Life is Sweet

A Bonanza fanfiction

I'll tell you life is sweet
In spite of the misery
There's so much more to be grateful.

Natalie Merchant.

"Look at it this way," Joe said, throwing the comment back over his shoulder, "It could be worse."

Adam let out a snort of disbelief. "I don't think so. In fact, I'm hard pressed to think of a situation I'd have less pleasure in."

"We-elll..." Joe tried desperately to rack his brains to think of something positive to say. Adam's dark mood was beginning to pull even his irrepressible spirits down. "It's nice mild weather. It could be snowing. Anyway, the fort's in sight now and, this time tomorrow, we'll be home. Honestly, Adam, it could be a lot worse."

His brother pulled the wagon to a stop and stood up, indignation evident in every fibre of his being. "Will you stop saying that? It's alright for you – you don't have to face the prospect of Abigail Jones sitting next to you for 25 miles, do you? What do I have to look forward to except twenty five miles of Abigail chattering away and simpering and..."

"Singing!" Joe added, less than helpfully. "Don't forget her singing!"

"I thought you were trying to cheer me up," Adam said, trying to suppress a small shudder. Abigail had a most piercing voice and the unfortunate tendency to pitch her songs good six or seven tones too high for the natural range of her voice.

Joe shrugged eloquently. "Only so much a guy can do, brother. Anyway – we'll have a good evening at Fort Churchill then set off to escort our lovely schoolteacher back home to Virginia City as quickly as possible. So, you sit back down and let's get on our way. There's no sense in getting in a strop about things."

"I am not in a strop!" Adam yelled, forcefully reminding Joe of their father. While nobody could compete with Ben Cartwright for the sheer volume, range and depth of voice, his eldest son was doing a fine impersonation. Joe would not have been surprised if the folks in Fort Churchill could hear Adam's bellows. Realising just slightly too late that he was indeed having a strop, Adam sat back down heavily on the wagon seat, his face set in a grim expression and flicked the reins over the backs of the horses "Go on!" he called, and once more the wagon began to move towards the Fort.

Joe urged his mount forward and decided it would be prudent to give his older brother a little time and space to calm down. He was not exactly thrilled to be tasked with seeing Miss Jones safely home, but then, he wouldn't be the one sitting next to her on the wagon seat. The Virginia City schoolteacher was a very tactile person who had strong passion for patting people on the knee and Adam would be rather like captive prey during the journey. Much safer to keep his distance on the return journey, Joe thought prudently. He wouldn't put it past old Jonesy to start pawing at his legs too. Maybe if she couldn't have Adam she might decide to pick on him instead? Now, there was a frightening though!

The long drive from the Ponderosa had given Adam plenty of time to think. The only problem was that the more he thought about things, the worse they seemed. Try as he might, he could only view the prospect of tomorrow's drive home with considerable dread. If only Pa had not been in town the day that Abigail set off to visit her friend at the Fort. Mrs Jones was in a flutter as the promise of a ride home had suddenly fallen through and Ben had immediately offered assistance. If only it had been anyone else but Abigail Jones! It seemed as if she had set her cap at Adam from the very first moment she saw him and that she had been in desperate pursuit of her quarry ever since. Adam had tried being polite; he had tried being distant; he had tried avoiding her. Nothing worked. Recently, just about every social occasion he had been to was ruined by the fact that Abigail Jones pounced on him the moment he came in through the door and then hung onto his elbow in a proprietarily fashion and shot disapproving looks at any young lady who might have the temerity to approach them. His social life was in tatters.

If only she didn't try quite so hard, Adam thought. There might have been a chance that they could have become friends, for they shared many of the same interests, a fact that his younger brothers took great delight in pointing out. But friendship was the last thing Abigail wanted and she made that perfectly clear. In his mind's eye, Adam could almost see her, ruminantly stroking her ring finger and pondering if a ruby or a diamond would be more suitable. It was common knowledge that Abigail Jones was on the hunt for a husband and that she had Adam Cartwright firmly in her sights.

Dusk was just beginning to fall when the brothers drew up to Fort Churchill, a motley collection of low, white adobe buildings, scattered in a seemingly random pattern and without the normal perimeter wall or stockade. Joe took a look around and shook his head, clearly not overly impressed.

"I was expecting something a little livelier," he said in mournful tones.

Adam stepped down from the wagon and clapped him on the shoulder. "There will be plenty going on in the sutler's later on, little brother, don't you worry about that!"

Joe brightened up. "Really? You're not just joshing me, are you? I didn't mean that about Abigail..."

"No, I'm not having you on and yes you most certainly did mean what you said about Abigail! And it was perfectly true, by the way. When that woman begins to sing she could put the hens off laying!" Adam assured him. "So if you sort the horses out and then can get the first round in, I'll go and pay my respects to Miss Jones. I'll need a drink after that.

"Just one?" Joe asked cheekily, glad to see Adam restored to his normal good humour, but his brother was already walking away.

Once Joe had arranged suitable accommodation for Cochise and the wagon horses, he considered having a stroll around his new surroundings, but was easily distracted by the sounds of laughter coming from the building Adam had referred to as the sutler's. This proved to be a small store run by a civilian, and it was clearly the hub of social life at the Fort. Its windows were glowing brightly against the darkening skies and the sound of voices rang out against the stillness evening air. A smile flitted across Joe's face as he lengthened his stride and approached the doorway. It looked as if today was going to end on a high note after all.

Joe was half-way through his second glass of beer and considering joining a game of poker at the next table when Adam finally joined him. After one look at his brother's face, Joe wisely held his tongue and merely pushed a waiting beer towards him. Stopping only to nod his thanks, Adam picked up the glass and drank deeply, draining it completely.

"Better?"

"Much better. I needed that. That woman!

There was no need to ask who Adam was talking about. "Talked you dry, did she?"

Adam grimaced. "Would you believe she suggested that as her friend has a piano, I should stay and we could have a musical soiree?"

Joe grinned broadly. He could believe anything of Abigail, especially where his brother was concerned. "You managed to resist, I see."

"I barely got out with my modesty intact."Adam gave an inadvertent shudder. "Get me another beer, kid. Tonight, I need it." He threw a couple of coins across the table, which Joe neatly caught and sauntered off to the makeshift bar.

"We've got another passenger tomorrow, "Adam announced. "A widowed lady who's catching the stage at Virginia City. She's going home to New York."

"That shouldn't be a problem," Joe said confidently. "Old ladies like me."

Adam spluttered loudly and sent a cloud of foam flying across the table. "They're taken by your modesty, are they?"

The younger man smiled beatifically. "And charm. Plus, they usually want to mother me and to feed me up. And, you know that old ladies are the greatest bakers!" The beer was easing away the stresses of a long day spent in the saddle and Joe was beginning to feel his muscles relax. Contentedly, he took another long draught of beer. "I love old ladies!"

"All is clearly right with your world," Adam agreed dryly, draining his own beer. "One more of these and then we'd better hit the hay."

"Aw Adam!" Joe protested, sounding about 14. "Don't be a spoilsport. It's still early."

"You only have to sit on top of a horse tomorrow, little brother. I, on the other hand, have to drive a wagon pulled by two horses and containing the redoubtable Abigail Jones, some little old lady, plus all their luggage. And that is something I do not want to do with a hangover, I can assure you."

"But I don't get hangovers!" Joe protested.

Adam grinned evilly at him. "Oh, you will, Joe, you will! It comes to us all, I promise you."

However, he was easily persuaded into having one final drink and the two men fell into easy conversation with the occupants of the next table. Life at Fort Churchill was not a particularly enjoyable experience, it appeared. Conditions were still pretty basic, with almost all supplies being brought in by wagon, which meant that rationing was a way of life. Drinking water was at a premium, as the river was so polluted by the washings from innumerable minings washed downstream. Opportunities for entertainment were strictly limited to drinking and playing cards at the sutler's, unless you fancied a 50 mile round trip to Virginia City. Very quickly, Adam and Joe realised that life at Fort Churchill was pretty bleak and more than a little boring.

"What a pity Abigail isn't staying longer," Adam said in an aside. "I'm sure she would have organised the folk here into an operatic society, with herself in the lead role, of course."

Joe sniggered appreciatively at the image this presented. "I'm just surprised she didn't put on one of her famous "Scenes from Shakespeare," while she was visiting. Or perhaps she couldn't find the right actors?" He cocked an inquiring eyebrow at his brother, who returned the gesture and took another swig of beer.

These dramatic offerings had assumed almost legendary status in Virginia City, so great was the schoolteacher's enthusiasm in dragooning assistance. It was a standing joke on the Ponderosa that each year she would attempt to cast Adam in the role of Romeo, with herself as Juliet, naturally. Equally traditional were Adam's increasingly inventive ways of wriggling out of the role.

"She'd have a captive audience here, that's for sure," he agreed. "Just think of all those lonely guys staring hungrily as Abigail declares her love for Romeo."

The brothers both considered this image in a silence that lasted for almost a minute before they burst out laughing, Adam's deep chuckle and Joe' s higher cackle ringing around the rafters of their slightly ramshackle drinking abode. Despite everything, it was a good evening.

The room they rented for the night was joined on to the rear part of the sutler's and although it was small and sparsely furnished, it was neat and more than adequate for their needs. Moreover, the bedlinen was clean and the mattress did not have too many obvious lumps and bumps in it.

"Could be a lot worse," Joe said, sitting on the edge of the bed and pulling off his boots.

At the other side of the room, Adam stood regarding himself in the mirror and rubbing a reflective hand over his chin. He really could not be bothered shaving tonight, but would there be time in the morning? There would be the horses to groom and the wagon to harness up and that all took time. If it had been anyone else, he would simply have gone home sporting a day's growth of beard, but he knew that Miss Abigail would disapprove. And her disapproval was never silent... Feeling his dark mood begin to return, Adam picked up a sliver of soap from the wash-stand and began to lather up his face.

"You really shouldn't bother on my account," Joe murmured sleepily from the bed. "I've cuddled up with Cooch before now and his bristles are a lot worse than yours!"

"You just concentrate on warming up my side of the bed, little brother," Adam advised and began to draw his razor smoothly downwards, the familiar routine lulling him back into more peaceful thoughts.