"

"Um, well...er...Mona, m'love, you do....er....sometimes have a tendency to be a little...shall we say...abrasive." the earl took a step backwards in preparation for fleeing from his cousin's wrath.

"Abrasive! I'll give you abrasive Cyril Eustace Reginald Albemarle Thrypp-Stuart! I suffered through the scandal that Charles' ridiculous death caused, I will NOT be put through that humiliation again! I told Mr. Cartwheel that I'd pack him in my steamer trunk and take him back to England with us if I had to...and I meant every word!" she advanced, poking a long slender finger into his chest for emphasis. "Now I suggest that you and that honorable man in there come to some sort of agreement......quickly!" after one more vicious jab, she turned on her heel and stalked into the house.


Rab and Lem had very carefully avoided the Stuart house as much as possible. Except for bringing Adam back and forth from the bunk house, they made sure that they were not around to incur the wrath of Lady Desdemona. The woman did not like them under the best of circumstances an this was far from the best.

As they did their evening check on the llamas, Lem exclaimed, "Where's Spot?" Rab turned back to the herd and took a closer look. The largest of the herd, a multicolored beast that resembled an Appaloosa horse and the Lord Cyril's best stud llama was no where to be seen.

Rab scowled, "Thunderation! He ain't there! Now where could he got off to."

Lem scratched his head, "I dunno but we'd better find him or the earl'll have our hides!"

"Let's spread out, he wouldn't have gone far from the rest."

With that forlorn hope, the Burris brothers began their search for the Earl of Braxton's most valuable breeder.

Conversation had been very stilted in the dining room at dinner. Neither Lord Cyril nor Adam wanted to be the first on to broach the events of that morning and Lady Desdemona, as usual, was dining in her room off of a tray.

Montescue cleared the dinner plates off of the table and served the fruit and cheese. Morosely, he carried the dishes into the kitchen where his wife was scouring the last of the pots and pans. Getting fresh water to wash the dishes and glassware, she noticed that the serving dishes were still three quarters full of food.

"Now I want you to tell me Perry Montescue, why I bothered to slave over that cooker all day cooking all of the his Lorsdship's favorite dishes. Look at this! And on top of everything those shiftless brothers must have gone into town to eat without telling us for they haven't been in for their suppers, either."

Montescue eyed the surplus of meat and vegetables on the table and shook his head. "Her ladyship is in such a pet I doubt whether she'll eat anything you sent up. Just give it to them again tomorrow."

"You know very well I can't serve leftover jugged hare! It'll go off on me, the weather's still too warm." disgusted, she began scraping food into the scraps bucket. "And us with not so much as a stray dog or cat around. Nothing but bloody grass eatin horses and goats!"

"Llamas." her husband corrected, automatically, while drying the last pot.

Lord Cyril securely attached Adam's tether to the leg of his desk checked his pocket watch and yawned pointedly. "Rab and Lem will be coming to collect you soon. I do think I shall turn in early tonight...busy day, eh wot?"

Adam sat on the settee and took up his book but said nothing. The earl eyed him uncomfortably for a few moments, then with forced cheerfulness, retreated toward the door, "Well good night, then." silence followed him as he shut the library doors.


Lady Desdemona tossed and turned in the darkness for what seemed like a century. Finally, irritated with herself and everything in general she sat up and lit the candle by her bed. The clock on her fireplace mantle said 11:15. Putting on her dressing gown she decided to go down to the kitchen and warm herself some milk. Everyone said that warm milk was good for lulling one to sleep. Having never had trouble sleeping and not being overly fond of milk in general, Desdemona had never tried it but was desperate to do something.

Once in the kitchen, she also realized that she had never warmed anything, either. How did one light a cooker? As far as that was concerned, where did Mrs. Montescue keep the milk? She finally found the pantry where the food was kept and was still faced with the rather daunting task of warming it. The entire cooker was stone cold. Opening a door at the bottom. she saw wood and paper. This must be where you fired up the contraption. But, how long would it take to heat it up? No matter, it didn't feel like she was going to be sleepy anytime soon. Fumbling for the matches at the top of the cooker, she lit one and threw it onto the bed of paper. The paper ignited so ferociously that it caused Lady Desdemona to jump back in alarm, her elbow knocking the jug of milk off the table and causing it to crash on the stone floor. Curling her lip in disgust at the mess she had made, she sighed deeply. That was all the milk she had seen in the larder.

So much for trying warm milk. Stepping around a thin river of milk that was meandering its way away from the main puddle and broken crockery, she picked up her candlestick and started to return upstairs to her room. At the foot of the stairs she glanced at the library doors. Of course! She'd scout out a good book to lull her to sleep.

About a quarter of a mile from where the llamas were pastured, Rab heard the distinctive crying sound of a llama in distress. It was dusk, now and he had to strain his eyes to see three feet in front of him. His horse was not happy about being out in the middle of nowhere in the dark when he should have been comfortably in his stall with a feed bag around his neck; but, instinctively knowing that Rab would never find the other animal on his own in the dark, the horse followed the sound of the crying.

Rab finally saw the whimpering figure of the large llama and jumped off his horse to investigate. Spot had been enticed by the last of the season's sweet juicy blackberries and had gotten himself ensnared in the blackberry bush's brambles. The more he had tried to get away the more he had managed to entangle his long hair amongst the brambles. He whuffled piteously when Lem approached, recognizing the scent of an old friend.

"Well, ain't this a fine kettle of fish, are you okay, boy?"

Spot managed to rub his head against Rab's arm, certain that all would be well now that he had been found.

Rab did not share the llama's optimism. Feeling around, all he seemed to encounter was prickly thorns and long llama hair wrapped securely around them. There was not enough light to even begin to tell how he could free the llama. After about 15 minutes of fruitless effort that only managed to gain him badly scratched and blackberry stained hands, he whistled for Rab, hoping his brother was near by.

Lem heard the familiar signal and headed toward the sound. He found his brother and the llama in the middle of the large growth of what looked like blackberry bushes, from what he could tell in the dark.

"What in tarnation?!"

"He's done got his hair all wrapped up in the thorns, he'll have to be cut out but I can't see to do it."

"Weeeelll, s'pose I built a fire? That's the only thing I can think of that would give you enough light."

"Reckon your right, but don't get it too near the bushes. A lot of them have already dried up and if they catch afire, we'll end up with roast llama."

As if he understood what Rab was saying, Spot gave a sudden snort and tried frantically once more to wiggle out of his trap.

Rab rubbed the agitated llama's head and spoke soothingly, "Easy big boy, old Rab ain't gonna let nothin happen to you, easy, now."

Lem quickly [for a Burris, that is] gathered up twigs and small tree limbs and started a good size fire as close to the blackberry thicket as he dared risk. "Best not get any closer than this. Can you see any better?"

Rab was already fumbling for his pocket knife, "Yep, but poor ole Spot, here, is going to need a heap of barbering before I can get him out of this mess. He wiped a blackberry stained, bloody, badly scratched hand and arm across his face to get the sweat out of his eyes. Between the effort of the job and the heat of the fire, it was getting uncomfortably warm.

Slowly and methodically, Rab cut away the llamas hair from it's body and left it dangling on the blackberry thorns. Finally, the animal was free and stood before the Burris brothers. Large patches of hair was missing altogether from all over its body and other patches have been cut very short. Still others had been left untouched and flowed luxuriously around it's body oblivious to the fact that some had been dyed a deep purple by the crushed blackberries. In gratitude, Spot whuffled and rubbed himself against Rab's chest.

"Don't think he's really hurt none, thank the Lord. He'll probably have a few scratches on his legs where the hair didn't protect him but there's some salve back at the barn that we can put on them."

Lem eyed the scraggly llama and his even more scraggly brother dubiously. Rab had lost his hat somewhere along the way and his sparse red hair was sticking up in tufts all over his head like an irate porcupine. His face was splotched with purplish blue from the blackberry juice and streaked with blood from his scratched hands. Though neither he nor his brother had enough knowledge or imagination to make the comparison, Rab looked like an ancient Celtic Druid ready to repel invading Romans.

"We'd best get him back to the barn and doctor him up before we put him back with the others." tying his rope around the llama's neck he hooked it on his saddle horn then turned to help his brother put out the fire.

It was after eleven o'clock before they were able to return the prodigal llama to his herd. All the Burris brothers wanted to do was collapse on their bunks. They entered the bunk house to do just that when Rab smote himself on the brow and exclaimed, "Thunderation! Adam is still up to the house!"

Lem stopped in his tracks, "It's 11:15, we can't go up there knocking on the door. Ole Monty will have our heads on a platter....if that mean-mouthed wife of his don't!"

""We can't leave him up there all night, the earl'll be sore as a boil if we don't make Adam "as comfortable as possible" them were his exact words."

"Yeah," added Lem, "We're already walkin on thin ice with that Lady Demona."

"'Sides, Adam's gotta be gettin pretty desperate, he ain't been to the necessary in a long spell."

"But you know the doors'll be locked." Lem whined.

Rab thought furiously, "I got it, I'll tap on the window and Adam'll let us in!"


Lady Desdemona opened the library doors and stepped into the room. As her candle lighted the area she saw that the room was not empty. Laying on the too-short piece of furniture with his legs curled up in a fetal position was Adam, sound asleep. Lady Desdemona took a step closer, mesmerized by the sight.

Adam had taken off his boots and snuggled under a lap robe they kept in the window seat. His hands were tucked under the left side of his head forming a make-shift pillow. His dark hair tumbled over his forehead. His face unlined and as innocent as an angel's, his long dark lashes brushing his tanned cheeks. A slight smile curved his sensual lips and the hint of a dimple could be seen at the corner of his mouth. She had never realized how handsome this exasperating man was. Some would even say he was beautiful. She gazed at him for a moment longer, then feeling like a voyeur stepped back to retreat upstairs to her room.

Rab and Lem left the bunk house and headed for the big house to take custody of Adam. As they reached the corner of the house that held the library, Rab turned to Lem, "Here give me that lantern, I'll hold it up to the window when I knock so Adam will see who it is."

Taking the lantern in hand, Rab stepped over into the bushes under the library window and knocked firmly on a lower pane.

Lady Desdemona had stated to turn back towards the library doors when she heard the knock on the window. Stepping closer to the window, terror gripped her heart like a vice. Shining eerily outside the window was the most horrible vision she had ever seen. The monster had spikes sticking up all over it's head and the ugly, distorted face pressed to the window was black and purple with red streaks all over it. She was sure that she had just looked upon the face of her first Red Indian. She let out a blood curdling wail and stood petrified, dropping her candlestick.


Adam came out of the dream he was having with such a shock that he jumped straight up off of the settee and went for his gun out of habit. Finding his hip bare of any holster he shook his head to clear it and saw Lady Desdemona standing in the middle of the floor stock still with flames licking at the tail of her dressing gown. He quickly grabbed the lap robe he had been using for a blanket and tackled the woman at her knees rolling her around under the lap robe while she continued to scream at the top of her lungs.

Peregrine Montescue heard the screams and jumped out of bed in his nightshirt and started down the servant's back kitchen stairs, the tassel on his night cap flapping in the wind. Hitting the stone floor at he foot of the stairs, he started toward the kitchen door when his feet hit a puddle of milk, causing him to go down on his back and slide up against the baize covered swinging door with a thud knocking his nightcap over one eye.


Bridie Montescue had taken the time to grab a poker from their fireplace before following her husband down the narrow stairs lighted only by moonlight filtering through the kitchen windows. She heard a crash against the kitchen door and cried out in alarm, "Perry, Perry, What is happening, are you all right?" She was halfway across the kitchen before she met with a puddle, making the stone floor too slick to stand up on. She tried valiantly to regain her balance until she bumped into her husband's out flung legs and went down in a heap on top of Montescue's solar plexus. His only reply to her enquiry was a feeble "Whoosh" as all the air left his chest cavity.

Lord Cyril had managed to pull a dressing gown on over his nightshirt before starting down the front stairs, the belt tie of the dressing gown dragging behind him like a forlorn tail. Seeing light in the library, he dashed in the open door and saw his fiancee rolling around on the floor, screaming with Adam Cartwright on top of her.

Rab and Lem Burris, having heard Lady Desdemona's first scream, retreated post haste to the bunk house. They couldn't figure out what had set the woman off but they were sure that they would rather be in trouble with the earl for neglecting Adam than with that female virago.

"That woman just beats all, " Rab muttered to his brother as he cleaned up from his adventures with Spot. Lem agreed, and both brothers settled into their bunks to sleep the sleep of the just.

Unlike the Stuart ranch, the Ponderosa was very quiet that evening. Hoss and Joe had gone into town to the dance, Joe resigned to escorting Geneva since Adam had still not returned from San Francisco. Ben had decided to stay home and relax with a glass of brandy and a good book. With Adam gone, things had been very hectic and though he hated to admit it, he was not getting any younger. His muscles ached from the wood chopping he had just done so that the boys would have plenty of time to get ready for the dance and Hop Sing would have wood for the stove to make breakfast the next morning.

He had been peacefully reading for over an hour when he remembered the letter that Hoss had brought back from town that morning. He had not even taken time to read it. He walked over to the credenza by the front door and picked up the letter. It was from Jared Barkley in Stockton, California. He quickly opened the letter from the oldest son of his old friend, Tom Barkley.


Dear Ben,

Hope things are going well for you on the Ponderosa. Things are pretty busy around here, as you know it is that time of year. Nick is running around like a chicken with his head cut off and yelling at everyone. In other words, things are about normal!

I was sorry that Adam could not stay longer in San Francisco, it has been a long time since we have had a chance to get together and swap stories about Harvard. Tell him that I'm keeping him to that promise to visit Stockton after Christmas.

I'm enclosing copies of that timber contract he and I agreed to in San Francisco. Adam said he couldn't stick around until I got it drafted so I waited til I came home to do it. I have signed both copies. If you sign one and return it to me you can keep the other for your records.

Mother sends her best.

With fond regards,

Jared Barkley


Ben stared at the date at the top of the contract. Evidently, Adam and Jared had met and worked out the details of the timber contract six days ago. Even if it took Adam another day to finish up with the cattle business, he should have been home three or four days ago. Obviously, if he had told Jared he couldn't stay to visit, he had not planned to tarry in the bustling California metropolis. That left Ben with a very uneasy feeling. If he wasn't in San Francisco, where was he? And if he was in San Francisco, what was keeping him there?

One thing for sure, bright and early tomorrow morning he was going into Virginia City to send some wires, even if it meant dragging Ted Nelson, Virginia City's only telegrapher, out of church!

He would start with the hotel where Adam always stayed while in San Francisco.

Mr. and Mrs. Montescue had picked themselves up and started toward the library when they heard Lord Cyril bellow, "CARTWRIGHT! What is the meaning of this outrage?!"

The old servants looked at each other knowingly and decided that, discretion being the better part of valor, they would clean up the mess in the kitchen and quietly go back to bed.

Adam, intent on putting out the last of the flames, realized how the scene must look to the earl and quickly jumped up and helped Lady Desdemona to her feet. The lady, still badly shaken, looked down at the scorched tail of her dressing gown in dismay.

"Well, sir! I hope you have a good explanation for this!" the earl advanced into the room looking like an irate partridge with a lock of hair hanging in his face that vibrated when he spoke.

Lady Desdemona whirled to face her cousin. "Oh, Cyril, be quiet! I came in here to get a book, saw a horrid apparition tapping at the window and dropped my candle. Mr. Cartwheel put the fire out. You should be thanking him for saving me from serious injury!"

"Oh, I say, so sorry old bean, many thanks, don't you know."

Adam smiled wryly and addressed the lady, "An apparition tapping on the window?"

"Oh yes, it was horrific!" she went on to describe the hapless Rab as a savage on the war path in great detail.

Adam cocked a skeptical eyebrow, "I must say, I've never known marauding Indians to tap on a window."

Lady Desdemona drew herself up to her full height and wrapped her bedraggled dressing gown tightly around her with the vestiges of her pride. "Mr. Cartwheel, are you doubting my story? Do you seriously believe that I am someone who sees things that aren't there? Cyril! I suggest that you and those inept miscreants search the area immediately!" with a haughty toss of her head, she turned on her heel and stalked out of the room.

Lord Cyril stared forelornly at the window behind his desk, "Mona really isn't someone to be seeing things, I assure you. 'S'pose I'd best get the Burris brothers to look around."

"Where are the Burris brothers? They never came to take me to the bunkhouse this evening?"

"Harumph, you're right. Well I'm going right out there and give them a piece of my mind." he, too, turned on his heel and stalked out of the library.

"Be careful how much you give away," Adam said softly under his breath, "I don't think you have a whole lot to spare!"

True to his word, the earl descended upon the bunkhouse before Rab and Lem had even got their toes straightened out in their bunks and after a tongue lashing, found themselves wandering around the perimeters of the ranch with Lord Cyril looking for a bogey man. Neither was about to admit to the earl that it had been Rab who had tapped on the window.

Sunday morning dawned bright and sunny but the same could not be said for the inhabitants of the Stuart Ranch. The Montescues overslept and were late serving Lord Cyril's and Lady Desdemona's morning tea in bed. This turned out to be inconsequential, for when Montescue entered Lord Cyril's bedchamber and opened the drapes, the earl burrowed deeper into his covers and refused to stir; and when Mrs. Montescue entered Lady Desdemona's chamber she found a note on the night table telling her not to disturb her mistress under any circumstances short of death.

The Burris brothers were at odds, also. Their late night tour of the ranch had left them short on sleep and consequently short on temper. To make matters worse, Rab's hands and forearms were bothering him because of the numerous scratches they had endured while freeing Spot from the blackberry brambles and Lem had developed a bad cold from the damp fog that had fallen while they performed their wild goose chase the night before.

Only Adam seemed unaffected by the events of the previous evening. When Rab tethered him to the dining room sideboard, he found himself ravenously hungry and anxiously awaiting one of Mrs. Montescue's delicious breakfasts. This was not at all affected by the fact that his host failed to join him. After polishing off his second plate of bacon, eggs, homemade rolls and several cups of hot coffee he smiled at Montescue as the elderly butler cleared away the dishes. "My compliments to Mrs. Montescue, as always. Would you tell the Burris brothers that when they finish their breakfast, I would like to be taken out to the herd."

Montescue bowed and exited. In the kitchen, Bridie Montescue was slinging pots and pans around with a thunderous look on her face. "I don't know why I bother to cook at all. Lord Cyril and Lady Desdemona are still abed and those two miserable excuses for human beings in the bunkhouse wouldn't know good food from pig slop."

"Mr. Adam sends his compliments." Montescue said soothingly, showing his wife the empty dishes from the dining room.

"Well, that's something at least...such a nice young man. Did you ever find out what happened last night that started her ladyship a carrying on?"

"It seems she went into the library to get a book and saw a red Indian knocking on the window. She was so frightened she dropped her candle and set herself on fire. Mr. Adam put out the fire with his blanket."

I never heard of such a thing! Red Indians knocking on windows in the middle of the night, my Great-Aunt Vulnavia! Even if it were likely, it still does not explain the fire in the stove and the milk on the floor." she huffed.

"The only person in this house last night besides us who would have the slightest idea about how to light that stove would be Mr. Adam and he was chained to the desk in the library. I bolted both doors last night so I know that no one came in from outside after I went to bed!"

"Well the scullery cat certainly didn't decide to warm himself some milk, Perry Montescue!"

"True, but since Lady Desdemona seemed to be wandering the halls last night, maybe she attempted to do so. I can't picture his lordship wanting warm milk at any time."

"Hmph! That's about as likely as her ladyship turning her lily white hands to do anything so mundane."

"As you said, luv, the scullery cat didn't do it. So, unless one of us has taken to walking in our sleep, whom do we have left?" Her husband headed toward the bunkhouse to pass on Adam's request.

Lady Desdemona, still in her night clothes, sat at the window seat and stared out at the beautiful autumn day. As she watched, the Burris brothers came from the barn leading Adam on a horse and riding in the direction of the pasture where the llamas were currently grazing. The small cria with the red ribbon around it's neck happily frolicked behind them.

Making a sudden decision, she jumped up, rang for her bath water and proceeded to the wardrobe to chose her riding apparel for the day.

Rab and Lem returned to the barn to find Lady Desdemona saddling her own horse. Turning around as they entered, she said crisply, "Mr. Burris, I will require the keys that you use to lock Mr. Cartwheel's chains."

Rab looked at her perplexedly, "The keys, ma'am?"

"Yes, his lordship is still sleeping and I did not want to disturb him in order to obtain his set."

Wordlessly, he handed her the set of keys and continued to stare at her dumbfounded as she mounted her horse and rode out of the barnyard.

"Whad id she ub to?" Lem asked through the handkerchief he had just sneezed into.

Rab shook his head resignedly, "Don't know, but you can bet yore best pair of boots that we'll get blamed fer it!"

Bright and early, after breakfast, Ben Cartwright prepared to ride into town. His two younger sons lingered over their food as they discussed the events of the night before.

"I'm tellin you Joe, it ain't my fault Miss Geneva was so disappointed that Adam couldn't take her to the dance." Hoss helped himself to his third breakfast steak.

"Well, it's bad enough that she tromped on my feet all night," Little Joe groused, "without having her constantly asking when I thought Adam would be returning home. She's about as graceful as a three legged calf...and a lot heavier!"

"Now Joe, I danced with her several times and she didn't step on my feet oncest."

"That's because you were too busy stepping on hers!"

"That's not true! Sally Ann says I'm a good dancer. Besides, I thought Miss Geneva danced and looked real pretty last night."

"Yeah, pretty awful and pretty apt to stay that way!" Joe snorted.

"Joseph!" Ben barked from the front door where he was tying on his gun, "That's no way to talk about a lady. I suggest that you two either find something more productive to do or you can both accompany me into Virginia City and we'll attend church services after I send my telegrams.

Hoss and Joe looked at each other in alarm. It was much too nice a day to spend most of it cooped up in church.

"Uh, Pa, we sorta thought we'd mend that corral fence by the barn today." Hoss ventured.

"Well, see that you do...and you might as well muck out the stalls and clean out the upper loft while you are at it. Tomorrow, we'll start the haying and later in the week we'll want to store the winter's hay up there. I'll probably be in town most of the day waiting for replies to my wires. I just can't understand what has happened to keep Adam in San Francisco."

"Aw, Pa, he's probably just run into an someone he knew and decided to stay and visit a spell."

Hoss disagreed with his brother, "Nah, it ain't that, Joe. If that was the case he would have stayed on with Jared Barkley. You know how those two like to jaw about their school days back East."

Ben Cartwright sighed deeply as he put on his hat, "I wish it were that simple; but you know Adam, he'd never do that with things beings so busy on the Ponderosa. And if he knew he was going to be delayed he would have wired! I'm sure of it."

Hoss pushed back his plate and stood up, "Now Pa, don't work yourself up. Something has just come up that Adam didn't plan on...remember when he was jailed in Morris Flats because he kept seeing a knight in armor?"

Ben scowled at his middle son, "Oh, you're real comforting, you are. I also remember when he got shot in the leg by an arrow and had to hole up with that mysterious medicine woman. That was a nightmare, wondering if he was dead or alive."

"Or when we found him wandering across the desert dragging a dead man after him when we'd 'bout given him up for dead, himself." Joe piped in and then realized that he was only making it worse when his brother glared at him.

Ben shook his head in dismay, "Even a cat only has nine lives."

His sons watched him glumly as he walked out the door."

"Joe, you just had to add that last part, didn't you!" Hoss growled.

Joe gulped guiltily, "It just sorta popped out. Do you think we had better go out and look for him around the Ponderosa?"

"No, we'd better do what Pa told us to do. 'Sides, Adam left on the stage. He doesn't have a horse to even get him here. How could he be somewhere on the Ponderosa?"

Joe shrugged, "It was just a thought. One thing's for sure, if he's not laid up hurt, somewhere, our big brother is going to have a lot of explaining to do when he does get home!"

"That's for durn sure. Knownin Adam, he's probably havin some big adventure while we're left here muckin out the barn!"

As Lady Desdemona came close to the pasture where the llamas were pastured, she slowed down to a slow trot. What was she doing? Was she walking into another folly by following her intuition? She paused in the copse of pines closest to the pasture and watched Adam in the pasture, the figure in black standing out among the hairy creatures.

And what an imposing figure it was. The man was huge! She had never really noticed it before, but standing among the animals he loomed like a mythical God. He was a good 4 or 5 inches taller than Cyril and a couple of stone heavier. And it was all muscle. She had felt that when he had tackled her and wrestled her to the library carpet the night before. He had done it as easily as if she were a child and she was not a fragile, petite woman and had put up a fight until she realized what was happening. His shirt sleeves were rolled up past his elbows and the muscles in his forearms rippled as he seemed to be examining one of the largest llamas.

Good grief! That was Spot he was looking at, and what was wrong with the animal? His has was definitely patchy and part of it looked PURPLE! Lady Desdemona urged her horse toward the pasture. Adam looked up as he saw her galloping toward him. A tall, graceful figure in a rust colored riding habit with an elegant bonnet sitting cocked on her head ; the ribbon tied under her chin and the flirtatious feathers on the hat were the same rust color and accentuated the highlights in her chestnut hair.

"Mr. Cartwheel! Whatever has happened to Spot?" she jumped down off of her mount and marched imperiously toward him. The baby llama with the red ribbon bounced joyously toward her.

Adam bit his lip before screaming " The name is CartWRIGHT!!" at her and, instead, cocked an eyebrow and answered tersely, "Judging by the scratches on his legs and stains on his coat, I'd say he got tangled up in a blackberry bush."

"But his HAIR! Did he chew himself loose?"

"Off hand, if I were a betting man, I'd bet he had the help of someone with a knife or scissors."

"Those two fools, of course. Look what they've done to his coat. Cyril will have apoplexy."

"Don't suppose they had much choice, my lady. There would have been no other way to get him untangled from the brambles."

"Well, they shouldn't have let him get in the brambles in the first place. Cyril is paying those two a king's ransom to takes care of these animals."

Well, unless they sit here and watch them 24 hours a day there is no way they can prevent them from jumping the fence and wandering off if they get the urge. Which is probably what this one did."

"But llamas don't like being alone. Spot wouldn't have gone off by himself."

"Well, since there are no blackberry bushes in the immediate vicinity, I'd say he did. That's probably why the Burrises left me in the library, they were out hunting for Spot, here." Adam patted the animal encouragingly and glanced down at the small cria at Lady Desdemona's heels. "And while were on the subject of wandering llamas, why do they let that baby run free? Doesn't upset the mother?"

"Dolly doesn't have a mother. It was a difficult birth and the mother died. We bottle raised Dolly. She probably doesn't even realize that she is a llama. She acts more like a dog." She reached down and rubbed the soft fluff on top of the cria's small head. The baby llama made a small whuffling noise and rubbed against Lady Desdemona's skirts.

"And what's going to happen when you go back to England? You can't take Dolly with you, I doubt if they'd let you keep her in your cabin and she's too much of a baby to chain down in the cargo area."

Lady Desdemona sighed, "I know, we'll have to leave her with those two buffoons She's going to be one of the best in the herd. Spot sired her and the dam was excellent."

"In all fairness to Rab and Lem, they are very good with the animals and seem to really like them."

"Well, there is that, and Cyril had little choice, really. All the other farm hands he tried to hire looked at the llamas askance and practically ran the other way."

Adam had a quick mental picture of how the Ponderosa's ranch hands would react if asked to babysit a bunch of goats and grinned appreciatively. "Somehow, I don't find that hard to believe."

Lady Desdemona eyed him. "Do you plan on helping Cyril establish the llamas in the this part of the country?"

Adam shrugged and answered wryly, "At the moment, I find myself in a .....shall we say.....difficult position." he nodded toward the ankle chain that had him tethered to the pasture fence.

Lady Desdemona wordlessly took the key from her pocket and handed it to him.

Adam stared at it. " Does Lord Cyril know you are doing this?"

"Cyril is still in bed, I asked Mr. Burris for the key."

"Asked!? Where did you leave the bodies?"

"What do you mean? What bodies?"

"If you ASKED for this key instead of DEMANDING it, as per usual, Rab and Lem are sure to have passed out from the shock of it."

"Very amusing. Are you suggesting that I am inconsiderate of the servants?"

"Well, you know, we are fighting a war in this country right now because of slavery."

"Slavery?! Poppycock! Slavery was abolished in my country eons ago! All Englishman are very proud of their freedom!"

"Really? Mr. and Mrs. Montescue hardly appear to be 'free' ."

"Montescue's family has worked for the Dukes of Thryp for generations. His father, grandfather and older brother have all been butlers at Braxton Hall. Montescue is the butler for the London house. If he were not happy with us, he could work for just about any family in society and even if Mrs. Montescue were not one of the finest cooks in the land, they would find a place for her in their kitchens just to get Montescue. I wouldn't suggest to either of the Montescues or any other English servant that they are "slaves"...they would take great exception to that, as would anyone in Britain."

"If your country is so proud of being free, Why is your Queen and Parliament supporting the Southern Cause?"

"Oh, that," Lady Desdemona dismissed it with the wave of a hand, "That's purely economical."

"Economical? If that were the case, they would be more apt to be on the side of the Union. They are much more financially solvent than the Confederacy."

"Perhaps, but England needs America's cotton for it's textile mills. I've traveled all through the North and Western parts of your country and I have seen no cotton growing; therefore, I presume that it is found only in your Southern states."

"Yes it is. So, England is aiding the Confederate rebels to fight against the Union because it's textile mills needs cotton. Never mind the fact that they are supplying money to continue a war in which hundreds of men die each day?"

"I assure you that English men are dying every day, somewhere in some war or other. It has been that way since the Romans first invaded our islands."

"Brother fighting against brother"? Adam asked skeptically.

"We, too, had a Civil War approximately 200 years ago, you know. And when your colonists revolted against our King, there were numerous families split asunder in England, I assure you. War, unfortunately, is as inevitable as life...and death."

"You seem quite well informed on the subject, my lady."

"I had the same schoolroom education as Cyril and Charles.....and I was a better student."

"You haven't been in a schoolroom lately, Lady Desdemona."

"Every drawing room in London is a schoolroom if you but listen... instead of fretting over the shortage of French lace or Austrian crystal."

Adam eyed the rich fall of delicate lace at her throat. " You seem to have that under control, also."

"I am a reasonably capable person."

No, you appear to be a very capable person. Now tell me why you are letting me go. I'm sure your very capable mind has come to some sort of logical reason for this."

"Well, of course, the whole thing has been ridiculous from the start. How Cyril could have possibly gone along with that hare-brained scheme is beyond me. He has to let you go, eventually."

"Unless you pack me in one of your steamer trunks and take me back to England with you." Adam put in.

"Oh, well...that.....I was upset....you know perfectly well that it can't really be done....at least I don't think so."

"Well, I'd rather not be an experiment, if you don't mind. If you are letting me go, how do I leave. I have no horse."

"You can take Arabella, here, and return her later."

"Won't Lord Cyril be upset if you let me take one of his thoroughbreds."

"He knows you'll return it; besides, Arabella is my horse."

"I see. What makes you think I won't go directly into Virginia City and report you all for kidnapping?"

"Cyril insists that you are an honorable man. I tend to agree with him." she watched as Adam unlocked his leg shackles.

"Ah.....an honorable man. How do you plan to get back to the ranch?"

"I thought you might give Dolly and I a ride to the lane. We can walk the rest of the way."

"You have it all planned out, don't you, Lady Desdemona?" he helped her up in front of the saddle and handed the small cria up to her before swinging into the saddle and gathering up the reins.

Lady Desdemona smiled smugly, "I simply appeal to your reason, Mr. Cartwheel, I don't think you'll cause problems for us."

Suddenly the frustrations of the past few days fell all over Adam and he shouted furiously as he spurred Arabella in the opposite direction from the Stuart ranch, "CARTWRIGHT! My name is CARTWRIGHT!!!!!"

Lady Desdemona became alarmed at the tone of Adam's voice as his arms surrounded her and Dolly like vises. She quickly tried to defuse the situation.

"Oh, I am terribly sorry....Mr. ...er.....Cartwright.....I am terrible with names, you know."

"I seriously doubt that, my lady. Somehow I can't envision you standing around your London drawing room calling the Duke of Marlborough the Duke of Marbles" forcing Arabella into a gallop, they quickly reached the road. Left would take them to Virginia City...right to the Ponderosa. He brought Arabella to a stop. Lady Desdemona took that opportunity to try to wiggle free of his arms.

"Mr. Cartwright, really, just set me down and I'll walk back to the house."

Adam's hold grew stronger and tighter. "I think not. I'd stop struggling if I were you or you'll drop Dolly and hurt her."

"This is outrageous. Cyril will challenge you to a duel for taking such liberties."

"Relax, I'm only holding you on the saddle. I'm not in the habit of taking unsolicited "liberties" with ladies. Believe me, your virtue is perfectly safe with me." Adam drawled. Making a decision, he headed toward the Ponderosa.

"How dare you! " she hissed, stung by the rebuff.

"How dare I? That's rich! " Adam chuckled beginning to enjoy himself. He only hoped his father and brothers would find it as amusing.

Ben Cartwright was far from amused by the results of his inquiries sent to San Francisco. With each reply he became more concerned about his eldest son. He was no longer at his hotel and no one seemed to know where he was. He went insearch of Roy Coffey, who was having lunch at the International House.

Lord Cyril finally emerged from his bedchamber shortly before luncheon. Finding the library empty, he asked Montescue where Adam was.

"He requested to be taken to the pasture where the llamas are, m'lord."

The Earl of Braxton rubbed his hands together, "Excellent. I knew he would find my llamas facinating when given a little time." he quickly walked outside, the Burris Brothers should be bringing Adam back in for lunch momentarily. He couldn't wait to hear Adam's latest observations on the llamas. Inside the barn, he found the Rab and Lem sans Adam. Surprised, he asked, "Why Haven't you brought Adam in for luncheon? "

Lem quickly noticed a stall that needed to be mucked out immediately and left his brother to answer the earl.

Rab rubbed the bristles on his chin, "Well, sir, Her ladyship asked for the keys so we figured she would bring him in." he answered uneasily.

"Mona! Asked for the keys? How extraordinary! Did she take an extra horse?"

"Uh....no......matter of fact...she...uh.....didn't."

"Well, do you expect her to return dragging Adam behind her by the chains?"

Rab actually didn't doubt thay Lady Desdemona might attempt to do just that if the mood struck her but decided that her fiance would probably not agree with him, "Um, no sir...reckon you want me to go out and bring him back?"

"Now isn't that an excellent plan. So astute of you." the earl replied sarcastically. "Kindly do so immediately, it is almost time for luncheon!"

Hoss and Joe had diligently mucked out all the stalls and cleaned out the upper part of the barn in preparation for the new hay. Hungry, they went inside to clean up and enjoy one of Hop Sing's delicious Sunday lunches. While Joe was still upstairs, Hoss decided to check out the kitchen to see what smelled so good. Hop Sing was no where to be found but a large kettle of Mulligan stew was bubbling on the stove. Quickly grabbing a hot roll, Hoss exited quickly before the tempermental Chinaman caught him. He had just demolished the roll when he heard a horse in the yard. Assuming that his father was returning from Virginia City, he started outside to meet him.

As Hoss stepped out onto the porch, a horse came galloping around the barn. On it sat his older brother with his arms full of an irate woman in front of him holding a small animal and shouting at him. Hoss stopped short as Adam came to a halt at the hitching post in front of the house and stared in wonder at the spectacle before him. Adam grinned down at his perplexed brother.

"Hi, Hoss, would you mind taking Dolly?"

Hoss stared at the woman in front of Adam on the horse. Her face was contorted in anger as she struggled helplessly in Adam's strong grasp. Her hat was cocked over one eyebrow and the feather persisted in tickling her nose, which made her even more irate.

"Um, Miss Dolly, ma'am, may I help you down?" Hoss gulped and reluctantly reached up for the woman."

Lady Desdemona thrust the small llama in his arms, "This is Dolly you oaf!"

Adam laughed aloud at the look on his brother's face as he took the small cria and set it on the ground while backing away from the horse. "This is Lady Desdemona Chandry, Hoss, now take her but hang on to her."

Hoss gulped again, "But.....but....Adam...." as he tried to reach for the wiggling, kicking woman.

Adam swung her off the horse with one arm and deposited her unceremoniously into his brother's reluctant grasp before jumping off the horse. "Lady Desdemona, this is my brother, Hoss, he will escort you into the house. Just take her inside Hoss, I'm right behind you."

"Put me down you overgrown idiot." Lady Desdemona kicked helplessly as Hoss carried her under his arm like a sack of grain into the house.

"PUT ME DOWN!!!!!!!!" Lady Desdemona screamed at the top of her lungs.

Joe was walking down the stairs buttoning the sleeve of his shirt and startled by the scream missed a step and stumbled down two more before crashing through the banister on the landing and ending up heap on the floor tangled in the Indian blanket that had been hanging on the banister.

In the kitchen, Hop Sing dropped the kettle of stew on the floor when he heard the scream and ran into the dining area swearing in fluent Chinese.

Hoss set Lady Desdemona on her feet and stepped away from her as Adam came in from behind her and closed the door, saying "Welcome to the Ponderosa, m'lady," as he bowed deeply before her, "Let me introduce you to my other brother, Joe, he's the one on the floor under the blanket. The gentleman with the pig tail is our esteemed chef, Hop Sing."

Hop Sing waved his apron at them all, "Foolishment, you make me drop pot of stew for foolishment!"

Hoss looked up, alarmed, "Oh no! Did you spill it, Hop Sing?" he rushed toward the kitchen in the wake of the furious chinaman.

Joe struggled to his feet and nodded at Lady Desdemona as he backed out of the room to follow Hoss, "Nice to meet you...er....Lady....er....uh....ma'am."

Lady Desdemona swung around to face Adam, "I might have known that your family was as uncouth as you are!" she furiously blew the feather of her hat out of her face and crossed her arms over her chest. "And just why am I here, may I ask?"

Adam grinned, "You may. I've decided to return your gracious hospitality. Let me show you to your room." He took her arm and turned her toward the stairs.

Lady Desdemona wrenched away from him and started toward the door but Adam was too quick for her. Catching hold of her wrist he swung her over his shoulder and carried her kicking and screaming up the stairs.

In the kitchen, a still irate Hop Sing salvaged the stew while Joe and Hoss discussed what they had just experienced.

"I think Adam's plumb gone and lost his mind, Joe. We haven't heard a word from him in weeks and all of a sudden he shows up here with some loco lady that he must have kidnapped!"

Joe scratched his head, "Yeah, it does look kinda crazy; but, knowin our brother, he's got something up his sleeve."

"Kinda crazy! Joe, I'm tellin you, he's out of his mind and I can just imagine what Pa's gonna say when he gets back from town!"

Hop Sing pushed past them carrying the stew, "Hop Sing not wait for more foolishment, he busy, you eat now or do without!"

Hoss and Joe followed him to the dining table as their brother descended the stairs and stopped on the landing to shake his head.

"Joe, Pa's not going to be too happy with you, breaking that banister again."

Joe and Hoss stared dumbfounded at him as he calmly walked toward the table and took his place. "Boy, am I hungry, this sure smells good, Hop Sing!"

Ben found Roy Coffey at the International House tucking into a prime cut of beef with all the trimmings.

"Ben! How ya doin? Have you had your lunch? Join me, the coffee is fresh and the steak is practically still on the hoof."

Ben sat down at the table across from his old friend. "Thanks, Roy, but I'm not hungry and Hop Sing is probably wondering where I am."

"What keeps you in town so long after church?"

"I've been trying to track down that oldest boy of mine in San Francisco and I haven't had a bit of luck!"

Roy looked over the rim of his coffee cup at the Cartwright patriarch and saw worry lines etched in his face.

"Adam still not home, huh?"

"No, Roy, and according to this wire that I received from the hotel he was staying at, he should have been home close to a week ago!"

Roy set down his cup, "Now Ben, don't go workin yourself up over nothing. Adam's young, he probably just got sidetracked by something...or someone."

Ben shook his head, "I had a letter from Jared Barkley. Adam didn't even want to stay in San Francisco long enough to finalize a contract because he knew how short handed we were at the Ponderosa. If Adam has been sidetracked, it was against his will. I know my son. He wouldn't have passed on an opportunity to spend some time with an old friend and then let himself get sidetracked voluntarily. Something is wrong and I don't know where to start looking."

The sheriff rubbed his jaw, "Hmmm, have you wired Barkley and anyone else that he was supposed to see in Frisco?"

Ben took a sheaf of telegrams out of his vest pocket and threw them on the table. "I've wired just about everyone in California! It's been nigh on a week since anyone has seen hide nor hair of him. I can pin point him on the Barbary Coast making that cattle deal with Seth Bond and that's the last anyone I can get a hold of has seen him."

"Barbary Coast. That ain't promisin. You ain't thinkin he's been Shanghied?!" he looked at the bleakness in Ben's black eyes and knew that that was exactly what Adam's father was thinking. Everyone knew how easy it was for a strong able man to end up serving on a slow ship to the Orient after being drugged or knocked unconscious in one of the seamy dives or in an alley on San Francisco's notorious Barbary Coast. Unscrupulous ships' captains paid thugs top dollar with no questions asked for strong healthy men who could be forced into being sailors once the ship left port. The unfortunate men had the choice of working on the ship or being thrown overboard.

Suddenly Roy's appetite wasn't important anymore. He pushed his plate aside and stood up. "Well, I know a few law people in Frisco who can do some checkin for me. I ain't promisin nothin, mind you, but we'll shake as many trees as we can." He draped an arm around Ben's sagging shoulders and they headed toward the telegraph office.

Adam heaped stew,bread and fresh fruit on his plate and began shoveling it in while his brothers stared at him like he had sprouted another head. For once, even Hoss had forgotten about food. He and Joe exchanged worried looks as they heard the sounds of someone kicking a door upstairs. Joe motioned for Hoss to speak.

Hoss cleared his throat, "Uh, Adam, what did you do with...er....um.....that lady?"

"Lady Desdemona? Oh, she's resting in the guest room." Adam buttered another roll.

Joe snorted, "Resting! It sounds to me like she's tearin the place apart!"

"Well, she is very energetic, but I'm sure she'll settle down in a bit." Adam smiled blandly at his brothers and poured himself a cup of coffee.

Hoss grabbed a roll a bit into it violently with pent up frustration, "Dad burn it, Adam! Who is that lady and why did you drag her in here?"

Adam let out a deep sigh that seemed to have come from his boots. Setting down his fork, he proceeded to tell his speechless brothers what he had been through during the past week.

At the end of his narration there was profound silence then Joe began to giggle, "I sure wish I could've seen you in chains big brother!" Adam quelled his laughter with one look and Joe gulped, "I mean, uh, it must have been very uncomfortable and.....erm ....uh.....irritating." he finished in a mumble.

Hoss shook his head, "But Adam, if it were Rab and Lem and that there lord who done it, why in tarnation did you kidnap Lady..er..Dolly?"

"Desdemona." Adam sighed again. "Well, lets just say that she had more than one finger in the pie after she realized what they had done. I just feel that she could be taken down a peg or to...for her own good, of course."

Joe tried to look serious as he agreed, "Oh, yeah, yeah, of course, you'd never do it just for revenge."

"BUT ADAM!!" Hoss shouted, "What are we going to do with her? She kicks like a mule and makes more noise than an injun war party! An on top of everything else, that dern goat thing is probably out there spookin all the horses!"

Rab and Lem obediently rode out to the llama's pasture with an extra horse to fetch Adam back to the house. All they found was a pack of contented llamas and Adam's chains. Rab picked up the chains and scratched his head. " I knew she was up to somethin but why'd ya think she'd do a fool thing like unlock his chains? She shoulda known Adam'd be gone in a flash!"

Lem blew his nose and shook his head mournfully. "She's lod him. Now wad we do?"

"All we can do is look for him. It shouldn't be to hard since he's on foot and she's probbly hot on his heels with fire in her eyes."

Lem shuddered at the thought of Lady Desdemona being hot at HIS heels and felt a wave of sympathy for Adam Cartwright.

"Let's split up and we can cover both of the most direct ways to the Ponderosa."

"Wad if he's already hobe." Lem snuffled into his handkerchief once more.

"The only way he could already be clear to the Ponderosa is iffen he took her horse."

"Wid her?" Lem shuddered again.

Rab's eyes widened at the thought, "Maybe we should go back towards the ranch and make sure she's there and not somewhere awalkin and acursin us."

The brother grimly headed back to the Stuart ranch while searching every possible path Lady Desdemona could have taken. They ended up back in the barnyard without having seen any sign of anyone having been on foot along the way.

Lem looked at his brother with bleary eyes, "Now wad?"

"I reckon we'd best tell the earl what we found."

Being grudgingly admitted by Montescue, they gloomily bearded the earl in his library.

"What do you mean, they are both GONE?!" Lord Cyril rattled the chains under Rab's nose.

Rab reluctantly told him what they had found.

"Was there any signs of a struggle?"

"Nope, just the chains. "

"And Mona had your key."

Rab nodded miserably, knowing that somehow he'd get blamed for the whole thing despite the fact that he couldn't have refused to give Lady Desdemona the key without great harm befalling his weary body.

The earl of Braxton stood motionless for a moment and then sputtered "God's nightgown! They've eloped!" and sunk back into his desk chair holding his head.

The Burris brothers exchanged started glances. "Eloped? Not likely," each silently said to himself, "Not unless Adam Cartwright has gone plumb loco!"

"I should have known he would find her irresistible." moaned the earl.

Rab and Lem were nonplused.

Lord Cyril suddenly sprang to his feet, "Well, I won't have it! I WON'T lose her again!" he rushed around the desk and grabbed a flabbergasted Ram by the shoulders. "Where is the nearest Gretna Green?"

"Gr-gretna Green? Rab stuttered while Lem quietly started backing out of the room.

"Think man! Some place where they can get a quick marriage license and parson to marry them?" his gooseberry eyes boring into Rab's faded blue ones.

"I-it's Sunday, there's plenty of parsons but no where to get a license 'ceptin mebe Carson City or Reno."

The earl let go of the startled ranch hand, "Which is the fastest way to get there?"

"They're in opposite directions." Rab started easing his way out of the room, also.

"THEN WHICH ONE IS CLOSER?" Lord Cyril shouted.

"Reckon they're 'bout the same as the crow flies."

The exasperated earl gritted his teeth, "Mr. Burris, as you may have noted in passing, I'M NOT A CROW!!!!"

"Um," Rab gulped thinking to himself that the earl looked more like a half starved vulture at the moment., "I 'spect that the road to Carson City is a tad better."

Lord Cyril charged out of the library, knocking Lem over in the process and nearly colliding with Montescue who had come running from the dining room when he heard the earl shouting.

The earl stepped over Lem and glowered at him, " Don't just lay there, you fool! Go saddle my horse. Maybe I can overtake them before they get to Carson City."

Lem scrambled up and hit the deck running, heedless of everything but the desire to be as far away as possible from the deranged nobleman. Montescue silently retreated back to the dining room and, sighing deeply, gathered up the untouched platters of food laid out for the earl's luncheon. What his wife was going to say about yet another meal she had prepared going uneaten did not bear thinking about.

Rab mutely followed the earl to the barn and finally found the courage to speak as Lord Cyril grabbed the reins out of Lem's hands and mounted his stallion, "But...er.....Lord, sir, don't you think it more likely that Adam just took her to the Ponderosa?"

"Don't be an ass, one doesn't go a mere five or so miles to elope unless one of the Cartwrights is a parson!" kicking his horse, he galloped out of the barnyard.

The Burris brothers were left in a swirl of dust to contemplate the notion of any of the Cartwrights being a preacher. Rab shook his head as if to clear it of that absurd thought.

Lem wiped his nose on his shirt sleeve, "Reckon they riddy did elope?"

His brother looked at him with scorn, "Even iffen Adam Cartwright was loco enough to want to go and marry that woman," he shuddered expressively, then continued, "he ain't likely to try to ride doubleback all the way to Carson City!"

Lem's eyes widened as he recognized the logic in his brother's statement. "Shud we gode to da Ponderosa?"

Rab shook his head, "Mebe later, let's go git our grub while it's hot."

Adam finished his second helping of stew and leaned back and stretched, yawning luxuriously.

"I think I'm going to take a little nap, these past few days have been draining."

Joe and Hoss looked at their brother like he had sprouted another head. Hoss spoke softly as one would speak to a dangerous lunatic, "Um, Adam, do you think the lady might want some lunch?"

Joe chimed in, "Yeah, maybe you'd better take her something."

Adam cocked an ear toward the upstairs, "Sounds like things have quieted down. I'm not about to serve her lunch on a tray but I'll see if she wants to come down and eat."

Hoss looked fearful as his older brother headed up stairs and Joe stuttered, "C-come down h-here?!"

Adam paused in front of the guest room door and knocked, "Lady Desdemona, would you like to come downstairs for luncheon?" he asked sweetly.

A resounding crash was heard as something broke against the heavy wooden door. "You barbarian! I'll have you horsewhipped and Cyril will have you shot!"

"I'll take that as a 'No', " Adam answered mildly, "but if you plan to eat during your stay with us m'lady, you are going to have to come downstairs to the table. We don't have butlers to serve your every whim!" He headed to his own room whistling softly and closed the door to another barrage of shouts.

Lady Desdemona looked helplessly around the room she was in. The only other way out besides the door was a dormer window set in an eave and facing the corral behind the house. It was much too small for her to squeeze through. It would also be impossible for her to try to climb up the chimney of the fireplace. She hurled a poker at the door in frustration.

Downstairs, Hop Sing cleared the table while muttering Chinese expletives half under his breath. Hoss shook his head morosely, "Hop Sing you've done said a mouthful and I don't even want to know what Pa is going to say!"

Hop Sing headed toward the kitchen but stopped to point at the stairs, "Mr. Ben be plenty mad at you breaking up house!"

Joe jumped up, "He's right! We'd better get that railing fixed before Pa gets home!"

"I'll go get the tools," Hoss stated adding as he stared up at the ceiling and shook his head, "But, somehow I don't think it's gonna matter much with everything else that's agoin on. Reckon I'd better put that horse out there up in the barn, too."

As Hoss was removing the saddle from Lady Desdemona's horse, he felt something rubbing against his legs. Looking down, he saw the cria staring up at him with mournful eyes and a bedraggled red ribbon around it's neck. Always a sucker for critters, he reached down and rubbed the baby llama's fuzzy head. "What's the matter, littl'n, are you hungry?"

Dolly nuzzled his hand with her nose. Dipping into the feed barrel, Hoss poured out a cup of grain out on the floor and watched as the small animal ate. He grinned in spite of himself. "You know you're sort of purty," he looked around at the numerous occupied stalls, "and the horses sure don't seem to mind you." He patted her on the head and headed toward the tool shed.

A couple minutes later Hoss emerged from the tool shed laden down with assorted paraphernalia and started toward the house. On the porch, he found the baby llama waiting for him expectantly.

"Oh no you don't! You can't go in the house!" as he opened the door, Dolly circumvented his legs and entered the room. Looking round briefly, she headed directly toward the fireplace and settled down in front of it.

Little Joe giggled, "Hey Hoss! I love your new hound dog!"

"Dad burn it Joe! Can't you see that my hands are full. Grab her and put her out."

Joe looked into a pair of warm, trusting brown eyes,"Aw, she's kinda cute."

Hoss dumped the tools on the floor and turned toward the fireplace. The llama transferred her melting look to him. Hoss grinned in spite of himself, "Yeah, I reckon she is at that; but," he pointed a forefinger directly at the animal, "When I go back to take back these tools, you're going too!"

Dolly blinked once before closing her eyes and settling down for a nap.

Ben Cartwright was bone weary and thoroughly depressed as he rode into the Ponderosa's barnyard. He had left Roy Coffey in Virginia city doggedly wiring assorted lawmen in the San Francisco area. Ben had waited around for the first few replies but when it looked like it was going to be a long drawn out affair, he left with a promise from Roy that the sheriff would let him know as soon as he had any news.

Tying his horse to the hitching post, he entered his home to the sound of pounding hammers. Seeing his two younger sons busily repairing the banister, he exclaimed irritably, "What in tarnation! Have you two been rough housing inside again?"

Joe paused and spoke through a mouthful of finishing nails, "No Pa, honeth, it wath an acthident, I juth twipped."

Ben passed a hand over his eyes and sighed deeply, "Take those nails out of your mouth before you swallow them and I'd appreciate it if you would postpone the repairs, I have a splitting headache."

Hoss and Joe exchanged anxious looks and started cleaning up their mess.

Ben spied the coffee pot sitting on the dining table, walked over and poured himself a cup and started toward his favorite chair in front of the fireplace. He had almost sunk completely into the easy chair when he spied Dolly watching him from her perch in front of the fire. Startled, he poured hot coffee on his leg and jumped up yelling, "WHAT IN BLUE BLAZES?!!"

Twirling back around toward his sons, his next comment was drowned out from a loud crash and accompanying shout coming from the guest room upstairs. The llama temporarily forgotten, he carefully set his coffee cup down on the low table in front of his chair and walked menacingly toward his sons and asked with deceptive calmness, "Would you two mind telling me what that

ruckus was upstairs?"

Joe looked balefully at Hoss. Hoss gulped uncomfortably, "Well, uh, Pa, I reckon it was that Lady whatever-she's-called."

Ben's eyebrows furrowed together, "And which lady might that be?" he asked with barely controlled patience.

Joe's green eyes widened but he spoke up manfully, "Oh, just that English Lady Adam brought home." his voice ending in a squeak.

"ADAM!" Ben shouted, "He's home! Where is he?"

"Uh, reckon he's still up in bed, Pa." Hoss volunteered.

"Bed! What's wrong with him?" not waiting for an answer Ben started up the stairs towards his oldest son's bedroom.

Ben took the steps two at a time and was puffing when he reached Adam's door. Stopping to get his breath, he knocked. Hearing no reply, he entered, "Adam?"

Adam lay on the bed, very still.

"Adam!" Ben spoke louder. Adam did not respond.

"ADAM!" Ben grabbed his oldest son's shoulder and shook it.

Adam set up with a start and opened his eyes, focusing on his father's concerned face, "Oh, hi! Pa!"

Ben breathed more easily, "Son, are you okay?"

Adam looked at him blankly for a moment, then reached up and took a wad of cotton out of each of his ears.

"Sorry, Pa, what did you say?"

Ben's answer was drowned out by a loud thump and a shrill voice yelling, "You can't do this to me!"

Adam grimaced, "I still didn't hear you , Pa."

"I'm not surprised," Ben replied through gritted teeth, "I want an explanation and I want it now! Where have you been and WHO is in the process of wrecking my guest room?"

"Well, um, Pa, it's rather a long story."

Ben stalked over to the chair at the foot of the bed and sat down crossing his arms over his chest and pinned his son down with a piercing glare. "Then you had best get started telling it."

Adam sighed deeply and began, well aware that his father was going to be unhappy with the situation.

Unhappy was the understatement of the century. By the time his son had finished his story, Ben Cartwright was just short of apoplexy. Trying to calm himself before he spoke, he breathed deeply, taking in a bushel of air. Adam winced, knowing that this was not a good sign. If he were still a kid, he would have already resigned himself to a thrashing.

Ben leaned over toward the bed and placed both hands on his knees before speaking very slowly and deliberately. "Do you mean to tell me that while I was worried sick about you and had Roy Coffey covering the entire state of California with telegrams trying to track you down you were in the process of kidnapping a defenseless woman and a stranger to our country, besides?"

Adam was stung by his father's apparent lack of concern regarding his own kidnapping and subsequent treatment and snorted bitterly, "Defenseless? Ha! She's about as defenseless as Attila the Hun! What about MY being kidnapped?"

" You know very well that Rab and Lem Burris don't have an ounce of sense between them and Lord Stuart should never have gone along with them. But, he's also a stranger to our ways, and now you've abducted his cousin and fiancee. He must be worried sick. I'm really surprised at you, Adam. This is something Little Joe or Hoss might get mixed up in...but you? You know better!"

Adam stood up and shouted in exasperation, "And just HOW was I supposed to avoid the situation. They held me at GUNPOINT and then CHAINED me to the furniture!! And SHE," he motioned wildly toward the guest room, "threatened to ship me to England in a trunk among her lacy dodads."

"Rab Burris would never have shot you unless he happened to trip and the gun went off. And I can't believe you felt seriously threatened by a helpless woman. Admit it, Adam, you were still mad at yourself over the stagecoach running off with Charlie and when the Burris brothers "kidnapped" you, quote, unquote, you decided take out your frustration on them and be bull headed about it. I'm sure the earl would have released you if you hadn't frightened him with threats of being arrested. You should have used reason."

"Reason! REASON!!" it was Adam's turn to take in a bushel of air in an attempt to calm himself. "Pa," he finally said quietly. "Do you remember when that English writer let us read part of a story he was writing about a girl lost in some crazy land and having tea with a Mad Hatter and having some Queen wanting to chop off her head? Well, all I can say is that I'm positive that Lewis Carroll is personally acquainted with Lord Cyril and Lady Desdemona and has spent time in their home!"

Ben raised his hand, palm up to stop stem any further tirades from his son. "Enough foolishness. I am going to go across the hall and apologize to that poor woman and try to make her as welcome as possible. You tell Hop Sing to bring up a tray for her and your brothers to make sure there's plenty of hot water if she'd like to freshen herself up before YOU escort her back home and apologize to Lord Stuart." brushing past his speechless son, he headed toward the guest room.

The house was suddenly silent. Hoss and Little Joe, upon hearing their father and brother start shouting at each other, had gathered up themselves, their tools and Dolly and went to the barn in hopes of escaping the overflow of their father's wrath.

Hop Sing worked quietly in the kitchen. He had decided to prepare Ben Cartwright's favorite meal and was in the process of cutting chicken up to fry while waiting for two huge apple pies to be ready to take out of the oven.

Adam took deep breaths to try to get in control of his temper. There was nothing that riled him more than when his father treated him like recalcitrant adolescent incapable making a decision on his own. "Well," he said grimly, under his breath "Let's see how far HE gets with her ladyship!" He crossed his arms over his chest and leaned against the door facing of his bedroom and watched as Ben knocked on the guest room door.

"Lady Desdemona? " Ben turned the key in the lock and opened the guest room door, "I'm Ben Cartwright and I would like to welcome you to the Ponderosa and apologize for my son'sssssssssssssssssssss" he stopped in mid-sentence as a fireplace poker flew past his left ear and embedded itself in the hallway wall behind him like an Indian arrow in the side of a covered wagon. His eyes grew large with dismay as they focused on a disheveled termagant grabbing a delicate Dresden Shepherdess figurine off of the dressing table and taking aim to throw it at his head. Quickly, he stepped into the room and grabbed Lady Desdemona's wrist before she could let go of her proposed missile.

"Don't you dare! My wife brought that out here from New Orleans." he was practically nose to nose with the fiery eyed woman.

Lady Desdemona spit out, "It's a pity she didn't spare everyone else her atrocious taste and lose it along the way." as she smiled contemptuously and deliberately loosened her grip to let the figurine fall to the hardwood floor and smash in dozens of pieces. While Ben stared in shock, she took the opportunity to kick him sharply on the shin and wrench herself out of his grasp to head for the open door.

She was stopped in flight by Adam's strong arms pinning her to him, lifting her off the floor and dangling her under one arm like a sack of flour. "Tsk, tsk, m'lady, I don't think my father was finished with his welcome speech." He raised a questioning eyebrow at Ben, who had whirled around and was facing them as Lady Desdemona kicked helplessly and screamed demands for immediate release at the top of her powerful lungs.

Ben's eyes narrowed to slits under dark furrowed eyebrows. "I won't have that woman breaking up my furniture. Do what ever you have to do to keep her quiet and contained. I don't care if you have to bind and gag her!" without another word, Ben limped furiously to his own bedroom and slammed the door.

"Aye, aye, Captain," Adam grinned and toted the struggling noblewoman back into the guest bedroom. "You heard your host, m'lady, either you settle down and behave or I will have to tie you down and gag you. You don't really want me to do that, do you? It would be so much easier if you just calmed down and made the best of the situation." he situated himself in front of the door to block a charge before setting her on her feet.

Lady Desdemona jerked away from Adam and began trying to straighten her bedraggled clothes. Realizing that it was a lost cause, she glared at her captor and asked "And just what exactly is the situation, Mr. Cartwheel? Am I to be held prisoner in this Godforsaken place indefinitely?"

Adam ignored the slur against his home and smiled, "Of course not, I'm sure Lord Cyril or the Burris brothers will be along directly to rescue you. Then it will just be a matter of negotiations."

"Negotiations?" Lady Desdemona asked sharply.

"Now, now, nothing to worry your pretty little head about." Adam's tone was calculated to irritate and it did not miss it's mark.

"Why you supercilious worm, I'll......" she started toward Adam with claws unsheathed.

Adam effortlessly kept her at bay by keeping one hand pressed against her forehead so that he was an arm's length away from danger. "Uh-uh-uh....remember, you don't want to be bound and gagged... it really is most uncomfortable if you have never experienced it."

Lady Desdemona stopped and glared at him, "You'd enjoy doing that to me, wouldn't you?"

Adam shrugged, "Not particularly. I'd much prefer that you realize that the world does NOT revolve around you and you start behaving as if you have some respect for others....even if you do not consider them your social equal."

Lady Desdemona stared at him wordlessly for a moment then looked around the room in which they were standing and the havoc that she had created in such a short time. Taking a deep breath, she very carefully, picked up the pieces of the Dresden shepherdess and grimaced ruefully at Adam. "I'm afraid that this will never be able to be mended. Did your mother really bring it all the way from New Orleans without it getting broken during the trip?"

"My stepmother, Marie. Yes she did. She decorated this room with the things she brought with her."

"It really is a nice room, I owe your father an apology." she admitted humbly, "I do have a tendency to say and do things when I am angry that I later regret "

Adam raised a sardonic eyebrow, "Really?"

"Spare me your sarcasm. I suppose this whole exercise in futility is to get back at me for your...um....incarceration. You do realize that I was not responsible for that."

"No you weren't; however, your treatment of me and your threats toward me left quite a bit to be desired. I realize that in your country, we are not your social equal but in this country we set more store in treating everyone with respect unless they do something to forfeit that privilege.'

"So your getting a bit of your own back at me. What must I do to gain parole from this prison?"

"Common courtesy works wonders. The Ponderosa has never entertained a duke or duchess in our dining room, but the food is excellent and you are welcome to join us for dinner. "

Lady Desdemona looked down at her wrinkled clothes. "I really am not hungry. Do you mind if I just spend the evening up here straightening everything up a bit and join you at breakfast tomorrow?"

Adam bowed. "As you wish, I'll see about getting you some water to freshen up with. Clothes could be a problem, but I'll see what I can do."

True to his word Adam delivered hot water to her along with a variety of clothing including a clean nightshirt and dressing gown of his own and a shirt and pair of pants that Little Joe had outgrown. "These are not exactly the height of ladies' fashions but they are all clean."

Lady Desdemona held Joe's pants up to her waist, "I've wondered what it would be like to wear trousers. When I was a child I thought they would be so much easier to get around in than petticoats."

"If those don't fit, we have both smaller and larger ones around here; as you probably noticed, the Cartwright family comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. Those were my brother Joe's a few years ago. He's grown some but he's still the runt of the litter."

"Thank you., I think these will be suffice. I realize that I didn't pay close attention; but, none of your family whom I have thus far met appeared to be "runts", as you say. I think it's a characteristic of this country and it's people to appear larger than life. It can often be overwhelming if you let it."

"I have trouble picturing you letting yourself be overwhelmed by anything."

"Why do I feel that you are not being complimentary?"

"Let's just say that your approach to things can also be somewhat "overwhelming". You obviously are used to giving orders and having them instantly obeyed, irregardless of the circumstances. Most people that I know do not appreciate being ordered around."

Lady Desdemona had the grace to blush, "It is something I have long been guilty of. I believe it stems from having to take the lead in many instances when women normally can rely on their male relatives or husbands to be strong. My father barely knew I existed. I have two other sisters, both of whom were celebrated beauties when they entered society and, of course, my brother is the heir. I was neither an heir or a beauty, I think Papa was greatly relieved when Charles and I eloped. I was no longer his problem although he was decidedly miffed that I did not marry Cyril, him being much the better prospect, of course. Charles was not at home through most of our marriage...ergo.....I made all the decisions and gave all the orders. After he died, my father made it very clear that I would not be welcomed back to the family home. He strongly suggested that I grab Cyril and marry him as quickly the mourning period permitted. Cyril was agreeable to that plan. However, as you may have noticed, Cyril is not a commanding personality. To be perfectly frank, he dithers to the point that he often drives me mad. He lets others take advantage of him."

Adam rubbed his chin, which was starting to sprout an evening shadow. "Well, of course I don't know the whole story, but do you think Lord Cyril would have been agreeable to marrying you if he were the commanding sort. No doubt, he suffered from some embarrassment when you eloped with your husband. Many men could never have forgiven you."

Lady Desdemona sighed, "I know, and instead of appreciating that fact, I have a habit of riding rough shod over him. I am not oblivious to my shortcomings but have a tendency to ignore them...which makes me twice a guilty I am sure."

Adam left her contemplating her faults and wondered if she would truly try to mend her ways or lapse into the same old behaviors when she was once more lady of the manor.


His father and brothers were already downstairs the next day when Adam came down for breakfast. They all waited for Hop Sing to put the food on the table. Ben cocked his head toward the upstairs, "And how is our "guest" this morning?" he asked bitterly.

"She plans to join to us for breakfast. I just unlocked her door. She'll be down shortly."

Hoss and Joe looked at each other in dismay. "Um, Joe and I really do need to get started on tallying up those cattle in the south pasture I'll go upstairs and get the papers we started, Joe, you have Hop Sing pack up something for our breakfast and lunch."

Before his father had a chance to stop him, Hoss headed up the stairs and was half way up the second landing when he came face to face with Lady Desdemona.

"Er, uh, pardon me," he gulped and started backing down the stairs as if he expected her to attack him at any moment. Unfortunately, at the landing, he did not turn when he was supposed to and backed himself off of the landing and through the empty space that the missing banister had left. He landed in a heap, wedged between a chair and a table and lay there groaning. Adam and Joe went to help him up. Lady Desdemona looked down at them over the edge of the landing . "Is he quite all right?"

Hoss stood up and shrugged off his brothers, "I'm fine." with as much dignity as he could muster he limped to the breakfast table, realizing that he wasn't going to be able to escape Lady Desdemona after all.

Joe snickered, "I'm sure glad we didn't get that new railing in or you would have just brought it down again!"

"Joseph!" Ben spoke warningly to his youngest son before turning to Lady Desdemona and bowing, "Good Morning , my lady."

Desdemona descended the stairs and walked toward the Cartwright patriarch. "Mr. Cartwright, I hope you will accept my abject apologies for the trouble I caused last evening and my disregard for your property. Unfortunately, I often act first and think later." Her smile and manner was so charming that Ben was momentarily struck dumb by the lady's cordiality as well as her appearance in Joe's hand-me-downs. Jumping into the breach, Adam quickly pulled out a chair, "If you will sit her Lady Desdemona, I will have Hop Sing bring your breakfast." After assisting her to her chair he disappeared into the kitchen where loud remarks in fluent Chinese could soon be heard.

Hearing Hop Sing's tone of voice, Ben quickly cleared his throat and spoke loudly in hopes of drowning out the cooks obvious displeasure at having to make special efforts for their house guest. "I hope you slept well, Lady Desdemona."

Desdemona nodded and smiled , "Yes I did, thank you. The bed is quite comfortable." looking up at Adam as he re-entered the room she added, "I hope I will not be intruding on your hospitality for long."

Ben glared at his oldest son but smiled at Desdemona, "You are most welcome for as long as you wish to stay; however, if you wish to return home immediately, I am sure Adam will gladly make the necessary arrangements."

Before either Adam or Lady Desdemona could respond, Joe rushed into the house, "Hey, Adam, Lem and Rab Burris are outside asking for you.

Adam headed quickly for the door with his father and Lady Desdemona trailing behind.

Outside, Lem and Rab looked uncomfortable as they sat on their horses in the front yard. Rab nodded as Adam appeared.

"Um, Adam, we were wondering if perhaps Lady Stuart was er...uh....staying at the Ponderosa."

Adam crossed his arms across his chest and nodded, "She's here."

"Well, uh, we'd like to take her back to the Stuart ranch. Lord Cyril is real upset."

Lady Desdemona walked up behind Adam, "And why, pray tell, isn't he here looking for me."

The Burris brothers gaped at the sight of the prim and proper English lady in rough jeans and works shirt.

"Well?" Desdemona's tone was demanding as she too crossed her arms while tapping her foot impatiently.

Rab shook his head to clear it and gulped, "Lord Stuart has gone to Reno looking for you."

"Reno!" Adam exclaimed, "Why would he think she was in Reno?"

"Er, um, just a misunderstanding, I reckon he should be back by evening."

Adam looked dubiously at the Burris brothers, wondering if they had taken to imbibing in strong spirits early in the day. What kind of misunderstanding would make Lord Cyril tear off to Reno looking for Lady Desdemona. Surely he knew she was with me."

"Uh, yeah, well, he seemed to think that you may have...er....um...that is....that you and the lady..erm...might have decided to ...uh...that is......you could have eloped."

"ELOPED!" Adam, Lady Desdemona and Ben all shouted simultaneously.

Joe's and Hoss's ears perked up and they grinned at each other.

Adam took a deep breath then expelled the air, ignoring the furious protestations of Lady Desdemona he asked with deceptive calmness, " And just WHAT put that absurd idea into Lord Cyril's mind, may I ask?" he glared at the hapless Burris siblings.

Rab gulped, "I reckon he was kinda jealous......"

"Jealous of ME and Lady Desdemona!" Adam shouted incredulously.

Desdemona pushed in front of Adam and put her hands on her hips as she fixed him with an icy stare, "And what is so ridiculous about Cyril being jealous? SOME men do find me attractive, you know!"

Ben and his two younger sons eyed the irate lady and quickly eased their way back into the ranch house before the fireworks started.

Adam took a step backward and frantically searched his mind for the best line of retreat. "Well, um. what I meant was Lord Cyril should know that I have much too high a regard for you and him to do anything so underhanded."

Lady Desdemona did not appear appeased, however, "Oh, really? You certainly haven't demonstrated to me that you hold me in high regard." she stepped so close to Adam that he could smell the scent of Hop Sing's herbal soap that she had bathed with.

He took another step backward and looked pleadingly at the Burris duo.

Lem Burris spoke for the first time. "Well, sure, we all have a high regard for you ma'am and Rab and I'd be tickled pink to take you home to the ranch so you'd be there when Lord Cyril gets home from Reno. He'll be powerful glad to see you."

Lady Desdemona whirled to face Lem and Rab. "Oh will he? How interesting. I rather think that if he wants me HE should come and claim me!"

Seeing a way to redeem himself and get his own back at Lord Cyril and Lady Desdemona, Adam jumped in quickly, "That's right, and when he come to claim his lady's hand, you can tell him that he should also bring Spot and two of his best breeders in exchange for this fair lady."

Lem, Rab and Desdemona all stared open mouthed at Adam. Ben, Joe and Hoss, standing just inside the door and listening intently all let out various exclamations of disbelief. Ben shook his head disgustedly and went back to the breakfast table to pour himself another cup of coffee and ponder the Quixotic behavior of his oldest son.

Rab finally managed to sputter "Spot and two breeders? "

Adam gulped but nodded resolutely, "That's right and I'm also going to keep Dolly!"

Desdemona gasped, "You're holding me ransom for FOUR llamas?!"

Adam straightened his shoulders nodded determinedly, "Yep! And if he isn't here be bright and early tomorrow morning, the price will go up!"

"What's he gonna hold out for," Hoss muttered, "The whole dadburn pack of them critters?"

Joe elbowed him in the ribs, "Shhh! Don't give him any more crazy ideas!"

Ben groaned in the background, took a big gulp of very hot coffee and spewed it all over Hop Sing's home made biscuits.

Rab shook his head morosely and gestured silently to his brother for them to turn around and head back toward the Stuart ranch.

Lem was shocked almost speechless...but not quite...."What in Sam Hill are we going to do now? We can't give him those llamas!"

Rab shrugged, "We're not...Lord Cyril will have to. I'm a thinkin he should just keep the critters and thank the good Lord he got rid of the lady!"

Lem cheered up considerably at the thought, "Ya think he will?"

Rab sighed deeply, "Nah, we're gonna end up losing the best of the herd to Adam Cartwright and get stuck with that dadburn hellion in the bargain!"

The brothers took their time riding back to the ranch house, they were in no hurry to impart the latest developments to their employer in the event he had arrived back from Reno earlier than they expected.

To say that things were a little tense at the Ponderosa, was putting it mildly.

After watching the Burris Brothers ride off, Lady Desdemona whirled back around and shook her fist in Adam's face.

"Just who in perdition to you think you are Adam Bloody Cartwheel?"

Adam took another self-preserving step backward and shook his head. "Tsk, tsk, such language coming from a lady."

Desdemona advanced menacingly and reared back her right hand and arm to strike, " No lady stands back and let's herself be ransomed for a pack of bloody hairy beasts!"

Adam grabbed her wrist firmly, "There isn't a whole lot you can do about it m'lady. You're gonna just have to wait patiently until Lord Cyril arrives with Spot and his harem....." he deftly dodged a kicking foot, "And....if you don't behave yourself, I'm going to have to cart you upstairs and tie you to your bedpost until he shows up. Do yourself a favor and just relax and accept the inevitable, you'll be a lot more comfortable in the long run!"

Lady Desdemona furiously jerked her arm out of Adam's grasp and pushed past him and entered the house. Just inside the door, Joe and Hoss parted like the Red Sea to let her pass. Ben watched, coffee cup firmly in hand as she stalked wordlessly up the stairs. Within moments, her bedroom door slammed shut. He glared irately at his oldest son who had entered the house in her wake. "Adam......." he spluttered helplessly.

Adam held both palms up in entreaty to his father and brothers. "I know, I know, but it's only for another 24 hours...if that. Lord Cyril will be here as soon as he can."

Hoss crossed his massive arms over his chest, "And just what, Big Brother, makes you think he'll even want to ransom her?"

"Yeah, " Joe squeaked, "If I had the choice I'd keep the critters and let you keep her. I'd rather tangle with 1000 of those things than put up with her!!"

Adam smiled, "And so would I, little brother....but you see.....m'lord the earl loves the dear lady and love will out!"

"LOVE!" Joe squeaked again, "Lord deliver me from ever being THAT crazy!"

"Amen to that!" Hoss added fervently.

The sorely maligned earl in question arrived dejectedly back at his ranch at twilight. No one was around the barn to help him dismount and he dispiritedly removed his faithful steed's saddle and led the tired horse to a stall and bucket of feed. Trying hopelessly to brush the worst of the trail dust off of his person he entered the front door and yelled for Montescue.

The butler and his good wife were seated at the kitchen table partaking of large portions of bubble and sqeak when they heard their master's voice. Montescue jumped up and rolled his eyes at Bridie, "You'd best get his something hot quickly while I pour him a strong brandy. Where have those two half wits gotten to? I'm not about to tell him the news!"

"And well, you shouldn't," Mrs. Montescue bristled, "They are responsible for this whole mess!" she headed out toward the bunk house in search of the errant Burris brothers.

Lord Cyril was surprisingly calm as he listened to a very nervous Rab repeat Adam Cartwright's demands."

"How extraordinary! Praise to the powers that be that they didn't elope! I was sure that Adam found Mona irresistible. Well. I'll not chance losing her again! Gather up the llamas immediately and we'll take them over the Ponderosa before Adam comes to his senses and changes his mind. You'd better add an extra breeding pair for good measure. I'll go change my clothes."

Rab and Lem stared at each other for a moment, dumbfounded before shrugging their shoulders and heading out to round up Spot and his entourage.

It was a very subdued group gathered around the Ponderosa dining table. Everything was very quiet except for the sound of Hop Sing banging pots and pans in the kitchen while muttering in irate Chinese about the fact that no one was eating the meal he had slaved over all afternoon....even Hoss was surprisingly lacking in appetite as he and his father and brothers eyed Lady Desdemona warily across the table. The lady herself sat in rigid anger, pushing vegetables around on her plate without even attempting to eat.

Ben cleared his throat to speak when they heard horses riding into the front yard. Everyone jumped up and head for the door in one accord.

Stumbling onto the porch, they were greeted by Lord Cyril and the Burris brothers with five full grown llamas gathered around them. Lord Cyril dismounted and approached Adam with his hand outstretched.

"Cartwright, my friend, so good to see you." he she shook Adam's hand and then turned to Desdemona and eyed her up and down in Little Joe's hand-me-down clothes. "Mona, you look beautiful...as always!"

Lady Desdemona was the first one to find her tongue, while giving him a resounding thump on the shoulder that nearly caused him to lose his balance she shouted. "Cyril Thrypp-Stuart I want you to challenge this cad to a duel immediately! My honor is at stake!!"

The earl's brow furrowed as he stared at his cousin, "My dear, has he dishonored you?"

"Now wait just a minute!" Adam stepped up to defend himself while being careful to stay clear of the irate lady's arms and feet. "I have NOT dishonored her!! We have been chaperoned by my father and brothers at all times!"

Desdemona turned on her heels to glare wrathfully at him, "You call hauling me across a saddle and keeping me captive here and THEN trying to ransom me for a bunch of bloody llamas NOT dishonoring me? Cyril! I demand satisfaction."

"Desdemona, my love. I am honoring Adam's demands and have brought the llamas. I would gladly give up the entire herd to have you back. I realize that you are trifle upset but I'm SURE Adam meant in no way to dishonor you and if you have been chaperoned by his family, I'm sure he hasn't." he bowed toward the Cartwrights en masse. They nodded in confusion.

Desdemona was enraged, "CYRIL!!! I won't be insulted by being traded for a pack of hairy beasts!"

"Of course my dear, you are worth more than the rarest of gems....but Adam apparently wishes the llamas, instead." he smiled benignly in Adam's direction and took Desdemona firmly by the arm as he lead her to the horse she and Adam had ridden in on the day before that Hoss had quickly saddled brought from the barn. The lady wordlessly allowed herself to be helped into the saddle. Cyril then mounted his own horse and nodded pleasantly at Adam, "Enjoy them, my friend, you earned them!" Without another word he turned and galloped out of the yard with Lady Desdemona's reins in hand and the Burris brothers trailing dejectedly behind.

The Cartwrights all stood staring at the riders' departure and then at the small group of llamas gathered in their front yard. Adam sighed deeply then clapped his hands together energetically, "All right, then, lets get Spot and his friends into the corral for the night."

Ben and his younger sons stared at each other momentarily and then turned as one and walked toward the house.

Adam glanced over his shoulder and saw his retreating family. "Hey wait a minute! I need help here!"

Ben paused and turned and faced his oldest son, "Well son, since you didn't seem to need any help making a swap for those critters I'm sure you can handle them on your own." smiling to himself, he followed Joe and Hoss into the house.

Adam stood motionless with his mouth agape staring at his father's retreating back for about 10 seconds before throwing his head back and roaring with laughter. Chuckling ruefully, he walked over to Spot and patted the large llama on its head, "Well, buddy, this looks like the beginning of a strange and wonderful relationship!"

The End


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