Chapter Eight—You Can’t Be Serious

     The answer was a total shock. After an excellent meal, Art and I headed for the living room for coffee. The night was chilly, so Barker had a fire going in the fireplace. It was nice. “Caroline, I want you in on this, too,” he said.
     “But…I need to wash the dishes,” she said, looking back and forth between her father and me. I wondered if she was avoiding me. She hadn’t looked at me once during supper…

     I did the best I could with the meal. He never even looked at me. What does father want me in the meeting for? I don’t want to be there. He won’t look at me then, either. Why doesn’t he just leave?…

     ”The dishes will wait,” Caroline’s father told her. “Put them in the bucket and let them soak. I’ll get Hannibal here to help you with them later.” He was smiling.
     I looked at Caroline and she was looking at me. Horror in her eyes?…

     He grimaced, I saw him grimace. He doesn’t want to wash the dishes with me…

     I decided not to reply to Barker’s dish washing comment. But Caroline sat down on the couch next to her father. I was in an adjacent chair. This thing is comfortable…It ought to have been. Soft, brown leather… “Ok, Mr. Barker, you have an idea. I’m willing to listen.”
     He turned serious. “You say you can’t stay in the valley as Frank Pierce.”
     “I don’t see how. Miller wants me gone. I’ve already out-stayed my welcome with him.”
     Barker waved that away. “Miller can’t run you off. You’ve done nothing wrong, but I can understand your concern about drawing the wrong kind of element into the area. But you can’t stay as Hannibal Landers, either. But you’d like to keep your name.”
     “Yes, to both statements.” Caroline’s hands were in her lap. She was looking at them. She’s wearing that pretty red dress she wore the day I met her…
     “Would you stay if you could keep half your name?”
     “Huh?” I looked at him, totally perplexed. Caroline was giving her father the same expression.
     Barker was smiling. “Well, your father and mother are dead, aren’t they?”
     I simply nodded my head. A pain shot through me.
     “So…” he continued, still smiling, “you’re an orphan, right?”
     “Well, technically…well, yes, I guess so,” I replied, still with no idea what he was driving at.
     “Any hotshot gunslinger that came up here would be looking for Frank Pierce or Hannibal Landers, wouldn’t they?”
     I was getting a little tired of this. “I think we’ve already made that determination.” I saw Caroline’s eyes get huge…

     Father, you can’t mean it. You can’t. That…that…you can’t…oh, that…oh, that would be…oh, that would be wonderful. Or would it? We couldn’t…but he wouldn’t really be…not really…And then Caroline burst out laughing.

     Her father and I both looked at her. Her father was smiling at her. “What do you think of the idea, Caroline?”
     She was smiling, brightly, the brightest smile I had ever seen on her face. “I think it’s a fantastic idea, father. I don’t know if he’ll go for it, but I think it’s wonderful.” Then a little angst came over her face. “But…what would…I mean…” She stopped.
     Now I was getting really exasperated. “Will somebody please let me in on this? I haven’t the faintest idea what you two are going on about.”
     Art Barker said to his daughter, “You tell him.” Still apparently torn, she nodded.
     Caroline looked at me, green eyes more hypnotic than I’d ever seen them. “Well, you can’t live here as Frank Pierce, and you can’t live here as Hannibal Landers. But you could live here as Hannibal Barker…”
     I was nonplussed. I still didn’t get it. Then it hit me and I half rose out of my chair. “You’d adopt me??” I said to Art Barker, with utter incredulity in my voice and obviously on my face as well.
     Father and daughter laughed. “Well, it’s just a way to legally change your name.  That's what I was thinking of.” Art paused, and his smile became a little whimsical. “But, you know, I’ve never had a son…”
     I blinked. But what would that do with me and Caroline? She’d be my sister…I don’t want her for a sister…but only adopted…what’s the legal ramifications?…I can’t…she’d still be my sister, blood or not…
     I closed my eyes, and rubbed my forehead, knowing now how I felt and what I had to say. So, very quietly, without opening my eyes, I replied, “Mr. Barker, I don’t want to be your son. I want to be your son-in-law.”
     The room went absolutely silent, except for the crackling of the fire. I opened my eyes. Caroline was staring at me….

     Did he say…what I think he just said? Did I hear…oh, he did…oh, what am I going to do? What am I going to say? And then, she knew…She’d always known…

     Barker finally spoke up. “I have no say over that, son. You know that.”
     I wouldn’t—couldn’t—look at Caroline any more. “I think I’ve answered your question, though, Mr. Barker. I can’t be your son.”
     He nodded. “I think I understand that. And, frankly, I’m not surprised.” He looked from me to his daughter and started to get up. “I guess I need to leave you two alone to discuss the matter.”
     “No!” Caroline said, sharply. Then, “I…don’t want you to leave, father.”
     Art Barker slowly sat back down, gazing intently at his daughter. I still couldn’t look at her.
     She continued speaking, softly. “I don’t want him as my brother, either…”
     Now I did look at her. Our eyes met and they held for several seconds, both of us searching….

     Does he really? He said he did, but does he? His eyes…what’s in his eyes?…Yes…

     Now I couldn’t tear my eyes away from hers—she had me hypnotized. But, finally, I said, “Caroline…”
     “Will you marry me?”
     A long pause. “What about your name?” She was still staring at me intently.
     “My name is Hannibal Landers. And it always will be. And I’m not going to hide behind another one any longer.”
     “What if some gun…gunman comes up here wanting to…try you?”
     I looked at her, intently. “Can you live with that?”

     Can I? Or…can I live without it?…

     Art Barker coughed. It was a “get attention” cough. Caroline and I both looked at him. He had a mischievous smile on his face. “Hannibal, you never did answer a question I asked you earlier.”
     “Which one?”
     “Could you live with half your name?”
     I wasn’t getting it again. “But I think we decided that adoption wouldn’t work.”
     “And I guess I can understand you not wanting to give up your family name.”
     I sighed. “Yeah. I just couldn’t do that, Mr. Barker. My name is Landers. Any sons or daughters I have…I want them to have that name, too.”
     He nodded his understanding. Then he smiled. “Well, then what’s your middle name?”
     I blinked at him. “Campbell. It was my mother’s maiden name.”
     He appeared to be thinking. “Campbell Landers sounds like a pretty good name to me.”
     I started to say something, then stopped. I had to wrap my mind around that one for a few moments. I wasn’t embarrassed about my middle name. In fact, I was proud of it. But, flabbergasted, I shook my head. “But too many people here now know me as Hannibal Landers. It would get out.”
     “It’s a risk, that’s true. But who really knows? My boys, and Giles Ridenour’s. I think we could swear them all to secrecy.”
     It wouldn’t work, I knew it wouldn’t. But maybe in time…I looked at Caroline. “Would you agree to being Mrs. Campbell Landers?”
     She was smiling at me. “What’s the question again?”
     “Will you marry me?”
     She started teasing me, and I knew the answer. “Everybody is expecting me to marry Billy. I announced I would.”
     I sighed, deciding to play along with her. “Well, I guess the best man won after all…”
     “Yes. He did,” she replied. “And the answer to your question is…”

     Actually, Billy Williams skipped town two days after our fight. He was humiliated. So, Caroline Barker didn’t marry him the next week.
     She married me.