Home is the Sailor #8 – A New Direction – Changes (by Krystyna)

Summary: President Grant offers Joe Cartwright a job as Head of Security in NYC. Will he take it? Hoss and Adam discover another Eden on a far-flung part of the Ponderosa? What do they plan to do with it? And Ben… could this story end with his demise or not?

Rating: PG Word Count: 204,400

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…
A New Direction – Changes

 

 

 

Home is the Sailor #8 – A New Direction – Changes

 

Chapter 1

The winds blew through the alleyways and met with renewed vigour along the main streets of Virginia City.  The sky was the colour of slate with clouds gathering to a darker mass, blown together by the wind. From the streets scraps of paper were tossed into the air or blown into corners to gather around the barrels of fruit and vegetables outside the Mercantile, or to be draped on the mop heads and brooms bunched against the wall with the baskets and pails.

Women held onto their hats and struggled to keep the skirts of their dresses from blowing up and exposing an immodest amount of ankle while men hugged their coats closer and bowed their heads to the wind. Children ran about finding the buffeting wind exciting, in their young lives any deviation from the normal was an adventure. They ran shrieking with open mouths as the wind blew into their faces and made their eyes run water.

In the school room the children tried to pay attention to their teachers while every so often their eyes would stray to where the gathering clouds indicated a storm and those living further from town began to fret.

Mr. Evans threw a piece of chalk at David Riley to get his attention, the chalk bounced off the boys’ head and landed in the lap of the girl seated next to him. Davy rubbed his head and glowered at his teacher, but Mr. Evans was not in the mood to tolerate Davy’s misconduct, just nodded sharply at the boy and scowled back.

Reuben Cartwright kept his head down. He was concentrating on writing his essay. He enjoyed writing as much as he enjoyed reading and this essay was under the theme of an adventure, something that happened to him during that year. He was writing down his memories of the camping weekend he had spent with his father, the day the bears came, some of the lessons that Pa had taught him on how to survive in the wild.

Jimmy Carstairs was finding the theme harder and found himself glancing over at the window, wondering if they would be allowed to leave earlier, but convinced that they would have to stay, after all he lived in town, only a short walk from the school itself. He glanced down at the untidy scrawl he had written down, just a few short paragraphs…and with a sigh he picked up his pen and struggled to add a few more words.

Sofia Cartwright swung her legs to and fro and pondered over the task set before her…maths was not her favourite subject, but her daddy kept telling her how important it was and Reuben tried to help her and said it was easy, but it was not easy to her, she struggled and with a sigh looked down at the numbers she had copied down from the board. She glanced over to Rosie who seemed to be having no problem at all, her determined little face screwed up in determination to finish the problems before the bell rang.

Miss Emily Stanton had been teaching at the school in Virginia City for only a few months. She was 28 years old and already considered ‘over the hill’ with no suitors showing any interest at all. Not that she minded, she was dedicated to her work, and to her pupils.  She knew that before long she would be going to Sofia Cartwright and giving her some personal assistance – again.  In her experience she knew how some children could not understand math and tolerated them accordingly especially when they showed so much aptitude in other fields.

Hannah Cartwright chewed the pencil and listened wide eyed to the story that Miss Hathaway was reading out to them. She knew that when the teacher stopped reading, she would ask the children some questions to see how much attention they had been paying to it.  Hannah enjoyed answering the questions, she was a bright child and Miss Hathaway always gave her such a big smile as a reward for her attention.  Hannah loved school, she loved Miss Hathaway, and Miss Stanton…but most of all she loved Mr. Evans.

Outside on the streets Mr. Sales was having difficulty keeping his stock upright, so had decided to bring everything he could into the store.  His apprentice assisted him as some of the laden barrels would have been too heavy for the older man, as it was several apples bounced out of one barrel and before they could be gathered up some horses had reached out their long necks and gobbled them up.  Several mops clanged down across the road and just missed Mrs. Garston and her husband, both of whom thought they were being attacked and jumped into the store for protection only to find the shop assistant giggling at them. Affronted (Mrs. Garston was easily ‘affronted’) by such behaviour Mrs. Garston said she would never enter the store again and wheeled herself out of the doorway only to be accosted by several baskets that were blown from the hook on the wall.

Mary Carstairs Evans closed the doors to Ridley’s Ladies Emporium and told the ladies that they could go home early due to the weather conditions.  There were murmurs of appreciation and within ten minutes the store was empty, and she was alone with several mannequins wearing the latest in Paris designs plus disapproving painted expressions on their faces. She locked the door and went upstairs to the private accommodation that had once been home to her and Jimmy.

She sat down on a chair and pulled out the letter from Amanda Ridley in order to re-read it. It took a few moments to steady her nerves as she read. She had to admit to herself, she was not really surprised at what it contained:

My dear Mary

I was so pleased to receive your letter and to know that my wedding gift to you and

Edward had arrived safely.  I want to say again just how happy I am for you both.

Life here has been very busy, and I am fully committed now to The Cause, although

I was more than sorry that Margaret Dayton abandoned me in order to marry and

go someplace with her husband, you may remember him, he was that archaeologist.

Mary, no cause, however just, can be successful without funding. Recently we have

had to pay legal costs regarding several incidents here, and as a result of these I am

going to have to close the Emporium.  I know I will get a good price for it, as it is

a thriving business.

Lucy Garston’s mother informs her that people are leaving the town, well, that is no

surprise as they were already abandoning the place before I left.  But I do not think

that there is cause for the alarm that Mrs. Garston loves to generate in people. So, I

shall continue to have the Mercantile and Livery store for as long as possible. I will

also have to sell the house.

I know it must seem as though you have only just moved into it, but it is just too costly

and your rent is insufficient.  The apartment above the Emporium would still provide

a good home for you both, and for Jimmy, should you wish it? I would make that a

condition of sale, that you remain tenants above the store.

I am sorry, Mary, you have been a good friend and employee, but I see no other

way of my contributing to the cause for Women’s Independence and as I am very

unlikely to move back to the town, there is little point in keeping such a big house.

I wish you and Edward as well as Jimmy, the very best life ever….”

Mary folded the letter back into the envelope and leaned back into the chair and closed her eyes. She stayed very still for a moment or two, then opened her eyes to look around the apartment. It was adequate for their needs, for now.  Edward, she felt sure, would come up with some good ideas as to whether to stay or move elsewhere. He would have to with their baby due to arrive in the spring. She placed a protective hand over her skirts, even though there was no evidence of a baby there yet!

*****

The two old men stared down at the chess board, trying to speculate on their opponents next move and how they would countermand it.  Paul Martin scowled and shook his head, while Roy Coffee leaned back and narrowed his eyes behind his glasses. Paul sighed and Roy shifted in his chair and then the door opened, and Tilly came in with some refreshment on the tray

“Getting noisy out there,” she remarked as she put the tray down and placed cups on the low table, plus the plates and then the fruit cake.

“Storm’s brewing up.” Paul muttered, “Thankfully I don’t have to go out in it tonight.”

Roy nodded although he had not really been listening. He was wondering where Paul was going to make his next move.  His eyes wandered briefly over to the fruit cake and he frowned, it looked heavy, and he sighed and thought of the cakes that his ex-housekeeper Dorothy Ford would make for him.  Now he lived with a young man, Grant Tombs, who worked for Hiram Woods the lawyer. A good youth, but no cook. They both relied on such delicacies from their frequent visits to the cafes in town.

“How is Grant?”

Roy cleared his throat, it was strange how Paul had an uncanny ability to pick up on his thoughts like this, he wished he had such a gift. He picked up his cup “He’s doing well. Courting – that young seamstress who works for the Emporium.” he sipped some coffee “Are you going to make

a move or do I have to wait until tomorrow?”

Paul smiled and nodded, he picked up a rook and hovered with it in his hand before placing it down. Roy shook his head, it was a good move, one he had not anticipated.

“I’m going to retire.” Paul announced as he helped himself to a slab of cake.

“About time. How old are you now? “

“Well over my three score and ten.”

“Should have retired years ago….”

“I care about my patients.  And my fellow doctors – I don’t want to leave them with too heavy awork load.” Paul frowned and nibbled at the cake, crumbs crumbled onto his shirt front, he brushed them off causing them to scatter over the chess board.

Roy shook his head, and brushed some away, then studied the board a moment before picking up his slab of cake. As he expected it was heavy…

“Tilly cook this?” he asked

“Yes, she has not a light hand, but at least it lines one’s stomach.” Paul grinned, “You’ll need some ballast when you go out there.”

Roy turned to observe the wind rattling the windows, and nodded.

“What does Bridie think about your leaving the surgery?”

“She says the same as you, that I should have retired years ago. But I love General Practice, you know.  It will be hard to let go the reins to someone younger…”

“You have someone in mind then?” Roy glanced up and then removed his glasses, pulled out a handkerchief and began to wipe them vigorously

“Yes.” and Paul gave a slight smile which he hid behind biting off some more cake.

“Does Bridie intend to stay with the hospice?”

Paul nodded “For the time being. With so much unemployment due to the mines closing down

more and more people need help. Sad thing is that demand is exceeding supply – everyone is feeling the problems of the economic downturn here.”

“Some aren’t…” Roy muttered gruffly “Sutro is aiming for a big pay out for his Sutro Tunnel; Company.*  Did you buy any of his shares?”

“Huh, ‘The Honest Miner…” Paul put down his plate and shook his head “Those certificates -” he sighed “No, I didn’t.”

“Nor did I. Rumour has it that he will sell the tunnel for millions of dollars.”

“It is a brilliant feat of engineering, Roy. Give the man credit there…I can still remember the Yellow Jacket Mine* disaster that proved what a benefit that tunnel was -”

“I remember it too -” Roy sighed and leaned over the chess board “Have you seen any of the Cartwrights lately?”

Paul was quiet for a moment, he brushed off more crumbs and then sipped more coffee “I saw Ben a few weeks ago. He said the boys were taking some horses down to Yuma.”

“Hardly boys…” Roy sighed

“No, hardly -”

“Time passes too quickly. I’d give what teeth I have left to be putting Little Joe into one of my cells for some mischief or other. “

Paul nodded and looked over at the cake, perhaps, now that he was retiring, he should cut down on eating so much. He was getting – rather plump

“Bridie was talking about going to Ireland, she wants to get back to her roots even if for a short while.” he unbuttoned his vest and looked over at Roy “It is your move now, you know.”

“Shush shush, I know, I’m concentrating…”

“Where are your roots, Roy?  Can you remember that far back?” Paul smiled, looking affectionately at his old friend.

“Nope.” Roy’s hand hovered over the Bishop, he picked it up, put it down, and leaned back to think some more about what to do next. “Did Adam go to Yuma?”

“No, he stayed to deal with the Anderson contract.  Ben said that Olivia is still – nervous – about Adam going anywhere just now.  Adam’s humouring her, reckons that whole thing has really – well – caused her a lot of distress.”

Roy nodded, “Caused us all a lot of distress…” he murmured and reached out to take the Bishop and place it down. “Checkmate….”

*****

Jonas Armstrong coughed and wiped his face with a large handkerchief.  He was a big man and the cough had been on his chest for some months.  He was wheezing as he pushed himself from the chair and walked over to the window to stare out into the street.

He had founded the firm Armstrong, Armstrong and Shroeder years ago…in fact he was one of the towns founder architects. A lot of the properties in the district, right up to Dayton, and elsewhere owed their origins to his office.  His son, Silas, had gone to college and returned with a Degree and brought along with him a friend Nicolas Shroeder. Thus, the current company existed, with big gold lettering on the plate glass window, and several employee’s in the offices that the building contained.

Jonas and Silas, of course, had offices upstairs with plush carpets and best Ponderosa Pine cladded walls upon which were hanging various certificates, and copies of their best designs. Jonas turned to his son,

“I was thinking -”

“Yes, sir.” Silas leaned back in his chair and chewed on a matchstick, he eyed his father thoughtfully, with that cough the old man should have stayed home and recuperated, but he seemed intent on ignoring Dr Martins advice, referring to him as an old woman.

“I’m not getting any fitter and we have some big contracts coming up…especially with Sutro selling that tunnel. He wants to move from here, build big – “

“You think he’ll ask us to get involved?”

“I know he will – Nicolas has been doing the groundwork for us. It’ll be lucrative.”

“So – what’s the problem? I assume that you foresee a problem?”

“We need someone else to come into the business. Someone with fresh ideas…”

“Thanks, Pa, you always were one for commendation and encouragement…” Silas sighed and pushed himself away from the desk

He walked slowly to stand beside his father and stared down at the street below. They had a good vantage point, looking down at the townsfolk, seeing who was riding in and out of the town, pushing their way against the wind.

“Some years back -” Jonas paused and frowned, he pulled a cigar from his pocket, looked at it, remembered his cough and replaced it, “Probably too far back but there was someone hereabouts who showed a lot of promise. He designed some properties here in town, you know?  Won an award one time…”

“And?”

“I could never work out why he didn’t take to the work, he had a good eye for design and engineering.  Went to college, then came back here – I asked him once to work with me, that was when you were in college…but he refused.”

Silas nodded, and pursed his lips, the thin moustache looked almost apologetic upon his upper lip.

“You’re talking about Adam Cartwright?”

“I am.” Jonas nodded and then stared down at the street below, “He left the Ponderosa to go to sea, reason being – he was bored with chasing cows and lopping down trees – so would I be, truth be told.  He’s been back some years now.  I heard the latest adventure was pretty horrific -”

“It wasn’t that great from our standpoint either, Clem Foster was a good friend.”

“Yes – yes, he was.  But I think – I could imagine – that Mr. Adam Cartwright, would give his eye teeth to quit chasing cows. Not to go to sea again, of course….” he looked at Silas who frowned, and shook his head

“He’s probably not designed anything in years….”

“The houses on the Ponderosa all have their own bathrooms, did you know that? No, I think he would be ready to face a new challenge in his life.”

“He isn’t a young man, Dad?”

“He’s not much older than Nicolas, or yourself…” Jonas frowned, “Age doesn’t come into it anyway.”

“No, I guess not. Anyone can sit behind a desk and design a house, of course.” Silas smirked and looked at his father “You seriously think Adam Cartwright would want to join in with us?”

“Why not?” Jonas raised an eyebrow and then turned back to look down at the street, he nodded towards the Silver Dollar Saloon “Why not go and ask him?  He’s looking thirsty, treat him to a drink – or two – see what he has to say about it?”

*****

Chapter 2

The Silver Dollar Saloon was not as luxurious as the Sazarac, nor as large as the Bucket of Blood but it stood in a relatively calm area of the town and served a good beer.  The barkeep looked over as the door swung open and Adam Cartwright hurried inside in order to avoid the rain. As the door closed on him the sound of the rain against the building was so loud that voices had to be raised above the tumult. Adam removed his hat as he made his way to the counter and unbuttoned his jacket, nodded to Fargo, the barkeep, “Coffee…hot and strong.”

“Just as you say, Captain.” Fargo replied, “Usual table, sir?”

Adam inclined his head and then turned to check out the clientele, seeing Abel Greigson in the corner he walked towards him and pulled out a chair “Mind if I join you?”

“Not at all.” Abel smiled and waited for the rancher to settle himself into the chair “I didn’t think you liked being called Captain by anyone?”

“I don’t mind it from Fargo, he’s been around a long time, knew me when I was having to come into town to haul Little Joe out of Miss Jones’ classroom.”

“Times have changed…” Abel grinned “Long before my time…”

“Yes, it was.” Adam turned to thank Fargo for the coffee which was placed in front of him, along with the coffee pot so that he could refill it as and when he chose, he pulled some coins from his pocket and dropped them into the other man’s open palm and then returned to observe Abel.

“Settled in alright?”

“Good enough. Jane seems to be able to sweet talk my Pa out of his moods. “Abel smiled, “Odd really, never thought I’d see her again in a thousand years -” he winked “shows how wrong a man can be…”

“So long as it has all turned out well.” Adam poured his coffee and raised the cup to his mouth, sipped it and sighed, drank some more and then put the empty cup down, “Your Pa got away with his rustling pretty good, didn’t he?”

“Only because your Pa wouldn’t press charges…with the Burgoyne boy’s dead, there didn’t seem much point in pushing it any further I suppose. Personally, I would have been happy to throw the book at him…”

“Well, it’s best to let sleeping dogs lie as they say….” he poured more coffee into the cup and glanced around as the door opened and the draught swept through the saloon, “Sure is some downpour.”

“How’s your wife now, Adam? She went through a real bad experience those few weeks ago…” Abel watched as Adams eyes narrowed, the mouth went from a lazy smile to a downturned grimace

“She did. I think the thing that gives her nightmares most of all are memories of that ride from the Ponderosa to town with that killer.  She wasn’t sure who he was, but that didn’t make it any easier.”

“She should have knocked him on the head while he was on the Ponderosa.” Abel grinned

“Well, it’s the ‘what if’s’ that stopped her, what if he was a genuine stranger lost on the Ponderosa…and, she was wanting to get him away from the children, get him where she hoped the law would deal with him.” Adam stretched his shoulders, “Anyway, you’re supposed to be a pacifist so why talk about bumping anyone on the head…”

They chuckled amicably together “Do you think Jane will settle down here, Abel?”

“She loves it here, Adam. She’s a farmer’s girl anyway, so she’s used to living out in the rurals, and working hard. Couldn’t see Elizabeth Royale doing that, could you?”

Adam shook his head “Nope.”

“She was a strange one…” Abel frowned, and stared down into his half empty glass, “Had some odd ideas.”

“She’d had an odd life. Bound to have some effect on an impressionable young woman.”

The door opened again, bringing in some rain that splattered over the sawdust strewn floor, both Abel and Adam had turned to see who it was and nodded over to Silas Armstrong as he shook rain from his shoulders and removed his hat. He went to the counter and ordered a whiskey and glanced over at Adam

“Anything for you, Adam? Whiskey? Beer?” his eyes swept over Abel and ignored him, but the younger man was already getting up to leave so took no offence.

“I’ve coffee – “Adam said and raised his cup, winked over to Abel as he left, and once again the room caught the rain in the wind as Abel opened the door and stepped out into the main street.

Unusual for Silas Armstrong to be in a saloon at this time of day, Adam mused as he drank his coffee with his eyes lingering on the young man talking to the bar keep. Even more unusual for the man to offer to buy him a drink. He raised an eyebrow and told himself not to be so cynical, no doubt all would be revealed., if, as he assumed, Silas had come to keep him company – and talk. But – talk about what?

He pursed his lips in a familiar pout and gave a slight shrug of the shoulders, leaned back in his chair and crossed one long leg over the other. Silas Armstrong gave Fargo the money for his drink and then turned, paused, looked over at Adam and then strolled over to where the rancher was seated and pulled out a chair. “May I?”

Adam nodded and cleared his throat, frowned as though puzzled, which he was, and then smiled “Well, this is unusual – “

“What is?” Silas raised an eyebrow and then shook his head “What?”

“Finding you here in a saloon at this time of day. Business must be slack or has your Pa given you the boot?”

Silas grinned, although his eyes were wary.  Old man Armstrong was known for his temper, it could shift from north to south quicker than winking.  Adam slowly poured some more coffee into his cup and smiled, “Just joshing you, Si.”

Silas shrugged, and observed the other man thoughtfully. It seemed to him that Adam Cartwright had still not recovered fully from his last adventure.  He was still too thin compared to the more robust build he had a few months previously, and his eyes still looked strained.  Silas nodded

“I saw that fight you were in – we watched it from the office window -”

“Fight?  Call that a fight?” Adam mocked and swallowed back coffee, “That wasn’t a fight, it was just two stupid idiots trying to prove a point.”

“But you shot him…”

“Didn’t kill him though.  He killed himself. That’s what fanatics tend to do in the end, it seems. It’s martyrdom for them.”

“You’ve had some strange adventures in your life, haven’t you, Adam?”  Silas sipped his whiskey and then swallowed it down in a gulp, “Been to lots of places.”

“Yeah yeah – and most of them places I never want to see again in my lifetime.” Adam pushed the cup and saucer aside and prepared to get to his feet, but Silas raised a hand and indicated he would rather that he stayed, just for a moment or two longer.

“Adam – you went to college and got a degree in Engineering and Architecture am I right?”

“You are-” Adam sighed and leaned back in his chair

“But you never -” Silas shrugged and pulled a grimace, looked puzzled “You never took it up, you never made it your career.  Why was that?”

Adam raised his eyebrows, stared over at a poster on the wall which announced a forth coming event promising the best dancing in town, and sighed. He shook his head “Well, I guess at the time it seemed the best thing to take up. A new country. A new town. Needed buildings and so forth. But – it just didn’t work out like that, the Comstock exploded, and we got problems as a result, trying to keep the Ponderosa out of the grubby little hands of the miners, the big consortiums that sprung up and the land grabbers.”

“It was quite a fight then?”  Silas raised a hand to catch Fargo’s eyes and pointed to his glass, and nodded for a refill

“It was -” Adam leaned forward, prepared once again to launch himself out of the chair.

“Wait – if you don’t mind, Adam”

“I have an appointment, Silas. Make it quick, huh?”

Silas leaned forward, arms on the table, eyes on Adam’s face “My Pa often tells me how he made a proposition to you one time – do you remember -?”

“One time -” Adam drawled, “A long time ago too”

“Ever give it a thought?”

“Not at the time.” Adam replied and reached for his hat. He could guess now where this conversation was headed and wanted to remove himself before Silas got any deeper with his probing’s and suggestions.

“Yeah, but did you?” Silas urged; his eyes wide now hopeful of some positive response from the other man other than his back as he headed for the door

“Look, Silas, life has a habit of moving on and I’ve moved on with it – “he quirked an eyebrow, forced a thin smile and nodded “Now, if you excuse me -”

Fargo came and put the whiskey in front of Silas, then stepped aside for Adam to get out of the chair.  Silas stood up with Adam, facing him across the table “But wouldn’t it appeal to you now? The offers still open you know?”

“After all these years?”

“Yes, after all these years -”

Adam stared at Silas thoughtfully, frowned “Why now?”

“Why not now?” Silas forced a smile, his face gentled into an appeal, big eyes, optimistic open expression.

Adam shook his head “I’ve not designed anything in years, Silas. I’m not the kind of person you would want working alongside you and your Pa.”

“Look -” Silas reached out and grabbed at Adams arm “You’ve been a rancher, you’re a woodsman,, you’ve been a seaman – an adventurer -” he paused at the way Adam raised his eyebrows at that last mention “but you qualified as an architect. Why not try it now?”

Adam frowned, shrugged slightly and then slid his hat over his head “A soft job behind a desk huh?”

“It has it’s challenges -”

Adam smiled again, shook his head “Nope!”

Fargo stepped aside for him to leave and looked at Silas with a shrug “You lost that round.”

“There’ll be others.” Silas replied as he sat down and picked up the refilled glass. “My Pa doesn’t like taking no for an answer.”

“Coming from Adam Cartwright it may be time your Pa reconsidered that philosophy”

Silas arched his eyebrows and without a word swallowed down the whiskey. Outside the rain still fell but not so heavily, and a shaft of golden sunlight began to dance through the clouds.

Chapter 3

A week of warm sultry weather had followed the storm. Blue skies had replaced the grey and dull colours everyone had previously greeted, and the sun had shone. Perhaps it was not as warm as in summer months, but it smiled down upon them nevertheless as cheery as it possibly could at that time of year

When Sofia saw her Daddy standing at the school gates her little heart swelled with pride and love. Over the time when Adam had been absent from home and so many things had been happening that she didn’t understand, she had grown quieter, more timid. Snatches of conversations between the adults, the lady and baby who came and then disappeared, and then Adam coming home looking so unwell, and seemingly so tired all the time.  To her mind something terrible had happened and she had been too frightened to talk about it to Reuben or to her mother. She confided her fears to her dolls, whispering in their porcelain ears and upon hearing no advice had to be satisfied with silence and her own anxieties.

She ran towards him now, arms outstretched wide and a beaming smile on her face ‘Daddy.”

He turned and saw her, for he had been engaged in conversation with Matt, one of the deputies, and now he squatted down to catch hold of her and swing her up in the air and made her skirts swirl.

“Are you come to take us home?”

“I have -” he nodded and looked over her head to where Hannah was approaching, a little more slowly, and then running around the corner came Reuben his books swinging from the strap he held in his hand. “Come on – hurry up – we have somewhere to go first.”

“Where, Daddy, where?” Sofia demanded to know, hanging onto his hand and tugging at it as she danced from one foot to the other.

“You’ll see.” he winked at Reuben and then gathered Hannah in beside him, little Hannah, the first Cartwright baby born on the Ponderosa since Little Joe had made his appearance. “Hurry now, or Ma will think you can’t bothered and will go home with Spike -”

“Does my mummy know I’ll be late -” Hannah demanded to know, anxious as usual and looking with blue eyed concern up at her Uncle.

“Of course,…but you won’t be late, Hannah. I’ll make sure that the horses gallop all the way home.”

“That will make them tired.” Hannah sighed and shook her head, she was showing a more practical approach to life than was expected from such a young one and Adam smiled, stroked her sleek black hair and ignored it.

“Where are we going to, then, Pa.” Reuben wanted to know as he followed along behind his father, just close enough for others to know he was with his Pa and just far enough distance not to be associated with – girls.

“You’ll see when we get there, son.”

At the Ice cream parlour, which was just opposite Widow Hawkins home, Nathaniel was wondering if his father would ever reappear.  He had been swung down from Kami’s saddle and handed over to Olivia like a package, and now he had been standing, waiting, for what seemed such a long time.

Widow Hawkins had come by and insisted on patting him on the head, not merely stroking gently like some do, but banging down, bonk bonk bonk, it had made his eyes water. And she had a funny smell too, it had made him sneeze and Mother had looked at him as though he had done it on purpose, but he hadn’t …

“Daddy-” he cried and pointed excitedly to where he could see his father, sister, brother and cousin coming towards them, “Daddy coming.”

Olivia nodded, placed a hand on his shoulder to calm him down and watched the little group coming closer. Her eyes lingered on the tall figure of her husband, still too thin after his recent misadventure, but his brown eyes bright as ever, a smile on his lips as he listened to his daughter chattering beside him, and Reuben now hurrying forwards to be first in the ice cream parlour with his Mom.

Adam’s eyes met and lingered upon Olivia’s, they smiled that secret smile that lovers share, for they were still lovers, despite a marriage of several years now.  Hannah and Sofia ran ahead to get their seats, squeezing in beside Reuben, while Adam came, swung Nathaniel in the air as he had Sofia only moments earlier, and then held him close, locked in his arms. He leaned over and kissed his wife on the cheek then together went to the table at which the children were seated.

“I love ice cream.” Sofia stated in a voice that meant no argument

“So, do I, it’s my favourite of all things – “Hannah sighed and looked wistfully at her Uncle, hoping that he would know which of the flavours would be her favourite and get it for her

“Everyone likes ice cream.” Reuben muttered and stared around him to see if any of his classmates were there, who would likely comment about seeing him there in the morning. He was suffering the agonies of self-consciousness.

Mr. Albierno approached them, nodding, smiling, and notebook in hand, “Orders please…”

Sofia took a deep breath and looked at all the ice creams on the posters on the walls, so many to choose from, and all of them delicious. She knew if she were a real princess, she would be able to order them all, and then she would probably try and eat them all, and then she would be sick.

Nathaniel clung onto his father, he had become very clingy with Adam since his return home, in his mind Daddy was not well and needed all of Nathaniel’s love to make him better again.  His father’s absence, his quietness upon returning and looking unwell too, had created in the little boy a sudden awareness that his security could end at the spin of coin….not that he could put it in so many words, but he sensed the change within himself.

Adam and Olivia exchanged a look – it had been his idea to come here, the day was hot, the road dusty, and the journey home too long.  Stopping at the ice cream parlour seemed to be the perfect end to the children’s school day.  They both sighed inwardly and turned to Mr. Albierno who was waiting patiently for their attention.

*****

Bridie Martin adjusted her hat, then tweaked a strand of hair under its brim and sighed. What, she thought, had happened to the laughing slim dark brown-haired girl that had sailed from Ireland all those years ago?  How had she changed into this dumpling of an old woman, with gray hair, wrinkles and hollows on her face and her once large blue eyes suddenly – well – not large anymore, just a washed out blue.

Paul came bustling out of the parlour and adjusted his collar, he glanced at Bridie “Come along, dear, or we’ll be late meeting them.”

“The trains always late, Paul.”

“Doesn’t mean we have to be, my dear.”

He paused to stare at his own reflection in the mirror and passed a hand over his chin “I think I’ll grow a beard when I retire, hide these jowls.”

“When you retire? I thought you were retired?” she scolded and turned to fidget with his tie.

“I am going to retire as soon as everything is settled and organised. Jimmy Chang has his hands full, you know, there’s some kind of sickness in the Chinese quarter that seems to be hard to be rid of, he may need more help.”

“Paul – you are as bad as Roy.  When will either of you realise that when you get to a certain age the body needs to step away from what it could do once…just accept that it – it’s getting old?”

“But I don’t want to accept that I’m getting old…or rather…getting older.” he smiled his warm gentle smile and kissed her cheek “You look lovely, Bridie.  Now, hurry up, stop trying to gild the lily, or we’ll be late.”

She shook her head and adjusted her bonnet again. Tilly came and hovered at the kitchen door wiping her hands down her apron, nodded at seeing them actually leave the house and retreated into the kitchen where the meal was simmering, boiling and roasting.

*****

At the Women’s Hospice Mrs. Garston was weeping into her handkerchief as noisily as only Mrs. Garston could weep. Widow Hawkins was doing her utmost to parcel up a bundle of clothes for a woman who needed help clothing her younger children, and who was standing jiggling a drooling baby with an odorous diaper on one arm. As soon as she had gone Clementine turned her attention to Mrs. Garston

“Now, my ducks, wots the matter wiv ya?”

Mrs. Garston shook her head and looked down her nose at Clemmie, they had never got along well, being two obstinate stubborn women but there was a kind streak in Clemmie, and she didn’t like to see anyone distressed.  Mrs. Garston looked uglier than ever when she cried, and it turned the people away – people who really needed help. Clemmie could not see what could affect the other woman to such an extent, after all she and her husband had money, their own home, food in the larder and fine clothes to wear. Women who came to the refuge often had nothing to feed their families and wore rags.

“You don’t ‘ave to tell me, ya know, not if’n ya don’t want to.” Clemmie sniffed and looked away to where a little boy hovered in the doorway “Wot do you want then, ‘anging around to do some mischief are ya?”

“No, Missus, but my Ma said to ask the Dr lady to come and help her -”

“Mrs. Martin ain’t ‘ere, ducks.  Come back later – I’ll get a message to her. Mrs. Dickons isn’t it?”

“Yeah, that’s right.” he nodded, big eyes sunk in a haggard face, a little old man’s face, sallow from hunger. His father had been foreman working on the tunnel Sutro had created, but jobs had been lost when Sutro decided to sell, and the little men, the ones who had worked to create Sutro’s marvel, were brushed aside like the leavings of a meal.

Mrs. Garston blew her nose “It’s Lucy.”

“Lawks, Mrs. G, I am that sorry…did she suffer long/”

“Suffer? What are you talking about?” Mrs. Garston stared down her long and red tipped nose at the other woman “She didn’t suffer anything. It’s me that’s suffering, me.no one cares about my feelings, no one…not even Lucy. I blame Amanda Ridley, I do honestly. She turned my girls’ head with all that talk of emancipation…” she blew her nose again, “She’s got herself married, that’s what! Never even told me a thing about it until this -” she waved a cablegram in the air, and then pushed it back into her pocket “Married. I don’t know anything about him. He could be – be – anybody. The odd ideas she has now – wouldn’t be surprised if it was some tramp from a back alley.”

Clemmie shook her head, she was well aware of the fact that Lucy Garston was enough like her mother to not even look at some tramp in any alley, despite the ideas she had about equality of women (which Clemmie agreed with entirely)

“Oh well, then, if that’s all…” she said brutally and turned her back on the woman in order to jot down a note to Bridie.  She called over to a young woman who lived near the Martins and asked her to deliver the note as soon as she could, even sooner if possible.

“But don’t you know…” the young woman said, eager to pass on some gossip “Dr and Mrs. Martin have gone to meet the new Doctor and his wife. They’re heading for the station now…”

Clemmie nodded, smiled and thanked her “All the same, luv, just hand it over to Tilly, will ya?”

She watched the girl flounce off, a slight shrug of her shoulders and a light step onto the sidewalk. Clemmie smiled, so many changes even in this tiny corner of the world…so many changes.

*****.

Bridie waved steam, smoke and grit away from her face with her handkerchief. Paul had a grip on her elbow and steered her forwards. Doors were opening and people were stepping out onto the platform.  A couple passed them by without a second glance, children ran too close to the edge of the platform and Bridie held her breath in case one of them fell. Then Paul squeezed her arm

“There they are…over there.” and he turned her in the direction of a not very tall man, slim, and good looking, an attractive matronly shaped woman with dark hair and eyes holding onto the hand of a little boy, blonde and pale, wide eyes, staring around him, and then there was the girl, tall and lanky, at the age where even girls become coltish, all arms and legs, she was glaring sullenly around her, her lips compressed into a tight line of protest.

Bridie’s heart sunk ‘Oh dear’ she thought ‘I’m really not in the mood to put up with childish tantrums now. I’m too old for this kind of thing….”

“Well, now, our new Doctor and family. “Paul was saying as she was propelled towards the little group, “Home at last.”

Chapter 4

It had been some years since John Martin had taken his wife and the children to Albany to practice medicine in a very modern hospital, and in many ways the decision to return to Virginia City to take up General Practice again had been a hard one.  But facts had to be faced, and the primary one was that the role as Head of Surgery had taken a toll on his own health, and he knew that another few years there would see his wife a widow, and his children fatherless. The loss of their son, Peter, had brought a heart ache to them all, guilt along with relief along with grief, which were not a healing combination of emotions. Little Peter who had been born deaf and as the years had passed retreated into a world of his own, and then, sadly, departed from even that one. John squared his shoulders and prepared to meet his Uncle, and greet Bridie, whom he had never met.

He had put on weight since leaving, and lost some of his hair, but at first appearance he still retained the handsomeness of a younger man, his eyes still had a lustre that came from a love of life, and a determination to do the best he could for his family, and his patients. He was a man who cared, perhaps too much if that were at all possible.

Barbara Martin who had once been known as Barbara Scott, and then Barbara Pearson, had also put on weight. Perhaps it was all the rich food they had available back in that big city.  But she was still very attractive, and her dark hair was untouched by a single strand of grey. Although life had not been easy back in Albany, she had faced everything with an equanimity that could have caused people who knew her think of her as lacking emotion.  The fact was that life before leaving Virginia City had forced her to experience a pain and misery beyond her understanding and had scarred her for life. Peter’s death had been another blow to her heart, and she found strength by becoming as detached as possible from the issues that confronted them. What problems came her way, she dealt with in as dismissive a manner as possible.

Lilith Martin was twelve years of age now.  It was Lilith who dealt with the problems that Barbara preferred to ignore. It was Lilith who had wanted to stay in Albany and now resented being back in Virginia City. Indeed, why should she have wanted to return, there had been nothing but heartbreak and betrayal and fear all the days of her childhood there.  If she reached back deep enough into her memory she had known times of great pleasure and joy too, but then, she had been a little girl, and her father, Andrew Pearson had not shown himself as the true monster he was…he had kept to the shadows of her life until Peter had been born….and Adam Cartwright had returned from Alaska.

She was thin, too thin.  Her hair was long and tied back in a ribbon that looked as though it were good for nothing. Her eyes were dark with anger, with dismay and something else too…hope. As the elderly couple approached them, Lilith looked beyond them, to see if it were possible that someone else would be there to greet them.

But the man she sought was not there, the gleam of hope in her eyes dulled a little and she sighed and took hold of the hand of the little boy standing by her side.

Little Paul stood fidgeting from one leg to the other, his thumb in his mouth and his big eyes fixed on the face of Bridie Martin. He had been born in Albany and knew nothing about life beyond that metropolis. The journey had been long, tedious and he was tired. Even now he yawned and sighed and looked up at his Mommy. He wanted to go home but even at his age, knew that his home was a long way from where he was now.

“John!  Welcome back. You’ve been gone too long.” Paul embraced his nephew and then turned to Barbara and kissed her on the cheek, his smile was warm and genuine, and he was pleased that the smile she gave him was equally as warm

“Hello, Uncle Paul.” she said and kissed his cheek “You remember Lilith…”

“I do indeed…my, how you have grown, my dear. And this is Paul?” he nodded, and smiled then turned to Bridie “Did you ever meet my wife…Bridie?”

Introductions were made, Bridie melted and stopped feeling anxious, John was happy, genuinely happy to be there, to see them, to meet her. She didn’t know any of them, and they were the same, no one of them knew the back history of the other…it was better that way.

“Come along, Tilly has a good meal prepared. You must all be so hungry.  Have you luggage?” she glanced over her shoulder and smiled at the amount of luggage being piled onto a cart “Good, the boys will deal with that….”

Barbara fell into step with her and felt herself relax. She was going to be alright, she told herself, this fussy little woman will make sure of that, she’s a natural mother hen, everything will be alright.

She smiled down at Bridie, for she was quite tall, a similar build to Hester Cartwright in fact.

“You’re Irish?” she said with a smile in her voice “What part of Ireland are you from?”

“Galway. Connemara…but ’tis a long time since I was there, I was but a girl when I left.” she sighed “I’ve been thinking of it a lot recently, perhaps because I am old now … perhaps that is what people do when they get old.”

“My mother’s family were from Ireland, from Fermoy.” Barbara said dreamily.  “I remember how she would always call me her colleen…”

Bridie nodded and then looked over at Lilith “Are you glad to be back now, Lilith?  You will be meeting old friends when you go to school – it’s a big grand school now – “

Lilith looked at Bridie and nodded, lowered her head, the long hair, free from the ribbon, fell across her face obscuring her from view.  Barbara frowned, sighed and then smiled at Bridie,

“Lilith went to the little school where I taught.  I was schoolteacher for a while…”

Bridie nodded and remembered now where she had heard the name Barbara Scott before, the old story that Clemmie Hawkins had told her when the subject of John Martin leaving Virginia City had arisen. She coughed as a means of diversion from the subject and nodded over to the little boy, “You have a handsome little lad there, Barbara.”

“Yes.” Barbara nodded and looked at her son with pride, no doubting that she loved him dearly. How she felt about Lilith was – perhaps – different. But then she would explain that Lilith was not her child, no, not at all.

It was no great distance to the Martins house, but even so during the walk several stopped the little group to exclaim in surprise at seeing John and Barbara back, delighted surprise. There was much shaking of hands, and even, for Barbara several small spontaneous hugs from the women who had remembered her teaching their children.  One young woman saw them and with a squeal of delight ran across the road holding onto her hat as she cried out “Miss Scott, Miss Scott – do you remember me? Oh Miss Scott -”

And thankfully, Miss Scott did remember Amy McIntyre and accepted her hug with a warmth that was both sincere and kindly.

They reached the house where Tilly stood like some fearsome guardian, her hands folded neatly in her apron. She was introduced and then promptly disappeared to go about her duties. The aroma of food cooking drifted from the kitchen and the travellers realised, as their stomachs rumbled, that they were actually very hungry.

*****

Edward Evans finished marking up some schoolwork and then put the books to one side. Jimmy had retired to his bed, and now he was quite alone with Mary. It was time, he decided, to talk to her about what was worrying her for she had been what one would call ‘mopish’.

“What is wrong, sweetheart?” he set himself down beside her and took hold of her by the hand, “Are you feeling unwell – with the baby – I mean?”

“No, nothing like that -” she replied and placed a hand as many expectant mothers do, over the mound of her skirt. “I – I just didn’t want to bother you with the problem, which was silly really, because it involves you too.”

“Oh, a mystery -” he smiled and took her hand in his, “What is it?”

“Amanda wants to sell the Emporium. She doesn’t feel it is making enough profit now that so many are leaving. But – but it is doing well, Edward, there is always a profit, perhaps not a very big one, but it is modest and it is consistent.” she paused “she wants to sell this house too, she says the rent won’t cover the expenses she is incurring.”

Edward nodded, a slight frown on his face “And is that all that is worrying you?”

“Yes – and no -” she replied and leaned towards him, nestling her head upon his shoulder, “It means leaving here, and this has been such a pleasant home. It’s really been Jimmy’s first real home…” she frowned slightly “Amanda said we could move back into the apartment above the store but that would make it difficult to sell, wouldn’t it? Who would want to buy a business with tenants already installed? “

“Some would, sitting tenants would save the time and trouble finding them ….” Edward kissed the top of her head “And you really like this house?”

“Yes. I had planned – oh silly really – but it seemed such an ideal family home. For all of us, and of course – the baby.”

He nodded and squeezed her hand gently between his, “Don’t worry anymore, I forbid it. Do you hear?”

“I can’t help worry…where -”

He shook his head and smiled “Don’t worry – anymore- about it.”

She closed her eyes, and relaxed. There, they always say a problem shared is a problem halved except now she felt that she had off loaded the entire problem.

*****

“Of course,” Paul said as he settled back into his old chair by the fire, “You won’t want to stay here with us, the place is too small as it is.  I have asked around town to see if there are any suitable properties available and found several that may suit you.”

“Is the old Scott house available?” Barbara asked with a slight frown forming a little crescent shape between her eyes.

“No, my dear, I’m afraid not.” Paul smiled over at her and then shrugged “But I know that Widow Hawkins has a desire to leave her place.  She feels that she is too old now to have boarders, and it is therefore, too large for her.  She wants something smaller, like an apartment or some such.”

“I remember Mrs. Hawkins house, I stayed there a while, with Lilith and Peter after – after what happened.” her voice faltered, and she looked down at her shoes.  She hadn’t expected the memories of what had taken place to impact on her quite so much. She took a deep breath, “Perhaps somewhere else?”

“I did hear that Amanda Ridley was wanting to sell her house…it has a pleasant outlook, and a large garden”

“Amanda Ridley? Is she still in town?” John asked and smiled, thinking back to over the years to when Amanda Ridley was known to be deep in debt, uncontrollable in her gambling and frittering away any money she had. “She owned the Livery stables, didn’t she?”

“She did…and also the Mercantile and the Ladies Emporium -” Bridie said, with a smile, “She came to her senses in time and invested heavily in the town. But she has moved on now and needs capital for her latest venture.”

John nodded, smiled and turned to Paul, “Well, perhaps that would be something we could consider. Thank you, Uncle Paul.”

Bridie looked over at Barbara who was looking deep in thought and lost in memories, she smiled and wondered what the younger woman was thinking. “I suppose the Hospice wasn’t open when you were here, was it/”

“The Hospice? No, I don’t think I ever heard of it.”

“Of course, it was Mary Ann and Hester Cartwright who got it all organised.” and for a little while Bridie regaled her visitors with the story of how Hester and Mary Ann bullied Daniel deQuille into making a feature of how the town had responsibilities to their poor and should do something about it  “Of course it has been very successful, after all, the poor are always with us, and more of them now than ever with the mines closing as they are and businesses closing down.  But most of the workers are getting older now, less efficient and unable to deal with things -” she glanced sharply over at Barbara, who smiled as she recognised the look in the old woman’s eyes,

“I suppose it would be something for me to do ….” she said slowly, and her smile broadened as Bridie’s look of relief was so obvious that it couldn’t be ignored. “You must show me this hospice of yours, Bridie. It sounds – interesting.”

Chapter 5

The clouds were purpling against a bruised sky that seemed to be holding back a deluge. Everyone expected it and hurried about their business with frequent glances up to the sky in the hope of avoiding the inevitable.

Ben and Joe Cartwright dismounted and looped the reins of their horses on the hitching rail outside the sheriff’s office. Ben pulled up the collar of his coat, hoping it would prevent draughts and rain from locating the gap between his hat and collar. He glanced up at the sky

“Here’s hoping it holds off until we get back home.”

“I’ve a feeling that’s a false hope, Pa.”

 

“Hmmph”

Their footsteps echoed on the planks of the sidewalk and Joe sighed as he looked across the road to see if there was anyone close by whom he knew and could entice into the Bucket of Blood for a drink. He saw Dan deQuille sauntering towards them and gave his Pa a gentle push as though to remind the older man that their destination was to see the sheriff, not stop to fend off any questions from the journalist.

Mark Watts turned from pinning a Wanted poster onto a board, he nodded over to Ben and Joe, then glanced over at the empty desk where Nate would usually be found. “Sheriff ain’t here, Mr. Cartwright. Hi, Joe…you alright?”

Ben scowled, and wondered why no one asked if he was alright, he sighed, perhaps a sign of old age, people started to assume you were not alright and preferred not to ask in case they found out they were right and had to do something about it.  Like seeing them across the road or getting in their shopping! He ground his teeth “Where is he?”

Mark cleared his throat and shrugged slightly “At the Sazarac”

“What’s he doing there?”

“Er,“ Mark shook his head “Chasing up a clue”

“A clue? What clue? What about? No one’s been murdered recently, have they?”

Joe shook his head and stared down at his boots. When in a bad mood Ben could be tactless, and mentioning murder – he shook his head again, and felt guilty for being critical of his father, after all, where else would one look for clues in a murder case if not in the sheriff’s office. He glanced up at Mark.  It seemed they were all over sensitive right now, since Clem was killed in the way he had been – and there was no point in Mark making excuses for Nate, quite a few knew that the sheriff had taken his deputy’s death hard. They even knew that Nate felt responsible for it, and for the death of the woman as well.  He swallowed and coughed,

“Everything is alright, isn’t it, Mark?”

“Sure, Joe…just fine.” the deputy muttered and picked up another Wanted poster.

Ben’s scowl darkened, there again, ignored, he might as well have been a pane of glass for all the notice Mark Watts gave him. He did an about turn and bumped right into Roy Coffee, another old man like himself, and sure to get ignored. Mark nodded over to them

“Hi, Roy – Nate’s not here.”

“Still licking his wounds, huh? Won’t do him a dimes worth of good.” Roy shook his head, and then looked at Ben and Joe “Good to see you both. You in for anything in particular?”

Ben glared over at Mark, pulled his hat lower and shook his head “Not now.”

“I’m going to the Sazarac, Pa…”

“I thought we could both go…”

“I’ll come along with you -”

Mark found himself looked at a closing door which blew open with a bang and a flurry of rain which speckled the floorboards with dark blots

“Knew it would rain before we got home.” Ben growled.

“I’ll take the horses to the livery, Pa.  I’ll see you at the Sazarac.”

Ben and Roy watched as Joe untethered the horses and after mounting onto Navajo’s saddle took Cinnamon by the reins to Ridley’s livery.  The rain was coming down harder, and no one relished mounting a well soaked saddle for long journey home. He anticipated a drink at the Sazarac, then a meal at Del Monico’s and then – he smiled – well, one could but hope, and if Ben’s bad mood passed anything was possible.

The Sazarac was a cocoon of warmth and a smug haze of cigarette smoke.  Roy and Ben paused at the entrance and looked around until they could see Nate sitting alone at a corner table, a glass of whiskey between his fingers.  Roy sighed and shook his head, Ben looked at his old friend and raised his eyebrows,

“Took Clem’s death hard, blamed himself.” Roy muttered

“We all felt Clem’s death, Roy. He’s been a good friend for many years.” Ben frowned, wished he hadn’t mention the many years, it made him think of just how many years they amounted to and added up to…his dark eyes swept from left to right through the smog, he sighed, and with a nod of the head led the way to where Nate sat.  At least there was no bottle in sight, had there been both men would have been even more worried.

Nate glanced up and nodded, forced a smile “Drink?”

“No, thanks.” Roy muttered “Too early for me.”

“Nor me -” Ben pulled out a chair and sat down, he removed his hat and set it down on the table, beside him Roy did the same.

“Is this a delegation?” Nate murmured and swallowed down some of the whiskey

“In aid of what?  Why should you think it to be a delegation?” Ben asked with a narrowing of his eyes.

“Just that you both came in looking mighty serious” Nate emptied the glass, then looked at it as though wondering about refilling it. He sighed and pushed it away from it, as though saying

saying “Remove thyself from my sight, o temptation.”

“What’s wrong, Nate?” Roy asked in a low voice and leaning closer to the other man so that he could be heard.

“What’s wrong?” Nate said slowly, and frowned, shook his head, “Nothing’s wrong if you don’t think there’s anything wrong, Roy.”

“Well, I didn’t say there wasn’t anything wrong, boy. Jest that I’m asking you what’s wrong with you…you should be in your office, not here wallowing -”

“wallowing?” Nate snorted and widened his eyes

“Thet’s what I dadburned said, Nate. Wallowing.” Roy frowned and slid his eyes sideways to look at Ben, perhaps for some support “It ain’t right to be here feeling sorry for yourself over what happened to Clem -”

“Clem’s been a good friend to us all, Nate. For far longer than you ever knew him.”

Nate leaned forward and his eyes roamed from one to the other of them, then he leaned back into his chair “Look, I know that – I know because countless of his friends have told me that since he – got killed – but the thing is none of them, none of you, was responsible for putting him in the position to be killed like he was…that was me. I told him to go there, in fact, I had him take the woman, and himself there. I told -”

“It could have been you, Nate.” Ben said quickly, “You had the men working in shifts, and it could have been your shift, or Marks or Matts or any other deputy. And it could have been Bridie there instead of Olivia. It could all have been worse, or better – depending on your viewpoint -”

“I should have got those men sooner.”

“You acted on the information as soon as you got it, boy.” Roy shook his head, “Ben, what are we gonna do with him? He carries on like this he’ll be neck deep in self-pity and not be able to git himself outa it.”

“Nate – you’ve been a lawman for as long as you can remember, and your Pa was a Marshall, isn’t that right? Situations like the one you’ve just experienced can’t have been unique to you, surely?” Ben’s voice penetrated the fog in Nate’s mind, he frowned and nodded

“You’re right, Ben.” he sat in silence for a moment and his head drooped down upon his chest as though he had fallen asleep, except that he was deep in thought, remembering another time, another place. He turned to the counter and raised a hand “Whiskey.”

Ben and Roy looked at one another, Roy put a blue veined old hand upon the younger man’s arm, and shook his head “You don’t need it, Nate. Not this early in the morning. Come on, now, son, you have work to do.”

“Work?” Nate sighed and slumped back again, looked from one to the other “I’m not fit for this job. I should resign.” he smiled briefly “You could be sheriff instead, Roy?”

“Now ain’t you talking pure nonsense, Nate Carney. Your Pa would tan your hide for you should he see you like this – he never took to drink when things got tough, and this ain’t even a time you could call tough, it was jest plain accidental.”

“Murder isn’t ever accidental, Roy” Nate muttered and nodded a thanks to the girl who put the glass down on the table, “Murder – whether premeditated or not – is the unlawful taking of another person’s life. And they intended to murder someone – that makes it premeditated – they killed Mrs. El Hassim and they killed – butchered – Clem.”

Roy shook his head and put a hand over the top of the glass just as Nate reached out to take it, “Don’t ruin your life, Nate. Don’t let them win.”

“Who? What do you mean?” Nate scowled darker than ever, a curl of dark hair tumbled over onto his forehead and he shook his head “Speak plain, old man.”

Roy raised his eyebrows, and looked at Ben, then back at Nate “Old man, huh? Wal, guess you ain’t wrong there, but old men have the advantage of experience ain’t that right? You think you’re the only lawman who ever felt like you do, saw good friends murdered by their side? Think a man can walk away from that and not feel something inside of him turn bitter as hell? You think I ain’t never been tempted to forget who I was, and caring about what I was, because something didn’t work out right? And you think I never messed up on a case?”

Roy’s moustache bristled, his pale eyes became watery behind the glasses and Ben could see the old man’s liver spotted blue veined hand trembling. He looked away, wondering if anyone else was listening, half expecting Dan deQuille to appear with notepad in hand, but there was no one. Nate still sat with his head down.

“I messed up on more than one occasion, son. Those times still haunt me, but I had to learn to put them to one side so’s I could look after the folk here in town and keep them safe. You won’t forget this time, but believe you me, Nate, you resort to whiskey to help you forget, then let me assure you, it don’t work. It jest makes things a hundred times worse because from this one – mistake – you’ll make more and more until the town spits you out.”

He removed his hand and picked up his hat, then stood up, “And when it spits you out, that will be another mistake on my conscience because I was the one thought you would be the best sheriff this town ever had. I sure hope – and wish – for you not to prove me wrong…”

Ben stood up, nodded to Nate and picked up his hat. He didn’t know what to say after that so decided to say nothing. He joined Roy and walked away from where Nate sat on his own, the glass of whiskey still untouched on the table.

*****

The little bell tinkled above the door as Joe pushed it open and closed it quickly behind him. He smiled over at a seamstress who was carefully hemming some garment and made his way to the counter where Mary Evans was carefully folding some silk undergarments into a drawer. Joe cleared his throat and she looked up, recognised him and smiled “Hello Mr. Cartwright, what can I do to help you today?”

Joe leaned one elbow onto the counter and held his head at an angle “I want to buy Mary Ann a gift, something special.”

“Oh, what occasion is it for? An anniversary?”

Joe shook his head “No, ma’am. Just a – kind of – you know – a little something to let her know I love her – all that kind of thing – hemm,” he cleared his throat again, this kind of ‘shopping’ always made him highly nervous.

Someone giggled, tried to suppress it, and Joe felt the heat flush up into his face “She likes that ivory pink colour – I got something from here once before and…”

“I know what you mean.” Mary nodded and turned quickly to a drawer which she pulled out and placed carefully on the counter “This colour?”

“Yeah – that’s it exactly.” he frowned “Would she prefer another colour now, do you think?”

“Well, what other colour does she like?”

“Shucks, dadburnit, I don’t know -”

“Then best stick with something you know she likes -”

“Yeah, perhaps you’re right.”

He looked at the flimsy garments that Mary showed him, and nodded to several that she put to one side until he had decided enough was enough then she returned the drawer to its usual place and called over one of the assistants to help parcel everything up.

“You don’t seem as busy as usual, Mrs. Evans.”

“No. It’s a slack time of year.” she smiled “Miss Ridley is thinking of selling the business.”

“Really?” Joe frowned and imagined Amanda caught up with gambling as she had been in the past, letting another fortune slip through her fingers once more. “But I thought this place was doing so well.”

“It is.” Mary sighed and finished writing out the receipt which she handed to Joe, he glanced at it, and pulled out his wallet “She wants the money for her new cause -”

“Oh, of course – the emancipation for women -”

“She’s very involved and heavily committed to it. She even wants to sell the house…”

“But aren’t you living in it?”

She nodded “I would have had to stop work anyway, soon -”

He frowned, realised that was meant to be significant but couldn’t think why, he took his change and slipped the few coins into his pocket then thanked her as he turned to accept the oyster coloured box with the red ribbon from the young woman assistant.

She watched him leave the building and stand for a moment wondering in which direction to go next in order to avoid the rain, then turned left and headed in the direction of Del Monico’s

“It must be wonderful to be as rich as them Cartwrights” the young woman sighed and rolled up the ribbon carefully.

Mary shrugged “There’s more to life than money.”

“It helps though, doesn’t it?” she replied gazing at the door where there was no longer any sight of Joe “Helps make things smoother in life. Cushions the blows…”

Chapter 6

Ben splashed his way across the yard to Adam’s house, avoiding as best he could the biggest puddles only to place his boot into a deceptively smaller one, deceptive in that it appeared smaller but was, in fact, deeper.

He gave a sharp rap on the door to the porch and stepped inside where he cast off his sodden outer coat and hat, shook his booted feet in the hope that any excess mud was removed and then pushed open the door to the main body of the house.

He could hear Olivia’s voice, scolding and pitched to a monotone level “Where did you put them? Now, come on, tell me – where are they?”

Ben sighed and shook his head, cleared his throat “Anyone at home?”

“Gran’pa.” Sofia appeared from the other room, a doll in one hand and evidence of a sugar doughnut smeared across her mouth which she tried to remove by wiping the back of her hand across her face. “Is it still raining, Gran’pa?”

“No, not now. It stopped before we left town thankfully.” he accepted a hug from his granddaughter and then looked over to where Reuben was strolling into the room with a book under one arm and a glass of milk in his hand “Well, Reuben, what are you reading now?”

“It’s about the Romans – for school. Mr. Evans said we should learn about them even if they never did get to America. Gran’pa, do you think the Vikings discovered America before Christopher Columbus? Some folk seem to think they did -”

Ben sighed, he wasn’t in the mood to discuss Romans or Vikings. “I don’t know, Reuben. Perhaps one day when you’re grown up, you’ll find out and be able to tell us.”

“Wow! Do you think so, Gran’pa?”

“Nathaniel – come here – come here and tell me where you put them” Olivia’s voice was not so monotone now, there was a sharp edge to her words which were, sadly, greeted by a giggle.

“Where’s your Pa, Reuben?”

Sofia giggled and pointed to the area behind him, and Reuben grinned and made his way to one of the chairs where he settled down to read. Ben turned and found his son standing close enough behind him to touch, “Oh, there you are -”

Sofia giggled again “He didn’t see you, Daddy, did he?”

“Obviously not.” Adam smiled at his daughter who scampered off “Olivia, I found your glasses -” he lowered his voice and turned to his father, shrugged “Nathaniel has taken to hiding them -”

Olivia hurried into the room dragging Nathaniel by the hand where he was made to stand in front of his father and apologise, but he didn’t see why he should apologise when it was such a good game, he giggled and stared down at the floor. Sofia bounced back into the room and shook her head, “He’s been naughty again. He’s always naughty. He keeps hiding things.”

Grandad shook his head and raised his eyebrows which made Nathaniel giggle even more. Olivia shook her head as well, “Nathaniel, go into the kitchen and stay out of trouble.” she reached out for the glasses which Adam presented to her with a smile, twinkling eyes and a wink “I don’t know why he is so naughty.”

“Not naughty.” Nathaniel said in a whine of a voice, he hated to be thought naughty, it was hard to get grownups to understand that the days were very long for a little boy who didn’t know what to do with the time when he couldn’t get out to play “Grandad naughty.”

“Oh, is that so -” Ben chuckled and picked the boy up and swung him up in the air and into his arms, “How come I’m naughty and you’re not. I don’t hide Mama’s glasses now, do I?”

“He hides all sort of things” Sofia announced and shrugged “Daddy should take him to the barn and give him a hiding.”

“No – no hiding – “Nathaniel wailed and rubbed his eyes, free of tears but the gesture indicated they could still come.

“Off you go, all of you – “Adam declared, “Olivia, take your children away and lock them up somewhere safe.”

Reuben laughed at that, Sofia squealed especially when Adam made a lunge towards her as though intending to catch her and lock her up, “Grandad, Grandad, save me -” she squealed with a gurgle of a laugh in her voice.

Nathaniel clapped his hands and wriggled so Ben put him down on the ground and watched him scamper after Sofia shouting as he went “I got you, Sofee…”

Olivia sighed and shook her head “It’s the rain. They always get boisterous when it rains.” she then smiled at Ben and leaned in to kiss his cheek “Sorry, Pa, this has been a bit of a crazy day. Did you get very wet going into town today? Was Joe with you?”

“We dried off at Del Monico’s” Ben said as he sat down in the chair Reuben had just vacated, “Good thing too as Joe’s gift to Mary Ann would have got a drenching and looked nowhere as good as when he got it.”

“Oh, little brother being extravagant again.” Adam smiled and leaned against the arm of the settee, folding his arms across his chest and looking over at his wife who was frowning at the smears on her glasses that Nathaniel’s sticky fingers had left behind.

“Seems so…probably a good idea to buy as much as one can just now, Amanda’s selling the Ladies Emporium.”

“Selling? But that’s a good little business. She isn’t falling back into her old ways, is she?”

“No, apparently it’s to do with her latest cause…this emancipation business.”

Olivia chuckled, she had a pleasantly earthy chuckle which always made Ben smile and Adam’s eyes twinkle. “A cause isn’t a business Pa. Amanda would be horrified to hear you say that…”

“It must be important to her if she’s selling the business though -” Adam mused and looked up at the ceiling, “She always did tend to throw herself into things she believed in with great enthusiasm.”

“Very true.” Ben frowned, “She’s selling her house as well.”

“Oh, but Mary and Edward were just settling in there -” Olivia shook her head as though she couldn’t agree with such a thoughtless action, “Well, anyway, I suppose it is up to her and none of our business. Pa, are you staying for dinner?”

“No, my dear, I had a good meal with Joe at Del Monico’s. But a cup of coffee would not go amiss, I must admit the ride home chilled me somewhat.”

She nodded, smiled again and gave him another kiss. As she passed her husband, he grabbed her arm, swung her into his side and kissed her before releasing her to continue into the kitchen area where the sounds of Nathaniel and Sofia’s voice could be heard. He was about to say something when Ben leaned in towards him, “Adam? Have you seen Nate at all lately?”

His son shook his head “Why, is something wrong?”

Ben nodded, sighed and told Adam about his and Roy’s altercation with the sheriff earlier that morning. “I’m worried about him. He’s a good man, a very good sheriff – I would hate to think that Clem’s death could destroy his career.”

“A lot of lawmen end up seeing life through the bottom of a whiskey bottle.” Adam said quietly, while his long fingers toyed with a button on his vest.

“I know, I would not want to think Nate was one of them though.”

Adam nodded, he thought about Nate for a moment then cleared his throat “Pa, I wanted to talk to you about the Burgoyne contract.”

“Ah, yes, I wondered if you would get around to that subject.” Ben leaned back and half closed his eyes, his mouth firmed into a thin line as though preparing himself for the verbal fight to come.

“I think 25% discount is too big a cut – even for a friend”

“Ebenezer’s a good friend – “

“I know that, and so is Joyce -” Adam’s eyes narrowed, flicking over to observe his father before returning to observe the book that Reuben had left on the low table.

“It has nothing to do with Joyce.,” Ben’s voice thickened, his face flushed, whether from temper or embarrassment was left for Adam to decide. “It’s a big contract, Adam…I didn’t want him to think we were taking advantage of him.”

“I understand that, Pa. But you can’t let friendship interfere with business to such an extent. If you keep -”

“How long have I been conducting this business, Adam – with friends or without -!” Ben’s voice was deeper, lower and his dark eyes hardened “How do you think I managed to keep a profit if I was so bad a manager, huh? I don’t think I need remind you that I’ve -” he paused as Olivia entered the room, and an unsettled atmosphere hung over them like a wet blanket about to descend from on high. Olivia sighed and left the tray on the table, shook her head and announced that she would have hers with the children in the kitchen. “I’ll leave you gentlemen to discuss your business in private.”

Adam caught hold of her hand as though to stop her leaving them, knowing that if she stayed his father would calm down and be more rational, but she wasn’t in the mood to listen to them tossing words at each other so just gave him a tight lipped smile and walked on.

“Pa -”

“25% is a reasonable amount -”

“It isn’t a reasonable amount; Pa. Ebenezer would be embarrassed by that amount if he were to know…”

“I think he would be darned grateful -”

“Maybe – but he’d feel awkward. I don’t think he’s the kind of man who accepts favours gracefully. He wouldn’t keep those calves his son rustled without paying the current rate for them. He’s an honest man, Pa, and he’d resent feeling beholden to you.”

Ben raised his chin as though to challenge Adam further, but Adam was already pouring out coffee and held out a cup to his father with a charming smile, “I’m not saying you shouldn’t give your friend a discount, Pa…just make it a reasonable one.”

“That’s very gracious of you, Adam.” Ben replied through gritted teeth, “Think you know Ebenezer better than I do, huh?”

“I’m not saying that at all.” Adam narrowed his eyes, and looked at his father thoughtfully, wondering if the old man was thawing out enough to make a further suggestion “I’m just saying it doesn’t make good business sense, and your friend would not accept it as gratefully as you’d think.”

“25%? Not accept it gratefully? What man wouldn’t accept such a deal gratefully?”

“An honest friend wouldn’t – “Adam muttered and drank some of the coffee with his eyes watching his father over the rim of the cup.

Ben fidgeted, twitched his shoulders and grumbled as he sipped his coffee. They were quiet for some while, the clock ticked away the minutes, chimed the hour. He shook his head “20%?”

“Still too generous…” Adam emptied his cup and set it down on the saucer which he placed on the tray. “How about 10%?”

“15%?”

Adam shook his head and ran his fingers through his hair just as he used to do as a boy when he was frustrated about something. He looked at his father “12%?”

Ben tapped his fingers on his knee, stared at dust motes dancing in a stray beam of sunlight, then looked at his son “Alright, let’s settle on 12% but I don’t like it…it’s…it’s kinda skimpy!”

“Good grief, Pa, we’re running a business, not a charity for long lost friends … very wealthy long-lost friends too, if I may add.”

“Point taken.” Ben emptied his cup and put it down on the tray alongside his sons. He put his hand into his jacket pocket “Got the mail while I was in town…these came for you…”

He stood up and stretched, smiled as Olivia came back into the room with Nathaniel in her arms, but he wouldn’t look at his Gran’pa, and turned his head away, “He thinks you’re angry with him.” Olivia explained and dropped the little boy into his father’s lap, “Are you going now, Pa?”

“Yes, I promised to get back early today.” he smiled and leaned down to tweak Nathaniel’s nose, called out his farewells to Sofia and Reuben and left the room, Olivia walking along with him, her arm through his…”He gets to look more like Adam all the time -”

She nodded, “Yes, I thought so too…”

“Makes me realise how fast time passes, Olivia. Seems not so long ago when Adam -” he paused and shook his head “I think I’m getting old, Olivia.”

“Just older, Pa, like the rest of us.” she kissed his cheek and watched him as he left the house, weaving his way in and out and around all the puddles until he was trotting out of the yard on Cinnamon.

*****

“Letters” Adam called out “Who wants to read their letters?”

“Me me me” Nathaniel yelled, still on his father’s lap and waving his hand in the air.

There came a giggle from behind the chair he was sitting in and he stood up, swinging Nathaniel away from him and settling him into the chair while he peeked behind it to find Sofia crunched up and giggling “I creeped up on you, Daddy.”

“So, I see.” Adam replied and put out a hand to haul her up onto her feet.

She was still giggling as she plonked herself down beside Nathaniel who immediately shoved her to one side, she shoved back “Me sit here. With Daddy.”

“I’m sitting here -” Sofia announced and stuck her nose in the air “With Daddy.”

Nathaniel pouted and scowled, he pinched her on the arm, and she pulled his hair. Adam leaned down and picked the little boy up and carried him over to the other chair where he was set down.

“Sofia – one letter for you.” Adam announced as he stood in front of Nathaniel in order to prevent the little boy from escaping to the preferred chair.

Sofia clapped her hands and wriggled with excitement as she took the envelope, stared at all the stamps and exclaimed “It’s from Ella.”

Reuben came and sat down beside Nathaniel, there was just enough comfortable room for them both in the chair and Nathaniel didn’t mind sharing with his brother. Adam turned to the boy and held the letter aloft, waved it about and above the boy’s head before dropping it into the boys stretched out fingers “One letter for Reuben.”

“An’ me too -” Nathaniel protested “Me want a letter too.”

“You can’t read yet, Nathaniel. No one’s going to write to you until you can read.” Sofia said in a very school mistress type of voice, just like Miss Stanton she thought to herself.

Nathaniel was deflated, he slumped back against Reuben and rested his head on his brother’s shoulder “I want letter too…”

“Perhaps next time, Spike.” his Daddy said and smiled, “And here’s one for Mommy.”

Olivia looked puzzled but took the letter from her husband’s hand and smiled at him. He smiled back. The other letters were obviously for him, but he said nothing about them, just set them on the table and then sat down. He observed them thoughtfully as they opened the envelopes and took out the letters… his children, he smiled and looked up to catch his wife looking at him, they nodded at one another not having to speak, knowing what they meant by a look, a gesture.

“Do you want to read yours to us, Sofia?” Olivia suggested.

“You read it for me, Mommy” Sofia said, and Reuben laughed getting himself a sharp look from Adam as a result, there were obviously some words in it that Sofia couldn’t read yet.

Olivia cleared her throat and put her arm around Sofia, drawing her closer to her own body, she began to read:

Deer Sofia

Sorry it is a long time I didn’t write to you becoz my Ma was not well

My Ma had a baby, but the baby died becoz it was sick and then Ma said it was not a good place to live here

Ma said we should move someplace else – my new Dad was sick too and now he is angry all the time. I want to leave here but not with him.

Ma said to tell you she thinks of you often and so do I

Your friend

Ella”

There were a lot of crossings out and misspellings, and the envelope had obviously travelled about

quite a bit from the number of stamps and damp patches and stains of a coffee cup when someone used it as a coaster at one time. Sofia was very quiet after the letter was read and felt tearful, she buried her face into Olivia’s arm. Olivia looked over at Adam “It doesn’t seem as though things turned out very well for Mrs. Soames after all.”

Adam nodded but said nothing. Poor Ella, poor Emily Soames…they had such dreams and hopes like so many and like so many there had been a fork in the road, and the dreams and hopes had tumbled down like so many castles in the air.

Reuben cleared his throat and looked at his Pa, “Shall I read mine now, Pa? It’s from Billy Webb.”

Who could forget Billy Webb? Adam smiled and nodded, although he looked at Sofia to make sure she was alright, and she, seeing him looking at her left her mother’s side and ran over to sit with her Daddy, in his lap, with his arms around her.

“Carry on, son.” Adam said quietly

“Hi Reuben

I just came back from holiday with my folks …. we went to Europe; we went to a big town in Germany where they make candy. Then we went to a place in France called Paris. We went to lots of different towns in France. They eat smelly food.

School is not too bad. I liked the picture you sent me of your new school. It looks really very big. Not as big as mine though. I am a boarder. That means I have to live at the school. I share a room with two other boys. I told them about you and the Ponderosa, and about your Pa. I told them about that boy who shot you, but they didn’t believe me. I hit them. I hit them real good. The teacher said I should not have hit them and then he hit me…. six times with a leather strap. I don’t think that’s fair.

All they want you to do here is learn…read books…and do math and write…I think you would like it, but I don’t. I might run away. I might run away back home or run away to the Ponderosa.

The food is alright though, and the boys said it gets better, but I don’t know if I will hang around long enough to find out if it does.

Be a good pal and don’t tell on me

Billy Webb (They call me William here -)

“Oh dear.” Olivia said and shook her head

“Do you think he will run away; do you think he’ll come back here?” Reuben asked his parents but sounding quite excited at the thought, at the possibility that Billy Webb would turn up on their doorstep ‘out of the blue’ so to speak!

“Let’s hope not.” Adam replied and looked down at Nathaniel who had fallen asleep.

Cheng Ho Lee stepped into the room and smiled, his hands hidden up his wide sleeves and his sloe black eyes twinkling “Dinner all ready.”

“Hoo-ray, I’m hungry, I could eat a horse.” Reuben shouted as he bounced off the chair and headed for the kitchen, Billy’s letter abandoned and fluttered to the floor.

Chapter 7

Joe succeeded in avoiding the puddles in his yard, no doubt because they were smaller and easier to stride over or walk around. He carried his parcel carefully as he pushed open the porch door and hoped it wouldn’t squeak. The door to the main room opened easily enough and he found it empty although he could hear Mary Ann’s voice accompanied by Daniel’s shrill tones. They were singing together while she played the piano.

He peeked into the other room and smiled at the scene…with the sun slanting in through the windows it was an enchanting picture, a young woman at the piano, smiling as she sang along with her little boy who stood by her side, staring at her in concentration and smiling at her smiles of approval. Little Constance sat on a rug nearby playing with her soft toys, a lop-eared bunny being her latest favourite with its well chewed ear.

The song finished and Joe applauded as he entered the room, the box he had propped up against the wall of the porch, hidden from view. Daniel’s face split into a wide grin, “Did you hear me, Pa? Did you hear me singing with Ma?”

“I did.” Joe replied and tweaked his son’s nose and felt pride and love swell his heart at the sight of the little boy. Daniel was growing into a handsome child, he had Joe’s wild mop of hair and hazel eyes, his mother’s heart shaped face but – according to Mary Ann – his Uncle Frank’s build, for he was going to be taller and bigger built that his father, and despite a Hoss like appetite he did not have the same proportions as that genial man. “You’ll be hired to sing at the next opera at the Pipers Theatre soon, won’t he, Ma?”

“Well, if we can negotiate a good fee for him.” Mary Ann laughed as she lowered the lid of the piano over the keyboard.

Joe walked on to pick up little Constance, as pretty as her mother he said often enough for Mary Ann to nearly believe him, but she knew from the look in Ben’s eyes when he observed the little girl, that he saw his dear Marie when he saw her. Joe kissed his daughter’s cheek and had bunny pushed into his face as a result.

“Did you get very wet on the way to town?”

“No, it waited until we reached town and then came down heavy…” he smiled and kissed her, “Have you had a good morning?”

“Mmm, like most mornings I guess.” she smiled but her eyes looked away from him as though seeking a distraction, “Daniel, go and play now.”

“Anything wrong?” he caught at her hand, “Are you worried about anything?”

“No, nothing.” she shook her head and then looked at him, “You look – well – you look as though you are up to some mischief. What have you been doing in town, Joe?”

“Nothing. I had a good meal with Pa at Del Monico’s -” he shrugged and led her to the settee and pulled her down to sit beside him. “And I saw Mary Evans.”

“Mary Evans – as in Carstairs?” she raised an eyebrow

“Correct. As in Carstairs. She told me that Amanda is selling the Emporium.”

“Really?” Mary Ann’s eyebrows rose, and her smooth forehead became crinkled with the little furrows that curiosity had created.

“Yes- and the house as well.”

“I suppose that means she won’t be returning to Virginia City?”

“I guess -”

“But she isn’t selling the Mercantile or the Livery?”

“No. Some emotional attachments to both I reckon…selling the livery would be like being disloyal to her father and the Mercantile was a reminder of her getting it from under the nose of the previous owner.”

“Oh yes, I remember him…” Mary Ann nodded slowly, “And so she is selling the Emporium. Oh dear, that means no more pretties from Paris or London or Barcelona.”

“Mmm, seems like it.”

He leaned in for a kiss when a shrill voice yelled “Dadd-eeee” accompanied by “Ma, come see -”

“What is that boy up to now…” Mary Ann sighed and was about to rise to her feet when Joe pulled her back down again, “Joe -”

“It can wait, can’t it?” he smiled and smothered her protests with a kiss, his lips covering hers gently with that promise of everything that a kiss could convey.

“Daddy – look what I find.” Daniel’s voice was a gurgle of chuckles and excitement.

His parents stood up and turned to look at him, Constance stopped chewing on Bunny to stare at her brother because all she could see was his head and feet, everything else was covered by the big box he was struggling to carry in. Not that it was heavy, after all, flimsy silk and lace items weigh nothing at all, but the box was an awkward shape for a little boy and he kept losing his grip so that it would bump onto the floor and have to be grappled with once again.

“Oh Joe….” Mary Ann cried, gasped and then began to laugh as her little boy came staggering further into the room.

“I thought it was time my favourite girl got a present -” Joe murmured and whispered something in her ear which made her laugh.

But then she rushed to help Daniel bring the box into the room, holding one corner to make it easier for him while he continued to carry it in. when he finally placed it on the table he beamed at his father and mother as though he had carried in a mountain! Mary Ann kissed him on the cheek and told him he was a strong boy, and Joe came and stood beside him and lifted him up, big boy though he was. Constance waddled along to grab at Joe’s pants and raised her arms for attention

“What’s in it?” Daniel asked, his voice squeaking with curiosity

“Well, Mommy, what is it? Aren’t you going to open it?” Joe laughed

“Perhaps – upstairs -”

“No, no, Ma, open it now, open it now.” Daniel demanded then looked at his father “Is it candy?”

Joe laughed “Ever hopeful, aren’t you, son?” he shook his head “Just like Hoss -” he leaned down

“Go and see what you find in my jacket pocket.” and as Daniel scampered away Joe rose his voice a little “And don’t forget it isn’t all yours…”

“Me too -” Constance cried and ran to catch up her brother who had the advantage of longer legs.

Mary Ann raised the lid and looked down at the garments so carefully cocooned in their soft tissue papered wrappings. She raised one up after the other, blushed a little and smiled, fluttered her eyelashes over her gray eyes and sighed “Beautiful, Joe, just beautiful. Thank you so much.” she held the ivory pink chemise to her cheek and sighed with pleasure “I love them. My favourite colour too.”

“I know…I’m glad you like them.”

“Oh, I hate the thought of the Emporium closing down. Is it common knowledge yet?”

Joe shook his head and sat down, he watched as she carefully folded the items into the box and put the cover back on. In the background he could hear the children laughing, chattering, happy with their candy.

“I daresay it will be soon. Probably be in the Territorial -”

Mary Ann nodded and sighed, she smiled, kissed her husband’s cheek. She stared at the far wall and began to think about life without the Emporium. She shook her head; it just didn’t bear thinking about …

*****

Olivia opened her letter and then smiled at her husband who was watching her with a grin on his face “Do you know who this is from already?”

“Certainly not,” her husband replied and raised his arm in order to place it around her shoulders “I have been waiting for you to read it as eagerly as the children waited for their own to be opened.”

“Oh – dear – so sorry to have kept you waiting.” she laughed then and leaned forward to kiss his cheek “You’re very prickly.”

“Mm,” he rubbed his cheek with his free hand and frowned “Perhaps I should grow a beard again-”

“Have you read your own letters yet?”

“Yes … all of them were business letters, nothing of any interest.” he shrugged slightly and sighed “I don’t get interesting letters nowadays.”

“Thank goodness for that -” she replied and sighed.

He knew what she meant by that, letters with official stamps from the US Government no longer arrived to fill her with dread. He leaned in towards her and kissed her, drawing her closer towards him, wanting her to know how much he loved her.

“Fancy Joe spending money on flimsy things from Amanda’s Emporium…” he muttered while he observed her face from under half closed eyes

“Well, it won’t be her Emporium for much longer. It may just be closed down – for good.”

“No more flimsies -” he smiled and kissed hereabouts

“A shame.” she murmured and kissed him again.

“Read your letter otherwise it won’t get read until tomorrow ….”

“It won’t? Why ever not?” she drew away from him, just a few inches and fluttered her eyelashes.

“It’s proving a distraction, Livvy.” he chuckled and sat back a little from her, “There now, read it – I’ll get us something to drink.”

He left her then to stroll over to the bureau and pour some drinks into the glasses, he could hear the ripping of paper as she opened the envelope, even above the sound of whiskey being poured into his glass and wine into hers. He carried them over and set the glasses down on the low table and then looked at her, noted the thoughtful expression on her face and the little frown like a horseshoe between her eyebrows

“What is it? Something wrong?”

“It’s from Martha…” she said quietly her eyes still scanning the words that their dear friend had written on the expensive vellum.

He said nothing but picked up his glass and watched her as she read to the end, then removed her glasses and set them down onto the table. She rubbed both sides of the bridge of her nose, and then sighed and looked at him

“She has sold her house.”

He nodded and then gave a slight shrug “Is that all?”

“No” Olivia reached for her glasses and replaced them “She writes “By the time you get this letter, my dear Olivia, I will be on a steamer heading for Naples. I shall tour Italy for as long as I am able and then go and stay with a very good friend in Tuscany. I remember going there with him many years ago, he was a very dear friend of Julian’s. His wife and I were like sisters. I have always wanted to go to Italy, to Florence and so forth…”

Adam nodded “That sounds – perfect. For her – for Martha.”

She nodded and took the glass from him, sipped some of the wine, “Yes, she doesn’t have that long left, it’s good that she can spend her last months doing something she will enjoy, and -” she paused and wiped under her eyes to remove tears.

“Then she says “I have sold the house. I have invested the money that I do not need into a Trust Fund for your children, for Reuben, Sofia and Nathaniel. I recall the first time we met that you negotiated a Trust Fund for your children, Reuben and Sofia, from the proceeds of the sale of your house in San Francisco. I remember Julian being very cross with Adam about it…”

“Yes, I remember that, he thought I should – as your husband – have all your assets, financial ones I mean -” he sighed “That law is a long way from being changed.”

“Perhaps the Emancipation for Women will see that it is…”

“What else does she say?”

Olivia nodded and resumed her letter “Taking that into consideration I have made a larger deposit for Nathaniel. I do hope that will be acceptable to you both, as his parents, I mean. I want you both to know how much I love you…Adam has been like a dear son to me, and you, Olivia, the daughter I always longed to have. I did have a daughter once you know…. she died not long after being born. That was one reason we moved to the Comstock, to all that craziness…the normalcy of life after her death would have driven us both mad.

And I love Ben – I love him very much indeed, but as the dearest of friends for he has always been the most steadfast and loyal friend we could ever have wished for, but that is as far as it goes. Now of course, it is too late for my road is now very short.

I have made a Will, of course, there are several bequests for my friends, the members of my staff here. And for other Cartwrights too, old and young. “

Olivia’s voice broke there, she dropped her hands with the letter into her lap and bowed her head, sighed and then removed her glasses which she put, with the letter, onto the table. She leaned her head upon Adam’s shoulder

“Is Italy very beautiful? You have been there, haven’t you?”

“Yes – several times.” he replied and dropped a kiss upon her hair, he sighed “She will enjoy it, and what she forgets, she will remember again – “ he paused, and sighed, thinking of the cruel way lives can end, but that there, in her choice of surroundings, there could have been no finer ending for their dear friend, Martha Frobisher.

She sat still, quiet, staring into the flames of the fire, while Adam held her close, made her feel safe and protected – and most importantly, loved.

Chapter 8

Hoss stood on the sidewalk and checked over the list of items that he had been given by Hester. He then turned a page to another list that he had been handed just before leaving the house by Hop Sing. He looked on the back of that one in case Ben had added a scribbled request as well.

He looked up at the sky where an apologetic sun struggled to send warmth through the clouds. He could almost imagine the great golden orb rising up every morning thinking ‘Well, here I go again, just another boring day, I don’t know why I bother – still, I suppose something is better than nothing.’

He shrugged his broad shoulders and entered the ironmongery store, placed the order on the counter and shouted out to Zeke that he would be back to collect in half an hour. There was no reply but then there never was, whatever Zeke did in the back room never interfered with business, Hoss always found everything he needed there for collection as and when required.

He stepped out and looked around, took out a pencil and licked the nib, then scored across one of the pages as mission completed. He took himself in the direction of the Mercantile and then paused, hadn’t Hester said something about not going there for her items because the Manager had increased the cost of everything. He stopped to think about that and in doing so looked across the road, pass the carriage, pass the wagon – and had to really concentrate on staring at the person who was staring right back at him.

He rubbed his eyes with one hand, and then looked again, but the person had vanished, if, indeed such a person had actually been there. He shook his head and turned to walk back down to where Cassells, the other Mercantile store could be found.

The Manager was more than happy to supply Mrs. Cartwrights items, and yes, they would be ready for collection in half an hour. A cheery smile and nod of the head, and Hoss left the building feeling that he deserved the reward he would demand from his wife later that evening. No, demand was the wrong word, definitely the wrong word. He smiled and strolled down to the Sheriff’s office.

A tall broad-shouldered man was pouring out coffee into two mugs and looked up as Hoss stepped inside the building and carefully closed the door behind him. Hoss removed his hat, looked around and nodded “You the new Deputy?”

“Yep. Good to see you in town, Hoss. How’s everyone at the Ponderosa?”

“Pretty good thanks. Where’s Nate?”

“Checking over our prisoner.” the Deputy grinned and came forward to shake Hoss by the hand “I remember you from that time you and your brothers brought that bull into town. Near wrecked the saloon.”

“Simon Fletcher, ain’t it?” the other man nodded and looked at the coffee pot “No, thanks, can’t stop. Just wanted to call by and see Nate.”

Nate Carney stepped into the office area at that moment and acknowledged Hoss with a lift of the hand, “Anything I can help you with, Hoss? Rustling? Horse thieving? Kidnapping?” the smile on Nate’s face was pleasant, but then the sheriff was a very pleasant looking young man.

“No, sir. No problem like that…” Hoss replied and paused as a very off-key rendition of some bawdy song was heard coming from the cells “Sounds like Ol’ Jethro Galloway agin.”

“Yep, it is. He got drunk last night and broke several of the windows before collapsing under Mr. Hogan’s wagon.” Nate picked up his mug and sipped the hot brew, “Coffee?”

“No, that’s alright, thanks. I jest came on by – seeing how I ain’t bin in town for a while.”

Nate nodded and gave the big man a narrow-eyed look “How’s your Pa?”

“He’s alright – fact is – we’re all alright.” Hoss felt awkward, he glanced over at Fletcher, known to all as Fletch. “Well, I best be gitting my order -”

“Yeah, best you should.” Nate replied and raised his eyebrows, “I’ll walk along with you.”

“That’s alright, Nate, don’t want no one thinking I was under arrest.”

Fletcher grinned; he had probably heard that remark a dozen times already. Nate nodded but still followed Hoss out of the office and together they walked towards Cassells.

“Your Pa tell you to call by and check on me, huh?”

“No, not that I recall.” Hoss frowned and gave Nate a quick glance before shrugging “I had half an hour to spend doing nothing so thought I would call by – “

“Oh, so he didn’t tell you about our – altercation – last came he was here, did he?”

“Alter – er – cation -? No, didn’t say nothing abut that either. Jest said he and Roy had had a drink with you.”

“Oh, just a drink?”

“Yeah.”

Nate nodded and stopped walking, he put his hands in the back pockets of his pants and frowned, “Tell your Pa thanks from me.”

“For what?”

“For what he said…”

“Oh, you mean that altercation you mentioned?”

“S’right. Tell him I drank two bottles of whiskey after he and Roy left. I woke up as sick as two dogs! Fact is, I woke up in one of my own cells. The hangover I had lasted 24 hours.”

“Phew, that must have been quite a session you had -”

“It was…not that I can remember much about it.”

They were quiet for a moment. A housewife had to wiggle her way past the two men before Hoss thought to move closer to the wall of the Gents Outfitters to allow passage for pedestrians.

“Tell your Pa I thought over what he and Roy said to me…had lots of time to do that as Matt didn’t let me out of the cell!”

“Shucks, two bottles of Fargo’s whiskey could do that – wonder you survived.”

“Yeah, tell him thanks for what he said. I took it on board – I appreciate the counsel.” he nodded, looked Hoss in the eye as though expecting the other man to understand exactly what it was all about, then he turned and went back to his office.

Hoss shrugged, shook his head and meandered slowly to the Mercantile – Cassells – and wondered what on earth Nate Carney was talking about.

*****

Hiram Woods office was extravagantly set out. The furniture was rosewood with a desk that dominated the room enough to intimidate any client. The dark wood panelled walls were covered with framed certificates of his achievements, qualifications and so forth, but were interspersed with pictures of ships at sea. It was a very masculine room, and Mary Evans felt nervous as she followed her husband inside.

Hiram entered the room from the direction of the other door, he nodded and smiled at them, although the smile didn’t reach his eyes. He was a lawyer, used to assessing the guilt or innocence of his clients. This morning his task involved conveyancing – usually a task given to a less senior member of staff but one he had taken on this time because he liked Edward Evans and had been a fervent devotee of the schoolteacher’s first wife’s musical talents.

The two men shook hands and Hiram acknowledged Mrs. Evans with another smile and nod of the head, a sweeping gesture towards the chairs for them to be seated.

“Now, I understand that you are currently renting the property owned by Miss Amanda Ridley?” Hiram pushed his spectacles further up his nose and peered at them both “And that Miss Ridley wishes to sell the property.”

“That’s correct” Edward replied, refusing to be in any way daunted by Hiram’s rather abrupt manner, “It is our intention to purchase the property, after all, we have lived there some months now and -”

Hiram nodded and raised a hand, palm outwards as though to stop Edwards spiel of words right there. He succeeded, Edward was silent and looked at his wife who just stared down at her shoes.

“I’m afraid there has been interest shown in the property from some other quarter, Mr. Evans.” Hiram frowned and leaned forward to press a buzzer on his desk, “Several days ago in fact -” he paused as Grant Tombs appeared “Grant, get me the folder with the details of Miss Ridley’s property…and any other real estate that we may currently have an interest in.”

Grant promptly disappeared. Mary sighed loudly and shook her head as though she knew it was a lost cause, inwardly she forced herself not to cry. She reached out for Edwards hand and was comforted by his fingers folding over hers

Grant reappeared with some folders which he left on Hiram’s desk. He looked at Edward and Mary and gave them a friendly smile, after all the young lady he was courting was in Mary’s employ and it would have been churlish to have acted as though he didn’t know them.

“I know Miss Ridley has the Emporium for sale as well, but there is a good-sized apartment above the store -”

“No,” Edward shook his head “That would not be suitable for our needs now. I don’t understand how another offer could be on the table before us, we acted as soon as we had got our funds arranged with the bank to negotiate the deal”

Hiram nodded and put his hands together as though he were praying, he steepled his fingers and tapped his mouth with them

“Miss Ridley did let others know about her intentions, and the couple interested in the property are willing to purchase it at the price Miss Ridley wants…can you meet that amount?”

Edward sighed and grimaced “Not the full amount,” he admitted “Just short of it.”

“The couple want to buy the house and move in as soon as possible.” Hiram’s voice was apologetic, and he looked from one to the other of them “Are you sure the apartment is unsuitable? It is selling at a far less rate as you can appreciate, after all it has far less to offer -”

“May I ask you -” Mary ventured to speak, “who this other couple are? Perhaps we could -”

“Dr and Mrs. Martin. In confidence of course -” Hiram frowned, it was a breach of legal procedure, but they were bound to know sooner or later anyway.

“But they’re elderly, what would they be wanting a family house for?” Mary protested

“If I may remind you, Mrs. Evans, Miss Ridley lived in the house and was a single woman -” Hiram raised his eyebrows, “But this is the younger Dr and Mrs. Martin…they moved back from Albany two weeks ago.”

Mary’s shoulders slumped and she sighed “I see.”

Neither of them knew John and Barbara Martin, but it seemed as far as Hiram was concerned the house was lost, Edward nodded “What other properties are available?”

Hiram opened the file and produced some papers, he ran through the list, looking over his spectacles at them both each time an address was mentioned, and each time there was a shake of the head, a doubtful look, a thoughtful glance. “Widow Hawkins is also selling her house…although it is more central than Miss Ridley’s it is a fine family house and -”

“I lived here for a short while,” Edward said quietly and looked at Mary “It is a lovely house, Mary. It has a fine garden at the rear too.”

Mary nodded but still looked defeated, her home had been snatched from out of her hands, she felt bereft. Edward squeezed her fingers “We could go and look – “

“If you say so, Edward.”

Hiram wondered if Mrs. Evans was as meek as she sounded, in his experience women that appeared like mice in public often turned into shrews in private. He looked from one to the other, and then scribbled down some details for them to take with them “This is how much she is asking for it. As you can see it is lower in price than the other property – “

Edward took the paper and stood up, he looked at Mary and smiled “I think you’ll like it, Mary. It’s a fine property.”

She nodded and looked at Hiram, thanked him for his time and waited for her husband to lead her out of the room. Hiram could hear Edwards voice, enthusiastic about Clementine’s house, trying to sell it to the wife who, so far as Hiram could make out, wasn’t saying a word.

*****

It was Ann Canaday’s turn to host the ladies for the quilting session that afternoon. She had ordered her two boys to behave themselves and not to get into any squabbles or fights with Daniel, Nathaniel and Erik. Hope, she knew, would be a good girl and sit with Constance. They would be no problem. As she arranged the room to accommodate them all she wondered how in the space of such a short time they had got themselves such a large litter of children.

She glanced around the room and nodded in approval, then looked sternly at David and Samuel. “Now, remember what I said…behave yourselves.”

The giggled, nudged each other and nodded “Yes, Ma.”

Ann was more than excited. It had been some time since she had been able to host the sewing bee, and not only that, she had news to tell. Inwardly she suspected that they would know about it already, but she was all prepared to add to whatever anyone of them knew.

There was an air of suppressed excitement as Olivia and Mary Ann arrived first, with Constance – Olivia explained that the boys had been left at home under the firm hand of Chang Ho Lee. Within minutes Hester arrived with Erik and Hope. Big smiles all around, everyone excited and happy. The boys got together to play with their toys and enjoy their games, the little girls sat close by to their mothers, happy with their dolls and bunny.

“Isn’t this exciting.” Hester enthused, “It must be all of six weeks since we got together like this…”

“Longer than that,” Olivia said, “It was before -” she paused and sighed “before Anna came.”

“As long ago as that?” Ann exclaimed, “Goodness me, I didn’t realise.”

They all agreed that none of them had realised either, but none of the Cartwright ladies were going to admit to the fact that there were far more important and terrible events taking place in their lives at the time as to make sewing quilts the last thing about which they would be concerned.

Needles flashed, scissors snipped, threads were soon piecing scraps of this and that together. The quilt was making shape beautifully. After a short while Ann said in an offhand roundabout way

“Have any of you been into town lately?”

The three other ladies glanced at one another “Not since – since Adam came home.” Olivia said quietly

“No – nor I.” Mary Ann replied and leaned forward to squeeze Olivia’s fingers with her own.

“Why? What’s happened that you are dying to tell us about, Ann?” Hester demanded to know and gave her cousin a slight shake of the head as though to let her know that in her, Hester’s, opinion Ann could have been a little more tactful.

Ann ignored her cousin but put her piece of material down in her lap “Paul Martin is retiring.”

“He’s been retiring for years.” Mary Ann muttered and scowled as the silk thread escaped her needle

“But this time he means it…and he has a replacement Doctor moving back to take over from him” Ann glanced around at their faces and was pleased to note the gleam of curiosity in their eyes

“Not Dr Schofield?” Hester exclaimed, “Ben would never forgive him -”

“No, not him!” Ann dismissed Timothy Schofield with a wave of the hand nearly stabbing Mary Ann with the scissors as she did so, “And not only that, his wife – the new Doctors wife – will be working at the Hospice with Bridie.”

“Oh dear, I’ve not been doing my shifts very regularly at all” Mary Ann sighed

“Nor I. Recent events have put such things right out of my mind.” Hester muttered showing herself to be as tactless as her cousin when it suited.

“So, Ann, who is this couple? Do we know them?” Olivia prompted.

“I think so…perhaps some more than others.” Ann replied and looked around at them as though trying to work out dates and timelines. “Well, it’s John and Barbara…”

“John and Barbara?” Olivia frowned, and looked at Hester and Mary Ann and waited for some enlightenment to dawn

“Yes, you know, John Martin and Barbara Pearson.” Ann said and went into a little story about them, some parts of which Hester was more than glad were not mentioned but enough said for Olivia to remember,

“The little boy, Peter, was deaf.” Mary Ann said quietly

“Yes – but sadly – he’s dead.” Ann sighed and cleared her throat “Apparently it was a deciding factor in their leaving.”

“Poor little boy.” Mary Ann sighed and looked down at the children whose voices had raised a little “I think our own fledglings are getting restless.”

Time for refreshments…the chink of plates and the clutter of cutlery soon brought harmony back to the children who were getting fretful. Constance fell asleep with a little cookie in her hand, her cheek resting on bunny’s soft velvet head. Hope came and sat on Mother’s lap.

Some minutes ticked by and Mary Ann cleared her throat “Ladies, I have a proposition to put to you all.”

They stopped what they were doing to look at her, waited for a moment and Hester said “Yes? Well?”

“You no doubt have heard that Amanda is selling the Emporium?”

“Yes. And her house too. Poor Mary Evans.” Ann murmured

“Well, I think it is too fine an asset to the town to be sold to a stranger or to be closed down altogether. What about -” she paused and heaved in a deep breath “What about if we all put in and bought it ourselves?”

“Are you serious?” Hester blurted out “I’m not going to trundle into town every day to sell ladies underwear – even if it is very expensive and pretty underwear. And yes, Mary Ann, we all know that Joe has been treating you to another box load.”

Ann giggled, Candy could never afford such luxuries and she wouldn’t know what to do with them. Wear them, of course, but – she shook her head and smiled. Olivia looked amused and smiled at Mary Ann as though she had lost her wits. The youngest lady sighed and shook her head “I just wondered, I mean, sometimes I get so bored being at home and – and though I love looking after the children and the house – I do wish that there was something more I could do.”

“Take on more shifts at the Hospice.” Hester muttered and stabbed her piece of pink velvet square with her needle with more force than was needed

“A worthy cause I know but -” Mary Ann sighed, and her shoulders sagged. She had got so excited at the idea that she now felt totally deflated.

Olivia said she thought it was a very good idea but not very practical. “It was hard enough for you to get in and out of town when you were the schoolteacher.”

“You see, Mary Ann, it’s the distance involved. And we all have children to care for…” Ann said, then looked at her cousin and raised her eyes “I couldn’t anyway, I’ve no spare money – and I prefer to go into Carson City.”

“It was just an idea…” Mary Ann muttered and blinked back tears.

“A very good idea.” Olivia said quietly and patted her little ‘sister’ on the hand, “We shall have to think about it.”

Mary Ann’s eyes went wide, and she blinked back the tears and nodded. That was good enough for her. They resumed their sewing…Hester wondering how Olivia was going to get on with Barbara Pearson nee Scott who was very nearly a Cartwright, while Olivia tried to ignore the subject all together.

It was Hester who asked if they were going to the Town Hall Dance on Saturday evening… a safer topic for discussion. Hope fell asleep beside Constance and David hit Erik over the head with a brick, there were tears, it was time to go.

Chapter 9

The room in which the couple sat was opulent. They were used to such things, over the course of the past few years they had lived and dined in palaces, castles and magnificent mansions. Their own personal home was magnificent, and in the way of the wealthy they were able to ignore the trappings of their lifestyle. Of course, if the wheel of fortune were to do a complete turn and they were to find themselves living in abject poverty then they would look back with, perhaps longing and fondness for the things they now took so much for granted.

He was smoking a cigar, the smoke of which coiled around his head and reached for the ceiling. On the desk was scattered newspapers, letters and reports written on long sheets of vellum. He screwed up his nose and cast the last newspaper upon the pile mounting before him and leaned back in his chair. He glanced over at his wife who was calmly sewing a tapestry but was at the same time totally conscious of what he was doing. It had been her role in life to oversee and protect the man who had served his country through two presidencies. Julia Dent Grant was the most loyal and loving of wives, constantly at her husband’s side, always attentive to his every need.

Ex-President U.S Grant was well aware of his wife’s loyalty and love, he had always admired it, longed for it and cherished it. He now sighed deeply and observed her so intently that she turned to look at him, gave him a quizzical smile “What’s worrying you, my dear?”

Grant waved a hand over the desk, scattering cigar ash over the papers as he did so. He got up, pushing himself away from the desk and then walked to the window where he looked out over the sprawling city. He shook his head and scowled before turning back to her “You don’t regret cutting short our tour?”

“Not at all.” she replied and put down her needle, leaving it where she could easily find it again. “I’m sorry of course, that there would be those who would be disappointed, but I think it was quite long enough.”

She walked to stand beside him and slipped her arm though his and followed his gaze out beyond the town. She had born this man four children, three sons and a daughter. She had hoped that the world tour which began in May 1877* would be refreshing and educational, for both of them. But it had been too much, and when they had left Japan a few weeks ago and landed in San Francisco they had both been delighted to set foot on American soil once again. The welcome they had been given by the local American populace had been heart-warming, but there were still under currents from those who preferred to snipe and create rumour. “You don’t regret it, do you?”

“Good grief, no. I was never so glad to return in all my life.”

“Then what’s worrying you?”

He shrugged and his mouth twisted in a half smile, “I’m not worried so much as perplexed. I’ve been catching up on the back copies of the news, Local news rather than national.”

She nodded and moved away from him and returned to her tapestry. “Perplexed?”

He nodded, waved a hand in the air as though it didn’t really matter and sighed. She returned to her seat and picked up her needle then carefully selected some red thread “You know, dear, it won’t be long before they will want you to go and see other sights…”

“Yes, I know. I think I heard some mention of the Yosemites -” he frowned

She didn’t speak for a moment but watched as he strolled back to his desk, ash from his cigar dripped onto the carpet, He sat down and picked up a paper, his scowl deepened. She cleared her throat “I just realised -”

“What’s that, dear?”

“Do you remember Captain – or rather I should say Commodore Cartwright?”

He raised his eyebrows. Extraordinary how this woman could almost read his mind! “Of course. I was just reading about something concerning him -”

“Well,” she turned to look at him with a smile as though she had hit upon a wonderful idea which she couldn’t wait to share with him. “He doesn’t live so very far away from here, and he married a woman who could well be a relation of mine.”

“Ah yes, Dent – I remember now” he smiled and played along with her, as if he had forgotten? He never forgot anything. “You said that -”

“I remember writing to her and mentioning that there was a possibility of our being related. Perhaps -” she paused and looked innocent and curious “Before the authorities whisk you off somewhere, we don’t particularly want to go, just perhaps we could make a detour and visit them.”

“Visit them?” Grant echoed and stuck the cigar into his mouth, chewed on it a little and then puffed out smoke “Well, I don’t see why not. It would only take a few days.” he leaned back and seemed to spread out, expansive, relieved “I don’t see why not.”

“We don’t have to let ‘them’ know, do we?”

“Well, according to protocol we would have to…” he smiled and hooked a thumb into the pocket of his silk vest “I remember getting lost on their land once, the Ponderosa they call it. One of the Commodore’s brothers came along to rescue me. Goodness me, that was some years ago now.”

“Perhaps we can arrange to get lost again, dear.”

He smiled and nodded, his eyes twinkling. Then he turned and picked up a newspaper, a back issue of the Territorial Enterprise “You’ll never guess what trouble he’s got himself into this time….”

She shook her head and frowned “Grant,” she said sternly and raised a finger “No politics. This is just going to be a family visit. No one need know.”

“Of course, you’re right.” he nodded and picked up the newspaper again, rummaged around to locate his spectacles and placed them on the bridge of his nose “Amazing how that man gets himself into such scrapes.”

“You often had a hand in it, dear.”

“Yes, but this time he did it without any help from me.” he smiled, chuckled and began to re-read the article with renewed interest. Then he paused and contemplated the far wall for a moment, smiled “Do you think you could be related to his wife? Funny that…if you were, I mean…”

She just nodded. She had always intended to do research on the family line, but life had been too busy. It was a small matter that had got swallowed up by larger concerns. This world tour for example…two and a half years* visiting Europe, the far East… it had seemed to go on forever. So much so that now when she thought about it some places merged into a mass and she could not distinguish one from another. She looked at her husband and wondered if settling into private life would suit him. Someone had recently accused him of being fanatical about ambition* and that had stung, but it was true.

“I liked him”

“Who?”

“Captain Cartwright.” she paused, needle held aloft as she thought back to the broad-shouldered seaman, with the dark eyes – Mrs. George Custer had once said they were ‘smouldering’ dark eyes and perhaps she was right. Julia sighed, “He was honest, he wasn’t mealy mouthed like your Generals -”

“Custer you mean?” he chuckled and nodded “You’re right. He was loyal too…even when I had lost his respect, he was loyal.”

She looked at him, and frowned, it had hurt him, when Adam Cartwright had refused to toe the line that all the Generals had agreed upon. She said nothing but resumed her needlepoint. Grant would deal with the arrangements for their journey. He enjoyed being his own man for a while, instead of their puppet.

*****

Barbara Martin carefully braided her daughter’s hair, smiling into the mirror at the reflection of the little girl as she did so and her fingers quickly threading the different strands of chestnut hair to form the plaits. Finally done she tied on a blue ribbon and then stood back to admire the effect

“There now, you look just lovely.”

“I don’t feel lovely.” the girl replied and wished she could pull out the ribbon and loosen the braids and just let her hair hang loose. It hid her face then, she preferred it that way.

“You never do.” Barbara said with a smile, somewhat forced, after all this conversation was nearly carried out every morning as regular as ‘have you cleaned behind your ears’

“Do I have to go?”

“You should have gone last week.” Barbara stood up and straightened her skirt, she kissed the top of Lilith’s head and gently touched her cheek “You’ll be fine, Lilith. Don’t worry.”

“Will there be people there who will remember – me – and – everything?”

“Lilith -” Barbara turned at the doorway “you went to school and made friends here long after what happened, happened…don’t you remember how happy you were at school? The friends you made?”

Lilith scowled and shook her head, she bowed her head and turned to follow Barbara down the stairs to the hall where she reached for her coat “I saw Hoss yesterday.”

“Did you? How was he?”

“I didn’t talk to him. I only saw him” Lilith shrugged on her coat and picked up the books that had been piled neatly and strapped together. “He looked – bigger – than when I remembered him.”

“Oh, I suppose marriage must suit him then.” she smiled and remembered the wedding day, Hoss and Hester and how Adam Cartwright had arrived just in time for the vows to be said. Peter was only a baby then…she cleared her throat and forced herself not to remember, but to focus on the present and the future. “I’ll see you later.”

“Are you going to the hospice again today?”

“Yes.” Barbara nodded. It had been a pleasant interlude to the day, her few shifts that Bridie had arranged for her at the hospice. She had renewed some friendships there, people who had known her as Miss Scott, the schoolteacher whose uncle had been involved in some scandal from way back when “Now – hurry along.”

She stood at the doorway and watched as Lilith ran out of the house, closed the gate carefully behind her and out into the street. She watched as the girl merged with a group of other children and after a while one of the girls there had gravitated to Lilith’s side and started talking to her. Then she disappeared from sight, one little girl among others, swept along by the other children that came from different directions all heading for the same destination.

“She’s a serious one, your little girl.” Tilly said and made Barbara jump. She hadn’t noticed when Tilly had appeared

“Yes, she’s always been a serious little girl.”

Tilly nodded and turned back into the kitchen, as she went through one door Bridie appeared from another and smiled at Barbara “Has she gone?”

“Yes. I think she’ll be alright.”

“I’m sure she will be.”

Bridie stepped to one side for Barbara to enter the parlour, and take her seat, she glanced at the clock anxious not to be late for her shift.

“Hester will be at the hospice today. This is usually one of her days she comes in….you used to get along alright with Hester, didn’t you?” Bridie looked at Barbara keenly, while she picked up some little garments to check over for collection at the hospice.

“Hester? Yes.” she paused “I didn’t know them very well.” she paused “They helped me a lot when – when Andrew – did was he was doing. Mary Ann and Hester, they both were so kind. Afterwards, of course, we moved to town and I didn’t have so much contact with them. I can’t really recall Olivia…”

“No, I think you had moved away by the time she and Adam were married. You’ll like her, she’s a very -” she paused and frowned “well-grounded person. I love her like my own daughter. If it were not for her I wouldn’t be here now…I was her cook when she lived in San Francisco…she and Marcy…Marcy was her maid of all work…lovely little soul she is.”

Barbara let the older woman prattle on, picking up information and discarding the rest, then she stood up, “I must go. I don’t want to be late.”

Bridie nodded and stood up, passed the bundle of little garments over to her and stepped aside “Enjoy your day.”

*****

Hester was already at work. She was standing beside Mrs. Prendergast peeling vegetables for the mid-day meal, while another woman was scrubbing down the table where it would be served up. It was a soup kitchen. Barbara had seen bigger and worse in the cities, feeding the poor and under privileged and making those well enough to afford better feel good about themselves. She blushed at thinking such unkind thoughts and quickly removed her coat.

Hester glanced at her and smiled. The same broad smile and the same wiry bush of copper gold hair now tied and restrained beneath a scarf. “Barbara? Oh, I was hoping you would be here today.”

She came from behind the table and held out her hands to the other woman and leaned in to kiss her on the cheek “It was such a surprise when we heard you had moved back to town. Why didn’t you write and tell me?”

“It was rather a spur of the moment decision.” Barbara replied hugging the package against her chest as though to protect herself from the other woman’s familiarity and warmth, “I was never sure we would actually get here.”

“Well, you’re here now, and we are all looking forward to seeing you again…all of you…” Hester smiled, “Peter must have grown so tall by now, he must be what? 8?”

“Peter -Peter didn’t come” Barbara stammered and blinked “I mean, Peter died. That was another reason why we decided to come back here. It was hard to stay there – you understand?”

“Of course, I’m so sorry, so sorry, Barbara….I hadn’t realised…” Hester paused and then remembered that Ann had referred to it, obliquely, and it hadn’t sunk in what with all the other gossip. She cleared her throat, “Well, let me take that from you…”

Barbara felt her legs shaking, it took her by surprise every time, the way her legs would shake when Peter was mentioned. Her dear sweet boy. She drew in her breath and watched as Mrs. Garston came and took the bundle of clothes, glanced over at her and sniffed, well, she hadn’t changed, and with that thought in mind Barbara joined Hester at the table and picked up a carrot…”Does Hop Sing still make those wonderful desserts…”

“Oh yes…and his roast pork.”

“and creamy sweet potatoes…”

They looked at one another, smiled and chuckled together. Thank goodness for Hester, Barbara realised her legs weren’t shaking anymore.

Chapter 10

The children were threading their way through the side alleys of town. Stepping out of doorways and joining with other children who were undergoing the daily morning ritual of attending school. They left their homes and families to place themselves under the protective custody of their teachers some of whom actually were the custodians with whom most parents would wish their children to spend the daily hours.

Some children trudged with heads down and books clutched tightly against their chests, looking as though the sword of Damocles would fall across their slender necks at any given time. Others ran and shouted and tossed books in the air with careless abandon while others formed their familiar groups to chatter and laugh together.

A boy came running from the door of the undertakers, holding onto his hat as he ran dodging in and out of the pedestrians, nearly sending a neat arrangement of buckets spinning outside the hardware store and incurring the wrath of Mr. Garston who was flattened against a wall as the whirl wind spun past him.

Lilith felt a tug on her braids…she was walking very slowly, trying to avoid everyone as much as possible, her head lowered in order not to catch anyone’s eye. The tug on her hair stopped her in astonishment! She spun round but just saw the boy running off, laughing, to disappear among a group further along.

Before she could regain her composure, she, felt a tug on her sleeve and a quiet voice “You’re Lilith, aren’t you? Lilith Martin?”

The girl who addressed her was smiling just a little apprehensively. Another girl came and stood with them, smiled at Lilith and then looked at the other girl “I don’t think she remembers us.”

“It has been a long time.” The first girl said, and smiled again “I wouldn’t have recognised you, Lilith. You have changed too. It was Ma that said to look out for you.”

Lilith felt the blush creeping over the collar of her coat and a genuine smile touched her lips “I do remember you both…Carole and Abigail Middleton!”

The two girls chuckled and nodded “Nearly right. I’m Carole and she’s Abigail. Don’t worry, everyone gets us muddled up.”

“Because we’re twins” Abigail added

“Will you sit with us? Like before?”

“Please say you will…”

They nodded, smiled at each other and separated so that one walked either side of Lilith. She had never expected an escort into school on her first day and good memories of previous school days with these girls were now slowly bubbling to the surface.

“It’s a big building now” Carole said

“Not the little schools we used to have.”

Lilith nodded, she had seen the school, one could hardly miss it! “My school in Albany was big too, but not as pretty.’

” yes, it is pretty” Carole nodded as they drew closer

“That boy over there -” Abigail pointed to the boy who had tugged Lilith’s braid “He’s Not very pleasant. ”

“He likes to think he’s important.” Carole added and hugged her books closer to her chest

Another girl ran up, smiled “Hello Lilith – welcome back”. She smiled at the twins and then ran back to a small group some of whom turned to look over at the three girls with pleasant smiles and waves of their hands.

Lilith watched “that boy” run over to a small group and after a short conversation return to those gathered by the school steps. The older and bigger children, some old enough to be at work with their families, were mounting the steps and being swallowed up into the building’s interior.

“Who are they.” Lilith asked the twins as she looked at the little group walking together towards them.

Carole glanced over and nodded, Abigail smiled, it seemed this group had their approval, even though they were some years younger than themselves

“Cartwrights.” Carole nodded as though to emphasise the words

“From the Ponderosa.” Abigail added for clarification.

So, it was true. The snippets of information she had overheard about various Cartwrights and their children…of course she knew Hoss and his wife had a baby, but Adam and Joe…She looked at them thoughtfully as they walked in a little huddle together, stopping every so often to talk to others. Lilith looked at the tall black-haired girl and wondered if that was Adams daughter, although she could see no real resemblance other than her colouring. Or perhaps the little girl who held onto the older girl’s hand…black haired and blue eyed…the boy though – she thought he looked very agreeable.

At that moment Reuben happened to glance over at them and their eyes met, held before they turned away. “He looks a pleasant boy -”

The twins nodded and chorused “He is”

“And are they all Cartwrights?”

“No.” Carole shrugged “There’s Reuben and Sofia. They’re Adam Cartwright’s son and daughter”

“Adopted-” Abigail chipped in with a sweet smile and nod of the head

“Abigail! You don’t have to be so pedantic!”

“Well, you have to be honest. It gives a false impression otherwise.” Abigail protested and looked at Lilith, “Doesn’t it?”

Lilith just smiled and followed the little group with her eyes. She could remember being in a house where there was a very pleasant lady who had a little black-haired girl. She had played with Peter. Memories trickled back as she remembered a tall black-haired man with very blue eyes. He had been very kind to them when – she closed down the memories, she didn’t want to tread further.

“Hannah has just started school. She’s still a baby and Rose Canaday…” Carole screwed up her nose “I think she’s a cousin of some sort -”

“To Hannah.” Abigail sniffed and paused to talk to a skinny girl who had run up to be introduced to the new girl.

Jimmy Carstairs ran pass them bumping into Carole, he stopped long enough to apologise before hurrying along to step into line with Reuben. From the way they peeled away from the girls it was obvious they were good friends, and Lilith watched then until there was a tug on her sleeve. The bell was tolling, time to be swallowed up by the monster of Academia!

The school didn’t awe her as it had the towns children, after all the school she had attended in Albany was far grander and had been referred to as The Academy. She followed the twins up the wide stairs never for a moment imagining herself to be a grand princess as Sofia had… her mind was on the Cartwright children and how glad she was to have identified them so soon. She thought of the pretty little girl with the milk blonde hair holding Hannah’s hand and could not prevent a sigh, of an emotion she couldn’t name, slipping from her lips.

*****

Olivia knocked on the door more timidly than usual. The last time she had been to visit Bridie had been a day of such horror and trauma that since then she had been unable to take the ride into town again. She had mixed feelings about the visit now knowing that behind that door could be a stranger, to her, but not to her husband.

It had been Adam who had suggested that she went to meet Barbara and get to know her, rather than leave it too long and thereby make the first meeting embarrassing. She had delayed as long as she could even though she had a vague memory of Dr Martins wife, she had never known her well enough or long enough to set aside preconceived ideas about Adams ex-fiancée. It had all been such a muddled time with the worry of Adams injuries, her burgeoning love for him…to her the Martins had been far in the background of those tumultuous times.

When Bridie opened the door, Olivia felt her body relax with relief. Bridies usual warm welcome and then being ushered into the parlour made her feel immediately more confident. She removed her bonnet and coat before taking the customary chair she usually sat on when visiting dear Bridie. There was evidence of others living there now…a child’s book discarded on the table, a ragged woolly animal that may once have resembled a sheep. She smiled at Bridie “Are they settling in comfortably?”

“Well enough.” Bridie nodded and smoothed out her skirt. Olivia noticed her friend’s hands, a little swollen around the knuckles, blue veined and liver spotted. Bridie’s smile and twinkling eyes kept her forever young, but her hands reminded Olivia that she was not!

“Is Barbara not home? The children…?”

“Barbara is helping at the hospice, she’s very efficient and tends to be a good organiser. Just what we need.” she smiled “Lilith starts at school today and Paulie is out with Tilly, he is devoted to her.”

They chattered about nothing in particular, covering familiar old ground until Bridie mentioned it was a tight squeeze with them all in the house together.

“It’s been a pleasant change today. Everyone out.” she smiled. “It won’t be for long though as they are looking for a place of their own into which they could move and make into their own home. John wanted somewhere close to the surgery and school…that rather reduces the number of properties available.”

Tilly peeked into the room and nodded at them “The lad wanted to be with his Mother. I left him with her… ”

Bridie nodded and so did Tilly. It was like semaphore between them. Olivia wasn’t surprised to hear action in the kitchen and anticipated refreshments appearing before too long.

“It was a shame about little Peter.” Bridie said as she sipped tea, transferring a tea leaf from the cup to her lip. “He was Barbara’s son by her first marriage. He was ill you know, when just a little one, and as a result became profoundly deaf.” she sighed and drank some more during which the tea leaf was returned to the cups rim. “John was wonderful with him, so I understand.”

“But he has died, hasn’t he?”

“Yes, but I don’t know any details. They don’t talk about it, or him. Lilith…the little girl… well, she just.”

“Yes?”

“She just freezes. Goes so quiet. I hear her crying in her room sometimes, but she won’t take any comfort from me. Shrugs me off, so I don’t bother anymore.” she sighed, ” John just says she had a very close bond with Peter. They could talk away in that language…you know…signing…as well as we are chatting together now. I feel so sorry for them.”

Olivia said nothing but thought of the misery in their hearts over the loss of the child. She knew some mothers, and fathers too, who could never recover from such a loss. Some drew closer together, others were pulled apart. Olivia had a feeling that this little family were of the latter category. It made her feel uneasy. If a woman was not getting comfort from her husband, then to whom would she turn?

“From what Adam tells me, Lilith has gone through quite a number of heart aches in her young life.”

Bridie nodded and put her cup and saucer back on the table, “All before my time, and Paul has never mentioned it, so I don’t ask questions. People talk of course, but one should never rely on gossip.”

Olivia nodded and changed the subject concerned now that that was exactly what they were doing…enjoying some gossip.

*****

It had been hard work at the hospice and when the last dish and spoon had been washed up in somewhat greasy water, the ladies began to take their leave. They were all volunteers after all, and some were neighbours and living in the same conditions as the people whom they served. Their reward was the pick of donated clothing, second helpings of whatever they liked, and at the end of the week a little thank you gift of something that they would not afford, considering such things as scented soap or candles as luxuries. But it sustained them, and they were also sustained with their self-respect intact.

Hester washed her hands and then turned to pick up her coat and shrug it back on. It was not particularly warm in the building, but work had kept her warm. She looked over at Barbara who was picking little Paul up, he had fallen asleep over his bowl of soup, and his mother had decided to leave him while he was snug and cosy.

“He’s a lovely looking little boy, Barbara.”

“Yes. Thank you.” Barbara smiled, her rather flat almost monotone voice warmed by that smile, she was still a very attractive woman.

“Let me give you a hand -” Hester leaned forward and took the little boy from Barbara’s arms so that she could put on her coat, and then take the child back. “He’s a good boy, I think he realised he needed to be quiet and well behaved with Peter as he was…” that little frown appeared and she cleared her throat, then looked up at Hester remembering that she knew all about Peter – that is – before they went to Albany. “You and your cousin, Ann, you were such good friends to me, back then, when everything was going wrong in my life. You never blamed me…”

“There was never anything to blame you for, Barbara.” Hester said quietly and placed a gentle hand on the other woman’s arm.

“I always wonder – feel guilty you know? For every effect there has to be a cause, isn’t that right?”

Hester nodded and they walked slowly out of the building, it was Hester who locked the doors and then passed over the key to Barbara and asked her to give it to Bridie.

“That doesn’t mean that you were the particular cause for what happened here, Barbara. After all these years you can’t really believe that you are to blame for – for what happened.”

Barbara said nothing to that, just nodded and held Paul closer. He still wore his coat and was quite warm although the wind was cold and buffeted them a little “Are you coming back to Bridie’s with me?”

“No, I have to get home now. I have two children at home and Hop Sing only has so much patience. He’s getting old…”

“Then – goodbye, Hester, and thank you again for everything.” she paused and then smiled, “I enjoyed today.”

They were about to turn when they heard a loud “Coo-we.” from behind and they looked at one another and smiled “Mrs. Hawkins” they said simultaneously.

“Duckie – glad to have caught up with you.” Clemmie took in a deep breath “Good afternoon, Hester, how is everyone on the Ponderosa? How’s Ben?” she didn’t stop for the answer but turned back to Barbara “I hear you’re looking for a place of your own – well, of course you are, the Martins house is far too small for all of you – but I thought I should let you know that I’ve my house for sale. Why not come and have a look -”?

“I do remember it well, Mrs. Hawkins, thank you so much.” Barbara nodded and smiled at the garrulous old woman.

“Then don’t forget, tell your husband to come right on over. We can catch up on old times. I’m not moving away from town, just taking a smaller place of my own, my legs, you know, they can’t cope with the stairs no more. Cor, I never thought I’d grow old but seems like it’s catching up on me.”

“I’ll let John know….”

“Don’t forget – ‘cos I hear another couple are interested in buying.” she nodded, the feather in her hat bounced up and down and then she was away, leaving her audience smiling after her.

*****

Recess. It was a welcome break although Lilith had enjoyed her morning. The teachers had all been pleasant and concerned about their students, unlike some she had known in Albany who at times were pretentious and patronising.

“Come and eat your lunch with us.” the twins said and smiled as they led the way to where they usually would sit and eat.

Lilith said nothing but followed them like Mary’s little lamb. Abigail was telling her about Mr. Evans and how he was the most popular teacher in the whole school. She nodded, recalled the man of whom they spoke and agreed, he looked very kind and a good teacher. They sat together, the skirts forming laps that acted as tables, and as she ate Lilith looked around her and tried to find the Cartwright children. It was a shame they were so much younger than herself, she would have enjoyed being in class with them. Perhaps that was the wrong word, for she didn’t know them at all so how could she know if she would ‘enjoy’ them.

There were a good number of children milling around. Lots of laughter, shouting, some bullying going on in one corner that one of the teachers was marching over to sort out. Lilith watched and in her quiet way absorbed her surroundings. It occurred to her that she missed the little schools from way back, she could still remember the very first day she had been taken to meet Miss Scott, the way her hand held tightly to her fathers and how she had looked at Miss Scott and thought she was lovely. The sun had shone that day, she could remember the heat from it burning through her dress.

Abigail was talking about a teacher they had not so long ago called Mr. Crook. Carole said he was an evil man, wicked. Rose Canaday walked by at that moment and glanced at them. Being that much younger there was not much social interaction between the groups, but the twins smiled at her and watched her go on her way. Carole leaned forward to inform Lilith how Mr. Crook, evil though he was, had saved Rose Canaday’s life.

That was when the bell tolled, and recess was over. As she went inside, she glanced around for a sign of the two Cartwrights she wanted to see, but there was no sign of them. They were lost in the crush of children pushing their way back into the building.

Chapter 11

The huddle of men shuffled into line to be paid their money. None of them looked happy about it, although under the circumstances they were being paid a fair bonus according to the number of years they had worked for the Cartwrights. They had downed tools earlier that morning, eaten and drank along with Ben and Adam Cartwright….’The Last Supper’ as one man dourly put it…then Ben said it was time for them to be paid.

Most of the them had worked for the Ponderosa mines for a number of years and were known by name by all the Cartrwights.  Ben had been late getting involved in mining, he had hated the thought of being part of those who tore greedily into the earth for what lay beneath but after the big fire that nearly destroyed Virginia City in ’75 he had capitulated in order to recoup his own losses. He had two successful mines that had provided a substantial amount of silver ore and copper but now – like elsewhere through the Comstock – the lode had run dry.

“Sorry it had to end like this, Mr. Cartwright” Lefty Houlland said as his fingers curled around the coins Adam handed to him “It started out a real good vein when we began it -”

“Well, I’m sorry too, Lefty.” Ben said his brow corrugated fiercely as he watched the men take their pay, pick up their tools “What do you intend to do now?”

“No point trying to get any work hereabouts, Mr. Ben.  The big mining companies hereabouts are bursting at the seams with men.”

“I heard the Ophir was still doing well.” Adam said quietly and handed some money to a young miner who nodded his thanks and made his way to join others

“It is – “ Lefty nodded then turned in the direction of the mine, looking regretfully at the dark entrance down which he had worked for so long “I reckon you got out of her all you were ever going to, Mr. Ben.”

“I think so.” Ben nodded and rubbed his chin with his fingers, “I heard the men talking about the gold fields in the Yukon, do you intend going with them?”

“There’s a lot of talk, a good number of men have already gone. Whether it will ever yield as much as the Comstock -” he shrugged “No, I’ve saved enough to take my wife away from here -”

“Why go away?” Adam asked, “The town needs people to stay, keep it thriving.”

“Trouble is, Mr. Adam, it ain’t thriving. That’s the truth of it…in a few years you may not even have the Ophir running.  People are leaving because this was a mining town, and for all that it had to offer – well, the work isn’t there and the motivation to stay isn’t either.”

Ben extended his hand and shook the miners warmly “Every success then, Lefty.”

The men finally drifted away and left the two Cartwrights standing together at the site of their mining venture – Ben shrugged and pulled a wry face “Well, thankfully I was never one of the main players in this game.”

“You never wanted to be part of it anyway, did you?” Adam smiled and placed a hand on his father’s shoulder before returning to his task of locking up the cash box.

“Do you think there is that much gold in the Yukon?” Ben asked as he pushed his hands into the pockets of his coat.

“Yep.”

“As big as the Comstock?”

“Could be -” Adam frowned, and stared out to the far mountains, snow was already capping some of the tallest. He shook his head and sighed “One thing I can guarantee, there’s going to be three dead men for everyone who succeeds in getting a strike out there. It’s cruel territory.

“I think mining is a cruel business – whether for gold, silver or coal – but they are staples in life and necessary.  I couldn’t do it…”

“No.” Adam sighed again, and then looked over at the yawning mouth of their mine “Guess that’s it then…I’ll just go and finish off the job.”

Ben nodded and watched as Adam collected the items needed to ‘finish off the job’ – sealing the mine off forever with just enough dynamite to make a tidy job of it. Hoss had earlier suggested trying to find a new vein from another direction, but Ben didn’t want to take that on, he didn’t want to ruin that area of the Ponderosa more than he had already. His hope was that the mine would be sealed off and the rubble would eventually be grown over with the things nature provided so abundantly – grass, wildflowers, perhaps some trees – so that in future years no one would ever know there had been a mine there at all.

As Adam set the caps and played out the fuses, he thought of the Yukon…thought of the many who had thrown up their jobs and their futures to go seeking the minerals in that rich earth.  He had never set foot in the territory but had spent enough time in Alaska, at the boundaries of that foreboding place, enough time to hear what the locals thought of it, the stories of never-ending relentless winters, ice and snow and snow and ice. He found himself grateful that Joe was mature and settled because there would have been no guarantee that he would have wanted a taste of the adventure and gone seeking his fortune.

The men had taken what tools they would need for their future, and now the wagon piled with the detritus of mining life was pushed into the mouth of the mine, Adam rechecked that everything was in place and then stepped back. He nodded to his father –

The explosion sent dust and debris flying skywards, boulders crashed down, odd bits of metal and wood swirled in the windstorm, but it was neatly controlled as Adam had indicated. Both men stood together at a safe distance until the final rock had settled, the last of the dust had trickled to a standstill.  The mound of rock and rubble looked like the cairn of some ancient warrior…

Ben ran his eyes over what had been a reasonably profit making mine for four years, he regretted having gouged out the earth and burrowed so far deep within it for that time, he had always wanted to show respect for ‘Mother Earth’ as the Paiute had for years. He sighed, well, perhaps one day the unsightly mess would look verdant and attractive once again.

“You did a good job, son.” he clapped Adam on the back and smiled appreciatively

“I am a qualified Engineer you know.” Adam replied with a cheeky grin and wink of the eye

“Yes.” Ben nodded, “And a qualified Architect too.”

“That as well.” Adam gave a slight smirk and then looked at his father, frowned “What?”

“What do you mean ‘what?”’

“Why did you mention about my being a qualified architect?  It hasn’t been discussed in years and now you’re mentioning it? Why?”

Ben stopped and once again thrust his hands into his coat pockets “There’s a rumour going round town that you may be considering joining a firm of architects…Armstrong Armstrong and Shroeder.” he opened his eyes wide in question and his black eyebrows nearly disappeared into his white hairline.

“Heck, I never heard any such rumour.”

“Well, it’s going the rounds just now.”

Adam scowled; he strode towards his horse with a black look on his face as he pondered over what his father had just said. Had Silas mentioned their conversation to anyone? Why would he when it had led to nothing?  He paused and turned to face Ben

“Silas did ask me to consider it…that was some time back…”

“And you said?”

“What do you think I said?” he shrugged “I turned down the offer.”

“Well, seems Jonas was not made aware of it, he seems to think -”

“Why would he think anything? I told Silas a categorical no…”

“Would you though? Consider it?”

“For what reason?  To design buildings that no one will be interested in living in. Didn’t you hear what Lefty and the others said? The town is dying. There are empty buildings throughout the place, who is going to want to build anything there now?”

“There are other cities? Other towns? You know yourself that with the railway threading its way through the country there are new towns…and old established towns need buildings.

“Hey!” Adam stopped again and held up his hands, palm outwards as a sign to his father to halt his words “What is this? Are you firing me too? Want me to get a new job or something?”

Ben chuckled, shook his head and placed an arm around his son’s shoulders to give him a hug, he smiled then “No, not at all…just testing you out I guess.”

Adam scowled a little longer before his fertile brain went into another direction “How are our timber contracts, Pa?  With fewer buildings, and fewer mines it could all impact on the need for Ponderosa Pine.”

“We’ve good contracts and more in hand. We may have to range further but the demand for our wood has not dropped.” he looked pleased at the satisfied nod of the head Adam gave and continued “Horses are still in demand, and so is beef….I came late to the mining business so this loss won’t impact on us significantly.”

“So, you won’t need me to take on a part time job at Armstrong’s?” Adam said with a twinkle in his dark eyes and Ben chuckled and once again slapped his son on the back.

They mounted their horses and wheeled their heads in the direction of town. Their horses loping gently over the worn track that led away from the sorry condition of Ben’s failed mining venture.

Neither man was in the mood to talk much. But they enjoyed one another’s company as they had always done in the past, and to Ben it seemed as though the past stretched so far back now – he glanced at his son and sighed, Adam was no longer young, there was grey in his hair, his face still tanned though it now wore lines that had suddenly appeared as though surprised not to have been there for years. No, when one recognised the signs of aging in one’s children then one has to be honest and accept that the road forwards was considerably much shorter than the one already travelled

*****

Barbara pushed open the door to the house and stepped into the hall, and then into the little parlour where she found Bridie and another woman taking tea together. She paused for a moment then realised from the faint memory that now trickled into her mind that this was Olivia, Adam Cartwright’s wife.  Even as she thought it Olivia was standing up and smiling at her, her hand extended to be shaken

“Hello, Barbara.  I’ve been looking forward to meeting you.” Olivia’s smile widened “I didn’t really get much of a chance when you lived here before, I was only on the fringes of everything that was going on then, when you left here.”

Barbara nodded and returned the smile, stepped further into the room and shook Olivia’s hand “I didn’t get the chance to know you then, Olivia – I may call you Olivia?”

“Of course…I would be offended if you did not as you call Mary Ann and Hester by their first names.” this was said with a gentle smile, one that Adam always said would melt the hardest heart.

Barbara returned the smile, hesitant though it was.

They looked at one another, taking stock and quite aware of the other’ appraisal. Bridie summoned Tilly for more refreshments while she watched the two women settle into their chairs and then she leaned forward to ask Barbara about the hospice…they discussed that between themselves for a few moments before turning their attention to Olivia “I believe all of you work a shift at the hospice once a week, don’t you?” Barbara asked, “I was with Hester today and she mentioned it.”

“That’s right we do…but I have rather neglected my work there for a while, things happened,” she shrugged and wished she had had the presence of mind to remove her spectacles.  She always imagined herself looking like Miss Tyndale interviewing an applicant for a job at the library when she first met anyone wearing them.

“I should have come and called – “Barbara frowned “It’s taking me longer to settle back in than I imagined.”

“Once you are feeling settled, Barbara, you must come for a visit…with the children. Of course there is the Town Hall Dance this weekend so we shall no doubt meet you there and we can make further arrangements.” she leaned forward to place a kindly hand upon Barbara’s arm “It will be lovely to get to know you better, Barbara. Hester and Mary Ann speak so fondly of you…”

Barbara nodded, smiled and thought ‘And no doubt told you all the details of my disastrous life!

Olivia passed Tilly as the housekeeper was heading to the parlour laden with pots of coffee and cake “I have to rush off, Tilly – I am sorry -”

*****

The Manager of the Whitney Hotel came to welcome the couple and usher them into the grand foyer. They appeared to be exactly what they claimed – a prosperous couple who wanted to spend a few evenings, days, exploring the town.  They were extremely well dressed and poised, they signed the register Mr. and Mrs. John Smith.

The two men who followed along behind them were well dressed also but carried themselves in a way that left the Manager of no doubt that they were alert to anything that could affect the enjoyment and pleasure of the couple who had just arrived. All the luggage was brought in by a breathless bellboy who was soon accompanied by another youth to carry the baggage up to the assigned suite.

Daniel deQuille sidled into the hotel just as the latter two men were ascending the stairs. He Frowned and then approached the register, looked down and raised his eyebrows…a San Francisco address…no surprise there.  He was puzzled by the names though

“Mr. and Mrs. Smith?”

“That’s who they said they were, and that’s how they’ve signed in.”

“And the other two?”

The Manager sighed and stabbed the two names on the register with his forefinger, deQuille frowned “And who do you think it really is?”

The Manager only shrugged and tapped his nose. Obviously, money had been passed, greased palms and all that business.  Daniel glanced back up the stairs and frowned, wondered what on earth the ex-President of the United States would be doing in Virginia City now? It was a strange destination to end their two and a half years world tour to his way of thinking! He raised his eyebrows at the Manager who smirked and shrugged, then he turned around and left the building.

Chapter 12

Hester Cartwright tightened the strings to her bonnet to make sure it didn’t leap away with the wind. She stood patiently waiting for Olivia, watching people pass by as she did so, noting those familiar faces that were missing. She had reached the stage of tapping her foot on the ground when she saw her friend hurrying towards her, her hand holding her own bonnet down for fear it would take flight.

“I’m so sorry to be so late…have you been waiting long?”

“It’s alright – I realised you would be later than planned as Barbara didn’t leave the hospice as soon as I thought she would.  Did you get to meet her?”

“Yes, and that is why I’m late…and – well, I didn’t really get the chance to speak to Barbara much, just a quick hello.  Let’s go inside, shall we? It’s getting colder just standing here.”

Olivia pushed open the door to the restaurant, and together they made their way to the table of their choice. Hester sighed and sat down, placing her bonnet and her bag on the floor by her feet. She leaned forward, her elbows on the table and her chin resting in her hands

“Well, what did you think of Barbara? This is the first time you properly met her, isn’t it?”

“Yes, I have a vague memory of meeting Dr Martins wife several times before they moved away.” Olivia paused and turned to the waitress, ordered their refreshments and then looked thoughtfully at her friend “She wasn’t very relaxed – I mean – she didn’t really appear as though she was interested in getting to know me.  She was – aloof!”

“Aloof? Yes, that would describe her.  She always did have that way about her, as though she had to protect herself all the time, even when she didn’t -” Hester frowned “I think that is what appealed to Andrew Pearson, her first husband. It must have made him feel protective – at first. Just the kind of vulnerability on show to create the knight to the rescue kind of feeling – then it becomes an irritation and he wanted to beat it out of her, or, on the other hand, give her something about which she would feel a need for protection”

“Do you think that was what appealed to Adam?” Olivia said quietly, a reminder to Hester that she was well aware of her husband’s previous relationship with Barbara

“I don’t know.” Hester shrugged, “They knew one another sometime before Adam went to sea. She went east after her Uncle died, but for some reason returned.  I think he liked her spirit of independence, and her intelligence. She had stood by him during that disaster of the Scott/Chappie

situation.” she smiled slowly and looked at her friend with a mischievous twinkle in her eye “But he soon realised it wasn’t love…absence didn’t make the heart grow fonder for either of them.”

The waitress came and placed the coffee and refreshments in front of them, smiled and drifted away.

“I feel sorry for her, but I don’t know why because John is such a lovely man.” Olivia sighed, and then poured out the coffee “Why do you think they came back here?”

Hester shrugged “John wanted to resume General Practice with his uncle.”

Olivia nodded thoughtfully and sipped at her coffee “Bridie is worried about the little girl, Lilith.”

“I should think,” Hester replied slowly as she stirred sugar into her coffee “that Lilith is suffering the loss of her little brother. They were very close. He was dependent on her in many ways, remember? I hope she settles down -” she picked out a cake and began to nibble at it, then smiled “Have you mentioned anything more to Adam about the Emporium?”

“No. I thought we weren’t going to pursue that idea. Mary Ann – well – perhaps it is this leaning of hers towards emancipation for women that makes her feel the need for a business career, but I don’t, I like being home with my children and having Adam home. How on earth would we manage coming into town every day to run a shop.”

Hester nodded and continued her nibbling for a few moments “We don’t have to come into town, after all Mary Carstairs -”

“Evans”

“Evans – can continue to do the Managing.  All we do is go in occasionally and check over the books and ledgers and order stock and things like that…and the apartment above the store would provide an income from rental.”

Olivia frowned “Are you bored too?”

“No. I’ve quite enough to keep myself occupied, but it was just – well – I just wanted to know your thoughts on it.”

Olivia nodded and carefully resumed eating a pink iced cookie that had looked very appealing at first but was rather disappointing. “Hester – have you noticed the changes in town?”

“Changes?” Hester raised her eyebrows “There have always been changes…people come, and people go. That’s the way it has always been here…. there’s a strong hub, you know? The mainstay of the population and then the people who drift in and drift back out again.”

Olivia shook her head and sighed “No, it’s more than that – this is a big town, it is not a one-horse town with clap board buildings thrown up along a dusty old street. It’s an established town with some beautiful buildings -”

“- and some not so beautiful, it depends on which part one lives in.” Hester licked her fingers and then sipped more coffee.

“The town’s dying – the miners are leaving – that’s why Adam and Ben were closing down the two mining projects the Ponderosa owns. There’s nothing keeping people here anymore.”

“Don’t say that, Olivia.” Hester looked pained, and then bit her lips “I know what you mean though – I thought this morning that there seemed to be far fewer people on the streets nowadays.”

“After the big fire of ’75 there were over 23,000 people here …. the Mayor did a census, do you remember?  I doubt if there are even 20,000 here now.”

Hester felt a bad mood drifting her way, she hated change, change meant upheavals in their lives, decisions that could bring about drastic changes to the status quo, it made her feel insecure.

“What has this to do with the Emporium?” she muttered a little snappishly and Olivia sighed and shook her head,

“Well, there won’t be any profit if there are no customers.”

Hester picked up her cup and balanced it carefully between her fingers. The contents were cooler,

she swallowed it down.

“It frightens me to think about Virginia City in that way, Olivia.  I don’t want to talk about it anymore.”

“Sorry.” Olivia raised her eyebrows and removed her glasses, pinched the bridge of her nose and sighed, before wearily slipping the glasses into her pocket. “I think Barbara thought I was the librarian.”

Thoughts trickled back to Barbara Martin, but neither women pursued her as a matter for discussion now, instead they concentrated on more family matters, even the subject of the mines that Ben and Adam had closed down that morning was not pursued.

*****

The days trickled by and the wind dropped although it became slightly colder. Mr. and Mrs. John Smith sauntered around town, occasionally taking their well sprung coach and horses out of town to see the countryside, most of which seemed to belong to the Ponderosa.  But no Cartwright appeared to offer invitation or order them off the land, so they enjoyed the rides, taking tracks here and there, admiring the views around Lake Tahoe.  Accompanied by their two guardians the couple were relaxing, enjoying the days as any normal tourist would do, without a thought of any dire consequences.

Lilith never plucked up the courage to approach the Cartwrights and introduce herself to them. She found herself constantly looking out for them at recess or when they left the school for home at the end of each day. She would idle about the gate and watch as the four children would clamber up into a buggy or onto a wagon driven by one the Ponderosa’s hired hands. Sometimes the boy, Reuben, rode to school on a fine-looking horse which he would leave at the livery.

Just once she nearly got the chance to speak to him, as he was hurrying back into the school yard. He saw her standing there hugging her books against her chest and paused “Hello”

“Hello.”

“New here, aren’t you?”

“Yes. Sort of…”

He smiled and nodded as though he knew exactly what she meant, which he did not, and then hurried back into school.

She wondered if James and Barbara would ever get around to visiting the Cartwrights as once, she was sure they would have done at one time in the past.  She wondered if she would ever see any of them in town as she walked to and from school. And if she did what would she do then?

She was walking to the gates when she saw the horse. It was beautiful, the most lovely creature she had ever seen in her life. It was standing quite still, staring around her at the many two-legged little people that scampered back and forth around her. Carole came and stood beside her, “That’s Adam Cartwrights horse.  It’s an Arabian – my Pa said Ben Cartwright calls it a Hay burner.”

“It’s beautiful -” Lilith breathed with a sigh

“Yes,” Abigail had appeared now, and nodded “Not your regular old mustang it?”

Lilith smiled and felt her heart beating faster…the presence of the horse meant that its master must surely be close at hand. Any minute now he would appear and – oh what if he didn’t recognise her? What if he didn’t want to speak to her?

And then there he was, striding towards his horse with his face bearing the slightest smile, the familiar dark eyes under the heavy hooded lids, the dark hair curling beneath his hat. He was as tall as she had ever remembered him, and his shoulders as broad.  She had most of her memories of him connected to the time of his illness, when he had injured his leg, and before he had gained bulk again…so seeing him now, still thinner than normal due to his recent foray at sea – meant that she saw little difference in him.

As he grew closer though she did notice the changes – the changes that a few years brought upon any man or woman, and he had the very slightest of limps.  Apart from that he was all she had wanted him to be….

His eyes swept over the group of children, seeking out his own, no doubt.  The smile broadened, softened, the eyes widened but he didn’t appear to have noticed her as his eyes swept over them.

Oh please, please notice me, say hello, Lilith – please don’t walk on and leave me here without a word…Remember me, please remember me.

He paused at the horse and stroked her neck, turned to look around him, up at the clock and pursed his lips, probably remonstrating with himself that he was a little early perhaps.  More children were coming out of the school, some running and whooping, it was the last day of the week after all. He turned, paused, and stared at her, directly at her.

She blinked and felt her face flushing, she felt hot and her knees were weakening and when he smiled at her, that big smile that showed the dimples in his cheeks and made his brown eyes twinkle she could have cried.

“Lilith?”

He was walking towards her now and then was standing right there in front of her, and she could remember the day similar to this one when it had been cold and he had taken off his old yellow coat and draped it around her shoulders and they had sat together among the rocks and she had told him about ‘The Man’. She remembered everything.

“Hello, Lilith.”

“Hello, Mr. Cartwright.” she whispered and kept her head low.

“Hey, Mr. Cartwright is it? I thought we were friends…” there was a soft chuckle in his voice, a gentle teasing tone and she glanced up and saw the smile, the dark eyes with amber lights, the dimples and smiled “Hello, Adam.”

“That’s better.” he leaned down a little so that his face was more on a level with hers, “I heard you were back in town, and had hoped to see you long before now.  Are you going to stay here in Virginia City?”

“Yes. Pa is going to buy a house here in town.” she couldn’t talk properly, her mouth was too loose, and her tongue too big.  Her words came out breathless and whispery

“That’s good.  Are you glad to be back, Lilith?”  he looked more concerned now, the smile was there but not in his eyes, he looked more anxious

“Yes. Thank you. I think so -”

“I missed your letters.”

“I’m sorry. I meant to write to you forever but then – I didn’t think you would want to be writing to a little girl.”

“Oh, but you were never just any little girl, Lilith.” he smiled gently and placed a hand on her head, as though to smooth away a loose curl

Sofia was running towards her father, a smile on her lips and excited because it was not often that Adam came to meet them after school.  She had seen the buggy with Ezra in it and Reuben had left already to collect Max, his horse. Behind her came Rose holding Hannah by the hand…

She saw her father place a hand upon the girl’s head, and stroke back the curl of hair to tuck it behind her ear. She saw the smile on his face, the total rapt look upon the girls face and her stomach knotted. She drew in a deep breath and wished she had not seen him standing there with that girl, the new girl that seemed always to be standing around and staring at them.

It made her feel – scared.

Chapter 13

She stopped running so that little Hannah bumped into her and wondered why she had stopped. Rose gave her a nudge and shouted, “Come on.”

She couldn’t take her eyes off her father, the way he now had his hand resting on the girls shoulder and talking so seriously to her while the girl gazed up at him with big eyes and a thoughtful expression on her face which broke into a smile just as Sofia reached Adam’s side and grabbed at his hand “Daddy…”

Adam raised his eyebrows and then looked down at Sofia, smiled and leaned down to look into her face with his brown eyes warm with his affection for her “How’s your day been, Sofia?”

“It’s been – alright.” Sofia replied quietly glancing from him to Lilith and back again “Are you come to take us home?”

“No, I have an appointment at the Cattleman’s Association….with Grandpa.  I only came by to see if I would see you and Reuben – “ he smiled at Hannah and Rose “Well now, in case you have not met before now, let me introduce Miss Lilith Martin to you….” he straightened up, and turned to Lilith who had been watching them thoughtfully, “Lilith – this is my daughter Sofia, and Rose Canaday, and Hannah – Hannah is Hoss and Hester’s daughter.”

They regarded one another gravely – Hannah dragged a foot along the gravel drive and hid a little behind Rosie, but managed a smile, while Rose gave a grin and a bright Hello, her lively blue eyes twinkling at Lilith who stood so seriously beside Adam. Sofia nodded “Hello” she said and put out her hand to be shaken as adults would, and which Lilith with a lift of her eyebrows accepted and shook. Sofia immediately turned back to Adam

“Can’t I stay and wait, and then you take me home on Kami?”

“No, now run along, Ezra has chores to do apart from fetching and carrying you home, hurry now. Has Reuben gone on ahead?”

Rosie nodded “He had Max, he said he wanted to get home sooner -”

Adam nodded and returned to look at Sofia “Hurry along, pumpkin, don’t keep Ezra waiting.”

She dragged herself away, casting a reproachful glance at Lilith whom she noticed had not budged from her spot beside Adam.  As she clambered on board the wagon seat knowing that the sharp edge would cut into the back of her legs, she glanced over her shoulder, a wistful little look back at Adam who was now untethering Kami from the hitching rail and walking her alongside himself and Lilith.

She couldn’t explain the feeling she had about the girl, and about Adam’s attention to her As she sat there listening to Hannah and Rose babbling about something she tried to remember anything about Lilith, a snatch of conversation between her parents, but there was nothing, not even a wisp of a clue about her.

Lilith meanwhile clutched her books tightly against her, walking alongside Adam as they strolled comfortably from the school to the Martins’ house.  Kami tossed her head occasionally as though she was annoyed at this slow pace and Lilith mentioned what a beautiful horse the animal was – and didn’t Mr. Ben mind having her on the Ponderosa.  She could remember the laugh and talk about his views on Hay Burners.

“He doesn’t have her at the Ponderosa ranch, she’s my horse and she’s stabled at my place.” he smiled down at her “Are you still reading?”

“Oh yes, I still love reading.”

“What book are you reading now?”

“”20,000 Leagues under the sea by Jules Verne” she replied promptly and glanced at him from under her eyelashes “It’s very exciting and – and I liked the fight with the giant squid. I pretended that was you, fighting like that, because you were at sea a lot, weren’t you?”

“Yes, but I’ve not yet seen a giant squid so never had occasion to fight one.” he grinned and then looked serious “I thought you would be more into reading Bronte, or Austen – Charles Dickins -”

She nodded “I’ve read some of them too…I love reading…one day I am going to have a house with a room with shelves upon shelves of books from ceiling to floor…” she blushed “Well, that is what I would like to have -”

“No harm in that -“ he smiled again, “I’ve got ‘Mysterious Island’ at home, you can have that if you wish? Unless of course you already have it?”

“No.” she shook her head solemnly “I was hoping to get it before we left home, but things were – didn’t – I wasn’t able to find one.” she paused and then smiled “Thank you.  That’s when they find Captain Nemo, isn’t it?”

“Ah, I’m not going to say…” he grinned, the dimples deepened like troughs in his cheeks, and then he stopped at the gate to Bridie’s house, “Must be quite a tight fit in there…”

“It is.” she replied looking at the front door with resignation “But Pa thinks we’ll have a house of our own soon.”

Adam glanced over at the town hall clock, he had ten minutes to spare so after looping the reins over the rail he followed Lilith to the front door and knocked. He had expected Tilly to come bustling up, but it was Barbara who opened the door and stepped back to admit her daughter and look at Adam as though undecided whether she was pleased to see him or not. She was dressed plainly, in sombre dark clothes relieved by a white collar and cuffs, her hair was caught up at the back in a snood, and she looked like a woman in grief, a woman who no longer cared overly much about her appearance.

“Hello Barbara…”

“Adam.”

He looked at Lilith as though in need of some help in finding the right words to say but the girl had stood beside Barbara and was watching him with that same serious look on her face that he had first seen. His eyes switched back to Barbara

“We were all pleased to know you and John and the children were back here in town, “ he said, and wondered if his voice sounded as pleased as he said “We had hoped you would have ridden over for a visit by now – you know you’re always welcome at the Ponderosa.”

“I know that – thank you.” she smiled then, although it didn’t reach her eyes, a per functionary twitch of the lips “We’ve been so busy – “

“And looking for a house of your own too? That takes up time?”

“Yes, it does.” she put her hand on the door, “Well, thank you for walking Lilith home, I’m sure there are things you need to do. Thank you, Adam.”

Her eyes flicked up, caught his and held, and he noticed a slight blush creep over the collar of her dress, before the door closed.  He stood there a fraction of a moment, pursed his lips and put his head to one side as he regarded the door, as though it would open and admit him, or perhaps provide an answer to several questions that sprung to his mind.

He shook his head and turned to gather up the reins and mount into the saddle to make his way to the offices of the Cattleman’s Association.  At least he knew what to expect from the discussions that would be held there…. Minutes of the last meeting, Accounts report, matters for discussion, date for the next meeting.

Ben was waiting for him, talking to Derwent Jessop and Abel Greigson, as Adam dismounted, he saw Luke Dent strolling towards them.  He sighed, looped the reins over the rail – at least Kami had some horse companions to talk to – and smiled rather absentmindedly at the other men. The memory of Lilith pretending that Captain Nemo was himself, trickled into his thoughts and he shook his head as though in dismissal.

*****

Reuben was carrying logs into the house when Adam rode into the yard. The boy paused with his arms loaded with the wood and stood quite still as he watched his father dismount and lead Kami into the stable.  He walked over and entered the warm confines of the stables and watched as Adam led the horse into her stall and began to unsaddle her.

“Hey, Pa?”

Adam turned to look at the boy, the saddle sliding from the horses back and into his arms, he slung it over the rail. “Have a good day, Reuben?”

“It was alright I guess…”

“Oh, only alright?” Adam twitched a corner of his mouth into a grimace and raised his eyebrows, “What was wrong?”

“Nothing really.  Just one of those days when lessons are just a bore…Davy Riley got into trouble with the teacher again…Mr. Evans said -” he deepened his voice to imitate Mr. Evans’ voice “That boy is incorrigible.’”

Adam chuckled and removed Kami’s blanket, and bridle “I can remember quite a few teachers saying the same about Joe. I guess they would still say he was incorrigible today if they saw him. I know Miss Jones – Mrs. Myers to you – is quite sure he is after what happened recently.”

“I guess -” Reuben grinned, he liked Uncle Joe, he liked to hear the stories about him and Miss Jones, the schoolteacher.  “Sofia isn’t well”

“Isn’t she?” Adam frowned, concern in his voice “What’s wrong?”

“Dunno.  She just came home and said she had a pain in her head.  She just wanted to go to her bed.”

“What did Ma say was wrong?”

Reuben shook his head and waited for Adam to finish his attentions to the horse, he leaned against the stall bars in an attempt to maintain his hold on the logs and not look as though his arms ached so much, he was in danger of dropping them.  Adam gave Kami a gentle slap on the neck and ran his hand along her back as he walked towards where Reuben stood.  without a word he took the logs from the boy and nodded, and then together they entered the house.

Olivia was more than pleased to see Adam. She waited for Nathaniel to run up to his father and get swung up into his arms, before she approached him and kissed him.  “Everything alright?” Adam asked quietly as he lowered the little boy to the floor “Reuben said Sofia was unwell?”

“She said she had a headache so went to her room. I think she’s alright – when I went up to see her, she was lying on the bed, looking like a martyr.!”

Adam laughed at that expression. His little girl was such an actress, her imagination knew no bounds and yes, a martyr attitude would no doubt be the best act she could summon for the moment.

“I saw Lilith today – at the school,“ he glanced over his shoulder at her from where he stood by the sink, washing his hands. Then he filled a glass with water and drank that “She’s a – “ he put his head to one side to think about the best adjective but shrugged instead “I walked her home to the Martins and Barbara came to the door…..she wasn’t exactly very welcoming.”

“Oh, that’s a shame considering what good friends you were -” Olivia replied sincerely, with no intention of sarcasm for she could accept the fact that they had been good friends, Adam and his family had helped Barbara when she was at the most extreme limits of her life.

“I was – “ he paused again “I was surprised -” he slipped an arm around her waist “I reminded her that they were always welcome here.  But I think we are way down on the list of priorities at the present moment.”

“Maybe there are still some memories she is finding hard to face up to, Adam.” Olivia said quietly and kissed his cheek “A lot happened around here that were far from pleasant for her – or Lilith.”

He nodded and then glanced up to the stairs, looked at his wife and grimaced “I’ll go and see how the martyr is – “

“Tell her food will be ready very soon-”

Sofia could hear Adams footsteps on the floorboards and then the light tap on the door which creaked open. She sighed and lay on the bed, her eyes staring up at the ceiling and her new doll cradled in her arms.

Adam approached the bed and looked down at her, then pulled over a chair and sat down beside the bed, took hold of her hand in his and sighed “Do you need me to get Dr Martin to see you?”

“Nooo…”

He placed a hand on her brow, there was no temperature. He sighed “What’s wrong, Sofia? Are you worried about something? You know there’s no school now until Monday …?” he tried to sound jocular, knowing how she hated school, two free days would be a delight for her.

“I know.”

“Are you worried about schoolwork?”

“Nooooooooo.”

“Anyone bullying you at school?”

She shook her head and closed her eyes.

“What’s wrong then?”

She didn’t want to say, saying things in words sometimes made them seem real, and then they have to be dealt with…and in a way she didn’t know how she was going to deal with this problem, this Lilith.

Adam sighed and shrugged “I can’t help if you don’t tell me, pumpkin.”

She still didn’t say a word just sighed deeply and closed her eyes…Adam nodded and stood up, dropped her hand back onto the bed “Well, foods going to be dished up anytime soon…if you’re not downstairs you’ll miss out.”

She blinked, she hadn’t expected him to be so brusque so quickly, so she reached out for his hand “Daddy – I love you.”

He paused and looked down at her, the anxious little face, moist eyes and tremulous lips – he leaned down and kissed her brow “I love you too, princess…”

“And -” she paused and sighed dramatically “Am I your favourite little girl/”

He smiled, stroked back a strand of hair from her brow, “Silly – you’re my only favourite little girl!”

“Am I? Am I really, Pa?”

“Well-” he frowned and pulled a face “Apart from Mommy.”

She nodded and sighed, smiled and sat up. “I feel better now.”

“Well, come on then, don’t let’s keep everyone waiting.” and he held out his hand for her and smiled as she grabbed hold of it, tightly.

As they neared the door to the room he turned and looked down at her “You know, Sofia, if you have any problems at all, you can talk to me, or mommy about them.  That’s what we are here for, to help you as best we can.”

She nodded and said nothing, just squeezed his hand again and smiled up at him. Perhaps one day, when she understood the problem herself and can put it into words, she would talk to him about it – or rather – about her.

Chapter 14

The knock on the door came not long after the children had been put to their beds. After the slight hiatus caused by Sofia’s ‘sick tummy’ the meal had gone pleasantly enough and the hour before bed had been relaxed and comfortable. Adam had read a story and then gone off track from it to spin out a yarn about something Joe had done in his childhood that had the children laughing, even Nathaniel who barely understood any of it.

“I think, Pa, Uncle Joe was incorrigible.” Reuben announced in a very self-satisfied tone of voice and a grin from ear to ear

“He was, and is, but that doesn’t mean he is the best example in the family that we want you to imitate, young man.” Adam replied with a chuckle at the look on Reuben’s face which indicated he was going to give the matter close consideration.

“Daddy – what does that word mean – what does it mean to be in- corry – lable.” Sofia demanded, tugging at Adam’s sleeve and looking earnestly into his face.

“It means – that the boy won’t behave himself and won’t change from his bad conduct.”

Sofia and Reuben looked at one another, frowned and as Sofia shook her head Reuben came to the defence of his uncle “I don’t think Uncle Joe is incorrigible then because he’s the best ever Uncle.”

“And he’s good. And he’s kind. And he makes us laugh.” Sofia replied with a nod of the head

“Right, I stand corrected!” Adam raised his hands in surrender “Joe was incorrigible once, but he has redeemed himself…is that alright with you two/?”

Reuben narrowed his eyes to consider the matter, and Sofia frowned as she thought over the implications of what had been said. The clock chimed the hour then and Nathaniel cried “Oh-Oh” and tried to scamper out of the way before he could be caught and sent to his bed. But Adam had long arms and reach, scooping the little boy up and into his lap “Now then, Spike, where do you think you are going?”

“Not to bed.” Nathaniel cried with pleading in his eyes

Olivia laughed and came to take him from his father’s lap, so that for a little while there was a tug of war going on with Adam holding onto the little boy and Olivia pulling until, like a cork from a bottle, the lad, released from Adam’s grip, was almost catapulted into Olivia’s arms.

“I don’t wanna go to bed -” wailed the boy, and he turned moist eyes to Adam “Save me…”

But Adam wasn’t prepared to pamper him any further instead he got to his feet and put some more logs on the fire so that the burning wood collapsed into a shower of sparks and red embers as the fresh wood was placed on them.

And as the house settled into the evening quiet there came the knock on the door. Adam approached with caution, his hand reaching for the latch while his other hand reached for the gun hanging from the holster hooked to the pegs.

John Martin was standing with his back to the door when it opened, admiring the stars overhead that appeared upon the night sky as though someone had tossed a handful of diamonds across a skein of black velvet. He turned as the door opened and smiled, removed his hat, and nodded

“Lilith reminded me today that we had not yet made a neighbourly call on you…”

“Ah, did she indeed?” Adam smiled and stepped to one side to admit the Doctor “Are you alone?”

“I am.” John replied and entered the house, into the main room and smiled at Olivia who had risen to her feet at hearing a familiar voice. “Olivia…you look well, you look -” he paused and shook his head in admiration “unchanged from the last time I saw you.”

“That was a long time ago, John.” she laughed and accepted his warm handshake with twinkling eyes “Although I hardly knew you really.”

“No, not really – it was all very – well – very strange, the whole situation, wasn’t it?” John said and took the chair that was indicated “But it is good to see you here and settled. I believe your brother and his wife took over the Double D?”

“Yes, they did.”

“I remember meeting him, your brother, when Chris O’Dell had been injured.” John nodded thoughtfully; his mind having trailed back the few years seemed reluctant to let the perils of that time pass by.

“But now you are back with us. I am glad. You were so missed in the town.” Olivia sat down opposite him, her hands clasped together in her lap, and a smile on her face. “I know that Mrs. Hawkins missed Barbara, she spoke about her so much.”

John nodded, and smiled, looked from one to the other and sighed. Adam had sat beside his wife and it seemed to John that there could not have been a more handsome couple. He wondered briefly if people ever thought the same about Barbara and himself.

“What brings you back to Virginia City, John? Was it Paul retiring?” Adam asked now, leaning back a little and watching the Doctor’s face as shadows were thrown hither and thither from the fire’s glow and the lamps with their orange haloes of light.

“Partly – “ John replied honestly, his eyebrows peaked, his mouth grimaced a little “But mainly because of things in Albany.”

Olivia stood up “I’ll get some coffee for us all – excuse me.”

They waited for her to leave and then John sighed and shrugged “It was a good living, a really excellent position and at first I really enjoyed it all. But it became more and more demanding on my time. Paul came along, and Peter’s hearing problems became worse … well – I should rephrase that probably, because his deafness was not the sole problem, it was his withdrawing into himself. He would have terrible rages, which I daresay were due to frustration for he was a clever and intelligent child, just so volatile. Lilith was like his shadow, or rather, he became her shadow, and the bond between them was very strong. She was the only one who could calm him when he went into his – his angry moments.”

“Barbara must have been – “

“Barbara was out of her depth. To be honest, Adam, Barbara blamed herself for what happened to Peter, for his illness, subsequent deafness, for everything.”

“By that – what exactly do you mean?”

“She still blames herself for what happened between her and Andrew.”

“That’s ridiculous. Surely, she can see, looking back now, that the man was – was a -”

“Yes, everything foul. No higher than a louse. He was – “ John shook his head and then sighed “But if the subject comes up about him, she still can’t understand how her love for him hadn’t been enough…” he looked bemused and shook his head “enough to keep him loving her I suppose.”

Olivia returned with a rattle of cups and saucers on a tray. The smell of hot coffee trickled through the room, and both men waited for her to hand the cups out and sit down before the conversation continued

“I wasn’t able to spend enough time with the family – that’s the bottom line really. The more demands on my time in the hospital, then the less time with them. And they needed me, Barbara needed my help more than I realised. When Peter died, she just went to pieces … something else to blame herself for.”

“In what way?” Olivia asked gently and glanced at Adam to catch his expression, after all, Barbara had been very close to him at one time.

“She didn’t realise he was ill. She missed the signs of what became a bad illness, and he died within 24 hours of contracting it. Then Lilith was ill with it, and thankfully came through safely, but Barbara just could not deal with it. I knew I had to take her away from there, somewhere without the demands on my time, and where she knew people who cared about her.”

“She has a lot of friends here, John.” Adam said quietly

“Yes, Hester and Mary Ann being among the foremost.” he drank some coffee and then stared up at the ceiling for a while “She never forgot how they helped her, during that time with Andrew. They saved her life, and she knows that…”

“But? There is a but, isn’t there” Adam said quietly.

“Yes. Now that she is here, she just can’t seem to bring herself to pursue those friendships, to enjoy them again. She hangs back at every suggestion I make about her going out to see Ann, Hester, Mary Ann – yourself, Olivia – and Lilith has become so introspective, quiet!”

“What do you want us to do, John? What can we do to help?” Olivia asked before Adam had a chance to make the offer.

“Just be there for them…” John said simply, “Your talking to Lilith today helped her a lot, the first hurdle so to speak…the first time I’ve heard her chatter like a child should…all about Captain Nemo and his Nautilus.” he chuckled “The fact that you had read the books made a big impression on her, Adam.”

Adam only nodded, his eyes hooded and mouth unsmiling, Olivia sighed “Do you think coming here was such a wise idea then, John? Would they have been better going somewhere totally new?”

“To be honest with you, Olivia, it seemed to me the best place to return to…Barbara came back here after that debacle with her Uncle, and she stuck it out despite the Andrew gossip…she always talked so fondly of everyone here and I truly believed it the best place for her. Of course, having work to come back to was also an incentive.”

“Have you a house in mind yet?” Olivia asked quietly “Having a house of her own, may make her feel more settled.”

“There are a few under consideration.” John stood up and put down the cup and saucer, “Thank you for the coffee and your time. I just needed to come and clear up those few points….”

“You know you are all very welcome here, John, anytime.” Adam said as he shook the Doctor by the hand once again.

“I don’t want you to think badly of Barbara…” John said quietly

“We don’t…” Adam replied and led the way to the door which he opened for John to step into the porch.

Once again, he stared up at the stars “It is beautiful here, Adam.”

“The heavens declare the glory of God…” Adam replied slowly

“That it does…it ….it makes one feel very small, as a speck of dust, and lonely too.”

“Is that how you feel?” Adam replied pushing his hands into his back pockets of his pants, and walking along with John to the waiting horse and buggy

“Don’t you?”

Adam stared up at the stars and sighed, he had seen the constellations from different angles, different oceans, and yes, he had felt small and insignificant, but he had never felt the loneliness that he believed John was experiencing. John sighed, and shook his head

“Perhaps I have lost my faith.” he murmured.

Adam placed a hand gently upon the Doctors shoulder and shook his head “No, I don’t think so.” he said simply “Perhaps in yourself a little…”

He left the rest unsaid. John sighed again and without another word stepped away from the rancher and clambered on board the buggy. Within minutes the vehicle was trundling out of the yard.

Adam stood and watched for a moment or two, glanced up at the sky, and with a sigh re-entered the house where the fire was warm and welcoming, and his wife waited for his return.

*****

The house settled for the night. The roof trusses seemed to sigh and relax like the ribs of an old man that had found dragging his fleshly blanket wearisome and tiring. Bearing the weight of all those roof shingles it seemed to say, had required a time to rest. Floorboards settled with sighs and creaks. The logs still glowing red slowly settled into white embers and then grey ash and collapsed into itself, leaving a dark dusty hole like a yawning maw as the centrepiece of the room.

The clock ticked away the minutes of the lives of the inhabitants of the house…whether two or four legged…time ticked away heedless of who or which variety of life would come to an end that night.

A slight breeze from an open window caused the curtains to drift across the floor, so that the moon cast a shaft of light across the colourful rug, the settee and just about touched the edge of the mantle, softening it, glinting off the ornaments, shimmering upon the crystals dangling from the lamps.

Upstairs Sofia fidgeted and curled herself into a tight ball in the middle of the bed. The nights were colder now, and she hated being cold. She drew her legs up as high as she could, wrapped them in her nightie, tried to stay where the bed was warm. She opened one eye and glanced at the ceiling, at the shadows where the spiders spun their cobwebs despite Mother’s vigilant war upon them.

Soon they would be taking the ride to school in the worst of weathers. She hated the idea. She hated being cold, she longed for the summer days to return. She closed her eyes and pulled the cover higher. As she drifted back to sleep there came the pattering sound of rain upon the window.

‘There’s no school tomorrow. There’s no school tomorrow’

With that thought in mind she shivered into sleep.

Reuben was dreaming that he was writing an essay for Mr. Evans, but every page was blotted, every time he tried to rewrite it there would be another blot…his fingers became clumsy and greasy with sweat, his pen misbehaved, and Mr. Evans was not pleased. He stirred in his sleep, shook his head to stop the dream getting worse and then slowly sunk into the further reaches of sleep where dreams could no longer intrude upon him.

In his bed where a little shaft of moonlight was scattered over him, slept Nathaniel. The little boy wriggled about as he tried to fight off the dream he was having, it was not a pleasant dream although it had started off very well, just a plain simple search for some apple pie from the kitchen. But upon getting to the room it turned into an obstacle course…and the room swelled larger, and then shrunk, and sometimes there were cupboards where there should have been none, and pots fell on his head, and so did other things ….and then there were the mouse traps on the floor, lots of them so that he had to be careful where he put his feet, snap snap snap they went and it was just too much ….he opened his eyes, sat up and bawled “Mommy Mommy “

Olivia woke up, but kept her eyes closed, just to make sure it was not a dream into which she could return. The cry of her little boy trickled through the walls, the panic in his voice indicated his need and slowly she picked up her dressing gown and pulled it on as she left her warm bed and hurried to tend to the child’s needs.

The slight draught as she left the bed drifted up her husband’s back and he sighed, opened one eye, waited and then closed it again. It was alright, the ship was not sinking, and it was not one of the myriads over which he felt guilty calling for help to him. By the time Olivia returned to bed Adam had returned to sleep.

The moon played games with the clouds. It sent bright light trickling over the bed upon which they lay and then suddenly would hide itself behind a cloud so that the light would disappear and plunge them into darkness. Olivia lay there for a while staring up at the ceiling, listening to the sound of the house settling itself, a scratching sound indicated that there was a mouse somewhere, she sighed and turned onto her side.

Pushing her elbow into the pillow she leaned her head upon her hand and looked at her husband’s profile. With one finger she traced the outline of his profile from brow to chin and smiled to herself. Hers! That was what she thought as she reclined there on her side with her head resting, in her hand – all hers! Despite the years, despite the many women loved or not loved by him, he had married her, chosen her, and she loved him more now than she ever had done before.

He lay naked beneath the sheets, and she thought for a moment about his body…she remembered the first time they had slept together and the scars upon his flesh had startled and alarmed her, but then she would point to one and then another and ask ‘How did you get that one?’ almost as though they were trophies, medals he had won in battle.

His leg was still quite raw back then, but now the flesh had firmed and become supple, nude of hair, numb to the sensation of any pressures on it. But it was part of him now. Had it been left to Paul or John movement would have been restricted, the scars would have been distended and painful – she reminded herself – he might not have had a leg had it been up to them. They owed so much to Jimmy Chan. But she knew that with the colder weather the scars would make his leg ache and his limp would be more pronounced as a result.

There were new scars now of course…over the years since their marriage her husband had still managed to garner a few more, but they would fade in time, just like the others on his body. She sighed and placed her free hand upon his chest, and smiled at the memory of that first night, and how she had whispered to him

“Adam…”

“Hmmm?”

“Did you know that from your knees down you have perfect legs, and your feet don’t have a single scar on them…”

He had not spoken for a moment, then he had started to chuckle, deep from his belly, “You know that, do you?”

“I just looked…”

She was laying across him, her head upon his shoulder, her hair scattered over her shoulders, over the pillow, and he laughed, and laughter like the best things in life was contagious, she laughed…and then he tipped her head towards him and kissed her. Long and deep was that kiss, as though they both drew from the other the very essence of life…and they had loved one another tenderly and sweetly.

She sighed again and was about to turn onto her back when the moon slid a beam of light across the bed, and she felt his hand upon her hip, gentle and light.

She turned to smile at him, and leaned down to kiss him, and his eyes, drowsy though they were and heavy still with sleep twinkled up at her “Are you trying to seduce me, woman?”

She laughed, leaned forward to kiss him again “Adam, you have perfect feet…. did you know?”

“I did. A very beautiful woman told me – once a long time ago -” he reached out a hand and caressed her face, with his thumb he slowly and tenderly traced the outline of her cheeks, her chin, her jaw and then caught a strand of hair between his fingers…and then, afterwards, they slept deeply, leaving the house to care for itself as the clock chimed the hours away

And then – thankfully – a new day began.

Chapter 15

Looking down from the half landing of the stairway at the Ponderosa’s main house, one could think nothing had changed from the time four men would sit at the table for their first meal of the day.

The red check tablecloth was in place, chairs ranged around the table, everything in its proper place. The clock still ticked away the time, a constant reminder that there was work to be done and no time for shilly-shallying, and around the corner where it stood was the ‘study’ area. Ben’s desk, the leather chair – still in place where it always had been along with the books ranged along the shelves.

Of course, when one looked closer and remembered times back then, the differences would be obvious…no striped and rather uncomfortable settee, the blue chair in which Adam mostly sat – gone – the heavy burgundy curtains were also – gone.  Instead there was a lighter tone to the furniture and a woman’s touch was in evidence with the colours of curtain and rugs. There was a vase of flowers on the table. And there was a child’s highchair between two of the chairs on the left-hand side of the table.  Slight changes to indicate the passing of time, the differences in their lives.

Ben paused now and looked down, he nodded to himself and sighed a little.  As he reached the table and pulled out his chair other footsteps were heard coming down the stairs and glancing up, he saw Hoss with Erik on one arm and holding the hand of Hope, all three smiled over at the older man.

Now all was bustle and bounce…Hop Sing emerged along with Hester to place hot plates down and the coffee pot. Back and forth they went to the kitchen area to bring forward the food, the milk, the cups…and by the time Hester was sitting down next to Erik in his highchair, Hannah was hurrying across the room to join them.

A new day had begun.  They could hear the clutter of pots and pans in Hop Sing’s domain, they smiled at one another, coffee was poured into the cups and milk into glasses for the children.

“Well, who’s going to tell me what today is?” Ben asked and smiled at them all, so that Hoss and Hester looked at him anxiously – was this the first sign of dementia?

Hannah who knew that at school if the teacher asked a question you had to put up your hand, did so immediately, she knew the answer to this question…

“Yes, Hannah?” Ben smiled and nodded over to her as her eagerness to answer was so obvious

“It’s Saturday.  And no school” she released her breath as though she had run a marathon.

“No school.” Erik repeated and swallowed a mouthful of oatmeal that was really too hot and left him red faced and moist of eye.

“And – who knows what is so special about this Saturday?” Ben raised his black eyebrows and glanced at the two little girls with his bold black eyes twinkling at them.

Hannah and Hope looked at one another, a little doubtful, not too sure. Hannah cleared her throat and tentatively raised her hand.

“Yes, Hannah?” Ben smiled again and even winked

“Sofia and Nathaniel coming to stay here with us tonight.” she said hesitantly and glanced at her Pa to see if she had answered the question right. Hoss nodded and he winked as well. Hester smiled.

“But Reuben isn’t -” Hope said in her high-pitched voice, “Reuben isn’t coming to stay with us.”

“No, Reuben is staying with a friend in town.” Ben replied and glanced over the table “Pass me the bread, please, Hester.”

Hoss looked around the table and watched Ben grab some bread. He cleared his throat “Pa, you got anything else to add to all that?”

“To all what?”

“Them there questions? Anything else to say? Something we don’t know about perhaps?”

Ben looked at Hoss doubtfully, he shook his head “No. Why?”

They were at an impasse. Hester dropped her spoon, and then said, “Who is Reuben staying with anyway?”

“Jimmy Carstairs – “ Hannah said without putting her hand up, Hester hadn’t asked the question in the right tone of voice

“Oh.  Well. That will be good for them both, Jimmy strikes me as quite a lonely little boy.” Hester said quietly.

“He wants to run away and be a cabin boy with Reuben and he said I couldn’t be with them because I was a girl.” Hannah sniffed and stared down at her food. “I can’t help it if I’m a girl, can I?”

“I don’t think they will be running away to sea this weekend, Hannah.” Hester smiled and handed her husband a cup of fresh coffee.

“Bridie and Paul are coming up to keep an eye on Daniel and Constance.” Ben muttered and frowned, “Give them a break from having a house full of people”

“Haven’t John and Barbara found a place of their own yet?” Hester asked as she passed a slice of buttered bread to Hannah

Ben shrugged, looked at Hoss who also shrugged. Hester sighed. The conversation stalled…

“What time will you be home tomorrow morning, Pa?” Hoss asked as though he didn’t already know.

“As soon as possible.” and Ben poured out more coffee into his cup and winked over at Erik who tried valiantly to wink back. He failed. He still couldn’t work it out.

“When will Sofia be here, Ma?” Hannah wanted to know and was assured that it would be before lunch.  She glanced over at the clock and tried to work out where the hands would be standing by then.

“And Nathaniel.” Hope added “Him too…”

She loved her cousin Nathaniel.  To Hope, there was no one else she loved as much, perhaps her Ma and Pa, and even Grandpa, but then what child sits down and thinks about who they love and why. She just ‘felt’ this feeling for Nathaniel that she didn’t have for any other of her cousins. She smiled dreamily, thinking of the evening and the fun never realising in her childish innocence that anticipatory fun was often far better than what actually ended up taking place.

*****

Sofia was looking thoughtfully at her dolls, wondering which of them to take with her, which to leave behind.  There was no sign of Clarabelle in the line-up nowadays, nor of Jessie. They had both ‘disappeared’ having been past repair after many years of hugs and kisses, chewing and dribbling over.

She was looking forward to her sleep over at Aunt Hester’s and Uncle Hoss’ because her Uncle made her laugh, and she would have Hannah and Hope to play with, and in her mind’s eye she was already imagining the games they would play.  She looked up as Reuben strolled into her room and sat down on the bed

“You got everything you want to take with you?”

“Yes.”

“Where’s your clothes then?”

“What clothes?”

“The clothes you will need to wear tomorrow and tonight…”

She glanced down at what she was already wearing and frowned, “I’m wearing it already.”

“You haven’t got anything ready at all, have you?”

He leaned back, his hands clasped together, and arms wrapped around his knees “You are a slow coach Sofia.”

“I’m not. I’m thinking of which doll to take and.”

“Hannah and Hope have millions of dolls. You don’t need to take any of them.”

Sofia looked at him scornfully, what did he know anyway? She looked at her dolls and sighed, she couldn’t bear the thought of leaving some of them behind…Hannah and Hope’s dolls were theirs, and it would be all wrong playing a game with their dolls and not her own.

“Go away -” she said crossly and gave him a shove.

Because he was balanced on the edge of the bed, Reuben teetered, tried to save himself but fell with a thud onto the floor.  He scowled at her “You did that on purpose…”

“You were sitting on my bed….”

“You could have asked me to move….” he got to his feet and brushed imaginary dust from his pants, scowled at her again.

From downstairs Olivia glanced up wards and shook her head, muttered beneath her breath and then called out “Reuben, ask your father to come in… breakfast is ready.”

Another scowl from under his brows and Reuben stalked out of the room, leaving Sofia standing triumphant, watching as he tried to stroll nonchalantly down the landing to the stairs.

Adam was stacking logs when he heard the sound of a buggy and horse coming into the yard. He sighed and shook his head, then placed the last log in position before turning to find out who the early morning visitor could be – he was somewhat surprised to see Daniel deQuille alighting from the buggy.

“Well now, Will, this is a surprise and so early too…” he pulled off his leather gloves and tossed them onto the logs.  Nodded at the newspaperman and approached him, with a wary look in his eyes

“Adam, I wish you would stop calling me Will…”

Adam shrugged “It’s your name, isn’t it?“ he grinned and his eyes twinkled, “Never mind, it’s too early in the day to lose one’s temper.” he slapped the man on the back and nodded towards the house “Care for coffee?  Something to eat, we were about to have breakfast….”

Daniel raised his eyebrows and sighed, then nodded “That would be appreciated, thank you.”

This was an opportunity he had never experienced before, to be welcomed into Adam and Olivia Cartwrights home, as a guest.  He cleared his throat and put a hand on Adam’s arm to restrain him “Just a moment though….”

Adam paused, turned and faced the other man. The look of amusement on his face earlier was gone, instead was the blank look of a man anticipating trouble. He nodded “Say what it is you have to say….”

Daniel gulped “Do you – did you know that the – that ex-President Grant was here in town?”

His eyes fixed on Adam’s face, watched as carefully for a sign of awareness in the other’s eyes, but Adam frowned, slightly shook his head, looked doubtful, scowled “Are you joking?”

“Seriously. I’ve seen him and his wife several times in town.  He’s booked into the Whitney Hotel under the name of -”

“Mr. and Mrs. John Smith?” Adam sighed, and when Daniel nodded, he shook his head again and passed his hand down his face. He glanced over his shoulder at the house “Don’t mention this inside. I wouldn’t want Olivia to know….”

“So, you did- “

“No, I didn’t, idiot!  I thought he was out of the country, on a world tour or something?”

“He was. He came back. Don’t you read my newspaper?”

“Not often.” Adam frowned “What’s he here for?  Do you know?”

“No idea. That’s why I came here to see you – to see if you would know.”

“Does anyone else know?  How come you haven’t had it as headline news by now?”

“If anyone suspects they’re keeping very close mouthed about it.  He has two security men with him and when I was asking some questions the other day they were rather – intimidating.”

“Warned you off, huh?” Adam grinned although his eyes remained seriously dark

“Well, yes, in a manner of speaking.”

“Why would he come here though?  Is Sutro in town? Perhaps he’s come to discuss the shares in the tunnel?  Or to buy it even?”

Daniel put his hand on Adam’s arm again and once more his eyes pierced into the other man’s face “You are telling me the truth, aren’t you?  He hasn’t come here to get you involved in any scheme, has he?  Another adventure for Captain Cartwright?”

Adam pushed the man’s hand away “Commodore, Daniel…Commodore. If you have to use titles then get it right.” he grinned “No, he hasn’t contacted me at all. How long did you say he’s been here?”

“Three days.”

“What’s he been doing?”

“Taking his wife out and about, keeping a pretty private life while seeing the views…mainly on the Ponderosa. That made me think he had come to see you…”

Adam shook his head “I’ve not been informed, apart from which, Will, I wouldn’t tell you anything anyway.  You should know that by now…”

“PA!”

“Huhm, the voice of reason calls = breakfast is about to be served. Do you want to join us or not?”

he glanced sideways on to look at the newspaperman who looked doubtful, “You don’t have to if you prefer not to -”

“PA!”

“Thank you.  I’d be delighted.” the newspaperman replied quietly, he stroked his long beard down so that it would look smooth, and then followed the rancher into the house.

Olivia did a double take when she saw deQuille enter the house and beckoned to Reuben to get another chair to the table while she hurried away to get plates and cutlery.  Sofia paused to survey the visitor with a look of curiosity on her face and Nathaniel wasn’t bothered a bit, he just wanted to eat.

Daniel had removed his hat and as he stood there holding it between his fingers Adam plucked it away and stuck it on the stand, then helped the man off with his coat.  Daniel smoothed his beard down again, something which caught Nathaniel’s attention now for he had never seen such a specimen before… “I hope I’m not intruding, Mrs. Cartwright -”

“Of course not -” she replied looking at her husband and hoping that there would be an eventual explanation.

“I – I just thought it was such a lovely day – morning – and would ride out to see if you were coming to the dance this evening?”

“Yes -” she smiled slowly her eyes flicking from one man to the other, “Yes, we are, aren’t we, Adam/”

“Yes.” he husband dutifully replied, “So is Joe and Mary Ann.” he swept his hand forward indicating the chair “Please, take a seat.”

“Thanks,” Daniel grinned, nodded at the children and then glanced around the room, before his eyes settled upon Olivia once again. A beautiful woman, he had always thought so and now, sitting so close to her and enjoying her company like this, he found himself sweating.

“You’re not too hot, are you​” Adam asked politely noticing a bead of perspiration trickling down Daniels’ nose

“No, not at all.” Daniel replied and pulled out his handkerchief and made a pretence of blowing his nose.

“Some water then?  Or coffee?”

“Coffee – would be fine.” the poor man groaned as he looked around the table and noticed four pairs of eyes staring at him in avid interest.  He forced a smile “This is a quite – delightful -surprise – I never expected it.”

“Nor did we, Mr. deQuille.” Olivia replied and smiled her prettiest smile and her eyes twinkled with amusement at his discomfiture.

Sofia regarded the newspaperman with a rather critical eye, a little frown hovered above her eyebrows and as Daniel was about to fork food into his mouth, she said in a very earnest voice

“You know when you go to bed at night, Mr. deQuille?”

The food hovered on the tines of his fork and he looked at her, nodded “Yes.”

“Do you put your beard under your nightshirt? Or do you take it off?”

Adam did a snort as he tried to smother a laugh, Olivia became busy caring for Nathaniel who was so intent on staring at the beard that he had missed his mouth and the oatmeal had plopped onto the table.

Daniel gulped “Well, I don’t take it off -”

“Oh, then you tuck it into your nightshirt.  Only if you didn’t -” she frowned “it would be all tangled in the morning and you would have to comb it out, wouldn’t you? My hair -” she flounced her head so that he could see what a lovely head of hair she had, “gets tangled every morning.”

“Well, yes, I can quite see where you are coming from -” Daniel replied and nodded. “But did you ever hear of the man who actually did take his beard off every night? He lived in a small town not so far away from here and -” and so he went on, spinning out this tale to the delight of the children who sat there open mouthed for Daniel had a wonderful gift of storytelling.

“Mr. DeQuille?” Reuben said when Daniel had finally drawn breath and was quite enjoying his meal “Is there really a magic fish that lives in the mines hot water and doesn’t drown itself?”

Daniel smiled “Goodness, that’a an old story.  Sam – that is – Mark Twain – and I thought that one up between us. I thought it had long died the death by now.”

“What? The fish?” exclaimed Sofia with wide eyes

“No. The story!” Daniel chuckled.

So it went on for another hour, and Daniel had never enjoyed a breakfast like it as he spun out yarn after yarn, told them little anecdotes about Sam Clemens and himself, bringing back to Adam’s memory the tale of the wild man that haunted the Ponderosa and the havoc that caused. He had them all chuckling, giggling and Sofia was quite captivated by him, whereas Nathaniel giggled and laughed so much he wet himself (Olivia didn’t discover that until later).

An hour later he was riding out of the yard and heading back to town. Adam stood by the door and watched as the buggy crested the rise in the track and got lost among the trees, he smiled and turned to see Olivia right behind him. He extended his arm and folded it around her waist.

“Well,” she said quietly “That was odd, what did he come for?”

“An early morning ride, he told me – us -” he smiled at nothing, his eyes still on the far-off trees.

“Yes, I know that is what he told us, but what did he really come for?” she murmured and then looked at him with her eyes darker “Tell me the truth?”

“I don’t know, Livvy – neither did he!” he paused “Or so it seems….”

They re-entered the house and he stroked his chin and frowned “Perhaps I should grow a beard. I can’t guarantee it being as fine and as eye catching as Dan’s but -”

Olivia tapped him on the nose, shook her head and leaned in to kiss him “I prefer you, Mr. Cartwright, just the way you are.  No beards -”

“No beards?” he quirked an eyebrow

“No.” and to make sure he understood what she was saying she kissed him again.

Chapter 16

Ann Canaday and her cousin, Hester Cartwright had been raised in a wealthy and influential banking dynasty in New York. Parties, balls and so forth had been part of their early years, the ostentatious display of wealth through the wearing of the latest fashion, the gaudiest jewels had all been part and parcel of life as young marriageable young girls.

Or course Ann had disgraced the family by running after her lost husband who was not her husband according to the Buchanans, and Hester had married a young ‘head in the clouds’ journalist who went and got himself killed during the war between states whilst he should have been reporting the action, not being a part of it.

So, the annual Mayors Ball at the town hall – ‘the Saturday dance’ as Ann termed it – was not one either particularly enjoyed. Ann was no longer in a position to flounce about in jewels and the latest fashion, her husband was relatively speaking a man on a modest income. Hester just detested the whole thing – the showy display of everything the wealthy of Virginia City could lay out on ample bosoms or broad chests filling out to burgeoning stomachs.

Despite the fact that the mines were slowing down, and people were beginning to trickle away to find their pot of gold elsewhere, there were those in Virginia City who no longer needed to search for more gold than they already possessed. Many of them had arrived at the time of the discovery of the Comstock Lode with pick and shovel and the clothes they stood up in… they had faced everything that life back then could throw at them and reaped the rewards. Now they grew fat on it.

For them the most opulent houses, the most ostentatious jewels and gowns, the best carriages and for their children who had never known a day’s hardship due to their father’s chance discovery of a vein of gold or silver, the best of schools, not in Virginia City – but in the cities back east. Why not? They could afford it.

Daniel deQuille loved the occasion. His pen was merciless as he cruelly sketched with words the latest that Mrs. So and So was wearing, or the smell of moth balls that permeated the room, or the sound of creaking whalebone corsets (on men as well as women) that almost drowned out the orchestra. But there were also those he favoured with a kinder gentler turn of phrase, for he loved beauty in all its forms, and the female form he had long decided could provide his pen with prose touching on poetry.

Adam and Olivia despatched their children – scattering them at Hester and Hoss’ and collecting Ben in exchange. They drove away with Sofia and Nathaniel waving goodbye with beaming smiles on their faces and promises that they would be good children if Uncle Hoss promised to do the same.

Reuben had been allowed to ride Max into town earlier that afternoon so that he could meet up with Jimmy C. Evans and then have supper time with Mr. and Mrs. Evans. Both boys were full of suppressed excitement at being able to share time, make plans, play games, just lark about as boys of all ages and generations did and will do again.

Bridie and Paul had arrived early enough to get comfortable with the children and to assure Mary Ann that they would be quite safe and happy, as indeed they were, much to Mary Ann’s dismay as she bade her children goodbye and they barely turned to look in her direction. Constance burrowed in Bridie’s arms and cuddled close to that ample bosom, and Daniel explored the contents of Paul’s’ medical bag with an attention that gave Joe the fidgets.

Hop Sing and Wang Lee were to spend the evening at Adam and Olivia’s house, enjoying Mah Jong and reminiscing over the past which Wang Lee Sing enjoyed because he was 1st generation American and had never known his parents’ country. But it was the tales Hop Sing told them about the young Cartwrights that amused them most of all…that accompanied by good food promised a very entertaining evening for the three men.

The Manager of The Whitney Hotel welcomed their guests with an obsequious humility, as though they had never entertained any of them before and they had to be convinced that their guests had made the best decision possible in coming to that Hotel. The Cartwrights and their luggage were swept up to their rooms within minutes of arriving, assured of the best attention and so on and so forth. No one believed it for a moment, the management would be run off their feet this particular evening, and any chance of their fulfilling the promises they made were logistically impossible.

Ex-President Grant buttoned up his burgundy silk (Japanese silk – a gift from one of the Japanese Grandees he had met during his world tour) and then attempted to fix his tie. After listening to several curses and grumbles from his room, Julia Dent Grant made her way to fix it for him. It was always the same, no matter where they went.

“I don’t suppose it will be much of an occasion.” Grant muttered, keeping his chin up so that she could fasten the tie. “Not like the balls in Europe -”

“Keep still -”

“I’m trying to.” he frowned “I keep thinking of some places we have been to during these past few years, Julia, but they are beginning to merge.”

“You need to look through your notes and diaries and put them in proper order.” she stepped back and nodded “There, that will do nicely.”

“Sam Clemens suggested I wrote my memoirs…”

“You would be the first President to do so if you decide to write them,” she turned and picked up his ruby cuff links and he extended his wrists so that she could tweak the shirt sleeves and then insert them into the relative holes,

“Well, we’ll see.” he tugged his vest down as it had ridden up over his increasing girth, he sighed “I hope the Cartwrights will be there this evening. We need to return to San Francisco soon, and I don’t want to go before seeing Adam again.”

“He may not want to see you after the shabby way you treated him.” she murmured as she left the room to glide effortlessly into her own, and to finger through her jewellery for the diamond necklace she had chosen to wear.

“I treated him no less shabby than any other officer. Can’t afford to favour one before the other, you know? Anyway, he was an officer in the Navy, what else did he expect.”

She said nothing but stared into the mirror in order to put on the diamond earrings and then looked over her shoulder at him “It would be very amusing if his wife happened to be a relation of mine. I really look forward to having a long chat with her…”

He nodded and went to sit down, considered having a cigar then thought better of it. He sighed and then said, “I was thinking of that banquet they had in our honour at Windsor Castle….”

She paused on her way to pick up her wrap and frowned “That was a strange meal. I recall that everything arrived cold…or it was cold by the time we got to eat it.”

“That’s because the kitchens are miles away from the banqueting hall. Darn inconvenient and totally impractical.” his fingers strayed towards the cigars again but he quickly returned his hand to his lap, “And you know, I thought Queen Victoria very – very inconsiderate – she wolfed down each course as though she had never eaten before and as soon as she was finished all our plates were whisked away.”

“Royal etiquette, dear. I was talking to one of the Queens daughters who was there, she said they always eat something hot before going to the banquets, it was the only way! Apparently, some Admiral or other protested and demanded his plate be returned and he has never been in favour since.”

“She didn’t even look like a Queen, just a fat frumpy old woman…”

Julia decided to ignore him. The previous day he had been complaining in much the same way about the meal provided for them in Paris…she smiled and patted him on the arm,

“Put your jacket on, dear. It’s time to go.”

The two men assigned duties as Grant’s security (all ex-Presidents and ex First ladies had security men assigned them during the continuance of their lives) were told to take the evening off, and to act like normal human beings. Despite their protests they were both secretly pleased and made a beeline for Virginia City’s less salubrious drinking places, where at the right price they would be shown a discreet flight of stairs to where ladies were ready to entertain them.

Grant had enjoyed his few days in the town as a private citizen. There had been sidelong glances at him, the question on people’s faces as he either strolled or rode past in his carriage. “I know your face, but who are you?” Only the Mayor and his wife had prior knowledge of his intention to attend the dance, a feather in the Mayors cap that he would discuss, mention, refer to for the rest of his life.

There had been the annoying journalist too, Daniel deQuille, a friend of Sam Clemens who had recognised him right away. His request for a personal interview had been quickly squashed and a visit from one of the ‘wooden tops’ as Grant called his security team, had soon quelled the man’s interest. Grant was sure that as soon as he had returned to San Francisco there would be a long and lengthy article about Virginia City’s Presidential visit. Grant amused himself in imagining the headlines “AFTER A TWO AND A HALF YEAR WORLD VISIT EX PRESIDENT ENDS IT WITH ATTENDANCE AT VIRGINIA CITY – the best left to last…

*****

Joseph Cartwright dabbed cologne in various strategic places and then stepped back to observe his reflection in the mirror. He was still slim, no sign of a paunch, but his face no longer had the firmness of youth although the lines on it showed good humour and an outgoing disposition. His hair was still thick, unruly and worryingly grey. He stared at it with hatred for a few minutes wondering if he should find some means to restore its natural colour.

Mary Ann slipped towards him and wrapped her arms around his chest “You smell simply -” she sniffed “too good to be true.”

“It was expensive. I borrowed it from Adams room.”

“Does he know?”

“Yeah, probably.”

She sniffed again, and smiled “Well, it’s much better than what you usually put on.”

“Glad you approve.” he leaned forward and kissed her “Aren’t you going to wear your necklace?”

“Just waiting for you to fasten it for me” she sighed and handed the jewels to him “I don’t suppose anyone else will be wearing anything so – well – so modest. Last time we came to this affair there were so many jewels on Mrs. Bradshaw’s bosom that it was a wonder she could stand up straight.”

“Now, dear heart, hardly kind of you…”

“But true…when they caught the light, they nearly blinded anyone standing in close proximity.”

He smiled and fastened the diamond necklace and watched her reflection in the mirror. She looked wonderful. A diamond clasp in her chestnut hair -and not a sign of gray – and a diamond bangle at her wrist. The long-sleeved gloves reached her elbows and matched the oyster pink of her gown. The soft colour suited her, and made her grey eyes look amazing.

“When you walk into the room, my darling, your beauty will blind everyone in the place…believe me, I know about things like that…” and Joe grinned mischievously.

A sharp rap on the door “That’s Adam and Olivia….and Ben…we’ll be late…” Mary Ann murmured snatching up her oyster pink silk purse.

“It’s fashionable to be late.” Joe whispered and kissed her cheek.

It struck Joe as he opened the door to his father that Ben had lost weight. He had always been a well-built man but now the suit he wore hung loose on him. Joe frowned but resisted the urge to ask his father if he were alright, instead he responded to Ben’s big grin by one of his own.

“Adam and Olivia are waiting in the foyer…” Ben murmured and smiled at Mary Ann “You look beautiful, Mary Ann.” he nodded and produced a box from behind his back “A corsage for the lady.”

Joe felt embarrassed he had forgotten such a courtesy, but trust Ben not to have done so. He could guarantee that he had bought one for Olivia also, and sighed as Mary Ann exclaimed her delight and fixed it to her shoulder.

Adam was just helping Olivia with her cape, settling it around her shoulders and smiling down at her. As Joe rightly suspected there was the corsage from Ben pinned on Olivia’s shoulder. Adam and he exchanged a wry grin, a lift of the eyebrow.

But Olivia did look lovely, slim and still slender, the dark green dress matched the earrings and necklace perfectly. It was a delicate green, not too dark as to distract from her colouring, and just bright enough to enhance it. Joe had to admit that Adam did not only know a great deal about horse flesh, but he was no mean expert when it came to women either.

“Well,” Joe said with a grin, “Shall we go?” and he raised his arm for his wife to slip her arm through his and be led from the hotel.

There were numerous couples treading their way from hotels and private homes towards the Town Hall. The Mayors famous ball attracted the rich and the vain, as well as the mercenary every year. Ben often wondered why he bothered to go, Adam went because it amused him, and Joe because he liked Mary Ann to enjoy a ‘special’ evening. Olivia went because her husband took her. Had he said that he thought it best to stay home for the evening she would have said “Yes, dear.” and got out her knitting and needles

Chapter 17

One of the reasons Hoss did not object to missing the Mayors Ball was because – as he put it – there was no honest to goodness dancing. Hoss loved the noisy boisterous jigs and reels that they enjoyed at the dances held several times through the year and which were open to all. He yelled and halloo’d louder than anyone and would grab Hester round the waist and swing her high so that her petticoats swished around her ankles. There was always laughter and shouting and noise – and Hoss loved it.

When he was a child on the wagon train heading to who knew where at the time, there were nights when the pioneers would put boards on the ground to form a dance floor, and those who could play an instrument came together to make the music that was loud and fast and involved a lot of hand clapping and cheering along.  He had never forgotten those almost magical evenings under the stars with a fire blazing, lamps glowing, and people dancing on those boards.  Men and women, (and sometimes just the men when there was a shortage of females) arm in arm, swinging one around and around, laughing, clapping, cheering and halloo-ing. It was one of his first and more happy memories.

There was no clapping, laughing, cheering and halloo-ing with the dancing at the Mayors Ball. It was all the polite formal ‘stuff’ – waltzes and things like that, everything regimented and tidy. But Adam and Joe didn’t mind at all, before they were married the chance to be that close to a girl or woman was rather intoxicating.  Now they just enjoyed being with the women they loved, to feel their bodies against theirs, to understand the movements one to the other. There were other dances they engaged in other than the ones their feet moved to – eyes and hands moved to a music they knew and understood. People in love made their own movements to the music.

There were already a large number of people gathered at the Town Hall. They were mounting the steps, entering the building and shaking hands with the Mayor and his wife, and various other town ‘dignitaries’. Adam and Joe walked up the stairs arm in arm with their wives with Ben trailing along behind them. He often wondered why on earth he attended this function, but at the end of the evening found he had quite enjoyed it…talking to old friends he hadn’t seen in quite a while, even dancing with some of the ladies, some of whom still held out hopes of ensnaring the handsome widower.

The Mayor slapped him on the back and said a loud greeting, nodded his own head and then passed on to the next person. Ben stepped into the main room where people milled around, seeking familiar and ‘comfortable’ faces, people they could sink into conversation without too much effort.

Ebenezer and Joyce Burgoyne were there, talking to another couple but when seeing Ben, they beckoned him over to join them.  It was the first major occasion they had attended, and the first time Ben had seen Joyce in such a setting.  He was pleased to see that any fears of a rekindling of love within himself were not rising to the surface but lay dormant in the recognition that she had become an attractive ‘older’ woman who obviously loved her husband. The Joyce he had known and loved belonged with those locked in his memory. This was not that Joyce…this was Ebenezer’s Joyce.  He was happy at that thought and greeted them both with a hearty handshake for Eb and a kiss on the cheek for Joyce.

Glasses of champagne were pushed into their hands by the passing waiters, and Joe, Adam, Olivia and Mary Ann juggled with them for a while, pausing to look around and note who was there and who was not.  They wore the patient slightly bland expressions most wore when first arriving at a social function and trying to locate their place in the pecking order.

 

Adam’s eyes swept over the people, the couples, the foursomes and so on…. when his eyes met with those of another he would nod, as would they, and smile and then pass on.  He saw Silas Armstrong and his wife, deep in conversation with a small group of people and he shook his head slightly at the memory of their last meeting. Joe noticed and raised his eyebrows “Anything wrong?”

His eyes glanced over to Silas who was stressing some point by the way he was nodding his head “You have a fall out with old Silas?”

“No.” Adam smiled and sipped the champagne, already too warm. He sighed and raised his eyebrows “Didn’t I tell you? He was trying to recruit me -”

“Recruit you? How do you mean?

“Well, he wanted me to go into partnership with them…become an architect.” Adam pouted and sipped more of the champagne.

“Why’d you want to do that?”

“I didn’t say I wanted to do that, Joe. I said they wanted me to sign up with them.”

“Huh.” Joe shrugged and then grinned “Better than chasing cows, Adam. You could sit in a warm office all day behind a desk drawing pictures of houses.  A comfortable living – and from the look of Silas and his wife, a profitable one.”

“You trying to get rid of me, little brother?”  Adam grinned and turned to wink at Olivia who was listening with a slight frown on her face.

“Not at all. But you being in town in an office where we know where you are is better than you being out in a boat at sea going who knew where -”

Adam smiled then paused, the smile froze on his face and his eyes narrowed “Well,” he murmured “There’s one person who would have been able to tell you where I was – were you able to get to ask him, that is!”

“Who?” Olivia asked and turned in time to see a couple stroll pass with the Mayor and his wife, a wealthy couple by all appearances and comfortable in such surroundings.

Adam gave a nod of the head at the couple passing along and then turned away, as though he didn’t want to be seen.  He was about to speak to Joe when there was a tug on his sleeve and with a slight feeling of panic, he turned to see Grant Tombs standing at his side.

“Grant.” he smiled, Joe did likewise, the four of them stepped closer to the young man to shake his hand and welcome him. Grant nodded, smiled and looked uncomfortable.

“Haven’t seen you in a while.” Joe chided, “Hiram keeping you busy….”

“I – er – I’m courting.” Grant said with a smile although a blush of red crept over his collar.

“So we heard….” Mary Ann said and placed a hand on his arm, gave it a gentle squeeze “Is she here this evening.”

“No, and I’m only here because of Mr. Woods invitation.  It didn’t include Amy.” he smiled and then sighed, looked at Joe and Adam “I was just wondering if I could have a private word with you…Adam? Joe?”

The two women looked downcast, raised their eyebrows and Grant was spared some comment from Mary Ann when Ben came to them, and joined the group. “Pa, could you look after the girls for us.” Joe asked, as though dumping two schoolgirls on their father “We need to have a private chat with Grant here.”

“My pleasure…” Ben replied with a twinkle in his eye and he smiled at his daughters in law with such pride that they could not but smile in return.

The music was starting for the first dance…Adam frowned and glanced over his shoulder to see Ben whisper something to Olivia who shook her head, and Mary Ann laughed.

“What is it, Grant? Are you in some kind of trouble?”  Joe hissed, feeling slightly annoyed that he was missing the first dance with his wife.

“No – well – not really. I just wanted your advice…”

“Couldn’t you have found a better time that this,” Joe said and glanced at Adam who said nothing just waited for Grant to speak.

“Not really. You see, I intend to propose to Amy tonight. I’ve arranged to meet her later at her parents – the thing is -” he paused and glanced at their blank faces “I’ve not told her about my father. She thinks I’m a poor clerk struggling to make ends meet…” he paused again “I don’t know whether to tell her -”

“About your father being the world’s biggest crook and your money being the proceeds of his ill-gotten gains.” Joe retorted and got a nudge in the ribs from Adam’s elbow as a result.

Grant blushed, he looked down at his shoes and was obviously embarrassed after all what Joe had said was true, but who wants to admit it. “That’s the problem -” he said quietly, “Do I tell her that? Or just leave it as it is.”

Adam pursed his lips, rocked on his feet a little and looked at Grant thoughtfully “I’d have expected more from you that that, Grant -”

“What do you mean, sir?”

“Well, you’ve always been an honest upright young man, why start life with your intended on a lie?”

“The thing is, Mr. Cartwright, Adam, Amy’s parents are very strict Methodists – and if they knew where I came from – “

“Look” Joe put a hand on Grants arm “You can’t start life on a lie.  What your father did was nothing to do with you, you never knew about it…”

“But I’m still benefiting from his money – I mean, I tried to restore as much as possible – and wash my hands of it – but there is -”

Adam raised a hand, palm outwards and one finger raised to stop Grant saying anymore “Grant, if Amy really cares about you, she won’t worry about the source of your money. But you keep it from her now, and she finds out later, then you could cause yourself problems.”

“Adams right – a marriage should always be based on trust as well as love.” Joe nodded, glanced over his shoulder “If you don’t mind, I would like to return to my wife now…. we usually have the first dance together.”

“Yes, of course…I’m sorry…” Grant blustered and looked at Adam who nodded and smiled “I love her you see, sir. I don’t want to lose her-”

“You won’t -” Adam replied and placed kindly hand on the youth’s shoulder “If you do, then she didn’t love you enough and you’re best off without her, hard though it seems at present. Go and tell her about it, I’m sure she’ll understand.”

“And her parents?”

Adam grinned “You’re not marrying her parents, Grant.”

By the time Adam returned to where he had left his wife, he found Olivia dancing with Ben, a smile on her face and a twinkle in her eyes. Joe waltzed by whispering something to Mary Ann. Adam smiled, clasped his hands together behind his back and watched as they danced by – Ben, upon seeing Adam standing there, neatly side stepped and placed Olivia into her husband’s arms. Very smartly done, and Adam didn’t waste a moments time to slip into the dance with his wife while Ben stepped aside and took his sons place as an on looker.

He was surprised to find himself joined by Jonas Armstrong who stood in silence by his side for some moments, holding a glass of champagne between his fingers and looking oddly out of place. After a while and as the music trailed away into another selection and the dancers faced each other to dance the cotillion, Jonas cleared his throat and started to talk

“Haven’t seen you around for some time, Ben?”

“I’ve been quite busy – “

“Heard about your latest adventure – good thing you and your son didn’t pass each other on the ocean, they could still be out there looking for you.” he gave a gruff chuckle and Ben turned a corner of his lip into a form of smile

“Well, it’s over and done with now.” he murmured “How are you and your wife. I don’t see her here this evening?”

“She doesn’t like the fuss of these things -” Jonas gulped back the wine and placed the empty glass upon a tray that seemed to be floating past.  “Did Adam mention anything to you about an offer I made him recently?”

Ben stiffened slightly, and raised an eyebrow, then turned to face Jonas with a bland face “About what exactly?”

“Ah, he hasn’t said anything to you then – I got Silas to offer your son a place in my business. As an architect. He’s wasted his talents all these years, you know, has a lot to offer.  There’s a lot going on just now, he would be a valuable asset.”

“If Adam were interested, he would have mentioned it – he hasn’t so therefore I take it, that he isn’t – interested – that is- in sitting in an office designing homes for people who don’t seem to be staying here in Virginia City just now.”

“There’s a bigger world out there, Ben.  I’ve contracts for various towns and cities…I could use your son’s abilities.  Look, let’s face it, he was away from the Ponderosa all those years and you managed well enough without him. Why not cut him loose now and let him branch out onto something more suitable.”

“Look, Jonas” Ben sighed and helped himself to another glass of champagne as the waiter passed by “You should be discussing this with my son.  Not with me – and to be honest with you, if Adam has already decided not to be an architect, with you or anyone else, then nothing I say will change his mind.”

“A pity, Ben. I’ve a big contract with a big name involved that could have established Adam’s reputation as an architect in this part of America.” Jonas scowled, nodded and then walked away, straight backed and slightly flushed from his altercation with the rancher.

 

Adam had seen and watched as he danced along with Olivia, he had seen Ben’s face go cold, the dark eyes darken and brows lower, he sighed “Looks like Pa has just received some bad news.” he whispered to Olivia

“What about?”

He paused and shook his head, held her a little closer and continued to dance. The cotillion was made up of several short dances and when the music changed to another segment, he led her further into the midst of the dancers as though he wanted them to merge amongst the throng.  He cleared his throat and then smiled down at Olivia who was looking at him with some concern in her eyes.

“You look beautiful this evening…” he whispered

“You told me that already”

“You should be told all the time…”

“Then after a while it would be meaningless -”

“No, it would be true….”

They smiled at one another, their eyes seeing the depths of each other’s, brown and green, she lowered her eyes first and then said quietly “There’s a couple over there who are staring at us. “

“Ignore them.”

“They seem to be wanting our attention.”

“I know. Ignore them. I want to enjoy this dance because others will be coming up to ask you to dance with them and I shall be relegated to the last dance – as usual.”

“I shall fill my dance card with your name only.”

He laughed softly, his breath drifting warmly past her ear, and she smiled, but then her eyes met those of the woman who was standing beside the elegantly dressed gentleman who was watching them dance by.  The woman was looking thoughtful, watchful, and it made Olivia feel that somehow, she had committed some social faux pas

“They’re still looking at us…” she whispered

“Well, forget them just now, and enjoy the dancing. I’m sure if they want to talk, they will come and introduce themselves later.”

Olivia nodded, his voice had a slight edge to it, he was obviously becoming irritated either by her comments or the fact that there was a couple showing far too much interest in them.  She sighed and tried to relax, but her enjoyment of the music was now gone

Chapter 19

Mary Ann was enjoying being in Joe’s arms. She loved music and dancing, and it was always a pleasure to enjoy both with Joe. She was laughing up at him as he swirled her around by the hand, and then drew her closer to him to put his arm around her waist and continue with the next phase of the waltz when her eyes caught sight of the couple now seated and watching – not the dancers entirely – but just one couple.

The woman was leaning into the man and whispering something, a smile on her lips and eyes twinkling and the man nodded, smiled, stroked his beard and took hold of her hand. They were affectionate together, but at the same time seemed to be sharing in some secret that gave them some amusement.  For some reason Mary Ann resented the fact that her brother in law and his wife were providing the strangers with ‘amusement’

“Who are they?” she whispered to Joe and as he turned to look at her she turned her head sideways and nodded in the direction of the couple who were now distracted from the dancing by the Mayor and his wife coming towards them, smiles on their faces, expectation of their welcome obvious.

“Strangers.” Joe muttered, and frowned “Obviously well to do strangers, possibly in business with the Mayor or he wouldn’t be bothered with them.”

“So, the Mayor would know them then or they wouldn’t be here, would they?”

“It is invitation only -” Joe cleared his throat “You just trod on my foot.”

“Oh -” Mary Ann looked up at him and giggled, then shook her head “They were showing a lot of interest in Adam and Olivia.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, they were watching them all the time, singling them out from the rest of us – talking about them”

Joe shook his head and smiled, he leaned in to kiss her cheek despite the disapproving look he got from Mr. and Mrs. Prendergast as they drifted past “You have an overactive imagination.”

“Well, Joe, they were -”

“Perhaps he owns a dancing school and looking out for a Dancing Instructor. Adam can shuffle around the floor pretty niftily when he wants to…”

“Joe, I’m serious -”

“Don’t be – just enjoy the dance.”

*****

Ben Cartwright’s dark eyes scanned the dancers and then watched those who were milling about on the perimeters of the room. Ladies of all ages were sitting the dance out or were busy chatting to others…fans were already being batted back and forth…windows were being opened to admit some air into the room. He was still smarting from his conversation with Armstrong and kept his eyes on the portly man as he sat at a table with his company. Silas and his wife were on the dance floor. Ben sighed and his eyes turned towards the Mayor, his wife and the couple seated at the table with them.

He smiled to himself, a hazy memory drifting into his mind of a time when a man like that had arrived unannounced at the Ponderosa because he had lost his way and the wheel of his carriage had come loose. Hoss had brought him to the ranch house, and they had entertained the President of the United States to Hop Sings roast pork…or had it been chicken?  He sighed, well, that had been some time ago, and the President was now a different man.

“Recognise him?” Daniel deQuille whispered in Ben’s ear having watched the rancher for some moments before approaching him to give the man’s memory a slight nudge

“No – looks familiar – “

“Look harder….”

Ben sighed and turned to look at the journalist who was staring over at the couple with such earnestness that Ben immediately looked back, narrowed his eyes and nodded “He looks like ex-President Grant but I believe, from what the tabloids tell us, that he is on a world tour with his wife.”

“You’re reading out of date information, Ben.  He’s been in San Francisco for a while now. For some reason he’s decided to visit Virginia City.”

Ben jerked upright, his shoulders straightened, and his dark eyes darkened “Are you sure? It’s easy to mistake people – from pictures and -”

“You’ve met him before, why not go and introduce yourself -” Dan scowled “The Mayor’s leaving them – his wife wants to join in the last dance of this cotillion, now’s your chance to find out why he’s here because as sure as eggs become chickens he’s interested in your son.”

“Adam you mean?”

“Isn’t another son Grant would want to get reacquainted with is there?”

Ben nodded and without another word turned and made his way through the chairs that had been arranged around the dance floor to where various couples were seated. He approached Grant and Julia and stepped forward, obscuring their line of vision so that they had no way of avoiding him.

Had Grant’s ‘wooden tops’ been present Ben would no doubt have found himself confronting them but as it was Grant stiffened and leaned back in his chair. Perhaps the thought crossed his mind of another President who went out for an evening’s entertainment and ended up dead. Julia also stiffened and then relaxed when Ben smiled, bowed to her and then turned to her husband

“I believe you were Mr. Smith when we last met some years ago, sir?”

Grant had never forgotten the rancher, the owner of the Ponderosa, and that deep voice and arresting dark eyes immediately brought a smile to his face, he sprung to his feet, reached out a hand and took hold of Ben’s which he shook with a vigour that was almost embarrassing.

“Ben Cartwright.  As if I could ever forget you…what a momentous occasion that was when last we met, sir.  Sit down, sit down…here let me introduce to you my wife…my dear, this is Ben Cartwright owner of the Ponderosa.” Grant gave Ben a wide smile, “My wife, Julia Dent – er – “

Ben raised a hand and nodded, he accepted Julia’s hand and shook it before taking the chair the other man indicated.  “This is somewhat of a surprise, sir.  Virginia City will be honoured…”

“I don’t want Virginia City to know we’ve been here. It’s a private visit.” he glanced at his wife and smiled “I’m a private citizen now after all.”

“Still calling yourself Mr. Smith though?”

“Just at present.” Grant nodded, smiled, and then glanced over at the dancers “My schedule is as tight as ever though, and I wanted to look up an old friend, and Julia wanted to do some – well – wanted to get to know a lost family member.”

Julia chuckled “I’d like to think your daughter in law is a relative of mine…. long ago I promised myself to look back over the family line and see if there was a connection.  My husband has been kind enough to humour me.”

“We grabbed the chance of a few days to ourselves before we get whisked off to some other godforsaken place -” Grant sighed, his new role in life was obviously not suiting him. He nodded over to the dancers “I remember your other son, Joseph….but the other one, who found me lost on your territory, where’s he?”

“At home. He prefers an evening at home with his wife and family rather than spending time with a lot of stuffed shirts!” Ben grinned and glanced over to where the Mayor and several other dignitaries were glaring over at him. “How long have you been here, sir?”

“A few days.  We managed to stifle the journalist, deQuille as he calls himself. Didn’t want anyone to know – just good to be able to relax and spend time being what I want to be now.” he sighed and shook his head “It isn’t easy.”

“Well, you did well to have kept your being here quiet – for so long.”

“It’s been interesting.” Grant nodded and reached into his pocket to find a cigar but then decided not to, his hand dropped back onto the table, he glanced at his wife.

The music stopped and the men led their partners from the floor to chairs to be seated, windows were opened a little wider, music played a little louder.  Adam and Olivia stood with Joe and Mary Ann, their heads close together, and Ben smiled, he could guess what they were whispering about, or rather, about whom!

It was Adam who led the group to where his father and the other couple were seated.  His face was blank, his eyes dark. Wariness was written all over him whereas Joe crackled with inquisitiveness. Grant stood up as Adam, Joe and their wives drew closer, he put out his hand and when Adam extended his, shook it vigorously.

“Mr. Smith?” Adam asked, eyes narrowed and no smile on his mouth.

“It is Adam…” Grants lips twitched “I was relieved to see that you didn’t salute…”

“I’m not in the Navy now, sir.”

“And I’m not in the White House now, Adam.” Grant nodded, looked at Joe and shook his hand “A long time since I saw you, young man.”

“It is sir.” Joe replied and flashed his generous smile at Julia who returned it with equal generosity.

“My wife, Julia…” Grant said and looked at Olivia “And you are Olivia…and Mary Ann?”

The two women nodded, unsure whether to have their hands shaken but when Julia extended a hand, they took it willingly, smiles were exchanged, chairs indicated for their seating. Julia leaned forward and looked at Olivia thoughtfully “We wanted to take the chance of seeing the Ponderosa, and meeting you…”

Ben immediately spoke up “You must come back with us tomorrow…”

“Well, if that won’t be too much trouble…” Grant grinned, eyes twinkled, eyes that watched Adam like a snake watches its prey.

Adam frowned and looked at the couple, then at his father. He sighed, no point in arguing the point, in saying he’d rather the man just went back to where he came from, Ben had spoken, and no one was refused hospitality at the Ponderosa. Mentally he chided himself for being unreasonable but his back history with Grant was bittersweet – his brush with politics, with power, with abuse of that power, rankled.

Julia smiled and looked at Adam, noticed that of them all he was the one still stiff, still wary and guarded. “When you were married to Olivia, I sent her a little note to mention we had something in common…I wanted to meet her, after all, she could be a long-lost cousin of mine.”

Olivia smiled, her eyes brightened, and she reached out to take hold of Adam by the hand, as though reassuring him that this was all right, this was just going to be a pleasant social encounter. She was as relieved as she possibly could be, the thought that this man, this ex-President, had arrived to snatch her husband back into some furtive political coil had been demolished.

“I remember, of course I do.  After all, Dent is not the most common name – not that I am aware of anyway. I have to admit though, I know very little about my father’s family history and I take after my mother’s Scandinavian background more than his ….”

“Oh well then, we shall have lots to discuss and talk about, won’t we?” Julia said and her smile, her calm manner, as usual, had the trick to soothe over the suspicions, the wariness, the ambient hostility that may have existed among them.

The Master of Ceremonies came forward to announce the next dance….Grant smiled and looked at his wife, eyebrow raised, he didn’t enjoy dancing but she did, and it was Ben who asked in his deep warm voice if she would allow him the honour of the next dance.  Laughing, she took his hand, and allowed him to lead her to the dance floor.

Olivia glanced at her card and made her excuses she had promised the next dance to Ebenezer who was now approaching their table with an assured smile on his face, while Joyce was led into the dance by Dr Corby.  Joe watched as Abel Greigson claimed his wife and he partnered Abel’s wife. Adam and Grant sat together at the table watching them square up for the dancing. The music struck up…there was a swish of many different coloured gowns, the sharp staccato tap of shoes on the floor. Grant looked at Adam

“I don’t blame you for not trusting me, Adam.” he said very quietly

“I -” Adam paused then shrugged slightly, his eyes watching Olivia, “I have little reason to do so. It’s hard to ignore the years when I never knew where you were going to send me, or why…so when you arrive here – “

“Believe me, it is just a private visit. I wanted Julia to have the chance to meet your wife, to just dally a while.  If it is the only thing, I can do just now to pander to her wants I wish to do so. She has been a good supportive wife for so long… this seemed the best opportunity to let her just -” he shrugged, obviously being so magnanimous did not come easily, but then years of being nudge to do, at times, things he wished not to do, by others were hard to shrug off too. “It’s hard, Adam, to slip into being a private person.  At the moment I feel more like a prize exhibit than anything else. That world tour – it was too long, too wearying – coming back to America was such a relief and when we arrived in San Francisco – “he sipped some wine “well, I remembered the Ponderosa and Julia remembered the Dent connection.”

Adam nodded, “It’s hard not to expect you to be barking out some orders at me.” he smiled slightly, and his eyes twinkled “I hope you enjoy your visit -”

“We took advantage of a few days to just drive around the Ponderosa, we went to the Lake Tahoe, first seen by Kit Carson I believe…”

“So, they say…” Adam smiled again.

“I thought for sure that your brother Hoss would appear out of the blue and demand to know why we were trespassing….”

Adam said nothing, smiled and nodded and looked over at the dancers. Julia Dent Grant was obviously enjoying her dance with Ben, she was laughing at something he said and smiling up at him. Well, he thought, it wasn’t every day a man got to dance with the first lady of America…or rather – a lady who had once been privileged to bear the name.

The Mayor approached, trying hard not to be too servile as he came closer, Adam nodded at Grant “I’ll leave you to your host, Mr. -er – Smith.”

“Tomorrow then?”

“Yes, tomorrow.”

Chapter 20

Grant’s security team arrived at the prearranged time and stood by the door closest to the couple and trying not to look too obvious. The fact that they drew more attention to themselves and to Mr. and Mrs. Grant as a result seemed to slip their notice but as the ex-President and his wife left the building small groups were forming in the dance hall, heads were being put together and whispers spoke volumes.

Joe plucked at Adams sleeve “I think we may have some trouble -”

“Where?”

He nodded over to a small group of men who were looking furtively about them, and yet trying hard to appear casual even though their eyes were darting everywhere, and gestures indicated raised tempers. Several men had watched Grant leave the building with barely concealed hostility and both the brothers watched as they now drifted to another group and more heads were put together. The women, it was noticed, drifted away as though it were naturally agreed that they were not to be involved.  Adam looked at Joe

“What are you thinking?”

“I’m remembering that those men were from the south, some of them were in the Confederate cause, still hold close ties with it. A’Hearn has a Confederate flag in his study…Burke lost an arm at the Chattanooga defeat and has always spoken out against Grant and his administration. It may be a good idea if Pa were to get Nate while we try to calm those hot heads down.”

“I like your thinking -” Adam nodded and glanced over to where Ben was talking to Dan deQuille, “I’ll get Pa – you go and find out what they’re thinking about doing – if anything.”

Joe nodded and glanced over at Mary Ann who was chatting happily to Olivia and Abel’s wife, Abel was dancing with Joyce and Ebenezer was enjoying a drink with the Mayor.  Everywhere they looked most seemed to be getting on with having a pleasant time, except for the small groups that were now slowly gravitating to where Burke and A’Hearn were clustered together.

Adam took hold of Ben by the elbow and nodded politely to Dan, indicating with a jerk of the head that he wanted some private talk with his father. Dan took the hint and promptly disappeared, although not far, just far enough to notice the look of concern on Ben’s face and the way he hurried out of the door where minutes earlier Grant and his wife had exited.

Adam now strolled away, hand in one pocket, weaving his way around the tables and chairs as Joe had done earlier. By the time he had reached the group Joe was already slapping A’Hearn on the back and grinning a friendly “What’s going on, boys? Anything interesting?”

A’Hearn immediately shrugged Joe off, and then seeing Adam approaching narrowed his eyes and scowled “Had a good time talking to your boss, did you?”

“My boss?” Adam murmured, and looked from one face to the other, all six men looking grim, hard eyes

“You know who we mean?” a man hissed and grabbed at Adam’s arm, gripping it tightly “The one who gave you those fancy medals”

“Took orders from him, didn’t you?” A’Hearn glared and pushed his way towards Adam, his face inches from his “Took orders to kill men, like he gave orders to men at Chattanooga, and all those other places he sent you…”

“I think you should calm down” Adam said quietly, as he pushed the man’s hand away from his arm “This is the Mayor’s evening, don’t ruin it for him.”

“We wouldn’t ‘cept you had to come up and interfere.” Burke scowled and elbowed his way past Adam, knocking into him so that he was forced to step back a few paces.

Joe stood forwards now and grabbed at Burke “What are you thinking of doing, Burke? Whatever it is -”

“Think he can come here and just stroll in as though he were any private citizen, does he? Him – with all that blood on his hands – what gives him the right to come here?” Endeavour Sales bleated, and then looked shame faced, he shook his head “I lost my home because of him…my home and my family.”

“Look!” Joe growled “It was war! Others lost the same…”

“You Cartwrights never lost anything.” a big man by the name of Carmichael shoved himself forward and grabbed hold of Joe by the shirt front, close by a woman shrieked but even before her cry had faded into the music Carmichael’s fist was raised to come down on Joe’s unprotected face.

Adam pushed himself forwards to grab at Carmichael but before he could reach the man another hand had reached out, grabbed Carmichael by the wrist and pulled him back. “Enough. We don’t want any trouble here.”

The men seemed to freeze to the ground, their faces went blank and then recomposed themselves into the familiar features of neighbours, friends, townsfolk known for years…Carmichael nodded and put out his hand to Joe “Sorry, Joe. Feelings got the better of me.”

Nate Carney stepped back. He was only just taller than Carmichael, but at that moment in time seemed much taller. He looked at each one there “Alright now, I know each one of you, and if there is any trouble – any trouble at all – I’ll be calling at your doors and hauling you into my cells quicker than you can spit. Break it up now.  Enjoy the rest of the evening and let your wives have an evening to remember for that, not for anything else.  Understand?”

His level tone of voice was calming, his eyes were alert though and each man there swallowed the bitterness they felt and returned to their wives. Nate watched them go and then turned to the Cartwright brothers “That could have been unpleasant.  Why can’t you boys just leave things to the law, huh?”

They didn’t reply but Joe bowed his head and Adam pursed his lips and raised his eyebrows. Nate stepped aside for them both to walk past him and return to their own wives who were looking anxiously over at them from the other side of the hall, their vision of what had happened obscured by the dancers who were laughing, dancing, enjoying the evening.

Nate left the building, the music followed him and Vinnie Tyler out into the street as they stepped out into the darkness. He glanced up at the sky, myriads of stars twinkled down, looked beautiful. He shook his head “After all these years you’d think they’d let things be…”

“It’s not been that long, not really.” Vinnie said quietly as he stepped in line with his boss, “My brother was killed at Bull Run, sometimes it still seems like just a year ago, not 17…August 1862. I’ll never forget it…changed my life forever.”

“It changed the lives of a lot of people, Vin.” Nate replied after a moments silence.

After a pause in which both men were quiet, he looked at his deputy thoughtfully “I’m not going to have any trouble with you as well, am I?”

“No, sir.”

“Good.”

They strode onwards and just outside the Internationale Hotel Nate paused again “Did you know the ex-President was here?”

“No, there was a rumour of course but no one paid any attention to it.  He was recognised at times but then people thought they were just imagining things, after all, why would someone like Grant bring his wife all this way after a world tour of some of the grandest places in the world. Didn’t make sense.”

“So, no one knew until this evening – I mean – for certain?”

“Seems so.”

Nate nodded, and then sighed, “Look you go ahead to the office. I want to see the Manager here about some private business.”

“Er – the Grants are staying at Whitney’s Hotel, boss.”

“I know…and so probably does everyone else by now. Just go ahead, will you? “

Nate watched as his deputy strode away to the Sheriff’s office.  He watched and waited until the door was closed and then went into the Internationale.  He walked through the foyer and out of the back door then made his way to the Whitney Hotel.  Showing his badge to the Manager he found the Suite Number for Mr. and Mrs. Smith and made his way up the stairs whereupon he knocked lightly.  The door was opened by one of Grants ‘Wooden tops’ who scowled and pulled back his jacket to show the pistol in its shoulder holster, the other man was already on his feet with the gun in his hand.

Nate nodded, showed his badge and was allowed entry although his gun was taken from him as a precaution.  It only took Nate a few minutes to convince the security men that there was a whiff of danger and just perhaps it would be a good idea to move the President to another suite, maybe even another hotel.

*****

Adam and Joe had finished the last waltz – not of the evening, but for themselves. Joe felt uncomfortable being glared at by Burke and Co, and he could sense that Mary Ann was getting anxious. Adam had decided his leg had taken enough punishment for the evening, and smilingly suggested to his wife that they returned back to their suite.  Olivia kissed his cheek and nodded, even though she loved the dancing, the music and the association with the friends she had there, she also felt the tension from the animosity that was building up from a certain quarter.

As they turned to leave their table Jonas Armstrong appeared as though from nowhere and blocked their path. He bowed his head politely to the ladies, to Joe and then put a handout to pull Adam slightly aside. Adam shook it off, and frowned whereas Jonas nodded

“Look, Adam, I was wanting a word with you…”

“This isn’t the time nor the place, Jonas.”

“Silas put an offer to you a while back…I ‘m reiterating it.  I just.”

“As I said this is not the time nor the place.”

“Well -” Jonas frowned and shrugged “When will be the right time for you? Could you not just call in at my offices and have a quick discussion about it….”

Adam shook his head and stepped forward to follow Joe and the ladies, but Jonas grabbed at him again “It could be worth your while, Adam.”

“Alright, when?”

“Tuesday…anytime, just come…I’ll tell them to expect you.”

Adam nodded and with a shrug of the shoulders, a slight twitch, moved away from the architect and made his way to the foyer.

He was smiling at Olivia and had inclined his head to whisper something in her ear when he saw Grant Tombs standing by the door.  Joe had also seen the young man and caught Adam’s eye, both remembering their last conversation with the youth they nodded him over

“I think -” Joe laughed softly “from the look on your face, that you had a very pleasant evening.”

Grant nodded, fumbled with his hat and nearly dropped it. He looked at Olivia and Mary Ann who were smiling expectantly at him. He was not a bad looking youth and had thankfully shaved off the moustache which made him look like a younger version of Roy Coffee, and his eyes were pleasant behind their thick lenses. He cleared his throat

“I told Mr. and Mrs. Huxtable everything…and I told them that you and Mr. Woods, as well as Roy, would give them references, and confirm to them that I knew nothing about my father and mother’s – “ he sighed and shook his head “well, about what they were doing.”

“And was everything alright?” Mary Ann asked even as she pulled her shawl over her shoulders seeing that Joe was too distracted to help her with it.,

“Yes, everything was fine. They said that the fact I was working for Hiram Woods and living with Roy spoke for itself, as a recommendation for me. SO, I proposed to Amy and she accepted…” he swallowed a big gulp, his Adam’s apple jerked.

There were handshakes and congratulations and the poor young man blushed, and nearly dropped his hat again. Joe turned to lead them out of the building, the five of them taking the steps slowly as they listened to Grant telling them the tales of his conquest, of Mr. and Mrs. Huxtable and their daughter.

“What do you plan to do now? When will you marry?” Mary Ann, all inquisitive wanted to know.

“Well.” Grant smiled shyly, lights from the town hall cast shadows over his face, “You know Amy is a seamstress at the Emporium?” nodding heads confirmed that they all knew that, “and you know the Emporium is up for sale? Well, I’m going to buy it, Mrs. Evans can train Amy on how to run the business, while I continue with my law studies.  I’ll buy the building with the apartment, we can live there quite comfortably.“ He smiled, dreamy eyed, floating on air, happy as could be without realising he had just demolished Mary Ann’s hopes of becoming an entrepreneur.

Olivia understood her friend’s downcast face, even if Joe didn’t…as they parted company with Grant, Olivia slipped her hand over Mary Ann’s and squeezed it gently, then gave her a sympathetic look.

They proceeded to the Internationale and as soon as they stepped into the foyer, Nate Carney stood up from where he had been seated, and approached them… “Just a moment, gentlemen, ladies….”

Chapter 21

The music had faded now, nothing was left of the evening except the debris that exists after such revelry. The tables had been cleared away, food discarded was thrown out for the dogs and cats that roamed the alleyways or distributed among the staff members. The hall was empty of colour now, the dust was settling as dust was wont to do.  The last member of staff locked the doors, pocketed the keys and walked away.  The years Society Function had ended once again.

Endeavour Sales had scurried back home, he chose to have no further involvement with the other men preferring the company of his wife and daughters. He locked up his store and was glad to go to bed pleading a headache.  His wife gently chided him for drinking too much, kissed him and climbed into bed by his side and left him to sleep.  He did not. She did.

Burke, Carmichael and A’Hearn gathered in a group down an alley having assured their wives (apart from Burke who was a widower) that they were going to end the evening talking over old times and sharing out Burke’s vintage single malt whisky.  The wives were too scared to argue, and slightly embarrassed by the scene that had taken place in the hall.

“Do you know what suite he’s in?” Carmichael asked as he stayed in the shadows of the building opposite the Whitney Hotel.

“Yes, the bell boy was only too glad to tell me after I had given him a bit of a shaking.” A’Hearn replied and he gave a wry smirk. “I gave him a dollar afterwards and made him promise not to tell.”

“He’ll remember tomorrow morning though…he’ll remember, and he’ll tell the sheriff” Burke scowled and shook his head, “You should have dealt with him, not paid him off.  He’ll talk.”

A’Hearn stared out into the darkness.  Perhaps Burke was right but killing for the sake of killing was not in A’Hearn’s nature, he didn’t even want to consider the thought of being responsible for the boy’s death. It brought back memories of other times. He rubbed the side of his temple and shook his head “I’ll deal with him,” he said quietly but even as he said it, he wasn’t really sure what exactly he intended to do.

Lights were going out all over town.  The last of the revellers had long disappeared into their homes.  The remnants of society that lingered long after the saloons were closed had slunk off to their places of refuge, in an alley somewhere, or an empty house, of which there were a growing number.

Burke checked his watch and then looked up at the sky, he nodded “Right, we do it now. Anyone who wants to back off can do so now.”

A’Hearn shrugged and Carmichael just stepped forward. Keeping to the shadows they made their way to the back entrance to the hotel, where, despite the locked door, they once again gathered. A’Hearn pulled out some metal from his pocket, inserted it into the lock and after a little jiggling about there was a click, he pushed, and the door opened.

In silence they entered the hotel.  The thickly carpeted stairs cushioned their footsteps as they made their way upwards to the landing above, and then quietly walked down the hallway until Burke stopped, raised his hand and nodded to the door on his left.  A’Hearn suddenly found his heart beating so fast he felt sick, he looked at his companions, saw their set faces, and knew that they were seeing those faces of fallen comrades, beloved families, close friends who in the past had perished in the long-ago conflict

Carmichael put his hand to the door, jerked his head at A’Hearn to get the door unlocked and waited. He drew out his gun, a colt.38 revolver, safety catch off.  Burke was similarly armed. Both men waited for the door to ease open and then stepped into the room.

All was silent. Shadows darkened corners that were already dark, the light from the moon wavered as it slid in and out from behind the clouds. “Where’s his bodyguards?” whispered Burke.

“In their own rooms, I reckon.” Carmichael said and bumped into a table. Ornaments rocked back and forth, he steadied them with one hand, his grasp on the gun tighter.

They stood for a moment in silence – a man’s voice said “Who’s that? Stand still – raise your hands.”

A’Hearn groaned and raised his hands and one of the security men stepped forward, his own gun levelled at them.  Burke said nothing as he tried to think of something to say, to do, anything so that their mission was not a failure.  Carmichael didn’t speak but he did move, and quickly. The young man fell beneath the blow of a fist that he hadn’t seen coming.  A’Hearn caught him as he fell and carefully lowered him onto the floor.

The bedroom door was slightly ajar, they pushed it open and stepped inside, paused as they looked around them and got their bearings. The curtains were open, the moon light flickered here and there, a lamp glowed on a side table, two bodies lay in the bed, one snoring very loudly.

“Remember what we agreed -” A’Hearn said as he withdrew his gun and straightened his arm.

“Fire together.” Carmichael whispered aiming his gun.

“I wouldn’t if I were you….” said a familiar voice and a hand stretched out and grasped the barrel of the gun in A’Hearn’s hand, while he felt a sharp jab against his spine. “I won’t miss at this range, A’Hearn.”

“But -” A’Hearn gave a whimper of protest “But…”

“Put the gun down, Carmichael.  You don’t stand a chance against us.” Nate Carney hissed as he appeared from behind the door, “You are outnumbered.”

Burke swore, he raised his gun hand and aimed, but Joe was too quick for him as he grabbed at the man’s one arm and swung him to one side so that the bullet winged past him and shattered the window.  The glass crashed and tinkled to the carpeted floor as Joe pulled the gun free from Burke’s fingers.

Adam took the gun he had taken from A’Hearn and tossed it onto the bed which was now empty of the sleeping bodies. Matt smiled grimly, and shook his head “Sorry boys, we had to let you go the whole way to make sure you meant to carry it through.”

“We meant to carry it through alright,” Burke growled as he continued to struggle despite being handcuffed to Mark Watts, “We lost families because of that blood crazed maniac…. where is he anyway? Too much of a coward to face us, huh? Thought he could stroll in here and act the citizen when he had blood on his hands and…”

“Shut up,” Carmichael yelled “Shut up, Burke.”

“I won’t…I won’t.” Burke was near hysterical now, his eyes were distended, and veins stood out like cords around his throat and temples “He killed my wife, my family…he – all my friends -”

Nate stepped forward “Mr. Burke, I recommend you say no more…not until we get to the office when you can make a statement.  And, as far as blood on anyone’s hands is concerned, I daresay you have an adequate amount on your own…”

“It was war – of course I fought – I had to defend what was left “

“Mr. Burke, as I said, best you don’t say no more….” Nate said quietly and pushed the man over to his deputies “Take him away.”

Adam replaced his own gun into its holster and watched the three men being led away, he frowned “I thought there would be more than just three of them.”

“Reckon it was just talk with the others…I’ll check them out in the morning.” Nate replied with a sigh, he shook his head “After so long -”

“Doesn’t matter how long, Nate, grief doesn’t just fade away so easily.” Adam replied quietly as he nodded over at the security man who was picking up the guns “And over years it can only get more bitter.”

Nate nodded “It was war….”

“Yeah, so he said.” Adam replied and then looked over at Joe, “Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m tired….” he looked at the bed and nodded “Good night, Nate. Close the door on the way out.”

*****

Mary Ann shook her head to loosen her hair and then ran her fingers through the tangled mass of chestnut curls that fell over her shoulders and down her back.  She yawned and wandered sleepily into the other room where Olivia was already pulling on her skirts, looking wide awake and ready for the new day.  Mary Ann yawned again

“Olivia – did I dream it or did Grant Tombs really tell us that he had bought the Emporium?”

Olivia smiled over at her friend and nodded “He was going to buy it, and the apartment, for himself and Amy.”

Mary Ann released a sigh and slumped down into a chair “I had hoped I’d dreamed it.”

“Why?” Olivia fastened the last button of her skirt and then in search of her shoes, she looked over to where Mary Ann still sat looking glum, her chin resting on her hands and staring into space “You didn’t really intend to buy it – anything like that? I thought Joe…”

“I know. I know what you’re saying but I had hopes, just silly little daydreams -” she cast a wistful smile over at Olivia “Don’t you ever have them?”

“Not now. I used to when Adam was away at sea…but I don’t need to build castles in the air anymore.” she frowned “Have you seen my shoes…”

“I think they’re under the bed.” Mary Ann stood up and stretched, “Oh well, at least we can still get our pretties from there, all is not lost – “

“Mm, well, you had better get dressed, dear, the hotel serves breakfast soon and we shouldn’t be late down. I want to be sure Adam and Joe are safe -”

Mary Ann bit down on her lip and shook her head, “I must have had too much wine -”

“You were very tired – you were asleep almost before your head hit the pillow”

“I had forgotten about what was happening and why you were sharing our room….”

“I don’t think you were really aware of what we were talking about…”

“I should have remembered…what kind of wife am I?”

“A precious gem, dear, now hurry up and get dressed.”

Casting a quick smile in Olivia’s direction Mary Ann hurried back into the bedroom where she looked in dismay at the clothes scattered all over the room…she found Olivia’s shoes and put them aside for her, then began to rummage around to locate the clothes in which she had arrived at the hotel the previous day. As she slowly managed to sort the garments out and dress herself snippets of conversation drifted back to her and by the time, she was fully dressed she had remembered all that there really was to know.

She drifted back into the other room with Olivia’s shoes in her hand and passed them over to her, “We arranged to meet Joe and Adam for breakfast here?”

“That’s right…do hurry, Mary Ann, you haven’t done your hair yet.”

“I’m sorry, Olivia, I’ll be back in a moment.”

Olivia nodded, sat down to put on her shoes while glancing anxiously at the clock. She had not slept well. Unlike Mary Ann she had full awareness of what had been arranged between the Sheriff, Adam and Joe, and the President.  Although she was safely in Joe’s suite of rooms by the time the President and his wife were ensconced in her suite, she lay anxiously waiting for chaos and mayhem to break out at any hour.  But she heard nothing, even the one gunshot passed unnoticed.

Adam and Joe were sitting at the table with Ben when the ladies finally arrived to join them for breakfast.  No one said much once wives had been kissed and the customary salutations had been gone through.

“So?” Ben said although in a quieter voice than usual in order for others in the restaurant would not be able to hear “What happened?”

“Nothing.” Joe said and swallowed some coffee, “Nothing much anyway.”

“One of Grant’s security team got a bump on the head, that’s all.” Adam muttered and pushed his plate aside. “It was all very neatly tidied up…Joe and I enjoyed a good night’s sleep, although I think his snoring has worsened since last time, I shared the night with him!”

“I don’t snore.” Joe snarled.

“You do.” Adam and Mary Ann said in unison.

“How many men turned up then? I got the impression the whole town was going to be involved…” Ben muttered

“Only three went so far as to do something – the others were just blowing off hot air.” Adam replied and then glanced to the doorway where Nate was making his way through to them. “Morning, Nate. How are your jailbirds today?”

“Not happy.” Nate replied with a grin, he nodded a greeting to them all and refused coffee although he pulled out a chair to sit down at the table with them “I called on some of the others who were talking blood and guts last night, but they all more or less said the same thing…feelings were running high, memories were stirred up and seeing Grant brought everything to a head.  They simmered down quickly enough when Carmichael and Burke were talking about taking action. Thankfully some had the sense to see no good would come of it.”

“I was surprised that Endeavour Sales was involved….” Ben said as he pushed a cup of coffee over to the sheriff “He’s always seemed a fair-minded level-headed man.”

“Well, a lot of fair-minded level-headed men were young hot heads at one time, Ben.  And with our past history a lot of them suffered huge losses when they were young. I spoke to Sales earlier and he told me that he was only a lad when the war broke out, his family were all for being neutral and he had hoped they would be able to sit the war out without taking sides.”

“But something happened to change his mind?” Joe said quietly and Nate nodded.

“Yes, he was in school when they heard the first cannons go off, the teachers told them to stay where they were but he ran off because it came from the direction of his home…except that when he got there his home had been blasted to bits, his family – all dead – he said he went to bits himself then, in his head he felt – nothing but anger and hatred and wanted to kill as many as he could…so he joined the Confederate troops there and -” he shrugged.

Adam felt a shiver go down his back, he glanced at Ben, then down at his cup of coffee. Memories of a one armed man who had tried to involve Joe in the war trickled back to his mind, and then there was that list of names of people who wanted to stir it all up again…it wouldn’t take much, he realised, for it to happen.  Had Burke, A’Hearn and Carmichael succeeded in their assassination attempt on the President that could well have been the catalyst to start it all over once more. The vital ingredients – the hate, the resentment and the passion were all there simmering under the surface.

“What will you do about them…Sales and the others?” Ben was asking and Nate shook his head,

“A mans entitled to air his views in this land of the free, Ben.  I asked each man just how far they would have gone had they had the chance and none of them admitted to going as far as taking any action against Grant.” he sipped his coffee “I gave them a warning – I doubt if they’ll need anything further than that.”

“And the other three?” Joe asked

“Well, that’s different.  I guess for one thing, it depends on if the President brings charges against them. For another, it depends on whether I can trust them enough so as not to bring charges against them myself. Just to make sure they’re out of the way and not going to cause further trouble.  I’ll keep them locked up while the President is hereabouts.”

“He’ll be coming to the Ponderosa with us this morning…” Ben replied to that, “He’ll be kept safe while he’s there…”

A man approached, cleared his throat “Excuse me…”

Nate nodded and stood up, the other man smiled, “Sorry to interrupt your meal but the President would like to talk with you, Sheriff, and you gentlemen…also…”

Olivia and Mary Ann watched as the men pushed back their chairs and left the table to follow Grants security guard out of the restaurant. Mary Ann threw her napkin down by her plate

“Typical – off they go, all men together and leave us here as though being women we don’t count one jot!”

“Well, not to worry, we have a lot to do today, so we had better start by getting everything packed and ready for home.” Olivia smiled, squeezed her young friend’s hand and poured out another cup of coffee.

Chapter 22

Ulysses Grant and his wife had just finished their breakfast. The remains of the meal still on the table, the smell of coffee colluding with the aroma of the smoke that coiled from Grant’s first cigar of the day. Julia Grant smiled and nodded at them, greeting them all with a warm ‘Good morning’ and then ‘Excuse me, gentlemen…” and gracefully leaving the room to close the door on the bedroom.

It crossed Ben’s mind that the President’s wife had been saying ‘Excuse me, gentlemen’ and bowing out of the many discussions , conversations, held between Grant and who knew how many men, for many years – perhaps by now she was used to it, perhaps by now she no longer cared.

Grant was standing but now walked towards them, his hand extended, the inevitable cigar in the other hand. He shook their hands and thanked each one of them for their help. By the door the two security guards stood impassive, their faces expressionless, one in particular who nursed an almighty headache being the only victim to violence the previous evening, swallowing his resentment.

“I owe you a lot,” the President was saying “my life, Julia’s life, it was a clever ruse to exchange hotel rooms like that…never thought I’d be in danger as a private citizen here in your town. But you surely acted promptly when you saw the danger and I thank you.”

They stood there slightly embarrassed and feeling awkward but nodded and Nate mumbled that it was his duty as Sheriff to protect the citizens and all visitors to the town no matter who they happened to be, and Grant nodded and smiled blandly, and commended Nate once again., making the poor man feel that he had said too much and should have already been on the way back to the office.

Grant turned to Ben “We’re looking forward to our visit to the Ponderosa today, I hope this little fracas hasn’t cancelled that arrangement?”

“Certainly not, sir.” Ben replied, but before he could say more Grant turned back to Nate

“What do you intend to do with those three blackguards?”

“If you want to charge them for attempted murder -”

“Assassination you mean…” Grant snorted

“Yes, sir, if you wish to charge them with attempted assassination then I will need a statement from you and Mrs. Grant – whether you want to charge them -”

“Ah” Grant nodded, ash dripped onto the carpet and he stuffed the cigar into his mouth and drew hard on it, then exhaled, viewing Nate through a veil of smoke “I see what you are driving at – would be awkward charging them even though I am a private citizen now, it could be – yes – very awkward.” he glanced sideways to Adam who was standing looking out of the window with a bland expression on his face, Joe, by his side, looked uncomfortable and obviously longing to be gone.

“You could charge them under the name you are using here, of course.” Nate was saying, “But it would still come out in the news, and -”

“And?” Grant barked stuffing the cigar back between clenched jaws

“And it could be awkward – for you I mean – it would perhaps make pretending to be a private citizen again very difficult.”

“Pretending eh?” Grant glowered and then stepped back a pace or two, stared at Nate and then looked again at Adam, who stood like a soldier on parade, eyes front and face blank. “So, what do you suggest?  Let them get away with it? Then when that hits the headlines every lunatic with a grudge against me will have a field day…”

“Yes, sir, you could say that – “ Nate nodded.

“They need to be locked up and the key thrown away….” Grant growled and Ben bit down on his lip and wished he were still enjoying his early morning coffee with his daughters in law in the restaurant below.  “Charge them and make sure they aren’t released for at least a decade.”

Nate sighed “Charge them with what, sir? And there would have to be a trial and -”

“Use your wits, man.” Grant said between clenched teeth, “Or send them to Washington and I’ll make sure they don’t see daylight -”

Nate raised his eyebrows, Ben shuffled his feet, and Joe sighed, while Adam bowed his head and observed the patterns in the carpet. Grant paced the floor and then turned to look at the four men

“I know they didn’t succeed; you could even plead that they were drunk and had talked each other into a situation they couldn’t back out of. But the fact of the matter is that they got to my private apartments, they assaulted Patterson, and the intent to kill my wife and myself was very obvious as guns were drawn, and a shot was fired.  I want them jailed.”

Nate nodded, and was about to speak when Grant turned to Adam “And what do you have to say, or have you, for once in your life, run out of words?”

“No, sir.  As a private citizen you have every right to charge those men as you see fit…every right, legal and moral.”

“Legal and moral huh?” Grant nodded and narrowed his eyes, stared at Adam long enough to make Ben feel uncomfortable.  Grant nodded again and then walked to the table, and poured himself another cup of coffee, he turned to face them “Well, I’m very grateful for all you did last night, very much so.  I’ll write out a statement and get it sent to your office, Sheriff, and leave you to deal with the matter – privately.  Keep it under wraps, do you understand? I don’t want the public to think my wife and I are targets to be taken pot shots at every opportunity God sends because of some private grievance – “

He looked over at the security men and nodded, the doors opened, it was time for them to leave, they were dismissed.  As they turned to go, Grant said abruptly “Not you, Commodore.”

Adam paused, hesitated and then turned to face the man who had controlled his life for so many years. He heard the doors click shut, and stepped forward, and stood ‘at ease’ with a slightly curious expression on his face. Grant smiled

“It’s a while since we were face to face like this, Adam, and I could call you Commodore…”

“Some years, yes, sir.”

Grant nodded and surveyed the man in front of him, “Last night was the first time I’d seen you out of uniform.  This morning -” he smiled “couldn’t be a greater contrast.” he leaned against the back of a chair and once again exhaled a plume of smoke through which he regarded the other man, “Do you enjoy being a private citizen now, Mr. Cartwright?”

“Yes. I do. Thank you.”

“Chasing cows…and all that kind of thing, huh?” Grant smiled slowly “But you have a very lovely wife, Adam, that’s enough of an inducement to stay at home if ever there was one.

Grant pulled out a chair and sat down, indicating to Adam that he were to sit in the armchair opposite him. Adam did so and watched as Grant stubbed out his cigar into a saucer.  The ex-President turned and looked at him thoughtfully, before saying with great seriousness “Those three men – their names weren’t on the list, were they?”

“No.” Adam gave a quick shake of the head and narrowed his eyes. He knew the list Grant was referring to, and he had had the same fear. Grant sighed and bowed his head,

“That wretched list haunts me, you know.”  he paused and frowned, his brow corrugated in thought, “There have been other attempts, other times -” he brushed ash from his trouser leg, and continued “Every time I wondered about that list, or if these chance random attacks were another attempt to bring the Confederacy back.”

Adam nodded “I can understand that – but -”

“But?” Grant scowled, observing Adam from beneath beetled brows

“Time may have passed but the pain, the grief and hatreds don’t pass so easily.  There’s still a simmering hatred under the surface for all you stood for, it’s human nature, Mr. President. They still wanted to have a chance to put right some great wrong in their lives, forgetting that the time has passed, and they’ll never be able to – put it right.”

“There are no doubt others here who feel the same as those three men -”

“There are, without doubt.”

“I can’t turn a blind eye, Adam, otherwise those others will think an attempt of my life irrelevant…”

“They intended to kill you, sir, unfortunately the die was cast as soon as they made that decision – together.  They have to face the consequences obviously -”

Grant reached into his pocket and withdrew another cigar, he surveyed it for a moment and then glanced up to observe Adam who was watching him warily

“I ordered you on some unpleasant matters at times, Adam – “

“I was following orders, that’s all.”

“You never thought – of going back to sea?”

“No, sir.”

“Adam – what if I offered you a job working for me?  Would you accept it?” Grant leaned forwards his face eager, and the eyes sparkling with enthusiasm for the accomplishment of a plan he had set out days earlier.

Adam frowned, looked more wary than ever and with his head slightly at an angle observed the President with narrowed eyes “What kind of job?”

“Head of my security team. What about it? You and your wife and family could come and live nearby us…. that would be grand would it not, especially if Julia and your wife were found to be related?”

Adam’s lips twitched slightly into a parody of a smile, the man’s eagerness to put forward the offer, and the anticipation of its acceptance touched his cynical sense of humour. He cleared his throat

“Well, thank you, but I’m not a young man any longer, sir, and -”

“I don’t want a young man as head of my team. Young men can be hot headed and impetuous. I need a man I can trust, and I have always trusted you, Adam.” Grant raised a hand palm outward to signify he required no response, instead he stood up and nodded “Think about it.  I’d be grateful if you would do that at least.”

Adam nodded and rose to his feet, and when Grant extended his hand Adam smiled as he shook it, then he walked away, paused at the door and turned, and with his natural dignity and respect gave the President a salute before leaving the room.

*****

 

The three men in the cells glanced up eagerly as Nate approached the barred doors. Burke seized them and leaned forwards “Are you going to release us, Sheriff?”

Carmichael and A’Hearn clambered around the other man, their eyes and faces eager for news, for release but when Nate shook his head the three of them slumped visibly. A’Hearn in particular took it hard, he staggered to his bunk, and buried his face in his hands “I was drunk. I didn’t know what I was doing.”

Carmichael swung round on him his fists clenched “Don’t you start going mealy mouthed on us, A’Hearn, what with all your talk about a future Confederacy, you with your flag for anyone to see….”

“I’ve a wife and three children -” A’Hearn said, looking defiance at the man, “I didn’t intend it to go this far -”

Nate cleared his throat and shook the bars for attention, Burke sighed and turned to him with weary red rimmed eyes. He had become a bitter man over the years, the war had left its mark on him physically as well as mentally, his wife had died many suspected of the stress caused by living with him, and his usual companion was a bottle – or two – of rot-gut whisky.  “I need a drink.”

“You can have some coffee -”

“I said a drink – “ Burke yelled and heaved himself against the bars, “I can’t be left to rot in here, I can’t stand being closed in, you have to let me out -”

“You should have thought of that before you planned to assassinate the President…” Nate replied

“He ain’t the President now…” A’Hearn hissed and Carmichael nodded and said “No, he’s just a private citizen like us.”

“That’s where you’re wrong. But, if I may just remind you, even a commonplace grub of a man who chooses to live his life minding his own business has the right to come and go without a threat to his life.  He can expect to go to bed at night and wake up in the morning without finding himself or his wife with a bullet in them.  Do you get what I am saying here?”

“We never killed anyone -” A’Hearn pleaded

“Thankfully not. But the intention was there. You knocked out a security guard, you entered the room where the President and his wife were sleeping – and you intended to kill them both.” Nate frowned and looked at each man there and each of them stared back at him.

Not one of them had a flicker of remorse on their faces, their eyes were hardened by each word Nate spoke. The only regret shown was that the mission failed, and they had been caught. Nate nodded, there was no need for any further to be said.

But as he stepped away, he paused and turned to look at them “You will each be charged with attempted murder, as well as assault on the guard.”

The door closed behind him….and after a moment’s silence the cells echoed with curses, insults, imprecations and denouncements…but no apologies.

Chapter 23

Saturday for the Cartwright children had been so much fun. Sofia and Hannah, Hope and Nathaniel and even little Erik had spent hours enjoying being – children.  They were ably aided and abetted by Hoss who had allowed himself to be crawled over, wrestled with and bounced on.  He had pushed the swings until Sofia was nearly sick because it had gone too high even for her.  He had been scolded by Hester to ‘calm down’ but had then found his old brown coat and chased after them all pretending to be a bear – it was a game of hide and seek full of thrills, for even knowing that the bear was just Uncle Hoss didn’t stop the imaginations running riot.  So, convinced did they become that there was a real bear chasing after them that Erik was almost hysterical at one point and had to be taken indoors.

Hannah explained patiently it was because he was just a baby, and Hope had grabbed Nathaniel by the hand and ran off to her favourite hiding place where they cowered until the bears big ‘paw’ had reached in and grabbed at Nathaniel’s foot. He shrieked his head off of course and was consoled by Hester who called them all in, scolded Hoss (again) and made them go indoors to ‘calm down’.

After that they had had supper, and then played quiet games while Hoss and Hester discussed the various topics married couples often shared with one another when there was calm in the house.

“Uncle Hoss,” Sofia asked as she leaned against his knee and smiled up into his face, “Uncle Hoss, tell us a story.”

“About when you were a little boy…” Hannah added “With Grandpa and Uncle Adam, and how you were on a wagon train and how you fought Indians.”

“I didn’t fight any Indians.” Hoss said quickly and then seeing what looked like disappointment on their faces reminded them that he was only a ‘little ‘un’ himself when he was on the wagon train. “But when we stopped our travelling, we had lots of adventures, Uncle Adam and me…but we didn’t fight Indians back then, instead we made good friends with ’em.”

The children gathered around him, Hannah leaning into his side on the big armchair, Erik in his lap – nearly asleep – on one knee and Nathaniel on the other, while Sofia and Hope sat on the floor by his feet, leaning against his legs.  The fire was burning for it was cold at night now, and the flames threw a pleasant rosy glow over their faces.

Hester sat with her sewing and watched them, every so often lifting her eyes to take in the scene of her husband and the children gathered around him.  This was a moment that she knew her husband would cherish, he loved quiet moments with the children as much as he enjoyed the play times.

“We had made camp – Hop Sing had joined us by then, and Pa had said this was where we were going to build our house.  It was early summer, so we had the best season for building. It was late one evening and the fire was a-burning bright, and Hop Sing was cooking.  Adam had drawn a sketch in the dirt of the house he wanted Pa to build and I was running around, and I guess by accident I jest ran plumb over that thar house and Adam lost his temper and jumped up like a firecracker…”

“Was he angry, Uncle Hoss?” Sofia asked quietly, round eyed at the thought that her Daddy would be angry with Uncle Hoss.

“He sure was, spitting mad he was – and he chased after me saying how I had done it on purpose and -”

“And?” Hannah prompted, her dark hair gleaming in the firelight

“Well, guess I lost my temper as well ‘cos when he caught up with me – he sure could run fast in them days – and whopped me I jest swung at him and hit him right under the jaw. Sent him sprawling flat on his back!”

“Oh – Uncle Hoss!” Sofia exclaimed and drew away from him “Uncle Hoss – you hurt my Daddy?”

“Wal, I didn’t think I had, ‘cos at the time I didn’t think I was kinda that strong – but your Daddy went down like a log and hit the ground with a thud. I was that skeered.” Hoss shook his head, the memory vivid in his mind “Anyhow, Hop Sing came to the rescue as always and Pa came and it was soon jest fine, although I noticed that Adam kept shy of hitting me agin – for a little while anyhow.”

Erik snored at that point so Hester go up and took him from Hoss’ lap and carried him up to his bed. Nathaniel wriggled into a more comfortable position and Sofia sat with a scowl on her face not liking the thought that Uncle Hoss had got the better of her Daddy. Hoss felt he needed to redeem himself and cleared his throat “Well, not so long after that Adam and me, we was in the woods and hunting, I was only little at the time so trailed behind him trying to look out for our snares – when we heard a moaning sound.  ‘Stay here’ Adam says to me and so I stayed and he walked on, very careful like, and then he came back and told me he had found a boy, hurt, and I had to go back, by myself, to get Hop Sing to come and help the boy.”

“All by yourself, Pa?” Hope whispered, twisting a lock of blonde hair between her fingers as she thought of the little boy walking through the woods on his own

“Yep.  And the woods were much darker and such back then ‘cos we hadn’t chopped down so many trees.  Adam went to see to the boy and then I eventually got back with Hop Sing and Pa.  The boy was a Paiute, and about the same age as Adam.  He had broke his leg real bad and I could see that Adam had already done all he could to help him, but Hop Sing went and gave the boy something to drink ‘cos he was moaning something awful.”

The girls blinked their eyes, there was something in the way Hoss said ‘awful’ that conjured up all manner of pictures in their minds.  Hoss let that sink in for a little while before he went on “Pa said we had to get the boy back to his people soon as possible, because he was hurt bad and needed to be with his Ma and Pa.”

“I would want to be too.” Hannah said with a nod of the head and Sofia agreed, nodding energetically.

“Pa lifted the boy up and carried him for a long way while we followed along behind him.  But before we got to the Indian village some men came out from behind the trees – and when we turned round – there were men following behind us too. Don’t know how long they had been there, but they was like shadows, and as quiet as ghosts.”

“Oh, were you scared, Pa?” Hope whispered

“I sure was…I hurried to get as close to Pa as I could, so close that I could reach out and touch him.”

“Was my Pa scared too?” Sofia asked with her head to one side as she watched the shadows from the fire playing tricks over Uncle Hoss’ face

“Mebbe, but he didn’t let on…I reckon he was more curious than anything. Adam was always curious about things. Anyhows the Indians kind of surrounded us and one of them pushed Pa and grabbed the boy out of his arms. Then another Indian grabbed Pa by the arm and started pulling him along and the others herded us like as though we were stray calves until we was in the middle of their camp.  By then the Indian who had the boy had disappeared with him and I was beginning to feel really skeered. Adam turned and saw me and grabbed for my hand. ‘Don’t worry, Hoss, it’ll be alright once they know we didn’t hurt the boy.’ and I felt much better then. He jest kept a hold of my hand all the time and I knew Hop Sing was right there beside us too…”

“But what happened to Grandpa?” Hope now squeaked

“They took him away to a big tepee, and we didn’t see him for a while.  I jest thought I would jest do whatever Adam did…which meant standing still and looking around and noticing things.  Guess he noticed more’n me though, anyhow, out came Pa with the Chief. That was the first time we met Winnemucca because back then it was Winnemucca’s Pa who was the big Chief, but Pa had explained to the Chief and they went into the tent where the boy had been taken and then came out and Pa was smiling.  We knew we was alright then, because a lady came out and said a very pretty thank you to Adam and said he could go and talk to the boy.  I had to stay with Hop Sing and Pa but that was alright because I knew Adam and the Indian boy were going to be friends.”

“And was he, was he a good friend?” Sofia asked eagerly and smiled as Hoss nodded,

“He was, for a long time.  He taught us how to track, how to hunt like the Indians did, how to know the meaning of all the clues animals and humans leave behind without even realising it…and Pa was a great friend of Winnemucca too…”

“So, you never fought any Indians…?” Hannah said and smiled “I’m glad you didn’t, Pa.”

Hoss smiled and nodded, he didn’t like to disillusion his little girl by mentioning how the friendship between the boy and Adam had soured one day because the number of white men coming to their territory made the boy realise his heritage was being stolen from him, and that friendship turned to hate which culminated at the battle of Pyramid Lake*.  He stroked his little girl’s hair and nodded

“Wal, reckon it’s time for you all to get yourself to bed. Nathaniel’s asleep already…”

So, he was too, and his Uncle carried him up to his room where he slept in a bed alongside Erik.

The little girls scampered up the stairs and ran giggling and squealing into the room they were to share. Sofia loved it. And tomorrow – there still was no school and there was still time for games and fun.

*****

Reuben had enjoyed his time with the Evans’ and with Jimmy.  Because they still had ideas of being cabin boys in the future Reuben drew a picture of the Shenandoah, remembering the design of the big clipper ship from the model of it that had been a wedding gift to Adam and Olivia from the crew.

He explained where the forecastle was, and what the poop deck was and where the midshipmen were berthed.  He told Jimmy that after a while of being cabin boys they would be midshipmen too, and that they got the name because their berth was literally in a cabin ‘amid ship’.  They discussed the future seriously, as Reuben explained that if they were determined to go to sea then his Pa would help them.

“It’s no good running away to sea, Jim.  Pa said that sometimes the cabin boys were badly treated by the officers and the crew, especially if they were runaways. He said that in the past lots of cabin boys died because they were flogged….”

“Flogged? You mean they were beaten?”

“Yeah, with the ‘cat of nine tails.’” Reuben nodded and quite enjoyed the look of puzzled fear that came to his friend’s eyes, “That’s the name they gave the whip that was used, because it had nine tails with knots tied in it. But my Pa said that flogging was forbidden by a President ages ago…so we won’t be beaten like that.” he paused “I think they just use a stick now…”

“You mean we could still be beaten…?” Jimmy blinked and grimaced “Don’t like the sound of that…”

Reuben shrugged “Well, it’s part of life at sea.”

“Was your Pa ever beaten like that?”

“I don’t think so…” Reuben replied slowly, “I guess I’ll have to ask him.  But I think he was an officer soon as he went to sea, so may be no one would beat him.”

“He’s a hero, your Pa, isn’t he?”  Jimmy sighed, he would have liked to have had a hero for a Pa, all he had had was a drunken bully who was a foul-mouthed lout and for whom he had an intense loathing. And of course, now he had Mr. Evans, schoolteacher, not exactly the hero type who went around getting medals.

“He doesn’t think so. He says he was just obeying orders.” Reuben felt a worm of embarrassment wriggle in his stomach, he could sense Jimmy’s feelings and wished he could change the subject.

He looked down at the drawing and wondered how he could extricate himself out of the hole he had dug for himself.

It was then that Mr. Evans came to the rescue and reminded them it was time to come down for supper.

It had been a pleasant time. Mr. Evans had been busy with school preparation work, and corrections so had been closeted away in his room.  Mrs. Evans had been at the Emporium and had returned to prepare their meal and smiled at them when they came in, reminded them to wash their hands, and then set down the food for them to enjoy.

Reuben had enjoyed every moment, apart from when he felt he had made things awkward for Jim. But Mr. and Mrs. Evans were pleasant, a happy couple, and for an hour or so after supper there had been a game of chequers with Mrs. Evans and then chess with Mr. Evans. Reuben went to bed a happy contented little boy.

*****

When Sofia opened her eyes, she was not too sure where she was, although the bed was warm and comfortable, but not familiar.  She had been dreaming and the tail end of the dream was still dragging her back but for some reason she wanted to stay awake but even as she thought that, her eyes closed, and she drifted back …

She was in the pink room, and close by the fire was burning making the room warm. She climbed out of bed knowing that she needed to get away, out of the dream, down the stairs and out of the house. She tip toed past the big doll house that she loved, and past the rocking horse that gleamed in the firelight.

There was frost on the window with beautiful patterns that Jack Frost had left overnight.  There were scrolls and leaves and crisp ice laden curls and she couldn’t stop her feet from taking her to see them, to touch them. She put her fingertips against the pattern of leaves and watched as they melted into five clear patches with the water tricking down forming little pathways down through the patterns as they dripped down to the sill. Then she pressed her whole hand against it to form a larger patch through which she could look through and see down below onto the street.

It had snowed and there were footprints everywhere going this way and that way. She watched as the moon shone down and made the snow glisten like so many diamonds shimmering upon white wool…then a man appeared holding the hand of a little girl.  She leaned forwards, her brow touching the cold window and melting more of the frosted patterns.  

She saw her Pa walking by and he was holding the hand of the little girl, only the little girl was not her – she was trapped in the pink room – the girl who walked with Pa was the girl at the school who was always there, staring at her, who had talked to Pa, who looked at Pa as though she loved him.  It was Lilith.

Hester ran into the room at the sounds of Sofia crying aloud for her Daddy. As she wrapped the child in her arms Sofia sobbed, “He’s my daddy, my daddy…”

“Of course he is….” Hester whispered and mentally reminded herself to tell her husband not to tell anymore stories of the past again, especially of Adam getting thumped and flattened by him.

“I don’t want her to have my Daddy.”

“Shush, shush…no one will, Sofia. It’s alright…”

“I want her to go away, tell her to go away, will you, Aunt Hester?”

“Of course….of course I will.”

Sofia shivered, wiped her eyes, realised she needed more sleep.  She cuddled into her Aunt, and held tight “Tell Lilith, he’s my Daddy, not hers….”

Hester stroked the soft hair from the child’s overheated brow and held her close until she could be sure Sofia had fallen back to sleep.  Lilith…oh dear, it looked like trouble ahead.

Chapter 24

Once they had arrived at the house, at Adam and Olivia’s home, a message was sent by Ezra to the Double D to alert Luke Dent that he was about to have a visitor, and would he gather up any information he had about Ephraim Dent’s history.  If arrangements went according to plan, Luke would have just over an hour to get things organised and for Marcy to stop panicking and get something prepared for refreshments.

Olivia was not particularly happy about the whole thing. It unnerved her. She was very conscious that she was putting Marcy into an awkward position, because little Marcy was still shy and timid, still unsure of herself and with Julia Dent Grant coming to her home, it was sure to put the poor woman into a maelstrom of emotions.  Luke would of course think it very amusing. He and Olivia had chuckled over the possibility of a relationship with the first lady when it was first mentioned years previously, and he had said there were papers in father’s desk which he would look over…but he never did because it had all seemed implausible and a bit of a joke.

But Julia had suggested that once they had had some refreshment then she and Olivia could take a buggy ride to the Dents…’I would love to see where you were raised.’ she had told Olivia in that calm but authoritative voice, ‘and take in what it must have been like for you all there’.

Olivia could have told her what it was like for them all there but knew from the way Julia spoke that that would not suffice. The time it would take to get to the Double D meant the two women would be together and would have to converse, it all seemed rather surreal to her, and she found herself realising that she and Marcy had a lot more in common that one would have realised. She knew that her husband would have found it amusing, that his wife could be unravelling at the thought of spending a little time with the First Lady!

Ben left them at the fork that took the turning to Adam’s place, and rode on to the Ponderosa where he could tell Hoss and Hester all about events and then coax Hop Sing into preparing a banquet for the President and his wife later that evening. Hop Sing, he knew, would relish the idea after all he had cooked a meal for the President once before, but this time, with advance warning, he would achieve some miracle of culinary delight.  Hoss and Hester would take it all with a pinch of salt, they had no pretensions, after all, no one was ever turned away from the Ponderosa … and the Grants, so far as they were concerned, were just another couple enjoying the evening with them. Neither of them would be awed because Mr. Grant had been President.

Joe and Mary Ann were glad to return home and regale Bridie and Paul about events of the evening.  They enjoyed the looks on the older couples faces when they told them about the Grants and what had happened, and how the couple were coming to visit the Ponderosa.

“The President’s wife wants to see if her family are related to Olivia’s,” Mary Ann explained as she tossed her bonnet onto the side table and ran her fingers through her hair, “They’re going to visit Marcy and Luke -”

“Poor Marcy.” Bridie exclaimed and shook her head

“I think Mr. Grant – I mean – President Grant will be staying with Adam, probably talking over old times, and then this evening they’ll have a meal at Pa’s” Mary Ann smiled and leaned down to pick Constance up and place her on her knee “Were you a good girl for Bridie and Paul, sweetheart?”

Constance nodded her head, so far as she was concerned, she was always a good girl. Daniel was busy playing with his spinning top, it was currently his favourite toy.  Paul sighed and stood up from his chair, and indicated it was time to leave. “I left John with James doing the night shift, so best get there as soon as possible to relieve them. I think they will be busy packing things up and arranging for their move soon.”

“Where will they be going?” Mary Ann asked as she stood up with Constance in her arms, and followed them to the door, then she sighed and shook her head “And – you know – Grant Tombs asked that Amy to marry him and he’s buying the Emporium…and the apartment.”

Joe laughed and put an arm around her waist while Bridie smiled and looked pleased without realising, she was not supposed to look so happy about it. “Mary Ann is a little upset, she was hoping to set up business there herself.”

“Oh, surely not!” Bridie said with a touch of disdain in her voice “Quite unsuitable for you, my dear. Selling undergarments – no. – quite unsuitable.”

That even made Mary Ann laugh, she had never suspected Bridie of being such a prude, but it warmed her to the older woman even more so and she leaned over to kiss her on the cheek.

“You may actually pass the President and his wife on the way to Adam and Olivia’s, in their carriage…” she said.

“I hope not,” Paul said brusquely and slapped his hat on his head “I voted for the other feller…”

Joe and Mary Ann looked at one another, unsure whether to laugh or not, for Paul had never revealed any political bias before, but they had the sense to just step aside and watch the couple make their way to their buggy which Hank had got ready for them, with the horse nodding over the water trough, patiently waiting as had been its lot in life for many years.

Mary Ann closed the door and looked at Joe with twinkling eyes “Well, doesn’t that just show that no matter how much you think you know folk, there is always something new to discover about them.”

*****

It was decided that the two security men would ride as escort for Julia and Olivia, so as their buggy jounced its way out of the yard, the two men rode close just in case some danger could leap out on the first lady and her companion.  Adam thought it all rather ridiculous, but said nothing, he was more than aware of how safety conscious people in high office were, and the events of the previous evening had certainly proven that one could never take too much for granted when it came to the safety of such a prominent figure as Ulysses S Grant.

Grant had enjoyed the whole adventure and had told Adam that he would like to ‘mount up and ride round the place’.  So, while the President drank coffee, smoked his cigar and generally took his ease, Adam arranged for a horse to be saddled up for his guest, while he attended to Kami. He was leading both horses out into the yard when Grant appeared on the porch watching him with a thoughtful expression on his face.

Adam looped the reins of the horses over the rail and glanced over at the other man. There were only a few years difference in their ages, yet Grant looked at least ten years older if nor more. His time in office and the long world tour he had undergone had left him physically weary. He had grown heavier in build, there were pouches under his eyes, his skin was flaccid. He was not aware, as he puffed at his cigar, that the cancer that would kill him in a few years’ time was already at work in his system.  Ignorant of such, he smoked constantly, and his eyes looked like those of a man who surveyed the world through a constant haze of smoke.

He watched the other man with a slight envy, for he had always admired and respected Adam for the man he was, the principles by which he lived, but also because he looked what he was…no man’s fool, good looking, his body lithe and without any excess of fat (what he had possessed had melted away thanks to Adjo Admose’s diet some time previously).

Grant noticed how Adam eased the rifle in its scabbard to ensure it could be taken from there swiftly if needed, he also noticed the gun belt Adam wore, snug around the hip and thigh. He smiled slightly at seeing that although he himself had been President he was not being given the best horse in the stable, it was obvious that Adam was keeping that for himself.

“A magnificent beast.” Grant said as he joined Adam at the rail, and nodded over at Kami

“She is.”

“Cost a pretty sum I should imagine.”

“A gift.”

“Ah…” Grant raised an eyebrow and nodded, “A very expensive one.”

Adam said nothing but stood by the other horse, looked at Grant “Mistral is a good horse, if you’re

ready, sir?”

Grant paused, looked from Adam to the horse, he was a good horseman, but getting into the saddle required some help. Adam cupped his hands together and Grant stepped into the foothold provided and with a bit of a ‘lift’ was soon in the saddle. He smiled, nodded and looked at Adam

“I’m going to enjoy this -” he said with a beaming face and twinkling eye, “This is about as free as I can get…and have been…for a long time.”

Adam couldn’t but smile back in return, that was the charm of Grant, his overlarge personality just swept away the negatives every time.  They rode out of the yard together, side by side, like two old friends …

*****

Julia Boggs Dent Grant was not an overly attractive woman.  It is all too easy for the imagination to conjure up images of Queens, Princesses and First Ladies as fairy tales portray them, always beautiful, slim and elegant…but just as Queen Victoria was a disappointment by not appearing fairy like and ethereal, so did Julia if one were expecting the First Lady to be such.  Julia was pleasantly homely, overweight like her husband, and her appearance was just like any other matronly figure of that time.

She had been born with strabismus (crossed eyes) which prevented both eyes from lining up in the same direction. This often came as rather a shock when first meeting her. One never expected such prominent figures, especially ladies, to be unable to look one straight in the eyes and as she always had her picture taken in profile, one was not prepared for such a thing when she turned full face to look at one.

But like her husband she had a powerful personality, warm and pleasant, and like the matronly figure she appeared to be, she also had strong opinions about women suffrage of which she was a great supporter. Despite her father having been a slave owner, she had no prejudice with regards to race.

The journey to the Double D proved to be both entertaining and fascinating for both women as they slipped easily into conversion. Julia was adept at drawing people out, and she had Olivia in the palm of her hands before they had got anywhere near to the Double D.

She told Olivia of her three sons and her daughter.  Her eldest son, she told Olivia, carried the Dent name for he was Frederick Dent Grant. She described the wedding of her daughter, Ellen, whom she then referred to constantly as Nellie…but what a wedding it had been and what expense! Olivia found she was lapping up every word with the avid interest of a child fascinated by a fairy tale.

Julia showed pleasure in the surroundings through which they were driving, commended Olivia on her skill with managing the horses, and when the Double D finally came into sight she sighed and nodded and muttered one word “Delightful.”

Luke and Marcy came to the door and stood there, hand in hand, while the twins ran out to greet their aunt and the visitor. They had grown, two handsome children with big eyes and wide smiles. Olivia could see that Marcy was nervous, the way she cast quick looks in her direction, so she smiled widely and hurried over to kiss her friend on the cheek and then stood back to introduce Julia to them both.

It was obvious Julia Boggs Dent Grant was unlike anything either of them expected.

*****

It had been decided to leave Reuben with the Evans’ as that had been arranged and Adam felt it wrong to break his promise to his son.  Children needed the company of their friends, and the company of an older couple would only be boring and irritating, after all, what would a ten-year-old have in common with a man like Grant?

So it was that Reuben was with Jimmy when the Martins arrived at the house to ‘view it’ as a prospective home of their own.  Mary tried hard not to show her feelings, but she was emotional. Edward was more stoic, houses held little emotional ties to him, he had moved from one to another so often in his life with his previous wife, as a result he took the lead in showing the Martins around the property.

Mary busied herself with making coffee, and biscuits and then nervously waited for John, Barbara, Lilith and little Paul to join her in the sitting room.  She was unsure about Barbara, who was so straight backed and unsmiling. It seemed to Mary that Barbara’s eyes missed nothing, and yet she was not in the least bit interested in what she saw.  Nor did Barbara voice an opinion upon anything, except to nod her head when her husband addressed her. Lilith followed her parents like a shadow, solemn and quiet, while little Paul held his father’s hand and chattered happily, smiles on his face and eyes twinkling.

“Is this our new house, Papa?  Will that be my room?  Can Lilith have the other room? Where will I put my toys?”

His chirpy voice was the only thing that helped Mary get through the ordeal.

Jimmy and Reuben were engrossed in a game of chess when there was a knock on the door and it opened to reveal the Martins with Edward, and Lilith standing there, looking at them both. Her eyes widened, then lowered although she went slightly red in the face which puzzled the boys, but then they were only ten, what did they know about the vagaries of twelve-year-old girls?

The door closed and Jimmy looked at Reuben “What was all that about?” he asked

“I think they are here to see the house before they buy it.” Reuben replied and his hand hovered over the rook nearest to him

“I hope they don’t buy it; I like it here…it’s the best place I’ve ever lived in.”

“I hope they don’t buy it then, Jim.”

They nodded in mutual agreement. Reuben made his next move, but his mind was on Lilith and the fact that she had looked so embarrassed at seeing them.  Jim trounced him easily….

*****

Sofia had forgotten her dream and was happy again. She, Hannah and Hope ran off across the yard and out to where there was the old uprooted tree just beyond where the bunkhouses were…the old tree had fallen some years previously and left a large hollow, some of the roots were still entangled with the soil, bedded down deep forming natural joists so that the three girls pretended it was their own little house. Here they laid out their dolls tea sets and had their make-believe teas and put their dolls in order to play.

Hop Sing always gave them raspberry cordial and some little cakes with icing on …. while the doll’s got down to business the girls nibbled their cakes and drank the cordial and chattered, pretending to be mothers and giggling along with their pretensions.

“Why did you wake up last night?” Hannah said as she finished the last crumb of her cake.

“I didn’t -” Sofia replied looking puzzled

“You was crying. My Ma came in to give you a cuddle.”

“Oh –“ Sofia paused, the little morsel of cake still in her fingers, she frowned “I can’t remember. Did I have a bad dream?”

Hannah shrugged, Hope volunteered the information that she sometimes had bad dreams, and sometimes she even wet the bed. That was dismissed as irrelevant, Hannah and Sofia shook their heads at her, and Sofia finished her cake.  “I think I had a bad dream.” Sofia finally admitted

“Oh, what about?” practical Hannah wanted to know and leaned over to settle her doll into a more comfortable position as she had flopped over.

“That girl – Lilith – I don’t like her.”

Hannah looked at the other girl and then nodded, if Sofia didn’t like Lilith, then neither would she, she looked at Hope who was too busy eating her cake to notice.

Chapter 25

The two horsemen rode side by side to the rim rock and drew their horses to a halt in order to look over the panoramic view laid out before them.  It was a stunning view when seen for the first time, although the Cartwrights always held that it was magnificent no matter how many times they viewed it.

The mountains, the trees that kissed the skies, the lake below which reflected like a mirror image that which overhung it. On such a day as that particular day, it shone, and the reflection was so sharp it was hard to see where one began and the other ended.

Grant nodded appreciatively “It’s beautiful country, Adam.”

“Well, Mr. President, we both know that there are many places in this world equally as beautiful, if not more so. But what makes this view – so special – is because it belongs to us, it’s Ponderosa land. It’s home.”

Grant nodded and was silent for a moment while Adam relaxed in the saddle and remembered some of the times he had sat astride Sport with his father and brothers at his side, feeling proud of what they had achieved, glad to look down on something so awe-inspiring and to know it was theirs because of the blood they had spilled to acquire it, the blood, sweat and toil to keep it. He sighed

“There are other views even more magnificent, but they are several days ride from here.” he murmured with his head inclined to one side as he observed the other man,

“Reminding me of just how far your land extends to, are you?” Grant raised his eyebrows and then fingered his beard, “Someone told me it was a thousand square miles in size.”

“Yes” Adam nodded, “Some parts still wild, packed with good timber, wild animals that can still roam free.”

“Not like the cities then…”

“No, not like the cities.” Adams lips twitched into a smile and he flicked the reins of his horse to and fro between his fingers.

“Have you thought over my offer?”

“I have.” Adam inclined his head “I will mention it to Olivia later and see what she has to say

about it.  I don’t like making decisions without her opinion on the matter.”

“Fair enough.” Grant returned to look over at the view again, “Paiute lived here before you came, if I recall rightly?”

“Waso Paiute…and Bannock…and Shoshone…”

“All gone?”

Adam pursed his lips and raised his eyebrows, then nodded “All gone.”

“From what I recall your family were on good terms with Winnemucca…and his daughter. Sarah?”

“We were…my father was better acquainted with old Truckee, Winnemucca’s father, he gave us land

freely for the protection we gave his people from the diggers…”

“Diggers?”

“The white men who came digging for gold, on their land.  To be honest, we tried to protect them as well. It wasn’t always easy though, they made a rod for their own backs…we’d get them to leave the Paiute territory and warn them how they were risking their lives, then they’d come back again from another direction. The Indians said the gold made men crazy…and so it did.”

“Was there much in the way of Indian trouble…?” Grant slid his eyes sideways to observe the other man, but Adam only shrugged

“Not because of the Indian…mostly aggravated by the diggers, and land grabbers.”

“Like yourselves?”

Adam sighed and shrugged “Some may say so, but we always negotiated with Truckee and Winnemucca for any land we got form them. Later of course we went through Government procedures to legalise it…but the tribes were dwindling in number, from white men’s diseases, bullets, greed….”

“You know, Adam, you’re sounding like an Indian lover….” Grant smiled and withdrew a cigar

from his pocket, struck a match and waited for the flame to flare before putting it to the cigar.

A drift of cigar smoke was soon wafting in Adams direction, Grant flicked the match away.

Adam watched it fall, watched for a second or two to satisfy himself that the dry ground was safe from fire, that the match had been safely extinguished. He flexed his shoulders “I believe I’ve been called that name before, sir, by quite a few.”

Grant chuckled and nodded “Yes, sir, that you have…. Custer hated you for it, so did my other Generals.”

“In all fairness, sir, I dislike an unfair and uneven fight. No matter where I’ve been in the world, I’ve seen that same intolerance everywhere, no matter what colour or race…. I find it hard to accept.”

“But you have to, we all have to, Adam.”

Adam sighed deeply “Yes, we accept it, turn a blind eye, do nothing, and eventually the problem will go away…the Paiute certainly have.”

“What about the Battle at Pyramid Lake…what side did you take then?” Grant exhaled a plume of smoke

Adam smiled slowly, “Well, to be honest, I had little choice in the matter, one of Winnemucca’s sons had me captive and was prepared to kill me.  I was his enemy…not his father’s nor his tribes…but…” he shrugged and backed his horse away from the rim rock and then turned its head “Shall we ride on?”

*****

The longer Julia chatted to Luke and Olivia, the more relaxed Marcy became…she liked the woman, she reminded her of Bridie and listening to her talking about her children made Marcy feel that this Mrs. Grant really understood what it was like to be a mother, and a good wife.

“When my husband was on campaigns during the War Between the States, I went along with him,”* Julia said as she took a ledger from Luke’s hands, “A wife should be with her husband, that was what our vows are all about, isn’t’ it?”

“Did you take your children with you?” Marcy asked timidly as she stood by the stove waiting to make coffee

“No, they were left with relatives where they would be safe. They were little then, well, I guess Frederick Dent was over ten years of age, and his father got worried that if he were with us, he would go join up and fight. Many young boys did…too many young boys…” she paused and drew in her breath before looking down at the book Luke had passed her

“Our Pa never talked much about family…” Luke said as he sat down opposite Julia and Olivia. “He was a rather – morose man – especially after what happened with the Bannocks.”

“What happened? Did they – attack you? Was there a war?” Julia’s eyes widened and she looked at Luke and Olivia as though that sounded far more interesting than wading through old papers and family history

“No, just a skirmish during which Mother and three of us were taken away to their camp.” Luke grinned, “One of the best things that ever happened to us, we had great fun.” he chuckled at the memory and glanced over at Olivia who smiled

“They didn’t hurt you?”

“Not at all. Children are just children everywhere, after all.  They don’t see or bother with the colour of skin, just how good you are at their games, or at hunting and tracking. As boys we had nothing to do but play.” Luke now smiled over at Marcy who brought over the coffee for them and then sat on the settee with her children, one either side of her.

“We were treated well -” Olivia nodded, “They were in thrall with my mother, with her colouring, you see?  It was hard to settle back into the usual way of life afterwards…” she sighed a little, and thought of her mother, poor Martha wasting away, waiting for the baby to come, enduring her husband’s suspicions and distrust for all those months.

They drank coffee, ate biscuits, and poured over the paperwork that Luke had retrieved from various boxes that had been stowed away in the attic space.  Some was hard to understand and others too damp and dusty to be handled without falling apart.

“Well, it seems we have come from the same area originally, some generations away…”Julia said as she scribbled something down in a notebook, “I’ll do more research when I get back to New York City.” she picked up one document and peered at it closely, “Can I take this with me? It’s very old, so I will understand if you would prefer for me not to take it.”

“I’ve never even looked at it, nor anyone of us has…so take it with pleasure, Ma’am.” Luke smiled his genial grin, and his eyes twinkled, “Though seems to me from what you say that your family has kept the Dent name alive for sure…”

“Yes, Frederick is named after my Uncle Dent….” she laughed a little shyly “I guess we are rather proud of our origins.”

“Well, I remember Father saying his ancestors came over on the Mayflower…” Luke looked at his sister “Do you remember him ever saying that at all?”

Olivia thought for a moment, then nodded “Francis*…that was his name, Francis Dent. He lived in Salem, in 1630.”

Julia grinned and her homely face looked flushed with excitement “You do have a remarkable memory, Olivia.”

“Oh I think it was because of the way Father mentioned it one time, he was very proud of it and for a while it seemed to be something he was very proud of boasting about…then, of course, Mother died and things went rather – well – as you can imagine.”

Julia nodded and looked at the brother and sister as they sat at the table with her, the papers strewn across the wooden boards and the coffee growing cold by their elbows…she smiled and then picked up her cup and drank it, nodded in appreciation “My family originated in England,* in Yorkshire – I think – or Cumberland.  There seems to be some uncertainty about exactly whereabouts…it would be fascinating if my research confirms that we have a common ancestor in Francis, wouldn’t it”

She carefully rolled up the paper and placed it in her large leather bag, and then she stood up and said regretfully that she should really be leaving as there was a long ride ahead…Olivia rose to her feet “I had forgotten the time, but you’re right, we must get back or we will be late for supper.”

Kisses were shared out and they were escorted to the door, Luke and Marcy stood there together, waving their visitors goodbye, their children standing by their side waving and wondering why they had to do so…and why they had had to be so well behaved all the time Julia Dent Grant was with them

Chapter 26

The evening went well, although there was that feeling common in any social occasion where everyone is aware that their guests are above the ordinary but did not wish to draw attention to themselves and no one wanted to show that they were going to treat them differently anyway.

Considering the short notice given to the three men in preparing a special meal, they had provided wonderfully well. Not too elaborate to be ostentatious but enough to indicate the appreciation for the couple whom the Cartwrights were hosting.

The ladies chatted and relaxed because Julia was matronly and amusing and didn’t parade her position too obviously. She told them how she had encouraged soirées at the White House with the ladies of senior officials and held parties for the children…how she had attempted to give the ‘human’ touch to the politics that buzzed about them constantly. Hester, Mary Ann and Olivia were all of the opinion that Mrs. Grant was a thoroughly decent woman.

Grant enjoyed smoking his cigars while Ben puffed on his pipe, both providing enough smoke to cover the ceiling joists and hide them from view. The children played well together before being gathered up to their beds. Later their own parents would take them home to their own rooms, in their own homes. Sofia had come to the conclusion that Mr. Grants beard was not as long and ‘nice looking’ as Daniel deQuille’s and found the man a trifle intimidating. The other children were too busy enjoying themselves to notice. Grandpa’s visitors were just that and they were used to getting on with things in the background.

Once the children had been taken to their beds the adults settled down to talk, and naturally the conversation turned to politics.

“Will you run for the Presidency again, Mr. Grant?” Ben asked

“For a third term? Well, no I don’t think so…” he frowned and glanced over at his wife who had sat up straighter in her chair and her face took on a stern look, “My wife would like me to do so, but I find that it is best to leave it to others. I have been approached however to be a kind of caretaker until the new President is elected.

“You should put forward your name, dear” Julia said bluntly, looking with lips tightly compressed “You still have so much to do for this country, and there is…”

Grant raised his hand to stop the flow of words and shook his head “No, one has to know when to call it a halt. I shall always make myself available of course…to help when needed…but I do not intend to take up office again.”

Julia sat back, defeated, and sighed, shook her head. Her disappointment was obvious, and the other women wondered if it were for her own more material reasons than for her husband’s political prowess. There was a lull in the conversation for some moments which was prevented from getting awkward when Ben got up to pour drinks into the crystal glasses and pass around whiskey for the men and wine for the ladies.

Mary Ann asked about their foreign tour and Julia launched happily into a discourse on various countries, their customs and culture. The atmosphere became relaxed and pleasant as it usually does when conversation was steered away from talk of politics or religion.

Eventually Grant indicated to Ben that he would like a stroll outside, a chance to look at the stars as he put it and enjoy the night air. The two men left the room and closed the door firmly behind them

“I have a great deal of admiration for you, Mr. Cartwright, for what you and your sons achieved here. You have every right to be mighty proud of your Ponderosa.”

“Thank you, sir, we are…very proud” Ben blew out a perfect smoke ring and returned the stem of his pipe to his mouth.

“There must have been times though when you wondered if you would ever see your eldest son return home…safely.”

Ben paused, removed the pipe and stared up at the stars “There were times, sir, when he returned home safely… but…” he glanced over at Grant who was puffing at his cigar and looking up at the sky, “But at times closer to death than life…”

Grant nodded “I know. I know. I appreciate that fact and that it was due to my orders that circumstances took place to put him in such danger. I regret it sincerely…especially the China Seas situation.”

Ben raised his eyebrows “Adam never blamed you for anything, he accepted that he was obeying orders and that people, well, I suppose we should add, unscrupulous people, had a hand in matters. He was in the navy, and he had to obey orders from his superior…” he shrugged and pursed his lips “I would, of course, have preferred it not to have happened.”

“What exactly?” Grant looked at him “His signing up at such a late age to become an officer in my service? Or because he realised that all that the Ponderosa had to offer was not enough for him- not enough to keep him here.”

Ben sighed and looked down, he tapped out the tobacco ash from his pipe, and watched as it drifted away to join the dirt at their feet. There was just enough light shining from the lantern for the two men to see such details for darkness was creeping in upon them. Far, far away the thin cry of a coyote was heard.

“This is a big country,” Grant observed, “what if your son chose to leave the Ponderosa again?”

“For what reason?” Ben’s eyes darkened and he turned to face the other man with his lips thin, almost as thin as Julia Dents had been earlier

“Well, what if he were asked – offered – a situation elsewhere?”

“In the Navy, do you mean? An office job?”

“No – no, not at all….”

“Then what?”

Grant paused, he realised he had already said too much, he shook his head, and put out a hand to touch Ben’s elbow “I was just thinking aloud, Mr. Cartwright, Ben…that’s all. He strikes me as a restless man, perhaps at an age now when he would like to go in a new direction, make changes in his life…”

Ben sighed and shrugged “You could be right. He has always been a restless one, never able to settle well unless – unless he had good reason to do so. He fought for the Ponderosa tooth and nail, shed blood, his own and others, in order to gain it and to keep it. When it became secure and things became settled…comfortable…that’s when I noticed how restless he was, and he chose to go to sea. “

“And your other sons? Joseph and Hoss” Grant stubbed out his cigar on the fence post, and both men watched the sparks from the dying ash glitter and fall earthwards.

“No – Hoss has always been happy here, never understood anyone wanting to leave. Joe – well, he had his moment when he felt the need to test out his boundaries. It was hard when he left here…” his voice drifted away, in his memory he could see the youth riding away on Cochise, excited and happy, happy to be riding away from the Ponderosa and those he loved.

“When he rode off to Indian Territory.”

“Yes, when there was Indian Territory…” Ben glanced sharply at Grant whose Indian Policies had been lukewarm to say the least.

Grant twitched his shoulders and grimaced “He and Adam really annoyed Custer, you know?”

“I heard tell…” Ben fingered his pipe, the bowl was still warm, he felt it was time to return to the house and turned but Grant remained where he was, blocking Ben’s path.

“I – and any President – serve in the capacity as a servant to the people…” Grant intoned, and looked down at the ground at his feet, “But it is not always possible to serve them in the way they may wish. How do you satisfy the demands of so many different people with so many different ideas? Please one and offend a dozen. Pacify a dozen and offend one. But it could be the one who would cause the most trouble later…” Grant shook his head “Then one listens to the body of which one is the head…and they tell you this, advise you that…policies to benefit some would be to the disadvantage of others…whom does one listen to?” he sighed and shook his head “Julia wants me to try for the third term in office, but -” he shook his head. “No. I couldn’t…”

They stood awhile longer, in silence, then Grant began to speak again “If one could go back in time, then things would have been done differently. But even so, the same situation arises, there are always those who insist your policies are wonderful even when one has doubts, and papers get signed that should not have been, and people become like chess pieces….well, that is not how I want to live my life now,” he sighed and shook his head “Look what happened in your town last night? Something – someone – from the past remembered an incident – and if it had not been for your sons my wife and I could have been killed.”

“It was more than an incident, sir, it was a major event in several men’s lives…”

“Which was not of my doing…but I understand what you are saying. I do understand, Ben.” he smiled slowly, his lips tight across his teeth “Even here, your son stepped in and saved my life…he and his brother.” he searched his pocket and produced two cigars, one of which he offered Ben who accepted it, “What if I offered him a position on my security team, do you think he would accept it?”

“Adam? Or Joe?” Ben asked as he ran the cigar under his nose to savour the smell.

“Either of them. Both of them?” Grant gave a gruff laugh, as though the thought of having both brothers on his payroll was new to him, he nodded “What do you think?”

Ben shook his head “I can’t speak on my son’s behalf…it is something they would have to decide for themselves.”

They stood silent for a while and then Ben said something about going back inside, as the ladies would be concerned, and time was ticking away. Both men returned to the house, the fresh cigars unsmoked.

*****

President and Mrs. Grant were to stay over at Adam’s home, so at the appointed hour they clambered into the buggy behind Adam and Olivia. Sofia wrapped up warmly sat on her mother’s lap, stirred only when the cool night air kissed her cheeks. In the morning there would be school, but for Nathaniel, for whom no such delights awaited him, sleep remained undisturbed as he was allowed another night with his Aunt and Uncle. Blissfully unaware of his sister’s removal from the bed, he slept on, snoring lightly, dark curls damp with bedtime sweat.

The security men were provided beds in the bunkhouse at Adam’s. There were not many men there, but they were more than happy to share room with them, to deal out the cards and pour out the beer. Money rattled onto the table, along with the slap of the cards, jokes and ribald jests abounded. Then came the tall stories which lasted well into the night…

When morning came Adam and Olivia rose early, Sofia was roused from her bed and reminded that there was school. Their guests were left to linger so avoided the grumbles and protests of one disgruntled little girl who longed to stay home, just another day. please….

IN the home of Mr. and Mrs. Evans their guest was up with the proverbial lark and he and Jimmy prepared for school. Mary cooked a good meal for them and then took herself off to work walking alongside her husband until she reached the Emporium, kissed her husband and son and waved goodbye to the three of them. She stood for a moment in the doorway and sighed, wondered how much longer she would be in control of this little empire.

Reuben had had a great time, he and Jimmy were now close friends and even if Jimmy didn’t reveal the fact that in a certain box in the bedroom there was a ribbon, a glove, a handkerchief and even a scrap of paper with Sofia’s writing on…it didn’t really matter. Everyone was allowed secrets…even a little boy.

Chapter 27

President Grant stood at the window of the bedroom that he had shared with his wife in the home of Adam and Olivia Cartwright.  He had stood there for some time watching the early morning goings-on of the household. He had seen a wagon arrive with a little girl sitting on the bench seat whom he recognised as Hannah Cartwright, and he had watched as another little girl ran out of the house to be swung up by her father to sit beside Hannah. He could tell from the look on Sofia’s face that school was not a place she wanted to be that day. Her father spoke to her briefly, kissed her bowed head and then stepped back. With a raised hand he watched as the wagon rolled out of the yard.  Grant would not know that it would later stop closer to town to collect yet another little girl enroute.

He nodded to himself and frowned but continued to watch as his two security men came out of the bunk house, scratching their chests, under their arm pits and stretching to the sky. They stopped to talk with Adam and then disappeared with him into the stables.

“You know, those kids have some way to go to get to school.” he observed as he chewed on his cigar, “Most be hellish getting there and back when the weather turns bad.”

Julia was putting the last touches to her toilette. She nodded “I asked them about it, they just said there were arrangements for the children in town…” she pursed her lips and sighed “I was talking to Mary Ann – she is quite an accomplished pianist you know?  She was taught by Beatrice Weiss.  Now, that was an extraordinarily talented woman…” she sighed and then continued to twitch a curl here and a curl there, before looking over at her husband who was still standing at the window. “You’ve been standing there for about an hour now.”

“I know.” he nodded and frowned “I’ve asked Adam to consider coming to New York City…to be head of my security team.”

“I wish we didn’t have to have one…”

“It’s almost non-existent compared to what we would have had were I to run for President again.” he turned to look at her, and smiled gently, “Do you think he’ll come/”

“Depends on his wife.  I have a feeling he won’t do anything without Olivia’s agreement.”

“Oh?” he frowned and returned to observe from the window, Adam and the two security men were leading the horses from the stables in order to harness them to the coach. “I didn’t think Adam Cartwright would be under his wife’s thumb to such an extent.”

She stood up and walked towards him and then slipped her arm through his, “My dear, is that what it means? Considering your wife’s feelings on such important matters to be under her thumb? The little woman wearing the pants, is that it?”

He frowned and shrugged, then with a sigh walked away from the window, to pick up his jacket and shrug himself into it. “Not put like that – but I want him to be involved with life back home….”

“Why on earth would he want to leave here, dear?  After all those years at sea, away from his wife and family …?”

“He’d be a darn sight better off, for a start” her husband replied snappily, and buttoned up his jacket.

Julia sighed and gave a slight impatient shake of her head, sometimes she couldn’t get her husband to understand her way of thinking no matter how much she tried. Like many women it frustrated her, as much as it frustrated her husband who, like many men, could never understand a woman’s way of thinking.

 

*****

Joe Cartwright arrived just in time to see the Grants into their carriage with the two security men in position on the carriage.  He and Adam had agreed to ride ‘shot gun’ to ensure they arrived safely in town, where they would collect their belongings from the hotel, and then depart for San Francisco. Once in town they would be the responsibility of the Sheriff, Nate, and the security men.

On the journey there was little chance to speak as the brothers rode alongside the carriage with the security men comfortably seated inside with their weapons on hand to protect and defend their two fellow occupants. Grant sat throughout with a frown on his face as he tossed and turned various ideas about in his mind, how best to present his case, and the outcome of his request should it be in the affirmative – or not.

As soon as the carriage drew up outside the Hotel, Grant and his wife quickly made their way into the building shadowed by the two guards.  It made Joe think of how much like a prisoner the President actually was, and that there were many different forms of a prison. In the foyer of the hotel Grant bade the brothers goodbye, shaking their hands and looking them in the eye, an almost intimidating glare which they returned steadily.

“Don’t forget to consider that offer, Adam.”

“I won’t forget, but I can’t promise anything, sir.”

Grant smiled and turned to Joe “I offered your brother a position as head of my security team.  Do you think he’ll accept it?”

Joe looked shocked, he turned to stare at his brother and then shook his head, shrugged his shoulders, “I don’t know, sir. First I’ve heard of it.”

“Hmm.” Grant scowled and turned to watch as the bellboys brought down his luggage, Julia was standing supervising them, checking that all the cases and boxes were in order. He turned back to the two men “What about you, Joseph? Ever thought of living in a city? Would it appeal to you? Think about it?” he smiled slowly “You both already proved to be a better security team between the two of you, than the ones I currently have…”

“Well,” Joe said honestly “we were on the spot, so to speak. Your two men had been given leave of absence.”

Grant gave a bellow of laughter, and punched Joe good humouredly on the shoulder, and nodded agreement “Still, “ he paused and calmed down, frowned “Think about it, young man, it could lead to bigger and better things.”

Joe opened and closed his mouth, frowned and looked down at his feet which suddenly seemed to want to fidget. Adam sighed and nudged him, then together they shook Grants hand, then Julia’s.  As they turned to leave Grant placed a restraining hand upon Adams arm, so that Adam was forced to stop and turn to look at the other man. Grant smiled

“I know such a decision will be a hard one, Adam. You have so much here…but you gave it up once, and I’m hoping that will help you realise you can do it again”

“As I said before…”

“I know, you want to discuss it with Olivia.” Grant nodded and glanced over to the door where Joe was standing, curious but hesitant to return and become part of the conversation. Grant sighed and looked at the other man intensely, “Adam, you went through a lot during your time serving me -”

“I only did my duty, others did likewise – and some did not survive.” he paused, names scrolled through his memory, O’Brien, of course, so many others “I did…survive, I mean.”

“You did more than your duty, Adam…” Grant paused “I always viewed you as a friend, and it’s as a friend that I’m offering you this position now. I want the opportunity to make up to you for everything in the past…I don’t like to admit when I’ve been wrong, too stubborn, too proud I guess…but there were a lot of things in my administration I would have liked to have done but was unable to do, my hands were tied so to speak…at the same time I often thought that I had lost your respect, as a friend, by not following through on some things, particularly relating to the Black Hill situation.” his eyes sought Adam’s and for a few seconds succeeded in holding them and seeing the dark eyes spark with amber, he nodded “And of course, nearly getting your brother killed in the process.”

“That’s in the past, sir.” Adam smiled, briefly and extended his hand “Thank you -” he paused “For everything, friend.”

“Friend.” Grant nodded, smiled and felt relief lighten some grief he had been holding onto without even realising it. He turned to Julia who was hovering nearby and beckoned her to join them, “Julia, I think, would be more than happy to accept Olivia as a long-lost cousin, aren’t I right, dear?”

Julia smiled, her homely face softening as a result she nodded “Adam, it’s been a delightful few days, thank you so much. Tell Olivia I shall be doing research as soon as I get home, and I shall be writing to her with the results.”

Adam nodded, smiled and shook her hand then turned to join his brother at the door where they quickly stepped out of the hotel, leaving the Grants to their security men and their own devices. Adam sighed, slipped on his hat and shook his head.

“Joe, don’t think too much about it.” he said quietly as they walked to their horses, “Just forget it.”

“What? That job offer?”

“Mmm.”

Joe slipped his hat on, pulled it lower to shade his eyes, “Are you going to be thinking about it?”

“No.  I’ll mention it to Olivia of course, as I did say I would ….”

Joe nodded and smiled.  “New York City though, Adam?  A bit different from here…”

“A big bit, Joe, a very big bit.”

*****

Barbara Martin pulled on her coat and fastened the buttons with nervous fingers.  Upstairs her husband slept, weary after a night of caring for the sick of this township just as his uncle had done for years.  She wondered, as she opened the door, what difference had this all made to her marriage.  She had seldom seen him at home when in Albany when he was working all hours at the hospital. Now it seemed he was as busy caring for the community here, and when he was not then he was sleeping in order to be compus mentus for the next shift. What was the point of it all?

Of course, some would say that at least he was home, even if stuck upstairs in bed. But that, she felt, was ridiculous. A husband should be at his wife’s side whenever he could be, supporting her and caring for her.  She pulled the collar of her coat higher for the wind was brisk and when she turned to close the gate her sleeve snagged on the catch so that it took a moment or two to free herself.

Everything seemed to be wrong.  What had she been looking for-hoping for in this move? Well, when she looked back over the past few months, she had to accept the fact that she had not hoped for much, in fact, she had not even been thinking much about the move at all. She had simply wanted to get away, escape from Albany and the whole situation there.  And now…. now she longed to be back because in Albany there was a little boys grave, neglected and although not forgotten, not by her anyway, it was forlorn and lost. She couldn’t go there and grieve anymore; neither weep nor just sit with her flowers in her lap before she could put them down by the little gravestone.

She hurried along the pavement; some cowboys stepped aside to let her pass as though knowing she would have knocked them away had they not done so. She noticed, as she waited to cross the road, a rather large carriage outside the Whitney Hotel and watched as Adam and Joe Cartwright entered the hotel with the couple who had left the vehicle.

For a moment she couldn’t move. Her legs weakened, and she had to draw in a deep breath. The doors of the hotel closed, and the people vanished from sight and she found herself able to propel herself across the road and walk briskly to the hospice.  She remembered how angry Joe Cartwright had been with her when she had chosen to marry Andrew Pearson, instead of waiting for Adam to come back from the sea. Joe Cartwright – rude, ignorant, and unkind – not able to understand that people change, and that Adam had not officially proposed to her, although, of course, there had been a ring.  She shook her head in an attempt to dispel the memories. It did no good to dwell upon them, no good at all.

But then look what had happened as a result of that choice she had made…she married a murderer, a monster. She had taken on the responsibility of his daughter, Lilith, who seemed to hate her one moment and love her another and who knew what went on in her head nowadays?  And there had been Peter, poor Peter … she closed her eyes and stood there, swayed back and forth, realised she was crying and had to wipe away tears before she could continue on.

The hospice was busy, voices tumbled out of the open doorway ebbing and flowing like the sea, like waves washing up onto the beach and swishing swooshing back down again dragging so many pebbles with it, and after a while those same pebbles would become sand, grains of sand just as one day she and all the many she had known would become grains of dust.

“Are you alright, ducky?”

She looked down at Clementine’s anxious face and for a second or so could only stare at her, then she shook her head “No, I have to go home…. I’m sorry…”

“Look ‘ere’, luv, why not come back home with me.  We’ll have a cuppa tea, and you can tell me all about it.”

Barbara drew in her breath.  Turned back to retrace her steps with Widow Hawkins trotting along beside her, a hand on her arm.  She saw Joe Cartwright walking towards the Mail Depot and remembered how part of the Ponderosa routine was collecting the mail.  She glanced around her for sight of Adam and from the corner of her eyes noticed him walking to the library.  Again – a familiar part of his routine. The library, a chat with Miss Tyndale, then a trawl through the books to see which ones were available for him to read.

“Here we are, ducky.”

Here already? How did that happen?  She was not even aware of where her feet were taking her, but as she walked up to the door of Clemmie’s house she felt a sense of well-being that she had not felt in a long while. Years back this house had been a refuge to her, a sanctuary that was so needed after the death of her husband, and she had felt secure, and safe.  Now that same feeling was returning, she stepped into the room behind Clemmie and when the little widow told her to sit down, she did, in the very chair that she had always chosen as her own all that time ago.

*****

Lilith hurried to make sure she was going to be in time for class.  She mingled in with some of the other children and seemed to be swept along with them.  At the gates she saw Reuben and Jimmy, and paused, “Hello.”

They both looked at her as though not sure whether to speak or not, then Reuben greeted her, smiled so that Jimmy did likewise.  She looked around her “Where are your sisters?”

“I’ve only one sister…the other girls are cousins…sort of…” Reuben replied with a lop-sided grin

“I don’t have any sisters.” Jimmy said, just to make sure she knew in case it came in useful later.

Lilith turned to Jimmy and smiled “I liked your house.”

“I like it too….” Jimmy replied defensively and turned his head away, saw Philip and strolled over to join him.

Lilith waited for Reuben to move as well but he stayed where he was, still smiling and yet not speaking.  Lilith frowned, bit her lip and sighed then mustered up her courage to try to get into conversation somehow, ”I like your father’s horse.”

“Oh – seen it have you? Yes, she’s beautiful.  Pa got it as a gift from some important person in Egypt.”

“Egypt?” she frowned and tried to remember if she had known him then, when he had been at sea, she looked at Reuben again and recalled the fact that he was adopted, so he would not have known Adam either when he had been in Egypt. “I knew your Pa from a long time ago….”

“Did you?” he frowned and shifted his position, glanced around him but still no sign of his sister or cousins, “Did you use to live here before?”

Lilith nodded and felt a little twinge of misery, so Adam had not told them about her, not mentioned how he had been there to help her, had been her friend. “Yes, but it was before you were here.”

He nodded, he wasn’t really paying much attention, she could tell from his eyes, the way they shifted away from her, and looked elsewhere. “He was going to marry my Ma, you know?”

That caught his attention. He turned his head and looked directly at her, his eyes stared into hers, and he frowned “He what?”

“He was going to marry my Ma…” she paused, shrugged “But that was before I knew her…before she met my Pa.”

He frowned and shook his head, stared at her long and hard “That doesn’t make sense….”

“Well, you’ll just have to ask him, won’t you?” she tossed her head, her braids bounced upon her shoulders, “Perhaps he’ll explain it all to you.”

He opened his mouth to speak and paused as he saw Ezra draw up the wagon, and his sister, Hannah and Rose were clambering down.  Lilith turned and looked at the three younger girls and received a cold blue-eyed stare back from all three of them.  She nodded again “Hello.”

Hannah said a quiet ‘Hello.’

Rosie nodded but looked guarded, while Sofia sighed and looked at Reuben before she looked back at Lilith and then said “Hello” but so quietly that it was hard to know if she had actually spoken at all.

Lilith looked again at Reuben “Don’t forget to ask your Pa..” and with another regal toss of the head she walked away, met the twins and entered the school alongside them.

As she removed her coat prior to going to her class Lilith thought over what she had said and shook her head. It had been the wrong thing to say, the wrong thing to do…. and she wished mightily that she had kept a guard on her tongue and said nothing at all.

*****

Mary Evans tidied the counter and surveyed the mannequins who stood in silent rows before her. This being Monday meant that the mannequins would be dressed in fresh garments and placed in different positions around the storeroom.  She was wondering what exactly she could dress or drape over them when the door opened and young Grant Tombs entered with Amy, both wearing shy smiles as they approached her.

“Mrs. Evans.” Grant said.

“Mrs. Evans…” Amy said.

They looked at each other in that vacuous way lovers do, expecting everyone to guess exactly what they were intending to say without them having to articulate a word. Grant sighed and cleared his throat “Mrs. Evans we wanted to tell you the good news…”

Mary smiled fondly at them both, as though she didn’t know, it had been obvious for weeks and she waited for Grant to tell her and for Amy to flourish her ring…and as expected Grant told her and Amy did show off her ring, but before she could congratulate them Grant continued

“…and we wanted you to know that we will be buying the Emporium and the apartment upstairs. And we wanted to ask you -”

“You’re buying the Emporium? And the apartment?”

“Yes.  Mr. Woods will deal with the legalities for us, we want to have the apartment for ourselves and we wanted…”

“You’ll like the apartment. It will make you a lovely home…” Mary murmured, feeling rather faint, and she glanced around her and found a chair to sit down on before she fell down.

“Yes, we thought for sure we would.”  Amy said looking a trifle concerned.  “We just wanted you to know that the future of the Emporium was secure, it’ll be in good hands. I promise you, Mrs. Evans, I’ll manage it exactly as you have done, it will be as though you’re still here and…”

Mary felt her heart racing…she looked from one eager young face to the other, and Grant, realising that the woman was in a panic, tried to smile “Mrs. Evans, we just wanted to ask you if you could teach Amy how to take over the store….how to do orders and all the retail business and accounts and so forth.  Then when you have to leave to have the baby…”

“You aren’t moving in right away then? I – I mean – I do still have my position here?”

“Oh yes,” Amy assured her, “But I’m only a seamstress here, and to keep the business going as well as it is, I need to be trained properly.  I just wanted to ask you for your help, to train me, so that when you leave, I can just take over.”

“We will be married by then, you see…” Grant said, and smiled fondly down at Amy who smiled back at him, eyes sparkling.

Mary drew in a deep breath and nodded. “Of course, you will…and living upstairs no doubt.”

They nodded in unison and Mary smiled, felt relaxed, breathing came back to normal. She managed to get to her feet and shook Grants hand, kissed Amy on the cheek… “Well, congratulations on all counts…I’m just so relieved to know that the Emporium will be in good hands.”

“It will be Mrs. Evans.” Amy said with a wide smile “I promise you….”

Grant nodded. He already accepted that everything his future wife said would come true.

………….

Sofia looked anxiously at her brother “Why was she talking to you?”

“Who?”

“That Lilith person.”

Reuben shrugged “She just wanted to let me know that she knew Pa a long time ago.”

Sofia frowned “So what?  Lots of people knew Pa for lots of times before…why would she want you to know that?”

He shrugged again, young as he was he was beginning to realise that girls had a far more complicated way of seeing things than boys, that they said things and felt things that boys didn’t care less about but when a thing was said, left a fellow confused and worried. He was about to speak when the bell tolled and there was no time for further explanation, or they would be late for class.

 

Chapter 28

The rattling of cups on a tray roused Barbara from her thoughts.  She turned to see Clemmie slowly making her way to the low table with a laden tray which was set down amid a certain degree of clutter.  The old woman smiled over at Barbara “You looked deep in thought, dear.”

“Yes.” Barbara nodded and leaned forward to take the cup from Clemmie, grateful to smell good rich coffee “I was thinking of my life here, in the past.  I had forgotten that I lived in Uncle’s house for some time.”

“Oh yes, Major Scott. His house is two doors away down the road from here.”

“It was not a happy home.  Even before – well – even before the Chafee disclosures that ruined Uncle’s reputation.”

“He tried to make good…”

“Too late for those people he saw murdered and whose land he benefited from.” Barbara replied bitterly.

“He must have resented Adam Cartwright a lot -”

“Yes, he did although he understood the necessity of what Adam did. I – Uncle – we just wished that Adam had never started on that little history lesson.” she sighed and sipped her drink. It was sweet and pleasant.

“My dear, sins cast a long shadow….” Clemmie said quietly and she also sipped her coffee.

“Then I met Andrew Pearson and we lived in that little homestead…do you know who lives there now?”

“Candy and his wife, of course. They moved into it not long after you left there, you came and lived here with me in this house.”

Barbara smiled over the rim of her cup, her eyes softened and Clemmie noted that for the first time since meeting her again Barbara’s eyes had lost their haunted defensive appearance. The woman nodded

“I was happy here.  So relieved that everything was over, and Lilith and Peter and I could live our lives free of that constant fear. Poor Lilith, she suffered so much, far more than a child should. But she was happy here, Clemmie, she loved the house, your garden – so did Peter.”

Clemmie refilled their cups, nodded “Yes, one of the memories I treasure was seeing you all blooming. Lilith laughing, Peter happy and laughing too…” she paused at the sudden spasm of pain that passed over Barbara’s face, and carefully placed the cup in front of her “I had babies…twins they were…they both died, in my arms, not long after they were born.  Too small the Doctor said, and my ‘Arry was beside himself, at a loss. He took to the bottle of course, men do that sometimes, don’t they? Don’t seem to have the same strength to face things that women have…perhaps because we have to handle so many different things but ‘Arry, it didn’t seem right that ‘e went like that, he was always so strong. I don’t mean physical strong which he was -” her eyes glanced over to the 500LB weight still on the table “but he was strong in other ways too. He was the one I leaned on, relied on.  Suddenly he didn’t want me no more, he just wanted the next bottle of whatever came to hand.”

“I didn’t know, Clemmie, I’m so sorry” Barbara leaned forward, her hand hovered over the other woman’s arm, just for a moment before she withdrew it again

“Oh it ‘appens, ducky, I wasn’t the first, nor the last I daresay…but it was the end of my ‘Arry as I knew him..” she sighed and picked up her cup and stared into its muddy contents before setting it down again, untouched. “He went out one night, Whitechapel it was, London. We was both Londoners after all…murky old night it was, thick yellow fog… and he never came back ‘ome.” she shook her head and sighed, her bosom heaved up and sunk down, “Got all the neighbours and police looking for him but they didn’t find him for days and days until his body was washed up further down river. Old Father Thames took him down river and set him down -” she paused and shook her head, sighed deeply “Oh look at that, ‘ere I am moaning about things that can’t be changed, when I wanted to cheer you up. Fat lot of good I am.”

Barbara smiled, a small smile that just touched her lips as though afraid to get too wide and generous, “Clemmie, it’s good to be reminded that – well – that others have suffered too. And I am so sorry that you went through so much…”

Clemmie shrugged “It’s gorn and over with, dearie. I had to pull myself together and do something with me life otherwise I would have been hitting the gin as many did – mother’s ruin they call it, you know. It would have ruined me for sure…but I decided to come to America and that’s what I did. I joined a travelling circus and with my past I had a fine old time of it, being on the trapeze, and bare back riding…oh lawks, you should have seen me… I wasn’t always this -” she pointed to herself and laughed.

They drank their coffee in a companionable silence, until the cups were empty and neither wished for another. Barbara looked out of the window and smiled “John courted me here….do you remember?”

“Oh yes, indeed. What a charming boy, coming here with his smiles and flowers, and so helpful with Peter.”

“Yes, he gave me hope that Peter could be – if not cured – at least helped to handle his hearing loss. I think I loved John for a long time before he came calling here.”

“I daresay…. I did notice how you were always with a twinkle in your eye when he appeared at the gate.” Clemmie chuckled, a little wheezy though it was.

“Then we moved into a little house close by to Paul and Bridie’s….Jimmy and Su Lin still live there. But we were happy there at the time.” she smiled as she recalled fond memories of the little Doctors house as she always thought of it, yes, she had been happy there.

“And – what about now?” Clemmie leaned forward, “I’d love you to have this house, Barbara, but don’t feel you need to because of what I want…I heard you were looking at Amanda’s place but…”

“We went to look around the other day….” Barbara said quietly, knowing only too well that Clemmie was probably more than aware of that already, “It’s a lovely house but – neither of us felt it would be the right home for us.”

She sat back and folded her hands within her lap, smiled at Clemmie and gazed around the room. It seemed to her that while she had been in the room, in this house, she had felt more relaxed and happy – no – wrong word, content – than she had in a long time.  She couldn’t explain why, nor how it had happened, but the hard shell that she had built around her heart had cracked wide open, she no longer needed to protect herself from the hurts and pain that were common to all humankind. It was much easier, and natural, to just live life…with those whom she loved, and loved her.

*****

Sofia couldn’t settle at her lessons. Her head ached and her tummy was tight causing little pains that made her fidget so that Miss Hathaway noticed and when everyone started to leave class to go to recess the young schoolteacher called Sofia over to the desk.

Head lowered the little girl approached the desk and waited for the teacher to speak. She was surprised when Miss Hathaway put a hand on her shoulder and then gently under her chin to raise her face “Sofia, is something worrying you?”

Sofia blinked, her eyes moistened, and her lips trembled, but she shook her head. Miss Hathaway narrowed her eyes, she was well used to children concealing little secrets, worries, that affected them during class and Sofia had always been an attentive good student. She smiled, “You can tell me, Sofia.  You have been very restless all morning, and that really is not like you at all.”

Sofia swallowed, there seemed to be a big lump in her throat which made swallowing difficult, she took in a deep breath and swallowed again. “I just had a pain in my tummy…”

Miss Hathaway frowned, nodded “Is that all?  There isn’t anything worrying you that could cause that pain in your tummy, is there?”

Sofia shook her head and looked into the teacher’s kind face. She wanted to say that there was a hateful girl in the school and that this girl was upsetting her, because – and that was where she stopped, because she didn’t really know why Lilith was upsetting her so much, or rather, she couldn’t put it into the words that a grown up, like this teacher, would understand.   Miss Hathaway nodded, “Very well, off you go.

When Sofia reached the yard, she found Reuben eating his lunch with Tommy and Jimmy. They were chatting together and laughing, and as she stood at the foot of the steps that led down to the yard Sofia felt a wave of loneliness sweep over her.  She had so wanted Reuben to be there, waiting for her patiently as he so often was, but today of all days…and he hadn’t been there, instead he was proving he had his own life, his own friends and he didn’t really need her.

Who did?

She looked about and saw Hannah chatting to another little girl of her age who could well be the one that sat beside her in class. It looked as though Hannah was making her own friends, that she no longer needed Sofia’s protection and cousinly oversight.

Rosie was walking arm in arm with Betty Sales, they had always been close friends since the time when Rose Canaday lived in town and Candy had been the sheriff there.  Rosie didn’t even look in Sofia’s direction.  Some girls from her own classroom were playing a skipping rope game, and she watched for a moment wondering if she could join in, but it was lunch time, and she was hungry. She swallowed misery and looked around for a place to sit.

“Hi, you look lost.”

The voice came from above her, and Sofia turned to look up to see Lilith Martin smiling down at her. Lilith was standing on one of the steps, her own lunch box in her hand, she nodded at Sofia “Do you want to sit with me? I don’t seem to have anyone to sit with either.”

Sofia felt her heart beating fast, she wanted to say no, she wanted to say to the girl that she was just fine she didn’t need to sit with anyone…she stared at Lilith until the older girl could have been embarrassed but she wasn’t, instead she reached out and took hold of Sofia by the hand,

“Come on, I found us a nice place to sit.”

Sofia bowed her head and trailed along behind this tall thin girl, and when Lilith stopped and sat down so did she, and when Lilith opened her lunch box Sofia recognised the kind of food that Tilly would have prepared, the cake that Tilly would have baked in that funny old oven in Bridie’s house.  She blinked, and opened her own lunch box…Lilith looked at it and smiled

“That looks good…”

Sofia nodded, Mother had made it that morning as she always did, and sometimes Mother would leave a little note in among the sandwiches, a drawing or a few words, just to let Sofia know that she had been thinking of her as she prepared the food. Lilith didn’t say anything else but bit into her food and began to eat.  Sofia nibbled, casting frequent glances over at the other girl who seemed to be lost in reverie, her face blank, her eyes fixed on a point further away.

Minutes ticked away, Sofia couldn’t concentrate, too many words were jangling about in her head, thoughts of her daddy, of Lilith, and questions…lots of questions…she lowered her head and began to eat.

“I had a brother called Peter…” Lilith said suddenly and glanced down at Sofia, “He would be about your age now.”

Sofia said nothing but bit into her sandwich and kept her head low. If Lilith wanted to talk then that was up to her. Lilith swallowed her food, and dabbed at her mouth with the napkin that Tilly left in the box

“He died when we were in Albany. He had been very ill.”

Sofia knew that good manners dictated that she said something now, she cleared her throat, and said very quietly that she was sorry, it was sad wasn’t it?

“Peter had been deaf all his life…do you know what it is like to be deaf?” Lilith looked down at the little girl who blinked, shook her head, blonde curls blown in wisps from her brow, Lilith sighed, “People think you can’t hear anything at all, but you can, it’s just that it’s noise, different kind of noise…it’s sounds we don’t hear or pay attention to….”

“What kind of noises?” Sofia asked, her brow creased in puzzlement

“The noises your bones make in your head, the sound of your heart beating through your body…those kind of noises.”

“How do you know?  You aren’t deaf, are you?”  the filling in her sandwich dropped into the box, she blinked and concentrated on stuffing it back between the bread.

“Peter told me.”

“How?” Sofia frowned, blinked and thought about it, “If he can’t hear, he can’t speak…”

“He had a special language.” Lilith said and brushed away crumbs from her skirts. She was eating some of Lilith’s cake now, Sofia resented the fact that Lilith was eating some of the cake she loved, and that Tilly had baked, not for her, but for Lilith!

Lilith stood up, smiled down at Sofia and closed the lid on her lunch box.  Then she was gone, striding away without a care in the world – or so Sofia thought – and leaving the younger girl nibbling her food and all alone.

“Come on…”

It was Rosie, her face flushed and laughing, “Come on, Sofia, we need you to join in the game….”

But Sofia didn’t want to join in a game now, she wanted to finish her food and think about how a deaf boy could speak a special language and how he could hear things she could not.

Chapter 29

The day had turned slightly colder when Adam and Joe returned from town to help with some fencing down by the east pasture.  The cattle had been restless, and Hoss had wondered if they sensed a mountain cat in the area, so the three brothers had ridden cautiously through the perimeters of the herd, weaving around boulders and scree to check for prints. It was still early for the predators to come down from the mountains, but they could not risk the unusual because as they had learned from experience in the past unusual things happened when one least expected it.

They finally concluded, having found no evidence of wild cat or any other creature, that the cattle were just restless so recommenced with the fencing.  As Hoss hammered down one of the timbers into the hole Adam had just dug out, he muttered “Pa ain’t happy jest now, Adam…you be careful how you handle him when you see him later.”

His brother shovelled dirt back around the wood and then firmed it around before looking at his brother with raised eyebrows “Why?”

“Wal, seems you may be thinking of going off in another direction…”

“I’ve not signed any contract with Grant, if that’s what you mean.”

Hoss looked baffled for a moment then shook his head “No, more to do with Armstrong.”

“Armstrong?” Adam exclaimed and then paused before he leaned upon his shovel, “Jonas?”

“The same.”

“I saw him talking to Pa at one point.  Mentioned to him about offering me a position as an architect, did he?”

“Yep, he did. Pa was grumbling about it this morning, about how his sons never tell him anything and it’s jest crazy to think of building new homes here when people are moving out.”

Adam shrugged and glanced over at Joe who was leaning on his shovel next to the adjoining hole where Hoss was to drop the next stake.  “Well, best not mention to him about our latest offer, huh, Joe?”

“S’right.” Joe nodded and grinned, “Come on, Hoss, stop dithering, you’re like some old lady at a tea party…” he flexed his shoulders “You haven’t had a long ride from town already…remember?”

“I ain’t forgetting.” Hoss smiled good naturedly and hauled up the length of timber with the ease some other man would pick up a stick. He dropped it into the hole and began to hammer it into place with the mallet. Joe and Adam held it steady until it was firmly fixed into place.

“So -Pa wasn’t too pleased at the idea of me becoming an architect?” Adam resumed as Hoss paused to check how steady the stake was before they could shovel in the dirt around it.

“Nope. Thought it a dumb fool notion.”

Joe flashed a glance over in Adam’s direction “Cosy office, warm work…”

“This is warm work.” Adam grinned, the sweat stains on his shirt evidence of the effort put into his labours.

Hoss guffawed and shook his head, while Joe pulled out a bandanna and teasingly mopped his brother’s brow with it. They impacted the soil around the timber and then proceeded to the next hole where the pattern was repeated, in silence.

“Seriously though, Adam, why would Armstrong be interested in hiring you as an architect anyway. You haven’t designed anything in years.” Joe asked as he collected his canteen and unscrewed the top to gulp down water.

“I don’t know.  I’ve to see him tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow?” Hoss raised his eyebrows “Best not tell Pa about it…”

“I don’t intend to…” Adam replied and accepted the canteen from Joe with a nod of the head.

Hoss grabbed the canteen once Adam had finished and gulped down the last of the water, handing the empty vessel back to Joe. He frowned then stared at Joe for a moment as his younger brother tossed the canteen to land on the pile of their jackets “Hey – what did you mean about your latest offer? You bin and got another job too? Not as sheriff in some tin pot little town again, is it?”

Joe sighed and wondered if he would ever live that particular adventure down, he shook his head and glanced at Adam “You tell him.”

“No – you tell him.” Adam replied and paced out the length to where the next hole was to be dug out.  He struck in his spade and set to work while Hoss waited expectantly for Joe to volunteer some information.

Joe shrugged “It’s nothing.”

“Nothin? Then why mention it?” Hoss grumbled and watched as Joe strolled over and paced out the distance from Adam to where the next hole would be, “What is it?”

“I said – it’s nothing.” Joe snapped and scowled as he struck his spade into the soil.

Hoss shook his head “I don’t know – this weekend hasn’t exactly been a barrel of laughs…Hester’s still worrying about last night, in case the evening wasn’t as good as it should have been although how anyone is s’posed to know what to expect when a President and his wife comes a-calling is anyone’s guess. And you two ain’t been right since that dance – “

“Hoss…” Adam sighed and shook his head

“Yeah, Hoss, shut up, will ya -” Joe mumbled and wiped his sweating brow with the back of a soil ingrained hand depositing a streak of mud along the tanned skin.

*****

“Pa’s home,” Daniel’s voice reached Mary Ann as she was setting the plates upon the table.

She smiled to herself, the best time of the day was when Joe arrived home, and they could sit together and eat their meal, talk over the day’s events and then afterwards spend a little time with the children.  She could hear Daniel squealing in delight and knew that Joe had grabbed the boy and either swung him around or lifted him up on his shoulders. Constance ran to the door with arms outstretched, she loved her daddy, and was always mystified as to how Daniel always managed to get to him first. One day, she resolved in her little mind, she would get to the door first and Pa would give her first hug, first kiss and then lift her up onto his shoulders. She was satisfied now with Joe swinging Daniel back to the floor and leaning down to kiss her, stroke her hair and tweak her nose. She had a very pretty nose but then she was a very pretty little girl.

“Sorry, I’m a mess…” Joe said as he leaned in and kissed his wife, then kissed her again, “I’ll just wash up first.”

Mary Ann nodded and smiled as she watched her husband hurry to clean up.  By the time Joe had returned clean enough to be presentable at the table, the children were already seated and the food steaming hot ready to be dished out.  He pulled faces at the children and made them laugh, Lee poured out water for them all, and Mary Ann took her seat with a sigh of contentment. Then she smiled over at her husband “Did the President and his wife get away safely?”

“Of course.” Joe helped himself to a steak, ladled on the onion gravy and winked over at Daniel who was still struggling to work out ‘how to do it.’

“I thought Mrs. Grant was very pleasant. Normal, if you know what I mean? I expected her to be a rather -” she frowned to get the right word “well, rather like Mrs. Garston only snootier.”

Joe nodded, stuffed food into his mouth and nodded again. Mary Ann placed food onto the children’s plates and supervised Constance’s handling of her spoon, before turning to Joe “Hester tells me that Pa is -”

“I know – Hoss told me –“ Joe frowned, “Angry about Adam?”

“I think he’s more concerned than anything else.” she frowned “It’s odd really.  I mean, Adam isn’t a child, he isn’t even young anymore – I mean – he’s middle aged for goodness’ sake. His father should not be so possessive – I mean – “

Joe put out a hand and rested it upon his wife’s arm “Pa has always been like that…used to annoy us to death! I guess having been father and mother for so many years he finds it hard to let go…and of course when Adam went off to sea he had a lot of years worrying about him and where he was, well, we all did -” he paused and cut into his steak with a deep sigh.

“Well, my point is that you are not little children anymore needing your noses wiped by him…” she paused as Daniel started giggling, whatever she had said had obviously given him cause to see something funny and Constance looked at her brother with wide eyed bemusement and dropped her food onto the floor.

“Well, if Adam wants to become an architect or engineer then it’s up to him, isn’t it?” Joe shrugged and picked up the glass of water to gulp some down, he looked at his wife thoughtfully and cleared his throat “Actually, I’ve had a job offer as well -”

“Armstrong isn’t trying to recruit the whole family, is he?” Mary Ann laughed and turned to Constance to wipe away dribble and food from her chin.

“No.” Joe replied and wondered if he had chosen the wrong moment, perhaps later would have been better. He put more food in his mouth in order not to speak for a while. Mary Ann in the meantime concentrated on her children and the subject seemed to slip away like smoke.

Joe waited his time…after all, as the good book said, there was a time to speak, and a time to be silent!

At Adam’s home food had been eaten and Adam shrugged on his jacket to check on the horses and to do the end of day chores in the yard. He had promised to read a story to Sofia and had chased Nathaniel around the table until neither knew who was most giddy, and now with Reuben beside him he went to do the last jobs of the day.

Sport tossed his head in welcome as he always did, and Adam went to him first, the big horse was still handsome, but age was telling on him.  Reuben watched his father for a moment before going to check on Max, and his sister’s pony, Buster. “Pa?”

“Yes, son?”

Adam straightened up from checking the horses’ legs for sign of fever, he smiled over at Reuben who was walking towards him with some wisps of straw between his fingers which he was twisting. “Anything wrong?”

Reuben shook his head and leaned against the rails of the stall in which Kami was standing.  He was growing into a handsome youth, that awkward time of adolescence when he was neither boy nor youth really.  He was going to be tall, that was obvious, and Adam fleetingly remembered Olivia saying that Reuben’s natural father was not overly tall, so he must have inherited the height from his Dent relatives.  His hair was thick and perhaps too long, and he had a handsome nose that Adam had to accept was inherited from Robert. He cleared his throat

“Well, son, say what you have to say…”

“Well, Pa, the thing is…you know that girl, Lilith?”

“Yes, I know her well, what about her?”

“You know she’s at our school now….”

Adam sighed and leaned against the railing of Sports’ stall, he crossed his arms over his chest, and raised his eyebrows “Haven’t all night, son, so spit it out…”

“That Lilith says you were going to marry her Ma at one time.” Reuben stared directly into the dark eyes of the man who looked rather bemused by the comment, there was even a twitch to the lips and a lift of the eyebrow “I just wondered – that’s all.”

“Well, it was a long time ago, Reuben.” Adam replied and pursed his lips, “Long before I met your Ma. In fact, she was probably still married to your Pa at the time.”

“Oh!” Reuben’s eyes popped, he hadn’t thought about that, he felt awkward and wondered how to get out of the conversation, he swallowed “I just wondered, is all….”

“Hmm, thing is -” Adam flexed his shoulders and raised his eyebrows “I knew Barbara, that’s Lilith’s mother, actually not her mother -, her step-mother. I knew Barbara when she was the schoolteacher here in town.  It was the time I was appointed schoolteacher when she had an accident…and things happened that made me appreciate that she was very brave. Also, she was very loyal to her Uncle who faced a very hard time in his life.”

“And so, you fell in love with her?”

Adam’s lips twitched into a wider smile which he hid from the boy by turning his head away and looking at the stable roof, “Well, not really.  I admired her very much – I think I wanted to settle down and have a family of my own. I was at sea then, and I guess I just wanted to come home to my own family.”

“So, you didn’t love her …. not like you love Ma?”

The earnestness behind the question prevented Adam from smiling, the boy loved his Ma, felt protective of her, he could understand that, Reuben had always been sensitive by nature and Adam knew that he would have felt the same at his age for Inger.  He pushed himself away from the rail and drew closer to the boy, placed a hand upon his shoulder and assured him that he had never loved anyone like he loved Olivia

“Barbara realised I didn’t really love her, when I was away on a mission, she found someone else to love – that was alright by me, saved me having to do the ‘breaking up’ if you like – but when I met your Mother -”

“In the park -?”

“Yes, in the park, snow on the ground, and – and I think I fell in love with your Ma right away. A man, and a woman, know when they have found the right one for them.” his voice softened and the smile returned, a quiet gentle smile that softened his eyes, “It’s as though I had found the other half of me…”

Reuben nodded, “Lilith made it sound -”

“Don’t worry about what Lilith said or what she wanted you to think beyond what she had said. She’s had her losses, and her battles too…life has not been easy for her so just tread gentle.”

Reuben nodded “Sure Pa, I will…”

Sofia leaned against the wall of the stable and didn’t move for a few minutes, it wasn’t until she heard her father and brother working together again that she pushed herself away from the building and quickly returned to the house.

Chapter 30

The lamps glowed like golden halo’s in the room and the firelight from the flames eating up the logs created their own ambience.  Joe loved this room as much as once he had loved the big room in the Ponderosa ranch house…whereas there he had admired the masculinity of the room, here he loved the gentle lines of the furniture and colours that Mary Ann had brought to it. The hearth in which the fire burned was not like the old house, with the big stones but was whitewashed plaster, smooth to the touch and providing a pale luminescence to the room.

Joe handed Mary Ann a glass of wine and then sat down beside her with his glass of whiskey. He leaned back into the cushions and against her, so that she turned to him and smiled “Did you enjoy meeting up with the President and his wife…”

“It was a strange few days, wasn’t it?” he replied, staring into the flames, which were reflected as though dancing in his hazel eyes.

“Pa didn’t seem to want to talk about it very much.  When I saw him this morning to help Hester, well, he was – a mite tetchy.”

“About Adams’ job offer by Armstrong/”

“No.” she shook her head, “He had already expressed his opinion about that…” she looked down into her wine and sighed “He seemed to have something else on his mind.”

“Didn’t he say what?”

“No.” she sighed heavily and took another sip of wine.

Joe remained silent for a few minutes. The clock ticked over loudly, and he waited for it to chime the hour, which it did with its usual hiccup…. he groped for her hand and held it between his fingers.

“I had a job offer today…well, a sort of job offer. It was meant for Adam as well…”

“Oh, you mean Armstrong…”

“No, no, not Armstrong…from the President.”

“President who is no longer President you mean…” she smiled again and leaned in closer, her head upon his shoulder

“He’s still a very powerful man, Mary Ann. He could run for President again, he has been asked to do so, you know?”

“I know Mrs. Grant wants him to be… “

“And even if he isn’t, he still has a security detail assigned to protect them.”

“Oh?” she sighed again, she wasn’t really interested, had almost forgotten that reference to a job

“Well, he knows a lot of Government secrets, and if anyone tried to kidnap him for instance – or even murder him -” he paused and looked down at her, then kissed her brow “How would you like to leave here?”

Nothing like grabbing the bull by the horns, he thought, as he watched the expression on her face change from relaxed disinterest to a mixture of panic, excitement, curiosity.

“What do you mean? Leave the Ponderosa? How could we do that? It’s home…”

Joe nodded “Yeah, of course, sure it is…sure.”

She drank the wine, and then looked at him again, “Joe, what are you meaning? What exactly are you talking about?”

“Well, the – Mr. Grant – he offered me the chance of being on his security team. In New York City.”

Mary Ann’s eyes popped wide open…she stared at him in disbelief then shook her head “New York City?”

“That’s where they live.”

“And – and does that mean we would have to live there too?” she paused “If you accept the position of course.”

“I guess so….”

“And Adam? What does he think about it?”

“He said to forget it.”

“Forget it? How could you forget it?  Joe, that’s – that’s a wonderful offer, I mean, just think about it? The President of the United States – Retired of course – wants you to go to New York City and work for him…. I mean…that’s wonderful, Joe.”

“I just wanted to know what you would think about it…” Joe stammered, rather overwhelmed by his wife’s response and the sudden realisation that he had gone too far, that her enthusiasm could sweep away everything he loved … he had ridden away from it once before and the memory made him shiver.

Mary Ann stared into the fire, her eyes glanced around the room, then settled upon Joe and she smiled, “It’s all rather exciting, isn’t it?”

Joe took hold of her hand , “Let’s not get carried away by it all, it was just an off the cuff chance remark, I’m sure…but…” he paused and saw the excitement drift from her face, “I mean…let’s sleep on it and talk some more about it to-morrow. I need to talk to Adam about how he feels about it all, get some more details…”

Mary Ann nodded, she smiled and leaned in to kiss him “Just think though, Joe. New York City?”

Several miles away in Adam’s house the occupants were settling down for the evening…Nathaniel had been tucked up in bed an hour previously. Reuben and Sofia were now ready for their beds, while Olivia had turned up the flames in the lamps in order to do some darning and Adam had placed more logs on the fire so that he and Olivia could enjoy the last hours before they went to their bed.

Reuben gave his mother a kiss on the cheek and then looked at her thoughtfully, before saying very quietly “I do love you, Ma.”

“Why thank you, young man. And I love you too.” Olivia smiled; her eyes went soft for Reuben was not a child who usually gushed in this manner despite his sensitive nature. She leaned in a kissed him “Thank you.  Sleep well.”

She glanced up at Adam as the boy turned to head for the stairs. They – Adam and Olivia – shared a smile, she sighed and was about to say something when Sofia hurried to her and leaned against her knees while she smiled up into her face with wide blue eyes and whispered, “I love you even more, Mommy.”

“Even more than Reuben?” Olivia laughed gently and stroked back a strand of hair from her daughter’s brow.

“Much more – honestly I do.” and then she was away, turning to Adam and grabbing at his hand “You promised a story, Daddy.”

“I know,” Adam said with a smile and leaned down to pick her up in order to carry her on the crook of his arm to her room “Have you been eating again, pumpkin, you seem a lot heavier than last night.”

She just giggled and borne aloft waved to her mother as they went up the stairs to disappear from Olivia’s sight. Adam watched the little girl in her nightdress scramble into bed and then pulled the cover over her, pulled up a chair and picked up a book. He was turning to the story to be read when Sofia said in a very quiet little voice “Daddy, if Mommy were the princess that fell asleep for a hundred years would you go and kiss her awake?”

He refrained from mentioning that fact that he would have been long dead but nodded, opened his mouth to start reading when she said “But really…would you? And what about all those thorns and horrible trees that were growing around the castle to stop you getting in…”

“I’d get Uncle Hoss to cut them down for me….”

“Oh yes -” her brow crinkled “I suppose that would work….”

“I think so…” He smiled and pursed his lips thoughtfully, while she folded her hands neatly over the coverlet and stared up at the ceiling.

“And what would Uncle Joe do?”

“Oh, he’d look after the horses, of course…so that we can make an escape.”

She nodded solemnly, “And Grandpa?  And, daddy, what about the dragon?”

“What dragon?” Adam frowned

“The dragon that guards the Princess so that the Princes can’t get to her, and then if they try he eats them all up…and then if they do get pass him there’s the wicked witch and she can stop them getting to the Princess because she was the one who caused the problem in the first place. So, I think =” she paused again and then her blue eyes turned to him “I think Grandpa would have to get rid of the wicked witch.”

“And the dragon?”

“Well, I s’pose you’d have to shoot it.”

“Oh, I see…” he nodded and sighed “Yes, I can see that I would have to do that…”

“You wouldn’t be able to get to the Princess if you didn’t kill the dragon.”

“That’s fair enough.” he nodded and smiled, “So – Uncle Hoss cuts down the thorny trees, and Uncle Joe has the horses ready, Grandpa sweet talks the witch into disappearing somehow, and I shoot the dragon….then I get to see the Princess.”

She turned onto her side to look at him seriously, “Then you see her there, looking beautiful, because Mommy is beautiful, isn’t she?”

“That’s for sure…” he nodded and when she reached out a hand towards him, he took it in his own, and folded his fingers around it.

“And then you look at her and you fall in love and kiss her, don’t you?”

“I most certainly do.”

“And you love her more than anything, don’t you? More than anything and anyone else, isn’t that right?”

He nodded and looked at her, his eyes narrowed, and a thought crept into his head about the conversation he had had with Reuben earlier. He cleared his throat, “I do, that’s for sure.”

She sighed and then rolled over onto her back, “Daddy, that Lilith girl said you loved her mommy a long time ago….”

So, there it was, either Lilith had actually mentioned to Sofia the same thing she had to Reuben or there had been a little eavesdropper at the stable.  He leaned back into his chair and tilted it, so it rocked onto the back legs, “Well, I cared a lot about Lilith’s step-mother, Barbara, at one time….”

“What happened to her daddy?”

He frowned, swallowed “He – er – fell off his horse and went over a cliff. He died.”

“Oh, was she sad?”

Adam chewed his bottom lip, “Why all these questions, pumpkin? I was supposed to be reading a story…if you remember rightly.”

“I know.” she sighed, yawned.  “But you didn’t love that Lilith’s stepmother, did you?”

“I’ve never loved anyone as much as I love your mother…now…. I think it’s time for you to close your eyes and go to sleep. Enough questions and enough talking…”

“I just wanted to know, and…” she yawned again, “G’night, daddy.”

Adam stood up, put the chair back in its usual place against the wall, and placed the book on the shelf. He knew that at one time he would have said “Don’t be so ridiculous!” and perhaps if any of his brothers had questioned him about such a subject that would still be the response, but with Sofia…he smiled and leaned over to kiss her brow, “Goodnight, Princess. Sleep well.”

she was already slipping into sleep, warm and content, a sigh slipped past her lips, eyelashes fluttered over her cheeks.  He left the room, closed the door and sighed, then smiled again as he made his way down into the big room.

*****

Olivia was sitting close to the fire, the lamp behind her casting a golden glow upon her head, the needle between her fingers flashing as light from the flames glanced upon it. She smiled over at him, while he went to the Tantalus on the bureau and poured out wine for her and whiskey for himself.  He brought them over to the table and set them down, then leaned over to kiss her.

“Lilith has been telling tales on me…. both Reuben and Sofia were worried that I may have – er – not loved you enough ….”

“How odd.  What do you mean? What tales?”

“She told Reuben that I was going to marry Barbara….”

“Well, you were, at one time…”

“Yes, but it bothered them. They wanted to make sure I had married you for the right reasons…that is, that I loved you more than I loved Barbara.”

Her face became momentarily serious, then she smiled “I think I was married to Robert at the time, and I loved him.”

“Yes.” he leaned back and sipped his whiskey.  “Children can feel insecure for odd reasons….”

“Not so odd really.” she put down her darning and picked up the glass of wine.

“I have to go into town tomorrow and see Armstrong.  Do you want to come with me?”

“It is my turn to go to the hospice, it would be good to drive in together.”

“It’s a bit of a puzzle as to why he wants me to consider being in business with them.”

“Well, you are a qualified architect, and he obviously sees the potential in you.” she smiled, her eyes twinkled, and she leaned towards him to accept his kiss.

“I guess I’ll find out tomorrow….” he murmured and sipped more whiskey while he stared for some moments into the flames of the fire.

She leaned against him, he could smell her perfume and smiled contentedly. Life couldn’t really be any better than this, he mused, he sighed and reached for his glass, then paused… and instead of the glass he took hold of her hand “Olivia, I had another job offer ….”

“Oh?” she moved away from him and frowned, “What kind of offer?”

“As Head of Grant’s security…in New York City.”

She didn’t move, just remained where she was, and he didn’t move but waited…then she sighed and nodded “I know. Julia mentioned it to me.  She told me about it when we were on the way back from the Double D.  she was quite excited at the thought of you – us – moving to New York City.”

He was quiet a little longer before he began to laugh, then he kissed her, “Waiting for me to say something, were you?”

“I would have mentioned it by the end of the week, I suppose….” she smiled and melted into his arms, contentedly sighing.

“I didn’t accept.”

“I didn’t think you would.”

“But if you would want to go -”

“I hate towns, I hate cities…. I couldn’t bear to be away from here. I love the Ponderosa, I love my home, and – and I guess, in a way, I’ve come to view it as a refuge.  My sanctuary…with you, and the children and all the family.”

“Are you sure?”

“Adam, I grew up with my family on the Double D, practically totally isolated and when I married Robert and moved to the city…” she closed her eyes and suppressed a shudder “I hate going back to ‘Frisco, last time certainly confirmed that I’m not cut out for that kind of life…”

He paused a while, letting the sound of the ticking clock, the flames burning through wood, the crackle and hiss as the wood burned fill the void of silence.  Then he said “What if I felt it was the best thing we could do, after all things are changing here…”

She stiffened slightly although he could sense it as she lay in his arms, she then pushed herself upright to sit facing him “Then I will go with you, of course, as I did with Robert.”

“But you would not be happy?”

“I’ve already said how I’d feel…”

He nodded and put out his arm in order to fold her back into his side, “I know.  And I would never want you to be unhappy.”

She sighed, closed her eyes “So you wouldn’t accept it…?”

“I spent long enough being ordered about by Grant, I don’t particularly want to go through that again. No, my life is here, with you…”

“And the children…”

“And the children.” he smiled slowly, leaned down to kiss her lips “And the family here on the Ponderosa.”

Chapter 31

“Adam,” Endeavour Sales flung down his broom for he had been in the act of sweeping the front of his store when he saw Adam ride by alongside his wife who was seated in the buggy. “Adam Cartwright?”

Olivia gave her husband a brief smile and whispered, “See you later,” and continued her ride on to the hospice with Nathaniel, who always enjoyed coming along to play with the children there.

Adam nodded, sighed and with a twist of the wrist guided his horse over to the hitching rail outside the store. He dismounted and then nodded over to Sales who bustled up to him, glancing left to right as though to ensure he was not being overheard.

The storekeeper was not an unattractive man, in fact he was good looking in a harassed sort of way. He had succeeded in keeping a full head of hair, and a trim figure. He had sat on the School Council for years’ the Town Council for not quite so many years. He was well liked and well respected in town, and it was losing the latter that was concerning him now as he approached the rancher who was looking at him with a bland expression on his face.

“Adam…sorry to intrude…but…just needed to apologise for the fracas on Saturday.”

Adam heaved in a deep breath and frowned, then removed his hat which he turned over and over in his hands “It could have had serious consequences, Mr. Sales.”

“I know. I realised that as soon as – as you and the sheriff got involved. Just that for a moment, when we were all talking, I kind of lost myself in the heat of the moment. All those feelings I had when I was a boy, coming back from school, finding…ruins…my family dead…” he swallowed, and blinked moist eyes. “I’d managed to bury those memories, to get on with life, but seeing Grant strolling into our hall, with our Mayor, and no one thinking…”

Adam raised a hand to stem the torrent of words and shook his head “Best you get those memories well and truly battened down, Mr. Sales.  Thankfully a major incident was avoided, and you weren’t involved with what did happen so best you just try and forget it.”

“People will know, they’ll talk…”

“Does it matter?” Adam cleared his throat, shook his head and looked down at his hat, “Look, Mr. Sales, somehow or other Virginia City townsfolk managed to keep pretty calm during the war time. There were Johnny Rebs and there were Yankees all working and living as one community without there being any bloodshed, and no one hurt in the process.  People trod carefully, kept their losses to themselves and tried to be good neighbours … for some it was not easy, heck, I guess it wasn’t so easy for you either, when you first came here…and through all those years it just needed one person, one spark, to set the keg of hate and prejudice blowing up in our faces.”

He drew in his breath, “I guess the town walked a tightrope, but neutrality worked, because this community worked hard to make sure it did. No one will think any the worse of you for what happened on Saturday – they could have done had you not walked away when you did…”

Sales sighed and shook his head “What was it Shakespeare said “Discretion is the better part of valour””

Adam nodded, “The better part of valour is discretion, in which better part I have saved my life.”

“Well, at least saved my reputation…” Sales grinned, still looking rather subdued and he put out a hand which Adam took in his and shook, “Thank you for your help…Adam.”

Adam said nothing to that, just nodded, smiled and replaced his hat and while Sales returned to his broom and sweeping, Adam resumed his stroll along the pavement towards the offices of Armstrong the Architects.

The original building had been destroyed in the fire that had raged through the town some years back, but the replacement building stood tall and rather splendidly amidst several other buildings that housed offices, that of Hiram Wood, Lawyer, among them.

He was led to Jonas’ office by a stern looking young man who eyed him with some curiosity which he could not disguise.  Adam could remember when he had been at school with Joe, starting as a little boy at the time Joe was leaving to work on the Ponderosa.  A sharp knock on the glass windowed door was followed by the single word “Enter” being bellowed from beyond.

Adam entered, having removed his hat, which once again he was turning over and over in his hands. He walked to the desk and looked at Jonas who beckoned to a chair which Adam pulled up to the desk and sat upon. The two men faced each other like combatants involved in a duel. Jonas nodded

“Glad you came, Adam.”

Adam nodded and set the hat on the desk, there was just enough room for it to stay in position without falling to the floor.  “Well, I’m curious, Jonas.”

“Thought you would be.” Jonas smiled and stood up, deporting himself and his paunch over to a bureau where there was a Tantalus, “Whiskey?”

“No, thank you, too early for me.”

Jonas nodded, but poured himself a finger of whiskey into the crystal glass. He kept his back to Adam, perhaps he thought it would give the other man time to consider why he was there, even think about the advantages there would be to his life by taking up whatever offer was about to be put forward.

He turned and carried the glass over to the desk and sat down. He leaned into the back of his leather chair, and smiled “I offered you work with me years ago, remember?”

“I do.”

“And several other times during the course of all the years since.” he raised the glass to his lips and sipped, nodded as though pleased at the taste and put the glass back on the table, “Why didn’t you ever think to take up the offer?  You could have gone far, Adam. Had your own business…instead you risked life and limb at sea.  What was the point of that?”

Adam stared thoughtfully back at Jonas who raised his glass to drink a little more.

“I had commitments, duty, to help my father and brothers keep the Ponderosa safe from all the land grabbers, mining consortiums, thieves and you name it, who wanted a piece of it. I couldn’t do that sitting behind a desk being comfortable here in town.”

“Very well, I get your point, but that was a long time ago….” Jonas shrugged “When it was quite safe you still preferred to go to sea….”

“Well, it wasn’t completely safe, was it? I’d not been long at sea when the Ponderosa was stolen from under our noses…”

“Ah yes, of course, I remember, and some stranger came along with deep pockets and bought it back, and then sold it back to Ben Cartwright for – how much – a few dollars?” he stared at Adam who shrugged

“I don’t know, I wasn’t here at the time.”

“Do you think it safe enough now, to consider my offer?” Jonas smiled, swirled the liquid round and round in his glass, his eyes fixed upon Adam’s face.

“No.  I don’t like the idea of sitting behind a desk any more now than I did all those years back.

In fact, living so many years in a cabin smaller than this office, makes me even less inclined to do so.  But what does interest me, Jonas., is why are you asking me now, I’ve not designed anything new in years…”

Jonas nodded “I know, I’m aware of that, but I do know what work you have done has been of exceptional design.”

He pushed himself away from the desk once again and beckoned to Adam to follow him. They walked to where a large map covered half the wall on one side of the office…he nodded and looked again at Adam

“Recognise it?”

Adam’s dark eyes moved along from one corner to the other of the map. He nodded and pointed to the west side of what looked like a vast wilderness “The Ponderosa boundary is here…”

“That land -” Jonas swept up his arm and moved it across the surface of the map “All that land is prime real estate. It’s separated from the Ponderosa by the river, so there is no worry about any buildings encroaching onto your land.  To the north is Carson City, the capital of this state. As Virginia City dies out, Carson City will grow … it already is..” he jabbed his finger at the land where nothing existed but a few stumpy trees…he smiled “That’s where more houses will be built.” he nodded with satisfaction “The man who bought the land is a millionaire several times over, and he got his fortune from gold and silver dug out of this soil. He wants us…Armstrong & Son…to build houses there reflecting the wealth of this town.  There’s a whole lot of interest in this project, Adam. It could make your fortune.”

“What about Schroeder, isn’t he on board for this project?”

“He’s on board alright, he’s a good man, worked with us for a long time, I couldn’t do without him, but I need you.  You will have fresh ideas, and know how to execute them.”

Adam shook his head, smiled “I don’t think so, Jonas.  And I’d want more than a river to separate the Ponderosa from this – project of yours.  I can’t see a stretch of water stopping anyone from deciding to build on Ponderosa land. Seems to me when people get a lot, they always seem to want more.”

“It’ll all be tied up legal, Adam…you won’t have to fear any encroachment onto your land, I promise.”

Adam shook his head “Not so long ago all that land belonged to the Paiute…I’m talking just a few years, Jonas.  It was part of their reservation.” he shrugged and pulled a face, raised his eyebrows “How much money did your millionaire several times overpay them?”

“It was Government land….”

Adam just gave Jonas a blank stare from dark eyes, then shook his head “No, sorry, Jonas.”

Jonas flushed purple and struggled to contain the anger than was simmering beneath the surface, he shook his head “How much did you pay the Paiute for the land you took from them…ever thought of that?”

“I don’t have to…some of the land the Paiute actually gifted to us, and some we bought from the Government true enough, but we have kept it as the Paiute wanted it to be kept…” he paused, knowing that he could say too much, for the land was vast, he knew that, everyone did…but it was not land that was used for the Cartwright use solely, a thousand square miles of land meant a lot of acreage that was maintained as forest, where the wild life could still flourish, still roam free from the fear of a gun, or arrow. He sighed and shook his head “I appreciate the offer, but no thanks, Jonas.”

“You’ll regret it, Adam.”

“I don’t think so.” Adam walked to the desk and retrieved his hat, “Thanks again…”

He turned as he reached the door and looked at Jonas, narrowed his eyes “Don’t let me catch any of your properties being built on our land, Jonas…”

“I told you, there’ll be legal documents drawn up to protect your rights and – ours -”

Adam smiled, or rather his lips turned up at the corners, he nodded “Get them drawn up soon, Jonas.  Best to make sure of all our rights.”

He closed the door sharply and replaced his hat, nodded over to the clerk waiting at his own desk and left the building.

Outside the office he pulled up the collar of his coat. A brisk wind was blowing now and with it the promise of rain. He sighed and glanced up and down the street.  Then with a smile turned his feet in the direction of Roy Coffee’s home, where he felt, it was time to catch up with his old friend and then chew over any news between them both.

Chapter 32

The warmth of the refuge building wrapped itself around Olivia as she hurried her way inside. Nathaniel was already running ahead to join in playing with ‘friends’.  A child of his years took no note of what clothes they wore, or did not, whether they wore shoes or had soles of the feet so tough from going bare footed for years that they were like leather. No, they were children and he loved this chance to be with them and to play.

During the morning they would be given something to eat and drink and then settle to hear a story being read. Mary Ann had instigated this when the refuge had first opened. As the one-time schoolteacher now retired due to her marriage status, she had found a niche where she could still use her teaching skills.  She had found some educated women among those who came to the refuge for help, and encouraged them to take her place on a rota basis. It had taken time for them to accept the role, fearful that by doing so they would lose out on the benefits being handed out ‘for free’, but the resulting self-respect in the feeling that they had worked to earn their soup and bread, even cake, had been its own reward.

Olivia shook off the rain drops from her coat and hung it away.  Food was already being prepared, clothes were being sorted into piles…the smell of the food and unwashed clothing, of damp walls and condensation had not stopped the work going on. The women chopped the vegetables, diced up the meat, sliced up the bread while others rummaged through the clothes, separating them into piles, some were to be taken to be cleaned, some to repaired and sadly some sneaked away into various bags to be claimed for their own.

Some of the unemployed men came at various times during the day to do odd jobs deemed too hard for the women, although when no man arrived the women did it well enough. Paul Martin, now retired from his work as a full time G.P had a screened off area where he could attend to the women on a medical basis, free of charge, and needless to say, found his time fully occupied.

Olivia made her way to the small room that had been designated the office and here she found Bridie who had risen to her feet at the sound of her approach.  One look at Bridie’s face filled Olivia with dismay, whatever her friend was about to say was obviously not good news.

Bridie forced a smile onto her face, “Olivia, it seems to me that we are heading for problems here.”

“In what way, Bridie?”

“We are victims of our own success, my dear.  Not only that, as a result, we have more outgoings than income….more and more need help, and there is less and less funds coming in.” she picked up a ledger and then some papers which she thrust into Olivia’s hands, “Can you see what I mean?”

Olivia pulled up a chair to the wonky old table they used as a desk and carefully scanned the ledger, then read the letters. She put the items down and bowed her head, “Well, I suppose this just reflects the situation in town, just now.” she pushed the chair round so she was facing Bridie who was seated opposite her “More unemployed men, less money available, it’s bound to happen.”

“Yes, but Mr. de Souza is demanding more money to rent out this building….there are fewer donations being made…not only with money but from provisions…and what we are being given is not fresh. Potatoes are seedy, and – and it just seems as though no one really cares anymore.”

Olivia nodded, stared up at the window of the little room, which was running with condensation, and, she thought, not even winter yet.  She looked at Bridie thoughtfully

“We’ve been careful with our money, Bridie…it’s hardly our fault that people are less generous now than they used to be…” she frowned and looked down at the papers on the table “I shall start looking for better premises. This building is not good enough. Mr. de Souza promised to give it some attention so that we would have a sound warm building, but this is now quite unacceptable.”

It was, she thought, not only acceptable but very unfair. When the arrangement was first made with de Souza the old boiler was always maintained so that there was some warmth for the women, and the old stove had been nursed along carefully so that food could be cooked to provide the soup each day.  She knew that Hester, Mary-Ann and herself, would continue to pay the rent as they always had, after all this had been their idea, but they would not pay for something that was so below standard.

“Mrs. Garston isn’t reliable anymore,” Bridie said, breaking into the thoughts of the other woman, “She seems to have gone a little strange since Lucy left and got married as she did…and Clemmie is not strong enough to keep to her rota, although she tries but often has to cancel. We have some good women who are willing to help, but there are a few who are muttering about how they should be paid a wage.”

“It was always understood that this would be voluntary work, Bridie…”

“It’s just muttering at the moment, but it won’t take long before someone ups and says something.”

Olivia nodded and was about to speak when the door opened and Barbara Martin stepped inside, smiled at Olivia and turned to Bridie, “Some of the women are complaining that the boiler isn’t working and want to know if all the food donated today should be cooked.”

Bridie looked over at Olivia who had sat quietly by wishing she hadn’t felt such resentment at Barbara bypassing her about the matter. She wanted to stand up and tell the woman that the whole idea had been hers, and Mary Ann’s and Hester’s….and it was they who paid the rent, and provided most of the meat, good prime Ponderosa beef….but she tightened her lips, sat still and waited for Bridie to speak.

“I’ll come and speak to them…” Bridie said quietly and stood up, looked at Olivia, “I’ll leave you to look over the ledger, Olivia, and see if there is anything I have missed…”

Olivia nodded and pulled the ledgers closer, stared down at the neatly written figures and rubbed her eyes. Scrabbling in her bag she found her glasses and perched them onto the end of her nose to view the notes more closely.  By the time Bridie had returned Olivia had seen enough. The picture was clear, demand exceeded supply it was as simple as that…there were only so many clothes that could be donated for so many who had so little;  there was only so much food that could be cooked to provide a nourishing meal for so many; it all came down to the fact that Virginia City had a problem…with the mines closing down, there were too many unemployed men, with the resultant hungry women and pitiful children.

Barbara Martin watched as Olivia pulled on her coat and tied on her bonnet, spoke briefly to Bridie and left the building.  Hurrying over to the older woman she asked where it was that Olivia was going and was simply told that Olivia was going to see Mr. de Souza and also see if there were other premises that would be more suitable for their needs.

Of course, Barbara nodded, if she were in charge it was what she would have done as well, only sooner.

*****

Mary Evans glanced up as the bell tinkled and announced a new customer, then smiled at the sight of Grant Tombs who removed his hat, looked around the shop for a sight of someone special and blushed just a very little bit when realising she was not there but that Mary and the other employees would have guessed as to why he had taken that peek around..

“What can I get for you, Grant?” Mary asked gently, and giving her staff a stern look for some giggles had been heard. The thought that Grant would be purchasing some pretties for Amy had obviously come to all their minds.

Grant cleared his throat and produced a letter from his jacket “This is for you, and Mr. Evans. Mr. Woods thought you should receive this as soon as possible but I didn’t like to interrupt Mr. Evans at his work…”

Mary looked anxious and timidly reached out to accept the letter. She stared at it and then looked at Grants honest face “Is it – bad – news?”

“I don’t know, Ma’am.  Mr. Woods didn’t say, just told me to give it to you and to mention that he is available to see you and Mr. Evans at any time tomorrow afternoon.”

“Oh dear,” Mary clasped her hands together, crumpling the letter between them, “It must be something serious then?”

Grant gave only a brief smile and shrug of the shoulders. Mary blinked her eyes and put the letter down and attempted to smooth it out, “Well, I shall give it to my husband to open this evening.  Thank you, Mr. Tombs” she paused as he turned “Oh, by the way, is your purchase of the Emporium going through satisfactorily.”

“I believe so, Mrs. Evans. No one else has shown interest, and I have met the asking price that Miss Ridley demanded. How – er – how is Amy getting on with her – education -”

“I thought an hour a day would be sufficient as she has her usual work to get on with….” Mary replied quietly, “But she is a bright girl, and will be a good Manager for you…in the store – Emporium – I mean -”

“Oh, thank you, Mrs. Evans.  I really appreciate your help.” he paused and looked around at the other women who were suddenly very busy putting flimsy things in boxes or tidying away drawers of sweetly scented tissue paper. “Well, yes, thank you again, Mrs. Evans.”

The bell tinkled again as he made his way back to the pavement where he was observed striding back to his office leaving Mary staring down at the envelope on the counter with dread.  She had never been involved with lawyers before nor any form of legal proceedings. She felt very dry in the mouth and informed the women that she was going to go and have a glass of water and a brief five minutes ‘sit down’.

*****

Lilith Martin was enjoying her lessons. She was an intelligent girl and her years at Albany had given her a slight advantage over the other children in her classroom.  Schooling came easily and she was finding that she was popular among the other children as well as the teachers.  Her popularity meant that her time at recess was no longer spent looking out for the Cartwrights, and as a result she was becoming far less inhibited.

She was walking through the children when she saw Sofia and the dark-haired Rosie Canaday eating their lunch together.  She would have ignored them altogether had it not been for a boy running pass them and snatching up one of Sofia’s books while yelling some obscenity at her as his feet carried him away.  Sofia was on her feet in an instant, her lunch spilling out of her lap onto the ground “Give me my book back….”

“Yah…come and get it then…”

The boy laughed, other children turned to watch as he ran on and then tossed the book high in the air, over the wall to land who knew where….Sofia was close behind him, skirts billowing, and hair streaming behind her.  The boy turned to face her, pulled his face into some contortion and ran to the left of the wall. Sofia was now having to decide whether to continue to chase after him or attempt to retrieve her book.

She knew she needed the book for her lessons that afternoon.  There was no other way around it she had to get it back somehow.  Rosie was close behind her, but of Reuben and Tommy there was no sign, nor was there anyone apparently willing to help her.  She glanced wildly around, soon the bell would toll and recess would be over.

“I’ll give you a leg up…” Rosie said, cupping her hands obligingly

“Can you though, can you?” Sofia cried, viewing the wall rather anxiously

“I can.”

Sofia hauled in her breath, put her foot in the cup formed by Rosie’s hands and bounced on her other foot…then up she went, grabbed at a hand hold on the wall, struggled, held her breath, could feel Rosie’s hands giving way, another bounce and another hand hold and then up and onto the top of the wall where she lay on her stomach, poised or rather pinned, in position.  She looked around for a sight of her book and saw it fluttering in the alley way.

But how was she to get down?  She wiggled a little and then twisted – wobbled – and before she knew it, she was on the ground, the breath knocked out of her and her head spinning.

“My my,” someone was saying as they leaned over her

“Is it raining little girls now?” another person said.

A kindly hand under her arms lifted her up and set her onto her feet. She blinked and stared around her.  There was the book, the breeze was fluttering the leaves open so that they drifted to and fro…the man who was looking at her seemed concerned, so she thanked him politely and turned to go, but her legs seemed very wobbly now.  The woman who had been with the man smiled at her, “What were you thinking of doing, dearie? Is school so bad nowadays?”

“No – I lost my book – it’s over there -”

The woman turned, saw the book and ran over to retrieve it and handed it to Sofia with a smile, “You should take better care, dear.”

“I – “

“Books cost money.” the man said and inclined his head as though to acknowledge his own words and then together the couple walked away, leaving her standing alone with the book in her hand.  She stared up at the wall.  The bell began to toll. Lunch break was over, and she would have to walk to the school gates and get back to class that way.  It meant a long walk following the wall around to the gates. She put her hand to her head, there was a pain there, and when she felt the lump that was swelling rather splendidly on the back of her head, she was not surprised at the wobbly legs and funny headache she now had.

The gates seemed a very long way away, but she had her book, and tucking it under her arm she began her journey.  Follow the wall, through the gates, up the steps, through the door, up the beautiful staircase and then to her class. By the time she arrived in class it was already in session, she pushed open the door, swayed and then fell flat on her face in front of everyone, the book still clutched tightly in her hands

Chapter 33

The smell of the soup pervaded the building and for a hungry man or woman aroused the natural pangs of hunger to be expected from those who ate frugally or not at all. It seemed to Bridie that the queue for the soup and bread they handed out each day became longer every noon time.  No sooner was a bowl emptied than it was whisked away and refilled for the next person to come and take the place of the other. There was no chance of lingering. People needed to be fed.

Adam arrived as the tail end of the queue was being served. He looked around and after removing his hat and acknowledging several of the women whom he knew he went in search of his wife. It was Barbara who came from the office area and saw him wandering around, looking somewhat bemused.

She acknowledged him briefly before asking him if there was something the matter and could she help. It was very matter of fact, although she stared into his face almost challengingly.

“I seem to have lost my wife.” he grinned, dimples formed hollows in his cheeks, his eyes twinkled.

“Well, she did come but she left very quickly…” Barbara replied with a slight shrug, and was about to continue when Bridie appeared and gave Adam a big smiling welcome,

“Olivia went to have a word with Mr. de Souza about the rent for this place, and to see about the boiler.”

“What’s wrong with the boiler?”

“It isn’t working…de Souza said he would check it out, but he didn’t and with winter coming this is not going to be a very pleasant accommodation.” she sighed and shook her head, “There’s already condensation running down the walls.”

Adam nodded, he had noticed, so now looked around once again “Is Nathaniel here?”

“With the other children. He’s had his food, he’s enjoying himself.”

Adam looked again at Barbara who was standing stiffly beside Bridie with that wary look on her face that was beginning to annoy him. Instead he turned his attention about to Bridie “Show me where the boiler is….”

*****

Dr John Martin smiled as his little patient opened her eyes and looked up at him.  A smile did a lot to reassure a patient, it made them realise they had not died, nor were about to do so.  Sofia stared up at him “I want my Mommy.”

“Of course, you do,” John replied and placed a hand on her forehead “You have a nasty bump…can you tell me how many fingers I am holding up?”

“One”

“And now?”

“Three”

“And how do you feel? Headache? Sick?”

She heaved in a deep breath and nodded, “My head hurts.”

“That’s to be expected with a bump the size you have…that was rather a silly thing to do, wasn’t it? Falling off that wall…”

Sofia sighed again and looked around the room. Standing behind the Doctor was Miss Stanton, looking very stern. “Is Reuben here?” she asked

“He’s in his lessons.” Miss Stanton said n the tone of voice that implied that as far as she was concerned that was where both she and Sofia should be right now.

“Someone threw my book over the wall…” Sofia said quietly

“Then you should have asked one of the older children to get it back for you.” came the teacher’s response.

Sofia sighed, and felt tears coming to the corners of her eyes. She closed them, but the tears plopped out anyway and trickled down the side of her face into her hair.

“Well, I think you have had a bit of a shock,” John said gently, “So just rest here for a while longer and I’m sure you will be just fine tomorrow.”

He stood up and approached the teacher “Could her brother come and stay with her until closing time?”

“I don’t think Mr. Evans would approve today. He’s conducting a maths test with them -” she paused at the look on his face and frowned

“It’s alright, I’ll ask Miss Hathaway if Lilith can come and sit with her.” he smiled as he turned to the little girl who was lying on the couch looking very pale and tearful “Probably better for another girl to be here.”

Miss Stanton nodded although she was not pleased to have been supplanted by a junior teacher to herself. She raised her chin and left the room in order to summon the younger teacher to the sick room, and would leave her to arrange for her student to attend to the Cartwright girl.

*****

By the time Olivia arrived back at the Refuge the queue had disappeared. Soup bowls, plates and cutlery had been washed and set aside for the next day.  She shook out her coat to remove the rain drops and smiled greetings to the ladies still there.  Soon the last of them would gather up their children and depart to their homes, cold and cheerless though they were in many cases. Not in all, for some were capable of making a home from a hovel.

Nathaniel was first to see her and ran with a beaming smile on his face clutching a rather woe be gone rag dog in his hands “Daddy’s here too” he cried and pointed to where Adam was squatting on his haunches in front of the boiler.

She went over to him, laughing, and put her hands on his shoulders “Well, have you managed to resurrect the dead?”

He stood up, wiped his hands on a rag and smiled as he kissed her “It’ll be alright for a while. Just old and some parts worn through.” he tossed the rag to one side and leaned down to pick his son up, then looked at Olivia “You look cold and tired. Have you eaten?”

“Not yet. I’ve been so busy…Mr. de Souza spent a lot of time trying to avoid me and when I finally pinned him down, he was quite unpleasant.”

“Come along to the office and have some coffee. Bridie has been worried about you…”

“Mm, actually I think Bridie would have had more success with Mr. de Souza than I…” she forced a smile to her face when her old friend appeared at the door of the office, “Oh Bridie, that de Souza, what a horrible man.”

“His wife died last year…it’s turned him sour.” Bridie said, with a nod of the head as she ushered Olivia into the room, “Sit down and have some coffee. You look worn out.”

It was Barbara who brought the coffee to her, setting it down on the corner of the table, and then asking Adam if he would like ‘another cup’ and ‘how was the boiler? Will it last a while longer now?’

Olivia concentrated on drinking the coffee, refusing to let that worm of resentment wriggle away inside her head. It was too immature, silly, childish.

“De Souza wants to increase the rent. I told him the building was not adequate to our needs and he just shrugged and said, ‘Take it or leave it.’   So, I left him and walked around town looking for other premises that would be more suitable.”

“Did you find anything?” Bridie asked eagerly while Adam pulled up a chair to sit beside his wife

“Two places…although one is a little too large really.” she frowned and pushed her glasses further up to the bridge of her nose.

“I’m sure extra space will soon be filled,” Barbara said in her dry monotone voice, “Will it cost more than we are paying already.”

Olivia swallowed coffee along with irritation. She glanced at her husband who appeared to be amused, but was concentrating on keeping Nathaniel quiet as well.

“The rent is less, but the cost of the work on it will be a lot more than we can afford.”

Bridie sighed and shook her head “What about the other building.”

“Adequate. Smaller than here and the same rent.”

Bridie and Barbara exchanged looks, it seemed to Olivia that the two women had formed an alliance that left her, Mary Ann and Hester out of the picture.  She looked at Adam who was watching them, Nathaniel now quietly playing with the rag dog and seated happily on the floor.

“We’ve told Adam about the problems we are having…” Bridie said,

“And he could see for himself the number of people who come here to be fed every day…” Barbara folded her arms across her chest defensively, “Some people even complained that the portions were too small.”

“We had to reduce the size of the portions,” Bridie said quickly, “otherwise there would not have been enough to go round.”

Olivia nodded and raised her chin as though prepared to take on anyone in a fight, Adam smiled and looked at Bridie who raised her eyebrows “Well, what do you think, Olivia?”

“I think too many have become too dependent on us.  They’re not prepared to help themselves anymore…they have come to expect us to provide for them and that isn’t a good thing.” Olivia replied and darted a look at her husband who inclined his head in agreement. “We need to be less open handed. We can’t afford to be handing out so much to so many on such limited funds.”

“How are we going to do that?” Barbara asked in a rather patronising manner and a quirk of an eyebrow which made Adam sit up and look at her as though seeing her, yet again, in a new light.

“I don’t know yet. I shall have to discuss it with Hester and Mary Ann.” Olivia said quietly, “After all, they are the ones who got this project started in the first place and pay towards the rental of these premises.  We’ll put our heads together this evening and think of something.”

Bridie nodded and collected up the papers and ledgers which she handed over to Olivia, “It might help if they look through these, my dearie”

*****

When Sofia next opened her eyes, it was to see Lilith Martin seated beside her and reading a book. Once aware that the little girl was awake Lilith set the book down and smiled, she had a pleasant smile, which made her eyes soften. Sofia blinked her eyes and just felt – dazed.

“Father said to come and sit with you since you were not well. Miss Stanton and Miss Hathaway said it would be alright.,”

“I got a bump on the head.” Sofia put a hand to her brow, her arm felt heavy, she let it drop back beside her.

“I saw you go over that wall. You were – well – amazing.” Lilith’s smile widened

“I had to get my book back.”

Lilith nodded “Reuben got hold of the boy who threw it over the wall. They had a fight. Mr. Evans had to break it up.”

“Was Reuben hurt?”

“No. He was just fine.”

They settled into silence. Sofia closed her eyes again.  Lilith picked up her book. The silence became awkward and both the girls felt uncomfortable, so Lilith set the book down and said, “Remember I told you about my brother, Peter?”

“He was deaf.”

“And how we talked a special language?”

“Yes.”

“Would you like me to show you?”

“Show me?” Sofia asked, using her elbows to push herself into a sitting position, her head thumped a little, but she looked at the other girl with some interest “How can you show me?”

“Like this…” and Lilith used her fingers to say I – Lilith – good morning – good afternoon – “

Sofia closed her eyes and settled back down, it looked silly, no one talked wiggling fingers about, but Lilith gave her a nudge and in signing language spelled out “You won’t learn anything if you don’t try.” then she smiled “Sofia, do you know what sheet music is?”

“Of course I do…I’m learning to play the piano.”

“But to play any musical instrument, even to sing well, you have to know the right language.”

“What do you mean/”

“Music…has its own language…doesn’t it?”

Sofia looked at her, all the time Lilith had been speaking her fingers were working out the words, speaking as well. She stared at Lilith for some time, then nodded “Yes.  It does.”

“Then I can teach you to speak like Peter…” she paused and gave a rather shy smile, “If you would like me to…”

“Yes.” Sofia nodded, intrigued, curious, even a little excited “Thank you.”

Lilith put her hand to her chin and mouth “That’s your first lesson….thank you.

Chapter 34

Ezra was very careful in the way he carried Sofia to the house.  She had looked a pale little waif when she clambered up onto the wagon with her brother and cousins, but during the trip home had complained of her head aching, of feeling sick and her face had become paler and paler.  By the time they had reached home she was leaning against Reubens shoulder, her eyes half closed and soft moans that she tried very hard not to let slip out of her mouth.

So, Ezra had driven as fast but as carefully as he could and upon reaching Adam and Olivia’s home had lifted her into his arms and carried her to the door while Reuben had ran ahead shouting for his Ma, for his Pa.

Olivia’s heart flipped over when she saw her little girl so limp and pale, she hovered while Ezra laid the child down upon the couch and then rushed to her side, taking hold of her hand, feeling for the pulse while behind her Reuben was relaying the information at such a speed that Olivia had to tell him to stop and start again.  Ezra backed out of the house and hurried to take his other charges home, and thinking that as soon as little Hannah was home and he had to take Rosie which meant a turnaround back on himself, he would head for town and get the doctor.

“Tell me again…what happened?”

“She climbed over the wall and then dropped over the other side…”

“But why? Why did she climb the wall…for goodness sake, Reuben, you’re supposed to be looking after your sister! Where were you when all this happened?”

Reuben felt stricken, he blinked back fear and tears, bowed his head “I was chasing the boy-”

“What boy?”

“The boy who threw her book over the wall.”

“Her book?” Olivia shook her head and put her hand to her brow, this was a day when nothing was going right, and the sight of her little girl scared her.

Cheng Ho Lee came and said he would send for Hop Sing but Olivia didn’t hear him, just nodded…so he disappeared back out of the room and rushed out to the yard to find one of the men to take a message to Hop Sing whom Cheng had far greater confidence in than any of the town doctors.

Sofia struggled to get her eyes open and saw the hazy outline of a face leaning down close to her.  It slowly took shape, and with a sigh she recognised her mother, knew she was home and started to cry. Tears leaked from her eyes as she struggled to sit up

“Mommy, my head hurts me -” she raised a hand and touched the back of her head “And my tummy hurts me too…”

Olivia took the child’s hand and nodded, kissed the fingers and stroked back her hair. “why did you climb over the wall…” she whispered, trying to smile.

“Did I?”  Sofia whispered and closed her eyes.

Nathaniel came and stood beside his brother, staring wide eyed at his sister, and then at his mother. Seeing their stricken faces, he started to cry, bawling lustily until Olivia had to tell Reuben to take him away while she carried Sofia up to her room.

*****

Hester stood with her hands clasped together as she listened to Hannah’s tale of woe. Her heart went out to Olivia for she could well understand how she would be feeling. Had it been Hannah…it could have been Hannah…she began to feel panic rise in her chest.  “No one hurt you, did they?”

“No, Ma…I was playing with Betsy.”

“And who was this boy who hurt Sofia.?”

“I don’t know… a big boy…”

There was the sound of a door slamming shut and she knew that Hop Sing was already on his way to Olivia’s with his carpet bag of medicines, unguents, spices.  She drew Hannah closer and gave her a hug, “Goodness me, what is this world coming to….”  a vain question, after all, far worse happened every day, but then, they usually happened to everyone else, didn’t they?

*****

Mary Ann sat at the piano and played some Chopin…it was a tricky piece and needed some careful fingering, but she was nimble enough to get through the section with perfect precision.  Daniel and Constance were playing happily nearby, and she could hear the clutter of dishes and saucepans as Lee prepared the meal.

She was not able to concentrate on much since Joe had told her about the offer of work with or rather for President Grant.  Her head buzzed with the thought of things she would be able to do, the so called freedoms she would have on her doorstep…such as stepping out of her house into a carriage and going to the shops whenever she chose to do so, to be able to buy the latest French fashions for herself and Constance. There would be theatres, museums, art galleries to visit at any time she wished. She imagined Joe and herself entering some vast theatre…listening to orchestras…and there would be parks to wander in.

She stopped the music and stared out into the far-off space beyond the windows…in the silence the children stopped playing and looked at their mother before resuming their play.  But for Mary Ann she could live only for the better.  Yes, she would miss her family, and the views, and the house…but time heals, doesn’t it?  And now with the trains nowhere was beyond reach anymore. There would be letters to and from – she sighed – and dreamily closed the lid of the piano over the keyboard.

With this move, life would only get better. Wouldn’t it?

*****

Ben turned his head at the sound of a horse approaching him and smiled at the sight of his eldest son.  Sitting astride his saddle Ben had given way to thinking, and his thoughts had put him into a bad mood. He felt a black cloud of depression settling over him, over the Ponderosa…life was changing and this latest offer from Grant to Adam, made him feel very uncomfortable. The broad hint that Grant had given concerning Joe had passed Ben by, he didn’t for a minute think Joe would consider it, whereas Adam…always restless Adam…could very well be considering it.

Adam slowed his horse to a walk and drew closer to his father “What’s on your mind, Pa? You looked like a statue frozen in time as I came over the rim rock.”

“Ah, well, I had things on my mind. Where have you been? Your brothers have been hard at work since early this morning?” he didn’t intend to sound harsh, but he could his words, clipped and brusque.

“I went to see Armstrong.”

“Armstrong?” Bens’ black brows met together over the beak of his nose “Why?”

“Because he wanted to put an offer my way…”

“I remember, he mentioned it the other evening.” Ben inclined his head and scowled even fiercer, as if one job offer wasn’t bad enough!

“I told him I wasn’t interested.” Adam leaned forward in the saddle, pursed his lips “You look angry, Pa? What’s really upsetting you?”

Ben shrugged and twisted the reins between his fingers and with a twist of the wrist turned his horse in the direction where Hoss and Joe were working along with Candy.  He glanced over at Adam, his dark eyes hooded by the heavy lids, then he looked ahead as though in two minds about telling Adam his opinion, his worries, about Grant.

For a while they rode along in silence, Adam patiently waiting for an explanation or an explosion, he knew one or the other would come, after so many years he knew Ben’s methods by heart. The horses loped along at a good pace, clouds scudded by and still Ben remained silent. It was when they were in sight of the three men working together some distance away that Ben turned to face his son again,

“This offer Grant made you about being head of his security? Did he mention it to you again, before he left?”

“He did.” Adam nodded by way of emphasis

“He did, huh? Hmm”

Silence again. Adam said nothing, he wondered what Ben would be thinking, fearing, and decided to bide his time.  Ben was wondering what had been said, and wished Adam would just spit it out and let him know. He shook his head and sighed

“No doubt a good salary?”

“No doubt about it….”

“But you would have to move from the Ponderosa?”

“Uh-huh!”

“How’s Olivia feel about it?”

“Well, you know, Olivia -” Adam shrugged and gave a half smile, quite enjoying stringing the subject out, making Ben squirm.

“No doubt city life would appeal to her…”

“Not really.”

“Uh? No? Well, I thought it would…”

“Not particularly.”

“Oh.”

They lapsed back into silence and Adam frowned and his eyes slid sideways to view his father riding along, obviously concerned.  He wondered if Joe had said anything to Ben, or whether his brother had decided not to take the offer seriously. Perhaps it would have been wiser if he had taken the time to discuss the offer with Joe, sound him out as to how seriously he viewed it, or not.

Ben could see that his son was thinking more concernedly about the matter, and wished he had not mentioned it. But it rankled, he wanted his son to share his thoughts and feelings about things as he used to, once before…and this would be a major decision, as serious as the one he had made when going to sea. Dang it, more serious because his daughter in law and grandchildren were involved.

Joe saw them first and raised a hand, a smile on his face and his eyes merry.  Adam felt assured, his brother didn’t look like a man with a heavy decision on his mind. Convincing himself that all was well he refrained from saying anything further on the matter to his father and with a touch of his heels urged the horse forward to join the other horses nearby.

“About time you showed.” Hoss said and wiped sweat from his brow.

“Yeah…what time do you call this? The days nearly over…” Candy grinned and used the tail of his shirt to wipe around his neck

“Practically finished this stretch, Pa.”  Joe grinned, his voice much as it had been when a little boy, and expecting a pat on the head and assurances that he was a good boy.

They had done well. They always worked well as a team, and Adam leaned down to pick up a shovel to have his back slapped by Hoss who insisted he didn’t bother…”No point in you dirtying yourself up, Adam, we’re jest about done here.”

They were laughing…their laughter was warm, manly, and contagious. Ben leaned on the pommel of his saddle and nodded as his black mood slowly floated away like a black cloud chased away by the sun.

*****

Mary Evans gave her husband the letter and looked into his face as though by just holding the envelope Edward would be able to tell her the contents without even withdrawing it to read. In the room above Jimmy was sprawled on his bed reading a book, lost in the words that wormed their way across the page, caught up in the adventure and imagining himself as the hero.

Edward took the letter from the envelope and read it through without a change of expression on his face, then he looked at his wife, saw her anxious eyes, and smiled.

“Mr. Woods wants us to see him – if we want to have this property, we have papers to sign. Amanda has accepted our offer.”

Mary’s heart did a jump, she had to sit down, and draw in her breath “You mean we can stay here?”

“Yes, my dear.  It means this will be our home…”

“And we can afford to buy it?”

“Well, yes, nothing’s changed if Amanda is prepared to accept our offer.”

“But why did the Martins come to look over the house the other day…”

“I guess it was because Mr. Woods hadn’t heard from Amanda then, or perhaps they decided not to buy it. Mrs. Martin didn’t seem overly impressed, did she?”

Mary didn’t care whether Barbara was impressed or not, the fact that the house was going to be theirs, their home, for Jimmy and the coming baby…she could have cried…in fact, she did, burying her face in her hands and letting the tears fall.

Edward wasn’t used to weeping women, but he did what he thought best in the situation and put his arm around her and kissed her brow. Muttered “There, there, it’s alright now…” like many a husband before him and was gratified that she wiped her eyes and leaned her head on his shoulder and kissed him.

*****

Sofia was in bed when Hop Sing arrived.  She lay very quiet and still, very pale with her eyes closed.  She was clammy to the touch and moaned a little when Hop Sing put his hand to her brow.

“Bang on head cause concussion…” he said quietly to Olivia.

Olivia put her hand to her mouth and bit down on her finger to quell the rising panic she was feeling.  “How bad, Hop Sing?”

He didn’t speak as he checked the little girl over, his old hands familiar with the shapes and size of bodies and limbs, knowledgeable in knowing what should be right and what had gone wrong. He stood away from the bed and looked at Sofia thoughtfully

“Nothing else broken. Bruises which will heal…I give you ointments for them…” he paused “I give you something for her too, so that she not be too ill. Maybe not be too bad. Probably bad enough.”

This was rather too vague for Olivia.  She assumed that her old friend was hiding something terrible from her and gave a hic-cup of misery, which she tried to swallow. Hop Sing turned to her and put a hand upon her arm, it was an old hand now, wrinkled with age spots like freckles on the back, “Sofia will not be well, but she will not be so very unwell.  Just fever. She must rest, you take care, give her medicine.”

Olivia nodded. She felt like a child herself, being led along by this dear friend, too frightened to think for herself.

They left Sofia in bed, comfortable and sleeping.  Downstairs Reuben stood up, waiting to know how his sister was, as confident in Hop Sings’ verdict as he would have been in Dr Paul Martins. Nathaniel sat still, big eyed, pensive, knowing without understanding that he had to be quiet because his sister was ‘broken’ like one of his toys.

Chapter 35

Joe had talked faster, worked harder, laughed louder throughout the day. Anything rather than to have a quiet moment for his brain to catch up with him and go through the process of thinking about all the ramifications involved in accepting or refusing Grants persuasive offer.

Now he was in the saddle riding homewards in the company of his family and friend, wondering what they were thinking, particularly Adam.  He glanced sideways over to his brother who rode close beside him, as though determined not to let Joe out of his sight.  Joe sighed; his brother looked – well – grim.  With his hat lowered over his brow, his jacket collar raised to shield his neck, he looked like many thought him to be, a hard man.

Joe began to fantasize, what if his brother had taken to the wrong side of the law, how well would he have managed a life of crime?  He sighed and shook his head and thought back to his last moments with President Grant, the time spent with him that Adam knew nothing about.

“Anything on your mind, Joe?”

Adam’s voice cut through Joe’s meanderings and he cleared his throat, shook his head “No, nothing.”

Adam raised his eyebrows but turned his face away in order to look ahead, while Joe cleared his throat and hoped he sounded convincing.  He noticed Adam lower his head, a frown puckering his brow, all signs he knew well, it meant his brother was thinking over something and Joe, having a guilty conscience, inwardly squirmed.

“How did your interview with Armstrong go…you were seeing him today, weren’t you?” Joe blurted out in the hope that it would take up some time and clear the silence.

“It was – interesting.”  Adam replied, “Have to talk about it with you all, and Pa…”

“You’re taking the job?” Joe looked and sounded surprised

“No, of course not.” Adam’s voice held the scorn such a question merited, and he shook his head “No, but something came up that could affect the Ponderosa.”

“Seriously?”

“Yep, seriously.”

They had reached the junction where Candy would part from them in order to get to his house, each of them raised a hand, Ben called out his regards to Ann and children, and then they were left watching Candy make his way homewards.  Ben turned in the saddle and waved to Adam and Joe to draw closer, while he drew Cinnamon to a halt.

“Before we get to the house, Adam, I wanted to know how you got on at Armstrong’s?”

Adam raised his eyebrows, looked at Joe and gave a half smile “Well, as I was saying to Joe, it was – interesting – revealing -”

“You taking the job?” Hoss asked leaning forwards in his saddle and scowling as though he would likely plant a fist on his brother if the answer were in the affirmative

“No, but there is something that I was told…which could concern the Ponderosa.”

“Then best tell us now -” Ben muttered

It didn’t take Adam long to tell them about the plans for Armstrong to design and have built what amounted to a small township on the borders of the Ponderosa close to Carson City

“It’s the state capital, and they know Virginia City and other towns like it are shrinking in size…they want to expand in order to take in any who decide business in the capital would be more lucrative.”

he explained and frowned “We could have discussed this at home…”

“Sure, I know that, but I preferred to discuss it now.” Ben snapped; his black eyes darted from one to the other of his sons “Did any of you hear of this before?”

All three shook their heads and Ben sighed, “Well I heard rumours about it a few weeks back along, shortly after we got back from San Francisco.  Hoped it was wrong but sent some men to the borders to check the rumours out and they came back yesterday to confirm that it is true”

Adam nodded “Armstrong promised that it would in no way encroach upon the Ponderosa. The river forms a natural boundary there.”

“All the same I want it carefully monitored.” Ben replied slowly and rubbed his jaw with one gloved hand before looking at Joe and Hoss “It might be a good idea if you two took some time out to go there. We have a line shack close to the river…”

“Pa, aren’t you overreacting? Armstrong hasn’t even started planning it out yet, not in any great detail anyway.” Adam sighed, shook his head, “He’s still living in hopes that I’ll come round to his way of thinking…”

“Perhaps you should take on the work, Adam.” Joe grinned “Then you can keep us informed without us having to spend time out in the wild.”

Hoss grinned “Yeah, it is still wild country out there…I wouldn’t mind going for a while, do some hunting and fishing…”

“And surveying. That would be the whole point of it, Hoss, it won’t be a holiday…” Ben snapped

“You worried this could turn into another situation like the Truckee, Pa?” Joe asked tentatively. “I don’t know what to think” Ben sighed and jerked at the reins so that Cinnamon began to walk forwards, “I just got an itch…”

“Can’t ever ignore itches…” Hoss muttered soberly and turned his horse into a walk beside his father.

Adam and Joe followed behind them, both deep in thought. Once again Joe darted a sidelong look over at Adam, “Does Pa know about Grant’s offer…”

“He mentioned it to me earlier, he doesn’t know – or at least I’m presuming he doesn’t know that you had a similar offer…” Adam replied quietly and sighed, “Have you mentioned anything to Mary Ann about it?”

Joe swallowed and flexed his shoulders as though preparing to take on a heavy weight, he nodded

“Have you mentioned it to Olivia?”

“Of course.” Adam nodded and shrugged, “She wasn’t interested in moving from the Ponderosa.”

“No?!

“No. She struggles enough with San Francisco…she’s a country girl at heart,” and he smiled shyly, as though talking about his wife in this way was intimate. He didn’t ask Joe any questions, perhaps he assumed that Mary Ann felt the same way about things as Olivia, or perhaps he just didn’t want to know that she was quite different, and changes may have been in the offing. He stared ahead of him, and pursed his lips.

Joe said nothing, but like his brother stared ahead…he noticed that Ben, although still broad of shoulder, was thinner, seemed smaller than the last time he had looked, but then he stopped himself by wondering just how often did he look at his father or brothers, come to that, to notice the changes that time makes. Whenever he thought of his father, he pictured him as the man Ben had been 20 years ago, bellowing out orders, a big man who filled, or seemed to fill, a room.  Joe watched as the two men in the lead jogged along, and he had to accept that his father was showing one of the signs of ageing, that of appearing to shrink.

It was like having someone tap him on the shoulder and say “What if…should you move away…what if…”

“You alright, Joe?”

Dang that Adam!  Always noticing something…Joe turned to look at his brother and shrugged “I just noticed that Pa – doesn’t seem as big – kind of shrinking.”

He said it apologetically, as though he wanted Adam’s reassurance that he was imagining things, that he didn’t mean to mention it but…however, Adam nodded “That’s what happens when getting old.”

“You saying our Pa is OLD!”

Adam shrugged “Well, fact is that mathematics does kind of underscore the matter…I’m 50, which makes Pa -” he paused and grimaced “at least 20 years older.”

“Shucks.”

They said nothing for a while, but both seemed now to be fixated on watching their father and brother jogging along chatting together, from what they could hear discussing the subject of the project Armstrong was involved in…Joe turned to look at Hoss, who was not fading away at all, but had probably added quite a few pounds over the years. In actual fact, not a few pounds but a considerable few pounds.

He shivered. It was almost as though now he had noticed these differences he somehow expected both men to keel over and fall to the ground…one from old age and the other from obesity.

Adam turned in his saddle and nodded over to Joe “When you saw Grant last, did he say anything else to you?”

“When I – saw Grant?” Joe stammered and blinked fast, looked away and cleared his throat. He feel the colour mounting, knew his ears were going red a sure sign of embarrassment

Adam shrugged and pushed up his hat brim with his thumb “I noticed you had gone into the hotel again later…just wondered if you had seen Grant while you were there.”

“You wondered?”

“Well, perhaps,” Adam gave a short laugh, “Perhaps I know you did, just wanted you to tell me of your own free will, not have me drag it outa ya.”

Joe shook his head “How come you found out….did you see me talking to him?”

“No”

“Oh. Well…” Joe chewed on the inside of his cheek for a moment then glanced over at Ben and Hoss who were now some lengths ahead of them and still talking, deep in discussion, he nodded “Sure I went in after I got the mail.  He was still there and called me over…”

“Mentioned you going to New York City again, I reckon?”

“He gave me his card, his personal details. Said to contact him as soon as I knew whether or not I wanted to take up the position.  He thought it would be good for Mary Ann, and the children…better schooling, better opportunities for their future.”

“They have a secure future here, Joe.”

“On the Ponderosa?” Joe sighed and shook his head “I’m not so sure about that, not now. Things are changing, Adam.  Even this matter of Armstrong and that building work close to our borders…we can’t fight them off like we used to do.  You know that, don’t you?”

Adam just pursed his lips and looked away…the sky was still blue, fat clouds scudded over its surface, the cool wind was still pleasant to the touch on skin, then he looked at Joe again and shook his head “Well, you have your family to think about, times past when we made the decisions for you.”

Joe was about to speak but Adam urged his horse on, and was soon riding beside his father, leaving his brother to decide whether to join them or not.

*****

Sofia felt hot in the bed, and uncomfortable. Her head ached too much to sleep, but her eyes wanted her to close them because they were tired and itchy.  She heard movement in the room, but then found she couldn’t open her eyes again, sounds were far far away and what she heard were just a few snatches of words.

Adam leaned over the bed and felt his daughter’s brow, it was hot and clammy.  He shook his head slightly and then pulled up the chair closer to the bedside.  He had been horrified when Olivia had greeted him at the door of the house with the news of Sofia’s misadventure, and had questioned Reuben closely as to what had happened, who had been the boy and why hadn’t he been on hand to help his sister.

The poor boy felt miserable…and Adam could see and feel the child’s misery, which caused him to feel guilty for having added to it. He had put a hand on the boys’ shoulder and commended him for trying to help which caused Reuben to protest that as he didn’t know that Sofia would do anything as stupid as to climb up a wall and jump off the other side, why should he be blamed for not looking after her.

Point taken! Adam had nodded, sympathised and then taken himself up to his daughter’s room to check on the invalid himself.

Now as he sat there much like his own father had done so many many times in the past.  he thought over the situation with Joe and Mary Ann.  He had to accept the fact that there was nothing he could do now if they chose to leave the Ponderosa, but it would be hard, very hard were they to do so.

He switched his thoughts to the situation with Sofia and reached out to take hold of her hand which she had dangled out of the covers. A little dimpled hand.  He stroked the soft skin, and looked down at how it was in the palm of his hand – so small and so dainty.  Concussion could be a strange thing, could go any which way…and she was young, bones not fully formed, not hardened off…

“Daddy?”

She was whispering, and he leaned forward to look at her, smiled and nodded as with the other hand he turned up the flame in the lamp “Hello Princess…I hear you jumped off a wall.”

“A horrible boy threw my book over the wall and it was with my story in, the story I writ for Miss Hathaway. It was about Ella.”

“Miss Hathaway would have liked a story about your friend.” he agreed, while his eyes looked over her face for signs of fever…eyes too bright, red fever spots on her face, perspiration shine to the skin…but she appeared well and when he touched her brow even the clamminess had gone.

“Do you think Ella will come to Virginia City and be my friend here again?”

“Any things possible, sweetheart.”

“Humpty Dumpty fell off a wall, didn’t he?”

“Humpty Dumpty was not real, pudding, he -”

“But he did fall off a wall, didn’t he?  No one could put him together again.”

He didn’t say anything, just stroked her hand until finally her eyes closed again and it was obvious that she was once again asleep.

Chapter 36

The light tap on the door caused Reuben to push the book he was reading under the bed covers, and fall back onto the pillows in an attempt to look as though he were about to fall asleep.  The door opened and a streak of light from the lamp was followed by the dark shape of his father, who stepped into the room, carefully put the lamp on the tallboy and pulled up a chair to the bedside.

Adam leaned forward to turn up the flame in the lamp on the nightstand, and smiled at the sight of his son who was batting his eyelids as though the extra light had forced him into wakefulness.

“Reuben?”

The boy sighed and pretended to yawn, flutter his eyes open and look up at his father who sat there with a smug smile on his own face, that ‘I’ve seen all this before, son, you can’t fool me.’ look on his face.

“Oh – Pa – how’s Sofia?”

“Asleep just now so I thought perhaps you would still be awake – enough – for us to have a little conversation.”

“Conversation, Pa?” Reuben felt a slight touch of panic, was this going to be a continuation of the previous ‘conversation’ downstairs, about Sofia, the book, the wall, the fight with the boy…

“Tell me what happened – to you – “

“To me?” Reuben’s eyes widened “what do you mean, Pa?”

“Well, I guess I didn’t give you much chance to tell us your side of the story earlier, which was unfair of me. I should have listened, because I know that you would not have stood by and watched your sister shimmy up that wall without being there to stop her, or help her, before you went after the lad who caused all this – “

“Todd McCarthy – that was who it was – I just saw him snatch the book and run with it, then he threw it in the air, I didn’t know he had thrown it over the wall. I just heard Sofia shout after him about her book so chased after him.  Then he started calling me – names – “ he paused as though the memory of the names he had been called still rankled “So I said he had a dirty mouth on him and whopped him.”

“Weeeelllll”  Adam nodded, he knew he would have done exactly the same and he grinned, his eyes twinkled in the light of the lamps flame “Did he fight back?”

“He only hit me a few times, but I got him several times back -”

“So, who won?”

“I guess I came off the better, after all my bruises don’t show – he wasn’t very good at fighting, I reckon his Pa never showed him how, he was just lashing out really.  But he is a bully, Pa, and he had no right to do what he did or call me the names -”

Adam nodded, “Well, guess he won’t bother you again huh?”

Reuben shrugged as though it hardly mattered whether McCarthy did or not, “He’s always teasing the girls, ‘cos girls don’t fight back.”

“Sounds typical of a McCarthy way of acting -”

“But I didn’t know about Sofia going over the wall until we were having to go back in for class, and I couldn’t find her.  Miss Hathaway told me – but I wasn’t allowed to see her then – sorry Pa, did I do wrong?”

Adam shook his head, smiled again, “No, son, you did nothing wrong.”

“I wouldn’t have let Sofia climb that wall if I had noticed, Pa, and -”

“It’s alright, Reuben. I know you wouldn’t have its just -” Adam sighed and rubbed the back of his neck, shook his head “I always thought little girls would be easy to handle, you know? But your sister -”

Reuben shrugged “She’s always been like it -”

“Hmm, well, I’m used to boys – I mean – Joe would have done just what Sofia did – “ he paused and stood up “Now, put that book away, and get some sleep -”

“Book?”

“The one you’ve got hidden away – “ Adam picked put the chair and set it back down against the wall, then turned the lamp down low “Sleep well, son.”

“Sure, thanks, Pa.”

Adam paused at the door and turned to look back at the boy “Do you still want to be a cabin boy when you get older?”

“No, not now. Jimmy still does, but – there’s still a lot to choose from – and I want to stay on the Ponderosa with you and Grandpa – “ he yawned, a genuine one this time “G’Night, Pa.”

Adam picked up the lamp and stepped through the doorway, as he closed the door the glow from the lamp was cut off and Reuben put his book to one side, turned over and within minutes was asleep.

………….

“Daddy…”

Sofia’s voice drifted towards him as he stood by the window staring out at the dawn of a new day. He rubbed his face with both hands and pinched the bridge of his nose. It had been a long night, but the child had slept through with just the occasional whimper, then waking to see him, before falling back to sleep, reassured by his presence.

He turned to the bed and walked to where she lay, her eyes half closed “I’m here, Princess.”

A little smile played about her lips, as her hand reached out for his, “I kept waking up and you were sitting in the chair.”

“Yes.”

“I had bad dreams.”

“I thought you did…”

“My head hurts.”

“It will do for a while…” he leaned forward to plant a kiss on her forehead, and smiled down at her as she wrinkled her nose

“You prickled me….”

He chuckled and ran a hand over his chin, the stubble scratched against his fingertips and he nodded “I know, I need to shave.  Or shall I grow a beard like Mr. Grant?”

“No…” she frowned and put a hand to her forehead, “I feel hot.”

Adam was about to speak when the door opened and Olivia came into the room, anxious look in her eyes but a false smile on her face. She looked at Adam quickly as though for reassurance and then at her daughter who lay pale and supine upon the pillows of her bed “How are you, darling?”

“My head hurts. I feel hot. I need to use the pot…”

Olivia nodded and after a smile at her husband told them that Dr Martin was here to see the patient. Adam stood up and excused himself, stroked back a curl from Sofia’s brow and kissed his wife as he passed her upon leaving the room.

John Martin was standing at the foot of the stairs and seeing Adam greeted him with a smile, a concerned look on his face and a question as to how the patient was feeling and began to fumble in his pocket. “I was handed the mail for you as I was in the Mail Depot earlier, Adam…”

Just a few letters one of which bore the family crest of Laurence Willoughby’s family, and another he recognised the childish writing of Ella Soames. “Sofia will be pleased to get this, would you take it up for her, John.”

“Certainly.” John smiled and made his way up the stairs without further comment.

Reuben and Nathaniel were already seated at the table, with Cheng hovering as he served their breakfast. All three turned anxious eyes to Adam who nodded, tweaked Nathaniel’s nose and gently cuffed Reuben on the chin “Is Sofia alright, Pa? Is she going to be able to come to school with me today?”

“Not today, son, no.”  Adam looked at Cheng and thanked him for the food and hot coffee, which was being poured into his cup, he looked at Nathaniel “You will have to be very good today, Nathaniel, and quiet.”

“Quiet” Nathaniel nodded as though he understood what the word meant and why, he sighed and looked at Reuben “No school?”

“Not yet.” Adam smiled, obviously going to school was easier to handle than staying quiet for a whole day. “Shall I take you to see Erik?”

Nathaniel shook his head and pushed food into his mouth rather than answer.   Adam yawned and rubbed his face, looked at his food and attempted to eat.

 

“Have you done your chores?” he asked Reuben, who nodded and replied in the affirmative.

Adam smiled “I had best get on and do mine…” he pushed himself away from the table and was about to leave the room when John and Olivia came from the main room. Cheng immediately provided another cup and filled it for the doctor who nodded his gratitude

“I can confirm that Sofia has a mild concussion. She will need rest for a few days but should be well enough to get up later on, so long as she rests, and takes her medicine.” he smiled at the boys, then at Adam “She certainly went down with a bang, it’s a wonder she didn’t crack her skull.”

“But she will be alright?” Adam asked and was reassured by John going into a lengthy explanation of just how the skull protects the brain and so on and so forth. Apparently, Sofia’s skull had done a good job of protecting hers, but she needed time and rest to let everything ‘settle.’

In her room Sofia had fallen asleep, the letter from Ella propped up by the lamp, still unsealed.

After drinking their coffee, Adam walked with John out to his waiting buggy, and while Adam held the horse’s head and stroked his sleek neck John tossed his bag onto the seat and took his place, he smiled down at his friend “Lilith is quite taken with your children, Adam.  Don’t be surprised if she makes a visit to see you all sometime soon.”

“And Barbara?” Adam quirked a dark eyebrow and smiled

“She seems -” John paused as though searching for the right word “She seems more settled. We will be moving into Clemmie’s house -”

“Not Amanda’s?”

“No.” John smiled. “I was overruled and outnumbered…. Barbara has fond memories of the house where she stayed after the Pearson fiasco.  She was there with Clemmie the other day and told me she just felt so calm and at peace there again….”

“That’s good, isn’t it?”

“Very good.  It’s a pleasant home, so long as everyone is happy, then I am too….” John settled his hat more firmly on his head and smiled “See you….”

Adam stood with his hands resting on his hips watching the Doctor turn the buggy round and drive out of the yard.  For a moment he was deep in thought…trying to recapture the threads of things he had been mulling over during the long night watch, the matter of Joe and Mary Ann, and just how seriously his brother was taking the offer from Grant.   He was disturbed from further thought with the sound of a wagon coming down the track and looking up saw Ezra, seated beside him was Hannah, clutching her books and her lunch pail as though her life depended upon it.

He turned to see Reuben running out, holding onto his hat “I guess I’m going on the wagon today, Pa.  Didn’t have time to saddle up Max.”

Adam nodded, walked over to tell Ezra that Sofia would not be at school for the next few days, gave Hannah a gentle squeeze of the hand and then stepped back for his son to clamber up and take his seat…the one usually reserved for Sofia.

He was tired.  He stretched his back to remove some of the kinks and wondered why sitting by the side of his daughter’s bed had been more tiring than a night watch on board ship. Still, he thought, that’s what happened as one grew older. Unpleasant thought.

He returned to the house and returned to his seat, poured out more coffee and listened to Nathaniel chattering nonsense.  For some reason he felt a great wave of nostalgia for his ship, his cabin, the steward coming in with his coffee and the officers waiting for early morning instructions. He shook his head and remembered the letter from Laurence.

It seemed only fair to wait for Olivia to join them at the table, to receive her smile and assurances that Sofia was sleeping soundly, and all was well. “There’s a letter from Laurence, John collected it for us…”

“I saw it on the table…” Olivia smiled and produced it from her pocket, then handed it to her husband “The first since -” she couldn’t find the words and lowered her head, turned to smile at Nathaniel who offered her his crust of bread, it had jam on it, his favourite so he was doing her a favour.

Adam tore the envelope open and shook out the contents for it was a thick and indicative of more than a flimsy one-page letter.

“Oh look…” Olivia exclaimed as she picked up the painting, a family group, “Rachel would have painted this…it’s better than a photograph isn’t it?”

Adam looked at it…Laurence and Rachel, their two children and perched on Rachel’s knee the black-eyed beauty that was Hadussah.  “She’s beautiful.”

“Anna would be so proud of her….” Olivia whispered and brushed her finger over the infants face as though to capture the features within her mind forever

Adam smoothed out the letter and cleared his throat, began to read

“My dear friends

We had a good crossing to England with no mishap. All scars and so forth have healed, except for those seared into my memory and which I shall never forget.  Nor shall I forget your help, Adam, you saved us all on that miserable journey, I only wish we could have saved more of those poor wretches.

Adjo Admose died on board ship, and the meeting with the Sultanate etc took place without any troubles. I just wish that Sa’id could have taken his rightful place there, with Anna at his side. They didn’t deserve what befell them.

However, moving on to better things….Rachel and I have adopted our little niece.  Hadussah is now our daughter and will be educated here in England. She is very easy to love. Our own children adore her and are more than happy to have a new little sister.

Thank you, Olivia, for all that you did to help Anna. Will you thank everyone involved with the situation you had to face at that harrowing time … Bridie, Hester and Mary-Ann. Everyone. I am just so sorry it had to end with the death of that brave man, Clem.  

All is well here, peaceful and calm. It is a pleasant autumn, Hadussah loves the flowers, and the gardens, she already has an eye for beauty, just like her mother.

Sincere regards

Laurence “

*****

Joe sat opposite his wife at their breakfast table and listened to her as she continued the conversation, they had had the previous evening.  He toyed with his food, felt irritable because he had slept badly, tried to pay attention.

It was obvious that Mary Ann had latched onto the idea of leaving the Ponderosa with far more enthusiasm than he had wanted. In his mind’s eye he replayed Adam’s look, that grim hard look which meant ‘How could you be so stupid’ and then the turning away, the slight shrug of the shoulders, which meant, without a word said that Adam was leaving him to clean up his own mess, on his own, by himself. Ouch, he was a big boy now, wasn’t he?

“When do you think we should go?  Sooner rather than later?” Mary Ann was asking him, her voice light and cheerful.  She, of course, had slept very well, dreamt lovely dreams, built wonderful castles in the air  “It wouldn’t do to leave it too long in case someone else gets the position. Are you sure that Adam isn’t going to take up the offer?”

“Quite sure.” Joe replied as he poured himself more coffee, “I think it best we don’t talk about this to anyone, sweetheart.  After all, it may not come to anything…”

“Why won’t it come to anything? Mr. Grant wouldn’t have offered it if it was not real….without any foundation…would he?”

“He is a politician.” Joe said smugly, and with a slight grin

“Yes, and politicians know when to grab something when a good thing comes along…like you…being Head of his Security Team.”

Joe had not seen the ‘job’ as deserving capital letters, listening to his wife they were all there, in place. It dawned on him that it was a prestigious position in the President’s household. He swallowed guilt and wondered how to tell her that he didn’t want to go, didn’t want to leave the Ponderosa. Him and his big mouth….

“I haven’t mentioned it to Pa yet either…it’s a big step. New York City isn’t just a stagecoach trip away like Frisco.”

“I know.” she nodded and glanced at the children who were dutifully eating their breakfast.

“It may be that Pa would prefer us to stay…”

“Of course, he would…”

“Well, what I mean is…Pa would want…”

“Joe, you have to live your life as you want to live it, not according to what your Pa tells you to do.

You aren’t a child any longer, saying ‘Yes, Pa’ ‘No, Pa’. The Ponderosa isn’t the world, it is just a small corner of it.”

Joe frowned “Is that what you think we do, just run around doing what Pa tells us?”

“Well, isn’t it? Isn’t that one of the reasons why Adam left all those years ago?” she was struggling to keep her voice calm, quiet, but Constance was looking at her in concern, her little face crumpled

Joe flung down his napkin and stood up, pushing himself away from the table, “I have to get to work, we’ll talk about this when I get home.  Are you in town today?”

“No, not today. Tomorrow….” she said sullenly, her eyes downcast.

“Don’t mention this to anyone, will you?”

“Such as whom? Hester is in town today, and Olivia will be busy with Sofia…I doubt if I’ll have any visitors calling in at all…as usual.”

Joe frowned, and came to stand by her side, he placed a gentle hand upon her shoulder “Are you so lonely then?”

She said nothing to that, just gave a slight shrug, then raised a hand to place gently upon his “I’m sorry, Joe, I’m not being very gracious, am I?  I just feel as though you ‘re regretting telling me, that you would rather not – leave the Ponderosa.”

Joe sighed, shook his head anxiously before dropping a kiss upon her head,  “We’ll talk about it when I get home.”

She nodded, then stood up and faced him, placed her hands upon his chest and leaned forwards to kiss him, “I love you.”

“I know you do.” he whispered and wished she would realise just how much he also loved her.

Chapter 37

Ben and Hoss were crowded around the map of their territory when Adam finally arrived to join them. He flung his hat on the table and smiled at them both as they raised their heads to regard him, both nodded, “How’s Sofia?”  Ben asked, straightening his back and regarding Adam anxiously

“Concussion.”

“Hannah said that Sofia went over that wall just like a boy. Whatever that was supposed to mean” Hoss grinned

“Well, anyway…” Ben frowned, and looked down at the map “Whereabouts exactly will Armstrong be building?”

“He hasn’t the contract yet.” Adam replied as he leaned over the map and raised his eyebrows as he noted the proximity of the land to where the properties were to be built “I think that may be one of the reasons he wanted me involved, a Cartwright on the payroll building properties right up to the Ponderosa borders….”

“Not a bad idea.” Hoss muttered

“You wanting rid of me, Hoss? “ Adam grinned good humouredly and Hoss shook his head, chuckled and looked at Ben who was concentrating on where to draw up a more definitive border so that no one got the idea of snatching any land from them.

“To be honest it is a good idea…I mean, building and extending Carson City, after all it is the State Capital and in time will no doubt be bursting at the seams…but we have to make sure of our own rights.” Ben said and stabbed at the natural line of the river, his finger trailed along is path, eyes narrowed

“Do you still want me and Joe to go, Pa?” Hoss asked as his eyes followed the route Ben’s finger was taking “We could take on some measurements and check out how secure the boundary line is there…”

He stopped talking as the sound of Joe’s footsteps were heard, and all heads turned to look over at him, Ben sighed “Better late than never I guess…”

“I -” Joe stopped and glanced at the three of them, he sighed and shrugged “This the problem with the boundaries…”

“I was thinking it best if you and Hoss went there…starting later today, or tomorrow – we need to make sure of our own position before Armstrong or any other architect or contractor goes about taking more than an inch that don’t belong to ’em.” Ben said and looked squarely into Joe’s face as though sensing just by the way Joe stood there that there was going to be some resistance to the idea “Or don’t you agree?”

“No, it’s probably for the best…”

“Probably?”

“Well, it is for the best … just that…just that I don’t think I’ll be able to go, Pa.”

Ben straightened up and flexed his shoulders, the pencil he had been holding now twirled round and round in his fingers as he stared bullishly at his son, Joe stared equally as stubbornly at his father.

“I thought we had agreed this yesterday?” Ben snapped

“No, we didn’t agree anything yesterday. It was mentioned that was all.,” Joe snarled

Adam gave a jerk of his head to Hoss, who nodded. Together the two of them slipped away, outside.  Adam looked at Hoss and raised his eyebrows “Been a long time since those two locked horns.”

“Yeah.  I get the idea this could be a real humdinger…”

They stepped over to the table and chairs that were arranged close to the window and lowered themselves down, with the window slightly ajar they would be able to hear most of what went on inside. They stretched out their legs and waited for the storm…

“So – it was mentioned and if you had any objections to it then, why didn’t you say?”

“Because I didn’t think it necessary.”

“Why not?”

“Because I’m not the only man you could send out there to do survey work. Adam is more qualified for that work than I am.”

“You shifting the responsibility onto your brother, is that it?”

“No, not really”

“Then what is it?”

“He’s an engineer, isn’t he?  I’m not…”

“Joseph, I get the feeling that there is something more going on here than your objection to riding over to Fork Tree…”

“And staying a week… a week, Pa?”

“Alright, let’s say, staying over for as long as it takes…”

“No. I can’t go.”

“Can’t?”

“Dash it, Pa, I don’t want to go.  That’s it in a nutshell. I don’t want to go. I need to stay here, with my wife and children.”

Ben paused, inclined his head to one side and narrowed his eyes “What’s the matter with your wife? Is she ill?”

“No – no, it’s not that -”

“Then what is it?”

Joe swallowed hard, he didn’t really know what exactly he could say to that question, after all, he had not discussed with Mary Ann the possibility of being absent from home for a week but somehow, just as things were at the present moment , he didn’t feel it would go down well.

“There’s other work that still needs to be done around here, work that I was doing before this came up”

“So? How does that involve your wife?”

Another pause, Joe drew in his breath “Look, Pa, why does it have to be me and Hoss who goes…? You can’t just say to me to go away for a week and expect me to drop everything and go.”

“Oh…inconvenient is it?”

“As a matter of fact, it is. Apart from which I’m not a kid anymore, I shouldn’t have to say ‘Yes, Pa, and No, Pa’ to everything you say and suggest. I need to be closer to home just now and….”

“Wait there, young feller. Just hold on….since when do you do anything just because I say so…you’re a man now, you can speak for yourself and you do. You don’t want to do something then you don’t do it, but at present I am still boss of this outfit and if some job comes up that you are more suitable for, then why shouldn’t I ask you -”

“You don’t ask, that’s just it, you don’t ask, you dictate…you order us around as though we’re still kids that need to be shown or told what to do all the time and -”

“Order? Dictate?” Ben’s voice boomed across the room, outside near the window Hoss and Adam winced. “Let me tell you, young man, whatever orders I dictate to you and your brothers is for the good of this land, this family. One day your children will inherit the Ponderosa, yours and Adams and Hoss’ children will have their own sections of land to enjoy for the rest of their lives. What do you want them to inherit, Joe? Wasteland? A desert? Nothing because some shysters have come along and stolen it inch by inch right from under our noses…?”

A pause, the listeners glanced at one another and raised their eyebrows. Obviously, Ben and Joe were gathering their forces, ready to lash out again – it was Joe who gave the opening salvo

“Alright, perhaps those were the wrong words, just that – I understand what the future for the Ponderosa means to you, to all of us, but all I’m asking is that you respect my viewpoint. I need to be near home just now.”

“Any particular reason why?” the ice in the words made Joe lose heart, he sagged under the weight of the admission he was about to make

“Mary Ann is feeling unsettled.  I told her about -”

“About?”

“About something that happened the other day and it’s unsettled her.”

Outside Adam raised his eyebrows and pursed his lips, he had a pretty good idea what Joe was alluding to and wondered at his brother’s lack of timing.

“What something would that be, Joseph?”

“Something – I need to discuss it more with her, that’s all.”

“That’s all?”

“Yeah.”

“You’re telling me that Mary Ann isn’t happy being on the Ponderosa, is that it?”

Joe stared into his father’s face, the black eyes that snapped angrily at him, he glanced down at the floor and fidgeted his feet “She loves the Ponderosa, Pa. But just feels a mite unsettled.”

“Because of something you told her?”

“Er – um – yeah.”

“A position as Head of Security for the President – maybe?”

Joe blushed, shrugged and sighed “Yeah.”

“Grant offered it to you, did he? Instead of Adam?”

“He offered it to Adam, but Adam doesn’t want it.  Then he offered it to me…”

“I see, and what is included in this offer? Good wages?  Pleasant house? Good schools? Everything city life can offer?”   Ben perched himself on the corner of the desk, his eyes on his son “Is that what you want? Compared to what you have?”

“I don’t want to argue about this, Pa. I need to discuss it with Mary Ann….just that she is a city girl, after all, she’s from that background.”

“So’s Hester. Do I take it that I have to cross examine my daughters in law now, to make sure they are happy here?”

“No, that’s stupid.”

“Stupid now is it?”

“Unnecessary then. Hester is perfectly happy with her life here, she hated New York.” Joe paused and scratched the back of his neck, ran his fingers through his hair, “I don’t’ know what else to say except that I need to talk to Mary Ann about all this…”

“But what do you want to do, Joseph?”

“I want to do what is best for my wife and children. They come first now, they’re my prime responsibility.”

Ben folded his arms across his chest, hauled in a deep breath and nodded “Very well, in that case you had better get back home and see if she is alright and not packing up the house already…”

“Aw, Pa…”

“Go on, no point you hanging around here just now, I have things to discuss and arrange with your brothers….”

“I didn’t say I wasn’t going to work…I have things to do…”

“Joseph… just go…get on with whatever it is you intend to do…but just go.”

Joe gulped, turned to pick up his hat and paused “I’m sorry, Pa…but I have to think of Mary Ann first now.”

Ben didn’t answer, he was already leaning over the map, appearing to measure out the distance from the river to the borders of his land.  Joe shook his head and without another word left the house.

Adam and Hoss were standing some distance from the house when he came out, Hoss handed the reins of Navajo to Joe and shrugged while Adam raised his eyebrows and rolled his eyes.

“See you soon, Joe.” Hoss muttered as his brother mounted into the saddle.

“I’ll be down Horseshoe Bend, finish off that fencing. Candy should be there already…” Joe said without looking up at either of them.

“We’ll see you there later then.” Adam said quietly and slapped Joe on the thigh as he passed by him.

They watched him ride out of the yard and then turned to one another, “Ah well, ‘unto the breach dear friends’” muttered Adam while Hoss shook his head and warily followed his brother back into the house.

*****

Sofia was propped up with pillows and was able to get a good view of the sky and clouds, the mountain peaks from the window.  When Olivia came in with some food and a glass of milk for her she gave her mother a slight smile,

“Mommy, I’m sorry”

“Well, dear me, Sofia, it was hardly the most sensible thing to do was it?  Climbing a wall at your age…”

“It didn’t seem such a big wall at first…and I was angry with that boy…”

Olivia said nothing but placed the tray on the table beside the bed.  “Eat your lunch now, dear.”

“I’m not hungry.”

“Probably not, but you need to eat to get strong.  Now then…” Olivia smiled and smoothed back some hair from Sofia’s face, “You haven’t read Ella’s letter yet.”

“I know.  My head hurt too much.”

“Shall I read it for you?”

Sofia smiled slightly, enough for Olivia to pick up the letter, pull up a chair and sit down. She pulled out the letter, and quickly perused it, “She’s drawn a picture for you.  I think it means both of you together.” she passed the drawing to Sofia who looked at it, and then put it down while she rubbed her eyes, yawned. Complained that she was sleepy.

“Shall I read it another time?”

“No, now…please.”

“Dear Sofee

I am well.  I still can’t walk except for some little steps so long as there is something to hold onto. That is a big difference, isn’t it? Ma is very happy about that…

Ma said we are not going to stay with him here…we will be called Soames again…she is not happy with him and she knows I am not, so we are going to leave here very soon.

Ma said that she may be coming to Virginia City, even if only for a little while until she has ‘sorted herself out’.  That made me very excited, Sofee, it means I shall see you again. I have drawn the picture for you so you can see how it will be.

I don’t know when we will be there. Ma said it is a long way to travel…but we will get there one day

 Your friend

Ella”

Chapter 38

It was not as warm as previous days and the wind blew chill off the mountains, so the two men were glad to be working hard at digging out holes and preparing them for the fence posts to be dropped in by Hoss.  Candy said nothing about Joe’s reluctance to talk. A different Joe to the man he had been working with the day before who had prattled along nonstop, now he was sullen and sulky. Thankfully Candy had spent years working and living alongside the Cartwrights, and today was just a reminder of that first time he had arrived at the Ponderosa all those years ago…

He was, however, grateful when there came the sound of horses and the other two Cartwrights finally made an appearance.  At least there were smiles on their faces which greeted Candy’s ‘Halloo’ and raised hand.  Both men dismounted and set to work immediately, Adam discarding his jacket in order to have less restriction on his movements.

Joe watched them warily, more than aware that they would both know exactly what had been said between himself and his father, but also aware of the fact that they possessed the knowledge of what had been said after he had left them.  He paused, looked at Hoss who nodded, grinned and walked over to the fence posts.  No hint of trouble there then.  He watched Adam who had picked up a spade and was walking towards him, his brother looked blank faced, as usual when about to undertake a manual job, Joe knew Adam would be thinking of how long it would take to get it over and done with…

“Everything alright?” he ventured to say as Adam passed with the spade over his shoulder and looking thoughtfully ahead at the holes already dug out.

“Sure.”

“And Pa?”

“I asked him to go into town for me…check out some buildings that would be suitable for the hospice.”

“Oh, I didn’t know anything about that, Mary Ann…”

“Wouldn’t have known about it…”

“Why not?” Joe bristled, already he sensed a slight on his wife’s responsibilities to the hospice and now he straightened up and faced his brother with an antagonistic scowl on his face.

“Because she wasn’t there yesterday.  The place is becoming unsuitable, and the rent is too high, and the facilities are breaking down.  Bridie was worried about the financial situation … no doubt she will tell Mary Ann all about it when she goes in for her next shift.” he paused and looked directly into the hazel green eyes “That will be tomorrow, won’t it?”

Joe nodded, frowned, “So what’s Pa doing?”

“He’s checking out some buildings and negotiating a decent rent on any he finds suitable. He’s taking Bridie along with him as she knows what the hospice needs.”

Joe nodded and looked down at the pile of dirt at his feet, he shifted some of it around with his booted foot and pursed his lips sulkily “Did Pa say anything about – about our disagreement?”

“No” Adam shrugged “Should he have done?”

“I guess not.” Joe glanced at his brother with narrowed eyes knowing full well that Adam and Hoss would have been listening in, just as he and anyone of them had done over the years on any ‘discussion’ Ben had had with one of the other brothers.  He cleared his throat “What about this survey he wants done…”

“Well -” Adam looked up at the sky and took his time in answering “I’m going at the weekend, with Hoss, and I may take Reuben.  I can’t go tomorrow as Sofia is still too unwell, but if she is alright by Friday then we can go – start off in the evening.”

“Oh, camp over you mean…?”

“Yeah, that’s right, camp over, do some hunting and fishing and shooting….while I do some surveying…should be … fun.”

Joe scowled and watched Adam stroll away with the spade over his shoulder whistling that tune he always whistled when he thought he had got one over on his little brother. And he had! Joe was angrier than ever now, he felt he was missing out… on fun!

*****

Lilith Martin should have been at school, but she was further ahead with the lessons than the other children and had persuaded John to take her on his rounds. She enjoyed visiting the patients on the homesteads out of town. John had intimated that she would make a good nurse, one day, but Lilith had just smiled. Her ambition was to become a doctor. And she was determined to work hard to become one.  Part of that work was to understand what demands were involved…on time, and on commitment, on patience and compassion.

As they approached Olivia and Adams home, she felt a slight apprehension touch her and said quietly “Is this the right way? I thought the Ponderosa ranch house was further along…?”

“It is, but this is where Adam and Olivia live, and my patient.” John grinned and then noticed the look on her face “What’s the matter?”

“I – I um it doesn’t matter, Pa, it’s alright. I just thought this was the way to someone else’s house.”

John nodded and tried to cast his mind back to the last time Lilith would have been here, or had she ever been here? He couldn’t remember and consequently turned the horse and buggy into the yard without another thought.  Lilith remembered though…

Of course, she had been much younger and smaller, distances that were so far were now much closer, places that had loomed so large were now much smaller.  That was the advantage or disadvantage of getting older, things fell into a different perspective but she could remember that big boulder that they had passed back along, behind which she had hidden from ‘The Man’ and where Adam had found her and sat down by her side, put his jacket over her shoulders and listened as she told him all about ‘The Man’ and then how she had been put on his horse and taken back to this house…the house that confronted her now.

She couldn’t remember ever seeing Olivia Cartwright before, she thought that they, the Martins, had already left for Albany when Adam and Olivia had married.  She felt her heart going bump, bump within her tightly framed rib cage.  When John looked up and said, “Are you coming with me?” she had jumped, startled, and then nodded and slowly clambered down, helped by his hand on her elbow.

She could remember another time being here before…it had been nighttime, and her father had brought her and Peter and everything had been … horrible … back home, back where Barbara lay sprawled on the floor with blood on her face and dress.  She swallowed now, swallowed back on the memories and stared at the door.

The woman who came was pretty enough to have been an illustration for a fairy story. The Princess of course, she was too pretty to be anything other than the Princess. Lilith felt her resentment of this woman melt away, there was too much gentleness in her face, concern too.  Olivia’s green eyes looked from John to Lilith, the smile on her face was of genuine warmth and of course, relief. Lilith had noticed that look on the patients they had visited…the relief in their eyes, in some cases, the courage too.

“I see you have brought your nurse with you today, John.” Olivia’s voice was light, and she smiled at Lilith before looking to John for his reply

“She is training to be a nurse…” John said, “and I thought a visit to some of my patients would help her see the practical ‘hands on’ work that is involved.”

Olivia nodded and stepped aside for them to walk into the house. Through the porch, well, Lilith thought, that was different, it hadn’t been there before.  She trailed in behind John and stood, awkwardly while John asked Olivia some questions before he turned to Lilith

“I’ll just check on the patient and if she is well enough, perhaps you could have a little time with her. Company, social interaction, will do her the world of good…better than my cures I’m sure.” he grinned, and Lilith knew that he had realised that was her intention all along , to see Sofia, but perhaps he hadn’t realised that she had needed to come here, to this house, to lay ‘ghosts’

Olivia led the way up the stairs after telling Lilith to make herself comfortable while she waited, and that Cheng would bring her some refreshment

She watched them both go up the stairs and realised she couldn’t remember seeing them before either. But it had all been so hazy, and she had been so frightened, clinging onto the other man so tightly and the fear making her soil herself so that she smelled bad and he had been so patient, while the other woman, whoever she had been, had cared for Peter.  She could recall a child crying from another room and realised that had been Rose Canaday.  So, the couple who had lived here before, back then, when the bad things happened, must have been Ann and Candy.

This room was prettier though, and there was a piano which had not been there before…she tried to think as she stood there in the middle of the room and tried to put pieces together. The woman had been in the kitchen…that was right, she could remember how the woman had been busy cooking, preparing for ….Lilith frowned and struggled to remember…of course, Joe Cartwrights wedding to Mary Ann.  She had been making cakes. Lilith remembered The Man coming and she had hit the woman, flour and raisins had flown everywhere and she…she had taken to her heels and fled…she had ran away and hidden behind that big boulder.

She could remember it so clearly that it took her breath away and she felt dizzy, her chest felt tight. A hand touched her elbow and she felt as though she were falling….

“Little Missy…drink lemonade…best lemonade in whole of Ponderosa.”

Cheng was smiling at her, a big smile that swallowed up his sloe black eyes in the pouches beneath them, and Lilith realised she was sitting in a very comfortable chair, with the glass of lemonade being gently pushed into her hand.

Footsteps came from behind her and she turned her head to see Olivia approaching her from the stairs, a smile on her face. Cheng discreetly disappeared and Lilith felt relief because she didn’t want this sweet lady to know how she had been scared out of her wits by the touch of her cook’s hand on her arm.  She had thought, just momentarily, that it had been The Man, back again…

She sipped the lemonade, it was good, sweet and sharp all at the same time.

“Sofia was pleased to know you were here.” Olivia said as she took the chair opposite to Lilith, “But she tires easily, your Pa says you can spend about five minutes with her. I know she will want more than that and try to persuade you to stay longer, but you will have to put on your Nurse’s

manner and leave her.”

“Thank you” Lilith replied and drank more lemonade, her eyes looking around the room and then at Olivia “I’ve been here before, but it looks different.”

Olivia nodded “Adam made a lot of changes after Ann and Candy moved out.  He wanted it to be almost like new, for us, and the children.”  her smile was genuine, kind “When did you come before? Was it before you left Virginia City? I know you were very close to Adam then, weren’t you?”

“Yes.”

Lilith looked at the pictures on the bureau, then at Olivia and wondered if she knew what had happened, if Adam had told her about The Man, and Barbara, and all that had happened here the days just before Joe and Mary Ann had got married.  She drank more lemonade and was about to speak when John’s voice floated towards them “You can go up and see her now, Lilith…but not too long.”

“Five minutes?”

“Five minutes…” John smiled and walked over to take the seat that Lilith had vacated, Olivia stood up and said she would get John some coffee while Lilith made her way upstairs.

Sofia looked very pale with dark shadows under her eyes although Lilith knew she must have slept a lot since the accident. She came and sat down beside the bed and said hello while her fingers pantomimed the word

 

Sofia smiled “Hello -” and raised her hand tried to make the sign, it wasn’t difficult, but she had to make several attempts before she got it right.

“Does your head hurt much?”

“Yes, but better now I have had some medicine. Your Pa is a nice man, isn’t he? I like him better than Dr Colby.”

Lilith nodded, it pleased her that Sofia thought of John Martin as her – Lilith’s – Pa.  She would never need to know about The Man, the other father, the one who did horrible things and whom Adam and Candy had ‘removed forever’.

“What made you climb over that wall, Sofia?”

“I wanted to get my book back.  We’re not allowed to go out the gate.”

Perfectly plausible of course…to Sofia. Lilith nodded, perhaps she would have done the same all those years ago…when she was eight.

“Show me how to do that finger thing again, will you?” Sofia asked, and some intelligence sparked in the feverish eyes, “I want to learn how to do it.”

Lilith’s face broke into a wide smile “I only have a few minutes…but I shall teach you the vowels…every word contains vowels, doesn’t it?”

“You sound like Miss Hathaway” and Sofia giggled

“A.E.I.O.U”  Lilith said and ticked each vowel off on her fingers and Sofia copied her, concentrating and smiled when she saw Lilith smile back at her.

“We’re friends, aren’t we?” the little girl said as she ticked off the vowels from her fingers.

“Yes.” Lilith felt a release of misery from her heart, nodded, and with her fingers spelled out the words “We Are  Friends.”

Chapter 39

The hospice was already busy when Hester arrived for the soup had to be prepared early so that it was ready, hot and welcoming, for those who came to eat and the bread that was provided by the bakeries had to be soaked a little and then heated in the stove to make it taste less stale. At first the bakers in town had provided good fresh bread and rolls but as demand increased and there was no profit in providing it free of charge, they provided only the stale bread from the previous day.

No amount of begging, and that was how Hester always viewed it, made the bakers reconsider. They were selling less anyway, they had to make the best of what they had and if the ladies at the hospice were not prepared to take what was available then they would have to soak and re-bake the bread themselves and sell at half price to the needier folk in town.

Bridie came from her little cubby hole “Has Olivia told you about de Sousa…?”

“I’ve not seen Olivia. Sofia had an accident and has been ill.  Why? What’s happened?”

Glancing over Hester’s shoulder where Bridie could see several women forming a small cluster together and looking rather militant, she drew her into the makeshift office and very briefly told her what was happening. “Some women are now demanding payment.  A few dollars…” Bridie shrugged and frowned “It seems free medical treatment, and decent soap and other essentials are not enough. They want cash. They think they work hard enough at it…”

“We can’t afford it, Bridie.”

“I know.  They think the Town Council should provide more in the way of funds…”

“But the Town Council doesn’t provide anything towards this hospice, it’s a private enterprise only. They wouldn’t want the responsibility, they said as much when we asked for help last year. They pay for the Orphanage and other charities in town, but they said we started this enterprise without their help or permission so we can get on with it.”

“Which we have done – so far.” Bridie grinned, a twinkle of mischief in her eyes.

“I wish I could wave a magic wand and make it happen, Bridie, but it’s impossible.” she tossed her hat over to join the coat she had just removed and ran her fingers through her hair it make it look less uncontrolled.  “I’ll have a word with them…”

Bridie tugged on her sleeve “Olivia found two alternative places we could move to, but neither really as central as this one. De Sousa wants to put up the rent…”

“With the boiler dying on us all the time, and various promises he made us unkept…how unfair, that’s just not right, Bridie.”

Bridie nodded, she knew that, but then since when was life fair to those most in need?

She trailed behind Hester as the other woman strode to stand in front of the group of women…some preparing food, some setting out the tables, some just standing with arms crossed over their breasts and looking fierce.  If anything, Hester could look equally fierce, so she put her hands on her hips and glared at them all

“I understand that some of you are demanding payment for the work you do here?”

“That’s right,” Mrs. Armstrong said, and tossed her head, greasy hair fell like dreadlocks upon her shoulders, “My man reckons we should get at least two dollars a day.”

“He does, does he? Then I suggest your man go and get himself a decent job and earn himself those two dollars, if he can.”

“There ain’t no jobs going…” whined a thin haggard woman holding a baby in her arms. “My husbands looked all over but can’t find nothing.”

“Too many unemployed and no one wants to employ them…” another said and shook her head, “Its’ all very well handing out soap and candles and other things, but we need money to buy proper food.”

Mrs. Garston thumped the table with a soup ladle “You get proper food here….once a day at least.”

“stale soaked bread” Mrs. Armstrong sneered.

 

“If it isn’t good enough for your palate, Mrs. Armstrong, then I suggest you go and eat elsewhere. I’m sure Mrs. Albierno will be pleased to provide for you, if you can pay her rates.” Hester snapped.

There was silence, someone giggled nervously.  Hester was not one to be put off and stared at them all, the mousy intimidated ones who clung close to the mouthy aggressive ones. She nodded and tried to look sympathetic although inwardly she was more than angry with this example of the dogs biting the hands that feed them. Someone said from the back “Its’ alright for you lot, you can afford to eat at the Del Monico’s and such, you got the money, you don’t know what it’s like to be hungry…”

“Tell the Town Council to give us some more money…” Mrs. Armstrong bellowed, “I noticed the Mayor has got himself a new carriage, he could throw a few nickels this way….”

Hester snatched the ladle from Mrs. Garston and thumped on the table, when silence fell, she tossed it back. “The Town Council does not provide for this facility. It’s a private enterprise that Olivia, Mary Ann and I felt needed to be addressed.  The Council has never paid a nickel or dime towards what you get here each day. Food, however poor it may be at any time, is provided voluntarily, the clothing may be discards but that is given from the kindness of people’s hearts. Everything here – from Dr Martins medical care, to Bridie’s attention, everything comes from voluntary donations.”

“And what do you provide…apart from fine soap and candles.” someone shouted and a few laughed, an unkind laugh which made Hester’s temper flare up.

“We pay for the use of this property – pathetic though it is – and de Sousa whom we rent it from has upped his rent. That means there are no spare dollars to dish out to those of you demanding money for peeling a few potatoes and dishing out food for those who have so little…and you eat well, even if the bread is not fresh and the vegetables could be better”

She looked into their faces, some had looked startled at the news of who paid the rent, others looked belligerent. Mrs. Armstrong glowered, her face red with suppressed temper

“Some of you demanding payment know very well that as soon as you get home your men will take the money from you and go and drink it away in the nearest saloon….then come home and give you a beating…you know that, so why demand the money?”

Someone yelled, “A worker is worthy of his pay.”

“Certainly.” Hester snapped “So if you peel a potato you can eat a potato…fair enough?”

There was a shuffling of feet, downcast faces, some still militant glares so Hester shook her head and shrugged “Any of you who do not like the terms can leave now…. there’s no point in coming back because your places will be filled by others.  That’s the problem…there are too many like you, and too few providing donations…we just can’t keep going at this rate, don’t you see?  It only succeeds when everyone pulls together to help one another”

“Well, you do alright out of it….” someone yelled

“Tell me how?” Hester snapped back and when there was no answer, she glared at them all “Is that what you all think? That somewhere there is a profit-making scheme going on that lines our pockets?”

Some shook their heads, some stared at the ground, some carried on peeling potatoes, but others still muttered and scowled at her.

“Very well then, this will be the last meal provided by willing volunteers here.  From now on you can all fend for yourselves.”

There was a stunned silence.  Hester felt tears sting her eyes, had she gone too far? Had she ruined every good intention they had once had to help the poor of this town?  She could face them as they stared at her but turned around and made her way to Bridie’s cubby hole and fell into the chair where she buried her face in her hands and wept.

Bridie came in and closed the door behind her, then gently placed a hand upon her back and said “There, there” in a soothing voice. But for a while Hester was inconsolable, she had lost her temper, said too much, ruined everything.

“We had only wanted to help.” she whispered as the tears dripped from her chin

“I know…so do they…but those who started off with us, have mostly gone and new ones come and lately more and more getting angry about the unfairness of it all.”

“Am I to ride into town on a donkey in rags then? Would that satisfy them?”

Bridie smiled and shook her head, “People are strange creatures…there’s only so much charity they can accept before it dawns on them just how low down the ladder they really are, then they get to resent what others do have…”  she frowned “Real poverty, real hunger, creates cruel situations…I *remember once in my village in Ireland when there was a famine. * The men wanted to burn down the big house where the rich lived, and they weren’t even English you know, just fellow Irish, but well-heeled if you know what I mean?  When they got there they found they were making soup and baking bread and that’s all they had themselves, and they said to the villagers ‘Help yourselves’ but the villagers just turned the tables over and all the food spilled out onto the ground while they demanded the Laird show them the real food…they couldn’t believe that they were as poor as themselves.  Then when they did realise, they fought with one another to get the bread that they had trampled on and fell on their knees to lick up the soup from the floor … oh it was a sorrowful sight. The Laird had been preparing the food for the villagers anyway, but never imagined he would be seeing them eat it that fashion.”

“Could that happen here?” Hester asked raising her face to look at Bridie who sighed, shrugged and shook her head.

“People envy those who have more than themselves, especially when they are hungry…and they have children to feed. Some of the men are decent, just worn out with the misery of it all…others are just chancers, some have sold the soap and candles, and the other things you have provided for their women, and yes, gone to the nearest saloon to drink it away.”

Hester said nothing, closed her eyes and tried to gather her strength.  She felt totally exhausted and miserable, just as one would if a friendly dog had suddenly turned and bitten the hand that fed it.

*****

De Sousa was a wretched man, weak and fat, greasy and unprepossessing but he did own a lot of property in town.  His wife had been the main force between them both and had seen the wisdom of buying up land after the big fire had happened, which had left De Sousa a very wealthy man. When he saw Ben Cartwright stride into his office, he felt his stomach sink which was saying something considering the size of it.

“Unusual to see you here, Ben Cartwright.” he put out a hand which Ben didn’t acknowledge instead he pulled out a chair and sat down, De Sousa gulped “And what can I do for you?” he asked as he withdrew his hand, and sat down on his side of the desk.

“The property my daughters in law pay rent on…”

“Ah, yes, Mrs. Olivia Cartwright came in yesterday to query the increase in rent…”

“The third increase in as many years…”

“Really? As many as that? I didn’t realise….”

“The property has decreased in value since they first hired it from you….”

“I really don’t think so, Mr. Cartwright.”

“I was looking through your lease…there were various conditions agreed upon between you all. None of which you have upheld….”

“I think you must be mistaken…”

“I am not. Have you been there recently?  The boiler isn’t working, the stove is a wreck, it’s cold, it’s damp, and it isn’t winter yet.  The floor is rotting in places and…”

“Are you sure we are talking about the same property as the one I’ve leased out to your ladies/”

“Quite sure.”

De Sousa ran a thick wet tongue over thick wet lips and shook his head “I don’t see how it can have fallen into such disrepair so quickly. The ladies who go there must be causing the damage, some have no respect for other people’s property you know…they come from hovels themselves and…”

“Well, this is just to give you notice that the rent will not be paid to the amount you demand unless things are put right.  Actually, if it is beyond you to get the repairs done then we shall find and use other alternative accommodation….” Ben leaned forward and narrowed his black eyes “Do I make myself clear?”

“I don’t have the means.”

“Then find them.” Ben growled, stood up and pushed the chair away “Or we go elsewhere…”

*****

People in the line for food shuffled along as they had shuffled along for many weeks, for some of them it had been years. Some women had started when they had just one child, now they had three hanging onto their skirts. They were used to laughter and chatter but today there was a quiet brooding silence, and they shuffled along not knowing whether they were allowed to laugh or chatter anymore.

Clemmie and Mrs. Garston came and stood at the doorway where Hester was writing down figures and trying to work out a financial solution

“Are we really going to close the doors … finish up here?” Clemmie said quietly “I know I can’t do as much as I once did, but I don’t mind coming in as often as I can.”

Hester sighed and rubbed her eyes, she looked at them both and shook her head “I don’t know what to do, to be honest. We can’t afford to keep this place going, it’s falling apart as it is and those women, the ingratitude of them…”

“That’s how people are ducky.” Clemmie said and nodded over at Bridie who understood, both women had suffered their hardships, and knew how it could turn rational people into near savages…

“It doesn’t help though…” Hester replied in such a helpless voice that Clemmie came and put her arm around her shoulders to give her hug.

There was a cough, from the doorway, and Mrs. Garston stepped back to expose a little boy, snotty nosed and bare footed but with his fingers tightly folded around the stems of some flowers

“These is for you, Mrs. C.” he said and pushed them, drooping as they were, into Hester’s hand, “Ma said thank you for the soup…” he grinned “And that man gave me a bag of candy.” and looked over his shoulder to where Ben was standing.

Mrs. Garston didn’t say a word about the fact the flowers were obviously from her garden, she just shook her head and without a word faded from view. Clemmie followed with a cheeky grin and wink at Ben.

“What are you doing here, Pa?” Hester stood up, kissed his cheek and indicated the chair for him to sit upon. Bridie hustled away to make some coffee.

“I’ve been to see De Sousa…”

“Oh him…” Hester’s brows knitted together in a scowl

“Yes, him….he thinks the place is in perfectly good order…but…he has lowered the rent.”

Hester shook her head “It isn’t enough, Ben….we have problems with…”

“I know…” he nodded and pulled out some papers from his pocket “Don’t forget I have an architect and engineer in the family. He drew up these while looking after Sofia last night….I think you and Bridie, and the girls will be pleased with his ideas.  Of course, we’ll hire men to do the work and give them a good salary…a worker is, after all, worthy of his hire.”

Bridie and Hester looked at one another, started to laugh while Ben watched them with a bemused smile on his own face…

Chapter 40

Once again, the two women leaned over the desk to look over the drawings, roughly drawn though they were the plans laid out the perfect facility for one such as the hospice. Rooms blocked off to provide office space, privacy for medical treatment, storage was to be located upstairs with food separated from the clothing and other donated goods.  The boiler was to be relocated in order to perform more efficiently, the stove likewise … it was, as Bridie was to tell Paul later, everything in the perfect place.

She shook her head and then looked at Ben her eyes moist but not with joy or any pleasure, she shook her head “Even with the rent being lowered we have not the money for all this work. We couldn’t pay anyone, the donations just aren’t available, Ben.”

Ben nodded, “I know. Adam told me that as well.”

“De Sousa, lowering the rent, was a miracle in itself,” she shrugged, grinned slightly with typical Irish mischief, “How did you accomplish that?”

“Ah, I know a lot about Mr. de Sousa that his daughter would be shocked to know about,” Ben replied as he leaned forward to roll up the plans

“He doesn’t have a daughter.” Hester said with a slightly puzzled expression on her face

“She doesn’t know that either…” Ben replied with a dour expression on his face, “but I do…so does her mother and her real father.”

“Oh Ben, that’s blackmail.” Hester laughed

“The ends justify the means especially when it comes to people like Mr. de Sousa, he has got away with too much for too long.” Ben tapped the plans into a neat roll, and slipped them back into his pocket “As for the cost of work, and salary for the workmen, that will be paid by myself and the boys.”

“But – Ben -” Bridie stammered, “It’s such an expense…”

“Yes, it is, but for a very worthwhile cause. We will employ the men who are willing to work…Mrs. Armstrong’s husband for example…he can use his arms for more than lifting a glass of beer regularly in the saloons I’m sure.”

He turned to go but Hester put a hand on his arm, “Ben, thank you.  This has been such a successful venture until now, I really thought -” her eyes glazed with tears and she wiped them away with her fingertip, “Do you think -”

“Don’t think, dear,” Ben smiled and squeezed her fingers gently within his hands, “Act” he leaned in and kissed her cheek “Now, I have a few more errands to run or Adam will have my hide.”

At this expression Hester laughed and with her arm slipped through his she walked with him to the pavement, passing several glares from some women, scowls that were brazenly worn on the more aggressive who stood in small groups but a look from Ben sent them scuttling like so many mice, hurrying to where they should have been and bent over the tasks they should have been performing.

Ben’s feet now led him to the office of the Territorial Enterprise where he sought out the company of Daniel deQuille, where after hands were shaken and he was led into the office, he sat down and informed Daniel of what was planned.

“I want you to run a feature on the good work carried out by the women at the hospice, no need to mention our names, just the fact that members of the community work together to help other members of the community. You’ll know how to put the words together right, Dan, you’ve done it before.”

“I have, some while back though.”

“I also want you to run an advertisement, with large headings like “Volunteers needed” and then put this beneath it” he pulled out the few lines that Adam had scrawled early that morning, that anyone willing to work should report to Henry at the workshop in Union Street.  “Henry will be acting as foreman, but he won’t be using his own men, because the men working on this project should be those who want to benefit from it, the unemployed, the needy -”

“And shiftless.  They may be unemployed, Ben, but they always seem to have enough money to buy beer, gamble and waste time in the saloons…”

“I know.” Ben nodded and chewed on his bottom lip for a moment in concentration, “But with long hours of doing nothing ahead of them, what else is there….”

“They could look for work.”

“Perhaps they already have…” Ben sighed “However, that will be for Henry to decide as to who will be employed or not.  The main thing is to get that place weather tight for the coming winter, otherwise there will be an epidemic of flu and goodness knows what else running through the town.”

“It’s an ambitious project, Ben” Dan said, fingering his long beard thoughtfully, “Who’s going to finance it all?”

Ben tapped the side of his nose, some things were left unsaid to this gentleman, and he smiled, “See to it right away, would you? I’d like to see men queuing up for work by the morning.”

“Pa, that’s being downright ambitious indeed….”

“I didn’t get where I am today by sitting on my backside thinking about what to do, Daniel, I just got up and did it.”  Ben replied and stood up, once again shook hands with the journalist and took his leave.

Henry had already been notified about the project and when Ben arrived at the workshop the man who had worked on behalf of the Cartwrights for many years now, approached him with a half-smile, a few pages of paper in his hand

“I’ve worked out the costs, Mr. Cartwright, I presume you’ll be providing the timber?”

“Certainly, good Ponderosa pine for a project like this….” Ben smiled and took the papers from Henry’s hand to glance over it, “That’s quite a high price for a boiler?”

“It’s brand spanking new, so is the stove…”

“Who is the supplier?”

“I got quotes from several of the hardware stores, but these were the cheapest, and as the items were in stock…”

“Fair enough, I’ll go and have a word with him….” Ben said quietly and took the quotes from Henry’s hand, stuffed it in his pocket “You have no problems overseeing this work for us, do you Henry?  I don’t know how skilled the men will be who volunteer…”

“Don’t worry, it won’t take long for them to learn how to knock in a nail or two.” Henry laughed and glanced over to his own men who were working “I’ve plenty of work on my hands just now, my men won’t object to losing out on this job.”

Ben smiled and shook Henry’s hand, then strode away. It was odd how different he felt now, buoyant would be a good word. From being in such a black mood earlier, it had been as though as soon as Adam had asked him, as a favour of course, to do this and that for the project, and actually getting involved in it, Ben had felt the clouds lifted.  The problem of Joe and the conversation they had had earlier that day had not gone away, it still hovered, but somehow with less bleakness than previously.

The Hardware store Manager was a hard-nosed businessman who sat on the Town Council and so knew Ben from of old, his face fell as soon as Ben walked into the office at the back of the store waving the quote that had been handed over to Henry only 30 minutes earlier.  He prepared himself for battle…and lost.

Ben left the store feeling satisfied with his mornings work and looked around him, he watched the townsfolk going about their business, he noticed how many less prosperous persons walked in and out of the stores, he saw Endeavour Sales leaning against the door frame of his shop and raised a hand in acknowledgement to the wave the man gave him.

He walked on and turned his feet in the direction of the Martins’ house.  He had decided to pay a visit here as soon as he had a chance to do so and realised, he had neglected a visit to the woman who at one time seemed likely to have become his daughter in law. From all accounts that he had heard from Hester and Olivia it seemed that Barbara Martin was living under a dark cloud, and being rather a connoisseur of dark clouds, he decided as he was in town, he would call on her as and when he could, and this was the best opportunity he had had for weeks.

Tilly opened the door and nodded to his question, stepped aside to admit him and promised a cup of coffee within five minutes.

“Who is it, Tilly?”  Barbara’s voice, and then she appeared wiping her hands on a cloth, a little boy trailing behind her.  “Oh!   Ben!!”

She didn’t sound particularly pleased to see him as he removed his hat and placed it carefully on the hall stand.

“I was in town, first chance I’ve had to see you, Barbara.” he wasn’t going to let her put him off from this visit, to let her see that things had not changed as far as they were concerned, they still cared about her, regardless of how she felt about them.

“Then – you had best come in.” she glanced in the direction of the kitchen from where there came the sounds of Tilly being as industrious as ever, then turned to usher Paulie into the parlour, where Ben trailed in after her.

She sat down, and watched him as he took the seat opposite, and smiled his wide generous smile at her, “I’ve been to the hospice. I believe you work some shifts there?”

“I do, but -” she glanced around and shrugged “I’ve things to do here today, we should be moving into Mrs. Hawkins house soon, and there’s packing to do, and things to prepare…”

“Of course.”

Tilly entered with a great deal of rattling cups and tinkling spoons as she set down the tray, The little boy looked up from where he was playing to see if there was cake for him and smiled as she handed him some on a plate, with a glass of milk.  She set it all down for him on a small table nearby and then withdrew, closing the door behind her.

“Your boy looks a lot like Peter…” Ben said quietly

“Yes.” Barbara nodded and poured out the coffee into the pretty cup, which she handed to Ben,

“I was very sorry to hear about what happened to Peter”

She nodded again and poured out coffee into her own cup, then looked at him “I remember the day when John and Paul told me that Peter was profoundly deaf. You found me crying…”

“You were sitting in a field with him in your lap.  I remember it well.”

“I couldn’t bear to tell Andrew…I was frightened of him even then although I didn’t realise it.” she sat there, the cup and saucer in her hands, resting in the lap of her skirt.  “You were the first person I told, and it was then I knew it was real.  Saying things out loud has that effect, doesn’t it?”

“Oddly enough, yes.”

“That’s how he knew you were the first person to know -”

“Really? How?”

“He could smell tobacco – pipe tobacco – on my clothes.  He was hurt and dismayed about Peter, but furious that you knew first, you – a Cartwright.”

“Adam’s father…”

“That made it worse.”  she looked down at her cup and shook her head “I’ve not thought about that for a long time.”

“Well, we’ve not had the chance to talk for a long time, have we?”

That same deep voice, gentle like warm honey, he had always had the same effect of calming her, and she looked at him again.  Yes, he had grown older, his hair whiter, perhaps less abundant, but he was still handsome. In some ways for his age (horrible phrase) having lost some weight, the thinner face suited him.  She smiled as the memory of his face that day he had walked in and found her kissing Andrew in the school room, bearing news that Adam was coming home…yes, and finding her in the arms of another man. The shock, the hurt, and then the dignity as he left them together, puzzled and confused.

She sighed and sipped her coffee “I didn’t think I would ever return to Virginia City and then, when I did, I found myself hemmed in with memories, and resentments. Odd really, how angry I felt at being here again, as though I were trapped and never going to be allowed to be myself again.”

“Do you still feel like that?”

She gave a half smile “If I did, you wouldn’t be here having coffee with me.”

“Then – I thank you…and glad to know that you feel so much… yourself again.”

“I had to let go of Peter – all those memories, all that guilt -”

“What did you have to feel guilty about?”

“Oh, not being a good mother, not noticing how ill he was, or doing anything about it when I did notice.  But Peter had retreated into himself so much, Lilith was the only one who could ever get through to him.  She was wonderful really.” she gave a slight shrug of the shoulders, and then finished her coffee placing the empty cup on the table.

“She seems to have struck up a friendship with Reuben and Sofia…well, Reuben anyway.”

“She’s resilient, she’ll find a way to being friends with Sofia too, if she wants to be, of course.” she frowned “She said Sofia was the same age as Peter.”

“I suppose she must be.”

“I’m glad Adam found someone to love -” the words hung in the air for a moment and Ben nodded

“I’m glad Adam found someone to love him,” he replied quietly.

She nodded and smiled, a quiet smile, one of a woman who had fought too many battles and was resigned to the fact that she would always have to face more, life was like that after all.

Ben put the empty cup and saucer down and stood up, he smiled and took hold of her hand as she had also stood up “Take care, Barbara, you know you’re always welcome back home, don’t you?”

She nodded “I know that, Ben.  Thank you.”

She stood in the centre of the room for some minutes after he had gone and closed the door behind him. Paulie drank his milk watching his mother, unsure what to say, what to do. Then he decided he would just eat his cake and play, because, after all, he was only a very little boy.

Chapter 41

The sound of buggy wheels in the yard so soon after the Martins’ had left made Olivia wonder if John had forgotten something so she hurried to the door, pushing pins into her hair and wishing she could remember where her glasses were to be found.  She opened the door to Mary Ann, however, and the two children.

“How is Sofia, Olivia, is she any better? I saw Dr Martins buggy turn down the track just as I arrived…” Mary Ann said breathlessly as she pushed the two children ahead of her into the warmth of the main room.

Nathaniel ran up to see who was there and then pulled a face. For some reason he and Daniel did not get on too well.  Whatever the cause the cousins did not accept each other happily and both of them now glowered at the other, while Constance ran in calling “Sofeeee,  Sofeeee”

“Hush, now, Constance, Sofia is not well,” Mary Ann said and looked at Olivia who was hanging up her visitors’ coats and at the same time ushering them inside.

“Sofia has concussion, she’ll no doubt be much better after a few days’ rest.” she smiled at her visitors and received open arms from Constance who loved her Aunt Olivia and always wanted to be hugged, while Daniel stood beside his mother as though by doing so he could get her to leave as soon as possible. Nathaniel had run off to stand guard over his toys.

“Nothing too serious then.” Mary Ann asked as she sat down and gave her son a glare and shove, which sent the unwilling boy over to his cousin who eyed him anxiously.

“Hopefully not.”

“Poor Sofia.” Mary Ann settled among the cushions and was about to speak when Olivia said she would make some coffee and get refreshments for the children. Mary Ann watched her sister in law stroll into the kitchen with Constance still in her arms, chattering about some birds she had seen eating bread crusts in the garden.

By the time coffee was made and refreshments for the children Mary Ann was playing a game with the boys, their chuckles and her laugh made Olivia smile. Mary Ann had a wonderful way with children, a gift she must have cultivated when a schoolteacher.

“I wanted to see you, Mary Ann, because of what happened yesterday…” Olivia said as she poured out the coffee and walked over to her companion to leave the steaming cup on the lower table, then she handed sweetened lemonade to the children and left a plate of cookies close to where they could reach it.

“What happened yesterday?”

“It was my turn to go to the hospice.”

Mary Ann nodded and leaned over to take one of the cookies, “Of course, my turn tomorrow. Is everything alright?”

Very briefly Olivia told her about the state of the accounts, the lack of assistance from the town, the demands of the very people they were seeking to help and who showed so little gratitude.

“I spent the morning trying to coax Mr. de Sousa into lowering the rent, then trailing around town trying to find a central location that we could use instead. It was so frustrating, and on top of all that…” she paused, was it worth mentioning about Barbara and her superior attitude? She shook her head “Anyway, Adam was there when I got back and helped get the boiler working again.  It’s too bad, Mary Ann, that boiler should have been replaced way back…there’s condensation running down the walls, it’s a horrible place now, and then when I got home Ezra brought Sofia in from school -” she paused, realised her lips were trembling and her eyes getting moist, she shook her head “I could have cried.”

“It looks like you could do with a good cry -” Mary Ann sympathised and leaned forward, “Perhaps what you really need is a change of scene.”

“Not really, I just need people to be more co-operative, more willing to help one another.” she sniffed, found her handkerchief and dabbed her eyes and nose “And for Sofia to stop getting into scrapes.”

Mary Ann laughed, “I think you’ll find that Sofia will always be getting into scrapes as you put it. She’s that kind of child. She has a bit of fire in her….”

Olivia gave a rather watery smile and picked up her cup from which she sipped several mouthfuls of coffee, Mary Ann watched her thoughtfully, and was about to speak – again – when there was a knock on the door and it was pushed open to admit Hester full of smiles and with her corkscrew curls in wild disarray around her flushed face.

“Well, someone looks happy -” Mary Ann said with a smile of her own to the newcomer while Olivia got up and after greeting Hester went to the kitchen for a fresh cup and saucer.

Hester flung off her hat and her coat and sunk down into the cushions, she stretched out her legs and sighed, flopping both arms down by her side and waiting for Olivia to bring her a refreshing cup of coffee.  She gave both her sisters in law the benefit of a huge smile while Mary Ann said.

“Olivia has been telling me about what has been going on in town.  How did you find it today?” she put down her cup onto the saucer “I hope somewhat better as I go in tomorrow.”

“Oh – you’ll just never guess – thank you, Olivia, yes, one sugar will be good thank you. I am exhausted.” she laughed then, and the cup rattled in the saucer until she calmed down, “Well, you would never think it, but Ben has sorted all of it…all of it.”

“All of what?” Mary Ann asked, putting out her cup for a refill

“You mean, he saw de Sousa?” Olivia looked at Hester and couldn’t help but grin at the wicked expression on Hester’s face

“He saw the wretched man and he has lowered the rent and renewed the lease.”

“Oh – even though it has a broken-down boiler, is now quite unsuitable…” Olivia lamented as she sat down balancing the cup and saucer in her hand

“Ah, well, that’s where your husband comes in…” Hester smiled again, “While he was looking after Sofia last night, he drew up plans for the building…” she swallowed down some coffee, choked a little and had a coughing fit, then drew in a deep breath “I’ve got them in my coat pocket.”

“He never mentioned them to me….” Olivia muttered, a trifle resentfully.

“Well, he gave them to Ben after all there was no point in having them at all if de Sousa didn’t comply with Ben’s request – anyway, the rent has been lowered and permission given for work to be carried out.  And -” she swallowed down the rest of the coffee and put the cup down with a whack, borne of triumph but which nevertheless could have cracked a less resilient piece of crockery. “he is not allowed to raise the rent for several years, nor can he sell the property once improvements have been made to it. Ben saw to all that -”

“But the money – and how is the work to be done on it?”  Olivia now asked looking as confused as Mary Ann

“Ben said he and the boys will pay towards it, but I rather get the understanding of that to mean he will pay most of it.  Henry has been put in charge of the work force, there has been an advertisement put into the papers for volunteer workers who will be paid a wage. It’s just perfect,” she put down her cup and saucer upon the table “I just couldn’t wait to get here to tell you both.”

“How did Ben get de Sousa to lower the rent and agree to all this…?” Mary Ann wanted to know now and rather peeved that this event had not happened during her shift.

“Ah, apparently Ben knows quite a lot about Mr. De Sousa.” she paused and then smiled at them both, shrugged and raised her eyebrows “Well, Ben has been here a long time.  He knows a lot of things about a lot of people.”

Better for them to find out from elsewhere, she decided, but if de Sousa had an illegitimate daughter tucked away somewhere then less said the better.

“That’s just too good to be true,” Olivia almost whispered and stared at the far wall as she imagined the changes to the building, “Do you have the drawings, did you say?”

“I’ll go and get them now….” Hester said and got to her feet to run over to where she had left her coat, pulled out the drawings from her pocket and came to open the papers up for them to look at.

“It looks very – impressive -” Mary Ann said as her eyes roamed over the sketches

“And Henry’s going to do the work?” Olivia asked

“No, he’s going to oversee it. Ben said that if Henry’s men got involved in the work it would cost far too much, whereas if the unemployed men in town were doing it, they would be paid less but at least get something.  It will stop the women complaining as well…”

“They have no right to complain….” Mary Ann said with a touch of hauteur in her voice “They agreed to work on the conditions at the time, and happy to do so for the clothing they could take home, and other things.”

“I gather that a lot of the men were taking the things we gave the women and selling them to others for drinking money.” Hester said quietly

For a few more moments they stared down at the drawings, pointing to one thing and then another, discussing the merits or demerits of some change or other, until finally they all three agreed it was just what they needed.

“If deQuille runs the item in his newspaper we could have a work force in there by next week. We will be warm and weather tight before winter comes.” Hester said proudly as she rolled the paper up and slipped it into her pocket.  “Adam is a sheer genius for drawing up these plans, I’m not surprised that Armstrong wanted to employ him. He’s an amazing architect -”

“And engineer.” Olivia laughed

“That as well. You should have seen Bridie’s face; she was in tears.”

“Was Barbara Martin there?” Olivia asked now, getting up to collect the empty cups and saucers.

“No, apparently they are moving into Clemmie’s house.  She was getting things packed up.” Hester stood up and went to pick up her coat and bonnet, she paused a moment with a smile “Sounds like the wagon…I’ll go and retrieve Hannah, she can come back with me in the buggy.”

She kissed her sisters in law on the cheeks and hurried away pulling on her coat as she went, the bonnet trailing by its ribbons in her hand.  She passed Reuben with a merry greeting and then was gone, a whirlwind of red hair and hair pins

Mary Ann stood up and shrugged “Well, I’d best go, we must get together soon, Olivia, I want to talk to you about your plans for New York City.”

Olivia frowned, looked puzzled “New York City?”

“Of course. The job Grant has offered Adam and Joe?  Surely you haven’t forgotten?” she laughed as though it would have been impossible for anyone to forget such an offer, leaned in to kiss Olivia’s cheek and called over to her children who came running to her side. “We’ll catch up another time.”

She smiled at Reuben and ushered the children out of the house, the door slammed behind her. Reuben turned to his mother

“What job, Ma?  What did Aunt Mary Ann mean?” he asked with his eyes wide and puzzled “We’re not leaving the Ponderosa, are we?”

Chapter 42

The three brothers parted company along the track that divided off at Adams house before continuing to the main ranch, leaving Joe to go the extra mile to his own home further along. The sun was setting casting gold and orange streaks across the sky, the houses that each of them rode towards were dark shadows against the brilliance of the sky around them.

Adam was tired, more so than he would like to have admitted. It had been a long hard day’s work after a night of little sleep. True enough there was no real need to sit all night by Sofia’s bedside, for she seemed settled and comfortable throughout, but the idea of planning out the layout for a better interior to the hospice took root, and then had to be drawn out. Always obsessive in his ways of following through on an idea, Adam had spent the night hours drawing out the plans which Ben had happily taken into town that day.

He had not thought to show Olivia and still was not aware of the outcome of Ben’s visit. He pushed open the door to the big room and finding no one there walked to the fire, leaned against the hearth and stared into the flames.  His leg ached and he ran his hand up and down where, beneath his pants, the scar of that injury tormented him. He wondered idly where his wife and children were, and then when the clock struck the hour realised the children would be in bed and his wife making sure they were all settled.

He pushed himself away from the fireplace and walked to the washroom in order to clean up before he could sit down and eat his evening meal.  By the time he had finished his ablutions Olivia was setting down the plates and upon his entrance greeted him with a wide smile.

“Sorry I’m so late…”

“The children missed you -” she kissed him, and held him close against hereabouts

“How’s Sofia?”

“Improving. Lilith came with John and they got on really well.”

“Really? I am glad. I was worried that there would be friction between them, which would have been – well – a pity.” he had not released her, she was pinned against him with his arms around her. He kissed her and then sighed, “Hoss decided that we should finish the stretch of fencing so that we could take it easier tomorrow.  For some reason Joe agreed…” he frowned and sighed again, then he smiled at Olivia. “You look very pretty this evening Mrs. Cartwright.”

“Thank you.” her smile always made the green in her eyes gleam like a cat, he loved seeing the way her eyes changed colour as they did…it reminded him of the sea.

They sat down to eat, the meal was hot and despite the late hour Adam was surprised at just how hungry he was, for a while there was nothing to be heard but the sounds of two people enjoying their food. Eventually Olivia cleared her throat, put down her fork and, having rested her elbow on the table, leaned forward towards him

“Hester was working at the hospice today”

“Ah -” Adam’s eyebrows rose towards his hairline, and he grinned “Anything – interesting happen?”

“Oh yes…something very interesting and don’t pretend you don’t know what I mean” she pointed a finger at him and shook her head, “You could have told me! I had just been telling Mary Ann all about the horrible day I had had yesterday when Hester drifted in all smiles to tell me you had drawn up a plan to transform the hospice….”

Adam nodded and looked contrite, he reached for her hand and clasped her fingers within his own, “It was just a spur of the moment idea, sweetheart. If I had thought more about it, I would have discussed it with you, but it only struck me last night that really the location and size of the building you currently use is the best you’ll get in town.”

“Even so -” she shook her head and withdrew her hand in order to pour some wine into their glasses

“It was rather – “ she paused to think up the appropriate word, then shrugged “I felt disappointed that I didn’t know what Hester was talking about, and my own husband – hadn’t mentioned a word about it.”

He nodded, pursed his lips, looked contrite.  “I wouldn’t have done anything without first discussing it with you, Livvy, but events forced my hand.”

“Oh? Events such as?”

“Pa and Joe had a rather heated disagreement, and I thought giving him the plans and getting him involved in the project would be one way of defusing his temper. Better that he did something constructive that take his temper out on the ledgers and mess them up…” he scowled “I’m always the one that has to put them right afterwards.”

“Poor darling…” she smiled teasingly over the rim of her wine glass, sipped a little and said “Well, he did himself proud. De Sousa lowered the rent, and agreed to the changes you have outlined in the plans, and agreed not to sell out once the work was done…Pa’s going to get Mr. Woods to draw up a contract to ensure that we have the property for at least five more years.”

Adam nodded, five years was fair enough, perhaps by then there would be no need for such a refuge , perhaps by then de Sousa would be dead or have gone… he shook his head and returned to the present “And what else did Pa manage to do?”

“He saw Daniel deQuille about advertising for workmen and he has made an agreement with Henry to oversee the workers.  He’s been a good friend over the years, hasn’t he?

“Who? Henry? Yes, I suppose he has been….” Adam nodded and poured out more wine, “So how did Pa get deSousa to agree to all this?”

“Apparently he knew a lot about Mr. de Sousa’s past history…”

“Past and present.” Adam said with a grin, “The man is as crooked as they come but clever enough to get away with it. Greases palms and uses what he knows as a lever to get what he wants….”

“You make me wish we had never got involved with him in the first place…” she frowned, “His wife used to help us a lot at first before she became ill.”

“So -” Adam leaned his elbows on the table and his head upon his cupped hands “Am I forgiven?”

“Perhaps.” she smiled and lowered her eyes

“Only perhaps?”

“Well, maybe – probably -”

He reached out with both hands and took both hers in his, drew them closer and kissed her fingers.

“Thank you” he said softly, and smiled as her eyes darkened more than ever…

*****

Mary Ann settled down beside her husband on the big settee facing the fire.  They had eaten, had a little wine. The children were sleeping contentedly upstairs and had been in bed some time before Joe had arrived home.  Mary Ann had decided to say nothing about Grant and New York City, preferring instead to talk about the hospice and how Ben had helped them so much.

“He said that he and you three would pay the cost of the work to be done.” she said quietly as she leaned her head upon Joe’s shoulder.

“Well, as I knew nothing about this -” Joe frowned, he trawled through his mind to try and recall Adam mentioning anything at all about the hospice, but nothing came to mind.

“It’ll cost a lot of money, Joe.”

“If Pa thinks we can afford it then I don’t see there being a problem.” Joe replied and hugged her closer to him, while dropping a kiss upon her dark hair.

“He’s always so open handed, he forgets that we may not have the same resources…”

“Oh, I should imagine, knowing my Pa as I do, that he has no intention of getting us to pay anything. It’s just his way of not letting people think he has more money than he thinks it necessary for them to know about….”  he chuckled then, and for a moment nothing more was said.

“Joe?”

“Hmmm?”

“What are we to do about this offer of work for President Grant?  Has he said anything about it being definite? If it is definite, then what plans do we have to make about leaving here and getting to New York City?”

Joe’s smile faded and he bit down on his bottom lip, he recalled the words he had shouted at Ben that morning, the anger, and the irritation he had felt for some time afterwards. He sighed and nestled in closer to her,

“Nothing’s definite yet. I have to wait to hear from President Grant after his tour. He gave me his card, true enough, but he said he would contact Adam and myself later. He just wants to get this part of the tour finished with before setting things into motion.”

“And is Adam happy about that?”

“Adam isn’t considering the job; he doesn’t want to be involved with President Grant again.”

“But – why not? “ she pushed herself away from him, turned to look into his face and see for herself what his expression was but Joe just shrugged

“He served under Grant for years, Mary Ann, reckons enough is enough….”

“But – does that mean that you won’t get offered the job?”

“I don’t know…we shall have to wait and see.”

She sat back and resumed her position by his side, but she felt restless now, there were too many unanswered questions, and too many questions that she couldn’t frame into words…

“Do you want to leave the Ponderosa, Joe? Could you leave here?”

Joseph Cartwright sat very still. He knew it was a question he had been asking himself ever since he had first mentioned it to his wife, because having mentioned it out loud had made it a reality, something to be excited about equally as much as to dread.

He sat up, straightened his shoulders and got to his feet, rather absentmindedly he picked up a poker and began to prod at the logs, sending sparks flying, “I don’t know.” he replied and shook his head, “I can’t answer that question, Mary Ann, because I just don’t know “

*****

Hoss laughed out loud when Ben and Hester told him about the conversation with de Sousa, he had heard rumours, of course, about the daughter who didn’t know who her real father happened to be, and was surprised that his own father would have stooped to such methods of blackmail to get what was needed for the hospice to remain in that building. But then he calmed down to look over the plans that Ben unfurled on the table, nodding here and there in approval, and saying how much work was involved

“This is going to cost…” he said simply

“Don’t worry about it,” Ben replied, “For a good cause such as this to remain functioning at this time of the towns unemployment, the cost is irrelevant.”

“Hardly irrelevant, Pa.”

Hester began to look anxious now, she looked at both men and shook her head “I know there would be something to stop it happening.”

“Nothing is going to stop it happening, Hester.” Ben replied as he got up and walked to his chair, sat down and picked out his favourite pipe.

“I know you said that the four of you will pay for the costs, but…” Hester glanced at Hoss who looked surprised as this was part of the deal he of which he was not yet aware, “It’s still going to be a lot and Hoss -”

Ben shook his head, waved the words away with one hand before he stuffed his pipe with tobacco and picked up the matches to light up, “Look,” he puffed and puffed until the tobacco glowed red, a slight cloud of smoke rose from the pipe’s bowl, “I said I would pay for it….the boys don’t need to worry, it’ll be dealt with…”

“But it’s going to be so much money, Pa…and de Sousa is a cunning low-down critter for a man, he could well throw it all back in your face once you’ve paid for all that work to be done.” Hoss shook his head, sat down opposite his father and reached for his wife’s hand.

“Look….let me tell you a story, one you may have heard before…something that happened to me a very long time ago.”

He puffed some more, smoke coiled above his head, he leaned back, and half closed his eyes as though by doing so he could peer through the smoke and back all those years where his memory took him

“Adam was about the same age as Nathaniel is now.  He was very ill, and I was not much better. We had not eaten proper food in days, the horse that pulled our wagon had collapsed and the wagon had lost a wheel. I had to walk to the nearest settlement with him in my arms – and when I got there, I Just about made it to the centre of town before collapsing in the gutter.

“I thought this was my last hour and I asked Adam to forgive me – poor boy he was unconscious anyway – but I was babbling by this time.  Anyway, a man came and sat down in the gutter by my side. He was well dressed, I remember he had fine boots on….he talked to me, asked me my name, what I was doing there, asked about Adam ….and I poured it all out, my guilt, my pride, everything…

“So, he said to me that Adam needed a Doctor, and I needed a good meal. I shook my head and told him I had nothing to pay for either.  He got up and left me there.  I guess I had expected something from him, because I felt more miserable after he had gone than I had before he had joined me.”

Hester and Hoss tightened their fingers together and waited as Ben puffed a little more on the pipe, and then continued “He came back not much later…a bowl of soup and a hunk of bread which he passed to me. He gave me a piece of paper with the name and address of the Doctor on it. Then he gave me a leather pouch.  It was full of gold… never seen so much in my life before….I pushed it away and shook my head, said it was too much…but he insisted because he said it was his to give, no one else’s, he had no wife, no family, and in a few weeks’ time, he would be dead anyway.  He said he had always wondered what he would do with all his gold…”

“And did he die?” Hester asked quietly, looking at her father in law with a look of awe in her eyes.

“Yes, he did. He was a very sick man. Like a lot of miners, he contracted Tuberculosis down those mines, thought it wouldn’t happen to him of course…but he made his bonanza and killed himself in the process. I found out later I was not the only one to benefit from his generosity, there were others, but I don’t think anyone could have been more grateful to him than I was…it saved Adam’s life, I got a new stronger horse and had the wagon overhauled… not long after that we met Inger…”

Hester and Hoss looked lovingly at one another, the implication was clear, without that help there would have been no Inger, no Hoss….no Ponderosa.

Chapter 43

Mary Ann left the buggy and the horse in the allocated lot in town where the Cartwrights kept their transport. She carried Constance in her arms while Daniel dragged his feet behind her, scowling as he would have preferred to have stayed home to play with his toys instead of being dragged out into the cold to come to this, what he considered, horrible place with horrible people.

Mary Ann was not in a good mood, her conversation with Joe the previous evening had rumbled on through the morning meal and she had been left feeling disconcerted and, in some ways, cheated. Her hopes, that had been raised so high, had come crashing down to the ground and although Joe had said they had to wait to hear from Grant, it called for the kind of patience she no longer possessed.

She had talked to herself severely during the drive from home to the town. Why had she felt so elated at the thought of going elsewhere when life was so good to her on the Ponderosa. She had everything she needed and had wanted in her life. A wonderful husband, beautiful children, a lovely home.  She and the children had security, as good a security as was possible in such a world as this, but she knew that was the soundest foundation to the future that they could give their children.

She saw Bridie standing at the door of the hospice talking to Henry, and wondered why the man was there, then remembered…the work to be done would need Henry to supervise the men who might come along and actually help. She noticed clusters of women grouped together, chattering, eyes watchful, bodies tense as they anticipated some news which could, or not, affect them negatively.

Bridie saw her immediately and beckoned her over where Henry greeted her with a smile, a shake of the hand.  She could see architectural drawings in his other hand and noticing her interest he told her that he was waiting to see how many men would arrive to work on the project, check out what they were capable of doing so that work could start as soon as possible.

“Some of these men may be just useful for carrying things about, and some could be useful for the hard work like plumbing in the new equipment, putting in new flooring…there’s a lot to do and the sooner we can get started the better.”

“Will we need to move out of here while the work is being done?”

“It would be better if you did” he glanced down at the papers in his hand and shrugged “I can tell you more when I have had a proper look around the place.  Nothing to stop you carrying on as usual now though.”

A cough from behind them and both turned at the same time to see three men clutching their hats against their chests and looking both apologetic and hopeful, Henry nodded, smiled and winked at Mary Ann who gathered up her children and made her way to where she could leave them to safely play while she organised the strategy for the day.

Sometime later she was confronted by Daniel deQuille who had strolled into the hospice, notepad in hand and approached her “Well, Mrs. Cartwright, how about an interview for the Enterprise?”

“An Interview?” she frowned and looked over at the line of women busy working, chatting together, laughing happily as they performed their tasks for the day.  She could see several more men loitering by the door and being approached by Henry who also had a notepad and pencil in his hand.

“A different sort of interview to the one we had all those years back -”

“Not so many years back really -” Mary Ann responded, always conscious of the swift passing of time and the ageing process

“I remember the occasion well, you and the other ladies confronting me and demanding that I did something about letting the town know how they were neglecting the very ones who needed help most…and here we are again, same place, same problem.”

“It is being remedied, Mr. deQuille.”

“By heavens, so it is too, thanks once again to the magnanimity of the Cartwrights.”

“Is that meant to be insulting?”

“Certainly not, it’s meant to be a compliment. The town should be made aware of how much they owe the Cartwrights.”

“You were going to say – again” she scowled

“Well – perhaps – but it’s true, isn’t it? Never mind, I won’t put that reminder in the article, it would annoy the very people from whom we need help…in the form of dollars if nothing else.”

Mary Ann nodded, somewhat pacified, and after wiping her hands on her apron, led Daniel to a quiet corner of the building “It would probably be better if you just observed for a while, Mr. deQuille, and then, if you have anything you want to know, ask Henry or Mrs. Martin. I would rather not be involved in any interview.”

Daniel licked the nib of the pencil and nodded  “I understand, thank you for your time, Mrs. Cartwright.”

She wasn’t sure if he was teasing her, or just being plain sarcastic. One could never tell with Daniel deQuille.

….

“Anything you want to talk about?”

Joe glanced up and over to Candy Canaday who was leaning again a tree trunk with a mug of coffee in one hand and a chunk of bread in the other. It was a break from the work, both were sweating and dirty, but they had worked hard and achieved quite a bit.  A line of fencing stretched behind them.  Joe swilled coffee in his mouth and then spat it out into the ground, having cleared his mouth from a foul taste he began to drink, sighed and shook his head

“I had an argument with Pa.”

“Nothing new in that…it’ll blow over.”

“I don’t know…”  Joe said quietly as he stared down at the ground, “Do you remember what it was like when you first came here?”

“That goes back quite a way, Joe….” Candy grinned although his eyes were alert for trouble, he cleared his throat “Adam wasn’t here for a start.”

“No, he wasn’t.” Joe sighed, and rubbed his chin with a gloved hand, “I really resented that fact”

“You made that obvious.” Candy drawled and shrugged “Enough to want to get up and leave as well.”

“I wanted to explore the wilderness, have adventures, prove myself -”

“You didn’t have to prove anything to anyone.”

“No? Well, perhaps to myself I did ….had to prove I was as good as Adam and could achieve just as much on my own.”

“If you say so.” Candy stretched his shoulders, poured out more coffee into his mug and looked at Joe, “So, what are you trying to say?”

Joe clamped his mouth shut, fidgeted a little and then said quietly “Grant offered me a job”

“Grant?” Candy quizzed; one eyebrow raised in questioned

“President Grant.  He offered me a job as Head of Security in New York City.”

“Head of Security huh? That’s what? Kind of baby-sitting him, right?”

“Baby-sitting him? What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Well, he isn’t an active President anymore is he?  I spoke to those two minders he had; they were mostly bored out of their skulls by the job.  They have to travel with them, go around with them, all the time just in case someone decides to cut up rough.”

“As it did when they came here…”

“Yeah, they said it was a diversion of sorts.”

“So?  What are you saying? Spit it out”

“Just that I think you would be bored within a week.  What’s New York City got that we haven’t got here, huh?  Just think of what you’re losing for a job that takes you away from home and family -”

“I’ll be taking Mary Ann with me…” Joe snapped “and the children.”

“I realise that, Joe. Just that you won’t have what you have here…the security of the Ponderosa, your father and brothers…you’ll be exchanging all this =” and he swept his arm to encompass the views around them, of lakes and mountains and woodland…”for buildings, traffic and too many people.  You’ll probably be housed in some crummy apartment that smells of fish and other people’s clothing and listening to noises you would probably prefer not to hear.”

“What makes you think it will be like that?” Joe thought of the houses Mary Ann had been dreaming about, in his mind’s eye they seemed to be tumbling down brick by brick.

“That’s where those two men live when they aren’t staying at the Grants house guarding them…” Candy emptied his mug and shrugged “Personally I would not want to exchange this for that, nor take my wife and family there either….”

Joe watched him walk away and chewed on his bottom lip for a moment or two, he sighed, shook his head, of course, Candy could be exaggerating, could be wrong. Just somehow his gut feeling was that his friend was right, in every detail.

*****

Sometimes being honest with oneself is very hard – for little people perhaps harder as they have yet to get a sharp conscience on the concept of what is right or wrong.  Sofia was in such a position. She had woken up earlier that day and realised that the headache had gone, her eyes were not so blurry, and she no longer felt dizzy.  The problem really was that she had enjoyed being a patient. Cheng Ho Lee had made her little biscuits, cakes and cookies, plus her favourite cordial to drink. Bed was so cosy and comfortable too.  And there was no need to worry about getting up early to do chores or go to school.  That was the very best bit ….

Nathaniel had joined her at times, just to sit or lay beside her, or bring up a toy to play on the rug by her bedside. His chatter had been entertaining, and when it got annoying, she just went to sleep or told him to go away because she was feeling ‘sick’…of course his message that Sofee was not well sent up more cookies and so forth.

All in all, Sofia was quite enjoying her concussion.  She lay in bed and practised the signing that Lilith had shown her, hoping that next time the older girl came to see her she would be able to do it with greater ease.

She heard the wagon rattle into the yard and that meant that Reuben was home from school. She wondered if anyone had said anything about her to him during the day, any messages from friends, concerns for her wellbeing. She heard the door slam shut, a murmur of voices from the big room below hers, and then the thud, thud of her brother’s footsteps as he made his way up stairs.

The door opened without the courtesy of a knock to announce his arrival. It banged against the tallboy and the lamp wobbled as Reuben stepped inside.

“Well, thank you very much -” he stood there, arms folded across his chest which was heaving up and down, his face was red, and one eye was bruised and half shut. “Your little bit of stupidity meant I got this -” and he jabbed at his face, at the bruise around his eye, “The guy who threw your book over the wall got some of his friends together to beat me up after school…” he blinked fast, he felt like crying now that he was safe at home and able to get the matter out in the open, especially lay it out for her. “There were four of them…”

Sofia blinked, eyelashes fluttered, she felt sick, and dizzy again, and sunk back into the pillows. “I didn’t know they would do that…”

“Well, they did – and it could have been worse if the gang had not come to the rescue. They said they’d give me another beating tomorrow but Mr. Henshaw heard them and told them that they would be suspended from school if they touched me.” his chin wobbled again, since the time of the attack on him by the Downing boy, he had always tried so hard not to get involved in any of the school brawls, and now here he was, up to his neck in one…and all because of his sister.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry Reuben –  I – I didn’t know they would do that kind of thing and – and anyway, it wasn’t my fault, if that boy hadn’t taken my book it wouldn’t have happened, would it? It was his fault really not mine….” Sofia shivered, there was nothing she hated more than upsetting her big brother whom she loved almost as much as she loved herself and her daddy. A tear trickled down her cheek but before she could say another word Reuben was by her bedside

“Don’t take on so, sis. I didn’t mean to upset you just that it – it wasn’t very pleasant you know?”

Sofia sniffed, shivered again and reached for her handkerchief “But I didn’t know how else to get my book, Reuben…” she wiped away another tear “And you weren’t there to ask for help and…”

Reuben felt a twinge of conscience at this comment. She was right, lately he had been neglecting her, spending more time with Jimmy and Phil.  When the other boys had pulled him to one side and started beating into him, he had been frightened but also proud of the fact that he did his best to beat them off. Then when the others – The Gang – had joined in to help him he had felt a strange sort of elation, as though over this situation they had bonded again, become real friends.

He put his arm around her shoulder and gave her a boyishly clumsy hug “It’s alright, sis, no real harm done. I’m sorry I wasn’t there to help…”

He would have said more but then the door opened wider and Olivia stepped inside and after looking at them both, shook her head as though she was about to give up on them both. Nathaniel sneaked in behind her and gazed wide eyed up at his big brother and pointed “Hurt?”

Reuben nodded “It sure does…”

“Not nice…”

Reuben grinned and looked at his mother who was about to whisk Nathaniel away, she shook her head once again “I don’t know what your father will say when he sees the state you’ve come home in, Reuben Cartwright.”

“I know, sorry, Ma.” he tried to sound contrite, but he had a feeling that his father wouldn’t be too angry or dismayed.  Women he knew already, reacted differently to men about such matters.

He smiled over at Sofia and followed his mother and brother out of the room, the door closed, and Sofia settled back into the pillows. Her head was hurting again now, and she wanted to go to sleep and forget all about boys and fights and books……

Chapter 44

Morning – the skies were greyer and there was a slightly more chill feel in the air.  The buggy with Dr Martin and Lilith rolled into the yard and came to a stop close to the house. John stepped down and smiled at his daughter, before helping her onto the ground “Now, Lilith, only five minutes with Sofia this morning…and…”

“Oh, but can I talk to Adam first please, Pa?”

“Well -” John looked around, turning his head in order to catch sight of the rancher and then smiled as Adam could be seen standing by the stable, “Morning, Adam -”

“Hope it’s a good one, John.” Adam smiled and his eyes turned to Lilith “Good morning, Lilith.”

Lilith didn’t answer but walked quickly towards where the tall rancher was standing, his smile widening as she approached “You caught me just before I was about to go to work … how are you, Lilith?”

“I wanted to talk to you.” she responded in her usual direct way, and then she hauled in a deep breath “I don’t mean to stop you from your work but -”

“Step inside and talk while I saddle my horse.”

She followed behind him and watched as he picked up a blanket from the rail as he passed an empty stall. Then in silence she watched him place it on the back of his horse before he turned and picked up the saddle. He paused, saddle in hand and frowned “You haven’t said a word yet?”

“I’m sorry” she hauled in a deep breath, and stepped closer “Adam, I wanted to ask you a favour”

“Ask away.” he smiled as he placed the saddle on the horses back, stroking Kami’s neck before he turned to her again, “What is it?”

“Would you take me to Placerville?”

“Placerville? Why would you want to go there?”

“I want – I want to see my mother’s grave.”

Adam leaned back against a post and frowned “Your mother’s grave?”

“She’s buried in Placerville.” she stated the fact and then lowered her eyes “I need to see it.”

“Are you sure?  Have you mentioned this to your parents – to John and Barbara?”

“No.” she shook her head, a tendril of hair drifted across her face, which she pushed away, tucked behind her ear, “No, they wouldn’t understand.”

“To be honest, my dear, I don’t really understand myself…why would you want to see a grave?” he paused, drew in his breath, “Do you have any relatives living in Placerville?”

“No.” she shook her head again, the annoying strand of hair drifted over her face again, she cleared her throat, “I had an Uncle, I remember he came one day but he got killed.”

Adam nodded, he could recall hearing about this Uncle, well intentioned and ended up dead. Ah well, many well intentioned people never lived to carry out their good intentions. He nodded again, “So explain why you want to go to see your mother’s grave?”

She drew in a deep breath before speaking “I’m losing her. I can’t remember her anymore. I don’t even dream about her anymore. I need to remember her, Adam, truly I do.”

“But looking at a grave – how would that help you remember her?”

She wrung her hands, she had thought of anyone alive he would be the one who would understand, she looked at him with the earnestness that had always seemed so much a part of her character, from the first time he had known her.  He looked at her with his head to one side, his eyes quizzical, and realised that this little girl was changing, she was at the stage of transforming into a young woman, developing the shape of the woman she was going to become in a matter of months, and he sighed. Little Lilith, still so lost, still so tragic.

“Tell me what you remember about your Ma, Lilith? Was she pretty?”

“Yes, she was very pretty.  Not like me, I’m not pretty like she was…”

“Can you see her face now, as you talk about her?”

“No,” she shook her head, “No, it’s just words. But I know she was pretty because I’ve said so over so long, and when I could see her face, I knew she was pretty. She had golden hair and blue eyes…she wore pretty dresses…” she paused then and frowned “She made her own dresses, hers and mine, she would sit and cut them out with those big scissors…” her eyes filled with tears, her lips trembled.

“Forget about the scissors,” Adam said quickly, recalling to mind what a disastrous effect they had had on her life, on her mother’s life…”What else can you actually remember…”

“I don’t even dream about her anymore…” she blurted out, tired of his questions, wanting him to provide a solution because in the past he always had done, “I don’t even have a picture of her.”

Adam nodded and with true empathy put out his arm across her shoulders and drew her closer, hugging her long enough to comfort before he released her again.

“Lilith, going to see a grave won’t help you, it won’t provide you with pictures of your Ma, or memories of her as she had been when she was happy with you, it will just be another memory and not a truly happy one for you..”

“Do you remember your Ma?” she asked, blinking back tears.

“No. I – I never had a Ma, she died when I was born.”

“Then she had a grave, didn’t she?”

He nodded and pursed his lips, “Yes, she has a grave, but I never saw it until I was much older. When I went to college and stayed with my grandfather. He took me to see her grave…” he paused, remembering the day he had first seen it, the granite block of stone with her name, the dates, the little dash which he always thought significant, because the little dash between dates summed up her life which, by his birth, had ended in 1830. There were stone roses engraved on the stone, and the last time he had seen it, only a few years ago which his ship had been berthed in the harbour, the roses were worn far smoother, moss had crept up to cover the stone and he remembered how he had rubbed the moss away so that her name and the dates would still be obvious to all. It had been important to him then….

“Did it help you?”

“Help me?”

“Yes, did you feel closer to her?”

“I never knew her -” he muttered and tapped his mouth with his fingers and frowned, “But I used to go there when visiting my grandfather and just sit in the bench looking and thinking, and feeling at peace with myself”

Kami fidgeted and nudged him with her head, so that the moment was broken, and Lilith frowned,

“I thought if I saw her grave, I would get that feeling too…maybe remember her better, but – just somehow remember things and get a good feeling – you know, like you said you did?  And then maybe I could forget The Man and the scissors and just think of the better things.”

A tear trickled down her cheek and Adam drew in his breath, squatted down to her level so that he could look up into her face. With his finger he gently wiped the tear away and gave a smile, “Look, I have to go away for a while – to do with work – while I’m away, I think you should talk about this to John, and Barbara -”

“Barbara doesn’t understand.  She wouldn’t help me…”

“But she may do, Lilith, she may understand more than you realise.”

“No, she isn’t my Ma – she -”

He put a finger to her lips to stop her saying anymore “Lilith – think now before you say anymore”

She looked at him with a scowl, and shook her head but the grip he had on her shoulder was tighter than before and she was forced to stay where she was, she looked at him, saw the concern in his eyes

“Lilith – when your father died, Barbara could have handed you over to your Uncle, after all, there was no blood tie was there?”  she shook her head and looked down at her feet “and she had a little boy who needed a lot of help from her. But she never took you to the orphanage, did she?”

“No.”

“And when she married John, you were happy, weren’t you?”

“Yes, I like – love – John.”

“Well, that’s good, isn’t it? He’s a good man, Lilith.  Barbara’s a good woman…and she does love you.”

“I don’t know….” she bowed her head lower, sulkily scowled

“She does, otherwise you would not be with them still, would you?” he straightened his back

“She has worries and anxieties of her own, you know.  Your confiding in her – well, it would show her that you trust her, wouldn’t it?  That would reassure her that you care for her ,”

“She doesn’t care what I think”

“Well, I think you are wrong to feel that way, Lilith. I believe that she loves you very much.”

She straightened her shoulders and looked at him, “If I tell them about Placerville and they won’t take me, will you? Take me there, I mean?”

“If they say it is alright with them, I will need their permission, Lilith.”

She nodded and thought about that, her fingers intertwining nervously. She stepped closer just as he was turning to buckle up the cinch strap “Adam, you’re not Reuben and Sofia’s real father, are you?”

“You know I’m not -”

“So – how do you feel about them? I mean, you have Nathaniel now, and -”

He raised a hand, palm outwards to stop any further words, “I have three children, Lilith. That means exactly what I said…do you understand?”

She looked at him, into his eyes, the dark brown darkening. She wondered if he were angry with her and was about to apologise when she realised, she didn’t know what to say, so hung her head and waited for him to say something.  He moved to pick up the bridle and bit, and placed a hand on her shoulder “Have you come to see Sofia?”

She nodded, “I’m teaching her signing, like I used to do with Peter.”

“She’ll enjoy that, thank you.”

“I like them…Reuben and Sofia.” she paused, then smiled “Thank you, Adam, for understanding.”

“Well, as I said, talk to your folks about Placerville. If you really need to go and have someone take you then I will take you, with their permission. Is that alright with you?”

She nodded and impulsively wrapped her arms around him, she could feel the warmth of his body against hers, and realised his smell was different from Johns, who always reminded her of hospitals when she was with him. She smiled and then turned, waved a hand at the door of the stable and ran across the yard.  Adam watched her go and nodded slowly to herself, she was such a changeling he mused and then returned to his task of getting Kami ready for the day’s work ahead.

*****

Sofia could hear her friend’s footsteps approaching the bedroom and beamed a smile as the door opened and Lilith stepped inside the room. She signed a good morning and smiled even more widely when Lilith signed Good Morning back to her.

Lilith pulled out a chair that John had just vacated and sat down “How are you feeling now, Sofia?”

Sofia nodded “I feel a lot better; my head doesn’t hurt anymore.”

“That means you will be able to get up and go downstairs, doesn’t it?”

Sofia nodded and leaned back against the pillows “Don t you like school, Lilith?”

“Yes, I do, but at the moment the lessons – well, I already had them at my school in Albany.” she thought for a moment “I like coming on the rounds with Pa, and seeing you.”

Sofia allowed herself a smug little smile, having a friend who enjoyed her company was new to her, even Hannah and Rose didn’t visit her like this, and it gave her a warm glow to the heart to know she actually had a friend like Lilith.

“Sofia, what was your Pa like?”

The question caught the little girl by surprise, she widened her eyes and blinked several times before she thought the question over “I don’t know. I never knew him. He died when I was not born.”

“So, you don’t miss him…because…”

“No, I didn’t know him. Reuben did, a bit. He talked about him a lot but -” she shrugged and sighed “I tried to make him real once, pretended you know?” she shook her head and looked down at her hands, her fingers resting on the blanket, “I hurt Adam. I hurt him a lot.”

“Why?”

“Well, because – because that’s why – “ she frowned “Adam’s my Daddy, and I love him, but when I pretended – I can’t put it in words – but I love my Daddy, and I know he loves me. I don’t want him to ever think I don’t love him.”

They were silent for a while, two little girls sitting quietly together

“I used to want him to be my Daddy too….” Lilith said quietly, “He was so very kind to me, and cared. He kept me safe, even now if I think of him, I feel safe.”

Sofia scowled “Well, he isn’t your Daddy -”

“I know, but I was very young then, and I have my own father now, whom I do love, very much. John is one of the most patient and kind men I know” Lilith smiled, “But you should know, Sofia, that your Daddy is a very special man.”

“I know that -” Sofia replied feeling very confused. She paused a moment, this was grown up girls’ talk, and way beyond her, she looked at Lilith “You will come again, won’t you?”

Lilith nodded and signed “We are friends, Sofia.”

It was enough, and content with that, Sofia drew in a deep breath and nestled back into her pillows.

Chapter 45

“Mr. de Sousa, you’d best come and see this -”

“See what?” the ponderous man seated at his desk looked up at his secretary with a scowl, ash from his cigar dripped onto the papers in his hands

“See for yourself, sir.”

The secretary was standing by the window of the office on the second floor of de Sousa’s building, so he always had a good view of C Street where most of his properties existed. With a sigh and a groan, he lumbered to his feet and walked over to the window and looked to where his secretary pointed “Over there….sir.”

The two men were silent for a moment, then de Sousa removed the cigar from his mouth and narrowed his eyes as he watched the slow-moving queue of men filing into the building that he rented out to the Cartwright women.  The Secretary raised his eyebrows “What do you think they’re doing?”

de Sousa shook his head, scowled and decided he didn’t want to know.  Then he stared again and saw Ben Cartwright dismounting and standing on the pavement watching the queue with a broad grin on his face. He looked at the Secretary

“Have I signed any papers recently about that building?”

The Secretary gulped, nodded “Yesterday afternoon, Mr. de Sousa.”

“Where is it?”

“The original, signed copy, is with Mr. Woods.  Your copy is in the file…”

“Get it…”

The other man moved to the filing cabinets more quickly than usual. He had been employed by de Sousa for a year now and had hated every moment of it.  He had seen the man reduce grown men to tears, created poverty when he could have created wealth, brought to ruin properties just because he no longer felt the need for them, evicted the occupants from other properties and then moved in new tenants at higher rents. He rummaged through the files and finally located the documents that de Sousa was demanding.  He rather hesitantly handed the papers over and de Sousa, with the light shining down from the window slowly and methodically went through every paragraph.

He had done the same yesterday, with Hiram Woods and Ben Cartwright breathing down his neck, and he had signed over the property’s lease without hesitation. It had all seemed in order then, and it still was, he could see that clearly enough. He realised that Ben Cartwright had played fair, had not hidden the fact that he would be carrying out works on the property to make it more suitable for the use it would be accommodating. The property once restored to good order would remain in the hands of the Cartwrights for as long as they could pay the rent which was…he nodded, less than he would want, but then…he shook his head and looked out of the window again.

“When they’ve finished with it, sir, you’ll be able to sell it for a good profit.” the secretary muttered in the hopes of currying favour with the man and making the day salvageable as a result.

de Sousa said nothing, he drew in his breath and shook his head, then clamped the cigar back between his teeth.  He tossed the papers back into the hands of his secretary and returned to his desk, chewed the cigar round and round his tobacco stained stumps of teeth and glared down at what he had been doing prior to the interruption.  It was hard to get his mind to settle on anyone thing now.

*****

Henry smiled and nodded over at Ben as the rancher approached him  He had a clipboard in his hands and had been ticking off the abilities of the men who filed past him, scratching down a name and ability, and thinking of what work the man could be put to. Some were too old, some too drunk, some with a ‘reputation’ for trouble…these were told there was no suitable work for them, and they had to leave, disgruntled, mumbling and discontent. Some were not so discontent though, seeing ahead of them further days of little work and hours of doing what they wanted to do without anyone telling them where to go, what to do.  They strolled nonchalantly off to the Bucket of Blood or the Silver Dollar in the hope that someone there would buy them a beer…or two.

“How are we getting on, Henry?”

“Very well. Most of these men are eager to start work, to do anything. Fact is, we will soon have too many.  Too many men in a workspace of this kind could cause more damage than not…I won’t be able to use them all.”

“Mm, could we not have a shift system? Say, fifteen men in the morning, fifteen in the evening. At least they’ll get paid for the hours of work they do, and quite honestly, something is always better than nothing.”

*****

“It could work, but those more skilled I’d like to employ permanently, to make sure the jobs are done right, and under the sight of the same men all the time. Swapping and changing about could cause accidents.”

Ben nodded, and slapped Henry gently on the shoulder “You’re the expert, Henry, Adam appointed you man in charge.”

Henry nodded and stuck his pencil behind his ear. He was confident that he had a good crew of men ready for work now. He counted them off, ticked names and gathered them around him, and once they were standing before him, an eager work force, eyes glowing with expectancy, caps clasped against their chests, he told them the procedure as to when they would be starting work, what was involved and what team would be working on what job. They listened attentively, nodded, some asked a question or two, and approved of the answers with a nod of the head. They left the building in groups, talking among themselves, excited, and eager to be at work even if the pay was less than they had been earning in the mines.

But they appreciated that it was for the hospice that had provided for their families during the difficult times, and work was a god send for those who hated being forced to spend hours doing nothing.  Their women would still be working their voluntary work, but with the knowledge that what they were doing was alongside their menfolk who would be bringing in some salary, the first, for some, in over a year.

“It’s going to be a fine building when it’s finished.” Henry said with a nod of the head

“That’s all we ask for Henry, something weather tight, functional and warm.”

“It’ll be all of those things, Ben, don’t you worry none.”

“How long will it take to complete?”

Henry shrugged and shook his head “Until I get those men working as teams and see how good they are at the work I give them – I can’t say.  There will be teething problems to start with, but if they shape up it should be completed by winter.”

“That’s all we ask for, Henry, thank you.”  Ben extended his hand which was shaken by the other man, both of them eager to start, excited at the prospect of turning this Cinderella of a building into something far more splendid…perhaps not a princess among buildings but one that could stand proud among its peers.

*****

The sound of gunfire rippled through the air bringing with it the whiff of cordite…Joe Cartwright sat in his saddle and looked down upon the scene of the two men who were practising or perfecting their aim, shooting a various obstacles lined along the top rail of the corral fence. He sighed and leaned upon his pommel for a moment or two

Whether Candy or Adam had noticed him he could not tell, as he watched Candy line up more tins, bottles, stones along the rail. Adam was watching the other man, a lazy smile creasing his face, one hand on the buckle of his gun belt.  Joe felt a tightness in his chest, a feeling of deep affection for the man, as he looked down upon him now. His brother was no longer a young man, but the years had not diminished him in looks or stature, and viewing him now, Joe was reminded that he himself was no longer young, no longer a youth. That of the three of the brothers he was the one going grey, which was unfair because he still felt like a youth, and, he admitted, was still prone to act like one…impetuous and rash.

He slowly put his horse into motion, walking the animal towards the two men who now turned to greet him

“Took your time, little brother.” Adam said with a pleasant smile and brown eyes mellow and twinkling

“Thought I’d spend a few minutes watching you two old ladies wasting time at play.” Joe replied with a responding grin as he slid out of the saddle.  “How long have you been here?”

“About an hour,” Candy replied “Worked for most of the time, played for ten minutes or so….want to try your hand?” he nodded over at the items lined up along the railing and Joe shook his head, shrugged slightly and then looked at Adam

“Where’s Hoss?”

“On his way, he had to collect some more barbed wire from town.” Adam replied and nodded over to Candy, a sign that play was over for now, back to work.

“We should be finished this section by this afternoon, then Hoss and I will be leaving for Carson City early in the morning.” he stooped to pick up the water canteen “Decided to get this job done before we left.”

Joe nodded, he had not been told about this change in their plans, he felt cut out, and fought resentment.  He watched Adam drink some water and then tap in the stopper before tossing the canteen down beside his jacket,

“Adam?”

“Hummm?” the tanned brow crinkled in expectation of being asked something that he would prefer not to know about, he sighed “What?”

“You’re not taking Reuben then?”

“No.  Thought about it, but then Olivia reminded me about the importance of education and that the trip would take him out of school for a week….just glad I never mentioned it to the boy, he’d have been disappointed.”

“Yeah, I guess so….” Joe replied with a nod of the head, and then smiled and nodded over to Candy as the other man passed them to pick up some tools

“So? What do you really want to talk about, Joe? You look like a scalded cat.”

“I – er – Just wondered if you had heard anything from Grant?”

Adam shrugged “No, not a word. Why? Have you?”

“No – not at all – I just wondered if – perhaps he would have forgotten about the offer of that job – if I should just forget about it myself.”

Adam paused for a moment and then sighed “Well, he has a pretty sharp memory if I recall rightly. Do you really want this job, Joe? Going all the way to New York City I mean – “ he paused and cleared his throat, tried not to look overly concerned about the matter but failed.

“I’m interested enough to be considering it…” Joe replied in a low voice, although surprised to hear himself actually saying the words. He could see it was the wrong reply, his brothers face dropped, disappointment in the brown eyes, before his face resumed a blank mask.

“Why on earth? Joe, New York City – it’s a lot different from Sacramento or San Francisco – are you sure you want to go so far from home?”

“You did, you went away for longer, and for further – “ Joe snapped immediately

Adam nodded, pulled a face “I know it.  But I didn’t have a wife and children…”

“My wife wants to go, Adam. She’s a city girl after all…and…she thinks I should accept the job.”

Adam drew in a sharp breath, nodded, then shrugged “Well, no point in discussing it further with me, Joe.  You’re responsible for your wife and family after all.  But – you haven’t been offered the job officially yet, so – don’t raise her hopes too high.”

“Does Grant renege on his promises then?”

Adam paused again, thought of all the times Grant had done just so, reneged on his promises to the Chinese, to the Native Indians, to him …

“You’ll find out for yourself, soon enough, Joe.” he replied as he stooped to pick up the water canteen again, his mouth was suddenly dry, perhaps it was the topic of conversation, perhaps…he slowly turned the stopper his face as blank as he could keep it “Anyway,” he lifted the canteen to his mouth “We’ll see, won’t we?”

“But – you won’t be going, I mean, if the offer is made to you…”

No. I won’t be going. As you just reminded me, I was gone a long time from home, I don’t want to repeat the mistake.”

“You think it was a mistake? To have gone to sea?”

“At times like this, during conversations like this, yes….”

Joe nodded slowly, then turned away at the sound of Hoss’ horse approaching….cordite still hung in the air, but the misery he felt hung heavier

Chapter 46

Sophia was full of smiles when Adam stepped into her room and stood by the door observing her for a moment or two before he came closer and sat down on the chair.

“How do you feel today, Pumpkin?”

“I am alright now, daddy.  I want to get up and go downstairs now.”

“Feel well enough for school?”

“School?”

“That big building in town kids go to for an education…kids like you and Reuben for instance?”

He smiled, dimples creased his cheeks and his eyes twinkled. She frowned, was he teasing? Sometimes she just wasn’t sure…and hadn’t the wagon left already?

“But I don’t think I feel that well, daddy.”

She blinked, fluttered her eyelashes and tried to look – unwell.  Sadly, being ill can’t be feigned, and she failed miserably, not that it mattered, it had already been decided that she would remain home and return to school on the following Monday.

He stood up, seeming to tower over her, and raised his eyebrows “Well, get yourself dressed, and then come down. No school today, and I want you dressed and ready before I go…”

“Go? Go – where?”

“Uncle Hoss and I have to go away for a few days, a week perhaps…”

“But why?”

“Work.” he replied and that mysterious word that meant nothing but implied everything to Sofia, hovered in the air, “We have to go to Carson City. Shall I buy you something from there? What would you like?”

She had heard of Carson City, a big place, the capital of their state, Nevada. She shook her head and looked thoughtfully at him “You won’t get bashed about, will you?”

“Hopefully not, but I am going with Uncle Hoss, so that makes it less likely.”

He was grinning at her, and she felt anxiety lift because she loved it when he grinned like that, it made her feel secure and safe. She jumped out of the bed and flung her arms around him, holding him tight, holding him so that he would always remember how much she loved him.

*****

Adam was talking to Hoss when she eventually made her way downstairs and her Uncle smiled and greeted her with his usual big smile and chuckling voice “Good Morning, Princess…you missed school again today, then?”

“I’ve still got the bump on my head, Uncle Hoss. Do you want to feel it?” and she bowed her head obligingly so that Hoss gently touched the downy golden blonde hair and exclaimed that he had never felt such a huge ‘egg’ before in his life.

She knew that was an exaggeration of course, but it didn’t matter. She loved her Uncle Hoss and knew that the size of him any bump he ever got would definitely be larger than anything she ever had in her whole life.

Olivia came and called her to join them at the table, for breakfast. Nathaniel was calling out to her, she dimpled a smile and ran to the other room, while Adam and Hoss watched her go, Hoss grinned

“Not much wrong with her…”

“No, thankfully.”

“Wal, best we got going now, or we’ll miss our train.”

They strolled into the other room where Olivia was placing a bowl of oatmeal in front of Sofia, but paused when she saw her husband and brother in law, “Are you – going – now?”

Adam nodded, he had noticed the slight break in her voice, it touched his heart to know she would be caring, worrying and missing him. He leaned over and kissed her cheek, then stroked her face gently with his thumb, until he reached her chin which he raised so that her face was towards his and then he kissed her lips, tenderly, a promise of more to come, another time.

Then he hugged and kissed his children, Sofia announced she was going to teach Nathaniel how to speak with his fingers so that he would know how to talk to deaf people, which Adam said was a good idea.

Then footsteps led them away, a door closed, and they were momentarily frozen in place, Olivia standing at the table, the children seated, food in front of them, faces still, bereft of smiles.

*****

Mary Ann sat and watched her husband as he drank his coffee and then leaned against the back of the chair, his face thoughtful, anxious.  She knew he had argued with his father, and that he had discussed the matter of going to New York with his brother, but he didn’t know what was going on in his head at that precise moment of time, what decision he was going to arrive at that would affect them all.

She poured herself more coffee, she could hear the children chattering together, laughter and giggles. The clatter of dishes reminded her that Lee was busy, clearing away the breakfast things, and soon to be preparing for the mid-day meal.  Sounds trickled all around her, falling into her mind until she wanted to push them all away and beg for silence…because the silence was already too loud.

“Joe?”

He glanced up and looked over at her, smiled rather absently.  There was a time not so long ago when he would look at her and his face would light up with the love, he felt for her, the delight in her being there seated opposite him, the joy of knowing she was his wife and his only.

“Joe, what is the matter? You look as though you have the weight of the world on your shoulders.”

“Oh -” he shrugged and then shook his head as though subconsciously tossing his problems aside, he smiled, and for a moment his eyes twinkled their normal sparks of green “I was just thinking…Hoss and Adam will be off to Carson City by now.”

“You could have gone too…if you had wanted to go, you know that , don’t you?”

“Sure.” he cleared his throat, “I wanted to stay though, be close to you and the children.”

She nodded and then sipped her coffee. He had said that before, when he had explained about his argument with Ben, and she wondered if it were to be close to her, or because he was irritated that particular morning by being told where to go, and what to do by his father.  Wanting to make a stand for himself and defy his father’s authority.

“You could still go; you could catch them up…”

He nodded, “I know, but I have work to do with Candy…it wouldn’t be fair to leave him now, I promised to be there at -” he turned his head and frowned, “mmm, in half an hour.”

She nodded and stood up, came to his side and stood there, then leaned down to kiss the top of his head, “I’ll see you later then.”

He nodded, then stood up so that their bodies were close, touching and he took her hand gently

“You know I love you, don’t you?”

“Of course….” she lowered her eyes, then raised them to meet his, her slate grey eyes wide, luminous, her lips slightly apart, moist.

“I love you more than life -” he whispered and lowered his head to kiss her, savouring the smell of her hair, her body “I wish I could stay…”

She just kissed him again and then stepped aside for him to move away from her, his fingers slowly released hers so that her hand drifted down to her side and she watched him leave the room.  She heard Constance call out “Daddeeee” and Joe’s chuckle as he picked the child up and then Daniel’s protest “Me too, Daddy, me too….”

By the time she walked into the room he had gone and the children had resumed their games, and for a moment she just stood there looked at the doorway through which he had passed and thinking that he really was her world, her whole world, him, and the children.

*****

 

“What are you thinking?” Hoss asked as he stretched out his legs and relaxed against the back of the leather covered seat.  They were quite alone; other passengers were seated in various locations on the V&T train that was already chugging its way from Gold Hill to the state Capital.

“Just thinking over what Curtis and Chamberlain told us about their look see last week.”

“Yeah, didn’t really tell us much, did they?”

“Not much they could tell, they wouldn’t know what to look for…” Adam leaned forward towards his brother, so that Hoss did likewise. Their heads nearly touched.  “Pa had a right to be anxious, what they had to say just fed us more questions than answers/”

“Yeah?”  Hoss frowned, he was quite unsure as to where this was all going, he sighed “So? What’s the plan? Or are we sticking to what we decided yesterday?”

“What do you mean?” Adam’s brow constricted; his eyes darkened.

“Jest that I know how your brain works…tick ticking over like an overwound watch. What you thought was a good plan yesterday, could be no good after all your thinking it over during the night.”

They shared a grin, Adam nodded “Reckon you know me too well….”

“So – what do we do now?”

“Mostly, keep our heads down…”

“That’s not difficult to do.”

“I’ll book into a hotel, probably just for a night or two. “

“Jest you …?”

“That’s what we decided yesterday, right?”

“Yeah, sure, jest hoped it was one of the things you had changed.  A bunk in a line shack ain’t nearly as comfortable.”

“It’s just so that I can look authentic when I visit the places in town….a room in a hotel sounds better than -” he shrugged and glanced out of the window.

They had caught the steam train at the F Street Depot for the 24 miles trip to Carson City, stopping there at the Eastgate Depot*. It was quicker than going by horseback, and looked better too, as people would remember the smartly dressed man who stepped down from the carriage more than they would the cowboy stepping down beside him.  He didn’t want to advertise his links to the Ponderosa but thought it better that anyone checking on him would be told about a man, obviously in business, who had arrived at Eastgate Depot that morning.

They watched the views passing by, from the window to his right Adam caught a glimpse of the Yellow Jacket head frame*. They had already passed the huge open pit that had formed a hill around it, the site of the gold the prospectors had first found, but which had prompted them to dig further and deeper until they had found the silver for which the Comstock was famous.

Adam leaned back and watched the views slip by, thinking back to the time when he had seen and watched all this happen around them, all those – what was it – twenty years ago. Was that really all it had been? Twenty years?  How many times had he and his father looked down from the rim rock on the Ponderosa and watched the frantic digging into the soil by so many frenzied desperate people searching for their pile of gold, silver… their Bonanza.

Just twenty years to see the end of the Paiute villages, the Waso Paiute, homesteads come, and homesteads gone…

One didn’t notice so much when riding on horseback, but sitting here on the train watching the views, it was like watching their history pass before his eyes. Opposite him Hoss had nodded off to sleep. His snores gentle cadences echoing the clackety clack of the train’s wheels.

It wouldn’t be a long sleep, the journey only took just over an hour, but it would pass through two tunnels, go pass the Overman mining pit as it neared Eastgate Station. On the way it would go by eight other mines…the names of which he could recite from memory, the faces of the mine owners etched clear in his head…the Julia mine, named after the lady of the name, Julia Bullette, the Potosi..

He turned away, it didn’t do to revisit history this close up, and he stared up at the ceiling of the carriage and thought of how they had always been fighting to keep the Ponderosa intact, not just for themselves, but for their children…and now they had those children, and the fight continued.

Chapter 47

Hoss felt slightly aggrieved at the fact that he was having to ride out on his own to the territory. He hired the horse, paid slightly over the odds for a strong looking animal that looked as though it had a good turn of speed on it. He rode past his brother who was strolling into an hotel and didn’t even glance over at him to acknowledge him.  He shrugged and shook his head, then threaded his way out of the sprawling town.

An hour later he was fording the river onto Ponderosa land and threading his way through the trees to the location of the line shack. It was one of those seldom visited because the Cartwrights had not made any use of the land, except to keep it in its natural state and the very occasional hunting trip. When he saw the area around the shack had been trampled about, he felt a tingle of concern until he

recalled that their two men had obviously been making use of it during their ‘survey’.

He dismounted and walked the horse to the remains of the corral at the side of the shack and noticed that some attempt had been made to reinforce the bars and the gate had been strengthened. Well, at least the men had done something while they had been here. He unsaddled the animal and slapped its rear and watched it stroll nonchalantly away, head down, searching for some grass to nibble upon.  Having slung the saddle and blanket over the top rail of the corral he worked the pump in order to get the water flowing to fill the trough.  At the sound of the water the horse pricked up its ears and trotted over, dipped its head over the rail and began to drink.

“Huh, gratitude for ya…”

Hoss cupped his hands and gathered up some water to drink, then some more to splash over his face, after which he strolled over to the shack.  He stood in front of it for a moment. Shook his head… no doubt it was in a poor condition, neglected.  The two men had obviously not bothered to take time or trouble to run up any repairs on the wreckage , he put a tentative hand on the door in the hope that it wouldn’t fall apart or swing off its hinges.

There was ample evidence that the two men had camped out in the shack, dirty dishes with the remnants of food were still on the table.  The truckle beds were rumpled, and Hoss wondered if the two of them had just spent the time sleeping eating and drinking. He shook his head, irritated beyond measure at the fact that the first thing he had to do was tidy up their mess…housekeeping!! he thought of Adam enjoying the comfort of one of the best hotels in the city, and promptly walked into a cobweb that must have taken several spiders weeks to construct.

*****

Adam Cartwright adjusted his hat and then pushed open the door to the offices of what appeared to be a very affluent business.  Architecture obviously was taking off here in a big way, and he noticed as he glanced around the walls of the room in which he was standing that they had also gone into real estate. He was about to step closer to examine some layout plans pinned to the wall when a rather stout woman approached

“Can I help you?”

He nodded, produced a card from his vest pocket and handed it to her. She looked at it, and then at him.  For a moment he wondered what she was seeing, trying to see himself in his new persona through her eyes.

A tall broad-shouldered middle-aged man, sideburns greying, dark brown eyes looking bemusedly at her, a slight smile to well-shaped lips. He was dressed smartly, a three-piece chalk stripe suit, and his boots were polished to a high shine. All in all, a walking advertisement for the man he claimed to be – Aaron Coupland, Architect & Real Estate Investor.

He had paid deQuille to print off several of the cards and succeeded in fobbing the man’s questions off by telling him that when he got back, he would give him the whole story. Daniel loved the promise of a scoop. That had been enough to keep him quiet and he had printed off the cards, adding a flourish to add that extra touch of savoir faire!

He had been to three offices now, but this was the most prestigious so far. Jonas Armstrong had been happy enough to provide him with names and addresses and had even allowed him to ‘drop his name’ into conversation should the need arise.  Jonas had not been happy at providing this help, but Adam had his own ways of putting pressure on the man to encourage him to assist. Now, Adam stood in front of a large map with little pins here and there indicating the architects hopes of building in various locations around the city. On the table running along one wall were casually placed architectural drawings of various sized properties.  Adam was looking over them when the woman returned and said, “Mr. Poynton will see you now, Mr. Coupland.”

He thanked her politely and stepped away from the table, then went to meet Mr. Edwin Poynton.

The man seated at the rather over large and ostentatious desk was small. Short but neat. Somehow the desk made him appear smaller than he actually was, with his clean-shaven bland slab of a face with the very blue eyes that stared thoughtfully at Adam. He was well dressed, although his jacket was unbuttoned, and his hair, parted neatly down the centre so that his scalp could be seen as clear as day, made Adam think of a roadway cut straight through wheat fields.

Mr. Poynton was holding Adam’s card between his fingers and glanced down at it before looking up at Adam again, he nodded over to a chair indicating that Adam could sit.  Adam unbuttoned his own jacket and then sat down, hooking his thumb over the pocket in his vest and crossing his right leg over his left.

“Applying for a position with us, Mr. – er – Coupland?”

“No, jest looking to invest in land around here.”

“Says here you’re an architect…”

“And Engineer…”

“Oh…busy…and an investor?”

“Seems the best initial step to take…invest in some land, then see how property values increase.”

“How much are you wanting to invest?”

“Depends on how interested I am in the land available.” he paused and brushed along his leg, as though there was some dust there that had to be removed from his pants, he then looked up “I was in Virginia City earlier.” he frowned as though the memory of a wasted journey annoyed him, “I was told to come here if I wanted to invest in anything.  Virginia City is haemorrhaging people like blood from a severed artery … no point in even trying to invest, so Jonas Armstrong suggested I came here.”

He looked directly into Poynton’s face. He rather liked that phrase about the haemorrhaging, he had read it recently in a book and it seemed a fine time to slip it into conversation now.

“Armstrong?  He’s still got his shingle out?”

“Him and Silas both…”

“He knows a good thing when he sees one…”

“So, I gathered in my short acquaintance with him…”

“So – what did he tell you about us?  Why the interest in investing here?”

“Carson City is the State Capital. Stands to reason people will be moving here, business will be on the increase, you’ll need land to build properties to accommodate them all. It’s not a risky business if you know where to look.”

Poynton nodded “That’s the key to it all, knowing where to look, and being – patient – and waiting for the right time to invest. I suppose you know all about that…”

“Like music, Mr. Poynton, it’s all about timing.”

Poynton’s eyes narrowed, he looked more directly at Adam and nodded “Yes, exactly.”

He leaned back in his chair and stroked his chin, glanced at the clock “It’s time for lunch, Mr. Coupland.  Perhaps you would join me, and we can talk a little more about where you can invest…”

Adam nodded “Sounds good to me.”

Poynton nodded, then rose to his feet. He was taller than he had appeared behind the desk, but even so, he was a light weight compared to his companion.

*****

Hoss stretched and yawned.  He hadn’t meant to fall asleep. Truth was he was just plumb tuckered out. He rubbed his eyes and stood up, stretched and knocked his knuckles against the ceiling of the shack.  He shivered as his body temperature dropped, and then he looked around him.

He had been busy, just not busy doing what he knew he was supposed to be doing, which was looking around and ‘surveying’ the place. But now the shack was in better shape. Cobwebs gone, floor swept clean, everything in its right place and looking clean and just how Hester would have liked it. The bedding had been draped over the corral rails for a good airing, and the door had been rehung even though it was barely substantial enough to withstand the next gale.

He ambled outside and looked around him.  No doubt about it, the place was in a beautiful area, and the views through the trees were awe inspiring. The thought occurred to him that if he were a poet, he would be inspired to write something about it right now.  He heaved in a deep breath, and smiled, no, fair enough, things to do

He found the axe and tested its sharpness against his thumb. The men had obviously taken time to sharpen it themselves but even so it needed some work on it.  He located the whetstone in the grass where it had been casually flung – Hoss shook his head in disgust, a man who didn’t look after his tools, or his employers’ tools, was not worth employing. He made a mental note to discuss it with the men they had sent here the previous week.  He set to work, honing the axe head against the whetstone, so that before long it was sharp enough to work with again.

*****.

The restaurant was not the best in town, but it certainly provided an extremely good meal, and the wine was excellent.  Adam listened to Poynton talking about his business success, the length of time he had worked in the city, the reputation he had built up over the years. The man was only too obviously selling himself, and hopeful that Adam would find his company worth investing in. He was so eager that Adam wondered just how well the company was actually doing, was it making sound profits or taking a dive into the slumps.

He let the little man talk on, nodding here and there, nudging the conversation along when it seemed to lull. Poynton, he realised, was not a fool. But he was certainly ingratiating himself, working too hard at it. Adam pursed his lips and frowned, glanced around him and gestured to the waiter who came hurrying over, “Another bottle of the wine….”

“Yes, sir.”

Poynton watched the waiter walk briskly from the table, then looked at Adam. He always thought of himself as a good judge of character, a lot of his business success had come about because he could judge people so astutely.  He looked over the other man with the certain knowledge that Aaron Coupland could be a dangerous man if crossed, the air of authority he had oozed out of him, the kind of authority that, perhaps, could be too much for Poynton to handle. He preferred to be able to manipulate his associates, not have them dominate or manipulate him.  He was silent for a moment and thought over their conversation. Had he talked too much, revealed too much? Had he shown the other man weakness or cunning, desperation or an astute head for business?

The waiter returned and poured wine into the two glasses, deferring to Adam and Poynton realised again that people would do that, they seemed instinctively to be drawn to the man, to know he was a leader, rather than a follower.  He licked his lips furtively, perhaps, he thought, this was the very man he did need.  Someone whose strengths would elevate them both to greater heights. He took a glass in his hand and took a larger gulp than usual, but he had suddenly grown very thirsty.

“Come back to the office with me…” he said slowly, “There’s some business I’d like to discuss with you.”

“I had intended to visit some other -”

“You won’t need to, they can’t offer you what I can…believe me, this is an offer you’d be a fool to

refuse.”

Adam pursed his lips and scowled; he gave the man the benefit of a look that signified that if Poynton dared to consider him a fool in any context then he could land himself in trouble. But Poynton held his nerve, forced a smile and nodded as he rose from the table, emptied his glass, and set it down. “You won’t regret it.”

Adam nodded, emptied his own glass and stood up, placed enough money on the table to cover the cost of the meal with a generous tip and followed Poynton out of the building.

Chapter 48

Poynton spread a selection of drawings from a drawer along a desk that ran along one side of his office. As his hands nimbly cast them down, spreading them out and fanning them for the observer to get a better view, he smiled proudly, before stepping back and nodding to Adam to come closer

“These are just some of the designs sent to me by various architects in the district who see this as a good investment….”

“Armstrong from Virginia City included…”

“Definitely. I put out to tender the prospect of this investments a few months ago and these are just a few of the designs forwarded to me as a result.”

“Which you’ll be using?”

Poynton shrugged “Some, not all. I want a good standard of building and design for this project. My name ranks high around here, I don’t want it ruined by some substandard properties.”

“I can’t imagine you letting anything substandard slip through, Mr. Poynton.”

Poynton nodded, inwardly proud of the compliment and watched as Adam slowly picked up and looked at each design. One in particular he took longer over before putting back down, Poynton leaned forward and nodded, smiled

“Ah, yes, an interesting one that -” he tapped the design “Architect one Adam Cartwright. He designed a few of the buildings in Virginia City.”

“And he forwarded this one?”

“Not personally, Jonas Armstrong sent it along, said Cartwright had a good reputation as an architect.”

“I see.” Adam nodded, and gave a slight smile, then glanced over several other of the designs, “You’ll have quite a selection to choose from, Mr. Poynton.  Whereabouts will you be building this – empire?”

Poynton paused, not sure if he detected a touch of irony in the way Adam spoke just then, but he shrugged it off “I thought Armstrong had shown you -”

“If I’m right in what he showed me, it was the intention to build the town out towards the river…”

“That’s right-” Poynton turned to the map on the wall behind them and stabbed a finger at various locations “Here and here…it will push the town – city I should say – further towards the river. It’s a sound investment, the city needs to extend, the lands there and we can certainly deliver the goods when it comes to building properties on it.”

“Is there enough land – it looks a rather meagre strip -”

“Ah well -” Poynton strolled over to his desk and pointed to the chair opposite for Adam to sit upon “Initially there’ll be enough to start with…”

“I see. The river prevents you pushing further afield. A natural barrier.”

“Oh, natural barriers can be surmounted, it wouldn’t be difficult to build a substantial bridge over….” he paused and frowned “The problem is that the land doesn’t belong to us.”

“Oh, that is a problem.” Adam nodded, “Not much you can do then?”

“The owner is a man called Ben Cartwright.  Ever met him? No, of course, I don’t suppose you would have done…well, I have, several times. A hard-nosed businessman, and stubborn as a mule. He never uses that land, just leaves it – but he has a thousand square miles of land he calls the Ponderosa. Armstrong must have mentioned it.”

“He did…” Adam inclined his head in affirmation

“Hmm, what does a man do with a thousand square miles of land, huh? Just leaving it to waste, when it could bring him in enough money -” he paused, lowered his voice as he realised he was becoming rather strident, “It irritates me beyond measure, Mr. Coupland, to see such an investment going to waste, homes for people who need them – “ he shrugged, and looked at Adam thoughtfully “What would you suggest we do?”

Adam shrugged “Seems one of his relatives doesn’t mind investing in it, if – that is – Adam Cartwright is related to this Ben Cartwright?”

“Adam Cartwright is one of his sons.  When I met old Ben Cartwright his son Adam, had gone off to sea, joined the navy of all things. But he trained as an architect and engineer…and seems to have an eye on investment now he’s back on land. Armstrong has a high opinion of him.”

“He’s employed by Armstrong? I never met him while I was there….”

“No? Well, we have his drawing – Armstrong was impressed enough by it to send it along.”

Adam nodded, and wondered how much longer he could string Poynton along before he could feel satisfied that he posed no danger to the Ponderosa.  He thought of the Armstrong’s, and that they had dug out one of his drawings from years ago, sending it on to Poynton as an original to be used for this new building project. No wonder they were so keen to employ him…they were already touting him as an employee!

“Well, this is all very interesting, Mr. Poynton, but I think I would need to see this land…check it out for myself. I’m not going to invest my money in anything on the basis of what you have said or shown me.”

“Naturally, sound common sense, Mr. Coupland, I wouldn’t expect anything else…” he paused “Tomorrow morning – would you be available then?”

Adam glanced over at the clock, enough time to call on several other Real Estate and Architectural businesses. He nodded “Very well, tomorrow morning.”

He stood up and picked up his hat, shook Mr. Poynton’s hand and then walked out of the office, past the woman who was busily typing on the latest model Remington typewriter, and out into the street. He stood there a moment or two thinking over the past few hours with Mr. Poynton, who obviously had his eyes on the Ponderosa, but – and it was the ‘but’ that worried Adam.  The drawing sent in by Armstrong with the claim that it was drawn by one Adam Cartwright, while it irritated him, was something he could deal with later, he put it on the back burner of his mind.

Remembering his intentions to visit other businesses, he placed his hat on his head and turned to the left. A large plate glass window with the legend “Goldbaum and Strickland – Real Estate “ painted thereon in gold letters, needed investigation.

From his office window Poynton watched Adam strolling across the road towards the other building. He nodded, and thought awhile, then smiled. Mr. Coupland was an intelligent man, and as such, would be waiting for him in the morning to be shown all the land Poynton had his eyes upon.

He just needed a man with a fat enough wallet to help him buy it. He had no qualms about this investment, to him the man would soon be raking in a good profit, there would be nothing about the deal for him to complain.

*****

Hoss closed the door, less rickety now since he had ‘modified’ it a little and gazed around him. Once again he was struck with the beauty of the place, perhaps because it was still wild and had that air of abandonment that he had once known and loved so much about the Ponderosa all those years back along when he and Adam and Pa had first settled on the land.

He reminded himself he was there to do a job.  Hard to remember exactly what it entailed but with it in mind he decided to take the opposite route to the one taken by the two hired hands who had left a track as wide as the V&T rail track.

It was easier to track in this terrain by foot. The horse eyed him suspiciously as he passed but Hoss ignored him and continued onwards, the rifle in one hand, his eyes sharp and his ears primed. He had been acknowledged as the best tracker in the territory and aimed to prove that true during these coming few days.

He walked for two hours, pausing just now and then to drink water from the canteen, and to take a longer look about him. He noticed the spore of deer, and the droppings of numerous rabbits. There was a half rotting carcase of something dead and half eaten which he chose to ignore.  He walked on.

Not a sound above what he would have expected. The rustle of undergrowth as some smaller creatures scampered to cover, the keening cry of a hunting bird on the prowl, followed by the sudden little squeak and squeal of something that had not been quick enough to escape notice.

He paused once at the sound of steps approaching him and carefully inched his way behind a tree, but it was no human, nothing on two legs, just a deer and her yearling trotting along beside her. He watched them cross his path, unafraid, and confident that they were safe and well. He hoped that she was right, that in the following year the youngster would have some fine antlers from the buds already showing on its graceful head.

He sighed and drank some more water.  Glanced up at the sky and decided it was time to return to the shack, eat what food he had, set some snares for the next day, and then get some sleep. So far as he was concerned it had been a fruitless exercise, and yet, he was glad. It meant that no one was bothered with the land, the Ponderosa was safe.

He lit the fire as soon as he returned to the shack, whistled a tune as he set about preparing his food.

Coffee smells permeated the previous damp smells of the empty building. He heaved in a deep breath and thought of the next day….he was going to enjoy it, it was like – well –  like being on a holiday. It had been years since he had spent time alone like this, just indulging himself among the beauty of this land. He had been too happy and content with life to have noticed how much he missed it.

*****

Adam ate his evening meal in the hotel’s restaurant, before making his way to his room. He lay on the bed with his arms folded beneath his head and stared up at the ceiling. He had talked to all the people he felt he needed to talk to, some were happy to plod along with the occasional commission, some were prosperous enough to shrug Poyntons proposition aside, and others totally ruthless but none aware of any designs on the Ponderosa.  Yes, if they had a sound investor, they would no doubt be more interested in what Poynton had on offer, but no one looked beyond the river to the land that belonged to stubborn old Ben Cartwright…except for Poynton.

The design that Armstrong had submitted among others, that bore his name, rankled. He had designed that property for a man who had wanted a grand house on the outskirts of town, a wealthy man and a philanthropist to boot.  The design had been accepted, Adam had felt, almost, tempted to go in the direction of becoming an architect, setting up his own shingle in town, becoming a 9-5 worker in an office…until the man was murdered, and his family moved back east. The design had, he thought, languished in some drawer or other. He wondered how Armstrong had got hold of it. Why he, Armstrong, had even remembered it.

Chapter 49

Early morning mist hung like gossamer threads among the trees, weaving through branches of the many colours of leaves embracing the autumnal coolness of the day. Birds sang, joyous at being alive on yet another day. The earth was coming awake once again as it had for countless other mornings before and would for many more to come.

Hoss stretched, rolled out of the blanket that covered the truckle bed upon which he had spent an uncomfortable night. Yawning, stretching and mumbling to himself he made his way to the fire, prodded the ashes and reprimanded himself for not tending to it the previous evening. Once he had got the fire rekindled, he prepared his mornings coffee.

Opening the door, he had to stop for a moment just to take in the view. A lot of the Ponderosa was quite barren, craggy and bleak, other parts were beautiful, and taken from certain vantage points they were breath taking. As he stood at the door and watched the early morning sun rise above the tops of the trees, he hauled in a deep breath and thanked God for another day of life.

He stayed there until the sun had burned away the mists, and then he turned back to have his coffee, and prepare something to eat.

*****

Adam was eating his breakfast at the hotel restaurant, taking his time and thinking things over as to how to proceed. He was pouring out his second cup of coffee when he became aware of someone standing beside his table, and turning to confirm the fact, was confronted by a thin tall man with sandy coloured hair, pale eyes behind spectacles and wearing a rather shabby suit. He nodded and put down the coffee pot. The man was obviously not the waiter…

“Yes?”

“Mr. – Aaron Coupland?”

“Yes.”

“I’m Kenneth Fisher…I work for the First National Bank here in Carson City.”

“Really?” Adam frowned, then nodded over to the chair opposite “Sit down, Mr. Fisher. Would you like some coffee?”

“Thank you…” he sat down, and carefully placed his hat on his lap, “No coffee…thank you.”

Adam bowed his head, pursed his lips and raised his eyebrows

“Well?”

“I – we – understand that you are an Investor?”

“True, does that concern you?”

“Just that the bank is very interested in any form of investment that is being made here. As you can imagine being the State Capital and with so many people moving into the city, investment is vital to fund and provide for the citizens of this city.”

“True enough.” Adam nodded, he picked up his cup and sipped, then looked at Fisher “Anything else?”

“We just needed confirmation that you are involved in investing in one of Mr. Poynton’s projects.”

“That depends on whether or not I like the project Mr. Poynton wants me to invest in.” he quirked an eyebrow, “This is Saturday? You’re working out of office hours, Mr. Fisher?”

“I tried to catch hold of you yesterday, but -” he shrugged looking rather helpless, his hat rolled onto the floor, “I just hoped I would be able to catch up with you this morning.”

Adam put down his cup, and looked at Mr. Fisher thoughtfully, then again shrugged, “Mr. Fisher, I’m curious as to why the First National Bank is looking to Mr. Poynton’s affairs. Is there something I need to know about these projects? Something that – perhaps – needs looking into?”

“I – I didn’t intend to imply.” Fisher stammered a little, leaned over to pick up his hat, “My employers just wanted to know and if you were – perhaps you could inform them the nature of your investment.”

“Well now, Mr. Fisher, the nature of any investment I make will be my business.”

“Yes, yes of course…”

“I’m going out to see the land Mr. Poynton is interested in this morning…”

“On the outskirts of the city towards the river?”

“Any other land that you know of?”

Fisher held his breath, clasped his hat against his chest, “The land on the other side of the river would make an excellent investment.”

“Would it? I believe it belongs to someone already, someone who would not take kindly to others deciding what to do with it.”

“Ah – well -” Fisher shrugged “No one lives there, no one even goes there…well…”

“Well?”

“It’s wild land, Mr. Coupland. Never been touched, and -”

“And?”

Fisher frowned, “I have known people go over there, you know. They hunt, fish, after all, with it being in its natural state, so to speak, and no one living there and -”

“And do you go over there hunting and fishing, Mr. Fisher?”

“Oh, I was just saying…some do…as I said, no one lives there…the owner would never know a whole town could be built on it and he would not know.” Fisher frowned and his face looked thoughtful, “Perhaps he’s forgotten about it, or just plain doesn’t care…”

Adam shook his head, the conversation was going around in circles, he pushed himself away from the table, dropped his napkin beside the empty plate and rose to his feet

“Mr. Fisher, do I understand correctly, that your employers, The First National Bank, would like me to let them know if Mr. Poynton plans to build on the land that belongs to Mr. Cartwright?”

“I guess – yes – that is what I’m saying.”

Adam frowned “There is such a law as trespass, you know?”

“Mr. Cartwright would never know….a thousand square miles of land, Mr. Coupland? Imagine it? How can anyone police that amount of land?”

“How do you know that he doesn’t?” Adam paused and frowned, “I’ll keep what you have said in mind. What’s the name of your Manager?”

“Gascoigne. Mr. Henry Gascoigne”

Adam scratched the back of his neck, he nodded “Thank you, I’ll bear it in mind.”

He watched the other man walk away and shook his head. Then pausing for just a moment to collect his hat, he left the hotel. The sun dappled the main street with shadows, it was a meagre sun but was doing its best to cheer the people on the sidewalks, entering the stores. Children clung to their mother’s skirts, or ran excitedly among the pedestrians, weaving in and out among them. Women stood and chattered, laughter from some men…courting couples shyly holding hands walking not so much on air but among others as though they never existed. Adam stood a moment watching them all, then after looking up at the blue sky he made his way to Poynton’s place of business.

Poynton was waiting for him, an eager smile on his face, and when Adam walked into the building the other man rubbed his hands together as though delighted to see him. “Not too early, Mr. Coupland?”

“I prefer an early start.”

“Good. Good.”

Poynton picked up his hat and made his way to the door of the building which he closed and locked behind them. He didn’t speak again until they had clambered on board the buggy, and he had the horse in motion, trotting its way in and out of the traffic to the outskirts of the town.

Poynton began to talk as they left the buildings behind them and ambled onto the land beyond. He told Adam his plans, how he would build such and such there to the south, and more commercial businesses to the north. Everything would, of course, be bordering onto the river.

“Prestigious properties hereabouts, Mr. Coupland. Such views shouldn’t be wasted on just anything… “ he paused a moment, “Just the very best should be built here, I reckon.”

Adam looked at the view beyond the buggy, yes, it was stunning. The river was flowing lazily along, the winter snows from the mountains had not even begun to fall yet so it was not rumbling along at full pelt. Beyond the blue strip of water was what they both knew to be the Ponderosa.

“Ever been across the river, Mr. Poynton?” Adam nodded in the direction of the far land, the wooded hills and the colours of the trees excited his heart, made it bounce against his ribs. From this view point it reminded him of years ago when they had first stopped at Lake Tahoe, looked around them, marvelled at its beauty. He had been a child then, but even now, he still felt that awe when he went there, and today, this particular morning, he was reminded of it once more for the views were beautiful.

“Yes.” Poynton nodded without shame, “Quite a number have, after all, no one’s there, and it’s good for hunting and fishing…”

“Mmm, you’re the second person to tell me that today. You do a lot of hunting and fishing, Mr. Poynton?”

“No. But I enjoy what is there…it’s a forgotten country, Mr. Coupland. Shouldn’t belong to anyone who doesn’t take pleasure in it, just leaves it neglected as it is. Imagine building houses among those trees? The value of those properties would – well – exceed my wildest dreams.” he paused and cast a cautionary eye over at Adam “And anyone bold enough to invest in them…”

“Your dreams?”

“No, in good solid properties built in ideal locations”

“Er – didn’t you say it belongs to a Ben Cartwright? Mr. Armstrong gave no indication of your intention to build on private land.”

“Mr. Coupland…in business you have to learn to take risks, and when a man neglects his land to the extent that Cartwright has – then it’s his fault if people take advantage of it”

“You said he has sons….”

“So?” Poynton shrugged “They don’t come hide nor hair near the place…why should they be interested.

The horse fidgeted and harness jingled. Poynton frowned, then urged the horse forwards “Best thing is for you to see for yourself.”

Adam said nothing, he wondered for a moment whether or not this was a good time to tell Poynton who he really was, but then decided that perhaps this was better, to see exactly what the man had in mind. He leaned back and nodded, pursed his lips and allowed the man to drive the buggy on, over the ford in the river and up onto the other side. It was obvious from the condition of the river’s edge that this was a much-frequented site for people in wagons, buggies or on horseback to enter onto the Ponderosa. He frowned, learning lessons here, one of which was that they needed to protect their land more vigorously, and neglect it far less.

Poynton chattered about nothing in particular, it was as though nervous energy forced him to talk, to tell Adam about his childhood in Illinois, how his family suffered during the war fighting for the ‘wrong side’ but Adam was never sure what that expression actually meant – was it the losing side or just in other people’s opinions the wrong side. He watched as the territory wrapped itself around him, trees whispered and sighed, none ever having known the feel of an axe upon its noble limbs; even Poynton began to stop his chatter, quietened by the atmosphere around him

“A bit like being in a church, isn’t it?” Poynton whispered and then laughed “I beg your pardon, Mr. Coupland, it’s just that it gets to me, you know? Right here?” and he tapped his heart with a clenched fist and smiled. “Old man Cartwright’s a fool not to have built here before now….”

“Are you going to offer to buy the land from him? Or his sons?”

“I did once, a few years ago when I realised its full potential – but I got a blistering reply back.” he frowned and his lips thinned, “I’ve heard the stories about him and his boys. They prefer fists and guns to law and order.”

“You’re prepared to risk it?”

“No, not now. He couldn’t get away with that now, too many laws…”

“Quite a few laws on his side too, Mr. Poynton, laws he could use to stop you building so much as a shack here.”

Poynton shook his head and was about to speak when they came across a group of men standing together in a clearing.

*****

Hoss had decided to take the horse in order to cover more of the territory at a faster speed. He had spent an hour or two threading his way around the trees, meandered around a pool, and had ridden for a while seeing nothing of much interest when he came upon a clearing

The clearing was nothing spectacular, but the three men certainly aroused his interest. The equipment they were using was familiar to him too…someone was pacing out the land, stopping at a certain point and holding a rod upright alongside him, while the other man were using something on a tripod to measure. Hoss could remember Adam explaining to him that this was a moveable telescope attached to the tripod, which could be used to measure a plumb level, which was what the man with the rod was holding.

The third man was using a measuring wheel, literally a large wheel which was rolled along from one point to the next measuring out exact distances, each revolution of the wheel would provide a specific distance such as a yard or foot, and then when it was finished all the revolutions would be added together to provide an exact distance.

Yep, Adam had explained it all being as he was an engineer and architect. But now Hoss knew and understood what he was seeing the more baffled he became…what, he wondered, were they doing there? Sure, they were measuring off the land. But why?

He was further baffled when a buggy drove onto the scene and two men got down, and one of them was his brother…

Chapter 50

For a while Hoss remained stationary, watching as the two men in the buggy stepped down and walked towards the men with the surveying equipment. He watched as Adam stepped back a few paces, obviously watching what was happening with some curiosity and a degree of caution, Hoss could see that clearly from the tension in Adam’s upper body.

He moved the horse forward and carefully withdrew his rifle which he held loosely in his hand, but the men continued to remain unaware of his presence. One of them seemed to be explaining to Adam why they were there, while Poynton had a smug expression on his face, as though the presence of the three men ensured a successful investment.

Time to act… and Hoss walked his horse into the clearing with the rifle pointed towards all five men. For a moment no one seemed to react, no one moved, then suddenly one noticed and like dominoes they all turned, one by one, to face the newcomer

“Who are you?” Poynton demanded stepping forward one pace and appearing ready to make a fight of it as he flipped his jacket aside to reveal a pistol strapped to his thigh.

Adam looked at Hoss, raised his eyebrows and gave a slight nod of the head. Hoss narrowed his eyes and glared at Poynton, his rifle swinging in the man’s direction now.

“You speaking on behalf of this lot?”

“What’s it to you if I am.” Poynton stepped forward another pace

“Wal, jest that I’d like to point out to you that you are on private property ….” Hoss paused, frowned, “Was a time I would shoot first and ask questions later, but seeing how you seem to be so busy I thought first of all I would ask the questions before I start shooting.”

“Look here, Mister, I don’t know who you are, but I suggest you turn your horse around and get yourself out of here before there’s any blood spilled.”

Adam looked again at Hoss and raised his eyebrows. Hoss appearing as he did was good timing, he had been wondering how to react to the sight of the three men surveying Ponderosa land which Poynton was anticipating him to invest in. He cleared his throat and waited.

“Mister – whoever you are – this is Ponderosa Land. That means it belongs to me, my Pa and my brothers. I suggest you all git on your horses and clear out before I start shooting.”

“What do you mean – Ponderosa Land? You got papers to prove that…?”

“If you want papers, Mister, I can git them for you. But just at the moment you best take my word for it. I’m Hoss Cartwright, and I don’t take kindly to finding folk on my land preparing to take a chunk of it for themselves.”

The man with the wheel rather imprudently pulled a gun from a shoulder holster but before he could do more than point it in Hoss’ direction, the rifle exploded, and the man yelped as the pistol dropped from his hand,

“Be grateful you ain’t dropped no fingers along with it, Mister. Now I advise you to pack up and clear out. I’ll be here a while so don’t think about sneaking back….and in future, there will be men here policing the area – you understand what I’m saying.” he swung the rifle at Poynton, “You hear me, woodpecker?”

Adam nodded and grabbed at Poynton’s arm, pulling him towards the buggy while he turned to look over at the other three men who were quickly gathering up their instruments.

“How do we know you’re who you say you are….” one of them said as he folded the tripod legs and then tied them with a leather strap, “You could -”

“Mister don’t try my patience…” Hoss said resignedly, “Jest git outa here will ya?”

Scurrying about to collect up equipment and personal gear the three men complied with a rapidity that bore witness to their desire to get out of there as quickly as possible. By the time they were heading out of the clearing on the wagon they had brought along with them, Poynton was on the verge of erupting in fury. He half rose from his seat, only to be pulled back down by Adam, who shook his head in warning.

“The man means business, Poynton. Best swallow your pride along with whatever you intended to say and get out of here.”.”

“But how -”

“Don’t argue, Mr. Poynton….that IS Hoss Cartwright, I can assure you he is one of Ben Cartwrights boys.”

Poynton narrowed his eyes, spat an oath at Hoss and then turned the horse around in order to leave the clearing. “How can you be so sure he’s who he says he is….”

“I saw him in Virginia City, Armstrong pointed him out to me…”

“Why’s he here….what is he doing here?”

“Checking on his land, by the looks of things, Mr. Poynton.”

They forded the river in a sombre mood. Poynton trying to work out a way he could still cut a deal and Adam thinking of a way to find out really what was going on – in the meantime Hoss followed them at a safe distance, a lone horseman standing on one side of the river as they trundled up the banks of the other side.

Mrs. Laws the secretary hurried to her feet as Poynton and Adam stepped inside, her face looked concerned as she glanced down at her notepad and then at her employer, She was obviously trying to work out whether or not to deliver the message she written there but unsure about the timing, Mr. Poynton was obviously not an easy man for whom to work. As Poynton was about to disappear into his office, she mustered up enough courage to say “Mr. Gascoigne would like to see you, soon as possible…”

The only response was a sharp bang as the door closed and Poynton found himself in his office with Aaron Coupland, who was looking more puzzled than ever as he made his way to the table and began leafing through the designs and drawings there

“Now, Mr. Poynton -”

“Before you say a word… I can explain…”

“Explain what?” Adam turned with one design in his hands, this he was rolling up while he stared at Poynton “I appreciate you never claimed that the land was yours, you merely assumed perhaps that Ben Cartwright would accept a fait accompli while in the meantime you got people to invest in the land on the basis of false promises.” he tapped the roll of paper against the palm of one hand, ensuring that it was neatly furled, he stepped closer to the other man “I don’t understand exactly what you expected to gain from all this….knowing that Ben Cartwright would never consent to selling the land anyway.”

“He has been approached…a request has been formally made to him to sell.”

“You never mentioned that before…”

“No, would it have made any difference? He turned down the offer – but we thought -”

“We?”

“Another party and I – we thought that with enough investors and by showing him the details of the lots that would be built he would change his mind.”

Adam frowned and shook his head “You can’t build properties on land that doesn’t belong to you, Mr. Poynton. How many idiots have actually invested money into this scheme?”

Poynton frowned, “Several….” he shrugged “To be honest I don’t usually give them as much information as I gave you. They don’t know the land hasn’t been purchased. They think that their investments are safe.” he rubbed his chin, nervous fingers scratching against stubble “Not even sure why I told you so much…”

“Nor do I. To be honest I would never have invested any money in a project based on the

assumption that the land being built upon had actually been purchased. I’d have wanted proof that it had been sold to you at least and I should think your other investors, once they start making the necessary searches, legally, will be clamouring for their money back. What did you intend to do then?”

“I wouldn’t have been here…”

Poynton walked slowly to the window and stared down at the street, “I intended to be long gone. You were the last man.”

His words drifted away, he sighed heavily “I’m sorry, Mr. Coupland, but I can’t let you leave here, you realise that, don’t you?”

He turned around now and looked into Adam’s face, eyes like those of a spaniel who knows he is about to be kicked. He stared at Adam, apologetically. Adam wasn’t too sure whether the apologies were for after the event or not, but he shook his head “Mr. Poynton, don’t make a bad situation worse….”

“I could kick myself. Blabbing off to you so much. We’ve creamed this idea for months now, got investors coming along, set up the site as though building was being organised….” he held the gun in his hand far steadier than a man overwrought with nerves should have been, but that was only Adam’s opinion. His eyes went from the gun to Poynton

“Perhaps because I knew Armstrong, mentioned the Ponderosa….” he said in a very soft voice

“Yes, yes, probably that is what it was….but then I let my mouth run away with me…”

He stepped forward, the door opened, and Mrs. Laws stepped inside “Mr. Poynton -”

The gun was fired and the woman who had so innocently stepped into the room stared at her employer in stunned amazement, Adam moved first in an effort to catch her before she fell to the ground, the blood spreading across her grey dress, and as he lowered her gently down Poynton took to his heels and fled.

A man ran into the room and without looking up Adam told him to get the sheriff and find someone to care for the woman, get a doctor, anything, anyone.

He had a good idea where Poynton was heading. He paused momentarily at the door to get his bearings and then ran to the Bank, his long legs striding out and his feet pounding down on the pavement. He narrowly missed falling over a woman with a perambulator; the baby squawked in protest almost as loudly as its mother.

He saw a man running across the road towards him, a badge glinted in the sunlight, so he gestured to the man to follow along with him. By the time they had reached the First National Bank’s offices the sheriff was right behind him.

“What’s going on…” the bellow right in Adam’s ear made Adam flinch, he raised a hand for silence and then jabbed his finger to the interior of the office.

He put a finger to his mouth indicating the need for silence and very carefully made his way to the office door where raised voices could be heard from the room within. He gripped the door handle, the door was unlocked, not even properly closed, he very gently nudged it open, just enough to hear what was being said.

“You’ve bungled this, Poynton…”

“What did you expect? We just went one step too far…look, Gascoigne, no one need know.”

“Are you mad? You’ve just admitted to having shot a woman? Do you think you can sweet talk your way out of that? Tell me how you’re going to do that?”

There were the sounds of papers being shuffled together, the opening and closing of a safe door, the cylinders being spun. Outside the two men craned forwards to hear more.

“We should clear out now.” Poynton said, “Clear out while we can…just give me my cut and I’ll go now.”

“Your cut? What makes you think you deserve anything after the way you’ve bungled things. You should have -” he paused, there was the sound of a sharp intake of breath “Don’t be stupid, Poynton. Put the gun away, you’ve done enough damage as it is…”

The sheriff pushed the door open and in a voice of deadly earnest said “Do as Mr. Gascoigne says, Mr. Poynton, put the gun down “

Adam could see the look of resignation on the man’s face and watched as he put the gun down on the desk. Gascoigne stared at it, “He was going to shoot me…”

“That’s enough, Mr. Gascoigne. We know enough – you were in cahoots with the man so get your things together and come along with me.”

Gascoigne looked as though he was going to protest, but instead he grabbed at his jacket, muttered something about getting his lawyer, and allowed himself to be herded out of the building along with Poynton. The sheriff glanced over at Adam

“Good thing I recognised you, Commodore…” he grinned “Been some years but I never forget a face”

Adam nodded, said nothing. A lot had happened since those years when Booth Phillips had been murdered on the back streets of Carson City. A whole lot –

“What exactly were they trying to do?” the sheriff asked later as he poured Adam a good shot of whiskey into a glass that he had located in his desk drawer

“Get fools to invest in land that didn’t belong to them. Seems it worked well for some months. They hired some men to look as though they were surveying the land ready for the building project, the investors listened to Poyntons promises of what could be built there, saw the drawings submitted by so many architects…the only thing Poynton couldn’t produce was a Bill of Sale relating to the land itself. My father would never sell off any of the Ponderosa….”

“But the investors…”

“They would have found out once the legalities were taking place, but then Mr. Gascoigne was in oversight of them…he would stretch the time out until he and Poynton had made enough money and then the two of them would disappear.”

“A bit of a risk wasn’t it?”

“Crimes like this always are….it’s all about timing and keeping your nerve. For some odd reason Poynton talked too much to me, I can’t believe for a moment that any other investor would have paid out a fortune knowing the land still hadn’t been purchased, Poynton made a mistake in telling me it once, and then he tried to bluster his way out of it but just made the whole thing worse…he muddied the waters well and truly.” he gulped back his whiskey and put the glass down, he smiled “Taught us a lesson though, we’ll have to police this land more closely in future.”

“Yeah -” the sheriff nodded, looked slightly awkward as he watched the rancher get up from the chair

“I heard a few townsfolk like to go hunting and fishing in those parts…” Adam reached for his hat

“I heard that – yes.”

“Mmm, best let them know it is private property…” he slid the hat over his dark hair and smiled, “Best enjoy it before the notices and barbed wire go up.”

Chapter 51

Hoss was pouring coffee into a tin mug when he heard the sound of a horse loping its way through the dry duff of years of accumulated leaves and dead foliage. He paused and turned to reach for his rifle when the horse stopped outside the shack, and then he heard a tune being whistled softly as the rider dismounted and made his way to the building

He was grinning when Adam stepped inside, another mug standing beside his own into which he poured coffee. He nodded over to his brother as Adam tossed his hat onto the foot of the bed and put down the saddle bags on the table.

“How did everything work out?” he passed the mug to his brother who had sat down on one of the rickety chairs, careful as he did so having noticed its possible instability

“Well, Mr. Poynton and his friend are in jail…”

“His friend? He had three of ’em here…”

“No, they were just men he employed to appear as though they were surveying the land.” Adam leaned forward, his back hunched as he cradled the mug between his hands.

“Oh, so who was the friend?” Hoss pulled the other chair closer and sat down.

“The Bank Manager.  They had a clever thing going really, advertised this project that was underway to build on the outskirts of the town, and then when investors came along…”

“Did anyone show interest?”

“According to the Bank Manager who is singing like the proverbial canary, about eight people came forward and were willing to invest but not for any of the land just outside the town. But for the land on the other side of the river.”

“Our land?” Hoss scowled, “How’d he pull that one off/”

“The land from the outskirts of town to the river isn’t really worth bothering with, hence why the town hasn’t been extended…when the investors baulked at the thought of investing in something that clearly would not show much profit Poynton then suggested they went over to the other side of the river where he had a crew of men already surveying the land and architects from all over the territory contributing their designs for the properties that would be built on it”

Adam paused to gulp down some coffee and cleared his throat, “When the investors started asking questions as to why he hadn’t mentioned it before he told them that it was prime real estate, and the premium on it, he thought, would be too high for most investors.  Of course, they would nibble at the thought that there were already ‘investors’ and raise to the bait….”

“But it wasn’t his to sell. Didn’t anyone point that out? I mean, ask who it belonged to?”

Adam shook his head, “They had seen the drawings, the layout on the plan in the office, and then they saw the men measuring everything out…these men were from out of the state mostly, and those that may have known about the Ponderosa probably had no idea that the land reached this far, they wouldn’t know, and Poynton sure wouldn’t be telling them.”

“But -”

“Yeah, they’d find out once the legal searches were made…but by the time that took place Gascoigne and Poynton would be long gone with the money…plus interest.”

He set down his empty cup and leaned back, the chair creaked and wobbled

“That thar chair ain’t particularly safe-” Hoss pointed out.

Adam removed himself from the chair and with a grin pushed it to one side and sat on the bed.

“I’m not sure what happened when I saw Poynton, whether it was because I knew Armstrong and mentioned about the Ponderosa and he knew Pa, or said he had met him,” he paused and ran his fingers through his hair,  “It was as though he realised he had dug himself into a hole and couldn’t get himself out of it. Didn’t help I guess, with my asking him the kind of questions that kept taking him back to the matter of it being Ponderosa land, belonging to Ben Cartwright. He just kept wriggling away there trying to make it all seem perfectly legit, but just sinking deeper into the mire.”  he stretched, yawned “Anyway, it shows one thing…”

“What?”

“We need to think about what to do with this land….”

“How’d you mean.” Hoss stood up, heavy footsteps on the floorboards as he made his way to the fire and lit a match to the kindling

“Well, what do you think we should do? The townsfolk here use it as their private hunting grounds”

“Then we gotta get it fenced off more secure so that they can’t get in…”

They both stared at the little flames that were licking at the kindling, tiny tongues of fire that Hoss began to feed with dry moss and finally some logs. He leaned back, rocking on his heels before getting to his feet.

“And -” he said as he brushed the log dust from his hands down the back of his pants, “we’ll have

to get men to come up here more often and check that there ain’t no trespassers…” he sat down again, pouring more coffee into his cup

Adam watched the flames slowly nibble into the logs, he sighed “What good is a sign, huh? Or a fence? It may cast a long shadow but that’s all it’ll do.  You stare at it and think what that means…what happens if I step beyond the shadow. Will men come out and shoot me? Will lightning come and strike me dead?  So, then you step beyond the shadow and nothing happens…”

“Would happen if we had men up here policing it….” Hoss scratched his chest and glanced at the saddlebags “You bring any supplies with you, only I done ate all the food Hop Sing packed away for me…us.”

“Sure, there’s food in the saddle bags,” Adam nodded and left his brother to unstrap the carriers and then take out the contents.  He rested his chin in his hands, elbows on his knees

“Hoss, do you ever stop to think that perhaps we have too much land?”

“Shucks, you ain’t serious, are ya?” Hoss turned to observe his brother with a scowl on his face, some slices of bacon wrapped in paper in one hand, a tin of peaches in the other

“A thousand square miles of land…it’s an awful lot

“Sure, and we’ve held onto it for years, with blood and sweat if you recall rightly.”

Adam nodded, raised his hands to rub his brow with his fingers then shook his head “Alright then, put it this way, do we have the right to have so much land.”

“You suffering some kind of brain fever?”

“No, nothing like that…just that – I don’t know, just a thought, but – look at this land, it’s wild and untamed, and -”

“Yeah we could go hunting tomorrow. Be good to take a haunch of venison back -”

“I think what I mean is, if we’re not using the land, making good use of it, then have we the right to have it when others could – you know – use it…live on it…”

Hoss slammed the tin down on the table and shook his head “You’re talking plumb crazy. We bought this land; we’ve fought to keep it – are you saying we give it away? Jest like that? What’s going on in that head of yours, Adam?”

Adam closed his eyes, then opened them again, the fire was burning well now, but he could sense that Hoss hadn’t moved, too much to think about perhaps, or too surprised that a Cartwright would be thinking about giving any of the Ponderosa away, or even selling it. He shrugged

“I was just thinking, just speculating.”

“That’s the trouble, you bin with them speculators too long, started thinking like ’em.”

Adam gave a slight smile and nodded, perhaps that was it, his engineering and architectural leanings had kicked in, he was seeing rows of neat houses and long straight roads instead of being grateful for what he had. He stood up and reached for the skillet “You cooking, or shall I?”

*****

Twice during the night they heard gunshots and roused themselves out of bed, shook off sleep, pulled on boots and picked up their guns to check out who was out there. About two o’clock in the morning they came upon several men who had brought down a fine stag, and had the knives out

ready to butcher it when they found themselves confronted by the two Cartwrights stepping out from the trees with rifles aimed at themselves

“This is private land you’re on, boys, reckon you got yourself a mite lost.” Hoss said in his quiet but most stern voice, a voice that indicated he would listen to reason but only for a short while.

“Who says…” the eldest men demanded, the knife now pointing at Hoss.

“We say,” Adam said in his clipped tones, and he stepped some paces away from Hoss, making it more difficult for the men to get both of them together, “This is the Ponderosa – or did no one ever tell you that before….”

“Ain’t never been anyone here before to tell us…” a younger man said, his eyes twitching from Hoss to Adam. The moonlight shining on his rat like features made his eyes look wide and nervous.

“Well, we’re telling you now, reminding you that this land belongs to the Cartwrights, and you’re trespassing.” Hoss swung his rifle to where one of the men had moved, he fired from the hip and there was a yowl of pain  “I suggest you get your things and leave…and you tell your friends and neighbours to stay away from here. In future there will be men here to remind you not to come again.”

“I bin coming for years -”

“It doesn’t help you bragging about that fact, mister…jest remind yourself you don’t come back here again.” Hoss glanced at Adam who nodded, “Now – best you get moving before I get shooting a whole lot more.”

“What about our stag -”

“It ain’t your stag, mister,” Hoss said, “What’s on Ponderosa land belongs to the Ponderosa.”

“To the Cartwrights you mean.” the older man sneered, and spat on the ground “Think you’re so high and mighty, huh?”

Adam drew in through his nostrils and then slowly exhaled, he stepped towards them – three men, one nursing a wound from the bullet that creased his lower arm, they were obviously father and two sons. He nodded

“Take it – “

“What?” Hoss turned to glare at his brother who shot him a look before facing the men again

“Go on – take it – but don’t come back. My brothers right, this is Ponderosa land, you are trespassing, you are poaching, but for this one time you can take it…but don’t come back.”

“You mean it?” the older man said, blinking, the moon shine made him look like a caricature, blinking and all shadows

“Go ahead, but I’m a man of limited patience so I suggest you get a move on.”

They nodded, nearly fell over themselves in an effort to get the slaughtered meat onto the back of one of the horses who moved restlessly away from them at the smell of the hot blood touching its nostrils. They didn’t speak again, aware of the two men with their rifles watching their every move, and once they had secured the stag they hurried away. They cast one last furtive glance over their shoulders before disappearing into the undergrowth.

Adam and Hoss followed them some of the way, keeping well into the shadows, it was only when the three men were fording the river that they turned back to the shack.

Hoss didn’t speak until they were in the shack, the lantern still casting a glow within the darkness but after he had thrown his hat to one side and his rifle safely propped against the wall, he turned and demanded to know why Adam had contradicted him, and allowed the men to have the stag.

“Does it really matter?” Adam said and lay down on the bed, his hands behind his head, his eyes closed

“Yeah, it does, to me.  They were -”

“I know what they were…trespassers, poachers, and so on and so forth….” he drawled out the words making them sound irrelevant. He released a deep sigh, “They needed it more than we did.”

“Huh?”

“Didn’t you see the clothes they wore? Their horses were all skin and bone…they’ll probably butcher the stag, keep some to feed themselves and rest of the family, and be able to sell the rest, get a few dollars.” he sighed again, “I’m tired, Hoss. No more talk.”

Hoss didn’t say another word, but he thudded about and muttered and mumbled beneath his breath for some while. After piling another log on the fire, he curled himself up in a blanket and settled down to sleep.

The moon slid away, and the shadows of the trees were black against the purpling skies. Far away a coyote howled and then silence … a quite pulsating silence. Adam turned in his sleep, heard the call of an owl and opened his eyes, then fell into a deeper sleep.

The door of the shack rattled once or twice in the night breeze.  Nothing disturbed them further for the rest of the night or morning depending on how one judged those early morning hours.

Chapter 52

“You know, Hoss,” Adam sighed, leaned forward to toss another log onto the fire and sat back, his cup cradled between his hands, “It seems to me that the people around hereabouts have more time to come over here and hunt than they do going to church on a Sunday.”

“Yeah – how many did we chase off already?”

“Several…” Adam gulped back his coffee, and then set the cup down on the floor, he stretched out his legs and folded his arms behind his head “And all of them indignant in our interfering with their sabbath hunt.”

Hoss nodded, glanced over to the victims of their own hunt earlier that day, some of which was stewing pleasantly in a pot on the stove. He stood up and stepped over his brother’s legs and made his way over to where he could inspect the contents of the pot and give it a stir. The smell was causing his stomach to rumble.

“Reckon they’ll tell any others in town…”

“I guess so, depends on how stubborn they are…or angry that we’ve come along to interfere with their occupational hunts.”

“Yeah, don’t seem to have registered with ’em that this land belonged to someone else. Jest seemed to think it was theirs by right, sure did get their dander up, didn’t it?”

Adam rubbed his face and yawned, he stretched, and half closed his eyes “Folk get used to things, I guess. Perhaps some just plain forgot who the land belonged to anyway…or were new people moved into the area and just thought it was theirs by right. No one stopped them, the Law certainly didn’t…I reckon the sheriff comes over himself when it suits him.”

Hoss dipped a ladle into the stew and after puffing on it for a while tasted it, nodded to himself in satisfaction and put the ladle down.  “What do you think we should do?”

He turned to look over at his brother who was staring now into the flames of their fire. The line shack looked cosy and homely in the half light of the flames and the lamp burning on the table, Hoss thought a few more days of life out here would suit him fine.

“Well, I have to go into town tomorrow and see the Sheriff about Poynton and Gascoigne. They’ll be coming up before the Judge to face charges this week – and I’ll see the Editor of the local news gazette, there’s several to choose from The Daily Index, The Daily Nevada Tribune. If I get a warning to people that this is private property and so on and so forth…”

“Best put it in big letters so’s folk can really get the point…” Hoss paused and frowned “Doggone it, looks like some folk can’t take no for an answer.”

Rifle shots – loud popping sounds breaking the evening silence – Hoss reached for his gun belt and buckled it on, Adam left his chair and picked up his own gun belt and walked with it to the door, slowly buckling it and tying the leather thong around his thigh.  Both reached for their hats and rifles before walking to their horses, mounting up and riding out in the direction of the gunfire.

*****

Hester had provided everyone with a fine meal.  Despite the absence of Adam and her husband, the Cartwrights still kept to their traditional family meal together, and this evening it had been the turn of Ben and Hester, with Hop Sing turning out some of his best desserts, much to the delight of the children particularly.

It had been a pleasant evening, and the music that Mary Ann had played on the piano had been hauntingly beautiful, leaving everyone there feeling melancholy and sentimental. Sofia had listened attentively, wishing with all her young heart that she could play as well as her Aunt, and regretting that it would need years of practice to attain such talent. The thought quite dismayed her.

Ben and Joe strolled to the study area to talk about certain business matters which gave Mary Ann a twinge of anxiety as she wondered exactly what that involved.  Hester was involved in taking Erik to his bed, he had been fretful through the evening and she had decided to remove him from the excitement of having his cousin’s around him so that he could calm down.  His protests were still very audible, he was in that state of mind where he didn’t really know what he wanted, but whatever everyone else decided for him just was not good enough.

Mary Ann picked up her cup of coffee and strolled over to where Olivia was sitting. With a smile she sat down beside her sister in law, and thanked her when Olivia commended her playing, the music, she said, had filled her with a longing for such beauty to last forever.

“Forever is a very long time…” Sofia said for she was sitting next to her mother, playing cat’s cradle with Hannah.

Both women nodded, agreed and then realising that Mary Ann wanted to talk privately Olivia asked the girls to ‘run along’ and play elsewhere.

“What’s the matter, Mary Ann?” Olivia asked now, leaning forwards a little to show the other woman her willingness to listen and to help where she could. “I noticed you looked a little – sad – this evening, and the music you played was particularly melancholy. Is that how you are feeling?”

she reached out her hand and placed it gently upon that of her friend

“I don’t know how to describe how I feel, to be honest.” Mary Ann sighed and shook her head, then noticing that Hester was looking over at them rather anxiously she pulled her hand free and smiled “Can I come and talk to you about things tomorrow morning? Just a little matter that I want to have between ourselves.”

Olivia nodded and smiled, then looked over as Hester came towards them looking very much in control, very much ‘I don’t want any misery here this evening, thank you.”

“You must be missing Adam?” Mary Ann said quickly then turned to Hester “And you must be missing Hoss too…”

“It is quieter,” Hester admitted with a little laugh and quite sure that this was not what the two of them had been discussing previously, “But it is only for a short while.”

Olivia smiled thinking of the long absences of her husband when at sea, the way the first weeks dragged so slowly, then the joy of knowing he would be home sooner and the realisation that that joy didn’t make time move any faster.

*****

 

The brothers found two men leaning over the carcase of a small hind, their knives in hand ready for the butchering.  Neither man heard the Cartwrights approaching them through the trees, and it wasn’t until Hoss and Adam were a few feet from them, on foot, with rifles in their hands that they became aware of them at all. The older man stood up straight, squared his shoulders and nodded

“There’s plenty here to share out – no need for any violence.”

“Mister,” Hoss stepped forward “Didn’t anyone tell you that this land is the Ponderosa and belongs to the Cartwrights?”

The two men looked at one another, their faces registered their bemusement, the younger one grinned while the older laughed “Are you joking? We bin hunting here for years…”

“Who are you anyway?” the other man demanded to know stepping forward now, his knife thrust out threateningly “We already said if you want some of this, you’re welcome to share, but -”

“But it still ain’t yours to offer, Mister.  I suggest you just get on your horse and clear off before we get to arguing the matter. I ain’t in the mood to argue….”

“Yeah, and just who are you anyhow, you great lump of lard.” the scowl on the young man’s face darkened and he stepped forward another pace.

Adam took a few paces to the right of Hoss, putting distance between them but narrowing the gap between himself and the two men, he gestured with his rifle, “Take the hind, now.  Take it and go. Don’t come back.”

“And who are you giving the orders, huh?”

“Adam Cartwright from the Ponderosa…and as my brother just said, this is Ponderosa land and that is Ponderosa meat.  You’re trespassing and poaching…you can leave now, peaceable like, or we get into an argument and have to take you to the sheriff tomorrow.”

“For what?”

“For breaking the law.”

The two men looked at one another and shook their heads, shrugged and turned their attention to the deer at their feet, “You say we can take it?”

“This time.  We’re feeling generous.” Hoss muttered.

“And tell your friends … don’t come back, next time we won’t be so generous.” Adam snapped, waving his rifle in the direction of the town to where he wanted them to disappear.

Rather clumsily the men lumbered along with the carcase dead weight in their arms, Hoss and Adam watched and made no attempt to assist them. Once the feet of the hind had been tied by a rope that straddled beneath the horses belly the two men turned aside, and began to walk away, then the younger paused “Didn’t never know this was Ponderosa land.  No one said…”

“Well, you know now.” Hoss snapped and gestured again with his rifle as though to urge the two men along, faster.

“Don’t come back.” Adam added for good measure and watched as the men slowly disappeared into the shadows of trees and undergrowth.

“Dadburn it,” Hoss grunted “I’m starving. That thar stew will be burned away to nothing by the time we git back.”

“So long as there’s a line shack still standing…” Adam hissed and turned to go, reaching out for his horse’s reins in order to remount.

It didn’t take them much time to reach the shack, there was a slight smell of burning and the stew was rather more congealed than anticipated but sufficient for them to have a decent supper with the bread that Adam had brought from town the previous day. It was stale. The stew was burned. But outside the night sky was studded with stars, fresh air wafted in the scent of the trees, there was no sound but that of the horses in the corral…Hoss grinned and put down his plate

“Y’know, this reminds me of times back along, with Pa and Hop Sing in the wagon…”

“A long time, Hoss.”

“Yeah, a long time ago ….” Hoss frowned, “We’re getting old, Adam.”

“Mmm, prefer the word older.” Adam yawned and stretched, “Here’s hoping that we get a quiet night.”

“Reckon so -”

“Well, they’ll get the message sooner or later.” Adam frowned, and poured out coffee into their mugs. “I’ll get into Carson City first thing tomorrow morning.  When we get back home, we will have to discuss with Pa what to do about this land up here.”

“You still thinking of selling some of it off?”

“I’m not thinking anything just now…”Adam sighed wearily, rubbed the back of his neck and looked at his brother thoughtfully, “You really like it here, don’t you?”

“Yeah, I sure do…I wouldn’t want to see it sold off…to me it’s part of the Ponderosa, and I’ll fight to keep it as such. Even if it means fighting you, Adam.”

Adam gave a half smile and shook his head. He took himself and his mug of coffee to his bed, “Good night, Hoss.”

Hoss frowned, felt ashamed for saying such a thing to his brother then shrugged, best say how he felt he thought, and settled down in the old chair, his feet stretched towards the fire and stared into the flames.  A man could be real happy here, he thought, so would his wife and kids….

Chapter 53

Monday and rain was falling through the trees and onto the floor of the shack through the gaps in the door. Puddles were emerging on the floor and slowly penetrating into the shack itself, bringing both men awake as the temperature dropped and shivers replaced comfortable cosiness – of a sort. Adam rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands and shook his head, swung his legs over the side of the bed and put his feet in a puddle even before his brain registered that he was getting wet but was in a building so should be dry, he heard his brother reeling off a string of dadburns, dadgumits

“It’s raining indoors -” he mumbled and swung his legs back up onto the bed where it was to some degree drier than the floorboards

“Dadgumit, this shack ain’t no place for a human -”

“Reminds me of being on board ship during a storm,” Adam replied as he leaned over the edge of the bed to retrieve his boots. “Opened the door to my cabin once and the sea crashed in, knocked me right over to the other side of the cabin….” he yawned “What time is it?”

“Time to get up and get outa here…” Hoss complained and pulled on his boots while mumbling beneath his breath that life was unfair, there were good hotels in Carson City, why’d he have to stay in a leaky old shack anyway.

“Coffee first…” Adam said as he checked out the dying embers of the fire. He blew upon them gently until sparks of life glowed and then slowly began to build the fire until it was roaring up the chimney, smoke was drifting into the room from the gaps in the chimney “Thing is, Hoss, you’ve got used to home comforts. Hester and Hop Sing between them have made you soft.”

“Sure, I guess you’re right, but I like it like that…I don’t like being in a leaky old shack when I could be in a Hotel, like where you have been for instance these past few days…”

“Well, at least it didn’t rain while you were on your own some…quit jawing, Hoss, and make some coffee.” he stretched and frowned “We need to get into town anyhow, Poynton and Gascoigne are up before the Judge today, and – “ he paused “may be a good idea to get Pa here.”

“Why? He won’t want to come here in this weather…”  Hoss carefully ladled in coffee grounds into the pot and added water, then placed it on the flames, stared at it thoughtfully for a moment or two before finding a skillet onto which he placed some bacon.

Adam yawned, ran his fingers through his hair and then rubbed long his jawline, he needed a shave, but pulled out a chair, checked to make sure it was dry and sat down at the table while Hoss made a lot of noise resurrecting the fire

“You in a bad mood or something?”

“Huh”

Adam sighed and leaned against the back of the chair and surveyed his brother thoughtfully, then he looked at the coffee pot and rose to his feet to locate the two cups which he placed on the table. He sat down again and stared up at the ceiling

“What made you think Pa should be here.” Hoss glanced over at his brother who was now leaning and tilting the chair onto its back legs while his own legs were stretched out with his booted feet on the chair opposite

“Thought Pa should see the people who were trying to steal his land, that’s all.”

“What difference would that make?”

“Well, Pa can then decide whether or not to press charges, and also -” he looked over at Hoss and frowned “We could bring him here to check out the land for himself and decide what to do with it.”

Hoss shook his head and tossed in a log “This dang thing is going to take forever…I could be in town eating breakfast in one of them fancy restaurants before I can get this bacon fried.”

The rain splattered down upon the flames of the fire, it hissed and spat, the coffee pot began to steam and Adam glanced at Hoss who didn’t move, so he swung his legs from the chair, stood up and removed the pot and poured the steaming liquid into the two cups

“Here you are, Grump, you’ll feel much better once you’ve had your first cup of coffee of the morning…” he smiled and returned to his chair, swung his legs back onto the other chair and sighed, he sniffed the coffee, and then sat there with the cup between his fingers while he stared at the door, rain still came through the gaps and added to the puddles

Adam smiled as his brother snatched up the cup, then put it down because it was too hot, and muttered “Dadburnnit” and returned to the stove.

Adam sighed “Seems there’s no pleasing you today, brother.”

“I ain’t used to waking up with rain dripping on my head and my boots full of rainwater…”

“Pooh, nonsense…it wasn’t as bad as that…” Adam sipped his coffee and sighed, “Drink your coffee before you start the day so badly you won’t be noticing the rainbows -”

“Shucks, rainbows…what’s the matter with you, Adam, you got a brain fever or something.”

“No, I like hearing the rain…”

“Hearing the rain, and getting a boot full of rain are two different things…” Hoss returned to his bacon, “How’d you like your bacon?”

“Crisp!”

He frowned, someone had asked him that once before, a long time ago….he half closed his eyes to remember and Hoss snapped “What’s on your mind now?”

“I was remembering -” he paused “a woman.”

“A woman! “ Hoss shook his head and returned to his bacon, flipping it over expertly “Women, rain…what’s wrong with you?”

Adam sighed and shook his head “Her name was Ann.  She was quite feisty if I recall rightly…odd really.”

“What was…” Hoss walked over to the table, pulled over a plate and put some bacon on it for his brother, then pushed the platter with the bread, staler than ever, to take place beside it.

“Everything.” Adam muttered and shook his head, tossing the memory away, “Thanks Hoss.”

Hoss shrugged, picked up his cup of coffee and sat down, the bacon on his plate and then the bread, he glanced over to Adam again “You ain’t gonna tell Pa to sell up this land, are ya?”

Adam shrugged and chewed the bacon and pulled the bread apart between his fingers, he stared at the door, and frowned “Rains stopped…at least it isn’t coming through the door anymore.”

*****

It wasn’t raining in Virginia City and the children clambered down from the wagon and ran into the school yard. Sofia looked around for Lilith but there was no sign of her, so she stayed close to Hannah and Rosie with Reuben hovering close by.  Davy Riley came sauntering up, nodded over to the girls and Reuben strolled off with him. Sofia looked to see where her brother would be going and noticed Tommy Conway, Phil Belshaw and Jimmy now Evans cluster around him, a little phalanx of friends and in a small way she envied him.

Betty and Annie Sales came running up, Betty put her arm through Sofia’s and started chattering about how they had missed her, while Annie produced a bag of candy and passed it around so that all five girls were soon enjoying the sweet stickiness of toffee candy and sugar coated chocolate. Not the best way to start the day, but there was no mother there to scold them and Annie was always generous in sharing.

A boy sauntered towards them and stopped in front of them, his legs planted wide apart, hands on his hips, and eyes narrowed as he put out his hand “Hand them over…”

The five girls stared at him, looked at one another, Annie clutched tightly to her bag of candy and shook her head even though two other boys had walked up behind him and stood there, mean faces, shifty eyes, thin lips.

“Hand over -” the first boy demanded again, and all five girls shook their heads and little Hannah the youngest and smallest felt her knees knocking together.

The boy glanced from Annie to Sofia and grinned, he had some missing teeth, a rash of pimples around his mouth. “So – want to fly over the wall again, Cartwright?  We could help you over you know…”

Hannah reached out to clutch at Sofia’s hand and blinked back tears, Rosie straightened her shoulders and Sofia raised her chin, while Betty and Annie stepped back a pace…the boy reached out a hand to grab at who knew what, because his hand never reached its target as a firm hand gripped his shoulder and turned him around.  Mr. Evans stared down at him, raised his eyebrows, then looked at the other two boys who had hesitated too long to make an escape.  His finger pointed to the door of the school and as they followed the line of his finger he gave the ringleader a cuff over the head to get him moving faster…then he shepherded them into the building, while the five little girls stood in a group with beating hearts and the sweetness of the candy totally forgotten.

*****

Olivia opened the door and smiled as Mary Ann stepped inside and to her enquiry as to the whereabouts of Daniel and Constance was told that they were back home with Lee Sing.  Nathaniel was more than pleased to know that Daniel was not going to be bothering him, demanding his toys, but he missed little Constance whom he loved, not as much as Hope, but almost as much.

Coffee was poured out, little cakes on a plate neatly arranged and set down on the low table, the two women sat close together as good friends would….

“What is the matter, Mary Ann? What do you want to discuss?” Olivia smiled, and looked at her friend with anxious eyes for she cared very much about this young woman, talented and intelligent, and so pretty. Now so worried about – what?  She reached a hand towards Mary Ann’s arm and placed it gently there for a moment, while waiting for a reply to her question

For a moment Mary Ann didn’t answer.  She had been rehearsing this moment all the way from her house to this and now dithered. She cleared her throat and sighed, shook her head and looked thoughtfully at Olivia

“You love it here, don’t you, Olivia?”

“Yes, I do.”

“And you would never want to leave here, would you?”

Olivia shook her head, smiled “No, I would not.”

“What if Adam wanted to leave here, go somewhere else…what would you do?”

Olivia’s smile broadened slightly, but she turned away for a moment as Nathaniel called out to her “What is it, Nathaniel?”

“I hurted my finger…” a little sniffle and a sigh “But there’s no stuff coming out…”

“That’s good…ask Cheng to make sure it won’t fall off….”

“Aw…”

There came the sound of feet running and his voice calling for Cheng, for attention. Olivia turned back to Mary Ann “If Adam wanted to leave here?  Well now, that would be – difficult – but not insurmountable.”

“You would leave here and go with him – wherever he wanted to go?”

“Of course.  At the end of the day, Mary Ann, a house doesn’t give much love back, does it? Oh, it shields one from the wind, and rain, and keeps one warm…and comfortable…but one can find that anywhere, can’t it?”

Mary Ann nodded, stared down at her feet and for a little while was silent before she looked at her friend again,

“So, you would go despite loving it here?”

“Adam is more important than anything, Mary Ann, just as Joe is to you….and the children too…at the end of the day where they are, well, that’s where I want to be…”

“So – if Adam chose to accept the assignment to work for President Grant again – you would happily go to New York City with you, would you?”

“If that was what he wished to do, and after we had discussed it through, and agreed about it – “ she gave a quiet little laugh “By agreed and being happy to go…well, I would not want to go to New York City, and having discussed and agreed means that I would tell Adam that, and he would then have the job of persuading me how good a move it would be…and I would try to convince him that he would be happier here ….” she shrugged “at the end of the day, it is all about compromise, isn’t it? But – if he was adamant and gave me good reasons, really good reasons, why we should go then – so be it” she shrugged and smiled “I’d go, even though I would prefer to stay here.”

“So – you would have to sacrifice something you loved – why couldn’t he? I mean – why couldn’t he give up on the job and stay here?  Why do women always have to make the sacrifices?”

Olivia was quiet for a moment, then gave a little laugh “Are you getting on to your Emancipation for Women horse again, Mary Ann?”

Mary Ann gave a weak smile and shook her head, “I hadn’t meant to, sorry. It was just the way this conversation has gone…”

“So?  What really then, what is this conversation all about? “ Olivia paused a moment, then frowned, again put a hand on Mary Ann’s arm, and leaned towards her friend with a concerned look on her face “Mary Ann, I have to tell you, that Adam did get asked by President Grant to go to New York City and work for him there, but Adam doesn’t want to go, to my great relief, and has no intention of going.  We have had our ‘discussion’ if we may call it that, and have chosen to stay here, where we are happiest.”

Mary Ann straightened her back, nodded, and sighed “I want to go, Olivia. Joe seemed to want to go as well, but lately he won’t talk about it at all…”

“Has he heard from President Grant with a firm offer of a position with him?”

“No, not in writing, just – just that time when the President was here, and Mrs. Grant spoke as though she would have loved us to be there too.”

She drew in a deep breath, shook her head, “But since we have heard nothing -”

“Then leave it for now, Mary Ann. It costs nothing to just leave it, really it doesn’t…if Joe doesn’t want to speak about it, then it is probably because he knows he raised your hopes and now feels – well – regrets opening his mouth and putting his feet in it.  He doesn’t want to hurt your feelings when there has been no confirmation of a job anyway.”

“But, New York City, Olivia…just think…” she paused then shrugged again, “Well, I suppose it would do no good speaking about New York City to you, would it?”

“No, I’m not a lover of cities, Virginia City is just about all I can handle now. San Francisco -” she shook her head, “well, after our last adventure there I hope never to go again.” she sighed and looked away, stared into the fireplace and looked suddenly very sad “I have very unhappy memories of city life…when my first husband

died any pleasure of it died with him, after all life was just a nightmare, and coming here was like – like awakening from that nightmare into something quite the opposite.”

“Joe seemed so interested in the position, in moving to the city…he talked about it and raised my hopes that we would go, now he won’t talk, and that makes me – angry, resentful. He shouldn’t have raised my hopes like that…”

Olivia said nothing for a while, it never did any good to intrude one’s opinions when matters involve a man and his wife but at the same time, she felt she needed to help in some way, no matter how small.

“Mary Ann, you should know your husband by now…he has always been a man full of one thing or another one moment and then -” she shrugged “ that’s his nature. As I said he is probably now regretting having said anything at all to you, and to his father…there’s his pride involved too, he may feel committed to something that now, in hindsight, he just doesn’t want to do.”  she frowned “At the same time, he knows it will upset you and doesn’t want to be responsible for doing that.”

“He has, upset me I mean….”

“It’s Joe -” Olivia said simply and shrugged her shoulders “That’s how he is ….”

Mary Ann, nodded and folded her hands neatly in her lap, “So – if he doesn’t want to go to New York City, then there’s no alternative but to stay here…”

“You sound as though that leaves you all alone in the middle of a wilderness….”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it to sound like that…I had hopes of doing far more than I am just now, so far out from town, unable to do anything except…” she paused “Well, you know what I mean, don’t you?”

Olivia nodded and poured out another fresh cup of coffee which she handed to Mary Ann, before pouring herself a cup “Yes, I know what you mean.  We forget sometimes that you were raised in a city, had a good education, taught school…you have tasted independence, and all that city life has to offer, so living here must be very restrictive. In fact, you are the complete reverse of myself, aren’t you?”  she smiled gently, her eyes lingering a little on the pensive features of her companion who nodded

“Yes.  I guess so -.”

They drank their coffee in silence and put the cups neatly on the saucers, Olivia was first to speak

“You know, Mary Ann, the person you should be having this conversation with is your husband, don’t you agree?  Tell him how you feel, let him tell you how he feels and then – take it from there.”

Chapter 54

Marshall Howard sprung to his feet as soon as Adam and Hoss walked through the door, behind him the Sheriff turned from what he was doing to give them a nod and grin. He had not changed much since Adam had met him some years back during the Booth Phillips situation. Hoss scowled, disliking the Marshalls reference to Adams naval rank. It made him feel like a nonentity.

“Good to see you again, Commodore…” Howard grinned, his hand extended for Adam to shake

“And you, Marshall…” Adam smiled, nodded to acknowledge the sheriff “Didn’t think I would be seeing you this time round…” he half turned to Hoss and then introduced him to the Marshall, “My brother, Hoss Cartwright… and I’m just Adam Cartwright now.”

Howard grinned, nodded “Retired?” he grinned “No doubt with honours” he shook hands with Hoss, affording him a pleasant grin then without waiting for the question to be answered continued. “Was dealing with another matter elsewhere – when Hugh told me about this problem I wanted to come on by and check it out.” he pulled out a chair and sat down, nodding to the vacant chairs in the room which Adam and Hoss pulled forwards and sat upon, “This – er – is a strange one – “

“I guess so – “ Adam nodded, crossed one leg over the other and gave a slight shrug of the shoulders before continuing “I gave my statement to the Sheriff,” Adam said as he leaned back, tilting the chair onto its back legs, “Hoss has come to add his….”

“The shooting of Mrs. Laws complicates matters…”

“I’m sure it does…” Adam nodded and sighed “She was in the wrong place at the wrong time. How is she by the way?”

“They operated immediately. She’ll make a full recovery in time, thankfully. Mr. Poynton is now charged with her attempted murder….”

Adam said nothing for a moment but stared at the far-off wall. There was a thin line between murder and manslaughter, intent to kill was certainly there when a man has a gun in his hand, premeditation though? And of a woman who just stepped in the way of the bullet?

He sighed and decided it would be for the lawyers to sort out, he leaned forward “I gave a statement with regards to what happened in the office at the time of the shooting…”

“I read it.” Howard nodded, and pulled some papers from a drawer which he glanced over and then placed down on the desk, “The Court Hearing will be later today….the Judge is a mite shocked by all this -”

“Was he investing money into Poynton’s project too?” Hoss asked and looked from one law man to the other, who both looked at him as though only then realising he had a right to be there.

“No, but he was a friend of Gascoigne, had his account there -” the Marshall frowned, he looked at both Cartwrights with a doleful expression on his face “It’s a sad business.”

“Yes.” Adam agreed, beside him Hoss nodded and sighed as he tried to suppress his stomach rumbling.

Adam leaned forwards, eyebrows raised in formidable fashion “The other fact is that citizens of your town have been trespassing and hunting on Ponderosa land – “

“I can’t arrest everyone, probably a third of the men in town have hunted at some time…”

“I don’t doubt that for a moment, Marshall.” Adam shot a glance over at the sheriff who had turned away as though something in a filing cabinet needed urgent attention “And it has made us realise that we’ve been negligent about the land here, not made people more aware, and what has happened is as much our fault as anyone. But -” he tapped the desk with his forefinger “that doesn’t mean people – knowing that the land belonged to the Ponderosa – could plan to build on it -”

“I don’t think Poynton was planning to do that…” the sheriff said quickly

“No, perhaps not, but he made a good thing out of getting people to invest in the prospect that such a thing was possible.” Adam frowned, “Hopefully they’ll be informed, and their money returned…”

“That will be seen to,” the Marshall frowned, he looked from Hoss to Adam and then to the sheriff “When is the hearing scheduled today?”

“ 1 pm” the sheriff replied glancing apprehensively at the clock above the Marshall’s head.

“Poynton will be held in custody for the attempted killing of Mrs. Laws, will you be available as a witness for that?”

“Of course.”

“And, Mr. Cartwright, “ Howard turned to Hoss “We’ll need your statement about what happened when Mr. Poynton and your brother arrived at that clearing, and any incidents that has taken place while you were on the land…”

Hoss nodded with the realisation that his hopes of a good meal were receding, he glanced at Adam “I ain’t intending on pressing no charges against anyone for hunting on our land. As my brother just said we’re as much at fault, should have kept the fact that it was Ponderosa land clear in folks’ minds….”

Howard nodded “That’s entirely up to you both…” he rose to his feet and pushed some paper and a pen over to Hoss “If you would just jot down who and what you saw at the clearing…”

Adam picked up his hat and stood up, he nodded to Hoss, “I’ll just see to that matter with the newspapers…be back later.”

Hoss nodded as he picked up the pen and started to write, hoping he could make the statement as short as possible in order to get to the restaurant as soon as he could. He watched as Howard and Adam walked together to the door and heard a drift of the conversation. “Must be difficult to police all your Ponderosa, a thousand square miles isn’t it? That’s a mighty big package of land?”

“It is.” Adam nodded and placed his hat on his head

“A lot of folk here have never heard of the place…”

“Can’t’ see how not,” Adam mused “.We’ve owned that land for a long time.”

“Yeah, but new folk move in, no one sees a Cartwright there, and people forget…”

“I can understand that, we’ll make sure they don’t forget in future….” Adam replied and looked at Howard as though anticipating his next comment, but the Marshall only shook his head and said something about seeing him later in court.

Adam got the distinct impression that although his rating as Commodore Cartwright had been quite high in the Marshall’s estimation of him, as plain Mr. Cartwright it was flat zero, or as near as could be…he nodded and turned away, in order to walk to the offices of the local newspaper.

He was leaning against a post supporting the roof of some building when Hoss ambled along towards him. Deep in thought he didn’t notice when Hoss was approaching. With his eyes watching the people walking from place to place, going about their business, Adam couldn’t help but compare it with Virginia City, and it seemed to him that although the latter was losing numbers of their population it was still a very large octopus of a place in comparison to this town. He had asked the Editor of the Carson City Daily Appeal how large the population was and was told it ‘hovered’ between 7-8000. It didn’t take much of a mathematical genius to work out the sums involved, he knew well enough that the population in VC was just over 11000 as deQuille had featured it in an Editorial headed “Mining closures create town exodus” lamenting the loss of much of its populace.

“You know, Hoss,” he said without changing his posture or the direction in which he was looking, “I can’t for the life of me see how this place got to be the Capital of the state.”

Hoss shrugged and stopped to stand beside his brother and look around him “Yeah, it is kinda tiny, ain’t it?”

“Some good buildings though…”

“Yep, kinda pretty some of ’em.” Hoss thumbed his hat further back on his head

“Doesn’t seem to me any point in building work hereabouts” he glanced at Hoss and then back to where a couple were going into a large store, “It seems to me that there’s more than enough property here for the number of folk and the position of the place…it’s good, can’t fault the location.”

“Yeah, but folk are moving in all the time – “

“Mmm, but not enough for anyone to think they could practically build a new township on our land.” Adam tapped his fingers against his thigh, his brow furrowed, “I can’t see how Poynton thought he could get away with it.”

“Seems he was doing alright though, he got six other people interested enough to invest.”

Adam nodded and sighed then straightened himself up and nodded over at his brother “I think Pa should get here. We need to talk…”

“You ain’t going to tell him to sell that land, are ya?”

Adam didn’t reply to that but headed towards the Telegraph and Mail depot which was situated in a very fine building. The clerk there glanced up and smiled, nodded his balding head upon which resided a pleasantly green peaked cap, “Anything for you, gents? New to town, aren’t’ you?”

The Cartwright brothers nodded in unison, and the clerk whipped out his pencil, licked the nib which seemed a compulsory habit for all clerks working for the Telegraph and Mail Depots wherever one went.

Adam leaned upon the counter and looked at the man with that expression on his face that intimated a conversation was about to commence. He smiled; the clerk smiled back

“Would you say that Carson City will grow any larger than it is now?”

The clerk gave a downturn of his mouth, thought about it so hard that it was almost possible to see the cogs turning in his brain, “Doubt it. Some folks talk about it getting bigger, but I don’t see it….” he leaned on the counter, his chin in his hand, “I’ve been here for years, you know, people come and people go….you get peaks and you get troughs, know what I mean?”

Adam nodded to signify he understood all about peaks and troughs. The clerk frowned and shrugged “Folk talk about building more, I heard it said myself, seen the cables go through stating the fact, but -” he shook his head “anyone investing in land hereabouts is wasting his money.”

Adam frowned now, “What about that land beyond the river?”

The clerk shrugged again and licked the nib of his pencil, “That’s private property, belongs to the Ponderosa.”

“Some people don’t seem to have heard of the place.”

“Cos some people are dumb, and some people don’t want to know. Like I said, I bin here a long time, I know what I’m talking about…start building on that land and a Cartwright will pop up one of these days and blow your head off.” he frowned and gave Adam a stern glare “And don’t think I’m kidding, I bin here a long time, I hear things about them Cartwrights, you don’t want to mess with them.”

“Anybody tried to invest in the land recently that you know about?”

The clerk rolled his eyes and stared at the ceiling, then shook his head before saying, “I heard tell it’s being suggested, but anyone does think about it, then they’re downright fools….like I said, its private property.”

Adam nodded “I’d like to send a telegram.”

“Bout time – right – name and address -”

*****

The restaurant was not particularly busy when Adam and Hoss presented themselves for a meal. They were led to a table in a discreet corner and placed their order after a quick glance over the menu. Hoss leaned back in his chair and surveyed his brother,

“What’s on your mind, Adam?”

Adam looked up into his brother’s concerned blue eyes, he shrugged and picked up a fork which he toyed with for a moment or two before using it to doodle on the tablecloth for a while,

“I’m thinking that we need to talk to Pa about how to use that land -”

“Use it? Like us for instance?” Hoss’ face relaxed into a genial smile, “You ain’t going to try and persuade him to sell then?”

“Why should I do that?” Adam snapped and then before Hoss could reply he nodded and raised a hand “I know, some of the things I said yesterday could have given you that impression. Sorry, Hoss. I didn’t intend to – “

“Shucks, sure thing, you got me so’s I wasn’t sure if you were losing your mind.”

“Oh, well, just sometimes things happen.” Adam paused and stared off into space, then sighed “Anyway, I can see why Poynton thought of it as prime real estate….it’s some of best parcels of land we own.”

“Yeah, I always thought so…jest that not coming by ‘cept once in a while one tends to forget about it…”

Adam glanced at the clock and sighed, “Best get this eaten, we have to be at the courthouse for the hearing….”

The meal was served with efficient promptness and would no doubt have been enjoyed far more had the brothers not had the time for the court hearing hovering over their heads. As it was, they ate it quickly, paid for it and left the restaurant with ten minutes to spare so that they reached the courthouse in time to see Poynton and Gascoigne being led to their seats.

The Courthouse was a splendid building the interior as grand as the exterior. When Territorial Governor James W. Nye* visited and decided that Carson City would be the capital of Nevada, money poured into properties to get buildings erected worthy of such an accolade. Not far from the courthouse the United States Mint operated the Carson City Mint which struck silver and gold coins*, the Carson City Capital House had not long been completed in 1871* in a neoclassical design and to Adam’s mind a thing of beauty. But now, he and his brother pushed their way to be seated for the hearing of Poynton and Gascoigne for one count of murder, and six counts of fraud.

Both men glanced nervously over in the direction of the Cartwrights, and both reacted differently, for whereas Gascoigne looked anxious and apprehensive, Poynton’s look of anger, dismay and loathing directed at Adam would have made a more timid man shake in his boots. The colour faded from his face then flashed back, he shook his head as though trying to force his brain to accept the fact that the key witness against him was – a Cartwright. Hoss nudged Adam with his elbow

“Looks like that woodpecker found out who you really was…”

“Is -”

“Is?”

“Is.”

“Oh.”

Hoss frowned and shook his head at his brothers’ vagaries, then watched as the two men stood up to identify themselves and listened to the charges as they were read out. Gascoigne wiped around his face with a handkerchief, a woman in a seat further back wiped her eyes and tried to look inconspicuous. Poynton just glared at the Judge before swivelling his eyes back to glower at Adam.

The Judge made his comments, asked a few questions of the Marshall, uttered some words of sympathy to the man in the black suit seated to the left of the courtroom who was Mrs. Law’s husband, and then looked at Adam

“I believe you are Adam Cartwright of the Ponderosa.”

Adam rose respectfully to his feet “I am, sir”

“And you are an eyewitness to the attempted murder of Mrs. Laws?”

Poynton sprung to his feet, his eyes bulging “I didn’t intend to harm her, I didn’t.”

“Sit down, Mr. Poynton, and please refrain from any further outbursts”. The Judge shook his head, scowled at Poynton as though he had expected better from him, then turned to Adam “Mr. Cartwright?”

“I was present when she was wounded, yes.”

“And a witness at an attempt by Mr. Poynton to invest in some land that he had no right to sell on….”

“Correct, Judge.”

The Judge, an elderly man with snowy white hair that reached to his shoulders, bright alert eyes and a beak of a nose , nodded then told Adam to sit down. He then turned back to the two accused

“Trial date will be in six weeks’ time…bail set at $1000 each.” he banged down his gavel and rose to his feet and left the court room.

Adam nudged Hoss and indicated that they left as quickly as possible, before Poynton had a chance to start yelling the inevitable insults and threats. They had just reached the door when they heard “You’ll pay for this, Cartwright” seeping its way through the doorway.

Chapter 55

As he rode his horse down the main street of Virginia City Ben Cartwright’s mind was wandering. He rather absentmindedly acknowledged several townspeople who had called out a greeting to him, but later on he could not have told anyone whom he had actually seen.  His mind was hovering over concerns about his sons in Carson City and about his youngest son, Joseph.

Of course, it was nothing new, this concern about Joseph.  Life consisted of plateaus and troughs where Joe was concerned. As soon as one thought things were running smoothly Joe would do or say or plan something that would plunge everyone into turmoil, although there were, of course, the occasions when one could soar heavenwards…Those latter were rare. Ben shook his head, perhaps he was being unfair to the boy, no, correct that, to his youngest son. Hard to think of any of them as mature men although evidence of that was obvious every time one looked at them.

He dismounted outside Roy Coffee’s house and wrapped the reins of his horse around the post. Joseph! He shook his head, his youngest son. It seemed like only yesterday that he had come into the house and announced that he was going to be sheriff of some place or other, a ghost town now of course, like many others. Oh, there was that time when Joe decided to be a pony express rider and nearly got himself killed. By the time Ben was knocking on Roy’s door he was trying to calculate just how many times Joe had nearly been killed as a result of some of his crazy ideas and creating chaos and mayhem.

A pleasant faced woman opened the door and caught Ben staring at the sky twisting his hat round and round between his fingers.  She cleared her throat politely and when he turned to face her, she smiled,

“Can I help you? Mr. Cartwright, isn’t it?”

“Yes, Ben Cartwright.” Ben nodded and tried to remember who this was, had Roy mentioned a woman moving in? Had he married and not told him? Just how long had it been since he had last since the old man anyway?

She stepped aside for him to enter, took his hat and placed it on the bureau. Ben nodded, smiled and followed her into the large airy sitting room where he found Roy seated at his desk writing, his spectacles balanced midway between his eyes and rapidly disappearing hair line.

“Roy?” Ben coughed “Roy?”

The ex-sheriff turned, nodded and smiled “Hey, Ben – come on in.”  he turned to the woman and asked her to make some coffee “And some of them thar cookies you baked.”

Ben watched her leave the room, scratched his chin and looked at Roy “Er -?”

“That’s Mrs. Boyd.” Roy said, nodding again so that his glasses actually came to rest on the bridge of his nose “My new housekeeper.”

Ben nodded and glanced around the room. The fresher smells had already greeted him as soon as the door had opened for an elderly bachelor’s home often smelled of – well – elderly bachelors. Burnt meals, strong coffee, dust and an accumulation of damp books apart from anything else. Ben raised his eyebrows and finally stepped into the room, glanced at the chair he usually favoured and noted the clean antimacassars on the arms and headrest, he sat down carefully.  His dark eyes roved about and the looked at Roy again

“I thought your sister had moved back -”

“That’s not likely to happen, Ben.  No, Mrs. Boyd came with good references from Tilly Trevelyan. Seems Paul and Bridie were getting concerned about my health and sent Tilly out to find a suitable housekeeper. Mrs. Boyd ‘s husband used to be Manager of the Whitney Hotel before he died from a heart attack.”

“Ah yes, I recall -” Ben nodded, he didn’t recall it at all, but at least he could now reference the woman and know that she had a good character.

The rattle of crockery and smell of coffee entered the room along with Mrs. Boyd who smiled again at Ben and then at Roy. She placed the tray upon the low table (highly polished) then left the room. Both men turned to watch her go, then paused, then looked at one another. Roy sighed

“She’s an excellent cook.”

“Ah, well, that’s important,” Ben agreed, thinking of Hop Sing before his thoughts turned back to Roy “So how are you, Roy?”  he glanced over at the desk just as Roy handed him the cup and saucer, a slice of cake was set aside on a plate for him. “What are you writing?”

“My memoirs.  I thought I would put all my notes together into a book. I had thought about doing that for some while, but Mrs. Boyd suggested that with winter coming along, it would be a good way of occupying my time.” he ladled in sugar “I might have enough material for three books.”

Ben’s thoughts drifted to Miss Tyndale, he could imagine her stamping a pile of books to hand over to the queue of townsfolk all eager to read Roy’s memoirs and to see if they were given a mention. He frowned

“I hope you won’t be including my family -”

“No, not yet…I had a lot of experiences long before I came here. You’ll probably feature in the next volume.”

“Volume?”

“I may have to whittle it down some -” Roy slurped back his coffee and replaced the cup on the saucer, “Anyhow, it sure is good to see you, Ben. It’s been some weeks…”

Ben nodded “I’m sorry, Roy.  I hadn’t meant to be absent so long.  Fact is there’s been a lot going on and -”

“I heard your little granddaughter got herself into trouble…”

“Concussion. She’s back at school now….”

“Ah – good. And how are the boys?”

Ben smiled – another old man who looked upon the Cartwright brothers as ‘boys’, well, what did that say for them all? The memory plays odd tricks perhaps?

“Hard to imagine them as boys now.” Ben bit into the cake, it was good, he smiled, brushed aside crumbs from his waistcoat.

“I saw Joe recently, he’s going grey…bit young ain’t he?”

“Takes after my father, his hair was white by the time he was thirty.” Ben sighed and then remembered that his hair had started going grey at about the same age. He shrugged, and looked at Roy “A lot of water under the bridge, Roy”

“Yes,” the old man seated opposite him nodded, “Yes, a whole lot….”

Ben stayed for an hour during which time he didn’t see Mrs. Boyd although he could hear her footsteps in the rooms overhead, a window opening in one of the bedrooms.  He left with his mood more melancholy as he thought over the past few years and Roy’s life since his retirement. Once again, he felt a sense of gratitude that he lived a far pleasanter life with his grandchildren and family around him on the Ponderosa.

“Mr. Cartwright – Mr. Cartwright”

He turned, more attentive to his surroundings and those about him now he had had cake and coffee. Eddy came running towards him waving an envelope. Ben knew what they signified, a telegram – hopefully, for a change, bearing good news.

“Just come over the wire, Mr. Cartwright.”

“Thank you, Eddy” he nodded and watched as the tall lanky man returned to his office.  Always efficient. Ben stood there and looked at the envelope for a second then ripped it open.

It was brief, from Adam and Hoss suggesting that he came immediately to Carson City. He stared at the words and grimaced, it was curt and to the point with not enough detail to make him even want to go to Carson City, any time now nor in the future.  He slipped the telegram back into its envelope and looked around him. Next stop he decided was to see how the building work was coming along under Henry’s supervision

*****

“Hey, Pa?”

Joe’s voice stopped Ben in his tracks, and he smiled at the sight of his son sauntering along towards him, he remembered that Joe was supposed to have been down at Horseshoe Bend with Candy, but here he was as large as life in town. He wondered what excuse the scamp would give him this time,

“Well, Joe, wasn’t expecting to see you in town this morning…”

“Nearly noon, Pa.  You hungry?”

Ben thought back to his cake and coffee and was about to say that he was not when Joe grabbed him by the arm, and started talking about lunch, how they hadn’t had a chance to get into town for anything in weeks, had he heard from Adam and Hoss, how were things with them. By the time Joe had stopped to draw breath they were stepping into Del Monico’s and being steered to their favoured table.

Ben showed Joe the telegram and Joe nodded “When are you leaving then?”

“Do you think I should go?”

“Well, Adam says immediately…”

Ben pursed his lips and nodded slowly, “Yeah, I guess…”

“Says so right here, Pa.”

Ben looked down at the words again and nodded, he sighed, “Well, I guess that means as soon as I can get my things together…I’ll get the evening train.” he looked at Joe and smiled slowly “You wouldn’t like to come along with me, would you?  The four of us together – like old times.”

Joe scratched the back of his neck, and wrinkled his nose, “I’ll have to ride back with you then, Pa, check it over with Mary Ann.”

“Uh-huh,” Ben flicked out his napkin, “Weren’t you supposed to be at Horseshoe Bend with Candy?”

“Had to come in and order some things we needed -”

Ben said nothing to that, the waiter hovered and took their order.  He looked again at the telegram “I wonder what they’ve found out.” he frowned and looked over at Joe “Do you remember the last time you went there, to the property near by Carson City?”

Joe shook his head, “No, Pa. Must have been about two perhaps three years ago.  What about you?”

“Last time I went there was a while back,” Ben admitted, “ I do remember thinking that it was well worth the journey….I remember telling myself to get back there again soonest but things happen and I never did…” he sighed “Probably a good thing to have this excuse to go…”

Joe shrugged “More like a reason to go, Pa,”

“Yes, could be you’re right.”

Joe nodded, he felt sure he was right, big brother never wrote words like immediately unless he meant – well – immediately.

*****

Mary Ann had been playing the piano when Joe returned home. She had always found that music did indeed calm her, she always made sure to select a piece of music that would do that when she felt unsettled or melancholic. Joe had become accustomed to hearing music and also being able to recognise the mood in which he would find his wife. He paused in the porch as he removed his hat and jacket to listen.

There was no doubt that his wife’s playing always had a profound effect on the young man, he loved to hear her and to imagine her fingers flowing effortlessly up and down the keyboard.  With bowed head he allowed the notes of the piece she was playing flow through his head before he finally broke the spell by pushing the door open.

A unison of voice calling out Daddy and feet scampering across the floor. He smiled and leaned forward to pick up his daughter and swing her into his arms, planting a fond kiss on her cheek as her dimpled arms wrapped around his neck “I got you” she cried triumphantly.

The music had stopped, and he turned to see Mary Ann standing by the door, a smile on her face, eyes soft, the music had obviously charmed her as much as it had himself, she extended her hand

“You’re home early.” she kissed him, her lips parted beneath his, and he kissed her back, warmly, and Constance wriggled and tried to free herself, being squashed between them was far from a comfortable experience.

“I met Pa in town -”

“Joe, I wondered -”

They paused, he laughed that chuckle she loved to hear, and which made her smile. After letting Constance down to run back to her toys he took his wife’s hand and kissed her fingers, she in turn slipped her arm through his, and led him into the sitting room.  Then she took a deep breath, turned to face him

“Joe, I just wanted to ask you -” she paused, she noticed the smile had gone, his eyes looked wary, “New York City.”

“What about it?” he was tense now, and she didn’t know whether it was because he anticipated a disagreement or because he just didn’t want to discuss it or – what?

“Well, I think we need to discuss it, sweetheart.”

“Why?  There isn’t anything we can do about it until I hear from President Grant.”

“Do you think you will?”

He shook his head and then shrugged “I don’t know, honey.  I got the impression from Adam that because he’s such a busy man – President Grant that is – that sometimes he forgets things.  I guess he makes a lot of promises that he can’t keep, after all, we’re not exactly people who can benefit him in any way, we’re not politicians or such, are we?”

“No, but he has made you an offer of a job…”

“It isn’t in writing, darling.” he stroked her cheek and could see the disappointment in her eyes “You really want to go to New York City that much? Leave the Ponderosa and everyone here?”

“Don’t you?”

He stepped away from her then, and shook his head “No, not unless what I’m leaving has more to offer than what I’ve already got.”

She moved away from him then, her head bowed and turned away, “I wish you had not mentioned it to me,”

“I wish I hadn’t as well, my dear, I – I didn’t stop to think – it was thoughtless of me. I’m sorry.”

“It was thoughtless of you, Joe.”

“Mary Ann, I didn’t know you were so unhappy here, I didn’t think that -”

“No, you didn’t think.” she replied in that very quiet near monotone voice,  “But then I – I was content to continue life here, for as long as possible or necessary. The fact is -” she paused, frowned and turned to one side, away from him, “I think it was that time when Reuben was shot at the school– it made me realise that life here was brutal, cruel. You remember how it was then?”

He nodded, swallowed a gulp, that time when they thought Reuben would die because of that boy going crazy at the school…and Adam was at sea, all those miles away in Brazil.  He reached out for her hand, “I can’t change how it is, sweetheart, those kind of things don’t happen every day, you know that…perhaps you’re just

over reacting…”

“That was just that time…before then it was that Chinese Tong attacking us all, and – and then the Tombs affair, and Joe, what would we have done if you had – had been found guilty and -” she buried her face in her hands and began to cry, tears leaked through her fingers “I’m sorry, Joe, I’m sorry, I should be stronger, like Hester and Olivia…and everyone else -I’m just being selfish, I’m sorry.”

He said nothing for a while, but reached out for her hand and took it between his, then leaned in to kiss her cheek “I ‘m sorry too….really sorry, Mary Ann.  I just thought there were so many things here that you did love that it would help you get over your fears but -”

“Yes, you’re right, there are – many things to love here – and it is too easy to forget them. I’m sorry.” she said again and leaned her head to rest it upon his shoulder. “I do love you, Joe.”

“I love you too…never forget that will you?”

“Wherever we are…”

“Yes, wherever we are, I’ll always love you.”

She nodded and after a moment of just relaxing into his body she pushed herself away, and looked at him

“You said you saw your father in town?”

He nodded, turned to look at his children as they played with their toys on the rug, then looked again at her,

“He wants me to go to Carson City with him”

“When?”

“As soon as possible – I came back to let you know and to collect some things.”

She blinked, swallowed, when it came to timing this was not good. But then Joe always did have an odd sense of timing, so she just shook her head and moved away from him “You had best get what you need then.”

He looked at her, saw the tension in her body, saw the misery on her face. How could he leave her now, like this? He shook his head, “No, it’s alright, it isn’t important for me to go as well.”

She stood there and several emotions flickered across her face, emotions that she tried to suppress but failed. “Are you sure?”

He nodded and drew her towards him, folded his arms around her, around her waist, so that they were so close not even a slip of paper could have passed between them, “I love you Mrs. Cartwright.”

She bowed her head, then when she raised it again, she kissed him.

Chapter 56

Ben checked the time on his silver Hunter watch before tucking it back into his pocket. Hester watched the frown deepen on his brow and sighed “Are you sure Joe said he would go with you?”

She was fastening the buckle on his saddle bags having made sure that everything he would need for the next 24-48 hours were there – shaving tackle, clean shirts and socks and long johns.  He pulled his jacket from the back of a chair and began putting it on when there came the sound of horses, a buggy….he glanced over at Hester

“Sounds like we have visitors…could be Joe.”

“With Mary Ann and the children -” Hester smiled, no doubt they had come to see Joe and Ben off, and then spend some time with her and she hurried to open the door, Ben’s saddlebags still in one hand.

Joe bounced down from the buggy and with a grin gave his sister in law a kiss on the cheek, then looked over at Ben “Are you ready, Pa?”

“I’ve been waiting for you…” Ben grumbled and took the saddle bags from Hester, “What took you so long…”

Joe’s grin widened and he looked over his shoulder at his wife, then back to his father “Change of plan, Pa.”

“How’s that?”

“Mary Ann and the children are coming with us.” Joe’s grin slightly slipped, and he hauled in a deep breath as he tried to read his father’s expression “She’s never been to Carson City and I thought it would be a good idea to take her and the children with us. A sort of – holiday.”

Hester raised her eyebrows, a holiday, what a good idea, she wished Hoss had thought of that but then – she waved over at Mary Ann who waved back with a gleeful smile on her face, calling out “We’re off to Carson City.”

“So, I hear -” Hester replied and then slipped her arm through Ben’s as they walked towards the buggy, “Take care of yourself, Pa.”

“I will, my dear. A pity -” he paused and shrugged “Perhaps we should have all gone – for a holiday.” he laughed softly then and leaned in to kiss her on the cheek. “We’ll see you soon.”

She nodded and watched as he walked to his horse, but Joe called out that there was room in the buggy for him if he didn’t mind being squeezed up at the back with the children. Ben decided to remain with his earlier plan, last time he had squeezed up with the children Constance had been sick and Daniel had bawled.

“What brought this idea into your head, Joseph?” he asked as he jogged along beside the buggy, he smiled over at his daughter in law “Not that I’m complaining, it will be a pleasure having Mary Ann sharing time with us.”

“Well, Pa, everyone needs a change once in a while. I can’t barely remember when last I went to Carson City and Mary Ann’s never been, so I thought it would be grand if we all went together.” he smiled at his wife and squeezed her hand before gripping the reins again, “Sides which, Adam and Hoss don’t really need our help, so I thought why not take advantage of some free time together.”

“I see” Ben nodded and chewed on his bottom lip for a second or so, “So, you think Adam and Hoss have got the problem all sewn up huh?”

“Yeah, I reckon. What else would they have been doing these past few days?”

“And the fact that he told me to get there immediately isn’t significant/”

“He told you, Pa, not me – I’m just there by way of company, to make sure you get there in one piece so to speak, after all -”  he grinned and winked his eye, the implication being clear enough, in case his father being so old couldn’t find his way there.

“You’re being too sassy for your own good, young man”  Ben leaned forward “I don’t know how you manage to put up with him, Mary Ann.”

“Sometimes with difficulty, Pa. But he is your son after all….” and she laughed and hugged into her husband and flashed him a smile.

 

“Carson City isn’t very big, you know.” Ben said, “I wouldn’t want you to be bored….”

“It’ll be a change, Pa.” Joe said and raised his eyebrows, lowered his hat to shield his eyes. Ben took the hint and nodded, looked at Mary Ann’s big smile and bright eyes and read, successfully, between the lines. His son had obviously chosen taking his wife and children as a form of peace offering about something, and his guess was to do with the situation regarding New York City.

They reached the station and left the buggy in the allocated lot; the horses would be taken care off by Mr. Anderson who ambled over from Ridley’s livery as Joe was helping Mary Ann down from the vehicle

“How long fer, Joe?”

“Provisionally a week” Joe replied as he leaned in to get his children out of the back of the buggy while Ben was helping to get their luggage from the trunk.  Constance was hugging tight to her doll, a worried look on her pretty face while Daniel contented himself by looking around and reaching for Mary Ann’s hand.

It didn’t take long to get to the station and to board the train heading for Carson City, Ben muttered about good timing and Joe took that as a sign that all was well, a positive omen for the future outcome of this journey.

Daniel was enthralled by the adventure, even though the covering of the seats prickled the back of his legs and his feet didn’t reach the floor. He watched with a squeak of delight as the train slowly shunted out of the station.  Constance cringed in closer to her mother and hugged her doll so tightly it was a wonder its head didn’t roll off.

Ben cleared his throat “Abraham Curry bought Eagle Station in 1858*, you know.  We knew him, he had an eye for business, wanted me to be one of his partners but I was too involved in building up the Ponderosa and trying to keep the peace with Winnemucca and the prospectors who were flocking to the Washoe.”

“Do you regret not taking him up on it now, Pa?” Joe asked, thinking back to that time when he was just a kid, how old? About sixteen? It seemed so long ago now, so much had happened. He looked at Mary Ann, sitting there beside him with a smile and her eyes so soft, if she thought life was dangerous now, she would never have survived the gold diggings back in those days.

“The town sits in Eagle Valley…” Ben intoned as the views of the old mines flashed by them, like Adam he remembered when each one of them had been built, he could remember the owners, their hopes, and dreams, some realised, some not.  “Know why it was called Eagle Valley?”

“Yes, Pa.” Mary Ann laughed, “I was schoolteacher remember? I had to teach the children about our territory history, and told them all about Kit Carson and Fremont, and how they shot an eagle.”

Ben pouted his lips and nodded, then grinned “Sometimes forget you were the schoolteacher, my dear.”

“I sometimes do too…” Mary Ann replied, then looked at Joe and smiled, “I’m looking forward to seeing it all for real.”

Ben nodded and settled himself further into his seat, watched the children for a while and then turned his attention to the views. He thought over the contents of the telegram again and wondered why exactly Adam had been so insistent on his travelling to the capital. He sighed and tried to get more comfortable, it was a short journey for which he was grateful, he wanted to settle the conundrum of the message as soon as possible.

*****

Marshall Howard poured out coffee for the two Cartwrights and himself, then sat down again at his desk, he tapped his pencil against the blotter before setting it down.  “I interviewed the three men whom Poynton hired to act as surveyors.”

Adam nodded and narrowed his eyes, while Hoss sat and stared at some of the wanted posters that were hanging on the wall behind the Marshall’s head.

“Did they realise they were involved in the swindle?” Adam asked as his fingers turned the hot mug round and round

“No, they thought it was bona fide. They actually are surveyors; they work for various architects in town” he placed a square of cardboard on the desk and pushed it towards Adam who picked it up and read the names

‘Herringshaw and Boughton – Surveyors’ in rather elaborate gold italics.

“Didn’t they wonder why they were always asked to survey the same piece of land….” Hoss now asked, his blue eyes were thoughtful, he remembered shooting at one of them and now worried that the wound inflicted may have been more serious than intended.

“Poynton gave them several different sites in that same area, they had seen the map, seen the layout Poynton must have shown you of his plans for the area…they had no idea that they were fraudulent.” he frowned “They were paid well at first, but Herringshaw said that this would have been the last time if Poynton didn’t pay them what was due.  He said that Poynton talked very confidently about his plans for the land, they had no reason to doubt his word.”

The Cartwrights nodded, Hoss picked up his drink and gulped it down, while Adam still turned the mug round and round. Howard was getting irritated and wished he would stop, he had other work to do….Hoss cleared his throat “How is Mrs. Laws?”

“She’s doing well. Loss of blood, shock, but no internal organs damaged.” the Marshall frowned “She hasn’t said much, been too shocked to speak…I’d advise you not to visit.”

Adam nodded, Hoss shrugged and finished his drink. Adam picked up his cup and drank the coffee then stood up, “Our father will be here later, he may want to speak to you, Marshall.”

The law man smiled vaguely, nodded “It’ll be a pleasure, last time I saw your father was quite some years ago.”

He stood up and shook their hands before they left the building.

As the door closed behind them Adam and Hoss stood together and looked at one another, Hoss shrugged “I got the impression we weren’t his favourite people.”

“Well, I guess not.  He likes a quiet town, now there’s going to be some folk mighty ruffled at the fact they won’t be able to go hunting and fishing over the other side of the river anymore. He’s going to have to police all that…”  he sighed and looked around him, “Not sure what time Pa will be here – let’s get lunch.”

Hoss’ eyes lit up, he gave his brother a nudge in the ribs and nodded with the enthusiasm only Hoss could muster up when food was mentioned. Together they made their way to the best restaurant in town, the pace of Hoss’ steps becoming more buoyant the closer they got.

They were talking quietly among themselves, discussing the estimated time of their father’s arrival when someone standing nearby cleared their throat and muttered “Excuse me….”

Henry Gascoigne stood there holding his hat tightly between his fingers and still looking rather green around the jowls. He blinked nervously as both Cartwrights turned towards him, Adam frowned,

“Should you be here, Mr. Gascoigne?”

“Probably not.” the ex-Bank Manager replied “I – I felt I needed to explain.”

“Please -” Adam held up a hand to stop the flow of words “Please don’t.  We’ve heard so many explanations -”

“I wanted you to know why I did what I did…went along with Poynton.”

“I suppose he smooth talked his way -”

“He did -”

“Mr. Gascoigne, you forget that I overheard a certain conversation you had with Mr. Poynton before your arrest…you’re as guilty as he, so please, allow us to eat in peace and go away.”

“But it wasn’t that simple -”

“I think you are in breach of your bail conditions, Mr. Gascoigne. You should not be talking to me, if you want to talk, then you best get a lawyer.”

Gascoigne bowed his head “I’ve lost my position at the bank…”

Hoss shrugged “Mr. Gascoigne, you ain’t got no one to blame but yourself for that…I reckon you should think of all the money you had stashed away in your safe that don’t rightly belong to you…”

Gascoigne swallowed, they could see his Adam’s apple jerk, he blinked again and nodded “I’m sorry -”

Hoss nodded “You should be – “

Gascoigne said nothing more, shuffled his feet about and then turned and quickly left the restaurant. Hoss sighed and shook his head “Wretch!”

Adam sighed, nodded, and then smiled “You know, I never did find out just how much money Poynton wanted me to invest.”

“Wal, I reckon on the pair of them having made a small fortune out of them thar fools who did invest in his plan. Fools.”  he pushed aside his plate and grinned, dabbed at his mouth with the napkin, “Reckon we should get down to the station now, see if Pa has arrived

Chapter 57

The man in the dark suit and slicked back hair approached the table nervously. The last time he had met up with the Cartwrights had not been exactly cordial but as he fingered his tie, he hoped that this time things would be far more amenable. He gripped the handle of the brief case between his fingers and realised his hands were sweating.

“Mr. Cartwright?” he paused and looked at both men, his eyes swivelling from one to the other, both men nodded. Hoss, about to stand up, resumed his seat while Adam relaxed back into his and waited.

Their guest produced a card, a familiar looking one, which Adam took, scrutinised, passed over to his brother, and then asked him very politely if he would like to sit down and have coffee while beckoning to the waiter to bring a fresh pot to the table.

Herringshaw almost fell into the chair and cleared his throat nervously; he waited for the cup to be filled with the hot brew and swallowed. “Thank you,” he muttered and stared at the coffee as though it contained arsenic

“Mr. Herringshaw, this is quite a surprise. I have to admit that my brother and I would be most interested in hearing your account of the situation.” Adam smiled, briefly, it didn’t reach his eyes which were fixed upon the other man’s face with a cold scrutiny.

Herringshaw glanced over to Hoss who nodded affably enough and looked the friendlier of the two men. He picked up his cup and hoped that his hand wasn’t shaking. After a few moments he had emptied his cup and was feeling composed enough to talk, which he did in a pleasantly modulated voice. He was from Ohio, had studied at Yale, was a fully qualified engineer and surveyor and had entered into business with his partner H. Boughton several years earlier. They had moved to Carson City a year previously.

“Was that when you started working for Poynton and Gascoigne?” Adam asked, pouring more coffee into all their cups.

“Yes Mr. Gascoigne approached us as soon as we arrived…he said we had a good reputation; he had put feelers out about our business in Cincinnati – which is still operating successfully I may add – he felt sure that we could do business together.”

“You didn’t suspect anything?”

“No,” he shrugged and looked thoughtful, “To be honest we were grateful to have got such a good deal so soon. It takes time to get established in our business, and when Mr. Gascoigne suggested that we contacted Mr. Poynton to set up business with him, we felt pretty secure.”

“And Mr. Gascoigne gave Mr. Poynton a good character reference?”

“In glowing terms.” Herringshaw frowned “It isn’t customary to check the credentials of a Bank Manager, of course, so we accepted things as they were and after seeing the plans Mr. Poynton had for the land on the other side of the river it all seemed perfectly above board.” he frowned, “We did ask why the land had not been developed already and he just said that he was ahead of the others, there was going to be a regular stampede to get a piece when folk knew of its availability.”

“He didn’t mention that it was the property of Ben Cartwright of the Ponderosa?” Hoss asked, jutting out his jaw as though prepared for a knockout blow.

Herringshaw sighed and shook his head “Actually, he did say that we had to be careful because the land bordered onto the Ponderosa. He showed us where exactly that border was on the map in his study and warned us not to go beyond that point. Mr. Cartwright was known to shoot first -”

“-and ask questions later?” Hoss grinned and Herringshaw managed a slight grimace before he looked at Adam

“We had no idea that this was land theft. The fact that Poynton laid out the facts that we could not trespass beyond a certain point indicated his care to avoid a confrontation with the Ponderosa.”

“And did you work only in that area in which we found you?”

“Oh no, Mr. Poynton required surveys to be carried out at regular intervals in various locations. They were all marked out on the map. He had the whole area mapped out in sections, once we had covered one section, he would direct us to another. It was good business for us, we…we really thought we had landed on our feet! Just occasionally we would be working when he would arrive with an investor, then he would bring out the plans for the area, along with a drawing of the property to be built there. He would even include us in discussing our findings with the investor – not always, occasionally. We thought that was going to be the case with you -” he paused and bit down on his bottom lip “When we found that we were actually part of his scheme – well, you can imagine how we felt, the whiff of a rumour of our involvement could ruin us.”

Hoss shrugged “Perhaps you should move back to Cincinnati.”

“The thought had crossed our minds, Mr. Cartwright.” Herringshaw said and looked worried, scratched his head through an enviously thick mass of hair, and then turned to Adam “I’ve brought all our paperwork, searches and surveys, Mr. Cartwright.” he leaned down to pick up his briefcase and proceeded to pull out folders and files bulging with papers, he placed them all on the table and nodded “Well, that’s all of it. A year’s work.”

“What did you think of the land you surveyed?” Hoss asked before Adam could speak

“Beautiful. In a word. Yes, in some ways it would be a shame to build there, but for anyone who can get property built there and live there, well, it would be a very prestigious place, lands good, fertile, as is evident from the abundance of flora and fauna there anyway.”

“How far reaching did your searches go…” Adam asked with his fingers already turning over pages in one file.

“Oh, about twenty miles south of the river. The land changes there, it flattens out, meadow land – must stretch out for miles. Poynton said that was Ponderosa land, so we didn’t venture any further.”

Both Cartwrights were quiet for a moment, as though struck by a similar thought but refraining from saying a word about what that particular thought actually was. Adam closed the file and nodded, smiled with a warmer gleam in his eyes, “Thank you, Mr. Herringshaw.”

“You won’t be pressing charges against us?”

“What for? You actually did us a service by carrying out those surveys. I presume you will still be here for the trial in six weeks’ time?”

Herringshaw nodded and sighed “Yes, we will. Marshall Howard warned us not to leave town. Not that it was our intention to do so, we still have a business to run.”

Adam and Hoss exchanged a look, then Adam nodded “Thank you, Mr. Herringshaw. We may be seeing you again some time -”

Herringshaw wasn’t sure whether that was a threat or a promise, but he nodded and stood up, both Cartwrights shook his hand and watched as he picked up his now empty briefcase and left them. He certainly walked out with a straighter back and bounce in his step than when he had entered the room.

Hoss looked down at the papers and files, sighed “Well, what do you intend to do with them?”

“Read them of course….” Adam shuffled them up and stood up, “We had better go and meet Pa. He would find these interesting.”

Hoss frowned and shook his head “Adam, don’t you go putting ideas into his head”

“How do you mean?” Adam scowled, picked up his hat and followed Hoss as the big man threaded his way through the restaurant

“Don’t you go talking about selling any land – “

Adam merely rolled his eyes, shook his head and sighed. But he did have a slight smile on his lips, a small plan formulating in his mind.

*****

Mary Ann had enjoyed the train journey. It was, after all, just over an hour out of Virginia City and she had relaxed and listened as Ben had shared a few anecdotes about the land they were passing through and Joe had added some of his own. The children had had just enough time to find the journey interesting and had not misbehaved at all. Daniel’s constant “What’s that?” “What did that do?” “Why’s that there?” just gave Ben and Joe more ammunition to reminisce and spill out yet another yarn. Daniel was enthralled.

Carson City itself now spread itself out before them, and Ben was prompt in hiring a buggy to take them all through the town to meet Adam and Hoss outside the Ormsby House.

“There’s Uncle Hoss and Uncle Adam -” Daniel squeaked, holding onto his hat as Ben navigated through the traffic.

Joe grinned at the sight of his two brothers, both of whom had wide open eyes at the sight of Mary Ann and the children riding alongside their father and brother. It amused him to speculate on what the two of them would be thinking…perhaps regretting not bringing their own wives and children along with them?

Adam stood on the pavement with what looked like a fair amount of paperwork under his arm, he removed his hat when Mary Ann nodded and greeted him with a wide smile. Hoss likewise swept off his hat to greet his sister in law with a grin.

“This is a pleasant surprise” Adam said rather dryly as he watched Joe assist his wife and children from the buggy

“I’m hungry” Daniel said, tugging at his father’s jacket, “I’m hungry, Pa.”

“So am I.” Joe said with his face still split in half with his grin, “I take it you two have already eaten?”

Hoss and Adam nodded, Hoss glanced over his shoulder in the direction of the restaurant they had just left, “I don’t mind joining you.”

Ben shook his head and sighed, then looked at Adam “That’s a hefty amount of paperwork you have there, son”

Adam nodded “Lots to talk over, Pa.”

“I figured so.” Ben frowned and then looked at his family all grouped around him like so many fledglings in a nest “Well, if you have already eaten -”

“That’s alright, Pa. I don’t mind having a coffee while you eat…” Hoss said very quickly and cast Adam a dark look.

“You go ahead, “ Adam smiled, that lazy slow smile which indicated to Hoss that he had things on his mind, “I’ll go and find a place where I can read these through.” he paused at the sight of his father’s raised eyebrows “Survey reports on our land, Pa. You’ll find them interesting…”

Hoss put a hand on his father’s arm “After we’ve eaten, Pa.”

Ben nodded slowly, he knew his sons well enough to anticipate trouble ahead, or at least, a few verbals. He looked at Mary Ann’s pretty face as she watched with a slightly bemused smile on her face. “Very well, let’s grab something to eat, and then we can meet up and discuss those papers. Where will we find you?”

“At the line shack….” Adam replied

“The Line Shack?” Joe exclaimed and looked at his wife decked out in her pretty town outfit, and at his children

“Sounds fun” Mary Ann said, patting his arm and smiling at him “The children can run around while I can enjoy being with you all.”

“It’s hardly fun…” Joe muttered “An old-line shack.”

“I’ve never seen a line shack before….” Mary Ann murmured, and that rather put an end to that conversation.

Adam nodded, smiled widely and replaced his hat while he went to reclaim his horse. He could imagine Hoss’ conversation with their Pa while in the restaurant. It just made him grin wider. He put the folders and papers in the panniers and swung himself into the saddle. He loped past them as they entered the restaurant, Joe and Mary Ann arm in arm, the children keeping close, Constance holding onto Ben’s hand, Hoss ushering them in like a worried old sheep dog, which was probably not the best description for a cattle rancher.

*****

Daniels’ eyes widened in delight at the sight of the meal placed before him. He had already seen the desserts that were available so resolved not to eat too much now so that he could ask Pa to get him the biggest and stickiest pudding there. He was, after all, his Uncle Hoss’ nephew…

Mary Ann looked around her, at the other families seated at the tables, the couples or the occasional businessman eating alone. Hoss seemed eager to discuss what had been happening, but Ben kept shaking his head, saying he wanted to enjoy this time with the family, business could wait. It was obvious this was not what Hoss wanted to hear.

Joe wondered how long it had been since he had enjoyed such a pleasant meal, the occasion, the company – dining out was a rare thing for the couple, after all, Virginia City was some distance from home, Lee Sing was an excellent cook (even better than the chef currently employed at this particular restaurant). But it was all novel, and he relaxed and enjoyed it. Thoughts of New York City were fading away like a mirage

“Hoss,” Ben exclaimed for the sixth time since being seated “Talk business later – I don’t want to get indigestion. Just stop jawing and let me eat…”

“Sure Pa…but I jest wanted to say that -”

“Hoss, whatever you jest wanted to say, say it later.”

“Well, it is kinda important…”

A withering look from his father, an amused cackle of a laugh from his brother, a smile from his sister in law – Hoss sighed and looked around him, beckoned a waiter and ordered the largest cream doughnut in the house. Daniel was absolutely delighted.

Chapter 58

It was not the best of weathers to travel in, but Olivia had made up her mind to take the children into town. The covered four-seater protected them from the rain, and it made for a far pleasanter ride from home to town, even Reuben didn’t complain about having to ride along with them instead of riding Max.

Olivia had her day well planned…she would meet Bridie at the hospice and see how work was progressing there, before checking the accounts and then there was shopping to do, the kind of shopping she enjoyed, for the children, and her husband. Then she would have lunch with Hester who had agreed to meet her in town for that meal and then to finish the day together with the children.

She was happy with her plans, and happier in that they were all falling into place so well. Nathaniel was being a good boy, and the older children had been smiling as they left her to get to school That was always a good start, it seemed that Sofia’s allergic reaction to school had at last been squished. She would, of course, have brought Hannah and Rosie into school as well, but space was limited. It would have been fine had the weather been kinder and Reuben could have ridden in on Max.

Henry was delighted to show her the plans of the building work. He spread them out for her on the table and explained this and that to her, and she listened to hammers thudding, and men whistling, cursing and shouting snatches of conversation all around them.  She was shown the new boiler.  It was working already, and Bridie declared that it was ‘wonderful’.  Olivia thought of the cost and worried that perhaps Ben was being overly optimistic about the price of all the work but as Bridie said it didn’t pay to defy Ben on anything in other words, don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.

DeSousa watched from the window of his office, his eyes narrowed under heavy lids, while his fat lips chomped on the cigar that was perpetually in his mouth. He had attempted to get some conditions changed to the contract, but Hiram Woods had said as he had already signed on the dotted line it was too late. He decided to challenge that at the first opportunity…but not yet.

It took an hour to go over the accounts and once again Olivia’s confidence floundered as to the funds being available for so much work. But she remembered Bridie’s words, shook her head and continued on with carefully totting up the ledgers and finally, with a sigh, putting them to one side.

“We’ll be working in there from tomorrow, Mrs. Cartwright,” Henry said as she put the ledgers into the safe, he took the pencil from behind his ear and ticked off some items on his list, “Putting in a new window and checking for leaks and so forth. We’ll make this as snug as can be for you ladies to work in, you’ll see.”

She thanked him and said that it would make a change, he pointed to one corner “We’re to fix up a small stove there, Mr. Cartwright insisted, it’ll warm the room and keep it dry, as well as making it possible for you to make your own cups of coffee or tea.”

He smiled, a pleasant homely smile of a man who liked home comforts and saw this as a great benefit for them all.  “Oh, another expense….” Olivia sighed, and shook her head

“Mr. Cartwright insisted…that’s Mr. Adam I mean, not Mr. Ben.”

Olivia nodded smiled and thought that would mean the cost would fall on Adams shoulders, well, she was not going to complain, his thoughtfulness touched her too much for her to do that. Henry watched her leave the building with Nathaniel and Bridie. Smiled and nodded to himself, he wasn’t at all surprised that Mr. Adam would want to keep his treasures safe, and Olivia Cartwright was indeed a treasure …

Eddy caught her attention as she passed the Telegraph and Mail Depot. He came out waving several letters over his head and smiled when she turned to take them from him, thanked him kindly and continued on her way. Nathaniel was beginning to get bored.

She tucked the letters into her palisse and continued on to the stores. Nathaniel was pacified with a new toy, a bright red wagon with green wheels. She remembered the last time he had a new wagon with wheels and did hesitate for a moment, but he loved it, and she had to hope that his chewing and swallowing weird and wonderful things was now over.  There were a few things she bought for Reuben and Sofia, and then she bought some wool for winter was coming and she had a lot of knitting in preparation for the cold days ahead.

The Doctors wife, Alyssia Colby, walked by with her son in his perambulator. He was a chubby little boy, and reached out for Nathaniel’s red wagon, but there was no way Nathaniel was going to let go of his new prize and he hugged it closer to himself and gave the child a dark scowl.

Now it was time for lunch with Hester and little Hope, and Erik. They had arranged to meet at Mrs. Albierno’s…the Italian woman provided wonderful food and didn’t mind if the children dropped crumbs or spilled drinks.

When Olivia pushed open the door it was to find Hester already seated with her two children on either side of her.  Erik took one look at the red wagon with green wheels and immediately lunged for it, there was a brief tussle which ended when Olivia removed the wagon from their grip, and Hester pulled Erik to one side and wagged a finger under his nose.  Hope smiled over at Nathaniel and her cousin smiled over at her, he passed her the wagon and together they played with it passing it from one lap to the other.

Olivia dug down into her bag and produced a small box which she handed to Erik who was revving up to bawl but seeing the box and the picture of the wagon on it soon shut him up.  Hester opened the box and handed him a green wagon with black wheels. He was immediately pacified and hugged it to his chest

“What do you say to Aunt Olivia, Erik?” Hester coaxed

Erik gave his aunt a beaming smile, he was a handsome little lad, and when he smiled like that was about the only time any of his relatives wondered just who he had inherited that smile from, it was certainly not from his adoptive parents.  Hope was handed new ribbons and smiled shyly at her aunt, she knew it was wrong to say, ‘I would rather have had the wagon.’ so she smiled and said nothing.

“Why do you think Joe took Mary Ann and the children to Carson City?” Hester asked as they were halfway thought their meal. “There’s nothing there that she couldn’t get here.”

“Have you been there?”

“No,” Hester laughed “But – even so -” she grinned mischievously “it doesn’t compete with New York City.”

“And you do know all about that -”

“I would never want to go back there. Mary Ann is being very naïve if she thinks it can offer her more than being here can.”

“You wouldn’t want to be anywhere else other than on the Ponderosa, would you?”

“Would you?” Hester raised her blue eyes to focus on Olivia and smiled like a little cat when she saw Olivia’s face, “You wouldn’t, would you?”

Olivia shook her head “No, never.  I love it, I love my life, I thank God each night for the blessings I have…Adam, the children and all of you…”

They exchanged smiles, content with their lives, happy in the moment.

*****.

Sofia found Lilith speaking to several older girls, and for a moment wondered whether to leave them or just stay. She felt strangely left out, as though Lilith was wanting to be rid of her as a friend, she was after all, that much older than Sofia, and it would make sense.  She half turned and was about to leave the little group when Lilith called her name and smiled at her. Lilith has a very compelling gentle smile, one she had perfected when having to care for her deaf brother, when gestures and facial expression spoke the words he could not hear.

“I missed you on Friday,” Lilith said quietly and turned away from the other girls to stand beside Sofia.

“Were you away? I didn’t see you at all?”

“I was helping Barbara – Ma – to move into our new home. It’s where Mrs. Hawkins used to live.” she laughed, “Oh Sofia, you would have found it so funny -” she looked down at Sofia “Have you ever been in Mrs. Hawkins house? Do you remember that huge weight standing in her sitting room?”

Sofia nodded “Uncle Hoss could pick it up, but he said he dropped it and it smashed the table.”

“Yes, well, it took four men to get it off that table and then when they got it on the wagon it went right through the boards.  Mr. Bellshaw took it away in the end…”

“All by himself?” Sofia’s eyes rounded with amazement; she would never have thought Philips father was stronger than her Uncle Hoss.

“No, some other men helped him. He was going to melt it down but has decided to keep it as a kind of ‘attraction’.  I think he intends to have a weightlifting contest at the next fete.”

They laughed together. Sofia thought it was a lovely feeling to have a friend with whom she could laugh, a kindred spirit although she didn’t know the expression nor would have understood it.

“Do you like the house though?” she said as they reached the steps that led up to the schoolhouse.

“Yes. I was very happy there once after – some sad things happened “ Lilith’s face dropped, she didn’t look happy just then and Sofia put her hand out to touch the other girls’ arm, but then Lilith laughed and shrugged, “It’s alright – Paulie loves it there already.”

Reuben ran up with a grin on his face “Hi Lilith”

“Hello Reuben”

Reuben nodded and then turned to his sister, behind him trailed the gang with grins on their faces Philip looking rather red in the cheeks “Guess what Phil’s Pa has got hold off?”

Sofia smiled and looked over at Lilith who started to laugh, and calling out ‘See you later’ wondered off, leaving Sofia to listen to the boys telling her what she already knew and then catching Jimmy’s eye, and realising he was watching her with that ‘soppy’ look on his face.  She shrugged and said very casually “Well, I knew that already.” and with her nose in the air she strolled away.

“Typical girl.” Davy snorted with disdain.

Jimmy refrained from saying anything, he wondered if Sofia knew how lovely she looked when she was laughing and smiling as she had been doing.

*****

It was after they had reached home that Olivia remembered the letters.  She had heard them crackling as she picked up her bag and after a quick forage around, she pulled them out, and realised that two of them were for Hester! There was one for Sofia, from Ella and one for Ben…a familiar handwriting, but she set it aside with Hester’s and left it on the bureau.

Sofia’s face creased in a delighted smile when she was given the letter from Ella, although her brother’s face fell when he was told in answer to his question that no, there had been no letter for him from Billy.

It was obvious that the little girl was growing up, just like Sofia. Her drawing was more mature, more deliberate and Sofia looked at it very carefully before setting it to one side. It was obviously a picture of Ella with her mother, she was still sitting in the wheelchair, but there were big smiles on both their faces. Looking over her shoulder Olivia said “Well, they look very happy.”

Sofia nodded and looked at the letter. It was written far more neatly than previous letters, and she wondered how her own scribble would compare with it, probably not too favourably. She read it and then looked at her mother “Shall I read it to you, Mommy?”

“Only if you want to…” Olivia replied with a distracted look on her face as she looked thoughtfully at the two skeins of wool in her hand and wondered why she had bought two different shades of red.

Sofia cleared her throat, Nathaniel, sitting beside her, cleared his throat too and waved his new wagon in the air, it still had four wheels. Reuben scowled and shrugged, muttering under his breath that Billy owed him for three letters….

“Dear Sofia

I am getting much stronger now. I went to a hospital in Dayton, that is not very far from Virginia City is it? There was a good doctor there who was like Dr Jimmy. He gave me exercises to do.

Mama and I have a plan now on how to get to Virginia City. Mama said it was where she was happiest, and I know I was happy there too. I shall write again soon and let you know what happens.

I am going to a school. It is a special school for children like me, and it has been helpful. My teacher is very kind and has taught me to write better. I read a lot more books. I think I have read over a hundred books now.

What are you reading now, Sofia?

Mama is much happier now. She sings a lot more and smiles – I am glad she is not married to that horrible man anymore.

Your friend

Ella.”

Chapter 59

It took a lot of patience on Hoss’ part to say nothing during the time it took his family to eat their meal. Joe kept catching his eye and grinning like the proverbial Cheshire cat, although no one there would recognise a Cheshire cat if it jumped up and bit them.  Ben made sure not to catch Hoss’ eye at all but kept the conversation pleasant mainly because he seldom had time with Mary Ann and the children like they were enjoying now, and he wanted to make the most of it.

*****

In the line shack Adam built up the fire and made himself some coffee. He cleared away the table and then spread out the files that Herringshaw had given him. After pouring himself some coffee he sat down and pulled the first folder towards him, flexed his shoulders and prepared himself for some interesting reading.

*****

“Pa? Kin I talk now?”

“I thought you had, talked I mean -” Ben replied as he walked away from the table towards the door leading to the Main Street.

“No, I ain’t…I mean…not about what’s been going on around here.” Hoss looked crestfallen, he shook his head and glanced away from Joe who was watching him with a curious glint in his eye even while helping his wife usher the children out of the building.

Ben sighed and nodded over to Joe, then suggested that he took Mary Ann and the children to the buggy where he would join them ‘in a moment’

“Well, what’s on your mind…” he placed his hat carefully over his silver head of hair, and smiled, he knew he had been unfair to have kept Hoss waiting, it was obvious the man had been bursting to speak but as the good book says there is a time to speak and a time to be silent. Ben had learned from experience that it was best to keep silent when eating in public, the wrong person was liable to hear what they should not, and he himself would get indigestion.

“Fact is, Pa…there’s bin a lot going on around here. Folk think that land is for common use, they go over there hunting and fishing they time they choose, and that there Poynton was getting investors to come along and pay out good money for land that didn’t belong to them but then -”

“Poynton’s in jail, isn’t he?”

“Wal, yeah, he is -”

“Alright, we’ll discuss that more when we see Adam -” he half turned only to get his arm grabbed to prevent him moving “What now?”

“It’s Adam.”

“What about Adam?”

“Wal, I jest think I better warn you, Pa, but Adam’s bin gitting some odd ideas about that land. Don’t you go falling for any them, you hear?”

“Odd ideas? Like? Such as?” Ben looked bemused, he tried to hide a discreet smile on his lips “Well, such as?”

“Selling the land for a start…”

“Ponderosa land?”

“Yeah. He was going on some about how we should not have so much land and it weren’t right and that we should sell it.  Lan’sakes, Pa, it was all I could do to stop him spouting poetry this morning.”

“Adam’s always been prone to spouting poetry, Hoss…” Ben sighed and turned to go but was prevented once again by his son grabbing his arm

“It’s because he thinks he has a good idea to discuss with you, one that you’ll swallow whole and that’ll mean a big chunk of Ponderosa sold off.”

“I don’t think I’m likely to fall for any plan that involves selling any of the Ponderosa, Hoss.” Ben frowned, and looked more seriously at his son, “He said this to you, did he?”

“Yeah – well – not them exact words, just kept hinting at it, you know? Like he does when he’s trying to wear us down to his way of thinking.”

“Well, he’ll have to do more than hint to get me to consider selling any land. “ Ben growled and shook his head, “And people around here have been using it to hunt and so on…”

“Yeah, we hardly got a decent sleep trying to shoo ’em off.”

“And what has he done about it?”

“He went to see the newspapers, get something writ in them to warn folk off.”

Ben nodded and sighed, he put a placating hand on his son’s arm, “Well, I guess we had better go and see how things are for ourselves.”

“Sure, and – er – Pa – there ain’t no food there “

“That’s alright, Hoss, I wasn’t intending to stay longer than necessary.”

Hoss’ shoulders slumped, he released a sigh and shook his head. Things didn’t look as though they were going to work out entirely how he hoped, in any direction.

*****

Daniel was excited when the buggy forded the river and wanted to know if they would be doing it again to which Joe assured him, they would, when they returned to town. Mary Ann smiled, held onto Constance, and relaxed.  They were riding into greenery, although the trees were beginning to adorn themselves in autumn colours. As they approached the other side of the river, she was only aware of a shimmer of green which was soothing to the eye and her smile widened as she looked at Joe who reached out for her hand and gave it a gentle squeeze.

They rode through a canopy of green, as trees formed an avenue through which to drive their buggy. Ben sat beside Joe and kept silent, while his dark eyes noted the pleasantness of the land into which they were entering. Beside the buggy Hoss rode, his horse keeping in step with the horses pulling the buggy.

“Look -” Mary Ann exclaimed and pointed to where a doe was grazing with her young at her side. The young animals were just beginning to lose their dappled hide now, and each one of them paused, raised their heads and stared with moist dark eyes at the humans.

It occurred to Ben that what had been a common sight on the Ponderosa at one time had become a rarity. Their land was arable for cattle grazing, but there were no longer the herds of deer, the wild beasts that had once graced their land. The hundreds of prospectors in the 50’s and 60’s had seen to that, and it had hastened the demise of the Waso Paiute and Bannock as a result.

Joe pulled up the buggy so that the children and Mary Ann could enjoy the sight of the animals, not that Constance or Daniel cared that much about them but there was such serenity in the eyes of the doe that it held the adult’s captive.

“Won’t be that many of them left soon if the folk in town keep coming over like they do,” Hoss grunted

“How come?” Joe asked, not having been privy to the conversation between his father and Hoss the comment roused his curiosity.

“They think they got a natural right to come on over and hunt here whenever they want,” Hoss replied with a scowl.

Mary Ann sighed and shook her head, the doe blinked her moist brown eyes, twitched her ears and then suddenly they were bounding away. It was almost as though she had realised what the topic was about and decided to distance herself between the humans and her young ones for safety’s sake.

“They can’t do that,” Joe protested, “It’s Ponderosa land…”

Mary Ann didn’t say a word, but wondered if Joe realised how pompous and arrogant that sounded even though it was right, and true, but even so –

As they continued to make their way to the line shack Mary Ann noticed many little things that she had not seen before, although there were so many beautiful areas of the Ponderosa and she had been taken to a good number of them, there was something about this wooded oasis that was different. Perhaps it lacked the ruggedness, or the openness, of other areas. Perhaps it reminded her of some of the land around her own hometown, the parks, the closeness of nature around her.

The line shack appeared looking slightly lop sided, and smoke coming from the chimney.  “Is this our house?” Daniel piped up, as Joe brought the buggy to a stop.

“Not a house,” Joe said as he alighted from the vehicle and turned to swing his son down “It’s a shack.”

Daniel stared at the wooden structure and said, “A shack?”

Joe shook his head and grinned as he turned to his wife, then helped her down. Ben was already walking towards the shack, taking Daniel by the hand as he passed the boy and leading him to the door.

Adam was seated at the table with the papers in his hand, a pencil struck behind his ear, and a look of concentration on his face. It was a sight that had often greeted Hoss and Ben in the past, that of an earnest young man surrounded by his books, studying or planning out some strategy, Ben smiled, Hoss groaned.

Adam looked up, sighed as though realising that peace and quiet were to be relegated elsewhere, and nodded

“Surveys about the land.” he said as he tapped the papers in front of him with his forefinger.

Mary Ann looked around the shack and shook her head “Somewhat primitive.” she laughed and placed a basket on the table, making sure not to disturb the papers, “I’ve got us some food, Hoss said there was none left here. Perhaps we could picnic outside…”

“It’s wet -” Joe said, “It’s been raining don’t forget.”

She pulled a face and leaned forward to kiss his cheek, Daniel ran up to his Uncle Adam and climbed up on his knee “What you doing, Uncle Adam? Can I draw?”

He reached for the pencil, but Adam shook his head and said something about later, but Daniel wanted to draw now and reached out again for the pencil, so that Adam stood up, with the child held in his arm, and smiling placed him on the floor.

“We saw some deer on the way here.” Mary Ann said as she unloaded her basket and put down the wrapped packages “I hadn’t realised how we don’t see them in our part of the Ponderosa.”

“Won’t see ’em here for much longer either, if the townsfolk keep on coming over and hunting them down.”

Hoss grumbled and pulled out a chair, not the rickety one.

“Is it very bad, this hunting?” Joe asked as he sat down very carefully on the other chair, while Adam indicated that the chair, he had just vacated was safe for his father to sit on.

“Seems a regular thing,” Adam replied as he leaned against the door, his arms folded across his chest and watching as Daniel and Constance ran outside to play. He smiled slowly at the sound of their shrieks and their laughter. Children had a wonderful way of adapting to their surroundings and finding the least thing of interest.

Hoss told them of the number of times they were roused from sleep to go and usher the hunters away, “Reckon the sheriff came on over too, he didn’t seem bothered by it until we mentioned that it would have to stop and we’d make sure it did.”

Adam nodded and shrugged “He didn’t like it, but as he said no one was really aware that it belonged to anyone. It made it easier for Poynton to get investors as well, there was no one around who would remind him, or tell them, that it was not for sale.”

“Tell us what happened with Poynton…” Ben asked and stretched out his long legs, “Mary Ann, my dear, this is going to be rather boring, perhaps it would have been better if we had left you in town to do some shopping.”

Mary Ann shook her head, “No, Pa, this is just fine. I’d like to go out for a walk, if that’s alright, I’ll take the children with me.”

Adam pushed himself away from the doorway and smiled as she passed him by, then he made his way to the bed and perched himself on the edge. It didn’t take long for him to tell Ben and Joe all about the situation with the investors, and how Poynton had managed to steal quite a substantial sum of money from six to eight men who had been interested in the land. “The bonus for us is that the surveyors he employed did a really good job of writing out their reports on the land….it saves us -”

“Saves us?” Ben boomed and Hoss drew in his breath, while Joe looked confused.

“It saves us having to pay to have the land surveyed should we sell -”

“Sell?” Bens back straightened immediately “Sell? You mean sell Ponderosa land?”

“It’s a possibility -” Adam replied calmly as he leaned forward to pick up one of the files.

“The Ponderosa is not for sale.” Ben snapped, his dark eyes became darker, his lips thinned

“This is only a part of the Ponderosa, Pa. A very attractive section of it too….” Adam frowned and glanced at Hoss who tried to look innocent.

Joe shook his head “You’re not serious, are you?  I mean – even thinking of selling any of it -”

“Sure, I know we wouldn’t usually consider selling any of the Ponderosa, but considering that we never come here -”

“We do!” Joe replied, his hazel eyes flashing green

“Since when? When was the last time any of you came?  So long ago most of the townsfolk can’t even remember it belongs to the Cartwrights.”

“What exactly are you saying, Adam? That because we’re not here all the time we have to give it away?” Joe responded immediately

“No, I’m not saying to give it away -”

“Well, it sounds to me as if you are -”

Ben raised a hand for silence, and glared at both Joe and Adam, then he turned the full force of his dark eyes on his eldest son “What exactly are you talking about then, Adam?  Selling this up as a piece of real estate? Contacting those investors of Poyntons to say they can have what they’ve paid for? Is that it?”

Adam shook his head and ran his fingers through his hair, he rubbed the back of his neck and then looked at his father with dark eyes and thin lips “I wasn’t implying that -”

“Then speak plain, what were you implying?”

Adam stood up and walked to where the folders and files remained on the table, he gathered the papers into a tidy pile and then looked at his father and brothers

“1000 square miles of land – “

“Ponderosa land” Hoss intoned, his nostrils pinched indicating his irritation and annoyance at his brother.

“Alright, 1000 square miles of land – how much do we regularly use? How often do we get to know every square inch?” he glanced at each of them and they either shook their head or tried to outstare him.

“You know that’s not possible.” Ben said his fingers tapping on the table, “But nevertheless every inch is our land, and we’ve shed blood to gain it, and to keep it.”

Joe nodded and pouted his lips, his brows knitted over his hazel eyes before he looked up at Adam “It’s our children’s inheritance, Adam.  It may seem a vast amount for just the four of us, but start splitting it into sections for the children…and their children.” he paused and cleared his throat, leaned back satisfied that he had blown a hole In his brothers plans – whatever they had been

Adam nodded “Which makes us caretakers, doesn’t it?”

“Caretakers?” Hoss echoed, and frowned

“How do you mean?” Joe asked and glanced over at Ben, wondering if they were in the process of being bushwhacked.

Ben nodded “That’s what I always thought I was – a caretaker for this land, for you, my sons….and your subsequent families.”

“Yes.” Adam nodded and Hoss and Joe looked at their father, smiled as though thanking him for the honourable way he had discharged his custodianship.

“Then what is this all about? This talk of selling the land …?” Ben now asked and looked at each one of them as though they were all three guilty of such a sin, each complicit in a plan to carve up the Ponderosa.

Chapter 60

Outside there could be heard the sound of the children laughing, happy as they ran around the trees, hid among shrubs, found wildflowers to pluck and bring over to mother. Mary Ann opened her skirts for the flowers to be tipped into, relaxed and happy. The sun was out now, feeble as fall sunshine often is, but coming after the early morning rain it made the raindrops dripping from the trees look like jewels.

Inside the cabin Ben glowered at his sons. They were middle-aged men now, but he still saw them as errant youths, or wilful little boys. They in turn regarded him with the mix of emotions – rebelliousness, mutiny, irritation and a slight pinch of awe. Adam straightened his shoulders,

“I know I’ve been away a long time-” he began, keeping his voice level, which only annoyed Ben all the more because he hated it when Adam used this tone of voice, his reasoning ‘Let’s be logical about this’ drawl.

Hoss ambled over to the door and looked out, thought how beautiful it all looked, forgot that he had been cursing the place earlier. Mary Ann saw him and turned to wave, he raised a hand in response and then turned back to await the outcome of the discussion.

Joe said nothing, his eyes flicked from brother to father and then back to Adam who continued from where he had left off, “- and during that time a lot of things have changed. People’s opinions for instance…”

“What about them?” Ben barked and raised his chin, as if he cared about people’s opinions? Well, he did, but not when it came to selling the Ponderosa.

“Look, we fought hard for our land, over all these years, and we’ve shed blood as well as lost blood, but that time has passed as well. People -” Adam paused and narrowed his eyes; he drew in his breath “People don’t respect those who have this much land anymore. They resent it. They -”

“People have always resented us having this much land.” Joe intoned and shrugged “There’s nothing new about that, that was why we had to fight to keep it in the first place.”

Adam nodded and frowned, looked at Joe and nodded again before he ran his hand over the back of his head and frowned, he tapped the files again “Look at these surveys, Pa? This piece of land -”

“This piece of land stays as it is – “ Ben growled and pushed the surveys to one side “I’ll build a ten-foot-high wall here if need be to keep those thieves out of here.”

Joe chuckled “They’ll probably get a twelve-foot ladder to climb over it…”

Hoss added for good measure “There’s only one to cross the river, if you wanted to build a fence that would be the only place for it.”

Adam rolled his eyes, shook his head and turned to one side, he picked up a folder from the table and stared at it for a moment before turning back to his father “In other countries when someone owns so much land they make good use of it…Lairds in Scotland for instance -”

“For goodness’ sake, Adam” Ben snapped “I used to blame your nonsense on going to college but now -”

Joe giggled “They say travel broadens the mind…”

Ben shook his head and scowled at his youngest son before looking again at Adam “I am not one of those Lairds or whatever you call them, and if you think -”

“I have thought, and I wish, only wish, that you would stop and think as well, instead of sounding off like some old bull elephant without giving me a hearing.” Adam yelled, and drew in his breath realising that he was losing his temper and when that happened, he may as well just walk away with his cause in tatters.

“I’ll remind you, Adam, that you haven’t yet made any sensible suggestion…all you’ve done is put forward an idea that is anathema to us, to sell our land – why? What for? To whom? Have you thought of answers for that?” Ben thumped his fist upon the table, various items on it jumped

Hoss sighed and shook his head “Pa, ain’t no point in going on so, Adam don’t mean to sell the land to anyone, do ya, Adam?” he looked appealingly at his brother, almost pleading with him to agree with him

“I don’t want to sell this land” Adam replied in a monotone

“Well, there y’are, we agree about something.” Hoss sighed and turned to look out at the view, at Mary Ann and the children.

“But I just think we should use it properly,” Adam paused “A lot of the people here haven’t actually recalled to mind that we own it, they’ve assumed over the years that it’s just there, for the taking, and they, consequently, have taken, they come here and fish and hunt, as though it’s their right to do so.”

Joe stopped biting his nails and glanced over at Ben who was slowly losing that puce tinge to his skin, and his eyes were not dancing about quite so ferociously “Pa, that makes me think of your friend – what’s his name -” he snapped his fingers “He always had a quote for everything, you know? ‘A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush’, ”Early in the morning -” he paused as Ben cast a narrow eyed thin-lipped glare in his direction, he shrugged “I was just thinking -”

“Oh, seems everyone’s thinking now…” Ben snorted and shook his head, and was about to speak when Hoss snapped his fingers

“Yeah, Jedediah – he came one springtime, didn’t he? Shucks, he was a mean cuss if ever there was one…he would skin a flea and sell it if he could.”

“Hoss, that’s enough-” Ben drew in a deep breath and looked at Adam “You’re saying I’m turning into another Jedediah?”

“I never said so,” Adam replied with a slight lift to the chin “But -”

Ben shook his head and turned his back on Adam, he slowly walked over to the door and stood beside Hoss to look out over the land. Daniel saw him and waved, his voice high pitched “Gran’pa”

There was silence for a moment, Adam twitched a shoulder and Hoss turned and sighed as he walked further into the room and stared at the coffee pot, Joe leaned forward to pick up a folder and began to leaf through it.

Memories – so many memories, Ben sighed, shook his head, was a time he came here with his wife and a little boy ran among the trees and turned, waved and called out “Pa – Pa – “ he blinked to remove the moisture from his eyes and then without turning round he said

“We used to come here when Carson City was just known as Eagle Station, nothing much to it back then, smaller and dirtier and wilder than Washoe was but the countryside was lovely, the valley where Curry* built the town was perfect. I came here with Marie several times, guess none of you would remember -” he frowned, and sighed, shook his head “We rode out here across the river sometimes because Marie loved it, she loved the trees, and, of course, Lake Bigler, as the Tahoe was known as then, is beautiful at any time of the year. It was Marie who asked me to buy it, she wanted it – “ he raised a hand and rubbed along his jaw line, “the last time I came with Marie, we just brought Joe along with us…spent some time together here in this very shack – “ he put a hand out and touched the door frame as though he could still smell fresh wood, Marie’s perfume drifting nearby.

“I didn’t know -” Adam said quietly

“I don’t remember that, Pa -” Joe sighed

“Sorry, Pa -” Hoss mumbled.

Ben shrugged and turned to face them, his eyes looked at Adam “You’re right, things do change, but how I feel here doesn’t. I won’t sell -”

“Pa, all I said was that IF you ever chose to sell the surveys have been done and very thoroughly too….” Adam frowned “I’ve already had notices put in the Carson City Appeal and Chronicle to tell the people who the land belongs to and that in future they would be arrested for trespass and poaching”

“Then – what is all this about?” Ben said, and it was as though the memories he had drifted into had quenched the fire in him, he drew in his breath, “What are you thinking?”

Adam tapped his fingers against his mouth and then raised his eyebrows “Perhaps if you just read through the surveys and then tell me what you think about them – “ he paused “Have you ever ridden 20 miles yonder?”

“Beyond the woodland you mean?” Ben frowned, “It’s a long time since I have, if I recall it’s flat land, as far as the eye can see until you hit the mountains.”

“Meadow land, Pa.” Adam’s eyes twinkled, and he pulled a file from those on the table, “The surveyors said that it was perfect to build a town on -” he raised a hand before Ben erupted, “and also for grazing.”

“What’s on your mind, Adam?” Hoss leaned forward, eyes narrowed, interest aroused

“Well, I’d like to go and see it for myself first, before I commit to any idea -”

“A cattle station,” Joe said, spitting out some nail before he continued to talk “Like old Jedediah, you remember, Hoss? Adam? Instead of throwing a couple off the land he was persuaded -” he gave a cackle of a laugh “to build a cattle station instead.”

Adam nodded and glanced over at Ben who was looking far more relaxed now and was actually looking through the papers relative to the land they were discussing “Cattle grazing land….” he murmured.

Adam smiled, glanced at Hoss who raised his eyebrows, and then at Joe who shrugged, tilted his chair on to its back legs, “I thought I would ride out and check it out after we’ve eaten…”

Joe opened his mouth to volunteer his company, then remembered he had brought along a wife and two children, he sighed “I’ll take Mary Ann into town, unless they want to stay here awhile longer.”

Hoss nodded, grinned “Than I’ll come along with ya, Adam. I’d like to check it out for myself too…”

Ben put down the folder and picked up another one, he glanced at it and then at Adam “And any other bright ideas -?”

“You read the surveys, Pa, and then we’ll all be able to have an informed opinion when we talk about it tomorrow.”

Almost on cue a little boy ran into the building, face bright and ruddy cheeked “Gran’pa, I’m hungry.”

Hoss rolled his eyes, picked the little boy up and laughed “Shucks, so am I, though no one would ever think of breaking out the grub -”

Constance was carried in on Mary Ann’s arm, tears in her eyes and her arms held out to her Daddy, Mary Ann smiled as she passed the child over “She tripped over and hurt her knee.”

She looked at their faces, smiled, obviously her timing had been good, everyone looked rather smug and pleased with themselves, so she began to unbutton her coat “Well, then, gentlemen, shall we eat?”

*****

Mr. Thompson clasped his hand behind his back and surveyed his classroom. His students sat quietly and observed him in return. He was not a man who commanded a great deal of respect apart from the fact that he was an excellent teacher, his position provided him authority, and, on that basis, he had their attention. He noted those who looked more keenly aware than some others, some more alert. Annie Sales always bright, always an excellent student. Tommy Conway, tended to be a slip shod student, handing in good word on subjects he liked but negligent in those he did not. David Riley – well, pass on that one. His eyes lightened upon Reuben Cartwright who was allowing his attention to wander by looking out of the window instead of keeping his eyes straight ahead of him.

“Very well, everyone….we have time to hear the results of some of your efforts!”

He stared at them, Annie Sales straightened her shoulders prepared to go up on the platform to read out her poem and the little summing up as to why it had been selected by her. She was always the first to volunteer her efforts and, in most cases, the one selected. She was never a disappointment. Everyone waited to hear her reading, heads turned in her direction,

“Reuben Cartwright, perhaps you would like to share your contribution……”

The boy pulled himself together, stopped daydreaming which was easy to do when Mr. Thompson took a class, he picked up his book, a rather worn one by appearances, and then walked to the platform. The teacher nodded and smiled “Go ahead, Mr. Cartwright.”

Reuben cleared his throat and opened the book, one of the pages, being loose, fluttered down to the floor. He had to bend down to pick it up and several children giggled getting a stern look of reproof as a result.

“This poem is called “Don’t Quit’ by John Greenleaf Whittier.

“When things go wrong, as they sometimes will

When the road you’re trudging seems all up hill

When the funds are low, and the debts are high

And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,

When care is pressing you down a bit,

Rest if you must, but don’t you quit.

Life is strange with its twists and turns

As every one of us sometimes learns,

And many a failure comes about

When he might have won had he stuck it out,

Don’t give up though the pace seems slow

You may succeed with another blow.

Success is failure turned inside out –

The silver tint of the clouds of doubt,

And you never can tell just how close you are,

It may be near when it seems so far;

So, stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit –

It’s when things seem worst than you must not quit

For all the sad words of tongue and pen

The saddest are these “It might have been!”

There was silence. Annie Sales beamed her approval, her eyes blinked behind her spectacles. Others nodded, smiled, someone even clapped. Mr. Thompson nodded approval and asked Reuben why he had chosen that particular poem, so Reuben took a step forward as though by doing so his voice would project further into the room.

“Well, this book of poems belongs to my Pa, and he always took it with him when he went away to sea. He loves poetry and this was his favourite. He told me it was because it contained a lot of good sense and there were times when he wanted to quit, when things were hard, but he always remembered this poem, and especially that if he did quit he would never know what it would have been like, what would have been had he stuck to it….so he always did” he paused and frowned “he always stuck to it, and didn’t quit.”

Mr. Thompson raised his eyebrows, and nodded approval. He had once courted Miss Tyndale and developed a love of poetry, next to his passion for Maths and Miss Tyndale, of course. But the little librarian had turned him down, never giving him a reason…although he had his suspicions.

“That was well read and well chosen, Mr. Cartwright, Reuben. Well done.” he watched as the boy left the platform, his eyes following the child all the way to his seat “So…John Greenleaf Whittier – can anyone tell me anything they know about him?”

A few hands went up, Annie Sales was chosen to supply the details among which was the fact that Whittier had been a Quaker and an Abolitionist. Thompson nodded, and his eyes watched his students faces, interest, boredom, apathy were all present. He nodded again,

“Anyone know what is an abolitionist?” he now asked, one hand tapping against the other behind his back.

Various comments were made in reply until he had the one he wanted, someone who was anti-slavery. He asked if they knew any other authors who were Abolitionists and Annie Sales hand went right up “Harriett Beecher Stowe,” she paused, “She wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin. I’ve got a copy at home.”

Thompson nodded, he smiled “Slavery – a corrupt and cruel practice. Reuben Cartwright, what is your opinion?”

Reuben looked surprised, he hadn’t expected to be asked, he had slipped into a day dream again, he cleared his throat “Well, sir, my Pa saw a slave ship once, when he was at sea and they had to stop some people and he said it was evil, he said -”

“Evil, Reuben?”

“Yes, sir.”

“I suppose your father found the man behind the practice and had him killed….”

“Well, he did find the man,” Reuben said quietly “but he fell overboard and got eaten by a shark.”

For some reason someone giggled, Mr. Thompson glared at the perpetuator, and then looked again at Reuben

“Well, that would make a good story, Reuben.” he smiled and watched as the boy looked at him as though to correct him, he could imagine the boys voice protesting ‘But it’s true, sir’….”Dismissed every one, and Mr. Cartwright, thank you for your reading.” he gave the boy a curt nod, that’ll keep him quiet, he thought, all these fanciful stories about Adam Cartwright at sea. Someone would be writing a book about them next, given the chance …

The scuffling of shoes and boots on the wooden floor, whispers of children, giggles here and there…all part and parcel of the day at school of a weary teacher as he collected up his books he heard Tommy Conway’s voice shrill with excitement “Was that true, Reuben, was it? Bet there was a lot of blood ….”

Chapter 61

The meal that Mary Ann provided for the four men, herself and the children was far pleasanter than it could have been had peace not been restored between them.  Constance sat on her Daddy’s knee while Daniel was squashed between his Grandfather and Uncle Hoss, it seemed his fate in life to be squashed between something or other. But even though Ben was quiet throughout the mood over all was convivial, and there were times when some remembrance of some incident would arouse a laugh.

Ben finally roused himself as Mary Ann set down the coffee pot for the second time, and as she poured the hot brew into the cups, he asked Adam when he intended to go to check out the ‘meadow’, the ‘so-called’ grazing land.  Adam glanced over at his father, and then looked at Hoss, who was looking thoughtful, obviously working out the amount of time it would take to get there, after all 20 miles was no short distance, and a horse at walking pace through even ground could take well up to 9 hours* to get there.

“We’ll leave in an hour,” Adam said rather brusquely, meeting Hoss’ blue gaze with a severe brown one of his own. “We can camp overnight and continue on during the morning.  Have a good look around and then head on back.”

“So, you reckon being back here tomorrow evening?” Ben muttered, narrowing his eyes and staring down at the muddy liquid swirling about in his cup.

“S’right, shouldn’t be later than that unless something untoward happens.” Adam replied and looked at Hoss for agreement, his brother duly nodded

“In that case I think I’ll stay here rather than go back into town with Joe and Mary Ann -”

“Are you sure, Pa?” Joe asked anxiously and looked at Mary Ann as though seeking her opinion on his father’s decision.

“Yes, it’ll give me time to read through these surveys and – “ he paused and glanced over at the door which stood open providing a tantalizing view of what lay beyond, “and indulge in some memories.”

Mary Ann placed a hand on his shoulder, leaned in and kissed his cheek  “We can join you in the morning, Pa. Bring some food along.”

Daniel clapped his hands “A pic nic.”

Joe just looked once again at his father and then at his brothers, it was obvious he would have preferred to have been riding along with them, exploring this land, seeing the meadow, then he cleared his throat,

“We’ll look forward to hearing all about it,” he grinned his usual good-natured smile and then looked at Mary Ann “Unless Mary Ann would like to go on a jaunt and camp under the stars with us all?”

Mary Ann laughed “Would have done at one time, but not with these two -” she ruffled Daniels hair and tweaked Constance’s’ nose, “And we have to get the buggy back in time -”

Joe nodded and caught her hand, squeezed it gently, then turned again to his father “Are you sure you want to stay here, Pa, It’s pretty draughty”

“Yeah, and it leaks like the proverbial sieve,” Hoss muttered as he picked up the last iced cake, saw Daniel’s face, and carefully split it in two, making sure that he got the larger half of course.

It took little time to clear up the last remnants of the meal and to empty their cups of the coffee.  Adam and Hoss collected their gear, filled their canteens with fresh water and saddled up their horses.  Adam picked out the folder with the information about the grazing land and then looked at his father, nodded with a faint smile

on his face, the brown eyes warm and twinkling “Did you never go check out the land beyond the woodland?”

“Only that one time when I was buying the land, as I said last night, all I could recall was that it was flat land, barren – it seemed – but that didn’t matter at the time, we hadn’t got into cattle then, our main interest was on the woodland, helping build up the town, keeping ourselves alive and making sure no one took from us what didn’t belong to them.” and having said those last few words he glared at Adam who didn’t falter beneath the dark gaze of those near black eyes. “I never really bothered to come here that often for years later, not after Marie died, and when I did come, those times we came to Eagle Station, I seldom crossed the river. Guess I should have done a bit more often….”

“We used to come here whenever we visited Carson City, but not regular, perhaps we should have done.” Hoss muttered, and glanced down at Daniel who was tugging at his trouser leg, “Hey, little feller, you alright?”

“Uncle Hoss, where’s Hannah, and Hope?”

“Back home with their Ma and Erik” Hoss smiled, and then looked back at his father who was looking at them now with a softer look in his eyes, “This is some piece of land, Pa. Can see why Marie loved it…”

“She did…” Ben said and with a sigh turned his head away to look back at the trees, “Well, have a safe trip, son.”

Hoss nodded and picked up his saddle bags which he slung over his shoulder, Adam was already out front, leading his horse away from the water trough where it has been slurping up water. Joe and Mary Ann came to stand beside Ben and Constance ran out waving her hand.

Adam swung himself into the saddle and glanced at the shack, at the two men, the woman and two children and smiled, a family group framed in the doorway. He waved, lingered a second and then with a sigh turned his horse away, quickly followed by Hoss.

He took with him the picture of a family standing together in the doorway of a home, it was a good memory, and he tucked it away for future reference.

*****

Edwin Poynton read through the papers that the City Clerk had handed him detailing all that was involved with anyone being released on bail.  He knew the charges against him were serious, although he kept telling himself that if Mrs. Laws had not stepped in the way of that bullet he would not be charged with attempted murder.  He forgot to remind himself that had she not stepped in the way the man he held responsible for the whole mess would have been killed. Then that would have been murder, pure and simple! No bail for sure.

Gascoigne had got away with it lightly, well, to some extent…his reputation in tatters, loss of his position as Manager at the Bank. What was that compared to loss of freedom? Edwin could see that Gascoigne would walk away free and resume his life elsewhere, while he – faced jail, years in jail.

He had been told by the Marshall not to leave town, and to report regularly to the Sheriff’s office so that they could confirm that he had conducted himself as a ‘good boy’.  In the meantime, he could use the hours to try and salvage his business.

He reached out for another glass of whiskey and held the glass in his hand for some moments before raising it to his lips and swallowing it down in several gulps.  Then he sat there staring at the far wall of his office, empty of course, silent, full of shadows. Shadows like promises – turn on a light and they vanished.

He put down the glass and buried his face in his hands. He had been a fool, such a fool.  Not in getting involved in the scheme in the first place, no, that had been a fine idea, would have set him and Gascoigne up for life, but he had really trusted that Aaron Coupland and all the time it had been Adam Cartwright who had sat there, listened to him spilling out his plans, reeling him in, laughing at him. All the time waiting for an opportunity to catch him out and as a result, poor Mrs. Laws, if it hadn’t been for that Adam Cartwright she would be just fine and dandy.

He reached for the bottle and poured out several fingers of whiskey into the glass, if it hadn’t been for Adam Cartwright everything would have been ‘fine and dandy’.

*****

Derek Laws was not a vindictive man, he lived by the principles of the Good Book which said return evil to no man, turn the other cheek, but as he stood by his wife’s bedside in the hospital, and held her hand, he could not fight down the sense of rage that was boiling up inside him.

Mrs. Laws sighed and opened her eyes, turned her head to look at her husband and gave him a weak smile.

“Do you want some water?” he asked in his quiet voice, such a meek man was Derek Laws

She nodded and tried to lift her head from the pillow, so he had to put his arm around her shoulders and raise her head. She drank a little water; some went down her chin and he dabbed around her face gently and smiled at her. She sighed again and closed her eyes, so he settled her back down upon the pillow.

“Are you feeling any pain, my dear?”

“No..numb..tired.  I don’t understand -”

“What don’t you understand, dear?”

“Why did he do it?”

He was going to answer but realised she was asleep now, so he sat back and thought over the answer to the question she had asked and realised he didn’t really know why Edwin Poynton had shot his wife.  He shook his head, the reason didn’t matter, the facts remained as they were, his wife could have died, and Edwin Poynton would have been hanged as a result.  He thought about that for a moment or two, imagined in his mind’s eye what Poynton would have looked like hanging there as a murderer.  He shook his head, it was not a pleasant picture, as the town’s undertaker he had seen enough corpses to know how gruesome a hanged man looked.

But his wife had survived, although the Doctors still showed concern over her condition, unsure of the effects of the shooting. Derek didn’t really understand that either, Doctors should know, they were trained after all, so why couldn’t they tell him whether his wife would be ‘back to normal’ again upon her recovery?

He thought about the passages in the bible that said ‘life for life’ which made much more sense to him than turning the other cheek.  He sat beside his wife’s bed and held her hand and thought about Edwin Poynton. Until in a while he could think of no one else but Edwin Poynton.

*****

Mary Ann slipped her arm through that of her husband while her free handheld onto her daughter’s hand, and Daniel hopped, skipped and jumped alongside his father.  They had returned the buggy and the horses, paid what was due, and then strolled back to the hotel.  She felt happy, relaxed.  A colder wind was blowing through the streets, turning the corners and tossing up dust as a result so she bowed her head and laughed, while Joe tightened his grip on her hand

“I hope Pa will be alright, looks like a storm coming.” Joe said bowing his head again the wind and leaning down to grab his son by the shoulder, holding him back and keeping him steady

Edwin Poynton looked down upon the pavement and observed the little family group, strangers in town, he hadn’t seen them before, but he recognised Joseph Cartwright, he had seen him in Virginia City when Armstrong had pointed him out to him alongside Ben.  As he nursed the glass of whiskey against his chest, he watched the Cartwright family enter into the hotel, so, seemed they were all here. He looked up and down the street for a glimpse of Ben or Adam or even Hoss, but there was no sign.  Perhaps they were already comfortable in their hotel suites or perhaps – just perhaps – still across the river, in that shack.

He paused again, shook his head, and reasoned with himself. An old man like Ben Cartwright would want his home comforts, if he were in town then he would be in the hotel where it was warm, and he could eat well. The other two Cartwrights – easy enough to find out!

He drank down the last of the whiskey and put the glass carefully on the desk.

*****

Old Beany pulled down his hat in order to keep his bald head warm against the wind. He twitched his shoulders and cursed his rheumatics.  The wind blew in through some cracked shingles and in the stalls some of the horses were restless. Horses were like children, they didn’t like the wind, it made them fidgety.

He walked to his old desk and opened the book to check out the day’s takings, and turned up the flame in the lamp, catching movement from the corner of his eye as he did so.  He turned, his hand, unseen by anyone coming into the livery, hovered close to the rifle leaning against the makeshift desk.

“Oh, it’s you -” he nodded, smiled, whatever the man had done he, Old Beany, held him no grudge.

“Evening, Beany, just came to see how things were…noticed you have had some fancy customers, the Cartwrights no less?”

“Yessir, seems they decided to come visit what with all the goings on round here – ‘scuse me saying so -”

“That’s alright, Beany.” Poynton sighed and looked over at the horses “Got them all back in their stalls then, I see?”

“’Cept the two that Hoss and Adam Cartwright took out, they hired them for a week so ain’t expecting them back awhile yet. Paid up front too…” he nodded, smiled, pleased at a good transaction.

“Who else hired the buggy…just the young family huh?”

“Nope, Ben Cartwright was here as well, yes sir, Old Ben Cartwright himself. Ain’t seen him hereabouts in a long while.” he glanced down at his books, and picked up his pen “You wanting anything, Mr. Poynton?”

Edwin Poynton said nothing for a while, then nodded “Could you saddle up my horse for me, Beany. I need to go and get some fresh air, go for a ride – it’s been a long day.”

Old Beany nodded, knowing what little he did about the situation he was quite sure that Mr. Poynton was right, for him, it had been a long day.

Chapter 62

Shadows lengthened across the ceiling and became darker in the corners of the room. Slowly they began to creep further, closer to the couple in the bed until they finally swallowed them up in a closeness that was as tight as the swaddling bands around that little child who slept in a manger so long ago

Strangely comforting and reassuring.

Mary Ann lay on her back staring up into the darkness and thinking of all the events of that day. The talk with Joe, the train journey, going to the cabin, and those deer, the children playing, Ben talking…she slowed her thoughts a little and returned to what Ben had talked about, about Joe and Marie.

By her side Joe stirred, turned into her body and opened his eyes. Even in the darkness he knew that she was awake, he blinked sleep away and reached out for her hand, brushed across the warm soft flesh of her stomach, closed his fingers around hers “What’s on your mind?” he whispered

Her lips twitched into a slow smile, and she turned to him “My father would have said “A penny for them?’ but your Pa always says, ‘What’s on your mind?’”

“Followed up by ‘Speak plain.’” Joe’s words were wrapped up in a grin, and her smile widened.

“We just follow on from our parents, don’t we?”

“Perhaps.” he frowned “I hope I’m not entirely like Pa,”

“Not entirely,” she laughed then, that soft laugh he loved and he moved closer to kiss her.

His fingers touched her face, caressed her neck and throat, he could feel the pulse there beating like a little hammer beneath his fingertips. “What’s on your mind, sweetheart, speak plain.”

He kissed her again and she turned into him and returned his kisses before, with a sigh, she whispered “Joe, do you think your Mother would have liked me?”

He paused for a moment and then rolled onto his back and stared up into the shadows, “She would have loved you, Mary Ann. How could she not? You are everything I love, and she would have loved you for that alone, but also for yourself, because -” he turned towards her, “Because you are you, and -”

She put a finger to his lips, and he stopped talking. Night sounds trickled through into the room, the ticking of a clock, the creak of a floorboard, a window creaking on its hinges somewhere. They could hear Daniel cough, a little snort, the rustling of his bed covers. The sounds of the town sleeping, for even towns such as a capital city slept – eventually.

“Can you remember going to the cabin with your Pa and mother?”

“No. I couldn’t remember any of what Pa was talking about, but then, at the time there was so much to explore, to discover. We were buying up land so fast, and Pa or Adam would be taking Hoss and me all over to see it, to put what it could be used for, and – of course – Adam left for college.” he paused and frowned “A lot changed too, he left shortly after Ma died, you know?”

“Yes, I remember you telling me…”

“It was bad timing, to my mind, even now looking back I think it was – well – not the best but Pa said beggars can’t be choosers, and Adam needed that chance  I remember sometime during Adam’s absence he brought Hoss and myself here, it was just an old way station, nothing grand really.”

“Did you like it? The place where that shack is, where we went – did you like it, Joe?”

His brow crinkled again, he cleared his throat “There’s a whole lot of places on the Ponderosa I like…but we always came here when Pa had business to conduct, stayed in that old shack and did a bit of hunting for ourselves, Hoss loved it, and Pa – well – now of course I can understand why Pa would always be kinda quiet, and soulful – “ he paused, “Yeah, soulful.”

They both sighed together, as though the word conjured up some significant feeling that they responded to in unison. She turned to him, “I tried to imagine what it was like for your Pa, having Marie there, and a little Joe running around, and what Marie would have done, what she would have loved so much about the place.”

“You didn’t like it so much then?” he sounded disappointed; his brow touched hers just momentarily

“Oh, I thought it was beautiful, it was – strange “

“How do you mean – strange?” he raised himself up on one elbow to look down at her face, in shadow though it was,

“Peaceful. I can’t explain it, Joe, just that it kind of made me feel – settled.”

He said nothing for a moment, the thought of New York City flashed through his mind of course, but he dismissed it immediately. He rolled over onto his back and she drew closer to him, her warm body soft against the flesh and bone of his own body. “Places can have that effect on a person, can’t they? Like music? “

“I guess so,” he replied and felt a wisp of her hair drift across his face. “It’s quite a bit off the beaten track though. I always remember that the times I did come, with Adam or Hoss, we always had a good time.

The settlement kept growing so we could go into town for a drink or essentials, and then come back here. I can’t understand why we just let those moments slip by, why we stopped coming so often.” he sighed and shook his head, “No wonder folk here in town forgot us, our own fault I guess, we should have come more often/ I should have brought you here before now…” he turned his face and his nose bumped into hers and they laughed together, he kissed her lips, she kissed his, and for a while the only sounds were of their own making.

*****

Adam tossed more wood onto their fire and leaned forward to check that it had landed in the right place. Further away Hoss was preparing his bed roll, yawning as he did so.  He watched as the shadows danced over Adams face, “Remember when we used to come here as kids…”

“I remember that time we made camp and Joe nearly set the woodland on fire -”

“His first attempt at making his own campfire -”

“Unsupervised”

“That was Little Joe, always having to do it his way.” Hoss rubbed his face, then his backside, then his chest “I’m just about ready for a good sleep.”

Adam nodded, checked the fire again and then sat down on the trunk of an old tree, long fallen, decayed in many areas, but strong enough to support his weight. He tossed small pieces of dry wood onto the fire and watched the flames leap up hungrily to devour them,

“I didn’t know Pa used to come here with Marie and Joe….”

“ I came with them sometimes…not often. It was a bit of a rough settlement then, worse than the Washoe. Old times, Adam, things change” he paused “Things have changed…”

“We’ve changed -”

“That’s life, brother.”

Adam nodded, “Makes me wonder how many other parts of the Ponderosa are like this -”

“What? Untouched and beautiful?”

“Possibly. I was thinking – kind of – forgotten, neglected.”

“A thousand square miles – you coming back to that agin?  That we got too much land?”

“Was a time Pa would say if land isn’t being used then it isn’t worth having…”

“Yeah, I know.  Like keeping a horse that’s a regular hay burner, if it ain’t making a profit then don’t keep it.” Hoss paused “Listening to you makes me think you’ll whittle the Ponderosa down to just the yards around our houses.”

Adam shook his head “Quite the contrary.  I like the thought of those neglected oases on the Ponderosa. Our children will enjoy them too, when they grow and spread their wings.”

“So long as they don’t spread their wings and fly too far -”  Hoss engulfed his words in a yawn, “I gotta get me some sleep.  G’night, Adam”

Adam nodded, muttered a goodnight and stared into the flames. He stretched out his left leg which ached from so much time in the saddle. Leaning his head forward he cupped his chin within his hands and thought back to the situation with Poynton, and Gascoigne.  For a while he wondered just how much money had been fleeced from the investors, he even wondered if Armstrong would have been one of them, Silas perhaps? But they knew that land belonged to the Ponderosa, so he dismissed that thought although it brought back to his mind that one of his designs had found its way to Poyntons office.

He could hear Hoss snoring, the loud rumble and grunt that they used to tease him would have scared away

the largest puma. He raised his head to view the stars beyond the boughs and shadows of the trees. He could recall doing the same when on board ship, looking up beyond the sails and the rigging, thinking of how they resembled the timberland of the Ponderosa, now he smiled to himself, there was no resemblance whatsoever.

He stood up and walked about a little to ease the ache in his leg, and to quieten his mind. He wondered if his children would enjoy it here, perhaps he would come, and like Joe, bring his wife and children here for a holiday. He tried to stifle a yawn, but it came anyway, a reminder that he was tired, he was older, and tomorrow was another day of riding, a long day.  He hoped it was going to be worthwhile.

*****

 

“Evening, Mr. Laws.”

The older man was startled by the voice coming out of the shadows, he lowered his hat and nodded, “Evening, Mr. Benton.”

Laws was the only man in town who called old Beanie by his real name. Perhaps remembering that he would one day have to engrave the name onto a gravestone, but forgetting that no one would remember who Josiah Benton was, knowing him only as Old Beanie, just as they had forgotten the land belonged to the Cartwrights, knowing only that it was free land to hunt upon.

“How’s the wife, Mr. Laws?”

Beanie removed his pipe from his mouth and looked up at the undertaker whom he had known for years, because the horses used to draw the coaches in which the remains in the coffins took their last walk to the cemetery were kept in the livery he owned. Laws nodded

“She’s doing well. They thought she would die, you know? The bullet just missed her heart, but she bled a lot.”

“Not so good then?” Old Beanie said, always looking at the glum side as usual.

“It could have killed her.” Laws repeated.

“You’re out late, Mr. Laws…”

Laws stopped to think for a moment, his head felt like his brain was full of fog, he looked down at the other man, and nodded “I thought there was going to be a storm earlier, but as it’s not arrived I thought I’d take a little ride, try and clear my head.”

Beanie nodded and clamped his pipe between his teeth, he was going to say that Mr. Poynton had said the same thing not so long ago but decided that the mention of that man’s name would be upsetting. He just stood and watched as Mr. Laws jogged along the main street of town, his horse’s hooves clip clopping echoes in the shadows.

He was about to close the big doors to the livery when a hand clamped heavily upon his shoulder, causing him to open his mouth and the pipe to fall onto the ground. He grabbed it up quick before the dottle of burning tobacco could ignite the dry straw strewn on the dust of the floor, he looked up to find himself facing the Marshall.

“Sorry, Beanie -”

“Startled me for a second there, Marshall.”

Howard nodded and sucked at his teeth for a moment while the livery owner got the doors closed up and locked. He cleared his throat, “Was that Mr. Laws I saw just now?”

“He was going out for a ride – to clear his head” Beanie said, “Guess being in a hospital for hours on end would make a man want to do that, go for a ride I mean, and clear yer head.”

“Did he say how his wife was? She’s not died, has she?” thoughts of an impending murder charge and an arrest of Mr. Poynton loomed large for a moment, but Beanie shook his head

“He said she was doing fine. Nearly died though…close to death, not good for citizens going around and shooting like that, weren’t so long ago that young fella was shot right in front of the Ormsby House Hotel*, and ”

Howard raised a hand to stop the flow of words, he knew all about that shooting, proof that despite the young man’s popularity in town, he had also been a foolish young man in calling out his killer. “Now then, Beanie, that’s all been laid to rest now.”

“As has he -” Beanie intoned and bowed his head.

“So, Mr. Laws has gone for a ride, has he?”

“To clear his head -”

“Yes, so you said.  Going in the wrong direction for home though….”

“He lives only a walk away from the hospital, Marshall.” Beanie nodded, “Oh I see what you mean, yes, quite the opposite direction. Funny that – I mean – maybe funny ain’t the right word to use but -”

“But?”

“Not so long before Mr. Laws went a-riding Mr. Poynton came and got himself a horse for the same purpose.”

“To go for a ride and clear his head?” Marshall suggested with a frown obscured by the shadow of his hat

“That’s what he said….”

“What direction?”

“Same as Mr. Laws…or rather….”

“That’s alright, Beanie….” he paused and thought for a moment, Beanie stood still wondering if he moved that perhaps it would spoil the Marshall’s ability to think straight, so he drew on his pipe and provided a smokescreen instead.

*****

Ben Cartwright pushed aside the last of the folders.  Herringshaw and his partners had certainly carried out lengthy and very detailed surveys. It made him realise that Poynton and Gascoigne must have really thought their plan out carefully, maybe really believed that this scheme would work.  He rubbed his chin, was aware of stubble prickling his fingers and recalled that it was already early morning.  The expected storm had not arrived, or if it did, he had been unaware of it.

He got up and stretched to remove the kinks in his back, then walked about the cabin for a little before deciding on making a fresh brew of coffee.  He poked up the flames in the fire and put down the coffee pot, then walked to the door which he opened to look out upon the dark shadows beyond.

He was so easy to lose oneself in ones’ memories…bittersweet, painful sometimes.  He leaned against the door jamb and bowed his head. It didn’t seem so long ago that he had stood here in this very spot with Marie, his arm around her waist, her head resting upon his shoulder. Little Joe had been asleep, soft snores drifting into other sounds, of trees whispering in the night breeze, an owl hooting far away and the beat of its wings as it drew closer.

“You should have built the Ponderosa here, Ben. It’s so lovely, but so far to travel to reach here.”

“If you like it so much, my darling, then I’ll buy the land and we’ll build a house here. A magnificent house – if that’s what you really want.”

He had kissed her, long and passionately. They had melded into one body, arms holding one another close, hands touching, gentle and tender.  

After her death and Adam going to college he had not come to the shack in a long time, stayed in town to conduct any necessary business, people said the shack had been built by one of the early frontiersmen, perhaps the one who had shot the bald eagle.  Too many memories, and as she had said, it was a long way to come, but – he nodded – along the Tahoe, through into woodland, it had been a beautiful journey and well worth it.  Odd how Abraham Curry had wanted him to be involved in developing Eagle Station into something bigger but at the time Ben was fighting for keep his land free from prospectors, land grabbers, silver barons as they became, and he had resented bitterly the despoiling of the land, that was not what he wanted the Ponderosa to become, not then, and not now…

He turned and checked the coffee, poured it out into a cup and told himself that after he had drunk it, he would turn in and get some sleep.  Tomorrow – he paused – tomorrow can wait, someone was out there – or was it his imagination, hopeful for a glimpse of a pink dress, the sound of her laugh.

Nothing, not even the hoot of an owl.

But then again, movement in the trees, and certainly a horse snorting – he stepped back into the cabin and put the cup of coffee down on the table as he reached for his gun, “Who’s there? Show yourself?”

Nothing. He shook his head, silly old fool, imagining things now, seeing shadows within shadows

Chapter 63

Hoss snored so loud that a rabbit froze out of fear just beyond the fire…it sat paralysed for some seconds its nose twitching in an attempt to work out whether the cause of the noise meant danger or not. When the mound beneath the blanket heaved itself over the rabbit took no chances and scampered off as fast as it could go.

Hoss woke up and rubbed his eyes, smacked his lips and realised he felt dry mouthed. He threw off the blanket and shivered slightly, a leaf fell from the trees above and settled on his shoulder making him jump. He brushed it off mumbling beneath his breath as he made his way to the fire, stirred it up a little with a twig, and then carefully placed more wood on the embers. It wasn’t long before the fire was burning brightly, and the coffee pot was carefully put into place. He glanced over at his brother, who slept like a log nearby. Perhaps it would be unfair to wake him now, and Hoss stood up and stretched. The cool night air was full of smells, dead leaves, damp, smells of autumn, of their fire, the coffee, of his own sweat…there were some sweet smells too, the fresh smell of a new earth after rainfall, some flower that he couldn’t distinguish…he yawned and scratched under his armpit and shivered again…

“Why you up?” Adam slurred in his semi-sleep mode “Go back sleep?”

“Got too much on my mind…” Hoss replied but received no response except another long drawn out sigh. “do you want some coffee?”

“No. Go sleep….”

Hoss nodded and picked up his mug, poured the hot brew into it and walked over to where he could sit on the log. He wondered if this trip was going to be worth the journey, he sighed, and of course, there was the ride back to the line shack. Hopefully they wouldn’t have to stay there for long, perhaps they could miss it altogether and just go straight to the restaurant for breakfast, no, he meant supper. He shook his head; this whole thing had got a big mess so far as he was concerned.

*****

Mr. Laws was – like his name – he was a law-abiding citizen and knowing that the land on the other side of the river belonged to Ben Cartwright had never ever crossed the river to find out exactly what was on the other side. He had shaken his head at others who had boasted of the fish they had caught, or the meat they had hunted. But now, following Poynton, he had crossed the river and was now riding into the woodland.

He was not armed apart from the rifle, so in actual fact he was armed but he didn’t or wouldn’t have claimed that he was because he never wore a gun belt or even possessed a six shooter. He was just a law-abiding man going about his business except that this was not his business, all he was aware of was the huge ball of anger in his gut and the need to get answers from Poynton who had nearly killed his wife.

He could remember conversations with Poynton, he remembered telling the man time and again he would get himself in trouble if he continued with his plans to build on Ponderosa land, but Poynton had just said no man should own land if he wasn’t going to make good use of it. He said it was anyone’s for the taking, except that Laws knew that it was not….

Laws had been in Carson City since it was nothing more than a settlement, before the building in Eagle Valley. He had stayed because people were always dying, and he hoped that he served the community well in his capacity as its Undertaker. His wife had thought Mr. Poynton was a wonderful far seeing man, ambitious and hopeful to provide for the people of Carson City. That was all. She had insisted that everything was above board, she had thought Mr. Gascoigne and Mr. Poynton were going to do great things for the town.

She hadn’t deserved to get shot down like that –

Of course he was lost. He had been so deep in thought that he had lost sight of the track and gone off the trail. He drew his horse to a halt and looked around him. Moonlight dappled the ground around him, like big white spangles of light…then he heard the shouting.

He turned his horse in the direction of the sounds. Perhaps Poynton had come across Adam Cartwright in the line shack, alone…

*****

Mary Ann Cartwright woke up from a deep sleep and lay there with her eyes closed. She had been dreaming about Joe’s mother, imagining her seated at the table in the line shack, smiling at her. She was a very lovely looking woman, perhaps in the dream more beautiful than reality because Mary Ann’s imagination had had to supply the details about which she was very sketchy. They had been talking about life on the Ponderosa, and Marie was telling her how hard it had been, Virginia City didn’t exit then, nor Carson City, the trails to and from the ranch house had either been thick mud or heavy dust. It was very different from New Orleans.

New Orleans. Mary Ann tried to imagine New Orleans. Marie Cartwright had had to make many changes to her life when she married Ban. How on earth had she managed to make the transition; how could she have borne it? Marie Cartwright leaning across the table in her dream has answered that question with a smile,

“If you love your husband enough, you can bear anything and then you get to love it as well. There is an old Chinese proverb which says “No one before thee, my husband, not even I.”

Mary Ann murmured the words beneath her breath now, and within minutes had drifted back to sleep.

*****

Ben reached out for his gun, the handle slipped easily into the palm of his hand and he stepped further back into the cabin

“Best show yourself….” he yelled

He leaned towards the table in order to lower the flame in the lamp, and as he did so a shot rang out. So, he hadn’t been so stupid after all, he inched towards the open door with the intention of swinging it shut but another gun shot rang out, this time tearing through the sleeve of his shirt and burning a welt across his arm He leaned towards the table in order to lower the flame in the lamp, and as he did so a shot rang out. So, he hadn’t been so stupid after all, he inched towards the open door with the intention of swinging it shut but another gun shot rang out, this time tearing through the sleeve of his shirt and burning a welt across his arm.

“I can see you, Cartwright – I told you – I’d come for you – you can’t get away that easily. I’ll burn you out if necessary.”

Ben frowned and shook his head. Whoever it was didn’t seem in the mood to be placated by anything he could say. He had not met Poynton in a long time, the voice was familiar but meant nothing. “Whoever you are -”

“You know who it is, Cartwright.” and several other shots winged their way towards the shack.

Ben fired back, once, twice, he wished he could get the door close, provide some form of barrier between himself and the mad man out there who obviously had some grudge against him, or one of his sons, he didn’t stop to think which he was too concerned about saving his skin. He edged away from the door and to the window.

Looking out he could see only shadows and when he saw something move, he fired, only to receive several more shots in return. It seemed to him that the shots were closer, and as he raised his gun to fire once more into the shadows the half-closed door was thrown open, a man stood there silhouetted in shadows and raised a gun.

“I hope you rot in hell.” Poynton yelled and fired at the man standing by the window.,

Several more shots were fired, echoing throughout the cabin. Ben fell, his gun slipped from his fingers in his fall. Poynton staggered and clutched at his chest before he also fell.

Marshall Howard stepped through the door and replaced his gun into the holster. He looked at the two men, and then stepped to the table and turned up the flame in the lamp. He ignored Poynton, but went immediately to where Ben lay, blood pooling like black tar on the floor around him

He was about to check for a pulse when he heard a step on the boards and spun round, only to see Mr. Laws standing there, looking around him at the scene, open mouthed and wide eyed.

“Mr. Laws, I think I need your help.” Marshal Howard said quietly, his monotone voice containing enough authority in it for Laws to gather his wits and not panic.

Chapter 64

Shadows were creeping away now, although the moon still shone her silvery light over the buildings, slipping through gaps in windows and illuminating the interior of rooms. The sun was yet to rise in contest for her dominion over the skies, and the clouds drifted by as though unconcerned.

Light shone on the couple sleeping in the big bed in Carson City’s plush hotel. It dappled their faces so that the woman stirred, sighed and continued to sleep. It lingered over the face of the man who snorted, coughed and half opened his eyes.  Joe lay for a moment as though unsure as to where exactly he was sleeping, he could feel his wife’s warm body pressed against his back. He closed his eyes again and felt contentment steal over him and reached out a hand to touch her gently on the shoulder.

A noise, more than a noise, heavy knocking on the door.  Impatient knocking, and a voice calling out “Mr. Cartwright?  Mr. Cartwright?”

Joe swung himself from the bed, grabbed at his dressing gown and hurried to the door as he pulled it on, an arm at a time so that he was able to open the door modestly clad. Marshall Howard looked at him and the relief on his haggard features quickly replaced the anxiety that had been there previously

“Sorry – had to disturb you– best you get dressed and come with me.”

“What?” Joe’s realised his speech was slurred, he was still half asleep, trying to convince himself this was part of a weird dream, “Come on in….Marshall.”

“Howard…Marshall Howard.”

Joe felt an inane desire to giggle, it was hard to know if the man was called Howard, Marshall or whether he was notifying Joe that he was the town’s Marshall.  He cleared his throat and nodded,

“What can I do for you, Marshall?”

“There’s been some shooting, over at the line shack…”

“The Line Shack?” Joe repeated and nodded “A shooting?”

His brain scooted along a thread of thought – Adam and Hoss were not at the line shack, but Pa had insisted on staying, so what was the shooting all about? He looked at Howard,

“A shooting? Is my Pa alright?”

A stupid question, perhaps he should have asked the Marshall just how bad was it, was Pa dead? Wounded? Howard nodded, and glanced over at the door to the bedroom, then back at Joe,

“Couldn’t locate your brothers….”

“They aren’t in town…”

He was scurrying around now, picking up clothing, picking up his boots, trying to maintain modesty while dressing without having to disturb Mary Ann or the children. Howard paced the floor, his steps hollow on the carpet, and Joe wished he would stop doing that so that he could think straight. Who would want to shoot Pa? Had it been someone hunting again, and Pa had got in the way?

He was buttoning up his pants and grabbing at his jacket, paused, “I’ll just scribble a note for my wife…”

Howard nodded, wondered why it always took people so long to get around to doing such simple things, but he waited with an air of patience as Joe scribbled his note, left it under the statuette of a shepherdess, and then followed Howard from the room.

“How is he? You never said, what happened? Is my Pa alright? Not dead, is he?” he was gabbling as he and the Marshall took the lift down to the foyer, and then walked out to the street.

The fresh air hit him, cool and moist, he blinked and looked up at the stars, said a silent prayer as Howard talked about Poynton, a Mr. Laws and finding Ben shot –

“I had to shoot Poynton,” Howard was saying, and it seemed to Joe that there was a slight touch of regret in his voice, perhaps that was natural after all the two men had been serving their town together for years in their different ways. Perhaps they had been friends, Joe didn’t know, he didn’t care, he still hadn’t been told about his father

“Good thing Mr. Laws had come along, he helped get your father here – couldn’t have left him there, he lost a lot of blood.”

“But he is alive?”

Howard scowled “Of course he’s alive.  But as I said he lost a lot of blood, and the wound isn’t pretty, not that any are, but it missed his heart, thankfully.”

Joe breathed out, he had been holding his breath for so long that he could hear the pulses beating in his ears, “But he’s alright and safe?”

“He wouldn’t have been if I’d not been there…you can thank Mr. Laws for that -” Howard gave a slight grimace as he mounted the steps to the hospital entrance, “I think he had intended to murder Mr. Poynton in which case I’d have had to arrest him, now he’s the hero of the piece and I’m the one killed him.”

He pushed open the door and stepped inside followed by Joe. A nurse glared at them both and then nodded to the Marshall, her stiff composure slightly softened by the sight of a familiar face, the Marshall introduced Joe and after a quick cursory glance at the younger man, she nodded

“The patient is still unconscious, but he is out of danger. He’s strong and healthy, so his recovery won’t take as long as it would for others of his age.” she looked down at some papers clipped to a folder, glanced again at Joe, her face softened a little more, “I knew Mr. Cartwright some years ago, a fine man.”

Joe nodded, yes, yes a fine man indeed, but where was he? She turned and indicated they followed her and took them up some stairs to where Ben Cartwright lay in a private room, she turned to them and the stern look had returned,

“He may stay like this for a while, the Doctor removed two bullets, to be honest, he should be dead.” she looked down at Ben and again her face softened, “I remember taking a bullet out of him years ago, a bank raid, he got caught up in it.” she shook her head, “He never changes, always finding trouble.  Big hearted and stubborn as a mule, that’s what my husband used to say about him, a good friend.” her hand hovered just above Ben’s shoulders and she sighed, then turned back to them “Don’t keep him talking when he comes round, you hear? He needs to build up his strength.”

She bustled away, back straight, chin up. Howard nodded over at her retreating figure and grinned “She’s been here for years, but I remember that time she was talking about, your Pa came here with your elder brother, that was the first time I met any of the Cartwrights.”

Joe nodded, his eyes fixed to his father’s face, the pallor beneath the tan, the firm line of his mouth, the beak of a nose. He swallowed and placed his hand on his father’s arm and didn’t notice the chair that Howard had pulled up behind him so that he nearly fell over it as he stepped away from the bed.

“Tell me again – what happened? Why was Poynton there? Why did he shoot my Pa?”

Howard nodded, and set his hat down on the floor, crossed one leg over the other, “I shot Poynton, just before he could have fired that last bullet into your Pa. Once I made sure Ben was not dead I went to check Poynton, he was dying, I was surprised that he was still alive to be honest with you,” he groped into his coat pocket and extracted a silver flask the top of which he unscrewed, he glanced around him, offered it to Joe who shook his head, then took a few gulps, then screwed back the top. “Well, Poynton wasn’t making much sense, but it seems that he thought Adam was here, on his own.  He wanted to kill him, pure and simple, nothing more or less. He kept saying ‘I don’t understand why ‘ but he never explained what that meant…but I think this whole business of the land investment was just too much.”

“You mean – he was mad?” Joe blinked, and frowned, he looked from the Marshall to his father. who had stirred and murmured something.

Howard shrugged “Momentarily obsessed with revenge, perhaps that’s madness of a sort. I think from what he said that the whole business got to be too stressful for him, he wanted to do great things, had good intentions, but knew he was running risks, and he wasn’t a man who could take running risks easily. Gascoigne was putting pressure on him, and life became rather like a see-saw, he wanted good to come out of something he knew was wrong, but at the same time -”

“Sorry, Marshall, the man was out to make money by fleecing a lot of people out of their hard earned cash to buy land he knew was not and never would be theirs…” Joe’s voice was hard and emotionless, his hazel eyes sparked green, his lips firmed over his teeth in a grim line.

“I know, I know.” Howard nodded, “But – sometimes I think he really believed he was going to do something wonderful for Nevada, for Carson City…and at the same time he had Gascoigne on his back, reminding him that he was actually a criminal…I don’t think he could take much more.”

Joe pursed his lips, shook his head “He should have gone to a Doctor then, instead he gets found out and then goes off with the intention of killing my brother….”

“He’d snapped…”

Joe opened his mouth to speak, then closed it again, Howard looked at Ben and frowned, “Take Mr. Laws for instance -”

“Who?”

“Mr. Laws the undertaker. It was his wife that Poynton shot. Perhaps that was what took Poynton over the edge…” he paused and then shrugged “Anyway, Laws has never broken a law in his life, one of the steadiest and most honest individuals I’ve ever known, but then his wife gets shot, nearly killed and – “

“Don’t tell me, he snapped as well?” Joe’s voice couldn’t conceal the cynicism he was feeling, but Howard just nodded slowly,

“He admitted to me that he had followed Poynton with the intention of killing him. He never wore a gun, you know?  Not sure if he even knew how to fire the rifle, he’d brought along with him. But – people have their limits, Poynton didn’t even wait to find out who was in the cabin, he was so convinced it was your brother. I don’t think, in the end, he could have cared anyway, so long as he killed a Cartwright.”

The man in the bed stirred, opened his eyes and stared at the Marshall, then at Joe, then with a sigh he closed his eyes again and fell into a deep sleep.

*****

The two brothers sat astride their horses and looked ahead of them, then to either side. They were on the edge of the woodland, and were looking onto meadows, the grass was indeed as tall as a man knee, when he was on horseback in the saddle. They edged forwards, silent, only the sound of the horses brushing into the grasses and the swish and crackling as they passed through. The grass sprung up behind them, covering the way they had come, covering their track.

The air was clean coming from the mountains, the waters of what had been called Lake Bigler gleamed and shimmered in the distance, but close enough to be within an hour’s ride.  After a few minutes, less than fifteen, Hoss pulled up his horse and just sat there, he removed his hat and with the back of his hand he wiped his brow, he glanced over at Adam who was narrow eyed, looking around him,

“I kin hear your brain ticking over…” he muttered, and Adam shrugged, “this what the surveyors wrote up about in their report?”

Adam nodded and swung himself out of the saddle, he squatted down and pulled up some grass from the roots, fingered the dirt that still clung there, watched as the soil fell back onto the ground. He looked over at Hoss and passed over the tussock of grass, “It’s good grass.”

Hoss looked at it, raised it to his nose and inhaled the smell of it.  He lifted his eyes and looked over the vastness of the land and nodded “Adam, this is a cattleman’s dream come true….”

His brother nodded and pursed his lips, then he turned his horse round, remounted into the saddle, “Best get back, we’ve some way to ride.”

But Hoss didn’t move for a while, he sat as though entranced and Adam sighed, impatient to move on, “Don’t it remind you though, of when we first found the Ponderosa…how we rode round the Lake and looked and looked and Pa quote from that long poem you like -”

“Paradise Lost” Adam muttered and reached for his canteen of water

“Yeah, and he said that we had found our Eden.” he raised a hand to wipe away a tear, blinked in case there were more lingering there and he didn’t want his brother to see them fall, Memories, sweet and tender, filled his mind and pictures flickered like so many cards one by one for him to look upon, “Remember how you ran through the grass and then we couldn’t find ya?”

Adam allowed a small smile to touch his lips, he nodded “Yeah, I remember.”

“All those trees we cut down…”

“Not much we could do otherwise, Hoss, we needed to build soon as we could.” Adam gulped down some water, licked his lips and sighed “There was a lot of work to do.”

“Yeah, sure was…and Pa dug around every stump and filled the trench with water so’s we could pull out the stumps easier…”

“Took a while, but the water did make it quicker,” Adam nodded and looked up at the sky, the clouds were darkening. “Best start riding back, we’ll have more shelter in the woods.”

Hoss nodded and Adam smiled as he watched his big brother turn his horse, and glanced back over his shoulder for a last glimpse of the meadow, “Could get a whole lot of cattle grazing hereabouts…”

“Uh-huh,” Adam nodded, “Just what I was thinking, Hoss.”

Chapter 65

The two men stood by the side of the bed and looked down at the unconscious man stretched out beneath starched white sheets.

“Is he going to be alright?” Joe asked trying hard to prevent the wobble in his voice but failing, his hand hovered over his father’s shoulder as though he wanted to touch him, reassure him, but dared not do so in case it caused further pain.

The Doctor sighed and put a hand on Joe’s arm in order to lead him away from the bed. There were times when it did no good for a patient to overhear what was said.

“Is he going to be alright?”

How many times had Ben Cartwright asked that same question to various Doctors over the years? He couldn’t open his eyes, they were too heavy, sweat beaded above his eyebrows and threatened to fall irritatingly down the sides of his face, spiking his hair. He couldn’t move. He didn’t want to move.  He tried to remember what had happened but after seeing the man standing in the doorway of the old shack, he could recall nothing. Pain. Weakness. An awareness that he could be dying and a further awareness that he didn’t want to die, not yet.

“Is he going to be alright?”    “Send for Dr Martin.”

He was aware of the fact that Paul Martin was not attending to his injuries now. He could not recognise the voice. He sighed and the two men involuntarily turned their heads towards the bed, breaking off their conversation. The Doctor approached, checked Ben’s pulse, and looked down at the sweating flesh of the old mans’ face. He then returned to where Joe was standing, too frightened to move.

“He’s fighting. That’s a good sign.” the Doctor said quietly

“He’s sweating – a lot.”

“He’s weak, blood loss. And he’s had a lot of drugs to help him through the operation. It’s quite normal.”

Joe wanted to ask him just how sure he was about that, could he guarantee it? He turned away from the sight of his father struggling to survive in the bed, it was not a sight he wanted to look at anymore, it frightened him. It had always frightened him when anything had ever happened to his father…because to Joe, his father was the ultimate hero of all time. The man who carved out the Ponderosa, raised three sons…lost three wives…he raised a hand to his face and pressed his fingers against his eyes

A rustling sound distracted their attention and a stiffly uniformed nurse arrived, coughed softly to get their attention and then informed Joe that his wife was outside, anxious to hear from him. Joe nodded, looked at the Doctor as though to ask permission to leave, and then turned and followed her out.

Mary Ann stood up from the chair upon which she had been seated and stepped towards him, her eyes wide and red rimmed. The children, mute, scared, stood close to her, Constance’s plump dimpled hand clasping her skirt.

“How is he?”

“Not good. Holding his own. Fighting…”

She looked at his face, could read there more than what could be understood from what he said, and nodded. He looked at her and took hold of her hand, “I’m sorry.  This isn’t how I meant it to be….”

“Of course not.” she gave a fleeting reassuring smile and looked down at the children, “Daniel, take your sister over there and sit down. Be quiet now. Be good children.”

She smiled reassuringly at them and gave Daniel a slight push of the shoulder, gently but firmly for there were times when the child could be stubborn when he chose to be, but he nodded and took Constance by the hand and led her to the chairs further along. Joe and Mary Ann watched them until they were seated, smiled and nodded approval, then turned towards each other.

“What do you want me to do, darling?” Mary Ann now asked and slipped her hand into his, looked into his anxious face

“There is one thing -” he paused, and a slight frown puckered his brow, he ran his fingers through his hair a nervous gesture of which she was inordinately fond, “I was wondering, about Hester and Olivia…perhaps -”

“Yes, of course, they should be here.” she nodded and looked at him, then reached out to touch his face “Sweetheart, he will be alright, he’ll get through this.”

“I didn’t realise – I mean- I didn’t think this could happen. I should never have suggested you coming here, and the children -” he paused and glanced over to where Daniel sat swinging his legs to and fro, holding his sister firmly by the hand while his eyes were fixed firmly on them, “Yes I mean – would you send a telegram to them? Tell them to get here as soon as they can?”

“Of course, I shall. Is there any way of letting Adam and Hoss know?”

He shook his head, “No, I don’t think so…I can’t leave Pa and there isn’t anyone I can think of -” he paused, then sighed “I should think they will be making their way back to the line shack now. They’ll get here in their own time, I can’t think -” he paused and then shook his head, “sweetheart, if you could just deal with that matter, send Hester and Olivia a telegram, tell them to come as soon as possible.”

She nodded, squeezed his fingers and then kissed his cheek. He wished now that he had not brought them along, he should have come with Adam and Hoss because now his wife was going to hate the Ponderosa more than ever. He hauled in a deep breath, “I need to stay here, with Pa…”

“I know. I’ll take the children and get that telegram sent.  I’ll come back later.” she turned away then and gestured to the children who wriggled off the chairs and hurried to her side, then she once again kissed his cheek “Say bye to Daddy, children.”

He stood there and watched as they turned away. Constance looked back at him, big eyes in a round face, she blinked, waved her hand and then they were gone.

*****

Ben felt as though he were on a boat, gently rising up and down.  He could see waves coming towards him, and then he was looking down at his eldest son who was saying how he had dreamed of a dark ship sailing on a black sea. He remembered the Doctor who had come downstairs and said “Your boys very sick, Ben”

He wanted to raise a hand to wipe away the sweat, but it was too heavy, he couldn’t move. It felt as though he were strapped to the bed, and he wanted to fight the restraints on him, but had no strength to do so.

What had happened?

How had he got here?

He had been standing by the doorway …

He had been standing by the doorway and looking out at the view.  Marie came and stood beside him, her fingers interlaced with his own, and she rested her head upon his shoulder.  They stood there together in silence for some moments, there did not seem any need to talk. He moved just once, to put his arm around her waist and draw her just closer to him.

“This is beautiful, Ben.”

“Yes, I’m glad you persuaded me to buy it.” he smiled and dropped a kiss upon her forehead, and she had sighed contentedly.

“It’s a pity you had not seen this land before – when you first came here – then you could have built the Ponderosa ranch house here, and it would have been such a lovely setting.”

He had frowned then, sighed and shook his head, “This was Bannock country,”

She shrugged “Where you live now belonged to Paiute, what’s the difference?”

“Bannock’s weren’t so reasonable.” his frown deepened, “You know, when we first came upon the land where we built the Ponderosa, it was like this -” he had hugged her closer, maybe as a reassurance that what they had done to the land there was justified, “We had to build- things like this – were sacrificed as a result.”

“You could build here though, a little house, Ben.  This cabin is all very well, but it needs -”

“A woman’s touch?” he had laughed and looked down at her and she had shaken her head, laughed too along with him

“No, it just needs to be more than just a shack. Somewhere we can come to -”

“It’s quite a trek from the Ponderosa ranch to here, my dear.”

“I know, but the views are worth it, and the trail goes along Lake Bigler, where we could camp beneath the stars on the way…Joe would love it, Ben.”

“Next time we come we’ll bring the scamp along.”

“I love it here, Ben. Let’s come again soon, before the fall … before it gets too cold.”

“We will – I promise – and I’ll build a little house here, just for you.”

“But then I’d be lonely -” she pouted, very prettily so he had kissed her and kissed her again, and then he led her back into the cabin where they fell upon the bed …

*****

Roy Coffee was in the Mail and Telegraph Office when the message came through from Carson City.  He was scanning a long telegram from his sister and wondering how much it would have cost her to have sent it and whether or not it would be worth the reply. He heard Eddie give an exclamation and turned “What’s wrong?”

“It’s Ben Cartwright – he’s been shot – injured and -” Eddie paused, in his agitation he had broken a rule, disclosed confidential information and he gulped, his Adams’ apple jerked nervously, and he returned to pay attention to the message coming through the wire

Roy was already at the counter, his sisters telegram crumpled and tossed into the bin, “That for Mrs. Cartwright?”

Eddie nodded, and glanced at Roy, “Do you know if they are in town?”

“Mrs. Hester is -” Roy nodded and put out a hand “I’ll take it.”

Eddie nodded, wrote down the message and carefully placed it in a regulation brown envelope, sealed it and then handed it over “It is urgent.”

Roy nodded, and without a word left the building so abruptly that he nearly collided with Mr. Hancock, who was squashed against the door jamb.

Henry was very proudly showing off the new stove to Hester and Bridie, that had only been installed earlier that morning. It stood gleaming in what was the office area, and he was explaining just how advantageous it was to have one there when Roy came striding into the room with his moustache bristling and his face ruddy from having to hurry in order not to waste time in delivering the telegram.

“What on earth is the matter with you, Roy?” Bridie exclaimed as the three of them turned to face him, like three startled little birds in a nest, eyes wide and mouths agape.

“Telegram, for you and Mrs. Olivia,” Roy said, and hauled in his breath, as he handed the envelope to Hester.

For a moment Hester stared down at it, afraid to take it, to open it. Telegrams always brought bad news. Everyone knew that, didn’t they?  Something bad had happened to Hoss and Adam, something terrible – she put her hand to her throat, to her heart, and felt her knees weaken. Blindly she groped for a chair “Is it -”

Roy nodded, bad news, yes, of course it was but he wished she would hurry up and open it, time was speeding by and Olivia had to be told the news yet, and she wasn’t its town. Hester fumbled as she tore the envelope open and withdrew the message. She read it through twice and then drew in a deep breath, her heart steadied, it was bad news but not so bad as she had expected. She glanced at Bridie “Ben’s been injured.”

Bridie nodded, and looked at Roy who removed his hat as though his friend were already passed on while Henry shook his head and sighed, “How bad…?”

“Bad enough. Mary Ann and Joe want us to go to Carson City….” she paused and rubbed her forehead with trembling fingers, “Olivia’s at home – they want us there as soon as possible. What shall I do about the children? I have to get things packed…I’m sorry… I can’t think straight.” and having said that she burst into tears, “He’s been shot -”

Bridie looked at Roy “Can you get hold of someone to tell Olivia -”

“No,” Hester stood up and placed a hand on Roy’s arm “No, I’ll tell her. I have to take the children back, get some things…” she glanced rather wildly about her, and then shook her head and though to send random thoughts and fears flying from out of her mind. She steadied herself, Hoss needed her, and Adam would need Olivia, and she needed to be sensible.

“I’ll come with you,” Bridie said immediately, “Someone needs to look after Nathaniel, and -”

“I’ll get a message to the school -” Hester frowned, then closed her eyes, she couldn’t think, when she opened them again, she took hold of Bridie’s hand “Thank you, Bridie. I think that’s the best idea, if you could come with me, and be there when Reuben and Sofia get back from school. I’ll ask my cousin Ann to look after Hannah, she already has Hope and Erik for the day, I’m sure she won’t mind.”

She reached around and snatched up her bonnet, tied its ribbon and then pulled on her coat, thank goodness she had decided to leave the younger children with Ann Canaday, what a relief. She snatched up her bag, while Bridie quickly put various files and folders into the safe before collecting her own bonnet and coat.

“Tell Paul, would you, Roy?” Bridie asked as they hurried out of the room, and promptly bumped into her husband who demanded to know what Paul had to be told.

It took but a few moments to tell him and then they were gone, scampering down to the lot to collect the buggy, and make their way to the Ponderosa as quickly as they possibly could.  Paul looked at Roy and frowned, “It sounds a bad business, Roy”

“Yes. I’ll go and get some few things, and go wait for them at the station…can’t have two ladies travelling all that way on their own.”

“No, of course not.”  Paul sighed, “It didn’t say how serious it was, the telegram I mean – it didn’t mention -”

“Just that Ben had been shot, and Mrs. Hester and Mrs. Olivia needed to be there….”

Paul said nothing, but gave his old friend a keen glance of the eye before turning away.

*****

Olivia had listened to Hester, and read the telegram. Hester’s garbled “Ben’s’ been hurt -” as soon as she had entered the house had been something of a preparation of the information to come so she had not had the occasion to fear anything terrible had befallen her husband, yet at the same time her stomach had turned over at the thought of Ben being hurt.

She had forced herself to be as calm as possible as she listened to Hester, nodded, agreed and then saw her friend leave the house like a whirlwind, leaving herself, Bridie and Nathaniel standing there in a small bewildered little bunch watching the door swing shut behind her.

“I’ll make some coffee….” Bridie had said

“Nathaniel – go and play like a good boy.”

“Is Daddy coming home?” a little whisper of a voice and Nathaniel’s big eyes glazed up at her so that she had to lean down and hold him close in a hug to reassure him

Bridie came and cajoled him away with her to the kitchen, promises of cookies and lemonade, with lots of sugar in it.

“Thank you, Bridie, thank you so much -” Olivia said and hurried upstairs to her room in order to pack a few necessary things for the journey.

Questions prompted anxiety which fed fear all of which she tried to bundle away as quickly as her hands grabbed at things to bundle into her valise. By the time she had finished packing she needed to sit down for a moment or two just to calm herself down and not let panic overwhelm her.

Hester had continued on to the Ponderosa ranch house to collect up a few things and get a message sent to her cousin Ann via Hank, who was told to leave Hannah with Rosie at the Canaday’s when he collected the children from school later that day.  Hop Sing was practically dancing a war dance by the time she had finished, insisting that he came along to help, and generally getting in her way so that she was more flustered than ever.

“He’s in the hospital, Hop Sing. They’ll be taking good care of him…”

“Then why for they ask you and Missy Livvy go?”

“Because – that’s why – just because -”

It took all her powers of persuasion to keep the old man at the house, telling him that he needed to get things organised for Ben’s return, that his skills as friend and healer would be called upon then…and he had nodded, agreed, and reluctantly allowed himself to be persuaded to stay. Had he known that Roy Coffee was already at the station he would have broken out into another war dance followed by a lot of Cantonese invective.

Chapter 66

Somewhere a clock chimed. In the far recesses of his mind Ben Cartwright listened to the steady toll of four bells.  He opened his eyes and looked around him and closed them again. It was the same as the time before when he had opened his eyes, and everything was unfamiliar. He didn’t know where he was, and he didn’t know why he felt so weak, so weary.

A man came to the bed and looked down at him, and touched his shoulder.  A gentle touch and then a mumble of a voice above his head, obviously talking to someone else. About him?  He forced his ears to listen, but the words remained a jumble. Perhaps he was in a foreign land.  He had been shipwrecked several times before although – he sighed deeply – he couldn’t remember being in a storm.

The Dr stepped back and shook his head, “He is fighting this, Mr. Cartwright.  But -”

“But?” Joe asked through gritted teeth. This was the second Doctor who had come along to tell him that his father was ‘fighting this’ and there was always the ‘but -‘

“It’s going to take some time.” the Doctor leaned closer to Ben and scrutinised the rugged face, and nodded “Yes, I should think it will take some time, the bullet that creased his skull has caused a deep concussion, it may have caused some – trauma.”

“Trauma? What do you mean – some trauma?”

“It may be that he may lose his memory, or suffer some mental disturbance. While he is like this, comatose we would say, he is fighting it on his own and may well emerge perfectly well, but it is possible that should he gain consciousness – well, he may have other battles ahead.”

“Such as?” Joe bit his nails, not that there were that many more to chew, he had had plenty of hours sitting here with his father to have nibbled most down to the quick

“As I said, amnesia…or even … change in personality…a gentle man, could become aggressive, or vice versa.  Was your father a gentle man, Mr. Cartwright?”

Joe heaved in a breath. “Yes, when he needed to be.”

The Doctor nodded as though that summed up the whole character of Ben Cartwright the man in the bed.  “Very well. We’ll keep an eye on him. I suggest, Mr. Cartwright, that you get yourself some rest, or you’ll be in the next bed over there.”

“You expect me to leave my father and -”

“Yes, Mr. Cartwright. At the moment you can’t do anything for him, and it may be better if you took a rest, spent time with your wife and family. It will help you relax -”

The Doctor gave the younger man a decisive nod of the head and strode away, his files tucked under his arm and quite ready to leave the matter of Ben Cartwright behind him, tucked away neatly in one of those folders, while he continued on to his next patient.

Joe glanced at the clock, and thought over what the Doctor had said.  He could understand the reason why, he looked a mess, he hadn’t slept since being dragged out of bed early that morning, he needed to eat, to shave, clean up, see Mary Ann…even perhaps get some of that much needed sleep.

He looked at his father and gently placed a hand upon the man’s shoulder,

“I’ll be back, Pa.”

Ben heard footsteps and realised that whoever had been there was now leaving him. He was alone in this strange place.  Alone and very tired.  He wondered briefly if he was a prisoner somewhere, but somehow the ticking of the clock nearby was reassuring. Prisoners didn’t have clocks in cells, did they?

*****

Mary Ann kissed her sisters in law on their cheeks and felt tears prick behind her eye lids. She had not realised just how much she had looked forward to seeing them again, especially now. Both women looked strained and anxious, and behind them Roy Coffee stood like a shepherd driving his little flock before him.

“How’s Ben?”  “Is Pa alright?”  “Where is he?”

Questions tumbled towards her and she nodded, smiled, blinked away those tears while Daniel and Constance smiled and giggled and ran for hugs from their Aunties.

“Is Ben in the hospital?” Roy demanded to know and when Mary Ann nodded, he slapped his hat back on his head “I’ll go there then, see how he is for myself.”

“Roy, you haven’t eaten, and you need to get something – “ Hester said quietly, laying her hand almost fiercely upon the old man’s arm but he shook her off,

“No, I’d rather see Ben first and then get something to eat later.” he frowned “Might go and see the Marshall, Howard I think his name is, used to deal with him in the past…”

“Why not do that first, Roy?” Olivia suggested, her eyes large in her pale face, and she smiled at him, as though understanding his need to be ‘useful’ rather than an intrusion into a family’s private situation

He nodded and strode away with a determined look on his face. They watched him go and then turned to Mary Ann, both then demanded to know the facts, the whys and wherefores and where were Adam and Hoss?

Mary Ann led the way out of the station, her hand holding onto Constance’s until the little girl stopped and wanted to be picked up and carried a while. Daniel stayed close to his Aunts feeling quite important at being the only boy there.

Joe seemed to appear out of nowhere, just at the entrance of the station and greeted them fondly, but the sight of his anxious face alarmed both his sisters in law who renewed their demands for the facts, for news, about Ben and also about their husbands.

*****

A nurse approached the bed and looked down at the patient, behind her came an orderly equipped with a bowl of warm water, soap and a flannel and shaving gear.

“Well now, Mr. Cartwright, time for your shave and wash, cleanliness is next to Godliness after all. Now – let’s get this bed changed as well, shall we?”

The bed covers were whipped off, and Ben shivered as cold air hit him, he was dressed but in something very flimsy. He opened his eyes and the woman dressed so formidably (which suited her for she was formidable) nodded, put her arm behind his back and lifted him up with one hand and whipped away the pillow with the other.  Ben felt helpless. Another pillow was placed behind him and then another, and brought him into a near sitting position.

The male orderly came forward, there seemed to be a lot of noise, rustling and footsteps and so Ben closed his eyes and surrendered himself to his fate.  ‘Cleanliness is next to Godliness’ his mother had always said that whenever she had brought the children close enough to a wet flannel which she had sloshed around their faces followed by a rough towel. He could remember the feel of it over his face and body so well.

As he was being shaved, very adeptly and very quickly, he opened his eyes again and glanced up into the face of the man who was wielding the razor so expertly.  His eyes then glanced sideways to where the nurse was folding sheets and talking to someone across the room, he could see her mouth opening and closing but was not interested enough in her conversation to listen. He looked at the orderly again

“Where am I?”

The orderly paused, then smiled “In hospital, Mr. Cartwright.”

“Why? Am I ill?”

“Well, you aren’t actually very well, just now, Mr. Cartwright.”

His smile was genial, and he nodded “Want to check that I did a good job, Mr. Cartwright?”

Ben nodded and turned to look into the mirror the man produced.  He stared at the face that was looking back at him. He frowned, and gulped back a gasp…he didn’t recognise that old man, who was it?  He looked at the orderly, grinning at him, and then back at his reflection in the mirror. It was a joke, he decided, the idiot man was playing some monstrous joke…this wasn’t himself; he wasn’t looking at Ben Cartwright.  Who was it?

*****

Olivia and Hester insisted that Joe spent a little time with Mary Ann and the children while they went to the hospital themselves to see Ben. They had patiently listened to Joe as he had explained what had happened – the conversation in the shack to the decision that Hoss and Adam would ride out to check out some land, It was Ben himself who had insisted on staying in the shack to check out the surveys and also, perhaps, to indulge in a little reminiscing.  No one had anticipated the turn of events that now saw him in hospital.

Roy Coffee was pacing the floor in the reception area of the hospital when the two women entered through the big glass doors.  He waved to get their attention and warned them of the virago upstairs who had refused to give him admittance into the ward.

“She said I wasn’t family, so I wasn’t allowed in, dang it. I told her Ben Cartwright was my brother, but she didn’t believe me – “ he scowled, hurt pride and anxiety waged war against the injustice of the situation.

“We’ll go and see whether or not we will be given admittance,” Hester said, preparing herself for an ongoing battle, “Then we will ask if you can join us…”

“She won’t let me in – “ Roy shook his head and stared down at the floor, “Marshall Howard told me all that had happened, best of his knowledge, and I – I felt I should be there for Ben now, he may need a friend.”

Hester almost snapped that family were more than adequate but held her tongue because the poor man looked so distressed. Olivia gave Roy a sympathetic look and then followed Hester to the ward where Ben had been placed.  The Nurse did not look like a Dragon nor did she act like one when they introduced themselves, Roy had obviously said or done the wrong thing…or perhaps she just didn’t like the look of him.

Ben heard the rustling of skirts and anticipated his pillows being whisked away and the sheets being yanked off…he kept his eyes tightly closed.  The touch on his arm was light, gentle and a soft voice whispered “Pa?”

Pa? He wasn’t sure how to answer.  Whose Pa? Did the owner of the voice mean him? He opened his eyes to look into a kindly face he did not recognise. Sapphire blue eyes misted with tears, golden red hair that flowed about her face in unruly curls.  He stared at her and then moved his eyes to look at the woman standing by her, hands clasped at a narrow waist, wide anxious eyes framed by long lashes and soft blonde hair.  Two women … who were they?

*****

The brothers did not hurry their pace to return to the shack. Throughout the day they discussed the meadow, the vastness of it, their ignorance of it. They had laughed at that, then agreed that had they known about it sooner they would have lost the element of surprise and pleasure at finding it now.

They had spent over an hour just riding round the grassland, before they returned to the woodland, made a camp for their mid-day break, then continued onwards.  It was a steady ride, enjoyable. They stopped by a fast flowing stream and spent a while brewing up coffee and eating the last of their provisions, while they watched clear water burbling over rocks and stones, fish darting to and fro, insects buzzed, and Hoss observed that it was a place where one could forget about time.

It was almost too good to be true.

“Did you ever come this far before? See this -” Adam asked, “Because I can’t ever recall being here before now.”

Hoss shook his head, “Nope, would have been coming here more often if’n I had…..” he paused and slapped his hat back onto his head, “Just the old shack, and around about there was good enough for us, hunting and fishing and so on…well, you should know, you were with us quite a bit of time.”

Adam nodded, but those times had become less and less over the years, of course he had been away at sea, but even so this would have been a good memory to have hung onto, another hook in his heart to always keep him anchored to the Ponderosa.

It was dusk when they finally broke through the tree line and saw the shack ahead of them, it was in shadow and there was no light at the window, no indication that Ben was still there, but it was no cause for concern, after all, Joe and Mary Ann would no doubt have taken him back to the hotel with them during the day.

“The door’s open…” Hoss observed as they dismounted and led the horses to the hitching rail

“Well, that’s no surprise, it was almost off its hinges anyway.” Adam grinned and slapped his brother in the chest, a flippant move of the hand and an affectionate one.

“Perhaps we should just push on for town.” Hoss rubbed his hand across his jaw, “I’m hungry and could do with a clean-up and…”

“Yeah, you could be right” Adam agreed and yet he still paused by the door, then pushed it further open, “Just make sure Pa didn’t leave anything behind”

“Like what?”

“Those surveys…”

“Oh yeah – “ Hoss nodded and followed his brother into the old building.

They both stopped at the same time, there was a smell in the air that had not been there when they had left. The smell of a familiar smell, of copper and something else that made the hairs on the back of their necks stand on end.

“Light the lamp, Hoss.”  Adam said in a near whisper and he heard the rasp of the match, the clutter of the funnel being removed and then the flame to the wick….

Hoss raised the lamp aloft and then his mouth fell open, he moved the lamp to take in the whole scene, and then set it back carefully on the table.  The blood indicated two men had been either killed or injured…pools of now black tar like substance where they had fallen…one by the window, and another where they were standing.  Hoss grimaced, and moved swiftly away leaving red prints on the board, and his brother did the same….somehow it felt disrespectful to have disturbed the stains on the floor and they glanced at one another.

“Pa?” Hoss murmured and Adam nodded, and they looked at one another and saw on the others face the horror they were feeling

“Joe must have come, taken him to town……”

“Who would have come here -?”

“A hunter – perhaps Pa disturbed someone hunting -?”

“Nah – they’d not come to the cabin to shoot him…would they?”

Adam felt uncomfortable at the suspicion that was niggling at the back of his mind. He bit down on his bottom lip and then glanced swiftly around the shack again, before leaning over to turn out the flame.

“No point staying here talking about it, we won’t find the answers until we get into town.”

Chapter 67

Roy left the hospital and walked back and forth in front of the big building while he tried to figure out a way to get to see Ben. He accepted the fact that he was the odd man, someone who had come along for no other reason than loyalty to a friend, but somehow the way he had been shuffled away and told to leave, rankled.  He paused, scowled and then turned back into the hospital building and headed for the stairs.

Ben smiled obligingly up at the two women who were standing beside his bed, he felt that was the least he could do for them.  The fact that his face wore a rather vacant look, and his eyes seemed unfocussed enough to cause both women some concern never crossed his mind. How was he to know?

“Pa – it’s Hester.” a slight pause as the blue eyes filled with tears and Ben was worried that they would spill over and splash on his face ,he blinked his own eyes as though that would remove the tears from hers “And Olivia -”

“Pa – “ a soft voice, so Ben turned his head in that direction and frowned, she looked familiar, but her voice didn’t match her looks so he just smiled and then closed his eyes.

He wished they would go away so that he could sleep.  He didn’t want to think, he didn’t want to have to worry about why two very attractive women were calling him Pa.  So far as he knew he didn’t have any children and just for now he didn’t want to have to think about the probability that he actually did!

“Nurse” Olivia turned to the stiffly starched woman who was standing with her eyes fixed on them as though they were likely to run off with her prize patient. “Nurse, I think Mr. Cartwright – “ Livvy paused, and turned to Hester then back to the Nurse “Has he regained consciousness since he came in, since the operation?”

“Briefly.” the Nurse nodded and stepped closer to the bed, straightened the sheet nervously, “when we washed and shaved him earlier, he came around slightly then.”

“Was he – was he lucid?” Olivia tried to keep her voice from wobbling, and behind her she heard Hester gasp as though she had uttered some obscenity.

“He was what we would expect from someone who had suffered the wounds he had, Mrs. Cartwright.  We wouldn’t have expected him to be in his full senses right away….but he will be alright, it is just a temporary result of the wound to his skull.”

“I hope you’re right,” Olivia said briefly and then looked at Hester, “We should leave him to sleep. Let’s go and find Joe and Mary Ann, wait for Adam and Hoss….”

“I don’t like leaving him like this – “

“He needs to sleep, Hester.” Olivia put a firm hand on her friend’s arm, and smiled, although her eyes were anxious and too large for her face and failed to give Hester any confidence that what she was saying was really going to prove accurate.

The Nurse nodded, “The best remedy for him just now – plenty of sleep.  The medication can work better if he is rested.”

“Of course.” Olivia nodded and then looked back at Ben who lay there, eyes closed, his breathing shallow, a sheen of sweat to his skin, she sighed and leaned down and kissed him gently on the cheek, Hester followed with her own kiss on his brow and then they retreated from the bed, and quietly left the room.

Roy saw them coming followed by the Nurse who seemed determined to ensure Bens’ guests left the premises. Assuming that the way was clear for him the elderly ex-sheriff hurried into the ward and made his way to the bedside of his old friend.

“Ben?”

The rough drawl of the old man slipped through the fog of Ben’s brain, and he sighed and opened his eyes and found himself confronted by Roy’s pale eyes, twinkling behind his spectacles, his moustache straggling under his nose.  He frowned and stared, and Roy stared back,

“Ben – how are you feeling, you old goat?”

“Not so good.” Ben replied honestly as he wondered who the other man could be another patient perhaps.

“Heard they shot you up some…”

“They did?” Ben frowned “I don’t remember.”

“I guess you wouldn’t, got a wound to the skull so’s I’m told, them are always the meanest wounds to git, causes all kinda problems. Wal, guess we should know, we sure had enough of ’em in our time, didn’t we?”

“Did we?” Ben sighed and chewed on his bottom lip “Water? Some water…?”

Roy turned around and poured some water from a jug into a small glass, he helped Ben to drink it and then lowered him gently back, “You must have taken a real crack on the head this time, old friend.”

“Head hurts…” Ben mumbled “Fact is, everything hurts…did I get shot? Am I in hospital?”

“Glory be, you sure ain’t right are ya.” Roy muttered and was about to say more when there was a commotion at the other end of the ward and looking up, he saw the Nurse bearing down towards him. “I have to go, I’ll be back…”

He glanced once more at Ben who was closing his eyes, and with a sigh turned to face the Dragon, and to be ousted from the building yet again.

But at least he had seen Ben, and with head lowered, he trudged his way back to the hotel. He was lost in thought; he just didn’t really know how to put into words what he was fearing.

*****

The Nurse came and straightened the sheets, again, she poured more water into the glass so that it was available should Ben need it. It was not within reach but that didn’t seem to occur to her as she looked down at the patient.  She took his wrist in her hand and checked his pulse and then took his temperature. Having performed those duties she walked away, her heels clack clacking upon the hard wood of the floor.

Ben listened to the sound and they echoed through his head like gun shots. His mind trickled over to the old man who had been talking to him earlier, the other patient, but someone who was familiar too. He put his hand to his head and felt the rough bandages beneath his fingers, and tried to think how it was that he had been injured. From what the old man had said it seemed to be a regular occurrence.

He drifted into sleep and into dreams that became nightmares that sent him shouting and fighting with the bed covers, trying to free himself from the demons that pursued him wherever he went…ships keeling over and dark ink black waters covering his head, fierce black eyes within faces painted for war, guns flashing and the hot searing pain of wounds burning his flesh.

He couldn’t seem to free himself from the nightmares and when strong hands came to grip down tightly on his threshing arms and legs he continued to fight. Until finally exhaustion coupled with the drugs administered to him sent his weary body into oblivion.

*****

The lights shining from the houses and throughout the town gleamed like so many glow worms in the darkness ahead of them.  They rode their horses hard through the ford and onto the banks of the river and headed towards Carson City, so that soon the glow worms became larger and became the lights shining from the homes of the citizens, from the saloons and theatres, the restaurants and the other public buildings frequented at that time of night.

When Adam directed his horse towards the Sheriff’s office Hoss put out a hand as though to stop him and said, “Why here?”

“We need to find out what happened before we go charging in like a herd of buffalo…”

“I ain’t intending to charge in anywhere – I jest need to know where Pa is and -”

“Don’t you think that’s what I want to know as well?”

Adam yanked his arm free from his brother’s hand and continued onto the sheriff’s office, the lights of which were blazing brightly and lighting up the area around it. He scowled over at Hoss,

“Are you coming or not?”

He knew they were both stretched emotionally, he knew that Hoss had as much right to be scared, anxious, worried but guilt prompted him to think that just perhaps they were being over hasty, just perhaps they were wrong, and Ben was fine, just fine.

He needed to know that hope was real, tangible. He needed to allay the guilt by being told Pa was alright, safe, at the hotel with Joe and Mary Ann. He pushed open the door to the building and heard Hoss growling mutiny behind him.

The Marshall looked up with a weariness etched on his face, and for a moment he didn’t seem to recognise the brothers but when he did, he stood up immediately.

“I’m sorry -” he glanced at them both, noticed them stiffen, their faces harden into pale masks of despair and he immediately regretted his first two words so promptly added “Your father’s in the hospital and -”

“I told ya,” Hoss exploded and grabbed his brother’s arm and shook it roughly, “I told ya he would be there.”

“Quiet, Hoss -” Adam growled and stared at the Marshall “What happened?”

Behind him Hoss had turned and gone, the door thudded shut and Adam winced, shook his head and without waiting for any further explanation turned to follow his brother.

Hoss was already mounting into the saddle when his brother joined him and put a restraining hand on the reins “Hoss – slow down -”

“Slow down?” Hoss exploded “We bin riding around all day thinking everything was wonderful and all the time Pa -” he shook his head “Let go the reins, Adam”

“Wait for me -”

“Shucks, a whole day wasted and for what? If Pa – if anything happens to Pa, Adam – “

Adam shook his head, not wanting to hear anything further, trying to tell himself that Hoss was talking wildly out of distress, he stepped back “Or what?  Are you going to blame me?”

“Well, you’re the one who got all them surveys and got Pa all excited about ’em all. He should have gone back to the hotel, we should all have gone back to the hotel….now he’s…he could be…”

He said nothing more but with a twist of the wrist turned his horse away, and Adam, standing so close, felt the animals head hit against his shoulder as they passed.  He swung round and within less time than it takes to tell he was in the saddle and following his brother to the hospital.

Chapter 68

They dismounted and took the steps to the main doors two at time, pushing the doors open with such force that the staff who were in the reception area stopped in their tracks to see what was happening.  Alert to the possibility that there could be an emergency, doctors needed, surgery to be performed.

Both men strode over to the desk where a nurse was standing, wide eyed, staring at them, glancing over their shoulders to see if there was anyone nearby who would be able to come to her assistance if needed. Before she could speak Adam demanded to know if a Ben Cartwright had been brought into the hospital and if he hadn’t where would he be –

“I don’t know -” she stammered and then added before either man could blurt out more questions “I mean, I’ll just check for you.”

Adam and Hoss were practically bouncing on their toes with impatience while they waited for her to find the correct file, to check up the information and then turn to them, papers in hand,

“Can – Can I ask you if you are related to Mr. Cartwright?”

“We’re his sons….” Hoss growled and felt sorry for the young woman who shrunk back, clearly terrified.

“Where is he?” Adam snapped, his words razor sharp with anxiety

“He’s in a private room, just off Ward 3 -” she said and was open mouthed, ready to provide further information. They didn’t stop to find out more but were striding away in the direction indicated by various signs along the corridors, up the stairs

A Doctor going about his rounds, clipboard and papers in hand, turned as they entered the ward. Perhaps some modicum of respect for the sick had tempered their approach as there was no slamming doors this time, just two men anxiously searching out a room, their faces drawn, eyes wild.  He summoned up enough courage to approach them

“Who are you looking for?”

“Ben Cartwright.”

“Ah!”

Hoss and Adam looked at one another then back at him “What do you mean – ‘Ah’”

“Ben Cartwright was shot last evening….” he glanced to the left and indicated a door “He’s in there. Heavily sedated.”

They stared at him – heavily sedated meant that their father was alive. They both breathed a little easier,

“He was shot?” Hoss said mechanically, as he followed the Doctor and Adam to the door of the private room.

“Yes.  A bullet was extracted from his chest, close to his heart.  That was the worse injury. He lost a lot of blood, internally it was a mess…but he pulled through.”

“You operated on him?”

“I assisted.” the Doctor smiled, proud of having been present at such an intricate operation, he nodded with self-satisfaction, “It went like clockwork.” his hand was on the door knob as he turned to look at them both, “The other bullet passed through his leg, not so very serious, a bit bloody though.”

They both nodded, they knew from experience how bloody bullets passing through the fleshier area of one’s body could be, and willed him to open the door and to admit them into the room so they could see their father for themselves.

“There was also a problem with another bullet that creased his skull…as you know they can be tricky, depending on how deep a furrow they score across the skull, and whereabouts on the skull..” he stared at them, saw their anxious faces, realised he was pushing it by remaining where he was

so turned the doorknob and opened the door to the room.

Joe was there, half asleep, but he jerked upright when the door opened, and was on his feet by the time Adam and Hoss had stepped into the room and approached the bed.  His face seemed to shed the haggard look immediately, being replaced by that of relief at the sight of them both.

“You took your time getting here….” he burst out while at the same time wringing their hands within his own, “I thought you would never get here.”

“Well, you can be assured, little brother, if we had known that Pa was in this condition, we would have been here a whole lot sooner.” Hoss muttered “Why didn’t you send anyone to tell us what was going on?”

Joe’s lips thinned immediately, and his eyes narrowed “Are you crazy? Who would I have sent? I couldn’t leave Pa!  And who would have known whereabouts you were anyway? There ain’t no road leading through is there?”

Adam stepped forward and raised a hand, palm outward as though to quieten them down, but Joe turned on him now “Why’d you have to go anyway?  Pa should not have been left alone…”

“Pa isn’t a kid, Joe, it was his choice to stay.” Adam snapped

“And look what happened….and if it hadn’t been for you…”  Joe poked a finger into his brother’s chest, which Adam brushed away impatiently

“Say that again? What do you mean?”

“Well, it was Poynton -” Joe began, and nodded when Adam’s eyes widened in surprise, as though mention of the man’s name startled him, “Yeah, him, Poynton, he went gunning for you, Adam. It was dark, late, he thought the person in the shack was you and went in guns blazing. If the Marshall hadn’t been close by, he would have killed Pa – as it was the Marshall shot Mr. Poynton, and he and Mr. Laws were able to bring Pa and Poynton’s body into town.”

“But why would Poynton shoot Pa?” Hoss asked his face creased up with incredibility and misery

“I just told you , he thought he had found Adam alone in the shack and thought it was him – after all, it was Adam who ruined all his get rich quick schemes.” Joe’s voice was sharper, irritated, he was tired, worn out by anxiety and fear, he just wanted to end the day and go home, sleep for hours, wake up to a new day without any worries.

Hoss nodded, glowered at Adam and was about to speak when the door opened, and the Nurse looked into the room “Is everything all right here?”

“Sure -” Joe said with a voice as taut as a bowstring, “Sure, everything’s all right.”

She nodded, looked doubtful and closed the door. It was enough to break the mood, as though to remind the three of them that while they shouted the odds at one another, their Pa was lying in the bed close by. It was there that they now all gravitated, saying nothing, united by anxiety and fear while Ben remained there, comatose, unmoving.

“Have they said how he is…I mean…is he going to be alright?  That Doc was yammering on so about what had happened, but he never said if Pa was alright or not…” Hoss asked, his voice now lowered to an almost reverential whisper

He glanced over at Adam who had remained silent throughout and was standing beside his father, looking down at the lined face of his parent, who lay as though already on his death bed, eyes closed, mouth shut, barely breathing.

Joe came closer to Adam, their shoulders touched, and Adam looked down at Joe and gave a small conciliatory smile, “Sorry we weren’t here to be with you, Joe.”

“I know…you weren’t to know.” Joe said very softly and bowed his head, closed his eyes and felt as though all his emotions were about to break loose, he repressed them and cleared his throat, “I’m sorry I – I let loose at ya.”

Adam just shook his head as though to shake off the memory of the angry words, all of which had lodged deep inside him like barbs, and added to the guilt, the misery of not having been there to keep his father safe. He sighed, and glanced at Hoss before turning back to Joe

“Has he spoken to you, Joe? Regained consciousness?” Adam asked gently looking at his youngest brother with concern in his eyes,

“No. He hasn’t spoken sense to anyone.  He regained consciousness for a while, but he wasn’t lucid.”

“What do you mean, he wasn’t lucid?” Hoss demanded to know and getting a sharp look from Joe as a result.

“Just what I said…he didn’t seem to know who he was, where he was…” Joe frowned “I remember what it was like when I got that kind of wound, when I had that amnesia – it’s scary, and you get so you’re scared to say anything in case people think you’re crazy, but I didn’t have total amnesia…”

“You mean, Pa’s lost his memory?” again it was Hoss asking the questions, and he glanced from Adam to Joe as though prepared to distrust any answer either of them offered up.

“Seems to be -” Joe replied quietly. “He didn’t recognise Roy…”

“Roy’s here?” Adam turned to Joe and his face registered, for some reason, amusement.

“Apparently he insisted. Thought the girls needed his protection on the journey…”

“The girls?” Hoss muttered, his eyes narrowing.

“Yeah, sure, Hester and Olivia….we thought they should know what has happened and to be here, just in case – well – just in case the worse happened.”

Hoss and Adam looked at one another, smiled, their eyes twinkled, even in such grim circumstances the knowledge that their wives were there filled them with pleasure, released the pressure of their previous emotions, and Adam placed his hand on Joe’s arm “Thank you for thinking of that, Joe. It makes a hard time that much easier ….”

“Yeah, we thought so too….” Joe nodded, before he looked down at his father again and then raised his eyes to look at his brothers “You look as though you could do with a clean-up and something to eat.  Best go and get tidied up before the Nurse comes and throws you both out.”

“Are you coming too?” Hoss asked

“No, I’ll stay here until – well – in case Pa wakes up again.”

They nodded agreement and understanding, both placed a hand on Ben’s shoulder, reassuring, comforting, and then quickly left the room.

*****

Neither brother spoke a word to the other as they left the hospital and made their way to the hotel. They were each struggling to come to terms with the enormity of what had happened…for Adam it meant another layer of guilt as he regretted getting involved with the Poynton situation, wished that he had insisted on staying in the shack and that Ben had returned to the hotel, wondered why they had not heard a gunshot, and regretted lingering in that meadow while his father was struggling through an operation that could have left him dead. Hoss was not feeling the guilt in the way of his brother, instead he fretted over the outcome of the injuries his father had sustained, was annoyed by having enjoyed the day so much when something so tragic was happening here with his family. It amazed him that so much was going on with his father and yet he was totally unaware of it. Like many he had always believed that because of the love he had for his father then he would have ‘felt something’ or been aware of something happening to him…but he was not, and had not been aware of anything at all and he felt ashamed of that fact.

It wasn’t until they were about to go to their rooms that Hoss turned to Adam and with a nod of the head murmured gruffly “I’ll see you later…”

Adam had simply nodded and inserted the key into the lock and turned the handle.

Olivia had not been able to get to bed, to sleep, not while her mind was in turmoil…fear for Ben, worry about Adam.  She had spent time pacing the floor, trying to cat-nap, wondering if she should go and share the time with Hester, go back to the hospital, sit with Ben, oh a hundred things that buzzed about her head leaving her with a headache and feeling sick with worry.

When she heard the door open, she was immediately on her feet and hurrying to greet the only person she knew would be entering the hotel suite, and that was her husband.

No need for words.  She flung her arms around him as soon as he had closed the door, and then for a moment they had just clung together, speechless. Then slowly they stepped apart, his hand holding both hers, his eyes searching over her face, knowing from the red rimmed eyes, the pale face and lips that his wife suffered the same misery as himself

“Have you seen him? Your Pa?” she said quietly, her hand leading him further into the room.

“Yes, we went straight to the hospital. Joe’s with him….”

“Oh Adam…thank goodness Joe thought to send for us, I couldn’t bear the thought of you being here…and…”

He put a finger to her lips, leaned forward and kissed her, very gently, then looked at her as he held her in his arms “I’m more than grateful that he thought to do so, knowing you were here -” he paused and swallowed, “I have to get cleaned up, and then go back. Joe’s -”

“I know. I brought some clothes with me…for you…” she gestured to the other room and he nodded, leaned in to kiss her again and went into the bedroom with his wife trailing along behind him.

“Joe said it was Poynton -” Adam murmured as he removed his outer clothing, “Poynton thought I would be in the cabin and went to shoot me.”

“Yes. The Marshall thinks Poynton was out for revenge.” she was pacing the floor again, watching him remove clothing and then the splash of water as he filled the bowl from the jug, “Adam, don’t start blaming yourself for what happened…”

He didn’t say anything but dipped his hands into the water, washed himself and then took the towel from her to dry off, he couldn’t find the right words, but his silence told her all she needed to know. She picked out his clean shirt and held it out for him to put on, then carefully, lovingly she buttoned it up, until reaching the collar, she looked into his face, saw the misery, and lowered her head.

*****

Hester had fallen asleep on the bed, fully clothed and it was not until Hoss had leaned down to kiss her that she woke, her eyes fluttered open and she found Hoss looking at her with such gentle love on his face that she was awake instantly, flung her arms around his neck and kissed him.

Just for a moment and then he pushed himself away from her and sat on the edge of the bed and looked into her face, “Honey, I’ve got to get cleaned up so’s I can go back and sit with Joe….”

“I know, he’s been there most of the day, he’ll be tired -”

“Guess we’ll all be tired by the time this is over….”

“What do you mean? Hoss, you don’t think your Pa will die, do you?”

He shook his head and his shoulders heaved, he leaned forward and she hugged him close so that for a while they sat together while he sobbed a little upon her shoulder, then he once again pushed her away, shook his head “Shucks, honey, I’m sorry, jest that I ain’t used to seeing my Pa like that…it made me think that just possibly he could die, after all, he ain’t immortal is he?  Shucks, I jest can’t believe that me and Adam were having such a good time out thar and all the time here it was just

plain awful for you all.”

“Joe and Mary Ann had the worse of it….”

“Where are the kids?”

“With Ann and Candy.”

He breathed a sigh of relief and nodded, then stood up “I’d best get myself cleaned up, then get back to the hospital.” he paused and looked down at her “You saw him, didn’t you?”

“Yes, Olivia and I went to see him earlier…”

“Was he alright? I mean, was he conscious and did he speak at all?”

“He was kind of conscious, not really himself, after all he was weak, he’s lost a lot of blood” she paused and watched as he threw off his dust covered and travel stained clothes, and hurried to get a clean shirt “He’ll be alright, Hoss. He’s strong, the Doctor said he was strong and had come through the operation and – and just ne