Captain Cartwight # 6 – Carpe Diem (by Krystyna)

Summary: We follow Adam into danger far away in China and enjoy the adventures of the Cartwright family on the Ponderosa, where Ben has a special assignment that brings him into contact with a very old friend.

Rated: T (207,070 words)

Carpe diem is a phrase from a Latin poem by Horace.  It has become an aphorism It is popularly translated as “seize the day”.

The final page contains reviews/comments from the Old BonanzaBrand Library

Captain Cartwright Series:

To Soar on Albatross Wings
To Fly with Eagles
Captain, Oh My Captain
The Commodore
Invictus
Carpe Diem
A New Command
A Duty to Live
All Those Tomorrows
Written in Stone

 

Carpe Diem

Chapter 1

The suite of rooms that the President of the United States had taken for his personal use was in the best hotel in the city. From the windows he could see views of the harbour . It was, however, of no interest to him now as he paced the floor with his head down. Every so often he would spit tobacco from his cigar.

“Any news?” his voice broke the silence that had hung over the room for several minutes.

Babcock, already treading on eggshells—having heard the whispers in the corridors of power that indicated looming trouble for him—replied cautiously that there was no news as yet. He took a deep breath and laid out certain papers that had to be signed by the president before he left the country.

“Heard about Cartwright? Is he here yet?”

“He isn’t due here until tomorrow, Mr. President.”

“Hmph. What are we doing this evening?” he removed the cigar and stubbed it out in an ashtray. “Remind me?”

“Well, your wife has arranged quite a lavish affair with some of the dignitaries in the town, sir.”

Grant nodded thoughtfully; typical of Julia* to arrange something, she just adored her parties. He smiled slowly. Without Julia at his side he would probably not have amounted to the status he had acquired. Her devotion and love had provided him with the determination to succeed and overcome the disgrace of being thrown out of the army due to drunkenness when he was a mere lieutenant. Well, a lot had happened since then, and a lot of it thanks to Julia Boggs Dent, who had provided him with four children and the utmost devotion throughout their lives. Some men in power were far less fortunate, and he took himself to his desk happily enough. Julia needed her parties, and to keep her happy he would say nothing.

Babcock shifted uneasily from one foot to the other so much so that Grant noticed and looked up at the secretary with a scowl. “Let me know the moment Cartwright gets into town. You know the hotel he usually favours, don’t you?”

“I have a man posted to meet him at the depot, sir.”

“Great Scott, man, allow the poor devil time to breathe.” Grant growled and signed some papers with a dash, sending cigar ash scattering over the page as he did so.

……………………..

San Francisco seemed busier than ever and the roads were thronging with vehicles of all sorts. Hank skilfully manoeuvred the coach to the depot and brought the horses to a halt.

Adam unfolded himself from the corner of the stagecoach in which had had taken refuge from the cold, the boredom, and the other passengers. He waited for them to disembark and then made his own way out of the coach, stretched some kinks out of his back and caught the luggage that Hank threw down to him.

“Hope you have a good trip, Captain,” Hank yelled with a mockery of a salute as Adam turned to acknowledge the man’s good wishes.

It was cold. Even in the city with the buildings hemming one in from either side the cold wind blew freezing gusts down alleys to catch out the unwary. He drew up the collar of his coat and with his head down strode out towards his favoured hotel. If he noticed anyone acting in a manner that should have aroused his suspicions it did not affect him; he merely stretched out his legs to reach the hotel that much more quickly.

Babcock’s agent peeled himself from the wall upon which he had been leaning for over an hour, and after following Adam to his hotel, he hailed a cab. Within less than half an hour he was standing in Babcock’s office to inform him that Commodore Cartwright had, indeed, arrived in San Francisco.

Grant was preparing for the soiree his wife had prepared. He was tugging at his vest in an attempt to get buttons through button holes when Babcock appeared like some evil genie out of a rather dusty lamp.

“I’m busy, Babcock,” he snarled and looked over at his wife. “Come and fix this, Julia. Darn it, now that’s another button gone.”

“I think we need another vest.” Julia murmured and hurried to find one, appearing seconds later with a magnificent burgundy silk. “Try this.”

Babcock cleared his throat and was granted a swift glare from the president, who stood very still while his wife buttoned up his vest, smoothed it down and declared that he looked wonderful.

Grant would always look wonderful in Julia’s eyes; she adored him.

“Mr. President, just to let you know that Commodore Cartwright is here.”

“HERE?” Grant trumpeted, “But I can’t see him now. Tell him to come back tomorrow.”

“I meant that he had arrived in San Francisco, sir.”

“Then why not say so?” Grant looked at his wife, who was holding up the jacket which she expected him to wear. He frowned, and with a sigh put his arms down the sleeves and stood like a mannequin as she straightened and twitched at things to make him look as handsome as the President of the United States was expected to look. “Alright, Babcock, make sure he’s here in the morning. Right after breakfast.”

Babcock nodded, looked reproachfully at Julia Dent Grant who, fortunately for him, did not notice, and left the room. For the first time in years he had not received an invitation to one of her parties and the ‘slight’ made him more aware than ever of the whispers circulating about what the future held for him.

………………

He was yawning as he walked across the foyer: lack of sleep, the cold on a long journey and the enforced lack of intelligent conversation had dulled his brain. He wanted to sleep. He cleared his throat and coughed, eliciting the attentions of the reception clerk who checked his records, passed over a key to his assigned room and clicked his fingers for the bell boy to take the commodore’s luggage.

He was halfway up the red-carpeted stair way when someone grabbed at his arm and although his fist clenched instinctively, hearing his name mentioned in a very British and hearty manner prevented the blow striking its objective. Instead, it was shaken very heartily by Laurence Willoughby. Behind him Rachel Hornby was standing with a smile on her pretty face and her blue eyes twinkling.

“Adam!” Laurence Willoughby exclaimed, “Welcome back to San Francisco.”

“This is almost deja vue,” Adam smiled. “Didn’t we meet here once before?”

“We certainly did.” Laurence stepped aside. “Here’s someone else to say hello to you, Adam.”

Adam looked at Rachel Forster, frowned slightly and then shook his head although the smile on his face was sincere and warm. “Rachel?”

“The very same.” Laurence pushed the young woman forward and into the room. “All the way from Egypt.”

Rachel smiled and looked at the man standing before her. She stretched out a hand. “It’s good to meet you again, Adam Abdulkarim.”

“And you also, Miss Forster.” He bowed over her hand and kissed her fingertips before looking at them both and raising his eyebrows. “I think this calls for some explanations.” He laughed at Laurence and then looked with a smile at Rachel. “You look very lovely, Rachel.”

She laughed softly, and slipped her arm through that of Laurence’s. “So I should be, Adam, after all I’m getting married very shortly.”

Adam smiled even more widely now; he looked from one to the other and nodded,

“It’s as it should be, my dear.” He saw the look of pride and delight on Laurence’s face, and something else too—perhaps, relief? He frowned; no doubt he was imagining things. “I think this calls for a celebration.”

“I’ve already booked a table.” Laurence was still smiling. “Look, get yourself into your room and meet us in half an hour. The restaurant here is excellent—well, you know that already, don’t you?”

“Excellent; your future husband is a great organiser, Rachel.” He grinned at the young woman, who hugged Laurence’s arm close to her side and nodded. “Yes, I know.”

“You’ll have to tell me all about it.” He took a step up the next stair, so that he was standing looking slightly down at them. “I knew you wouldn’t stay in Egypt,” he said with a quiet laugh, and her cheeks rouged slightly as she nodded.

“I did write to you.”

“So you did, with some remarkable drawings by Laurence.” He nodded acknowledgement to the artist.

“And I did mention that I would be visiting the Ponderosa in order to see you again.” she raised her eyebrows, teasing and bantering, quite comfortable in his presence and not at all bashful and tongue-tied as she had imagined. She looked at Laurence, and was reassured to see that he also was at ease, and looking, well, looking proud and happy.

“Let me get my things settled in the room. We’ll speak later,” and with a pleasant smile and nod of the head Adam ascended the rest of the stairs and followed the bellboy to his room.

He would have preferred sinking into the bed and sleeping for, perhaps, a week. The way station had provided only a lumpy horsehair settee to sleep upon with a single blanket to cover him, and despite the good breakfast Mrs. Nesbitt had prepared for the passengers, that had been hours ago. He yawned again and then realised he needed food in his stomach.

…………..

Rachel was seated at the table when he entered the restaurant. There was no sign of Laurence. Adam walked to the table and smiled down at her, pulled out his chair and sat down, thwarting the waiter’s attempts to get there before he did. She smiled and leaned towards him across the table. “I’m so glad Laurence remembered that this was where you usually stayed when in San Francisco. It was just a hope we had that we would chance to meet you here; he wasn’t sure when exactly you were supposed to get here.”

He nodded, glanced around the room, and asked where exactly was her future husband.

“On his way; he won’t be long.” she looked at him again, her blue eyes scanned his face. “Egypt seems a long way away now, doesn’t it?”

“It is a long way away,” he laughed. “Are you glad not to be there now?”

“Yes. I was rather foolish to have stayed so long, really. Anna didn’t need me and I wasn’t happy there. Having said that, if I hadn’t been there I would not have met Laurence.”

“I’m more than glad that it has worked out for you.” He turned as Laurence hailed them from the entrance to the restaurant, his good humoured face wreathed in smiles. “I’m sure you’ll be very happy in England.”

“Adam, I’m sorry that I made a fool of myself in Egypt. I really thought that … well, you see it was, I mean, I thought I was in love with you, and I left Egypt to come to the Ponderosa and find you, and hope that just perhaps you would have loved me. I did wonder if you might have loved me at some time.”

“I know I was at fault in letting you think that there were possibilities; I realise that and apologise.” He spoke softly, looked at her young face so wreathed with smiles and happiness. “But your journey did you well, didn’t it? You found the love of your life after all?”

“Yes,” she smiled at Laurence who was hovering close by, slightly anxious at this conversation, and she reached out her hand towards him, which he took. “Yes, I have, Adam, I have indeed.”

The hovering waiter pulled back Laurence’s chair and once the young man was seated asked them if they would like to order some wine. Laurence did the necessaries with the grace of an English aristocrat. Another waiter appeared from somewhere and placed elaborate menus on the table for them to peruse. Adam leaned forward. “When do you leave for England?”

“Tomorrow,” the Englishman replied quickly. “I want us to be there before the weather gets worse.” He put his hand on Adam’s arm, “We were just taking a chance that we would meet you before leaving.”

“And you’ll be married in England?”

“At the family estate. It would be—I mean—if you could be there it would be perfect, Adam.”

“I’ve yet to receive my orders.” Adam sighed; he looked at them both. “As yet I don’t know my next assignment.”

“We’ll send an invitation anyway.” Rachel said quietly and looked at him with a smile that conveyed to both men that she was content with her lot, happy with her choices.

Chapter 2

Sleep came with all the grace of a sledge hammer. He dreamt of home; he saw Hester and was talking to her one moment, and then seeing Rachel and Laurence and wondering what they were doing eating breakfast at the table with the family. He was riding his horse, the wind was in his face and the grass was bowing against its force and as he rode he realised he was onboard ship and the grass was transformed to black waves crashing against the rocks and he was climbing the ropes to the sails that were shining ghastly white against a purple sky.

The thudding on the door forced him awake and for a while he wasn’t sure if he were in his bed on the Ponderosa or onboard ship. The knocking on the door was persistent. He rubbed his face, recognised the hotel room, and saw the time on the clock. He sighed; time was no longer his own. The knocking on the door came again,

“Commodore, are you awake?”

He groaned beneath his breath and pulled on his robe, shuffled to the door and pulled it open. “Good morning, gentlemen,” he said as though he had been waiting for them to arrive. “Do come in and wait while I get ready.”

He glanced once again at the clock. He had another hour before he had to present himself to Grant. “Ich dien” he muttered. It was a German phrase he had picked up in his travels, and it meant “I serve.” How appropriate it had become!

Adam was hardly in the best of moods, having slept badly and eaten nothing. His head ached, and he would have preferred a little more time over his shaving and washing. He pulled out a clean shirt and as he buttoned it up looked over at his two guardians. He could sense from the expressions on their faces that they were willing him to get a move on. He smiled to himself as he turned away from them and slowly fixed his cravat

“I’m sorry about the delay, gentlemen, but you are rather early.” He took his time to get the jacket out and shook it as though removing some of the creases, he shrugged, “I’m afraid I usually prefer having a good breakfast before I go anywhere, I don’t suppose there’s any chance of snatching some coffee?”

“No, sir. We were told to get you to the president as soon as possible.”

Adam sighed and with his arm in one sleeve he reached over with his free hand to pour some water into a glass which he gulped down; then he pulled the jacket on and shrugged it into place, picked up his hat, and nodded. “After you, gentlemen. I wouldn’t like anyone seeing us together to think I’m under arrest.” He closed the door behind him and glanced at them both, frowning. “I’m not, am I?”

“What, sir?”

“Under arrest?”

“No, sir. Not yet, anyway, sir.”

Adam raised his eyebrows and pursed his lips slightly, nodded to indicate that he was ready when they were, and then matched his stride to theirs along the lobby and down the stairs to the foyer. The coach awaiting them pulled away and merged into the traffic. Over the city a splendid rosy pink sky hailed a new day.

…………….

President Grant wiped his mouth on the napkin and then pushed himself away from the table. He had eaten a hearty meal, and despite the coffee tasting like mud, the whole thing had been reasonably enjoyable. He tossed the napkin onto the table and strode out of the room while flunkeys ran in all directions in order to anticipate his every move.

He entered the room he had designated as his office area and looked around. He had used this hotel often before and was familiar with its layout; it made him feel comfortable and in control. He knew he had to feel in control to face the meeting with Adam Cartwright, and for some reason he ran his finger around his collar, which suddenly had felt too tight.

He unexpectedly realised that he was not alone in the room, for out of the shadows someone moved. The movement made him jump, when Adam’s voice greeted him with a pleasant “Good morning, Mr. President.”

Grant relaxed and smiled. “I didn’t realise you were here already.” He extended his hand which Adam accepted and shook. Both men knew from the handshake that their relationship had shifted somewhat and regarded each other warily.

Grant moved his bulk around to sit at a desk, pushed some papers about and then looked up at Adam, who was standing before him, head slightly to one side, the brown eyes thoughtful and cautious, the handsomely shaped mouth unsmiling.

“Adam—Commodore—I wanted to thank you for your services to us in Egypt.” He paused and raised his eyebrows. “Did you get my letter and the medal? A gift from a grateful nation, believe me.”

“I received both, thank you.” Adam nodded, lowered his eyelids slightly, and waited.

“How did you find Cairo?” Grant leaned back, finger tips pressed against finger tips. He regarded Adam anxiously, wondering how to take the stiffness out of the rigid body of the man standing before him. “Interesting?”

“Very.” Adam nodded again. “Very hot.”

“What did you think of Stone and my other officers? They thought very highly of you; they wrote very complimentarily about you.”

Adam said nothing; he raised his eyebrows and stared at the far wall. Of course it was only natural for someone like Stone and Chaille Long and others to write, but he felt as though he had been spied upon, as though his own actions during his time in Egypt had to be qualified by the words of men he barely knew. He looked directly at Grant now, his eyes looking into the face of his superior officer.

“I was considering offering you my resignation, sir.”

Grant swallowed hard, nearly choked; he shook his head. “I can’t accept it.”

“I’m sure you can, sir.”

“Very well, I can but the fact is, Commodore, that I will not.”

Adam frowned, grimaced slightly. “Why not, sir?”

“Because you’re too good a man to lose. I can’t afford to have you leave my service.”

They were at stalemate and looked anywhere but at the other for a few moments. Grant broke the silence by reaching for a cigar and going through the ritual of lighting it. Adam watched him while behind his back his fingers fidgeted. Grant inhaled the smoke from the cigar and then slowly released it.

“The best smoke of the day,” he observed and then leaned heavily forwards on the desk. “Look, Adam, I received your telegram while you were in Indian Territory with your brother.” He paused and frowned, took another long puff at his cigar. “Some time back, well, a few years ago I had a very efficient commissioner in charge of Indian Affairs. It was probably the only time the place was run and organised with any sense of decency and honesty. He was a good friend of mine, honest and intelligent. About the only person I know who put the Indian first.” He smiled grimly and shrugged. “Probably because he was an Indian himself.”

“You mean Ely Parker*?”

“That’s his anglicised name, his Iroquois name was Donehogewa. He resigned due to various accusations brought about by bigotry and prejudice. But he saved us millions in revenue by preventing wars with the Indians during his administration.”

“I had heard about him.” Adam nodded, “But why tell me this now?”

“Because I’m appalled by what you have told me. It seems that the whole situation has slipped back to what it was before Donehogewa was here; it’s as if he had never been in office.”

Adam tried hard not to release a sigh of impatience; he cleared his throat and looked at Grant, who was scratching his face and obviously looking for something else to say that would ease the tension between them. He took a step closer to the desk. “The whole situation is a mess, and you know it. Saville isn’t the only Indian agent involved in defrauding the Indians and his own government to suit his own ends.”

“I know that,” Grant snapped back sharply, taking a hard drag at the cigar. “I’ve ordered a commission* to be set up. A Board of Enquiry if you prefer, and men will investigate your claims thoroughly. I know that it all starts very close to home at the White House, but I swear, Adam, I shall make sure this Indian Ring*will be broken.”

“Why can’t you just order Custer out of Indian Territory altogether.”

“I can’t do that; it’s already too late. White families are streaming into that territory, building towns, mining for the gold he’s promised them they’ll find at the grass roots. Oh, and don’t think for a moment I haven’t heard all about you and your interview with him. He won’t forgive you for what you’ve said.”

Adam shrugged, “I doubt very much if Custer will live long enough to remember anything I’ve said, sir. Feelings are running high, a treaty you authorised has been broken, and—”

“I have to protect our own people, Commodore.”

He had risen to his feet now, and was leaning heavily upon the desk, his face was slightly mottled and Adam knew that the man was struggling to control his temper. It was time to concede; there was nothing to be gained further from discussion on the matter. He nodded, and his hands clasped more tightly together behind his back.

“I don’t want to hear any further nonsense about your resigning, Adam. I need to know that you are prepared to obey the orders of your superior officer. Do you understand me?”

Adam frowned; Grant had never spoken in a manner like this before, and he nodded although his lips were compressed tightly together in a mutinous stubborn line.

“Adam, you’re an honest man. I need a man I can trust. I want you to know that I trust you implicitly.” his tone was softer, less aggressive; his eyes looked anxiously at Adam’s face. “Do you understand?”
“I do, sir.”

Grant nodded, he sat down again and picked up some papers, then once again looked at Adam. “Are you at the Hotel Grammond?”

“Yes, Mr. President.”

“Good. I’ll send your orders to you there.”

Adam nodded, wanting to ask Grant what exactly his orders were, but felt that his request would not be complied with. He saluted and turned to leave the room, but he had only gone a few steps when Grant’s voice stopped him. “Adam, thank you for what you’ve done on my behalf. You may not know, but the khedive is hurtling towards bankruptcy, he’s likely to be deposed in the very near future.”

“You’re still going there?”

“Oh yes, it’s all arranged. It won’t be wise to be too far from Egypt when the whole lot collapses. The British are poised to act, and we have to be right there beside them or lose out on the deal. Thanks to you we have successfully cut out the Prussian and Russian hopes of gaining any power there.”

Somewhere at the back of his mind Adam could hear Dimitri Doestov’s sibiliant whisper of disgust summed up just in that one word: ‘Politics!’

Chapter 3

Hester Cartwright smiled at the sound of laughter from upstairs, the sound of a happy young man and woman enjoying their first days of married life together. She smiled at her husband who was just coming into the house from chopping wood. She could just see the top of his head above the pile of logs he was carrying.

“Hester, you there?”

“Yes,” she replied continuing with her self-appointed task of setting the table for the first meal of the day, “Did you want me for something?”

“Jest give me directions towards the fireplace. Thought I’d get a good pile of logs in and save myself another trip outside.”

“Is it that cold?” she looked out of the window and frowned at the frost still creating a white landscape beyond.

“Hester—quick—before I drop everything.”

She gave the necessary directions with a slight note of hysteria in her voice as she watched her husband dodge the furniture by a sidestep here and a quick forward step elsewhere while all the time the logs were teetering and threatening to fall.

“Am I there yet?”

“Yes, Hoss.” she hurried forward in time to catch a log, and then another. “I think you should just stick to your usual routine, dear. One of these days you could have an accident.”

“Dadgumit, Hester, don’t talk to me, just help unload me.”

She smiled at him, his blue eyes now level with the top layer of logs, and carefully unloaded several of them which she placed into the log basket. As more of his poor perspiring face appeared the more her smile broadened.

“It ain’t funny, Hester.”

“I know, dear.”

“Shucks, hurry up and git more off’n me.”

She slowly dismantled the pile of logs until he remained standing in front of her with only three left in his hands; he smiled and nodded.

“Good idea, huh?”

She laughed and shook her head and then took the last logs, kissed him as she did so and placed them on the fire, before brushing her hands clean of wood dust upon her apron, Hoss was watching her and grabbed her hand as she passed him,

“You know, Hester, it don’t seem that long ago that we were the newlyweds, does it?”

“It wasn’t that long ago, Hoss.” She dropped her voice a little and allowed him to pull her towards him. “I didn’t stop thinking that we were newlyweds either.”

“Shucks, you didn’t?” His blue eyes twinkled at her as he leaned in to kiss her.

The sound of footsteps on the stairs made them both jump apart. Hester hurried to continue getting the table set out and Hoss knelt to make the log pile tidier.

“Say, Hoss, you sure got a pile of logs in there.” Joe quipped, nodding a smile over at Hester. “Should keep Pa warm for the day.”

“Ain’t jest Pa I was thinking of,” Hoss replied, brushing his hands together to remove any wood and dust from them. “I got to think of my gals, ain’t I?”

“Of course.” Joe nodded and looked at the fire, which seemed to be struggling against the damp wood, “Doesn’t look very healthy to me.”

“It’ll be alright.” Hoss grabbed at Joe’s arm as his brother picked up the poker and began to poke and prod at the logs. “Don’t do that, Joe, you’ll git the whole lot mussed up.”

“Seems to me they need more air to them.” Joe gave the logs another vicious stab with the result that two, one smouldering, toppled onto the hearth.

“See what you done?” Hoss grabbed at the poker, Joe refused to give it to him, and for a few minutes the two of them wrestled together in good natured fun to gain possession of it. Hoss finally managed to wrest it from Joe’s grip just as Ben came down the stairs buttoning up his shirt and sniffing

“Something’s burning.”

“Lordy, it’s the rug” Hoss cried, seeing the smoke now and doing a little war dance on the rug to extinguish the fire, “Shucks a mighty, Joe, see what you done?”

Ben shook his head and gave Hester a smile and a kiss on the cheek, then sat down, looking over at Joe and raising his eyebrows. “Is Mary Ann alright?”

“Sure, Pa, she’s fine, she won’t be a moment.” Joe grinned and took his seat. “I’m taking Mary Ann to see the house this morning before the snows come and we can’t get out so easily.”

“Good idea, Joe; how’s it coming along?” Hoss wiped his hands down the back of his pants and pulled out a chair. “I ain’t bin along to see it for some time.”

“It looks great, they’re doing a great job on it.” Joe looked over at Ben and the smile faded a little as he observed his father’s face, “Guess there’s been a lot of changes lately, haven’t there, Pa?”

Ben nodded, his lips parted into a generous warm smile even though his eyes held that touch of sadness that Joe had noticed.

“No one can stop change, son.” He glanced up at the stairs as Mary Ann appeared with little Hannah in her arms, “Good morning, my dear, how are you today?”

“Excited. Joe’s taking me to see the house today.” She crossed the room and passed Hannah to her mother. “I heard her crying and thought perhaps I should bring her down before she started really bawling.”

“My daughterr doesn’t bawl,” Hoss retorted with a chuckle in his voice

“Oh yes she does,” came an answering chorus of voices, and to the sound of laughter Hop Sing entered the room to place food on the table and nod at them all, tweak Hannah’s cheek and shuffle back to bring in more.

“You’ve seen the house before, haven’t you?” Hester asked the younger girl who nodded and smiled that yes, she had but it was quite a while ago.

“There’s been a few changes to the original plan,” Joe said, piling his plate with ham and eggs, “but Adam said there was room for some changes. I think he’ll like it.”

“It’s more important that you both like it; after all it’ll be your home soon.” Ben passed the bread platter to Mary Ann. “You’re looking very pretty today, my dear. Some changes at my age really are much appreciated,” he chuckled, “I have two pretty faces to look at in the mornings now, which makes a bit of a difference from the faces I’m used to looking at.”

Hop Sing listened to the laughter and nodded, smiling along with it, but inwardly he wished he could have made some changes of his own, like turning the clock back quite a number of years.

Chapter 4
The Commodore found it difficult to have to wait for orders and to be left without a purpose. Time hung heavily upon his hands as a result and his mind constantly returned to the conversation he had just had with the president. He wondered if he would have been happier having had his resignation accepted but reminded himself that he had merely put forward a rather tentative offer, after all.

The sidewalks were icy underfoot and the hoar frost glistened in the weak sunlight. He knew that back home on the Ponderosa it would be looking beautiful with the mountains reflected in the waters of the lake as a perfect mirror image. Perhaps it would be snowing now, in which case the road from Placerville would start to get blocked, and the alternative route through Donner Pass would be even worse as it was that much narrower.

He was still hungry, and thoughts of home reminded him of Hop Sing’s breakfasts. His stomach growled as a cue that it needed something inside it so he took himself to the first eatery he could find. It was an adequate meal; he drowned it with coffee and gave himself indigestion wondering what Grant would be thinking of him now. The disclosures about the Black Hills had not surprised him, the promises—well, Grant was the ultimate politician and would promise anything to appease where it suited him.

Adam was under no delusion as he paid the tab and returned to the streets. What if Grant sent a letter today dismissing him from the service? Adam sighed, and looked up at a snow laden sky. Thoughts of such weather always caused his mind to drift to Alaska, to the memory of his men hauling the Ainola through that relentless ice. The memory caused him to stop in mid-stride so that he could savour it just a while longer.

Glancing up he realised he was near a park and stepped down into it with his mind still on events from the past. Pleasant memories, for even though he had his head bowed anyone passing him could not have failed to notice the smile upon his face.

He could hear children laughing and shouting, and he raised his head. A young woman wearing what resembled a loosely knitted tea cosy on her head and an overlarge coat was chasing after two small children. He watched them for a moment before turning to walk along the foot path that wound its treacherously icy way around some flower beds. As he did so a gasp close by drew his attention to a woman who was walking quickly towards him, or rather, had been walking quickly towards him—for her feet slipped on the ice and she was heading for an embarrassing landing when he grabbed at her elbow and held her steady, then helped her to gain her feet.

“I’m so sorry,” she gasped and smiled up at him.

She had sea green eyes, large and long-lashed, slightly amused and yet shy; her high cheekbones were red from the chill air as was the tip of her nose. She moved away from him a little, just enough for him to drop his hand to his side.

“I am sorry,” she repeated and shook her head, pulled her scarf closer around her neck, and looked up at him. “My foot just went from under me. Thank you for being my knight in shining armour.“

She wore a knitted bonnet that covered her hair and her mittens were of the same bright red which matched the scarf. She frowned very slightly, her brow puckered into a horseshoe shape. “ I think I know you.”

“In which case you have the advantage,” he smiled. “Adam Cartwright—”

“From the Ponderosa?”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“I’m Olivia Phillips.”

He shook the proffered hand and smiled, although he couldn’t recall ever meeting an Olivia Phillips before. Perhaps his confusion showed on his face because she smiled again, and remarked that he didn’t remember her, did he? He laughed then, and admitted that he didn’t, although he couldn’t think how he could possibly have forgotten her.

She smiled at the compliment but ignored it.

“I was in Virginia City recently. I saw you with your brothers and father.”

“Really?” His brow furrowed in a frown; he was about to ask her why had she not introduced herself when she continued to speak.

“My father was Ephraim Dent. He owned a ranch not so far from the Ponderosa. He died a few months ago.”

“I remember your parents,” he said. “Not very well, though. I am sorry about your father’s death; I wasn’t thereabouts at the time and hadn’t heard.”

She cleared her throat and looked at him with a smile. “I remember you coming to our place once or twice with your father.” She sighed, “Your father helped find us when the Indians took us from home.”

“That’s right,” Adam smiled; his cheeks dimpled and the dark eyes lit up with delight at her remembering, “I remember it well.”

She shrugged and shook her head. “I was taken with my brothers. They didn’t harm us at all. I have no sleepless nights caused by memories of that time although, some may think I should.”

The children, a boy and a girl, saw them now and released the hands of the other young woman with the tipsy tea cosy on her head to run towards her. She stooped down and picked the girl up, and managed to grab the boy as he shot past her.

“These are my children, Adam. This is Sofia; she was born shortly after Robert, my husband, died.” There was a slight catch in her throat and the sea-green eyes misted with tears, she turned her head, blinked fast and then smiled down at the boy. “This is…”

“I’m Reuben, I’m five.” He looked up at Adam and frowned, so well muffled up against the cold that all Adam could see were hazel eyes and a red nose.

The younger woman ran up, puffing as she did so, “Sorry, ma’am, I lost their ball.”

“Never mind, we’ll find another.”

“Marcy lost my ball on purpose. She threw it too hard.” Reuben declared.

“I wanna go home, I’m cold,” Sofia whispered to her mother and settled her head against her mother’s shoulder while her eyes fixed onto Adam’s face.

“Shall I get a cab for you?” Adam offered but she shook her head, thanked him and extended her hand to be shaken once again.

He watched her walk away, a straight narrow back, slim build. He found himself wondering about the colour of her hair. In the dim recesses of his memory he recalled that most of the Dent children resembled their mother, who had very silvery blond hair. He shook his head; life was strange the way it brought people together, separated them and then casually tossed them back into the maelstrom of each other’s lives again.

He was turning back and quickening his pace as he realised that he had yet to reach the harbour in order to say his goodbyes to Laurence and Rachel. He was about to leave the park when he heard someone call his name or rather hearing the words “Oi, you, slow down a bit.”

He paused and turned, smiled at the young woman who was still wearing what appeared to be a rather tipsy tea cosy on her head. She was now standing in front of him with plumes of warm air puffing into the coldness.

“Sorry, Mr. Cartwright. Mrs. Phillips said would you please find the time to call on her tomorrow. She—” the eyes scrunched up and the nose wrinkled. “She would like to talk to you about something and ask your advice.”

“What time?”

“About 11 o’clock.” she dashed him a smile, and then turned to run back, he watched her skid, slip and slide before she righted herself and hurried to join her mistress.

………………..

“I’m going to miss you, old chap.” Laurence shook Adam’s hand warmly and his blue eyes showed the sincerity of his good wishes. Adam thought yet again of how much he had reminded him of Joe during those times in the Kuril Islands and Egypt although really, he was nothing like Joe at all.

“Take care of yourself.”

“I’ll try.”

“Don’t let Charles bully you into any more adventures. Keep your feet on the ground and look after your wife.”

“That won’t be difficult.” Laurence wrapped his arm around the shoulders of his future bride and smiled fondly down at her.

How pretty she looked in her very expensively cut suit with the smart hat adorned with ostrich feathers and a diamonte clip; she laughed at him as he surveyed her. “Do I meet with your approval, sir?”

“You look charming. I couldn’t help think how different you looked from when I met you in Egypt.” He shook her hand and she stood on tiptoe to kiss his cheek.

He watched them as they mounted the gangplank and then disappeared from view only to reappear again among the crowds hanging over the rails scanning the crowds for a familiar face, laughing and waving their farewells to the sea of faces below them. He raised his hand and wondered if they would see him, realised that probably they would not, and with a vague smile made his way through the jostling crowds.

…………………..

The house had a roof, and the openings for windows and doors were all present. The young couple sat close together in the buggy with a blanket over their legs and the tarpaulin cover fastened down neatly. She sat with her head resting upon his shoulder, and looked at their future home with a smile lighting her face. “Oh Joe, it’s perfect.”

“Want to go inside?”

“Of course I do.” she laughed and waited for him to unclip the cover and clamber down before he walked round to the other side and assisted her.

They walked hand in hand into their home and stood in what was the main room. Several men greeted them but continued with their work after informing Joe that Henry had gone into town.

“How much longer before it’s finished?” Joe asked and one of them scratched his head and shrugged. “Perhaps six weeks if the weather stays this good. We got the fire working as you can see.”

Joe looked down at her and smiled, then together they walked through the rooms, went up the stairs and stared about them, there were no rooms divided off yet, that was still to come. He laughed, picked her up and swirled her around and around, her skirts billowed into flounces around her ankles and she held on tight until he set her down again. “My goodness,” she put a hand to her throat, “I’m quite dizzy.”

“Do you like it, though? Happy with all the changes?”

“Yes, I am, Joe. It’s going to be a wonderful home.”

“I want you to be happy here, Mary, really happy.”

She put her arms around him and pulled him closer, they kissed a tender kiss, and each felt the smile of the other beneath their lips. This was contentment, this was joy, this was, indeed, love.

“Joe, I never want to be without you.”

“You won’t be,” he promised as he kissed her again.

Chapter 5

As the night travelled on towards the dawn Adam found himself waking, sleeping and then waking again. Eventually he surrendered to the fact that he needed to think about some things and get some facts straight in his mind about Mrs. Phillips.

He lay on his back with his arms folded behind his head and his eyes closed. Years ago he could recall when Ephraim Dent arrived in Virginia City. It was before Pa had married Marie. Dent was a kindly man, his wife was called…here Adam had to think hard in order to capture the elusive name…Martha. Ephraim and Martha Dent with four children. He could recall seeing them at one time when Pa had taken Hoss and him to visit them.

He could only recall that it was a blistering hot day and the youngest child, an infant, was wailing in Mrs. Dent’s arms while the eldest, a boy with white-blond hair, stood beside his father and eyed the two Cartwright boys up as though expecting them to get down from the wagon and start a fight.

He smiled slowly at the memory of Hoss enjoying the cake Mrs. Dent had cooked and how all the way home he had begged Pa to make a return trip pretty soon. Adam frowned as he trawled through his memory for other details to latch onto, such as the Bannock attacks on the homesteaders and ranches around Eagle Station. Some ranches had been badly hit, some burned down to the ground and everyone living in them had been killed. The Dents had been attacked and Martha Dent and three of the children had been taken as prisoners. Pa said that their colouring may have appealed to the Indians as all had that white-blond hair.

That was a time of sheer misery and anxiety for everyone in the area. Ephraim Dent had succeeded in rounding up a posse to hunt down the Indians who had taken his family. Ben had ridden with them and been gone for so long that even Hop Sing had started getting worried about him never coming back.

Pa had never really spoken much about that time away and it had been a long while before Adam had seen Ephraim Dent and his family again. Mrs. Dent was different from how he had remembered her; that was all he could recall about her. The three children that had been taken seemed to have enjoyed the adventure, although nothing was said about it to him, and the baby had seemed to thrive.

Fact was the Dent family did well from the experience and their ranch prospered. Occasionally Ephraim and Pa would meet up; Martha died only a few years after the Indian attack, and the children grew.

The town had kept growing as well and by the time it had adopted the name of Virgnia City there was little or no contact between the families socially. Business wise there were some dealings over the years but he could never recall seeing a girl, although she must have been one of the four children.

Adam eventually fell asleep wondering about Martha Dent and her daughter. When he opened his eyes again it was to the sounds of rain clashing against the windows and the thought of getting out of bed to face the day not one he particularly favoured.

He checked with the reception to confirm that there had been no letters or cards left for him and breakfasted. With an eye on the time he left the hotel and hailed a hansom cab which took him from the hotel sidewalk to deposit him at the home of Mrs. Phillips nee Dent.

For some reason Adam had assumed that the home of Mrs. Phillips would be in much the same area as the some of his father’s more influential and prominent business contacts. When the hansom turned into an area less familiar to him he began to wonder exactly what Robert Phillips actually had done for a living. The hansom eventually rocked to a standstill outside a pleasant property in a quiet residential district. He stood on the sidewalk to observe it thoughtfully before taking the steps to the front door and knocking loudly. The house stood in a crescent and was one of a row opposite which was an attractive park the trees of which still bore the shimmering hoar of the early morning frost.

He checked the time on his watch and raised his hand to knock again but the door opened and he found himself looking at the slip of a girl in a slightly overlarge uniform. She looked at him, adjusted her cap, a different one from that which she wore the previous day, and nodded.

“Oh, good morning, sir.”

“Er—I have an appointment to see Mrs. Phillips.”

“That’s right, sir.” She smiled and blinked up at him, “Do step in, sir.”

She stepped aside and promptly closed the door behind him, so promptly in fact that it narrowly missed catching his coat. “Are you in the navy then, sir?”

She was looking at his uniform with large eyes while taking his hat and coat—obviously the household did not run to butler and full household staff.

He smiled. “I am.”

“So’s my brother. He’s on a ship going to the West Indies. My, he says his captain is a right brute. You can come with me, sir.” She paused, rolled her eyes and shook her head, “Don’t know what I’m thinking about—excuse me, sir. I’ll be back in a minute.”

She disappeared quickly taking his coat and hat with her and leaving him wondering if he would ever see them again. She returned just as he was finding a painting on the wall of some interest, her hands empty. She smiled. “If you would follow me, sir.”

She opened the door a little further down the hallway and paused dramatically before announcing him. He stepped into the room, which was of good size but cluttered with too much furniture and too many pictures on the walls. The large window allowed a vast amount of sun—a straggly winter sun—to brighten the scene, making various surfaces gleam and shine. He turned back to the girl. “There’s no one here.”

“Oh.” A frown creased her young brow and then she nodded, “Well, you stay here and then I’ll go and find her. It was just the one you wanted, wasn’t it?”

“Yes, I think so.” he smiled at her and she blushed; after all, a maidservant’s uniform didn’t make a woman impervious to the charms of a handsome man.

She closed the door behind him and he walked further into the room. His eyes roved around the room, untidy but clean, full of colour and mirrors, pictures and statues. It seemed that wherever a bare space had presented itself something would have been placed there to make the space ‘useful’. A bust of a severe looking man with a goatee beard glared at him from a corner; the sun glinted on the bronze nose making it appear quite comical. On the mantle amid the candlesticks, little ornaments and knick-knacks, someone had placed a rose, no doubt taken from the garden that morning, the last winter rose with its petals already burned by the frost.

Somehow he had expected Mrs. Phillips, nee Miss Dent, to live in a house that would display Spartan tastes, with nothing out of place. As he walked towards the large window his foot kicked against something and when he looked down he discovered a rather mangled looking rag doll. He picked it up and was wondering where to put it when the door opened.

“Oh good, you found it.” She smiled and approached him and took the doll. “Marcy, the doll’s been found.”

Marcy the maid hurried into the room and took the doll, glanced at Adam and smiled before she disappeared. Mrs. Phillips smiled and Adam involuntarily smiled back; she had that kind of smile.

“Thank you for coming.” She led the way to some chairs and indicated one for him close to the window.“It’s a pleasant view from there; the garden looks lovely even though it’s winter now. Do you like gardens, Mr. Cartwright?”

“Er—I think so,” Adam replied, casting his mind back to the neat gardens his stepmother had created at the Ponderosa. “I don’t see many of them at sea.”

“No, of course not.” She leaned towards him in order to look into his face and then smiled again. With the light shining upon her face from the window he could see the colour of her eyes, and knew he had been right, she had eyes like the sea and today they were more green than blue, with long lashes. “I forgot that you were a seaman. That means I should call you something other than Mr. Cartwright. shouldn’t I?”

“I really don’t mind being called Mr. Cartwright, or even Adam.”

She nodded slowly and her smile lengthened creating small dimples in her cheeks. “Adam Cartwright. Yes, I remember you coming to the house when you were a boy and there was another boy with you. He liked mother’s cakes.”

“You have a good memory. That was Hoss.”

“You had another brother later on, didn’t you? I recall my father saying that Mr. Cartwright had remarried and had another son.”

“Joseph.” He smiled more broadly.

Chapter 6

She nodded as though pleased to have recollected correctly and looked out at the garden, her face was pensive as though the names had taken her down the stream of time in which she now lingered. The door opened with something of a thud and Marcy entered with a trolley laden with tea and various types of cookies and dainties. She placed it close to Mrs. Phillips and stepped back, stood straight and tried to look like an efficient maid.

“Thank you, Marcy. It all looks–”

“MOMMY!” The cry came from somewhere further back in the house and she sighed. Marcy did likewise. “Don’t worry, ma’am, I’ll go and sort it out.”

Adam began to feel rather like a ship that had lost its moorings. He raised his hand to his mouth in order to cover the whimsical smile that had come to his lips and watched as she poured out tea and then paused, looking up at him with those luminous eyes. “I’m sorry; I should have asked if you’d have preferred coffee?”

“Tea is fine, thanks.”

She relaxed, finished pouring, and once the ceremony of tea making was over sat there opposite him looking so different from the Mrs. Phillips he had expected that he had to fight to suppress his laughter.

“Mr. Cartwright,” she said suddenly, “I hope you didn’t mind my asking you here today. It was just that seeing you yesterday made me wonder if perhaps you could help me.”

He swallowed the tea, cleared his throat and assured her he was quite willing to help her should it be at all possible.

“Seeing you also reminded me of a lot of things,” she murmured softly.

Adam said nothing; he wasn’t really very sure what he was supposed to say, so he smiled and nodded, then drank more tea.

There was another knock on the door and Marcy reappeared, looking slightly agitated,
“I’m sorry, ma’am, but Mrs. Phillips wants to know when you’ll be available to read to her.”

“In a moment.”

Marcy looked at Adam and rolled her eyes before disappearing. Adam observed to Mrs. Phillips that Marcy was new to the position and she nodded. “Yes, two days. Very eager to learn though.”

He set down the cup and saucer, and cleared his throat again.

“I suppose it would have made more sense for me to have approached your father and yourself when I saw you in Virginia City but I was…” she drew in a sharp intake of breath, and turned her face away, so that when she looked at him again he could see there were tears in her eyes. “I was feeling very sad and alone. My father was the dearest man and after his death there was so much to do that I felt quite overwhelmed. I still do really.”

“My father had more dealings with your family than we did. To be honest, Mrs. Phillips, I don’t even recall ever meeting you before.”

“No, of course you wouldn’t.” She smiled again, very briefly. “You know that my brothers and I were taken, with my mother, by the Bannock. Your father was one of those who found us, did you know that?”

“Yes, I knew.”

“Afterwards my mother was quite ill; fear and shock had distressed her beyond measure, and also there were things said–quite untrue–that were cruel and unfounded about how she had been treated. As a result my father resolved that we would never leave the vicinity of our property unless with him.” She bowed her head and pulled a handkerchief from her sleeve. “Well, it meant I never really saw anyone at all; we lived quite a reclusive life.”

“It was mentioned in town at times. It was quite rare to see any of you in Virginia City.”

“Father preferred to do business in Carson City which was much closer to our property anyway, so far more practical,” she explained. “Later my brothers went to fight in the war, and they didn’t return. I think that made father and me much closer as a result. Father was a proud man but he was very kind, very gentle.” Her voice softened. “Whatever he did for us was always to keep us safe, but the boys never seemed to understand and then they left anyway.”

“You had a sister?” he prompted now, and she smiled and nodded, offered him some more tea which he declined, “Was she the baby, the one that wasn’t taken the day the Bannock attacked?”

“My little sister, Katya. Mother had hidden her when the Bannock attacked. She was safe and grew up to marry a very fine man. She lives in Georgia now.”

For a moment they lapsed into silence during which he had time to observe her more closely. Her hair was held back from her face in a style that was referred to as a chignon, although wisps trailed over her brow and ears, softening her features. The high cheekbones brought attention to her eyes, no doubt her best feature. She wore a soft green dress with white collar and cuffs, it was simple and elegant but even Adam could see that it was not expensive.

“What was it that you wanted me to assist you with, Mrs. Phillips?”

She took a deep breath and cleared her throat. “Mr. Cartwright, my husband, Robert, died just three years ago. I have two children, a son and daughter. I live here with my mother-in-law and Robert’s brother and his wife.” She frowned, a slight pucker between the eyebrows and she heaved in another deep breath.

Adam looked at her and saw how her lips had thinned, her hands had formed two small fists, and her breathing was slightly more rapid. He pursed his lips slightly. “So what do you want me to do?”

She leaned towards him, and colour rose to her cheeks, flushed suddenly by some inner excitement, and she smiled again. “I want to move back home. There is no one to take over the ranch now Father has died. Katya is rich and happy for me to have it. I know I could sell it and get a good price for it but I want my children to have the freedom and happiness I enjoyed there as a child.” She leaned back and with her head to one side observed him. “Would you help me, Adam?”

He was about to answer when the door burst open and a tall thin woman of middle age stood framed within its centre. She pursed her lips and folded her hands at her waist and glared at them both. If Adam had been caught in flagrante delicto he couldn’t have felt more guilty; his collar seemed to have shrunk and he rose instantly to his feet.

“Olivia, mother has been expecting you to read to her for the past five minutes.” The dark eyes swept from the seated woman to the tall man standing by the window. “Sir, how much more of my sister-in-law’s time will you be taking up this afternoon?”

“Morgan,” Olivia Phillips stood up gracefully and turned to face the other woman, “Tell Mother I shall be with her in a few more moments. Commodore Cartwright will be leaving soon.”

Adam raised his eyebrows slightly, so she did know his rank, well, there now, perhaps she knew a lot more besides. He bowed stiffly to Morgan Phillips. “I’ll be leaving shortly, Madam.”

She failed in an attempt to outstare him and with a toss of the head left the room, muttering something about how some women had no morals sitting with a man alone and unchaperoned. Olivia shrugged her shoulders and sighed as though this kind of thing happened so often it hardly rated attention any more. “I shall be grateful if you could help me with all the details of the move, Adam.”

He frowned slightly, “This isn’t the best time of year to make the journey, Mrs. Phillips. I only just made it here myself and–” he paused as he noticed her face fall slightly, although she rallied and nodded as though she understood perfectly. “To be honest, I may be at sea very soon. Can you leave the matter with me? My father, I know, will be more than pleased to help you. He had a high regard for your parents in the past, I’m sure he’ll be more than happy to help you again now.”

Her smile widened and her cheeks rouged, the green in her eyes gleamed and she placed a hand on his arm. “Thank you. I can wait for as long as it is necessary so long as I know I will be able to get there eventually.”

Her touch on his arm was very light and remained there no longer than protocol permitted, but it seemed to Adam as though the weight of her hand remained there for far longer. He left the room, promising to keep her informed.

Marcy was standing by the door with his outer clothing ready and he shrugged into his coat. He was about to put on his hat when the front door opened and a tall, good-looking man appeared in the vestibule. He looked at Adam and then at her; his lips thinned and eyes narrowed and before he could speak Adam stepped forward.

“I’m about to leave, sir; excuse me but you’re blocking the door.”

“And who, may I ask, are you?”

Adam pursed his lips, the arrogant tilt of the other man’s head and the narrow suspicious eyes were just enough to warrant him a punch on the jaw. At one time, Adam thought to himself, that was precisely what he would have got; instead he forced a cold smile to his face

“Commodore Adam Cartwright.”

“Commodore?” the arrogance wilted slightly, he thrust out a hand “Booth Phillips. This lady’s brother-in-law.”

Adam nodded, shook the man’s hand and after bidding Olivia Phillips goodbye, left the house.

Chapter 7

Time dragged its heels as Adam waited the remainder of the day for some news from Grant. He went to the harbour and spent a melancholy hour remembering the night the Ainola died in that fire, locked in a fiery embrace with the fire ship. He remembered more so the men that had been laid out dead or dying from their wounds. He stood on the spot where Gibbs had died in his arms and with a scowl on his face he looked once again across the waters to where it had all happened.
When he returned to the hotel he went to his room and wrote a long letter to his father. He told Ben about meeting with Grant. I offered my resignation but he seemed determined to refuse it. and after writing that down he sat for a few moments going over in his mind the things that had been said and done during that interview.

Next he told his father about seeing Laurence and Rachel off on the ship to England, and that led to him writing about Olivia Phillips nee Dent. He paused often during the writing as he wondered if Ben would remember the family and be willing to help this young woman and her children. He assumed that Mrs. Phillips was poor, and that living on the charity of the spiteful-looking Morgan Phillips drove her to consider life back in Nevada. No one likes to live on charity he mused as he signed his name and then sealed the envelope.

He left the letter at the desk so that it would be put into the hotel’s mail. As he turned to take the stairs to his room a tall, good-looking man in a long coat with an astrakhan collar appeared at the entrance and strode with long steps towards him.

“Adam Cartwright? Commodore or whatever you call yourself–” Phillips stopped a few paces short of the other man. He was breathing heavily and his eyes narrowed so it was impossible to see the colour of them, “You, sir, had better not step foot in my house again. Do you hear? I’m ordering you to stay away from my sister-in-law. Otherwise–”

“Otherwise?” Adam said quietly, drawing himself to his full height and squaring his shoulders.

Phillips lunged forwards with a blow to Adam’s face which sent the Commodore reeling back against the stairs. He was still on his feet however and was able to raise his arm to ward off the next blow and bring his fist against Phillips’ jaw.

Some woman in the foyer screamed and a man shouted, dithered, then grabbed at Adam as several men surrounded Phillips and pulled him away. Adam shrugged the other man away and straightened his back while Phillips was wiping blood from his bottom lip and looking at it in dismay.

“I’m warning you, Cartwright,” he yelled as he turned on his heels and made for the exit, leaving Adam to apologise to the staff, readjust his jacket and resume his way up the stairs to his room.

The attack had caught Adam off guard and for a while he was quiet and withdrawn from the conversation. The memory of those narrowed eyes and mean mouth, the warning and the anger that went with it, rankled in his mind. He thought of Olivia, that strange household and the scatty maid, and wondered what actually was going on there that could have caused such a public display of proprietorship on Phillips’ behalf.
…………..

Another day dawned with dragging minutes still to be faced. With no set plans for the day, Adam decided he would visit the Frobishers, the old friend of Bens’ who acted as their lawyer in San Francisco, and see if they knew anything about Ephraim Dent. The clerk at reception confirmed that the letter Adam had left for posting had in fact been sent off with the hotel’s batch of mail. He also confirmed that no mail had come for the commodore, nor any messages either. Satisfied that he had set the ball rolling in connection with Mrs. Phillips’ desire to leave San Francisco, Adam returned to his room to collect his outer coat and his hat.

He checked in the mirror before leaving and noticed the bruise alongside his jaw line just marking his skin and with a grimace at his reflection he left the room.

Olivia Phillips was waiting for him in the foyer of the hotel. She wore her red bonnet and scarf, and he realised now that the coat was a sombre black. She had worn black in the park and he recalled the straight narrow back as she had walked away from him.

“I am sorry.” She had hurried towards him as soon as he had appeared at the foot of the stairs, and once again apologised, pulling her scarf closer around her neck and looking up at him. “It’s very awkward. You must be wondering what on earth is happening in our household.”

He gave a wry smile and a slight shrug of the shoulders before putting a hand on her arm and guiding her towards a comfortable chair, one of many the hotel had scattered about the foyer. He took a chair opposite her. “I’ve written to my father and asked him to contact you with regard to your leaving San Francisco. He can help you every step of the way, and you’ll find him a good person to rely on. Is it still your intention to leave here?” When she nodded he then asked her if she knew anything about ranching.

“Until I married Robert I was raised on a ranch. I’m sure that with the right guidance I’ll be able to get the hang of it again, and hopefully I’ll be able to hire some good men to work for me.”

“Pa will see to all that, Mrs. Phillips.”

She nodded and once again adjusted her scarf; it was her turn now to clear her throat.
“Mr. Cartwright, I mean, Commodore–”

“Try calling me Adam; it’ll be a lot easier.” He smiled at her and the dimples formed in his cheeks and the dark eyes twinkled.

She inclined her head and smiled in return. “My husband, Robert, was a very clever man, and he was doing well in politics. He was well on the way to becoming one of the youngest senators in the country until he was taken ill three years ago and died.”

Adam was silent, it was only when she started speaking again that he realised that he should have said something, some word of sympathy; instead he bowed his head to catch what she said, for she was soft-spoken, and the scarf muffled her words still more.

“Robert had made money; he was a prosperous man, and to be honest, Mr.–I mean Adam–he was a generous and kind man. I loved him dearly.” She sighed softly and shrugged. “As it happened I had two small children to care for and moved from the big house in which we had lived to where you found me yesterday. That is my home.”

“Then by what right has your brother in law–”

“Yes, well, of course he has no rights at all.” She stopped and looked at a rose bush before moving on. “Booth, Robert’s brother, is not as clever as Robert. He somehow missed having the Midas touch. His investments went wrong and as a result he asked if he and Morgan, and his mother, could move in with us, temporarily, of course.”

Again she paused and looked across the foyer to where a woman stood talking to a member of the hotel staff. Adam waited for her to continue.

“They’ve been there ever since. Money is fast running out and Booth seems unable to find work. I had a letter yesterday from my sister, Katya, asking me to move there and join them in Georgia. He began to panic, and then Morgan mentioned your visit and why were you there, so I told her how you had known us before and were an old acquaintance.”

Adam noticed mentally that she had said acquaintance rather than friend. He nodded, pursed his lips in his familiar pout and frowned just very slightly.

“Morgan’s a difficult woman. She’s unhappy, unable to have children and married to a handsome man who isn’t successful. She’s living in her sister-in-law’s home with her elderly mother-in-law. She obviously feels trapped and miserable so she invents intrigues and creates mischief.” She sighed, “It’s hard to live on the charity of others, Adam.”

Adam recalled how he had totally misapplied that cliché to herself. He nodded: yes, it must certainly be hard to do so if mean-spirited and contributing nothing.

“You’re very generous minded, Mrs. Phillips,” he replied as he thought of the grim features of the woman who had come into the room and ordered her to read to the old mother-in-law.

“No, I’m not, not really.” She looked at him. “I’m just trying to see it from her point of view, because I know that I feel much the same. I feel trapped and alone in that house, but I have two lovely children and I had a wonderful husband.” She heaved in a deep breath, “Anyway, Booth put two and two together and made half a dozen, stormed out of the house swearing he would stop you coming again. He’s frightened of losing what little they have, you see? Living on my bounty, as Morgan put it, has made him–well–robbed him of something important to a man.”

“His pride and self respect?”

“I knew you would understand.” She looked up at him and again that smile flashed up at him, “I didn’t say anything about my plans to leave them. I wouldn’t dream of hurting them so much.”

“He–er–he doesn’t hurt you at all, does he?”

“Hurt me? Booth?” she laughed, “No, of course not. He cares about me, and my children, that’s all.”

Adam smiled and nodded, thinking she must be one of the most naïve women he had ever met if she hadn’t realised that Booth Phillips loved her, and it wasn’t the house he was afraid of losing, it was her “I’ll look forward to your father’s advice. When do you think we will be able to leave?”

“Well, it would be best to ask my father that as it would depend on the winter. Probably around March, maybe earlier if it’s a soft winter.”

“And when do you leave?”

“I’ve yet to get my orders,” he admitted and looked at her with a dimpled smile. “You know, my hotel has an excellent restaurant and–”

He noticed her stiffen and turned, fully expecting to see Booth Phillips standing behind him, but instead he found himself facing Lieutenant Munnings who smiled and saluted.
“Commodore Cartwright, sir. This arrived for you an hour ago by courier.”

Adam nodded, mumbled introductions as he looked down at the envelope. No doubt about it, his orders had arrived and if one were to consider timing, then timing was, indeed, everything.

Chapter 8

In his uniform Adam cut quite a striking figure. His height, broad shoulders and straight back made him the perfect model for his rank. Unlike Custer, who adorned his uniforms with as much braid and gold trimmings as possible Adam was quite content with the single star on his epaulets and the broad gold band on the cuff of his sleeves. As a result, when he entered Grant’s apartments the people already there were immediately impressed.

Grant was standing with his back to the door when Adam was admitted. Busy talking to his guest, he hadn’t noticed the arrival of the Commodore until the other person nodded over to Adam and smiled an acknowledgement of his presence.
“Ah, Adam.” Grant immediately turned and looked at the newcomer; he smiled and walked towards him, his hand outstretched to be shaken. “Now then, Commodore, come and meet my visitors–Hugh Mannering, this is Commodore Adam Cartwright.”

Mannering shook Adam’s hand, smiled expansively, blank eyes in a bland face.
“I’ve heard a lot about you, Commodore.”

Adam nodded, smiled and thought, More than I can say for you…

“And this is Hugh’s charming wife, Miranda.”

Mrs. Mannering smiled; dark eyes swept over him in assessment. He obviously passed the inspection as the eyes came alive and the smile widened and took on some depth of sincerity.

They shook hands and he stepped back some paces, then he looked at the president who appeared affable and full of the charm that made Adam feel uneasy. If this was a new way of receiving orders he wondered why he hadn’t been told.

“Now then, Commodore, you must be wondering why I sent for you.”

“I was told to report here to receive my orders, Mr. President.”

“That’s correct.” Grant walked to his desk and picked up some papers there; the rustle of pages flicking through his fingers were the loudest sounds in the room for a moment before he turned to them. “Mr. Mannering is a trusted member of my staff, Commodore.”

Adam didn’t move as it didn’t really matter to him one way or the other who Mr. Mannering was or what his occupation happened to be. He waited while Grant continued his game of looking through papers. Adam wondered what the Mannerings were thinking; after all, they were waiting too.

“They have to be in England before the end of this month.” Grant’s brown eyes flicked up and over to stare into Adam’s. “You have command of the Baltimore, Mr. Mannering and his wife will be waiting for you there. You are to take them to England.”

Adam looked at the Mannerings. Mrs. Mannering was staring out of the window, watching as some rooks flew across the skyline and raindrops splattered against the glass. Her husband was watching Grant but now turned to observe Adam; he smiled and his eyes actually took on some semblance of life.

“I understand the Baltimore was built for speed, Commodore?”

“She was, sir.”

“We know that we can rely on you to get us there. The president said he would provide us with the best ship and the best officer.” He nodded as though he himself had accomplished something quite marvellous in arranging the matter; he looked at Grant, who was watching Adam.

Grant heaved his bulk into a chair, and when the Mannerings had left the room he took out a cigar. After lighting it he glanced up at Adam as though surprised to see him still standing there, he smiled. “I thought you would enjoy something less arduous than Egypt.”

“Thank you.”

“I need them to be in England, Adam, as soon as you can get them there.”

“There was a ship leaving for England that sailed yesterday; couldn’t they have boarded that?”

“No.” Grant tossed the match into the ashtray where it slowly expired; he obviously didn’t wish to divulge too much but knew that Adam was a man who disliked too much secrecy. He smiled at that thought; after all the previous assignment had been secret enough. “You’ve upset my generals, Adam. Custer thinks you’ve laid a curse on him, and Sheridan and Sherman just about want you strung up.”

“I can’t think why.”

The deep clipped voice held a slight note of sarcasm and when Grant looked at the man’s handsome face he was in time to see a flicker of amusement fade from his countenance.
“You keep telling Custer he’s going to die in the Black Hills.”

“I’m not the only one saying that, probably several thousand others are as well.”

“Savages.”

Adam said nothing. This had been discussed before, and stalemate had already been reached. He merely lowered his head and surveyed the colours in the rug.

“Adam, I’ve set up a commission to look into your accusations. I’ve bent over backwards to accommodate you and your Indian loving ways, but–”

“Mr. President–” Adam stopped. Grant was not in the mood to pander to him or to oblige him by a lack of protocol. One didn’t interrupt the president when in full flow, especially when he was annoyed and needed to vent his spleen on someone.

“Commodore, just at the moment I think you would be better away from here. I want my generals to feel that they can proceed with governmental business without you constantly interfering.” He looked at Adam and waited for an apology of some kind but he waited in vain.

The knock on the door stopped further conversation as Babcock entered the room, and after a swift glance at Adam, approached Grant and whispered in his ear. Colour mounted in Grant’s face, his eyes bulged slightly and his fists clenched, he swore a string of expletives that forced Adam to stare harder at the rug. This was obviously a bad day for the president and Adam cursed the fact that he had to be in his presence during it.
Babcock left with a smug look on his face. Adam squared his shoulders and waited for some of the overflow of Grant’s temper to fall upon him. Grant rose to his feet, breathing heavily. He walked to the window and stared out, swore about the weather and the cold, then looked at Adam. “I admire you, Adam. I trust you because you’ve always done what I’ve asked of you and because I know that you’re sound, honest and reliable. I doubt if you’re personally loyal to me as a friend, probably more loyal to the office I hold. I would prefer that you were a friend of mine though.”

He turned his back on the commodore and puffed at his cigar as he stared at the leaden skies hovering over the city. He shrugged. “Well, you could say something at least.”

“I’m grateful for your regard, Mr. President.” The words were cautious. Adam was unsure of his ground as Grants comment had surprised him, caught him unawares.

“I wish there were more men like you whom I could rely upon to be honest, Adam. Too many like Custer, young and ambitious, ruthless and exploitive. As for my generals, well, we’ve served together too long I suppose. Perhaps we’ve reached the stage where we can’t be honest with one another any more.”

He sighed and then walked back to the desk. “Sit down, Adam. Have a drink.” He pointed to the tantalus, which had been unlocked earlier. Adam declined the drink, although he did sit down.

“The Mannerings, sir, I was wondering–”

“Don’t wonder, Adam. Don’t ask either.” Grant waved a hand and a swirl of smoke curved a pattern in the air from the cigar between his fingers, “Some things it’s best for you not to know. I have to get them to the American embassy by the end of the month.”

“It’s January; the weather won’t be predictable.”

“So I thought; that is why they have to leave tomorrow morning.”

“Very well. I had better get on board and make sure everything is in order.”

“Everything is in order, Commodore. That’s already been seen to, and your personal belongings have already been taken from the hotel to the ship. That’s been seen to as well by my personal order.”

Adam clenched his teeth and his lips tightened, but other than that he registered no emotion. He had learned a long time ago that he was a mere servant to the president, a trusted one, but a servant nonetheless.

“This errand–” he began but Grant interrupted him now and assured him it was more than ‘an errand.’ “Very well, this commission is primarily to get the Mannerings to England; secondly, to get me out of America?”

Grant leaned back into his chair and observed Adam thoughtfully. He shrugged.
“As I said you keep interfering in policies; I’ve had complaints about you, Adam. It’s best that you stay out of the way for a few weeks.”

“Who’s complained about me? Custer?”

“Among others. I have to admit his voice was the loudest, or should I say, the shrillest.” Grant smiled, “I’m thinking of you, in your own interests, Adam.” He leaned forward across the desk, “Don’t think of offering me your resignation again, I won’t accept it. I can’t afford to lose you, Adam.”

Adam wasn’t sure whether he felt honoured, flattered or cheapened by the words. He muttered something to the equivalent of the fact that he wasn’t going to resign, just yet, anyway. He could tell that Grant was sincerely relieved by the way the man seemed to expand and his eyes lightened

Grant now handed him a list, the names of the officers serving under him for this voyage. Munnings was one of them, along with Hathaway and Myers. Doctor Ewen McPherson was the assigned M.O. He folded it carefully and slipped it into his pocket before rising to his feet.

“Thank you, Mr. President. I shall do everything possible to get the Mannerings to London by the end of this month.”

“I’ll be very grateful, Adam, and count it as a personal favour. I know you dislike the subject of politics and policies and such, but you will be doing your country a great service.”

Adam said nothing to that but shook the president’s hand, saluted and left the room. As the door closed behind him another door in the room opened and Julia Grant stepped into the room, walked to her husband’s side and placed a hand upon his arm. “Was everything alright, my dear?”

He looked down at her with a slight frown on his brow and sighed. “I don’t know, Julia. I very much fear that I may have lost a friend.”

……………….

Adam left the building and hailed a cab. He was about to give the address of the hotel in which he had been staying when he remembered that there would be no point in doing so.
“Where to then, sir?” the cAbbi was getting wet, he was already soaked through but he preferred being on the move and earning some money than just sitting waiting for someone to make their minds up.
“The nearest florist,” came the answer, and then, “Wait for me there.”

“Very well, sir.”

The florist was a charming woman who was pleased to find the flowers he requested; she wrapped them with care and tied a ribbon around them. When he returned to the cab he gave the address of Mrs. Olivia Phillips and then sat back to think.

Marcy opened the door rather timidly and looked with round eyes at the Commodore.
“Is Mrs. Phillips home?”

“Which one do you want?” she replied and then smiled. “Only teasing. She’s in, sir.” She closed the door behind him and waited for him to shrug off his coat, looking admiringly at the flowers and sighing. “Anyway, it’s a good thing you came now as the others are all out, except for old Mrs. P.”

“And the children?”

“They went out with their uncle and aunt.”

He was led to the same room as before and when he stepped inside he was confronted by not only Olivia, but by the ‘Old Mrs. P’ who was seated in the chair he had taken the previous day. Olivia smiled and left her seat to approach him; she paused when he held out the flowers. “Roses…but how beautiful they are.” She turned to the other woman and showed them off. “Aren’t they lovely, Abbi?” She threw a smile over at Adam as she returned to where the old lady sat and placed them nearer for her to see.

“Very pretty, my dear.” Old hands with skin as thin as paper and purple veins thick like skeins of wool touched the petals; a frail head leaned down to smell the perfume, and she smiled. “They smell pretty too.”

“You are kind, Adam. Thank you so much.”

Marcy came into the room like some overeager puppy and took them in order to place them in a vase. Olivia indicated that Adam approach and then turned once again to the old lady.

“Abbi, this is Adam Cartwright, the friend I told you about whose father owns the Ponderosa.” she smiled once more and looked at Adam, “Adam, this is Mrs. Abigail Phillips, my mother-in-law.”

“Come closer, young man. My eyes aren’t so good as they once were.”

He drew closer and she peered at him, narrowing her eyes to get him better into focus. Large wet eyes with heavy folds of skin, wrinkled and lined. She put a hand upon his sleeve. “She tells me you’re in the navy, young man.”

“Yes, I am, Mrs. Phillips.”

“And the son of that Ben Cartwright?” she smiled, thin lips that stretched over yellowing teeth.

“Yes, that’s right, Ben Cartwright is my father.”

“I remember him when he first came to San Francisco with two little boys . He was in a wagon.” Her voice drifted and she sat back in her chair. “Yes, I remember. A handsome man. Is he still alive?”

“Very much so.”

“That’s good. Too many went off to the gold fields and died off. I always hoped he would survive. He had two nice little boys.”

He smiled and looked over at Olivia who leaned towards Abigail. “Do you want to sleep now, dear?”

“Sleep? But I thought I was going to see Ben.”

“Ben’s not here, Abbi, it’s his son, Adam.”

“Adam? Adam, did you say? But why would I want to talk to a little boy?” She was petulant and pushed Olivia’s hand away, “I think I’ll have my nap, I’m tired. Tell Ben I’ll speak to him in the morning.”

Olivia promised she would tell Ben and then pulled a shawl over the old lady’s legs. She smiled and took Adam’s arm and led him further away to where they were out of earshot and would not disturb her, although her snores did rather make it obvious that they were hardly likely to do so.

“Thank you for coming, Adam. It was kind of you to bring the flowers.”

“I was concerned about you.” He looked at her, the clear skin and bright eyes the colour of the sea, and her hair that was tied by a ribbon at the nape of her neck. Strange colour eyes and hair…he found himself smiling at her.

“There was no need to be,” she said with a smile of her own. “Booth was quite ashamed of what he had done and apologised profusely.”

Adam said nothing; wondering if a letter of apology was waiting for him at the hotel, but somehow he rather doubted it.

“I can’t stop as I have to get to my ship. I just wanted to see you before I left.” He heard himself saying it but it surprised him, he had never said that to a woman before; well, not since his farewell all that time ago to Barbara. He took her hand in his, “Olivia, I do hope I get a chance to see you and get to know you more when I get back.”

“Will you be gone long?”

“I’m not sure.” he paused, he should be sure but somehow something held him back from mentioning any time, he raised his eyebrows and shrugged, “A few weeks, possibly.”

“I’d like to see you again,” she said quietly and when he turned to leave she put out her hand. “Thank you so much for the flowers.”

He held her hand, kissed her fingertips and smiled. Their eyes met, and then he let her hand slip back as he walked from the room.

Chapter 9

Olivia Phillips looked thoughtfully at the vase of roses as Marcy set them down in the centre of the table.

“Ain’t they beautiful, Ma’am”

“Oh yes, very much so.” she smiled and reached out to touch the petals of one not yet in full flower, a shy rose bud, the inner petals of which were nearly black.

“Are you alright, Ma’am?”

Marcy’s voice intruded upon her thoughts, and she turned her head to blink back tears. It seemed inconceivable that someone should bring her roses. No one had shown such kindness, or interest since Robert had died. Robert had sent her flowers every week of their married lives.

“Yes, Marcy, I’m alright. I was just thinking what a kind gesture it was to bring these before he went away.”

“I thinks he likes you, Ma’am, a lot.” Marcy smiled at her and then looked again at the roses, “Red roses like them cost a lot of money.”

“Yes, I know.”

“And not only that, Ma’am, he cum here even though Mr. Booth told him not to, didn’t he? Why’d he do that if it weren’t because he liked you?”

Olivia closed her eyes for a moment and before the girl could say another word told her to go and get something for their tea; Mrs. Phillips Senior would be wanting something to drink when she woke from her nap.

Marcy nodded and scuttled out. Sometimes it was hard for her to remember she was a servant in this household when she and Mrs. Olivia were together; they were more like friends than mistress and maid. She bustled to the kitchen to rattle the pots and pans in order to dispel her irritation. Just because she was a maid didn’t mean she didn’t have feelings nor did it take from her the right to express them.

Olivia walked over to the window and watched the rain trickling down the glass pane. It was hard for her to remember that Marcy, so much younger that herself, was not a friend or confidante, but a maid, and one of only a few days service at that. She needed to remember in future for Marcy’s sake if no one else’s.

The old woman stirred in her sleep and sighed deeply. Olivia looked at her thoughtfully. One day I’ll be like that should I live so long, she thought, and what shall I have to show for it when I’ve passed? Years of loneliness like Abbi has endured. Poor Abbi. She reached out and touched the old woman’s hand gently.

“Is that you, Rita?” Abbi cried in a shrill voice. “Rita, are you there? Come in at once.” she blinked and opened her eyes, looked at Olivia and smiled, “Hello, Livvy, is Ben still here?”

Olivia smiled and shook her head. “No, my dear, he had to leave.”

“So like him.” Abbi leaned forward, “I think he likes Rita.”

“I’m sure that he does,” Olivia said softly and wondered who Rita was, for no one in the family seemed to know.

Abigail Phillips had never mentioned Rita until she began to slowly slip into dementia. Every so often the name would slip through her lips, most often when she slept. It all seemed to have started when Robert had died. The doctor surmised that Abigail had sustained such a shock at his death that she had had a seizure that burst some blood vessels in her brain. This, he warned her family, would only become worse as time went by.
He had been right as Abbi’s condition slowly deteriorated with each seizure she suffered. Rita began to be mentioned more often and Booth would shake his head and deny there ever having been a Rita in their family.

Olivia took hold of Abbi’s hand in both of hers, which pleased the old lady for she smiled, nodded and brought her free hand over so that it covered Olivia’s.

“Tell me, Abbi, who is ‘Rita?”

“What do you mean?” Abbi sat back sharply, her eyes wide. “Rita is Rita, of course. You know Rita?” She frowned, shook her head and withdrew her hand. “I want a cup of tea now.”

“It’s just coming, dear.”

The door opened and the trolley was trundled in with Marcy all smiles and bright eyes, her temper soothed. She brought the trolley up close between the two women, and was about to speak when the sound of the front door opening, chatter and clatter in the hall, announced the arrival of the children and the other members of the family.

“I’ll make some coffee, Ma’am.” Marcy said, knowing how Booth preferred that to tea.

“Mommy, I saw a frog.” Reuben ran into the room and threw himself into his mother’s arms. “It jumped.”

“Mind the tea pot,” she cried as Sofia pushed past to reach her mother.

“He saw it, Mommy, he really did.” the child piped up in a squeaky voice and Abbi jumped, startled out of the reverie into which she had slipped.

“Who’s that child?”

“It’s Sofia, Mama.” Olivia replied as she continued to peel off scarves and bonnets and coats from her children. “Sofia and Reuben.”

“Never heard of them.”

Olivia smiled at her two children as though to reassure them that this was just one of Grandmother’s bad days; it was nothing to worry about because she did love them really.

“Go and ask Marcy to give you a cookie,” she whispered.

“I heard that–” Abbi cried, “I want one too. Where are those children going?”

“To the kitchen to get a cookie from Marcy.”

“Who’s Marcy? Where’s Rita?”

She watched with her rheumy old eyes as the children ran out of the room and then she saw Booth and Morgan. She stared at them thoughtfully and with a deep sigh settled back into her chair. She closed her eyes and told herself that she had to think, she knew that she had to get some things in her head sorted and put in the right order. Except…who was there to say what was the right order?

Booth came into the room with a smile, his handsome face wreathed in good health and smiles. He dropped a kiss on his mother’s brow and ignored the fact that she cringed back, assuming that his lips had felt cold upon her warm clammy skin. Morgan walked towards the fire, rubbed her hands, and shivered.

“It was so cold outside.”

“Some tea will warm you, Morgan.” Olivia said, “Were the children good?”

“Reuben climbed a tree in the park and wouldn’t come down. We had to ask a man to help us get him down. Sofia threw her doll into the duck pond to see if it would sink or swim, then she saw a frog and screamed. I thought we would never get her quiet.”

Morgan turned and accepted the cup of tea offered her.Her eyes gazed around the room and fell upon the roses. Her brow furrowed into their familiar scowl

“Roses? When on earth could we afford roses?”

“We can’t.” Booth replied with the smile fading from his lips and he walked to the table, stared at the blooms and then turned to Olivia, “Who brought these?”

Olivia opened her mouth but it was Abbi who answered “Ben did. He came to see Rita.”

“Ben?” Booth stared at Olivia, who was pouring out tea for Mrs. Booth. “Who is Ben, Olivia?”

“I think he’s an old friend of your mother’s.”

“She’s never mentioned him before now. This nonsense has to stop.” He walked to his mother’s chair and put his hands on both its arms and leaned in towards her. “Mother, this nonsense about Rita has to stop. Do you hear me?”

Abbi looked at him, then delicately removed a tea leaf from her tongue, looked over at Olivia and shook her head. “Who is he?” she asked in a loud whisper.
………………………

Everything he had left in the hotel room was in the cabin. He looked around and noticed the books still on the shelf as he had left them when he had last been on board. His clothes were neatly packed away and the decanters in the tantalus were full.

The Baltimore bounced as the waves hit the sides of the ship, then struck against the harbour walls to send them back to smack against the port side. He rubbed his chin; if it was like this in harbour he doubted that it would be very good out at sea. He wondered how Laurence and Rachel were faring in their cruise liner.

He removed his jacket and folded it neatly over a chair before loosening his cravat, then he sat down at his desk and began to check the log book. O’Brien’s familiar writing greeted him and seeing it there soothed his nerves. It was like meeting up with an old friend.

“Commodore?”

He lifted his head, “Yes, Mr. Hathaway?”

“Dr. McPherson has just boarded, sir.”

“Very good.” He nodded and smiled, “Looks like a bumpy ride, Aaron.”

“I think so, from the way the barometer stands at present this could be set for a day or two.” Aaron entered the cabin and after getting a nod from Adam, took a chair and sat down. “Are we off anywhere far, sir?”

“England.”

“Oh well, a change from where we were last.” Aaron grinned. “Anywhere like before, that island in the Solent?”

“London.”

Hathaway nodded. “I’ve been there several times. January isn’t the best of months to visit England.”
.
“Sorry, Aaron, beggars can’t be choosers as they say. We have to go where we are sent.”

He turned the page and then looked up at Aaron again. “Do you know which ship O’Brien is captaining now?”

“No, sir. I can find out for you if you wish.”

“Thank you, if you wouldn’t mind.”

Aaron paused at the door and smiled. “Good to be with you again, sir.”

“Thank you, Aaron. Ask the cook to prepare supper for all officers and Dr. McPherson this evening, would you?”

“Yes, sir.”

A smart salute and the younger man was gone closing the door smartly behind him. Adam could hear the sound of his heels along the corridor and with a smile, resumed his reading.
………..

Booth Phillips returned to stare at the roses. He counted them slowly in his head. A dozen red roses and a ribbon. There was a man involved and as no man would be sending Morgan flowers–he certainly would not–then they were sent to Olivia. Sent or brought personally to the house? He turned sharply just as Marcy came into the room carrying the pot of coffee.

“He’s been here, hasn’t he?”

Olivia turned to face him, for she had been cutting some cake and had her back to him. Morgan, standing by the fire, looked at her husband and then turned away, her face pale and lips thin.

“Answer me, Olivia?”

“A friend of mine called with those roses.” her voice was calm, soft as always, but her eyes deepened into cold green.

“A friend? What friend? Tell me, what friend do you know who can afford 12 red roses?”

She just stared at him and then turned her back to continue cutting the cake.
“Don’t turn your back on me, Olivia.”

Marcy hovered by the door not sure whether to go forward or back. The coffee pot was burning through her hands, and she stepped towards the trolley in order to set it down. As she did Booth swept his arm across the table sending vase and roses scattering everywhere; water splashed upon the highly polished table and up the wall. Morgan gave a gasp that rattled in her throat while Olivia turned round, the knife still in her hand.

“Was it him?” Booth shouted and sprang towards her; Marcy gave a cry as he collided with her and the coffee pot fell. “I told him not to come here again. I told him not to step foot in my house again.”

He was shouting, his fists clenched and punching the air. Marcy was crying; the hot coffee had scalded her hands. Olivia ignored him but pulled Marcy towards her to check the burns. Then she glared over at her brother-in-law.

“How dare you. How dare you act in this manner towards us. Just remember this, Booth Phillips. This is MY house. Marcy is my friend. And it is NOT for you to tell anyone, not anyone, who can come or cannot come into this house.”

Booth stopped his rant. The quiet but very cold angry voice from calm and placid little Olivia was like cold water dashed upon the flames. He swallowed hard, nearly choked and looked at his wife who was staring at him as though about to faint.

“Don’t look at me like that–” he hissed and walked quickly from the room.

“Oh, Ma’am, my hands hurt so–” Marcy was weeping, tears plopping down on the red weals, and when Olivia put her arm around her to shepherd her out of the room she sobbed harder than ever.

The door closed very quietly and Abbi shook her head. “Such goings on,” she muttered. “It wouldn’t have been allowed in my day.”

Morgan detached herself from her place by the fire and came to sink slowly into the chair opposite her mother-in-law. Abbi smiled. “I’d like some cake now, please, Morgan.”

Sometimes, Morgan thought as she finished cutting the cake, one wondered just how much Abbi actually did notice, and how much she really knew. She put the cake on a plate and passed it to the old woman who smiled at her.

“Thank you, Morgan. You had better go and see to Booth now. He’s got into one of his tantrums again.”

She didn’t move. She was too tired of Booth and his tantrums. She was tired, also, of Olivia Phillips.

Chapter 10

Munnings proved himself to be a fine musician. After an excellent meal washed down with probably too much wine Munnings disappeared to his cabin and returned a few moments later with a clarinet. After a nod and wink from Adam he began to play some popular songs of the day which led to much singing, sometimes even in tune, from his companions.

As the Baltimore continued to rock from the waves the sound of the clarinet and the singing floated on the air as though some feeble attempt by mere man was being offered up to appease the storm.

“Quiet now, quiet.” Adam banged on the table with a spoon so that some order fell upon the assembled company.

“Mr. Munnings,” he bowed to Lieutenant Munnings, “well played, sir.”

“Hear hear,” shouted several others.

“Encore.” Dr. McPherson cried, almost unseating himself in his enthusiasm.

“Yes, encore.” Adam laughed and applauded generously, causing Munnings to blush in embarrassment, “Now, Mr. Munnings, why not end the evening with some classical piece of music so that these rowdies can calm down a little before they go to their beds.”

“Yay,” Hathaway stood up, “Well said, sir,” and he raised his glass in salute, which brought a cheer from around the table.

Munnings smiled “I know the very tune, sir.” he stood up near the open porthole of the cabin where the moon shone very brightly. “Geistliches Wiegenlied, by Brahms.”

“Oh very good, Munnings–” Adam laughed and drained his glass, “Go ahead now.”

Munnings ‘went ahead’ and the piece of music that was to become one of Brahms’ most famous pieces, known simply as Brahms’ Lullaby, floated around the room and hauntingly drifted out to sea. If the boat rocked a little more than usual no one seemed to mind, the assembly of officers calmed, thought perhaps of loved ones back home, sighed a little and put down their glasses to listen.

He received a cheering round of applause at the end when Adam rose to feet and said in a voice that Ben would have envied, “Gentlemen–and so to bed.”

“An early start in the morning, is it, sir?” Myers asked

“Indeed it is.”

They filed out, a noisy bunch of men acting like students loose from college for the night. Adam listened to them as they laughed and bumped their way down the corridor to their own cabins. The steward and several middies came in to clear everything away. The entertainment was over and with the strains of the lullaby echoing through his head Adam made his way up to the bridge.

He stood awhile with his hands in his jacket pockets and his face turned towards the sea. The wind was bracing and blew his hair free from his face, he had to narrow his eyes against it and when he looked up at the moon there was a ring around it like a rainbow.
Not a good sign. He pursed his lips and frowned as he turned to face the city with the gas lights twinkling in the surrounding darkness of night. It resembled a place where imagination could run riot, a fairy land of magic lanterns running amok along dark streets and alleys. He passed the seamen on their ‘trick’ (shift) for the dog watch, and nodded at their murmured greetings and salutes.

So many secrets in the world going round and around. Now here he was caught up in yet another of Grant’s machinations. Who were the Mannerings anyway? He tapped his hands against the wood trim of the taffrail and shook his head; no doubt he would soon find out.
His thoughts trickled to Olivia Phillips and the way she had looked at him as he was leaving. He couldn’t recall the last time he had bought flowers for a woman, nor when he had last thought of one in the way he thought about her. Heavens he told himself with a wry smile, I must be getting old and wanting my pipe and slippers. But even as he thought it he knew it wasn’t that at all; it was something else entirely.

He stood there long enough to feel the cold numbing his feet and made his way back to his cabin where he removed his clothes and fell into bed. As he closed his eyes he wondered what she would look like with her hair down, that near-white blonde hair loose and falling down her back like a cascade of silver water. He drifted into sleep accepting the fact that he felt for Olivia Phillips the natural attraction of a man towards a lovely woman.
…………………

“It’s alright, Ma’am, it doesn’t hurt so much now.” Marcy looked down at her arm and hands as Olivia gently patted them dry with a clean cloth.

“Why’s Marcy crying, Ma?” Reuben was standing on one of the kitchen chairs to observe what was going on with his face creased with curiosity mingled with a frisson of fear. “Is she hurt, Ma?”

“Yes, there was an accident,” his mother explained. She led Marcy to a chair by the kitchen table and made the young girl sit down. “I am sorry, Marcy.”

“It weren’t your fault, Ma’am.”

Olivia said nothing but looked carefully at the scalds. As soon as she had led Marcy from the large drawing room she had taken her to the kitchen and made her soak her burned arm and hands in a large sink full of cold water. Now that Marcy had assured her that the stinging had ceased she proceeded to careful cover the scalds with clear honey and then wrapped them in clean linen.

“Just sit there now, dear.”

“But, Ma’am, there’s work to get on with and–” Marcy protested.

“You need a cup of tea, Marcy. Just stay there and relax just for a short while.”

The kettle was already humming on the hob and Olivia made the tea. She poured milk and two spoonfuls of bought store sugar into a cup and poured out the tea which she put on the table for Marcy to drink.

“What about supper, Ma’am?”

“Just don’t worry about it.” She smiled and sat in the chair opposite her maid. “We can manage.”

Reuben drew closer and looked thoughtfully at them both, then he approached Marcy. “Does it still hurt, Marcy?”

“Not so much now. It itches more than anything.”

“Is that a good thing?” he turned to look at his mother who nodded, smiled and got up from her chair. “That’s good, Marcy. I thought your hands would drop off if they were really badly burned.”

“Nothing’s going to drop off, Reuben. Go and play upstairs with Sofia.”

He went off with a great clattering of feet upon tiles and Olivia watched him with a fond expression on her face, then looked over at Marcy. “I’ll just go and check on what’s happening in the other room.”

When she pushed open the door of the room she found Morgan mopping up the spilled water while the roses, some with slightly dented stems, were back in the vase. Morgan didn’t speak at all but just darted an anxious look over at Olivia and continued with her self appointed task.

“They’re still very lovely,” Abbi observed as she noticed Olivia’s eyes turned to the flowers. “And they smell lovely too.”

“Thank you, Abbi; yes, they do, don’t they?” She picked the vase up and hugged it against her waist. “I’ll just put some more water in the vase and then come and help you, Morgan.”

“I don’t need your help,” the other woman snapped, “I can manage. I’m not completely useless, you know.”

Olivia said nothing to that but left the room to fill the vase and check on the damage to the flowers. Marcy watched her for a moment before asking her mistress if she could go and sleep for a moment or two. “My eyes feel heavy, Ma’am, and I don’t feel well.”

“That’s because you have had a shock, child. Go to bed.”

…………

Eventually they all retired to their beds, grateful indeed to put the day behind them. Booth had disappeared as usual after one of his tirades. He never mentioned whereabouts he went but it was not unusual for him to return in the early hours and to creep to his room. He would emerge sometime during the middle of the morning and refuse any discussion on the previous day’s events. He lived like a prince on a pauper’s income.
Olivia found it difficult to sleep as her mind was so full of the day’s events. She had to admit that her mind was also wandering far too often in the direction of the Commodore. She could see his eyes looking at her and the smile in them, the curve of his lips and the dimples in his cheeks. She had seen and known men more handsome but none seemed to have quite the appeal that he held for her. She fell asleep wondering how strange it was that any particular one person could have so much attraction to another.

“Is that you, Sofia? It’s alright, I’m coming.”

Bleary eyed and still half asleep Olivia groped her way to the door and stepped out onto the landing. The sound of weeping continued and as her senses gradually awakened she realised it was not a child crying but an adult. She paused to gauge the direction of the sound and finally ascertained it came from Morgan and Booth’s room.
She tapped on the door but there was no answer.

“Can I come in?”

Morgan didn’t answer but sat in bed with the covers up to her chin and her hands covering her face. She had hoped to keep her crying muffled but had underestimated just how lightly mothers slept in fear of their children needing them during the night hours.
“What are you doing here?” she mumbled dashing the tears away from her cheeks.

“I heard you crying, Morgan. Is there anything I can do?” she came closer into the room.
She had taken up the lamp that was always left burning on the landing and brought it in with her to Morgans room. This she now left on a table as she approached the bed and put a hand on Morgan’s arm. “What’s wrong, Morgan? Can’t you tell me?”

“There’s nothing to tell you,” Morgan replied instantly. “If you haven’t noticed it already, then there’s nothing to say.”

“Notice what?” She reached for her sister-in-law’s hands but Morgan pulled them away and pushed away the covers of the bed in an attempt to get up.

“Olivia, are you so innocent? So naïve?” Morgan began to fumble as she reached for her dressing gown which she pulled on, inside out. The seams were showing and in some sad way it only served to make her look eccentric rather than sad and unhappy.

“About what?” Olivia stood up, the light shining on the table behind her defined her form through her thin night garments.

“Booth. About Booth.” Morgan cried, pulling open the door now so that the light from the moon beamed through.

“What about Booth?”

Morgan was on the landing now and crying once again while Olivia hurried towards her.
“I should never have married him.”

“Morgan, quieten down, you’ll wake the children.”

Olivia reached out a hand and placed it on Morgan’s arm. The other woman shrieked as though she had been touched with a red-hot poker and once again Olivia begged her to keep quiet.

“Keep quiet? How can I keep quiet when my husband is in love with you. How can you not see it? He makes it clear enough even in front of me. What do I matter, I’m only his wife after all. He married me, not you, but the difference is he doesn’t love me.”

Her voice had risen and now another door opened and Abbi stepped out onto the landing, a candle in her shaking hand. The flame bounced up and down sending a flickering curl of smoke ceilingwards.

“What’s happening? What’s the matter?”

“It’s alright,” Olivia whispered, “Go back to your room.”

“No, no, I want to know what’s happening. Morgan, what’s the matter with you? Why are you crying? Why are you behaving like this?”

Morgan gave a shriek and clapped her hands to her ears. “For heavens sake, you’re driving me insane. All of you…isn’t it enough that I can’t have any children but you have two you constantly flout under my nose? Isn’t it enough that you had a happy marriage with Robert while I have–I have nothing, nothing!” and she shrieked again.

“Stop it.” Abbi cried now, “STOP IT!” she stumbled forward dropping the candle which thankfully spluttered out, “Rita, stop it, you mustn’t do it again, you mustn’t.”

Her gnarled wrinkled old hands clasped around Morgan’s wrists, held them tighter and tighter and Morgan shrieked while Olivia clasped at Abbi’s arm to pull her away.
It was then that Booth appeared on the stairs and holding the lamp aloft stared at the three women who appeared to be fighting on the landing. The light, his sudden appearance had the effect of stopping everything in its tracks. Abbi ran to her room wailing silently followed by Olivia who knew the old woman would need some comforting while Morgan stared at her husband before walking with some dignity back to her bed.

Chapter 11

Abigail Phillips sat in her bed and stayed as still as she possibly could. She knew that something was terribly wrong with the people with whom she shared the house. Worse than that, however, was her awareness that something was happening in her mind that was beyond her control.

It seemed to her that she now occupied two worlds. In some way she could step from one into the other. At times they seemed to merge together, to coalesce, and that was when it frightened her more than at any other. She perfectly understood that she was Abigail Phillips, but she was becoming steadily more unsure as to which Abigail Phillips she really was now. Young and vivacious, newly married or old and frail, living with people of whom she was becoming more and more afraid.

The door opened with a creak and Olivia entered, holding a candle sconce high enough to shed light some distance. The flame flickered in the draught created by her opening the door. The woman in the bed turned her head, blinked several times.

“Who is it?” The thin voice was querulous. It quavered slightly.

“It’s only me, Abbi. It’s Olivia.”

Abbi said nothing as she struggled to pluck from her memory a face to put with the name. She knew that once she had assembled those vital pieces the rest of the history concerning that person would reveal itself to her.

“Dear Abbi, are you alright now?” Olivia set the candlestick down by the bedside with a cup of tea. “I’ve brought something to calm you. It isn’t too hot, my dear, you can drink it right away.”

“Thank you.” Abbi looked at the cup of tea and watched as the surface swirled, light muddy brown and obviously with sugar which Olivia had just stirred in for her. She frowned, “Olivia?”

“Yes, dear?”

“What was all that fuss outside just now? It woke me up out of a dream.”

“Morgan was upset.”

“With Booth?” She took the cup and held it in her hands. It was comforting to feel the warmth coming through the china. She stared at it and then began to drink it very slowly.
“Yes, with Booth.”

Abbi nodded and sighed. “Thank you, Olivia. I don’t want any more; otherwise I shall have to get up during the night again.”

“Abbi, can I ask you something?”

Abigail’s heart sunk, it even fluttered a little. Questions needed answers and she was always fearful now that she would give the wrong one. She knew that one question also often led to another. She shook her head. “I’m tired. I want to go to sleep.”

Olivia smiled and fluffed up the pillows so that the old lady could settle back upon them. She drew the covers up and tucked them in, not too tightly though, as Abigail often would panic if the blankets were too tight.

“Who is Rita , Abbi?” she whispered as she leaned forward to kiss the furrowed brow.
“Rita ?” Abbi frowned, smiled and closed her eyes. “Rita was my youngest sister. The prettiest of us all.” She sighed and opened her eyes to look up into Olivia’s face. “But you knew that, didn’t you? That’s why Ben came today, wasn’t it?”

Olivia’s smile faltered, she rallied and dropped the kiss on Abbi’s brow, “Goodnight, darling.”

“Goodnight, Olivia.”

She listened to the retreating footsteps, the door closing. Olivia–a pretty name, one that Shakespeare had favoured. Her memory led her to the day when Olivia married Robert. She could see them now, such a beautiful couple.

“Olivia.” she sighed, a smile drifted onto her lips and the memory floated into a dream.
……………

Ben Cartwright jerked awake from a dream that eluded him as soon as his eyes were opened. For a moment he lay in his bed with his heart racing, thudding against his chest as though wanting to force a way through the chest cavity. His breathing was fast and heavy. The thin wail of a baby crying drifted into his room and for a second or two he struggled to remember that the baby was not one of his sons. He sat up and rubbed his face, twitched his shoulders and swung his feet over the side of the bed.

It was still dark but the sound of rain was loud upon the windows. The wail had turned into a demanding cry, the sobbing cry of a child in pain. He scratched his head and walked to the window.

He could see his reflection in the darkness. He saw the outline of a well built man, tall with broad shoulders. It was no longer the outline of a young man; even he had to accept the advance of years upon him. There was the slight rounding of the shoulders, thickening of the waistline. He closed his eyes willing himself to look beyond the silhouette when he had opened them again.

A wild night. Still no snow, although he had heard the snows were mounting up on the road to Virginia City. If it just rained tonight it would probably still be possible to get into town for a few more days. He could see the moon now floating free from the clouds with a rainbow around it. More bad weather to come then, he told himself, and rubbed his face with a hand that was rough and calloused from years of hard work.

The baby had stopped crying now so obviously Hester had woken and gone to satisfy its current needs. He let the heavy drapes fall back across the window and returned to his bed. It was not easy to sleep, so he leaned over to turn up the flame in the lamp. He carefully opened the drawer of his bedside cabinet and withdrew his copy of Milton’s Paradise Lost.
It was a frail, poor book now. So often read, the leaves turned and re-turned throughout so many years. He thought of it when restless or feeling as he felt now, a little forlorn. He held it in his hand and remembered the day he had purchased it long ago in London. Yes, long ago. The two words were like ox-goads and reminded him of why he was feeling so downcast. Life, like a fast-running stream, was racing on. It seemed to him that soon it would meet that great sea and upon looking back he would see so much behind him, so little ahead of him and wonder–how? Where had the time, the life, gone?

He lowered his eyes once more upon his book and it fell open quite naturally at a page that he knew well. One phrase stood out for him:

our state cannot be severed, we are one.
One flesh; to lose thee were to lose myself.

He had read that out to Elizabeth. He could see her face now, smiling at him. He could see the glowing dark eyes and feel the way her fingers had traced his lips. So he had found another section to read to her by way of showing his love:

How can I live without thee, how forgoe
Thy sweet Converse and Love so dearly joyn’d,
To live again in these wilde Woods forlorn?
Should God create another Eve, and I
Another Rib afford, yet loss of thee
Would never from my heart; no no, I feel
The Link of Nature draw me: Flesh of Flesh,
Bone of my Bone thou art, and from thy State
Mine never shall be parted, bliss or woe.

Ben closed the book so the memories would stop. He felt sure that was the night Adam had been conceived. No greater joy was there than love, to be loved, to give love.
He must have been dreaming about her, he thought to himself as he slipped the book back. He turned down the flame and closed his eyes. Where was Adam now? His brow creased into a furrow and somewhere in the house his grand-daughter cried.
………………………..

The Baltimore bounced with the onslaught of the waves. Adam walked to the port hole and looked out and saw the lights of the city. He saw the lights on the nearby ships and the dark outline of those who were berthed close by. It was a rough sea and the journey was not going to start well. He poured himself a drink, a wee dram as any Scot would say, and with a grimace he swallowed it down. After returning the glass to its place he returned to his bed and struggled to sleep.

London, England. He had been there once before when he had first signed on. That was under the command of Captain Greaves. He remembered that it had been a sunny bright day and they had less than twenty four hours to enjoy the sights of that historic city. He yawned, closed his eyes and tried to sleep.

Jenkins had been a real nightmare to live with, he recalled. The memory of the wretched man forced him to open his eyes and stare once more into the darkness above him. Jenkins who had envied him so much for getting the commission as first lieutenant. He wondered where the man could be now. No point in wasting time, he told himself; he had to sleep.

Now another face floated into his mind and he saw that of a strong featured man with kindly blue eyes and a mane of white hair. He puzzled his brain for a moment to recall who it could have been then finally put a name to him, Ephraim Dent. No sooner had he supplied the name than another face intruded upon his memory and he knew that he was looking into the fragile features of Martha, Olivia’s mother.

He smiled and his eyes closed as the thought occurred to him that Olivia had inherited her mother’s Nordic features. The sea-green eyes, the silver-white blonde hair and the pale complexion had all been Martha’s before little Olivia had entered the world. Olivia…his breathing deepened…Olivia…he would soon be asleep and still he smiled.
………………..

Booth Phillips sat on the edge of his bed with his feet still planted in his slippers and his hands clasped together as though in prayer. He had his head resting upon his hands and his eyes closed.

Morgan lay as still as she could on her side of the bed and watched him. She had pretended to be asleep when he had clambered into bed beside her shortly after that debacle on the landing. When he had put his hand upon her shoulder she had turned away, turned her back on him and remained there, rigid, frozen. Had he touched her again she would have lost all restraint and hysteria would have flooded over once again.

It had been shaming. Not only that but now Olivia knew how she felt and she would have power over her more so than ever. How had they come to this state? She had turned onto her other side to observe him when she had felt him leave the bed. She had watched him pace the floor with his hands behind his back and head downcast as though he were the most wretched being alive.

How could he be so cruel? How so blind? Didn’t he realise that the only person in the house truly suffering was herself? And why? Wasn’t it because she loved him more than life itself and that he was killing her? Didn’t he see that every day he cared for Olivia was another day in which she, Morgan, died another inch?

She watched him now as he sat there in the shadows on the edge of the bed. What was he thinking? No doubt wishing that Olivia were there in the bed beside him.

She closed her eyes and a tear trickled from beneath her eyelids. They had loved one another so much and their wedding day had been a joyful union. He had worked at his father’s place of business and money was something about which she had no need to worry. They were wealthy, young and happy. Life had been wondrously good.

Then Robert had brought Olivia into their lives. Robert who was so handsome and so clever. He had been the grand achiever of the family and as his star rose, so Booth’s had dropped. She, Morgan, could not understand how it had happened. She couldn’t pinpoint the day when suddenly Booth became–well–he became what he was now.

If she could only understand what had happened and when perhaps she could go back in some way and put everything right again.

Booth could hear his wife breathing. He wished with all his heart that he had never to hear the sound again. He hated her. He had hated her for so long now that he could never remember a time when he had loved her. Someone once said that there was a very thin line between love and hate, he agreed, it was indeed a very thin line.

Who would have thought it would have come to this though. Dependent upon his brother’s money, his sister-in-law’s home and benevolence. If only Robert had not died then perhaps he would still have some self respect now. Once Robert had gone then Booth had just plunged head long into debt. There was no one now to bail him out and set him back on his feet. Robert Phillips had been something that nature created very seldom. Handsome, talented, clever, and exceedingly generous to those he loved.

It went without saying that Booth saw himself as ugly, crippled by inadequacies, and never satisfied with what he had been given. Now nights were spent in the gambling dens where his skill would gain him some measly few hundreds of dollars a week. It spared him the utter humiliation of having to ask his sister-in-law for pocket money.

Chapter 12
The storm had blown itself out by morning. In preparation for the passengers, the gangplank, or as some preferred to call it, the brow, had been set in place and the gangway opened in the bulwarks. Adam was on deck to receive the passengers and was pacing the boards when the call went up that they were approaching.

Mr. and Mrs. Mannering arrived in a closed brougham which drew up sharply opposite the gangway. Adam watched them as they clambered down from the vehicle and despatched several men to attend to the luggage, which was piled on top of the coach and in the trunk. Hathaway whispered that they hadn’t come travelling light, to which Adam agreed as he watched his men scampering up the gangplank laden with some box or trunk or package.

“Do you think there will be room in the cabin for them?” Hathaway asked quietly.

“One can but hope,” Adam replied, watching the carryings-on below with some amusement, his head to one side and his eyes narrowed.

Eventually the couple were ready to board. Mrs. Mannering came first and was greeted by Adam very cordially. Her husband was not far behind her and arrived on deck with a smile. Adam shook his hand warmly. “It might be best if you went to your cabin first,” he suggested, stepping back so that the lady could do just that without knocking him over, “just to ensure that it is comfortable enough for you both.”

“Thank you, Commodore.” Mrs. Mannering replied and put a hand on his arm. “Goodness, are we moving?”

“The Baltimore is moving with the tide, Madam, but we’re not actually going anywhere just at present.” Adam replied.

“How very strange.” She looked around her for a moment, her hand still on his arm as though she didn’t trust herself without this support. Adam did not for a moment impute any other reason for her doing so and took the opportunity to introduce his officers and Dr. McPherson to the couple.

“A good thing we didn’t arrive last night,” Mannering said with a smile after he had shaken Hathaway by the hand. “My wife had never been on board a ship before today.”

“And have you, sir?” Myers enquired politely.

“Several trips.” Mannering looked over at Adam, “Do you anticipate it being very rough out at sea on this voyage?”

“It’s January, Mr. Mannering,” Adam replied dryly. “I’m afraid I can’t predict what the weather will be like, but it may be wise to anticipate some rough weather somewhere or other, especially around the Horn.”

“Cape Horn?” Mannering went a shade paler, “But surely not? Isn’t it dangerous at this time of year to try to navigate round the Horn?”

Adam looked at him for a second or two as though the man were quite mad. He nodded. “There is an alternative but I shall wait and see how weather conditions are at the time of deciding which route to take.”

“And the condition of your passengers, surely?” Mannering straightened his shoulders as he spoke in an obvious desire to redeem himself from his previous show of ignorance and lack of appreciation to the Commodore’s command.

“Oh, definitely that, Mr. Mannering,” Adam responded coldly and gestured to one of the Midshipmen to show the passenger to his cabin.

Hathaway, Myers and Adam stood in a small group watching as Mannering strode over the deck to the corridor leading to his cabin. They smiled as though complicit in some great mischief.

“Tell the men to ready themselves for cast off. Half an hour,” Adam snapped suddenly as though he had spent enough time wasted on the couple and he turned on his heel to return to his cabin.

Hathaway called out the command for all hands to their stations, preparatory to casting off. The hawsers were removed from the bollards on the pier and hauled in. The chains of the great anchors were to be heard as they were drawn up. The throb of the engines became louder as the stokers and trimmers below decks shovelled coal into the boilers that would produce the energy to send the Baltimore upon her journey.

Adam listened to the thrum of the engines as he unbuttoned his jacket. Through the porthole he saw the great wash hit against the side of the harbour wall as the Baltimore slowly made her turn out of her berth and headed out towards open sea.

With a whimsical smile on his lips he wondered just how good a sailor Mr. Mannering would prove to be. He had no doubt at all that Mrs. Mannering would be spending most of several days in her bed. He recognised the look on her face as she made her way to the cabin. Some people just got struck with ‘mal de mer’ as soon as they stepped foot on a deck, and Mrs. Mannering certainly looked as one stricken by the complaint.

He jotted the information into the log book, time of passengers’ arrival and time of departure from San Francisco.
………………….

Mrs. Mannering was sick. She felt so ill that her husband summoned one of the seamen to get the doctor to attend upon her.

Ewen was with her for half an hour and most of that spent in assuring her that the seasickness would eventually leave of its own accord. He had to explain why it happened, how it happened and how it went away. When he left the cabin he mopped his brow with a handkerchief and vowed to send one of his orderlies next time.

There was a roll on the sea and the Baltimore shifted. It was nothing of any concern as the men on board continued with their duties. Adam went to the map room to check out a route. He had two alternatives, which were to take the route around the Cape or to slip through the Straits of Magellan. The Straits had always proven a little tricky for the sailing ships and clippers but steamers seemed to make a better job of it. The Cape was notorious for any ship at any time of year.

He twisted the ring around on his little finger and surveyed the maps thoughtfully. To go through the Straits would save time. He walked to portside and watched the sea. It would always be the sea that would decide in the end, but he plotted his course for both ways regardless.

“Myers, could you go to the Mannerings and invite them to my cabin for dinner tonight?”

“Ay, sir.” Myers grinned and winked at Hathaway, who was standing weatherside.

“If you don’t mind,” Adam raised his eyebrows and watched as Myers hurried to do as he was told. “Never been seasick then, Aaron?”

“Indeed I have, sir. Very unpleasant,” the young man replied with a smile on his face.
Adam said nothing to that but walked back to his maps. He knew from painful experience just how accurate that statement was and tried to remove the memory from his mind.
…………….

“The Baltimore has left the harbour, Mr. President.”

Grant glanced over at Babcock and nodded. Gracelessly he dropped his napkin back on the table and pushed himself away.

“Excuse me, Julia; I have to get on with work.”

Like all wives seeing their husbands to work she got up from her chair and walked to his side, slipped her arm though his and kissed his cheek as they parted at the doorway. She watched him walking away from her beside Babcock and shook her head.

“It seems to me that he’s working harder than ever,” she murmured to Libby Custer who was sharing the morning meal with them, “I wish he would remember that we are soon to start our tour.”

“I’m sure he hasn’t forgotten.” Libby Custer smiled and looked out of the window. “I can see the Baltimore now. It’s leaving the harbour.”

Julia glanced at the window, nodded and resumed her meal. Her thoughts were more concerned with her husband’s health than a ship sailing out of San Francisco harbour.
Grant paused on his way to the room he used as an office cum study. He stopped by a window and looked out to the harbour. The lines of the Baltimore looked sleek and slender on the grey waters as it pushed away from land. He followed its slow progress as it seemed to inch its way from the other ships and onto the open passage out to sea.

A slight smile touched his lips.

“Bon voyage, Commodore.”

No one heard him. For a moment he just stood there and wondered about this man, this Adam Cartwright whose friendship he wished for but whose unorthodox methods irritated him and his generals. He shook his head now as his eyes pursued the course of the ship. Were his methods and standards really so unorthodox or were they just those any good American should feel and act upon?

Grant had to admit he didn’t know. He was so used to his advisers, his generals and even his wife telling him what to do that he had almost ceased from actively thinking out a strategy of his own. He told himself for probably the millionth time that if one wished to keep his ideals intact, then never enter into the field of politics.

As he opened the door to the other room his generals, including George Custer, rose to their feet and turned towards him. The pleasure of the day was gone. The interlude with Julia and Libby, the sweet glimpse of a beautiful ship sailing gracefully through a grey sea, all that vanished from his mind as the business of the day began.
………………….

The first meals of the voyage were always the best as the meat, vegetables and fruit were fresh and tasted sweet to the palate. The chef prepared an excellent meal, which was taken to the commodore’s dining room by several midshipmen who, along with Adam’s stewards, remained to serve.

Mr. Mannering appeared, looking grave and solemn but as Adam had decided this was no doubt how he always looked, no comment was made. Mrs. Mannering tendered her apologies via her husband having, she said, no stomach for food at present.

They had a consomme to start the meal, which Mannering appeared to enjoy. He drank a glass of red wine along with it.

“Have you been to London before, Mr. Mannering?” Hathaway asked.

“Once before.”

“On matters of business?” the young officer smiled. For some reason the solemn countenance of the other man seemed to be something of a challenge to him. “Excuse me if I appear impertinent, but–”

“Well, you are, in fact, being very impertinent.” Mannering turned to Adam who had been talking to Myers and not heard the exchange, “Commodore, if this is an example of manners at your table I really think you should rectify the matter right away.”

“Really?” Adam turned towards him and frowned, then glanced at Hathaway, who was blushing, “Accept my apologies. I am sure the matter will be–” he paused and pursed his lips, “rectified.”

Hathaway looked confused and bewildered. He looked from Mannering to Adam, but both men chose to ignore him.

He remained behind when the others had left, and with bowed head and hands clasped behind his back asked Adam to accept his apology.

“Just tell me what happened?” Adam asked slowly and began to unbutton his jacket. “The man takes himself too seriously, so I can’t see what you could have said that would cause any real problem.”

When Aaron told him, Adam merely shrugged, shook his head and tossed his jacket onto the back of his chair. “It seems we have a man who thinks far too much of himself. Ignore it. Be careful not to tread on his toes for the rest of this journey.” He loosened his cravat. “How about a nightcap?”

Chapter 13

Mrs. Mannering was fated to spend most of the night with her head in a bucket. She slid up and down in the bed; her stomach wasn’t sure whereabouts it was meant to be, and when she needed to get up on her feet the floor didn’t seem to be anywhere close by.

Mr. Mannering finally gave up on her and the increasingly foul smell in the cabin and went up on deck. It was a clear night and although the wind was cold, it smelt clean and fresh. He stood on the far side of the weather deck and watched as the moon’s reflection was constantly fractured, broken up and joined together again by the motion of the waves.

“Is everything alright, Mr. Mannering?”

Adam’s voice came from behind him and startled the man from his reverie. He turned to see the commodore standing several feet away and wondered how long the man had been there. He gave a terse smile. “My wife is quite unwell with this sea sickness.” He shrugged.

“It’s very rare that it lasts too long.”

“She’s never been to sea before, you understand.”

“Perfectly.”

Adam was about to turn away when Mannering asked if the ‘matter’ that had occurred at the table earlier had been ‘rectified’. Adam sniffed, raised his chin defiantly. “Hardly a matter, Mr. Mannering. My officer explained what had happened and so far as I was concerned there had been no breach in courtesy nor in ship’s discipline. There was nothing that required rectifying. If, of course, you are personally offended to that extent then you must speak to Mr. Hathaway about it yourself.”

“I’m surprised, commodore, that you take the matter so leniently,” Mannering sniffed now, only louder and thrust out his jaw like an aggressive bulldog.

“Lieutenant Hathaway has been on several very dangerous and highly secretive missions on behalf of the president, Mr. Mannering. His behaviour has always been impeccable. I object to your tone and insinuations, sir.”

Mannering paused, lowered his head like a recalcitrant bull calf, and turned back to observe the sea. He heard Adam’s footsteps as the commodore was walking away and turned in order to follow after him.

“Commodore, you’re right, I was out of order. My apologies.”

Adam inclined his head in a gesture indicating that it had been accepted. He walked on with Mannering close by his side so that inevitably it fell upon him to invite the man to join him for something that would take off the chill of the night air.

“You’ve something of an unusual background, haven’t you, Commodore?” Mannering accepted the glass of brandy and swirled it around the bowl while he selected a chair to sit on. “You didn’t get your commission by working your way up the ranks, did you?”

Adam frowned before seating himself. He wondered whether or not to point out that in some ways Mannering’s comment was more offensive towards him, than Hathaway’s had been earlier towards Mannering. He pursed his lips and stared into his brandy before taking some, holding it a little in his mouth before swallowing.

“Of course, I quite understand if you don’t wish to answer,” the passenger murmured, his voice a purr and his eyes flickered from the Commodore to the books on the shelf.

“Good, then I won’t.”

Mannering smiled, he drank some of the brandy which he declared to be very good quality. He observed the other man who sat so casually in the chair opposite with his long limbs so well arranged and then he glanced back at the books. “You like poetry?”

“Very much.”

“You attended college when you were younger. That couldn’t have been easy for your parents; education is expensive.”

“My grandfather paid for my education.”

“Ah yes, your grandfather. He was the one engineered your commission on the Redoubt, wasn’t he?”

“Why the interest? You’ve obviously done some homework on me. May I ask why?”

“Just a matter of interest. People fascinate me. You intrigue me.”

Adam said nothing to that, he was offended by the man’s interrogation but short of ordering him out of the cabin had no other recourse but to sit in the room with him. There was, after all, quite some distance and a number of days to travel yet. He swirled the remainder of the brandy round the bowl of his glass and then looked steadily at the other man. “Why?”

“Grant speaks highly of you. You’ve been awarded two medals while in the service.”

“So have others. George Custer’s brother, Thomas, has been awarded the Medal of Honour twice…why not go and interrogate him.”

“Ah, now you’re getting offended.” Mannering’s voice soothed like soft silk. He smiled. “Don’t be offended, Commodore. It ill becomes you.”

“Mr. Mannering, earlier you complained when one of my officers made quite an innocent enquiry of you, and now you feel you have every right to question me even more intimately. If I am offended, as you put it, surely you can understand why?”

“True enough, you’re quite correct,” Mannering nodded. “My apologies.”

Adam said nothing to that but leaned forward slightly in his chair towards him. “Just who are you, Mannering? What exactly are you doing on board my ship?”

Mannering gulped down the last of the brandy and set the glass upon the table,
“I don’t feel at liberty to say anything, just yet, Commodore. Perhaps another time.” He stood up, “Thank you for the drink.”

Adam rose to his feet and opened the door so that Mannering could leave the cabin. Once the door was closed upon his passenger he emptied his glass and set it down. Not for the first time since leaving San Francisco, he asked himself what on earth was he doing with these people on board the Baltimore.

In the morning the weather was miserable with heavy dark clouds swollen with rain merging with the horizon. The Baltimore was travelling at 12 knots, a good speed.
If Mrs. Mannering expected any respite when the new day dawned she was unlikely to get it.
………………

“Pa, I’m going to try and get into town,” Hoss leaned forward to pick up the coffee pot.

“Well, Hoss, it hasn’t snowed yet so I should imagine it would be safe enough. I think I’ll ride on in with you.”

Hoss treated his father to a wide grin and poured coffee into the cup by Ben’s plate. He looked over at his wife now and asked her if she would want him to get her anything while he was in town.

“I’ll write a list,” she replied as she took some bread from the platter. “When will you be leaving?”

“In half an hour.”

“I’ll just go and check with Hop Sing.” She smiled her excuses from the table to everyone there and hurried into the kitchen.

Mary Ann watched her go and then smiled over at Joe. Without even realising or noticing it Hester, made Mary Ann feel very much the visitor at the Ponderosa. She was so in charge of everything, apart from Hop Sing’s domain, that she never gave a second thought to how Mary Ann would feel about ordering foodstuffs or cooking a meal
.
The comforting thought was that very soon she would be mistress of her own home and although it was very pleasant to be treated like a pampered guest, she couldn’t wait to be in her own kitchen cooking for her husband. Another comfort was the fact that Hester meant no harm by it, anymore than Hop Sing had done when he treated Hester much the same way when she first moved in.

“The passes were clear yesterday when I came back from school,” she volunteered with a smile, and Hoss grinned and nodded over at her.
“Wal, the weather was quite mild last night, so can’t see it being any worse today. Shall we go in with you, Mary Ann?”

She accepted the offer gratefully as the trip into town was becoming longer and more tedious as the days went by. She longed to be in her own home and had decided that she would discuss the matter with Joe later upon her return from school.

Joe put down his napkin. “Yeah, well, I had better be getting on. Now that Henry’s finished all the exterior work I want to get on with the inside. Sooner it’s finished the sooner we can move in.” He looked at Mary Ann and winked.

A sense of total well-being welled up in Mary Ann. It seemed to her that Joe understood her more than she even realised. She smiled over at him as he pulled on his winter coat and slapped his hat onto his head; his eyes twinkled over at her as he pulled open the door and called out his farewells to them all before he left the house.

“How long do you expect to carry on travelling into town for school, Mary Ann?” Hester sat down again and looked at the younger woman even as she handed a list to her husband.

“I’m hoping to make some arrangement with Mr. Reagon to take it on as soon as possible. I know he’s retired but he’s agreed to do it during winter until the new teacher arrives. He’s a very pleasant man and the children like him.”

“You’ve done so well, Mary Ann. It can’t be easy travelling so far every day.”

Mary Ann said nothing, although she basked in the praise. She wasn’t being vain in doing so, for recognition of her services was not an every day occurrence. A long journey into town both ways in the shortest days of the year was often arduous, even if she did have the company of one of the men or even Joe when he could spare the time or grab the chance. No one could guess how tired she was at the end of the day and in thinking that she realised she had been quite ungrateful by complaining, even though only to herself, at Hester’s role in the house.

Hester knew only too well how tired the girl was and how much pampering she could stand. How Mary Ann would have managed to continue on if she had taken on the chores within the house after returning home, Hester couldn’t imagine. Apart from that, starting married life was so new, and came with its own challenges. She smiled at Mary Ann as the younger woman got to her feet to prepare for the morning’s journey.

“Take care now,” she said as she blew her a kiss across the table.

Mary Ann felt content. She had never felt so loved, so cosseted and cared for since her mother had died. Now she felt the urge to run around the table and give Hester a hug, but she refrained from doing so, hurrying over to retrieve her coat instead.
The big room seemed very empty when they had all gone. For a moment Hester sat there in deep thought before getting up and collecting the dishes together. She glanced out at the weather and saw a few clouds hovering in the sky. Hop Sing came from the kitchen and they shared the task of clearing the table and getting them washed, dried and set away.

Hannah was crying when that job was completed, and Hester lifted her from her cradle and held her close. Hester loved the smell of her little daughter when just woken from sleep. The warm soft skin and the damp curls of hair at the base of the infant’s neck which Hester nuzzled into now were just the sweetest things. How precious this little scrap of humanity was, and Hester hugged her, held her. She gazed adoringly into the little face which had already changed so much even during those few weeks. Now she could see Hoss’ features imprinted upon her daughter’s face, the blue eyes and fair colouring, the generous wide mouth.

Hannah yawned delicately, like a little cat; her chin wobbled and she looked up at her mother as though surprised that it did. She blinked several times and then began to cry.

………………..

It was a beautiful day despite being winter and so cold. The sky was blue even though some clouds drifted over it. The green of the pastures and trees complemented the blue and on top of the mountains there was snow. Ben raised his face towards them and felt the cold air brush against his skin.

“I should think there will be snow within the next few days.”

“Yep, reckon so.” Hoss nodded and smiled at Mary Ann, “Best get that chat with Mr. Reagon organised today, Mary Ann. Always best for him to know iffen he’s going to be needed.”

“There won’t be many children at school,” Mary Ann said quietly as she pulled her coat closer around herself, “Most of the children on the ranches and homesteads can’t get into town now.”

Hoss nodded. He whistled softly under his breath and Mary Ann sat beside him and remembered the days on that journey long ago when they were travelling along together to Calico. She hugged her books close to her body and stared ahead, right between the ears of the horses as they pulled the wagon over the road into town.

Chapter 14

Evidence that bad weather was on the way could be seen everywhere in the town. Men and women were huddled in their winter coats, and there were fewer children waiting to get into the school house than usual. Mary Ann had been expecting most of the town children to be in attendance but only two thirds actually greeted her as she hurried up to unlock the door.

The pot-bellied stove had already been lit to warm the room, and she and the shivering children stood around it for a few minutes before they settled at their desks. She glanced out of the window several times and remembered Hoss’ warning to her not to wait around for the bad weather to hit.

“Could be like this for a few more days yet, Mary Ann. But if it gets worse, you just hurry on down and come back with me. I’ll be in town a few hours.”

Ben had given her much the same instructions, putting his hand on her arm and looking earnestly into her face.

“Don’t take any risks, my dear.”

“I won’t, Ben.”

“If you’re not here by the time we leave we’ll send Ezra back with the buggy for you at the usual time.”

She had kissed his cheek, waved, then made her way to the school. She smiled at the memory of their voices as she began to chalk on the board the subject they were going to discuss that day. Eager faces and sleepy faces, some scrubbed as bright as a button and others still bearing the traces of their break fast, looked up at her. Young girls longed to be just like her (and marry some handsome young man like Joe Cartwright) and young lads hoped they would find a girl like her–one day. The smaller children copied the alphabet laboriously onto their slates.
……………..

Barbara Pearson struggled through the door of the Mercantile Stores with her arms full of packages. The wind caught at her skirts and billowed them out and then caught at her cape. It was Ben who retrieved one escapee parcel and carefully placed it on top of the others.

“Are you going to be able to get these home, Barbara? Here, let me help you?”

“It’s alright, Ben, thank you, I can manage.”

The parcel got lifted by the wind yet again and this time Ben had to leap a little to catch it. Barbara laughed. “I think you’re right, Ben. I’m not going to get far with these, am I?”

Ben smiled and taking several more packages walked alongside her through town to her house. They walked in silence for a while until he asked her how Lilith was, and if Peter had settled into his new home.
“Lilith is a different child. She’s so happy, although she gets very quiet at times, and then we have a good chat about things and it all seems to level out. She’s worried that she was the cause of what happened to Andrew.”

“How do you feel about that? I mean, how do you actually feel now that Andrew has–gone?”

She smiled slowly understanding perfectly his difficulty in finding the right words. They were nearing the house now and Ben pushed the gate open.

“Clemmie is looking after the children for me today,” she explained. “Lilith has a slight temperature so I thought it better she missed school.” She took the packages and smiled. “I shan’t ask you in, Ben, I know how you feel about Clemmie. Thank you for helping me with these.” She paused as she put her hand to the door and turned to look at him. “I do appreciate all your kindnesses to me, Ben.”

“That’s all right, my dear,” Ben replied somewhat gruffly, his dark brows furrowed slightly, “I’m sorry it didn’t work out with Adam. You would have been a good couple.”

“Perhaps,” she said slowly and turned a little as the gate creaked to admit another visitor. “Hello, John.”

“Barbara.” John Martin tipped his hat to her and then to Ben. “Good morning, Ben.”

“Good morning, John. Are you here to see the patient?” Ben smiled and shook John’s hand, and the young doctor laughed. “Partly. Have you told him yet, Barbara?”

Barbara shook her head and said that no, she had not said a word and so John laughed a little more, a good humoured but rather shy laugh, stepping back to Ben’s side.

“I’m taking Barbara to Sacramento with Peter and Lilith. I’ve a friend who specialises in children’s hearing problems. He’s leaving for Paris in a few months so I had to wangle a visit to him now.” He looked at Barbara with a smile that Ben noticed was rather more affectionate than the usual doctor-patient type of smile. Clemmie must have been matchmaking again.

“We leave next week,” Barbara said. “Hopefully the weather will hold good until then.”

“Well, I wish you both–I mean–I hope all goes well.” Ben retreated quickly, a smile at Barbara and a handshake for the doctor. The gate creaked as he closed it and somewhere in the recesses of his hearing he heard a desperate “Coooeeee, ducky,” sharply cut off by a door closing.
……………………

The Baltimore lurched drunkenly through heaving seas. Waves hurled up and over the deck, sending spray and foam washing over men and boards alike. Hathaway and the helmsman had the wheel between them, struggling to hold it.

Munning and some other men were bunched together at the stern, struggling with the hawsers when a green sea washed over them and sent him on his hands and knees flailing down the deck. Another man’s scream was cut off in mid-air as he plunged into the vastness of the seas beneath the ship. As the ship plunged downwards he was already many fathoms deep.

Adam was on the bridge after having been toppled over by one wave and sent spinning into the scuppers. He had struggled to his feet with the wind pulling and tearing at his body. Another wave had crashed over and the noise all around the ship was beyond bearable. He had fallen again and felt the force of the wave pulling him over the deck into the bulwark.

At last he had reached the bridge and was able to add his strength to that of the other two men. A constant battle, they could feel the boat shuddering and the sea struggling to force her to her finish.

In her cabin Mrs. Mannering decided the best thing was to just surrender herself to death. She whispered to her husband that this was a nightmare, a living hell, and she would rather die now and take her chances as to where she went from there.

Mannering said nothing but held her hands in his own as he was thrown one way and then another as the ship hurled herself high and low to be free of the monster seeking to destroy her.

“Will it never end?” Mrs. Mannering begged of her husband who could only shake his head and say that the only thing they could do was pray.
…………………

Mary Ann was listening to Thomas reciting poetry when the door opened and Mr. Reagan came into the classroom. He removed his hat and smiled at them all and walked down to the pot-bellied stove where he placed the box of wood he had brought with him. He smiled at Mary Ann and nodded towards the window. “Looks like rain and a strong wind, Mrs. Cartwright. I saw your father-in-law just now and he said to remind you about going back with them should the weather worsen. I do think that you would be wise to go now.”

“You’re very kind, Mr. Reagan.” She glanced over at the children, who were paying more attention to the conversation than to their lessons. “Do you really think I should go now?”

“No doubt about it. I don’t think it will snow yet but there is snow falling higher up so it is on its way. No point in taking risks.”

This was just what Ben had said, so she reached for her coat and hat, wrapped her scarf around her until she resembled a dumpling and bade farewell to her class. A chorus of shrill voices called out, “Bye, Mrs. Cartwright.”

The door closed behind her and all eyes turned to Mr. Reagan. He removed his outer clothing and after putting some wood into the stove, he took his place at the teacher’s desk.

Hoss made sure that Mary Ann was wrapped up well before he set off in the wagon. It was open to the elements and he knew that she would feel the cold, being so slight of build. She huddled in close against him as the wind whipped against their faces.

Ben was riding alongside them, holding his hat to his head in order for it not to fly off. No one could speak, the wind just whipped the words right out of their mouths. The tarpaulin that Hoss had tied over the packages and groceries in the wagon crackled and snapped as the wind got in under the gaps in an effort to get beneath it and pull it free.
The rain came when they were three quarters of the way home. Thunder boomed in the mountains, but they slogged onwards until they eventually rolled into the yard safely. Mud clung to the wheels like thick molasses and poor Buck gave a snort of delight when Ben rode him into the stable right away.

Mary Ann ran into the big room, soaked through and looking like the proverbial drowned rat. She looked around. “Is Joe home?”

“No, he’s still at the house. I hope he is anyway, at least he’ll be dry there. Come here, Mary Ann, close to the fire.” Hester grabbed her hand and drew her to where the fire blazed.

Almost instantly Hop Sing appeared with hot spicy tea and honey. Although her teeth chattered against its rim, Mary Ann swallowed down the tea as hot as it was and felt the burning heat trickling down into her stomach.

“I’m glad you decided to come back early,” Hester said quietly. “Once you’ve had that you had better get yourself dry and dressed in something warmer and drier.”

Hoss came in next from the kitchen entrance as he had been busy unloading the wagon for Hop Sing. He accepted Hester’s kiss and then told her he would be back once he had the horses settled and the wagon in place. Overhead thunder boomed aloud, lightning streaked across the black clouds and the house shivered.

“This is going to be some storm.” Hoss muttered and hurried back out to get the horses into the stables.

“I hope Joe’s alright.” Mary Ann whispered.

She looked down at the baby in her crib. Wide eyed and staring up at her with blue eyes Hannah smiled a gummy toothless smile and blew contented bubbles.

Chapter 15

By the time Joe arrived home the storm had subsided although he was still soaked through from the rain that had continued to fall. He saw Sport settled into his stall, cleaned him and saw that fresh water and oats were available for him. After throwing a clean blanket over the horse’s back he walked wearily into the house.

Mary Ann hurried over to him with a welcome smile on her lips and the light shining in her eyes. Hoss was about to make some comment about how different a girl could look within a few minutes but got a jab in the ribs from his wife so just nodded and tried to look charmed by the scene.

“You’ll catch your death of cold,” she scolded as she helped him peel off his coat. “Hurry along by the fire while I get you something hot to drink.”

Joe laughed, kissed her nose, and walked towards the fire where he rubbed his hands together as though to absorb more of the heat.

“It might be a good idea if you changed your clothes, little brother.” Hoss grinned.

“Yeah, I reckon I will at that,” Joe replied and gave Mary Ann a grin as she passed him a large cup of hot coffee.

“Did you get much done at the house?” She slipped a hand into one of his and squeezed his fingers, “Your hands are so cold, Joe. I think you should go get some dry clothes on.”

“Jest what I said,” Hoss chuckled.

“Sure, I will.” Joe winked over at Hoss and then looked down at his wife. “Want to come up with me, I’ll tell you all about what I’ve been doing today.”

Ben watched as they hurried up the stairs and raised his eyebrows. He glanced over at Hoss and then at Hester who was playing with Hannah. A rattle tinkled over the baby’s head and Hester was laughing as Hannah’s eyes tried to focus on it and follow it back and forth. Every so often a smile would flit across the baby’s face as though she could find it amusing if she could only catch the wretched thing. Her lack of coordination meant that her hands failed to reach the shining object so that several times she managed to smack herself in the face which resulted in a look of startled amazement each time.

Joe and Mary Ann were not overlong upstairs, by which time the table had been set out and Hop Sing was bringing in the evening meal.

“I’m so hungry I could eat a horse,” Joe sighed as he pulled a chair up to the table.

“Yeah, I noticed you were about whittling down to nothing.” Hoss grinned and looked over at his father. “Pa, you never did say what you got in your mail today. I thought it looked like Adam’s writing.”

“It was.”

Joe and Hoss glanced over at each other and raised their eyebrows. It was Hoss who ventured to ask if it had contained some bad news.
“No, why, should it?”

“No, jest that you usually tell us right off that you’ve a letter from him.” Hoss frowned more deeply. “You sure there ain’t nothing wrong?”

“Well, Joe wasn’t here when we got home for one thing,” Ben stated rather tartly, “and secondly I wanted to think about it before mentioning it.”

“There is something wrong.” Joe put his fork down beside his plate. “What is it, Pa?”

“How many more times do I have to tell you! There isn’t anything wrong. Your brother wrote to say he is en route to England. London, to be precise. He’s got a couple to take there, called Mannering.”

“Bit odd, ain’t it? I mean, Adam’s boat ain’t no passenger ship, is it?” Hoss looked at his wife, who shrugged although she was looking thoughtfully at Ben.

“Maybe there weren’t any other boats available, Hoss,” Joe suggested as he stuffed a piece of lean beef into his mouth.

“Did Adam give their full names?” Hester asked quietly and when Ben said that he had and read them out, she frowned and pursed her lips, “I remember reading about an Eric Mannering. He’s something very important in the finance business. Banking, if I recall rightly.” She looked at the food on her plate as though they would transmit some more information as a result but she shook her head, “I can’t remember anything although I am sure he married someone called Miranda.”

Before Ben could reply to her comment Joe had chipped in, “Anything else, Pa?” Seeing Ben’s brow creased in deep thought, Joe asked, “Something wrong?”

“No, nothing’s wrong.” Ben cut into his meat and raised it to his lips, then put it back on the plate, “Any of you remember Ephraim Dent?”

Joe and Hoss looked at one another and then shook their heads. Hester and Mary Ann remained quiet, while Ben looked from one of his sons to the other. It was Hoss who eventually exclaimed that the name sounded familiar.
“Wasn’t he the owner of the Double D ranch?” Joe suddenly blurted out, stabbing the air with his fork. “Didn’t see much of him in Virginia City.”

“No, he didn’t want much involvement with the town,” Ben said quietly.

“Why not?” Hester was the one to ask now as most ranchers and homesteaders in the area were well known to her. She had never met anyone from the Double D.

“Something happened some time back, didn’t it, Pa?” Hoss looked over at Ben for confirmation and received a nod of the head, “I was just a kid at the time. You took us over there several times, if I recall rightly. Fact is, I reckon it was before Joe came along.”

“It was,” Ben nodded, “Eagle Station was growing into a fine town by then but we tended to favour the Washoe. Ephraim and his wife did as well for a time.”

“So what happened, Ben?” It was Mary Ann speaking, still a little too self conscious to call him Pa. Ben Cartwright was, to her, still a man larger than life, and despite his gentle ways there was a strength and force about him that rather intimidated her. Thankfully Joseph’s strengths were less aggressive and dominating than Bens.

“There was trouble for some time with the Bannock and Shoshone. They’d come down here raiding and causing problems. Killed a number of homesteaders, burned down their homes. Winnemucca was much younger then and his father, Truckee. Despite Truckee’s attempts to maintain peace the Bannock and Shoshone raided Ephraim’s homestead. He’d worked hard to build it up and we had a kind of mutual arrangement whereby if I needed help to do something, like dig a well or water hole, then he’d come along to help and vice versa. To a large extent Ephraim Dent was the best friend I had here at the time.”

“But the Ponderosa wasn’t attacked, was it?” Hester looked over at her husband, then at Ben, her large blue eyes round with curiosity.

“The outskirts of our territory, or what was the outskirts then, was attacked but no damage done. Different case with the Double D because they lived closer to the Indian boundaries. The upshot of it was that Martha and three of the children were taken away and the main house burned down.”

“Martha–shucks, of course, that was her name.” Hoss thumped the table with the flat of his hand. “Doggone it, I was trying to remember what it was…and didn’t they have four kids?”

“That’s right, two boys and two girls. One of the girls was just a baby when it happened and Martha had hidden her down the well in a basket.”

“Oh, poor little thing.” Hester exclaimed and looked anxiously at Hannah, who cooed up at her from her crib.

“Not right down the well,” Ben chuckled, “just far enough, suspended from a rope. Martha was a brave woman. She sure needed to be…” He sighed now and his face became grim.

“Did she die?” Mary Ann asked timidly.

“No.” Ben looked at his meal and started eating it so that for a while there was silence broken only the sound of food being eaten.

“So what did happen, Ben? Were they saved?” Again it was Mary Ann who spoke up; her knee was touching Joe’s as some kind of reassurance; she caught his eye and he smiled at her.

“Ephraim organised a posse. Most of us went who were able; you have to remember there were very few folk around at the time, and some had already suffered losses from the Bannock attacks.” He washed down food with some wine, pursed his lips and frowned. “I had to leave Adam and Hoss with Hop Sing.”

“I can just about remember. It was a strange time and Hop Sing hardly spoke anything other than his own language. He was always spouting Chinese at us and we never knew what he was on about.” Hoss shook his head and sighed. “I nearly starved to death, never knew when he was saying food was ready or clear outa the house and do your chores.”

They laughed good humouredly at that comment and then looked at Ben expectantly. After swallowing some more food Ben nodded. “Took us a while to find Martha and the children. Now Martha was an extremely lovely looking woman. She had a beauty that was–” he paused and sought the right word, shook his head as though he had failed to find it. “Well, she was quite strangely lovely. I remember her eyes especially, they were like the sea and changed colour. Her hair was nearly a white blonde. I think the Bannock who took her thought she was something very special. They wanted to keep her with them so there was quite a bit of difficulty in getting her back.”

“What about the children?” Hester immediately asked.

“They had enjoyed it; there were other children to play with and they were spoiled. No chores for the boys and the little girl was treated like her mother, with great respect, almost with awe.”

“Reminds me of Ruth–you remember, Pa?” Joe looked over at Ben and then at Hoss who nodded.

“Yes. Of course one remembers Ruth.” Ben smiled slowly. To think of Ruth was to remember Adam, and he sighed.
“You’ll have to tell us about her another time, Pa,” Hester said quietly, “So they all got home safely in the end?”

“Yes, they were all safe.” Ben nodded, “But women can be cruel and men too. They made assumptions about Martha and the treatment she might have received from the Indian men. I think a lot of it was to do with jealousy because of her looks, but it was all so unnecessary and unkind, and untrue. Ephraim felt insulted, that they had betrayed him with spite and distrust. He turned his back on the town and dealt mainly with Carson City.”

“And then what happened?” Mary Ann pushed her plate away; the story had robbed her of her appetite.

“Martha was never the same after that, she became very withdrawn. She died within a few years and Ephraim had the task of raising the children on his own as well as establishing the ranch. He did a good job but the boys went off to fight in the Civil War and never came back. Katya, the youngest girl, married a prosperous young man and moved to Georgia, and Olivia also made a good match and went to San Francisco.”

“So, is that the end of the story?” Hester prompted, leaning down towards the crib to pick the baby up and rock her in her arms. She sent Hoss a smile over Hannah’s head, a smile that was reciprocated immediately.

“I thought so, but it seems that there’s another chapter to be edited into it. Adam has met Olivia Dent in San Francisco. Apparently Ephraim died some months ago–” his lips firmed, it was obvious he was remonstrating with himself for not having known that himself and attended the funeral. “She’s a widow now with two children of her own. She wants to return to the Double D. Adam has asked me to act as a go-between for her.”

“What does that mean exactly, Pa?” It was Hoss who asked, ignoring the fact that Joe and Mary Ann were now showing more interest in one another than the food or the conversation.

“Well, she wants to move back here and wants my help to get her here.” He pulled the letter from his pocket and passed it over to his son, who opened it and carefully read through Adam’s script. “It might be a good idea if I went there to meet her and see what she actually needs.”

“Mmm, yeah, perhaps so, but it won’t be for a while yet, I reckon.” Hoss nodded towards the window where the sound of rain resonated against the glass.

“No, well–” Ben shrugged, “I’m sure Adam made her quite aware that weather could delay things for a while yet.”

“Adam gives the name of the lawyer acting on their behalf…” Hoss tapped the bottom of the page, “May be helpful to contact him first.”

“Either way, it can wait for a while. I don’t intend going anywhere until the weather clears.” Ben poured more wine into his glass and took the letter back from Hoss, slipped it into his pocket and resolved to write to Olivia Dent the very next day.
………………….

The storm had died out by four bells of the first watch. Freezing cold and wet the men on the Baltimore went about the business of checking the ship for damage and reporting their finds to the commodore. Adam was wearing an oilskin coat over a thick high necked jersey with sea boots over his pants. His hair was slick with seawater, and this he pushed from his face as he listened to one report after another, gave orders for each problem and at the same time checked the maps in order to verify their course. They were five degrees off course and this had to be made good.

“Ballast has shifted in the lee bow, Commodore.”

It was Munnings, looking pale and very wet, quite glassy eyed from lack of sleep. It had been an ongoing battle for over 36 hours.

“Is there much water to be pumped out?”

“No, we just need men to help move the ballast back before she starts to list,” Hathaway replied.

Adam straightened up. “I’ll come and see for myself,” he said promptly. “Hathaway, get six more men to come with us.”

It was a blessing that the storm had halted. Had this happened during the storm the ship could well have gone turtle up. The stokers and trimmers would have stood little chance of escape. As usual when he thought of those men, Adam’s stomach did a flip over.
“Commodore!”

Adam set his mouth grimly and continued on in the hope that Mannering would take the hint and go back to his cabin. But now that he found he could stay upright, even if the ship was slightly skewed, Mannering persisted in striding up to Adam.
“Commodore I need to speak to you about something most urgent!”

“Really?” Adam pushed a slick of wet hair from his brow and narrowed his eyes. “Is your wife alive and well, Mr. Mannering?”

“Yes, but what’s that got to do with it?”

“At the moment nothing is more urgent that the condition of this ship. If you’ll excuse me, I have work to do.”

“Commodore, I–”

“Later, Mr. Mannering.”

Mannering stood there in mid-deck alone and isolated. He watched as Adam and the men with him disappeared down a hatch that led to the companionway to the opening of the cargo hold. As he turned he saw Hathaway watching him, paused a moment, and then hurried up to him.

“Mr. Hathaway. A word, if you please.”

“I am busy, sir.”

“I appreciate that but–”

“Really busy, sir.”

“All I want is to ask you to arrange that my wife and I have a larger cabin. During that storm–” he grabbed at the lieutenant’s sleeve as the man started to walk away–“during the storm some of our luggage toppled over and nearly did us an injury. There’s too little room, sir; we have to insist on a bigger cabin.”

Hathaway looked at Mannering in a way that showed his contempt. He stalked over to the helm and awaited Adam’s return and further orders. That a man could demand a larger cabin when several men had been killed and others injured was beyond belief.

When Mannering returned, defeated, to his cabin he had only one thing to celebrate. His wife had recovered from the sea sickness and was demanding something to eat and a good wine to go with it.

Chapter 16

Adam fell upon his bed as though he had been pole-axed. Fatigue had stopped him in his tracks just as it had many of his men now. Each and every one of them who could retire to their hammocks had been more than glad to fall into them. His steward had left a hot mug of coffee and some bread on the table but he was too tired to reach out a hand to pick any of it up.
Myers had charge of the ship with a skeleton crew on duty to ensure all was well. They had dropped anchor so that as many as possible could rest and recover. Those with injuries had already been seen to by Ewen, patched up and returned to their cabins.

The Baltimore rocked gently too and fro on the waves. There could not have been a greater contrast to what it had endured only a few hours earlier, and Myers leaned against the ship’s side with a feeling of contentment. He had endured another storm and survived. His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of the ship’s bell. 7 bells (3:30 p.m); he yawned and wondered who would be on watch later. 8 bells and the new shift would begin.

“Excuse me, Mr. Myers, sir?”

He glanced around, straightened up and looked at the midshipman.

“Oh, yes, Preston, what is it?”

“Cook said to give you this to keep you warm, sir.”

“Oh, thank you, Preston.” he took the mug of soup and held it in his hands; a shiver ran down his back, “Whose shift is it next, Preston?”

“Mine, sir, and Grimshaw, Jackson and Ottersley.” Preston cleared his throat, “Fact is, sir, Ottersley went over the side during the storm.”

Myers paused in the act of swallowing, gulped hard and then had to clear his throat. “Ask Cutforth.”

“He won’t be pleased, sir. He’s on this shift and hasn’t slept since the storm broke.”

“Don’t be stupid, Preston, NO one has slept since the storm.” He cleared his throat again and nodded, “You’ll have to ask one of the middies to do it with you, Preston. Tell whoever it is that I gave the order. Is that alright, now?”

“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.”

Myers nodded and handed the now empty mug to the youth. He stretched to get the kinks out of his back and stared across the deck to where a shadowy figure was emerging out of the gloom
.
“Yes, sir, can I help you at all?”

Eric Mannering smiled and nodded. “I hope so.”

Myers narrowed his eyes and turned back to look at the sky. He was aware of the man now standing at his side and realised that Mannering was, in fact, quite short.

“It’s Myers, isn’t it?”

“Yes, Mr. Mannering, it is. Second Lieutenant Myers to be exact.”

“Ah, so, Hathaway is your senior?”
“Mr. Hathaway is my senior, yes, sir.”

“I put in a request to Mr. Hathaway earlier; perhaps he has mentioned it to you already?”

“I don’t think so, sir. Mr. Hathaway has been exceptionally busy and I have not actually spoken to him since early this morning.” He would have added “when we were both shovelling ballast” but refrained from doing so.

“That’s a nuisance.” Mannering scowled and turned away, “I’ll just have to have a word with the Captain.”

“Er-I wouldn’t do that if I were you, sir. Commodore Cartwright’s taken to his bed and won’t wish to be disturbed.”

“I daresay.”

The dry laconic manner in which those two words were delivered made Myers raise his eyebrows and bite down on his bottom lip. Well, he thought to himself, he has been warned.

Adam woke to the pounding in his head followed by a brisk tapping on the door. Rolling his legs over the side of the bed he sat a moment to gather his thoughts. The knocking continued with an increase in volume before the door opened and Mannering stepped into the cabin.

“Ah, Cartwright, I wanted to ask you something.”

Adam scrunched up his eyes and rubbed his face. He was stiff and ached all over. He knew most of his crew would no doubt be feeling the same. He coughed. Coughed again. Then slowly stood up and faced the other man. “Mr. Mannering?”

“Adam, I need to ask you to do something for myself and my wife.”

“Really? Exactly what is that, sir?”

“A change of cabin.”

If Mannering noticed the way Adam’s face tightened into a somewhat rigid mask he remained undeterred. He stepped further into the room and looked around it as though indicating that the size of the commodore’s room would be quite adequate for him and Miranda.

“The fact is, Adam, the room-I mean cabin-is hardly larger than a cupboard. During the storm several cases and trunks were dislodged and had they fallen, could have done us both some harm. A bigger cabin, if you wouldn’t mind, would be far more appropriate.”

“Appropriate?”

“For a man of my-standing.” The slight pause did not go unnoticed by the commodore who inhaled deeply and then very slowly released the air from his lungs while he stared at a fixed point on the ceiling.

“Who is the officer in charge just now, Mr. Mannering?”

“Myers.”

“Very well. If you wouldn’t mind asking my steward who you will find in the companionway outside to go and ask Mr. Myers to come here immediately. I’ll get the problem sorted out for you.”

Mannering actually smiled. A small victory, he told himself, was better than no victory at all. He thanked Adam graciously and left the cabin. He found the steward and gave him Adam’s message and returned to his cabin to tell his wife the good news. Adam had waited for the door to close before thumping the wall with a clenched fist.

Myers listened attentively to his instructions and nodded, a small smile played around his mouth as he left the cabin and snapped his fingers at Preston.

“Four of you, at the double.”

“Yes, sir, Mr. Myers.”

Mr. Mannering opened the door with a flourish. He stepped aside as the officer and several men trooped into the cabin and then left, each one carrying a trunk or a box of some kind.

“Are you moving us to the other cabin, Mr. Myers?” Mrs. Mannering asked with a sweet smile on her face.

“Your luggage only, ma’am.”

“Our luggage only?” repeated the confused lady, who turned to her husband. “Eric?”

“I was led to believe that we were going to be given another cabin, Mr. Myers.”

“I believe the commodore said he would solve the problem for you, sir-the problem being that you were cramped here and the luggage was presenting a danger to you?”

Mannering narrowed his eyes and glanced at his wife. “Go on,” he said quietly.
“Well, sir.” Myers watched as Preston carried out a small box and then he looked around the cabin as though impressed with what he saw. “Problem solved, sir. Remove luggage. Result-more space and less danger of luggage harming either of you.” He smiled, touched his brow with his forefinger and turned on his heels to escape as quickly as possible.

“Eric, you said ….”

“I know what I said.”

For a moment they stared at one another before he also left the cabin, slamming the door behind him and leaving Miranda in tears.

…………………….

Ben sat at his desk with the lamp glowing to its full illumination. He was reading through the letter he had received from Adam. It was strange the way human emotion could be swayed by a letter, he thought. Just the sight of Adam’s familiar script tugged at his heart. What he had written, well, that had pulled at his heart too, but for a quite different reason.

He had started writing the letter to Olivia but had not gone beyond the first paragraph which was to introduce himself. He put Adam’s letter to one side and briefly scanned through his own. A movement by the stairs caused him to look up, and he smiled when he recognised Hester.

She was holding a small lamp in her hand and looked half asleep, but smiled when she realised he had seen her.

“It’s late, Pa.”

Her voice had a chiding note in it and he smiled more broadly than ever. It was quite pleasant having a woman scold him again.

“I was trying to put a letter together to Mrs. Phillips.”

“Mrs. Phillips?” She blinked and approached the desk, recognised Adam’s letter and nodded, “Oh, of course. The lady who wants to move to her father’s ranch.”

“That’s right.” He put down his pen and yawned. “You’re right, I should be in bed.”

“Do you remember the names of the people Adam is taking to England?”

“The Mannerings.” He picked up the letter and scanned it, “Yes, Eric and Miranda.” He glanced up and his dark eyes looked thoughtfully into her face, “you mentioned those names at dinner, didn’t you? I’m sorry, Hester, I wasn’t paying proper attention.”
“It doesn’t matter,” She set the lamp down by his own and then pulled out a chair and sat down. “Eric and Miranda Mannering.” she picked up a paper knife and prodded the tip of her finger with it, “Eric Mannering, if it is the same man I’m thinking of, is a brilliant economist.”

“Is that right?” he leaned back and looked at her again with his dark eyes dwelling on her face. Hester Cartwright, full of surprises. “Go on.”

“He was employed by Buchanan’s Bank, my father’s company as you will remember. He was, well, as I said a brilliant economist. He was head accountant in the company sooner than anyone could imagine. It seemed no sooner had he been employed as a clerk, a mere scribbler, than he was shooting up from one position to the other until he was at the top of the tree, so to speak. Of course it brought a considerable amount of resentment from other members of staff.”

“I can imagine.” Ben smiled.

“He married Miranda Simpson. She was the daughter of a financial entrepreneur, very wealthy. She is also distantly related to Mr. Grant.”

“Who’s Mr. Grant?”

She laughed and shook her head. “Mr. Grant, the president. Mr. Simpson was related to some family member from way back in the president’s mothers family. It is thought that he used his very tenuous connection to get Eric Mannering a position in Grant’s administration.”

“You’re sure this is the same man though, Hester?”

“Unless there are two couples going by the names of Eric and Miranda Mannering, employed by Grant.” She smiled at him, her mouth curved into a smile.

“Hester, I’m beginning to think that if I had been twenty years younger I would have married you myself.”

“Ah well, who knows?” she chuckled, “But it is curious, isn’t it?” She was serious again now, and looked at him contemplatively, “Eric would be an asset for Grant. I’m not saying he was a pleasant man, in fact I thought he very rude and arrogant, but he was amazingly clever.”

“And his wife?”

“I didn’t know her well. She was pretty and-” she frowned as though to find the right word-“She was pretty and very clever.”

“Oh dear,” Ben sighed and stood up; he lowered the flame in his lamp and smiled. “I’m beginning to feel sorry for my son.”

“I am as well,” Hester said as she picked up her own lamp. “They make a formidable pair.”

…………….

It was a relief to be in dry clothes and to see and hear everything falling into the correct orderly pattern and routine of life on board ship. Adam heard the bell toll 4 times and glanced up at the sky. It was a habit of a life time to look at the sky to check the time, his father had taught him that when a child. He was still looking upwards when he heard the rustle of skirts close behind him so he turned, removed his hat and gave a nod in acknowledgment of the woman’s presence.

“Mrs. Mannering?”

“Commodore.”

She smiled at him charmingly and stepped closer, then looked up at his face. A handsome face, she thought, beautiful eyes. The kind of face that would age handsomely.

“That was an unkind trick you played on Eric just now.”

“It wasn’t a trick, Madam.”

“Eric’s fuming.”

“I’m sorry, but his insistence on the matter was a waste of my time and that of my men.”

“I understand, Commodore.” Her voice was soothing, placating. She drew her cape closer around her shoulders, “That was a terrible storm. I was terrified that I was going to die. It was bad enough being half dead from the sea sickness and then that-” she shrugged her shoulders-“I suppose you’re used to it?”

“Every storm is different.”

“I heard some men drowned?”

“Several men were swept overboard. We lost them, but in the main we came out of it well enough.”

“Will there be more storms?”

He shrugged and bit down on his bottom lip rather than commit himself. She didn’t insist on an answer. Instead she approached the ship’s side and looked down below at the foaming waters. “Why do the bells clang so much? It seems so unnecessary. Every time I thought I was about to fall asleep the bells rang.”

“It’s so that the men will know when their shifts start and end,” he said, looking anxiously in search of Hathaway or Munnings. He bit down on his lip again and frowned when he realised his answer was insufficient as she was looking up at him with that enquiring look on her face. She was pretty, he thought, but at present a nuisance.

“Is there a pattern to it? Sometimes it strikes three times and then four or five times.”

“Yes, I suppose you could call it that, it’s in a repeated sequence every four hours throughout the day. It helps the men know the time as well as when their shifts start and end. It begins at 12.30 p.m with one bell, and increases every half an hour by an additional bell. When it strikes 8 bells then the men will know a watch is complete.”

“And then it starts all over again?”

“Yes, Ma’am, that’s right.”

“Do call me Miranda, Commodore.”

He smiled and bowed his head but did not give her permission to call him Adam. He looked away, observing the sea and the sky-and then as he turned he caught her eye observing him. For some reason it made him feel hot under the collar.

“It’ll get warmer during the journey,” he said as though the flush of warmth he’d just experienced made him jump into the subject. “We’ll be going into summertime when we reach…ah, Mr. Hathaway, there you are. Excuse me, Madam, I have to discuss-er-something with my officer.”

She smiled, lowered her eyelids coquettishly at him and then smiled at Hathaway before she walked away. Abruptly she gave a little laugh and turned back to them. “How odd, I keep forgetting the floor doesn’t stay still, does it?”

The two men smiled and nodded. Then sighed with mutual relief as she disappeared from view.

“Thank you, Hathaway.”

“That’s alright, sir, I could see you were-er-struggling a bit there.”

“Floundering, more like.”

They looked at one another; their laughter drifted into the air and floated into the clouds.

Chapter 17

The weather continued unpleasant the next day. The wind blew with strong gusts that rattled the shingles on the roof. Every so often smoke billowed down the chimney and wafted across the room until it curled around the beams in the ceiling and eventually disappeared.

“You can’t risk going into town in this,” Joe told his wife as he slipped his arm around her waist and hugged her closer to him.

“I know. I suppose I was a trifle over-optimistic thinking I could work there and live here. It’s just too far.”

She leaned her head upon his shoulder and enjoyed the warmth of his body against her own. They were standing by the window in the dining area of the big room watching as the rain streamed down the glass. The gusts of wind against the glass were strong enough to make the window frames rattle.

The door opened and closed as Ben stepped inside muttering imprecations about the weather and certain aspects of it. He pulled off his hat and outer coat and then noticed them as they had turned to look at him,

“Have you been out already?” Joe frowned and released Mary Ann in order to approach his father, “You’re soaked.”

“I know. I only went over to the bunk house to ask Ezra to see if he could get into town to deliver some mail for me. There were some things that needed collecting as well. I included that order you had written out for the Sears catalogue as well, Mary Ann.”

“Oh, thank you, Ben.” Her smile was sweet, and she leaned forward to kiss him on the cheek.

“Don’t you think you could get around to calling me Pa? Most everyone else in the house does…except for Hop Sing.”

They laughed comfortably together although Ben had to end it by going to his room to change to dry clothes. He felt a trifle guilty now making that request to Ezra when he himself was going to stay indoors. He had always maintained that he wouldn’t ask his men to do anything that he himself wouldn’t do. He consoled himself with the thought that Ezra would have the sense to turn back if the weather turned out to be too bad.

The letter, his letter to Olivia, could wait. There was no urgency. The letter to her lawyers in which he introduced himself and explained his purpose in writing could be held back for the same reason. It wasn’t as though the house was being sold to a third party, or even that he was acting on behalf of any other than a family member. He pulled off his wet shirt and after rubbing himself dry with it tossed it aside to put on a clean one.
A gust of wind hurled itself at the house and the floor boards shivered. It made him think of the deck of a ship, which in turn sent his mind wondering where Adam was and what he could be doing now. It was strange how Adam had met Olivia Dent after all these years. Coincidence? Fate?

He rubbed his chin thoughtfully and walked over to the window. Sometimes the gusts of wind were so strong that they rolled and growled like thunder before hitting the building. He nodded to himself and remembered the days of his seamanship. Clipper ships, vast green seas and white foam, sails cracking overhead in the wind, men struggling up the ratlines to secure them back down. Hard days. He sighed, and not for the first time he wished that Adam had not chosen to pursue such a life.

After brushing his hair with his silver-backed brushes, he decided that he looked presentable and left the room. By the time he got downstairs the family were seated at the table, Hannah in her crib fast asleep. Each member looked over at him in turn and smiled.

“‘Morning, Pa.” Hoss beamed and the blue eyes twinkled, “Ain’t too sure I relish the thought of doing much more than chores close to the house today.”

“That’s understandable. I only crossed the yard to the bunk house and got soaked.”

“Why’d you go thar?”

“I asked Ezra to try to get into town with some mail that needed to be sent off. That Whitmore contract needs some amendments before we can agree to the work.”

“That’s true enough,” Joe nodded over to Hoss. “There were some clauses in that contract that were so wide you could drive a horse and wagon through them.”

“Shucks, is that so?” Hoss frowned.

Hester smiled at Ben and poured him some coffee, hot and strong just as he liked it.

“Did you get your letter finished?” Her eyes looked at him and she noticed the slight pucker of his brow. “Is everything alright, Pa?”

He cleared his brow and smiled, nodded and thanked Hop Sing for the plate of food set before him. He looked at them all, at Hop Sing and little Hannah, and knew that he was well blessed. He chided himself for not thanking God often enough for the blessings he had, and for taking so much for granted.

“Is that the letter to the Dent girl?” Joe asked.
“Yes, I thought I ought to introduce myself to her as soon as possible. Adam’s letter seemed to indicate that there was some urgency in her desire to move here.” He picked up some bread and tore it in half. “Best get the ball rolling as soon as possible.”

“Yes, I guess so.” Joe shrugged and concentrated on his food.

“Hester was telling me last night that she knows this man, Mannering, whom Adam referred to in his letter. Seems he’s an economist…” Ben paused at the blank look he received from his sons; Mary Ann smiled over at him, and Hester continued eating as though she had no part in the conversation.

“An economist is a specialist in dealing with money. Governments need to know how to spend money in order to gain more money. An economist works all that out for them,” Mary Ann said with a twinkle in her eyes.

“You’re very clever, Mary Ann.” Joe grinned and grabbed her hand to kiss her fingers. “Remind me to tell you sometime.”

“Is that so? Then why ain’t he with Mr. Grant counting out his money instead of being on board Adam’s ship?” Hoss sliced through his ham with such vigour that Hester wondered which of the two men Hoss was decapitating. “Seems to me he should be there and not going over to England.”

“You have to remember that financially things were really bad a few years ago for the American economy,* Hoss.” Hester handed her husband a platter of bread and smiled at him as he took the top two slices. “Economically things were so bad a lot of companies closed down because they went bankrupt. If a country’s economy isn’t sound it has a ripple effect in lots of different areas.”

“Hester’s right,” Ben sighed. “That was a really bad time. We had a struggle then, if I recall rightly. I was reading newspaper columns lamenting the loss of employment, companies going bust and then, of course, quite unpleasantly they found a scapegoat. The Chinese.*” he chewed his food for a while as silence trickled over the them.

There was no need to say more on the subject as prejudice had sprung up everywhere. In Virginia City the Chinese had to bear the brunt of prejudice even though employment was sound, a struggle in some ways, but not desperate as in other areas of the country. It had touched the Ponderosa too, with Hop Sing’s family having to endure some time of unpleasantness.

“I should think Mr. Mannering was of great use to the president at that time,” Hester said quietly, “As I told Pa last night, he is a genius.”

“Which is why he’s been sent to England. Politics and economics go hand in glove nowadays.” Ben pushed away his plate and excused himself, smiled at the girls and then left the table
.
“He’s a bit out of sorts, isn’t he?” Joe whispered over to Hoss who glanced over at his father, and then nodded.

“P’raps the weathers causing his rheumatics to bother him.” Hoss whispered in return and glanced over at his father again.

Ben pulled his chair up to his desk and pulled out the heavy ledgers from the drawer.
.
“You didn’t have your second cup of coffee, Pa.”

He glanced up and saw Mary Ann smiling at him with the cup and saucer in her hand. He took it and set it down on the desk and thanked her.

“Is there anything I can do to help? I need to be doing something useful if I’m staying home now.”

“Well-er-I-”

“If you’d rather I didn’t it doesn’t matter.” she turned to go but he called her back in a softer tone of voice.

“I’m sorry, Mary Ann, I’ve been a little bit distracted. I’d be delighted to have your help.” he pushed over a ledger towards her, “If you wouldn’t mind checking those accounts for me…” He pulled a large brown folder and placed it next to the ledger. “These are the bills and receipts they need to be checked against.”

She said nothing even though inwardly her heart quailed. She glanced up to see him still smiling at her and so she smiled back.

“This may take some time.” she said with a chuckle in her voice.

“Take all the time you like.” He started shuffling some papers about and his smile broadened. “I think we will have plenty and some to spare today.”

Joe came by and kissed the top of her head. He had pulled on his coat and hat and prepared for his chores, as had Hoss. Together they left the house sending some of the wind and rain blowing into it as the door opened and closed behind them.

She worked carefully and methodically through the papers. Every so often Hester would come by with something to drink, a biscuit, or a cookie. Sometimes Hannah would be in her arms and sometimes she would stand behind Mary Ann and watch as the young woman neatly notated figures and names down in columns.

“You write so neatly, Mary Ann.”

“If I didn’t the children wouldn’t understand my writing.” Her smile was one of genuine happiness; the compliment from Hester pleased her immensely.

“She writes like Elizabeth,” Ben observed glancing up from his work and giving them both the benefit of a warm grin. “Elizabeth used to work in the office of the chandlers store I ran with her father back in New England. She was very careful, just as you are, Mary Ann.”

“Was she pretty?” Mary Ann leaned forward to ask, and Hester threw a smile at Ben before she pulled up a chair nearby to be part of this little circle. “I think she must have been very pretty.”

“Yes, she was indeed.” Ben’s deep voice deepened slightly and his dark eyes looked at the inquisitive face of his young daughter-in-law. “All three of my wives were pretty. In fact, in my eyes, all three were very beautiful.”

“I saw a picture of Joe’s mother; he showed it to me.” She put her elbows on the desk and cupped her chin into her hands. “She looked so elegant. Joe said she always smelled of perfume and wore lovely dresses.”

“Well, sometimes.” Ben nodded, “She was a hard-working woman too, pretty dresses and perfume had their place here of course, but it was a hard life for her.”

“She was a lady from New Orleans, wasn’t she?” She gazed dreamily into the space over Ben’s elbow with a soft look touching her features, and Ben nodded, thinking it was only natural for a new wife to want to know more about her husband’s mother. After all, a mother is the first love of any man.

He told her a little of how he met Marie and how she had been married before and had a son, Clay Stafford. She nodded and admitted that Joe had told her all about him, and how he had arrived one day, years before, at the Ponderosa. No one seemed to know where he was now.

“After Marie died…” Hester spoke now, interrupting the continuance of any work. “Did you ever think of marrying again? I was just thinking that having three young sons here and no woman to help you, it must have been hard.”

He put the pen down, and leaned back in his chair. For a moment both women had the impression that he was slightly annoyed at the question. Perhaps, they thought, he resented their intrusion into his personal affairs, even though they were from years past. Eventually he picked up the pen but just rolled it between his fingers before he spoke.

“Adam left for college shortly after Marie died. Hop Sing was here to help, and the boys were good lads. I was building the Ponderosa up slowly, into a prosperous ranch. I did care about one woman, her name was Joyce, but she was married to a friend of mine.”

His lips twisted bitterly and for a moment they thought the conversation would end there.

Hester was about to get to her feet in order to prepare something to drink when he began to speak again. Ben had a most beautiful voice: rich and deep, it came from his diaphragm and somehow emerged rolling like smooth brown velvet.

“It’s strange how in life there are so many twists and turns. There was a woman I cared for very much. It was shortly after I had arrived in San Francisco with Adam and Hoss. Well, ‘Frisco wasn’t much of a place then, anymore than Eagle Station was to be honest.”
He sighed and gave them a wry smile. “I think there were fewer than 500 souls there when we rode through. An Englishman had set up a trading post there some years previously and it built up. It was there that I met this young woman. Her name was Henrietta.”

“And she was pretty?” Mary Ann breathed softly as caught up in the magic of the story as she would have been had she been a child of five listening to her father tell her it by her bedside.

“Yes, very pretty. She was the youngest out of the family. Her parents were very wealthy. They hadn’t come for the gold and silver like so many but because her father knew how to invest well and make a profit.”

“Another economist,” Hester muttered wryly.

“I suppose so. He was very good at his job though.” Ben flashed her a smile.

“And did you court her?” Mary Ann now asked.

“I suppose in a way I did. I would have liked her for a wife and she would have been a good mother for Adam and Hoss.”

“So, why didn’t you marry her?” a note of disappointment touched the young woman’s voice.

Ben looked at her, grimaced and shrugged. “Life pulled the rug out from under our feet, I suppose. I was expecting to meet her one afternoon to put the matter to her. I was even considering staying in San Francisco instead of travelling on to Eagle Station.”

“And?” Mary Ann leaned forward eagerly and Hester’s blue eyes were as round as organ stops, she was so enthralled at the way Ben was opening up his heart to them both in this manner.
“She never arrived. I sent several notes to her home but they were either never answered or returned. I realised that she obviously didn’t care for me as much as I had hoped.”

“So you left her there and came here instead.” Mary Ann’s voice drifted into a sigh.

“I am sorry, Ben-I mean-Pa. It was a shame it didn’t work out.”

He smiled at her and shrugged. “But then had I married her, there would have been no Marie, and no Joseph.” He leaned forward and pinched her cheek very gently. “And no Mary Ann sitting opposite me helping with the ledgers.”

He looked up and over at Hester, shared a smile with her, and then settled back to work. But it still niggled in the back of his mind that somehow Olivia Phillips was related to the family connected to Henrietta Richter.

Chapter 18

The Baltimore was slicing through the waters now with grace and ease. Any damage caused by the storms had been assessed and rectified. In his cabin Adam was entering the log, carefully listing the losses of seamen, provisions-which included livestock-and the conditions of the wounded.

“We are now on course towards Mexico. The sea is calm, weather-”

“Adam!”

The door to the cabin opened with an abruptness that caused Adam to jump so that the letter “r” was elongated across the page. He closed his eyes before slowly opening them again. Then inhaled deeply before turning to face Eric Mannering, who was glaring at the commodore as though he had no right to have been kept waiting for attention.

“Adam, I want to protest-”

“Mr. Mannering.” Adam half closed his eyes as though to get the man more clearly into focus. He rose to his feet and clasped his hands behind his back and then slowly looked the man up and down. “Mr. Mannering. I want you to understand something here. You are a passenger on board this ship. I am the ship’s captain. As such I am responsible for the lives of every single person on board, that includes you and your wife.” He noticed Mannering open his mouth but pressed on regardless. “When I make a decision it is with the welfare of all on board as my main consideration. All those on board this ship do as I say. That means ALL.” He cleared his throat and rocked slightly on his heels.

“What I was-”

“Mr. Mannering this is something else you need to understand. You and I are not friends. We are not even close acquaintances. You are a passenger on board MY ship. As such you do not address me by my first name. Nor do you burst into my cabin without first knocking and waiting for me to allow you to enter.” He tilted his head to one side and surveyed the other man, raised his eyebrows, and then resumed his seat.

“I-” Mannering stood there for a moment staring at the back of Adam’s head as the Captain commenced writing again.

“Still here, Mr. Mannering?” he asked this through clenched teeth.

“Yes.” The other man was by now boiling with anger. If he had been able to do so he would have cheerfully struck the commodore with whatever came to hand. He wondered if he could get away with murder on a plea of self defence. “I wanted to ask you where you had put our luggage.”

Adam released his breath and glanced over at Mannering before shaking his head. “In the brig.”

“What?”

“It’s in the brig. I haven’t the cabin space available for the amount of luggage you and your wife had brought with you. It’s quite safe, and dry.”

“But-but-” Mannering was spluttering and strode up to the desk which he thumped with his fist, “Do you know who I am?”

“No, but I have an awful feeling that you are going to take up more of my time to tell me.”

“I shall report you for insubordination.”

“Report me to whom, Mr. Mannering? May I remind you that the next rank higher than mine is rear admiral?”

“I shall notify President Grant as soon as I possibly can.”

“Mr. Mannering, you are wasting your breath and wasting my time. If you want your luggage you know where to find it. May I remind you that this trip has some way to go yet. Should you prefer it I can quite easily leave you and your wife at the next scheduled refuelling place. Let me know when we get there.”

Mannering contented himself with uttering several expletives in a voice that sounded mangled through his wind pipe. He slammed the door behind him and left Adam to the peace of his cabin. Adam yawned, stretched and picked up his pen to resume his report. All it needed now was the second half of the duo to appear fluttering her eyelashes in an attempt to inveigle whatever it was they wanted.
…………………..

The letter from Ben Cartwright arrived at the home of Olivia Phillips and sat in its pristine white envelope on the hall table among several other letters. When Olivia collected them up she had no idea that life would start to change from the moment she opened it and read through what had been written.

She sat on a chair by the window facing the garden. Letters for Booth and Morgan had been set to one side for them to collect when they came down. She could hear the children in the background and Marcy calling to them to get ready for their breakfast. She must have been successful as peace ensued. Olivia turned the envelope over and over in her hands for a few moments. The bold black handwriting was foreign to her. As a widow with few friends outside her immediate circle and no business dealings she could usually recognise the writer from the writing on the envelope. But not this particular one. She carefully opened it.

Dear Mrs. Phillips,
I am writing today to introduce myself to you, or rather, to re-introduce myself as I believe we are old acquaintances.

My name is Ben Cartwright, from the Ponderosa. My son, Adam, contacted me and asked me to assist you in your plans, or hope, of returning to your father’s ranch, the Double D.
It would be my pleasure to assist in whatever way I can. Would you prefer me to attend you in person in San Francisco and make arrangements from there? Travelling is always a risk at this time of year, although if you have a mind to undertake the journey then it would be better for me to come to you and travel along with you. Of course it does depend on what it is you wish to bring with you. This begs the question, would you be travelling light or bringing a wagon load of possessions etc.

My family and I have been closely bound to your own for many years. Your parents were close friends of mine and although your father and I had little in the way of acquaintance during our latter years here, I always held him in very high esteem. He and I were among the first to settle in this territory. There are good and sad memories that we shared. It was a shame that over the years Ephraim, your father, chose to cut himself off from his old friends.

However, that is by the by now. I was very sorry to hear that he has passed away and I sympathise with you in your loss. Please look upon me as both a friend and benefactor in his absence.

I see from my son’s letter that you are a widow; again my sympathies. It would seem that you are married into the Phillips’ family and I am wondering whether or not this is the same family that was connected to Henry and Isabella Richter? They were German by origin and settled in San Francisco in the year 1835. Of course the city was merely a trading post at that time. The couple had several children-Abigail the eldest was married to a Mr. Rupert Phillips and had children of their own. Henrietta was the youngest of the Richter children.

I note also from Adam’s letter that you live with your mother-in-law, Abigail. It is possible she may remember me from all that time back. Her son, Booth, I recall as a child.

I await your reply and instructions, Mrs. Phillips.

Yours sincerely
Benjamin Cartwright.”

Her throat tightened during the reading and several times she had to set the letter down in her lap so that she could dwell on memories, or deal with her emotions. The latter references to Abigail and Booth gave her things to ponder over. She was about to re-read that section of the letter again when Abigail, Morgan and Booth entered the room.

“Some letters came for you.” She stood up to hand the letters to Booth although she didn’t look at him.

Since that time when Morgan had told her about his feelings for her, Olivia had found it hard to face him. If their eyes met at all, by some mere chance, she would immediately turn her head away. She never stayed in a room alone with him, and should it happen that he came near enough to touch her then she would immediately walk away.

Booth took the letters and said nothing, although he sifted through them. His heart sank when he recognised them as letters that would be demanding payment of bills. There was no disguising the fact for much longer; he was seriously in debt and there was nothing he could do to pay his creditors. The banks had refused him further loans, reminding him that he owed them payment for loans in the past. Friends had began to shun him-not that he had many of those, and growing fewer by the week.

He looked at his sister-in-law and wondered why she was being so cold towards him now. They had, to be honest, never been close friends. He knew that she had not respected his life style nor him, but he had hoped that perhaps, over the course of time, a warmer friendship would grow between them. Hoped? No, he had longed for that warmth of friendship that could lead to greater pleasures shared between them.

He lowered his eyes and turned away before Morgan would start to pry. Her questions would lead to barbed comments, snide remarks. She was always bitter and caustic, how could she ever expect him to love her?

“I see you have a letter, Olivia?” Morgan was settling Abigail into her chair at the table, arranging the napkin over the old lady’s black skirts. “Anything in it that you would like to share with us?”

How like Morgan, Booth thought and looked over at Olivia. He noticed how the colour had mantled her cheeks, and her eyes had widened as though trapped. The letter she had slipped back into the envelope and into her pocket. He pulled a chair up to the table and waited for Marcy to bring in the food while he wondered, just as Morgan did, what was in the letter.

“I like getting letters.” Abigail declared sweetly. She sat with her hands folded in her lap patiently waiting for her food. She held her back straight and her chin high. She was an old lady but had decided today that she was really only in her thirties, still young and healthy. She picked up the napkin that Morgan had placed on her lap and set it beside her plate. “Letters are like friends.” She smiled at Olivia, “Isn’t that so, my dear?”

“Sometimes.” Olivia smiled at her as she took her seat between Morgan and Abigial.

“Yes, you’re right, sometimes they can be something quite different. Not friends. Sometimes they can be horrible things like bills and invoices. Of course, Rupert always dealt with them. I never had to worry about that kind of letter. My letters were always from friends.” She looked over at Booth and frowned, “Did you get letters from friends today, Booth?”

“No, not really.” He flapped out his napkin and set it upon his knee.

There was silence now as Marcy brought in a tray of various things for them to eat. Morgan was pouring coffee and Olivia was pouring out tea for Abigail. Booth watched her and with a sigh lowered his head to stare at the mound of toast piled on a plate by Morgan’s elbow.

Morgan noticed the look, she heard the sigh, and it broke her already shattered heart afresh.

Of course, Booth thought as he took some food from the plate, if she were to die, Abgial that is, who would miss her? She had money which she would surely have left to him. She was old and her mind was wandering. It would be so much better if she did die, for her as well as everyone else.

He looked up and caught Olivia watching him. Although she turned her head immediately from his scrutiny he did wonder if she had the ability to read his thoughts. He blushed.

Morgan noticed the way he blushed, she had seen Olivia watching him. Misery welled up within her breast.

“So who was your letter from, Olivia?” Abigail was smiling at her with large innocent rheumy old eyes that were trying to pretend they belonged to a young lovely woman
.
Olivia returned her smile and put sugar in the tea for her. “An old friend of my father’s.” She began to pour out her own coffee now, and hoped she had said enough.

“From that neck of the woods was it?” It was Booth’s voice and she nodded, stirred sugar into her coffee and picked up some bread from the platter, “Who do you know there? You’ve not been back there for years, except for the funeral. From all accounts there weren’t so many there to give him a send off.”

“Booth, don’t speak so unkindly about Olivia’s father. You never met him; you have no right-” Morgan paused, and glanced over at her husband, saw the nostrils whiten and the lips thinned. “I’m sorry, I had no right to comment, forgive me.”

“No, you had no right.” Booth snarled, “And now you have started the day badly, Morgan, badly.”

Morgan shivered when Olivia placed a gentle hand on her arm and smiled at her. It was a kind, sympathetic smile, but Morgan didn’t want that from her, not now, not after the way Booth had spoken to her. Her bottom lip trembled; a tear dripped from her eyes.

“I’m so sorry. It’s just that-”

“I understand, Morgan.” Olivia said gently, “Booth didn’t mean it, did you, Booth?” She didn’t turn her head to look at him even though her words were addressed to him. She didn’t see the way he flushed, the roll of his eyes, nor the way his hands tightened into fists.

“No one should argue first thing in the morning.” Abigail picked up her cup and sipped it daintily, “It upsets everyone and then everyone is in a bad mood for the rest of the day. Was it a nice letter, my dear.” (Goodness me, she thought, what is the child’s name?)

“Yes, it was a very pleasant letter, thank you, Abbi.”

Marcy brought in more food and placed everything on the table with a clatter. She carefully placed the hot plates before everyone, giving Booth the first as he was the man and that was the stipulation in the household. Eggs and ham followed.

Booth pushed his to one side. “These are greasy. Unpalatable. I can’t eat this rubbish.”

“I’m sorry, sir, but…” Marcy stepped back as the plate was swept from the table, sending its contents splattered over the carpet.

Without a word Booth pushed his chair back from the table and got to his feet, threw his napkin after the eggs and ham onto the floor, and left the room.
Morgan lowered her head and tears slipped silently down her cheeks. Olivia put a hand on her pocket where the letter crackled comfortingly beneath her fingers.

“I’ll clear it up right away, Ma’am.” Marcy said with tears in her own voice.

It was Abigail who said brightly, “Don’t worry, girl, it wasn’t your fault. Booth always was a selfish spoilt brat. You can blame his father for that…” and with a blissful smile she began to eat her breakfast with renewed relish.
……………………

On the bridge of the Baltimore, Adam checked out the maps and discussed the route with the helmsman, Dick Allsop. From somewhere to the port side of the ship a seaman was singing an old gospel song in the way that made listeners pause to listen and then, a little happier, continue on with their task. There were several black seamen, and a number who had Indian blood in their veins, Seminole and Chickasaw. Now another voice added to the first, a deep bass accompanying the alto.

Adam paused in his work and raised his head to listen. A smile touched his lips and he echoed the words in his mind. The Baltimore steamed on regardless, a smooth passage through the calm waters of the Pacific. He was whistling softly to the song as he returned to the maps, Allsopp patiently waiting with his hands steady on the wheel.

“Commodore?”

He hadn’t heard her approach, so engrossed had he been in listening to the music. He turned to see her as she came up the ladder with a smile on her face.

“Mrs. Mannering?”

“Eric was telling me that all our luggage is in the brigg?”

“Best place for it, Mrs. Mannering.” He looked back at the map and made a slight mark on a place name, looked at Allsopp who nodded in agreement. He then returned to look at Mrs. Mannering patiently awaiting his attention. “I’ve no other cabin to spare. This is not a passenger ship.”

“I do know what kind of ship it is, Commodore.” she snapped briskly, “But it’s a bit ridiculous to have our luggage stowed away in the brig!”

“As I told your husband, it’s dry and cool. Your possessions will come to no harm there.”

“But what if-I mean-there are some things I can’t do without, I need them in my cabin.”

“Madam, you know where you luggage is, I am not preventing you from going there any time you wish to get what ever you need. Now, if you would excuse me…” He turned his back on her to resume his study of the map only to have her grab at his arm. He shook her off.

“Do you know who my husband is?” She hissed into his face.

“Mrs. Mannering, I don’t particularly care who your husband is. At present you and your husband are passengers on my ship. Please act accordingly.”

She stared at him and then with a flounce turned aside and hurriedly left them. Adam shook his head, muttered “Good grief.” beneath his breath, Allsopp thought he would have said something a lot stronger if it had been him, and then finally continued with mapping out their route for the remainder of the journey.

Chapter 19

So much happens in a house at night. Beneath a roof sheltering many boxes within a box one assumes the mortals within are all sleeping. Creep through the doors and what is found? An old lady rummaging through boxes and piling up the debris of a long life upon the floor around her. A woman lying in her bed with eyes wide open and staring into the shadows above her as she wonders where her husband could be and why it was he didn’t share her bed anymore.

Tiptoe across and along the landing to another room and push open the door to watch as a woman re-reads a letter by the light of a lamp that is turned down low. It makes her silver blonde hair gleam like a halo around her head, and the skin of her face is pale, almost translucent.

Two children sleep in a large room and the moon shines through the window to illuminate the toys scattered over the floor. The girl sucks her thumb and sighs as she dreams a child’s dream of pleasures. In his narrow bed the boy is a man driving a train and his lips mouth the words ‘Toot-toot’ before he turns onto his back and begins to snore.
In her room the maid sleeps lightly, tossing and turning as her mind works out the days events and relives the moment the Master threw his breakfast over the floor. She can’t get beyond that point in her dream as it goes back onto itself and is repeated once again.

In the silence comes a sound. A door opens and closes. A bolt is drawn and a key turned. The man stumbles against the hall table and everything on it shudders, trembles and rattles.

He swears loudly and begins to make his way up the stairs. The old lady hears the sounds and calls out faintly, “Rupert? Is that you?”

The maid wakens and sits up in bed, hugging her blankets around her and staring round eyed into the darkness. She dare not move but her eyes swivel to the door to make sure that the bolt is drawn fast there. After a while her breathing calms and she settles back into her bed.

The wife freezes and barely dares to breathe as she waits for the footsteps to come towards their bedroom. She shivers in anticipation but nothing happens. The footsteps have retreated and she can hear the faint clip of heels upon the tessellated floor of the hall. She relaxes but turns her face into the pillow to weep solitary tears.

The woman folds the letter and slips it into her Bible. She turns the lamp a little higher and listens, her head bent towards the door to discern the sounds she can hear and their location.

Nothing disturbs the children as they sleep on. Even the moon sliding behind clouds and playing games with them can not intrude upon their sleep. The boy is riding a fast horse now, the hero of a stage coach robbery ‘bang bang’ goes the gun and he sees a black shadow fall from a black horse that rides into deeper chasms of his mind.

Downstairs the man fumbles for a bottle, he slumps into a chair and pours the whisky into the glass. It slops over his fingers. He tries to numb the voice in his head that keeps telling him he’s a failure. A ruined man seeking oblivion.

“Rubert, is that you? Are you home?”
…………………

Munnings put away his clarinet and thanks everyone for their applause. Mrs. Mannering smiled and laughed, declaring it was the loveliest piece of music she had heard in a long time.

“Who would have thought that we would hear such talent. Mr. Munnings, you should have joined an orchestra somewhere. Why on earth did you get involved with the sea?” she tapped his arm playfully with her fan and smiled facetiously into his face.

“The war, Mrs. Mannering. I’m afraid there was a greater need for seamen than musicians,” the young man replied.

“I’m looking forward to getting to London,” Mrs. Mannering said as she picked up a glass of wine, “I want to go to the theatre, and to the opera house. I should expect there is more than one of those in London, isn’t there?”

“Definitely more, my dear,” Eric Mannering replied and cut into the meat on his dish. “You’ve an excellent cook, Commodore.”

“Yes, he’s very good,” Adam replied and he leaned back to observe his guests at the table.
Hathaway, Myers, and Munnings sat nearby. Of his three officers, Munnings was Lieutenant Junior Grade, but his promotion, which Adam had recommended, would be through by the time they returned to America. That would mean a possible transfer. Myers was second lieutenant and Hathaway was his first officer. His promotion, again recommended by Adam, to lieutenant commander should have arrived but had not. It was long due. Adam had no reason to regret any of these three men; they had proven their worth more than once.

Dr. Ewen McPherson was also present and only now relaxed enough to unbutton his jacket and spread out a little. Adam suspected that the doctor might be slightly drunk, which meant it was a good thing they had a team of orderlies taking charge of the sickbay.

Mr. And Mrs. Mannering had located their luggage and taken what was necessary for the evening meal. Miranda Mannering looked particularly attractive in a silk gown of a burgundy striped material, definitely off the shoulder and as far as Adam was concerned certainly too low cut. Her feminine charms were well laid out and not particularly
appealing. She had offset her gown and flesh with the adornment of garnet and diamonds around her throat and wrists. Adam didn’t doubt for a moment that Miranda Mannering was a woman who liked to be the centre of attention no matter where she happened to find herself.

Eric Mannering drank moderately and ate well. He watched everyone at the table with the same care as did Adam. Occasionally their eyes would meet across the table, to be ignored at times, or acknowledged with a nod of the head.

“Excellent wine, Commodore,” Eric said with unnecessary emphasis on the “commodore” which Adam noted and chose to ignore.

“Thank you, Mr. Mannering.” He smiled and was about to speak when Miranda asked Munnings to play something else, something to which she could accompany him in song.
Mr. Mannering leaned towards her and touched her arm, “Perhaps another evening, my dear.”

“But why another evening, Eric? I would rather sing tonight.”

“No doubt, but the time is late. We have our meal to finish yet.”

She looked at her plate and nodded, seeing the sense of what he had said. The food was good, and a pity for it to be wasted.

“Adam, you will let me sing for you all another time, won’t you?”

“I am sure there will be plenty of opportunities, Mrs. Mannering.”

“I could have been another Lotta Crabtree, you know?” She smiled at them all, convinced that by being the only woman on board she was bestowing them all a personal favour by being present at their table.
“I met her once,” Munnings said with a wide smile, “Quite an attractive woman.”

“A beautiful woman,” Adam said quietly, pushing his glass to one side of his plate, but refusing a refill when his steward came to pour out more wine. “I got to know her quite well when she was visiting Virginia City.”

“Did you, sir?” Munnings was all round eyes and awe.

“I did indeed.” Adams smile was even more enigmatic, “It’s surprising just who drifted through our small metropolis. Adeh Menkin-”

“Adeh Menkin?” Miranda’s eyes shone with admiration, “Oh, did you get to know her well?”

“Tolerably well. She had a meal at the Ponderosa.”

“The Ponderosa?” Miranda frowned, “What sort of ship was that?”

Polite laughter greeted this indication of her ignorance, Eric Mannering frowned and felt uncomfortable at his wife’s apparent faux pas. He darted a look at Adam as though he had planned it deliberately.

“The Ponderosa is my father’s ranch. My home…” he sighed then and looked at the empty glass, and for a moment wondered about having it refilled after all.

“The Ponderosa. That has a quite romantic ring to it.” Miranda simpered.

“It’s named after the Ponderosa pine that grows on the mountains and hills. Most of the town has been built with pine from our land.”

She smiled and nodded. Realised her glass was empty and turned to the steward for some more, but Eric placed a hand over the glass to signify there was to be no refill.

“What exactly do you do for a living, Mr. Mannering?” Ewen leaned across the table. It had taken him most of the evening to loosen up enough to become part of the conversation. Now he had actually asked the very question everyone had been longed an answer to, he smiled and now slouched back against his chair, “I would have thought you were a clerk.”

Miranda laughed out loud at that which made the good Doctor blush a little. Eric shrugged, and smiled thinly, “More than a clerk, Dr. McPherson. I am an economist.”
That meant nothing or little to most there, Ewen shrugged. “Really? So what is an eco-mist doing on board a ship bound for England?”

Adam looked at Ewen in admiration. Another question that had been begging for an answer ever since leaving San Francisco. He wondered how Mannering was going to respond to the question being put to him in such a manner and whether he would actually tell them.

“I have quite a lot to do in England.” Eric leaned back in his chair and hooked an arm over its back, he must have thought he looked at ease but looked more ungainly than elegant. “I have to give a lecture at the Cambridge University about the economy and the current banking systems. I worked for Buchanan’s Bank in New York for some years before the president sought me out.”

“Buchanan’s Bank?” Adam said with renewed interest. “It’s a small world.”

“You know them?” Eric raised his chin, his nose couldn’t have been raised any higher, “It’s a very prestigious banking corporation.”

“So I understand.” Adam smiled and nodded, but said nothing more.

“After Cambridge, which may I say is a great privilege for me, not many Americans are invited to give a lecture on economics there.” He rolled his eyes and waved his hands about as though to signify that not only was he honoured but so also was the university. “Then I have a meeting with some of the leading economists in Great Britain to discuss the situation in Egypt.” He leaned conversationally towards Adam. “That little affair you were on a few months ago, you understand?”

Adam merely nodded. So that was it, and no doubt when President Grant attended his tour, without any fears of being blown apart by revolutionaries, he would be discussing the Khedive’s financial situation with him. Obviously he would be primed on what to say by this ‘excellent’ economist, who would have been advised in London, exactly what slice of the corpse America could expect to enjoy.

In the recesses of his mind a little Russian smoking foul cigarettes spat the word ‘Politics’…except that now he added another word just as potent-economics.

Whether Eric Mannering had intended to say quite so much Adam was not sure, but the economist now retreated from the conversation and attacked his meal with renewed vigour. Miranda bestowed smiles upon them all

“This place we’re going through, the Straits of Madeleine…”

“The Straits of Magellan.” Munnings corrected her with a smile.

“Yes, that’s what I meant.” she frowned and nodded at him. Now she turned to Adam, “Are they very terrible?”

“In what sense, do you mean?” he returned her smile and raised his dark eyebrows.
“The weather. Will there be storms like the one we have already been through?”

He sighed and shrugged. “It’s hard to say. I’ve been through them when it’s been flat calm, but at other times they can be as bad as the Horn. It’s very beautiful though. If the weather holds good, and do remember we shall be sailing into the southern hemisphere, so we shall be enjoying their summer, then you will find it delightful.”

“Oh that is reassuring. I don’t think I could survive another storm at sea.” She pushed a large wodge of food into her mouth as she spoke and her husband in a comforting tone reminded her that she was suffering from seasickness at the time.

After the main course came the dessert, the traditional apple pie, followed by the cheese board and some fresh fruit. By the time everyone had eaten and drunk their fill the night had drawn to a close. 8 bells tolled. A new watch was about to begin, and Adam bade his guests good night.
…………………..

“What are you looking for, Abbi dear? It’s very late, you should be sleeping.”

Olivia had her hand on the old woman’s wrist in a gentle attempt to lead her back to her bed. She could see from the lamp light and the brightness of the moon that shone through the window the papers and pictures that were strewn upon the floor. A box that had always been locked was open and empty, its contents, Olivia correctly surmised, were on the carpet.

“Bed?” Abbi whispered, “Is it bedtime already?”

“Yes, dear, it is. Come with me now and let me tuck you in.”

“Dear Livvy, you are such a sweet girl.” Abbi smiled at her, her eyes were clear and focussed. She was herself now, that switch in her brain had gone on and the face she looked at she could clearly recall. “I am tired.”

“I’m sure you are,” Olivia helped her into the bed, removed the slippers from her feet and swung her legs over the side, then she pulled over the sheets and covers, “Is there anything you need, Abbi?”

“No.” Abbi shook her head and frowned, “You had a letter today, didn’t you?”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“I remember. You didn’t tell them who it was from, did you?”

“No, I didn’t.”

“Don’t tell Booth.” Abbi turned towards her and looked into the face of the woman she loved. “Livvy, don’t tell Booth anything. Stay away from him, won’t you?”

“I don’t intend to tell him anything, dearest. Do you want me to turn off the lamp?”

“No, keep it on. I don’t like lying here in shadows.”

“Is there something worrying you, Abbi?” she squeezed the old frail hand between her own, very gently, “You can tell me if there is.”

“I know I can, Livvy. Perhaps-perhaps one day I shall you all about it. Not tonight now, I’m too tired.” and as Olivia was about to leave her side she grabbed at the young woman’s hand, “Livvy, was that Booth coming home?”

“Yes, I believe it was.”

“Lock your door, my dear. Make sure you get to your bed and lock your door.”
Olivia said nothing, although her heart beat faster. She leaned down and kissed Abbi’s cheek and whispered, “Good night, dear.”

She found herself hurrying to her room and once inside closing the door quickly behind her, and slipping the bolt across.

Chapter 20

“Ma! Ma!”

Small hands shook Olivia’s shoulder so that she was forced to open her eyes and look into the anxious face of her son. Reuben continued to shake her for a few minutes until she eventually had to take his hand away and ask him what was wrong,

“Uncle Booth is lying on the floor and there’s stuff everywhere on the floor and even glass…” his words came out in a torrent .

“Is he dead, Mommy?” Sofia’s squeak came from the doorway where she stood clutching her favourite doll, her eyes wide in her pale face. “Is he, Mommy?”

“I-I don’t know. Did you try and wake him up?” she asked Reuben, who shook his head with a slight frown as though wondering whether he should have tried doing so before disturbing his mother.

“He’s making funny noises,” he said thoughtfully with his head to one side as he observed his mother pulling on her dressing gown.

“What kind of noises?”

“Piggy noises.” Sofia replied and attempted snorting “Hoink Hoink.”

“Is Marcy awake yet?” she gave her daughter a stern look and a shake of the head.

“Yes.” Reuben nodded.

“Then go and ask her to get you something to eat. Stay with her and leave Uncle Booth alone. He’s very tired and must have fallen asleep.”

“Then why is he downstairs and not in bed?” Reuben demanded.

“He probably didn’t want to disturb Aunty.”

“But, mommy, there’s lots of mess on the floor.” Sofia protested.

“And glass. I nearly cut myself on it.” Reuben shoved a finger under her nose for inspection, “See?”

“Oh dear. Well, just stay with Marcy. Aunt Morgan and I will deal with the mess.”

“Mommy, there’s horrible smells too.” Sofia ventured to mention and Olivia shook her head again as she pushed her feet into some slippers and walked to the door.

“Come along now.” she took them by the hands and the three of them descended the stairs together.

She peeked around the door into the front parlour where Booth was indeed sprawled over the settee, his mouth open. Loud snores, an unpleasant smell of alcohol, and the shards of broken glass certainly predominated the senses and Olivia quickly closed the door upon the scene.

“We’ll sort all that out later.” she said crisply and hurried to the kitchen where Marcy was making the children’s breakfast. “Marcy, can I leave them with you, please?”

Marcy smiled at the children and nodded as they both greeted her, Sofia with a smile and Reuben with the news that Uncle Booth was snoring ‘fit to bust’ in the parlour.

“I did hear him come back home,” Marcy said, glancing over at Olivia. “Is everything alright, Miss?”

“Yes, it’ll be alright, Marcy. Just feed them and get them ready for the day, would you?”
“What about your breakfasts, Miss?”

“Don’t worry about that, Marcy. When you’ve got the children dressed, would you take them to the park? That way we can-er-tidy things up.”

“But, Miss, your meal…?”

“Please, Marcy. I can cook something for us. I would rather the children were out playing than indoors.”

She looked earnestly at Marcy and the young girl nodded and forced a smile. She turned to cooking as her mistress hurried out of the room with a request to the children to ‘do what Marcy tells you and be good.’

She next looked into Abigail’s room and observed the sleeping old woman anxiously for some seconds before slowly re-closing the door. Her eye had caught sight of the mess on the floor and she resolved to go and tidy it up as soon as she could, First of all she had to talk to Morgan. She tapped lightly on the door of Morgan’s room.

“Who is it?”

“Olivia.”

“Come in.”

Her sister-in-law was already dressing, her hands trembling and finding it difficult to match the eyes to the hooks in the bodice. Olivia went to her assistance and quickly fixed the problem while Morgan stood still in order for the job to be done.

“Morgan, Booth is-”

“I know, I heard the children telling you.”

“What shall we do?”

Morgan looked at her with surprise. “You’re asking me?”

“Of course. You’re his wife.”

“I would have thought you would have known, Olivia. You seem to have the answer to everything else in this house.”

Olivia didn’t answer although the temptation to do so, and sharply, was on the tip of her tongue. If nothing else she had learned to keep quiet by having them live with her.

Morgan picked up her brush and began to brush her hair with such vigour that it was soon crackling from the static electricity. She stared at Olivia who was still standing as though undecided about what to do at the doorway.

“Just leave him there, let him wallow in it like the pig he is,” she blurted out suddenly and then threw the brush down and buried her face into her hands. “I hate him, hate him.”

“Morgan, surely there’s something that you can do?” Olivia stepped into the room and put her hand gently onto the other woman’s arm. “He’s unhappy, you’re unhappy. If you could just talk about it perhaps you could settle your differences and be as you once were when you were first married.”

“Oh Olivia.” she pulled herself away and shook her head, “You don’t know Booth, do you? Don’t you realise yet that he is nothing like Robert?”

“Yes, I know that, I’ve realised that if nothing else, thank you.” her tone of voice was cold, colder perhaps than she intended because Morgan turned to look at her with a startled expression on her face, “Morgan, it seems to me that you and Booth need to leave here. You need to start afresh in a home of your own. It’s doing no one any good, your staying with us here.”

“Us? Who’s us?” Morgan whispered, groping for a handkerchief so that she could blow her nose and wipe her eyes.

“Abigail and the children, and myself.”

“And-and you’re going to throw us out? With nothing?” Her voice was a whisper as though she couldn’t put the words any louder such was her disbelief at such a callous act.

“No, I’m not throwing you out.” Olivia put her hand on Morgan’s shoulder and stroked it gently, in an attempt to mollify her, “I could never do that to you.”

“Then what do you mean?”

“Just that it doesn’t seem to be making you and Booth happy being here. It isn’t helping him, is it?”

“Olivia-” again she paused and then stood up to walk across the room and pull back the curtains.

After some moments of silence she turned to look at her sister-in-law. She had drawn aside the drapes from the window earlier and a wintry pale sun attempted to cast some light into the room. She stood very still and wrung her hands before beginning to speak

“Olivia, I am sorry for what I said to you the other day. I accused you of things that were untrue although I think that, on Booth’s part, he does have feelings for you that he should not. I don’t know how to change his feelings away from you and to return them to me. I torment myself every night that he is not here with me with images of what or where he may be instead.”

The other woman in the room stepped forward quickly to stand by Morgan’s side, but she pushed her away, shook her head and turned back to the window, where she stood for a moment staring out to the park. Olivia remained where she was, anxious to leave the room but fearful for Morgan should she do so, although she couldn’t quite explain why she should feel fear.

“Olivia, I so wanted just to be happy with Booth, to have his children. Did you realise how wonderful your marriage was to Robert?” she turned her head slightly and heard Olivia’s whispered, ‘Yes’. “That was what Booth wanted, a happy marriage, children, but it didn’t happen. He wouldn’t work, would he? You know that, Robert tried to get him work in the family company but what did he do? He just squandered his chances, wasted his money and now…” She shook her head and made a wide sweeping movement with her hands, “now we live on your benevolence.”

“If Booth could just find some work that would instill some pride in himself, perhaps he would change?”

“No, he won’t change.” Morgan’s voice was flat, monotonous. She leaned against the window so that her brow touched the cold glass.

“Morgan, I don’t really know what to do.” Olivia said quietly, “I want to help you, but Booth needs help as well.”

“Then tell him, not me.”

Olivia nodded and turned away. The sharp rebuke in Morgan’s voice prompted her to go; there was really little point in speaking to her about the matter any more.

How could she talk to Booth when she loathed him so much and feared, also, what he would do should they ever be alone long enough to speak about anything. What was she supposed to say? Morgan was obviously not willing to help, not even to discuss the matter.

At the door to her own room she paused a moment to listen to the sounds of her children’s laughter, Marcy was calling out to them in a light girlish voice and she smiled as she pictured the three of them. Then with a sigh the smile slipped from her face and she went into her room in order to dress and prepare for the new day.
………..

The rain had stopped falling at last and although the ground was soaked through and muddy Hester and Mary Ann made their way through it to the waiting buggy. They held their skirts high so that the hems didn’t drag through puddles and muck, although their boots certainly picked up enough of it. Once in the vehicle Hoss lifted Hannah into her mother’s arms.

“Now you be careful.” He placed his hand on Hester’s and squeezed her fingers gently, just to make sure she realised that when he said ‘be careful’ he was really saying ‘I love you. Come back to me safe.’

“We will,” she said and whispered “I love you.” as she leaned down to kiss him.

He stepped back so that Mary Ann could guide the horses out and for a little while he watched them as they made their way through the yard and beyond the stables, then he turned and made his way to the house. Joe was standing at the door pulling on his coat.

“Alright, Joe?”

“Fine, Hoss.”

He stepped back into the house, carefully wiping the mud from his feet onto a rug placed there for the purpose. Ben was reading through some legal papers, no doubt to do with yet another business deal. He glanced up at seeing Hoss enter the house.

“Good to get them out into the fresh air.” Ben muttered absent-mindedly as his eyes strayed back to the contract.

“Yeah, it is.” Hoss grinned and reached for his coat, “I’m going to go with Joe to his house. Help get some of the work done there so’s it’ll be ready for ’em to move into.”

Ben looked up again and frowned, nodded, smiled and then returned to reading the legal jargon in his hands.

“Pa? Did you hear me?”

“Sure, sure, I heard you. I’m not deaf…yet!”

With a grin and a shake of the head, Hoss left the house, closing the door loudly behind him.

“Right, little brother, let’s get going before Pa comes thundering out of the house wondering where we’ve gone.”

“I told him where we’re going.” Joe grinned.

“Yeah, so did I.” Hoss’ smile widened. “Seems to me he either didn’t hear me or he thinks we’re going to the moon. He had that kinda abstract look on his face.”

Joe nodded and glanced thoughtfully at his brother. Abstract? “You mean, preoccupied?”
“Yeah, that’s right, that’s what I said, didn’t I?”

Sport and Chub looked over at them as they entered, Mistral did as well, perhaps in an attempt to get some attention as Joe had resumed using Sport once Adam had left.

“How much longer do you think it’ll be before you get the work finished on that house, Joe?” Hoss lifted the saddle and slipped it over the blanket on Chubs broad back.

“Not much longer.” Joe was slipping the bit into Sport’s mouth and stroking the horse’s nose. “There’s the barns and stables to do as well.” He frowned. “If it’s all ready by spring I’ll be pleased.”

Hoss nodded and mounted up; the leather creaked as he settled into the saddle. He turned Chub’s head and the big horse obediently trotted into the yard and waited for his companion to follow. Life sure had changed, Hoss pondered as he waited. At one time it had seemed that the three brothers would never marry, would be permanently fixed to the Ponderosa with their Pa…all four of them growing older, Hop Sing fading away to nothing…and then Adam up and left, and then along came Hester and life opened up and was never the same again. He was smiling and looking rather ‘abstract’ himself when Joe joined him and together they galloped out of the yard.

Ben heard them go and frowned very slightly. Hop Sing came shuffling into the room and asked if he would like some coffee but he shook his head. “No, thanks, Hop Sing. I think I’ll saddle my horse and go for a ride. It’s a pleasant enough day for one.”

He felt restless. The fresh air greeted him with a sting to the cheeks but he inhaled it deeply into his lungs. There was that smell of snow in the air even though at the present moment the sun was shining feebly through a blue sky. It was indeed a good day for a ride.
………………..

It was strange to be taking the road to the Pearsons’ house now that they had moved out. Hester still thought of it as Barbara’s home even though Ann and Candy had made so many changes to it already. The door was open before they had even clambered down from the buggy and Ann was there to collect the baby who was staring round-eyed at them all as the clean fresh air nipped her nose and cheeks.

“Come in, come in!” Ann cried merrily, “I’ve made some fresh cookies and Rosie is asleep.” She looked down at Hannah who blinked up at her with all the wisdom of generations of Cartwrights in her blue eyes. “Hello, beautiful,” she whispered and Hannah obliged by a loud burp.

It was cosy and warm inside and it smelled of fresh baking and coffee, of wood burning on the fire. Mary Ann looked around her and smiled as she slowly removed her coat and bonnet, scarf and mittens.
“It looks different.” She turned around and looked about. “It looks quite different from how Barbara had it.”

“It still has that homely feel to it though; Barbara always had a nice way of making the house look homely.” Hester smiled as she put her coat up on the hook by the door.

Ann thought to herself as she ushered her guests to the seats near the fire how they all avoided the mentioning of Andrew’s name, and she knew that for as long as she lived in this particular house it would always be associated as Barbara’s house to those who had known her.

Chatter soon got underway. Discussions about the new house being built. Considerations about Adam’s house now empty. Hester brought up the subject of the Dents and the Double D soon to be lived in again but none of them had known the Dents so that soon fell by the wayside as a topic of conversation.

“Clemmie Hawkins told me that Barbara is going to Sacremento to see a friend of John Martin’s,” Ann purred as she cut another slice of cake and passed it to Hester.

“I know, I heard that too.” Hester smiled.

“Did you know that John Martin was going to go with them?”

Hester and Mary Ann looked at one another and then turned their attention to Ann, and waited for the next crumb of information to drop into their laps.

Chapter 21

Once Olivia had dressed and fixed her hair she went immediately to Abigail’s room to help her dress. The old lady was in a quiet, thoughtful mood that morning and watched Olivia as the younger woman arranged her clothes. It unnerved Olivia as she was unsure whether or not Abigail was lucid. She held up a lavender dress and smiled, only to be greeted with a frown.

“No, not lavender today, Livvy. Perhaps my pink dress with the cream sash.”

Olivia produced it from the wardrobe and put it over a chair so that she could dress Abbi in it. Abbi sighed. “Where are all the servants, Livvy? Where’s my maid?”

“Darling, your maid died a long time ago and you said you didn’t want another one. Don’t you remember how you said no one could replace Beatrice?”

“Yes, I do remember.” Abbi nodded, a small frown furrowed its way among the many folds of her skin. “You’re right, Livvy, but I do wish I had got another maid because it isn’t right that you and Morgan should do this for me now.”

“We don’t mind, dear, we really don’t.” She smiled and helped Abbi from the bed and led her to the wash stand.

While Abbi dealt with her own ablutions, something she did insist upon when in her right mind, Olivia began to tidy away the papers and pictures that had been scattered over the floor earlier that morning. She couldn’t help but notice the address written on the envelopes, some of which were very old and had obviously been sent to Abigail’s parents. Olivia paused at one letter which was very faded and water marked.

“What were your parents like, Abigail?” she asked as she next picked up a very old picture of a family group, painted by some local artist but done expertly.

“My father was a tyrant,” Abbi said bluntly and paused in the middle of washing her face so that soap bubbles somehow had the effect of softening her features, “He was German and very strict. He was the head of the house and no one dared challenge his authority.”

Olivia studied the picture while Abbi continued to wash herself. A fierce-looking man accompanied by a timid-looking, pretty woman, two daughters in white frocks with pink sashes, and two boys, one looking remarkably like his father and the other blurred due to a water mark that had stained across the picture.

“Come and help me now, Livvy. I’ve just about done enough standing on my own.” She reached out a hand which Olivia took and led her gently back to a chair.

Abbi was now distracted; her mind had started wandering down various corridors as a result of Olivia’s questions. She kept her eyes on the picture which Olivia had left on the floor. She didn’t speak for some time and it wasn’t until Olivia had began to button up her dress that she said how much she had hated her father.

“I hated him so much that I often wished he were dead.”

“Oh Abbi, I am so sorry.” Olivia looked into her face and saw the misery in the old eyes, she pressed her hand against Abbi’s arm, and leaned in to kiss her cheek, “I am sorry,” she repeated softly. “Did he beat you?”

“He beat the boys often. Sometimes he would have Rita and me locked in a cupboard. In the dark.” She shook her head, “He believed in very strict discipline. Mother was frightened of him and did everything he told her. She was a sad creature.”

“Children should be happy…” Olivia murmured, thinking as she spoke of her own two little ones and wishing with all her heart that they had a father who cared. Robert had cared, he had loved Reuben dearly and was so looking forward to the birth of the second child.
“We seldom were happy. Father didn’t approve of anyone being happy. Work, and work, that was his creed.”

“And is this Rita ?” Olivia pointed to the youngest child of all, a little girl, pensive and large eyed.

Abbi’s face softened and she nodded. She took the picture from Olivia’s hand and stared at it, soothed the surface with her arthritically bent finger. “Yes. Henrietta. I called her Rita . It was just our secret, she called me Abbi and I called her Rita.” Her voice drifted into a sigh and she pushed the picture back into Olivia’s hands brusquely, “Put it away, Olivia, it upsets me, put it back.”

“Abbi, in all the time I have known you, you never spoke about this Rita before. Why not?”

Abbi’s eyes rounded, she put her hand to her mouth in horror and then she rose to her feet with a whimpering cry, “Oh, no, I forgot. I forgot. It was a secret, I wasn’t supposed to say.” She grabbed at Olivia’s hand and held it so tightly that Olivia actually winced. “Don’t tell anyone, Livvy, don’t mention Rita to anyone. Promise me, please, please, promise me.”

“Of course I promise. I won’t say a word. I promise.” She put her arms around the old lady comfortingly and kissed the furrowed brow. “It’s alright, we’ll forget all about it.”

“I can’t forget; I wish I could, but I can’t. I mustn’t say anything about it; I mustn’t.”

Footsteps could be heard on the landing and the door was pushed open. It was Morgan who entered the room and looked at them both. “What’s the matter? Why have you upset Mother?”

“I’m not upset,” Abbi retorted angrily, “And stop treating me as though I were stupid. Olivia, where’s my cane? Morgan, where’s my son?”

She rose to her feet with a determination that did her great credit; Olivia handed over the cane and then Abbi looked at Morgan with a nod of the head. “Take me downstairs, Morgan. I need to speak to Booth.”

Morgan stepped towards her to take her arm, then looked coldly over at Olivia. “That Marcy person has taken the children out. There’s no breakfast prepared. Olivia, when are you going to hire a decent cook?”

“I’ll come down and prepare something in a moment, Morgan. Just take Abbi downstairs while I clear things up here.”

Morgan sniffed, and without a word took Abbi out of the room. Quickly Olivia scooped everything up and put it all back into the case. She made a mental note to herself that when an opportunity arose she would take another look in it, and see what secrets it would unlock. At present there were two things that concerned her and that was Abbi’s fear of her father, and the promise not to mention Rita .

……………………….

Ben had taken several short cuts through his territory to reach its boundaries and then after some time jogging down the road he turned left onto the land that had been owned by Ephraim Dent. The road that led to the Double D. He could remember the very last time he had been there and as he galloped towards the house the memories rode along with him.

It had been Martha’s funeral. He recalled standing by the graveside with Ephraim and his children. Adam and Hoss were with him and Marie. Blossoms were falling from the trees, covering the newly covered grave with sweetly scented flowers. He could remember thinking that on the most miserable of days there was still beauty to be seen, if grief didn’t totally preclude it. Marie had taken hold of his hand and he had noticed the way she had been looking at the children who stood around Ephraim in a small cluster.
There had been others there but he couldn’t now name them. Some had died, some were from the Carson City area, some had moved away. But they had been there on that spring day when Martha Dent was buried. The Cartwrights had been the only ones who had attended the funeral from the Virginia City side, and that was a strange thing as well. It was as though Ephraim had drawn an invisible line all those years ago. Those who were on one side were those around the Carson City (or as it was then Eagle Station) area, but on the other side were those excluded because they were from the side that had slandered Martha: “committed calumny” was the way Ephraim had called it.

That was when everything changed. Nothing definite had been said; there had been no verbal or physical repudiation of their friendship. Life happened, that was all. They seldom met and when invitations were made they were not taken up, so that eventually invitations ceased to be offered. Ben had no idea how the children were educated nor what had happened to the boys, or the girls. He couldn’t remember seeing the family together again after the funeral.

Now he stopped at the house and sat there in the saddle some minutes to look at it. He had helped Ephraim build that chimney while Martha had prepared their meal. He could remember Adam coming in with the buckets of wet clay and then the hauling up of the stones to form the hearth. He could remember it so well. Martha was expecting the last of their children, the baby that would be spared from the Indian attack.

Now the house looked deserted, run down and dejected. He dismounted and walked to the door and found it locked. He walked around it, peered through windows, saw a neglected barren place with furniture scattered here and there in the rooms.

“Who are you?”

He turned and saw a tall man approaching him, hand on his gun and eyes indicating that he wouldn’t be afraid to use it.

“Ben Cartwright.”

“Oh, Ben Cartwright from the Ponderosa?”

“That’s right. Who are you?”

“Chris O’Dell.” He relaxed and approached, shook Ben’s hand. “I was Ephraim’s foreman.”

“The place looks pretty neglected.” Ben nodded his head in the direction of the building and Chris sighed, shrugged.

“Ephraim lost all interest in it once the family left. To be honest there’s nothing really left to worry about…he sold off his cattle and horses. I just come along here once in a while to make sure the place isn’t burned down to the ground or fallen to pieces. Promised the lady I would do that for her.”

“What lady are we speaking about here?”

“Mrs. Phillips, Ephraim’s daughter. She came here and cared for him during his last illness. The first time I’d seen her to be honest. Ephraim–well–he scared them all off in the end. Yes, none of his children wanted to know him for years, so I was glad she came to see him before he died.”

“Did he contact her?”

“No, I wrote to her. Found her address in one of Ephraims’ papers. Wrote to the other daughter as well, but never heard anything from her.”

“Did Mrs. Phillips say anything about moving back here?”

Chris glanced at him sharply, narrow eyed and looking as inquisitive as a ferret.
“No, she didn’t. Will she be coming back then?”

“I don’t know, I asked you, remember?”

The other man nodded, then glanced up at the sky. “Well, reckon I had better be getting back. Good to have met you, Mr. Cartwright.”

Ben watched him go, riding away like a man in no hurry. After a few moments Ben took a look around the deserted stables, outbuildings and hay barns. Everything had been built to last, and it still looked strong and sturdy. In those days, when Ephraim was young and hale, and had a hope to focus upon, he had always made sure he built things to last. Ben wondered if there could have been anything done to have prevented the sorrow that had befallen them and so changed the outlook of such a fine honest man.

Chapter 22

When Abigail entered the room where she had anticipated finding Booth, she instead found it empty. She raised her head as though exasperated by this and then walked slowly to the window, leaning heavily upon her stick as she did so.

There was no colour in the garden now and the sky was grey and leaden. She bowed her head and placed both hands folded over the carved ebony handle of the cane. There had been a time when Abigail Phillips nee Richter would turn heads when she entered the room. She had been attractive, flamboyant, and with that sensuality that drew people to her. Her husband had been a love match, a meeting of soul mates and for that she was truly grateful.

But now she was old. Her hands trembled and she couldn’t always control them, she had arthritic joints and was in constant pain. When she looked into the mirror she didn’t know the person looking back at her, this old lady with the flyaway scant hair and all those wrinkles and furrows.

Worse of all was the fear she lived with daily that soon her senses would go completely. There had been days when life had been a blur of stepping in and out of time so that she couldn’t remember which of them had been the real time. It frightened her terribly. Each morning she would wake up and be afraid of opening her eyes because she didn’t know what room she would wake in, or who would be at her side, if anyone.

She couldn’t understand why people who looked familiar, would look anxious and concerned when she asked about Rupert, whom they claimed they had not seen. Or the times when those same people were all loved by her, known by her and they could talk sensibly.

Enough now! She shook her head. Booth was obviously avoiding her. She turned from the window and made a slow progress across the room and out into the hall. Olivia was coming towards her, a smile of pleasure on her face. She leaned forward a little so that the kiss would be seen as a welcome gesture.

Dear sweet Olivia. She was one of the blessings in her life. She leaned upon the young woman’s arm and walked alongside her to the other room where they were going to eat. Olivia Dent. Abigail looked at her carefully as though seeing her for the first time.

“Are you alright, dear?” Olivia asked her as she sat down beside her and squeezed her hand, “Are you warm enough?”

“Quite warm enough, dear.”

“Breakfast won’t be long.”

“Olivia–” Abbi reached out and grabbed her hand as she moved away from the table, and Olivia turned and smiled down at her and waited for her to speak. “Olivia, you’ve been such a blessing to me. I want you to know that; I want you to understand that I appreciate so much everything that you have done for me and my family.”

“Oh Abbi, it hasn’t been difficult.” She knelt beside the old woman and held her hand against her cheek. “You’ve been like my own mother, Abbi, and I love you for being so.”

“You gave Robert so many happy years, Olivia. I thought he would never find someone to love as he loved you. He and you, together.” She stroked Olivia’s cheek, looked into those sea green eyes. “I would watch you together and think–why, you were just like Rupert and me.”

Olivia smiled and rose to her feet. “I have to make the breakfast. I won’t be long.”

“Olivia, I need to speak to you and the others after we’ve eaten.”

Olivia looked at her carefully. It seemed as though Abbi were lucid, she looked very dignified, resolute and yes, very serious. She smiled, nodded and once again reassured the old lady that she would be back very quickly.

Abigail sat at the table alone and stared thoughtfully at the teapot. The trouble with life was that one was older for longer than one was young. She shook her head slightly, she had to make sure that she stayed like this for long enough to say what had to be said. She couldn’t, dared not, slip into that other time before she had spoken
.
The door opened and Booth entered the room, stiffened at seeing his mother on her own at the table.

“Good morning, Mother.”

“Good morning, Booth.” She turned her head to observe him and sighed. He was getting flabby, he had that look in his eyes that told of too much drinking and not enough sleeping; he was dissipated and irresolute. She shook her head thoughtfully and watched as he pulled out a chair and sat down.

“Where is everyone?”

“Olivia is preparing breakfast. The children were out with Marcy. As for your wife–” and as though waiting her cue Morgan entered the room. “She’s here.”

“Sarcasm doesn’t suit you, Mother.” Booth said and looked at his wife with a frown. “Why aren’t you helping Olivia?”

“I’m not a servant.” Morgan sat down and flapped out her napkin. “Good morning, Mother.”

“I think Booth has a good point, Morgan. You should help Olivia in the kitchen. It isn’t fair to leave her to do everything.”

“Then she should hire a cook. Marcy is totally unreliable.” Morgan replied and clenched her fists beneath the table.

“Cooks cost money,” Abigail replied, “We live on Olivia’s benevolence as it is; one can’t expect to have her pay for cooks and other extras just to make your life easier here.”

“I see you’re in fine fettle today, Mother,” Booth said with an edge to his words, and he scowled more deeply than ever.

Horrible, Abigail thought as she watched her son, horrible how much he looks like father. He’s got the German looks and none of the German attitude to work. Robert had that…but in a balanced way. She stopped herself from thinking along those lines in fear of slipping into that past time and losing track of this moment.

Olivia brought in food pushing it along on a trolley and carefully serving it to the table. She poured out tea and coffee for those who wanted either, and then smiled at Abbi.
“What did you want to say to us, Abbi?”

Abigail replaced the cup into its saucer and looked at them. Booth was scowling and sullen, obviously suffering a hangover. In her life time she had seen lots of those, suffered some herself in the past. Morgan, who had once been thought of as quite a beauty, was now pinched-looking and spiteful, the ‘inner person’ had emerged through the shallow veneer of good looks and merriness and shattered the illusion.

“I saw my lawyer yesterday while you were all out doing whatever you do,” she said quietly. “I have revised my will.”

“What!” Booth nearly dropped his cup and blinked. “Why?”

“Why not? I have a right to do as I wish with my own assets, do I not?” she looked at him and shook her head. “I also had a doctor with me to confirm that I was in my right mind at the time. I know how sometimes people who do not like the conditions of a will may try to prove the person lacking in their mental faculties.” She clenched one hand over her cane and blinked. “You see, I know that I am sometimes not well–” she rubbed her brow anxiously, “I slip in and out of memories, that’s all.”

“What have you changed in your will, Mother?” Booth didn’t shout but his words were cold, clipped.

“Olivia, you have been more than generous towards us. You’ve provided us with a home. You’ve never taken a dime or a dollar from us towards its upkeep. We’ve lost you more servants than you can count. My dear, it isn’t right. It isn’t fair.” She put her hand on Olivia’s and pressed her fingers gently, “It’s wrong.”

“But, Abbi, Robert would want me to look after you all.” Olivia protested.

“You’re not proposing that she throw us out in the street, are you?” Morgan said acidly.

“No. Of course not. Booth–” she looked at her son, something inside her recoiled but she steeled herself. “Booth, I know you’re in debt and I have withdrawn enough money to pay them on your behalf. I shall pay half your debts now and the other half when you have got yourself a position of work. When you have done that and worked for several weeks I shall pay off the other half.”

Booth blinked in confusion, looking like a trapped fox; his eyes darted from one to the other of those seated there. Morgan went pink with pleasure, embarrassment and guilt. She looked over at Olivia who was sitting as though stunned. She looked at Abigail.
“Whereabouts is Booth supposed to find work?”

“Mr. Galbraith has a position for you in his law firm. You are to go there later today.”

Booth pushed aside the plate of food and rose to his feet, shook his head and threw the napkin down.

“Booth, sit down.”

“I will not–”

“I’m telling you to sit down. Now.”

Olivia felt that she needed to hold onto the table to make sure everything was still real. She looked at Abigail anxiously. The last time Abigail had spoken in this manner was a long time ago. She looked at Booth who was hovering at the table, and then sat down.

“Booth, if you don’t go and see Mr. Galbraith your debts go unpaid. Now then, Olivia–” she turned to her, “I have asked Mr. Galbraith to hire a good cook to help Marcy. That young girl is enthusiastic and good hearted, but that doesn’t make a good cook. She needs tuition. I shall pay the cook’s wages.”

“But–” Olivia opened her mouth to speak but Abigail raised an authoritative hand.
“Any orders for me?” Morgan said cuttingly.

Abigail said nothing. She raised her cup and sipped the tea.

“Abbi, there’s no need for a cook–” Olivia said softly.

“Yes, there is, child.” Abigail rubbed her brow anxiously, she felt a head ache coming on now, too much excitement, well, not excitement exactly, more like suppressed fear that it would all come out wrong, or she would wander off and forget what she had to say, “I had to make these arrangements before–before I become ill.. You do understand, don’t you, Olivia?”

Olivia looked into the old womans wet eyes and nodded. Yes, she quite understood. She looked over at Booth and Morgan who sat stony-faced as though pole-axed.

“Let’s finish our meal then,” Abigail said. “Thank you, Olivia.” she glanced at her son, “Booth, aren’t you going to thank Olivia for the meal she’s prepared?”

Booth looked shocked; he stammered his thanks and as an echo, Morgan added hers thereafter. Abigail nodded and raised her chin. So far, she thought, so good.
…………………………

Hoss was standing at the porch looking out with his hands on his hips and his face scrunched up in concern as Ben galloped into the yard. He stepped forward to take Buck’s reins while Ben dismounted,

“Shucks, Pa, were in tarnation have you been? I was ’bout to send a search party out for you.”

“I didn’t realise I was gone for so long,” Ben replied, giving Buck a pat on the neck as he walked alongside Hoss to the stables. “I rode over to the Double D.”

“The Double D?” Hoss’ eyes stretched to their utmost. “Pa, that’s a danged long ride.”

“I know.” Ben laughed and began to unsaddle the horse. “I had forgotten just how far it was, to be honest. Hope Hop Sing has a good meal prepared; I’m just about famished.”

“Hester will have your hide–” Hoss grinned. “She’s been fretting no end. Pa, you’d think to hear her go on so that you’d been kidnapped.”

“Hardly likely.” Ben got a cloth and began to wipe the horse dry. “Although there was a time I used to think the same about you boys. Every time you ventured out the door something would happen. I got so that I never expected you to ever go out without something out of the ordinary taking place.”

“Hey, Pa, you joshing me? When did we ever cause you any trouble like that?” Hoss’ amiable face parted into a wide smile and his blue eyes twinkled at his father.

Ben said nothing to that but shook his head. He walked, stiff-legged and straightbacked, to the house with Hoss, who was telling him about the new house and how they were going again the next day to do some more finishing off.

“How’s it feel, Pa?”

“How’s what feel?” Ben asked, wondering if his son was thinking of what it was like to go horse riding for the day at his age.

“The fact that Joe and Mary Ann will be moving out of here and having their own place?”

“Not as concerned as you may think,” he laughed and slapped his son on the chest just before he pushed open the door and entered the house.

“Ben Cartwright. Where have you been? Do you know how worried we’ve been about you?”

There she stood in the centre of the room with her hands on her hips, her blue eyes blazing like sapphires and her copper red hair practically standing on end. Behind her Mary Ann sat, leaning forward slightly as though to make sure it was actually her father-in-law who had entered the room. Joe was trying to restrain himself from laughing.

“Hester.” Ben opened his arms wide. “Hester, you look beautiful when you’re angry. I hope my son remembers to tell you that frequently.” And he hugged her close and kissed her cheek. “I’m perfectly alright. I just went to check over the Double D.”

“Why’d you do that, Pa?” Joe frowned, then clicked his fingers as he recalled Adam’s letter. “Of course, you still think that Mrs. Phillips will move back there?”

“Well, she may. I haven’t had a reply to my letter yet.” He had removed his outer clothing now and was unbuckling his gun belt. “I was surprised at how derelict it looked. Ephraim seemed to have lost all interest in it when his children left home.”

“Are you going to let her know that?” Hester asked, comforted now that Ben was safely home; she smiled at him. “She could be used to city ways now and not want to move to something that’s run down.”

“It’s not beyond repair.” Ben moved to the fire to warm his hands. “Ephraim built a good house. Can you remember going there to build the chimney, Hoss?”

“No sir, can’t say that I can.”

“Well, it brought back a lot of good memories of when we first got here. The Dents–” he paused and then shrugged. “Well, you don’t want to hear all about that again.”

“You don’t look very happy if they were good memories, Pa.” Mary Ann observed as she looked anxiously at him.

Ben frowned and pouted slightly, shaking his head. “I think I realised that, as a friend, I had let them down. I didn’t help them as much as I should have. I was rather disappointed in myself.”

“You can’t do everything, Pa,” Joe said quietly, walking to the table as Hop Sing came from the kitchen to put the food down for their evening meal. “There was a lot going on in your life and other demands on your time.”

“You said yourself that Ephraim turned his back on the people hereabouts. He preferred to stick with folk on the Carson City side.” Hoss took his seat and glanced over at Joe who raised his eyebrows.

“I know, but I let him do that; I should have tried to do more to stop him cutting himself off from everyone.” Ben sighed, glanced up, saw Hester’s anxious eyes on him, and smiled. “I’m alright, Hester. I just realised that I wasn’t quite the friend that I would have wanted to have been, and I hadn’t even given it much thought until recently.”

She reached out a hand and placed it over his; there was nothing that she could say to that, except to let him know that she understood.

Chapter 23

It was the summer season in the Straits of Magellan. Having crossed into the southern hemisphere there were noticeable differences to the weather pattern. As the Baltimore made her way from the Pacific Ocean into the Strait’s a light shower of rain began to fall and Mrs. Mannering hurried to gain shelter. Over the time it had taken to make the journey thus far she had gained her sea legs and was quite adept at moving around the deck.

Although not endowed with any great intellect she had realised if she were to survive the journey she had to accommodate some of the things necessary in making the best of it. She was quite adept at this, having learned to make the best of most things in her life, even marriage to her Mannering.

“Commodore, will there be a storm?” She brushed raindrops from her clothes and looked at him anxiously.
“No, the barometer is quite steady. It will remain fair weather.” He smiled at her before walking towards the porthole and looking out at the views ahead of them.

“I was watching you earlier,” she said quietly. “You looked very serious. I thought to myself, here’s a man with a woman on his mind. Am I right?”

He laughed and shook his head “No, I’m sorry; not this time.”

“Ah, so you do have a woman on your mind sometimes?”

“Sometimes.” His smile broadened and the dark eyes twinkled at her as she walked to the maps that were unrolled on the desk.

She traced the pattern of the lands with her finger and frowned, then looked at him.
“Is this where we are going?”

“That’s where we are now.” He said, coming closer to look over her shoulder at where her finger pointed.

“It’s very pretty,” she said dreamily. “Why is it called the Straits of Magellan?”

“Because Magellan was the name of the man who discovered the Straits. He was Portuguese but had to go to the king of Spain to get sponsorship to find a passageway through South America.” He smiled again and looked back at the view from the porthole. “We owe a lot to that man; it took a great deal of courage to undertake the voyage, and in the end he didn’t even survive the trip.”

“Do you wish you had been on that voyage then, Commodore?” she said teasingly.

“Well, with the benefit of hindsight, no. He left Spain with five ships, so he was sailing in the opposite direction to us now, see here…” He pointed to Magellan’s departure point. “He travelled down here, got provisions at Rio de Janeiro, faced mutiny as the ships encountered icebergs and freezing conditions. Here they come across the natives of the land which is called Patagonia…do you know what that means?”

She laughed and shook her head, leaning with her elbows on the table and looking up at him. At one time he would have thought her look was coquettish, but he knew her better now. She was interested in learning, something which for some weird reason of his own, her husband didn’t want to indulge. He might well have been surprised at the results, had he done so.

“It meant Big Feet. The locals were bigger than the seamen, who must have seemed puny in comparison. Now here they continue on through terrible weather conditions; one ship flounders and is lost, and just as they find El Paso one of the ships returns to Spain.”

“What was El Paso?”

“The name they gave this passageway. It’s what they had been looking for; we take it for granted now, but at the time it was merely a rumour.”

“So that leaves only three ships.”

Adam smiled and pointed now to the area of the map into which they were about to sail. “They called this area Tierra del Fuego–Land of Fire–probably because of the numerous campfires from the local inhabitants that appeared along the coast line. It takes them five weeks to reach this area, which is the entry into the strait we have taken. They locate the Pacific.” He sighed. “That was in 1520. It was Magallen who named it the Pacific because it was so calm and peaceful. They didn’t realise, however, just how vast it was.”

“So did he return a hero?”

“No, instead of turning back he continued on because he wanted to locate the Spice Islands. It was months before they finally reached land, the Phillipines, and during that time they lost a vast number of their crewmen. Magellan was killed; the remaining seamen had to sink one ship because there were not enough men to crew three. Eventually they reached the Spice Islands. One of the ships was captured but the other returned to Spain laden with spices. It had taken them 3 years. Do you want to know what really is so fascinating about that voyage, Mrs. Mannering–to a seaman I mean?”

“Tell me!” she said, knowing how the subject must have caught at his imagination for him to want to talk so freely about it to her.

“The ship, Victoria, that survived the trip had circumnavigated the globe. It proved that the world was a sphere, there was a one day discrepancy in dates, and the Americas were not part of Asia as had been thought at the time.”

“And you wouldn’t have wanted to be part of all that?”

“No–after all, only 18 men survived that three-year trip and I have a preference to keep my hide intact.”

“And we have to continue on along here…” She traced what she called the frilly bits with her fingers. “It seems a long way.”

“It won’t be long before you’re in England, Mrs. Mannering. The weather is set fair, and it seems the waters are going to be kind to us on this voyage.”

She nodded and looked out through the porthole; the rain had stopped but she had enjoyed this sojourn with the commodore. She traced the journey over the maps before saying quietly, “I did find that interesting about Mr. Magellan, but to be honest, Commodore, I would much rather you told me all about the lady you think of so often.”

“I think, Mrs. Mannering, that you are a romantic at heart.”

“Perhaps, but then, Commodore, I think you are as well.”

Adam said nothing to that but turned to answer the helmsman, excused himself and returned to his duties. For a while Mrs. Mannering continued to look at the maps and think about five little ships struggling against the odds as they discovered a new route, the Pacific Ocean, and tragically, death.

Adam’s thoughts, however, did not dwell any longer upon Magellan. His conversation with his passenger had concluded with reference to the woman that preoccupied his mind. He was rather chagrined to realise that another woman had been able to notice that fact so easily.
…………………

The cook who had been recommended by Abigail’s lawyer had proven to be quite an asset to the little household. She was a buxom Irish woman of middle years called O’Flannery. If she had another name she didn’t admit to it and was happy enough to see to the needs of the family for the sum Abigail’s lawyer had mentioned to her.

She did not intrude upon the family ‘above stairs,’ leaving that to Marcy, who now had a little more time to care for Abigail’s needs in the morning and evening, and to take the children out each day.

The days had ticked by since Abigails announcement about her will, and the agreement she had made with her son. Morgan and Olivia watched with a mutual interest as to how it would work, if it would work. Certainly Booth left the house at a regular hour every morning and returned consistently at the same time every evening. Abigail kept her promise and paid half his debts. With Booth out of the house all day Morgan relaxed and became happier as a result.

Olivia watched the members of the household with assiduous care. Abigail in particular received her closest attention. There were days when Abigail would slip in and out of her memories, would follow Olivia around the house asking numerous questions over and over again, or would go into the kitchen and order the cook to prepare vast quantities of food for dinner. Thankfully O’Flannery had an unerring ability to ignore what most people told her, and she prepared instead what she thought fit and good within the household’s budget.

There were other days when Abigail was purely and simply herself. She would question Booth about his days work each evening, an occurrence he dreaded. She enjoyed the company of the children and even told them stories to entertain them. She did a little tapestry, just enough before her eyes would betray her and she would sadly have to put the work to one side.

It seemed to Olivia that the time had come to reply to Ben’s letter.
…………………

There had been a few snow showers during the weeks but it was a kind winter. Only the winds had been more severe than usual and the rain fell continuously making travelling uncomfortable and difficult.

Hoss and Joe went about their chores as best they could along with their ranch hands which, during this season were always a skeleton crew. Trips into town were undertaken only by the men and the two women grew closer as a result of the enforced amount of time they had to spend time together in the house.

As often as they possibly could Joe and Hoss would go to the new house and work upon it. They would return home smelling of wood shaving, clean fresh wood, and talk of what they had accomplished. To Mary Ann it seemed as though the house would never be completed. Much as she loved the company of the family around her she longed for the time when she and Joe would be able to close their own front door upon them and enter into their own private world.

As winter made its wearisome inroads upon the lives of those on the Ponderosa, the Baltimore continued on its way through the Straits of Magellan. She had sailed up the eastern coast of South America, eventually re-entering the northern hemisphere and crossing the Atlantic she eventually steamed her way up the coast line of Great Britain.

Chapter 24

The tugs came out to escort Baltimore into her berth in the dockyard at Chatham. In dry dock at that time was the great ship Dreadnought,* due to be dismantled that week.
It was Sunday, 24th January and it was raining*, a steady rain that brought with it a chill to the bones.

Miranda Mannering was all full of nervous energy and excitement. She told Adam several times that a relative of hers would be meeting them in their carriage. For some time she haunted the upper deck to scour the wharf side for a view of this vehicle and getting both herself and her spirits dampened as a result.

“Would they know that we were here, Commodore?” she asked, peering once again over the ship’s side to see if she could locate the carriage.

“There would be a notification of our estimated time of arrival in the lists.” He smiled.
“But not our exact time, as it could be affected so much by weather conditions out at sea. Usually those expecting a ship in would contact Lloyd’s or the harbour master to see if it had arrived and then save themselves an unnecessary trip, should it have been delayed.”

“Oh dear.” She bit her lip and frowned. “Eric won’t be happy if we’re late.”

“It’s only the 24th of the month; we’re in good time,” he reassured her and then pointed. “Look, there’s a carriage there.”

“So there is, and the coat of arms on the doors indicates that it is my relative.” She clapped her hands together. “So there won’t be any further delay now and we can leave!”

“As soon as all the paperwork is checked and stamped.”

She looked at him with dismay, said “Botheration!” and hurried away to find her husband and her luggage. Adam watched her go with a smile.

“Looks like their relation is someone quite important, sir,” Myers nodded over to the coat of arms emblazoned on the door of the vehicle.

Adam nodded. “On her side of the family, it seems.”

“Couldn’t imagine it being on his,” came the ungracious statement from Myers who watched as the couple were to be seen standing by their luggage at the gangway.

“Well, normality can be resumed once they have gone.” Adam glanced around at the surrounding ships and dockhands, the stevedores, the stacks of provisions and heaps of coal. “Not a life I’d like to pursue.”

“Nor I, but I should imagine that around here beggars can’t really be choosers.”

“Do you read any of Charles Dickens’ books, Myers?”

“Not if I can help it, sir. Too much writing in them.” A grin accompanied the words with a twinkle in his eyes.

“Mm, I know what you mean. He came to stay with us once at the Ponderosa. He told me that he scoured the streets of London regularly so that every place he mentioned in his novels would be a place the reader could say ‘Ah, yes, I’ve been there’ or ‘Yes, that’s just how it is.’” He pursed his lips. “Some parts of London I don’t recommend anyone venturing into after dark.”.

“Much like San Francisco then, sir.”

They shared a smile and then saw their passengers taking themselves down the gangplank. Some of the crew were carrying the luggage down to be loaded onto the carriage. A woman had emerged from the vehicle, despite the rain, and Miranda hugged and kissed her. There was a polite shaking of hands between the woman and Eric, and then obvious dismay at the sight of all the luggage. Adam and Myers watched with the same interest they would have shown to a comedy act in the theatre as the lady protested that there just was no room for it all as Miranda pleaded and Eric stomped his feet.
Eventually one of the postillions came down from his lofty position and began to haul some of the luggage into a container. After a brief altercation with one of the stevedores and some money being exchanged, arrangements were made for it all to be collected at some other time by wagon.

Miranda clambered aboard and waved a handkerchief up at Adam and Myers. She received a wave of the hand in return. Mr. Mannering had barely honoured them with a murmured goodbye earlier that morning. Why thank anyone for doing their duty for which they were being paid?

“Ah well,” said Adam with a wry grin, “There goes the great economist. If he is all that America has to offer in the way of such a profession, then God help the economy!”

The carriage heaved its way out of sight and Adam waved again at the fluttering handkerchief . It certainly was a grand carriage with four beautifully matched grey horses pulling it out of view. He nodded as though to himself, closing a chapter, so to speak, and ready to open the next.
………………..

In the morning, the weather was cold after so much rain. Leaving the Baltimore in the capable hands of Hathaway, Adam made his way to the American Embassy where he left his card and waited to be seen by the naval attaché in attendance there. He didn’t have to wait before he was ushered into the presence of Admiral Pottinger, and after a brief conversation was handed his new orders.

“How did you find your last assignment, Commodore?” Pottinger asked with a smile.

“Vaguely interesting.”

“Well, I hope you find this one rather more in your line. I heard that you were in Egypt recently?”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“What’s it like?”

“Oh, hot. Lots of camels, flies and sand.”

They exchanged a smile and a shake of the hand, and as he turned to leave, Pottinger mentioned that there was a banquet being held there that evening. With a quite charming smile he assured Adam that he and his officers were more than welcome to attend.

Quite pleased that the official business had been concluded so quickly and efficiently, Adam hurried from the building and made his way to the Dorchester Hotel. He made his way through the doors and entered the foyer, then glanced at the various people there. He was standing just inside the doors with a slight purse of the lips when he heard his name being hailed. Adam turned to see a tall young man rise from his seat and approach him.

“Hello, Adam.” The twinkling eyes, the smile and the firm handshake were as Adam would always remember Daniel O’Brien. “Surprised?”

“Something like that,” Adam replied as he took his seat at the table, “How long have you been here?”

“Only a few days.” Daniel laughed. “I hear you were on a trip through the Magellan Strait. How was it?”

“Smooth as silk.” Adam grinned, “The passengers weren’t but everything else was. So what are you doing here?”

“Waiting for you; I knew you would be here eventually. The Baltimore was on the list to get into London this week.”

“And how are you? How are Maria and Patrick?”

“Both very well.”

They made their way to the restaurant where the Maitre d’ led them to a table. The wine waiter came and Adam, after a brief perusal of the wine list, made his choice.

They succeeded in eating the soup, a consomme, and the fish which was fresh Dover sole, without mention of either Egypt or the Suez Canal, or why the Baltimore was now in Chatham docks. When the main course arrived it was O’Brien who tentatively asked Adam about his future orders.

“I haven’t looked at them, to be honest.”

O’Brien shrugged slightly and smiled, “It’s just that I was under the impression I would be under your command.”

“Really? On the Baltimore?”

“No, I’m Captaining the Virginian. I got my orders two days ago.”

Adam nodded and said quietly that perhaps it would be a good idea if Daniel were to join him on the Baltimore later so that they could discuss the matter there. Having agreed this they settled into an animated conversation about things of little consequence: England and her weather, her politics, her economy. The meal ended on a high note. Daniel joined Adam in a hansom cab to make their way back to the Baltimore.
…………………..

Adam broke the seal on the envelope once he was back in his cabin. Daniel sat opposite him with a glass of whiskey in his hands. It was enough like old times for them both to feel quite comfortable with one another except for the wary way in which Daniel watched Adam’s face as the orders were taken out and read.

He nodded thoughtfully and then glanced up at the captain. “When would you be ready to leave?”

“We’re fitted up and fully equipped.”

“Give us two days.” Adam replied.

Daniel nodded and then looked thoughtfully at the commodore. “Did you get the chance of some leave after returning from Egypt, Adam?”

“Six months. Most of it in Indian Territory with my brother, Joseph.”

“What in heaven’s name were you doing there? By all accounts it’s a hornets’ nest!”

“Well, if it’s bad now I can assure you that it will only get worse as time goes by. George Custer is a very ambitious and ruthless man; he won’t listen to reason no matter who gives it to him.”

“Did you meet his brother Thomas?”

“We did. A pleasant man, more cautious than George, and more courageous, if that doesn’t sound a contradiction.” He smiled, recalling to mind now the two brothers in the cramped offices of that fort. “Well, Daniel, it will be interesting to see what happens on this assignment.” He picked up his papers and glanced over them again. “China.”

“It’s just a precautionary matter.”

Adam tugged his ear lobe, and was about to speak when there was a knock on the door and Myers announced a visitor to see the commodore.

The man who stepped in to the cabin was in his forties, greying and slightly bald. He had a tanned face, dark eyes and a goatee beard. He saluted the commodore and then extended his hand. “Commmodore Cartwright, Captain Richard Selkirk of the ship Pennsylvannia. We docked a week ago and were awaiting your arrival, sir.”

“Sit down, Captain. Can I get you a drink?” Adam indicated the whiskey decanter, but Selkirk shook his head. Adam merely continued, “I saw from my orders that you were to accompany the Baltimore and the Virginian to China under my command.”

“That’s right, sir. We’re fully fitted and equipped, Commodore. We just need to know when you see fit to leave for our duties.”

“We should be fully stocked and refitted in two days, Captain.”

“That’s good. My men were beginning to get a little restive.” Selkirk smiled thinly and rose to his feet. “I shan’t keep you, gentlemen. I have matters to attend to of my own, but I shall look forward to getting to know you better during the coming weeks.”

They once again shook hands, then at the door, just before he went to put on his hat, Selkirk turned and smiled. “I’ve heard a lot about you, Commodore. I’ve been looking forward to serving under you for some time.”

The door closed behind him and they heard his footsteps as he made his way down the companionway to the deck. Daniel rose to his feet, and smiled. “Time presses, Adam. I’ll see you later.”

Adam nodded. He watched as the door closed behind Daniel and pursed his lips. Two ships under his command, three ships en route to China, ostensibly to protect the shipping lanes in the seas there. He gave a slight twitch of his shoulders, and took himself, his drink and his orders to the desk.

Chapter 25

Before the three American ships left the shores of England, Adam arranged for the three captains to meet on the Baltimore. Captain Daniel O’Brien of the Virginian was the first of the officers to arrive, and he shook Adam’s hand warmly.

“Haven’t been to China before,” he admitted, adjusting his jacket nervously. “It seems a long way from home.”

Before Adam was able to respond, Captain Richard Selkirk of the Pennsylvania knocked and entered closely followed by Aaron Hathaway who was looking at odds with himself as he stepped into the cabin that was Adam’s designated office. Adam introduced the other Captains to Aaron and explained that in view of current conditions Hathaway was now Captain of the Baltimore. Once the handshaking and congratulations had taken place Adam called the meeting to order.

“Captain Selkirk, have you ever been to China?”

“Not at all.” Richard admitted with a slight shrug of the shoulders, “I’m afraid I’ve never been near that country and know very little about it.”

Adam nodded and picked up some papers from his desk. “On January 12th* Emperor T’ung-chih* of China, died from smallpox. His mother, the dowager empress Tz’u-his,* is now ruling China, although ostensibly she has been controlling the politics of that nation for a long time. Our orders are quite simple: to patrol the seas and keep our shipping lanes safe. Apparently she’s viewed as a loose cannon by Britain and our government. She’s distrusted those she calls ‘foreign devils’ ever since 1860.*”

“The second Opium War,*” Hathaway said with a slight frown, and Adam nodded with a slight smile of recognition with regard to his fellow officer’s comment.

“That’s right. As you know, Britain owns Hong Kong. The war resulted from problems in connection to China’s interference with that British territory. France, Russia and America were involved and China finally surrendered in 1858 with the Treaty of Tianjin.*”

He paused a moment and glanced at the three of them. After a swift glance at his papers he continued, “In this Treaty of Tianjin, China had to allow other countries to establish diplomatic legations in Beijing. In addition, ten more ports had to be opened: Danshui, Hantou, Jiujiang, Nanjing, Niuzhuang, Qiongzhou, Shantou, Tainan, Zhenjiang and Zhifu. This led to our vessels being able to enter the Yangtze River freely. Five of the ports mentioned in the treaty were seaports, but the influence of our countries via commerce was heightened due to the right to navigate the Yangtze. The recently deceased Emperor attempted to prevent this and created further acts of war between China and Britian and her allies. Eventually the Chinese government had to sign the Convention of Peking.* This led to another port, Tianjin, being opened.*”

Adam now unfurled a map of China, its vastness with the Great Wall snaking through was laid out upon his desk for them to see. Each port was identified, but it was Tianjin that Adam now pointed to:

“This port is particularly important for us to keep open as it gives our ships direct access to Beijing.”

“Is that our destination then, sir?” Hathaway asked thoughtfully, his eyes fixed upon the map.

“It could well be, Mr. Hathaway,” Adam said quietly. “The Empress dowager has tried in the past to close those ports to western influences. She’s an extremely aggressive and secretive politician and will go so far as to employ pirates to attack our ships whenever possible.”

“Denying it via her envoys, no doubt,” Selkirk murmured.

“Yes, and hoping all the time that she’ll succeed. The fear is that now she has unlimited power in the Chinese court, she will even go so far as a war. Her alliances are with Russia and Prussia, but she is on shaky ground with Japan and Korea. Any questions, gentlemen?”

“Isn’t there any chance of another emperor coming along to dethrone her?” O’Brien chimed in. “Someone with pro-American and Western sensitivities?”

“There’s no evidence of that happening,” Adam replied with a shrug of the shoulders.

“Has it been proven that our ships have been attacked by her–alleged–pirates?” Selkirk now put forward the question as he tugged at his beard and viewed the map.

“We are replacing Commodore Henry Boyd’s command and shall rendezvous with him in Hawaii. He’ll be able to provide information in connection to that, Captain.” With a slight frown, he glanced at his papers again to make sure that he had told them all he could and then nodded. “That’s all, gentlemen. We will leave tomorrow at 8 bells.”

………………………..

Dear Pa,
I have my orders now and will be leaving London for Hawaii tomorrow. This is just part of the journey as we have to meet with those returning from China to find out more about our assignment.

Not one of us has been to China before so it is quite ‘uncharted’ territory for us all. I almost wish that it had been possible to smuggle Hop Sing aboard ship on this journey.
I now have command over three ships, the Baltimore, Virginian and Pennsylvania. My first officer is now Acting Captain, Aaron Hathaway. He has been with me since Alaska and a truly reliable officer and friend. O’Brien, whom you know, is Captain of the Virginian and a Captain Richard Selkirk will take the Pennsylvania.

I am not sure how long this tour of duty will take, Pa. It concerns me that it could be quite a lengthy time. China isn’t exactly a hop, skip and jump away from home, is it? I know that O’Brien didn’t appear too happy at going and leaving his wife and young son behind for such an unspecified time period.

He put down his pen and stretched. For a short moment he thought of abandoning the letter but remembered this was his last chance of sending news to his family. All over the ship there would be seamen frantically writing to their loved ones in order to send them news and love. In the morning the letters would be gathered up and put into the mail sack, then taken to the next ship leaving for America to be posted onward.

How are you, Pa? Have Joe and Mary Ann moved into their new home yet? Tell Joe to make sure that Harry makes the adjustments to that window. I guess you’ll miss them. How are Hoss and Hester, and the infant, Hannah? How times have changed, Pa. I guess we can’t harness time, can we?
Did you write to Mrs. Phillips? Or, in fact, has she contacted you? I got the impression that she was torn as to whether or not to move back. Her obligations to her family by marriage fights the desire to bring her children to what had been her home. I often–

Again he paused and looked at the two words: he often what? Thought about her? Yes, he did. Logically he couldn’t understand why; after all he had met her briefly, only two times, three at the most. He put the pen down and leaned back in his chair and stared at the ceiling. Strange how clearly he could still see her face in his memory. He shook his head and picked up his pen to resume.

“I often wonder why Ephraim Dent chose to turn his back on his friends, especially you, Pa. He always seemed to be a reasonable man, and Martha, his wife, was to my memory a particularly caring woman.

Pa, will you tell Joe to take care of Sport. I drew up plans for a good strong stable and outbuildings at his place but should he have not yet replaced Cochise, then by all means let him have Sport. I would prefer to know my old friend is being taken care of and put to work.

There’s a lot of things I would wish to say to you, Pa. Thankfully you don’t have to read them as words on a piece of paper, they don’t have to be written down in ink for you to know them.

I wish you well, Pa, I wish you good health and happiness, I wish you more grandchildren and that your sons, their wives and their children will continue to be a blessing to you always.

In the meantime, until I see you again,
I remain,
Your ever-loving son,
Adam.”

He sealed the letter in its envelope and then dropped red wax on it, pressed in the seal from his ring and then set the letter to one side after writing out the address. He looked at the name he had written down–Mr. Ben Cartwright. A name that conjured up a million memories.

Picking up a fresh sheet of paper he began his next letter which was addressed to Hoss and Hester; this was followed by yet another to Joe and Mary Ann.

Once the letter to Joe had been sealed, he hesitated, debating the rightness of sending a letter to Mrs. Phillips. Should he? Shouldn’t he? He rubbed his temple thoughtfully for a moment and then set the paper down on the desk, dipped his pen into the ink well and began to write.

Dear Mrs. Phillips,
I do hope that–

He stared at it and sighed, then impatiently screwed it up and tossed it into the waste basket. For once he didn’t know what to write; the words eluded him. Resting his chin upon his hands, and his elbows on the desk, he stared out of the porthole and observed the twinkling lights of a city that had existed for hundreds of years. Oddly enough, under the cover of darkness it looked little different from the last view he had had of San Francisco.

Eight bells tolled. He decided that the letter to Mrs. Phillips, whom he already thought of as Olivia, would have to remain unwritten. He set things aside and prepared for some sleep, knowing that ahead of him was a long voyage that could possibly be quite a challenging one.

Chapter 26

Unfinished business never did sit well with Adam Cartwright. As darkness descended and sounds of the dockyard were muted, he rolled onto his side to strike a match and light the lamp.

After a moment or so he left his bed and returned to the desk where he picked out a clean sheet of paper and placed it before him. He then dipped his pen into the ink and began to write:

Dear Mrs. Phillips,
It was a pleasure to meet you while I was in San Francisco, and I regret very much that our association was cut short so abruptly. It seems more than coincidence that Ephraim’s daughter should be you. To have met up with you again after all these years will make my father very happy. He always regretted that the early friendship he had enjoyed with your father ended so sadly.

I have written to my father and asked him to contact you with regard to your return to your father’s ranch. To be honest I do not know what condition the ranch is currently in, but as you were there during your father’s last illness it won’t come as any surprise if it is in need of some work. I can’t honestly say that there have been any cattle from the Double D included in any of the roundups over the years, but then your father did cut loose a lot of strings when your mother died.

He paused there and wondered if that latter phrase were a trifle too blunt, but decided to leave it as it was; after all, Olivia Phillips was no longer a child.

I am at this moment of time in England and expecting to depart here tomorrow for China. It may be some little time before I next see you, Mrs. Phillips, but my hope is that upon my return I may have the pleasure of your company once again, wherever you may happen to be at the time..
Yours truly
Adam Cartwright

He sealed the envelope with the symbol of the Ponderosa pine and slipped it among the small pile of others he had written earlier. He shivered as the damp air crept into his bones and with haste returned to his bed. As he drifted into sleep he wondered if he could persuade Munnings to teach him to play the clarinet.

………….

For some time an air of tension had been lifted from the household in San Francisco. Olivia had been delighted in seeing the change it had brought to Abigail, who seemed far less inclined to slip into her previous disoriented state. Her lucidity also brought pleasure to Morgan, who relaxed enough to become a reasonable companion to the old lady during the time that Olivia chose to spend with her children.

Booth was not exactly the happiest of them all. He trudged off to work each morning looking as though he was the only person in the city upon whom it would rain that day. He returned each evening at the same time but his mood was never predictable. He was at times bad tempered and snarling so that the evening meal would be an ordeal. Other times he was charming and conciliatory, even to the children.

At night the bed that Morgan and Booth shared together could have fitted another person down its centre. She would wait for him to come in hopeful anticipation and by the time he did climb in to his side of the bed she would be asleep. Sometimes his movements would disturb her but he never made any attempt to show her any of those loving intimicies a man usually shares with his wife.

A mist had covered the city for some days when one morning there came a brusque rapping on the door and Marty opened it with some trepidation.

“Yes, sir?”

“I’d like to speak to Mrs. Phillips, please.”

“Which one, sir?”

“Which one d’you mean?”

“Which Mrs. Phillips do you want to speak to, sir? There’s Mrs. Olivia Phillips and there’s the old lady, Mrs. Abigail Phillips and then there’s Mrs. Morgan Phillips.”

He frowned and shrugged. “Which one is married to Mr. Booth Phillips?”

Marcy heaved in a deep breath and opened the door wider. “You’d best follow me, sir.”

He was a thickset man with grey curling hair and a dark moustache. Beneath his great coat could be see a uniform of some kind but he was well wrapped against the cold. It seemed to Marcy that there was only one kind of man who spoke, acted and dressed in the manner of their visitor. She indicated the parlour and asked him to wait.

Olivia was reading to Sofia when Marcy hurried into the sitting room. The little girl’s head was resting upon her mother’s shoulder and her eyes were about to close.

“Ma’am, Ma’am, there’s a policeman here.”

“A–what?”

“A policeman. I recognised him–” she paused, gulped. “I mean, not him, but that he was a policeman. He’s asking for Mrs. Morgan Phillips.”

“But Morgan has taken Reuben to the dentist.” She lifted Sofia from her lap and carefully placed the little girl in Marcy’s arms. “Finish reading the book, Marcy. She’ll be asleep soon.”

She hurried down to the parlour, pushing pins into her hair and hoping that she looked tidy and representative of an orderly house. She was at the door when she heard the rustle
of skirts behind her and saw Abigail walking towards her.

“I heard the door.” Abigail announced in her clear tones, “I thought it may have been someone important. We don’t get many visitors nowadays.”

“It’s alright, Abbi, I’ll see to whoever it is.”

“I’ll come in with you.”

The old woman smiled with a little anxiety in her eyes as she wondered why Olivia didn’t want her to go into the room. Olivia, on the other hand, kept her hand on the door and stood without moving until in the end she had to push it open so that both she and Abbi entered together.

The man seemed to fill the little parlour, he was so tall and so broad. His dark coat with the raised collar made him look sombre and forebidding. He turned to them and frowned while his fingers twisted his cap round and round between his fingers.

“Which of you is Mrs. Booth Phillips?”

“I’m Mrs. Olivia Phillips. I’m afraid my sister-in-law is out at the moment.”

“And I’m Mrs. Abigail Phillips, Mr. Booth Phillips’ mother.” The old lady drew herself up to her full height and looked at the stranger forcefully, “If there is anything to be said about him, then tell me. I can tell Morgan when she gets in.”

He cleared his throat noisily and then looked at Olivia, before swivelling his eyes back to Abigail who was beginning to tap her walking stick on the floor with impatience.
“I’d rather speak to the other lady.”

“She’s not here.” Olivia sighed and shook her head, “First of all, who exactly are you?”

“Oh, sorry–” he produced a badge and informed them that he was from the police, “Chief Crowley sent me, Ma’am.”

“I remember Chief Crowley,” Abigail piped up with a toss of the head, “What does he want?”

Just then the front door banged loudly and Morgan’s voice could be heard in the hallway, followed by the thin treble of the boy. Olivia smiled and nodded over to the policeman,
“One moment; I’ll just get Morgan.”

Abigail didn’t move from the spot but kept the policeman under surveillance as though he were likely to steal the family silver were she to remove her eyes from him. After some minutes had elapsed, during which time the poor man was beginning to panic a little, the door to the room opened and Morgan entered.

“Has something happened to Booth?”

“You’re Mrs. Booth Phillips?”

“Well of course I am, who else could I be?” Morgan snapped, and then once again repeated her question concerning Booth.

“I’m afraid so, Ma’am.” He stepped forward as she wailed and flinched back a few paces, her hands flapping for some support and finding it when Olivia rushed to her side. “It’s alright, Ma’am; he ain’t dead or injured. Nothing like that for you to fret over.”

“What is it then?” Abigail said coldly, and her eyes turned to Olivia as though to see her reaction to whatever was about to be said.

“He was picked up drunk earlier today. He fought two policemen before calming down and being taken to the cells. We need you to come down to bail him out.”

“But that can’t be,” Morgan cried as she clasped her hands together against her chest. “He’s working. He wouldn’t be getting drunk while he’s at work.”

“I’m sorry, Ma’am, but this isn’t the first time it’s happened.”

Olivia looked at Abigail and saw the look of resignation on her face. Leaving Morgan to hurry from the house with the policeman, Olivia rushed to the other woman’s side and reached out for her hand. The old woman was swaying like a thin reed in the wind, and when Olivia’s hand touched hers she turned to her and shook her head.

“I knew something was going to go wrong, Livvy. I just knew it.” A tear dribbled from her eyes and she shook her head. “I tried, didn’t I? I did try.”

“Yes, yes, of course you did.”

Very gently Olivia led the poor stricken woman to a chair and carefully helped lower her into it. It seemed as though all Abigail’s joints had forgotten how to work so that Olivia had to put a hand against the joints in order to settle her down. The bell used to summon the servants was nearby and Olivia quickly rang it so that within minutes Marcy’s quick footsteps were heard coming down the hallway.

“Get Mrs. Phillips some tea, Marcy. Lots of sugar.”

There was silence for a while as she knelt beside Abigail, chafing her hands between her own in order to get some warmth into them. After a while the tea arrived and she tried to get Abbi to drink some, but she refused it. Olivia placed the cup on the table for later.

“Olivia, what else can I do? I tried to help him but he’s proven himself untrustworthy.”

“We don’t know the full story yet, darling. Be patient; wait until Morgan comes back to tell us what has happened.”

“He has squandered his inheritance from his father. He’s done nothing, nothing of which I could be proud. He’s a disgrace.” She turned to look now at her daughter-in-law and smiled feebly, a smile that didn’t reach her sad old eyes. She stroked Olivia’s cheek with a trembling hand, “My dear, you’ve been so good to us. Robert would have never treated us all like this.”

“Robert was different, Abbi. He was proud of who he was, and he liked to work.” She caught hold of one of the hands and kissed it gently. “Calm down, dear, let’s wait and see what Morgan has to say.”

“Robert’s money won’t last forever, will it? You can’t keep running this house just for us.”

“Don’t worry about the house. There’s nothing for you to worry about, Abbi.”

“You don’t understand, Olivia. I do worry. I worry about you and the children. What would Robert think of us wasting his money away like this when you could be free and finding yourself a new life. Robert was such a good man–”

“Yes, he was.”

“And he found you. He loved you so much.”

“I know.” Olivia stroked back some loose strands of grey hair from Abbi’s face, and looked into the moist eyes. “Abbi, please don’t worry. There’s nothing I want you to worry about now.”

“Oh, Olivia, if only Rita were here still. She should never have gone, never.” She shook her head and put a hand to her face in an attempt to hold back tears while Olivia knelt at her side, wondering whether Abbi had slipped back through the years or whether she was still lucid.
“Where did Rita go, Abbi? If it worries you so much, perhaps we could go and find her, bring her back home.”

“That would be nice.” Abbi smiled through her tears, “Do you think you could? Do you?”

“Just tell me where she’s gone, dear.”

Abbi looked around the room and then put her finger to her lips. “Shush,” she whispered, “Not so loud. If father hears you we’ll both be put in the cupboard.”

Now tears sprung to Olivia’s eyes, she turned her head away and stared at the fireplace so that she could prevent them from falling. She was about to ask Abigail another question when the door opened and Reuben bounced into the room and flung his arms around her, nearly sending her sprawling onto the floor.

“Look, Ma, look?” he opened his mouth and pointed to his teeth, “Mr. Hedges said I had the best teeth he had ever seen for a boy my age. He said I can have all the candy and cake I want tonight.”

“I don’t think so,” His mother smiled and ran her hand over his hair.

“I can though, Ma. Marcy said she’s going to make me a chocolate cake and I can eat it all on my own.”

“The boy’s lying,” Abigail said in a flat tone of voice, “Boys should not lie.” she looked at him and then frowned, “Are you Robert?”

“No, Gran’ma, I’m Reuben.”

She shook her head and sighed. “I get them all muddled up nowadays.” She looked at him again. “Go away, little boy, and stop telling lies–otherwise all your teeth will fall out.”

Reuben raised his eyebrows and looked at his mother. “Do as Gran’ma says, dear. But don’t eat any chocolate cake.”

Abigail sat upright in the chair and gripped her cane, looking at Olivia, and asked her kindly if she could go to bed now. “I’m really very tired. All these visitors have tired me out. I need to get some sleep now.”

It looked very much as though the calm days had passed and they were about to encounter the storms yet again.

Chapter 27

By the time Olivia had helped Abigail to her private room, the old lady couldn’t remember why she had wanted to go to bed.

“But it’s still daylight, Olivia. I can see the sun.”

“It’s foggy outside, dear. You can’t see the sun at all.” Olivia smiled and stood beside Abbi, waiting for her to make up her mind as to what to do next. “Shall we go back down?”

“No, it’s alright. I do feel tired. Draw the curtains across, my dear child, and let me get some sleep.”

Olivia did as requested so that the room became even gloomier that previously. She took Abbi’s elbow and carefully led her to the bed before helping her to lie down on it. As the room was quite cold she brought a quilt to cover Abbi with and promised to send Marcy up to light a fire.

“No, it’s alright, Olivia. I’ll just go to sleep. Let me know when Booth comes home.”

Olivia nodded and looked at Abbi with a frown. It was hard to know at times whereabouts that poor mind actually was at times. Her reference to Booth made Olivia wonder if she was lucid once again, and if so, for how long.

Closing the door behind her she hurried downstairs and into the sitting where Sofia slept soundly on the settee with her toy doll cuddled in with her and her thumb in her mouth. Reuben was pushing a truck up and down on the rug. He looked up at his mother and scowled,

“Marcy wouldn’t let me have any cake.”

“That’s good. I didn’t want you to have any, Reuben.”

“But the dentist said I could have some.”

Olivia looked at him and shook her head although she smiled. He looked just like Robert, the same cleft in his chin, the hazel eyes and dark hair. He was sulking now and pushed the truck hard so that it bounced off the coal scuttle and toppled over

“Reuben, you can have cake and ice cream after you’ve had your diner.” She picked the truck up and gave it to him. “Just promise me that you’ll be a good boy for now. Be quite and play nicely.”

“But, Ma …”

“You heard what I said?”

“Yes, Ma.”

He stood there with his head drooped, his bottom lip protruding in a pout of major proportions, and a scowl still on his face. She went to him and put a finger under his chin and although he resisted she managed to get his face raised so that she could look into his eyes.

“Reuben, it doesn’t do little boys any good to have everything they want all the time.”

“But, it’s only cake,” he protested in a wheedling voice. “Per-lease, Ma.”

“No. Now stop this nonsense or you won’t even have any cake and ice cream later.”

He blinked, gulped and pushed her away from him. He ran from the room and she heard his feet clattering up the stairs and the door to his room closed with a thud. She sighed and shook her head, and was about to check that Sofia was still sound asleep when the front door opened.

Morgan came into the sitting room without Booth. Her face was puffy from weeping and her eyes were swollen with shed tears. She hurried over to Olivia and burst into a fresh paroxysm of sobs as she fell into her arms.

“Where’s Booth?” Olivia immediately asked, quite surprised at this display of emotion from Morgan and the way the woman was clinging to her and sobbing on her shoulder.

“Still in jail.”

“Come now, Morgan, let’s go into the parlour before you wake Sofia. You’ll frighten her with your tears.”

Once out of the room she called to Marcy to make some sweet tea–again–and to bring it to the parlour for Mrs. Morgan. Then once inside she settled the now bawling woman onto a chair while she knelt before the fire to add some more coal to the flames.

“Very well now.” She sat beside Morgan and took hold of the hands that were now twitching and trembling in Morgan’s lap. “Tell me what happened.”

Morgan blew her nose more heartily than a genteel girl would have been taught. Then she heaved in a deep breath and shook her head. “I just don’t know where to start.”

“Just start at the beginning, my dear, and we’ll see how you get on.”

Marcy came quickly into the room and set down the tea, which Morgan drank so fast that she nearly choked. The cup was empty before Marcy had the time to close the door.

“Well,” the word trembled in the air and hovered there a while before she continued “He worked at the law firm for a week. It seems that every day when he leaves here he frequents the gambling houses. He has so-called friends who take him to their homes and they gamble there too. If he loses too much he gets drunk so then they try and sober him up before he comes home. If he wins he spends it on–” she burst into tears again and sunk her head once again upon Olivia’s shoulder. “Oh Olivia, he goes to places with women.”

“You mean–brothels?”

“Ye-e-es.”

“But how could he carry on such a deceit, Morgan?” Olivia stroked Morgan’s back, making shushing noises in the hope of comforting her, and thrust a clean handkerchief into her hands. Morgan once again blew her nose.

“He told us what he knew we wanted to hear. Apparently it was a great joke between himself and his friends. They were greatly amused at the way he would tell us all about his working day when he hadn’t been working at all.”

“And so what happened today that made it so different?”

“He lost. He lost a lot of money. Then he got drunk and apparently he thought his friend’s wife was one of those women…Suffice to say his friend didn’t like what happened and threw him out of the house. Booth went to the nearest drinking establishment and drank more. He came out, the police stopped him, he beat them up and got arrested.”

She now pushed herself away from Olivia, dabbed her eyes and sniffed. Then she looked at the other woman seated next to her and took hold of her hands. “Olivia, I blamed you for so much. I thought he loved you. But to be honest, I don’t think he loves anyone but himself. He loves what you have.”

“But I don’t have anything.”

“You own this house. You have money in the bank. You have shares and bonds in the bank. Robert’s inheritance. Robert’s investments. You have just about everything that Booth feels is his by rights.”

“But I don’t exactly understand what you mean, Morgan.”

“He doesn’t love me, nor care about me. I saw him in that cell and he–he insulted me. Then he demanded that you or Abigail go and bail him out. I looked at him and to be honest with you, Olivia, I felt such hate for him. He had control over my money and has squandered it all. I don’t even have the consolation of his love.” She looked down at her hands, which were busy now twisting the handkerchief round and round into knots. “I just walked out of that prison and decided–I decided that I was going to leave him. I am going back to my parents.”

“Oh no, Morgan.” Olivia could feel the colour draining from her face. She clutched at Morgan’s hands, anything to stop her twisting that handkerchief, anything to stop her nervous jerky movements. “Morgan, think about what you are saying?”

“I have thought about it a lot over the past few weeks. I have written to my parents already and asked them for their help. They refused to send money. They said their home would always be mine. They loved me still.” She wept a little then, dabbing at her eyes. “Olivia, no one can live without love.”

“But, you can stay here, Morgan, with us.”

“No, I can’t. He’ll come back here and expect to be treated as he has always been, as though he owns everything–including us. I can’t stay here, Olivia. Don’t pretend that you love me. I know that you don’t. I know also that a lot of that is my own fault. I seem to be a person not easy to love.” Her voice dwindled into a whisper and a sob.

“Morgan, he is your husband and–”

“He has committed adultery with sundry women, Olivia. The Bible says adultery is the one reason for a divorce before God. I shall leave here and go home. Then I shall divorce him.” She forced a smile through her tears as she looked into Olivia’s anxious face. “Don’t worry about me, Olivia. I can start a new life free from all this mess. It hasn’t been easy living on your charity. Nor with your children a constant reminder of something I never had.”

“But–”

“Olivia, I could still re-marry and have children of my own. I know my parents are rich, and they want me back.”

“When will you leave?”

They looked at one another as they sat there, holding hands and both wondering how on earth it had all happened to end like this. Morgan finally stood up, brushed down her skirt, and leaned forward to kiss Olivia on the cheek.

“I’m going to leave within the hour. Will you send on my main things? I shall pack my necessities now and say goodbye to everyone. But I want to be out of this house before Booth enters it again.”

The door closed behind her with a soft thud. For a few minutes Olivia stood in the centre of the room with her hand to her throat as she thought over the strange conversation she had just had with Morgan. Then she quickly left the room and hurried into the sitting room where she picked Sofia up and cuddled her close as though to reassure herself that she did have someone still to love, someone who needed her. She thought of her blessings, of her little boy, and she thought of her own hope of escape and her letter that she had sent to Ben Cartwright at the Ponderosa.
……………………

Hester Cartwright paced the floor with her baby in her arms. She was singing softly beneath her breath into Hannah’s ear and gently stroking her back. The room was dark due to the cloudiness of the winter sky, but there was a fire burning in the grate and it was pleasantly warm.

“There, there,” she whispered as she paced her way to the window and looked down into the yard. “Here’s Daddy home. And Uncle Joe.”

Hannah didn’t care who was home. The singing had stopped and that was her cue to open her mouth and yell.

“Hush, hush,” Hester whispered and began crooning again and rocking the baby too and fro, while all the time she looked down from the window and watched as Joe and Hoss took their horses into the stable.

After a while Hannah succumbed to the sound of her mother’s voice. It seemed over the weeks that Hester had found the perfect pitch and rhythm to send her child to sleep, although it took time depending on how obstinate the child was to stay awake.

Once Hannah was tucked into her crib, Hester hurried down the stairs and into the kitchen to prepare hot drinks for Joe and Hoss. Mary Ann and Ben were engrossed in doing some book work together at the study end of the big room. In some ways Mary Ann was working for Ben in the capacity of a private secretary, a situation in which she excelled. It pleased her enormously to be doing something that not only gave Ben some help with running the Ponderosa, but also provided her with something to do with her time.

Ben heard the door close and nodded over at Mary Ann, who hurried away from the desk with a smile as she ran over to Joe.

“Did you manage to get into town?” she asked after kissing him and helping him to shrug off his coat.

“Just about,” he said with a shiver down his back. “It’s getting colder and there’s snow on the higher ground now.”

“I got the things you wanted, Hester,” Hoss said to his wife as she came into the room carrying a tray. He pulled off his coat and began to unbuckle his gun belt.

“Things are quiet in town. Roy said they had some trouble with some men from the Lazy G ranch, got themselves drunk and smashed up the Sazarac, but apart from that he’s spent more time cleaning out the cells than putting anyone in ’em.” Joe grinned and placed his gunbelt on the bureau.

“Dr. John has gone to Sacramento. He took Barbara and the children with him.” Hoss said as he tossed down the saddle bags and made a grab at his wife.

“Let’s hope they get good news about Peter,” Hester sighed as she melted into his arms and gave him a kiss. “Unhand me, sir,” she whispered as she put her head on his shoulder.

“Never,” he whispered back and kissed her again.

“Ah-hem–” Ben cleared his throat and shook his head, “Haven’t you two been married long enough to have moved on from all that?”

“Pa?” Hoss looked shocked, “Seems like you’re forgetting what you were like with Ma.”

“That’s true.” Joe grinned and walked over to the fire with his eyes twinkling, “Remember how we used to stand between you two and try and get some attention?”

“S’right. You can’t blame us for what we do with our wives, Pa, when you set the example,” Hoss chuckled.

“All right, all right.” Ben smiled. “That’s enough from the pair of you. Any mail?”

“Of course.” Joe pointed to the saddlebags before accepting the cup of hot coffee from Mary Ann.
Joe felt a complete sense of contentment standing there, feeling the warmth of the fire against his legs, watching his very own wife pouring out coffee and looking so lovely and so happy. He felt pride rise in his heart along with the love not only for her, but for Hester and Hoss, for his Pa.

He watched his father sifting through the mail and anticipated the slight frown on his father’s brow which would come as there was no letter from Adam. He watched as Ben stopped upon finding the one written in a femine hand. The rest were put to one side while Ben opened it.

“Who’s it from, Pa?” Hoss asked, now seated on the settee with Hester by his side.

“Mrs. Phillips, from San Francisco,” Ben replied and walked towards the fire where he turned to sit down in his old leather chair.

“What does she say?” Hester turned to him, her eyes eager to learn a little more about this lady who had once been part of Hoss’ past, even though so briefly.

“I’ll read it to you,” Ben said and smoothed the letter over his knee. “It isn’t long.” He smiled at them and cleared his throat.

“Dear Mr. Cartwright.
Thank you so very much for your letter which I received a few days ago. I was so excited at receiving it that I couldn’t reply immediately as I wanted to arrange my thoughts and get them set out more in order.
To your question about whether I am related to the Richter family: only by marriage. My mother-in-law is Abigail Richter. She married Rupert Phillips and had two sons. If you have not seen her for many years then you will find her much changed. She was once a great beauty, as you may recall, but age has taken its toll even though she is, to my mind, a lovely lady still.
As regards my plans to move back to my father’s home. Yes, indeed, yes. I hope to move there as soon as I possibly can, but I have other commitments here which must be put into proper order first. My responsibility towards Abigail is one. Added to that is her son, Booth and his wife.
You are kind to offer to come to San Francisco to meet with me. Winter is upon us now and I am sure that travelling will be difficult. I do not want to put you nor my children through such a journey. May I request that we leave my move until the better weather comes?
What I shall bring to my new home will not amount to very much. Thank you for your kindness, Mr. Cartwright. Thank you for what you have offered with regard to this move and also thank you for all the help you gave my family in the past. My father did mention you often during his lifetime. Sadly he became embittered about many things.
There now, I said it would be a brief letter, and I have rambled on.
Thank you once again.
Yours truly … Olivia Phillips.”

“That was a nice letter,” Mary Ann said with a pensive note in her voice.

“Will you go there, Pa?” Joe asked looking at his father and noticing the furrowed brow and the way his father was re-reading the letter, as though he would read something else that had been missing from his previous perusal.

“Yes. Yes, I will. I’m curious to meet Abigail again.” He smiled and folded the letter away, while in the back of his mind he thought that perhaps he would find out what had happened to Henrietta as well.

Chapter 28

Reuben was much happier after his time alone in his room. He had soon forgotten the reason for his bad mood upon finding an old toy he had always loved. After a short time of playing in the room with it he ran down the stairs with it in his hand. “There–flying in the air, a flying red train engine, and hear it ‘tooting-tooting’ as it goes. There’s the engine driver pulling at the whistle and it toots louder than ever!” He jumped the final two stairs and ran into the parlour, found it empty and whirled around to run and hop into the sitting room.

“I’ve got a flying train engine,” he cried loudly. “Toot- toot!”

“Toot- toot,” Sofia laughed and clapped her hands. “More, Boo-Boo, more.”

Marcy came into the room and laughed along with them. She had been told by Mrs. Olivia about Mrs. Morgan leaving and although she had thought, ‘good riddance’ she said nothing, only assuring her mistress that she would do her best to help.

With the children happily occupied Olivia made her way to Morgan’s room and watched as the wretched woman hastily packed away some clothes. The tears had dried now as Morgan busied herself to get as much packed as she possibly could. When she noticed Olivia at the door she paused.

“I’m sorry, Olivia. I just feel so afraid that he’ll come and stop me if I don’t hurry,” she whispered and grabbed several pretty chemises, rolled them up and stuffed them into the case.

“He won’t be here for a while, Morgan. I have no intention of going there to bail him out. Abbi won’t either.”

Morgan stopped her frantic scurrying around and stood still, clasping a particularly gaudy scarlet basque to her body. Her breathing slowed a little and she seemed to struggle for a moment to speak. “Olivia, I’m so sorry about everything. I’ve been so–so–” a huge sob engulfed her and she hugged the girdle to herself even more closely than ever. “I’m so sorry for the way I’ve behaved towards you. I’ve been ungracious, ungrateful and suspicious.”

When Olivia approached and put her arms around her, Morgan just bowed her head and wept for a little while and moaned softly. “All this time when I should have been helping you, in so many different ways, I just made it harder for you. I was jealous of you, Olivia, and only saw that you had so much I craved. I was so wrong.”

“Look, Morgan, this is your chance to make a life for yourself now. Make the best of what you have, dear, but please don’t forget that you have friends here.” Olivia glanced around the room and began to help with the packing. There were drawers to be emptied and trunks to be packed. All the time there was this strange feeling that if they were to stop for a moment they would turn to find Booth standing there behind them. Eventually they had packed everything they possibly could. Morgan could only stand and stare at the room with wide eyes and then with a sigh, look at Olivia.

“I’ll get the men to carry these things down, Olivia. They’ll be here soon.”

“You did have it organised pretty well, didn’t you?” Olivia’s mouth twisted into a thin smile and she slipped her arm around the other woman’s waist and gave her hug. “Don’t forget what I said–make the most of your life now. And don’t forget us…”

“Do I go and say goodbye to Abigail? Will she–would it–I mean–will it upset her more if I leave without seeing her?”

“I think you should go and say your farewells, dear. Abigail loves you and you’ve been part of her life for a long time now. It would hurt her a lot if you just–well–if you just disappeared.”

…………

Abigail was awake and sitting in a chair looking out the bedroom window. A few brave birds were flying through the mist, flitting in and out of the cloudy substance like dark marionettes at a puppet show. She turned slowly to look at Morgan as she entered the room and nodded her head at her, although her features remained stern.

“I heard all that noise from your room, Morgan,” she said simply. “I heard what you were saying to Olivia. You’re leaving us, aren’t you?”

“Yes, I am.” Morgan drew nearer and knelt beside her, reached for the hands that trembled in the old woman’s lap and held them close. “I have to go, Abigail. I can’t stay with a man who doesn’t love me and treats me as he does.”

Abigail looked at the younger woman thoughtfully, then nodded. One hand patted Morgan on the cheek in sympathy. “I understand. I remember what happened, that policeman coming and why. I was thinking about it before you came in, thinking about Booth and how deceitful he is, how unkind. It has been hard for you, my dear. I am sorry it has not been the marriage made in heaven that you expected when you had your wedding day.”

“I was young and silly then, Abbi, I thought Booth was the sun and the moon in my world. I was wrong.”

“Poor Morgan.” Abigail sighed and stroked her daughter-in-law’s hand. “I do hope that all goes well with you now. Are you going to stay with your parents?”

“Yes. For a while.”

She nodded and bowed her head to receive Morgan’s farewell kiss. By the time Morgan had left the room she was looking back at the mist enshrouded streets and waiting for the birds to reappear once more.

Morgan closed the door of the hansom and waved to them all. She looked a frail figure, but less brittle than usual. Olivia watched her go with a feeling of foreboding growing within her. As the hansom rolled around the corner and bore Morgan away, Olivia wondered what on earth she was going to do, how was she going to manage now.

There was nothing more to do now except to close the door and to get on with life in whatever form it was to take from now on. Olivia leaned against it and watched as her children followed Marcy down the hallway. Reuben was skipping, then hopping on one foot, and behind him his little sister attempted to copy him.

It won’t always be like this, she thought. In a few months we shall be away from here. We’ll be safe, back home.

………………….

The wind was getting wilder as Joe urged the horses on towards the house that would soon be his home with Mary Ann. On the wagon was more wood, rattling and thudding against the bare boards of the buckboard. The wind was blowing under them and into them, a mischievous attempt to cause as much disruption as possible. Thankfully Hoss had roped them into place and it would take more than a strong wind to untie one of his knots.

“Now, look, Joe, to be honest I ain’t happy with you going over there today. This here wind looks like it might be blowing up harder in the next few hours.” Hoss had peered up at the sky and looked at the clouds scudding along under the force of the wind. “Why not leave it until tomorrow.”

“Nope, can’t do that, Hoss. Pa said his bunion was playing up and that means snow.” Joe chuckled and his hazel eyes twinkled at his brother, who had shaken his head and muttered about it being a foolhardy thing to do. “Look, things don’t get done by themselves, Hoss.”

“I know it.” Hoss had pulled the rope tighter and checked the tension, nodded in satisfaction and turned to his brother, “Look, as soon as I’ve finished up here I’ll ride on over and give you a hand.”

“Hey, thanks, Hoss. I’ll appreciate that.” He had grinned then, a typical wide generous grin that had reminded Hoss of the little boy that sometimes he still thought of Joe as being. “I’ll look forward to the company.”

Now here he was and as he drove up towards the house he had to admit to himself that it looked good. Better even than he had imagined it from the drawings Adam had made all that time back on the journey home from Indian Territory. He clambered down and hurried to the door, pushed it open and stepped into the vestibule.

Even that word sounded good. Vestibule. Huh, fancy Little Joe Cartwright having his own vestibule. He rolled the word around his tongue and chuckled beneath his breath.
His boots sounded hollow on the wooden floors as he went from room to room. He admired the proportions of the room and the way the wood shone. Enough like the Ponderosa but with some tweaks that made it, well, in some ways an improvement.

He stopped in front of the window in the main room. The view from here was beautiful. There couldn’t have been a better anywhere on the Ponderosa in his opinion. It was one of the reasons he had asked his Pa for this section of land so long ago. His own piece of paradise. Now here it was all set out before his eyes. It would be what he would see every day of his life.

Outside the wind whooshed and howled. The strength of it was building up and he could just about hear it as it whistled down the chimneys and banged around the house.

It hadn’t taken long for Hoss to get his chores completed. He called into the house and told Hester he was going to help Joe at the house and hurried out, promising to be back shortly. Mary Ann came running out to him, pulling on her coat and shawl, and with bright eyes told him she was coming as well.

Mary Ann was more than excited about going to the house. She hadn’t been for some weeks and the enforced absence had irritated her even though she had forced herself not to complain to Joe. Every time she had asked to go along he had said no, there was this to do and that to do, and she wouldn’t like to see the house in the state it was in. She now rubbed her hands in glee knowing that she had at last got her own way.

“Oh Hoss,” she exclaimed as she looked at the building before her, “Isn’t it just perfect?”

“It sure is, Mary Ann.” He smiled at her and then at the house, “Joe always loved this piece of land here. This is the best position he could have chosen to build. I think you’ll be very happy here.”

“And it isn’t too far from the Ponderosa, is it?”

“Shucks, I reckon I could spit this far,” he chuckled and walked over to the buckboard where the wood bounced up and down in an attempt to fly free. “You go on indoors, Mary Ann. Ain’t no point in you staying here to get blown away.”

He started to untie the knots and caught a glimpse of her as she hurried into the house. He was smiling when Joe came out to help him with the wood, and winked as he caught the expression on his brother’s face.

“You got a strong minded filly there, Joe.”

“I know,” Joe grinned. “I just wanted her to see it when it was all finished, not like it is now, with so much still to do.”

“Aw, women are like that, they want to see how things look so’s they can arrange things in their minds. Kinda picture the way something fits, you know?”

“Since when did you discover that?”

“Since I married Hester.” Hoss grinned and hauled up a large piece of wood, “I went into the bedroom one night and thought the bed was in its usual place but it weren’t. She’d decided–here, hang on to this bit, Joe–dang wind–she’d decided to move it someplace else and forgot to tell me.”

“What happened?”

“Wal, I went to sit down to take my socks off and there weren’t no bed. I ended up on the floor.”

They were chuckling together as they carried the wood into the house. Several more trips and it was finished. Now they had the wood inside the house and could get on with the work planned for the day. Joe turned as Mary Ann came to his side and slipped her arm through his.

“You’re not angry with me, are you?”

“I should be,” he grinned, “but I’m not. I’m glad you’re here as well, although I think you’ll find it boring. Hoss and I are nailing boards for the bedroom floors.”

“I can hold nails.” She smiled and kissed his cheek.

“Do you like it, Mary Ann?” He hugged her close. “Do you?”

“Oh, yes, I love it. I’m so pleased Henry put in the big window in the sitting room. We can sit there and look at that view every day of our lives.”

“I was just thinking the same thing,” he said, as though surprised that she put into words his exact thoughts earlier. “I’m not sure why Adam was so worried about it though. He told Henry to put in two smaller windows.”

“But that would have meant the view would have been spoilt. It’s much better as it is.”

“I’ll just take this up to Hoss,” he said and kissed her as he passed her by to reach the stairs.

Mary Ann went back into the large room. The wind had built up and she could see the trees bending beneath the onslaught, grass was nigh on flattened as the wind blew against it. She looked and for a moment the view seemed to move. She blinked and stepped forward, her head to one side. That was strange, she mused, perhaps it was what they called an optical illusion. It happened again and the glass shimmered as the wind hit against it.

Surely that wasn’t meant to happen, she asked herself. Again the wind shrieked and hurled itself against the glass and it shivered. Mary Ann watched it as though hypnotised. The view shifted with each onslaught the wind brought against the window. Like some demon child that had found some toy to play with and destroy, it hammered away at the window until suddenly there was an explosion of sound as the glass shattered and the wind, all triumphant, growled and snarled into the room, almost drowning out Mary Ann’s scream.

Upstairs, Hoss looked at Joe. “What in tarnation was that?”

“Mary Ann–”

As though tired of its game now that the damage was done the wind had slunk away, growling and whimpering around the house seeking another way in. When Hoss and Joe flung open the door of the room shards of glass were still tinkling down onto the floor. The window frame was splintered wood with some glass still adhering to it.

It was the sight of Mary Ann sprawled out on the floor that totally stunned them both. Silent and still she lay there, and even as they stood momentarily frozen to the spot, a pool of blood began to trickle its way across the beautifully polished wooden floor.

Hoss was never sure who had screamed her name first, or loudest. With the sound of their voices came the ability to move their limbs. Joe was by her side before his brother, and had her in his arms, his head resting close to hers as he rocked her back and forth, moaning with grief and crooning her name over and over like some kind of litany.

“Joe, Joe–” Hoss placed his hand upon Joe’s shoulder, “Joe, we got to get her to a doctor.”

“No, leave her alone, leave her alone. Don’t touch her.” Joe sobbed, his voice cracked up and broken with tears.

“Joe, we don’t even know where she’s hurting. Even if–” he shivered, put his hand to his mouth, no, he couldn’t say it, couldn’t, couldn’t…tears sprung to his eyes and he put a hand now to wipe them away. “Joe–”

“Noooo,” Joe sobbed, his voice like a whine, a howl like a whipped dog as he buried his face in her hair, felt the warmth of her against his body, “Oh noo, no.” And then a sob, and her name, until even that ended in a wail of despair.

They didn’t hear footsteps coming into the house and then the sharp intake of breath as Henry saw them and then turned to look at the gaping hole in the wall. Hoss turned, saw him and tried to speak, but no words came out. Henry nodded and turned on his heel,

“I’ll go get the doctor.”

“Tell my Pa–” Hoss yelled, “Tell Hester.”

He stood there bereft, then turned to look at his brother and Mary Ann. Tell Hester? What? What could Henry tell Hester or his Pa? He didn’t even know what to tell them himself.

The wind blew remorselessly into the room. Howling derision at them. A scant sun made the shards of glass glitter upon the floor.

Hoss noticed that Joe’s pants were stained red from the knees down. Logic told him that was Mary Ann’s blood from the floor. He didn’t want to think any further than that, not just yet.

Chapter 29

Hoss was the one who took charge of the situation. He covered Mary Ann in his big old brown coat and then lifted her into his arms. Then, so carefully, so gently, he carried her to the wagon where he had ordered his brother to sit so that he could pass the wounded girl into the waiting arms of her husband.

“The glass…” Joe stammered and once again tears welled up into his eyes, “Won’t it hurt her more?”

“Quit thinking on that, Joe. We jest got to git her home fast as we can.”

Joe said nothing but closed his eyes. He held her as lightly as he could upon his lap, with her head resting upon his shoulder. By all appearances she could have been sleeping a natural sleep but he couldn’t bear to look down at her face, just in case he detected the horror of death upon the still features.

Hoss drove the horses as carefully as possible. He slowed to make sure the wheels didn’t bounce in any rut or pot hole, even though Joe was inwardly screaming ‘Hurry, hurry.’ at the seeming delay.

“I thought you said to get us home as fast as possible,” he cried at one time as Hoss took an agonisingly long time to get around a hole in the road.

“And I thought you were worried about that thar glass hurting her. You think I want to cause her more pain than she’s in already?” came the sharp retort from his usually gentle-spoken brother.

At last the Ponderosa loomed into view and as they turned into the yard the front door opened and Hester stood on the porch with a beaming smile on her face.

“I didn’t expect you back so soon.” She laughed and wiped her hands on her apron. It was then that she realised that something was wrong–perhaps the look on Joe’s face, the grief on her husband’s normally cheerful features. Then there was Mary Ann, in Joe’s arms, unmoving. “What’s happened? Oh no, Mary Ann .. What’s happened to her?”

Her voice was a shriek that brought Ben to the door and then they were running towards the wagon, arms uplifted to take the burden from Joe, the physical burden of his bride’s body. Ben looked at his son’s face and could only wish it possible to relieve him of the other burdens the young man carried along with him in his heart.

It was Hoss who told Ben what had happened as he carried Mary Ann into the house. Joe hovered, frightened that Hoss might drop her, or bump her upon the banisters as they mounted the stairs to their room.

“Careful, careful–” he was constantly saying while he caused more difficulty by getting in the way.

Sometimes in life prayers are answered. Henry had met Paul Martin on the road to town just as the doctor was urging his old horse and buggy up the hill towards the Canadys’ house. While Paul hurried onto the Ponderosa, Henry made his way to Ann and Candy’s to explain the doctor’s delay. It seemed as though hardly any time had elapsed between Hoss setting Mary Ann upon her bed and Paul entering the room and pushing everyone away.

“Give me room. I need as much light as possible.”

He felt for her pulse and nodded. He looked into her eyes and sighed. He felt the pulse at her neck and looked relieved. Then he told Hoss to remove the old coat and asked Hester to get rags and hot water, with salt he added, a few good handfuls of salt.

“Everyone out–” he said with a voice that would brook no arguments although Joe put forward several as he was ushered to the door and out of the room.

Hop Sing arrived with the hot water and towels and Paul sighed in exasperation at the sight of Joe who had taken the opportunity to slip back into the room.

“Joe, you won’t do her any good being here.”

“I can hold her hand,” Joe whispered wringing his hands in much the same way he used to when he had been a child. “I can talk to her so that she doesn’t feel alone.”

Paul shook his head and carefully removed his coat. He then took off his vest and rolled up his shirt sleeves and then looked at Hop Sing. “Ask Hester to come in, please, Hop Sing.”

By the time Hester had come back into the room Paul had Joe seated on a chair beside the bed holding Mary Ann’s hand and Hop Sing taking out various phials from the old medical bag. Putting on a white apron Paul approached the bed and began to gently remove Mary Ann’s upper clothing. Now with considerable care he removed the small splinters of glass first and then washed the cuts with iodine.

In this way he proceeded down the length of Mary Ann’s torso until all the small pieces were removed.

“It’s a good thing she had her back to the window,” he murmured.

No one said a word. Hop Sing stood by patiently to do as Paul bade him, while Hester struggled constantly to hold back tears as pieces of glass were slipped into the bowl she held. Larger bloodied pieces brought about some sobs which she tried to stifle although her hands shook and once she had to ask if she could sit down.

“Hester, I can’t have you fainting on me now,” Paul said crisply and extracted a large section of glass from the small of Mary Ann’s back.

Every so often Mary Ann would stir, murmur and sigh, during which time Paul made no move to touch her but waited for the moment to subside before he continued with his work. He patiently removed the glass piece by piece; the larger pieces left gaping wounds which now had to swabbed and stitched. First with the salt water, then the stitching, and then the iodine and wadding.

It took time. Hester heard Hannah crying and Paul turned to her and nodded.

“Go and see to the child, Hester. You’ve done very well.” before he turned to Hop Sing and told him to take over from her.

Thankfully Hester left the room to go to Hannah and as she lifted the infant to her breast hot tears coursed down her face and splashed there, making the poor baby blink and pause in her feeding.

“How’s Mary Ann?” Hoss tip toed into the room and put his arm around his wife’s shoulders, so that Hester leaned her head upon his chest and wept. “How’s Joe?”

“Paul was going to use ether on her, but she hasn’t regained consciousness yet. Joe’s alright, he’s just sitting by her side holding her hand.”

“Guess there ain’t nothing else he can do, is there?”

“No–oh Hoss, why did it have to happen?” she sobbed.

“Guess we should have taken more notice of what Adam told us about the glass.” Hoss said and stroked her arm gently, then touched his daughter’s face and looked down at her with eyes full of wonder about how life is given and yet so easily taken away.
………………

Ben rose to his feet as soon as he heard footsteps on the stairs. Paul was first to come down, adjusting his jacket with one hand and the familiar old bag gripped in the other. He nodded over at Ben and smiled. “She’ll be alright. She’s in shock from what has happened and from loss of blood. She came round just as I was finishing bandaging her. Thankfully she hadn’t removed her outer coat, and her skirts were a natural protection for her legs and her body from the waist down. Most of the damage was to the back and shoulders.” He frowned. “To be honest, it could have been terrible. Had it happened on a summer’s day when ladies are prone to wear less I don’t think she would have survived.”

“Will she–I mean–nothing permanently harmed?” Ben stuttered.

“She needs bed rest, lots of good food to feed the blood and build her up. The blood loss initially was severe but Hoss acted promptly in getting her here and in not touching any of the glass. She should be up and about very soon. The wounds–some are deep, but thank God, not deep enough to have pierced any of the internal organs. I was concerned about her spine but there was no glass there at all. Had any gone there it would have had catastrophic results. No, Ben, nothing to fear, the young lady has come off very lightly from this incident.”

“Thank you, Paul. I’m more than glad that you were so close to hand.”

“So am I, Ben, I doubt if there would have been quite such a positive outcome had I been any later than this. I was on the way to see Ann Canady, as it happens, so I had better get going and hope that the delay hasn’t been causing them any concern.”

The door closed behind him with a satisfying click.

In the room where Joe sat beside his wife Hop Sing carefully collected up the debris from the days operation. He left with barely a noise heard by the young man, who craned his body forward in order to monitor every breath that Mary Ann made. When the door opened to admit Ben, Joe relaxed as though subconsciously accepting that things would now get better and he smiled rather thinly as Ben joined him at the bedside.

“She seems to be sleeping quite peaceably. Has she woken up at all?” Ben asked in the best whisper his deep voice could manage.

“Just as Paul finished the bandaging. He was going to use ether but she was so deeply unconscious that he didn’t have to.” He rubbed Mary Ann’s hand between his own as though by doing so he could will her to get better even faster.

“So, the wind just blew the glass in?”

“It was my fault, Pa. I should have taken more notice of what Adam said, but she wanted a big window without anything obscuring the view. I just wanted her to love the place and didn’t argue with her. I should have.”

Ben sighed and lowered his chin to his chest. Then he placed a firm hand on Joe’s shoulder. “It could have been a whole lot worse, Joe.”

“I know. Paul said that so often I lost count.”

They stayed by the bedside together until finally Mary Ann slipped into a natural sleep and her breathing became steady and regular. Once or twice she moaned in her sleep and instantly Joe was there to hold her hand, soothe back the curls from her brow and murmur some comforting words. If Ben had ever been in any doubt of his son’s deep and abiding love for this young woman, that sojourn beside her bed certainly dispelled it.
………………..
The three ships slipped into harbour, having encountered nothing to impede their progress. After the formalities had been observed, Adam dressed himself in his best uniform and made his way to where the meeting with Commodore Boyd had been arranged. Hathaway, O’Brien and Selkirk joined him in the officer’s boat that Boyd had sent over. Mounting the Jacob’s ladder they were greeted on deck by the men piping them on board and the commodore and two other officers saluting them in welcome.
“Welcome on board, Commodore Cartwright,” Boyd nodded, his hazy blue eyes scanning Adam’s face and appearance with a sharpness that some could have thought disconcerting but which caused Adam no problems.

“Thank you, sir. My captains … Hathaway of the Baltimore, O’Brien of the Virginian, Selkirk of the Pennslyvannia.”

“Welcome aboard, Captains. May I present Captain Jenkins of the Trident and Captain Davey of the Santiago.”

The two officers stepped forward and saluted. It was not difficult to note the wary look on their faces. Adam wondered if they were wondering if he and his men were up to the job, whatever that job be.

“We lost a ship,” Boyd said in a wheezing breath as he led the way to his quarters. “Darn pirates. Came out of nowhere.” He gestured to some seats and then sat down himself, not waiting for his guests to be comfortable.

“Now then–” Boyd leaned forward, his elbows on the desk and scanned the faces before him, “You may be wondering what your orders are on this tour of duty. It’s simply this…keep the merchant lines open. The British navy and we are working hard to make sure that the routes are not affected by piracy, whether or not it is under the Empress’ orders.”

“And is it?” Adam asked as he straightened out his long legs and balanced his hat carefully on one knee.

“Is it what?”

“Is it under the Empress’ orders?”

“Probably. Well, to be honest, yes. The problem is that her envoys come scuttling around denying everything and begging us to clear up the problem of these pirates who cause so much harm etc. etc. Then they go off celebrating that they’ve pulled the wool over our eyes again. Tricky devils they are and no mistake.”

“And how did you lose your ship and captain…?” Adam allowed his voice to dwindle away and waited for Boyd to fill in the gap.

“Lockey. The ship was the Saratoga. We were too thinly strung out, and the enemy came during the night and got us all into a fight. But they managed to cut through the line and kept us too busy to reach the Saratoga. They boxed us in and edged her out. Lockey didn’t stand a chance once he realised he was on his own.”

“They come in convoys then?” O’Brien asked with some curiosity.

“All the time.” Boyd muttered.

“Unless,” Davey chipped in, “Unless they send one in as a decoy. As soon as you go to investigate they’re down and around our ships like bees to honey.”

Boyd nodded, before saying “The British have lost several ships. No one can expect wonders, or miracles. They won’t vanish overnight, that’s for certain. But we can act as a deterrent for as long as necessary, until perhaps they do give up and run back to Mother with their tails between their legs.”

Adam smiled slightly at the analogy “Whereabouts do these incidents take place, Commodore? And where is the point of rendezvous with the British navy?”

Boyd immediately unfurled several maps which were spread out on the desk and held down with paper weights and ink pots. “Here–” he stabbed the area with his finger, “The South China Seas.”

That, Adam thought with a stab of dismay, is certainly a long way from the Ponderosa, a long way from home.
…………………….

“You won’t want to step foot inside that house again, will you?”

Joe looked at Mary Ann as she sat up in bed propped upright by countless pillows. He had been helping her to eat some food, and now that the tray was pushed to one side he had forced himself to ask the one question to which he dreaded the answer .

“But why not?” She looked at him in surprise, the bruise on her temple from where she had hit the floor looking unpleasantly dark against the pallor of her skin. “Joe, that house is going to be our home, isn’t it?”

“It–I mean–Mary, you were nearly killed there.” His hazel eyes widened, as though to stress to her the horror of what had happened, as though somehow she hadn’t seen the whole picture of the nightmare, the significance of it all.

“Joe, I know what you’re saying, and I understand.” She squeezed his fingers between her own as though to reassure him. “And I do have times when I remember that window bulging inwards and I was trying to reach the door. I remember how you and Hoss were standing there with me only minutes, seconds, earlier. What if it had hit you or him? What would I have done without you? Or Hester–how could she have lived without Hoss?”

She squeezed her eyelids tightly shut as though to force back any tears that might have threatened to well up behind them and betray her emotion, even to him. “Joe, what if you hadn’t been killed but it had crippled you? Or had disfigured you? Or Hoss?”

“Then we don’t move there, do we?”

“All the more reason to move there.” she looked at him now, her grey eyes appearing overlarge in her pale face, and she smiled. “Joe, it’s a lovely house. It was my fault that the window was installed. I insisted so much, and wheedled and whined until you gave in–”

“No, no, you didn’t–”

“Yes, I did.” She sighed and raised his hand to her lips, kissed it and then let their hands drop upon the bed. “Joe, Adam said the single window would be dangerous, we both ignored his warning. Even Henry didn’t want to install it, and tried to stop us. I just carried on regardless. We can’t live our lives thinking of ‘what if’s’ and letting them stop us. I love the house. We’ll just go along with Adam’s design, that’s all.”

“You’ll lose your view,” he teased, and dropped a kiss on her brow.
“Oh, it’ll still be there. There will still be a window, just–well–just not a big one like before.”

They smiled at one another, both in accord and happy to be so. She closed her eyes again and declared herself tired, so he stood up to leave her in peace.
“Joe, I just had a thought–”

“Yes, darling, what was it?”

“All that mess on the floor. Who cleared it up?”

Joe smiled and his eyes twinkled, “Well, who do you think?”

“Hop Sing?” she laughed.
“And Cousin No. 1, his wife and his No. 1 son.”

“That’s good.” she whispered, “I’d hate to have thought he did it all on his own.”

“He’s been clearing up our messes for years–”

“I know.” Mary Ann glanced at him from the corner of her eye, “He tells me so all the time. I think he feels he would be safer on board Adam’s ship.”

They shared a laugh over that after which she drifted into sleep. Joe very carefully closed the door onto the room and left her in the peace and comfort of a healing and hopefully dreamless slumber.

Chapter 30

Henry tucked his pencil behind his ear and listened attentively to what he was being told. He nodded at intervals and his brow furrowed into corrugations so deep that Joe felt grateful that the man wasn’t bald. After Joe had concluded speaking Henry nodded, removed the pencil and jotted down a few sentences on his notepad. They made sense to him but not much to anyone else.

“Well, Joe, I’ve got to say I am more than glad to know that the little gal is safe and sound. Skeered the life outa me and no mistake.” He paused a while to lick the stub of his pencil and sketch something, which he handed to the younger man with another nod of his head. “That thar is an idea Adam and I kicked around at one time. What do you think? Do you think your lady will like it? All she’d have to do is open the doors up to look at the view when the weather were good and sunny.”

“It’s a good idea, Henry; you don’t think the doors would rattle too much when it got windy?”

“Only if you forget to put the bolts across ’em.” Henry grinned and closed the notepad. He glanced around the room and at the boarded up area where the window had once been. “I was mighty worried about that window, especially when the winds began to blow hard. That’s why I came on over, to check it out for myself.”

“I’m glad you did, Henry. If you hadn’t arrived when you did we would have had no chance of catching Paul until, possibly, it would have been too late.”

“Ah, well, best put it behind you now, son.” Henry nodded and tucked his note pad into a pocket, “I’ll get the doors made up to measure with the glass panels in ’em, and then come and sort out that wall.”

They shook hands in a companionabe manner before Henry left the house. It had been raining all day, which was preferable to the sleet and snow that had fallen previously. Joe looked around the big room of his house and gulped a little at the small indentations in the wood flooring. A permanent reminder of the amount of glass that had pierced the planks and had been so carefully removed by Hop Sing.

It could have been worse, he thought as he walked over to the boards and ran his hand across it as though to assure himself that it had been securely fastened down. It could have been far worse. She could have been killed. I wish to heaven I could get the memory of that moment out of my head.

He turned at the sound of the front door opening and then closing, footsteps sounded on the floorboards coming towards him. He called out, “Henry?”

“No, I just saw Henry on his way home.” Ben replied as he approached his son. He pulled off his gloves and looked around the room. “It’s a good sized room, Joe.”

“Yeah, I guess so.”

“Done much work here today?”

“No, not really. I can’t seem to get started on anything, to be honest. I just keep finding myself drawn to this room and remembering what happened. I–I just feel tight inside, Pa.”

“I can understand that, Joe. You could have lost her.” He put a sympathetic hand on Joe’s arm and looked into the anxious face that wouldn’t look at him or have eye contact with him, “Joe?”

“Yes, Pa?”

“You could have lost her–but you didn’t. That’s what you should be remembering, Joseph. She’s safe, and she wants this house ready to move into as soon as possible.” He raised his eyebrows in an expression of amusement. “Of course, we’re not exactly going to evict you both but she sure seems keen on having her own home.”

“I know she does.” Joe smiled and nodded. “Yeah, you’re right, Pa. I know she wants to have her own home, and I know that she could have died but didn’t. I should be grateful–so why is it that I’m not?”

“Human nature, son.” Ben placed a hand upon Joe’s shoulder and gave it a slight shake. “Human nature coupled by fear.” He walked some paces away into the other room.“What can I do to help, Joe?” He glanced over his shoulder at Joe, who was now walking towards him.

“Are you sure you’ve got the time, Pa?”

“I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t. The Ponderosa won’t collapse just because I want to come here for a while and give you a hand. Now, then, what can I do?”

“Help me with the planks for the flooring upstairs. There’s a saw over there and the wood upstairs is ready to be cut and laid.”

Ben smiled as he picked up the tools. He followed Joe and mounted the stairs until they reached the landing, then he looked down into the big room and nodded. “Kept pretty much to the pattern of the main house, didn’t he?”

“Yeah, Adam didn’t feel the need to change something we all love.” Joe replied quietly. “There’s a few changes though, just to make it more of Mary Ann’s own home rather than a copy of the Ponderosa.” He paused now and cleared his throat. “Thanks for coming, Pa.”

Ben merely smiled and set the tools down before he peeled off his jacket and vest. It wasn’t long before he was sawing and whistling along to the sound of Joe’s hammer hitting the nails into the wood. In some ways it reminded him of the time he had built the main house, with Hoss and Adam, as well as Hop Sing. Every so often he would pause as though to think back to a time that really seemed a mere blink of an eyelid away.

“Tempus fugit,” he muttered to himself.

“What’s that you said, Pa?” Joe paused in his hammering to look behind him at his father and Ben merely smiled, shook his head and recommenced his sawing.
…………………..

Marcy picked up the letters and placed them on a salver which she carried into the dining room where Olivia and Abigail were eating their breakfast. She placed it on the table beside her mistress and quietly left the room.

“That girl’s learning, Livvy. She’s going to turn into a real asset soon.” Abigail declared
with a smile as she looked over her shoulder to watch Marcy leave.

“Yes, she’s doing very well.” Olivia replied as she opened the first of her letters. Her face drained of colour before the blood returned to her cheeks, and she gasped a little at what she had read. Hoping that Abigail hadn’t noticed, she quickly reread it :

Don’t think I will forget that you couldn’t be bothered to come to my help when I needed it. Now I find out that my wife has deserted me as well. I suppose my dear mother couldn’t be trusted to come to my aid or do you fear that she would have given me the help and left you with less to filch from her. Don’t think I’m stupid, Olivia. I know what you are up to. You’re no saint behind that sweet face of yours and it won’t be long before people start to find out for themselves either.

My sentence will be over soon. I wouldn’t have been jailed at all if you had come and paid my fine.
Watch your back, Olivia.

He hadn’t bothered to sign it although there was little point anyway; it was clearly sent from Booth. Olivia slipped it into an envelope and then tore it in half before throwing it onto the fire. For a moment she watched it as the corners blackened and then suddenly erupted into flames of their own that danced upon the surface of the paper.

“Was it bad news, Livvy?” Abbi asked with an anxious expression on her face.

“No, not really. Nothing that we need worry about, Abbi.”

But she was worried. Even though the accusations were lies, the thought that anyone would think she was capable to taking money from Abigail made Olivia’s stomach turn over. What if people did believe it? What would happen? She looked at the old lady eating her breakfast so carefully, making sure that nothing was spilled or dropped because she was afraid if she did, it would be an indication of her dementia claiming her for the day. That was Abbi’s constant fear and her overriding passion, to hide the fact that she was slowly losing grip of her faculties.

Olivia shivered and picked up the other envelope which she opened carefully with her eyes still on the flames that were consuming Booth’s missive. She now turned her attention to the letter that she had extracted.

Dear Mrs. Phillips,
I have sent several letters over the past weeks but received no reply. Consequently I have become increasing concerned about yourself and Mrs. Phillips Snr.
I would be grateful if you would permit me to call at your home tomorrow at 10.00 a.m. as I have important matters to discuss with you.
Yours sincerely,
A. Galbraith
Solicitor & Commissioner of Oaths

She glanced at the clock and was relieved to see there was plenty of time yet to prepare for Mr. Galbraith’s visit. She smiled at Abigail who was watching her with eyes as round as saucers. There was no denying the fact that the old lady was concerned, so Olivia reached out and placed her hand on hers as it rested upon the table.

“Mr. Galbraith is coming to see us, Abbi.”

“Galbraith? Why? I’m not changing my will again,” Abigail grumbled peevishly.

“I doubt that it has anything at all to do with your will,” Olivia replied. “Now, excuse me while I go and have a word with Marcy.”

“Who’s Marcy?” Abigail asked and looked into the shadows.

“I won’t be a moment.” Olivia slipped from her chair and hurried out of the room.

Marcy stopped brushing Sofia’s hair to smile over at Olivia. She hadn’t been employed as a nanny or nursery maid, but it seemed that since O’Flannery was so efficient at most things, Marcy’s duties had fallen mainly into caring for the two young children. She didn’t mind; it was a pleasure for her, and as she was the third of seven children, she was quite adept at handling the two of them. Now she watched as Olivia, after kissing both children, stood in the middle of the room and looked at a loss for words.

“Anything wrong, Ma’am?” Marcy looked anxiously at Olivia who produced the envelope from Galbriath and showed it to her,

“Marcy, have any letters arrived that looked like this one?”

Marcy blushed and looked uncomfortable and her fingers twitched nervously on the shoulders of the little girl who looked up at her as though to see what was wrong. “Yes, Ma’am.”

“How many?” Olivia fought to keep her voice from shaking as a thought, nebulous though it was, began to form at the back of her mind.

“Two, maybe three.”

“What did you do with them?” It was becoming difficult to get the words out, her chest was beginning to feel tight.

“Why, I put them on the tray like usual.” Marcy frowned and then nodded, “I remember one time though Mr. Booth took the letter and said it was for him, so I never thought to mention it.”

“Did he–did he take any others?” The fear had become reality and inside she was now shaking at the thought of Booth reading the letters that must have mentioned him.

“I don’t think so. I don’t know, Ma’am.”

“But couldn’t you see that the envelopes were addressed to me, Marcy? They should have come to me.”

Marcy covered her face with her hands and shook her head. When she eventually lowered her hands she whispered, “I’m sorry, Ma’am, but I can’t read that fancy joined up writing. Mr. Booth said it was for him, so who was I to argue with him?”

Olivia shook her head and put a hand on Marcy’s shoulder, patted it absent-mindedly and muttered something along the lines that it didn’t matter.

“Did I do wrong, Ma’am? I’m so sorry. Please don’t send me away.”

“Oh, Marcy–” Olivia’s shoulders sagged; she felt tired and had a headache slowly descending with a relentless heaviness. “Marcy, I wouldn’t dream of sending you away. Please don’t worry about it.” She smiled at the young woman, who looked so relieved that it reassured Olivia that somewhere, someone did care about her after all.

“Ma, are you mad at Uncle Booth?” Reuben was standing right beside her now looking at her with knitted brow and stubborn jaw. “He hasn’t been home and Aunty Morgan has gone away.”

“I know.” She tweaked his chin and forced a smile before leaving the room with shaking legs and the hope that she would be able to sit before she fell down.

There was only one other letter on the salver, one with foreign stamps and she picked it up and wondered from where it could have come. When she actually read the letter she felt a warm glow flush over her and had to blink back tears. What a consolation that a man so far away would have given even ten minutes of his time to bother writing to her. What a joy to know that it was the same man who had, over the past few months, crept into her mind time and again.

“Is it from the government?” Abigail’s thin voice enquired as she watched Olivia slip the envelope into her pocket. “Will it be going into the fire as well?”

“No, dear, this one won’t be going into the fire,” she replied with a smile and then leaned forward. “Come, Abigail, finish your breakfast; don’t forget we have a visitor soon.”

………………………..

Richard Selkirk swirled the whiskey round in the glass before he raised it to his nose, sniffed, inhaled the aroma of the malt and then drank it. He nodded appreciatively.

“It’s a good whiskey,” he observed to the commodore and then he looked at the other officers in the room and frowned, “Is it me, or am I the only one who is looking forward to going to China?”

“I’m not particularly happy with the assignment,” O’Brien admitted with his glass cupped between his hands. He had spent the last five minutes staring down into the amber liquid; now he wished that Selkirk hadn’t asked, and more importantly, that he hadn’t answered. He looked up and saw Adam’s brown eyes fixed on him and shrugged, “Well, it seemed to me that the commodore–Boyd–and the two surviving captains looked exhausted and wary, as though they had reached the end of their tether a long time ago and were annoyed at our arriving late.”

“We’re not late.” Adam said quietly.

“No; I know that, but in their eyes we are, we should have come before they lost their companion ship.” O’Brien swallowed some of the whiskey and shook his head. “Never mind, I guess we have no choice in the matter.”

“Of course we don’t,” Selkirk said promptly. “We’ve got our orders and we comply with them. That’s what elevates us above the ranks of ordinary seamen.” He drained the last drops from his glass and held it in a manner indicating he required a refill.

“Ordinary seamen receive their orders and comply with them, Captain Selkirk.” Adam replied as he leaned forward to pour a little more whiskey into the glass. “We have the advantage over them, poor wretches.”

“Really? How so?” Selkirk said and narrowed his eyes to observe the commodore more attentively.

“They can’t approach us and beg to be excused duty because they don’t like their assignment, can they?”

“Well, none of us are going to do that, are we?” Selkirk tossed back the whiskey and unbuttoned his jacket.

“No, but we do have the right to do so if necessary.” Adam looked at Hathaway and raised an eyebrow as he held the whiskey bottle aloft, and then refilled Aaron’s glass. “Of course it would be up to the commanding officer’s judgement whether or not the request would be granted.”

“Is that your subtle way of letting us know that we can approach you and request a transfer?” Selkirk looked at the others and then laughed. “Well, you won’t get any such request from me.”

Hathaway looked at Adam and wondered if, indeed, that had been the reason for Adam’s comment. He knew more than most how great a friendship the commodore had for O’Brien, so it was more than possible. He then glanced at O’Brien but that officer had his head lowered and was still staring blankly into the glass.

“If any man on board my ship dares to ‘request’ leaving this assignment I’ll have him flogged.”

This statement from Selkirk was delivered with such confidence and certainty of its acceptance that the other three men in the room could only stare at him in disbelief. O’Brien’s mouth actually fell open in astonishment, while Hathaway’s eyes swivelled from Selkirk to Adam who had risen from his chair and seemed now to tower over them.
“Not while you are under my command, Captain.”

Adam’s voice was clipped, cold and eyes were close to black as he glowered at Selkirk who looked amazed at the commodore.

“Of course, I forgot, you didn’t serve under the mast to gain your stripes, did you?” Selkirk replied.

The atmosphere in the room plummeted to freezing. O’Brien half rose from his seat and then sat back down again. This was Adam’s argument and he could deal with it himself. All the same the younger man felt the insult thrown at the commodore by Selkirk.

“Captain Selkirk, I think you have drunk too much so, on this occasion your comment will be overlooked. As regards flogging any man on board your ship…” Adam frowned. “I am hoping that you refrain from such comments in future. Some people may actually believe that you break the law by committing the act.”

Selkirk lowered his head and his bottom lip protruded while his brows furrowed. He then nodded. “You’re quite right, Commodore, I offer you my apologies. I enjoy a drink–or two–but it sometimes makes me speak out of turn. As for flogging–well, in my opinion it was one of the worse things that could have happened in the Navy, to forbid the doing of it.”

“You mean, you actually advocate the use of flogging to discipline your men?” Hathaway said in disbelief.

“I’ve served under numerous captains who flogged their men, even after Filmore abolished the practice in 1855. It toughened them up.” Selkirk rose to his feet and looked at Adam as though seeing him for the first time, “I joined the Navy when I was a boy, 14 years old. I earned my stripes the hard way, Commodore, saw many a flogging too. Some officers still prefer it to any other form of punishment if the men become unruly.”

“If the men become unruly then the captain is at fault.” Adam replied and then shrugged, “I think it better if you returned to your ship, Captain Selkirk. We’ll meet again tomorrow and discuss things more fully then.”

Selkirk allowed a small smile to play about his lips. He nodded at his fellow captains and then saluted Adam before leaving the quarters. O’Brien released his breath in a loud gasp of disbelief. “Surely he can’t be serious! Any officer who flogs a man today is guilty of a crime and would be court martialed.”

“What do you know about Selkirk? Either of you know about him at all?” Adam looked at them both, but they shook their heads.

“I’ve heard it whispered here and there that some officers still flog their men, but never known it to happen for sure,” Hathaway said.

Adam nodded and stretched out his legs having resumed his chair. He looked at them both, “Well, how do you both feel about this assignment? Is Selkirk right? He’s obviously spoiling for a fight, and no doubt will be a good man to have on one’s side should an attack on us take place. But what about you two?” He looked at O’Brien for a long moment before turning his eyes to Hathaway.

“It’s always a worry when married, Adam, that an assignment so far from home, and maybe for quite a long time–well–it can cause a man to feel that perhaps he should resign. Wife and family, hearth and home–that kind of thing.” O’Brien’s lips twisted into a parody of a smile, his face registered some kind of torture going on inside his head.
“I’m alright about it, sir. I don’t have any ties like Captain O’Brien,” Hathaway said.

“What about your fellow officers? Myers and Munnings?”

“They’re looking forward to it, sir. Never been to China before.”

“And your officers, O’Brien? What about them?” Adam’s voice softened a little as he waited for his friend to answer.

“They’re alright about it, Adam. They’re both good men. I’m proud to be serving with them all.” O’Brien smiled but his eyes were still anxious.

“Very well. Let’s end it here for tonight. We’ll meet again tomorrow. We’ll need to discuss tactics as well as other things.”

“Do you think Selkirk can be trusted, Adam?” O’Brien asked just as he was about to leave the cabin.

“I think he’ll be trouble some way or another. He obviously resents being under the command of someone who didn’t serve in the Navy from the age of 10! But at the same time I think when it comes to fighting we can rely on him.”

“And is that all that matters?”

“No, not really,” Adam replied anxiously.

“That’s what I thought too,” O’Brien sighed and then left his friend alone in the cabin.
Adam heard their footsteps retreating along the companionway. He shook his head and considered ruefully, more than ever, the distance between the Baltimore and the Ponderosa.

Chapter 31

Galbraith was a man who oozed affability. He was fat and jolly, with the ruddy complexion of a man suffering from high blood pressure and obesity. His fingers resembled pleasantly plump sausages. He always wore clothes one size too large for him in order to appear slimmer than he actually was. “Look at me,” his suits seemed to shout. “The man’s wasting away, we’re dropping off him!”

It was the firmness of his handshake and the steel in his eyes that made the discerning client realise that Mr. Galbraith was not a man to be fooled with or one to consider easily duped. He approached each client differently according to their attitude towards him. He was a man with sensitive feelings and reacted accordingly.

Olivia rose from her chair as soon as the solicitor had entered the room. She shook his hand warmly. He looked about and selected a chair that seemed strong enough to accept his ample proportions without too much stress. “Mrs. Phillips, it’s a pleasure to meet you again.” He released her hand and then shook Abigail’s. “Are you well, my dear lady?”

“Well enough,” Abigail replied sharply. “I’m not making another will, Amos.”

“I’ve not come to worry you about making wills and such like.” He smiled and unbuttoned his coat before easing back a little. “I’m afraid it’s something serious.”

“Mr. Galbraith,” Olivia sat down and clasped her hands tightly in her lap, “We didn’t receive your other letters. I’m afraid they were taken by my brother-in-law, Booth. He never mentioned anything about them to us, and…” She stopped at the look on his face and her brow crinkled into a frown, “Is it about Booth that you wished to speak?”

“Indeed it is.” He heaved a sigh and was about to say more when Marcy reappeared with the trolley laden with coffee pot, tea pot, milk, and all the paraphernalia that indicated refreshments. He paused to wait until everything was in place and the girl had left the room. “I’ll have coffee, my dear. Milk and two sugars.” He leaned over the trolley to scrutinise the the cakes “And some of that ginger cake.”

Olivia provided everything as requested, although her hand was shaking slightly as she tried to think of everything Galbraith might discuss. Galbraith sighed with pleasure after the first bite of cake and nodded approval. The fact that the two women seemed about to pass out from fear didn’t seem to occur to him. He dabbed at his mouth and then set the empty plate and cup on the trolley before he surveyed the ladies seriously.

“Booth Phillips.”

Abigail jumped as though she had just been startled out of a sleep. It was the tone of Amos Galbraith’s voice and Booths name that had caused the nervous reaction, and she licked her lips and had to cough to clear her throat. Olivia felt the hair on the back of her neck stand on end; her hands tightened together.

“Abigail, I wrote firstly to you because it was between the two of us that agreement had been made about employing Booth. He came to the office for three days and never turned up again. We heard no more from him, and we also heard nothing from you.”

“We didn’t know–” Olivia said immediately. “Abigail and I, Morgan…none of us realised he was not going to your office to work. He left every morning at the right time and returned home as expected. We only found out the truth very recently.” She looked down at her hands and wished they wouldn’t shake so much.

“Booth has always been a disappointment,” Abigail intoned, “His wife has gone, you know.” She scowled at Galbriath as though it were his fault. “Left him. I can’t blame her for that, as he treated her very badly.”

“It seems, my dear lady, that he has treated you all very badly.” His eyes strayed to the chocolate cake and he frowned, then looked at Olivia. “I was surprised at not receiving any reply to my letters, especially as we knew how thorough you were, Mrs. Phillips, in handling matters. Now, I have to approach you on a matter of some delicacy.”

Olivia nodded, her mouth too dry to answer. She looked at Abigail who was staring at Amos with intense concentration. Galbraith took a deep breath.

“I received a letter from Mrs. Morgan Phillips requesting divorce proceedings be instigated against Booth. She cited a list of things that prompted me to check over matters relating to your estate.” His eyes then flicked to Abigail. “As well as your own.”

Abigail sighed and shook her head, “I gave a large amount of money to my son recently. It was to pay off his debts. It seems he used it only to make even more.”

“You are quite correct. Sadly so, in my opinion.” He folded his hands over his ample stomach and cleared his throat. “In checking over various papers in your files, Mrs. Phillips, we noticed that the title deeds to this property were missing.”

Olivia didn’t move. For a moment the statement meant nothing to her at all. She then looked at Abigail who was frowning and looking confused. She shook her head. “I’m sorry, Mr. Galbraith, but what do you mean?”

“What I say, Ma’am. The title deeds of this property have disappeared. Some papers relating to shares and investments made out in your husband’s name have also disappeared.”

“You–you think Booth took them?” She spoke in a low voice, almost too low for Galbraith to hear the words. “What would be the point of him doing that?”

“We’re not sure. I came really to make sure that you hadn’t at some time called into the offices to claim them yourself. As you obviously know nothing about the matter then the only other person to be involved would be your brother-in-law. I can only assume that he took them while he was coming to the office. For some reason he must have taken them with a view to benefiting himself by so doing.”

“He could gamble them away. He could use them as collateral against his debts, couldn’t he?”

“That’s very much what I fear.” He sighed and shook his head, “Although they are in your name the fact that he actually has them in his possession would lead others to believe that you handed them to him willingly. It would be forced upon you to prove legal ownership.”

“You mean, go to court?” she replied, shaking her head. “But, Mr. Galbraith, surely not.”

“You’re a woman, Mrs. Phillips. Even in our enlightened times–” he paused as though to reconsider the words just uttered but then continued on regardless “it is rare for a woman to possess a house in her own name. The shares and such are still in the name of your husband. Deceased. Booth can quite easily claim they now have been passed to him.”

She shook her head, the frown deepened on her brow and she looked over at Abigail as though the old lady could make more sense of it. Galbriath now looked at the senior Mrs. Phillips and cleared his throat.

“I’m afraid, Abigail, that your son forged your name on a cheque and paid himself a large sum of money from your account.”

“What does that mean?” Abigail asked and shook her head, “What money?”

“It seems that he looked over the will you had recently signed and decided it wasn’t to his liking. He has taken a large sum from your account.”

“How large?” Olivia asked quietly.

“Large enough to make life a lot harder for you both.”

“Abigail’s money doesn’t affect me, Mr. Galbraith. She pays nothing to me, only the wages for the cook. I wouldn’t dream of taking anything from her.”

“Well, to be honest, Mrs. Phillips, you were the main beneficiary to her will. There wouldn’t be much left should anything happen to her in the next two years.”

“Has he taken anything else?” She was surprised at how firm and stoic her voice sounded, and hoped that it fooled him as much.

“Not that we are aware of at present.”

They sat in silence for some minutes, each caught up in their own thoughts. Eventually Olivia asked him for some advice and was told that there really was very little advice he could give her.

“You see, by law you have been put in the position of having to prove legal ownership of this property and the rightful owner of the shares which were in your husband’s name. It will cost you a lot of money to prove it.”

“Couldn’t we have him arrested for theft? After all, he stole them from your office, Mr. Galbriath.”

He winced as though she had made some personal attack upon him. “I fully acknowledge that fact, Mrs. Phillips. But no one saw him do it.”

“Oh, for goodness sake, since when does a thief declare his intentions to all and sundry?” she snapped. “Of course no one saw him do it. The fact remains that the papers were in your office, in your safekeeping and now they have gone. If Booth can be arrested and found with them in his possession that proves his theft. We can retrieve them and get the matter settled without going to court.”

“He could say you gave them to him,” Galbraith murmured.

“Well, you know that is not true. They were–”

He raised a plump hand as though in surrender, “I know, I understand. We trusted him and have to accept full blame for what happened as a result. I apologise most sincerely.” he put a hand on his chest, “I truly do. I shall do everything in my power to locate them and your brother-in-law.”

“Will you?” She looked at him gratefully, then looked at Abigial who was still staring at the far wall with a blank expression on her face., “Oh, Mr. Galbraith, I am but a woman, and to be honest, I don’t really understand how to proceed. Abigail is–well–as you can see, she isn’t really very well just now. I have no one to whom I can turn for assistance and advice.”

“You can rely on my help, Mrs. Phillips. I feel most responsible with regard to this matter.”

“What could Booth do with regard to the title deeds?”

“He could sell the house. He could gamble them away. All he needs to do is surrender the deeds to the right people and they will serve as proof of ownership.”

“So we could be thrown out of here?”

“Yes,” he nodded. “That’s why you need to get them back as soon as possible. If you can’t then you are forced into having to prove ownership. That will take time and money.”

“Has he–has he touched any of my money?”

“Not to my knowledge.”

With surprising agility for a man so large he got up from the chair, shook their hands and assured them of his best attentions in the future. He left the room slightly perspiring, whether from the warmth engendered there or from the topic of conversation no one was too sure.
As the front door closed behind him, Olivia was left feeling totally crushed. The fear that a stranger could come and evict her from her own home made her feel sick. The fact that Booth had practically emptied his mother’s bank account made her seethe with anger. After some moments she mumbled a hurried excuse to leave the room and ran to her bedroom where she fell upon her bed and burst into a fit of sobbing. How useless and how alone she now felt. How utterly defenceless.

Chapter 32

Mary Ann Cartwright watched as Hester gently nursed her baby. Sunlight, pale and wintry, brought a soft mellow glow to the room and emphasised the peacefulness therein. A mother, her suckling child and the young woman who was reclining upon the bed. A fire, although small, warmed the room pleasantly.

“Did you expect to have a child so soon after being married, Hester?”

Hester smiled down at Hannah and then raised her head to look at Mary Ann, and shook her head. “To be honest with you, Mary Ann, I didn’t expect to have any children at all.”

“Really? Why not?”

“I had been married before, and very happily. We were both young and healthy but I never conceived during the years we were together. I rather suspected that I was barren.” She removed Hannah, who was fluttering her eyelids as though about to fall asleep. “I was more than surprised to find that I was, indeed, conceived” She began to rub the baby’s back gently, while her other hand supported its head with its mouth dribbling milk.
“Why do you ask?”

“You’re such a natural mother. I wondered if I could–well–manage as well as you do.”

“Do you want to have children then?”

“I’m rather under the impression that there’s not much one can do to stop them coming along.” Mary Ann pulled a wry face, and then blushed a little. “I’m afraid I’m rather ignorant about such things.”

“Celibacy is probably the only method of prevention that I know about that is one hundred percent certain,” Hester laughed and Hannah obliged with a big burp which surprised even herself as she opened one eye to see who the culprit could have been.
“But if you want children–” she shrugged and stood up, walking towards the window with Hannah against her shoulder.

“We haven’t discussed it,” Mary Ann sighed, and closed her eyes. She was tired, and with the best will in the world was somewhat frustrated at just how weak she still felt.

“I think I’ll go and see how Ann is while the sun is shining. Do rest, dear, and don’t worry about anything.”

“I won’t.” Mary Ann slipped further down into her bed; how heavy her eyes were now, how her bones ached, and it seemed as though every cut and bruise on her body joined in adding to her pain. “Hester, could I have some laudanum?”

“Oh, are you feeling unwell? Dear girl, why didn’t you say? There I have been prattling on about nothing…” Hester hurried to the side table after hastily depositing Hannah onto the bed.

She shook the bottle and then measured out a dose that she felt would ease Mary Ann’s pains, then smiled as her ‘patient’ dutifully swallowed it and nodded her thanks. Heavy eyes closed. “Thank you, Hester.”

“Sleep well, dear.”

Mary Ann didn’t hear the door close. By the time Hester had placed Hannah into her little crib and wrapped her with her softest blanket, Mary Ann was fast asleep.

……………….

It was good to get out into the fresh air. Hop Sing had been more than pleased to accept his role as nursemaid for the baby and Mary Ann. The house glowed in the light of the sun and it took little time to get the horse harnessed. It wasn’t long before Hester was on the way to Ann and Candy’s house. With a smile on her face she let the horse trot along at a pleasant speed while she allowed the clean fresh breeze to brush against her cheeks and bring some colour into them and a lustre to her blue eyes.

It was a familiar route, and she turned out of the Ponderosa track onto the main road to town, later turning off towards what had been the Pearsons’ house. It was here at the junction that one of the wheels caught in a rut and sank slowly into the muddy waters.

“Oh botheration.”

She hauled her skirts up and clambered down, slipping a little before her boots held fast upon the mud that had been churned up by the rain. She looked thoughtfully at the wheel and shook her head, placed her hands on her hips and gave the wheel a hefty kick.

“You just would do that, wouldn’t you?” She hissed and walked over to the horse, grabbed at the reins, and tried to coax the animal forwards.

The horse was a docile obedient creature and did as she was bid; the buggy lurched a little and then fell back into the hole. Hester was annoyed beyond measure and even the horse looked surprised.
“Can I help?”

She was a tall woman and could see over the back of the horse the owner of the voice. A man in his early 40’s, she judged from the way his eyes crinkled, although the rest of his face was somewhat obscured by the muffler he wore about his neck and jaw.

“The wheel seems stuck quite fast in the rut,” she said in exasperated tones.

“I could see.” He smiled and dismounted, walked around the back of the vehicle and looked at the wheel.

He was tall, taller than she but not as tall as Hoss. She judged him to be just on 6 ft. He nudged his hat back with his gloved hand and nodded. “Well and truly stuck fast.”

“That’s what I said.” she sighed, and shrugged.

“I’ll see if I can lift the wheel while you encourage the horse.”

She nodded and returned to the horse, took the reins and urged it forwards while the man strained to lift the wheel. It turned and seemed to roll free for a little way before settling down once again.

“If you get in the buggy and get the horse to walk on, I’ll push from behind.”

“Are you sure?” Hester asked anxiously as she remembered doing just that once before and Joe, hapless lad, had fallen flat on his face in the mud as the buggy had freed itself.
“Well, we can but try.”

“If you say so.” She clambered into the buggy, glanced with exasperation at the mud clinging to the hem of her skirt and on her boots and then flicked the reins.

The horse pricked up her ears and with a nod of the head did exactly that, there was a slurping noise as the wheel rolled free from the mud and the buggy continued on its way.
She leaned to one side to look back and saw her rescuer mounting his horse. Obviously his sense of timing was a vast improvement on Joe’s. She smiled her thanks.

“That was very kind of you; thank you.”

“My pleasure.” He removed his hat and gave her a generous grin back; his eyes twinkled and she could see that her judgment of his age was correct. He had a craggy face, one that bore the testimony to a hard life.

“It’s unusual to find people around here. Are you new to the area?”

“I am, Ma’am, I’m living in Virginia City at present and thought I’d ride out to visit a friend of mine. Unfortunately he’s recently died so it was a wasted trip. Well, almost a wasted trip.”

“Are you referring to Andrew Pearson?”

“The very same. I knew him many years ago.”

She forebore to say anything else, but thanked him again for his help and was about to flick the reins once again when he leaned in towards her and introduced himself “The name’s Logan, Ma’am.” He put out his hand, which she felt obliged to take and shake. “Sure would like to know the name of the damsel in distress I rescued today.”

“Hester–Hester Cartwright.”

“A pleasure meeting you, Hester Cartwright.”

He tipped his hat and moved the horse further to one side so that she had plenty of room to manouvre through the corner without going into any more ruts. As she turned into the track leading to Ann’s house she could see him still sitting in the saddle watching her. For some reason that fact alone made her shiver.

Logan Edwardson finally turned his horse in the direction of town. He thought about the strange way fate had of throwing things in a man’s direction. The coppery gold curls that had drifted loose from Hester’s head covering and her sapphire blue eyes had quite entranced him. A romantic at heart, he wondered who Hester Cartwright was, and whereabouts she came from, and whether or not she was free to ‘get to know better’.

That thought made him smile slowly, for he was a man who didn’t much care about the conventions in life. As far as he was concerned Hester Cartwright was a woman whom he wanted to know better, and therefore, he would!

Hester was greeted by her cousin with a hug and kiss, and a delighted exclamation of pleasure at seeing her there.

“I wasn’t expecting any visitors. It seems such a long time since you were here, Hester.” She helped the other woman off with her outer garments and tossed them all onto a chair.
“How is Mary Ann?”

“Recovering slowly. She lost a lot more blood than one first thought and some of the cuts were quite deep.” She shook her hair loose and then hurried towards the fire, “Oh, it’s getting so cold.”

Once she was seated and enjoying a cup of hot tea Hester asked Ann why Paul had been visiting. Was something wrong? Was there some good news to share? Had Rose been ill? Ann laughed and shook her head,
“Oh Hester, I told you the next one I had would be a boy, didn’t I? Why did you think I said that? I wasn’t sure at the time but now I am. Paul was visiting the Pritchards and promised to call in on me while he was this way.”

Talk naturally fell into a discussion about their various offspring, husbands and future hopes. It was getting to the time when Hester needed to think about returning home that she asked Ann if she had actually had a gentleman caller that day.

“Why yes, I had forgotten.” Ann frowned, “A friend of Andrew Pearson’s. He seemed surprised to learn that Andrew was dead.”

“Did he give you his name?”

“Logan Edwardson. He looked pleasant enough, just apologised for bothering me and left. Did you meet him on the way here?”

“Yes, I did.” Hester replied and told Ann about what had taken place. “He made a point of shaking hands and wanting to know my name.”

“Well, he did with me too.”

Hester smiled, felt a little less nervous about the matter and stood up. “I had better go, Ann. Thank you for this afternoon. Try and visit us when you can.”

Promises were made, kisses exchanged and then they parted. Rose’s cries for attention from her mother drifted through the door and followed Hester up the little path way to the buggy. As Hester turned the buggy in the direction of home, the first drops of rain heralded the downpour that was to follow.
…………………..

Hester arrived home not long after her husband and father-in-law. Joe was still absent as he had been assigned to check out the timber camp further to the north of the Ponderosa with the possibility of not returning home until the following day.

“Hester, what in tarnation do you think you’re doing getting yourself soaked through like this?” Hoss looked at his bedraggled wife in horror and hurried to help her off with her coat.

“Hoss, will you promise me that you’ll still fuss like this when I’m 60?” she teased as she placed her shawl onto a hook.

“I promise,” he said solemnly and leaned down to help pull off her boots. “Where’ve you been?”

“I went to see Ann. Has Candy mentioned anything to you about anything?”

“Anything about anything?” Ben chuckled. “That could mean just about–well–anything!”

She placed a hand on Hoss’ broad shoulder and balanced on one leg as he pulled off another boot. “Well, it seems that they’re expecting another baby.” She planted a kiss on Hoss’ cheek as he straightened up. “I’ll just go and change my skirt.”

Ben smiled as she passed him, bestowing a kiss on his cheek as she did so. He winked over at Hoss and then strolled over to his chair. The rain had made his bones ache and was yet another cruel reminder that he was no longer young. He reached for his pipe and tobacco pouch and thoughtfully plugged the bowl before striking a match.

Hester returned wearing a clean dress, with the baby in her arms and a smile on her face. She paused at the bottom step to look at her Hoss and Ben, and it seemed to her that her whole life was caught up with them so much that she could barely remember a time before she had met them. Hannah made some gurgling sounds that drew Hoss’ attention to them both and brought a smile to his face.

“You sure look pretty, Hester.”

Ben glanced up and smiled at her. Yes, he thought, she does look pretty. Her hair, still damp from the rain, had sprung into a mass of curls that gleamed that perfect red-gold colour that was so truly fascinating. His smile softened even more when he looked at the baby she held in her arms. Hoss’ daughter. Ben still couldn’t believe that there had been so many changes in such a short time. It didn’t seem that long ago that he was telling Adam –well, he was telling Adam that the three of them seemed to get as nervous as kittens when a woman talked about marriage to any of them. Now here were two of them married.

“Daydreaming, Pa?”

She was standing close to him and reached out to touch his shoulder but he caught hold of her hand in his own and held it for a moment before he nodded, released her hand and replied that yes, he had indeed been daydreaming.

Chapter 33

“Officer boarding.”

The call brought about an immediate response as the ships crew assembled and Adam was piped on board Selkirk’s ship. He had chosen to use the Baltimore’s skiff and was rowed over and boarded by means of the Jacobs ladder.

Selkirk was present to greet him with a salute, and after Adam had responded to the welcome given him by the other officers and men, he followed the captain to his quarters.

“A pleasure to have you on board, Commodore,” Selkirk said and gestured to a chair in a room that appeared much smaller than Adam’s due to the amount of clutter everywhere.

Adam moved a pile of books from a chair and sat down. He glanced around the cabin until his brown gaze settled upon the other officer, who had chosen to perch on the corner of his desk. Selkirk had his arms folded across his chest and his face wore an attentive look.

“Captain Selkirk, I thought it better that I came to see you privately in order to talk over various matters with you out of the hearing of the other officers.”

“Ah, I’m about to be getting a rap across the knuckles for what I said, am I?” He raised his eyebrows as though he was neither surprised nor ‘afraid’ of such an action.

“Not at all. You are, after all, at a disadvantage, as I know both O’Brien and Hathaway well. They’ve served under my command for some time now and have become trusted officers as well as good friends. You, however, I know very little about.” Adam paused and looked at Selkirk thoughtfully. “Apart from what I’ve read in the information about you, that is. Likewise, you know very little about me.”

Selkirk allowed a small smile to lurk on the corners of his mouth but his eyes remained remote, unimpressed. It left Adam feeling as though he were talking to a brick wall.
“It would be interesting to know what information you do have on me, Commodore.” He stroked his beard and frowned slightly. “Mere facts and details of birth and such I assume.”

“You assume correctly.”

“Well, I ain’t never married and so far as I know I have no children. I was born in Georgia and ran away to sea as soon as I could because I couldn’t stand the beatings I got from my drunk of a father. So I exchanged them for the thrashings from the men I sailed with instead.” He looked over at Adam and again raised his eyebrows, “I’m in my mid-forties, I’ve worked hard for my captaincy, and I’m prepared to continue to do so in order to keep it.”

“Do you feel then that you are under some threat of losing it?” Adam now raised his eyebrows and looked at the other man with narrowed eyes.

“I got the impression that you weren’t overly appreciative of my comments last night.”

“A man has the right to speak freely, sir, so long as he speaks in full knowledge of the facts. Tact and good manners should dictate how else he should speak.” Adam frowned and pursed his lips slightly even as he looked away from Selkirk to view the sea from the porthole.

“So now you say I have no tact or good manners?” Selkirk sneered which brought Adam’s attention immediately back to him.

“You’re very quick to take offence, Captain Selkirk. That was not my meaning at all. It was a generalisation only.”

“Really?” Selkirk shrugged. He stood up to open the door and bellow, “Bellamy, bring in some coffee.”

He slammed the door shut and then turned to Adam who remained seated and looking coolly, thoughtfully, at him.
“I know you served under Greaves in the Redoubt and the Ainola,” Selkirk offered. “He was your first captain, wasn’t he?”

“He was,” Adam nodded slowly and narrowed his eyes as he tried to fathom what was going through Selkirk’s mind.

“You’d never been on board ship until then, had you?”

Adam pursed his lips and once again nodded. “Correct.”

“Suddenly within a few years you’re a first lieutenant, then a captain, and now–commodore.” Selkirk’s lips thinned bitterly. “For sure, you must have been born under a lucky star.”

“It wasn’t that easy, Selkirk. I worked as hard for my commission as you ever have.”

“How so? I’ve served in the navy since a boy, fought during the war for the North, and got to be captain just two years ago. It don’t seem rightly fair to me.”

Adam gave a slight roll of the shoulders and looked down at the floor as he thought over what Selkirk had said. The door opened and Bellamy entered with a tray. He poured the coffee into mugs and handed them to Selkirk and Adam. He performed every activity in total silence before disappearing and closing the door behind him.

Selkirk went on. “You have to forgive me for being a mite outspoken about things, Commodore. You see, I don’t understand how a man can go about riding a horse and chasing cows, to becoming a commodore of the navy within a few short years.”

“Yet if you were to leave the navy and decide to run a cattle ranch you wouldn’t expect anyone to raise objections, would you?” Adam looked at him over the rim of the mug from which the steam rose from the coffee, tantalising with its bitter aroma.

“Ain’t the same thing.”

“Captain Selkirk, I’m not here to apologise for who I am, or what I am. The fact remains that I’m the man who has been appointed in charge of this situation. I need to know that I can rely on you. I want to be sure that you and your ship’s complement will be ready to jump when I say so. Do I make myself clear?”

Selkirk once again allowed a small smile to play around his mouth and his eyes lit up with something that made Adam feel uncomfortable.

“You made yourself clear enough last night, Commodore. Yes, you can rely on us to back you up and do as you say. I ain’t a man to run from a fight.”

“Hopefully there won’t be any.” Adam frowned. “But we have our orders and have to comply with them.”

He stood up and put the mug down. “I’d like a look around your ship, sir.”

Selkirk frowned, looked surprised and then nodded. “Very well.” His voice was tense but he walked to the door and opened it, “Bellamy–”

The steward appeared once again. “Muster the men. Ship’s inspection.” He glanced sideways at Adam, a sharp cutting look that showed little respect. “After you, Commodore.”

Adam picked up his hat and donned it slowly. It occurred to him that had Selkirk had a knife on him at that moment it would very likely be sticking in his back by the time he reached the door.

The officers and men were on deck for inspection by the time they had reached there. Afterwards Selkirk showed Adam around every inch of the ship and as he did so, pride in his vessel thawed him a little, while Adam’s knowledge of everything on board ship appeared not only to impress him but gain him a little respect. It was clear to Adam that the man loved every nook and cranny of the Pennsylvania, and despite the mess in his own apartments the ship was impressive in its condition. Whatever had to be polished, or cleaned, had been done so to the highest degree possible. The boilers were immaculate and the ammunitions room was beyond fault.

It struck Adam as he was shown around the ship that Selkirk was like some garrulous old woman who was protectively defensive of her territory. Once she was able to show off her ‘children’ the layers were stripped off to lay bare her vulnerability. By the time Selkirk had reached the Jacobs ladder down which Adam would descend to his skiff, he had become remarkably human.
……………………

Adam wasn’t really sure whether he had gained a friend, an ally or antagonist by his visit. He was puzzling over the matter when he boarded the Baltimore and found O’Brien on deck with Hathaway and Munnings.

“Good morning, gentlemen.” He smiled at them and accepted their salutes. “O’Brien, any news?”

“No, sir. Nothing to report.” Daniel replied, “I saw you leave for the Pennsylvania and wondered how things had gone with Selkirk.”

“Ah, well.” Adam shrugged and rubbed his jaw, then pulled a wry face. “Captain Selkirk is a man with sensitive feelings.”

“He made that obvious last night.” Hathaway muttered.

Munnings had tactfully withdrawn, appreciating that this was a matter for the Captains to discuss without him being in earshot. O’Brien turned to lean against the ship’s bulwark and looked down at the waves licking against the sides, “He’s fought several duels, you know.”

Adam looked at Daniel in surprise and his friend nodded as though to confirm his own words. “I heard it from one of my own men who had served under him for some years. He’s a loose cannon, Adam.”

“Daniel, for a start you can’t just accept the word of one of your men about something like this, duelling isn’t a matter to be taken lightly.”

“Exactly why I did take notice of what Gray said. He reported it to my first lieutenant as a matter of some urgency. He also said–” he paused when Adam turned away as though he was choosing not to listen–“Adam, I’m not repeating below stairs gossip; I want to tell you some facts about the man that we may have to rely upon for our lives in the very near future.”

Adam shook his head and tightened his lips. He scowled over at the Pennsylvania as though he wished he had never laid eyes on her.

Adam said nothing for a moment but just continued to stare over at the other ship that was steadily ploughing through the waves parallel with the Baltimore and Virginian.

“Well, gentlemen, be that as it may, it’s unfortunate but little we can do about it. Try and keep those facts quiet, as best you can. I guess it will be a matter of ‘time will tell’…”

“I’m sorry, Adam–” Daniel muttered.
“No, don’t be, Daniel. It’s best to know what we have to contend with, then, should anything happen in future, we won’t be caught unaware.” Adam smiled and placed a hand on Daniel’s arm to reassure him that he had not taken offence at anything said. He smiled at Aaron. “I think it would be best if we went to my cabin. We’ve got a lot to discuss.”

Chapter 34

Rain was falling, a precipitation so light that it created a slight music upon the windows. Marcy had taken the children to play in the park while O’Flannery prepared the midday meal. Abigail was sleeping. Recently it had occurred to Olivia that Abigail slept a lot more often during the day, and although it gave her more freedom, it also made her aware of the old woman’s frailties.

She opened the door to the room that had been allocated to Booth and Morgan. Because they were a married couple Olivia had felt it only fair that they had possession of the largest room. As she stood in the doorway her resolve faltered a little and she had to steel her nerves in order to enter.

She began her search for the title deeds in all the obvious places and found nothing. She then looked behind furniture, under the drawers in the tallboy, under the mattress, even under the bed. She looked in areas that she assumed no one would think of hiding anything and was proven correct. After an hour she had found only too much household dust and an accumulation of rubbish that Morgan had not bothered to bring to the fire.
She stood for a while in the middle of the room and looked around as though after such an intensive search the papers would take pity on her and just appear from nowhere declaring ‘Here we are…’

Abigail was awake when she went downstairs. “Are we going to church today?”

“Not today, Abbi.”

“Why not?”

“It isn’t Sunday.”

Abigail rubbed her eyes and shook her head. “I’m confused. I thought it was; are you sure?”

“Of course I’m sure,” Olivia replied rather more sharply than usual and after a swift apology excused herself from the room.

She grabbed her hat and coat, then pulled on her walking out shoes and umbrella.

“O’Flannery, I’m going out for a short while.”

“I’ll look after the Missus. No need to fret none.”

“Thank you.”

What a relief to have O’Flannery. She pulled the door shut and put up the umbrella. With quick steps she made her way to the law firm of Galbraith, Galbraith and Partners, by which time she was wet through. A dark-clad clerk with pomade on his hair and an attempt of a moustache beneath his nose told her to wait a moment while he checked to see if ‘her’ Mr. Galbriath were available.

“Mrs. Phillips, come on in, sit down and warm yourself. What can I do for you?”

All charm and smarm, he rubbed his fat hands together and smiled. She looked at him and wondered why they had trusted him with so much when he wasn’t a man she would normally trust with a dime. Had she been so distressed and shocked at Robert’s death that she had allowed herself to be manoeuvred into accepting him to act on her behalf as the family lawyer?

She sat down, grateful for the warmth of the fire in the small grate.

“You haven’t found the title deeds?” He looked at her as though she were a child who had deliberately neglected to do her homework. He shook his head and sighed, and then sat down in an enormous chair that creaked beneath is weight.

“I’ve looked everywhere.” She noticed the umbrella creating a puddle on the floor and stared at it for a moment. “Mr. Galbraith, how could you have let him take them from here? Didn’t you have them in a safe somewhere?”

“My dear lady,” he gestured expansively, “Can you imagine the size of safe we would have to get installed to take every will, title deed and other legal document over which this firm has cared? That would be quite impossible. We accepted Booth as a favour to your mother-in-law; we asked for no character reference, it was solely on trust. The fact that he abused that trust, Mrs. Abigail Phillips’ and ours, is hardly our fault. He obviously felt that while he was here he would make the proverbial hay while the sun shone.”

“In which case then, what do you suggest I do?”

“I shall tell you first what we have done.” He straightened his shoulders and looked at her thoughtfully before commencing with an explanation that after removal of a lot of legal terminology went to the effect that they had made an investigation as to how the theft could have taken place. A clerk had befriended Booth, trusted him and listened to his tales of woe, which, apparently, had been many. He had taken Booth to the area where everything was filed away and shown him the Will and other papers relating to the Phillips’ family. This same clerk claimed that Booth had touched nothing although he had been distressed at seeing who had become the main beneficiary of his mother’s will.
“And what then?”

“After that this same clerk saw Booth the next day in the office but nothing was said. To the best of his knowledge nothing was touched. Of course, it was as we know for ourselves, Booth took advantage of some time on his own to re-enter the area and take the papers.”

“Have you contacted the law?”

“The law? But, madam, for what reason? We know who the thief is, and what he has stolen? We even know where he is…no, no, it would not do the company any good if we got the law involved in this business.”

“But how, Mr. Gailbraith, am I to get them back?”

Gailbraith took a deep breath before leaning his elbows on the desk and saying gently that really, the only thing she could do now was to ask Booth where they were and hope he would tell her without too much trouble.

“I don’t think you know Booth very well, sir,” Olivia replied softly.

“I agree, had we known him as well as we thought we did he would never have stepped foot into this establishment.”

She looked at him sharply at this comment and clenched her hands together, “Mr. Galbraith, Booth will be released from police custody soon. How can I stop him from coming back to my house? I don’t want him there; I can’t afford to have him even thinking that he has any right to come back, especially now that his wife has left him.”

“That…” Mr. Galbriath nodded sympathetically. “That is a very sensitive area.”

“Yes, it is,” Olivia cried and half rose from her chair. “Isn’t there anything you can do to help me? Nothing that you can suggest to stop him gaining entry?”

“Well, of course, if he has the deeds in his possession he could claim that the property is rightfully his and you have no right to be there. Certainly no right to prevent him gaining entry.”

“I don’t understand–”

“Of course not. It isn’t for ladies like yourself to understand these things.” he smiled patronisingly and leaned forwards across the desk, “It may be a good idea to go and speak to him and ask him–”

“ASK him!”

“Yes, tell him right out that he can’t return. Get his possessions and put them on the doorstep or deliver them to a friend’s address. Make sure he gets the point …”

“He’ll need more than that to get the point.”

“I understand. Legally, of course, our hands are tied.” He gestured fulsomely as though to emphasise the point he was making and gave a slight shrug.
Olivia rose to her feet slowly and looked at him with some distaste before she turned to leave. As she reached the door she turned back to observe him, saw the complacent look on his fat smug face and said with some contempt in her voice, “Mr. Galbraith, in future my family will NOT be dealing with your company for any future legal representation.”

“But, Madam–”

The door closed upon whatever else he was about to say. With her cheeks burning with shame, indignation, humiliation, Olivia hurried from the building. The rain had eased a little and patches of blue sky could be seen between the clouds. She watched them scud away with a feeling of despair in her heart. She had lived all these years in San Francisco and now, at a time of great need, realised she could turn to no one for help.

………………..

Booth Phillips watched as the policeman led Olivia towards the cell in which he had been for the past few days. He had two more days of his sentence to carry out before he was free again. He smiled slowly as she came towards him; she was obviously finding every step of the way difficult and embarrassing. Well, he mused, if she feels like that, how does she think I would feel?

“What took you so long?” His voice was cold and cutting as she stood some feet from the bars of his cell and looked at him.

“I wouldn’t be here at all if it wasn’t to ask you to tell me where you had put the title deeds of my property.”

He looked at her in surprise, and then realised what she was saying. So the theft had been discovered. Well, it had taken that fat slob of a lawyer long enough. He grinned. “Only just found out, have we? Feeling a little scared? Uncertain?”

“Booth, where are they?”

He looked at her through the bars and shook his head. She stood there so in need, so lovely, so–for want of another word–so frigid. He shook his head again and then shrugged, “I don’t know where they are, my lovely. Could be anywhere. I gambled them away several weeks ago.”

She seemed not to have heard him as she didn’t move, her face didn’t flicker any sign of emotion. Perhaps her hands had tightened over their grip on the umbrella handle. Booth sighed and shook his head, “What was I to do? I was broke. I’d nothing else to tide me over so put them on the table.”

“And the shares? Robert’s shares?”

“Them as well.”

“Oh Booth, how could you?” Emotion at last, he saw the tears spring to her eyes and the colour mount in her cheeks, “They were the children’s inheritance.” she stepped closer to the cell, “Robert wanted them to have the benefit of that investment. How could you do that to them?”

“For heaven’s sake,” he yelled. “What does it matter? It’s always been Robert this and Robert that and I’m sick to the back teeth with it.”

“Don’t be so ridiculous.”

“Ridiculous? Don’t you realise, Olivia, that since he died he’s never been more alive? He haunts your life. You–you live as though–” he stopped, stammered to a halt.
He had his back to her and could feel her eyes boring into his back. He half turned to look at her and shrugged. “What does it matter anyway. They’ve gone.”

She said nothing to that but raised her chin, turned and was about to walk away when she stopped “You know Morgan has left?”

“Yes, I know.”

“Don’t come back to the house, Booth. Don’t even try.”

“You can’t stop me.”

“I can. I will.”

He turned then and leaned against the bars just in time to see her turn from the door into a corridor and then out of sight. He wanted to yell out that he loved her, that he cared and that he was sorry. Then he remembered her last words and realised that he wasn’t sorry after all, that ‘sorry’ was a pathetic word and he wasn’t going to waste his breath using it on the likes of her. She had rejected him so how could he love someone who had done that?
…………………….

The policeman who had called to the house on the day of Booth’s arrest watched her for a moment as he struggled to recall where he had seen her before. Eventually he approached her as she was about to leave the station. “Ma’am, anything I can do to help?”

“I don’t know if anyone can help me.” She looked at him and smiled slowly, gratefully, before stepping through the doorway.

When she paused a moment on the top step of the station to put up her umbrella against the rain she found him standing by her side, a good natured kindly smile on his face as though waiting for her to say something to explain her previous statement. She smiled back again. “The fact is that I’m in some trouble. Booth Phillips–”

“Ah yes, I recall Mr. Phillips.”

“He’ll be released soon from custody. I don’t want him back in my house. He may think that he has a right to do so but it’s a house full of women, and–”

“I understand.” his warm deep voice with the slight tinge of Irish brogue was reassuring as was the wink of his eye. “I’ll keep an eye on him and arrange for someone to watch the house. You just get his belongings sent to some friends address so he has no reason to gain entry. Don’t fret any, Mrs. Phillips, you’ll be alright.”

He tipped his hat to her then, winked and nodded and was so confident that he would and could so those things that she could have kissed him. Instead she shook his hand, thanked him profusely and with a lighter heart left the building.

O’Flannery and Marcy were at the front door waiting for her when she returned to the house. It appeared very much as though Marcy had been running up and down the street as her coat and shoes were soaked through as was her hair that hang in rats tails over her face. “Where have you been, Ma’am?” the young girl asked with tears trembling in the words.

“We’ve been that worried, Ma’am. We had no idea where you were gone.”

“I’m alright; there were a few things that needed to be arranged.” She followed them into the house and turned to shake off the excess rain from the umbrella before slipping it into the stand, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make you worry so much.”

“You were just gone so long, Ma’am, and not one of us knowing where you were…” Marcy exclaimed as she wiped her eyes on the corner of her apron.

“I hadn’t realised the time,” Olivia cried as she noticed the time on the clock. “Have I really been gone that long?”

“You’re drenched through,” O’Flannery scolded, and pulled off the sodden coat. “Go and get yourself something dry, Ma’am, and I’ll reheat the soup for you.”

Olivia nodded and made her way up the stairs to her room. She felt amazingly lightheaded, as though she would float away if she didn’t sit down, or lie down, soon. Her legs and feet ached as though to remind her that she had walked a long way. She kicked her shoes off and sat down on the edge of the bed. For some reason or other she thought she was falling; her eyes closed involuntarily before she fell back onto the pillows.

In the kitchen Mrs O’Flannery rolled up her sleeves, exposing her big red arms in the process. Reuben had scurried in from the other room as he loved to watch her do this; it sent a shiver down his back to watch the way she ‘got down to business’ whether it was peeling the vegetables or kneading the dough for the bread. Whatever picture was conjured up in his mind at the sight of this woman getting to work in the kitchen no one knew and he was hardly capable of putting it into words. He would watch the determined way she had of rolling up her sleeves and the muscles rippling and feel that shiver as his eyes went as round as marbles and his mouth would fall open. She was different from any other woman he had ever known. Not that he had known that many in his short life but those he knew had always been dainty and pretty and delicate. Not one of those descriptions could fit around the picture of Mrs. O’Flannery.

As Reuben sat on the chair in the kitchen eating his slice of cake and drinking his milk, he listened as Mrs. O’Flannery told Marcy what she intended to do to Mr. Booth Phillips should he have the ‘audacity’ to step foot over the threshold.

“See that thar broom?” She stabbed in the direction of the broom with the knife that was in her hand, “I’d crack him one over the head with that I would.” She brought the knife down and severed the head from the fish that she was about to fillet. “Then I’d shove him down the steps and if he dared get back on his feet and try coming up ’em then I’d bash him one again.”

“With the broom?” Marcy gasped and Reuben’s mouth opened as he stared at O’Flannery and waited for her reply, the piece of cake in his hand crumbling onto the plate as he did
so.

“Exactly!”

“He’s a big man. Reckon on him being determined to get in as well.”

“He can be as determined as he likes, he ain’t going to pass through that door while I’m there.”

Bang. Reuben jumped and nearly dropped his plate. The knife severed another head and now ran up the fish’s body to expose the bones. She deftly tweaked at the spine and all the bones were lifted from the flesh and swiftly deposited into the trash can.

“I have to go and help pack his things away.” Marcy sighed and stood up, “You be a good boy, Master Reuben. Go and play with your sister.”

“But she’s asleep.”

“Then get a book and read it.”

“Can’t I stay here with O’Flannery?”

Marcy looked at the cook who nodded and winked at her. “Be good then,” she warned and hurried out of the kitchen to deal with Booth Phillips’ belongings.

“O’Flannery–” Reuben picked up a crumb from his plate and stuffed it into his mouth. “Tell me about the time you were on the boat coming over from Ireland.”

“What? That old story? Why, you must have heard it about a hundred times by now.”

“I know, but just once more.” he smiled and looked hopefully at her, so that with a sigh, just to let him know she did it only on his account and no one else’s, she began to relate the story of her voyage from ‘the old country’ to America.

Marcy was surprised to find that most of Booth’s belongings had already been packed into boxes and old suitcases. She stepped into a quite denuded room and looked around to see Olivia on her knees busily folding some clothes into a large trunk
.
“Why, Ma’am, whatever are you doing? I thought you would have left that for me to do.”

“It’s hardly fair for you to do everything, Marcy. I think I needed to do it just to make sure in my own mind that I had got rid of everything connected to him.” She looked at Marcy apologetically. “You do understand, don’t you?”

“Yes, Ma’am, of course. But I would have come up and helped you had I known you were up here on your own like this.”

“I couldn’t wait, Marcy. I felt so nervous and fidgety that I just had to come and get on with doing it. Sofia was asleep and Abigail quite happily reading, so I took the chance and came up. There really wasn’t much to pack away. Morgan–Mrs. Phillips–had most of what was in this room.”

“What about his books and things like that, Ma’am?”

“I’ve put them all in that box over there.”

It took less than half an hour to finish clearing the room. Everything he owned was now packed away. Marcy rolled the mattress over the springs of the bed after removing the bedding. She looked around her and then turned to her mistress, “It looks almost as though someone has died, don’t it, Ma’am?”

“Yes.” Olivia agreed quietly, “It does.” And as she looked at the room now devoid of all personality she felt as though it couldn’t have been a more appropriate description.

A day had slipped past since she had seen Booth in prison. A whole day and soon he would be coming to claim his rights, demanding and shouting on her front door step for the entire world to see. She imagined the scene and shivered as she hurried down the stairs to the small sitting room where she had left Abigail reading.

“Is it time to go now?” Abigail stood up, holding tightly to her cane and swaying a little due to her sudden physical exertion. She looked at Olivia and blinked, frowned. “Who are you? Have you come to take me to see Mother?”

“No, Abbi, I haven’t. I am sorry. Were you expecting to go today?”

“But of course I was.” She thumped the cane onto the floor and stamped her foot, “Mother always expects us on Thursdays.”

“Well, I am sorry. It is Friday today. You must have got the days muddled.”

“Friday? Oh dear, did I muddle the days again? I keep muddling things. I don’t know why it is, but I can’t seem to stop myself getting into a muddle. Are you sure it’s Friday? Mother will be so angry if I don’t go.”

“You went yesterday,” Olivia said quickly as she rummaged in a drawer to get some paper and ink, pens and envelopes. “It was Thursday yesterday.”

“Of course it was, and Mother was quite happy to see us if I remember rightly. She wore her pink dress, the one with the white sash I told you about, Rita . I think she looked really so pleased to see us. Booth was on his best behaviour but then he knows that he gets more out of father if he is, and Robert was so good and so helpful.” She sat down again and looked thoughtfully at Olivia. “Of course, you never knew Booth and Robert did you, dear?”

“Did you want some tea, Abigail?” Olivia asked, hoping that such a question would divert her attention from the track she was on at present.

Abigail didn’t reply but stared thoughtfully at the window as though watching people and traffic pass by. Then she shook her head “Where am I? I don’t know this place. It isn’t home.”

Olivia sat down slowly and stared at the paper on the desk as though the whiteness of it could focus her mind on the moment rather than it spinning off in all manner of different directions. Abigail’s erratic behaviour was usually containable and even, at times, oddly amusing, but today she was querulous and irritable. Olivia, with her nerves already stretched to the utmost, felt as though she wanted to get hold of the old woman by the shoulders and shake her, shake her so hard that the oddness in her head would disappear and Abigail would become as she used to be, the dearest of women.

She had to clench her fists tight and clamp her teeth together as she reached for the pen.
When Marcy came in with a tray laden with tea cups and some dainty cakes Olivia felt like crying with relief. As she dipped the pen into the ink well she noticed how her hand was trembling.

“Is everything alright, Ma’am?”

Marcy must have noticed, Olivia thought, and she felt ashamed. “Just look after Mrs. Phillips, would you, Marcy. I have to write a letter; it’s important.”

“Of course, Ma’am.” Marcy smiled brightly and turned her attention to Abigail. She didn’t mind this task; she and the old lady got on well. In fact, it was just like looking after one of the children. She and Abigail smiled at one another, “Some tea, Mrs. Phillips?”

“Yes, please,” came the enthusiastic reply, “And a cake. A pink cake.”

Olivia watched for a moment and then drew in a deep breath, relaxed, and began to write.

Dear Mr. Cartwright,
I do hope that you will excuse my being so forward as to ask you for your help. I am in a situation at present that is beyond my ability to understand or manage.

She looked at the words and they danced on the page and made no sense at all. What could she say that would make sense? Why was she writing to him, of all people, anyway?

You must think this very strange in that for so long having no word from me, and now here I asking for yet more help from you.

A situation– she stopped again. That word was wrong but how else could she relate to it? A problem? It certainly was that indeed or likely to become one. She dipped the pen into the ink again and glanced over at Marcy and Abigail, who were chatting together like two old women over a cup of tea. Thank goodness for Marcy, she sighed, and continued with her letter.

A situation has arisen relating to some legal documents that have been stolen from my solicitor by Booth Phillips, my brother-in-law. Oh dear, so much for family loyalty. Would the great Mr. Ben Cartwright really be interested in such wrangling? The title deeds to this house for example. He claims to have gambled them away and no longer knows who possesses them. My solicitor is not prepared to come to my help. I am without the kind of friends to whom I can turn for assistance and so, Mr. Cartwright, I turn to you for advice and help.
I realise I truly do need to leave here. I hope to make the journey to the Double D as soon as I can but have to take into consideration my mother-in-law’s fragile mental condition.
Mr. Cartwright, if you could be of any assistance at all, I would be so pleased to hear from you.
Yours truly,
Olivia Dent Phillips.”

It wasn’t a very good letter. It was full of errors and not at all clear. But then her head wasn’t clear and problems just seemed to be crowding out any common sense. This matter with Booth played on her mind with dread, and when she looked at Abigail she wondered just how much longer it would be before the poor woman had totally lost control of her mind. Her lucid moments now seemed fewer, and her struggle to retain them more difficult. Poor, dear Abigail. Would she forget even that she was so well loved?

She slipped the letter into the envelope and sealed it, wrote down the address and looked at it anxiously. What would he think on getting such a badly written, incoherent letter from her? Perhaps he would assume that she was the mad one.

“Marcy, where are the children?”

“They’re playing in the parlour, Ma’am.”

“Will you keep an eye on them for me? I need to go out.”

Marcy assured her that she didn’t mind and returned her attention to Abigail. They were now engaged in playing a game of cards which quite delighted Abigail. Olivia hurried to get her outer things and, with letter in hand, left the house.

It was a twenty minute walk to the telegraph and mail depot if one walked quickly. She didn’t stop to look around her, to show any interest in the people passing her by, who drifted along the sidewalks or rode by in their carriages, cabs or barouches. She had her head down and walked as quickly as she could to where she could post her letter and leave it to Ben Cartwright from thereon.

Two men were standing in her pathway as she approached the depot. They were in a heated discussion, not arguing exactly, just raising their voices a little louder than usual.
“The fact is, Harvey, when I get back to Virginia City I’m going to check up on what you’ve just said.”

“You do that, Roy Watts, and see what you come up with. I bet you a dime to a dollar that I’m right.”

“Huh, if Mr. Cartwright were here right this minute I swear he’d–”

She stepped forward, “Excuse me–”

“Sorry, Miss.”

“’Scuse us, Miss, didn’t see you there.”

She looked from one to the other of them. Harvey was red-faced with ginger hair and a man in his forties, whereas Roy Watts was a big-built man with a barrel chest and hardly any hair at all. She cleared her throat. “I overheard you mention Mr. Cartwright and Virginia City. Would you be referring to Mr. Ben Cartwright of the Ponderosa?”

“I was, Miss.” Harvey nodded, clutching his hat against his chest as he did so.

“Do you work for him?”

“Have done for nigh on ten years now, Miss. This here is Roy Watts. He started working for the Ponderosa two years ago.”

“How d’you do.” She extended her hand which they shook very gently, they exchanged smiles and then they waited for her to continue talking, “When will you be going back to the Ponderosa?”

“We’re on our way now, Miss.” Roy Watts said with a smile, “Just going to get our horses and then high tail it outta here.”

“Not by stage then?” she asked with a slight frown.

“No, Miss,” Harvey spoke up here, “The trail’s easier and quicker by horseback right now. Even though the winter hasn’t been too severe, it still isn’t too good for vehicles to travel on. Another few weeks maybe.” He smiled reassuringly.

“Anything we can do to help you, Miss? You want us to give Mr. Cartwright a message?”

Of course she did; what fortuitous winds were blowing her way at this moment. She pulled the letter from her pocket and held it out to them. “Is it possible that you can get this to Mr. Cartwright as soon as you get back?”

“It sure will be, Miss.” Harvey took the letter and slipped it into his jacket pocket. “Don’t worry none, it’s quite safe.”

“Thank you.” She could have danced and clapped her hands she felt so happy; if only all her problems could be solved this simply. “Thank you so very much.”

“Our pleasure.” Harvey assured her.

“Only too pleased to be able to oblige, Miss.” Roy told her.

Thanking them again she turned away and hurried homewards. Her heart was a little lighter now. In a small way chance had played fair with her and perhaps, soon, everything would be much better, much better indeed.

Chapter 35

The loud rapping on the door made Hannah jump and, startled, she broke into a loud wail of alarm. Hester was promptly there to pick her up from her crib and comfort her while Hop Sing hurried to open the door. Ben had half risen from his chair behind his desk and now sat back down again, his face creased into a scowl as he realised he had forgotten what total he had arrived at from the ledger.

“Excuse me,” a man’s voice, deep and courteous, came from the doorway and Ben decided that perhaps he could leave tallying up figures for some other time. “Is this where I can find Mr. Ben Cartwright?”

Hop Sing nodded and glanced over his shoulder as Ben appeared, the pen still between his fingers and his dark eyes narrowed as he took stock of the stranger.

“I’m Ben Cartwright.” His rich deep voice was warm and welcoming, making the other man relax immediately. “What can I do for you, sir?”

“Logan Edwardson, Mr. Cartwright.” he stretched out a hand which Ben shook with a smile and nod of the head. “I–er–I’m new around here and was making enquiries concerning the death of Andrew Pearson.”

“Oh, I see.” Ben frowned then stepped to one side so that Logan could step inside. “Best come on in and perhaps we can talk about the matter in some comfort. Hop Sing, rustle up some coffee, would you?”

Logan removed his hat and stepped into the house. Like many a visitor before him he paused and looked around. The sight that stopped him in his tracks, however, was that of Hester holding the baby in her arms.

“I believe we’ve met?” His smile was pleasant and his eyes crinkled in a tanned face. “Your buggy got stuck in the mud a few days ago…?”

“Yes, I remember, of course.” Hester smiled “It’s good to see you again, Mr. Edwardson.”

“So? What do we have here–boy or girl?”

“A girl. Hannah.” Hester said proudly and turned her towards the visitor so that he could get a good look at the child. Like all besotted mothers, Hester never doubted for a moment that one look at the baby would have any stranger, visitor, friend or neighbour totally devoted to the cherub.

“Well,” Ben rubbed his hands together and then gestured towards the fire, “Come along in, Mr. Edwardson, and give your bones a chance to thaw out.” He sat down himself as

soon as Logan had settled into the other chair. “How long have you been in the area?”

“Must be about a week now.” Logan replied in a slow drawling kind of voice, “I–er–I kind of misled you, Miss Cartwright, the other day when I saw you. I wasn’t a friend of Andrew Pearson’s, but I was looking for him.”

“It’s Mrs. Cartwright,” Hester said quietly, “I’m Ben’s daughter-in-law, not his daughter.”

“Oh, my mistake.” Logan smiled more broadly but his eyes did not match the warmth of his smile and he turned away from looking at her. “Your husband’s a very fortunate man to have two beautiful girls in his life.”

Hester smiled and thanked him but was more than relieved when Hop Sing appeared as a means of distraction. Once she had Hannah settled down and back in her crib, she took a chair by the far window and began to do some sewing. For some reason she felt more comfortable being at a distance from the two men than being involved in the more intimate circle.

“This is good coffee.” Logan observed after some moments of silence had elapsed, and he smiled at Ben, who nodded his acceptance of the compliment. “Well, I heard that Pearson had a place out here and my first stop, upon reaching Virginia City, was to find him there. I didn’t know about his death until the lady, Mrs. Canady, told me that he was dead and the family had moved into town. That’s when I met your daughter on the way back to Virginia City.”

Ben nodded and continued to drink his coffee before asking if Andrew Pearson had been a friend of his to which Logan shook his head. “No, sir. Quite the opposite in fact.”

Ben crooked an eyebrow and from her chair Hester looked up and glanced at Logan thoughtfully. Surely he had claimed at their first meeting that Andrew had been a friend? Before he could sense whether or not she was looking over at him Hester bowed her head to continue with her sewing while intently listening to what was said.

“When I got into town and started making enquiries about Andrew I got to hear how he had died and who had shot him. Your son, I believe, sir. Adam Cartwright.”

“That’s correct.” Ben pursed his lips and scowled slightly, “Well, what of it?”

“I believe he’s not here at present?”

“No, sir, he isn’t. He was with someone else who was involved in the situation. Candy Canady was there at the shooting too, should you need to know the exact details.”

“No, no, sir. I’m not here on any kind of official business. Purely personal.” Logan swallowed the last of the coffee in his cup and placed it upon the tray, “My sister was married to Pearson. Her name was Jessica.” He glanced up now and looked over at Hester, who had involuntarily raised her head. “You knew about Jessica?”

For a moment their eyes met before Hester lowered her head to resume her sewing. It was Ben who answered in the affirmative. Logan was quiet for a while, turning to look into the fire. He sighed eventually and leaned forward, his elbows on his knees and his hands clasped together. “The last time I saw Jessica she and Andrew were expecting their first child. She wrote to me–I was away from home in Canada, logging. She wrote to me and said how they were very happy and was having this baby. They had a place in Placerville.” He cleared his throat and then pulled a wallet from his pocket, leafed through and pulled out a photograph. “This is the picture she sent me of them both on their wedding day.”

Ben looked at the couple and bit his bottom lip. No doubting the young man with the embarrassed ‘just married’ look on his face being Andrew Pearson. His good looks hadn’t faded with age. The girl standing so proudly beside him was pretty and he could see where Lilith had gotten her colouring and the shape of her face. He nodded and returned the picture.

Logan looked at the picture before slipping it back into the wallet. “I didn’t hear from her again. Not a word. I didn’t worry too much about it because with my work I was travelling all over the place so just assumed that what letters she did write never got sent on. Then when I did leave Canada I came to find her and see how things were with her. I went to the place in Placerville and they said she had died. Leastways that’s what they said because Andrew had told them that before he had sold them the place and left with his little girl. Lilith.”

“You took your time finding them, Mr. Edwardson. He married the school teacher here some years back. They had a boy of their own in the meantime.”

“I know. I left Placerville and just went wandering around, trying to settle, if you know what I mean. One day, a few months ago, I was in a card game over Sacramento way, when the name Placerville came up in conversation. I listened on out of interest and then Andrew’s name was mentioned. Turned out this man I was playing cards with had lived in Placerville and his daughter was involved with Pearson. This was after Jessica had seemingly died. Then he got to talking more and I got to know a lot more about the man, the kind of man, Jessica had married.”

“So you came looking for him?”

“S’right, I wanted answers about Jessica.” Logan gulped, cleared his throat. “I’d never thought of coming to Virginia City but that was where the trail led me. I heard about him here, and what he had done to his wife. I spoke to the sheriff and he told me what happened, and–and how they had found Jessie.”

The conversation now lapsed into silence. Both men stared into the flames as though hypnotised and by the window Hester continued to sew, only more slowly as she thought over the story she had been listening to. Logan was the first to break the silence. “I just wanted to thank whoever did my job for me.”

“Adam wouldn’t want any thanks. He only regretted that they had never realised the kind of man Barbara had married a lot sooner.”

“He wasn’t a man anyone would think would hurt a fly.” Logan sighed. “Jessica had her heart dead set on him, loved him so much. I was a mite concerned but my pa could never resist her pleading and wheedling. Apart from which Andrew was such a pleasant man. He promised me he would take care of my sister.” He leaned back into the chair and bit his bottom lip, “Last thing he said when I was leaving.” Now he rubbed the back of his neck with a rough calloused hand. “Anyway, another thing that mattered to me was seeing Lilith. After all, she’s my niece.”

“You want to see her, obviously,” Ben said cautiously.

“Yes. I want to see her.” His eyes flicked over to where Hester sat before he turned to look at Ben, “I want her to know that I exist. That she does have someone of her mother’s family alive who could care for her.”

Hester turned her head away to look out of the window. She wondered what he meant by those words. If he meant what she hoped he did not, then how would Barbara handle it? She didn’t look back as movement indicated he was getting to his feet, she heard Ben telling him he was always welcome any time and her heart sunk a little. He was just a nice man, she told herself; leave your cynicism and suspicions alone.

“Well, goodbye then, Mrs. Cartwright.”

She stood up and turned towards him, smiled and bade him goodbye. His smile at her was warm; his eyes twinkled. Somehow she knew that she would see him again, and the thought made her knees tremble. Ben picked up a log and threw it on the fire, then turned to her “Well, what do you think of our visitor?”

“I don’t know. I’m just worried that he may take Lilith from Barbara.”

“I doubt that he would do that, my dear. What man wants to have a little girl tagging along with him? But it’s only natural that he would want to see her, don’t you think?”

She nodded, smiled and sat down again. The sun was shining now and a shaft of sunlight played about her hair, creating a halo effect around her head. Ben wondered for a moment if Hoss realised what a beautiful woman he had married, and then he smiled as he made his way back to his desk.

Chapter 36

On board deck and standing alone on the bridge of his ship, Adam Cartwright made an
arresting figure. With his broad back and well built body the uniform he wore enhanced his appearance considerably, bringing as a result an air of dignity and authority that many men lacked.

As he looked over the water Adam’s thoughts were drifting from his family to the woman he had met in San Francisco. It was a tantalising situation, he pondered, that such a brief meeting could cause him to think about her so much. Was it perhaps that she had once touched their lives on the Ponderosa when he was so young? Or was it more likely to be that she was an attractive woman and that something about her had affected him in a way that only a few had done in the past.

“Commodore?”

He turned his head slowly, reluctantly, as though he regretted having to leave his thoughts in order to return to the real world. “Yes, Hathaway?”

“Dr. McPherson wished a word with you, sir.”

Adam raised his eyebrows and grimaced. He was quite prepared to admonish the Captain for allowing himself to be used as an errand boy, but decided to swallow the words. He nodded and turned towards the sick bay with Hathaway close on his heels.

The doctor was on his feet immediately and smiled rather nervously as Adam and Aaron entered the sick bay. A sweep of the eyes confirmed that there were no patients, the area was clean and prepared for whatever emergency chance threw at it. He put his hat on the table and sat down.

“Well, is something wrong?”

His deep voice only created more nervous tension within the doctor who swallowed hard before he could speak, “Commodore, when you were on board Captain Selkirk’s vessel the other day, did you get a chance to see the sick bay?”

“I did.” Adam nodded, he smiled slowly although his eyes were wary, “It was immaculate.”

“And did you speak to the doctor?”

Adam paused and pursed his lips. He was mindful of a small man, balding with restless fingers, he nodded, “I saw the doctor. I didn’t get a chance to speak to him. Why? What’s happened?”

McPherson glanced over at Aaron before looking again at Adam. He shrugged, shook his head and then bit his lips. Adam cleared his throat, “I’m not a mind reader, doctor.”

“No, of course not. It’s just that I had a message sent to me from Dr. Stuart. He’s rather concerned about the number of ‘accidents’ that are taking place on board ship. A higher ratio than most. He reports that morale is low.”

Adam winced. Low morale on board ship destined for a long trip followed by who knew how long their assignment, was a big problem. He shifted a shoulder and shook his head,
“Was any explanation given?”

“No. He sent the message in private but -”

“Go on.”

“It’s not good to have that kind of situation on board ship this early on. I thought you ought to know.”

Adam didn’t speak for a short moment then nodded. He tapped the table with his fingers as though he had made up his mind about something and then rose to his feet, pushing the chair away from the table as he did so. “Thank you for letting me know.”

McPherson nodded, then behind the Commodore’s back glanced over at Hathaway and raised his eyebrows, shrugged and shook his head as though to say ‘Is that it?”

Adam had reached the ladder to the deck when he paused and turned to look over his shoulder at McPherson, “I think you had better come with me, Doctor. Perhaps it’s time for us to meet Dr Stuart in person.”

“Yes, sir. When do we go?”

Adam once again swept the sick bay with his eyes, then smiled. “Now.”

The skiff was made available immediately and the two men clambered down via the Jacob’s ladder and were rowed from the Baltimore towards the Pennsylvania on a sea that was flat calm. The sun shone warmly upon their backs and the wash from the ships hulls provided a quite calming noise within the silence. Niether Adam or McPherson spoke a word.

On board the Pennsylvania Selkirk was informed of the impending visit and went storming about his cabin in a rage. He swore as he shrugged on his jacket and buttoned it, and expletives were still coming from his lips in a torrent as he strode down the companionway to the deck. By the time the men were assembled to pipe the Commodore on board Selkirk was almost purple in the face.

Adam accepted the salute with a polite salute of his own and then turned to McPherson,

“Captain Selkirk, this is Dr. Ewen McPherson. I thought it would be to all our advantages if he had the chance to meet with the doctors on board your ship and the Virginian. They can discuss medical supplies and such while we – er – spend some time together.” He glanced up at the sky and smiled, “Can never be too sure how long this weather will last. Is your doctor available just now?”

“Get Stuart.” Selkirk almost spat the words at some hapless Midshipman standing close-by who saluted his Captain although his eyes were fixed on Adam’s face.

“I was telling Ewen – Dr McPherson – what an excellent sick bay you have here, Selkirk.” Adam straightened his back and his shoulders flexed beneath the tautness of his jacket. “I think I made him quite envious.”

“I keep everything in its proper order. I like things to look right.” Selkirk blustered.

“That’s how it should be.” Adam nodded, he looked at McPherson and then at the entrance to the sick bay, “It seems Dr. Stuart is busy. Ewen, why not go and get better acquainted. Captain Selkirk, shall we -?” he gestured towards the door leading to the Captain’s quarters and with a smile followed the other Officer to his cabin.

Ewen was impressed as he stepped into the sick bay. He stood for a moment with his hat in his hand looking around like some new boy at school who had just stumbled into the science laboratory by mistake. Several men were in narrow trundle beds. He could see that they were suffering some distress although he could see no obvious sign of the cause for such. A seaman was seated close by with his eyes closed while he held his arm in a position indicative of it having been broken.

“What happened to you?” Ewen asked quietly.

“I -” the man jerked, eyes flew open and he winced as his arm contracted from the motion, “I think I broke my arm.”

“How did that happen?” McPherson narrowed his eyes and reached out to touch the man who shrunk back “It’s alright, I am a doctor.”

It was then than Stuart appeared. He was followed by some wretch who had a black eye and an obviously broken nose. The doctors exchanged looks. Stuart smiled and extended his hand, “Nathan Stuart.”

“Good to meet you, Dr. Stuart. Ewen McPherson.”

They shook hands and then stood against the wall to allow the man with the black eye to pass them. “This is Robards. Broken arm.” Stuart said and beckoned to the seaman to follow him. He was followed in turn by McPherson.

“Another fight, Robards?” Stuart asked as he began to check the man’s arm.

“No, sir.” Robards groaned, winced and writhed, “I fell down a hatchway.”

“That was a rather careless thing to do, wasn’t it?”

“Yes, sir. It was ..” Robards looked as though he were about to pass out with pain while Stuart located the break, nodded and glanced over at McPherson

“Hold here while I straighten it out. Hopefully we can get the bones to connect without too much bother.”

The two doctors worked together to connect the bones which jarred and caused the poor man to groan aloud in pain and thump on the floor with his heels in a way to alleviate it. He was sweating profusely by the time they had finished and looked a waxy green colour. Stuart gave him some smelling salts to revive him while McPherson bound the arm securely and put it into a sling.

“Rest here awhile.” Stuart said to the man who was not prepared to actually go anywhere anyway. He now took McPherson by the elbow and led him aside, “Well, it’s good to see you, Doctor.”

“And you.” McPherson glanced over at the men in the beds and raised his eyebrows questioningly, “What’s wrong with them?”

“Falls down hatchways. Tumbles down stairs.” Stuart shrugged.

“You’ve a very careless lot of seamen on your ship, Doctor.”

“Dr. McPherson, there’s a lot of very strange things happening on board this ship. I want you to report that I am concerned by the amount of ’accidents’ here. Also -” he paused and bit his bottom lip, “I suspect that a man was flogged recently.”

“What? Are you sure?”

“I only heard about it.”

“Didn’t you treat the man?”

“I never even saw him. I was asked for some laudanum by the First Mate. He said it was for himself, he had tooth ache.” he cleared his throat again, “Next day I asked him how his tooth ache was and he looked at me as though I were mad, then remembered and play acted the part of someone who had been suffering but -” he smiled whimsically, “he’s a better seaman than actor.”

“Who would have ordered the flogging?”

“I tried to find out, but no one dares to speak.”

“And these injuries? These so called accidents – do you think that they’re legitimate?”

Stuart shook his head, “They could be, some perhaps. Not this many though. There’s a hard core of bully boys on board this ship, they like to drink and -” he drew in his breath as though about to declare something that even frightened him, “They’ve all sailed with the Captain before.”

“Oh, I see.”

“Just make a note of what I’ve told you.” he paused and turned, pulled a downward turn of the mouth, “Captains coming. I had best go and see to Robards.”

McPherson nodded, and turned to leave the sick bay just as Selkirk and Adam entered.

“All done?” Adam asked brightly and when McPherson nodded and said ’Yes, sir, all done.” Adam smiled and thanked Selkirk for his hospitality.

“My pleasure, sir.” Selkirk said through gritted teeth.

“Very good.” Adam replied and strode away towards the bulwark where the gangway was opened for him to descend the Jacob’s ladder to the skiff. “Are you coming, McPherson?”

“Yes, sir. Right away, sir.”

Selkirk watched them go with a face like thunder. He scowled over at Stuart who was administering some medicine to Robards. Stuart however refrained from turning around in order to avoid catching the Captain’s eye and getting a mouthful of abuse as a result.

In the skiff Adam looked at McPherson “Well?” he murmured.

“No, sir. Not really well at all.” came the Doctors anxious response.

It wasn’t until they were privately in Adam’s cabin that Ewen told him of what had been said and what he had seen. After he had reported the matter he fell silent and waited for Adam to speak, which he did, after some moments elapsed. “This is a serious charge, Ewen. If Dr. Stuart is wrong in his conjectures -” he left the sentence hanging, as he stood up and walked over to the port hole to look out to sea.

Not far away was the Pennsylvania. A beautiful ship for a steamer and kept in immaculate condition. Adam chewed on his thumb for a moment and then shook his head, “There’s nothing we can do just now. We have only hearsay to go on, and need more than that. We shall have to bide our time.”

“But, Sir, those men -”

“Those men are good seamen. They’ve learned to take the good with the bad in this life, Doctor. Eventually one of them will need to talk -.” he bit down on his bottom lip and shook his head, “There’s really nothing more we can do. If we make charges now then it could turn on Stuart and he’d never be able to live it down. Apart from which Selkirk would make his life a misery while he was still serving under him. No, I’m afraid it’s a waiting game.”

Chapter 38

It seemed to Adam that even he found the idea of playing a waiting game obnoxious. Once in his cabin he paced the floor with his hands clasped behind his back and his head bowed. Every so often he would sigh, pause, and thump a fist into the palm of his hand. Could it be possible that McPherson’s assumptions and his fellow officers accusations were accurate? If so, how long could he wait without one day being accused of turning a blind eye to one man’s cruelty upon his men, as well as the breaking of the Law.

He was deep in thought and seated when Hathaway knocked and entered the cabin. He glanced over at Adam and sighed, “So you didn’t have an enjoyable trip?”

“Far from it.”

“McPherson said that you weren’t prepared to do anything – at present?”

Adam looked over at Hathaway, then returned his gaze to the bookshelf. He pursed his lips and shook his head, “I said it was a waiting game. I don’t know if I was right.”

“If Selkirk is allowing flogging on board ship, then he has to be stopped.”

“I know.” Adam pouted, then shook his head, “The question is how. You see, Aaron, each ship is its own little island, and every Captain is the King of it. In this instance, on this assignment, we have amalgamated those islands under my authority. Selkirk doesn’t like that, he wants to stay King of his island.”

“Kings can be deposed.” Hathaway murmured and took the seat opposite Adam with a thoughtful look on his face, “If it can be proved -”

“That’s the trouble, we have to prove it. Stuart, the doctor, well, I don’t know how much credence we can put in what he says.”

“McPherson seems to think he’s saying the truth.”

“He may be saying it now, but under pressure from Selkirk I doubt if he’ll be saying a word. He’s not made of very stern stuff I’m afraid. No, I rather think Dr. Stuart will crumple into a pile of dust if he knew Selkirk was gunning for him.”

“Perhaps, one of the men would speak up?”

“How long will it take one of them to do that? And would one man be enough? Apparently Selkirk has a small group of thugs on board who he recruits at every trip. They’re used to his ways and they know how to look after those who don’t or won’t comply with Selkirk’s requirement.”

“Could they not be arrested and put in the brig. You know, sir, rounded up and put out of the way.”

Adam laughed at that and stood up to cross the room in order to pour some wine into two glasses, one of which he handed to Aaron, “No, I did think of that.” he sipped the wine and stared for a moment at the far wall as though seeking inspiration, “No, it wouldn’t work because Selkirk would never allow us to do that to his men. As Captain he does have that right.”

Hathaway scowled and took some of the wine, he nodded, “Good wine, sir.”

“Thanks, yes, it is, isn’t it?” Adam smiled and resumed his seat, swirled his wine in the bowl of his glass and then looked at Hathaway, “I thought of having a change over of men, some dispersed to the Virginian and some here. A kind of interchange -.”

“That might work, sir.”

“Might isn’t good enough. It could work in the opposite way. A bad apple spoils a whole barrel. Having several of Selkirk’s men dispersed on each ship could cause mutiny. Think of what they could do to unsettle the men on the Baltimore and Virginian? No, I couldn’t risk that, it’s better to have them all in one place where we can keep an eye on them.”

They were silent now for some moments, savouring the wine and thinking of the situation that had presented itself. Adam wondered how his father would act in such a situation. He could imagine Ben sitting in his chair, those dark eyes hooded under heavy lids as he considered and conjectured a solution. If he was smoking his pipe then it would be a case of voluminous clouds of smoke swirling around his head, or the pipe burning out into dead ash which would be knocked out of the bowl into the hearth.

If only he had Pa to speak to now. Whatever trouble Selkirk and his men brought about on this assignment would all be down to him, Adam Cartwright, and ultimately it would be his name that would be tarnished.

“We’re 120 miles from the nearest land where we could pay them off and leave them.” he muttered, “Perhaps we could do that but it won’t be easy to do that with Selkirk. He’s a well respected Officer, believe it or not, and the only way to remove him is if there is another ship prepared to accept him. Of course, he also has to want to be reassigned.” he rubbed his jaw with his forefinger and shook his head again, “Darn his hide, men like him should never have got to be officers in the first place.”

“It was because of nepotism.” Hathaway said blithely, “That’s what the talk is with regard to him anyway, sir.”

“Nepotism? In what respect?” Adam leaned forward, his brow creased into a frown as his eyes scanned Hathaways face.

“Yes, sir. Selkirk is the cousin of Captain Greaves whom you sailed with when you first boarded ship.”

Adam settled back into his chair and nodded thoughtfully. So that was why Selkirk had mentioned Greaves when they had first met. Perhaps it had been to see if the Commodore would react to the name and associate it with any rumours he had heard about Selkirk’s own connection. He sighed, “Greaves isn’t that important a cog in the wheel.”

“He was at one time, sir. Captain Selkirk joined the navy around the same time as Greaves. He didn’t prosper so well though, whereas Captain Greaves rose through the ranks pretty fast.”

“And I suppose you know why?” a small smile played on Adam’s lips as he looked at the younger man.

“Why, yes, sir. He – Captain Greaves – was connected by marriage to Commodore Pelman.”

“Pelman?” Adam’s throat seemed to seize up. Pelman. He was cursed by the name and the family. Even now the taint of poison was still there. Greaves and Selkirk. Pelman.

“Talk has it -”

“Hathaway, with all the best intentions in the world, talk isn’t going to help much.”

“Very well, sir. I was told by a fellow officer who knew both Captains, that Selkirk complained bitterly about being overlooked when other men were getting so much more. He – er – leaned heavily on Greaves to use his connections. Of course the next thing one knows is that Selkirk is a Captain.”

“This fellow officer, the one who talks so freely, he can be relied upon?”

“Well, he was, sir. He’s dead now.”

“I see, not much help there then.”

“No, sir.” Hathaway sighed and stared into his glass, now empty, “Actually, sir, to be honest, it was my father.”

Adam blinked and then shrugged, “Well, I see.”

“My father knew all these men, sir. He’d been on board ship with some and heard about the others. My father was an honourable man, Adam, he worked his way up the ranks to become a Commodore before his death.”

“I know. I quite understand, Hathaway. Pour us both some more wine, huh?”

Adam watched as Hathaway poured a good measure of wine into the glasses. He thought back to his years with Greaves and bit his bottom lip at the memories. Greaves had been a mad of shallow cruelties, always wanting to take the easy option, constantly turning a blind eye to things that mattered. Serving under him had made Adam resolve never to be like him. A man who cajoled some, flattered others and bullied most. He drew in a deep breath and shook his head, it didn’t resolve the matter with regard to Selkirk.

…………………..

The evening came and the sea remained flat calm. Adam checked with the helmsman that all was well and they were true to their course. Overhead the stars shone and he stood for a while to watch them. Words that he had been taught by his father and had heard many times since floated into his mind

“The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork.
Day unto day uttered speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge.”

“Excuse me, Commodore?”

He frowned, paused, and the turned to observe McPherson watching him. The younger man smiled, “You looked deep in thought.”

“I was.” Adam said then relaxed enough to offer the doctor a smile, “What’s on your mind, doctor?”

“Oh, just this matter of Selkirk. I’m assuming it’s what you are thinking about too, isn’t it, sir?”

“It is.” Adam cleared his throat, “I started reading all about Court Martials before coming up on deck.”

“Well, I could understand why you would want to come up on deck after doing that.” McPherson chuckled.

“It all gets so involved.” he thumped the taffrail with is clenched fist and clamped his lips tight together, “I need to know that I can rely on every man we have on these three ships. Selkirk isn’t a man I can trust to defend our backs should we get caught in a fight at any time. I had hoped he would have been, but a man who resorts to bullying? No, I don’t think he would be now.”

Both men involuntarily glanced over the water to where the lights of the Pennsylvania and the Virginian could be seen reflected upon the waves. Every so often the motion of the ships would break the shimmering specks of light into a mass of scattered diamonds only to slowly be gathered together again within seconds. It was a truly beautiful evening and Adam found himself wishing he could share it with those he loved and cared for back home.

Pa would love it here, he mused to himself as his eyes once again turned to the sky, he would point out the constellations and tell me some of his stories about when he had been at sea. Times when he had to live by his wits and had only the stars to guide him by.

“What day is it tomorrow?” he said quietly.

“Saturday, Commodore.”

“I think we should have a good meal together. The officers and the medical staff. Get to know one another a little more – don’t you think?” he turned towards McPherson and grinned.

There was something about the way he looked that reminded the doctor of a wolf.

“Yes, sir.” McPherson nodded and smiled back, “I think I see what you mean.”

“Don’t worry if you don’t. It hardly matters in the long run. Just good food, good wine, some good company with a dash of bad … now, doesn’t that sound like a great evening?” he looked once again over at the lights showing on the two ships and smiled, “Good night, doctor. Sleep well.”

“Good night, sir.” McPherson replied.

The waters slapped against the side of the ships hull. Stars twinkled overhead and McPherson watched as a star made its slow descent to earth. It was all very beautiful and reminded him of the time he had dissected a pigs eyeball in a petrie dish back at college.

Chapter 39

Olivia Dent Phillips found difficulty in sleeping that night. Images of Booth flashed before her eyes. The way his eyes had glared at her, the bars of the cell that pressed into the flesh of his face, the taint of the smell on his breath. Everything kept returning back and forth as she tried to sleep.

What if the Policeman forgot his promise and Booth forced an entrance into the house. Once inside would they ever get him out again? What about Abigail now that her frame of mind was so delicately balanced?

A clock chimed somewhere in the house. In the silence it created eerie echoes of the fear that enshrouded her every sleepless moment. The house was settling as it always did but now the creaking of the stairs made her jump and her heart beat as she fancied stealthy footsteps coming towards her room. A door squeaking as it slowly closed upon itself and her ears strained to hear whether or not someone was walking along the hallway. A window blind rattled and tapped for some moments against the glass and she clutched at the sheets on her bed with the expectation of cold draughts heralding someone entering the house via the window.

If only they would keep him in prison for longer. Just a few days longer. She closed her eyes and tried to pray. Usually concentrating on talking to God about her problems and asking for His intervention cleared her mind but not to-night.

When someone touched her shoulder and called her name she screamed.

…………………

Hester clung to her husband in the big bed they shared. Everywhere was dark. The heavy drapes shut out the light from the moon which shone too brightly and disturbed their sleep. Hannah’s soft snorts indicated she had slipped into a deep sleep. Hoss was snoring, but lightly. Every so often he would sigh heavily as though in his dreams he was having to solve an impossible problem.

Hester loved the smell of her husband. She loved his strength and his gentleness. The fact that he was not the Cartwright everyone knew in town for his looks or his charm did not matter to her. She knew that when Hoss Cartwright’s name was mentioned it was done so with respect and sometimes with awe. She knew that children talked about him as their friend because of his way with their animals and with them. She also knew that everyone who knew him cared about him.

She snuggled in closer and closed her eyes. Strange how hard it was to get to sleep tonight. Her mind kept drifting back to the day she met Logan and how he had looked at her. Hoss always looked at her with such tender love, a look that made her feel secure and protected. Logan had looked at her in a way that made her feel soiled, as though she were no better than a woman who earned her living immorally. Why did she allow him to make her feel that way? He was, to all intents and purposes, a pleasant, honest and hard working man.

All she wanted was for him to go away. His presence disturbed her, threatened her. The worse part of it all was that she didn’t understand exactly why that could be when she loved Hoss so very much.

………………..

In his cabin Adam Cartwright looked through all the papers that contained the information he required about the personnel on board the three ships over which he had command. A vague, nebulous plan had formed in his mind, but whether or not he could carry it through without serious repercussions worried him.

He walked to the port hole and looked out over a sea that remained smooth. A faint smile tugged at the corners of his mouth at the thought that had they been on board a clipper ship then they would be going nowhere. No breeze to fill those sails, no waves to bear up the ship and carry her forward.

Pelman. Why in heavens name did that name have to intrude yet again into his life? Even dead the wretched man remained some kind of nemesis to cast dark shadows into all he was doing now. All it needed now was Dimitri Doestov to pop up arm in arm with Cassandra Pelman and he, Adam Cartwright, would be convinced his life was contained in some kind of bedlam, a mad house.

He walked to his desk and pulled out some paper and began to write. Letters to his father were a soothing calm to his nervous state and very carefully he wrote the address on he envelope first, then circled a number 4 in the corner so that Ben would know how to keep the letters in correct order.

………………..

“Olivia. Olivia.”

Abigail was shaking and trembling as though she had some kind of palsy. The light from the lamp shook in her hand and Olivia’s first action was to take it from her and set it carefully on the table. Abigail grabbed at the younger woman’s arm, “Why did you scream like that? You frightened me.”

“I’m so sorry, Abigail. I was having a bad dream and -”

“You frightened me.” Abigail whimpered and pulled her hand away from Olivia. She clasped both her hands together and held them tightly against her chest, beneath her chin. “Olivia, where’s Robert?”

“He isn’t here, dear. He’s been gone a long time.”

“Oh no.” the cry was heart felt, tears welled up in her eyes and dripped onto withered cheeks, “But when is he coming home?”

“I don’t know. I mean – he won’t be coming home again, dear.”

“But I need to speak to him, Olivia. I want to ask him about Booth.”

“What about Booth?”

Olivia grabbed at her dressing gown and pulled it on. The room was cold and in her stressful state she shivered as though the cold was biting into her bones. She looked at Abigail and noticed how thin her night dress was; it hung upon her frail skeletal frame and made her appear ghastly with the grey hair standing on end where it had loosened from its thin plait.

“Come here, Abigail, you’re cold.” Olivia got out of her bed and pulled a blanket away, folded it gently over Abigail’s shoulders before helping her to sit down in a chair.

She next turned the flame of the lamp higher so that they could see each other more clearly. Abigail smiled sweetly, “I remember you. You’re the girl that married Robert.”

“Yes, dear, that’s right. I’m Olivia.”

“What was the name of the girl who married Booth?”

“Her name was Morgan.”

Abigail absorbed this information and then nodded before she sighed, “Was ‘Rita at the wedding?”

“No, dear, she wasn’t. She wasn’t at Booth’s wedding either.”

“No, of course.” Abigail frowned, her fingers stroked the soft silkiness of the blankets edging and her head drooped.

For a few minutes Olivia thought her companion had merely fallen asleep, but when she moved from her chair Abigail looked up immediately, “Who’s there?” and her voice was sharp with alarm.

“Only me, Abigail. Olivia.”

“Olivia? Oh thank goodness. I thought for a moment it was Booth.” She looked carefully around the room, “He isn’t here, is he?”

“Booth? No, he isn’t here.”

“Always peeking and prying that one is. He took the letters, you know.”

“The letters?” Olivia frowned, and wondered how Abigail had known about Booth taking the letters that had been sent from Galbraith’ law firm. But she was wrong in her assumption as Abigail quickly pointed out,

“The letters. The ones that Ben Cartwright sent to ‘Rita.”

Olivia’s head spun and she put a hand to her brow as though weariness had caught up with her. Letters to ‘Rita from Ben Cartwright. Abigail leaned forward and put a finger to her dry withered lips and whispered “Shush.”

“Abigail, how did you know about the letters Ben Cartwright wrote to ‘Rita?”

“Because I saw them. Father showed them to me. Said it proved what a selfish ungrateful girl ‘Rita was.” her voice was wistful now and she shook her head, “But she wasn’t, she wasn’t.”

“What did the letters say, Abigail?”

“The letters? Oh, I don’t know. I can’t remember.” She shook her head and the wisps of grey hair seemed to vibrate in the air and reminded Olivia of Medusa the Gorgon whom Perseus slew in myth.

“Abigail, let me help you to your bed. You need to sleep.” She rose to her feet and leaned forward to give the old woman some assistance to get up from the chair, “You must be tired, dear.”

“Yes, I am, I am tired.” Abigail nodded and allowed herself to be taken from the room; the blanket around her looked like a toga that had once adorned some long forgotten Roman senator. It trailed behind her along the floor making a whispering shuffling sound that caused Olivia to look behind her to make sure that no one else was there keeping step with them.

When she slipped back into her own bed Olivia’s mind trickled back in time to when she had first heard ‘Rita mentioned. Strange how so much had happened since she had returned from her father’s funeral, and how much of it was entangled with those on the Ponderosa to whom she was now looking for help.

………………..

Hoss stirred in his sleep and murmured her name. He blinked a little and opened his eyes and saw her looking down at him. The smile on her lips brought an echo of it onto his own. “Hello, wife.”

“Hello, husband.” She leaned down and kissed him.

His hand caressed her shoulder and stroked her cheek. His fingers brushed against her luxuriant curls and he pulled her towards him and kissed her again. His need, and her need, met and were fulfilled.

They slept entangled in each others arms, each moment an assurance of the others love. A new day dawned and lightened the room in which they slept. When Hester opened her eyes to look at Hoss any thought of Logan Edwardson was far, far, from her mind.

…………………..

The sky was darkening over the sea, and the moon shone upon the waters that glittered beneath its benevolent gaze.

Adam turned to look thoughtfully at the clock, and made the usual calculations in his mind of the time difference from where he was now and the Ponderosa. He sighed, they would be starting the day he had already spent and was seeing an end to. He yawned and stretched and looked at the words he had written to his father.

Dear Pa

I am wondering now what you are doing so far away back home. It is drawing towards evening now, and I believe you may be preparing for bed at the end of yesterday. How strange it all is, and yet, what a reminder of how wonderfully this planet of ours has been created.

Pa, this has been a long and arduous journey. We are still some distance from the South China sea but already I have my doubts as to whether we shall actually arrive there without some serious incident occurring.

I wish I could tell you more about it but some things I am unable to divulge as you know. However, I do not want you to worry unnecessarily. It is a matter less dangerous or hazardous than some I have encountered and survived.

Do you remember that time when the Marshall from New Orleans – was his name de Clerk? – came and arrested you for murder. He claimed to be a close companion of Marie’s and framed you for murder. You went along with him, even though it cost you the opportunity you had at the time of representing Nevada as its Governor. Along the way things happened that led to him having a change of heart, and even though you never put forward your right as a Candidate, you came home safely.

I think that is the closest parallel I can draw to what is going on here at present. No, I guess it isn’t a real comparison, but when I try to think of it all then that is the only thing I can recall to mind that helps me along right now.

By the time I write my next letter I hope to be able to assure you that everything turned out as well here as it did between yourself and de Clerque …I still can’t remember his name!

The stars are very clear here and the moon bright. For several days the sea has been a flat calm, so proving the advantage of steam over sail. Perhaps that is a good thing after all.

Did you hear from Mrs. Phillips? I hope that you will be able to help her in some way, Pa. She looked so frail and anxious. She reminded me of her mother, although even she, sadly, is only a hazy memory.

Take care, Pa, and pass on my fond love to all the family

Your son, Adam.”

At the end of the day they were just words. Perhaps he wouldn’t send the letters when the chance came, but then again, perhaps he would.

Chapter 40

“Why, good morning to you, young lady.” The Police man towered over her but his face was pleasant, “Mrs. Phillips isn’t it?”

“Yes, that’s right.” She drew in her breath and then had to clear her throat, “I’ve come to report a crime.”

“Ah.” His face lost it’s pleasantness to some extent as he pulled out a pad and picked up a pencil, “And what is the nature of this crime?”

“I’ve had some valuable documents stolen from me.” she looked at him and wished that the kind interest he had first shown her was still there, “Title Deeds to my property and other things.”

He looked at her with a slight frown “And do you know where these documents are right now?”

“No.” She couldn’t help the sigh that slipped through her lips.

“And who are you charging with this crime?”

“Booth Phillips.”

He crooked an eyebrow and glanced sharply over at her before dipping his pen into the ink and writing on the form “The same Booth Phillips we have in custody here?”

“Yes, the same one.”

“He’s due to be released in the morning.”

“I know.”

“You didn’t report this yesterday when you came in?”

“No, I wasn’t thinking about doing so before I had spoken to him. He said that he had taken them. He’s gambled them away. He doesn’t know who has them either.”

“Ah!” He shook his head and shrugged. “So – we have a confession from Mr. Phillips of stealing some papers from you. But he doesn’t have them now?”

“No, he says that he hasn’t got them.”

He looked at her and shook his head again. She was, in his opinion, a very attractive woman with her strangely sea green eyes and white blonde hair. Her clothing indicated that she was a woman of some wealth and breeding. All in all her appearance said a lot about her which impressed him greatly. However the law was the law and so he put the pen down and shook his head,

“Mrs. Phillips, I have to tell you that your brother-in-law told us all about these papers yesterday after your visit. He claims that he was the rightful possessor of the papers and that you, as a woman, had no rights to them. He did warn us that you would come here and make these accusations against him.”

“But he told me that he had taken them -” Her voice was shaking and she tried hard to control her breathing so that her words would be clearer, “He said he had gambled them away.”

“Yes, he told us that as well. But where there is no evidence to the crime, if there has been a crime that is, then there is nothing we can do to help you. Women,” he continued in tone of voice that surprised even himself, “aren’t meant to own property. Legally the property would be your husbands.”

“I’m a widow -”

“I see that, Madam. The fact stands as they are; there is nothing we can do about it.” He folded his hands together and leaned over the desk towards her, “The property belongs to those whose name is on the Deeds. By now whoever is in possession of them will have changed the names …”

“But that’s illegal. That’s embezzlement.” She frowned, or was it fraud? She was unable to think straight and her mind was solely concerned with trying to get this rather pompous figure of authority to understand her plight, “The property belongs to me.”

“Mrs. Phillips, this is a civil law case. The best thing you can do is go to your lawyer and get him to discuss it with you. As far as Mr. Phillips is concerned, he will be released in the morning having served his sentence.”

He put the pen to one side and frowned at her in a manner that indicated his surprise at finding her still standing there.

“Are you saying that women have no rights by law to own property?” She managed to stammer.

“I don’t write the laws, Madam.”

There was nothing more to say to that statement. It was his way of underlining what he had said before and intending to go no further. She stared at him for a second and then turned away. Did this mean relying on Galbraith’s help? As she made her way down the steps to the sidewalk her heart quailed at the thought.

There was a mist over the city following so much rain during the preceding days. Her footsteps echoed as she walked the streets back to the house. If Booth came the next day claiming the law was on his side, what was she to do?

Sophia came bustling up to her, her short legs nearly tripping her over as she held out her arms to be picked up and held close, “Mommy, ‘Flannel’ says she’s going to hit Uncle Boot over the head with the broom.”

“Did she indeed?” Olivia hugged her daughter close and thought how much she would like to see that happen, in fact, she wouldn’t mind wielding the broom herself.

“Boo-boo says that he’s going to punch Uncle Boot real hard.” The high pitched little voice whispered, “And he said I was to bite him on the ankles ‘cos I’m closest to the ground. But, Mommy, I don’t want to bite Uncle Boot.”

“Well, no, I don’t think it would be a very good idea.” Olivia replied with a slight frown as she considered the kind of conversations that were ongoing between her cook and her children.

“So can I just hit him instead?”

“Oh dear, no, I don’t think so.” Olivia put Sophia down and looked at her anxiously, “I really don’t want you children involved in any fighting at all, do you hear?”

“But ‘Flannel’ said Uncle Boot was a bad man. Boo-boo says he should be locked up forever and the key thrown away.”

“Well, that’s not very kind, is it?” Olivia heard herself say although inwardly she was thinking what a great idea that would be. She looked at Sophia and smiled, “And I think you’re old enough to call Reuben by his real name, Boo-boo just isn’t right for a big girl like you.”

Sophia frowned and pouted as she watched her mother remove her coat and hat, before she followed her down the hall into the sitting room. Olivia sat down and leaned back, closed her eyes and released her breath. She felt mentally exhausted and would have dearly loved to have had the chance for some sleep. Sophia clambered up on the settee and snuggled in close to her mother and rested her head upon her shoulder.

“I love you, mommy.” she whispered.

Olivia allowed a smile to pass her lips as she whispered back “I love you too.”

…………………….

Hoss Cartwright followed his brother Joe into the house and closed the door. Both men peeled off their winter coats and put aside their hats.

“How’s Mary Ann been today, Hester?” Joe asked as he unbuckled his gun belt and looked over at his sister-in-law with an anxious smile.

“She’s healing very well, Joe. Paul came by this afternoon and re-dressed her wounds. Some of them didn’t need any new dressings at all; he just left zinc powder to put on them every so often.”

“How’re you doing, sweet heart?” Hoss asked as he placed his gun belt on the bureau and walked towards her, “You been alright?”

“It’s been a quiet day.” She accepted his kiss with a smile and slid her arms around him to give him a hug, “I think your daughter may be getting some teeth already.”

“Shucks, is that right?” Hoss grinned and winked over at Joe who was heading for the stairs to go and see his wife.

“Joe, wait a moment -” Hester called out and hurried over to the stairs with a tray laden with lemonade and cookies “I was about to take these up for her.”

“Mmm, smells good. Did you cook them?”

“I did, and don’t pull that face, young man, or I’ll make you eat the whole batch for supper.” She laughed and flicked the towel at his retreating back, and then she turned to Hoss, “Did you have a good day, Hoss?”

“Yeah, it was good. Got quite a bit done. Hey, Pa -” he turned to his father who was walking in from the kitchen, “I hired a new hand. He said he had logging experience and that he had met you the other day. A man by the name of Logan Edwardson.”

Ben nodded “Yes, that’s right, he came by to see Adam and Candy.” He smiled over at Hester who felt as though she couldn’t breathe, “He met your wife a little while ago, apparently.”

“Oh, did he?” Hoss looked at Hester, “He never said.”

“I don’t suppose he thought it was worth mentioning, Hoss. He just helped me when the buggy got caught in some mud. He was looking around and had been visiting at Anns, although of course, he hadn’t realised it was Ann’s place, he thought it was still the Pearsons.”

She was gabbling, talking too fast and saying too much and Hoss was looking at her a trifle oddly. She wondered if she was blushing, or looking as miserable as she felt. The strange thing really was the fact that she had never met Logan Edwardson before that day, yet he had something about him that made her feel, for want of another word, scared.

“Did he tell you he was related to Andrew Pearson?” Ben asked and Hoss shook his head, “His sister was Jessica, Andrew’s first wife.”

“Oh, no, he never said anything like that; I guess he just wanted to impress us with his logging experience. He said he was in need of a job while he was in this area. He didn’t intend to stay for long, just needed enough for a stake.”

“Well, he seemed a pleasant enough man. Is he up at the logging camp?” Ben muttered as he walked to the study area.

“Yeah, he went up there with Jackson and Millard.” Hoss glanced over at Hester and smiled, “Are you sure you’re alright, Hester?”

“Yes, dear, I’m alright.” Hester replied feeling calmer at the thought of Edwardson being so far from the house, she smiled at her husband reassuringly and slipped her hand into his, “I’ll go and check on the dinner.”

She gave him a kiss on the cheek as she passed and saw the anxious look in his eyes fade to the usual gentle look of love that she knew so well. It was comforting, reassuring and as she entered the kitchen thoughts of Logan Edwardson drifted away to such an extent that she began to hum a tune beneath her breath.

“Missy happy today?” Hop Sing smiled over at her and nodded his head.

“Yes, I’m just glad Hoss and Joe are home.”

“They not bin gone long, Missy, one day only.”

Hester hummed a little more loudly, nothing and no one was going to spoil her good mood now. She basted the beef and stirred the gravy. Her husband loved her and that was all that mattered.

Chapter 41

Adam Cartwright leaned back against his chair and looked around the table at his guests. It was interesting to him to study them while they were unaware of his scrutiny. The clatter of cutlery upon dishes, the splash of wine being poured into glasses gave the scene a convivial atmosphere. He wondered just how much of it went further than surface appearances.

Daniel was deep in conversation with Hathaway about pirates, relating no doubt the time when he had been involved with the Picaroons several years ago. Selkirk was drinking too much and eating too fast. At the same time he attempted to grunt his way through a discussion with Doctors Stuart and Evans of the Virginian. Ewen was quiet, listening attentively and nodding occasionally when a point rose with which he felt he could be in agreement.

Each Captain had brought along one of their Midshipmen to act as server. Each lad stood behind their Officer and would step forward to replenish the wine in their glass or see to their requirement for the meal, and then would return to his place by the wall of the cabin.

The food had been cooked to perfection and each man there had eaten more than his fill. The wine flowed freely. Adam waited for a lull in conversation before leaning forward and casually asking Dr. Evans how he was finding the trip so far.

“Well enough, Commodore, thank you.”

“You served on the Barracuda with Captain Lewis if I remember rightly?”

“Yes, sir, I did.” Evans smiled, “A lovely ship.”

“Yes, she was, I envied him that posting to be honest with you,” Adam sighed and looked at Selkirk, “Did you know Captain Lewis, Mr. Selkirk?”

“No, I didn’t.” Came the curt reply and he leaned back to snap his fingers at his Middie for another refill of his glass.

Hathaway and O’Brien exchanged glances. It seemed that Selkirk had already imbibed more than was good for him and the evening was still quite young.

“Dr. Evans, how does your quota of patients so far compare with your previous trips?” Adam smiled as he spoke and looked with feigned innocence at the doctor, who frowned, nodded and paused a moment to consider the question.

“To be honest with you, sir, it compares very well. My orderlies complain of having nothing to do except roll bandages, and roll pills.” Evans grinned, “It makes a change as I can remember serving under one Captain who seemed particularly jinxed with everything possible happening to him and his crew.” He took another sip of wine “So far the worse thing has been to remove an appendix from one of the Midshipmen. Other than that a few bumps and bruises – oh, and a broken leg when a seaman slipped over a carelessly dropped rope.”

“That shouldn’t have broken a leg.” O’Brien grinned.

“He happened to fall down one of the hatches.” Evans added and looked pleased with himself at the laughter that greeted the comment.

“I found much the same on the Baltimore,” Ewen said casually, picking up his cue from where Evans had left off, “So far it has been a very pleasant trip, nothing outstanding in the way of injuries or illnesses. You know, Dr. Stuart, I was most surprised when I saw your roster yesterday. The number of injuries you seem to be having to handle on board the Pennsylvania is – well – to be honest, quite worrying.”

Stuart opened his mouth in dismay but it was Selkirk who roared, “Worrying? What do you mean, worrying?”

“Broken arms, legs, even a fractured skull … I read the whole list and as I said to the Commodore and Captain Hathaway, it concerned me to see so many injuries on board on ship when compared to the lack of injuries on two others.”

Selkirk rose to his feet, “What’s going on here? Is my seamanship being called into question because of some idiot seamen who can’t stand upright in a squall?”

“We’ve so far encountered no squalls, Captain.” Adam said very quietly, “And yes, I am concerned about the number of injuries on board your ship. There are too many and it calls into question -”

“CALLS INTO QUESTION?” Selkirk shouted and swung his arm wide in his anger, “How dare you, sir, call into question anything concerning my ship.”

“Then explain as best you can why your doctor has so many patients compared to McPherson and Evans? You’re the Captain, surely you’re told about these things?”
Adam said in his dark clipped tone of voice that only served to fuel Selkirk’s temper.

“Stuart keeps me informed, of course he does.” Selkirk wiped a hand across his mouth and beard, and then sat down again; he glowered at everyone there before snapping his fingers for more wine.

The Midshipman, a 14 year old by the name of Allsopp, stepped forward promptly but whether the subject under discussion or his Captain’s loss of temper had unnerved him, his hand shook so that some wine slopped onto the table. Immediately Selkirk raised his arm and struck out at him so that the bottle was dashed from the youth’s hands. The wine splashed up over Adam’s clothes, Selkirk’s jacket and tablecloth. As the bottle smashed onto the floor Selkirk once again raised his hand while a string of expletives were spat from his mouth.

His hand didn’t fall as Adam had seized him by the wrist and prevented it from doing so.
“Sit down, Captain.” Adam hissed between clenched teeth, “Sit down.”

Selkirk did so dividing his scowls between Adam and Allsopp who was white faced and trembling, “I’m sorry, sorry, sir.” he mumbled over and over again.

“That’s quite enough, Mr. Allsopp” Adam snapped, “Get yourself under control, lad.”

“Yes, sir.” Allsopp reached out a hand to remove a shard of glass which Selkirk when moving away had caused the table to shudder so much that several glasses had toppled and broken.

“What’s wrong with your arm?” McPherson asked immediately and reached out to grab at Allsopp’s arm, only for the boy to attempt pulling it away, “That’s a nasty bruise you have there, lad. Let me take a look at it in sick bay.”

“He’s alright. If there’s anything wrong with him, my own doctor will deal with it.” Selkirk hissed, and glared at Dr. Stuart who nearly choked in his eagerness to agree with his Officer’s statement.

“While he’s on board the Baltimore he comes under my jurisdiction, Captain Selkirk, “ Hathaway now said quietly before turning to Allsopp, “You had best go with the doctor, lad, otherwise we’ll never hear the end of it.” He smiled at the boy as he spoke but the look of terror on the lads face remained as he glanced from McPherson to Selkirk.

“That’s enough, Hathaway. Allsopp, stop whinging. Stuart, you come along with me …”
Selkirk once again rose to his feet, swayed slightly and looked at the assembly with narrowed eyes, “Something’s going on here. I smell some kind of plot, ain’t I right?”

“Captain Selkirk, I’ve not given you permission to leave this room or this table. Sit down, please.” Adam said in stronger tones than he had used previously, “Dr. McPherson, attend to Allsopp and then return.” He looked again at Selkirk, “Captain, sit down.”

“Are you ordering me to do so?” Selkirk sneered.

“If necessary.”

For a moment it looked as though Selkirk was going to leave the room anyway but he was still sober enough to realise that doing so would leave him open to a charge of disobeying orders, even though on such a petty reason. He sat down and looked around him before beckoning to one of the other Midshipmen to bring him some wine.

“Listen to me, Selkirk, and listen well – there are too many unexplained injuries on board your ship. TOO many, sir.” Adam raised his chin and narrowed his eyes as he surveyed the other man, “If I don’t see a rapid improvement in the health and well being of your crew, sir, then I shall take steps to have you removed.”

“So? Was this the reason for that little visit you paid me, huh? Couldn’t tell me then, face to face, could you? Had to wait to have back up. What is this? Some form of tribunal? Found guilty, am I?”

O’Brien shrugged having known nothing about the situation and arriving at the Baltimore in all innocence. Hathaway, aware of something but not sure of what, simply sat back against his chair and stared at Selkirk in disgust. The two doctors remaining at the table appeared embarrassed and kept their heads down, especially Stuart who was already having palpitations wondering what kind of treatment he would receive when he returned to his berth.

Adam pursed his lips and frowned. For a moment he wondered if he had overplayed his hand, perhaps revealed too much of what he knew and of what he felt about the matter. He cleared his throat “Captain Selkirk, you did hear what I just said, didn’t you?”

“Are you going to put the blame for every single bump or bruise my men are getting at my door, Commodore? Is that your game now? Is that how you made such a fast rise through the ranks, by removing those who got in your way?”

O’Brien half rose from his chair to answer such an insult but a gesture from Adam indicated that it was better for him to sit and be quiet. Hathaway was breathing heavily, as though the insult personally affected him, which it did, for he respected and admired Adam deeply.

“I’ll ignore that comment, Selkirk, seeing that you have over indulged already and not in total control of your tongue.” He leaned forward however so that his face was merely inches from that of his adversary, “But let me warn you now, sir, if I hear of any untoward behaviour occurring on your ship in future, I shall most definitely remove you from your post. You, and your friends.”

Before Selkirk could reply to that the door opened and McPherson entered the room with Allsopp. He looked over at Adam and raised his eyebrows before resuming his seat in silence. Allsopp, meanwhile, took his place by the other Midshipmen. He was pale and his skin had the waxiness of someone far from well. Adam observed him for a moment and then looked at Selkirk,

“In view of what has taken place now, it may be a good idea if you were to leave, Captain Selkirk. Allsopp -” he turned to the boy who was trembling all over, “Take care, boy, I expect to see you looking much better in a few days. Dr. Stuart, make sure that Allsopp has a chance to recuperate from whatever ails him.”

Silence descended upon the room once Selkirk had gone taking the doctor and Allsopp with him. Daniel looked over at Adam with a quizzical expression on his face,
“Do you mind telling me what’s going on here?” he murmured.

It was McPherson who enlightened him, and then turned to Adam and told him that Allsopp had extensive bruising along his arm and across his back. He had obviously suffered some form of punishment, and a severe one at that to have resulted in the injuries.

“We can only wait and see what happens now.” Adam said after a moment’s contemplation over what had been said. “Let’s hope that Selkirk accepts the lesson.”

“He may do, Adam, but he won’t forgive you for it.” Daniel stated quite bluntly and shook his head, “He isn’t a man who accepts being pushed around.”

“I agree,” Hathaway picked up his glass and looked at the golden wine it contained with narrowed eyes, “You’ll have to watch your back from now on, sir.”

Adam said nothing to that he only turned and asked his steward to tell the cook they were ready for the next course.

Chapter 42

Ben glanced around the table and noted the mood that had settled over each member of the family seated with him. Joe looked his usual cheery self. There had been days that had started badly for him after the incident regarding the window. Mary Ann’s injuries had weighed heavily upon him. Seeing his little wife in such pain had been a two edged sword for him as he had felt as much to blame for the accident as the wind itself. Now that the period of punishment was ending with Mary Ann’s rapid healing he was beginning to be more like his usual old self.

Hoss was looking a little anxious and kept casting quick nervous looks over at his wife who, to Ben’s way of thinking, looked every bit as usual. When Hoss was worried Ben got concerned as his son was a man ruled by instincts and gut feelings which were seldom wrong. Ben inwardly sighed and hoped that any misgivings on his own part would be proven wrong.

Mary Ann was still in the room upstairs as some of the deeper wounds were in areas where movement could well reopen them so despite her frustration and annoyance she was forced to remain in her bed. Ben smiled at the thought because she was an eager little worker and spent a lot of her waking hours working on the ledgers and accounts as well as writing neat little letters to various business people on Ben’s behalf. Ben felt himself to be congratulated at finding himself an extremely sufficient secretary.

“What plans do you boys have for today?” He now asked them and fixed Hoss with a dark brown stare which brought a frown to his son’s brow. Ben waited patiently and as he waited recalled the time when Hoss had had a full head of curling blond hair. “Well?”

“I thought I’d go check over the west section of our timber. The new logging camp has just been set up there, Pa, and I want to make sure that the new foreman knows the ropes.”

“New foreman? Ah yes, this Edwardson fellow. Hmm, I hope he knows what he’s about, Hoss, and not taking advantage of our association with him.”

Hoss’ eyebrows rose in surprise, he was so guileless that such an assumption never even crossed his mind. “Edwardson’s references speak for themselves, Pa. He’s an experienced logger; he worked for years in Canada.”

“I grant you that, Hoss, but I was thinking more of the man himself than whether or not he had experience. He was – I don’t know how to explain it – but he was just that bit too keen to tell us his connections with the Pearsons.” Ben rubbed the back of his neck and looked over at Hester who was following the conversation with some interest, “What do you think, Hester?”

“I can’t say, Pa, after all I know nothing about logging. Hoss knows everything there is to know about it, so I guess I’ll leave it to him.” She flashed a smile at her husband who grinned back at her and who seemed to relax a little more as a result.

“Well, Hoss, I’ll leave him to you to handle then. And what about you, young man?” He smiled now at Joe who had been listening to the conversation with some interest.

“What about me, Pa?” Joe’s hazel eyes twinkled back at his father and he grinned, his face falling into the familiar lines of good humour that his family loved to see, “Well, I was talking to Candy yesterday and he said that Edwardson had been round there place a few days back. Candy said he was kind of reserved, but seemed an honest enough fellow.”

“I wasn’t talking about Edwardson now, son, I was talking about what plans you had for today.” Ben picked up his cup of coffee and had just raised it to his lips when there was a knock on the door.

“I’ll go see who it is, Pa.”

Joe flicked the napkin down on the table and opened the door before there was any chance of anyone knocking again. He nodded and stepped back to admit Roy Watts who stepped into the room with a bounce and a grin as he pulled off his hat and nodded at all those assembled at the table.

“Ah, Roy, back from San Francisco?” Ben said with a wide smile and stating the obvious with great gusto, “Come on in. Do you want some coffee?”

“No, thank you, sir. Harvey and me we just got back and got our things in the bunk house. I jest came by, Mr. Cartwright, because I got a letter for you.”

“Oh, for me?” Ben replied and got up from the table to walk to where Roy held out the letter. “Do you know who it’s from?”

“A lady, sir.”

“Hey, Pa, what you bin up to you ain’t been telling us about, huh?” Hoss guffawed; Joe’s giggle was a prompt echo alongside it as both men watched their father turn the letter over.

“Yes, sir, a lady, a pretty lady too.” Roy Watts winked with theatrical gusto knowing he had a captive audience who laughed even more so.

“Well, thank you, Roy.” Ben nodded and looked up from the envelope to nod his thanks, “You’d best get yourself settled in and grab yourself some breakfast.”

“Will do, sir. Good to be back here, thanks, sir.”

Ben closed the door upon their visitor and returned to the table. He held the envelope as though it weighed heavily in his hands and sat down with a slight frown creasing his brow. Hester was the one who urged him to open it and put them all out of their misery. After throwing a brief smile in her direction he carefully slit the envelope open.

“It’s from Mrs. Phillips. Ephraim Dent’s girl.”

“What’s she say, Pa? Changed her mind about coming here?” Joe asked immediately and leaned over his father’s shoulder to read the letters contents until a jab from his father’s elbow caused him to sit down, rubbing his chest.

“Seems she’s in some kind of trouble. Legal trouble.” Ben sighed and re-read it through, “I think it’s about time I went to San Francisco myself and paid her a visit.”

“Are you sure, Pa?” Hester put down the coffee pot as though it was suddenly too heavy, “I mean, do you think it’s wise to travel just yet?”

“Roy and Harvey got back safely didn’t they?” Ben raised his eyebrows as though the thought of travelling to San Francisco was a mere stroll across the yard to the stable, “Heavens forbid, if those two clunk heads can find their way back here in one piece then I’m sure I can. I’ve been making the journey often enough.”

“When do you think you’ll go?” Joe asked grabbing at the letter that Ben had left beside his plate and reading through it quickly before passing it over to Hoss and Hester.

“To day.” Ben declared loudly, his voice booming into the room. “I’ll leave today.”

“But, Pa, what about -” Hoss started but Ben was already leaving the table, “Pa, ain’tcha going to get on with that deal you were making with Hunnisett?”

“Joe can handle that, or, if you’re not too busy with that logging business you can.” Ben stopped mid-stride on his way to his study and glanced over at Joe with a grin, “My little secretary upstairs knows all about that deal. I’m sure you can both sort something out between you.” a smile danced around his lips at the grin on Joe’s face.

“Sure, Pa, I’ll get onto it, don’t you worry none.” Joe winked over at Hester who smiled and looked at Hoss who was watching his father with a worried frown on his face,

“Pa, you sure you ain’t rushing this a mite?”

“You read her letter, Hoss? The lady needs help and sitting back here just thinking about it isn’t going to help her, is it?”

“No, sir, I guess not.”

Ben rubbed his hands together and began to pull out drawers in his desk with great gusto. There was nothing like a challenge to add a bit of zest to one’s life. Olivia’s letter had been just what he had needed to lift him from the winter doldrums into the spring of – well – call it anticipation of adventure. After all, he surmised as he pulled out his petty cash box, adventure was not only for the young!

…………..

Mary Ann Cartwright laughed when Joe told her about Ben’s reaction to Olivia’s letter.

“It’s just what he needed, Joe.”

“What do you mean sweet heart?” Joe’s mobile eyebrows shot up in surprise at her reaction to his news, “You didn’t see how he shot out of his chair like some kind of jack rabbit. He’s scampering around the place now like a mad man.”

“Oh Joe, he’s been cooped up all winter long here. He’s – well, he’s needing to get out. He needs to feel that he’s doing something that can help someone else.”

“But he’s always doing that, he doesn’t have to go haring off to San Francisco like this.”

“Yes, he does.” She leaned against his chest for he had sat on the bed by her side. “He does need to, Joe. He’s not getting any younger and it’s hard for man who has always been so active in his life to be sitting around the house watching his sons doing everything he was once able to do himself. He needs to go for another reason as well.”

“Oh, and what’s that?”

“He needs to find out about Henrietta.”

“Henrietta? Who in heavens name is Henrietta?”

“Not ‘is’, Joe. Who was Henrietta, and what happened to her? This is your father’s chance now of finding out.”

Joe pouted and shrugged “You now more about this than I do.”

“That’s because your Pa and I have spent a lot of time together lately, Joe. Your father likes female company and he talks easily about things that he wouldn’t talk to you about. Men are different from women, you know?”

Joe laughed at that and wrapped his arms around her, held her close and kissed her neck, “That’s something I had noticed for myself, thanks.”

She laughed softly and turned her face to wards him, raised her head so that her lips would meet with his in a kiss that as usual released far too many butterflies that fluttered cramped and uncomfortable in the pit of her stomach as though fighting for a way out.

Chapter 43

It was good to be able to feel the freshening wind against his face again. As Buck galloped along the road towards Virginia City his rider looked around him to notice all the changes that had taken place since winter had set in. Spring time was coming now and the winter ravages had not been so severe this year. Grass was greening in the pastures and the streams were flowing fast from the thawing snows high in the mountains.

Ben’ generous mouth slipped into a slight smile as his horse splashed through cold waters of one stream. An old man has so many memories, he mused, they were like the children that clambered upon his lap demanding to be heard and then quietly tip toe away.

He could remember the year they had found this land. By ‘they’ he really meant himself for Adam and Hoss were too young to make any decisions of such a serious nature. Oh yes, yes, he could remember that day even now when he had planted his feet firmly on the ground, put his hands on his hips and inhaled deeply the fresh clean air into his lungs.
Hop Sing had come to stand by his side and had nodded his head in agreement, look up at him and smiled. Yes, he and Hop Sing had worked hard together for a long time now. No point in counting the years … why make an old man more miserable by reminding himself of the amount of time that had already passed in his lifetime.

And then there was that day when Adam and Hoss had gone to collect water at the stream. Adam had returned home soaking wet from head to foot but had pulled a rock from his pocket that he said had been shining in the water. Shining! Ben’s smile widened at the memory as he and Hop Sing had taken it from the boy’s fingers and held it to the sunlight. That was the first indication they had had that they were sitting on a mountain of silver. Well, that had been a long time ago.

He glanced over his shoulder at his companion who was following close by on the wagon seat with the baskets of laundry bouncing as much on the flat boards as the driver was on the wagon seat. Hop Sing’s face showed grim determination, his sloe black eyes were narrowed against the wind that buffeted him and which he disliked; his mouth was a mere slit of disapproval.

Well, Ben told himself, his companion would soon be all smiles once they got to San Francisco. When one stopped to consider how many cousins, nephews, nieces and such Hop Sing had in the city it amounted to just too many to count. He’d be feted and made much of every day of their stay there.

Ben’s brow creased a little now as he thought of his errand. He wondered what this Mrs. Phillips would be like now, and Abigail being so frail was a concern. He jutted out his jaw in thoughtful introspection as his mind naturally turned from Abigail to Henrietta.

A pretty girl, such a pretty girl. He sighed now at the memory, one that had been at the back of the line for so long and now came to timidly perch upon his knee. Henrietta who had smiled at him one day and given a stick of candy to a little boy who had fallen over and grazed his knee. That had stopped Hoss from bawling so loud and that had been when he had first met her.

Well, he brushed the memory away, nothing had happened except a house of cards built on a brief infatuation. But this memory was stubborn and slipped back for more attention. He remembered …

“Is this your little boy?”

He had turned from fastening the buckle on the harness and found himself looking at a woman. She was at that stage of her life where girlhood had just been left behind and a woman had taken her place. Thick dark hair that curled away from a high forehead, blue eyes and high cheekbones, a narrow nose and full lips. She had turned to indicate Hoss, licking a stick of candy with relish, “He fell over.”

“Thank you for looking after him for me.” He had felt ashamed to have been found caring more for his horses than for his child, “I’m Ben Cartwright.’

“Henrietta Richter.” Her handshake had been firm and she had looked him directly in the face with an openness that he had found slightly naïve, child like and trusting. “Are you going to stay here in San Francisco?”

‘I’m moving further inland.’

‘Whereabouts?’

‘Near a place called Eagle Station.’

‘Oh, yes, I’ve heard of it. Not much there, just a ranch and a few cabins.’

‘Are you trying to persuade me to change my mind, Miss Richter?’ and he had laughed when she had blushed.

‘Oh, maybe.’

She had turned then and walked away. He had turned to watch her and had thought what a pretty little thing she was as she had strolled so casually away from them.

He turned again to observe Hop Sing close behind him. Hoss and Hester had insisted that he had someone with him on the journey. It had rankled bitterly. He tried to ignore the inroads of age and they seemed determined to remind him of them. Now he wasn’t to be trusted to get to San Francisco on his own. It wasn’t even as if he were going to travel there by horse back and camp over. The stage was up and running now and there was the way station to provide bed and board.

There now, what was the point in arguing? Adam would have laughed along with them and teased him just as mercilessly. His brow creased in anxious thought now as his mind turned to wards his eldest son.

Where was he now? He had written to say something about China. For heavens’ sake, why China? He shot a quick look over at Hop Sing and felt guilty for even having thought that too dismissive opinion. Well, it wouldn’t hurt if he would write a bit more. Ben scowled a little and bit down on his bottom lip at the thought of how few letters were from Adam. Memories of his own time at sea had retreated too far for him to retrieve them and remember the difficulties in mailing letters from a ship.

When was the next time he had seen Henrietta? That same day he had been with Adam and Hoss looking in a book store. Not that it was an actual book store, just a stall with a tarpaulin roof and sides which flapped in the breeze of passing traffic. What a lot of noise was going on all around them as buildings were being put up, hammers banging and thumping, men yelling and cursing. There were the shrill yells of the women and cries of children. The racket of all manner of vehicles rattling pass with planks of wood bouncing about in the back. Yet, above all that clamour he had heard her voice.

“Hello, Mr. Cartwright. You haven’t left for Eagle Station yet then?”

“Not yet.”

“You like reading?”

“Very much. I’m teaching my son to enjoy Shakespeare and Marlowe. Adam, this is Miss Henrietta Richter. Miss Richter, this is my eldest son, Adam. You’ve met Hoss already.” He ruffled Hoss’ blond curls as he spoke and watched proudly as Adam had solemnly shaken her hand.

He had remembered how they had stood there and chatted together, and then walked to where he had left the wagon. San Francisco was experiencing its own birth; he had been there, part of it, just for a little while.

‘What’, he now wondered, ‘what had happened to her?’

……………….

“Commodore.”

Adam felt his shoulder being shaken and forced his eyes open. They seemed to have been glued into place and it was an effort of will to get them open. He found himself looking up into Hathaway’s face. The glow of the lamp which Hathaway held in his hand indicated it was still night time. He rubbed his face with his hand and tried to persuade his brain that it was indeed time to wake up.

‘What’s the matter, Mr. Hathaway?’

“It’s the Pennsylvania, Commodore. She’s gone.”

He didn’t repeat the word after all, gone meant just that – gone. He swung his legs over the side of the bed and began to pull on his clothes. The silence between the two men in the cabin indicative enough of the urgency of the situation.

He followed Hathaway along the companionway and up the ladder to the bridge, buttoning his jacket as he went for the night air was already chilled. From there he looked in the direction of the lights from the Virginian and then swung his gaze to where the Pennsylvania should have been.

“When did you notice she was missing?”
“At four bells, sir.”

Adam drew in his breath through his nostrils, a long deep inhalation. He turned to Hathaway ’There must have been some indication that she was on the move, surely?”

“No, sir, there was none.”

Adam raised an eyebrow as though in doubt of such a statement. Hathaway turned to the seaman standing close by, the helmsman who stepped forward, saluted and waited to be addressed. “Helmsman Hinch noticed that she had gone, Commodore. He reported immediately to me.”

“Go on -?”

“Hinch, tell the Commodore what you told me?”

“She was lying just behind the Virginian, Commodore.” Hinch was a big man, sharp eyed and strong. Adam remembered him from the first time they had sailed in the Baltimore. He waited for the man to continue “Now when I think about it that was a clever move, as if she had planned to go, sneak out, and was using the Virginian as a mask for her. The thing is, when I looked over at the Virginian, I could just make out the shape and lights of the Pennsylvania. After a while I stopped noticing her. Then I realised that whenever I checked the Virginian, I wasn’t seeing the shadow … The Pennsylvania. She’d gone.”

“No signal from the Virginian?”

‘No, sir.’

“Captain Hathaway, signal the Virginian and ask them if they know what’s going on?”

While arrangements were made for the shutter light to be employed and send its signal over the waters, Adam clasped his hands behind his back and strode over to the port side of the ship. Would Selkirk go, just like that? An action that amounted to mutiny? He could hear the shutter working, the clack clack of the message as it pulsed its way into the night followed by the silence.

He turned to watch the answer from the Virginian, and then the sound of the message from the Baltimore once again. After a silence of nearly a moment, the answer flashed from the other ship and Adam could read for himself that O’Brien was coming over in the skiff.

“In my office the moment O’Brien steps on board.” He snapped brusquely and hurried back to pull out maps and spread them out over the desk, while his steward had the lamps burning and had gone to prepare hot drinks for the Officers about to meet together.

Mutiny. Unbelievable. And yet with Selkirk, anything was possible. Anything.

Chapter 44

Apart from the tight mouth and a nerve throbbing in his temple Adam was able to conceal the anger that was seething under the surface of his outward appearance of calm. Years of discipline had instilled within him sufficient self control to harness his feelings. When O’Brien stepped into the cabin used as an office by the Commodore he did so with no idea of Adam’s feelings although the atmosphere among the Officers gathered there was indicative enough of trouble.

“Captain O’Brien,” Adam awarded his friend a curt nod, “Take a seat.”

Daniel’s eyes flicked around the room as he took a chair. Munnings and Myers were looking at the maps spread out on the desk and trying not to look too interested in the situation while his own First Officer, Lieutenant Canning looked more thoughtful than concerned. He, having known Adam for so long, waited with some anxiety the conversation to come.

“Selkirk has taken the Pennsylvania from this location. Did you notice exactly when?”

“Not exactly, not personally. The officer on the watch reported a message coming through at just before 4 bells. It was flashed over by shutter lamp, of course.” Daniel frowned, he felt like a school boy being chastised for something about which he knew nothing.

“What did the message say? Do you have a copy with you?” Adam was standing by the desk; every so often his eyes strayed to the maps and then flicked up to look at his friend who was beginning to look pale and strained.

Without saying a word Daniel pulled the message slip from his jacket pocket and handed it to Adam who read:

Orders to proceed south easterly Commodore will explain time scheduled to leave 4 bells

Adam frowned and shook his head, pursed his lips and passed the note to Hathaway, “Did your officer send a reply?”

“He sent for me immediately and I sent a message back requesting an explanation as to what were his orders exactly. He only repeated that you would explain.”

“And you didn’t think to contact Captain Hathaway and confirm whether or not the orders were authentic?” Adam’s voice was tinged with disappointment and Daniel felt a plunge in his stomach at the thought that his friend felt let down by him. He cleared his throat.

“I didn’t think Captain Hathaway would have been told something about which I had been told nothing. It seemed a strange thing for Selkirk to do, but he is a more experienced seaman than either Hathaway or me. I assumed -”

“You should never assume anything without confirming it with me first.” Adam snapped.

He bowed his head, clenched his hands into fists and then sighed, pinched the bridge of his nose and shrugged. “Well, at least we have confirmed the time he left. I doubt if he actually went in a south easterly direction as everything else in that message was a lie apart from the time of his departure.”

“Why do you think he left the convoy, sir?” Aaron asked taking advantage of Adam’s back being turned from him to send Daniel a quick glance of sympathy.

“Because as Captain O’Brien has rightly pointed out he is an experienced seaman and no doubt wishes to prove the point. Unfortunately he’s placed himself in a very vulnerable position.”

He indicated that they moved to the maps and here he traced a circle with his finger before he resumed speaking again “We’re entering the South China Sea. It’s a marginal sea, part of the Pacific Ocean. As you can see we have the Malacca Straits and the Strait of Taiwan here and here with Singapore here … that’s a distance of thousands of miles.” his finger traced the outline of the bordering countries of which south of mainland China predominated.

“Do you think he’s heading there?” Myers asked looking intently at the spot where Adam’s finger rested on the map.

“I don’t know where he’ll be headed, Mr. Myers. We’ve a vast area of sea to consider, along with hundreds of small islands, atolls, cays, shoals and reefs. We already know that some of these are permanently submerged and care will have to be taken to negotiate around them. Commodore Boyd indicated that the pirates or marauders, whatever you prefer to call them, have their base among these, perhaps scattered among several. Unfortunately we won’t know until they come out to find us.”

“Selkirk must know that as well.” O’Brien replied.

“Yes, perhaps he wants to do us a favour by drawing them out for us.” Munnings suggestion was made with some enthusiasm and received some nods in agreement.

“We’ll no doubt find out in due course about that as well, Mr. Munnings.“ Adam said with a sigh in his voice.

“So what do we do in the meantime about him? It won’t be that easy to follow his trail on water.” Canning observed.

“Very true, Mr. Canning. Any suggestions, gentlemen?”

There was silence for some moments before O’Brien volunteered that there wouldn’t be any means of locating him in the dark. ‘He’ll have to use his lights, of course. If he wants to be followed he’ll keep those on.”

“Did he keep them on after he set sail, Captain?” Adam’s voice was now neutral, it was a general enquiry to which O’Brien said that yes, there were alight. They had seen the lights take a south easterly direction before fading out of sight when hitting a fog bank.

“By morning he’ll have made good headway from us. We’ll need to look out for the usual rubbish thrown overboard ship that could attract the birds. The more birds gathering could indicate the ship, or just that we’re getting close to land. As it is we need to navigate our way carefully as we don’t know these waters well enough to take risks with speed or over casual handling.” He rubbed his chin with one hand and tapped his fingers on the desk, “Any further suggestions?”

“Do you think we should start tracking him now, sir?” Canning again, eager for action obviously.

“No. I don’t think there’s much point in that. Try and catch up on some sleep and we’ll set off at 8 bells.”

Adams curt nod of dismissal didn’t include O’Brien whom he signalled to remain. When the last of them had left the cabin, with Canning mumbling that he’d wait in the skiff for O’Brien to join him there, the Commodore turned to O’Brien and shook his head,

“I was surprised at you, Daniel.”

“I realised that, I can only apologise. I never thought for a moment that he was taking it upon himself to – well- just go off on his own. Does that indicate mutiny?”

“It could. It depends on the motive, which he has to prove, of course. Thinking of Selkirk I think it’s more likely he wants to prove a point, and rub my nose in the dirt a little.” he leaned against the desk, long legs stretched out and his arms folded across his chest, “Selkirk’s a maverick.”

“It takes one to know one.” O’Brien smiled and stood up, glad that there was a return to a good relationship again.

“Oh, I’m no maverick, not now.” Adam’s lips parted into some kind of grin, “We’ll get this sorted out, although, unfortunately, it may not go in Selkirk’s favour.”

“I’m thinking of the men serving on board the Pennsylvania. If they thought for a moment they were acting independently from your orders, do you think they would have gone willingly?”

“Do you?” Adam quirked an eyebrow and the dark eyes were sombre and anxious. “He sent a message to you that the crew would no doubt have accepted as valid, just as you did. I doubt very much if the crew would willingly take part in an out and out mutiny.”

O’Brien nodded, reassured somewhat by Adam’s statement. The two men shook hands and parted at the door of the cabin. Once he was alone again, Adam removed his jacket and boots, and then stretched out upon the bed to attempt just a little more sleep.

Chapter 45

The new day dawned with Adam at his desk studying the maps and his brow creased. Every so often he would raise his eyes to the port hole to look out at the rippling waters and allow his mind to wander to a time when ships and the sea were only subjects of stories told to him by his father and grandfather. A time when his imagination would bring about a magical glow to the tales and seas were like beasts to be conquered and tamed, ships would never sink but be borne swifting over scudding waves by full blossomed sails.
Time made a mocker of tales and stories and he turned his attention once again to the maps. Shoals and reefs, submerged atolls, a whole mass of islands to navigate and still so far from China itself. The islands he was about to enter presented a haven for the piratical elements, a hazardous route for the unwary and for Selkirk perhaps a refuge.
Hathaway presented himself with his log book and sat down to discuss the orders for the day. There was little point in asking him if there had been any sight of the Pensylvania as the look on his face as he entered the cabin made it quite clear that there had been nothing.
“Well, sir, the weathers calm and we should be approaching Namyit Island within a few hours.”
“Good.” His eye glanced back to the map and he rolled the top most one over to reveal the one beneath. Once again he frowned at the sight of it and he tapped the coastline of China with his forefinger, “We’ve still a long way to go. It’s going to be an interesting trip, Hathaway, these islands are owned by more than one country, most are uninhabited or uninhabitable, and we haven’t a clue where Selkirk could be.”
“No, sir.” Hathaway bit his lip and looked concerned, “Looking at the islands on the map, sir, it does seem an ideal place for a ship to hide or get lost.”
Adam nodded and stood up, “Let’s go on deck.” He muttered and led the way out of the cabin.
O’Brien was on deck on the Virginian and raised a hand in salute. He gestured to the right of him and when the two Officers followed his hand they could see a ship bearing down towards them. There was no mistaking the Union Jack flying from its mast and Adam bit his bottom lip and shook his head slightly. The last thing he wanted now was to be asked where had he sent the other ship by some over bearing British Officer. He looked at Hathaway who was obviously of the same mind as he rolled his eyes and shook his head before turning away.

Captain James Villiers came on board the Baltimore with a pleasant smile on his face and saluted the Commodore and Hathaway with a genial air about him.
“Good thing meeting up with you chaps,” Villiers said as he followed Adam to his cabin, “I was hoping to rendez-vous with you eventually. Got on pretty well with your other chappie, the Commodore Boyd.”
He stepped into the cabin and glanced around, pursed his lips and then smiled. O’Brien had followed him over in the dinghy and now they were all in the cabin he closed the door. Adam made the introductions and hands were shaken before Villiers removed his cap and with Adam’s permission, sat down.
“I’m on my way back now,” he said quietly, “this is, I hope, my last tour of duty in these parts. It’s a difficult assignment.” he accepted the cup of coffee and asked for more sugar, “Not quite used to it, you know? Tea’s more my taste.” he smiled again with such pleasantness that no one could be offended.
They all politely sipped coffee and waited for Villiers to continue speaking. He once again looked around the cabin and smiled at Adam, “The old Empress has installed a child as Emperor. That means she will be ruling through him. In other words she’s in control. Her distrust for British and American is slowly slipping into paranoia. There’s been fighting in various towns and cities where her troops have ridden in and killed any of the Christian faith, regardless of denomination.”
“So what do we do here?” O’Brien asked rather curtly, “Twiddle our thumbs?”
“Sometimes it seems like that’s all one can do. It’s a boring assignment but our ships have to be protected.”
“Boyd indicated that the pirates could well be her own people.” Hathaway said quietly.
“That has become apparent.” Villiers nodded, “Her statesmen are very well versed in how to deflect any accusations. Quite often we end up being accused of being on one hand liars, plotting to dishonour Her Excellency and on the other hand being pirates ourselves. It’s not a pleasant thing to have a Chinese statesman screaming abuse and having to just stand there and not bat an eyelid. I’d rather face the pirates.”
“And have you?” Adam asked with some interest.
“Yes, several times. They use these islands to play hide and seek in. Of course it helps that some are owned by different nations …Cambodia is governed by the French at present. That’s the land mass here -” he pointed to the area coloured pink on the map as though no one present was capable of reading it for themselves. “I came out here with five ships a year ago. I’m going back with three.”
“They appear very successful in destroying the shipping … Boyd lost a ship as well.” Hathaway muttered with a scowl on his face.
“”They’re like smoke. One minute not a trace of them, the next thing you know you’re surrounded. They’re very cunning and very cruel.” he finished his coffee and set the cup down, “I wish you all well in your assignment. Commodore, a pleasure to have met you.” he paused, “Oh, by the way, I came across your other ship earlier. The Captain there said he had been sent ahead to reconnoitre.”
Adam raised his eyebrows and glanced at the map, “Mm, so whereabouts would he have got to by now..” he murmured and Villiers, with a smile, pointed to a small cluster of islands just south of Namyit. “Well, he must have put on some speed to get there so soon.”
“He did say it was quite an urgent business.” Villiers picked up his cap and smiled, thanked them again and followed the Commodore from the cabin.

O’Brien already had the compass out to check the distance from their position to the last sighting of the Pennsylvania, did some quick calculations and nodded “Looks like he’s heading for the Apo reef.”
“Why on earth would he do that?” Hathaway frowned, “Why not one of the islands?”
“Remind me to ask him when we meet.” Adam said as he re-entered the room, “Gentlemen, they say God helps fools and drunkards, but I think there are times when he also lends a hand to muddle headed seamen. Set a course for Apo reef, Captain Hathaway. Daniel .. See you at supper.”
…………..
It seemed to Adam that life had turned full circle. Chasing phantom pirates in an area where the temperature never seemed to fluctuate below 27*-30*, and negotiating some of the most incredible reefs and natural maritime hazards in the seas to protect merchant ships was far removed from anything he had expected.
His mind returned to the last time he saw President Grant and he wondered what exactly it was that made it so necessary for him to be sent so far from his homeland. It wasn’t just him, but O’Brien and the other officers who had served with him on some of the assignments to which he had been sent.
Suspicion, he told himself, breeds distrust. But then he shrugged his shoulders and reminded himself that he had never trusted Grant anyway, nor the bunch of murdering thieves that formed his administration. Then why was he here in this uniform? Why hadn’t he said to Villiers, “Perhaps you could take me with you, there is a wedding I wouldn’t mind attending sometime this year.”
He thought of Laurence and Rachel. Perhaps already married and blissfully so. His mind naturally gravitated to his family, to Hoss and Hester, Joe and his Mary Ann. It was no good. He began to pace the floor, pausing to adjust something on the desk, on a shelf, on the table. He was restless. He needed action. He was, to be honest, bored.
………………

“Commodore -?”
“What is it?” he swung his legs over the side of the bed and waited for Hathaway to tell him what was wrong.
He waited but nothing happened and no one spoke. The cabin was still in darkness. He groaned and lifted one leg up and then the other and slumped back into the bed. A dream. Just a dream. They had passed Namyit Island by mid-day and gone forward to wards the Apo reef. They had seen islands and shoals, sandbanks and reefs, some larger than others and some more treacherous. But there had been no sign of the Pennsylvania.
Now another day was on the brink of dawning. He closed his eyes and wondered what he had been dreaming to be so realistic as to wake him with “Commodore?”
He opened his eyes again and the cabin was in that half light of a new dawn. Hathaway was there looking bleary eyed “Commodore, a boat has just hove into sight.”
“Friendly or not?” he muttered as he raised himself on one elbow and peered through the port hole.

“I believe they are from the Pennsylvania, sir.”
“Permission to come on board, sir?”
“Permission granted.”
“First Lieutenant Atkinson, sir.”
Adam nodded and looked over the men who were standing now on the deck. They all looked exhausted and several were men he recognised. Allsopp was one, and he called the Midshipman over “This doesn’t look good, Mr. Allsopp?”
“I know, sir.” Allsopp looked terrified and his eyes darted towards Atkinson.
“Permission to speak, sir?” Atkinson asked immediately and Adam nodded and led the way to his cabin.

Atkinson stood in respectful attitude in front of Adam and told him of the whole sorry situation.
“We were only obeying orders as we were them, sir.” He looked earnestly at Adam and then at Aaron who was jotting down notes, “So far as we knew we were doing what you had told Captain Selkirk to do, and that was to proceed and reconnoitre ahead. It wasn’t until after we had met up with the Britisher that things revealed themselves for what they truly were and most of us agreed among ourselves that we couldn’t go along with the Captain. Mutiny against our Captain is one thing but, well, he was disobeying orders himself, wasn’t he?”
“Perhaps.” Adam replied cautiously, “Go on.”
“We mustered up on deck and told him that we requested to return to our previous location alongside the Virginian and Baltimore. He started shouting the odds and such, and suddenly there was fighting. I don’t know how that started, believe me, sir. It was never intended to be a – well – a fight. It meant that -” he paused and bit his lip.
“I know what it meant, Atkinson. It means that if Selkirk gets out of this situation with his ship and name intact he can accuse you men of mutiny, have you court martialed and drummed out of the navy.”
“Yes, sir. Exactly. We were hustled into the holds. Well, during the night someone drew the bolt over and raised the cover to the hold we were in. He said we were to get back to the Baltimore as soon as possible and warn you that Selkirk aims to blow you out of the water.”
“Oh, he does?” Adam quirked an eyebrow and grimaced, shrugged one shoulder, “And is that it?”
“That’s all I can tell you, sir. It’s the truth, I swear to God.”
“Very well, Atkinson. Go and get yourself something to eat and drink. We’ll talk more about this later.”
After a smart salute Atkinson left the two Officers alone, Hathaway put away his pen and paper “Do you believe him?”
“Yes,” Adam said slowly, “Yes, I’m afraid I do.”

Chapter 46

It seemed that no sooner had Atkinson left the cabin than a light knock on the door heralded Munnings who entered and asked Adam if he had time to speak to another of the Pennsylvania refugees. When Adam replied in the affirmative Midshipman Allsopp was ushered in. He looked at Hathaway and then Adam and saluted “I’m sorry, Commodore, being improperly dressed. I lost my hat …”

Adam gave a half smile and shook his head, “That’s nothing to worry about, Mr. Allsopp. Welcome on board the Baltimore.”

“Thank you very much, sir.”

“Is there anything that you wish to say about the situation with regard to Captain Selkirk?” Adam leaned forward to look at the boy more closely, “Where did you get those bruises?”

The lad immediately raised a hand to his face “I – I must have got them when I got into the boat.”

“Look, Mr. Allsopp, you came in here for a reason. Perhaps, if you would be kind enough to spare us the excuses, just tell us what it is you want to say.” Adam smiled in order to soften his words as he didn’t want the boy to feel there was any reproach upon him or anything he had to say, “I know it’s not considered correct procedure to say anything against your Captain but the situation here changes some things.”

“The men are saying we’ll be court martialed.”

“Well, they’re wrong about that so free your mind on that score.”

Allsopps eyes flashed over to where Hathaway was seated, “It’s about what happened on board the Pennsylvania, sir.”

“Go ahead.” Adam probed, “Don’t worry about Captain Hathaway, he has to take notes of what’s said now, otherwise if we leave things to memory certain details could be lost, forgotten for the record.”

“What record, sir?” the youth asked timidly.

“In the event of Captain Selkirk facing a court martial.” Hathaway said immediately with a scowl on his face as he spoke the words.

Again Allsopp’s hand was raised to his face and his fingers touched the bruises on his cheekbone and jaw, he nodded, swallowed and turned to face the Commodore. “It was my fault, sir. I was to blame.”

“For what?” Adam leaned forward again and with his head at an angle looked carefully once again at the boy, “Carry on, Mr. Allsopp, what was your fault?”

“Well, when we got back from that supper with you, sir, the doctor was told to go to the Captain’s cabin. I went to go to my quarters by Captain Selkirk grabbed me and pulled me along to his cabin. He said that he wanted the doctor to bear witness to the fact that he no longer flogged -” he paused and mumbled a word which Adam asked him to repeat, then when it was repeated he nodded and glanced at Hathaway who put the word down as {expletive}.

“What happened then?” Hathaway asked quietly.

“He beat me. Dr. Stuart tried to stop him but once Captain Selkirk starts -” again he paused, licked dry lips, “He said that next time I can go and tell you, sir, that I wasn’t flogged, just got what I deserved, and nothing more than what my daddy would have given me back home.”

Adam stood up and walked around the desk to where Allsopp was standing. He put a hand on the boys shoulder and gently turned him round “Sit down, boy. Your legs are shaking so much if you stand any longer you’ll fall down.”

Allsopp bowed his head, ashamed of his weakness but grateful for the offer. Once he was seated he continued with his narrative. “I must have passed out because I was still in the cabin when I came to my senses. I heard Captain Selkirk talking to some men … Damien Hardwick, Fraser McDonald and Gilbert Robson. They were talking about leaving and other things I couldn’t hear. Captain Selkirk said something had been all arranged, and it wouldn’t be difficult, just say it was Commodore’s orders.”

Adam pushed a glass of wine into the boy’s hands and waited for him to drink it, after which he leaned against the wall, arms folded across his chest and waited for the boy to continue. “There isn’t much more to say really, sir. We mustered on deck during the night watch and he told us that we were under orders to go to Apo Reef. Reconnoitre. So we set off and everyone seemed quite happy about it, except that I thought it right I should mention what I had heard to Lieutenant Atkinson. He’s alright, is Lieutenant Atkinson.” he paused and handed the empty glass to Adam, “A bit later the British ship comes by and whether Mr. Atkinson heard them talking and something didn’t add up with what he’d been told I don’t know, but when Captain Selkirk mustered up for a briefing later that day Mr. Atkinson requested that we returned to join with you. He said it would be safer in view of what the British Officer had said about the dangers of being isolated in these waters.”

Allsopp bit down on his bottom lip now and seemed to be struggling to remember what happened next, he cleared his throat, “McDonald was standing next to me and I saw him look at the Captain and there was a kind of nod, you know, sir, when someone gives the go ahead to another? It was like that … and then McDonald struck Mr. Atkinson with a baton. That was when the fighting broke out. We were put into the hold. Some of the men were quite badly hurt and the doctor came to attend to them.”

“How many men requested to return back?”

“I couldn’t say, sir, but there are a lot of men still locked in the brig and the biggest hold on board. I should say two thirds of the ships company are locked up.”

“And do you know who released you and why?” Adam asked in a softer tone of voice.

“I think it was the doctor, sir. He’s too scared to the Captain to make a stand for himself but I know he was very distressed seeing the injuries the men had sustained. Anyway, we got into the boat and have been rowing ever since. Thankfully Mr. Atkinson had a compass on him and directed the boat while we rowed.”

“Let me see your hands, Mr. Allsopp?” Adam stepped forward to inspect them and nodded, then sighed, “Well, I think it would be best if you went to see Dr. McPherson and got those blisters seen to, and any other injuries you’ve got. Thank you for your co-operation, Mr. Allsopp.”

“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.” The youth rose stiffly to his feet, saluted and then left the cabin with a rather awkward gait.

The door closed and Adam looked at Hathaway, “Did you get all that written down?”

“Yes, Adam, I did.” Hathaway sighed and glanced over the statement. “It’s strange, you know, but I wouldn’t have thought Captain Selkirk would have acted like this, not on first meeting him.”

Adam said nothing to that although his mouth twisted into a rather grim smile.

………………

The large table was decked with the finest white damask linen, flowers adorned it, candles enhanced the flowers, glassware and cutlery gleamed and sparkled. Around the table sat a gathering of men and women, laughing, chattering, and gossiping. Silent foot men moved back and forth to refill glasses, slip more food onto the plates. The men, all members of President Grant’s administration, some in uniform, and some not, were relaxed in enjoying the time with wives and friends. Among the elite gathering were Sherman, Sheridan and Custer.

This was a rare visit for Libby and George Custer to meet with their old friends and colleague. Libby shared memories and reminisces with the other women while Custer enjoyed discussing the most recent events in Indian Territory, the latest scandal involving Babcock, and the Indian ring, and the reason why Grant was sending a commission to the Red Cloud reservation to ‘investigate’ certain allegations.

“I thought you would have known all about that, George.” Sherman said as he cut through the meat on his plate, “It’s close to your Fort, isn’t it?”

“Not that close.” George replied sharply, his instincts warning him to proceed now with care or be tarnished with the same brush as Babcock, Saville and sundry others.

“I heard from Babcock that it was Commodore Cartwright that advised Grant to get it organised.” Sherman continued and turned his narrow eyes to scan Custer’s face, “The man’s a menace. He stands for a by gone time. If you want land, and land’s available, then you get rid of the vermin polluting it.”

“Except that Cartwright doesn’t agree with that theory.” Sheridan laughed.

“No, of course he doesn’t. That’s why I said he stood for a by gone time. Bleeding hearts and sensitivities … there’s no room for that nonsense now.” Sherman looked at Custer again, “Don’t you agree?”

“You know I do.” George replied curtly.

“Well, there you are then. At least we agree about something.” Sherman looked over at Mrs. Custer and nodded his head at her, smiled and raised his glass of wine before taking a gulp. “Good thing we persuaded Grant to get rid of him.”

“What do you mean?” George frowned and looked anxiously at the two men, “Get rid of whom?”

“Cartwright.” Sheridan said.

“Why? Where is he now?” Custer said quietly, lowering his voice as he realised that Libby was listening.

“South China Seas I believe. Patrol duty. Deadly boring.” Sherman leaned back in his chair and unbuttoned the top of his tunic.

George Custer said nothing to that but cut a portion of his meat and ate it. As he chewed on it he thought of Adam Cartwright and the last comment Sherman had made. He wondered whether they, Sheridan and Sherman, had forgotten had deadly boring it was to patrol Indian Territory in search of hostile Indians who sometimes weren’t so hostile after all. The sun always burning the top of ones head and back, sand and grit getting into more places than a man would care to mention, the saddle rubbing and legs aching.

He cut another slice of meat and looked at Libby, smiled at her and then turned to Sherman, “Why the South China Seas? What’s he doing there?”

“Looking after merchant ships, making sure pretty ladies here get their silks and satins, of course.” Sheridan reached out and picked up his glass.

“Is he alone?” Custer asked.

“Three ships went out. O’Brien Captain of the Virginian, Hathaway of the Baltimore and Selkirk of the Pennsylvania. Cartwright is the Commodore, overall superior officer.” Sheridan snapped out in reply.

“Richard Selkirk?” Sherman leaned forward, “I didn’t realise Selkirk was involved in this operation?”

“Do you know him?” came the next enquiry and Sheridan held his glass out to be refilled.

“I know of him. I pity Cartwright, Selkirk’s trouble.” Sherman frowned and put down his knife and fork then pushed his plate away.

George Custer said nothing. He thought a lot though and wondered how Adam Cartwright felt having obviously lost the President’s favour. He couldn’t resist the smile lingering upon his mouth.

Chapter 47

Much to Reuben Phillips’ delight and Olivia’s relief the policeman was true to his promise and arrived on the morning of Booth’ release. He stood like some carved wooden guardian at the front door of the house and observed the world with patient deliberation.

Booth’s possessions were put out on the front doorstep for collection. It seemed that the tension in the house built up as the moments ticked away into hours. Every so often Olivia would peek through the window and with a sigh let the curtain fall back into place when she saw the boxes and cases still there.

“Why is that man standing outside, ma?” Reuben asked for probably the tenth time “Is he coming to arrest someone?”

“No, he’s there to help us.”

“How is he going to help us? What’s he doing?”

“Waiting.”

“Waiting for what?” Reubens smooth brow creased into a small horseshoe shape between his eyebrows and he glanced once again at their stalwart guardian.

Abigail paused to look out of the window and observed the policeman. She noticed the items for collection and frowned. After a moment or two she went to her favoured chair and sat down, “Morgan isn’t here anymore, is she?”

“No, Abbie, she left and returned home. To her home, that is …” Olivia replied as she stood close to the window, her hands clasped together upon the lap of her skirt, and her face turned to the road.

“And Booth? Are you going to let him in here?”

“No.” Olivia turned then and looked at Abigail anxiously. Was this a good day? Was she going to be sensible and not make a scene or say some ridiculous things at a time when her own nerves were strung out like the wires of a violin.

“Thank goodness.” Abigail sighed and smiled at Reuben who came to sit beside her on a stool by her feet. “Booth was and is troublesome. It’s a good thing the policeman is there, Olivia, at least we can feel a measure of safety.”

“Do you think then, that Booth could be violent?” Olivia asked, turning to Abigail and then realising that Reuben was listening she turned back to observe the goings on outside in the hope that her son would not have noticed the question. Of course, he did.

“O’Flannery said a broom wouldn’t do for him,” He volunteered, “So she’s got the mop she washes the floor with, and said she would shove it in his face if he took one step inside the house. She doesn’t like Uncle Booth at all. Neither do I.”

“He hasn’t hurt you at all, has he?” Olivia’s eyes widened in horror, “Or Sofia.?”

“He gave me a Chinese burn once. It really hurt.” Reuben frowned, “I kicked him on the shins and ran away and he called me names. But that’s all. He never would hurt Sofia, he liked her.”

“Booth,” Abigail pronounced solemnly, “was very different from your father, Reuben. Your father was a hardworking honest young man. He refused to work for my father’s company and made it on his own merits. He was an excellent engineer and architect.” she frowned slightly and sighed, “I tried to love them both equally and have no favourites, but Robert was so easy to love. Rupert, your grandfather, thought the world of him and encouraged him to make his own way. Perhaps that is where we went wrong, we favoured Robert over Booth. Jealousy, the good book says, is rottenness to the bones, and I’m afraid that in Booth’s case that really is very true.”

A carriage pulled up outside the house and Olivia tensed. She watched as the policeman went down the steps to speak to the man, not Booth, who stepped from the vehicle. Another man came and collected the stack of items by the door. She saw the first man give the policeman an envelope and then re-enter the carriage. It then rolled away with Booth’s possessions in the trunk and on the roof.

Without waiting for the policeman to knock on the door she hurried to the open it and took from his hand the envelope. He smiled at her and touched the peak of his cap, “You still wanting me here, ma’am?”

“I don’t think so, thank you so much.” She awarded him with a smile and watched as he left the premises, his back straight and his step firm. Once he had turned the corner of the street she closed the door and returned to the small parlour where Abigail now sat alone for Reuben had deserted her in order to relate the latest news to O’Flannery and Marcy.

The envelope was addressed to her in Booth’s heavy hand. She tore it open and withdrew the contents, a single sheet of paper.

My dear sister-in-law

Just to greet you and thank you for the hospitality you have shown me over the years. Morgan and I appreciated it at the time.

As you know she has now left me and wishes to divorce me. So be it. I am not going to waste time grieving over that business.

I just wanted to remind you of something that you seem to have forgotten and that is my legal right of inheritance. I shall return some day, perhaps tomorrow, or next week, to claim what is mine.

Mother did me a favour sending me to Galbraith’s. He’s been such a help. You knew of course that Galbraith’s father and my Grandfather Richter were in ‘business’ together, didn’t you? Two old crooks scared of each other’s shadow, each scratching the others back. Pity you followed my advice and went to Galbraith for legal help, Olivia. You should have stuck with Roberts choice.

Never mind. As I said I shall be seeing you sometime in the future. Or, perhaps not – after all it isn’t you I want to see. But I shall come back for what is my legal rights.

Give my mother my regards.

Booth Phillips”

She re-read it. There was no doubt whatsoever in her mind that the letter contained a threat. She stared at the words until they made no sense at all, just seemed like so many black wriggles against the white paper.

“Olivia, sit down before you fall down.”

Abigail’s hand on her arm was a comfort and the strength in it somehow imparted strength into her. She passed the letter to Abigail and watched the old woman’s face as she read it and then handed it back to her. “Well, that remark about Galbraith may be accurate, more accurate that he even realises.” she murmured.

“Then why didn’t you leave him? Why did you continue doing business with him, trusting him?” Olivia cried, almost ripping the paper in half due to holding it so tightly.

“Dark secrets, my dear. I don’t know what my father confided in him, Galbraith’s father that is, but whatever he said and did would have been passed down to Galbraith Junior. I couldn’t afford to change solicitors even though I wanted to do so. Rupert had his own fellow, thankfully, but when he died everything went to Galbraith to deal with for me.”

Olivia frowned and stared down at the paper and wondered what dark secrets bound her to Galbraith. She couldn’t even remember when she started dealing with him, and now, as she tried to bring back some facts to her mind she couldn’t even recall the name of the solicitor who had dealt with Roberts business. She bowed her head and felt once again the reassuring touch of Abgail’s hand upon her arm.

“What legal rights would he have, Abigail? What is Booth talking about? He’s taken your money, documents, and yet still claims to have legal rights? What can he mean?”

“I don’t know, child. But if he thinks he has them then he has no doubt discussed it already with Galbraith. He’s more like his grandfather than even I realised.”

…………………

The day trickled away into night time. Far away in a place that Olivia knew nothing about the ‘tomorrow’ was sliding into mid-day. The Baltimore was slicing through the waters with the Virginian running parallel to her. The heat of the sun continue as warm as ever while in San Francisco the night wept with raindrops.

On the Ponderosa Hester slept with her husband, her head upon his shoulder, her contentment and joy being with him manifold.

In their room Joe and Mary Ann murmured words of love, caressed and tenderly enjoyed the intimacies of their marriage and fell asleep wrapped in each others arms. Moonlight spangled across their bed in much the same way as it must have gilded many a lovers tryst throughout time.

…………………

Ben Cartwright deposited his bags in his suite at The Powell Hotel and confirmed that he would have the mid-day meal there. He was tired. The trip by stage coach had never been a comfortable one at any time of the year. During early spring, with the cold still maintaining its grip and eating into his bones, Ben had found himself wishing more than once that the call for help from Mrs. Phillips had happened at a more pleasant time of year.

Hop Sing had shaken his hand outside the hotel and then vanished among the crowds to the home of one of his many relatives in China town. Ben had watched him go and smiled affectionately as his companion dodged around the pedestrians thronging the streets with his carpet bag slapping against his leg. No doubt about it, Ben thought, there goes a true friend. As he pushed open the doors of the very opulent and grand hotel it struck him as preposterous that his good friend was not ’good’ enough to be welcome here.

After unpacking his few possessions and changing his clothes Ben made his way to the restaurant, ate his meal, drank some wine, enjoyed a cup of coffee. All the time his mind revolved around the matter of Olivia Dent Phillips. He thought of Ephraim her father, and Martha her mother. He smiled thoughtfully to himself at other memories that he hoped would be lingered over during this initial meeting.

She had sent him a small handwritten note apologising that she would be unable to join him for a meal but would meet him in the foyer of the hotel at 2 p.m. As he set down his cup and glanced at the clock a waiter approached his table, leaned over and whispered that there was a lady waiting for him.

She was early but it pleased Ben to know that she was as eager to meet him as he was to become re-acquainted with her. He dropped the napkin on the table and rose from his chair to follow the waiter out to the foyer where he saw her standing by the reception desk.

He hadn’t expected her to resemble her mother so much. As he approached her with one of his warmest smiles and extended his hand to take hold of hers, she smiled.

“Heavens, but you are like your mother.” He exclaimed as they shook hands, “It’s good to meet you at last, Mrs. Phillips.”

“Thank you, Mr. Cartwright.” She hadn’t been offended by his remark, his initial reaction to how she looked, her sea green eyes had sparkled and the smile had become warmer, it was as though his acknowledgement regarding her mother had reaffirmed that they were old friends. “You’re looking very well. Did you have a comfortable journey?”

“Not as comfortable as I would have wished. I’m afraid the stage coach suspension didn’t take my old bones into consideration.” He laughed, that deep throated chuckle that was so warm and endearing.

“I don’t think anyone who ever knew you, Mr. Cartwright, would consider you as being old.”

He smiled, brushed the compliment aside and led her to a well padded rather plush seat where she sat down while he took the seat opposite her.

“So, you met my son, Adam?” Ben said with his eyes on her face as he wondered what his son must have thought about her. He beckoned a waiter over and ordered them coffee.

“Yes, but it seems a long time ago now. How is he? Have you heard from him?”

Did he detect a slight blush to the cheeks, well, perhaps it was the lighting in the hotel. A dull day outside and the foyer full of shadows.

“I haven’t heard for a while, but he did write and tell me about your concerns. You really do want to return to the Double D?”

“Yes. Sooner now than ever.”

The white jacketed waited arrived and set a table by their side, he poured out coffee to their requirements and left both cups steaming. The lull as they waited for him to get on with his business gave them both time to think, to regard one another again.

“You have a home to dispose of here?”

“Yes, but there’s been a problem arise concerning that, you see, my brother-in-law, Booth, has stolen the Title Deeds. He claims to have gambled them away. According to Mr. Galbraith, the lawyer who acts on behalf of the Phillips’ family, there’s nothing I can do about it.”

Ben paused with the cup half raised to his lips, he frowned, “That can’t be right.”

“Being a woman denies me the rights that you and your gender can take so for granted, Mr. Cartwright.”

He said nothing to that other than to incline his head and then drink some of the coffee. Women’s rights and all that business was a quagmire of arguments that he never got involved in. When Hester or Mary Ann mentioned anything about the injustices against women and how laws were made by men for men .. .he would smile indulgently and nod his head. Anything for peace in the home. He cleared his throat.

“Why not tell me all about it, my dear.” He lowered his eyes once he had said that, wondering if he sounded patronising and ‘too male’.

“Mr. Cartwright, perhaps it would be better if you called me Olivia. I would prefer that really.”

“In that case, Olivia, you must call me Ben.”

They smiled at one another, her sea green eyes were quite green now, and her smile was sweetly sad. He knew that she would continue to call him Mr. Cartwright out of deference to his age and station in life. She was that kind of woman. But he was glad that he could call her Olivia, very glad about that.

Chapter 48

It was wonderful to be able to talk about everything to a man like Ben. He sat there like a comforting, reassuring rock listening patiently with his intense black eyes watching her, and nodding every so often. She hadn’t realised how much she missed a male in her life, a man who could take the responsibility of the problems, who would listen and let her talk until sometimes, somehow, she had talked herself into solving it herself anyway.

Every so often he would ask her a question and then wait patiently for her reply, smile and nod. His fingers would play around his mouth at times or rub along his jaw, but he never wavered in his concentration.

“Olivia, you said in your letter that Abigail was very frail – what happened to her?”

Olivia paused for a moment as her mind travelled the pathway back to the beginning of Abigail’s problems then she sighed, “Rupert Phillips died in a road traffic accident. It was very sudden and Abigail seemed to handle it well enough for she was a strong willed woman at the time. But about a month later she had a stroke, a seizure of some kind.”

“I remember Rupert he was a fine man.” Ben said quietly, “Was this the start of her illness?”

“Yes, at first we just noticed that she was sometimes a little vague, and forgetful. Then when Robert, my husband died, she must have had another seizure. We were not living in the same properties at that time. Things went unnoticed …” she glanced aside and looked down at the rug, “It was after the funeral when we went to her home and she asked me where Robert was… every time I saw her she asked the same question and I would have to explain over and over again. The doctor said she would never recover, only get worse, and, she has…”

“I am sorry, Olivia. I only met Abigail and her husband a few times and admired them both. Life here was very different then to what it is now.”

“Yes, I believe so, Mr. Cartwright.” She smiled as though saying his name was pleasant to her. “Well, as I was expecting my second child and with all the pressure of Roberts death and Abigail’s illness, it wasn’t long before I was ill myself. Sophia was born but I was very ill for some weeks. I think I was near to losing my mind as well as my health at that time.”

Ben reached out and took her hand in his and squeezed it gently in sympathy. He was surprised at how cold it was and looked at her anxiously. “Another coffee?”

“Yes, thank you that would be very kind of you.”

They waited for the coffee to be brought and poured for them, and when alone once again Ben leaned forward “Has Abigail told you anything about her sister, Henrietta?”

She smiled at him and picked up her cup and saucer, “I never even knew there was anyone called Henrietta in the family. No one ever mentioned her, or if they did, not in a way that would imprint the memory on my mind. To be honest, Mr. Cartwright, it was only when your son, Adam, came to the house and Abigail met him, and mistook him for you, that I first heard of her sister. Since then she has mentioned her occasionally, but only during those times when she isn’t quite lucid, or fearful of something, as she is at present with Booth.”

Ben’s face fell into grave lines, the pleasant smile faded and a frown creased his brow making the dark eyebrows lower over the near black eyes. “I’m more than sorry to hear that,” he sighed.

“There was something I learned, however, that may be of some help to you.” She drank a little of the coffee and replaced the cup in the saucer before looking at him again, “Booth stole some letters that had been sent to me … this was quite recently. When we discovered the theft of the letters Abigail revealed that he had also stolen letters before, letters that had been written to her from you.”

“So she never got my letters?” Ben’s face flushed an angry red, and his lips firmed, “So that explains it -”

“Explains – what?”

“Why she never came that night.” He sighed and shook his head, then leaned back in his chair, “I met her when I arrived her in San Francisco a long time ago. I had two boys to care for and had decided to travel on into Utah. Eagle Station. But when I met Henrietta I almost never bothered going, in fact, I was more than prepared to stay here.”

“But something went wrong?” she leaned forward, a romance revealed at last, and what woman doesn’t love to hear of a romance?

“She told me about her father. She was unhappy at home and anxious to leave. To be honest, Olivia, I didn’t love Henrietta.” He drew in a deep breath and exhaled slowly, while his eyes moved from her face to look at the far wall, “I knew she cared about me, but she didn’t love me. We were both reaching out for a solution to our problems and hanging onto one another as that very thing, a solution. I would take her from the difficulties of her home life, and she would care for my boys. Perhaps in time we would grow fond enough after all we were both attracted to one another, cared enough. Yes, perhaps we would have married in time.”

“Did she know that? Did she know that there was no marriage promised at the time?”

Ben smiled and looked at her with a twinkle in his eyes, “Yes, she knew. She was very young whereas I had already married two women, and lost them. I would never have enticed her away from home with false promises, Olivia. She knew that if things didn’t work out between us then she could have returned or gone elsewhere with someone else.”

“Oh, I had hoped that she had fallen in love.” Olivia laughed at little and then finished her coffee. “Mr. Cartwright, Abigail gets very upset about Henrietta and those letters. I get the impression that Booth gave them to his grandfather and that she was punished as a result.”

“Which prevented her from being at the place we had arranged the night I left here? I waited until morning, went to the house and asked for her, but was sent away. I left thinking that she had changed her mind.”

She said nothing, allowing him to dwell a little on the information she had given him. Then he looked up and smiled at her, “Look, we came to discuss your problems and find a solution to them. When I was making arrangements for coming here, I sent a telegram to a dear friend of mine, a lawyer. I think it would be a good idea if we were to go and see him and get some legal advice. What do you think?”

“Do you mean now? To-day?”

“Are you doing anything else? Made any other arrangement?”

“No, nothing. The children are safe with Marcy and Mrs. O’Flannery, and I never did tell them when exactly I would be returning, although I really should get back before it gets too dark.”

“Well, in that case, I’ll send him a note to expect us in the morning. Would that put your mind at rest?” He smiled at her and beckoned to a member of the hotel staff, requested pen and paper and quickly jotted down a few words, sealed it in an envelope upon which he scrawled an address, “Could you see that this gets sent right away?”

“Yes, sir” and away went the letter in one hand while he pocketed the tip with the other.

“You are kind, Mr. Cartwright. I knew that you would be, that you couldn’t possibly have changed since the last time I met you.”

They were standing now, and he stood by her side as they walked to the door of the hotel, “Do you remember much about that time?” he asked her gently.

“Enough. A lot of things changed in our lives then. I missed my friends. I remember being angry because father wouldn’t let us, well, have time with the few that we did know. Heaven knew that there were very few people there at the time, or so it seemed to me.”

“And do you recall much about your life with the Indians who took you from your home?”

“Not much, enough to know that I enjoyed it and so did my brothers. My mother – it was different for her.” She sighed deeply, and shook her head, “She was different, afterwards. People talked and said bad things about her, so my father said anyway. But it wasn’t true. She wasn’t harmed in any way, Mr. Cartwright. She was just so very frightened. Adults see things that children find irrelevant, don’t they?” she looked up into his face and smiled, “I missed you, and seeing the boys -.”

“We all missed you and your parents.”

“I remember being very annoyed at not being able to see your new baby.” she laughed, “It was a long time ago now, wasn’t it?”

“Yes, yes, it was.”

“It – it was good to see Adam again. He looked so handsome and grand in his uniform. He’s a very strong person, isn’t he?”

He looked at her and his generous mouth broke into a wide smile, his dark eyes twinkled again, “Adam, yes, he has a stubborn streak in him, that’s for sure.”

They were outside now, a light drizzle was falling and the evening was drawing in. She looked at him regretfully, “I am sorry, Mr. Cartwright, I hadn’t realised I had chattered on for so long. It’s a good thing that we didn’t go to see the lawyer after all.”

“I shall call for you tomorrow morning, ten o’clock?”

She nodded and shook his hands with warmth that, she hoped, would convey all her thanks, and her gratitude. It wasn’t until she was nearly home that she realised she had not even mentioned about her plans for returning to the Double D. She shook her head, and smiled, they would discuss all that tomorrow, she told herself. Yes, tomorrow.

Chapter 49

Olivia slept well that night. Fears that had haunted her for days seemed to have been lifted since speaking to Ben. Even the thought of Booth and his threats drifted away. She spent a pleasant evening with the children, played with them and read them stories before she tucked them into their warm beds. She kissed both of them good night before closing the door. All in all, the day had turned out far better than she had thought possible.

The hansom cab arrived promptly at 10 a.m. Olivia waved to the children who pressed their noses against the window to watch their mother disappear inside the cab. The rain had lifted that morning and the sidewalks were glossy with the reflected sun shining upon the earlier puddles.

“How are you this morning, my dear?” Ben’s deep voice and warm smile were as comforting as they had been the previous day and brought about a responsive smile from her.

“I am grateful to you, Mr. Cartwright. You’re very kind to look into this matter for me.”

“Look, Olivia, your parents and I were good friends for some years. Despite what happened later I never thought any the less of them and could understand Ephraim’s fears. I know that were my sons needing help from him, he would willingly have given it. The least then, that I can do for his daughter.”

“I brought the letter I received from Booth with me.”

“That’s good. Julian would want to see it.”

“I should have kept the first one he sent, the one he wrote to me when he was in prison, but I was so angry that I threw it in the fire.”

“Quite a natural reaction.” he patted her hand reassuringly and smiled, glanced out of the window and nodded to someone in the crowd of pedestrians.

“I suppose you must have a good number of friends here in the city?”

“Quite a goodly number.” He leaned back against the padded leather seat and asked her then to tell him about her children.

By the time she had finished telling him about them the cab was drawing up outside a very large building. Gold painted letters on the window announced:

Frobisher & Sons
Solicitors
Commissioner of Oaths

Julian greeted Ben warmly and from the initial introduction to their meeting it was clear that Ben had spent some time in the other gentleman’s company during the previous evening. He shook Olivia’s hand and led her to a chair. He then sat behind his desk and produced some papers “I sent for all your papers from Galbraiths. I hope you didn’t feel I was intruding too much on your privacy but I thought if I had them here now I would be able to help you more efficiently.”

She smiled, nodded and glanced at Ben who gave her a reassuring nod. Julian’s eyebrows now seemed to knit themselves together as he scanned through them. “You didn’t always deal with Galbraith, did you?”

“No. My husband preferred another firm of solicitors. I’m not sure what happened or how things got changed, except that it must have happened when I was ill after Roberts’s death and Sophia’s birth.”

“Yes, there is a letter here signed by yourself requesting that Messrs Harris and Donavon were to send all your papers, and those of your husband to Galbraiths. The writing of the letter doesn’t quite match that of your signature but then there’s nothing one can make out of that, you would be surprised how many well bred ladies still cannot write except for their signatures.”

Olivia sighed and said nothing. Inwardly she was wondering if the gentleman was going to be the fussy old type that would cluck and chatter about every scrap of paper he set his eyes on. She fidgeted a little in her chair and glanced again at Ben who was watching her with concern on his face.

“Mrs. Phillips, I have read through the papers here and it seems that you inherited quite a large amount of money when your husband died.”

“Yes, I did.”

“You sold the house you were living in and bought another -?”

“The house we were living in belonged to my father’s grandfather, Mr. Richtar. It was very old and gloomy. It was a provision of Roberts will that the proceeds of the sale were put in trust for the children. The house I bought came from the money he left me.”

“And then you invited Mrs. Abigail Phillips, Booth and Morgan Phillips to share the home with you?”

She blinked and looked again at Ben. She knew he wouldn’t be able to help her in this instance after all the matter back then had nothing to do with him. It was just seeing him there gave her the reassurance that she was not alone in what she felt was going to be a difficult time.

“I can’t remember much about what happened, to be honest with you, Mr. Frobisher. I was very ill for some months. Everything back then seemed unreal to me at the time and now, when I think back to it, it seems more like a dream, or nightmare, than reality itself.”

“I see.” Julian put down a letter and some papers that he had been holding, “Mrs. Phillips, while you were ill, it would appear you signed several documents that enabled Mrs Abigail Phillips to join your household, along with her son, Booth and Morgan.”

“I don’t know – I don’t remember signing anything.” she bowed her head and struggled to remember, “As I said before it all seemed like a dream, unreal. I can’t remember what I signed or what I agreed.”

“Most of the papers here were signed by you when you were suffering this kind of malaise.” He cleared his throat, “Booth and Morgan Phillips – why did they move in with you?”

“I don’t know. I mean – something to do with Abigail? I can’t remember.”

“Your lack of memory about these matters has been a big benefit to Booth Phillips and Mr. Galbraith, his family solicitor. I’m afraid that you have been – well – your situation has helped them to make ill use of you. Booth Phillips still has rights to the house his mother and father owned – did you know that?”

“I thought they had sold it.”

“Not at all. They rent it out at an exorbitant sum. Now -” he tapped the papers and peered at her in such a manner that she quailed inside. “What do you know about the Law of Inheritance?”

“The – the Law of Inheritance? I don’t know anything about that.” she clutched at her purse more tightly and felt her heart racing.

“Julian, don’t be so stiff and starchy. Mrs. Phillips knows as much and as little about such things as the majority of us. I don’t know anything about the Laws of Inheritance either.”

“What about Orphans Courts?” Julian asked in a gentler tone of voice.

“What about them? My children aren’t orphans. How does that apply to me?” Olivia’s voice was edged a little now by some steel in it, and her eyes were larger, fiercer. Upon her cheeks was the rouge spots of defiance.

“In the eyes of the law they would be considered Orphans due to having no father.”

“They have a mother – .” Her back straightened involuntarily.

“Yes, but sadly the law doesn’t recognise you as their legal guardian.” He sighed at the sight of her wilting back in the chair, “Your husbands will could only give you one third of his money, shares, assets etc. The remainder went into trust for your children.”

As fast as colour had risen into her face it was now draining away. “Please go on, Mr. Frobisher.”

“As they are – or will be – extremely wealthy when they come of age the closest male relative is assumed the legal guardian of these children. That would be Booth Phillips.”

She shook her head. “May I have a glass of water, please?”

Ben was the one to get it for her, he knelt by her side and handed it to her and waited for her to drink it. Afterwards she opened her purse and withdrew Booth’s letter “Is it possible that his legal rights – the ones he refers to in the letter – would be my children?”

Ben read it and with a solemn face passed it to Julian. The lawyer sighed and nodded,

“In order to claim any rights to the money left to your children by Robert, your brother in law would have to prove that he is a fit guardian. It may well be that he was advised to move in with you and his mother in order to prove just that – daily access and proximity to the children would convince the court of care and attention.”

“He has stolen the Title Deeds to my house -”

“According to what you told Mr. Cartwright he no longer possesses them. You can’t prove that he did. The law won’t investigate the matter because it comes under the Law of Tort rather than Criminal Law. It’s a complicated business, Mrs. Phillips. I am sorry.”
Ben cleared his throat, “But the theft of the Title Deeds means that Mrs. Phillips could lose her house.”

Frobisher frowned and looked at Olivia who appeared like a wraith now, her strange sea green eyes looked washed out of all colour and her skin appeared translucent. She was, he thought, a most unusual but beautiful person, almost ethereal. He sighed, “I can only repeat, I am sorry. Do you have any papers – receipts or letters – that were exchanged between you and the person from whom you purchased the property?”

“If I did they would all be there, they all went to Galbraith.”

“Mr. Cartwright tells me that Mr. Booth Phillips removed a sizeable sum of money from his mothers account. Is anything being done about that?”

“I was told that due to my mother-in-laws mental condition it would be difficult to prove that it was not done without her consent. She was always giving him large sums of money to cover his gambling debts. No one would question whatever he took from her account. I couldn’t even do that, in all honesty. Abigail’s mind -.” she sighed and shook her head, “Mr. Frobisher, is there anything I can do?”

It was his turn now to fidget and he shuffled the papers a little, “Mrs. Phillips, everything that has happened here, if taken to court, would take years to prove or disprove in your favour. It is most unfortunate that you don’t have any clear memory of what happened during your illness. But then, I’m afraid, your brother in law rather took advantage of you there. Sadly, the law would say that he was carrying out his responsibilities to his brother’s children.”

“I can’t prove anything -” Olivia whispered and rose to her feet, “Thank you, Mr. Frobisher. I think I need to get home. Mr. Cartwright, I’m – I really think I must get home.”

Ben glanced anxiously at Julian who could only shake his head in sympathy.

“I’m rather inclined to agree with Mr. Charles Dickens in this instance, Julian. The Law is an ass …”

“Ben, I don’t make the laws. I can only advise as the law directs. Mrs. Phillips, the laws of inheritance are changing. The way things are regarding women will improve, in time.”

“It’s time that I do not have, Mr. Frobisher.” She didn’t shake his hand for her state of mind made her blind to it, she hurried from the room with a look of panic and fear upon her face that caused Ben to nod hurriedly over at his friend and quickly follow behind her.

“Olivia -”

“Mr. Cartwright.”

“It’s alright -”

“It isn’t alright, Mr. Cartwright. According to Mr. Frobisher I have no legal rights over my own children.”

“The Law -” He stopped and hailed a hansom cab, “I think we should get home and start making arrangements for you to leave here. What do you say?”

The cab drew up alongside them and he took her elbow and assisted her inside. She leaned back with her eyes closed and he sat beside her, pulled out a handkerchief to give her when he noticed the tears. “Thank you, Mr. Cartwright.”

They were silent for a few moments before she spoke again, “I’m frightened, Mr. Cartwright. I’ve been frightened before many times since Robert died. So much happened that was out of my control, and ever since then I have never felt as though anything I did was right or proper. I like to be in control, Mr. Cartwright, if I am not -” she dabbed at her eyes, “I know Booth. I know what he plans to do. He’s going to take my children. The Law is on his side. If the house is taken away from me then he will say that not only are they orphans but they are also homeless. I can’t provide for them.”

“Does he know about the Double D?”

“Know?” she looked at him, big blank wet eyes that stared into his face with anguish in them “He doesn’t. I mean, he knows that my father had a ranch there, but he doesn’t know that it’s mine. It is mine, isn’t it? That won’t also be taken from me, will it?”

“No, Mrs. Phillips, it will not. We won’t let anyone take it from you.” He leaned in closer to her, “Listen to me now, I think we must seriously consider you leaving here as soon as possible. Will you trust me to make all the arrangements?”

“Yes, of course.” she clasped at his hand, “Of course I will.”

“We need to get you and the children away from here. In 24 hours, could you do that?”

“Yes, yes, I could. What about Abigail?” She bit her lips, “I can’t just leave her in the house like the furniture, can I?”

“Would she – I mean – is she well enough to travel that distance? Could she manage life there?”

“Others had who had no choice but to move out with their families.”

“True enough.” he smiled, “I’ll arrange a wagon. I already have a very good driver.”
He smiled, “I’m presuming that one wagon would be enough?”

“Yes, more than enough.”

“In that case, that’s what we’ll do. Now I think we should go to the house and, if you don’t mind, I’d like to meet your children and Abigail.”

Chapter 50

No sooner had Ben assisted Olivia from the cab, and turned to pay the driver his fare, when the door to the house opened and two little figures ran down the steps shouting “Mom, Mommy.”

“What is it? What’s happened?” Olivia exclaimed as she opened her arms to embrace them both.

“We got one. Flannel’s got ‘im in the kitchen.” Sofia cried and grabbed her mother by the hand, “Come see, mommy.”

Ben followed the woman and the two excited children into the house and closed the door behind him. A young woman with wispy hair trailing behind her came hurrying towards them, “O’Flannery caught him, Mrs. Phillips. Hiding in the bushes in the garden.”

Olivia, heart sinking and nerves fluttering, felt that her worse nightmare had come true. Someone had come to kidnap her children. It was true, it could have happened and with dread she stepped into the kitchen. O’Flannery, red faced and breathing heavily, was standing guard over a thin man who cringed into the corner of the room. With her arms folded over her ample bosom and the broom clasped firmly in one hand, O’Flannery was obviously not in the taking prisoners quietly mode.

The ‘prisoner’ stared wide eyed at the newcomers and then, seeing Ben, a look of relief flooded over his face, “Ah, Mr. Cartlight, you tell ladies no need to worree.”

Olivia glanced at Ben and frowned, “What does he mean, Mr. Cartwright?”

“What he said, you have no need to worry, my dear. This is Foo Chung. He’s one of Hop Sings relatives here in San Francisco. As soon as I knew you needed help I asked Hop Sing to arrange for a 24 hour watch to be put on your house.”

She blushed and looked at the hapless man, “Oh, I am sorry, Mr. Foo Chung. Mrs O’Flannery meant no harm.” She turned to Ben, “You think of everything, I really am in your debt, Mr. Cartwright.”

“My boys and I were very grateful to Hop Sing’s relatives during one of our holidays here in San Francisco, they saved the three of us from being Shanghaied.” He smiled and looked at Foo Chung, “Has everything been alright here, Foo Chung?”

“Two men come. They look at house from front and then come to back and look up at windows.” Foo Chung replied as he brushed down the sleeves of his jacket and gave O’Flannery a venomous glare.

“I see, thank you.” Ben nodded and Hop Sing’s cousin No. 5 left by the door into the garden and disappeared once again into the shadows.

Reuben was not too pleased by this turn of events. Loss of a prisoner went against the grain and he scowled at Ben fiercely, “You let our prisoner go.”

“He wasn’t really our prisoner, Reuben.” Olivia explained, “He’s a friend of Mr. Cartwrights. He was there to keep us safe.”

A frown creased Reuben’s face and he looked anxiously at his mother, “Safe? What from, mom?”

“From some bad people.” Olivia said and then wished she hadn’t as she saw the wide eyed look that passed from him to Sofia. “Marcy, read them a story and try to take their minds off what I said. I may have alarmed them more than I meant. Mr. Cartwright, do come with me. I know you would like to see Abigail now.”

Ben followed the young woman down the hallway into the little parlour that Adam had found so pleasant on his visit. The elderly woman sat upright in her chair with one hand on the silver handle of her walking stick and her eyes fixed to the shadows in the garden. Without turning her head she said, “There’s a man out there in the garden. A Chinese man if I’m not mistaken.”

“Yes, Abigail, he’s a friend of ours, his name is Foo Chung.” Olivia walked to her side and took hold of her hand, “Abigail, I have a friend who wishes to see you again.”

“See me?” Abigail exclaimed and looked startled, “But I’m not dressed for visitors, Olivia.”

“I don’t think that matters today.” Olivia replied and turned towards Ben who stepped forward now and in Abigail’s line of vision, “Mr. Ben Cartwright, this is my mother- in-law, Mrs. Abigail Phillips.”

Abigail turned large eyes to Ben and opened her mouth to speak. Somehow no words came out and she sat as though frozen. It was Ben who spoke first and took hold of her veined hands with the skin so papery thin, “Hello, Abigail. It’s a long time since we last met.”

“Yes,” Abbie nodded, “Yes, a very long time.” She frowned, “You’ve changed a lot since then, Ben Cartwright.” she smiled, a sudden capricious smile that lit up her face and revealed what had once been beauty, “I suppose you see me much changed as well.”

“The years have rolled by, haven’t they?” Ben replied, silently admitting that the woman he saw now had changed beyond recognition. The years had not been kind to her.

“I met your son the other day. The one with the uniform. He bought Olivia some red roses.” her eyes twinkled, and she beamed over at Olivia and then looked back at Ben, “A handsome boy, Ben.”

“Thank you, Abigail.”

There was a tap on the door and Marcy peeked inside, “Is there anything you will need Mrs. Phillips?”

“Oh yes – excuse me -” Olivia got to her feet and hurried out of the room, she closed the door gently behind her, “Marcy, make some tea will you? Is O’Flannery preparing lunch? Ask her to make enough for our visitor.”

Ben was sitting on a chair beside Abigail when Olivia re-entered the room. He was listening attentively to some story she was spinning him, and when Olivia came and sat down opposite her she asked Ben if he had come to take Henrietta away with him after all. Ben looked over at Olivia; the sudden re-direction of conversation had surprised him. Olivia leaned forward to Abigail “Mr. Cartwright has come to visit us, Abbie. He isn’t here to see Henrietta.”

Abigail looked anxious now; she shook her head “I shouldn’t have mentioned her. I know, I know, I shouldn’t have said anything about her.”

“Well, don’t worry about it now, dear. Mr. Cartwright -” Olivia paused as Abigail leaned forward and grabbed Ben’s wrist,

“Ben Cartwright, you gave my sister so much hope, so much to look forward to, and then you didn’t come for her. She waited and waited.”

“I wrote to her. I understood that she never received my letters.”

She stared at him and then released his wrist, “That’s right, of course, that’s right.” she whispered, “I remember, Booth took them. He gave them to father.”

“Booth was your son, if I remember rightly?”

“One of them.” Abigail replied with a heavy sigh, “We were staying with my parents for some reason. Mother was ill.” she leaned forward and lowered her voice into a whisper, “She wasn’t really ill. She pretended because something was happening that she didn’t like and didn’t understand.”

“What was that?” Olivia asked, and surprised herself in whispering as well.

“Henrietta. Henrietta had a secret and she was happy. Mother couldn’t handle things like that, and as a result Father got angry. Then Booth gave him the letters.” She drew in her breath and leaned against the back of the chair, “Worse still, Booth found the letter she had written to Mr. Cartwright.”

“What happened then?” Ben asked gently and as soon as he had asked the question the door opened and Marcy appeared with the tea on a tray.

With this slight hiatus occurring Abigail seemed to slip further back into her dream world. She looked at Ben and wondered who he was, a familiar face, and those black eyes – who could forget them. “Hello,” she said in a light girlish voice, “I’m Abigail, I’m Henrietta’s sister.”

Ben looked over at Olivia who was looking anxious and rather pale, her eyes fixed upon Abigail as she wondered what the old lady would say next, “How do you do, I’m Ben Cartwright. I’m a friend of your sister.”

Abigail looked at him thoughtfully, “She’s not here. Henrietta is gone. You will have to go away, Mr. Cartwright. Henrietta has gone away.”

“Gone away? Where has she gone?” Ben looked into the vague eyes of the old lady and felt as though his own grip on reality had slipped off kilter. “Is she safe?”

“Safe?” Abigail blinked, “No one has ever asked me that before. Father said not to say a word about it. Not a word. We just never said anything about it ever again. Robert and Booth forgot they ever had an aunt. I nearly forgot I had a sister until – “ she turned to Olivia, “Until the other day when that young man came with the roses. He reminded me of a friend of Henrietta’s, so I started to think of her again.” She shook her head, “Oh dear, what was his name again?”

“Ben Cartwright?” Ben said softly.

“Yes, that’s right, Ben Cartwright, that was his name.”

She lapsed into silence now and Olivia looked anxiously at her, and then at Ben. “I am sorry, Mr. Cartwright, it’s obviously been too much for her. Perhaps if we leave our talk about plans for our move until she goes upstairs for her rest?”

He smiled and nodded, accepted the cup of tea she handed him and was about to speak when the door burst open and Marcy screamed “They’ve gone. The children. They’ve gone.”

Olivia rose to her feet, swayed and then ran forward, pushed Marcy to one side and ran into the street. There was no one there, the street was empty, and rounding the corner was a hansom cab, apart from that – no one at all.

“I only left them a minute while I was bringing in the tea, and then I had to go and see -”

Marcy’s explanation was cut short by Olivia’s scream. She was still screaming the name of her children as Ben caught her in his arms and lifted her up as she was about to fall, fainting, upon the steps of the house.

Chapter 51

A tall woman dressed in black opened the door and stepped aside as the two men carried in the children. As she closed the front door of the house another door along the hallway opened and Booth Phillips stepped from the room. He smiled and clapped his hands, squatted down onto his haunches and opened his arms wide, “Hello hello, how’s my two favourite children in the whole world?”

“Uncle Booth” Sofia screamed with delight and ran towards him, the relief at seeing a familiar figure foremost in her mind after the terrifying ordeal of being bundled rather unceremoniously into the cab

“Uncle Booth, those men took us away from Mommy.” Reuben complained as he stood by Booth’s side and looked anxiously at him, “Why’d they do that? Is Mommy coming here soon?”

“I’m sure she will,” Booth smiled and ruffled the boys hair and hugged Sofia, “Now, come on inside and see what Mrs. Ellis has cooked for you.”

“I’m not hungry, Uncle Booth.” Sofia whined, “I want Mommy.”

“She’ll be here as soon as she can be, I promise.” Booth smiled at them both and pushed the door open to the dining room, “Come along now, Mrs. Ellis cooked you a very special meal.”

……………..

Olivia opened her eyes to find herself gazing into Ben’s face, anxious eyes looked down at her and she could see herself as a tiny figure in the pupil of each dark orb. She roused herself into a sitting position, “The children? Booth’s got them, hasn’t he?”

“Perhaps,” Ben said quietly releasing her hand and placing a cup of tea there instead, “Drink this, it’s good for shock.”

“I knew it, I knew it would happen.” She was shaking and the tea was slopping into the saucer, “Oh Mr. Cartwright, where could they be now? What if Booth hurts them?”

“He won’t hurt them, my dear.” Ben’s deep voice soothed and reassured, “Without the children he can’t claim any money. They’re his insurance. Now, drink up that tea and let’s think about what to do next.”

The rustle of skirts indicated that Abigail was approaching and Ben glanced over his shoulder to see the old lady coming towards the settee upon where he had set Olivia down. Abigail sighed and shook her head, “This is more of Booth’s doing, isn’t it?”

“It would appear so, Abigail.” Ben replied and rose to his feet to allow her access to her daughter-in-law.

“You mustn’t worry, Abbie,” Olivia whispered, “Really? It’s going to be alright.”

“Booth – he’s always the cause of trouble, always.” Abigail was weeping now, tears slipped down the familiar causeway of her wrinkled face, “Heaven knows I tried to help him, but all he ever knew was how to take and give nothing back. It was his fault that ’Rita couldn’t get away with Ben.” She frowned now as though remembering something or rather, someone, and turned to the man standing by her side, “That’s you, isn’t it?”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“We met you several times, didn’t we?” She studied his face and nodded, “Well, this is a fine mess now. What do we do about it?”

He was somewhat taken aback by such a statement coming from her and was about to reply when there was a knock on the door and Marcy stepped into the room, “Excuse me, Mrs. Phillips, there’s a gentleman come to speak to Mr. Cartwright.”

It was Hop Sing who presented himself in the room. Wearing his town suit and clutching his bowler hat in his hands he nodded politely to the two women before turning to Ben,
“Foo Chung saw cab come, two men get children.”

“You mean, they came into the house?” Olivia cried.

“No, Missy, children play outside on step of house. Easy peasy pick up.”

“Did Foo Chung -?” Ben began but Hop Sing immediately nodded, “Foo Chung take number of cab, and signal to Nephew Soo Fung to get on back of cab. Soo Fung go where cab go. Where children go Soo Fung go also.”

“That doesn’t help much, Hop Sing, seeing how we don’t know where Soo Fung is.” Ben said quietly.

“You wait, pliss.” Hop Sing raised a finger, “Soo Fung very intelligent boy.”

As though performing some kind of oriental magicians trick Hop Sing promptly disappeared, leaving the three occupants in the room staring at the now closing door.

…………….

Abigail had retreated into a deep cavern of memories. Sitting in her high backed chair she stared out into the garden and allowed her mind to take her down the avenues and corridors, exploring the darker shadows and deeper secrets buried there. She said nothing all the while Olivia paced the floor and wrung her hands and Ben sat looking alternately at the clock and then the door.

“How much longer?” Olivia cried, “All this time being wasted. I should go to the police.”

“Be patient. I’ve never known Hop Sings’ relatives to let me down; I don’t think they will do so now.”

Ten more minutes ticked their way around the clock face. Then there was a light tap on the door and Hop Sing reappeared, his face creased into a smile as he looked at them, he bowed politely, “Soo Fung send message. Children safe. Have address of house here.” he produced a slip of paper and handed it to Ben. “Now we go and get children – ?”

“Wait.” Ben’s voice stopped Olivia in her tracks for she was already half way to the door, “He’ll be expecting something from us.”

“But he won’t know that we know where he is?” Olivia protested.

“If we take the children now, he’ll only come back here.” Ben frowned, “He could claim he has the legal right of care over the children and bring the police with him. Or he could just crash on in and demand them with a bunch of his so called acquaintances, one of whom no doubt has your title deeds and could order you out of your own home.”

“Do you mean to say that we have -” her voice cracked, quavered and she struggled to regain control “Don’t we have anyone on our side to help?”

“You have us.” Ben said looking at Hop Sing and then at her, Hop Sing bowed again, nodded and smiled as though in an attempt to reassure her even more, “And we have a whole army of relatives.”

“Then – we need a plan.” She looked into his face and then at Hop Sings, “Do you have one?”

Ben nodded, “Yes, I do. But you’ll have to exercise a degree of patience, Olivia. And trust.”

Abigail glanced over at them now and nodded, “Yes, that’s right. Faith and trust. I remember – ‘Fear knocked on the door, Faith answered it, and there was nothing there.”

“In other words, Olivia,” Ben smiled “Don’t be afraid, trust me – ?”

………………

Complicit with his instructions Hop Sing scuttled off on his many errands. A watch was kept on the house where the children were being kept by Booth. At least three of his assortment of nephews guarded the rear and front entrances to the house. His Cousin No. 4, who owned a very prestigious laundry in the city and had clients in that area, was happy to make late evening calls on some of them with their clean wash. Large wicker baskets wobbled and trembled in the back of the large wagon that was driven along the street. One by one the baskets were passed on to the housemaids by the pleasant and familiar laundryman.

Mrs. Ellis looked out of the top bedroom window as she drew across the drapes. She saw the wagon, watched the big wicker basket being carried down to the back door of the house opposite. She let the curtain drop without thinking more about it. The children slept together in the big bed and appeared to be happy enough. She watched them for a moment and then left the room, closing the door behind her.

Marcy was busy packing everything that Mrs. Phillips handed to her, the wicker baskets were taken down to a covered wagon at the back of the house, shrouded in the darkness and the shadows of the walls and gardens around it. Slowly but surely the things Olivia wished to take with her to her new home was placed in the wagon with Abigail’s most important and precious possessions.

“I’m coming with you, Miss, ain’t I?” Marcy whispered, afraid to speak normally in case anyone overheard.

“Do you want to, Marcy?” Olivia looked anxious; another person to be responsible for, to think about and the worried expression on her face almost broke Marcy’s heart.

“I know I ain’t been here very long, Miss Olivia, but I get along fine with the children, don’t I? And how are you going to manage with Miss Abigail? Who knows how she’ll manage to get on with all this travelling and then that place out there in the wilds. She might go -” she paused and lowered her eyes, “Well, you know what I mean, don’t you?”

“Yes, I know what you mean. It’s alright, Marcy. I’ll give you the address where we will be going this evening. Join me there as soon as possible tomorrow.”

“I won’t bring much with me, Mrs. Phillips. I don’t have much, so it won’t get in the way.”

Olivia smiled and pressed her little companion’s hand, feeling guilty now at the amount of things she was packing into the large baskets and boxes.

Abigail watched everything that was happening with a placidity that was bordering on total unawareness. She watched as men came and went, either empty handed or laden down with an assortment of luggage. She watched and wondered and thought and remembered. “Ben Cartwright?”

He turned, smiled and left his willing army who resembled so many ants scurrying up and down the house. “Yes, Abigail.”

“I have to tell you about Henrietta.”

He sat down beside her and looked into her eyes, “Do you really want to tell me?”

“I have to tell you while I can remember. You see, for a long time I did forget. I almost convinced myself that I had never had a sister. That was because of father.”

“Mr. Richter?”

“Yes, Mr. Richter. He always aspired to be a great man, claimed that he was but he wasn’t, not really. Had he been anything important from the old country he would have been a Von, not Herr or Mr. Richter, but Von Richter. Well, he wasn’t. But he was wealthy and he was ruthless. He built up an empire here; he always said it was the best thing he did, coming here right at the beginning of a city’s birth. He was proven right, of course.”

“Yes, he was.” Ben glanced over his shoulder and saw Olivia hovering by the door, seeing that she had been noticed she entered the room. Abigail didn’t seem to notice, she was intent on speaking before what she remembered vanished forever.

“My sister was the youngest. Totally dominated by my parents. You offered her something that no one else could, not even I.”

“What was that?”

“Freedom. The one thing father and mother denied her. She was so lovely, you see? Her nature was as sweet as her face. I would have been jealous of her had she not been such a gentle creature. But I had my own freedom, I had met Rupert, married, and had my sons. One was a blessing the other a curse.” Abigail shivered and clasped her fingers around Ben’s wrist, “Booth found your letters and gave them to father. She had written to you and Booth pretended to take the letter for her, but he gave it to father. She was hurrying down the stairs with her carpet bag full of her little treasures that she was going to take with her. Father met her on the stairs where the half landing was and they argued. I heard them, she was begging him to let her go, and he refused, called her names, “Whore” “Harlot” other words in German that I didn’t understand. She was crying, begging to be free.”

Again she stopped as though all the talking exhausted her, she leaned back in the chair and gripped Ben’s wrist even tighter, “I came out of my room to try and get them to stop. I was still on the landing when I saw all of a sudden Booth was there. He was laughing. He had her letters in his hand and was waving them in front of her face. She reached out for them and fell. I heard her cry out my name and ran down the stairs. My father grabbed me by the arm and stopped me ‘It was an accident. She fell. Nothing more, nothing. Now – go back to your room and forget what happened here.’”

“And Henrietta?” Olivia whispered.

“She died. The doctor said her neck was broken in her fall. Father said no one knew or heard anything. She was going to visit a friend, he said, and in her excitement and hurry, must have tripped and fallen.”

“Was there no enquiry? An inquest?” Ben said with a slight tremble in his voice.

Abigail frowned, then nodded, “Yes, I remember that there was one, and a letter from you was produced to show that she was going to meet you. Nothing more was said about it. She was buried. I don’t even know where as I was never told. Father said that her name was not to be mentioned in the house. She was not worthy to be recognised.” Her brow creased slightly and she shook her head, “Rupert was away from home for some months at the time. When he came home I was too frightened to tell him what happened because of Booth.”

“So you forgot her?” Olivia said quietly.

“My father was a cruel man, I had suffered a lot from the way he treated us. I was scared of him, frightened for Booth. I was – I thought -” she leaned forward and grabbed at her hands and stared into her face, “What if Rupert knew? He would have stopped loving me. Father would have seen to that …”

Their eyes met and Olivia knew that more than anything else the fear of losing Ruperts love was the greatest fear the poor woman had ever known. She kissed Abigails gnarled old fingers gently and held her hands against her cheek.

“I forgot her, but I always had an ache for her in my heart.” Abigail sighed, “I’m so tired, Livvy, I need to sleep now.”

Chapter 52

The minutes on the clock ticked by and no one seemed inclined to move. Abigail had her eyes closed now as though the whole effort of remembering and relating events from so far back in time had exhausted her.

Olivia looked over at Ben and saw the concentrated look on his face. For a moment she wondered what was going on in his mind for the brow to be so furrowed and his face fixed into such a dark scowl. Was it because he had loved Henrietta after all and only now realised how much? Was the denouement of such a tragedy a compounding of all those lost and forgotten feelings. She glanced again at the clock (one she had never liked and had no intention to taking with her to the new home). Time was ticking away and the night was getting darker, she leaned forward to touch his arm.

“Mr. Cartwright, is everything alright?”

“No, Olivia, you’re looking at a confounded idiot!” Ben declared and stood up with such suddenness that the chair almost toppled over, “Fool that I was -” he grabbed at her hands and held them tightly, “I was about to put you and your family into even worse trouble than you are in already. Why didn’t I just stop to think instead of jumping right at the first thing that came into my head.”

“Mr. Cartwright, what do you mean?” she didn’t know whether she was supposed to laugh, cry or clap hands but pulled herself away from his grasp, “What about my children, Mr. Cartwright? How am I going to get them back?”

“Legally, that’s how. Trust me for a little longer, my dear.” he hurried to the door and pulled it open, “Hop Sing? Hop Sing?”

No sooner had Hop Sing appeared in the room than Ben turned to Olivia “A change of plans. I need you to be patient, and trusting, Olivia. I want you to stay here for the night after all. Hop Sing, stay here and keep an eye on Mrs. Phillips. If Booth does turn up, which I doubt, then keep him here at all costs. Now then – go and get Foo Chung.”

Impatiently Ben paced the floor and thumped one fist into the palm of the other as he waited for Foo Chung to appear. He did so with Hop Sing right behind him.

“Foo Chung, go and find the others … tell them to stay where they are and to do nothing. Just keep the house under observation, that’s all.” he paused and as Foo Chung turned to leave the room grabbed at his arm, “Just the one thing, if Booth leaves the house I want him followed, especially if he has the children with him. If anyone leaves the house with the children have them followed. Oh, and Foo Chung, take the wagon with Mrs. Phillips belongings where we arranged for it to be left.”

Foo Chung left after a hurried bow to the ladies, one of whom was now gently snoring so it was wasted on her. The door closed and Hop Sing watched Ben with narrowed eyes,
“You want I shoot this man Booth if he come?”

“Not if you can avoid it, Hop Sing.”

Ben smiled and then looked at Olivia, smiled and took her hand in his, “My dear, this may be a long wait for you, but be patient. If at all possible try and get some sleep.”

“I don’t think I could, not until the children come home.”

“That’s quite understandable. If the chance arises to talk to Abigail about what happened to Henrietta, try and get some more details from her. Do you think you could?”

“I’ll try.”

He smiled and nodded and left the room with her thanks following behind him like a benediction.

…………………

Julian Frobisher had been studying some papers so was not surprised when he saw Ben entering his study. Mrs. Frobisher, Martha, smiled and said she would make some hot chocolate. “See what happens when a man gets old, Ben,” Julian sighed, “We no longer get treated to brandy and cigars, but hot chocolate -” He ushered his friend into the room and indicated a chair upon which he could sit, “What’s new?”

“Do you remember telling us all about the Orphan Courts and how the Guardian has to be proven free from accusation of any wrong doing?”

“I do. You brought out about Booth Phillips practically emptying his mother’s bank account, and stealing some papers from his sister-in-law. Unfortunately I was unable to give you any hope of using that information against him. I’ve been reading some more of the papers Galbraith sent me … Mrs. Olivia Phillips signed far too many letters during a short period of time after her daughters birth. The time she was quite ill. Unfortunately my assumptions, which would agree with your own, would not stand up in court.”

“Even though she doesn’t remember signing them?”

“It would be her word against his and the witnesses he would no doubt drag up to support him.”

“Look, Julian, he’s taken the children. He didn’t come and ask, he didn’t approach her and inform her of any legalities he just came and took them. She doesn’t know where they are -”

“He’s kidnapped them you mean?”

“Yes.”

“Of course, he would claim that he was exercising his guardianship, his legal right to protect them since he no longer had access to the house.”

“Julian, you’re not being of any help to me whatsoever.” Ben exclaimed angrily and thumped his fist down on the arm of the chair.

“I’m only saying what the court would bring up to demolish your case. Anything else?”

“Wait a moment, Julian. This can’t be right. A man who is a fraudster, known drunk, womaniser, thief, gambler, is allowed to steal a woman’s children without anyone stopping him?”

Julian frowned and tapped his mouth with his fingers, “A legal guardian has to prove that he is of clean honest character and worthy of the responsibility. There’s no mention of these things you accuse him of in Galbriath’s papers.”

“He was only released from jail yesterday -”

“Ah, that’s good, that’s helpful.”

Julian nodded, smiled and waited for Martha to come in with the drinks. He sighed and raised his eyebrows, thanked his wife who then shuffled off to her bed. Ben waited for the door to close. “There’s something else I learned tonight from Mrs. Abigail Phillips. It concerns the death of her sister, Henrietta.”

“I didn’t know she had a sister?”

“A much younger sister. A very lovely young woman who died just about the time you must have decided to pan for gold in the Washoe.”

“Well, what happened?” Julian sipped his hot chocolate and sighed, “Hurry up before Martha decides to bring in my slippers.”

……………..

Marshall Duggan had grown craggier over the years since he had been involved in the Pelman affair but he remembered Ben and shook hands with him with a smile. The fact that it was now early morning didn’t seem to matter too much, not when Ben Cartwright of the Ponderosa was sitting in his office accompanied by Mr. Julian Frobisher, whom Duggan knew as one of the toughest and most honest men on the legal circuit in the city.

He listened attentively to what had been said before he stood up and barked out a few names, picked up his gun belt which he buckled on and with a nod of the head followed Julian and Ben from the Police Building.

………………

Mrs. Ellis opened the door with a smile on her face which turned to a look of frozen dismay when she saw the Marshall. She turned her head to shout something down the hallway but Duggan said very crisply that she had better not do that unless she wanted someone to get hurt.

“It had nothing to do with me,” She promptly declared, “I didn’t know anything about it until he brought them here.”

Duggan just nodded and indicated to one of his men that he kept her close by and quiet. It was easy enough to locate Booth. They just had to follow the sound of the drinking, cursing and singing to find him.

As they pushed open the door of the room the stench of cigar smoke, alcohol and body odour hit their nostrils. Six men rose to their feet in alarm. Cards and money rolled in all directions. Booth stood up along with the others, his eyes on the newcomers and his hand outstretched to retrieve some money before it fell to the floor.

“Who are you? What are you doing in my house?”

Julian looked over at Duggan and nodded. The Marshall stepped forward, “Mr. Booth Phillips, you’re under arrest. I’d like you to accompany me to the station in order to make a statement in connection with the death of one Henrietta Richter.”

Booth’s mouth fell open and he visibly paled. He shook his head, blinked his eyes, appeared baffled, “Aunt Henrietta? But she died years ago.”

“A witness has just come forward with new evidence with regard to her death.” Duggan said quietly, “You’d best come quietly with me, Mr. Phillips, before I pile on other charges such as kidnapping, extortion, fraud, theft.”

He gulped, swallowed spittle, choked and grabbed for a glass of whiskey to clear his tubes. “I – I didn’t kidnap anyone.”

“You took two children from their mother’s home today. You had no legal -”

“I do – I’m their legal Guardian.” Booth proclaimed, “I do have the right.”

“No, sir, you don’t.”

Booth looked around him, his so called friends were quickly grabbing at their coats and scrabbling around each other to get out of the room. Some quickly pocketed the loose money that was on the floor, on the table, and disappeared. Within the next five minutes no one was there to give him any support.

……………..

Hop Sing’s relatives had all faded away like snow before the sun by the time Ben came out of the house with the children. Sofia was still asleep and only stirred slightly in his arms as he carried her to the hansom cab. Reuben, cross because he had been interrupted in the middle of a really good dream scowled and grumbled but allowed himself to be put into the cab when told he was going home to his mother.

“It’s going to be interesting to see what comes out of all this,” Julian observed pulling his coat closer around him.

“I’m taking Olivia away from here, Julian.”

“Soon?”

“Very soon.” Ben looked at his old friend who nodded, smiled, and shook Bens hand, “That’ll be a good idea. I’ll keep you informed of what happens here.”

He clambered into the cab that had stopped behind the one Ben was using. The night sky was purpling and preparing for dawn. A new day was about to begin.

………………….

On the bridge of the Baltimore Adam Cartwright inclined his head in a listening attitude. His action was followed by every man on the ship, and across to the Virginian O’Brien and his men were paying heed to the sounds that broke into the evening air, making it shiver with the vibration of gun fire.

“A merchant ship under fire from the Pirates?” suggested Aaron Hathaway.

“Could well be,” Adam frowned, his eyes narrowed and he glanced up at the sky, “This would be a good time to attack.”

“We should go to their aid then,” Munnings murmured and looked at the Commodore, who turned his attention to the Captain.

“Yes, I think so.” Hathaway nodded and licked dry lips. “What would you suggest, Commodore?”

“Well, it could be Captain Selkirk and it is possible that he has been found by – whoever.” Adam shrugged his shoulders. “What would you suggest, Captain?”

A small smile played on the lips of the young Captain who nodded, “We had better proceed at once and find out.”

“Signal over to O’Brien that the Baltimore is proceeding southwards – and for him to follow suit.” Adam told Munnings who hurried off to comply with the order.

“If it is Selkirk and he’s fallen foul of those pirates, I’ve a good mind to leave him to them.” Hathaway scowled.

“Mm, tempting though it may be, Aaron, we have to remember those are American seamen, and not all have a choice in the matter of what they would want to do at present.”

“True enough, sir.” Hathaway nodded, sighed. Once again he realised he had a lot to learn.

Both Officers turned to wards the sound of the gunfire. On the horizon could be seen flashes of light. At first sight and sound it could have been mistaken for a sudden and strange storm at sea, unfortunately, it was nothing of the kind.

Chapter 53

The night was closing in faster than they were travelling. Gun fire became spasmodic and gradually ceased altogether. The only sign of the fighting were the flames that flickered into the night sky joining heaven and earth together as sparks became momentary stars.

“We need more speed.” Adam hissed between clenched teeth and surprised to find that his body with trembling with the tension that imprisoned him. He clenched and unclenched his fists, at times thumping a hand against the taffrail, while beside him Aaron underwent his own agonies of impotence and suppressed adrenalin.

How slow, how slow the ships were in their movement across the waves. Why the silence now? Why the flames? Where was the enemy?

“Tell the men to be on the alert. Keep by their guns. Have the armourer prepared -” Adam murmured and Aaron nodded and slipped away to see to the men, to walk the decks and check that everyone was prepared.

A signal from O’Brien indicated that Captains’ own anxiety. The tension rippled like electricity from one ship to the other so that the hairs on the back of Adam’s neck seemed to stand on end and his breathing became faster.

Suddenly the Pennsylvania emerged before them, the flames of the fire on deck illuminating the fact that she was a crippled vessel, but one that could, hopefully, be salvaged. There was no sign of anything or any other ship. Adam looked at Aaron, “What do you think, Aaron?”

“I think she was caught by surprise, outnumbered. Whoever attacked her got what they wanted and then left. Perhaps this is a warning to us …”

“Would they know we were anywhere nearby?” Adam frowned, and bit down on his bottom lip. He shook his head, it was possible but one had to remember that Selkirk had taken a maverick course, not the one designated by the orders they had been given in protecting the Merchant ships which always followed a very strict route.

The Baltimore and Virginian were drawing closer to the wounded ship which was listing to starboard. Adam motioned to Aaron, “Lower the boats, take lanterns and get the men to search for bodies. Signal to O’Brien to do the same. Hopefully we won’t find too many – dead that is – .”

The orders were given in muted tones as the two ships slowed down and appeared to drift closer to the Pennsylvania. The splash of boats as they slapped down onto the water, the glimmer of lanterns as the seamen began to search the waves for the bodies of the fallen. Now they could hear the sound of shouts and cries from the sea, and from the ship. The crackle and ripple of flames could be heard and against the vermillion background could be seen dark shapes running back and forth making some effort to extinguish the fire.

Adam strode back and forth, back and forth. On the Virginian O’Briens’ voice could be heard shouting orders to his men. Oars splashed and the outline of boats edging out and around the ships could be seen as the lanterns dipped high and swept low in search of the dead and wounded.

“Tell McPherson to prepare the sick bay.” Adam said quietly and then wondered if perhaps he was actually undermining the young Captains authority by issuing the orders. He knew Hathaway was capable, efficient and respected by his men. He looked at Aaron, “Sorry, Captain. Proceed as you see fit.”

Aaron smiled and nodded, then hurried to tell the Doctor to prepare the sick bay. O’Brien was signalling that his sick bay was prepared to take the wounded on board. Now they waited.

………………..

Richard Selkirk’s body was cast upon the deck of the ship and landed with a thud. The man who stood in the boots by which he had been dumped stared at him with cold eyes, dark eyes that raked over the body with a contempt that bordered upon loathing. He spoke in slow measured tones in Mandarin Chinese and the man standing at his side bowed low, hands together, and remained thus until his superior had left the deck.

Cold water was thrown over Selkirks body until he roused himself, cursing volubly. He rolled onto his back, wiped water from his face and stared up into a black shadow of a man. Before he could say another word a fist grabbed at his jacket and hauled him upright.
He had been wounded. Blood flowed freely from a cut to the scalp and a sword slash across the arm. He opened his mouth to speak but was prevented when a torrent of words were screamed at him in a language he didn’t understand. He looked around him in the hope of seeing someone from his ship, some familiar figure to whom he could feel some attachment instead of this terrible and quite fearful isolation.

Two men came forward now and grabbed at his arms. With seemingly no effort on his part he was propelled from the deck and down some steps into a compartment in the belly of the ship. A door opened and closed. He stumbled and fell forwards, the sudden release of his arms leaving him without support.

“You are welcome on my ship, Captain.”

He groped forwards, grabbed at the leg of a chair and hauled himself to his feet. By the light of a lantern he could now distinguish a figure seated behind a wide desk of ornate Chinese design.

“Welcome? You call this a welcome?”

There was no answer. Someone came forward and took hold of his arm and helped him to stand upright again. He scowled at the Chinese who had provided the assistance and shrugged him off, “Who are you?”

“On my ship I ask questions first. Your name?”

“I -” Selkirk paused, lowered his head and drew in a deep breath, “Captain Richard Selkirk of the American Navy. You attacked my ship.”

“You were in my territorial waters.”

“Why did you bring me on board here?”

“You would prefer I leave you to die ?”

Selkirk rubbed his face, wiped away blood and water and scowled into the shadows. Someone came and food and drink was placed on the desk in front of the other man, who stared at it then began to eat as though he had forgotten that he had company. Selkirk watched and then looked around the compartment, a more fanciful cabin he had never seen, which only deepened the scowl on his face.

“Why are you here, Captain Selkirk of the American Navy?”

“Why should I tell you?”

“Because I asked. And I asked politely. You would want me to ask not so nice?”
“Just tell me who you are and where I am …” Selkirk looked around for a chair but it seemed these were in short supply, the one he had used to haul himself to his feet was now being used by his antagonist.

“I am the Captain of this ship. Jiang Peng. Now, you tell me, American devil, why you come here?”

……………….

“How many dead?”

Adam looked from O’Brien to Hathaway as they sat together in his cabin, accompanied by the Doctors from the three ships. It was Evans who answered, “Thankfully not as many as we had first feared. The waters here are warm, had they been cold many more would have died.”

“Those that have survived number 25. Most wounds caused by stab wounds, slash wounds from swords or cutlasses, only a few bullet wounds. There are several suffering shrapnel wounds.” Nathan Stuart said quietly.

“I have several amputees due to cannon fire.” McPherson added.

“I have one man who may be dead before morning.” Stuart sighed and involuntarily all men glanced at the sky that was already growing lighter.

“Have any officers survived the attack?” O’Brien asked sombrely.

“Those that were in the hold at the time it started. Selkirk apparently realised he was short handed and ordered their release. By all accounts it was a quite ferocious attack.” Stuart sighed, “No doubt you would want to see them yourself.”

“Yes. We need to know what we’re up against.” Adam sighed and then looked at Hathaway, “Aaron, in the absence of Captain Selkirk I think it best that you take command of the Pennsylvania. Take Appleby with you, he‘ll no doubt be glad to join his companions and will be some help. We’re not on a trade route so this is an unprovoked attack on an American ship. We need to get to know our enemy before we can act ourselves.”

Aaron nodded. All the officers and other men rose to their feet and left the cabin. Alone now Adam removed his jacket and draped it over the back of a chair. He could hear the voices of the men calling out orders for boats to be lowered so that they could regain the other ships. He hoped Hathaway wasn’t disappointed at getting his own ship by default, but someone had to take over. Selkirk – Adam frowned – there had been no sign of his body. Perhaps, when he stopped to talk to the men later in the morning, someone would have seen something that would shed some light on the man’s whereabouts.

He poured water from a jug into a bowl and scooped some up in his hands. For a moment he paused, sighed, and then sluiced his face with the cool slick wetness.

Chapter 54

Marshall Duggan rapped loudly on the door of Ben’s hotel room and was rewarded by it opening before he had gathered all his thoughts together. He removed his hat and nodded as Ben ushered him in. “It’s good to see you again, Mr.Cartwright. I didn’t get a proper chance to say so last night, what with all that shenangings going on . How is the little Lady now?”

“Happy and relieved that the children are safe.” Ben replied as he picked up his jacket and shrugged himself into it, “Have you anything you can tell me at this stage?”

“Oh yes,” Duggan smiled and sat down in the chair closest to the window. From this position he had a good view of the road, and for a moment watched as the traffic made its way through the crowded streets. “Well, Mr. Cartwright, your Mr. Phillips has turned out to be quite a revelation.”

“Really? In what way?” Ben sat down opposite him with one leg crossed over the other, he clasped his hands together in his lap.

“Firstly, not knowing exactly what had been said by this ‘witness’ to Henrietta Richter’s death he came out with several other facts, either forgotten by Mrs. Phillips or not known by her. As you know Booth’s father, Rupert, was an architect, designed part of this very hotel as a matter of fact. However, at this juncture he, Rupert, had taken his son, Robert, to visit with is own parents. They were going to be away for some time so Abigail took Booth to Richter’s.

“Acccording to Booth he was terrified of his grandfather. The man was cruel and used the boys’ terror to get him to spy on the others in the household. No one takes much notice of a little boy, a child who sits so quietly while you gossip, tell secrets etc. He was the one found out about his Aunt’s secret visits to meet with you.”

“Did he say what happened to Henrietta?”

“Oh yes, he was more than willing to talk about it. It’s an odd thing with children, they may be terrified of someone’s power over them, but they soon learn that they can exercise the same power over others. Booth learned a lot from his grandfather. He stole letters and took them to Richter. The last letter was the one that led to the confrontation with the girl on the stairs. Booth had heard the voices raised there and realising what was happening went to his Grandfathers study and got the letters. When the girl reached out for them he taunted her with them and she reached out to take them from him. He stepped back, causing her to take steps to follow him. According to Booth his grandfather pushed the girl, actually took hold of her by the arm and pushed her, she was already off balance by reaching for the letters. She had no where to go but down.”

“And died?”

“Booth said he remembered how still she was, all crumpled up on the floor. He was about to run down to see if she were alive when his Grandfather seized hold of his arm and told him that if he ever spoke about what had happened to another living soul, then he would suffer the same fate. He was an impressionable boy, and Richter was the worse kind of Grandfather for him to have.”

“Obviously being so young he couldn’t be arrested now for being an accomplice to murder?”

“Oh yes, we can arrest him for remaining silent all these years about the murder of his aunt. Your Mr. Booth Phillips’ is a very unpleasant person. We can arrest him for all manner of reasons … but, the main thing you need to know is, that he has no legal rights over your young lady’s children and his brother’s property. He’ll be locked up for quite some time once this case comes to court.”

“I was hoping to take Mrs. Phillips away from here.”

“When?”

“To-day.”

“I see no reason why she shouldn’t go. I’ve sent an officer to take a statement from her and her mother-in-law. I know where you are, at the Ponderosa. I’ll keep you informed of the matter, Mr. Cartwright.”

He rose to his feet now and shifted his hat to his other hand in order to shake that of Bens. “How’s your son, Adam Cartwright? Is he still at sea?”

“Yes. Sadly so, I would wish he were back home.” Ben sighed and it seemed that for a moment the burden of worry and anxiety over his son’s well being weighed heavily upon the bowed shoulders.

“He’s a fine gentleman. I admired him a whole lot during that situation we had here with that Pelman and Mr. Thayer. I’m afraid this world’s full of some rather unpleasant characters, Mr.. Cartwright.”

It was an opinion with which Ben agreed and as he closed the door on his early morning guest, Ben’s thoughts turned once more to his eldest son. With a sigh he could only shake his head and wonder, wonder and hope, hope and pray.

…………..

Joe Cartwright carefully tucked a blanket around his wife’s lap and then looked up at her face, “Alright?”

“Yes, just fine.”

He smiled and hurried around the back of the buggy to climb up beside her, took up the reins and then looked at her again. “I love you, Mrs. Cartwright.”

“I love you too.” Mary Ann leaned forward and accepted the kiss with the usual feeling that her heart had lept into her throat. “Oh Joe, I’m so happy to be with you.”

“Always and forever, sweet heart.”

She smiled again, and slipped her arm through his, and hugged it closely into her body. This was her first day out of the house in what seemed far too long. All the wounds had healed now, the deeper ones would leave their scars but the danger of them reopening, or becoming infected, was gone. She waved her hand at Hester who stood on the porch with Hannah in her arms, perched upon her hip.

Today they were going to view the house. The first viewing since the incident with the window. Joe had said that were she to be unhappy being there, with the memories of what had happened still fresh in mind, then they would remain at the Ponderosa or even move into Adam’s house. As far as Joe was concerned there were always solutions. To Mary Ann’s mind the fear of the house becoming a problem was itself the problem.

It was a pleasant day, the sun shone and the air stung the face with its freshness, making the eyes gleam and the skin glow. She held onto her husband’s arm and enjoyed the feel of the strength of him that rippled through the clothing. They chatted about everything and nothing, he would point to some bird flying over head, and she would laugh over the shape of a cloud that floated above their heads. He told her stories about when he was a boy and went in search of a honey tree, and he listened to her tales as a little girl wishing she had been a boy.

Then there they were in front of the finished building. For a moment they remained in the buggy, arm in arm, and just stared at it. Joe was the one who felt anxious now. He stared at it for some while before turning to her, “Shall we go in?”

The sun slanted swathes of bright light into the rooms from the windows. Unlike the old house, the Ponderosa, with its dark wood and dark furniture, this house was light and seemed full of brightness. The walls had been plastered over and whitewashed. Joe looked over at her and watched her face for any sign of hesitancy or worry, but she walked about with an air of wonder as she imagined herself living there. “Do you like it?” he eventually asked.

“Yes, I do, Joe. I do.”

“Shall we go into the main room then?”

She followed him into the room where the window had blown in. Harry had smoothed over the wooden flooring and it had been revarnished so that no marks remained as witness to the event that had taken place there. The window had been replaced by two doors, glass panelled. Through these the sun light scattered over the floor and walls. Joe walked over and pushed the doors open so that the views they had loved seemed just a handsbredth away.

“It’s beautiful, Joe.”

“You’re sure?”

“Quite, quite sure.” she walked to the doors and stepped out onto the porch, “We can put a chair here and a table, it will be perfect, just perfect.” she turned to him and smiled, “Do you like it, Joe?”

He looked down at her eager face and leaned down, kissed her lips and smiled. It would be a wrench leaving the Ponderosa but this would be home, with Mary Ann. What or where on the earth could be better.

As he kissed her he felt as though he had never been so well blessed in all his life before…

Chapter 55

It was a relief for both Olivia and Ben that their departure from the house in San Francisco could be undertaken without subterfuge or at night. Consideration for what was best for Abigail led to the decision being taken that she rode with them on the wagon. The stage coach would present strangers to her on a journey that she would have found difficult to understand. With Hop Sing taking the reins of the wagon and Ben riding alongside Olivia felt sure that Abigail would feel more secure.

The children were confused at first and a little tearful at having to say farewell to ‘Flannel’. Her assurances that she would be joining them within the next few weeks dried their tears along with the fruit cake she had made to ‘tied them over’. This determination on the part of O’Flannery came as somewhat of a surprise to Olivia who had never discussed the cook joining them but the woman was determined, telling her mistress that she had no one else to cook for at home and would miss having them ‘under her feet.’ It was therefore confirmed and arranged, Mrs. O’Flannery would arrive at Virginia City by stage coach with Marcy within the next two weeks. By that time Olivia would be in her new home and, no doubt, only too happy to see them both again.

Abigail found the huge wagon parked outside her daughter-in-laws house rather amusing and laughed loudly at the attempts that were made to hoist her up onto the wagon seat. She smiled pleasantly at Hop Sing and Olivia, waved farewell to O’Flannery and Marcy, and then held onto her hat as the vehicle lurched forwards and began its journey to their new home.

To Ben it was a bitter sweet moment. It took him back to the time when he had waited for Henrietta to join him on the wagon journey that would have led them both to the Ponderosa, perhaps even to matrimony. Like so many other losses in his life Ben had to set it firmly behind him and set his face towards the future.

When night fell they made their first camp. For Olivia it brought back memories of her child hood, for her children it was exciting and mystifying. Sofia was quite happy so long as she could hold onto her mother’s skirts the whole time. Reuben had gravitated to Ben and tagged behind him like some little old man looking for his shadow.

As the children finally settled down to sleep alongside their grandmother Ben and Olivia shared the last drink of the night around the camp fire. Close by Hop Sing slept on the ground beneath the wagon, a rifle close at hand.

“The last time I went to the Double D was a few weeks back now,” Ben said quietly, “I met a man there, a Mr. O’Dell. He said he had been a foreman and friend of your fathers.”

“Yes, I met him at the funeral.”

“I’ve not come across him before, he’s part of the Carson City crowd that your father associated with, isn’t he?”

“Yes. I wouldn’t say that his friendship with my father was a close one. But he was loyal and helped when he could; I think one could rely on him if it were ever necessary.”

Ben nodded, and looked at her thoughtfully. The high cheekbones and stubborn chin were somewhat highlighted by the dying flames of the fire, shadows and light played games with her features, just as, he realised, they also did with his own.

“The house needs repairing.” Ben murmured as he shifted some wood in the fire to even out the flames, “I noticed the roof was missing some shingles.”

“Perhaps someone you know would be willing to help with the work.” She looked at him with anxious eyes, “I had anticipated some work to be done on it, but – well – it isn’t a derelict is it? I mean, when I was for fathers’ funeral, it looked in good enough condition to move into.”

“It is, and I am sure that Hop Sing would be more than happy to recommend one of his cousins or nephews from Virginia City to help where every you need it.” He caught her eye and perhaps the same thought occurred to him as it had her, for they began to laugh together. Hop Sing’s relatives appeared to be legend!

They parted at that juncture and he watched as she left the firelight to disappear into the gloaming of the night. For some instant of time he thought of Adam and how it was his letter to him that had triggered this latest adventure. He settled himself down to sleep and as he closed his eyes he remembered that Adam had bought this young woman a dozen red roses. He fell asleep with a smile lingering upon his generous mouth as for the first time in years his thoughts of Adam were, at last, pleasant ones instead of those fuelled by dread and fear.

………………..

Hester opened the door to the loud knock and found herself face to face with Logan. He had shaved off his beard and now looked much younger. He smiled and promptly removed his hat, “Good morning, Mrs. Cartwright. I came on by to get my orders from Hoss.” a slight furrow of the brow indicated some anxiety on his part as he explained that he had been absent from the camp when Hoss was there and missed receiving important instructions. “I wanted to get in to see if Barbara, my sister-in-law, had arrived back in town yet.”

“Has she not come back yet?” Hester asked civilly enough although she made no attempt to invite him into the house.

“No, the doctor who went with her has come back. He told me that everything was going well and that the little boy’s hearing is not as severe as first thought.” he grinned and twirled his hat round and round between strong fingers, “Seems it was a wasted trip, on my part that is -”

“Well, I’m sorry I can’t help you, Mr. Edwardson. Hoss has gone to meet with Candy. They’re working on the west meadow today, and checking on the calving.”

“Oh of course, followed by the branding and rounding up for the spring cattle drive.” he nodded as though knowledgeable in such things and gave her the benefit of a half grin.

“Yes, I suppose so.”

“And – er – does your husband always go on these cattle drives?”

Hester straightened her back and frowned, “Why do you want to know?” she snapped and then before he could reply she added, “Not always. It depends on who Ben decides should go.”

He nodded slowly, half turned and then looked back at her thoughtfully, his head held at a slight angle, “Mrs. Cartwright, have I offended you in some way? If I have, I truly do apologise. I won’t be here for much longer. Just thought I’d stay over long enough to see my niece. I sure would like that we were on good terms the while I’m here.”

“I’m sorry if I gave you that impression,” Hester stammered feeling the heat of her blush on her face, “I apologise.”

He looked at her then, a long hard look before he nodded again, and then after replacing his hat he walked away towards his horse, he paused a moment, “See you again, Ma’am” and tipped his hat to her as he swung up into the saddle.

She closed the door sharply and wished that Hop Sing had been in the house with her at that moment, or Mary Ann. She leaned against the wood and frowned as she asked herself once again what it was about Logan Edwardson that riled her so. He wasn’t in any way churlish, or lewd, he was just a pleasant attractive man passing through. That was all. She pushed a curl of hair back behind her ear and walked to the kitchen to prepare the evening meal. Sometimes, she thought, threats come in quite pleasant ways, disguised and benign, and then suddenly showing themselves for what they truly were … something dangerous and best to be avoided.

…………………..

The Officers had listened to various statements alluding to the attack upon the Pennsylvania. Every so often something new among the statements would appear according to the knowledge of the language, or the people, from members of the crew. This all added to the sum total of what had happened. Drawing a firm line beneath it all was the fact that there were three war junks fitted with carronades and other weapons for piratical use. They came out of the cloud and darkness and in three different directions.

The Pennsylvania was cut off from help with the only recourse available was to retreat, and when Selkirk ordered that it was realised that the ship would have been pushed to the rocks and shoals of a low lying island. Selkirk had been forced to face his enemy and out manned though he was gave the order to stand fast and fight hard.

It was only at the last moment that he had ordered a release of the prisoners who were given arms and told to fight to the death if need be …and this order they were only too happy to comply with because that really was the only recourse they had.

The pirates had out gunned her, boarded her and began to rampage through the crew so that men were killed indiscrimately. Warfare is, at all time, indiscriminate and callous. Victims are good men as well as bad.

Several seamen who had knowledge of the Cantonese language told how they had overheard some of the pirates complaining that this was not a merchant ship, there was no prizes to be gained. Others were proud to be killing American devils who came to take from their country without giving anything back.

The Master at Arms was a hardy man who had sailed the South China Seas before, many years earlier; he had overheard a conversation while pretending to be dead, lying beneath the corpse of another seaman. The conversation was between two of the pirates, not common men, educated and talking about the recent murder of a British diplomat sent to China to explore overland trade routes between British India and China who had been killed in Tengyue. One of the men had mentioned that Tengyue was his province and he feared retaliation from the British as a result.

The other man had responded by stating that that was why they had to make sure as many of the foreign devils were killed as possible. It was the Empress’ wish that China remain as feared as the dragon would be should he roar from the skies above.

“No mention as to who this diplomat happened to be?” Adam asked quietly.

“No, Commodore. A British diplomat was all I heard.”

The end of all the statements and visits to the sick and injured. Hathaway took his Officers with him to the Pennsylvania and work was heard being done to repair the damage done to her. With every man on guard and tense, the atmosphere on board the ships was explosive. O’Brien waited until he was about to leave to board his own vessel before asking Adam what he intended to do and Adam had raised his eyebrows and given a vague smile.

“Are you expecting me to take these ships on a rescue mission for Selkirk?” he asked mildly.

“The situation is so bizarre that I don’t know what to expect from you, Adam.”

“Well, Selkirk deliberately put his ship and his men in this danger. He didn’t know the waters, nor the islands, and he didn’t know or appreciate the dangers into which he was sailing. He disobeyed orders and if we rescued him it would be to race a court martial. The facts are these, Daniel, do I risk the three ships and these men to rescue a miscreant like Selkirk, the only man taken alive as a prisoner, or do I resume following orders to protect the merchant ships using the trade routes through these seas?”

O’Brien grimaced, then shook his head, “I don’t know, Adam. This is one time I’m glad I’m not wearing your boots.”
He gave the Commodore a smart salute and descended the Jacobs ladder down to his boat, and as he took his seat on the thwarts the seamen bent their backs and rowed him the narrow distance between the two ships.

Adam watched him for a moment before turning and walking over to the portside. Taking his telescope he scanned the surrounding horizon, picking up the coastline of several small island, the rocks of half submerged shoals and reefs. There was no sight of any foreign sail, no smoke from any groups of peoples. He lowered his telescope and frowned, then made his way back down to his cabin.

Chapter 56
Munnings pushed open the door and gave the Commodore a rather weak grin, “Er – we found some of the men who attacked the Pennsylvania.”

“I thought perhaps you would, eventually.” Adam replied dryly and slowly unravelled himself from his chair at the desk where he had been writing in a full report of events. He stretched his back and then frowned, “Where are they?”

“Sick bay.”

“How many?” he was pulling on his jacket as he spoke and pushed aside the chair to join Munnings at the door.

“There were several dead, sir.” Munnings replied as he led the Commodore along the companionway and to the deck, “We have six wounded men.”

They crossed the deck in silence and entered the sick bay where McPherson was busy. Adam stepped back to the door and drew in a deep breath. This was the first time he had seen McPherson actually participating in an operation and he admired the man for taking as much care over one of the ‘enemy’ as he would have done one of his own crewmen.

It was bloody as amputations always were but done so swiftly and carefully that it was almost fascinating to watch. Ewen was obviously a man who took pride in his work and care over his patients. Adam admired him tremendously and wondered if he could be enticed to leave the sea and join Paul Martin in Virginia City.

Leaving the clearing up to his assistants Ewen carefully wiped his hands clean and turned to Adam (Munnings had disappeared having recently eaten supper and even more recently losing it again). “Well, Commodore, this is the last of them.”

“And are the other five as badly injured?” Adam enquired as his dark eyes roved round the sick bay.

“Badly enough. Severe burns, loss of sight, amputations. We may have lost more men to death, sadly, but the injuries are less severe.”

“Do any of them understand English?”

Ewen smiled and shrugged, “Who knows?” he led the way to where the injured Chinese lay in cots ranged at the back of the sick bay. “They’re in shock, or, being plain stubborn. To be perfectly honest with you, Adam, they are in a lot of pain. They weren’t found for a while so must have been suffering agonies for hours, poor wretches.”

Adam nodded and looked at the ‘poor wretches’ with some sympathy. “Can any of them be questioned?”

Ewen shook his head and smiled, “Apart from the last one Ive just operated on, yes. But whether or not you’ll get an answer I don’t know… they persist in remaining silent.” he frowned thoughtfully, “It’s possible they understand what we‘re saying but how can you tell when they won’t speak?”

Adam looked at each man there and thought it was a long time since he had seen such a bedraggled sorry looking bunch of men. True they were injured, suffering pain and shock. The pain who had been burned suffered facial injuries, and had lost his eyes as a result. He was heavily sedated and lay in the cot as though already dead. Another who had sustained severe bullet wounds watched Adam through narrowed dark eyes, sinister and wary. But what made them appear so wretched were the clothes they wore, the rags that adorned their bodies, the scrap of shoes. It seemed to Adam that the man who commanded this band of pirates didn’t have much respect for them.

“You would have thought their commander would have cared more for them. Look at how they’re dressed, Ewen? Like slaves, in fact, worse than the poor wretches I’ve seen working on the railroads in America. These men look as though they haven’t eaten a square meal in days.”

“Malnourished certainly.” Ewen nodded.

“It’s a pity they won’t understand what we’re asking of them. We can’t afford to keep them on board here after all. It would be better if we could return them to their own comrades.”

Ewen looked surprised and shot a glance at Adam as though the commodore were voicing some kind of heresy. “How could we do that? We don’t know where they came from, how could we return them to their ship?”

“Well, there you are, we can’t, can we?” Adam shrugged, “Maybe we should just throw them overboard. A waste of all your hard work, doctor, but I don’t intend to take them all the way back with them.”

“But you can’t do that?” Ewen exclaimed, laying a hand on Adam’s arm, “That’s inhumane.”

“For goodness sake, Ewen” Adam shrugged the hand from his arm, “What do you think their commander would do to any of our men? Why do you think they took no prisoners?” he stared at the five men who all had lowered their heads and drawn closer together, “Perhaps one at the time. If I -” he paused, shrugged, “Just thinking aloud, Ewen. But it might help them remember some English if we just dropped one over the side – you know – one at a time.”

Ewen’s mouth opened wide, then closed, “They’re my patients, you can’t do that.”

“They’re my prisoners, and I can.” Adam put his hand on the shoulder of the man who appeared the least injured, “We’ll start with him.”

He turned now to the Marine who was guarding the prisoners and snapped his fingers, the wretch who was hauled to his feet held back, digging his heels into the floor. “Come along now,” the Marine cried and hauled at him harder.

“Commodore, I protest.” Ewen cried hurrying after Adam, “In all my time serving with you, I have never known you to do a cruel inhumane act, but this -”

“Ewen, this is nothing compared to what Jiang Peng would do to you if you had been caught by him.” he cleared his throat and shook his head, “Now, go back to the sick bay and tend to your patients.”

“What so that you can throw them overboard as well.” Ewen snapped but retreated back to his sick bay.

Adam paused and watched as the door slammed shut. The Marine, holding onto the arm of the Chinese man waited for further orders. Adam looked at the pirate who looked less like a pirate and more like a half starved beggar who had strayed from China town in San Francisco. “Bring him to my cabin. Don’t tell Ewen.”

Dragging the prisoner along the deck the Marine did as he was told. Along the way the men from the Baltimore watched with curiosity as the trio crossed the deck and disappeared into the companion way leading to Adam’s quarters. In his cabin Adam watched the Marine push the seaman against the wall. “Wait outside. In five minutes time drop something heavy over the side, make a real good splash if possible. Then go and bring in another one of them. The least wounded of them …” Adam said in a soft tone of voice so that the prisoner couldn’t hear him.

The Marine looked at Adam oddly but nodded and did as he was told. Adam now approached the Chinese seaman and looked at him thoughtfully, pursed his lips and then shook his head. He removed his jacket and placed it over the back of a chair and then sat down, crossed one leg over the other, “You can sit down, you know. Before you fall down.”

The wretch didn’t move but cringed back against the wall. He had sustained some wounds, slightly worse than one would wish but nothing that would have killed him. Adam sighed, “My doctor could have left you to die, you know. He’s taken good care of you and your companions, better care than your own doctor would have taken of my men. I daresay Jiang Peng would not even have bothered . Whereabouts are you from? What province? Would you like to return there to your family?”

He leaned towards the man and scanned his face. Years with Hop Sing had taught him something about the inscrutability of the Chinese, but there were ways to discern some things. His dark eyes peered into the depths of the other mans and then he leaned back and nodded, “Well, fear is a strange thing. You’re afraid of me alright, but more afraid of Jiang Peng. I could get you and your friends safely back to your homes but you’re even too afraid to think that possible.”

The door opened and the Marine brought into the cabin another wretch, one with a stump of arm securely bandaged. He was barely able to stand. “The others are even worse than this one, sir.”

“Very well.”

The Marine hesitated. He cleared his throat, “Er – do you want me to throw another rock over the side, sir?”

“Yes, before you do find Jackson, he speaks reasonable Cantonese. Get him to go to the sick bay and stay close to the prisoners. Just get him to listen to anything that is said and report back to me. Also, get my steward to bring up some stew from the kitchens for these two.”

“Er – stew,sir?”

“Stew. The sort you eat.”

“Yes, sir, of course.”

After this hurried and quiet conversation by the door Adam turned to his prisoners. Both shrunk back, the amputee looked like he was about to fall down so Adam took his good arm and hauled him to one of the chairs. He looked from one to the other of them. “I’m going to get you something to eat. You understand? Eat?”

They stared blankly at him. He sighed, typical, he mused, he had to select two who really didn’t speak English. He sat down again and observed them both, then began to talk about Hop Sing, and to try to convince them that he and Hop Sing were good friends. He watched their faces but their expressions didn’t vary. “Well, I don’t know what I’m going to do with the pair of you.” he muttered, “I’d have liked to have got you back to your families, because I can’t imagine you willingly volunteered to work along with Jiang Peng.”

The amputee glanced sideways on to his friend, a look that said so much more than he would ever realise to the watchful American. A slight shake of the head, almost like a nervous tic, from the other and then the veil of inscrutability fell upon them again.

The stew arrived in two bowls with bread. It was placed before them both. The amputee began to jabber in a shrill voice to his companion and then the other shook his head and spoke back. This went on for a little while with Adam sitting in his chair with his face blank. He could be inscrutable too, when he chose.

Munnings stepped into the cabin and saluted, “Commodore, Jackson wants a word with you, sir.”

“Watch these two, will you? Try and get them to eat. They need some food, they look starved.”

Munnings nodded and glanced over at the two men. His personal thoughts on what to do with them were his own… but they didn’t actually accord with his Commanding Officers.

Jackson was waiting for Adam in the adjoining room and saluted, smiled and nodded, “Well, sir, they’re scared to death about being thrown overboard. They’re convinced you’ve despatched two of them already.”

“Good, did they say anything worth knowing?”

“One said that he hoped death would come quickly. Another that life wasn’t worth living anyway. Most of that kind of talk, sir.”

“I see. My throwing them overboard would be doing them a favour then?” Adam frowned and quirked his eyebrows but Jackson laughed under his breath,

“No, they want to get home to their families. They’re not seamen, they’re arguing among themselves now as to what to do.”

“Do they understand English?”

“I reckon at least one of them does, sir. The blind one. But he’s in agony, sir.”

“Get them some food to eat.”

“How about those two in there, sir?”

Adam smiled slowly, “Oh, they’re alright. They’re scared to death, not just of me, but of one another as well, and then of course, they’re frightened of Jiang Peng and the Empress. One of them begged the other to tell me everything. The other wasn’t so forthcoming.”

Jackson nodded. He assumed that the two prisoners spoke English. He assumed wrongly.

The stew was almost eaten when he returned and the bread was gone. Adam stood by the door and looked at them both, rubbed his chin thoughtfully and began to pace the floor. “I know you’re not real seamen. I know you’re afraid of what Jiang Peng would do to you, or to your families. But he thinks you’re dead now. He won’t know what you do from now, or what you say. If you help me … then I can help you. Do you understand?”

He watched their faces. They had stopped chewing the food in their mouths while he spoke, but now resumed eating. Heads down and ladling the food into their mouths greedily. They began to speak to one another, quickly and anxiously, relaying each other their fears, their hopes. When the food was gone they relapsed into silence.

“Perhaps you’ve been gone from your families too long to care about them, or think about how they are feeling. They probably think you’re dead already. Perhaps they’ve been told lies about you, thinking you’re heroes and going to get a lot of gold for fighting the American and British. But you’re not heroes, and you won’t ever get a lot of gold. I could get you back to them though … I want you to trust me. Do you understand?”

Silence again. Then the amputee spoke to the other and this time there was no brusque answering back. They spoke together in low tones while Adam sat in his chair and listened.

Jackson came back within the next half hour. He told Adam how the other Chinese were convinced the other two had been thrown overboard. They cursed the Americans but they also cursed Jiang Peng for getting them into the mess they were in. They were in pain, the food they had eaten had been satisfying and appreciated. One of them was the fleshly brother of one of the men ‘cast over board’. He was in great distress. “I think he speaks English.”

“Talk to him, see what you can find out.” Adam replied.

“What about those two, sir, are they proving helpful at all?”

“Oh yes,” Adam smiled slowly, “Far more then they’ll ever realise.”

…………………..

Repairs to the Pennsylvania had been carried out perfectly satisfactorily. The Captains and other Officers met in Adam’s cabin at 8 bells. It was O’Brien who asked Adam what steps were they going to take next and Adam stood up to face them. He cleared his throat,

“I’ve several Chinese on board ship, injured men, just ordinary men who happened to have been forced into piracy by Jiang Peng and his people. They revealed a lot, far more than they realised really. Jiang Peng works for the Empress. He raids villages and forces the men to join him in the fight to stop the American and British inroads although at the same time they encourage the foreigners because trade with us makes them prosperous. Some ships are allowed through but others are attacked. The network the Empress has is like a gigantic spiders web through all of China. Some areas she prefers to subdue by poverty and starvation. Others she allows to prosper.”

“She’s mad.” Hathaway murmured.

“Well, be that as it may. Jiang Peng has heard that the Americans are sending their best ships to protect the merchant ships along the trade routes. He wants them. In other words, he wants the Baltimore.”

“I can understand why,” O’Brien said slowly, “She’s the first of a kind, a prototype. The Russians were prepared to pay dearly for her.” he grinned over at Adam who nodded.

“Well, the Empress isn’t prepared to pay anything, she wants the ship, and she has ordered Jiang Peng to get it.” he flexed his shoulders a little as though he were stiff from standing. “This is what is to be done … Captain O’Brien and Hathaway will take your ships and the Baltimore to where they should be, report to the fleet there and get further orders. I want six men to come with me to get Selkirk.”

“What?” O’Brien exclaimed and half rose from his seat, “But you can’t.”

“Commodore … why?” Munnings cried, “Why? Selkirk’s probably dead by now?”

“Maybe. We won’t know until we find him. He knows too much, and Jiang Peng kept him alive for a reason, kept him alive and took him from the Pennsylvania. We need to get him.”

“How are you going to find him?” Canning asked, a quiet man who listened before speaking so wasn’t often heard.

“I have guides. They’ll lead us to him.” Adam replied and looked at them all, the set faces, the anxious eyes, he shrugged, “These ships have to get back to fulfill orders, gentlemen. I would like you to obey mine.”

“I don’t like it, Adam, I’d like to come with you.” O’Brien volunteered and looked aghast when Adam shook his head,

“No, you will have to take command here, Daniel. Lieutenant Canning, you have seniority over Lieutenant Munnings, so you will take over on the Pennsylvannia and Captain Hathaway will resume command here.”

There were murmurs from among them, nods of the head. Adam cleared his throat again, “Very well. I shall be leaving here in two hours. I have already selected my six men. I have the Chinese guides.”

“And how will we get to know that you are safe? Do we come back and collect you?” Aaron said quietly.

“In five days have a ship waiting at this location … “ he pointed to Nanshan Island. “Exact co-ordinates …here.” he marked it on the map and looked at them, “Just one ship. A small one. Alright?”

It wasn’t alright. Their faces showed disapproval but the die was cast, so to speak, so no one spoke what they all thought. He nodded and turned aside, he didn’t want to speak about it anymore. There was a lot to do.

Chapter 57

Ewen McPherson shook his head in dismay as he watched his patients being lowered into the boat. He was spluttering with suppressed frustration and anger until he could no longer contain himself but strode over to Adam who was standing at the bulwark watching the proceedings “Commodore, I have to tell you that I find this deplorable.”

“What exactly do you find deplorable?” Adam turned to him with a frown, and the dark eyes were flashing signals that would have had Hoss and Joe running for cover.

“These men, my patients, are in pain, for heavens sake? Not just pain, in agony. I can’t guarantee that they’ll survive what you’re going to put them through here.”

“Can you guarantee their survival if you carry on with them to the mainland?”

“That’s beside the point. I have drugs and everything needed to help them survive.”

“And then what?” Adam leaned forward and gripped the man by the arm, his eyes bore into Ewens, “I’ll tell you what .. They’ll be taken from the Baltimore by the Chinese authorities and taken somewhere and shot. Maybe even tortured to find out any little bit of information they may have gained by being incarcerated in our sick bay. Is that what you want for them?”

“You – no – but -”

“Another thing, Dr. McPherson, is to remember that these men would rather die in that boat, together, than die in our nice clean sick bay. Do you want to be reminded as to why? Because we are their enemies – not just because of their act of piracy, but because their nation teaches them to distrust and hate foreigners, and their religion makes them consider us unclean devils. They wouldn’t want to die surrounded by the likes of us. At least this way they may die but at least they can die knowing I am trying to get them home to their families.”

“Commodore -” Ewen’s voice faltered, he gulped and then pulled a package from his jacket pocket, “I understand what you are saying, of course. But – well – when the pain gets too much for them help them out by giving them a dose of this.”

Adam nodded and accepted the package, he turned away and biting down on his lip he watched as the last of the Chinese was helped over the bulwark and down into the boat.

Hu Zedong had listened to the exchange of words between the two Americans. He understood English well enough having been to America in his youth. He had been glad to return to his homeland although life even turned that sour when Jiang Peng came into it. This man, this Officer of the American Navy, puzzled him. Certainly when he was in America he had experienced bigotry and prejudice, but also great kindness and hospitality. He had not expected it here, this magnanimity that had been extended to him and his associates.

Was it possible that this American would actually manage to get them to their homes? He was doubtful, but he believed that the man would try. It had been interesting when in the cabin with Li Chee Hua how the Officer had talked on about his friend, Hop Sing, and the relationship they had with him. He had talked as though knowing full well that one or both of them understood English. Not only that, he had understood that none of them had been ’real’ pirates, just unfortunate men so poverty stricken and used to the slavery imposed by an ancient feudal system that they had had no option but to board those ships and fight.

He wondered what to do. Now as he sat on the thwarts of the boat and watched the seamen from the Baltimore descend the ladder he hoped that the American Officers promise would come true. He would love nothing better than to see his wife and children again and to die in her arms, knowing that for a brief moment he had been loved.

Adam waited until the last man had descended into the boat and then glanced over at Hathaway, smiled and saluted. The last thing he saw as he went over the side was Aaron’s anxious face staring back at him and his salute.

He knew that his decision had not been popular. O’Brien had fumed and protested, but finally relented when he had simply said that it was wrong of them to leave a fellow countryman in the hands of men who would torture him for the information he would give them. The fact that Selkirk was a hot headed fool and a reckless Officer had to be put to one side for another time. And once again Adam reminded his friend that he, O’Brien, was now a father whereas he himself had no responsibilities.

The oars dipped into the water that was as black as slick oil. The night was dark and the moon hidden behind clouds. Slowly the boat moved away from the ships. He could sense O’Brien standing on the deck looking down at the waters, watching as they rowed away into the darkness and out of sight.

It had been agreed that as soon as the boat was a goodly distance away the ships would begin their journey back to where they needed to be in order to carry out their scheduled and required assignment.

He sat listening to the sounds around him. Men breathing in unison. The oars dipping into the water with the slightest of splashes. The injured groaned now and again and talked among themselves. He sat very still and closed his eyes.

Every decision he made he doubted. Why was that? Responsibility brought even greater weight upon his shoulders. He couldn’t afford to make mistakes. Had he made one now? Ben would have said ’Well, son, you have to go along with your decision. You may not know if it was the right one until you know the outcome.’

One of the Chinese, Hu Zedong, had been helpful at last. He had explained to Jackson in Cantonese where the headquarters of Jiang Peng were and the co-ordinates were now burned into Adam’s memory. Adam was convinced that Hu Zedong understood English so had couched his words carefully when in the mans hearing, and it had reaped some results. Now as he listened to the whispers, the sighs and the groans he learned even more.

They stopped for a rest after a while. He asked Jackson to find out how the injured were and was told that one had died. It was agreed that he would be lowered into the water and his friends could say the necessary prayers over him. This was done, providing the men more rest and confusing the surviving prisoners even more as to the kind of men they had fallen in with.

“Perhaps he means what he says?” one murmered to the other.

“How can he get us home? He is only interested in getting to Ziang Pengs ships”

“No, he said he would get us home.”

“What does it matter. We are dying anyway.”

So the whispers sifted through like leaves rustling on the boughs of so many trees. They rowed onwards. Ahead of them was the outline of an island, dark and mysterious in the nights shadows. They rowed towards it and navigated between rocks to reach the beach.
Adam and his men splashed into the sea and hauled the boat further up onto the crags.

Hu Zedong was helped from the boat and brought to where Adam was standing, his hands clasped behind his back and his eyes on the horizon . The Commodore looked at Hu Zedong and nodded, “I know you speak English, Hu Zedong. This isn’t the time for pretence now. I want plain and honest speaking between us.”

Hu Zedong firmed his lips and narrowed his eyes. He was weak from his injuries but pride and stubbornness forced him to keep upright on his feet. He turned his head away.

“Hu Zedong, I want to take your people to safety. I don’t know where to take them, you know, so you should help me.”

He spoke rapidly in Cantonese, a string of curses on the head of the Americans, bringing them to this island to kill them. Jackson gave him a shove which silenced him as pain trickled down his body and he groaned and fell upon his knees. “That’s enough of that,” Adam said to Jackson, he pinched the bridge of his nose and closed his eyes, sighed deeply and shook his head, “Check the other men in the boat, see how well they are, or not.”

He took the package Ewen had given him and took out some pills which he handed to the Chinese but Hu Zedong struck his hand away, sending the drugs into the rocks. Adam shrugged again and put the package back into his pocket.

Jackson returned with the news that he thought one of the prisoner was bleeding badly from his wounds and was getting feverish. Adam handed him the package and told him to give them some medication, water and some food. While Jackson did so he gave orders to the men to eat and drink, rest while they could.

He looked over at Hu Zedong who was eating some bread with the ravenous gnawing of the malnourished. “Is this island inhabited?”

Jackson repeated the question in Cantonese and the answer was that only fishermen came here. “Light a fire, Jackson, and carry out the injured. Leave them where there is shelter and leave them some food. The local people will see to them.”

“You said -” Hu Zedong cried and stopped, he bowed his head, his tongue had betrayed him but then he raised his head and looked at Adam, “You said you would take us to our families.”

“You wouldn’t tell me where your families were, and your friends are dying. I believe the local fishermen will find you and treat you well here, may even help you get to your homes.”

“Ziang Peng may find us.”

“Maybe, but I don’t think he’ll be bothered by seeing a fire here on this island. Do you?”

Hu Zedong lowered his head “No, there are often fires here. The fishermen stay here for days at a time. They are good men.”

“Hu Zedong, what else do you suggest I do for your people? I want to help them, but I am also under obligation to think of my own men, and the errand I am on now.”

“Will you come back this way?”

“We will have no choice but to do so.”

“Then come to this spot, perhaps some of us will still be alive to be taken to our homes.” he lowered his eyes, “At least we can die together with our own kind.”

Adam nodded and glanced back up at the moon and gave the signal for his men to get back into the boat. The dying and injured Chinese had been carried carefully away from the sea, and a fire was burning. By its light he could see Hu Zedong watching them with a puzzled expression on his face.

He was waded into the water with his men to push the boat back into the sea and was about to board it when he felt a hand on his shoulder. He instinctively balled his fist but on turning saw the face of Hu Zedong who nodded, “I shall take you to where Jiang Peng stays. I know the way.”

Adam glanced over at Jackson and caught the mans eyes, a brief nod passed between them. They helped the Chinese prisoner back into the boat and as he settled upon the thwarts he whispered a prayer to his gods and bowed his head. Adam took his seat with his eyes on the man, and remembered another who would have done just the same.

Chapter 58

Hester Cartwright had bundled her mass of curls into a golden halo around her head half hidden by a scarf. She was smiling to herself as she scrubbed down the table and then stood back to admire her mornings work. Like every good housewife she liked to get her chores down before her man returned home. From the other room she could hear Mary Ann playing the piano, and as she brushed back a curl from her face she found herself day dreaming a little and recalling to mind various little scenes from the past.

Life with the Cartwrights had been filled with blessings, or so it seemed to her. So many pleasures and joys. She began to hum the tune to herself that Mary Ann was plinking out on the keyboard and went to the stove to check the meal for later.

Everything was coming along well and still humming to herself she went into the big room and began to set out things on the table. Mary Ann looked over at her and smiled as she set to and helped. Glasses set in place, twinkling as brightly as though Hop Sing were still home, and the cutlery gleaming in their place upon the white damask table cloth.

“Here they come,” Mary Ann exclaimed, “Just in time.”

They knew how long it would take Joe and Hoss to unsaddle and clean up the horses before they came in, and then they would clean themselves up before taking their seats for the evening meal. They worked well together, good friends now and as close as sisters, they began to baste the meat and stir the gravy, and cream the potatoes.

“I wonder how long it will be before Ben and Hop Sing arrive back home.” Mary Ann said quietly, “The house doesn’t feel the same without them here.”

“I know, even Hannah looks around for her grandpa as though surprised he isn’t here with us.” Hester replied as she cut some of the bread, and then catching sight of her flushed face in the mirror she quickly pulled off her scarf and tousled her hair, and then dabbed at her cheeks with a cloth.

Hoss was first to step into the house and he smiled over at his wife, “Honey, we got a guest coming for dinner tonight.” he declared with his eyes twinkling, “Sure hope there’s plenty of food going spare.”

Momentarily Hester’s heart fluttered and her smile stiffened, and it was Mary Ann who asked who the guest was only to be greeted with a wink of the eye as Hoss kissed his wife on the cheek and then strode over to where Hannah slept. He gazed down at the little one and smiled contentedly, the sight of his daughter at the end of the working day always brought joy to his heart. He glanced over at Hester who seemed to have taken root to the floor, “You alright, sweetheart?”

“Yes, of course.” She seemed to snap into action now, and hurried into the kitchen without looking back at him.

Even as a small frown of unease furrowed Hoss’ brow Joe stepped in with their guest following behind him. He took hold of Mary Ann’s hand and kissed her, then turned “Well, John, what do you think of her, doesn’t she look well?”

“Very well, and as pretty as the day is long,” John Martin replied as he shook Mary Ann by the hand.

Hester came into the room now and glanced in the direction of the guest and seeing John her face lit up into smiles, “Why, John, you here? When did you get back?”

“Yesterday morning. You’re looking well, Hester, how’s the baby?”

“Oh, just blooming, John, just blooming.” and the relief in her voice as she spoke deepened the furrows creasing Hoss’ forehead.

………………….

Laughter always came easy to Joe Cartwright, and Hoss’ guffaws were a grand echo of anything amusing that Joe would have to say. As they sat around the table and ate the food the women had provided for them, both Joe and Hoss felt as though life had turned full circle as they had wives of their own and the responsibilities of married men brought with it a different perspective on life.

“Well, Hester, Mary Ann, that was a mighty fine meal. Thank you.” John pushed aside his plate, “Guess I must have eaten more than usual, I’m just about fit to bust.”

“But there’s more yet,” Mary Ann laughed, “Hester has made a fruit pie and there’s an egg custard to go with it.”

“Just a little piece then …” John smiled over at Hester as she rose from the table with the dirty dishes in her hands, and then looked at Joe and Hoss, “You two are well blessed.”

“We sure are,” Hoss replied solemnly.

“What about you, John? Haven’t you thought about settling down?” Joe asked, as he reached out to take Mary Ann’s hand in his own.

“Well – er – I have to be honest with you, Joe.” John blushed a little, they could see the crimson line rouging his neck just above the collar.

“Is there someone special in your life then?” Mary Ann smiled and eagerly leaned forward, then turned to Hester as she came in with a tray laden with clean dishes and the pie. “John is about to ‘fess up to having a love in his life.”

“Oh, John, really? I am so pleased. Who is it?”

John sighed and leaned back in his chair, his mouth twisted into a smile of sorts and the blush deepened and travelled further up his neck, “It’s not public knowledge and I’m not sure if she would even want me to say anything just yet.”

Four eager faces leaned in closer and he grimaced, “Well, I know it’s very soon, perhaps some will say that its too soon, but – while we were in Sacramento we realised that we felt a great fondness for each other. I suppose being worried about Peter was what really changed things.”

“You mean? You and Barbara?” gasped Hester dropping a spoon with a clatter on the table.

“Yes.”

They looked at one another and Mary Ann nodded, “She deserves someone decent in her life. Someone to make her happy again.”

“Thank you, Mary Ann.” John flashed her a smile then looked at Joe who appeared rather subdued, “You don’t think it’s too soon, do you, Joe?”

Joe shook his head, there were thoughts tumbling through his mind that he knew were best to stay there, he smiled at his friend, “People in town may feel it’s a mite soon.” he cautioned.

“We know that,” John replied thoughtfully, “Peter still has some treatments to have done yet so Barbara won’t be back in town for at least another six weeks. We’ll take it slowly, no one will know – except you all, of course.” he looked at Hester and smiled, “What do you think, Hester?”

“I’m pleased for you, John, and for Barbara too. I think you’ll make a wonderful father for Lilith and Peter.”

“Thank you, Hester.” he glanced at Hoss who nodded, “I value your opinions a lot. I mean, we both know full well what our hearts are saying, but it was good to hear what you had to say.”

“I wish you well, John” Hoss said sincerely, “After what Miss Barbara went through and that little gal as well, I’m jest mighty glad they found you.”

“Well, I’m just hoping that nothing will get in the way of our plans.” John sighed as he took his plate with the pie and custard, he set it down in front of him and frowned as he picked up a spoon, “There’s a man in town claims to be Lilith’s Uncle. I’m concerned he may want to claim blood rights to her and take her from us.”

“You mean Logan Edwardson?” Hoss murmured.

“Yes, that’s the name. I met him yesterday. He came in to see me as he had heard I had taken Barbara and the children into Sacramento.”

“Did he give any indication that he would take Lilith?” Hester asked with a look on her face that rather concerned Hoss.

“Not really, but the fact is that he is her only blood kin.” he bit into the pie and nodded, smiled and glanced over at Hoss, winked, and then looked at Hester, “This is great pie, Hester.”

“Thank you, John.” she sat down and smiled at him, then looked at Hoss and wondered why it was that her husband was giving her such a strange confused look; surely the pie wasn’t that bad.

………….

Hannah was content as she had been fed and changed into clean dry warm clothing and placed into her crib. She had sucked her thumb and stared up into her mothers face until her eyes couldn’t carry the weight of her eyelids any longer.

Hester smiled and left her daughter sleeping. She undressed herself and slipped into her nightgown and then loosened her hair. She was brushing it with slow languid strokes when Hoss came over to her, put his arms around her and kissed the nape of her neck.

“You and me – we’re alright, ain’t we, Hester?”

“Why, of course we are -” she turned to look at him, touched his face with her fingers, “Yes, Hoss, we’re more than alright. Why did you ask?”

“It’s jest that when I told you we had a guest for dinner you jest about lost all the colour you had in your face. And – and I noticed that some other things weren’t right with you. Is – Is there anything you want to talk about? About us, f’instance?”

“Oh Hoss,” she leaned into him and kissed him, “I love you. You mustn’t take any notice of – of my fancies.”

“Fancies?” Hoss groaned, “What’s that supposed to mean?”

She sighed and turned away, picked up the brush and began to pull it through her hair as though she couldn’t get the task done quickly enough, “It’s Logan Edwardson. I don’t like him. There’s something about him – and don’t ask me what it is, Hoss, because I don’t know.” she set the brush down and looked at her husband’s reflection in the mirror, “It’s strange, because I liked Andrew Pearson and never worried about him until after we realised he was hurting Barbara. But Edwardson …” she shivered, “I don’t want him here, Hoss.”

“He’s a good worker, knows more than most about timber.” Hoss replied rather unhelpfully.

“Maybe so but -”

“I contracted him to work for us for another two months.” he placed a gentle hand upon her bare shoulder, leaned down to kiss her, “I’ll tell him not to come by disturbing you. If that’s what you want, Hester?”

Said like that Hester now felt foolish. How could she put her husband in this embarrassing situation where an employee couldn’t come to the house because of his wife? It sounded all wrong and she shook her head, “No, it’s alright, Hoss, I’m sure it’s not his fault. Just don’t invite him for a meal, will you?”

Hoss said nothing but held her in his arms and stroked her hair. It was unlike Hester to get these ‘fancies’ as she called them. It unsettled and confused him. Logan seemed a fair and decent man, hard working and honest. He was good looking too, since he’d shaved off that beard. He held onto his wife more tightly, “I love you, Hester.” he whispered, “I love you.” and the slight catch in his voice was not lost to his wife who clung as tightly to him as a barnacle on the side of a ship.

Chapter 59

A hand on Adam‘s arm made him jump. They had been following their reluctant guide for some distance over jagged rock-strewn terrain and when Jackson‘s hand came to rest on his arm Adam jerked around with his fists clenched.

“Sir, seems we‘ve been walking some distance now. You sure we can trust him?” Jackson whispered.

“More to the point, Mr. Jackson, can he trust us?” Adam hissed back in reply and put a finger to his mouth for silence.

It had weighed heavily on his conscience in leaving the wounded and possibly dying on that other island. The assurances that local fishermen would come to assist them did little to ease his mind. He wondered how he was going to explain things to McPherson who was sure to ask and he also knew, at the back of his mind, that he had not fulfilled his promise of taking them to their own homes, to safety if there was such a thing in this huge sprawling octopus of a country.

Even now as he trudged behind Hu Zedong he wished that he could have taken those wretched people home, wherever home was, and he wondered if the Chinese, wounded and weak though he was, would hold the him to account for not doing so.

They were all dressed in the darkest clothes available, and the night shadows helped in their concealment. Once or twice they had to press flat against the rock to avoid a confrontation with others who patrolled that area. Hu Zedong whispered to Jackson who relayed the information to Adam that Ziang Peng had the whole island carefully guarded.

“Ask him how he knows?” Adam whispered and listened to the conversation that followed as a result of his suggestion.

So he knew that Hu Zedong had been brought to the island and worked as a guard, patrolling the land and preventing any from entering without permission, or leaving for the same reason. Then one day he had been taken to work on the cannonade junk, Jiang Peng’s very own personal ship. He felt sure then that his life was over, he had never liked the sea.

“Ask him if he knows where Ziang Peng would take the American Captain?” he murmured and once again listened as Jackson and Hu Zedong had a hurried whispered conversation.

So the man wasn’t sure but was hopefully taking them to where Ziang Peng had his very own personal quarters. It was more than likely that the American Captain would have been taken there.

Adam once again put his finger to his lips at Jackson’s enquiring eyes and beckoned to him to get behind him so that they could once again, in crocodile formation, follow behind their Chinese guide.

Hu Zedong was suffering. He thought of the medication that the Commodore had offered him before and longed for something now that would ease his pain. Several times he had slipped, and the stones had rattled down to announce to anyone passing below that someone was scurrying over head. Now he was getting light headed, and the injuries he had sustained were bleeding. He quite suddenly fell upon his knees, and clutched at his arm. Adam, next in line behind him, almost fell over him, straightened up and pressed his body against the rocks. He leaned forward, “What’s wrong, Hu Zedong?” he asked softly.

“Nothing -” the poor man groaned, his brow contorted with agony, and drops of sweat streaming down his face, “Nothing.”

“Nonsense, man, you’re in pain. Great pain. Here … let me see …” and he carefully began to look at the bandages that swathed the man’s injuries, difficult though it was in the now semi-darkness. “You can’t go on like this, Hu Zedong. I’m afraid you’re losing a lot of blood.”

Hu Zedong groaned and began to speak rapidly in Cantonese, holding onto the lapel of Adam’s shirt with one hand and staring up into his face as he spoke, hoping that he would seen some understanding there and that what he had to say would be sufficient. After a while his voice faltered and his hand dropped down to his side, the eyes closed and his last breath was a long drawn out gasp.

Adam carefully set him down and straightened the dead mans limbs. He then rose to his feet and beckoned to Jackson, ‘Follow me’ he whispered and set off down the narrow track down to where a myriad lights gleamed like so many glow worms in the dark, and on the blackest of seas could be seen a flotilla of junks.

He heard Jacksons gasp of surprise and another of his men whispered an exclamation of shock at the size of the Chinese leaders camp and the number of ships under his command. “Quiet. Not a word.” Adam hissed and continued to lead the way.

…………………

Hoss rode through the timberland that he loved so much. Every so often he would pause in his ride just to touch the trunk of a tree and gaze around him. He could remember when the trees were planted and who was with him at the time. He could recall Adam lopping off lower branches and his Pa at one end of the double handled saw while he was at the other. Now when he looked up at the sky about all he could see were patches of blue as the trees grew so densely and towered up into the clouds. His horses hooves were silenced by the amount of soft duff underfoot.

The lumber camp was in the clearing just ahead and he rode into it slowly, glancing from left to right to take note of what was taking place there. Certainly a great deal of activity, the men were working well together. He nodded to himself, this was a good team with a good spirit between them. One of the men walked by with a saw and some rope in his hands and nodded over at the big man sitting astride the black horse, “Morning, Hoss.”

“Morning, Felix.” Hoss smiled and rode the horse a little further to where there was a trough of water for Chubb to drink from while he waited for Hoss to go about his business.

He meandered around, paused to talk to some men who were sharpening tools on a whetstone. The big cabin that had been built to serve as a kitchen was just ahead so he now made his way there. At the door he stopped for a moment to look at the men and soon saw Logan Edwardson drinking coffee as he ate his morning meal. He saw Hoss and raised a hand in salute, a smile wide on his face. Even the two day growth of whiskers didn’t hide the fact that he was a good looking man, and Hoss had to narrow his eyes a moment as he tried to see what it was in Logan that Hester had taken so against.

“You came by just in time, Hoss. We’re about to bring down one of the big ones this morning. The men are a good team.”

“Yep, they sure are.” Hoss straddled a chair and accepted some coffee from Hewson. “I picked most of them myself, they’ve never let me down yet.”

“Nor will they.” Logan cut into some eggs and speared it onto his fork, before shovelling it into his mouth, he then gulped down coffee, “They think a lot of you, Hoss, you and your family.”

“Well, we think a lot of them, Logan.” Hoss cradled the cup in between his hands, “You’re here for another two months, ain’t ya?”

“S’right, unless you want me to stay on longer,” Logan smiled, looked at Hoss and raised his eyebrows, “or leave sooner?”

“Had a visitor last night,” Hoss said rather than answer the question, “Doc Martin.”

“The Younger?” Logan asked and looked down at his food which was congealing on the plate.

“Yep, John Martin.”

“I met him the other day when I was in town. He struck me as a good man to have around.”

“Yes, he is. He and Paul both …”

“So? What did Dr John Martin have to say?”

“He was saying that you was asking after Lilith.”

“That’s right, I was.” Logan gulped down more coffee, “She’s my niece after all.”

“You know she’s been through a real rough time over the past few years, what with her mom dying and the what happened to Barbara.”

“Mmm, I heard tell of it.” he looked at Hoss and frowned, “What’s your point?”

“Just that the little girls happy right now. It would be a shame to cause her any more sorrow seeing how she has someone who really loves her and cares for her. Barbara sure wouldn’t want Lilith to leave here.”

“I didn’t think on taking her anyplace Hoss. I just wanted her to know that her mom had a brother, so she knows that she has a real Uncle to keep a look out for her. I wouldn’t want no harm come by her.”

“She sees Barbara as her Ma.”

“Yeah, so I’ve been told.” he looked again into Hoss’ earnest blue eyes and smiled, “I know, Hoss. You don’t have to labour the point so.”

“So long as you know.”

Logan smiled and nodded, leaned back in his chair and watched as Hoss stood up, “How’s your family, Hoss? Your wife and little girl? They both well?”

Hoss stopped what he was doing, even his brain seemed to freeze up momentarily and he turned to look at the other man who was getting to his feet and pulling on a vest as though there was nothing sinister in his words or intentions. Evenso Hoss grabbed at his arm, “Listen here, Logan, you just stay clear of Hester and my family ..is that clear?”

Logan looked at Hoss in surprise, and then yanked his arm free, he frowned, nodded, “Sure, I understand, Boss.”

Hoss stepped back to let the man pass by and resume his work. He watched as Logan picked up an axe and strolled away towards the trees. He realised then that the fragile friendship that had been started had come to a rather sudden and cool ending.

Chapter 60

Adam eased his long legs into a more comfortable position and hoped that cramp wouldn’t set in as a result of having dozed off. When the night sky had lightened he had decided it better for himself and his men to rest up rather than blunder along into trouble, especially as they were now without their guide.

Jackson, Pollard and Higgins had been on guard and now crept into the area where the others had slept. A significantly wide cleft in the rocks, hidden by boulders and wild tufts of grass. Those that had had the chance to sleep rubbed their faces, stretched and took their places to guard those who now sought to sleep.

They were all hand picked men. Jackson had tracked down all the men on board ship who could speak some Chinese. Some were even more fluent in the language than himself having spent a life time living in among the people or working on the ships with them. Adam signalled to each man to drink and eat as they took up their places. He watched them go and wondered how many of them would be returning to the Baltimore in a few more days time.

He ate some food and washed it down with water before going out to survey the area below. Taking out his telescope he extended it slowly as his eyes swept over the camp and the ships, then he put the spy glass to one eye and centred it on one area that he felt merited more close surveillance.

He had to adjust his posture, steady the glass a little and then look once again. A wide tent, often used by the Chinese in the rural areas and resembling the Mongolian yurt (or as they called it ‘a ger’) with more men guarding it. After a while studying that he swept the spy glass along and looked at the junks. They were mostly large ocean going junks, the largest of which carried cannon. They looked fearsome and he lowered his telescope for a moment or two in order to think about the magnitude of the task he had set himself.

He burrowed himself flatter upon the rock strewn ground and once again raised the telescope to his eye to concentrate on the ships. He noticed smaller boats now, the traditional flat bottomed wooden boat called a sampan. He knew the word sampan was the Cantonese for ‘3 planks’ because the boat consisted of the flat bottom (one plank) and the two sides (making up the three). They were not ocean going vessels, but used for transportation along the river banks or for the local fishermen.

He sighed and lowered the telescope once again while his brow creased in concentration. There were several things under consideration … locating Selkirk, rescuing him, and getting back to the Baltimore. He could have added several other things to the equation but decided to leave them out for the time being.

The three men on guard were all good fighting men. The names of the men were Yarrow, Gantry and Hoseasons. He beckoned to Yarrow who was the man most fluent in Chinese and whispered something to him, pointing to the camp below. Yarrow nodded and without a word began to thread his way down through the rocks.

Adam watched his progress as the man ducked and dived behind the rocks until he had reached level ground. As instructed he made his way into the camp adopting the mode of walking noticeable among most of the men there. Being slight of build and dark haired, with his head bowed, there was little to distinguish from anyone else there. Momentarily he disappeared into a tent or yurt, only to emerge a few minutes later wearing a loose fitting duanshàngyī and traditional cone shaped hat. Adam smiled, the man was certainly showing some initiative.

Yarrow was stopped by another and the two engaged in conversation which made Adam anxious for a moment or two as he strained the eye glass on them. There was much nodding of heads and then they parted. Yarrow continued on his way and then sat down with his back again the wall of the main yurt. One of the guards came and kicked his leg, got his attention and appeared to give him some orders to move away. There was some altercation for a while but Yarrow did as he was told and sauntered off.

Time was ticking along. Adam shifted his position and rubbed his face to keep awake. The lack of sleep, after all two hours within 28 was very little, and the inactivity were two things he disliked. He rolled himself onto his feet and slid through the cleft to where Jackson and the other men were snoring.

Rather than disturb Jacksons sleep he returned to his position outside, in time to see Yarrow making a reappearance and casually strolling back towards the rocks. He was making good progress when one of the guards called him back, Adam saw Yarrow pause, and look doubtful. ‘Follow your instincts‘ Adam groaned inwardly and bit down on his bottom lip.

Yarrow turned, conversation ensued and he returned back to the yurt. The guard must have ordered him to stay there while he went inside. Minutes ticked by during which Adam and the other men watching from the rocks hardly dared to breathe, then the guard came out and nodded to Yarrow who turned and made his way back. He didn’t head for the rocks however, but slipped into the tent from which he had taken the jacket and hat. After some moments the guard and two other men passed the tent. Whether or not they were searching for this strange man with the odd accent was anyone’s guess but they eventually returned to the centre of the camp leaving the way free for Yarrow to return.

Adam shook his hand, “Well done, Yarrow. You did very well.”

“Thank you, sir.” Yarrow smiled, a shy man who always tried to do his best and was often overlooked, he blossomed with the commendation, “I didn’t learn too much, but the big tent is heavily guarded. The food in there smells rich, so whoever lives there has a higher standard of living than those others. The guards didn’t like me hanging around either told me in no uncertain terms to clear off.”

“What about Selkirk? I suppose it would be too much to hope for that anything would have been mentioned concerning him?” Adam asked.

“There is an American on board on the junks. The man I spoke to first … he had just come from his sampan where he had been ordered to catch fish for the American.” he frowned, “No name though -”

“It has to be Selkirk – who else could it be?”

“Well, sir, there aren’t any other Americans that I could see. The fishermen are all local men, the guards and some of the men around the jetty are the followers of Jiang Peng.”

“Did you get to know which junk the American was in?”

Yarrow smiled and nodded, “The one with the red dragon painted on the main sail.”

Adam pursed his lips and turned to look at the junk. It was an amazing vessel, unlike anything he had seen before and he nodded to himself. It was interesting that the American was being well fed. He remained standing and watching the ship for some moments when he noticed a small commotion going on at the wharf side and turned his attention to that … then he lowered the telescope and drew in a deep breath which he slowly exhaled. Jiang Peng was returning to his ship, a slightly built man with his jet black hair pomaded and oiled into a long queue or pig tail. The forehead had been shaved as was traditional among those descended from the Manchu people. His clothing was scarlet and black silk traditional ‘pyjama’ style, very expensive and very colourful. Adam watched as this person ascended the gangplank and became absorbed among those on deck.

Glancing up at the sky he saw the sun had reached the noon hour. He beckoned to the men to follow him. They slid through the cleft and into the chamber that had been their hiding place for the past few hours. Jackson and the other men were beginning to stir. Once they were awake enough they looked at Adam and awaited their orders.

Chapter 61

Ensuring that all had eaten and had sufficient to drink Adam took the lead in making the way down to the encampment. It took a little more time that when Yarrow had take the journey as there were more of them and therefore more of a chance of being see or noticed by any watchful guard who happened to look in the direction of the cliffs.

Looking at the sky and then to sea Adam and his men grouped close together to watch what was happening. The guards at the yurt were taking advantage of the fact that the Master was gone. They were grouping together near the entrance talking and laughing together. There were very few women anywhere in sight and even though the sun had not yet set a large proportion of the men were already intoxicated or appeared to be under the influence of some narcotic. Here and there a fight broke out and small crowds gathered to watch and shout encouragement.

The guards looked over to see what was happening when such a fight broke out close by them. Several wandered over to look and watch while the others remained close to the yurt. Adam whispered some instructions and several of his men made their way to the perimeters of the camp before separating and mingling with the crowds. Here and there they watched the fights and joined in the cheers before melting away.

By the time they had returned to the Commodore they had purloined several coolie hats and jackets. Sufficient at least to make most of them blend in more easily. Adam checked the junk once again by using the telescope and noticed that there was no change, no sign of Selkirk but also nothing of Jiang Peng having left.

Either singly or in pairs they left the security of the rocks and began to infiltrate their way into the noisy bustling throng. Adam waited for his turn to leave when he noticed two of the guards watching Jackson slightly more carefully than one would have wished.

He brought out the telescope to watch more closely. Something about Jackson had obviously aroused the guards suspicions as they now walked towards him with that arrogant poise often noted in figures of authority when confident that they have a chance to make full use of it. Jackson stopped as the guards accosted him and asked him who he was and where was he from, he was obviously not one of them.

“Why say so?” Jackson replied in his best Cantonese, “I’ve been here enough times for you to know me by now.”

“What’s your name? Tell us your name?” demanded one guard lifting a wicked looking sword to Jacksons throat and in doing so knocking back the hat that had so carefully concealed the Americans features. “Ah, you are not one of us, you are one of those white devils …”

Jackson struck out with his fist, an effective blow that laid the guard out flat onto his back. The other guard rushed in and grabbed Jackson by the waist, so that they both fell heavily onto the road.

Adam realised that within minutes the sight and sound of the fight would be noticed by others in or around the vicinity. Moving as quickly as he could he ran the short distance from the rocks towards where Jackson was grappling with the guard whom Adam laid low with a blow to the head with his gun. The other guard groaned and struggled to rise to his feet but was rendered unconscious by a sharp jab to the jaw from Adam’s fist.

“Thanks, sir.” Jackson whispered as he reached for his hat and slapped it back on his head.

“Come on, we’ve no time to waste here. Drag them over to the ditch over there .. At least we can delay their absence for a little longer.” Adam whispered as he grabbed the legs of one of the guards and began to drag him out of sight.

“They’re mighty lax around here,” Jackson whispered as he rolled one of the guards into the ditch, “You’d have thought they’d have noticed something by now.”

Adam frowned, “They noticed something about you, Jackson, so they couldn’t have been that lax.” he jerked his head now towards the water, “Come on, before we get into any more trouble.”

Keeping to the shadows created by the various tents and lop sided buildings they made their way to the wharf side. Moving faster now they reached the sampan that Adam had pointed out to them earlier. It was empty and bobbing lazily up and down on the small waves that slapped against the beach. As Adam was about to step into the vessel four other shadows detached themselves from various areas and made their way to the craft.

Yarrow found the yuloh (the long pole used as an oar) and after a moment or two to think about it began to ply it to good advantage. The sampan slowly drifted from the group of vessels that had been huddled together and began to make its way into the sea. A disembodied voice from a neighbour called out an enquiry as to where they were going. There was no sense of surprise in the voice, and Yarrow immediately answered that he had to get more fish. The voice grumbled and then grew silent. Yarrow laughed good naturedly as though in agreement with the complaint and then worked harder at the oar to move it away.

It took an hour to reach the junk. Pollard had relieved Yarrow with the oar and had been skilful in handling it. The narrow vessel slipped in and out of the other craft on the water and by the time night shadows had fallen she lay alongside the mighty war junk of Jiang Peng.

Chapter 62

Adam directed Pollard to turn the sampan closer between the junks, so that it nestled in the shadows of the larger vessels. After checking on various aspects of the plan, confirming in their minds positions and action, Adam led some of the men from the sampan and to what was the equivalent of a Jacobs ladder overhanding the starboard hull of the junk.

It was dark and the various vessels crowding in around them created an inky darkness that swallowed each man up. In the sampan Pollard lowered his coolie hat and hoped he looked enough like a sleeping fisherman as possible.

As the four men made their way up towards the bulwarks Hoseasons and Gantry had crept from the shadows on the wharf side and quietly disposed of the two guards standing at the gangway. Soft splashes as two bodies were lowered into the water went unnoticed in the noise that flowed and eddied around them. The two guards had been the only two men sober enough to remain at their posts, obviously with less care and attention than there should have been for the assault upon them had been remarkably swift and easy.

Hoseasons and Gantry assumed the positions vacated by the previous men, and patiently waited to fulfil their part of the plan. Both men were reasonably fluent in the Cantonese language, and able to respond to any word addressed to them, whether it were a command, a jovial comment or a drunk riposte. Hoseasons was a master in the art of the perfect Cantonese insult.

Jackson and Yarrow were the first to slip over the side and onto the deck. Both men found their own victim and by the time Adam and Higgins had joined them they were in the act of donning the guards rather ornate uniforms. With a nod of the head Adam affirmed that the men remained at their station and then gestured to Higgins to deal with a guard who was standing by a large door and now appearing rather curious about the noise that was coming from their area.

“Kang Zemin – are you there?” and as he spoke he stepped forward to investigate for himself.

Adam’s fist connected with his jaw and his head snapped back as with a grunt he folded over and began to slide to the ground. Higgins nodded at Adam and from then on Adam left him to it as he pushed open the door and made his way slowly down the corridor to a sumptuously lit room. One could hardly call it a cabin for it was vast in size and the splendour of it was colourful and bright. Lamps hung from the ceilings that were bedecked with silks dyed in many different colours, facing the entrance was a wall decoration of a red dragon, the same design that had decorated the side of the junk and main sail.

Adam pressed himself into the shadows and inched forward, his head inclined at an angle in order to hear any sounds. As he drew closer there was the murmur of voices, the clink of glassware. He drew in his breath and stepped even closer, his nerves stretched with the tension of wondering who would be in the room, wondering what he would find.

His fingers sought the reassuring feel of his gun which he drew from its holster, its handle snug in the palm of his hand. He stepped now another stride and was in the room.

His eyes swept around at the occupants, all three sitting upright and looking terrified, holding the silken sleeves of their gowns to their faces. Three very pretty women with large almond shaped eyes stared at him in horror “Where’s Jiang Peng and the American Captain?”

His own voice speaking the Cantonese words surprised even himself. He had kept his own knowledge of the language a secret even from his own men, listening to the conversations with the prisoners and gleaning thereby the words and nuances of words that his men had missed.

But the question brought no answer from the women who continued to squeal and sound like so many pretty little piglets. He shook his head and walked further into the room, then paused noticed another entrance from the room into another. He put a finger to his mouth and very politely asked the girls to be quiet. They became mute instantly.

Whether Ziang Peng had delusions of grandeur or happened to be a wealthy Chinese grandee Adam didn’t know, all he could tell about the man now was that his love for flamboyant trappings was more than obvious. Lavishly ornate gold and silver designs painted upon colourfully draped silks and velvets trailed down the walls of the next room into which Adam stepped. He paused, frowned and nodded at the sight of the man seated before him, “Selkirk.”

To give him his due, Richard Selkirk looked astonished and amazed at the sight of Adam Cartwright standing before him with a gun in his hand. His mouth fell open and his eyes rounded “Great heavens, Cartwright? What are you doing here?”

“Where’s Jiang Peng?” Adam asked and no sooner had he done so than one of the drapes moved and Jiang Peng himself stepped into the room and stood only feet from him.

The two men regarded one another steadily but it was Jiang Peng who acted first by folding his hands into the wide sleeves of his immaculate garment, and then politely bowing “Good evening, Commodore Adam Cartwright. Welcome to humble ship of Jiang Peng.”

“You know me?”

“Of course. I was one time in Washington when you come to visit President Grant. I do not forget face of great warrior.” he gestured to a seat with cushions, “Please to sit down, Commodore, and put gun away. No need for weapons. We talk like civilized people.”

Adam glanced over at Selkirk who had his arm in a sling and appeared slightly battered around the face but otherwise well. He then looked at Jiang Peng who had a slight smile on his thin lips. ‘He’s just playing games here’ Adam sighed and slipped the gun back into its holster.

“Alright, Jaing Peng, I have no intention of staying here longer than I need to, just hand over Captain Selkirk and let us leave ..like civilized people.”

“Ah.” the Chinese Captain smiled and raised one hand, the nails of which glittered in the light of the many lamps, “Not possible. Your friend has made agreement with me. He is man of great good sense. You, I think,, may not be like that, you may not have great good sense.”

“Selkirk, on your feet, man, and get over here.” Adam demanded and frowned slightly when Selkirk did nothing of the sort, so he turned his dark eyes towards the Chinese “A man who betrays his own people, Jiang Peng, is not a man of great good sense.”

“Yes, I agree. These matters I shall look into at the time necessary but for now the Captain stays here and fulfils obligation.” Jiang Peng looked at Selkirk, “You can share agreement with Commodore before you leave, Captain Selkirk.”
Richard Selkirk nodded and looked at Adam with a slight smile on his lips, “It’s quite simple really, Adam. I’m to make my way to the Baltimore and bring the three ships into Jiang Pengs territory. They’ll be given a wonderful reception.” he smiled more broadly, “You know how the Chinese love their fireworks.”

“Now you’re being ridiculous, Selkirk. It won’t work, and you know it.”

“No, Adam, sorry, it’s you who are being ridiculous. It will work.”

Jiang Peng smiled now and bowed again towards Adam, “Yes, it will work, Commodore. The Baltimore – a beautiful ship and I think the Empress will make good use of it. A gift from the foreign devils she detests so, a gift that will help drive her enemies from her waters. Sadly, Commodore, you will not live to see it happen.”

Adams hand reached once again for his gun, his hand had settled upon its handle when something crashed into his back propelling him forwards. Unable to keep his balance under such a forceful weight striking him down he fell, one hand reached out in a futile attempt to reach out and stop the fall. Another blow across the back of his head and he never even saw the rush of colour before his eyes as he landed upon the thick rug at Jiang Pengs feet.

………….

Selkirk’s appearance on deck caught Higgins and the other men off guard but he had enough wit to use it to his advantage calling upon them to hurry over the side as the Commodore had instructed. Knowing that Adam would have made an appearance had it been possible the men faltered, Jackson was about to go through the door himself in order to find the Commodore but was prevented by Selkirk who grabbed at his arm “Don’t be a fool, man, he’s already dead.”

Even as he spoke the words several of Jiang Peng’s men suddenly appeared with weapons at the ready. Jackson knew that to delay now was to perish himself, and to lose any chance of getting back to the Baltimore. Selkirk he distrusted instinctively, yet at the same time the man was an Officer and Adam had sacrificed his life in order for the other to live. This was not the time to delay any further and as Selkirk went over the side to descend into the sampan Jackson joined his fellow men to fight off the Chinese brigands.

On the wharf side Hoseasons and Gantry heard the clash of weaponry. Tempted though they were to join in the fight they had no idea where exactly it was coming from on the ship nor whom it involved although they made their own assumptions and would have been correct . Hoseasons put out a hand to caution Gantry to remain at his post.

Pollard watched the uniformed officer descend the ladder, he steadied the sampan enough and whistled to get Selkirks attention so that the man could just drop into the vessel. “What’s going on, sir? Where’s the Commodore?”
“Cartwright’s dead. Jiang Peng has him. The others are fighting for their lives up there…” Selkirk gestured above where the sound of a fight still raged, “Adam said I was to get to the Baltimore as soon as possible, tell them, warn them of Jiang Peng.” he once again glanced up at the high side of the junk as a shot was fired, then another, “I wasn’t able to help, I was injured and besides that it’s more important I get away and warn the others.”

Pollard looked up as a body fell with a cry of despair from the ship and in turning he recognised his comrade Higgins. “No point in waiting any longer, man. Cast off.” Selkirk yelled grabbing at his arm to distract him from going to Higgins’ aid.

“But, the Commodore -”

“I told you already, he’s dead.”

Pollard glanced at the stricken dead face of the man slowly sinking beneath the waters. On the deck there were another few shots and as the sampan pulled away from the dark shadows of the other ships the fight on board the ship came to an end.

“I don’t feel right leaving them, sir.” Pollard whispered.

“There’s nothing you can do for them now, man. They were outnumbered. Surely they would have realised there was no chance for them up there? Cartwright was a fool to even think he could have succeeded.”

Pollard said nothing then he raised his eyes and looked at Selkirk full in the face, “He was no fool, sir. He set out to rescue you, and he did.”

Chapter 63

Someone was groaning. With his eyes shut and his head whirling Adam had a terrible feeling it may have been him so he clenched his teeth together and concentrated on fighting several fundamental issues. One of these was to resist the urge to vomit, and another was to force himself to remain as still as possible. Pain trickled with unimaginable triumph over his body, tingling his nerve endings and creating a tight, rigid, band of agony around his temples.

Think about something else, anything else. Keep still and focus on anything but the pain.

Someone was talking and at first the sounds were meaningless, a jumble of words in a fast flowing sing song pitter patter of tones. He tightened his stomach muscles and controlled his breathing. Concentrated on the sounds.

“Hop Sing, why do you speak different from me and Pa?”

“Because I come from long way away.”

“So do we, it took years and years to get here.”

“Ah so -” the smile on Hop Sing’s face broadened and he handed the little boy with the enquiring mind a piece of bread, “My home is over many seas. To get here I come on big boat with sails that were very big. It took a long time for me to get here also.”

“Does everyone speak funny like you?”

Hop Sing sighed and looked at the boy who was chewing on the bread with a frown on his brow and his dark eyes thoughtful. He shook his head, “I speak English not well, but Hop Sing will learn.”

“Oh, I think you speak English real well, Hop Sing. It’s that other way you speak that’s real funny.”

“It is the language we speak in my country.”

“Will you learn me some?” he was sitting on the tail gate of the wagon, swinging thin legs too and fro, legs that had bruises on them from constant tumbles and careless regard of where he was going but the confidence to believe that nothing and no-one could stop him. He smiled up at Hop Sing, big lustrous brown eyes full of intelligence and eagerness.

“Hop Sing teach you, boy with inquisitive mind shall learn.”

“Thanks, Hop Sing.”

“First lesson – in China – we say do jeh”

“Do Jar?”

Hop Sing shook his head, “You say like this daw-dyeh”

Someone was leaning over him and a hand was resting on his shoulder. He looked up and saw a girl looking down at him. Her face was painted like a dolls but there was nothing in her eyes, no expression, just a dull blank look. She met his eyes and momentarily the pupils of her eyes dilated before she turned her head and said something to the man standing behind her.

Adam scrunched his eyes up and sighed. It was time to prepare himself for whatever was to come and he waited apprehensively then opened his eyes again. A Nubian face peered down at him now. Adam blinked as though to clear his head in case he was having some kind of nightmare but the Nubian remained and as his brain cleared Adam could see that the man was big. He stood with his arms folded close to the entrance to the room in which Adam was prisoner. A man that could have made Hoss Cartwright look short. His muscles rippled and the biceps bulged. Adam had no doubts about the fact that this was the person who had dealt the blows that had sent him reeling.

He was also quite sure that had he so wished the Nubian could have killed him with a single blow. Someone had wanted Adam to remain alive and for that fact alone Adam was very grateful.

“Where’s Jiang Peng?”

The Nubian didn’t move a muscle nor blink an eye. The girl returned and offered Adam something to drink, “séui” she put the glass to his mouth.

“This is seui … water.” Hop Sing passed him the cup and nodded, “You say seui..”

“Mh’goi” Adam had laughingly said instead and Hop Sing had nodded, smiled.

“Boy go ahead of teacher. To say ’thank you’ velly good.” and he bowed, “Velly good.”

He looked into the blank eyes and whispered “Mh’goi” and once again the pupils of her eyes dilated. Adam drank some of the water, coughed and groaned. But it moistened his mouth and had removed the taste of bile. He tried to sit but in making the attempt his head swam and he was forced to lower his head and shoulders back onto the floor.

“Chíngmahn dím chīngfū? [what is your name?]” he whispered but she just shook her head and slanted her eyes towards the Nubian.

He watched as she took the glass and then withdrew from his sight. He heard the rustle of the silk and velvet drapes fall back into place across the entrance. He looked over at the Nubian “ Chíngmahn néih sīk-m`h-sīk góng Yīngmán a? [Do you speak English]”

The Nubians answer to that was to flex his biceps and stand straighter. The ropes that bound Adam’s wrists were of a silken cord but evenso they bit into his flesh. His feet were similarly bound and as his eyes followed the length of the rope he could see that it was tied to the Nubian’s ankle. He moved his head to the right and saw ornate and expensive furniture, the glimmer of lamps and candles reflected in many tiny mirrors that were studded around the room. He moved his head to the left and saw the windows, broad and overlooking the sea. The night was drawing to a close. It would soon be morning. A new day.

……………….

Hop Sing pulled on the reins of the horses and they stopped. Obedient creatures that they were, they tossed their heads and lowered them to crop at the grass. He looked at Reuben and then at Sofia, then at Olivia Phillips. “You home now, Missy.”

She smiled at him gratefully and whispered her thank you before turning to Ben who had dismounted from his horse and was now standing at the side of the wagon, waiting, as always, to assist her down from the wagon seat. She placed her hands on his shoulders and was lifted down until her feet touched the ground, “Thank you, Ben. Thank you for everything.”

“You know it’s been a pleasure.” and he smiled, that broad generous smile she had grown to love.

“Oh, but I know there have been times when it wasn’t a pleasure, Ben. Abigail -” she sighed and looked back to the wagon and shook her head, “I am sorry.”

“Don’t be, my dear. Abigail will soon settle into her new surroundings. She’ll be alright.”

He looked at her, watched her as she turned to survey the house at which they had stopped. Was she disappointed now with her decision? He thought of the grand house she had left behind in San Francisco and like her, turned to view the old ranch house.

He had helped Ephraim build it. He remembered the days when his sons had trampled water and mud together to form the clay that would fill the chinks between the logs that formed the walls. Ephraim’s sons had joined them, laughing, playing, throwing mud balls at each other and generously covering themselves with the sloppy mud.

The house grown though, and Hop Sing had been there with them to pull up the rafters that had formed the bones of the roof. Olivia exhaled and turned to smile at him, “I was just thinking, Ben, how we all joined in to build this house. There was so much laughter then.”

“Yes, there was. I remember it very well.” He had removed his hat, and she smiled at him, trying to remember a younger Ben, but all she could recall were the laughing black eyes and the wide generous smile, strong big hands.

“I fell over.” she said suddenly as they walked together towards the door of the building, “I remember now, I fell over and you came to pick me up. There was mud on my clothes. I thought mother would be angry but she laughed and just hugged me close. It was a good feeling.”

She had a key and used it, pushed the door and it creaked open slowly. So many memories and not all of them were happy, not all of them had been filled with the laughter of children.

Cobwebs had been spun across the ceiling joists. A layer of dust was on everything. Soot and rubbish had fallen from the chimney where birds had tried to build a nest. Her fingers trailed marks across the surface of the mantle piece and she smiled, “Looks like some dusting needs to be done.”

“Look, Olivia, why not come back to the Ponderosa with us? I’m sure the girls would love to meet you, and arrange something about getting this place ship shape for you.”

“Oh Ben, it’s alright, I’m not afraid of some work. It wasn’t that long ago since I was here so I know what has to be done. It’s just work on the surface and – well – the other work will have to wait. I think,” her brow creased in concentration, “I think some shingles are missing. Actually, I know there are, but it won’t take too long to get things like that repaired.”

They lapsed into silence and just as Ben was about to speak Abigail was heard to say “What on earth is this place? It looks like a brothel.”

“Oh dear, hardly what I would think father would like it to be know as,” Olivia laughed, and turned to observe her mother-in-law who was standing by the doorway looking around with a very determined look on her face. “Abigail, this is our new home. Welcome to the Double D.”

Abigail looked at Ben with a fierce frown and thin lips, “I suppose this is all your idea, Ben Cartwright. This is what you had intended for my ‘Rita, is it? Heavens, man, you could at least have cleaned up before we came.”

“Well,” Ben looked at Olivia and grinned, winked his eye, “At least she got my name right.”

Reuben and Sofia came running into the house now, and while Sofia clung to her mother’s skirt Reuben was more than happy to explore. They could hear his feet clattering up the stairs and doors opening and closing, the thud of his booted feet sounded above their heads as he went from room to room.

“I think they’ll be happy enough here, Ben.” she slipped her arm through his in the companionable way that had developed between them during the journey, “It won’t take long to clean up and make this our home.”

“I’ll come by tomorrow to make sure everything was alright for you.” he patted her hand and then parted from her, “Hop Sing will stay here until the morning. You’ll need a man to help carry some of this into the house. If you want me to stay as well -” he paused and looked down into her face, perhaps hoping that she would say, ‘Yes, please stay.’

“Hop Sing will be a wonderful help, Ben. You need to get home to see your family. Tell them they are always welcome.” she laughed again, “With or without dusters.”

It occurred to Ben as he mounted into the saddle of his horse that she probably hadn’t laughed so much in a very long time. Perhaps the healing had begun – perhaps now all could be well for the pretty widow and her little family.

………….

“Pa’s home.”

The cry rang through the house, “Pa’s home.”

Mary Ann ran from the kitchen, dusting flour from her hands as she went while Hester picked up Hannah from the rug on the floor and swung her high and then into her arms. Joe left his position behind the desk where he was attempting to write a letter to Adam and Hoss, who had sounded the cry and stood on the porch opened up his arms to his wife and child and waited for his father to dismount.

For a moment Ben paused to look at the group assembled there. Joe and Mary Ann, so young, so happy with their hands clasped together and grinning a welcome from ear to ear. Hoss with his arm around Hester and little Hannah gazing up at them both, her head turning from one parent to the other.

A soft breeze blew and the skirts of the women fluttered around their ankles, strands of hair drifted loose like strands of the cobwebs that he had broken through in Olivia’s house. Hoss and Joe – his sons – and his heart seemed to tighten within his chest from the emotion he felt for them.

How had time passed so quickly without him even noticing? How much time now had he left to enjoy the blessings he now had. A grand child. Fancy that? Perhaps there would be more to come. Maybe, one day, even Adam would have a wife. He removed his hat, smiled and walked towards them.

“Pa-” Hester was running towards him, love shone in her eyes and in the smile “You were gone so long.”

“Not that long,” he chided as her arms wrapped around him. He could smell Hannah on her clothes, lavender in her hair.

“Welcome home, Pa.” Mary Ann stood back, smiling up at him shyly, sweet affection showing in the glow of her cheeks. He reached out to hug her close and could smell the perfume she wore, jasmine, sweet and strong, mingling with the apples and cake that she must have been preparing for the supper table.

“It’s good to be home.” he kissed her cheek and smiled at her.

Hoss and Joe were full of questions… what was the widow like? How was the journey? Where was Hop Sing? Hands shaken, backs slapped, laughter.

Home comings should always be this good, he mused. Lots of laughter.

Chapter 64

Adam tried to ease his legs into another position as cramp now began to threaten. The tautness in his calf screamed out for attention but as he moved the pain in his back and between his shoulders made him gasp, stop to get back his breath, and then exhale in a long painful gasp.

Hands grabbed at the loose linen shirt he wore and hauled him up so that he was confronted by the Nubians piercing eyes, the blackness of his face shining from the oils and which Adam could now smell as a quite intoxicating odour. Just as he wondered if the brute was going to throw him against the wall in the form of his early morning exercise, the Nubian lowered him down upon a couch with a gentleness that belied his ferocious appearance. Murmuring his thanks Adam leaned back, closed his eyes and prayed for some relief to come quickly.

“Pa, I can speak some words like Hop Sing.”

“Can you indeed, well done.” Ben had smiled over at the child who was pulling at the thread on his shirt, “Don’t do that, you’ll make a hole, then that’ll be a shirt ruined.”

“Sorry, pa.”

He walked away and kicked at a bucket which slopped water over his bare foot. Water – seui. He said the word to himself and smiled with pleasure. Learning was all part of the adventure, and he ran into the trees to find his tutor “Hop Sing? Hop Sing?” his voice echoed through the woodlands …

Even now as he thought back to that time Adam could hear the echo of his voice among the trees. A light smile touched his lips as he remembered the fact that those same trees had become the walls to their home. He recalled how Hop Sing had turned and smiled, and he had felt then the certainty that this man would be one of the most important men in his life. He had been proven right in many different ways.

“A pleasant memory, Commodore?”

He raised his head and narrowed his eyes to peer into the gloom. Jaing Peng advanced towards him. He had changed his clothes now and was wearing more westernised garments, far less flamboyant than the silks he had worn earlier. He sat down, making sure that his pants were uncreased by doing so. “Commodore, I regret to tell you that you have made a very foolish action in coming here.”

“Yeah, I agree.” Adam frowned and pursed his lips.

“Captain Selkirk said you would come, he said you were a man who would feel it important to save a fellow American and Officer.”

“Yeah, I agree with that too.”

“Now you have rescued him and he goes to your other Officers and will lead them into my – well, for want of a better word – into my trap. It works well for me, but not so well for you.”

Adam ran his tongue around the inside of his mouth, cursing the fact that it was so dry. He shrugged slightly “Well, I guess that’s how it goes at times, Jaing Peng. Sometimes a plan works for you and another time it doesn’t.” he bowed his head and stared at the rugs at their feet, all the colours were merging, whirling into a kaleidescope of different hues.

“Now I have to think about what to do with you. It is unfortunate, Commodore, that such a brave man like you should die so needlessly.”

Adam said nothing, he kept his head down and closed his eyes. There were so many different sounds ringing in his head, and Jiang Peng’s voice grated on his nerves. He tugged at his arms and the rope went taut as a result. Jiang Peng laughed, “My friend the Nubian is a good guard dog. He will keep his eyes on you, Commodore. He cannot speak or hear. Only his eyes speak for him, hear for him -” he stood up and turned towards Adam’s captor and made some signs with his fingers which the Nubian watched carefully, then nodded and gave the rope a savage tug which sent Adam sprawling from the couch and onto the floor.

He landed heavily for he was not a thin light weight of a man. The pain of landing on his injured shoulders made him cry out even though he tried to shut his mouth as soon as possible in order not to display any such weakness. Once again the Nubian grabbed him by the tunic and placed him carefully back on the couch. Jiang Peng watched with a smile on his face.

“Where are my men?” Adam asked, “What have you done with them?”

“Your men?” Jiang Peng shrugged, “Why, they are dead, of course.”

Adam slumped back against the cushions behind him and closed his eyes. He thought of them as they had rowed that boat from the Baltimore, and how they had helped with the injured Chinese. He shook his head slightly and cursed himself for a fool. Jiang Peng was right, and so had been O’Brien, it had indeed been a fool’s errand and achieved only what Jiang Peng had wanted.

…………….

Hoseasons had the fidgets. They had been standing at their post for so long that his legs were going numb and he desperately needed to relieve himself. He looked over at Gantry. “How long do we have to stay here for?” he hissed.

“Until we’re relieved.” Gantry hissed back.

His companion sighed and gazed up at the sky. It was daylight and he had been standing waiting to be relieved for hours. “I need to go -” he whispered.

“Well, you can’t, not until – well, not until you get orders.”

Hoseason shook his head and after a quick look around dodged behind some barrels and boxes. He had just done what was necessary when he thought he ought to see if the sampan were still where it had been left. He had seen Pollard slip the vessel between the junks and congratulated himself on not having been one of that party, believing he had indeed been given the easier task. He squatted down and peered between the huge towering ships and saw nothing. He scratched the back of his neck and shook his head.

“Better now?” Gantry said as Hoseason returned to his post.

“The sampan’s gone.”

“What?”

“It’s gone – without us.”

“You must be seeing things.” Gantry snorted which was a stupid thing to say because the fact was that Hoseason hadn’t seen anything and that was what bothered him. Gantry thought about it, “Are you sure?”

“Go and see for yourself.”

Glad to have an excuse to leave his post Gantry did just that, and as Hoseasons had done before him he squatted and peered between the junks, then walked on a little way to make sure he had got the right place and looked again. He stood for a moment perplexed and stared into the dark waters. It was at that moment that a familiar face stared back at him. Gantry was so startled at the sight of his dead companions body floating like so much debris that he fell against the boxes which shook as a result.

“Millers dead.” he said to Hoseason as he returned, “I saw him in the water.”

“What about the others?”

Gantry shook his head “I don’t know. Probably they’re all dead.”

“Dang, I knew I shouldn’t have come on this trip.” Hoseasons groaned aloud, “Look, we had better quit here and try and get our boat. We need to find our ships and tell ‘em”

“Tell ‘em what?”

“Tell ‘em the Commodore’s dead.”

They stared at one another and were about to turn away from their positions when someone yelled orders at them, coupled with a few obscenities. Without a word they hurried to comply, their feet thudding up the gangplank and onto the deck where they waited for their further orders.

…………………

From his hiding place Jackson watched as his two previous companions stood on the deck. It passed through his mind that the two men passed as Chinese men very well, so long as they kept the coolie hats on. He wondered how he could get them to see that he was still alive, still prepared for action, which was more than could be said for Miller and Yarrow.

Even now he wasn’t sure how he had managed to evade the same fate as the other two men. He thanked the darkness of the night, the fact that having put on the guards uniform earlier had confused the guards that attacked them, and he thanked God for deliverance. He now prayed to that same God for help as he watched Hoseasons and Gantry dithering about on the deck. He sighed inwardly at the thought that the two least intelligent of the crew were the ones who had survived.

He was about to risk being located by whistling to gain their attention when he noticed some activity taking place at the entrance of Jaing Pengs quarters. The door opened and the slight figure of the Chinese leader stepped onto the deck, behind him came a giant of a man, gleaming black from the oils rubbed into his skin. A magnificent handsome figure of a man that made Hoseasons and Gantry gasp. What made them gasp again was the sight of Adam being hauled along behind the Nubian by ropes that bound him hand and foot and with another around his neck like a noose which was held in a vice like grip by the man leading him.

Momentarily they were so taken aback by the fact that Adam was still alive that they nearly missed hearing their orders which was to fall in line behind the prisoner and follow them. Jackson watched carefully and raised his head a little to see where they were going. When the officer in charge yelled for two more men he quickly re-arranged his borrowed uniform and rushed forwards, having pulled the cap lower to shield his face.

He was now only several paces behind Hoseasons and Gantry. Another guard came and stood beside him and in a slow, orderly procession they proceeded to leave the junk.

Jiang Peng ascended into a litter which was lifted from the ground by poles carried by several men. The litter led the way from the wharf side and into the populace that thronged the encampment. They parted to allow the Grandee’s litter a clear passage but when they saw Adam being dragged along step by painful step behind the Nubian they drew in closer to observe him.

It was the Chinese custom to parade criminals and prisoners through the streets and then denounce their crimes publicly in the main square of the town. Here in this strange and cruel place Adam was led to where Jiang Peng’s yurt stood and here he was hauled forward with such force that he was sent sprawling.

This degraded humiliation to the American brought great shouts of joy from the crowd that was growing denser by the minute. Jeers and insults were hurled at Adam as he managed to get to his feet. Stones and rubbish were thrown at him with some success as he flinched when they struck him and cut into his flesh.

Jiang Peng descended from the litter and silence fell upon the crowd. He raised his arms and looked around him for attention, which he had plentifully.

“My people -” his voice rumbled over the heads of everyone there, and he spoke in Cantonese so that all would understand him, “Here is an American dog. A white devil. In his country an important man. A Commodore of the American Navy. A friend of the Government and its President Grant. He is our enemy. He would want to bring his war ship to kill us all. Murderer. To morrow he will suffer the way of all murderers and enemies of our people, enemies of our Empress, and of our young Emperor.” he waved his hands in a fervor of zeal at those words, few though they were, and the crowd screamed approval.

“Sometimes,” Hop Sing was leaning forwards to wipe away tears from the boys face, “we suffer great sorrows. It is the way of all life. An ant is busy toiling all his life long and a day comes when his life ends. A mighty eagle soars to the skies and a day comes when he must plummet to the earth. Whether Emperor or humble man our day comes when all life ends. It is our sorrow.”

“But, Hop Sing, it isn’t fair.” and the tears had fallen again, hot from his eyes to course down his cheeks again.

“No, it isn’t fair, but it is how it must be for now.” Hop Sing had dabbed at the tears again, “Now, come, you must be a man. It is what your father needs you to be.”

Adam straightened his back, shook his head as though to avoid another missile and then followed the demand of the rope that was pulled across his throat. His eyes drifted across the sea of faces and just momentarily he thought he saw a familiar face, a hand lifted to a brow. After that he was hauled along into the confusion of colours as the interior of the yurt enfolded around him.

You must be a man. It is what your father needs you to be.

He stood there in the middle of the yurt standing on silken rugs and waited for Jiang Peng to speak. Words seemed to be scattered from his brain to the four winds. He could only recall Hop Sings face and the words he had spoken to him on a day long ago when life had seemed so cruel, so unfair.

Now Jiang Peng turned towards him and signed to the mute so that Adam was forced down to his knees before him. “You are a puzzle, Commodore. I find myself liking you and angry at myself for doing so. The other American, Selkirk, was a snivelling coward, a fool. He was happy to do what I asked of him because of his hatred and contempt for you. He was weak. You are strong.” he frowned as though his own words confounded him. He shook his head, “I wish sometimes that we were not enemies.”

Adam said nothing, he couldn’t speak even if he had wanted to for his mouth was too dry and his lips had seemed melded together. He raised one eyebrow and gave the slightest of shrugs. Jiang Peng sat down among satin and silk cushions “The opium wars – what do you know about them?” he leaned forward as though Adam’s answer were important but upon receiving no response he sat upright again, observed Adam from lowered eyes and nodded, “Twice our countries were at war and twice your country and Britain sought to destroy my country. My family were in Beijing when the Foreign Devils came and destroyed Yuan Ming Yuan. It was great humiliation for China. My father was descendent of Emperor who created the Garden of Perfect Brightness. It was there the Foreign Devils killed him. We – my family – were humiliated.”

Adam managed to get his lips apart at last and shook his head, “America was not involved.”

“Pah, you white devils always say the same, always someone else you can point finger at. Now, destruction of wan yuan zhi yaan (Garden of Gardens) proof of foreign aggression . It is time you learn China great Empire, ruled by Great Empress and not tolerate humiliation again.”

“Why do you want the Baltimore?”

Juang Peng smiled slowly, “It intrigues you that question? Your ship will be the Empress’ humiliation of your country.”

Adam worked his tongue around his mouth to moisten it a little. He was feeling light headed and the pain was beginning to gnaw more violently across his shoulders. He moved slightly and felt the rope around his neck tighten. There was nothing he could do but stand there, wait, and pray. He took a deep breath and lowered his head. There had to be something, somewhere, that he could use to get free. Otherwise he knew, that he would most certainly die, and he was quite sure that it wouldn’t be a pleasant death.

A mighty eagle soars into the skies and then a day comes when he must plummet to the earth.

Chapter 65

Sweat prickled at the roots of his hair making his scalp itch with such an irritating niggling constancy that it was a torture in itself. He bowed his head and shook it in the hope that the tingling would stop. It didn’t. The pain from the blows he had received were burning into his muscles, and he tried to slowly roll his shoulder blades just to ease the tautness in them. It was painful, worse than painful.

Blood trickled from his face as a result of the many sharp stones and missiles that had struck him, a particularly deep gash on the cheek bone was persistent in bleeding down his cheek and dripping from his jaw. He attempted to remove it when he bowed his head, hoping the material of his shirt would sop it up just a little.

Everything hurt. The ropes binding his wrists were tighter than ever, and the noose around his neck ensured that he remained standing. He imagined the series of knots behind him as the rope would have been fastened around his ankles with enough space between his feet to enable him to hobble when necessary, then leading up to his wrists and then the loop around his neck with the rope trailing into the hand of the black Colossus standing behind him.

He couldn’t just stand here forever. He blinked the sweat that dewed his eyelashes, the salt of which stung his eyes. Somehow, somewhere there had to be a way out of this mess. He couldn’t die, not like this. He looked at Jiang Peng who was drinking from a golden chalice and appearing to have forgotten his existence even though he was standing like a totem pole only feet from him. “What exactly do you want from me?”

Jiang Peng looked surprised at the words and turned to look at Adam more thoughtfully. The Commodore had spoken in Cantonese, which impressed Jiang Peng who put the chalice down to clap his hands as though in applause, “Well, you speak good Cantonese, Commodore. Where did you learn?”

“A friend.” Adam blinked then screwed up his eyes to prevent sweat from stinging them into tears, “A good friend, from childhood.”

“Ah, yes, you are fluent in the language, I am pleased.” he paused and poured out some water into a glass, into this he poured some brandy. Adam couldn’t help but notice it was a very good quality expensive French brand. Rather surprisingly he approached Adam and put the glass to his lips, tilted it and encouraged Adam to drink. “This will fortify you. I want you to be good entertainment for tomorrow.”

Adam licked his lips slowly savouring the taste of the watered down brandy, and feeling it burn its way down his throat. He tried to recall when he had last eaten, had something to drink. He realised then that his legs were shaking and stiffened his body in an attempt to stop them from doing so.

“Shock causes the legs to shake,” Jiang Peng said kindly as though it were no disgrace to be standing there in such a manner, “And exhaustion. Of course if you allow your legs to give way the rope around your neck will tighten as your arms, and therefore your wrists, drag the ropes down. Guofeng might have some compassion for you and release the rope a little but he doesn’t often do that, he can be quite spiteful at times.”

Adam stared ahead of him, he swallowed bile, tasted blood. He tried to move his legs a little, just to relax the muscles, to stop the shaking but in doing so the ropes jerked like an efficiently feat of engineering. He drew in his breath, “You didn’t answer, what do you want from me?”

“Now look, Commodore, this is a nonsense. You are a high ranking Officer in the American Navy. A friend of the Imperialist Grant -”

“Grant isn’t -”

“Grant is the same as the Imperialist British Empire, he’s an enemy of our Empress.” Jiang Peng nodded, “Therefore he is my enemy.”

“Well, I guess that makes sense.” Adam murmured, and once again glanced around the room.

The yurt was big, canopied with silks and satin drapes. It was divided into compartments by vast quantities of material that were swathed across the entrances. As there were no windows there was no natural light and oil lamps burned along with candles. The air was stale and oppressive, heavy and sweet from perfumes and the cloying scent of opium. Adam shook his head again stop the sweat dripping down his face, it spiked his hair, mingled with the blood. His head was spinning and he wondered if he was going to pass out.

She was looking at the red roses in her arms and smiling. He could see her so clearly now, sharply in focus, the smile was sad as though the roses reminded her of something that she had lost and now missed. He thought her beautiful, and enigmatic with her sea green eyes and long lashes brushing against her cheeks now as she looked down at the roses. Her hair was like the soft silver blonde that was rare to see, and yet it suited her, making her skin look translucent. He thought she must have been coveted by many men, and loved, perhaps, by just as many.

His breathing was harsh, heavy. Jiang Peng had stood up to walk away from his victim, as though bored by the whole process of humiliating his enemy. Time had ticked along but the Commodore had remained standing. True, he swayed, his legs shook at times, but he was still standing. The Chinese Grandee had assumed this American would be like the other, weak and a coward. But then Selkirk had not even had a taste of torture, the mere thought of it had brought him to his knees.

…………….

The sampan glided across the water with an ease that satisfied Selkirk enormously. He had already developed a plan to use the sampan to get a more seaworthy vessel. One would be needed, of course, to get over to where the three American ships were berthed. Pollard paused, eased up the oar and drooped over. His whole body ached, he was totally exhausted.

“We’ve not got all day, move along -” Selkirk growled and shoved Pollard with his booted foot.

“I can’t, Captain. I’m sorry, but I’m spent. I have to get some rest otherwise we’ll not be going anywhere further.”

“I said, get a move on.” Selkirk raised a fist and struck Pollard a hefty blow across the face, but when he raised it again Pollard’s fingers seized hold of his wrist,

“I said, I’ve got to rest. Now, Captain, you just have to be patient and wait.”

Selkirk stared into the face of the weary seaman, then, defeated, lowered his arm, nodded agreement and allowed Pollard to give a final few strokes of the oar in order to berth the vessel.

………………

One of the advantages of knowing the language was that it made life so much easier to get around and to know things. Jackson, Gantry and Hoseasons had mingled along with the crowd that had gathered around Adam and Jiang Peng and eventually dispersed. Jackson used his knowledge to join a card game with two Chinese, one Dutch and two English seamen, all of whom looked quite happy to welcome him into the game.

It was like taking candy from a baby, and it wasn;t long before they were quite happy to see him depart, although sad to see some of their money depart with him. With the cash in hand he was able to buy some food and something to drink for the three of them.

“They ain’t all Chinese then.” Gantry mumbled.

“Good thing for us, it works in our favour.” Jackson replied

“Yeah, we don’t look quite so out of place,” Hoseasons agreed.

They chomped on the food, licked their fingers and lips, drank some of the local wine. Gantry nodded, “Well, what’s the plan?”

“First off, we have to find the Commodore.” Jackson glanced around him “And get him out of there.”

“He ain’t lost, we know where he is,” Gantry pointed out waving a chicken bone under Jacksons nose, “Getting him out of there might be a bit tricky.”

“I’ve got an idea -” Jackson whispered carefully selecting some bread and dipping it into the wine, “Huddle up -”

Chapter 66

Movement came from a corner of the compartment and a young woman entered. Without looking in Adam’s direction she went directly to Ziang Peng. She leaned towards him and murmured something in too low a voice for Adam to hear a single word but the Chinese man inclined his head gravely and then waved her away.

Adam watched her from the corner of his eye and then turned his gaze back to the other man. It seemed as though pain had given his senses such a heightened awareness of colour and shape that he could see every line on the mans face, the brightness of his garments, the way the drapes fell in swathes … everything so finely detailed that he had to close his eyes in order to concentrate on what he was intending to do.

The main object now was to prevent Ziang Peng from boarding his junk and leading his flotilla of craft out to sea. Even though he may have under estimated the fire power of the Baltimore and the other two vessels, there was always a possibility that he could win. No man could be foolish enough to gamble on coming out the outright winner of any conflict because time and again fickle fate often played her hand in the game also.

Adam heaved in a deep breath and looked up to see Ziang Peng looking at him with a thoughtful expression on his face, “Commodore, you have a very strong will power. You fight to survive. I like that in a man.”

Adam said nothing but stared at the red dragon that was draped on the partition behind his opponent. Ziang Peng drew nearer and put his hand upon Adam’s shoulder, he nodded “You are a worthy opponent, Adam Cartwright.”

Adam glanced down at the shorter man, quirked an eyebrow and then in as swift a movement as he could possibly manage threw himself backwards into the Nubian behind him. Instead of the ropes tautening in his falling forwards and thereby partially strangling him they loosened. The big man staggered back, the rope was released from his fingers but before he could grasp the end of it Adam had rolled away from him, cannoned into the legs of Ziang Peng and then brought his legs up and kicked against a small table upon which stood a very decorative oil lamp.

Even as Ziang Peng quickly leapt to his feet and the Nubian was lunging towards Adam the oil ignited. There was a loud whoosh of sound as the silk drapes caught fire and flames streaked up the folds of the material like so many hungry spiders scurrying up a wall.

Ziang Peng spun round to retrieve some papers from another table but before he could pick them up Adam used his bound feet to hook beneath the table and then turn it over. Another oil lamp crashed into the floor, the oil puddled, spread out and ignited. Oil splashed upon the Chinese Grandee’s sleeve and a capricious flame danced momentarily before fastening its grip and speeding along the length of Jiang Pengs arm.

Now Adam rolled towards the edge of the yurt, succeeded in rising to his knees and was about to make an attempt to get onto his feet when the Nubian reached him, grabbed at his arms and hauled him upright. One large hand gripped Adam by the throat. Behind them flames cavorted crazily through the compartment. Ziang Peng’s clothing was now flaring and he was screaming. There were sounds of chaos. Crazy noises one could imagine coming from the bowels of hell came from all directions but Adam could only see the flames and two large dark eyes boring into his as the hand squeezed tighter and tighter.

He didn’t fall back into unconsciousness, but used all his remaining strength to fall forwards towards the Nubian, momentarily the grip lessened as both men fell back onto the cushioned couch. With his arms bound behind his back Adam had only his legs to use as weapons and this was limited due to the rope binding his feet. He kicked out yet again as hard as he could, unknowing now as to what he was aiming at or what he would strike as the smoke stung his eyes and obscured his vision.

They fell together back onto the floor, a candlebra tottered and fell, the weight of it sending Jiang Peng to his knees. A vast swathe of silk that was a burning whirl of colour swung down from the ceiling and wrapped around whatever it touched and added more fire to what was already burning. It settled across Jiang Pengs shoulders, and upon Adam’s captor causing him to rear up with a roar of pain and releasing his hold upon the American.

Adam pulled himself free from the other man, struggled to remove the bonds that bound him but without success. He saw a blurred vision of a writhing crawling dragon as it burned and floated downwards. Sounds filled his head that made his head ring, screams and bellows of rage, and fear, and pain.

He made one last attempt to get free and then collapsed upon the floor.

Inger. Her last look over towards me and the baby in my arms. Then she fell and Pa had her in his arms. I see her face and the way she looked at him, that love, that tender love.
Why did she have to die when she had so much love to give.

Adam closed his eyes, Inger’s sweet face shimmered from his memory and died as the darkness overwhelmed him.

……………….

The sampan slid its way through the water and Selkirk looked over his shoulder at the way they had come. On the horizon a brilliant glow could be seen “Looks like somethings burning.” He observed to Pollard who was back to pulling at the oar.

“I don’t mind telling you, Captain Selkirk, that if you want to reach the Baltimore, then we will have to abandon this sampan. I have to get to our own boat.”

“I’ve already told you, its too far from the direction we need to go in. Just obey orders, Pollard.”

Pollard mumbled beneath his breath but he did as he was told, he was after all a mere seamen and if he obeyed orders he couldn’t be held responsible for the result of them.

…………….

The three men ran from the burning yurt that had been the headquarters of Ziang Peng. They were breathless, heaving with the difficulty to breathe after having been inside the furnace of flames and smoke. Now they carried their burden through crowds who were hurrying to watch with the curiosity of the idle, the feckless and the worse of their society. Ziang Peng’s own guards were struggling to put out the flames, water chains were organised. The noise and ferociousness of the fire almost subdued the noise and clamour of the crowds watching or helping.

Hoseasons was the first to beg a chance to stop and then collapsed in a heap where he struggled to catch his breath. After a moment he wiped his brow, clambered to his feet and once again put his arms around the Commodore’s legs as the other two men laboured to take the weight of Adam’s body. The ran towards the wharf side, and once they had reached Jacksons intended destination they lowered Adam down onto the ground and caught their breath.

“Now then,” Jackson looked at the other two, “Wait for my signal. Don’t leave the Commodore whatever you do.”

He received an emphatic nod of the head from them both and then carefully readjusted his purloined uniform, pulled down his hat and scampered up the gangplank of the junk yelling “Jiang Peng is dead. There’s been a fire. You are all needed immediately. Help. Help. Jiang Peng is dead. Fire. Fire.”

The crew still on board now rushed to the ship’s side, saw for themselves the flames and uttering loud cries of distress and panic began to run down the gangplank. “Is it true? Is Jiang Peng dead?” one of the guards asked Jackson.

“I saw him with my own eyes.” Jackson replied bowing low, and for good measure showed the burns upon the sleeve of his uniform, “The whole thing went up in flames.”

“Why aren’t you putting out the fire then?”

“Because I was ordered to come and report here, why do you think?”

That ended the dialogue. The officer turned and followed his men away from the ship. Jackson watched them as they dispersed amid the throng and once satisfied that they were alone gave the signal.

Very carefully Hoseasons and Gantry lifted Adam into their arms and carried him to the junk. While they did that Jackson was cutting the ropes that kept the junk secured to the bollards on the wharf side. Convincing himself that a junk was just another type of ship and worked upon the same principles he took himself off to the bridge, released the wheel and began the task of easing the vessel away from the wharf.

Chapter 67

Jacksons assumption that the junk was like any other ship proved vastly inaccurate, and he had to call on Gantry to give him some help. Hoseasons was left to attend to the still unconscious Officer. It was while he was getting water from a barrel nearby that he found a familiar face staring up at him “Yarrow? Are you dead, man?”

“No, of course I’m not dead. I’ve been waiting for you lot to come back. Look, I’ve half a dozen men here I’ve been chatting to for most of the night. They’re quite prepared to help us out of here. They’ve no fondness for Jiang Peng and these people here.” he handed a pistol over to Hoseasons and then with a groan passed out.

The men Yarrow referred to were huddled together out of sight and now observed Hoseasons with terror written in very large letters over their faces. He gestured with the gun “Come on deck so I can see you.”

The junk at that point shuddered, from the bridge Jackson yelled “Sorry” and continued in his attempt to get the junk sailing smoothly away instead of bumping into the junk alongside her and smashing down a sampan due to his ineptitude.

The captives began to shout all at once, offers of help and assistance made with such excitement and pleasure that Hoseasons stepped aside and let them loose, “Help’s on the way.” he called up to the two men and hoping that niether of them would take a pot shot at the Chinese seamen whose willingness to help said a lot for the regard they felt for their previous leader.

It was a blessing in disguise as they soon got the sails functioning and the ship gracefully made her way from the harbour side. Hoseasons soon helped Yarrow who had sustained some unpleasant but not death dealing injuries and then with his help turned his attention to seeing to Adam.

“We have to get him somewhere better than here,” he muttered and yelled to a passing Chinese “Hey you, give me a hand here.”

Between the three of them the managed to carry the limp body of the Commodore down to what would have been Jiang Pengs private compartment, the same place that Adam had found Selkirk with the Chinese overlord. Here they now placed Adam onto one of the cushioned day beds and Hoseasons carefully began to cut away the ropes that still bound Adams feet and wrists, which, although they had loosened considerably still held him captive.

They carefully and gently brought Adams arms to his sides and then slowly examined the wounds he had sustained, and cleaned them. The Chinese they had brought down with them proved more than useful as he told them he had once studied medicine, Chinese medicine. He would know what to do to help their Officer better than they would know. Grudgingly they allowed him to assist them and when it proved that he actually did know what he was talking about, they stood back and allowed him to tend Adam.

The ship was now some distance from the wharf and now people were beginning to realise that it was missing and Jiang Peng was not on board. A sudden surge from the burning remnants of the yurt to the wharf was seen by Jackson who demanded from his small but willing crew some help in getting more distance from them.

“Why not fire off some of those cannon?” Gantry suggested.

Jackson shook his head and scratched the back of his neck. Gantry in frustration said that if he didn’t do it, then he would and turned resolutely to carry out just that solution.

In the bed Adam heard the roar of guns and he felt the ship shudder. His eyes flickered open, closed again. Everything hurt so much. He didn’t want to think. He wanted to be wrapped in a warm bed and allowed to dream about pleasant things that didn’t smell of smoke and burning flesh. He tried to remember where he was and why he was there but the blackness was swirling around him again and he rather gladly succumbed to its embrace.

Jackson accepted the mug of hot tea with a grimace, but anything was better than nothing. He looked at Gantry “How’s the Commodore?”

“Bad burn on his arm and left leg, but he’ll live. Thank God.”

“Amen to that, otherwise this would all be for nothing.”

“Where do you think Selkirk went?”

“Like most rats, back to his dung heap. Good riddance to him.” Jackson spat venom along with spit onto the deck.

“No sign of Pollard or the sampan.”

“Good thing we didn’t rely on them for our escape then.” Jackson replied and watched as the sail turned in the wind, “Can’t say I like the look of them, but they’re efficient enough, arnt they?”

“Aye, they are that.”

“How’s Yarrow?”

“Resting. I thought he was dead, otherwise I’d not have left him behind.”

“Well, he’d have slowed us down with those injuries. It’s worked out for the best.” Jackson frowned, “What about them? The Chinese?”

“Interesting – a lot of these so called pirates are just men that have been taken from their homes and villages, forced into labouring on these ships, cannon fodder in effect.” Gantry picked at his teeth, and shrugged, “Some of them are bona fide pirates and willing to cut anyone’s throat.”

“And Jiang Peng?”

“He’s related to the Empress. He and his guards came here and got all the men working for him on the promise of freedom and riches, the usual gaff.”

“So I suppose they want us to take them home as well then?”

“Some of them don’t even know where home is anymore, they just don’t want to be in servitude to Jiang Peng.”

Jiang Peng was the last person on Adam’s mind as he fought against the pain of his tortured muscles and the burns on his body. Hua Sheng, the Chinese who was caring for him, applied ointments and cooling herbs to the aching limbs, soaking cold wet wadding to the burns and carefully tended the rope burns around his wrists, neck and throat. Incense burners brought sweet odours into the very ornate cabin, dulling the senses and enabling the injured man to sleep deeply and eventually escape the ravages of pain.

Chapter 68

Abigail Phillips refused to step foot into the ranch house. She thumped her walking stick firmly on the ground in adamant refusal to do any such thing. “You don’t understand, any of you, but I have an appointment this afternoon that has to be kept.”

“No, you don’t, Abbie,” Olivia said calmly, taking hold of her hand and wondering for the millionth time since leaving San Francisco why they had brought her along with them.

“But I do. ’Rita and I were going to go to the ice cream parlour, you know, Vincenzi’s.” she turned to Hop Sing and smiled, “He does the best Neapolitan ice cream in the town. We’re going to go there and watch the boys go by.”

“Abbie!” Olivia blushed and looked at Hop Sing with a shake of the head, “I hope you never did.”

“Indeed we are, ’Rita always got her ice cream paid for her that way. Father never knew,” she smiled impishly; “There’s a lot he never knew, thank goodness.”

“I don’t think I want to hear any more nonsense from you today, Abbie. There’s work to be done and I can’t do it listening to this.”

She still held Abbie’s hand in hers and now the old lady awarded her one of her beatific smiles and stroked her hand gently, “Very well, dear, off you go. I quite understand, perhaps another day.”

With a sigh of despair Olivia turned to the house and re-entered it, leaving Abbie on the porch looking around her with some varying degrees of confusion. Where was the ice cream parlour? How was she going to find her way to Vincenzi’s? Where was ’Rita?

“Missy sit down here? Enjoy sun?”

She turned to look at the smiling man who stood beside her chair. Her very own chair all the way from San Francisco. Her mind flicked through pictures until she could recall how it had been taken out of the wagon every evening as they had sat around the camp fire. Ben Cartwright had been there “Where’s Ben?” she asked imperiously as she took her seat and looked around her.

“Gone to ranch, to Ponderosa.” Hop Sing smiled again, bowed, “Would Missy like some tea?”

“Yes, please. And some chocolate cake with those whirly things on it.”

Hop Sing smiled and bowed again, totally unfazed even though he had no idea what whirly things she meant, “Missy stay in chair and wait for Hop Sing to come back.”

“Very good, my man, thank you.”

She sat back in her chair and looked up at the sky. It was very blue and hardly a cloud. The sun was still weak but straggling through and there was no wind, not even a breeze. She sighed contentedly and closed her eyes. Just a short nap would do and then there would be tea, cake and ’Rita to talk to when she woke up.

“Thank you, Hop Sing. You always seem to know exactly what she needs.” Olivia smiled at her companion as she tied the strings of her apron around her waist.

“Maybe.” Hop Sing replied as he watched her thoughtfully, “Why not you sit down and take rest. I go make tea. Soon get this cleared and cleaned.”

“There’s just so much to do, Hop Sing. I never thought spiders could be so busy in such a short time.” She sighed and removed a cob web that was shimmering in the breeze from the now open window, “I gave the place a good clean up before I left after father’s funeral, but it looks so grubby now.”

“Soon look very good with all Missy’s things here.”

She smiled at him, grateful for the help and his smiling optimism. Upstairs they could hear the children running in and out of the bedrooms. Her smile became more genuine now as she remembered that this had been her childhood home, that her own children would be enjoying what she had herself found pleasure in and would be sleeping in the beds that she had slept in. She felt excitement rise in her and impulsively gave Hop Sing a hug which had the poor man blushing and hurrying off to the kitchen to ‘inspect stove’.

With the children content to play with the treasures they were finding in the rooms above, Olivia set to work with a broom, sweeping floors and beating rugs as though her life depended upon it. She was halted from her activity of bashing the daylights out of a rug what was strung upon a line in the garden by the sound of activity at the front of the house.

A woman was sitting in a fairly new buggy surveying the property, and the sleeping woman on the porch. She was attractive with a gentle smile on her face, intense blue eyes and a mass of coppery gold curling hair. Her gaze turned from the old woman to Olivia who now stood looking at her with a look of curiosity on her face.

Hester smiled at the woman who had appeared from the back of the house with such a belligerent look on her face. A slightly built woman, Hester observed, her hair hidden behind the scarf indicated an unusual blend of blonde and silver, her eyes were unusual too, being a shifting sea green beneath the long lashes. She was, Hester thought, rather reminiscent of what one would imagine of a mermaid and the thought widened her smile ever more so,

“I’m Hester Cartwright. Pa told me he had abandoned you all so I thought I would come by to give you a helping hand and also some provisions.” She descended the buggy easily, and stretched out her hand, “Olivia Phillips, I presume?”

“The same. Hello, Hester. Ben has told me a lot about you and his little grand daughter. Have you brought her with you today?”

“I wasn’t sure how much work there would be to do here so left her with her doting grand-daddy.” Hester laughed at the memory of Ben swooping the infant up in the air and the bawling that ensued as a result, “Mary Ann and the boys will be here soon. Hoss thought your chimneys would need sweeping and is searching for the necessary gadgets – oh, hello, Hop Sing. Have you enjoyed your time away?”

“Velly big adventure, Missy Hester. See family all time.” Hop Sing grinned and bowed, “I make tea.”

“Oh well, never let it be said a Cartwright doesn’t possess good timing.” Hester replied following him into the house and removing her gloves. She looked about her as she entered, noting the good quality furniture and the inroads that had been made already to the big room. “This is a nice homely room.”

“Thank you, it’s the room I have the fondest memories.” Olivia replied, wondering if she looked reasonably clean and if the smut on her face was imaginary rather than as big as it looked.

“Yes, houses are like that when they are our homes in childhood, repositories of many memories.” Hester replied quietly, and then she smiled at the sight of the two children who peered at her from the stairs, “Hello, are you Sofia and Reuben?”

Shy Sofia hid behind her brother who straightened his shoulders and looked at this tall gangly woman with her flaming hair, “I’m Reuben, this is my sister, Sofia.”

“I’m Hester, and I have a little girl called Hannah.” her smile widened, “She’ll have to come and play with you, won’t she?”

“Is she here now?” Sofia asked in a soft little voice as she peeked over Reubens shoulder.

“No, not today. She’s staying at home with Grandpa Ben.”

“He’s my grand-daddy too,” Sofia said twisting her fingers in and out of her blonde curls, “He said so.”

“Sofia -” Olivia shook her head and frowned slightly, then she turned to Hester with an apologetic smile, “I’m sorry, it’s more wishful thinking than anything else.”

Hester brushed it off with a nod of the head and then asked what it was Olivia would like her to do. Before she could be given a reply the sound of more vehicles and horses arriving made both women turn and hurry to the door which prompted Reuben to give his sister a nudge in the ribs “Let’s go upstairs and look outa the window.”

Abigail woke with a start and stared at the two men on horseback and the woman seated on the wagon. Despite the smiles they gave her she began to shriek her head off, “Bandits. Bandits.”

Upstairs Reuben gave a laugh, watching his grand mother doing her own imitation of a war dance and screaming bandits led him to so much laughter that he toppled off the box that he had been standing on. Rubbing his head he soon clambered back on board and added his voice to Abbie’s by shouting ’Bandits’ as loudly as he could.

“It’s alright, Abbie, it’s alright,” Olivia cried, putting her hands on Abigail’s shoulders, “They’re friends.”

“Friends don’t come to steal my pearls.”

“You arn’t wearing your pearls.”

“You mean, they’ve stolen them already.” Abigail wailed and fell back into her chair.

Hop Sing came quickly to the rescue with a tray laden with a pretty floral tea pot and cups. He set them down on the rather rickety table and patted her on the shoulder, “Tea, ready, now.”

Keeping a wary eye on the bandits Abigail calmed down enough to sit and take her cup of tea. She watched as Hoss ‘Oh my, he’s a big ‘un’ she declared (not realising how many times that comment had been made before hand) and smiling at Joe saying in an overloud whisper to Hop Sing ‘Now that young man is really so cute.’ Mary Ann received a frown and request to Hop Sing to explain who exactly she was and why had the bandits brought her along, supplying her own explanation immediately by declaring they had kidnapped her for a ransom.

Mary Ann set out the table which was now clean and bleached. Flowers in a vase, table settings arranged. Hop Sing put the food that had been prepared back in the stove to warm up sufficiently and then prepared coffee. Joe put the cans of milk into the cold box and then went out to clean all the windows with an enthusiasm that Mary Ann said she had never seen before, and would make note of now. Hoss got wrapped around the chimney sweep brushes and finally, after working out how to do it, climbed up to inspect the chimney from the top before coming back down and saying that he had removed the birds nest and sweeping could now take place.

Mary Ann and Hoss had an altercation as to why had he waited until the sitting room had been swept clean before deciding to sweep the chimney, didn’t he realise how much mess he would be making. Hop Sing suggested that they ‘light fire and see what happens’. Hoss and Mary Ann now turned on him in a united front to tell him how dangerous that could be, and hadn’t h e realised the amount of smoke that would bring into the house?

Olivia was upstairs with Hester now. She opened the big wardrobe doors and found old clothes worn by her father and mother which she quickly removed. In the other rooms Hester was busy doing the same, removing the old fusty clothing that still hung from their old railings. These were folded carefully and all put into an old wicker basket which was consigned to the attic room.

It touched Olivia’s heart to see the carefully folded and neatly arranged bed linen that was found in a big linen chest in what had been her parent’s room. The scent of lavender and rose petals touched her nostrils and she leaned in to smell them, reminding the day they had sat with mother making the little lavender bags.

“Do you think they would be alright to be put on the beds?” she asked Hester who leaned in to sniff them and nodded,

“They aren’t damp nor dusty. And how pretty the needlework is on these?”

Beds were made up, Reuben had his own room and so had Sofia, although she would sleep with Olivia for just a little while until she was used to the house. Curtains were taken down and washed and soon on the line to dry in the spring air.

Hop Sing declared the meal ready just as everyone was beginning to tire. Abigail was escorted into the room on the arm of the ‘cute kid’ and seated at the head of the table. Hester whispered to Olivia “Oh dear, we seem to have taken over …” to which Olivia had laughed and hugged her which quite warmed Hester’s heart towards her.

Abigail made everyone laugh when she rose to her feet and banged the table with a spoon

“I now declare this meeting open.” she declared very firmly and promptly sat down again amid applause.

It was Olivia’s first evening in her new ‘old’ home. She had to remind herself that she had never been so happy for a very long time and as she gazed around the table thoughts led to the one person who was missing … and it wasn’t Ben.

Chapter 69

Adam studied the maps with a determination that was necessary considering the pain he was enduring and the effort it took to concentrate. He measured distances with the callipers and compass to good effect he eventually located their position and began to work on the co-ordinates to get to the prearranged meeting place with O’Brien. Every so often he would run a finger around the collar of the loose shirt he wore when it rubbed against the rope burns around his throat and neck.

Wiping the back of his hand across his forehead he paused a moment to allow a wave of dizziness to pass and then resumed his deliberations. When Jackson knocked and entered he glanced over at him and nodded. It was Jackson who spoke first, approaching the desk as he did so “I think we’ve reached the island where we left those injured men.”

“Very good.” Adam nodded, his voice was low and husky, just above a whisper and Jackson had to lean forward to catch the words, “Take one of the boats and see if there are any survivors. Bring them on board if there are.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Jackson, before you go -.” Adam cleared his throat hoping that by doing so his voice would be a little stronger and therefore contain slightly more gravitas as a result, “Thank you for the risks you and the other men took for me. I won’t forget it.” he put out a hand which Jackson, after wiping his own down his shirt front, took and shook warmly.

“Thank you, sir. No more than any seaman would do for an officer like you, sir.”

Adam’s smile wavered slightly as the seaman left the room. Realising he was becoming slightly emotional he shook his head and resumed his map reading and calculus.

Hua Sheng had rebound his burns and given him more medication by the time Jackson returned. He reported that there were two fresh graves and numerous foot prints to indicate that the remaining Chinese had been taken from the area. Adam realised that they may never come to know who took them but could only hope that the local fishermen had been their saviours, the fact that two graves had been dug led him to presume the best. He had no doubt that had it been Jiang Pengs men the dead would have been left as carrion on the beach and the living taken back to serve the Empress yet again.

“Any sign of Pollard?” he asked but a shake of the head was the only answer to that question. He held back from asking about Selkirk.

The day ended with a glorious sun set and an excellently prepared meal cooked by two of the Chinese whom Yarrow had ‘rescued’. Yarrow, tended carefully by Hua Sheng, was progressing well and had promised Adam to be back on duty by morning. Adam had nodded and smiled, “Yes, then, in that case, so shall I.” he had replied in his husky low voice.

Hua Sheng had explained to him that the rope had damaged the wind pipe to some extent, but not so severely for the harm to be permanent. Compounding the damage was the smoke inhalation. Having explained carefully what this could have led to, Hua Sheng again reassured Adam in that he would recover from that also, in time. The burns on his arm would scar, there was no doubt about that and his leg would suffer some permanent scarring also, one it had healed. The treatment Adam was receiving could not have been better had he been in the best hospital in Boston and upon questioning Hua Sheng more closely Adam learned that the man had been Jiang Pengs personal physician when on board ship. He had added, in his explanation to Adam that he had not been willing but that servitude to a superior, any superior, was part of the honour code for a Chinese to follow. He had bowed low at that point leaving Adam to assume that he was now the superior that Hua Sheng would follow and obey.

……………….

The sampan was taking in water and Pollard, exhausted and afraid, insisted that they beach the frail craft and hope that some passing fishermen would come to their rescue. It took all of Selkirk’s self control not to beat the man severely for what he would have at one time called insubordination. “Row on.” he ordered.

“Impossible, sir. The boat’s taking on too much water too quickly. She’ll go down. This kind of vessel ain’t meant for sea travel like this -.”

Selkirk looked around him and then back at Pollard. Even he could see how exhausted the man now was, and he inclined his head and pointed to the craggy rocks of an atoll ahead of them. Pollard could have wept with relief when the grinding sound of the sampans bottom meeting the beach was heard. He jumped over the side and hauled it upwards, with Selkirk assisting on the starboard. They dragged the little vessel up high among the rocks and shingle before sinking down upon dry land once again.

Looking up at the stars above Pollard wondered what had happened to his ship mates. He didn’t dare to ask about the Commodore or for any information from Selkirk who was studying the stars carefully, the way a good navigator would who had learned to chart his way by the stars. Pollard resigned himself to sleep. He knew that whatever he thought about anything would amount to nothing with Selkirk taking the leadership. His hands were blistered and his back burned. He felt sick and ill with pain and exhaustion. As he slipped into sleep he wondered if he would wake up in the morning, he even pondered on the thought that he didn’t care much if he never opened his eyes again.

…………….

“Do any of your companions speak English?” Adam asked Hua Sheng and when the Chinese shook his head, he nodded and smiled, “Never mind. In the morning, after we’ve eaten, I’d like to speak to them all. Have them assemble on deck, would you?”

He fell asleep almost immediately. The medication Hua Sheng had given him lowered the fever that could have been a reaction from the burns and apart from some discomfort he slept the night through. He woke to a bright day and his Chinese friend putting food on a table beside the bed. “I have told them to assemble after they have eaten. We shall wait for you to speak.”

Adam nodded and poured himself out a large cup of tea. He smiled to himself at the thought that far away back home they would be preparing the evening meal. There would be the big coffee pot, and he closed his eyes to capture in his imagination the smell of real coffee. He sighed, no doubt Hop Sing would have prepared roast pork. The red and white tablecloth would be spread out – he paused and corrected himself – no, that was used only for the morning meal, in the evening Hop Sing liked to bring out the best linen, the glasses and the silverware.

He drank his tea and picked at the meal and realised that his throat was tight, not from pain this time, however, but from emotion. His longing to see his family had never been so heart felt and he knew that if he dwelt on the thought much longer he would start to weep. He shook his head as though to cast off such thoughts, such weaknesses but reminded himself of the times he had seen strapping big fellows on board ship, travelling on wagon trains, who on looking at the pictures of loved ones would break down and sob like a child. Well, now he understood the feeling and covered his face with his hands.

All the men, Chinese and American alike, gathered on the upper deck and waited for Adam for emerge. He didn’t address them from the bridge as he knew his voice was too weak to carry that far. He looked at them all and firmed his lips before he approached closer and beckoned them to draw nearer.

He cleared his throat and hoped that would be sufficient. Hua Sheng stood close by, elbow to elbow with one of his cousins, Jackson and Yarrow seemed to be propping one another up, Yarrow because of his injuries and Jackson because he had been on night watch throughout the night.

“Men -” Adam looked at Hua Sheng “I’m afraid that we took you from what had been your main base and we more or less took you by force.” He watched their faces and was glad that his Cantonese American accent was understood; “Now you do have a choice to make. You can either come along with us or be left here for Jiang Peng’s men to recapture you. I’m quite sure that they are going to be in pursuit of us and no doubt not so far behind at this moment.”

They looked at him without blinking, black eyes penetrating into his, blank inscrutable faces showing patience and forbearance only. “If you decide to come along with us I can’t guarantee what will happen. In fact whatever you decide carries no guarantees with it. If you come with us you will be taken to someplace on the Chinese borders to resume your lives there. You may even wish to come along to America with us when we eventually return.”

He wondered if he had imagined a little ripple of movement among them then, perhaps his Cantonese was not so very good, perhaps they had misunderstood, he cleared his throat “Have you understood what I’ve said so far?”

“We understand very well, Commodore.” Hua Sheng replied.

Adam nodded and looked at Jackson who had gone to check the horizon. No point in making promises that couldn’t be fulfilled because they were about to be blown out of the water. “In the main compartment that had belonged to Jiang Peng are several chests containing enough money to provide for your futures. Take it. I’m sure you were never paid in wages so consider it payment now.”

He stepped back, exhausted, and watched as the Chinese contingent huddled together. He wondered if his own men would want to dive into the money chests, but apart from an initial gleam in their eyes they showed no real interest. Hua Sheng bowed to Adam and his action was immediately imitated by the others, “We thank you, it is a generous offer. One that we shall accept willingly.” a smile almost split his face in two. “Thank you.”

“Commodore -” Jackson’s voice “Three ships heading out way.”

Adam nodded, signed to Hua Sheng to take his men below and get on with it – fast. Then he limped to the starboard and took up the telescope to scan the sight for himself. He nodded, paused a moment as though to think and then turned to Gantry “Get the maps from the bridge. Hoseasons, go to the armoury and get gunpowder and fuses.”

“What’s your plan, Commodore?” Jackson asked anxiously.

“The tide and wind is in our favour, Jackson. See how they’re struggling against it. The junk in the lead is overloaded with cannon. Well, we’ll set a fireship among them which should hold them back for long enough.” He smiled at the grin Jackson offered up, and winked, “Let’s get started.”

He was limited in movement, leaning heavily upon a quite handsome walking stick that was among a selection of them in Jaing Peng’s room. It took time to set the fuses and lay the trail of gunpowder, and although the other ships were not gaining on them so quickly, Adam didn’t want the distance between them to be too close nor too far in order for the plan to work.

Jackson turned the wheel and the great Junk turned full circle so that it was facing the oncoming trio. The rudder was then rendered useless so that she was now at the mercy of tide and wind. The fuses were lit and the last of the men scrabbled down into the boat.

“Now men, you’ll all be heroes today, so row hard, as hard as you can, we don’t want to get caught in the backlash when she blows.”

Chinese and American did as ordered, they bent their backs willingly. The Americans thought of what lay ahead of them and seeing their companions again. The Chinese thought of the money in their pockets and the future that lay ahead. Adam looked at the fierce red dragon on the junks hull and wondered if he would ever see home again.

Chapter 70

Even as the men rowed with even strokes of the oars so they would glance every so often at the stately progress of the vast junk as she veered towards the three approaching ships. Adam watched with mounting apprehension as he measured the distances between the Red Dragon and the leading junk. He noted the currents of the sea as well as the strength of the wind with an increasing tension. If the wind dropped the junks progress would slow down, if the current lessened then it could drift in some other direction. All the factors had to combine together to make the project work.

He found himself counting time. Once or twice he caught Jackson looking at him with some apprehension but would hastily glance away and straighten his own shoulders as though to show some conviction that the plan would work. Hua Sheng had said quietly, as he boarded the boat alongside the Commodore, that when the Red Dragon exploded then Jiang Pengs’ control over the community would end. There would be no leader to follow, to myth to turn into a martyr. The symbol of his control would be over, and with it any power that would have been attributed to him at an end.

Adam earnestly hoped that to be true. If it were so, then perhaps the merchant ships would be able to follow the trade routes with fewer problems. The pirates – well, they would always exist and it would be a matter of time but they would eventually come to an end. What had been needed was the end of the Empress’ authority over the piratical and lawless in that community to do her bidding in destroying American and European trade interests.

He turned aside from watching the junk and took up the telescope to observe the three junks now seemingly gaining on them. “Row harder, lads, harder if you can. Steady now, Steady.”

He could see activity on board the vessels. What, he wondered, were they thinking on board of them, all those men watching their prestigious leaders great beautiful ship drifting towards them. Had they noticed the boat yet as it rowed furiously away from the Red Dragon? If they had done so, why weren’t they taking action to blast them from the water. One, perhaps two, shots from a cannon, truly aimed, would seal their fate and blow them to kingdom come.

He looked over his shoulder and felt a surge of satisfaction at seeing how close they were to reaching the shores of a small island. If they could turn the corner they would be protected quite naturally from the effects of the blast by the height of the boulders and rocks that formed along that shore line. If they didn’t reach the corner and row into the bay beyond then it was possible for the vortex of the explosion to lift them up and carry them towards the shore and cast them down, crashing the boat and possibly themselves. They really needed to round the island and gain the shelter of the bay. The men seemed to sense his apprehension as they began to row faster and making sure that their oars struck deeper and more effectively.

Time was ticking by and the fuses would be fizzing and sizzling along the decking, down the steps into the hold, along the companion ways into the various compartments. Any moment now –. He caught Jacksons eye again and winked. Almost at that same moment the Red Dragon seemed to be lifted out of the water and then a second later the explosion boomed and crashed into the air. First once, and then twice … and a third time.

Anyone who enjoyed pyrotechnics would have been enthralled. The ammunition went up with a roar like thunder. The junk was burning and under the maelstrom created by the power of the explosives it was moving faster, drifting more quickly towards the other three junks.

The boat in which Adam and his men were seated bucked and bounced upon the waves but they were reaching the safe haven now. They had only to maintain their seats and row, pray and row, in order to gain the safety of the bay. The main force of the waves would be lost against the rocks and boulders that bore the brunt of the explosions. Adam leaned towards them, “Row harder … harder… nearly there, boys, nearly there.” he spoke in Cantonese, knowing every man there understood what he was saying and would give him of the very best.

Forwards the Red Dragon now surged as though demon driven. Adam could imagine and sympathise with the panic and fear the men on the other boats would be feeling now. He remembered the horror and sorrow when the Ainola suffered that same fate of a fireship, and the agonies of the men and felt regret at being the cause of such befalling his followers. He drew in a long breath, coughed, and shook his head to expel the image, the remove the memory and to remind himself that sometimes in these kind of situations the safety of his own men had to take precedence.

By the time the Red Dragon devoured the other three ships in her fiery embrace, Adam and his men were rowing into the calm waters of the bay and heading towards the white sandy beach of the small island.

…………………

Hester was more than happy as she took her seat beside her husband on the wagon. She slipped her arm through his and looked up into his face and smiled. He looked down at her face and kissed her. The day promised to be perfect. This was the day Joe and MaryAnn were going to move into their own home.

It had seemed as though the days had been so full of moving things … first Olivia’s possessions going into the Double D, and now various items moving from the Ponderosa to Joe and Mary Ann’s. “This is quite exciting, isn’t it?” she whispered to Hoss, who nodded.

Hoss wasn’t really excited. In some ways he felt doggone sad at heart knowing that his little brother would no longer be pounding along the corridors announcing that it was time to get up and busy. Not that that happened often, that was true, but even so. Hoss sighed, nodded at his wife, and set the wagon rolling with a flick of the reins. Time to move on in more ways than one. Time to say goodbye to school boy memories, and of the times Joe was merely shortshanks or Little Joe. Not so little any more, not so young either. He sighed again.

“Are you alright, Hoss?”

“Sure, jest fine.”

“You’re finding this hard, aren’t you?” she looked up at him with her blue eyes gazing into his face, and she sighed in turn and put her head upon his shoulder, “It must be harder for your Pa.”

“Yeah, I guess so,” Hoss nodded and steered the horses around the stables and out into the open land.

“Hoss, you don’t mind, do you? I mean, not having your own house to live in.”

“We do have our own house, honey. We have the Ponderosa.”

He nodded and smiled, yes, he still had the Ponderosa. There would still be Pa there smoking his pipe and reading at night, the fire would still burn in the hearth, and Hop Sing would still be shuffling around bringing in hot chocolate or coffee. There would be Hannah growing up, taking her first steps, saying her first words, and there was Hester. He smiled again, there was Hester as beautiful as the day was long.

“I wonder if Adam ever thinks of us here,” he said suddenly, “Do you think he does, Hester?”

“I’m sure of it, Hoss. I can’t imagine Adam not thinking about home, and you, Pa and Joe.”

“Guess he’ll be really surprised to know that Joe has moved out, with Mary Ann.”

“Perhaps. But you have to remember it was Adam who designed their house.” she snuggled into his arm and hugged him close, then looked up as the new house came into view. “It is a nice house, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, it sure is.”

They paused to observe it with the view falling away behind it, the mountains reflected in the lake, the trees seemingly to shimmer in a haze of spring sunshine.

“Hester, if you ever wanted a house -”

“No, no, Hoss.” she put her fingers to his mouth, “No, our home is where we’re happiest, with Pa, on the Ponderosa.”

He kissed her fingers and urged the horses on for the last haul. Joe was standing on the doorstep, his hands on his hips and a grin on his face. This was how it was going to be now. Joe Cartwright, master of his own home. Behind him Mary Ann appeared, peeking over his shoulder and smiling at them.

So many changes. Hoss couldn’t get his head around them. He wanted to catch them all like butterflies in a huge net, and stop them happening. He knew he never would though, and without another word clambered down from the wagon just in time for the clock, so carefully wrapped in a blanket before being set down in the back, boomed the hour.

Chapter 71

The man seated at the desk looked thoughtfully down at the papers strewn about its surface. He felt agitated, nervous, and for reason wondered whether in the coming years he would still be seated there or whether some other President would take over the responsibility from him. He was approaching the time when decisions about the future of his Presidency came to mind, when questions would be asked that required answering.

It was a huge task being the governor of such a vast country with its so many diverse cultures, peoples, religions and politics. He thought at times it was a superhuman task and the hope of fulfilling the wishes and demands of so many was a forlorn one. How could any one man achieve it? True he had his administration but – and now he shook his head, knowing that there were indeed black clouds gathering momentum about some members of his government, and those same would or could destroy the reputation of his party, as well as of himself.

He rose to his feet, pushing the chair to one side in order to look at the map that was on the wall behind him, maps of the Indian Territory with its new borders drawn out in red, a very bright red because they had only recently been created. The Indians weren’t aware of the change, of course, but there were forts and settlements being built there to let them know. He stared at the map and shook his head. There were so many people demanding more and more – more gold, more land, more towns and always he had to send in more armies under the control of men like Custer, to push back the true owners.

Babcock entered with a folder full of papers which he set down on the desk. He glanced at his President and wondered if either of them would be there at the end of the next year. He wasn’t a fool, although some would say that he was for accepting the bribes from the whiskey distillers, but he knew that there was trouble rumbling in the background. He didn’t like to think too far ahead to the consequences.

“Babcock, where’s Commodore Cartwright right now?”

“I’m not sure, sir.” Babcock replied with a slight twist to the lips, after all, the man could be anywhere, couldn’t he?

“Think, man. Where did we send him?”

“Oh yes, sir, I see – South China Seas.” he narrowed his eyes and remembered the smile on Custers face when he had been told, he sighed, “You recommended it, sir.”

What on earth possessed me to do that? Of course, the Generals, always on my back, always demanding something. Yes, had to make sure the man was safe, he was too vocal for his own good. Too honest and too loyal to those who – . He paused a moment, shook his head, Why send him so far? He wouldn’t have really resigned. No, he wouldn’t have done that, it was just a threat, his feelings were piqued. Odd to be thinking of him now. What on earth would he be doing there anyway?

“Why did we send him there, Babcock?”

“You wanted the merchant trading lines to be protected, sir. There’d been a number of acts of piracy and a delicate situation was brewing in China what with the Emperor dying and only an infant taking his place. The Empress Dowager insists that she will destroy our trading with China.”

“Huh, the womans mad as a hornet. Trouble is she controls a vast country, and we need to keep our trade options open with her. Who did Cartwright go with, who’s under his command?”

“Captains Obrien, Hathaway and Selkirk, sir.”

“O’Brien’s sound enough, a good officer, and a good friend to Cartwright. He was on that Alaska voyage a while back with him. Hathaway? What do we know about Hathaway?”

“He’s the son of August Hathaway, who was Captain of the 2nd Missouri under the command of Sterling Price*”

Grant nodded thoughtfully, recalling to mind Major General Sterling Price, Confederate Army. He nodded again and then asked about Selkirk, “Which one is it? I believe there are several Selkirks ?”

“Yes, sir.” Babcock replied and turned aside, “Is that all, Mr. President?”

Grant didn’t answer right away, he was staring at the map and thinking of the time Adam Cartwright had entered the room and after just one glance had known exactly what was about to befall the poor wretches in Indian Territory. Grant wondered what Adam’s opinion would be now, were he to see that thin red line indicating that all he feared had come true. “You didn’t answer my question, Babcock?”

“Er – no, sir. Which question was that, sir?”

“Which Selkirk is in the South China Seas with Cartwright?”

“Richard Selkirk, sir.”

Grant frowned. He was silent for a moment and when he heard what sounded like Babcock leaving the room he ordered him to stay where he was while he checked on something. He went to a private drawer in the desk to which he only had the key, and once it was opened he picked up a folder. He looked through the list of names, histories of various servicemen, information for his eyes only – he glanced up at Babcock and then slowly replaced the file, locked the drawer and nodded,

“Richard Selkirk – he was supposed to have been arrested and brought to trial for treason during the debacle following Pelman’s death.”

Babcock swallowed hard, “Really, sir? I didn’t know, Mr. President.”

They locked eyes, stared at one another, and it was Grant who turned aside, nodded and dismissed the man. Richard Selkirk of all people! He resumed his seat at the desk and shook his head. This, he knew, was Babcock’s doing, his meddling, another little back hander in his pocket … but who would ensure Selkirk’s appointment on a ship under Cartwrights command? He shook his head even as he reached for a pen, he knew well enough that Babcock would have had all the paperwork checked and signed by the President, even though the President may have been miles away from an inkwell. It had happened too often before.

Well, Grant sighed, whatever else, it was time for Cartwright to get home.

……………

Mary Ann Cartwright looked around her room and sighed inwardly. It was a beautiful room with its soft drapes and the thick carpet on the floor. The cheval mirror in the corner reflected light from the long window, the bed was covered with the carefully embroidered quilt that the ladies of Virginia City had made for the youngest Cartwright and his bride, the furniture had come from the best stores in San Francisco. It was just so modern.

She had loved their room in the Ponderosa but she always felt slightly the intruder, tip toeing each night through Joe’s past, his childhood, the misadventures of his youth, the consequences of his early manhood. Now they had a clean start together, their own home and everything perfectly new, perfectly beautiful.

She brushed her hair and walked over to the window to look out over the barely visible view. Night had descended after a busy day, but it was not so very dark, the moon was bright and her reflection shimmered in the lake. She continued to brush her hair and smiled to herself at the sound of Joe coming into the room. He closed the door quietly and for a moment stood there to look at her before he approached.

“It’s so quiet,” he murmured as he put his hands on her shoulders. With the fingers of one hand he parted her hair at the nape of her neck and kissed her just where a curl of hair lingered like a babys kiss curl. “Not a snore to be heard.”

She leaned back a little so that her head rested against his shoulder and she enjoyed now the feel of his hands upon her arms, she turned her face towards him and their lips met in a kiss of such tenderness that it contained more passion than had it been any different. Her breathing quickened, and he slowly caressed her neck with his fingers, “How I love you, how I love you.” he whispered and buried his face into her hair, kissed her neck, kissed her throat. She turned in towards him and held him close, kissed his face and sighed with contentment.

His fingers were unbuttoning her dress now, even as his lips were seeking hers, and he was drawing her closer to him … the moment was magical, it was theirs, just theirs to enjoy in the peace and privacy of their very own home – and enjoy it they did.

………………

Ben Cartwright felt the weight of the changes every bit as heavily upon his shoulders as his son, Hoss. He sat now by the fire with his pipe in his hand but unlit as he stared into the dying embers of the fire. A glass of whiskey gleamed on the table under the light of the lamp, untouched.

It had been a busy day of that there was no doubt. He had kept a smile fixed on his face and a laugh always close at hand. He had allowed himself to be ordered about in the prettiest way possible ‘Pa, could you put that vase over that?’ ‘Pa, would you mind taking the rug upstairs?’ ‘Pa, could you ask Hop Sing to make some coffee?’

He had at times stood back with a smile to watch the two young women he now called his daughters. Bustling about, happy, smiling, chattering over this and that, should this go there or would it be better some place else, oh yes, life had changed. It was true the saying that women were nest makers, and if it was up to these two he surmised that Joe and Mary Ann’s house would be just about the featherest nest in the territory. Then they had left the couple standing in the doorway, waving farewell.

That had been hard. It had hit him then that Joe had finally left home. His baby son, had flown the nest.

He leaned forward, struck a match upon the hearth and put it to the tobacco, oh, he had yet to put in the tobacco. He blew out the match and fumbled for his tobacco pouch and stuffed the bowl with it, while he stared out into the shadows gathering in the corner of the room.

“Well, Pa, that’s it then, Joe’s finally got himself married and off your hands.”

Ben smiled, he could almost see Adam sitting there, leaning forward with his elbows on the arms of the chair and his hands clasped under his chin. He’d be smiling as he said the words, and the dark eyes would be twinkling with fun. Ben nodded, “Yep, he’s flown the next, Adam. Little Joe ain’t Little Joe no more.”

“Shucks, Pa, Joe will always be Little Joe, you knows that -” and Ben smiled, that would be what Hoss would say, and he was right, Joe would always be Little Joe.

He looked into the shadows and at the empty blue chair, glanced at the settee and at the checker board where no one would play checkers anymore. He puffed at his pipe sending clouds billowing over his head. Things were just too quiet. Too different. He wanted his sons home again …he wanted to hear them quarrelling among themselves, laughing and all that kind of thing that they used to do and would do no more.

He almost jumped when a burning log made a soft thudding sound as it landed in the embers. Too dad blamed quiet he groaned. That was when Hannah began to wail, and her grandfather downstairs smiled to himself and called himself an old fool, except that he wasn’t … he wanted to run up those stairs and find Marie there with Little Joe, and he wanted all those glorious years of joy and sorrow, adventures and misadventures back again. He bowed his head… of course, it could never happen

Chapter 72

Dragging the boat up onto the beach was not so hard although Adam found himself exhausted once it was done. Yarrow had once again shown himself to be a resourceful man having raided the galley for food and supplies as soon as Adam had ordered the boat to be lowered. Despite his own injuries he had sought out essential foodstuffs and fresh water, along with some bottles of wine. Hua Sheng had also displayed ingenuity in sweeping a quantity of medicines and drugs into a pillow case and putting them under his seat.

Jackson, always the warrior, had loaded the boat with guns and ammunition, while Hoseasons and Gantry had been busy setting the fuses and gunpowder trails through the Red Dragon. Their industriousness now quite humbled Adam who had grabbed maps, a compass and sextant. He lowered himself down careful on a substantial rock to look at them and watch as Yarrow assisted by Gantry brought out the food. He had been blessed, Adam thought to himself, well blessed by the men he had selected for this trip. Even the men they had brought along seemed happy enough. He had to lower his head, not only from the pain of his injuries, but from the feelings of gratitude and comradeship he felt for them all.

“Let me see your arm and leg now,” Hua Sheng was smiling down at him, and nodding, much in the way that Hop Sing would have done had this happened to him back home.

In the background another explosion roared and another plume of smoke rose skywards to add to those already blotting out the sun. Adam waited for a moment and then another explosion, and another. He looked at Hua Sheng and wondered what he was thinking about so many of his countrymen being destroyed by an act ordered by the man he, Hua Sheng, was now seeking to help.

As though reading his thoughts Hua Sheng smiled, bowed, “If they had caught you and us, Commodore, they would not have dealt kindly with any. Rest assured you did what you had to do.”

Adam said nothing to that, he could barely muster even the briefest of smiles in acknowledgement of what had been said. Hua Sheng was redressing the wound on his arm and he felt the pain like so many millions of red soldier ants biting into his flesh, but the unguent that was smeared upon it soon removed the sting and within minutes the arm was bandaged with a clean dressing and Hua Sheng began to check on his leg.

“You shouldn’t walk on this -” he murmured as he applied the fresh dressing.

“Then I’ll hop.” Adam replied and looked over at his men who were eating some of the fresh fruit taken from the Chinese chef’s galley.

Jackson brought him some food once Hua Sheng had removed himself to check on Yarrow’s injuries. He settled down on some rocks beside the Commodore and looked at him, “Are you alright, sir?”

“I am.” he nodded, smiled. “Smooth out that map for me, will you, Jackson?”

Jackson did as ordered and anchored the corners down with stones. He watched as Adam worked out his calculations until finally the Officer nodded in satisfaction and put the sextant upon a rock, “All’s to the good, Jackson. We’re actually not too far from the island where we are to meet O’Brien.” He point to the small dot on the map “This is where we are, and here is where we are to meet O’Brien. 65 nautical miles …”

Jackson glanced up with a frown, “That’s quite a way to row, sir.”

Adam smiled “You don’t think we could do it?”

“I’m just saying that it’s a heck of a distance, sir.”

“It doesn’t have to be done in one attempt, Jackson. Look here -” he pointed along the map to the sand bars, atolls, islands that littered the sea. “We could practically hop, skip and jump our way there.”

Jackson still looked doubtful and rubbed his chin thoughtfully which caused Adam to shake his head even though he still had that laconic smile on his lips, “Look, Jackson, have you ever heard of the Cambridge to Oxford boat race?”

“Sorry, sir?” the man’s brow creased and he looked at Adam as though the man had lost his mind, “Where’s that?”

“It’s a pretty gruelling race between a boat crew from the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge in England. 4.25 miles along the river Thames. The result of a challenge between two school friends in 1829.”

“Yes, sir, but what’s that to do with us?”

“See this point here -” he pointed now to a spur jutting into the sea on the small dot of land upon which they were stranded, “we can carry the boat overland to that spot; it’s just under a mile. From there to the next island is merely ten miles. We can do that, six men row, six men rest, take turn about … now in the boat race they have to do those 4.25 miles one against the other, the fastest time wins, you see?” Jackson nodded doubtfully, “But we’re not racing against a clock nor against another boat, we can just row over to the next island. Then rest. Eat. Then continue on to the next. It takes a whole lot of stamina to undertake that boat race, but we’re all hardy seamen – well, perhaps Yarrow and I may be the exception just now – and rowing comes second nature to us.”

Jackson laughed, a shout of a laugh, and if Adam had not been a Commodore he would have slapped him on the shoulder, “Well, I take my hat off to you, sir. I would never have thought of hop, skip and jumping across the South China Seas not for the life of me.”

“It’s not a race, Jackson. But, at the same time, we need to get off this island as soon as we can.”

“Why so, sir?”

“Because if there are survivors of those ships they’ll be making their way to the nearest land, and some could reach here. If they do I doubt if they will be too happy to find us here.”

“We’re well armed, sir.” Jackson pointed to the guns that he had carefully stacked ready for use in case of attack, “We can fight them off.”

“It might be better if we tried to avoid killing any more today, Jackson. Our men deserve to get back safely; I don’t want a confrontation to do them more harm than they’ve endured already.”

“Very well, sir.” Jackson looked at Adam thoughtfully. He thought of what Adam had already suffered, what they had all gone through since they left the Baltimore and nodded, “I’ll tell them to get ready.”

“Tell them each man must carry his own load …” Adam frowned, “The boat isn’t a lightweight, it’ll take some time.” he glanced in the direction of the smoke clouds flecked now with the bright hue of oranges and red where flames danced, “It won’t have been a pleasant death.”

“No, sir, I doubt it was …”

…………….

Pollard and Selkirk heard the explosions as they rippled through the air and they watched the smoke rising as though a great funeral pyre had flared upon the surface of the sea. In some ways that was the only way to describe it as each of the junks caught the brunt of the conflagration and in turn exploded and erupted into flames.

“What do you think that could mean?” Pollard asked the Captain who could only stare in silence at the thick smoke billowing towards their refuge. “Nothing good.” he replied dourly. “We need to get out of here.”

“How?” Pollard glanced at his hands bandaged now with rags torn from his shirt.

“The only means available to us, of course. We use the sampan.”

“I don’t think -”

“No, you don’t. You just leave the thinking to me. Now, get up, we need to get off this place as quickly as possible.”

………………….

The South China Sea islands number into the hundreds. The sovereignty, or ownership, of each subject to several countries … the Philippines, Sabah, Sarawak, Indonesia, Vietnam, and mainland China. They provided the perfect breeding grounds for the lawless and piratical elements of all those nations, bringing them together to form a united body pillaging and plundering whichever country they chose before disappearing among the islands. It was a fascinating and dangerous sea as many of the islands were always totally submerged, and others only submerged during high tides. The need for vigilance was paramount for those men to whom the area was alien and unknown.

Kang Chee Kwa had been one of Jiang Pengs best navigators and now proved himself to be an excellent assistant as he approved the route that Adam had drawn upon the maps. His knowledge of the seas proved invaluable as he indicated places to go that shaved off miles, making the voyage shorter and easier. Sitting in the prow of the boat he indicated with a wave of the hand which direction the men were to pull for, when a sandbank was about to emerge that an unknowing seaman would discover only when the bottom was ripped from beneath his vessel.

Keeping their eyes on Kang Chee Kwa proved an effective way to avoid many problems and once again Adam felt himself truly blessed with this strange motley crew of American seamen and former scavengers of the seas.

As night fell they beached the boat on a substantial island. Jackson and Gantry pulled it up high into the foliage and then they settled to light a small fire, eat, drink and sleep.

“I’ll keep first watch, sir.” Gantry volunteered, “Kang Chee Kwa and me, we’ve hit it off fine. We’re more than willing to do that …”

“Saves me allocating you the task then, Gantry.” Adam grinned, and nodded, “Hoseasons will relieve you in four hours. After that it’ll be Jackson. I want an early start in the morning.”

“Aye, sir. Understood.”

Adam retired to an area away from the others and for a while watched the men as they settled down to sleep. Eventually only the sound of the waves lapping upon the shore echoed the snoring of the men, the soft murmur of Gantry and Kang Chee Kwa’s voices, and the occasional rustle of leaves as some creature of the night scampered homewards.

Hua Sheng had given him some medication and bathed his burns with cold salt sea water, assuring him that his was one of the best ways to take away the fever from the blisters and to harden the skin. He had then bound the arm and leg with clean bandages. Now the drugs were taking an effect as Adam found his eyes closing. It would be better, he thought, if I made myself comfortable rather than make an ass of myself by falling off this rock.

He slipped into sleep, a dreamless sleep even though his last thought was of his father sitting by the fire, smoking his pipe.

Chapter 73

The room was the same and yet it looked different. Hester had noticed the change as soon as she had stepped through the door, and had paused to look around at the surroundings to make clear in her mind the way things had been altered.

Everything looked so much brighter and less crowded with dark heavy furniture. The curtains at the windows were light and soft to the touch, with soft pastel colours that reflected the season in which they were currently living. “You’ve changed things -” she said with eyes wide, “You’ve been so busy.”

“Hop Sing helped.” Olivia explained as she took the sleeping baby from Hester’s arms, “We whitewashed all the walls and moved a lot of father and mothers’ furniture out of here to the other rooms. Do you like it?”

She turned to look at Hester like a child seeking approval upon the completion of their latest project and the other woman smiled and nodded, “It’s so welcoming and clean. The whole room looks like a spring day.”

“Mr. O’Dell came and helped us as well. He was my father’s foreman for many years.” she stopped to look down at the sleeping infant and then smiled at Hester, “Isn’t she pretty? But her hair’s so dark, I was sure she would be like yourself or Hoss.”

Hester didn’t reply to that, but continued to look around the room. Books on the shelves, and the shelves all painted white. Poetry and literature of the great authors filled them, and she smiled again and nodded over at Olivia, “Adam would enjoy browsing through these, he loves books.”

“Oh, really?” Olivia turned away so if there was a blush to her cheek Hester would not have noticed. She set the baby down on the settee and secured the blanket by tucking it into the cushion. “Sofia and Reuben have gone to look at the puppies Mr. O’Dell’s dog has just had, I’ve warned them not to bring one home.” she looked wistfully at Hannah and then turned to Hester, “Shall we have some tea?”

“Coffee?”

“Of course.” Olivia smiled and led the way into the kitchen area which was as bright as the other room having had several coats of whitewash on it, all the shelves painted white with pretty lace rimming running along their edges. Blue and white flowered plates and cups and various other items filled them. A small vase full of spring flowers brought a splash of natural colour into the room. “Have you met the – Adam?”

“The Commodore? Yes, he just about made it to our wedding and he was on leave a while ago.” Hester sat down on a chair and looked at the other woman thoughtfully, “You’ve met him, of course, I remember he wrote to Pa and asked him to check the house out and make sure you were alright.”

“Yes, that’s what Ben said had happened. I was surprised, after all, I had only met him once, perhaps twice.” she remembered the tall dark handsome man in his uniform with the armful of red roses looking at her, the smile on his face, the dimples in his cheeks. She concentrated on preparing the coffee. “I can remember him and your husband coming here when they were children, well, when we were all children.” she brought cups to the table, “Your husband had masses of blond curls and the biggest blue eyes.”

“Hard to imagine now,” Hester sighed, thinking of her husband’s near bald head and then smiled, “Hoss told me that you were taken away from here, by Indians?”

“Yes, and my brothers, and my mother.” Olivia frowned, and paused in her task, standing still and staring out of the window. “It could all have ended far worse than it did. I think the only real victims of it were my parents. We children just had a wonderful adventure after the initial scare.” she brought some cookies to the table on a pretty plate and set it down, everything neatly arranged on a perfectly clean tablecloth which Hester admired “It was my mothers, she did a lot of embroidery.”

“How is Abigail settling in?”

“Better than I thought she would, of course, she has struck up a great friendship with Hop Sing, and that has helped so much. We’ll miss him when he goes back with you.”

“Will you be able to manage alright out here on your own?”

“Well, it won’t be for long. My cook and a maid are coming to join us.” she looked over at Hester, “They insisted on coming. Marcy is a dear friend really, and Mrs. O’Flannery helps so much with Abbie.” she poured out coffee, and pushed the sugar bowl towards Hester invitingly, “Tell me how you met Hoss. Did you know right away that you were in love?”

“Not in love, but yes, I knew that there was something about him that drew me to him in a way that was different from anyone else. It isn‘t difficult to love Hoss.” Hester smiled piquantly and then told Olivia about how they had met and how Ann and Candy had contrived to get them together, seeing how Hoss was so shy and she so reticent about getting involved again, “I had been married before you see. My first husband was a lovely man and I adored him. Oddly enough he was as different from Hoss as chalk is to cheese, but with that same quality of goodness in him that I love so much in Hoss.”

She talked some more about their courtship and their wedding and if she wondered why Olivia looked as though she were elsewhere while listening, it was only because the other woman was trying to see it clearly in her own mind. She wanted to imagine the tall officer in his uniform arriving late and striding down to stand by his fathers side, she wanted to think of what it must have been like to have been there on that perfect day when Hester and Hoss had married and Adam Cartwright had arrived from sea just in time for the wedding.

Now it was Hester’s turn to ask about Olivia’s first marriage to which Olivia answered with less enthusiasm than Hester’s rendition had been. She wove the story of Ben’s friendship with Henrietta and how no one had remembered her until the day Adam had arrived at the house and met Abigail.

“Abbie thought it was Ben, and from then on she would mention ‘Rita, this person we had never heard of before and who suddenly seemed so important in her life. Of course, when Ben arrived at the house in person, Abbie couldn’t hold back on the secrets any more and divulged everything.”

“Everything?” Hester breathed and leaned forward with wide eyes, this was better than a novel.

So Olivia told her about Ben and Henrietta, and how Booth had been part of the plot that saw the poor girl killed, and Ben had ridden off to the Ponderosa without ever knowing what had happened. At the end of the story Hester realised her coffee had gone cold and from the other room there was the thin cry of the baby. She got to her feet and pushed back the chair, and within a few minutes had Hannah in her arms. She looked up at Olivia and smiled her warm generous smile, “What will you do here, Olivia? Your father was a cattleman wasn’t he?”

“Yes, he was, and I have asked Mr. O’Dell to look out for some cattle so that we can build the ranch up again.”

“Have you hired him?”

“Yes, he’s working for the Double D again. He’s a hard working man. Do you know him?”

“No, I’m afraid not.”

Olivia sat down again and watched the other woman as she nursed the little one. She had been quite excited at the thought of having Hester visit her, she had hoped that somehow or other Adams name would be mentioned and she would get to know a little more about this enigmatic man. But Hester seemed more inclined to keep conversation on general terms and Olivia was afraid that were she to enquire about Adam it would be assumed that she had an interest in him. The very thought of how much interest she had in Adam made her blush and she took Hester’s cup, rinsed it out and prepared another fresh hot coffee.

But it was Hester who did bring up Adam’s name, and who told Olivia about the anxiety the family felt for him whenever he went away. “We never get to know where he’s going until he’s gone. Letters seldom come although we always seem to be posting letters to him. They’re a very close family, you know. Very close …” her voice trailed away as she recalled some of the things Hoss had shared with her about the days when Adam was living on the Ponderosa with them.

“Why did he leave?”

“Hoss doesn’t really know how to put it into words.” Hester said quietly, stroking Hannah’s downy hair, “Adam got restless. Several things happened, unpleasant things to do with a man called Kane. And there was an accident, Adam shot Joe when they were out hunting down a wolf. Hoss thinks it started from those times, and of course, Thoreau.”

“What do you mean, Thoreau?”

“The essayist, Henry David Thoreau. Apparently Adam quoted a lot from his poems and works. Hoss kind of blames Thoreau for putting ideas into Adams head about leaving the Ponderosa.” she smiled sweetly, “Hoss has a very black and white way of looking at things.”

“Ben misses him a lot.” Olivia said very quietly, “He often mentioned things about their journey to the Ponderosa, how he taught Adam to navigate by the stars, and would tell him stories about when he was at sea, with Adam’s grandfather. He blames himself for making the sea some kind of romantic fairy tale that Adam may have wanted to relive for himself.”

“There was a woman in Adam’s life too -” Hester said with a sigh as she sat Hannah up and began to rub her back very gently, “A woman with a little girl, she’d been married before but she and Adam were engaged for a while.”

“What happened?” Olivia buried her face in her cup, keeping her eyes down so that they did not reveal the extent of her interest.

“Her name was Laura, and she fell in love with their cousin, Will. There was an accident, Adam was injured quite badly and realised how Laura felt for Will. Being the kind of man he is, he told Laura to be happy with the other man.”

“Does he – I mean – did he love her?”

“Hoss doesn’t think so. He reckons Adam is still waiting for the lightning bolt to strike.”

“The lightning bolt?” Olivia frowned.

“True love.” Hester smiled and laughed softly, “I told you, Hoss sees things very black and white. He knows his brother well enough – oh, good girl, now, that’s better, isn’t it?” she fussed over her baby who had burped magnificently.

Abbie entered the room with a slow step, the tap of her stick upon the floor announced her coming and Olivia stood up in order to make her mother in law some tea. For a moment Abbie stood very still to observe the two women and the baby. A smile, a gentleness on her face, and then a rather shy approach to the table. She nodded at Hester and stroked the infant’s head, “A beautiful baby.”

“Thank you. How are you today, Abbie?”

“Very well, thank you.” Abbie stood very still and looked at Hester with bright eyes, the smile still on her face, “You’re a very pretty young woman, Hester Cartwright.”

“Thank you again, Abbie.” Hester’s smile widened.

Olivia looked at Abbie and smiled too, the fact that she had remembered Hester was something like a miracle. She indicated a chair and Abbie sat down, “It’s a long time since we had a baby in the family. Sofia’s three now.”

She ladled sugar into her tea and picked up a piece of cake, Hester watched her and wondered what the old lady thought about throughout her day. There was something so sad about her, Hester sighed, something so sad and vulnerable that she wanted to hold her close and tell her there really wasn’t anything to be worried about, not really. She was among friends now.

……………….

It was still bright and sunny when she left the Double D. Olivia waved her goodbye and Hester urged the horses forwards so that they were soon on the track towards home. Hannah was propped up and strapped in tight so that she could see what was around her, and Hester listened to her coo-ing and making little happy sounds.

The buggy rolled along at a smart pace and Hester was happy in her world. She had felt a lifting of the heart talking about Hoss and re-living the days of her courtship with Olivia. She found the whole experience of making a new friend pleasurable and hummed a tune to herself. She wasn’t aware of anyone else being on the road until she heard the sound of hooves thudding in an echo of her horses’ and glanced back over her shoulder.

It was as thought the light of the day had been switched off when she recognised Logan Edwardson galloping towards her. With the flick of the reins she urged the horses to move on faster in a vain attempt to reach the Ponderosa before he could catch her up.

Chapter 74

Edwardson put out a hand and placed it upon the lead horses bridle so that it slowly came to a halt. “Why did you do that?” Hester demanded feeling the colour mantling her cheeks “You had no right to stop me.”

“I appreciate that, M’am, but with a baby on board and the horses going so fast, you were liable to have an accident. I thought for sure the rear wheel was loose.”

“It isn’t loose. My husband checked it this morning.”

“My mistake then,” he smiled and touched the brim of his hat while his eyes looked directly into her face, “Pardon me for saying so, Mrs. Cartwright, but is there some reason why you dislike me so?”

“I – I don’t dislike you,” she stammered and looked at Hannah who was staring fixedly at the man as though to imprint his face into her memory, “I was in a hurry to get home, the baby needs to be fed. Would you please get out of my way?”

“Mrs. Cartwright, you really have no need to be worried about me, I ain’t going to hurt you none. I told you before the only reason I’m here is to see my niece. Once they get back from Sacramento then I’ll be leaving.” he smiled in a way that made her shiver, “You won’t never be bothered by me again.”

“Mr. Edwardson, I think you’re quite mistaken, and rate yourself too highly if you think for a moment that you bother me. Please let me pass.”

He looked at her then with an expression on his face that was both sadness and hunger, a look that Hester didn’t understand but instinctively feared. He still held the bridle of the horse and for a moment she thought he was going to release his hold and ride away, but he didn’t .

“Let go of the horse, Mr. Edwardson.”

“You could call me Logan. That’s my given name, Hester.”

“For heavens sake, as if I care what your name is – just let me pass.”

He did let go of the horse now but rode close up to it until he was as close to her as a man on horseback could have been. He put his hand on her arm and she could feel the heat of it through her jacket and the sleeve of her dress, “Hester, did anyone tell you how lovely you are? Hoss Cartwright sure is a lucky man having you as a wife.”

“Take your hand off me.”

“Or what?” he smiled and leaned in towards her, “I don’t think I ever saw a woman with hair the colour you got and such blue eyes. I’m surprised that you settled for a man like Hoss. Seems to me that you deserve someone better -”

“There isn’t anyone better – let go of my arm.”

“I think there is, someone you’d prefer to a steady fellow like him. Hester, don‘t you ever feel that life on the Ponderosa could be much more interesting if you -”

Her hand across his face startled him. He jerked back with his hand against his cheek which was stinging from the blow she had landed on him. Then he laughed, a pleasant laugh of a man surprised but happy, he shook his head, “Lordy, Miss Hester, you pack quite a punch.”

Hester didn’t reply but flicked the reins and yelled at the horses to move on, which they did with an alacrity that was an answer to her prayer. It was like a bad dream, one in which despite running there was the constant realisation that the pursuer was still there, rapidly gaining and the distance constantly narrowing. By the time she reached the Ponderosa Hannah was howling and she herself was a bundle of nerves and shaking as a result.

She unstrapped her daughter and cuddled her close as she ran into the house and closed the door behind her. She leaned against it, solid wood against her back. The silence in the house echoed eerily around her. The ticking clock, a door upstairs creaking as it swung back and forth in a breeze from an open window. Mary Ann was no longer there to keep her company, Ben had obviously gone out with Hoss because there was so much work for him to catch up on now. She really didn’t want to leave the security of the heavy wooden door behind her back. Hannah was quieter now, chomping down on her fist and drooling while her blue eyes never left her mothers face.

“There now, it’s alright,” Hester whispered as she stroked the baby’s head, “It’s alright.”

She carried the child into the room and sat down on the settee. The strength seemed to have trickled out of her and it was all she could do to maintain her hold on Hannah and not have her roll from her lap onto the floor. She didn’t hear the sound of a horse outside and it wasn’t until a door closed with a firm thud that there came the realisation that she was not alone in the house.

Adrenalin surged through her and she jumped to her feet, turned to face her aggressor and then relaxed when Hop Sing entered the room. He bowed, there was no smile on his face as he looked at her with his black eyes narrowed into mere slits.

“Oh Hop Sing, you made me jump. I didn’t realise – I mean – I forgot you were coming back today.”

“Yes, Missy, I come back. I close behind you all the way home.” he sighed and then nodded, “I see what happen. You not fear – Hop Sing see man near house I shoot to kill.”

“Oh no, no, Hop Sing, don’t do that … there’s no need to kill him.” she could feel laughter bubbling beneath the surface now, laughter that she was finding hard to prevent spilling over except that once it was out it was amazing how soon it turned to sobs.

…………….

Abigail Phillips had a pen in her hand and was carefully drawing on the paper. She was adept with a pen, and had once asked her parents if she could go east or to Europe to study art. Of course that had been adamantly refused and so she had settled on it being her private little hobby. Now she sat and sketched a picture of her daughter-in-law sewing the hem of a dress, on the table by her side was a vase of flowers picked from the wild and overgrown garden.

It was quiet and peaceful. For a moment Abigail put the pen down and looked at Olivia and struggled to find memories to put with what she was feeling. She reached out a hand that had blue veins visible through the paper thin skin and placed it gently on Olivia’s arm. “Robert did love you, you know.”

“Yes, I know, Abbie, and I loved him too.” she smiled at the old woman and placed her own hand over the one on her arm, “I loved him very much. We were very happy together.”

“You should have been happy forever. You should have been.”

“Yes, but life isn’t like that, is it, dear? Just when we start to think that happiness is ours by right and we start taking it for granted, then something goes wrong and it’s taken from us.”

“Do you believe in God, Livvy?”

“Why yes, of course I do.” Olivia looked surprised, such a question had never been asked before and she looked into Abbie’s rheumy old eyes to see why she she had raised the matter. “Is there anything wrong, Abbie? Why did you say that?”

“Because I want you to pray to Him so that you can have that love again, and be happy. You deserve to be happy.”

“Everyone does.” Olivia replied and picked up her sewing, “Sofia always seems to tear the hem of her dresses. She’s becoming such a wild little thing.”

“She’s going to grow up to be beautiful, my dear, like you are.” Abigail sighed and pushed her drawing over to Olivia to look at, “Is it a good likeness?”

“Very flattering, darling. I wish I were as pretty as that …” she smiled at Abbie and resumed her sewing.

It would be so lovely to be held in the arms of a man who loved her again, she thought. I don’t want to end my days dried up and withered like Abigail, all those years she has lived on her own. Such sadness, such loneliness. She paused in her sewing and closed her eyes for a moment to try and capture in her minds eye what it was like to be held again, to hear the beat of the loved ones heart close to one’s ear, to know that it beat in unison with one’s own heart. To feel the warmth of his skin against one’s own and his lips …. She opened her eyes and sighed, looked at Abigail and smiled. Dreams were all very well, but at the end of the day, they were just that, just dreams.

…………………….

It was the worse of feelings, this fear that someone was close behind her. She could feel his breath upon her back and struggled to pull her shawl across her naked skin, and she could feel his hand heavy on her shoulder, pulling her towards him. She struggled, her fists clenched she fought him off, and when his lips pressed hard upon hers she screamed

“Wake up, Hester, wake up.”

Hoss was shaking her and somehow she managed to force her eyelids open, slowly focus on his face, and then relax from the rigidity that held her in his arms. Bowing her head against his shoulder she allowed his hands to stroke her back as though she were an infant again, and needed comforting.

“I had a dream -”

“More like a nightmare.” Hoss soothed her with a soft voice, and entwined his fingers through her mass of curls.

“Did I say anything?”

“No, only a scream as I woke you up.” he kissed her cheek, “Can you remember what it was about?”

She stared into the darker corners of the dark room and shook her head, he could feel the motion against his shoulder. “No, I was running away from someone.”

“Who?”

“I don’t know.” she said softly as her eyes closed again, and inwardly the name was whispered ’Logan Edwardson.’

Chapter 75

Ben looked in a thoughtful mood when Hester joined them for breakfast. She passed him the bread and wondered what could be troubling him as he mumbled a thank you in a low subdued voice. Hoss was talking about various subjects relating to the latest problem to beset the timber although she wasn’t listening. As soon as the word timber came into the conversation she left the subject to the men. It was times like this when she missed Mary Ann most of all as this was when they could indulge in female chatter .

“Will you be going up to the timber yard then?” Ben asked his son quietly with his dark eyes looking more thoughtfully at his food than was either necessary or usual.

“I thought I would. Edwardson is a good enough timberman and I’ve no complaints about his work, but -”

“But?” Ben prompted with his eyes now fixed upon Hoss’ face and that was when Hester thought for sure that Ben knew about Logan Edwardson and his harassment. She looked away from them both and stared out of the window for a moment to regain her composure. If Ben knew that meant that Hop Sing had told him. OH, what would he think of her? And what if he told Hoss?

“I just want to check on a few things.”

“In that case, I’ll come along with you.” Ben said and pushed his way from the table, dropping his napkin on the remainder of his food which he left untouched . He did, however, empty his cup and then looked over at Hester with a smile, “You’ll be alright here, won’t you, my dear?”

“Of course, Pa. Hop Sings here.” she smiled and hoped that the misery she felt wasn’t too obvious.

“Yes, that’s right. So he is.” He came up now and put his hand on her shoulder, “How did you get on with Mrs. Phillips?”

“Olivia? Oh, she’s a lovely woman. I got on well with Abigail too”

“That’s good. I am pleased, she’s a nice woman. Much like her mother – Martha was quite a beauty too.”

Hoss cleared his plate and washed it all down with coffee. He then followed his father’s example and left the table. He took hold of Hester’s hand in his and kissed her fingers, “You are alright, aren’t you?”

“Yes, dear, I’m fine. I might take the buggy and visit Mary Ann. Is Joe working along with you?”

“He and Candy are checking water holes and then setting things up for the spring branding. A lot of calves this year.” he smiled down at her and then kissed her very tenderly, “You know I love you.”

She looked into his eyes and then nodded, “I know, darling.”

“It worries me when you have bad dreams. You would tell me if anything was wrong, wouldn’t you?”

“Nothings wrong.” she assured him (liar, she thought).

He sighed with relief and kissed her again “Take care of Pumpkin for me.”

“I will. Come home safe. I love you, Hoss.” she wanted to hold onto him then, hold him really tight and close to her so that the very solidness of him would be her protection and shield. “I love you.”

Hoss felt a glow of pleasure trickle through him. He smiled and kissed the top of her head and then walked away to join Ben. “Take care, sweetheart.” he grinned over at her as he buckled on his gun belt and took his hat.

The door closed upon them both. Quickly she rose from the table and hurried into the kitchen where Hop Sing was pouring himself a cup of green tea. He looked at her and nodded with a look of wary expectation on his face.

“You told Ben? About Logan Edwardson?”

“Mr. Ben hear you have bad sleep. He say so to HopSing, Hop Sing tell Mr. Ben.” he frowned, “You tell Mr. Hoss?”

“No – no, I didn’t.”

Hop Sing shook his head, “Not good idea.”

She looked into his dark eyes and felt a twinge of panic and then turned and pulled open the kitchen door in the hope of catching Hoss before he disappeared from view. It was too late, even as she stepped onto the porch there was only the dust falling back into the yard to indicate their passing.

……………..

The two men reached the timber camp in good time and found it busy. Most of the men were out among the trees and from the sound of sawing and crashing about it was obvious that a considerable industry was being carried out. They dismounted and looked around at the few men still in camp employed on various tasks. The cook yelled over a greeting and offered them coffee which both accepted.

Chuck Finlayson sauntered over to them and shook their hands. He had worked on the timber for the Ponderosa for over twelve years and the first thing he did was to ask after Adam. Ben accepted the coffee and shrugged, “Last we heard he was on his way to China. Mail doesn’t travel over water so well, Chuck.”

“That’s a shame. I know you must be anxious about him.”

“Well, yes, I guess so.” Ben smiled and sipped his coffee, he preferred not to wear his heart on his sleeve, so to speak, but everyone on the Ponderosa knew how he felt about his sons.

Hoss excused himself and walked over to where some men were gathered. Chuck and Ben followed his retreat with their eyes and Chuck sighed, “He’s a good lad, your Hoss.”

“Yes, Chuck, he is.”

“Works hard. The men have a deep respect for him. What he doesn’t know about trees and timber you could fit into the eye of a frog.”

Ben smiled and nodded. He glanced around him “Edwardson anywhere around here?”

“Last I saw of him he was heading over thataways, where we keep the tools and such. I heard him saying something about his axe head being blunt.”

“Good man, is he? You get on well with him?”

“He knows his way around timber, if that’s what you mean, Mr. Cartwright. Been in Canada some years so he says.”

“Don’t you believe him?”

“No reason not to, Mr. Cartwright.” Chuck spat onto the ground and wiped his hand upon his shirt front, “He’s a decent enough fellow.” he nodded his excuses and trailed away to get on with his own work. Ben watched him for a moment and then walked slowly towards the tool shed.

Edwardson was checking the axe heads when Ben entered the room and although he knew he was no longer alone he didn’t turn around to observe the newcomer. He did so when Ben cleared his throat and addressed him by name,

“Mr. Cartwright? Good to see you here, sir.”

He was a good looking man, of that there was no doubt and his brown eyes looked directly into Ben’s face, indicating honesty and forthrightness. From the way his shirt strained across his chest and biceps he was also a well built man, and the smile he gave Ben appeared sincere. The bruise and scratch on his cheek was plain to see and Ben nodded “Mr. Edwardson, I’d appreciate it if you stayed away from my daughter-in-law.”

“I’m sorry?” the eyes widened in mock surprise and the lips parted in a smile.

“My daughter-in-law, Hester, I want you to stay away from her.”

“I don’t understand what you’re talking about, sir.”

“I think you do.” Ben stepped closer “You met her yesterday on the road and she gave you that -” he pointed to the abrasions on Logan’s cheek, “when you harassed her.”

“Yes, I did meet your daughter-in-law on the road, Mr. Cartwright. I was not aware of any law that forbade me from riding across Ponderosa land to the timber yards from town? Her horses were running ahead of her, and I thought she needed some help, what with having the baby with her …that’s all.”

“And that -” again he pointed to the bruising

“I got that from chipping branches from a tree with a dull axe. That’s why I’m here.” he gestured to the axes in the building.

“Edwardson, you didn‘t get that from any thing other than my daughter-in-law when she struck you. Now-”

“Wait a moment? Is she accusing me of something? Let me tell you this, Mr. Cartwright, your daughter-in-law is one -”

He stopped when light from the doorway was blocked by someone standing within it. Ben turned and saw Hoss, and recognised the look on his son’s face. Ben cleared his throat, “Hoss, leave it for now. I’m dealing with it.”

“No, you ain’t, Pa. Anything to do with Hester is my business, and I deal with it.” he pushed past his father and approached Logan who tried to stand taller in the hope that he matched Hoss for size in some way. He failed but nevertheless Hoss grabbed at his shirt front and hauled him forward. “Now you listen to me, woodpecker. You’ve got five minutes to get out of here before I start pulling you apart. Dyou hear?”

“You’ve got it wrong, Cartwright. Your Missus, she’s -” a fierce shake of his shirt nearly rattled his teeth, “Look, I’m only here for a few months, weeks even.”

“No, you ain’t. You ain’t going to be here more than five minutes because once those five minutes are up I’m coming to get you. Is that understood?”

Edwardson said nothing but hurried out of the shed leaving father and son alone to confront one another.

“Why didn’t you say anything to me, Pa?”

“Because I know how you would have felt about it, son.”

“How else am I expected to feel? Hester? Why didn’t she tell me?”

“Perhaps she didn’t feel the need to do so. Looks like she felt she could handle him well enough. From the bruise on his face I’d say she did herself proud.”

“But she should have told me, Pa.”

“Perhaps she had a good reason not to.” and as soon as he said that Ben could have bitten his tongue out. The look of incredulity on Hoss’ face cut him to the quick and he reached out to take hold of Hoss’ arm to restrain him, “Hoss, let her explain before you do anything that could spoil what you have.”

The sound of a horse galloping out of the yard didn’t bring about any satisfaction for Hoss or Ben. For a moment Hoss stood rooted to the spot as he simmered in rage and misery. “Hoss?” Ben stepped forward again, but Hoss brushed him to one side as he left the building and made his way to his horse.

Ben was merely a moment behind him and together they left the timber yard, heading for the Ponderosa. Behind them Chuck Finlayson and the cook scratched their heads and commented on what they heard. Before the noon day break was over most in the camp knew that Edwardson had left because Hoss Cartwright had threatened to kill him.

Chapter 76

Hoss rode for some while before slowing his horse and allowing Ben to catch up. They rode along for some distance in total silence as both men felt the need to catch up with their own thoughts and to find some way of untangling their feelings and suspicions. To Hoss it seemed an impossible position. In a strange but typical way his mind had swung back to the time when he had seen Adam kissing Regan. The same feelings of betrayal and bitter anger, resentment, disillusion churned over and over inside his gut so much that he wondered if he could possible face Hester without – well, that was when the real struggle twisted in his mind.

He remembered the accusations he had hurled at his brother even as he had been striking out at him. He also recalled to mind the way Adam had never once brought up a hand to strike him back.. But this was different, this was different because it was his wife and another man.

Ben rode alongside his son wanting to speak, longing to say something that would dispel the anger, the hurt and pain. His mind created numerous avenues of conjecture down which it would trundle before casting them to one side, knowing that he would never be able to get so far with Hoss.

He knew how Hoss was feeling, he understood the pain. How to comfort and how to protect his son from harming his relationship with Hester seared through his heart. He eventually reached out to grab at his son’s arm “Hoss, we have to talk…”

“I don’t want to talk, not to you, not to no body.”

“I insist, Hoss.”

Hoss sighed and shook his head, “Dadblame it, Pa, there ain’t nuthin to talk about.”

“Yes, there is, and you know it, now, stop awhile and let’s dismount here .”

“If’n I have to talk it’ll be with Hester.”

“Hoss, stop now.”

“Shucks, Pa –“ Hoss groaned and drew on the reins, slowing his horse and looking resentfully at his father, “Say what you have to say?”

“I don’t want you to go off half cocked like this, Hoss, when you don’t know what’s happened. It’s like that time “

“I don’t want to talk about that time.” Hoss immediately interjected and looked as though he were about to urge Chubb forward again.

“Listen to me, son, you haven’t a clue about what has happened and if you’re not careful you’re about to create a whole lot of trouble for yourself and your wife.”

Hoss heaved in a deep breath and then nodded, “Say what you have to say …”

Ben shook his head sadly and then looked at Hoss the way fathers do when exasperated and felt inclined to give their dearly beloved a smack across the head. He cleared his throat “Hop Sing saw what happened and –“

“Hop Sing? Hop Sing saw it and never told me? What’s going on here, Pa? You all knew and didn’t think to say anything?”

“Hop Sing didn’t think it was his place to talk to you. He approached me and told me exactly what he had seen. You’re angry with Hester, aren’t you? Well, you have no reason to be, none at all.”

“She should have said something to me …” Hoss scowled, “Alright, Pa, so what did Hop Sing see?”

“Have you calmed down?”

“Sure, I’m calm.” Hoss gave a sheepish grin and lowered his head, staring down at the leatherwork in his saddle as he prepared himself to listen to what his father had to say.

Slowly and carefully Ben relayed all the information he had about what had happened. He stressed how well Hester had conducted herself, had even struck out at Logan in order to get away. “The man’s a menace, but Hop Sing was close enough by to have dealt with him had he attempted to pursue her.”

Hoss said nothing. His mind had moved on now to the dream Hester had the previous night, and how she had said that she was running away from someone. Logan must have been the pursuer. She should have told him then, when they had been together.

“Why didn’t she tell me this, Pa?”

“If I recall rightly she did mention that she didn’t like or trust the man some time earlier.” Ben replied gently.

“Yeah, and I warned him to steer clear of her.”

“Hoss, there’s a lot of reasons why Hester may have felt she couldn’t tell you about what happened yesterday. It may even be because she knows that you would have reacted in this way and perhaps have harmed Logan. She would have been thinking of the consequences of something happening to you as a result.”

“Pa – I –“

“You were about ready to pull him apart, Hoss. I know you well enough, son, to recognise how you were feeling. Look,” he put his hand now on Hoss’ arm and attempted a smile although he was feeling all manner of emotions on his sons’ behalf, “You have a wonderful relationship with Hester. Don’t spoil it by acting over hastily.”

Hoss said nothing to that although the tension in his body was screaming out, and his jaw line was taut as he kept his teeth clenched tight. The emotions he felt were so seldom felt that when they did rear up it was rather like a docile horse suddenly remembering he had once been a wild bronc and needed time to settle back into its normal state. He gave a shuddering sigh and shook his head

“She should have told me.”

“Hester is an intelligent woman, Hoss. She’ll have good sound reasons for not having mentioned it to you. As I’ve already said, don’t spoil what you have by barging in and shouting your mouth off.”

“Shucks, Pa, I ain’t Little Joe!”

“Well, the odd thing is that Joe wouldn’t have done that anyway, he’s more familiar with how a woman feels.”

“I guess that’s so, him and all those females he’s known.” Another attempt to smile, the tension was slowly leaving him now and he was feeling much calmer.

“You have to trust her, Hoss. Trust is one of the most vital qualities in a marriage. You allow any doubt to start creeping in on it and it’ll be like rust eating into your love. You have too good a relationship to allow anything to corrode it.”

Hoss passed a hand over his face a gesture so alike his brother Adam’s that Ben felt his own heart tighten a moment. The big man nodded, “You’re right, Pa, dang it, I know you are but -.”

“Pride is another thing, Hoss. Don’t let your pride overwhelm your love.”

Ben looked at his son again now and waited to see how Hoss would react to that but Hoss merely nodded and raised his eyebrows as though he had nothing to more to say. “Ready to go home?” Ben suggested quietly.

“Yeah, sure.” Hoss inclined his head and decided that he would wait awhile, bide his time … he drew in a deep breath and turned Chubb in the direction of home.

……………..

Dr John Martin had just sat down after seeing to his patient; with pen in hand he prepared to write down some notes when he became aware of someone else in the room. He turned and smiled an acknowledgement “Logan Edwardson if I remember rightly?”

“That’s right, Dr. Martin. I just came by to see if you had heard anything about when Barbara was coming back to Virginia City.”

“Another week, Mr.Edwardson.” came the very prompt reply, “I got a letter from her yesterday and she should be here next Friday.”

“Well, that’s good. I’m keen to meet my little neice after all this time,” Logan smiled and twisted his hat round and round in his hands, “You didn’t happen to mention me at all in your letters to her, did you?”

“I did, as a matter of fact. It would give her a chance to explain to Lilith who you are.” John smiled and was relieved when the other man nodded in appreciation of what he had said, “What happened to your face?”

Logan raised a hand to his cheek and grimaced, “Oh, I had an encounter with a hell –cat.” He gave a soft laugh and left the doctors office with a grin on his face as some plan began to formulate in his mind. There was, so they say, more than one way to skin a cat.

……………..

Hester was quieter than usual when her menfolk returned home. When Ben asked if she had gone to visit Mary Ann she had replied in the negative and resumed the task she was engaged on. Ben looked over at Hop Sing who shook his head as an indication that the house had not been a happy one since they had left earlier. Hoss said nothing. He unbuckled his gun belt and placed it with his hat on the bureau and went to the settee and sat down. He did think of picking up Hannah who was chewing on some rag of a doll that Hester had made some time back but she was quiet and happy so it seemed to him better to leave her rather than risk her squalling.

He knew immediately Hester had entered the room but waited for her to approach him. He resisted the urge to turn to look at her, as though that would be the most important part of his coming home. He only waited and when she came and put her hand upon his shoulder he waited some more…

“Hoss, I need to talk to you.”

“Sure, what do you want to say?”

She walked around to face him, looked into his face and frowned, “You’re angry with me, arnn’t you? Is it because of what happened yesterday?”

“You forget I don’t know what happened yesterday. Everybody seems to know except me.”

She knelt down at his feet and took hold of his hands, covered the clenched fists with her fingers and told him about Logan, what he had said and how he had acted. She told him how she had struck him and hurried home. How she had wanted to tell him but was too afraid.

“Afraid? Why should you be afraid of me?”

“Not afraid of you, Hoss. Afraid of what could happen after I had told you. What you could possibly do to Logan, what you would think about me.” Her blue eyes were filled with tears now, and she had to gulp hard to not blurt out some sobs as she saw the hurt in his face.

“I’d never think nothing bad about you, Hester. I love you too much.I’ll always love you.”

“But you are angry.”

“With him. With myself. Hester, I wish – “ he shook his head, and looked into her eyes and kissed the tip of her nose, “I wish you had told me rightaway. I’d have sent him packing long before now.”

“Has he gone now?”

“Yes, sweetheart, he’s gone.” And he drew her up onto her feet as he took her into his arms and held her close. “He won’t hurt you ever again.”

Chapter 78

The humidity took its toll on the American seamen. Its constant atmospheric pressure on them sapped their energies leaving them exhausted and forever uncomfortable as perspiration soaked into their garments and stuck to their bodies. The Chinese appeared to handle the whole thing with an equanimity that spoke of a life living with this along with the hardships of servitude to Jiang Peng.

Adam was frustrated at the fact that he was so weary all the time. He was constantly thirsting for cold water and at times felt light headed with fever. When he saw one of his men flagging he insisted that they sat out to recover their strength while he took over their oars. Sheng was puzzled that a high ranking Officer would risk his own health in such a way for the sake of his men, and chastised him when he returned to his own seat wringing with sweat and barely able to catch his breath.

It was always a relief to beach the boat and make a rudimentary camp. Even though their ration of water was warm it was always more than gratefully received. Yarrow was showing signs of severe dehydration now, and Sheng expressed concern that the man had suffered greater internal injuries than had been thought initially. The food was supplemented by what was found on the islands and Adam was constantly surprised by the many the things he was discovering on these myriad of land masses they were traversing en route to the island to meet up with O’Brien.

As he now rested against a bole of a tree he watched as Sheng tended to Yarrow whom the Chinese had carefully lifted from the boat and set down upon the beach. There was no doubt that Yarrow was indeed suffering greatly and the help Sheng could give him was limited. It was Jackson who came to Adam and told him that in his (Jackson’s) opinion Yarrow was dying.

It weighed heavily on Adam that these men were suffering so much due to an idea of his own. To have gone in search of a man who had been so willing and so quick to sell out his own people to such a calculating enemy as Peng. He limped over to where Yarrow lay and knelt down by his side. The man looked wretchedly ill, his chest heaving with the exertion to breathe as great beads of perspiration rolled over his body and soaked into already wet garments. Had Selkirk been worth this? Adam put his hand on the man’s shoulder

“Yarrow? “

“Sir?”

“Try and hold on, Yarrow. We’ve not much further to go now.”

“I know, sir. I’m sorry that I’m causing so much trouble.” Yarrow forced each word through his mouth on each breath he took, they came via grunts from the depth of his heaving chest.

“You’re no trouble, Yarrow. I’m just so sorry that this plan has –“

“No, sir, don’t say so – look what you’ve done, what WE’VE done – got rid of Peng, that’ll be a great blow to that Empress, won’t it?”

“Yes, I guess so.” He was silent for a while as the other man closed his eyes in exhaustion, “Thank you, Yarrow.”

He couldn’t look down at the man, the sound of his breathing was hard enough. Adam turned his face away to gaze over the sea that shimmered in the fierce sun, a relentless cruel sun. Selkirk hadn’t been worth all this, if Yarrow died that would be two – no, three – of his men whose lives would have lost because of him, a traitor and a coward.

“Sir – “ Jackson called across to him and he turned to look over at the other man, and realised that while he had been at Yarrow’s side a group of men had entered their camp.

Ten men, short in height but the weapons they carried and now flourished making up for their lack of inches. Their bodies were thin, but wiry, now they stood in a tight semi-circle with machetes and lances aimed at the bedraggled seamen. “Who are they?” Adam asked Sheng and the reply was that they had obviously reached an island that was inhabited, and these men were part of the local community.

Struggling to get to his feet and leaning heavily upon the stick he stood up and approached them with Sheng at his side “Will they understand what I say to them?”
He asked, very well aware that his Canonese was heavily accented and a native community could well have developed a dialect of their own.

He had no need to worry about what to say as one of the men came close, and demanded to know what they were doing on their land. There were some words similar enough for Adam to understand but he had to look at Sheng for a translation and then told him to tell them who they were and what had happened. He could feel the strength slipping away from him, and it took an effort of will to remain standing.

He listened to Shengs calm modulated voice and then suddenly the ten men erupted into a cacophony of talk, highs and lows of decibels burst out as they jabbered together between themselves. “What are they saying?” Adam asked Sheng who smiled and bowed “They are happy. I told them Jiang Peng is dead.”

Adam nodded and watched the ten men as they eventually calmed down and approached the others in the camp to talk with them. They looked with awe at the Americans and then came closer to Adam. They looked at him with curiousity and bowed with a humility and dignity that was, to Adam’s mind, extremely touching.

“I and my people thank you. For too long we have lost our young men, and our young maidens, when Jiang Peng came in his great ship and wanted men for his ships. We never saw our people again. Now we can have no more fears of the Red Dragon coming to devour us yet again.”

Adam stood and listened, Sheng’s quiet voice translating as the little man spoke. He turned to Adam “The Honourable Chi Yiang asks that we return to his village for food. They would be honoured to show their appreciation and gratitude.”

Adam glanced over to where Yarrow laboured to keep hold of life, and then at Sheng, “Tell Chi Yiang that we would be more than pleased.”

He looked at Jackson, then at his men. For a brief moment he wondered what had become of Pollard. If they could save Yarrow’s life, if Pollard could be found, then perhaps one life lost would not be too high a price for removing such an evil as Jiang Peng from terrorising the people who lives among these many islands.When Jackson approached him and offered his arm upon which he could lean he was more than grateful to accept the offer.

……………..

Pollard was sufferering. The humidity weighed him down, his hands burned, he could barely keep his eyes open, every muscle of his body burned and screamed agonies. He paused in his rowing and looked at Selkirk “I can’t go on any further.”

“You’ll stop when I say so. Not far now. Just to that beach …”

“No. I mean it. I can’t go any further.”

Selkirk was about to speak but Pollard wasn’t prepared to listen, He raised his eyes to the skies and without a word, without a sound, flung himself into the sea which seemed to open as though to embrace him and hold him close as he sunk down to his death.

Chapter 78

By the time the men had reached the village of the islanders Adam was in a state of near collapse. Leaning heavily upon the arm of Jackson and the walking stick he was beginning to stumble as they made their entry into what amounted to a small settlement. Runners from the group who had found them had already taken the news of their coming so their entrance was greeted by rows of the curious and excited among the villagers.

Yiang led them to his own home which provided some shade from the heat but little respite from the humidity. Yarrow was very gently laid down upon a low day bed and Adam managed to sit down without actually falling over. He watched as his men slowly found places to rest their own weary limbs. He saw their upturned faces as their heads rested against the walls, their mouths open as though searching for cool refreshing air, their eyes closed. He grieved at the sight of their sodden soiled clothing, the rags around their hands due to the blisters that had broken and bled during their hours of rowing, their legs and feet torn and bleeding from the many times the low lying foliage or rocks had impeded their march over the land masses that littered the sea.

His hop, skip and jump solution to their problem had proven to be yet another failure, and he felt the rough edge of guilt once again touch his conscience. He looked down at his own hands and noted the blisters that were torn and open across his palms, the flesh red and angry at its exposure and he wondered why he felt no pain.

“Commodore?” Sheng was standing by his side now and offering him a bowl of food and some water, “Honourable Chi Yiang wishes you to eat well.”

“Thank him for me, Sheng.” Adam heard himself say and then had to put his hand to his throat as though surprised that he had been able to actually utter the words. “How are your friends?”

“They are well. They are proud to be free now.”

“Yarrow?”

“He is stronger. With food and rest he may recover.”

“May?”

Sheng merely bowed and left the food in Adam’s hands. He stared down at it for a while and then began to eat, picking out the pieces of meat and vegetables with his fingers while his eyes watched his men eating and drinking, their languor making even the process of putting food from bowl to mouth difficult.

Sheng watched the American Officer thoughtfully. Like his own men, well used to hard labour and the difficulties of the climate, they had not suffered much from the journey. The relief and exultation at being free from Jiang Peng and the whole sorry business of their previous way of life had strengthened their resolve to do all they could to accomplish the requirements of this Adam Cartwright. He had freed them from a life that had disgusted and degraded them, even though Jiang Peng had assured them it had been in the name of their Illustrious Empress. True, it had been the man, Yarrow, who had rounded them up and prevented them running free from the Red Dragon when everyone else had fled, but it had been the Officer who had provided them with the choice to either remain or return to Peng’s dominion. He didn’t forget the man’s generousity either, as the heavy weight of his pockets pressed upon his thighs. There was something different about this man, this Officer, who held the respect of his own to the extent that they had not touched the wealth in Peng’s private quarters, feeling that to have done so would have lowered HIS respect for them.

A strange and complex man, this Adam Cartwright. He shook his head and watched as the American laboured over the food, yet swallowed the cold water in one long satisfying gulp.

Adam fell asleep before the bowl of food had been emptied. It rested in his hand as his head slumped forward upon his chest and his eyes closed. On the bed Yarrow also slept. Outside the sounds of the village continued as though nothing untoward had happened even though there was a frisson of joy buzzing throughout at the knowledge that Jiang Peng was dead.

Children’s laughter trickled over the air and the sound of birds singing. A dog barked and was answered by a dog further in the village. Men and women talked together, the hum of their voices providing a pleasant back drop to the ongoing of life within that little community.

Sheng dressed the wounds of the men, tended to their sores and cleansed their blistered hands. Yiang was also a knowledgeable man with plants and herbs and provided assistance of his own. The two men talked in low tones as they administered to the injured and weary, only occasionally pausing to stop when a villager stopped by to ask ‘was it true, was Jiang Peng dead? Could they take a little look at the Americans? Were they really as bad as Peng had told them the white devils could be?”

…………………..

Abigail Phillips woke from a dream. She sat up in her bed and looked around her at a room that was quite unfamiliar to her, even though there were some things in it that she recognised. It was a wonder to her how those things had arrived, like herself, in this strange place. She watched as the moon shifted behind a cloud before it peeked out again to shed light upon herself and her bed. She could see her feet sticking up like two little mounds beneath the white coverlet. She stared at them for a while, and wiggled her toes just to make sure they actually were HER feet. In this strange room, they could, after all, belong to anybody.

Well, they were her own after all, that was a marvel in itself because they felt quite detached from her. She wondered, as she settled back against the pillows, what had happened and why everything was so quiet. No noise of traffic. She had got used to that sound outside her window during the nights. She leaned forward and heard nothing, nothing at all. She pulled her sheet higher, and clutched hold of it tightly. The sound of creaking floorboards outside her door made her look fearfully in that direction and as she did so she heard the long whooo hoooo of an owl close by her window followed almost immediately by the warbling cry of a coyote singing for a lover and serenading the moon.

……………….

Mary Ann sighed contentedly and moved her body closer to her husband. She could feel the warmth of his skin against hers and smiled. Half asleep she stretched out a hand and touched his face, her fingers traced the outline of his profile, his brow, his nose, his lips and chin. All hers, she sighed again, all hers… and when he turned towards her and put his arm around her waist to draw her closer to him she closed her eyes and leaned forwards to accept his kiss.

…………………..

Hoss cradled Hester in his arms and watched her as she slept. It was still a wonder to him that he had been married to this woman, had a child by her, and so much time had gone by without him really realising that enormity of commitment marriage brought to a man. Somehow it had been so easy, such an easy slipping into a wonder arrangement where two friends who loved one another were together. Somehow, and he didn’t understand how, but the depth of realisation, that this was a commitment for life, that only death would set them apart, had been quite casually accepted, as though it were a meal to be consumed to gether, or a moment of time shared together.

He just couldn’t put it into words except that this situation with Logan had made him realise that marriage was far more than anything he had accepted or considered. Hester had revealed another facet of herself that had been unknown to him, and he had thought he knew everything about her. This secret person hadn’t changed Hester, she was still herself but now he knew that she was capable to doing something, thinking something, even perhaps, feeling something, about which he had known nothing. It made him wonder how much more was hidden. How many more secret parts of the woman would he have revealed on this long journey of matrimony?

It made him realise as well that he had taken a whole lot for granted, perhaps too much so. He looked down at his wife and sighed, wondered if she really understood just how much he loved her, and how grateful he was that she, so lovely, could even think of loving him.

……………….

In his room Ben turned up the flame of his lamp and re-read the letters that Adam had sent him over the years. There were letters from England, France, Poland … and there were those from Washington, Detroit, San Francisco. There were others that had been written when his son had been far out to sea somewhere and he had merely scrawled ‘Pacific Ocean Atlantic Bering Straits’. There were not many letters really, but enough for Ben to find some solace in them. He read a page and then carefully folded it back into an envelope.

A coyote howled a winsome yowling to the night sky, and far away an echo of his song could be heard. Ben raised his head and listened. He sighed then and lowered the flame. A new day would dawn soon, and he had to admit to feeling very tired, and in some strange way, very alone.

Chapter 79

As the frigate ‘Orcana’ approached the Virginian, Captain Daniel O’Brien couldn’t help feel a surge of admiration and longing at the sight of the billowing sails that were catching the soft breeze across the sea. He remembered the times when he would have climbed the ratlines to set the heavy sheets free and the sharp snapping sound as they filled with the wind. Now he could only watch as the beautiful vessel sailed towards them and fill that sense of wonder, awe and longing that so many seamen experienced upon sight of a ship in full sail.

Lieutenant Milano came and stood by his side and observed the ship thoughtfully, ‘She’s running alongside us, sir.” He observed and Daniel nodded, noting from the signals being run up that the Captain requested to board.

……………

Captain James Lynch was a man of middle years who had served in the navy since a young boy. He stepped onto the deck and was piped aboard, saluted O’Brien and immediately requested to see Commodore Cartwright. Upon hearing that Adam was absent he frowned rather fiercely, tugged at his beard and asked if he could see the officer next in seniority. O’Brien declared that he was that person and asked Lynch to follow him to his quarters.

“It’s a darn shame Cartwright isn’t here as the news concerns him.” Lynch tossed his hat onto the desk and sat down, accepted the coffee the steward served him and then waited for the man to leave before looking at O’Brien with such stern features that the younger man wondered what possible harm Adam could have done to him. “Have you heard any news about Jaing Peng?”

“Other than that he is a favourite of the Empress’, and attacks the ships that we have been assigned to protect.”

“Nothing more?”

“To be honest, Captain Lynch, we have not been in contact with any other ships to gain any news at all. We’re even now en route to a rendez vous point with the Commodore and –“

“And so you don’t know that Jiang Peng is dead?” Lynch growled without any apology offered for interrupting the other officer who looked startled and then worried, “Yes, sir, so you should look worried. The Empress heard via her contacts within a few hours of the event and as a result has ordered that he be brought, dead or alive, to her court. She wants him dead, of course. The reward she’s offering for him is vast, every Tong member will be out scouring the seas for him now.”

“I’m sorry, Captain Lynch, but I don’t understand what you’re saying. For a start, may I ask how you came by this information, and just how accurate it is?”

“Commodore Cartwright is responsible for the death of the Empress’ favourite nephew. He, Jiang Peng, devised a plan to discipline and organise all the worse elements here in the South China Seas to form, if you wish, a private navy that would wreck havoc upon the ships trading with China. He’s done that very successfully for some years now.”

“I appreciate that, but what –“

“Now that he’s dead her plan to be rid of any outside trading with foreigners has collapsed. She’s a woman with a vast amount of authority and power, she controls the minds of millions of her people through a ruthless regime that trades on fear, and rightly so, her regime is murderous. Jiang Peng was indispensible and now Cartwright has killed him, destroyed four of her ships, the woman is out for his blood.”

“So what do we do? What can we do?” Daniel asked as his mind raced at the dangers Adam was going to have to confront upon his return to the Baltimore.

“I could only bring you this warning, Captain O’Brien. The fact of the matter is that many Chinese who are now living in America are still affiliated to a Tong, there’s hundreds of them, and any one of them could send out the message to look out for him. He needs to get away from here – .”

Daniel clenched his fingers tightly, and tried to settle his mind to the fact that matters were racing out of control for both himself and Adam. He looked at Lynch and was about to open his mouth when the other Captain spoke again “Look, I have served in this area for many years and I know how news travels. This information came right from Beijing, by a very reliable source. The Commodore is not only in danger himself, but endangers everyone he is in contact with in these waters.”

“So what you’re saying is that Adam needs to leave his assignment here and return home?”
“Yes, Captain, that’s exactly what I’m saying. He has to get back – “ Lynch stood up and picked up his hat, “Thank you for your time, Captain O’Brien, I hope that everything works out well.”
…………………
Chi Yiang listened attentively to what Sheng was saying. He understood a few words that the American had spoken but was grateful for Shengs translation. He nodded as Sheng explained that although Jiang Peng was no longer a danger to them, it was still possible that the pirates would regroup and harass them in the future. After some silence he turned to Adam, bowed humbly, and replied that the pirates only came for the fish. They could spare the fish, after all the sea was full of them, but Jiang Peng took their young men and women, and who could replace them? When Sheng explained this in the Cantonese that Adam would understand the American smiled and nodded. Of course he understood, and how right Chi Yiang was, who could replace their young ones?
“Honourable Chi Yiang has offered to take you to the island where you have arranged to meet your ships. Is the offer welcome for you?”
“More than welcome, thank him for us.” Adam replied in his whisper of a voice and he watched as they two men conversed, the old man’s face crinkled into a smile and he bowed, Sheng bowed also and told Adam that the boat would be ready in a few moments.
It was a relief to Jackson and Hoseasons that there would be no more rowing. Yarrow was too ill to be disturbed and when Adam approached him to explain what was happening he put out a hand, placed it upon his Commanding Officer’s arm and expired.
……………………..
O’Brien paused momentarily as he approached the men on the beach. He could see the boat being rowed away, and couldn’t understand what connection it had with Adam until he saw the sight of them. Each man with hands bound told their own story of hands too raw to handle an oar, the stubble of several days beard and the ragged clothing, soiled and blood stained, to O’Brien the sight depicted men brought to the brink of exhaustion.
Adam watched as his friend paused and a brief smile touched his lips at the thought that the immaculately turned out Officer was finding it hard to comprehend the appearance of himself and the other two men. But his smile slipped somewhat as pain reminded him that his only wish now was to get on board ship, and fall into bed.

“Ready to board ship, sir?” O’Brien asked as he saluted his superior officer and Adam nodded, “Adam?” he halted, a thousand questions racing through his mind and all of them needing patience. It was obvious that Adam was in no condition for a conversation now.

They took their place on the thwarts of the boat and watched as the boat drew nearer, the backs of the oarsmen bent in unison, the oars dipped and struck the water before re-emerging. Adam wondered if he would be able to mount the Jacob’s ladder without falling back into the sea. His leg and arm was painful, weak, and as he sat with O’Brien seated by his side, he thought that were he to fall it would merely emphasise the fact that the whole mission had been a failure.
…………
McPherson cleansed the injuries carefully, examined his throat, bound up the wounds. As he did so he talked and Adam recalled how Paul Martin would have done just the same. “The burns will leave scars, Commodore, but I don’t think it will affect the strength in your limbs, in time you should have full use of both your leg and arm again. As for your throat and voice box, now, that will take some time.” He sighed and shook his head, “I think for now you need sleep, plenty of it.”
Adam only smiled, sleep, plenty of it. Yes, he could do with that, and whenever he opened his eyes he would try and convince himself he was at home, that his father was sitting by his side, that he would feel that same sense of security his father’s presence always gave him. He would sleep, and perhaps he could dream himself well.

Chapter 80

There were times when Adam would rouse from sleep just enough to catch onto the tendrils of a dream that were on the cusps of slipping away. He kept his eyes closed while he chased down the avenues of memory in order to re-capture the dreams. It always seemed to him important to understand why his mind would create with such vividness moments during the events of his life.

He could well understand why he would dream about a camel whose main desire in life was to take a chunk out of leg, and when he woke it would be to feel the pain of the burns along his thigh which would be causing him to groan in his sleep. With eyelids to heavy to lift he never saw who came to minister to him and take the pain away so that he could slip back into sleep again.

It also made sense that he would dream about the beauty of the aurora borealis and feel the cold intensity of his ship sailing through the freezing Alaskan waters. In those dreams he would often be looking down at the Ainola as she glittered with the ice upon her sails and decking. It was then he would struggle to feel warm as his body temperature plummeted and he’d wake up long enough to realise his teeth were chattering and someone somewhere was placing another blanket around his shivering limbs.

He would drift into sleep wanting to dream about those he loved and the places he longed to see again. He would whisper in his confused and fevered mind that he needed to see the Lake, he wanted to hear Hop Sing clattering about in the kitchen, he wanted to dream about them all seated around the table or by the fire just being together.

Always wanting, and everything he wanted always just beyond reach. Instead he dreamt of Jiang Peng and the rope around his neck, the times his leg would buckle and he would fall forward and the rope tighten with a jerk around his throat … or some thread of the past would take him to the Ainola or to the wastelands of the Alaskan wilderness where Rostov stared at him with unseeing eyes.

O’Brien sat by the bedside of his friend and wondered constantly what it was his friend was dreaming. He knew from the fevered words or the threshing body when the dream became a nightmare, or a nightmare slipped into dreams more bearable for the sick man’s brain to tolerate. Whispered words and hoarse sounds would prompt him to send for Ewen to administer some soothing medication that would ease the sufferer from his pains..

……………..

Hua Sheng and several of the Chinese who had escaped the Red Dragon with Adam and his men had made the decision to return to their homeland. Hua Sheng had family whom he loved, and as a physician had been well respected in his community. His one wish was to return to them now.

Of course it had been tempting to go with the Americans. The fear of them being foreign devils had been set aside and the admiration he felt for the Commodore had filled him with awe. Never had he thought it possible to have such an appreciation for any American as he had for Adam Cartwright. He had thought long and hard about what he should do and when the time came he knew he would be better returning to those whom he loved. With great satisfaction and contentment he had said his farewells to the Commodore and taken his place on a boat that would take him to the mainland, from there he would make his way home to Beijing.

A commotion disturbed his thoughts enough to rouse his curiousity and he, like several others, craned his neck to see what was going on. Loud voices jabbered in excited hysteria and men began to lean over the side of the boat to haul towards them a half sunken sampan in which was slumped the body of a man.

“Who is it?”

“Who knows? One of the foreign devils.”

“Where is he from? Why is he here?”

So many questions tumbled around him from the mouths of so many, high pitched Cantonese hysteria. He sat back down and sighed, shook his head, there were, he wanted to tell them, no foreign devils, just men, like themselves.

“Throw him back into the sea.”

“Has he money in his pockets?”

“Is he dead? No? Then throw him back and let him drown before he curses us”

Hua Sheng watched as the body of a man was rolled callously into the bottom of the boat. Bloated and blistered and nearly black from dehydration and fever the wretched man groaned, heaved himself up before falling back with a cry of despair that any man from any nation could understand as a cry for help. Hua Sheng calmly ordered that the man be given water to drink.

The Chinese surveyed him sullenly and then one begrudgingly provided the survivor of the sea with some water. “He will curse us.” He grumbled as he did so.

“If he dies then he will haunt you. Which would you prefer?” Hua Sheng replied.

He watched as they withdrew from him. They knew him as of higher social standing than themselves, a physician, very well then, he could take on the responsibility for such a man as this one and so applied themselves to their oars in order to gain the shore as quickly as possible and deposit both men there.

Hua Sheng could barely recognise the man but the uniform was familiar. He gave the man water and tended to the burns as best he could in such a cramped space as the bottom of a very narrow boat. When eventually the mans eyes opened and focused on Hua Sheng he had a vague idea as to the identity of this particular foreign devil.

……………………
The Captains of the Baltimore, Virginian and Pennsylvania met with the doctors who had all examined the injured Commodore. It was a sombre meeting and one that not one of them relished. The fact that Adam Cartwright was so ill and could well lose his voice forever due to the damage to his larynx dismayed them all. ‘You have to bear in mind that he has been injured before,” Hathaway reminded them hopefully, “He was at deaths door that time Cassandra Pelman shot him.”

“That was a different time and a different setting,” O’Brien replied wishing with all his heart he could plead the same reasons to prevent the decision being made that seemed to them all a foregone conclusion, “The humidity here is a cause for concern for a start, and his condition has deteriorated since he has come on board rather than the opposite.”

“There is also the added danger of outside influences,” Ewen sighed and rubbed his face wearily, he looked at them all in turn, and each one of them registered dismay and disappointment, he saw in their eyes the fading hope that perhaps Adam Cartwright would remain on board as their commanding officer. “I can’t go against my concerns as a physician, if he stays on board-“ he paused there and looked at them all again, raised his eyebrows, “I have to vote that he is sent back to America on sick leave and convalescence. There’s every possibility that he could still remain in lservice.”

“A desk job? That’s drive him mad.” O’Brien scoffed and shook his head in frustration, “Well, we have our duties to perform on this assignment until our tour of duty is over. Gentlemen – your opinions?”

The silence to that question spoke volumes but the other two doctors ventured that Adam be returned as soon as possible for the sake of his health. No one mentioned the threat of any Tong, or the dangers imposed on themselves and their ships’ crews from a furious Empress with unlimited power. There was no choice in the matter, each man had to made a decision and found that they were in accord. Adam Cartwright, Commodore, was going to be sent back ‘like some mislaid package that no one wants’ O’Brien inwardly groaned.

In his cabin Adam Cartwright drifted in and out of dreams. Occasionally he would wake. Someone came and shaved him, changed his linen, his bedding, and dressed his wounds. He was carefully monitored by the doctors and medicated as necessary. For some reason he found himself dreaming about a young woman with long blonde hair, a slender neck and sea green eyes. It gave him a sense of peace to think upon that dream during those brief moments that he was awake. He wondered why it was the dreams seemed so significant when he had actually only met the woman twice, thrice, in his life. Nevertheless when he did drift back into sleep it was with the hope that his dreams would turn once more to her.

……………..

The tabloids were in full cry as the printing presses churned out the news … Babcock arrested for fraud, President Grant could be impeached, President Grant could be arrested as complicit to fraud. Other tabloids announced that the Presidency was in tatters, Grant’s reputation ruined. He was to be hauled into court to give testimony against Babcock.

With so much going on in his personal life, Grant had little time to consider the situation of a man battling for his own life on a ship in the South China Seas nor did the outcome of a Committee meeting with the Chiefs of many Indian nations appear to touch his life. Far out on the prairies Custer continued to reign supreme without appearing to notice that more and more tribes were slowly gathering and making their way to the place they considered sacred, the Pa’ha Sa’pa, the Black Hills.

………………..

Hua Sheng gave the boatmen some of the money that he had taken from Jiang Peng’s hoard and watched as they returned to their vessel. At his feet lay the crumpled and wretched body of the man he had seen in Jiang Peng’s private apartments on the Red Dragon. What he was to do with him he had no idea whatsoever, after all, no sensible Chinese would be seen caring about the welfare of a foreign national. He stood in perplexed solitude for some time before being approached by several guardsmen. There was no where on mainland China that was free from the Empress’ guards. They were like ants, see a few, disturb the anthill and find oneself covered with them. But then there was great poverty in China and being one of the Empress’ guards meant food in their bellies and money in their pockets.

He bowed respectfully and explained immediately who he was, what his profession was, and what province he came from which immediately prompted a demand for his official papers, or documentation.

“Sadly, I am unable to give them to you, Honourable Sirs. They were destroyed when the ship in which I was serving was destroyed.” He paused at seeing the look pass between them which prompted him to be careful in what he said next.

“What ship?” came the obvious next question from one man while the other snapped his fingers and beckoned to wards a man standing hidden in the shadows.

Hua Sheng was silent for a moment while the hidden man revealed himself. Well dressed, wealthy in fact, and obviously a man of influence. Hua Sheng immediately bowed low and introduced himself again.

“Until recently I was in honourable position as physical to Jiang Peng –“ his ears caught the faint gasp, his sharp eyes saw the look of reverential awe on their faces, “I served him on board the Red Dragon after I had been taken from my home province.”

“And what is this –“ the guard kicked the wretched man huddled at Jiang Peng’s feet, “ A foreign devil.”

“Yes, he is,” Hua Sheng said with as much distaste in his voice as possible, “He is the foreign devil who brought about the death of Jiang Peng …”

“Is he alive?” the man of wealth asked without wanting to lower his eyes to see for himself, superstitious dread preventing him although curiousity lingered.

“He is, but not for long.” Hua Sheng sighed, “He is badly injured himself.”

A look passed between the guards and the other man who snapped his fingers and told the guards to bring the American, he then turned to Hua Sheng “You have been fortunate, Hua Sheng, the Empress will reward you well.”

“I don’t understand? Why should she reward me for anything?”

“You will find out in due course. Come with me …” and as Hua Sheng had little choice in the matter he followed where he was led.

…………………

McPherson leaned over the bed and peered at his patient with some concern before turning to O’Brien, he nodded, “He’s gaining his strength, Captain, but he’s still very weak.”

“Is he strong enough to be transferred to the Orcana?”

“Yes. I’ve discussed his condition with the doctor on board and he’s a good, competent doctor. He’ll be in good hands.”

“I feel as though I’m betraying him somehow.”

“Why?” McPherson raised his eyebrows, “You’re saving his life, there isn’t anything else we can do for him here.”

“I just wish I had had the opportunity to talk the matter over with him. To have known what had actually taken place.”

“It’s quite possible he won’t even remember himself.” McPherson said quietly, “It often happens in cases where there is this much trauma.”

Daniel said nothing to that, but regarded his friend with a long sad countenance before finally stepping forward and placing a hand on Adam’s arm. “I’m sorry, Adam. I wish we didn’t have to part in this way, but it’s for your own good. I’ve written to explain but I wish more than anything that I could have spoken to you about all this.”

There was a light tap on the door and Milano stepped into the cabin, saluted, “Captain Lynch is ready to take the Commodore on board, sir.”

Daniel nodded and after clearing his throat rather loudly, walked to the other side of the cabin so that the orderlies could carry the stretcher upon which Adam slept out and onto the upper deck. Here the ship’s company were assembled, and in silence watched as the Commodore was born through the gangway and down to the wharf. They watched in silent regard as they disappeared from sight along the gangway to the Orcana.

“Three cheers for the Commodore …” someone yelled and when the cheers rose up O’Brien found his throat too tight with tears to join in with them.

Chapter 81

For some moments Adam remained awake but with eyes firmly shut. He felt the need to be quite sure that he was not still caught up in a dream. He also knew that if he were not dreaming then he was not in his cabin on the Baltimore. There was such a vast difference between the sounds and smells of a steamer compared with that of any clipper ship. He listened to the sound of sails cracking in a vibrant wind, there was no sound like it anywhere on earth. He felt the sensation of the ship dipping into a wave and surfacing, the creak of wood and slight shiver as though everything on board had caught that brief excitement of the moment.

No sound of engines and no smells that spoke of boilers and men toiling in what Adam could only envision as hell at sea. He savoured the moment before slowly opening his eyes.

A round faced balding man with spectacles perched on his forehead was looking down at him. A kindly face, red cheeked and ruddy from years at sea, white fluffy hair circled the bald dome and blue eyes looked concernedly as they surveyed him. “Good morning, sir, it’s good to welcome you back to the land of the living at last.”

Adam glanced past the man and then back to him, “Where am I?” and his voice was midway between a whisper and a groan.

“On board the Orcana. I’m Doctor Daly and I’ve been attending to your injuries for the past four days. You’ve been very unwell, Commodore.” he smiled and looked rather smug as though Adam’s recovery were all due to his input, “I’m very pleased to welcome you on board, sir.”

“The Orcana?” Adam closed his eyes in order to recover some remnants of memory and then opened them upon remembering the facts “We were to liase with the Orcana, your tour of duty was over, and we had been sent to relieve you.”

“I believe so, sir. Captain Lynch will be here in a moment and you can discuss that matter with him.”

“Why am I here?”

“Because you were very ill, sir. I believe Captain O’Brien has left a letter here for you, to be read upon your recovery.” he lapsed into silence for a while as he completed his task of bandaging Adam’s arm, “To be honest, Commodore, I didn’t think you were going to make it at one stage. You’ve been delirious for some days …” his voice trailed off as he concentrated on arranging a sling and then he stepped back to survey the other man. “You need building up now, good food will do you some good, probably more good than any medication I can give you now.”

“My voice -”

“I feel confident that it will return in due time. Best thing is not to worry too much about it just now, concentrate instead on getting well.”

Adam was about to say more when the door opened and Captain Lynch entered the cabin, glanced over to the bed and smiled as he removed his hat, “Welcome on board, sir.” he stretched out his hand, “James Lynch. We were meant to rendez vous with your ship some days ago.”

“Yes, I apologise for the delay, I’m afraid that we got caught up with some -”

“We know all about it, sir, you’ve done us all a great favour,” he sat down on a chair that he had pulled up to the sick man’s bed, “Getting rid of Jiang Peng was the best thing that could have happened. We owe you all a debt of gratitude for what you have done, and suffered as a result.”

Adam immediately put a hand to his throat as though the marks of the rope were so obvious and so shameful that they had to be hidden. The doctor had disappeared and he was alone with Lynch who was stroking his beard thoughtfully, “Commodore, the Captains of the Baltimore, Virginian and Pennsylvania felt that you needed to return home. The state of your health was such that each of the doctors agreed that you needed sick leave and a chance to recuperate. As we were returning to Washington anyway we felt it our privilege to bring you with us. To be honest, I wasn’t sure whether we would be burying you at sea en route, but it seems as though you are going to make the voyage home after all.”

It took a moment for Adam to accept the news without feeling a pang of remorse. No chance to say his farewells, no opportunity to reject their findings and remain at his post. He drew in a deep breath and slowly exhaled. “I’m sorry, Captain, I’m just rather confused just now. I don’t seem able to think very clearly.”

“It’s hardly to be wondered at, sir, you’ve been through quite an ordeal. But I have on board the best cook in the fleet, and the best doctor too, so it won’t be long before you will be fit and well again. Do you play chess?”

“I do.”

“Then I look forward to spending some pleasant evenings with you, Commodore.” he rose to his feet with a smile on his face, “See you later, sir.”

Adam yawned, tried to stretch out his long limbs before succumbing to sleep once again. It was a healing sleep and when he opened his eyes again it was to see the steward setting out food for him. He could smell it and immediately felt hungry for it. He couldn’t explain it but for the first time in a long time he felt a tingle of excitement running through him. He knew it wasn’t because of food, but the thought of home, back on the Ponderosa, that made his heart quicken now.

…………………..

Mary Ann wrung out the cold wet cloth and wiped it around her face and neck. As she did so she asked herself how it was that nature could play such a cruel trick on her. The very day she had intended to tell Joseph her – no, their – good news, this had to happen. Now there was no good news to share with him after all.

She had known for some time now but had decided to leave it a month to make sure. Well, that wasn’t exactly true, it was more to let the reality of it sink in and become something about which she could feel happy about instead of resenting it, even hating it. The whole idea of a baby now, so soon after their marriage, so soon after moving into their home and being so wonderfully happy, was too miserable to contemplate. She had hoped that somehow the event would disappear, that there would never be any news to tell Joe.

Some weeks earlier she had asked Hester in a round about way how she had felt when realising she was expecting a baby, and Hester had blushed a little “We were so excited.” she had said as though the joy and pleasure they had felt was somehow unbecoming for a lady, “Hoss wanted to tell everyone right away but I didn’t, I wanted it to be our secret for just a little while. Something we could share together. We were like two naughty children planning some great mischief and in the end, Ben had guessed anyway.”

“But didn’t you fear that having a baby so soon would spoil what you both had together?” Mary Ann had asked in, she hoped, an innocent way.

“You have to remember I had been married before, and had thought I would never have a child of my own. Hoss and I just felt more complete as a result, it was wonderful. We were so happy.” Hester had laughed then, and shaken her head, “And now we couldn’t be happier. Hannah has been a real blessing to us.”

“Is that what every couple feel?”

Hesters brow had crinkled for a while and Mary Ann wondered if she had guessed why she was being asked these questions. She tried to pour out coffee in a more nonchalant manner and when Hester started talking pretended that it wasn’t really so important. “I think it depends on the couple. Some younger couples can become altogether too possessive of each other. I can understand them not wanting a baby right away.”

Mary Ann remembered those words now as she drank some water and washed her face again. She had found that as the days had gone by and her body had changed, so subtly that only she noticed, that an excitement was beginning to build up within her. She began to wonder whether it would be a boy or a girl. Who would it resemble? How would Joe feel about having a son, or a daughter?

But now there was not going to be a son or a daughter, and all she longed to do now was to crawl back into bed and weep for the child that would not be.

Chapter 82

Today Abigail was a young woman of 22 years. She looked from her chair on the porch towards the trees and wondered why they were so shrouded in mist. Believing herself to be so young once again Abigail forgot that myopia and a cataract prevented her from seeing great distances. She saw the mist and smokiness as romantic, mysterious and something to investigate.

It was quiet all around her and she was pleased about that as noise confused things, made her forget who she was and what she was doing here. She stood up and walked from the porch towards the trees.

Inside the house Olivia was sewing her daughter a dress. A few weeks earlier Marcy had arrived complete with a large tin trunk containing all her valuables. Chris O’Dell had collected her from town in the wagon and she had sat as quiet as a mouse, afraid to say a word as the vehicle rolled away from the hustle and bustle of Virginia City into the wilderness. It certainly seemed an wilderness to her.

Olivia’s pleasure at seeing her again was wonderfully reassuring and the children were excited as they had grabbed at her hand and pulled her inside to ‘come and see’ this and that while Chris brought in the tin trunk and set it down for Olivia and Marcy to dispose with as they saw fit. Abigail hadn’t remembered Marcy right away but had, several days after her arrival, sat down to breakfast and asked if ‘Little Marcy’ had made the porridge Once she had fixed Marcy back in her mind Abigail settled down happily enough with having this busy little person forever in the background of her life.

But – today she was twenty two and she was going to explore. Taking no notice of the fact that she had no idea where she was nor where she was going, with the confidence of youth filling her head, Abigail strode or rather, limped, along the track into the trees. Her pretty silk embroidered carpet slippers sunk into the dank damp dead leaves that had collected over the winter and mouldered at the roots of the great trees. She stroked them, feeling the rough bark beneath her finger tips. There was so much power in them and beauty. When she stared up to the sky all she could see was a misty clouded over blueness with the limbs of trees forming a bower over her head.

She paused a while to catch her breath and scolded herself for walking so far although in actual fact she had walked only a few yards. After a while she continued onwards disregarding the boughs that snagged at her thin gown and snatched at her hair. She had to stop after a while to draw breath again and looked around her. Everything was strange, different. She was about to call out for her father when she saw a man standing only a few feet away. He was tall, half naked, darkly tanned with black hair which had been braided into two plaits which came over both his shoulders. He looked at her with a frown on his face while she looked at him with a smile.

“Good morning.”

Her bright greeting seemed to confuse the Paiute. He stepped back and then craned his head forward. This thin crazy looking old lady was talking to him? He wondered why on earth a woman like this would be wandering through the woods alone. Surely she knew there were wolves in the area? “Huh.” he said and put out a hand in greeting.

She flung back her hair which, had she really been 22 years of age, would have been rather a coquettish gesture for she had possessed a wonderful head of auburn hair at one time, but all the Paiute saw was an old woman tossing her head in what appeared to be a severe nervous twitch. “Huh?” he repeated and let his hand drop to his side as he wondered what he was to do with her.

“Why aren’t you dressed? You shouldn’t go around with half your clothes off, if my husband caught you looking like that he’d have you jailed.” Abigail, emboldened, stepped forward a few paces to survey this person “Who are you anyway?”

The Paiute shook his head in perplexity. In his culture the old and vulnerable were cared for, venerated to some extent. He shook his head and looked about him but he was alone with this strange old lady with the wispy hair that was standing on end while her mouth trembled and her eyes dewed with tears.

He did what he thought best and ran off into the trees leaving her to stand alone even though she called out to him not to go. “Stay and talk.” she called out. She could vaguely see him slipping away into the misted darkness of the wood.

Some birds, startled at her voice, rose up out of the lower limbs of a tree, their wings beat against the air with loud flapping sounds and she caught a sight of them from the peripherals of her vision. Sounds of small animals, startled by larger predatory creatures, came to her ear and she stepped back, felt the tree behind her rough against her thin dress.

“Who’s there?” she cried, “Who is it?” and she realised that she wasn’t 22 at all, she was an old lady, alone, and lost.

……….

Sofia was sleeping on the day bed having played with such energy with Marcy earlier that she was tired out. Olivia smiled over at her as she sewed the hem of the new dress. Marcy was stirring the meat for the evening meal and the smells it gave off were pleasing to the senses “Miss Abigail will enjoy this,” she said and Olivia nodded and agreed.

Hoss Cartwright was teaching Reuben to ride the fat little pony that Ben had sent over as a gift to the children. Reuben was a bright little boy and was enjoying trotting round and round with the pony on a leading rein and Hoss calling out instructions on when to stop, how to start, how to get the little pony – as yet unnamed – to canter, or trot, or even just to walk. “I’m going to be a cowboy when I’m growed.” he called out and Hoss said he’d make a real good cowboy and could work on the Ponderosa with him.

“Where is Abigail?” Olivia said after some moments had passed

“On the porch step, Miss Olivia.” Marcy replied as she filled the kettle and placed it carefully on the stove.

Olivia put down the dress and after checking that Sofia was still sleeping left the house. She looked at the chair where she had last seen Abigail and felt a pang of fear at seeing it empty. She hurried to the corner of the porch and looked around her but there was no sign of the old woman. Then to the other corner and still nothing. She could hear Hoss’ voice and hopeful that she would find Abigail with them she ran to the back of the house only to see Reuben and Hoss alone, “Hi, Mom, look at me, I’m going to be a cowboy when I’m growed. Hoss said I could be, ain’t that right, Hoss?”

Hoss smiled and nodded, then he saw the look on Olivia’s face “What’s wrong, Miss Olivia?”

“Abigail, I can’t find Abigail.” her eyes were wide now with fear, who knew where the old woman could be now, what if she had fallen, what if … and the what if’s piled up adding to her fears.

“Alright, Miss, you jest calm now, I’ll go find her.”

She was reassured by the touch of his hands on arms and then watched as he strode away with a look of resolution on his face. “Aw, mom, why’d you come here for? Now he’s gone and I can’t ride no more.”

“That’s enough, young man. Any more nonsense from you and you won’t have a horse to ride, I’ll send it back.” she snapped, she felt guilty afterwards having done so, but her nerves were stretched to breaking point and with Abigail missing she felt sick with fear.

There had been so much to do since returning to the Double D. The Cartwrights had been wonderfully helpful, and Chris O’Dell had fulfilled all his promises to her father in taking care of her and the ranch to the best of his abilities, but even so there had been so many responsibilities on her shoulders plus the care of two small children and Abigail, who needed more looking after now than ever.

More than once during their return she had wondered how wise had she been in leaving the house in San Francisco. At a distance now the danger she had felt they were in then now seemed far away and removed from reality. Everything seemed so hard and difficult.

She heard a thin scream and put her hands to her mouth, wondering if, in fact, it had actually come from herself. Then realising it must have come from Abigail she began to run towards the sound, towards the forest.

…………..

Abigail had seen the man coming towards her through the trees and fear had prompted her to scream. She could only see the hazy outline but the closer he came the more fearsome he looked. She felt tears sting her eyes and trickle down familiar routes among the wrinkles of her face, even worse was the realisation that she was releasing her bladder, warm water was trickling down her legs into her carpet slippers. She pressed her hands together against her chest and gave a wail of despair.

“Don’t take on so, lady.” Hoss said in his quietest and most gentle voice, “Hush now, it’s alright. Hoss is here and I’ll be taking you on home.”

“I want to go home.” she whispered, “Are you going to take me home?”

“Sure I am. You know me, don’t’cha? Hoss – Hoss Cartwright.” he reached out a hand to take her elbow and she peered forwards to look at him,

“Cartwright? Do you know Ben Cartwright?” she asked for what was probably the one hundredth time since she had met him

“Sure I do, Miss Abigail. Ben Cartwright’s my Pa.”

“And you’re taking me home?”

“Yes, ma’am, I’m gonna take you right on home now.”

“We need to have a cup of tea, don’t we?” her thin voice suggested as she accepted the offer of his hand, and when he agreed she mustered up a smile even though her dress was now cold and wet and dragging against her legs.

…………………

Ben listened thoughtfully as Hoss related the incident later to his father. They were sitting in front of the fire for the evenings were still cool in that big room. Hannah was sleeping in her father’s arms, content and still, while her mother was darning some socks. She also listened attentively to what Hoss was saying and finally put her darning down with a sigh and a shake of her head, “Olivia won’t be able to carry on much longer with having Abigail there. It’s too much for her, having the children as well.”

“There ain’t nothing she can do with her unless she ties her to a rope or something.” Hoss said and looked at his father, “It’s pretty scarey seeing an old lady like that wandering around in her night dress and slippers.”

“Wasn’t someone coming from San Francisco to help?” Ben asked as he tamped down some more tobacco into the bowl of his pipe.

“There’s a small slip of a thing come, she helps more in the house and with the children. The other lady, the one they wanted to look after Abigail, hasn’t come, said she would arrive later when some family commitments are dealt with.”

“It’s a shame,” Ben sighed, “When I think of the Abigail I knew back when I first knew her, she was a really pretty young woman.”

“Ain’t there nothing we can do to help, Pa?” Hoss leaned forward, carefully shielding Hannah from too much heat from the fire as he looked at his father and then over at his wife who appeared to be deep in thought.

“I don’t know what to suggest, son. I guess I’d better go and see Olivia tomorrow and see what’s going on, and what she thinks is best for her mother in law.”

……………

A man dressed in the smart suit of a city man pushed open the bat wings to the saloon and after a quick glance around walked to the counter and asked for some whisky. “Travelled far?” the bar keeper asked as he poured out a shot and pushed the glass over.

“San Francisco.” he fished several coins from his pocket and tossed them onto the counter. “Any place you can recommend for a bed for the night?”

“You could try the boarding house down the road. Mrs Donovan. Tell her I recommended her to you.”

A man came and stood close enough to the stranger as to jostle his arm, he was quick to apologise, men were shot for doing less in that town, in that particular saloon. “No offence taken.” the city man said quietly and beckoned for another drink, “One for my friend here-” he jerked his head to the other man.

“Why, thanks, stranger.”

They drank together, the man in the suit and the tall man with the straggling beard taking shape on his face. “What’s your name, stranger?” the bearded man asked as he wiped his mouth on the back of his hand.

“Booth – Booth Phillips.” and he put the glass down and beckoned for a refill.

“Logan Edwardson,” said his companion, “Pleased to meet you, Booth Phillips. I’ll pay for this one.”

“Thanks.”

“My pleasure.”

Logan smiled over the rim of his glass. The name Phillips sounded familiar. He rather thought it was the name of the pretty little widow with the dotty mother in law who was friendly with the Cartwrights. And anything to do with the Cartwrights, interested him, very much so indeed.

Chapter 83

Joseph Cartwright pulled off his leather working gloves as he pushed open the door to his home. He loved the feel of the wood against his hand, he loved the fact that this building really was HIS home, his and Mary Ann’s. As he closed the door behind him and stepped into the main room he paused a moment to look around it and to remember the times he had seen his own father do exactly the same.

Now, with hindsight, he could understand exactly why his father had taken time to pause. That sense of gratitude mingled with pleasure at the fact that his home, built by his own hands, stood as a proud monument to his own endeavours and to those of his sons. Of course Joe had not built this house entirely on his own, times had changed since Ben had found his Eden and he and his little boys had built the Ponderosa, but Joe had sweated and laboured enough to feel he had put some effort into this house, his home.

He pulled off his hat and placed it with his gloves before slowly untying the holster from his thigh. He was unbuckling the belt when his wife came into the room from the kitchen. The sun was streaming through the windows behind her and for a moment all he could see was this shining gleaming figure coming towards him and he smiled in anticipation of the pleasure on her face “Hi, sweetheart,” he placed the gun belt upon the bureau, “I sure feel ready for something good to eat today, Candy and I were busy down at the south pasture branding. I think we got more calves here than any year before, Pa sure will be pleased.”

“Oh, you must be tired,” she took his hand and felt its warmth as his fingers entwined within hers, “Come on, Joe, come and sit down while I get you some coffee.”

“Give me a hug and a kiss first,” he laughed and pulled her towards him, then frowned a little at the slight resistance from her before she slipped into his arms, “Are you alright? Has something happened?”

“Why did you ask that?” she whispered, her breath warm upon his neck as she cradled her head into his shoulder, “Of course I’m alright.”

Joe frowned and put his hand on her arm as he gently held her away from him. He looked at her face and shook his head, “No, you’re not. Something’s happened -”

“I’ll get you that coffee -” she interrupted, turning away from him and pulling her arm free although she wasn’t surprised when he grabbed at her arm again to turn her towards him. “I’ll get the coffee and then I – I’ll tell you what happened.” she said very quietly.

He released her then and nodded although he watched her carefully as she walked hurriedly away to the kitchen. With an anxious frown he sat down on the settee and stretched out his legs, then chewed on his thumb as he wondered what could have happened.

The months of his marriage had been the happiest of his life and he, Joseph Cartwright, had been blessed with many years of happy events taking place throughout his time on this earth. Being joined in union with the woman he loved above all things had brought to him a realisation that nothing could be more pleasing to any couple than being together. It wasn’t just at times of intimacy but during all the things they shared together. There were moments of laughter, moments of excitement as they discovered something new about the other, just moments in their lives that seemed to strengthen that bond. There was no doubt about it they were soul mates.

He looked at the fireplace, devoid of the warmth of fire due to the room being warm enough with the sun streaming in so well. It was a fair imitation of the one on the Ponderosa and Joe looked forward to the evenings when they could light the fire there. He was thinking of the hours he had spent at home playing checkers with his brothers in front of the big fire there, and smiled slightly at the thought that he and Mary Ann could enjoy many hours together here. His smile faded at the sound of her approach and he stood up to take the tray from her and set it down on the table.

“What do you have to tell me, Mary Ann?” he asked as she carefully poured out the coffee. “Mary Ann?” he repeated her name in case she hadn’t heard his previous question as she seemed to be taking her time to pour out the coffee and look up at him.

She sat down by his side and slipped her hand into his and looked at him. He could that her eyes were red rimmed, an obvious sign that she had been crying. His own throat constricted tightly as he wondered what on earth could have caused her to be so unhappy. She wasn’t the sort to cry if she had burned the dinner or broken an ornament. He gripped her hand tightly, “Just tell me what happened.” and was surprised to hear his own voice low and husky as though anticipating already some thing terrible. “Tell me that you’re alright, not ill or anything like that?”

She drew in her breath sharply at that question and tightened her grip on his hand even more while tears rose to her eyes, “Joe, I’m sorry, I did something that was wrong, very wrong.”

“For Pete’s sake, what was it?” he leaned forward towards her and then sat back again as she seemed to retreat away from him, “Go on, Mary Ann, what was it?”

“I should have told you something important a little while ago and I didn’t … I kept a secret from you which I shouldn’t have done. I wanted -” she stopped herself as she saw the confusion on his face, “Joe, I didn’t realise at first what was happening and then when I did I didn’t want to believe it because I didn’t want a baby -”

“A baby? You’re having a baby?” delight flashed into his face, colour mounted his cheeks and his eyes sparkled, “But, Mary Ann, that’s wonderful.”

“No, no,” she put a hand to his mouth as he leaned towards her to kiss her, “No, Joe, it isn’t wonderful. It isn’t wonderful at all.” and she began to cry, heart breaking sobs that seemed to stop her ability to talk, instead she just fell into his arms, “Oh Joe, I’m so sorry.”

“Sorry? Why? What’s happened?” he whispered softly into her hair, and his hand gently rubbed her back, very gently, “What’s happened, sweetheart?”

“I lost the baby. I had a miscarriage.” she sobbed, “It’s gone, the baby – and I should have told you before but I just wanted to make sure that I was pregnant before I said anything at all. I was going to make a special meal tonight for you and tell you then .”

“Shush, shush, it’s alright, it’s alright” his voice shook just a little, the thought of his becoming a father had elated him, and then suddenly, the hope pulled away from him, within seconds, before he had even had a chance to enjoy the feeling. He swallowed the lump in his throat and stroked her hair.

“I’m sorry, Joe. I should have told you.”

He didn’t speak at first. He just sat with her in his arms and stroked her back while she sobbed and soaked his shirt. If he was feeling wretched, he told himself, then it must be ten times worse for her, after all, she had had this time to think about the baby, to know that it was there, growing inside her and then, suddenly, losing it. He kissed her wet cheek and then gently wiped the tears away with his thumbs, then kissed her again.

“Mary Ann, these things happen, don’t be worried. I don’t want you to be so upset -” he swallowed hard again, her distress was making him feel utterly miserable and tearful, he wanted to hug into her and cry himself, but knew that would be selfish, he had known for only a moment in time, whereas she – poor dear Mary Ann – and he kissed her again. “Have you seen the doctor?”

“No, do I have to?” a look of fear slipped over her face and her eyes widened “Do I?”

“I don’t know. I – I guess I’m rather ignorant about things like this. How are you feeling now? I mean – do you feel alright?” he felt it was a pretty lame question to ask, a few trivial words that meant so much, “Are you feeling ill? Do you want us to go over and see Hester, perhaps she would know what’s best to do.”

They sat there for a moment like two lost children, holding hands and just feeling waves of misery sweeping over them. His lips trembled and she blamed himself for causing him so much unhappiness; her eyes filled with tears and he cursed himself for saying such clumsy stupid things. “I love you, Mary Ann.” he said, holding her hands so tightly in the hope that she could feel the love flowing from him, “I love you so much. I wish I could have spared you from this.”

She could say nothing more, she felt numb, totally numb. Hours had passed since she had lost the baby, her womb was empty and painful. Emotionally she was devoid of anything now, she was exhausted and slipped into his arms, laid her head upon his shoulder and closed her eyes. So long as he loved her and would keep loving her, that was all that mattered now.

…………………………

Captain Richard Selkirk wasn’t sure what was happening anymore. Days of being exposed to the heat of the sun with no water to drink had damaged more than his physical being and as the cage in which he was chained was pulled through the streets of Beijing he wondered why the crowds watching them pass were so hostile. He flinched back when stones and rubbish were hurled at him. Some struck him painfully and he yelped with pain which brought jeers of laughter from those running alongside the caged wagon to watch his discomfort and misery. Some youths poked him with long staffs and mocked him but he couldn’t understand what was being said as he tried to escape their attacks upon him by cringing into a corner only to be stabbed by others who found him there.

He couldn’t remember what had happened. He couldn’t even remember very clearly who he was now. Someone had told him he was an American seaman, a Commodore. He wasn’t sure about that either, although they seemed to be so he had nodded and accepted the fact that for some reason or other they hated him. There were so many questions asked of him of which he didn’t know the answer. He remembered the name Jiang Peng because when the name had been mentioned he had seen a picture in his memory flash up of a thin faced Chinese with black eyes that had bored into his own with an evil that had quite terrified him.

He wasn’t sure who Adam Cartwright was, but they had said it was him, and a handsome young Chinese had come and agreed that he was that person so he had accepted that he was even though it had felt wrong.

The caged wagon stopped at the rear of a magnificent building. Selkirk didn’t take much notice of its architecture. Perhaps at one time he would have looked up and marvelled at it for few foreigners had seen it. He watched as his guards clambered down from the seats in front of him, opened the rear door and hauled him out.

He looked at his hands in their chains and shook his head. He knew that he was disgusting to look at, his beard was long and straggling, his hair stood on end matted and soiled. His body bore the scabs of beatings, of lice, of filth. He hated himself. He looked up at his guards and saw the loathing in their eyes. The one thing he was sure of now was that he was their enemy and he hated them as much as they hated him.

………………….

Adam enjoyed the wind against his face. With a great coat hanging from his shoulders to shield him from th