Home in Nevada
Jan McDonald
This story is for my many sisters, I would like to thank Caz for editing it and to thank Caz, Ruth and Lissa for their valuable advice. Thanks so much also to Lissa, Ruth, Caz, Sandy and Gwynne for their encouragement to continue.

Part One - Beneath Another Sky

This was the kind of day that made Ben Cartwright wish that he had never headed west. The melting snows caused extensive mudslides in the high country with stock lost and fences destroyed. What made matters worse, was that the spring roundup came up about 200 head of cattle short. Ben knew that this was far higher than the normal steer losses and it pointed to a gang of well-organized cattle rustlers.

Ben had been counting on getting top dollar for those steers to pay for the new sawmill that Adam designed, but now it looked like that would have to wait. On top of these troubles Ben had ridden out to the calf branding to find three of the hands loafing about drinking instead of working. The foreman, Jack Tupper, was laid up with a broken leg and Ben felt that some of the hands thought that without Jack around to crack the whip they could take it easy. Well, they were wrong. He'd just given them a verbal roasting and was all fired up. This was the kind of mood that Ben Cartwright was in as he rode his buckskin horse swiftly home to the Ponderosa ranch house away from the setting sun that spring evening.

Adam Cartwright whistled as he tied his string tie while hurrying down the stairs. His gray suit set off his dark good looks perfectly. His boots were highly polished and his raven hair was carefully combed with only a stray curl threatening to go it’s own way at the back of his neck. He kept whistling as he saw his two brothers, Hoss and Joe, look up at him from their comfortable perches by the fireplace, where they sat with the ever-present checkerboard between them.

"You know what I think, Hoss?" asked Joe casually, pretending to be engrossed in the game.

"What, Little Brother? That you’re about to get a whippin’?" asked Hoss as he made a move and crossed his arms across his chest triumphantly beaming.

"Uh…..no" said Joe as he jumped four times removing most of Hoss’ black checkers. "I was thinking that our Elder Brother is looking mighty fancy this evening, I mean just for a supper with his kin and all."

Hoss didn’t answer as he scowled at his two remaining checkers.

"I mean it’s nice of you to go to the trouble of dressing for dinner and all Adam but it’s not necessary," said Joe as he winked at Hoss.

Hoss smiled back joining in. "Yeah Adam but may I say you look downright purty, don’t he Joe?"

Adam smiled a fleeting, close-lipped smile as he finished his tie and picked up his gunbelt and holster to the sound of their laughter.

"As you well know I won’t be dining this evening at this fine establishment," he said giving a half mock bow. "I will be in the company of much more refined individuals discussing something that you two know nothing about, literature. Might I also say that after looking at you two all day it will be a pleasure to have an evening, how shall I put this politely…..bereft of your company."

"Can you figure that, Joe? Don’t that beat all? Can you understand a fella who’d rather spend an evening with that fine-looking filly Angela Walker than with us?"

Adam smiled as he buckled up his gunbelt.

"Yes, Angela will be attending and I am picking her up but there’s nothing more to it than that. We just happen to both be interested in literature and with Mrs Rider organizing her literary evenings again, it’s logical that I would pick Angela up on my way past her house."

"Oh yeah, Adam, real logical ," said Joe in a mocking voice. "And it might also be logical for you to take her for some dinner first at the International House Restaurant and then it would seem logical that you would take her for a ride home in the moonlight, via the lake of course. Doesn’t that sound logical to you, Hoss?"

"Very logical, Little Brother, very logical," laughed Hoss as Adam donned his black hat low in front and eyed them both with sparkling, hazel eyes.

"Farewell, peasants," was all he said as he turned for the door with a smile on his handsome face.

"Goodnight, sweet Prince, and may flights of angels sing thee to thy rest," called Joe after him, much to Hoss’ amusement.

"Parting is such sweet sorrow," called Joe, using the only other quote he could remember from school, hoping this would be enough to get Hoss to fall off his chair laughing.

Ben collided with his eldest son as he rushed in the door. The look on his face made the laughter die suddenly on the lips of his two youngest.

"Sorry, Pa, didn’t see you," said Adam. "Night."

"Night? Where do you think you’re going?" asked Ben as he removed his hat.

Adam sighed. "You know I’m going over to Mrs Rider’s for the literary evening so if you'll excuse me, I don't want to be late picking up Angela."

"Now wait one minute, I need to call a family meeting. Your social engagement can wait."

Adam’s teeth started to clench.

"What’s the emergency?" he asked in a measured tone.

"You know very well," said Ben as he undid his gunbelt and put it on the hat hook. "The mudslides, the short cattle count and the trouble we’re having with the hands while Jack's laid up."

"Oh, is that all?" asked Adam.

"Is that all?" roared Ben. "I would have thought that would be enough to get your attention. I take it you still are a member of this family? A…. a…partner in the Ponderosa and would take a little more interest."

"Pa, of course I take an interest as you say, but this isn’t exactly hot off the presses. We knew about the slides, the cattle and the hands. Things aren’t much different to how they were when we discussed them at breakfast now are they? Now, I have a very important engagement and I’ll see you all later."

Ben wasn’t in the mood to be dismissed by his eldest son.

"Oh, so things aren’t much different so we shouldn’t worry? Well, I would have thought you’d want to help fix things and if we put our heads together, I’m sure we can solve some of these problems. That is of course unless the Ponderosa isn’t important enough to you."

Adam turned to face his father and the two of them exchanged a heated glance.

Hoss and Joe both stood and looked at each other worriedly. They didn’t like the way this was shaping up.

"Aw, come on now Pa, no need to yell," said Hoss.

"YELL!!! You haven’t heard yelling yet!" bellowed Ben.

Adam spoke softly but emphasized each word. This was generally a warning sign of a coming volcano but Ben was himself too annoyed to pick it up. Hoss and Joe heard it and looked again at each other like two people helpless to intervene, as a great flood washed a town away before their very eyes.

"I’ve spent the last few days pulling steers out of bogs, building fences out of green wood, riding miles out of my way to check on hands to make sure they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing. I was up late last night going over the books before being up at sunrise to put in a full day’s work on this ranch, and right now I’m going out for the evening. So if you will excuse me."

"We’ve all been working hard, Adam, not just you!!! Oh, you’ve been working on the books have you? Well, isn’t that your job? You know very well that the Ponderosa is a full time occupation. Our responsibilities don’t stop when the sun goes down and I don’t see how going out during the week to exhaust yourself will help things either. Why can’t you wait and go out on Friday night or Saturday?"

"Because," said Adam acidly. "The Literary Group meets once a month on a Tuesday night. Not a Friday night, not a Saturday night but a Tuesday night. I’m sorry if that’s inconvenient for you."

"Honestly, Adam, sometimes I wonder about you and your loyalties. You would think that you could put your family’s concerns ahead of some foolish book club, where you sit around drinking tea and trying to impress each other with how many books you’ve read," said Ben dismissively as he strode towards the fireplace with his hands on his hips.

"My loyalties! My LOYALTIES !" shouted Adam as he threw his hat angrily on the side bureau and followed his father. Hoss tried to step in but Adam angrily pushed him aside.

"Now, Adam, just cool off, we’ve all been workin’ too hard that’s the problem."

"Stay out of this, Hoss ," yelled Adam. His eyes blazed with anger and his powerful chest was heaving with emotion as he furiously glared at his father’s back.

Hop Sing came in hurriedly.

"What going on? Why all time yell? Supper get cold. No more yell," said Hop Sing as he shambled off towards the kitchen, shaking his head and adding something in Mandarin Chinese.

Hoss and Joe stood there like statues waiting to see how this was going to go. They knew that their brother and father were both as stubborn as mules, and so much alike that they could easily escalate this into something bigger. Both of them hated it when Adam and Ben fought, which was a rare occurrence, but when it happened likely to lift the roof a few inches when they were in this kind of mood.

Hoss shrugged uncomfortably. "Come on, Pa, Joe, let’s eat, our supper’ll get cold."

Adam walked over to his hat and put it on angrily. Ben spun around, still angry.

"You aren’t still going?" he demanded of his son. "After all I’ve said, you’re still going to run off to some stupid book club thing when we’ve got a crisis on our hands."

Adam didn’t turn around. He was too angry to trust himself to speak. He stood there for a moment with six eyes watching his broad back closely. Suddenly the sound of the grandfather clock bellowed in the silence of the moment and the whole world seemed to stop in that single slice of time. Then Adam turned.

"Goodnight all," he said purposefully, as he strode out the door towards the buggy he'd hitched up earlier.

"Let’s eat Pa," said Hoss.

* * *

 "What do you think, Adam?"

"Uh…I’m sorry, I was miles away," replied Adam. "What did you ask me?"

"Never mind," sighed Angela, as she pulled her shawl tighter around herself as the night air became colder. This isn’t exactly what she'd been hoping for on their first real night out together. Adam had been a polite but distant dinner companion and hadn’t got involved the way he usually did in the literary discussion later. Angela had been looking forward to tonight for weeks, hoping that Adam intended them to be more than friends. They seemed to have so much in common. A love for art and literature and both of them had been educated in the east. Finding Adam out here in the "Wild West" had been like finding a pearl in a sour oyster. But tonight had not gone well.

"Are you all right, Adam?" she asked.

"Of course, sorry. I’ve had something on my mind. Guess I haven’t been a very attentive escort. I hope that you will forgive me." He smiled one of his warm, genuine smiles and at that moment she could have forgiven him anything.

"Of course, Adam."

Angela looked up at the bright moon and inwardly sighed. Adam hadn’t taken the lake road, he was taking her right home. So much for that little dream. Perhaps he just thought of her as a friend after all. She thought about something her father always said.

"Men don’t like girls to be too smart you know."

"Well, here we are," he said as he pulled up the buggy and jumped down. Angela waited for him to walk around to help her down. His arms felt so strong and his touch went through her like smoldering embers. He walked her up to her doorstep and removed his hat.

"Thank you for a lovely evening," she said politely.

"Thank you," he said as he moved as if to kiss her goodnight.

She moved aside, opened the door quickly and slipped inside with a "Goodnight". She lent against the door listening as he walked down the path and drove away. A girl has her pride, she thought. He can’t ignore me all evening and then expect a goodnight kiss. There would be other chances she reasoned. In years to come, Angela would often think of that one lost chance. Would she have been so dismissive if she'd known that she would never see Adam Cartwright again?

Adam was very unhappy as he drove the buggy home. He was so angry and frustrated about his father’s words and now he'd blown his chances with Angie. As he crossed the boundary of the Ponderosa he felt empty inside. There were parts of himself that he had hidden away and at times like these they were pounding to be free. As much as he loved his family and the Ponderosa, there were other things that beckoned him and other roads he longed to travel.

Since returning from college he'd put everything he had into working to build up the ranch with his father and brothers. The ranch and his family had been his life, but at times like these it wasn’t enough. Often he thought that the restlessness was a need to find a woman and settle down with a family of his own. He liked that idea. His own sons and daughters and someone to love him and be with him in the still darkness. He wanted someone to put his arms around at night. Someone to whisper into his ear her tender feelings. Someone to talk to about big things, little things, anything. Someone to bring out all the love he held locked inside of him.

There had been plenty of chances for him in love, so what was holding him back? Was it really that he feared the completeness of love almost as much as he desired it? The danger of giving his heart totally and unreservedly scared him. There had been so much unhappiness for him in his early life and he'd learned to be self-sufficient. He didn’t like the pain of losing those he loved. Adam had locked his heart away so deeply within his chest that it was like buried treasure and he wondered if anyone would ever find it again or would even want to.

He got down from the buggy and walked by the moonlit lake, not really seeing its beauty so much as feeling it with his soul. The Cartwrights had a deep tie to the land that could only be compared to the way native Americans bonded with it. To them it was like a beating heart and they tried to put as much back as they could in exchange for the bounty the Ponderosa gave them.

Adam sat on the grassy bank and reveled in the brightness and stillness of the night. This was a place of many memories. Fishing with his brothers, swimming, picnics, walking hand and hand with girls. The happy voices of those times came back to him across the moonlit lake like a much-loved song, whose melody he could never forget. Suddenly the hard work of the day caught up with him and he stretched out on the sweet-smelling grass. It felt so springy and soft. He closed his eyes remembering, always remembering.

* * *

 "When I see that brother of yours I’ll…. I'll…well just wait until I see him!" yelled Ben, as he sat down at the breakfast table with his two youngest sons. "Staying out all night when we have so much on our plates. I don’t know what’s got into him. If that girl was with him then there’s nothing for it, he’ll have to marry her! That will settle him down. I can’t imagine what her father will say to all this. Staying out all night!"

Joe and Hoss exchanged an "oh boy" look as they felt their father’s anger building. They knew that he hadn’t got much sleep last night waiting up for Adam until the early hours.

"There he is now. He had better have a good explanation," said Ben as they heard the buggy coming in.

"Pa, just promise me you’ll hear what Adam has to say before you go off at him," pleaded Hoss.

The three Cartwrights were moving from the breakfast table when Adam entered looked disheveled but inscrutable.

"Good morning," he said casually. "What’s for breakfast?"

"W…w…what’s for BREAKFAST? " bellowed Ben. "Where have you been all night? We’re an hour later getting out to work now waiting for you."

"You didn’t have to wait to me," said Adam coolly. "I think I’ll clean up a little. I’ll see you on the range."

Adam turned and headed for the stairs.

"Now wait just a minute young man!" said Ben angrily. "I think you owe me an explanation."

Adam had his hands resting on either side of the banisters with his head down, as he stopped before turning slowly to face his father.

"You leave last night for some social thing, stay out all night with no thought of your work responsibilities here and then waltz in at any old time. Just answer me this, what time do you call this to be getting home? In the future you’ll get home at a decent hour!"

Ben’s voice was raised. He was rubbed raw with lack of sleep from worry about Adam’s whereabouts and the ranch’s problems.

Adam eyed him, his unshaven face a sphinxlike mask.

"I am a grown man and I’ll come and go as I see fit," he replied quietly and defiantly.

"Oh, will you? Let me tell you something, young man, as long as you’re living under this roof you’lllive by MY RULES!!"

Adam thought a moment, his pounding heart and tumultuous emotions weren’t betrayed by his cool demeanor.

"Okay," he said quietly as he walked slowly over to the door.

Ben turned to look at Joe as if to say "can you believe this?" Joe shrugged. He didn’t want to take sides in the clash.

As Adam opened the door Ben called to him.

"Well, where are you going NOW?" He cried in frustration.

Adam turned lightly on his heel and looked back at the sight of his father standing there with his hands on hips and his brothers shuffling unsurely in the background.

"To find another roof. Goodbye," he replied quietly as he closed the door behind him and was gone.

Somehow Adam knew that everything he had known was behind him now and that everything he would yet become was waiting for him beyond the borders of the Ponderosa.

"Let him go!" yelled Ben as both Joe and Hoss moved to follow their brother out in concern. "Give him some time to come to his senses," said Ben as he put on his gunbelt angrily. "I won’t be spoken to like that in my own house!" Ben jammed his hat on his head. "It’s about time Adam learned some respect for his elders. I won’t tolerate this sort of behavior anymore, you hear me?"

"We hear you, Pa," said Hoss. "But we ain’t Adam and you know Ol’ Adam when he says something he means it."

"Poppycock!" said Ben "Now I’m going to work, SOMEBODY has to do some work around here. When you two have finished your breakfast get to work out at the calf-branding."

They turned their heads towards the door as the sound of galloping hooves faded into the distance.

"What did I do to deserve such sons?" asked Ben to no one in particular as he left.

Adam’s heart was racing as he galloped along on Sport. His anger was still strong and he was determined that this was it. For a moment when he was in the barn saddling his sorrel, he thought one of his family might come out to reason with him or at least to say goodbye but they didn’t. He started to think of his messy, unshaved state and began to regret not packing a few things. But for once he let his emotions rule his logical head. A thought occurred to him. "I’m 34 years old and I’m running away from home." He smiled grimly at the silliness of it all but he never reined his horse. He was pushing Sport hard, taking him with every bound further and further away from the only real home that he'd ever known and everything he had worked so hard for the last 20 years of his life.

* * *
"Well?" said Ben, as he returned from a hard day of ranch work to find his sons at the dinner table awaiting supper to be served. "Any word from that brother of yours?"

"Uh…no, Pa, maybe Joe and me oughta go into Virginia City tomorrow and find out if he’s all right."

"You’ll do no such thing!" Ben's anger had burned like wind blown embers all day as he kept recalling the disrespect. He was very disappointed in Adam. Adam was his right-hand man. He knew how much he was relied upon and to make this silly, childish gesture when the Ponderosa was in trouble was unforgivable. Adam should know better. The Cartwrights ate their dinner in silence with only Hop Sing having anything to say.

"All this no talk make Hop Sing long for all time yell again," he said as he removed the dinner plates from their morose table.

The next morning Ben waited until he sons rode off to work before heading into Virginia City. He'd endured another sleepless night worrying about his eldest son. Perhaps he'd been too hard on him; perhaps he should make the first move.  Adam wouldn’t hold a grudge.  Ben would offer his hand and all would be well again.  He smiled as he thought how much like himself Adam was. He was both stubborn and proud.

As Ben crested the final rise before Virginia City, he saw two riders ahead of him that looked mighty familiar.

"Hey! Where are you two going?" he called to his two youngest sons. He knew the answer before he even asked the question.

Hoss and Joe pulled up their mounts and turned to look at their father.

"’Bout the same place you are I reckon," said Hoss.

"To go get Adam," added Joe.

Ben looked from one to the other a moment before laughing.

"Then what are we waiting for?" he said happily as he kicked Buck into a gallop towards town. Ben knew that Adam would be pleased to see them all there asking him to come home. He was proud of his youngest boys for disobeying him. One thing about we Cartwrights, he thought, we always stick together.

Roy Coffey stepped out of the barber’s shop and saw his friends the Cartwrights tying their horses up outside The Silver Dollar Saloon. He smiled and sauntered across the street.

"Well, now Ben, boys." He tipped his hat to them. "What are you fellas doing in town during the week? Strike silver?"

Joe laughed as he leant back against the rail and Ben shook his head with a smile on his face.

"No, Roy, but if we do you’ll be the first to know.  Actually we’re here to collect Adam.  Have you seen him?"

"Can’t say’s I have, Ben. I  just got back from Carson City late last night. What’s Adam doing in town?"

"Oh, nothing" replied Ben. "Just relaxing I guess, but if you see him tell him we’re looking for him."

"I’ll do that, Ben, so long now."

Roy headed off towards his office.

A few minutes later Ben and his two sons left The Silver Dollar and looked up and down the street.

"I’ll check down at the International House. You boys try the Bucket of Blood." The first trace of real worry crept into Ben's voice.

"Sure, Pa, we’ll find him," said Hoss as he and Little Joe turned and moved off down the street.

As the two brothers approached the Bucket of Blood, a broad smile broke out on both of their faces as they saw Sport tied out front.

"Looks like older brother’s drowning his sorrows a little," said Hoss.

Just as they were about to enter the saloon to find their brother, four cowboys came out laughing. They were obviously trail hands living it up in a strange town and they stank of whiskey as they bustled out the door. What stopped Joe in his tracks was the gun and gunbelt that one of them was wearing. They were unmistakably Adam’s. The cowboy was a tall, strong man with four days growth on his face and with the whiskey he moved clumsily to untie Sport’s reins. He froze in shock as an ivory-handled gun clicked right in his face.

"All right, freeze Mister," said a furious Joe as Hoss stepped forward with his gun drawn to cover the other half-drunk wranglers.

"Just leave ‘em right where they are boys," spoke Hoss warningly.

"W…w…what’s this all about Mister?" spoke the man with the gun in his face, suddenly scared sober.

"I want you to tell me what you’re doing with my brother’s gun and my brother’s horse," Joe's anger showed on his face.

"Now hold on, hold on," spoke another of the cowboys who seemed to be their leader. "Calm down, sonny."

"I won’t calm down and you had better pray that when you left my brother he was doing just fine or you’re dead Mister!" yelled Joe.

"All right fellas, let’s ease up on the gunplay," said Sheriff Coffey as he approached the scene with his shotgun cocked. Roy Coffey was the kind of sheriff who always knew where the next scrap or ruckus was coming from and it was rare that he wasn’t there to cool things down. Ben saw the set-to as he came out of the International House and began to run down towards the scene.

"Now what’s going on here, Little Joe?" asked Roy, never taking his eye off the cowboys.

Ben came to a halt beside him "Joe?" he called, out of breath as he saw his youngest son holding a gun on a stranger.

Joe put his gun in his holster with force and grabbed the cowboy by the arm and spun him towards the sheriff.

"Perhaps you’d like to tell the sheriff here how you came to have my brother’s horse and gun!"

Ben began to sweat as he saw the stranger wearing his son’s holster. Something was terribly wrong.

"Whoa, whoa now sonny," smiled the leader again. He was a wiry man with skin tough and weathered from years on the trail.

"My friend here bought this fine animal and that pistol yesterday, didn’t you Ken?"

"YOU'RE LYING!" yelled Joe. "Now what have you done with my brother?!"

"Joe," spoke Hoss quietly at Joe’s elbow as he also holstered his own weapon.

"Yeah," spoke up Ken worriedly. "Tall, dark-haired fella, talked like a dandy? That your brother, kid? Well he sold me this here gun and the horse too. Had to get outa town, said he couldn’t use ‘em where he was going. Weren’t that right, Dan?"

"That’s right. Now, Sheriff, you let people pull guns on law-abiding citizens in this town? Don’t hardly seem po-lite to me," he said casually as he struck a match on the hitching rail and lit up a cigarillo.

"Now hold on thar," said Roy. "You got proof of this transaction?"

"Sure enough do, Sheriff," said Ken as he hurriedly dug in his pocket for a folded piece of paper. He proffered it to Joe who opened it quickly and read it. Joe’s eyes became sad as he offered the paper to Hoss.

Hoss read the words aloud. "Bill of Sale - pistol, holster and sorrel for $150 sold to Ken Darrow by Adam Cartwright. That’s Adam’s writing Pa. Guess he must have sold ‘em."

"Now then," smirked Dan. "I think you owe my friend here an apology, sonny. You can’t go around accusing people of stealing. Why, you’re lucky you didn’t get yourself shot."

"Sorry, Mister," said Joe quietly as Ben stepped up to read the note.

"Move along then," said Roy as he saw the profound sadness in the face of his friend.

"With pleasure, Sheriff, this town ain’t got nothing we want."

Joe turned back to Darrow. "What did he say?"

Darrow mounted Sport and sat in the saddle thinking a moment.

"Well, I remember your brother coming into the Bucket of Blood and asking if anybody wanted to buy a horse. My old bay mare was getting on and so I says yeah. Funny thing is afore he’d sell me this here horse, he asked me where my horse was so I took him to the livery stable and showed him. He checked her over real good and then I figured he wanted to make sure this horse of his was going to a good owner. Guess that’s why he gave me a good deal. I mean I always treat my horses well. He wanted a high price, more than I wanted to pay so I asked if he’d throw in his fancy shooting iron and he agreed. Like I said earlier he said where he was going he wouldn’t need his gun or horse. Sorry I can’t help you anymore’n that Mister. So long."

"Come on Ken!" He and his friends rode out of town.

"Thanks," said Joe sadly as he patted Sport’s nose for the last time.

Ben was standing there staring into space as the realization hit him. Adam was gone. His son was really gone. No chance to say goodbye, no way to reach him, just gone. This wound went deep and it was a scar that would never heal cleanly for Ben Cartwright.

"Ben, you all right?" asked Roy.

"Of course I am, Roy," said Ben, trying to sound normal. "Fool boy’s gone off on a jaunt. He’ll be back, now let’s get back to the ranch boys."

Ben turned and walked back down the street. In the past few minutes he felt that he had aged immeasurably. Hoss and Joe watched him go and then turned to each other for a moment realizing that things had changed for their family and that from this moment nothing would ever be the same again.

* * *

 "He can’t go on like this," said Joe quietly as he and Hoss watched Ben staring off into space through the window from the chair at his desk.

Hoss stood up from his position near the fireplace and walked over to his father. Hoss was taking up what he had always seen as Adam’s role, as he walked over to his father and sat on the desk.

"Pa, we’re worried about you," said Hoss quietly.

Ben looked up at his second son and saw the concern in his eyes.

"I’m fine, son, just taking a break from the paperwork."

"You ain’t fine, Pa, you ain’t. You don’t hardly sleep no more. You haven’t been to town since, since…that day and you’re just not yourself, Pa. Adam’s gone, Pa. He ain’t coming back. ‘Least not any time soon I don’t reckon and you mooning around like a sunstruck heifer ain’t going to bring him back neither."

Ben was surprized at the emotion in Hoss’ voice as he spoke. The catch in his voice when he talked about Adam not coming back betrayed his own sorrow. Joe drifted over to them and stood unsurely nearby with his hands in his pockets.

"I’m sorry, boys. You know I’ve been really selfish. I’ve been so absorbed with my own feelings I never gave a thought to you two. If he would just send word or something."

"Pa, we’ve been all through this a dozen times," said Joe in sudden anger. "Dwelling on it isn’t going to change anything."

"Adam’ll write to us when he’s ready," spoke Hoss, giving his younger brother a warning look. "It’s only been ten days, Pa, Adam could have written us and it ain’t got here yet is all."

"I suppose you’re right," said Ben sadly. "It’s late, boys. I think I’ll turn in. See you in the morning."

"Night, Pa," said Joe.

"Try and get some sleep," added Hoss.

Hoss knew that Ben had been spending a lot of time in Adam’s room when he couldn’t sleep. Just sitting there, sometimes in the darkness or touching Adam’s things like his guitar, books and music box. Somehow Ben drew comfort from the reminders of his eldest son. Both Hoss and Joe knew that Ben was blaming himself for Adam leaving and whatever they did they couldn’t relieve his guilt.

As Ben climbed the stairs, Joe watched after him with great concern. After his father disappeared from view he turned to Hoss.

"How can Adam do this to Pa?" he demanded. "Just run off without a word, without even saying goodbye." Joe’s anger was bubbling over.

"He did say goodbye, Joe, don’t you remember? ‘Sides, Pa was pretty rough on him," said Hoss quietly.

"Oh come on, Hoss! You know what I mean. Pa is tough on all of us at times but we don’t light out. I’ve got a good mind to ride out after him and bring him home, if I have to pack him on my back to do it. That is after I pound some sense into that hard head of his with my fists. Pa deserves better than this."

Hoss smiled grimly.

"First off, Little Brother, Adam’s a pretty big burden to pack on even my back. I don’t know how you’d manage it and as for fighting with him well you know Adam. Has fighting ever changed one thing in that stubborn head of his ever? Plus we don’t even know where Ol’ Adam is, ‘cepting he got the east bound stage, so you couldn’t go get him anyway."

Joe didn’t reply. He felt helpless. He wanted his Pa to be happy.

"Come on, Joe, let’s go to bed. Adam’ll be in touch you see if he ain’t. He’s a big boy and he can take care of himself."

"It isn’t Adam I’m worried about, it’s Pa."

"Well, nothing we can do about it tonight. Let’s turn in. We’ve got a big day ahead of us. You know, I never realized how much older brother did around here until he left."

Hoss and Joe secured the house and doused the lamps. As they took a lantern upstairs to illuminate their way, the house below once so full of music and laughter seemed as dark and cold as the bottom of a dry well.

* * *

 "What in the world does that fool boy think he’s doing?" murmured Ben as he watched his son riding hell for leather on his pinto towards the branding camp.

"Slow down, Joseph," called Ben angrily as his son got closer. "You’ll break your neck!"

Joe didn’t slow down and practically flew off his horse as he came up to his father. Hoss moved up to see what was going on.

"What’s all the ruckus?" he asked as he put down a branding iron and rubbed the sweat off his forehead.

"It’s a letter, Pa, a letter from Adam!" said Joe hurriedly, spilling over with the news as he pushed the envelope into his father’s hands.

Ben’s heart started to race. Word from Adam! His prayers had been answered. He saw the unmistakable flowing script of Adam’s handwriting on it addressed to him. Joe was beaming as he turned to Hoss.

"I rode fast all the way from town, couldn’t wait for Pa to see it."

"Then the first thing you should do is see to your horse," said Ben as he held the envelope tightly in both hands like a drowning man holding a life preserver.

"Oh, I will, Pa. Don’t read the letter without me now," said Joe.

"I don’t believe this letter is addressed to you, or to you either," he said turning to Hoss. Ben walked away and sat underneath a shady tree as his two youngest sons stood there with open mouths. He knew that they were anxious for word from their brother but this was something he had to read in private first. Just between himself and Adam.

He took a deep breath wondering what it would contain. Was it full of angry words? Could it say that Adam was coming home? With shaking fingers he tore open the envelope and read the precious letter within.

Dear Pa,

I need to write this letter to you as much as you need to read it. There are many things that I need to say and I hope that I can make you understand what is in my heart and in my mind. Firstly, Pa, it isn’t your fault that I left so don’t blame yourself. I left because it was time to leave. I think we’ve both known that for a long time now and have been avoiding it. I don’t regret leaving, but I do regret the way in which it was done. I’m sorry that we parted on bad terms and I hope that there will be no hard feelings between us. I am also sorry that I left at a time when the Ponderosa was facing a crisis but I’m sure that you, Hoss and Joe handled it.

You know how it’s always been for me, Pa. I came with you out west and we went through a lot of things together. When I went away to school I thought then that I would make my own way, but the ties of the family and the Ponderosa were too strong. Your dream was always the Ponderosa, building up the ranch for us, for your three sons to carry on and to pass down to their children. It’s a fine dream, Pa, and I worked to help you make it come true. Here’s the thing though, Pa, I was so caught up in your dream that I never had the chance to find out what my dream was. I never found out who I was or who I could be away from the Ponderosa. My dream may turn out to be the Ponderosa too, Pa, I don’t know but I have to know. I have to find out.

You will probably think me vain but when I walk down the street in Virginia City people say, "There goes one of the Cartwright boys" or "there goes Ben’s boy Adam". Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t that this doesn't make me proud, it does. But I can’t go through my whole life being "one of the Cartwright boys". Let’s face it, Pa, you cast a mighty big shadow.

I don’t know if I’m explaining this well but I need to find my own identity, to be my own man. If I had succeeded in some enterprise there I would always wonder if I succeeded because I was a Cartwright. The Cartwright name and money swing a lot of weight in Nevada.

I need to be on my own for a while, to see who I am where the name Cartwright doesn’t mean anything. You accomplished a lot, Pa, and I hope that you will trust me to make my own way in the world as I trust you, Hoss and Joe to take good care of the Ponderosa.

I’m tired of reading about places in faraway lands; I want to go there. I need to travel and see all of those places I’ve read and dreamed about before it’s too late. I need to do it now before I settle down. Most men my age are already settled down with a family of their own and are well along with their careers. This is my last chance, Pa. My last chance to find my dream. I know you won’t begrudge me this. I have stood by you and helped you with your dream, Pa, now I need you to understand mine and let me go.

Most of all, Pa, I want you to know that I love you and Hoss and Joe and that I miss you all very much. I think of you all constantly and no matter where I am you will always be in my heart. I promise this too, Pa, wherever I am I will always write to let you know how I am.

I don’t want you to worry about me one bit. You raised me to take care of myself and I intend to do just that.

Well, I’ve said my piece. I hope that you understand. The reason that I haven’t put a return address on this letter is that I am going to sea and I don’t know where you can reach me for a while. Being a sailor is a way to see the world cheaply and a part of me has always wanted to sail. No doubt it is the blood of you and Grandpa Stoddard in my veins. When I get a proper address I will let you know.

Don’t worry about me and give my love to Hoss and Joe.

Your son, Adam

Ben wiped a hot, stinging tear from his eye as he finished the letter and took a deep breath to compose himself before standing and motioning to Hoss and Joe. They were hovering within earshot pretending to work while keeping their eye on their father. The two hurried over.

Ben proffered the letter silently to them and walked off by himself while they read it. He looked out at the tall ponderosa pines and felt the warm sun on the back of his neck as he took in a breath of pine-scented air.

"Godspeed, son, godspeed," he whispered heavenward as he stood beneath another sky to the one that he hoped was somewhere sheltering his beloved first-born.

Part Two - So Far To Fall

"Cartwright if you don’t move your bloody arse I’ll move it for you!"

Adam quickly jumped to single up one of the lines as the ship readied for sailing.

"If I see you leaning about on deck when you should be working again, boy, you’ll be over the side!" warned the surly first mate as he passed.

"Aye aye Sir," said Adam.

His cheeks stung with the rebuke as he heard a few chuckles from his new shipmates. One thing that Adam had never been accused of was slacking. His father had brought him up to be a hard and willing worker. Never afraid to get his hands dirty. He only stood a moment leaning against the side, taking his last look at New Bedford before they set sail.

"Hear that, Larry, we got ourselves a tourist on board," said one of the sailors to his friend who laughed as they worked on the lines.

"Better ask the captain if he’ll give up his cabin for this fellow. He’s a right toff," added his friend. "Don’t seem proper for him to have to muck in with the rest of us commoners now do it?"

Adam ignored their words as he put his concentration on his work. He was beginning to find out what it was like to be on his own. To be the greenhorn, the tenderfoot in an established crew. When he was working on the Ponderosa he was calling the shots. He and his family were the owners of the ranch, they were the bosses. It had been a long time since Adam had been yelled at like that. It made him feel like he was back in college and being bullied by the older boys as a freshman.

"Don’t let them worry you, friend," said a tall, blonde sailor who moved to work beside him. "They’re always tough on the new tars."

Adam gave him a grateful smile but they both turned away quickly as the first mate passed by once more. Well, thought Adam, I wanted to be out on my own, to make it on my terms without any special treatment as a Cartwright. Looks like I got it.

After the crew raised the sails and responded to what seemed like some unintelligible commands to Adam, the ship sailed out of port towards the rising sun. When Adam saw the rest of the crew relaxing around the deck he did the same a little apart from them. He glanced back at New Bedford and then looked out at the glory of the sun rising over the sea. He was invigorated by the light on the water and the salty seaspray. This was more like it!

It had been a difficult time for Adam. He deliberately came to New Bedford instead of Boston or New York, where he might run into old college friends or old memories. He just wanted to slip away to sea quietly and without need of explanation. It somehow seemed appropriate to him too, to come back to the place of his birth to be reborn in his new life.

It had been very hard for him to sell Sport, but it was a way for him to sever ties with home. A way of committing himself to his new life. He also needed the money. Adam had made some long term investments with his savings in a railroad company that wouldn’t mature for five years. It seemed like a shrewd deal at the time but he needed money now, not in five years. For once his sensible financial planning let him down.

At first there was a part of him that wanted to leave and send no word. Part of him, the child in him he reasoned, wanted to hurt his father, to punish him. Then the thinking, caring Adam took charge and he realized how his father would feel without word. It took him all night to write the letter he sent home. A night awake in a waystation, scratching out his heart and mind with a quill that had seen better days and a sonata of snoring passengers in the next room.

Adam was lucky to get work as a seaman on this whaling ship. It had a good captain and a good reputation. It was called "The Kingfisher" and although New Bedford was her homeport, the English captain had chosen mainly British sailors to serve him. Adam heard that most of the crew had been with the captain from years ago when he used to sail out of Portsmouth in England. This was another reason for him to feel like an outsider.

"Hey, friend" spoke the blond man again. Adam got a good look at the fellow and found himself looking eye to eye with the sailor who, like him, was over six foot tall. His blond hair was sun-bleached and his amiable face was weathered and full of laugh lines. "Ah, you don’t know much about ships do you?" he asked, his blue eyes sparkling.

"Well, not yet," answered Adam uncomfortably. "But I soon will. My grandfather and father were sea captains and I know a lot about navigation and charts."

As soon as the words were out of his mouth he regretted them. What was he doing? Trying to make himself look less incompetent by getting mileage out of his father and grandfather’s accomplishments?

"That so? Well, can’t say much has rubbed off on you then," laughed the blond man so infectiously that Adam joined him.

"I won’t argue," Adam laughed.

The man slapped him on the back.

"My name’s Maples, Gilbert Maples. My friends call me Gilly."

"Adam, Adam Cartwright. Nice to know you, Gilbert," said Adam offering his hand.

"I said my friends call me Gilly…friend," smiled Gilbert as he clasped Adam’s hand warmly.

"Come on, you stick with me and you’ll soon be a top sailor," winked Gilly. "I know all the best girls in port too."

The rest of the day passed quickly with plenty to do and plenty for Adam to learn. Gilly was a very pleasant companion, full of jokes and good humor and it felt good to Adam to have found a friend. Gilly was about Adam’s age but he had been at sea since he was orphaned at seven and became a cabin boy. He told Adam he could have gone further on ships but didn’t have the ambition or the concentration. Gilly was a man who loved the sea but hated too much responsibility. He was a tall, strong man with muscles hardened from a life of honest toil and the better Adam got to know him the better he liked him.

That night Adam ached all over. He stretched in the cramped crew quarters and hit his head for what seemed like the tenth time that day. How did tall sailors live in these apple crates? Adam was sharing with seven other sailors, all of them in hammocks and all of them as good as strangers to him. He wished that he and his new friend Gilly could have been in the same crew cabin. At least then he would have someone to talk to. Adam tried to be friendly with his cabin-mates, but they seemed to take particular pleasure in ignoring him or making fun of him. The two loudmouths from the morning were there as well as a sailor they simply called Crusher. He was a man easily as big and strong as his brother Hoss, but Crusher didn’t have Hoss’ kind heart and gentle nature. Adam soon learned to keep out of his way just by the warning look he gave with his dark, deep-set eyes.

Wrapping himself up in the hammock he stifled a moan. He didn’t want to give his shipmates more reason to laugh at him. Working at sea and on a ranch seemed to use very different muscles according to his aching body. Adam listened to the card game that was going on between four of his cabin-mates. He didn’t know the name of the game, but apparently using filthy, gutter language and threatening to stab your competitor in the heart seemed to figure in it somehow.

The rocking of the boat was putting him quickly to sleep. No seasickness for the grandson of Captain Stoddard. He was very glad of that. The closeness of the cabin made him long to be home in his own room where he could open the window and let in the sweet, pine-scented air of the Ponderosa. Home. He wondered what Pa, Hoss and Joe were doing right this minute. He tried to imagine them. Pa at his desk doing some paperwork, perhaps writing a letter. Hoss and Joe playing checkers or arguing over something in The Territorial Enterprize. As he drifted off to sleep in that dark, close cabin his heart drifted back to the land and to the family that he loved so dearly.

* * *

"You sure you want to do this, Ben?" asked Mr Weames as Ben sat across from him in the manager’s office of the bank.

"Yes, Stew, my mind’s made up." Ben dipped the quill in the inkwell and scrawled his bold signature across the bottom of the loan agreement.

"I want to get that sawmill built and I don’t want to wait until next year."

His friend smiled as he blotted the signature. He knew that this meant a lot to Ben. Adam had designed the modern sawmill and it was something Ben had to do as sort of a gesture for his son. The roundup had come up short and with the over extension the Ponderosa had made with other investments this was the easiest way to get quick cash. Ben signed the loan with 50 000 acres of prime Ponderosa land as security.

"Never thought I'd see you risking one foot of the Ponderosa, Ben."

"Well, Stew, like I always say, my sons are my wealth and the Ponderosa is for them. Besides it’s not much risk. You’re not going to get the chance to foreclose on us you know," he smiled.

Stewart laughed.

"Oh I know that, Ben," he said as he stood and clasped Ben’s firm and honest handshake.

"I want to get things started right away," said Ben as the two men walked to the door.

"Any word from Adam?"

"No, but he’s at sea I expect, so I hope to hear from him soon," said Ben worriedly as his thoughts returned to Adam.

"You’re like a mother hen Ben," laughed Stewart. "You are only happy when all your chicks are safely in the coop."

Ben laughed, "Well, my other two ‘chicks’ as you call them are off chasing cattle rustlers."

"Dangerous job," mumbled Stewart.

"Yes, I suppose but I think they prefer it to ranch work. You know riding around, camping and getting away from their father who’s been a bit of a bear lately. I wonder what they’re up to about now?"

* * *

"You know something, Little Brother?" asked Hoss from the ground as he held Chub’s bridle. "One of these sets of tracks looks mighty familiar."

"Someone we know?" asked Joe from Cochise’s saddle as he looked around the high ridges.

"Yeah," said Hoss as he mounted up again and the two Cartwright brothers rode off west together with renewed vigor.

* * *

"PUT YOUR BACKS INTO IT, LADS!" cried the first mate through the punishing wind, as he stood with the harpoon in hand at the front of the longboat. Adam threw all his considerable strength into the next stroke as he sat at the oars with the nine other oarsmen. Gilly was across from him and he said "rather be punching cows?"

Adam smiled and didn’t reply. Right at that moment, Adam wouldn’t have swapped the excitement for anything. They had finally spotted a whale and were chasing it down like a wild maverick. This was the kind of challenge he had come to sea for. They were heading into a storm and had to get the whale fast.

"Stick with him lads! " yelled the mate again with encouragement. "Almost there," he said excitedly as the boat skipped closer to the great gray hulk as it broke the surface.

Adam’s adrenaline was rising as he felt the water from the cleared blowhole splatter upon him. He never thought he would ever be this close to a whale. The wake of the animal buffeted the longboat and the first mate let out a triumphant cry as he threw the harpoon strongly. It hit the animal hard and this time Adam felt a splatter of warm blood as the whale slipped under the surface again. Warm blood. Adam suddenly felt sick as he thought of the fate of this whale. This was hunting. He had always hunted for food for himself and his family but this was slaughter for profit.

"Come about!" yelled the first mate as he prepared another harpoon.

It was then that it happened. The boat rose out of the water under the great whale, flipped and splintered as it fell tossing it’s eleven occupants out like ragdolls. Adam felt for a second like he was flying and then everything went black as a formerly lashed-down water barrel cracked him on the head before he plunged into the cold, gray sea. The water half-revived him as he slipped straight down, confused at his surroundings. He saw the legs of sailors kicking above him and wreckage scattered. He also saw the great hulk of the whale moving away leaving a trail of blood as he went down, down always down.

Adam didn’t think that he was drowning. He just felt that he was having some sort of slow, surreal dream. There was no panic in him as he drifted down to a cold, peaceful place. The sudden quietness soothed him. Then abruptly he was in another place in another time. He'd been swimming at a picnic by the river with his cousin Will. The two of them had been having a great time diving and splashing as their fathers and Will’s mother sat talking under the shady trees.

Adam and Will were having a ball. Adam was glad to have a boy his own age to play with for once and he and Will had taken to each other right off. Ben and Adam stopped in to visit John Cartwright and his family on their way west and the two five year old cousins really hit it off.

"Come in now, boys ," called John Cartwright.

"Oh, Pa, a few more minutes," begged Will.

"All right, son," laughed John as he sat down again with his wife and brother.

"Race you ‘cross the river" said Will not waiting for a reply as he swam off getting a good headstart. Adam wasn’t far behind him. Ben had taught his son to swim and Adam was confident that he could beat his cousin to the other side. As he kicked off after Will, he felt the spasm of a severe cramp and rolled up in agony. The young boy was in pain and confused as he took in a big gulp of water and went down.

"Pa" he spluttered desperately as he slipped beneath the water. His voice was hardly loud enough to reach even Will let alone the riverbank.

Adam was slipping down, curled up and terrified as his lungs cried out for air. Although a strong swimmer he was only five and didn’t know what to do. He panicked as he approached unconsciousness. Suddenly strong arms were around him pulling him out of the river.

"Pa, Pa, I knew you’d save me. I knew you’d come, Pa," coughed young Adam as his father cradled him in his arms on the bank. There were tears of fear in Ben Cartwright’s eyes as he held his boy close. Perhaps a minute longer and he could have lost the most precious thing in the world to him, his son. He couldn’t bear to think of it. Since the death of Elizabeth, Adam had become his world. He was his reason for going on. Adam was all he had left of Elizabeth and to lose his son would be the finish of him. He knew that for sure.

"It’s all right, Adam, your Pa’s here. Your Pa’s here now, Adam." Ben's voice was thick with emotion as Will sniffled in fright near his parents.

"I knew you’d come, Pa. I knew you’d save me," mumbled Adam, feeling safe in those strong arms again where no one could ever hurt him.

"I ain’t your Pa, Adam," said Gilly as he dragged his shipmate onto the deck of ‘The Kingfisher’. "And I think you weigh about the same as that there crotchety whale," he added wearily.

Adam blinked and looked up into his friend’s eyes. Before he could say a word Adam turned and vomited seawater all over the deck.

"Welcome to the sea Adam," laughed Gilly as the storm broke across the wild sky.

* * *

"Well, I think we found ‘em," smiled Joe to Hoss as the two youngest Cartwrights crouched behind rocks. They were looking down into the rustlers’ camp. They had followed their tracks for two days now and knew they were after the four cowboys they'd seen getting drunk in Virginia City. Sport’s tracks were easy to spot.

"How will we do this?" asked Joe as he and Hoss checked out the layout. They had about twenty head of cattle in a large makeshift pen, with rocks on two sides. The four were preparing to eat lunch around their campfire.

"You get ‘round behind ‘em Joe, and spring out and we’ll see if we can get the drop on ‘em."

"I think we should stick together," said Joe as he checked his gun. "No use risking a crossfire."

"Do it my way this time, Joe," said Hoss. "It’ll be better if we have ‘em covered from two sides now go on."

Joe gave his brother a last look as he started to skirt around the rocks as quietly as he could. He was almost in position when a small rock dislodged and rolled down towards the rustlers. Joe swore under his breath as he crouched down and drew his gun. Hoss, seeing the rustlers stand, yelled out.

"You’re covered, boys! Throw down them guns or you’ll be shot clear through!"

All four of them went for their guns. Three drew their six-guns and the fourth grabbed his rifle and dove behind the rocks. Joe took a shot at him and it ricocheted off the rock. This was a bad angle, thought Joe as he cursed his clumsiness in disturbing the rock.

Hoss shot one rustler and brought him down as bullets started to rain down on Hoss’ location. Joe stood and showed them where he was to draw the fire from his brother as he ran to a closer position. The two other rustlers joined their friend behind the rocks and took some pot shots in Joe’s direction.

Joe returned fire and plugged the one called Dan, who from their encounter in town, seemed to be their leader. The rifleman shot again in Hoss’ direction and to Joe’s horror he heard Hoss cry out in pain. Joe’s heart started racing with fear. Hoss was hit! Taking a chance the two rustlers broke cover and ran for their mounts that were tethered nearby.

Joe could see the rifleman clearly, as well as the one called Ken Darrow who'd bought Sport from Adam. Joe took aim at the rifleman, his mind full of anger and vengeance for his brother. Before he could pull the trigger the rifleman fell dead.

"Hoss," choked Joe happily, knowing the shot had come from his brother’s gun and that he must be all right.

Darrow vaulted onto Sport and kicked the big sorrel into action heading for cover. Joe only had one second to aim before the rocks would block the rider’s retreat. He shot swiftly and heard a high pitched scream as Sport came down heavily sending his rider sprawling to the ground.

"Hoss, you all right?" yelled Joe.

"Yeah, Joe!"

Joe smiled and then raced across the ground swiftly towards the fall sight.  Darrow was rising slowly with his hands raised and his gun thrown down. The big man looked disheveled and bruised from the fall.

"Get over there!" said Joe roughly as he pointed back towards the camp. He saw Hoss limping across the ground as he checked each of the other rustlers to see if they could be helped.

"They’re dead Joe," said Hoss as he hobbled over.

"What happened to you? Get shot in the foot?" asked Joe.

"No dadgummit! Was trying to change position and I twisted my dadblasted ankle!"

Joe couldn’t help but laugh. He'd been so worried about his brother being shot and he had come out of it with a twisted ankle.

"T’aint funny Joe, hurts like the devil," said Hoss crankily.

"I’m sorry Hoss," said Joe, clasping his brother’s shoulder a moment. "I thought you were shot is all."

"You ain’t going to start them jokes about me being such a big target again are you?"

"Not today, brother, not today. Just happy you’re still around."

Their conversation was interrupted by a pitiful cry. Hoss, suddenly realizing Sport was still down, painfully moved over to him as quickly as his injured ankle would allow. He couldn’t stand to see animals in pain and when it was an animal he knew well it was even worse.

"Easy there, Sport, easy son."

Hoss quickly examined the horse’s injuries.

He cursed as he saw a messy bullet wound to the horse's powerful chest. There would be no chance to try and save him taking into account their distance from the ranch. He reluctantly faced up to the fact that he had to put him out of his misery as soon as possible.

"How is he Hoss?" called Joe worriedly.

"Not so good, Joe, not so good. Looks like your bullet ricocheted off the rock and got him. He ain’t going to make it," said Hoss sadly.

"Oh no." Joe's right hand rose to his forehead in shock as he looked over to Hoss and Sport. "It’s all my fault."

"Don’t blame yourself, Little Joe. Could have happened to anyone. You weren’t to know."

"I shot him, Hoss! I shot Sport!" said Joe, his voice cracking with emotion.

"It was an accident, Joe. Pure and simple an accident."

Hoss reached into his pocket and drew out his kerchief. He placed it over Sport’s eyes and patted the gelding to try and quieten him as he drew out his six-gun. Hoss paused. This was the hardest thing he’d ever had to do. He’d put animals down before out of mercy but this was Adam’s horse. This was a horse he'd patted and fed apples to. A horse that his brother had loved for years and was proud of. He thought of Adam first getting Sport as a colt and training him. How close they became over the years. Hoss had to steel himself inside. He had to do this thing. He couldn’t let Sport suffer anymore. This was something he had to do. Something to do for Adam.

"Hoss?" called Joe, uncomfortable in the unbearable silence as he kept his gun trained on the rustler.

Hoss didn’t answer, he closed his eyes to stop the tears from starting and whispered quietly to the horse.

"Easy, son, easy, Ol’ Hoss ain’t going to let you hurt no more."

The gunshot report echoed again and again through the stony ridges like rocks rolling down a deep seemingly endless canyon.

* * *

"Cartwright, Adam!" yelled the second mate.

"Aye, Sir," said Adam happily as he stepped forward to receive his mail. Six letters from home. His heart swelled with happiness. All he wanted to do was read those letters right then, but he knew he would be too busy for the rest of the day. They would be something for him to savor later after mess. He whistled as he returned to swabbing the deck, but stopped as he saw something that interested him.

The seaman called Crusher whose real name was Raymond Green had received a letter, had grabbed it quickly and stuffed it in his shirt. Now as he stood by himself on the deck he got it out and looked at it the way a dog would look at a juicy bone on a high table.

"Get any letters, Adam?" asked Gilly who moved to sit and sew a sail nearby.

"Yeah, six," replied Adam as Crusher moved away as the other sailors went back to work.

"Must be nice to have a family."

"Yeah," said Adam. "It is."

"How come you didn’t visit them while we were in San Francisco for repairs? You could have got leave but it’s way too late now. We’re leaving tomorrow."

Adam shrugged.

"Wouldn’t have had time what with the ship heading for the South Seas. Don’t want to miss out on those girls you’re always telling me about."

Gilly laughed and started to tell him another tale about a girl he'd met there last time. Adam knew that Gilly was obviously exaggerating about these tales but they were entertaining and he liked Gilly too much to contradict him.

A lot had happened since Adam had been at sea. Four months had passed, and his family had been in touch with him as often as they could by mail. He'd been an avid letter writer home. The sad news of Sport’s passing was just a scar now, not the gaping wound it had once been. He remembered Joe’s sad letter full of guilt and pain explaining what had happened. Adam had been more concerned about his little brother’s feelings than the fate of his horse. As sad as he was at Sport’s passing, Adam felt his heart torn out by Joe’s letter. It was obvious Joe blamed himself unfairly for the incident. He thought briefly of the letter he had carefully written and sent to him. Part of it had read:

"Joe, you are one of the finest men that I have ever known and I would trust you with my life without a single moment of hesitation. Please don’t blame yourself over this accident because you are completely blameless. The only person to bear responsibility is me for selling Sport to that man in the first place. I should have sent Sport home to the Ponderosa instead of selling him to a stranger. This is in the past though and can’t be changed. Things happen sometimes, Joe, but we have to go on, we can’t carry them as burdens dragging us down.

You know, Joe, sometimes I think that I haven’t been such a good brother to you. When you were little I looked after you as best I could but when you grew up I couldn’t accept it. It took me a long time to see and accept that you were a man. Perhaps I was worried that if you were grownup you wouldn’t need me anymore. You have grown into a fine man, Joe, full of courage and heart and I’m so very proud of you."

The sound of Gilly’s voice brought him back to reality, as he realized Gilly was waiting for some response. Adam smiled and winked and that was enough for Gilly to launch into the rest of his story. Adam returned to his thoughts.

Adam had been pleased to learn that his father built the sawmill he designed and that the Ponderosa was doing well. They had even arranged to sell a herd of prime cattle to Senor Mendoza from Mexico and were to be paid in gold. In fact Hoss joked that they had done particularly well since then, so it was obviously Adam who'd been keeping them back all this time. Adam smiled as he thought of Hoss. He missed him so very much.

Time passed quickly aboard ship. Adam enjoyed the sail around the southern continent. He'd already seen some unforgettable places in South America.

After Gilly saved his life, he gave him the only thing of value he had. The money-clip his father had given him. It was made of gold and had inscribed on it - "To my son Adam". Gilly hadn’t wanted to take it but Adam had insisted. It was the best way he could show Gilly how grateful he was.

Adam adjusted to life at sea but he discovered something. This life just wasn’t for him. He missed the freedom of being able to ride out and be by himself under the wide, open sky. Adam had always been the kind of person who needed to be able to get away by himself and think things through. He needed to regain his peace of mind and here he couldn’t do that. He was used to having his own room and being able to stay up late reading if he had a mind to.

He had some good ideas about things aboard ship and was always looking for better ways to do things. Some of his ideas about the work crews were adopted by the first mate. His idea about the longboat sails though had been a complete disaster and had caused them to capsize the first time out. He squirmed as he thought of it again. It should have worked. He still didn’t know what went wrong. That was just what he needed to make him even more popular with the crew.

There were things he loved about the sea though. He had to admit that. He'd been helping the first mate with the charts and navigating and the first mate became friendlier towards him, realizing that he had a good head on his shoulders. His father had taught him a lot about reading charts, using sextants and navigating by the stars. He enjoyed that side of shiplife and was very exacting in his work.

Adam also loved it when he was assigned as helmsman and got to handle the wheel. The other part of being a sailor that Adam really enjoyed was being alone in the crow’s nest. The wide-open sky and the solitude it provided. He wished he could spend more of his time up there. The beauty of the sea always amazed him and he loved to stand at the rail and take it all in when he wasn’t working.

He didn’t like the idea of taking whales as he could see that their numbers were thinning quickly with all the whaling vessels. The demand for whale oil was always high. He thought about the plan he had for copra, that might be a way to succeed in business. He would give it some more thought.

What it came to was that Adam realized he liked the travelling part of it more than the lifestyle which he found constraining. Being a sailor wasn’t for him. Adam smiled as he thought "oh well, at least I’m finding that out. I always wanted to sail away and now I’ve done it." The lure of the south seas was very tempting. He thought about Gilly’s question. He could have easily gotten shore leave and gone home briefly, so why hadn’t he? He knew his family would be thrilled to see him and he missed them terribly.

Perhaps it was that he hadn’t succeeded yet. He was only a competent sailor and he hadn’t done so well for himself in these months away from home. Adam decided that he wanted to be a success when he returned. He wanted to feel confident in his ability to be somebody besides a Cartwright. If he had to go home as he was he would feel like he was defeated. No, Adam was determined not to go home until he'd made a success of himself. He still hadn’t found what he was looking for yet. It was out there somewhere waiting for him. The whole world was opening up to him and he was ready for it. Perhaps it was also that he knew if he did go home, that he wouldn’t want to leave again.

"You going ashore tonight?" asked Gilly.

"I’ve been ashore plenty."

"I don’t mean ashore like the dumb things you do like going to the library and egghead plays without even one fan-dancer. I mean ashore like for fun tonight. Last chance before we sail."

"Oh, I don’t know," said Adam. He didn’t really feel part of the crew. The only one he had anything in common with was Gilly. The rest of them seemed to spend all their time boozing, wenching and getting into fights. That wasn’t for him.

"Come on Adam. I want to introduce you to some fun girls. It’ll be just the two of us. The other guys can go their own way tonight. Come on shipmate, what do you say?"

"All right," laughed Adam.

He could do with a night on the town before they hit open water again.

"Cartwright!" yelled the second mate.

"Aye, Sir," said Adam straightening up with his deck mop.

"The bilge pump has broken. Get down there and help them clean it up."

"Aye, Sir," said Adam as he thought about the unpleasant job to come.

Gilly smirked at him from behind his half-repaired sail.

Adam sighed as he put the mop back in the bucket.

"Once more into the breach," he said quietly to Gilly.

"Huh?" asked his friend.

"Never mind," he said as he took in a good breath of fresh air before he went below decks to help with the cleanup. How did this happen? thought Adam. One minute I’m a wealthy ranch owner and now I’m cleaning out bilges. He shook his head as he climbed down. It was a long way to fall.

Part Three - The Arc of the Arrow

Adam carefully placed his letters in his seabag before heading to clean up for going ashore. The rest of the crew who were going ashore had headed off to get an early start. Adam wasn’t too unhappy to see that two of the crew were leaving permanently. One was an older man with a club for a hand and the other was his offsider, a man about Adam’s age and size. The two of them were suspected of being involved in a number of petty thefts on board ship.


The word came so close to his ear and so unexpectedly, it made Adam jump. He turned to see Crusher standing there beside him. How could he have not heard the big man approach? One thing he'd learned was that Crusher was trouble. He seemed to settle any disagreement with extreme violence and his 'friends' seemed to egg him on even further.

"I’ve seen you readin’ books," spoke Crusher.

Adam squared his shoulders and tried to think of an appropriate reply. Was reading some kind of offence in Crusher’s eyes?


Crusher suddenly offered his letter to Adam. He took it and looked up into Crusher’s eyes. The big man looked worried. Adam realized that he couldn’t trust his other companions to read his letter to him. Without a word Adam opened the letter and began to read in the dim light.

"Dear Raymond,

Our Pa is ded. He dun dyed yesterday from feeva. Ma says you cum home now hep us with the farm you own it to. She aint mad no more.

Your sista Jenny"

Crusher looked inscrutable as Adam tried to judge his reaction to news of his father’s death.

"I’m sorry about your Pa," said Adam softly.

"Huh? I ain’t," replied Crusher as he took the letter back. "He weren’t worth more’n a bucket of pigswill to me. He done beat on me every day ‘till I up and run off to sea. Now I’ll go home, take care’n my sister and Ma in Sacramento. Soon as I get me some money."

Adam thought carefully. The whole crew had been paid and Adam knew that Crusher’s cronies had swindled him out of his wages at cards. He felt sorry for the man who physically reminded him of his brother Hoss.

"I can lend you the money," said Adam.

Crusher looked at him suspiciously.

"Why? Watcha want of me?"

"Nothing Cr…..Raymond, I just would like to see your mother and sister taken care of. I’ve got a family of my own. Two brothers and my father and I sure wouldn’t want to wait to get home if they needed me. How much do you need?"

"You for real?" asked Raymond. "No-one’s ever done nothing for me before less’n they want something."

Adam smiled.

"Shipmates help each other out, Raymond."

Raymond seemed almost too astounded to reply.

"Forty oughta do it," he replied hopefully.

Adam dug into his pocket for his pay. He had learned to keep it on his person soon enough. He had almost all his wages from his time at sea left. Adam counted out forty-five dollars into Raymond’s hand.

"That’s too much," he protested.

"Buy your Ma and sister something pretty," smiled Adam.

Raymond grinned happily.

"That I will, I promise I’ll pay you back too."

"No rush," said Adam, happy to see the big man have a chance for a new life away from some of the sleazy tars on the ship.

* * *

 "You know what I hate about you, Little Brother? You just never seem to put on a pound no matter how much you eat."

Joe looked up from gobbling his flapjacks and syrup.

"Guess I just work it off fast," he replied, reaching for the eggs.

"Well it certainly isn’t from working," said Ben as he came down the stairs to breakfast.

"Morning, Pa" said Joe as Hoss laughed.

"Morning, Pa"

"Nor you either, Hoss" said Ben as he sat down. "There’s lots of work to do and I want you two boys to get right to it after breakfast. Hoss, there’s those dipping pens to be built and Joe I want that timber-mill back in production as soon as possible. Those new saws need to be installed. And Joe, I don’t want you stopping off to see Maisy Richmond on your way out there either like you did last week."

"I was just being neighborly Pa," said Joe defensively with an innocent look on his face.

His father scowled at them both over the empty flapjack plate.

"Hop Sing! More flapjacks! " yelled Hoss.

"Hoss, you will please try not to yell at the breakfast table?" said Ben as he sheepishly realized his own voice was raised.

"Okay Pa," said Hoss, "but ain’t it funny how Little Brother here is only neighborly with young, good-looking fillies? Old Jack Waller moved in purt near three months ago and I don’t see Little Joe being so neighborly with him."

"I intend to be. Why I was planning on visiting old Jack just this week," replied Joe.

"How come? He got a daughter?" laughed Hoss.

Joe made a sarcastic "ha ha" face at Hoss.

"Anyway, Joe, I’m surprised you’ve got time for Maisy when you’re seeing Joanne over at the bakery. Joe and Joanne, what a match made in heaven. What would you call your first kid, Jo-Jo?" teased Hoss as he chewed on some toast.

Joe tried to signal Hoss to shutup with his eyes but it was too late.

"When may I ask did you meet this bakery girl when you haven’t been into Virginia City for three weeks?" demanded Ben.

"Well….ah…Pa, I did slip into town one day last week to check on whether those new saws had arrived," said Joe, elated with his own explanation.

Hoss laughed and continued.

"And what about the week before, Joe? Was that to check on the fencing wire?"

"JOSEPH!" bellowed Ben, making the china on the dresser rattle. "If you are going to kick your brother under the table then make sure you’re kicking the right relative! Now get off to work both of you!"

"Sorry Pa," mumbled Joe as he left the table hurriedly. Hoss grabbed some more toast before following him.

Ben shook his head and sighed.

"Hop Sing, where are those blasted flapjacks?" he demanded loudly.

"Why did you have to open your big mouth, Hoss?" demanded Joe when they reached the barn.

"Sorry, Joe, couldn’t help it."

"Well maybe I won’t be able to help telling Pa about that little sheep farm of yours," retorted Joe as he picked up Cochise’s saddle.

"Sssh," said Hoss worriedly, looking around to make sure they were alone. "Don’t you never say anything about that Little Joe or I’ll skin you alive, you hear? ‘Sides it ain’t no sheep farm, just four lambs and they won’t be staying long."

"That’s what you said last week, Big Brother. Those lambs of yours are getting bigger. They’re big eaters, they must take after you."

"Dadburnit, Joe! You know I couldn’t let that fella passing through kill them little baby things right there in front of us. I’m going to sell them or give them to someone who’ll give them a good home. Just as soon as I find someone who will raise ‘em up for wool not meat."

"Oh, boy, you’re unbelievable. What do you think we raise the steers here for? Shoe-leather?"

"I know, Joe, just these little critters, well, I don’t know, they were bleating to me for help so I had to save ‘em. I’ll get rid of them soon enough. I ain’t attached to ‘em one bit."

"Sure, you ain’t attached. That’s why you built them that little lamb barn and save things to feed them."

"I’ve told you, it ain’t a lamb barn, it’s a livestock holding shelter and they've gotta eat don’t they? Otherwise how’ll I sell them if they're all skinny like you? Just keep your dadblamed mouth shut. You know how Pa would hit the roof if he knew there was even one head of sheep on the Ponderosa. Like I said I ain’t attached."

Joe watched his brother saddle Chubb.

"Sure, you ain’t attached. Just a business deal entirely."

"Exactly right, Little Brother."

"Ah…..what are their names?" asked Joe innocently.

"Well, there’s Snowball, Frisky, Princess……" Hoss stopped and set his chin stubbornly as he saw Joe doubled over with laughter. He knew his brother had set him up for that.

"And I don’t want to talk about it no more," said Hoss as he fixed Chubb’s bridle in place angrily.

"Are you two still here?" demanded Ben from the door. "I thought you’d be well gone by now. You’re burning daylight."

"Just going now Pa," said Hoss as he led Chubb out of the barn. "And might I say it’ll be a real pleasure to spend the day away from certain bull-headed brothers I could mention."

Joe led Cochise out of the barn after him, a big smile still on his face.

"Oh, come on, Hoss, you know I’m a real nice fellow. Why I’m a perfect lamb."

Hoss shot his brother a furious warning look as he mounted up.

"Bye, Pa," said Hoss as he headed off sourly.

"Bye, Pa," said Joe, still giggling as he galloped off for a day’s work.

"Bye, Boys." Ben watched his two youngest sons head out for the day. He had a full day of paperwork ahead of him. It wasn’t until Adam left that Ben realized how much of that burden he used to relieve him of.

Thoughts of Adam often made Ben sad and wistful. Sometimes he missed him so much, he could hardly stand it. Being parted from Adam made him realize just how precious his three sons were. He missed the late night talks that he and Adam often shared over a glass of brandy. He missed Adam’s dry and sarcastic sense of humor. He missed his stubbornness and right underneath it all, his soft Cartwright heart. That was something that all three of his sons shared and he was overwhelmingly proud of that.

As he watched his two sons head off that bright morning, Ben felt an emptiness in his heart. It should be the three boys together. Laughing, teasing each other, but ultimately being each other’s best friends. The three of them were closer than best friends, closer than most brothers even and they needed each other. Ben knew too that he needed them. They were his heart. They were what he'd spent his life working for.

Ben hoped that Adam would find what he was looking for in the outside world, and would be fulfilled. The happiness of his sons was more important to Ben than his own happiness. Was it selfish then, he wondered, to hope that Adam would come home? That he would come home to stay, where he belonged. Was this Ben’s dream or Adam’s dream?

Ben Cartwright turned and walked back into the house where his sons had grown up, to face a day struggling with figures and invoices. Somehow, Ben knew that he would never feel truly complete again until his boy came home.

* * *

 Adam had forgotten how much fun a night on the town could be. He and Gilly really made the most of their night out. They'd gone to see dancing girls, visited plenty of bars and were heading off to meet some girls Gilly knew. Adam felt light-headed from the rum and invigorated by the night air. The lights of the Barbary Coast almost seemed like stars as he walked beside Gilly happily. Adam had seen plenty of sailors out for a night on the town when he'd visited San Francisco through the years, but seeing it as a sailor was a whole new experience. He was enjoying the feeling of land beneath his feet again. He might be the grandson of Captain Stoddard, but he was also the son of Ben Cartwright, a man who loved the land fiercely. Adam was beginning to realize that he felt the same way. He was a man of the land, not the sea.

"Up along here," said Gilly pointing down a dark alley.

Even in his tipsy state, Adam knew better than to frequent dark alleys around this part of town.

"Come on," slurred Gilly. "They’re waiting for us."

"I don’t know, Gilly. What kind of girls are you talking about that live around here?" said Adam unsurely.

Gilly laughed and dug Adam in the ribs suggestively.

"The right kind, buddy, the right kind. Come on, before they get some other customers."

"Customers?" asked Adam, as the night air and the situation started to sober him up. "I thought you said these girls were friends of yours."

"They are, they are, but hey they’ve gotta live you know. Come on, what’s wrong? Don’t you like girls all of a sudden?"

"I like them fine but not this way. Come on, Gilly, let’s get out of here. I don’t like the look of this place."

"Oh, excuse me, I didn’t realize that I was out with my old maiden aunt. What’s wrong with you, Adam? This’ll be our last chance for some honey before we go to sea again. Don’t you want something to remember? Something to make you smile while you’re swabbing decks?"

"Gilly, this isn’t right. Paying girls for……for….favours. Besides, do you know what you could get from those girls?"

"I sure do," laughed Gilly. "I sure do."

"I was thinking more of syphilis," said Adam dryly. He was suddenly feeling as sober as a judge.

Gilly waved his hand dismissively as he headed down the alley.

"You go on then. You wouldn’t know a good time if it were delivered to you tied up with string. I’ll see you later, Grandma."

"Gill!" Adam sighed as his friend disappeared down the alley. With a quick look around, Adam headed after him. He couldn’t leave Gilly alone in this dangerous area.

"So, you’re not such a wet blanket after all," laughed Gilly as Adam caught up with him. "Come on, these girls are hot. There’s one called Carolina who’ll just go crazy for you. A real Latin beauty and the other one Renee is mine. Wait’ll you see her, she’s as pretty as a princess."

"Look, I’m just coming to make sure you don’t get robbed or stabbed or something," said Adam as a cat dashed past them.

Even the cats don’t like it here, thought Adam dryly. He suddenly thought of the news that would be given to his father if he was to meet his doom here. "Sorry, Mr Cartwright, your son Adam was knifed on his way to a bordello on the Barbary Coast. My condolences."

"It’s just up here, I think. Or is it the next street?" mumbled Gilly.

"Let’s just go back to the ship," suggested Adam as Gilly tried to remember the way. "It’s late, Gilly."

"This way!" cried Gilly triumphantly. "I remember now, come on."

Adam never did know what happened exactly. One moment he was walking with Gilly, the next he felt a painful headblow and he remembered no more. When he awoke, he felt large hands tending to his head wound. "Hoss?" he mumbled as he blinked his eyes open painfully.

"Who you calling a horse?" replied Raymond.

As Adam’s eyes adjusted, he could make out a room, fancily decorated. No doubt it was a lady’s room.

"Well, at last, Sleeping Beauty," said Gilly as he came into the room buttoning his coat. Adam saw a scantily dressed blonde girl through the door Gilly had just walked through. She smiled as she closed the door behind him.

"W..what happened?" asked Adam, feeling the cut on his head gingerly.

"Nothing much. Some press-gangers just jumped us. What a laugh huh? We nearly went from being lackeys on one ship to lackeys on another. Lucky for us, Crusher was right behind us. Between the two of us we fought them off. Right, Crusher?"

The big man nodded.

"I must say that you were a big help Adam, the way you lay there so heroically. Don’t know what we would have done without your iron fists."

Raymond snorted and Adam smiled wryly as he stood up shakily.

"That reminds me, what were you doing following us, Crusher?" asked Gilly.

Raymond shrugged.

"I saw you heading off for a rough part of town so I thought I’d better tag along in case of trouble."

"Lucky for us you did," said Adam with a smile.

"Since when did you get so concerned about us?" asked Gilly.

"Well…" Raymond struggled to find the right words. "Because….because shipmates help each other, right Adam?"

"That’s right, Raymond," smiled Adam. "Oh, and Raymond, as far as I’m concerned you don’t owe me anything now, okay?"

"Owe? What’s all this?" asked Gilly as a knock sounded at the other door.

"Just something between friends," said Adam as he shook Raymond’s large hand.

"Yes, between friends," said Raymond happily. "I ain’t never had one before."

"Well, you’ve got two now," said Gilly as he opened the door.

Another sailor stood there and he and Gilly talked briefly. So low that Adam couldn’t hear the exchange.

"Well fellas, time we were pulling up anchor. Our lady friends have some more gentlemen callers."

The three shipmates headed out and down a rickety, winding staircase.

"Must have been hard to get me up here," mused Adam.

"Nope, Crusher here carried you up like a sack of potatoes."

"My name is Raymond. I don’t like that name Crusher."

"Quite right," said Adam. "You’re a gentleman farmer now."

"Huh? What are you two talking about?" asked Gilly, getting a little annoyed about their secrets.

"Gilly, our friend Raymond here has left the sea. He resigned today to go home to help his family," said Adam as they reached the outside alley.

The three sailors walked through the quiet streets towards the wharves. They shared an air of comfortable, companionable silence until they were almost there.

Raymond turned toward them.

"Well, I’m going to leave you now. Thanks for your help."

"Good luck, Raymond, and will you do me a favor?" asked Adam.


"Keep that temper of yours in check."

Raymond smiled as he shook Adam’s hand.

"Aye, I’ll do that. You two fellas are welcome on my farm anytime. Goodbye to you both."

"Thanks, Raymond. Thanks for saving our bacon," said Gilly, as he shook hands with the large sailor before he headed off into the pre-dawn night.

Gilly and Adam stood there a moment until he disappeared.

"Well," said Gilly. "Sadly for you, when Carolina was there you were sleeping like a baby. She did say you were cute though and awful strong. She ran her hand over your shoulders."

"She did?" asked Adam with interest.

"Yeah, too bad you were unconscious or you could have shown her just how strong you were, as in strong as a bull." Gilly winked.

Adam coughed uncomfortably.

"I only went along to keep you safe you know," protested Adam as they reached the ship’s gangplank.

"Oh, you did an excellent job of keeping me safe," said Gilly sarcastically. "Don’t know what I would have done without you protecting me the way you did. Oh, Adam, you’re my hero."

"Shutup," laughed Adam as they walked up the gangplank.

"So she said I was cute huh?"

"Oh boy, I’m never going to hear the end of this am I?"

"And strong?"

"Or was it that she said you smelled strong, yeah that’s it now that I think of it."

Adam chuckled but suddenly stopped before stepping foot on board ship. He looked back at the sleeping city of San Francisco and felt himself being pulled hundreds of miles to a ranch in Nevada. The feeling came upon him so strongly, that he felt it pulling him like an unrelenting tide.

Gilly stopped laughing at his own joke and looked back at his friend. Something in his stance made Gilly realize that Adam was torn at that moment. He was torn about leaving the land behind, to sail far away perhaps never to return.

"Hey, what is it you always say? Once more into the reach" said Gilly.

Adam laughed and the spell of the moment was broken as he stepped aboard ship.

"It’s once more into the breach, and it was Shakespeare who said it."

"Shakespeare? Is he some fella you met in college?"

Adam laughed.

"No, Gilly, he graduated the year before I got there."

"So you didn’t get to know him then?"

"No, I know him very well. In fact, Shakespeare’s an old friend of mine."

"Is he a better friend to you than me?"

"Not possible, Gilly, just not possible," replied Adam as he clasped his friend’s shoulder affectionately.

At that moment, the first rays of the sun broke over the eastern hills.

The two men moved to lean against the rail and watch the timeless glory and newness of the sunrise. Adam turned for a moment and looked west across the bay and out towards the open sea. He knew in his heart that he had a long, long journey still in front of him. Whatever happened, Adam had already decided that no matter how many years it would take, or how many thousands of miles he would yet travel, that the journey would end along a road shaded by Ponderosa pines.

"You dreaming about Carolina?" asked Gilly.

Adam laughed.

"No, but I bet she’s dreaming about me," said Adam cheekily.

"Fine thing, wishing a nightmare on a poor young girl," teased Gilly. "Come on, we’ve gotta be up in an hour."

Gilly turned to head below decks.

"Lead on McMaples," said Adam theatrically.

"You know I don’t even understand what you’re talking about half the time," complained Gilly.

"All’s well that ends well," answered Adam.

"Well, I agree with you there."

Adam chuckled as he headed down. He took one last look east, realizing that a large slice of his heart and soul were bound to his family and his home in Nevada. He was like an arrow shot from a bow and he now understood that the arc of the arrow was long and the place where it would land was still far away. In many ways his journey had only just begun.

Part Four – Journey Into Light

"I wonder what ol’ Adam’s doing about now?" said Hoss as he stretched out in the blue chair in front of the fire.

The Cartwright house was decorated ready for Christmas. The Christmas tree looked bright and the house had a warmer, cozier feel to it than usual. Ben was at his desk writing out Christmas cards for the neighbors and Joe was stretched out on the settee feeling drowsy after a wonderful supper.

"I don’t know Hoss," yawned Joe. "Maybe wondering what we’re doing."

Hoss looked casually over to the large box under the tree.

"Oh, for Pete’s sake! You’re not going to start talking about opening that box again are you? It says on it ‘Do Not Open Until Christmas’. See," said Joe rising and pointing it out. "Right there, plain as day in Older Brother’s own handwriting ‘Do Not Open Until Christmas’. Now is it Christmas yet? No."

"I didn’t say nothing about opening it, Joe" said Hoss.

Joe flopped down on the settee again. Several seconds passed in silence.

"Course, if we did open it well how’d Adam know that we didn’t wait?" said Hoss casually, checking how this would be received.

"Pa, will you tell Hoss to shutup about opening Adam’s present?"

"Now, Hoss, you know that we have to wait," said Ben gently.

Sometimes Hoss was so much like a little boy when it came to presents.

"But doggone it, Pa! The suspense is killing me!"

Ben smiled and let his thoughts turn to Adam as Joe and Hoss speculated on the contents of the box. How he wished that Adam could have come home for Christmas. Wherever he was, Ben hoped that he was safe and well.

* * * *
"Well there she is Adam. How do you like her?" asked Gilly.

Adam looked out at the virgin coastline of eastern Australia.

"I like her fine Gilly."

"Going to catch yourself a kangaroo, lads?" joked the second mate as he moved to stand behind them.

"If they’re not too quick," replied Gilly. "My buddy here’ll throw a lasso round one, won’t you Adam?"

Adam chuckled. He was excited at this sight of the Australian continent. He had read a lot about this new land and couldn’t wait to get ashore and see it for himself.

Getting this far had been a headache for the Captain and First Mate, navigating their way through the many reefs that ran down the northern part of the east coast. The Great Barrier Reef was a huge hazard for all sailors in these waters.

More than six months had passed since "The Kingfisher" left San Francisco. Adam smiled as he thought of the wondrous places he'd visited like Tahiti, Tonga, Fiji and Hawaii. He loved the native people and realized just how much he enjoyed seeing new and exotic places. As beautiful as The Ponderosa was, it could not fully satisfy him until he had some other paradises to compare it with. The excitement Adam always felt when sailing into a new harbor was euphoric. Tasting new cusine, meeting local people, looking at these islands full of natural beauty was all so exhilarating. It was almost worth the months in cramped quarters.

They'd hunted whales in the South Seas and put into Hawaii for two weeks. The crew enjoyed their stay there with the friendly natives and beautiful scenery. Of all the islands that the ship visited on their way, Adam knew that the Hawaiian Islands were his favorite.

Adam had some wonderful memories of Hawaii. He'd seen as much of the islands as he could. He found a wondrous lagoon with water so clear it was like it had come straight from heaven. Adam climbed into the volcanic mountains, walked along the beautiful beaches and swam in the warm, nurturing sea. He tasted tropical fruits and had got to know some of the hospitable locals. The beauty of Hanama Bay took his breath away. It was like suddenly stumbling into another world and his senses felt intoxicated as they took it all in. He remembered how he'd described it in a letter home to Hoss.

It was funny, he thought, but when writing letters to his family, he was able to express things more freely. He could describe things as they made him feel and he could tell his family he loved them. There was no way he could do that in person. It would have been much too awkward. Adam always had trouble revealing his feelings to others even though he felt things very deeply.

It was in Hawaii that he'd found perfect Christmas gifts for his family. He smiled to think of them opening them soon, half a world away. He sent them months early so that they would arrive before Christmas Day. Adam hoped that they'd got them in time. Christmas was less than a day away. It seemed strange to Adam, for it to be so hot this close to Christmas. In the southern hemisphere this was the height of summer. There were no white Christmases for Australia.

As much as Adam enjoyed seeing the new and exciting places, he was getting cabin fever on the ship. Sometimes he felt like a prisoner in its confines. The only good thing that had helped it become more bearable was that the second mate had let Adam move into Gilly’s crew cabin when another sailor left the ship in San Francisco. Gilly’s good humour and stories got him through some long, lonely nights. Adam had shared many stories of his life with Gilly and the two had become very close.

It didn’t take Adam long to devour any book or pamphlet he could find. He longed for the escape he'd always found in books. When he ran out of reading material, he grew even more restless. It was then that he did something that would change his life forever. Using an old empty leather-bound journal that some past cabin occupant had left and a pencil, Adam began to write.

Adam knew that this was something that had been inside of him for a long time. His love of books and the written language drew him towards it like a siren luring a ship onto the rocks. Every time he got a spare moment, he would scrawl away, losing himself in the story until his hand ached from holding the pencil.

Adam’s story was about a family heading west with a wagon train. It included many things that he had seen on his journey as a boy with his father. Adam read parts of it to Gilly who seemed to enjoy it, even whistling in amazement over some of the more adventurous parts like fighting Indians and the family almost being swept away crossing a wild river. Adam discovered that he loved to write and he had a feeling that he was good at it. Maybe one day he might even get something published. He felt that he would like to write what Hoss used to refer to as "egghead" books about philosophy and such but this story was a start. A way to hone his craft.

Adam decided that he'd had quite enough of life as a sailor. He was getting off in Australia to really get a good look at the place. He'd read that Australia was a lot like America, a new world full of opportunity. Gold down south, homestead land rich for the taking. This was the kind of place where a man could make his fortune.

"Look yonder!" cried one of the tars, breaking Adam out of his daydreaming.

"Pirates!" yelled the First Mate as a ship rounded the headland with the skull and crossbones flying.

"Get weapons, Lads! Prepare to repel!" cried the Captain from the bridge.

Adam quickly ran to grab a saber. Privateers were always ruthless and with the rich haul of spices and whale oil, "The Kingfisher" was a fat target ripe for the picking. Adam’s heart was racing. He'd heard Gilly and the rest of the crew talk about being attacked by pirates, but somehow he never thought it would happen to him. These waters south of the Dutch East Indies were often sailed by pirates looking for easy pickings.

Before they were ready, the pirate ship rammed them and the pirates started boarding the ship with blood-curdling cries that reminded Adam of Indian warcries. Guns cracked like lightning, both at and around him as the melee began. There were only enough guns for the Captain, the mates and several of the crew, with the rest armed with swords and clubs.

Suddenly, Adam remembered something that he'd said long ago on The Ponderosa. "If a man hires on at a place, he knows he may have to pick up a gun and defend it." Now, he was the hired hand risking his life for something that didn’t belong to him. The cargo of a shipping owner whom he would probably never meet was beneath his feet, but he had his life and the lives of his shipmates to think of first and foremost.

Adam was at this moment very glad that he'd studied fencing at college. Of everything that he had ever learned, nothing seemed as important as that skill right at the critical moment, as a pirate leapt towards him aggressively swinging a cutlass.

* * *

Joe Cartwright stood and stretched.

"Well, I’m for bed," he yawned. "Night Pa, night Hoss."

"Me too, I’m plum tuckered out," said Hoss as he gave the large box one last longing look before following his younger brother up the stairs.

"Night Pa."

"Night, Boys. Sleep well."

Ben looked down at the letter he was writing to his eldest son. He knew it might be months before he received it, but writing to Adam made him feel a connection to him when he was far away. Ben tried to figure out where Adam would be about now. From his last letter, he was probably just about to Australia, he reasoned. Ben smiled as he thought of Adam’s journey. What wonders did Australia hold for him?

* * *

"Arrggh," grunted the pirate, as Adam ran him through with his saber. You shouldn’t leave yourself uncovered like that when you backswing, thought Adam. His fencing instructor would have been proud as Adam exploited the breach. The pirates were swarming over the ship like a pack of rats. Adam was soon engaged in another fray as a ferocious looking pirate with tattoos of sharks on his arms, attacked him with what looked like an old cavalry saber. You know your stuff, thought Adam, as the pirate expertly thrust at him and parried Adam’s return strikes.

Suddenly Adam pitched forward almost onto his opponent’s sword as a fallen comrade fell dead from a gunshot wound, knocking Adam off his feet as he fell against the back of his legs. Adam rolled quickly to the side as the pirate tried to plunge his sword into him while prone.

There was a cry and the pirate fell, mortally wounded by gunfire from the bridge. Adam leapt to his feet and waded back into the melee. He saw Gilly fighting hand to hand with a pirate, as another one moved up to slit his throat from behind. Adam moved quickly to cut the pirate down before he brought the dagger to bear. He then moved to put his back to his friend’s back as they fought against the vicious attackers. Their cause seemed hopeless as many shipmates fell around them.

Gilly half-turned as he finished off the pirate he was dueling with.

"Thanks, you saved my life," said Gilly as the two shipmates fought back to back against stubborn foes.

"Well, now we’re even," grunted Adam, as he struggled to hold off a pirate’s blade with his own as the man tried to push him down.

Adam roared with the effort as he pushed the attacker off and then cut him down before he could recover. How he wished he had his six-gun with him.

Gilly dealt with his pirate and, seeing they were temporarily in the clear yelled.

"Come on, Adam!" He vaulted up onto the quarterdeck. Without hesitation Adam followed his swashbuckling friend. Gilly had a way of handling himself in battle that gave him plenty of confidence in his decisions.

"Here!" called Gilly as he picked up a six-gun from a fallen pirate and swiftly passed it to Adam before wading into the melee again.

Adam quickly checked the chamber, four bullets left, he must make them count. Gilly was handling two pirates expertly even laughing at their skill as he fought them both. "Come on, boys, that the best you can do?" goaded Gilly.

Adam was amazed by Gilly. Perhaps the stories Gilly told him weren’t all just fancy.

Adam didn’t have time to admire Gilly’s handiwork long, as he turned his attention to fighting off the pirates. Taking careful aim he chose a tough pirate moving up onto the bridge. The pirate fell dead, as the report of the gun echoed in Adam’s ear. He wasn’t used to the sound anymore, but he hadn’t lost his skill. Three to go, thought Adam, as he tried for another target. He couldn’t find one where he could get a clear shot without being completely sure of not hitting one of his shipmates.

"Bring ‘em down, Adam!" called Gilly, protecting Adam from a pirate attack to give his shipmate a chance to use the gun.

"Into them boys! Let’s be having them!" cried a powerful pirate with a fancy pair of Spanish muskets in his hands. He looked like their captain, or at least the first mate. Adam only had a second to aim but he was a big target. The gun barked again and the big man buckled a moment. His dark eyes sought the source of the shot and he leapt wildly through the melee, screaming with vengeance. Adam couldn’t fire again and risk hitting a shipmate. He had to wait for the furious pirate to get clear. Two pistol bullets, thought Adam. I wish I had an elephant gun for this guy.

The pirate raised his left musket and shot at Adam while he moved through the fray. It was a wild, emotional shot and it missed its mark. Adam thought at that moment of something his father had taught him when using firearms. "Never fire angry, son. Always be calm on the trigger."

The big man leapt forward, blood staining his bare abdomen and Adam saw a terrible hatred in his eyes for the one who'd caused him this pain. They were now less than twelve feet apart. Adam above and the pirate just below. Both he and Adam aimed their guns. The shots melded into one sound and it seemed to Adam for a second, as if everything on the earth was quiet except for the roar of the firearms. The echo seemed to hang in the air for an eternity, outlasting even the smoke from the guns. It was blackness and peace then for Adam.

* * *

 "Well, Hoss, aren’t you going to open it?" asked Joe with a wink at Ben as Hoss hurriedly moved to open the present that caught his attention. He thought that Christmas would never come.

"There’s little presents inside for everyone," said Hoss as he dug them out of the shipping crate. "One for me, Pa, Joe and Hop Sing."

Hop Sing brightened at the words, as he set a bowl of eggnog on the table.

"Mr Adam, always remember Hop Sing. Hop Sing part of family."

"You sure are, Hop Sing," said Ben as he put his arm affectionately around his old friend. "What have you got there, Hoss?"

Hoss looked at the present, not really understanding what it was. He pulled out a note from Adam and read it aloud.

"Hoss, this is an ancient Chinese game called Go. I bought it off a Chinese sailor in Hawaii. It is a game of strategy, see if you can beat Little Joe at this, you might be better at it than checkers. Merry Christmas from your loving brother Adam."

"Hey, there’s a rule book here but it’s in Chinese," scowled Hoss.

"No trouble, Mr Hoss. Hop Sing tell you how to play velly easy, you see. Very much fun game, Hop Sing show you."

Hoss smiled, he liked games. He picked up a present and handed it to Hop Sing.

"This one says it’s for you. Want me to read the note that’s with it?" asked Hoss. Hop Sing nodded as he opened the gift.

"Hop Sing, I know how much you like incense so I have sent you some incense made with spices, when you light them up you will smell the sweet smell of the islands. Merry Christmas."

Hop Sing beamed happily.

"This is perfect present, just what Hop Sing want. No better gift than this."

"What about that fancy new skillet I bought you for Christmas?" asked Hoss.

"Ha! Big present, big skillet to make extra big flapjacks for Mr Hoss. That present for Mr Hoss not Hop Sing," complained the Chinese man as he unwrapped the incense.

Joe laughed.

"Here, Joe," said Hoss passing him a parcel to quickly change the subject.

"Hmmm" said Joe, rattling it. "Wonder what it is?"

"Why don’t you open it and find out?" suggested Ben with a big smile on his face.

"Here’s the note," said Joe, as he read it aloud.

"Joe, I know that you are very lucky anyway but I am sending you a lucky charm from the Hawaiian Islands - the tooth of a tiger shark. The islanders call the shark totem amakua I hope it brings you even more luck. Merry Christmas from your loving brother Adam."

Hoss let out a whistle as Joe pulled out a shark’s tooth edged in silver set on a silver chain. Joe put it on and then pulled the shark’s tooth up to look at.

"Ain’t that something?" asked Joe "a real tiger shark’s tooth."

"It’s beautiful, Little Joe," said Ben as Hoss handed him the last parcel in the crate. It was heavy.

"Too bad we couldn’t send Adam no presents," said Hoss.

"Well, we didn’t know where’d he be, Hoss. Now, I wonder what he’s got me?"asked Ben reaching for the note attached.

"Pa, I am sending you a set of British army colonial dueling pistols. I found them in an old market and even though they are in need of work to put them back into mint condition, I know how you love to restore classic firearms. I hope you like them, Merry Christmas from your loving son, Adam."

Ben felt his eyes misting up, not because of the gift but because it had shown how well his son knew and understood him. These pistols would bring him much pleasure and being from one of his sons they would be especially treasured.

"Time for eggnog," called Hop Sing who was getting the cups ready.

Hoss picked up his new wool scarf and put it on before moving over to the table. Joe smiled at his older brother and winked. He knew that this present was from his friends who had taken in the lambs for wool.

"Nice scarf, Hoss, why it makes you look very…..frisky, or is it that this is Frisky?" teased Joe, feeling the wool.

"What’s that?" asked Ben, serving out the eggnog into the cups.

"Nothing, Pa, nothing ‘t’all," said Hoss dismissively.

Joe giggled. "Don’t ever change, Hoss."

Ben handed the cups around.

"Now, everyone, I would like to make a toast. To Adam wherever he is."

"To Adam!" they chorused.

* * *

Adam awoke in a comfortable bed. He could feel the movement of the ship, so he knew that he was still at sea. He felt all right. Gingerly he checked himself out to judge his injuries. Apart from a goose egg bump on his head he seemed fine.

"Well, Adam, you’re beginning to make a habit of this falling down on the job," said Gilly, as he entered the cabin with a small flask of rum. He moved to sit in a chair beside the bed.

"What happened?" asked Adam, sitting up.

Apart from a headache he felt fine.

"You and I are heroes, shipmate," said Gilly happily as he uncorked the rum and took a swig before offering it to Adam.

Adam shook his head in refusal.

"Come on, might clear your head," pressed Gilly offering it again.

Adam took a sip.

"Tell me what happened? Last I remember this pirate was shooting at me and me at him."

"That wasn’t just any pirate, Adam. It was their captain and a very fearsome fellow he was too until you plugged him. Took two shots to bring him down. I didn’t see it myself as I had my back turned, but they said he fired at you, just missed you and his musket bullet ripped into one of the deck struts and broke it. Part of the upper deck dropped on your hard head. Now, Adam, I hope you don’t take this the wrong way, but I’ve known you for quite a while now and since I’ve known you, you’ve had a barrel drop on your head while hunting whales, been hit on the head by a press-ganger and now, half the ship falls on your skull. It’s just lucky for you that you don’t keep anything valuable in your head or it would be well and truly scrambled by now."

Adam smiled weakly.

"Gilly, the way you fought those pirates, well, you were just magnificent."

"You sound surprised," said Gilly winking and taking another swig.

"By the way this is the first mate’s cabin. He didn’t make it. We buried him at sea with the others. Like I was saying, we’re heroes. The captain credits us with turning the tide of the battle, saving the ship and forcing the remaining pirates to run. With you killing their captain and me fighting two to their one, what else could they do? That’s why we got this good cabin. Well, that and the fact that they were worried about your head. They don’t know that this is just a normal day for you to get smashed on the skull."

"I haven’t told you the best part. We’re going to get a reward from the shipping company when we get to port for saving the cargo. The captain said it should be around a hundred pounds. He also said there was probably a bounty on the head of that pirate, so you might get much more than that."

"I don’t want blood money," said Adam, thinking of the first mate and the others who'd died that day.

"Well, why not, you could get a stake, get enough to make your fortune."

"I don’t want to build anything on a rotten foundation."

"You’re a funny one, Adam. Sometimes I can’t figure you at all. Anyway get some rest, we’re docking tomorrow at Gladstone for supplies. You take the bed, I’ll take the hammock."

"I can sleep in the hammock," protested Adam.

"No, no, Adam, I insist. You take the bed. Just try not to fall out and hit your head. You’re addled enough already."

Adam threw his pillow at him, laughing. Gilly reminded him of the good-natured teasing of his brothers.

Gilly caught the pillow.

"Why, thank you, Adam, very thoughtful of you. This pillow will make the hammock much more comfortable."

The next morning Adam packed his few belongings.

"Merry Christmas Adam," said Gilly who came in with some fruitcake and rum. "Hurry up, we’ll be going ashore soon for the party."

He stopped in his tracks when he saw that Adam had packed all his things.

"Merry Christmas, Gilly. You knew I was leaving the ship when we got to Australia."

"But I thought you meant when we got to Sydney or at least stay on until we get to Moreton Bay. I hear those Brisbane girls are pretty wild."

"I’m sorry, Gilly, but I’m done with sailing now. The next time I sail it will be as a passenger steerage."

"But what about your bonus from the shipping company and your reward for the pirate?"

"The captain gave me the reward along with my wages earlier when I told him of my plans. I’ve signed over any reward money to the families of those who were killed in the attack. Look, Gilly, you knew I was leaving so I might as well go now."

"But here at Gladstone? I mean, what a dump! There’s hardly anything here."

A shipmate burst in.

"Come on, Gilly, let’s get that rum for the Christmas party."

"You can’t go now, Adam, it’s Christmas. We’re having a party. Wait until tomorrow."

Adam put on his black sailor hat and slung his seabag over his shoulder.

"I’m sorry, Gilly, I need land under my feet."

Adam offered his hand to Gilly. Gilly took it and shook it sadly.

"Go on with you then. Become a famous writer, so I can impress girls saying that I know you," said Gilly who was trying to joke, but his voice cracked betraying his sadness.

"Will do. Maybe I’ll write down some of those stories you told me about your girls in every port and your swashbuckling adventures with pirates."

"Who’d believe it?" asked Gilly. "Bye, Adam. Good luck."

"Same to you, Gilly." Adam shuffled awkwardly. This was very hard to do. "We’ll meet again, you see if we don’t."

"Sure, Adam, sure we will for sure," said Gilly not believing it for a minute.

When Adam left "The Kingfisher" that Christmas day, the sun was blazing hot and the light of the day was unbelievably bright. Adam didn’t look back at the ship. He knew that a part of his life had ended and that a new one was about to begin. He'd deliberately avoided the Christmas party because he wanted to be alone, to be by himself to think. The whole world lay before him full of opportunities, as his steps took him still further away from his home in Nevada. With his seabag over his shoulder and optimism in his heart, he began what he hoped would be a journey into light.


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