Private Lessons
Gwynne Logan
An unconventional older woman; an exceptional young man – everybody has to learn from someone, and Adam is fortunate to find the perfect teacher.
If you love instruction, you will be well instructed.  Motto inscribed in golden letters above the door of Isocrates’ school.
“One pulse of passion – youth’s first fiery glow, --
Is worth the hoarded proverbs of the sage:
Vex not thy soul with dead philosophy;
Have we not lips to kiss with, hearts to love, and eyes to see?
Oscar Wilde, Panthea, St.2

     He was nineteen and beautiful.  Unpolished, surely, untrimmed and untrained, but magnificent in the first glow of his young manhood.  When she had asked Jonathan to bring someone new and interesting to her soiree, she hadn’t dreamed he would turn up with anyone like this dark, compelling Westerner.

    He stood almost a head taller than the rest of the men in the room – well over six feet.  Tall, wide-shouldered and slim hipped, he was as supple and graceful as a great cat and, by the look of him, just as lethal.  Clearly unused to city society, he looked over her gathering with eyes that gleamed with curiosity and intelligence.  What color were they under those thick, dark brows?  One moment she would be ready to swear they were brown, then he would turn his gaze and there would be a flash of amber or green.  The nose was narrow and straight, the cheekbones high and the jaw line firm, even stubborn.  He couldn’t be driven, but with subtle, careful luring . . .   The challenge was intriguing, and the rewards would almost certainly be worth the effort.

    She drank in his whole look.  Like a connoisseur of fine art she took in every detail: the hair, thick, dark and slightly curly, was cut all wrong; the severe black suit was already a year out of style, and the carefully polished boots showed a bit too much below the trouser hem.  He had obviously grown since acquiring the garments.  No matter, she thought, as she studied the way the maroon silk vest strained across a chest as broad and solid as a stately oak.  And finally his skin – smooth as the finest Italian leather and a glowing copper bronze that radiated youth and health.

    When Jon had presented him in the receiving line, his manners had been rustic but charming with that slight Western drawl and polite deference.  But, through the veneer of civilization, the careful training of his elders and a natural courtesy, the raw, naked power of his elemental maleness had struck her like a blow.  It had taken all her will power not to fall against his chest, caress the muscled pillar of his throat and run her tongue across the full, dimpled mouth.

    “Well, Adam, now that you’ve met Mistress De Bauer, Merry Mari, the wanton widow of New York society, what do you think?”

    “I think that’s a little disrespectful of your hostess, Jon.”  Adam smiled to take most of the sting from his words.  “She’s an attractive lady, and she greeted us quite warmly.  Gossips can be cruel to a woman with no one to defend her.  What happened to Mr. De Bauer, anyway?”

    “Old Heinrich De Bauer was almost forty years her senior and richer than Croesus,” Jon said. “Family had dealt in gems and jewelry for generations – think his great grandfather supplied the beads the first settlers used to trade the Indians out of Manhattan Island.”  Jon hid his grin behind his hand and glanced around to be sure they weren’t overheard.  “He was a huge man, could barely pant his way up a flight of stairs, but he treated Marlette like a princess.  Showered her with jewels, clothes, carriages and fine horses, summer homes, anything she wanted.  They’d only been married about three years when he up and died in bed one night.  Word is he had a beatific smile on his face when the undertaker came,” he whispered.  “Marlette mourned for the approved year, but then gradually began to make this place a center for the . . . um . . . less staid element of the social whirl.”

    Adam looked around the huge ballroom.  It reflected not only great wealth, but good taste as well.  Crystal chandeliers blazed with light from rose scented candles of the finest beeswax, and the parquet oak floor reflected it like polished gold.  The lavish buffet was dressed in snowy linen and trailed garlands of fresh flowers.  It was laden with enough exotic dishes to feed half the city.  Butlers in black evening dress and white gloves circulated constantly with trays of champagne in fragile, long stemmed glasses.  Adam could only guess that it was probably a rare and excellent vintage; he had little expertise in the area.  The room was awhirl with women in elaborate gowns; the full skirts in layers of lace and satin set off their pale, bare shoulders and arms.  The men reminded him of peacocks with their tight britches, high stocks and pinch waist, flared frock coats in a rainbow of colors.  Perhaps he should have borrowed one of his college friend’s flashy vaquero outfits.  He dismissed the thought almost instantaneously as one of Ben’s lectures about being your own man leapt to the forefront of his consciousness. They were fine for Brew Lattimer, bred and raised as a California don, but he was content and more comfortable in his plain, dark suit.  If they wanted to think of him as a country bumpkin, well, they’d be about right.

    There didn’t appear to be a soul over forty in the room.  Mistress De Bauer’s guests were youthful and in search of experience if he was any judge.  Dark eyes flashed at him over a coyly spread fan as a slim, cool beauty strolled by.  She was quickly appropriated by a slope shouldered fellow in a vivid plum coat with a diamond studded watch on a gold chain around his lace swathed neck.  Adam shrugged and returned his attention to his companion.  He was spending the summer of his first year in college with Jon Talon and his family in New York.  He had been fascinated by his country’s greatest city with its many treasures as well as its teeming slums.

    “Wonder if any of them ever tailed a steer?” he muttered.

    “What, who and what’s that?” came the baffled reply.

    Adam grinned.  “Oh, just looking at some of these game cocks struttin’ around, and wondering if any of them could tail a steer.”

    “And would ye mind to be telling me just how that feat is to be accomplished?” his friend asked in a very bad attempt at an Irish brogue.

    “Oh, sometimes on a round-up or trail drive you get a bunch quitter – a steer that won’t stay with the herd.  They’ll take off running flat out for the brush country.”  As he described the maneuver to Jon, Adam could almost feel the heat of the high mountain sun at midday, smell the ancient earth scent of the pale dust stirred up by the shuffling feet of the herd and hear the bawl of thirsty beeves.  Some savvy old steer that was half deer and had dodged the last two gatherings would suddenly light out hell-for-leather, and he’d clap the spurs to his bronc and take off after him.  Reins held high and steering with his knees, he’d race alongside, the wind of passage tugging at his hat and his heart hammering with the challenge. Careful to stay clear of the wide spread of horns that could gore him from side to side, he would lean well out of the saddle, grab the base of the streaming tail, and with a practiced twist of his wrist yank it hard to one side.  It sent the animal tumbling head over heels, knocked the breath out of him and so dazed him that he would usually behave for the rest of the day.  “It’s just a trick of using their speed and weight against them,” he concluded, “but it takes some practice.”

    Jon laughed softly.  “Guess I can maybe see you doing it, but not any of these gents.”  He gestured around them.  “I think father took in a small dairy somewhere up toward the Hamptons a couple years back as payment on a bad debt.  We could go up there and try it if you like?”

    “I doubt if your dairyman would like the results.  Think they prefer not to churn it in the cow.”  Adam looked up.  Mistress De Bauer was making her way across the room toward them.

    She was a striking woman of about thirty.  Her lustrous auburn hair was piled high and dressed with velvet ribbons of fern green intertwined with strands of seed pearls.  Her face was heart shaped with wide, slightly tilted gray eyes, a nose that was little more than a button and a rosebud mouth.  It was a face that was both beautiful and mischievous.  But it was her throat and shoulders that caught Adam’s eye.  He had read of women with swanlike necks, but he had never thought to see one.  With skin like rich cream, her throat rose slender and graceful from perfectly rounded shoulders.  The moss greens and pale yellows of her low cut gown set off an intriguing figure.  Her waist was tiny, the breasts small but up thrusting; the full skirts concealed legs and bottom, but the imagination was willing to speculate.  Adam regarded himself as a gentleman, but he was a man, a young one at that, and the room was flooded with the essence of desirable women.

    “Mr. Cartwright.  Mr. Cartwright!”  A light, lilting voice broke into his unruly thoughts.  He looked down to find Mrs. De Bauer standing before them, looking up at him with half smile on her face.

    “Uh … yes, ma’am.  Charming party.  Thank you for having me.”

    “It’s my pleasure, Mr. Cartwright.  I’m delighted Jon brought you along.  Are you spending the whole summer with the Talons?”

    “Most of it.  I’ll be going back to Boston at the end of August.  I want some time with my grandfather before classes start again.”

    “You won’t be going home then?”

    “No, ma’am.  It’s too far.  I couldn’t make the round trip in time.  I won’t be going home until I graduate.”

    “That sounds rather lonely.”  She pouted prettily as she empathized with this handsome young man who was obviously far from home. “You must miss them.  Where do your parents live?”

    “There’s just my father, Mrs. De Bauer, and two younger brothers.  We live in the western Utah territory up against the eastern ranges of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.”

    “My, that is exciting, a wilderness frontier.  And what do you do there . . . farm?”

    “Not exactly,” there was a little dry humor in Adam’s tone.  “We ranch – cattle, horses, timber.  With the folks swarming to California there’s a demand for all three.”

    “I’d enjoy learning more about it.  Perhaps, I might add your name to my dance card?”  She lifted an eyebrow in inquiry.

    “I’d be honored, ma’am, although my ballroom skills are limited.”

    “Perhaps, a waltz?”

    “That would be fine.”

    “The next waltz, then.  Be sure to find me.”  She smiled enchantingly and turned with a soft swish of silk and a lingering trace of jasmine.

    “Yes siree, Adam,” Jon gave him a knowing wink.  “You seem to have made quite an impression on our hostess.  Your summer could be heatin’ up!”

    “Ridiculous,” Adam said.  A slight flush lit the copper of his cheeks.  It might have been the champagne.  “She’s a beautiful, wealthy, popular lady who moves in all the right circles.  What would she want with a barely solvent student that nobody ever heard of?”

    His companion ran his eye slowly down the tall, square shouldered form beside him.  “Don’t be naïve, old son.  There are other attractions besides social status.”

    Adam was searching for some reply when the lilting strains of a Strauss waltz floated across the room.  “Better go find her,” Jon advised.

    Adam moved swiftly across the crowded room; the jewel toned butterflies that populated the dance floor parted before his dark form, and Marlette De Bauer appeared at the end of the opened aisle.  She looked up at him with a smile of melting sweetness and held out fair, gently rounded arms.

    Adam held a clean, white handkerchief in his right hand.  It would keep his direct touch from her bare back.  She took it gently and tucked it into her bodice.  “You won’t need this.”  She placed one delicate hand in its lace glove on his right shoulder and stepped into his embrace.  “Come, let’s dance.”

    It was a swift waltz, full of dips and twirls.  Adam had attended a number of dances in Boston, and the young ladies had been more than willing to help him polish his terpsichorean skills.  His natural athleticism served him well.  Marlette was as light on his arm as a leaf buoyed on the breeze.  Her scent of delicate perfume and warm, lightly perspiring woman flesh filled his nostrils.  Her even teeth gleamed between slightly parted, moist lips, and her eyes held his – open, honest, interested.  He was surprised when the dance ended almost before it had begun, it seemed.  Reluctantly he released her from the circle of his arms and opened his mouth to thank her for the waltz.  Before he could get the words out, she spoke.

    “I usually ride on Saturday afternoons, if the weather permits, along with a small group of friends.  I have a good stable and some attractive parkland along the Hudson.  If you would care to join us, I can send someone to pick you up?”

    ‘I’d enjoy riding, but I don’t have a mount here.”

    “I’m sure my stableman can find you something worthy to ride.  You’ll come?”

    “All right then, yes, thank you.  I’ll look forward to it.”

     She delicately removed his handkerchief from between her breasts and pressed it into his hand.  “Fine, be ready about 11:00.  Dress comfortable; we’re not formal,” she said with a slight wink.  At least he thought it was a wink. It was done so quickly and with such subtlety that Adam couldn’t be sure.  In an instant, she turned and was gone,    surrounded by her guests.   A trace of her subtle, intriguing scent lingered in the handkerchief that he absently held to his nostrils before returning it to his pocket.  There was a slight, luminous glaze to his amber eyes.

    Saturday morning found Adam ready well before eleven.  Jon looked him up and down: slim, hard wool black pants, crisp white shirt and soft, calf-skin black vest.  He held a flat crowned, wide brimmed grey hat in his hand.  “Well, will I do?” Adam asked his friend.

    “It’ll be a change from riding breeches and red tail coats, anyhow.”

    Adam frowned. “Is that the idea, do you think?  A dumb cowpuncher to have a little fun with?”

    I don’t think that’s what Mari has in mind, no.  You might have some trouble with some of her giddier friends.  Jon raised his brows as he perused Adam’s face.  Why, want to back out?  I can make your excuses.”

    “No.”  A memory of the illusive scent that had drifted through his room on awakening this morning surfaced.  “I’ve run into that sort at school.  They soon lose interest.”

    Jon peered down the street a second and then glanced sideways at his friend. Taking note of the determined set of Adam’s jaw, he let the matter drop. He knew one thing about his friend: Adam Cartwright could handle a stampede – whether they wore a brand or a petticoat didn’t matter.

    A handsome surrey pulled by a perfectly matched pair of blacks drew up at the gate.  “Well, Cinderfellow, your carriage has arrived.”  Jon punched Adam lightly and got a sharp jab in the ribs in return.  “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t love to do,” was his parting shot as Adam made his way down the steps to the surrey.

    The uniformed driver, a handsome black man, stepped down as Adam approached.   “Mr. Cartwright, sir?”

    “Yes, I’m Adam Cartwright.  You’re from Mrs. De Bauer?”

    “Yes, sir.  Miss Mari instructed that I bring you to the river stables.  Are you ready, sir?”

    “Quite ready; and you are?”

    “Jacob, sir.  Miss Mari’s driver.  Will you get in?”  He held out a hand as if to assistance his passenger into the rear seat.

    Adam stepped into the front seat with one smooth stride.  “Thank you, Jacob.  I hope you don’t mind if I ride up front with you?  You can point out the sights as we go.  Fine team you have here; did you select them?”

    A half hour at a brisk trot brought them through the gates of a lovely estate.  Rich river bottom land planted and landscaped to delight the eye offered pleasant gallops over rolling hills and through open woodlands.  The odor of abundant water and lush deep grass sent a small shock of envy through his chest.  An expanse of land like this would be worth a fortune back home. The carriage drew up to a stable large enough for 30 horses, paved with deep red brick and painted a gleaming white. It was busy with stable hands and dotted with knots of young people in fashionable riding clothes.   A charming gazebo stood on a hill overlooking the river.  It held tables loaded with covered picnic baskets tended by servants in white.  As Adam stepped from the surrey, Marlette De Bauer hurried up followed by a butler carrying chilled wine.

    “Good morning, Mr. Cartwright.  I am delighted you have joined us
.  Will you have a stirrup cup?”

    “No thanks, ma’am.  I’ll wait until a bit later, if I may.  You have a beautiful place here.”

      Mari gestured the servant away.  “Thank you.  I do enjoy it.  We’ll be riding out soon.  Will you select a steed?”  She took his arm and steered him toward the stable.  Her full riding skirts swished softly against his leg as they walked.  Adam was greeted by some of the young men and women he had met at the ball, and Mari introduced him to a few of the others.  They were cordial, but their looks were filled with an intense curiosity that he ignored.

    He was offered a choice among three big, thoroughbred geldings.  They all had a hunter clip – coat cut short except for the outline of the small, English saddle on their backs – and closely roached manes.  He examined each: ran a hand down their legs and across their withers, checked eyes and teeth and listened to their wind.  He rejected one plump and glossy animal.  “This fellow’s being overfed,” he told Mari.  “You should tell your stable master to cut down on the corn and give him more exercise.”

    She smiled gently.  “Ah, you have a good eye. But of course you would.  So do you want the bay or the chestnut?”

    Adam gave them another glance.  “I’ll take the bay.”  The bay had a bright but kindly eye and a chest that promised staying power.  It was led away by a stable boy and returned tacked with a flat saddle and light snaffle bit.  Another lad brought Mari a beautiful dappled grey mare wearing a handsome side-saddle.  They led their mounts out side by side.

    With no dogs or huntsmen in sight, Adam assumed she wasn’t planning a fox hunt.  He was grateful.  Although he had trapped fox, this group surely didn’t need furs, and they weren’t very good eating.  He wondered how the ride would be organized.  It didn’t take long to find out.  Mari handed him her reins and asked, “If you could assist me in mounting?”

    “Certainly.”  Adam cupped his joined hands and held them midway between her stirrup and the ground.  Mari put one slim foot in its delicate boot in his hands and sprang upward as he lifted.  She settled lightly into her saddle and hooked her right leg around the offset horn.  Adam checked that she had both feet well seated in the stirrups and then handed up her reins.  As soon as the other guests saw Mari mounted they began to tighten their girths and assume their own seats.  Adam lengthened his stirrups – he didn’t like riding with his knees forced up too high; it made his once broken hip ache – and swung on board.

    “We’ll canter out to the jumps,” Mari told him.  “Some of my guests want to put in a little practice for Col. Winterfield’s hunt next week.  When they are satisfied, we’ll all take a pleasant ride along the river for a ways.  Do you jump?”

    “Only occasionally,” Adam told her with only the hint of a dimpled smile.

    “Ah, what sort of hurdles do you use?”

    The small smile turned into a grin.  “From choice – none.  But undergrowth, low brush, is the most common, a fallen tree or a gopher den.  Every now and then you end up jumping a downed steer, and I once cleared a horse that reared up and fell over dead in front of me along with his rider.  No time to stop, too close to go around.  Glad old Shadow could jump like a jackrabbit.  That would have been a nasty wreck.”

    Mari smiled back, “I want to know more about your world, Adam Cartwright, but just now I’d better get this ride started.”    She called out to her guests, and they gathered around Mari and Adam.  At a signal from her they moved away from the stables, spread out across the smooth, green pasture land and urged their mounts into a trot and then on into a canter.  He noticed that a few stayed behind entirely.  One man with a heavy limp and another with his arm in a sling were admiring a fine sorrel stallion held by a stable boy.  Two ladies, obviously expecting, settled at a table under a broad umbrella with a pitcher of lemonade, smoothed their full skirts in cool summer prints over the charming bulge of their bellies and flipped open fans.

    Adam enjoyed the smooth, powerful action of the big animal under him.  He relaxed and let his back flex with each surge of the powerful hindquarters, absorbing the rolling shocks easily with his butt tight to the saddle.  While he preferred the additional security of a good stock saddle, he had used an English saddle enough in Boston for it not to be entirely new to him.  He rode largely on skill and balance anyway.  He couldn’t remember a time when his father hadn’t tossed him atop anything from a wagon mule to a green-broke colt and told him to hang on.  He had spend many happy days and hours bareback on anything that could be ridden, feeling the play of muscles under him, his narrow boy’s rump warmed by the animal’s own heat.  Later the Mexican vaqueros who came to work cattle on the Ponderosa had polished his style, taught him the tricks of riding and roping.  He was confident of his horsemanship, but fully aware of its inherent dangers.

    A quarter hour’s canter brought them to a fenced arena that contained jumps of all kinds: rail and solid fences, water and brush jumps.  Mari drew up beside him and lightly rested a hand on his forearm.  “Will you join us?”

    “I think not.  I’ll just give this beauty a breather.”  He patted the horse on the neck, “And see if I can learn something by watching the others.”  He could see that the group was separating itself into jumpers and audience.  Only a few of the women chose to try the course, and Adam was not the only man to refrain.  Mari guided her mount through the gate and into the paddock.

    Adam dismounted and strolled to the white painted fence to join the other observers.  The girl that had flirted with him from behind her fan at the dance soon leaned her back against the warm wood beside him and looked up.  Flushed from riding she fanned herself with a wide-brimmed straw hat banded with a gay pink ribbon.  “Good day, to you, sir.  Mr. Cartwright was it?”

    “That’s correct, ma’am although I don’t believe we have been properly introduced.”

    “Oh, pooh.  No need to be so formal.  I’m Dorothy Henshaw; call me Dotty.”

    She was slim and coltish, very bold and appealing, although Adam doubted if she were a day over seventeen.  “All right, Dotty, I’ll do that provided you call me Adam.”

    “I hear you are from way out West,” she said.  “That must be such an exciting life.  Do you have to fight off wild Indians?”

    Adam got this question a lot.  Easterners apparently pictured life in the West as one long running fight with savage tribes.  “We prefer to get along with them whenever we can, although I have been in a few dust-ups.  My stepmother was…

    Adam was interrupted by the man who had swept Dotty away before they could speak at the dance.  He pushed in rudely between them and put an arm possessively around the girl’s waist.  He was still slope shouldered and pudgy faced but possessed rough strength and a bully’s attitude.

    “You’re speaking to my fiancé, sir,” he said abruptly.

    Adam slid a calculating eye down his bulky frame.  “My apologies, sir.”  His voice was cool and contained.  “I didn’t realize that engagement prohibited civil conversation.”

    “Oh, Lionel!” Dotty hit the fellow a sharp blow in the chest with a clenched fist.  “Don’t be such a ghastly bore.  We are not engaged, and Mr. Cartwright was about to tell me all about the Indians.  Adam, this is Lionel Bagley; we’ve known each other forever, but I don’t want to get engaged yet,” she quickly added.  “Lionel, Adam Cartwright.”

    Adam extended his hand only to have it pointedly ignored.  He rested it lightly on the fence rail.  Mari was rounding the far turn of the course and had just cleared a four foot fence neatly.

    “So you know all about wild Indians, do you?” Bagley demanded.

    “Hardly, I have spent a few summers with the Paiute and Bannock and understand a good bit of their language and customs, but there are many tribes and many ways.”

    “So you’ve lived with the filthy beggars, then.  Squaw man, are you?  Have a nice fat wife and a papoose or two at home, do you?”  It was intended to insult, and Adam felt himself flush.  His fists knotted and his shoulders lifted.

    “Lionel!” Dotty stormed.  “How perfectly awful; apologize at once!”  He gave her a hard stare.  It won Adam a moment to collect himself.  It would be a serious embarrassment to his hosts, the Talons, if he got into a public brawl at a social gathering.

    “No, Mr. Bagley,” he said very low between clenched teeth.  “I was taught to respect good women no matter what their race or religion.  And you won’t find women anywhere that are braver, more faithful or harder working than among the Indian.  I am not yet ready to marry, and I would no more dishonor a red woman than I would a white.  Now, good day, Miss Dotty, sir.”  He courteously tipped the brim of his hat, turned, and walked away briskly, leading his mount.  His blood seemed to fizz and bubble.  Behind him he could hear Dotty raging furiously at Bagley.  Presently she galloped by him, headed back toward the stables.

    He walked until he could feel his temper steadying and his bile receding, then stood a little apart, leaning against his horse and watched the end of the jumping.  There were a number of very good riders in the ring and it was a pleasure to see their skill as they guided their mounts through the tight turns and over the various obstacles.  Mari completed her round and left the ring as others were finishing up.  She cantered over to where Adam was standing and came quickly from her saddle to meet Adam’s hands as they closed around her tiny waist and lowered her gently to the ground.  The mare was blowing slightly, and Mari was glowing with pleasure and exercise.

    “I caught some of that from the corner of my eye,” she said.  “I gather Bagely was being his usual offensive self and was trying to bully you?  What did he say?”

    “Nothing for a lady’s ears.  Never mind; I’ve dealt with his sort before.  I’m afraid Miss Dotty got so angry with him that she rode back.”

    “If her parents had good sense, they’d send him packing entirely.  No woman should be saddled with such a boor, but let’s not allow him to spoil the day.  When our horses have rested a bit, we’ll finish the ride and get back in time for a late lunch.”  She began to lead the mare in a slow circle to cool her.  Adam walked along.  She was an interesting woman, lively and perceptive, quite open with her opinions, yet appealingly feminine.

    When the ride resumed, Mari kept Adam by her side.  They rode leisurely along the border of the river on land that rolled from grassy meadows back to green and leafy woodlands kept open of underbrush.  Wildflowers bloomed along their way, and birds sang lustily in the trees.  Suddenly a circling hawk dived almost at the feet of the leaders of the group.  With a rush of wings and a piercing shriek he struck a half grown rabbit crouched in the tall grass.  The rabbit screamed as the raptor struggled aloft again.  The lead horses spooked, startled and frightened.  Some reared and others bolted.   Adam’s bay pranced, but the firm hands and solid legs of his rider held him.  Mari’s mare jolted up and then down hard onto her forefeet before starting to run.  Adam heard a startled squeak as his companion lost a stirrup – her seat suddenly loosened.   The grey mare was running hard, and Adam saw that Mari was not regaining control.  He turned the bay and kicked him hard.

    The mare was swift, and she headed into the woods, swerving around great oaks and slim elms, dashing across open patches only to duck into the trees again.  Adam was closing slowly.  His larger mount couldn’t turn as nimbly as the smaller mare.  He was close enough to see the empty stirrup slapping hard against the gray hide.  Mari was bent low over the neck tugging at the reins with little effect.  She didn’t scream.  They broke into a larger clearing, the mare was slowing, and Adam closed the gap.  He leaned from the saddle and scooped Mari from her seat with his right arm pulling her across his body as he reined the bay to a sliding stop.  She threw her arms around his neck and pressed herself close against his chest.  He could feel her trembling, and her breath came in gasps.  Adam threw a leg over the saddle and slid down with Mari cradled in his arms.

    She was light and warm.  Her pixie’s face was flushed and lovely, and her eyes were enormous. Adam searched her lush form urgently, asking, “Are you hurt?  Can you stand?”

    “I’m not hurt.  I was frightened – so foolish to let Moonbeam get away from me.  I am very grateful.”  She pulled his head down to her and found his mouth, her lips slightly open and soft.

    His blood racing from the chase, he returned the kiss long and deep, despite his surprise.  Her boldness and open interest was strange but exciting.  Still holding her he sank to his knees, supported her back against a moss-covered rock, and unfastened the tight bodice of her riding costume.  The tops of her freed breasts pushed up into the opening – creamy ivory framed in white lace.  He bent his face to them.  She lifted her hands and ran them through the thick mass of his hair for a moment and then gently pushed him away.  He sat up at once, his eyes filled with questions.

    “Dear Adam, beautiful Adam, we will get there when the time is right, but not now.  They will look for us soon.”

    Adam sat back on his heels, closed his eyes, and drew a deep breath.  She was right, but he ached with long unfilled needs.  He waited until he could speak without stammering. But even then the questions came out in an emotional rush as he asked, “Mrs. De Bauer, Mari.  What are you playing at here?  I’m an obscure student from a remote territory with very little connection to your world.  What do you want from me?  I may be young, but I am a man, not a toy like some of your sycophants.  If you light a fire, expect to feel the heat.”

    She took his hand, turned it over, traced the life and heart lines with a fingernail.  “Forgive my boldness, dear Adam, but are you very experienced with women?”

    There was a long hesitation.  “No,” was the flat answer.  “Oh, I’m not a complete innocent.  I’ve made a few trips to Sacramento and even San Francisco, but at home . . . there is little . . . ah, opportunity.  We don’t dally with the Indian maidens for their sake as well as our own.  There’s almost nobody else – a few widely scattered, hard working wives, a well-used trollop or two in a road house – that’s about it.  Why?  Do you require references?”

    She stirred and raised soft fingers to trace the line of his mouth, stroked his eyelids, ruffled the thick fringe of black lashes.  “Gently, dear boy,” she whispered.  “Your delightful person is the only reference I require.  But, you must not under value your potential.  I strongly suspect that you have a momentous future before you.  The West will play a determining role in our country’s future for many years to come.  We need its space, its riches and resources, the men it will breed.

    “Think about it, Adam; the young men you will meet at my soirées will, in twenty or twenty-five years, be the captains of industry, the policy makers in government, the lawyers and scientists who shake the world.  Friendships you form now will allow you to meet them on their own terms in that future day when you find you need one another.

    With a knowing smile she continued, “More than that, women will always be attracted to you.  I believe you sense that even now.”  Adam turned his head, caught in a small vanity, and her smile widened when she saw his reaction.  “Don’t be ashamed.  It is a great gift that you should treasure and never abuse.  I should like to think that I might play a small role in teaching you to both give and receive the delights a man and a woman can share.  I can help you to understand the things women value, how to make them friends, companions and supporters rather than leave them hurt and angry.  We all learn from birth to death.  Someone taught you to walk and talk, to read and figure; you have passed these lessons on to your younger brothers, so you told me.”  Her gaze shifted to a far away place for the briefest of seconds, and her eyes warmed as she thought about the past. “I learned about love from a caring and infinitely patient husband.  He is gone now, and it would be selfish of me not to share this precious instruction.   In your time you will pass it on to others.

    “I don’t seek to entrap you, Adam.  You have a long journey ahead, and you are not yet ready for permanent ties.  I too value my freedom.  If you go with fond memories of this summer and sometimes write to let me know where and how you are, it will suffice.”  She let her fingers trace the circles of his ear, trail down his throat and coil a curl of chest hair around a fingertip.  “Do we have an understanding?”  She searched the hazel eyes that were at first full of confusion but then gleamed with respect and admiration.

“You are a rare and beautiful woman Mari De Bauer. I’d be a damn fool to turn down such an opportunity. We have an understanding. Now, about that first lesson. . .” Adam bent and found her mouth again. Within moments they heard people crashing through the woods calling their names.

    When the train from New York to Boston prepared to leave the station that early August morning, Adam boarded it a far wiser man than when he had disembarked in June. His hair was stylishly cut, and his elegant new suit was a perfect fit. He had made fast friends with whom he would correspond for decades and who would prove influential in the growth of the Ponderosa empire. He knew from whispered gossip that he was not merry Mari’s first man, nor likely to be her last. But for a few never to be forgotten weeks she had been all his, and his alone. He had come to know much about women and to understand that it was a subject he would study with a great deal of interest and pleasure for the rest of his life. His shoulders were a little squarer, his chest a little fuller and there was a confident gleam in his eye that he would never lose.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Gwynne Logan,
Paauilo, Hawaii
October, 2002

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