Home is the Sailor #7 – The Gap (by Krystyna)

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Summary:  A trip to San Francisco sets the family on an adventure.

Rating:  T  198,800 words

Home is the Sailor Series: The saga continues after the conclusion of the Captain Cartwright series.

Home is the Sailor
The Iron Horsemen
There will Always be Rainbows
The Pledge
No Greater Love
Kismet
The Gap…

 

The Gap

Chapter 1

San Francisco in the year 1879 was nothing like the trading centre that Ben Cartwright had first set eyes on so many years ago when he had taken his wagon into what was to become one of the foremost commercial cities in the world. When Ben arrived there with his two little boys there were fewer than 500 souls living in the small settlement.

William A. Richardson, an Englishman who had taken Mexican citizenship, had one day erected a canvas tent stretched between pine posts and began to trade wheat and tallow between the ships that came into the port and the local Indians. It stood there until he built the adobe ‘Casa Grande’ (later to become the Adelphi Theatre) on what he named as Dupont Street.

Every time Ben had made a visit, whether for business or pleasure, he would stand for a full five minutes just to gaze around and try to locate the site where he had first set down his wagon, and decided that this was not the place for him, it was already, at that time, too big.

As he stood collecting his thoughts, struggling not to drown in waves of nostalgia, his son stood beside him, looking slightly bemused as he surveyed the city and took the changes he saw with a feeling of regret. Too much change – he shook his head, and remonstrated with himself. As an engineer he should be marvelling at all he saw, as an architect he should be in awe of the splendid buildings but as a mere human being, remembering it as it had been, it made him feel depressed.

His wife slipped her arm through his and smiled up at him. In her green travelling suit she looked smart and modish, even though she may not have felt that way. There may have been a mere 200 plus mile distance between Virginia City and San Francisco but fashion seemed to have stalled somewhere along the way. She was feeling very much the country cousin.

“Amazing.” Ben grunted.

“The porter said that the Transcontinental Express train can get from New York to San Francisco in 83 hours.” * Reuben piped up, and looked at his father with big eyes, “That’s not much time, is it?”

“Well, it would mean catching the train in New York on Monday morning and arriving here on -” Adam paused “on Thursday evening.”

“Amazing.” Ben muttered, unaware that he was repeating himself, “It would have taken over six months walking beside that old Conestoga wagon of ours.”

“But that was in the old days, Gran pa.” Reuben informed him with a serious look on his face. “No one travels in a wagon nowadays.”

“Some still do.” Olivia reminded him, and gave him a subtle nod of the head as a way to remind him to be tactful, not that he would know what that meant.

“The porter said…” Reuben started to say but got hushed up when his father moved forward, as though to break the spell that was making them appear like a bunch of country bumpkins.

It had been some while since Ben or Adam had been to San Francisco. Even Olivia who had lived in the big city for years felt somewhat intimidated by the changes she could see, which were even more outstanding to her as she had not seen it since she fled the city in ’75. In such a short time so much change…like some gigantic baby that had demanded constant feeding San Francisco had burgeoned into the noisiest, busiest, bustling, smelly metropolis imaginable.

A clanging sound, right from close by them and they all stepped back to avoid the on coming vehicle that they had read about in the Territorial but now saw in all its splendour. The California Street Cable Railroad Car* that had been founded by Leland Stanford* stopped some feet away from them, disgorged several customers and waited with doors open to ’eat up’ some more.

It was too much for Nathaniel, he just burst into tears and clung more tightly to his father’s neck. Ben sighed “Shall we look for a hansom cab, I feel safer in something I’m familiar with…”

“This is progress, Pa.” Adam reminded him, picking up a suitcase, passing Nathaniel to Olivia, and striding forward with Sofia hurrying behind him so closely that she nearly tripped him up.

The cable car company had opened up in California Street in 1878,* an innovation that delighted the local inhabitants of the city who found transportation easier and quicker. It had changed the whole appearance of the city, and Ben, as he stepped on board clutching his suitcase wished heartily that he was back home.

Reuben and Sofia were delighted by this new marvel. They grinned from ear to ear, nodded in a friendly fashion to those passengers already seated who had to make way for them, and then took their seats. Olivia found a seat behind them and sat Nathaniel on her lap, Ben almost toppled into the seat beside her having trodden on someone’s toes and been cursed loudly as a result. A little dog in the lap of a rather oversized woman yapped noisily, which captured Nathaniel’s attention and stopped him thinking of dragons and being swallowed up piecemeal.

Adam paid their fares, checked the luggage was secure and found he had to stand as there was no seats available. He didn’t mind that, it gave him a chance to look over everyone’s heads and watch what was still familiar to him slip past as the cable car lurched forward and made it’s way through the roads, up and down the hills, stomachs lurched along with it. Nathaniel wailed, the dog yapped, and Adam had an insane desire to laugh.

Who would have thought that in his lifetime trains covered more of America than any other country in the world. He could recall as a boy arriving in the back of the wagon, hot and dusty, and disliking the smells and noise of the town in which they had arrived. Now there was no semblance to that time, no indication of where they had stopped that battered old wagon and paused to consider what and where to go next.

He could remember reading about Andrew Hallidie* who had invented the cable car system. The man had witnessed an accident involving a horse drawn street car, the horses had reportedly skidded over wet cobblestones and been killed. Adam could remember reading accounts of the man’s invention in his cabin when on board ship. His fellow officer, O’Brien, had said it would never work, too much reliance on steam. Years later he and O’Brien were haggling over the advantages of steam powered ships versus the elegance of the clipper ships.

Passengers disembarked and others took their places. People jostled along, elbows prodded into the ribs of strangers. It seemed to Olivia that the bigger and busier the city, the less the good manners of its citizens. She wiped Nathaniel’s nose on a handkerchief, nodded and smiled at Sofia who was fidgeting, and watched as Reuben stared around him, drinking all these new innovations into his agile fertile brain.

When Adam tapped Ben on the shoulder and muttered that it was time to ‘Get off’ the older man had never felt so relieved in his life. Apologising as he went along the centre aisle Ben finally stepped down onto the side walk, adjusted his hat, straightened his jacket and vowed ‘Never Again!’

It was a mere few paces to where Martha lived, and together they made their way to the house, that now looked a little tired as though it also was weary of having been there for so long, and experienced so many changes since the Frobishers had first moved there.

But the welcome smile on Martha’s face was soothing, it calmed the jaded nerves of one elderly gentleman, and lightened the heart of the young woman who was anxious about the forthcoming eye examination she had travelled all that way to attend. The children were hugged, and told to run indoors and feel welcome, and Adam stood surrounded by luggage and still day dreaming about times that had been and gone.
……………….

Life back home on the Ponderosa was busy. Hester, now walking quite as normal, was busy sewing a new dress for Hannah. Her little girl would soon be going to school and would need good workaday clothing to withstand the rough and tumble of school life. Hannah sat beside her, carefully stitching along a hem of a petticoat. She was a nimble fingered little girl, serious in her ways, although prone to giggles especially when her Pa was anywhere in the vicinity.

She sighed now, and turned to look at the doorway which stood open so that the sound of her sister and brothers voices drifted into the room. Hester looked up and smiled “Concentrate now, Hannah.”

“But, Ma, can’t I go and play with Hope and Erik?”

“Later. Look, you have nearly finished your hem. You can go and have a cookie when it is done, and take one out for your brother and sister.”

Hester smiled at Hannah, her black haired blue eyed little girl, and felt the tug to her heart that in a short while she would be joining Reuben, Sofia and Rose Canaday on the wagon to school. She wished that her Hannah could have gone to the small schools with the one teacher, unlike so many other parents who had been overjoyed at the opening of the school in C Street, it just seemed to lack the warmth and security of the smaller schools. Of course Olivia would have reminded her that there had been no such thing when Mr Crook had been the teacher…every child there had dreaded school days, but Hester liked to spin her little castles in the air, and look back with nostalgia as so many of us do.

Erik’s voice was loud, shouting to Hope to put something down and give it to him. She shook her head, and then smiled at the thought that Erik was so ‘her’ son, that she never ever feared now the possibility of some Irish family sweeping upon the Ponderosa and claiming him as their own. She and Hoss never discussed his real parentage. The legal documents relating to his adoption were in a locked box at the very back of the safe. Far back enough for her to pretend it never even existed to remind her that Erik was not her or Hoss’ flesh and blood.

Hoss was working along with Hop Sing butchering a pig. It was most commonly the work carried out before winter so that there would be enough bacon, ham and pork to sustain the family through most of the winter. But old Hogan had decided he had too many pigs now and had donated the pig gladly, asking only that they would butcher and prepare it for several of the families in town who were suffering hard times.

There were a lot of families in Virginia City suffering hard times as the mines continued to close down, or cut back on the number of employees. Hoss and Joe had agreed that they would deal with the pig themselves and take what had been done to various homes. Bridie would tell them the most needy due to her contacts via the hospice she ran there.

There were many ways of butchering a pig, but Hoss and Hop Sing carried it out the way they had always done. “The old ways are the best ways” Hoss had declared as he had strode out beside Hop Sing to deal with the porker.

Joe had been told that Hoss was going to help with the butchering of the pig, and knowing that it would take time to do, was not grumpy about having to go to the south pasture to deal with the cattle round up and organise the branding of the new calves with Candy riding along with him. The spring round up was starting and soon there would be the cattle drive to organise.

The pig was cut up into hams, shoulders, side meat and spare ribs, and there was the belly pork too. The internal organs were removed and set aside to be dealt with later. Hester, having finished her sewing, joined with Mary Ann with preparing the small meat from the pig, making them into sausages, or boiling them up to make what they would call head cheese. Hoss had blown up the bladder and tied it so that the children could play ball with it, which was the cause of Erik’s discontent that Hester had heard earlier.

All the meat was salted, because salt was a good preservative. Then some were put in brine, and some set aside to be smoked. Hoss diligently separated all the pieces so that it could all be put on the wagon and distributed in town. Cheng Ho Lee had been allocated the task of preparing the meals for the family through the day. So after the mid-day meal had been eaten they returned to their work.

They set to work in cutting up very finely the meat from the pigs internal organs. Herbs, salt and pepper and other spices would be added and it would be mixed and rolled until they were finally finished and it could all be set aside to go with everything else that was already in the wagon. Hank was given the task of driving the wagon and its contents into town, to consult with Paul and Bridie and leave them to distribute the food around the poorer community.

It had been a long day, and by the time Mary Ann left the house all the children were drowsy and heavy eyed. Hester even admitted she felt much the same as she waved her friend away.

After they had cleaned and washed themselves, for the smell of the butchering permeated their skin and clothes, Hoss came and hugged his wife, told her how proud he was of her and then settled down with her on the settee watching the flames flickering up the chimney.

“I wonder how Pa and everyone’s getting on in San Francisco.” Hester observed as she picked up her latest Charles Dickens novel to read.

“I can’t even remember the last time I went there,” Hoss said and stretched, “I don’t suppose much has changed.”

He yawned and reached out for her hand, waited a little while before he could lean over and take the book away and set it to one side. “How about we – er – go upstairs and get to bed, huh?”

“Hmm, yes, it has been a long – and tiring – day, hasn’t it?” Hester said with a sigh and stood up, looked down at the dying fire and smiled.

“Oh, yeah, I guess so.” Hoss replied and stood right behind her, put his arms around her waist and kissed the nape of her neck. “Jest that I ain’t really sleepy jest now.”

Chapter 2

The couple stood among the spring flowers of the park arm in arm and watched as the children played around them. Then they turned to look at the row of houses that stood overlooking the park and smiled, turned to one another and smiled again.

“How strange to think that had been my home for so long,” she said quietly, “If I had known what was going to happen when we moved there, perhaps I would not have taken the risk but stayed at the old house that Robert and I had lived in before his death.”

He frowned then, just slightly, and then smiled “I would not have met you here then, with your little red tipped nose, and your funny red hat…”

“And Marcy looking like she was wearing a tea cosy…”

“And Reuben stuck up the tree …”

“And Booth threatening to murder you …”

“And Abigail thinking I was Ben Cartwright coming to woo her little sister away.”

She sighed again, and they turned away to watch the children; Reuben so tall for his age, ten years old now. Sofia was showing a ball to Nathaniel, before tossing it to him and shaking her head when he dropped it. “Like this, Nathaniel, watch me.” and she bounced the ball onto the path and caught it as up it came straight into her hand.

“Now try – no, put your hands together – you’ll never catch it if you spread them out wide like that.” and she tossed the ball again, Nathaniel leaned forward, opened his arms wide and the ball bounced up, down, and up again and hit him on the nose.

Reuben jumped from a tree, ran and caught it before Sofia could grab it again, which meant she squealed and protested, Reuben laughed and ran off, Nathaniel was left rubbing his nose and looking around him wondering what was going to happen next.

He chose to run to his Momma, who gathered him up in her arms and hugged him tight. He was two and a half, not quite the three years that Sofia had been when Adam had first met his future wife.

“I remember you were standing right in this very spot,” Olivia said and smiled at him, “The first time I saw you. You were wearing your uniform and great coat, and I thought you looked – “ she narrowed her eyes as though to recall to mind exactly what she did think “I thought you looked heroic.”

“Oh, heroic! Mmm, I like that -” he grinned, and the dimples she loved showed, his brown eyes twinkled and he leaned in towards Nathaniel and whispered “Momma thought I looked heroic.”

Nathaniel nodded, and then wriggled to get back down. He wanted to run, and catch that ball.

“Then,” Olivia said quietly as they began to stroll slowly, arm in arm, following the path between the rose beds (no roses yet, too early) and where the spring flowers grew, “Then some officer came and presented you with your orders.”

Adam ran a thumb along his jaw line and grimaced, nodded “The South China seas…I wish I had been harder to find.”

She said nothing to that, but pressed her arm against his and they continued on, listening to their children shouting, laughing, happy in their play. Others were there, strolling about, couples, young and old, children, older or younger than their own. The sun was warm, shining from a blue sky, it was an oasis from the noise and bustle of the city, and the flowers smelled fresh and sweet.

Sofia ran up to them, and clasped hold of Adam’s hand, so they stopped walking and he turned her round and pointed to the house with the wide steps leading to the red door “Do you remember living there, Sofia?”

She looked and frowned, narrowed her eyes in an attempt to remember then shook her head and Olivia pointed to a window that overlooked the park “See, that was your bedroom window.”

But Sofia didn’t remember any of it, she could only remember living in the house where Aunt Marcy and Uncle Luke lived. She remembered living there with her Mother, Reuben and a strange old lady who would wander off into the woods and talk to Indians who were not really there at all, except for one, their friend Johnny Tall Bear.

Nathaniel ran up, and grabbed Olivia by the hand, he was tired, he looked up at his father who nodded and picked him up. Reuben ran behind them, bouncing the ball, tossing it in the air, catching it and tossing it some more. They walked all round the park and then out through the wrought iron gate onto the side walk. As they walked away Sofia glanced over her shoulder to look at the row of houses and Reuben turned to see what she was looking at and paused a moment, before saying “Ma, did we live here once a long time ago?”

Olivia nodded, “Yes, once, although it wasn’t really so very long ago, it’s just that so much had happened since we left here.”

“I can remember,” Reuben said running up to walk alongside her, “There was a horrible man who lived there too, and he was sick on the floor and a bully too…he hurt me once and he used to shout a lot.” he frowned and turned again to look at the house and then smiled “I can remember Flannel came and made chocolate cake in the big kitchen and once she said she was going to hit the horrible man over the head with the smelly old wet mop but she never did, did she?”

Olivia nodded, her brow wrinkled as she recalled the incidents and waited for Reuben to come to her side and leave the park but he lingered to stare a little longer at the house, the street where the cabs and carriages passed by.

“Ma, did something bad happen there when we lived there…did that bad man hurt us? Did he take Sofia and me away and say we were to live with him?”

“Do you remember all that?” Olivia asked, leaning down so that her face was level to his, she looked into his eyes and saw the puzzled look in them, the confusion in his face and he nodded

“I remember being in a buggy and looking through the window and Sofia was crying. A man told her to shut up or he would give her something to cry about. We had to be quiet and eat some food and then go to bed. We didn’t even have any night clothes. I remember that was before Pa -” he paused and looked up at Adam who inclined his head and looked thoughtfully at the boy. “Gran pa was there, he came for us, didn’t he?”

“He did. Do you remember what happened then?” Adam asked, and put a gentle hand on Olivia’s shoulder

Reuben grinned mischievously, his eyes twinkled “That was the funny wagon trip and Gran’ma Abigail had to sit on her chair by the camp fire … then we got to the house where Ma used to live when she was a little girl.”

“You’ve a good memory,” Olivia said quietly, and looked at Adam as though wishing the conversation hadn’t taken place, that those memories didn’t linger in her little boys head.

The noise of the traffic intruded upon their conversation now, Olivia thought that it was noisier than she could remember, or was it because she had grown so accustomed to the silence of home. She tightened her grip on Adams arm, wishing that she hadn’t needed to come here, to re-visit old times, old memories…but he just smiled down at her and nodded as though he understood her thinking.

It was a day for visiting old friends and revisiting memories. Ben had chosen to look up several old business acquaintances, and met Henry Eugene as a result. Henry had flourished since he had been freed from the grip of the Pelmans, and his brother Andre. He had married a young woman who was the heiress to a fortune, and although he still lived in the old house Ben remembered from years past, it had been given a face lift inside and out, and looked more magnificent than ever.

While his wife bustled about ordering the servants to do this and that, and then went to stroll in the garden with her little pug dog chasing around her skirts, Henry sat with Ben and talked over old times. As they watched the young woman at play Ben remembered how the younger man had lived his days in fear, a gaunt hollow cheeked man who lived under the tyranny of his cousins and brother.

“I owe you an insurmountable debt, Mr Cartwright.” Henry said as he poured some wine into a glass which he handed to his visitor, “If you hadn’t appeared that day and spoken to me about where my true duty lay, then I would probably have shot my brains out.”

“That was what I feared you would do.” Ben replied as he sipped the wine and nodded his approval, “But you found the courage -”

“I don’t know where it came from to be honest.” Henry smiled, “But -” he raised his eyebrows “I remember watching Adam during that court martial and comparing him with my cousins and brother and realising what a fool I was – would be – if I didn’t grab the opportunity to make amends and reveal what I knew. He looked so – dignified and proud despite all the ignominy they had piled upon him.”

Ben nodded, swirled the wine round and round in the glass and then swallowed it down. It tasted sweet upon his palate, and he looked at Henry and smiled,

“Let’s forget about the past for now, tell me about your future plans, Henry, and what exactly your business is all about?”
………….

Joe Cartwright wiped sweat from his brow and straightened his back, he frowned and shook his head as Candy approached him with a thoughtful look on his own face.

“You don’t look very happy, Candy.”

“I don’t feel it.”

“Well, neither do I. This looks like its going to be a lean year for calves, and a thin profit margin at the markets.”

“That’s my thinking too.” Candy removed his gloves and tucked them into his back pocket, “I guess we’ve got too used to having a high yield each year, bound to come a year when there would be a lower number.”

“Well, the Ponderosa can carry any loss at market with the cattle, Candy. I was thinking it will be harder on Luke and Derwent Jessop if they have fewer calves this year. It’ll be lean times ahead for them if that’s the case.”

Candy nodded and took up a canteen of water which was hanging from the hook of the chuck wagon, “Could be some wandered off to the low pasture and hidden in the bluffs there. Do you want me to go look see?”

“I’ll come with you, I could do with a change from this -” he paused as Hank rode by pulling a calf behind him on a rope.

The poor beast was lowing pitifully for its mother as Hank dismounted and with the help of Joe got the beast down, Candy picked up the branding iron and placed it upon the calf’s flank, before releasing the rope with a flick of his wrist and letting it run free. The little animal flicked its back heels at them as though in contempt of the rough treatment it had been given, and ran off lowing to its mother.

“This is a pretty lean year so far, Joe.” Hank said as he took the canteen from his boss and took a swig from it, he spat into the ground before taking another swig and swallowing it down.

“Seems so.” Joe sighed, “Candy and I thought to ride along to the low pasture and check out the bluffs there. Could be some wandered off and got themselves lost.”

Jake nodded “Could be, or some mother cows have got clever in hiding their young uns away so’s we can’t find ‘em.”

Joe grinned and nodded, “Perhaps so, but let Hoss know where we are, will you? He should be back from town shortly.”

Jake watched as the two men mounted their horses and walked them from the campsite, before setting them into a comfortable lope. Jack Grosch rode up with a calf at the end of his rope which Jake turned to help with, the stink of burning hair hung heavy in the air and he passed the canteen over to Jack with a nod of his balding head. It was hot work, the day was hot, and sweat streaked the backs of their shirts. Although they would not admit it both men were glad that the number of calves were down compared to previous years, fewer calves meant less work.

Chapter 3

The hospital that Olivia had to attend was a large rather grand looking building and she felt a flutter of trepidation as she mounted the steps to the door and into the reception area. She glanced over her shoulder to make sure that Adam was close by and reached out for his hand. Several people walked past her, the gentlemen raised their hats and smiled, the women nodded acknowledgement of her presence as they passed. To them the attractive young woman with the green suit and pretty bonnet looked smart and sophisticated, confident and serene as she approached the desk and gave her details to the Nurse.

Adam stood beside her, and smiled. The ladies had smiled and nodded at him, and the gentlemen had raised their hats before moving on. There was a subtle difference which made him smile. The Nurse gave them directions as to where to go next and taking the card that had been handed to her, Olivia turned to the elevator.

She could remember coming to San Francisco when she had been a young bride. Oh how naïve and timid she had been coming from the isolation of the Double D to this bustling big town. It was not so big then as it was now, although she had never known it as Ben would recall his first time there. But it had grown in the years she had lived as Roberts wife, but she had not grown with it. She was and always would be the shy girl from that lonely sad childhood existing on the borders of the Ponderosa.

She slipped her arm through Adams, and tried to calm her nerves. The Consultant she was going to see about her eyes was senior to the Doctor she had seen in Virginia City. But Dr Callaghan was there, folder in hand, a smile on his face, as though to greet her as she stepped from the elevator and approached them in order to shake their hands

“How have you been?” were almost the first words he pronounced to them, his eyes lingering over Olivia’s and then nodding. He could see for himself how well the scars had healed, those he could see for the others were hidden by her hair.

She smiled, feeling more at ease for he was less formal here, perhaps being subordinate to someone else had made him feel less responsible, more able to thaw out and be human.

Adam followed with his hat in his hand and thinking that it was hardly necessary to have come. Olivia was seeing things clearly, sometimes she didn’t even need to wear the spectacles, or forgot them because she was seeing so well without them. He sighed and clasped his hands,with hat, behind his back and patiently allowed himself to be ’towed’ along.

The tall man in the white coat was standing by a long table, his back to them when they entered. He was reading through some papers with an intensity that made Olivia feel like an intruder. Callaghan cleared his throat, a Nurse appeared from behind some screens and approached the man in the white coat and seemed to nudge his elbow for he then turned.

Adam nearly dropped his hat in surprise when he recognised the man. He looked intensely at him before bowing his head, thinking furiously as to the last time he had seen him. When had it been? Years ago…yes, years ago. He looked up and frowned, then heaved in a deep breath as the Consultant walked towards them.

Callaghan, who already felt a connection with Adam from the past but had said nothing at the time, watched and noticed as the previously confident rancher now looked ill at ease and uncomfortable. He looked then at the Consultant and waited for him to speak. Olivia looked totally ignorant of anything unusual that was happening around her.

“Mrs Cartwright?” the Consultant paused and glanced at her with narrowed eyes and then glanced at Adam before looking back at her “Mrs Olivia Cartwright?”

“Yes.”

“Good, come here please and sit down. I just want to look at your eyes – no, keep the glasses on. Thank you.”

He didn’t look up during the examination but stared carefully into Olivia’s eyes, turned her head this way and that way, got her to look at the letters on the board and listened to her as she went through them all. Then he removed the spectacles and did another scrutiny, listened to her go through the letters, then got some instruments and began to look intently at her eyes through them. Gentle hands probed here and there, fingers examined the areas that had been struck by the rocks and left their marks. He nodded, murmured, muttered and jotted down words on the sheet of paper in front of him.

“I’m just going to put some drops of this liquid into your eyes…if you could look up at the ceiling, Mrs Cartwright. This will enlarge the pupil of your eyes and then I can have another look – that’s right, look up -”

Olivia did as she was told, the liquid stung and made her eyesight blur and for an instant she felt panic rise in her throat. Her hands fluttered and then she remembered what he had said, accepted that he knew what he was doing, and calmed down.

“Could you just sit quietly now for a few moments to give it time to work.” he smiled, and stepped away while the nurse came and led Olivia to another chair, further away to a corner of the room.

The Consultant now walked over to Adam and stretched out a hand,

“Hello, Adam. It’s been a long time.”

Adam nodded, smiled and shook the other man’s hand warmly, “Yes, it has, I never thought to see you again, Soames.”

Soames laughed, a quiet laugh as though he was afraid that if it were any louder it would be considered impolite. He glanced at Callaghan and then back at Adam,

“I couldn’t believe it when Callaghan here said he had seen you, but you didn’t recognise him, did you?”

“No,” Adam looked at the other man and frowned “Had we met before?”

“Not properly, I saw you in passing once when you were visiting the hospital. Some of your men had been injured, and brought here. I was in the ward when you came to see them.”

Adam stared at him a moment, then nodded curtly. He didn’t like to be reminded of that time, when his men had been killed and injured in the harbour, and his ship had ’died’. He could remember now coming to the hospital, seeing his men and knowing that some would never work again. O’Brien had blamed himself, having been the officer on board at the time, but Adam had also blamed himself and when Commodore Pelman had charged him with dereliction of duty he didn’t challenge it. He didn’t feel he had that right to do so.

Soames put a hand on the arm of the man who had been his Commanding Officer some years back, when he had been the first M/O on board the prototype ship Baltimore. “It is good to see you again, Adam.”

“And you, Soames…I mean ..I should call you Dr Soames shouldn’t I? “

“Mr Soames would be quite acceptable,” Soames said with a smile, “I’m Consultant here. I specialist in Ophthalmology.”

“I didn’t realise you had such an interest in eyes – were you medically trained to do so when you were on board the Baltimore?”

“No, only in general medicine” Soames glanced up at the cloak, “Well, I think that is enough chatter for now. I must attend to my patient…” he turned to leave and then paused “Perhaps we could meet up for dinner this evening?”

Adam nodded, smiled “Yes, I would like that.”

“Callaghan, give Mr Cartwright my details, would you? About 8 o’clock?”

He turned and walked back to Olivia, while Callaghan walked to the desk and selected a card which he handed to Adam, he smiled, “I’m glad I got to meet you properly, sir, I won’t ever forget the attention you gave those poor men that day – and of course, the trial that followed later – a travesty of course.”

Adam felt a shiver trickle down his back, he nodded and took the piece of card on which Callaghan had written the time for the appointment with Soames later that day. He watched the Doctor as he walked over to where Soames was talking to Olivia and looking Intently into her eyes.

Olivia listened to all that the Consultant was telling her. She liked him, he had the way about him that gave her confidence, a kindly fatherly figure as he gently placed a different pair of glasses for her to try…they talked about what she could see, how bright the colours were, how sharp the outline of this and that …then he stepped back and nodded,

“Well, Mrs Cartwright, you have done remarkably well during the past six weeks. Dr Callaghan will carry out a further examination for your new spectacles. I hope you are not too disappointed in having to wear a pair, I know young women today prefer not to wear them, but eyes are precious things….”

She nodded, and smiled and yes she was disappointed as she had thought her eyes had healed and were functioning perfectly. Soames walked away, and went into another room. Adam watched him disappear and then turned his attention back to his wife and Callaghan.

“Mr Soames is quite right, Mrs Cartwright, everything has healed very well, but scar tissue can be a nuisance, even when unseen it leaves a trace of its presence. Let’s see how you get on with these lenses now -”

Ten minutes ticked by, and finally Callaghan sat back, nodded in approval and agreed with Olivia that they had found the perfect lenses for her. “I’ll have these ready for collection tomorrow morning.” he paused “Are you staying long in San Francisco?”

“A week.” she replied and blinked, her eyes were still rather blurred and she wasn’t sure how he could have been so sure which lenses were the best suited for her.

“Then these will be waiting for you at reception for collection tomorrow morning.” he stood up, shook her hand and walked through the same door that had seemed to swallow Soames up a few moments earlier.

The Nurse smiled at Olivia and walked with her to the door of the room, handed her a slip of paper which she said had to be handed to the Nurse on reception the following day when she collected her glasses. Looking at Adam Olivia smiled, and slipped her arm through the crook of his, “Well, that’s over with, and everything seems al right, doesn’t it?”

“But you still have to wear glasses?”

“For close work only.” she squeezed her arm against his and paused for a moment to look around her, “I hate places like these.”

“I don’t know many who like them.”

She nodded and they resumed their departure, down the stairs this time, for they had forgotten about the elevator, another thing they were not really used to although the hotels in Virginia City had them…the Whitney and Internationale…they nodded at various people as they passed them by, strangers, no one either of them knew.

“What were you talking to Mr Soames about, Adam?” she asked as they left the building and stepped into bright sunshine, and the noise and smells of the city.

“I knew him, a while back when I served on the Baltimore. He was the Medical Officer.” he sighed, and frowned.

“Didn’t you like him?”

“Yes, we had our differences of opinion at times but on the whole we got on well.” he pulled a wry face “He saved my life -”

“Oh, really?”

“Yes. Not my finest hour – I got shot at close range by a woman – could’ve died, but Soames patched me up. I owe him a lot.”

She didn’t ask anymore about it but slipped into silence, thinking of the times in the past when he had not been part of her life. She wondered what she had been doing then, perhaps enjoying her married life, perhaps nursing a little baby Reuben and happy with Robert.

The years had passed by so fast it was hardly possible so much time had slipped through their fingers as it had …she heard Adam sigh, and asked what was wrong,

“Soames wants us to join him for dinner this evening, at 8 o’clock.”

She nodded, small details drifted through her head – what to wear, what would they eat, what could they do about the children, would Ben mind and of course, Martha would only be too delighted to mind the children but – she sighed now – and glanced anxiously from the corner of her eye at her husband who was looking like the granite head his brothers would so often call him.

Chapter 4

They did not return to Martha’s house straight from the hospital. Instead they hailed a hansom to take them to the Conservatory of Flowers`in the Golden Gate Park. Martha had told them so much about it, and about the hundred of different plants it contained that Ben had been intrigued. Adam had been fascinated by the engineering of such an edifice and agreed to meet with them once Olivia had seen the Consultant.

They sat together, hand in hand, in the hansom, deep in their own thoughts. They passed the little park where they had met and Olivia peered through the window to catch a glimpse of the old house in which they had lived.

“Strange how Sofia couldn’t remember anything about being here before; memory is rather a cobwebby thing isn’t it?” she glanced at Adam who seemed at first not to have heard her, but then finally nodded and agreed that it was just that, especially for a child who may prefer not to remember some things.

She agreed with that, and wondered what things it was about living here that Sofia had preferred to forget. Adam smiled at her crinkled brow and tightened his grip on her fingers, “Sofia and Reuben have several years of new memories overlapping the old, you can’t expect them to remember everything that you may recall from living there.”

“Oh look,” she pointed to the sky “It’s going to rain.”

“Well, according to Martha and the brochures this greenhouse is big enough to have most of the city crowded inside to keep dry.” he grinned, cheeks dimpled, “It may not be very heavy -”

“I hope not, I wouldn’t want it to spoil Martha’s plans for the afternoon.”

He glanced at her again for she had sounded a little distracted “Anything, apart from the rain, worrying you?”

“Not really – well – I was just wondering – thinking really – about Mr Soames. You didn’t really seem so pleased to see him. You both looked as though you were rather nervous at seeing each other.”

He shrugged slightly, and raised his eyebrows “I told you already, Livvy, he saved my life. We got on pretty well despite some disagreements. “

“But it seems that those disagreements seem to stand between you still -”

“No, not really.” he shook his head and turned to look out of his side of the window as the cab threaded its way through the city.

“What were the disagreements about?” she persisted in asking after an uncomfortable few moments had elapsed.

“About a woman….”he said quietly and shot a wary glance at her.

“Were you in love with her?” she lowered her voice, curious about this something new in her husbands life about which she had known nothing.

“Quite the reverse. She was despicable. But Soames was a sentimental man, he fell into her traps every time.

“Oh, did he love her then, did he marry her?”

“No, he felt pity for her, too much so for his own good. Then she committed suicide while she was in his care – he’s probably still castigating himself over that even now.”

He hunkered down in his seat, anxious not to talk about the matter any longer and she recognised the signs that it would be imprudent to trespass any further. She held his hand, leaned her head upon his shoulder and watched the city buildings slip away.
…………..

Joe stood up in the stirrups in order to look further at the views around him, and then after a few moments settled back into the saddle. He was chewing his inner cheek and wondering about this latest conundrum when he saw the dust raised up by Candy approaching from the direction he had taken once they had reached the low pastures.

“Anything?” he asked but Candy shook his head, and with a lift of his eyebrows asked the same question but Joe just shook his head too and with a sigh turned his horse round in order to return the way they had come. “I can’t understand why there are so few calves….”

“It happens some years, Joe. It’s nature. Sometimes animals know things we don’t and just shut down on the productive issue … “

“Aw come on, you don’t believe that nonsense do you?”

“Well, I’ve seen it happen before with other animals – it’s only the two legged variety that keep having kids when they’re running out of space.” Candy grinned.

“You’re not – I mean – you and Ann -?”

“Nah, three’s enough for us.” Candy replied and pushed his hat further to the back of his head. Joe could see flecks of grey in among the black of Candy’s sideburns and sighed, age was no respecter of persons it seemed and he wondered if his own unruly mass of hair was showing any sign of grey that he was not yet aware of.

“We’re close to Jessop’s place.” Candy said suddenly, interrupting his companions chain of thought . “How about we go and see him, maybe he’s having the same trouble.”

They followed the stream that had been such a contentious problem between the two families for so long, it flowed swiftly from the river which fed it from the underground springs beneath the mountains. The passed the herd of cattle grazing on Jessops land, land green and lush which once used to be arid and dry before the stream was diverted. The cattle looked sleek and fat, as had the Ponderosa cattle that Joe and Candy had been branding.

Cowboys ranged too and fro, yipping and calling out commands, their lariats swinging loose in their hands, horses threading their way in and out of the animals. One of the riders saw the two men and raised a hand in welcome before meandering his way towards them through his cattle.

Derwent Jessop leaned forwards to extend a hand to both of them, he grinned and looked more than happy to see them both. “Good of you to come. How’s things on the Ponderosa?”

“Well, now that you ask,” Joe leaned upon the pommel of his saddle and pushed his hat back a little, “We’re low on numbers…”

Derwent frowned, looked at the two men and squared his shoulders, “Are you coming here to accuse -”

“No, nothing like that -” Joe said very quickly, lifting his hands high and away from his gun belt. Derwent was known as a pacifist but there was no knowing what a pacifist could do if accused of cattle rustling.

“Then why the visit?”

“We’re just curious…”Candy said quietly, being the older man he knew how to quieten a situation, a while as Sheriff in town had helped in that regard too.

“For what?”

“We were expecting a higher yield of calves this year – and by my reckoning we’re down by a third of our expectations.” Joe replied quietly, “We just wondered if you had noticed a similar problem with your herd.”

Derwent frowned, and removed his hat, pulled a bandana from his pocket and wiped across his brow, he nodded “I thought it was just us. I was expecting more this year, considering how well we had done last – but – “ he shook his head and wiped around his neck, “Luke came by this morning to ask me the same thing.”

“He’s down on figures too?” Joe asked and when Jessop nodded, he and Candy exchanged anxious glances. “We haven’t found any dead bodies, so I don’t think we have to worry about disease.”

“Thankfully. I was worried about anthrax…but like you say, no carcases, apart from which it’s indiscriminate. Most of the herd are find, it’s the calves or rather the lack of them that are the concern.” Jessop replied.

“Another thing we don’t have to worry about, are Indians -” Candy said quietly, “Not enough of them around now to merit so many missing head .”

“What about rustlers?” Jessop suggested and looked at the two Ponderosa men, his eyes swinging from one to the other

“That’s a possibility I guess -” Joe replied “Not one I wanted to consider really.”

“Ive got men out looking for sign of our cattle,” Derwent replied, and glanced around him, “and evidence of rustling.”

“Let us know if you find anything.” Joe asked and extended his hand which Derwent shook with a smile, although his eyes still looked anxious and worried.

Candy nodded to himself and muttered something about Mother Nature which Joe dismissed. They rode back to the camp site in silence, and found Hoss standing there, fanning his hat back and forth to cool himself, while he watched Hank and Jack brand another calf.

“Where have you two bin?” Hoss demanded with a scowl, “I’ve been waiting here for over an hour,“

Joe dismounted and walked his horse over to where Hoss was standing, he watched the calf kick its heels and run off, lowing loudly in complaint to its mother.

“We’re down on the number of calves this year…”

“I noticed that too…” Hoss nodded.

“Well, so are Luke and Derwent.”

Hoss raised his eyebrows and then scowled, his mouth twisted into a tight button of annoyance, “Well, reckon either the cows decided not to breed this year or we got some pernickety rustlers.”

“Pernickety?” Joe shook his head “How’d you work that one out?”

“’Cos if’n all they took were calves -” he shook his head, “Nah, I don’t reckon so. it’s just a bad year, that’s all. It happens. It’s Mother Nature playing hard to get agin.”

Joe groaned, “Mother Nature huh?”

“Yep, she has a way about her that keeps the numbers down…and for good reason that we may not find out until later.” Hoss glanced at Candy who was grinning and nodding his head in agreement, then he looked at Joe, “It happens, Joe. Some years you get plenty, another year, you get less. It’s about balance – “ he glanced down at his hand and shook his head “Dang if I didn’t get a thorn in my hand -”

Sucking at his injury Hoss strolled away to the chuck wagon and poured out coffee, while Candy mounted up and rode out to see if he could locate some more ‘shy’ calves. Joe glanced up at the sky and frowned, it looked like there was going to be some rain.
…………..

The rain was a light shower and by the time Adam and Olivia had reached the Park the clouds were parting to allow the sun to beam through again. Adam stood on the gravel path and stared at the huge glass edifice and shook his head in awe, respect and curiosity. “Amazing -” he said

“Isn’t it?” A man passing by said, and stopped to stand beside the rancher, “Just a shame that the man who got the kit in the first place died before seeing it constructed.“

“So I heard.” Adam replied with his eyes still taking in the size of the ‘greenhouse’

“James Lick*. That was the name of the man – his trustees sold it off to a group of businessmen in the city here who donated it * as a gift to the city. Quite splendid, isn’t it?”

Adam nodded, turning his head one way and then another as though he wanted to see it from all angles. The engineer and architect in him was fascinated by it, and he glanced at the other man with a slight smile “I saw a similar one in London some years back.”

“Kew Gardens…yes, I saw it too.” he nodded, tipped his hat to Olivia who had come to join her husband, and then walked away.

She was about to speak when they heard Ben’s voice, then Sofia and Reuben calling out to them. With a tug on Adam’s arm Olivia managed to distract him enough to turn his attention to his family and Martha, who were walking towards him, looking perfectly suited to their magnificent surroundings.

“How did your examination go, Olivia,” Ben asked “Is everything alright? Healed alright?”

“Mostly, Pa. But not completely.” she slipped her free arm through that of Ben’s and smiled, got a reassuring pat on the hand from him before she turned to her children who were clamouring around them.

Nathaniel was already sticky from candy that Ben had got him, Reuben was already bored after all, flowers had no appeal for a little boy of ten years of age, and Sofia was more interested in watching the people as they strolled about, at the clothes of the children, and wasn’t finding this wonderful glass palace quite as enthralling as Martha had made it seem.

“Adam met an old friend.” Olivia said as they all strolled into the entrance of the glass building, “My Consultant used to be the Doctor on board one of his ships.”

“Is that so?” Ben exclaimed and turned to Adam “Is that right, son?”

Adam nodded but his attention was on the building, his mind working out the cubic dimensions, the amount of wood, the number of glass panels….he pulled his attention back to his father and wife, “Yes. What did you say?” then he gazed back at the vast building “Do you realise how many window panes there are here? The weight of them alone… “

“16,800 window panes – the brochure says so here -” Martha pointed to the paragraph that listed all the details that Adam would find interesting. Ben and Olivia exchanged a glance, raised their eyebrows and turned their attention to the demands of the children.

Reuben wanted to go home, or at least find a place he could play ball with Nathaniel, and Sofia was tired of the flowers, the colours dazzled her eyes, she didn’t like the look of some of them, and the smells were making her head ache. Nathaniel grizzled he couldn’t put into words just how bored he was!

Chapter 5

The air became heavy, the feeling of a storm brewing and Ben suggested that they returned home before it broke. Martha was somewhat disappointed that no one, except Adam, had shown the appreciation for the magnificent building and flowers that she had expected. After their first awed gasps and exclamations, they had become increasingly subdued and it was that mood in which they arrived back at her house.

She had a staff of three, which seemed to be something of a requirement when owning a large house in the city. Her cook was a scrawny woman who appeared as though she ate nothing of any significance throughout the week, yet conjured up the most delicious meals (all of which she sampled often throughout the cooking process, had she been Bridie she would have weighed a ton). There was a maid of all work, who hurried about the house doing everything she possibly could to make life easier for Martha, to whom she was devoted. There was also the faithful retainer from her husband’s days, the Butler, Gates, who really supervised everything – the expenses, the daily routine, the two women. He knew exactly when to appear wherever Martha happened to be, with the newspapers, letters, coffee, refreshment and evening drinks. He was, Martha insisted, indispensable. Her guests all agreed, and all thought, but never said, that he made sure that she was reminded of how much so every hour of the day.

Olivia went to her room to ‘freshen up’ but as soon as she had sat down on the pretty chair by the dressing table, she felt exhausted. She closed her eyes and put her fingers to her temples, rubbing little circular movements in an attempt to ease the pain. After a while she went to her purse to find the medication that usually helped, and poured water from the carafe into a glass, which she swallowed down. It was while she was doing so that Adam opened the door and stepped into the room

“Are you not feeling well?”

“A migraine. I don’t know if it is the weather or just that today has been so tiring…maybe even those drops in my eyes …” she removed her glasses and set them down.

He watched her for a moment as she resumed her seat in front of the dressing table and looked into the mirror, closed her eyes again and shook her head. She passed her hand over her brow,

“I am sorry, Adam, I don’t think I will be able to accompany you this evening. I just need to sleep this off.”

“Of course,” he nodded and came to stand behind her, placing a hand lightly upon her shoulder he leaned forward to drop a kiss on her brow “Would you rather I cancelled it and – perhaps – we could go another evening?”

“No, don’t do that.” she said quietly, and sighed. “Mr Soames seemed a lonely man to me. Is he married?”

“He was once, some while before I knew him. He never mentioned his wife, if she were alive or not. He did mention his daughter once or twice. I had the impression that they were estranged.”

“Estranged.” she murmured, and frowned “What a sad word that is – I hope that we are never ‘estranged.’”

“Whatever made you think that we could ever be…” Adam said and stroked her neck slowly, so that she felt little trickles of electricity run up and down her spine. Had she been feeling well – she drew in a deep sigh and shook her, he stopped but she said “Oh don’t – that was so relaxing.”

After a moment or two he left her and walked over to the window, with his hands in his pockets. He watched the city closing down for the evening, and then fished in his jacket for the square of card that had Soames address on it. He looked at it and frowned, then turned to her,

“He lives in the same row of houses in which you lived…you must have been neighbours of his at one time.”

She blinked her large eyes, and thought fleetingly back to the time when life had been crazily hectic with two little children to care for, an old lady suffering dementia, and a sad couple whose marriage was falling apart at the seams. She thought fleetingly of how grateful she would have been then for an indispensable man about the house…she scrabbled in her mind for the right word, not a butler, but something else…she shook her head and the thought disappeared.

“I don’t recollect any Doctor living there, but then I barely knew any of my neighbours.”

“At least I won’t get lost, “ he said and returned the card to his pocket, “I’ll get a cab.”

“Give him my apologies.” she smiled as he walked past and grabbed at his hand, “Will you explain to Martha…I won’t be down for supper.”

He nodded and smiled, “It would have been pleasant to have had time together…”

“Yes, although -”

“Never mind -” he leaned down and kissed her, “Just rest now, and get better soon.”
………….

Dr Gregory Soames straightened his jacket and gave his tie a slight readjustment in order for it to look tidier than it would usually have done. His reflection in the cheval mirror reminded him of the years that had passed since he had last seen Adam Cartwright. He didn’t like to think about it, not of the passing years nor the events that had taken place since.

He left the room and went downstairs to the main sitting room which faced onto the garden. He opened the large glass doors so that the night air, heavily scented by the perfume of the flowers, would drift inside and make for a more relaxed and pleasant atmosphere. The storm had not yet broken, clouds sat heavily in the evening sky. He sighed, paused a moment and turned back into the room.

When the knock on the door came and he heard the footsteps of the maid hurrying to answer he drew in a deep breath. Meeting Adam Cartwright again was like having to face his past – head on.

Soames turned to acknowledge Adam with a smile, a genuinely sincere smile.

“It’s good to see you again, Adam.” his eyes twinkled “Permission granted to use your first name?”

Adam chuckled and nodded, “Permission granted, Doctor..I mean ..Mister Soames.”

“Gregory.” Soames paused, frowned, “Odd that – I didn’t realise until just now that I was always just Soames on board ship.”

Adam shook his head “No, you were never ’just’ Soames. It was who you were, who you are…I think I shall find it hard to refer to you as Gregory.” and he grinned that disarmingly charming grin of his which was so infectious.

“True enough, and I agree, most people do refer to me as Soames…” he extended a hand to place on Adam’s arm and to drew him further into the room, “Welcome to my humble abode, Captain. I -” he paused and looked over Adam’s shoulder, “But – your wife -?”

“My wife is unwell. The day was too much for her, she suffers from migraines.”

“Ah yes,” Soames nodded and looked thoughtful, “I’m afraid she will have them for a while to come yet. Someone dealt her a very unfortunate blow to the back of the head, it will take time to heal -”

Adam frowned as he accepted the glass of wine the doctor handed to him, “I thought the skull protected the brain…”

“It does, but not always adequately enough.” Soames looked thoughtful, and then shook his head, “Come, you’re not here to get involved in heavy medical lectures. Let us go into the other room, there is someone I want you to meet.”

Just for an instant Adam had a feeling that he was about to come face to face with Cassandra Pelman. Whenever he had thought of Soames, which was not often, he would be reminded of her, whether he liked it or not, the two seem tied together, linked in, even more closely, in his memories that she was to her own husband.

Soames opened a connecting door to the next room where a long table awaited them laden with shining crystal, gleaming silver and bowls of sweetly scented flowers. A woman’s hand had clearly been in evidence here, he pondered, unless, like Martha, the doctor employed a butler, a very efficient one.

“Ah, now, where is she…” Soames muttered and looked around the room, then smiled at his guest “Have you noticed, Adam, electric light?”

Adam glanced around him, he hadn’t noticed, he realised he should have done, and watched as Soames went to the wall and flicked a switch. Progress- again! He nodded, and smiled, glanced at all the lights, and then decided he didn’t much like it, it was too harsh. Thankfully Martha had yet to be talked into having it installed in her house by the ever efficient butler in her employ.

“Of course, not every where in San Francisco has it yet,” Soames said as though ashamed now of his pride in showing off the innovation.

“Nowhere in Virginia City has it** – yet.” Adam muttered, Soames threw him a smile as he hastened to another door and just as he put his fingers to the handle, it opened. He stepped back to allow a young woman to step into the room, an attractive tall woman who resembled Soames enough for Adam to realise this was the man’s daughter.

“Adam Cartwright,” Soames said, “May I introduce my daughter, Sylvia. Sylvia -this is Adam Cartwright, of the Ponderosa.”

She entered the room soundlessly, her hand extended, and a smile on her mouth while her eyes displayed curiosity and pleasure, “So this is the Captain that my father speaks so often about…” she smiled wider “Am I allowed to call you Captain?”

“You can call me whatever you wish, Miss Soames…” Adam replied with a smile as warm as her own, “Although I am actually retired and just plain Mister.”

She smiled and then turned to Gregory with a twinkle in her eye, before looking back at her guest, “I – I thought you were bringing your wife…”

“Sadly Olivia is unwell.” Adam replied and regarded her from half hooded eyes “She apologises for not coming. I hope it doesn’t – hasn’t – caused you any problem?”

“None at all,” Sylvia replied with such gusto that Adam got the impression that Olivia was surplus to requirements anyway. She was so easily dismissed and he felt sorry for his poor wife and wished she had come after all, even with a headache.

It was a pleasant meal, perfectly cooked, excellently presented. The wine was exactly what should be provided to accompany the food. Everything was faultless, and yet Adam felt on edge all the time. Sylvia was good company, she managed to elicit little personal bits and pieces of his life that he would not have surrendered to others, mainly because he was used to male company in society, and men did not bother with the trivia of anyone’s personal lives.

Soames added comments here and there, smiled a lot, and yet seemed slightly detached from the whole proceeding. Adam wondered why exactly he had been invited, he and Olivia. But nevertheless the meal was faultless, and he enjoyed it.

“Now, gentlemen, I shall leave you to your cigars and brandy. Excuse me -” she nodded to them both and quietly left the room.

It seemed to Adam that when she left she took the light with her, something diminished about them. He looked at Soames and noticed the way he looked at the door which was closing before the man turned back to him.

“It’s a pity Olivia couldn’t have come,” Soames said quietly, “Sylvia doesn’t often have company. Female company I mean…” he sighed and was about to speak when the Butler appeared with the cigars and brandy.

Adam refused the cigar but accepted the brandy, he nursed the glass within his hands as he swirled the liquor round and round, casting his eyes over to his host every so often while Soames puffed on his cigar and seemed intent on watching the smoke spiral ceiling wards.

**Electricity Arrived for housing in Virginia City in 1892

Chapter 6

Soames played around with the stem of his glass for a while and then glanced up to observe the man seated opposite him. Adam waited for the man to speak, there was obviously something playing on his mind. Eventually,before the silence became too uncomfortable and after gulping down some more of the brandy he asked Soames if it had taken him long to find his daughter.

“I remember -” he said quietly “that you did mention that you had no knowledge of her whereabouts, that one of the reasons you felt so much sympathy for Mrs Pelman was because she reminded you of the loss of your daughter.”

Soames sighed again, he seemed to sigh a lot to Adams’ way of thinking and considering how much he sighed that was saying something. “After that fiasco with Mrs Pelman’s suicide -” Soames paused, drank some brandy, ” There was an investigation you know? I and the Marine with me in the carriage when she died were suspended from duties and interrogated for carelessness while having a prisoner under our care.” he glanced suspiciously over at his guest “You may have heard -”

“I did.” Adam nodded, and looked Soames directly in the face, “I was approached to give you a character reference.” he paused and upon seeing the downcast features of the man continued “As your last Commanding Officer and involved in the matter of Mrs Pelman I was able to give a character witness of her also…”

“I doubt if it was a glowing report -” Soames muttered with his lips twisted into a rather bitter grimace.

“It was an honest one, and as fair as I could write about a woman who twice tried to kill me.” Adam responded with some heat in his words. He leaned back in his chair “The reference I gave you was also fair and honest, you were an excellent Medical Officer and I was quite surprised when I received notice that you had left the service.”

“I had no choice.” Soames replied in a sombre fashion, another sigh, and he fingered the cuff of his shirt sleeve as though his feelings were still ruffled by what he would consider the unfairness of it all. “But I used the time wisely. I went to Baltimore where I had last heard news of my daughter and after some while I was able to find her again.” he smiled briefly, “I couldn’t have been happier -”

There was a pause as Soames stared into the brandy still in his glass, his face softening as he obviously reflected upon what had been a happy pleasant memory. Adam watched him and then leaned back into the chair, “And then you started your new career?”

“Yes, in Baltimore. I was there several years before I moved back here last year. Sylvia was more than happy to come with me.”

He stood up and left the table in order to pour more brandy into his glass, but he didn’t rejoin Adam at the table, rather he went to stand by the window “The storm has arrived…”

Adam turned to the window and nodded as he saw the splattering of rain upon the glass. An ominous rumble overhead and a flicker of the electric lighting. He glanced at the lights as they flashed on, off, on again and smiled, obviously there were still teething problems with how it was supplied or distributed to so many different areas. He was about to speak when Soames turned to him

“Have you seen any of your old acquaintances, friends from the Baltimore and Shenandoah?” he smiled, his eyebrows raised and eyes wide, a genial host “I wasn’t surprised when I heard you had retired.”

“A lot happened after we parted, Soames – er – Gregory. You heard about O’Brien?”

“Eventually. A shock for everyone, such a callous disregard for life, those poor children.”

“And Hathaway?”

“The whole ship’s crew I believe?” Soames shook his head and returned to his seat at the table “I heard about what happened in the South China Seas…I actually met up with O’Brien around about that time and he told me. They all thought you would die before you reached home.”

Adam chuckled and shook his head “Almost, but not quite.”

“And you have seen no one since?”

“No – well – O’Brien’s cousin, Morton, several times. And what about yourself? Whom have you seen recently?”

“You presume to think I have seen anyone?” Soames smiled and raised an eyebrow, and momentarily Adam wondered if the man was becoming defensive, and if so, for what reason. The question begged an answer, so he shrugged as though it was of no important, which at the time, it was not,

“I wondered only – being in San Francisco and not so very far from the Admiralty Offices I just thought perhaps you would have seen one or other of our old friends.” he raised his eyes to look directly at the other man “Perhaps as patients even?”

A clock ticked, and then chimed the hour. Soames leaned forward “Have you never thought about going back to sea, Adam?”

Adam frowned, and glanced down while he wondered why his question had been ignored, he toyed again with the stem of his glass before glancing up to observe Soames looking quite intently at him.

“No.” he said quietly, emphatically.

“Don’t you miss it?”

Adam looked into the doctors’ eyes and frowned, the intensity of the man’s face, the clenched jaw took on a different aspect to that of a friend enquiring from another his future plans. He shook his head, then shrugged

“I was never happier than when I was allowed to walk away from it all. Yes, some aspects I do miss, I would be lying to say otherwise. But there are many others I am glad to live without. I am a married man now, middle aged and with three children…I wouldn’t want to be back at sea and not be with them.”

“I have to say you wife is a very attractive woman. You really found a beauty there…”
Soames smiled and nodded, as though congratulating Adam on finding such a jewel for a wife.

Adam nodded and his face softened into a smile “Yes, I think so.” he then cleared his throat, preferring not to discuss his wife with Soames, instead he swung the conversation back to the initial question, “Work on the Ponderosa keeps me busy too….” he glanced at Soames from the corner of his eye “I should imagine your work keeps you tied down …no sea jaunts for you any more.”

Soames said nothing to that instead he stared at the bowl of roses on the table,
“Captain Myers is Commanding Officer of the Baltimore now. He’s in harbour. I saw him yesterday…”

“Myers – well, I am glad to hear he is doing so well, he was always a very promising officer.”

“I told him you would be in San Francisco this week….he did say he would like to see you.”

Adam narrowed his eyes and inclined his head to one side as though to see Soames more clearly “You did? Any particular reason why?”

“He – he asked after you.” he paused “You asked earlier if I see any of our past acquaintances as patients,” he nodded and smiled ” I see several of the ships company regularly as patients. An on board Medical Officer can’t specialise in everything, and eyes are too precious to play about with…they need extra care and attention.”

Adam frowned and toyed a little with his glass, then raised it to his lips to drink. Soames watched him before saying with a slight smile that Adam wore the same look on his face now as he would have when suspecting him of visiting Cassandra Pelman after orders not to do so.

A huge clap of thunder boomed overhead and rumbled on for a full minute making the house shake and ornaments on the credenza rattle. Adam thought fleetingly of Sofia and hoped she would sleep through it otherwise she would be terrified.

“I’m sorry, Soames, I don’t mean to be – suspicious.” he pursed his lips in his habitual fashion and shrugged “I just get an itch sometimes – that something is about to be said or done that I would rather not have said or done.” his smile then was not exactly warm or friendly, one that at one time would make Soames shiver.

Soames raised his eyebrows, shrugged and swallowed some of the brandy. “I think you are overly sensitive, Capt- I mean – Adam.” he laughed, not with mirth, “How easily we slip into our old ways, I think you will always be my Captain -”

Adam now shrugged and put down the empty glass “Well, I did manage to reach the rank of Commodore.” he pushed the glass away from him and stood up, “Come, Soames, we should join your daughter, it is impolite for us to stay here and leave her alone. I wish Olivia had come and been able to make her acquaintance.”

“So do I. Sylvia lives a rather solitary life.” Soames replied, “She is a widow – I didn’t even know she had wed. Goodness, she was but a child when she left with her mother. That was the only clue I had as to her whereabouts, you know, a card to tell me that Harriet was dead, somewhere in Baltimore.”

“I am sorry, Soames.”

“Oh my wife and I were not a happy couple, we pulled constantly in different directions, and she became an angry bitter soul. I suppose that I did too in a way.” another sigh and he picked up his glass and emptied it, “I was at sea when she left here, and went away with Sylvia. I never saw or heard from them again …until news of her death…” he looked sharply now at Adam and his smile was warm and genuine again “But I am very pleased that you have made a happy marriage, Adam, your dear wife is as sweet tempered as beautiful, I’m sure of it.”

“She has a mind of her own,” Adam replied as he waited for the doctor to leave the table, “I would prefer her that way than being nothing more than an ornamental mouse.”

Soames laughed at that, and tapped Adam on the arm in a friendly fashion as he passed him to reach the door, “Yes, I can imagine you would, I imagine you would.” he repeated softly to himself and opened the door to the sitting room.

Lightning flashed and lit up the room, the lights flickered, and went out, but Sylvia had shown enough presence of mind to have had the candles in the room lit, and they glowed quite pleasantly in a very attractive room.

“I was just about to call you both in for coffee.” she smiled and rose to her feet. Again Adam was struck by the fact that she was almost as tall as her father, quite willowy in form, and her dark hair was enhanced by the colour dress she wore…a bright orange and red with her shoulders exposed as was the fashion of the time.

She looked at Adam as Soames took his seat, and gestured to the comfortable chair next to hers, “Mr Cartwright, the storm is quite heavy, it may be necessary to stay until it has passed.”

Adam glanced at the clock on the mantle and nodded “I have a cab ordered to collect me in another hours time, if that is alright with you both?” he smiled slowly “ I am sure the storm will have blown itself out by then.”

She nodded and settled herself into the other chair, “Electricity isn’t a guaranteed success in every situation yet, but it is quite a marvel isn’t it?”

“Indeed yes,” Adam nodded and looked at her, she smiled back.

“I met Nikolai Tesla* once you know -” she paused and he nodded to indicate that he wasn’t exactly stupid, he did know to whom she referred “He was giving one of his demonstrations in Baltimore, where people could walk through sheets of lightning. It was terrifying. Some women tried it and were shrieking as though being skewered. I was too afraid to try, but he was really like a conjuror you know, showing off in order to gain our confidence in this new experiment.”

“And then Edison beat him to it…” Soames smiled, and looked at Adam, “But you say you don’t have it in Virginia City yet? Well, let me tell you that despite having the streets lit up at night it hasn’t slowed down crime.”

Sylvia glanced to the door which had opened slowly to admit the man servant bearing a tray with the coffee. Small cups in their saucers rattled, little silver spoons tinkled and when there was another crash of thunder everything shivered and shook so much that the servant was forced to apologise “I am sorry, sirs, Miss Sylvia, I’ve been terrified of storms since a child…”

Adam glanced at the clock. He thought of his children, and hoped that they were sleeping soundly although he suspected very much that they were not…poor Olivia.
……..

Sofia was screaming, holding the sheet close under her chin and keeping her eyes screwed up as tightly as she could. Olivia had hurried to her room at the first sound of the storm knowing that her little girl would not be able to sleep through such turmoil and noise.

“Is she all right?” Ben asked from the hallway below, calling up to her from the bottom of the stairs.

“It’s the storm, Pa, she’s always scared of storms.” Olivia had replied as she had hurried into the other room and gently closed the door.

“Oh mommy, mommy – stop that horrible noise – please stop that horrible noise-” wailed the child as she clung to Olivia as tightly as she could.

The door opened with a creak and Nathaniel ran in, bare feet making little padding noises on the floor as he ran to his mother and burrowed in under her arm in order to share the space of her embrace with his sister. “Mommy, noisy bangs – don’t like it.”

In his room Reuben snored on, he was dreaming a quite pleasant dream and then suddenly found himself being tossed about in a small boat on a black sea. Lighting and thunder raged about him, he had to cling on tight, very tight, but he was unafraid. When he would wake up later he would remember nothing of the dream except that he had quite enjoyed it and hadn’t been scared of anything at all.

Chapter 7

Ben sat in the chair that had once belonged to his friend Frobisher, he had asked permission to smoke his pipe which Martha had permitted. They sat opposite each other on either side of the fire and Ben was thinking how pleasant it was to be able to spend an evening like this, with Martha just opposite him, sewing a tapestry very carefully while he puffed on his pipe and pretended to read a book.

The room was well lit by lamps and candles. Every so often it was illuminated in sheet white lightning strikes, that made Martha pause and put down her work until the room had settled to its usual lighting. He smiled “Not a good night to be at sea…”

“No, I often think of seamen out on the waters in this kind of weather…you must have experienced a goodly share of such storms when you were a young seaman, Ben?”

“Yes, and shipwrecked as a result during one.”

She looked over at him and nodded slowly. He was a handsome man, his dark eyes were as piercing as ever. She could remember the first time she ever saw him, all those years ago when she and Julian had just arrived and wondered what on earth they were doing in such a dire place. Ben had come to their rescue, striding through the mess and muck like some kind of demi-god. She had known even then that had she been a single woman she would have set her cap at him, as the expression went. But he had a wife then himself, that Creole woman, Marie…and a little boy much like Nathaniel was now.

She smiled indulgently, and shook her head before setting back to work on her tapestry. “Does Adam talk much about his days at sea?”

“Not much…we can share experiences of course, but there were things he was involved in that I don’t think he wants to share with anyone. He suffered a lot, you know.”

“Yes, I can see that…but Olivia is a dear girl, a fine wife for him.”

“A man needs a fine wife,” Ben said slowly, his eyes on the pages of his book and he drew on the stem of his pipe before releasing a plume of smoke.

A knock on the door and the butler appeared, asked very politely if ‘sir would like some whiskey or brandy? Would Madam prefer some hot chocolate now or later?’

A peal of thunder, the very one that was then shaking Soames’ house, drowned out their reply but he went out certain that he knew best and closed the door behind him.

“He’s indispensable to me.” Martha said quietly.

“It does seem as though he has made himself so…” Ben replied with a slow smile as he put the book down on the low table in front of him.

“No, I mean it, Ben. He has been here for so many years, working for Julian and I. Now that I am growing old I need someone to help me -”

“Oh come now, don’t talk of growing old. Didn’t we agree when you visited us on the Ponderosa that we would not discuss age?” he chuckled good humorously, but then paused when he noticed how serious she was looking, not directly at him, but at the book on the table.

“Ben, I came to the Ponderosa on that visit because I knew I would never be able to come again. I can’t deny the passing of time as much as I would like to, but I am getting -forgetful – and I find it hard to get up those stairs at times. I creak like an ill oiled gate…” she laughed rather girlishly as though she had uttered some faux pas, but her face was serious when she had stopped, “My staff keep me alive, they know all my needs and wants, and when I forget anything then Gates sorts it all out for me. I have come to trust and rely on them all very much.”

“Everyone gets forgetful, Martha, even I -”

“No, Ben, I am trying to tell you as best I can that I am ill…I don’t have much time left to me now…oh, a year or so, perhaps…which is why I am so glad that you came along with Adam and the family. I would want this week to be one to remember…well, for as long as I can anyway.”

Ben leaned forward and caught hold of one of her hands, held it gently within his own, “Did you know this when you came last year?”

“Not definitely, I just was aware that things were a little awry. I didn’t seem to be functioning as well as I usually would …so I saw the doctor as soon as I returned home.” she leaned forward and almost touched his brow with her own they were so close “I don’t want you to think of me as a silly old woman during these coming days, Ben. But I needed to tell you the truth because I care very much about you, you do know that, don’t you?”

He nodded, and gently squeezed her hand “I care vary much for you, Martha and -”

She raised a hand, put her fingers to his lips “No more talk about feelings and so forth. It is too late for that – now.”

She pulled her hand free of his own, and then sat back in her chair, picked up her tapestry and began to weave. Ben sighed and picked up his book, when the door opened and Gates entered with the tray of refreshment he would never have known such a discussion had taken place. But, being the discreet man that he was, he no doubt guessed anyway.
……………

Soames butler was standing at the door with an umbrella held aloft in order to protect Adam as he splashed his way through the puddles to where the cab was waiting. Soames stood in the hall way of his house watching the big man make his way to the vehicle before being swallowed up into its interior. His butler then splashed his way back, stepped inside and the door closed.

Adam allowed himself to relax, for the last hour it had been hard to conceal his impatience to get back to his family as the storm raged and roared about the house. Sylvia had been attentive, asking questions about life on a ranch, how did his wife manage in such ‘primitive’ conditions, did the children enjoy school if, of course, there actually was one. He did not feel she was being patronising or in any way insulting, just very naïve and unaware of just how wealthy Virginia City was and just how much was available for the citizens there.

He didn’t mention how the mines were drying up, how Sutro was bailing out with his tunnel for sale, and masses of families moving away to search for their bonanza elsewhere. So what if there were fewer townsfolk, for a man who had known the area before the town had even existed it didn’t worry him a jot. More breathing space for one, and perhaps time for the earth to heal for all the sores scored upon its surface.

He leaned back and closed his eyes for a moment or two, just to relax and let the past few hours seep out of his pores. The cab swayed as gusts of wind blew upon it, the interior was lit up when lightning flashed exposing the buildings he was passing as clearly as in daylight. He thought over some of the things that had been discussed, wondered why it was that he had felt so nervous, anxious, as though anticipating bad news, something from the past reaching out to haul him back to a career he no longer wanted.

He was more than grateful to see Martha’s house loom towards them. Once the cab had drawn up to the kerb he clambered down, paid the cab man, and ran to the door, stepping in and out of puddles, feeling the rain soaking through his clothes, soaked through by the time Gates had the door open and he was able to step inside the warm welcoming hall.

“You’re soaked through, Mr Cartwright, I’ll bring you some warm towels to dry off.” Gates said, all concern and bustling efficiency.

He merely nodded, shivered when rain water dripped down his back from his hair, he would have shaken his head like a dog had Gates not been standing so close by. He peeled off his coat and jacket, realised how wet his shirt was…and just from running from cab to the door … Gates disappeared with the wet coat and left Adam to presume the warm towels would appear promptly. He was right, they did, Gates was already prepared and handed them to him with a lofty bearing, as though he was due a reward for his anticipation of his guest arriving like a drowned rat.

Rubbing his hair and around his neck, muttering his thanks to Gates, Adam made his way to the sitting room where Ben and Martha were seated, looking at the door in expectation of his arrival.

“Goodness, I didn’t think the rain was that heavy…” Martha exclaimed “I’m glad Gates had some towels ready and waiting for you, Adam.”

There was another crack of thunder overhead and Ben raised his eyes aloft “The children have been scared…this is one humdinger of a storm. “

Adam fully expected his father to add how he hoped the herd was settled and not stampeding ,which was one thought that had crossed his mind earlier as he had sat in the cab. He had wondered if the storm had reached the Ponderosa yet, and if there would be problems as a result.

“I’ll go and see if Olivia is alright,” he replied and excused himself from the room, leaving the two older people to their chairs and drinks. He had a slight smile on his lips as he headed for the stairs, anticipating, perhaps, that the two old friends were cementing their relationship in a direction he rather imagined his father would have liked.

Olivia greeted him at the doorway to the room where the children had their beds. He could see over her shoulder that Sofia was still awake, sitting upright with big eyes and pale face. Nathaniel was asleep, sprawled in his little bed, and Reuben was snoring.

“I’ve just got Nathaniel to sleep, but Sofia is terrified. “ Olivia whispered, and stepped aside to let him pass into the room.
“Scared huh?” he said quietly to the little girl as he perched on her bed, and smiled at her. He leaned to the side in order to turn the flame of the lamp a little higher, and looked at her.

“You’re wet, daddy.” she whispered but sidled up to him nonetheless, and slipped into his lap, “Why did you go away ?”

“I was not far, only visiting an old friend.”

He smoothed back some hair from her brow, and looked thoughtfully at her, “Don’t get too close, I’m wet through…”

“I – I was just waiting for you to come home, daddy.” she whispered, trying to cling to him while he tried to untangle himself from her arms.

“Well, here I am now…” he nodded as though to reassure her, “Settle back into bed, and try to get to sleep now.”

“But – it’s noisy – and there’s lot of banging – Nathaniel doesn’t like it.”

“Nathaniel is sound asleep.” he smiled, and gently got her to lay back down, he pulled up the bed covers, “There’s nothing to be afraid of, Sofia, storms have to happen, it is all part of how things are…the lightning is good for the earth, and so is the rain…”

“But it’s still noisy. It doesn’t have to be so noisy, does it?”

He smiled and shook his head, this child always had to have the last word. “Try and sleep.”

“I can’t…” somewhere a window rattled, a casement banged against a wall.

He sighed and leaned back, almost toppling off the end of the bed which made Sofia giggle…after he set himself upright and waited for another peal of thunder to past he nodded and put up one finger. Sofia held her breath and lay with big eyes wide open,

“Ready now..” Adam said in a very low whisper and began to hum a tune…

“Oh it’s Blow the wind Blow…” she whispered and he nodded, “I know when I have to sing the words, daddy..you just sing and I’ll blow the wind blow…” she looked over to the door where Olivia stood, “And so will mommy.”

“Oh if I must…” Olivia laughed and stepped in close beside her husband, putting her hands gently on his shoulders, “You are wet -” she whispered and kissed him on the brow.

Adam cleared his throat and began to sing…*”You must make me a fine Holland shirt.”

“Blow, blow, blow ye winds, blow” sang Olivia and Sofia together.

“And not have in it a stitch of needlework.”

“Blow, ye winds that arise, blow, blow.” Sofia giggled a little and got her father’s raised eyebrow in reproof before he continued with …

“You must wash it in yonder spring.”

“Blow, blow, blow ye winds, blow.”

“Where there’s never a drop of water in.”

“Blow, ye winds that arise, blow, blow.”

“You must dry it on yonder thorn”

“Blow, blow, blow ye winds blow” and Sofia yawned right on the last word.

“Where the sun never yet shone on”

“Blow, ye winds that arise, blow, blow.” and gently Olivia settled Sofia down onto the pillows and smiled over at Adam as she sang “My father’s got an acre of land, blow, blow, blow ye winds, blow. You must dig it with a goose quill, blow, yet winds that arise, blow.”

She glanced up at Adam and he winked at her, Sofia yawned, turned onto her side, another crack of thunder, her eyelids fluttered.

Olivia and Adam together sang very softly, almost a whisper “You must sow it with one seed, blow, blow, blow ye winds blow, and you must reap it with your thumbnail, blow ye winds that arise, blow, blow.”

Sofia let out a deep sigh and snuggled down further into her bed. Nathaniel, in his own bed, curled up tighter, stuck a thumb in his mouth while Olivia leaned down to pull the sheet closer around him.

“You must thrash it on yonder sea, blow, blow, blow ye winds blow” Olivia sang in a whisper while Adam hummed the tune, leaving the bed now and walking quietly to the doorway, rubbing at his hair to dry it with the towel

“You must grind it on yonder hill, blow, blow, blow yet winds blow. Where there yet has ne’er stood a mill, blow, ye winds that arise, blow blow.”

Olivia stepped towards the door and slipped her hand into that of her husbands, they smiled at one another, she tilted her face to his, and received his kiss, a long tender kiss.

“When you’re done and finished your work, blow, blow, blow ye winds blow.” she whispered and kissed him again. “Bring it unto me and you shall have your shirt.”

Adam grinned, dimples flashed and his dark eyes narrowed as he looked down at her, gathered her into his arms “Oh blow the winds,” he whispered, “I love you, Livvy, so much.”

“Well, my sweet, you need to get that wet shirt off…before you catch cold…” she whispered.

*This was a black-letter ballad(broadside) that was printed circa 1670

Chapter 8

The two brothers parted at the junction which separated their homes. They had ridden along the track to the Ponderosa in comparative silence until they had reached that point in the journey when Hoss had said, quite blandly, that Pa would be hopping mad when he came back to find the low number of calves.

“It’s not just Pa.” Joe had said between clenched teeth, “I’m at my wits end trying to work out where the danged things have gone to…”

“Yeah, and Luke says the same. Low profits at the market this coming year…if we don’t find the wretched critters.”

“I got Jack and Hank rounding up the men to scatter and search…mind you, it’s hardly fair to expect them to accomplish much in this weather.” he had pulled up his slicker higher to protect his neck and shivered.

“Some rain -” Hoss had agreed and glanced up at the sky with narrowed eyes, “I’ll be glad to get home and in the warm.”

“I’ll see you in the morning.” Joe had muttered and that was when they had parted, both of them deep in thought as they turned their horses heads and Hoss went down to the Ponderosa while Joe continued along the track leading home.

Hester pulled the door open and was prompt in helping her husband out of his dripping wet slicker. The hat looked like a drowned gopher and was cast onto the credenza with a sigh of relief from Hoss who still leaned in for a kiss from his wife who squealed like a girl and complained with a laugh that he was soaking…upon which Hop Sing appeared with warm towels for the poor man to use in order to dry himself.

“You late. Dinner all burned up.” Hop Sing complained while shaking his head at the poor man who was rubbing his face and head dry, “Why you so late?”

“Danged calves that’s why.” Hoss muttered and handed the damp towels to his old friend with a nod of thanks.

“What was the matter with them?” Hester asked as Hop Sing turned back to his work in the kitchen with hopes of resurrecting the over cooked meal.

“Couldn’t find ‘em, that’s what was the matter with ‘em.” Hoss complained and sighed, then caught her by the hand and planted a kiss on her cheek

Hannah and Hope ran up to greet him, Hannah with a concerned look on her face, just old enough now to realise that life existed beyond play and fun, “What s the matter with the cows? Didn’t they have plenty of babies ?”

Hoss sighed and shook his head, then squatted down to look at his little girl “Reckon not. Thought there would be but there just ain’t as many as we expected.”

Hope put her thumb in her mouth and observed her father thoughtfully, then ran off to find Erik, while Hannah shook her head and looked worried “Gran’pa will be worried if there aren’t any baby cows to sell, won’t he?”

“Yep, you can say that again – worried and plumb steaming angry.”

“Are you and Uncle Joe going to look for them tomorrow?” she held out her hand and held onto his, looking up into his face with blue eyes that matched those of her mother. Hoss thought she was beautiful. It always left him a little breathless when he looked at his girls and thought how they were from him and Hester, and yet so lovely despite his input.

“I reckon so…” Hoss said allowing himself to be led to the table where Hop Sing was setting down a plate full of food. “You all eaten already?”

“We waited until an hour pass meal time, Hoss. The children can’t eat too late or they won’t sleep tonight.” his wife reminded him patiently, and kissed his forehead as a consolation prize.

Erik came and put a hand on Hoss’ knee. The little fellow was growing up, and showed signs of being tall for he was above average height already. Bridie had told Hester that his father had been over 6’7”, rather like Nate Carnaby, so Hoss felt a glow of satisfaction at the thought, he would have been rather dismayed if his ‘son’ were to end up a light weight like Joe. “Daddy …”

Hoss nodded and leaned to scoop the boy up into his lap, where, despite his wet pants (due to the rain) the little boy sat happily, watching as Hoss ate his meal and laughing when occasionally Hoss held out a morsel for him to eat.

When Joe had dismounted and seen to his horse he wasn’t surprised to find Mary Ann bustling about the kitchen getting something hot for him to eat. She had fed the children and they were already in their beds for Mary Ann liked order and discipline as much as possible, and the night time routine was strictly adhered to. He kissed her warmly even as he tossed the wet slicker and hat aside. “Something smells good.”

“you’re soaked, Joe. Do you want to dry off first and change into some dry clothes?”

“No, I’m famished.” Joe replied and smilingly accepted the towel she handed him, “Where’s Lee?”

“Busy. He’s a good worker, and a pleasant companion to have in the house.” she sat down beside him, and smiled, folded her arms on the table and leaned towards him, “You were so late I was beginning to get worried.”

“No need.” he leaned across and kissed her, smiled and lingered long enough for another kiss, then returned to his meal “We had some trouble -”

“Rustlers?” her eyes widened immediately at the fear of the things she had heard about rustlers.

“No, no, just that we can’t find all the calves that we were expecting to find…down by a good third. Hoss and I looked every danged place we could think of…wretched critters, weren’t no sign of ‘em.”

“Perhaps they decided they didn’t want to be branded and hauled off to market and have ran off to hide…”

“Look,” he pointed his fork at her, his eyes twinkling and a smile on his lips “this is no fairy tale to spin to children. Fewer calves means lower profits. Lower profits means less to spend …for you, and me, and the children.”

“Oh dear,” she sighed and looked up at him, her head to one side, “And there was me hoping for a new dress this summer.”

He pushed away his empty plate and leaned towards her, took hold of her hand in his and then leaned in to kiss her “You’ll get a new dress, honey, if that’s all you want.”

“And a new bonnet?” she fluttered her eyelashes coquettishly.

“And a new bonnet if you need one…”

“And a new parasol, to match the colour of my eyes…”

He looked at her with a smile, laughed and kissed her “You know, coming home to you is always a joy, my darling, you make me laugh.”

“Because I want a new parasol?” she leaned in closer to him with twinkling eyes

“Because you want a grey parasol…no girl I know wants a grey parasol…”

“How many girls do you know, Mr Cartwright?”

“Oh, only the one I brought home for my Pa to approve and let me marry…”

“I see. You had to get your Pa’s approval to marry me, did you? What if he had said no…?”

“Then I would have married you anyway…” he laughed and for a moment they said nothing just enjoyed the moment, being together, forgetting about cows and calves, even though he smelled like one himself with the wood fire and singed hair smell clinging to his wet clothing.
……….

The storm had passed by the time morning came…and Ben had chosen to tell them at the breakfast table that he and Martha were going to revisit the Golden Gate Park and enjoy the Conservatory of Flowers` once again. He dabbed his mouth with the serviette and smiled, trying not to see the gleam in Olivia’s eyes and knowing only too well what she was speculating.

“There’s so much to see there, Martha and I thought we would need another day at least to see it all.”

“Oh yes,” Olivia nodded and smiled at him, then smiled at Martha, “At least today.”

“Then,” Martha said in her quiet voice, “this evening, I thought we could go for a meal at one of my favourite restaurants. The children will be well cared for my Gates and Harriet. “ she smiled at Reuben, Sofia and Nathaniel, before looking again at Olivia, “I just want to make the very most of this visit, you see. There is so much I want to show Ben before he gets back to the Ponderosa and all that hard work of running the ranch.”

Adam nodded and looked very seriously down at his meal, “Yes, that’s for sure. He has a whole lot of work piling up for him back home. That’s why we don’t let him out too often, Martha. The hard work just piles up and it takes him forever to handle it all now.”

Martha laughed heartily at the sarcasm in Adam’s voice, while Olivia shook her head at him and Ben grinned and threatened to take him to the shed for a tanning if he didn’t show proper respect. Reuben looked askance at the thought of his Pa being given a tanning by Granpa and Sofia bristled and was about to protest when Ben said “Only joking, Sofia, it’s a long time since I tanned your Pa’s backside for him.”

“Well,” Olivia said as she set down her fork, and pushed away the empty plate, “We have to go to the hospital to collect my new glasses. Hopefully they may help get rid of these headaches I keep getting…Dr Callaghan thinks the ones I have are too powerful and causing the problem. Nathaniel, finish that egg please…”

Nathaniel sighed, he didn’t like egg any more than his Uncle Hoss liked cheese. He wondered why they kept giving him the stuff when he didn’t like it so much. Sofia, who loved eggs, smiled at him and when Olivia had turned to talk to Martha she slid the offending object onto her plate and winked at her little brother who struggled to wink back. (another mystery for the little boy, how did they do that? Winking was – well – impossible).

Ben was very gentle in the way he held Martha’s coat for her – upsetting Gates who always assumed such things his responsibility – and then settled it to drape around her shoulders. They shared a smile at one another as he raised a hand to reach for his hat, while Martha brushed off some thread of cotton from his jacket as he did so. Olivia smiled fleetingly over at her husband who seemed totally oblivious of such gestures, which she took as romantic and indicative of romantic things to come.

The children were dressed smartly, the boys’ had their hair slicked back (disgusting was the word Nathaniel used as he had tried to unslick it) and Sofia had her curls tied in pink ribbons. Satisfied that all looked well Olivia and Adam followed Ben and Martha out of the house.

At the corner of the side walk they parted, Martha and Ben, arm in arm, in one direction in order to grab a cab to the Golden Gate Park, and Adam with Olivia and the children looking for a cab to take them to the hospital.

“Where would you like to go afterwards?” Olivia had asked, and settled Nathaniel onto the hard leather seat in the cab.

“To the park…not the big one, the one where we used to play.” Sofia asked, and looked at her mother, with a slight pucker between her eyes “Just for a little while.”

“Well, I don’t want to go to the park.” Reuben said, swinging his legs too and fro, which example Nathaniel did also, leaving a dark mark on Olivia’s skirt as a result of one booted foot catching onto it.

“Where do you want to go?” Olivia asked and smiled, glancing at her husband who was looking at his son in a very blank faced manner.

“Well, Pa and I -” Reuben paused and glanced at Adam who raised his eyebrows and nodded “Pa and I were thinking of going some place else.”

“Oh, some place I can go too?” Sofia asked immediately

“No, just me and Pa.” Reuben replied with his nose in the air and turning his head to stare out of the window.

“Oh – but – why not come to the park with us? It’ll be fun…” Sofia whined and looked appealingly at Olivia who was looking confused, and then at Adam who was looking smug.

“I thought I would take Reuben to the harbour…you know, look at the boats and ships and all that sort of thing.” Adam said with the tone of voice that indicated this was not a suggestion , it was a statement of fact.

Sofia slumped back and sighed, she didn’t like boats and ships, and the harbour. She could only remember that area of San Francisco from a few years ago and it smelled a lot of bad things. Nathaniel was fidgeting, he grabbed his Ma’s hand and held it tightly, all this driving about was getting a bit too much for him.

“Here’s the hospital.” Olivia said in a rather ‘pretend’ merry voice, and as the cab lurched, Nathaniel nearly fell off the seat and had to be caught before he did, she looked at Adam very sternly and shook her head at him.

The nurse in reception took Olivia’s details and smiled, she looked at the three children and murmured the time honoured phrase “I’m sorry children not allowed in the wards…could you stay here with them, Mr Cartwright?”

Mr Cartwright inclined his head and ushered the children to some seats where they all sat in a row looking, so Olivia thought, like sardines in a tin. She followed the nurse and was soon disappearing through some double doors to the sound of Nathaniel’s voice saying very loudly “Where’s my mommy going?”

Dr Callaghan was in his office when she was ushered in by the nurse. The examination took little time, he commiserated about the migraine and agreed that often the drops did have that effect, then he produced the new glasses.

He approached with them in his hand and smiled “Did you know that it was Benjamin Franklin who invented the first bifocal* lens?”

Olivia frowned “Oh, I don’t need them, do I?”

“No, no, of course not. Thankfully.” he held out the glasses to her and smiled “These are the newest model, from Erkers Eyecare in St Louis*. Your husband wanted you to have the best and these are the latest gold rimmed spectacles with small ear pieces, you can see here that it has a sliding ear piece to adjust the side stem* …now then, let’s see how they fit.”

Olivia sighed, all she wanted was to be able to see clearly, be relieved of the head aches, and not look like some frustrated old school marm. Callaghan fiddled with one side stem and then with the other and finally sat back looking eminently satisfied.

Olivia took in a deep breath and also sighed…she nodded, and smiled at the man who sat on the high stool regarding her with an almost philosophical look on his face.

“They’re perfect,” she said and got off her stool, stood up and nodded “Just perfect.”

Chapter 9

When Olivia stepped from the elevator and looked around for her husband and children, she saw them gathered by the Reception Desk, Adam was talking to an attractive woman who was laughing at something he was saying, and he had a twinkle in his eyes and dimples in his cheeks and obviously enjoying the interchange of conversation.

Olivia didn’t move from where she had stepped, but watched with some interest as her husband and the woman chatted together. Nathaniel was beginning to get restless, tugging at Adam’s hand for attention, while Sofia looked up at the woman with big eyes and Olivia knew, with admiration. It was no wonder that she did so, the woman was immaculately dressed with a long peacock feather curled over her large brimmed hat, her shapely body draped in a garment that had obviously been styled to suit her requirements. Reuben was standing at the counter reading a brochure as though that held more interest than any chatter between adults.

As Olivia stepped forwards the woman turned away and walked with that confident stroll that seemed to be a gift to those who had time and money to cultivate it. Adam looked up, saw Olivia and gave her a wide smile, she could read his lips “Here’s Mommy.” as he looked down at Nathaniel who turned and ran towards her, arms outstretched. Sofia turned and hurried over to join them, grabbing at her arm and smiling while Reuben nodded over to her and grinned.

“You got your new glasses then, Ma?”

How grown up he sounded, and she sighed, smiled and nodded. They may have been the latest style, they may have been gold, they may have been perfect for her eyesight, but she felt awkward and plain and – old. She felt like she resembled Miss Tyndale, with her glasses constantly perched on the tip of her nose. She sighed and blinked, and looked at Adam as he walked towards her, kissed her cheek and smiled.

“They look very fetching…” he said and his eyes twinkled, but before he could say any more Sofia pulled at her arm,

“Mommy, we just been and seen a friend of Daddy’s, and she said we could go and visit her any time. She’s soooo pretty, Mommy.”

“A friend of daddy’s?” Olivia said and looked at Adam who didn’t realise his wife was suffering acute self consciousness coupled with feelings of inadequacy, but grinned obligingly and nodded,

“Sylvia Soames.” he said, grabbing at Nathaniel who was trying to escape through the door to the busy outside world. “She was here visiting her father.”

“Sylvia – the – your hostess last evening?” she murmured and looked away from him in order to not see his expression.

“Yes, that’s right.” he nodded and beckoned to Reuben to leave the brochures alone and join them.

Sofia skipped along beside them as Adam tucked his wife’s arm through the crook of his own, smiled down at her and led the way out of the hospital building and down the steps. Olivia blinked, everything looked so clear, so colourful. She wondered what things would look like if she removed her glasses, as she so longed to do. She sighed, and Adam looked at her thoughtfully,

“Anything wrong? Arn’t they comfortable? “

“They’re – they’re just fine.” she murmured and sighed again, felt the pressure of his arm against her ribs, a comforting reassuring pressure. “Everything looks so clear. So sharp. Goodness me, perhaps I was losing my sight before the – the accident – and never realised.”

“Then it’s a good thing you have something that helps you see better now, isn’t it?” he leaned down and looked into her face, smiled, brown eyes twinkling, “We’ll have lunch , then I’ll get you a cab to take you to Lafayette Park. Reuben and I will get another cab to take us to the harbour…”

“Oh, couldn’t we – couldn’t we spend the afternoon together? I’ll be going shopping with Martha and Sofia tomorrow, you could go to the harbour then…” she tried to make her voice sound coaxing, warm as though it was the very best of ideas, but he sighed and frowned,

“I promised Rueben we would go this after noon…”

“But it would be far more practical if you went there tomorrow. A whole day instead of just a few hours.” she turned to look at him, noticed the familiar tight pout, and frown, she sighed “I would rather not go to the park without you….”

She said nothing more, nor did he. Reuben scowled and kicked a pebble across the side walk, so obviously had realised that their trip would be cancelled, Sofia giggled as though she were in on some great joke and Nathaniel turned to his father with his arms raised, wanting to be carried. The jostling of crowds, the sounds of traffic, the whole mass of life around him more than he could cope with and when Olivia felt her husband’s arm slip from hers in order to pick up the child, she felt a twinge of loss.
………………

Lafayette Park was established as such only twelve years previously and George Davidson* had recently built the first astronomical observatory on the west coast. Olivia had strong suspicions that it was this building that had swayed Adam to concede to her request to spend the afternoon together. The thought that he actually liked the idea of being there with her, and the children, didn’t cross her mind. The glasses, her dependence upon them, and seeing that so-sophisticated woman laughing with her husband stopped any positive thought from seeping into her well of misery.

“This isn’t our park…” Sofia protested when they clambered down from the cab, and she looked up at her mother who gave a slight shrug of the shoulders.

It had occurred to Olivia that if they were to go to the park opposite the house that had been their home for so long the possibility of seeing Sylvia Soames was very probable. She lived with her father just a few doors from the very house that had been hers. She glanced over at Adam, who was smiling at something Nathaniel was saying. Perhaps he hadn’t wanted to go there either, perhaps he didn’t want to see Sylvia again so soon..perhaps…perhaps…she blinked and looked around her.

The park was impressive, not so much so as Golden Gate Park with the huge greenhouse where she imagined Ben and Martha strolling arm in arm through the wonderful variety of plants and flowers. But it was perfect for children to run and play, for parents to stroll, for dogs (if they had one) to gambol. She looked up at the hills and pointed to a house perched on the summit of one hill “Who lives there?”

Adam narrowed his eyes to observe the property and then nodded “Some attorney called Samuel Holladay.* I think there has been some litigation going on for him to remove it. “ he shrugged and then turned to her, took hold of one hand and kissed her fingers, “If I recall rightly there’s a rose garden near by -”

She wanted him to tell her she was beautiful, but he didn’t. Adam didn’t think he needed to, he knew she was and thought he had assured her of the fact countless times already. She let him take her hand and lead her towards the flower beds, the smells of which were eddying through the air and making her head ache.
………………

Ben and Martha were dressed and ready for the evening. As Olivia came down the stairs in her very best silk dress she paused at the half landing to look down at them.
They had both been young once, Ben with his black hair and black eyes – still so handsome now that the hair was white. Martha with her white hair, she remembered that Ben had told her she had had red hair when younger. She must have looked a beauty, being as she was, still very attractive in her mature years now. They were laughing together in the hall, Ben placing a sprig of lily of the valley in his jacket lapel while Martha brushed off some stray hair from his shoulder.

Ben looked up and smiled at her, nodded in admiration

“Olivia, you look beautiful.” and his voice held the warmth of a man who sincerely spoke the words.

“Yes, quite lovely.” Martha replied upon turning around to look up at the younger woman. She was herself wearing evening dress with diamonds at her throat and looking younger as a result, but now she watched as Olivia came down the stairs with the train of her long skirts swishing silkily from one stair to the next.

Sofia ran out, clutching at Clarabelle “Mommy, you look like a princess.” she turned to gaze up at Adam who had come up from behind her and swung her upwards, she wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him “Doesn’t Mommy look lovely, daddy? Doesn’t she?”

Adam smiled, “Mommy always looks lovely…” he replied and kissed his daughter before setting her down onto the landing and pointing to the door where Nathaniel was already sleeping “Now, off you go…no noise, no fuss…be good.”

She giggled, little feet padded upon the floor, the door opened and then closed. Adam was still smiling as he came down the stairs and took the cape that had been draped over his arm and gently folded it over his wife’s shoulders. He dropped a kiss upon her bare shoulder before the silken folds of the cape covered it over, and she sighed, turned to him and gave him a kiss on his cheek.

He smelled of her favourite cologne, just enough to tease at the senses. Then he nodded and led her to the door where he ushered her out to follow behind his father and Martha. The coach had been ordered to arrive at 8 and was there waiting for them.

In their room Sofia and Reuben pressed their noses against the window to watch as Ben helped Martha into the coach, carefully tidied her skirt free of the door and then stepped aside for Adam to assist his wife into the vehicle. In the light of fading sun it look romantic, a picture that neither would ever forget. Olivia in her shot silk burgundy dress with the deep red piping down the bodice, her white gloves that reached her elbows, the glitter of some ornament in her hair looked as beautiful as any woman in San Francisco society would desire and the man at her side believed as he kissed her fingers and smiled.

During the journey to Delmonico’s famous French restaurant Olivia removed her glasses and slipped them into her purse. If Adam noticed, which of course he did, he didn’t mention it.

The Delmonico restaurant excelled in the food it provided for its clientele. It was obvious that the Frobishers had at one time been frequent and respected diners for the attention that Martha was given as she entered the lavishly set out room was warm and friendly. The Maitre d’ treated her like a long lost mother, and led her and the Cartwrights to a table that stood close to the window so that they could look out at the view beyond.

Wine was provided with each course, and with each course Olivia and Adam wondered and hoped that it would be the last. She sat at times with her fingers clasped around his, and over the glasses of wine she looked into his eyes and wondered if he really could love such a mouse as her….the fact that no one had ever thought of her as a mouse never occurred to her.

Martha was reminiscing., her voice was soft and gentle, she talked about the past, and Ben talked about the future. The younger couple listened, laughed, made little asides to what was said and wondered if tonight was going to be a prelude to many others with Ben and Martha together. Occasionally Martha’s hand would rest upon Ben’s, or upon his arm and she would smile up at him as though they shared a secret. Both Adam and Olivia were sure they knew what that secret was and with each new bottle of wine anticipated an announcement, but none came.

Over the dessert course Martha and Olivia chatted about the flowers they had seen in their respective parks that afternoon. Ben leaned over to Adam and whispered his concerns about home, the cattle, the ‘boys’. “I hope they’re managing all right.”

Adam raised his eyebrows, did a swift mental calculation as to the respective ages of his siblings and shook his head. “If they aren’t -”

He paused as he became aware of someone standing behind him, Ben and Martha had stopped talking and looking over Adam’s shoulder. Olivia stopped and turned her head and watched as Ben and Adam left their chairs to stand up in greeting as the couple behind them smiled their delight at seeing them all.

“Livvy, Pa, Martha – may I introduce Mr Gregory Soames, and his daughter Miss Sylvia Soames.”

Ben bowed, hands were shaken, a waiter produced two more chairs to place at the table. Olivia bowed her head and sighed, she felt as though the sword of Damocles was hanging by a thread over her neck.

Chapter 10

Sylvia Soames was an attractive woman whose good features were emphasised by her style and self composure. Her dress was the most well cut garment Olivia had ever seen, it fitted her slim body like a second skin, the small waist accentuated by the boning in the bodice and no doubt, a stiff corset beneath. Her hair which was dark like her fathers had been in his youth, was swept up in coils around her head making her neck look long and slender. Her jewellery gleamed against her skin, dangling diamonds from her ears, and at her throat, with an emerald poised delicately just above the low neckline of her dress which exposed just too much of her breasts.

She smiled at them all, her eyes sweeping over each one of them and her head nodding as they acknowledged her. Her eyes lingered a little at Olivia who sat straight backed in her chair, her eyes darker in colour, the long lashes fluttering and casting shadows on her high cheekbones. In a way Olivia was more than pleased that she had removed her glasses, she felt it was better for her own self confidence to view Miss Soames through a haze.

Soames sat and smiled at them all, he was still a handsome man, although he looked worn and tired, the lines of his face seemed more permanent and deeper since the time he had been on board ship with Adam.

“Did Adam tell you when we first met?” he said as he waited for his glass to be filled by the waiter, he picked it up by its narrow stem and smiled at Ben who nodded, and so he launched forth into the story of their first meeting, their first adventure together.

Adam sat and listened, smiled at the appropriate times and laughed when it seemed necessary. He was aware of Sylvia’s heavy perfume wafting towards them, and turned his head a little in order to observe his wife. He caught Olivia’s eye and smiled, gave her a wink and leaned back in his chair. If Soames wanted to act the role of story teller then so be it. Ben chimed in every so often, adding some anecdote of his own, so that soon the two older men were getting along famously.

Martha sat back and observed. She watched Sylvia attempt to draw Adam into conversation, smile across him to Olivia who would incline her head and smile in return. There was no warmth in either of their smiles. It made Martha wonder why the couple had decided to join them, the whole conversation seemed stilted and uneven.

Ben began to share some of his seafaring adventures with them, which Soames appeared to enjoy, throwing his head back and laughing aloud at times. Martha found her mind drifting and her eyes wandering around the room, looking for familiar faces, wondering how much longer they would have to stay with their uninvited guests.

Sylvia was the one who broke up the company. She picked up her fan and began to waft it too and fro, complaining now of the heat in the room and how she would like some fresh air. Her father took the hint and excused himself, bowed to Olivia and then frowned

“You are not wearing your glasses, Mrs Cartwright?”

“I can see well enough without them, Mr Soames, for an occasion like this one anyway.”

He nodded and sighed “You young ladies.” the implication being that for the sake of vanity they put their eyesight at risk, “Do take care, Mrs Cartwright.”

He bowed his head in farewell, both Ben and Adam had risen to their feet again and said their farewells, Sylvia paused and looked at Olivia

“You must come and visit before you leave, Mrs Cartwright. It would be such a pleasure to have your company for a while before you go back to your Ponderosa.” she turned to Adam, and smiled, extended her hand “That goes for you too, Adam.”

Adam gave a slight frown, a lift of an eyebrow “I’m sure my wife and I will be pleased to visit some time, Miss Soames.”

Her smile stiffened, then she gave a short laugh and shrug of the shoulders, before she led her father away to a table at which the waiter had been hovering for some minutes.

For a little while no one spoke, until Martha said without malice that Miss Soames reminded her of an old saying her mother used at times, about everything on display but nothing to show for it underneath.
…………..

Mary Ann Cartwright felt the draught from the bedroom window and sighed, with her eyes half closed she rolled out of the bed and stumbled her way to the window in order to close it. Half way there she realised that her husband was not in the room, had not been in their bed…she blinked and looked again and as she pulled the window shut looked around the room to see if he was lurking in the shadows, which, of course, was not something he would normally do.

“Joe? Where are you?”

She yawned and made her way out to the landing, picking up the lamp as she went, carrying it along down the stairs and across to the sitting room, until she finally found him in the study.

“Joe, what are you doing here? It’s – late -” she set the lamp down on the desk and looked at him anxiously, then put a hand to his head, tenderly brushing back a lock of hair from his brow

How odd, she thought, he already has gray in his hair, how is it that I had not noticed before, but he is still too young to be gray haired. “Joe? What’s worrying you?”

He sighed, but didn’t look up at her, although he raised a hand to take hers within his grasp. “I’ve been trying to work out why we’re so low on figures…”

“Figures?”

“Calves…cows…we’re far too down on the numbers we estimated we’d have.” then he turned to her, smiled and drew her closer to him, “You look pretty with your hair all tousled like that…”

“”Mmm, but – I don’t understand why you’re more worried this year than usual…some years get like that, don’t they? A low yield or something? Perhaps the cows just didn’t want to be romanced by that old stud bull again…perhaps…”

“Darling, there are enough bulls in the herd to service every cow going -” he frowned and shook his head “This isn’t a subject I want to talk about when you’re looking so dang pretty.”

She pulled up a chair and sat down beside him, then looked at the figures he had scrawled on some paper “Other ranchers have been affected then….Luke and Derwent…”

“Yes, and by a sizable margin too.”

“Perhaps they were all sick during the winter and died . It must happen, Joe. I know I don’t have an intimate knowledge of such things, but infant cows must be as vulnerable to sickness as infant humans, surely?”

He laughed and reached out to gently caress her cheek, “Sweet heart, all these years as a ranchers wife and you still have such a way of describing things…and in a way you are right, young calves are vulnerable to winter sicknesses, bad weather conditions, shucks, whole herds have been swept away with disease due to winter tetany, staggers, bloat…” he paused and turned back to his desk, looking glumly at the scrawl of figures there.

“What does Hoss say about it?”

“He’s as baffled as I am..so is Luke and Derwent.” he grimaced “I almost got to wondering if Derwent, being a Jessop, had been up to his old tricks..well, not his, but his families, you know…rustling one here and t here…”

“Derwent wouldn’t do that…” she said with a little frown forming on her smooth brow.

“Pa would want us to have a solution to this by the time he gets home…”

“Well, he can’t expect miracles, Joe.” she scolded and then placed a hand over his and leaned towards the paper “No rustlers?”

“No evidence of any …no reports of any either.”

“What about the herd Pa had up north…”

“We moved them back down when we realised the Hoags were helping themselves to the occasional one or four.” he grinned remembering the chaotic few days with Willow and her family. “Removed the temptation…”

She smiled and sighed, “Joe, what about this for a theory…”

He nodded, turned around to look at her with a smile on his face. He loved it when his wife decided to talk about something she knew very little about, “Yes, ma’am.”

“what if there is a new rancher who hasn’t the money to build up his own herd so decided to steal some from his neighbours.”

“Huh?”

“Well, look at it like this -” she leaned towards the desk and picked up his pen, “Let’s say you have lost 50 head, and Luke 25 and Derwent 30 …that makes a total of 110! So all have to do is find someone who has 150 brand new calves …see, they haven’t been branded at all by any of you, so the brand marks on them would be fresh and clean.”

Joe shook his head, leaned forward to kiss her nose “You have a wonderful imagination, honey.”

“ I thought that it was a very valid reason…it makes sense doesn’t it?”

“I can hardly go around asking every new rancher if I can have a look at his calves, can I?”

“Why not?”

She put down the pen and pouted, then sighed, leaned forward and picked up the lamp, “If you’re going to laugh at me then I’m going to bed.”

Joe nodded and ran his fingers through his mop of hair, then shrugged, “I think I’ll come too…” he yawned, screwed up his face and shivered “I’ll go into town tomorrow and ask Nate if there has been any report of rustling going on…”

“Or new people moving in?”

“Yeah, sure, and new people moving in who likes baby calves…”

“Don’t laugh at me, Joe, I may be right -”

“Of course, sweetheart, anything you say.”
……………

It was obvious Martha was disappointed that the evening had ended on a discomforting note. Olivia was very quiet and seemed to have shrunk into herself, Ben talked too much and too jovially for it to be genuine and Adam looked anxious, tapping his chin with his long fingers at times and darting small smiles at her throughout their journey home.

Olivia made her excuses to go to bed straightaway and kissed Martha and Ben before going up the stairs, her husband watched her go and then turned to his father and Martha, “If you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll go up too. Thank you, Martha…” he leaned in and kissed her cheek, then turned and made his way upstairs.

Ben sighed and raised his eyebrows, then smiled at Martha, pushed open the door for her to step into the sitting room. Within minutes of them sitting down, Gates appeared with their evening drinks, and then stepped out of the room to leave them to themselves.

“I’m sorry, Ben, once the Soames had been things went a little quiet, or was it my imagination?”

“No, it wasn’t your imagination.” Ben said quietly and reached for his whiskey, “Miss Soames has a lot of what they call ‘presence.””

“Yes, that is what I thought too…perhaps too much for Olivia just now?”

Ben looked at Martha, then looked away and nodded “Yes, perhaps so.”
…….

Adam removed his jacket slowly, while he watched his wife as she pulled clips and clasps from her hair and let it tumble down her back. He smiled and wondered if his wife realised how lovely she was, and then his mind trickled back to Sylvia and he thought of how magnificent the woman had looked. He sighed and walked to his wife, and stood behind her, before placing his hands very gently on her shoulders,

“You looked beautiful tonight, Livvy.”

“I didn’t feel it.” she said and picked up the hair brush

“Why not?” he looked puzzled, and sat down on the bed just behind her chair, he took the brush from her and began to draw it through the lengths of silky smooth curls.

“I – just felt awkward and – not – very sophisticated.”

He frowned, paused “But I don’t want you to look sophisticated. I want you to look what you are…”

“A country mouse?”

He laughed and looked at her reflection in the mirror, his head to one side as he slowly appraised her, “You look like your daughter …protesting and angry …”

“I don’t..” she turned to reach for the brush but he held it away from her and shook his head, she pouted and turned away.

“My dear, if you are comparing yourself to Miss Soames…”

“She looked so – so beautiful, Adam…” and her shoulders slumped “I just felt so frowsy.”

“Frowsy?” he raised his eyebrows and then shook his head again “Livvy, you’ve no need to feel like that…”

“But I do.” and she bowed her head and suddenly she felt just like Sofia, just like a little girl who needed reassurance and petting, some comfort and love. “I do. And I have to wear glasses…Mr Soames even had to mention that…” she heaved in a sigh, and then her fingers touched her face, where the scar along her chin could be faintly seen through the cream she used to cover it up. “And I have these…”

“What a funny thing you are…” he said softly and drew her into his arms and held her until she relaxed and placed her head upon his chest, closed her eyes and sighed.

“She saw them too…” she whispered, her voice muffled in the folds of his shirt, “I saw her look and notice them.”

“What if she did? “ he replied, stroking her hair gently as though she were a child now, and needed gentling.

“Oh Adam, it’s different for a woman…” she looked up at him and offered up a watery smile, then gently touched the scar on his cheekbone, “Women aren’t supposed to look battered and scarred…”

“When a woman puts herself in a position of danger in order to protect another, my dear -” he held her away from him a little distance “then they should consider it a badge of honour. Women like Miss Soames sit at home and do their embroidery or whatever and would no doubt faint at the thought of facing a crowd in the way that you did…” he stroked her cheek, then kissed her nose “Please – don’t compare yourself with the likes of Miss Soames.”

She closed her eyes and sighed, held him close and told herself to be satisfied, be happy, but somehow Sylvia Soames hovered in her memory as a bright morning star, not easily extinguished no matter what philosophy her husband spun to ease her mind.

Chapter 11

A tall fair haired man accompanied by a slim blonde woman stepped from their hotel and strolled slowly to the park. They wore clothes cut in the European style, and stood out a little even from the very well dressed of San Francisco’s most well heeled gentlemen and ladies who were out and about that early in the morning.

He carried a walking stick with a silver mounted head in the shape of a lion which fitted perfectly in the palm of his hand as he swung it along side him. She carried a parasol, pink and lace trimmed to match the colour of her dress, and her bonnet. It was not yet hot enough for her to use the parasol for any other purpose than a prop in her hand.

They talked and laughed together, a couple apparently at ease and happy to be enjoying the warm day together. They stopped at a bench and sat down, amused by the ducks antics on the ornamental pond in front of them. He leaned back to watch, his eyes scanning the people, few in number though they were at such an early hour. A woman came, hesitated and then sat down beside them, keeping a correct distance between them. He turned and smiled, removed his hat and inclined his head in greeting, while his wife turned to smile at the new comer and bid her good morning.

Sylvia Soames nodded in return and then paid attention to the ducks on the pond. He put his hat down on the bench in the space between them, as though to emphasise the distance was of proper propriety. After a few moments during which the couple had chattered together about nothing in particular Sylvia took out a small book and opened it. She began to read, turning the pages swiftly because, after all, it was a small book and the pages contained little in length.

After another ten minutes she closed the book and opened her purse, closed it, and walked away. No word was spoken. The gentleman took out his watch which was strung across his silk vest by a gold chain, flicked it open and then whispered to his wife that it was time for them to go.

He picked up his hat and the little book that had been slipped beneath it. The hat went on his head, the little book was palmed discreetly into his pocket from which he produced a handkerchief, he dabbed at his nose and returned it. No one watching him would have thought anything of it.

Arm in arm they walked in the opposite direction to Miss Soames who hailed a cab and gave directions so that within less than half an hour she was back home and calmly removing the pins that secured her hat to her curls.
……………

Nathaniel was excited although he was not sure why exactly but just that Sofia was and so was Reuben. Their giggles, fidgeting and high voices chattering away led to an air of suppressed pleasure. Even Martha was smiling and laughing more than usual so that Gates looked at her anxiously just in case she had a stroke and keeled over.

But for Martha this was a special day…something she had not experienced in her whole life time before, having children and a young woman who could pass, perhaps, as her own daughter, to accompany her to the stores and then for a little luncheon somewhere small and suitable before continuing their time around the many stores that San Francisco abounded in.

Toy shops and candy shops and stores that sold the very latest style of dress and everything else that was necessary for a lady of fashion, no matter what age…stores that sold clothes for children that wasn’t made from denim, didn’t run to dungarees, nor ever displayed such things as cheap cotton check shirts.

Martha wanted to give Olivia and the younger children the best day ever…and it made Sofia’s head giddy at the thought of seeing so much. She became a little silly and had to be told, very sternly by Olivia, to calm herself before she was sick and would then have to stay home.

Reuben’s excitement was far more controlled, but it kept bubbling up inside him so that he would grin hugely at his father and grandfather with big eyes in a flushed face. Olivia did mention at one time that perhaps he couldn’t go with them as it looked as though he were ill…which nearly reduced him to tears. This was no mere outing to stores and such, this was going to be an adventure, just the three of them, Pa, Grandfather and himself.

So it was not long before they were all gathered on the side walk, Martha and Olivia with the younger children boarding a cab to take them into the centre of the best area for the stores, and Adam hailed a cab to take him, his father and Reuben to the harbour area, giving his son a wink as they clambered on board the vehicle and were soon trundling down the thoroughfare to the bay.

The Central wharf was the first major pier built in San Francisco.* It extended 2000 feet into the Bay over shallow water and mud flats that prevented ships from docking on the shoreline. Other piers quickly followed although it was hard to keep up with shipping demand as from a sleepy harbour it had become one of the most important waterways of America.

Governor Leland Stanford* eventually signed a legislation that would create a Board of State Harbour Commissioners for San Francisco, and it was this Bill (Senate Bill 90) that established the Port of San Francisco.

Adam was interested in seeing how the massive seawall was now and how near to completion.* This had been organised to stabilize the waterfront. He had seen this project at various stages of its development when he had berthed his ships there during his sea going career. It would eventually be two and a half miles long, reaching from Fisherman’s Wharf in the north to China Basin Channel in the south. Behind the sea wall more than 800 acres of prime metropolitan land was going to be created .

It was a warm and pleasant day, the wind drifting over the bay was carrying with it the smells of the sea, salty to the taste but not overly pleasant to the nostrils as so many smells mixed and mingled. Human bodies, food, the smells from the packed cargo waiting to be taken on board their assigned ships, the smell of oil and wet hemp all gathered together in one not altogether pleasant aroma.

The few women who were on the harbour side dabbed at their noses with handkerchiefs, but there were others who worked there for a living and had got used to it, and were ruddy cheeked and loud voiced.

But to Reuben the best sight of all was to look over at the ships currently berthed, and to view each one with a mixture of awe, amazement and pleasure. He grabbed at Adam’s arm

“Is your ship here, Pa? The Shenandoah?”

“No, I don’t think so…perhaps … The Baltimore is …” Adam smiled, one hand resting on the boys shoulder, he looked over at his father who was looking over the ships with eyes that were seemingly inward looking, for Ben was carried away on memories, of when he first came by ship to San Francisco bay, and barely any ships had been present at all.

“When I first came here, there were hardly any ships…” he murmured, “Captain Abel Stoddard didn’t think it would ever amount to much, just remain a muddy bay…”

“Then they found gold at Sutlers Mill, Pa…that changed everything.” Adam sighed, and looked wistfully at the ships as they strolled slowly past.

“Look at that one over there, Pa…what a beauty…” Reuben exclaimed and pointed to a large schooner with sails furled, bouncing up and down on the few waves that rippled across the water’s surface.

An officer on board the vessel heard the boys words and stood up, acknowledged him with a nod and smile before continuing with his work.

Ropes thicker than Reuben’s body were attached to strong iron hooks to lift up the great sacks of cargo, then a pulley and winch system went into operation, lifting the huge mass from the harbour over to the ships. “One job I would never want…” Ben muttered, and walked on.

They reached an area where Adam paused awhile, his face sombre, and he removed his hat and stood there looking down and glancing around him as though lost …but it seemed to him, somehow something of those men and boys who had died the night the Ainola was destroyed, something of them should be felt still, in the air around here, a whisper, a memory. It should not be forgotten that they had perished so horribly…Gibbs, Hartley, the boy John Makepiece…all the others…and he stood there and remembered that awful night with a tightening of the throat.

Ben said nothing but drew Reuben aside so that the boy would not disturb his Pa’s private moment of remembrance for the brave men who had died. And then, of course, there were others – later.

Perhaps, Adam mused, it was good that there was no memory of them here now. But he could remember, the letters he had had to write to the families, the grieving widows, the letters that as their Commanding Officer he had written in heart felt grief at their loss.

Ben approached with a smile, and put a kindly hand on his son’s shoulder “Someone seems to be trying to catch our attention,” he said with a nod of the head to where a seaman was striding towards them.

“Cap’n Cartwright, Mr Cartwright – young un?”

Adams face relaxed into a wide grin, he extended a hand “Jacko…how are you?”

“Well and good, sir.” Jackson looked down at Reuben and grinned “Reckon on you don’t recognise me, young’ un. Well, I barely recognised you – seems to me you’ve grown some.”

Reuben nodded and grinned, he had always liked Marcy’s brother, Jackson, whom they called Jacko because she always had done. Having shaken the men by the hand Jacko stepped back a pace “A note for you, sir.” he winked at Reuben “From Captain Myers.”

With an anticipatory smile Adam opened the envelope and extracted the square of cardboard it contained…Myers untidy scrawl greeted him

“I hope you were not expecting to come all this way without stopping to visit the old lady, and have lunch with us? Myers”

Adam slipped the note back into the envelope and smiled down at Reuben, “Well, my boy, looks like we are going to see whether or not you have sea legs…”

“Why, Pa?”

“Because we are going to have lunch with Captain Myers on The Baltimore…and she’s berthed over there – “

He nodded towards the Bay and smiled as Reuben narrowed his eyes in order to locate the ship “I can see her, right over there Pa…but how’re we going to get there?
Can’t she get closer?”

“Too crowded already, and at the moment shallow waters…” Adam smiled, and looked at Jacko who nodded

“Captain’s boat awaiting you, Sir…Mr Cartwright, Sonny-Jim.”

“I’m Reuben,” the boy pointed out politely, and smiled at the face Jacko pulled in contrition at his error. “Are you going to sail the boat to the Baltimore?”

“No, lad, I’m going to watch a crew of layabouts row us over..” Jacko replied with a chuckle in his voice.
…………………

“Goodness me,” Olivia laughed and stepped back in order to view the building better, then she shook her head in disbelief “When I lived here it was the J.W Davidsons* Dry Goods Store.”

They were standing at Kearny Street looking at the magnificent frontage of The White House that had only recently been established by Rafael Weil*, it was a wrap around building taking in part of Post Street as well

“I read in the Daily Alta that ‘Many a lady went away crazy to possess some of the nice things seen in here’” Martha quoted with a smile, “It hasn’t been long open, but with a reputation like that…”

“Oh well, I am quite sure I shall be driven crazy when I get inside.” Olivia laughed again, and linked her arm through Martha’s while the other hand pushed the stroller in which Nathaniel had been harnessed.

Of course he hadn’t liked it at first, then being quite a clever little boy he soon realised that had he not been in it he would have had to have walked, and walked, because as anyone knows when one goes shopping there is a lot of walking involved. Sofia had never walked so much in her life. The promise of ice cream, chocolate, and the latest in cordials on offer, had persuaded her that her sore feet were a small price to pay for the pleasure of investigating so many wonderful buildings.

And she had a new doll, still in its package, pristine in her beautiful blue laced gown. She knew no one else at school possessed a doll such as this one…and even better still, she had seen Martha and her Mommy looking at the most splendid doll houses. There had been whispered conversations and a lot of nodding of heads and things pointed at, picked up and put down, and picked up again….she closed her eyes as they stepped through the doors into this latest store. If what she thought was true then she would be the happiest little girl in the world…even if she did have sore feet.

Chapter 12

Hoss Cartwright looked about him thoughtfully as he tied the reins of his horse over the hitching rail. He sighed and shook his head, paused a moment before turning to look over at his brother

“Lots of changes, Joe.” it was a statement rather than a question and one to which Joe, regretfully, agreed with a slight inclination of his head. “Fewer folk around, and some of the stores still shut down.”

“No one wants to buy stores where there are no customers, Hoss.”

Hoss agreed but glanced over at Ridleys Ladies Emporium and then followed Joe into the sheriff’s office. Amanda Ridley had left town now, gone those past two weeks, leaving her business affairs in the hands of her capable Manageress Mrs Carstairs. Her house had been locked up, indicating her intention to return, one day.

Nate Carney, the present incumbent as Sheriff of Virginia City, nodded over at them, before putting the letter he had been reading face down onto the desk among other papers. It struck Joe that Nate was a meticulous law keeper, and kept security tight.

Clem Foster and Mark Watts nodded affably over to them, offering cups of coffee. Mark was cleaning the rifles while Clem had been in the act of pouring coffee for the three men and now reached for two more mugs.

“What can I do for you two, Hoss, Joe? Something wrong on the Ponderosa that you want us to sort out before you Pa gets back home?” Clem chuckled as he passed a mug over to Hoss.

“Yeah, seems you know us too well.” Hoss grinned back but his blue eyes were anxious and didn’t convey any mirth so Clem just frowned and returned to his business after placing a mug down for Joe.

“What’s wrong?” Nate asked in his quiet voice. There was always something calming about Nate, considering what a big man he was, his whole voice and demeanor made a person feel totally confident in his ability to correct any wrong, find the solution to the problem…both Cartwrights sat down, crossed one leg over the other, picked up their mugs and relaxed.

“We’re missing a whole heap of calves.” Hoss said after he had swallowed half a mug full of coffee, “About 70 head, if not more.”

“And the Jessops and Dents have as well.” Joe added.

“Just calves?” Nate asked, leaning forwards towards them, his arms on the desk and his eyes narrowed, “No cows, bulls, just calves?”

“Just calves…none of them branded.” Hoss said “We’re in the process of branding those we have found, but -”

“But that’s a lot of mavericks kicking their heels about all over the Ponderosa.” Clem said as he came closer to the desk, “And your neighbours the same huh?”

“Jessops our neighbour, and Luke’s territory borders closer to his than it does ours, but, yeah, they’ve lost calves too.” Joe nodded

“So what are you thinking? “ Nate asked,

“Well, we’ve looked high and low for the danged things, nary a sight of’em.” Hoss muttered, “I know the Ponderosa is a big place but calves stick close to their Ma’s and they tend to stick with the herd. Cattle like sticking together, they don’t go wandering off – particularly calves.”

“We’ve a lot of discontented cows just now…wondering where their young ‘uns have wandered off to.” Joe muttered and rolled his eyes as though he couldn’t believe he was saying that, but facts were facts, the racket a mother cow made when her calf was missing was bad enough, multiple that noise by at least fifty and it was enough to give a deaf man ear ache.

“So – rustlers then?” Nate looked at them both “Rustlers who prefer to take the calves and leave the more mature animals behind. Seems odd to me…”

“It is odd. That’s why we came to see you, wondered if you knew any new comer who may have moved into the territory who may be thinking of building up their spread with young stock. Being that they’re unbranded means they can add their own mark on ‘em without having to worry about covering over the Ponderosa Pine brand.”

“Or Jessops and Dents …” Mark muttered.

“Well, there have been one or two new ranchers moved in…but none bordering onto your land. Are you sure you’ve looked everywhere you could – after all a thousand square miles of land leaves a whole lot of places where inquisitive calves could wander.” Nate frowned, and fingered the letter he had just placed down when the Cartwrights had entered the office.

Joe nodded, his eyes watching the sheriff’s restless fingers, an obvious sign that trying to find missing cows was not as high on his list of priorities as the news in that letter. He nudged Hoss with his foot and raised his eyebrows, but Hoss was too worried about the problem of those cows to notice.

“Can’t you help, anyways, Nate?” Hoss asked.

“Show me on the map where the cattle were – and where your camp is now -” Nate said and unravelled his long body from behind the desk to follow the brothers to where the map was located.

“Our main herd is here -” Joe jabbed at an area near Horseman’s Creek, “And that’s where we have been branding them. We brought another herd up from the low pasture – that’s here -” he pointed to that location “and brought them all together so that they’re ready for cutting out and branding.”

Nate nodded, and frowned “Looking at it on this map, Joe, sure shows just how much land you Cartwrights own. All this…” he swept a hand over an area “and you ain’t got no cows on there at all? No small clustered herds that were overlooked somehow?”

“Our men know where to look, and so do we…we brought the cattle down from the hills just after the thaw so that they would be easier to bring together for the branding.” Joe explained.

Nate stared at the map and grimaced, shook his head “I’ll be danged if you would know where to start looking.” he turned back to his desk and settled back into his chair, “A couple by the name of Archer moved onto the land old man Conyger owned. That was about two months back…do you know where that is?”

Joe nodded, Conyger had owned a flourishing ranch at one time but it had got run down when he lost his wife and daughter in the cholera outbreak a few years back, and took to drink.

“Then over to the east of your property a man by the name of Burgoyne with two sons took over the Bar H from Hendricks. They moved out to go back to St Louis.” Nate frowned, “I best warn you that Burgoyne’s boys are a handful, the eldest is a mean looking cuss. The younger – well, he’s weak, follows his brother’s lead…” Nate pursed his lips slightly and frowned, “I could make enquiries for you if you wish? I’d like to check out the Burgoyne’s for myself.”

“Thanks, Nate…I think we’ll pay a neighbourly visit on them first, that could be the easier way of handling things. If they get a mite – difficult – we’ll come back to you.” Joe smiled and stood up, “By the way, is it right that Abel Greigson has left the Box G?”

“It is.” Clem nodded and then grinned, “He and his old man had a real humdinger of a row, seems Abel’s got himself all starry eyed about that Librarian’s assistant that came her the other month. Anyhow, he reckons on marrying her, and that don’t suit Walter Greigson one bit.”

“Is he coming back?” Hoss asked but only got shrugs in reply, after all, who could tell when affairs of the heart lead a man away from hearth and home.

“Walt’s a bad tempered brute, swore never to let Abel step foot back onto Box G land.” Matt added, and slipped a rifle back into its allocated slot on the rack. “But he seems to be flourishing, heard talk in the Silver Dollar that he has had to take on more men to handle his stock.”

“So he hasn’t lost any calves then -” Hoss muttered, and glanced over at Joe.

“Nope, seems from what I hear his cattle have been thriving, more twins born than ever known. “ Matt nodded, and picked out another rifle to clean.

“Perhaps we should visit him first,” Joe said quietly, “Just ask him if he has any news about when Abel’s coming home.”

“I’d step back a few paces if you ask that, Joe.” Clem said with a grin, “Walt’s liable to lose his temper some -”

“And we all know what he’s like when he does that -” Matt added.
…………….

Reuben wasn’t sure what sea legs were supposed to be like, but by the time he had clambered up the Jacobs ladder to the deck and been hauled on board, they were like rubber. He stood hoping that they wouldn’t collapse from under him while he looked around him and watched as the seamen paused in their duties to see who was coming aboard.

A boy just a few years older than him grinned over, and nodded a tousled head. He had such a merry face that Reuben couldn’t resist grinning back. By the time the boy had strolled over to talk to him Adam and Ben were on deck, being greeted by the Captain with hand shakes and genial slaps on the back.

“That your Pa?” the boy asked nodding over to Adam, and when Reuben confirmed that he was the boy whistled “Wow, fancy that – he was my Captain one time when I was first signed on.”

“Really? How long have you been here then?”

“Five years…I’m older than I look ..” the boy squared his shoulders and looked down his nose at the younger lad, “Anyhows, he was a good Captain, I was right sorry when he left. Is he coming back?”

“No, he’s a rancher now -” Reuben paused and then added, as he squared his own shoulders “And he’s a bronco buster.”

“A what?” the other boy stepped back, puzzlement on his face, “What’s a bronco?”

“It’s a wild horse, my Pa catches ‘em and breaks ‘em…he tames them so that they can be sold to the army. don’t you know what a bronco is?”

The boy grinned “Didn’t till you said…a wild horse huh? Fancy that…”

“Did you not go to school either?”

“No, not ever. Who wants to go to school fer? I comed to sea to get away from all that kind of thing.”

“Really?” Reuben looked at the boy thoughtfully, “And you really never went to school?”

“Said so, didn’t I?” the boy replied and then stepped back when Adam stepped up to them and put a hand on Reuben’s shoulder, “Captain Cartwright sir? Betcha forgot me by now, ain’t’cha?”

Adam looked down at the boy’s eager face and smiled, narrowed his eyes and pulled back the floppy fringe of hair from the boys face “Can barely see you for that hair, boy! But I think – if I remember rightly – you were my cabin boy for a while”

“That’s right, Captain, I was – Merriweather, sir, Harry Merriweather.” and the boy snapped a fine salute which made Adam laugh and ruffle the boys hair in a friendly manner

“Well, you best get on with your duties, Harry -” Adam said and winked, then tossed the boy a whole dollar coin which Harry caught in cupped hands, and laughed as he ran off to resume his tasks. “Come on, Reuben, we don’t keep an officer waiting when on board ship.”

“No, sir.” Reuben replied with a grin, and was more than pleased to discover that his legs were not so rubbery now, although he still found himself missing his footing as he hurried after his father towards the Captain’s quarters.

Captain Timothy Myers had not changed much since Adam had last seen him, still freckle faced with twinkling blue eyes and a slightly nervous strung out look about him. He greeted Adam warmly as would be expected of two friends meeting again after some length of years. Ben’s hand he shook with respect and then he ruffled Reuben’s hair and said he was looking well, and big enough to sign on if his father allowed him.

Reuben looked at Adam anxiously, but the three men were grinning so he assumed it was just a joke so grinned back. He followed them into the Captain’s dining room and there a tall man with dark hair and a ready smile stood ready to greet them.

“Euan? You still here?” Adam exclaimed striding across the room to wards where Dr Euan McPherson was stepping forward to meet him half way,

“Still here, Adam…good to see you again.”

Reuben was introduced after Ben who had met McPherson a while before, and the Doctor nodded, glanced thoughtfully out of the corner of his eye at Adam who was now speaking to Myers before looking again at Reuben “What do you think of the Baltimore, Reuben? Is she big enough to your liking?”

“Plenty big enough, sir. I reckon I would get lost within ten minutes ..” Reuben replied honestly and thought of Harry Merriweather running across the deck as though he hadn’t a care in the world…and had never been to school either.

Reuben was used to having meals with the adults, so he had learned to be polite, eat what was put in front of him, and to be quiet unless spoken to…all of these things seemed necessary in the company he now found himself. He stayed close to his father, listened and learned and enjoyed the meal.

Talk swung over to various adventures and misadventures they had shared, and Ben, with his own maritime experience was able to add some – including being ship wrecked three times, and having been to San Francisco Bay when only Indians and a few ships from Europe wandered into it.

Myers poured out more wine, and smiled at Reuben who had been allowed some in a glass of water which he thought was disgusting…the taste that is …the young Captain leaned back and stretched an arm across the back of his chair,

“Do you miss it, Adam, being at sea?”

“You’re the second person to ask me this week,” Adam smiled, dimples stretched long in his cheeks, and he shook his head “No, not at all.”

“Well, you did come late to it, didn’t you?” Myers said quietly with a frown, “But even so I would have thought you would have thought back fondly to times on board ship.”

“Oh yes, I do…but memories are quite sufficient for me, especially as not all are so very pleasant.” Adam responded with the smile fading and the dark eyes narrowing.

“That’s true enough,” Euan sighed and picked up his glass, drank some of the wine and then looked at his old friend anxiously “How’s your leg?”

“Still attached.” Adam laughed, although without mirth, and Ben leaned in then to inform the two men about the tussle they had with a local doctor who had wanted to chop the leg off but Chinese medicine had saved not only the leg, but Adams life too.

Reuben felt a swell of pride when he heard that, and remembered vaguely that had taken place when they had first got to know the Cartwrights, even though he had never been sure exactly what had been going on.

“Do you ever hear anything from the American Cadre in Eygpt?” Myers now asked, twisting the stem of his glass round and round between his fingers.

“No, are they still there?”

“Only General Stone…he is supporting the Khedive who, as you know, is facing hard times. He’s bankrupt, and the country want him ousted out.” Myers glanced over at Adam who was smiling over at Reuben and not appearing to be much interested in the conversation.

“I guess you heard all about that, didn’t you? From Ismail’s cousin, Said Hassim?” Euan said in a quiet tone of voice.

“No, I hadn’t. We -” Adam looked at his father as he said that “We don’t really keep up with news from abroad. I’m afraid you;ll find me very ignorant about foreign politics. We have enough to do on the Ponderosa to keep us busy.”

“Of course, I can imagine – a thousand square miles of land, isn’t it? “ Myers smiled rather tightly, and Ben was immediately suspicious that perhaps this spontaneous meal was not as spontaneous as they had first thought.

“Yes, that’s right…” Adam replied and narrowed his eyes.

“I remember you telling us about the Ponderosa.” Euan smiled over at Ben, “Your son can wax quite lyrical when he speaks about his home.”

The feeling of suspicion faded, Ben relaxed and began to speak about the country he had carved out of nothing, the Ponderosa pine, the herds of cattle…Euan asked questions that kept the discussion lively, and Myers nodded and smiled.

Dessert came and was eaten, more wine was poured out and Reuben whispered to Adam who nodded and asked the steward to take his son to the ‘head’. Myers put down his spoon and said nonchalantly “Of course you met one of Chaille Long’s *relatives recently, didn’t you?”

“Did I? I don’t think so…”

“Soames’ daughter….she was married to Chaille Long’s cousin. Didn’t you know?”

Adam shook his head “No, I didn’t know that …” he said and glanced at his father who raised his dark eyebrows and narrowed his eyes. “Soames did mention that she was a widow but introduced her as Miss Soames…..” his voice trailed away and he stared down into his empty glass and wondered where exactly this conversation was heading.

Chapter 13

The Bucket of Blood was noisy with the sounds of men talking, shouting over one another, interrupting each others conversations, laughing, insulting, arguing. The smell of body odour clung in the air along with that of alcohol, cigarette smoke and stale air.

Joe and Hoss elbowed their way to the crowded bar and nodded over to the barkeep who knew them well enough to know that meant two cold beers…he nodded, grinned and within a minute two glasses were set down before them. It was Hoss who tossed the money down for payment.

“What’s going on? You’ve quite a crowd here today?”

The bar keep nodded, then turned to serve another customer who acknowledged the brothers with a grunt, picked up his whiskey and melted into the crowd. Sam returned his attention to the two Cartwrights,

“New crowd, from the Double Bar B…” he nodded over to a well set up older man who was talking to Derwent Jessop of all people…”Ebenezer Burgoyne, bought the place about a month ago.”

“Homesteader?” Joe muttered, his eyes glancing over the crowd to see if he could recognise any others there.

“Rancher … got a good herd ready for branding. He’s been signing men up for the work.”

“How’s he getting on with that?” Hoss asked wiping a hand across his mouth as he put down the empty glass.

“Well, seems to have done alright for himself, most here have signed up to him. A new broom sweeps clean, you know how they say? The Double Bar B bought up some of the land from Greigson…”

“Really? I heard Greigson was doing well this year, he’s had quite a number of calves.” Joe leaned on the counter, listening to the babble behind him and watching what was going on through the mirror behind Sam who was now industriously cleaning glasses.

“He sure has, but it was some arrangement he made with Burgoyne without Abel’s knowing, and what with him wanting to go off and get this woman he was after, and one thing and another that old man Greigson didn’t like, well, you know…” he shrugged “Abel’s gone and now Burgoyne and Greigson are in each other’s pockets, as they say.”

Hoss nodded and was about to ask another question when there came a yell, a shout of protest from Derwent and then a lull in the voices before more shouting erupted, accompanied with laughter, cruel laughter, and yells and cheers as Derwent was swung away from Burgoyne. Two men grabbed at him, pulled him aside and waded in with fists flying, landing heavily upon the young mans body.

He had no chance to defend himself as his arms were pinned down to his sides, the crowd of men began to close in on the combatants, some cheering the fight on, although it was hardly a fight as Derwent was nothing more than a punch bag.

Hoss stepped forwards to grab a few collars when a voice shouted above the ruckus
“Break it up -”

No one seemed to have heard and if they did they ignored the man, for another fist was raised and this time Hoss made a grab for it, then thumped the other cowboy before a fist aimed at him had the opportunity to land. Joe behind him was about to swing into the group of men with his gun in his hand and the command to stop when the voice shouted once again “STOP RIGHT NOW!”

Everyone seemed to freeze on the spot, then step back and quietly gather into their original groups, Burgoyne raised a hand, a cigar within the swarthy fingers drifting blue smoke in the air. He gave a curt nod and immediately Derwent was released, his knees buckling despite his attempts to keep standing. Hoss grabbed his arm, hoisted him upright and then glared at Burgoyne

“Your men?” he growled

Burgoyne flexed his shoulders as though he had himself been taking part in the fight. He clamped the cigar back between his teeth, then nodded..”I’m ashamed to say they are -” he approached Derwent and handed him a handkerchief, nodded and looked concernedly into his face before turning to the men who had taken the lead in the attack, “Get out and take those men with you.”

“Yeah, but -” one protested but he turned his head away sheepishly as the older man glared at him and started to redden around the neck, sure signs of the man’s anger and with a sigh the younger man turned away, nudged the man closest to him and together they tried to stroll defiantly out of the saloon.

Burgoyne shook his head, picked up Derwents hat and handed it to him “My apologies, Mr Jessop.” he turned to Hoss and Joe “I signed on several men today, new to me – seems that this young man said something that upset them.”

Joe glanced at Derwent who was wiping blood from his mouth and nose, using the handkerchief Burgoyne had handed him. Hoss winced, one eye was already closing up from what was going to be a very colourful bruise. “Come on, Derwent, let’s take you to Pauls’ and get you cleaned up.”

Burgoyne didn’t smile but watched as Hoss helped Derwent from the saloon, but as Joe followed he yelled “You the Cartwright boys? From the Ponderosa?”

Joe turned, one hand on the door catching it as it swung back on him from Hoss and Derwents departure. “Who wants to know?”

“Burgoyne. From the Double Bar B ranch.” Burgoyne walked towards the younger man, his eyes glanced at him raking him from top to bottom, and then he nodded “Ben Cartwright’s youngest, ain’t’cha?”

“I am.”

“Give him my regards when he gets back from his – er – holidays. We’re old friends.” he grinned, exposing several missing teeth, for all that he was well groomed and wore ‘fancy’ clothing for a rancher. “Tell him we’ll have to catch up some time.”

Joe gave him a level look from narrowed hazel eyes and nodded, “I’ll tell him.”

Burgoyne nodded, looked thoughtfully at Hoss and then at Derwent, “My apologies again, young man. I’ll make sure this won’t occur again.”

The three men left the saloon, the swing doors went back and forth but Burgoyne stood for a while watching him as he followed his brother and Derwent down to the sidewalk which led to Paul Martins surgery.

Ebenezer Burgoyne nodded and drew heavily on the cigar, then smiled before he turned back to resume his seat at the corner table where Derwent had confronted him earlier. He was a tall man, at least six foot in height, with red hair, light blue eyes, and a florid face. Some would have described him as a man who must have been handsome in his younger years but had grown too haggard as he had grown older, his mouth was a slash across darkly tanned flesh and his jaw was square, covered with stubble that was more grey and ginger than red.

He took himself to a table in the corner, indicated he wanted to be left alone and sat down, beckoned to Sam for whiskey, and leaned back in his chair, with his legs stretched out before him concealed by the table at which he sat. Sam put down a bottle and glass, and walked away.

Derwent Jessop rubbed his ribs, which had been bruised but not damaged other than that. Paul ran experienced hands over his skull, checked his eyes, did all that he had to do before cleaning more blood from the now broken nose, which he wadded up.

“What was it about then, Derwent? It’s unlike you to get into a quarrel about anything. You don’t even wear a gun -” Hoss asked as he watched Paul’s ministrations while perched on the corner of the Doctor’s desk.

“The Burgoyne boys were shouting the odds about soon becoming the biggest spread here. They were saying how they had already bought some of the Box G and intended to buy a lot more. Then one of them came up and said they had heard my spread wasn’t doing so well, a big drop in the number of calves this year..would affect the market value ..no profit..all that kind of thing. I said we were doing alright, enough to get on by -” he frowned, and stood up, got his balance and nodded “I’ll be alright. Thanks for coming to help me out.”

“You still haven’t said what caused the fight?” Joe reminded him, chewing on a finger nail and spitting it out.

“Fight? Was that a fight?” Derwent scoffed in a bitter tone of voice, “I didn’t even have chance to draw breath let alone my fists…next time I come to town I’ll remember to bring my guns.”

“Don’t do that, Derwent.” Paul said gently, “You’re one of the few who has always refused to be drawn into gun play, and I have a feeling that next time, if you come wearing any hardware, they’ll come for you.”

“That’s right, Derwent. Seems to me that this beating was more deliberate than just co-incidental. I think you were set up.” Joe nodded thoughtfully, his eyes staring not at the other men but at the far wall, as though in the back of his mind something made some sense but he couldn’t quite reach for what that was.

“Well, I don’t intend to be their punch bag again,” Derwent said quietly, “Perhaps I’ll stick to Carson City in future, like Luke.”

He grabbed for his hat and slammed it over his head with a look of aggrieved frustration on his face. He paused at the door and put out his hand to shake Joe’s and Hoss’ with words of thanks, a nod over to Paul before he stepped out into the sun bright streets of town.
…………

Sofia was bubbling over with excitement when they finally reached Martha’s house. Packages and parcels and bags were carried into the sitting room and hurriedly put down, while she ran from one to the other, looking for one that would be particularly large and square.

Nathaniel stood in the middle of the room clutching his new gaily painted wooden horse. It had a bridle, saddle and real mane and tail, and it was black and white. He had loved the sight of it as soon as he had seen it in the big store and Martha had insisted on buying it for the little boy.

He didn’t really care much about all the boxes and packages, he stroked the horses mane and then held it up for Martha to see again and tell him “Oh what a lovely Horse, Nathaniel” in that tone of voice that meant she was fed up with repeating herself but if it pleased him … which it did, he liked the fact that this lady thought his horse was lovely.

She surprised him now by asking him what he was going to call it and so he looked at her twinkling eyes and smiled “Horse.” he replied and nodded as though that settled any question of what the toy would be named.

Sofia didn’t see the shape of the box she sought. She turned some over and looked at her mother who was removing her bonnet, with that vague smile of content many women would have after what was considered a successful shopping expedition.

She looked at her doll, and sighed. Well, perhaps she should be grateful for what she has, that, she knew would be what Mother and Pa would say if she asked about the longed for extra special gift she had hoped to find among all those parcels. Be grateful. It was hard sometimes – and she sat down while her Mother picked up some packages and after putting one on top of the other so that they were balanced perfectly, left the room to take them upstairs.

Clothes, Sofia thought to herself, just clothes. Martha came in and gathered up one or two boxes which she carried out of the room, and into the kitchen which meant nothing to Sofia who had not a clue as to what anyone would want to buy that would look good or suitable in a kitchen.

That left just a few more boxes and she looked at them thoughtfully, they were too small, too long, too thin, too much of everything else that would indicate they were what she had hoped for…she swallowed disappointment and looked again at her doll. Be grateful, she told herself, no one else in school had a doll like this one. She thought fleetingly of Clarabelle and accepted the fact that the faithful old thing would have to be consigned to wherever it was that unwanted and worn out old toys would have to go.

She turned the doll over and it said “Momma Momma” in a squeaky voice. Clarabelle had never said a word in all her rag doll life…and Nathaniel looked over and came to stand beside her as she smoothed down the blue skirts, and showed off the little boots to him that the doll wore on her slim little legs. Nathaniel wasn’t impressed but showed her his horse, accepted her smile as approval and ran off to play, galloping his horse along the window cill.

The window looked out over the garden and he looked out and saw the colourful flowers, the boughs of trees heavy with blossom, the green of the lawn. It all looked so different from home, different and very pretty. In his own little way he marvelled at the beauty of nature laid out before him, it was the first time he had been aware of thinking anything significant about his surroundings.
…………….

Reuben could not stop from chattering. His few hours on board the Baltimore had been an adventure of a life time, so he said, and one that he was definitely going to tell The Gang all about, especially about his friend Harry Merriweather who had never been to school, nor had wanted to, nor had been forced to go.

Ben and Adam humoured him. It was good for a boy like Reuben to prattle on, and they shared a smile between them over the boy’s head.

“Fancy and he didn’t even know what a bronco was, Pa? I had to explain all about what you did ..he said you were the best ever Captain …did you remember him, Pa?”

Adam nodded “Oh yes, I remember Harry. He was as mischievous as a barrel load of monkeys.”

He smiled at the boy who relaxed back into the leatherwork of the padded seat of the hansom cab. The horse was taking its time getting through the traffic, it was quite congested and when Adam leaned out of the window to see just how far they had gone, and just how far they had yet to go, he sighed, their cab was behind several others, plus one of those cable trams.

As he was about to withdraw his head into the cab his eyes swept over the pedestrians that were strolling by, one couple particularly drew his attention as they strolled arm in arm towards him. They would have passed by without realising he was so close to them had he not called out their names, ordered the cab to stop (not hard to do it already had) and opened the door to step out.

The couple stopped, turned and looked at him…recognition passed over their faces, recognition and amazement, pleasure as they stepped up to him, he to shake Adam’s hand, and she to smile up at him with blue eyes twinkling.

“I can’t believe it? Are you living here in San Francisco now?” the other man asked, as he pumped Adams hand up and down.

“No, just visiting friends…but …you here …what are you doing here?” he turned to the cab “Pa, come and see who it is…”

Reuben was already down and standing with big eyes looking up at the blond haired man with the merry blue eyes and big smile, “I remember you, you came to the Ponderosa that time with Kamille and the foal.”

Laurence Willoughby threw back his head and laughed, a lock of unruly blond hair flopped over his brow, “What a memory. “ he said and shook Reuben’s hand “And how is Kamille? And the foal?”

“Oh they’re doing real swell, sir. The best ever horses -” Reuben said even as Ben came and shook Laurence by the hand and took hold of Rachel’s with great delicacy.

“Where are you staying? We have to meet and talk -” Adam looked at Rachel and smiled to himself at the slight blush on her cheeks, then looked at Laurence who nodded, the smile faded slightly

“Yes, we have to talk, Adam. In fact, we’re here en route to the Ponderosa to find you .”

Something in his eyes – the tightness suddenly on the handsome mouth – Adam nodded, glanced at Rachel who had lowered her eyes while Laurence spoke. Adam touched her on the arm, gently, then smiled

“Olivia will be more than happy to see you again, Rachel.”

“As I will be to see her, Adam.” Rachel replied and then glanced over at the cab “I think your cab man is getting worried about losing his fare…”

“When shall we get together?” Adam asked

“This evening? We’re at the Hotel Grammond, as usual.” Laurence smiled, he nodded at Ben, Reuben but gave Adam a straight stern look “About 8, the restaurant is excellent there as you know.”

Adam nodded, oh yes, he knew how good the food was at the Hotel Grammond he had stayed there often enough during the days of his naval service.

Hands were shaken, they clambered back into the cab but a more subdued air settled in with them, even Reuben felt it, for he was quiet and looked anxiously at his father, then at his grandfather who was tapping thoughtfully at his chin with his fingers.

Chapter 14

Greigson leaned against the door jamb of the ranch house and watched the two horsemen appearing through the dust that was kicked up by their animals hooves..By narrowing his eyes he was able to discern who his visitors were and considered whether or not to close the door and leave them kicking their heels.

The trouble was that with Cartwrights they always kept coming back, so, after spitting into the ground he edged away from the house and stood waiting for them to arrive.

Joe and Hoss slowed their horses and dismounted, throwing the reins over the rail, they nodded at Walter and removed their hats. Hoss wiped sweat that had gathered under the sweat band and nodded over to the old man,

“Howdy, Mr Greigson, a hot day -”

“It is.”

“Er – can we give our horses some water ?” he nodded over to the horse trough and raised his eyebrows

“You can.”

They both nodded their thanks and led the animals to the trough, dipping their hands into the water and throwing it onto their faces and round their necks. It had been a long ride from Virginia City, it had been some while since they had had occasion to come to the Box G, and usually it was straight from the Ponderosa. A direct route cutting out some miles and some time…but that had been in the days of the Laura and Adam romance, some years and a lot of water under the bridge ago.

“I hear Abel has left -” Joe said casually as he strolled back to where Walter remained standing, his arms folded cross his chest as he glared at them both.

“He has.” Walter nodded and cleared his throat “So? What has that to do with this visit?”

“Nothing really I guess.” Joe replied quickly, “We were just wondering if you were managing alright and if you needed any – er – extra help with the round up and branding this year.”

Walter sighed, shook his head and spat again, “Abel was only one man. It’s easy enough to find men this time of year.”

Hoss frowned, he had liked Abel, the thought of him being so casually dismissed by his own father rankled and he gave Walter a dark glare beneath his brows, but Walter shrugged “That’s how it is, take it or leave it. Can’t afford to have bleeding hearts in this business.”

“Well, we were sorry to hear it anyway.” Hoss muttered, “Abel was a decent man, with a good head on him.”

Walter nodded, his wide mouth twitched slightly “Well, takes after his father then, doesn’t he? Or you saying I can’t manage without him here? I may be an old man by your reckoning but I’m still a few years younger than your own Pa…”

“So -” Joe glanced around and nodded over to where further away could be seen
some of the herd grazing on good fertile soil, “Seems you have had a good year, sir.”

“Better than I hear the Ponderosa has done.”

“You heard that, did you?” Hoss said sharply, “What gives you the idea we have a lean year?”

“Talk gets around in the saloons…your men talk …they ain’t mute, are they?”

“Talking about how men talk – we heard something interesting in town today, about the Box G…” Joe stared into the old man’s face, but the older man resembled a slab, expressionless, apart from the eyes which watched both of them with narrow eyed flintiness

“Spit it out then…”

“You sold some land recently – to Burgoyne.” Joe watched for some expression but nothing changed, until Greigson nodded “Just seemed a strange thing to do…I would have thought if you needed to sell land you would have sold it to neighbours youd known for some time.”

“The Ponderosa, you mean?”

“S’right. Pa would have been pleased to have helped out if you needed to raise funds for -”

“I didn’t need to raise funds as you put it, Cartwright. I was given an offer and took Burgoyne up on it, it benefited me and suited him.”

“Was Abel here at the time?” Hoss asked casually, moving a stone with his foot to make it seem as though the question wasn’t really so very important.

“No, he wasn’t.” Walter snapped, and for the first time there was some expression on his face, anger, anxiety and sadness intermixed and fought one another before his face returned to the usual blank features.

“Well, er – just to make sure of how the Ponderosa stands with this transaction, sir, does it affect our borders at all?”

Greigson stared at Joe coldly and then at Hoss, he released a deep breath and stepped down from the porch to walk towards them. “Burgoyne bought land from me – a strip of several acres from Waso Heights down to Millers Creek.”

Joe and Hoss glanced at one another, then at Walter “Miller’s Creek?”

“S’right…just to where my border used to end there, butting onto the Ponderosa.”

“We had an agreement about water rights there, Mr Greigson. Does Mr Burgoyne have them now as well?”

“Best you discuss that with him.”

“But – don’t you need water from the creek? Wasn’t the point of the agreement to protect your rights to the water. What happens if the water on your land dries up and you can’t use the water from Millers Creek?”

Greigson raised his eyebrows, “I’ve already discussed that with Burgoyne. It’s your own concerns that should worry you…not mine…”

They stood a moment glaring at each other and then Hoss turned to look over at the herd “Mighty fine herd you got there, sir.”

“That’s just part of them…” Greigson said smugly

“Quite a few calves…they been branded already?” Hoss raised an eyebrow

“I did well, my cows dropped quite a few twins this year…unusual to see so many, but that’s nature for you, ain’t it?”

“Twins huh?” Hoss frowned and sighed, then glanced over at Joe, who shrugged. “Well, thank you for your time, Mr Greigson. If you need any help with the branding…”

“No need of any help.”

“Any idea when Abel will be coming back?” Joe asked as he turned back to his horse,

“Nope. S’far as I know he don’t intend coming back… now, if you don’t mind, git off my property …” he turned and walked back to the house, pushed open the door and leaned against the framework, watching them.

Hoss sighed, “If I recall rightly,” he whispered to his brother “he keeps a loaded rifle propped by the door.”

“Yeah, I recall that too….” Joe put his foot into the stirrup and swung into the saddle, he had just time to glance back and see Greigson lean into the building, and emerge with a rifle in his hands, “seems like he still does.”

They rode in silence for some distance, their minds turning over and over the things said, the things noticed. Eventually Hoss drew up Chub and glanced over his shoulder,

“You know, Joe, I’ve got an itch…”

His brother immediately drew rein and stopped to look around them, they were riding flat land, nothing in sight by rocks, boulders and a few stunted shrubs only an Indian could hide behind. He glanced at Hoss “I don’t see anyone…”

“Not that kind of itch, Joe. The kind of itch that comes with a feeling that things are going to get complicated in the foreseeable future.”

“Foreseeable future huh? Now you’re beginning to sound like another brother of mine…” Joe rolled his eyes and grinned.

“Seriously, Joe…”

The younger Cartwright nodded “Seriously Hoss, I think tomorrow we visit the Land Registry Office and see Mr Coltrane about any changes to the Box G. Then we go and see Mr Baldacci -”

“The Veterinary? Why?” and Hoss’s eyes widened and he nodded “Ah I see where you’re coming from….that number of twins, would be nothing short of a miracle if they just dropped natural, must be one or two or a dozen that needed help…”

“My thinking too, twin births can be mighty complicated …”

Hoss nodded again, and glanced back over his shoulder, just in case, making sure they weren’t being followed.
,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

Sofia couldn’t wait to tell her father and brother, and even Grandfather that they had bought so many packages and parcels, as soon as the door opened and closed she was running down the hall flourishing Bella for them to see, “I got a new doll. Aunty Martha bought me a new doll.”

Behind her came Nathaniel, smiles wide and eyes sparkling as he held up his horse “Horse.”

“And very handsome too.” Ben said and patted the child on the head, while Reuben ran into the other room with Sofia close behind him, saying something about there being something there for him too.

“Horse!” Nathaniel said again and Adam picked him up and hugged him close “Horse for Nathflannel.”

“A paint -” Adam grinned and looked over at Ben “Remind you of any horse we had, Pa?”

“Surely does,” Ben nodded and looked at the black and white horse again “Cochise, Joe’s horse.”

Adam smiled and holding the boy in the crook of his arm made his way to the sitting room where Sofia was pointing to some parcels still wrapped in some very pretty paper. “The lady in the store wrapped it up for us…that one’s for Hannah.” she inched her way pass another “That one’s for Erik.”

“Seems Martha and Olivia have had quite a spending spree..” Ben chuckled and made his way to the private parlour that Martha preferred to sit in.

She and Olivia were discussing the merits of the latest styles in fashion, which were being modelled in a very colourful brochure advertising certain fashions for the discerning lady. Adam walked to his wife and leaned over Nathaniel to kiss her cheek “Did you buy anything for yourself, sweetheart?”

“I have a new gown.” she said with a slight blush to her cheeks, “but mostly it was gifts for the children and those at home too. It’s a pity Mary Ann and Hester couldn’t have been with us today…there was so much to see.”

Nathaniel held out his toy “Horse – Uncle Joe’s horse .”

Adam laughed and set the boy down, it was good to see his wife looking so happy and relaxed, she stood up to join him, slipping her arm through his “Did you enjoy your day?”

“We did, and we had lunch with Captain Myers on board The Baltimore.” he said quickly, “Reuben was as happy as the proverbial dog with two tails.”

“He ate more than me…” Ben chuckled and sat down on the chair Olivia has just vacated.

“And how was Captain Myers?” Olivia asked anxiously although trying not to make it sound as though she were not anxious at all.

“Very well, Reuben made a friend of one of the middies…Harry Merriweather…” he turned away from where Martha and Ben would be able to see him and brought Olivia round so that they were face to face, “I saw some friends of ours too…”

“Friends of ours? Here in San Francisco?” her brow crinkled as she tried to think what mutual friends would be here in the big city.

“Laurence and Rachel Willougby.” he lowered his voice a little, and looked at her, hoping that he wouldn’t see disappointment in her eyes but she smiled

“Rachel here? Oh that’s lovely, Adam. We must get to see them while they are here, or rather, while we are….we only have two more days after all.”

“Laurence wants us to meet them this evening…for a meal at the Hotel Grammond.”

“Oh my, that’s rather grand…” Olivia said, blushing slightly and her fingers rushing to her scar on her jaw line, “I could never even afford a cup of coffee and slice of cake in there…”

“That was then, this is now…” he whispered and put his fingers over hers and gently removed them from her face. It was becoming a mannerism, one that indicated her vulnerability, “You can wear your new frock?”

She laughed then and leaned forward so that their brows touched, “Can I?” she said “You may not like it…”

“I’m sure I will…”

“It’s – very fashionable -”

His eyes twinkled, he nodded, wondered exactly what they could mean, and was about to speak when the door opened and Reuben stepped into the room, greeted Martha with a smile and then turned to his mother, sighed at the sight of the two of them no doubt kissing and all that stuff, “Pa?”

“Yes, son.” Adam stepped away from his wife, squeezed her fingers “I was just telling Ma how much you had enjoyed your trip on the Baltimore.”

The boys eyes shone and he nodded “It was great, Ma. I got sea legs too, I didn’t wobble about and I got up the ladder – what’s it called Pa – oh yeah – the Jacobs ladder – and I thought I was going to fall in but didn’t and what I wanted to know Pa, was, is it alright to swear?”

“Swear?” Adam asked, frowning at his son and wondering what exactly he was meaning.

“Yeah, Harry said all seamen swear he said a blue streak…and he said …”

“That’s enough, son, whatever Harry said, suggested, hinted at, is best forgotten.”

“But, Pa, he said -”

A hand clamped over his mouth put an end to any further discussion on the subject

Chapter 15

As a senior ranking officer Adam had often stayed at the Hotel Grammond as it was located close to the harbour, and was also a hotel of elegance and charm. Not only that it boasted quite accurately as having an excellent cuisine, staff trained to be diplomatic and discreet, but without the fawning obsequiousness often found in less well established establishments.

The Manager approached Adam and Olivia with a genuine smile of welcome, his hand outstretched “Commodore Cartwright…Mrs Cartwright…what a pleasure to see you both.”

“It’s good to see you again too, Robert, but it is just Mr Cartwright now…”

“Ah, you’ll always be the Commodore to me, sir. Mrs Cartwright – “ he nodded to Olivia and then turned discreetly to the Maitre d’ hovering by his elbow, “Jakob, Lord and Lady Willoughy’s room…” he turned back to Adam “Lord and Lady Willoughby requested a private room for you to enjoy your evening together. Jakob will take you”

Jakob gave the slightest of bows and led the way through the hotel reception area with its marbled floor and on to the wide sweep of stairs “This way, sir, madam…”

They turned left at the first landing with its thick carpeting and wooden panelled walls, and into a corridor with several doors leading off. Olivia wondered why they didn’t use an elevator which she had noticed on the way to the stairs, and chided herself with a smile at how, within a few days, she had become so used to the lazier and more modern conveniences. How much grander to sweep up a stairway with one’s long skirts brushing across the smooth carpeting, listening to it swish swishing behind her.

Jakob knocked, inclined his head slightly in order to hear the voice from within bid them enter, then pushed open the door, stood aside for Adam and Olivia to enter the room.

Laurence was standing by the window, and now turned to face them. A handsome man, his blond hair still thick, still with that unruly way of flopping over his brow as ever. He now wore a moustache, which neither added to or detracted from his looks, his blue eyes lingered upon them even as they crinkled warmly from his smile.

“Adam…Olivia…so glad you could come.”

He crossed the room, took Olivia’s hand, bowed slightly and kissed her fingers before turning to Adam, and shaking his friend warmly by the hand. “Olivia you look lovely.”

Then he turned slightly at the soft rustle of his wife’s skirts as she approached them, a smile on her face. Rachel, Laurence’s pretty wife, smiled upon her approach to them and leaned in to kiss both of them on the cheek “It’s so good to see you both. I couldn’t believe it when Adam jumped out of that cab…I ’m so happy to see you both again.”

She laughed then, gripped Adam’s hand more tightly than would be considered socially correct, and then looked at Olivia, “Thank you for coming this evening. It didn’t disrupt any previous plans you had, did it?”

“Oh no, as soon as Adam had said he had met you both I said we should make arrangements to see you and so this evening suited us very well.”

Olivia glanced at Adam and smiled, even though she knew the story of Rachel’s infatuation with her husband she bore no feelings of anxiety or irritation, for the woman so obviously loved Laurence. They drifted towards the table where floral displays had been carefully placed among the silver cutlery and crystal cut glasses.

“Are the children with you?” Olivia asked, and turned to accept the glass of wine that Laurence had held out to her.

“No, they are in France with their grandparents.” Rachel replied with just the slightest of edges to her voice. Olivia wondered if there was some disharmony between her and the English parents in law, she assumed that for both them and Rachel there would be some degree of difficulties in acceptance of different cultures and social breeding.

Laurence glanced at Adam and then smiled at Olivia “My parents wanted to stay over at their house in Lille, it seemed – appropriate – for the children to stay with them.”

“They are well, aren’t they?” Olivia asked, pausing only to sip her wine and glance at Rachel as she asked and noting the softening of the other woman’s face could see that the children were loved and missed

“Both as well as can be, both are mischievous little monkeys….but the liven up the old place no end. “ Laurence replied and Rachel nodded with a smile of matronly pride and tenderness

“I miss them, not being here with us, but they are better off going with their grand parents and cousins.” Rachel took the glass of wine her husband passed to her, and sipped it, “The five of them will love their time with their grand parents, they get spoiled rotten…and France is beautiful at this time of the year.”

Then she sighed, and Olivia felt that no matter what Rachel said, she was missing them terribly. She was about to speak when Adam asked if they had heard from Peggy Dayton at all. “I would expect that your ships must have passed each other -”

“Peggy -” Rachel laughed and shook her head, “Oh dear, that girl -, she is turning poor Maurice’s hair grey!”

“What has she done now?” Olivia enquired and tried to anticipate the response but Rachel’s laughter faded to a slight smile and shake of the head,

“She decided to stay in America. Of course the expedition to Cairo that Maurice had arranged has fallen through due to the situation there …” she glanced at Adam “you know there is fighting there, an attempt to overthrow the Khedive?”

“I had heard.” Adam nodded “So Peggy turned down Maurice’s proposal…”

“It’s in abeyance…let’s put it like that ….” Laurence sighed, “Peggy doesn’t really know what she wants in life, but at the moment it seems Votes for women and suffrage are her main concerns. She plans to work along with some other women of like mind … turn the world upside down as a result.”

A polite knock on the door and then it was pushed open by Jakob who stood by to allow several waiters to enter pushing large trolleys laden with covered dishes from which tantalising smells were wafting.

Talk over the meal was relaxed and easy, they laughed over old stories, over the antics of their respective children, it was only when Adam asked them why they were in San Francisco that a slight frisson chilled the air, it was slight, lasted but a few seconds but it had existed. He leaned forward

“Is something wrong?”

Rachel glanced anxiously at her husband and then at Olivia, before she looked at Adam, nodded slightly, “There is a problem. We need your help.”

“Well, ask..just say…what is it you need?” Adam replied immediately.

Laurence looked at his wife now, his eyes gentled as he did so, then he turned to Adam “When do you return to the Ponderosa?”

“On Friday.”

“Is it possible for Rachel to come with you?”

Olivia glanced at the other woman, this, she sensed was not a request for Rachel to have a holiday, there was obviously something else involved. “Is there something wrong? Has something happened?”

Laurence sighed and was about to speak when the waiter came from behind him to refill his glass. He frowned, as though suddenly realising that they were not alone in the room, it was so easy for someone used to servants to forget that they were there, ears listening, tongues ready to gossip over what they heard as they quietly went about the business of filling glasses, serving food, removing plates, just standing there pretending to be invisible. He forced a smile and nodded his thanks to the waiter,

“Remember when I first met you, Adam? On the Kuril Islands…”

“I remember.” Adam nodded and picked up his glass, noted the wariness in his friends eyes, “You rescued O’Brien from a fate worse than death…”

“Yes, so I did. A death that my brother Archer was unable to avoid.”

Adam nodded again remembering only too well the distress of the other man at the news of Archer’s death, the brother he had been seeking for so long dead even before he had begun his search and no one knowing….he sighed “And Charles? Your other brothers? Are they all well?”

“Charles still has his post – still unmarried – insists no one would want him anyway, but he is the eldest, in line for the Dukedom should father pass on. Archer – dead as you know…then there was Jamie…”

“Was?”

“Sadly so, he was killed at Isandhlwana, in Africa, a few months ago.“ he glanced up, “You heard about it I gather?“

Adam shook his head “Sadly not, European news, doesn’t often filter through to Virginia City. If it does, I’m afraid we are often behind times with catching up on it.”

“Of course. America has problems of its own, no reason for you to know after all.” Laurence replied quietly and pushed his glass away, “James was one of a thousand soldiers, colonial and native allies who were killed at Isandhlwana by a force of 20,000 Zulu’s …they were totally outnumbered and – brutally killed.” he swallowed, his brother’s death obviously still affecting him “Then they went on to attack a military garrison at Rorke’s Drift, where only a 100 men, some injured and sick, fought them off for eleven hours…”

“I didn’t realise, I’m sorry.” Adam replied quietly and could feel the pleasant mood that had prevailed slowly dissipating.

Rachel cleared her throat “We were in France when we heard, with James’ wife and children. It was devastating, as you can imagine.”

Laurence nodded, then, as though there was enough misery, time to throw it off, be light hearted, he laughed quietly “Well, that just leaves my brother Algy who is in the Navy – and myself hanging onto Charles’ coat tails. I’m no longer trailing at No. 5, the son who can do whatever he wants because no one really cares as I was not in the running for the Dukedom..now, it isn’t so easy and I have – other things – apart from my painting.” he glanced over at Olivia “Perhaps I could paint your portrait before we return to England.”

Rachel laughed, another attempt to be lighthearted “Remember the portrait he did of me, Adam..”

“Oh yes, the one sent on to me to remind me of the beauty I had left behind in Egypt…” Adam smiled and nodded over at her, that time seemed like it had all belonged to someone else.

“Have you heard from any of the American officers whom Grant sent out to assist the Khedive, Adam?” Laurence glanced sharply at his friend before looking down at his glass

“No, I believe that Stone* is the only one still there.”

“He’s been recalled. He has a new assignment, to design the plinth upon which a huge statue is going to be erected.*”

“A statue?” Olivia asked and frowned “I think I read about it…the Government is* planning to have an enormous statue to be placed on Ellis Island. A statue that will welcome all emigrants to America. But it hasn‘t been built yet has it?

“No, it‘s still in the process of being built, it could take years.”

Adam nodded “A bit different from serving the Khedive in Egypt for so long, Stone won’t be too happy about that…”

“Things were getting too hot in Egypt for him to stay any longer. All the other officers had long gone.” Laurence murmured.

“And what about Anna? Her husband, Said Hassim? Are they alright?” Adam asked quietly, and glanced at Rachel, for Anna was her sister, dearly beloved by her but married to a cousin of the Khedive.

Rachel turned her face away and said nothing. Waiters came to remove dishes and place before them the desserts…more wine was poured into empty glasses … Laurence nodded and then asked them to leave.

“Will you want anything else, sir?”

“Coffee in half an hour.”

The door closed with a silence that showed how well oiled the hinges were, a little of
the dessert was eaten although no one seemed to find any pleasure in any of it. After a while Laurence looked at Adam “Shall we have some brandy on the balcony, there is a good view of the harbour bay from there….” he turned to Rachel and leaned down to kiss her cheek then glanced at Olivia “We’ll leave you ladies to talk.”

It was Laurence who poured out the brandy and then both men stepped through the open glass doors onto the balcony. It was a calm pleasantly warm evening, the lights of the city glittered beyond them, the reflection of the moon upon the harbour waters were like silver streaks upon black velvet.

“What’s happening, Laurence? What’s going on?”

Adam kept his voice low, even though there was no possible way anyone could hear a word that was being spoken. Laurence looked at him and nodded

“I need your help.”

“I already said, you’ve got it. Rachel can stay on the Ponderosa with us for long as you wish. I’m presuming it isn’t a holiday -”

“No, it’s – it’s for my peace of mind. She insisted on coming with me and – well – with one thing and another – I mean – with what I have to do this is really as far as she can come. I don‘t want her to be marooned in San Francisco, but – I hoped you wouldn‘t mind if she stayed with your family on the Ponderosa.”

He paused and swallowed some brandy “And what do you have to do?“ He sighed “This Zulu war – is it still going on? I’m sorry being so ignorant about world events but I’ve kept as far removed from being involved in -”

“No -” Laurence raised a hand, then shook his head “No, sorry, Adam, no the Zulu
War rumbles on, I heard before leaving England that the two month seige on Eshowe* has ended.. It’s all been pretty bloody but I guess war’s like that, isn’t it?”

“Then what’s going on …?” he looked more deeply into his friends’ face, cast in shadows though it was, “Why are you here – not just to arrange for Rachel’s stay at the Ponderosa is it?”

“No.”

“Are you in danger? What help do you need?”

“Adam – “ Laurence cleared his throat “Have you ever wondered why Grant and Disraeli sent you off to Egypt that time?”

“Because I was there – I was – available. Why?” his brow crinkled, he swallowed down brandy, and wished he hadn’t taken such a large mouthful but he was beginning to feel panic swirling in his stomach

“It was because you’re stubborn, obstinate and – and have the knack of finding things out, and then sticking at it until you get a solution.”

“I thought it was to get me out of the way of the Generals, we were having our own problems with the Plains Indians at the time and …”

“Hear me out – please.” Laurence again cleared his throat, “Anna – we don’t know where Anna is, Said was killed, brutally, in front of her and – “

“How do you know this? “

Laurence shook his head and shrugged “Charles has his contacts, one of whom is the wife of a cousin of Chaille Long.”

Adam narrowed his eyes, he drank more whiskey “Go on…”

“I met her today – she gave me – information – “

“Sylvia Soames?”

“You know about her?” Laurence looked incredulous.

“By a co-incidence only. Soames, her father, was the Medical Officer on board the Baltimore? Remember?””

“Vaguely”

“He’s here in San Francisco, at the Hospital. We had an appointment to see him this week. Sylvia was at his home and I’ve seen Myers, he mentioned her – as the widow of Chaille-Longs cousin.” Adam finished the last of the brandy “Soames never mentioned her as other than his daughter, with his name, although he did mention that she was a widow.”

“Yes, her husband died some years ago….” Laurence murmured and shrugged “The fact is that I have to find Anna.” he looked directly at Adam now, meeting the dark eyes defiantly “I need your help.”

“To find Anna?”

“Yes.”

“And is that all?”

Laurence didn’t answer but looked down at his glass and pursed his lips, Adam breathed heavily through his nostrils, then shook his head “No. I can’t get involved in this kind of thing any more, Laurence.”

“But I need your help, Adam, I was told to come here and ask you by the highest authority.”

“No, Laurence…” he raised a hand the empty glass still between his fingers “No, I can’t, and I don’t want to be involved. I don’t know anything about the politics going on today, I’m not involved in this kind of thing anymore, I don’t want to be involved…do you understand?”

“It isn’t just Anna’s life though, Adam…it could mean so many others …”

“There are other men you could contact and work along with, Laurence. You Don’t need me. I don’t need you. I don’t want to be involved.”

“You wouldn’t be going to Egypt if that’s what you’re afraid of…”

“Don’t you understand what I’m saying to you, Laurence? I don’t want this kind of involvement in the kind of thing you are hinting …I promised Livvy I would not go to sea, would not get dragged into trouble …because nothing involving you, your brother, your Prime Minister, is trouble free….no, I don’t want to hear any more.” he stepped towards the door and then turned “And not a word of it to Livvy either…I don’t want her upset.”

Chapter 16

It was obvious to both men, as soon as they had stepped back into the room, that the two women had been talking between themselves about matters other than the children and running the home. Rachel turned her head away in the hope that neither man had seen her red rimmed eyes, and Olivia quickly withdrew her hand from that of her friends while casting a look at Adam before turning away.

A knock on the door and the waiter returned with the coffee steaming while another followed with the necessary makings. The four remained silent as coffee was poured and handed to them “Is there anything else you need, My Lord?”

“Nothing, thank you.” Laurence nodded and watched as they left the room, the door closed.

Adam touched his friend’s arm and nodded towards the table where they withdrew, while Olivia and Rachel whispered together, their blonde heads almost touching.

“If Rachel comes to the Ponderosa where will you be going?” Adam enquired, his dark eyes fixed on his friends face and a feeling of anxiety settling in the pit of his stomach at noticing the way Laurence’s eyes avoided his

“That really is none of your concern now, Adam. You made it quite clear that you don’t want to be party to this matter.”

“Doesn’t mean that I’m not concerned for you. There’s obviously some danger involved, some – matters – more delicate than finding your sister in law. What is it? Some political gambit? Money?” he frowned “I heard enough about Ismail to know he was bankrupt…”

Laurence shook his head “It has nothing to do with you, Adam. I can’t discuss the matter any further. It’s closed. Forget it, please.”

“How can I? Rachel’s distressed and has obviously mentioned something to Livvy…”

“Of course Rachel’s distressed, you know yourself how close she and Anna were – are – the fact that we know what we know about Said is bad enough – “ Laurence looked down at the swirling liquid in his cup, sighed and gulped it down “Leave it now. You’re not involved.”

“Who said I should be..? This couldn’t be just your idea …was it Charles?”

“Not just Charles.”

Laurence stared into his friend’s dark eyes and then walked away to join the women who were putting on a show of bravado that wouldn’t have disgraced a performance by Lotta Crabtree.

……………..

The evening ended uncomfortably, despite everyone’s attempt to revive the good feelings that had been there at the beginning. They parted with kisses and hand shakes, and the promise that Rachel would be at Martha’s early the morning of their departure.

In the hansom cab bearing them back to the town house there was a quietness between the couple, not exactly uncomfortable, for she held his hand in hers and then leaned back and closed her eyes. They didn’t speak all the way home to Martha’s.

Gates was there to take their coats, asked if they wished for something to drink before retiring and confirmed that Martha and Ben had retired themselves just an hour previously, The children had slept well.

They almost tip toed up to the room provided them, and it was as she was pulling out the pins from her hair and each strand fell loose upon her shoulders that Olivia spoke.

“Rachels’ heart broken, Adam.”

“I know, I could see that, she and Anna were very close.” he pulled away at his collar and tossed his shirt onto the back of a chair.

“I don’t understand what could have happened over there…why didn’t they leave Egypt when all this trouble started? They could have been safe in England or back here in America”

Adam looked thoughtfully at his wife. She had looked beautiful, as ever, at the evenings gathering, the new gown had shown her figure off to perfection, and if she were fuller in the hips and breasts than when they had first met, he had no objections to that , as Hoss would say, what man finds comfort in skin and bones! He shook such thoughts away and approached her to sit on the end of the bed so that he could watch her reflection in the mirror and she could see his…

He smoothed out one of the strands of her hair, and curled the end of it around his finger. “I think events moved too quickly for them.”

“Rachel said they had an idea everything was going wrong a long time ago. It just seemed that something Said had done a few years ago made him want to stay and support his cousin, show his loyalty.”

“Misplaced loyalty.”

“So it seems…” she sighed and picked up her brush. The spectacles had been set aside and glinted back a reflection of the candlelight. “Adam – she was hoping you would help Laurence find Anna.”

He frowned now, and caught her eyes reflected back at him in the mirror as they were, “What did she say?”

“That Laurence was going to ask you to help him.”

“To find Anna?”

“Yes.”

“Nothing else?”

“Should there have been?”

“Usually -” he reached out and took the brush from her hand, and then sat there behind her holding it for a while, “Usually there are strings attached.”

“Political strings you mean?”

“You have to remember that Laurence’s brother, Charles, is employed by the British Government, and Laurence does what Charles and – his superior – tell him.”

“Like you did when you were in the Navy?”

“That’s right. But I’m not in the Navy now, and the only person I take orders from, my love, is you.” he smiled hoping to gain a smile from her but she remained seriously stern. “I told him that I didn’t want to be involved…”

“Oh Adam…how could you tell him that? He’s your friend, and Anna needs your help, Rachel needs your help. They came to you …”

Adam tossed the brush onto the dressing table where it clattered among the boxes there, sending a bottle of perfume toppling onto the floor. “What are you saying, Livvy? What are you saying?”

“I just thought you would help them, Rachel expected you to ..she said you would not let them down, you would do all you could to help them.”

He stood up, put a hand over his eyes and then slowly drew his hand down over his face, then shook his head, and threw his arms wide in exasperation “I don’t understand you, Livvy. I don’t believe what you’re saying….”

She stood up now, thrust out her chin and glared at him “I’m only saying what they said…what Rachel hoped…”

“And what did you expect me to do? Tell me ? What did you expect me to do?”

He didn’t shout, but his voice was angry, abrupt and Olivia shook her head and turned her back on him, only for him to grab at her shoulders and turn her around to face him. “Tell me, Livvy?”

“I expected you to help your friend. That’s all.”

“That’s all?” he stared at her, their eyes met, then he released her and shook his head, and once again he said “I don’t understand you, Livvy.”

She stared at him a while longer and then turned her back on him, sat down and picked up her brush, drew in a deep breath “Adam, I thought you would agree to go with Laurence…”

“Go where? Did Rachel tell you?”

“No, she doesn’t know where Anna is …except that she isn’t in Egypt now. They had information from the Foreign Office before coming here ..and confirmation today from some one else.”

“She could be anywhere.”

“Laurence said – to Rachel – that if anyone could find her then you would. You knew people…”

“No, I don’t…not any more…” he scowled and began to pace the floor, rubbing the nape of his neck and casting anxious almost angry glares at her “I don’t want to be involved in that kind of thing anymore.”

“What kind of thing? Looking for a lost woman? If it were Hester or Mary Anne you would move heaven and earth to find her.”

“That’s different. I told Laurence I wouldn’t help him because of you…”

He sat down, slumped himself down on the end of the bed and stared at her through the mirror. She paused in brushing her hair and screwed up her face, her eyes narrowed and in a tone of disbelief cried “Because of me?”

“I promised you that I wouldn’t go to sea, get involved with anything that would take me away from you and the children…or had you forgotten that when you were being so sympathetic to Rachel.”

“Adam -” she turned to him, the brush in her hand which she pointed at him as a man would point a revolver “Adam, how dare you bring that up in such a situation as this. It has nothing to do with that – that promise. I didn’t want you to go back into the Navy, to go to sea for months at a time, to get involved in anything that could put your life in danger. Don’t forget one of your arguments is that a man can get killed on a cattle drive, that you can be months away from home herding those wretched cows from one place to another and don’t forget…” she tossed the brush at him, catching him in the chest and with a shake of her head got up from her chair and stormed out of the room.

She didn’t slam the door behind her, but she wished that she could have done, just for the satisfaction of hearing it bang shut as a emphatic echo of her outrage.

Adam rubbed his chest for a second or two and shook his head. He and Olivia seldom argued, never once had she thrown anything at him. In a way it was quite a novel experience and he gave a slight smile even as he walked to the door and carefully opened it.

He found Olivia in the parlour sitting beside a dying fire, poking at it savagely as though it gave her some satisfaction at seeing the white ashed logs crumbling beneath her onslaught.

She didn’t move even though she heard the door open and close quietly behind him. Even when he came and sat beside her and put a hand on her arm, she wondered if she should apologise, or if she should wait for him to do so first. The clock chimed midnight. She sighed and looked away from him.

“Promises are made and meant to be kept, Livvy.”

She cleared her throat, but said nothing.

“There’s a clause in my Contract that says I could be recalled at any time if the nation is in danger….well, it isn’t …I don’t have to be involved”

“He’s your friend.”

“You’re my wife. It’s a question of loyalty, Livvy. My first priority is to you, to my conscience too…” he put a hand on her arm, and expected it to be shaken off, but it was not, so he released a sigh and waited.

“”I understand what you’re saying, Adam. But she spoke so confidently about the help you would give them. I felt so proud that my husband could be expected to achieve so much…and she told me what you had done before, in Egypt, how you had saved Said and Anna, even Ismael…”

“That was different. There was a plot to kill the President when he went to Eygpt. To kill him and Ismael, to involve America in what could have been a bloody war. It was different …”

She half turned then and looked at him “That’s what I mean, it is different, all they want is your help to find a missing woman. Her sister. Her younger sister. She feels protective of her…she’s terrified that the people who killed Said have her locked up somewhere and she – she’s so frightened for her.”

“If it was just that -”

“It is, it is…I ..”

“You want me to break my promise to you? To leave you and the children? What if this isn’t just a search for a missing woman? What if this is a lot more…”

“How can it be? How?” she looked into his dark eyes, saw the last flicker of the fires flame reflected back in them, and then turned away.

“My dear Olivia, you are so naïve…so innocent…and so is Rachel if she thinks this search is just about her missing sister. Where Charles Willoughby, the Foreign Office in Britain and Disraeli are concerned, it is never that simple.”

She felt her heart hammering against her ribs then, the realisation that he could be right, that Rachel was innocently unaware of things far more involved. She stared at the dying fire, the logs finally crumpled, sparks creeping up the chimney like little red soldier ants.

He put her hands on her shoulders and gently turned her to face him, looked into her face, saw a mellowing in her eyes “At the moment this country is having to handle internal problems, there are no wars, no rebellions, nothing external that could cause me to be recalled…although I think I am too old for them to bother anyway…” he paused, and sighed “I think there is more involved with Anna, the British Government has problems with Egypt, Africa and who knows where else…if I get involved as an American, it could become – difficult.”

She leaned against him, her head on his chest, and he gently stroked the soft silk of her hair, and leaned his cheek upon it, for a moment they said nothing, just stayed quietly together. He looked at the fire and realised that that evening he had lost a friend, and with Rachel, he had betrayed a trust.

Chapter 17

Mr Baldacci was a third generation Italian American, and had been born in New York among a community of Italians which left him with dark Italian looks, a fluency in Italian and a penchant for Italian food. In the 1860’s he attended the Cornell University in Ithaca, New York* , the first college of veterinary medicine in the United states. After graduation he enrolled in the army as a Farrier/Veterinary, was given the rank of Regimental Sergeant Major and earned $75 per month.*

In 1870 he chose to re-locate to Nevada, eventually arriving in Virginia City where he and his family had become the only Veterinary surgeons in the area. His eldest son had graduated from Veterinary College and happily worked alongside his father. The Cartwrights had had recourse to use their services on numerous occasions so when Hoss and Joe pushed their way through the door they were immediately greeted with wide smiles from Baldacci Snr,

“ A long time since we saw you, Joe, Hoss. Are you all well?”

“We are…and yourself, Mr Baldacci?”

“Yes, very well.” the black eyes twinkled, he brought his hand up to his face in order to brush it along the length of his dark moustache, “What can I do for you? A sick cow perhaps?”

“Not that we are aware of, Mr Baldacci.” Hoss removed his hat and looked around the room, where jars and packages were stacked neatly on shelves, looking more like Paul Martins surgery. The skeleton of a small animal stood on a wooden plaque on one shelf, carefully pieced together and fascinating to anyone who needed to venture into the building.

“Mr Baldacci…” Joe rubbed the back of his neck and sighed “We were wondering if you could shed some light on a problem we have just now…”

“A problem? With your horses? Perhaps glanders…that’s can be serious, it’s highly contagious you know, and can affect humans, I once …”

“No, not anything to do with horses.” Joe gave a fleeting smile, then nodded a greeting to Baldacci Jnr who had stepped through the inner door to join them.

Mario Baldacci was a paler version of his father, it was as though the Italian genes had been bleached out of him but his smile and warmth were equal to Vincents and he came and stood by his side, leaning against the counter that separated them from their clients.

“Have you had reason to attend to the Greigson’s spread recently?” Hoss blurted out, “Only we just been to see him and he tells me he has had a bumper crop of twins born on the Box G.” he glanced from one Baldacci to the other “Is that possible?”

The two Veterinaries glanced at one another, frowned and looked thoughtful, Vincent shrugged and Mario rubbed his chin, “It is possible…but rare…” Mario replied

“I remember being called out there – before Abel Greigson left, that was to deliver some twin calves.” Vincent said thoughtfully, “There was some difficulty with the births, but they were healthy, small as one would expect. I wasn’t called out again.” he frowned “It can happen you know, multiple births may be rare, but they do happen.”

“Greigson gave the impression that he had practically a whole herd of twins…” Hoss narrowed his eyes and looked at Vincent who shook his head, while Mario shrugged.

“I was there a few weeks back, there was a problem with a birth, a big bull calf got stuck in the birth canal, took a good deal of tugging and pulling … but I didn’t get to deliver any twins.”

Vincent leaned on the counter and looked from one Cartwright to the other “How about yourselves? Have you had a good number of twins born on the Ponderosa?”

“No, in fact we’ve had a low birth count altogether. Were expecting more but seems like – “ Hoss shrugged “they plain disappeared.”

The Baldacci’s looked at one another, Vincent sighed and Mario nodded

“It can happen” Mario said, “A result of over grazing perhaps, or even multiple abortions, miscarriages…”

“Not seen much sign of them.” Joe muttered.

“Ah” Vincent shrugged “the Ponderosa’s a large territory, Joe, and it has many predatory animals, I doubt if you would find remains easily.”

“And -” Mario added “You have had some years of excellent growth in your herds, it is quite reasonable to assume that your meadows have been overgrazed, as I said before, it happens, no reason to assume it wouldn’t happen to yourselves.”

“Also” Mario stood up and paced the floor a moment or two “Abel was experimenting with different food stuffs. He liked looking into things like that, always quite adventuresome. He told us that he had ordered some thing that would add something – “ he paused to think “it would bulk out the grass, provide extra nutrients and such to the herd. He was very proud of his livestock.”

“Very proud.” Vincent nodded with a respect that made both Cartwrights feel that they were not proud enough.

“Could that be the cause of so many twins being born?” Joe asked, “All those added nutrients as you call it…”

“I don’t know, he never said what he was actually putting down. He said it came from the Steppes of Russia and cost a small fortune.” Mario looked at his father who nodded

“He never told me what it was either, so I’m afraid I can’t really help you although it has been known that cattle could produce more twins with certain additions to their feed. But I have only read about it recently in the brochures we get and have not first hand knowledge. “

“Perhaps we have now, Father.” Mario said excitedly, “We should visit the Box G and look into this, it may be that the Greigsons have hit upon some formula that could change things dramatically. More cattle, more beef and – more profit.”

“For the rancher..” Vincent said with a cautionary note in his voice. Mario nodded, and looked more thoughtful as a result, his enthusiasm not exactly waning but curbed.

“So then, it ain’t possible for so many calves, but it could happen -”

“Probably.” Vincent replied with a slightly cautious tone to his voice “We shall have to go and check it out with Mr Greigson, although that won’t be easy, he isn’t always happy to talk to us…about anything.”

Joe sighed and nodded “well, thanks again.” he picked up his hat and nodded once more, then followed Hoss from the building. Feeling totally dissatisfied with the discussion he had just had with the two Baldacci‘s he looked at Hoss and shook his head, “Well, that didn‘t really tell us much, did it?”

“Didn’t realise that Abel was so interested in things like he was…getting fancy stuff from Russia…do you reckon we should go find out what it is?”

Joe shrugged “Look, it doesn’t explain why we have fewer calves and they have so many, does it?”

“Maybe Mr Baldacci’s right, perhaps we have let ‘em overgraze, and lack of good grazing can affect cows, it’s been known…”

“Huh.” Joe scowled, he hated to admit that anything on the Ponderosa could be faulty, that there could be a problem that they had neglected due to poor husbandry and management.

They stopped next at the Land Registry Office where Mr Coltrane was busily writing down reports. His neat handwriting graced many a document stored away in the Ponderosa safe. He glanced up as the door opened “Be with you in a minute.”

The door closed and the two brothers stood there watching the little man as he continued to write. The sun shone through the window onto Mr Coltrane’s bald head, making it shine. Ink from his pen stained his fingers, but he carefully blotted what he had written, set it to one side and then looked up, recognised the Cartwrights and nodded a greeeting.

Mr Coltrane was a man who took life seriously, there was no welcoming smile just an anxious look that he was about to encounter time talking when he would rather be writing down reports. He walked over to them and shook their hands, carrying out the courtesies in life was important to anxious little men like Coltrane.

“What can I do for you two gentlemen?” he nodded over to two chairs that faced a desk, he took the more comfortable chair behind the desk and folded his hands neatly on the blotter.

“Well, sir,” Hoss began and pulled out a chair which squealed across the floor boards.
“We understand that Mr Greigson of the Box G recently sold some land to Mr Burgoyne and …”

“I know the piece you mean.” Coltrane nodded, “It wasn’t so much sold, though.” he pulled out some papers and flicked through them before pulling out a map which he unfolded and laid out on the desk “It is this section you mean, isn’t it?”

“We just wanted to know how it affected the Ponderosa….Mr Burgoyne is new to the area and we needed to know what his boundaries are, if they have changed…” Joe stammered.

“Nothing has changed with regard to the Ponderosa.” Coltrane said and stabbed at a section on the map, both Cartwrights stared at the stubby finger as though hypnotised.

“Seems like he’s bought a chunk of the Box G …” Hoss muttered

“This bit here -” Coltrane said and his finger crawled like a snail over the map in a wide curve until it returned upon itself, “It extends Burgoyne’s land by about 100 acres, includes some of the creek but not all because it’s origins come from the mountains, sweeps down underground on the Box G land and comes through here…” he stabbed at a point on the map, still Box G land, they followed his finger along the blue line that denoted the creek wending its way through and down into the Ponderosa.

“Why’d he buy just that chunk?” Hoss muttered

Coltrane sighed and shrugged “Why does anyone buy any land – if there’s a blade of grass on it you can put cattle on there, and if there’s water then that’s even better. But-” he leaned forward, his eyes narrowing, “Mr Burgoyne didn’t buy it…it was exchanged …”

“Exchanged?” the brothers repeated like two parrots

“S’right. Mr Greigson owed Mr Burgoyne quite a substantial sum of money, a gambling debt.” he leaned closer, they could smell the sour content of his breath, “They came here to discuss where they were going to do the exchange, Burgoyne chose this section of land because his wife had seen it and liked the look of it..it’s a pretty piece of property to be sure…then Abel came in, burst in like a tornado he did, and he sounded off at his old man for even thinking of getting rid of any land. Old Man Greigson was furious and swore and cursed like you’d never imagine and Mr Burgoyne looked embarrassed and tried to smooth things down between them, and then Greigson said “Do you want it or not.” and then grabbed my pen and signed the deed. Abel swore then, and stormed out of the office, slammed that door so I thought the glass would shatter. Ain’t seen hide nor hair of ‘em since.”

Joe looked down at the map, his quick eyes noticed that the boundaries remained the same with the Box G and the Ponderosa as they had been for many years, since Frank Dayton had first purchased the land for the Running D. He sighed and stood up, shook the little man by the hand and thanked him, Hoss did likewise….then they left the building, closing the door carefully behind them

“Wal, he sure likes to talk some…” Hoss said replacing his hat and shaking his head.

“Yeah, he sure does.”

They stood awhile in silence, glancing up and down the side walk, watching people pass by, some of whom greeted them with a nod or a smile or a halloo. Hoss glanced at the town hall clock “Dadgumit, Im starving, let’s eat before we do anything else…”

“I’m confused.”

“So’m I.” Hoss replied and turned towards the Internationale, “But seems like so far as the land is concerned we ain’t got nothing to worry about….but that danged talk about them calves … I jest can’t git my head around that no how.”

They walked a few paces towards the hotel, Hoss’ stomach rumbled a sure sign he was in need of food, Joe paused “I didn’t know Mr Burgoyne was married.”

“Guess he would have to be if he has two sons…”

“I mean, still married..I got the impression he was a widower, like Pa.”

Hoss shrugged, the thought had not even occurred to him. They walked along to the hotel in a companionable but confused state of mind, although Hoss’ mind settled more and more as the thought of food permeated through the muddle.

Chapter 18

In San Francisco the day had dawned dry and warm with the promise of hotter weather to come later in the day. Gates had opened the large doors to the garden so that the smell of the flowers could drift into the room, although the aroma of breakfast rather added to it.

Martha sat with a satisfied smile on her still pretty face. The chatter of children had been something never heard at her table before this visit from the Cartwrights and in some ways it made her feel wistful for something she had never had, never known. She caught Ben looking at her and nodded, knowing that he would have understood how she felt and wished that he had not grown so fond of her. She was well aware of the fact that even though Julian was the love of her life, she could so easily succumb to being Ben’s wife, were he to ask.

She shook herself out of her reverie and listened to Sofia telling Nathaniel to eat his food in order to grow up big and strong. Martha liked the little girl, she recognised a strong character, someone who would grow up to be fiesty, independent. She noticed that Olivia looked unhappy, the smiles were not as forthcoming as usual, and there was a look of strain in her eyes, and not just due to her eye problems. Martha thought her younger friend looked very fashionable wearing the spectacles, and smiled when she remembered the fuss she herself had made when she first had to wear them. They didn’t have to detract from one’s appearance and Olivia was an extremely attractive young woman.

She was about to ask if everything was alright, perhaps there had been too much rich food served the previous evening when they had dined out with their friends, or perhaps a sleepless night…but as she leaned forwards across the table the door opened and Gates said in a quiet voice that still somehow could be heard over the chatter and clatter at the table “A young lady to see Mr and Mrs Cartwright …I’ve put her in the parlour.”

‘Like some lost package,’ Olivia thought and glanced at Martha who smiled and nodded, and who then turned to Gates and asked him to make sure their visitor had something refreshing to drink.

Excusing themselves Adam and Olivia left the table, cast down their napkins and made their exit from the room. Olivia glanced over at her husband who did not look at her, his mind too busy calculating exactly who their guest could be…as for herself, she dreaded that she was going to have to face Sylvia Soames and be forced to spend the day in company with her.

The woman standing by the fireplace was slim and very pretty, blonde haired, wearing a smart outfit that could only have come from some London salon, and a bonnet perched at just the right angle to show off her blue eyes and high cheek bones. When the door opened she turned, and forced herself to smile, then blinked back tears when Olivia hurried to her side, hand outstretched towards her

“Rachel, what are you doing here?”

“I had to come – I had to -” Rachel Willoughby seized hold of Olivia’s hand and allowed herself to be led to a settee upon which both sat, then both turned to look at Adam who stood in the centre of the room with his eyes glancing from one to the other,

“Does Laurence know you’re here? Did you come alone?” he asked, and then without waiting for a reply he walked to the window, inched the curtain to one side and glanced out “You told the cab to wait?”

“Yes….” Rachel nodded, then pulled out a handkerchief from her purse, dabbed at her eyes “I had to come to speak to you, Adam.”

“You told Laurence you were coming?”

“No, he doesn’t know. He had to go out to meet someone earlier. I couldn’t stay in that hotel room any longer, not without knowing – knowing why you wouldn’t help us.”

“Rachel, Laurence brought you to America for your safe keeping, not for you to go riding around the city on your own. Don’t you realise..”

“I do realise, but seeing you is surely worth the risk.”

“I would be seeing you anyway, when you come with us to the Ponderosa.” he looked at her, saw the way her eyes widened, filled with tears and then how her head drooped as though too grief laden to look up at him any longer.

Olivia took hold of her friend’s hand and held it tightly within her own “Rachel, has something else happened?”

Rachel shook her head, dabbed at her eyes “I don’t know. I – I read my sisters journal after you left. It was the book that Laurence’s contact gave him at the park yesterday. He let me read it because I – I was so insistent on knowing what had happened -” she frowned “I suppose it was only because it was her personal thoughts that he let me, nothing – political – or anything like that – just her thoughts, fears, prayers…oh Olivia, it was – so miserable – so sad.”

She paused then raised her head and looked more directly at Adam “If you had read it, if you knew what she was suffering you would not have refused to help us as you did. You wouldn’t have been so quick to turn your back on us, Adam Cartwright.”

Olivia glanced over at Adam then, her eyes darker and her brow crinkled, then she returned to her friend and was about to speak when Rachel began talking again “You knew Anna, and Sa’id…I was so sure you would help her, so sure you would want to help us find her. You knew her, and Sa’id, you knew what a kind gentle woman she was and how – how generous Sa’id was – and I know he was silly at times but he always meant well. He could have left Egypt, you know, he could have done…but he stayed because he wanted to prove to Ismail that he could be trusted, and he did all that he could to help but – but it just wasn’t enough – and now he’s dead – and my sister had to watch what they did to him before they took her away.”

She heaved in a deep breath, then stood up “I didn’t think you could be so unkind, Adam. You always seemed so brave, so loyal and you’re like so many others, you just run away and pretend with excuses not to be able to help…I won’t come to the Ponderosa now, I can’t – I can’t bear to think you would be there going on with your life as though Anna’s life, and Laurence’s, meant nothing.”

“Don’t say that, Rachel” Olivia cried, standing now and grabbing at Rachel’s arm as though to stop her from leaving them, “I know you’re angry, and disappointed, but please come with us – Laurence would want to know you’re safe there – with us.”

Rachel shook her head and glared at Adam who was still standing in exactly the same place as when he had first stepped into the room “No, I’ve said all I wanted to say, I’ll go now. I’ll stay here, find somewhere to stay – or go back to England -” she frowned and shook her head again but before she could speak Olivia had pulled her back to sit down alongside her, and then cast a look at her husband who had remained so quiet throughout the other woman’s tirade.

There was a knock on the door which then opened quietly to admit Gates, bearing a tray with everything needed for tea or coffee according to the visitors requirements.
He stood for a moment, surveyed the three people and then stepped forward to place the tray upon the low table nearest to Olivia who nodded at him and murmured something about seeing to it herself. He glanced at Adam, then retreated.

“I have to go -” Rachel said quietly, and then shivered, put a hand to her head and blinked as though the situation was really now resolved and she had come to the conclusion that now there was nothing left for her to do but make as dignified an exit as possible.

“Please don’t go, not yet – not like this -” Olivia begged as Rachel stood up, forcing her to get to her feet also,

“Rachel,” Adam put an arm out as though to bar her way from the door, “Rachel, I’ve been unaware of what is happening beyond the Ponderosa. I guess mainly because I have chosen to do so, also because -” he glanced at Olivia, then looked back at Rachel, “because of our work there, I guess in a way we’re pretty well ignorant from what is happening in other parts of the world. And its been a long time since we had had any communication from either you or Laurence – and -”

“Don’t make excuses for last night, Adam.” Rachel said curtly, “You refused to help Laurence, and me.” she pushed against his arm but as she did so he dropped it lower so that he could to place a gentle hand upon her shoulder, gently but firm enough to stop her from moving forwards

“I’m going to take you home now, back to the hotel I mean…while we drive there you can tell me all that I need to know, all that you feel I should know, then we’ll wait for Laurence to come back and discuss things further with him.”

She stood very still, her breathing quickened almost as though she had run a race, and then, once again in control of herself she turned to him, large hopeful eyes “What does that mean, Adam? “ she asked, “Are you going to help us?”

He glanced over at Olivia, who was watching them anxiously, but upon realising he was looking at her she lowered her eyes, and bowed her head. He tightened his grip on Rachel’s shoulder “Of course, but I need to know all the facts …and you can tell me what you know once we’re in the cab.”

It was too much for the poor woman, she bowed her head into her hands and burst into sobbing tears so that Olivia hurried once again to her side and held her close, making soothing sounds.

Adam left the room and returned quickly to where the family were still at breakfast, he looked around the table and caught Ben’s eyes. Ben knew his son well enough to understand the significance of the look he sent him, he excused himself and joined Adam in the hallway, carefully closing the door behind him

“What’s going on?”

“I’m going to have to take Rachel back to the Hotel, I may be there a while, she’s quite distressed -” he bit down on his bottom lip, quirked an eyebrow, and then cast a look from the corner of his eye at his father “Olivia will explain more when she gets the chance to talk to you alone.”

“Adam, I don’t like the smell of this – it has a familiar odour -” Ben gripped Adam’s arm, tightly, “You’ll be coming back?”

“Of course – I’m just escorting Rachel back to the hotel. But I need to talk to Laurence before I get back -”

Ben narrowed his black eyes and shook his head slightly, “Is there something you aren’t telling me?”

“Pa, I told you, Olivia will explain what there is to tell you -” he glanced over his shoulder as the door to the parlour opened and Rachel stepped into the hall “I have to go. “

Ben nodded, stepped back and watched as Adam picked up his hat, his light jacket, and opened the front door for Rachel to step outside. Olivia came and kissed her husband, whispered something which brought a smile, a slight one, to Adams lips.

The door closed, and Olivia turned to face Ben “What’s going on that my son won‘t tell me about?”

For seconds Olivia succeeded in keeping her emotions in check, but then her lips began to quiver and tears welled up in her eyes. She shook her head, and turned away so that Ben drew nearer and took hold of her by the arm and led her back into the room she and Rachel had just vacated

“Well?” his voice was not so much as demanding, as – in a way peculiar to Ben – pleading with some force behind it.

Briefly she told him everything, at times looking into his face, at other times turning away and then at the end she admitted to the quarrel she and Adam had had the previous evening. Her fingers constantly played with the rings on her fingers, turning them over and over, and when she had finished speaking she looked at Ben and waited for him to comment.

“He made a promise to you -”

“Yes.”

“And yet, you released him from that obligation?”

“Yes.” she whispered this and bowed her head, “Yes.”

“But – I thought you didn’t want him to go to sea again, or get involved in any of these crazy ventures ?”

“I don’t.” she said and she had to clear her throat to say that, then looked at her father in law with moist eyes. “I didn’t..”

“Then why on earth did you push him into considering going, because from what I know of Adam, and what I saw as he left here I very much expect he will be leaving for who knows where – again.”

She sighed and stared now at the fender, as though that could put the words into better sequence than she could, she wiped a finger beneath her eyes to wipe away the tears and swallowed

“You know your son, Pa. You know that he’d go anyway – eventually -”

“Explain that, if you don’t mind.” and Ben sat down on the chair opposite his daughter in law and scowled darkly.

“Adam -” she paused to find the right phrase “Pa, if the navy, an Admiral or a President had summoned – ordered – Adam back to sea I would have fought to keep him home. To ‘disobey orders’ if you wish -” she heaved in a sigh, “But this was not an order from an official source, it was a request, a begging for help from two friends – and -” she paused, realised she was talking too fast and had to slow down in order to get her thoughts, and her breathing. marshalled neatly together “and they had travelled here to request that help. Two friends whose first instincts were to turn to him…of all the thousands of people they could have turned to, official people, Government people, other friends – but they turned to him. Whatever sense of obligation friendship lays upon a person -” she bowed her head and shivered.

Ben nodded, pursed his lips and released a deep sigh “Obligation and friendship, yes, Adam considers them overly seriously.”

“So you know that if he came back with us and left Laurence and Rachel to sort it out for themselves, he would get to thinking – wondering – worrying – regretting -. He would start trying to work out the problem himself, picking away at it until it would drive us all mad!” she darted a glance at him, a tremulous smile on her lips, “You know I’m right, don’t you?”

“Sadly I do.” Ben nodded, his deep voice sounded hollow even to himself, “And then he would feel guilty for letting them down.”

“Until he would have to find out what happened – and if something terrible had happened to Laurence, or Rachel – “

“He’d go to find out what had happened and why and by whom – I know, I know -” he nodded and bowed his head “Adam – always had this very strong sense of loyalty, of responsibility.”

He leaned forward, his hands clasped between his legs, he looked at her and raised his black eyebrows, “He loved Inger you know? She was his first real mother. Oh he cared about Marie, respected her but he didn’t love her as he did Inger. For a short while that lonely little boy had a mother who loved him, and he blossomed, Livvy, a happy inquisitive little soul. He saw her when she died, and he had Hoss in his arms and watched – and through my grief I – I guess I didn’t notice his own grief, which he channelled – I think – into taking care of Inger’s son. When Inger died the happy little chap -” he bowed his head and scowled down at the carpet at his feet, “If it hadn’t been for Adam I think I would have -” he shrugged “but that was set into his nature then, responsibility, obligation, duty – and when things go wrong, guilt.”

“He couldn’t help it that Inger died – it wasn’t his fault -”

“It doesn’t have to be ‘his fault’ though, does it?”

“No. So you see, I’d rather that my husband dealt with this matter right from the start, and then come home safely – without guilt, with – perhaps – the matter solved, and his feelings of friendship – on an even keel as he would put it.”

“He could be gone for a long time.”

“He was away for ten weeks on the cattle drive last year, and would be again this year too. As he and you have told me often enough a man can die from a bad fall from a horse, or – or-” she shook her head and then burst into tears “It was the hardest thing to do, Pa – I love him so much and I don’t want him to go away – “

Ben hurried to her side, what else could he do? He pulled out a handkerchief and pushed it into her hands, waited for her to calm down, to wipe her eyes and blow her nose while he made what he hoped were soothing noises, while all the time patting her hand. Eventually she stopped, cleared her throat and hauled in a deep breath “Don’t be angry with me, will you?”

“How could I be -” he said tenderly, “ I know my son well enough by now -”

There was nothing else to say, she felt drained of emotion, her head ached, but the day had to be faced. Whatever Adam decided to do, it would be his decision, she knew that, so did Ben. No matter what either of them said for or against his ideas, he would go ahead anyway – eventually.

Chapter 19

The cab lurched as the cab driver turned the horses into the direction of the hotel and for a moment neither of them spoke. Rachel preferred to look out of the window until she had tears under control while Adam was content to bide his time. As it was he needed the time to think back to the previous evening, to the things said by his wife and to t he eventuality of any decision he would have to make following that, and this time with Rachel.

He remembered how Olivia had wept in his arms, saying how sorry she was for what she had said, it had been wrong of her, it had been disloyal. She had wanted him to forgive her, but he knew not to forget what she had said in connection to Rachel and Laurence. That night they had given to one another freely in that love that was God given, and then slept in one another’s arms, satisfied that all was well, even if their thoughts were meandering down different pathways for he had made no promises, no decision as to whether he would go home or remain with Laurence.

It was hard – harder than he had imagined – a man who had finally in middle age found the woman he wanted to spend the rest of his life with, and the children he adored. Leaving them for any reason was as painful as cutting off a limb, perhaps even more so.

As usual at 2 a.m. he was haunted by dreams – of Rostov and Lebedev, Doestov and Cassandra Pelman. He had had to leave her sleeping there, and make his way downstairs to bring his thoughts together so that he could make some decision. When he returned to bed he had whispered to Olivia how he loved her, and in her sleep she had sighed, smiled and turned over towards him.

But now here he was, in a cab with Rachel Willoughby wondering where it was going to take him…byond the hotel to where?

Finally she turned towards him and perhaps for the first time he noticed the lines of strain upon her face, the dark shadows beneath her eyes. But she still remained a very attractive woman, with that gently curving mouth and slanting blue eyes.

“Adam, I should apologise -” she said in a quiet voice “but to whom could I turn? And when Laurence told me you had refused to help – because of a promise to Olivia – I had to come and repeat his request.”

“Do you think that my promises to my wife have such little value, Rachel?” he smiled to soften the words but his eyes were dark, expressionless.

“Of course not.” Rachel replied with a warmth that was sincere and tender, “but I had taken the chance to talk to her while you and Laurence were alone and felt sure that she would – could – releases you from that promise. She’s a mother, Adam, she knows and understands how I feel and -”

“I thought it was your sister who was in trouble -”

“Yes.” she nodded, and leaned back into the leather seat, she sighed “Yes, it’s Anna. But also – I have two children I won’t be seeing for a while, and even though the seperation seemed necessary, it doesn’t mean that I won’t – don’t – miss them every day.” she paused and sighed, turned again to look out of the window, “I should have explained – apologised to your friend and family for breaking up the meal this morning, I am sorry – “ she lowered her eyes “I’ll be able to do that tomorrow and meet your children too.”

He said nothing, but leaned further from her and stared out of the window. “Why couldn’t you have brought the children with you to the Ponderosa. They would have been safe enough and it would have been pleasant for them all to meet -”

“I know, but it was considered better that I came alone to the Ponderosa, after all, James’ wife and children are in shock, and needed the distraction of time away from England, my two scamps will provide t hat – and more.” the handkerchief in her hand twisted into a knot, she pulled at it, and yet still stared out of the window as did he.

“Anna – tell me about her – what has happened so far as you know.”

“It’s a long story, Laurence will no doubt explain it in more detail -”

“Explain what you can while we have the time.”

“When you were in Egypt and helping Sa’id El Hassim out of the mess he had made of things, you got to meet the American officers who have helped Ismail so much in modernising the country.”

“Yes, I did.” he nodded and began to chew on his thumb, brows furrowed as he recalled the time some years ago in that land of Pharaohs, pyramids and camels.

“It was really the first noticeable signs of revolt against the changes, the people you tangled with then were just a splinter group of a Nationalist party wanting to be rid of Ismail, and install a political party rather than the traditional royal house – and of course, Ismail with all his advancements never realised that everything he was doing was taking him further and further into debt, and closer and closer to the Nationalist’s reasons for deposing him.”

“But American interests -”

“There are none, not that I know about, but that is political and Laurence doesn’t tell me things about that – all I can tell you is that France and Britain have assisted Ismail as much as they can, doing the best they can, but – but what good they are doing just seems to be playing into the Nationalists hands. Just like when the American cadre helped advance the country so much, it displeased the Nationalists ..now France and Britain’s involvement is giving them cause to rebel.” she frowned and shook her head, “I don’t understand it and I may not have explained it well, but that, it appears, is the fundamental cause of the problems there…and, of course, the billions of pounds of debt Ismail has plunged the country into.”

“Foreign interference then?” and Adam thought of China and the Great Empress who wanted to seal off her country from any influences of the foreign world beyond her borders.

“Yes.”

“But – but it was requested, wasn’t it? The Khedive and his Government weren’t forced to accept foreign help, were they?”

“No, he begged for help, he was getting further and further into debt…”

Adam nodded, when Governments became impoverished it was the poor of the country who suffered. He could well recall the great gap between the wealthy and poor in that country, the constant cry of ’Bucksheesh’ from the beggars when he or any foreigner passed by. “But that doesn’t explain about Anna?”

She raised the mangled piece of handkerchief to her face to dab at her eyes, and swallowed, he could hear the gulp and saw the quiver of her face “Anna – and Said – were in Cairo. They – rebels – took them away, and Said resisted. I only heard that he was killed in the struggle and Anna taken. Whoever took her sent me her necklace, the one father gave her many years ago, just to let me know – they had her.”

“No letter? Nothing other than a necklace?” he was chewing on his finger nail now, and paused to stare at her.

“A note only – that they had the owner. While I did nothing she would be safe -”

“How were you going to be able to do anything from that distance -” he paused “Oh, like getting help from Laurence and the British Government?”

“Anna is American…” Rachel said quietly, and looked at him.

“But you said the American Government wasn’t involved?”

“It isn’t -” she sighed and shook her head “Anna took on Egyptian citizenship when she married Hassim.”

He frowned, furrows crinkled across his brow and he looked down at the floor, shook his head “Politics. Always such a mess -”

“Adam,, I read her journal “

“So you said earlier, does it say anything other than what you have told me?”

“You can read it and judge for yourself.” she said as the cab jolted to a halt, it rocked a little before becoming stationary, then the door opened and the cabman pulled out the step in order to assist the lady down while Adam was left to fend for himself.

They took the elevator to the floor where the Willoughbys had their suite, and at the door she turned “I’ll get the journal.”

He nodded and waited outside, in this modern world with its set standards of right and wrong conduct for him to have entered her room would have been reprehensible. The Hotel Grammond catered for the wealthy solicalite Americans who watched for the least infraction of polite standards, a married man alone in a room with a married woman, not his wife, could ruin reputations. Word would get around in the world of servants, staff, and unseen eyes and ears. He kicked his heels for a few moments more and then when the door opened he took the slim journal she handed him and made his way back to the elevator.

Once in the reception area he stopped a passing member of staff and ordered strong coffee, and then found himself a seat.
……………….

Joe pushed aside his plate and leaned back to observe his brother carve through another slab of beef, he then turned his attention to look up at the ceiling, then to look at several other of the customers in the restaurant. Finally he leaned forward

“Hoss, how much longer are you going to take to finish your meal? You’ve probably eaten a whole calf yourself by now…”

“Nearly finished.” Hoss muttered and dabbed at his mouth with the napkin before casting it down on the table, “Just didn’t eat enough at breakfast -” he paused “I think Hester’s got me on short rations.”

Joe nodded and wondered about the possibility of that statement being true, after all, Hoss carried a whole lot more weight on him that he had done even during the past year. “Look, we’ve got to think of a strategy.”

“Mmm,” Hoss picked up his cup and swallowed down coffee. “Joe, why does it matter so much that this Mr Burgoyne’s married?”

“Well, it mattered enough for him to take on that extra piece of land, didn’t it?”

Hoss crinkled his brow “Exchanged it…for some land that Greigson took as his own.”

“Yeah, that’s right, yeah, I had forgotten about that….seems they must be on really good terms.”

“Didn’t realise Greigson gambled, didn’t take him as a betting man.”

“Perhaps he gets bored of an evening, Hoss. He aim’t the most cheery man in the district is he? Abel though – he wasn’t happy about that land going.”

“Abel wouldn’t cheat on us, nor on any of his neighbours, Joe. He was as honest as a man could be, you know that.”

“He was, but all the same it doesn’t really figure, does it?”

A woman came and made a loud ‘Harrumph’ as an indication that she needed to get round them to reach the store, they both tipped their hats and stepped back out of her way.

“I think we should go an introduce ourselves to Burgoyne, properly, as neighbours. Get to know him and his wife proper.” Joe suggested

“That’s a few hours riding, Joe….my legs are stiff already from going back and forwards like we have today already.”

“No point in putting it off til tomorrow , Hoss.” he paused and glanced over at the Building opposite “I wonder if -”

“If?”

Joe nodded over in the direction of the Territorial Enterprise offices “If Daniel knows anything about all this. You know – Abel’s dabbling in that odd grain stuff, and the land exchange – he’s a journalist, he’s sure to know something.”

“Yeah well, if he doesn’t our going in and asking questions will sure make him curious to know more -”

Joe snapped his fingers, and grinned “What he finds out he can tell us…”

“I don’t know,” Hoss shook his head “I’ve never known him help any of us out unless there’s something in it for him.”

Joe frowned, nodded and pouted his lips “Yeah, yeah, you’re right there.”

“Who else would know about that grain?” Hoss said thoughtfully, “If’n it was so special it would have been made up by a specialist company, wouldn’t it?”

Joe nodded and grinned “Good thinking, Hoss. We need to ask around some…” he glanced over his shoulder and stared in the direction of Ridleys Feed and Grain store, “We’ll start there.”
………..

After an hour of tramping around town both men were feeling in need of something cold to drink, something that would restore their faith in humanity as there had been nothing forthcoming from any of the grain stores in town. Some of the Managers had laughed at them, said they were talking fairy tales and riddles if they thought some kind of extra special grain would mean cows dropping twin calves all over the place, and others warned them to be careful about what they saying as it was known that Mr Burgoyne and his boys had short tempers, and Greigson had proven to be like a keg of dynamite since Abel had left town.

They found a table in the corner of The Silver Dollar and slumped down in their seats, the glasses of beer plonked in front of them. Hoss leaned forward, elbows on the table and hands around the glass, he scowled

“Why’d Abel leave town did they say? If he was on to such a good thing, what made him get up and leave?”

“Some woman. That librarian’s assistant.” Joe muttered and leaned back, one arm draped over the back of the chair and his eyes scanning the other customers. “You know who she was, don’t you?”

“Who?”

“Miss Tyndale’s assistant at the library?”

“I dunno…who was it?”

“Katherine Royale.” Joe sighed and stared at his glass “The one who kept Sofia in Bodie all that time.”

“Shucks, dad burn it, I didn’t know…” he frowned “Why’d Abel go off after her fer?”

“Why does any man go after a woman?” Joe shrugged and then leaned into the table, picked up his glass and sipped some of the beer “Maybe he thought to go now before his father started making more trouble.”

“Greigson hasn’t really ever made any trouble though, has he? Mostly he’s just ignored everyone and just got on with living, especially since his wife died.”

“Except that now he’s gambling, doing land deals, and maybe doing some rustling on the side.”

Hoss grimaced and shook his head “We don’t know that for sure, Joe. Best not mention it or some may think it’s for real and cause trouble.”

Joe, chastened a little, nodded and agreed he should not have said the latter, but as he added, it all seemed odd to him, and Abel leaving to chase up a relative stranger even odder.

Hoss agreed and then looked up and nodded at two familiar figures, Roy Coffee and Paul Martin, ex-sheriff and a Doctor who should have retired some years back. They collected their drinks from the counter and strolled over to join them, their chair legs scraping across the floor as they were dragged away from the table to accommodate them.

“Well, what’s going on here?” Roy asked, “You both look very – worryingly – serious.”

Hoss shrugged and dipped into his beer, while Joe shook his head and mumbled something of no consequence. Hoss asked Roy how retirement was suiting him and just as Roy was about to tell him Joe nudged his brothers elbow and nodded over to Paul, “Paul, you’re a doctor aren’t you?”

“You just realised that, son?” Paul drawled and shook his head before picking up his glass.

“No, I mean, you’d know about – medical things – and that -” he paused “that kind of thing.”

“What kind of thing?” Paul asked

“Yeah, what kind of thing?” Roy repeated leaning forward, Joe’s inspirational leaps of mental agility had always been a source of great interest and often amusement for Roy and he winked over at Hoss who looked confused.

“Well, let me put it this way….” Joe thought for a moment before launching into his explanation “Does it matter what kind of food a woman has if she wants to get – get = er – in the family way.”

“Are you having problems in that area, son?” Paul asked “Because if so you should come and see me in private, not shout the odds in a public saloon.”

“No, I mean, seriously – alright – let’s put it another way – what about cows.”

“What about them?” Roy asked, putting down an empty glass and looking thoughtfully over at Hoss who signalled to the bar keep for more drinks.

“If cows eat a certain sort of grain or cereal , is it possible they would produce more babies – I mean – calves – twins for instance?”

Paul nodded his thanks to Hoss for the new glass of beer that appeared at his elbow, then looked at Joe “I don’t know enough about cattle feed, or cattle, to be able to tell you, Joe. I know if a woman is well nourished she will most likely have healthy babies. Best you ask a vet.”

“A vet?” Joe sighed

“Well, if you want to know about cows and such…and remember the bull has as much to do about it as the cow …if you want to know more best come over to the surgery and I’ll give you a book.” and Paul smirked for good measure.

“A vet – right.” Hoss looked at Joe, “Back where we started.”

“Odd though, you asking about that, because the only other person I recall asking me was young Abel Greigson. He was asking about some grain he had seen advertised, promising all kinds of miracles, he wanted to know from a medical standpoint whether the claims were true or now.”

“What did you tell him?”

“Well, the proof of the pudding so to speak is in the eating….I couldn’t guarantee one way or the other, most of these kind of advertisements are just pie in the sky promises that are just a waste of money. It was expensive too…but he said he would think about it.” Paul swallowed more beer and looked at Joe “Why?”

“Just that – Greigsons has had a lot of twins this year ..I mean his cattle have…”

“And we haven’t -” Hoss added with an emphatic nod of the head.
………….

Daniel deQuille pushed aside his box of cigars when the Cartwright brothers opened the door and stepped into his office. He nodded a curt greeting and sighed, glanced at the clock and waited for Joe to say something. He had seen them wandering around town like a couple of lost souls, and wondered if they would eventually find their way to his door.

His keen intelligent eyes glanced from one to another, he casually brushed cigar ash from his vest and shrugged “You boys lost your tongues? It won’t exactly make headline news but it might warrant a small paragraph in the gossip column.”

“Ha.ha. Not funny, Daniel.” Joe said and pulled out a chair, sat down and looked at the journalist with narrowed eyes “We want to pick your brains so don’t’ tempt us to do it literally, we’re talking about it in a figurative way – “

“You’re getting more like your older brother all the time.” Daniel sighed agai n and pulled out a match stick with which he stuck between his lips and began to chew on.

“That wasn’t funny either.” Joe muttered and looked at Hoss who was staring at some posters on the wall, front pages of old editions of the Territorial Enterprise. He wondered if there were any there with articles by Sam Clemens.

“Well, spit it out then, you’re just wasting my time sitting there warming that chair.”

Joe cleared his throat and waited for Hoss to sit down, “Did you put in an advertisement some time last year about a special kind of grain that was imported all the way from Russia?”

“I didn’t personally, but -” Daniel raised his eyebrows as Joe leaned forward with a mean look on his usually amiable face, “There was a company selling grain that asked me to run an advertisement for a few weeks. They wanted to see if there would be any interest around here. I did warn them that this was ranching and mining territory, not farming but they claimed that the seed was actually produced from grains that would enhance the quality of grass for cattle to graze on. They claimed that better grass, better feed, better beef.”

“Better grass, better feed, better beef” Hoss muttered and frowned, he could see that would catch attention, and wondered why he hadn’t noticed it himself.

“Did it make any claims about – about reproduction? You know, cows eating the stuff and having – more twins for example?” Joe stammered his way through the question and raised his eyebrows.

Daniel curled a lip, and shook his head “Are you kidding me? No one can make claims like that….”

“So – no one made any claims – or kind of hinted of the possibility that better beef included bigger herds – kind of – thing?”

Daniel shook his head, “Nope.”

“Did they stop advertising ?”

“Yep.”

Daniel spat the chew matchstick out onto the floor and leaned back in his chair, it rocked on to its back legs while he stretched out his under his desk, “They didn’t have much success in selling the stuff. Only a few buyers and no comments from them about whether or not it had been worth it.”

“It was expensive then?” Hoss asked wiped his forehead on the back of his sleeve, all the walking about had brought out a sweat.

“Not by much more than the usual. “

The Cartwrights looked at one another, nodded and rose to their feet. Joe paused, “I suppose you must miss Amanda Ridleys poker sessions that she used to have here in town.”

“Every month. Regular as clockwork.” Daniel smiled slowly “I thought she would have learned her lesson the way she bankrupted herself those years back, but she was clever, never gambled beyond a certain sum even when she was on a winning streak.”

“Shows she learned something then, even if it was just to discipline herself not to gamble overmuch.” Hoss said sagely and slapped his hat onto his head as he turned to the door to leave the office.

“Suppose someone else -” Joe began and Daniel nodded, “Yes, someone else does- once a month. Just like Amanada used to.”

“You go too?”

“Wouldn’t miss it. I get a lot of information one way or another at those sessions.”

“Does Walter Greigson go there?” Joe asked innocently

“Greigson? No, never seen him there. They’ve always been very private, the Greigsons. I got the impression once, years back, that Walter didn’t approve of gambling. He was a bit of a Holy Joe…unlike yourself, Joe…” and he sniggered as though the play on words was funny.

Joe nodded, grimaced and nodded to Hoss that it was time for them to go, then he paused again “What about Mr Burgoyne? He’s new around here, isn’t he? Know much about him?”

“He and his sons come into town regularly. His boys have been to the gambling sessions, not very skilled, lost too much and drank too much. Burgoyne seems friendly enough.”

“Any background information about him, Dan?”

The newspaperman grinned, when the Cartwrights started calling him ‘Dan’ as opposed to Daniel or deQuille he got suspicious, he narrowed his eyes

“Is there a story in this ?”

Joe shook his head “No, just – just neighbourly interest.”

Daniel frowned and watched as they closed the door behind them, and walked out into the street. He got to his feet and strolled over to the window to watch the two men as they strolled down towards the sheriffs office.

There was something going on, he could smell it. He scratched his jaw through his beard and wondered what it possibly could be as he watched Joe and Hoss mount into their saddles and turn their horses heads out of town. He returned to his desk and opened a drawer from which he produced a notebook. He flipped open to the first unused page and scribble down – Cartwrights. Burgoyne, Greigson, Russian grain. Connection??

Hoss eased himself into the saddle more comfortably as they jogged their way out of town. He glanced over at Joe who looked blankly ahead of him as though his head was so full of mysteries and so forth that he couldn’t think straight. He spat dust into the road, and slowed his horse to a walk in order to get his canteen.

“Hey, Joe, slow down a mite.”

Joe scowled and turned to join Hoss, then nodded in agreement and reached for his own canteen, cool water refreshed them both and when they had drank their fill Hoss asked his brother what exactly they were going to do now.

“Well, brother, one things for sure, we haven’t overgrazed our cattle – they’ve a thousand square miles to roam and eat their heads off, so there is no way we were starving our beef.”

“Alright, it was just a suggestion, no need to take it so much to heart.” Hoss frowned “You ain’t intending to go searching throughout the whole 1000 square miles are ya?”

“Don’t be ridiculous.” Joe scoffed and sounded so like Adam that Hoss laughed out loud. “I thought we could go see this land Burgoyne bought from Greigson, see what is so special about it…”

“They said why, because his wife liked it….” Hoss’ blue eyes widened as though he couldn’t believe his brother had failed to hear that point.

“In which case perhaps we should go visit the Burgoynes …” he paused and frowned, looked down at the ground and then nodded “I reckon we should make a neighbourly visit. Tomorrow.” he smiled slowly, “I’ll go with Mary Ann, make acquaintance of Mr and Mrs Burgoyne. It’ll seem more neighbourly that way…”

“What do you want me to do? Visit with Hester in the afternoon…?”

Joe grinned and leaned forward, patted his brothers cheek and laughed “No, Hoss, you got the job of branding what cattle we still have to work with, remember?”

Hoss sighed, shook his head and looped his canteen around his saddle horn, then nudged his horse to move on. Beside him Joe began to plot out what his next move was going to be…he was still deep in thought when Hoss nudged him,

“I jest remembered something – I mean – someone.”

“Huh?” Joe frowned, the nebulous plans in his brain jangled together and collapsed, drifted away like a will o the wisp

“What about the new man who took over Corbyns place? Archer – “

Joe slowed his horse and settled into a steady walk, he stared ahead and frowned, Hoss could almost see plots and plans hovering over his youngest brothers head, he cleared his throat

“I could go visit Archer tomorrow…while you pay your visit to Burgoyne.”

Joe frowned, shook his head “I doubt there’s any point, Hoss. Archer’s place is miles off our property.”

“It borders onto Jessops and Luke’s….you know, that little cusp of land that nudges onto both their borders. It has some good pasture, well watered too…”

“Corbyn left it to go to ruin. Sold up his cattle if you remember…”

“Yeah, be interesting to see if Archer has any now, what size herd he’s got, what kind of stock….”

Joe chewed on his thumb, then pushed his hat back “Perhaps if you rode over to see Luke tomorrow, mention it to him. Archer’s his neighbour, he’d be best to check it out. What’s he call the place, did Nate or Clem mention it?”

“Nope…you were there, you should have asked.” Hoss scoffed and smiled inwardly, It wasn’t often he got an idea before his brother, and he raised his eyebrows “I know he ain’t our neighbour but this has affected Luke and Derwent, ain’t it?”

“S’right.” Joe’s brows lowered and he pouted out his lips and snorted “Good idea, Hoss. Get Luke onto it….”

Chapter 20

The children had finished their meal and gone to play in the garden. The glass doors that led to the pretty yard where Martha tended her favourite plants and flowers had been pulled open wide to allow the smells to permeate into the living area, and the sounds of childrens voices to filter through.

The comfortable room in which Martha and Olivia sat with their chairs facing the garden, warmed by the sun, undisturbed by the childrens shouts, laughter, chatter. Martha had gently asked Olivia what had been the problem with their visitor, and why had Adam had to leave so abruptly, so as the sounds of the childrens voices provided a background to their conversation Olivia explained as well as she could what had taken Adam away, and how it had been her fault that their visitor had been too distressed to wait longer than it had taken Adam to grab his hat and leave.

Martha listened with a calm expression on her face “So, this is all about Rachel’s missing sister?”

“Yes, as I explained, she’s just disappeared into thin air and Rachel is desperate to find her.”

“As you would be had it been your sister.” Martha said quietly and glanced up at her with a sympathetic look as she placed a hand upon the younger woman’s arm.

Olivia thought for a second about her own sister and dismissed the idea, Katya had disappeared out of their lives and she had no intention of sending anyone in search of her. But, had it been Hester, or Mary Ann…well, wouldn’t all of them be searching heaven and earth to find them?

“I know it must seem a little strange – “ Olivia murmured and frowned, as she thought that it was, actually, very strange. She glanced over at Martha who was looking deep in thought “What do you think, Martha?”

“Well, I don’t understand half of what goes on in your lives, my dear, but I think that Adam will give us all the answers we need when he gets home. There is little point in getting overly distressed about things when knowing only part of the story after all.”

They were interrupted further by Sofia running into the room, skirt dirty and torn, and a dismayed expression on her face. “I fell over.” she said in a voice that indicated her struggle not to give into tears.

“Oh dear,” Martha exclaimed “And how did you do that ?”

“I was just running and Nathaniel threw a ball at me and I tried to catch it really I did but then I fell over instead.” she looked appealingly at her mother “Is Daddy home yet?”

“No, not yet. He’ll be here as soon as he has taken the lady home.”

“Oh, is the lady lost?”

“No, but she needs someone to look after her.” Olivia sighed and shook her head, “I had better take you into the other room and tidy you up. How do you manage to get into such scrapes, Sofia?”

Sofia could have said quite easily, but knew that would earn her a reprimand, it usually did…she sighed and allowed herself to be led away to be ’tidied up.’

“Mommy?”

“Yes, dear?

Sofia glanced up at her mother, and smiled. Her mother was looking down at her with that slight smile on her lips that made Sofia think of princesses for some reason. Her mother was definitely pretty enough to be the Chief Princess in any story. She squeezed Olivia’s hand

“All those parcels that came from the stores…are they really for us to take home?”

“They will be packed up and delivered by a courier, Sofia. We couldn’t possibly carry them all home, we just don’t have the arms for that …” and Olivia’s smile widened as she looked at Sofia “Don’t forget there are presents for everyone -”

“Presents?” Sofia fell into a little reverie, while Olivia lifted her up and onto a stool in order to clean the grazed knees and wipe the dirt away from her daughter’s brow and hands. “Are there presents for us too?”

“You have had presents already, Sofia.” Olivia reminded her and dabbed some arnica onto the bruises. “That dress is definitely going to have to be changed, it will need washing.”

“But arnt’ there any special secret presents for us?”

“I don’t think so.” Olivia unbuttoned the dress and helped Sofia struggle out of it, a clean one was close at hand and ready for wear, this was quickly slipped over Sofia’s head and tugged down, buttoned up and smoothed down. Olivia smiled “Well now, as good as new.”

Sofia smiled and put her arms around her mother’s neck, kissed her cheek “I like your new glasses, Mommy. You look like a special kind of mommy with them on.”

“Oh, not ugly old mommy then?” Olivia laughed

“Oh no, you are never ugly, you’re the prettiest mommy in t he world. Daddy said so too…” she slipped her arms away and spun in a circle just to see how her skirts flounced out and smiled “Oh I wish I had a special secret present…just one very special one I saw in the shop that day.”

Olivia frowned, and shook her head as she folded up the soiled garment to put into the basket for washing “Now I wonder what that would be …”

“Can you guess, mommy, can you?”

Sofia paused and stopped spinning in order to look at her mother, to be sure her head kept on spinning for a while but she managed to stay steady enough to get Olivia into focus.

“I can’t imagine…after all you have a special new doll.”

“Oh yes, and she’s very pretty.” Sofia nodded and smiled, dimples in her cheeks, no wonder people thought she was really Adam’s little girl.

“What then …I can’t imagine that you would want for anything else.”

Sofia blinked, she thought that her Mother knew everything, and would know for sure how much she yearned for the dolls house in the store after all she had stood in front of it for a long time, making it very obvious how much she loved it.

“Off you go, Sofia. I want to talk to Martha.”

Sofia frowned and sighed and turned away with a slight shrug of the shoulders, as she walked away Olivia said in a quiet voice “Sofia, I want you to be very good when we go home. We have Rachel coming back with us, and she has had to leave her little boy and girl far away, so she will be sad, and missing them. So please be a good girl and show her how thoughtful and kind you can be.”

Sofia turned to her mother, smiled and nodded, then hurried back out to the garden where Nathaniel was marveling at his spinning top, watching as colours merged together the faster it went. Reuben was sitting quietly on the edge of the fish pond, flicking water with his fingers and watching his little brother with a smile on his face.

It was a beautiful day, blue skies and soft warm sunshine. Sofia stopped to look at some flowers and wondered about the colours, and then without another thought ran to recapture her doll before it fell, neglected and unloved, into the pond.

………………

Olivia returned to the small room where Martha looked deep in thought and gave her young friend a rather tremulous smile, which prompted Olivia to lean forward and impetuously grab at Martha’s hand,

“Martha, why not come back with us? We so loved having you at the Ponderosa last year..and I know that Ben would love having you stay.”

Martha gave a little start of surprise, blushed slightly and shook her head, “Oh no, dear, I couldn’t do that…”

She sighed and looked at Olivia’s face, the concerned but confused expression in the clear green eyes, and the smile slowly fading from her mouth. She leaned forward now, and stroked the younger woman’s face gently,

“I’ve already discussed this with Ben -”

“Oh, you have?” a leap of hope, sparkled there, no point in pretending what she was thinking and the smile returned “Then -”

“No, dear.” Martha squeezed Olivia’s hand between her own “I’m telling you that it can’t happen. It’s a lovely thought, but the fact is that I’m ill and -”

“But we can care for you, Martha. Hop Sing will feed you up and -”

“It isn’t that kind of illness, dear.”

There was a finality in the sound of her voice and Olivia blinked, then leaned back, releasing Martha’s hand as she did so,

“What kind of illness is it? Have you seen the doctor? A Consultant?”

“Oh yes, all of them, and the best of them. But sadly they all say the same, that I have perhaps at the very most a year of life left.”

“Could you not come with us though, make it a happy year with us – “

Martha shook her head, “No, dear, I need to be here, among familiar things, among my memories, my little treasures, the things that remind me that I was once here, part of this whole charade they call living….” she paused and looked serious now, her eyes caught those of Olivia “Your mother in law, Abigail, she was ill wasn’t she?”

“Yes, she was – was ill – she had dementia.” Olivia almost whispered the words, blinked tears that came to the corners of her eyes “She was loved, loved to the end -” and she shivered because she knew that was not true, however much they had loved Abigail, the poor woman had spent her last days in fear and dread of a son whose very existence brought misery to them all.

Martha nodded, and leaned forward, kissed Olivia on the brow, “Thank you, dear, I knew you would understand. Just make Adam happy, he’s very important to me, like the son I never had and always wanted.” her hand stroked back a wisp of blonde hair from Olivia’s brow “And you are the daughter I would have loved so much. I knew that the very first time I met you…all those years ago.”

There was nothing left to be said. The two women sat together facing the garden which was sun speckled and hazy with the heat of the day. They could hear Nathaniel chattering, and Sofia singing “Blow blow the wind blow…..”

Chapter 21

Adam had read the little journal three times and had as many cups of coffee by the time Laurence Willoughby walked through the door of the hotel and made his way to the elevator. Adam coughed to gain the man’s attention and slowly uncurled himself from the chair. He nodded and raised his eyebrows at the look of surprise on Laurence’s face.

“Well, Adam-” Laurence said with a slight reserve in his voice, “I didn’t expect to see you here this morning.”

Adam bowed his head in acknowledgement of the slight rebuke from his friend, then turned to pick up his hat, before approaching Laurence and nodding towards the elevator “I’ve been waiting for you to come back.”

“Have you seen Rachel?”

Adam inclined his head and produced the book which he held in a way that would not be obvious to others “She asked me to read this…I have, three times over now and – I think we need to talk.”

Laurence frowned, glanced at the elevator as though he saw it as a means of escape then looked again at his friend “What about?”

“About the contents of this book, about Anna, about what you plan to do next.”

“I told you last evening, if you’re not willing to join me in this then I can’t discuss it with you, Thank you anyway -” he paused and narrowed his eyes as Adam made no attempt to move. “Have you changed your mind?”

“I’m free to do so.” Adam replied slowly with his brown eyes watching the changes of expression flit across Laurence’s face. He was as easy to read as a book, Adam thought, no wonder he never fooled Doestov on that adventure to Egypt all those years back.

The Englishman smiled broadly, clapped Adam on the arm and beckoned to the elevator, “Come this way -”

Adam nodded, clasped his hat to his chest “-said the spider to the fly” he murmured to himself.

Rachel had been pacing the floor for some while but paused when the door to the suite opened. Clasping one hand to her throat while the other was clenched to her side she looked from one man to the other, saw the smile on Laurence’s face, the look on Adam’s and relaxed. Her shoulders dropped from their tensed position and her breathing slowed as she hurried over to Laurence’s side and grabbed his hand

“Did you read the book?” she asked of Adam with her eyes wide and darting from one man to the other.

“Several times…” Adam replied

“Sit down, man,” Laurence said with relief loud in his voice, “We have to talk…” he looked at Rachel “Ring room service and get us something to drink, dear.”

Adam watched the woman as she crossed the room and thought how graceful she had become, not the self conscious young woman from that time back who had fallen in love with a myth, before she preferred to love Laurence, a far more substantial young man than Adam Abdul Karim had ever been.

“You‘ve changed, Rachel.”

“I suppose we all have -” she replied and blushed slightly as, no doubt, she recalled that shy but passionate kiss she had shared with the Commodore as they had looked down at the rose garden of her sisters home in Cairo.

“And all the better for it.” Laurence said and grabbed at her hand, and pulled her down to sit beside him.

He crossed one long leg over the other and regarded Adam seriously, frowned, and nodded at the book which Adam still held in his hand “What are your thoughts, Adam? I’d appreciate your opinion….”

Adam leaned forward, his hands clasped t he book and he looked at it before he raised his eyes to Laurences “There are some anomalies….and some pages missing…”

They looked at one another, frowned “Pages missing?” Rachel stammered, “But where?”

“At the back here…done very neatly too.” Adam smiled and held the book in the palm of one hand, it’s spine resting upon the flat surface of his palm…it slowly opened, and he glanced at them as they looked at it as though watching a conjurer’s trick, then looked back at him

“What are we supposed to notice?” Laurence said quietly

“Well, a book that is read often, or written in like this journal will open at the place either most often read or written in, but this book always falls open to the back…even though the weight of the written pages should really leave it to open wherever it wills…” he held the book towards them so that they could see at what he was pointing “There are several pages that have been very carefully removed here…not torn out, which is why you didn’t notice any serrations, perhaps cut out but if so, by a very sharp pointed instrument – “ he paused and glanced at them “You never noticed ?”

“No -” Laurence grimaced, “I should have done. To be honest I was more interested in what the contents were about and more concerned about that to pay attention to missing pages.”

Adam nodded and raised his eyebrows again “The missing pages probably provide you with the information you want and which someone didn’t want you to have – yet.”

Laurence nodded and leaned back, once again he crossed one leg over the other, and then regarded Adam thoughtfully “See how valuable an asset you will be if you helped us, Adam. You have already provided us with the first hint of help that we have had in weeks.”

“You would have noticed,” Adam gave a slight shrug, “where did you get the book? No, let me remember, it was from Miss Soames, wasn’t it?”

The couple looked at one another, it seemed to Laurence that their roles had been reversed now with this new information. Instead of being the one leading the discussion he was handing it all to Adam, and he sighed as though accepting the natural order of things.

“Mrs Long in actuality…she contacted us when we were in France …” he paused and this time raised his eyebrows, “It’s a long story…”

“Then best start from the beginning, always the best place -” Adam smiled and at the knock on the door the three of them became silent. Laurence called out to enter and the door was pushed open by one of the Hotel’s staff bearing a tray with the necessaries for coffee. In silence they waited for the coffee to be poured and handed to them, and then he gave a discreet exit.

The three of them stared at the cups of coffee with the steam swirling ceiling wards and the aroma filling the room. Rachel looked at Laurence who cleared his throat…

“We were already in France when we got news from Charles about Anna and Hassim.
The trouble really started even before that incident involving you and Doestov, when the Egyptian nationalist movement became active and began targeting Europeans as well as Turks. Anna’s marriage to Hassim was not popular, but thankfully being an American citizen did provide some form of protection.” he sighed “Then she was persuaded to take on Sa’id’s nationality so -” he shrugged slightly “removed herself even from that security.”

Adam frowned and cast his mind back to the time he had entered Egypt as Adam Abdul Karim. “Were the men we fought part of that movement?”

Laurence shrugged “There are so many factions claiming to be part of the Nationalist movement – its like an octopus – it got worse after the Russo-Turkish wars, more attention paid to Khedive Ismail’s involvement with foreigners and the debts he was running up.”

Rachel picked up a cup and sipped it slowly, her eyes roved above the rim to watch the two men.

Adam nodded “From what I gather from Anna’s book Ismail ran up debts of over 100 million dollars….”

“Pounds, old chap.” Laurence said and shrugged as he leaned forwards to pick up his cup, he gulped down coffee “The thing is, he was trying to save Eygpt. He wants to pass on a modern thriving country to his son, Tewfik*. The money spent on modernising Egypt, completing the Suez canal and then dabbling in the cotton business …”

“I thought you said American interests were not involved -”

“They aren’t.” Laurence said shortly, “It was a venture that failed dismally. But the Nationalist movement forced Ismail’s hand to get rid of the American cadre, and he turned to France and England for help. As a result both Governments sent financial experts to help …” he paused. “Anna mentioned all this in the book…”

“Yes, she did. A Lord Cromer and M. de Blignieres …”

“”Was like a red rag to a bull! Despite their successes in reducing the debts, the Egyptian Government were agitating for their removal. Any foreigner was seen as unwelcome.”

“That’s why Anna took on their nationality, in an attempt to appease people and make it safer for Said.” Rachel explained.

“Well, it got so that Ismail couldn’t pay the army. They mutinied and Said -” Laurence paused and frowned,

“I know – he tried to protect his cousin and that resulted in his death.” Adam nodded, and tapped the book “But where does Sylvia Soames come into the story.”

“Sylvia had been in Egypt some years ago, she wasn’t known as Soames in those days, it was before her father found her. She was part of a group of European and American women that were involved socially at that time with Ismail, the American cadre, Anna…” Rachel glanced down at her cup, now empty and toyed nervously with the handle, “I met her several times when I was there. Anna must have told her all about me, so when I got the necklace I asked Charles to contact her….if she could be found of course.”

“Turned out Sylvia was well known by Charles. She’s acted as a courier for them for a long time, was very useful in Egypt in fact. When Soames came along and claimed her for his daughter it came just at the right time for her, things were getting difficult in various quarters…she was encouraged to come here …”

“Is she Soames daughter?”

“Oh yes, certainly she is.” Laurence nodded, “She contacted us that she had something in her possession that we needed. As I said we were in France at the time and Rachel insisted on coming with me, though I thought it too much of a risk.”

Rachel nodded and gave a rather weak nervous laugh “I was naïve enough to think I would find Anna here, safe and sound. Instead we just got a note from Miss Soames to meet her in the park.”

“Wasn’t too sure if we had been followed, or if she was, so we kept the meeting public but the book passed secretly. She’s a very valuable asset to the British, Adam, she can’t risk – we can’t risk – losing her.”

Adam shook his head, and briefly closed his eyes as though he wanted to mentally shut himself away from everything they were saying. When he opened his eyes again they were both staring at him, he shook his head “It’s politics and -”

“And trying to find my sister, she’s an innocent woman who’s in danger -” Rachel cried, wringing her hands now, and then realising she was doing that tried to sit on them.

“She can’t be that innocent.” Adam frowned, “She saw her husband hacked down, decapitated, and they let her live? After she had been a witness to all that?”

“You read her journal …” Rachel’s voice was high pitched in despair “She’s alive, we can’t let her die…”

“She was taken – she doesn’t mention names in the book -” Laurence said quietly, placing a gentle restraining hand on Rachel’s arm, “but we understand it was a group of Nationalist supporters that have taken her.”

“If an innocent woman has been taken from what amounts to being a slaughter house, it’s because she is being held hostage -” Adam murmured glancing down at the book

“We’ve had no ransom demands…” Laurence murmured and Rachel gave a little groan of despair at the thought.

“Then she’s being kept because she knows something – or someone -” Adam frowned and stared for a moment at the empty coffee cups, “She may not even realise it herself, there’s no clue in the journal.”

Laurence pouted, turned his head away and stared at a picture on the wall. Certainly Adam was right, Laurence knew that only too well, hence Disraeli’s interest, but what was it or who – he shook his head and looked back at Adam,

“Will you help us find her?”

“Is she still in Egypt?” Adam asked and tapped the book “From what I understand here she has no idea where she was taken.”

“We know she was taken by ship somewhere with some other women, diplomats wives…” Laurence bit down on his bottom lip, “but we don’t know where.”

“But not here, not to America?”

“No.”

Adam sighed and leaned back into the chair, he shook his head “Then I can’t help you, can I? I haven’t the necessary papers or documents you need for me to leave the country.”

He almost felt triumphant when he said that, a feeling of relief at being provided an escape route. Laurence stood up and shrugged

“That’s all been dealt with,” he said and walked over to the bureau, opened a door and extracted from it a leather portmanteau.

It was locked and once he had brought it to the table and set it down he removed a small key from his pocket and unlocked it. From within one of its compartments he produced several envelopes and set them down on the table.

Chapter 22

Adam felt as though his brain had frozen. Momentarily he was aware of a feeling of panic at the pit of his stomach as he stared at the envelopes and realised that he had been led into a carefully contrived trap. For what purpose? Just to rescue a woman snatched away somewhere in Egypt?

Rachel came and put a hand on his arm “Please, Adam, don’t be angry with us. We need your help otherwise we would never have come here to bother you again.”

He glanced up at Laurence, who was looking anxiously at him. The younger man swallowed in a gulp and nodded “It’s true, Adam, we need your help. But -” he leaned forward and put his hand on the envelopes “if you feel you can’t give it, then I’ll take these and burn them. I was told that if you were not willing to help then that was what I was to do with them.”

Adam raised a hand as though to stop Laurence from moving, from taking the envelopes, from speaking …he shook his head “I thought I’d left that life behind me…I’m not the man I was when we met all those years ago, I’ve family, responsibilities, and I’m not young -” he sighed wearily, and bit his lips, he tried to imagine what Olivia would be saying now. Would she realise he was stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea? Would she appreciate that he was thinking of her, considering his options, remembering what she had said the previous evening.

Almost as though he were reading Adams thoughts Laurence murmured “You did say Olivia had released you from any promises you had made…”

Adam nodded and frowned, then leaned forward to pick up the envelopes. The first one he opened was from the Secretary of State, and he glanced again up at Laurence

“I thought you said American interests were not involved?”

“I did, and that’s true.” :Laurence replied, “I don’t know who wrote the letters, Adam, nor what is in them…I was only told to bring them to you and hand them over were you agreeable to helping us.”

Adam narrowed his eyes slightly, paused and then looked down to read what was contained in the few lines of writing on the paper he held in his hands. Mr William Evarts signature sprawled across the bottom after ‘requesting the help’ of Adam Cartwright in matters that would strengthen the relationships and goodwill of the peoples of the United States with Great Britain etc etc.

He raised his eyebrows,’ requests the help of’ was not actually an order…and he sighed and put the paper down before opening the other envelope. Rachel took a deep breath and went to the table to pour out more coffee into the neat little cups. She then resumed her seat beside her husband.

This white vellum envelope with the red wax seal looked the most ominous to Adam and he cleared his throat before breaking the seal and opening it. The signature was of Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury, the current Minister of Foreign Affairs in Great Britain.

It was again brief and to the point, mentioning that Adams ‘expertise’ in such matters had been brought to his attention by the Prime Minister, Mr Disraeli, His assistance in the matter that would be explained by Lord Willoughby would be greatly appreciated. One sentence read “although America is not involved in this matter, it could well be if the situation were to worsen. Your Secretary of State wishes to avoid any such involvement -”

He put the letter down and then as though an afterthought he picked it up, re-read it and folded it back into the envelope. The third larger envelope he now opened and found all the necessary documents required for him to legally enter any country .

He leaned back and sighed, shook his head “Is Anna missing? Is that part of the story true?”

“Everything we told you is true, Adam. We told you everything -” Laurence replied and sat down, and watched Adam with a hopeful expression in his blue eyes.

“We don’t even know ourselves what Anna was involved in…” Rachel added, “Or why it is so important that she is found – apart from the fact that she is important to me, as my only sister.”

“Are you sure she isn’t really hidden away in your house in Illinois?”

“It was sold after my marriage,” Rachel nodded, “Truly, Adam, as far as I am concerned this is a search for my sister. Whatever else is involved isn’t of interest to me …”

“And what about you, Laurence? What more do you know about this?”

“Only what I have told you…I had to get the journal from Sylvia, make sure she was not implicated or attention drawn to her….then follow the leads Anna had written down and find her.”

“Except -” Adam paused and looked suspiciously at the little book, “Except that there are no leads. Someone made sure we didn’t find them…”

“You mean because of the missing pages?” Rachel whispered

Laurence sighed “I read it several times over, I checked to see if there were some pages stuck together, or some kind of code hidden in the context, but there’s nothing. Just an innocent woman’s daily jottings of events, terrible though they are -” he frowned and leaned forward to pick up the book “I should have noticed the missing pages.”

“Do you think Anna could have torn them out?” Rachel suggested

“They weren’t torn out.” Laurence said quietly

“Then the people who had her captive…” Rachel looked from one to the other of them, “They kept them -”

“Why bother sending us a journal in the first place?” Adam asked quietly. ”As you say until she recounts about the murder of her husband, and the fact that she was taken on board a ship there is nothing there of any relevance at all.”

Rachel shook her head, looked on the verge of tears again, while Laurence leaned towards the table and drank more coffee. Then he said “Invisible ink…perhaps she hid a message …”

“I doubt it.” Adam replied, “If she had there would have been little point in giving you the book, or of anyone taking the last pages out of it.”

He looked at the coffee swirling in the cup and reached for it, swallowed it down and stared at the book still in Laurence’s hands. “Someone sent you some of Anna’s jewellery and told you not to get involved in finding her?”

“A necklace father gave her years ago. Just a keepsake…” Rachel nodded

“Then you hear from Charles that Sylvia Soames has the book and you had to travel all the way here to get it?”

“Yes…which indicates to me that two different factions are involved. Those who took Anna and those who were friends of hers and want to help her.” Laurence murmured.

Adam placed a hand to his head, and for a moment remained silent before getting to his feet “I need to talk to Olivia about this, and to my father. “ he gathered up the envelopes and tucked them into the breast pocket of his jacket, “I think I will go and visit Sylvia too. If anyone has her under observation they won’t suspect me but assume it is just another friendly visit to her and her father .” he picked up his hat and walked to the door “I’ll see you later this evening.”

Neither of them said anything, just stood closer together, reached for the others hand and held it as they watched him close the door behind him.

Once outside the hotel Adam pondered on exactly which destination he should head for first. A cab came into view going in the direction of the Soames’ property and he hailed it, feeling that destiny, fate or whatever one could call it had played its hand in making the decision for him.

As he sat in the interior of the vehicle he replayed in his mind his time with Laurence and Rachel. He rubbed the back of his neck as though by doing so he could remember something that would provide him with a means of getting out of a situation over which he felt he had had no control. The envelopes in his pocket rustled as he moved and he felt again that unfamiliar twist of panic which he had not felt for a very long time.

Familiar landmarks from previous visits to San Francisco flashed past him but went unnoticed until finally the cab lurched to a halt. He sighed and picked up his hat as he slowly disembarked, and asked the cab driver to wait as he would need him for another trip. The cab driver nodded and his eyes twinkled as he clambered up onto his seat and prepared for a wait, not minding however long it would take after all, only a fool would turn aside the chance of earning some money for doing nothing.

Adam was smiling to himself as he took the steps to the door, the thought that only a few years ago he had been making this self same trip to a house only a few doors down the street to visit a woman who would become him wife trickled through his mind as a pleasant day dream. He was therefore still rather dreamy minded when he confronted the door and found it open…just slightly.

He pushed it gently until it swung wide enough to admit him. Even then he was cautious about entering the property, and wished he had the protection of his gun. Instinct, well honed after so many years, alerted his senses to something familiar and yet nothing he would have expected in this luxurious environment. A groan – he paused to get his bearings and turned towards the stairs where he found the man who acted as Soames butler sprawled upon the lower stair and hall floor.

Taking a deep breath Adam approached him and touched his shoulder, but the man only groaned again, tightened his eyes more firmly shut and leaned away from him as though he subconsciously did not want to be roused into awareness of what had happened.

For a moment Adam remained where he was as he leaned over the body of the man. Then he glanced about him, his eyes and ears alert to the sound of some movement, sound, any sign that there was someone likely to want to do to him what had happened to the man at his feet. But there was only silence until there came the sound of a clock from another room tinkling a tinny tune as it chimed the hour.

He put his hand to the door of the withdrawing room and pushed it slowly open. Already the smell from the room signalled a warning of what to expect. But who was the victim? He steeled himself, for a victim there certainly was as he became increasingly aware of the smell getting stronger as he opened the door and stepped inside the room.

Sylvia Soames had been killed while seated on a chaise longue. Her body had slipped at an angle as it had collapsed so that she was half reclining upon the floor, her upper body still resting the furniture. Adam approached her carefully, avoiding the blood that was pooling at her feet. He leaned forward to close the staring eyes, touched the pulse, now stilled, at her throat, and then stepped away.

The stain on her dress indicated the unpleasant after effects of death, the smells of which, combined with the metallic rust smell of blood had warned Adam to anticipate what he now confronted. He sighed deeply, closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose…he had not expected this, it was gruesome and ugly, cruel and unnecessary.

Sylvia was still warm to the touch and considering the condition of the man in the hall Adam could estimate that he had missed the murderer by a mere matter of minutes. He dismissed the thought that he – or she – could still be in the house as flight seemed to have been the option, the butler an obstacle brutally cast aside.

He was wondering if he would have time to look for some indication that the papers would be in the room when he noticed something in her hand, that last desperate clutch of the fist as though the victim sought to hang onto something. He leaned forward and with some care and a little force succeeded in pulling the paper from her fingers.

There were burned papers in the grate, too large to have been part of Anna’s journal. They were cold dead ash. Burned perhaps the previous day…

He didn’t have time to read the papers he had taken from her hand but pushed them into his pocket and went to attend to the other occupant of the room…Gregory Soames.

The Consultant Doctor lay partially concealed behind some cumbersome old antique desk, and could easily have been overlooked at first glance into the room. Adam approached him cautiously and could see from the colour of his face that the man was still alive. He touched Soames by the shoulder, shook him slightly and called his name.

There was no sign of blood on the man. No hint of violence at all and yet he lay prone upon the floor a look of horror upon his features which slowly changed into an expression more usual to the man as consciousness slowly returned. He blinked, sighed, groaned and touched the back of his head. Then he saw Adam looking down at him and with a confused look on his face whispered “Adam? You here?”

Then the confusion passed, his face now registered fear, horror and panic as he struggled to get to his feet “Sylvia – Sylvia – she’s hurt -”

He pushed Adam’s hand to one side and scrambled to his feet in an attempt to stand, to get to his daughter, to confirm that perhaps she was still in the land of the living – but Adam grabbed at him and pulled him back “No, Soames…you don’t need to see her now. “

“But – my daughter -” Soames groaned “She’s hurt -”

Adam glanced about him, the room was square with two doors leading to and from it, and it was the door closest to Soames to which he turned, hauling the unfortunate man along with him. They were now in the dining room in which Adam had been entertained so recently and locating a chair close by Adam set the man down, and after making sure that Soames would not collapse and do himself further injury he went to the bureau, poured some brandy into a glass and took it to him,

Soames’ hand was shaking as he took the glass from the other man. “She’s dead, isn’t she?” he whispered

“Yes, Soames, she is….did you see what happened?”

“Only the noise, I came home early, there was the sound of voices…Sylvia and a man ..arguing. I asked – Barnes – what was going on and he was about to say something when the door opened. A man came out and flung himself at me, pushed me aside, Barnes stepped forward….” he gulped some brandy and closed his eyes, trying to recapture the threads of memory that seemed to be slipping away from his mind. “I ran into the room, Sylvia was falling from the chaise longue…blood on her dress …she reached out for me and called for me “

“Anything else? Did she speak and tell you who had attacked her?”

“I went to her, she was trying to speak …I can’t think – can’t remember – something foreign. I realised – no – I don’t know – she needed help so I went to get it but then I think I passed out.” he put a hand to his face and for a moment didn’t speak “I don’t understand what happened to me…I just … was going to get Barnes …then everything went black, I passed out . I was no help to her -”

Adam nodded, put a hand on the man’s shoulder “I’ll go and see how Barnes’ is, stay here. Don’t go into the other room…”

Barnes was stirring now, rubbing his head and chest and not really sure which place was most painful. He looked with irritation at Adam and then asked in a slurred voice shaking with shock if the master was alright?

“Are you hurt other than a bump on the head?”

“Shoved in the chest,” Barnes muttered as he got to his feet with the aid of Adam’s hand at his elbow “Reckon I’ll have a headache for a week…”

“Stand at this door, don’t go inside. don’t let anyone in either. I shall have to get the Marshall. Stay here -” and without waiting for the man to say another word Adam left the house and hurried to the cab driver, who, upon being given orders to fetch the Marshall, turned the horses and sent the cab rolling at a swift canter down the road.

Adam took a deep long breath and then returned to the house. Soames was still slumped in the chair, the glass empty and hanging loose between his fingers. His eyes were glazed as he stared down at the floor but he looked up when Adam re-entered the room.

“I’ve sent for the Marshall.” Adam said quietly and pulled up a chair so that he could sit opposite his companion. “ I am sorry, Soames.”

Soames nodded, blinked and then looked into Adam’s face with all the pathos a man would feel at the loss of a loved one, taken so brutally, “It’s real isn’t it? She’s dead? Sylvia? She’s dead?”

“Yes.” Adam nodded and reached out a hand to place upon Soames’ arm, “I’m sorry, Soames.”

Soames nodded, breathed deep and exhaled, closed his eyes “She was such a beautiful girl. I couldn’t believe I had been blessed with such a daughter, such a beautiful daughter.”

“Soames…did Sylvia give you any indication that she was in any trouble? In any danger at all?”

“No, none. When I left her this morning she was singing…would you believe it? Singing?” he shook his head in wonderment “And now – like this – I can’t believe it.”

“Did she tell you whether she would be having any visitors today? Where she had gone yesterday? Who she had met?”

“She went to the park yesterday. But she didn’t meet anyone she knew. She doesn’t know many people here really. She – she doesn’t seem to want to have close friends.”

Adam sighed and shook his head “Don’t you find that strange? A lovely girl like her with no close friends?”

“She had men after her…of course she did…but she never spoke to me about them. She was like a butterfly really and -”

“Yes, but Soames, you have to think now – your daughter died cruelly and we have to work out a reason for why. Someone she knew killed her…someone that perhaps you knew … “

Soames shook his head and then dropped the glass on the floor where it shattered, and he put his hands to his face and sobbed. Adam rose to his feet and was about to speak when the door opened and the Marshall followed by two other men stepped into the room. Barnes stood behind them looking apologetic, but Adam stood up, and faced them, nodded

“Marshall Duggan? I was hoping it would be you….” he said quietly and extended his hand which the lawman took in his and shook,

“Well, Commodore, here you are again, and needing my help to get you out of trouble – again.” he smiled, his eyes twinkled and he nodded in a manner that was deceptively friendly.

He turned to return to the room where Sylvia lay, his two deputies already busying themselves with taking a careful search around, and it was Duggan who approached the body to look at it with a narrow eyed scrutiny

“Knife wounds…” he muttered pointing to the obvious source of death

“I must have missed the murderer by minutes.” Adam sighed and shook his head

“What can you tell me about the victim…” Duggan asked while still carefully examining the body.

Adam told him what little he knew about Sylvia, admitting that he had only met her that week and when Duggan asked him why he was there anyway he gave him the honest answer, that Soames had been his Medical Officer on board his ship and he had called by to make his farewells as he was returning to the Ponderosa.

Duggan straightened up and turned to face the tall rancher, then he nodded “I’ll see to it here, Commodore. How’s he bearing up?”

He had nodded towards the partitioning door to the other room where the sound of sobbing could still be heard. Adam sighed again “He’s shocked – he spent years looking for his daughter and now -” he shrugged and then excused himself to attend to Soames.

The other man rose to his feet, pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and blew his nose, wiped his eyes and shook his head “I should go in there, see what I can do…”

“Not just yet -” Adam said quietly and nodded over to the window that overlooked the garden “Let’s talk over there.”

Soames nodded, and followed Adam as though he were sleep walking. Adam opened the window to allow some clean fresh air into the room

“Duggans a good man, he’s thorough – “ he said as Soames leaned forwards as though the sight and smells of the garden could blow away the fearsome sight his mind dwelt on now “Soames…did Sylvia ever mention about being in Egypt ?”

“Egypt?” Soames frowned and then released his breath, nodded, “Yes, she’s been to Egypt, Africa, India…she travelled a lot with her husband.”

“Why did she change her name back to Soames ? Did she have something to – hide?”

“No, she had always used the name Soames. Some women – modern women as she liked to tell me – preferred it that way.” he blew his nose again, loudly, “She didn’t talk much about her husband, although she loved him deeply. She told me it was a true love match. I was happy for her -” he turned his head away and stared out, fixing his gaze upon a patch of colour drifting in the breeze “She still had letters and things come, from all over the world. She was in France recently, for a few weeks.”

“Was she alright – when she came back?” Adam asked quietly as though this could perhaps be a thread that needed careful tweaking to reveal something important at the end of it.

“Yes. Met some old friends.”

“Did she have any packages sent her recently from Egypt?”

Soames frowned and then turned to look at Adam with a scowl “What is this, Adam? Some sort of inquisition? Do you think I’ve forgotten how you like to dig and pry into things that are none of your concern? What are you trying to insinuate about my daughter?”

“I’m not trying to -”

“Sylvia was a beautiful woman, Adam. Intelligent, well travelled, and she liked her life, enjoyed it to the full. I won’t have you raking through her past and trying to make out she is – was – something other than that -” he turned away, head bowed and the handkerchief went to his eyes, “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that. No doubt the Marshall will be asking far worse…”

Adam nodded, perhaps so he thought, and with a sigh he looked about the room and then settled once again upon the face of the anguished man beside him “Soames, this could be important, but did she receive anything recently from abroad? A small package?”

“Like a book?” Soames said suddenly looking at Adam now as though some random thought had pierced the gloom of his misery “She did get a small package recently. She said it was from a friend in -” he frowned and shook his head “No, she didn’t say from where, but from abroad. She took it to her room…spent some while up there if I recall rightly. She was still there when I left for work.”

“How long ago was that?”

“A few weeks…I never asked about it, forgot it to be honest.” he shrugged “It didn’t seem of any importance and I never saw her with it again.”

Chapter 23

The cab driver was congratulating himself on having such a lucrative morning’s work. When Adam reappeared and ordered him to go to the Hotel Grammond he was only too willing to turn the horses back to the Hotel. When Adam told him to wait for him the cabbie thought he had found the pot of gold at the bottom of the rainbow as he watched Adam mount the steps to the building two at a time.

Laurence opened the door to Adam’s urgent knocking and stepped back in surprise at the sight of his friend who promptly closed the door behind him and pushed Laurence back as though some danger lurked in the hall beyond the door. Rachel rose to her feet and cried “What’s happened? Adam…what’s happened?”

Adam paused and looked at them both, then released his breath in a long exhalation before telling them that Sylvia was dead. “She was murdered. I only just missed the murderer by minutes.”

“Sylvia – but – why?” Rachel whispered and groped for her husband’s hand.

“We kept our meeting discreet, no one would have known she was colluding with us…she was safe …” Laurence glanced from his wife to his friend his face showing his confusion, guilt

“She may have been under observation for a while, Laurence, from what Soames tells me she was in contact with a number of people abroad…and she did receive a package, a book, some weeks ago.”

“From Anna?” Rachel whispered her hands clasped tightly now beneath her chin. She sunk back down upon the settee

“Soames doesn’t know…but it is even possible that they knew you, Laurence. It wouldn’t be the first time you’ve been followed when at the start of an assignment.”

Laurence bit down on his lip and frowned, nodded. He could remember only too well the time when they were about to embark on the mission to Egypt and he had been the weak link in the chain right from the start. “But not this time, Adam, I mean why would I be? So far as I was concerned this is just about finding Rachel’s sister….”

Rachel put her hands over her face “Poor Sylvia – this is too cruel – why should she be killed ?”

Adam glanced at Laurence who was staring at his wife and who now went to sit by her side “I’m sorry, Rachel, I should not have brought you here..” he bit his lip, and shook his head “If they were able to track down Sylvia, they could have seen you – “

“But I insisted, I thought Anna would be here, I wanted to come…”

“But not now. It isn’t safe for you. Being with me here -” he glanced at Adam who nodded slowly in agreement

“Is it possible for you to return to Europe?” Adam asked quietly, “I don’t want to risk your life or that of my family on the Ponderosa. In Europe you can get the protection from Charles’ people.”

She nodded, looked at Laurence “But what about you…?”

“I promised to find Anna. And I will…with Adam’s help.” Laurence turned again to Adam, a question in his eyes and the rancher thought ‘how like Little Joe he is, just the same -’ “Adam, will you help? Despite all this?”

Adam cleared his throat “Marshall Duggan is a good lawman, he’ll keep digging here until he finds the links to whatever has been going on with Sylvia and her foreign contacts…whether Egypt or whatever else.” he looked again at Rachel who was biting her lip and staring abjectly at the far wall as though already regretting her decision “I think, Rachel, Laurence is right, it may be best if you leave as soon as possible.”

Laurence nodded in agreement, and reached for his wife‘s hand. “You could join the family in France, they’ll make sure you’re safe. Or, as Adam suggests, return to England, contact Charles and get help from him.”

“Do you really think it necessary – I’m not involved as Sylvia was, I just wanted to find my sister.” she pleaded, tightening her grip on his fingers, looking earnestly from one to the other of them.

“We don’t know who these people are, sweetheart.” :Laurence murmured, “We – can’t risk your life just assuming that you’re safe.” he shook his head, frustrated and exasperated, “I should not have brought you – stupid fool that I am.”

“It’s too late to think that now,” Adam said crisply, “Look, The Baltimore leaves this evening for England. I’ll write to Myers and get Rachel on board …” he paused, and Laurence nodded uncertainly, while Rachel just sighed and clasped her hands together more tightly before, nervously she grabbed at his hands and held them close.

“I have to see Olivia and my father…” Adam said quietly, “But it may be best if you left here as soon as possible.”

Laurence nodded “If you intend to come along I’ll be at the wharf, there’s a schooner – I’ll be there. I’d like to leave on the mornings tide…”

Adam nodded, rose to his feet and went to the desk – in a few hurried lines he requested Myers the favour to him of taking on board Lady Rachel Willoughy, and keeping her under his close protection.

He said his farewells, kissed Rachel on the cheek and left the room. The letter was handed to one of the Hotel’s boys who promised to deliver it ‘right away’. As Adam left the building the boy was hurrying in the direction of the harbour, the dollar Adam had given him jingling in his pocket.
………….

Sofia was pirouetting around the furniture and humming a tune beneath her breath. She held her doll at arm’s length and whirled around and around, quite confident that she was as light as the fairy she was pretending to be; on the settee Reuben was engrossed in his book and Nathaniel played contentedly with his horse, galloping it up and down Ben’s leg and calling out “Giddy up…”

It was Reuben who raised his head and said “Pa’s back.” but it was Sofia who reached Adam first, who flung herself into his arms and wrapped herself around him. Ben stood up, swooped down to pick up Nathaniel and smiled at his son, who was being kissed by his daughter which had the result of tugging at his heart knowing he would be missing those kisses in the near future.

Olivia smiled and put down the crocheting work she had been doing while Martha exclaimed that she hadn’t realised it was so late. Adam put his daughter down and sat down beside Reuben “What are you reading, son?”

“It’s all about clipper ships, Pa. I wanted to know where everything was so I can tell the Gang when I get back to school.”

“Not planning to run off then?” Adam grinned, and Reuben shook his head and gave his father a long look

“Are you alright, Pa?” he asked, and Adam realised then that a smile that didn’t reach the eyes didn’t fool anyone, least of all a concerned and discerning little boy of ten.

“I have to talk to Grandpa and Ma …I’ll be back soon.”

“Daddy -” Sofia tugged at his fingers “I missed you today. Did you get that lady home – was she lost?”

“She’s alright now, Sofia…” Adam replied and tweaked her nose “Martha, would you mind if we used the study?”

“Of course not,” Martha replied and smiled for if he had asked her for the ‘top brick off the chimney’ she would have said just the same.

The study was very much as Julian Frobisher had left it, and both men relaxed in its friendly familiarity. Ben nodded at his son while Olivia walked to him and took his hand, and in a quiet voice asked him what was wrong.

He perched himself on the corner of the desk with Olivia’s hand in his and told them everything that had happened. He watched the expressions on their faces, the way Olivia’s eyes widened, dilated, and moistened. She took off the glasses and wiped beneath her eyes with a finger to remove traces of tears and leaned in closer to him.

Ben sighed and stared thoughtfully at the far wall where a map of the world had been placed. He nodded then and said “Remember that time with Bill Enders? The way you sat staring into the fire so deep in thought as you struggled to find a way to preserve the family honour and to nail down the truth? “

“I remember it well,” Adam replied quietly and sighed again, an echo of his father’s and he looked at his wife and raised an eyebrow “Do you still want me to help Rachel? It may have deeper implications that just finding her sister, you realise that, don’t you?”

“I suspected it anyway.” she replied honestly, “If Laurence was involved then there had to be some other angle to it – but Rachel wants her sister home safely and – and if you can help them find her…”

“I don’t know where to look. I don’t even know where to start.” Adam admitted honestly, and looked at his father,

“Is Rachel still coming back to the Ponderosa with us?” Ben asked now and when Adam shook his head no one spoke for a while, “perhaps it’s for the best.” Ben concluded.
…………..

Hannah and Hope loved it when Hoss played with them. The favourite game was when he pretended to be a bear and would crawl on all fours growling and roaring and waiting to pounce on them. It was even better if he wore his old brown coat because then he did look like a real grizzly, perhaps too real, because it always made Erik cry and run to mother.

“Calm down, Hoss…you’ll scare the children.” Hester scolded with a laugh in her voice and Hannah said “He doesn’t scare us, Ma.”

“Well, time for milk and cookies…and to calm down a little.” she replied and passed Erik over to his father so that the little boy could see that the bear wasn’t really anyone to be afraid of at all.

Hoss bounced Erik up and down a little and trailed behind his wife as she made her way to the kitchen in order to get the milk . He grabbed a biscuit from the plate and gave some to Erik before eating the rest, “Honey, I was wondering..”

“What about, Hoss?” she filled the glasses and put them on a tray.

“How about if we went to see Marcy and Luke tomorrow?”

Hester paused, her hand hovered over the plate of cookies and she glanced out of the corner of her eye at her husband who was jouncing Erik up and down in his arms,

“That would be a wonderful idea. I haven’t seen Marcy and the twins for so long. It would be good to go now as it will be more difficult once Hannah starts at school.” she gave Erik a cookie and then picked up the tray “We can take some food along with us and perhaps have a picnic in the orchard. That will be a perfect way to end the week.”

“I thought so too…” Hoss said modestly although in the back of his mind he had to give credit to Joe, after all this was not just about picnics and catching up on family gossip.

Hester set down the tray and watched as the girls came and took their glasses of milk and a cookie each, she sat down and smiled at her husband “It’ll be a good opportunity for you to ask Luke about the cattle …and if he and Derwent had thought any further about those missing calves.”

Hoss cleared his throat and nodded “Yes, dear…quite right. I’ll make sure to mention that – er – mmm.”
………..

In Joe and Mary Ann’s home the younger couple were sitting together, she with her head upon his shoulder, and he with his cheek resting upon the top of her head. It was quiet in the house, the children were already sleeping and not even the sound of the breeze outside could be heard.

He stroked her neck lazily, knowing that if he were not careful he would soon fall asleep with contentment and the warmth of the room. She sighed then and stretched out her lean body in order to settle more comfortably into the niche of his, and smiled as he moved a little to accommodate her.

“Joe, have I told you lately how much I love you?”

“About an hour and twenty minutes ago” he replied “But you can tell me again if you want to.”

He kissed her, leaning down to caress her lightly and smile into her eyes, and kiss her again. “Won’t be long before Pa and Adam and the family will be home. I’ve missed them.”

“Because of the problem about those calves?”

“No, not just that…” Joe replied a little tersely, and cleared his throat, “I was thinking…you know, tomorrow we could go and pay a neighbourly call on the Burgoynes.”

“Who?”

“The Burgoynes. They moved in about a month ago and we should really have paid them a visit before now…don’t you think?”

She sighed and gave a slight shrug of the shoulders, far too comfortable to want to talk about neighbours, or calves. Joe caught a strand of her chestnut hair between his fingers and began to coil it round and round, his eyes on the fire that burned in the grate, not overly large for the room was not cold.

“I met Mr Burgoyne – he said he knew Pa.”

“When would he have known Pa?” she frowned “I can’t remember him ever mentioning anyone called Burgoyne.” she sighed “But then your Pa knows so many people.”

“It comes with age.” Joe replied sagely

“I suppose.”

They lapsed into silence and for a few minutes shared the peace and quietude together, several times he leaned down to kiss her, smiled between kisses, “He bought an area of land from Greigson. Did you know Abel Greigson had left the Box G?”

“I heard -” Mary Ann smiled lazily, “Miss Tyndale told me.”

“ I don’t think he’ll be coming back, or, if he did, he wouldn’t be too welcome. His Pa holds a grudge close to his chest.”

“I heard that too.”

“Miss Tyndale huh?”

“No,” she laughed and looked up at him, raised her face to kiss him “Roy Coffee.”

“Odd isn’t it?” Joe frowned and straightened up in order to get up, he stretched and rubbed his face with one hand, then yawned, “I mean, you’d think Walt Greigson would want his son there with him now, seeing how he’s doing so well with all those cattle and then – there’s all that special feed that Abel seems to be the only one who knows anything about -.”

“Families fall out, Joe.” Mary Ann said quietly and left the settee, she reached out a hand towards him and smiled “The only one who can tell you what happened between them would be Abel or Walt.”

“Guess so….” Joe stabbed at a log with the poker and watched it collapse into two halves, a shower of red sparks and white dust, he shrugged “Anyway, it will be interesting to meet Mrs Burgoyne.”

“Oh – is she young and pretty then?” she laughed at him, leaning to wards him and teasing him with big eyes

“I doubt it, her sons are grown men…” he frowned then, “Not the most pleasant of men either.”

She said nothing to that, but lingered a little longer by the stairs waiting for him so that they could go up together, hand in hand. She smiled a little at nothing in particular and he gently ran his fingers down her back, thoughts of calves, Burgoynes and tomorrow slowly fading to the back of their minds.

Chapter 24

Theodore Barnes had served in the military from youth onwards and had been at the Battle of the Rosebud* with Reno and Benteen during the disastrous affair of Custers’ battle at Wounded Knee. He retired almost immediately after that and although domestic service may have been considered a poor alternative, to a man like Barnes it had come as a God-send. Serving a man who had been in service, albeit naval rather than military, had pleased him immensely as it was an occupation with someone who understood things being done in certain ways.

Soames had been greatly impressed with Barnes, and before Sylvia had come to the house he had often dropped the master/servant role of an evening and shared a glass of whiskey and yarns with the man. To Soames way of thinking it was not right for a fellow American to take the place of a servant in his home, but Sylvia changed all that … she had spent too much time abroad and enjoyed the privilege of wealth and position. Servants had become a necessity so the evenings sharing whiskey and yarns with his Butler came to an end while she was at home.

So being given a black eye and swollen lip did not affect Barnes’ unduly. He was similarly unaffected by the murder of his master’s daughter, having considered her a ‘flighty piece’ and no doubt got what she had coming to her. Not that he shared that opinion with any of the other staff or with Soames, but his life had been a hard one, and having no religious belief at all, preferred to see things from a realistic point of view rather than an emotive one.

Hence when there came a loud staccato knocking on the door early the morning after the murder, Barnes was in place, and uniform, to open it and greet the man on the doorstep with a nod of the head and a greeting

“Barnes?” Adam Cartwright stepped into the hall, and heard the door clunk shut behind him, Barnes stepped forward and waited for the inevitable question “How’s Mr Soames?”

“The Doctor gave him a sedative, Mr Cartwright. He’s still sleeping soundly.”

Adam nodded and gave the man a shrewd narrow eyed look, “You look like you have quite a colourful bruise there, Barnes?”

“Yes, Mr Cartwright.” Barnes sighed, not only colourful but painful too, but he decided Mr Cartwright would know all about that anyway so little point in mentioning it.

Adam glanced at the door where the previous day Sylvia’s body had been found and Barnes cleared his throat “It’s been cleared up, sir.”

“Marshall Duggan would see to that -”

“He did, sir. Not a pleasant business, is it, Mr Cartwright?”

Adam glanced at him again, the man obviously had something he wanted to say, and Adam had things he wanted to ask him. The whole point of the visit so early had been in order to see Barnes. He nodded over to another door, one he knew led to Soames study.

“May I speak to you – in there -?”

Barnes’ nodded, and led the way, opened the door, stepped inside and once Adam had crossed the threshold closed it firmly behind him. “I have told the Marshall all I know, Mr Cartwright.”

“I’m sure you have -” Adam nodded and leaned against the desk, folded his arms across his chest and observed the man, “But I need to ask you questions of my own that perhaps he would not have thought to ask you…and please, don’t make excuses about not answering them because what you have to tell me could very well help me locate the murderer and save another young woman from harm.”

Barnes’ allowed a flicker of interest to light up his eyes, then he lowered his head and stared at the floor “Two very good reasons for doing what I can to help, Mr Cartwright.” he glanced up and relaxed into a military ‘At Ease’ position.

“A description of the man who attacked you and killed Miss Soames…you must have had a good view of him when you admitted him into the house.”

“But I didn’t, sir, I never saw him as he was already with Miss Soames when I came to the hall to find out what all the shouting was about…”

Adam inclined his head, thought about that and then nodded “So he was admitted to the house by the maid?”

“No, he entered the house with Miss Soames. She always goes out in the mornings, to take some fresh air she says…either she goes to meet people, or for a walk in the a park -” he shrugged as though it was no concern of his and he hadn’t been interested enough in her habits to take note. “I asked the housemaid if she had admitted him but she said not, so I gather from that he must have come in with Miss Soames.”

“I see.” Adam frowned, then tightened his arms across his chest “But when he hit you on his way out, did you notice anything about him then?”

“As I told the Marshall, I didn’t see him long enough to be able to give a good description. But -” he frowned and for a moment was silent, inward looking, trying to gather his thoughts and memory of that time when a man had rushed from a room, hit him and sent him sprawling as he ran down the hall and out of the door.

“He was shorter than myself…I’d put him as about 5ft 8ins at the most. He was not wearing a hat so I could see that he had black hair, very curly, and oiled…I could smell the pomade, it made his hair greasy looking. He had very dark eyes, wild looking they were as you can imagine. He had what is called sallow skin…you know, the colour some foreign folk have …”

“Anything else?”

“He could have killed me, he had the knife in his hand – blood all over his clothes – splattered over his face – I can remember that clearly enough because I stepped back and then he hit me. I thought he had stabbed me too when he hit me in the chest but -” he shrugged, and pulled his mouth into a grimace “Mr Soames was shouting….”

“He saw the murderer?”

“Apparently not, sir. “

“He told me he had heard shouting….”

“Yes, as he came into the house from work, the man and Miss Soames were arguing quite loudly, and Mr Soames looked at me “What’s going on in there, Barnes?” he said and as he opened the door the man came out, but Mr Soames only had eyes on his daughter and was shouting her name. If he saw the murderer – I mean – he would have seen him but I should think it would have been very confused and unclear.”

Adam nodded and bowed his head, after some silence between them he asked Barnes if he could recall anything else, anything unusual that would help to identify the man.

“He was very well dressed, Mr Cartwright.” Barnes smiled slightly “I did notice that, I suppose because in this line of business one looks at the clothing quite closely, helps us identify the rank and file so to speak…” he cleared his throat “and his shoes were hand made, very expensive, I saw them quite well as I began my descent on the stairs…before he punched me in the chest…his suit was immaculate. What I would call ‘top drawer’.”

Adam looked at the man thoughtfully and just momentarily wondered what ranking he would be given later on…he tapped his mouth with his forefinger for a moment and noticed that Barnes was watching him with a shrewd look in his eyes, he asked if there was anything, anything at all, that would identify the assailant and Barnes shook his head “There is one thing, no one has mentioned seeing a blood stained man leaving here, waving a knife about – so he must have come with his own carriage – not pubic transport, sir, otherwise the cabbie would have driven off at the first sight of him. I did mention that to the Marshall, sir.”

Adam allowed a small smile to flicker over his mouth and nodded “Good thinking, Barnes.”

“Anything else, sir?”

“Yes – Miss Soames was well travelled -”

“Indeed she was, Mr Cartwright. She was always getting letters and packages from foreign places. She used to let me have the stamps because my nephew collects them for a hobby of his…”

“Can you recall her receiving a package a few weeks, maybe a month ago…not overly large, but -”

“The size of a book, sir?”

Adam looked at him and widened his eyes, then nodded “Yes, that’s’ right, a book.”

“I remember it, it came with some other mail – “ he frowned “She looked surprised to see it, and I recall she said “I wonder who this is from…””

“So she didn’t recognise the writing?”

“There was no writing on the envelope Mr Cartrwight…it had been printed out on one of those new fangled machines – but she opened it and said I could have the stamps and I remember she stopped at the doorway and looked -” he frowned, obviously trying to be as accurate as possible in describing Sylvia’s reaction to the journal “she looked worried, flicked through the pages as one does, and yes, worried and confused.”

“Did you see the book again? Could you describe it?”

“I never saw it again, but it had a green cover and what looked like a coat of arms embossed on the front. “

Adam nodded, and sighed as he remembered looking at that very same coat of arms, the Hassim emblem, gold on green, quite eye catching. “She never mentioned it to you?”

“No. “

“And the stamps? Did you – or your nephew – could you tell from what country the package had been posted from?”

“Cyril, my nephew, said they were from Cyprus ..”

“Cyprus? Are you sure?”

“Cyril’s very informative about this kind of thing, Mr Cartwright. It isn’t difficult as the name of the country is on the stamp -” he almost, but not quite, rolled his eyes at this juncture, but stopped himself at the dark look he got from Adam.

“Did you mention any of this to the Marshall?”

“No, he never asked…but then he doesn’t really know much of what happens with Miss Soames.”

“Do you? I mean, Barnes, is there anything about Miss Soames that you know that may help -”

Barnes sighed, and looked genuinely grieved that he would be unable to answer the question, he shook his head “She was a lovely lady, sir. But mysterious, if you know what I mean…often away, abroad, all those letters and packages…and she was very wealthy without anyone really knowing where the wealth came from, if you get my meaning…” he paused and nodded thoughtfully “I remember Mr Soames saying to her one time that he wished she was not away so often and she said it had something to do with her husband’s line of work…”

“She said that, did she?”

“Yes, she said “Edmund had important work, father, and it’s my responsibility to carry on for as long as I can -” then she stopped when she realised I may overhear the conversation. She was very careful in what she said when we were present.”

Adam nodded again, presumably the ‘we’ referred to were the servants, and, as he knew, Sylvia was well used to living with servants around her.

He thanked Barnes who asked him if he were going to stay to see Mr Soames, although he could not guarantee when that would be possible as the sedative had been strong. Adam glanced at the clock on the desk, then shook his head, thanked Barnes again for his help and after picking up his hat, left the room, paused at the doorway as though wondering if he had covered all the necessary questions..decided that he had and finally left the house.

He got into the waiting cab (a different cabbie this time) and gave directions for Martha’s home, and the more difficult hour or so ahead.
……………..

Gates had been in domestic service with the Frobishers for so long that he had practically morphed into the American assumption of an English Butler. As Adam handed him his hat at the entrance to Martha’s house, he wondered if the man even remembered his first name, and how he would have reacted to a murder and a battering of his person.

Olivia came from the dining room and seemed to glide over to greet him, kissing his cheek gently “How was he?”

“Still under the influence of a sedative, I didn’t disturb him.”

“Poor Mr Soames.” Olivia sighed and reached for Adam’s hand as though she wanted as much contact with him now as possible.

Sofia was first, of course, down the stairs, her skirts floating behind her and her hair only partially braided, a ribbon held aloft in one hand which she offered to Adam as a prize “I heard you coming, daddy.”

He caught hold of her as she jumped from the second stair up ( or down) and swung her into his arms, the ribbon he took from her hand and slipped into his pocket while he asked her if she was excited about going home and seeing everyone back on the Ponderosa.

“Oh yes, and they will be so excited when they see all their presents, won’t they?” she hugged him tightly and kissed his cheek “Daddy, are you going to be away for a long time?”

So Olivia or Ben had told them and he wished for a moment that he had had that time to explain to them instead of his wife or father. He forced a smile though and nodded,

“I will be away, but it won’t be for very long…not even as long as I was when I took the cattle away last summer. I’ll be back before you know it…”

She frowned and shook her head, “But I don’t want you to go away, Daddy…not ever. I want you to come back with us.”

“I wish I could, sweet heart, but not this time.”

Tears welled up in her eyes and hovered just beneath the lashes, she blinked and each one fell onto her cheeks “Mommy said I wasn’t to cry.” she whispered “But I can’t help it, my tummy is sad -”

“Perhaps it’s empty and just needs breakfast” he said teasingly and wiped her tears away with his finger “Now, off you go, and no more tears…”

She sighed as though her heart was breaking and ran into the dining room where the clatter of plates and cutlery could be heard. He turned to Olivia and shook her head, “It’s worse than a Court Martial.”

“I thought it best to tell them, it would make it so drawn out and painful otherwise.”

“It’s painful enough -” he admitted and leaned in to kiss her, “But -”

“No but’s, darling.” she said quietly, and offered her lips for his kiss which he gave like a man who was hungry and knew he would not be eating again for a very long time.

Nathaniel came downstairs, carefully, one at a time with Horse in his hand. He looked at his mother and father and blinked large dark eyes, then continued down to the last step where upon reaching their level he tugged on Olivia’s skirt and raised his arms to be lifted into hers.

Chirpy Nathaniel wore a sombre solemn look on his face as he turned to his father, he lowered his head and hugged the Horse to his chest as though to say ’You may be leaving me but Horse won’t…’ but Adam wasn’t having any of that nonsense, he couldn’t bear to leave without seeing his little boy’s smiles and dimples.

He walked into the dining room whispering to Nathaniel which tickled the boys ear and made him wiggle and then giggle. Swinging the boy high into the air Adam then lowered him into his seat and turned to face Reuben

“Ma says you’re going on a ship,” the boy stated very matter of factly.

“I am.” Adam nodded and smiled at Martha, and at Ben who was regarding him with a solemn look on his face.

“Can I come too? I could be your cabin boy like Harry was and -”

Adam leaned forward and looked into the boys face, such an earnest eager handsome face. “I wish you could, Reuben, but it isn’t that kind of trip.”

“Why? What’s different about it?”

“Well, I’m not a naval officer for one thing…so that means I’m not in command of this ship. I’m just a passenger.”

Reuben looked deflated “I was looking forward to coming with you….”

“I can imagine.” Adam replied and looked at Olivia who was looking rather pensive at this conversation “But don’t try stowing away, will you? Grandpa will tan your hide if you try to do that -”

Ben cleared his throat and tried to smile, nodded and decided to eat his breakfast and keep quiet.

The meal proceeded more quietly than usual. Martha, aware that her guests were leaving later that day, was solemn, and the fact that Adam was going in a different direction than his family rather disconcerted her. She turned to him now,

“When do you leave, Adam?”

“As soon as I finish this meal with you, and then I will have to go.” Adam said quietly and his dark eyes went from one face to the other as though he had to look at each of them and imprint them into his memory.

“Do you know exactly how long you will be away?” she looked at him with faded blue eyes, anxiety lining her face. To her this man had been like a son, the child she and Julian had never had, but always longed for…she sighed “don’t answer, I know I have no right to be told.”

“If I knew then I would tell you, I promise you that…but I’ll be gone for as long as I need to be…”

Sofia paused and looked up at him “And then you’ll be back sooner than anything, won’t you Daddy?”

He looked at her, at Nathaniel who was looking confused and worried, and at Reuben who looked curious and thoughtful “I will do, Pudding. I promise.”

Chapter 25

The Viking Queen was a 100 foot over all schooner, with fore and aft sails on two masts. The foremost mast was the shortest and it was gaff rigged. It’s paintwork gleamed white and gold, while the woodwork was varnished to a high density and shine. Berthed as she was in the harbour she looked like a jewel set perfectly in her surroundings.

Adam stood for a moment to look her over and noticed the tall figure of Laurence Willoughby already on deck talking to a shorter man, dressed smartly in uniform, not a naval one, Adam could see that the design was purely to identify him as crew. He sighed and thought hesitantly of his own uniform languishing in a trunk back on the Ponderosa, tucked neatly away out of sight and temptation. He watched the men on the vessel and smiled to himself, it was, after all, a rich man’s toy, and he could only hope that it would be a powerful one as well.

Captain Thomas Salway glanced over in the direction where Adam stood, and nodded to Laurence “Is that him?”

Laurence looked at where Salway had indicated and smiled, he took his gold watch from his pocket and checked the time, then nodded “Yes, and just on time …”

“Good, that means we can get moving out of here,” Salway muttered and yet remained standing where he was so that he could watch as Adam began to walk towards them.

Salway noticed the power of the man in the broad shoulders, the way he walked through the crowds, using his shoulders to make his way through without actually touching anyone. With narrowed shrewd eyes he paid attention to this man whom Laurence seemed to depend so much upon…and he saw a tall man, over 6 ft in height, his shoulders slightly rounded as often happens with men taller than most around them. Adam Cartwright was not a young man, there was none of the bounce in his footsteps or lightness in them that spoke of youth, but there was that power he had noticed initially. The dark hair, for Adam was without a hat, was showing grey at the sideburns, and the tanned features had lost the tautness of youth, but had the warm cragginess of maturity, honed by wind, rain, sun and sea. The dark eyes were what caught Salway’s attention most of all. From where he was observing Adam, he felt that those eyes had already swept over him, through him and dissected him…and yet he could also discern humour there, and a confidence that attracted others to him like bees to a honey pot.

Laurence was already striding down the gangplank towards the newcomer, smiling his welcome and relief at seeing him. “I thought you may have changed your mind.”

Adam shook his head, “I went to see Soames.”

“How is he?”

“Under sedation, but I had an interesting conversation with his butler.” he paused and looked again with admiration at the schooner “Very nice, Laurence.” he glanced sideways at the other man “Yours?”

“My fathers…the old man likes sailing, we usually keep her at Cowes, you know. But she has a good turn of speed on her, does from 5 to 10 knots easily.”

Adam nodded and sighed, then glanced around him cautiously, “Did Rachel get away safely?”

“Yes. Thank you for the letter you sent to Myers. It helped …she was able to get away without any trouble, and so far as we could tell, without anyone paying that much attention.”

Adam quirked an eyebrow and then turned back to observe the schooner “That your Captain?”

“Yes…Thomas Salway. He’s a good man. He’s – er – he’s Government issue if you know what I mean…but the other men work for my father, and quite happy to take orders from Salway so long as they get paid for it. It’s all an adventure for them, of course, takes them away from the usual run of things.”

Adam released his breath and nodded again, then began to walk towards the vessel, where Salway was waiting, watching, with narrowed eyes in a thin face.

“Do you have any idea where we are headed?” he asked Laurence as they stepped foot together on the gangplank.

“Once we get away from here, and into open sea, we will have to consider our options.”

“Our options, huh?” Adam muttered and with a slight shake of the head he made his way to the upper deck of the schooner to where Captain Salway stood, hands clasped behind his back and watching every move he made.

“Salway -” Laurence nodded over to the officer, “Captain Thomas Salway, this is Com- I mean – Mr Adam Cartwright from the Ponderosa.”

“Really?” Salway smiled warily, his eyes narrowed as he looked more closely at this other man, “And what kind of vessel would the Ponderosa be?”

“No vessel” Laurence said quickly, “Mr Cartwright – Adam – is a rancher, from near Virginia City.”

“But served previously in the Navy under Grant’s administration, if I’m correct?”

“You are,” Adam replied and extended his hand to be shaken, which it was in a good firm handshake. Adam noticed the mans flesh was cool, dry and the grip was hearty and strong.

“Laurence has told me a lot about you…” Salway smiled, his eyes still watchful as he noted the changing lights in the dark brown eyes, the smile lingering at the corners of the well shaped mouth and the scars that indicated that the man didn’t run from many fights.

“Then you have the advantage over me, sir.” Adam replied and glanced at Laurence who was watching the exchange nervously, “We will no doubt have plenty of time to find out more about one another as time goes on….” he cleared his throat “When do we leave?”

“As soon as we can. Our papers are in order and we can leave as soon as you are settled into your cabin.” Salway replied and turned to catch the attention of a passing seaman, “Evans, escort our passenger to his cabin, would you?”

Adam sighed, passenger, that was a new one to him and he wasn’t sure that he liked it. He swung his valise up and with a nod to Laurence followed Evans across the deck.

Everything on board the ship gleamed. The solid oak flooring was burnished gold, varnished so many times as to be rendered impervious to the salt of the sea. Brass fittings gleamed wherever he looked. There was nothing out of place. He smiled slowly to himself, yes, this was indeed a rich man’s toy, there was no sign of the knocks and notches a good sea worthy ship would display, and he wondered how this vessel would fare should events prove really tough…whether from the sea itself, or – and here he inhaled deeply – and shook his head, or sea battles with other ships.

“Here y’are, sir, all you need, home from home as they say-” And Evans stepped back for the other man to enter the cabin.

It was very luxurious. Adam almost winced at just how ‘fancy’ it all was compared to the cabins he had made ‘home from home’ in the past. He looked around him, sighed, and walked over to the port hole where he could observe the city and get an idea of his compass point.

“Can I get you anything, sir? Anything to drink? We have a good stock of wine, beer, and -”

“Coffee would be fine…”

“Very well, sir.”

He stood in the centre of the cabin and looked around him once again…perhaps, it was better to sail off to who knew where in such a splendid toy as this, perhaps no one else would take it seriously either.

He turned as Laurence knocked and then came in to join him, smiled and pulled out a chair. “Well, Adam, in a way, I’m rather looking forward to all this…all we need now is Dimitri to arrive, waving those infernal cigarettes of his and spitting ‘politics’ in that way he had as though he hated every second of the dirty work he had to do for Mother Russia.”

He sat down and crossed one leg over the other, looked at Adam and sighed, his face falling into more sombre lines, looking more like a little boy lost than ever. His blue eyes went dull and his fingers played with his mustache “I’m sorry, Adam, I put you into a very awkward position but as I’ve said before, there really was no one else I could turn to…and then when Charles -”

“Charles? Oh yes, of course…” he remembered the letters, still in his jacket pocket. “Well, what do you know, Laurence? Do you have any idea as to where we can go to find Anna? What direction? How long it will take? What it will involve?” he paused and pulled out a chair opposite to Laurence and straddled the seat, crossing his arms on the back as though he were home having to test Joe out about something “Are you armed?”

“I’ve a pistol, a hand gun – in my cabin -” Laurence stuttered

“No, I meant is this – this schooner armed?”

“I had it fitted with a small armoury….rifles, grenades. That kind of thing. Just in case”

Adam sighed, and frowned, passed one hand across the back of his neck before getting back onto his feet and walking over to the port hole

“Have you the journal on you?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Let us have another look at it…” he turned and pulled a small table from its position by the wall to where it would be better used, placing it between himself and Laurence who placed the journal upon it and then looked at Adam as though waiting for him to produce a rabbit out of a hat, or in this case, a map from a book.

Adam looked straight into Laurence’s eyes, then glanced down at the book, the cover of which he tapped with his forefinger “This book was posted to Sylvia from someone in Cyprus.”

“Cyprus? Great heavens, Cyprus?”

“Did you not know about that? No clue at all?”

“No. None.” Laurence bowed his head, his chin rested on his chest and he frowned, “Crikey, Cyprus of all places.” he looked up at Adam “That’s quite a distance.”

Adam said nothing, for the moment he was irritated by Laurence’s naivete, the same kind of unawareness that Joe at times exhibited. He could see the other man thinking, could almost sense the cogs going round in his brain

“How did you find that out, Adam? No one else had any idea that it came from there.”

“Barnes told me, and he also gave a description of the man who attacked Sylvia.” he paused and was about to speak when there was a tap on t he door and the man, Evans, stepped inside with cups and coffee on a tray.

He set this down, asked if there was anything else they would require, then departed.
The door clicked shut behind him, Laurence remained silent and it was Adam who poured out the coffee, the rich aroma of the beverage filling the cabin enticingly.

“Does this mean that Anna could be in Cyprus?” Laurence said quietly as he accepted his cup from Adam who now resumed his seat opposite him.

“I don’t know, Laurence.”

“You see, things could be a bit awkward if it is…”

Adam sighed, “Why doesn’t that surprise me”

“You see, Russia was trying to expand its Empire by taking in Constantinople and the Dardanelles. * It was necessary to step in, to forestall that expansion if you see what I mean…so last year the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire ceded the administration of Cyprus into British hands to prevent Russian aggression …” he paused and bit his bottom lip, glanced up at Adam “This is quite confidential, you understand? The agreement was kept secret -”

“And what would Britain gain from such an agreement ?”

“The Ottoman Empire would support Britain during the Congress of Berlin*.”

Adam leaned back in his chair, emptied his cup of coffee and almost slammed the cup down upon the saucer, “Politics…it’s always there, isn’t it?”

“So you can see -”

Adam raised a hand “No, don’t tell me any more. I don’t want to know.”

He leaned forward and picked up the book. Again it fell clumsily, lop sided, and he set it upon the table to smooth it down, to observe where pages had been cut out, very carefully, by who knew whom? He put his hand in his pocket and from there withdrew his daughter’s ribbon, which brought a slight ache to the heart, and then, a small wad of paper, creased as one would expect of paper clutched tightly in the hand of a dying woman.

He put them down and smoothed them out and then nudged them up against the open book. Laurence’s eyes widened “Where did you get them?”

“Sylvia -” Adam muttered without feeling he needed to explain any further.

The pages nestled comfortably upon the hard back of the book, butted up against the journal that Anna had carefully written in months earlier.

The first page was empty, blank.

The second and third pages had names and addresses, not written in Anna’s style.

The next page had what looked like the plan of a house … Laurence glanced up at Adam “That isn’t an Egyptian style of house” he picked it up to look at it more closely “Where do you think it could be located?”

Adam raised a hand as though for silence, he then turned up the last page and that was of a plan showing the layout of a garden. Nothing significant, just a garden. They both stared at it for a while, then looked at one another and Laurence shook his head “What does that mean?”

“The addresses…do they mean anything to you?”

Laurence picked them up and looked at the names and addresses, “I don’t even recognise the writing.” Laurence put down one page “I know this woman. She was a friend of Anna’s, and of Sylvia’s. I thought she had left Egypt -”

“If she was the one to send the book to Sylvia then she must have gone to Cyprus.”

“The address isn’t Cyprus…its in Maine.” he pushed the page over to Adam to show him “That brings things closer to home,, doesn’t it?”

“And the other – do you know who that is?”

Laurence stared thoughtfully at the name and address on the page, then shook his head “No, I don’t know who this is, it could be anyone, male or female…but the address is in Boston.” he frowned “I suppose they must be significant, both addresses, must mean something in connection with Anna.”

They looked at one another, the same question in both their minds…where to go, what to do? Laurence sighed “What if we cable them – perhaps there would be no need to do anything other than send a telegram?”

Adam nodded and considered the suggestion before venturing to say that telegrams could be mislaid, stolen. On the other hand the wrong person could be put on alert by a telegram –

“How do you mean?” Laurence asked immediately.

“I don’t know what I mean exactly.” Adam said honestly, “But Sylvia had those pages in her hand as she died. The handwriting isn’t Anna’s, it could be anybody’s…it could be that Sylvia died preventing the man who attacked her from having knowledge of them, or she managed to get them from him before he killed her…”

“Dash it and darn, Adam, you’re making a messy situation a whole lot messier…” he tugged at his mustache which Adam wished had been shaven off, “What if we cable one, and sail on to the other?”

Adam shrugged, he looked at the papers, the addresses “If you are sure the woman is a friend of Anna’s and Sylvia’s then send a telegram. We could sit it out here and wait for some reply .. “ he paused, “while doing that I shall call back on Soames and see if he is capable of giving us some information.”

“May I come too?”

“I see no reason why not.” he gave a slight smile and turned to the port hole, gazed out to the harbour side, “Write your cable, Laurence, we can post it before going on to Soames.”

He could hear the scratch of Laurence’s pen, and while he waited he thought of his wife, his children and wondered if he would be joining them at the Ponderosa after all. He could get a cab and meet them at the station as they boarded the train …he glanced at a clock on the wall and sighed, too late for that for they would already be on board.

Laurence dipped the pen into the ink well, tap tap on the ceramic rim, more scratching. Adam stared up at the clouds just discernible from the port hole, sighed again. If the worse came to the worse it could be a delay of some hours waiting for a reply, upon which they could decide whether or not the other addressee would be adequately served by a cable too. He cleared his throat and shook his head, best take things as they come, and be patient he told himself.

Chapter 26

“Be patient,” Olivia told Sofia who was hopping from one foot to the other in her eagerness to board the train, “Wait for others to board first…”

“But, mummy…”

Nathaniel held more tightly to his Grandfather’s hand, “Where’s Daddy?” he asked for about the umpteenth time.

Ben did not reply immediately, he just pointed to some birds pecking at crumbs on the ground and talked nonsense for a while until Nathaniel shook his head and looked over to his mother who was tying the ribbon of Sofia’s bonnet more securely

“Where’s Daddy,” he asked again.

“Daddy has work to do, now don’t ask again, Nathaniel, I’ve already told you a dozen times.” Olivia sighed, and saw Sofia looked at her and could just imagine the child thinking “Mommy, be patient.”

She could just smile and nod, then take the little boy into her arms, and jig him up and down as though that would distract him. Ben and Reuben looked at one another and shared a look of mutual sympathy. “I could have been cabin boy, Grandpa, on that schooner Pa’s on, couldn’t I?”

“No, you couldn’t,” Ben replied honestly, perhaps a little tactlessly, “You’re too young.”

“How old were you when you ran away to sea, Grandpa?”

Ben frowned and stared at the boy, who was now accompanied by Sofia who was looking up with big eyes obviously very eager to hear his response

“I was far too young. I was sent home with my tail between my legs.”

Sofia frowned and moved slightly so that she could observe this until now unseen phenomenon “What happened to it, Grandpa?”

“Happened to what?” Ben replied turning now to pick up a valise as he noticed movement and a surge towards the train from all directions.

“Your tail?” Sofia replied innocently and with an amazed look on her face “I never saw it – not ever -”

“Because -” Ben paused and sighed “Just hurry up, Sofia, or you will be left behind.”

He swung Nathaniel up onto the steps so that he could manage the rest himself, Reuben followed keeping a careful eye on his little brother to ensure he would not fall or get lost. Sofia came holding fast to Olivia’s hand, and as Olivia turned to wave goodbye to Martha her daughter said “I wish daddy were here..”

Olivia said nothing but kept the smile on her face until she could get into the trains interior and sit down. Ben came next and settled down into the seat opposite her. They dutifully looked out of the window and waved at Martha who stood looking lonely and forlorn on the platform, although Gates was standing stolidly a few feet behind her.

“I wish Martha had come with us.” Olivia said wistfully

“She has her reasons for staying,” Ben replied in a non committal kind of voice and then glanced again at the woman standing on the platform.

Perhaps if he thought hard enough he could recall the picture of Martha Frobisher as she had been when, all of 18 years of age, she had arrived in San Francisco with her husband…a lovely looking fresh faced girl with an abundance of red hair, even redder than Hesters, and freckles, and large blue eyes that twinkled when she spoke to you…but that was back then, when there was no Virginia City, only tarpaulins stretched over poles, shanty cabins. Alley ways full of mud, and worse…but he had been fond of her, and of Julian.

He was jolted from his memories as the train began to shunt slowly from the station. He leaned forward to try and catch a last glimpse of Martha Frobisher, but all too soon she was gone from view and he knew he would never see her again.
………….

Ebenezer Burgoyne opened the door and looked quizzically at the couple standing before him…an attractive couple he had to admit, and it took a moment or two to recognise Joe Cartwright who had removed his hat and smiled at him with such a vacant but pleasant look on his face that for a moment the rancher wondered if the man had lost his senses.

“What’s this? A deposition? What do you want?”

Mary Ann raised her eyebrows, and glanced at her husband who nodded as though he had expected no less a response to their arrival. He thrust out a hand “Mr Burgoyne, I realised last evening that you had been here over a month already and we had not done the neighbourly thing of welcoming you to – er – the territory. I know Pa would have been here much sooner had he known, so I thought my wife -” he turned to Mary Ann who smiled and nodded which set the feathers in her hat fluttering “and I should do the honours.”

Burgoyne looked slightly bemused. He took Joe’s hand and shook it, smiled at Mary Ann and then moved aside. With a sweep of his hand he indicated that they should enter inside, which they did very promptly before he changed his mind.

“Well, it’s always good to be on neighbourly terms…” he muttered as he looked from one to the other of them, “Joe Cartwright, yes, that means you’re the youngest of the three sons?”

“That’s correct, sir.”

“No need to ‘sir’ me, just plain Mr Burgoyne or even Burgoyne if you prefer.” he glanced at Mary Ann, “And your name is -? Apart from being Mrs Cartwight of course. I understand there are three Mrs Cartwrights so best to know which one I am addressing today.”

“I’m Mary Ann.” she replied and smiled again, she rather liked this big man, with the fierce appearance but twinkling eyes.

“Mary Ann it is then, and you can call me Eb, or Burgoyne.” he nodded towards a door “Step inside, my wife won’t be a moment – “ his face eased into a smile, one that suited him very well, and gave the impression that he smiled often. “Take a seat, get comfortable.”

Joe and Mary Ann took seats and tried to look comfortable. The room was interesting, full of artefacts, statues, pictures and models. There were sailing ships in pictures on the walls, models of them on shelves – Joe nodded “My brother Adam would like this room.”

“Adam? The one who went to sea? Quite late in years I understand?”

“Er – well, yes, I suppose so…”

“Not like your father and I…we started young and worked our way from stern to bow. I suppose your brother got a commission?”

“Yes, sir. His grandfather vouched for him and …”

“Old man Abel Stoddard? I sailed with him and your father a time or two.” he walked to a desk and opened the lid of a cigar box, he turned to Joe “Do you smoke?”

“No, sir.”

“I told you not to call me ‘sir.’” Burgoyne frowned and then looked at Mary Ann, “Do you object to me smoking, little lady?”

“It’s your home, sir – er – Mr Burgoyne, you must do what you feel makes you most comfortable.” and she smiled at him, almost coquettishly but not quite … just enough to make Burgoyne grin roguishly.

The rustle of skirts could be heard approaching and they both turned to see the newcomer as she stepped into the room, Joe stood up immediately, “I hope you are not bullying them, Burgoyne?”

“As if I would?” he chuckled and put the cigar, unlit, back into the box. “Joe – Mary Ann – this is my wife- Joyce.” he turned to his wife and smiled as she came and slipped her arm through his, “Mr and Mrs Cartwright, my dear. Joseph and Mary Ann.”

She smiled and her eyes twinkled at them, her hair was greying, and must once have been a rich brown. Her features were regular, her smile generous and wide, her eyes large and dark. She looked at Joe and said “We’ve met, haven’t we, Joe?”

“Have we?” Joe asked, and frowned, “It must have been some while ago, Ma’am. Not recently surely?”

“No, not recently and yes, it was some while ago.” she looked at Mary Ann, “It’s good to meet you, Mary Ann. I have not been into town yet, so have not caught up with old acquaintances or made new.”

Burgoyne settled down and stretched out his legs, while Joyce excused herself and said she would prepare some refreshment. It seemed to Joe that Burgoyne was finding the whole situation somewhat amusing.

“You look puzzled, Joe – don’t mind if I call you Joe, do you?”

“No, of course not.” Joe grinned, and glanced at the door through which Joyce had left the room, “I’m still trying to recall where I’ve met your wife before…I usually have quite a good memory for faces but …”

Burgoyne nodded “It’s been some years. People change over the years.”

“I can’t remember ever meeting a Mrs Burgoyne before either…come to that, I never remember Pa mentioning an Ebenezer Burgoyne either.”

Burgoyne smiled and nodded “Well, your Pa and I go back a long while…we were kids on board ship when very young. Our paths crossed once or twice thereafter, but not ever since he left the sea. That must be a good long time ago.”

“It was, sir…my Pa left New England when my brother Adam was still a babe in arms and he’s middle aged now.”

“You don’t say?” and Burgoyne looked as though he just couldn’t believe that time had passed by so quickly and he hadn’t even noticed. He raised his hands and then slapped them back down on his knees “So then, now you know why your Pa never mentioned me. We were kids together, and good friends then…but as they say when a child I played as a child but when I grew I set aside childish things…”

Joe nodded, and glanced at his wife who was clearly paying less attention to what was being said and more to a tapestry that hung upon the wall. The colours were fresh and bright, and depicted the slaughter of a unicorn who lay with its head resting in the lap of a beautiful young woman, in the background hunters were approaching – it was sad and lovely all at the same time.

The sound of cups and saucers rattling distracted her and she turned to see Joyce returning with a tray laden, which she set upon a low table. She smiled at Mary Ann who was quick to return the smile

“I was admiring this tapestry -”

“Oh, I haven’t long finished it. A legend of long ago…the death of the last unicorn.” Joyce replied and began to pour out the coffee. She glanced from the corner of her eye at Joe “Do you still take two sugars in your coffee, Joe?” and she smiled when she handed him the cup and saucer “And does Hop Sing still make those delicious chocolate confectioneries? “

“He does indeed…but …” he paused and lowered his eyes “I am sorry. I keep thinking that I do know you, but then it slips away…as though it is in the corner of my mind and when I make a grab for it, it disappears.”

“Put the boy out of his misery, Joyce, or he’ll not sleep easy tonight.” Burgoyne chuckled as she passed him the cup and saucer.

She smiled and sat down opposite them, “It has been a long time, Joe. You were a boy when I left Virginia City, well, not exactly a boy, about 21 I should imagine. “

She caught his eye and could see there the thought, a snatch at a memory .. He lowered his head and a slight frown creased the smooth tan of his brow “Joyce and Tom?”

“That’s right – so you do remember me?” and she laughed that girlish laugh that had been heard at the Ponderosa so many years ago and he remembered only too well all about Tom and Joyce.

“We built the mill there on your land -” he said quietly

“That’s right. I – we all thought that it would help Tom get his confidence and self esteem back, but – but we under-estimated the power that Ezekiel had over him.” she shook her head “That man was so evil -”

It was touching to see how Burgoyne reached out a hand to take hold of hers, as though to assure her that she was safe now. Joe glanced from Joyce to Burgoyne and frowned but Joyce stopped any chance he had to ask questions by explaining why they or rather she had returned to the area

“I always loved it here, and had circumstances allowed I would have returned much sooner but -” she paused and gave a slight shrug, as though she knew this was not the time to go into the fact that Ben’s attachment to her was the cause of her absence. “I met Burgoyne ten years ago and we married -”

Burgoyne squeezed her hand gently, a small hand resting within his big fist, it made Joe remember something he had noticed from that time when Joyce would come, alone, to talk, to seek help from then regarding Tom, from Ezekiel.. An unguarded word he had overheard between Ben and Adam, feelings and emotions…he cleared his throat

“I remember that the land you owned bordered on that belonging to the Running D, you grew grape vines there – not many grapes though -”

She laughed “I suppose I was being rather ambitious. I rode down to see the mill the other week, not long after we had moved in, and it looks a sad sight now. But the land around thereabouts is so pretty, I have always loved it…”

Joe grinned and looked at Burgoyne “That’s why you bought it from Greigson?”

“Darn right I did….seems some one sold it off to Dayton, but when Joyce told me how it had belonged to her at one time I decided to buy it back. Perhaps she’ll be able to grow more grapes this time…”

She smiled at him, a look of tenderness that Joe recalled seeing as she would look at Ben and wonder why – he sighed, water under the bridge now of course. Burgoyne raised his eyebrows “Greigson and I knew each other a long time ago…fact is, his wife Sarah was my first wife’s cousin. He owed me a debt – shan’t go into the details, aint the time nor place, but I put the pressure on him and he let me have it -”

“He exchanged it for something, Burgoyne. Don’t make him out to be more generous than he is…” Joyce laughed and glanced at Mary Ann as though to secure an accomplice in her fun, so Burgoyne shrugged

“I got me quite a few head of cattle so let him have a good percentage…”

“Cattle?” Joe’s voice broke with a slight falsetto “Oh I heard he had had a lot of calves born in his herd…a good year for him…”

Burgoyne scratched his head, grimaced “He was doing well, that son of his is a good lad, has a sharp mind on him, but Greigson always was one who wanted everything on a plate, you know the kind, most men are patient to work and wait for results,but he is always in a hurry … as it happens we were able to oblige. My boys had made a good deal on some cattle. You gotta realise being new here we have had to start from scratch, but things worked out pretty good. A nuisance that we had to shell out so many to Greigson, but Joyce wanted that land, and, by hickory, I was determined for her to have it.”

Joyce sighed “Abel is a very intelligent young man. He was so interested in the land. Did you know he had been doing research and experiments on the best kind of cereals that could grow on the land, in our climate? He used the land we – we got from Walter to carry out his experiments. If we had known then we would not have pursued its purchase – well – it’s exchange.”

“Walter thought Abel was a waste of time…had no appreciation for the lad. Had he been a son of mine I would have been rightly proud of him.” Burgoyne frowned, “But Walt kept telling him they were ranchers, not farmers, he never listened to what Abel was trying to do. They argued a lot about it, in the end, when the land was exchanged, he left. “

“We heard that he had invested some money in buying grain from Russia -” Joe ventured to say and Burgoyne nodded,

“He thought if he could grow strong crops there would be better feed for the cattle. His father thought it a waste of money. Walt likes money – prefers to let it sit in the bank collecting interest than investing it. Too risky he says -”

“So he got the cattle from you?”

“He liked the look of what I had…said his idea of investment was to breed better stock, not feed ‘em. It’s hard to get started in the ranching business. Must admit I’m a real – what do you call it – greenhorn. But I think we have a good enough herd to start with this year.”

He nodded as though coming to a decision and put down his cup, “Let me show you, Joe. Would appreciate your opinion.”

Joe nearly choked. This was way easier than he had anticipated. Not only that but Burgoyne was proving to be quite a surprise. Amiable, pleasant, good humoured…he glanced at Joyce who was smiling at him, as though her husbands suggestion really pleased her. Joe was so eager to go and see the cattle with Burgoyne that he nearly tripped over the hem of Mary Ann’s skirts.

Once they had gone Joyce offered more coffee – some cake? Mary Ann was more than happy to accept both. It was pleasant to spend some time in the company of another woman, especially one who had history with the Cartwrights. Joyce handed the plate over to her with a slice of cake, then refilled the cup with coffee.

“Joe’s grown into a very attractive man. He was always handsome, even as a child. But such a wild lad. Always into scrapes.”

“Did you know them that far back?”

“Oh yes, Tom and I were close friends with Ben and Marie.” she glanced sharply at Mary Ann and frowned “I suppose you know all about what happened to Tom?”

“Joe told me. He blamed Ben for the accident, didn’t he?”

“Yes, he got to be so envious of Ben. Ben had everything – the Ponderosa, three healthy sons -” she paused “he knew, after the accident, that any chance of children, for us, well, that was all gone. Something else to be bitter about -”

“The mill was a good idea though -”

“Oh yes, it was – we really thought we had come to a cross roads, building that mill could have solved so many problems but we under estimated Ezekiel. I really believe at the end he drove Tom mad.”

Mary Ann sighed and put down her plate, “How did you meet Mr Burgoyne?”

“When I left here I travelled around a little, then settled in New York. I met him at the theatre, we were watching a performance of The Taming of the Shrew. I think I was quite taken aback that someone like Burgoyne would enjoy Shakespeare, he just didn’t look as though it was the kind of thing he’d like. We met several times, got to talking about a performance, and one thing led to another…and we were married. He is a lovely man, kind and gentle, stubborn as a mule – rather like another friend of mine of whom I was very fond.”

She gave Mary Ann a sidelong glance when saying that, but Mary Ann pretended not to notice, knowing full well about the romance between her and her father in law. Joyce changed the subject, asking Mary Ann how she had met Joe and about her children…
……………..

The cattle were grazing calmly, wading into the waters of the stream, wandering across the meadow. The sun gleamed upon their hides, and Joe could see quite clearly the brand mark, and that they were quite fresh. His eyes roved around the little herd, and he frowned thoughtfully as he leaned against the bar of the fence. Beside him Burgoyne gave a grunt of satisfaction

“There aren’t many yet, but I hope to breed some good stock from them before they go to market next year.”

Joe nodded and narrowed his eyes…”You’ve got a good bull calf there.” he pointed to a young bull, with wide shoulders, a big head, there was no way he could not recognise the offspring of Big Red, the huge bull that had been their pride and joy.

“He’s a good one. Hope to breed more like him.” Burgoyne frowned, “Not that I know much about it, I leave it to the boys. They’ve been working along with the men we hired and have learned a lot.”

“Your sons?”

“Yes.”

Burgoyne’s mouth clamped shut, and his eyes narrowed. He nodded over to some cattle further afield, and talk slipped into more general terms and away from the subject of the Burgoyne boys.
………..

Marcy was pegging out clothes on the line when she heard the sound of wheels coming into the yard. She knew it wouldn’t be Derwent’s wife, for she was in Carson City visiting family. The Double D was too far off the beaten track to attract many visitors so with some curiosity she put aside her task and walked towards the yard where the wagon would have to stop.

She smiled when she recognised Hoss and Hester. Little Erik was sitting on her knee and the two girls were on the bench seat behind them. Hope and Hannah were hot and sweaty, it was a long drive from the Ponderosa, and the wood of the bench had been cutting into the back of their legs for what seemed a very long time.

Marcy took Erik from Hester so that she could get down from the wagon, Erik looking for his mother to make sure he was not being abandoned. Hoss collected his girls up in to his arms and swung them up and over, down onto the ground…

“You all look hot and bothered.” Marcy declared with a laugh,”Come along inside, I’ve some fresh lemonade made.” she glanced at Hoss “Luke and Derwent are in the barn.”

Hoss nodded, and grinned. Obviously Marcy knew all about their concerns about the missing cattle. He strolled over and found the two men talking animatedly together, they paused as he approached and after they had shaken his hand, indicated a bale for him to sit on, continued their discussion. As Marcy had indicated, the talk was about the cattle.

“Seems kind of odd stealing young ‘uns.” Luke said, spitting out the straw he had been chewing, “I’ve never known that done before…”

“Nor me.” Hoss said rubbing his face and realising how hot he felt, “Rustlers usually swing in and cut out whatever cattle they come upon. Age don’t usually come into it, so long as they get the numbers they want.”

“But cut out young ‘uns…” Derwent frowned, “They ain’t branded…so no one can prove their provenance because you can guarantee they would have slapped a brand on ‘em as soon as they were on their land.”

“Good healthy calves, fatten them up and you have a good herd to take to market next year. There’s some sense to it, in a novel kind of way.” Luke said quietly, and he shook his head “I guess we should be grateful they left us some to bulk up ourselves.”

Hoss nodded, then remembered what he had come for..not so much the calves, but the new owner of their neighbouring ranch.

“How’d you get on with your new neighbour?” he asked without any preamble.

Derwent shrugged and Luke raised his eyebrows but it was Luke who spoke “He’s a loner. Widowed. Not interested in cattle at all. All he has is a milk cow and her calf in the barn.”

“Oh, that’s a pity.” Hoss muttered

“Yeah, we had hopes of pinning the rustling on him, seeing how out of the way his place is…” Derwent grinned and looked over at Luke who was grinning as well, “But he’s just an old chap, wants to let life pass him by.”

“Where’d he come from?” Hoss asked as he twisted straw round his fingers.

“Arizona. His wife died on her way here. They inherited the place from old Corbyn and thought it would be pleasant to end their days here. He’s a lot closer to Carson City of course, and he’s not really interested in the land he’s got. Asked us if we wanted to buy some of it.” Luke shrugged and Derwent leaned against the bars of the corral

“Are you going to buy any?”

“Sure, we’ve discussed it with him. After the spring round up, and cattle drive, we should be able to buy some.” Derwent looked at Hoss, and smiled at the way Hoss looked, “No cattle, just some decent land. I need more..I want to build up my herd, so does Luke.”

“Yep, all we got to do is hope that he doesn’t die on us before we get the money ready. If he does the land will go up for auction, he has no family to leave it to.”

Hoss nodded. Decided he really needed something to drink, mentioned his thirst and the two men nodded, agreed about the heat, Luke slapped Hoss on the back as the three of them made their way to the house. Hoss felt he had literally got hold of the short straw in the deal and wondered how Joe had got on.

He sighed, whatever Joe had found out would be discussed that evening when they had arranged to meet together for a Council of War. Joe had decided they needed some answers before Ben and Adam came home!

Chapter 27

Captain Salway was more than a little annoyed at having to abort the plans regarding
the mornings departure.   Adam sympathised knowing how much time and effort would have been required to get everything arranged …the paperwork with the harbour master, the deployment of tugs to lead her out of harbour.  It would all have to be changed to suit for the next day.   He himself felt irritated as it had robbed him of extra time with his family.   Then he recalled that Laurence had only recently seen his wife leave him,and had left his children for what must have seemed a perilously wild goose chase
.
The clerk at the mail depot took his time tapping out the message.  Adam listened as the keys sounded out the words, asked the relevant questions, and he wondered again just what they were hoping to achieve by sending out a barrage of requests to an unknown woman whom even Laurence could only dimly recall to mind.

“How long before we get a reply?” Laurence asked and the clerk shrugged, grimaced and slid the money he’d been given into the drawer

“It depends on how long it takes for the courier to deliver it.   It’s a big place, could be she lives on the outskirts of town, could be she’s away from home..” he looked at them both “I put ‘urgent’ on it like you said.”

Laurence wasn’t satisfied but knew that logistically the man was right.  He nodded, said they would return later and strode out of the building, looking dejected as he removed his hat and swept back his hair from his brow “I feel out of my depth.”

Adam nodded sympathetically “I understand the feeling.”

“We could be waiting here for days.”

“That’s the risk one has to take..” Adam replied and turned to glance up at the clock that graced the front of a tall building ahead of them.   Olivia and his family would be gone now.  On their way to the Ponderosa.   He reminded himself that Laurence would have been feeling that same tug to the heart when he had watched Rachel leaving on the Baltimore the previous evening.   He told himself to stop thinking that he was the only one to suffer so much, and with a sigh suggested they went to see Soames. Laurence raised an eyebrow at that suggestion but as Adam reminded him there were still things they needed to find out about Sylvia, and Soames had not been stable enough to give them any information since he was still sedated on Adam’s previous visit.

“We don’t want to go into this situation totally blind, Laurence. If there is something, however small, that we can gain from a few moments with Soames it could save us a lot of time and trouble. Beside which it saves having to kick our heels hereabouts…”

They didn’t talk until they were in the cab, the horses hooves striking against the cobbled road, the sound of traffic drifting around them.

“We’ll plot a course for Boston when we get back ” Adam said “we could arrange for any reply to your telegram to Be sent onto the town where we next get a berth.   That way we can still leave as planned ..”

Laurence nodded and leaned forward “There was no mention of Silvia in the journal, and no mention of Angelique deSalles from Maine …so why would they be in possession of the book.”

“I’m assuming when it got into Angelique’s possession she sent it on to Silvia.   Perhaps Anna asked her to do so.  That’s what we’ll find out when we get her cable..I’m more intrigued about that house, what significance it could have to Anna.” He paused and tapped Laurence on the knee, then said “we’re at Soames”

They paid the cabbie and made their way to the door which was promptly opened.  Barnes sighed and stepped aside to admit them.  To their enquiry about Soames, Barnes replied that his master was in his study and it was to that room he led them both.

Soames was dressed but had a blanket of plaid wool around him as though even on that warm day he was cold.   He sat in a large arm chair, his head resting in his hands and he didn’t move until Adam placed a hand upon his shoulder and addressed him by name.

He then very slowly looked up, as though if he moved too quickly his head would roll from his shoulders.  He released a deep sigh and looked sorrowfully at Adam,

“It took me years of searching to find her…”  He blinked, his red rimmed eyes evidence of heart breaking grief,  “I just wanted to keep her safe, make her happy.”

There is something overly poignant in seeing a man cry, no matter for what reason.  Both Adam and Laurence felt sympathy but wished the tears would stop and some sense prevail.  Adam pulled up a chair and sat opposite his former Medical Officer

“Gregory, we need your help to find the man who killed your daughter, now … Man up and face things squarely.”

“The Marshall was here”. Soames pulled a large handkerchief from his pocket and dabbed at his eyes, “I told him everything he wanted to know.  There’ s nothing you can do”

He then blew his nose loudly on the handkerchief and after wiping his nose, looked sorrowfully at the far wall, as though he wanted to shut out the sight of the two men crowding out his study.

Laurence stepped forward “We have more information about your daughter than you or the Marshall knows, Mr Soames. We just need you to answer a few questions…to add to the information…so that we can get a fuller picture of what Silvia was doing,the people she knew, that could have led to this murder.’

“Murder…” Soames moaned and shook his head “Who would have wanted to kill my daughter?  My Silvia?”

Adam and Laurence looked at one another, the irritation at the man’s self absorbed manner evident in both their faces.  Adam leaned forwards again “Did you see the man who was arguing with Silvia…you heard their voices, isn’t that right?”

“Yes, arguing.” he nodded, a flicker of interest crossed his face, he looked at Adam “You think you can help?”

“That’s why we’re here, Gregory.”   Adam paused and tempered his voice to sound kinder and more sympathetic. He turned to Laurence “This is Lord Willoughby, remember him?  From that trip we had to the Kuril Islands?”

Soames nodded “Cassandra Pelman?”  he whispered the name, a shadow passed over his face, “I felt sorry for her – “.  He heaved in a sigh and turned to look at the books that were on his desk, “It was about a book.  That was what they were arguing about…Silvia said she wouldn’t give him the book and the man’s voice yelled back in a language I didn’t understand but then Silvia screamed.   I ran in -” he brought his hand to his eyes as though he wanted to wipe the memory away “she was falling, I was looking at her face, barely aware of the other person in the room…”

Now he closed his eyes “I yelled for Barnes to get help, the man – just a face with black eyes, pushed pass me, I wanted to get to Silvia, to help her … There was blood … I remember falling.    Then when I recovered my senses you were there …”

He turned to look into Adams face, his eyes wide and anguished.   “I should have stopped him, but all I wanted to do was help Silvia..”

Laurence leaned towards them and asked yet again if there was anything that he could remember that could help, any small thing at all, but Soames shook his head “Only what I’ve told you but ” he put his hand to his head and rubbed at his eyes “I was thinking, perhaps you might find something useful in her room.  She was very private, you know?   I think I only went into it once all the time she lived here”

They left him as they had found him and closed the door quietly behind them.  Barnes was hovering by the stairs and asked if they needed anything, to which Laurence said only an indication as to which room belonged to Silvia.  Once given direction the two men mounted the stairs and located the door to Silvia’s private “sanctum.”

It was a very feminine room, and as precisely tidy and neat as Silvia had been in life. There was no clutter, nothing obviously on display that could be helpful.  Not at first glance anyway.   The wardrobes revealed her exquisite taste in clothes, the drawers when pulled open did likewise with under garments.  The lady had expensive tastes that much was obvious.  Laurence began to look at the pictures on the wall, turning them round to see if anything had been hidden behind them.   One he passed to Adam

“Recognise anyone?”

It was a pleasant group of people in surroundings Adam recognised from long ago as the rose garden of Anna El Hassim.   He could recall the smell of their perfume as though standing there now.   The picture showed Silvia with her hand resting on the head of a dog, a dark haired woman and Anna standing beside Said El Hassim, Chaille-Long, and two other men Eygptian in dress and appearance.

“I think this is Angelique,” Laurence said quietly, “I only saw her briefly once, before I returned to England. She was visiting Anna and Rachel.”

He now turned his attention to an attractive desk and pulled out drawers, only one was locked.  Laurence produced something from his pocket and inserted it into the keyhole, jiggled it about and the drawer clicked open. He pulled at the drawer and then scowled, as it came to a stop mid way.   He yanked harder but it stubbornly refused to move.

“Somethings caught …”  he inserted his fingers, some paper wedged between the drawer and desk, but with careful teasing he succeeded in pulling it out.

“She must have been disturbed while writing it…it isn’t finished.” Laurence said as he glanced down to read it “And it is to Angelique”

The writing was in neat rounded letters. It was dated and she had obviously started writing it on the day of her death.   One could but wonder if she had any indication that she was in peril, that within hours she would be dead? Yet, she had hidden the letter in the drawer, even though unfinished.  Who or what had disturbed her?

Adam smoothed the paper carefully and together they leaned down to read what had been carefully penned down

“My dear Angelique

I have not heard from you for some time and am anxious for news of you.  Are you safe?  Is everything well with you?

I received Anna’s journal safely.  Did you send it to me before leaving Cyprus?  I removed the back pages as you suggested.   I contacted Anna’s sister and brother in law and they now have the journal.  I did wonder whether to give them the addresses but you said not, so therefore I have kept them safely hidden, along with the details of the house and garden, although they mystify me as you can imagine.

If the couple contact me and ask for clarification with regards to them, shall I tell them?  If not, then they will just flounder and chase shadows.  Well, I am not saying more about that, except that the journal is in his and Rachel’s possession now.

Do you know if Anna is safe?   She and her husband were good loyal friends, were they not?  If you know where she is, will you let me know?  They deserve our help and support, we failed to save El Hassim but Anna …    ”

There it ended.  They looked at each other and Laurence shook his head “Pretty cryptic, isn’t it?”

Adam nodded, “She sounds like a woman who was a sincere loyal friend to those she had,”. he frowned ” but it reads almost as though…”

“As though”

“Just an impression I got that perhaps it was not the nationalists who have Anna .. Perhaps her friends helped her escape..”

“But the letter to Rachel with the jewellery, the threat .”

“Just words to keep you from meddling…”  he shook his head and glanced around the room “what’s do important about the house…?”

“I just assumed it was Angelique’s house in Maine..” Laurence looked at the letter again and ran his finger along the line that referred to the property.

Adam said nothing but folded the letter away back into the drawer.   “Why did she have those pages in her hand … It doesn’t make sense.”

“Nothing does, just seems as though the waters are getting muddier than ever.”

Adam nodded and leaned against the desk, his eyes travelled round the room, looked at each picture on the walls, on the mantle…then shook his head as the pictures were mainly clever water colour scenes from various different countries.  Sylvia was obviously an adept artist with a good eye for colour and perspective.

Laurence began turning pictures round to see if there were anything hidden on the reverse sides,  then he started to check the books, few though they were, removing each singly from the shelf and flicking through them, then upending them to shake out any loose papers …but there was nothing.

As they were about to leave the room they could hear footsteps on the landing, and then Soames appeared, huddled in his blanket and Looking haggard and hollow eyed,

“Did you find anything…any idea as to who killed my daughter?”

“Not here, no…but we will find who it was, Soames.” Adam reassured him in a quiet voice aimed at placating the wretched man

“Your daughter was quite an artist…” Laurence said  “we were admiring her work.”

“Yes, she had a good eye for detail”.  Soames nodded “I have my favourite in the study…a house of which she was very fond.   A friend of hers lived there …”

Adam and Laurence glanced at one another and it was Laurence who requested going to see it, Soames muttered only that it was in the study and then shivering slightly, shuffled off to a room they could only presume was his bedroom

“The man’s shocked…”  Laurence muttered as they made their way downstairs and to the study.

Adam was too deep in thought to reply but followed his friend into the study  where the picture of a house confronted them.  “Do you think this is the house indicated by the diagram..”

Adam thought of the plan outline of the house, of its rooms and dimensions and tried to fit that into the picture of the house before them.  They drew closer to look at any thing that could give them some clue as to its relevance, but could see none.

“Perhaps we will find out more if there’s a telegram from Angelique..lets get back and find out if she has made any reply.’

Adam nodded, it seemed the best idea now.  There was nothing to be gained by staying at the Soames premises.  Barnes came and saw them off, looking mournful and bruised as he stood in the doorway watching them as they hailed a cab and got inside. The horse pawed the ground, the cab lurched forward taking them away from the small terrace of houses with the pretty park facing them.

Barnes closed the door.

Chapter 28

Hoss Cartwright was not particularly happy as he sat drinking a mug of Luke’s home made brew, which actually rivalled the beer in The Silver Dollar saloon.  It seemed a strange set up altogether.  Why would anyone, particularly an old guy, come way out to the wilds to spend his last days.  He tried to think of old people he had known and invariably most had shifted close to town where there could be someone close by to call upon should need arise.

“You’re very quiet, Hoss?  Not like yourself at all … Beer not to your liking?”

Hoss frowned “Beers fine, Luke, just can’t get my mind off’ that Archer, him being so old and jest sitting there doing nothing …” he gulped down some beer and wiped his mouth on he back of his hand “I recall that land to be good grazing ..”

“It is, that’s why Derwent and I want to buy some parcels of it from Archer.” Luke poured more beer into Hoss’ mug

“And he ain’t got no relatives, you say?”

“None at all.”  Luke sat down  opposite his companion, around them came the chatter and laughter of the children, the quiet hum of Hester and Marcy talking together as they prepared a meal from what Hop Sing had packed up and what Marcy had available to add to it.

“Then what in tarnation  is he doing there?”

Luke shrugged “He’s not rustling cattle if that’s what you’re thinking, Hoss.”

“All that land going to waste …” Hoss grumbled “pa was thinking  of buying some at one time, but it was too inconveniently placed what with the Double D and Jessops place slap bang between us.  We were having problems enough with trying to hold onto the Truckee strip…Old man Bishop was an ornery old man, brought about a lot of blood shed, unnecessarily too.”

Luke nodded “Could always ride on up and see Archer , if you feel that’ll settle your mind some.”

Hoss nodded slowly “Thanks Luke, to be honest I’d feel better in myself If’n I did.”

“Then we can go after we’ve eaten.  His house isn’t far from the borders of our land so  wouldn’t have too far to ride to get there.”

Hoss nodded again, he didn’t like to mention to Luke that he had an almighty itch and wouldn’t have been able to sleep until it had stopped one way or the other …

Hannah and Hope were always  happy playing together as they did now, running through the little orchard, or picking the wild flowers. One of Hester’s main concerns at  present was how Hope would handle the days when Hannah was at school.  She was fond of Erik but the age gap was just enough to be a problem.  Erik at that moment was excitedly enjoying his games with the twins whom he found a refreshing change from his sisters.
Not only were they closer to his size but they could not run away as quickly either………

“There it is ..”  Luke pointed into the distance where a white washed clapboard house stood nestled within the hills.

It was a good sized family home, which it would have had to have been to have accommodated the previous owners … The Corbyns had been a hard working couple who would annually produce a new baby every year until the wife became so exhausted with child bearing she became too ill to do anything but care for the brood. One by one the children had grown and moved away, leaving the couple to knock around the big house until the epidemic of a few years back had finally killed them off. From the distance the property glowed in the sunshine but the closer they got to it the more ramshackle it showed itself to be.

The land through which they had been riding was close to being some of the best Hoss had seen outside of the Ponderosa.   He could not believe that there was not ahead of cattle grazing upon the lush grass, or drinking at the clear stream. The itch kept getting worse.

Paint was peeling in strips from  the woodwork, one of the upper Windows looked as though it were so rotten that one strong gale would see it blown out altogether.  There were holes in the planks that formed the  verandah, and there was obviously  no need for curtains at the windows because what glass wasn’t cracked, was filthy.

The man who opened the door was nothing like what Hoss had expected.  Archer …which seemed to be the only name by which he was known, was tall, slim, stooped of shoulder and white haired although the hair was sparse and one could see the scalp clearly through it.  His eyes were startlingly blue and very alert, piercing Hoss would describe them later.  A one time handsome and elegant man with looks and deportment retaining what he had possessed in youth.  True, he was stooped of shoulder, walked with the aid of a cane, and from the way he inclined his head had lost his hearing in one ear.

“Luke Dent!” Archer exclaimed “A pleasant surprise on such a fine day.’

His smile was genuine but the sharp way he looked at Hoss and raised his eyebrows made Hoss feel he was unwelcome.  Luke gestured to his companion “Archer, this is Hoss Cartwright..”

“One of the Ponderosa Cartwrights?” Archer said with emphasis on the word Ponderosa.
He sighed and stepped aside “Come on in…”

Now Hoss really didn’t feel welcome, but Luke seemed quite happy to follow the old man into the house despite the look on Hoss’ face.   They picked their way through an accumulation of rubbish, the smell of damp and something rotting made Hoss sneeze, cobwebs festooned the ceiling, the corners of doorways.  Hoss couldn’t remember the last time he had encountered such domestic filth.

Yet Archer was band box smart and clean…from head to foot he was groomed to perfection.  How he managed to move his way through such a mess without any of it touching him was, to Hoss’ mind, nothing short of a miracle.

“In here…my office ..” Archer said and stood aside for them to enter ahead of him “some coffee? Lemonade?”

They both plumped for the coffee which prompted Archer to raise his voice and call out “Coffee .. a large jug” into the shadows behind him.

Hoss and Luke darted a nervous look at one another, but more or less shuffled their way into the room followed by their host who sat down on a large leather Captains chair and gestured to two chairs on the other side of the desk so that he was facing them.  Hoss carefully removed some papers and a sleeping cat and placed them on the floor, a puff of dust rose up from the cushions as he lowered himself down.  Luke, being thinner and lighter had no problem once he had removed several books.

The walls were lined with books and seeing them Hoss realised that the pervading smell was that of damp paper.  He glanced over his shoulder nervously and was about to speak when the door opened and a woman stepped into the room carrying a tray which she set down on the desk once Archer had swept aside various scraps of his and that …

She was Shohone.   Her black eyes glittered as she looked at them and yet there was no expression on her face, none, only the eyes were alive.   She was younger by at least twenty years to Archer, but her hair was already grey, long braids down to her waist which was a very ample waist that seemed to merge with heavy breasts that resembled a ledge!   Like Archer she was speckless, the crockery on the tray shone squeaky clean… the smell of the coffee was pleasant and momentarily eclipsed the smell of the damp books lining the walls.

Archer signed to her to pour the coffee, once she had done that he signed for her to go.

“She can’t talk.” he said as he passed a cup and saucer to Hoss, “White soldiers cut her tongue out when she was a child.”

He looked from one to the other “Well, now, to what do I owe the pleasure of this visit? A bit out of  the way for Cartwrights to consider me a neighbour!”

Hoss cleared his throat “I heard you were new to the neighbour ..I mean…just recently moved here, and er Luke suggested I come by and visit..meet you that is…”

Luke gulped, he had never known Hoss so at a loss for words, he forced a smile “I told Hoss I was hoping to buy some of your land.   Told him that it was prime cattle land and fine for grazing..

“Wouldn’t know nothing about it,”Archer scowled “Don’t Like cows, never did…” he sipped his coffee having poured it into his saucer as refined people  did in the ‘old days’.

“Guess I’m a mite confused, Mr Archer, ” Hoss put down his now empty cup “This is cattle country.   And you’ve got just about the finest grazing for miles…you could be raising a fine herd..”

“I told you I don’t like cattle.”  Archer replied sharply, his blue eyes flashed “I came here for peace and quiet, to study and get my book written…nothing more …no cows, no chickens ..nothing…”  his fingers tightened “you can’t imagine how affronted I was when I got here and found a whole load of cows eating their heads off on MY land ..well, I told ’em if they didn’t get rid of the smelly foul,creatures I’d take a gun and shoot the lot of them” he raised his chin “and I would not have stopped at just the cows either ..”

Luke leaned forward “you mean someone was gazing their cattle here, on your land …”

“I just said that …told them to clear off and leave me in peace.  I ride out every so often to make sure they don’t come back.   Sarah’s family live close by, they keep an eye …makes sure I m left in peace.”  he reached out and picked up some paper “I had my book to write …need peace and quiet.”

Hoss stood up and stretched out his hand “It’s been good to meet you, sir. Thank you for the coffee.  I hope you get your book written…”

“It takes time…I need to make sure everything is right…”

“Of course..” Hoss nodded sympathetically “I guess the previous owner had trouble getting his herd moved out before you moved in…”

Archer glared at him “The man died years back…the place is a wreck as a result of neglect.  well you can see that for yourself”

“Er …then who did the cattle long too… If’n you don’t mind my asking?” Archer scowled “Those Burgoyne boys…rotten to the core if you ask me …”

“Burgoyne, huh.”  Hoss smiled, he managed to leave the room without tripping very anything and walked to his horse feeling satisfied.

The itch had gone …
…………………

The clerk at the Telegraph Office peered up at the two men as they stepped into the building closing the door behind them.   He recognised them immediately – the tall Englishman and the rancher from the Ponderosa with whom he had become familiar over the years.

“Nothing yet, gents.” he emphasised the point by a shake of the head, “I suggest you try later.”

“It did go through, didn’t it?” Laurence asked peevishly, and was rewarded with a surly look from the clerk who assured him it had ‘gone through’

“We’ll come back” Adam said in a voice intended to mollify the man’s ruffled feathers, and indicated to Laurence that they leave by nodding towards the door.

“Time is ticking away.” Laurence groaned. “And we’re no nearer to having any idea as to where Anna is being held.”

Adam made no comment  except to nod and look warily about him…the street was thronged with people. Well dressed families strolling together in neat orderly fashion, grubby urchins running and yelling as they threaded their way through the pedestrians, workmen in their labourers clothing, even some seamen…and the traffic on the roads were a mixed bag, all adding to the cacophony of noise all around them.

“I think we should see what Duggan has found, if anything.”  he suggested, “He may have picked up on something that could give us an idea as to which direction we should go next.”

Reluctantly Laurence agreed.   “I had hoped we would be at sea by now…” he grumbled

Adam said nothing to that although he did feel inclined to say that they were actually ” all at sea” as far as this matter was concerned, but he held back from saying a word.

Marshall Duggan was seated at his desk in an office half the size of Nate’s in Virginia City.   He was reading some papers when Adam and Laurence were admitted to see him, and rather reluctantly he put the papers down to look at them both.

“Well, gentlemen, a fine kettle of fish this is turning out to be…” he stared at Laurence as though it was all his fault which made the younger man feel at a disadvantage.

Adam introduced the two men and explained to Duggan the position Laurence held with British “police” which irritated Laurence further because he wanted to say he had nothing to do with Police, he was with national security, wasn’t he?  He had enough sense to keep his mouth shut.

“Are you any closer to finding the murderer of Miss Soames?”  Adam asked, and was satisfied at seeing a gleam of interest spread over Duggans face

“I was just reading a report on a traffic accident near to the location of the murder.” He tapped the papers on his desk with a stubby forefinger “The man must have been mad, of course.   Your Miss Soames had been a married woman, but was widowed …she led quite a life it seems, travelled all over…but I should think you would know all about that, Mr Willoughby, seeing she was involved with your lot!”

Laurence snorted a bit at such a reference, but merely compressed his lips more tightly together and stared at Duggan stonily.  Duggan merely nodded before continuing as he rustled the papers “He was in such a frantic hurry to get away that he overturned his vehicle. Must have been driving that cab as though he was Ben-Hur!  You ever read the novel, sirs?  It makes for good reading…”

He smiled to himself for he enjoyed teasing, he noticed Adams quirked eyebrow and taut mouth and brought himself back to the subject at hand.

“A oriental gentleman, wealthy from the indication we got from his clothing and jewellery…don’t hold with men wearing jewellery myself but then he was a foreigner.”  he picked up a paper and passed it over to them “That’s private information, read it and leave it here.”

They read the report of the accident together, the man was named as Abdullah Pasha. Turkish but born in Egypt.  Clothing bloodstained. A thin bladed knife, similarly bloodstained, was found on the floor of the cab.  He had taken the Hansom cab from its last destination when the driver had gone to relieve himself.  The horse had survived the accident, the cab had not, nor had Mr Pasha.

He had been staying at a cheap hotel where there was a fair number of people living from his ” neck of the woods”.   Upon inspection there was nothing of any significance found in his rooms, except clothing, some religious items indicating his Muslim Faith, but no papers, no letters, nothing.

As they were reading one of Duggans men approached and handed the Marshall some paper, whispered something with his eyes darting over to Adam and Laurence.  There was a whispered conversation between the two men, then Duggan stood up

“You sent a telegram to Angelique deSalles in Maine?”

“Yes – what of it?” Laurence replied apprehensively

“Well, sir, don’t expect to be receiving a reply any time soon…”  Duggan replied “Miss LaSalle  was found dead at her home in the early hours of the morning.   The murderer got away.  The Police contacted me upon receipt of your telegram, sir” he looked directly at Laurence “thought it would be important and help with our situation here.”  he stroked his chin “I’d say there was an obvious connection.”

Chapter 29

Neither Adam nor Laurence spoke.  They couldn’t find words to say, both of them stunned to some extent by what Duggan had said.  Adam stepped away from the Marshalls desk and rubbed his jaw with long fingers, while Laurence shook his head in disbelief tinged with dismay.  Duggan looked from one to the other with question marks in his eyes.

“Well?  Is there a connection?”

Laurence pulled out a chair and sat down without permission, but it was not in his nature or breeding to be kept standing just to make the man feel superior.   He was no errant school boy up before the Head Teacher after all.   Adam continued to stand, his arms folded and head inclined slightly towards them both.

“Miss LaSalle may have been able to assist us in a matter concerning a missing person.”

“And what connection does that have with Miss Soames?”

“That was what we were trying to find out.  Both women were friends of the missing person but just how we don’t know.”

Duggan nodded, and fussed around with the papers on his desk, pausing only when Laurence asked him how Miss LaSalle had died.  The relevant scrap of paper was located and after he had scanned the page Duggan said “Death caused by strangulation from a ligature tightened around her throat.  The attacker came from behind.”

Adam cleared his throat as he stepped towards the desk “Is there any possibility that we could see Miss Soames’ killer…his body …?”

Duggan grinned “Seeing how it’s you as asked, Commodore, certainly you may.”

He stood up and edged his way round the desk and took the lead from the office to walk down a long dark corridor.  He said, over his shoulder. “I doubt if you’ll know our
Mr Pasha but it’s always interesting to get your opinion.”

They stepped through a door marked with the grisly word “Morgue” and entered a room some degrees cooler than the one they had left.  Several bodies were laid out on long tables.  Sylvia was no where to be seen, obviously already despatched to wherever bodies “pending investigation” were sent.

Duggan went immediately to one body and pulled back the covering sheet then stepped back for them to see Mr Pasha for themselves.  He had died from a broken neck, the angle of his head indicated that only too clearly.   But he had been a handsome man despite the rictus now obvious to his features.   Laurence and Adam surveyed him thoughtfully, “Has Barnes identified him as the man he saw leaving the room and who attacked him?’  Adam asked as he lifted a corner of the sheet to quietly observe the man’s shoes.

“Yes.  He confirmed that this was the man who must have killed Miss Soames ”

“When did he confirm that exactly?”

“Just an hour ago.   We wanted to make sure of the evidence before we could tell Mr Soames that we had his daughters body here.”  Duggan replied, his eyes fixed onto the shrouded body lying before him

“So Mr Soames knows ….?”

“I personally told him earlier, when we asked Mr Barnes to come and identify the body.  Mr Soames was in no state of mind to assist.   The Doctor was already there and gave him another sedative.”

Adam nodded, accepting Duggans statements as a matter of fact while he took a look at the man’s highly polished expensive shoes.

Satisfied with what he had seen he dropped the sheet back into place before stepping up to where Laurence was staring thoughtfully at the man’s face.

Duggan asked if they had seen enough to which both men nodded.  Adam asked the Marshall if the dead man had been carrying any papers on him but Duggan shook his head “All he had on him was a wallet with some money, an envelope with Miss Soames address written on one side and his name and address on the other.”

They left Marshall Duggan at the door of his office, both deep in thought as they stepped out into bright sunshine and the bustle of a crowded street and busy thoroughfare.

“Did you recognise him?” Laurence asked as they turned their feet into the direction of a nearby Hansom cab, the driver of which acknowledged their custom with a lift of the hand

“Who? Pasha?”  Adam frowned “I thought he resembled one of the men in the picture we saw in Sylvia’s room…”

“More than a passing resemblance, I’d say.”   he nodded at the cabbie and clambered into the vehicle, Adam following closely behind.

“Where to, gents?”

Laurence leaned back into the leather seat, the address he gave was the one he had read on the report Duggan had had on the desk.   Adam wasn’t the only one who could read writing that was “upside down”.   They settled themselves to wait out the journey to the home of the unfortunate Mr Pasha………
…………….

Mary Ann sat close to her husband on the well padded seat of their buggy as it bounced its way along to the Ponderosa.   She slipped her arm through his and smiled up at him as he turned to look down at her.  Joyce had waved them off from the door of her home, with Burgoyne by her side, his hand resting on her shoulder.

“Joe, this has turned out to be rather a strange affair, hasn’t it?”

Joe frowned slightly, he had actually been thinking exactly the same thing, a strange affair indeed and although he should have been thinking more along the lines of why they had gone in the first place, all he could think about was probably the same thing as his wife …
“In what way do you mean – strange?”

She sighed “Well, to be honest I was expecting Mr Burgoyne to be an arrogant bad tempered rude brute of a man, but he turned out to be a real gentleman, didn’t he? But the main thing I was wondering – ” she sighed again and her pretty face screwed up to denote her concern “How do we tell your father about Mrs Burgoyne?”  she looked at him again, noticed the way he clenched his jaw, the flicker of wariness in his eyes.

Joe returned his attention to driving, the horse was obedient enough but it didn’t pay to be distracted, “I was wondering the same thing.   How do we tell Pa one of his lady loves is back, and married to an old pal of his into the bargain.”

“How serious was his romance with Joyce?”

Joe cast his mind back to that long ago time….he could recall the heat of the summer days as they worked on getting that mill built.  The long evenings Adam had spent drawing up plans, Tom’s initial excitement, the whole buzz of an old friendship coming back to life, and Joyce visiting more often than ever.   The overheard snippet of conversation between Adam and Ben one evening … he sighed and shook his head

“Serious enough for Pa to have considered asking her to marry him.”  he said quietly, “He was not happy when she left after Tom had died.   Whenever he had a letter from her he would look momentarily hopeful.  Then they stopped coming…” he shrugged “I don’t understand her reasoning on coming back.”

“Well, it was not 100% her idea, Joe, I think her husband had some thing to do with it too.” she smiled slightly, not wanting all the censorship to fall entirely upon the woman whom she had felt quite drawn too

“And they weren’t comfortable about discussing Burgoynes sons, were they?” Joe said, flicking the reins to make the horse move faster.  He was impatient to discus this matter with Hoss and get his amiable brothers opinion.

“I asked her about them while you were with Mr Burgoyne.  She just said they had never accepted her as their step mother, only as their father’s wife.  She changed the subject but she looked – sad.   More than that though, she looked angry.”

Joe said nothing to that for a while.  The buggy jounced along, the horse tossed its head, it’s mane and tail fluttering in the breeze created by its own movement.  It should have been a pleasant romantic drive for the couple but their thoughts were too wrapped up with the visit they had just made.

“Burgoyne didn’t flicker a muscle when he showed off the cattle …he hasn’t any idea about ranching, cattle breeding, or anything about them, his own herd!  If one could call it that seeing as it consists mainly of our stolen beasts.   He just said his sons dealt with it, and the tone of his voice wasn’t of pride, it was hard, bitter.   There’s bad blood there between them, that’s for sure.”

“I feel sorry for Joyce.  She suffered enough in her first marriage, she doesn’t deserve to suffer again now.  She so obviously loves Ebenezer.”

Joe grinned “Why does she call him Burgoyne?”

Now she laughed the girlish laugh he loved “He doesn’t like the name Ebenezer, nor does she.””

………….

The children were bundled back into the wagon, flushed of face, hot and sticky, tired and weary.  Hester took her seat beside her husband and Luke passed a drowsy Erik up into her arms so that the infant could settle into her arms and sleep there on the long journey home.   Neither Luke nor Hoss had mentioned their strange encounter with Archer, it was as though they didn’t really think it had been real.  The only fact they did mention was that the Burgoyne brothers seemed to be involved with the loss of the cattle.

Both Hester and Hoss were quiet for some time into the journey.  The children dozed off, the girls cuddled up together in the back and Erik snored as he slept in Hester’s arms.   It had been, for them, a very pleasant fun filled time with lots of running, squealing, laughing and eating.  At times Erik and the twins had been almost hysterical with the excitement of play and pleasure, that heady hysteria children displayed when emotions ran too high.

Hester was tired.  She sat beside Hoss and leaned against him, forcing herself to keep her eyes open and not fall asleep.   Afraid that she might  do so, and Erik topple off her lap as a result, she bundled him into his blanket and settled him in the well of the wagon, between their feet.

Hoss loved the feeling of content he always felt when Hester sat so close to him.  Her body warmth a reassuring comfort, a physical representation of the love between them.  The sounds around him were muted as they drove along, the sun creating shadows, the creak of wood from the wagon, the sound of the wheels, the steady “clip clop” of the horses hoofs upon the sun baked track creating dust devils to swirl just above the ground as they passed.

He smiled not only with contentment but because he would be able to provide an answer to the puzzle.   Was Joe going to be surprised when he told him about the Burgoyne boys!    ………….

The cab came to a halt outside an apartment house that was in one of the oldest areas of San Francisco.   It was not the smartest of places, but not the most unpleasant either, retaining an air of its former glory by being clean and modest.   They paid the driver and made their way into the building and mounted the stairs to the rooms that had been allocated to the murderer of Sylvia Soames.

Chapter 30

They entered the building. The door led to a long hall leading to a stairway. There were several doors along the hall with numbers on them, none of which was the one they sought. They began to mount the stairs,Laurence taking the lead. The sounds around them were dulled, muted as their feet tramped along the carpeted flooring. Somewhere a baby was crying, from another direction singing and laughter, music of another country tinkling as comfortably there as in Cairo.

Laurence was walking on looking at the doors, while Adam thought back to Chinatown, a colourful rich community where men and women lived in the manner of the China they thought should exist in a free country away from the Empress. Doctors used traditional medication, religion was practised according to tradition, children were educated about their history and culture …

And why was he thinking like this? He shook his head to free himself of daydreaming. The smell of Egyptian food permeated the building, drifted into his nostrils, reminded him of long ago meals at the house of Ibrahim Aziz Abdullah, who had been his mentor upon his arrival in Egypt.

Footsteps pattered behind him and he turned to glance over his shoulder. A woman, dressed in the traditional all encompassing garment of the Muslim, paused, stared wide eyed back at him and then scampered hurriedly back the way she had come.

“This is it.” Laurence said quietly and pushed his hand against the door “it isn’t locked.”

Duggan’s men had already been there, searching for clues that would provide reasons for Pasha’s act of violence on an American woman. He had been dressed in the European style, smart and almost too much the stereotype of what he must have thought well to do Americans looked like .Now, the two men stood in the centre of a room with little furniture, clean to the point of sterility, empty of any claim to personality.

Adam opened a wardrobe but it contained nothing. A chest of drawers revealed only a change of under garments and shaving tackle. Laurence looked at the walls, the ceilings and then at his friend. “He didn’t live here…he came, was expected to do what he did, then go …”

Adam nodded. He walked to the window and looked down into the yard which was untidy and strewn with rubbish. “Do you think the person in Boston is safe?”

Laurence shrugged, “I don’t know, I can’t even imagine.” he frowned “a few hours ago I would not have thought Angelique deSalle would be killed. I mean, who was she anyway? What, apart from knowing Anna did either of them have to do with …with anything to do with Hassims murder. Or Anna’s disappearance?”

“Whatever it was … Involved all the people who were in that picture.” Adam folded his Arms and leaned against the chest of drawers “Only one of them could still be alive! ”

“Anna?”

“I was thinking of the other man… It is possible that Pasha was sent here to deal with Sylvia, the other -”

“Sent to kill Angelique”. Laurence murmurs and rubbed his fingers over his jaw. “Should we warn the person in Boston?”

“Unless he is the other person in the picture…”

Laurence moved restlessly around the room, shaking his head “Anna must still be alive..”

For a moment Adam didn’t speak but watched his friend thoughtfully before saying very quietly that there really was no evidence to prove she was actually alive – was there? What they had was obscure to say the least. Laurence looked rather angrily at him and demanded an explanation. Adam gave him one.

“That book…Anna’s journal…” he bowed his head and stared down at the floorboards for a moment to concentrate his thoughts so that what he said was making sense ” a woman writes a day by day journal of her life..nothing outstanding, nothing changes, and then she writes an account of her husbands murder, she is an eye witness to a callous hacking down of a man she loved …”

“She wanted it to be used as testimony against the perpetrators.”

Adam nodded, although he didn’t look at Laurence at all but continued to stare at the floor, his arms still folded across his body, “She must have written it some time after it happened then, if she wrote it at all.”

“Of course she wrote it.” Laurence forced out the words, as though his throat was too tight to get the words through his windpipe “Rachel recognised the writing…”

“How did Angelique get hold of it and when? You see, the timing doesn’t fit…Sylvia got the book from Angelique but it was posted from Cyprus with instructions to her about removing the back pages. But Angelique is in Maine .. That is where Sylvia was writing to…and Barnes says that when she saw the journal she was worried, seemed upset ..”

“Because of what Anna had written, of course…”

“No, this was before she had read it. When she first held it and saw what it was …”

Laurence shook his head and returned to the window “It was a life line to Anna, now you’re confusing the whole thing…”

“No, I think it was a ruse, a trick … ”

“Then why leave it to now before saying so…” Laurence was decidedly angry, his nostrils thinned and beneath his moustache his lips tightened

“Because it was some kind of lead at the time, of which you may remember we have a very precious few . It was logical that if there appears to be a lead then we follow it to the end…or to the solution.”

“Nonsense.”

“Think about it, Laurence…. what woman carries a journal around with her when she’s been witness to a brutal murder and is then taken by who knows what, and taken to who knows where…” he leaned forward and looked into Laurence’s eyes “and can calmly write down the event with the precision of some novelist!”

“No, Charles confirmed Hassims death, wanted us to get the journal… ”

Adam shook his head and pushed himself away from the chest of drawers, he walked to the window and looked down into the yard.

“I think Anna did contact you when she sent you the jewellery. Rachel said Anna never took it off, always wore it ..”

“It was sent with a note telling us not to look into the matter, to leave it…”

Adam nodded “She was trying to protect you. Warning you to do as she asked…”

They both started in surprise at a slow handclap from the doorway…and a deep voice murmured “Brava, well done … ”

Adam took several steps forwards and then stopped to stand beside Laurence who stood rigid and straight backed as he stared at the figure framed within the doorway. Behind this newcomer stood two men, armed, faces hidden behind black cloth that came from the head covering they wore. Only their eyes could be seen as they glared at the two men as though they bore a personal grudge towards them both.

But the dominant figure of the three was the spokesman who took a few steps into the room and stared at both men with extraordinarily dark eyes. He was a handsome man who exuded power both mentally and physically. A man who certainly could claim the title of being a leader of men. Tall, muscular, with the straight broad shoulders of one who knew and accepted that he was to carry the weight of responsibility upon them . He wore traditional dress, the djibborah was a soft material dyed blue with silver thread woven along its edges, his head dress was white. His beard was well groomed, perhaps his nose a little too prominent although it suited the high cheek boned features of his face

He nodded as though satisfied at seeing them there and the effect his appearance had had on them both. The dark eyes lingered on them before he turned to Adam and the left corner of his mouth turned into a slight sneer.

“Commodore Adam Cartwright. Did you really think we would so easily forget you and allow you to live your comfortable life without hearing further from us? And you- ” he turned to Laurence “you may not have played so vital a part in the drama but you interfered and are as guilty as anyone.”

Laurence raised his eyebrows and looked at Adam with a look of contempt on his face “Do we know this chap, Adam?”

Adam didn’t respond immediately but had not taken his eyes from the other man in the room, then inclined his head towards the Englishman “The fact is, Laurence, he knows us, although -” he paused “he looks familiar.”

“Follow me ” their opponent snapped abruptly, and turned quickly in order to leave the room  Adam and Laurence did what seemed the obvious thing and followed him from the bleak room in which they had been standing and out into the carpeted hall. The two guards brought up the rear behind them and inquisitive neighbours peeked out and then promptly disappeared behind quickly closed doors. They went up another staircase where another two armed men stood on either side of a door, which one pushed open. Both bowed from the waist as the man in the blue djubbeh passed by them.

The contrast in the decor of this room was such that both Adam and Laurence were momentarily confused by the lavish furnishings, the Arabic writings painted carefully on the walls, the bright colours of wall hangings. Richly woven rugs straight from a Cairo market were laid upon the floor several deep, colours so bright that they must have been of very high value. Putting them in such an obscure setting seemed – incongruous

A woman had appeared from another room, bent double in homage to her master, bearing exquisitely embroidered slippers for his now bare feet. She gently placed them on each foot, never once daring to look in the direction of the two “guests’.

Nothing was said. No words were spoken. The silence grew progressively oppressive as they stood before the other man who was regarding them both with ill concealed contempt.

“You -” he glared at Adam and something in his eyes was apparent enough to warn the American to take care, to listen but watch what he said afterwards, “You and your interference held back our plan to overthrow Ismael and all those infidel dogs that kept tied to his sovereignty. El Hassim was a tool to be used and you meddled even in that…” he stepped back and sat down upon a large ornate chair from which he surveyed them as they stood before him, “you set us back in our plans but in some ways it worked to our favour . During the years the American Infidels have gone, Ismael has bankrupted the country, the people are seeing him for the greedy fool that he is… – ” he hesitated as he attempted to translate the word then shrugged “they see him for what he is, for what he has done to our country. The people will flock to us and support us , he will be overthrown …”

Laurence shook his head “Tewfik his son is already waiting in the wings, he’ll step into his father’s shoes with British and French support. You must realise that?”

The Other man stared at Laurence and raised his chin “Did I give you permission to speak, dog?”

He snapped his fingers and immediately the two guards stepped forward, grabbed Laurence by the arms and manhandled him to his knees. Adam moved to prevent such an action but stopped when a jab from a rifle reminded him that there two others right behind him.

“Do you remember me now, Commodore Cartwright?”

Adam nodded ” Yes, I remember you now…Adjo Ahmose.”

“I almost feel flattered, Commodore….I kept in the shadows as much as I could in the past. Ebo Funsani was our leader but …” he shrugged “thanks to your interference he was killed as were others of our faction. Having kept to the background I was able to slip away, regroup and regather our forces, renew contacts with our allies…we are already poised on the brink of great changes for the better.”

Adam said nothing. The man obviously wanted to talk, to boast. There was always more to be gained by listening to a fanatic than reasoning with them. Beside him Laurence was still pinned down, the butts of two rifles pushed against his shoulders.

Adjo Ahmose stroked his beard, his fingers seemed to caress each hair. Then in an abrupt gesture he flicked his fingers and the guards put a hand under Laurence’s arm pits and hauled him to his feet. As calmly as he could Laurence straightened his jacket, tweaked the cuffs of his shirt sleeves and then raked his fingers through his hair. Adjo Ahmose sat back,

“As I said earlier we did not forget you … Nor that fool of a Russian who left Ebo to die and fled to save his own skin. I wish he were still alive today to be standing here now…” he reclined more and shrugged “Now,before you are taken away there are several questions you may want to ask me. “. he smiled slowly, a handsome man the smile made him appear quite charismatic. “Ask … now is your only chance after all.”

Adam and Laurence exchanged a glance, but it was Laurence who spoke “Where is Anna El Hasssim? Is she alive? Is she safe?”

Chapter 31

Adjo Ahmose raised his chin, his eyes crinkled as he smiled and then he slowly shook his head from side to side. For a moment he remained silent, like a cat satisfied in observing his captured prey. He sighed then, the smile faded and he raised his hand so that he could comb through his beard with those long beringed fingers. An emerald flashed as sunlight from one of the Windows touched upon it.

“How predictable you are, you English! So sentimental, so tender hearted. What is this woman to you anyway? She is nothing…a mere foolish woman playing silly games.”

“She is my wife’s sister …”

Adjo shrugged “We know that…” He leaned forward as though to look deeper into Laurence’s eyes and reach into his very heart ‘That was what we were counting on… that over the years your wife’s affection for her sister would be enough bait to lure you here.”

Laurence glanced over at Adam who was standing close, watching and listening, barely moving except to breathe. He acknowledged Laurence’s apologetic look with a brief nod. Adjo leaned back. A woman – perhaps the same as the earlier one for it was hard to distinguish one from another from the robes they wore – entered with refreshment on a silver tray which she placed on a small table close to Adjo. She poured the tea into the shallow porcelain cup and then hurried away, her duty done.

“Why? Why the charade?” Laurence stepped forward, hands stretched away from his body as though in appeal for the answer

“I told you already..you interfered with our plans. When Ebo our leader was killed, you set our plans back years…” there was anger edging each word, and aware of it Adjo paused, picked up the cup and swallowed the tea before setting the cup back. “We declared jihad on you as soon as we had regrouped. We are patient men, it was only a matter of time before an opportunity would arise. When it came we took it…” he looked at Adam as though expecting some comment from him “you are remarkably quiet, Commodore?”

Adam gave a slight roll of the shoulders, then folded his arms across his chest. He bowed his head as though considering what to say then looked up into Adjo’s glaring black eyes “I would like to remind you that at the time your faction were planning to assassinate our President?”

“0h pah! Your President?” Adjo’s lip curled in contempt “And where is he now? Let me tell you..he is nothing, a mere cypher. . You would have been well rid of him had we been able to achieve our ideals.”

Adam lowered his head again, scowled slightly and stared at the rug on the floor. Adjo poured out more tea, “Surely you have many questions you want answered…why not ask them?”

“I already asked the most important…where is Anna El Hassim” Laurence hissed between clenched teeth, sweat was trickling down his back, he could feel his shirt sticking to his flesh. He wished Adam would say something and flashed him a glance but Adam was deep in thoughts of his own . Adjo once again raked through his beard with his fingers, an action that Adam was finding singularly annoying. He looked over his shoulder casually and noticed the two guards at the door, standing ramrod straight. The other two men still stood close to Laurence, weapons poised.

“What about the journal?’ Adam said as the silence was becoming oppressive. The man obviously wanted to waste time talking so why not get him to talk. There was always something one could learn from what was said.

Adjo frowned and nodded, a look of satisfaction on his face, “The journal.” he almost purred and nodded in satisfaction “I said before it was the bait with which to hook you. You are all so predictable with your sentimental foolishness over women.”

“Yes, having said that…” Laurence began but stopped as the guards on either side of him pressed closer upon a gesture from Adjo.

“It came into our hands when El Hassim had been killed. We were looking for his woman … It was found in her rooms.”

“So she didn’t write …” Laurence groaned, and shook his head and for a heart beat Adam wondered if the man was going to burst into tears, but Laurence put his lips together and scowled only.

“She wrote enough for our handwriting experts to conjure up stories to make you believe it was from her …witnessing Sa’id El Hassims death and everything thereafter…” he frowned slightly, “Sir Charles Willoughby was involved in the negotiations in Cyprus, it was an opportune time to have it sent to our contact”

“Sylvia Soames was one of your contacts?” Laurence gasped “But -” he clamped his mouth shut, the implications were obvious enough

Adjo nodded “The woman liked money…” he shrugged “but she was loyal to her friends. However it still achieved what we aimed for …it still brought you here.”

“And you killed her?”

“We had no choice, she was not to be trusted…nor was the other woman..” he shrugged.

“And the contact in Boston?” Adam asked now, “I presume is another contact?”

Adjo stared for a moment at Adam, then looked at Laurence “Pasha was sent to retrieve something from the woman…from what we understand he was unable to obtain it.”

“An error on the part of your so called writing expert I guess?” Adam muttered

“Not one he will repeat! “. Adjo’s nostrils pinched making his nose appear thinner, he shrugged “From what you say you have the missing pages..”

“I did.”

“What does that mean..you did?”

“What I said… I did have them, I don’t now.’

Adjo clicked his fingers and coldly commanded his men to search the American, but after some minutes during which Adams clothing was thoroughly searched they found nothing…only his personal things and a stream of ribbon.

The silence settled upon them like a blanket the Adjo shrugged “it hardly matters now…” he gave a command and the guards closed in on the two men, “Take them – ”

“But Anna..tell me where she is..” Laurence cried only to end his words with a groan as he rifle came down heavily across his shoulders and sent him sprawling upon the floor.

Adam moved to assist his fallen friend but as he did so he glanced up at Adjo who was watching with no expression on his handsome cruel face “You don’t know either, do you?”

“What?” Adjo replied, startled from his complacency

“You don’t know where she is either, do you?”

Adjo stared at him, his brow furrowed when he raised his eyebrows “It doesn’t matter now. She served our purpose ..she is expendable after all.”

As Adam leaned down to assist Laurence Adjo clicked his fingers. Concern for his friend dulled Adams natural caution, as he put his hand under Laurence’s arm to haul him to his feet the butt end of a rifle swung against the side of his skull. He barely had time to gasp as small pin pricks of light danced in front of his eyes before being swallowed up into darkness.
…………………..

Thomas Salway leaned on the side of the schooner and stared out to the harbour. He had many good qualities but patience was not One of them, and it had long ran out. He tapped his fingers against the wooden balustrade and attempted to quell his temper as he wondered just how much longer he was going to have to wait for his two passengers.

“Hey..Viking Queen…”

Salway leaned over to observe the man below. It was easy to distinguish who he was as his uniform as Harbour Master was quite distinct, along with the bushy red side whiskers “What’s your business.”

“Coming aboard, Captain.”

“As you wish”

Salway sighed, he had expected this to happen. He had the man tabbed as an officious little upstart when he saw him earlier in the day, now that they were overdue for departure the Harbour Master would want to know why, and from the look on the man’s face he was not happy

“Mr Peterson..” Salway nodded

“You realise you’re overdue departure..”

“I do.”

“Any explanation?”

“Lord Willoughby and his guest disembarked and have not returned.” Salway rubbed his chin with his fingers and frowned “They were due to return before the arranged hour for our departure…”

“Well,that’s come and gone by a long way” Peterson snapped and his side whiskers trembled with indignation “you realise it’s put all the paperwork out of order, schedules will have to be redrawn up to suit…”

“My apologies, sir. If I Knew where Lord Willoughby was I would be able to assist you but as it is …you can see I am caught between the devil and the deep.”

“Any idea as to when you may leave harbour…?”

“None, sir. Soon as possible I assure you.”

“I hope so. This is a prized berth …” Peterson scowled and muttering about paperwork and schedules he tore a sheet of paper from his clipboard and handed it to Salway before turning and striding from the deck.

Salway heard the sound of his footsteps bouncing down the gangplank.

Some moments later and Evans approached asking for directions on what to go next.

“Should I be getting a meal,prepared or what, sir?”

Salway was hungry enough to eat a horse, and snapped out that of course a meal should be prepared, they all needed to eat didn’t they?

He walked from one end of the deck to the other and was wondering whether or not to disembark himself and thereby miss eating and risk getting lost, when a voice halloo’d from below. He leaned over to see two men standing by the gangplank.

“Permission to come aboard, Captain?”

“Who are you?”

“Marshall Duggan, San Francisco Law Enforcement and Deputy Harris.”

“Has something happened to Lord Willoughby?” Salway demanded anxiously

“Can we discuss that on deck, sir?”

Moments later Salway was facing the Marshall who was trying not to look too enviously at the trappings of the luxury vessel. “What can I do for you, Marshall..

“I’d like a word with Lord Willoughby and Adam Cartwright If’n I may…I was a mite worried that they would have sailed off before I got here with some information for them.”

“As you can see we have not sailed…primarily because since seeing you Lord Willoughby and his guest seem to have disappeared…but if you do have any information you can leave it here and I’ll pas it on to them when they return”

Duggan frowned and shook his head “They’ve been gone some time then…”

“They have.” Salway paused, frowned and rubbed along his jawline again, “To be honest, Marshall, I’m getting rather concerned, I expected them back long before this, and had been thinking of looking in on you for help..”

Duggan nodded “You Were right to be anxious, Captain, this is turning out to be a very odd business. Is there anything in their cabin that may be a clue as to where they would have gone?”

Salway shrugged and confessed that he had no idea but upon Duggans request to ‘check things out’ nodded agreement and followed the Marshall to the cabin.

Duggan looked around him. There seemed nothing obvious..but clues didn’t usually jump to attention to be noticed so he had a good look around…noticed the journal but ignored it. The coat of arms on the cover drew his attention but he assumed it was some private journal of Lord Willoughby…and everyone knew these English Lords went into coats of arms in a big way, He did however find the papers on the table, the names on them were familiar, especially one recently having become a murder victim. He shovelled them up into his hand and pushed them into his pocket.

After scribbling out a receipt for the papers and handing it to Salway,the Marshall and his deputy left the cabin “Ask the gentlemen to come by my office as soon as they get back.”

Salway sighed “And if they don’t get back.” he asked

Duggan paused, frowned and shook his head “I’d rather not think along those lines, sir, if you don’t mind”

Salway watched the lawmen leave and rubbed his brow. He knew if anything had happened to Laurence Willoughby then there would be trouble from the Foreign Office and he would no doubt be kicked out if a very lucrative position. At the same time his hands were tied, he couldn’t leave the schooner…wherever the two men were all Salway could do was exercise the patience that was already stretched to the limit, and wait.

From his seat in his carriage Adjo Admose looked at the sleek lines of the schooner and waited. The horses snorted, impatient to continue the journey, the vehicle rolled back and forth a little as a result. But Admose was s very patient man, he had proven that by taking his time in getting Laurence and Adam under his control. He waited ..

The man sent by Adjo to board the schooner was a stealthy man. It had been no problem to him to swim to the side of the vessel and go hand over hand along the hawser and over the side. His soft landing was overheard by no one and he carefully made his way below decks.

He avoided the cabins where voices were heard and peeked into others until he came to one he felt was one that would be used by a guest. He felt pleased with himself when he recognised the journal and carefully picked it up, flicked through the pages and was wondering why the pages his Master wanted were not there..

“‘Ere, wotcher doin’ of in ‘ere?”

Evans stood squarely in the centre of the doorway, blocking the intruders escape route. Hands on hip and thrusting out his jaw Evans advanced “you put that down, matey, and come along with me.”

The intruder had no intention of putting anything down, he did however Intend not to be caught and in one very swift movement had pulled a dagger from his belt and thrown it forcefully at the Englishman. It missed doing Evans any harm but did pin his shirt sleeve to the wall, leaving him concentrating more on trying to free himself than stopping his attacker from escaping.

By the time Evans was free and swearing blue blazes, the man was placing the journal into the hands of his master and the carriage was jouncing on its way.

Chapter 32

Ben sat in the saddle and did not move. Just being there in the yard of the Ponderosa again was so satisfying a feeling that he felt overwhelmed. A song bird was singing somewhere, trilling its little heart out as it warbled its song; a wisp of a cloud drifted across a blue sky. Familiar smells wafted around him, the sounds of the horses as they moved in the corral, the fence posts being pushed as they bunched against them, the drip of the water from the pump that filled the trough…even the sound of Hop Sings chickens were like a symphony to his ears.

He was home. It was a wonderful feeling. For a moment he didn’t want it to end. No traffic noises, no clanging from those frightful tram vehicles, no yelling and shouting as people attempted to have conversations within the mass of people thronging the streets, no smells of too many bodies thrust together, and the smell of heat and dust…

He relaxed and smiled. Then slowly dismounted from Cinnamon, and led him into the stable. Chubb was there, and turned his head to look at his stable mate who nodded in a way that was tantamount to a humans shrug of the shoulders. Cinnamon hadn’t appreciated being left in the livery stable in town, but what choice did he have in the matter? Ben unsaddled him, fixed up a bag of hay within his reach and slapped him on the back as he removed the bridle and bit, the harness, the saddle blanket.

It had been very satisfying leaving Olivia with the children who were being brought home on the wagon under Ezra’s care. Ben had collected Cinnamon, and passed them as they trundled down the main street, the children waving, Nathaniel calling out to him…but as much as he loved them, Ben had had enough of children to last him a life time.

Having thought that he reminded himself that he now had to face Hannah, Hope and Erik. He sighed, well, why not? He had not seen them in a week . He removed his hat and as he walked to the house he beat the dust from his pants with it, wondering if anything untoward had occurred during his absence.

Hester was opening the door wide as he stepped onto the porch, and then gave him a hug, “Oh Pa, we thought you would never get here.”

“I was thinking the same…” he smiled and paused, stopped to look over his shoulder up at the sky, to listen to the song bird before he turned back to her “I took my time riding home. It was good to be back…”

“Hop Sing has prepared your favourite meal Joe won’t be long, he wanted to see you as soon as possible.” she paused and her smile faltered a moment, before flashing back, “Did you enjoy your visit? How is Olivia? Did she get her new glasses,was everything alright? How is Martha? I thought she would be coming back with you…”

So on she chattered as she made way for him to step into the house, and he put his hat down and removed his jacket while she chattered on “ I left the children with Mary Ann. I thought you would prefer a quiet time to collect your thoughts and talk things over with Hoss and Joe.”

“That was thoughtful of you, Hester, I must admit having spent a whole week with children’s company I looked forward to some time to myself. Has everything been alright here?”

“Yes, well, yes, I suppose so….Hoss will give you – ah here he is-” she scowled at her husband and shook her head, as though rebuking him for having left her just as Ben arrived. “Martha hasn’t come, Hoss…”

“Shucks, thought she would -” Hoss mumbled and grinned at Ben, his blue eyes twinkled with the pleasure of seeing his father and he gave Ben a hearty slap on the back which made Ben stagger a bit, he had been anticipating a son and father embrace but was caught literally flat footed.

“Martha is very ill.” he explained and followed Hoss into the main sitting area of the room, removed a toy from the settee and sat down, while Hoss settled in to the big leather chair as though he had prior rights to it. It crossed Ben’s mind that he wouldn’t be surprised to see Hoss take a pipe and start smoking it.

They murmured sympathy, listened as he told them what was wrong with the woman and sighed, Hester leaned forward and kissed his cheek, “I had hopes she would come back, but that isn’t good news, Pa. I am sorry.”

Hoss cleared his throat, the mention of good news nudged his brain to consider the fact that he had bad news to impart. He glanced at Ben “You did enjoy your vacation though, Pa, didn’t you”

“Well, son, it was like the curate’s egg, some parts were good and some were just plain awful.” Ben sighed and stood up, “Now get yourself out of my chair and let me get comfortable.”

Hoss sighed and relinquished possession of the old leather chair, took his seat on the settee and opened his mouth to speak, then closed it again at the sound of hoof beats. Moments later and just as Joe’s boots were heard on the porch outside Hester appeared with a tray laden with coffee which she set upon the low table. She smiled at Ben, “How are Adam and Olivia, and the children -?”

“Ah well, I have something I need to discuss with you about -”

“Hi Pa,” Joe stepped into the house and the door closed with its usual thud upon his entry. He removed his hat and slung it on the bureau, nodded to Hoss and smiled at Hester who hurried out to the kitchen to get another cup and saucer. “It’s real good to see you home, Pa.”

“I’m glad to be home, son. I hope never to step foot in San Francisco ever again.”

“Huh changed has it since the last time we were there?” Hoss muttered and glanced over at Joe, raised his eyebrows and nodded.

“Like a nightmare…” Ben leaned back and half closed his eyes, if he didn’t know better he could swear that his two youngest had something up their sleeves….he wondered what they had been plotting while he was away, or – had something happened that they were building up the courage to discuss with him. “Well, anyway, seems like the Ponderosa hasn’t burned down any.”

“No, sir. No, not that – “ Joe stammered and faltered, then looked over at Hoss who drew in a deep breath.

“That’s good. No flash floods, no one killed while in town..the children all healthy ..”

“Yep, everything’s just fine, Pa.” Hoss said and then gulped “Well, that is, mostly everything is just fine.”

Hester appeared and put down the cup and saucer, then began to pour out the coffee. In the quietness that Hoss’ announcement had created she handed out the cups and then quickly left the room. Perhaps this would be a good time to visit Olivia and welcome her home….

……

Sofia was first into the house, calling out to Cheng Ho Lee in her shrill voice which held a smile in every word. Reuben followed close on her heels and gave her just a little shove as though she were not moving fast enough. Olivia came with Nathaniel in her arms, he had fallen asleep, bounced about on the wagon and too hot and dusty to want to stay awake, he was now snoring softly, his cheeks red from the warmth of his contact with Olivia’s body.

“Cheng – we’re back.”Sofia cried, and flung her arms wide to give him a hug, “did you miss us?”

“Very much little missy.”

He bowed to Olivia as he always did, a smile on his pleasant handsome face, his dark hair pulled tightly back in its customary pig tail. He slid his hands in the wide sleeves of his tunic and nodded as Olivia gently settled Nathaniel down on the settee. “The boxes you send from city arrive yesterday, Missy.”

“Oh I am glad.” Olivia said and pulled out the hat pin from her bonnet which she removed carefully, “I was hoping they would come before we got home.”

She smiled at Cheng and was about to say more when Sofia ran into the room, “Mommy, mommy, there’s some boxes in here, big ones.”

She ran to her mother arm outstretched and grabbed at her mother’s hand “Come and see, mommy, come and see.”

“In a moment, Sofia…calm down now.”

“But mommy -”

A sound from the stairs and Olivia glanced up, then looked at Cheng who bowed his head and said something about getting some refreshments while Olivia looked up at Bridie Martin who was descending the stairs with an anxious look upon her face.

“Bridie?” Olivia paused, concern changed to pleasure, she chided herself for thinking that her friend’s presence meant bad news, when it was just a delight to see her again “How lovely to see you here, Bridie, I wasn’t expecting such a surprise.” she paused “Is everything alright?”

Why had she even asked such a thing? Of course everything was alright…after all the only one with bad news was herself, having to tell friends that Adam was not coming home – yet. But something about how Bridie came down the stairs made Olivia anxious “Is Paul – alright?”

“Paul’s fine, my dear.” Bridie took the last step and then listened for a moment as Sofia told her that there were big boxes in the other room full of presents for everyone, “and one for you too, Bridie.”

“Thank you, dear, how lovely.” Bridie said and nodded, smiled and then looked at Olivia “Olivia, something has happened…”

Olivia felt her stomach lurch and she looked at her little daughter who was hopping from one foot to the other from impatience “Go and get some lemonade. Hurry now…”

Cheng Ho Lee made the best lemonade so Sofia was not bothered about staying with her mother and Bridie, she ran off, giggling at nothing, happy just to be home.

Olivia approached Bridie and reached for her hand “What’s wrong, Bridie?”

“I don’t really know how to put it…”

“Then just say it…” Olivia glanced upstairs “Is there someone up there …”

“Yes. Yes, there is.” Bridie nodded and clasped Olivia’s hand tightly “A young woman. She arrived in town two days ago. She was very ill, and collapsed just as she reached Paul’s surgery”

“And you thought to bring her here?”

“We thought it better – wiser -” Bridie frowned, “She said she was a friend of Adams. She was feverish you understand, and kept demanding that she had to see Adam.” she bit her lip, and frowned, cast her eyes down “In view of her condition…”

“Condition?”

“Yes. She is due to have a baby very soon.” she tightened her grip on Olivia’s hand as the young woman started forward “Wait. It may not be as bad as it appears, Olivia. We don’t’ know who she is, she wouldn’t say..just insisted that she had to see Adam Cartwright. They were old friends. Well, you can imagine what it would have seemed like if it became – known in town – you understand?”

Olivia nodded. Her stomach turned over and over. “Due to have a baby soon?”

“Paul gives her a few days at most.”

“I see.” Olivia put cold fingers to her forehead, the cold seeped down through her skin making her tingle, she felt sick, that meant nine months ago – “She’s a stranger in town?”

“Yes, she got off the stage and managed to ask where the Doctor’s surgery was…thankfully that was all that she said… before she fainted outside Paul’s door.”

“Young and pretty I suppose?” Olivia’s lips clamped tight.

“Well, not that young, your age I should say and yes, she is pretty…”

“Of course, she would be …” Olivia muttered and stood up, straightened her shoulders “And you brought her here?”

“Where else could we take her?” Bridie said quietly, “Unless you want the whole town to know…”

Olivia shuddered, nine months ago, where was Adam nine months ago? Where had he been? She couldn’t think straight, she couldn’t remember.

“Well, I had better go and see this – lady – and get the truth out of her.” she muttered and then looked at Bridie, “I don’t believe what you’re thinking, Bridie, you know that, don’t you?”

Bridie said nothing, but she just nodded and followed Olivia up the stairs

Chapter 33

But what was she thinking? Olivia stopped at the half landing and slowly removed her glasses, wiped tears from under her eyes with her finger and bowed her head. Behind her Bridie paused and put a hand on her younger friends shoulder, unsure now as to whether or not she had done the right thing in bringing the stranger to this house.

The sounds of childrens laughter, high pitched voices, Sofia saying “Oh Nathaniel -” in that tone of voice that meant he had done something wrong already seeped up the stairs and for a moment filled the space between thoughts.

Olivia sighed and replaced her glasses. She had never doubted Adams faithfulness to her, never. Not even when her own sister accused him of immoral relations with her. When had this started. Still she hesitated on the stairs and stared up at those she still had to climb, she drew in a deep breath and put a foot forward, then the other…

Sylvia Soames slipped into her mind, that beautifully dressed woman who stood at the table with her father, and looked her in the eyes as though she was looking at someone who had made herself a pathetic spectacle by thinking she could dress as smartly as herself. Sylvia Soames who had smiled when her father had asked Olivia ‘Not wearing your new glasses’ as though Olivia were some school Marm – it seemed from thereon everything had gone wrong.

“What is it, dearie?” Bridie whispered “Are you unwell?”

Unwell? Olivia quelled, with a great effort, the desire to turn on the woman and scream “How do you expect me to feel? You’ve brought a stranger to my house…a pregnant woman – asking for my husband – how could you? How dare you….”

“Olivia, believe me, if I could think of where else I could have taken her I would have done, but she was so insistent on seeing Adam…I couldn’t risk others seeing or hearing her, you do understand don’t you?”

Olivia bowed her head and finally mounted the last stair and placed her foot on the landing, she turned then to Bridie “Does Hester know? Or Mary Ann?”

“No- only Cheng Ho Lee, Paul and Jimmy.”

Olivia nodded and tilted her head to one side to survey Bridie’s homely face, the anxious eyes, “I know this may look bad -”

“It’s in the minds of people whether or not it is bad…they take what they see and hear as fact -” Bridie placed a gentle hand on Olivia’s arm “Why not just go in and confront her.”

“And she has no name?”

“She wouldn’t tell us what her name was – “ Bridie frowned “She had only one bag, which contained some clothing, expensive clothing may I add – and a box.” she paused then, “We thought the box may contain her identity papers but it was locked. It’s a very lovely box, we didn’t dare to risk damaging it by forcing the lock.”

“Nothing else? No baby clothes – no – letters – nothing?” Olivia removed her glasses again and nervously walked a few steps towards the guest room door.

Bridie only shrugged and followed closely behind Olivia, whose heart was beating so hard that it echoed in her ear drums and prevented her from hearing what Bridie said next. She placed her hand on the door knob and pushed the door open.

The woman in the bed was sleeping. It looked as though she had not slept in months, nor eaten for she was so thin that the clothes she wore hung on her small frame and exposed too much flesh as a result. She may have been as thin as a lathe but her swollen belly was evidence of a very advanced pregnancy. Olivia looked at Bridie

“I see what you mean – she looks ready to give birth any time.”

Bridie nodded and walked to the bed, took hold of the limp hand and felt for the woman’s pulse. She sighed and smiled briefly, “It’s stronger than it was…I was fearful for a moment that she would not survive the confinement.”

“Has she eaten while she’s been here?”

“Cheng made her something to eat. She ate some but she drinks mostly.”

Olivia approached the bed and looked down onto the face of the woman who was Adam’s friend. Bridie had obviously taken the trouble to tidy the woman up as much as she could, the dark hair was braided, it was long but some loose curls of it fell across her thin face. The eye sockets were bruised from lack of sleep and food, the woman had, Olivia could see, suffered greatly. She looked over at Bridie

“Who could she be, Bridie? The woman looks as though she’s gone through agonies during the past few months.”

“She’s spoke gibberish when she was delirious…not exactly gibberish, that’s unfair of me to say that, foreign – some language I’ve never heard before…the only English she has spoken was to ask for Adam and insist on their being good friends.”

Bridie looked anxiously at Olivia and wondered what she was thinking, what was passing through her mind now? She reached out to take hold of Olivia’s hand, and was surprised at how cold it was and she shook her head “Adam would not do what others would assume, Olivia, you know that, don’t you?”

“What do you mean?” Olivia glanced at Bridie with some degree of arrogance in her voice “Do you seriously think I’d assume that this woman was – had been – having an affair with my husband?”

Bridie said nothing, bit her lip and sighed, then pushed her fingers through her greying hair, “It is what others in town would have thought seeing her, hearing her talking about Adam.”

Olivia shook her head impatiently. Yes, alright, she had for a fleeting moment – perhaps five – dreaded the possibility of her husband’s unfaithfulness and the results of it coming right to her door. What else could she think after all, she was only a woman, and how many women past the bloom of youth and with three children have husbands who had a mistress or two on the side? But not Adam…and she felt a niggle of shame turn in her stomach.

The woman stirred and opened her eyes. They were large brown eyes, certainly too large for the thin face, but they added to her prettiness, even now. There was no doubting the fact that the woman had, prior to this fall to misery, been very lovely.

Her eyes locked onto Olivia and seemed to rake through her before she said “You are Adam’s wife? Olivia?”

Her voice was soft, weary. But it had an American accent with a slight sing song lilt which added to the charm of her voice. “Is Adam here?”

“No. I’m sorry, he isn’t – I mean, yes, I am Olivia Cartwright.” she tried to sound stern, compassionate but stern. The ‘I’m sorry for your plight but don’t mess with me -’ sound of voice. She drew herself upright and watched as Bridie re-arranged the pillows to help the woman sit up.

“Shakrun – I mean – thank you.” the woman said and then placed hand upon Bridie’s arm, “Thank you for all your help, Mrs Martin. Thank you for bringing me here – I know I will be safe now – I know Adam will help me.”

Bridie and Olivia exchanged a look and Olivia sighed and pulled over a chair to the bedside and sat down, “Perhaps you could tell us what your name is, and why you are here?”

The woman looked surprised, her eyebrows rose and then fell, she bowed her head and sighed “I am Anna El Hassim -”

“Rachel’s sister?” Olivia interrupted, her voice an octave higher than usual “You are – Anna El Hassim?”

“Yes, I’m sorry, I -.I couldn’t tell you my name before, I just couldn’t risk telling anyone who I was because I – I was afraid.”

“Well,” Bridie said stoutly “You needn’t be afraid now, you’re safe here.” and she patted Anna on the shoulder to reassure her while she looked over at Olivia and raised her eyebrows. There was a mystery here somewhere, and thankfully Olivia seemed to know what it was –

“You know me? Adam has spoken of me perhaps?”

“But they’re looking for you…Adam and Laurence, they’re in San Francisco looking for you.” Olivia said softly,

“What do you mean? I told them not to get involved – not to look for me. Why is Laurence in San Francisco?”

“Rachel and Laurence both came over – they came to ask Adam for help in finding you.”

Anna’s eyes went wide, the pupils dilated, she shook her head “No, no, I told them not to get involved, I sent my necklace so that they would know it was from me…they were not to get involved, not to come. 0h no no, this is terrible, terrible -” she put her face in her hands and struggled to keep calm, gulping down air, trying to control her breathing.

“They got your journal-”

“My what?”

“Your journal…it was sent to Charles and then to Sylvia -”

“Sylvia Soames?”

“Yes, a friend of yours?”

“Yes, I suppose she is, she and Angelique were good friends for a while but – she had my journal?” Anna leaned forward as though she had to draw closer to Olivia to absorb exactly what she said.

“She had your journal and gave it to Laurence and Rachel…”

“Here? In America?”

“In San Francisco … and they were going to come here to ask Adam for help but -” she paused, “How good a friend was Sylvia to you?”

“Oh – “ Anna smiled, a slight whimsical smile, and shrugged her thin shoulders “She was just a friend who was passing through Cairo one time, no one I would expect too much from, a butterfly – Sa’id – my husband – used to say not to rely too much on that one…” her composure cracked, her lips trembled and tears trickled down her cheeks.

“I know your husband died – Anna, I am sorry. Rachel and Laurence told us – it was in your journal -”

“I never wrote about that in my journal…” she mustered up some strength and shook her head “I never wrote anything in my journal about what happened – the last time I saw it, it was in my room. I – I just don’t understand – where is Adam? Where is Laurence and Rachel now?” she glanced around her, looked suddenly wild and frightened “Are they here?”
………………..

Joe stretched out his legs and released his breath. In a way it was just great that Ben had some bad news of his own to impart, it delayed the telling of their own. He toyed with the button of his jacket while he listened to what Ben was telling them about events in San Francisco, his eyes focused on his father’s face, the brown eyes, the anxiety in those brown eyes. He had seen it so often, for him, Hoss and Adam – a father concerned for his sons, and he knew that one day, he would look like that because his babies would not remain babies for long.

“So, when is he coming back, do you know?” Hoss asked quietly

“I don’t even know where they are going…fact is, I don’t think even they have a clue as to where they are going.”

“And it isn’t anything to do with the Navy, or the Government?” Joe asked now, his eyes narrowed. “Nothing political?”

“Even that – I don’t know – “ Ben shrugged “But Adam – well – you know how he feels about friendship and loyalty”

“I don’t understand it – you go away for a weeks vacation and come home minus one son, who could be sailing off anywhere while there’s murder and goodness knows what else going on in San Francisco.” Joe shook his head, and scowled.

“It just started off with a request from friends to help them find a lost woman…” Ben sighed and looked at Hester who sighed as well, and took hold of his hand in sympathy.

“Is Olivia alright?” she asked now, wondering just how her friend would be feeling at coming home without her beloved husband.

“She actually encouraged him to go…not because she wanted him to go, but because -”

“Yeah, because if he came home then he’d be itching to know what he had missed out on.” Joe muttered and scowled.

Ben nodded and leaned back in his chair, he sipped his coffee and then after a moments silence regarded his two sons thoughtfully “Well, at least nothing went wrong here, did it?”

He wasn’t sure why he added “Did it?” perhaps just an awareness that there was a 99% possibility of things going wrong with Hoss and Joe in charge of anything while he was absent from home. He looked from one face to the other and sighed, put his cup back in the saucer “Well, so? What happened?”

Hoss looked at Joe and shrugged, his blue eyes rolled up and round, his nose twitched. Joe sighed and leaned forward as though about to confide big things to his father, he opened and closed his mouth several times like a fish struggling to breathe when first pulled out of the water.

“It isn’t as serious as anything Adam has got himself into, Pa. Nothing like that at all…just a little … mystery.”

“Mystery?” Ben closed his eyes for a moment, and clasped his hands together over his stomach, “There’s nothing I like more than going away on holiday and coming home to the warmth and comfort of my own home…to peace and tranquillity …and a mystery.”

“Yeah, well, it ain’t that much of a mystery. I think we got it all sewn up – just need to tidy up a few things is all.” Hoss said suspiciously
“Oh, well, that’s good isn’t it? Just a few things to tidy up – so not such a mystery after all.” Ben replied sarcastically.

Joe cleared his throat “Well, thing is – we have new neighbours. Do you remember hearing about them?”

“No. Enlighten me.” Ben opened his eyes and looked at the two men, then at Hester who was wondering whether or not she should slip away and join Hop Sing in the kitchen.

“Ebenezer Burgoyne, his wife and two sons….” Hoss said and glanced at Joe, raising his eyebrows again, asking the question ’Do you tell him or not?”

Joe leaned forward, his clasped hands fell between his knees as though in an attitude of prayer, he looked at the rug and then at his father “Does the name Ebenezer Burgoyne seem familiar to you, Pa?”

He glanced up to look into Ben’s face and his father stared at him for a moment and shook his head “No, should it?”

“Well, he claims to know you.” Joe replied and batted his eyelids a little as he began to get a trifle nervous

“Ebenezer Burgoyne?” Ben ran a hand along his jaw and shook his head, then stared into the further reaches of the room, then up at the ceiling. He repeated the name “Ebenezer Burgoyne…did he say how he knew me?”

“A long time ago, when you were boys on board ship…” Hoss blurted and was gratified to hear Ben’s exhalation of”Aaaah”

They were silent for a moment or two waiting for Ben to say something else. For a while he sat there ruminating, stroking his chin, his mouth widened into a grin, then into a smile.

“Ebenezer Burgoyne…goodness, that goes back a long time. And he’s moved here?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Well now, isn’t that something.” Ben breathed, “Eb and I were good friends when we were lads. Signed on at the same time you see, I think I was 14 and he was only 12, got me to lie about his age for him, in case the Captain turned him away. We had good times together, yes, very good times.”

“And then you parted company?” Joe nudged the memories along, impatient to get the conversation over with…no mention of lost calves or rustling …yet.

“Yes, but that’s life – he signed on with another ship that was going where he wanted to go, somewhere exotic. I stayed with Abel, for obvious reasons, I wanted to court his daughter.” Ben smiled dreamily, Elizabeth …sweet Elizabeth and he sighed, caught in the moment and for that moment his sons let him drift

“So? What brought him here? Does he know about the Ponderosa?” he looked at them both, caught the look that passed between them, and frowned “Well now, have we at last hit upon what the mystery is all about?”

“Not really, Pa.” Hoss said cagily.

“Sort of, but not quite….” Joe replied.

“Pa, Ebenezer Burgoyne married an old friend of yours -” Hester said quietly, and put his hand on his arm “Joyce Edwards.”

For a moment Ben sat there as though the name meant nothing, then they saw the red blush creeping above his collar, and the dark eyes were lowered “I see. Joyce…well, I guess that explains why she stopped writing back to me.”

“They married about ten years ago.” Joe said quickly

Ben nodded, did a quick calculation, so at least there was five to six years between her leaving to her marrying Burgoyne. He sighed, shook his head, water under the bridge now, he told himself. “How is she? IS she well?”

“Sure she is, Pa. She and Burgoyne seem – “ Hoss gulped a swallow “seem real happy together.”

“So – any reason why they came here to live?” Ben asked

“She – I think she wanted to come back, she loved it here…” Hester said quietly “And her husband had two good reasons for wanting to come back apart from pleasing her.”

“Oh, two good reasons…well, what are they?”

“His sons!” Hoss muttered and scowled.

“By his first wife, who happened to be related to Walter Gregsons wife…another thing that drew them here as well.” Joe explained.

“So I take it that you don’t particularly like these Burgoyne boys?”

“We think they went in for a spot of rustling, Pa…from us, Luke and Derwent….all neighbouring ranches to Greigson and Burgoyne land.”Joe glanced up at Ben and saw the dark eyes darkening, the generous mouth tightening.

“Have you seen Nate about it?”

“Not yet…”

Ben sighed and leaned back in his chair, he nodded…”Very well then, we’ll go into town to morrow and get this rustling business sorted out.”

Hester stood up, brushed down her skirts and then kissed Ben on the top of his head, she decided not to mention that he was beginning to go bald, perhaps he knew that already…

“Happy homecoming, Pa.”

Ben shook his head and reached for his pipe, he held it in his hand for a moment, and sighed as memories of Joyce rose to the forefront of his mind….Joyce, he’d loved her enough to want her for a wife …and now here she was, back in his life again, and married to a man who had at one time been closer than a brother to him.

Chapter 34

“Mommy, mommy..” Sofia’s voice could be heard above the sound of running feet along the landing “Mommy, where are you?   Are you hiding?”

Olivia stood up and looked down at the now sleeping woman, then looked at Bridie “I can’t believe the woman Adam and Laurence are looking for is right here …”

“But why did she come all the way here?  What was the point?”

“We’ll no doubt find it more when she feels strong enough to tell us.”

The door handle rattled and Sofia called out “Mommy-” as she pushed the door open and then stood there in surprise at seeing a stranger asleep in bed, Bridie looking very worried and Olivia walking purposefully towards her

“Now, Sofia, be quiet, my dear.  This poor lady is very unwell and needs to sleep” and to emphasise the statement Olivia put her finger to her lips

Sofia nodded, now very serious although still very curious “But, Mommy, where did she come from?  How did she get here?  We just only got home a minute ago.”

She whispered loudly, her eyes never straying from the sight of the woman in the bed.

“Bridie brought her here, Sofia.  Now do as I tell you and be quiet, and try and keep your brothers quiet too.”

“Nathaniel wants to open those packages and I told him not to,” she put her hand to her mouth realised that she had forgotten to whisper “Sorry, Mommy…I forgot …”

Olivia nodded and after putting her hand on the child’s shoulder gently pushed her out of the room “Dont forget what I told you, keep the boys quiet.   I’ll be down shortly.”

Sofia nodded and gripped the door handle tightly as she pulled it shut.  Olivia sighed and shook her head, then looked at Bridie “Let’s leave her to sleep now.” She said softly, “at least she knows she is safe and among friends here”

They left Anna and slowly made their way to the landing, Bridie said softy “She will have the baby in the next day or two…would you object to my staying to take care of her, my dear?”

Olivia slipped her arm through that of her friends and smiled “it will be a pleasure to have you stay with us, Bridie, no matter what the reason.”

They descended the stairs together, with Olivia already planning in her mind the cable she would be sending to her husband the next day.  He could come home, she who was lost had been found and with no difficulty whatsoever.  She sighed contentedly, what a fuss about nothing and with her heart singing with relief and pleasure she clapped her hands and laughed just for the sheer joy of living.

Cheng Ho Lee smiled at the sound of her pleasure.  Of course, he surmised, she is glad to be home again.   He checked his pots and pans that were steaming and bubbling on the hob plates and went out to prepare the table.
………..

“Calves?”  Ben was on his feet now, the shock of learning of Joyce’s return to the territory had not sweetened his temper considering she was now the wife of a long time ago friend.   The information Joe trotted out almost like a post script to the earlier news was the last straw, or perhaps the match that sparked off the fuse to an explosion

“Thunderation!   Rustling calves?   The future of a herd are the calves each year…take them and you leave the following year with barren stock!  What have you done about it?  Seems to me all you’ve done is go visiting neighbours having tea and cake like a load of gossiping old women..”

“Pa..!” Hoss expostulated with his face reddening in embarrassment

“Hoss didn’t, Pa…”  Hester declared on behalf of her hero

“I only did what was necessary at the time, Pa..”  Joe interjected because he was fully aware that his father paid far more heed to Hester and didn’t want his side of the story totally eclipsed by hers

“You did, did you?”  Ben almost sneered, his hands on his hips and the veins in his neck were as thick as cords “And what exactly did you find out that was of any use whatsoever?”

“Well -“. Joe paused, realised there was no point in mentioning that he had discovered Joyce, realised in fact that mentioning her earlier had been bad timing on their part.  He cleared his throat “we –  Hoss and I – due to our seperate investigations and enquiries are quite confident that we know who stole the calves…and why … All we have to do is report what we discovered to Nate and he can go and arrest the Burgoyne brothers.”

“The Burgoyne brothers?”  Ben shook his head “They’ve been here barely a month to six weeks and you’re accusing them of being – being – calf rustlers?

“Mr Archer said it was them that had the cattle on his land…” Hiss stammered

“That’s hearsay …doesn’t prove anything”

“We saw the cattle…Greigsons batch, the ones Burgoyne has …he has a bull calf the image of Big Red, Pa ..”

“And probably a Bill of Sale for them all.” Ben snarled and threw his hands in the air for good measure “I can’t believe that at your age…I go away for a few days ..

“A week, Pa..” Joe stammered as he nervously tugged at a button on his jacket which unsurprisingly landed on the floor

“It doesn’t matter if it were days  weeks   Months…whatever … ” Ben roared “The pair of you -.”

The door opened and the chatter of children eddied into the room followed by Mary Ann who beamed smiles upon them all “Arn’t you ready yet?  Olivia and Adam are expecting  us at theirs…”

She ran over to Ben and flung her arms around his neck and kissed his cheek “I’m so glad you and Adam are back home…”  She turned to Hester and put a hand on her friends arm “Erik was a little sick after lunch but he’s alright now.”

“Adam isn’t home, ” Joe intoned dolefully as he took his wife by the elbow and urged her back to the door “I’ll explain on the way…”

Hester looked at Erik and picked him up, then hurried away to change his clothing which still smelled a little of vomit.  Hoss quickly disappeared with his wife and Ben found himself the focus of two pairs of eyes as Hannah and Hope watched to see if Granpa was in the mood for little girls hugs and kisses to welcome him home.
……..

The noise of so many adults and children and toddlers filling one room, the clatter of plates and dishes accompanied by the rattle of cutlery woke Anna from a deep healing sleep.   For a moment it was hard to open her heavy eyelids, they seemed to have become gummed together and her mouth and tongue were dry.

She just lay there for awhile listening to the sounds from the room beneath where she had been sleeping.  The shrill voices of children laughing, chattering…an Infant crying just for a little while before it stopped…laughter from men their voices over loud above the chatter of women.   Anna wondered where the elderly Irishwoman had gone, and Adams wife …  she rubbed her eyes until she could finally open them and look about her…and then she tried to remember what Olivia had said, about a journal, about Rachel and Laurence being in San Francisco, and where was Adam?

She was beginning to feel the first niggles of anxiety when the door handle turned slowly, the door opened, and with her heart beating so fast that it made her feel faint she waited to see who would emerge.

“Hello” the child stood there carrying, very carefully, a tray.   She held it high enough for her to balance everything safely but it obscured her face,. She stepped into the room confidently enough and set the tray down onto a table by the bed

She turned and smiled “I’m Sofia…I know who you are …”

“You do?” Anna blinked, smiled and her eyes filled with moisture from relief

“Yes, you’re Goldilocks.  You tried all the beds and liked this one best of all, didn’t you?”

“Well, not quite …”  Anna pushed herself upon the pillows, Sofia, small though she was, rushed over to help her with a determination to assist quite surprising in one so young.

“Mommy said you have to eat everything up, because Bridie said you need to get strong.   Bridies our friend. I suppose you couldn’t find the porridge because Cheng would have hidden it away…”

“No he didn’t you twerp.,”

Anna turned to the door and watched as a handsome looking boy entered with a glass of milk in one hand, and a napkin in the other.  He gave his sister a scowl then turned to Anna,

“Don’t take any notice of whatever Sofia says, she probably thinks  you’re Goldilocks!”

He smiled as he spoke and his hazel eyes twinkled.  He placed the glass in her hand and then spread out the napkin over the quilt that covered her “Bridie said  to drink up all the milk.  She always says that to us as well…”

“Yes, even when we don’t like it.   Nathaniel spitted  his out once and tipped it on the floor and Bridie was very cross.”

Anna smiled.  They were charming children, the little girl was particularly pretty with her blonde hair and blue eyes. some freckles chased over the bridge of her nose.

“Is it a party.” Anna asked “There seem to be a lot of people downstairs.”

Reuben looked over at Sofia before taking the lead in answering ” My Granpa and Uncles and Aunts and cousins,…”

“We went away because Mommy had to see a doctor and now we’re back and we bought presents for everyone so they came to say hello because we’re back home now.”  Her brow creased “‘cepting for Daddy.   He isn’t here…he had to look for someone who got lost.”

Her voice was one time light and happy and then sad and doleful.  At mention of her daddy she stared down at the floor and sighed.

“He’s on a ship ” Reuben said “Well, it’s a schooner really but most people would call it a ship.  I wanted to be cabin boy but wasn’t allowed.’  he frowned then turned round “Have to go now, make sure you drink that milk…”

Anna looked at the milk and sighed, like Nathaniel she didn’t like milk…she looked at Sofia “Do you like milk?”

Sofia shook her head then smiled “Only when Cheng puts brown sugar in it.”

She carefully brought the tray closer for Anna to reach then  there was a flash of a smile ad she was gone…the door closed and the sounds of the party were muted leaving Anna nursing a glass of milk she did not want and a tray of food that looked and smelled delicious.

Ben had calmed down considerably by the time he had stepped into Adam and Olivia’s home.  He had slowly relaxed, allowed himself to eat more than he needed and slowly the feeling of pleasure at being back home returned.  He looked around the room now, and remembered that sense of pleasure he had felt earlier when he had been in his own yard. Yes, despite everything he was glad to be back.   He had been surprised to see Bridie there but said nothing, there was no doubt a good reason.

Joe left first with Daniel in his arms and Constance in Mary Ann’s, both children sound asleep and clutching tightly to their new toys.   Martha had been generous in her gifts, and everyone had been more than happy with them.

Olivia stood on the porch waving goodbye to Joes little entourage and thinking that she really needed to check  on Anna when she realised she was not alone on the porch.   Ben put his hand on her shoulder and was about to speak when Olivia said

“Oh thank goodness it’s you, Pa.   I have something to tell you…and I need your advice…”

Ben smiled, nodded, and waited for her to continue speaking but instead she grabbed his arm “Not here, Pa.   Upstairs.  There’s someone there you should meet!”

Bens heart tightened in panic – surely not Joyce?   Then he remembered that Olivia knew nothing about Joyce and relaxed.  He turned and followed her without saying a word.

Chapter 35

Ben was tired. He had only that day returned from San Francisco with the worry of Adam going round and round in his brain, plus travelling with three children who all seemed to display at one time or another the very worst of their personalities. Then, anticipating peace and harmony upon arriving home, he had been side swiped by the news that the annual yield of calves had been halved due to rustling, and that Joyce had returned to the area. He felt emotionally wrecked.

He paused at the half landing as Hoss and Hester called out their farewells..that was another thing. Why did they have to come here this evening? Why not another day when they were feeling fresh and relaxed?

“You coming back with us, Pa?” Hoss boomed waking Erik,who happened to be in his father’s arms at the time.

Ben was in two minds but when Erik started bawling he decided to stay and hear Olivia out. The door closed and the sound of the crying infant slowly faded. He looked at Olivia

“Well, my dear, what is the great mystery and why is Bridie here?”

They were on the landing now just opposite the guest room, Olivia actually had her fingers on the door handle but instead of going inside she turned to him and her face broke into a smile of sheer delight “The woman Adam and Laurence were looking for…remember.”

“Of course I remember…I wish I didn’t have to ..”

“Well, she’s here…right here.” she flushed pink with excitement “Adam will be able to come home now. I can cable him and tell him -,

Ben’s heart did a crazy flip over, he flashed a smile which faded as soon as it appeared “We can’t, dear, we don’t know where he is …”

“He’s in San Francisco…” she said but her voice had lost that joy, that excitement that had come when it had seemed possible that he would be back within days instead of who knew how long!

“He was, Livvy, but don’t forget, he was boarding the schooner after he left us …”

“But he could still be in San Francisco, couldn’t he? I mean, they may not have sailed right away and still be there. If I Send a cable straightaway…”

“It’s very late, Olivia …” Ben said gently, “who could we send at this late hour?”

True enough, she fought an inner battle within herself, it was not as if it was a case of life and death in which case she could guarantee any of the men would take the long ride into town, but she couldn’t imagine Eddy or his wife being very happy just for the sake of a ‘come home’ cable. She nodded, and Ben put his hand gently and reassuringly on her arm

“Look, it is late, why not get the children settled down to their beds while I go and speak to your guest.”

She looked at him glumly, the practicalities had won over and now she felt tired and weary. ” Bridie brought her here …” she muttered and then turned away to go downstairs and gather up her children.

Bridie was sitting next to the bed and talking in low tones to the woman, but both stopped immediately when Ben stepped into the room . He stopped by the door

“Excuse me, Bridie ..Ma’am…I’m Ben Cartwright. I believe you’re the young lady Lord Willoughby is looking for ..?”

Anna looked anxiously at Bridie and upon receiving a smile and nod from that honest hearted woman, she turned to Ben who now closed the door behind him.

“I’m Anna El Hassim, Rachel’s sister…and you are Adams father?”

“I am.” Ben smiled his most gentle smile at this fragile human being, and then lowered himself onto a chair. Diplomatic as ever Bridie sat a little further from them,
“You’ve created quite a stir…everyone’s looking for you and ..”

“That is the trouble, Mr Cartwright, everyone is looking for me. Dangerous people who killed my husband and want to destroy Ismail his cousin. But …”

“They read about your husband from your journal. It was a horrific experience for you. May I call you Anna?”

“Yes..but I think it may be safer if, in future, you address me as Anna Forster. I dare not use my husbands name, not even here.” she paused “That was my maiden name , you see.”

Ben and Bridie nodded. They looked anxiously at each other and then back at her,

“Would you rather sleep now? We can talk more in the morning if you would prefer it…” Ben leaned towards her, noting the dark shadows under her eyes, the hollowed cheeks.

“Olivia said Rachel and Laurence came to find me, even though I warned them not to be involved.” her voice was low, thin with anxiety “Are they safe? Are they all right?”

Ben nodded “Rachel returned to England ..”

He paused as she sunk back against the pillows with a sigh of relief, it seemed that her sisters safety had been uppermost in her mind. Now relieved of that anxiety some of the tension left her. After a moment she opened her eyes to look at them both, “Tell me again about the journal?”

Ben shrugged and raised his eyebrows as he told her what he knew about the journal, and when he had finished she looked at him with a puzzled expression on her face.

“I could never write such things in my journal, it would be too dangerous.”

“Silvia Soames was confident it came from you, Miss – er- Anna.”

“And did she or Laurence find any clues to where I was?”

“No, in fact, Miss Soames died..”

“Died”. Anna gave a wail “Died?” She repeated “How? How did she die?”

“She was murdered. Adam missed being on the scene of her murder by minutes.”

She stared at him with big eyes, then she buried her face in her hands and began to cry.

Bridie had her arms around her immediately, but Anna shook her head and whispered that she was alright…she would be alright ..so they gave her a moment to compose herself after which she wiped her face on the sleeve of her tunic, and drew in a deep breath.

“And this Journal did it tell them where to find me? Where I had gone or who took me?”

“No, Laurence and Adam -“. Ben frowned “If you didn’t write the journal then who did?”

Bridie leaned forward now “Whoever wrote it didn’t know where you were either , did they?”

Anna shook her head “No.”

Again there was silence for a moment broken only by the sound of Sofia singing in her bedroom and Olivia’s voice, muffled though it was telling her to quieten down and get to sleep.

Ben sat staring thoughtfully at nothing in particular, finally he rubbed the back of his neck with one hand and then leaned forwards to engage her attention

“They – whoever wrote the book – wanted Laurence and Rachel to lead them to you.”

She nodded “Yes, and they knew- these people – that Laurence would come here to get Adams help.”

“Why would they think Adam could help them?”

“I don’t know exactly but I know the man who would be behind this, and he would be hoping that the journal would be like a dragnet. You know what a dragnet is, Mr Cartwright? In Egypt they throw a wide net into the sea in the hope of catching many more fish. Not only do they want to find me, but also Adam .. The man, Adjo Admose, wants Adam dead as much as he wants to kill me and my child.”

Ben half rose in his chair and then sat back down with his face a tight scowl, having inhaled a deep breath he said in as calm a voice as he could muster

“Tell me about this Adjo Admose and why he would want to kill Adam?”

Anna nodded and glanced over at Bridie who had given an involuntary sob and was now trying to regain her composure. Beyond their room could be heard the sound of Nathaniel giggling and Olivia’s voice, cajoling him to get into his bed.

“It goes back to when Adam was sent to Egypt some years ago. Laurence as well …that was when we first met them. There was a plot to assassinate Ismael and President Grant, which Adam prevented …but Adjo and his brother Ebo, with others of their revolutionaries were mostly caught, killed, or executed.”

She paused and asked for some water which Bridie gave her. She drank it thirstily before resuming her narrative.

“My dear husband was a very naive man and trusted Ebo and Adjo, he was involved …but ignorant of their plot, he was too naive for them to trust with all the details, you see. But Adam came and saved him from making a terrible mistake. In this matter my husband came through with honour. But for the revolutionaries they lost many of their main people, and also a coalition with Russia.”

Ben inclined his head in understanding as he recalled to mind the Russians who had attempted to kill his son some years earlier. He looked at her thoughtfully

“And so they killed your husband in revenge…” Ben prompted, his dark eyes on her face, willing her to speak now so that he would be able to make some sense of what she was saying.

“Yes, there are new players in the field now, the Turkish revolutionaries want to be rid of Ismael. Tewfik his son is weak, not politically minded … they wanted Sa’id, my dear husband to take his place, a figurehead for their new Government…a puppet to their whims and strategies. He refused. They killed him.”

“And you saw this happen?”

She shook her head “No, he had arranged for me to get away …but it was … terrible to leave him. Later loyal servants came and told me what had been done to him …” She turned and gulped down more water.

The door opened and Olivia stepped quietly into the room and Ben gallantly surrendered is chair for her, placing his hand upon her shoulder and squeezing it reassuringly and when she looked up at him, enquiringly he nodded and forced a smile

Anna wiped her eyes, for emotion had got the better of her in recalling her husbands death. Ben cleared his throat

“Is it because you’re American..an infidel as they would call you …?”

“No, it is because of the baby..” she played a hand upon the bulge of her stomach, and caressed it tenderly “This child is the Khedive’s relative too… But he will also
be half American. He could grow into either a very useful tool for the Turks or opponent. They may want me dead, but they want my baby – alive.”

Olivia, ignorant of what had already been discussed glanced once more at Ben who leaned down and whispered that he would explain later. Downstairs the clock chimed the hour, Bridie stifled a yawn, Olivia leaned towards Anna

“We won’t let them take your baby…”

“I know he will be safe here. All proofs of his lineage are in the box over there…please ..if you have a safe ..”

“It will go there immediately” Olivia promised

“And remember I am Mrs Forster… “. She leaned against the pillows now “My friend was right, he told me to come here. He said I would be safe…”

Her eyes closed and almost instantly she was asleep.

Now that so much had taken place during the time Ben had stepped into that room and listened to Anna, he found that instead of exhaustion he was actually feeling as though every nerve in his body was tingling with energy. As he watched Olivia turn the combination to the safe and heard the tumblers click into place his mind picked at all the relevant points of what he had heard.

He poured himself some whisky and sat down with his head bowed and feeling trouble weighing him down, so when Olivia came and sat beside him she naturally assumed he was weary and apologised for involving him when he should really have left with Hoss

“What do you mean, my dear?”

“Just that it was unfair of me to involve you in this ….at such a late hour. It could have waited until the morning.”

“No, it was right of you to have let her talk, we needed to know..”

“If we send a cable first thing tomorrow … We can send it to Martha and Gates will be able to give it to Adam. We must just hope that they have not left Frisco yet.”

Ben gently took hold of her hand “I don’t think we can do that, Livvy, much as I would dearly love to…” and as briefly as he could he told his daughter in law the danger that such a cable could bring not only to Anna but also to Adam and Laurence

For a while Olivia said nothing, but held his hand in hers, before she gave a sigh and shook her head “We can’t leave them to sail off who knows where … they need to know and they need to be safe themselves.”

He nodded and patted her hand before releasing her to take up his glass and swallow down some of whiskey. “I have been thinking about it, Livvy dear. I really think the best person..”

“Charles Willoughby?”

“Charles Willoughby? Whatever brought him to your mind? No,” he shook his head “someone who is already involved in the matter – Marshall Duggan.”

She blinked and then smiled “Yes, of course. Oh Pa,that is a great idea.”

“As he is already involved he would be a great help. I’ll send the cable in the morning…later on this morning rather. I have to go into town anyway with the boys.”
and upon saying that he felt a pang to his heart at the memory of the information he had been given by them. “I had best go now.” he stood up “Don’t worry – Adam will be home soon – and safe.”

She nodded, forced a smile to send him on his way as she waved to him from the porch. But deep inside misgivings gave way to fear, and a longing to turn back the clock.
…………

Laurence Willoughby leaned his head back against damp rotting wood that comprised the walls of an old ships hold. The smell of rot, rats faeces, the body odour of men kept too closely combined was bad enough but the constant roll and pitch of the vessel made his stomach churn over. He gagged, swallowed bile, fought the desire to vomit and squeezed his eyes shut.

His captors, knowing he was an artist had taken delight in breaking the fingers of his right hand…the pain occasionally stopped him from thinking of the stench. He had cried out, he had fainted, he had felt embarrassed and humiliated, and he had felt immeasurably relieved when they turned their attention to Adam Cartwright.

Of course there had been polite questions at first, primarily where was Anna El Hassim? And all the questions that followed had received the same answer “I don’t know!”

A shaft of light pierced the gloom as the door of the hold, their prison, opened. Laurence could see there were six other men shackled together with him. They were emaciated, hair and beards matted with dirt, sweat, blood and who knew what else? Their clothes were dirty rags hanging from hunched over shoulders.

Each of them glanced quickly around them at one another as though confirming for themselves that they were still alive, still functioning.

The body of a man was dragged through the door to be propped against the wall, two men were kicked apart to make room for the newcomer who was shackled between them. One of the prisoners groaned and clasped his hands together, he must have said some prayer as Laurence heard the word Allah mentioned. Of more concern to Laurence however was the condition of the man lolling precariously between two men who didn’t seem too happy at being his personal props.

The man who had prayed leaned towards the others and a whispered conversation passed between them. Laurence looked at Adam and stifled a groan. He had thought that somehow Adam would beat them, somehow turn the tables, escape, find help…but no, the man who always seemed to know the right answers was simply not going anywhere, not under his own steam anyway.

Something that had been discussed had brought a change between the other men. Kind hands lifted Adam into a more comfortable position, no one seemed to mind him lolling against them, but steadied him up when lolling became close to flopping!

A thickset man entered now with a bucket of water and ladle, behind him came two men well armed with pistols. A ladleful of water was passed to each man to slake his thirst and Laurence thought nothing on earth tasted so sweet as he gulped it down. Adam was not accorded such attention instead the water was thrown into his face and dripped from his hair and over his chest, his shirt having been torn open earlier by his tormentors.

He jerked, one slight convulsive movement before returning to oblivion.

Laurence was in such deep despair and pain that he didn’t realise the ‘praying’ man was now addressing him. He was fighting physical pain, nausea caused by the foulness of the smells, the movement of a ship that was out at sea, and sheer misery He wanted to clear his head, formulate a plan, but somehow everything else eclipsed his ability to rationalise.

“Lord Willoughby? Sir?”

The lilt of the Egyptians accent finally penetrated his brain, he raised dull eyes and looked into the other man’s face. An old man, grey grizzled hair and beard, dark eyes that had the glimmer of emotion deep in its depths.

“It is you is it not? You who came with the Russian Doestov? Adam Abdul Karims friend?”

Laurence blinked and shook his head very slightly, the man’s face fell as though disappointed in his error but when Laurence said that yes, he was the man that flicker of energy appeared in the dark eyes again…the old man nodded.

“It is I.. Ibrahim Abdullah Aziz…”

“Good heavens, man, you here? What ..?”

Ibrahim put a finger to his lips and jerked his head towards the door “Be careful …ears all over … ” then he smiled and placed his hand upon the Englishmans shoulder “All will be well”

“But why are you here? How long..” Laurence winced as his fingers sent pain through his hand and up his arm

“You know my friend Sa’id El Hassim -”

“He’s dead-”

Ibrahim nodded “We were happy to get his wife safely away -” he put a hand to his mouth and waved it in front of Laurence to stop the man from saying a word “Sa’id made us promise…we got her to Cyprus…”

“So she did send the journal..”

Ibrahim looked irritated and shook his head “No, she sent you her necklace and a warning not to interfere..and now look .. you are here in this mess hole! The journal was a trap to get you where you are now …”

“You risked your life to save her …” Laurence sighed and looked at his damaged hand, sighed again… One could only offer the right hand to an Eygptian, the left hand was deemed unclean. “Thank you..”

Ibrahim nodded in understanding “Two men died for her and the baby.”

“The baby?”

“Unborn … And both safe …” Again a nodding of the head. “We pray to Allah that is so…the child is the reason she, the wife of El Hassim, is wanted by Adjo and his allies. If a boy … ”

Laurence nodded “Yes, I quite see what you mean.”

Ibrahim looked over at Adam and then carefully returned to his place, leaning against the constantly moving wet walls.

Only the shallow rise and fall of Adam’s chest indicated that he was still alive.

Chapter 36

He didnt want to open his eyes. He didn’t want to see what was actually causing the rancid stink of too many unwashed bodies, excrement, rotting wood in a small and confined space. He wanted to keep his eyes shut to all that so that he didn’t have to feel the emotions of other lost souls, or of the need he felt for those he loved. He kept his eyes shut and his head down so that his chin rested upon his chest. He could smell his own sweat and blood, but he had to shut his mind to that just as he had to close his mind to the pain that came from every part of him.

Since he had been a child and at times of utmost danger he had learned – no, forced himself to find – somewhere to retreat in his mind. To push away the pain, the fear, the desperate gnawing cry of loss, the emotion that crippled the thinking processes, that weakened the determination to find a solution to that immediate problem or to endure it as stoically as possible.

In the far depths of his mind he forced himself to find that corner that would blot out his longing for Olivia, for home, for security and peace. He needed to focus on something that would give him answers, and help him regain some physical strength.

He could feel the sharp bones of the shoulders of the men who seemed to be trying to keep him upright, he heard murmurs of voices from around him and the sound of chains rattling, he knew that he himself were chained to those persons by his wrists and his ankles. His back rubbed against wet rotting wood . The rise and fall of this confined space confirmed that they were on a ship.

That gave him the focus he needed…they were on board ship, they were in the hold, it was wet and rotting. He felt the roll and dip of the vessel, it was steady and even, he knew that they had left San Francisco harbour and were now out at sea. The wind was blowing south easterly, the ship rocked as it hit the vessel sideways on…he concentrated on that, it would do for now, he could blot out the rest of everything around him now that he had a point like the needle of a compass guiding him in some direction that would lead to some answers.

Throughout his life he had survived numerous odds that could have seen him dead. He had survived Peter Kane, Jiang Peng, and he would be darned if he would succumb to the machinations of that black hearted devil Adjo Admose
……………….

In her room Sofia lay awake and thought over the excitement of the past few hours. She had enjoyed the excursion to the big city although she didn’t like it much apart from being at Martha’s and the big stores of course. There was something better than all that though when being home on the Ponderosa. She knew it was a special place, because her Grandfather and her Daddy and Uncles had made it special. She loved every inch of it and now in her room she stared up at the ceiling and her eyes roved over the beams above her head, then to the window where the curtains swayed just a little because the window was slightly open.

So much noise and chatter when all the family got together. She missed her Daddy more than ever because usually on those occasions he would look over at her and wink, or come and talk to her with his hand on her shoulder. A little furrow of disappointment creased her brow and she wished he had come home with them, wished so much that he was there and had seen all the excitement as everyone had opened their presents.

Such squeals of delight from Hannah and Hope when they found the dolls just for them…little baby dolls with real curls on their heads and eyes that opened and closed, with pretty dresses and tiny shoes, pink for Hannah and blue for Hope. Further delight when the other present produced little cribs for the dolls to sleep in…what more could any little girl have wanted?

She allowed herself a little giggle as she remembered her own squeal of delight when one box had been opened, the box labelled for her, and there it had been …not quite as she had imagined because it was laid out in the box ready to be put together and Uncle Hoss had rubbed his hands together and he and Uncle Joe had spent a whole hour getting each piece slotted into the right place until the house stood there proudly in the corner of the room surrounded by wood shavings and cardboard. Grandpa had lifted it up and Mommy had come with another smaller box from which she produced furniture, all ready made up and looking so comfortable that Sofia wished she were as small as the little dolls that would live there so that she could be able to sit at the table, on the settee and the pretty little bed.

She sighed with contentment, because the little house was just so perfect and she was pleased to admit to herself that it was much better than Hannah and Hope’s … although she knew it was naughty of her to even think it, but she did!

And then of course there was the lady in the guest room…who would have thought that Bridie would bring someone to the house to stay when they weren’t there to say if she could or not. Sofia frowned and thought about the lady in the bed who looked so tired and ill. Of course she knew that she was not Goldilocks but there was no harm in pretending, was there?

She was about to fall asleep when she heard the sound of a groan, it came from close by, but then, of course, the guest room was next door to hers and sounds sometimes crept into her room and sometimes woke her up. She was wide awake now and pushed aside the covers to scramble out of bed.

The floor was cold to her toes and she shivered but ran lightly over to the door which she opened …she was surprised to see Mommy in her dressing gown hurrying to the other room, looking anxious and then there was Bridie and lots of whispering between them before they disappeared into the guest room..Sofia closed her door and retreated back to her bed, pulled the covers over her head and hoped she would fall asleep very quickly before any bad things could be seen or heard. She had too vivid an imagination to think any good was going to come out of all the groans and sounds of activity going on beyond her bedroom wall.
………………………….

The moon slid shyly behind clouds and for an instant the room was dark; bereft of the moon light that had shone so silver bright within it. Mary Ann Cartwright woke up and shivered, reached out a hand to touch her husband and found him missing, the space empty beside her.

She lay there for a moment to come more fully awake before turning to leave the bed, gathering her dressing gown from the chair over which it had been draped and pulling it on.

Joe was sitting on the settee staring into space, just staring. His hands were clasped together as though in an attitude of prayer, they lay in his lap and his legs stretched out across the rug.

For a moment Mary Ann did not move nor speak, she just wanted to watch him and gauge from his features the mood he was in, the reason why he had vacated their bed to spend this time alone. He was a hand some man, his thick hair still as unruly as ever even though there was more grey in it than there was in Adams…his half hooded eyes were blank, staring at the far wall as though his thoughts were too deep for him to wrench them away

“Joe?”

He turned then, almost as though he were really asleep and she had awakened him. Seeing her he smiled although his eyes still bore that shut off look that indicated his concerns about – something. She sat beside him and for a moment said nothing, just leaned against him, her hand reaching for his and her fingers folding over them.

They sat together in silence long enough for Joe to be prompted to explain, so he cleared his throat and shrugged slightly “I just feel – angry.”

“Have I done something wrong?” she queried, her mind instantly scurrying over the events of the day, picking out things said or done that could have offended.

He turned to her, puzzled, then shook his head “No, no, don’t even think it, sweetheart.”

“Oh then – are you worried about this rustling business? About Joyce ? Of course your father -”

“No, nothing to do about any of that…I’m just plain angry with Adam.” he firmed his lips into a tight line, and glowered, his eyes dark as they stared into her face “What is he thinking of? Getting involved with Laurence Willoughby again is asking for trouble.”

“Pa said Laurence was concerned about his sister in law…”

“It’s more than that, it’s always more than that – and Adam knows it is. He knows that there is something more than a missing woman involved in anything Laurence Willoughby may be involved in. Why he has to go and – damn him – he’s always getting into fixes like this…”

“But it’s different this time, surely? I mean, he isn’t in the navy now, President Grant isn’t giving him orders – oh, well – of course he isn’t giving anyone any orders is he now?” she paused and frowned, some times it was difficult to know what to say without sounding rather empty headed, or silly, but she had never been interested in politics (apart from her recent unsuccessful foray into the cause for Emancipation for women) and Adams adventures may have been dangerous but he somehow had always survived and come home. “Olivia must be very concerned…”

“She told him to go, she told him it was alright by her to go wherever it took him …”

“I can’t believe that – “

“Well, she did, and Pa agreed – “ he shrugged “I thought he would be coming home and we could sort this matter out with the Burgoyne’s together…”

She sighed and tightened her grip around his fingers while leaning her head upon his shoulder “Do you remember when we first met?”

“As if I could ever forget.” he leaned into her then, his body losing its tension, the smile n his face beginning to linger in his eyes “This pretty young woman with the big grey eyes and funny little bonnet standing there asking for our help.”

“Adam had told you not to get involved in anything …didn’t he? Avoid the ladies, ignore the fights and just head for home.”

He nodded “Yeah, well, Hoss and I were always easily convinced that helping lovely ladies would never lead to any problem.”

“And then it did, didn’t it?”

Her voice sounded small, soft and together they sat in silence remembering that fateful journey, recalling to mind her brother, Frank, his death, her fear…he tightened his grip upon her hand

“I was such a silly naïve girl then.” she said as though she needed to give voice to her thoughts, “So silly. Remember how disgusted I was when I found out that your lost love was a Cheyenne girl? I was horrified. All I knew about Indians was what the tabloids wrote about them…and I believed every word. Oh Joe, I learned a lot on that journey.”

“You lost your brother…” he murmured and his lips gently brushed against her hair.

“Frank – he was naïve too, believed everything he had been told -” she shivered, not because she was cold but because Frank suddenly seemed so real just at that moment. She wiped a tear from her lashes “If Hoss hadn’t noticed that cleft in the rocks we would all have been killed.”

He nodded “Didn’t stand much of a chance did we?”

“I remember huddling at the back of that little cave, so frightened so utterly terrified. My safe cosy little world had gone, disappeared and there I was in such an unreal situation. All that noise – the gunfire, the screams of those Indians as they kept climbing over the rocks to get to us. I sometimes dream about that …a never ending stream of bodies screaming their war cries, faceless – horrible – and the smoke and smell of the guns – “

“I didn’t realise you still dreamt of that -” he murmured and held her tighter

“It was the turning point in my life, Joe. A pivotal moment when my world turned upside down and catapulted me into yours….and then the silence and you, Hoss and Adam were checking your weapons, saying they were regrouping and you didn’t have enough ammunition and I knew that I was going to die.” she heaved in a deep breath and hugged into him more closely “Adam told you that I was your responsibility – to keep one bullet – or not…”

Joe said nothing to that, he could remember the whole incident too clearly, his throat tightened and he had to cough to clear it “Then things changed…and you …”

“Well,” she forced a smile “He was young and handsome, wasn’t he? Towasi – that was his name, and I thought as I looked at him, bleeding there, probably dying, that he was just a man after all, a very handsome man who may have a wife and children – he wasn’t a devil, he wasn’t all the things I feared but a young man with his life ahead of him who could die.” she sighed and looked up into his face “Not as handsome as you though, my darling.”

“You saved his life though, Mary Ann, and Adam was able to sweet talk the Chief into leaving us to go on to Calico. Strange how things happen…just a chance error on Towasi’s part and things changed …”

Silence again, the moon slipped from its covert and cast down silver moon beams scattering them over the room

“What exactly has all this to do with Adam?” Joe said as he put his arm around her shoulders, “Towasi and the Cheyenne are a far cry from the mess he may be in now.”

“Oh, I know…” she whispered “but all that happened with Frank and Towasi was because you and Hoss chose to go against what Adam advised…he isn’t the only one who seems capable of finding trouble, or going against sensible advice, is he? And not only that…whatever trouble he gets into, he always seems capable to getting himself out of it.”

She smiled then and turned her face up to his, and kissed his lips, they were dry and rough, but she didn’t mind that, she didn’t mind that at all.

Chapter 37

Nate Carney was proud to be the sheriff of Virginia City and proud to be continuing the career his father had carved out before his son was even born. Nate felt an intense appreciation for the trust people put in him and whenever he pinned that tin badge to his vest he was reminded of just how much that symbol meant to them.

Some years previously he had loved a girl and wanted to marry her. The thought of a wife and children had appealed very strongly to him, until she had given him an ultimatum. Either give up the job or settle down with her doing something ‘safe.’ He had loved her devotedly and perhaps it was his pride that made him hesitate in making a decision. Maybe he hadn’t liked being dictated too by the woman he loved, perhaps he saw that in future when other major decisions had to be made, it would be the ‘little woman’ who would make them. He hesitated too long so she made the decision for him by going off with a very ‘safe’ bank manager.

Nate often wondered if she had waited for him whether or not he would have made the decision she wanted. As it was he had mixed feelings about it as he had watched her walk away from him – a longing to run and take her in his arms and swear his devotion, and a relief that he could pursue his chosen career without being forced to compromise. When the ‘safe’ Bank Manager was shot in a bank raid several years later the newly widowed lady did not turn to him for comfort, but sought out someone else who she considered ‘safe’. By that time Nate no longer cared …

He strolled down to the office and nodded to the people who passed him, stopped to talk to ohers. Children ran pass this way or that, chasing one another or trying to catch up with their parents. They still had a few days before school term began again, and were obviously going to make the most of the freedom they still had. He recognised Reuben’s friends Davy and Jimmy Carstairs and wondered what mischief they would be getting up to during the next few hours.

Roy Coffee hallooo’d to him from across the road and Nate acknowledged him with a lift of the hand and nod of the head. He smiled and thought that no doubt Roy would be making his early morning coffee stop within the next few minutes. He strode on and then paused at the sight of three horsemen approaching him, he narrowed his eyes and searched their faces, shadowed as they were by the hats they wore. Roy often told him that when the Cartwrights came calling it usually meant trouble, he would then follow up such a warning with a tale or two about some of the trouble that had actually involved. But he didn’t really need Roy to tell him now, he already knew from experience

As expected Ben and his two sons dismounted outside the Sheriff’s office and entered the premises just as Nate had settled into his chair. He released his breath in a long drawn out sigh and stretched out his legs as far as they could reach from under the desk. Mark Watts had been on duty overnight and the coffee pot was spitting indicating a new brew was ready for pouring. Mugs were lined up and coffee poured even as Ben, Hoss and Joe removed their hats and took their station in front of the desk.

“What ails you gentlemen?” Nate drawled and indicated the chairs for them to sit on, while Mark pushed the coffee mugs within their reach and then bade them good day. He was tired, it had been a long shift, he wanted his bed.

“Nate, we seem to have a problem on our hands.” Ben said and frowned, the scowl darkening his features, he would like to have said several problems but decided to settle on the one closest to Nate’s jurisdiction. “Rustling.”

Nate nodded and opened a drawer from which he produced some papers, “This following on from your boys’ claims they made a few days back?”

Ben pushed his fingers through his hair , glanced at his sons and nodded. He picked up one of the mugs and nursed it between his hands, the heat made his fingers tingle so he put it back down on the desk. “Hoss and Joe have made some enquiries – discreetly – and seems as though the Burgoyne brothers may have something to do with it. Of course, we realise it is based on hearsay and circumstantial evidence, but its a start for you to make enquiries of your own.”

Nate looked at Joe and Hoss who both nodded, and looked grim, even Hoss looked as though he were washed out, weary of the whole business. Nate shifted his eyes back to Ben “Well, h’mm, welcome back, Ben…hope you had a good vacation.”

Ben opened his mouth and closed it again, he picked up his mug and scowled, the door opened and Roy came in “Welcome back, Ben. How was San Francisco?”

“Just asked him,the same, Roy.” Nate said cheerfully and noticed the tight lipped grimace that the three men passed between themselves

“You taking this seriously, Nate, or not?” Hoss demanded , his affable face creased into lines of annoyance.

“What’s all this about?” Roy asked as he located another mug and poured himself some coffee, scowling at the sight of the dregs

“Rustling.” Joe and Hoss said in unison.

Nate shuffled his papers and picked up his pen “Right – you had best give me the details of your enquiries, one at a time, please.” and he pointed the pen at Joe who launched into details of his visit to the Greigson ranch and to Burgoyne.

The pen scratched down the details and when he had finished Nate produced a fresh sheet of paper and began to write down what Hoss had to say about his visit to Mr Archer…Ben sat glowering at Roy who calmly sipped his coffee, siphoning the dregs through his moustache.

Eventually Nate put down his pen and there was silence, he looked at the three Cartwrights “What do you want me to do about this?”

“Check up on the Burgoyne boys, of course.” Joe snapped briskly

“Yah, see what you can come up with, Nate, and try and find Abel Greigson, he may know more about them .” Hoss added.

Nate frowned “Can’t rightly see how as he left before all this seemed to take place.”

“Did he though/” Joe raised his chin and his hazel eyes flashed green, “He left after his father had given away land to Burgoyne, land that he had been experimenting on with = er – stuff.” he frowned, and glanced at Hoss

“Yeah, there was an argument about it at the Land Registry Office and Abel left the Box
G shortly afterwards.”

Hoss and Joe looked at one another and nodded, satisfied that they had provided a significant clue. Nate nodded, scribbled down some note and reminded them that they couldn’t go around making unsubstantiated accusations against the Burgoynes, but he would look into their background and keep an eye on matters.

“You will keep us informed, won’t you, Nate?” Joe asked, reaching now for his hat and getting to his feet.

“I will.” Nate promised and put the notes in the desk drawer.

Clem Foster stepped into the office then, glanced over at the three Cartwrights and Roy, nodded and removed his hat. “Hi boys, Ben…enjoy your trip to San Francisco, Ben?”
………………

Mary Carstairs opened the door to the Ridleys Ladies Emporium and stepped back to survey the interior with a critical eye. She had made just a few adjustments to Amanda’s layout of the store, and liked to spend this first moment of opening up just to enjoy the moment. Miss Ridleys faith in her, she thought, was not misplaced.

The rooms above the shop that had once been the home of Mr and Mrs Downing and their son, and then passed onto herself and Jimmy were now being rented out to Mr Evans the school teacher who had decided that living with Widow Hawkins was becoming awkward as she became frailer in mind and body. Mary Carstairs and Jimmy now lived in Miss Ridleys house for a modest rental that was deducted from her monthly salary. It was all perfectly balanced out for when Miss Ridley returned – should she ever and when Mary hoped to have become Mrs Evans, School Masters wife, and the option was open for her to have either the house or the apartment above the store.

The door leading from the apartment and into the store opened and Mr Evans stepped out, closed the door behind him and looked up to smile at Mrs Carstairs. He had never expected to fall in love, real love, again. But the quiet and composed nature of Mary Carstairs had touched his heart with respect and admiration and then blossomed into feelings he had thought had died along with his wife the previous year. Miss Ridley was not the only one to discern the hidden depths of the quiet little widow.

“Good morning, Mary.” he said with a smile and he took her hand in his hand as he passed her, discreetly squeezed it ( other members of staff were entering the building now and he didn’t want his relationship with their Employer to become subject to their giggles and gossip)

“Good morning, Mr Evans.” she replied and looked prim and proper enough to make anyone who didn’t know already remain ignorant. That, of course, did not apply to all those now assembled to start their days work, there were discreet lowering of the eyes, little smiles, as they bustled about and pretended not to have noticed a thing.

As he stepped onto the sidewalk Mr Evans began to whistle a jaunty air, one that would have had his famous concert pianist wife remonstrating with him for his lack of culture.
………………

Eddy looked up at the tinkle of the bell above the door, and nodded to Ben. He was a tall lanky fellow who had been Manager of the Virginia City Mail and Cable Office for some years now. He was always willing to put himself out for anyone, and at times wondered whether or not it was worth it as he got little credit for it, and certainly little remuneration. The Cartwrights had always treated him well however, and were among those for whom he would willingly have gone the extra mile.

He didn’t smile at the rancher though, even as Ben was pulling out a paper upon which he had scrawled what he felt was an appropriate message to Duggan, Eddy was turning to the pigeon holes behind him and extracting a cable which he handed over to Ben just as Ben was about to give him his slip of paper.

“Came just a few moments ago, Mr Cartwright.”

Ben didn’t, upon looking at Eddys face, anticipate good news. He clamped his mouth shut and scowled as he walked to the doorway and ripped open the envelope. The message was short and brief

“HAVE HAD PROBLEM LOCATING ADAM CARTWRIGHT AND FRIEND STOP VIKING QUEEN STILL IN HARBOUR STOP ADVISE STOP DUGGAN”

Ben read the message several times before screwing his own note up and tossing it into the waste paper basket provided for ‘Discarded Mail’. He stood in the door way and got in the way of Mrs Hawkins and Mr Gascoigne who had to elbow pass him to gain entry.

By the time he had walked to his horse and met the boys he knew what he had to do, he could get to San Francisco just as fast as a cable…well, perhaps not…but fast enough with all these modern means of travel. He nodded over to the Bucket of Blood but his lack of a smile and the blackness of his eyes promised his sons that the forthcoming few minutes were not going to be particularly pleasant ones.
………………..

Sofia was engrossed in playing with her beloved doll house and although she knew that something odd was going on with the stranger she was not unduly concerned by it. Reuben had his chores which he carried out diligently before going to visit Aunt Hester and Hop Sing who he knew would be very interested in what was going on at his house. He would have preferred going into town and meeting up with the gang, catching up with the latest news, and just having fun but he knew that would be letting things slide, and his Pa would prefer him to put duty first, pleasure second.

Nathaniel was totally confused as neither Bridie nor Mama seemed to be in the same place long enough for any attention to be given to him. They were either no where to be seen because they were upstairs all the time, or one or other was flitting about with towels, hot water, telling him ‘Not now, Nathaniel’ ‘Later,Nathaniel’ ‘Be a good boy- ‘ and he had a definite impression that no one loved him at that moment. Even Sofia wouldn’t let him play with her, she was too entranced with that doll house. She had even hit him when he had grabbed one of the dolls, a little man with a moustache and lop sided hair style painted on his little wooden head.

He had began to wail and feel sorry for himself so was more than grateful when Cheng Ho Lee took him outside and told Hank to take the little boy to visit his cousins ..Daniel and Constance.

That left Cheng Ho Lee free to deal with supplies of hot water, raspberry tea, towels and other things required by Missy Cartwright and Missy Martin.

Sofia was really deep into her play when the wail of a baby trickled through the house. She had her new doll in one arm and was rescuing the lady doll in the house from being murdered by the black moustached wooden man and the wailing cut right through her ‘plot’. Cheng Ho Lee came downstairs with a bucket covered in towels and looking mysterious – or to her way of looking – different. She left the doll house and wandered to the bottom of the stairs

“Mommy?”

Olivia was wrapping the baby in a warm towel and smiling happily at the little face that was screwed up in protest, she tucked little hands into the towel’s folds, and then she turned to Anna and carefully settled the new born baby into the woman’s waiting arms.

Anna was exhausted. She had been weak anyway and the arrival of her baby had come too soon for her to have regained her strength. It had not been an overly long labour and Bridie and Olivia had not left her for a moment, gently and patiently caring for her throughout. Now she looked down at the black haired red faced bawling infant and felt no interest in it at all. She just wanted to sleep.

“Don’t you want to know what you have?” Bridie asked with a smile on her face, such a comforting tired and weary face.

“I’m so tired…” Anna murmured as her eyes started closing

“Anna -” Olivia whispered as she took the baby from the exhausted woman’s arms “You have a daughter.”

Anna’s eyes widened momentarily, a slight smile played upon her lips “A daughter?” she released a sigh of contentment “Thank goodness. They won’t be interested in a girl.”

She fell asleep then, leaving Bridie and Olivia wondering who would not be interested in such a lovely little girl. Olivia gave a slight shrug and settled the baby into the crib that not so long ago had been Nathaniel’s. Bridie bustled about setting things to rights, and muttering to herself. Still, the birth had been straightforward, no complications, and the baby girl was beautiful

Chapter 38

Sam the bar keep at the Bucket of Blood made a good cup of coffee, perhaps not as good as the one they had just had at the sheriff’s but it sharpened their wits enough to have a sensible conversation around the table tucked away in the corner of the saloon.

Joe kept shaking his head and muttering beneath his breath as Ben told them his plans to return to San Francisco and look for Adam, while Hoss looked thoughtful and decided to make no comment

“Olivia doesn’t need to know,” Ben said as though the decision was cut and dried and he was not taking no for an answer, “Just tell her I had some unfinished business that needed attention.”

“Olivia needs to know, Pa.” Hoss said and looked over to his brother for support, Joe dutifully nodded

“She does, Pa. You can’t pretend to Olivia that her husband is just on vacation somewhere…and got lost …”

“Which he has – kinda” Hoss muttered and unable to avoid the glare from two pairs of eyes buried his face in his cup of coffee.

“This is just what I knew would happen,” Joe grumbled “He goes poking around in something that doesn’t concern him and -”

“He was asked by a friend to help find Anna – he wasn’t poking around as you say -” Ben paused and leaned back in his chair, “Tell Olivia what you think best. I doubt if she’ll thank you for it – or me either come to that.”

“What do you plan to do when you get to Frisco, Pa?” Hoss asked hoping his question would mollify his father and brother somewhat, and give him time to think of how they could tell Olivia about Adams disappearance

“Go and see Duggan, then check with that Captain –“ he paused and glanced up over to the doors which had swung open accompanied by loud voices and laughter. It didn’t seem right for people to be laughing when he was in such a foul mood and Ben gave the trio of men a dark glare from under his eyebrows.

The older man asked for coffee and leaned upon the counter affably enough, while his eyes glanced into the mirror to see in one sweep who was in the saloon. His sons stood on either side of him, elbows hooked over the counter and facing the customers, of which there were few at that time of the morning.

“Something stronger for me, Pa.” the taller one said with a grimace and he turned then to face Sam and tapped on the counter with his forefinger “Whiskey”

“Too early -” Burgoyne said, “You’ll have coffee and like it.”

It was then that Ebenezer Burgoyne’s eyes locked onto Ben. He stared for a moment and then spun round on his heels “Ben Cartwright! For heavens sake, man, Ben Cartwright!”

He was striding over to Ben’s table even as the words were coming out of his mouth, and before Ben could rise from his chair he was enveloped in a bear hug that would not have shamed Hoss. “Who would have thought it!” Ebenezer continued to exclaim, his voice loud enough to arouse everyone’s attention “After all these years…”

Ben had succeeded in extricating himself from the other man’s arms and was now standing with a grin – a trifle uncertain – and hand extended to shake the others hand.

“Joe told me you had moved hereabouts, Eb. It’s good to see you again. It’s been some time, huh?”

“Some time? Ben!! It’s been years.” Ebenzer nodded over to Joe and then looked at Hoss “So from what I hear you must be Hoss Cartwright? Pleased to meet you – Hoss.”

Hoss duly rose to his feet and shook the proffered hand. Ebenezer was going on about how he had already met Joe and then turned to Sam and told him to bring the coffee to the table, and more for the Cartwrights. He beckoned his sons to join them, and rather reluctantly they strolled over to where their father stood. They moved slowly enough to show that they were not that bothered in meeting the Cartwrights. Hands were shaken but the four younger men weren’t viewing each other as soon to be friends, more like antagonists heading for a duel

Ben was more than pleased to meet up with Ebenezer again it was just that the timing was wrong; his mind was on the problems his first son would or could be facing. If his greetings were a little lack lustre in comparison to that of Burgoyne’s he had to hope the man would understand enough to be conciliatory.

He turned his attention to observe Ebenezer’s sons. Max, the eldest, was slightly built but with his fathers colouring while the younger man was stockier, taller, with dark hair and pale in comparison to his brother.

“We aint got time to be catching up on history, Pa” Theo, the younger man, muttered and he tossed his head slightly as though daring his father to challenge him. Ebenezer nodded which gave the two brothers enough excuse to turn around, and leave although Theo did yell over his shoulder that they would be at the Sazarac to get a decent drink.

Max gave a thin lipped grin “No offence, gents, it’s a long trek into town just for a coffee.”

They watched them go, the door swinging shut behind them. Ben cleared his throat and sat down, smiled at Ebenezer who sighed and ran stubby fingers through red hair, “Guess I had better go with them. They ain’t in the best of tempers just now…” he frowned, and his eyes clouded, he looked at Ben and shrugged “Sorry, Ben, we will have to catch up on what they call history another time.”

“I’d enjoy that,” Ben said evenly, his dark eyes mellowing now that he knew he wasn’t the one having to make excuses “I have to be out of town for a while, but as soon as I get back we must get together -” he paused “Come to the Ponderosa -”

“Sure – Joyce has told me a lot about Cartwright hospitality. She’ll be pleased….” his voice trailed off as though his comment had aroused some thoughts that he needed to pursue, but he shrugged them off and as Sam set down a tray bearing the coffee he apologised to the man, and pulled some coins from his pocket. He gave a friendly nod to the three men and walked quickly out of the building.

“Seems to me that Mr Burgoyne doesn’t put much faith in his son’s behaviour when he ain’t around, don’t it?” Hoss muttered as they watched the broad backed man exit, leaving the doors swinging shut.

“Seems to me he’d be right,” Joe replied and poured out more coffee into their cups, before leaning back in his chair “Those two make me think of some rattlers I saw recently, resting in the sun but ready to strike…you know they’re evil but ….” he sighed and then looked at his father “You still planning to go to Frisco?”

“That’s my plan. Just take care of my horse, and make sure that Olivia is alright.” he paused and leaned forward “And keep Anna safe -”

The brothers looked at one another, they had taken that for granted, even though they had been caught totally ‘flat-footed’ when their father had told them earlier that the woman their brother was seeking had arrived at the Ponderosa.

They left the saloon some time later, parted company with a shake of the hand, that familiar reassuring look upon departure as though it would guarantee that all would be well.

Ben didn’t go to the station immediately, he first went to his bank and withdrew funds that would be adequate for his needs. All he required now were in his saddlebags slung over his shoulder. As he stepped onto the pavement his sons rode out of town, Cinnamon on a leading rein and neither of the younger men happy with their father’s decision at all.
………………….

Sofia was entranced by the baby. It was small, just like a real life doll (but then she had thought that about Nathaniel once). She was allowed to watch as Olivia bathed the baby in a bowl, and then she was the one who carefully wrapped the little one in a towel and made sure even its little toes were dry. Olivia smiled and said “Would you like to hold her?”

Sofia nodded and quickly sat down on the chair and straightened out her skirts to form a ‘lap’ so that the baby would be quite safe. The look of joyful delight on her face made Olivia feel quite sentimental as she carefully placed the little one into her daughter’s arms.

Bridie was busy washing Anna for the woman was so weary she could barely lift her arms, instead she sighed continually as the Irishwoman gently washed her with sweet smelling soap, carefully removing the smell of sweat and bodily odours

“You will have to feed her soon, Anna.” Bridie said, “The little one has to be fed by its mother as soon as possible.”

“She is alright, isn’t she?” Anna whispered barely able to lift her head from the pillows

“She’s beautiful” Bridie assured her and then stepped back for Anna to see for herself the little black haired beauty sleeping contentedly in Sofia’s arms.

Anna stared at the baby and felt within her the strongest feeling of love she had ever experienced in her life. No one had prepared her for this, no one had told her that she would feel so strongly, so passionately for this little scrap of humanity. She held her breath for an instant as though overwhelmed, then released it and smiled “Can I have her – just for a moment.”

At a nod from her mother Sofia very carefully carried the baby over to the bed and with Bridie’s help placed the infant in Anna’s arms. How often had Bridie seen this self same scene, the moment when a woman holds her baby for the first time – the look on their faces of disbelief, of wonderment, of sheer naked love and devotion. She knew that Anna had already risked her life for the unborn baby, but there had been other motives involved then. Now Bridie knew Anna Forster El Hassim would go through fire and burning coals and whatever else to protect her daughter. She had seen it all before…and it always left her feeling humbled.

“What will you call her?” Sofia asked as she watched the baby opening its almond shaped eyes to gaze up at the face of its mother.

“I don’t know…I thought I was going to have a son…” Anna said quietly and her finger gently caressed the baby’s cheek. She was so tired, utterly weary but the instinct to feed the little one, the feeling of the colostrum flowing in to her breasts gave her the energy to put the baby where she wanted to be for she latched on immediately and began to make urgent sucking noises.

Sofia smiled and nodded “She’s hungry.”

Bridie was pleased, despite all the deprivations Anna had endured over the previous weeks or months her body was functioning well. She put a hand on Sofia’s shoulder and gently drew the little girl away from the bedside.
……………….

Light from the hatchway streamed down into the hold, and for a while fresh air drifted down into the stinking prison that had held most of the men there for weeks. Each man raised their faces to the light like so many sunflowers following the instinctive need for light and clean air.

Laurence Willoughby looked at the faces of the men chained together with him, saw the gaunt hollowed features, the eyes too big, the beards too long and matted. He turned to look over at Adam Cartwright who had at last opened his eyes to squint up at the light.

Then he sighed and looked away, knowing that he probably looked just as much of a mess as his friend.

He couldn’t imagine being in a worse place. There had been rats scampering through the soiled littered straw, and he knew there were fleas that had decided to explore his body, and that meant that if they stayed much longer in that hole then there would be lice. The thought of that made him shiver. He always took such pride in his dress and grooming, but here he was, clothes soiled, shirt torn, and already needing to scratch flea bites.

He raised a hand to his face and felt stubble. He had lost track of time and knew there was little point in trying to find his watch as one of the guards had gloatingly stolen it from him during his last interrogation.

“Adam?” he hissed and stretched out his foot to nudge that of his friends “Adam?”

Adam sighed and turned away from the sight of the hatch and looked at Laurence, then winced “I hope I don’t look as bad as you…”

“Blimey, is it that bad…” Laurence groaned. “I lost a tooth…”

Adam nodded, he had already checked, very carefully, around his teeth with his tongue, and felt a few rough edges. He sighed “Sorry, I’ve not been thinking …” he paused, that was untrue, he had been thinking non-stop, but he should have said he had not been thinking of Laurence, had not said a word since being hauled into the hold all that time ago. “How long have we been here?”

“Don’t you know?” Laurence groaned and glanced around him, noticed the faces now turned towards them, “Too long if you want to know…”

Adam didn’t nod, his head hurt too much to do that, but he turned his head very carefully from Laurence to observe the other men who were now watching him.

He had a suspicion that one of the men who had been supporting him was now dead. He Had been the only person not to have moved when the hatch to the hold had opened. The smell generally was so bad that adding that of a dead body made little difference. He looked from one face to another and then his eyes settled on one face that seemed familiar, not only that, a face which bore a wide smile of recognition on it.

Ibrahim nodded and his eyes brightened “Adam Abdul Karim…it is I, Ibrahim Abdullah.”

“How long -?” Adam paused and cleared his throat “How long have you been here, Ibrahim?”

“Weeks.” Ibrahim replied, “and before that we were in a cell in a not very good place. Many weeks.”

“Why?”

“We are all friends of Ismael and of Sa’id El Hassim. We are not -” he paused, and ran a shackled hand over his face, his mouth was dry, it was hard to talk “we are not part of Admose’ party you understand.”

“We heard that Sa’id El Hassim is dead -”

“Sadly” the old man nodded and there were murmurs of voices around them, chains rattled as there was movement and Ibrahim closed his eyes as though gathering strength to say more. “But – why are you here?”

Adam leaned back against the sodden wooden walls and closed his eyes “Guess we’re not friends with Admose either.”

Laurence leaned forward now “We were looking for Anna – my sister in law -”

“You are looking for her?” Ibrahim cried and then began to talk fast with his companions in Arabic, nodding of heads, shoulders shrugged, hands raised. Someone began to pray to Allah, and then others joined in …

Adam kept his eyes closed and bowed his head. He wanted to think …and just then the hatch to the hold slammed shut and they were plunged into darkness again.

Chapter 39

The sound of wheels upon the dry gravel soil of the yard intruded upon Olivia’s thoughts.. She was so very tired now that her body seemed detached from itself and her head throbbed from a persistent head ache.

She couldn’t seem to focus on all that had taken place during the past twenty four hours…had she really returned home, found a stranger in the house, had the family for a gathering, and then spent hours helping deliver a baby into the world. Had that happened? She shook her head and wished she hadn’t as the pain zigged zagged around her skull.

Well, she couldn’t deny that thought about the baby because there she was in her arms, and for a moment she concentrated on settling her into the bassinet that she had brought down from the attic space. No doubt about it, the baby was beautiful with the blackest eyes, smoothest skin of a delicate creamy darkness that indicated her mixed race heritage. Anna was sleeping the sleep of the exhausted, while Bridie had taken the opportunity to doze in the chair beside her.

“Mommy?”

Olivia turned and heaved in a deep breath, forced a smile as Sofia stood before her, the new doll in her arms and a serious look on her face,

“What is it, dear?” she pushed a wisp of hair behind her ear and then realised she was not wearing her glasses. Wretched things! Where had they got to?

“Mommy, is that baby going to live here?” Sofia pointed to the little one sleeping soundly and making little mewing noises.

“No, of course not.” Olivia replied and put out a hand to stroke back some hair that had fallen across Sofia’s face.

“Well, is Daddy coming home soon?” the little girl demanded and frowned, a little horseshoe furrow appearing between her brows “Only Daddy should be home here with us, and shouldn’t he, Mommy?”

“Yes, of course -” she drew the child closer and dropped a kiss on the top of the blonde head,”I’m sorry I’ve rather neglected you today,darling, but it has been rather an unusual day, hasn’t it?”

Sofia would have commented had the door not closed sharply and footsteps were heard hurrying through to them, and before either of t hem could say to the other ‘Who is that?” Hester appeared looking anxious, her hair looking like a birds nest and yet forcing a smile as though that would alleviate any bad news she was about to receive.

“Olivia!” Hester pulled the strings of her bonnet loose and tossed it onto the table, “Olivia, Reuben has told us the strangest story…” she flopped down onto a chair and began to pat at her hair, trying to get it into some semblance of order for the bonnet had flipped back off her head and been no use whatsoever, she scowled at it “What is going on?” she paused and looked at her friend “My dear, you look – exhausted”

“I am,” Olivia replied almost grateful that there was someone in the house who actually noticed, “I am so tired, Hester, that I feel as though I could fall asleep standing up.”

“Ben told us about Anna, the woman that Adam is looking for – and Reuben said that she was having a baby”

“Had a baby.” Olivia corrected and looked at Sofia, “Darling, go and see if Bridie would like to have some thing to eat and drink now, but if she is asleep just leave her-”

Both women were silent as the little girl turned to run out of the room, they heard her running up the steps and Olivia sunk down on a chair and leaned back into a cushion

“I can’t believe we only got home yesterday morning. So much has happened. Oh Hester, what a muddle.”

“But what I don’t understand is how she came to get here? Why are Adam and his friend still in San Francisco looking for her when she’s here?”

“I don’t know, she hasn’t told us much about that yet. It all seems rather confused and complicated.” Olivia yawned, and closed her eyes “I’m sorry, Hester I’m just so tired.”

“Of course you are, you silly thing. Look, go and get some sleep while I look after things down here. Sofia and I can manage to rustle up a meal between us.” she paused and shook her head for Olivia was already asleep, her head resting on a cushion and totally out of this world.

Hester smiled and stood up. As she did so her eye caught sight of the bassinet and curious to see for herself what was inside she took a few paces towards it, then peered down at the baby wrapped in a shawl, her skin colour looking even darker against the shawls whiteness. She caressed the little cheek gently with her finger and smiled, sighed and shook her head –

“It’s a girl.”

Hester turned to look down at Sofia who was standing beside her now, they shared a smile, “She’s lovely, isn’t she?” Sofia said “Mommy says she’s a princess, a real princess.”

“I can well imagine.” Hester replied “Does she have a name yet?”

“No, her mommy is sleeping, so is Bridie and -” she sighed “So is mommy.”

………………..

Their eyes became accustomed to the darkness after a while, although no one seemed inclined to speak. The man whom Adam had assumed to have died was in fact alive, barely. He had passed out from weakness and now sat beside him breathing heavily and muttering prayers. Adam stretched out his legs, dislodging soiled straw, there was a scratching and a squeaking sound as something with four legs scurried away.

“Ibrahim?”

“Yes, I am here -”

“Can you explain what has been happening – the reasons you are all here?”

There came the sound of a breath being inhaled deeply before Ibrahim began to speak.

“You know the Khedive has brought ruin to the country, much poverty and much anger against him.but you know also perhaps maybe that there is a rebellion from the people, from the Turks, from others who want to be rid of the Khedive…” he paused for it was difficult to talk, breathlessness caused by the weakness of his condition forced him to take another lungful of air before continuing “He is on all sides having enemies. His cousin Sa’id El Hassim came to assist -”

Another man pulled at Ibrahims sleeve “Tell him, tell him, Ibrahim, what happened to Sa’id-”

“He knows that already -”

“No, not all – you tell him – and of the Lady.”

Laurence coughed, the stench was catching in his throat, he was beginning to feel ill from lack of water, and his injuries. His hand hurt so much he didn’t really know where to place it. Ibrahim hauled in another deep breath

“Sa’id El Hassim came to see the Khedive but Adjo Admose sent him a false message – “
he paused “Adjo Admose is leader of a very many peoples who want rid of Khedive and Ottoman rule in Cairo. He waits for Sa’id to come to the palace and kills him…”

The other man eager to have his say tugged at Adam’s sleeve. He had lost most of his teeth and his breath smelled worse than imaginable, Adam had to turn his face away as the man spoke “Pasha the Butcher killed him, killed Sa’id.”

Adam frowned “Pasha the Butcher?”

“The assassin – he is Adjo’s -” he paused and searched for the right word but shrugged and waggled his head.

Ibrahim placed a hand on his exuberant friends chest and pushed him back a little “He and his brother were friends also of Sa’id long time ago. But power – love of power – ah, sad when more strong than friendship is it not, Commodore?”

Adam sighed and screwed up his eyes, the pain in his head throbbed down his neck, he thought of the dapper corpse of the man who had killed Silvia Soames “Pasha – yes – I know of him, he is dead now.”

There was a gabble of voices as some of the men put their heads together and muttered the information between themselves

“Where does Anna El Hassim come into all this? “ Adam asked, and released a sigh, eased his back against the wood walls.

“Sa’id sent her to me -” a man seated to the left of Ibrahim said quietly, his English was good, but he was very weak, he sat with his eyes closed as though the effort to keep them open would only exhaust him further “I was their doctor. I told Sa’id only a few days before that the Lady was going to have a baby.”

There was silence for a moment and Laurence touched Adam’s foot with his own, as though to nudge him to say something.

“We didn’t know about the baby -” Adam said and pushed against Laurence’s foot with his own “Did we, Laurence?”

“No, we did not.” Laurence sighed and his voice contained a groan.

“We say nothing but -” Ibrahim shrugged “In Cairo it is very hard to be secret. Adjo learned of this – so he try now to find the Lady.”

Laurence muttered “Politically quite a good move – if the baby is a boy.”

So far as Adam was concerned the baby was an added complication. He rubbed his face with his hands and the chains at his wrists rattled, he sighed “Why – I mean – what brought Admose to America, San Francisco? Why would he come all this way from Cairo -” he paused “He knows she is in America is that it?”

“America very big place.” Ibrahim said in his sing song lilt, “Who knows where Lady Anna is now.”

The man who claimed to be a doctor leaned forward, his chains rattled “We sent her here, we did all we could to protect her. But Adjo – “

“Adjo controls many. He found out – “ Foul Breath muttered

Ibrahim sighed “We did all we could to prevent him coming here, but -” he shrugged “instead we all end up coming here.”

“So – you are all friends of Sa’id El Hassim and he’s keeping you close to see if one of you will tell him her whereabouts.” Adam mumbled.

“We keep quiet. For Sa’id -” Ibrahim sighed.

“And Pasha’s brother – was he sent to Boston?” Laurence asked

Chains clanked together, there were whispers in Arabic, “Both brothers very bad.” one man muttered darkly.

“Well, Abdullah Pasha is now a very dead brother -” Adam muttered with some satisfaction.

Silence and then someone said “ Ali Mohamed Pasha worse.”

Laurence was about to speak when the door to the hold scraped open with a great deal of noise and the three men entered whom he had seen before..one with a barrel of water, and ladle another with a basket of bread. behind them a brute of a man carrying weapons…in the light shining from the exterior of the hold, the man seemed to be quite bristling with daggers, sword, rifle and pistol. He stood in the entrance, blocking out some of the light and far enough away from any of the prisoners to be touched by them. No one was in any doubt that were they to make what he considered the wrong move, one of those weapons would be deployed to their disadvantage.
…………………….

Bridie passed the baby over to Anna who now looked refreshed after a healing long sleep. Bridie had washed her again and braided the heavy dark hair into a long braid that came over her shoulder. Leaning against clean fresh sheets and pillows Anna finally looked and felt as though she had returned to the human race.

While Hester and Sofia helped Cheng Ho Lee make something to eat (not that Cheng needed help) Olivia continued to sleep. Hester had lifted her friends feet onto the settee and placed a shawl over her, leaving her to sleep for as long as she needed.

The baby took to the breast immediately, sucking vigorously while Anna looked down at her with that look of besotted adoration on her face. Bridie smiled and prepared clean diapers for the baby “Have you thought of a name for her yet?”

“I thought I would call her Hadassah. It means Compassion. Hadas is Fresh Myrtle but when you add the sah it becomes another word, compassion.”

“That is lovely, Anna. Is it Egyptian?”

Anna smiled and lifted her eyes to look at the other woman “No, it is Hebrew. My father was a scholar, he spoke six ancient languages, and loved the history of the Hebrews, the Egyptians – all the ancient peoples one only normally hears about in the bible. He made a study of them all and he took us trekking and exploring through countless deserts trying to locate where they had come from…my brother and I loved excavating around Egypt. That’s where I met Sa’id El Hassim.”

“An unusual marriage -” Bridie said quietly, she turned to observe the other woman thoughtfully, “I heard that those men -” she paused “Sheiks or what ever can have as many wives as they want.”

Anna sighed and turned away to look down at her daughter, now asleep. “Yes, that’s true. But Sa’id was a widower. He had loved his wife and never wished for another…when we met I thought him the most arrogant man alive … their cultures are so different, traditions hide bound. Rachel couldn’t stand him, but then she didn’t like Egypt. She blamed father’s love for all things Egyptian for my brothers death. I have to admit my father did develop quite an obsession about it all. He was convinced that somewhere out there in the desert is a tomb of a young king with unsurpassed wealth… he was hoping for more evidence of it but died before he obtained it.”

“And he didn’t object to your marrying Sa’id?”

“No. Well, a few objections at first, some reservations that I had myself too…but those people can be so devotedly loyal, you know…even to a woman.” she chuckled then, and looked mischievously at Bridie “Most men value their camels more than their women out there, you know.”

Bridie smiled good humouredly and took the baby from her mother, carried her to the table and changed the diaper, wrapped her in the shawl and placed her back in the crib.

“Is that why you said this child is safe?”

“Yes… they won’t challenge Tew’fik or Isma’el over a female child’s claims to be Khedive, especially the daughter of an American woman.” she leaned against the pillows and closed her eyes “Oh Bridie – I owe my life to some very brave men – I think Adjo Admose will have tortured and killed them to find me, you know? They risked everything they had to see that I was safe – “

Bridie nodded and was about to speak when there was a knock on the door and Hester , followed by Sofia, came into the room bearing a tray of food which she placed on the table and drew nearer to the bed.

After introductions were made Hester withdrew from the room, taking Sofia with her. It was obvious that the woman was still tired, and meeting yet another stranger would have been a little daunting. She closed the door behind her, smiled at Sofia and hand in hand quietly went downstairs.

Really there was little point in trying to be quiet as the door downstairs opened with a crash, and Joe, followed by Hoss and Nathaniel, with Reuben, entered the house. Olivia woke up, rubbed her eyes and face and looked blearily about her.

“Oh -” she exclaimed, stifling yet another yawn, “Is Pa with you?”

“Pa?” Joe said as he deposited Nathaniel down from his shoulders onto the floor, “No, just this little wrangler who I found wrestling with Daniel…thought you would want him home now, Livvy.”

Olivia smiled and opened her arms wide for her little boy to run to her, she thanked Joe and looked anxiously then at Hoss, “Where is Pa though? He was going to send a cable to Adam, to bring him home.”

“There’s been a change of plan.” Hoss said quietly and sat down on the chair opposite his sister in law. Seeing his wife approaching he waited for her to join him, so that they sat together. Hoss cleared his throat, then turned to Joe, “Best tell her, Joe.”

Joe sighed and pulled a cable from his pocket “Pa received this from Marshall Duggan…” he passed it to her, noting the wary look on her face, the fear in the eyes, “Pa’s gone to San Francisco.”

Hoss and he exchanged another furtive glance at one another as Olivia stared in disbelief at the cable. She was aware of several pairs of eyes staring at her, of Sofia coming to sit beside her, and Nathaniel on her lap leaning against her while Reuben stood beside Joe, biting his bottom lip.

“Gone to San Francisco?” she murmured and stared down at the paper in her hand as though it were about to burst into flames

Chapter 40

Olivia felt her legs buckle but didn’t know what happened next until she opened her eyes to a blur of faces and the sound of Sofia crying “Don’t die, mommy, don’t die…” And Nathaniel sobbing nearby.

She closed her eyes for a second to get her focus before opening them again and forcing herself to sit up. Nathaniel immediately flung his arms around her neck, and rubbed his wet face over her cheeks while refusing to be pried away from her. Joe finally stopped in his attempts to remove the little boy as Olivia wrapped her arms around the child and held him close.

“I’m sorry” she said quietly and as calmly as she could, “I’m just so tired and – and wasn’t prepared for that news.”

Sofia stepped forward and slipped her hand into one of Olivia’s while her face was contorted with fear and anxiety. They looked at one another and Olivia forced a smile at her daughter “I’m alright now, Sofia. Don’t look so worried”

Sofia nodded and stepped away, Reuben reached for her hand and held it in his, gave it a little squeeze before releasing it. “Pa isn’t coming home is he?” Sofia whispered to him.

Reuben shook his head slightly then shrugged and looked over at his Uncles who were standing together looking embarrassed, while Hester was hovering with a cup and saucer to hand over to the patient. Bridie was the one who managed to get Nathaniel to release his grip on his mother, and it was she to whom he turned for a cuddle to reassure him all was well.

Olivia relieved Hester of the cup and saucer and drank the tea as she would have swallowed medicine. Afterwards she took some deep breaths and apologised profusely. There was a babble of voices as each adult present attempted to assure her that there was really nothing about which to worry. Quite understandable in the circumstances…

“It’s my own fault,” she continued to say and stood up to walk over to the table and pick up the slip of paper that had been left there. She re.read it and sighed, “I encouraged him to go after all. I thought he’d be back in a day or so.”

“From what Pa said Laurence and Rachel were coming here anyway.” Joe muttered, leaning upon the back of a chair, his knuckles white from the tightness of his grip upon it

“Yeah, they’d only have found him here and got him to go with them anyway.” Hoss sighed rubbing his jaw with his fingers, his eyes watchful on his sister in law in case she keeled over again

“Well, they would have found Anna here and there would have been no problem.” Olivia sighed again and rubbed her brow, her fingers were cold and touching warm flesh made her shiver. “They could all have gone home together”

“Mom, is Pa in trouble?” Reuben asked, stepping closer to her and looking up into her face “Is that why Grandpa has gone back? Has he gone to find him?”

Joe stepped forward now and put a hand on the boys shoulder “Grandpa went to talk to the Marshall. They’ll find your Pa, probably he’s already there anyway.”

Reuben twisted his shoulder away and shook his head angrily. “I’m not a little kid, don’t talk like I don’t understand…my Pa’s in trouble that’s why Grandpas gone back.” and with his hands curled into fists he ran out of the room, swiftly followed by Hoss.

Hoss caught up with Reuben by the corral fence where the boy had stopped upon realising he was followed. Hoss paused and then approached him slowly, watching the lads scowl, the way he thrust his hands into his pockets and scuffed up the dirt with his boot.

“It’s true though, isn’t it? Pa’s in trouble.”

“Not necessarily. Easy to jump to wrong conclusions, I guess, but could be that he’s just following a lead and not contacted the Marshall.”

“But he didn’t go to the boat either…” Reuben said in a shaky whisper, he blinked rapidly in an attempt to stop tears falling, sniffed “He said he would be going on that schooner and that was why I wanted to go too.” he turned to look plaintively at his Uncle “I get scared thinking of him being hurt…”

“Don’t think like that, Reuben, your Pa can take good care of himself, he’s had years of practice” Hoss said with a touch of good humour in his voice. He put a hand on Reubens shoulder “He’ll be alright, my Pa will find him there and bring him home. Happened time and time before …”
………

Laurence cradled his hand against his chest in an effort to ease the pain. The man who claimed to be a doctor had done the best he could in easing the broken fingers into place and binding them together with a strip of Laurence’s shirt. A rudimentary sling was formed from the shirt sleeve. He kept his eyes closed and several times had slipped into an uncomfortable doze.

Ibrahim had told them as much as he knew, about Sa’ids cruel death, how they had smuggled Anna out of the country. They had suggested she went to England to join her family there but the man they had bribed to take her had betrayed them to Adjo’s men. They were taken to Cyprus only knowing that prior to their arrest Anna had disappeared. Ibrahim was sure she would head for America after all it was the land of her birth, and she had often talked with great affection of it. Adjo had obviously remembered or considered the same or perhaps his spies had seen her boarding a ship headed to San Francisco.

Adam had listened attentively, trying to imagine the young woman and how she would be feeling knowing she was on her own, recently widowed, carrying a child that Adjo, and perhaps others, would see as a political chess piece.

He stretched out his legs again and closed his eyes. The ship was out in the open sea and was being tossed about more than previously for it no longer swayed from side to side but dipped low in the troughs and then soared upwards again. It took a while for his empty stomach to get used to it again. He nudged Laurence’s foot with his own, thankful that they had been allowed to keep their boots for the other men were without any footwear at all

“How are you feeling, Laurence!”

The Englishman mumbled something and nothing more. Adam raised his hands to his face, the chains rattled and the metal cuffs slid down his arms. For a moment he rubbed his face with his fingers and then ran them through his hair … a matted clump of bloodied hair snagged at his fingertips and he winced. He pulled at the cuffs and realised they were not so very tight around his wrists, he spent some time pulling at them to see if there was any chance of getting them to slide over his hands. He pulled and tugged until he had to accept that getting angry with them achieved
nothing.

Chapter 41

Adam wasn’t sure if he were actually singing aloud or the tune was just running through his head. He wasn’t even sure how it had happened, if he had fallen asleep or was hallucinating but the taste of rabbit was in his mouth, the smell of a campfire filled his nostrils and he was singing along with Howard …”and maybe there’s a someone,somewhere, waiting just for me ..and maybe …”

He shook his head in an attempt to return to reality and forced himself to look into the shadows around him. Laurence was muttering beneath his breath, Adam could see his lips moving although the man’s eyes were firmly closed. In the darker shadows beyond he heard chains rattle as the captives moved, there were groans and sighs an he was reminded of the fact that these men had been in captivity far longer than either of them.

He forced himself to sidle over to Laurence and nudged him gently with his elbow. Doing just that had been painful, he had been sitting in the same position for so long that his limbs were cramped. He nudged Laurence again and this time the Englishman roused himself enough to open his eyes and turn to face his companion.

“How are you Laurence? How’s your hand?”

“Painful. ” Laurence mumbled and frowned “How long has it been?”

“Two days. I’ve lost track of time.” Adam replied and sat in silence for a moment. He flexed his shoulders, turned his head to the left and right in an attempt to rid himself of some of the tension there, a vertebrae popped, some pain released. He cleared his throat “We have to do something before we end up like everyone else here…”

More silence, it was as though Laurence was having to think out every word before he could speak, “Any idea where we are being taken?”

“Admose didn’t bother to share that information with me…sorry”

Laurence ignored the sarcasm and closed his eyes again “At least they’ve left us alone ..no beatings for a while. ”

“Perhaps they’re getting bored with us.” Adam muttered and turned towards the door, observed it for some time before turning back to Laurence “Don’t you think it odd that Admose would travel in an old leaky tub like this when he could afford at least three schooners like the Viking Queen.”

“Hadn’t thought about it,’ came the honest reply, and for a moment there was silence as Laurence gave it some attention “it does seem strange, out of character I mean. Perhaps he doesn’t go in for ostentation…”

“I don’t agree, remember the room he had in that tenement ? It was darn lavish for a place in that quarter.”

“So what are you thinking?” the Englishman leaned forward, any small detail that could keep his brain from going totally dead was worth some measure of attention.

“I think he plans to get another vessel at some point. Something more in keeping with a man of his stature, after all, he is quite an important representative of his country at those talks in Cyprus.”

“D’you think that’s where we’re headed?”

“No.”

“No?” Laurence sighed and groaned, He didn’t want to dwell on what that word could intimate. His stomach rumbled, he wondered at what level of starvation a stomach would stop rumbling. He shuffled himself into a different position, finding it impossible to get comfortable “I’m starving..”

“Try not to think about food” Adam whispered, and heaved in a deep breath, closed his eyes and stayed silent for some moments as the taste of that rabbit suddenly hit the back of his throat. He leaned back against the wall listening to the water dripping down the wooden planking, the faint sounds of scrabbling from the four legged creatures sharing their accommodation. Weariness came over him like a wave. He scratched at his chest and Laurence muttered “Flea’s ..I’ve got them too.”

They were silent, both drifting into thoughts and memories, Laurence sighed ..”I’m so glad I got Rachel safely back to England..thanks for arranging that with Myers.” Laurence gave a semblance of a smile and sighed “I’m sorry to have got you involved in the whole sorry mess…”

Adam said nothing but sat with his head down and his hands dangling between his knees. Finally he looked up a slight frown on his brow “Why did you come all the way from England to San Francisco, Laurence?”

“I told you …to get help from you to find Anna. Charles was more interested in the talks going on in Cyprus, didn’t seem bothered about Anna.” he scowled, then raised his handcuffed hands to wipe sweat from his brow “It was Rachel who suggested we asked your help, but when we got here I got worried that we may have got into something too big, so thought we would go straight to the Ponderosa and ask for your help but ..” He shrugged and the chains clinked as he lowered his hands.

Adam was too tired to really pay much attention to what Laurence was saying, his mouth was so dry he could barely swallow. He stared into the darkness “Ibrahim…are you awake?”

“I am but it is not good …Faisel has died. He was the oldest of us. ”

Adam moved carefully to where Ibrahim was crouched, The body of the other man sprawled at odd angles, his emaciated body covered by the rags of what had once been a garment of great cost. Ibrahim shook his head “Faisel was a close friend to Sa’id, and to Missy Anna. He was a very important man in the city, a man of influence you understand. It didn’t matter to Admose, he has set himself up above everyone to achieve what is his goal.”

“What is his goal, Ibrahim?” Adam whispered

“Why – to be Khedive, to remove the Ottoman Sultanate and establish his own dynasty.” Ibrahim replied as though suprised that no one had realised that yet. “That was what they wanted that time when you came before – it is what you stopped happening -”

Someone moved and chains rattled. Adam heard the fevered whispers of prayers being said. He
put a hand on Ibrahim’s shoulder “What happens when some one dies? You’re all Muslims, arn’t you? Isn’t there something – some tradition – in your religion that a body has to be removed within 24 hours? Or do you have to wait for the next time they come with the food?”

Ibrahim nodded, Adam could just make out the movement of his head. He sat quite still for a moment then pressed gently on the old man’s shoulder, and moved away. Once on his feet he walked over to the door, and thumped loudly on it. The sound seemed to reverberate and then there was silence.

He was about to thump on the door again when they heard the sound of bolts being drawn. Immediately he stepped aside for the door to open, and waited as the two men stepped inside and demanded to know the reason for the noise. It was Ibrahim who answered, and received a blow from a leather strap as a result. Hidden from view Adam took a step forward to protest the treatment and as he did so the big man, the guard, entered. He was armed as usual with his arsenal of weapons and realising that he was still unseen Adam cautiously stepped back into the shadows.

Was this the right time to act? To make some attempt to overpower the three men? Could the pathetically weak captives, himself and Laurence achieve that aim if he acted now?

But the fact was that the door was open and the three men were inside the hold, unaware of any danger, complacent in the knowledge that they only had weak beaten men who had never yet offered any resistance. Two of them were dealing with Faisel’s body, their hands grasping at the armpits, and the ankles, preparing to drag the corpse away. The armed man stood close to oversee the operation but kept a distance as though he had no wish to be contaminated by death.

Adam clasped his hands together, summoned every ounce of strength he could and raised them above his head but just as he was about to bring the metal cuffs upon the guards head the man turned and saw him. A gleam of malice flickered in the dark eyes, a sneer on his lips as he brought his own fist swinging round and caught Adam a blow to his injured ribs. Adam brought his hands down in an effort to protect himself and deflect the next blow. Laurence swung into action swinging the chains of his handcuffs in an arc that wrapped around the rifle the guard had allowed to slip aside, and with one deft movement yanked it free from the guards reach.

It landed at Ibrahims feet and with immediate presence of mind he snatched it up and pointed it at the guard who having landed another punch at Adam had one hand on the butt of the pistol in his belt. He gave a bellow of rage but had the sense to step away.

“The keys..” Laurence said “Hand them over”

The guard stood as though transfixed. Adam, barely able to breathe now from the agony of his injured ribs, watched as the man spat into Laurence’s face, then drew out his dagger and slashed it down. Ibrahim moved forward with the rifle In his hands, wielding it like a club he dashed it upon the guards wrist. The rifle exploded causing no harm to anyone, but the dagger, although still in the guards hand had failed to do the job intended and Laurence received a minor injury instead of one that would have been death dealing.

The two men who had come for the body now got in on the act and screeching like a couple of demented banshees began to kick and beat the captives with their leather clubs so that their curses and expletives were now accompanied by the howls and groans from their pathetic victims.

It was over in minutes…the door closed with an ominous clunk, the victims of the attack groaned and whimpered, Laurence lay in a collapsed heap bleeding from a slash across the chest and Adam Cartwright had passed out and lay in a huddle in the corner where the darkest shadows swallowed him up.

The body of Faisel, one time wealthy financier and banker, was dragged up onto the deck and thrown overboard .The sea momentarily parted to embrace him and take him down before it continued on as though nothing had disturbed its surface at all

Ibrahim crawled through the filthy straw to where Adam was slowly recovering his wits and attempting to breathe as naturally as possible. Summoning what little strength remained in him Ibrahim helped Adam into a sitting position, he couldn’t speak but kept patting Adam on the arm as though that was all that was necessary to reassure himself that the American was still alive.

Laurence opened his eyes to find his friend attempting to bind up the wound . He reached out a hand and placed it gently over Adams “Sorry, old chap, seems I made rather a mess of things”

“You did pretty well considering the state of your hand, ” Adam said and tied a knot in the makeshift dressing, “The rest of your shirt ..sorry ..”

Laurence closed his eyes, his breathing. was ragged, in the blackness he was seeing what looked like stars, little pin pricks of light. “Sorry..” he whispered again

Adam said nothing. He was thinking of the three men and what their reaction was going to be when they realised they were minus a key! He had a feeling that they would say nothing to Adjo, fear would make them mute. But their next visit to the cell could be, at the very least, interesting .

Chapter 42

The two men were lounging against the bars of the corral when Nate and Clem rode into the yard. The dust beaten up by their horses would have been obvious for some distance to the two men who appeared to have been standing in the same position for hours. Their casual attitude did little to impress the two lawmen who regarded the Burgoyne brothers with a wariness borne more from instinct than any suspicion that either man had committed any recent wrong doing.

Neither lawman dismounted preferring to maintain the high ground by staying in the saddle and able to look down at the other two men who had now moved away from the corral fence and stood regarding their visitors with nonchalant disinterest. Theo Burgoyne spat onto the ground, and continued to chew the tobacco in his mouth, his jaw working slowly as though even that task didn’t really interest him. Max Burgoyne tipped his hat back a little and finally ventured to ask Nate why they were there, disturbing folk at their work as they were doing.

Nate glanced at the horses in the corral before looking back at them “Is your Pa home?”

Max shrugged and turned to his brother “I dunno. Do you know, Theo?”

Theo shook his head and he also shrugged “He might be, then agin, he might not.”

“Yeah, well, see here, sheriff, seems like we gotta say we don’t know to that question.” Max removed his hat, looked at the sweatband and frowned before replacing the hat on his head. Theo spat more tobacco juice onto the ground

“What do you want to see the old man about then? Maybe -” Max raised an eyebrow and his thin lips parted in a grin “maybe we can help you.”

Nate leaned forward and eased his long body a little, It had been a long ride and his back ached. Like all tall man he was inclined to back ache. He thumbed back his hat and nodded,

“Perhaps you can,” he said in his deep drawl, “it’s about some cattle -”

“Good thing you’re talking to us about cattle, Sheriff,” Theo interrupted “our Pa jest about knows nothing about ’em, ‘crept one end has a tail and the other end has a head. Ain’t that right, Max?”

Max nodded “Fair ignorant about cattle is our Pa, that’s for sure.”

They looked at each other and grinned. Clem cleared his throat and fidgeted, while Nate nodded and looked from one to the other of the brothers. He straightened his back,

“We hear there’s been some rustling in the area,” he said quietly “you experienced any problem with that ? Lost any cows, or calves recently?”

“Heck, Sheriff, we ain’t been here more than a few months. We ain’t likely to notice If’n we have or not.” Max shrugged and pulled a long face while Theo continued to work the tobacco round and round in his mouth

“A neighbour of yours, Mr Archer, informed us that you had moved, at his request, some cattle from his land. Is that right?”

The two men looked at one another, and rolled their eyes. Max hooked his thumbs into his belt while Theo removed his hat and fanned himself with it. Max sighed as though the news and accusation saddened him

“Look see, Sheriff, that old man is as crazy as a coot. You can’t go round believing anything he says else you’d be arresting all those innocent folk round hereabouts. He sees things you know …fairies and goblins.” he touched his temple and made a circular movement with his finger.

“Yep, he’s crazy alright, and by mid.afternoon he’s drunk as well. Probably sees pink elephants…”

“I saw an elephant once” Max volunteered, “wasn’t pink though…”

“Did I see it?” Theo asked as though genuinely interested

“Nah, you was too little, Pa kept you home.”

“Pity, I’d have liked to have seen an elephant.” Theo frowned and then looked up at Nate and Clem “Sorry you had a wasted journey an’ all, but we don’t know nuthin about any cattle, rustled or not.”

Nate nodded “You got a good sized herd though, seeing how you’ve only been here a few months”

Max frowned and glanced quickly at his brother who stopped fanning himself to replace his hat, “we contacted our cousin, Abel, to git us some cattle.”

“S’right,”. Theo nodded “Uncle Gideon sold us a good portion of his herd. Said he had had a good increase in calves this year so we could have some.”

“You got a Bill of Sale to prove that? Clem asked quietly

Two pairs of eyes swivelled to regard Clem coldly, he was well aware of the hostility that lay dormant there, ready to flare up at the wrong word.

“It was between family.” Max muttered with a surly twist to his lips, and he straightened his shoulders and one hand dropped lower to rest on his gun holster.

“Our Pa will have it, if there is one…” Theo added “But seeing how he ain’t here just now …” He shrugged and grinned.

Clem sighed “so, where did you boys come from before getting hereabouts? You found yourself a good spread, I guess the previous owner left some of his stock here for you.”

“He did…it was all part of the deal. Uncle Gideon told us the place was up for sale and put in a bid fir us”. Theo volunteered the information readily enough athough he got a black scowl from his brother

“P’raps you want to see the Bill of Sale for that too?” Max said with a sneer on his face as his eyes went from one lawman to the next.

“Perhaps, but we’ll come back and discuss the matter with your father.” Nate replied and lowered his hat to shade his eyes. He noticed how both brothers relaxed a little, they must have assumed the interview was over as Clem was moving his horse back a little in order to turn her round and leave. “You didn’t answer my deputy’s question, though. Where’d you come from, work on a ranch before did you?”

Max’s scowl deepened “Why’d you want to know?”

“Because I’m the law around these parts and it’s the kind of information that could be helpful in any future enquiry?”

“What’s that supposed to mean? You accusing us of something?” Theo demanded to know, stepping forward a few paces as he spoke

“No,” Nate replied coldly “But I’d prefer you to tell me rather than have to make enquiries to find out.”

Max shrugged “We worked a ranch down in Arizona. The Square Circle run by a couple called Davies.”

“And any particular reason you left there to come here?”

“Pa decided on it. Thought it would be good for our health.” Theo spat a stream of tobacco in the direction of Nate’s horse.

“Yeah, thought it would be good for a family to come together. Never know, us and Greigsons place together would be quite a size..not quite as big as the Ponderosa but well on its way.” and Max grinned in a way that made Clem shiver deep inside.

Nate nodded, touched his hat and turned his horse round, all the way out until they hit the main road to town they could feel the Burgoynes watching them.
……

“Mr Cartwright to see you, Marshall”

Duggan glanced up, just momentarily his face brightened at the thought that this was the man they were seeking and he rose up from his chair with a smile on his face as he turned towards the door. Ben noticed the way the Marshalls smile tightened upon seeing him however, and was intelligent enough to know the reason why.

“Mr Cartwright.”

“Marshall.”

They shook hands solemnly, Duggan pointed to a chair and Ben pulled it closer to the desk before sitting down.

“Come to check up on me, sir?” Duggan asked quietly as his blue eyes stared into Bens anxious face.

“Not at all, Duggan. I just need to be here, that’s all. He’s my son and …” he gulped back any other words and cleared his throat noisily “Is there any news?”

Duggans honest ruddy face was serious as he picked up some files, one of which he placed down and opened, he glanced up at Ben and sighed

“We know he visited Mr Soames and then went to the apartments where Miss Soames killer had been living.”

“And?” Ben frowned, his head ached from frowning so much for so long, his teeth ached from grinding them together as well “Is that all?”

Duggan gave a rather rueful smile and passed a sheet of paper to Ben “We did another search of the premises. Mr Pasha was just passing through hardly anything worth noticing in his room. We interviewed everyone we could find there but …” He shook his head “they’re a very tight community, if the word goes round that they don’t talk, then they don’t talk. However we did find that one of the apartments was being emptied …furniture and so forth being removed. Quite lavish it was, in fact, compared to all the others in the tenement, quite extraordinarily so. We asked for details of course and got two different replies…two different names. Seems whoever he really was happened to be a very wealthy businessman, a banker by name of Faisel El Mohomed. That -” he raised a finger “was one of the people he could have been. His other name is Adjo Admose-”

Ben’s frown deepened. Hadn’t Anna mentioned that name? He glanced at Duggan who was watching him closely

“That name familiar to you, sir?” Duggan asked politely

Ben nodded “I heard it mentioned recently.” he paused and glanced around the office, “he is the man behind all this, where is he now? If you can find him you’ll find my son and Lord Willoughby.”

“Very good, sir.” Duggan leaned forward and took the paper out of Ben’s hand and tucked it back into the folder “We were more curious about him as the name slipped out of the mouth of a young woman who nearly dissolved into tears when she realised what she had said, she looked terrified when we pressed her for more information and insisted she had made a mistake.”

There was a moment of silence between the two men before Duggan continued “We concluded that a wealthy man in the same building as an assassin would be the man who could afford to pay out for any kind of dirty deed. We took a good look around the premises as you can imagine and found several items of interest…”

He pulled open a drawer and produced a box from which he extracted a monogrammed cuff link and a signet ring. He pushed them towards Ben and raised his eyebrows “Recognise them, sir”

Of course Ben recognised the ring. He had given it as a gift to his son when Adam had been about to leave home to start his naval career. A heavy gold signet ring with the Ponderosa pine embossed upon it. “Adams ..” he sighed

“The cuff link..we assumed to be Lord Willoughbys”

Ben nodded but didn’t take his eyes from the sight of the ring he held between his fingers “They were in the apartment?”

“More than that, sir. Both men had attempted to conceal them so that upon a search being made they’d be found and questions asked about the owners whereabouts.” he reached out his hand, palm upwards “evidence, sir ..if you don”t mind.”

Ben watched the items being replaced in the box and then into the drawer. Duggans face fell into sympathetic lines as he now regarded Ben “We found these items in a room where there were some bloodstains on the walls and floor. There had been a hasty attempt to conceal them but..” He shrugged and there was another momentary silence

“And – were bodies -?”

Duggan shook his head. “No, had there been you would have been notified.”

He pulled yet another slip of paper, a written statement. “This was an eyewitness at the harbour .. saw what he thought strange goings on, and so did we once he told us what he saw. He had seen a man climb aboard the Viking Queen, not by the usual method of a gangplank, but from the water itself. A while later he reappeared and approached someone in a carriage. We also had statements from Captain Salway and a crew member stating some book had been stolen, and a weapon used ..” he produced the dagger and placed it between them

“That’s not an European or American weapon.”

“Indeed not, sir. It is the kind found in those countries where there are a lot of Arabs and such.”

He looked directly into Ben’s eyes “And our Mr Admose is Arab, sir…”

Ben turned away from looking at Duggan. He wanted a few moments to catch his breath and to think over what had been said, and the implications behind the words.

Duggan cleared his throat “We have reason to believe that Admose left by ship the evening of the attack on Adam and Lord Willoughby.”

Ben dragged his mind back to what was going on, he nodded “What reasons?”

Another sheet of paper was taken from the folder, and he glanced down to read the statement of a man called Lawrie Hogan. In his statement Mr Hogan aged 35, seaman on board H.M.S Biscuit went on deck to smoke his pipe. The British ship was berthed next to a rust bucket of a vessel that looked more likely to sink on her next voyage than get anywhere far. He was wondering about where the ‘old girl’ originated when

‘ a carriage pulled up. I saw several men get out and make their way up the gangplank, what surprised me really was that one man looked wealthy enough to afford a far grander ship, and that a man came down to greet them and bowed very low. It was like he was grovelling to a superior. Like a Prince or King. Being in Her Majesty’s Navy I’ve travelled a fair bit and I think that the rich person was a Turkish Grandee.

No sooner had they disappeared within the ship when a wagon pulled up. Two men were pulled out from the back by others who were armed and hustled them away up the gangplank. I could see that the two men were either drunk or injured and I called out ‘What’s going on down there?’ There was no reply, but they moved faster as though they realised theywere being observed.

I waited a while to see what else would happen but nothing did so I returned to my cabin. It was after ‘pipes down’ and by rights I should not have been smoking up on deck. In the morning the other vessel was gone. I got to thinking and realised that the men on board would have been Muslim and perhaps if two of them were drunk – which was against their religious beliefs, then being observed would have humiliated them.”

Ben frowned “So what made him come here to make this statement?”

“Salway and his men … they were unable to catch the owner for this weapon but he knew the book was involved in the matter Lord Willoughby was looking into…and they did get a glimpse of a carriage leaving the vicinity of their schooner. He organised a search and asked questions until they came upon Hogan. He sent Hogan here right away as his ship was leaving for Portsmouth, England, within the hour.”

Duggan leaned back into his chair, it creaked a little. He watched as Ben re.read the statement. “Captain Salway made enquiries of the Harbour Master about the old ship and found it arrived from Cyprus, was of Egyptian origin, owned by a Corporate company trading in rugs, carpets etc based in Cairo. It’s name in English Damaris.”

“It’s heading for Cyprus?” Ben murmured “Adam and Laurence Willoughby…you assume them to be the two men Hogan took for drunken seamen?”

Duggan nodded “We have statements from Captain Salway and the crew member who was attacked. He set off in the Viking Queen in pursuit not long after. He’s convinced that he can catch them before they reach Cyprus although they do have a good lead.”

“Have you found out why Admose was here ? What reason he gave ?”

“Purely that he was a representative of the Company who owned the carpets. There was no indication on the surface that he knew Pasha, the murderer of Miss Soames”. He shrugged “We only have the woman’s slip of a tongue to identify him as Admose. Everything is really … circumstantial.”

“So -“. Ben drew in his breath then slowly released it “so Adam could still be here, in San Francisco?”

Duggan screwed up his face in a comical expression of dismay “It’s possible but I prefer to think they’re alive on board that ship. If they are then Salway will find them..”

Ben nodded then rose to his feet “I’m staying at the Richmond. I’ll come by later … You don’t mind if I ask around …” he hesitated, shook his head slightly “there must be some others who saw something.”

“We do have men asking and looking, Mr Cartwright..” Duggan said as he stood up from his seat “But I understand he is your son, you have to do something …”

Chapter 43

The Ponderosa ranch house was bathed in sunlight as Nate and Clem rode into the yard and dismounted just as the door opened and Hoss, followed by two little girls, stepped onto the porch. Nate remembered being told how the building had nearly been destroyed by a fire a while back and admired the appearance of what stood in its place. The fact it was a replica of the original would have passed him by, perhaps no one had bothered to mention it

“Is Joe with you?”

“Sure, he’s inside-” Hoss replied and stepped back for the two lawmen to enter the building.

Joe stood up immediately and nodded a greeting “Have you any news?”

“Well, not sure it’s what you want to hear -“. Nate replied as he removed his hat and smiled over at Hester who asked if they would like coffee, he nodded and widened his smile as she bustled out to organise refreshments

“Sit down, Nate” Hoss grinned “You’re one of the few men who gives me a crick in the neck having to look up at you.”

Once settled Nate told them of the visits he had made to the Double D, where Luke repeated claims of rustling from his herd and Jessops. They had then seen Archer who threatened to send a war party of Shoshone onto them if he was pestered again by this talk of cattle. He did confirm his statement about the Burgoynes and finding what they claimed as their cattle on his land.

“We saw the Burgoyne brothers” Clem said in the pause that followed Hester’s arrival with coffee. “They treated it as a joke..”

Nate nodded “with malice …”

“I can imagine,” Joe muttered, “but what did you think of their explanation?”

“They gave a reasonable account of where the cattle came from…” Nate said “but I will need to see Ebenezer and also Greigson. See what they can tell us. At present there isn’t much to go on. No proof …no evidence ..”

“The evidence is there alright, sheriff, several hundred head of cattle is evidence” Hoss muttered sounding so much like Ben that Clem actually smiled.

“If they’re guilty I need more evidence than that..” Nate said in his calm way “but I’ll keep on digging don’t you worry none.”

Once the two lawmen had left, Joe urged to Hoss “IF they want proof I know a way to get it …”

“Don’t think up anything foolish, Joe..”

“I don’t intend to, Hoss. All I need is a willing volunteer …come along with me, Hoss, we gotta find a stool pigeon.”
……..

Adam held onto the key so tightly that it was leaving an imprint on the palm of his hand. He thought over and over as to when it would be the best time to use it. His mind seemed confused and befuddled by pain, but concern for Laurence and the other prisoners was also eating him up. He was leaning down to say something to Laurence when the door opened. The smell of fear as the prisoners turned towards it was almost tangible.

Two armed men came and pulled Ibrahim from the huddle of wretches then hauled him away. The last glimpse of him that Adam had was a beseeching, pleading look on a haggard face as he turned to look back at him in the light from the doorway.

Adam knew there was nothing he could do. He bowed his head and closed his eyes while he clutched even more tightly to the key. He just hadn’t been able to summon the strength to help his old friend and accepted the fact that any attempt to have tried just then would have been futile. He was not stupid enough to throw away a golden opportunity of freedom for them all for the sake of one man.

In less than ten minutes the men were back again, and this time they approached Adam.

“Stand.”

With slight clumsiness to his movements Adam rose to his feet. He made an attempt to stand tall, shoulders back and everything else, but the pain of broken ribs, and a bruised body prevented that so he had to bear the rather humiliating moments of being nudged along at rifle point, doubled over and shuffling like an old man.

The room into which he was ushered was very well appointed. Compared to where he had come from, and even to the cabins in which the crew would have slept. It was lavish, opulent. But the sight that demanded his attention was that of Admose, seated on an expensive Louis XIV chair, and dipping his fingers every so often into the fruit bowl that was placed close to his side.

It struck Adam then that Admose was a man who demanded attention and he wondered why he had not noticed that before when they had first met. But then Ebo Fasani was centre stage of the operation then, and of course, Dimitri Doestov.

Adjo inclined his head, and made a gesture to the guards who stepped to one side. It was unfortunate that when the guards released him, Adam stumbled slightly. He managed to retain his feet however and closed his eyes to stop everything swimming in front of him. Adjo picked another grape from the bunch and popped it into his mouth as though he was actually quite bored.

Minutes ticked by, Adam wondered how long he would have to stand or could stand before his legs buckled. It reminded him of his ‘audience’ with Jiang Peng – well, that had ended pretty disastrously and his injured leg felt suddenly very weak.

“Now then, Adam Cartwright – “ Adjo sighed as though he felt very sad to see this man subjected to so much pain. “what am I to do with you?”

“I thought you already knew -”

“Ah, well, true enough. Jihad usually has the same end results. Unless it’s rescinded of course.” he paused and his hand hovered over the fruit bowl, he glanced over at Adam, “My apologies, where are my manners. Some fruit, Commodore?”

He swept a hand over the fruits and smiled, his half hooded eyes gazed lazily over at the American. Adam didn’t move, but remained where he was, his eyes narrowed and watchful.

“I know all about you, Commodore.” Adjo said slowly, and leaned back against the chair as though striking a casual pose.

“Then you’ll know that I’m no longer in the Navy and have no right to the rank and title by which you refer me. I’m just Adam – Cartwright – “

“Very well, if you prefer. I could of course refer to you as Adam Abdul Karim, which is the name my cousin knew you. Ismael and Sa’id El Hassim owe you a lot – sorry – I meant – owed you a lot. Poor Sa’id. His ending was inevitiable of course.”

“Jihad I suppose?”

“Most definitely.” Adjo nodded allowing a shadow of regret to fall over his features, “Ismael will live out his retirement of course, but he’s just a cipher now, worthless. Sa’id – was disposable.” he clicked his fingers and a man bustled in, full of self importance and pomposity as he approached Adjo and bowed. His face fell a fraction when he was told to bring in water for the prisoner but he retreated quickly to do as he was told, returning within a moment with a glass of water.

The glass was pushed into Adam’s handcuffed hands, and very gingerly he lifted it to his mouth and drank, small sips at first, but oh how thirsty he was, only a man when offered water in such a condition in which he was,will realise the extent of his thirst. The water filled his mouth and throat, spilled down his chin and onto his clothes. Adjo watched with wry amusement and then clicked his fingers, the carafe was snatched away and the other man disappeared.

“I know your secret fears, Adam Cartwright. I know exactly what you fear, and I know all your secrets too…the ones you would prefer no one to know about, not even your pretty wife. And she is pretty, isn’t she? I had the opportunity of seeing her when I was in San Francisco. Just a fleeting glance I must admit, and your children – not all your flesh and blood though, are they? Just the little one. Nathaniel – is that right?”

Adam said nothing, although his heart beat faster, and he wondered if Adjo could see the rise and fall of his chest and know that he had hit a vulnerable spot. But, of course, that was what this was all about, wasn’t it? He steadied himself.

“Now, Adam, there’s an old man behind that curtain whom you know well. I suppose we could call him your mentor, or tutor when you came to Egypt a few years ago. You see, this is really a little like a chess game…each question I ask you is a move on the board, each answer you give me is your counter move. A wrong answer – you lose that move and the old man gets a beating.”

“Don’t be ridiculous.” Adam retorted and immediately regretted as Adjo half rose from his chair “It’s a callous cowardly way to act. Ibrahim is a frail old man and -”

“I know he’s a frail old man, but he’s also a crafty devious dog and at the end of this game, either you or he will give me the answer I want…the true answer…”

Adam frowned, sweat was seeping from the pores of his skin, beading in the furrows of his brow, trickling into his eyebrows, he raised a hand to wipe his shirt sleeve over his face, and the handcuffs rubbed against his wrists, the chains rattled.

“Firstly – Willoughby – how much does he know about the talks in Cyprus?”

“You will have to ask him.”

“I’m asking you”

“Then you’re asking the wrong person. I don’t know…anything ..about the talks in Cyprus.”

A snap of the fingers, a swish of a cane and a miserable cry of distress from behind the curtain. Adjo shrugged “You must give the right answer, Commodore.”

Adam said nothing. He closed his eyes. Adjo sat straighter in the chair, his back ramrod straight. “You know nothing about the English plans for the Cyprus talks?”

“I know nothing about anything political. After my encounters with Doestov and various others, I have no wish to be involved ever again. But, you know that anyway, if, as you claim, you know everything about me.”

Adjo’s thin lips parted to expose his teeth, his fingers stroked his beard, the emeralds and rubies on his fingers flashed.

“Here is an easy question for you…what do you know about Sylvia Soames?”

“Very little.”

“Tell me anyway..”

Adam hauled in a deep breath “She’s the daughter – was the daughter – of a man who served as my Medical Officer on board ship. They were estranged and he located her a few years ago. She was married to a relative of Chaille Long who served with other American Officers in Egypt.” he put a hand to his ribs, the pain was getting too much and he found himself unable to take any deep breaths, he didn’t want to talk too much, it would lead to the humiliation of panting like a dog in front of this man.

“You didn’t know her well?”

“Of course not. Why should I? I only met her -” he paused a week ago, two weeks? He couldn’t remember. “A little while ago.”

“Her death surprised you?”

“Of course.”

“You didn’t know she worked for me?”

“No.”

Adjo raised a hand, about to click his fingers then refrained from doing so. He fidgeted a little with his clothing, as though he had reached an impasse and didnt know how to get himself out of it.

“You found the journal with some addresses?”

“Yes. But you told me that the journal was useless, you had someone copy Anna’s writing -”

“The addresses … you saw them and you sent a cable to one of them?”
“Yes.” he frowned, Adjo would surely know the woman was dead, killed before it had reached her.

Adjo allowed a small smile to hover over his lips “Where is Anna now?”

“Anna?” Adam frowned, “Why is she so important to you, Admose? She’s just a woman, a widow, and -”

“She may be all that, but – “ Admose scowled “Where is she?”

“I don’t know.”

The fingers clicked…Adam could hear more lashes coming down upon poor Ibrahim, he winced and stepped forward, his weakened leg threatened to give way so he held his breath and forced his body to control itself. It was far from easy…

“I shall ask you again…where is Anna El Hassim?”

“Look, Adjo, if you know so much then you’ll know that Laurence and I have been searching for her, even though we’re not even sure she is in America, even in San Francisco. She could be anywhere….”

“You know she is in America. Those fools in the hold will have told you that they managed to get her on board a ship – “

“They told me no such thing…”

Ibrahim’s cries were much weaker now, pitifully weak. Adam could feel his chest constrict and realised that if he were not careful he would be weeping, he struggled to maintain some dignity and licked his lips which were already dry from the fever in his body.

“Whereabouts is she?”

He said nothing. For another five minutes the same question, the same non response, the same result. Then he was dragged away and Adjo Admose was screaming that he’d never live to see his pretty wife again, never.

He must have slept or passed out because when the door reopened he had no knowledge of anything having happened since the guards had returned him to the hold. The two warders cast the old man down as though he were a sack of rubbish

The door closed, a lock turned and the bolts were drawn across. Each man listened to the grating sounds and shuddered inwardly. Adam sidled over to Ibrahim, another man came and squatted beside them, and together they gently turned Ibrahim into a more comfortable position. The old man was now hardly able to breathe but he forced open his eyes and looked up into their faces. He raised a hand and clutched hold of Adam’s shirt, forcing Adam to lower his head to hear what he whispered to them.

“They thought I was dead..” Ibrahim hissed through broken teeth. “I heard them ..” a shudder of pain , the eyes closed, no one spoke until the eyes opened again “Khedive Ismael … The Ottoman Sultan has banished him…Tewfik is Khedive now.”

Whispers and sighs from all around …Ibrahim heaved a deep breath “Admose is leaving the ship soon… They are all leaving,..”

There was a ripple of murmurs from the men huddled there, fear clung to them like another piece of clothing, someone was chanting a prayer to Allah. Adam leaned down and whispered into Ibrahims ear “When? Do you know when?”

“No, but soon. Soon…” Ibrahim closed his eyes, sighed and fainted, his arm dropped away and fell upon his chest.

Very gently Adam laid him down, and sat back on his heels. There was no water with which to bathe the old mans face, to help quench what must have been a raging thirst. There was nothing they could do to aid him, and Adam felt wretchedly miserable at having to leave him and return to Laurence’s side.

The old man who had been a doctor wailed “What about us?” which led to further mutterings and groans from among them.

Adam sat closer to Laurence. He nudged his friend gently “They’re going to scuttle the ship” he whispered “They’re leaving us to drown..”

Chapter 44

Hank Myers looked up as Joe and Hoss sauntered up to him. He was in the corral grooming one of the horses, crooning one of his favourite songs to it, and getting lost in the tune himself. But now he stood up, rubbed the base of his spine which ached from so much bending over, and narrowed his eyes. There was something familiar about the two of them as they approached, smiles on their faces, eyes wary… he had seen that look too often before, particularly memorable on the occasion of their ‘help and advice’ during his courtship of his dear wife, Abigail.

“What do you two want?” he muttered folding his arms across his chest.

“Did you hear that, Hoss?” Joe said in feigned admiration, “Hank is so eager to help us out here that he already wants to know all the details.”

“Yeah, guess you were right, Joe. You said we could rely on Hank Myers to give us a hand.”

Joe sighed and stroked his chin, “Yeah, but it is rather a delicate matter, isn’t it?”

“I ain’t getting involved with anything delicate.” Hank asserted, stepping back away from them and lifting a hand as though to fend off evil itself. “Abigail would have my hide if there were any wimmin -”

“What has got into you, Hank? Do you really imagine we would suggest anything that could come between you and your – hum – dear wife?” Joe smiled more widely, and spread his arms out either side of his body, “We wouldn’t dream of it.”

“Sure wouldn’t”, Hoss confirmed with a sharp nod of the head, “Shucks, the trouble we’d be in from Abigail if’n we were to even suggest such a thing.”

They regarded Hank solemnly and then Joe sighed, and shook his head, “No, perhaps you were right in the first place, Hoss. Hank hasn’t the nerve for this kind of job. He’ll just sit back and watch the Ponderosa -” he swallowed a gulp and raised a hand to his eyes, sighed “watch as the Ponderosa is ruined. Then he’ll remember how we needed his help but he just stood on by and did nothing.”

“Yeah, did nothing.” Hoss shook his head and glared at Hank as though he really knew what Joe was talking about, he frowned “You wouldn’t want to do that, would ya, Hank?”

“Do what?” Hank asked now with some reservations, “Look, is something happening, some trouble the Ponderosa is in? Where’s Ben? Ain’t he here yet from his vacation?”

Joe nodded “He was here, briefly. Couldn’t stay long as there were things that needed attention, urgent attention, and he told us -” again a sigh, a gulp and a shake of the head, “that if we needed help, to get you involved, you were – he said – the only man he knew on the whole of the ranch who could help us now.”

“Jiminy. This sounds serious, Joe.”

“It is serious.” Joe replied and his mouth set into a firm line, “Isn’t it, Hoss?”

Hoss quailed under the glare he received from his brother and he nodded furiously, his blue eyes widening as he tried to fathom out just where this conversation was taking them. “Yeah, s’right.”

Hank stepped forward, one hand stroking the neck of the horse he had been seranading a moment ago “Well, what’s wrong? What do you want me to do?”

Joe gave Hank a long appraising look, as though now he was having second thoughts about involving him, but then again on the basis of what Ben had said considering that he had to follow orders. He nodded and beckoned to Hank to draw closer

“Not a word to anyone, Hank. Not even to Abigail.”

“Not even Abigail? But what if she asks?”

“Then tell her something but not what we tell you…understand?”

Hank sighed and lowered his head, ran his hand over his chin, “Wal, I dunno…”

Joe shook his head “Hank, my Pa is relying on you…”

Hank toughened up, he squared his shoulders and nodded “If that’s what Mr Ben thinks then who am I to argue. What does he want me to do?”

Hoss frowned and looked thoughtful, not so much about Hank but more about what his Pa would say having his name used in vain like this. He hoped inwardly that Joe had thought of a good excuse to give Ben should this all go wrong. He looked at Hank who was trying to look up to the job, whatever the job happened to be.

“Well,” Joe nodded “If you’re sure.”

“Sure thing, Joe. Im’ sure.”

“You don’t look sure….”

“Well, I am…” Hank heaved in a breath and puffed out his chest.

“And you won’t tell Abigail?”

“No …” Hank sounded doubtful

“First off, Hank. We have to sack you.” Joe said

“Huh?” Hoss muttered and gave his brother a long questioning look, he received a nudge in the stomach for his pains.

“Huh?” echoed Hank who stepped back a pace.

“It’s part of the plan, Hank. You need to be unemployed by the Ponderosa, and needing another job.”

“I will be, if’n what you say is right…sacking me , Joe? How’m I going to explain that to Abigail?”

Joe nodded “Right, you can tell Abigail that bit… tell her that ..” Joe thought for a moment then snapped his fingers “Tell her you are still on the bankroll but on a special job. Something different.”

Hank nodded thoughtfully, “Is it dangerous?”

“Can’t see how it will be seeing as you’ll only be doing what you’re doing anyway.”

“Huh?” said Hoss echoed by Hank who looked at Hoss suspiciously.

“Look, you’re unemployed. You go into town and have a drink at one of the saloons. You moan about years of service on the Ponderosa and how we kicked you off the ranch for no reason whatsoever. Then when the Burgoyne brothers -”

“The Burgoyne Brothers? You hear about them? They’re trouble, Joe…”

“Nothing that you ain’t handled before, Hank. All you got to do is go up and ask them if there is any work available. Get signed on and work for them.”

“Work for them? Are you sure?” Hank frowned,

“Yep.”

“I don;t know, Joe. Something doesn’t sound quite right to me, you sure your Pa suggested this?”

“No, he didn’t, he just told me – us – to think of someone who had the courage, the – the foresight to figure out a way that would help us out of this trouble we’re in.”

“Yeah, but what trouble is that, Joe?” Hank asked, having gone a shade paler and wondering just what he was getting into.

“Can’t really tell you -” Joe frowned, then noticing that Hank was dithering he nodded “You know some of us have been having trouble with rustlers?”

“I heard…” Hank nodded.

“The Burgoyne brothers may be at the bottom of it…” Joe looked at Hank and realised that telling the truth did wonders, Hank nodded again and looked grim, the thought of anyone stealing from the Cartrights really made him angry, he looked at Hoss and then at Joe

“I get your drift,” he said manfully “You want me to get hired by them so I can find out if they are the rustlers?”

“Yeah.” Joe relaxed, smiled widely and looked at Hoss, “See, I told you Hank was the man for the job.”

“I thought you said Pa said that -” Hoss let the words drift, no point in rocking the boat now that the ‘stool pigeon’ was in the net.

“When do I start?” Hank asked straightening his shoulders and thrusting out his chin.

Joe scratched the back of his neck and grimaced “How about right now…”

“Right now?” Hank frowned and then nodded, “Alright, and you’ll square things with Abigail should she ask questions?”

“No problems there, big man, we’ll make sure Abigail is alright and don’t forget,you’re still on the payroll.” Joe slapped the man on the arm and grinned, Hank nodded

“Alright if I take my horse with me?”

“Sure it is, Hank.” Joe replied generously, “Just keep us informed of anything you find out.”

“And keep safe..” Hoss added for good measure.

Hank nodded again, shook their hands and watched as they turned away to leave him to think over what had been said. At a fair distance Joe and Hoss paused, turned around and watched as Hank led his horse to the stable and a few moments later, saddled and bridled, led her back out again. They watched as he rode out of the yard, and disappeared from sight.

“He’ll be alright,” Joe said confidently, “The worse thing he has to face is his wife.”

At that thought the two of them looked at one another and released a long drawn out sigh of sympathy..
……………..

Soames greeted Ben with more affability than the rancher had expected. Thankful for small mercies he accepted the invitation to step into the house and followed the Consultant into his parlour. It was a pleasant and comfortable room, Ben was not to know the furniture had been rearranged in order to hide over a blood stain. He relaxed and waited for Barnes to prepare some refreshment.

Once Soames was seated opposite him, Ben repeated his condolences upon Sylvia’s death

“I believe they have the body of the man who killed her.”

Soames took a moment to think, as though the whole thing was still too difficult to discuss easily. Ben could well understand that feeling, he was rather struggling with a similar one himself.

“I saw him..or rather, the corpse. Muslim’s have to be buried within 24 hours of their death and they came to collect the body, but Duggan wouldn’t have it released. There was a lot of shouting and hollering going on, so I went to see what was the reason for it all. I had gone to see Sylvia – in their little chapel- she looked – so fragile “ he paused as though he had run out of steam.

Ben waited and was about to prompt the man to speak a little more when Soames did so, jerkily, as though it was an effort. “I recognised the man immediately, he was in a picture that Sylvia had in her room, I always thought a friend of hers.” he shrugged “some friend.”

Barnes came in and set down the tray upon a side table, waited to receive further orders but then left, quietly, when it became obvious there would be none.

“It was a strange thing to happen, wasn’t it?”Soames said as he poured out the coffee into the delicate porcelain cups, “All happening that week your son and daughter in law were here. I suppose they’re safe back home now.” he sighed deeply, “A lovely looking lady, your daughter in law.”

“Yes, she is….”

“Sylvia was lovely too, took after her mother of course…would not have looked half so pretty if she took after me.” he sighed again, and Ben thought once more that he should not have come, the visit achieved nothing for either of them.
…………….

The two men and their guard returned less than an hour later, once again providing a ladle of water for each man there, some bread, and a basket of fruit. No one spoke, but drank deeply, hoped for more, then secreted the bread for later. Their stomachs screamed for food and Adam admonished himself for having eaten high on the hog for so long at home that he suffered twice as much now as a result.

One of the water bearers was nervous, his eyes darted here and there, his foot scuffed at the straw which he examined as carefully as he could without his companion or the guard noticing. Adam noticed and kept his eyes on him as a result, watching the wretch as he passed out the water, handed out the fruit. The man was nervous and afraid, obviously he could not find the key he had dropped, and more afraid of the guard finding out.

For once they returned with more water, a special compensation perhaps for the fact that this could well be the last chance they had to drink clean water. They checked on Ibrahim, and with no thought of dignity or care, grabbed at his arms and dragged him across the floor and out of the hold. The door closed and the key was turned, grated in the lock, the bolts drawn across.

Ibrahim had passed on, far beyond the reach of pain now, far from feeling the loss of dignity or respect. Adam and Laurence listened to a new spate of prayers being offered on Ibrahims behalf, and while the other men prayed Adam opened the palm of his hand and nudged Laurence

“Where’d you get that?” Laurence whispered, his voice less hoarse now

“One of those men dropped it,” Adam frowned, “I didn’t think the time right before now, to use it I mean.”

“We would still need to get out of here – the door – “

“I know.” Adam nodded, “Put out your wrists and once you’re free, unlock mine.”

Such a relief, Laurence felt sweat prickling his back and hair line as he carefully unlocked Adams shackles. His injured hand seemed to hurt less and for that alone he was grateful.

“Now what? Any idea’s?” Laurence hissed.

“Unlock the cuffs on those men…see how they are, what condition they are in…maybe there are still some in decent enough condition to fight.”

“Fight? Are you mad? They can barely stand up…”

“Just unlock their cuffs, Laurence.”

Adam watched as in the gloom he made out the shape of his friend creeping towards the other men, the whispers, the fear in the groans accompanied by the relief as the cuffs were removed.

He walked to the door and waited. He waited for so long that he was sliding down the wall onto his haunches almost in a stupor when the door finally crept open. Just slightly, very slowly.

The water bearer stepped inside, he had a knife in his hand, so was quite prepared for trouble, although he anticipated none. He carried a fire brand in his hand which shone a flickering smoky light around the hold. Anxious faces were like white blotches in the shadows staring towards him…

He had no time to react when Adam brought down the chain upon his back, he fell forward, tried to rise up, but something that even Adam had not foreseen now took place. Where fear robbed men of courage, hatred fuelled it. All the pent up frustration, fear, loathing that was in each man that had been incarcerated there for weeks was now released. The man had no chance to get up, no chance to cry out and had it not been for Adam and Laurence forcing the other men back, the knife he had been carrying would well have been used to cut his own throat.

His hands were cuffed immediately behind him, as were his feet. Laurence helped Adam drag him to the corner where they had themselves been seated. By the light of the firebrand they watched him regain his senses, then the realisation dawn upon him that he was their prisoner and when Adam held up the key between his fingers the wretch gave a groan,

Adam asked quietly in the Arabic (Do you speak English)

The man spat at the American but Adam anticipated that reaction, and had moved out of reach, the spittle passed by. Laurence gave the man a shake, he had a handful of the man’s hair in his hand and gave it a twist, “None of that now, Old chap, just behave yourself.”

Adam murmured (so you do understand English),

The man drooped his head upon his chest and began to mutter prayers and curses upon the infidels. Adam, with very limited Arabic, turned to the Doctor and asked him to interpret for him.

“Tell me what you want to say? I will be your mouth and tongue.”

“Ask him when Admose intends to leave this ship.” Adam asked and listened to the request and waited for a response. The Doctor repeated the question but still nothing but murmured prayers and curses.

“He says nothing, only asks for Allah to burn you forever in hell.”

Adam shrugged “Tell him that it doesn’t matter, whatever happens to this ship will be all the same for him, if it goes down, he goes down with it.”

The man paused as though thinking over what had been said, then the muttering began again, the Doctor shrugged and moved away

“He is a martyr, he doesn’t care.”

“He cared enough for his own skin when he lost that key,” Adam murmured.

“Perhaps he thinks his friends will come and rescue him,” Laurence said quietly, and looked over at the wide open door. “I think we should leave here while we can, and leave him to the rats.”

The Doctor translated something, possibly relating to rats and sinking ships, but he only got more spittle sprayed at his face.

Adam pulled him back from their prisoner, “Are you all strong enough to leave here? On your own feet I mean?”

“We have been prepared to die for many days now, my friends, those who can will come with you, others will -” he gave a gesture with his hands, one of futility and despair. The meaning of which was obvious.

Adam nodded, looked at Laurence before kneeling beside the prisoner and running his hands over him for more weapons. He found nothing, the only available weapon was the dagger he had brought in with him. He was obviously one of the lowest of the low and not privileged to bear arms, even though it seemed he was a martyr to their cause.

Adam flexed his shoulders, rolled his neck to removed some of the kinks and drew in his breath “Right, those who can – let’s leave here.”

Chapter 45

It seemed unnecessarily cruel to leave the wretch bound by his feet so Adam unlocked the cuffs around the man’s ankles and left him. The door was left unlocked so should he have wished to do so, there was a possibility of freedom, all he had to do was get up and walk out.

It was a wonderful feeling to have the fresh air waft down from the decks above them. It was cool and moist and refreshing. Both Laurence and Adam stood for a moment just letting it drift over them until they felt renewed strength rekindle in their bones. Behind them several victims of Admose’s cruelty huddled together, silent, but willing to follow with the same loyalty they had shown Sa’id and Anna.

A slow walk, pausing at each doorway, pushing it open and peering inside…there was no one in any of the cabins. In the distance there came the thud of a door closing upon itself,or knocking against a wall. One door opened to what had been the kitchen area, and the aroma of cooked food was still hanging heavily in the air, making their mouths instantly salivate.

One by one the men inched into the room, glancing over their shoulders, fearful of being caught but so hungry, so desperately hungry that it was more than they could bear to even think of walking pass.

“Poor devils…” Laurence murmured as food was clawed at and shoved into mouths that had lacked proper nourishment for weeks.

“I’m going to look around, Laurence. Make sure they don’t eat too much, it could do more harm than good.” Adam said quietly and then grimaced when his own stomach rumbled.

Laurence sighed and looked at the food then turned to the man nearest to him, placing a hand on his arm and shaking his head but the need to eat to a starving man far surpasses the need to listen to common sense. Reluctantly Laurence turned to follow Adam, trying to ignore not only the pangs of hunger in his stomach but the pains from his wounds.

They mounted steps to the upper deck, where the Captains cabin would be situated. It was here that they found the door swinging back and forth, echoing and re-echoing in the silence. Adam stepped inside and stood looking about him in dismay. Too late … too late.

Laurence could tell from Adam’s slack shoulders and the droop of his head that they would find the cabin empty. He stepped inside and looked for himself, then nodded.

“Looks like the birds have flown.”

The cabin was a contrast to the appearance of the ship in general. It was sumptuous, and the food on the low tables was fresh and appealing. A Venetian glass carafe of water sparkled as it caught the rays of a fading sun through the port hole.

Adam walked over to peer out and then nodded “Just minutes too late – look!”

Laurence came and stood by his side, watched as the ship that was pulling away from the old vessel slewed alongside. Wash from its wake made the rusting hulk bounce as the elegant ship began to take its passengers to their destination. It was a beauty of a ship and Adam’s eyes swept along its elegant lines with admiration and to some degree, envy.

They could see Admose in his robes glancing back over his shoulder at the old ship, the sharp eyes seemed to find the port hole and stare straight into Adams face, and a saturnine smile parted the handsome mouth before he turned away with a switch of his robes. His entourage followed behind him and disappeared

“Adam, why did they leave the water bearer behind?”

Adam forced his mind away from the ship which was now making a stately departure from the side of the Demaris. He frowned and looked thoughtfully at Laurence, who shrugged “I was just wondering…he had a fire brand in his hand…he didn’t need to come for the key…if everyone else was leaving why did he bother to come down to the hold.”

“It wasn’t to rescue us that’s for sure….” Adam muttered quietly as he tried to collect his thoughts “A firebrand, a torch …”

“He didn’t come looking for that key ..”

“No, and they said he was a fanatic, and fanatics are prepared to die for a cause.”

“Do you think…?”

“Yes, I do…”

Both men turned immediately, Laurence paused “We didn’t leave the torch there in the hold, did we?”

“I didn’t bring it with me…”

“Nor did I.”

They looked at one another and Adam nodded “Get the others and go aloft, see if there are any boats on this wreck…I’ll go below and check …just in case ..”

“Of course. Best be on the safe side.”

“That’s what I was thinking…”

They touched hands, almost but not quite a handshake. Both turned to go back the way they came, Laurence diverting off into the kitchen where the men there were still eating, drinking fresh water, nearly weeping with the pain that came from overstretching their shrunken bellies.

Adam hurried as fast as he could in the direction of the hold, but stopped at the sounds that came from the adjacent compartment. A flicker of light shone, a light shuffle of feet, a silent whisper of prayers … he stepped through the door and saw the water bearer with the flames of the torch dancing around his head as though he were already in hell itself. He was muttering prayers as he carefully went from one wooden barrel to another, softly tapping each one, and whenever a dull sound echoed to his knock he grinned, and pulled it to one side. There were four barrels already lined up.

Adam could see exactly what Admose had instructed the man, he had no doubt at all that each barrel contained enough gun powder to blow the frail old ship to smithereens, and the time that it took to prepare it all would give the other sleek ship time to get a good distance away, while Admose waited, watched …

There had been three men too frail to leave the hold, quite prepared to die. Even so Adam cringed at the thought that they would die in such a cruel merciless fashion. He stepped into the shadows, keeping close to the wall and inching towards where the man was waving the firebrand about in such a careless fashion that it was a miracle they hadn’t been blown up before now. A fifth barrel but it was wedged clumsily in between other barrels that may have contained fresh water, who knew or cared what…but it meant he had to use both hands. He put the firebrand down and wrapped both his handcuffed hands around the barrel and began to tug, and pull, and slowly inch it away from where it was caught fast.

Adam reached out a hand, picked up the torch and swung it away from the barrels, out into the corridor and as far from the gunpowder as he could throw it. The lack of light flickering from near him alerted the other man to the intruder, he turned and upon seeing Adam gave a wail of despair.

He had only time for one single cry before Adam’s fist descended on his jaw, and knocked him off his feet. Adam was weak, tired, hungry but he was also angry, furiously so, and as adrenalin and endorphins surged through his bloodstream so he vented his anger upon the wretch until conscience whispered ‘Enough’

He left him on the floor, still alive, still capable of getting to his feet, able to walk away. Instead he chose to remain huddled against the barrel of gunpowder that had remained obstinately steadfast.

Adam grabbed him by the rags of his clothing and began to haul him across the floor. Gasping from the pain of his broken ribs, bent over from the agony of his other wounds Adam finally thrust the Arab back into the hold and this time, bolted the door.

The fire branch rolled from side to side on the floor, it licked at the dirt and accumulation of dust and debris, little flames danced here and there so that Adam had to stamp them out to avoid the slightest trickle of fire tmaking its way to any one of the barrels.

By the time he had finished he was sweating, barely able to breathe, and having to hold onto the wall as he made his way to where Laurence was still trying to get the other men to stop eating.

He turned to Adam as the other man almost toppled into the room. The sound of Adam crashing against a chair caused the others to pause, to turn and to watch. Holding onto his side with one arm Adam hugged into the pain “The plan was to blow us up.” he said quietly to Laurence

“Crikey. The swines.”

“Some water -” Adam flailed a hand towards a flagon of water which was handed to him and which he drank with such wild abandon that water slewed over his face, down his body, but he drank until the flagon was dry and then tossed it to one side.

“What do you think Admose will do now?” Laurence asked, and out of the corner of his eye noticed that the other men had now stopped grabbing at food, and drink, but were using water to wash their faces, taking care to arrange their clothing as though they needed to restore some of their former dignity to themselves.

Adam bowed his head, he didn’t really want to think about Admose, he closed his eyes and struggled momentarily against his inclination to just shut his brain off. He sighed

“He’s waiting for an explosion.”

“And if there isn’t one?”

Adam shrugged, shook his head and ran his fingers across his stubbled chin. He opened his eyes and looked at Laurence, then turned to the other men, the old Doctor stepped forward, nodded

“What can we do to help?” he offered, and glanced at the other men who nodded, accepting their responsibility to be part of this plan

“Were there any boats up top?” he asked Laurence who nodded

“I only saw two.”

Adam rubbed his hands over his face, screwed up his eyes to concentrate, he looked at the men, pathetically emaciated, so frail, so weak. He thought of the barrels of gunpowder, so sturdy, so heavy.

Years ago he had had a ship, a beauty of a ship, called the Ainola. Designed to last decades but destroyed by a wilful cruel act when a fireship was set to sail into her.
That was all he needed now..he shook his head…no, he needed more, he needed the current to be in the right direction, he needed strong men to lower the boat, and he needed men to haul barrels of gun powder into the boat. It was too much to ask, and too much to expect of them.

“We only need one boat.” he said softly and Laurence nodded, stood up and looked at the Doctor, who picked out two men and spoke to them in Arabic, then the three turned and left the room.

Adam heard their footsteps, then looked at the two men left who stood there looking at him, and when he got eye contact with them they nodded, smiled in their poor tragically haggard faces and waited for their orders.

He licked dry lips, felt pain but acknowledged that each one of them felt pain now. He got to his feet and just said “atabaeani.” (Follow me)
…………………..

Adjo Admose paced the thickly carpeted floor of his superbly ornate apartment on board his own private yacht. He was a man of wealth, much of it siphoned from the treasury of his bankrupt country. The fact that he and his co-conspirators had contributed to the demise of a once prosperous country meant nothing to him so long as there was Ismail the Khedive taking the blame. The yacht was just one symbol of wealth that he permitted himself, and one that he intended to enjoy for years to come.

He strolled over to the port hole and looked through, his eyes scanned the horizon, he saw waves and sky, he saw the dark hulk of an old wreck aimlessly tossed about by the current.

A servant in white garments came and set down a tray laden with sherbert and delicacies. Another came to light lamps for soon it would be night, already the sun was beginning to set. Adjo Admose heaved in a deep sigh of satisfaction, and returned to the window.

Soon the Englishman and the American would be dead, their bodies scattered like so much debris over the sea into which they would sink without trace. Along with them would be the other malcontents who had conspired against him. Fools all of them. Even the grovelling fool who had sworn to carry out his last task on earth in order to fulfill jihad ..even he would be no more.

He felt a wave of satisfaction well up within him. Life was good. He would be able to control Tewfik because the man was without a political bone in his body, he would turn the talks in Cyprus into disorder and disarray. He would prove to the Infidel Governments that he was the natural leader of a new Egypt. There was, of course, the small matter of Anna El Hassim and her offspring. But that was all under control, he knew where she was, and his loyal confidante Ali Mohamed Pasha was already on his way to deal with the American woman.

Everything was going just as he had hoped and had planned all those years ago with Ebo Fasani.

He walked back to the port hole and looked out in the direction of the old hulk, the sun would soon be setting, he had ordered the explosion to take place as soon as darkness had descended. It would look like an inferno against the blackness of the sky and sea…just wonderful, just perfect.

Chapter 46

The ship had been anchored and the Helmsman had secured the wheel, The Damaris had been rendered a prisoner much like the men in the hold below. Adam reached the section in the hold where the gunpowder had been stored before he turned to the other two men. Knowing they understood English he gave them brief instructions – to go into the hold and see if the men they had left there could be removed safely and taken to the boat.

The two men glanced at each other and one, Ikram, asked politely what was to be done with the wretch that had intended to bring about their deaths? “Tell him he can come with us, if he can walk, or face the consequences.”

Ikram and his companion, Jameel, glanced at each other again, bowed their heads and shuffled away, leaving Adam to prepare the fuses to the gunpowder. If Admose wanted a ‘big bang’ then he would get one, but not with his hostages blowing up along with it.

He had thought about taking the ship for himself, steering it back to the mainland, but he knew Admose would come after him and there was no chance that they would escape. Then he had thought of putting the gunpowder in the boats, setting them adrift and timed to explode but there was no one of them strong enough or able enough to manhandle that quantity of gunpowder in that number of barrels to the boats, get them into the boats and then hope the current would carry them far enough from the Damaris before exploding.

With gunpowder there just wasn’t room to take unnecessary risks or chances. Even misjudging the speed a fuse takes to ignite the powder could mean that none of them could survive the explosion. Adam rubbed his eyes with the heel of his hands, shook his head and forced himself to concentrate.

He found the bung hole to the barrels quickly enough and by removing one confirmed what he had suspected when a trickle of gunpowder trailed out onto the floor. By the door the flames of the torch flickered eerily, casting shadows that put him on edge. He removed the bungs from the remaining barrels and watched as the gunpowder leaked out.

He groped behind and around each barrel in search of the ‘slow match’, the slow burning fuse of hemp or cotton rope that would be needed for this form of controlled explosion. He could not find one and sat back on his haunches looking at each barrel. The slow match should surely have been stored along with the gunpowder, it had been a form of fuse used for hundreds of years, musketeers from of old would use it for their guns, seamen would use it for their cannons…

Jameel shuffled from the door and touched him on the shoulder, which caused him to jump to his feet so fast that his head spun. Seeing the apologetic expression on the mans face Adam asked if everything was alright with the other men in the hold,to which Jameel said slowly and in halting English that one only had the strength to come with them. One had died since and the other – he glanced at the gunpowder and sighed. There was no point in saying much more about him.

“How’s the prisoner?”

“He is dead, yes, quite dead.” Jameel nodded and held out his hand in which he held the required fuse. “He found it – amusing – that you did not have fuse – but now you have.”

Adam said nothing but took the hemp rope and nodded “Go up top, the boat should be ready for you to get into…” he paused “your companion needs food and water”

Jameel nodded, and shuffled away. Glancing down at the length of fuse in his hand Adam estimated that it had already been measured to accommodate the time and speed at which it was to be used. All he had to do was attach it to the first barrel, light it and go.

He didn’t waste time thinking about Jameel’s statement about the dead man, or even if, in fact, the man were dead. He just needed to get this job done.

He uncoiled the fuse, walking backwards until he reached the door and reached for the torch. Along the corridor he played out the rope, removing anything that would be a hazard or obstacle to the flame that would soon be dancing its way to the gunpowder barrels.

He had reached the steps leading to the upper decks when Laurence appeared, his injured hand held against his chest as he leaned forwards

“I’ve got them in the boat…taken food and fresh water, and Dr Fahd has grabbed some medication. Everything alright here, Adam?”

Adam dropped down the ‘slow match’, nodded and looked at his friend “Get into the boat, Laurence. Start lowering and get away from here as fast as you can…” Laurence paused frowned “Go on… do it…move..”

“But, Adam…”

“I’ll be right behind you.” he paused “You do know how to lower the boats, don’t you?”

“Of course…” Laurence said in offended tones.

“Then go and do it then..”

“You will be ..”

“Go and do it!”
……………

Dr Fahd insisted on helping Laurence release the mechanism that held the boats on board the ship. It was a simple operation but Laurence was hampered by his injured hand and other injuries, his vision was blurring, the sky was darkening, soon it would be sunset and pitch black.

They stood in the boat as it hovered over the side of the ship, and then slowly hand over hand they let the ropes slide downwards, it jerked along for a while, then seemed to speed up, causing the injured men within to gasp and wail. Slowly it steadied up, leveled out and recommenced its descent.

It hit the water with a resounding splash, bounced for a moment and then settled upon the waves which caused it to gently rise and fall. Laurence looked up the side of the old rusting ship and prayed for the face of his friend to appear but there was no sign of Adam Cartwright and with a groan he reached for an oar and pushed the boat away from the ship’s side.

A man called Basir opened his eyes and gave a groan of despair, he gazed to the sky and prayed that he would see a vision of heaven before he died, instead he saw a man reach out and grab for the rope that dangled from the goose necked davits. His yell brought Laurence’s attention immediately, so that he did the only thing he could to help and that was to grab at the other end of the rope and draw it towards the boat.

Once Adam’s feet touched the boats thwarts, he yelled “GO! GO!”

Laurence pushed away from the boat with the oar, Adam found the other oar and slipped it into the oar lock, Laurence did likewise and together they began to row the boat away from the Damaris.

It was difficult, clumsy and several times Laurence nearly lost his oar altogether, his one good hand was able enough but his injured hand caused him agonies. Try as he might he couldn’t stifle some moans slipping through his lips and several times he had to release his hold altogether, praying that the oar wouldn’t slip out of the oar lock and leave only the one which Adam was plying as hard as he could.

Dr Fahd clung to his small package of medication, going over and over in his mind the things he had found, and what would be best to help these two determined men. He glanced over his shoulder and saw the dark outline of the Damaris upon the horizon. In the fading light she passed as an elegant ship, as once she must have been when her keel first touched water. He stared at it and thought of the friends who had died upon it during the past week, the utter waste of life, the cruel way they had to lose it.

Adams thought processes were shot to pieces, he couldn’t think, he couldn’t function except to grip the oar and to keep the blade dipping into the water and dragging them away from the ship. His friends’ moans irritated him. He wanted to tell him to shut up and just get on with the job. He wanted to just – just go to sleep.
…………………..

Admose drank raspberry flavoured water, and ate some sweet pomegranite. He stood in his state room on his ship and looked thoughtfully at the painting on the far wall. It had cost him much money but now he wondered whether or not it was worth it. He had only purchased it because its value would inflate and be worth double in a few more years. Apart from which Khedive Ismael had sought to buy it, which had been reason enough to snatch it from his grasp. He wouldn’t need it now anyway.

He noticed the room darkening and smiled…by his reckoning there would soon be an illumination brighter than the moon and far more gratifying for them to see. It was a pity he was going to be viewing it alone…he thought of Fasani, of others who had died due to the interference of the American and Englishman those few years ago…and there had been the betrayer who had played false to them all, Dimitri Doestov.

He strolled over to the port hole and stared out into the darkening sky, the moon was dipping the horizon, the sea waters were black like oil – he watched and waited.
………………..

Ben Cartwright closed the hotel door behind him and stood for a moment staring at his reflection in the window beyond. He slowly removed his jacket and flung it over the back of a chair before going to the chiffonier. It was the European style of furniture, and accommodated a tantalus from which he took the decanter containing some brandy. He poured a measure into a glass and carried that, with the decanter in his other hand, to the chair.

A waste of time really. That was all he could think of now, that this trip to ‘Frisco was just a total waste of time. What had he accomplished? Nothing at all.

He sipped his brandy and stared at the fireplace in which no fire burned. Too warm for that now. Wrong time of year. Where was Adam? The thought turned round and round in his head, where was his son?

He had been tempted to go and see Martha but refrained at the last moment because Adams disappearance would have worried her, made her fret, which was unfair given her present condition. He thought of Soames who had lost his daughter in such a tragic manner, and felt sympathy for the man, because he was very much afraid that he was about to lose his son – except that he didn’t know how, where, not even why.

He wished he had stayed on the Ponderosa instead of chasing after thin air! He could have gone to see Burgoyne, and, of course, Joyce. He poured himself another glass of brandy and wondered why she had returned, had she only pretended to love him all those years ago? Had she returned to punish him, because all the time she had blamed him for Toms accident, for the cruel way she had been treated by her husband?

Old men get maudlin when alone …he poured out another glass of brandy.
……………….

Olivia lay awake in the bed with one arm stretched out beside her so that she could feel the emptiness there. She didn’t want to think of him gone, because then it led her to ask – gone for how long? She could have wept when the children wanted to know when their father would be back and she could not tell them.

She could feel the tears now, hot and wet, welling up beneath her eyelids. She had no feeling, no desire to wipe them away. ‘ Let them fall,’ she thought, ‘let them fall. Without Adam I’m empty. A shell. How can I function without him….’

The door opened slowly and her heart started beating so fast it nearly stifled her. The thought immediately in her mind “Adam’s home…he’s home..”

Pitter patter across the floor as little feet padded their way to her bedside, a small hand reached out to touch her face “Mommy? Is Daddy home?”

She couldn’t speak, give any reply to the little boy who had been disconsolate all day. She rolled onto her side and reached out to him, pulled him up onto the bed and held him close to her.

What a relief to have this little body to hold onto…it was reality. Why torment oneself with fears and doubts about which one knew nothing. Nathaniel settled in as close to her as he could, his feet were cold, his face was warm against hers “Daddy home now?”

“Soon.” she whispered “He’ll be home soon.”
……………..

Laurence dropped forward, his head was reeling and he was swaying too and fro on the thwart of the boat. Fahd’s hand, gentle but firm, reached out to support him.

“Can’t – “ he croaked “No more -”

Adam squinted his eyes and stared at the horizon, the moon shone down and he could see ripples where the waves trickled westwards. A darker shape that he had never stopped staring at bobbed up and down. He tried to swallow but his throat was too dry, he coughed, retched, coughed again.

And then there was the great boom that drowned out any other noise. Then another. For seconds nothing else changed until before their eyes the Damaris disappeared in a plume of fire, flames reared up and swallowed up the clouds and the moon, in scarlet orange and red fire. As the ship groaned and writhed in her death throes the waters about her foamed and frothed.

Everyone there watched as red hot metal flew like mini meteors into the sky, the ship sunk into herself, collapsing, gathering her self inwards and then another mighty explosion the heat of which those in the boat could feel upon their skin.

Were they far enough away? Was there enough distance to prevent them being pulled into the vortex, the whirlpool that would be created as the sea gathered her up and pulled her down. Would their frail little boat containing such frail humanity survive?

Laurence slumped forwards, whatever was going to happen would happen without him being witness to it. Fahd placed a hand upon his shoulder, and watched with watering eyes as the ship was slowly swallowed up.

The sea was in foment. Hissing now from the heat of the flames, boiling and bubbling around the wreck as she sunk down

Adam Cartwright watched as it went down, his eyes turned to watch the sea, to notice further danger, and to wonder if any of them had the strength within them to master it.

Somehow he doubted it very much.
………………..

Adjo Admose took in a deep breath of delighted satisfaction. It would have been far better had he been able to share this moment with others, flesh and blood instead of those ghosts from the past.

He had had to close his eyes to the brilliance of the explosion, and had opened them to enjoy seeing the pyrotechnic display of the dying ship. He had felt his own ship bounce upon the waves as the Damaris went into her death throes. He felt purged, he gloried in the feeling.

Chapter 47

Life on the Ponderosa slipped into a form of normalcy. The children went to school, and Hannah tasted life beyond the safety of family and the security of the Ponderosa around her. Bridie returned to Virginia City, to her husband and the Hospice/shelter that had become part of her life’s work.

Anna was finally strong enough to come downstairs with her baby daughter in her arms, whom she nursed, sang to and set down to sleep like any other mother would do.

Ben remained in San Francisco. He had one thread to which he clung and that was the hope that the Viking Queen would return to harbour bearing both its owner and his son. He haunted Duggans offices to the extent that the Marshall asked if he would like to take on some duties as deputy while he was there. It was a mild reminder to the rancher that his son may have been of paramount importance to him, but to Duggan and the Law Enforcement officers Adams disappearance was just one of many cases that needed attention by them.

Hank did such a good job of acting the part of a disgruntled ex employee of the Ponderosa that he got several offers on ranches in the area. But one evening when quite drunk he managed to convince the Burgoyne boys that he wanted to get as far from the Ponderosa as possible and if they had a job then he was happy to take it. They hired him that night.
…………..

Hester and Olivia were chatting together as they carefully attached another patch to the latest quilt they were working on. It had been Mary Ann’s day in town to help at Bridie’s hospice and Ann Canaday had long forsaken the weekly gathering although she did upon occasion share a few hours with her cousin, Hester.

Anna was watching them as she nursed Hadassah, and smiled when Olivia looked up and caught her eye. It seemed to Olivia that motherhood suited the woman, she had filled out even in the few days since Hadassahs birth and looked the attractive young woman she had been when Sa’id had first seen her.

“Anna, you never really told us what brought you here, to the Ponderosa. Why didn’t you go to England and join Rachel and her family there? Surely it would have been safer for you?” Hester asked bluntly as she squinted with one eye in order to thread some silk through the eye of a needle.

Anna nodded and looked at Olivia and then at her baby, she shrugged her shoulders very slightly and smiled “I am an American, by birth. I just wanted to come home.”

“But you’re not home, are you?” Hester pointed out and stabbed at the material with her needle.

“No. a long way from home in fact.” Anna sighed and looked at Hester who could be quite formidable when she chose to be, and at this instance, Anna felt that Hester was exceeding her boundaries.

“Just tell us what it was like for you, Anna. We are so far removed from politics and foreign events that it is hard to imagine that anyone would want to harm you or your baby.” Olivia smiled reassuringly at the other woman as she plied her needle along a straight edge and pulled the silk along

Anna composed her thoughts as best she could for so much had happened recently that even she did not fully understand. Hester put down her needle and patiently waited while Olivia continued her sewing knowing that Anna would speak when she felt she had something to say.

“I had some very good friends who had served Ismael, Sa’id and I for a long time. I trusted them implicitly and when Dr Fahd told me that I was expecting the baby – well, you can’t imagine how overjoyed we both were, Sa’id and I. It was not long afterwards that the Banker Faisel came and he brought with him Ibrahim Abdullah Aziz who had been a friend of Adam Cartwright – your husband, Olivia.”

Olivia said nothing to that, she was tempted to say ‘I know who my husband is, thank you’ but refrained. This was Anna’s first attempt to tell them what had really happened. She smiled and nodded, a sufficient prompt for Anna to continue with her story.

“Ibrahim had always been involved in what I thought of as the seamy life of politics surrounding the Khedive. I don’t mean by that, that he was a bad man, just that he kept his ears and eyes open and his finger in every pie that was existent there…it was he to whom Sa’id and Ismael would look to for advice. To be honest since the affair with President Grant and all that happened then, Ibrahim Abdullah Aziz was just about the best friend one could possibly have had..” she drifted off then, her mind wandering back to past times when the old man had saved her husband and his cousin from some political misdemeanour or other in the past.

“What happened?” Hester prompted, just in case Anna drowsed off as she had been prone to do when feeding the baby.

“He warned us that we were in great danger. We had to get out of there as soon as possible as the faction that had been involved in the attempt to overthrow Ismael was back in force. He said they had more political strength now, being recognised by various nationals as possible alternatives to the Khedives rule. This must seem very strange to you, Americans don’t have kings, princes and Khedives…”

“Oh well, we still have men in charge who make the most colassal errors in judgement just that they have different titles .. like Presidents and Vice-President and various other .. probably not that much different really” Hester muttered in her usual forthright manner.

Anna smiled indulgently and frowned before continuing “We were going to leave for Tripoli and wait to see what would happen but Sa’id got an urgent appeal from Ismael and chose to go there but Ibrahim told him not to – he felt it was a trap. My husband had never forgotten how he nearly had betrayed Ismael and he vowed he would never do that or be put in a position where he could – so he didn’t believe Ibrahim and he left me – and then they came and told me how he had been murdered.”

She shivered, a tear trickled down her cheek and Olivia hurried over to give her a handkerchief and pat her hand. The baby turned almond shaped black eyes to her and then returned to sucking hard as though she might be having her last meal and needed to make sure it was a good one.

“Faisel and Ibrahim were wonderful.. My husbands brother in law came, before Sa’id’s death became common knowledge, and with his authority behind him he was able to get me out of the building and the town. He had papers that would provide me with an identity, and some money to pay my expenses. His wife had collected as much of my personal things as she could – she was such a dear soul. We were good friends. She never once resented my marrying Sa’id, an American woman replacing her husbands’ sister.”

Hester sighed and put down her needle and the material, they settled in folds within her lap as she stared into the far off space imagining some tale from those exotic far off places. It was somehow hard to believe it was not just a story, but the terrible events that ended Anna’s life of ease and happiness.

“So you go on the ship – for Tripoli?” Olivia asked, feeling the need to get the story moving along before her friend got totally lost in a day dream

“No, we were betrayed. Someone was waiting for me on the ship..I had to rely on others to help me. Dr Fahd came with Basir – and others – they told me that Ibrahim and Faisel had been captured. My brother in law and his wife, their family, gone – who knows where – they told me that my enemy was a man called Adjo Admose.”

She stopped there and looked down at the baby who was now sleeping at her breast. She sighed “They did all they could to help me. I was shunted from one place to another and then Basir and another man, Jameel, got a ship to Cyprus. It was Fahd’s idea because there was going to be a big meeting of French, English politicians. It was their hope that I could reach them, tell them what had happened and save Ismael – but it was too late. Admose had got his men there before us. I was marooned there, Fahd, Basir, the others – all disappeared. “

“Would they have killed you, Anna? If they had found you – would they really have killed you?” Hester asked, clutching her hands together and forgetting where she had left her needle until it jabbed into her thumb

“Without any thought or care. They are ruthless. Heartless. I had to bribe people – by the time I managed to get onto a ship for America I had given away most of my jewelry. But for the time being I was safe…or hoped I was…I would have boarded an English ship
but when given the choice I wanted my baby born in America. I spent most of my time alone in my cabin. I didnt dare to venture outside too much, just in case Adjo had his spies out for me. All the time I wondered where will I go, where will I be safe? I only knew this ship I was on would take me to San Francisco. I knew no one there, I was – I felt – so terribly alone, and frightened. I was sea sick. I couldn’t eat…I thought we were never going to get to land.”

She cleared her throat and shivered again, the memories of that time were not good, tears trickled down her cheeks and she dabbed at them frantically “It’s silly to cry now, when I’m safe but now that I can talk to you about it all, it all seems so real, so awful. Living through it each day was like a dream..unreal..too unpleasant to be real..and the fear that Admose could reach out and pluck me back, kill me and the baby…” she blew her nose and they watched as she struggled to get herself ‘together’ again.

“One night I was thinking of Rachel…she had fallen in love with Adam Cartwright, or rather Adam Abdul Karim. I must admit he did cut a handsome figure as an Arab, but anyway, I was thinking back to that time and then it occurred to me…of course, go to Virginia City, find Adam Cartwright, I knew he would help me. And that was how I came to come here…”

“Had you no money left? Nothing?” Hester asked, remembering the miserable condition the woman had arrived in.

Anna leaned back into the chair and closed her eyes “By the time the ship had docked I was ill. I left the ship and collapsed on the quayside. They thought I was drunk, a woman of bad repute as the expression goes. No one helped. They walked around me. I was ignored. Someone snatched my bag of clothing from me..” she shivered “Oh you can’t imagine how I felt, I couldn’t believe that my own countrymen could treat me like that, but that shows how irrational I was…there are many different nationalities there, in that city. I had managed to keep the box with the most importance papers in it, and some few things, a little money. A doctor helped me, but I had to pay him for the medicine. I was at my wits end.”

The two women had stopped their stitching to listen to her tale. They looked at one another, then back at her. She nodded “Well, so many years living like a Queen, it does no one any good you know, it robs one of incentive and initiative. I was like some kind of fool wondering what to do, losing time. Then one day I had reached the stage where I thought I would soon have to get a begging bowl out like so many others, when some women passed me. Muslim women – and they looked at me and whispered to one another. I thought they had recognised me, and if they did, would they help me? But no, they looked again and then hurried away. I know what a long arm Adjo Admose has…I knew it was time to find Adam Cartwright. So – I came – “ she stopped then and wiped tears away from under her eyes. “I want to thank you for all your help, Olivia. Hester.”

“Adam would have expected it from us.” Olivia said simply

Hester nodded, rethreaded the needle and resumed her sewing. For a while no one spoke and then Hester said very quietly “Do you feel safe?”

“While I am here, yes, I do.”

“And where will you go when you leave here?”

“I don’t know. The family house was sold up when Rachel married Laurence. There seemed no point in keeping it on. What do you suggest?”

“For a start.” Hester replied snipping the thread with her scissors “You need to change your name . That Admose will know your maiden name, he isn’t stupid by the sound of it. Anna Forster is – the woman he knows married Sa’id El Hassim.”

“I hadn’t thought of that.” Anna replied sheepishly.

“Nor had I.” Olivia admitted and looked at her sister in law with admiration “How clever you are, Hester.”

Hester grinned, her blue eyes twinkled mischievously, “Well, not really, you would have thought of it eventually. But I think we need to make up a new name for you, Anna, and a new one for the baby.”

“But, I like Hadassah, it has special meaning for me…” Anna cried

“Keep it as a second name, but it is too eastern Egyptian or whatever you like to call it for her to be safe. Pick something more American…or Irish…”

Olivia nodded and looked at Anna, then at Hester “I think that’s very sensible. It’s a protection for you and her, Anna. Her birth can be registered here legally as well. She will be an American citizen, and the legal papers will have your name on it…whichever name you wish to choose.”

“And the papers you have of her true lineage will be safe here. No one will know until you need them.” Hester smiled at them both and was more than pleased to get a nod of acceptance from them

“And then we need to think of where you can live…there are plenty of properties available round about here.” Olivia said quietly.

“I can’t afford -” Anna sighed and her shoulders drooped, she shook her head “I can’t – “

Olivia clapped her hands and stood up “I have an idea….so for the time being don’t think anymore about it. We will get you a new name…and establish you as a person of that name here. And then…we will see…and when Adam gets home -” and if her voice trembled just a little her friends made no notice of it “he will think of all the other details I may not have already.”
……………………

Sofia was very proud of being ‘in charge’ of her little cousin. The fact that Rose Canaday had more rights to that claim than she was beside the point. Rosie was a nice girl but she had been a town girl for a while and had town friends, so now that Sofia was to look after Hannah, Rosie had sought out her old friends and resumed them. This suited Sofia and Hannah very well.

“More Cartwrights” David Riley had groaned when he had first met Hannah and he had rolled his eyes and dug Jimmy Carstairs in the ribs.

Tommy Conway had offered Hannah some toffee and a toothy grin, while Philip Bellshaw had wandered off in search of more convivial company. It seemed to Reuben that the glue that had kept the Gang together was slowly becoming unstuck.

Jimmy Carstairs had problems of his own, and had been very withdrawn. He had not even seemed interested in listening to Reuben’s problems but looked distracted and lost in a dream of his own when Reuben talked about his Pa, and San Francisco.

“Your Pa will be alright.” he had said eventually

“How do you know?” Reuben stuck out his bottom lip and scowled

“Because he always is…Mr Evans reckons your Pa is one of the hero’s of this territory. Him and your Uncles.”

“Hero’s get killed though.” Reuben whispered disconsolately.

“Your Pa won’t…anyway I’ve things to worry about of my own.” Jimmy sighed and stuck his hands in his pockets. “You know my Ma is going to marry Mr Evans.”

“Is she? I didn’t know that? Gosh..”`

“Yeah, reckon so. They hold hands you know and – and -” he gulped and blushed “the other evening I saw them kissing.”

“Aw, shucks, that’s awful. Weren’t you sick?”

“Not quite, made me feel – well – it made me feel sick. Imagine it? My Ma and Mr Evans.”

“You’ll have to change your name.”

“No, can’t. Won’t.” Jimmy shook his head.

“I did ..I kept my real surname as my second name…you could do that too…”

“David Riley thinks it’s stupid, Mr Evans and my Ma. He reckons I’ll be teachers Pet because I’m going to be the teachers kid…shucks, Reuben, it’s a real mess.”

“what are you going to do?”

“I dunno.” Jimmy shrugged his shoulders. “Run away maybe.”

“Run away?” Reuben whispered and shook his head “You can’t do that, think of how unhappy your Ma will be.”

“She ain’t thinking how unhappy Im going to be when she marries the school teacher.”

Reuben nodded, he understood, he could remember how he hated the idea of his Ma marrying Adam Cartwright. Hated the whole idea, hated him, hated living on the Ponderosa. But then he had only been young, a little boy. He was grown up now. All of ten years old getting on for eleven.

He and Jimmy trailed around the yard, hands in their pockets and heads down. Jimmy was full of the prospects for the future, Reuben was full of the memories from the past. Annie Sales came up and offered them both some candy but they just walked past her as though she didn’t exist.

“Jimmy, you can’t run away.”

“I can.” the other boy thrust out his chest, and his eyes glinted hard like glass

“You can’t….remember you telling me about your sister? The one got sick and died?”

“I thought you would have forgotten that…I told you not to mention it…it’s a secret.”

“I was just thinking is all. Your Ma was so unhappy about that, wasn’t she?” he looked at the other boy who finally nodded, kept his head down so Reuben couldn’t see “Well, think how unhappy she would be if you run away?

“It might stop her marrying him though”

Reuben shook his head “Nah, he’ll find you somehow, and bring you home and he’ll be the hero then.”

“You reckon?”

“Yeah.”

“Alright then. I won’t run away just now, perhaps in a few years time…I’ll run away to sea.”

“Will you?” Reuben’s voice went up an octave “Really?”

“Yep. I’ll go and be a cabin boy.”

“We could go together you know? You and me? We could be cabin boys together?”

Jimmy grinned and turned to face his friend, he stuck out his hand “Shake on it!”

“You betcha.”

Hands were shaken, the deal was struck. They grinned, slapped each other on the back, and ran off hollering and halloo-ing around the yard, leaving Davy Riley and Phil Bellshaw wondering what on earth had got into them both. Hannah and Sofia shook their heads and held hands and whispered little secrets that little girls have…

The sun shone, the bell tolled, lessons were to recommence.

Chapter 48

It took twenty minutes for the Damaris to disappear beneath the waves and to leave the inky blackness looking as though nothing so catastrophic had happened at all. The waves were shallow and slow moving, breaking up the spangles of moon shine upon its surface. The onlookers in the little boat were too tired to notice as one by one they succumbed to sleep, exhaustion had finally robbed them of any sense of wariness or caution. Not one had the capability to remain awake beyond the second when sleep stole upon them and plunged them into blissful slumber.

Adjo Admose retired to his sumptuous bedchamber and disrobed slowly. The selected concubine for the night arrived at the time arranged. Life seemed to have settled into the channel he had nudged it, and his sense of satisfaction and justifiable vengeance made him feel supreme.
………………..

The men in the boat slept on, rocked back and forth by the gentle current of the sea, huddled together and free of shackles at last, free to sleep undisturbed.

Laurence slept slumped over the oar, and his head cradled within his arms. Every so often he would moan as though wherever sleep had taken him, pain still trickled into his dreams. Adam had fallen asleep so soundly that he had almost fallen overboard, had it not been for Basir and Jameel grabbing at his belt in time he would have had a rude awakening before being able to enjoy any sleep at all. He slept sprawled over the thwart of the boat, one arm cushioning his head.
…………………….

Adjo Admose woke up with the moon beaming through the port hole of his state room, and the bed empty. He lay for a while trying to regather the threads of his dream and wondering why the sensations of pleasure and success had faded to be replaced by feelings of panic and dread.

What was his dream? For a man of his nation he was naturally superstitious, always looking for signs and omens, and the importance of dreams was paramount in their beliefs. Look for the meaning in your dream and it was as though god had spoken to you personally, all would be revealed, the good, and the bad..your success or your failure.

He sat up and stared into the shadows of the room, morning was coming, he had to know what his dream meant. There were decisions to be made, important decisions of his future, of his nations future.

He had dreamt of fire, not surprising since he had spent time watching the Damaris burn into the sea. Then he was sitting in a dark room and someone was laughing, mocking him, and there was a chess board. He saw himself seated at the table, the chess board before him and smiled to himself because he could see exactly how he was going to win this game. It was so obvious.

Someone said “No cheating now.”

He reached out a hand and made his first move and smiled, looked up at his opponent who leaned forward out of the shadows and he was looking into the mocking brown eyes of the Commodore. His first feeling of panic. The American made his move. Admose stared at it and frowned. It was not the move he had anticipated his opponent to make, when he had sat at the chess board he had known exactly how the game would be played but now…he forced himself to stay calm, to stare back into the brown eyes as they bore into his, then he lowered his gaze and looked down …

He struggled to regain the dream but someone was hurrying into the room, his adjutant Amram El Sabatok. He raised a hand, he had to know the rest of the dream but Amram was now by his bedside, making his deep bow of obeisance so that the thread was broken and he turned to look at the wretch “What?”

“Mahmoud has not returned to the ship….”

“Mahmoud?” Amrose frowned, who was Mahmoud among all the men who served him just who was he?

“We waited in the dinghy for as long as you advised, but we could wait no longer …the explosion happened even before we were able to reach safety, but Mahmoud never came”

“Never came? But he had plenty of time to set the fuse, to get to the dinghy. You are sure you waited for right amount of time?”

“Most sure, Mighty One. We waited even longer than we should have done after all, Mahmoud is – “ he swallowed and lowered his head “was my cousin.”

Amrose clasped his hands together, entwined his fingers, felt the rough edges of precious stones between them, felt that touch of panic again. “Mahmoud was an expert at this task, he would not leave it too late unless – “

His mind grappled through various sceanario’s..perhaps an accident? The fuse was too short? He frowned, there had been a long time, longer than he had expected, from the time they had left Mahmoud and the explosion. He remembered even wondering if the man had failed, that something had gone wrong..but the explosion had happened, there had been plenty of time for the man to leave the ship, board the dinghy and return.

An accident he told himself, that was what happened, surely what happened. He closed his eyes and put a hand to his brow in order to concentrate upon his dream a thread of which was even now unfolding before his eyes. They were nearing the end of the game, he picked up a piece and saw his hand shaking as he placed it down upon the board and then he heard the American laugh, saw him pick up the last piece and place it down, pick up the piece he had set down and then whisper “Checkmate.”

He flung back the silken sheets and almost fell out of bed, “No,” he shouted “No!”

Amram stepped back, often when Amrose was angry things were thrown, usually at him! But Amrose did nothing, he stood there, mute, quiet and deadly calm.

“Turn the ship back. We return to America. And anything in our way we will pass right over them.”

……………….

The men in the boat woke as the sun rose, each one bleary eyed, yawning and surprised that they had slept at all. One man had died during the night, and Adam was surprised to realise that the poor victim had been comparatively young. In the gloom of the hold, and the events of the night he had not noticed but now watched as Fahd and Basir folded the man’s ragged clothing over his broken limbs to provide him some dignity in death.

“He was the brother of Sa’id El Hassim’s first wife.” Fahd told them, “A Prince among men. A good man. Very loyal to Sa’id. He was the one who warned us of the danger to Miss Anna, and tried to get her to freedom. Admose treated him more cruelly than the rest of us because of knowing this, you understand?”

Adam asked if he had resented Sa’id marrying an American girl, but apparently he had not, being liberal minded and quite in thrall to the cadre of American officers that Grant had sent to assist Khedive Ismael, who was also the young mans relative.

Adam and Laurence sat in respectful silence as prayers were said over the deceased’s body and he was cast into the sea. The waves rose up to greet him and covered him over as though he had never existed at all.

“And the sea shall give up those dead in it ..” Laurence whispered softly and bowed his head, and sighed deeply.

Adam nodded his Amen to that and looked up at the sky, then scanned the horizon for a sight of Admose’s ship, but she had disappeared from view entirely. No matter in what direction he saw nothing of her.

Fahd now opened up the box into which he had put the medical supplies and began to rummage through it, finding suitable ointments, salves and medication for all their ills. He redressed Laurence’s hand with the correct splints and bandages, and bathed the wound from the dagger that had slashed his chest. He used sea water for that procedure which brought a yelp or two from Laurence and most others who required their wounds cleansed.

Food was a miracle, in that they had refrained from devouring everything edible in the kitchen before they had reached the boat. Now Jameel provided fresh water, fruit and bread, raisins and nuts. Some meat and fish was handed around, merely mouthfuls, but for men who had eaten so little for so long it was more than adequate.

Adam now turned his attention to working out a route back to San Francisco. He could remember the constellations sufficiently well to navigate a rudimentary direction. The boat was carefully turned and very slowly, probably even leisurely, he and Laurence rowed in what they hoped was the right course. Without compass or sextant available, and no maps, Adam had to rely on memory and instinct.

The men talked among themselves, and Adam and Laurence had a passing anxiety as to what else they had stowed away from the kitchen apart from food. What knives or butchers implements good for use on two infidels whom they could very well consider their enemies now. They kept one eye on their ‘passengers’ until reassured that no harm would befall them ..not immediately anyway.

The old Doctor Fahd was very talkative, he gave Adam and Laurence a potted history of each man there, including the reasons Admose considered them to be enemies. Mostly the stories were the same, they were loyal to Sa’id and Ismael, and had done all they to protect Anna.

The sun was hot, its reflection upon the water bounced onto the men, all of whom were still suffering from their wounds. The euphoria of escape and freedom was rapidly fading with the monotony of doing nothing. For Adam and Laurence it was becoming ever more of a nightmare to pull at the oars. Laurence still had trouble having really only one hand so that at times the blade barely touched the water at all, and Adam found his focus meandering from the task in hand.

Everyone was dehydrated, in pain and wretched. At noon time the food was handed around, a handful of this and that swallowed down by fresh water. It was barely enough
to sustain a child but no one dared to comment knowing how little food still remained. After they had eaten neither Laurence nor Adam could muster the strength to pull at the oars, instead they leaned upon them, and slipped into sleep once again.

Chapter 50

Debris from the Damaris was floating to the surface now…odd bits of broken furniture, the remains of another boat, some oars. Constant small reminders of lives that had once existed in the little ship before the gunpowder blew it all to smithereens.

The people in the little boat looked at the items dispassionately, after all it had no personal connection with any of them, apart from the misery of imprisonment, torture, starvation for weeks, and the loss of friends.

“Let’s get out of here” Adam murmured to Laurence, “Try our best to put as much distance away from here as possible.”

Laurence closed his eyes momentarily, perhaps praying for some extra strength from somewhere, and then straightened his back, tossed back his head as though to throw off any obstacle, and put his hand to the oar.

Fahd leaned back against the side of the boat and did his best to control the tiller. But the sea rose and fell, his breathing became laboured, his head sagged forward. One of the other men took his place, gently moving the old doctor aside to do so.

Adam could see them from the corner of his eye. He wondered how many of them would still be alive by the time they reached San Francisco. He glanced over at Laurence and could see sweat already beading his brow, tricking down the side of his face. The man was in pain, and Adam knew that it wouldn’t be long before he also would have to stop rowing.

The old Doctor was not so frail as to miss noticing that the two men were suffering, and carefully rummaged about among the medications he had looted from the Damaris. He tapped Adam on the knee and held out a bottle of laudanum, nodded encouragingly as he glanced from Laurence to Adam again. “You have need – take it -”

It took some moments for the medication to work, but it was a relief when it did even though it only masked the pain, and did little to help with the weariness. They laboured on, pulling against the current, pulling further and further away from the shattered remains that had seemed to follow in their wake.

“A ship – a ship”

“There – over there -”

The excited cries of the men stopped the rowing, they leaned on the oars and hauled in deep breaths. Rescue? Relief? They looked at one another and smiled, their eyes recognising the hope in the each other. Adam leaned forward “I think I know where Anna is…”

Laurence smiled, he nodded “Yes…we could have found her …”

“Got distracted.” Adam sighed and bowed his head, “Do you think she would still be there?”

“Expecting a baby? Widowed? Where else would she go?”

“Hmm” Adam nodded, smiled and hauled in a deep breath, he was about to speak when Basir tugged at his sleeve and pointed to the ship cutting its way through the waves towards them.

They both turned their heads to look back at the ship, Laurence smiled and nodded, convinced they had been saved. Adam swallowed a gulp, grabbed at the oar and shook his head “Row, for Pete’s sake, row -”

“But -”

“It’s Admose’s ship…”

“How do you know? It could be someone else – come to see what the explosion was about and -”

“I saw the ship, I saw Admose go on board. That is his ship and he is heading here, and Laurence, he isn’t coming to rescue us, he wants to make sure we’re dead!”

“How do you know that? How can you possibly know that -” Laurence was almost crying now, hope had been shattered, it lay like broken shards in his brain and he felt despair well up within him. It couldn’t all end like this, it wasn’t fair, it wasn’t right.

“Because I do.” Adam snarled, and began to push at the oar, aware of a wind rising from the south, the ship bearing towards them, the whispered prayers of the sick men sharing the misery with them.
……………………………

Mary Ann Cartwright closed the door and sighed with relief, then tossed her hat onto the bureau where it settled down beside Hester’s. She smiled as she stepped into the room and looked at the three women there, “What a day – Bridie was out delivering a baby and we had to deal with so many people wanting this and that!”

“Well, you were the one you suggested the Hospice in the first place.” Hester said, looking up and smiling as the younger woman stepped forward and slumped into a chair.

“Well, it’s doing what we wanted, helping those in need.” Mary Ann said with a sigh.

She looked over at Anna and smiled, before turning to Olivia “Have the children been good?”

“They always are,” Olivia replied, removing her glasses in order to pinch the bridge of her nose, which reminded her of Adam and felt a pang in her heart as a result.

Mary Ann sent her sister in law one of her sweet smiles, and gratefully accepted the lemonade that Cheng Ho Lee had poured into a glass for her. “Thank you, Cheng Ho Lee, you make the perfect lemonade.”

“Don’t let Hop Sing hear you say that, “ Hester laughed which made Cheng feel rather smug, and he returned to his domain feeling more than content with his lot in life.

“Mary Ann – we have had a discussion – the three of us.” Hester turned to Anna to indicate that she was the included No 3, “Something we felt was quite important considering what Pa told us about what was going on with this Adbo =”

“Adjo,” Anna said quietly.

“Yes, exactly.” Hester nodded and sighed, she glanced over at Olivia who had risen to her feet and looked as though she were about to start pacing the floor, which made Hester feel nervous. “Do sit down, Olivia. You look – all nervy and it is putting me on edge.”

Olivia sat down and sighed, she placed her glasses back on her nose and pushed them higher, then blinked at them all and waited for Hester to continue. Mary Ann put down the glass of lemonade and wondered where her children were, it certainly seemed very quiet in the house.

“Mary Ann, we – that is – well -” Hester paused, frowned “Anna is changing her name. We all thought it safer for her if she completely changed it.”.

“I thought she was going to return to her maiden name -”

“It wouldn’t be safe enough.” Hester said quietly

Olivia nodded and leaned forward slightly “Sylvia Soames changed her name from Sylvia Long, but that didn’t protect her from Adjo. He still found her and had her killed.”

Mary Ann nodded and looked thoughtful “ I see what you mean. He would know Anna’s name before she was married would have been Forster.” she sighed “What a very unpleasant person this Mr Adjo is, Anna.”

Anna nodded “You have no idea just how unpleasant my dear, I hope you never have to find out.”

“So what are we to call you – what is this new name…”

“A new name has to come with an identity.” Olivia said seriously and once again removed her glasses, she was beginning to really hate the things, “This man seems capable of finding out all sort of things and if a Mrs Molly Smith and daughter just popped up out of nowhere he would start scratching around to find out just who she was and where she came from =-”

“I see. A clever man as well as unpleasant.” Mary Ann murmured and sighed “Well, what – if you don’t mind my asking yet again – is this new name?”

“Morgan Phillips.” Olivia said and put her head to one side to see what reaction that would receive

“Morgan Phillips?” Mary Ann shrugged “Who is – or was – Morgan Phillips?”

Hester leaned forward, she felt rather like a school teacher frustrated by a very dull student “Morgan Phillips is Olivia’s sister in law, she was married to Booth. Don’t you remember?”

“Oh yes, I do – why Morgan Phillips? And didn’t she remarry?”

“She did, but -” Olivia frowned, “Well, why would a widow arrive in Virginia City wanting to get to the Ponderosa ? Think about it, Mary Ann? There must have been people at the depot who will remember Anna arriving and demanding to get here…”

“To see Adam -” Mary Ann replied slowly, as though that was a major consideration

Olivia shrugged, and slumped back into the chair. She looked at Hester who nodded and resumed the conversation “Very true. But Anna was in a pathetic condition, and most people know Adam more than they would Olivia. Mary Ann, you are being deliberately annoying.”

“I don’t mean to be..I am trying to think along the lines of Mr Adjo, that’s all.” Mary Ann replied and her shoulders slumped, “What do you think, Anna?”

Anna gave the younger woman a smile and nodded “We tried various ideas, but this seemed the most plausible. Morgan Phillips was a widow, and no one now knows where she is – so why should I not arrive in town looking for my dear family in my hour of need? I am a real person, and if Adjo has to scratch around for information he will find it in San Francisco, where Morgan disappeared out of sight and mind -”

“But her husband died years ago…” Mary Ann said quietly

“True enough,” Olivia said “but as it stands just now, Anna is happy to become Morgan, and I have given her all the details she needs to provide a history for her.”

“And what about Hadassah? Has she been renamed too?”

Anna nodded “She has – she will be called Anna.” she smiled “We went through a lot of names but if someone were to call out my name of Anna then of course I will respond to it, won’t I? But if I have a child of the name , it won’t be so very strange will it?” she glanced at Mary Ann who was looking thoughtful “Imagine I am walking down the street and someone calls out Anna, I shall naturally look to see who has called me, after all, I have been Anna for a very long time….but if I do that now, I can always say I thought they were referring to my child.”

“It’s just a temporary thing,” Olivia explained, “Just in case there are people prying about who would want to harm Anna and the baby.”

Mary Ann nodded “I think you are right, it’s very practical.” she frowned and looked thoughtful, before standing up and straightening her skirts, “Several of the women asked about Anna today, not by name, they just asked how the woman was who was looking for Adam, and whom Bridie whisked off so quickly. They were just curious, we’ve known them for a very long time now, and there was nothing unusual about their enquiries really, they knew you were expecting a baby, Anna, and they are always interested in babies…”

“So you do think it a good idea then?” Hester said with a hint of relief in her voice.

“Definitely. I just wish though that Pa would get back home. There seems so much going on just now….” she glanced at Olivia and put a hand on the other woman’s arm “and you know how much I wish Adam were here, Livvy.”

“I know.” Olivia said quietly and offered up a little smile which Mary Ann accepted by kissing her on the cheek

“Well, I had better gather my chicks together and get on home. Joe should be home soon.” she smiled and gathered up her bonnet which she arranged on her head “You do have the children here, don’t you, Livvy?”

The two women wandered off to claim their respective children, all of whom were happily playing in the garden that Olivia so carefully tended and was now maturing wonderfully. Erik was asleep, curled up contentedly on the wooden bench beneath the arbor of yellow roses. Hope had Constance in her lap, they were carefully building stones up into neat little piles and then knocking them over again. This seemed to have great appeal for Constance who giggled more and more each time the tower toppled over, and clapped her hands, demanding more from the ever patient little girl.

Daniel and Nathaniel had been busy playing with the new toys that Martha had sent them. A little zoo had been carefully arranged around the rocks and plants in the garden, and further away was the railway station with the little train waiting for its passengers…they were totally engrossed in their play and when Mary Ann clapped her hands and called for her two to come home with her she was quite disappointed by the chorus of protests from one and all.

As she picked up her little girl Mary Ann turned to her friend with an anxious look on her face “Do you really think that man would come all this way to hurt Anna?”

“He came all the way to San Francisco to kill Syvia…and to ..to take Adam away” Olivia replied quietly, keeping her eyes downcast so that Mary Ann would not see the misery in them, “I don’t doubt him capable of anything.” she sighed “You know he arranged to get another person killed who lived in Maine…”

“But – Anna -”

“He’s looking for her because of what her child represents…even though the baby is a girl, she could still be useful to a ruthless ambitious man like him. If she were not useful then he would dispose of her as easily as you would dispose of a -a grasshopper eating your plants.”

“It’s just that – that it frightens me, Olivia. Knowing that there is someone with that much power- and cruelty. I hate thinking anyone would want to hurt a helpless woman and vulnerable infant for any reason.”

Olivia slipped her arm through that of her friend and together they walked slowly back to Mary Ann’s buggy, Constance jiggling up and down in her arms, David trailing along behind calling out goodbye to the other children.

“I don’t suppose he would come here personally,” Olivia said softly, “After all from what Pa says in his cable the wretched man is – is way out to sea now, but he would have no hesitation in sending one or two of his men to do whatever he felt was necessary.”

“It’s horrible, Olivia. I don’t like even thinking about it…” she paused by the buggy and carefully placed her daughter onto the seat, then helped her son, “I wish she had never come.”

“I wish we had never gone to San Francisco. I don’t intend to ever go there again.”

Mary Ann nodded, sighed and took her seat inside the buggy, after another wave of the hand, she turned the horse round and was soon making her way out of the yard onto the main track to her own home.

Olivia watched her go, then returned to the house where the sound of a baby’s cries reminded her that Anna’s daughter was alive and well, and very hungry.
…………………

Davy Riley wasn’t impressed when Jimmy announced that he and Reuben were going to run away to sea one day, and become cabin boys on some grand ship.

“Don’t be daft.” he retorted, “ No one in their right senses would want to run away to sea. Even your Pa didn’t do that, Reuben.”

“He was too busy, but my Grandpa did before he got the Ponderosa.” Reuben replied and scowled at Jimmy for telling people what he had thought was their secret.

“I’m going to go too,” Sofia said with her nose in the air, “I’m going to be a cabin boy too.”

“That’s plain stupid.” Davy replied with a dismissive shake of the shoulders, “You can’t have girl cabin boys.”

“Can too.” Sofia replied with her eyes opening wide and beside her Hannah said “Me too, I will be a cabin boy too.”

“What a joke.” Tommy laughed outright, “Girls can’t be on board ship, my Pa told me that girls and women get thrown overboard because they ain’t worth nothing but trouble.”

“So!” Sofia retorted with her hands on her hips and her lips pursed for trouble “Just how would you know that

“My Pa read it in a book, so there, Miss Know it all.”

“Well, your Pa read it in the wrong book, and he’s wrong and so are you, and you’re mean too, Tommy”

Davy chortled, and slapped Tommy on the back “Good for you, Tom”

“And you’re stupid too, David Riley.” and without pausing for breath Sofia slapped the grinning face of the lad bringing gasps of dismay and horror from the onlookers and a howl from Davy

He put up his hand to slap her back, then stepped away as she stood there with her fists curled ready to fight back. Hannah was aghast, blinking furiously to keep tears at bay. Reuben stepped over to his sister and pushed her to one side, “It’s alright, Davy, she didn’t mean it.”

“I did.” Sofia yelled “I did mean it.”

“Keep quiet you nit wit.” Reuben turned around to face his sister, “You’ll only get into more trouble.”

“Well, he’s wrong, that’s what he is, he’s wrong…girls can be going on a ship …and I’ve been on Daddys ship so I should know…” she was almost weeping now, the whole logic of the problem had gone right over her head as the expression goes, all she knew were her hurt feelings, and bruised pride.

“That was different..” Reuben hissed and grabbed at her arm, pulling her away from the group who stood back to let them pass

Hannah ran behind them trying to catch up, someone yelled “Cry baby, cry baby.” and she promptly burst into tears which brought about a fresh chorus of laughter from Davy and Tommy and a few of the girls. Reuben was mortified, Sofia was fuming, Hannah dismayed …`
………………

The oar slipped out of the oarlock and despite Laurence’s attempt to grab at it, it was of no use. It floated out of his reach faster than he had been able to move. He glanced over his shoulder and seeing the ship drawing closer, just closed his eyes and folded his head in his arms.

Another man had died while they had been rowing. In just an hour it seemed as though they had achieved nothing, but in that hour the old Doctor had given up on life and life had left him as a result. Adam stopped rowing and waited for the inevitable prayers, the casting of the body into the sea, and the slump of despair that would overshadow the remaining victims.

He looked back and sighed, and then gently put a hand on Laurence’s shoulder knowing that the man felt wretched at losing the oar, but also that the Englishman had given his all, he was totally spent.

Chapter 51

Laurence was full of remorse and kept his head bowed in his arms as though by concealing his face from Adam he could ignore what was taking place around him. He longed to be home with Rachel and the children, warm and comfortable in the big sitting room with the fire roaring up the chimney, shadows flickering over the spines of a hundred books that lined the walls behind him.

He tried to capture the scene in his mind and block out the reality of what was happening now. He could smell the wood burning, even the whiff of damp dog as Rufas. his red setter. padded into the room and settled with a belch of a sigh at his feet onto the Stuart tartan carpet

“Rachel…” he whispered and swallowed back the sob in his throat.

The wind was building up and the sea was breaking into faster higher waves, the little boat bounced, swayed and began to rock from side to side. The sound of moans from the remaining men gathered in volume as they prayed and clung together. Water was splashing over the sides and pooling at their feet.

“It’s alright, Laurence.” Adam said very quietly and placed a hand in his friends shoulder, “You’ve nothing to blame yourself, you did your best …”

“It wasn’t good enough though, was it?”

“Well, we didn’t really know our enemy, did we? Not until it was too late …”

“All these years …I’d never even thought about Ebo Fasani’s gang of thugs.” he frowned and raised his head “Charles never mentioned that there was a holy war assigned against us. Guess it shows how patient the enemy can be at times.”

Adam nodded and cast a glance over his shoulder to where the ship could be seen still bearing down towards them. He wondered if Admose would have weapons on board and whether or not he would fire a shot at them. After all the trouble of trying to escape being blown to pieces, it looked as though Admose could well achieve his aim after all.

“Do you think Admose knows where Anna is now? “. Laurence murmured and turned his blue grey eyes towards Adam who nodded then shrugged

“We could be wrong, of course …”

“I doubt it.” Laurence wiped his face with his good hand, ” Once I knew she was expecting a baby everything fell into place…where else could she go? The Ponderosa was the only sanctuary she could go to, you were the only person in America she could have trusted”

Adam nodded and gripped the oar, useless now of course. “It seems so simple a solution….”

“Too simple do you think?”

“No, not really. Pretty obvious really …” he turned his head, frowned, something on the horizon had caught his eye and he strained in an attempt to see it more clearly.

Laurence looked as though he were about to collapse his face was grey and haggard, stubble bristled over his jaw and chin, his fair hair was lank and greasy but still flopped over his brow.

The other men had stopped their praying. Some moaned but all appeared on the brink of passing away altogether. Adam narrowed his eyes in order to see that something ..but his eyes were blurring, sea and sky were losing their definition, merging together. Laurence groaned and slipped lower into the belly of the boat

Adam raised his hand to touch his companion by the arm and then everything drifted into one glorious purple mist into which he willingly surrendered himself.
…..

Adjo Admose stood beside the helmsman with his eyes fixed upon the debris that was still visible upon the surface of the sea some distance away. He stood with his hands gripping tightly to the smooth wooden rail that ran the perimeter of the bridge, his knuckles were white from the tightness of his grasp and his features were graven as though in wood.

The Officer in Command stood nervously beside the man who controlled all their destinies. He had been amazed at Adjo’s insistence upon turning round to return to the site they had left hours earlier. As a high ranking officer he had served Adjo for many years, he knew how important the conferences in Cyprus were and time was ticking away on what he considered to be a whim, a superstitious nonsense.

Adjo could feel the eyes of the ships Captain boring into the back of his head. If he had the knowledge on how to captain the ship he would have had the man thrown overboard for insulting him by firstly refusing to turn the ship and secondly in dismissing Adjo’s orders as based on foolish superstition, like an old woman…Adjo’s nostrils whitened as he remembered what had been said. He would not forget!

But he had to know, he had to be sure … He had been so confident when the explosion had taken place, so exhilarated by it all and then upon wakening overladen by the intense feeling of loss, depression, an awareness that he had overlooked something.

It had been the dream, he realised as he had left his bed and pulled on his robes around him. The dream …he closed his eyes in an attempt to recapture it, because like many of his culture and race he believed dreams were often sent by the gods as warnings, portents, and this particular dream was exactly that…

“No cheating now, Admose..” a mocking voice, Admose had frozen, his hand still hovering over the board.

“Commodore Cartwright?” he had almost whispered the words

The voice had been taunting him and he had woken up with his brow beaded by sweat, his heart beating so fast he could barely breathe.

So now he had to make sure, and to do that meant turning back whether the Captain of the ship liked it or not. And as he reached for a telescope to search the vast seas for confirmation of his dream his hand trembled, just a little, but it was enough.
………

“Captain…that ship seems to have stopped its approach?”

“Has it?” Captain Harold Williamson trained his telescope towards the ship lying to starboard and frowned “odd, I thought she had come on search for survivors too. ”

“Looks like a private yacht, no doubt seen us and feel it better to leave the job to us.”

Williamson sniffed and shrugged “what are her markings? Seems to me that she’s a foreigner?”

“Yes sir, markings indicate she is – ” a pause as O’Niell peered down his telescope “Egyptian, sir. ”

“No name?”

“Can’t make it out, sir.”

Williamson scowled, muttered about putting it in the log and scanned the sea with keen eyes that had been scanning the sea for years. He had been Captain of the S.S Atlanta for ten years and if anyone had asked him if he had ever met Commodore Cartwright he could have recalled the occasion quickly to mind. He noted the debris floating in the water, tossed by the waves, and shook his head regretfully

“That was some explosion, O’Neill, doesn’t look as if there are any survivors.” he shrugged and was about to turn when he saw the boat some distance off. He raised the telescope and after a moment nodded to himself as though confirming the decision he had made in his mind “Turn to port, looks like there are some survivors after all.”

O’Neill glanced to where Williamson was pointing, nodded and gave directions to the helmsman. The Atlanta slowly turned and began her way towards the frail little boat with its few remaining passengers.

“Sir, the Egyptians turning…looks like its intending to leave the area.”

Williamson shrugged, and pointed to the horizon “Looks like another ship coming our way”

.”Approaching at about …ten knots. A schooner. Nice lines on her, sir”

Williamson nodded and wondered what a pretty looking vessel would be doing coming along so fast, “Must have seen the explosion and come to help.”

“British markings, sir.” 0’Neil peered trough his telescope “The Viking Queen.”

“Get the shutterman to send a message…if she’s here to help we could just get on our way without having to lose time picking up waifs and strays.”

“Don’t you want to know what happened, sir?” O’Neill grinned, he was still young and keen to enjoy anything that disrupted the dull routine on board ship

Williamson only shrugged “Not particularly. Just send the message.”
…….

Adjo Admose watched through his telescope as the American ship turned through the debris of the Demaris. He could also see the sleek white lines of the schooner heading towards where the explosion had taken place.

He leaned forward and felt the bitterness of defeat…not that he was sure of that, it was only the dream and feline instincts that prompted him to even consider the possibility of the American surviving..but not knowing for sure left him drifting in indecision. He turned away, snapped his fingers … there was nothing he could do now about the matter, his presence was expected in Cyprus.

If Cartwright was still alive then so was Jihad .. There would be another time, another place.
………

Salway took note of the signal being flashed over from the Atlanta and sent one of the crew to run up the flags and deliver a response. He didn’t mind that the other ship was leaving them to the task of searching for survivors, after all, his mission wasn’t a salvage one, it was far more personal.

He had seen the Egyptian ship and pondered over her likely interference. Friend or foe? He had no way of knowing but seeing the ship turning away he felt a sense of relief. If Lord Willoughby were not one of the survivors then it would be too personal an issue for he had known Laurence since the man had been a boy, and he not much older.

Evans came up and saluted “The Captain of the Atlanta sends his regards, sir, he’s heading back south easterly.”

“Good. Send him our thanks. Tell Brewster to keep to port…I saw a boat yonder.”

Evans nodded, hoped for all their sakes that something positive would come from this mess, after all he was only assuming the explosion…and it had to be an explosion to have lit up the sky as it had …was actually the Demaris.

Williamson sent a message acknowledging Salways and wishing God speed. Salway watched the big ship veer away but continued to follow the course towards the little boat being tossed by the waves, adrift in that big grey sea.

He noted the Egyptian ship moving swiftly away to its destination, he was close enough now to the Atlanta to exchange a salute to the Captain on the bridge. He noted the time and wrote down brief details into the log.

They were nearing the boat now … It was Evans who yelled “People on board, sir”

“Dead or alive?”

“Too early to say, sir.”

“Can you – ” a deep breath and start again “Can you see how many…anyone we know?”

“Aye..looks like five bodies. One is Lord Willoughby…”

“And?”

“And the American, sir.”

Salway drew in another deep breath. He looked over at the boat as it drew closer. He could see for himself now that the two men were on board…the breeze riffling through their hair, stirring their clothing which he noted were ragged, blood stained. He felt his heart drop at the thought that he would be bringing aboard the dead, only to consign them back to the seas that was washing over the boats sides.

Chapter 52

Rough hands pulled at them, expediency required haste and haste meant a lack of any gentle handling. The boat was sinking, water sloshing over the sides, it was only a matter of minutes before it would take everyone on board into the sea.

The crew members of the Viking Queen worked speedily to get Willoughby on board where the Medic immediately checked to reassure Salway and himself that the man was alive. As Laurence was now taken carefully to the sick bay the crew began to haul Adam from the boat, hands above reaching out to grab him and lift him onto the deck. The Medic nodded, checked for pulses, nodded again and signed to the crew to take him away. Adam opened his eyes once and wondered why he was moving in such an odd fashion, the sky was jerking, he could hear the smattering of voices, nothing clear or discernible. The smooth rise and fall of the sea was missing. He could only mutter the name “Laurence…”

……….

Hannah was not too sure what to tell her mother about her day at school. Hester was busy untying the knot in her daughters ribbon and asking her if everything had gone well, had she made any new friends and the little girl just stood there, blinking her blue eyes and saying nothing,

“Well, Hannah, did you like the teacher?” Hester leaned forward, hands on her knees, so that she was eye level with her little girl and was pleased to get a nod in reply. “And did you play with the children ?”

“Yes, Ma.”

Hester sighed and frowned “Did anything happen during play? Any trouble?”

Hannah blinked and cleared her throat “Me an’ Sofia are gonna run away and be cabin boys with Reuben and Jimmy.”

Hester absorbed the information and siphoned out the unnecessary fact about cabin boys which was most unlikely to happen anyway, she straightened up

“Who is Jimmy?”

Hannah shrugged “I don’t know. He’s in Reubens gang, and his Ma is marrying Mr Evans.”

“Didn’t you play with Rosie?”

“No, Rosie played with Someone else.” Hannah fidgeted, Hope ran Into the room and gave her sister a hug, “can I go play with Hope now?”

Hester nodded, she had hoped her little girl would bounce into the house full of the news of happenings at school. Her first big venture away from home and family. Instead Hannah had returned mute … she shook her head and listened for a minute to the chatter and giggles of the two girls and tried to remember what life had been like when she had first gone to school…but it was a long time ago and she had had two older brothers who took all the attention from her, and a mother far too steeped in her own misery to bother with her little girls troubles
. ……….

“Mommy, I can be a cabin boy, can’t I?”

Olivia glanced at Reuben who was shaking his head, rolling his eyes and pulling his face into several contortions that he was naive enough to think his mother wouldn’t notice. She looked at her daughter who was standing in front of her with what they referred to as ‘her cross face’. Olivia frowned and looked thoughtful as she tried to think of an answer. It was ‘Morgan’ who replied for her

“I don’t think it is allowed …” she smiled at the little girl who opened her mouth in protest “but things change, perhaps when you are grown into a young lady they will let you. But then again -” she looked at Reuben and winked, “when you become a young lady you may want to be something much better than a cabin boy.”

Sofia thought about that then looked back at her mother “Is it true that women and girls get thrown over board if they go on ships.”

“No, it isn’t true. Who told you such a silly thing? Reuben? Did you tell her that?” Olivia smoothed back some hair from Nathaniels brow, for the little boy was leaning against her paying avid attention to all that was being discussed. Olivia mentally made a note that his hair was too long but secretly enjoying the feel of it beneath her fingers for it felt just like Adams with the way it curled.

“No, I did not! It was Tommy.” Reuben retorted angrily and feeling slightly aggrieved that his mother was seemingly siding with Sofia

“And Davy said I was stupid..” Sofia scowled.

“Well, you are – ” Reuben snorted and turned to leave the room, but Olivia caught him by the arm and spun him round to face her

“Apologise to your sister, Reuben…I won’t have you talking to her like that.”

“But -”

“No but’s -”

“She said-”

“I don’t want to know! Apologise right now ”

“Well she-hit-Davy-and…”

“Apologise” Reuben lowered his head and mumbled something while Sofia waited to see what reaction her mother had to the news about her slapping David Riley.

As soon as Reuben had mumbled his apology he turned to leave the room. He felt humiliated at the whole scene especially as the new comer to the household was sitting there, watching and listening.

“Sofia…why did you slap David Riley.”

“He said I was stupid because Hannah and I wanted to be cabin boys … He wasn’t kind to Hannah”. Sofia twiddled with the hem of her apron, her feet shuffled, and she glanced nervously over at the other woman.

“We have had this discussion before, Sofia. You are not to slap people…it’s wrong.”

“Yes, mommy, I know, I’m sorry”. she blinked her eyes, tried to look sorry but she saw the twinkle in her mother’s eyes and rather wondered if Olivia would have slapped Davy too had she been a little girl and being called stupid.

“Get on with your chores,both of you.” They were dismissed,turned around and hurried from the room.

Nathaniel clambered down from the settee and ran to join them. There were aspects of their chores he enjoyed doing too. Olivia watched as they left the room.

The woman now known as Morgan Phillips smiled and picked up the book she had been reading “Personally I also would have slapped him.”

Olivia could only laugh and agree, but shook her head as she said that Sofia was too headstrong, one day she would slap someone who would slap her back…harder.
………

Adam lay as still as possible with his eyes closed. He felt cocooned with warmth, a sensation of not being in his own body. He kept thinking he was on the Ainola, then reminding himself that wasn’t possible. He knew if he opened his eyes he would know for sure but rather feared that when he opened his eyes he would find himself confronted by Admose! Some trick, some devious ploy of the wretched mans to keep Laurence and himself in captivity.

He felt the motion of a ship at sea, not labouring along like the Damaris had been, but moving smoothly over the waves.

There was no sound within the room although muffled -footsteps, voices, came from without, these trickled round and he absorbed them and tried to make sense of them. But when nothing did make sense he drifted back to sleep or unconsciousness and for some hours the ship continued on its way, the Medic attended his patients, Salway filled in his reports.

After some time had elapsed Salway made his way to Laurence’s cabin where he produced a book to read while he waited for the time when Lord Willoughby would regain consciousness and reveal the mystery.

Chapter 53

The moon slid in and out of clouds, sailing over her domain and shedding down light upon the sphere beneath her. She cared nothing about the lives of those upon whom her light meant life or death, was a silver path upon the sea guiding ships to safe harbour, or a shady shadowy passage where creatures, two or four legged, hid and waited for their prey.

It beamed silver shimmers of light over the beds of the slumbering children on the Ponderosa, some who slept soundly, secure in their world of comfort and love. It drifted like shadows over the crib of a newly born baby ignorant of the tumult her birth could have caused had her gender been other than female. It beamed a softly upon a little girl bunched in a knot of arms and legs as she dreamed of running bare foot across the grassy fields way ahead of the boys trailing behind her and in the adjoining room a young lad dreamed of sailing ships on black seas and a benevolent captain who looked just like his father.

Way out at sea the moon’s beams were scattered by the waves that broke up the silvery path into hundreds of shimmering fragments until they coalesced together again only to be scattered anew as more waves rose up to frolic with them.

Ships swayed to the music of the waves as they ploughed their way to their destinations or put down anchors in order to remain stationary, to linger through the night time hours.

The medic on the Viking Queen rubbed his eyes and yawned. The past hours had been busy ones for him, and now his bones ached and his eyes wanted to close. He had been on his feet tending to the injured and now, as he covered his last patient with a sheet his body was shutting down,telling him, it’s enough …

Salway came into the room that had been used as a temporary ward for the Doctor, and glanced at the body of the man on the table. He then looked at the other man and raised his eyebrows

“Well? What do you have to tell me?”

The other man rubbed his face and stifled yet another yawn, then pointed to the man he had just covered with the sheet “He stood no chance of survival. A miracle he was still breathing when he came on board. Cause of death malnutrition, incarceration, torture…same as the other over there.” he nodded to where another body lay covered nearby “No idea of any identification …there were marks on their wrists and ankles indicating they had been shackled for some time. A miserable existence ..probably death has done them a favour.”

Salway nodded “Best dispose of them right away. They stink as it is, no point in leaving them to foul the whole ship. It’s not as if they can tell us anything. I’ll see to that, Timothy. What can you tell me about Lord Willoughby and his friend?”

“I’ve done the best I can for them both,..” he moved to the door ready now to leave the room and dead occupants behind “They’re exhausted, sleep is the best thing for them now. I’ve stitched up Lord Willoughbys chest wound, it could have been worse, thankfully he must have moved away just in time for the knife to have just broken the upper epidermis. He has been beaten, bruises and abrasions show on separate occasions. The main thing is, nothing life threatening.”

“And Adam Cartwright?”

“The same… he has a strong constitution and from what I saw of his body is no stranger to violence. Sleep, food and a dose of laudanum should he need it.” he yawned, excused himself and mumbled that he really needed his bed.

Salway thanked him and then made his way back to where Laurence Willoughby slept. En route he stopped at a cabin where two of his crew were attempting to settle for the remainder of the night. Neither man relished the task they were assigned but nodded their compliance and were prompt to carry out their orders. There was no one awake or interested enough to pay heed to the two splashes as the bodies were casually cast into the sea. One of the dead had once acted as a Counsellor to the Khedive, regularly sitting in on important meetings discussing matters of state? The other had been a close friend and confidante of El Hassim, a wealthy and pampered life style of ease. Now – they counted as nothing and were thrown overboard as casually as the men would throw away garbage

Salway returned to Laurence’s room,picked up his book and resumed his reading. In less than ten minutes he was sound asleep, his chin resting upon his chest, his snores loud enough to reverberate round the cabin walls. Laurence slept on, unaware of anything, vaguely a dream like fear of drowning drifted into his consciousness and he would groan and toss about until he resettled back into his deep sleep.

In the bed In which he had been placed Adam Cartwright also slept. He was unperturbed by any sound, undisturbed by the moons shining light that played over his bed. The rocking of the boat was soothing, familiar and nonthreatening. He felt no pain, he was even too deeply asleep to dream

Chapter 54

Jimmy Carstairs pushed himself away from the school gate post upon which he had been leaning. He Had patiently been waiting for Reuben to arrive at school and seeing his friend walking towards him with Sofia and Hannah a few paces behind him, Jimmy hurried out to meet him.

Reuben felt his heart sink at the sight of his friends dour face. He glanced at the girls behind him and wished they would move faster so that they could form a group and thereby prevent Jimmy from spilling out all his woes at him. But the girls were loitering, Sofia had to tie up a boot lace, Hannah has to check she had the right book in her bag. Reuben had no choice but to smile and raise a hand in greeting and hope his interpretation of Jimmys appearance was wrong,

“How are things, Jimmy?” Probably the worse thing to say, but best get it over with…sooner better than later

“Worse than you can imagine.” Jimmy put his hands in his pockets, his feet ( new boots Reuben noticed) scuffed dirt up into neat piles before he trod them down again “They get married on Friday.” he sighed “He’s moving things into the house. His things …loads of books, and he said I had to change rooms so he could have mine as his study,”

Reuben could see that this would be a problem, he shrugged and said how that was hard on a fellow, but it seemed Jimmy expected more from him than that, however as Reuben didn’t really know what to say he kept quiet

“You still going to be a cabin boy with me?” Jimmy blurted out, stopping so suddenly that Reuben nearly tripped over him.

“Yeah, I said so, didn’t I?”

“But will you though?”

“Yep, sure I will.”

Jimmy gave Reuben a long look and pouted, freckles stood out on his skin like gold dust sprinkled over cinnamon biscuits “Tomorrow night?”

“What do you mean? Running away tomorrow? Are you serious?”

Jimmy looked dejected, he stared at Reuben a long moment. “Yes…I mean it.”

Reuben shook his head and stuck his hands in his pockets “I can’t, Jimmy, not until my Pa comes home.”

“What if he don’t ? What if he don’t never come home? Will you then?”

Reuben blinked, the thought of his father never coming home appalled him. He swallowed and shook his head ” I can’t leave Ma.”

Jimmy heaved in a deep breath and turned away, his shoulders hunched over and walking away as though suddenly changed into a little old man. Reuben hurried to catch up and walk beside him. “I’m sorry, Jimmy. I thought we weren’t going to run away for a few years yet? You said you would wait..”

” No, you said that…” Jimmy muttered and then turned to face the other boy “You Didn’t mean it anyway…you’d never run away…”

“I Would too,.,”.

“Nah, you’re too well off and comfortable. Sides, you wouldn’t want to upset ’em.”

Reuben shook his head in denial and out a hand on Jimmy’s arm “I would come, Jimmy, I said so, didn’t I?”

“Then why won’t you?” Jimmy said “Tomorrow?”

Reuben shook his head, and dropped his hand away. Jimmy shrugged “Yeah, just how I figured..”

Reuben stepped back, he didn’t feel that he had been fairly treated, Jimmy was misjudging him and it was just plain unfair. But he said nothing, realising even then that there was nothing he could say to improve matters. He watched as his friend walked disconsolately away. Sofia and Hannah reached him now, his sister glanced at him and then at Jimmy who was walking away with head bowed and shoulders slumped

“What’s the matter with him, Reuben?’

“Nothing.” Reuben muttered and shrugged with a roll of his shoulders before striking away to where Davy and Tommy were lounging.

Sofia shook her head and looked at her cousin with a crooked smile “Boys can be so silly,” she said matter of factly.

“Why?” Hannah replied looking at the sad figure of the little boy trailing away on his own and that of Reuben being greeted enthusiastically by the other two lads who recognised a lost sheep returning to the fold

“I don’t know. They just are…”

“I think that other boy looks sad” Hannah murmured “And lonely.”

Sofia regarded Jimmy’s retreating back thoughtfully and nodded, “He’s always sad”

“Always?”

“Mostly”

They looked at one another as though surprised at what the other had said, Sofia nodded “Wait here.”

Hannah nodded and immediately stopped walking , a little girl abandoned amid the jostling crowd of children hurrying into the school,yard.

Jimmy turned and came to a halt when he heard Sofia calling him. At one time it would have given him great delight that Sofia Cartwright was hurrying to talk to him but not now, he suspected that Reuben had sent her so turned his back upon the little girl who had to now run to catch up with him

“What’s the matter, Jimmy?” she stood right in front of him now, preventing him from escaping her.

“Nothing!” he paused “Ask your brother! Some friend he turned out to be…”

“Reubens a very good friend, why say something so mean.”

“Because he said he’d run away to sea with me and now he won’t.”

“Why not?”

“Because he won’t.” Jimmy paused, frowned “He wants to stay until your Pa gets home.”

Sofia nodded and looked puzzled. She looked at the boys sulky face, and gave a little shake of her head “But Pa will be back before ..”

“No, he won’t be,”

“Why ever not?”

“Because I’m leaving tomorrow”

“Tomorrow? But I thought…”

“Change of plan”

“Why?”

Jimmy pursed his lips tight and scowled “Because my Ma is marrying Mr Evans ..and I can’t … don’t want her to.”

“But Mr Evans is a very nice man, Jimmy.”

Jimmy shook his head, resolute. Sofia glared at him but forced herself to stay calm instead of giving into the urge to slap him

“He’s very kind.”

Another shake of the head, he put a step forward as though to push pass her but she neatly blocked him.

“You can’t leave your Ma tomorrow, Jimmy. You can’t be so unkind and mean.”

Jimmy looked up at the sky and felt his insides tightening into a tangled mass, so tight he could barely breath. Sofia watched him and wondered why his face had gone red and his eyes looked as though he were about to cry. She shook her head, and a blonde wisp of hair floated across her face ” Jimmy, your Ma will cry and break her heart if you ran away. Is that what you want? ”

He shrugged and glared at her, tightened his mouth “I don’t care …”

“Then I think you really are a horrible boy …and … and I shall tell Mr Evans and he’ll stop you see if he doesn’t!”

She turned then, whirling away from him and began to run only for him to grab at her arm and stop her “You can’t tell him, Sofia. It’s a secret”

“Not now, Jimmy, Not now when you are being so horrible and going to make your Ma so upset, And I hope Mr Evans marries her and they are happy even if you do go away and anyway my Pa says that little boys who run away to sea are like sprats and get tossed overboard”

Jimmy stood stock still and looked shocked “He didn’t …”

” Didn’t what?”

“Didn’t say that!”

“He did too!”

“Then I’ll lie about my age ..” he spluttered, realising he was losing ground, unsure now of what to say or do in the face of this fierce pretty blonde Valkyrie

“Pooh, you’re so small you don’t even look your age…they’ll throw you overboard as soon as you step on board and laugh at you while you drown and I don’t care if they do because you’re horrible.”

He blanched, his freckles stood out on his face that had gone a strange pasty colour, he blinked to stop from crying. “I wasn’t really -”

But his protest fell on deaf ears for Sofia had turned away and was running back to Hannah who had not budged from the spot even though some older children had run past her and jostled her about so that she had dropped her books. Sofia seized Hannah by the hand and with her nose in the air strode past Jimmy, who stood forlornly alone as he watched the children troop up the steps to the big doors that opened up to receive them.

He felt as though the world had turned its back against him and wondered what to do next. He wanted to turn and run away, but didn’t know where or to whom he could turn. He wanted life to resume as normal, as though he had never said a word to Reuben and that Sofia hadn’t said the things she had because he knew she was right, about his being mean, not about his being like a sprat. He didn’t believe that bit at all. He looked over his shoulder to where the gates remained open, he could walk through them and go home… Or go away…

“James Carstairs!”

He turned to face Mr Thompson the Grade II Math teacher…a grave figure in black, hands clasping his cane in front of him. He was well known to use it frequently on those students he considered to be “Slackers”. Jimmy turned slowly, and made his way up the steps to the door of the building. Mr Thompson followed, his eyes fixed on the boys rigid back, ensuring he didn’t turn tail and run.

Reuben was waiting at the door of the classroom and smiled, the relief on his face at seeing Jimmy clearly etched on his features “Thought you were going to be late.”

Jimmy shrugged, glanced up at his friend and shrugged “Your sister can be really fierce when she wants to be, can’t she?”

Reuben grinned, nodded … It was true after all, what more could he say?

Chapter 55

Hank Myers scratched his chin through stubble and straightened his back. He pushed his hat further back on his ear and stared up at the sun. It was hot and branding was unpleasant at the best of times, in this heat, to times worse. He wished he hadn’t allowed himself to be talked into this subterfuge but truth to tell he and Abigail had not been on the best of terms for a while and he had seized at the chance of a break from her and the arguments. Not that there were really many arguments with Abigail. Just snappy brisk vinegary remarks and long drawn out silences …

A man was approaching him, and he had to narrow his eyes against the glare of the sun to see who it was but couldn’t place him. He was a big man though so he knew it wasn’t one of the Burgoyne boys. He shrugged slightly and wiped around the back of his neck with a bandanna. Then stooped down to pick up the branding iron,

“You’re the new man, aren’t you?”

He paused, then straightened up to turn to the speaker. Now he recognized him. Ebeneezer Burgoyne. The Boss. Hank wondered if Mr Burgoyne realized that he was Boss by name only. The men only seemed to acknowledge orders from the two sons. He removed his hat as a matter of courtesy

“Hank Myers, Mr Burgoyne”

Burgoyne nodded and looked thoughtfully at Hank, “You worked for the Cartwright?”

“I did, sir”

“In fact,” Ebeneezer looked even harder at the other man which made Hank squirm slightly and his inwards churned over. It was that kind of look…”you have worked for the Ponderous for a very long time, haven’t you?”

“I did.” Hank frowned and wondered if this was a good time to pour out some bitter complaints, he cleared his throat.

“So what was the real reason why you left after so many years loyal service? And don’t give me that rubbish you were spouting out in the saloon. It may have fooled my boys but it doesn’t fool me…”

Hank felt the the heat, it made his neck red. He wondered if he would break out in hives later. He cleared his throat again and raised his eyebrows “It was time for a break. Apart from which I was having a rough time with my wife…I got drunk … Said a lot of things I regret now, the Cartwrights are a great people to work for …”

“You claimed they fired you?” That narrow eyed glare again, Hank wilted…

“Well, yes, they did … ” he shrugged “It wasn’t the first time, mind…Joe can get a mite tetchy at times.”

“But you decided not to be taken back into the fold this time?”

“No, what with Abigail…my wife that is …and some other things I decided to make a clean break.”

.”So why did you hire yourself out to us? I understand you were quite in demand from some others…”

Hank nodded, he gave a slight shrug to appear more nonchalant than he actually felt “Well, you’re new here, so I thought you would appreciate an experienced man working for you, a new start for us both …”

Ebeneezer sighed and frowned. He looked a troubled man “Aren’t you a bit long in the tooth for a new start! Leaving your wife, friends …” now he shrugged as though he wanted to be conciliatory but ..

Hank looked at Ebenezer thoughtfully and raised his eyebrows “I should imagine you have a few years on me, Mr Burgoyne, but seems you chose to make a new start yourself , ain’t that so?”

Ebenezer frowned, at one time he would have had the man fired on the spot for his “cheek” but this time he merely smiled, nodded and looked down on the ground, then he glanced up looking more seriously at the cowhand

“I don’t rightly believe you, Mr Myers. You see, the sheriff seems to be of the opinion that there has been some rustling from some of the ranches round about, including the Ponderous. The cattle you’re branding could be the animals the Cartwright claim were stolen from then…aren’t I right?”

“Could be”. Hank muttered with a slight scowl and a feeling he was losing ground.

“After all the years you’ve worked with cattle…do they look like they could have come from the Cartwright herds? Can you tell from their markings? From …anything?.”

“Well, that’s a big ask, Mr Burgoyne”. Hank said slowly. “But .. If they resemble Ponderous cattle that doesn’t mean they’re rustled. Cattle breeders sell the same breed of animals to most of the ranches so there’s bound to be the same markings and sizes..”

Burgoyne nodded and raised a hand for silence “One of the towns vets stopped me today and mentioned a bull called The Big Red…know him?”

“The vet?”

“No, the bull…” Ebenezer’s face flushed, he was getting impatient and Hank, he knew, was not giving him the information he wanted fast enough

“Big Red was a massive mound if bone, muscle and flesh, that’s for sure! I branded him myself when he first came to the Ponderous.” Hank allowed a small smile to slip over his face at the memory, that calf had put up some resistance to be branded alright. There had been quite a tussle and Hoss had been butted in the belly by its massive head and landed on his butt in the fire!

“The vet was telling me that he had trouble delivering one of Big Reds calves …on the Ponderosa…I suppose you remember that as well?”

Hank nodded, after all there was little else he could say, “I had a good look around the herd on the way here,talked to a few hands as well…just to remind them just who is boss and paying their wages..” he glared at Hank before nodding thoughtfully and shrugging ha shoulders “Sheriff Carney gave me the impression that I’d find that critter here – and by Jiminny – I did.”

Hank wasn’t sure what to say least ways what to do, he sighed “Why are you telling me this, Mr Burgoyne”

“Because I think you came here to find out whether or not my boys are behind this cattle stealing. I’m right, aren’t I?”

Hank stared at the water canteen hanging from a post behind Burgoyne shoulder, he frowned a while before realizing the man was waiting for an answer. He was too honest by nature to prevaricate “What do you want me to do, Mr Burgoyne? Would you rather I leave?”

Burgoyne nodded “It may be in your best interests to do so, Mr Myers.”

Hank frowned again and then slowly replaced his hat, “Mr Burgoyne, may I ask you a question?” he licked his lips nervously, “Do you suspect your sons of rustling those cattle?”

Burgoyne said nothing, stared a fraction too long at the other man before turning to walk away, “Collect your money at the house, Mr Myers.”

Hank said nothing to that but watched the big man walk away. He straightened his hat and then turned to slowly coil in his lariat. After gathering it into a coil go he looped it over his pommel, then swung himself into the saddle and made his way to the ranch house.

Theo Burgoyne was in the yard at the house, grooming a horse with a slow rhythmic motion of his arm. He frowned at seeing Hank and when Hank had dismounted he walked over to him, the curry brush still in his hand “Why ain’t you working, Myers?”

“I got fired.” Hank muttered dourly

“What? Again? You sure are having a streak of bad luck, ain’tcha?”

“Looks like it,” Hank replied and made his way towards the house wondering what Theo was really thinking. Joyce Burgoyne stood in the doorway and smiled a welcome to him, “Mr Myers? I thought it was you …” She turned aside to allow him entry into the house and then followed him “I saw you yesterday coming out of the bunk house…took me a while to remember your name though. You married the school teacher didn’t you?”

Hank had removed his hat and now ran his fingers through his hair “Yes, ma’am.”

“Well I’m sure she’ll be pleased to have you back home with her.” Joyce smiled and glanced over to where her husband was standing beside his desk “Please give my regards to the Cartwrights when you see them, won’t you?”

He managed to mumble something before she turned away, smiled graciously at her husband and walked to another room, the door of which she closed firmly behind her.

Ebenezer passed over the salary Hank had earned and then nodded, there were no words said. Hank muttered a thank you and walked away, conscious of the older man’s eyes boring into his back all the way until he closed the door behind him – nothing except injury and pain.

Chapter 56
Hank was more than a little puzzled at this turn of events. As he put his horse into a slow trot he took care to look around him, as though this last opportunity to notice anything would provide him with some information that was worth the deception and the salary he had been paid.
He didn’t really comprehend exactly what was happening, and why Burgoyne was so insistent upon his leaving. Had he given himself away by some indiscreet word or action? But if so how would Ebenezer know about it? He was turning the matter over and over in his head when he saw Max Burgoyne riding towards him. Max raised a hand while at the same time bringing his horse to a halt.
“What’s going on, Myers? You’re a long way from where you should be….” Max spat a gobbet of tobacco juice into the dust and Hank noticed the yellow stain and for some reason felt nauseous
“Your Pa came by and gave me notice – paid my salary up at the house.” Hank said truthfully “I’m sorry if I appear not to have done things right by him, but -”
“My Pa don’t know squit about ranching. I thought I told you that before…” Max scowled, “What reason did he give?”
“No reason really. Just talked a lot about the cattle -” Hank raised his face to look directly at Max, his eyes sharp to notice any shadow of concern or anxiety flicker across the sallow features, but there was nothing.
Max continued to chew monotonously on the quid of tobacco, pushing it from one side of his mouth to the other and scowling, then he shrugged “Oh well, perhaps he’s trying to educate himself, about time he did, after all this is supposed to be a cattle ranch.”
Hank nodded in agreement and shrugged, Max stared at him “My brother know you’re leaving?”
“I saw him in the yard. He knows…”
“What did he say?”
“Nothing- just that I seemed to be having a run of bad luck.”
Max grinned and nodded, slowly, almost a deliberate act which made Hank feel uncomfortable. “Yeah. I guess you could call it that, mind you, there is something about you that don’t quite add up. Something that makes me – itch.”
“Can’t help that, there’s lots of folk I know gives me an itch too.” Hank said boldly, staring the other man out and thinking how puny Max was compared to Ebenezer.
They stared at one another for a moment and then Hank nodded, and moved his horse on, almost grazing past the other man who remained stationary, but watchful.
It wasn’t until he was a good distance away that Hank realised he was sweating. He tried to convince himself it was because it really was hot, but he didn’t fool himself, Max had that kind of effect on people. Hank realised that he really didn’t like Max Burgoyne at all.
………….
Bridie dabbed at her mouth and then set down the tea cup. She was Irish enough to still enjoy her cup of tea, rather than coffee, and stubborn enough to believe that most others would enjoy it as well, if offered often enough. She looked at Olivia and then at Hester,
“Do you think that changing the woman’s name really will help her? Do you think she could really be in danger from this crazy man?”
Olivia put down her cup, it rattled slightly on the saucer because she was rather irritated that Bridie hadn’t accepted their carefully thought out explanation and also because she still didn’t like tea. Beside her Hester (who had drank her tea and refused a refill) smoothed out the fold of her skirt and stared at the rug beneath her feet. She then looked up and smiled at Bridie affectionately,
“Anna – I mean – Morgan believes that she is in danger. The fact that two of her friends have been murdered recently rather confirms her fears, doesn’t it?”
“And not only that, she is convinced that this man had people looking for her at the harbour. She knows him, Bridie, she knows exactly what he is capable of, and now, of course, she has the baby to consider.”
Bridie sighed, and shook her head, “It’s all rather dramatic to my way of thinking. Once she is healthy and strong enough I would have suggested that she just moved on.” she paused at seeing the reaction of the two women and smiled “I can see you have grown fond of her, and the baby, of course, but she would be safer going elsewhere, surely?”
She finished her tea and put the cup down upon the tray, and leaned back into her well padded chair, “If this crazy man suspects that she is in San Francisco then he will soon figure out that she will go to someone she knows…and who does she know? Who did she ask for as soon as she arrived and nearly fell out of that stage coach?”
Hester nodded and looked at Olivia who pushed her glasses further up her nose, they had a tendency to slip down and annoy her. Hester smiled at Bridie “You’re exactly right, Bridie, and that is exactly what we intend to do. As soon as she is healthy and strong enough to move on, we’ll send her to where she will be much safer.”
“I’m glad to hear it.” Bridie frowned, “It’s not as if there arn’t worries enough here as it is, with Ben and Adam away from home, and this cattle rustling business that Joe and Hoss have got themselves involved in. Abigail Myers was here yesterday cursing the day she ever married Hank, and blaming the Cartwrights for everything that has gone wrong in her life ever since.”
She rather fussily brushed crumbs off her skirt (they had had cake with the tea) “I don’t know how your family can get into so much trouble, Hester. Olivia.”
“Nor do we, dear Bridie.” Hester said in her soothing way, while Olivia frowned and fussed about trying to locate her purse. “It’s a mystery, isn’t it?”
Bridie nodded and picked up Olivia’s purse and handed it over to her, “Thankfully I have not said too much about the woman to Tilly because I rather suspect she gossips, and Paul will have said nothing so there is nothing to worry about there.” she frowned “But what are we to look out for here in town? Will this Arab person appear himself, will he send someone in his place? What will they look like? The only pictures I have seen of these Muslim gentlemen are robes and turbans, and the ladies wear very scanty clothing..or am I thinking of Scheherazade and Aladdin?”
“I think you are, dear. And as to what they will look like, well, we can’t tell you. It may even be that nothing will happen at all and ‘Morgan’ and Anna will just grow plump and merry before riding away to pastures new.” Olivia smiled and then stood up, “We have to go, Bridie. Mr Evans is getting married today and sent us a request to attend the wedding.”
“So I hear.” Bridie stood up and frowned, “He did ask me to attend, but to be honest, I am too busy. He and Mrs Carstairs will make a happy pleasant couple, although -”
“Yes? Hester prompted as she stood in front of the mirror adjusting her bonnet.
“Mary Carstairs is a good woman and deserves a kind husband, but she is worried about her boy, Jimmy. He seems very opposed to the marriage.”
“So I hear.” Olivia said and sighed, “Sofia and Reuben both mentioned it this morning. Hopefully the boy will adjust his thinking once the marriage has taken place.” she frowned, wistfully thinking back to when her own little boy had been opposed to her marriage to Adam. But Mr Evans wasn’t Adam, although he did deal with children every day so should, she thought and hoped, manage to handle one specific little boy.
They stepped out into the sun and then walked quickly to the little church where Mary Ann was already waiting for them. Her links with Mr Evans first wife had been foremost in Edwards mind when he was wondering whom he could invite, and as she had been waiting for her two friends to arrive, Mary Ann had given the famous pianist some consideration. She had come to the conclusion that although Edward had always insisted it was a love match made in heaven, his wife had taken more and he had given everything, and so it had all become rather lop sided. With Mary Carstairs as his wife, Edward Evans was bound to be one of the happiest men in the territory…well, apart from one small problem.
Jimmy Carstairs had arrived with his mother and sat fidgeting as people began to arrive. He was wearing a new suit and new shoes, and his hair had been slicked back with some smelly pomade stuff. He hated it all. He heard the sound of many footsteps on the hard floor, the rustle of women’s skirts and the creak of their whalebone corsets. Men coughed, and their feet sounded loud as they scuffled into their seats. Jimmy didn’t bother to look round to see who was there, it was a week day any way, so it would only be ‘grown ups’.
He was swinging his feet back and forth, and his mother was trying to stop him doing so by placing a hand on his knees when Reuben appeared, then David Riley, Tom Conway and Richie Bellshaw. Then came Sofia with Rose Canaday, and Betsy with her sister Annie Sales. They were all grinning rather self consciously and nodding over at him as they slid into the seats behind him. Reuben tapped Jimmy on the shoulder and winked at him just as his Pa would have done. Sofia looked at him sternly, as though warning him that she had her eye on him so he had better not even think of ‘bolting.’
Edward Evans stood up and adjusted his jacket, and then grinned sheepishly over at Mary Carstairs who stood and walked over to him, looking very smart in her new floral sprigged gown. She smiled and looked so radiantly happy that Jimmy felt something happen inside his heart, something loosened, and seemed to slip away as though it knew it was time to go…..
He thought of his little sister, so long dead now, and he remembered his father whom he was very glad was dead and had been for some time. He remembered his mother’s tears, her heart ache, the way she cared for him, worked hard for him while nursing so much grief inside herself. And he had taken it all, felt sorry for himself, forgotten just how much he loved her, and so when she shyly glanced back over to him, as though begging him to be happy for her now, he smiled, nodded, took a deep breath and relaxed.
Everything, he knew, was going to be just fine.
……..
Hank Myers rode along thinking about going into town and buying Abigail some flowers, a peace offering that he hoped would placate her vinegar temper. What instinct prompted him to turn off the road and station himself behind some large boulders he could never know, but he did and then felt stupid for doing so, until he heard the sound of horses approaching.
Theo and Max Burgoyne rode casually along the road, they were not speaking, but they were watchful. Hank observed them carefully, noticed the way they moved, the slight twitches that indicated nervousness. He wondered what had happened at the ranch house after Max had met up with Theo there. Had there been an altercation at the house? Had Ebenezer told them of his suspicions?
Once they were a decent distance from him Hank returned to the track and pondered the possibility that there could be trouble if he followed them. At the same time there could be an answer to the rustling, some thing said or done that would provide Joe and Hoss enough evidence to get them arrested.
Throwing caution to the wind Hank rode along some distance behind the Burgoynes who remained unaware of the need to be cautious. They rode to a small gulch and were soon swallowed up within. Hank did the sensible thing and dismounted, led his horse behind some rocks and then began to clamber up until he could observe what was going on below.
A cowboy had obviously been waiting some time for he pushed himself away from the rock he had been seated upon, and walked towards the brothers. Hank leaned forward to see who it was and recognised him immediately. He could have kicked himself, and he knew that Joe and Hoss would feel the same when they found out that the man who was hand in glove with the Burgoynes was a man they trusted. Jack Morley had been on the Ponderosa payroll for several years now, an affable man, hard working with a sound knowledge of cattle. He had even ridden ram rod on a cattle run a while back.
Hank shook his head and leaned further, closer, in order to hear what was being said.
The Burgoynes dismounted and approached Jack, who had removed his hat and stood there turning it over and over between his fingers. Almost as soon as the brothers had reached a distance where they could hear what was being said Jack more or less growled “Your father’s onto you…
“What do you mean?” Theo scowled, going slightly red, Hank could see the red mark flushing the man’s skin
“What I said…he was in town early and asking questions. He knows them cattle are stolen and he knows you did it. So far the sheriff don’t seem to have a clue, but your Pa does.”
“How could he?” Max demanded, his hands curling into fists “You told us it was fool proof. The best way of getting our own herd without anyone having any idea..no brands, no nothing to identify them and -”
“He knows and that means no more cattle. Best get the branding done as quick as you can so you can claim them as yours. Make sure the papers are in order too….”
“I ain’t got no papers -” Max said
“I gave you papers, don’t you remember?” Jack was almost shouting now, throwing his arms in the air in exasperation “Bills of Sale, even a vets report – where have you put ’em?”
Theo gave a hollow laugh, Hank had never heard anyone give a laugh like it before, but it made him shiver “I gave them to Pa. He has them all locked up safe for anyone to see.”
“Yeah” Max nodded “So he may not know for sure, but he’ll be confused if he’s checking out those papers.”
“I forged old man Cartwrights signature, so that should be enough to put a dampener on his temper,” Jack said “But you boys had better be careful, watch your step and – another thing – you hired Hank Myers, didn’t you?”
Flat on his belly on the rock face, Hanks heart danced a little at the mention of his name, he leaned in closer
“Yeah, what of it? He’s a good man, knows what he’s doing -” Max replied with some pride in his voice.
“Sure he’s a good man, one of the best hands the Cartwrights have – “ Jack’s eyes narrowed, “Get rid of him.”
“Our Pa sacked him. He’s gone.” Theo muttered beginning to feel uneasy as Jack’s face looked like granite
“Your Pa did him a favour, he knows why Hank Myers got himself on your payroll. He’s one of Hoss Cartwrights best friends, you dumb idiots, and you hired yourself a stool pigeon. He’s no doubt on his way to spill everything he knows to the Cartwrights right now.”
Theo and Max exchanged a look, a look that told Hank all he would need to know about their plans for his immediate future. He didn’t know now whether to stay where he was or make a dash for his horse and the Ponderosa. He watched as the brothers turned and hurried to their horses. Jack Morley was watching them, his hand on his gunbelt, his eyes glittering like a snakes. As he listened to the sound of the Burgoynes riding away Hank thought of the number of times he had played poker with Jack Morley, the always laughing generous open handed Jack Morley. So many pleasant social occasions, and so many hours spent working alongside him. Who would have thought it?
Wiping sweat from his upper lip, Hank knew what he had to do now. He carefully edged his way from the rocks, and down to where he had left his horse. He eased the rifle in its scabbard before mounting into the saddle.
Jack Morley was buttoning up his pants after having relieved himself in the shrubs when Hank appeared. He was so shocked that he froze on the spot as he heard Hank say in a friendly tone of voice “Howdy, Jack. You’re a long way from the Ponderosa, ain’t’cha?”
Chapter 57
“What was that?” Nate Carney said and stopped his horse in order to gain a pause for silence. He craned his neck forward, listening intently for an echo of the sound, or, better still for a repeat.
“A gunshot?” Clem suggested and stood in his stirrups to look around him as though the explanation would appear in bold red letters across the sky.
“There it is again.” Nate said with some satisfaction and nodded to the south of where they had been riding.
“That’s Burgoyne’s land -” Clem muttered as he turned his horse to follow the sheriff who was already heading in the direction of the gun shots.
No one would have thought there had been anything untoward happening…the sky remained as blue and the clouds didn’t hasten to depart from the scene. A gopher peeked from its hole in the ground to clean his whiskers and look around before streaking across to another hole. Silence except for the thud of their horse’s hooves upon the hard baked ground.
They threaded their way between boulders and rocks until the silence was so deafening that they had to stop to reaffirm why they were heading in that direction, their horses danced on the spot anxious to continue. Both law men glanced about them, if there was a gunman loose neither of them wanted to become prime targets.
“Over there?” Clem yelled and pointed to a horse that was hobbled by some rocks.
“No rider?”
“None that I can see?”
They nudged their horses forwards, both men with guns withdrawn from their holsters, and eyes constantly moving from left to right, right to left,
“Can you hear anything?” Clem asked as they drew closer to the horse who was now standing still, head to one side watching them approach
“Nothing…” Nate muttered and pointed to the narrow entrance to the gulch, “Over there.” he glanced at Clem “We’ll go on foot.”
It was Clem who noticed boot prints, and then the imprints of the horses which he pointed out to Nate. Carefully they moved forwards, taking cover behind rocks and then continuing until they came to the gulch itself, an opening carved from the rocks millenniums ago.
Considering that there had only been two gun shots, it seemed to make sense to find two bodies sprawled on the ground. Clem gave a yell “It’s Hank Myers…” and despite Nate’s warning to be cautious the deputy ran to where Hank lay, blood seeping from a wound and his face looking oddly waxen.
The other body was familiar, Nate turned him over onto his back and frowned. He had definitely seen the man around town at times, but who he was remained a mystery. He scratched the back of his neck and knelt down to check the man’s wound. Hank had fired off more accurately than Jack, for the man was dead, and with a shake of the head Nate got back onto his feet and walked over to where Clem was attempting to stem the blood from Hanks wound
“How is he?”
“Quite a deep wound. I think the bullets still in him. Shot in the back – “
Nate glanced over at the dead man, nodded “He must have thought the other guy was going to follow him to the horses, was shot, spun round and fired off a shot of his own. Killed his man, whoever he is…”
“Phew, odd that, Hank couldn’t shoot a barn door if it was right in front of him…” Clem grinned but without mirth, he had always liked Hank even if he didn’t like the man’s singing.
“Do you know who the other man is? He looks familiar but I can’t place him.”
Clem walked over to Jack and stared down at the still features of a once good looking man. He sighed, nodded and returned to where Nate was standing by Hank.
“Jack Morley. He works for the Ponderosa, been there for some years.”
Nate frowned, shook his head “Are you sure?”
“Yeah, he’s a good poker player. Pleasant and gets on with most people. Seems he didn’t get on too well with Hank though.”
Nate nodded slowly, rubbed his jaw with his long fingers and looked over at the two bodies “Doesn’t add up…why would two men working for the Ponderosa have a shoot out on Burgoyne’s land?”
“Hank got sacked recently from the Ponderosa, he’s been working for Burgoyne.”
Nate smiled slowly and shook his head “I know all about that -” he said and then looked down at Hank sympathetically, “Let’s get him to town and get a Doctor to check him over. We’ll find out more when he’s conscious.”
……………….
Joe Cartwright walked up to the counter of the Bucket of Blood Saloon and ordered two beers. He removed his hat and wiped sweat from his brow. He nodded to several of the men there who were looking at him with unusual curiousity, so much so that he asked Sam the barkeeper if something was wrong.

“You’ve not heard then?” Sam said in that nonchalant manner many adapted when even the smallest piece of gossip was handed over to them, even if that really only meant the relaying of the information. At the moment he was still several paces ahead of Joe, which caused him to preen himself a little.

“Heard what? If I’d heard anything I’d be telling you not asking you, wouldn’t I?” Joe tossed some coins on the counter and scowled, then turned as the doors opened and Hoss stampeded in, red faced and blustering

“Joe – you best come quick – Hank’s been shot and so has Jack Morley -”

Sam thumped the glasses on the counter and scooped up the coins before Joe could change his mind. He was feeling more than a little piqued having been beaten at the post so to speak by Hoss’ declaration of the news.

“How’d it happen?” Joe asked and reached for his glass before Sam could swipe it back, a delay of a few seconds wouldn’t make much difference to either man so he gulped back the beer while Sam opened and then closed his mouth as Hoss relayed what few details he had…

“Nate and Clem just brought in Jacks body. He’s dead. Hank’s in the hospital. They’re operating on him now.”

“Operating?” Joe raised his eyebrows and swallowed some more of the beer

“Yeah, you know, getting the bullet out. They call it operating now seeing how it’s done in the hospital.”

Hoss reached for the other glass and gulped it down, then slammed the glass onto the counter. “Nate wants to see us -”

Joe nodded, finished his beer and picked up his hat, replacing it as he stepped through the door onto the sidewalk. The sun blazed down. The town hall clock chimed the hour. Everything looked just as normal but for some people life may never be the same again…he thought of Abigail, and of Hank He felt a flood of remorse build up in his stomach, and looked at his brother

“Reckon this has something to do with Burgoyne?”

“I don’t rightly know, Joe. Can’t figure out what Jack was doing – unless the Burgoyne’s shot them both.”

Joe ran his hand cross his mouth, removing the last traces of the beer. He led the way to the sheriff’s office and found Nate standing by the window with some Wanted posters in his hand. These he was scanning through when the two Cartwrights stepped into his office.

“Joe. Hoss.” Nate acknowledged them both and indicated some chairs by his desk. He sauntered to his and sat down, “Jack Morley? Been employed by the Ponderosa for how long?”

“About three years. He’s a good worker, reliable and easy going.” Joe replied. “How’s Hank?”

“So far as I know, he’s holding his own. He wasn’t conscious at all, but I think he’s in good hands now.” he frowned “It was a big risk sending him in to do your dirty work for you. You should have left it to me,. I’m the law around here or had you forgotten?”

Joe was at a loss for words, it was left to Hoss to bluster that just sometimes the law acted a mite slow and they wanted answers before their Pa got home. Well, to be honest, they just wanted to get some answers.

“There isn’t much information on Jack, is there?” Nate asked, he looked down at the posters and then up at them, “He’s lived a law abiding life while with you, has he?”

“So far as we know – he may have cheated at cards, he won more games than was natural, but apart from that -” Hoss shrugged and looked at Joe, who shook his head.

“At first we thought he had shot Hank and Hank managed to get a lucky shot at him – but when we looked more closely at where it took place there was sign that two other horsemen had been there. It could have been that they shot both Jack and Hank – if so, they got away before we reached the location. Odd though, there were only the two shots fired, and two men down.”

“So it wasn’t a shoot out -” Joe ventured to suggest and Nate looked thoughtful before he ventured to agree.

Hoss leaned forward, his blue eyes concerned and anxious but his mind on the fact that he and Joe had coaxed Hank into a dangerous situation, “I feel plumb awful that Hank is hurt – you’re right, Sheriff, we shouldn’t have put him in that situation.”

“He could have said no, Hoss.” Joe snapped, “He knew what he was getting into, he knew there could be danger of some kind.”

“Ain’t no point in arguing, Joe, Hank ain’t never fired a gun at anything other than a rattlesnake in his life.” Hoss turned to Nate who was listening with interest, “So – you think perhaps the Burgoyne’s -”

“I don’t know if it were the Burgoyne’s – it was on their land but I’ve no proof that it was them – just that there were two other horsemen present on the scene at the time, or near enough the time of the shooting”

“Fact is, why would Jack Morley be there?” Joe said, tapping the desk with his forefinger as though to embed in their minds every word he had said.

“Perhaps Hank had found out something and asked to meet up with Jack – get his opinion, or help.” Hoss suggested.

“Or vice versa -” Joe frowned then shook his head “No, Hank was working alone, he wouldn’t have involved Jack, they worked together but weren’t close friends.”

“Yeah, true enough, I recall one time Abigail threw a pan of beef stew at Jack, because she took umbrage at something he said about her cooking.” Hoss sighed and shook his head.

Nate stood up, towering over the two seated men who very quickly stood up as well, bad enough that he was taller than them anyway, but it was off putting being looked down on to the extent that they were when around him.

“I’m going to the hospital to see how Hank is, then going to ride over to the Burgoyne’s place. You’re welcome to come along -”

He left the invitation open as he grabbed his hat and opened the door, behind him he could hear Joe and Hoss scrabbling to their feet and following.

Chapter 58

“Mr Myers did ask to see you, Mr Carney.” the Dr said, his eyes swivelling from Nate to the Cartwright brothers and obviously hoping they would vanish and spare his patient further grief.

“Is he able to talk?”

“Just about, he’s very weak, keep it brief.”

The Doctor gave Joe and Hoss a dark look, which they ignored as they followed Nate into the ward. Hank was lying prone and stiff like a corpse in the far off bed, the sight of which did not make either Cartwright feel much better, they removed their hats and trailed along in Nate’s wake.

They decided not to waste time on pleasantries but stood beside the bed and waited for Hank to speak, which he did, as soon as he saw them he began to talk, a low whisper, his eye lids fluttering constantly as he spoke

“Jack was in on it – Burgoyne brothers – I followed them and heard them talking -”

“Is Ebenezer involved too?” Joe asked before Nate could open his mouth

Hank closed his eyes as though he were drifting back to sleep or thinking back to some conversation which held some kind of answer to Joe’s questioning

“No, but he suspected them. He told me to clear off. Think he knew I -” he paused and couldn’t think of the words he wanted to say, he closed his eyes again “Jack told them I was spying on them, he knew everything, been involved all along.”

“Did the Burgoyne’s shoot you, Hank?” Nate asked anxiously

“No. They rode off…Jack told them their father – suspicious – I went down to confront Jack – thought he would come with me, friendly like – trusted him -”

“So he shot you ?” Nate stated and nodded as though he could see how it worked out, and looked at Joe and Hoss whom he could see were seeing the same scene play itself out in their minds

“Felt a thud in the back – turned and fired. Next thing I know – I’m here talking to you.”

Nate nodded “You shot Jack, got him with that one shot.”

“Fancy that!” Hank whispered and drifted back into sleep.

………………

Ebenezer Burgoyne was pacing the floor like a man too nervous, too strung up with tension, to stand still. He scowled at his two sons who were lounging in the study, casual, at ease and non caring as they listened to the accusations being hurled at them by their irate father.

Theo took a matchstick out of his mouth and shrugged “Look, Dad, you’re getting hot under the collar for nothing -”

“For nothing? Are you two going to stand there and deny having anything to do with this rustling? Just like you denied having anything to do with what happened in Arizona?”

“Aw, no need to bring that up, Pa.” Max groaned. “We tried to explain then that it wasn’t our fault -”

“Wrong place and wrong time, Dad” Theo said in a voice meant to calm his father, “We had no idea what was going on.” he looked at his brother who nodded, “Look, you got all the paper work for those cattle, haven’t you? Vets bills, Bills of Sale – even got one from Uncle Walt haven’t you?”

“And you know that crazy guy Archer just begged us to take the cattle off his land, he’ll vouch for us, Dad.”

“And what about Hank Myers?” Ebenezer growled

“What about him?” Max asked, straightening up and suddenly alert.

“You know what I mean – the Cartwrights sent him here to find out what he could about your dealings. I’ve already had the Sheriff here, asking questions, and that Vet in town certainly made it clear that he had his suspicions about where those cattle came from…and ..so do I!”

“You don’t trust us, Pa?” Max drawled, his voice taunting now, as though all the disgust he felt for his father could no longer be hidden. He stepped forward “You saying you don’t trust your own sons?”

“I’ve not been able to trust you two for years -” Ebenezer said in a voice choked with emotion as though admitting that all his hopes and aspirations for his sons had died and any chance of revival could be forgotten, buried for good and all.

“That hurts us, Dad -”Max sneered “Cuts us to the quick, don’t it, Theo?”

“Hurts real bad, it surely do.” Theo grinned, his face hard, chiseled as though from granite with no soft lines to it, just sharply defined edges.

“Our own Pa turning on us like that -” Max rested his hand upon his gun belt, and inclined his head to one side as though he needed to look at his father from a different perspective.

Ebenezer straightened his back, his heart was pounding, he could hear the thud thud of it in his ear drums, his head felt as though it were about to explode – he shook his head as though that would toss the feeling away “I brought you here hoping that it would help you both, keep on the straight and narrow but -”

“But like all good intentions, Dad, it just led you down a merry old road to hell – ain’t that right?” Theo stepped forward, thrusting out his chest as though challenging the older man

“Yeah, tell you what though, just to make it easier for you – we’ll ride on, make our own way, then you and Joycie can have a cosy little love nest all your own to enjoy without worrying about us any more.” Max grinned and gave his father a shove, which sent Ebenezer staggering back against his desk.

“Joycie will be glad to see the back of us anyway, won’t she, Pa? Mind you, we’ll miss her, ain’t that right, Max?”

“Sure will – miss that smell of her around the place, the way she looks – hey, tell you what, why don’t you move out, Dad, and leave us and Joycie here together. Make it our very own little – what did you call it, Max? – a love nest.”

They laughed, but to Ebenezer it sounded from a long way away, having to travel through the thudding of the pulses in his ears. The pain cut through and along his jaw, he could feel his throat closing with the pain, he couldn’t speak. His fingers clawed, his arm hurt, pain across his chest red hot and burning. He wanted to shout at them to get help, but nothing happened except an awareness that he was falling and couldn’t stop himself from thudding face down onto the rug

Max and Theo stared at the prone figure on the floor, then looked at one another “Do you think he’s dead?” Theo asked his brother who shrugged and knelt down to check his father’s pulse.

“He’s still alive – just about.”

“What shall we do? Get the Doctor?”

“He’ll be dead before the Doctor can get here.”

They stood together, side by side, for a while, then Max nodded towards the desk “Get what we need from there – I’ll check the safe.”

“Do you know the combination?”

“Since I was a kid -”

They shared a grin, Max stepped over their father and hurried to where the safe took pride of place in Ebenezer’s study.

The older man opened his eyes, through a haze he saw his sons moving about the room, he called out to them, raised a flailing hand for help, surely they were going to get help.
………………
Hop Sing opened the door to the loud staccato knocking and then stepped back in surprise as Joyce Burgoyne stood on the threshold, a rather hesitant smile on her face
“Missy Joyce? You come back after all this time?”
“Yes, Hop Sing…like the bad penny I’m afraid. Is Ben home? Or one of the boys?”
“Mr Ben in San Francisco. Mr Adam not home and boys working -” he stepped back, welcoming as ever, a sweep of the hands to encourage her to enter “You come in, I make you best ever coffee you ever have since last time you here.”
“That was a long time ago now, Hop Sing.” she stepped into the room however, and glanced around it as though to compare it with the memories she had of it, and then smiled at the changes she noticed. “You can tell there’s a woman in the house now, Hop Sing.”
“Oh yes, Missy Hester make things very pretty.” Hop Sing nodded and smiled, his face creased in pleasure “You sit. Coffee here in one moment.”
Joyce walked slowly into the body of the room and sat down. The old blue chair had gone now, the red leather chair that had been Ben’s favoured seat was also gone. Of course she knew nothing of the fire that had destroyed so much not so very long ago, to her the room looked as welcoming as ever, just different. She couldn’t help but wonder if she would have made similar changes had she actually married Ben.
She glanced up to the landing as she heard the sound of footsteps, the rustle of skirts, but then no one came so she shrugged her shoulders and took a seat.
Hop Sing bustled back into the room, a tray laden with everything needed to make his coffee. The aroma of it sifted into the room and she laughed quietly as she took the cup “You’re right, Hop Sing, I have missed this coffee, even the smell of it brings back such happy – and not so happy – memories.”
“Sad memories best forgotten, Missy Joyce.”
“Yes, you’re probably right.” she sipped her coffee and then frowned “Is Hester home?”
“Not home, gone to town for wedding.”
“I thought there was someone else in the house -”
“Yes, Missy Joyce. Visitor only…” Hop Sing nodded and glanced anxiously at the half landing. He was still rather unsure just who the visitor was, although he was quite besotted with the baby.
Joyce drank the coffee and asked discreetly as to why Ben was in San Francisco which she already knew anyway from Mary Ann’s visit. How long would he be away? Hop Sing didn’t know. How long would Adam be absent from home? But Hop Sing just shook his head, he didn’t know that either, he did add rather enigmatically “No one know where Mr Adam is, out at sea long ways maybe.”
“I thought he had retired from the sea?” she put the cup down and glanced over to the stairs but no one made an appearance.
“Yes, maybe but sea take him back.” Hop Sing gave one of his resigned smiles, as though having lived so long with the Cartwrights didn’t mean he knew everything that happened in their lives. Often times it was just a mystery to him but he bore it well, just nodded and got on with the job of mopping up after them. Even the Missy Cartwrights were in need of mopping up after them too.
Joyce sighed and stood up, shook her head “I am sorry, Hop Sing. I shall have to come back another time.”
“Yes, come back when Mr Ben come home…we have big party for you.”
“My husband would like that. I suppose you know he and Ben had been good friends at one time?”
Hop Sing nodded, that was one fact he did know. He smiled. Better, he thought, that she had married Mr Ben but then who was he to comment on so personal a matter?
Joyce left immediately afterwards, and as Hop Sing closed the door he couldn’t help but think over past times, the friendship with the Edwards’ and then the terrible accident to Tom which eventually drove him to the brink of madness. The building of the mill which it had been hoped would heal the rifts between Ben and Tom – but that had all gone wrong. Bitterly wrong and nothing had really ended up quite as Ben would have liked it to have done.
He collected up the tray and shuffled off to the kitchen. He could hear the sound of her buggy leaving the yard and sighed. Now he had sad memories and wished she hadn’t come.
Chapter 59
Adam Cartwright opened his eyes and glanced around him before closing them again. He was immensely weary and just wanted to remain in the bed enjoying the sensation of the rise and fall of the ship as it made its way through the waves. He had been able to see that the cabin in which he had been placed was clean, neat and had nothing to do with Adjo Admose. The books lined on the shelf opposite the bed had all had the names of American and English authors. He assumed Adjo didn’t dip into poetry often, nor into Shakespeare.
He was hungry, and very thirsty but was surprised to find when next he opened his eyes that the light had shifted in the cabin, he could estimate the time as late afternoon. A tall man was leaning over him, and at seeing Adam opening his eyes, smiled a welcome back
“You must be hungry?”
“I am…and thirsty.”
“No doubt you are, you and Lord Willoughby are very seriously dehydrated. Lack of water and the heat would have killed you within a few more hours. Here you are -” strong arms propped him up and placed pillows at his back, then a glass of clean water was handed to him. “Some food will be brought up soon.”
Adam drank the water slowly, there were dangers in drinking too much too quickly in his condition. By the time he had emptied the glass the man had left the room, the door shut behind him. The carafe of water was on the tray and he refilled his glass, drank from it and then found his eyes closing once again.
It was like going back in time really. In his bunk, in his cabin on perhaps The Shenandoah, or the Ainola…that pleasant soothing sensation of the sea, which made him think “It’s calm seas any way – “
He opened his eyes, but the room was empty. He thought he could smell cigarette smoke, but there was nothing. He closed his eyes, drifted back to sleep and heard Dimitri Doestov say:
“You do not do it very vell, do you?”
“Do what?”
“Dis dying – alvays you do not do it vell – see – here you are not quite dead again. Not quite, almost, but not quite.”
“Dimitri…why are you here – go away.”
“Pooh, I go away and then vot? Admose vants you dead – da?”
“Da – I mean – I suppose so.”
“You suppose so? He come with his ship to see you are all dead – but had to turn back – you think he forget you?”
“No, he won’t forget me.”
“You get dis ship turn round and go after him – politics – alvays da politics.”
“Go away -”
The Englishman entering the cabin with a tray of food hesitated for a moment, then realised that the American was speaking in his sleep. He put the tray down on a table and then cautiously shook Adam’s shoulder
“Some food for you, sir.”
Adam forced open his eyes. Why did he always have to dream about Dimitri Doestov? He blinked “Where are we headed?”
“Lord Willoughby ordered us back to San Francisco, sir.”
Adam nodded. He leaned against the pillows and allowed the tray to be placed before him. The food looked good…he thanked the seaman who nodded and left him alone. He had to think now, and eat, but eating had first priority –
………………..
In San Francisco Ben Cartwright was beginning to feel like Banquo’s ghost at the feast whenever he went to see Marshall Duggan. He knew he was a nuisance now, the poor man had nothing to tell him, nothing new that would or could encourage him. He found himself being sidelined, left in a room by himself, just waiting in the hope that he would go away.
He decided not to return for a few days, leave Duggan and the other law enforcement officers to get on with whatever other crimes they were pursuing. So he found himself wandering around the wharf side, falling into conversation with the stevedores, or some seamen. But that didn’t lift his mood either, there was nothing they could tell him about The Viking Queen, or The Damaris. So he stopped haunting there as well.
Although he had determined not to see Martha in case the question as to why he was back in San Francisco arose, he eventually went there, and was finally able to relax in the pleasant atmosphere she created in her home. He didn’t discuss Adam’s situation and if she sensed that he was prevaricating when she asked him pertinent questions she didn’t pry but smiled and nodded and allowed him to change the subject to one of his choosing.
He wondered if he were being unfair to her, but it was something of a relief to just enjoy the company of someone who wasn’t going to bring the matter to the forefront of his mind while he was with her. He knew she could not help, there was nothing she could say or do, no one she knew who could assist, so why burden her with his problem.
One evening he took her to Del Monico’s and met Henry Eugene and his wife, which made a pleasant foursome for Henry could be discreet when he wanted to be…it was only when the ladies retired for a few moments that he had leaned forward to ask if there had been any news, anything positive and Ben had had to admit there had been nothing, he was waiting – that was all he could do, just wait.
But he was not a patient man, never had been, and waiting was like having to carry out a penance for some sin in the hope that it would alleviate the time spent in purgatory. He could think of only one other person who would feel the same way and that was Gregory Soames.
Of course it had been a mistake to spend an evening in Soames’ company…they talked too much about the situation, about Silvia’s murder and Adam’s abduction, and they drank too much whiskey which made them both more maudlin than ever.
The following morning Ben felt ready to meet his Maker, but instead realised he had to either wait with more patience, or return to his family. After pacing the floor most of the morning he took himself off to the harbour, hoping that the sea breezes would blow away the hangover, and some good news would blow his way along with them.
Chapter 60

Joyce Burgoyne almost ran to the door in anticipation of seeing Doctor Martin on the other side…she didn’t anticipate what appeared to be a small delegation arriving with him.

Each man there removed their hat, Paul nodded and asked where the patient was and followed her pointed finger to the stairs. Nate Carney, Clem and the two Cartwrights crowded round the front door. It was Nate who cleared his throat to speak

“Our apologies, Mrs Burgoyne. We met the Doctor on our way here…”

Joyce blinked, a vain attempt to clear the tears from her eyes. “I only got back – in time” she managed to say before the tears overflowed and it was Hoss who gently placed a hand on her arm and led her into the main room where she crumpled down onto a chair and pulled out a handkerchief to dab at her eyes and nose. “Eb was lying – on the floor” she glanced over her shoulder to the other room, the study, from where the open safe was clearly on view.

“Was he able to tell you what happened?” Nate asked, while his eyes looked around the room, appreciated what he saw but anxious to get to the other room for a closer inspection.

“They emptied the safe – left him to die” her voice rose an octave, it shook whether with anger or shock, perhaps a combination of both, she dabbed at her eyes again “They left him to die.”

“Did he tell you that?” Nate asked while Hoss and Joe stood closer together and thought of another time when they had seen her grieving over the man to whom she was married.

“He said – they – came and there was an argument. He collapsed, called out for help but they ignored him. Opened the safe, ransacked the desk – took what they could -” she pulled in her breath as though realising this was not the time or place to indulge in histrionics. She looked upstairs where there was only silence, Nate nodded as though in understanding of her anxiety.

He glanced again at the study while the Cartwrights edged closer to her as she struggled to compose herself and they felt she needed the reassurance of their help.

“Would you mind if I took a look at the other room?”

“Of course not -”

“And – they didn’t assault your husband at all?”

“No, they just left him. If I had not returned home when I did and given him his medication he would be dead now.”

She stood up and wrung her hands, her eyes again turning to the stairs, waiting and longing for Paul to come down to give her some news.

“Mrs Burgoyne – you refer to ‘they’ but could you give me actual names of the perpetrators ?”

“Max and Theo Burgoyne, of course – who else would be so heartless as to – “ she closed her eyes and drew in her breath, she placed a hand on her chest as though that would assist her breathing “you need to understand – Max and Theo are not Ebenezer’s natural sons. He adopted them. His wife was widowed, he adopted them when he married her. They were – very young at the time.”

Hoss frowned, and watched as Nate and Clem went into the study to look around the room although now that they had the identity of the men, and adding it to the crimes already known to involve them, there seemed little purpose to checking over an empty room now.

“Seems they had no love for your husband, Miss Joyce?” Hoss murmured.

“No, even though they could not remember their own father, they begrudged every kind deed he made on their behalf. Their education, everything -” she frowned “His first wife married him for the security he could give them, but she never loved him. She adored her first husband and filled their heads with stories about him – how brave he was, how this and that and the other – all the good Eb did for them was compared to how much more their real father would have done.”

“Hardly seems fair…” Joe murmured

“Since when has life been fair?” Joyce replied with the bitterness evident in her voice. “I wish Dr Martin would hurry up and let me know if Eb is going to be alright.”

“He’s in good hands, Ma’am.” Hoss reassured her gently and led her back again to the chair “Can I get you anything to drink?”

“No, it’s alright, thank you, Hoss.” she wrung her hands together and shook her head, “They were no good, Eb knew that but he still wanted to do what he could for them. He felt that somewhere he had done something wrong and along the way he may be able to put it right again. But no matter what he did, they were just – just – bad! You get that sometimes, don’t you? People who have no moral sense, no compassion – who just want what they want out of life and grab out for it without caring about the consequences to others.”

Joe and Hoss nodded, both feeling it was the time to listen to a woman who was going through the misery of shock, horror and perhaps years of resentment at her step sons manner of life

“They were in prison once – Eb never told me for what – he tried to help them when they were released. Then their Uncle got in contact with him and suggested moving out here. But even that went all wrong, Walt and his son Abel had an argument, and I felt I was the cause of it, the boys made sure I got the blame for that….” she paused at the sound of footsteps on the landing and then Paul’s steps on the stairs.

“How is he?” she was on her feet again, her face pale, her eyes wide and moist, scanning the features of the old man who probably should have retired years earlier.

“He’s going to be alright” Paul said reassuringly, and he put a hand on her arm, his creased face wrinkling into an affectionate smile. He had been the Doctor who had extracted the bullet from Tom Edwards all those years earlier, who had nursed him through the bad times, and later wished the man had died. It all seemed such a shame that Joyce had to have another invalid on her hands. “You reached him in good time, Joyce. But he needs rest now, no excitement – “ he glanced over at Joe and Hoss and nodded at them, before looking back at her “I’ll get a woman in who can help you over the next week or so -”

“Week? But he’ll want to be up well before then -”

“I know, he’s already told me that, but facts are facts, he needs rest, and both of you will have to be patient and make sure that he gets it.” he patted her arm and nodded, as though to emphasize what he was saying “His medication is all in order, but I’ll get an update on it for you.”

She nodded her thanks and was about to turn to the stairs in order to ascend them and see Eb when Nate and Clem reappeared from the study. They acknowledged Paul with nods and then turned to Her “Have you any idea where they would have gone when they left here?”

“None at all. I’m sorry, they more or less treated me as though I didn’t exist, except to leer at me and make lewd comments. I have no idea where they would have gone.”

“Would your husband be able to tell us?”

Paul interjected there “I’d rather you didn’t see him just now, but I did anticipate that you would want to know that information and asked. He just said that his sons never told him anything concerning themselves except what they wanted him to know…which wasn’t much, and wasn’t what you would want to know.”

“Even so there may be something -”

Paul raised a hand “I have to insist, Sheriff, Mr Burgoyne is very ill, and I don’t want him disturbed by your questions.” he turned to Joyce “I know he would like to see you now -”

She looked at each of the men there, then quickly turned and made her way up the stairs where they heard a door open and then close behind her. Nate nodded and then shrugged

“They’ve cleared out the safe, should imagine they don’t intend sticking around hereabouts, so we had best get started on tracking them down before they get too far ahead of us.”

“It’ll be evening soon, if we could swing by the Ponderosa and leave a message for our wives, and grab some food…” Joe suggested

Nate nodded, and together they left the room, leaving Paul to return back to the sick room and confirm with Joyce what she would need to do in caring for her husband.

…………

It was fortunate for Nate that Hoss and Joe had come along with them for Hoss was the best tracker they knew, and Joe was sharp eyed enough to see what Hoss may (improbably though that could be) miss. As it was it took a mere few miles from the ranch house for Hoss to pick up the trail and from there the hunt was on.

…………..

Dr Timothy Travis put a hand on the patients shoulder and gave a very slight shake, aware that the man was almost roused from an unconscious sleep as it was. He was not surprised when a pair of dark eyes opened and stared up at him. Slightly confused Adam half closed his eyes, remembered where he was and opened them to observe the Doctor who now smiled down at him

“Feeling any better?”

“I think so -” Adam frowned and pushed himself into a seated position, “Did anyone else survive, apart from Laurence?”

“Sadly not. It was amazing that any even imagined that they would – one man lived long enough to ask me to thank you for what you did for them, that they were able to live a little longer in hope of survival, if not, for justice.”

“And Laurence?”

“He’s getting stronger. Like yourself he’s suffered lack of food, water, and torture. His hand is a mess, but thankfully won’t be too severely damaged to prevent him using it in the future, although he’ll probably always suffer some pain from it.” he pulled out a chair and sat down beside the bed.

“Unlike you, Lord Willoughby is used to an easier life style – you seem to have managed to stay several steps ahead of ‘the man with the sickle’ pretty often?”

“I guess so…were times I thought he had caught up though.” Adam smiled slightly, although is eyes remained dull and without humour.

“Your leg – that’s a pretty bad scar you have there. Does it cause you much of a problem?”

Adam sighed, and leaned back against the pillows, observed the Doctor and then shrugged “No, not really. I’m very fortunate to still have both my legs, Dr -”

“Travis.”

“Dr Travis – I got badly burned in a fire.”

“And you don’t experience any pain with it – ?”

“No, sometimes it’s weak, sometimes it feels as though it might give way beneath me, but it never has yet.”

“Good. You had a good surgeon then -”

“Yes.” Adam nodded and thought of how much he owed Jimmy Chan “Yes, the best -”

“And are you feeling strong enough to test it out now?”

Adam nodded, and without hesitation swung his legs over the side of the bed, planted his feet upon the floor and pushed himself upright. He was surprised at how dizzy he felt, the room spun a little but other than that he was standing on his feet and feeling strong enough to have walked out of the room were he inclined to do so.

Travis nodded, and smiled “Yes, I thought you would be alright. I believe the Captain wants to see you. You’ll find suitable clothing in the wardrobe -” he paused “you’ll need some good food inside you, but just take it slowly.”

Adam nodded and waited for the man to leave the room, upon which he dressed himself in the clean clothing he found, and then carefully made his way from the room.

Salway was on the bridge, leaning over some maps and checking out some figures when Adam appeared. For a few moments Adam just stood in silence in the doorway, remembering the times he would have been standing at the bridge of his ship, peering over maps, entering facts into the log book, checking routes, latitudes with the helmsman. A wave of nostalgia hit him, and he had to shake his head as though to push the feeling away and remind himself that those days were over. He was a mere passenger now and had to admit he didn’t like the feeling.

Salway turned, saw him and greeted him with a nod and a smile, “Come on in, good to see you on your feet again.”

“I’m more than glad to see you. You came just at the right time, you do realise that, don’t you?”

Adam stepped onto the Bridge and shook the mans extended hand warmly, after all he felt that he owed the man his life. Salway shrugged “There were two other ships in the vicinity. Attracted by the explosion of the Damaris – it was like a beacon for us though.” he grinned “There was a Britisher quite prepared to take you on board until we came along and also an attractive yacht, Egyptian markings -”

“Adjo Admose’s private ship, and headed towards us to make sure we were actually dead.”

“Ah, so that was why he turned tail and left the scene – still, probably good that he did, we arn’t really equipped for a sea battle.”

“You do know who Adjo Admose is, don’t you?”

Salway gave Adam a keen look, then nodded, “Yes, sir, I know who he is…”

“Then why arn’t you going after him? Why are you taking us back to San Francisco when we could catch him and -”

“Sir, if you don’t mind -” Salway raised a hand to stop the words spilling over “As I said earlier we don’t have the manpower nor the weaponry to take on a sea battle with Admose. My priority was with the welfare of yourself and Lord Willoughby, Sir Charles ordered me to put that first and anything else ignore – “

“Turn a blind eye to, you mean?”

“No, sir, that is not what I mean. It’s easy to get involved in matters subsidiary to -”

“Subsidiary ? You consider what Admose has done, what he intends to do, as subsidiary?” Adam could feel the heat rising around his neck and he had to turn aside and stare out to sea to cool himself down.

Salway said nothing. He was a taciturn Englishman and wasn’t prepared to get into a war of words with this American who obviously had no idea of the political ramifications of the situation with Admose. He returned to staring down at the maps while Adam walked to the bulwark and stared ahead at the sea.

He looked up and around him. He noticed the sleek slim lines of t he schooner, the snap of the sails above, the well varnished desk. No, this wasn’t a ship fitted out for a fight, no one would want to have such a beautiful craft shot full of holes, of course not. He sighed and looked back at the Englishman and nodded

“I understand what you mean. We all have to obey orders, whether we want to or not, like them or not.” he sighed again and shook his head, “How long before we get to ‘Frisco?”

“A few days yet, sir.” Salway nodded at the maps, and then up at the sky “The weathers good, if it stays like this we should be there by Friday.”

Adam could only nod and then turn back to look over to where the clouds scudded over the blue sky, just enough wind to keep the vessel moving over the waves. He thought of Admose, the way the man had stood at the deck of his ship and stared over at what he knew would become the grave of his victims.

He gave a slight twitch to his shoulders, and then turned to go back to his cabin. Soon he would be back home with his family, Laurence would come because, hopefully, Anna would be there.

He paused at the cabin where Laurence was still sleeping. Looking in at his friend Adam could see more clearly the ravages of the past few days on the Englishman’s face and body. The well bandaged hand that was lying across the bandaged chest, the bruises and cuts on the handsome face. Instinctively he put a hand to his own face and felt the soreness from the wounds he had sustained. Returning to his own cabin he sprawled out upon the bunk, at least in the intervening days his wounds would be healed and he would not scare the children.

The thought of his children softened his irritation and anger, he fell back to sleep with them chattering and laughing in his memories, and Olivia – Olivia would be there –

Someone entered and left some food and coffee for him, but he was too deeply asleep to be tempted by it. In his dreams he was watching a young woman walking towards him through a field rippling with wild flowers of every colour and hue. She was smiling at him, beckoning him towards her as she half turned and with her fingers touching the petals of the flowers led him towards the silver blue ribbon of water just ahead.

Chapter 61
A ship had taken up an empty berth in the harbour and Ben watched as the sea men on board began the task of putting out the gangplank, then putting the hawsers around the bollards so that she wouldn’t drift away with the current. It was all busy, and he allowed an hour to slip away as he watched, immersing himself in memories, and knowing from the memories what the men would be doing, the synchronization involved in getting a full complement of men doing their tasks without falling over each other.
Eventually various people began to leave the ship. Midshipman, gangling and giggling, jostling against one another, joking and laughing. They had been paid up and were on leave now, Ben could sense their energy and youthfulness, their eagerness to go and spend what they had, although some by the look of them would be taking examinations soon to see if they would qualify for a higher ranking.
Some seamen came down with their rolling gait. Ben wondered if he still had that slight roll in his own stride after all the years away from sea. He detected it sometimes in Adam, although Ben accepted the fact that sometimes if Adam’s leg was causing him any pain it could be due to that as well. Odd how one got used to the roll of a deck, of putting one’s foot down on something that wasn’t there one moment but was there the next.
He noticed one man bump into a stevedore, apologise and then stop to talk for a while. The stevedore had struck up an acquaintance with Ben over the days and now gestured, pointed over to him, then both men nodded and turned towards where the rancher was standing.
Ben was actually leaning against a bollard, his headache had dispersed as he had anticipated it would, and he was feeling easier in himself, less tense. He watched as the stevedore and seaman approached him, both men taking off their hats and nodding over at him as though to assure him they were coming as friends. It was an unconscious gesture, Ben mused, something inherent in us all perhaps, to recognise someone of higher rank, higher in the pecking order, someone deserving some deference?
“Mr Cartwright?”
“Morning, Ted, and how are things with you?”
“All’s well, Mr Cartwright. This here is Mike, he’s just come off her -” he jerked his head in the direction of the ship, “Saw something he thought would be of interest to you…er .. I thought might be of interest to you that is…”
Ben nodded and turned to the seaman with a smile, his black eyes darker as he waited to hear what the man had to say. Somehow he had a feeling that it was not going to be anything good. But he clung on to the hope that he was wrong, that today he would hear good news, something that would indicate all was well.
“Mike O’Connor.” the man reached out a hand and was pleased to have it gripped between strong fingers and shaken “Just something – or could be nothing of course.”
“Then just say it as it is, Mike, and leave me to be the judge of whatever it is …” Ben followed that with a smile, but both men could see the tension around the mouth, in the broad shoulders.
“The other night as I was on ‘dog’ watch, I saw what looked like a big explosion out at sea. Bright it was, ferocious bright…”
Ben felt his stomach churn over, but just nodded and hoped that his face didn’t betray a sudden misgiving, a desire not to hear the rest of what was about to be said, he nodded again and Mike continued
“I called the officer on watch with me and we got out the telescopes, couldn’t see much it was that dark, and the explosion or whatever it was was far out on the horizon. We watched it on and off for the whole of the rest of our watch, it was burning fierce enough for us to see for that long. But we were heading here and the Officer said we were too far away to be of any help to any one on board the ship, because that was what we reckoned it were, a ship on fire. Of course the further we moved away from it the less we saw …”
Ben looked at Ted “So a ship goes on fire?” he looked at Mike “Any idea which ship? What size?”
“Couldn’t tell you from where we were, sir.” Mike frowned, “We hadn’t seen many ships, we weren’t really in the shipping commercial lanes you understand? There was a British battleship, we could see her lights quite clearly, looked like she was turning towards the other ship.”
“Did you see a – a schooner, privately owned, The Viking Queen?”
Mike shrugged “We could see the lights of some vessels, some were nearer that the British battleship although she had a fair turn of speed on her, going about 20 knots from what we could tell from the lights moving in the dark….” he paused and frowned “Yes, seemed to be a smaller vessel, not moving so fast, but then being a light schooner she wouldn’t have the power a battleship would..I think there was another ship turning towards the explosion, seemed to be, but then again we’re only judging that by the lights she was showing.”
Ben turned to the stevedore who was listening with keen interest “Do you think it could be the Damaris that exploded?”
“I wouldn’t like to say, sir…”
“But do you think it likely?”
Ted frowned, clearly uncomfortable at making any statement that was of a negative nature. Mike glanced over his shoulder and nodded over to where an Officer was walking leisurely towards them, “That’s the officer who was on watch with me, sir. He may be able to give you more information. He put everything down in the log, the co-ordinates and everything.”
“Thank you, I’ll ask him…here, take this …” Ben placed a coin in the man’s hand, nodded a dismissal and walked over to intercept the Officer.
The Officer, Caleb Nicolson, listened attentively to everything Ben said, so attentively that Ben began to feel he was waffling, and felt embarrassed, but he pressed on until Nicolson nodded and put a friendly hand on the older man’s arm. He himself was not a young man, but he had keen eyes, weather beaten features, and knew the ways of the seas as well as a man 30 years on board ship ought to..
“I can’t confirm whether it was the Damaris, Mr Cartwright. There were few ships in the vicinity, and if you suspect that she was in the area, then it could well be so. If I were you it would be best to keep an open mind, and not think too much about it, nor worry about it. It could well be some other unfortunate – hopefully the two ships we noticed heading her way would have picked up survivors.”
“Do you think it could be possible that there were survivors of such an explosion?”
Nicolson pursed his lips and tugged at his mustache, “Anything’s possible, sir.”
Ben gave a weak smile, nodded and stepped aside, he thanked Nicolson who nodded and started back on his way, then paused, called Ben back “I can remember the co-ordinates, put them down in the log. Run them by the harbour master, he would know if the ship you are asking about would have been anywhere in that area.” he nodded although his brow was creased, as he scribbled the relevant numbers onto a scrap of papers and handed it over to the older man. Then he nodded again, and wished Ben ‘all the best’ before continuing on his way.
Ben stood for a moment staring out to sea. He knew how many ships had left throughout the days he had been coming to the harbour, he knew which direction each ship had gone in order to reach their destination. His talks to the harbour master had provided him with that much information. But that was the statistics of it all, the other information he had provided him with the confirmation of the fact that he had just been told of the death of the Damaris. He could only hope and pray that Nicolson was right, that one or both ships heading in her direction, would have picked up survivors, and that Adam would be among them.
He didn’t know what to do with himself now, he felt lost, forlorn. He had a fragile hope, but how strong was that, how much faith could he put in the hope that his son would be among the survivors of a burning wreck?
Ted approached him, “Are you alright, sir?”
“Thank you, Ted..” Ben nodded, forced a smile and turned away. “Thank you for your attention. Here -” he produced a dollar but Ted shook his head so that in the end Ben had to force it into his hand.
Then he turned and walked away.
He couldn’t possibly send such news to Olivia, it was too – tentative? – no, he would have to wait until he knew for sure, one way or the other.
…………….
Nate, Clem, Joe and Hoss had had to camp over night. There had been nothing else for it, the only comfort was that their quarry would have had to do the same.
It was an uncomfortable night, neither of the Cartwright brothers felt happy knowing that they had talked Hank into a situation that had led to such an outcome. How would they ever be able to face Abigail again if Hank did die?
They ate a scanty breakfast washed down with water from their canteens, in too much of a hurry to brew up any coffee. Hoss found the tracks within minutes, and once saddled up the four men followed the trail.

Neither Theo or Max Burgoyne gave the matter of being followed a single thought. They were enjoying their plans of going into Carson City and living high on the hog for a few days, and then after that they were going to go to Sacramento, find some women, gamble a little, drink a lot. After all they had more money now than if they had taken the risk and broken into a bank.
“Do you reckon the Old Man’s dead?” Theo asked as they jogged along, the reins loose in their fingers, the horses enjoying the morning as much as their riders.
“Do you care one way or the other if he is?” Max replied and flashed a grin over to his brother, his eyes glinted, even Theo thought he looked like a reptile at times. This was one of those times.
“No.” Theo shook his head, “No, not at all.”
He fingered in his jacket pocket for the quid of tobacco that he kept stashed there, and upon finding it, bit some off and began to chew it. The rest he stowed away for later.
“He really wasn’t so bad,” Max drawled, “Jest a nuisance really. He shouldn’t have married Ma. She was better than that..our Pa …” he paused “Do you remember what our Pa looked like?”
“Only from the picture Ma had of him.”
“What do you remember about him? Anything?”
“Shucks, I dunno. I was jest a kid when he got hisself killed. What do you remember of him?”
Max shrugged, scratched his chin and wrinkled his nose “Guess I don’t recall much either. Only what Ma used to tell us about him…”
“That really ain’t much to go on, is it?”
“Wal, she loved him, and he was good to her, good to us too….”
They lapsed into silence, both considering the vaguaries of memory and the fickleness of women and the love they had for men, although they couldn’t accuse their Ma of being fickle she had loved her first husband until the day she died.
“If the Old Man is dead, reckon he’ll have left anything for us in his Will?” Max asked with his face screwed up in a scowl
“I doubt it. He told us often enough he’d disown us, remember?”
“He was a mean cuss, weren’t he?”
“Yeah…”
Neither of them ventured to remind the other of how much money Ebenezer had paid for their schooling, for what ever their Mother had demanded as their right to own – toys when children, ponies, guns, a bank account, everything- they both felt it better not to remind each other of those aspects of the man’s generousity.
“Those gun shots ?” Max muttered
“What gun shots?”
“You remember, you heard ’em as well ….”
“Oh, yeah – Jack Morley you mean?”
“Seemed to come from that direction, didn’t they?”
. “I didn’t see anyone thereabouts at the time,” Theo muttered feeling uneasy and sweat making wet patches on his shirt
“Doesn’t mean there wasn’t anyone nearby, the Cartwrights for example…”
“You reckon they could be following us?”
Max pointed to a high bluff, “Up there, we can see for miles if there’s a dust cloud…”
It took fifteen minutes to reach the top of the bluff, they had to leave the horses half way and make the rest of it by foot. Stretched out on their bellies they scanned the bleak rock strewn land beneath, looked around and then Theo nudged Max and pointed
“Over there -”
The dust cloud was not that big, it didn’t indicate a large posse of men…but it was big enough
……………………….
The women who formed the concubinage of Adjo Admose numbered six. He had many more women, wives and concubines, in his home town, and elsewhere. A man like Adjo enjoyed satisfying all his passions as and when he chose to do so. The six women had been selected to attend to his needs during the voyage to America and two of them had gone with him to the house in San Francisco. Adam Cartwright had even seen one serving Adjo at the time, hidden though she was by her voluminous gown
Now she sat before a mirror and tried to calm her stomach. All of them were well used to the motion of the ship now, but it was the summons from Adjo that caused the fluttering and the fast breathing. She sat as still as possible, taking deep breaths, while her own fleshly sister attended to her hair, coiling it this way and that, pulling the thick black tresses with oils to make it sweet smelling.
“You must be calm.” Aa’ishah whispered.
Fablitha stared at the reflection in the mirror and nodded “I know. I know.”
Aa’ishah leaned closer, their cheeks almost touched “He must not suspect anything.”
“He has not yet.” came the whispered reply.
She was young. As a little girl she had played in the gardens of Sa’id El Hassim, and been a favourite of Anna. She and her sister had enjoyed the association of the American and English who had visited the wealthy cousin of the Khedive Isma’el. Because she had been particularly attractive she had been fussed over, made much of, given gifts that had been treasured by her for years.
Ebo Fasani had noticed her once when on a visit to Sa’id and had mentioned her looks to Anna, who had not been slow in recognising the lewd way the man had gazed upon the girl, and had quickly told him she was only a child, just ten years of age. When Ebo had died no one thought any more about his attentions to the little girl, thinking the danger to her was over.
But Ebo had told Adjo about her, and about her older sister Aa’isha who was also an extremely lovely young woman. So on the night that Sa’id had been killed and their own father had tried to escape to Cyprus, Adjo had taken both girls away from their home. They had been his prisoners eversince.
In their culture, and considering Admose’s power and wealth, neither they or any of the other women had any choice in what they did with their lives. They were nothing more than that mans possession That was what being a woman was like at times, and so they didn’t question being herded onto the ship, taken to quite sumptuous rooms, told why they were there and what they were to do.
But little Fablitha was still young, with memories of what free women could enjoy, what American and European women possessed and took for granted. She grieved for her family and when she heard of Sa’id’s death she wept for him as did her sister. When she discovered that her own father was a captive to Adjo it broke their hearts.
The night of the explosion all the women had wept, except the one whom Adjo had selected for the night, she had not dared to weep. But the others had wept knowing that friends of their fathers, brothers, had perished that night. Fablitha wept also for the American and for the loss of her dreams fulfillment.
Aa’isha stood back to look at her little sister. The other women came, nodded their approval, even though there was sympathy in their eyes. Each one of them hated Adjo, each one of them had been subjected to his perverted cruelties. Fablitha wondered what they would say, how they would feel, if they knew what she and Aa’isha had planned..would they be so sympathetic then?
…………………..
Hoss raised a clenched fist, a sign to halt, and when he swept his arm to the left they rode their horses behind the rocks to the left of the track Max gave a hiss of annoyance, the posse were following them and would be upon them within minutes. He looked at Theo,
“Best get our horses and get out of here before they box us in…”
“We left the horses below..”
“Make your way to them, its our only chance”
“No chance, they’re nearly here.”
Max scowled, sure enough he could see Hoss Cartwrights hat moving as he stepped from boulder to boulder, “We’ll have to shoot it out then.”
He took his gun from its holster and spun the chamber, breeched it and reloaded it, beside him Theo was doing the same. He glanced at his brother “You ain’t scared, are you?”
“Are you?”
“Should I be?”
They looked at one another, Max could see the flicker of fear in Theo’s eyes, and frowned
“You can go down there ifn’ you want, Theo, if you think you’d rather hang than get shot.”
Theo shrugged “Sure ’nuff don’t want to hang, don’t want to spend time in jail again either.”
“Nah, nor do I.” Max scowled, his face screwed up and his eyes narrow, glinting in the light of the sun, “So – best we get first shot, huh?”
“Sure, sure -” Theo nodded and withdrew his gun, he checked that the chambers were loaded, nodded again “Sure – let’s do it.”
Clem had just stepped behind a boulder when the first shot was fired, it took his hat off and he felt the breeze as the bullet passed him.
Each of them ducked behind cover, withdrew their guns and waited, another shot was fire, which just whined as it hit a rock. Nate rose up a little
“Max. Theo. Just to let you know – your father ain’t dead – he’s alive. He wants you to give yourselves up -”
Theo’s eyes widened and he looked at his brother with something like pleasure on his face “Hear that? The old man ain’t dead after all?”
“So what, doesn’t make no difference. We didn’t kill him anyway, if he had been dead…we didn’t kill him…they couldn’t arrest us for murder.”
Max stared at Theo coldly, narrow eyes and thin nosed, his lips tightened, “We left him there to die.”
“Ain’t the same as having put a bullet in him though, is it?”
Max sighed and nodded, he raised his head above the boulder
“Then why are you here fer? What do you want us fer?”
“You know why, Max. Rustling for one thing…”
Nate’s voice was calm, cool. Joe wondered if the man ever did get rattled about anything. Even so he still crouched beside Hoss, his pistol in his hand, waiting.
“You can’t prove that -”
“Sorry, Max, but we can -” Nate glanced at Clem and nodded, pointed to where the deputy could thread his way around the boulders and come up behind the two brothers. Clem began to stealthily make his way, from boulder to boulder, going higher and higher. Joe could see where he could do the same, from the other side, Clem to the left and he to the right, and both meeting right behind the Burgoyne’s. He began to inch his way up.
Theo looked at his brother and then shook his head “How’d they know?”
“Reckon Jack talked?”
“Shucks…rustlings a hanging offence ain’t it?”
“Stealing horses is…”
Theo scratched his head, “As I said, I don’t want to hang -”
They leaned into the boulders and fired off several more shots, unaware of Clem and Joe slowly making their way up behind them.
Hoss and Nate fired back, careful where to aim their bullets, mindful that Clem and Joe were somewhere in the area.
“They keep banging away like that, they’ll run out of bullets.” Theo grinned and rose to his feet, stepping away from the cover of the boulders and casually firing down on the two men.
Max grabbed at his brothers leg “There’s only two of ’em down there..”
“So what? You mean we already got two of ’em?” Theo replied gloatingly.,
“No,” Clem said appearing just above them “There’s two down there, and two up here. Now throw down your guns, you’re under arrest.”
Theo was always the slowest of the two, he hesitated, but Max didn’t he fired his gun several times before Clem’s bullet caught him in the chest, sending him sprawling over the rocks, slithering downwards until he came to rest against a large boulder. Theo gave a howl, he fired several more shots at random, before throwing the gun down and hurling himself down the bloodied track his brother had made, and upon reaching him, he gathered him in his arms and broke into loud sobs.
It was sad, unnecessary. Hoss felt a lump in his throat as he saw the misery of the other man mourning his brother. He looked up as Clem and Joe made their descent to them, slipping their guns into their holsters. To Joe the sight of the two men, one dead and one living, one cradling the other in his arms, made him think of a time when he, his father and Hoss had found Adam struggling to bring a dead man to what? Some kind of safety? It reminded him of how Adam had fallen into his father’s arms, the heart broken sobs he had never thought to hear his brother cry..as he clung to his Pa…Joe looked away, he didn’t want to witness this misery, nor be reminded of that other time, nor to have the fear of his brother not coming home again.
Chapter 62
Adjo Admose was wearing white silk. He was draped in it from head to foot, and as he rose from the chair upon which he had been seated Fablitha realised how tall he was, and how small she was in comparison. She shivered, bowed her head and made her bow to him. Hand on her heart, on her mouth, on her brow…
“Beautiful.” he said and his voice was thick with the passion he felt for this young woman
He stared at her for a moment and then beckoned to her “Do you know why I have spared you for this moment?”
“No, my master?” she almost whispered the words.
“Because not only are the the most beautiful woman here, but you are the youngest…the most modest. Do you know what your name means, little one?”
“Yes, master, I do.”
He smiled, cruel lips over yellowing teeth, like a dogs. He nodded “It means Virtuous, honest, superior…and you, little Fablitha, are all those things.”
She sighed, he came nearer. He could smell her perfume, he touched her cheek with the back of his hand, “Very soon now, we shall be in Cyprus. Do you know what will happen there?” he led her to the bed, “I shall become Khedive. Isma’el has already been exiled. Sa’id is dead. There is no one who can stand in my way now. They are all -” he waved his hand and shrugged “-gone.”
She bowed her head, yes, all gone…her father, Isma’els advisor and Chancellor, gone. All gone. She sighed and allowed him to pull her down upon the bed. He began to loosen her hair, smiling at her, she raised her hand as though to remove a pin. It had a jewelled head, it was long, it was very sharp.

It was a strange thing, after they found his body lying upon the bed, looking surprised, but at peace, that no one thought to examine the body for the cause. The girl had summoned them, stood in the corner of the room and watched them as they composed his body and then stood back to look upon it with no expression on their faces other than – relief.
The Captain came and stared down at the body. He ordered the Doctor to attend to it, according to Muslim tradition. He looked at the girl “Was he taken ill?”
She shook her head. He nodded and turned away, she was a very lovely girl, young, virginal. He knew there was one of the women Adjo had ‘reserved’ for a special occasion.
Fablitha returned to where the other women were kept. Aa’isha came and took her hand, looked at her and she nodded. It was done. It had not been so very difficult after all, when one hates someone as much as they hated Admose, it was amazing how strong one became.

The Doctor found a small puncture wound at the base of Admose’ skull. He stared at it and pondered upon it. He stood observing the body for a long time while he wondered whether or not he should stir up a whole mess of trouble over one man who was hated by so many.
In a way he felt ashamed and he knew many others on board felt the same…the men who had been tortured, left to died in the hold of the Damaris, then blown to smithereens..they had all been men respected and admired not so long ago. Some had been related to men on board ship, some had been mentored by them….yet in their hour of need no one had come to their aid, no one had helped. In their own fear of Admose they had all been culpable of murder, in a small way they had all taken a hand in killing off the best of men. Turning a blind eye, pretending they didn’t really know, when all they time fear prevented them helping any of them.
But now the worst of men was dead, anyone of them could have done it. Perhaps a long time ago, someone should have done because now each one of them had to live with their consciences and the awareness of their guilt which would haunt them, like the ghosts of all the men Adjo Admose had sent to their deaths
Chapter 63
School days slipped into a pleasant pattern for Hannah She knew where her class room was, and could sit by a window and look out over the town, and sometimes recognise friends and family as they wandered along the streets about their business. She was a good girl though, and didn’t indulge in day dreaming but applied herself to her lessons.
She liked her school teacher, a pretty young woman from Brooklyn who, despite her strong Bronx accent, endeared herself to all her young pupils. Hannah even enjoyed the recreation breaks now that Sofia had calmed down and there was no more talk of running away to sea to be cabin boys.
Davy Riley and Tommy Conway were no longer part of a gang, in fact, there was no longer a gang for them to belong to…for Reuben and Jimmy had struck up a close friendship, and Phil, well, he had never been one of the originals and just drifted off to attach himself to someone else.
Jimmy Carstairs was happy to stroll around the yard with Reuben and occasionally sit with Sofia and Hannah and Rosie who had decided that family loyalty was really more important than drifting with the snooty town girls. She loved her cousins and the rather unkind comments some, not all, but some of the girls made in connection to Sofia and Hannah were pushing the boundaries just too far.
“You’re happy now, arn’t you, Jimmy?” Sofia said one lunch time, as she observed the boy over the crust of the sandwich she was eating.
“Yes,” he nodded and a lock of hair drifted over his forehead making him look quite ‘cute’, Rosie seemed to think so for she gave Sofia a nudge with her elbow and nodded over in his direction “Mr Evans…I mean …well, you know who I mean…he said I didn’t have to change my name and he wouldn’t legally adopt me unless I really wanted it.” he sat down on the stair beside her and offered her a slice of cake but she declined as she had cake of her own “Adam Cartwright adopted you, didn’t he?”
She looked over at Reuben, wanting confirmation to come from him, some words were still a problem for her, she was still a little girl after all, and unsure of a lot of things. Her brother leaned against a railing, and nodded
“Sure, that’s why I’m Rueben Phillips Cartwright. He said it was up to us if we wanted to be adopted or not. Sofia was too little, she wouldn’t understand all that kind of thing…but it’s alright, being adopted, means …well, it makes you feel safer somehow, like you are really part of his family. I like it. I don’t really remember my Pa very much now, but he doesn’t – I mean – Adam – doesn’t mind us talking about him still. “
Jimmy nodded thoughtfully, and bit into his cake with a frown on his face, giving the impression that the food was laced with arsenic and it was his task to swallow it down regardless of the consequences.
“I can’t remember what my father looked like, but I remember what he sounded like ..especially when …” he swallowed and shrugged “doesn’t matter anyhow.”
They watched as he stood up very quickly, brushed off crumbs and walked away. Reuben followed and said nothing, hands in his pockets, and feet kicking a pebble across the ground.
“Sorry. “Jimmy muttered “Just that I never like talking about my Pa.”
“That’s alright.” Reuben shrugged and kicked the pebble over to Jimmy who fielded it very well, kicking it back so that for a little while that was all that they did, until after a while Jimmy was relaxed and stopped to talk a little more.
“My Mom didn’t ever want me to mention about my Pa…”
“Oh, did it upset her?”
“Yes, not because she – she didn’t miss him, you know? She was scared of him, he was -he wasn’t very kind, you know? And when he was drunk he was -”
“It’s alright, you don’t have to say anymore, Jim. I do understand.” Reuben gave his friend a comradely nod of the head, a nudge of the elbow, “But Mr Evans isn’t like that is he?”
“He’s – he’s a real great guy. And he does love my Mom. I don’t mind them holding hands now, it’s rather – rather -” he shrugged “You know?” and he shrugged again.
“Yeah, I know, my Pa and Ma do it all the time, holding hands, kissing and all that kind of stuff. I’ve kinda got used to it.” he frowned, looked wistful, “I sure wish my Pa would get back soon. I miss him. My Ma – she’s sad without him – and I’m scared that he might be hurt, because sometimes he does get hurt, and I heard Ma talking to Bridie one time, about how she’s scared he might never come back home…and she cried a bit and I got scared.”
Jimmy swallowed, he felt embarrassed now, but he did what he could, gave Reuben a nod of the head and slap on the shoulder “He’ll be alright. Your Pa is – well – he’s going to be alright, that’s all.”
“Yeah, of course he is…thanks, Jim.”
They shared a nod of the head, a grin, and then got back to kicking that pebble about the yard.
………….
‘Morgan Phillips’ watched as Mary Ann’s nimble fingers flew across the keyboard of her piano.  She had never felt any interest in music, although she enjoyed listening to it whenever the opportunity had arisen, but to play an instrument had held no interest to her whatsoever. As a child she had followed behind her father and brother digging up artifacts at whichever location he had taken them.   Her education, and that of Rachel and her brother, had been sketchy, and the work of numerous Governesses.  As a child she had been precociously intelligent despite no aptitude for her studies and she had learned, as her father had described it, on her feet. His enthusiasm as an archaeologist had fired within her an equal zeal, she had been very quickly overtaken her siblings and become her father’s shadow on the digs.
She was thinking of him even now as she nursed the baby, listened to Mary Ann.  Thinking of her father, dwelling on past happier memories brought a heaviness to her mood. She released a sigh, which Mary Ann heard even above her playing for she stopped and looked over at the other woman
“Are you alright, ‘Morgan’?”
“I was thinking – of my father and Sa’id – just sometimes don’t you wish you could turn the clock back?”
“Oh –“ Mary Ann smiled and slowly lowered the lid over the keyboard, then walked away from the piano to take the chair opposite the other woman, “Yes, sometimes.  It is easy to only think and regret the good times, and forget that there had been bad times too.  My only regret, of course is that Frank died when we were coming out west.   I do sometimes wish he had survived to see how things are here….”
“You remind me of the fact that everyone has tribulation of some kind in their life, is that not so/”’ Morgan’ replied with a slight downturn of the mouth,  as though she regretted having spoken of her thoughts to this younger woman
“But it is true, isn’t it?” Mary Ann smiled gently, “Olivia for instance, she has gone through some very hard times…still is as a matter of fact.” She glanced at ‘Morgan’ and narrowed her eyes as though wondering if this woman had ever stopped to think of how Olivia was struggling with the absence of her own husband.
‘Morgan’ nodded and looked down at the baby now sleeping in her arms, a dribble of milk slipping down her cheek. She gently dabbed it away and looked up at Mary Ann, “I find it remarkable how you women survive out here…”
“Oh we have an easy life compared to many, ‘Morgan.’  Each of us has a dear loyal helper, and we have each other, and we live close enough together to have companionship.  Many women who come out west live desperately lonely lives, hard working lives and a hand to mouth existence.   That’s why we opened the hospice in the hope it would help some of the women in town.”
“I’m sure it has..”
“Yes.” Mary Ann nodded, “But I’m not sure for how much longer.   Bridie is getting older, and finding it a struggle to meet all the demands made upon her.  Paul, well, he should have retired years ago.  There are good helpers there, but none with the experience of Bridie, and I do think that perhaps it will soon have to come to an end…the town is shrinking, people are moving on, seeking new challenges, perhaps hoping for an easier life.”
“It’s hard to adjust to so many changes, isn’t it?”
“Well, we all want the best for our children, should we be blessed with them. Sometimes the only way they can have the best is by embracing the changes.”
“You mean, you may consider moving away from here? From the Ponderosa?”
“Oh I may want to, some day. But I doubt if Hoss or Joe ever would…” Mary Ann laughed, and shook her  head, “And really, being serious now I could never imagine being anywhere else but here.  I want the Ponderosa to continue on forever…I want Daniel and Constance to have a wonderful life here.”
“I’m sure they will have, dear.” ‘Morgan’ smiled and leaned forward to touch the young woman on the hand, “All the children here…I’m sure they will be here forever.”
Mary Ann said nothing to that, but smiled and nodded even though she had felt a vague fluttering in her stomach, a touch of fear perhaps, that thinking of a forever future was not actually going to confirm the possibility of it being true.
“What about yourself, ‘Morgan’?” she said in an attempt to change the direction of the conversation “Would you like to settle hereabouts/”
‘Morgan’ shook her head and again looked down at her child, sighed and turned her head away as though unable to find words, or perhaps, timid about confiding all that she felt to this well meaning and gentle young woman. After a few moments of silence she shook her head again, and once more leaned forward to touch Mary Ann on the arm as though in reassurance of the well meaning of her words
“No, I can’t stay. I have been thinking about it since Anna was born. I can’t stay here, Mary Ann, it would be like running away and depriving Anna of her rightful place in the world. She is the niece of the Khedive, Sa’id would not want to deprive her of any privilege that could be hers by right.”
“But what about Admose ? You said you were afraid he would kill her, , and you.”
“I am – still afraid – yes, that could happen.” she frowned, “But not here. Once I feel well enough I shall sell what little I have left, that I have in the box …” she stopped herself and cleared her throat, “I was thinking of going to England, to be with Rachel and her family. Anna can grow up with them, and I can resume my true identity with the protection of the British Government. That seems to me the best solution.”
Mary Ann said nothing to that, she was too politically naive to even think of anyone she knew having protection of Governments, after all, it seemed to her no one in Government had ever protected Adam when he had had his difficulties. She pouted a little and gave a slight roll of her shoulders, then stood up and walked to the window to watch the children playing outside. Her children, hers and Joe’s…their future, and she wondered how sad it must be to have to hide away behind false names, perhaps lose one’s role in life, because of one wretched evil man.
“I hope Laurence and Adam get here soon.” ‘Morgan’ murmured as she watched the way Mary Ann stood so still, “Once they come things will be easier, Laurence will be able to arrange things, you’ll see – it will all work out.”
It had been one of her father’s favourite expressions when in difficulties “You’ll see, it’ll all work out.” But it didn’t always, her brother still died from that illness in Cairo, her sister remained estranged from her father, Sa’id was dead, as was her father …but hope, that precious jewel lying in the bottom of Pandora’s box, remained. She was determined to hold onto it for all she was worth.
Chapter 64
Connor Parry looked thoughtfully at the old man sitting opposite him, and wondered whether or not it was safe to trust him. The name Cartwright was not unknown to him, after all, anyone who knew the Shenandoah, the SS Baltimore and even the tragic events leading to the destruction of SS Ainola knew the name Adam Cartwright, Commodore.
They also knew that he was often sent on assignments by the U.S Government and got involved in situations of both political and sensitive nature; sometimes to his detriment but he was the holder of several medals, awarded him by a grateful President.
Now the old man was looking at Connor with the look of a desperate man, anxious to get the matter dealt with, fearful that this young man would shake his hand, and walk away without the least interest in the events involving his son.
Connor leaned against the table top, and pushed around the glass of whiskey with his forefinger. He looked again at the old man, then down at the whiskey and frowned,
“I don’t like getting involved in political things…”
“This has nothing to do with anything political.” Ben said with a touch of arrogance in his voice, and he leaned back as though he now needed to view the other man more critically, as though Connor didn’t quite match up to the task requested of him.
“You are sure that by going ahead with your suggestion, I won’t come back and be hauled away to some prison for acting against Government interests?”
Ben rolled his dark eyes and shook his head, “How many more times do I have to tell you, Mr Parry, that this is not a political assignment. I am looking for my son…”
“I’m sorry, Mr Cartwright, it’s just that your son has something of a reputation around these parts. Ships get blown out of the water, men get drowned -”
Ben pushed against the table and stood up, he tossed some coins onto the table and shrugged “Treat yourself to the whole bottle, Mr Parry…you obviously arn’t the man I’m looking for.”
Connor looked at the coins and then shook his head and pushed them back towards Ben. He nodded and pointed to the chair Ben had just vacated, “Sit down, Mr Cartwright. Tell me exactly what you have in mind?”
Ben hesitated a moment. Connor was an honest looking man, open faced, what you saw was what you got ..at least that was the impression he gave to people. He sat down again, and pocketed the coins.
Once again he went through the tale of Adam and Laurence’s abduction, how the ship they had been on had evidently exploded out at sea. It was possible, just possible, that Adam and his friend could have survived and that the schooner that had left some days earlier would already have found them – or not. Connor held up a forefinger
“If there is a ship already out looking for them, why not just wait for it to come back/”
“Because, Mr Parry, I am not a patient man, and sitting around here waiting for news, or for my son to come home, is slowly driving me mad. Let me tell you something about my son – and why I have to go looking for him -” and in his deep brown voice Ben told Connor about the time Adam had been lost in the desert, and days later found dragging a dead man on a travois when nearly dead himself “The thing is, Mr Parry, I was very close to riding away at the time, the wilderness is vast, as wide and open as the sea, the chances of finding Adam were so slim that I nearly failed him. It was the merest chance that we saw him, a few minutes more and we would never have known how close we had been to finding him until his bones would have been found years later.”
He picked up his glass and gulped down the whiskey, then looked at Connor “So- can I rely on your help or not?”
Connor smiled, “Mr Cartwright, it would be an honour to help. Commodore Cartwright is a hero round these parts, ever since he faced up to Pelman – I was there at the Court Martial, you know – we threw our hats in the air when he was found Not Guilty of all charges.”
He held out his hand, calloused and rough from years of hard work, “I’ll get my ship ready and the crew standing by – when do you want to leave?”
“Within the hour.” Ben said without hesitation, although he did wonder if he were pushing things rather but Connor smiled and nodded
“We’ll be ready. The Avenger has a good turn of speed, and I have a good crew, you won’t be disappointed.”
“It may be -” Ben said slowly as he shook Connor’s hand “the The Viking Queen will have found my son and his friend already, but the pay will be the same – along with my thanks.”
Connor smiled and nodded, “As you say, sir.”
Both men stepped from the table and towards the door, both were tall men, although one was more stooped at the shoulders, and white haired at that, but they both walked with the firm step of men knowing what they had to do, and prepared to go ahead and do it.

It took Ben no time at all to collect his belongings, pay his hotel bill and return to the harbour where Connor was ready with his crew and The Avenger all fitted out and ready to set sail. She was an iron clad ship, only a few years in age, the paintwork still shining new for she was well cared for by the men who manned her. Connor Parry, Captain, stood at the gangway ready to receive his guest.
For a moment Ben hesitated, he wondered if he were being a trifle impetuous, and how would be feel if The Viking Queen came into view almost as soon as they left harbour. He shook the feeling off, so what if it did? So long as Adam was on board, safe and sound, at least he would know his father had cared, had bothered to come looking.
Connor showed Ben to a cabin, neat and sparse, and then set down some maps on the table. “I got the co-ordinates of where the wreck should be from the Harbour Master so there won’t be a problem of searching for him, in that we won’t be going round in circles. I rather suspect that we’ll come across the Viking Queen before we find any sign of the wreckage, she left harbour some time back, if there was anyone to find, then they would have been taken on board by now.”
He stabbed a finger at the map, the little red mark on a vast ocean of blue stared up at Ben, just a little red mark to aim for on a map…a huge amount of sea over which to navigate. But, as Connor had said, once knowing where to aim for, it would be as easy as going across the desert looking for a man dragging a dead man on a travois.
……………………
Adam Cartwright leaned back in his chair and watched as Laurence Willoughby stared at the cards in his hand. Laurence was not a good poker player, he took forever to decide which card to lay down, which to keep or whether to bother at all. Adam didn’t mind that, it gave him time to think of other things besides his aches and pains, being on board ship as a passenger and having no say about anything at all.
He tried not to be irritable, or impatient, but at times it showed through and he would have to take himself off to his cabin to ‘kick his heels’ and just be grateful to be alive. The schooner was, after all, not the size of any ship he had commanded, it hadn’t the capacity for the speed of any of them. The morale of the men was good, they were all ‘mates’, and he was reminded several times that it was a private ship, it was not a part of the Royal Navy, and the Captain was a friend of Laurence’s and an employee of the Duke’s. Salway was a good man, and Adam knew that having an ex-naval officer on board was probably as irritating to the Englishman as being a passenger was to him.
His thoughts drifted to his father and he wondered what Ben would be doing now. How was Olivia handling things now, after all, when she had accepted his decision to help Laurence she would never have expected the outcome to be as it had, and that he would again be absent from her – again.
He sighed and moved restlessly in the chair and Laurence looked up, gave him a smile “Sorry to be taking so long, never been any good at card games…”
“Take as long as you need.” Adam replied and shrugged slightly, after all this was a smart cabin in a beautiful craft, not a smoke filled saloon with a crowd of miners and cowboys lounging around ready to shoot a man if he were to delay longer than necessary over what hand he was going to put down.
“I was thinking about Rachel -” Laurence drawled “and the children. Just wish there were some means by which we could communicate with them, you know?” he put down an Ace and Adam winced, shook his head, Laurence’s hand hovered “Should I take it back?”
“Too late now.” Adam sighed and turned his attention to the port hole where he could see blue skies, blue seas – no birds – still too far out from land to see birds. He stood up and walked over to look out. “I was thinking of Livvy, and my Pa…”
“I’m hoping, once we get to ‘Frisco, that we can get to the Ponderosa as quickly as possible, just – well – just to make sure that we’re right, that Anna could be there.”
“I reckon we more or less know that she will be. It makes more sense than her getting to Frisco and then trying to make a living there. If she has had the baby then that will cost – and from what they told us about her finances she wouldn’t have had much time to collect much in the way of money.”
Laurence nodded, remembering the conversations they had had with those men in the hold of the Damaris. Each one had given them as much information as they possibly could, about the situation in Cairo, the murder of Sa’id and their own abductions. Anna’s situation had been laid out in every detail, leaving Adam and Laurence in no doubt that her condition would be dire if she were to remain without help.
“What will happen next? I mean – will you take her back to England?”
“That will depend on her. I wouldn’t want to force her to do anything against her will.” Laurence replied quietly as he watched Adam scoop up the cards and reshuffle them. “I think she will have suffered enough, she wouldn’t appreciate me interfering.”
“What would Rachel want her to do?” Adam smiled,
“Oh without doubt, she would want her sister home with her. It isn’t as if there wouldn’t be enough room. The south wing of the house is barely touched, perfect for her really.” and he laughed, just a little, for his mouth was still painful
It was good to hear him laugh, to know he was healing emotionally as well as physically. Adam nodded and put the pack of cards down, walked to the door and turned around “How about a swim?”
“A swim?” Laurence’s eyebrows shot up and he laughed again, not so light hearted this time, “A swim? You mean – out there – in the sea?”
“Salways put down the anchor, we arn’t going anywhere for a while…I need some exercise, and walking around the deck isn’t enough.”
“A swim?” Laurence got to his feet “You do know that I was school swimming champion three years running? Won the trophy for the school twice -”
“Stop bragging – “ Adam chuckled, it was just like listening to Joe, perhaps that was why he was so fond of the Englishman, he was so like Little Joe.

The crew stood around the side of the ship and applauded as the two men stripped off, and dived in to the crystal blue waters below. If anyone of them had noticed the scars on the Americans tanned body none of them commented, accepted them for what they were, and acknowledged them as proof of a courageous man. Laurence was pale skinned in comparison, apart from the wound across the chest so recently received he had not a mark on him.
The men whooped and cheered as the two men ducked, swam and ducked again. ‘Frolicking’ was what Travis called it, and he nodded approval, suggested that some of the other men did the same and took a bar of soap in with them, they certainly needed it! It was no surprise when they turned on him and threw him, good naturedly, over board.
‘Frolicking’ was good, partakers and non partakers enjoyed it all with much laughter and applause. When the bell clanged to announce a meal was ready to be eaten, the three swimmers were hauled back on board. It was the cleanest Adam had felt in weeks, it was as though the harsher memories of their incarceration had been effectively sloughed off.
Chapter 65
Sofia had a good ear for music. Mary Ann had frequently complimented her on how well she could already play short pieces of music. Her downfall was impatience, after a few times running up and down the scales she would want to go onto the more complicated fingering, or some music she especially enjoyed, and despite her Aunt’s admonition to slow down, do her exercises, practice her scales she would artfully contrive to get her own way.
‘Morgan Phillips’ listened to the child playing a small piece of music popular for many, and then smiled over at Mary Ann who was shaking her head at her pupils stubborn resistance to her counsel.
“It seems you have a very competent pianist, Mary Ann,but also a very independent one.”
“Sofia just won’t do as she is told,” Mary Ann scolded, “She doesn’t seem to see how important it is to practice. My instructor -” she paused and thought of her instructor, and sighed, shook her head and smiled “Well, I suppose in the end what does it matter. I doubt if Sofia will ever become as famous a concert pianist as she had been, after all, I was a disappointment to her as well.”
‘Morgan’ shook her head and said something along the lines that she could not believe that at all. But Mary Ann only smiled as she turned away to observe Sofia who had overheard what had been said about her and was now very diligently doing her finger exercises. Up and down the keyboard her fingers flew, while her face was screwed up in a scowl of protest.
Olivia came into the house, she smiled at the women and set down a basket of vegetables, then turned to look for Nathaniel who was dragging along behind her.
“I’m sorry I’m late, I got held up by Bridie, and then Mary Evans…” she laughed a little and shook her head “I can’t get used to calling her Mrs Evans now, after so long as Mrs Carstairs. She seems so happy and content.”
“Has she heard at all from Amanda?” Mary Ann asked to which question Olivia answered with a shake of the head.
“I have a letter from Peggy though.” and she produced a rather crumpled envelope from her pocket, as yet unopened, “I thought we could read it together, when Hester gets here. She shouldn’t be much longer, she went to see Ann.”
“And is there any news about the Burgoynes? How is Mr Burgoyne?”
“Recovering well. I met Joyce in town, she looks quite well.” she flashed a look over at Mary Ann and wondered if her sister in law ever thought of how Joyce Burgoyne could have become Joyce Cartwright had she stayed to give Ben the chance of marrying her. But Mary Ann only nodded and returned her attention to Sofia who was slowly coming to the close of her lesson for the day.
“Did she say anything about her step-sons? About the rustling?”
“Only that she told Nate to keep Theo locked up and to throw away the key.”
Mary Ann nodded thoughtfully “Joe said it was heart breaking the way Theo carried on about Max being killed. Being brothers themselves, Hoss and he felt – well – they felt for him.” she shook her head as though to throw away such thoughts “Well, anyway, they can get on with sorting out the rustling now – that’s one problem solved.,”
Olivia had hardly had time to remove her bonnet and take the basket into the kitchen when Hester seemed to fly into the room, her curls springing like live wire from her head and her face flushed. She was followed by Erik and Hannah who gravitated over to the piano to plonk along the keys while Sofia slipped from the stool and ran into the kitchen to search for a cookie. She was swiftly followed by Nathaniel, and Daniel who was always happy to grab at whatever was going in the way of food.
“What a day.” Hester exclaimed and slumped down into the chair opposite ‘Morgan’, “How’s the baby?”
“She’s well,” ‘Morgan’ leaned down to the bassinet and gazed down at the serene infant sleeping quietly “I think she is getting quite fat.”
“And you’re looking well too.” Hester said running a critical eye over the other woman, “I do think life here suits you, ‘Morgan’.”
Olivia returned pushing a pin into her hair and looking around her at the other women, “I had a letter from Peggy.”
“What does she have to say?” Hester immediately asked, and casting her bonnet onto the low table.
“I don’t know, I’ve not read it yet.” Olivia replied with a smile, and she grabbed at Nathaniel “Have you washed your hands, young man?”
Nathaniel spread his hands out for inspection, chewing on his cookie and almost choking. Olivia shook her head at him, “You must remember to wash your hands before you eat, especially when you have been cleaning out the stables.”
Nathaniel nodded, his cheeks bulging, behind him Daniel stuffed the rest of his cookie into his mouth and ran out of the house, swiftly followed by his cousin who was aided with a pat on the bottom from his mother.
Olivia sat down and opened the letter. Sofia and Hannah, with Hope, had gone to her room to play with the dolls and the splendid doll house that took up a whole corner. The sounds of their play trickled down the stairs, and the three mothers looked at one another and smiled contentedly. Constance was now seated on Mary Ann’s lap, a cookie in one hand, a sleepy smile on her face.
“My dear Adam, and Olivia, to all of you – greetings from Philadelphia
I am sorry that I have not written to you much sooner but life has been busy. Yes, I know how busy life is on the Ponderosa, but somehow time seems to get swallowed up in bigger bites here.
Miss Ridley and I got very involved in the Suffragette Movement in New York but to be honest there were so many disagreements and fractious arguments about nothing that I quite lost my patience with them all Miss Ridley is far more patient than I, but then she is now one of the leading ladies and so involved, I doubt if she gives Virginia City a thought nowadays.
As it is I decided to take up Maurice’s offer of marriage. I know – it may come as a bit of a shock, after all I spoke out so against it, didn’t I? My mother was furious, not because I got married but because she was not at the wedding. Well, to be honest, not many were…we just pulled a few people off the street as witnesses, Maurice’s best friend was groomsman and Lucy was my bridesmaid. It was small and private, and quiet. Had mother been involved it would have been none of those things.
Maurice and I are in Philadelphia at the moment arranging to go on a dig in Tehran. It is all a bit up in the air just now because of the political situation, but we hope to be gone very soon.
I hope all are well there…
Love etc
Peggy Stevens.”
There was a slight hiatus in the room, Mary Ann sighed and raised her eyebrows while Olivia removed her spectacles and put them with the letter on the table. Hester started gathering up pins to stick in her hair having noticed several had dropped into her lap as Olivia was reading.
“You don’t seem very happy about this young woman’s news,” ‘Morgan’ said as she leaned over to pick Anna up, the sounds of her sleepy whimpers enough of an excuse to pick her up and cuddle her for a few more moments.
Hester laughed and shook her head, resulting in more pins springing out of her curls, while Olivia sighed and Mary Ann laughed “Peggy – dear me – what a character.”
“I think we could all do with some refreshment,” Olivia said and smoothed down her skirts as she got up from her chair, “I have to say, Maurice Stevens always struck me as a very persistent young man.”
“He’s certainly proven that to be the case.” Hester laughed “Poor man, still, he knows Peggy by now, or ought to -”
‘Morgan’ said nothing, she thought of digs, of Tehran, of the far eastern lands she loved, that she could never return to now. It brought back memories of her father, of the past, of pyramids and – Sa’id. She turned away to stare at the spines of the books on the shelves near by, in order that the other ladies would not see the tears upon her cheeks.
……..
Out at sea the weather can change on the spin of a dime. Dark clouds gathered ominously and the waves became faster, high, wilder so that spray began to fly against the sides of the vessels. The Avenger and The Viking Queen were just two days away from the other, drawing irresistibly closer.
Connor Parry handed a sou’wester over to Ben who was standing by his side in the bridge “Best put this on, sir. Weather’s blowing up a storm out there.”
Ben nodded and pulled the clothing on over his head, then peered more closely out of the window as though he could conjure up the Viking Queen right before his eyes there and then. The Avenger dipped into a trough and he staggered slightly, grabbing the rail to keep his balance.
“Some while since you’ve been to sea, sir?” Connor said with a slight smile, a kindly twinkle in his eyes.
“Too long.” Ben replied, and sighed thinking back to the storms at sea he had experienced, the number of times he had been ship wrecked.
“You’ll get your sea legs soon enough…” Connor glanced at the wheel, and placed a steadying hand on it as it began to spin. “An old sea dog like you -”
Ben said nothing to that, he had been too long on land to be considered a sea dog now. He watched as a lamp was lit for the storm had made the bridge dark, shadows flickered eerily as the ship rocked sending the lantern swinging too and fro. Connor set it down onto a more secure stand and then looked out at the water
“It shouldn’t last too long,” he said confidently “I doubt if it will be more than a Force 10”
Force 10 or not, Ben just hoped that wherever his son was now, he was in safe hands and the schooner, The Viking Queen, could handle storms out at sea, or whether she was just a pretty vessel not good for anything but cruising.
Laurence Laurence Willoughby shook the shoulder of the man sleeping on the bunk, shook it again until Adam stirred and opened his eyes “What?”
Laurence Willoughby shook the sleeping man roughly by the shoulder, until finally Adam stirred, opened his eyes and muttered “What?” in a thick voice, proof of just how deep a sleep he had slipped into since their impromptu swim
“We need you on the bridge..” Laurence replied quietly, “There’s a storm…”
Adam frowned, he shook his head to wake himself up, then rolled over and planted both feet on the ground. He could feel the swell, the troughs, the plunges, beneath his feet. He grabbed at the weatherproof jacket that Laurence was holding out to him and hurried to put it on as he made his way to the bridge.
“What’s happened? Where’s Salway?” he asked once he was standing in the bridge, the helmsman fighting the wheel, maps sliding from the table, and his voice drowned out by the clash of water spray against the glass separating them from the sea and the waves boiling ahead of them.
“He stumbled down the hatchway.” Evans the helmsman said, “This storm just came out of the blue, she was as steady as a rock one minute and Captain said he’d go down and check the barometer as something didn’t feel right. Then an almighty wave came up and hit her sideways on, surprised you didnt feel it, sir.”
Adam raised his eyebrows, he’d slept through and fought more storms than this youngster had even known. Laurence was picking up the maps and trying to secure them down on the flat surface that ran the length of the bridge, while Evans waited for Adam to take action. Not that there was much action one could take …not on a small schooner and just a handful of men.
“How’s the wheel?”
“Doing well, sir. No strain on her…”
Glancing up at the sails Adam looked at the two men standing on the deck, soaked to the skin already, their hair plastered over their faces “Reef in the sails otherwise she’ll go over.”
The two men, Norman Twigg and Henry Purves looked at one another, then nodded and set to work. Laurence watched as they each headed for the rigging, a streak of lightning flashed silhouetting them against the sky “They can’t do it – just the two of them.”
“No. -” Adam nodded and took several steps away from the wheel, turned and nodded to Evans “You’re alright here? “
“Yes, sir…she’s holding well”
With another nod of the head Adam opened the door of the bridge and stepped out onto the deck…then pushing against the force of the wind and rain he made his way to the rigging, and began to climb, hand over hand, to where the main sail strained against the wind.
Chapter 66
Laurence watched from the bridge as the three men scaled the rigging to where the sails strained and billowed in the wind forcing the little schooner to race through the waves that were now foaming around them. Every so often their vision was blocked out as a wave would crash against the glass and the schooner would swivel, spin, lean over as though about to turn turtle over.
The three men did not think, there was no possibility of thinking when all one could do was make sure a hand gripped the rope ahead of them, their feet were firm on the rope beneath them and then their fingers would reach out and begin the task of uncleating the sails and folding them back. Sometimes the wind actually helped and sometimes it hindered the task, several times when the ship pitched over they were closer to the water than to the sky, but each man clung on.
It had been many years since Adam had scaled the rigging. As an Officer he had the pleasure of yelling orders and seeing others scuttling up to obey them. But it didn’t mean he had forgotten how to move through the mess of ropes that formed a ships rigging. On the schooner there were less, the task was more straightforward, and it was not long before he was uncleating and folding the sail over.
Rain and sea water combined to soak them through, they could barely see through the salt water that got into their eyes, poured down their faces from drenched hair and the heavens. Fingers began to feel like putty, clumsy and cumbersome, not as nimble as the task required. But they succeeded in their task, inching across to other sails and then slowly descending back to the deck.
Adam was almost propelled through the door into the bridge as a wash of sea water hit him in the back, sloshing over the floor before he had time to slam it shut. Laurence shook his hand, and nodded as once again he attributed his life to this man, then he turned to Evans “All’s well, Evans?”
“Steerings stable, sir.”
Laurence was about to speak when the door burst open yet again and Travis toppled in, more sea water came in with him and it took the combined efforts of both Adam and Laurence to get the door closed again.
“I saw the two men – sent them to get something warm inside them – you should get down there too, sir, or you’ll be getting your death of cold.”
Adam shook his head while Laurence collected up the scattered maps and tried to secure them down. Evans glanced over his shoulder and watched as the American leaned against the counter and wiped the water from his face, he shook his head slightly, he knew he would never have risked going up the rat lines even though his life depended on it.
“How’s Salway?” Laurence asked
“Worried about his ship. His fall twisted his knee and dislocated his shoulder. It was a clumsy move made worse by the sea hitting the schooner side ways on…he’s furious, the air’s blue down there.” he looked at Adam “How are your hands?”
Adam glanced down at the bandaged hands, and gave a wry smile “Bandages helped ..no new blisters to report, Doctor.”
“Any idea where we are just now?” Travis now asked, he looked at each man there, “Salway wanted to know.”
“Can’t say for sure, we may be a few degrees off course, but at present still maintaining our way to San Francisco harbour. Thankfully we’re far out enough not to worry about hidden rocks, or shoals…so long as we can control the ship we can leave her to have her head.” Adam glanced at Evans who nodded agreement.
“I’ll let him know.” he sighed and glanced out of the glass “Well, I’ll tell Brooks to make sure the stew stays hot, although he had to kill the fire in the stove for obvious reasons.”
They watched him go, head down, staggering across the deck, reaching for a hand hold wherever he could find it. Laurence shivered, and then looked over at Adam, “Seems you’re in charge, Adam.”
The American shook his head, “That out there is in charge, just now….we have to make sure it doesn’t win.”
Water sloshed back and forth over their booted feet, once or twice Evans had to let the wheel spin when the Viking Queen looked as though she were going to keel over. Adam stood beside the helmsman his eyes narrowed against the blackness, that was occasionally illuminated by streaks of lightning. This was the flimsiest vessel he had ever sailed in, but she was keeping her end up, straining against the elements though she was…
“I wonder if Admose is having to handle this -” Laurence muttered, “If he is, I hope it sends them down to the bottom!”
Adam said nothing for a while, “These storms are localised, I doubt if this will last more than another hour or so…where he’s headed I doubt it will even touch him. He’ll probably reach Cyprus quite safely”
“He seems to have the devil’s own luck.” the Englishman said quietly, and shook his head, “Thank you for what you did, the other two men did well, didn’t they?”
Adam smiled, nodded “They did…without them we may have lost the ship.”
He didn’t say it, but Laurence knew what he meant…they would all have been lost in Davy Jones Locker by now had it not been for Twigg and Purves.
“I should have done more,” Laurence murmured, aware once again of his short comings, “I could only stand here and watch.”
“Each to their own, Laurence….had you tried we would no doubt have been scraping your body up from the deck.” Adam grinned and slapped his friend on the back, “Let’s just concentrate on getting through this now.”
………………..
Ben Cartwright held a large piece of padding against a gash in his forehead from where he had fallen forwards and missed his hold on the railing. His fall had been heavy, and the gash large enough for Connor to order him ‘below’ and to stay in his cabin. It had dented his pride enormously but it was too busy, too chaotic on board for him to stand and argue like some naughty school boy to his master.
Now he lay on the bunk, or rather, attempted to stay on his bunk, holding the blood soaked wadding against the wound while he listened to the storm screaming around him, to the sound of feet running overhead, or past his door, men calling to one another, the ship creaking and groaning.
“Ballast has shifted, Captain.” someone yelled and more feet thudded past and clattered down the ladder to the bilges
He struggled up, the least he could do was attempt to help rake the ballast even, otherwise the whole lot could tip over. His attempts were thwarted when the door of his cabin swung open of its own accord and hit him heavily on the shoulder. The pain doubled him over, left him gasping, and falling back on his bunk.
The Avenger was not a big ship, larger that the Viking Queen, but having different problems to handle in order to survive the gales. Connor Parry yelled orders that drifted through the melee and out to the wind…Ben could only close his eyes and stopped fighting the desire to retain consciousness. He let himself drift into a black hole where he was conscious of nothing …
Chapter 67
At 80 Washington Square, Chicago in the offices of Allan Pinkerton’s Agency where the motto “We never Sleep” glared down at anyone who dared insinuate that it did, Agent Jolyon Pitt left his desk to obey the summons of his superior. He stepped into the office of Alan Pinkerton and nodded at his fellow Agent, Andrew Cruikshank who was about to lower himself into a chair.
Pinkerton pointed to the other chair, and waited for Pitt to lower his long limbs into it, before he started speaking.
“Following the telegram from Marshall Duggan in San Francisco I ordered that a watch be kept on a particular house on Forrestville Avenue*…you are aware of the reasons why?”
Cruikshank nodded “According to the papers we received from S.F the brother of the man who lives there had been killed following the murder, by him, of a woman known as -” he paused long enough for Pitt to add “Sylvia Long also known as Soames.”
Pinkerton nodded “Sylvia Long was the widow of a cousin to Chaille-Long,* a well known cartographer employed by the Khedive Ismael in Cairo.”
He paused, both Agents knew from experience that he was waiting for one of them to supply some information, Cruikshank glanced over at Pitt who cleared his throat, nodded
“Ex-Khedive, he was exiled – recently. There’s a Council with British and French diplomats in Cyprus meeting with the Sultanate to discuss his replacement., Ismael’s son Tewfik.”
Pinkerton stared at Pitt – always unnerving as it left both Agents wondering if they had got the wrong end of the stick and offered up misleading information. Pinkerton nodded
“Now you may be wondering why this should be interesting to us, or why we should even be bothered … the problem is that Duggan’s latest communication informs us that an Englishman – Lord Laurence Willoughby – was recently abducted from a house in SF belonging to a potential threat to the conference, one Adjo Admose. He employed the man who murdered Sylvia Long…” he paused and picked up a piece of paper, read something and put it down, sighed and then looked at Pitt, “along with the Englishman an American was also abducted. This will interest you, Pitt, an ex-Naval officer by name of Adam Cartwright.”
“Of the Ponderosa?” Pitt exclaimed with his eyes widening in surprise.
Cruikshank shook his head “Those Cartwrights seem to get everywhere…just how many of them are there for heavens sake?”
Pinkerton lowered his head and ignored the comment, he stared at the paper, and picked up another telegram, put it down, and selected another closely written report “Adam Cartwright rose to the rank of Commodore, he received two Medals of Honour, and several commendations. What interests us is his connection with Willoughby and Admose.” he passed the report over to Pitt. “You can read that on your way to the house in Forrestville Avenue. Take this,” he handed another sheet of paper to the Agent, “this is your official permit for entry into the building. I want to make sure that the owner of the property does not leave there.”
“Under house arrest?” Cruikshank suggested with a lift of the eyebrows
“If necessary.”
“Any reason ?” Pitt asked as he left his seat
“His name is Ali Mohamed Pasha – he has only recently returned from Maine, where a friend of Sylvia Long’s was murdered, almost to the day that Sylvia was killed by Ali’s brother, Abdullah.”
Pitt frowned “And -?”
“He is not to leave Chicago. Marshall Duggan believes he has been given orders to locate and kill a woman – Anna El Hassim.”
The two Agents glanced down at the papers in their hands in the hope of finding something relevant there about Anna El Hassim, Pitt cleared his throat “She’s a friend of the two dead women?”
“Yes, but she is also the widow of Sa’id El Hassim, who may have become the next Khedive if he had survived Admose’s coup.”
Pitt nodded, picking up from the notes in his hand “She escaped and reached S.F…and you think this Pasha is out to kill her.”
“It’s for certain that he’s been given orders to do so….” Pinkerton rubbed his jaw with his thick fingers. He was raised in Glasgow, Scotland, and traces of his accent were quite pronounced, Cruikshank often ran a form of translation in his head to decipher his orders …”Now, then, just stop him before he reaches her.”
“How important is she then?” Cruikshank naively asked as he got to his feet and rubbed his brow with his nicotine stained fingers
“Well, laddie, she left Cairo expecting a child. That could be quite a useful bargaining chip for whoever gets hold of it first…the wee child I’m thinking…” he scowled “Now – get on with it – we’ve spent too much time blathering here as it is.”
Pitt nodded, and followed by Cruikshank he left the office, closing the door quietly behind him. He had just reached his own desk to collect his firearm, and jacket when Miss Weiss approached and with a smile handed him another piece of paper “This came in not so long ago…”
He glanced down, another telegram from Duggan. There was no doubt about it the man was certainly an asset to his trade. Something about the case obviously piqued his interest and not just because a woman had been murdered on his patch, something more personal. Pitt nodded his thanks to Miss Weiss who blushed even though he hadn’t looked up to speak to her, he read
“Speculation that the widow is at The Ponderosa. Stop. Speculation that the ship bearing Cartwright and Willoughby was destroyed at sea. Stop.”
He put the telegram in with his other papers and shrugged into his jacket. It gave him a strange feeling to be involved in an investigation of international interests, yet concerning the family with whom he had had dealings twice before in his career. He left his office with Cruikshank by his side, once out on the street they hailed a cab and gave directions for the grand house where they hoped to confront Ali Mohamed Pasha.
………………
Sofia had enjoyed her time with her cousins, and she had felt quite proud of the fact that she had been given the baby to cuddle while ‘Morgan’ helped Olivia with some fine sewing, making a pretty layette for the little infant.
Now that the house was becoming settled into evening silence Sofia felt empty..and that feeling made her feel restless. She could not explain the feeling just that she needed to wander from room to room, to look out of the windows, to pay attention to some thoughts and memories that crept into her mind.
She walked to the long bureau where the pictures of family had been arranged…there was the picture of her fleshly father, Robert Phillips, and the pretty painting that her grand mother Abigail Phillips had made of Olivia some years ago when they had first come to live at the Double D. Pictures of Grandpa Ben, and Uncles and Aunts, cousins…and of Adam…her father, to all intents and purposes, the man she loved, the only real father she really knew.
It was a good likeness, a picture of a man in naval uniform wearing his medals and looking somewhat bemused. She reached out and picked it up, then planted a kiss on the glass before putting it back in its place among the others.
“What are you doing, Sofia?”
Olivia had come into the room and watched her daughter for a moment or two. She had some fine silk draped over her arm, ready to be cut into small garments for Anna. Sofia turned, feeling a little guilty “I was looking at the pictures, Mommy”
Olivia nodded and hoped that her daughter was not going to start her odd behavior about Robert again. “Well – come away now, and get ready for supper. Morgan said she would read to you tonight, would you like that?”
“No, I want you to read to me …” Sofia said quietly and looked again at picture of the man in the uniform “Mommy, when is Daddy coming home?”
“Soon, very soon.” Olivia said without pause, she had to say that, it was like the straw floating by in flood waters, it had to be grabbed and held onto before it was swept away and hope lost along with it.
“But how soon. I miss him, Mommy.”
“I know…” Olivia held out a hand and took hold of her daughters, folding her fingers around the child’s warm flesh
“I shall say a very special prayer tonight, I shall ask God to bring Daddy home..and to keep him safe. He might be needing help, Mommy.”
Olivia swallowed hard, and tried to say something but couldn’t find the words, she struggled against the tears and had to turn her head away so that ‘Morgan’, upon seeing them fall down her friends cheeks came and took Sofia by the hand to lead her to the other room.
He could be needing help…Olivia felt her chest tighten, she could barely breathe and struggled for a moment, but it was just too hard…where was her husband? Where was he? Tears fell, she sunk down upon the settee and wept, covering her face with her hands, tears slipped through her fingers, dripped upon the silk.
He could be needing help….
Chapter 68
A man stepped from the shadows of a building opposite the house that Pitt and Cruikshank had been sent to investigate. He looked as much like a shadow himself and Pitt shuddered slightly at the thought of his own property being kept under observation by the likes of him.
“Anything to report?” Cruikshank asked as he stepped into the shadows in order to observe the house from a discreet distance
“All’s quiet. The party we were told to look out for doesn’t seem to be present. Only the usual comings and goings of servants going about their business. Seems they’re all Arab ..” he didn’t say it in any disrespectful tone, living in Chicago one was used to living cheek by jowl with so many different nationalities. In one respect it was rather like living at the tower of Babel with so many languages floating around one’s head.
“And you’re certain Pasha isn’t there?”
“I didn’t say that, Mr Cruikshank, just that we haven’t seen him while on our watch. We’ve been here since mid-day” he paused “the men we relieved hadn’t seen him either.” he shrugged, it was up to Pitt and Cruikshank to make of that what they could, he looked at Pitt “Have you come to relieve us?”
“No. We’ve been told to make an entry and make sure Pasha is there – or not!”.” Pitt replied and pulled his hat more firmly over his brow, as though to shield his eyes from the evening sun.
“We’ll be here if you need us…” the shadow said, and stepped back
“How many of you are there?” Cruikshank asked
“Two here and two more round the back entrance.”
Cruikshank looked at Pitt who nodded and took over the conversation by asking the man to make sure anyone leaving while they were inside were apprehended for questioning. Once the man had disappeared back into the shadows, the two Agents approached the front door to the rather grand building.
A tall man came to the door, dressed in the long djubbeh in white linen. He glanced from one to the other before deciding to ask Cruikshank what it was they wanted, and who exactly they were…Cruikshank and Pitt immediately produced identification badges and their authority to enter the premises.
“We want to speak to the owner, your master, Mr Pasha.” Cruikshank said in that authoritive tone of a man confident in his position and of the people who would back him up despite any action he would take during the next hour or so.
“Mr Pasha is not here.” the reply was made politely, the man bowed respectfully, his hands folded neatly together in an attitude of humble subservience
“I’m sorry, we have to enter the premises to make sure for ourselves…”
A flush of irritation coloured the mans sallow features, but he remained calm and stepped aside, allowing the men to enter the building.
It was austere, but at the same time ostentatious. Furniture and carpeting, pictures and statues were of the finest quality. Both Cruikshank and Pitt could recognise quality when they saw it and they looked at one another, raised their eyebrows, both thinking along similar lines…crime did pay after all, perhaps they were on the wrong side of the law.
“How many staff are here?” Pitt asked and received a look from the servant that indicated some prejudice towards him, Pitt could only assume it was due to his colour, so repeated the question in blunter tones.
“Six.”
Cruikshank nodded, looked around him “We want to speak to them all, but in the meantime show us your Master’s study.”
The man bristled now, he shook his head “My Master would not permit that, he has the key, it is locked.”
“You don’t have a key?” Pitt asked
“The Master keeps the key in his personal possession.”
“In that case we’ll have to gain entry by other means…” Cruikshank replied and walked forward, opening a door to one room, and then proceeding to another …
Had Adam Cartwright been there he would by now have recognised the layout of the building as the one roughly drawn on the back of the journal that had been claimed to belong to Anna El Hassim. Perhaps it would have raised questions in his mind as to why a house in Chicago would have been sketched onto the back page of a journal intended to mislead those it had been sent to, but Pitt and Cruikshank were unaware of any of this and continued to look into each room.
The study was indeed locked. Cruikshank produced a skeleton key and had it opened within seconds much to the Arab’s consternation…by now several other members of staff had appeared, curious as to what was happening, a little fearful of their own safety.
The study was so neat and tidy that one would have thought it had never been used since the furniture had been placed there. Both Agents looked around the room and then at one another, Cruikshank looked at the man who had been leading them around the house
“When was the last time your master used this room?”
He received a shrug of the shoulders, a waggle of the head, hands spread out on either side of the body to emphasize his ignorance. “When was the last time your master was actually here?”
All the members of staff crowding around the door shrugged shoulders, shook their heads and looked at one another before looking back at Pitt and Cruikshank.
“Go to the kitchen and get everyone assembled there…we’ll be down to see them shortly.” Cruickshank ordered and watched them leave in a huddle of bodies, gabbling in their language about the attitude of Americans etc
“Let’s see what there is to see..” Pitt muttered and began pulling out drawers, some were locked, but easily broken into, papers taken out and examined.
There was nothing incriminating in any of the drawers, nor anything to be found that could be considered suspicious in a small cabinet near the window which was, oddly enough, barred.
Pitt found a picture of a group of people. He didn’t know as he looked at it that it was the same picture that Adam and Laurence had observed some weeks earlier in the house where Sylvia Long had been murdered. Pitt pointed to Ali Mohamed Pasha “That’s our man.”
“You know him?”
“I saw him once before some time ago … he was being questioned about some thing else, and if I recall rightly he prefers to be known as Mohamed Pasha rather than Ali.” he paused and frowned, he turned the picture over for it was not framed, the names of everyone there was written down, in English. “Do you realise, Andrew, that most of the people in this picture are dead?”
“He isn’t -” Cruikshank pointed to Ali, “Hopefully neither is she ..if that is Anna El Hassim.”
They observed the picture a moment longer, Pitt slipped it into his pocket to add to the file when he got back to the office.
The six members of staff were standing quietly waiting for their interrogation, they shuffled about a little when Pitt and Cruikshank entered, but kept their eyes downcast and stood in a respectful manner while waiting for the questions to begin.
At the end of an hour both Agents were convinced that each member of staff had honestly answered their questions, their Master was not there, he had been absent several days, he left shortly after returning from another American city, yes, it was Maine, two of the staff mentioned that place voluntarily and innocently. None of them were able to add to the information they gave, it was obvious that Ali Pasha trusted no one, not even any member of staff. Perhaps, Pitt surmised, that was why he had changed his name, preferring to be known as Mohamed rather than Ali.
To more personal questions there were shrugs, heads shaken, heads nodded…no, he was not married, he had no family except a brother who had recently died in a traffic accident. He worked for a carpet industry, owned by a company called Damaris…who was it owned by, did they know? Heads shaken, shoulders shrugged.
Mohamed Pasha may have been rich, but he was also a very lonely distrustful man, cutting himself off from any personal affilliation at all. The only person it seemed that he had trusted or cared for was his brother….Abdullah Pasha.
“Well, that was a waste of time.” Cruikshank muttered as they left the building and made their way to the cab waiting for them on the corner
“No, it wasn’t. We know he’s gone, and he’s on the way to San Francisco. Probably well aware that Mrs El Hassim is at the Ponderosa …”
“How do you make that out?”
“A gut feeling…and I trust my gut feelings, Andrew.”
Cruikshank nodded, he had learned to trust Pitt’s gut as well….
“Best send Marshall Duggan a warning that Pasha is on the way…” he glanced over to the shadows where other Agents still lingered, “Best keep them watching the place, never know who may turn up who could be more informative.”
Pitt said nothing, so far as he was concerned the bird had flown, but perhaps there was still time to clip its wings.
…………………
“Mr Cartwright? Mr Cartwright?”
Someone was shaking him by the shoulder, the persistent mention of his name rang in his head and Ben forced open his eyes to look up into the face of Connor Parry, who now nodded in relief and stepped back from the bunk.
“Found you on the floor,” Connor said, “Managed to get you up….how’re you feeling?”
Ben wasn’t sure..he touched his head, felt bandages beneath his fingers, but his head ached and clanged painfully, so did his teeth for some reason. In fact he ached just about everywhere. “The ship…storm?”
“It’s passing. We’ve anchored until we get the ballast levelled and can ride the rest of the storm out. We’ll stay here until morning…check over the damage then and set ourselves to rights. Do you need anything?”
Ben looked at the anxious face of the younger man, felt grateful for the concern that was being shown him considering the amount of responsibility that was on the mans shoulders. The ship still rolled, but he could tell the storm was gentling now, this was like the last tantrum of a spoiled child. He cleared his throat, and sat up,
“I should help, with the ballast.”
Connor smiled, perhaps realised the old man needed to feel useful rather than an inconvenience, “Only if you feel well enough, sir, you took a nasty fall..”
“I’m alright now.” Ben snapped gruffly and swung his feet over the side of the bunk, touched the floor and stood up.
He didn’t feel alright, but he wasn’t going to admit it, not to these younger men, he was a Cartwright after all!
…………
Jolyon Pitt returned to his desk at 80 Washington Square and removed the papers from the file regarding Mohamed Pasha. He had no idea what a Khedive was, nor just how important on the political scene this Conference in Cyprus was – what did matter to him was the fact that Adam Cartwright was involved and that his involvement went back a long way.
He set down the picture of the people that he had removed from Pasha’s neat and orderly office and looked at each face there. As he stared down at these unknown people he realised there was a small mark above some of their heads..he could not read Arabic, he didn’t understand the cyphers but knowing that some were already dead he assumed that Mohamed had actually marked them down as such.
He sighed, only two remained alive..the lady whom he assumed to be Anna El Hassim, American, married to Sa’id who had been murdered in a coup…and Mohamed, standing beside a vivacious American woman who could have been Sylvia Long nee Soames, or Angelique deSalle from Maine.
It was remarkable, he thought, that a rancher from Nevada Territory could go off to sea and end up so involved with politics, going on assignments, knowing the President personally and gaining medals. Now, according to the latest telegram from Duggan, snatched back to that political scene after contented years of chasing cows.
Well, perhaps they hadn’t all been such contented years, Pitt mused as he recalled the horrors of the Tombs fiasco in which he had played a small but significant role. He frowned, and looked again at the pretty face of the woman, Anna. Perhaps he should send a telegram not to Duggan in San Francisco but to the sheriff in Virginia City. He pondered on that for a moment and reached for a slip of paper…
Pinkertons employed numerous runners, young boys who lounged upon the stairs waiting to be called to run errands for the Agents. One such lad was a long legged ginger haired eager beaver who gladly snatched the paper from Pitt’s hand, took the money to pay for the message to be sent and then ran to the nearest Telegraph office.
Within ten minutes of Pitts warning to Nate Carney being written, the message was winging its way to Virginia City.
…………….
The storm blew itself out at around 3 a.m leaving the sky dazzling with stars. The moon beamed down as though what it had witnessed had meant nothing at all, a pathway of gold shimmered upon the sea’s surface.
Exhausted men and battered vessels swayed gently, anchored down securely. Although they didn’t realise it the Viking Queen and The Avenger were only hours away and on course to meet the very next day.
Ben slept soundly on his bunk, worn out now, and too tired to care about his aches and pains, only too glad to have the chance to sleep. He slept so soundly that had the ship sunk he would have gone down with it and never known, exchanging one sleep for the more permanent one.
Adam stood on the deck and studied the stars, he had been trained to navigate by the stars since he had been a child and his ship had been a battered old wagon pulled along by a weary horse. His father had spent evenings with him on his knee, pointing to the constellations, explaining how to find a path on land or sea by the points of light shining from the sky.
He returned to the bridge where Twigg was on watch, having relieved Evans who was snoring in his bunk. Going to the maps he straightened them out and by using the compass and star readings laid out the course for them to follow the next day.
“Everything alright, Twigg?”
“Yes, sir.”
“I’ll leave you then. Good night.”
“Good night, sir. Thank you – for what you did today -”
Adam nodded, gave a slight roll of the shoulders “You too, you and Purves did well.”
Twigg said nothing, but stared out to the shimmering pathway of light that danced upon the waves. The words meant a lot though, and he appreciated them, but he didn’t really want to dwell on the experience because looking back on that climb up the ratlines made him feel sick
Chapter 69
A gentle touch on the shoulder, the soft caress of fingertips on the face can often have more effect that a rough shake or loud voice on the consciousness of a person. Ben sighed, his chest heaved and held, and then fell into a calm rhythm before he chanced to open his eyes.
The face of his son ..concerned, eyes bright with – what – fear? Tears? – Ben blinked as he felt his heart race, his own eyes moisten as he looked into those dark eyes and saw the rather tremulous smile on the finely shaped mouth
“Adam?”
“Hi, Pa..what in the world are you doing here in the middle of the big blue, huh?” Adam’s voice had a catch in it, a slight hic-cough as though he found it hard to get the words through his lips.
For a brief moment Ben was afraid that he would not be able to speak, his heart felt as though it had got stuck in his throat. The relief, the joy, of seeing his son looking down at him with such concern on his face, was more than he felt he could bear. He closed his eyes and inhaled before opening them again
“You’re safe -” he murmured
“Better shape than you are,” Adam grinned, his eyes soft with the same emotions his father was experiencing, feeling the same wrestling between the desire to hug the man to assure himself he was actually flesh and bone or to weep, but then Cartwrights didn’t weep – did they?
“Thank God you’re safe,” Ben murmured again, before narrowing his eyes suspiciously, and looking around him, “How did you find me?”
“You weren’t that difficult to find, Pa.” Adam chuckled, and his brown eyes continued to hold that gentle expression in them that his wife loved so much. “The Avenger drifted into view and looked as though she were listing rather dangerously, so we came up alongside to help out.”
“And – you are alright?” Ben asked, struggling now into a sitting position in order to look his son over more carefully, as though he needed an overall view to make sure his son still possessed both legs, both arms…he sighed and shook his head “You look – as if you’ve had a rough time of it, son.”
“Agh, nothing worse than riding out a stampede on a stormy night, Pa.” Adam smiled, the dimples deep beneath sharper than usual cheek bones, “We were on a strict diet for a while”
“And Laurence?”
“He’s safe, thinner than he was a few weeks ago, but he’s alright.”
Ben glanced down at the bandaged hands, Adam shrugged “Had to do a bit of rowing, got out of the habit of using oars.”
“The Damaris ..”
“Blown up. Our – host – decided to abandon ship without telling his guests. Sadly Laurence and I were the only survivors.”
Ben nodded, without meaning to be heartless he dismissed the unfortunate souls without a further thought, the fact that both men had survived was enough for him to close his eyes and sink back into the pillows and murmur “Thank God.”
Adam frowned, said nothing, but then put his hand gently upon that of his fathers, “You were the last person I expected to see when I came on board The Avenger, Pa. You did get to the Ponderosa, didn’t you? Olivia and the children…?”
“Ah yes,” Ben nodded and allowed a smile to drift over his face, “A lot to tell you, son..but Olivia’s well, so are the children. And the woman you were looking for, she’s there too, with us at the Ponderosa.”
“Anna?” Adam breathed and nodded, “So she is safe there?” he leaned back in the chair provided for him, and nodded again “We thought that she would go there, after all, she had no other place to go.”
“Poor woman, she looked as though she had suffered greatly, told us about her husband’s murder – the same man who was responsible for his death, was the instigator behind Sylvia’s murder also.”
Adam nodded, and tapped his chin with his forefinger as he allowed his thoughts to drift back to the day he found Sylvia – he sighed, it was weeks ago but it seemed like another life time.
“And the baby?” he asked sympathetically.
“Safe …a daughter.” Ben smiled, allowed himself a chuckle “Got home to find the place taken over by Bridie and this emaciated young woman, who promptly gave birth… she had arrived in town asking to find you, so, son, you may have to live down some talk when you get back.
Adam allowed himself a half smile, then nodded, leaned back “Doesn’t explain why you’re here.”
“Had a cable from Duggan saying you had been abducted – so I came to check it out, and find you. Got tired of waiting -”
“Hmn, sounds like you – you know we could have sailed right by you and then where would you have been, huh? Half way to Europe..” he chided his father gently, while still bearing that contented smile of relief that he had worn since first setting eyes on the dear mans haggard weary face. There was no denying the fact that Ben had experienced a hard few days, or weeks; it told in every line, in the dark shadows that were like pits beneath the eye sockets, the strain around the mouth.
And perhaps he didn’t look so very much different, he mused as he leaned back, and watched as Ben’s eyes closed as he drifted back into some sleep. He nodded to himself, it had been a strange nightmarish time, but at least he had found his father; his father had found his son; they were homewards bound.
…………
Eddy handed the telegram to Nate Carney and watched the sheriff’s expressions. Nate was not easy to read, he had long ago learned the art of keeping his features as bland as possible and Eddy had often watched the mans face just in case it betrayed something of the man’s thought processes.
“Thanks, Eddy. I’ll deal with this -” was the only comment he received, and the sheriff nodded, turned, tipped his hat politely to Mrs Garston, and left the building.
Mrs Garston sighed and walked to the counter “Anything from Lucy at all, Eddy?”.

Nate closed the door to his office and studied the cable afresh. He had always felt slightly wary of the Pinkerton’s. Their reputation for causing trouble, sometimes death, irked him and other law keepers, although it was always done in order to bring malcontents to justice, they often used methods that the police, or the lawkeepers like Nate, could not legitimately use.
It was a strange world, Nate thought as he set the piece of paper down on the desk and considered its message. Perhaps there would be a day when they could reconcile their mode of lawkeeping and work more as a body of law enforcement officers, perhaps one day the Pinkerton’s would be more law abiding and the sheriffs and so forth would have more licence to go beyond the law in order to maintain it
“Problems?” Mark Watts asked quietly as he poured the sheriff some coffee
“I don’t know for sure.” Nate tapped a forefinger on the cablegram “What was the name of the woman who stayed at the Ponderosa?
“Mrs Olivia said it was her sister in law, Morgan Phillips…”
Roy Coffee, who had taken it upon himself to settle in for a drink and conversation with Nate and the deputies, glanced up over the rim of his cup “Morgan Phillips was how she was known before her second marriage. She married a Frenchman -”
“She hasn’t got a French name?” Nate murmured as he accepted the mug of coffee from Mark, “Wouldn’t she have a French surname if she were married to a Frenchman?”
Roy shrugged, Mark looked thoughtful. No one spoke for a moment, then Mark suggested that perhaps the husband had died and so she had decided to use her previous husbands name…Roy shook his head
“Can’t see why she would do that, he was a good for nothing, stole from his mother, drove Olivia out of ‘Frisco….and …” he slurped down some coffee, straining it as usual through his mustache “from what I recall his wife, Morgan, had left him weeks before Olivia left the city to come here.”
“How’d you know all that?” Nate asked as he pushed his chair back from the desk in order to stretch out his long legs
“I was Sheriff at the time, and I got to know ’em well. They went to live at the Double D for sometime, that’s where Olivia was brung up. That Booth Phillips – Morgan’s husband – followed them there, tried to burn the place down, even though his old Ma and Olivia were living in the house at the time. Stole all their money and jewelry. Adam found him when he, Adam that is, was on his way back from China -”
Mark nodded, emphatically so, nearly spilling his coffee “That was when Adam Cartwright nearly lost his leg.”
“Would’ have if Paul had had his way…Jimmy Chan worked a miracle there alright…”
Nate held up a hand for a halt to the gossip “Hold on now, we’re straying from the point”
“What was the point?” Roy asked with a frown on his face as he handed his empty cup and nodded over at Mark for a refill
“Morgan Phillips…the lady at the Ponderosa…is she really Morgan Phillips?” Nate asked and glanced from one to the other of them,
Both men shrugged, Mark said he had never met Morgan Phillips so didn’t know the answer to that one. Roy scratched behind his ear, and looked thoughtful “If Olivia is saying that is who she is, then -”
“Yes?” Nate raised his eyebrows
“Well, she either is Morgan Phillips or there is a good reason for Olivia to say that she is ..if you get my drift.”
“As in she could be someone else entirely but Mrs Cartwright would rather no one knew exactly who that would be?” Nate muttered and narrowed his eyes.
Roy nodded, accepted his fresh cup of coffee and stared at Nate over the rim of the mug, watched as the sheriff’s lean face fell into blank expressionless. Then Nate put down his cup and pushed himself away from the desk, uncoiled his long body from the chair and stood up, snatching up the cable and stuffing it into his pocket
“Look after things here, Mark. Matt should be back in half an hour…” Nate muttered as he picked up his hat and made his way to the door.
Chapter 70

Several times during the following hours Ben would open his eyes and turn them in the direction to where his son sat, either reading a book (a history of Admiral Lord Nelson and the British Navy), or deep in thought with his eyes resting upon his father. When their eyes met, they would smile, and then Ben would drift back to sleep, content in knowing his son was close at hand.

Once he awoke to find Adam asleep, the book balanced precariously upon his thigh, a hand resting protectively upon it. For a moment or two Ben had watched him, lingering over the time when he had himself sat by the bedsides of his son, all his sons, hoping, praying that they would survive whatever ordeal they had faced to have brought them to their beds. So many times…life had been hard for them all, death had stalked by their side too often, horrors had haunted them all, at times fear and love were so closely intertwined that whatever harmed the one, victimised them all.

Adam, he sighed, dearly beloved ….

……………

The room into which Joe and Hoss were ushered was warm and comfortable, a more relaxing room than the one in which Joe and his wife had previously been entertained. Joyce looked up at them and smiled a welcome even as she tidied up the shawl around her husbands legs.

“Joe. Hoss. I am so glad you came ..” her voice had the ring of warmth that they had always associated with Joyce, during the days when things had been good between them all. Ebenezer raised a hand, smiled and nodded

“Glad you made it here, boys. There’s things we need to discuss..” his deep voice held the same resonance as Bens, and both the younger men felt reassured as a result.

“Our condolences on the loss -” Joe began but Eb raised his hand again, halting the words with a shake of the head

“No need to say things like that about Max. He was born bad, if such a thing does happen, but -” he reached for Joyce’s hand and held it in his own, while she sat down beside him, and looked into his face, before turning to smile at the Cartwrights.

Coffee and biscuits were brought it, and handed out to them in dainty cups. Hoss’ hand engulfed his and he had swallowed it all down before anyone had had a chance to even smell their own. The cup was refilled immediately, and once that had been accomplished the servant bustled back out, closing the door behind her.

Eb sipped his coffee and then cleared his throat, “The matter of this rustling -”

Joyce looked at Joe and Hoss, frowned slightly “I recognised Hank Myers and wondered why he was working for us, I told Eb that it seemed very strange considering all that was going on with visits from the sheriff, so Eb went to have a closer look at things…”

“Had to fire him. Didn’t want a good man like that caught in the cross fire with my boys and whoever else was involved. Had to be someone else, because Max and Theo didn’t have the initiative to work things out for themselves.”

“We heard that Hank had been shot though – “ Joyce put her empty cup down gently as though afraid she would break it otherwise, “We’re really sorry about that..”

Hoss nodded “He’ll be alright though, Ma’am, and he was able to give us all the proof we needed to get things tidied up.”

“No doubt you have men retrieving your cattle now, and those from the other ranches…” Eb frowned, “I should not have relied on them so much, but I truly hoped that having a ranch to run for themselves would have given them some responsibility and built up their self respect enough to turn them into decent human beings.”

Hoss hitched a shoulder then looked at Joe, “Thing is, sir, what you really need is a good reliable foreman, then there won’t be no need for you to make a loss ..if you keep a tight oversight of your men, and if your foreman knows what he’s doing you should have a good herd for taking to market next year.”

“Fact is, we found you just the man for the job.” Joe replied with a grin, and his hazel eyes twinkled green, “Someone you know and like anyway…”

“Hank Myers?” Joyce ventured to suggest, knowing Joe well enough to recognise some mischief brewing and hoping to beat him at his own game.

“No, Ma’am,” Hoss grinned now, a flush coloured his cheeks, “Abel Greigson, your nephew.”

“Abel? He’s back? I thought he had sworn never to come back…” Eb squeezed Joyce’s hand “That would be wonderful if he would be prepared to work for us but -”

“We thought he was going to find a wife…and – “ Joyce floundered a little, looking from Joe to Hoss and then shook his head, “He’s on good terms with his father again then?”

Hoss cleared his throat and took on the role of story teller “Seems Abel went looking for a young woman who had been librarian here for a short while, but she was not so keen on the marriage idea and coming back here, whereas he reckons he realised he had been walking away from a good future so wanted to come back. While he was getting over his broken heart he met a lady -”

“- someone he knew back in the day, they even went to school together – so they got talking and realising they had a lot in common, and cared about each other so he got married to her. Contacted Walt about coming back, and Walt told him about the mess Max and Theo had got him into with all the calves getting mixed up into different herds so Abel returned a few days back. We happened to meet up with him in town this morning.”

“He said he’d do anything he could to help you, as well as his father …” Hoss nodded and grinned, Eb nodded and looked thoughtful, while Joyce’s dark eyes were constantly moving from one face to the other

“He’s a sensible boy. Always knew he was, and he must know that with Max gone and Theo – “ Eb shrugged his shoulders “will no doubt end up in the same way as his brother as he’ll never change his ways. Jail will only put him in contact with others like himself. Abel stands to inherit a good amount, our ranch and his fathers…”

Joyce squeezed his hand and nodded, before looking back to Joe and Hoss “What happens with the rustled cattle?”

“That’s the problem y’see.” Hoss glanced at the little cup and wished he had something more to drink, to ‘wet his whistle’ and Eb, upon noticing and interpreting that little look on Hoss’ face, smiled

“Joyce, go and pour the gentlemen some of my Glen Morangie, could do with something stronger to -”

“Not for you, Ebenezer, not with your medication.” Joyce scolded although there was a lot of loving warmth in her voice

Joe and Hoss exchanged a glance, Glenmorangie single malt whiskey had been a favourite of their fathers’ since he discovered it in 1862 when Sam the barkeep of the Sazarac had produced it from a dusty old cellar. They nodded their appreciation as the golden liquid was poured into crystal glasses and handed over to them

“Now -” Hoss sipped the whiskey and sighed, nodded and sipped again, then he began his narrative “The trouble started when Max and Theo were roaming around and got themselves onto Archers territory. You may have been told that Mr Archer is a little – eccentric – “

Eb and Joyce nodded, paying close attention to what Hoss was telling them while Joe sipped at the whiskey contentedly.

“Mr Archer hates cattle. Seems that the previous owner allowed mavericks to roam on his land, he thought that if anyone wanted or needed ’em then they would come and collect ’em. They weren’t branded, being mavericks. Max mentioned this in the saloon one evening and one of our men said that there were always mavericks around, calves strayed all over the place, hard to find ’em all and round ’em all up. They got to thinking what a good idea it would be to get a good number of mavericks, until they had a herd all their own and could brand ’em themselves. They collected up Mr Archers cattle, and then began to add to them with calves from neighbouring ranches. They could claim that they were rounding up mavericks and as they were unbranded, they even got Greigson to fall in with their idea.”

“Walt was always stupid when it came to my boys, thought they had more strength of character than his son because of their wild ways…he admired that…but then, he had been wild himself when young.” Eb sighed, glanced longingly at the whiskey and sighed again

“Guess the sheriff will have to have a chat with Walt, although Abel will set him straight I’m sure….” Joe nodded reassuringly.

“As for your herd, Mr Burgoyne, ain’t no telling which calf belongs where, and seeing how most have your brand on ’em anyhow, you might as well keep ’em. The Ponderosa can handle any losses, although I doubt if there will be any this year.” Hoss grinned amiably and swallowed down the rest of his whiskey in what Eb considered a barbaric display of ignorance in the art of enjoying good quality malt.

“Luke and Derwent agree, the number of calves that ‘roamed’ from their herds won’t amount to that many. It’s been a good enough yield this year, could have been better, of course,” Joe grinned, “but at least it will give your herd a good start.”

Eb frowned and shook his head “No, I can’t take that, I’ll pay compensation for your losses, and for Jessop and Dent. It’s good of you to consider a way to help me out, but I don’t want to benefit from any ill gotten gains my sons brought about -” he shook his head “I should really stop referring to them as my sons, thankfully, they don’t carry my blood in them.”

He flushed a little at that statement and Joyce squeezed his hand and shook her head at him, as though remonstrating that there was no need to even think along those lines now.

Joe and Hoss stood up, placed down their empty glasses and bade their farewells, but it was Ebenezer who seemed to be reluctant to let them go, for he immediately asked after Ben, when was he going to get back, when could his old friend come and visit?

So they sat down again and more whiskey was poured into the glasses, they settled more comfortably into their seats and within a few minutes Ebenezer was relating some of the stories of his past, as a midshipman alongside Ben Cartwright, in the days when ships were ships, fully masted, fighting the gales and storms at sea…

They were still drinking whiskey, laughing over countless misdeeds more than an hour later, with the younger men swearing to keep to themselves some details until an appropriate time came when they could hold it over the head of their august parent.

Joyce left them after a while, the language was getting saltier as the stories got racier, and the Cartwright boys became more relaxed over their third glass of Glenmorangie…

Neither Cartwright could remember how they got into their saddles for the long journey home. Thankfully it was a long journey, with several pauses along the way, so by the time they did reach their respective homes they had regained their senses, and their equilibrium.
Chapter 71
Nathaniel watched with the interest of any child as the two horsemen rode into the yard of his home. He had been busy making little stone pillars, collecting different sizes and shapes and then piling them one upon the other. It had kept him amused for at least an hour.
From inside the house came the wailing of an baby but Nathaniel didn’t turn his head from watching the two men as they dismounted and with friendly nods of the head approached the house
“Hi there, Nathaniel.” Clem said in his cheeriest tone of voice but Nathaniel only blinked his brown eyes and turned his gaze to the sheriff, who nodded and tapped him on the shoulder as he passed
“Just going in to see your Ma. Is the other lady at home?” Nate asked the child who nodded emphatically and immediately turned to follow them inside.
Olivia was already opening the door to the house having heard the horses and Nate felt sorry for her immediately as her face fell, then rallies to greet them with a smile. She had so obviously hoped that just perhaps her husband was riding home, she had reached the stage where she could no longer pretend and her disappointment was palpable.
“Miz Cartwright?” he smiled and removed his hat, behind him Clem did likewise, and Nathaniel, seeing his chance, sidled past them to reach his mother’s side
“Come on in, Sheriff, hello, Clem…how’s your mother?”
“Doing fine, thanks, Miz Cartwright.”
She smiled and gave a slight shake of the head, “You can call me Olivia you know, there’s no need to stand on ceremony here.”
“No, of course not, ma’am” Nate replied and sighed.
Morgan aka Anna El Hassim was rocking the baby in her arms, her body swaying as she whispered songs in a language no one understood, but she stopped as soon as she saw the two men. Olivia did the introductions , and Nate nodded and waited for her to finish before saying “It’s alright, Ma’am, we know who this lady really is…”
Both women drew in their breaths simultaneously, glanced at one another and then turned anxious eyes to the sheriff.
“I- don’t understand – what do you mean by that?”
They were all standing, looking awkward and the two men looked long and hard at both of the women until Olivia indicated the chairs and asked them to sit down and explain, but Nate only pulled a cablegram from his pocket and passed it to her.
She read it slowly then lowered it into her lap, “Who is Mohamed Pasha?”
Before Nate could reply the other woman gave a gasp, a hand to her throat, “Mohamed? Not Abdullah?”
“You know him then, Ma’am?” Nate replied
She nodded and looked anxiously at Olivia as though the other woman would be able to explain but Olivia knew nothing, she just shook her head and looked anxious, while beside her Nathaniel leaned in against her skirts and stared at Nate as though he were the enemy and had come to sow discord and chaos in the home
“Ma’am, we know you aren’t Morgan Phillips….” Nate said in his slow drawl, and he smiled to soften the words, “But the fact of the matter is that this Mohamed Pasha is on his way with orders to – cause you harm – and we have it on good authority that he left Chicago some days ago, he may already be in Virginia City.”
Olivia shook her head, looked shocked, looked at the other woman and then back at the lawmen “I – don’t understand – “
“I’m sure you do, Ma’am, otherwise you wouldn’t have taken the trouble to pretend that Mrs El Hassim was your sister in law. You knew she was in danger, you did what you could to protect her but -”
“Mohamed Pasha knows me, Olivia. He knows what I look like…” Anna El Hassim hugged her baby closer as though anticipating Pasha to stride into the house that very moment to kill them all. “He and Abdullah were close friends of Sa’id. They were always at the house -” she paused “They became fervent followers of Ebo Fasani, and were partly responsible for Sa’id getting involved with – with the situation that Adam and Laurence dealt with some years ago.”
Nathaniel, aware that something was worrying his mother, tugged at her sleeve and she looked down at him, brushed some curls from his forehead and told him to go into the kitchen and ask Cheng to give him some suger icing mice. Hop Sing was the only one who made sugar mice, a favourite of the Cartwright children, but she and Cheng had used looking for suger icing mice as a code for ‘keep the boy out of the way.’. So far Nathaniel had not realised he was being ‘conned’ and happily trotted off in search of his friend, Cheng.
The four adults remained silent until the boy had left the room, Nate looked again at Olivia, “We don’t know where Pasha is now, perhaps en route, perhaps already in town. All we do know is that we have been given a warning that Mrs El Hassim is in danger and it’s our responsibility to keep her safe.”
Anna turned anguished eyes to Olivia who had bowed her head as though this latest reveal was the last straw of many. Nate cleared his throat “We were wondering if it would be better to bring Mrs El Hassim into town, under secure guard, while we try and track Pasha down. Once we can apprehend him -”
“For what?” Anna asked looking at both men with fear written all over her face, “For what?”
“Well, Ma’am, he’s wanted for the murder of a lady in Maine….an Angelique La Salle.”
Angelique?” Anna’s eyes went round and she couldn’t prevent tears welling up in her eyes and spilling over “I – I didn’t know that – Killed ? But why?”
“I don’t know the answers to that, Ma’am. Perhaps Pasha is the only one who can explain it, same as why Mrs Long -”
“Of course,” Olivia nodded, “I remember, Sylvia Soames – it was her death that started this whole thing, and the journal – Rachel kept on about the journal – ” Olivia stopped, realised she was rambling, clutching at past events to make some sense of the present.
Nate and Clem looked at her uncertainly before Nate nodded “Well, Mrs Cartwright, seems Pasha’s brother was responsible for Mrs Long’s death…we don’t know all the details, the Pinkertons only gave us a brief resume” he said the last word as though surprised he had pronounced it correctly. He paused and was about to speak when Cheng Ho Lee appeared with a tray loaded with refreshments which cluttered as he set it on the table.
Olivia murmured her thanks and smiled but her eyes were blank, anxious and fearful. No one spoke while she poured coffee and handed out the cups. Then when she resumed her seat Nate spoke again, asking that Anna accompany them back to town, where she could be kept safe.
“But surely I’m safe here? “ she said in a low voice
“Surely she is, Nate? We have the men here, they can keep guard – perhaps Clem could stay and help -” Olivia stammered.
“I don’t think so, Mrs Cartwright – Olivia – it’s just that I would feel I wasn’t carrying out my duties to Mrs El Hassim if I didnt have proper oversight, and I can only do that if she is in town.”
Olivia stared down at her cup and saucer, in the background she could hear Nathaniel giggling, it was far off, he was still in the kitchen with Cheng. She cleared her throat
“We could go to the Double D …Luke and Marcy would help. It’s so far off the beaten track Pasha couldn’t possibly find us there.”
Nate again shook his head “And what if he did? Chance and unforeseen occurrence, Ma’am” he flushed a little, annoyed that he kept forgetting he had permission to call her Olivia, “We can’t take any chances, not with two lives -”
“More than two lives, Sheriff,”Anna said quietly, “Anyone involved is at risk, it’s how Jihad works, and I know that Adjo Admose has a jihad on Adam and Laurence, so if he finds me, then Olivia and the children would be in danger too.”
Olivia looked bleakly at Anna for a second, the thought that her children could be at risk, in danger, struck a chill to the heart. She looked bleakly at Nate, then at Clem, and shook her head.
“I don’t feel Anna would be safe in town.”
“Safer than being here, Ma’am – er – Olivia.”
Anna placed the baby back into the bassinet “Well, at least I don’t have to pretend about who I am anymore, and Anna can be Hadassah again” she stroked the baby’s cheek with her finger and smiled sadly, then glanced up at Olivia “I am sorry I have brought all this trouble upon you. Truly I am.”
Olivia stood up and placed her cup and saucer back on the tray, then looked at Anna and smiled. Adam often said one of her smiles could light up a room, and it was certainly true now, as she smiled at the other woman “You brought no trouble here, Anna, we did what we should have done to anyone who was in such need as yourself. But now, we must think of a way in which we can help you, and keep you safe.”
Nate and Clem stood up, “If you collect up what you have, Mrs El Hassim, we can escort you to town and place you in a safe house.”
“Whereabouts would that be, Nate?” Olivia asked as Anna left the room to mount the stairs and collect her belongings.
“I can’t tell you, Olivia. It’s safer for you not to know.” he smiled gently, and would have put a hand on her arm but felt that was too impertinent. “Once we get Pasha we can bring her back here.”
“And will that be the end of it, this jihad thing?”
Nate shrugged “I don’t understand what that is, it’s all foreign business to me…but one can hope it is.” he paused and picked up his hat as the sound of Anna’s footsteps on the stairs could be heard “Your husband will be back here soon, he’ll understand more about this than I…”
She nodded, felt a shiver run down her back, Adam home, what more could she want? She watched as Anna picked up the baby and wrapped her in a shawl, her own belongings in a valise. She looked at Olivia and gave a wan smile “Give Hester and Mary Ann my thanks and – tell them – tell them I’ll never forget them.”
“You’ll be back soon and can tell them yourself, dear.” Olivia said gently and kissed Anna gently on the cheek, then placed a kiss on Hadassah’s rosy plump cheek. “Take care…do whatever Nate tells you, won’t you?”
They left the house then, a little trio…with the baby snug in her mother’s arms. Anna was helped into the saddle in front of Clem, the baby handed up to her and then they were riding away.
Olivia watched until they had disappeared from sight. She stood there a lonely figure, the sun bathing her in light, making her hair shimmer and the blue of her dress glow. When Nate Carney glanced over his shoulder back at the house and saw her standing there like that he thought she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen in his life.
Chapter 72
Ben stood at the entrance to the bridge for a moment to observe his son and to recapture the times when he had seen this man in uniform. Rare occasions to be sure, but memorable visits when Adam’s ship had been berthed in San Francisco. Then the men would have piped or whistled their Commanding Officer on board as they mounted the gangplank, and the First Lieutenant would shout “Captain on the deck.” ah, proud memories.
Adam turned slightly, as though aware of his father’s presence, and nodded, gave a half smile “All’s well, Pa?”
“All’s well, son.” Ben replied and stepped into the bridge house, he glanced at the maps, and then at Adam, and then at Connor. “Should be in San Francisco soon, Captain.”
“Indeed -” Connor replied with a nod of the head and then he turned his attention back to the maps as though aware that the two men wanted time together.
Ben approached and stood beside Adam, shoulders touching, and the younger man became aware of the fact that his father’s back stooped just that bit more than usual, that the mouth was thinner and the eyes more sunken into their sockets. “Are you alright, Pa?”
“I am.” Ben smiled but didn’t look at Adam, he just kept his dark eyes looking out to sea, “Do you miss this life, son?”
Adam sighed, and his brow crinkled into a familiar corrugation, “There are times when I do. To be honest I feel guilty even saying so…mostly when I’m behind a herd of cows!” he grinned “Salt sea breezes come to mind then…”
Ben chuckled and nodded, no one enjoyed trailing behind a herd of cattle on a hot day, flies everywhere, the smell of perspiration and excrement heavy in the air “But you don’t miss – anything else about it? The kind of life you had for instance?”
“Being Captain of a ship is quite a privilege, Pa. Being Commodore even more so, and I would be lying if I said I didn’t miss some aspects of it. I made many good friends…lost too many …”
They were quiet for a moment. Adam’s thoughts trickled to those adventures with Daniel O’Brien, which slipped into the loss of Rostov, of Alaska and snow covered terrain with the freezing winds blowing against one’s face..he shivered as though he were swept back in time and feeling the ice beneath him once again. Ice and blood and weariness.
“Do you, Pa, do you ever think of days at sea?”
“Oh yes, often – and to be honest more often of late. Perhaps because of being – old.” he sighed and nodded slowly, “Nothing to be gained by becoming old except experience…”
“And wisdom.”
“Ah well…that comes from experience surely?” Ben grinned, “But yes, in answer to your question, yes, I missed the sea and often wish things had been different. Your early years may have been more comfortable -”
Adam said nothing to that but turned his face from looking at his father to scanning the waves. The sea was so clear they could see the fish. He glanced over to The Viking Queen, sailing parallel to the Avenger. Laurence was on deck, pacing back and forth, his head down, looking as though all the burdens of the world were upon his shoulders.
“It will be good to get home,” Adam observed, “To end this misadventure and get Anna back to her family.”
“She may not want to go to England, Adam. She seems a determined woman…” Ben frowned “She must have been a stubborn young woman to give up her own culture and marry El Hassim”
Adam nodded and said nothing. He glanced again at the Viking Queen, then down at his hands, still bandaged, and in all honesty, still very sore. “Well, my days of running up the rat lines are – thankfully – over. I regretted the action as soon as my foot touched the first line of rigging, and realised that – well – I guess I’m not so young as I was either.”
“You haven’t said much about what happened with the Damaris, with this Admose? When I was handed your signet ring and Duggan told me how they had found it…” Ben shook his head, “I think I’m getting too old for horror stories as well…”
“I’m glad it was found. It was the only thing I could think of, and Laurence did likewise, just to let someone know that we didn’t go willingly.”
Ben sighed and placed a hand on his sons arm, just briefly, just enough to let Adam know he understood. Adam had not told his father much about the events since Admose took them on board the Damaris, he had no intention of reliving that horror, yes, it was like a horror story. Those wretched dying men in the hold with them, the stench of their emaciated bodies, the days that stretched on and on …one man dying after another…being hauled away like so many carcasses from a slaughter house, wondering if they would be next, clinging onto life and refusing to let go.
They didn’t speak, just stood shoulder to shoulder and stared out to sea.
…………..
Mohamed Pasha signed the register at the Hotel Internationale, and smiled at the man who handed him the key to his suite. He had signed his name as Michael Parsons, a useful alias. He was a handsome man, dark eyes beneath a high intelligent brow with sweeping back dark hair cut into a modern style.
But here he was, in Virginia City. He followed the bellboy up the stairs to his rooms. No one would have thought him to be anything other than what he claimed to be…the representative of a very prestigious company from Chicago. He wore the latest style of clothing, immaculately cut because he could afford it, his shoes were leather, and his gloves were calf skin after all, being a true Muslim, he could not eat nor would he touch anything to do with pigs or pork.
He caught the eye of other guests at the hotel, for he was handsome, and the pride, or arrogance, with which he comported himself, drew attention to him. He was not going to hide away and scuttle about like a common place assassin, no, that was not his style. Apart from which he knew Anna El Hassim, they had been friends at one time, he had even harboured a hope of winning her love but Sa’id had been blessed with that instead.
He was thinking about Sa’id and Anna as he entered the room, tipped the bellboy and stood there staring out of the window down at the town. Sa’id and Anna…perhaps remnants of how he felt for her still lingered, perhaps that was why he had felt such pleasure at seeing Sa’id die after all didn’t some infidel write that ‘revenge was sweet’ or that ‘revenge was a dish best served cold’.
He watched children running from the school yard, shouting and yelling, swinging their books by their leather straps. Some women were there to gather up the younger ones, and walk them away. His eyes followed one, then another..then weary of that he dropped the curtain back and walked to one of the chairs and sat down.
He had been a child once, he and Abdullah had played and shouted and ran about – ‘when a child I played with childish things, but now a man I put away childish things’ – now where had he heard that? No matter – he let the thought trickle from his mind and stood up. He was restless. He felt tense and nervous.
Like many a hunter he was highly strung. He thought of Angelique LeSalle and how easily he had located her, hunted her down. Then almost as soon as he had reached home there was the cable with instructions on his next victim – and he could remember now staring down at that piece of paper and thinking of the victim, of Anna, of her smiling, laughing, how once she had grabbed his hand and held it within her own, the hopeless love he had felt for her.
It was a test on his faith, and on his loyalty to Ebo Fasani, long gone to his reward – and to Adjo whom in his ignorance of recent events he felt sure would be the next Khedive. Tewfik would be set aside for Adjo. That was right. He walked back to the window and stared down at the street below.
There was a lot of traffic going back and forth, dust billowed up from the road, horse dung proliferated, women darted across to avoid it, pulling their skirts aside as they did so. Whenever possible some merchant would come and sweep away whatever dung was near their premises in order to make the way to their establishment more easily accessible. Mohamed dabbed his nose with a handkerchief although no smells entered the room, and noises were muted.
No one had been sure where Anna El Hassim had gone once she reached San Francisco, he was here on the basis of a rumour and speculation. If the scent went cold here then he would have to go to San Francisco, where his brother had been killed. And now his thoughts turned briefly to Silvia Long, who had tried to hide behind her maiden name of Soames. A good thing she had kept up her contacts because it had been so easy to track her down.
He and Abdullah had discussed which of the women would be their quarry…and he had chosen Angelique because he had disliked her when he had known her in Egypt. He had been glad to have carried out that assignment because when he had met her again in Maine, in her expensive home, everything he had disliked about her had been made killing her so easy. Abdullah had no such memories of Silvia, and didn’t care one way or the other whom he killed. Abdullah had been an ardent assassin…but lacked panache! He, Mohamed, possessed all of that, and more.
Had he been less engrossed with his thoughts and memories and self congratulatory eulogies, he would have seen the Sheriff and his Deputy ride in to town with a woman and child in her arms. He could have followed them with his eyes and seen them take a side alley and disappear into the shadows.
But he missed them. For a while Anna El Hassim had a reprieve from her sentence of death.
…………
Hester and Mary Ann listened as Olivia told them about Nate’s visit, and how he and Clem had taken Anna away. Hester shook her head and looked thoughtful, while Mary-Ann began to pace the floor, her face crumpled in concern.
“Does that mean they will take her into town?” Mary Ann asked, “I mean? Is that sensible? Why into town? She would have been safer here? Or anywhere come to that…”
“I did suggest taking her to the Double D, Luke and Marcy would have been pleased to have have her there.” Olivia sunk back into her chair, her friends reactions under-lined her own feelings, and left her feeling more anxious than ever.
“There you are then -” Mary Ann declared and flung her arms about in a gesture of futility “Men! Why don’t they think!!!”
“Nate felt responsible for her, he was thinking for the best -” Olivia murmured lamely, and felt guilty for offering such a weak excuse or, rather, reason.
“Huh, yes, take her right into the lions den.” Mary Ann flung herself into a chair and shook her head looking so amusingly angry and pretty that Olivia nearly forgot the reason she was so angry
“I can understand Nate’s reasoning.” Hester said in her most logical no nonsense manner, “But there would be so many people there who would see her, remember her, and – and even talk about her…it only needs someone with sharp ears and eyes to pick up on that and -” she shrugged.
They were silent for a while, each woman with heads full of ideas, struggling to find a solution.
“How many safe houses are there in town?” Hester asked
“I don’t know, I didn’t even know such a thing existed.” Olivia replied with a sigh,
“Hoss and Joe would know…” Mary Ann said, and frowned, “I’ll ask Joe this evening and then we’ll – we’ll get this matter sorted out.”
“How?” Hester asked while Olivia leaned forward with an expression of fascination on her face, Mary Ann could come up with such fanciful ideas, she was almost a grown up version of Sofia.
“Well,” Mary Ann said, her frown deepening, “then we will find her and bring her back here.”
“Kidnap her you mean/” Olivia nearly laughed “We can’t do that, we’d be breaking the law.”
“No, we won’t.” Mary Ann asserted “We would just be making sure Anna was safe..”
Hester shook her head “From what Olivia said the person looking for Anna already knows she is on the Ponderosa. If we bring her back here we could lead him straight to her.”
“And there is this Jihad thing…” Olivia frowned, “She may not want to come here, she may think we will all be in danger because of – Jihad.”
“Nonsense.” Mary Ann dismissed the terror of Jihad with a casual wave of her hand.
“I don’t understand – what exactly is Jihad?” Hester asked tentatively.
Olivia shook her head and stood up, “Perhaps there will be a reference to it in the dictionary.”
Mary Ann leaned back and closed her eyes, she placed her hand languidly upon her brow, and sighed “Poor Anna.”
“Perhaps Nate is right, taking her into town could well be the best place for her…” Olivia murmured.
“At least we’re safe here…had this person come with his Jihad and found her here, he might have killed us all.” Hester said quietly.
Olivia shivered and placed a hand at her throat “Anna more or less hinted that possibility. It involved Adam, and Laurence – “ she struggled to prevent hysteria gathering and thought if they talked about the subject any more she would burst into tears.
What was wrong with her, she asked herself? She was falling apart…Adam had been gone for too long, and she didn’t know where he was, or whether he would ever come home again.
Her fingers touched the back of a book, she couldn’t remember what she was looking for…oh yes, a dictionary. She pulled it out and began to turn the pages. Hester paused to look over at her, watching as the leaves slipped through her fingers.
“Well?” Mary Ann prompted as the rustle of the leaves stopped and silence followed
Olivia cleared her throat and read “jihad NOUN (lesser jihad)a struggle or fight against the enemies of Islam. (greater jihad)the spiritual struggle within oneself against sin.”
Hester scratched her head, dislodging several curls in the process “Well – there you are then.” she declared matter of factly
Mary Ann stood up and walked over to the window, and stared out at the view, she could hear the children shouting and laughing, “I don’t understand what that has to do with Anna, or us…” she turned and faced them “It doesn’t make sense.”
Olivia sighed and put the book back into its place. So far as she was concerned nothing had made any sense since they had gone to San Francisco…
Chapter 73
Sir Charles Willoughby, the brother of Laurence, slept deeply. The day had been long, the meeting conducted in great heat and humidity so that he had felt exhausted by the end of the long discussions. All the factions there..the French, English and Egyptian, had talked about hypothetical problems and outcomes and achieved nothing.
He was dre