Bonanza Brand – Fanfiction Library

Home is the Sailor (by Krystyna)

September 20, 2015 | 13 Comments

“Requiem”

Under the wide and starry sky
Dig the grave and let me lie:
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.

This is the verse you ‘grave for me:
Here he lies where he long’d to be;
Home is the sailor, home from the sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.

Robert Louis Stevenson…1850-1894

 

The Sailor is Home

Chapter 1

 

Once upon a time, a long time ago, a young man and his wife had a dream that was frequently nurtured by their love of John Milton’s epic poem ‘Paradise Lost’.   The words  “The world was all before them, where to choose their      place  of rest, and Providence their guide: “  seemed to inspire within them a desire to see what the new world had to offer to them and to their as yet unborn son.

 

America at that time knew nothing of the savagery that was to rage within its states in the coming years.  As the couple dreamed together of a future beneath blue skies, a log cabin and contentment true and all enduring, they were not to know that for one of them the dream was to end before it had even had the time to blossom into maturity.

 

A child crying at her side, a tinny tune playing from a little musical box, and her husband weeping at her bed and no more dreams, hopes or aspirations for a lovely young woman.  For her husband, as he sat broken hearted by her side, it would seem the dream too, would end, until he looked at his infant son.  As he gazed upon the innocent new born his heart was stirred by his wife’s words of a few days earlier ’I see our son growing just like you, surrounded by trees …’  and so the dream was revived.

 

It’s logical and true that Ben Cartwright was a man who would have forged good prospects, material wealth had he stayed in New England and that the future of the child would have been secured by the material world about him. But with his eyes fixed upon a dream, and  with an infant by his side he kept his determination upon the fulfilment of that promised future that he had shared with his dear Elizabeth.

 

As Ben Cartwright stood in front of the ruins of his ranch house he wondered now when it was that the dream had turned into an obsession.  True, it had spurred him on when times had been at their lowest, and it had been like a beacon towards which he had fought many a time.  But the dream was over upon its fulfilment, and the obsession….he sighed now and shook his head as he considered all the implications that came along with that word.

 

Only a man who was obsessed would have dragged an infant through a wilderness that was still the home of savages and surely only an obsession would have driven a man onwards with two small children when a dear loved one had  perished most cruelly upon the Missouri plains.

 

He bowed his head and looked down at the dust beneath his feet.  Soot and charcoal from the fire that had consumed a good proportion of the house had turned much of the dust quite black and he shuffled it back and forth in an attempt to locate the original colour of the earth.

 

“Playing mud pies, Pa?”

 

The playful tone of his eldest sons voice came from behind him so Ben turned and smiled at Adam; he watched as the man dismounted and approached him with a grin on his face “What were you doing?  I’ve been watching you for about five minutes now and you looked lost in a dream.”

 

“Oh ..no, no…” Ben sighed and shook his head “No, it wasn’t a dream.  Some memories perhaps, and some regrets.”

 

“Regrets?” Adams brow crinkled “What have you got to have regrets about, Pa?”

 

“Some things I should never have done and, if given the chance, would do differently.”  Ben replied and casually draped his arm across his sons’ shoulders, “It’s good to have you home, son.”

 

“Yes,” Adam nodded solemnly and shifted his eyes from his father’s face to the house, “Yes, it’s good to be home.”

 

For a few minutes they stood together just staring at the blackened ruins, then Adam shook his head “Well, it’s not all bad news. It could have  been a whole lot worse.”

 

“So I keep being told.” Ben allowed a faint grimace to touch his lips and he raised his eyebrows a little as though cynical of the comments “What do you really think?”

 

“About the house?” Adam looked surprised, “I thought we’d discussed all this already?   Have you changed your mind?  Do you want it to be pulled down and a new one built to replace it?”

 

“No.” Ben shook his head and walked several paces closer to the building, with his head at a slight angle he observed it thoughtfully as though it were the very first time he had seen it since the fire. “No, Hoss and Hester want it to be restored as close to the original as possible.”

 

“And you?  It’s your home after all…” Adam murmured with a slight pout as he surveyed his father and wondered what had brought about such indecision.

 

“Well, it was my home.” Ben said slowly, “I mean, yes, it is my home, but it really belongs to Hoss and Hester now.  It’s a family house after all.”

 

Adams pout became more pronounced, his eyes narrowed and a furrow creased his brow “What are you saying, Pa?  Do you want us to build a log cabin for you to spend your solitary last years in the woods?”

 

For a moment Ben paused, raised his dark eyebrows and then gave a slight chuckle “No, of course not.  Although I wouldn’t mind having one built somewhere to retreat to, away from babies crying and children squabbling …” and his chuckle deepened.

 

“Pa, you seem to have forgotten what it was like being at sea in the middle of a Force 12 gale… babies crying and children squabbling is music compared to that.”

 

Ben’s laughter subsided into a wide grin and his black eyes twinkled, he put his hands on his hips and nodded towards the house “It will be like the phoenix rising from the ashes.”

 

“Very true.” Adam nodded and bit down upon his bottom lip as he looked the house up and down as though measuring out its assets once again.

 

“A pity that Marie’s roses never survived …” Ben sighed “But I suppose we can always find some new ones.”

 

“If that’s what you want, Pa.” Adam replied with a curt nod of the head.

 

Ben didn’t make any comment to that, there was a lot he wanted that he knew  he would never get now.   For some years his age had been a source of anxiety to him;  every year that passed by now reminded him that the man he was when he arrived to build the foundations of the ranch house was a long way from the man who now stood before its ruins.  He had arthritis in his hands, he was slowly having to accept the fact that he no longer had 20/20 vision, he had lost a tooth recently and sleep was elusive, although he blamed the latter on his grandson Nathaniel’s waking up and bawling through the night.   He rubbed the back of his neck and sighed again making Adam dart an anxious look of enquiry over at him “What is wrong, Pa?   Are you worried about something I should know about?  Is there anything I can do?”

 

Ben raised his eyebrows and then shook his head “No, no… take no notice, son. I’m just wishing I were a lot younger, that’s all.”

 

Adam allowed a slight smile to flit across his lips “That’s all?  Darn it, Pa, it’s something I wish myself most days … the sad fact is that time flies faster the older one gets…” he shrugged “No one can turn back the clock, not with all the wishing in the world.”

 

“Quite so” Ben replied returning now to shuffling the dirt around with his feet with a rather self conscious look on his face as he did so.  “When does Henry get to work on restoring all this?”

 

“As soon as we give him the go ahead.”

 

“Then why haven’t you?” Ben turned with a look of enquiry on his face mingled with slight annoyance

 

“Because we’ve been waiting for you to approve the design and tell us to proceed.” Adam replied in slightly baffled tones as he looked at his father with a downturn of the mouth which indicated that he was rather irritated himself by his father’s current mood.

 

“Well, tell him to start as soon as possible.  I can’t stand knowing it’s here like this ..” he paused and cast an anxious glance at the building and then turned away towards where Cinnamon was waiting, swishing his elegant tail and nodding his head at Sport.

 

Adam sighed and shook his head as though he would never understand the vagaries of his father, and after casting a quick glance at the ruins he made his way to where the horses were hitched.  “Pa?”

 

“What?” Ben frowned and paused in the act of putting his foot in the stirrup.

 

“You aren’t worried about staying with us for the interim, are you?   If the children are too noisy and disturbing your sleep, then just say so and I will  get you that log cabin in the woods as soon as you like?”

 

Ben opened his mouth, then closed it again, he shook his head “I enjoy sharing your home very much, Adam.  Thank you.”

 

Adam nodded, and watched his father mount his horse and settle into the saddle. He gave a slightly smug smile …concealed from his father’s sight of course … and loosened his horse’s reins to turn it round before he mounted and followed his father up onto the track that led to where he and Olivia lived.  It hadn’t gone unnoticed by him that his father was slower mounting Cinnamon than he had been some months ago, nearly a year ago, and with an anxious feeling within him, Adam Cartwright put his horse alongside his fathers so that they rode back in a companionable silence, side by side.

 

Chapter 2

 

It was the first day of September 1877 and as warm as a day in summer.  As the two men loped their horses towards the home of Adam and Olivia Cartwright both were immersed in thoughts of the events of the past year which had brought about all that was good with an equal dash of all that could possibly be bad.

 

But now Adam Cartwright was home for good, although he always, mentally anyway, added a post script to that ’depending on the Government forgetting they had accepted his retirement’.   Having said that, there was nothing hanging like a black cloud over his head threatening his imminent departure back to sea and for the first time in many years he really felt that he was free to live the life he loved, with those he loved and on the land that held his heart in a grip as firm as that of his beloved wife and children.

 

But it worried him, this lassitude of his fathers for he could remember too well the occasion when an old friend had died at the timber yard and Ben had taken it to heart, blaming himself and going into the depths of a depression.  It had caught them all by surprise creating irritation, annoyance, frustration and concern at how easily Ben had wanted to shed his responsibilities.  The thought that his father could be heading towards such another bout of despondency filled Adam with dread.

 

The sounds of laughter and shrieks of children greeted them as they turned their horses towards the house where the yard was cluttered by wagons, horses and children plus the odd adult or two behaving like children.  They could hear Mary Ann’s voice “Joe, have you seen Daniel?”

 

“No, no sign ..”

 

“But he must be somewhere…” cried the anxious mother who then gave a shriek as husband and son pounced from behind a wagon “Boo..” cried Daniel with a gleeful chuckle as his father swung him up in the air and into his mothers arms.

 

Reuben’s voice drifted from the doorway of the house “Where’s Pa?”

 

“Gone to find your grandpa…” Hoss replied as he lifted Hope up and onto the wagon seat beside Hester who was tying a ribbon in Hannah’s dark curls.

 

“But where’s Grandpa?” Sofia wanted to know tossing her blonde head and hands on her hips, very much the little madam now that she went to school.

 

Reuben sighed “With Pa of course, don’t you ever listen.”

 

Cheng Ho Lee appeared with a wicker basket that he carried over to one of the wagons and lowered it in carefully to nestle against one previously positioned there, he looked about him with satisfaction and nodded, smiled.  When everyone was gone he and Hop Sing would be able to settle down to a game of Mah Jong in peace and quiet … long may it last!

 

Joe removed his hat from his sons head and placed it upon his own thick curly mop, he leaned forwards to kiss his wife and then helped her to board the wagon seat “Where’s Adam?”

 

Sofia passed with yet another toss of her head, a habit she had got into since being at school, “He’s with Grandpa.”

 

“He’s with Grandpa, huh?  So – where’s Grandpa?” Joe asked undaunted by the airs and flounces of this little madam, to which she shrugged and with her nose in the air walked towards the wagon where Reuben was standing, stroking one of the horses.

 

Riding down towards them Ben and Adam could  hear and see all that was happening and both of them glanced at one another, smiled and felt a touch of contentment steal into their hearts.  Olivia came to the door with Nathaniel in her arms and looked over at the two horsemen and raised her arm to wave at them.  Reuben noticed and gave a yell “Here’s Pa…  and Grandpa.”

 

He hurried towards them, his eyes shining “Hi, Pa… hi, Grandpa… where did you go?”

 

Adam smiled down at the child, nodded and then glanced over at Ben “Just to the house, Pa wanted to make sure what was left of it was still standing.”

 

Reuben nodded, happy enough now that Adam was there and he smiled briefly at Ben before telling Adam that they were about to set off now and were wondering where they had been.  Both men nodded, both knew and understood that the only one really seriously worried about them was the boy.

 

Easily understood really, after all Adam was the rock upon which Reuben pinned his whole life.  The fact that that rock had ’submerged’ out of sight during some rather difficult passages in the boys life made it even more important to Reuben that he kept his Pa right there, close by, where he could see him.  First thing in the morning he had to ensure that Adam was home, last thing at night that his Pa was there to hear his night time prayers, and if not, assured that he would be home ..soon;  not next month, nor who knew when, but home within hours.

 

“Coming up with me then, son?” Adam asked and smiled at the eager nod of the head, so he slipped his foot from the stirrup for Reuben to put his foot into it and by placing his arm around the boy soon had him up in the saddle in front of him.

 

Ben dismounted and after seeing to Cinnamon strolled over to take his seat with Olivia, who gave him the benefit of one of her sweetest smiles.  It was understood by them all that Reuben needed the assurance of his father’s presence now, even though he had been told Adam would not be going back to sea he, like Adam, always had a mental ‘yes, what if though…’ at the back of his mind when they said so.  Eventually, perhaps, they would both get to realise it was true but until then, it went without saying where Adam went his ‘shadow’ went with him.

 

It had been Hester’s idea to have a picnic.  She had said ’Before autumn really sets in, and then there’s winter …’ and before they knew it  the whole thing had been arranged.  When September 1st dawned and was such a wonderful sunny warm day everyone felt that yes, it was perfect for a picnic.

 

She sighed contentedly and slipped her arm through that of Hoss’ “Ann and Candy are going to meet us there.”

 

Hannah’s face beamed “And Rosie and David?”

 

“Yes, and Rosie and David.”  Hester relaxed into her husbands body, just as though they were still a courting couple and he smiled down at her and she felt the day just couldn’t get any better although of course, she hoped that it would.

 

Joe’s wagon was already turning into the main track out of the yard and towards the picnic area, Mary Ann holding tightly to Daniel who was always a fidget and as liable to topple off the wagon seat as his father had been years before.  Such a handsome little boy all of 18 months of age, full of dimples, hazel green eyes and chestnut coloured curls.

 

Sometimes when Ben looked at Daniel he had a strong feeling of déjà vu, so much so in fact that he even found himself calling the child Little Joe to which the boy would respond indignantly “Me not l’il Joe, me is Danwell.”

 

Adam rode close up to the wagon where Sofia sat with her mother, he reached out a hand and took hold of hers for a moment and gave Olivia a smile which was answered with one of her own.   She looked so pretty sitting there beside Ben, and Adam felt a tug at the heart as he relished the thought that he was home for good, no more long weeks and months away from her ever again.

 

Nathaniel had his fingers in his mouth and was dozing, the jolt of the wagons motions didn’t bother him one bit as he felt the beat of his mother’s heart beneath his ear lulling him to sleep better than any lullaby.  He would soon be nine months old, and had black curling hair that still caused Adam to refer to him as Spike every so often.  The sun warmed his back, his mother’s arm held him close, her smell reassured him that all was well.

 

“Bridie and Paul are coming as well…” she said, “And Marcy and Luke.”

 

He nodded, his smile widened and he gave her a wink which made her laugh because she knew he was wishing they were all alone out there by the river with the wild grasses and  where the late wild flowers bloomed.

 

The little convoy of wagons made their way along the track, Hoss started to sing, joined by Hester and then Ben.   Laughing and singing Ben Cartwright got caught up in the mood, he forgot his concerns about his house, or what was left of it, left behind his lethargy and sadness and thought only of how well blessed he was to have such a wonderful family.

 

This, after all, was his legacy. This was what the fulfilment of the dream had been all about …

 

Chapter 3

 

The wagon wheels rolled through the long grasses down towards the river that flowed languidly through the pastures.  Late wild flowers hung their heads and petals drooped as the horses pulled their loads behind them.  Daniel clapped his hands, old enough now to know that occasions like this meant fun and food, while Hannah and Hope fidgeted to get down in order to run through the long grass.

 

“Where’s Rosie?” Hope asked with wide eyes

 

“She’ll be here soon,” Hester assured her and smiled at Hannah who looked a little irritated “Aunty Ann has further to come don’t forget.”

 

Ben put the brake on the wagon and as soon as it had come to a halt Adam dismounted from Sport and went to take Nathaniel from Olivia and then with his free hand assist her to the ground.  Sofia clambered down from the tail gate and ran towards Hannah and Hope who were now free from Hesters protective hold on them.

 

“Rosie ain’t here yet.” Hannah said a little crossly

 

“Well, she’ll be here soon.  Her Ma’s always late for things.” Sofia replied, grabbing at Hannah’s hand while Hope clung to Hannah’s pinafore.

 

“She has a long way to come.” Hannah explained in imitation of her mother and then ran alongside Sofia until they came to a really thick patch of grass and wild flowers and decided to spin and turn until they were giddy and would fall over.

 

Reuben reached into the back of the wagon and produced two fishing rods,  one of which he handed to Adam “C’mon, Pa, lets see how many we can catch before supper.”

 

Adam smiled, looked at his wife, who nodded approval upon which he shouldered his fishing rod as a soldier would his rifle and strode off towards the river, Ben followed more slowly with Nathaniel in his arms.  Reuben looked up at his father’s face and then sighed contentedly, in imitation of Adam he shouldered his fishing rod and headed towards the river.

 

Hoss watched them go and pushed back his hat, scratched his head “Dang it, I knew I’d forgotten something.”

 

“What was that, dear?” Hester asked as she rummaged among the wicker baskets for a blanket

 

“My fishing rod.”

 

“It’s in the back here, where you left it from last time.” his wife replied without looking up, and then smiled as she watched him stroll by her minutes later with his fishing rod in his hand and whistling some tune which indicated his pleasure in the moment.

 

Joe assisted his wife down from the wagon and bestowed a kiss upon her cheek, he then took out the wicker basket that Hop Sing had filled with good things and carried it over to where a tree spread out its foliage to provide some shelter.  Although it was the fall the day was spectacularly hot, some leaves had already fallen from the tree and as they opened up the blanket upon which to sit so several filtered down and swirled lazily in the air until they had settled upon Joe’s head.  Daniel wanted to move, he saw his cousins and gave a shriek of delight and began to run, sturdy little legs propelling him forward until something got in his way and he toppled over.

 

“Just like his Pa.” Ben said with a smile on his face as he had paused to watch them for a moment, and then continued on his way.

 

Now there came the sound of another vehicle and the soft swish swish of grasses being flattened by wheels which were bringing Luke and Marcy Dent to join in their gathering. Loud greetings drifted back and forth as Marcy joined the ladies in spreading out a blanket and bringing her basket to be emptied out.  Luke kissed his sister on the cheek and then after a nod and grin at Hester and Mary Ann hurried to catch  up with the men, meeting Joe half way and slowing to a stroll with him.

 

Food appeared from the baskets and was transferred onto the blankets, all the necessary plates and cups, glasses and forks appeared as well as serviettes and various other pastes and pickles in jars of all shapes and sizes.  After a while Hester glanced up towards the track and frowned slightly “I wonder where Candy and Ann could have got to…”

 

“Are you sure you told them where we were meeting?” Mary Ann asked gently, “After all, the Ponderosa’s a big place.”

 

They shared smiles at that comment, of course the Ponderosa was a big place, but Candy knew exactly where to come, after all, hadn’t they met here often enough for picnics in the past?

 

“Do you think anything could have happened?” Marcy now  asked, “After all she is close to her time..”

 

Now the smiles vanished to be replaced with concern, they looked at one another and Hester shook her head “Well, what do you think?” she asked no one in particular and, of course, no one answered.

 

“They’ll come if they can.” Olivia said in her pragmatic manner, “And if they can’t then we’ll find out why later.”

 

They agreed that was a good idea and continued to set out everything upon the blankets, while Hester kept an eye turned every so often to the track, Mary Ann kept vigilance upon her son and Olivia counted out the plates and such to make sure they had enough of everything they needed..

 

Reuben stood beside his father, they had cast their lines and then smiled at one another in companionable silence.  Hoss had stood there a moment deciding whether to bother or wait until after he  had eaten, he stood for a while  beside Ben and watched as Adam and Reuben kept a wary eye on their lines.  Joe and Luke appeared, Daniel now safe in his father’s arms although wriggling mightily in an attempt to get down and dirty.  Nathaniel, recognising his cousin and playmate, began to bounce up and down in his grandfather’s arms in an attempt to get down onto the ground.

 

Reubens line jerked taut, he gave an excited yelp and began to gently reel in the line. Ben put Nathaniel on the ground in order to give Reuben some assistance in bringing in the fish or whatever was on the end of the hook.  Adam glanced down and then frowned “Wouldn’t do that if I were you…”

 

“What do you mean?” Ben asked a little sharply

 

“Put Spike down like that…”

 

“Why not?”

 

“Because he’ll fall in.”

 

“No he won’t.” Ben muttered and put a hand on Reuben’s arm to control the line for the fish was fighting hard to get off the hook.

 

“Well, I reckon he will…” Adam sighed and glanced down to where Nathaniel was covering the ground very quickly in order to explore beyond the grass to where so much water awaited investigation.

 

Daniel gave a cry of delight and swiftly followed behind his cousin, forgetting he could walk he went down on all fours and crawled along enjoying the grass tickling his nose and chin and laughing happily.

 

Joe lunged forward and grabbed his son by the ankle while Adam abandoned his fishing rod in order to seize hold of the  youngest Cartwright who was nearly at water’s edge.  Adam was about to say something when Ben yelled “Look at that …”

 

“Pa, Pa,” Reuben cried, “Come and see the size of this…”

 

From higher up Hester clapped her hands “Come and eat …”

 

“Aw Pa…” Reuben groaned and looked plaintively at his father while he fought – with the help of his grandfather – to land the fish. “I can’t let go of it now…”

 

Adam looked at the splashing about in the water, the fish was putting up a valiant fight, Hoss came and leaned over, his hands  on his knees to watch, his eyes fixed to the threshing of the fish and he gave Reuben an encouraging slap on the shoulder, the line jerked upwards, the fish leaped high and Reuben gave a cry of despair as he envisaged the fish to be free at last. Ben leaned and hauled on the line, Adam grabbed at the back of  Reuben’s shirt and jerked him back and over the line came complete with the fish on the hook.

 

“Wow” Hoss exclaimed “Would you look at that…”

 

“Well done, son, that’s a real beauty.” Adam nodded while Nathaniel wriggled in his arms to get a better look at this writhing contorting silver creature that was struggling for life in the grass.

 

Hester clapped her hands again “Don’t any of you want to eat?”

 

Ben dealt with the fish, putting it out of its misery and then spearing a twig through its gills in order for Reuben to carry it aloft to his mother.  Nathaniel reached out his hands towards it, grizzling when Adam turned him away from the sight of it.  Together they made their way to the picnic area laughing among themselves, Joe with Daniel in his arms while Adam bore Nathaniel in the crook of one arm while he had his other hand resting upon Reuben’s shoulder. The boy looked so proud and happy that Olivia had to turn her head away to stop the tears coming to her eyes but then love has a habit of doing that at times, at unexpected times.

 

“What a feast!” Hoss declared and just as he said that there came the sound of a buggy approaching and all turned to see Bridie O’Flannery Martin appear with a smile on her face and, as usual, her bonnet all awry.  She pulled the horse up and clambered down, a little breathless.

 

“I’m so sorry I’m late…”

 

“Where’s Paul?” Mary Ann asked anxiously

 

“I’m sorry, Paul has been busy… babies …”  she hauled in her breath “Ann – her baby came this morning.”

 

The expected sounds of enquiry, delight, surprise echoed a little before she smiled and nodded “Yes, another boy.  A good weight too.. They’re calling him Samuel.”

 

“So Rosie and David won’t be coming then?” Sofia asked with a slight frown on her face.

 

“No, dear, not this time…” Bridie replied, “And I am sorry, but I’ve been so busy, I had no time to make a cake.”

 

The groans that followed that comment were really a compliment, at least, Bridie thought so.

 

 

Chapter 4

 

It was good to be alive.  No doubt everyone who was sprawled upon the grass enjoying the food and the company thought the same but Ben, having plunged into a brown study earlier was finding his spirits so much restored that he found it impossible to believe anyone could be sad or down at heart now.

 

He watched the group as they divided into pairs of adults, or one rose to his or her feet to stroll over and sit with another. The children ate,  and laughed and some cried and wailed and others grabbed at the food and ran away with it in their hands so that father had to get up and chase after them so that they could be made to return to the ‘table’.

 

He sighed, the weather was perfect although clouds were forming as a reminder that the days were shortening and the heat of the sun was diminishing.    He glanced over at Olivia who was talking to Bridie,  and with a slight frown realised that there was at least one of the party not fully enjoying herself.  There was no doubt that Bridie was worried about something and seeing the gentle way Olivia placed a hand on the other woman’s arm, indicated that something was wrong.

 

He got up and joined them, nodding at Olivia and muttering something about Nathaniel wanting his mother at which hint the younger woman smiled and excused herself so that the older couple were left together.  Ben settled himself down on the grass beside Bridie, surprised yet again at the fact that it seemed a lot further down this time than last. He sighed and then looked at Bridie thoughtfully “How’s  Paul?”

 

She pondered for a while as though she wanted to give the honest answer but was finding it difficult to get the right words.  Finally she nodded “Very tired, Ben.   He would have come today but I told him to stay home and rest.  He has strict orders not to answer the door to any callers or patients and to stay put.  I’m worried about him.”

 

“As a nurse or as a wife?”

 

“Both.”  she replied and drank a little of the cordial that Olivia had brought over to her. “These past few months have been very hard on them all.  Much harder than we’ve known it for a long time.  Dr Schofield was going to leave us, you know,  he had applied for work in the hospital at Columbus, Ohio but had to turn it down because we just can’t get the doctors here to help out.”

 

“What about John,  Paul’s nephew?  Would he not come back if he realised how bad things were in town?”

 

“No,  Paul did write to him and tell him,  he didn’t ask him to come back that would have been unfair to have done so, after all John has a good  career ahead of him now.  As it is, John’s reply was quite definite, he and Barbara are happy where they are,  his work is everything he had hoped for  and the children are well settled in schools,  the baby thriving. “

 

“So what’s  happened to create all this pressure of work, Bridie? Is it just Paul’s practice that is experiencing this?  Is there a new epidemic that we haven’t yet heard about here on the Ponderosa?”

 

She smiled slowly and shook her head before turning to look at him, the kindly dark eyes and anxious look of a generous and caring man,  but she shook her head again and said that there was no epidemic just that the population had out grown the supply of doctors,  and also there was an increase in the number of accidents at some of the mining companies.

 

“Surely they are the responsibility of the Mining Corporation?  Haven’t they arranged for their own medical teams to be available at the camps?”

 

“You would have thought so, wouldn’t you?  But a number of them take short cuts with the medical staff,  and from what we can see of the patients with the mines themselves.  There are more deaths now than there were five years ago for instance, and many due to negligence on the part of the owners.  Equipment isn’t brought up to date, timbers aren’t checked over and renewed…   and of course, with the deaths there are more widows, with the injuries there are more women and children without incomes.  It puts a lot of stress on our little clinic in town,  all the work we do barely scratches the surface.”  she paused for breath and took another sip of the cordial.

 

“I’m sorry that my girls haven’t been able to help as they did originally, Bridie…but …”

 

“They have responsibilities of their own, Ben.  It’s a long way into town,  and Mary Ann hasn’t the strongest  constitution, has she?  But it is a worry,  Mrs Hawkins has been wonderful but she is now getting frail with age and is often too weary to help.  I do what I can but I also need to help Paul…   I worry about him, Ben. He isn’t getting any younger.” her voice drifted into a sigh and she turned her head to look into the distance as though the view would be better seen through the unshed tears in her eyes.

 

Ben swallowed a lump in his throat and looked down at the grass upon which he sat, he pulled a few blades up between his fingers and twirled them around until he threw them into the air and watched them fall.  He could remember when Paul Martin had moved into town, claiming to be a bachelor … dedicating his life to the people of Washoe.   It had been years before they had found out he was, in fact, a widower and that his wife and child had died long ago,  upon which misery he had built his house of faith that he could cure all the ills under the sun out west… and the first child he had delivered safely into the world had been Little Joseph Francis Cartwright.

 

“How is Roy?” he asked quietly, after all, to think of Paul Martin led one immediately to consider Roy Coffee who had served as sheriff in Virginia City for so long.

 

Bridie gave herself a mental shake and turned to Ben with a smile “He’s improving in health, Ben.   He can walk with the aid of a staff,  not too far, but he is getting stronger.”

 

“I’m glad to hear it.  Has he recovered from the loss of his sister?” Ben quirked a dark eyebrow.  It fascinated Bridie that a man with such white hair could have such black brows, and it made her smile before the smile widened in considering his question.

 

“Rachel?  I don’t think Roy considers that his sister leaving Virginia City as any loss.  Of course we do miss her at the clinic, she was quite an efficient  woman, although inclined to annoy and irritate some of the other ladies.  No, Roy seems happy enough, he has a house keeper now, a lady who  comes for a few hours each day and cooks and cleans for him.  She is taking very good care of him which is obvious  by the  improvement he has made in  his health.” she paused “He misses you, Ben.  You haven’t been in town for some time now.”

 

“I know, and it seems that I’ve been neglecting a lot of things that are going on there.  Fact is, Bridie, I’ve been so busy here … “ he frowned and wondered if she would realise it was just an excuse, glanced up at her and was relieved to see that she was watching Adam and Olivia.

 

“It’s good to have your son home again, isn’t it?” she said quietly

 

“Yes, and this time not on leave.  No fear of him being called away. it’s a relief for all concerned.” he smiled now, eyes softening as he watched Adam pass the infant, Nathaniel to his wife and lean in for a kiss as he did so.

 

“So much changes over time, doesn’t it?” Bridie smiled having also seen that tender moment between the younger couple, “I never thought I’d see Olivia so happy. She was suffering so much misery in that big house back in ’Frisco, it made my heart bleed for her… and little Reuben, I thought for sure he was going to turn out just like his Uncle, and not for the better believe me.  It makes me so – well – relieved in one sense but contented as well when I see her with Adam. He’s a good man.”

 

To that comment Ben could only nod and look again at his son and Olvia before returning to listen to Bridie as she continued to speak  “I have to say that I am truly grateful for the life I have now,  even though it is so busy that it makes my head spin at times.  I’ve been so blessed by being married to Paul, I never thought I would have such pleasure again in my life.”

 

“I doubt if Paul had ever thought it so either.” Ben grinned and this time plucked a daisy from the grass,  “You’ve made him a very happy man, Bridie.”

 

She smiled down at him, grateful for the compliment unable to put into words just how happy she was with such a dear man.  “I have to take good care of  him, Ben.  He’s too precious to lose.”

 

“How are Jimmy Chang and Su Ling?  They’re still working with Paul and Schofield, aren’t they?”

 

“Oh yes, but Su Ling is expecting her second child now, and not as busy as she had been. They work mainly with the Chinese patients …” she paused and shook her head “The Mining companies employ a lot of Chinese, it’s cheap labour you see?  As a result they don’t take out the necessary insurances on them, so save money there.  And they don’t seem to care that if they get injured the results are the same as any other man .. Loss of income,  inability to feed and care for the family, perhaps permanent injury so no more work.  It’s a miserable existence for them, Ben.”

 

“Doesn’t anyone try to improve things for them?”  Ben’s brow creased in deep furrows,  “I know Rankin is a good employer, and …”

 

“There’s no problem with Rankin, so far as I know.  It’s the other mines…” she sighed and then forced a smile “Hester is looking rather anxiously over at us, I think it best we changed the subject to one a little happier.”

 

Ben smiled and nodded agreement, but when he tried to think of something to say, his mind went blank.  It was Bridie who saved the moment by asking about the house, and when it would be rebuilt, had they plans for it, was it going to change?

 

Hester relaxed back and smiled over at Olivia, with a little nod of the head letting the other woman know that Ben and Bridie were alright.  Joe and Mary Ann had gone for a stroll, arm in arm with Daniel trotting close behind them with one hand grasping firm hold of his father’s trouser leg.  Hoss  watched them and leaned back against the tree trunk, a smile on his face along with a dreamy expression “Shucks, don’t seem five minutes ago when them two were gitting themselves hitched.”

 

“Doesn’t seem more than ten minutes ago that you and I were getting hitched…” Hester laughed as she passed her husband a plate with a slab of fruit cake on it.

 

Hoss smiled and winked.  It seemed to him that he had been married to Hester all of his life, as though when he had been single he had been waiting for her to join him in life.  They were one complete whole,  ten minutes or ten life times and it still wouldn’t have summed up the truth that Hester was his whole world.

 

The children were playing tag … Hannah and Sofia in their gingham dresses and white pinafores, close in age but so different in colouring and size.  They ran and laughed as Reuben and Hope chased after them.  Hope with her thin legs going every which way and Reuben grabbing hold of one girl after the other and cheering as he did so.

 

Adam leaned back against the grass bank and folded his arms behind his head.  This really was a perfect day, he mused.   If he closed his eyes the sound of the children’s laughter and cries were like the caws and cries of the sea birds as the ship edged out of harbour, the swish of the grass in the breeze like the sound of a soft wind drifting through the sails of his ship.  He felt Olivia’s hand touch his lips, and slowly opened his eyes to look up into her face,  she smiled “Are you alright, Adam?”

 

“More than alright,” he whispered back and groped for her hand, found it and kissed her fingers. “It’s been a good day, hasn’t it?”

 

“Couldn’t have wished for better … and fancy Ann having her baby already?  I was sorry they couldn’t have joined us, but glad everything was alright for them.”

 

He murmured agreement,  babies and such didn’t particularly matter much to him as far as conversation went,  he closed his eyes again and heard her say something about Paul and how Bridie seemed worried about something in town.

 

He raised himself on one elbow and glanced over to where Ben and Bridie were seated together, once again in deep conversation.  He frowned slightly and after a moment lowered himself back onto the grass “I’m sure Pa will tell us what it is when we get home later.”

 

“It makes me feel guilty, I haven’t been into town for some time…” she murmured.

 

“That’s  because you’ve been looking after me.” he smiled vaguely, his eyes still closed, “The sailor home from the sea and all that sort of thing…”

 

“All that sort of thing indeed.” she laughed and leaned over to kiss him.

 

Excited voices hovered close by “Pa. Pa.”  it was Reuben,  Adam could sense his nearness from the sudden darkness, a shadow, that separated him from Olivia, he opened his eyes “Yes, son?”

 

“It’s Nathaniel…” Reuben cried and pointed in the direction of the lake to which one determined baby was crawling as fast as he possibly could before any adult could snatch him from exploring the fascinating gleaming gushing stream.

 

The resulting chaos would probably stand out as the high light of the day as JOe and Hoss from opposite ends of the picnic area both realised they were closer to the errant infant than Adam who was hastily scrambling to his feet. Both men ran towards the baby calling his name aloud so that Nathaniel paused to glance over his shoulder and watch as his uncles ran into each other, clashed with a thud that sent Joe falling backwards into the grass and Hoss staggering slightly at the knees.

 

This so amused the baby that he gave way to those endearing chuckles only a baby can give and while so happily watching his uncles organising themselves to continue the chase his father swooped him up and bore him to his mother, giving his brothers a shake of the head as he passed them.

 

“Livvy, I do think this child has sea water in his veins..”  Adam declared almost with glee, “He just can’t seem to stay clear of the water, can he?”

 

Olivia took safe delivery of the child who was wriggling frantically in order to achieve his goal. She didn’t voice her opinion on her husband’s comment which was, no doubt, the safest option for all concerned.

 

Chapter 5

 

As so often happens after a pleasantly warm day in the fall, the evenings turn chill and fires need to be lit to warm the big draughty rooms.   Children were sent off to their beds and kissed and prayed over, before parents made their way down to take their seats by the fire.

 

Luke and Marcy had been the first to leave the gathering, there had been promises made by Marcy that were she to be needed she would be there to give her assistance at any time.  Hugs and kisses were exchanged before she settled in the buggy beside Luke and they made their way back to the Double D, the furthest distance for any of them to go.  They waved their farewells as the wagon wheels whispered through the grasses and they finally faded from view.

 

Bridie was next to go, brushing crumbs from her skirts and then kissing the ladies and hugging the men, although she did give Ben a peck on the cheek as a thank you for his patience in listening to her earlier.  She assured them that she would pass on their love and congratulations to Candy and Ann,  and that they would be there to visit soon.  By the time her buggy had turned the corner to take her to the track towards town Hester and Olivia were already gathering up the picnic blankets, while the men gathered  up the children which really meant kicking about a ball with the older ones and shouting a lot when anyone of them fell over…usually Joe.

 

It had been such a good day, a satisfying family all together kind of day.  Ben, Adam and Olivia turned off first to their home and waved as Joe and Mary Ann, with Daniel asleep in Mary Ann’s arms, passed them by, followed by Hoss and Hester and the two girls in their wagon.  The track to the old ranch house had to be ignored as the two vehicles made their way to ‘Joe’s ‘.

 

As Olivia turned up the flame in the lamp she smiled over at Cheng Ho Lee who brought in some coffee fixings and set the tray down on the little low table close to her chair.  Then she sat down  with her work basket at her feet and began to sort out what was the most necessary item to be darned.

 

Ben took his seat and stretched out his legs, then sat upright to fumble around for his pipe, tobacco and matches, while Adam took his chair opposite his wife and sat down to observe the flames, his wife, and then his father … “You and Bridie were in deep conversation for a while this afternoon, Pa.  Anything wrong?”

 

“Should there be?” Ben asked as he struck a match and concentrated on attending to his pipe.

 

“Hopefully not,” Adam sighed and folded his arms behind his head, observed his wife and smiled at her, then winked at her as she returned his smile with one of her own.

 

“She’s worried about Paul.” Ben flicked out the flame on the match and tossed it into the fire.  “He’s got too heavy a work load.”

 

“Paul’s always had a heavy work load, he’s that kind of doctor… but surely Schofield and Jimmy pull their weight?”

 

“They do, in fact Schofield was going to leave but due to the amount of work here decided he was more needed in Virginia City. “  Ben puffed on his pipe and narrowed his eyes before mentioning to Olivia that a cup of coffee would be good,  which brought a smile from her as she put down her darning and attended to making them all some thing hot to drink.

 

“I don’t understand the problem,  there are hospitals in town… and other practises other than Paul’s … “ Adam paused and smiled at his wife as she handed him his cup,  and then glanced over at his father.  He wondered if the old pirate was enjoying stringing this conversation out for as long as possible,  another one of his ways of making the point that things had changed while he, Adam, had been away on his sea faring jaunts.

 

Ben puffed at his pipe, then set it down  to take his coffee from Olivia, he sipped it “You have to remember that  Virginia City and Gold Hill is a highly urbanized industrial area, not the ramshackle place it was a few decades ago…”  he sipped more coffee and concentrated on gathering his facts, gleaned from a newspaper account some time back.  “The population combined together comes to about 25,ooo  … that is one half of the whole number of voters in the State of Nevada*.” he glanced over at Adam who nodded and looked impressed, as Ben had hoped he would be,  of course. He cleared his throat “You know, that when we had that fire in ’75 we were left with nearly 10,000 homeless *…”

 

“But they were rehoused, better housed, afterwards.” Adam said quickly just in case his father thought he wasn’t paying attention.

 

“That’s right, thanks to the economy which was,  and still is booming.    That fire swept through the city, cost ten million dollars worth of damage to property, including all the mining works on the surface, logs, machinery*  suffice to say the Ponderosa did quite well in the rebuilding that took place.  On top of which there was the system of reservoirs and hydrants set up, cost over $2,000,000 … “

 

Adam sighed, hid a yawn, and emptied his cup “ know all that, Pa, but what has it to do with Bridie and Paul?”

 

“Because all this re-building, this progress and modernisation caused more people to swarm here, still wanting to make their bonanza … while there’s still gold and silver to be found.”  Ben frowned, “More people, more mines  …”

 

“And so?” Adam prompted as he got to his feet to go to the table and pour out more coffee.  He sat back down and looked over at Ben who was puffing at his pipe thoughtfully

 

“Well, some legislation was put through to make sure that the bigger mining corporations like the Gould and Curry outfit for example, took out insurance to protect their workers, even the provision of a medical staff.”

 

“Mmm,  I see.” Adam bowed his head and sipped some coffee, “Not all of them are applying the legislation, is that it?”

 

“That’s it… some of the mines were repaired but not to an acceptable standard, some were jerry built back into workable condition.”

 

“You know this as a fact?”

 

“I do.”  Ben frowned, “You haven’t been down any mines recently have you, son?”

 

Adam gave a slight grimace, a downturn of the mouth and shook his head “Nope.”

 

“Well,  our mines are kept to a proper standard and we care for our own, but they’re small fry compared to some of the bigger mining corporations.  Some want to make sure they get every ounce of gold out of the earth before it all disappears.”

 

“And is that likely, Pa?” Olivia asked, her needle poised in mid-air as she looked over at him with a slight concern on her face.

 

“Oh yes, long term forecasts indicate that by the ‘90’s the mines will stop yielding as much. “

 

Adam nodded and sighed, looked up at the ceiling and yawned, “Yes, but Paul ..?”

 

“The hospitals and medical practises in town are inadequate,  there are just not enough doctors available in the whole of the city to handle the demand put upon them.   Fact is, some mines as a result of their side stepping the legislation are causing more injuries, more deaths … increasing the work load on doctors like Paul,  and the burden of care upon the shoulders of the community as more widows and their families require help.”

 

“Has there been a real bad increase in those numbers, Pa?  Is that what is worrying Bridie?”

 

“Apparently it’s worrying them all. Paul even wrote to young John and hinted at help being needed here, but John is too well settled in Albany, comfortable I should think.”

 

The implied criticism was obvious but neither Adam or Olivia commented on it, every man had a right to live according to their consciences after all.  They both accepted that in Albany John’s qualities as a doctor were every bit as valued and necessary as Paul’s were in Virginia City.  Ben picked up his pipe and began puffing it back to life again, “Paul should have retired by now.”

 

Adam sighed and said nothing to that comment,  after all, Paul Martin was only five years older than Ben.  His thoughts moved on to Roy Coffee , who had actually managed to retire and nearly got himself killed as a result “Did Bridie mention Roy at all?”

 

“Yes, he’s improving well, getting about …” Ben’s voice drifted as he stared into the flames of the fire, and he frowned “Who would have thought it …” he paused and then looked over at Adam “Remember Liam McGarthy?”

 

“Yes,  he owned the .. Let me think … the Bucksburn Mining Company … and had his finger in several others if I recall rightly.”

 

“You do.” Ben nodded,  a smoke ring floated ceiling wards

 

“But he was hanged for the murder of Caleb Shannon, wasn’t he?”

 

“He was.”

 

“Then what has he to do with anything?”

 

“His brother, Patrick McGarthy came and took over the management of the Bucksburn Mining Company.  He’s kept a low profile, I’ll give him that, but apparently it’s  his business that is creating the most difficulties… he hires cheap labour, mostly Chinese … there have been several minor cave ins which have caused some deaths, some injuries… and widows and orphans as a result.”

 

“Who else is involved?”

 

“Oh the usual hanger ons with the McGarthy’s, they’re all hand in glove… Jackson of the Diamond Jack Mining Co;  Isaac Henderson – his son took over the Forked Pine mine, you know, Jacob, a shyster if ever there was one.”

 

“What about Richardson ..he ran the Pyramid Lake Mine, didn’t he?”

 

“Yes, still does, since that time with Shannon, and when they tried to ruin us here on the Ponderosa Richardson has kept things well above board.  He had a contract for  some of our pine to build up the Pyramid.”  he sighed and stood up, stretched, and shrugged “I guess there isn’t really much we can do to help, is there?”

 

“Not really,  send Reuben and Nathaniel to medical school I suppose, but the town would have to wait for them to mature before they were any help.” Adam grinned and Ben shook his head but without a smile on his face, his dark eyes were sombre.

 

“I’ve tried to avoid any involvement with McGarthy and his friends since the last time,  it’s just a worry at the back of one’s mind, you know?”

 

Adam nodded and watched as his father tapped out the smouldering tobacco into the fire,  put out his pipe on the rack and then bade them good night. He kissed Olivia on the head and she kissed him on the cheek and then he turned his way to the stairs, paused “When does Henry start on the house?”

 

“I’ll go into town tomorrow and arrange that, Pa.”

 

“Good.”

 

On that note Ben made  his way  upstairs to his room.  For a while Olivia said nothing but concentrated on her darning, she glanced over at her husband who was silent and staring into the flames “What will you do?”

 

“About what?”  Adam replied without moving his eyes from the fire

 

“Oh about your Pa, and these mining people.”

 

Adam shrugged “I don’t think it’s our problem.  As Pa said, I’ve not been in a mine for a long time…” he heaved a sigh and shook his head as though to shake away that ghost from his past “and I sold all my shares and dealings in any mines I had some years back.”

 

“To buy off the mortgage on the Ponderosa?”

 

He nodded,  then stroked his chin “It would be a great loss to the town if Paul ..well, if anything happened to Paul.”

 

She said nothing to that but watched as he rose to his feet and settled the fire down for the night, smiled over at her …

 

Chapter 6

 

Shadows shifted over the ceiling of the bedroom in which Hoss and Hester Cartwright were sleeping, or rather, were supposed to be sleeping.  Hoss lay with his arms folded beneath his head staring  up at the shadows and Hester was quiet as she tried to get to sleep beside him.  The silence became uncomfortable so that Hoss , after a bit of tugging at the bed covers, rolled onto his side and whispered “Hester?” so loudly in his beloved’s ear that if she had been asleep she certainly wouldn’t have been after his summons.

 

She sighed and turned onto her back “What’s the matter?”

 

“Are you awake?”

 

“Of course I’m awake, I wouldn’t have answered you if I’d still been asleep.” she shivered,  and pulled some of the bed covers back over her shoulders “What’s wrong?”

 

“Don’t’cha ever git to wishing you were back home?”

 

“You mean … at the old house?”

 

“Yeah, dang it, yeah, the old house.”

 

She sighed again, longer this time and turned her face to him,  “You miss it, don’t you?”

 

“I sure do.  I had an almighty strong urge to drive down that track this afternoon after the picnic, jest seemed it weren’t right to be going past home like we did…”

 

“Well, just for now it isn’t home.  We have to be grateful for what we have, for being here with Joe and Mary Ann.”

 

“Yeah, I know thet, but -”

 

“But?”

 

“Wal,  it ain’t home, is it?”

 

She didn’t reply, what was the point after all?  She raised a hand and stroked his cheek, rough stubble touched her fingers but he kissed them as they drifted past his mouth. “I heard Adam telling Joe that he was going to organise something with Henry tomorrow. “

 

“You reckon Joe is as fed up with us being here as we are …” Hoss whispered with a slight touch of shame in the words.

 

“I don’t think Joe is fed up with us,  Hoss.  I think your Pa wants to  be back home again,  like you, he’s home sick.”

 

“Is that what it is?”

 

“Yes, of course it is.  Your Pa loved that house, all that work he put into it…”

 

“Yeah, he sure did. I remember how he spent hours on his hands and knees making sure that floor in the big room was as smooth as silk.  Don’t suppose Henry would even think of doing that ..” he paused a second, and then whispered “It’s not just that though, honey.  My Pa … and me …we got memories to that house, all the love, the fun we had, and the sadnesses … it all belongs to that house.”

 

Hester sighed and moved to rest her head upon his shoulder,  “I know, I understand all that, darling. “  she smiled “I suppose  we can’t expect  your Pa to be getting down on his hands and knees smoothing out the planks on the floor this time though, not at his age.”

 

“Shucks,  sure hate admitting the fact that Pa is getting old.” he sighed heavily and shook his head, “Do you reckon he’s – well – showing his age?”

 

She took a while to answer, not because she couldn’t find the right words but because she wanted to  think about Ben, imagine his face and bearing then she said “I think he’s a very handsome man, Hoss.   He looks a good deal younger than his age, whatever it happens to be.”

 

Hoss  nodded, she could feel the movement of the pillow close to her own head and smiled slowly.  It was true, after all.  Compared to some men of the same age, Ben was remarkably handsome and bore himself well, it was only those nearest and dearest who noticed the slowing down,  the complaints of aching limbs and possible lumbago.

 

For a few moments they were quiet, Hoss began to settle himself back to sleep when Hester whispered “Hoss?”

 

“What is it?” came the prompt reply, and Hoss turned his face to look into the shadows on the pillow that played over her features.

 

“Hoss, I was thinking…”

 

“About Pa?”

 

“No, not him..”

 

“About the house?”

 

“No, no, not about that …I was thinking about our little girl, our Hope.”

 

Hoss felt something tingle down his spine, he swallowed a lump in his throat “Why?  I mean, what about her?”

 

“I was watching the children today as they ran around … “ she paused and scrunched up her eyes, perhaps it would be better if she said nothing but now he nudged her so she had to carry on, she gathered up the words “I think there’s something wrong with her.”

 

Hoss said nothing , perhaps for too long because her voice had a hint of sharpness to it when she called his name,  he cleared his throat “What makes you say that, sweetheart?”

 

“She’s so small compared to the other children.  She looks …”  she heaved in a breath and slowly whispered “she looks so frail.”

 

“No, she don’t.” Hoss replied immediately, “She’s fine.  Shucks, Hester, she’s as pretty as all gone out.”

 

Hester smiled slowly and blinked her eyes to stop tears forming, “Yes, she is pretty.”

 

“Look, you get those notions out of your head, you hear?  Ain’t nothing wrong with our little girl.”

 

“But she doesn’t eat hearty, like the other children. Even little Nathaniel eats more than her, I noticed at the picnic today, she just picked at her food and when she was running around she couldn’t keep up with them, and she’s so slightly built,  Daniel looks so big compared to her and he’s only  about five months older.”

 

Hoss mentally ticked things off the list she had compiled and then squeezed her hand, “Look, you know how Mary Ann’s always saying Daniel should have been our boy the way he loves his food so much, ain’t that right?”  he could feel her nodding and then concentrated on what else to say “And when Joe was a sprout like Hope, folk used to say ‘He ain’t nothing like old Hoss, is he?’  because he was so small and skinny.  Its just that she takes after her Uncle Joe, is all.   You don’t need to fret so,  honey bunch,  our little girl is just fine.”

 

“Do you think so?” she whispered and grabbed at one of his hands.

 

“I know so.”  he smiled slowly “Shucks, her eyes are as blue as periwinkles.”

 

“Have you ever seen a periwinkle?” she whispered and nestled into his body the way he liked her to.

 

“No, but I remember reading it once about a girl with blue eyes.  Won’t be long, Hester, before we’ll be gitting men knocking on our door coming a-courting her..and our Hannah.”

 

She didn’t answer and for a moment his heart faltered, surely she hadn’t found something wrong with Hope, that would just about totally unman him if she had … but her soft breathing indicated that she had finally fallen asleep,  having emptied her mind of her worries to her husband who now lay there staring up at the shadows and wondering what it was she had seen that caused her so much anxiety about their little girl.

……………

 

In their room Joe and Mary Ann lay with arms entwined,  their foreheads touching and soft breath mingling.   They had whispered about the day, about the food, about other sundry things and then slipped into a tender love making until they had fallen to sleep, one of his hands in the small of her back, while one of hers lay gently upon his chest.

 

Outside the chill of the night spread over the land, and when dawn rose it was to find the sun had fled behind clouds which was shedding gentle rain upon the Ponderosa.

 

Chapter 7

 

Dan De Quille,* Editor of the Territorial Enterprise, struck a match and lit his cigar, cupping his hands around the flame as he did so.   Having succeeded in this task he strolled over to the door of his printing shop and leaned against the frame in order to survey the town and all that was taking place at that time in the morning.

 

He inhaled the rich tobacco and then slowly let the smoke drift from his nostrils as he watched Amanda Ridley step out of the door of her latest acquisition and begin to inspect the window display.  Dan smiled slowly and remembered how not so long ago Miss Ridley was in a desperate situation emotionally and financially but after calling upon the services of Ben and Adam Cartwright had suddenly found herself a millionairess.  Rumour had it that the Cartwrights had located an old document that had belonged to Miss Ridleys’ father , bestowing  upon her shares in a mine that had suddenly revealed a bonanza.  It had seemed an irony really as had she discovered it earlier  it would have been squandered and gambled away like everything else that she had owned.

 

He tapped ash onto the ground and frowned as he acknowledged the fact that she had kept hold of the livery stables even though she had been on the brink of losing them.  Now here she was the proud owner of a thriving Ladies Dress establishment, a flourishing General Store and the livery stable.  Dan glanced to the left to view the General Store and nodded to himself…  it had started out , so he had been told,  under the ownership of  a William Cass and some incident that involved Adam Cartwright and some gunslinger had seen him sell it off to  a man called Campbell, not that he had lasted long, seeing how he got himself shot.

 

De Quille frowned and puffed on the cigar,  there had been talk that the Cartwrights had been involved in that affair as well.   Was it before Roy Coffee became sheriff?  It was certainly before he, himself, had arrived in town because it was in the hands of a man called Hammond then and of course, as everyone found out recently, his son, Jack,  had turned out to be rather a miserable man.  That was, really, how Amanda had managed to get her hands on the store.  If ever there was proof of the old saying ’Revenge is sweet’ Amanda was the epitome of it …yes, Dan nodded, it didn’t pay to get on the wrong side of Miss Ridley.

 

He watched as she bustled about her business and when she glanced over her shoulder and noticed him he gave her a bow,  and a smile.   Well, she was a prettier sight to look at than the previous owners Mr and Mrs Downing, and their precocious brat of a son.  He sucked at his teeth and frowned, funny how the Cartwrights had been involved in that business as well.

 

He was about to re-enter his premises when he noticed four horsemen walking their horses down C Street.    With an inward smile he mused upon the irony that when one thought about someone,  they were sure to appear and lo, here were the four  Cartwrights riding into town as large as life.  He noticed that a four seater buggy was  following along behind, and as he watched Adam Cartwright slowed  his horse in order to converse with one of the occupants before turning his horse to go in another direction from the others.

 

Interesting!  Dan de Quille would have given his eye teeth to have been able to follow the lone rider.  He followed him with his eyes and noted that he took the route towards the more industrialised part of town.  Having satisfied himself on that score he now resumed his observations of the women in the buggy and the three other Cartwrights.

 

Once again he tapped ash from the cigar,  heedless of the little pile gathering at his feet.   He watched as Ben and Joe  rode to the sheriff’s office and dismounted there before pushing open the door and disappearing into the dark interior.  Hoss rode alongside the buggy,  almost close enough to reach out and put a hand on his wife’s arm had he a wish to do so.

 

Now, what would they be doing in town  this particular morning, Daniel mused.  He narrowed his eyes to see more clearly through the smoke  all his puffing had created from the cigar.  Oh of course,  the sheriff’s wife had given birth to a son the previous day and the family were coming to visit.  He nodded, of course, strictly speaking there was only one member of the Cartwrights who could claim a relationship with Mrs Canady and that was Mrs Hester Cartwright.   He tossed the half smoked half chewed cigar into the dust and folded his arms across his chest to watch.

 

Hester Cartwright intrigued him and had done ever since he had first met her. She called herself Hester Verlaine then, although strictly speaking she was as much a Buchanan as Mrs Ann Canady.  Being a good newspaper investigator Daniel had spent little time thinking about the why’s and wherefore’s and with no respect for the persons’ individual privacy decided to unravel the mystery, if only to satisfy himself.

 

It hadn’t been so difficult really, the Buchanan’s were proud and rich, as one would expect from founders of the largest Banking organisation in New York.  They  supported Lincoln and the North during the war between States and Hester had found herself  married to a man who had supported ’the other side’.   But even that didn’t fully explain about Hester’s choice of surname when she had arrived in town,   because Mark James was not surnamed Verlaine, he was Mark James Porter and a newspaper journalist to boot.   Perhaps the main reason for the change in name had been due to the treatment she had received from the Buchanans when she had turned to them for help, a widow,  and impoverished.  A woman who was an embarrassment to the influential Banking dynasty, just as her cousin Ann had been by marrying one William Canady, better known as to them all by his soubriquet of Candy.

 

No wonder she had chosen to call herself by her grandfather’s name when she had got free from New York and the Buchanan clutches,  well, De Quille nodded to himself, she had done well, for  she was  now married to Hoss Cartwright  and was part of a different kind of dynasty altogether.

 

He was about to leave his chosen observation post when he noticed that Olivia Cartwright was walking in the opposite direction to Hester and Mary Ann, each of them bearing a small child in her arms.  He watched as Olivia, with the infant Nathaniel, made her way to the Womans Care Hospice.  That, Daniel told himself, made sense, Olivia had strong ties with the woman who had married Paul Martin.  No doubt gone to  offer her services for the day.

 

As expected Hester had now entered the home of Ann Canady followed by  Mary Ann.  As he returned to his desk and sat down  Daniel thought a little more about Mary Ann Cartwright and realised that her story had been the most uncomplicated one of the three of them.  A sweet good natured woman who had had the good sense and fortune to meet Joseph Cartwright when he was at his most vulnerable  and married him.  All well and good…  he pulled out a drawer from his desk and took out a note book.

 

Now, Mrs Olivia Cartwright .. That had been interesting,  a woman who had actually been married into the von Richter family of San Francisco.  Dan felt that the ’Von’ was hardly well deserved by the wretched man who had founded his very prosperous  business on lies,  corruption and brutality.  Olivia,  maiden name of Dent, had married Robert Phillips, grandson of the ’Von’ Richter who had chosen to break free from the family and been a model citizen.   Of course,  there had been that fascinating story of how, during her childhood,  she, her mother and brothers had been snatched from home by Bannock Indians…   oddly enough the Cartwrights, or rather, Ben Cartwright, had been part of the adventure which rescued them, not that that had done him any favours with old Ephraim Dent, it hadn’t.

 

As Daniel de Quille flicked through the pages of his note book and cast his eyes over the scribblings there he wondered if anyone would ever believe such a story that he could have written ..  The impact of one family upon so many; the entanglements of hierarchies, the heart aches involved and the strength of character in two women who had broken free, no, three women, he didn’t want to forget how Ann Buchanan had gone against the formidable social climate of her day to search for, and find, her husband.    He smiled as he looked over his notes, gleaned from  months of personal research on his part…  Ann Buchanan had been married to Candy by a local judge,  while Candy had still been serving in the army and recently returned from a dangerous mission  Her father had immediately separated them, forced an annulment,

and got her wedded to another before the ink was dry on the annulment papers.  Not that the marriage had lasted long as Captain Harris had been killed while on duty…such was the fate of a military man when there was a war on.    Upon finding herself a widow Ann  had promptly  shaken off her family ties and gone in search of her true love .. And thankfully, found him.

 

In a way it was no surprise that Ann had been so determined to find her true love, they  had known each other from childhood when their lives had brought them together due to various adversities on Candy’s side.   Mrs Ann Harris, as she was then titled, shook off her father’s objections, reminded him that she was now a woman,  and a widow,  and could make her own decisions.

 

 

He closed  the book slowly and leaned back in  his chair… perhaps one day it could all be revealed, along with the adventures of a seaman who had served his President well, gained several medals and commendations, and lost a lot of blood and skin along the way.

 

Life, Daniel de Quille sighed, life was out there under his very eyes and within his grasp.  He, just a bystander, ready to pick up the threads and weave them into tales of mystery and adventure.  He searched his pockets for another cigar and his matches, and stared thoughtfully out of the far window as the people who populated the town,  crowded into his mind.   What, he wondered, would happen next?

……………

 

Adam Cartwright dismounted outside Henrys workshop and made his way inside where the smell of wood shavings and various different types of wood immediately greeted him.  He half closed his eyes to savour the smell before making his way towards the man now approaching him.

 

“Morning,  Adam.”

 

“Henry”

 

“Come to see if I’ve done any work yet?” Henry grinned and glanced over his shoulder where several men in his employ were carefully sanding down  steps to a stair case that was obviously under construction.

 

“Came to confirm when  you can start on the house, Henry. Pa’s fairly chomping on the bit to get moved back in.”

 

“I can imagine.  He was nosing around the other day when we were measuring up for the windows.  As you can see -” he gestured towards the stairs “we’ve got that almost finished now.  All we needed was the go ahead from you.   Is the wood ready for us?”

 

“Everything’s ready for you.  I sent instructions to McManus to get the wood to the Ponderosa by today at the latest.”  he ran his hand over the smooth edge of some  wood carvings, he could tell the wood was mahogany and was being prepared for some furniture.  The carvings, of leaves and rose petals, was exquisite.  He had to admit that Henry employed some extremely skilled men.

 

“I’ve a new man,  he’s Polish, good with his hands…” Henry said noticing the interest with a smile, “You like it?  It’ll be expensive.”

 

“Perhaps.  I want the house finished first.”

 

“We can start tomorrow, first thing…” Henry extracted a pencil from behind his ear where it was usually located, and jotted down some notes on a piece of paper, “I’ll have a full crew and …”

 

The crash of a door opening  and falling back on itself interrupted the conversation and both men  turned round to observe the cause of it.   Henry grunted beneath his breath, obviously the newcomer was far from welcome and Adam noted how the man steeled himself for the dialogue to come.

 

The newcomer was a big man with a florid complexion that seemed to fit well with the sandy coloured hair and moustaches.  His eyes were light blue and as hard as icicle chips.  He glanced at Adam as though the man was a mere insect there to be crushed beneath his boot,  and then he looked at Henry.

 

“You got my order ready yet?”

 

“No, Mr McGarthy,  I haven’t.  Fact is…”

 

“What do you mean ?”  the voice was hard, expressionless and cold, “How come my order isn’t ready?”

 

“There’s quite a lot to do,  Mr McGarthy, and as it happens I have other orders to fill before yours can be considered.  If you could but wait…”

 

“Wait?  I’ve waited,  Mister, for several weeks now.   I aint going to wait any longer, you make sure my order is ready, delivered and fitted by the end of this week or you’ll find yourself looking for new premises.”

 

A finger jabbed into Henry’s chest, not just once,  several times.  Adam glanced from Henry to McGarthy “It may be a good idea…” he began to say when McGarthy turned his pale gaze upon him

 

“It may be a good idea if you minded your own business, Mr whoever you are…” McGarthy scowled, narrowed his eyes “Hu,h, yes, one of the Cartwright boys, ain’t’cha?   You the one just back from the sea?”

 

“I’m Adam Cartwright, yes.” Adam replied slowly, his eyes turning to Henry and then back to McGarthy.  He was surprised at how alike to his brother, Liam McGarthy, this man was, not just in looks either.  He raised his eyebrows “As I was about to say…”

 

“Whatever it is I ain’t interested. “  McGarthy replied and then turned back to Henry “You heard what I said .. I want that order sorted out, forget whatever you have to do for anyone else, including the Cartwrights, and get yourself to my place. Understood?”

 

He didn’t’ wait for  an answer but turned on his heel and stormed out of the building. Henry and Adam watched as the door slammed shut.  The workmen, who had stopped in their work, now resumed their employment.  Adam shook his head “Hot tempered.”

 

“Yep, and foul mouthed and everything else you can think of.” Henry frowned, “But he’ll just have to wait, that’s all.”

 

“Is it for  his mines?  I heard he was having some trouble with them …”

 

“His mines?” Henry gave a hoot of a laugh, “He don’t care a darn about his mines or his miners.   Any old bit of wood will do for joists in them … no, he wants an extension built onto the McGarthy family home.  Seems his brother Liam didn’t build it big enough.”

 

Adam nodded slowly,  his eyes flicked from Henry to the wood in the big barn, the place was stacked with it,  not just Ponderosa Pine, but the best mahogany, rosewood,  maple .. “What did he mean by your having to look for new surroundings?  Does he rent the building out to you?”

 

“No.” Henry shook his head “This is my own place,  I bought the Lot years back and built this workshop on it  with my bare hands.   No, his threat is more … well … it goes deeper than that.”

 

“Do you think that perhaps you should start work on his place, Henry?  Because if I read the man right,  you could find yourself seeing all this go up in smoke.”

 

Henry grinned but not with mirth, he tugged at his ear “Yeah, guess you read the man right, that’s just the kind of thing that would happen too… a little accident like what happened to the Ponderosa recently. “

 

Adam frowned, nodded and placed a hand on the other mans arm “Let’s do a compromise then, try and keep him happy, and my Pa as well… why not send half your men to his place, and half to the Ponderosa.  My brothers and I will roll up our sleeves and get down to work along with you…how about it?  I’d hate you to lose this, Henry.”

 

Henry sighed deeply and glanced around him “I hate to give in to bullies, Adam.  Seems that I may have to this time round.”

 

“Well, as I said, it’s just a compromise … let’s wait and see how it works out, huh?”

 

Henry could do nothing more but nod in agreement, something in his gut told him that it might not work out as he and Adam hoped,  but then he knew McGarthy better than Adam did, and McGarthy didn’t usually settle for compromises.

 

Chapter 8

 

Whenever Ben stepped into the offices of the recently appointed Sheriff he wondered if he had come into the right place.   The difference in  the office reflected the differing personalities of the previous sheriff to the one now installed behind the big desk and beaming a bright smile at his two  visitors.

 

“Come to report on some trouble, Ben? Joe?” Candy asked as he half rose from his seat to extend a hand to the two men.   He sat down again once it had been vigorously shaken by them both and congratulations on the birth of Samuel Canady given.  “What’s wrong?  Nothing serious, is there?”

 

“Who said there was anything wrong?” Joe quipped as he pulled out a chair and sat down,  grinning a little over at his old friend.

 

“Well, the fact that you’re here, and sitting down which indicates that you want to talk about something other than the birth of my new son…and I know the way Ben looks as to whether or not I should be concerned about trouble.”

 

Ben gave a low chuckle and set his hat down upon the desk which he crossed one leg over the other, “Well,  I didn’t know I was so transparent…”  he grinned and the dark eyes twinkled as he caught the glance and smile that passed between the two younger men, “I shall have to  be more careful in future.”

 

Candy’s grin widened “I presume you’d both like some coffee to cut the dust?”

 

Both nodded, another difference about Roy and Candy being sheriff was that now there was decent coffee to be had, whereas Roy’s was like warm mud the drink Candy poured was something to relish.  Neither of them spoke a word as they watched him pour the steaming liquid into the mugs and bring them to the table, he resumed his seat, pulled the cup towards him and raised his eyebrows “So?  What’s happened?”

 

“I don’t know, Candy.  Hopefully nothing too major.  I’m actually just going to voice my concerns about something that came to my ears recently and that I’m hoping you are aware of and dealing with …” he paused and drank some of the coffee before looking up at the sheriff who was watching him carefully.

 

Joe coughed, cleared his throat before speaking “McGarthy … had any trouble with him or  his men recently?”

 

Candy  drew himself up straight and raised his chin, stared at the filing cabinets across the room from him and frowned “McGarthy… Bucksburn Mines …yes, I know him.”

 

“There’s been a lot of accidents there recently, I believe.” Ben murmured and peered over the rim of his mug at the younger man “Some deaths that could have been prevented.”

 

“These things happen, Ben.  Even the best organised mines in Washoe are reporting accidents.. And some deaths…”

 

“Well,” Ben scratched along his jaw slowly “it seems that McGarthy is hiring cheap Chinese labour …”

 

Candy shrugged “Sounds like good economics to me… cheap labour means a higher profit margin. Even you would hire a man who was willing to work for less if you found one.” he smiled slowly, glancing from one to the other of them.  “Wouldn’t you?”

 

Joe released his breath “Well, only if he really was as good a worker as the man demanding a higher rate of pay, and knew the dangers of the job, and really was willing to be employed at a lower rate.   Seems to us that those men are being exploited some.”

 

Candy shook his head, just slightly, and a frown crinkled his brow “Why?  Haven’t you noticed that people prefer to work with people of their own culture?  It doesn’t take long for a few Chinese or – or any  race – to start grouping together.  That’s what people do.”

 

“Alright,  we’ll concede on that point, Candy.” Ben nodded, “the thing is that McGarthy never bothered to restore the mine to the proper safety regulations after the fire of ‘75.   He’s using inferior goods,  badly constructed workings in the mines, and the machinery is faulty …”

 

“You know this for a fact, Ben?  You’ve been down his mines to know for sure?”

 

Ben and Joe looked at one another, it was Joe who answered “No, we haven’t, but we’ve heard about it from others who are concerned.”

 

“It’s hardly fair to accuse a man on the basis of gossip, Joe.   Ben?”

 

Ben nodded “I agree with you, but I don’t doubt the source of this so called gossip, Candy.  There’s been too many accidents and too many fatalities … and another point…” he leaned forward, pushing his now empty mug to one side “McGarthy doesn’t employ his own medical team, he’s relying on the towns doctors to pick up the responsibility of those people who work for him.  Now,  some years back the Mining Association of Virginia City and Gold Hill agreed that the larger mining consortiums would have to employ a medical examiner and several staff to ensure the safety of the workmen.  McGarthy isn’t doing that ..”  he looked at Candy who nodded and pushed aside his own cup,

 

“I know.”  he licked his lips and then gave the slightest of shrugs “I heard these reports a while back and went to see McGarthy.   He showed me around, the timbers he had in his yard were sound, and his men looked healthy and some even looked half way honest.” he allowed a slight grin on his lips but when there was no responding smile from the other men he nodded and continued “He told me that his medical staff were busy, so I was unable to see them … apparently there had been an accident, a slight one, when they were re-inforcing the joists in the main shaft.”

 

“And you accepted his word?” Joe said quietly, looking at Candy with slight bemusement.

 

“I could hardly call him a liar to his face, could I?”  Candy snapped back “Anyway I returned about two weeks later and work was still being carried out inside the mines.  I asked him why there were so many Chinese being employed there and he said that after his brother had been arrested the mine went  into a slump.  He had to make up time and money by employing cheaper labour.  Chinese were willing hard workers, and happy to work for a lower income than the other miners.”  he shrugged “It made sense to me.  McGarthy was amiable, pleasant and I couldn’t find any fault with him.”

 

“His brother…” Joe muttered and Candy nodded “I know all about Liam,  I was there at the time, remember?”

 

“Well,  anyway, Candy, I just wanted to run the matter over with you, as you’re the law enforcement officer here, and the mines come under your jurisdiction.” Ben got up and pushed aside the chair, he picked up his hat “Thanks for the coffee.   Congratulations again…we’re very pleased that all went well for Ann and the baby.”

 

Candy smiled and gave a slightly more curt nod as they got up and left the building. Once they had closed the door behind them he went to the filing cabinets and began to search for the file he had created under the name of “Bucksburn Mines…McGarthy”.  He knew that if Ben were getting involved with this matter then he needed to be 100% accurate about his facts.

………    ……….

 

Samuel Canady was a small baby,  perfect as all babies are if one liked babies, and just a mass of red squalling arms and legs and constantly open mouth if one didn’t … Hester loved him, she sat beside the bed with him in her arms and crooned a little tune so that soon he was quiet and staring up at the blurry face that peered down so close to his own.

 

“He’s adorable, Ann.  Look at that, he is so small..”

 

“He’s just the same size as Rosie when she was born,  slightly smaller than David.” the new mother smiled wearily and leaned back against the pillows.  “Who do you think he looks after?”

 

Hester frowned and looked more closely at this little infant “I don’t know, Ann.  He has Candy’s blue eyes.”

 

Mary Ann stroked the baby’s downy head “And his black hair.”

 

Ann sighed and nodded “Yes, yes, he does.  But I thought he had the Buchanan nose.”

 

Hester laughed “Noses change all the time, poor little boy, he’s only a few hours old and you’re already ill wishing him.  I think his nose is -” she looked more carefully “mmm, yes, a bit like my brother Marlow’s.”

 

“I thought so.” Ann sighed dramatically, “Thankfully Rosie has been spared any of the Buchanan features although David has my father’s chin.”

 

Mary Ann laughed “I thought Hester’s brother Milton to be a very handsome man …when he came the other year he appeared to me quite striking for someone so unwell.”

 

“Milton,” Ann said with dramatic emphasis “was the best looking of our generation. “

 

Mary Ann shook her head “You can’t say that, Ann. Both you and Hester are very attractive women.”

 

They smiled at her, indulgently. Obviously their prejudices against the Buchanans and their genetic pool ran deep.  There was a knock on the door and it edged open very slowly  before Hoss peeked into the room “You all alright in there?  Want anything to drink or eat or anything?” he asked hopefully.

 

Mary Ann laughed “Oh poor Hoss, he’s been out there waiting for so long and here we are chattering away. I’ll go and make something for us to eat…” she smiled at Hester and quietly left the room.

 

Hoss  smiled gratefully at her “Thanks, Mary Ann.  I was gitting a mite hungry to be honest, and the children were beginning to get fretful.”

 

Mary Ann glanced at the clock on the mantle and then at the children gathered now around her skirts, she nodded “I can imagine.  Daniel needed his food about an hour ago, it’s a wonder he didn’t yell the place down.”

 

Hoss and Daniel exchanged looks of sympathy,  Hannah and Hope continued to play in the corner with their dolls,  but looked over at their aunt with anticipation.  It seemed instinct on their part to follow her into the kitchen area leaving Hoss to stand in the middle of the room wondering what to do or say until he thought to visit Ann and see how his wife was handling the visit.

 

When he tip toed into the room Ann was  slowly slipping into a dose while Hester rocked the baby in her arms, she smiled at Hoss “Isn’t he tiny, Hoss?”

 

“Sure is, reminds me of Hannah when she was born… and Spike.. I mean, Nathaniel.” he grinned,  and looked at her “You alright, honey?”

 

“Yes, of course.” she replied in a whisper and her eyes simply devouring the baby.

Perhaps, she thought, this is how all women feel when they know that the joys of giving birth to a baby was over, when the hope of a son, or a daughter, was to be forever confounded.  No more the soft touch of a plump cheek touching one’s own, or the little fingers curling around a finger as they lay in mother’s arms.  No more such blessings and she sighed and then looked up at Hoss, and smiled again, she had a lot to be grateful for, and that she told herself was that!

 

It hurt Hoss as much as it did Hester to know that there would be no more children of their own.  Since Hope’s birth any idea of conceiving another child was gone,  for the sake of Hester’s life Dr Scofield had removed every opportunity of conception from her,  and it was only now as she held this infant in her arms, that Hoss realised just how great a loss that was for his wife.

 

He leaned over and kissed her brow, and folded her fingers around  his own, and then looked at the baby.   Then with a sigh he whispered to her how much he loved her, more than anything, more than life itself, and if her eyes were moist with whatever emotion she was feeling at the time, she said nothing but kissed his hand and held the baby closer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 9

 

The rain had stopped by the time Ben and Joe had left the sheriff’s office.  Without a word spoken they turned their feet towards The Bucket of Blood in order to share their thoughts over a glass of something short and amber coloured.

 

Adam watched his father and brother as they disappeared into the saloon and glanced over his shoulder over at the premises in which he had expected to find them.  With a downturn of the mouth he tied the reins to the hitching rail and paused  for a moment while he considered in which direction he should go …to see Candy and find out how the land lay before facing his family or confront Pa and Joe  without prior knowledge.

 

A voice calling his name diverted his attention from deciding either way and he removed his hat with a nod of the head to Miss Ridley who approached him with a bright smile and a calculating look in her eyes “Adam?  How lovely to see you  back in town.  It’s been a long time.”

 

“It has indeed,” he agreed, and after a rather swift look up and down the street, sighed and turned his attention to her, “You look prosperous, Miss Ridley.”

 

“Prosperous?   Now is that a compliment I wonder?  Perhaps not for a lady …” she arched her brows and pouted pink painted lips.

 

“Prosperous and pretty then?” He smiled,  and was rewarded with a laugh from Amanda that was warm and totally sincere for she placed her hand upon his arm as she did so while her eyes twinkled up at him.

 

“Have you noticed my new venture?” she pointed demurely towards the Ladies Gowns and Bonnets sign over the doorway of her latest enterprise and he nodded,

 

“I had indeed, Amanda.   As I say, you’re – er – prospering very well.”

 

Her smile faded then as she regarded him more seriously,  nodded and turned to look over at the store that had once belonged to  Jack Hammond, “I owe this all to you and your father, you know that, don’t you?”

 

“I think you owe it more to your father and to old O’Brien, after all, if your father hadn’t bought those shares …”

 

“That’s what I mean, Adam, I’d have lost everything,  and Jack Hammond would have prospered while I would probably be serving beer in the Bucket of Blood.”  she groaned melodramatically at the thought which caused him to smile,

 

“I doubt if it would have been that bad, Amanda.”

 

“Oh,  I have no doubts on the matter, Adam.  Jack wouldn’t have allowed me any lee-way.  He’d have demanded every dime and nickel I owed him.”

 

Adam frowned momentarily at the memory of the late departed Jack Hammond and shook his head “Do you think he was really mad? Or was it an act?”

 

For a moment she was silent and stared at the door to the General Store as though she could see the dapper Jack Hammond lounging there, watching them.  She shivered  “I sometimes have nightmares about that time, Adam.  That evening before he – he went and did what he did …he kept saying that it was all because of those flags, and that it should have been candles but his father was wrong in what he did…”

 

“That doesn’t make sense?” Adam frowned, “Any idea what he meant?”

 

She remained staring at the doorway of the premises of which she was now the proud owner, then shook herself as though from a dream, “I think it had something to do with Jimmy Chang, that time back when …when my Pa … and Sally …”  she shivered again, “I don’t know for sure, Adam.   I’ve thought of it many a time but nothing else makes sense…in answer to your question  …yes, I think he was mad, definitely.”

 

Adam nodded and forced a smile, the happy mood had gone that had existed earlier and he felt it a shame to leave her feeling despondent so touched her arm “Look,  you know you  will always have friends on the Ponderosa …”

 

She tossed her head then and looked at him thoughtfully, then smiled as though she had only just remembered how to  “Yes, I’m sure I have.  Thank you for the reminder.”

She cleared her throat now and looked towards her new store “I’ve some lovely things from Paris, France, Adam.  You should bring that pretty wife of yours in to have a look around and treat her to something special.”

 

“I’ll bear it in mind, Amanda.” he nodded,  returned his hat to his head and walked away leaving her to watch him for a moment before she continued on her way to  the store.

 

It was a moment or two before Adam realised that his feet had naturally taken him to the saloon and with a slight shrug of the shoulders he pushed the batwings open and  stepped inside.   Jake Solomon , the current owner of the saloon and  bar tender raised a hand “Morning there, Captain.”

 

Adam winced and nodded, ordered a cup of hot coffee to be brought to the table and then made his way to join Ben and Joe.   Both men looked at him, nodded and asked him if he had seen Candy

 

“No, I got waylaid by Amanda Ridley.”  he nodded his thanks to Solomon for the coffee and then glanced at the whiskies his companions were drinking “A bit early, isn’t it?”

 

“Never too early when having to face up to a disappointment.” Ben growled and his dark brows  lowered over his eyes “Candy didn’t seem to agree with our idea about McGarthy.”

 

“Oh!”  Adam pursed his lips, surveyed his coffee and then picked up the cup “I see.”

 

“You don’t see at all,” Joe snapped,  the green in his hazel eyes sparking “Candy just sat there and knocked down every argument we put forward.   Made us feel that there was little point in expecting any help from him… and he’s the law around here.”

 

Adam  put down his now empty cup and looked at his father, then his brother “Perhaps he was just being cautious.”

 

“You could put it that way, “ Ben said slowly, “But I don’t know whether I would.”

 

Adam shrugged “Well, I met Mr McGarthy just now at Harry’s.    He’s certainly a lot like his brother. “   he beckoned to Solomon for a refill which brought the man hurrying over with the coffee pot to pour more of it into the cup, “Personally I’m surprised he hasn’t caused the Ponderosa more grief before now.  He certainly wasn’t prepared to be friendly when I saw him.”

 

“Friendly!!” Ben snorted and shook his head “I’d rather cosy up alongside a rattler.”

 

Joe sighed and gulped down the last of the whiskey, before looking at Adam, “He has been quiet, in fact the whole mining community have kept out of our affairs ever since that time McGarthy tried to rob us of the land at Lake Tahoe and Papoose Peak. Rawlings keeps us in touch with most of what is going on, whenever we see him, but that isn’t very often.”

 

“Rawlings is a good man, “ Ben conceded, “But he wouldn’t be privy to McGarthy’s business, not since he sided with the Ponderosa against Liam McGarthy all those years back.”

 

Adam nodded slowly,  sipped his coffee and thought over past dealings with the mining consortiums that dominated Virginia City economically and  socially.  He finally pushed his cup and saucer to one side and stood up, “Well, I promised to meet Livvy about now, so if you will excuse me…”

 

Joe sighed and also rose to his feet, pushing the chair back as he did so “I guess we should go and see Ann,  Mary Ann will be there anyway…   are you coming,  Pa?”

 

Ben shook his head and picked up his glass, he swirled the remainder of the whiskey around  slowly “No, I think I’ll go and visit Roy.”

His sons looked at him and then at each other, perhaps both were thinking the same thing but no word was spoken .  Adam picked up his hat “I’ll see you later then, Pa.”

 

Ben nodded, slightly distracted, and raised a hand to Joe’s muttered farewell.  He was still staring into the glass when his two sons  left the saloon, the batwings flapped too and fro in their passing.

…………………

 

The door to Roy’s home was open and the smell of something appetising wafted through the room to tantalise the visitor who gave a tentative knock while wondering how he would find his old friend.   It was Roy’s voice that bade him enter so after removing his hat Ben did so,  glanced around him and carefully placed the hat down  upon a small table.

 

Although not as meticulously spick and span as Rachel Darrow would have preferred, the room into which Ben stepped was neat and clean, far more so than Ben had expected.  Roy was coming from the other room and when he saw his old friend gave him the benefit of a very welcome smile “Ben!  Why, I’ve not seen you for a while, how are you?”

 

“I’m well, thank you, Roy.” he looked around and finally settled upon a comfortable looking chair that would take his weight, he smiled “More to the point, how are you?  You’re looking really well.”

 

“Yes, I’m feeling well too.” Roy nodded and followed Ben’s example by sitting down opposite him,  “Paul doesn’t think I’m in any danger of dying just yet, and I’ve got the feeling back in my left leg which was a concern for a while.”

 

Ben nodded and looked at Roy thoughtfully.  There was no doubt about it the older man was certainly slimmer and certainly looking stronger than he had for a while, even before he was shot.   He pursed his lips and frowned, “Is Rachel back?”

 

“No, sir!” Roy said with enough stress on the words to emphasise the fact that to Roy his sister was no longer a welcome subject, “No,  perish the thought.”

 

“I was just wondering.  You certainly have become a very thorough housekeeper, Roy, and from the smell of that …” he sniffed “whatever it is you’re cooking, you’ve turned into a very good cook as well.”

 

Roy grinned “Ain’t nothing to do with me, it’s my housekeeper.”  he leaned back into the chair and surveyed Ben thoughtfully, “Now, I wonder if you’ll recognise her.   She’ll be in …ah,  here she is now.”    and he stood up politely as a woman stepped into the house, closed the door behind her and turned to face the two men.

 

Ben rose to his feet immediately upon the woman’s appearance and smiled.  He knew Roy was watching him with a slight smirk on his face and tried to recollect who the lady could be for she looked familiar but certainly no name sprung to mind.

 

She wasn’t overly tall, slim and in her late fifties.  At one time she must have been a great beauty and from her appearance one would be right in assuming she had been rather more amply endowed for  her skin had lost the firmness of a woman younger than herself.  Her hair was greying, although it was clear it had once been  a rich brown,  and her eyes … which twinkled now rather mischievously at him …were brown,  as dark and mellow as molasses.

 

“Good morning, Mr Cartwright, it’s good to see you again.”  she smiled, a hint of laughter in her voice.

 

“You don’t recognise her ,do you, Ben?” Roy chuckled and rubbed his hands together.

 

“I know I should but …”  Ben felt awkward, embarrassed “the person I was thinking of when you spoke, Madam,  well, I couldn’t imagine being in this setting now.”

 

“Really?” she arched her eyebrows and then smiled over at Roy “Is your guest staying for  something to eat,  Mr Coffee?”

 

Roy looked at Ben who appeared rather confused ,  “Well, I don’t know… I’d like to think so, Dorothea.”

 

Now Ben grinned widely and his dark eyes twinkled just as much as their own, he nodded “Dorothea Armstrong?”

 

“Once upon a time, Mr Cartwright.   It’s Dorothea Tennant now.  I reverted to my maiden name after ..well, after what happened and I had to leave town.”  her smile faltered and she glanced anxiously over at Roy who just nodded reassuringly, “I’ll  get the meal ready for you both.”   she smiled at Ben “Excuse me.”

 

“Of course,” Ben replied and watched as she hurried out of the room  taking her basket along with her and leaving a trail of some sweet perfume lingering behind her.

 

“Dorothea Armstrong.” Ben mused and sat down slowly, his brow crinkled, he looked over at Roy “How long has she been back in town?”

 

“Not so very long.” Roy replied settling back into his seat and stretching out his legs, “She read about the shooting and wrote to ask me if I would consider her as a housekeeper until my sister came home.  Well, I have no intention of having Rachel back here as you can imagine..” Roy puffed out his moustache at that idea, “But I wrote back and said she was welcome to give it a try.”

 

“What happened to her after ‘what happened’?”

 

Roy shrugged “Well, legally I could have had her arrested for assisting in the escape of a prisoner,  but considering who the prisoner was and that he was killed anyway, and therefore …” he sighed heavily, “saved the town the expense of a hanging – or deportation – or whatever it would have been that Mr Jamieson said would have happened to him -” again he paused as though he had to think over all the points to get them in the right order “and then Mr Jamieson, although wounded,  didn’t want her to be involved.”

 

Ben nodded, it all seemed so long ago now,  all that strange affair of Adam s trip to Japan,  and Jamieson the Pinkerton Agent trying to arrest Metcalfe.  He bowed his head “Did she love him? “

 

“Who? Dorothea?  Love Metcalfe?  Pschew, of course not, it was just as she says a kind of hypnotism… as soon as she realised what she had done she was beside herself with guilt.”

 

“Well., all I recall is that she left town pretty quick..”

 

“Yes, I told her to -” Roy muttered and pulled at his moustache again, his blue eyes hooded by heavy old man’s eyelids, he nodded “Yes, best thing, get her out of the way of any repercussions.”

 

Ben smiled and nodded,  and glanced over to where Dorothea was now coming back into the room with a jug of coffee and so forth which she set down on the table by Roy’s elbow “I’m sure you’d enjoy some coffee, Mr Cartwright. Mr Coffee always likes a cup before he eats.”

 

She beamed at them both and turned to re-enter the kitchen where the sounds of her bustling about reminded Ben of an empty stomach that needed prompt attention. He smiled rather smugly to himself at the thought of informing his sons of this latest development in the life of their ex-sheriff…that Dorothea Armstrong, formerly known as Peaches to her clientele, was now Mr Coffee’s housekeeper … who would have thought it!

 

Chapter 10

 

For a few moments the Sheriff sat and watched from the security of the rim rock as the men continued with their work below.   He saw weary men, grimed with the soil in which they had been working and bearing the load of their tools upon their shoulders.  He watched as men in neat suits came out and stood conversing together on the porch of the buildings designated as Offices.   He noticed the women who looked as worn as their men folk as they emerged from the doors of their homes that lined the fringes of the mining camp.

 

He sighed, so this was Bucksburn Mining Corporation in action… he shook his head slowly from side to side, not a life he would have chosen, far better to sleep beneath the stars at night than to be shut away from them for any length of time.

 

Candy narrowed his blue eyes and scanned the area carefully.  The only sign of wealth and opulence was in the rather expensive looking carriage with the two matched bays pawing the soil as they waited for their owner to stride out and take his seat.  A thin man in a smart outfit sat upon the drivers seat and Candy couldn’t help but wonder if his salary would be above that paid to any of the miners.

 

One by one he watched as the men went about their business …some to the cabins where they no doubt had a wife and child waiting for their safe return, some to  group together and converse, while others made their way to the large tent that had the legend “Bucksburn Café” scrawled on a piece of board in red paint.  Perhaps someone’s idea of humour but quite a number of the men were headed there so it was safe to assume that the food was reasonably good.

 

Timbers were stacked high ready for use and as he edged his horse down from the rim rock Candy wondered if they were the same ones he had already seen and had been assured were used for the benefit of the men who risked their lives to add to the profit of Patrick McGarthy and his shareholders.   As he meandered his way through the camp it struck Candy that there was little in the way of sound…voices were muted, conversation was conducted almost in whispers,  there was little laughter just sometimes the sound of a child crying, or a woman’s voice raised in anger or dismay.

 

There were a good proportion of Chinese workers everywhere, Candy estimated that 1 in 3 workers were of that nationality.   They cast anxious glances at him, or, he thought, more than likely at the badge he was wearing.

 

As he dismounted outside the offices a new force of men approached the mine entrance, trickling from the properties until they formed a body that marched in a murmuring mass of arms and legs to their days work.  They were clean, but shabby, the tools they bore were prepared for action,  each one carried their own lantern and he knew that matches and candles would be on  each mans person, along with a tin that contained food for the break

 

They passed the sheriff without a word although some acknowledged him with a nod but smiles were in short supply.   It seemed to Candy that no one seemed particularly eager to go to work, necessity was laid upon them nothing more.

 

He was about to knock on the door when it was opened and a tall man stood in front of him,  looked him up and down as though he were viewing the scum of the earth, and then stepped back to let the sheriff enter the building.   The door closed sharply behind them  and Candy found himself standing once again in front of McGarthy in his very opulent office.

 

“Sheriff…” Patrick rose to his feet, his paunch just brushed against the edge of his desk, his hand reached out to shake that of the newcomer after which he indicated the chair for Candy to sit down “Another visit?   Anything wrong?”

 

“I hope not, Mr McGarthy.  I just came to check on a few things that’s all.” Candy replied with his usual open candour.   “Nice office …” he added by way of comment

 

“Had the desk imported from England.”  McGarthy replied and pushed a box of cigars towards Candy with a nod of the head “Help yourself.”

 

“No,” Candy declined and crossed one leg over the knee of the other, he glanced behind him and noted that the tall man who had opened the door to him was standing close to him, perhaps, a little too close.  “Thank you.”

 

“Well, let’s get down to business, to be honest, I don’t have much time to waste as I’ve things to do…I’m sure you have as well, sheriff.”  the smile that accompanied that comment was too thin to be considered pleasant.

 

“There’s concerns being raised in town about your mining operations, Mr McGarthy.  I need to know for  sure how to answer them .”

 

“Concerns?”  Patrick glanced over at the third man in the room, then his eyes returned to Candy and held fast, “Concerns, you say?”

 

“Exploitation for starters…”

 

“Really?  And who exactly is being exploited?”

 

“The Chinese?   The Irish?  Perhaps a host of others whom you have employed at a lower rate of pay than any of the other Mining Consortiums.”

 

McGarthy nodded as though the matter was a serious one, he leaned back into his chair and sighed heavily and for a moment there was a long silence as though he was giving the matter serious consideration “Look,  sheriff, all the men I employ sign a form agreeing to the salary they are paid.  They have a contract which, if they can’t read or write, is explained to them carefully by my secretary.  If they don’t like the terms they don’t sign up.  They can go someplace else and good riddance to them, I don’t want anyone working for me who isn’t happy to do so.”

 

Candy couldn’t help but raise a hand to his brow and push back his hat at that comment, he hadn’t really noticed any one particularly happy in his ride down from the town.  He nodded “I get  your point.  In fact, it’s their fault for agreeing the terms …”

 

“I didn’t say that,” McGarthy muttered, “But if the cap fits I guess you could say that applies. They know what they are being paid, and the more they work there are bonuses paid out as well.   The grubs good, we don’t stint on that … working conditions…”

 

“Ah yes, working conditions…” Candy bit down on his bottom lip and narrowed his eyes, “Some in the medical profession in town are complaining about the amount of your men they are treating as a result of accidents at work.  There are more deaths here than anywhere else and there have been comments about the machinery and the mines poor timberwork.”

 

“Dissatisfied workers will always find cause for complaint and criticism.” McGarthy said quietly and his fingers picked up a cigar, rolled it between his fingers “Sure you won’t have one?”

 

“Quite sure.” Candy replied and began to feel uncomfortable, as though he was being played with by a man for whom he had little respect.

 

“You saw the timbers… fresh from the forest they are… ready to be placed in the mines in the newer tunnels that are being dug out now.  There’s no problem with any of the mining works, sheriff.”

 

“Then what about your medical staff?  According to the recent legislation on Mining and Railroad Employees rights, company doctors have to be provided,* and …”

 

McGarthy nodded “There’s no need to quote facts at me, Sheriff, I’m very well aware of them.  A doctor and medical team have to be employed here, and are paid by deductions taken from the men’s salaries*. I know all about that, but the medical staff I’d previously employed had to be dismissed because they were too inefficient.   I’m waiting for some new people to come from the East any time now, hopefully things will have improved financially here as well.  The current situation may be placing a burden on the towns doctors but I assure you, it is only temporary.”

 

Candy sighed and stared down at his boots as though they would provide him with more honest answers than this man was capable of, he cleared his throat with a cough, which was followed by McGarthys expansive sweep of his hand “Do you  have any further complaints to air, sheriff, because if you haven’t I really do need to attend to my appointment this afternoon.”

 

McGarthy struck a match,  he watched the flame for a second and then turned to look into Candy’s face “I have to get on , Sheriff, as I said, I have things to do.  I’m sure you do as well…”

 

Candy nodded, stood up and thanked Patrick McGarthy for his time.  As he approached the door his shoulder brushed against that of the other man, there was a momentary pause but neither spoke and he walked on.

 

Outside Candy stood for a moment to look around the camp once again, he shook his head and was about to return to the office as a thought struck him… but then he stopped himself and made his way to his horse.  He could feel at least one pair of eyes boring into his back as he mounted into the saddle and headed back towards town.

 

In the office McGarthy puffed on his cigar and paced his way to the door,  he stopped and looked at the other man “That sheriff is becoming a nuisance…”

 

There was nothing else said, both knew exactly what was meant.

 

A woman leaving one of the cabins stopped to observe the horseman and then raised a hand “Candy? “

 

He turned to look behind  him for he had passed her without noticing, his mind deep on other things and for a moment he was still unsure as to who is was who had called his name.  Then she approached with a smile on her face and her eyes twinkling “Candy?”

 

“Mrs Mayhew?” he looked at her and then shook his head as though he couldn’t believe his eyes, he removed his hat and gave her a nod of his dark head “I didn’t realise you were here.  When  did you leave the ranch?”

 

“About three months ago.  My  husband couldn’t take to the ranching life, he’d been a miner all his life and so decided to sign on here.”

 

“Is he happy about that?” Candy asked with a twist to the lips that indicated that he anticipated a negative reply.

 

“Well, he says he still prefers it to ranching, at least he knows what he’s doing when he handles a pick axe which is more than he did when he was trying to brand a cow.”

 

They shared an amicable chuckle and as she turned to go he said quickly, “Mrs Mayhew, things are alright here, aren’t they?”

 

She didn’t reply at first and then shrugged “I suppose so.  I don’t know much about mining life, after all, I was the one raised on a ranch.”  she smiled slowly, the decision to  return to mining had obviously not been one of her choosing.  “I suppose it’s how life is in a place like this…  it’s a hard life but my husband always said it would be…and has been.”

 

“He doesn’t say anything about the mines themselves?”

 

“What’s there to say?” she shrugged again and pulled her shawl closer, “He knows I haven’t any idea of what the inside of a mine is like,  I just help out with the cooking for the miners who don’t have women here to cook for them…” she nodded her head over to the big tent “we do our best.”

 

Candy nodded and looked from her to the men who were coming out of the ‘Café’  then he sighed “It was good to see you again, Mrs Mayhew.”

 

“And you yourself too, and I hear congratulations are due … you have another son?”

 

“That’s right, I have… Samuel.”

 

“A lovely name… my husband’s own.”

 

They nodded at each other,  smiled and parted, each going their separate ways now …one with more than enough to think about, and the other concerned only that there would be sufficient food for  the next meal.

 

Chapter 11

 

Dorothea Armstrong closed the door of her room and  slowly untied the ribbon of her bonnet which she then placed carefully alongside her shawl.  She looked around the room  with a slightly bemused expression as though she still couldn’t believe that this was all she was reduced to in as far as living space was concerned.  It was the largest room in the boarding house to be sure, but at the same time it was nothing like the splendour of the property she had once owned when she had previously lived in Virginia City.

 

She walked to the window and  watched as people strolled by  without a second glance  at where she was standing.  A pane of glass and a wooden frame was all that separated her from the rest of the world and she smiled slowly, well, that was her choice and to be honest she was more than happy with it.

 

She took no notice of the carriage that stopped by the property as she had turned away to take her seat in a chair and pick up the adventures of some young couple  in her latest book and as she opened it the thought occurred to her, as it often did when reading, that her life had been filled with adventures far greater than those she often enjoyed in fiction.

 

She could remember arriving in Virginia City not long after that Annie O’Toole had set up in business and how when that lady married her Swede of a husband and went living in Nobs Hill San Francisco the restaurant had been passed to her, Dorothea Armstrong.    She smiled now at the memories of how she had branched out into other lines of business … well, there was gold a-plenty and more men that any woman could deal with …   and it didn’t take much imagination to realise that one could get more gold one way than another.

 

The knock on her door startled her from her reverie and she paused a moment,  frowned slightly and rose to her feet as another knock indicated that the person on the other side of the door was not the patient kind who enjoyed kicking his heels for her to open up.

 

Patrick McGarthy  looked at the woman who stood before him with a thoughtful expression on his face then he removed his hat “Dorothea  Armstrong?”

 

“Dorothy Tennant …” she replied crisply and folded her hands neatly, raised an eyebrow “May I ask who you may be?”

 

“Let’s not waste time, Madam, I know who you are, and you certainly know who I am. Now are you going to let me in before the whole world knows I’m here…”

 

“I should think that wouldn’t be hard to guess at with that carriage stuck right on the doorstep.”  she snapped back but allowed him entry by  stepping into the room  for him to pass her by, he removed his hat as he did so and then stood  in the centre of the room looking around him with a slightly amused expression on his face. “Anything wrong?”

 

“I was just thinking that this is something of a come down for you, Dorothea. I recall my brother, Liam ..you remember Liam don’t you? … telling me about the place you ran, the rooms and everything , that painted ceiling of your own particular boudoir.”

 

“That was a different life time ago, Mr McGarthy.  I don’t indulge in such fancies nowadays.”

 

He coughed and shook his head,  then pulled cigar from his pocket which he was about to light  up when she asked him to refrain from smoking in her room.  “The smell lingers on my clothes, I prefer if you smoked when you go back outside.”

 

He raised his eyebrows and  shook his head “Well, you are one particular lady now, ain’t’cha?   Housekeeper to the old sheriff, Roy Coffee, isn’t it?”

 

She nodded and looked at him thoughtfully, “What do you want from me, Mr McGarthy?”

 

“Well, now, that’s a kind of broad question,  Madam.  You see, I know a lot about you, what you used to do and how you double crossed my brother..”

 

“I refute that accusation,  sir.” her cheeks reddened and she drew herself taller,  straightened her back and squared her shoulders, “I did no such thing.”

 

“Come on now, we’re adults, we both know the way of the world.   I know that you and Liam were – close friends – and I also know that you were close friends with some others who you passed information on to…”

 

“You’re talking rubbish.”

 

“I’m saying it as my brother told me,  Ma’am.   You double dealed on him.  He trusted you.  You stitched him up and because of you he was arrested and hanged for murder.”

 

For a moment Dorothea  allowed herself to drift back to that time some years ago when McGarthy had been intent on claiming land from the Cartwright’s, even to the extent of  ruining them, bringing them to their knees,  even to murder.  She shook her head and looked at him with dark eyes that smouldered with resentment “Your  brother  hanged for a murder he orchestrated in order to bring his plan to fulfilment. He wanted the Ponderosa and he saw to the murder of Caleb Shannon,  but I never told anyone about it,  not a soul.”

 

“I don’t believe you., and Liam didn’t either.  He said you were very friendly with another man,  Frank Rawlins.”

 

She nodded slowly,  then shrugged “To be honest, Mr McGarthy, at that time I was very friendly with a number of men  Frank Rawlins was one of the more decent of them.”

 

“And you told him my brother’s plans….”

 

“I didn’t know your brother’s plans until it was so obvious the whole town knew.”  she turned now and  picked up her book “If that is all, Mr McGarthy, I’d like to get on with my book.”

 

Patrick observed her for a moment before stepping right up behind her, so close that she could feel his breath upon her neck “Madam,  don’t think I’ll forget about you and what you did,  you may think you can slink back to town and pick up a new life under a false name, but people know who you are, what you were … and if they don’t,  I’ll make sure that they do, I’ll make sure that everyone knows just what kind of whore you are, Madam.”

 

She forced herself not to move, not to let the shiver she felt inside of herself to be obvious to him.  She turned slowly, her brown eyes met his and she raised her eyebrows “Mr McGarthy,  I didn’t become the woman I was by being scared by bullies like yourself.   Liam was a bully, and he was cruel, but he over reached himself when he killed Caleb Shannon, and he met his match when he took on the Cartwrights.  I’d advise  you not to make the same mistake.  Don’t under estimate me, sir. “

 

He stepped back slightly then although his eyes never left her face, then he smiled and nodded “Liam said you were feisty,  I’m glad to see that he was right in that respect at least.”

 

“Good, let’s get it right between us, Mr McGarthy, because he was wrong in everything else he told you about me.”

 

He s hook his head slowly and put the cigar between his teeth, then without a word he turned and walked out of the room.  At the doorway he stopped to strike a match which he held between finger and thumb , then he turned to her, smiled as though pleased with what he had discovered, and walked away to the carriage.

 

She watched him as he sunk back against the leather padded upholstery, puffing on the cigar, and as he passed her window he nodded and raised a finger to touch the brim of his hat, and then, he was gone.

 

Dorothea Armstrong shook her head and closed the door to her room.  Once again she made her way to her chair and sat down, the book remained on the side table where she had left it.  She stared into the  past and realised that a different name,  a change of hair style and habit, wasn’t always enough to hide away from the secrets she knew, nor a protection from a man, dead for some years now, who could reach out from the grave and bring disorder back into her life.  Now she allowed the shiver she had felt to shudder through her body and with a  stifled sob she turned her face into the cushion s.

………………………

 

The sound of a man’s footsteps sounded from the porch and the slight thud as the door closed.   Olivia listened to her husbands entry and sighed, he was obviously tired, the physical labour of assisting in the rebuilding o f the old house was taking its toll on top of the other chores and tasks he had undertaken.  She looked at her children and frowned “Are you both going to behave now?  Reuben?  Sofia?”

 

Reuben sighed heavily as though he really didn’t know what she was talking about and Sofia remained with her head bowed.  “Sofia, I’m talking to you?”

 

At the sound of her mother’s voice Sofia raised her head, slightly, and nodded.  Olivia  looked from one to the other and then to her husband who stood framed in the doorway observing them with a slightly amused expression on his face “Anything wrong?”

 

“It’s her…” Reuben said with a nod to his sister, “She’s being stupid.”

 

Olivia shook her head “Reuben, that’s enough, don’t speak like that about your sister.”

 

“Well, she is .. She just is …”  Reuben scowled and looked at Adam who had stepped further into the room, leaned against the door frame and folded his arms across his chest.

 

“Sofia, haven’t you anything to say for yourself?” he asked after a second or so of silence.

 

The little girl said nothing, her head sunk lower,  two tears plopped from her cheeks onto her skirts.  Adam immediately strode forward and picked her up into his arms, and  held her close “Hey now, princess, what’s happened, huh?  Someone at school bullying you?  Reuben?  Is Sofia  being bullied?”

 

“No, sir. “  Reuben struck a pose,  his hazel eyes defiant as he looked at his father and then at Sofia “Just she won’t speak, is all.  Not even to Miss Brandon. Not even to anyone . Not even to Ma.”

 

“That’s right,” Olivia said as she stood beside Reuben with her body slightly leaning over so that she could peek at Sofia’s face which was obscured by the blonde hair.

“She won’t say a word to me.”  she looked at Adam , “I was thinking of getting  Paul over to see to her, in case it was something serious…”

 

Adam raised his eyebrows and looked at his wife, saw the twinkle in her eyes and then nodded “Oh… I see ..  That serious?”

 

She sighed heavily “I think so…unless you can find out what’s wrong.  I mean,  what if Paul decides on an operation?”

 

“Oooh  mmm.” her husband frowned and stroked his daughter’s  blonde hair gently, then slowly turned to walk into the other room with her in his arms.

 

Reuben looked at his mother “An operation?  Oh Ma, do  you really think so?”

 

Olivia shook her head and put a finger to her lips …  while she returned to making her husband his cup of coffee Reuben tip toed to the  other room where Sofia was sobbing into her father’s chest, while Adam sat there patiently stroking her head and saying nothing at all.

 

After a little while he stopped stroking her head and pulled her gently away from  him, and then with his finger beneath her chin forced her to face him, he smiled and winked, “Want to tell me all about it, sweet heart?”

 

She gave a shake of the head but before she could sink back into  his chest he held her more firmly and looked so intently into her face that she had no choice but to say with a shuddering sob “I – I – “

 

“Go on,  it’s alright,  say what you have to say?”

 

She bowed her head and then looked up,  “I  – I -”  she blinked, two tears slipped down her cheeks and she opened her mouth in order to bawl out aloud  and Adam nodded and sighed “Oh I see how it is,  never mind,  it’ll be alright.”

 

He patted her on the back and listened to her as she mumbled out with many a sob her tale of woe; while eating her lunch her two front teeth had come out, and she’d swallowed them.

 

Chapter 12

 

Henry clambered down from the wagon and then wiped his hands slowly on the scrap of linen he used for such purposes before tucking it back into his pocket.  He ran his eyes over the project he was now overseeing and nodded in approval as he began to approach the two men talking together by some  planks that they had been in the process of sawing.

 

Hoss Cartwright was sucking on the palm of his hand as he endeavoured to extricate the splinter embedded into it while he was being closely watched by his youngest brother.  “Shucks, Joe, I can’t recall building this here place before being such hard work.”

 

Joe laughed, a pleasant chuckle as he slapped his brother on the arm “Reason being, big brother, was because you didn’t do none of the hard work seeing how you were just a child at the time.”

 

“I did my fair share.” Hoss protested with a scowl and a shake of the ‘injured’ hand.

 

“Oh yeah, from what I hear from Pa and Adam that amounted to adding water to the mud to tread down … playing mud pies ain’t work.”

 

“Was so!” Hoss muttered, “Adam used to leave me to fill up the buckets and pails, and I had to carry them over to the house.”  he frowned a little more as the memories flooded back “And then we had to stand there all day filling in between the cracks with that thar clay, ain’t no fun when you’re just a kid.”

 

“Well, it ain’t no fun now either … so quit your jawing and get on with sawing those planks.”

 

Henry grinned at the banter and raised a hand in greeting as Joe noticed him standing near by “I brought the window frames.   The glass will be coming tomorrow.”

 

“That’s good, Pa will be more than pleased.” Joe nodded and for a moment turned to watch the men who were engaged in working on the building “It‘s all coming together really well.”

 

“It would have been quicker if we had a full complement of men on the job.” Henry sighed and shook his head, “I’m sorry, I feel I’ve let you all down.”

 

“No problem,  we’re managing alright as we are, ain’t that right, big brother?” and he slapped Hoss amiably on the arm.

 

“Yeah, we’re managing pretty well.”  Hoss replied and looked over at Henry “How’s things getting on at the other project you got in hand?”

 

“Not so well. Mr McGarthy isn’t an easy man to work for, had to sign off two of my best men yesterday, they refused to go back.” Henry sighed and shook his head.

 

“You should send them here,” Joe said immediately, “You could take two men from here to be replaced by them …”

 

“I would have done but McGarthy threatened me with trouble if I did that, he said if they didn’t work for him, then they didn’t work no place else.  Well,  that means here as I don’t have no other projects just yet.”

 

“Is it a problem, Henry?” Hoss asked as he smoothed sawdust from the plank he had  been sawing prior to getting the splinter in his hand.

 

“Well,  business is slow just now, always is this time of year for some reason.  But I don’t like laying off men for no reason, they got families to feed after all.”

 

“Send ‘em  along here, Henry.  You can tell McGarthy Joe Cartwright signed them on, nothing to do with you.”

 

Henry laughed, but not with any mirth, he shook his head “He won’t buy that, Joe.  He’s not a forgiving kind of man, if you see what I mean.”  and he narrowed  his eyes and glanced carefully around in case there were any nearby who could overhear the conversation, “Rumour has it that he’s out to cause trouble for the Ponderosa. He ain’t forgotten  that it was because of your family that his brother hanged.”

 

Hoss shook his head and narrowed his mouth into a  button of protest “Ain’t so, his brother was hanged because of murder pure and simple. “

 

“That ain’t the way he’s seeing things.”   the other man said quietly, “He’s been talking around town,  claims to be gathering facts about what happened.   At the same time it stirs up memories and leaves unanswered questions in folks’ minds.”

 

“What kind of questions?” Joe snapped as he thought immediately of Caleb Shannon who had died on the Ponderosa from a bullet wound that Liam McGarthy insisted had been fired by Ben.

 

“The same questions as were raised at the time…who exactly did shoot Shannon.”

 

Joe shook his head in exasperation and flung down  the pail of nails he had been holding “For Pete’s sake, those questions were all answered in a court of law, when Thompson was shown to be hand in glove with McGarthy and that they’d been behind the whole thing! Do you think that Shannon’s daughter would have had any dealings with me if she thought her Pa had been murdered by my father? “

 

Hoss put a placating hand on Joe’s chest for, as usual when he was irate Joe’s voice had raised several decibels and some of the men had turned to see what was going on.

 

“Calm down, Joe.”  Hoss sighed and shook his head, “You weren’t here at the time, were you Henry?”

 

“Actually I was, Hoss.  But I was busy working for Mr Murdoch, at the Gould and Curry Mine.  Some talk trickled past me but I didn’t much bother with it as I had myself to look after, your concerns had nothing to do with me.”

 

“Well,  Caleb Shannon got shot here, right close by where you’re standing now as it happens.  Shot in the back by Thompson’s man, but Thompson…”

 

“He was acting sheriff at the time.” Joe muttered.

 

“Yeah, well, he arrested Pa right away saying Pa had murdered Mr Shannon, see?”

 

“Except that Mr Shannon hadn’t been murdered… well, not quite… and he told Pa and Victoria, his daughter, that it hadn’t been Ben.  He confessed to what was going on … “ Joe shook his head, “There ain’t no point in bringing this all up again.”

 

“Well,” Henry shrugged “There’s a lot of new people in town since those days, Joe.  And as folk like to say, there’s no smoke without fire.”

 

Hoss shook his head “Rubbish.  That fire was put out a long time ago…now, let’s see about those window frames before I start gitting really riled.”   he turned after a few paces and glared at Joe “And you?  You calm down some.”

…………….

 

Adam Cartwright took some money from  his pocket and flipped the coins onto the counter, nodded at Solomon as he did so and was about to take his drink to the table when  his arm was jostled and some spilled over his hand.  He froze to the spot,  as did Solomon who eyed both him and the other man standing right beside him with the anticipating of at least angry words ..at worst an invitation to settle matters outside, with guns.

 

“Good  day, Mr Cartwright…Adam….or do we have to call you Captain now?”

 

Adam slowly raised his eyes to look into the face of the other man.  A tall thin man,  narrow faced,  dark cold eyes and a weak mouth hidden by a moustache but it was the mouth that was the giveaway as to who he was,  a mouth that looked like there were too many teeth in it.   Adam cleared his throat and wiped his hand on the cloth that Sol handed over to him.  “Billy Buckley.”  he said by way of greeting

 

“I’m surprised you recognised me, it’s been a long time since …”   he paused and narrowed his eyes, “Since I left here.”

 

“Yes, it’s been a long time.” Adam nodded and turned towards the counter,  he picked up his glass, then looked at Buckley again “A drink?”

 

“Wouldn’t say no.”

 

Adam nodded over to Sol who poured out another whiskey, but before he could remove the bottle Buckley had grabbed it and kept it close, obviously one glass wasn’t going to be enough.  “I didn’t think to be seeing you here, Captain..I mean …Adam.  I thought you’d still be playing boats.”

 

“Nope.” Adam  raised his drink to his lips.

 

“A lot else has changed since I left.  Town’s grown.”

 

Adam nodded, no denying that fact, it had grown  like an overfed  baby demanding more and more all the time.  He swallowed down some of the whiskey and looked at Billy’s reflection in the mirror “How’s life been treating you, Billy?”

 

“Just as you said it would.   Just as Ed Payton said … once they knew I was the man who shot him dead,  others came, kept coming,  kept so that I never really  had a chance to draw breath.”

 

“Well, that’s the kind of reputation you wanted, wasn’t it?” Adam raised an eyebrow and stared into the other man’s reflected eyes in the mirror.

 

“I didn’t want it, you know what I wanted ..who I wanted rather.”

 

“Well, you sure went about getting Sally the wrong way, didn’t you?” Adam said with a hint of bitterness in his voice.

 

Billy said nothing to that and both men seemed to have drifted  back to the time Sally Cass fell in love with a gunslinger, whom Billy Buckleyshot down.  Fair fight or not, and Adam never felt that it was,  Billy  had lost his girl, and his comfortable  life in town. He  became as much one of the hunted as a hunter … a man he had never really sought to become.

 

“Sally left town then?” Billy ventured to say eventually and Adam nodded, emptied his glass in a gulp and swallowed

 

“She did.  Shortly after Will Cass died.   She sold the store and moved away.”

 

“Do you know where she went?”

 

“Nope. “  Adam shrugged “You looking for her?”

 

“No,  I mean,  perhaps I had hoped that someone would have known where she went.”

 

“Its been some years, Billy.  People move into town  never knowing  a thing about you, or Ed Payton or Sally Cass.”  he nodded to Solomon and put down some more coins to cover the cost of the bottle Billy was hugging to himself.

 

“I’m  working for McGarthy now.”  Billy said as though  he felt compelled to mention it,  he stepped closer and lowered his head “You better warn the sheriff to be careful around McGarthy.  He doesn’t like people asking questions.”

 

Adam stared at the man as though he were delusional.  Then slowly picked up his hat and put it on his head,  nodded over at Sol and without another glance at Billy  he walked out of the saloon. The bat wings swung back and forth as evidence of his passing …

 

 

Chapter 13

 

The big room of Joe and Mary Ann’s home looked a comfortable warm oasis of family cosiness.  The fire was not too large but the flames provided a flickering glowing  focus in the room,  creating shadows  across the ceiling .  The lamps glowed in various darker corners  providing light where otherwise it would have been murky and gloomy.  Hoss and Joe were occupied in an intense game of checkers while Hester darned her husband’s socks and Mary Ann smocked a little garment for the forthcoming baby.

 

Hannah, Hope and Daniel were sitting on the rug close to the fire with their various toys before they were to be ushered up to their beds.  The little girls in their nightgowns  sat side by side while Daniel sat a little apart from them in order to give himself more room to  push along his horse and wagon.

 

It was a scene no doubt echoed in many homes everywhere, and the silence was punctuated by the popping of logs as the flames consumed them,  the muted murmurs from the children as they played, and the occasional comment from the two men. The women  remained silent as their needles twinkled at their work.  Occasionally Hester would  look up and observe the children with a tender smile on her face that would slowly fade to a look of dejection which she would attempt to shake off before resuming her task.

 

Two pairs of socks were neatly darned and put into the basket and then she stood up and with a light clap of the hands told the children it was time for bed.  Hannah sighed “No, not now,  Ma.”

 

“Right now, Hannah.”

 

“But Betsy doesn’t want to go to bed yet.” and Hannah gave her doll a tight squeeze that had it been a living creature would have had its eyes pop out!

 

“Time for little girls and Betsy to go to bed…” Hester replied and put up her forefinger “Now then, no arguments.”

Daniel scowled and looked over at his mother to whom he bestowed a dimpled smile “Me an’ all?”

 

“Yes indeed,” Mary Ann  laughed, “You as well.  Come along, up you get…”

 

Little feet pattered across the rugs to where the men stopped their game and hugged their children goodnight  then watched them briefly as the two women ushered them off to the stairs, “Shucks, they sure grow up fast, don’t they?”

 

Joe nodded and grinned, his hazel eyes twinkled, “Hard to imagine there will be another one soon.  Mary Ann thinks it’ll be a girl this time.”

 

“Hmm, I thought that Hope was going to be  a boy.” Hoss said thoughtfully and rubbed his chin, “Well,  it’ll be what it’ll be I guess.”

 

“That’s very philosophical of you, Hoss.” Joe said and turned his attention to the board, “Your move.”

 

“You sure?”

 

“Yep.” Joe smiled again and watched as his brother contemplated the board, “Funny really, when you look at the three of them…”

 

“Three of what?” Hoss muttered as he tried to work out what on the board signified a three of anything.

 

“The children.   Looking at them just now you’d think Daniel was your son and Hope was my daughter.”

 

“Why’d you think that?”

 

“Well, Hope’s a real tiny scrap  of a  child, and Daniel’s already bigger than her.”

 

“Nah, he ain’t.”

 

“He is too.” Joe smiled and cleared his throat “Are  you going to make your move?”

 

“Sure, sure, don’t rush me…”  Hoss’ hand hovered over one of the checkers, he paused and looked at Joe “Do you reckon Hope … I mean … do you really think she’s small for her age?”

 

“I didn’t say that, Hoss.  I just said that Daniel’s bigger than her,  and, come to think of it,  she is smaller than Hannah was at her age.”

 

“You were small compared to me…” Hoss muttered, seeking refuge in that age old piece of information.

 

“S’right, that’s what I mean… “

 

“You did?”

 

“Yeah, sure.  Why?  What did you think I meant?”

 

Hoss shook his head and stared at the board harder than ever.   He thought over Hester’s concerns for her daughter,  added them to Joe’s comments and felt his heart sink.  Surely, surely, there couldn’t possibly be anything wrong with little Hope.  He shivered, well, there he was calling her Little Hope just like they used to call Joe … Little Joe.  He looked up at Joe prodded him “You asleep, big fella?”

 

“No,  no,  sorry…”  and he picked up his checker, jumped two of Joe’s and grinned in triumph.  For once he might even win a game…

…………..

 

“What’s wrong, Hester?”  Mary Ann whispered as they met on the landing outside the children’s rooms.

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“I noticed this evening,  you looked worried about something.  Every time you looked over at the children you – well – you looked so anxious about … about  them.  What’s worrying you? “

 

“Nothing, nothing at all. I was just -” Hester drew in her breath “I was just thinking how small Hope is compared to Daniel and Hannah.”

 

“Is that all?” Mary Ann smiled and her eyes twinkled, “I thought for a moment it was something serious.” she put out her hand and took hold of her friends to give it a little squeeze “Hope is just perfect, Hester.  There’s nothing wrong with her at all.”

 

“Do you think so?” Hester whispered as if saying the words out loud would be like casting some spell over her child.

 

“I know so.  She’s as cute as a button and as bright as can be … every child is different, you should know that by now.”

 

“I suppose you’re right, it’s just that she’s so slight compared to Hannah.”

 

“There you go again,  Hester.  You can’t compare her with Hannah, dear.  Any more than I can compare Daniel with Nathaniel…”

 

They both thought for a moment about Nathaniel, nodded as though they had reached a mutual though mental appraisal and turned to the stairs.   They shared a smile on the half landing as they looked down upon their husbands engrossed in trying to be the victor of their current game, with a sigh Hester whispered “I don’t think they ever grow up, do they?”

…………….

 

Olivia reached out across the bed aware of the emptiness, the cold that crept across to touch her skin.   Blinking sleepily as realisation dawned that her husband was not there beside her  she remained very still until she was awake and could think as to where he could be, and what time it actually was…  she strained her ears to hear the sounds of a child crying but there was nothing just the creaking of floor boards and the soft quiet tick of the clock on the wall.  A lamp was burning and she leaned over to turn up the flame in order to see the time,  it was two in the morning.

 

She quickly pulled on a dressing gown and slipped her feet into soft slippers so that no sound would disturb the children as she made her way across the landing and down the stairs to where she thought she would find her husband, but although the fire had been banked up well there was no sign of him in the sitting room, nor in the study.

 

Shadows fell across the floor,  and for a moment she stood in the middle of the room  wondering where he could have gone.  It was only when a breeze wafted across from the open porch door that she realised that he was outside the house.  For another moment she stood there and wondered what he would be doing outside,  had she noticed him absent from her bed before this particular night?    She didn’t think so,  she wasn’t aware of it although she had to admit that he was at times restless,  and there were the dreams…

 

It was a warm enough night for her to go outside and look for him which didn’t take so long as she found him leaning against the corral fence with his arms folded across the top bar and his eyes half closed as though in deep thought.   Whether he heard her approach or not he didn’t move until she was close enough for him to stretch out his hand towards her and then turn, with a smile “I’m sorry,“ he murmured softly, “Did I disturb you?”

 

“How long have you been out here?” she slipped into the shelter of his arm around her shoulders and looked  up into his face,  cast in shadows,  a smile on his lips.

 

“I don’t know…” he shrugged and hugged her closer, as though glad that she was now there to share this snatched moment with him, “I used to walk the decks at this time of night,  look at the moon and stars, think over the day.” he smiled down at her and then looked up at the dark skies “I used to wonder what you were doing,  imagine the children in their beds, safe… “ he sighed then and his brow contracted into a furrow “Odd isn’t it?  I always thought of you all safe and sound, and yet there was Reuben suffering, and you… alone and having to handle it all …”

 

“I had Pa, and the family.” she whispered and put a finger to his lips “I wasn’t entirely alone.”

 

He just gave a slight shrug and said nothing to that although she could feel his heart beating ,  “Did you always come out on deck at this time… every night?”

 

“Yes,  unless there were reasons to prevent me doing so.  It was a kind of habit I enjoyed.”

 

“But you’re home now …”

 

“Habits  aren’t always easy to break.” he whispered and looked down at her,  saw the anxious lines on her face and stroked them away with his finger before he kissed her very gently.  “Let’s get inside, before you get cold.”

 

They walked hand in hand into the house where he picked up the lamp and led her back to their room.   The door closed with a gentle thud.

 

In his room Ben walked away from the window and sat for a moment upon the side of the bed.  He had heard the sound of his sons footsteps across the landing an hour earlier and  then watched from the window as he had walked to the corral fence, paced around for a while before  going to lean against the bars.  He had seen Olivia join her husband,  enjoyed the sight of the contact between them and could see the love that existed there.

 

He smiled just briefly at the memories of times when he also had held hands with a woman he had loved,  had taken her to his bed, had known her caresses and kisses…. He sighed, he had been well blessed, well blessed.

 

Chapter 14

 

Sheriff Candy Canady sat astride the saddle of his horse and watched the men at work on the big house.  He hadn’t realised he was smiling as he edged his horse forward but the sight and sound around the yard had involuntarily brought one to his face.  Men laughing, whistling tuneless snatches of some song or another,  the sound of tools being used … as he dismounted he thought back to the previous week when he had visited the Bucksburn Mining Co and watched the lethargic listless men go about their work.  The difference couldn’t have been more marked .

 

“Hi, Candy!”  Hoss raised a hand, tossed into the air the hammer he was holding in his other hand and caught it, “Come to  offer us your expertise?”

 

“My what?” Candy laughed as he walked towards the three brothers, “What’s happened to him?” he asked Adam and Joe, jerking his thumb at Hoss with a grin, “How come he’s the one spouting the big words?”

 

“Oh, he’s good at that,” Joe chuckled as he put down his own hammer, “Just don’t ask him to explain what the word means… that way then he doesn’t get confused.”

 

“Hey, that’s enough from you, you little squirt.” Hoss gave Joe a nudge of the elbow with a good humoured grin, “So?  Good to see you, sheriff.  Is this a social visit or have you come to arrest Joe?”

 

“Mmm,  got a good reason for why I should arrest him?” Candy said with his blue eyes twinkling as he looked from one to the other of them.

 

“Loitering with intent to avoid work would be one good reason,” Adam drawled and leaned over to shake Candy by the hand, “Good to see you though, Candy. How’s the family?”

 

“All doing well.  Thanks.”  Candy now stepped away a few paces as though he needed the space to observe the building before him, he shook his head in admiration and removed his hat out of respect, “You’ve done a great job on this…

 

“Well,  can’t take all the credit.” Joe said slowly turning himself around as he spoke so that he could stand beside the sheriff and look at the building, as though by doing so he could see it through Candy’s eyes.  “The men we’ve got working for us have done a great job.”

 

“Sure have,” Hoss muttered as he gathered up a fistful of nails which he placed into a pail, “Mind you, it weren’t easy for them, or us, we never knew who was going to be here any particular day, that McGarthy sure caused some bother.”

 

“We managed,” Adam said quickly, “Got some of our own men to do the labouring mostly, when it was convenient and Pa let us …”

 

The three of them shared a grin, obviously a private joke but one Candy could appreciate having worked for Ben for so many years.  “How is your Pa?  Is he pleased with the house?”

 

“As a dog with two tails.” Hoss said, “Can’t wait to move in of course.”

 

“Where is he now?” Candy looked around , over his shoulder and up to the house again.

 

“In town with Hester.  She’s gone to order more fixings for the house and he’s gone to make sure she don’t spend too much and he likes what she orders.” Hoss chuckled and pushed back his hat, “She’s sure enjoying those mail order books…  she and Mary Ann spend hours pouring over them.”

 

“Thankfully Mary Ann’s happy with what she’s got …” Joe sighed, and looked as though he were recalling the days when the only catalogue they looked at were for stud bulls and leather worked saddles.

 

“Anyway,  having established that Pa isn’t around at the moment,” Adam smiled but with serious eyes “Why exactly have you come here?”

 

“Ah, well, I wanted to ask a favour of you, Adam.”  Candy licked his lips and his eyes became as serious as the other mans, “If I recall rightly, you qualified as an engineer, right?”

 

“Correct.” Adam nodded and glanced over at his brothers who had edged in closer, “Why’d you ask?”

 

“I wanted to make use of your ‘expertise’ as Hoss would call it,  I want you to come with me and have a look at McGarthy’s place.”

 

“By that  you mean what exactly?” Adam asked with narrowed eyes, while Hoss and Joe  crowded in even closer.

 

“By checking out the mine.”

 

“The Bucksburn Mine?” Joe gasped, “You kidding?”

 

“No,  I’m serious.  I’ve asked several engineers in town but they won’t go near the place.  They reckon there’s nothing wrong with the mines McGarthy runs, they’re working at maximum capacity and doing well.”

 

“So?  What’s the problem?” Hoss asked, narrowing his eyes

 

“Because there have been too many incidents there, too many injuries.  I just want to make sure that everything is what he claims it to be ..”

 

“Which is?” Adam asked while he stared at an awl with an intensity that was rather disconcerting.

 

“Too many accidents,  too many injuries.” Candy replied in a tone of despondency.

 

“Nothing major though?” Joe said quietly, “I mean,  other mines have accidents …it comes with the jobs, it has those kind of risks.”

 

Candy nodded “I know that, but since the 1870’s there has been a program set up regarding medical care … every mine owner should provide that for their employees. The medical staff are paid for out of deductions from the miners wages and that means they don’t need to use the doctors from the town.  Well, McGarthy doesn’t run a medical team for his employees,  and so far as I can tell, he doesn’t intend to.”

 

“That  doesn’t involve us, Candy. “ Adam said quietly, “It’s up to you, if you feel there is an infringement of the law, to go and enforce it.”

 

“I know that…” Candy said, almost snapping out the words.  He waited a moment to think of what to say, “Look, I’m afraid that the mines aren’t safe, that these small incidents are just indications that soon there’s going to  be a major cave in.  The doctors in town  are being used to full stretch as it is.”

 

“I know, Pa said as much a while back.” Adam sighed, “But to be honest, Candy, I really can’t see how I can help.  In fact, I think it could cause a lot of trouble if McGarthy knew I was involved at all.”

 

“Yeah,” Hoss nodded, “the proverbial red rag to a bull.”

 

Joe sighed and placed a hand on Candy’s shoulder “You sure there isn’t anyone else you could ask?”

 

“No.  As I said the qualified men I asked in town  wouldn’t oblige.  They were scared off …” he glanced at Adam, the insinuation was there although unspoken.

 

Adam frowned and pushed some nails around on a plank of wood,  he didn’t speak and Hoss looked at him and wondered whether or not to speak for  him,  while Joe chewed his bottom lip and wondered if he knew anyone who would be fool enough to do what Candy wanted.

 

“Guess I had better get going then,  before someone breaks open the bank safe or runs off with someone’s horse.” Candy sighed and moved away but Adam stopped him by raising his hand,  “Well?”

 

“Have you come across a man called Billy Buckley yet?” Adam asked.

 

“No, not that I know of, should I know him?” Candy asked

 

“He’s a hired gunslinger, you’ll probably find a poster on him somewhere or other. He’s employed by McGarthy.”

 

Candy paused for thought for a moment “Tall chap,  thin face, moustache?”

 

“That’s the one.” Adam nodded “I met him the other day, he told me to tell you not to keep asking questions… for the sake of your health, you understand?”

 

Candy nodded, “I see.   And you got history with this man?”

 

“Some.   He killed a friend of mine.”  Adam said and looked at his brothers who both nodded and looked intently at Candy.

 

“And is that why you don’t want to get involved with McGarthy?”

 

“No, of course not.” Adam almost laughed at the thought that anyone could think he was running scared of Billy, “No, I’m not running scared, Candy.  Just exercising caution.”

 

“I see.  How long before you stop …” Candy  nodded as though to emphasise the words “exercising caution I mean?”

 

Adam just looked at the sheriff and shrugged “I’ll let you know.”

 

“Don’t make it too long.” Candy replied and turned away from them, replaced his hat and remounted his horse.

 

The three men watched him as he rode from the yard and disappeared behind the outbuildings,  then Joe turned to Adam “You seriously thinking of helping him out?”

 

Adam said nothing, grimaced and shrugged “C’mon, we’ve work to do.  Pa wants this finished soon, remember?”

 

“Yeah, but …” Joe stammered but stopped when Adam pushed a hammer into his hand and with a nod of the head indicated there was work to be done.

 

“You going to let Pa know about this?” Hoss  asked as  he passed his brother on the way to claiming some nails.

 

Adam nodded, shrugged and then rubbed the back of his neck before picking up his hammer and following his brothers into the building.

 

How good to smell newly sawn wood,  to hear the music of hammers thudding nails into place, to watch as the stairs were carefully manoeuvred into place. They shared a grin and a nod of the head,  it was like seeing a phoenix rise from the ashes.. The new being born from the old…   Adam ran his hand down the balustrade of the stairs and thought of smooth wood under his hand on his ships bulwark, Hoss  brushed his hand across the stones that had made up the fireplace for so many years, cleaned up and looking like new while Joe looked at the newly laid flooring and nodded to himself … he looked up and saw Adam watching him, and Hoss smiling… “Pa will be able to move in soon.” he said “He’ll be real pleased, won’t he?”

 

The three of them shared a smile,  the pleasure it gave them to have laboured upon the house in order to please their father tying them together in that greatest bond of brother ly affection.  It was as they turned to go about their work that Joe paused a moment and then looked over at his eldest brother “Billy Buckley huh?”

 

“What’s that?” Adam turned and raised his eyebrows

 

“I said, Bill Buckley …”

 

“What about him?” Adam replied looking into the hazel eyes of his youngest brother who was now rocking slightly back and forth on his heels

 

“You never mentioned him before.”

 

“So?” Adam shrugged which brought Hoss to a standstill as he swivelled around to look at his two siblings.

 

“So why not?  Is he in town?” Joe snapped

 

“Hey, hang on thar, did I miss something?” Hoss asked catching a sharp glare from both his brothers as an answer.

 

“Billy Buckley’s in town.” Joe  said and he shook his head “Why?”

 

“Billy Buckley?” Hoss’ blue eyes widened “The youngster who killed Ed Payton?”

 

“That’s the one.” Adam said with a sigh in his voice “He’s working for McGarthy now.”

 

“He is?” Joe’s voice had an edge to it now that hadn’t been there previously, he stepped closer to his brother “You can’t afford to get involved with that mining business, Adam.  Buckley’s built himself up quite a reputation as a gunslinger.”

 

“I know.” Adam nodded and shrugged again.

 

“Fact is, over the years while you’ve been at sea you – er – haven’t had much need for using your guns.” Joe pointed out in a softer voice.

 

Adam looked at him thoughtfully for a moment and then nodded once more “I know that too.”

 

“Which means Buckley will have the edge on you when it comes to a shoot out.”

 

“Do you think there’ll be a shoot out between him and me?” Adams’ eyebrows rose and he shook his head with a rather bemused expression on his face “Why?”

 

“Because – that’s why!” Joe snapped and his face contorted slightly,  a look of dismay and surprise at Adams’ apparent indifference.

 

“Joe’s right,” Hoss muttered, “You won’t be much competition against Billy.”

 

“I don’t intend to get into a confrontation with Billy,” Adam said evenly, “It’s Candy’s business, he’s the sheriff,  he has to deal with the likes of Billy.”

 

“Does Pa know about this?” Joe now asked as he stepped back a fraction to give Adam the chance to return to his work

 

“Why does Pa have to know?” Adam replied.

 

“Because he’s Pa that’s why.” Hoss  muttered and went to do his work so that he could think over what had been said, the problems that could arise as a result and why – and not for the first time – did his brother Adam have to be such a granite head.

 

Joe put a hand on Adams arm “Look,  Adam, you’re not in charge of a ship now, you know.”

 

“I know that,” Adam shook his brother’s arm away, “Don’t you think I don’t know that?”

 

“I’m just saying that you don’t have to carry the weight of everything on your shoulders anymore, that’s all.  We’re here… we’re family, aren’t we?”

 

Joe’s face had softened, that gentle affectionate look  that endeared him to so many, the expressive mouth held a half smile, while the hazel eyes looked at his brother with a quite paternal tenderness.  As usual it had an effect upon Adam’s mood for he reached out a hand and tousled Joe’s unruly mop of hair “Sure, sure … I understand. Now, let’s get back to work or this job will never get done.”

 

Somewhat reassured Joe gave his brother the benefit of his cheeriest grin, although behind the eyes he was worried.   He had never liked Billy Buckley, not even when the man was behaving like a decent human being, courting young Sally Cass and well thought of by many… so far as he was concerned the news that Buckley was back in town  unsettled him far more than it bothered his brother Adam.

 

 

 

 

Chapter 15

 

Timothy Schofield was the only doctor in the clinic when there came a frantic banging on the door causing the glass to rattle alarmingly from the force of the blows .  Grumbling beneath his breath Schofield pushed himself away from the desk and was about to remonstrate verbally when the door was pushed open  and the look on the man’s face stopped him from opening his mouth as the man gasped “Bucksburn there’s been an accident …”

 

The portly doctor paused only to grab his hat, his medical bag and slam the door behind him, pulling on the coat as he hurried to his buggy he turned to the other man “How many injured?”

 

“I don’t know,  they’re still going in to find ‘em.”

 

“Look here, go and get Dr Chan … he’s at the Chinese quarter … no….wait, get Dr Martin, and his wife, they’re at their house ..do you know where that is…”  and when the man nodded Schofield clambered into the buggy and was on the way out of town by the time the miner had crossed the road to get to  Paul and Bridie’s home.

 

It took a while to reach the mining camp where Schofield had to slow his buggy in order to thread its way through the assembled crowd  of silent women and groups of men clustered here and there, the voluble Chinese speaking in high pitched voices while the Irish stood sullen with brows hooded over brooding eyes, other men were there, different nationalities, all brought together  by  the promise of high wages and good working conditions.  All united by the common disappointment of finding themselves contracted to work for less than the salary they earned in previous employment.

 

Schofield looked around him and got down from the buggy,  he elbowed his way through a group of muttering men and headed for McGarthy’s office only to find it empty.   He paused on the threshold and looked around him at the opulence of the place and then turned to face the men coming from the mine entrance.   A woman approached, thin faced and straggling hair, “You won’t find him there, he’s at his place.”

 

“This is the place he should be…” Schofield hissed between his teeth as he watched the men who were bringing others out on makeshift stretchers,  men who hobbled alongside them and leaned upon stout arms that bore them upright, he counted them as they approached although aware that the woman was still there talking at him. Finally he turned towards her “What did you say?”

 

“He’s at his mansion … making sure the windows don’t fall out and the doors don’t come off their hinges.” she shouted and for a moment Schofield wondered why she was shouting and then realised it was because she was angry, frightened, and that while these men could be dead, or dying,  McGarthy  was  playing Lord of the Manor elsewhere.

 

A thin tall man with a moustache and cold eyes approached him, “Come with me.  Thought you knew your way around here by now.  Are you alone?”

 

“I’ve sent for Dr Martin.” Schofield said in reply, a little breathless, it was difficult to keep up with the long legged man who looked somewhat out of place with his gun belt slung so low and the hat shading his eyes.

 

“Here – this is the usual place, isn’t it?” Buckley gestured to a hut which had a wooden sign nailed onto the door “Medical Centre.”

 

By the time Schofield had opened the door and deposited his medical bag on a desk the first of the injured was brought in.  The man was on a stretcher,  carried by two others who looked hopefully at the doctor as though his presence would wrought some miracle in order to heal the poor wretch they had just brought in.  Schofield indicated where the stretcher could be set down  while at the same time he surveyed the glass fronted medical cupboard affixed to the far wall.

 

Billy Buckley was watching him, standing away from the door and by the desk as the injured were being brought into the building.  Schofield turned away from the cabinet and  approached Buckley “Has McGarthy still not complied with the law? Is there no one here to administer medication to these men?”

 

“We’re waiting for some new medics …” Billy said in a flat tone of  voice “If there isn’t anyone in town to help we’ve been getting some of the staff from the Gould & Curry and the Jackdaw.  They’re the closest ..” he paused, “Felt it better to get you in to see to this though, there’s been too many complaints about our  use of their staff.”

 

The groans, the sudden shrill scream,  voices calling for  help prevented either man from speaking further ,  Buckley did a prompt about turn while Schofield began to look at his patients.  Those who had gone into the mine to find the victims stood close by,  weary, frightened and anxious.  One of them approached Schofield as he was about to examine his first patient “One of the charges went off too soon…”

 

Another pulled off his cap and hugged it to his chest “They was too close,  didn’t stand a chance to get out of the way.”

 

Schofield nodded and pushed them away, so eager to explain the causes of the accident they failed to realise they were now crowding in on him and preventing him from reaching the injured men.  “Are these the only victims?”

 

“Yes, the others got clear.”

 

“Unharmed?” Schofield snapped as he looked down at the blackened face of a man gasping to breathe.

 

“Apart from cuts and – and it was like shrapnel – came out from the walls because of the explosion – but the women can see to them,  these men need more urgent attention than what they’ve got.”

 

“I’ll deal with these and check the others later.” Schofield muttered as he set down his hat and removed his coat.   “Are there any women out there with any nursing experience?”

 

The men looked at one another,  but before they could speak there came a scream from one of the victims,  and another called out “Help me…  help me…. Can’t breathe, can’t breathe…”

 

Schofield pushed the men aside, indicated the door and watched as they left casting anxious looks over at the injured who lay on the stretchers or  trestle beds that had been lined against the wall of the building.

 

He was about to go to the aid of the man who was screaming when the door reopened and Paul Martin, followed by Bridie, entered the room,.  Without a word they both removed their hats and coats and while Bridie began to get water on to boil and to set out instruments for use later, Paul joined Schofield in checking over the victims.

 

The man who was screaming  had passed out and was now silent.   Another lay bloodied and in pain, his body torn by the sharp rocks that had pierced the flesh just as the other men had described it, like shrapnel, sharp edged and lethal.  Another had half the flesh of his leg sliced away from thigh to ankle but the shock of blood loss seemed to have left him oblivious to any pain.

 

A younger man  had a large sliver of the rock embedded in his shoulder, so severely and deeply had it penetrated that his arm hung in bloodied limp uselessness while the tendons and flesh that held everything together was exposed to full view.

 

The worst case was the man who had come in first of all and who stared from one eye at the ceiling.  Paul and Timothy looked at one another and stepped to one side away from  the victims hearing.

 

“What do you think?” Paul murmured.

 

Schofield shook his head and looked over at the other men “I’d  think it wiser if we tried to save these others before attending to him.  It may be that …” he looked at Paul meaningfully  and Paul turned away and looked over at his wife who was pulling on a large white apron.

 

They were not sure when Jimmy Chan had arrived but it was at least an hour before McGarthy did,  striding purposefully to his office and demanding to be told all the details before  seeing the doctors, not that they were available as they tended to the wounded.

 

The man who had been unable to  breathe was the one with the ripped apart arm, who was found to have broken ribs and shattered spleen.  Bridie had cleaned him carefully for the operation and had held his other hand in hers as Paul had amputated the limb. While she made him as comfortable as possible in his cot afterwards Paul went to assist Schofield with the man who had the  injured leg.

 

Sometime before Jimmy had arrived there had been a timid knock on the door and a woman had stepped inside to offer to help.  She was set to keeping water boiling and making sure instruments were sterilised.  Schofield had asked her if she was likely to faint at the sight of blood and she had said no, but when she saw the sight of the man with one eye she had turned green immediately and been sent back to boiling water.

 

Now Schofield and Jimmy Chan looked down upon the last of the most seriously injured and  wondered if there was any possibility of keeping him alive, and if they could keep him alive would he actually appreciate it.

 

“We’ll do what we can for him,” Schofield muttered and looked over at Bridie who was  helping to bandage the amputee “Mrs Martin, we need your help here.”

 

Paul stepped forward “No,  she has enough to do… I’ll assist here.”  and he looked at Bridie sternly as though to warn her not to step any nearer to where the operation was to take place.

 

The clock had ticked away hours by now,  the other woman had been replaced by a younger stronger female who told Bridie in low tones that she had helped clean up the men who had received the cuts from the small shrapnel like bits of rock. “Odd, it was,  some bits just wouldn’t come out no matter what.  Mrs Deacon said it was because they had got embedded in the bone.”

 

Schofield worked carefully and slowly, taking his time to remove broken bone, teeth and  splinters of rock from the mans face.  The  left eye socket had collapsed,  along with the left side of his face …  slowly, methodically the three doctors attempted to do all that they could to repair the impossible.

 

An almost eerie silence had fallen upon the room as the injured but  attended to patients slept their drug induced sleep.   The breathing of the three doctors as they laboured on the last victim accompanied the sound of the ticking clock.  Bridie and the other woman very quietly cleaned the medical instruments that had been used and set them aside.  It seemed to Bridie that the operation would never end but it did when the poor wretched man slipped away in death and left the three doctors standing there,  hands still holding the instruments they had been using and staring down at him as though they couldn’t believe he had lost the will to live.

 

Schofield shook his head “I doubt if he would have thanked us …”

 

“No,” Paul murmured and his shoulders drooped, “No,  but we had to try.”

 

Jimmy said nothing,  he bowed his head and wondered why they had even bothered.  How could a man survive with only half a face?  He turned away and approached Bridie who put a hand gently upon his arm,  she understood how he felt, sometimes he felt she was the only one.

 

Paul opened the door and sunlight streamed inside.  He looked up at the sky and was amazed that it was still day light, he felt as though he had been standing over those men’s poor bodies for endless hours.  A small cluster of women were still standing there and one approached him now,  timidly “Dr Martin?”

 

“Yes?  Are you related to any of the men we have here?”

 

“My son?   They said he – he lost his arm.”

 

He nodded,  and sighed “He’s sleeping comfortably just now.  It’s Mrs Higgins isn’t it?”

 

“Yes, sir.”

 

Another woman stepped forward, and another… they had waited patiently for as long as it was needed.   One by one Paul assured them their man was asleep, doing well, was comfortable, yes, he had survived and then of course there was the one who had not and he had to tell her, very gently,  that her husband would not be going home.

…………….

 

McGarthy listened as Paul told him what he had the right to know, and then made promises that both knew would not be kept.   “It’s not the fault of the company,” Patrick said patiently as though explaining the situation to a child, “It was a case of ignorance on the part of the men involved, carelessness and ineptitude.   The man who was supervising the detail should be held accountable.”

 

Quite true perhaps, but no one can hold a dead man accountable of anything …

 

Chapter 16

 

During the 1860’s Dr Martins house was located on the edge of town… available to the mines located on that side of the territory and to the townsfolk at an equal distance.  As the town grew and the mines expanded so the doctor’s house was absorbed into the town itself, but had been far enough away from the fires that had  caused such devastation in 1875 as to have remained as it had always been.

 

It had aged somewhat, just like its owner, but every so often a fesh coat of paint had gone onto the doors and window frames to brighten it up.  A succession of housekeepers had also come and gone over the years and despite Bridie’s objections Paul had insisted on providing one  as his wife’s work load increased .

 

Mrs Treveleyn opened the door while tryng to dust off flour from her face with her free hand.  She was somewhat gratified to see Hester standing rather hesitantly on the front porch,  she gave the other woman a smile and nod “I’ve been baking…”

 

“Yes,” Hester smiled and refrained from saying that had been fairly obvious, “Is  Bridie … Mrs Martin at home?”

 

“I’m afraid not,” the housekeeper tried now to  straighten her cap,  a lace trimmed liinen affair that did little for her looks, “She had to go to the mine  with Dr Martin.”

 

“The mine?” Hester glanced over to her buggy where the horse was nibbling at its bit as though annoyed at waiting already “Which one?  What happened?”

 

“I don’t know.” Mrs Treveleyn shook her head “Dr Martin came back from surgery and asked her to go with him.  Oh, it was that Bucksburn mine, the one that seems to be having trouble a lot just lately.  Seems to me …”

 

“Yes, thank you.  Will you tell her I called by?”

 

Hester  hurried back to her buggy and waited for a moment  to think through what she should do now.  The mine was at least an hours journey from the town,  and perhaps the Doctor and his wife would prefer not to have her bustling in, apart from which of course, they could well be on their way home by now.

 

She drove the buggy to the surgery, it was, she surmised, possible for Su Ling to be there, and to be able to give her some information although even as she thought the words she wondered what right she had to expect any.   She had so wanted to see Bridie today as well.   She gathered up her skirts and was about to get down from the vehicle when her friend, Su Ling, appeared from the building.  Su Ling gave Hester the customary bow of greeting before smiling up at her “So good to see you, Honourable Miss Hester.   You come to see Su Ling?  Or perhaps to see honourable doctor?”

 

“I was actually visiting town …” she paused,  then smiled after all, Su Ling wouldn’t  be interested in  the fact that she had inveigled Ben into accompanying her to town to order a whole heap of furniture for the house.   She shrugged a little and smiled apologetically “Well, it doesn’t really matter, Su Ling.  Have you seen Ben?”

 

“Oh yes,  he go now to Mr Coffee home. “ Su Ling  smiled again,  “No trubble for you?”

 

“No, everythings alright, thank you.   The boys asked me to bring Ben into town so that he would not be under their feet for a few hours.”

 

The younger woman laughed and Hester wondered why it was that Chinese women had the ability to make even laughter sound like tinkling melodies.  “Oh yes, I unnerstand,  little boys not want Honourable Father watch building.”

 

“Quite right. I was asked to keep him out of their way for as long as possible.” Hester sighed and then with a smile said, rather sweetly, “So I hear there has been a problem at the Bucksburn mine?”

 

“Yes, all doctors and Mrs Martin go to help.  Velly bad problem.”

 

“Will they be home soon?”

 

Su Ling shook her head “Bad problem may take long time.”

 

Hester could only give a weak smile and nod at that and watched Su Ling hurry away to her own home.    She turned the horse and buggy round carefully and set it into a good canter out of town in the direction of the mines as it occurred to her that an extra pair of hands was always appreciated, and if they were not, then perhaps she would have Bridie as company back into town.   Ben had ridden in on Cinnamon so had left her to her own devices anyway and it was guarantee’d that he wouldn’t be leaving town too soon,  not now that he was at Roys.

 

Ben was comfortably seated in a big leather chair by a small fire balancing a cup and saucer in one hand and a slice of cake in the other.   Roy was similarly occupied.  From the kitchen area there came the sounds of things being prepared for another meal which Ben was considering staying a little longer to enjoy.

 

He brushed his mouth with the napkin that had been provided and nodded “Dorothy’s a good cook.”

 

“She is,” Roy agreed as he brushed crumbs from his moustache and transferred them to his vest, “A good plain cook which I like,  not any of that fancy stuff Rachel used to be preparing all the time. Said my taste in food was old fashioned.” he slurped back some coffee and after swilling it around his teeth swallowed it with a contented sigh.

 

“How is Dorothy?  She seemed rather subdued when I arrived?”

 

“Yes,” Roy nodded and leaned closer which indicated that he wanted to speak in lower tones so Ben leaned forward to catch what he said “she has been quieter these past few days.   I was thinking it had something to do with a visitor she had some days backalong…someone with a fancy carriage.”

 

Ben scratched the back of his neck “You think it could be one of her former … er … friends?”

 

“Wal, it could be at that, but I don’t think so.  Dorothy’s not a silly woman, she ain’t likely to go fussing and moping because of some old boyfriend coming along to pay a visit.  I was thinking it could be someone she had rather not seen, if you catch my drift.”

 

Ben nodded but said nothing more as the lady in question came into the room with a fresh pot of coffee which she set down on the table “Is there anything else you would like, gentlemen?”

 

Ben observed her for a moment but when she noticed she was under scrutiny so that a blush crept over her neck, he turned his head and muttered he was full, and the cake was excellent.  “More coffee then?”

 

They both nodded and she poured more into the cups before turning away.  Ben caught Roy’s eye, nodded and got up to follow her into the kitchen.  “Dorothy?”

 

“Yes, Mr Cartwright?”

 

Ben frowned,  looked at her with narrowed eyes “Mr Cartwright?  When did you start calling me Mr Cartwright?”

 

“Since you walked through the door.” she said with a slight smile.

 

“Yes, but all the time I’ve known you,  Dorothea, you’ve called me Ben.”

 

“Times change.” she replied and began to carefully put the remainder of the cake into a tin which was put onto a shelf, she sighed “I’ve changed.”

 

“Do you make a habit of changing every few days?   Last time I called on Roy  you were a lot more like your old self.”

 

“Oh,” she shrugged “Well, I can’t afford to be like my old self, Mr Cartwright.  I have to  remind myself that even with old friends like yourself I am now Dorothy Tennant, not Dorothea Armstrong.”

 

He shook his head and smiled gently while he placed a kindly hand upon her arm, “There was nothing wrong with Dorothea Armstrong,  my dear.”

 

She said nothing to that and he was somewhat puzzled when she moved away from him in an effort to remove his hand upon her arm.   For a moment she busied herself with her food preparation before she looked up to find him still standing there “Was there something you wanted?”

 

“Yes,  if you wouldn’t mind.”

 

A slight  smile came to her lips as the old Dorothea slipped through so that Ben smiled back “Well, perhaps I might?”

 

“I hope that you won’t, Dorothy.  I was just thinking that it may have been the wrong thing to have done,  moving back here where you  were so well known…that is, if you did want a change of life.”

 

“I have been thinking the same, Mr Cartwright.   Oh I have had a  change of life, as you politely called it, since that time … well, you know all about that of course.   But I had thought it would be just perfect to come back here,  and live out my life as just Dorothy Tennant,  just relax and enjoy my last years here, it’s been home to me for so long and I missed it while I was away.”

 

“That’s understandable.   So what has happened to change your mind?”

 

She shook her head and shrugged “Oh  some people have long memories, some bear grudges I suppose.  It doesn’t matter where one goes, people remember …”

 

“You had a visitor a while ago …  an old friend?  Did he upset you?”

 

She smiled but shook her head,  then wistfully looked at him “Not an old friend,  Mr Cartwright,  perhaps he brought the ghost of one back into my life. “

 

“Did he say – or do – anything …”

 

She shook her head “It doesn’t matter, Mr Cartwright. It’s my business.  As the old proverb says, ’I’ve made my bed, so have to lie on it.’” she grimaced and her eyes twinkled for a moment with mischief,  “Well, anyway, that’s how it is, but thank you for your concern.  You and Roy – I mean Mr Coffee – are good friends and I do appreciate it, but this is my business so I’ll handle it.”

 

“You don’t have to handle it alone, Dorothy.”

 

She nodded but turned her back on him so that he had no other option but to return to the other room and  sit back in the comfortable old chair.  Roy looked hopefully at him but all he could do was shake his head.

…………

A queue of men were lounging around the Medical Centre when Hester arrived and carefully edged her buggy in close to where she could see Pauls.   It was obvious that every man there was in need of some form of attention,  there was blood on their clothing and bodies, their faces at times obscured by blood stained clothes held up to them, told there own story.

 

She pushed open the door to find more men inside seated on benches while the doctors and Bridie were tending to them.  They glanced at her as she opened the door as sunlight and fresh air drifted into the room and disturbed their concentration.  Scofield opened his mouth to say something but before he could utter a word Hester said “I’ve come to help.  What can I do, just tell me?”

 

There was another woman in the corner of the room boiling water,  a bowl of blood stained instruments and clothes were on a bench beside her.  In another corner was a woman holding onto the hand of a man stretched out on a litter.  As her eyes grew accustomed to the gloom Hester realised there were several women there, standing beside cots upon which bodies were lying, whether dead, unconscious or sleeping she didn’t know.

 

“If you could help me here…” Bridie said in a voice dull with weariness “ I would be grateful.”

 

Paul raised his head “Did you notice how many more were waiting outside?”

 

“About twelve…” Hester replied and looked at the man seated in front of Bridie, “What do I do?”

 

Bridie picked up an instrument that looked like tweezers, “Carry on pulling out the flint from this poor man’s face.  His hands need bandaging …   I’ve already dealt with his body.”

 

Hester nodded, looked at the man who stared back at her, Bridie placed a hand on her shoulder “Thank you, Hester.”

 

She didn’t say anything else just went to the door and beckoned to the next man along to come inside.   He sat down and waited for attention,  his English was limited, he was Chinese like some of the others had been,  he was in pain, but anticipated hopefully that it would soon improve with the help of these people.  He sighed,  this, he thought as Bridie loomed large before him with tweezers and a determined look on her weary face, was not what he had expected all those months ago when he had landed in San Francisco from his homeland.    As the first splinter was plucked from his cheekbone he forced himself not to wince, not to say a word.  Life, he tried to convince himself,  was good.

 

Chapter 17

 

Hester was not sure how she managed to get home.  She couldn’t even recall getting back into the buggy and driving away from the mining camp.   It was only when she was helped from the vehicle by her husband that reality seemed to return at the sight of his horror stricken face. She immediately burst into rather girlish tears as she felt his arms take hold of her and draw her into their protective custody.

 

“Oh Hoss,” she sobbed, “Oh Hoss…”

 

Hoss said nothing but lifted her off her feet and carried her into the house where his anxious family were waiting for their arrival.  There was an instant when everyone stepped forward to see for themselves that Hester was safe, but just as instantly they stepped back and left Hoss to settle her into the most comfortable chair.  Mary Ann rushed out to organise something to drink, hot and sweet,  while Hop Sing hurried to get warm water and a towel for Missy Hester had returned home blood stained, dust covered and tear streaked.  It was quite unlike Missy Hester!

 

No one spoke although eyes were turned to each other and spoke volumes,  no one knew what to say as Hoss knelt beside his wife and gently rubbed her trembling hands and then forced her to drink the hot sweet tea that Mary Ann had prepared.

 

After a while, and it seemed to the onlookers that it was a rather long while, Hester regained her composure.   Hoss was wiping her face with the wet cloth while Hop Sing nodded approval as though even that task was usually beyond Hoss’  abilities.

 

“It’s alright, I’m alright,” she whispered and drew in a deep breath, gulped down more of the tea and then, after handing the cup and saucer to Hop Sing,  she closed her eyes and covered her face with her hands.  “I’m sorry.  I shouldn’t have gone.  I just wanted to help…”

 

Ben cleared his throat and explained how Mrs Treveleyn had told him that Hester had left to find Bridie but hadn’t mentioned anything about where Bridie actually had gone.  Hester removed her hands and looked at her family … Joe seated in a chair leaning towards her with his face a mask of tragedy on epic proportions;  Adam leaning against the back of Joe’s chair with his arms folded with a blank expression on his face but dark eyes smouldering; Ben  with a face reflecting many emotions and black eyes snapping while Mary Ann hovered anxiously wringing her hands.  The absence of Olivia and the children indicated that it was later than she had imagined, and everyone there had obviously feared the worst.

 

“Bridie was at the Bucksburn Mine.” Hester said slowly, “I thought if I went there I would probably meet her coming home as apparently she had been there for quite some time, but … but she was still there, helping the doctors …”  she shivered and grabbed hold of Hoss’ hands “I thought I’d sent a message to let you know where I was?”

 

“We didn’t get it,” Hoss said quietly, “We were about to saddle up and come looking for you.”

 

“I’m sorry.” she whispered again and rubbed her brow as though struggling to remember whether or not she had just imagined the boy taking the money and promising to find Ben in town to let him know where she was… she sighed “Well,  I was only there an hour, some of the medical staff from the Jackdaw came to help and Bridie told me to come home.  They’re so tired, they had been working there for hours.”

 

“So what happened at the mine, honey?” Hoss asked gently, stroking back a strand of hair from Hester’s brow and tucking it behind her ear “You’ve blood all over you…”

 

She looked down at her skirts then, shook her head in amazement at the sight of the blood and then looked at Hoss’ dear anxious face.  Very carefully so that the events unfolded in her mind as they had taken place, she told them about the mine, the men who had been injured, had died.   She told them about the women who stood patiently waiting for their men to emerge from the Medical Centre as they had been cleaned and their wounds stitched up.

 

Ben asked about McGarthy, where had he been when it had happened, why had the town doctors been called in to help, where was he when the doctors had arrived and Hester shrugged “I don’t know … he did come to where we were and wrung his hands and promised the men a bonus and apologised.  He seemed very upset.”

 

The four men exchanged a look indicating that they didn’t believe that for a moment, but waited for her to continue “Dr Schofield tore a strip off him, told him he was a disgrace and there should be a medical team available for incidents like this but Mr McGarthy got angry then and shouted back…. Paul told them both to be quiet or leave the premises.”  she frowned and shook her head “The Irish were the most voluble,  they were swearing and cursing and Bridie kept telling them to shut up,  she sounded so very Irish herself then …” and she laughed a little at the memory, then wiped away a tear “But it was the Chinese, they were so quiet, so stoic … not a word of complaint, they just seemed …so accepting.”

 

Adam nodded “Its bred into them, it’s their culture.” and he thought briefly of the men who had been enslaved by Jiang Peng, of Cheng Ho Lee and turned away to look into the flames of the small fire.

 

“So did anyone say what caused the explosion?” Ben asked now and Hester told her what she had overheard “The supervisor, a man called O’Connell,  he was killed. He didn’t make the fuses long enough…”

 

“Nonsense,” Adam snapped, “No man leaves himself short on fuses, if he were the supervisor then he’d have known what length they were to be …”

 

“One of the other men said the same, the Irish man Mr Mayhew.  He said that O’Connell  wouldn’t have been so careless, he was a good man,  he wouldn’t have risked his life or his men.” she heaved in a deep breath, and leaned forward to rest her head upon Hoss’ shoulder “Oh Hoss, I feel so tired, and rather sick …”

 

Hoss nodded and instantly picked her up as if she were as light as Hannah,  and then carried her up the stairs and to the room  allocated to them. Ben turned to Joe and Adam as soon as the door was closed “There’s something not right about this…”

 

“You can say that again,” Joe muttered, “Thing is, what can we do about it?”

 

No one answered that, even Adam usually the first to offer an opinion kept quiet. They looked at one another and then with a sigh Adam pushed himself away from the back of Joes chair “I’d best get home, Olivia will be worried.” he didn’t say who Olivia would be worried about but no one needed to ask, it was fairly obvious.

…………………

 

Dorothy Tennant placed the items she had selected from the shelves onto the counter and waited patiently to be served.   Several ladies who approached the counter after her were served first and when they had left the store the store keeper turned to her “We don’t accept customers such as yourself here,  Madam.  Perhaps you should try Ridleys further along the street.”

 

Dorothy stared at him in disbelief “But I always get my things from here. They’re for Mr Coffee and …”

 

“I don’t care if they’re for the King of England, we ain’t serving you no more. Your sort ain’t welcome here.”  and he raised his chin – both of them – and glared down his nose at her.

 

“Since when?   My money was good enough yesterday.” she snapped and then gave the Manager’s wife, who had sidled in behind her husband, a dark glare “And perhaps you could explain why?”

 

“Me?  Explain to the likes of you?” the other woman snapped back in return, “You should be ashamed of yourself, Dorothea Armstrong, creeping back and pretending to be something  you’re not.”

 

Dorothy went slightly pale and then the colour rushed back into her cheeks, she shook her head “I’m Mr Coffee’s housekeeper now,  Mrs Pollack,  and a respectable woman.”

 

“Huh, respectable indeed.” Mrs Pollack said loudly enough for other customers to hear “Now off with you before I set on you with my broom.”

 

For  a moment Dorothy’s instincts from her former life flashed to her mind, had anyone spoken to her like that back then they would have been on the receiving end of her fist, as it was she had to force her fingers from curling into fighting mode.  She shook her head and felt trapped, this, she realised the start of it all, this is what McGarthy had meant and she felt the colour drain from her face.  Her hand reached out for her basket but before she had a chance to remove it from the counter a mittened hand rested upon hers “Wot’s all this ‘ere then?”

 

Widow Hawkins stepped closer to the counter and stared at the Pollacks and then at Dorothy,  she then looked at the items on the counter and shook her head as though somewhat  confused “Well, cat got yer tongue, Sidney?”

 

“No, Mrs Hawkins, it’s just that …” Pollack looked at Dorothy, “We were given a false impression as to who this person was… “

 

“Dishonest that’s what it is…” Mrs Pollack hissed.

 

Clemmie Hawkins gave them a glare from beneath her false eyelashes and then turned to Dorothy “This ‘ere lot for Roy is it?  Best get it into yer basket then, he’ll be waiting on his breakfast.”

 

She fixed the Pollacks with a glare and squared her shoulders “Go on, me gel, get moving.  I’ll pay for these things, we can settle up later.”

 

“Mrs Hawkins…” Dorothy murmured but a firm shake of the head from the little widow indicated that she didn’t want to hear so she quickly piled the things into the basket, whispered thank you and turned to leave.

 

Her hand was on the handle when she heard Clemmie’s crisp voice “So tell me, Sidney Pollack, why is Mrs Tennant’s money not good enough now when you were more than willing to take it when she was in her previous occupation?” and in a lower voice hissed “And happy enough to pass over your money to her at times too.”

 

The sound of coins rattling upon the counter indicated payment had been made and with an odd feeling in her stomach Dorothy  Tennant made her way to the home of Roy Coffee.  She wondered if she should mention the matter to him,  after all given Mrs Hawkins reputation as a gossip he would hear eventually anyway… but then that proved how little she knew about Clemmie Hawkins who knew perfectly well when to keep quiet and when not to do so.

……………………

 

Candy Canady poured out his second mug of coffee for the day when the door opened and a tall woman with her head covered by a shawl entered,  hesitated for a moment and then approached his desk “Candy?   Can I speak to you about something?”

 

“Mrs Mayhew?”  Candy stood up politely and indicated the chair on the other side of the desk, “Sit down, would you like some coffee?   Clem … get Mrs Mayhew some coffee.”

 

Mrs Mayhew sat for a moment as though willing herself to do what she had intended to do;  she had made up her mind to see Candy the previous day when her husband had returned home all patched up and scarred no doubt for life.   It wasn’t right she had decided, not right at all and McGarthy was getting away with too much, far too much.

 

Now she took the mug that Clem passed over to her and sipped it, found it to be too hot so set it down on the desk “Did you hear about the explosion at the mine yesterday?”

 

Candy and Clem looked at one another, both nodded their heads.  She sighed and was wondering what to say, when Candy prompted her to just say what she felt she needed and to drink the coffee while it was hot. As quietly as possible she told them what had happened,  watched their faces as she spoke, saw the indignation, the concern.  She paused to drink some of the coffee and licked her lips before starting the explanation from a different direction.

 

“You see, it’s like this …  McGarthy doesn’t pay good decent wages, just enough if  you’re really careful, to get by because the men are paid in script you see and we have to buy everything we need from the Company store.   it’s better for the men who are married, we women know how to keep the money spread over you see, but some women, well, they’re just girls and spend it as easily as if their men were single.”  she paused and frowned, shook here head and took some more coffee.

 

“Go on, Mrs Mayhew, take your time.” Candy said gently.

 

“I’m sorry, I guess I’m rambling it’s just that McGarthy has everything sewn up you see?  The store belongs to him and he charges high rates, and the saloon as well, if you could call it that, but the men go there and drink or gamble their money away.  But the things we need … like the Medics and a school for the kids… “ she frowned, and shook her head as though the weight of words was getting too heavy for her to bear.

 

Another silence and Clem was thinking that perhaps she needed some more coffee when she began to speak again “It means that most of the men are in debt, all the time, to the Company, that is, to McGarthy.  He more or less owns them, body and soul.  Well, O’Connell  got so that he couldn’t stand for it, he said we had to have proper Medical care right there in the camp and so he went to McGarthy last week and they had real set to,  shouting and swearing they were….”

 

“You heard what was being said?” Candy asked gently

 

“Oh yes,  because I was in the other room.  I keep the office clean for him, you see. That’s my job, it helps supplement Sam’s.   But Sam says that we don’t earn enough money to be able to have pay deducted to cover for any Medics that’s why we don’t have any.   The Chinese work hard but they keep themselves to themselves, they don’t argue about anything just work, and take their money.  The other men, well, a lot of them are just so feckless.”

 

“What do you want me to do , Mrs Mayhew?” Candy asked quietly, “Mr McGarthy could well remind me that I have no jurisdiction on his territory, and I’m afraid, that he’d be right.”

 

“Oh.” she leaned back, deflated now and bowed her head “You mean you can’t help?”

 

“Since my last visit |checked the paperwork about the rights of mine owners … and the law … some accept what a territorial sheriff will say or do, but some have their own law keepers installed, and don’t take kindly to the likes of me interfering.”

 

“McGarthy doesn’t have a law keeper,  only a gunslinger called Buckley.” Mrs Mayhew said quietly and rose to her feet, “Well, I thought I’d just come by and see if you could help.  I’m sorry to have bothered you.”

 

Candy stood up immediately “It‘s no bother, Mrs Mayhew.  If anything else happens you come and tell me.  Do you promise me that?”

 

She nodded but pulled her shawl over her head as she left the building, not entirely convinced that Candy would be able to do anything at all to help the people trapped – as she saw it – at the Bucksburn Mining Company.  He saw the cloud of misery pass over her face and put a hand on her arm “Sometimes people set themselves up as kings,  but they forget that the law can always find a loop hole somewhere, when it has to… at the moment McGarthy hasn’t committed a crime.  Do you understand?”

 

“But…”

 

“Being a ruthless man and willing to tread anyone down who gets in his way isn’t a crime, yet, in this territory.   All I can advise, Mrs Mayhew, is patience on your part…and to let me know what’s going on there.”

 

She said nothing but looked more hopefully into his face, then quickly left the building.

 

Chapter 18

 

Shadows were slanting across the main thoroughfare of the town  and people went about their business without noticing the slim darkly clad man leaning against the post of the Telegraph Depot.   He had watched Mrs Mayhew enter and leave the sheriff’s office and also seen Dorothy Tennant as she now called herself return to Roy Coffee’s with her basket laden with store bought goods.  He lowered his head and tugged thoughtfully upon his moustache before making his way to the saloon.

 

As he lowered himself onto the somewhat rickety chair with the glass of beer on the table in front of him Billy Buckley concentrated hard on the situation he now found himself in.  It seemed to him that throughout his life he had been dominated by strong bullying men and that he had allowed them to dictate how his life should be, which direction it should go.

 

The only time, and he had to take a deep draught of beer to consider this fact, the only time he had had peace of mind and shown any strength of character was when he had lived here in this town some years earlier and fallen in love with Sally Cass.  It had seemed so important at the time to get rid of Ed Payton, when really what he wanted to get rid of was Billy Buckley, the man who always took the easy way out of a situation by letting others dictate the direction… because killing Payton had been a mistake.

 

He emptied his glass and set it down on t he table with a thud, yes, killing Payton had been a mistake all right, he had been cursed ever since with men and boys calling him out to face them countless times since.   He had lost count of the number of people he had killed or wounded.  No one ever tried to talk him out of facing them either.  He just went out there and faced them … and then moved on to someplace else where it happened all over again.

 

Then there were the men who hired him to kill…paid well, big bucks.  He looked over at the counter and watched as Solomon cleaned the slops away with a cloth,  he watched the man’s hand going back and forth and thought it was like his life really, just ticking away back and forth.

 

He thought again about Mrs Mayhew and Mrs Tennant,  he knew that McGarthy would want to know about them, after all as he kept saying ‘You’re my eyes and ears, Billy Boy.”   he shook his head in an attempt to get the sound of the voice out of his brain,  he hated the way people called him Billy Boy, even now.  But then McGarthy had no fear of him, he didn’t worry about Billy Buckley because he paid him so much money.   For the amount of money he was getting could he kill a woman?  Or even two women?  What if McGarthy actually stooped to that level?   What if he said in that oily voice of his ‘There’ll be a bonus in it for you,  Billy Boy.’  just like there was a bonus for  when he shortened that fuse.

 

He released his breath slowly at the memory of that moment, and how he had managed to scuttle away just in time, barely a hairsbreadth in it … but it had killed O’Connell and that was what McGarthy had wanted after all.

 

A slender arm  draped across his shoulders and a pretty face leaned over to look into his,   Gloria smiled and her eyes twinkled “You shouldn’t be drinking alone,  Mister.  Mind if I join you?”

 

He did mind, but she was pretty and her smile was infectious, so he nodded and within minutes Solomon was there with a bottle of whiskey and two glasses and Gloria was sitting very close to him, her hand upon his knee and looking into his eyes.  There were always girls like Gloria, in every town he ever went to, and they were always the same…but he always ended up doing what they asked of him in the end.

……………………

Olivia had watched as her two children had ran into school.   She had decided to bring them in herself rather than have Hank or Jake drive them in on the wagon.  It was a still warm day and she had kissed her husband goodbye as he had left for work and then bundled the children into the buggy.

 

She now turned the vehicle and set the horses in the direction of Bridie’s home.   Various people called out a greeting as she passed or waved and these she acknowledged with a smile, a nod or a wave as the case may be.  She had seen a woman scurrying into the sheriff’s office and wondered briefly who she had been and what she would be wanting with the sheriff and had then dismissed the matter from her mind as she approached Roy’s house.

 

A tall woman had been leaving with a basket on her arm.  This was obviously the housekeeper that Ben had told them about, the lady with the reputation !  She had hesitated for a fraction of a moment as she had thought over  whether she should visit Roy now or leave it to later.  She had decided on it being later,  and continued onwards.

 

Mrs Treveleyn opened the door to her knocking and admitted her with a smile, “Oh she’ll be so pleased to see you.”  was her greeting, “I’ll put the kettle on and make some coffee…unless you prefer tea of course?”

 

“Coffee please.” Olivia said and followed the housekeeper to the room where Bridie was seated at a desk busily writing what appeared to be a letter, a rather long letter.

 

“Oh Olivia, I am so glad to see you today.” Bridie cried and put down her pen so that she could get up and embrace her visitor.   “Are you well?  Have you brought Nathaniel with you?”

 

“I’m very well,” Olivia replied with a smile and pulled off her gloves and then her coat, “And Nathaniel is with Mary Ann who likes having him there to play with Daniel.  Hannah and Hope are very good playmates as well, so the four keep themselves well amused as you can imagine.”

 

She folded the coat and placed it carefully over the back of the chair from where it was promptly removed by the redoubtable Mrs Treveleyn who believed that there was a place for everything and everything should  be in its proper place.

 

“Bridie, I came to see you to make sure you were alright after yesterday.  Hester came home and …”

 

“Hester was wonderful,” Bridie interrupted and led Olivia from the study area to where they could sit more comfortably  in front of the fire, within minutes Mrs Treveleyn had arrived with the coffee pot and everything on a tray which was placed near Bridie’s elbow.

 

They said nothing until the other woman had left the room and Bridie sighed and shook her head, “I’m not sure about having a housekeeper, you know.  It  seems so wrong somehow when I am capable of doing these things for myself.  Paul insisted though,  and I daresay he’s right.”

 

“Of course he’s right, Bridie.  You worked hard enough before your marriage and now you have taken on so much work that you would never have time to run a house, or cook sensible meals … you know you wouldn’t.”

 

“That’s what Paul says, and it does seem as though our work load gets heavier rather than not.  Yesterday …” she poured out coffee just as she knew Olivia liked it best and handed over the cup and saucer, “was a nightmare.  Hester came just like an angel, just at the right time.  She may have only been there an hour but she was such a help.”

 

“I wasn’t there to hear it from herself, Adam told me about it later…  they … we… were all so concerned because Hester said you were there for hours.”

 

“Yes,  and it seemed like even longer than that.”  Bridie frowned and sipped her coffee, decided she needed more sugar and ladled more into the cup, “I can’t make that McGarthy out.  I don’t trust him an inch but I can’t see what point or reason there would be for  that accident to happen.  Some of the men we were attending to claimed that it was no accident, that the man, O’Connor  … O’Connell…yes, that’s it, O’Connell,  was scrupulously careful,  he’d never set off charges with a short fuse. He was an experienced man and knew what to do  … “

 

“Bridie, you shouldn’t have gone,  you and Paul are needed here in town.”  Olivia set down her cup and looked at her friend anxiously “You look so tired. Is it possible for you to come to the Ponderosa for a few days, just to have a little time to rest?”

 

“Oh my dear,” Bridie laughed and shook her head “That’s impossible I’m afraid. I have the hospice to run, and several ladies coming to full term …”

 

“But that’s what I mean, Bridie, that’s why you shouldn’t be going to the mines.  Mr McGarthy should be hiring a medical team to care for his men himself, if his men can’t afford it from their pay then he should make up the deficiency.”

 

Bridie shook her head with a smile “I doubt if he would agree with you on that score, my dear.”   she poured out more coffee and watched as the brown liquid swirled around in the cup,  “He’s become a very prominent man in town over the past year or so.  He’s very involved with the Mayor and various committee’s in town,  and has his finger in several other pies as well.  Odd though, it’s as though he has deliberately worked in the background and suddenly taken the centre stage…does that make sense, Olivia?”

 

“Yes, perfect sense.” Olivia said and stared thoughtfully into the fire, as though her mind were already on other things.

……………..

 

Candy dismounted outside McGarthy’s office and after tapping on the door opened it and stepped inside. He was surprised not to have found Buckley at his usual station to prevent his entry, and now that he was actually approaching McGarthy he wondered what exactly he was going to say.

 

McGarthy nodded over to him and smiled, leaned back into the big leather chair and pulled a gold watch from his vest pocket “I can give you five minutes, sheriff, then I have an appointment with the Mayor.”

 

“I can always come back…”

 

“No, I was expecting you anyway.  You heard about the accident that occurred here yesterday?”

 

“Yes. “

 

McGarthy nodded and rubbed his jaw with his fingers, the nails of which Candy noticed had been carefully manicured.  For a moment Candy was distracted with that thought,  what man gets his nails manicured?  Didn’t make sense to him…

 

“It was unfortunate.  If 0’Connel had survived the blast I would have had him arrested for murder,  or manslaughter…whichever the law thought most credible.” the eyes glinted and the lips narrowed, he was the picture of justifiable anger.

 

“some of your men are saying that it was no accident… that O’Connell wasn’t the kind of man to risk any of their lives by being careless.”

 

“Loose talk I’m afraid.” McGarthy sighed and shook his head, “The men are shocked, in pain, obviously they don’t want O’Connell blamed, he was a good man in many ways.  However he had his faults, and he took short cuts when he thought he could get away with it.  This time, he took just that one too many…”

 

“Mr McGarthy, I’m going to arrange for an engineer to inspect your mine… an independent engineer you understand?”

 

McGarthy looked surprised but not angry or belligerent as Candy had expected, he nodded “Well, of course, if you feel the need to have one.  You shall have to pay his costs yourself, you understand?”

 

Candy nodded and glanced at the clock, he had already exceeded his five minutes and felt anxious to leave anyway, McGarthy stood up and reached for his hat, glanced at his watch again, “The problem is, sheriff, that I can’t think who you will get at such short notice.  All the engineering companies in town seem so busy just now….” he smiled,  and shrugged slightly, “I’ve had difficulty hiring one myself lately.  Just impossible to get a good man to do the job.”

 

“Oh, I’ve got a good man who’s prepared to do the job,” Candy replied slowly and turned to leave “Thank you for your time, Mr McGarthy.”

 

“No trouble, sheriff.  I’m always happy to comply with the law as you know.  Anything we can do to help, you and your …er … engineer, just let me know.”

 

Candy nodded and murmured his thanks then pulled the door open.  He hadn’t realised how claustrophobic the office was until he was standing in the open air feeling the breeze upon his face.

 

Once again he found himself watching the lines of men making their way to and from their work, the weariness in their bodies and the lined faces told t heir own tale.  He could only shake his head in frustration and walk to where he had left his horse.

 

Chapter 19

 

The sound of the hammers falling in tune with one another was rather like the melodic refrain that drifts through a piece of music.  Inside the building work continued with the construction of the interior walls and doorways but the main penetrating sound was that of the hammers from the two men on the roof affixing the shingles.

 

Olivia and Hester came down the newly installed stairs together, their skirts brushing over sawdust and the curls from planed off wood.  Olivia was listening intently to what her sister in law was saying so much so that she didn’t hear Ben’s voice until she was standing right beside him “Sorry, Pa, did you say something?”

 

He shook his head and rolled his eyes dramatically “I said, do you know where Hop Sing has gone?  He was supposed to be making lunch for the men and he’s nowhere in sight?”

 

Hester sighed and brushed away some wood from her sleeve “Pa, I told him he could spend time with Cheng Ho Lee while  Olivia and I  prepare lunch for everyone”

 

“That’s right,” Olivia gave her father in law the benefit of her warmest smile “That’s why I’m here.”

 

Ben scowled and turned away, paused to pick up a tin can full of nails and then looked over at them with a sheepish look on his face “I’m sorry, I forgot …”

 

“Seems to me someone needs something to drink.” Hester laughed and slipped her arm through his, “Is there something worrying you, my dear Pa?”

 

“No, not worried.  Must admit I’m hungry.”  he replied and leaned down to pick up some tools, “Adam and Joe are on the roof, shall I call them down?”

 

“Probably be a good idea, food will be ready in five minutes.” Olivia replied and watched as he made his way to the front door, then she turned to Hester “This is beginning to worry him, isn’t it?”

 

“I don’t know, Olivia, he told me the other day that he was surprised at how quickly it was all coming together.  I think he’s just tired and as he said, hungry.”

 

“We had best get the meal ready then…” Olivia shook dust and sawdust from the hem of her skirts and smiled “I wish we could wear pants like the men, it takes such a long time to get all this off.”

 

From outside they heard Ben’s voice yelling for Adam and Joe to stop their hammering and to come down for something to eat.  Although they didn’t hear any voices the hammering slowly ceased and it wasn’t long before the two men joined with the others to eat the food that Hester and Olivia served to them on the long trestle tables in the barn.   Hoss came in from shoeing a horse, sweating profusely he wiped his arm across his brow and nodded over at Hester with a smile although she shook her head at him “Hoss Cartwright, go and get yourself cleaned up before you eat.”

 

“Shucks, honey bun, if’n I do that then these here will have gone clean through the food like a storm of locuts.“  He lamented “Can’t you just let me join  in here with everyone now just for once?”

 

Olivia smiled at her husband as she set down a large platter of bread and was rewarded with a warm smile and a lingering look  in return, by the time she had turned to get in the rest of the food Hoss had taken a seat beside Joe  and studiously ignored his brothers wrinkled nose until he was forced to mention that Joe didn’t smell so sweet either.

 

“Doesn’t this remind you of something?” Adam said in a slow drawl,  “ All the men together eating like this?”

 

“Shucks, no, not that I can remember” Hoss muttered and reached for some bread, he looked at Joe “What about you?  You got any idea what he’s talking about?”

 

“Nope.”  Joe replied and smiled up at Hester as she handed him a bowl of rich beef stew.

 

Ben appeared and edged himself in between Adam and Hoss, he reached out and took some bread then looked around at the men who were eating and drinking together, their voices a mumble of words, an occasional laugh ..he looked at his sons and smiled “Doesn’t this remind you of something?”

 

“No,” Joe and Hoss said in unison.

 

“What does it remind you of , Pa?” Adam asked as he dipped bread into his stew and joggled Hoss’ elbow as a result so that the food on Hoss’ fork fell back into the bowl.

 

“I was thinking of Annie O’Toole’s.” Ben said dreamily,  “My word, what a woman she was.”

 

“Would have been a good match for you, Pa.” Joe laughed and succeeded in knocking Hoss’ arm just as Hoss was about to put the food into his mouth, instead it plopped back into the bowl.

 

“Annie O’Toole.” Adam sighed “I wonder where she is now.”

 

“According to  Martha Frobisher she and her husband …”

 

“The Swede…” Joe and Adam intoned together and grinned like two Cheshire cats.

 

“S’right,  Annie and her husband have gone on an European cruise and tour in order to broaden their minds.” Ben smiled and passed the platter of bread along to Garvey, who was Henry’s foreman and in that gentleman’s absence was in charge although he had the good sense to let the Cartwrights think they were.

 

“She was some gal alright,” Hoss muttered and made another valiant attempt to get some food into his mouth while the rest of his family were looking dreamily into space and recalling to mind the fiery Irish woman.

 

“She knew how to cook.” Adam reached out for some salt and knocked the bread right out of Hoss’ hand as he did so “Oh, sorry, brother,  didn’t realise you were there.”

 

“What do you mean didn’t realise I was here, I’m big enough fer you to see, ain’t I?” Hoss cried in annoyance and grabbed for his bit of bread again.

 

“Yeah, you smell enough for us not to fail to notice.” Joe sighed and reached for the same piece of bread “That’s mine.”

 

“It’s not.” Hoss protested and held onto it with that stubborn look on his face that meant trouble for Joe if he were to persist.

 

“Do you remember how much silver she dug out of that claim ?” Ben asked now and nodded his thanks to Hester for pouring the coffee into the mug by his elbow

 

“Millions of dollars worth …Old Trapdoor lost out on everything in the end.” Adam grinned at the memory while Hester asked why was someone called Trapdoor which meant that Ben and Adam went into a long monologue about the story of Annie O’Toole and ’Himself’ who was buried …somewhere.

 

The men ate their meal and drank their coffee, they relaxed a little as they chatted over the days work and what was still to be done, Garvey turned to Ben “We should be finished within the week now, Mr Cartwright.   You’ll be able to get your things into the house and settle back in anytime.”

 

“Sure glad to know that, Garvey.” Ben smiled and his dark eyes twinkled, “I know Hoss and Hester will be as well.”

 

Joe glanced over at Hoss who was shovelling in the beef stew as fast as he could before he lost it all, “That right, Hoss?  You’re real keen to get moved back in here?”

 

“Sure am.” Hoss replied and began to mop up what was left of the stew with some bread, “Hester can’t wait ..she …” he paused and rolled his eyes from left to right, saw Joe’s stern face and bit down on his bottom lip in a gesture of defeat. “She is sure grateful for all your hospitality, Joe,  but ..”

 

“But?” Joe lowered his head, his face now inches from his brothers “But?”

 

“Well, like ..um… like well…”  Hoss glanced over at Adam who was sitting observing the two men with a bemused expression on his face “Adam you explain.”

 

“Explain what?” Adam replied and frowned, tapped Joe on the shoulder “Come on, we have work to finish. It looks like there’s some rain on the way and I’d rather have the roof weather proof before I leave tonight.”

 

“Sure, I’ll  be right with you.” Joe got up from the bench seat and looked at Hoss “Seeing how you’re so keen to get back here, Hoss, perhaps you’d like to move in tonight.”

 

“Huh?”  Hoss looked with appeal at his brother who tossed his head as though to signify the depths of his hurt feelings before walking away.  Hoss glanced up and down until he saw Hester talking to several of the men who were thanking her and Olivia for the meal they had enjoyed, having caught her attention he beckoned her over “I reckon Joe’s a mite annoyed with me … us…”

 

“Why should he be?” his wife asked immediately, “What have you done?”

 

“Nothing, it weren’t me… well .. I don’t think so.  Jest that he thinks I should move out tonight and sleep here.”

 

“You can’t do that, Hoss.   There are no beds here and a whole lot of things to do yet.”

 

Hoss  slumped down and pushed his half eaten meal away,  somehow he had lost his appetite and he couldn’t explain why about that either.

 

Joe and Adam resumed their task on the roof,  nailing in the shingles was a time consuming task, but they had plenty of experience at doing it and were sharing a laugh together  at the expense of their poor brother when Candy rode into the yard.

 

“Adam?”  he cupped his hands around his mouth in order to be better heard “Adam?”

 

“Up here.” came a disembodied voice from above and  Candy had to dismount and make his way through the working men until he reached the area where he could see Adam and Joe more clearly

 

“Adam, I need to talk to you.”

 

“Sure, what about?”

 

“In private.”

 

The two brothers looked at one another sympathetically,  promising to return within a few minutes Adam made his way back down to the ground and made his way to where Candy was waiting for him.  He glanced at the sky, black clouds were gathering and there was already a lowering of the temperature, he nodded to Candy “Well what is it?  Make it quick Candy, I’ve still a lot of roof to cover yet?”

 

“You heard about the situation at the Bucksburn Mines the other day?”

 

“Sure,  Hester was there helping, what about it?” he wiped his hands upon his bandana and tucked it into the back pocket of his pants

 

“I told McGarthy I wanted to inspect the mines, with an engineer.”

 

“I see.” Adam nodded  again, “So ?”

 

“So that means I need you to come with me and check the mines over.”

 

A slight frown furrowed Adams brow, he pursed his lips and rubbed the back of his neck “You sure there isn’t any engineer in town who would be better suited, Candy?”

 

“I’m sure… I’ve tried them all, McGarthy has either paid them off or scared them to death.  They won’t help.”

 

Adam grimaced, his mouth twisted slightly and he shook his head “I’ve work here, Candy, and ranch work has to be done too… “

 

“Adam, I wouldn’t ask if I wasn’t desperate.  I thought you’d be happy to help me out here.” Candy’s blue eyes darkened, he glanced around him, several men had paused in their work to look over at them making him realise he had raised his voice enough for them to hear and conjecture about what they were talking, he cleared his throat “You backing out, is that it?”

 

Adam rubbed his chin with one hand and shook his head “No, I’m not backing out.  I’m just saying that I can’t drop everything right now as I’ve things to do here. “

 

“Tomorrow then?” Candy asked hopefully but Adam  shoo k his head again “No,  I’ve got to make sure this is done before I take on anything else.  Can we do it the day after tomorrow?”

 

For a moment Adam thought Candy was going to lose his temper,  but he was wrong for the sheriff, after pausing just a moment, nodded, smiled and shook Adam’s hand

 

“Meet me at my office at 10 o’clock …”

 

Adam nodded “10 o clock it is.”   he looked over at the barn and smiled “There’s hot coffee and some food  over in the barn, Hester and Olivia will be more than pleased to see you.”

 

“Thanks, sounds good.” Candy touched the brim of his hat and stepped back for Adam to turn and make his way back to the ladder, within minutes he was back in position besides Joe who asked him what was going on.

 

As their hammers rose and fell Adam told Joe about Candy’s request and how he had promised to help him.  Joe said nothing for a while just carefully hammered in the nails, then selected another shingle to put into position for nailing in, “I don’t know, Adam.  I don’t trust McGarthy.”

 

“No one trusts McGarthy.” Adam smiled although his eyes were sombre and he didn’t look at Joe as he spoke.

 

“I know,  but I just got a bad feeling about this whole thing.”

 

“What kind of feeling?”  Adam frowned, he hadn’t any intention of admitting to Joe that he had had a bad feeling about the Mine and McGarthy since Candy had first brought it to his attention.

 

“Just that it’s best not to be involved .”

 

Adam released his breath and frowned, he selected a nail and hammered it carefully through the shingle.  He said nothing to that and Joe knew his brother too well to continue with the subject.  They settled back into the rhythm  of the work and before the first drops of rain began to fall they were able to say the job was complete.

 

Chapter 20

 

McGarthy was reading through the accident report submitted to him by the man who had taken over from O’Connell.   It was adequate to his way of thinking as it said what needed to be said without any blame being attached to anyone other than the man responsible for fixing the charges and lighting up the fuse.  The name of the man responsible was left unmentioned but that didn’t really matter as the name was on everyone’s mind now.  Innocent or guilty  O’Connell was going to achieve the full responsibility of the disaster that had left one man dead (himself), several dying from their injuries and a large number of men bearing the scars for the rest of their lives.

 

He was satisfied and gave a nod of the head in approval even though he was alone in the room.   He was about to put his signature to the bottom of the page when the door opened  “Don’t you know when to knock?”

 

“Sorry Mr McGarthy.” Billy removed his hat and stood there for a moment as he surveyed his employer,  he closed the door carefully and stepped further into the room,  wondering why it was that he always had to bow and scrape to people like this man.  He sighed and watched as McGarthy continued with what he was doing as though he were quite alone.  Just when he was thinking of leaving the other man glanced up “Well?”

 

Billy shrugged “what do you want to know?”

 

McGarthy scowled, his pale blue eyes flicked over the other man and the look on  his face registered a faint contempt “Did you  do what I said regarding those women?”

 

“I did what I could after all they have independent lives, can’t watch both at the same time.”

 

“Are you getting a bit above your station, boy?”

 

Billy flushed red,  one other thing he hated about himself he flushed too easily when offended, he shook his head “No, just stating facts.  Anyhow,” he licked his lips, best to say what had to be said sooner than later “The woman in town who works for Mr Coffee… don’t think some store keepers are taking any notice of what they were told, she got all the goods she needed and some.  She’s friendly with Ben Cartwright too,  he went to see the old sheriff and stayed there some time.”

 

“Go on … what about the Mayhew woman?”

 

“Well,  she did just what you suspected, went to see Sheriff Canaday. She was in there for some time.”

 

“Then what did she do?”

 

Billy shrugged “Nothing, she just got on her wagon and came back to camp.  Her husband’s in a bad way, I heard her telling one of the women that he may not be able to see, one of the …”

 

“I’m not interested in that kind of gossip.   You keep your eye on Mrs Mayhew, if she causes any trouble then I expect you to deal with her.” he paused and stared into Billy’s eyes “You do understand what I mean don’t you?”

 

“I don’t like harming women, Mr McGarthy.” Billy said in a lower tone of voice and managed to keep his eyes fixed on those of his employer, “She’s a good woman, well meaning …”

 

“They’re always the kind that cause trouble.  You just do as I tell you, or  you’ll be out of here with nothing.”  McGarthy stood  up and walked around the desk to where a map was pinned to the wall, he looked at it for a while, “Mrs Armstrong needs to know that we mean business.”

 

“Yes?” Billy’s voice faltered and he looked down at the floor,  he had thought that Mrs Arnstrong looked a very pleasant woman, hard to believe some of the things he had  heard about her and what she got up to in the past.

 

“Just deal with it …”   McGarthy frowned “And see that some of the store keepers get a lesson … not all of them, just one or two will be enough to put fear into the rest of t hem.”

 

Buckley nodded and was about to  leave when McGarthy stopped him “I’ve got some more men coming in to assist you, Billy.   Seems that since the last incident too much talk is circulating in town.  One man wont be enough if there’s trouble.”

 

“Well, if you want my opinion, Mr  McGarthy, if I do all that you’ve asked me to do, there’s only be more talk in town, and none of it good “

 

Patrick nodded “Then be discreet about it … alright?”

 

Billy said nothing more, he could feel his collar tightening around his throat and wondered what to say next, but as McGarthy turned his back on him he reasoned that it was time for him to leave.

……………

 

It was early evening when Ben finally settled down  in his chair by the fire, he filled his pipe bowl and lit the tobacco before flicking the match into the fire.  October was a month of cooler weather,  rain and shorter days, the messenger of winter being just ahead.   He leaned  back and observed his daughter in law who was knitting what appeared to be a pair of socks.  He could remember Inger knitting just like that, her head bowed over her needles, the wool  passing and repassing while her fingers had moved so fast.

 

Olivia’s blonde hair reflected the light from the fire and the lamps,  it looked like a halo often seen on religious paintings, and when Ben looked at her face he thought that if Botticelli or any of those Italian painters had been about now, they would have been begging her to sit for them as a model for some saint or virgin or whatever…

 

“What’s on your mind, Pa?” Adam asked as he entered the room and settled into his chair, “I can hear you thinking …”

 

“You can?” Ben grinned and then looked again at Olivia who had looked up and smiled over at him  before returning to her knitting “I was congratulating myself on having such a beautiful daughter in law.”

 

“Ah well, in that case I can only agree with you,” Adam reached out and placed a gentle hand on Olivia’s shoulder before settling back into his seat.

 

“Adam,  this matter of McGarthy -?”  Ben drew hard on the stem of his pipe “Do you think it’s wise to get involved in what’s happening there?”

 

Now Olivia did look up and glance from one to the other of them, before putting her knitting down into her lap in order to pay attention to what was said.  Her husband smiled briefly at her and then looked at his father “It’s not of my choosing, Pa.  Candy’s asked me to go with him and I can hardly refuse.”

 

“Why not?” Olivia asked, “Why can’t you refuse?”

 

“Because he’s the sheriff, and a friend, and he’s concerned about what’s going on in those mines… as am I.”

 

“Being concerned,” Ben said rather slowly “doesn’t mean you have to be involved.”

 

“Doesn’t it?  You wouldn’t have said that at one time, Pa.” Adam said gently and leaned forward so that his body was directed at his father, he leaned his elbows on his knees and clasped his hands together “I’m only going to have a look around to see if there is anything wrong.  It isn’t causing trouble, it is however, preventing it.”

 

“Not where McGarthy’s concerned.” Ben intoned and looked at Olivia who glanced from him to her husband with a worried look on her face, “Look, at one time we would have interfered, or got involved in some way as you put it, but only if we were asked, or if something had happened that involved any of us.   It doesn’t pay to go riding into one of those mining camps to look for trouble.”

 

“I think you and I are talking about different kinds of trouble, Pa.” Adam smiled and shook his head, “I don’t want trouble with McGarthy.   Candy represents the law, he’s the one who will have to bear the brunt of any trouble from that quarter.  What I want to avoid is being responsible for any neglect that could cause worst happening than what occurred the other day.”

 

Ben sighed “I don’t know if you’re being deliberately obtuse, son, but you seem to have forgotten that McGarthy bears a rather large grudge against us as a family.  You could well be at the receiving end of something bigger than you realise if you mess with him.”

 

Adam shook his head and then gave a slight shrug “Perhaps it will be the other way around, Pa, perhaps he’ll have to accept the fact that he’s taken on something or someone who is bigger than he ever realised!”   he looked over at Olivia then and frowned “There’s no need for you to worry, Livvy, I know what I’m doing.”

 

Olivia only smiled at him but when she looked at Ben she could see her own anxieties reflected in his eyes.   She was about to speak when there came the sound of an infants wail from upstairs so she excused herself quietly and muttered something about Nathaniel and teeth, leaving the two men facing one another.

 

Adam frowned “Don’t speak about things that could worry Olivia, Pa.  It’s not fair on her.”

 

Ben bristled slightly, swallowed a mouthful of smoke along with his pride and shook his head “Getting tangled up with McGarthy should worry you,  let alone her … you’re the one who’s being unfair, Adam.”

 

The  younger man shook his head and was about to speak when Olivia came downstairs with Nathaniel in her arms,  with tears on his cheeks and rubbing at his eyes. “He’s a little feverish.   Will you take him, Adam, while I get some medicine for him.  Poor mite, teething is a horrible business.”

 

Adam  took his son into his arms and jiggled him a little on his knee, tweaked his nose and tickled him under the chin so that by the time Olivia returned with spoon and bottle in her hands the child was laughing and dimpling at his father in delight,  she shook her head “Oh what a rascal.” she laughed “why is he always so happy to be with you,  well, since you are getting on so famously with him, you can give him his medicine while I go and make us something to drink.”

 

Nathaniel looked round and up at his mother, big brown eyes blinked up at her and a gummy smile that showed off four little teeth, then he looked up at his father, saw the spoon and the smile faded, the bottom lip quivered, dimples disappeared.   Adam pulled a face and looked at his wife “Perhaps you should do it.”

 

“All you have to do is fill the spoon and stick it in his mouth.” Olivia said in exasperation,  “It isn’t difficult.”

 

Father and son observed each other,  Adam grimaced and the baby grizzled.  With a shake of the head Olivia plucked her son from his father’s arms and snatched up the bottle and spoon,  and carried him off to the kitchen.   Adam sighed and looked over at his father “What was it we were talking about?”

 

Ben only shrugged, he knew his son well enough to know there was little point in saying another word.  He stared into the flames and nodded to himself,  it wouldn’t  be long before he would be back at the Ponderosa, he smiled and contented himself with that thought.  “You and Joe did a good job on shingling today.”

 

“Well, the house is weather tight now, there’s a few things to finish off inside and then you can start moving in.  No doubt you’ll be glad to get back to your own home, Pa.” Adam stretched out his legs and folded his hands behind his head, “Hester and Hoss are …”

 

“Well, there’s something to be said about being at one’s own home,  I suppose.” Ben replied and sent up several smoke signals as he leaned back to observe the ceiling.

 

 

 

 

Chapter 21

 

The knocking on the door finally aroused Bridie from a deep and most welcome sleep.  Her husband was absent from home as he was attending to a young boy with acute appendicitis somewhere out of town so feeling rather resentful at having her sleep disturbed she rolled out of bed and waited to make sure she hadn’t imagined the summons.

 

There it was again, banging and thumping.  She rubbed her eyes then groped for her dressing gown and made her way down the stairs,  in the hall the lamp still glowed on the small table to welcome Paul home, but now she picked it up and took it with her to the door.

 

Mrs Mayhew stood  there with her shawl covering her head and her arm around a young woman who stood shivering at her side.  A bundle of something or other stood at their feet.  Without a word Bridie stepped aside to admit the two women,  and once they were in the hall, complete with bundle, she led them to the sitting room.

 

Mrs Mayhew looked reasonably calm although her eyes had a rather wild look in them.  The other woman was beyond calm, her pallor was so great as to make her appear white apart from the dark shadows under her eyes and the red rimmed lids.  It was apparent she was in the far stages of distress, no doubt had wept herself to exhaustion.   She sunk down gratefully upon a chair and looked plaintively up at Mrs Mayhew as though seeking reassurance that they had done the right thing.

 

Mrs Mayhew now knelt beside the other woman and began to rub her hands gently as though to put some warmth into them,  while Bridie attempted to bring a flame back to the dying embers in the fire.  “What’s happened?” she asked and Mrs Mayhew looked over her shoulder at her briefly before returning to instil some life back into the girls hands

 

“This is Mrs O’Connell.   Her husband was killed in the mine the other day.”

 

Bridie nodded and remembered now the one woman who had had to stand and wait to be told that her husband would not be returning home.  She placed some wood on the hot embers and then went to look  at the young woman who was slumped in the chair as though she had lost the will to live.  Mrs Mayhew shook her head and sighed “McGarthy sent her notice today to vacate the cabin they lived in.  He said that as her husband – well, the fact of the matter is that when a man can’t work then there’s no money coming in  for rent – so he evicts the family immediately so that someone else can replace them usually at a higher rent.”

 

“I thought housing was provided for families rent free while the man was in employment?”

 

“Oh no,” Mrs Mayhew laughed ironically “Oh no, not at the Bucksburn anyway.”

 

Bridie gently brushed back some of the hair from the other womans face, noticing as she did so that it was very similar in colour to that of Hester Cartwrights.  “The poor girls terrified.”

 

“Yes, McGarthy had some of his thugs ‘help’ her leave the premises.  They smashed everything they could put their hands on, all she had was what she managed to salvage in that bundle. “

 

“I’ll get something hot for her to eat,  get her closer to the fire, keep her warm and talk to her, reassure her that she’s safe now.” Bridie whispered and then paused “There were several other men involved, I mean, injured …what happened to their families?”

 

“They’ve all had to leave.” Mrs Mayhew replied with a slight shrug of the shoulders, “Thankfully they all had somewhere else they could return to…family, friends … they just wanted to get away from here, put as much distance between them and McGarthy as possible.”

 

Bridie nodded and quickly went into the kitchen to find some of the soup that Mrs Treveleyn had prepared earlier that day.  She could hear the low murmur of voices from the other room,  and by the time she returned with food on a tray for  both her visitors the young woman was sitting upright and had some colour in her cheeks.  She looked at Bridie and then at the food, shook her head and turned her head away “I can’t eat, I’m not hungry.”

 

“You must eat,” Mrs Mayhew whispered, “If not for  yourself, then for the baby.”

 

Bridie looked again at Mrs O’Connell and then noticed the womans shape,  so that was it, the woman was expecting a child  “How much longer has she before the baby is due?” she asked, pulling up a chair closer  so that she could spoon feed the woman if necessary

 

“About a month I should think.  She’s a good girl,  Mrs Martin, otherwise I’d not have brought her here, but she has no where to go and as you can see she hasn’t really recovered from the shock of her husbands death.”

 

“Poor girl,” Bridie sighed and looked thoughtfully at the two women, “Mrs Mayhew, how is your husband?  Samuel isn’t it?”

 

“He’s holding his own just now,  talking about getting back to work next week but the spirits willing, as they say, even though the flesh is weak.”

 

“If he can’t get back to work, will you be evicted too?”

 

Mrs Mayhew nodded “Oh yes, Mr McGarthy has already stopped me from working in the office.  I sent a telegram to my sister in Placerville to expect us, she’s wanted us to move in with her for a long time now, since her husband died.”  she turned her attention back to Mrs 0’Connell now and whispered to her to eat some of the soup, and the bread, it would strengthen her.

 

“My husband…” Mrs O’Connell whispered back and shook her head slowly, “My husband …”

 

“I think, my dear,” Bridie said softly, “That Mrs O’Connell would be better off in a bed.  Perhaps she will be feeling strong enough to eat something in the morning.”

 

“Yes, thank you, Mrs Martin.”  Mrs Mayhew gripped  hold of Bridie’s hand, “You’re a good woman.  I knew it the moment I first saw you.  You will look after her I know you will.”

 

“Of course, it goes without saying.” Bridie replied feeling a little self conscious at such praise, “If you would just help me get her up stairs.”

 

Together they succeeded in getting the other woman to her feet and slowly they  walked her up to the bedroom where she was carefully placed in the bed and the covers pulled gently over her.

 

“I have to get back to Samuel.  it’s a way to drive from town …” Mrs Mayhew said as they made their way back into the sitting room,  “I didn’t know who else I could ask to help her, especially with the baby due.”

 

Bridie said nothing but watched as the woman replaced the shawl over her and hurried out into the darkness.  She could just about see the wagon and horses waiting beyond the picket fence, a darker shadow among shadows.  She didn’t notice the horseman watching from beneath the trees and who moved his horse away once the wagon had begun its journey out of  town.

……………..

The lamplight from the direction of the stairs caught Adam’s eyes as he raised them to see who was about to disturb him.   The shape of his father came into view and he smiled and nodded “Couldn’t you sleep either?”

 

“I couldn’t,” Ben admitted and set the lamp down upon the table, “What are you doing up at this hour?”

 

“Reading.”  Adam replied and closed the book  as he spoke, “Olivia’s had some disturbed nights with Nathaniel, I thought I’d let her get into a good sleep before going up.”

 

Ben nodded, being the father of three sons he knew the process well having been father and mother to two of them.  He sat down  and glanced at the book where Adam had placed it for his son had got up and left it while he went to the where the whiskey and glasses were “S o what are you reading?” he asked and reached out to pick it up.

 

Adam ran a thumb across his chin, and frowned a little as he poured the whiskey into one of the glasses which he carried over to his father, “O’Brien’s journal.”

 

“Ah,  I see.” Ben nodded his thanks and took the glass, sniffed it and sipped it, and then looked up at his son “He was a good friend wasn’t he?”

 

“At the time he was the closest I had to a brother.” Adam admitted, “He used to say things that reminded me so much of Joe.”  he reached for his own glass, half empty now,  and for a moment he sat with it in his hand before tasting it.

 

Ben put the book down and looked into the fire as his mind travelled back in time when he had been at sea,  his lips parted into a nostalgic smile “Yes, it’s like that, being so confined in a small space it doesn’t take long to know your friends,  and your enemies.”  he swallowed some whiskey “Thankfully when the rough times came they all pulled together.”

 

“There was no other choice.” Adam murmured

 

“No,  no, there isn’t.”   Ben sighed heavily and swallowed a little more whiskey, “Adam,  I’m sorry if you felt I spoke out of turn earlier, about McGarthy but I felt I needed to say something.  You weren’t here when his brother tried to take over the Ponderosa, you don’t know what Patrick McGarthy is capable of…”

 

“Do you?  I mean, do you always judge a man by his family?”

 

“As we often have said, son, you can judge a man by the kind of men he has around him, and that includes family.  Patrick and Liam are cut from the same cloth.  I have no doubt of that at all.”

 

“But he has left the Ponderosa alone.” Adam observed thoughtfully.

 

“Yes, and it makes me wonder why.    He’s a close friend of the Mayors…”

 

“S o are you.” Adam smiled and gulped down more from his glass which he now put down empty upon the table.

 

“I’ve not seen the Mayor for a while,  life has been too busy.” Ben replied and turned his dark eyes to his son, “This is rather like old times, isn’t it?  The two of us sharing a glass together,  by the fire.”

 

Adam nodded and looked whimsically at his father,  he didn’t say it but he knew that he would miss him when he returned home,  back to the Ponderosa.   His eyes fell to observe the book, O’Brien’s journal, and he found his mind drifting back to the time he had just been reading about, it all seemed such a long time ago now.

 

Chapter 22

 

The horse was used to the boy who came and stood by the corral fence, she knew that when she approached the boy would stretch out his hand and stroke her gently, and then offer her some treat… a sugar lump, an apple …always something sweet and tasty.  She liked the feel of his young hand running along her jaw or over her soft muzzle, there was a feeling she sensed from him of a great need, an intensity that was like electricity.

 

Reuben watched as Kamille ambled over,  taking it slowly in order not to appear too eager for the treat he held out to her.  He looked into the black iris that was set within the dark brown amber of her eyes and held her gaze, looking into her as intensely and steadily as she did him.  He gave her the sugar and smiled as the soft velvet of her lips carefully gathered them from the palm of his hand and then chomped down upon them, crunching them to nothingness .   “Good girl, Kami, good girl.”

 

She nodded her head so that her silk smooth mane rippled upon her long neck, she nodded three times and then she moved away,  a thrust of her feet and she had swerved from the fence and back away.  Reuben watched her and wondered what it must be like to be a horse, and he thought of the model horse he had at home and how clever his friend David had been to capture so much power in something made from wood.   He turned at the sound of someone approaching and then smiled as his Uncle Joe appeared, buckling on his gun belt and nodding over at the boy “All alone, Reuben?”

 

“Yes, sir.”  Reuben nodded “Ma’s taken Sofia in to see Aunt Mary Ann for her piano practise.  Grandpa said for me to tell you to hurry up as he wants to talk about  … about something  but I forgot what he said, about the house.”

 

“I’m sure my Pa will tell me when I get there.” Joe laughed, “I’ve just been seeing to Kami’s colt, he’s coming along really well now.”  he finished knotting the holster string around his thigh and straightened up, “Where’s your Pa?”

 

“He’s ..he’s gone, he said he’d see you later, Uncle Joe.”

 

“Where’s he gone, did he say?”  Joe asked and straightened his hat while looking over Reuben’s head to where Kamille was loping nonchalantly around the corral, showing off in the hope for more sugar.

 

“Noo, “ Reuben’s voice drew the word out slowly,  “No, but I heard Grandpa saying to Ma that my Pa was too stubborn for his own good.”

 

Joe gave a slight smile, although he felt some anxiety niggle at the back of his mind, he placed a hand on Reuben’s shoulder   “Was the name McGarthy mentioned in this conversation?”

 

“I don’t know, sir.”  Reuben sighed and walked slowly alongside his uncle with a downcast air, “Pa will be alright, won’t he?”

 

“What makes you say that?  Are you worried about him?” Joe looked down and frowned at the anxious hazel eyes that were upturned towards him,  the boy blinked and nodded,  then sighed

 

“Ma looked worried and Grandpa had that look on his face when he isn’t happy.  They stopped talking when I came into the room, you know, like adults do when they don’t think you should know what they are talking about or that they’re anxious about something.  Then they smile and pretend everything’s alright but I knew it wasn’t …not really.”

 

Joe nodded,  he did wonder why Reuben didn’t class him among the adults, he didn’t really know whether he should regard that as a compliment or not.  He cleared his throat, “Well,  your Pa knows what he’s doing.”

 

“I guess …”

 

“And he’ll be alright, he’ll come home just in time to see us pack our tools away for the day and want to know what we’ve been doing while he’s been gone.”

 

“D’you reckon?”

 

“Sure I do.” Joe squeezed gently the boys thin neck, “Hey, come and see the colt.  You’ll  be taking him home soon,  well, once  your Pa remembers he’s here.”

 

“Oh he hasn’t forgotten, Uncle Joe, he said the other day that the colt was in the best hands.  Sofia wants to call it Moonshine.”

 

“Moonshine?”  Joe looked at Reuben with wide eyes, incredulous, and then shook his head and laughed “What did your Pa say to that?”

 

“He laughed like you did and shook his head. I don’t think he’ll let Sofia pick the name …well, not that one anyway.”

 

Joe laughed again,  a merry happy light laugh that reassured the boy that all was well, that he had made his Uncle laugh,  and perhaps Pa would let him name the colt and not allow Sofia the privilege after all.

…………………

 

The two horsemen rode into the Bucksburn Mining Camp at a slow walk, threading their way between the miners, passing by groups of men who were gathered together after a hard shift, talking and wending their way to where they could eat and rest.  Wending by other groups heading towards the mines entrance with their tools  in their hands, or over their shoulders,  lanterns with new candles waiting to be lit once inside the dark womb of the earth that awaited them.

 

Chinese men bearing yokes containing buckets of water passed too and fro,  men bearing low slung gun belts  and what appeared to be some kind of dark uniform lounged against buildings and watched the two men ride by with watchful narrowed eyes.  Candy looked over at Adam and nodded towards several of these men “He’s assembling his army.”

 

Adam merely inclined his head and was loathe to remind his friend that every Mine Proprietor had the right to have his own company of men to enforce the law.  Mining camps could be troublesome unpleasant places, the bigger they were the worst kind of men they seemed to attract.

 

“No sign of Buckley.” Candy muttered as they now reached the building where Mr McGarthy had his office and private rooms.

 

Adam nodded again,  not particularly bothered one way or another about Buckley. He had noticed the pile of timbers stacked nearby as they had passed, he had noted the litter and rubbish that had accumulated at its base,  some graffiti etched into some of them.   To his way of thinking they had been there quite some time.  Like Candy he dismounted without a word and made his way to the building.

 

They had just about reached the door,  Candy had, in fact, his hand on the wood to knock and push it open when someone gave a yell, a shout that was taken up by others, a tumble of words that grew, swelled up and became a murmur as a crowd of men with some  women and children among them, moved towards them.

 

For a moment both men thought they were going to be attacked and then realisation dawned as Billy Buckley rode through the midst of the crowd which parted to allow him room to advance.  It wasn’t so much Buckley that interested and appalled them all, it was the sight of the body he supported in his arms.

 

The whispers ran up and down the crowd “Who is it?”     “That’s Mrs Mayhew…”

“Recognise her skirt”  “What’s happened? Is she dead?”

 

Then silence as Buckley stopped his horse and lowered the broken body into the arms of two men who had ran alongside him.  A woman cried aloud in dismay and covered her head with her apron, another screamed and ran to her home.  Billy slid out of the saddle and looked first at Candy and then at Adam, then his eyes flicked over to a man who close by “Best go and tell Mr Mayhew …”

 

The office door opened abruptly, so much so that McGarthy almost pulled Candy into the building for he still had his hand on the door handle.  “What’s going on?  What’s happened?”

 

The silence was now disturbed by the sound of the movement of many bodies, words were shouted out, women were weeping and holding onto each other. “She was a good woman.” someone said

 

“Who? What’s going on?  Who are you talking about?” McGarthy bawled and then Billy Buckley stepped forward with his back straight and his face grimed with dirt, he cleared his throat

 

“Mrs Mayhew.   I was riding home and saw a wagon overturned along the road… Mrs Mayhew was -” he drew in a deep breath “Mrs Mayhew was dead, sprawled out in the road.  Looks like some kind of accident, the horse was in a  bad way, had to shoot it.”

 

“Do you know what happened> What could have caused the accident?” Candy immediately demanded before McGarthy had even removed his cigar from his mouth.

 

“No, sheriff … as I said I rode up on it, must have happened some time before I arrived as the wagon wheels weren’t spinning,  just the horse threshing about and poor Mrs Mayhew just lying there.”

 

Candy flicked his eyes over at Adam who raised his eyebrows “We’ve just come from town,  we saw no evidence of any wagon  having overturned?”

 

“It wasn’t on the road to town,  it was a fork off from it …” Billy replied raising his chin as though he disliked his word being challenged.

 

“Really?  And what made you take that fork from the main road yourself, Mr Buckley?”   Candy demanded, raising his chin now as though he disliked his authority and right to ask questions being disputed.

 

“It’s a short cut to the camp,  we often take it, cuts nearly half an hour off our journey.” Billy drawled and a spark of victory gleamed in his eyes as he stared the sheriff down

 

McGarthy was listening to what was being said and staring at the crowd who were slowly dissembling,  collecting together in groups and muttering, murmuring among themselves.  He was about to say something when he realised that Adam was standing there and for a moment he just stared at the man with the faded yellow jacket and black clothes as though he couldn’t remember who he was…  Adam could pin point the moment that realisation dawned,  and gave the mine owner a nod of acknowledgement.

 

“What are you doing here?” Patrick asked in a slightly thicker voice than usual, then he turned to Candy “You can see it isn’t an appropriate time for more questions, sheriff.”

 

“I don’t need to ask questions, Mr McGarthy.  I can see there is another matter for you to deal with here, all I need is to notify you of our intention to inspect your mine.”

 

“Inspect my mine?  You and who else?”

 

“My engineer.” Candy replied coolly  as he continued to stare at the other man, whose colour rose to crimson around the collar.

 

Adam said nothing but his eyes noticed everything ..the way McGarthy had to moisten his lips before speaking,  the heightened colour, the narrowing of his eyes.  Even the fact that the cigar was burning between his fat fingers …Adam waited and when McGarthy’s eyes turned to him, he nodded as though in confirmation of what was passing through the other mans mind.

 

“I don’t give it.” McGarthy said, “I’ve too much to do,  another time perhaps.”

 

“We’re not expecting you to come down this mine with us, “ Candy said slowly,  “We’re not asking you either, I’ve already done that … I’m just notifying you that I and Mr Cartwright are going into your mine to inspect it.”

 

McGarthy was about to speak when there came a shout,  a man’s voice shouting out his name with such anger that the words shook “McGarthy…what have you done to my wife?  What have you done to her?”

 

Samuel Mayhew was leaning on the arm of a younger man, his injuries still obvious, still bound by the bandages Bridie had wound around him.  One eye was obscured by bandages but the other glared at McGarthy while at the same time running tears. He had to lean upon a thick stout stick to keep upright as well as bear his weight upon the to the other man who helped him approach the group standing on the porch of the building

 

“You killed her,  you killed her.”

 

“Ridiculous.” McGarthy snapped, and took a few paces forward to draw nearer to the man, he put a hand upon Mayhew’s arm “Look, Sam, this is a terrible thing to have happened to your wife, terrible… but you can’t go around accusing people of murdering her.  It was an accident.”

 

“An accident, another accident?” Samuel Mayhew howled, “Why my wife?  Why did it have to be her.  She was the best …” his voice broke,  a sob choked in his throat and he brought a hand to his face to wipe away tears “She was the best woman …she tried so hard … to do what was right…”

 

“Of course she did, of course she did.” McGarthy placated him, his voice oily and slick although intending to be compassionate and caring “We all thought she was wonderful, Sam.   Look,  why not go back to your cabin,  some of the women will attend to your wife and …”

 

“I’ll attend to her myself.” Sam growled and pulled himself away from McGarthy, “You won’t get away with it,  not this time.”

 

McGarthy nodded and indicated to the man standing beside Sam that he help the man to his home,  he  beckoned to several women and whispered to them to help as best they could and then he stepped back beside Buckley, Candy and Adam.  All four of them watched as Samuel Mayhew was  helped back to his cabin, a small group of men and women trailing behind him.

 

“Life’s flotsom and jetsam.”  McGarthy sighed and then looked at Adam with a belligerent look in his eye “No doubt  you will know all about that, Captain.”

 

Adam thinned his lips, at one time he would have promptly said “Commodore” but neither applied now,  he just stared at the other man and looked away at the mine.

 

Candy had said nothing for a while as the scene had played itself out, but now he stepped forward “I think I need to know a little more about this accident, Mr Buckley.  I f you wouldn’t mind answering a few questions …”

 

“This isn’t your affair, sheriff,” McGarthy said immediately, “It’s Bucksburn business, we’ll deal with it.”

 

“I’m afraid not, Mr McGarthy.  Mrs Mayhew came to see me the other day and asked for my help.  Now she’s died…in some accident… and I need to know more about it.”  Candy fixed fierce blue eyes on Buckley “Surely it won’t take so long,  Mr Buckley?”

 

Adam drew himself up taller,  frowned and then touched Candy’s arm “I’ll go ahead, start my inspection.”

 

Candy nodded, “Sure, I’ll see you later.”

 

Adam looked at Mr McGarthy, “I’ll send you a copy of my report, when it’s concluded.”

 

It took all of McGarthy’s will power not to hurl a string of expletives at Adam’s back as he watched him walk along with the miners to the cave entrance.   With a hiss between his teeth McGarthy returned to his office,, followed by the sheriff and Billy.

 

Chapter 23

 

As Adam approached the mouth of the mine four men detached themselves from the mass of people milling around the area.   Each one took a position in front of the mine’s entrance, each with a rifle resting in the crook of their arm and their gun belts slung low.   They wore the uniform that Adam and Candy had noticed earlier, identifying them as the Bucksburn Mining Police.

 

Adam looked from one to the other of the four, each man was a local man and known to himself from years past.  Tom Hancock who couldn’t hit the barn door if it was stood in front of him just a few paces away;  Harvey Miller who could shoot the eye of a skunk with barely a second to register its presence and his cousin, Phil Tovey who was equally as proficient with a gun;  Duncan Fellowes whom Adam would have hesitated to draw against even on one of Duncan’s worst days.  Their eyes stared into Adams face as he continued to approach them.

 

“You can’t go in, Adam.” Tovey said in that nasally voice that became a whine when he got angry.

 

“You can’t stop me entering,  Phil.” Adam replied in that calming voice used to quell the ire of an wild animal, “The sheriff is the law and he wants me to examine this mine.”

Fellowes shook his head “He ain’t the law around here, Adam.  We is the law.”  and he jutted out his chin ignorant of the fact that his bad grammar lowered his prowess as a gun fighter…in Adam’s eyes anyway.

 

Adam stopped and allowed himself a sigh, he glanced from right to left and noticed how each man there tensed, their eyes narrowed.  He looked over their shoulders at the gaping mouth of the cavern, at the cage that would lower men down into its bowels and bring others back to the safety of the surface.   He ran his fingers along his jaw and then slowly nodded “Alright, boys,  have it your way.  You’ve told me all I need to know anyway.”

 

Tovey opened his mouth to say something but thought better of it, Fellowes  eyes darted sideways at Miller who dipped  his head as though he needed to think over what had been said, Hancock chewed something in his mouth and then spat it upon the ground.   They stiffened their backs and watched as Adam gave a slight shrug and turned to walk away.

 

He didn’t look back, he knew they would stand there until he was out of sight, and then would wait to make sure he and the sheriff didn’t return later.  He passed the stack of timber and paused,  ran a hand over some of the thick joists and gave a slight nod as though confirming what he had previously thought anyway.

 

Glancing up he noticed Candy leaving McGarthy’s office with Billy behind him and making the way to Sam Mayhew’s place.    Shadows were long on the ground and there was a chill wind beginning to blow,  dust devils swirled around peoples feet and the skirts of the women blew around their ankles.   As he followed behind  the sheriff Adam raised the collar of his coat to prevent the wind finding a causeway down his neck and back and struck his hands in his pockets.   He wondered what new development concerning the Bucksburn Mining Corporation was about to be revealed.

 

Billy was apologising to Sam Mayhew, his hat in his hands held against his chest and his thin face looking suitably pale and anguished.  Sam Mayhew was seated on the edge of the trestle bed with his hands covering his face, the misery and anguish at the loss of his wife was only too obvious.  Sobs shook his body so extensively that the little bed was shaking, it didn’t stop Billy from talking however,   “I’m more’n sorry, Sam, surely I am.  If’n I’d been on the road just a while earlier I may have been able to stop the horse from taking that wagon and acting so crazy.. I may have been able to – to stop what happened and Tilda would still be here with you.  I can’t say how sorry I am,  Sam.”

 

Candy placed a  hand on Billy’s shoulder now, as though he had had enough of all the  protestations and apologising ,  that if he had got tired of the mans voice than Sam must surely have done so.   He nodded and indicated that Billy could leave the cabin,  which Billy did after another regretful glance over at the grieving man.  He passed Adam as he was about to replace his hat, nodded and said “I can’t say how grieved I am, Adam.  She was a fine woman.”

 

Adam nodded,  and surprised a tear upon Billy’s face which the other man hurriedly brushed away.  He entered the cabin and stood by the doorway casting his own shadow among the shadows already creeping over the room.  Candy was watching and waiting his time as Sam steadied himself,  wiped his eyes and shook his head as though to make sure there was nothing more to spill over from the well of misery locked up in his head.  He blew his nose and wiped his face before looking  up at the sheriff, his visible eye rheumy with moisture, the bandages covering the other eye dampened by his anguish.

 

“They done it, I swear, sheriff, they done it. They killed my ‘Tilda.”

 

A woman came from out of the darker shadows of the room and placed a gentle hand on  Sam’s shoulder, “You can’t say that, Sam.  You’ve no proof.”

 

“I don’t need no proof.” Sam hissed between clenched teeth, “I don’t .   I know they did it.”

 

Candy came closer and lowered himself down upon a chair, a sturdy rocking chair that he had sat upon many a time previously when the Mayhews had had their homestead close to his place some time  back.  He wished sincerely that they had stayed there, then Tilda Mayhew would still be alive and Sam … well, complaining no doubt that the life didn’t suit him, but at least he’d have been a whole man,  in every sense of the word.

 

“Why  do you think they did it, Sam?  And who, exactly, are they?”

 

Adam watched the three of them…the man wrestling to keep tears at bay while he tried to find the words that were churning over and over in his head;  the woman wishing she were someplace else, maybe fretting because she had a meal to prepare for her own man;  Candy gently and patiently waiting and with an inward sigh Adam wished that Roy Coffee had been there instead although who was to say his approach to the problem would have been any better.

 

“Them.  McGarthy’s so called police.  That Billy Buckley…he’s a killer, you know that, don’t you?  Born bad that one… could have his hand on the bible swearing he was innocent while he still held a smoking gun in the other.  He killed my Tilda.”

 

“According to Billy he was with a lady called Gwen all night, he never saw Tilda at all until he came upon her wagon this morning.”

 

“Lies…I tell you,  Candy, it’s lies he’s telling  you. “

 

“Why was Tilda in town anyway, Sam?  It was late to go in and get provisions wasn’t it?”

 

Sam scowled “Weren’t provisions she went in fer,  it was that O’Connell’s wife … my Tilda took her into town to find a place for her after McGarthy’s men had thrown her out of the place.  Her man died you know?”

 

Candy nodded, and looked at Sam thoughtfully “So where did she take Mrs O’Connell?”

 

“I don’t know.  I can’t think.  She came here,  Mrs O’Connell, weeping and wailing she was… poor soul,  no pity showed her that’s a fact … her man dead, a baby due, and now no home.  My Tilda said she could stay here but the girl didn’t want to stay any longer where McGarthy and his men were.  She begged for help, so Tilda said she would take her into town and find someplace for the girl, even if it was a cell in the jail house or a bench in the church.”

 

The woman nodded and dabbed at her cheeks with a corner of her  apron  “Mrs O’Connell ain’t got long for her time to be up, and McGarthy telling her he needed the place for some other family.  Heartless it was.  Thrown out of her home, and widowed just days ago.  Shame on them…” she glanced over her shoulder as though afraid that someone would overhear who would report her words to someone who would later come and throw her and her family out of their home.

 

Candy looked at her “Do you know where Mrs Mayhew may have taken the woman?”

 

“No,  not really,  maybe to the orphanage or perhaps that clinic place that Dr Martins wife runs.  She – that is Tilda – had a high opinion of Mrs Martin.”

 

Sam nodded “She did, she did at that…” then he dropped his face back into his hands and remained silent for a while as though struggling to keep his tears from falling afresh, as though he needed think “She left here in the evening, it was late and I said to her not to go til this morning.   She said that if she left it til  then McGarthy would no doubt be sending Buckley to throw us all out.  She promised — promised to  be back — by sun up.”

 

Candy looked over at Adam who gave the briefest of nods,  then with a sigh he stood up and picked up his hat, “Sam, I’m more than sorry, but I promise you I’ll look into this and make sure that if it wasn’t an accident…”

 

“It wasn’t, it wasn’t an accident” Sam cried half rising from the bed and then falling back, “It wasn’t an accident. I know it, I can feel it in my bones …”

 

Candy placed a gentle hand upon Sam’s shoulder “I’ll find out, Sam.  I promise.”

 

Some women were standing at the doorway waiting for them to leave so that they could commiserate with Sam and tend to his needs.   Adam and Candy stood aside to let them pass,  Candy then replaced his hat and together the two men walked over to their horses “You didn’t get into the mine then?”

 

Adam shook his head “No.”

 

“Did they stop you?”

 

“Yeah, they stopped me.”

 

The saddles creaked as they settled themselves into them and after a brief last look over at Sam’s they walked their horses out of the camp.  Both men were quiet, silent with their thoughts.   Candy nodded over to where a slip road revealed itself “This is where Billy came from with Mrs Mayhew… let’s go see what we can find.”

 

Adam made no comment, he cast a glance over his shoulder and noticed Billy’s lean figure standing at the entrance of McGarthy’s office, his eyes watching them as they rode away.

 

 

The wagon was sprawled over into a slight incline and the vultures had already been at the horse,  tearing into the warm flesh so that the ground was bloodied around its corpse.  There had been nothing in the wagon to spill over,  just the debris of some shattered planks and a broken wheel.

 

Adam ran his hand along the circle of the front wheel while he looked at the marks on the road,  the broken wood of the wagon,  the spokes protruding from the rear wheel.  He wondered why and how that could have happened after all one would expect the wheels on the other side, that had taken the force of the fall, to be broken but this wheel …. He sighed and watched Candy who was studiously making note of the marks on the road.

 

“Well,  tell you anything?” Adam asked and glanced up at the sky as he spoke, there were rain clouds gathering, Candy needed to glean as much information as he could before the rain fell and washed all evidence away.  He found himself wishing that Hoss were there…  his fingers pulled at a green thread entwined in the splinter of wood and remembered that Mrs Mayhew had worn a green shawl, Billy had her wrapped in it as he had held her in his arms upon returning to camp.

 

Candy approached his horse and removed the water canteen, unstoppered it and took a long drink, after which he walked up to Adam and looked at the other man with doubt in his eyes “Nothing here that doesn’t corroborate Billy’s story.   At some time on her coming back home Mrs Mayhew lost control of the wagon and  it went over, she was thrown down ….  Come here, and tell me what this means to you?”

 

Adam followed the other man and hunkered down at the point Candy indicated … he nodded “That’s where her body fell.   Some distance from the wagon when it went over.”

 

“You reckon?” Candy glanced up and down  “See here,  this is where the wheels ran, and this is where she fell out …”  he paused and nodded “You’re right, she fell from the wagon before it went over.”

 

“The horse ran on a while before it keeled over so …” he rubbed  his chin “Hoss would read this better.”

 

“No doubt, he’s the best tracker in the territory.”

 

“Maybe the horse spooked and she realised that she had lost control and jumped, hoping to survive … the back wheel went over the body as she lay there, perhaps winded, perhaps unconscious …”

 

“Hopefully so…” Candy murmured.

 

“Three broken wheels, one intact… usually it would be two broken, wouldn’t it?”

 

“Guess it depends on  the speed the horse was going at, the angle of the descent …but all the signs are that Billy rode up and dismounted,  found and attended to her, and then remounted with her body … she could have been alive couldn’t she?”

 

“He didn’t mention that, did he?” Adam crooked an eyebrow, “But I’d doubt it.”

 

Candy nodded “Yeah, I doubt it too.”

 

Spots of rain began to dribble down from  a greying sky, the wind blew a little keener and Adam could see that already the signs of the accident were being blown  away.  He bowed his head and thought of the man sobbing in the cabin,  of Billy and his tears.   He looked at Candy “We won’t find anything else here now.”

 

Candy nodded, he’d been fiddling with the stopper of his canteen for a while and now screwed it  up tight, “I guess next stop is to visit Gwen … see just how firm Billy’s alibi holds up.  Then try and locate Mrs O’Connell.”

 

Chapter 24

 

Billy Buckley was surprised when he saw the two horsemen on the roadway. He had been deep in thought as he had walked his horse from the camp, and the bend in the road had prevented him from seeing the other riders until it was too late. He hesitated a moment, wondering if he would have time to turn back but one of the other man had seen him, commented upon his presence to the other so that both waited for him to approach.

 

“I didn’t expect to see you here.” he snapped curtly, “You know this road is private property.”

 

“Bucksburn’s property you mean?” the sheriff said while his eyes stared thoughtfully into Billy’s face.

 

“S’right, you ain’t got no rights to be here, not either of you.”

 

Candy nodded and then shrugged “I’m rather surprised at seeing you here on the road to town, Billy. If there’s anything you want to add to your statement, you have some few moments to think about it.”

 

“What are you talking about?” Billy’s lip curled and the dark eyes narrowed, his tongue flicked nervously around his mouth, “I ain’t got nothing to be add to any statement.” He paused for thought and realised that his return to town so soon after getting back to camp could look suspicious to a man whose job was to look into such things, he shrugged “I had an errand to do for Mr McGarthy. Something that needs attending now that Mrs Mayhew … well, after what happened to Mrs Mayhew.”

 

“Really? ” Adam now spoke, slowly, “Well, that’s what the sheriff and I are here for, Billy. Tryiing to make sense of what could have happened to Mrs Mayhew.” and then he turned away to walk his horse a little distance from the other two men, towards the remains of the wagon that still remained straddled across the road “Doesn’t look good , does it?”

 

“Nope.” Billy shivered “Looked even worse when I came upon it this morning.”

 

“What time was that exactly?” Candy immediately interjected, getting a long glare from Billy as a result

 

“Like I already said, about 8 o’clock.” Billy smirked, “I was out most of the night, then had breakfast at Del Monico’s … “

 

“Rather expensive venue for you, isn’t it?” Adam murmured, leaning forwards on the pommel of his saddle

 

“Usually, but every so often it’s good to try something different if you can afford it.” Came the sneered reply, delivered with a curl of the lip as though to stress the point that not only Cartwrights could enjoy a good breakfast in a place that not many cowboys could afford.

 

“It upset you, didn’t it? Finding Mrs Mayhew like you did?” Adam now said, softly, after a moments silence.

 

Billy looked embarrassed, he glanced away and stared at the dead horse, the shattered vehicle and then nodded “Yeah . Didn’t think it was her at first. Then I recognised that green shawl she always wore. Took me awhile to get down off my horse to make really sure it was her. Everything was so still …quiet you know?”

 

“You liked her then?” Adam asked, his eyes staring at a fixed point over Billys shoulder.

 

“Mrs Mayhew? Sure, everyone did, she was a – a real nice lady.”

 

“Well, ,someone evidently didn’t like her as much as you say.” Adam murmured.

 

“You trying to make out it was more than an accident, Cartwright? Well, you’re wrong, because that was exactly what it was … she was on her own, driving in the dark, when the accident happened.” Billy looked up and down the road, then back at the wagon, “Look, I left for town about ten o’clock last night, and I didn’t pass her on the road then. But when I came back this morning, there was the wagon as I found it, and her lying in the road. That means …” he paused and licked his lips, frowned and stared at the other “That means she was on her own riding back to camp. Probably tired, perhaps she fell asleep.”

 

“Do you know why she went into town?”

 

“Not at the time. I know now of course.” Billy shrugged “Anyway I told all this to the sheriff already. He knows everything about what I was doing last night and where I was, I ain’t got nothing to hide.”

 

Adam made no comment to that but glanced over at Candy who gave a slight nod of the head in affirmation of what Billy had said.

 

Billy pushed his horse forward “I got business in town, alright with you if I get on and do it?”

 

“Sure, I know where to find you if I need you …” Candy said quietly and turned his horse aside for the other man to ride past him.

 

Once Billy had got out of earshot and was on his way Candy looked at Adam “What’s on your mind?”

 

“Just wondering why Mrs Mayhew didn’t stay at Bridie’s. It was dark last night and she was alone. Not many women would want to take that long drive back to the camp at that time of night…especially when she wouldn’t have had much sleep.”

 

“You think she could have been tired enough to fall off the wagon ?”

 

Adam didn’t reply to that but dismounted and walked along the road towards the side opposite to the wagon “Rains washed away most of the prints here.”

 

“Not that there was much to see to speak off, Billy could be telling the truth, there was nothing to prove any different.”

 

Adam nodded and paused in the middle of the track, for a moment he was lost in thought as he stared at some object by the side of the road, then he looked back at the wagon, then again at the verge where long grass grew and partially obscured the object he was looking at. Candy dismounted and walked to his side “Anything?” he asked with a rather hopeful tone to his voice.

 

“Well, there’s this, didn’t notice it before.” Adam muttered and walked towards a very large boulder. He squatted upon his haunches while Candy leaned over, his hands on his knees and back arched. “See here…”

 

“Yeah, looks like it’s been moved.”

 

“Do you think one man could have moved it from wherever it had been to … say … the middle of the track, just where a wagon wheel would strike it ..?

 

The boulder was large, Candy observed it thoughtfully and then looked at Adam “So?”

 

“Well, if you look at it you can see that was moved …” Adam stood up and began to walk with his eyes fixed upon the ground until he stopped “from over here –“ Adam pointed to where there was an indentation in the soil “And the moss on the side that had grown on it over the years has been disturbed.”

 

“Someone moved it across the road…” Candy frowned “It couldn’t have just rolled there…”

 

“Hardly likely, the things been embedded in that soil for years.” Adam turned back to observe the shattered wagon again. Candy nodded and made the observation that the indentation of the stones original location was some distance from where the stone now rested, he stroked his chin, and came to stand besides Adam “So …the wagon wheel hits the rock. It couldn’t have been there when Mrs Mayhew rode into town with Mrs O’Connell , she would have either noticed it or ridden into it … it was really dark last night, I can’t imagine that she would have seen it at all.” He glared at the boulder, then bent his knees and made an attempt to lift it, veins stood out in his neck and he went very red in the face, then he stood up, brushed his hands over his pants, spat into their palms and tried again.

 

Adam watched him without amusement, to prove one man had lifted the boulder required that one man now made the same attempt, He paced away some distance towards the wagon and stopped “I reckon it would have been placed about here … after Mrs Mayhew had reached town or was well on her way. She certainly wouldn’t have expected to come across something that size right in the way of her front wheel… which must have hit it hard because it’s broken… she fell or jumped … “

 

“Well, that boulder didn’t roll into the road by accident.” Candy said quietly, and wiped the perspiration from his brow, “Billy just said he came along here about ten o’clock last night …”

 

“Adam raised his eyebrows “Well, after it had served its purpose someone moved it away, but forgot to put it in its original place.”

 

“Billy was with Gwen after playing Faro at the tables in the Sazarac until late. He -er – spent the night with the woman before leaving her and having breakfast at Del Monico’s at 8.”

 

Adam nodded “He was eating breakfast at the time we left town for the camp…”

 

“But we went the long route, remember? This private road they have cuts off half an hour from the journey.”

 

Adam nodded, and turned to his horse, foot in stirrup he got back into the saddle, “Well, sheriff, I’d best get back to the Ponderosa. I’ve work to do … let me know how you get on.”

 

Candy nodded, sighed slightly and then turned to regard the boulder as though pleading with it to give him the answer to the questions its presence had raised. The cawing of scavenger birds echoed eerily in the skies and he was reminded yet again that he was in the presence of death.

 

……………..

 

Candy was passing Paul Martins weathered old house when he saw Bridie standing nearby with a hand raised to catch his attention. With his mind on all that had occurred earlier he dismounted, wrapped the reins around the rail and approached her. She, seeing him, was walking towards him so that they met just as the sidewalk ended at a junction of the road. She smiled “Thank goodness I caught you, Candy.”

 

He removed his hat and smiled, looked into her pleasantly honest face and noted that she looked beyond tired, he nodded “What’s wrong, Mrs Martin?”

 

“Is it true what I’ve just heard? About Mrs Mayhew?”

 

Candy frowned and glanced over his shoulder, then back at her and narrowed his eyes “How did you get to hear about that so soon? We’ve only just returned from Bucksburns camp.”

 

“News travels fast, Candy. Bad news faster than most. But is it true?” she placed a hand on his arm and he could feel it tremble slightly on the sleeve of his jacket.

 

“Yes, it’s true.”

 

“Was – was it an accident?” she lowered her voice so that he had to bend his head a little to hear what was said, but her eyes were fixed on his face so he gave a slight shrug “I don’t know, Bridie. That’s what we’re trying to find out.”

 

“She was at my place last night, early this morning to be exact. She brought Mrs O’Connell to mine…”

 

“What time did she leave?”

 

“It was half past four in the morning. I remember because I looked at the clock when I had closed the door, I was hoping Paul would be back by then, but he was delayed at the Milano’s, their boy had appendicitis.”

 

Candy bowed his head and stared at the boards at their feet, he chewed the inside of his cheek for a moment as he concentrated on things that had been said previously that morning then glanced back up at her “Four thirty? What time did she arrive?”

 

“It must have been about 2 o’clock. No later than that I’m sure. Is it important?”

 

“Yes, I think so… She was alone, wasn’t she? I mean, when she left you?”

 

“Oh yes, quite alone.” she frowned and looked troubled for a moment before mentioning that she had asked Mrs Mayhew to stay until morning but she had insisted on getting back to her husband. “It was so dark, and I didn’t feel it was safe for a woman to be on her own driving all that way back to the mining camp.”

 

“I agree with you, she would have been wiser and safer to have stayed with you.” he looked once again down at the boards that made up the sidewalk, then frowned “There’s nothing that can be done now for her, except to find out what really happened .”

 

Bridie stared at his face for a moment before shaking her head, “I can’t tell you much more. She was so concerned about Mrs O’Connell, and then there was her husband, she needed to get back to him.”

 

Candy nodded and placed a reassuring hand on her arm “Thank you, Mrs Martin.. do you think you could spare some time to come over to my office and make an official statement?”

 

She nodded and then looked anxiously back to the house, “I’ll just check on Mrs O’Connell and then be right over.”

 

Candy tipped his hat to her and without another word made a slow progress down the centre of the main street towards his office while his head spun as he tried to knit all he had heard and seen that morning in an attempt to make sense of it.

 

 

Chapter 25

 

The young woman leaning on the counter of the saloon was a pretty girl, she was slim with a perfect figure that was displayed to perfection in the dress she was wearing at that moment. A short skirted frothy affair of black and scarlet that showed more of her leg than was considered decent but then the neckline was far lower than modesty dictated as well. None of such bothered her, she was young, she had a lot of living to do, and just at that time of her life when she felt the world owed her a living and a there was a young man in love with her. Whether or not she was in love with him was a moot point, perhaps it would stand the tests that were to come, perhaps it would not.

 

She glanced over her shoulder without much interest as the doors swung open and then smiled with delight as Billy Buckley strolled in with that casual air of his, that roll of his hips and the narrow eyed stare around the room until he found her and the sallow face softened into a smile that made his eyes gentle and reminded her that he was a man with a reputation and the man who loved her.

 

She took the bottle of whisky from the barkeep and two glasses and followed Billy to a secluded table setting the bottle down just as he had placed his hat upon the table. He pulled out a chair and sat down, while she poured out the drinks and after handing a glass to him sat as close to him as she could… their knees touched, and she smiled at him “Everything alright, honey?”

 

He gave her a tight smile, one that didn’t reach his eyes which darted around the saloon to observe the few other clients there. He nodded then and picked up his glass, gulped from it and then looked at her “Had any visitors this morning, Gwen?”

 

Slightly irritated that his mood didn’t match hers she shrugged, “As in what sort of visitors had you in mind?”

 

“The kind who ask questions, and calls himself sheriff of this town.”

 

“Oh, Candy …” she shrugged and sipped a drink “No, he hasn’t been in. Why should he? He usually makes his rounds in the evening when the customers may be getting rowdy.” She gave him a sharper look now and her eyes narrowed “Why d’you ask?”

 

“Because he may be in asking questions about us.”

 

“Us?” she paused, the glass was held midway to her lips as she looked at him in surprise “Why us?”

 

“A woman was killed … I found her body this morning. She works for Bucksburn Mines and the sheriff was nosey parkering around there with that Adam Cartwright so saw me bring the body in. Now he wants to know all the details about where I was last night and early this morning.” His eyes darted sideways over at her and noted the downturn of her mouth, the sullen look on her face “You’ll have to tell him that I was with you since about 2 o’clock this morning.”

 

“Really? Why should I do that …?” she pouted, red painted lips that were full and perfectly formed, her eyelids half closed over her large eyes and then she sighed “Is something wrong? Why should the sheriff come to see me?”

 

“Because he doesn’t believe me. That Adam Cartwright knew me from a long time back, and no doubt told the sheriff all about me … now, of course, I’m working for a man who ain’t very popular with the Cartwrights so naturally Sheriff Canaday ain’t gonna take my word for what happened.”

 

She sighed extravagantly, and finished her drink before she placed the glass down on the table with a slight thump “Two o’clock in the morning until when ?”

 

“About 7.30 when I left you to have breakfast in Del Monico’s”

 

“Huh, a mite expensive for you isn’t it?” she frowned, and ran fingers through the lace on her skirt “If you are in funds you could have treated me to a meal as well. It’s some time since I was there for a meal of any kind.”

 

“Don’t get angry, Gwennie…” he said softly and took her hand in his, “I won some money playing Faro last night, and I did buy you that comb for your hair the other day didn’t I?”

 

She turned her head away and observed the ceiling for a second or so before looking back at him and smiled “I know, you’re a sweet guy, Billy.”

 

“So you won’t forget, I came to you after the Faro game finished…”

 

“That’s right, I remember it well, you were flush having had a big win….”

 

“A moderate win, Gwen.” He leaned over and kissed her cheek, “Just tell him as it was …”

 

She laughed then, full throated and happy “Oh, yes, I’m sure he’d enjoy all the details of what happened between 2 and what was it?”

 

“7.30 …” he sighed and looked at her thoughtfully, “It’s my alibi, Gwen …so don’t mess up, will you?”

 

“Of course not,” she leaned forward and kissed him, this time on the lips, “You have to remember I sleep heavy …so some hours will have to be passed over.”

 

“I had to sleep too,” he grinned “But just remember, when you fell asleep and when you woke up, I was still in your bed.”

 

She nodded and poured out more whiskey “I’ll know what to say, honey, just don’t you worry yourself about a thing. I knew you were there all night with me because you snore …” she raised her glass “Everytime I woke up there you were, snoring beside me.”

 

Billy nodded, picked up his glass and looked at her “You’re beautiful, Gwen. When I make enough money let’s celebrate…I’ll take you to Del Monico’s for the best meal you’ve ever had.”

 

She nodded, smiled and sipped her drink. He didn’t notice how her eyes had clouded when he had finished speaking. She would have wanted him to have promised her something more permanent than a meal at Del Monico’s

…….

 

Mary Ann Cartwright walked quickly down from the Mercantile towards Ann Canadays home. She carried a basket full of her quilting materials and had her mind on various matters that had taken place that morning. To say she was distracted was probably the nearest one could suggest about her state of mind at the time. Her little boy had been feverish and consequently she had been doubtful about coming into town without him, it had only been Hop Sings promise to take care of him instead of going to the Ponderosa that assured her that her little darling would be safe and happy for Daniel loved Hop Sing just as his father had done so years before…

 

She narrowly missed bumping literally into Lucy Garston, who gave a slight hiss of annoyance as she muttered good morning under her breath … and just as she walked on she nearly dropped her basket as a shop door swung open and narrowly missed hitting her. Shaking her head slightly in annoyance she hurried on, knowing that she was late, Hester would be there already with Olivia …it just was too bad that she had not come in with them as usual.

 

She stepped down from the sidewalk and felt her foot slip, her heel had caught in some split in the wood and she teetered, swayed and would have fallen had not a strong hand gripped her elbow and steadied her. Very gently she was ‘set to rights’ again and the young man was bending down to help get the heel of her shoe out of the hole it had so inconveniently sunk into, smiling she looked down at him as he glanced up at her “Thank you so much,” she said in a rather breathless voice, “I would have been more than embarrassed had I fallen, which I would have done if it were not for you. Thank you.”

 

The young man smiled and stood up “There now, no harm done. Glad to be of service, Miss.”

 

She smiled then, and her grey eyes looked large and luminous, her cheeks slightly blushed, while the curls of her chestnut hair showed glossy and bright beneath her bonnet … to Billy Buckley she appeared more beautiful than any painting of any woman he had ever seen, lovlier than the picture of the Madonna he had once seen in an old church. He removed his hat and nodded, unable to find words now but only able to watch as she safely crossed the road and disappeared from his view.

 

He stood there for some seconds before slowly replacing his hat and turning, as though in a dream, to walk back to where he had left his horse. He didn’t even notice the sheriff making his way to the saloon where Gwen was leaning against the counter in conversation with the barkeep.

 

 

Chapter 26

 

Ben brought a hand gently down the smooth surface of the door he had planed so carefully.  It was a good sturdy door, every bit as strong as the one that had withstood the buffeting of wind, storm and sun over the years since it had been installed when Hoss was just a ‘small‘ boy.   He  looked over at his sons,  Joe and Hoss as they worked on window cills to carefully administer varnish where it was needed.  Hoss glanced up and over at his father and grinned

 

“Should last a hundred years at least, Pa.”

 

“I hope so”  Ben replied, stepping back a little to admire his own handiwork.

 

“You intending to be around for the next hundred years or so, Pa?” Joe quipped giving Ben a wide grin

 

“If it were at all possible.” Ben replied, and picked up some sandpaper to gently rub down the less than smooth sections of the door.  “I certainly intend to be around for as long as possible, even if just to keep you two out of trouble.”

 

Hoss exclaimed aloud “Shucks Pa, I ain’t been in trouble for years.”

 

Joe laughed at that and turned to complete his work, “I wonder how Adams getting on in town.”

 

“He ain’t in town,” Hoss said as he plied his brush up and down, “He went to see that mine, with Candy.”

 

“Of course, I remember now.” Joe shook his head “Wish we had gone along with him, I don’t trust that McGarthy.”

 

Ben glanced up and his dark brows furrowed over his black eyes “No one trusts that man,” he growled

 

Joe shivered, the words were an echo of those Adam had uttered himself not so long ago.  He looked at his brother who was staring anxiously at the brush he held in his hand,  “Shucks,  get him off his boat and what happens?  Older brother has to go find himself some trouble to get into.”

 

“Yeah,” Hoss sighed and nodded “You reckon he’s bored?”

 

Ben heard the comments and stopped rubbing the sandpaper over the door   “Why Don’t you two old women just get on with your work instead of jawing on about something you know nothing about?” he barked and then resumed rubbing down the rough patches on the wood.

 

Hoss and Joe sighed together, shook their heads and dipped their brushes into the varnish, they didn’t speak but both knew exactly what the other was thinking.  After a moment  or so Joe paused long enough for Hoss to look up and ask what was on his mind to which his brother  shrugged “Just thinking …  hoping Adam’s alright, not getting himself into a whole heap of trouble.”

 

“Yeah, I know what you mean.  That McGarthy is turning out to be as mean as a barrel full of rattlesnakes. “

 

“His brother was bad enough but somehow I don’t figure on him playing a straight game, Hoss.”  he dipped his brush into the varnish and stood there with it dripping back from the bristles into the tin, some plopping in bubbles on the newly varnished cill “Candy  was pretty insistent on having Adam go with him.”

 

“Yep,  one consolation at least, he went with the full weight of the law  backing him up.” Hoss smirked as he delivered the words, stringing them out to enjoy them all the better.

 

It made no impression on Joe who sighed and resumed his work on the varnishing carefully smoothing out the bubbles he had created and wondering how they had got there.  “We should have gone with him,” he muttered beneath his breath  and Hoss, catching just the drift of words, could only nod and mumble something in reply.

Ben once again ran his hand down the smooth surface of the door and then stepped away to observe his sons.   The workmen were busy under Garvey’s supervision and he knew that it wouldn’t be long before he would be moving back into his home,  with Hoss and Hester  and the little girls.  The thought brought a good feeling to settle over him as he considered the winter months ahead, the flames from the fire roaring up the chimney, the family gathered together.

 

But,  he cleared his throat,  that was for the future, close though it may be,  for now he had something else to worry about, or rather to be concerned over and he walked away from the door to stand at the space where the door would be positioned… he looked out over the yard and allowed his eyes to roam around the out buildings, the stable and barn  “Hoss, where’s Hester?”

 

“Oh, she went into town with Olivia.  She – I mean – they are meeting up at Ann’s.” Hoss said and he looked at Joe “Mary Ann went with ‘em, didn’t she?”

 

“Nope,  she was going later.   Danny had a slight fever and she was worried about leaving him.”

 

Hoss  nodded and for a few moments conversation dwelt on Daniel’s health and whether or not they needed to get a doctor only to be reassured that Hop Sing had taken charge and Mary Ann was going to town in the full confidence of knowing her son was in good hands.  “She’d never leave him otherwise and she knows how much Daniel loves Hop Sing.”

 

Ben picked up his coat and shrugged himself into it,  then reached for his hat “I think I’ll take a trip into town.  There’s some business I need to attend to.”

 

“Do you want us to come with you, Pa?” Hoss asked hopefully, the smell of varnish was getting right up his nose and the thought of town,  a saloon and some beer created a more than pleasing vision before his eyes.

 

Ben smiled “I’m sure you’d be more than happy to come along but the work you’re doing is far more important than propping up a bar in town….Joe, keep an eye on your brother. “

 

Joe nodded and gave Hoss a grin although it was obvious that he had also formed a hope that a trip into town would be forthcoming.  He  swept his brush across the wood with a flourish “What business do you have in town, Pa?  You sure you can handle it on your own alright?”

 

“Joseph, if I needed any help I’d have asked.” Ben frowned and looked sharply over at  his son before slapping his hat over his head and striding off to get his horse.  It seemed to him that every chance anyone took nowadays was to remind him of his age, and his abilities to do what was once so easy and – he reminded himself hastily – still was,  more or less.  So what were a few more aches and pains than he had had ten years ago,  what if his hands were stiffer and clumsier … it was the way of all men, wasn’t it?

……………..

 

A familiar figure riding towards him made Ben’s heart swell a little with pleasure at the sight.  Knowing that Adam was really home without that shadow of being called back on duty hanging over them made the older man feel an immense sense of satisfaction.  The past weeks living with them had given him a closer insight into the man that Adam had become in his middle years and it made Ben proud at the realisation that his eldest son had overcome so many obstacles, so  many hardships to at last be home, to have a loving and beautiful wife and children.

 

As he sat in the saddle and waited for Adam to join him Ben thought over past times, of a  younger man who had been quick to use his gun or his fists to settle an argument, of a youth who had been too serious minded for his own good,  of a child who had followed his father like a shadow during times most horrendous.  Ben sat and waited and allowed the pictures of the past to filter through his memory until they vanished leaving nothing other than a wisp of nostalgia as Adam finally joined him.

 

“Hey,  Pa, you waiting for me?”  Adams brown eyes twinkled as he drew the horse up closer to Ben, “You looked miles away…”

 

“I was  rather,” Ben laughed, slightly embarrassed but none the less pleased to have Adam there, “Yes, I was coming to meet up with  you.  Wasn’t sure if you would have finished your business in town by now…”

 

Adam leaned upon the pommel of his saddle and grimaced, a downturn of the mouth, although his eyes twinkled still “Means we could have shared a beer at the Sazarac had you left earlier …”

 

“Or  you’d delayed longer.” Ben grinned and turned his horse round to face the same direction as his son “I left your brothers eager to come along for the ride and … the beer.”

 

“Ah well,  they’ll be happy to know that we missed out on the chance of a drink too…”  he smiled at his father as he matched his horse’s loping stride to Cinnamon’s  “How’s the house coming along Pa?”

 

“Garvey reckons on it being finished by the end of next week.”

 

“That soon?”  Adam raised his eyebrows and then nodded slowly, “So you;ll be moving out and back home.”

 

“Yep.”  Ben looked straight ahead,  then after some moments had passed asked Adam how the morning had gone which promptly removed the twinkle from Adam’s eyes and brought a more sombre look to his lean features.  “not so good, huh?”

 

“No, not so good.”  Adam replied and told his father about the visit to the mine, the stand off with McGarthy’s so called police that prevented him entering and making his examination,  about the death of Mrs Mayhew and what he and Candy had found on t he road where she had died.

 

Ben listened in silence and only nodded his head occasionally until the narration finally came to an end “You think this Billy Buckley could be the cause of Mrs Mayhews death?”

 

“Can’t see who else it could be…”

 

“McGarthy employs more gunmen than just the one, Adam.  It could have been any one of those four men you confronted at the mine?  Billy may well have been where he claims to be ..”

 

“Well,  that’s for Candy to find out.”  Adam replied rather tersely,  “But it doesn’t sit well with me that Billy was in the area where she died …”

 

“It’s circumstantial, Adam.  You can’t accuse a man because …” he paused and glanced quickly at his son, saw the tightening of the jaw and the narrowing of the eyes, “You aren’t blaming him because of what he did to Ed Payson, are you?”

 

Adam released his  breath in a long drawn out exhalation and shook his head “Thought about it, Pa, told myself to take a care not to be doing so …  but I know when a man, any man, is lying to me.  Buckley was lying through his teeth, I swear it…”

 

Ben remained silent although he looked at Adam and met his sons dark eyes with those of his own,  he still stayed silent as his mind sidled back to the time when Ed Payson had ridden back into town all those years ago.  Odd,  it didn’t seem so many years ago when he really thought about it …

……………..

 

Candy sat at his desk and wrote out his report, his pen scratched across the paper as he scrawled down the words that Gwen had poured out to him.  She had agreed to come and sign a statement later on,  and he wondered if there would be anything in it that she would change.   He put the pen down and rubbed his eyes,  realised how tired he was what with the baby crying through the night hours and then all this work … he hated paperwork.

 

Clem looked up and grinned “You alright, sheriff?”

 

He nodded,  and allowed a grin to slip over his own lips at the memory of Clems time in office as sheriff, perhaps it had been the paperwork that had got to him as well.  Folk had smiled at Roy and the ‘bumbling’ way he had gone about things, but he had got things done in his own way and never complained … well, not much.   He rose to his feet and walked over to the door, strode out to stand on the sidewalk and watched the comings and goings of the people in town.

 

Gwen had been very honest in delivering her version of what had taken place the previous evening,  Certainly Billy had been with her from 2 a.m after he had won some money playing Faro at Miss Ridleys place, a big game with several nobs from town…oh, don’t ask her who they were, Billy would tell him … but Amanda Ridley was more than hospitable and Billy had won a ‘moderate’ amount of money from her.  Yes, he had come back to see her, Gwen, and they had spent the remainder of the night together.   Did he want to know what they did?  Well, of course if he really did …   but when Billy did finally get to sleep he snored, loudly,  and kept her awake until he left to get breakfast at Del Monico’s.   She would have gone with him, but that was the time when she had fallen asleep  herself…a deep sleep.

 

He ran through the facts as he had them … Mrs Martins statement had been written down neat and tidy, he had the times and everything all down on paper as to when Mrs Mayhew had arrived with Mrs O’Connell and when she had left, alone…   and had died.

 

And there was that boulder in the road to think about …

 

Chapter 27

 

Olivia stretched as far as she could reach from her toes to her finger tips,  she strained her legs out and flexed her shoulders just like a contented little cat that had just been aroused from sleep on a sunny warm day.  Now she curled herself back again, tucking her legs up and folding herself into the comfortable position she was in before  wakefulness had first nudged her into opening her eyes just that fraction to know a new day had dawned.

 

All was quiet … she remained there with her eyes closed and allowed herself the luxury of remembering the hours before sleep, the hours spent in Adams arms,  the shared kisses, the tender embraces and caresses.  She sighed contentedly and forced herself to open her eyes as sounds now permeated through her memories to confirm the fact that the day had started … the sound of Nathaniel as he stood in his cot calling for her,  the footsteps that ran from room to room, Sofia’s protesting “Reeeu-ben!” and Reuben shouting “Sleepyhead!”

 

Olivia stretched again, not quite as languorously this time, but equally as satisfying.  She could hear Adam’s voice now, a deep murmur drifting through the floor boards with the echo of his father’s voice so that between the two she almost fell back to sleep again as the cadence of their voices rose and fell beneath her.

 

“Ma … tell Sofia she’s got to get up, she’ll be late for school.”  Reuben was standing beside the bed rousing her to full wakefulness “Ma?”

 

So late, she shouldn’t be sleeping in so late!   She hushed her son away and told him not to shout so loud, to go down and get his breakfast … and as his footsteps thumped down the stairs she hastily grabbed at her clothes and began to pull them on.  Oh so late, where was her head this morning?  Why hadn’t Adam woken her up as usual, instead of allowing her to sleep like some pampered spoiled little Madam.

 

She brushed her hair and tied it back with a ribbon,  what a mess … she didn’t even dare to peek at her self in the mirror …what was Adam thinking to let her sleep in.. and she turned to see her daughter staring at her with wide eyes,  holding a yellow ribbon in her hand and asking her to braid her hair.  More delay …  what about breakfast? What about the coffee?  What a start to the day.

 

She braided Sofia’s hair and tied the ribbon and was rewarded with a kiss on the cheek before the child skipped away.  Back to her own toilette, scanty though it was going to be,  and quickly fastening the buttons on her gown, grabbing at her apron as she passed a chair, she made her way downstairs.

 

Chen Ho Lee had prepared and served the breakfast and beamed a smile of welcome at her as she entered the big kitchen. Ben and Adam both rose to their feet, and both kissed her on the cheek as she took her seat between them.  Reuben didn’t look up,  food was the priority now and he was hungry while Sofia picked at her oatmeal as usual and drank her milk with her eyes drifting from one face to the other.

 

“Granpa, are you happy today?” she asked with a milk moustache adorning her upper lip.

 

“I am, thank you, Sofia.” Ben awarded her a smile,  then quickly picked up his cup of coffee in  the hope that it would deflect any further questions

 

“Why aren’t  you smiling then?” demanded t o know the little inquisitor who stared at her grandfather with wide blue eyes.,

 

“Because it’s breakfast time,  I can’t be smiling all the time, can I?” Ben sighed and put down his cup,  he was about to mention that it was empty when Adam picked up the  coffee pot and began to pour the hot liquid into the cup for him “Thanks, son.”

 

Adam nodded, before turning to Olivia “Where’s Nathaniel?”

 

“Nathaniel?” Olivia said and stared at Adam blankly before jumping to her feet with an exclamation of dismay and hurrying from the room  accompanied by the sound of her infants wails

 

Order restored as the toddler was placed in his high chair and gazed serenely upon them all.  Sofia returned to her grandfathers state of mind, of being happy, or not…

 

“People who are happy have a turn up mouth, it goes like this …” she smiled broadly exposing what teeth she still possessed, “But if you are grumpy, your mouth goes like this…” and she pulled her mouth down as an example.  “Granpa, you are not smiling are you?”

 

“Well, no, not at this moment.” Ben replied and stuffed some ham into his mouth to chew on,  realising as he did so that Sofia was not going to give up on the subject just because his mouth was too full to smile.

 

“Why aren’t you happy, Granpa?   Are you unhappy because you’ll be leaving us soon?  Are you going to  be happy living in the other house with Uncle Hoss and Aunty Hester? “

 

“Yes, I’ll be very happy to be living there again.” Ben said as he swallowed the ham and nearly choked.

 

“Hannah and Hope will be happy too, won’t they?”  Sofia asked this with a frown upon her brow,  she looked at Adam “Pa?  Why can’t Granpa stay here with us forever and forever?  He’s happy when he is h ere, aren’t you, Granpa?”

 

“I’m happy wherever I am, Sofia.  Believe me, I am a very happy person.  Ask your father?”  Ben snapped giving his grand daughter a big but false smile to be getting on with … he glanced at Adam who raised his eyebrows and gave a twitch of his shoulders.

 

“Pa?” Sofia looked sternly at Adam who was looking at his wife with a half smile on his face, “Pa?”

 

“What, Sofia?”

 

“Granpa said…”  but whatever Sofia was about to say was drowned out by Reuben who had said loudly if he could  be excused from the table and the wagon was ready to take them to school and if sofia wasn’t careful she’d be late and have to walk into town.  How’d she like that then?

 

Adam rose to his feet and swung Sofia out of her chair and placing her feet upon the floor,  Olivia had grabbed the childs books and lunch pail and given her a gentle shove towards the door where Reuben was already disappearing …  there came the sound of a door closing, the childrens voices fading away and then nothing.

 

She returned to the table and looked at Ben and Adam,  “I’m sorry I was late.”

 

“You were not late, my dear” Ben assured her, “We were early.”

 

She looked at Adam who nodded,  “We have to get into town.  I want to see Candy and submit my report to the Mining Corporations Commissionary Board.”

 

Ben gave a half smile “What report?  You didn’t step foot into the mine to be able to write up a report.”

 

“I know.  That’s what I’ll report … prevention of an engineer to go about his duty.”

He sipped some coffee and then looked over at Olivia “What will you be doing to day,  Livvy?”

 

“Oh, this and that … you know…”  she smiled, he didn’t know, she knew that because no husband really knew what their wives did during the day, even after they’d be told they wouldn’t remember or if they did, they wouldn’t understand everything that was entailed in the doing of whatever they did.

 

He cleared his throat and gave her a look beneath his dark brows, one that was both comical and endearing, she loved him for that, she loved him for lots of reasons and smiled at him.   Ben put his knife down with a clatter and pushed back his chair, “Best  be going, I have things to do.”

 

“Anything interesting?” Olivia asked with a smile as she began to feed Nathaniel his oatmeal

 

“I want to see Roy,  see how he is …” Ben looked at Adam who appeared to  be lingering over his empty cup while staring at his wife rather too fondly “Adam?   Are you riding in with me or not?”

 

Adam nodded,  looked at his empty cup and thought about refilling it,  but replaced it in its saucer as it was.  He tweaked Nathaniel’s nose which resulted in oatmeal being spat out,  then he kissed his wife on the top of her head “I’ll see you later.”

 

She nodded and smiled up at him, raised her face, offered her lips which he kissed,  lingered a while and kissed again.

 

“Adam?” Ben’s voice floated from the porch way from where he was pulling on his outer coat.

 

Nathaniel watched his father leave the room “Pa.” he shouted and thumped on the tray of his little seat, “Pa.”

 

But the door closed behind  his father and grandfather with a gentle thump, the child stared at it for a moment before turning to his mother and with a downturn of the mouth began to cry “Pa. Pa.”

………………

 

It came as no surprise to either man to find Roy Coffee seated in the sheriff’s office drinking coffee.  It had started to rain more heavily the closer they were to town and Ben had suggested that they called in on the sheriff first as the sheriff’s office was the first of the buildings they would pass by when they were in town.

 

.Roy’s familiar figure sprawled in a chair and sipping coffee rather reminded Adam of one of those old hound dogs that had been ‘retired’ from hunting.  Once it had the scent in its nostrils it was all a twitch to go out with the younger dogs on the hunt.  Roy had that look about him now, and scowled at them both as though their intrusion into the  office was tantamount to breaking the law.  Ben’s greeting was accepted with a nod of the head and an offer to pour them both some coffee.

 

“Where’s Candy?”  Candy asked and Roy sighed and told him that the sheriff was out looking up some information for him.  “And Clem?”

 

Roy shrugged “On  the lookout for miscreants, what else?”

 

Adam narrowed his eyes and paid closer attention to the coffee pot,  he knew from experience that there was little point in reminding Roy that he was now retired from duty, and that he had no right to send the deputies off to do his bidding anymore.  He poured out coffee into two cups, having noticed that Roy’s was still well filled, and passed one over to his father,  while he found a seat upon which to sit while he drank his own coffee.

 

“So what exactly have you sent Candy out to do?”

 

“Checking out as to why a decent woman is threatened, and bullied.  That’s what.”

 

Adam and Ben glanced at one another, Adam sat down in a chair close to the desk and looked over at Roy “Threatened?  Who exactly are we talking about here, Roy?”

 

“My housekeeper, that’s who.” Roy growled and put the empty cup down on the desk, the scowl deepened on his brow, “They won’t serve her in the stores  you know?  Then she goes home and finds her personal belongings thrown out of her rooms and the landlady saying she ain’t welcome no more.  Wants to rent out at a higher amount.  When Mrs Arm- er – Tennant said she would pay so long as she could stay, the wretched woman refused to accept her money, said she had someone already lined up. Fair makes my blood boil. Who would have thought it would  have come to this in this town,  aint’ right…”

 

“No,” Ben agreed with some feeling,  he frowned now and looked over at Adam who was drinking his coffee and staring at the posters on the wall, almost as though he were embarrassed at being there.  “No, it’s not right, not right at all. “  he glowered,  looked as annoyed as Roy had hoped he would be and was pleased to note.

 

“Been my housekeeper some weeks now.  Known her for years though…a good woman, honest, hard working.  Came back to Virginia City trying to make a new fresh start.  Ain’t right what they’re doing to her now, but -” Roy launched forth, determined to make his point because Adam was staring into space as though it didn’t matter one iota, his moustache  bristled “I suspect that someone else is behind all this, that there’s more than the obvious reason for what’s happened.”

 

“You have?  And what do you suspect, Roy?“  Adam asked, surprising the old man by seemingly to suddenly wake up to what was going on around him.

 

“Wal, seems the trouble all started when she had a visit from someone who rides about in a big carriage.  That unsettled her somewhat.  Then the bullying started, folk not serving her in the stores,  insulting her as she walked down the street.  She won’t tell me who that someone is, too scared I reckon, like everyone else in this here town.”

 

“You saying the folk in town are scared of someone?”  Adam put the question forward with raised eyebrows, he wondered if Candy or Clem had noticed any sign of intimidation in the town,  no groups of thugs on the street, or gunmen sauntering around waiting or causing trouble.  “Who do you think it is, Roy?”

 

“I don’t know,” Roy muttered and shook his head, “She won’t tell me.  Says it doesn’t worry her too much, but it does, she’s changed, got skittish and nervy.   She aint’ the kind of woman to get like that, she can handle herself pretty well, but someone has got under her skin.”

 

“So she’s been bullied and now thrown out of her lodgings?”   Ben muttered and shook his head into the bargain as thought the depths some people would go to never ceased to amaze him.

 

“S’right, landlady refuses to have her in the house.”

 

“And who is her landlady – or rather, who was?”

 

“Widow Warrender.  That woman always was a mean minded sharp tongued witch, but she always seemed honest and fair.  She has a boarding house in K street.”

 

“Where is Mrs Tennant now ?”  Adam glanced over at Roy who nodded thoughtfully while pulling at the hairs of his moustache

 

“She’s staying with Widow Hawkins.  Clemmie offered her a room right away. Good hearted soul that she is…” Roy  murmured even though it cost him a lot to get the words out of his mouth, Clemmie and he had never really seen eye to eye over the years.

 

“When did this happen?“ Ben asked,  but it was Adam who repeated the question by saying   “Roy?  When did this happen?”

 

“Last night..  I only got to hear about it this morning.”

 

Adam grimaced and put down the empty cup upon the desk, he looked over at his father who shook his head then looked at Roy “You weren’t around to see it happen, were you, Roy?”

 

“No.  I had other things to do.”  Roy snapped and got to his feet to leave before they asked him what other things and he would have to admit it was going to bed and getting some sleep, he was an old man now after all.  He shrugged “May not seem important to you, but it is to me.  It’s the man in the carriage that makes me think there’s more to it than moral indignation.”

 

Ben opened his mouth to ask about the moral indignation and whereabouts did that actually fit in, when he caught Adam hiding a smile and shaking his head.  Roy sighed and made his way to the door, collecting his hat along the way “Would you jest look at that …. Rain,  typical!!”

 

The door closed behind him leaving the two men in silence, Adam raised his eyebrows “Well,  seems odd.” he murmured and looked over at his father “You know Mrs Tennant of course?”

 

“Yes, of course.   I think Roy’s got a point though,  if it started from the time she had a visit from someone in a large carriage ..I wonder what Candy’s doing about it?”

 

Adam was about to give an answer when Candy entered t he building and very sharply closed the door behind him “You’ve seen Roy?”

 

The two Cartwrights nodded and Candy was confronted by two pairs of dark eyes staring rather confrontationally at him.   He sighed, threw his hat upon the hat stand and began to peel off his coat “He told you about his house keeper?”

 

“Peaches .. I mean …” Adam stammered and Ben said “Mrs Tennant …” while he glowered dark eyes at his son who turned away as though unable to confront his father over his ‘faux pas’ with a straight face.

 

“I saw Mrs Tennants previous landlady and she said what everyone else seems to be saying …that she doesn’t want to have any truck with someone of that reputation…”

 

“Dorothy Tennant hasn’t got a reputation.” Ben snorted indignantly, “She came here because she wanted to make a new life for herself, but …”

 

“But people here aren’t prepared to let her do so.  A new name or rather a different name doesn’t change what she was when she was Dorothea Armstrong …commonly known as Peaches.” and Candy looked directly at Adam with a slight twinkle in his eyes.

 

“Humph,” Ben bristled indignantly “There are several so called ladies around town I could mention with a far worst reputation than Peaches … I mean …Mrs Tennant ever had.    So what are you going to do about it, Candy?”

 

Candy sighed and slumped down into the chair that Roy had been polishing with the seat of his pants for many a year before him, “Nothing I can do, Ben.  It’s a civil matter, a situation that is up to the individuals themselves to sort out.  Mrs Tennant seems quite happy now at Mrs Hawkins establishment and Mrs Hawkins seems quite happy to have her there.   To be honest there are far weightier things on my mind than some old biddy deciding she doesn’t want a certain lady renting rooms in her household. “

 

“Any progress on those certain other things, Candy?” Adam asked, looking now more seriously at the sheriff and his face once again carrying a more sombre appearance.

 

“I’ve interviewed Gwen,  and I’ve also seen Mrs O’Connell who doesn’t appear capable of making any sensible speech at all.  Shocked out of her head by her husbands death,  and due to have a baby anytime soon.  I couldn’t say she would be a credible witness to anything … that is, if she were aware of anything untoward having happened.”

 

“Anyone else?” Adam probed and Candy sighed and nodded towards some papers on his desk

 

“I checked Billy’s alibi with Amanda Ridley,  he was playing Faro at her place until nearly 2 a.m.  there were five others there all of whom confirmed that he was there and that he had won a moderate sum of money.   I’ve also seen several others who were employed at Bucksburn but I can’t take any of what they say as credible statements as they are either spitting venom at McGarthy over something or praising him to the skies.   I think Mrs Mayhew’s death will take a fair amount of time and effort to prove it to be anything other than an accident.”

 

“It wasn’t an accident” Adam said curtly and looked at his father who was staring glumly down at the floor as though deep in thought and wishing his son wouldn’t be so sure of his facts.

 

“You want to take over this job, Adam?” Candy said with a rather tight grin but Adam laughed and shook  his head, assured him that no, he could keep the job, he had enough to do as it was.

 

“Before you go, Adam.   What shall we do about the Bucksburn Mine?  We still  need to take a look at it.”

 

Adam scratched behind his ear as though he had hoped the matter would have been dropped in light of the more serious situation with regard to Mrs Mayhew.  He nodded, “Well, I guess so.   I kind of formed the impression that what I’d find inside would  be as I’d expect, those four guns of McGarthy’s were too eager to keep me out of there.  Couldn’t have made it clearer that they didn’t want me to see exactly how things were.”

 

“That won’t make much on a report, will it?” Candy made a downturn of his mouth, “I need a proper report to submit to the authorities so that the place can be closed down while work is done to put it right.”

 

Adam nodded, briefly wished he had never been involved, “I’ve written out a report, was about to leave it with the Mayor whose President of the Mining Commission, but I have to admit, I don’t expect much to come as a result of it seeing how hand in glove McGarthy is with the Mayor.”

 

“Let me know how it goes, Adam.  But let me tell you this, I don’t intend to let the matter of that mine drop.  No mans a saint as some of my witnesses want me to believe and no mans as black as he’s been painted by some others.”

 

“Sam Mayhew among them?” Adam said quietly and at that Candy nodded, heaved a sigh and shook his head.

 

It seemed better now for Adam and Ben to leave, and as the door closed behind him Candy looked around the empty office,  then walked slowly to the stove in order to pour himself some coffee.   Once having achieved that he returned to his desk and sat down to  write down his report on the mornings activities and to list down what to do next…..   His eyes strayed back to the door and he found himself wishing that Adam had stayed a while longer, just to accompany him on the several calls that had to be made now.

 

Chapter 28

 

As Joe stepped into the porch of his home, removed his hat and beat the rain drops from it against his leg, he heard the sound of his wife’s laughter from within.   For a moment he paused to listen for he loved the sound of her laugh, it was, he thought, as close to music as a human voice could get apart from actually singing.  He smiled with a shy contentment and pushed open the door to the main room.

 

Mary Ann was laughing at some anecdote that Hoss had spun and Joe could see Hester seated in the chair closest to the fire with Hope in her arms, she was smiling too, looking up at her husband over the top of the childs blonde hair .   Hoss looked over as Joe came further into the room “Hey, Joe, where’ve you bin?”

 

“Busy.” his brother replied and his eyes looked over at his wife and saw the way her face softened at the sight of him, “Pa wanted me to check out the footings for the new barn over at the low pasture.  I saw Derwent Jessop on the way back,  he sends you all  his regards.”

 

Mary Ann was by his side and helping him pull off the wet coat, her face still flushed with laughter and her eyes bright as she looked at him,  leaned forward and bestowed a kiss upon his cheek.   “We were about to eat, so you’re not so very late.”

 

“How’s Daniel?”

 

“He’s alright,  and fast asleep.  Hop Sing took good care of him so everything’s fine.”

 

“Did Adam and Pa get back from town yet?” he approached the fire and enjoyed the heat of the flames as they began to take the damp chill from his clothing “I suppose you did hang around long enough to find out?”

 

“Well, once you left I didn’t see no reason for me to stay, little brother.  I got the rest of the varnishing done and then it started to rain so didn’t think there was any point in staying to do any more although Garvey set his beady eyes on me and I jest knew he had plans to git me to do something else.  Shucks there’s only so much any one man can do …”

 

Joe shook his head and muttered something under his breath which Hoss insisted on knowing exactly what but Hester stood up and thrust Hope into Hoss’ arms “Take your daughter to her bed, Hoss.”

 

“Yes, ma’am.” he nodded and took his daughter into his arms, holding her  so gently that Joe was reminded of the time he first held Hannah when just a little new born baby.  There was something so fragile and dainty about Hope that the big man could not bear to handle her any other way but carefully.  Having said that he was equally careful with Hannah, but Joe always felt that Hope was handled with just that slightly more tenderness.

 

He watched his brother carry the child upstairs and then turned to smile at Hester “It won’t be long before you will be back at the Ponderosa, Hester.   I guess the things you ordered will be on  their way any day now?”

 

“I checked the delivery dates while I was in town today,” Hester replied, “Most of it will be coming by the beginning of next week.”

 

Mary Ann was standing beside her husband now, hugging onto his arm and leaning in against him, she smiled at her sister in law and then turned to Joe “It will be strange having to get used to being alone in the house again … with just Danny.”

 

Hester’s face immediately registered concern and she looked at Joe with that bold direct blue gaze of hers “Joe, you will have to get someone here to help Mary Ann.  It won’t  be fair that she should have the care of this house all by herself.”

 

Mary Ann laughed and shook her head “I’m alright, Hester dear.   I’ll soon get used to it.”

 

Joe shook his head and looked at her with concerned hazel eyes, “No,  we shall have to get someone reliable who can help you, Mary Ann.   After all, you have the new baby to think about.”

 

“Oh that’s months away yet.” Mary Ann replied airily and then looked over at the stairs as Hoss emerged from the upper regions “Right, now,  let’s go and have something to eat before it’s ruined.”

 

Hoss sat down  with a frown on his face as he flipped out his napkin and gave his customary glance over the food mentally calculating which dish he preferred above all others and would therefore have to be served up first “Hey,  Joe, why does Pa want a barn over at the low pasture?”

 

“Because there’s good silage there,  he thought it would be good to have it under cover, more accessible for the herd that we moved over to that area.   He’s right, it’ll save a lot of extra work”

 

“Shucks, yeah, I guess it would, jest don’t know why he didn’t think of it before.” he ladled on several mounds of the creamy potato and then stabbed at a steak covered with Hop Sings special onion gravy

 

“So did you see Pa or Adam when they got back from town? “ Joe asked as he wondered how he was going to manage to divide what was left of mashed potato between the three of them

 

“Yep.   Seems Roy’s gitting hissself all hot under the collar about his house keeper…”

Hoss scratched his head as he thought over what had been said about Mrs Tennant and Mrs Hawkins “Seems she’s gone to live in with Widder Hawkins.”

 

“Why?”

 

“Wal,, seems like the other Widder woman don’t want Mrs Tennant hanging around her place no more.  That’s because of her being you know what before…” Hoss lowered his voice into a barely discernable whisper.

 

“Who was a what?” Joe queried and felt her wife nudging his knee with her own, a signal not to tease but it was impossible not to find something about which to tease Hoss who was staring fixedly at his steak.

 

“Wal you know … she was involved in that business with Adams friend Mr Jamieson,  and not only that she was …” he cleared his throat and stuffed his mouth with food so that he didn’t have to answer any more questions from his irritating little brother.

 

“Apparently,” Hester said calmly “Roy’s quite put out about it.  Seems the store keepers won’t serve her either.  Amanda Ridley is the only one in town who will …” she frowned “It seems hardly fair to hold a persons past against them, especially when she is trying to make amends and Roy thinks very highly of her.”

 

Joe nodded and thought of some of the things his father had told him about Peaches ….   but as Hester had said the woman wanted to make a new life for herself, it was just a pity she had chosen to return to Virginia City to do so he thought and was about to say so when Hoss  changed the subject to the anticipated move back into the main Ponderosa homestead.

…………….

Later as Joe lay on his back in bed and watched his wife disrobe he thought over the vagaries that life offered to them all.  He was not and never boasted as being a deep thinker, his was a mercurial temperament that often skimmed the surface of things and never looked too deeply into the whys and when’s of a situation.    His was a more instinctive rationale compared to Adams more logical way of doing things and he never claimed to be anything other than what he was or how he was come to that…  he was still Little Joe under the layers that the passing  years had placed upon him.

 

Mary Ann came and sat down on the edge of the bed and he turned upon his side and leaned upon one hand, his elbow resting in the pillows.   His free hand he gently ran down his wife’s slender back,  regretting as he always did the scars upon it that had  been caused when the glass doors had shattered during high winds and some of the shards had stabbed into her back.  The scars were white now, some deeper than others.  His fingers stroked the base of her spine tenderly and she turned her head a little to look over her shoulder at him “It will be strange not having  Hoss and Hester here, wont it?”

 

He chuckled then, a throaty  laugh and then rolled onto his back “Ah,  Mary Ann,  how can you be talking about Hoss and Hester now,  my love?”

 

“Because -” she moved lightly,  so that she was stretched out alongside him without him even realising how she had managed it so quickly, “Because it will be … and … “

 

“And?”

 

“We won’t have to whisper any more, will we?”

 

Her grey eyes were like wet slate,  they stared up at him with the dark pupils like velvet in their midst and she smiled so that white teeth showed just slightly  …  Joe  leaned down and tenderly ran his fingers along the profile of her face,  across her lips … then he kissed her, his dearest sweetest Mary Ann.

…………….

 

 

The rain sluiced down with a vehemence that seemed almost personal, pounding against the glass of the windows and making the casements tremble.   Sofia had abandoned her bed and ran tip toe across the landing to where Reuben slept and slipped into bed with him, but even then the rain disturbed her sleep and she had to leave him beneath the muddle of bed clothes while she sought comfort elsewhere.

 

Adam heard the patter of her feet on the landing and opened his eyes slowly.  In anticipation of her coming into the bedroom he left the comfort of the warm bed and slipped on his dressing gown,  thrust his feet into his slippers and walked to the door to meet her.   She stood still, raised herself on tip toe “Daddy,  the wind wants to come into my bedroom.”

 

Adam placed a finger on his lips as a warning for her to be quiet and then he stooped to pick her up and hold her close “You should be fast asleep, little lady.”

 

“But the wind wants to come in,” she insisted pointing to her room “And the rain keeps knocking and knocking and calling me to open the window.”

 

He nodded and stroked her back, “It is only the wind and the rain, Sofia.   Just keep the curtains drawn over and you won’t hear  it so much.”

 

“But I do, daddy, I heard them all the time.”  she sunk her head upon his shoulder and tried to make herself as small as she could so that he wouldn’t think her too heavy and put her back down on the ground

 

He didn’t say anything but carried her back into her bedroom which caused her to curl up into his body even more closely, her arms tightened around his neck and he could feel the bumpitty bump of her heart beating .   “I’ll stay here just a while until you get to sleep.   Alright?”

 

“But, daddy…” she protested as she felt herself being lowered down into the bed.  “But, daddy…” she repeated as the coverlets were drawn over and she was tucked securely on all sides.

 

“Now close your eyes and tell me a story.” he whispered as he stroked a random curl from  her face

 

“No,  daddy, you got that wrong, you s’pose to tell me a story.” she whispered and looked up at him, put a thumb in her mouth and then settled more deeply under the covers.

 

“And then will you go to sleep?”

 

“I don’t know …”

 

“Ah well then …” he shrugged and made a pretence of getting to his feet but she smiled and giggled just a little bit and said “promise” so sweetly that he resumed his seat beside the bed and looked at her with a softening of  face that she always caused for this little girl touched his heart as profoundly as she had bewitched that of his fathers.

“Well,  let me tell you about a lovely lady I once knew …  this lady was very poor  and had come with her family from another country far far away.”

 

“Really far far away?  Like a princess?”

 

“No,  this lady was no princess in the way you mean… anyway, don’t interrupt, you should be trying to get to sleep.”

 

“I am..  But the wind …”

 

“Shssh…this lady loved music, sometimes when she was very young she had heard grand orchestra’s playing the music of very famous composers .. So when she had children of her own who found it hard to go to sleep, she would tell them about the cymbols clashing, the majestic throb of the grand double bass,  the sound of the clarinets and the flutes …”   he paused and looked down at the child who was staring at him and he knew that if he wasn’t careful she would be asking ‘what’s an orchestra, what’s a double bass…’

 

He cleared his throat “But where they were travelling there were no theatres anywhere, so talking about those things meant nothing at all to the child so she would hold his hands and open the tarpaulin just enough for them to peek through and she would say “Listen, listen now ..hush…the stage is set, the curtains drawn apart, God plays his symphony for us tonight, every night, and every morning.  This music is for you  …listen to the music of Gods symphony. “  Then she would point to the stars in the heavens and say “The lights of heaven shine down upon the stage, listen as the breeze drifts across the tall grass like violins being played so gently, hear the stream as it ripples over the stones like tinkling xylophones;   the owl hoots like a deep throated bassoon and crickets chirrup like so many clarinets.   Hear as the wind makes the trees bend and creak and swish like so many viola’s joining in with the violins chorus….listen, perhaps, one day, you will hear a lark singing, taking centre stage, trilling out his solo serenade.”

 

The flame of the lamp flickered and he lowered it just a little, outside the wind still rattled at the windows and the rain still created waterfalls down the glass but the child in the bed slept soundly.

 

For a moment Adam remained where he was, perhaps he was thinking of the lady who had told him about God’s symphony all that time ago when they were crossing the Missouri plains in their wagons, perhaps he was remembering the times he would tell his infant brother the same story to send him to sleep… maybe he was just remembering the first woman he ever loved whose name was Inger.

 

He sighed and got to his feet, made sure that the covers were in place and she was warm and then made his way back to his bed.  He let the dressing gown slide down upon the floor and slipped his feet free.   The bed was still warm,  he closed his eyes and drifted into sleep listening for the lark song.

 

Chapter 29

 

The rain came tumbling down  so heavily that it were like a blanket covering the windows and obscuring any view of what was happening beyond them.  Lamps were lighted shortly after noon in order to chase away shadows only to form deeper ones in corners that seemed to creep towards them.   Patrick McGarthy’s cigar glowed like a small glow worm as he chewed, puffed and sucked on it, billowing out smoke above and around the desk and creating further gloom as a result.

 

In the corner by the doorway Billy Buckley stood, occasionally leaning against the wall in order to ease the strain on his legs from standing constantly.   His eyes stared into the gloom  unseeingly, glazed, while his mind journeyed too and forth over the roadway of his memories.  They always ended at the same point and upon that conclusion he would dwell and allow his mind to wander, considering possibilities and hopes, weaving dreams and forming hopes.

 

The knock on the door caused both men to jump, ,startled by the sudden noise and the fact that someone was stupid enough to venture out in such bad weather conditions.   Before Buckley could make a move however the person on the other side pushed the door open and stepped into the stuffy interior of the office, obviously deciding that travelling in the rain was one thing, but standing outside waiting for entry was quite another thing altogether.

 

McGarthy scowled, then stubbed out the cigar and nodded over to the newcomer who strode forwards with a confident air about him.  Buckley watched as the man removed his hat, then his coat and tossed both articles onto a chair, raindrops from both sprayed out and splashed upon his own clothing, his boots and with of look of disdain upon his face Billy stepped back into the shadows as though to remove himself as far as possible from the new arrival.

 

“Sit down” McGarthy growled indicating the chair closer to the desk, and upon this the individual lowered himself and spread out his legs as though to make sure he was really comfortable.  “Unusual to see you here.   What’s happened?”

 

The other man raised one shoulder in a partial shrug,  “None of my  doing, the Mayor sent me.”

 

“Oh, and what has happened to occasion his interest in my affairs.”

 

“This.”  came the reply and with a slow movement he withdrew from his pocket an envelope which he tossed onto McGarthy’s desk. “The Mayor isn’t too happy about it.   He wants you to deal with the matter.”

 

With his eyes still on the man sprawled on the chair opposite McGarthy opened the envelope and removed the letter. It was short and to the point,  stating the fact that an engineer appointed by the law who in turn was upheld by the Mayoral office, had been refused entry into an examination of the Bucksburn Mine.  Such a refusal and thus a prevention of the engineer to go about his duties could be considered an illegal action on the part of the owner Mr Patrick McGarthy.  It could be overlooked were the engineer, upon another visit, be permitted to carry out his appointed task.

 

Billy had no idea what the letter contained but he could see the effect it had on McGarthy and surmised that the letter didn’t contain good news. It was scrunched into a ball within McGarthy’s fist, the fat fingers balling together while his lips tightened across his teeth.   “Cartwright.”

 

“Hmm,  gets under your skin some, doesn’t it?” the other man said and took from another pocket a slim cheroot which he forced between his teeth , struck a match and inhaled deeply before emitting a stream of blue grey smoke.   “Well, the Mayor wants you to do something about it.”

 

“Such as?”

 

Billy looked at the newcomer,  sitting there in his smart city suit, hair smarmed neatly over his head with the cheroot between his teeth.   No doubt about it the man’s whole demeanour shouted money,  and position,  but it indicated something else too,  that he was a man not to be trifled with and would remove any object in his way without compunction as to how it was to be done.    McGarthy observed him thoughtfully and then  smoothed out the letter to re-read it through carefully just in case he had missed out any vital words.   “Mr Jones, just what does the Mayor suggest I do?”

 

Mr Jones raised his eyebrows and shrugged “It’s up to you what you do, Mr McGarthy. The Mayor doesn’t want any trouble like there was last time, with your brother.”

 

“My brother?” McGarthy’s eyes narrowed as he stared at the other man “What has my brother got to do with this?”

 

“Its common knowledge that there’s bad blood between you and the Cartwrights because of what happened some years back.   Liam McGarthy thought he was onto a good thing finding the weak link in Cartwrights chain,  and almost  –   almost  — managing to  grab some of the Ponderosa for himself.   He was pretty clever getting old man Cartwright declared bankrupt too except that someone came along and bailed him out.”

 

“Someone came along and cleared the debts.  Cartwright …”  Patrick frowned and chewed on his thumb as his mind trickled back to that time.

 

From his shadowy corner Billy listened carefully, he had not heard anything about what Jones’ referred to as common knowledge, he only knew that McGarthy hated the Cartwrights over something that had involved his brother Liam.  He pressed himself into the darkest shadow of all and watched as McGarthy took a cigar from  the box that he had close to his elbow on the desk.  Silence for some moments apart from the rasp of a match being struck and the hiss of a flame being ignited.

 

“Ben Cartwright was on his knees … Liam had him tied up so tight there was no chance of his getting out from under.   It really seemed as though the Ponderosa would fall into our hands like a ripe plum, ours for  the taking.”  he  stared over Jones’ shoulder as though his brother Liam was standing right there behind the man,  listening and nodding to all that was  being said. “If it wasn’t for that purchaser …  a complete stranger …. Everything had been worked out to the last degree but along came this lawyer with all the money needed to clear the debts, purchase the Ponderosa …”

 

“And?” Jones leaned forward as though genuinely interested, “What happened? “

 

“That’s what sticks in my craw more than anything  … this stranger gets all the money together and buys the Ponderosa and then … then … he sells it back to Ben Cartwright for the amount that he has in his pocket at the time.”

 

Jones leaned back, his thin lips parted in a smile slow and  mirthless “A man pays out an exorbitant sum of money for a property that he sells back to the original owner for peanuts?”

 

“So Liam tells me.  That ruined everything, the consortium broke up, no one wanted to know and ….” he stopped,  after all that wasn’t the whole story, there was the little matter of fraud, embezzlement and murder along the way that should have been mentioned.   McGarthy frowned “No one was told who the purchaser was,  the lawyer was a chap in San Francisco but he refused to divulge any information.   I’ve always wondered who it was …”

 

“Interesting.”  Jones murmured in a voice rather indicative of a man intrigued but at the same time slightly bored, “Could it have been his sons?”

 

“No,  they didn’t have the wherewithal at the time.   We checked into that at the time.  Everything went wrong  from then on ,  it’s been a struggle to get the mine up and going again, but thankfully I have contacts, some of Liams old friends, some who owe us a debt.   Why Cartwright had to be asked along as the Engineer … “

 

“Well, you know that the sheriff is an ex-employee of the Ponderosa, don’t you?  They’ll always be working hand in glove with the law.  If you’re not careful, McGarthy, you may well find yourself in a similar situation to your brother.”

 

“Is that a threat?”

 

“No, just a warning to  be careful. The Mayor doesn’t want trouble like before.  He’s an old friend of Ben Cartwrights and has a lot of respect for his sons. “  he rose up from his chair and then looked around the office,  “Be careful,  McGarthy.”

 

He didn’t see the flush of anger that rouged McGarthy’s face as he leaned over to pick up his hat and coat.  He shook of the excess rain drops and pulled on the coat and for a moment Billy wasn’t sure whether or not he was supposed to go over and help him like one of those valets the rich and wealthy seemed to have hovering around .  As Jones placed his hat on his perfectly styled head of hair he turned again to Patrick,  “Perhaps you should try and find out who actually did purchase the Ponderosa it could be that he’s needing some money now and would be grateful to call in some favours.”

 

McGarthy said nothing to that but nodded only and stood  up to watch the other man leave the building   The door closed behind him with a slight thud.  The rumble of thunder in the distance was clear indication that the storm had not subsided.

 

For a little while nothing happened in the office.   McGarthy just stood there as though too deep in thought about something to consider moving and Billy didn’t move in case McGarthy had forgotten he was there and wouldn’t be too happy in finding that he was and that he would have heard everything .    “Buckley?”

 

The summons brought Billy from the shadows, he stepped forward sharply, quickly, as though eager to listen to whatever it was that McGarthy needed him for , he approached the desk and glanced at the chair the other man had just vacated.  It struck him suddenly that he had never been offered to sit down, never been allowed the privilege.  He sighed and waited while McGarthy pushed some papers about as thought to restore order to an already perfectly orderly assortment of letters and files.

 

“That woman…”

 

“Which woman Mr McGarthy?”

 

“The woman in town, the woman who you were supposed to make sure left Virginia City …”

 

“What about her?” Billy frowned, his mind travelling back to the day he had terrified the life out of that poor little widow who rented out rooms to a Mrs Tennant.

 

“Where is she now?  What’s she doing?”

 

“She’s still in town… she’s still working for Roy Coffee.” Billy said quietly wondering as he spoke whether or not this would mean instant dismissal from the job or a  bullet between the eyes.

 

“Still in town?”

 

“There’s only one store in town that will serve her now, and that belongs to a woman called Ridley.   She’s a tough one,  finds it a challenge to do anything opposite to what everyone else is doing.  Once she realised that the other store keepers were boycotting Mrs Tennant she welcomed her with open arms. “

 

“That’s Amanda Ridley, isn’t it?”

 

“Yes.”   Billy nodded and wondered what pressure McGarthy was likely to want them to bear on her, he wanted to point out that Amanda Ridley was a friend of the Cartwrights,  someone else to be taken into consideration perhaps.

 

“I know her,  yes, she’s a stubborn obstinate woman alright.” McGarthy smiled and puffed on his cigar “Where’s Mrs Tennant lodging?”

 

“With an old widow woman, Mrs Hawkins.”  Billy swallowed a lump in his throat, he had fond memories of Widow Hawkins, he wondered and hoped that no harm would befall her now.

 

“Well,  you just make sure that Mrs Tennant is out of Virginia City by the end of the month.  Do anything you like … burn that old widow woman’s place down,  run them both out of town tied to the back of horses … just get rid of her.”

 

“But Mrs Tennant .. She’s just ..”

 

McGarthy frowned “You going soft on  me? Is that it?”   he leaned back “don’t think I havent noticed  you mooning over that girl friend of yours, Buckley.  Who is she, huh?  Nothing, just a saloon girl with no brains in her head.   You’re losing your edge Billy boy.   You stop day dreaming about her and get yourself back in shape … I want Mrs Tennant out of town. “ he narrowed his eyes and stared coldly into the other mans face “You heard me right, didn’t you, Billy boy?”

 

“Yes sir.”

 

“Another thing … Samuel Mayhew… he’s getting too mouthy.  You best find a way to get him to shut his mouth!”

 

 

Chapter 30

 

Perhaps he was going soft.

 

As Billy Buckley closed the door of the office behind him and stood in the rain staring out at the men who were returning home from their shifts in the mine, he thought how easy it was for a man to sit behind a desk and bawl out orders without a thought as to how they were carried out.   He jerked down his hat to  cover his eyes a little more and to shield himself from  the cold rain that blew against his face.  Samuel Mayhew, half blind, broken bones,  had been a loyal hard worker, now someone to cast aside onto the scrap heap.  It was unfair to Billy’s way of thinking especially in view of the circumstances relating to the old man’s anger.

 

His foot sloshed into a puddle, and he grimaced and pulled his coat closer to his body as he made his way in a zig zag fashion to avoid the worst of t hem.   Mrs Mayhew shouldn’t have died, not really.   He bowed his head and shivered as rain found its way down the inside of his clothes and trickled down his back.  She was just another person who knew too much or was – well – expendable so far as McGarthy was concerned.

 

He looked around cautiously as he neared Mayhew’s cabin.   It wouldn’t do for too many, if any at all, to see him go into the old man now.  His fingers gripped the handle of the door and he pushed his shoulder against it so that it opened sharply inwards.

 

Sam Mayhew was sitting at a table with a book in his hands, not that he could read very well.  The  bandage covering that part of his face that had been damaged in the explosion was getting dirty, everything around Sam was looking the worst for wear now that Mrs Mayhew wasn’t there to tend for him.  He gave a brief glance to the door and nodded “Was expecting a visit from you sooner or later,  Buckley.”

 

Billy felt something catch at his throat and he had to cough to clear it “Why’s that?”

 

Sam closed the book, and pushed it slightly to one side, “Well, a dog does what his master tells him, don’t he?”  he shrugged and sighed “What’s your master wanting from me?   To get back to work?  To quit this cabin?   Has he got any idea as to where I can go when I leave?  What I can do now?”

 

“Guess not, Sam.”

 

“No,  don’t reckon you would know that part of it, would  you?”   he leaned forward as though he needed to get closer to the man standing by the door “Well,  what do  you want, spit it out, get it over with.”

 

Billy wasn’t sure what to say, he knew what he was meant to do, and he knew that a few days ago he wouldn’t have hesitated in doing it, but at this point of time he felt the wrongness of it all.   It put him out of kilter with who he had been for so long now that he could only close the door behind him and walk to the table, he pulled out the other chair and sat down “Look, Sam, you got to keep quiet about your opinions.  You don’t know what happened to Tilda anymore than I do …”

 

“Oh is that so?” Sam narrowed his one not so good eye and stared at the earnest face of the other man “There’s rumour going the rounds that you know more about my Tilda’s death than anyone else hereabouts.”

 

Billy shook his head “See, that’s what I mean… you keep on making these accusations ain’t going to do you any good.  Everyone knows where I was the time your wife got killed or died …   Look, Sam, I found her, I was the one found her.  How do you think I felt finding her like that?”

 

Sam shook his head and turned to look down at the bible by his elbow “You’re a puzzle, Buckley.   Never thought you would be the kind of man come in here wearing his heart on his sleeve.   You expecting me to believe that?”

 

“Mr McGarthy only wants you to stop shouting the odds, stop causing trouble.  You know the mines are perfectly safe …”

 

“Huh, you been down them recently?  Safe?  How’d you think this happened to me?” he jabbed a finger in the direction of his face and shook his head with a fervour of exasperation “What about O’Connell and the other men who have been injured since the Bucksburn was up and running again.  This is a shoddy outfit, mister, and it’s dangerous.   I’m going to go and tell that sheriff and that engineer he  brung here just how rotten this place is.  It stinks.”

 

Billy bowed his head and stared at the floor.   That morning while he was in the office thinking about – well, about the woman he had seen in town that day – and other things, too.  He had a memory of young Sally Cass, it had been so strong as to make him feel that if he had raised his head she would have been standing there right in front of him.  Pleading she was .. It was there in her eyes, in her young face just like all that time way back when he took his gun to face Ed.   He had ignored her then,  had just given in to the heat of his feelings and set his feet on the road that had led him to here, to this moment in time.

 

He put out a hand and placed it carefully upon Sam’s arm, he could its warmth and feel it trembling beneath his touch, “Sam, what’s the point of it?   Sooner or later they’ll find out for themselves anyhow.  Why stick your neck out and run the risk of getting yourself into trouble?”

 

“You realise what you’re saying, aren’t you?”  Sam muttered, leaning in closer, “You jest admitted to me that this place is as bad as I say it is.  If that’s how you feel why are you just sitting there doing nothing but  running around doing McGarthy’s bidding for him all the time?  Why ain’t you doing something a man should be doing, something decent.”

 

Billy winced, a nerve at the corner of his mouth twitched “I’m doing what the man who pays my wages tells me to do, Sam.”

 

“Didn’t sound like it just then …”  Sam turned aside and pulled his arm away from Billy’s hand, “You’re a hypocrite  a mealy mouthed weak livered hypocrite.   How many more good men will die or get injured or get thrown out of their homes while you take McGarthy’s money and do his bidding?”

 

Billy stood  up, he was tall, thin as ever he had been,  the lines of his face were those of a man unhappy with himself, bitter inside.  He put his hand to the handle of his gun, “Sam,  you’ve got an hour to clear out of here.  Get as far away as possible , do you understand me?”

 

“And if I choose not to go?”

 

“Then  Tovey and the boys will help you on your way.   Whatever happens, Sam, I’d advise you to keep your mouth shut … for the time being anyway.”

 

“How’d you mean?”  Sam looked puzzled,  he leaned his head to one side and peered at the other man as though puzzled, which he was. “What you saying there?”

 

“Well,  you bin reading  your bible ain’t ya?  Says in there that there’s a time to be silent and there’s a time to speak …ain’t that right?”

 

He stared at the older man and then turned away, opened the door and stepped outside. The rain had stopped,  there  was a rather ragged rainbow to the south of the camp.  He looked at it and sighed, shook his head and left the cabin.

 

Looking around he could see Tovey and the other men, McGarthys so called police, standing together with their rifles resting in the crook of their arms.  They stared at him and for a moment Billy got t he feeling that they knew he had changed, that he had ‘gone soft’ and if they knew that then he wondered what else they knew.  He walked towards them “Ain’t  you boys got anything better to be doing>“

 

Tovey grinned, spat into the dirt “We were waiting for you to come out of that thar cabin,  Billy boy.”

 

“Well, I’m out of there now, so what of it?”

 

Tovey shrugged, he glanced at Buckleys gun hand resting on the handle of his gun, looked at the other men and with a jerk of the head indicated that they walked on, there were other things to do after all.

……………….

 

Lucy Brandon looked around her class and counted the bowed heads labouring over their slates or their books at the work she had given them.  Reuben Cartwright had always been one of her favourites and she now watched as he copied down the words she had written on the board.   Perhaps he realised she was looking at him for he glanced up, caught her eyes and smiled surprising a smile from her as a result.

 

She turned her attention now to his little sister who was  in deep concentration over the numbers on her slate that she had to add together to form a total.  It was obvious that she was struggling or day dreaming.  Lucy hadn’t taken long to find out that Miss Sofia Cartwright was a day dreamer,  and she wondered what it was that was filling her head this morning.

 

“Are you alright, Sofia?”

 

The girl looked at her “Did you know that God has a sympathy every night?”

 

“No, I didn’t.  I always thought God was very sympathetic all the time towards us, Sofia.

 

The child looked at her teacher with solemn all knowing eyes, the wisdom of all her years and beyond shining from her freckled face “He makes music you know with the  trees and the animals and the birds.”

 

Miss Brandon nodded, smiled and then looked at the slate which was covered with pictures of birds and rabbits, “Sofia, you are supposed to be doing math …”

 

“There’s two rabbits and four birds and that make six doesn’t it?” she smiled and for a moment Miss Brandon wasn’t sure what to say after all the sum she had given them to work out was 2 + 4 =  ?

 

“Just concentrate on the lesson, Sofia.” she said gently and walked on as she tried to puzzle out what exactly was going on in that little girl’s head.

 

…………………

 

Dorothy Tennant poured out the coffee into the cup that she knew was Roy’s favourite and then placed it carefully on a tray.   In many ways it had been a blessing to have found Widow Hawkins such a friend, a blessing as well as a surprise because in the past, in the days when Dorothy had been rather free with her friendships and morals,  Clementine Hawkins had been a real thorn in her flesh.   Now though she had proven to be a good loyal friend  and for that Dorothy was truly grateful.

 

Roy looked up from the letter he was reading and removed his spectacles “You look a lot  happier today, Mrs Tennant.”

 

“Thank you, Mr Coffee, I feel a lot better than I have done recently.” she placed the tray down upon the table and pushed it closer to him,  “Mrs Hawkins has been a good friend.”

 

“She’s a surprising woman,” Roy admitted, “Acts like a batty half wit but is really as shrewd as they come.  She has an good eye for gems.”

 

Dorothy smiled and nodded and wondered briefly what Roy meant by that, then decided that it must have been a compliment, something Roy  wasn’t prone to give but when it happened made it all the more worth while.. “The cake’s your favourite.”

 

“I noticed,” he muttered and put down the letter “It’s from my sister.  She wants to tell me that she’s getting married.”

 

“Oh, well, that’s good, isn’t it?”

 

“For her, not so sure about the fellow she’s marrying though.  He’s a widower, has four children all living in Genoa, and he’s the towns apothecary.”   he slipped the letter back into the envelope and turned his attention to his coffee and cake, “You are happy enough with the situation here, aren’t you,  Mrs Tennant.”

 

“Of course.” Dorothy smiled, “If I wasn’t  …” she paused at the sound of hammering on the door and as they stared at one another wondering who on earth could be in such a panic as to be making such a clamour the door was flung open and Clemmie Hawkins stood in the middle of the room

 

“Come quick,  quickly … someone’s set fire to my blooming house …”

 

Chapter 31

 

The Silver Dollar saloon was the closest public building to where Clementine’s house was located in town and it was there that those who had been working on putting out the fire and preventing its spread anywhere else had taken refuge.  Some to get their burns and any injuries checked over and others to have something to drink that would get rid of the dryness in their throats and the ache in their lungs.

 

Paul Martin carefully wound a bandage around Joseph Cartwright’s right hand and sighed “Trust you to get involved in this, Joe.”

 

“Hoss and I were just passing by, Doc, wasn’t of our choosing…” Joe winced as Paul fastened the bandage and then looked at the young mans face, peered into his eyes and did a quick examination to ensure that his patient wasn’t suffering from any further damage.  Smoke inhalation could be as lethal as anything else so he took his time in making sure Joe was alright apart from the burn on his hand.

 

Hoss stood close by waiting for Paul to finish with his brother, both of them were soot grimed and sweat streaked, their clothes a mess, and part of Hoss’ coat torn.  Paul looked at him “Best sit down, Hoss, I’m too tired to stand on tip toes to check whether or not you’re alright.”

 

Hoss  promptly dropped himself into the chair that Joe  had vacated “Hey, Joe, go get me a beer would you?”

 

Joe turned to do just that when he was prevented from moving further by Candy, who had Clementine Hawkins standing right beside him.  “Before you go, Joe.  I just have a few questions to ask you and Hoss.”  Candy said wearily and produced a note book and pencil from his pocket “And Mrs Hawkins has something to say to you both.”

 

Clementine stepped forward and blinked up at them both,  without her false eyelashes and thick cosmetics on her face she looked a different person to the indomitable Widow Hawkins they had known for so long.  Now she looked frail and old,  her eyes red rimmed either from the smoke or from crying, the usual vivid scarlet slash of lipstick that painted her lips was missing so that when she spoke it seemed as though  there were no lips there at all…  in some way  her vulnerability at that moment made her appear a far more likeable person .

 

She blinked up at Joe “I understand from the other chaps over there that you and your brother were the ones first noticed the smoke, Joe?”

 

“That’s right, Mrs Hawkins.  We were on our way to visit a friend when we noticed the smoke.”

 

“Thought you’d burned your dinner again, Ma’am” Hoss joked but was given a glare from his brother and told to sit still by Paul so pulled a whimsical face before turning back to the doctor for further attention

 

“Thank you for doing that, Joe, Hoss.  Is it right what they said, that Hoss went inside ?”  she glanced over at the big man and then at Joe who nodded,

 

“Yes, ma’am.  Your door was locked so he had to put his shoulder to it …”

 

Candy shook his head “Stupid thing to do,  there could have been a back draft …you could’ve been killed.”

 

Hoss turned his head away from Paul’s ministrations again “we didn’t know where Mrs Hawkins was, could’ve been on the floor needing help for all we knew …couldn’t leave her to burn, could we?”

 

Candy nodded “I’m just saying, that’s all.”  he looked at Clemmie “Good thing you weren’t in, Ma’am.”

 

“I’m ever so grateful to you both.  The place is a proper mess mind you, but it could have been far worse.  Poor Harry’s things … all those posters … and his pink pantaloons have gorn.  Aint much of them left ‘cept his weights.”

 

“Would take more than a fire to destroy them, Ma’am” Joe smiled gently and put a hand on her arm, “Is t he Burma Rarity safe?”

 

“Oh yes, duckie, no need to worry about that..it’s along with my other rocks in the safe at the bank.” she paused and looked at Candy “Do you think that could be why they set my place on fire, to get their hands on my emerald?”

 

“No,” Candy said with a sigh in his voice “No, I doubt it, ma’am.  Maybe it was an accident, is it possible that you left something cooking or …”

 

A man stepped forward at this point and shook his head “Ain’t no accident, that fire was deliberate.  Seen enough of ‘em in my time to know the difference. Apart from which we found the cause of it by the back door…”   Clifford Porter looked at Candy and nodded, his blackened face and clothing evidence enough of how thorough he had been in checking over the fire damage “A pile of rags and papers soaked in kerosene by the door.  Someone  wanted to make a point and didn‘t seem to care too much who it hurt in the process.“

 

“Well, “Clemintine shrugged and then shook her head “Ain’t no one going to scare me out of my house and home.   When can I move back in there?”

 

Clifford smiled “Not for a few days, Missus.  There’s some fire damage that will need to be put right, and the smoke won’t have improved the décor of your rooms I’m afraid.”

 

Clemmie nodded and then turned again to Hoss and Joe “Thank you again for what  you did,  if I had been in the house I might have been killed.  And Dorothy too come to think of it…”

 

“Well, you’re safe, and that’s the main thing.” Joe murmured and forced a smile as he watched her walk away, rather more slowly and far less sprightly than normal.

 

“Did either of you see anyone near the building?” Candy asked quietly and the brothers looked at one another and shook their heads.

 

“We didn’t see anyone lingering around or looking suspicious.” Joe said, “Fact is it was quiet, hardly anyone around.  Hoss noticed the smoke coming out of the window …  the heat of the flames had broken the glass already so I should say the fire had been going for a while before we got there.   I doubt if anyone would have been hanging around for long once t hey had deposited those rags and set fire to them.”

 

Hoss stood up and joined them, listened to what Joe was saying and nodded “S’right,  there was sure some heat coming from there I can tell you.   The door at the front was locked, so I had to shove it open with my shoulder, the fire was mostly towards the back of the house.  Once we could see Mrs Hawkins weren’t there we quit and raised the alarm”

 

“Took less time than to tell about it to be honest, Candy.   We couldn’t have stayed more than a minute or so checking for a body, the smoke was too intense and the fire was gathering momentum all the time.   Thankfully with all the fire prevention set up in town Clifford was soon able to get his men assembled and the whole thing was sorted pretty quickly.”  he looked at his hand and shook his head “Glad this wasn’t my left hand, Pa would have had my hide had it been…”

 

“Why’s that?” Hoss frowned and looked at his brother rather suspiciously

 

“Well,  I couldn’t handle a hammer so well with my right hand, could I?” Joe grinned and Hoss shook his head and looked at Candy “Is Mrs Hawkins going to be alright, Candy?”

 

“Sure, Roys offered accommodation for her and Mrs Tennant at his place.”

 

“Roy?” Joe and Hoss exclaimed and looked at one another, their eyes rounded and eyebrows raised.

 

“It’s only for a few days,” Candy muttered and with a sigh wandered off to ask some other public spirited person for any information they could add to his note book.

 

Outside, standing on the sidewalk, the two brothers observed the smoking building.

“Well, what do you think, Joe?” Hoss asked quietly, “Clifford said it weren’t no accident but why would anyone want to burn Mrs Hawkins’ house down now?  She’s been here for years and no one ever did her no harm before, may have wanted to, but they never did.”

 

“To  be honest with you, Hoss, I’m thinking it may have more to do with her guest, Mrs Tennant.”

 

Hoss  said nothing to that, it still made no sense to him, no sense whatsoever.

They weren’t surprised to find Candy standing beside them minutes later although he gave them both a thoughtful look from his blue eyes “Haven’t you two got a home to go back to?”

 

Joe  shrugged “Haven’t you?”

 

“Sure, but as sheriff I  have to hang around and ask questions while looking into a criminal act, havent I?” he sighed and looked down at the note book “I’m asking the questions but can’t seem to be getting any answers.”  he scratched the back of his neck “None that make any sense that is…”

 

“Bet you wish you were chasing cows about now, don’t’cha?” Hoss grinned and slapped his friend on the shoulder, “See you around, Candy.”

 

Joe nodded and touched the brim of his hat in salute “See you some time, Candy.”

 

Candy watched them as they strolled companionably together down to where they had left their horses.  Memories of times shared with them on the Ponderosa drifted into his mind,  he thought of Hop Sings meals, the way Ben had made him so comfortable,  part of the family almost … he shook his head,  smiled and returned to the smoky noisy confines of the saloon to undertake further ‘investigating’.

 

…………………

 

Dorothy Tennant found the twisted piece of paper in her basket later that evening and for a moment wondered where it had come from, then wrestled with her memory as to whether or not it had been something she had placed there herself before all the bedlam broke out about the fire.   She took it with her mind still on all that happened and carefully smoothed it out,  then stared at the words written on the paper, just a few words written very neatly and concisely

 

If you don’t want more of your friends to suffer then leave town … remember you don’t really have that many friends anyway, do you?

 

She laughed at first, it was so ridiculous, so childish.  Then she re-read it again, and realised it was no laughing matter. What if Clemmie had been in the house when it went up in flames?  What if she had been trapped inside and no one had known?  It would have been her fault had the old lady been killed, it was her fault that the fire had started in the first place.

 

She tore the letter into tiny scraps until her fingers were too shaky to tear them into even tinier pieces,  then she let them drop into the fire, like confetti drifting in the air, sucked into the heat of the flames,  burning one by one.

 

It was true, she had few real friends, few and rare and therefore precious.  How could she possibly put their lives at risk after what had happened today?  Although she may not have had many friends she wasn’t aware of having many or any enemies …except one.

……………..

 

Mr Weems had been the Manager of the National Bank of Virginia City for many years and prided himself at his efficiency and at having reached a major position in such a prestigious organisation.   When a gentleman from the Mayors office asked to see him he was arrogant enough to think it was due to his many varied qualities and talents.  It wasn’t long before he was disillusioned about that fact but he put on a brave face and observed the man on the other side of the desk with calm dignity.

 

Mr Jones arranged himself upon the chair assigned him,  a large leather affair with a padded  back with afforded him with room to  sink back and stretch his legs before him.  He observed Mr  Weems who gave him the benefit of a narrow eyed look from behind his spectacles “New to town are you, Mr Jones?”

 

The other man inclined his head and smiled as though he considered the question amusing and the answer irrelevant.  He glanced around the office and then stared at Weems long enough for the rather proud little man to feel uncomfortable.

 

“Mr Weems -”  he pierced the poor man back into his chair with a look so cold that it seemed as though icicles were stabbing into  the bank managers eyes “You’ve been Manager here for quite a few years I believe?” he raised a hand to stem the words that were about to flow, again the question was rhetorical, he didn’t want the answer “In that time you have handled the Ponderosa’s dealings very efficiently and – before you start telling me that you have to uphold your clients confidentiality – I want you to tell me about a transaction that took place some years ago when Mr Liam McGarthy made an attempt to bankrupt Ben Cartwright.   I believe you were working with a lawyer Caleb Shannon at the time.”    he paused long enough for Weems to understand that this time he required an answer, so he nodded and muttered that was correct.

 

Jones nodded and looked thoughtfully out of the window “McGarthy wanted to mine on Ponderosa land I understand, and Cartwright wouldn’t permit it.  He corrupted the lawyer into loosing some important documents relating to the purchase of some land and as a result was poised to start open mine casting around Lake Tahoe and Papoose Peak…that’s correct isn’t it?”

 

“Yes, although there was the problem of the Paiute at the time, you see, their reservation bordered onto the land at Papoose Peak, it would have been very difficult for Mr McGarthy to have started mining there at any time.  I should imagine there would have been a confrontation , a very unpleasant one at that, between the Paiute and the miners.”

 

Jones nodded “So I understand.  But this bankruptcy … Cartwright was unable to raise the money he needed to pay the bank off,  McGarthy had a consortium of Mine Owners with the money available to pay it off and thereby purchase all the Ponderosa… so what happened?  I mean, it was your bank that was involved was it not?”

 

“Oh yes, indeed it was.   At a certain time on a certain day the money had to be paid over to redeem the mortgage or loan … the thing is …” he paused, and frowned, “I’m sorry, I’m talking far too freely about a matter that is none of your concern, sir.  If I may just confirm exactly who you are?”

 

“As announced,  Aubrey Jones from the Mayors office.”

 

“I’ve not seen you there before…” Weems frowned “You have been employed there for how long?”

 

“The  Mayor employed me some years ago,  Mr Weems, I have acted on his behalf and for this town in various locations and for various reasons… it is just that at this moment of time the Mayor wished me to be here.  I wish to know about this arrangement between the bank and Mr Cartwright.”

 

“There was no arrangement between this bank and Mr Cartwright.” Weems asserted,  “So far as we were aware he was about to lose everything and McGarthy and his cohorts about to gain everything.”

 

“But Ben Cartwright did win?”

 

Weems squirmed slightly in his chair, an equally comfortable leather affair which now squeaked a little as he moved uncomfortably upon it. “I can’t really tell you all the details, except what is commonly know to everyone… at the last minutes someone produced the money needed and redeemed the loan.”

 

“So someone other than Ben Cartwright owned the Ponderosa, for how long?”

 

“About twelve hours…”  Weems muttered.   “No one knew a thing about it,  McGarthy still thought he and his partners were in with a chance but the lawyer acting on behalf of the purchaser and owner of the Ponderosa detected that they – that is, Mr McGarthy and Company, had acted illegally which gave his client the chance to step in and pay the money.  That’s it…”

 

“So Ben Cartwright doesn’t own the Ponderosa?”

 

“Oh yes, he does, certainly he does.   He repurchased it from the new owner and the Title Deeds were signed and sealed accordingly.  There’s no doubt about ownership, Mr Jones.”

 

“Can I see the Title Deeds … ?  Oh no, of course not… otherwise I’d know who the owner had been…   mmm, a nuisance.   Tell me who was the lawyer acting on behalf of this mysterious person?”

 

“Oh I can tell you that,” Weems said with relief, nothing like passing the buck to make a man feel at ease with his conscience “It was Julian Frobisher in San Francisco.”

 

Jones nodded, or rather, he inclined his head and rose to his feet, “Thank you.”

 

Weems  stood up and wondered whether or not to shake the other mans hand,  then thought he  would rather not bother so just watched as Jones picked up his hat and walked from the office.  He frowned and stared at the ink pot for a second or two before ringing the bell for his secretary.  He then resumed his seat and began to write quickly on some expensive paper with the Banks logo …  by the time his secretary had arrived the letter was being slipped into an envelope “Do you know if any of the Cartwrights are in town?”

 

“No, sir, I don’t…” came the startled reply from the man who was so busy dealing with the work he was given that he had no time at all to be strolling over to the window every five minutes to see if certain people were within hailing distance in town.

 

“Get this letter to the Ponderosa as soon as possible…” Weems handed the sealed envelope to the other man, “As soon as possible mind….”

 

“But I’ve got to do the monthly audit yet, sir … I don’t have time to ride out to the Ponderosa to deliver this letter.”

 

Weems gave him what he hoped was a scorching look which was met with total bemusement “Then give it to the boy to deliver .. It’s important, and its confidential.”

 

“Yes, sir.”  the secretary left the office closing the door deferentially behind him and the letter held delicately between his fingers.  He looked around and noticed ’the boy’  sitting at a desk near the window

 

“Potts, have you seen any of the Cartwrights in town today?”

 

“Hoss and Joe were in town earlier, when there was that fire …”

 

“What fire?”

 

“Widow Hawkins house was set on fire.  But they rode out, I saw ‘em leave town about an hour ago.”

 

Potts frowned, his mind considered Mrs Hawkins and the fire, which meant she would be bustling in to enquire about help,  about  her insurances,  he sighed and looked at the other man with a dour expression on his face “Well, look,  you need to take this letter and get it to Mr Cartwright, as soon as possible.”

 

“Which Mr Cartwright?”

 

“Whichever one you meet  up with first…. “ he looked down to see what Weems had written on the envelope, he read the name Ben Cartwright in thick black writing, but shrugged slightly,  which ever Cartwright it was handed to would be sure to give it to Ben, so no harm done.    He passed the letter over and then dismissed the man from his mind as he went to his own office to prepare papers for Mrs Hawkins inevitable visit to the bank.

 

Chapter 32

 

Contrary to the information given to Joe and Hoss, Widow Hawkins had no intention of moving in to  Roy Coffee’s home, with or without Mrs Tennant whom she now considered to be her responsibility.   Upon leaving the Silver Dollar she comported herself to the Whitney Hotel with Mrs Tennant trailing along behind her, and within a very short time was comfortably settling in to a very pleasant suite of rooms that overlooked the main street.  When Dorothy commented about the cost the irascible widow merely sniffed the air and waved a regal hand to dismiss such matters, before saying she would sell the Burma Rarity to cover the cost of hotel accommodation rather than suffer the inconvenience of living with a bachelor of many years standing,  and particularly an ex-sheriff.

 

Roy was rather confused and perplexed at the number of visitors he began to receive enquiring about the health and welfare of Mrs Clementine Hawkins.  The very thought that she would be taking up residence in his house made him think seriously about  visiting his sister in Genoa.

 

 

When Hoss and Joe  reached home Mary Ann’s immediate reaction was to drop the plate upon which a rather splendid fruit cake had been reclining.  Her hands flew immediately to her mouth and then she rushed to Joe’s side and hugged onto him as though he were more than likely to topple over if she did not… the fact that he had managed to ride home without once falling out of the saddle was totally ignored.

 

“What happened.. Oh Joe, what on earth has happened?”  her voice was caught on a sob and  he put his good arm around her and held her close, kissed the top of her head and whispered soothingly that it was alright, everything was just fine.

 

“How can it be fine?” Hester demanded as she observed her husband and brother in law with wide eyes and dismay written all over her face “Hoss?  Joe?  Is Adam alright?  Is Pa?  Where are they?”

 

Joe and Hoss looked at one another and shrugged “Not with us.” Hoss said and then smiled gently at his wife as she came and held him close to her, “Now don’t you go fretting none, Hester,  we’re just fine.  Just bruised and battered …”

 

“And a bit burned.” Joe said hastily as he held up his bandaged hand “It was a fire at Widow Hawkins place.  Didn’t amount to much compared with what happened to the

Ponderosa but still bad enough to have caused some damage. “

 

“Widow Hawkins?”  Hester exclaimed and shook her head in amazement “What happened?  Did she leave something cooking on the stove?”

 

“That -” Hoss nodded emphatically “was the first thing most of us thought at the time, but it weren’t nothing like that.  Someone set the fire deliberately.”

 

“Deliberately?” Mary Ann exclaimed “But who would want to do a thing like that?”

 

Joe and Hoss shared another conspiratorial glance at one another but before they could say a word the door opened and Ben with Adam entered the room.  Ben looked from one to the other of his sons and shook his head “What fine mess have the two of you got yourselves into this time?”

 

Hoss shrugged and grimaced, glancing at Adam who nodded sympathetically while Joe  stared at his injured hand as though wondering why  there was no pity coming his way from his dearly beloved parent.  It was Hester who told  them of the house burning and then Hoss took over to describe their part in the adventure.  Ben sat down at the table his face anxious while his dark eyes drifted from one face to the other,  “Widow Hawkins’ place …” he murmured, “I see.”

 

“Which is more than we could.” Hoss grumbled, “She could have been dead on the ground for all anyone cared…”

 

“How bad is your  hand, Joe?” Adam asked kindly,  “You’ve not done too much damage to it have you?”

 

“Shucks no,” Joe said with a sorrowful look on his face “Badly blistered is all.”

 

“Where will Mrs Hawkins and Mrs Tennant be staying now ?” Ben asked and was as surprised as his sons had been when told they would be at Roys until Clementine could move back.

 

Hester giggled, suddenly overcome with relief at the safe return of her husband and Joe, and the thought of Clemmie in Roys house “Oh, my,” she exclaimed rather apologetically but giggling still “I can just imagine how Roy would feel about that … he’ll be writing to ask Rachel to move back home.”

………………….

 

The cabin door was wide open when Billy returned to the camp and headed towards Samuel Mayhews place.  He sat in the saddle for a moment and stared at the emptiness beyond the door that confirmed the absence of the old man and his belongings.  He was sitting there staring when Tovey approached with his rifle hanging loose in one hand “Well, he’s gone.”

 

Billy turned slowly to look down at the other man, regarding him from the advantage of height as he sat astride the horse “Where’d he go?”

 

“Who knows?” Tovey shrugged “The fact is that he’s gone.  He won’t bother Mr McGarthy no more.”

 

“You sure of that?” Billy muttered.  “At least here we knew where he was and now he’d gone who knows where and he could be spouting his mouth off and causing more harm than ever.”

 

“Causing more harm?” Tovey sneered, and shook his head “He won’t be causing no harm, not where he’s gone.”

 

The man on the horse narrowed his eyes and surveyed Tovey coldly,  something in the back of Billy’s head warned him to be careful with what he said, he had learned over the years to judge a man by his eyes rather than by what he said.  He looked away now and stared again at the cabin then moved the horse onwards into a slow walk.  Tovey chose to walk alongside him,  his rifle he had hoisted to his shoulder, and he walked like a soldier on parade as Billy rode towards McGarthys office.

 

“You smell like you been near a fire, Billy boy.” Tovey suddenly said, and sniggered “Hope it was a good ’un.”

 

“Good enough.” Billy replied and dismounted, gathered up the reins and tied them over the rail, while the thought of  his smelling of fire made him feel nervous.  He wanted to get rid of the clothes he was wearing before he did anything else but with Tovey standing as close as a shadow he had no choice but to continue on walking to the office.

 

He pushed the door open and stepped inside,  making sure to close it quickly before Tovey could step in behind him.  He stood against the door for a short while, long enough for Tovey to cease from pushing against it and to realise that he wasn’t part of this deal.

 

McGarthy looked up and observed Billy from the expanse that existed between them, he nodded “Job done?”

 

“Yes.  Job done.”  Billy said and realised that even in his own ears the words sounded hollow.   Perhaps they did to McGarthy as well because he glanced up sharply while the cold eyes narrowed and appeared more hostile  than ever.

 

“Any casualties?”

 

“No.  The women were out of the house at the time.   I left the note for them as well.”

 

“Good. Good.” McGarthy nodded and leaned back in his chair “Mayhew’s left.”

 

“So Tovey said,  but no idea where?”  Billy stepped forward “Kinda  dangerous isn’t it?  Not knowing where he’s gone?”

 

“I know where he’s gone, Billy.” the other man replied and dipped his hand into his cigar box, withdrew one and observed it for a while before lifting up his head and looking at Billy, he nodded again “Don’t worry,  I’ve a good team working for us here.  I know where Samuel Mayhews gone and I can assure you he’s been well taken care of,  he won’t be blabbing any more about things that don’t concern him.”

 

A cold shiver trickled down Billys spine, he nodded slowly hoping that just perhaps he had got the wrong understanding of what McGarthy was meaning, just possibly the old man had found a wagon and had managed to load his meagre possessions on board and driven safely away …  but where would he get the wagon from?  Where would he get the horses?  He licked his lips “Well, so long as you’re satisfied, Mr McGarthy.”

 

Patrick McGarthy nodded and struck a match.  For a moment Billy had to wait until the cigar had a good red glow to its tip before he was addressed again, “The only thing that’s sticking in my craw now is this visit by an engineer that the sheriff keeps insisting on  – with the Mayor deciding to go along with things I ain’t got no choice but to let it happen.   You and the boys will have to get busy getting the mine looking  like an efficient and safe place in which a man can work … it shouldn’t be too difficult, after all the Bucksburn isn’t that unsafe.”

 

“No, sir, if you say so…”Billy muttered slowly wondering as when exactly the other man had actually stepped down it to look for himself.

 

McGarthy gave Buckley a long  hard look as the other man turned to leave the building.   Somehow or other he sensed that something wasn’t sitting right with his gun slinger friend. . . He exhaled smoke as the door closed and  shook his head, not that Billy Buckley had ever been a friend of his but he had had his uses.

 

Tovey was waiting for Billy, leaning against the hitching rail where the horse was tethered.  He looked over at the tall lean figure as he approached his horse and in silence watched his hands untie the reins and then walk the horse away from the building that housed McGarthys’ office.  He stepped in line with Billy, his steps synchonising along to the other mans stride, so that the two men appeared the best of friends as they made their way to the shacks that were the accommodations for them.

 

“Is that right, Billy, you got yourself a nice little girl friend in town?”

 

“Ain’t none of your business, Tovey”  Billy said while a nerve pulsed at the side of his mouth and temple.

 

“I was just asking, after all, you got to remember I was raised around here, I know just about every girl in town ,  shucks, I even went to school with some of ‘em.  Fact is some of them ..”

 

“I don’t want to know.” Billy snapped tersely, and he bit down hard on his bottom lip to make sure he didn’t say too much in temper.  He led the horse to where the corral was located and Tovey followed right along with him, “You got nothing  better to do than follow me around, Tovey?”

 

“Nothing special just this moment…” Tovey grinned and swung the rifle down casually, too casually, the tip of one finger rubbed gently around the tip of the barrel.  He looked up at Billy and smiled “I hear she’s given you a real good alibi too…”

 

“I don’t know what you’re talking about…”

 

“I bet she gave you an alibi for today as well.” Tovey grinned, “You’ll need one after all.  I can almost guarantee that thar sheriff will be sniffing around here soon enough asking questions.   You want us to give him the right answers don’t you?”

 

“I personally couldn’t care less what you say or what you do, Tovey.”  Billy replied as he removed the saddle and carried it to the corral fence.  “I got me an alibi as you call it.  Just leave me be now I got things to do.”

 

“Oh yes, of course.  Things to do …right ….” he grinned and picked the rifle up, “Sure you do, Billy Boy.”

 

Billy watched him turn, a slow arc made with an extravagantly cool manner, “Tovey?”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“One of these days you and me …we’ll have to have a good long talk about your future with this outfit”

 

Tovey grinned and nodded but he didn’t say anything.   He wasn’t worried by Billy.  He sauntered away and knew that Billy was watching him, would continue watching him until he had got out of sight.   He liked that thought,  it confirmed in his mind that he had Billy rattled and that was just the way he liked it.

 

 

 

Chapter 33

 

Daniel DeQuille watched as the two Cartwrights dismounted outside the banks premises and without a glance either right or left marched straight into the building through the imposing doors.  He drew heavily on his cigar and peered through the smoke as he watched various townspeople going about their business before he himself withdrew in order to proof read through the mornings Editorial.

 

The fire at Widow Hawkins had puzzled him, as it had many others in town.  The whole matter of Mrs Tennants domicile with the little Cockney widow intrigued him for he could recall a time when he had often overseen other articles that had featured ‘Mrs Tennant’ in far more colourful situations.   There had to be, he surmised as he carefully checked the printed page for errors, some connection with Mrs Tennant’s previous life style to what was happening now.  He wondered if any similar ideas were percolating in the new sheriff’s brain or whether he was too blinkered by other concerns to look back so far.

 

 

Candy Canaday was not too happy at the way his morning was starting.  He had barely removed his hat and outer coat before the door had opened and Roy Coffee had entered, looked about him as though not sure why he had bothered and then rallied sufficiently to pull out a chair and sit himself down.

 

Clem pulled out another mug and poured out more coffee into each then removed himself to some other work although he would have given his eye teeth to have stayed to hear what was going to be said between the two men.   As he pulled the door shut behind him he heard Candy snap “It’s early, Roy.  What do you want …apart from decent coffee?”

 

Roy  removed his hat which he balanced carefully on his knee seeing how the desk was littered with papers, it occurred to him that it was looking more familiar now,  not so neat and tidy as when Candy had first taken up office.  He cleared his throat “What’s this nonsense about Mrs Tennant and Mrs Hawkins staying at my place?  I hear tell you told folk that they were living with me until they could move back ?”

“Sorry for the inconvenience, Roy” Candy sighed and leaned back into his chair, surely everyone was entitled to one mistake in a life time,  what was so wrong with having that information circulating in town.  He frowned and encircled his fingers around the mug, warm from the coffee, he looked up at Roy and smiled slowly “Anyway, it could serve a good purpose.”

 

“You think?” Roy slurped coffee through his moustache and frowned.

 

“You know the fire was started deliberately?”

 

“Everyone knows that, unless that’s another rumour you got circulating for a good purpose.” the blue eyes bored into Candys, and narrowed

 

“No, it was no rumour.  I don’t think there was any malice intended against Widow Hawkins for a moment, but I’m not sure about Mrs Tennant.  Someone seems mighty interested in her and her whereabouts.   Which is why I thought it a good idea to let them think she was at your place, Roy.”

 

“You did, did you?  Well, let me tell you, I’ve had just about everyone in town knocking on my door enquiring about them and their well being. “  he leaned forward and this time his eyes twinkled slightly “Some interesting folk showing some interest too.”

 

“Really?  Such as?”  Candy paused, his mug half way to his mouth,  “Who?”

 

“This morning, early, two young men I found nosying around and peering through the windows.  Very edgy they were when I crept up on ‘em, hands went straight to their guns before I even got to ask what they wanted so I asked them who they was looking fer and they pretended they was looking for  the old widow who got burned out of her house and home.”

 

“And you told them?” Candy frowned “You told them what?”

 

“I told ‘em that she was out visiting an old friend.”  he sighed and leaned back with a shake of his head “Fact is, they forget that I’d been sheriff here for a long time and I can recall faces from way back and I can remember when them two were hauled up to my jail for stealing from Cass’ store.  They ran off pretty quick I can tell you,  muttered something about hoping she was alright now and that kind of nonsense as if they could care about her, I recall a time when they were throwing fireworks at her windows to skeer her to death.”

 

Candy smiled and nodded “Well, that’s just the kind of thing I wanted to happen, Roy.  Who were they?  Can you remember their names?”

 

“Better than that I can tell you who they work fer… Patrick McGarthy at the Bucksburn Mining Co.  Now, you tell me, what interest does Patrick McGarthy have in Widow Hawkins?   Or, come to that matter, Mrs Tennant.”

 

“Ah well now, Mrs Tennant …” Candy nodded and smiled slowly,  “And Mr McGarthy?  Brother of Liam … who was very very cosy with Mrs – er – Tennant at one time I believe.”

 

“Among others.”  Roy grunted with a scowl

 

“Yes,“ Candy nodded slowly and stared past Roy to look thoughtfully at the far wall instead “Mrs Tennant has an interesting history, hasn’t she?”

 

“She does.” Roy sighed and gulped down coffee, “For the life of me I can’t figure out why she came back here to try and start afresh when the whole town can remember her so well.  I can remember when she was given a gold nugget by old Comstock himself, he told her to go and do something useful with it so she did, set herself up in business…” he cleared his throat and decided not to venture further as to the kind of business that was, “You’re right, she and Liam McGarthy were close at one time, when all that business was going on with  the Cartwrights.   I think Patrick is trying to even up on old scores.”

 

“Just give me the names of those two men, Roy,  it’ll give me an excuse to pay McGarthy another visit.”

 

Roy nodded and gave the names of Duncan Fellowes an Harvey Miller, names that meant nothing to Candy as he jotted them down.    Roy got to his feet “I tried to get her to leave town a while back.  Perhaps if you gave her a talking to,  Candy, in your official capacity, she may take more notice and go before something happens.”

 

“I get your drift, Roy.” Candy murmured slowly, and frowned slightly,  “Sorry about misusing your address like that, but it seemed a good idea at the time.”

 

Roy smiled and nodded “I’m sure it did… but let me warn you right there, Candy.  That Duncan Fellowes is a mean shot.  I’ve never known him miss anything that he aims at …”

 

Candy nodded “Thanks for the warning, Roy.”

 

They walked together to the door and there they parted company,  both men thinking about the conversation they had just shared together and wondering what exactly it was that Dorothy Tennant could know that would be of such interest to McGarthy.

 

 

Weems stood up and shook the hands of the two men before gesturing to some chairs. Ben accepted the opportunity to sit down but Adam preferred to remain standing, his arms folded across his chest and his dark eyes watchful

 

“You got my note then?”  Weems said immediately, “I’m sorry, Ben, Adam.  I wasn’t too sure of my ground the fellow seems so sure of himself and is facts.”

 

“I’ve never heard of anyone called Aubrey Jones,  Mr Weems.” Ben said slowly,  “Adam and I were wondering just how bona fide his association with the Mayors office really is.”

 

“Oh it’s all above board alright, I checked that out almost immediately.” Weems said quickly, “He has been employed by the Mayor ever since he’s been in office.  It’s just that he does a lot of his work away from town.”

 

Adam grimaced and gave a slight shrug as though that news didn’t surprise him at all, he looked at his father who was staring fixedly at Weems gold ink stand remembering a time when it was first dug out of the soil, just another nugget of gold from one of the first mines of years back.  “Mr Weems, did this Jones fellow give you any reason as to why he was so interested in what happened that time back with McGarthy and Shannon?”

 

“Not really.   That was why it was so difficult to ignore the questions, he just right out and asked as bold as you like, as though he knew so much but it was necessary to know the answers to what he wanted to know, which was about the identity of the purchaser of the Ponderosa.”

 

“Why should it concern him after all this time?  Or, come to that, the Mayor?” Ben asked and frowned “You gave him Julian Frobishers address?”

 

“Yes.   Julian Frobisher is the only person to know who the purchaser was after all.”

 

“But you know Julian is dead?”

 

Weems smiled slowly “Yes,   I thought it would slow things down a little, enough time for  you to work out what to do  about it.”

 

Ben shook his head, not in denial, but in irritation.  He got to his feet and picked up his hat “Well,  we’ll wait and see what happens about this, after all, it’s really no ones business but mine and my sons.”

 

“Exactly.” Weems said with great emphasis and stood up himself as he saw the two men out of his office.

 

Ben didn’t speak until he was outside the bank and then stood for a moment in silence as he stared out at nothing in particular. Beside him Adam waited,  in silence.

 

“I’m going to see the Mayor.” Ben said abruptly and Adam nodded “Thought you might.”

 

“Coming with me?”  Ben snapped and Adam shook his head, and said he’d prefer to go for a drink in the Sazarac. “Adam?”

 

“Yes,  Pa?”  Adam smiled, his face turned to his father in that quizzical way he had of looking that always made Ben wish he hadn’t said a thing so, as usual, Ben nodded and just muttered that he would meet him in the saloon within the hour.

 

Adam watched his father mount Cinnamon and turn her head in the direction of the Mayors office.  After a moment or so he looked around him and gave a slight shrug of his shoulders as though in confirmation of his own thoughts before he stepped into the road and headed for the saloon.

 

………..

 

The wagon had gone from the roadside.   In some way it gave Billy a feeling of relief, a kind of false hope, or reassurance that perhaps Sam Mayhew had repaired the old wagon and left the cabin with it loaded up with his tatty old goods.   If he stopped to wonder how a man with broken limbs, a cracked head and only one eye that gave him blurred vision would be able to carry such things out he may have began to worry again so he didn’t probe the thought too much but continued on his way to town.

 

He had seen Tovey and the other three men riding out of the Bucksburn community earlier that morning.  He wondered why because mostly they liked to work in pairs, Tovey seemed to prefer the company of Hancock, a quiet man who made Tovey feel more important than he was by allowing him to talk so much.   Billy didn’t look back at the site of the accident.   The wagon had gone,  along with the dead animals, and it was alright, everything was alright.

 

He had washed and shaven, and even removed his moustache.   Years before he had wanted to hide his weak mouth, thought it reminded him too much of the callow youth he had been who had fallen in love with Sally Cass and killed a man as a result.  He had stared long and hard into the mirror once it had been removed and tried to remember what that younger man had once been like before all the poison of his life had built up and soiled him.

 

He dismounted in town and looked around him as though it had been his first time there.   It was odd but the feeling of wanting to go back to the time before he had killed Ed Payson was so strong that he wanted to hold onto it, he wanted to look at the town in the way he had done all those years back.

 

He walked over to the Mercantile and stared into the window at the reflection of the man looking back at him.  Thin, gaunt, but he had always been like that,  and he remembered the times when he would stand at the window and Sally would come and peer through it at him,  look at him with those big eyes and smile.

 

Cass’s store had passed into the hands of others since those days and now belonged to someone else yet again.  Billy turned and was about to move on  when he realised his way was blocked by an old lady.   He removed his hat, and Clementine Hawkins smiled and nodded “I remember you.”

 

Billy swallowed, his adams apple jerked, “Yes, M’am.  I remember you too.” he forced a smile “Widow Hawkins isn’t it?”

 

“That’s right.” she nodded and blinked her eyes, thickly painted eyelids batted back and forth “Billy Buckley isn’t it?”

 

“You’ve a good memory, Mrs Hawkins.”  he tried to force the smile to reach his eyes,  although the day was chilly he felt sweat prickle down his back.

 

“I remember you were sweet on young Sally Cass.    I thought you were going to be a good match, a shame how that all turned out.”

 

He nodded, something tight caught in his throat and he wished he were miles away form there.   “I was sorry…”

 

“Yes, no doubt.  That was the trouble you see, Will Cass was a bitter old man.  Bitter.  He poisoned everyone around him except Sally.  She was such a sweet girl.  You know, it was a pity you let Will talk you into doing that what you did.”

 

“What?   What do you mean?” his eyes hardened,  the old anger was beginning to coil around his stomach now and he could feel it mounting up.

 

“Going after that gunslinger like you did…  if you had only left it be, he wouldn’t have made old bones.  He was a sick man you know, that’s why he came back here… like a lot of us, we like to get back to die … and then you went like you did and set your feet on a road that you may not have really wanted to travel.”

 

His lips were numb, he couldn’t smile, or speak.  He stared at her and wondered if her mind was wandering,  but the way she was looking at him assured him that it was not. She placed a hand on his arm “Sally never held it against you, you know.”

 

“No?  I – I didn’t know, I just went …” he was stammering like a school boy, forgetting who he was now, all that had happened.  She was looking up at him from under those ridiculous  eyelashes and looking sorry for him.

 

“Someone once said, I think it was my dear ‘Arry…. Bitterness is like poison and if you get bitter about anyone it’s like swallowing it yourself and waiting for the other person to die.  Well, that was what Will Cass was like you know…  “

 

She was about to turn away then but there were two women walking up behind her, and had Billy not noticed who one of them was he would have hurried away with his excuses.  Mary Ann and Hester approached Clementine with wide smiles and concern in their eyes, greeted her with tender words of sympathy which the elderly widow accepted with sudden tears and sniffs.

 

Billy stepped back several paces and kept in the shadows, he watched as the younger woman of the three smiled and he noticed the way her eyes widened, darkened, and the planes of her cheeks were shaded by her bonnet and added an air of mystique to her.  Such a pretty, pretty woman.   Chestnut hair, a lock of which curled over the collar of her cape,  and small hands in their leather gloves.  She looked more beautiful than he had even remembered.

 

He could hear the sound of their voices but not the words,  except for a name ‘Mary Ann.’    Clementine Hawkins had called her ‘Mary Ann’.

 

She didn’t notice him as he stayed close to the shadows, stepping out from them only after she had passed along with Hester.  He stood there and watched as she walked away, a slight figure,  straight backed though and with her head held high.  He watched her …

 

From the doorway of the saloon Gwen  folded her arms across her chest and stared at the tall thin man from across the street.   She noticed the way he had stood back to look at the two women, she noticed the intensity, the yearning on his face…  and her eyes filled first with tears, and then with something else, a hardness that made them glitter as she watched him turn reluctantly away and glance hastily towards the saloon.  He didn’t notice her, she made sure he didn’t …

 

Chapter 34

 

There were not many customers in the saloon,  some miners hunched over a game of cards, a cowboy lounging against the counter who gave Adam a quick look over  his shoulder before wandering off to watch the game being played by the miners.  Adam nodded over to Solomon who was wiping the counter down with the look of a man who had long ago lost the joy of such a task.  He brightened upon seeing Adam and left the cloth where it was to join Adam from his side of the counter “Well, good to see you, Adam. What can I get you to drink?”

 

“Any coffee?”

 

“Yes, sure.” Sol nodded and grinned almost apologetically “It’s quiet just now.  Too early for most.”

 

“That’s how I like it.   I’ll take it over there, Sol..” he indicated the table of his choice and strolled over, flinging his hat down and pulling out a chair.

From where he was sitting he could see who entered and who would leave the saloon not that it appeared to matter much considering how few people there were present.  One of the girls who worked there came from downstairs, bleary eyed and tousled of hair.  She pulled her silk wrap closer around her and made her way to the counter “Sol?   Have you any coffee made yet?”

 

“You should be dressed and looking presentable this time of the morning,” Sol grumbled,  glaring at her and looking even more apologetically over at Adam “Go git upstairs and tidied up.”

 

“I just wanted some coffee.”

 

“Once you’re dressed you can go over and get some breakfast at the café…go on…”  he watched her saunter across the floor and back to the stairs, the clip clop of her high heeled shoes on each step echo’d and the cowboy looked up and whistled with appreciation.

 

The coffee arrived at the table and was poured into a cup that Adam suspected was reserved for the ‘best customers’.  He nodded his thanks and leaned back, tipping the front legs of the chair from the floor and tilting the chair at an angle.  He stretched out his legs and drank some of the coffee without comment.   Solomon  loitered a moment before returning to the counter and to his task of polishing glasses.  The miners got into an argument about who had actually won the game and the cowboy returned to the counter, beckoned to Solomon and by the way he looked up to the stairs was whispering an enquiry about the young lady who had made her way down earlier.

 

The batwings swung open and Dan deQuille entered,  looked around and upon seeing Adam nodded as though not surprised at seeing him there.  He called out an order for coffee and sat down at the table, placing his hat beside that of the other mans “Good to see you again, Adam.”

 

Adam inclined his head and nodded, but continued to drink his coffee.  Dan deQuille looked around and shrugged “Quiet in here for this time of day.”

As he spoke several more men trickled into the building and began to noisily push and shove against one another as they made their way to the counter, shouted out orders and then lurched their way to a  table in a far corner,  far enough away to be no problem to the two men who observed their entrance with barely enough interest between them to mention it.

 

“I hear the old ranch house is nearly completed?”

 

“Yes,  Pa will  be moving back in soon.” Adam  smiled at the mention of his father and then cleared his throat “How’s things with you, Dan?   Anything newsworthy happening lately?”

 

“You know there is..” Dan replied and leaned forwards a little more,  but he paused in what he was about to say as Solomon arrived with the coffee pot and cup which he set down  for Dan’s use.

 

“Everything alright, Adam?  Need anything else?” Solomon asked and upon receiving a shake of the head he returned to the counter where the cowboy was waiting to talk a little more about the young lady from upstairs.

 

Dan poured out coffee then shrugged his shoulders slightly as though what he was about to say was neither that important or that secret so he’d mention it anyway “I hear  you’ve been appointed to go and inspect the Bucksburn Mine?”

 

“Mmm,  so I believe, that is if no other engineer will do it.”

 

“Been some time since you did that kind of thing, isn’t it?”

 

Adam drew in his breath and turned his eyes to the ceiling which he observed for a moment before nodding “Yes, quite some time. “

 

“Odd how McGarthy couldn’t find anyone else willing to do it.”

 

“Wasn’t McGarthy who wanted it done.”

Adam and Dan looked at one another, both nodded,  poured out more coffee and for a moment were silent.  Dan cleared his throat ready now for the opening gambit to the next thread in the conversation “That was a strange thing, about the fire at Widow Hawkins place … since the big fire of ‘75 …you weren’t here then were you?”

 

“No. I wasn’t …”Adam  said quietly and turned his head slightly to observe the cowboy who was beginning to look  as though he had lost a dollar and found a dime

 

“Well since then we have had such tight fire prevention procedures set up in town that if I use three matches to light a cigar I‘m likely to be hosed down.  So anyone who sets fire to a house here must be mad if he thinks …whatever it was he would be thinking.  What do you reckon a man is thinking about when he wants to burn down a house?”

 

“Tell me?”  Adam said with a slight shrug

 

“Well,  the fire was deliberate.  But not bad enough to destroy the whole building.”

 

“Bad enough to have killed who ever was inside at the time.”

 

“But there wasn’t anyone inside.”

 

“How did they know?   The person or persons who set fire to the house…how did they know Clementine or Mrs Tennant wasn’t inside?”

 

“Because…”   Dan paused and leaned closer to Adam “Because they waited for the ladies to leave the house and then set fire to it.”

 

Adam nodded and looked at Dan as though he had been cheated out of the rest of the story, Dan sighed and poured in more coffee into his cup “Look,  things are odd and don’t add up … think about it… Mrs Tennant comes back to town  and suddenly things start getting very strange.”

 

“In what way?”

 

“Think about it, Adam?  You know who she was before …don’t you?  Well, she was Liam McGarthy’s woman for a while,  during that time he was trying to get his hands on the Ponderosa.   Remember that time?”

 

“Yes, some,  I wasn’t here for much of what happened.” Adam said slowly and sighed, he raised his cup to his lips and gulped down  the hot coffee “Go on.”

 

“But things went wrong,  didn’t they?  McGarthy ended up being hanged for murder and the Ponderosa …” he paused and narrowed his eyes “You do know  about what happened to the Ponderosa?”

 

“Of course I do.  I’m family.  I know that someone bought it and sold it back to Pa.”  he smiled,  bared his teeth but his eyes twinkled so Daniel ploughed on regardless.

 

“That’s a mystery too … and I think it’s all tied in with that fire,  with Mrs Tennant and McGarthy,  with both of them, Liam and Patrick.”

 

Adam nodded “Are you just trying to build this up into a good story, Dan?  Or are you trying to get me to say something I shouldn’t?”

 

Daniel laughed and shook his head “That would be a first, getting you to open up about anything.   Alright, let me put it this way,  someone is mighty interested in Mrs Tennant … and in what happened back then with McGarthy and the Ponderosa …and theyre especially interested in who the purchaser of the Ponderosa was for those 24 hours before Ben Cartwright bought it back.”

 

Adam inclined his head slightly and looked thoughtfully at Dan, then shrugged, “I can’t see why.  Do you know who it is showing so much interest and why?  Is it McGarthy?”

 

“No,  it isn’t McGarthy.   Someone else.”

 

They fell silent again and both men drank more coffee before Adam  asked Daniel if he knew who it was,  to which the journalist shook his head “I don’t know, Adam. I’m trying to find out.  One thing though… what’s the link with Mrs Tennant once known as Dorothea Armstrong?  I somehow feel she is the link to the whole mystery.”

 

Adam shook his head “Perhaps it isn’t a mystery at all, Dan.  Just something that happened a few years back that really wouldn‘t be of any interest to anyone.”

 

Dan chuckled and rose to his feet, pushing himself away from the table while at the same time reaching for his hat “Adam, you never seem to realise just how much interest there is in the Ponderosa and the Cartwrights.”

 

Adam smiled blandly and looked up at Daniel from his seat with wide open brown eyes “May be not, Daniel.   But I’ll give you a name if it’s any help at all… “

 

Daniel nearly choked, he’d never once had any co-operation from Adam Cartwright about anything, he nodded “Go ahead, I’m listening.”

 

“Aubrey Jones.    Mean anything to you?”

 

Daniel frowned,  stared into Adams brown eyes and shook his head “No,  never heard of anyone with that name.”

 

Adam shrugged and turned his attention back to his coffee,  he heard Daniel leave, the sound of his foot steps sharp clicks against the floor boards.  He wondered why Daniel had denied knowing the name of the man who was showing so much interest in the Ponderosa’s business,  and it gave him a strange feeling to think that the journalist had turned away from finding out anymore about  him.

 

 

Candy strode into the saloon within minutes of deQuille’s exit,  seeing Adam at the table he made his way directly to join him, pulling out the vacated chair and sitting down.  “You spoken to deQuille then?”

 

“Well,  yes… “ Adam  smiled, or rather allowed his lips to move to indicate that was his intention.  He looked at the sheriff “Whats wrong?”

 

“I’ve just been to see Mrs Tennant.”

 

“Oh, that was pleasant for you.  What did she have to say?”

 

“She claims that Patrick is trying to scare her out of town.  I agree with her.  I think he is…”

 

“Well,  will it help you if I say I think he is as well?” he smiled then, and his eyes twinkled. “What’s the problem?”

 

“She won’t leave.  She insists on staying here and facing up to things.”

 

“What things? “

 

“That’s the trouble, she wouldn’t say.  The fact is she was involved with a lot of men at the time, she knew a lot of what was going on  that involved that sale of the Ponderosa.”

 

Adam sighed and shook his head “I’ve a feeling that the sooner we get that mine examined the better,  Candy.   Mrs Tennant will be alright, I’m sure.  If I remember her from way back she can fight her own corner pretty well, and if McGarthy had any sense he would remember what the Italians always say ‘Keep your friends close…””

 

Candy nodded and grinned “But your enemies closer…”

 

Chapter 35

 

Ben  entered the saloon as Candy was on his way out, the two men nodded briefly at one another and if Candy hesitated a moment he would have realised that Ben was close to erupting and the ensuing conversation between father and son could have been interesting,  but the sheriff had other things on his mind and continued on.

 

Adam nodded over to Solomon to indicate more coffee was required as he watched his father fling his hat down upon the table and pull out a chair into which he slumped heavily, his lips so tightly buttoned together  he wondered how long it would take him to speak.   Eventually Ben released a long sigh,  looked thoughtfully at his son and then  leaned back against the chair rest  “Well, that was a waste of time.”

 

“You didn’t see him?” Adam raised dark eyebrows and observed his father anxiously.  It did cross his mind at times about just how strong Ben’s heart was as he seemed to be becoming more choleric over the years

 

“Yes, I saw  him.  Yes, he knows Aubrey Jones, seems the man is related to him by marriage.  I got a long history about the family connection and what a bright lad he was and how useful he has been over the past years.”

 

“And?”

 

“Huh!”  Ben scowled at the coffee pot and waited for Adam to pour out some of the steaming hot tan coloured liquid “He said that he was just wanting to clear up loose ends.  I told him that our loose ends had nothing to do with him or his office or with McGarthy.”  he thumped a clenched fist hard upon the table making the cups rattle in their saucers “He looked all innocent then and asked me what McGarthy had to do with anything?”

 

“He did know what loose end you were meaning though, Pa?”  Adam probed carefully and Ben glared at him from under dark brows

 

“Of course he did.   You weren’t here during the time of  the Hayes/Tilden by election, Adam, but by heaven it was a mess.  The furore created by the electioneering here was unbelievable * made me glad we lived so far out of town. I got to warning the boys to get back and not loiter around the saloons in the evenings it got so dangerous.”

 

Adam smiled slowly, the thought of two grown men with wives and families of their own being told by their father to avoid the saloons  was just too ridiculous for words. Had it been anyone other than Ben he would have laughed outright,  but he knew that his brothers would have listened and paid attention to what was being said.  He nodded attentively “That bad, huh?”

 

“The mines were in full production again,  and as usual it was a case of whichever party got into power would have the best use of the silver and gold dug out here. Feelings got so bad that J.C Currie *, who was one of our Mayors not so long back, encouraged his fellow Democrats to deny patronage to the Enterprise ..so much for the freedom of the press huh?”   he slurped coffee and shook his head “But then the Enterprise accused another Tilden elector, Edwin Blennerhasset* of conspiring against the Union cause while he lived safely in California during the war….if that wasn’t stupid I don’t know what was…”

 

“It got pretty heated then?”  Adam stirred sugar into his third cup of coffee and sighed.

 

“One of the journalists for the Chronicle was murdered* when he went to cover a meeting, turned out he never got there …”

 

“What has this all to do with us, Pa?” Adam frowned, “Why the interest in what happened all that time ago with the Ponderosa?”

 

“It wasn’t that long ago, Adam.” Ben said slowly,  and he sighed, shook his head and entwined his fingers together as though about to offer  up prayer “I asked the Mayor the exact same question  ..” he sighed, leaned back and shook his head “He looked at me and then announced he had to really get on to another appointment, he was running late.  I kinda lost my temper…”  the dark brows furrowed in a scowl and he cleared his throat before swallowing more coffee “told him he wasn’t much of a friend if he couldn’t explain what was going on.  He just looked and said he didn’t know what I was talking about and so far as he was concerned we were still good friends…”

 

Adam shook his head and thought of his father shouting at the Mayor in that elegantly designed office that was meant to protect the Mayor from such confrontations.   He thought over what Ben had told him and raised his eyebrows “What was all that talk about the Hayes/Tilden election ? What was the point of that?”

 

“It was brought up in the conversation with the Mayor…I doubt if it had anything to do with us, he was talking rubbish in order to waste time to his next appointment. He knew why I was there and had no intention of saying anything about it, or about Mr Jones.”

 

“Mr Jones…” Adam  muttered and emptied his cup, “Pa, I have to go.  Don’t forget you promised to see Hester and Mary Ann safely home.”

 

“S o I did…” Ben spluttered and nodded over to his son “I’ll see you at home.”

 

 

Adam made his way to the Enterprise offices and to the usual location of Daniel deQuille only to be told that he had been called away, when asked if they knew exactly where he had been called away to Adam was informed The International Hotel.

 

With a grim nod Adam retraced his footsteps and eventually found himself outside the one hundred room International Hotel which boasted a very fine elevator … he observed it a moment before pushing open the doors and stepping inside the very luxurious foyer.

 

There was no sign of Daniel deQuille and when Adam asked Charley if he had seen the newspaperman the clerk shook his head with that blank look that indicated that perhaps a certain scrap of paper waved under his nose may help him remember. Adam  peeled off some notes from his wallet and slipped them down onto the counter whereupon Charley nodded “Room 68” while at the same time sliding the money from the counter and into his pocket.

 

Room 68 look anonymous,  like most hotel doors would, but Adam could hear a low hum of voices and paused a moment or two while he allowed an elderly couple to pass him in the corridor.  He waited until they had disappeared downstairs and then rapped upon the door,  turned the handle and pushed the door open.

 

Daniel deQuille turned, his face was blank of any expression until he saw Adam upon which he blushed red to the roots of his hair and looked more uncomfortable than Adam had ever seen him before.. The other man looked puzzled,  confused and then annoyed.  He had been seated but now rose to his feet and stared at Adam as though seeing something he would normally scrape from the bottom of his boot.

 

“Who are you?   By what right do you burst into this room like this?”

 

“Aubrey Jones?” Adam asked coolly as he stepped into the room and extended his hand “I’m Adam Cartwright.  I believe there’s something you wanted to discuss with me?”

 

“With …with you?” Jones stammered and looked at deQuille before returning his gaze to Adam, he shook the proffered hand as though in a dream and repeated “Adam Cartwright?”

 

“From the Ponderosa.”  Adam said, speaking slowly and clearly as though  he understood the shock the other man was suffering from  so moderated his voice accordingly. “I understand you’ve been asking quite a few people questions concerning my family so thought I should introduce myself so that you could actually ask me … or some other member should you prefer.”

 

“No, no…of course… not … I mean, so you’re Adam Cartwright.   THE Adam Cartwright.”

 

“Just Adam Cartwright,”  Adam smiled, perhaps he should have mentioned that he had been Commodore Adam Cartwright not so long ago but he assumed the man would have known that already.  He glanced sideways at Dan “Thank you, Dan.  You can go now…”

 

“What?” Dan exploded, his eyes bulged slightly and a vein in his temple began to throb “No, you don’t get rid of me that easily…”   he looked at Jones who was still staring at Adam as though wondering what to do with him “Mr Jones ?”

 

Aubrey Jones nodded, and then gestured towards some chairs “Gentlemen, please be seated.   Mr Cartwright, it’s a pleasure to meet you.”

 

Adam  smiled, placed his hat on a small table by his elbow and nodded “You also, Mr Jones.  I’ve heard a lot about you … just lately.”

 

“You have?” Jones frowned and his eyes swivelled in the direction of Daniel who looked elsewhere and shrugged slightly “I’m surprised that you have, I’ve not long arrived in town.”

 

“Really?”  Adam  raised his eyebrows as though surprised at such a comment “Well, well, Mr Jones, considering that fact, then all I can say is that you have been a very busy man during the short time of your stay.”

 

Jones swallowed a lump in his throat and Dan deQuille wished the ground would open up before, although he forced a small smile and darted a glance at Adam in an attempt to  gauge exactly what Adam was implying.

 

“So?”  Adam relaxed, leaned back “You know each other?”

 

“Yes,” Aubrey murmured, “We were at college together.   I read Dan’s book …The Big Bonanza … thought I’d come and see what it was like here.”

 

“Oh,  so …no other connections at all?”

 

“Connections?  Here?  No, no, not really.”  Aubrey replied and looked anxiously at Dan who remained steadfastly silent and grim.

……………..

 

Gwen poured out some coffee and passed the cup and saucer to Buckley, offering it to him as though it contained gold ,  “You look tired, Billy.”

 

He took the drink and just stared at it, before placing the delicate chinaware onto a table. “I am tired, Gwen.  I’m thinking of quitting it here and riding on.”

 

“Riding on?” her voice thickened slightly,  she stared at him as though she had never seen him before in her life, “How can you say that you’re moving on?  Not now?  Not after all the plans we’ve made.”

 

“Plans?  What plans?”

 

“About us…together.”  she narrowed her eyes, then moved closer to him, placed a hand delicately on his shoulder while her fingers played with his hair “Billy, honey, you said we were going to get married, don’t you recall?”

 

“No, I never said…”

 

“That time you came and wanted me to swear to the sheriff that you had been with me all night ..remember?   It was that night the woman from your mining place got killed?  What was her name now…   I’m sure you wouldn’t have forgotten her, after all, you went to so much trouble to go and see if she was alright, didn’t you?”

 

He grabbed her wrists, pushed her away from him and gave her just the slightest shake, “What are you talking about, Gwennie?   I never said nothing of the sort….not to you not to anyone.”

 

“But you did want me to swear that you’d been with me from ..what was it…2 in the morning until you left for breakfast about 8?”  she pouted and pulled herself free “That was right, wasn’t it?  Of course, I could tell sheriff Canaday that I sleep real heavy and I’d never have known if you had got up and left me alone in the bed for oh ..a couple of hours maybe?  He’d be interested in that, wouldn’t he?”

 

He stared at her,  blinked rapidly as though if he didn’t his brain would cease from functioning.  He shook his head “You wouldn’t do that, would you?”

 

“Well, why not?  It’s nearly the truth after all.  Closer to the truth in fact than saying you’d been here with me all night.”

 

He rubbed his face with his long hands as though he needed to bring life to the muscles there, he shook his head “Gwen,  you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

 

“Oh I do, honey, I do.” she leaned into him, smiled into his eyes “Now then,  what was that about  your leaving here?  Because if that is your intention, you wouldn’t want to leave with a posse trailing behind would you now?”  she smiled as he stared at her, his eyes blank of feeling, “There now, I didn’t think you would.” then she kissed him, very gently, on the lips.

 

Chapter 36

 

The suite of rooms  that made up Aubrey Jones accommodation at the International Hotel was certainly indicative of a man of means, if not of good taste. As Adam nursed his drink and gazed around him he was more than aware of the discomfiture both men were exhibiting and for a moment he allowed them to wallow in the misery of confusion and uncertainty.

 

“So, you don’t know anyone else in town?” he murmured finally and fixed Jones with such a glare from the dark eyes that the other man actually blanched and looked away,  choosing instead to watch the people on  the streets, “And you thought you would look up old friends …I mean .. an old friend?”

 

“That’s right, Dan .. William… we go back some years now, don’t we?” Aubrey looked over at the journalist who had the grace to look down at his boots and flex his shoulders like a man who was caught on a hook and wanted more than anything to wriggle away and disappear.

 

“It’s just that I heard, only recently, how you were related to the Mayor.” Adam drawled out the words,  and glanced from one man to the other “Of course it could be some other person with your name, but  somehow I doubt it.  Too much of a co-incidence don’t you think, William?”

 

Dan shivered as many men have done when some hidden matter concerning themselves is brought into the light for others to see, he shook his head “Well,  you know I don’t believe in co-incidences, Adam.”

 

“No,  of course not.  Nor do I.”  Adam stretched out long legs and looked again at Aubrey who was watching him “So do tell me what it is that interests you, or the Mayor, or Mr McGarthy so much about my family and the sale of the Ponderosa?”

 

“well, you certainly like to get to the point, Mr Cartwright.” Jones replied while his fingers twitched and a nerve played at the corner of his mouth “I mean…  the whole matter can be quite easily explained.”

 

“That’s good.  I’m a busy man, Mr Jones, so please explain it as quickly as you possibly can.”  Adam  stretched his lips into a semblance of a smile while his eyes stayed steadily upon the  other mans face.

 

“Politics, Mr Cartwright, can be very dangerous, in fact, they say that it’s a game not to be entered into lightly.  Fingers get burned, all that kind of thing, you know?”

 

Adam inclined his head and glanced over at Daniel who was sitting with a blank face opposite him.  Jones returned to look out of the window “There was a lot of bad feeling over the latest Presidential election and Virginia City had its share of divided opinions. “

 

“That’s recent history, Mr Jones.  I’m more interested in events a little way back, events that involved Liam McGarthy, my family and Caleb Shannon.”

 

Jones nodded “I quite understand …. “ he paused again “Money from Virginia City … gold, silver … massive amounts are sent regularly to the Governments treasure chest, it boosts the economic growth of this country and has become a mainstay of Government.  Liam McGarthy was encouraged to increase production in his mine in order to back a future candidate for the Presidency… it’s irrelevant now as to which party it was for, suffice to say that at the time the money was essential.   When Shannon told a certain lady about some deeds that seemed questionable regarding land on the Ponderosa Liam looked into the possibility of gaining its possession.  When he found that it would be extremely lucrative for mining he entered into an agreement with Shannon to help him gain that land..which as you know ended up in failure and Shannon’s death.”

 

“So the plan moved on to bankrupt my father?”

 

“It was an expensive scheme, a big sum of money was involved if they were to redeem that mortgage but it would have been chicken feed compared to the amount of minerals that would have been extracted from the land.   McGarthy had rich sponsors who had the money available but unfortunately  some lawyer from San Francisco stepped in at the fatal moment and produced the money on behalf of an anonymous donor.”

 

“It could have been anyone, Mr Jones.   My father knows many of the wealthier businessmen here… James MacKay* for example?   He would have been able to pay out the amount several times over and not miss it…. George Hearst* of the Ophir mine likewise…”

 

“Ah  yes, quite so,  and for a while it was thought that for reasons of their own that was exactly what did happen.   But there was something that proves that theory quite wrong… you see, those men didn’t get to where they were in business by being philanthropists, they’re hard headed businessmen.  If they put in a dollar they expect at least a dollar fifty back in return.   They would never have sold the Ponderosa back to Ben Cartwright for the amount he had in his pockets at the time.”

 

Adam pursed his lips in a familiar pout and his dark eyes moved from Jones to Daniel, he sighed “I guess you’re right at that….”

 

“We know we’re right.”  Jones replied steadily, gaining confidence throughout the telling of the event “someone with that amount of money,  must be worth a fortune greater than Hearsts or MacKay or anyone else here in town.   Someone who could pay out so much and just – well – throw it away for want of another  word is either a fool,  or so wealthy as to not even notice the amount missing from his account.”   he licked his lips “Some men want to know who that person is, that’s all.”

 

“That’s all?” Adam frowned “And  what will they do with this person should they find him?”

 

“Get him to back their representative for grooming as the next President of the United States of course.   Hayes won’t last longer than this one term, he’s a one trick pony.   Plans are already in place for the next candidate to step forward …”

 

Adam winced slightly and put down his glass, he rose to his feet and shrugged “Well, I wish you every success in finding your stool pigion although I can’t see what good it will do you.   Have you never thought it could have been a consortium of people who bailed Mr Cartwright, my father, out of the mess McGarthy got him into?”

 

“It’s been looked into Mr Cartwright… it was no consortium of people, or organisations. “

 

“And the Mayor wants to know who it was in order to finance the man he would be backing as the next President?”

 

“Not just my Uncle ..er ..The Mayor … there would be others.”

 

“And where does McGarthy come into all this?”  Adam reached for his hat which he placed slowly upon his head.

 

“McGarthy has a personal grudge against all the Cartwrights because of what happened to his brother.   He isn’t interested in any political ideals or moral campaigns, he wants to know who ruined his brothers plans and got him killed.”

 

Adam nodded after all he could understand that, having two dearly beloved brothers of his own he knew himself capable of exactly those same feelings were anything to happen to either of them.  He looked at Daniel “What was your involvement then, Dan?”

 

“I wasn’t actually involved in any of it.” Daniel replied, squaring his shoulders and only too relieved to be able to say what was the truth on his own account “Aubreys a friend of mine and had contacted me recently with regard to staying here and meeting some of the folk I had mentioned in my book.  That’s the only connection we’ve had over  the years.”

 

Adam nodded and looked again at Aubrey  “But you have been here before?  Several times I believe?”

 

“Several times.” Aubrey admitted with disarming honesty “My uncle likes to know what is going on in the world of politics, he likes to keep his finger on the pulse so to speak.”

 

“And this candidate he wanted to groom … wouldn’t be you by any chance, would it?”

 

Jones smiled, very fleetingly,  and his eyes twinkled but he shook his head “No, Mr Cartwright not at all.   I’m afraid my politics wouldn’t suit by Uncle, never did,  never would.”

 

“But you do know who it is?”

 

“Of course.” he paused and frowned slightly as though debating within himself whether or not to disclose the name then he shrugged “It’s a man called Silas Barrington.  According to my uncle, he has a  brilliant mind,  with the proper backing and financial clout he could well be the very first black President of the United States.”

 

Adam  said nothing,  the colour of any man mattered nothing to him whatsoever, but the name had a familiar ring to it and yet he couldn’t think as to why.  A vague memory floated at the far reaches of his memory and as easily floated away again.   Aubrey sighed “I’ve been honest with you, Mr Cartwright.   I’d think it a great courtesy on your part if you would be as honest with me.”

 

“About -?”

 

“About the person who came to your father’s assistance at the time.”

 

Adam grimaced and shrugged “I wasn’t here then, Mr Jones.   In fact I was a long way off at sea at the time.  I only know what my father felt obliged to tell me.”

 

An expression of dismay followed by anger drifted over the other mans face, he shook his head “That’s not good, I told you so much in the belief that you would help me …”

 

“You chose to tell me of your own accord, Mr Jones, and without any co-ercion on my part which I am sure Mr Wright – DeQuille – will confirm.    I’m sorry I can’t tell you the things you want to know except to assure you that my father and brothers do not know who the donor was … he, she or it has never made themselves known.”

 

“Everyone has a price, Mr Cartwright.  Whoever he, she or it – as you say – has a price and if he is still living I’m sure, when we find out who it is, we’ll find out what price he’ll accept.”

 

Adam shook his head as though weary of the whole subject, he said nothing until he reached the door and then he only said, in a very quiet sombre tone of voice, his farewells.   As the door closed Daniel turned to Aubrey “You  think he believed you?”

 

“Why shouldn’t he?  It’s the truth after all.”

 

“You realise I could take this story to the press …have it printed throughout every state in the country?”

 

Aubrey sighed “I wouldn’t even think of it,  Daniel.   Who’d believe you after all?

 

Daniel stared at him, then gulped down the whiskey and after placing the glass upon the table he picked up his hat and quickly left the hotel.

 

Adam was making his way to the sheriff’s office when Daniel emerged from the Hotel’s grand doors onto the street.   He watched the tall broad shouldered ex-naval officer stride into the building, the door close behind him.   With a shake of his head Daniel made his way to the Enterprise offices,  frustrated and annoyed beyond measure at the thought of such a scoop being handed to him on a plate and yet unable to print even one word of it.   But…he paused… he did have a name…Barrington, Silas Barrington.

……………….

 

Reuben Phillips Cartwright had learned that if he sat quietly at the meal table he learned far more than if he joined with the other children in being noisy or disruptive in any way at all.  Children were children and even the best behaved can not always be ignored…  meat has to be cut for them, sometimes they are needing to be fed by one of the parents, or something doesn’t taste so good so has to be spat out which usually resulted in a scolding.

 

Reuben just ate quietly and listened.  He wasn’t being sly or deceptive, it was his nature.  He wanted to be a valid member of the family and since the Downing situation had occurred he was more than aware that he was at a disadvantage due to being  adopted .  At the same time he knew he was loved, he knew that there was no difference in the way he was treated to the way the adults treated the other children.  All the same he was aware of the difference, he could still remember the times his Grandmother Phillips told  him about her father, the German entrepreneur  and how she had taught him to count in German and the German alphabet.

 

He watched now as Ben spoke out about what had happened in town with the Mayor.   Reuben had met the Mayor, this grand personage had attended the wedding of his mother to Adam, and had looked like a pleasant jolly kind of man, quite different to the man Ben was describing.   He glanced up and caught his father’s eye on him,  it made him feel awkward but Adam smiled slightly and winked so Reuben released his breath and winked back.  He liked that about his Pa,  they shared secrets, they understood one another.

 

Hoss was looking thoughtful,  slowing down on his eating in order to concentrate on what his father was saying,  while Joe was slipping in flippant comments that only made Bens voice louder.   Reuben was wondering if they were arguing but then realised it had something to do with the Ponderosa, perhaps, he surmised, Uncle Joe didn’t want his Pa to move in with Uncle Hoss, perhaps Grandpa was angry about having to stay with them.

 

He looked up and saw Hop Sing standing attentively at the doorway waiting to attend to empty dishes, empty glasses.   He wondered what would happen if Hop Sing went to China like he kept saying he would do one day… that would leave just Cheng Ho Lee to look after all three households.  He thought about that for a while and by the time he remembered to pay attention to what was being said at the table the conversation had shifted gear and Ma was wiping Nathaniels mouth clean from his dribbles, and Aunt Hester was doing likewise with little Hope, although Reuben knew that Hope was a much tidier child than Nathaniel and wouldn’t have made so much mess as her cousin.

 

“I don’t get it,” Hoss muttered as he gulped down some wine, “Why all this fuss now?”

 

“I’ve  been trying to explain it to you, Hoss,  haven’t you been listening?” Ben scowled and shook his head “Didn’t the fact that we nearly lost the Ponderosa back then, make any impression on you at all?”

 

Hoss looked shocked “Of course it did,  it made me sick if you recall…I remember sitting at that table listening to  Weems and Mr Frobisher and the others and blubbing, I was that upset.”

 

Joe nodded “Yes, I remember  you did just that… mighty embarrassing it was too.”

 

“You were doing your fair share of blubbing…” Hoss snapped, then sighed “But it was alright in the end, we bought the Ponderosa back and there was no more trouble from McGarthy or his partners, they kinda deflated right there and then.”

 

“So -” Joe slapped both hands down flat upon the table, making a distinctive thump as he did so that made Reuben jump “So… according to what you were told, Adam,  it’s all to do with the fact that they want to know who purchased the Ponderosa on our behalf.   They don’t think it could have been just anybody, even though there were quite a few could have met the price…”

 

Adam nodded and raised a hand in order to stop his brother going any further, “That’s not really the issue… “

 

“I thought it was?” Joe frowned,  and glanced over at Hoss who was at a loss as he struggled to recall exactly what happened at the time they nearly lost the Ponderosa.

 

“So what is the issue?” Ben asked, “If it isn’t a political one … or economical …or both?”

 

“I think it’s personal.   I think it has something to do with this so called candidate that has put himself forward for Ponderosa patronage….”

 

Ben released his breath, picked up his glass and stared at it for a while before setting it back down again.   Reuben watched his grandfathers dark eyes narrow so that the heavy dark brows overhung the hooded lids  the way that meant he was giving the matter serious attention “You mean Silas Barrington?”

 

Adam nodded, looked at his two brothers who looked blankly back at him,  then Ben nodded “Yes, I think I see what you mean.   Thereby hangs a mystery.”  he looked up then and noticed Reuben looking at  him, his face immediately gentled “Enjoy your meal, young man?”

 

“Yes thank you, Grandpa.”

 

Plates were gathered up now and removed, Cheng Ho Lee brought in the elaborate cake that Hop Sing had made and which Reuben had waited for so eagerly, so had Hoss, for  he licked his lips and any thought of Silas Barrington would appear to have slipped from his mind.  The confectionary was placed in the centre of the table and as it was at Mary Ann and Joe’s home, it was Mary Ann who was given the knife to cut it into portions.   It was Reubens favourite, chocolate with cream and he hoped that he wouldn’t have a tiny portion like the ones usually cut for the children.  Like Hoss  he detached himself from the conversation that was going around him, and just watched and waited for Mary Ann to place his portion of cake on  the plate in front of him.

 

“There you are, Reuben..is it enough?” she smiled at him, and then turned to give her attention to Sofia who was waiting for her own slice of heaven… “Hop Sing this is divine.”

 

Hop Sing bowed , pleased at the compliment and he looked at Reuben and smiled as the boy  stuffed his mouth with the sweet stuff.   Olivia was talking to Hester about the move into the newly completed ranch house,  and for a moment Reuben paid some attention to that before switching back to listen to what his father was saying to Ben.

 

“You may need to contact Martha Frobisher, Pa.  She’ll be able to tell you if Silas and his sister have been in contact with her.”

 

“He must have been…. How else would he have known about that transaction?” Ben scowled, “But Julian never told anyone who was involved, not even me.”

 

“Nor me.” Joe sighed, “I used to wonder who it was who had let us buy the Ponderosa back, used to worry me no end expecting  him or she to walk in and demand it back.”

 

Hoss sighed and looked thoughtful,  when he was asked his opinion he just shrugged “I don’t know,  to be honest I never thought anymore about it once I knew the Ponderosa was safe… I met Hester about then,  I had other things on my mind.” he smiled over at his wife as she had looked up and over at him on hearing her name mentioned.

 

Reuben finished his last piece of cake and chewed it slowly, savouring it as the last morsel always should,  he thought over the fact that the Ponderosa had nearly been lost and someone had saved it for them but they didn’t know who it was… not even Pa. He looked at his father then and watched as Adam tapped his mouth thoughtfully with his long fingers and stared down  at the cake still on his plate.   It was obvious to Reuben that his Pa was worried.

 

Chapter 37

 

There was never any doubting the fact that Uncle Hoss loved cake, especially Hop Sings chocolate cake and conversation died away while mothers helped the younger ones get through their portions and the men joked and teased Hoss as he wistfully held out his plate for his third slice.

 

“Any more and you’ll burst.” Joe said very matter of factly while he watched Hoss pull the laden plate towards him.  “I don’t know where you put it all, Hoss Cartwright.”

 

“Look, shortshanks, I like my food so just you quit your yammering, you hear?”

 

Reuben liked it when the Uncles were teasing one another, he wondered if in a few years time he and Nathaniel would be doing exactly the same.  Didn’t count for a girl of course, Sofia was too prissy, too  much a ‘girl’ but as he ate through his cake Reuben hoped that his baby brother would grow up and be fun like Uncle Joe.  Of course he saw himself more in the role of his Pa,  and being the elder brother that kind of fitted into things better .  He looked over at his father and noticed him leaning closer to his father and talking in lower tones to him.  Bens face looked anxious but he shook the expression off quickly enough in the hope that no one would notice, but Joe, ever sharp eyed had and asked what it was the two of them were discussing.

 

“Adams got himself an appointment to examine the Bucksburn Mine tomorrow.” Ben said quietly, “He’s going with Candy.”

 

Joe  shot a quick look around the table as though trying to read everyone’s expression at the same time in order that his comment could sum each and all their thoughts on the matter .  “Bucksburn huh?   Do you think that’s the best thing to do?”

 

“Someone has to…” Adam muttered and looked at his wife in an attempt to catch her eye but Olivia either avoided him or missed the opportunity as she attended to Nathaniel.

 

“Why you?” Hoss asked, and scowled “The fact that it’s Liam McGarthy’s brother, and his mine, or rather was his mine when he was alive… I’d have thought you’d have steered clear of it.”

 

“It won’t be any problem.” Adam  replied and cast down his napkin by the side of his plate, before reaching for the glass of wine “Candy will be t here to see law is upheld and  in view of the Mayor’s involvement I can’t see McGarthy offering any resistance this time.”

 

“The Mayor?  How’s he involved?” Joe asked in a voice that reeked suspicion of anything the Mayor may be interested in, he looked at Ben “Do you know about this, Pa?”

 

“Not much.” Ben frowned “I don’t see why you have to go, Adam.  Why get involved?  There’s enough work to get on with here surely without you going down some mine.”

 

“It isn’t ‘some’ mine, Pa.  It’s the Bucksburn, and Candy wants my experience to help him get it working without risking people’s lives to the extent it has over the past few years.”

 

“What experience?” Hoss scowled and pushed his plate away, half the cake uneaten, obviously the subject was upsetting  his stomach.

 

“Yeah, what experience?” echoed Joe,  casting a look of grateful thanks to his brother for steering the subject in that direction “You ain’t been down a mine in years.”

 

Adam shrugged and again looked over at his wife who had turned her attention to him and the conversation now,  she looked calm,  her large eyes caught Adams, gazed into them for a moment and then she turned to murmur something to Mary-Ann who nodded and said in her clearest voice “Well, gentlemen, let’s have some coffee in the other room.”

 

Reuben watched them leave the table… Uncle Joe pulled Aunt Mary Ann’s chair away and slipped his hand through her arm as though to support her from one room to the next, and Uncle Hoss swooped up Hope and planted a big wet kiss on her cheek before swinging her up onto his shoulders where she laughed and clapped her hands.  Hannah and Sofia clambered down and ran together to where they had their dolls awaiting attention and Grandpa pushed himself away from the table and muttered to his eldest son “I don’t like it, Adam.”

 

“We’ll talk more about it when we get home, Pa.” Adam replied and then turned to his wife, smiled at her and reached for her  hand.  He then looked over to Reuben and nodded “Coming, son?   Your aunt has some lemonade there for you …”  and then he picked up Nathaniel and had him in the crook of his free arm as he and Olivia left the table together.

 

Reuben sidled down from the chair and looked over at his grandfather “Gran’pa?”

 

“Yes, Reuben?” Ben gave the boy the benefit of his warmest smile and placed his hand upon the boys’ shoulder

 

“Are you angry with Pa?”

 

Ben  looked surprised,  perhaps he had forgotten that little ears can pick up quite a lot in a conversation of adults, he shook his head “No,  of course not.  Just concerned.”

 

“Is it dangerous going down a mine?”

 

“It can be.”  Ben sighed and raised his dark brows so that his forehead was crinkled into lots of  furrows “Don’t you worry about it, your Pa knows how to take care of himself.”

 

Reuben nodded.  It seemed an odd thing for Gran’pa to say considering how ‘concerned’ he was about things, but the boy knew better than to say anything more on the subject.

 

The evening was drawing in, there was the light pattering of rain upon the windows.  Mary-Ann sat at the piano and began to play some music, something that they could all sing to with great gusto and laughter.  It lifted the mood for them all and Reuben noticed Joe look over at his wife with an approving smile and nod as he sang as loud as he could which caused his voice to crack on some of the higher notes.   Nathaniel didn’t like the singing and began to cry,  and Hope ran to her mother and buried her head in her lap, obviously not very happy with the noise either.

 

They left amid laughter,  whatever concerns had been expressed at the meal table had been set aside.   As the door closed Hoss could be seen chasing his little girls in order to gather them to their  beds and  little Daniel was already asleep with his head on his father’s shoulder.

…………

 

The night light flickered as Adam pulled the covers over Reuben’s shoulders,  the sound of the rain was heavier upon the roof and windows here and could be heard even above Adams humming of the tune they had been singing earlier.  Reuben lay still in the bed and waited for Adam to  sit down in the chair beside him, part of their evening ritual, a summing up of the day and the evening prayer.

 

“Pa?”

 

Adam stopped humming and looked down at the boy, he lowered himself down into the chair and leaned forward “Yes, son?”

 

“Pa,  are we going to lose the Ponderosa?”  he whispered the words,  he didn’t like having to speak them anyway, so best to say it as quietly as possible.

 

“Lose the Ponderosa?  Why should we do that?”

 

“Well,  didn’t we nearly lose it before?”

 

Adam leaned back a little, tilted the chair onto its back legs and stared up at the ceiling, “Reuben,  if I were to tell you how many times we have nearly lost the Ponderosa we could be here all night.   There was a time when blood was spilt to get the land on the Truckee,  to get it and keep it… mmm,  that cost your Uncle Joe dear I can tell you.”  he paused and looked down at the boy who was staring wide eyed up at him from the pillows upon which he lay, “Uncle Joe fell in love with a pretty girl called Amy Bishop, but because of the bad feeling caused by the fighting she got killed.”

 

“But you got the Truckee strip, didn’t you?”

 

“It was ours anyway,  it was trying to keep hold of it that was the problem..” Adam frowned, “Always seemed to be someone trying to get the Ponderosa from us…all kinds of folks,  all kinds of ways.” his voice trailed off and he stared at the far off wall where Reuben had his shelves full of books, but Reuben knew his Pa was looking beyond the books, far beyond…

 

“Pa?”

 

“Yes, son?”

 

“That time Grandpa was talking about,  when someone bought the Ponderosa and then sold it back….”

 

“Yes?”

 

Reuben frowned,  his smooth brow crinkled just a little as he concentrated on trying to get the facts right “I didn’t understand about it.”

 

“There isn’t anything for you to understand, Reuben.   Now …” he made a move that indicated it was time to stop talking,  close the day in prayer and settle down to sleep.

 

“But Pa… if the man who wanted the Ponderosa back then is the man who owns the mine now…”

 

“He isn’t, that man died some time back.  It’s a different man now who owns the mine. Now, Reuben, enough talk… settle down now.”

 

It was hard to settle, even after the prayer was said and the door was closed shutting him into his bedroom with the flame of the night light flickering on the bedside table close by.  Reuben tried to tell his brain to stop working so he could get to sleep, he yawned several times and he kept his eyes shut for a while … but  he couldn’t stop seeing the way his gran’pa looked,  and how he had said he was concerned … and Uncle Joe and Uncle Hoss …    he finally fell asleep with the whole thing going round and round in his head and making no more sense at all.

………………..

 

Ben struck a match and lit the pipe in a way that Adam knew from long experience indicated that his father had something on his mind that would have to be discussed before they made their way to bed.   He sat down opposite the older man having placed another log on the fire, he could hear Olivia’s footsteps in the room above them, where she was settling Sofia for the night.

 

“Best say what you want to say, Pa.” he said quietly and stared at the fire, tiny flickers of flame were nibbling at the bark of the new log, inquisitive little tongues of fire that were testing out the vulnerable areas of the wood in order to burn fiercer.

 

“I was thinking of writing to Martha Frobisher,  find out what’s going on there in ‘Frisco.”

 

“Hmmnm “ Adam nodded, “Seems a good idea.   I can’t see where else they would have found out about the sale of the Ponderosa otherwise.”

 

“Weems assured me all documentation was destroyed or taken away by Julian after the transaction.  Just -” he paused as though he couldn’t find the right words to express his feelings without hurling out a string of expletives ‘Just a nuisance that it should happen now.  Do you think there’s a link between this Aubrey Jones and the Barringtons?”

 

“It would seem so, after all he supplied the name.  What that connection is though …” he paused at the sound of Olivia coming down the stairs and both he and Ben rose to their feet as she came into the room.

 

Olivia knew her men folk well enough by now to quite comprehend that she had come at an inconvenient time for Ben, but probably  the right time so far as her husband was concerned,  so she smiled at them both and once seated asked Adam if he intended to go into the mine on his own, which rather took the wind out of Ben’s sails and brought a twinkle to Adams eyes.

 

“I doubt if I’ll be alone.” Adam said “I’ll  go down with the other men as they start their shift.”

 

“I heard Hoss say he intends to go down with you.” she looked at him, a determined little face, her eyes greener than usual “And Joe  agreed that he wanted to come as well.”

 

Adam shrugged  “Well,  I can’t stop them from coming along.”

 

“No,”  she smiled then, “I didn’t think you would.”

 

Ben puffed on his pipe, “What do you expect to find?”

 

“Oh,  well, I’m keeping an open mind just now, Pa. “  Adam picked up the poker and gave the log a thump or two, “But I doubt if I’ll find a 100% efficiently organised and perfectly functioning mine.”   he grinned “If I do then I’ll eat Hoss’ hat…”

 

Chapter 38

 

Shadows crowded around the room  where Billy Buckley attempted to sleep in the cabin  set aside for McGarthy’s  entourage of so called police.  He lay on the bed with his arms folded behind his head and struggled to sleep but there were too many images from the past pressing forward for attention so that all his attempts to gain some respite totally failed.

 

Sally’s face floated before his eyes always superseded by Ed  Payson’s until they dissolved into one and drifting into a kaleidoscope of other people, other faces.   In the end he dragged himself to his feet and walked unsteadily to the window.  The sound of the mines machinery thumped and pulsated through the minutes, making the floor of the cabin vibrate and seemingly finding an echo in his own heart.

 

He thought of Gwen and the threat behind the loving words she had spoken.  What would he do with a wife?  He had never wanted a woman tied around his neck, not unless it was someone really special, like Sally had been.  He licked his lips and shook his head as though to push the memory of Sally Cass away to where it belonged, in the past, before he had become William Buckley the gunslinger, killer, murderer.

 

He rubbed his face with his fingers and shook his head, over and over he had asked himself the same thing…how had it come to this?   He had killed men, face to face, guns in their hands…but never a woman until …until now.   Never the vulnerable and weak,  as was expected of him now.

 

From outside and close by his window there came the sound of laughter, coarse, loud and cruel…he recognised Hancock’s voice whining about something, the smash of glass as it was dropped and shattered on the rock strewn ground.  Billy shivered and returned to the bed upon which he sunk down,  the edge of the frame hard against the back of his legs.   He buried his face in his hands and his fingers entwined in his hair, he screwed his eyes as tightly shut as they could be in an effort to shut out the memories of faces that had once taunted him in his dreams but now seemed to confront him every waking moment.

…………..

 

Olivia nestled in closer against her husbands body,  and tightened her hold upon his hand.  Their fingers intertwined and gently he caressed her body with his free hand, his fingers always so tender,  so aware and in tune to her body’s needs.  She whispered to him how much she loved him, needed him… while he kissed her throat, the little pulse than throbbed like a little hammer before his lips touched hers and silenced her words into a sigh.

……………..

In his room Ben Cartwright struggled to sleep until finally he got  out of the bed and pulled on his burgundy dressing gown, thrust his feet into his slippers and made his way downstairs, tying the cord tightly around his waist.   Why, he grumbled to himself, was it that now he was getting older there were still so many problems to be solved?  Why did his sons have to act so stubbornly contrary to his wishes?   What was going on in his eldest son’s head to even think of going down that mine…McGarthy’s mine of all things?

 

He went to the fire and prodded the slumbering log until it spat sparks,  then he placed some kindling around it and waited for it to ignite before settling another log into place.  Satisfied that he now had a decent fire he went to the bureau and found the whiskey decanter and poured himself a small amount which he carried to the chair and settled down.   He had to think over some things now or he knew he would never get any sleep at all…   all this talk about the sale of the Ponderosa and politicians.  Silas Barrington… he shivered… Silas Barrington and of course, the sister, Paloma.   He sipped some of the golden hued liquid and swallowed it, feeling its warmth slip down his throat while he conjured up their faces and remembered some facts about them.

 

Surely, if he recalled correctly, they were bankrupt?  In which case how had they succeeded in having enough funds to step forward as a political candidate for  Government?   What in the crazy world was going on?  He sipped another swallow  and half closed his eyes …

 

“Gran’pa?”

 

The quiet voice drifted across the room but had the same effect as a cannon going off as Ben jumped upright, spilling some of the whiskey over his hand and every sense in his body jangling, his heart pounding not only in his chest but in his eardrums as well.

 

“Reuben?”   he turned to look at the child standing on the bottom step of the stairs, “What are  you doing awake at this hour?”

 

“I couldn’t sleep.   I heard you come downstairs.”  Reuben ran across the room and clambered up onto Ben’s lap, “I’m frightened.”

 

“There’s nothing to be frightened of, Reuben, you’re safe here with me, and your Pa and Ma … what have you to be frightened of?”

 

“I was thinking of Mr Downing and how easy it was for him to set fire to the ranch.  He could do that again…” he paused and frowned, “I mean, someone else could do that again if they wanted to, couldn’t they?”

 

“Reuben,  look here, son.” Ben placed a gentle hand on the boys shoulder and forced the child to look up into his face “Life is full of what if’s,  and perhaps and could be’s… but if we thought about them all the time, then we would never achieve anything at all.  They would be like a big hedge stopping us from getting on with things that need to be done…”

 

“Like  Pa going into that mine?”  the boys voice trembled slightly and his eyes stared up at Bens face, noting the tautening of the jaw line and firming of the lips, “He shouldn’t go, should he?”

 

“Your Pa feels he should.   The sheriff and the Mayor want him to go and make sure the mine is safe for hundreds of other people who work there every day, to make sure that they don’t get hurt or killed.  Some have, recently, which is why it needs to be looked at now.”

 

“But that man who owns the mine, he sounds like a bad man…”  Reuben frowned, “He  might hurt Pa.”

 

“Well,  I don’t think so, Reuben.   Uncle Hoss and Uncle Joe are going with your Pa, and I’ll be going along too,  just to make sure.   Candy will be there to make sure that the law is obeyed, so you see, there really is nothing for you to worry about , is there?”

 

For a moment Reuben said nothing then he yawned and shook his head “Gran’pa,  is it very dangerous going in a mine?”

 

“It can be if it doesn’t have the right timbering and other  equipment in place… that’s why Adam has to go there, to make sure.”

 

The boy was quiet, he wanted to think about that, to imagine that a mine wasn’t always just a big hole in the ground, not if it had to have timber and equipment …although the sort of equipment was impossible for him to imagine… but he had to try and get the picture in his mind.

 

With Ben’s arm around him the boy snuggled in closer to the big man’s body, the fire was warm and crackled as flames ate into the wood,  for a while Reuben watched as sparks glowed like red fire ants upon the soot encrusted back wall, climbing up into the chimney and disappearing as they were extinguished one by one.   His eyes drooped,  he yawned again, and eventually Ben recognised the relaxation of the little body as the child finally fell asleep.

 

He emptied the glass of what little was left in it to drink and then set it down  on the side table, scooped the boy up into his arms and gently carried him up to his room .  As he closed the door he remembered the number of times he would do the same with his own boys… except for one,  who when a child had never known a bedroom of his own,  nor the security of a door to shut out the terrors of the night that lurked around the wagon which had been their home for so long.

 

…………………………

 

Bridie Martin tiptoed from the bedroom with the candlestick in her hand, the flame of the candle flickered in the slight draught as she walked quickly to the room where Mrs O’Connell had been sleeping.   She pushed the door open slowly and  entered the room as quietly as she could although the other woman was already awake, and unlikely to complain about being disturbed as she tossed and turned in the bed,  her braided red hair was becoming unravelled, scattered upon the pillow while she herself  moaned and sighed in fever ridden sleep.

 

Bridie set down the candle stick after she had turned up the flame in the lamp on the table,  she checked the woman’s pulse, her temperature and as her cool hand touched Mrs O’Connell’s forehead she opened her eyes and stared up at her  .. “My husband?”

 

“Now isn’t the time to be worrying about your husband, my dearie.” Bridie whispered, and stroked back a long strand of hair, “You need to get some sleep. “

 

“I can’t sleep… I can’t stop thinking about my husband… he’s dead isn’t he? I remember now, it was the mine…he went into the mine and … and he was killed wasn’t he?”  her fingers seized hold of Bridie’s hand so tightly that the Irishwoman gave a startled yelp, which she tried to cover up with a cough, and patted Mrs O’Connell’s hand gently

 

“Now, now.”  she whispered “There’s nothing you can do for your husband now, except to be strong for your baby. “

 

“The baby?  Of course…the baby…   that’s why he worked at the mine, because of the baby.  He wanted it to have a good home, an education.  Did you know that my husband was a clever man,  he was a qualified engineer…he went to schools and had learning…not like me,  no… not like me.” her voice drifted away and she turned away from looking at Bridie to stare at the far wall where books were lined up neatly upon shelf after shelf “All those books …all those books…” her voice softened and she sighed “To think of all those words packed in there so tightly between those pages.  ‘To the making of many books there is no end …’ that’s what the bible says, ‘and all is vanity’ but my husband loved books.  He knew there was something wrong with the mine, he knew it.”

 

“Hush now,  let’s talk about this later, after you’ve had some sleep.” Bridie said while she stirred in a sleeping powder into a glass of water.

 

“He said it was dangerous,  he told McGarthy to stop the men going down it because it was dangerous and now …look… he’s dead.  McGarthy isn’t though,  is he?”

 

Bridie shook her head and placed an arm around the other womans shoulders, lifting her carefully so that the medication could be sipped without too much spillage.  After a while, with the glass now empty,  Mrs O’Connell closed her eyes again and settled her head against the pillows,  she whispered thank you so softly that Bridie barely heard it.

 

For a while Bridie remained in the room, standing close to the bed with her hand upon the woman’s wrist so that she could feel the thready beat of the pulse.   Once she was satisfied that the woman was sleeping comfortably at last she took the candle stick and withdrew from the room, closing the door very gently behind her.

 

Chapter 39

 

Candy Canaday had told Clem to supervise the situation in town along with the other deputies.   As he had tightened his gun belt around his waist he gave Clem details as to what he would be doing and where he would be going so that there was little left to chance should there be any delay or reason for his late return.

 

Clem listened attentively for he was a man who took his responsibilities seriously. He had felt a failure when he had stepped down from being the sheriff but Roy had encouraged him to remain as a deputy because, as Roy said, a town recognised modesty in a man, a man who knew his limitations and didn’t exceed them was a man they could trust.   Clem believed him and worked diligently in his role as foremost deputy to Candy, whom he respected as well as liked.

 

Standing on the boards Candy was able to see the arrival of the four Cartwrights as they rode into town.   He smiled slightly and wondered what it must have been like when they were younger, when the town was rough and ready, when Joe was a whipper snapper getting into everything and the sight of his paint horse had set the young women hoping that the hazel eyed young man would turn his attention to them.

 

“Morning, Ben…” he greeted his former employer with a nod of the head and then looked at the younger men “Are you all coming along with us then?”

 

“We are,” Ben immediately responded, “Don’t think we’d let the two of you enter the lions den alone, do you?”

 

“We never intended to go down alone… probably have gone down with the men on their shift but if you don’t mind joining us you’re more than welcome.” Candy grinned and slightly lowered his hat to shade his eyes.

 

The rain had drifted off during the night and a pale wintry sun had emerged to bathe the town with some warmth.   He mounted his horse and with a slight smile walked it into line with the other four,  he caught Adams eyes and grinned, this could be quite an interesting turn of events.  He wondered if McGarthy would think the same.

 

From his hotel room Aubrey Jones watched the five men ride from the town, weaving their way around the carriages and wagons,  he shook his head and wondered about the puzzle that had enveloped him ever since his uncle had said in his quiet but persistent voice “Aubrey, boy, there’s a bit of a mystery I want you to unravel. It concerns the Cartwrights of t he Ponderosa….”

 

Daniel de Quille struck a match and watched the flame burn a second or two before putting it to the end of his cigar.  His eyes followed the route of the five men and he frowned slightly and inhaled smoke before turning back into the office. A good reporter doesn’t let a scoop slip away through his fingers and this, he surmised, was going to be a good one.     Within a short while he was in his rig and heading out of town in the wake of the five horsemen, not that he needed to worry too  much about losing his way, the whisper had gone around town about the sheriffs intended visit today, and with all the Cartwright family involved Dan was sure that he was going to get the scoop of the year.

 

 

McGarthy was in his office seated at the big desk and writing down something in his journal when the door opened rather abruptly after a sharp rap to announce his visitors.  He glanced up and then paused to stare at the five men who strode into the room  “Well, what’s this?  A deputation ?”

 

“No, nothing of the sort.” Candy replied and handed McGarthy the legal documents that were required by  the mine owner as official notice that his mine was going to be examined by a duly appointed Engineer commissioned by the Mining Corporation in Virginia City.

 

McGarthy glanced at it and then cast it casually upon the desk, he reclined nonchalantly back in his seat and stared at the Cartwrights “So?   All of you qualified engineers are you?”

 

“No,  just the one.” Ben replied placing both hands on his gun belt and moving closer to the desk, “But we thought we’d make sure the examination went through without any mishaps… if that’s alright with you, of course.”

 

“And if it isn’t alright?” McGarthy raised his eyebrows and his pale eyes flickered from one Cartwright to the next.  He shrugged “Well, I’ve nothing to hide.  Do as you wish and good luck to you…”

 

“Are you going to accompany us, Mr McGarthy?” Adam asked with a slight ice edging in his words and when McGarthy’s eyebrows rose even higher he nodded “Well, I didn’t think that you would…”

 

“Look., Captain, I’m a busy man, and  your father here…” he pointed a stubby finger in the direction of Ben “he knows all there is about being busy.  I’m surprised you found the time to come along on this jaunt, Ben, a total waste of time if you ask me.  Why don’t you and I just sit this out and leave it to the younger ones to ferret around down in the mine, huh?”

 

Ben paused and glanced at Adam, a slight nod indicated that his son thought that a good idea so he nodded “well,  I’d not say no, Mr McGarthy.  I’m sure we’ll find quite a lot to talk about.”

 

Patrick nodded, he glanced over at Candy and gave a slight grin “Well, Sheriff, you know the way …I’ll see you later, and you, Captain….”

 

Hoss gave his father a slightly concerned look but was met with a nod of the head which encouraged him to follow along behind his brothers.  It wasn’t long before they were walking to the mine entrance, matching their steps to those of the men who were making their way to their work, slowly, like men too tired to think about anything other than doing what was necessary to get through another day.   At the entrance to the mine they were handed the safety lanterns and pointed to the direction of the cage that would taken them down to the lower levels of the mine.

 

“How far does this thing go?” Joe whispered as he jostled his way along with the men and stepped into the cage alongside Hoss, Adam and Candy   “Sure hope we won’t be down there too long, I’m getting a sweat already.”

 

The cage door clanged shut and was secured with over a hundred men standing shoulder to shoulder awaiting the plunge down to the next level … 3250 ft down into the depths of the Bucksburn Mine.

 

Hancock and Tovey stood a little way from the Cartwrights, they were confident enough of not having been seen by any of them.   The mass of bodies kept them concealed well enough and as the cage descended into darkness so the lanterns were lighted like so many glow worms.

 

Joe  Cartwright had to admit that his stomach had lurched as the cage was lowered, that initial grinding of gears and the squeal of the apparatus that lowered it down sent a shiver down his spine.  If Hoss was already sweating then he wasn’t alone.  He swallowed and gulped more than usual as the cage slowly made its way down.

 

The door opened and the cage emptied, men walked out with their tools in hand and the lanterns held aloft, each one knowing his own designated area in which to work.  Candy and the Cartwrights followed them,  and behind them came the two gunmen, one hand close to their guns while the other gripped tightly to their lanterns.

 

For Joe and Hoss, and Candy also, time stretched minutes into seeming hours.  The temperature built up as they made their way through the trusses and along  the hollowed out tunnels.   It seemed as though Adam had a perverse delight in jotting notes down of interminable length at certain points while they stood around holding their lanterns aloft and doing what they were told but mostly feeling sweat trickling down their backs and making their scalps tingle.

 

“I weren’t made for this kind of work.” Hoss grumbled in a voice meant to be a whisper, “I reckon a man should work above ground where he can see the stars at night and feel the sun on his  back.”

 

“I daresay most of the men here would agree with you,” Adam muttered as he bent his head to scrutinise the condition of the wood against which Joe was leaning  “I can’t believe McGarthy hasn’t even attempted to incorporate Deidesheimer’s timbering system on this level. “

 

Hoss grinned “Shucks,  that was an interesting time, Adam,  I remember us trailing around all those woodpeckers in town trying to get them to invest in – what do you call it?”

 

“Square set system”  Adam muttered and placed his hand upon the rock surface, it came away wet, “Every modern mine has incorporated  it, the Ophir mine lost a lot during the fire in ‘75 but Mr McKay made sure it was built back in as soon as restoration work began.  Hoss, don’t lean against that timber, it doesn’t look safe.”

 

“Shucks,  now you tell me…” Hoss muttered and removed his hat to wipe his fingers across where the sweat band had been, “I thought it wobbled…”

 

Joe sighed “The grounds pretty wet…”

 

“The Ophir Mine goes down to 4000 feet and more, Deidsheimers square set system guarantees safety even at that depth, and Almarin Paul*  devised the Washoe pan process that can extract silver from the ore far more quickly and safely than most others.” Adam muttered as he jotted notes onto the journal in his hand, “Hoss, bring your lantern closer here…”

 

Another hour stretched thinly away, from the shadows where they watched Tovey and Hancock were sweating,  every so often swallowing water from their canteens and wondering just how much longer Adam was going to take with the examination.  It seemed as if no sooner had he left one area than he had turned about to pursue another,  his brothers and Candy trailing behind him and further back,  the two unwilling shadows.

 

“Where’ve the other men gone?”  Joe whispered “How come we’re on our own down here?”

 

“Because they’re busy working, “Candy muttered,  “Adam, how much longer?”

 

“Well,  not much longer so far as I can see.” Adam replied, and looked over his shoulder to where a cleft in the rock face revealed itself “what’s that over there?”

 

“Where?” Joe swung his lantern in  the direction that Adam had indicated creating shadows dancing and twisting in a macabre dance as a result.

 

“Waters getting higher here…” Hoss muttered

 

“That’s because McGarthy hasn’t installed the blowers for ventilation or the pumps to remove the water seepage from the nearby river bed.” Adam muttered as he followed the direction of Hoss’ lantern and Joe sloshing ahead of them towards what appeared to be a bundle of old clothing.

 

Tovey and Hancock leaned in closer in an attempt to see more and hear what was being said.  When Hoss said “Candy, over here…” in a rather urgent voice the two men looked at one another and inched closer to where the four men were standing… Hoss leaned down and then stood up so quickly he knocked into Joe “it’s a body.”

 

Candy beckoned for more light so the three lanterns added to that of his own as he squatted down by the wreckage of what had been a human being, dumped in the filth of water seeping into the mine for some days,  examined and gnawed at by the rats that added their own foul presence in the darkness … Candy stood up and wiped his face with his bandana “Well, this isn’t exactly what we expected, is it?”

 

“Do you know who it is?” Joe asked, “I mean, not that there’s much face left but …” he turned at a sound from behind him  “Who’s  there?”

 

Tovey put a finger to  his lips as Hancock was about to speak, putting his mouth close to his associates ear he whispered to leave the matter for him to deal with, and once he received a nod of agreement from the other man, Tovey stepped forward, holding his lantern aloft so that Candy and the other men could identify him.

 

“Sorry, gents, didn’t mean to scare  you some…  Mr McGarthy ordered us to keep close to you, make sure you didn’t lose your way down here.”   he shrugged and stepped closer “What have you got there?”

 

Candy straightened his shoulders, it went against the grain, so far as he was concerned, to have had these two men following them and keeping concealed, he rubbed his jaw with his lean fingers “Why didn’t you reveal  yourselves sooner?”

 

“Mr McGarthy told us not to get in the way of the – er – engineers look around, he don’t want to be accused of interfering in any way you understand.   But, seems to me you found something else more interesting than timberwork to examine here?”  he came closer and looked at the body huddled close to Hoss’ feet,  partly submerged in slime filled water though it was … “Not a pleasant sight that’s for sure.”

 

Candy watched as Tovey turned away quickly, obviously the remains of the man had turned his stomach, that and the heat and foul air in the corridor in which they were placed.  “Do you know him?  Ever seen him before?”

 

“How’d I know? “ Tovey muttered, “It’s hardly recognisable as a human being as it is”

He shivered “Hey, Hancock, come here… you ever see him before?”

 

Hancock now stepped forward, suspicious and nervous he looked at each man there as though he were about to be tricked into doing something wrong, he followed the direction of Toveys lantern and uttered an expletive before stepping back away from the body  and them “who …what… what is it?”

 

Joe  had stepped  back further as well, his stomach  had wrestled vomit at the sight and he sympathised with Hancocks reaction,  even so he managed to mutter “It was a man ..once…someone  you may have known.”

 

“He must  have come down  and lost his way hereabouts.” Tovey volunteered the information with a slight tremble in his voice, he looked around him “This isn’t used much, this tunnel,  the men haven’t worked hereabouts for some time, Mr McGarthy wanted it properly shored up before they got in here.”

 

Adam nodded, tucked the notebook and pencil into his jacket pocket and stepped away from the body  “We had better get back, the waters rising here too fast  and the airs foul.   Stay much longer and we could be in serious trouble.”  he looked at Tovey and Hancock “It would have been wiser if you had told us this area wasn’t worked …”

 

“Thought you’d have realised, you’re the engineer, supposed to know these things.” Hancock snapped back, his nerves jangling and the desire to get to the surface becoming his paramount thought

 

Adam said nothing to that, but looked at Candy “What about him?” he indicated the body

 

“I’ll  get some men to bring it up to the surface later….but one things for sure, he didn’t come here voluntarily.   In fact he didn’t come here while he was alive,  he was dead some while before his body was dumped here.”

 

Tovey and Hancock looked at one another,  both men thought along the same lines of perhaps leaving several other bodies there but Tovey had the sense to realise they would never get away with that,  he turned away with his lantern in his hand and led the way from the steadily rising water and towards where the sounds of the men at work could be heard from the neighbouring tunnel.

 

It was a chance thing, as the good book says ‘chance and unforeseen occurrence befalls us all’ for Hoss stumbled, put out a hand to save himself and pushed against the upright timber that Adam had already warned was unsafe.

 

Tovey and Hancock, along with Candy and Adam were already some distance ahead of the other two men.  They heard the rumbling sounds like so much thunder confined and therefore louder than what would be considered normal, they ducked down as rock and dust and grit trickled and then fell upon them, they moved their legs to gain distance as the ground shook and trembled and bucked beneath their feet… and then everything went very black as the lanterns fell from their hands, the candles were extinguished and the air filled with suffocating dust, debris and the stench of rotten air.

 

Behind them Joe and Hoss were sprawled upon the water filled ground, the timber had fallen across the width of the hewn out corridor and rocks and boulders mounted around and upon it, sealing in every crevice,  entombing the two of them  behind a wall of  massive devastation.

 

 

Chapter 40

 

The effect of the cave in rumbled horrifically throughout the hewn out tunnels, the ground bucked and some shoring were loosened.  The men working on  the rock face were affected differently according to their locality, those nearest to the calamity had their feet pulled from under them,  with some debris and dust raining down upon them while elsewhere the vast boom made the men pause to ensure that where they were was still safe.

 

The emergency whistle that sounded the alarm shrilled out  the message bringing McGarthy to his feet and Ben rushing to the door to see men as well as women running towards the entrance to the mine.

 

“What’s happened?” Ben yelled to a passing miner who could only shake his head and continue running.

 

The alarm continued to shrill,  women pulled shawls over their heads in anticipation  of a long wait in the rain as they whispered to one another to find out whose husband, brother or son was working that shift and what level were they working … the overseer was hauling on the wire woven rope to bring up the safety cage that would carry up the men and bring news as to what had happened.   McGarthy pushed his way through followed by Ben  but all they could do was stand and wait for the cage to deliver up the men who had been working below the surface.

………………….

 

The air was stagnant and full of dust and whirling pools of grit that slowly fell upon the men strewn upon the ground.   Hancock was the first to open his eyes and for a while he just stayed totally still as though the fact he was still alive was a mystery to be savoured for as long as possible, before someone came to demand that he did something that would require movement.   With a groan he pushed himself upright, rubbed his head and peered into the darkness.

 

“Tovey?  Tovey?” his throat was full of dust, he hawked and spat and hawked some more… then he groped in his pocket for some matches, found them and struck several “Land sakes!”  he breathed as he stared into the gloom and then  hysterically began to scrabble around for a lantern.   His fingers found one, half buried beneath rubble, and frantically he pulled it towards him only to find the candle missing and the matches went out.

 

A sob rattled in his chest as he pulled out more matches and just as he succeeded in getting some light there came the sound of someone coughing, rocks moving as someone struggled to get to their feet  “Who’s there?”

 

“Is that you, Hancock?” Candy’s voice floated through the darkness,  then more coughing,  “Where’s Adam Cartwright?”

 

“How’d I know.. I ain’t even sure where I am …”

 

“Find a lantern…get some light…” Candy doubled over as a spasm of coughing caught him and after some moments he saw the glow worm light from several matches in Hancock’s hand.

 

They scrabbled around for lanterns and in the course of doing so found a booted foot,  Candy ran his hands up the leg to the body and then stopped as from the waist up there were only rocks.  For a moment his hands froze,  the thought that it was Adam or Joe or Hoss made his brain seize up, his skull tingled and he felt as though he were going to vomit.

 

“Candy?”

 

Adams voice floated into the darkness and the sheriff rocked on his heels and wiped the moisture from his face, perhaps it was sweat, perhaps not,  perhaps tears which were more than likely.  “Adam?  You alright?”

 

“I think so…how about  you?”

 

“I’m alright, I’m fine, just fine.  Hancock’s here, but …” he stopped,  “Adam, did you see Joe?  Hoss?”

 

Hancock had found a candle and a brave flame flickered in the darkness, he was scrabbling for more lanterns, more candles so didn’t see the look on Adams face at the realisation that Joe and Hoss were not there with them.   “Who’s that?”  Adam asked inching his way across rubble to reach Candy’s side “Is it …it isn’t Joe? Hoss?”

 

“No, it’s Tovey.  What’s left of him anyway.”  Hancock muttered “I recognise the boots, he liked fancy foot wear.”

 

Candy thrust a lantern into Adams hand, the candle within it shone a feeble flame but enough for them to see each other,  “Look, we need to get  help … “ Candy said quietly, his voice was strained, his chest was too tight and breathing was difficult, he turned to Hancock “Are you hurt at all?”

 

“No,  just some bruises… “  Hancock muttered and was about to speak when Adams voice yelled “HOSS.      JOE.”

 

The names bounced off the walls but there was just silence, he yelled again holding up the lantern higher in an attempt to spread the light further in the gloom but he only saw a wall of boulders and rock where there had once been no wall,  Tovey half buried and obviously very dead and the other two men staring in wide eyed horror around them.

………………….

 

Hoss Cartwright opened his eyes and wondered for a moment if he had gone blind.  He lay very still and waited for the noise to subside, the glancing bouncing sound of rocks falling and toppling over one another, dust slithering into cavities, the dripping of water.   He lay there and wondered if he were still in one piece and if he moved anything what would happen…so very slowly he began to move his arms, he stretched them as far as he could moving rocks as he did so.  He began to bend his legs, just slowly, waiting every so often in case the movement caused more rocks to fall.  Finally he was sitting up and that was all he could do for some time,  just sit and stare into the darkness.

 

The thought that he was alone in the darkness created a panic that welled up inside him so much that he gave a yell, no name, nothing, just a yell, very loud.  It echoed but there was no other sound save the slithering of something in the water.

 

He had been afraid of the dark ever since he had been young,  he remembered how Adam would tell him stories until he fell asleep because of the dark, he closed his eyes now and realised that there was no difference at all between them being closed or open.   He had to have light…

 

Joe  didn’t dare to open his eyes, something heavy was resting on one of his arms and he couldn’t move it, his fingers were clenched around a rock.  He was lying on his stomach,  his head turned to the right so he couldn’t see what it was that was resting on his arm.   He tried to move his legs and created a small cascade of rubble to topple over itself into some water, the splash sounded too close for comfort.

 

“Who’s there?” Hoss’ voice seemed to boom  in the darkness “Adam?   Joe?”

 

“Me… It’s me … Hoss?  You there?”

 

“Yeah,  I’m here.   Whereabouts are you?”

 

“Over here.”

 

“Where’s that?”

 

“Over here, you big lummox….”

 

Hoss  stretched his shoulders, moved his head back and forth, heard the crack of small muscles as tension was released.  There was no pain which was reassuring as it meant that he was unhurt.  He fumbled in his pocket “Hold on there, Joe,  I’ll get us some light.”

 

“Hurry up, Hoss…”  the younger man’s voice was fading into a whisper, he opened his eyes, saw the darkness, closed them again.

 

The rasp of the matches made Joe jump, his nerves were so highly strung now and the noise had seemed overly loud above the sounds that he had listened to since regaining consciousness.   He forced his eyes open, his nostrils had the scent of sulphur burning so he attempted to turn his head towards where he anticipated seeing Hoss.   “Hoss?”

 

“Sure, can you see me?”

 

“Just about … are you alright?”

 

“I think so… how about you?”

 

“Pinned down… rock on my arm… over here.”  he tried to move his arm again but there was only pain and he gave a groan “Hoss,  hurry up will ya?”

 

Hoss  turned,  felt the sharp edge of a lantern and gratefully set it upright, located the candle inside and put the flame to the wick, then he held the light up “Dadgumit,  Joe …”

 

“What’s the matter?”

 

“Dang it,  little brother, but we sure are in a mess here …”

 

“Hoss, just get this rock off me and … hurry up…”

 

Very very carefully Hoss made his way towards his brothers voice, he lowered the lantern to see his way more clearly and when he saw his brothers face at last he moved faster, as a result he was clumsier and rocks slithered, fell away,  Joe groaned, sighed and closed his eyes against the dark.

…………….

 

“You won’t be able to shift that on your own, Adam… we need help.” Candy placed a hand on Adam’s shoulder, “You need help, Adam… you got to have those cuts seen to …”

 

“Candy,  just shut  up…shut up and help me or clear out and leave me alone…”  Adams voice was rasping,  his breathing was shallow and he was gasping for some air, “Leave me alone.”

 

Candy shook his head and looked over at Hancock who was standing close by holding up the battered lantern so that Adam could see the rocks that he was attempting to move, “Hancock, we need more men … we need help.”

 

Hancock knew that, he’d known that all along but he was just too scared to leave them,  he looked dumbly at the sheriff “They’ll come,  you’ll see, they’ll come soon as they know where we are…”

 

“Then go and let them know, don’t just stand there.”

 

“But there’s just the one lantern.” Hancock whined,  “I’ll need to take it with me.”

 

“Just go and get help…” Candy yelled but Adam swung round and grabbed at Hancocks arm “You can’t take the lantern, I need it here, how am I going to move these rocks if I can’t see …”

 

Candy pulled Adams hand away from Hancocks arm,  pulled it as kindly as he could, but firmly and gave his friend a slight push away from the other man who seeing his chance turned and scurried away leaving the other two men watching the flickering flame of his candle as it faded further and further from them.

………………………

 

Ben Cartwright stood in the cage along with the other men, Patrick McGarthy by his side, every one of them tense, anxious to get down into the tunnels as soon as they could, aware that every moment, every second was vitally important.  As the cage descended Ben thought over what they had been told, that there had been a cave in, somewhere over 3000 feet beneath the ground,  in a rarely used tunnel.  He recalled how McGarthy had shouted out orders … men to go back into the cage for the rescue effort,  someone sent to town to get medical aid, another to the Ophir and other men to the Diamond Jack Mine to beg for medical assistance from them as well.   The expensive jacket and vest had been cast to one side and he had strode into the cage alongside Ben with far more conviction and determination than many other mine owners would have done,  earning grudging respect from the rancher for doing so.

 

Now the cage descended, faster than usual as the men above worked the gears to enable a swifter descent.  Lanterns created light, men streamed from the cage as soon as the door had opened,  tools in hand they hurried along the shafts to where they had been told the cave in had taken place.

 

A lone glow from a flickering candle told of the approach of a man fumbling his way towards them…Ben’s heart tightened,  his longing to see a face, a familiar beloved face…Adam?  Joe?   Hoss?  When the unknown man lurched towards them and pointed behind him,  croaked out what little he knew to the waiting group Ben felt a weakness to the knees that caused him to stagger at his first step, and when a strong hand gripped his elbow he turned to see McGarthy looking sympathetically at him

 

“It’s alright, Cartwright, we’ll get them out.  They’ll be alright, I promise you.”

 

“Promise me?” Ben whispered in a voice that came from a dry mouth, a tight throat, “How can you promise me that, you’re not God?”

 

McGarthy said nothing to that but released his hold on Ben’s arm and fell in step with his men, all heading towards where the Cartwright brothers and Candy were each waiting, wondering, if help would ever come.

………………

 

Billy Buckley heard the whistle, he recognised it for what it was, a signal that there was trouble in the mine.  He wondered if the Cartwrights would be involved, if they had reached the mine yet,  whether McGarthy would allow them down to see what a mess everything was down there.

 

He had made his decision,  and whether it was right or wrong he still wasn’t sure, but he had slipped out of the camp and ridden away from it with a determination to put as much distance between the mine, the town and Gwen as he possibly could.   He rode his horse at a steady loping gait,  guiding it towards a cabin he had found once some time before, when perhaps the first seeds of doubt were sown in his conscience and he was aware of needing somewhere to hide until he had decided where exactly to go.

 

He drew his horse up and turned his head in the direction of the camp, for a moment he wondered whether or not to return,  to help should help be needed.   But conscience was one thing, foolhardiness was quite another and to return would mean setting aside any good intentions of a fresh start in life.  He kicked the horse with his heels and it followed its masters lead, the freshening wind lifting its mane and causing Billy to feel a strange exhilaration at the thought of freedom,  escape and a new life.

 

He was savouring such thoughts when he saw the buggy approaching,  a two seater pulled by one horse, a neat little roan mare who pulled the vehicle along at a steady pace.   He was about to turn his horse into the darkness of the woodland close by when he realised the driver of the vehicle,  the young woman he had met in town,  who had been called by Clementine Hawkins … Mary Ann.

 

Chapter 41

 

Just an hour or so earlier and Mary Ann had kissed little Daniel ‘bye bye’ and left him playing with Hope .   Hester had helped Mary Ann carefully pin the latest quilt into  a sheet so that it wouldn’t get soiled in anyway, and then she and Hannah had waved her away from the house.

 

Mary Ann  was more than pleased to have had this opportunity to take the buggy and drive away, Mistral was a loyal little horse and obedient to Mary Ann’s touch on the reins, the day was pleasant for the rain had stopped and Mary Ann felt warm and safe as the buggy jogged along.   There was really not very much that worried her just now.  The situation with the Ponderosa, the sale and so forth went over her head, it had happened a while back and she was confident that everything would  be ‘all right’.   Her faith in Ben, Joe and his brothers was so strong that she wasn’t even worried about the fact that they were all going to go down that mine,  something that Hester had said earlier that morning ‘worried her to death’ but which Mary Ann had sympathised about but then dismissed from her mind.

 

It was not that she was empty headed, feckless or silly.  Mary Ann was a very intelligent woman,  her passion was her family and music,  but above all else was her all consuming love for Joe.   Her complete trust and confidence in him was such that when he said, as he had that very morning as he kissed her goodbye, “Now, sweetheart, don’t you worry about a thing, I’ll see you later.,”  that’s just what she did, she switched off worrying and stayed focussed on what had to be done in the house, with Daniel and with this quilt.

 

Hester always thought that being brought up in such a good solid middle class background in Pennsylvania had given Mary Ann such an optimistic out look on life that most things went ‘over her head’ but there she was wrong for Mary Ann had suffered a considerable deal since leaving her comfortable home along with her brother all those years ago.  Her brother had been murdered in an Indian raid, she had endured the horror of considering herself next to be so brutalised; she had been with them when members of the Tong had nearly killed Hoss,  and dragged Adam from home;  she had feared the loss of her dear husband to another woman … yes, she had suffered and if optimism had given her a veneer of blithe ignorance so be it.  Her faith in her husband was not going to be swayed by some paltry business of a mine that was shambolic and a business or property deal that happened years ago.

 

So it was that she bounced along in the buggy with the strains of Greigs Piano Concerto in Minor, Opus 54, trickling through her head causing her to hum the music as Mistral trotted onwards along the track that led to the home of Luke and Marcy Phillips.

 

When the whistle sounded, so shrilly, so suddenly, it caught her off guard totally,  birds soared skywards from the trees calling out their protests, a great gust of wings and little bodies in a cloud across the path of the buggy.  The penetratingly piercing sound of the whistle, the birds, Mary Ann loosening her  hold on the reins, all had its effect on the poor horse who suddenly lowered her head and plunged forwards not at a steady pace but at a wild gallop, heedless of anything in her path, only aware that she wanted to get away,  put distance between herself, the birds, the sounds, the buggy, anything and everything…

 

It was useless for Mary Ann to pull at the reins,  Mistral had the bit between her teeth now and the young woman had no control but  pulled and yanked and called out to the horse to stop.   Mary Ann didn’t see the horseman leave the shelter of the trees in pursuit of the buggy, she was heedless of anything other than to try and stop the horse crashing into a tree, or down a gully.

 

The buggy swayed, lurched and bounced over obstacles that the wheels encountered and which the horse seemed totally unaware of… its mad dash trailed the vehicle behind it until finally it was spun across the road, hit a rock and shuddered momentarily before falling to its side spilling the young woman out and into the under growth.

 

Billy Buckley drew the horse to a stop and flung himself from the saddle, running to the woman and fearing the very worst.   Whether he stopped to think about another woman he had seen flung from  a smashed wagon only he would know,  but at that moment all he could think about was Mary Ann whom he had seen flung from the buggy and to the ground, her skirts swirling about her and her long hair unravelling to scatter over her face and shoulders upon the ground.

 

Now he had reached her and very gently approached her, falling to his knees as he came to her side and carefully, very tenderly, turned her onto her back.  One hand brushed aside the long hair, while he supported her with his other arm.   He looked at her long and hard for a moment or two,  glad in one way that he had been there to rescue her,  terrified that his rescue had been too late, and that she had died, died there in his arms.

 

He pulled a glove from one hand and touched her throat, the fluttering of a pulse assured him that she was still alive.   Then he noticed the gentle rise and fall of her chest, the flutter of her eyelashes… only her stillness frightened him into the awareness that death could be very close by.

 

He had had plans of where to go,  to hide away and lie low for a while, where better to go than there now, to take her and help her to recover.   He brushed away damp dead leaves that clung to her clothing, to her hair and very gently lifted her up into his arms.   Without another thought he made his way to his horse,  she would live, she would be safe, he would make sure of that fact and that she would knew who her saviour had been.

……………..

 

The water level was rising, not quite as fast as it had originally been doing,  for which Hoss and Joe were more than grateful.   Hoss had found that the rock that had appeared to be crushing Joe’s arm was actually precariously balanced upon some spar of wood that lay at an angle across the limb and was actually bearing the main weight, once he had heaved it away,  the piece of timber removed, then Joe was free from that particular restraint.

 

But not free entirely for the timber also lay across his legs and at such an angle that his feet were submerged in the water.   He could feel Hoss moving about, aware of things moving from around him, but mostly he was conscious of the pain in his arm and the numbness of his legs.

 

“Hoss?”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“Can you see where we are?  I mean …just how bad is it?  Can you see Adam or Candy?”

 

“No, can’t see a danged thing.  Let me deal with this first, will ya?  I want to get this timber off’n your legs.”

 

“Hoss,  do you think they know we’re here?”

 

“Sure they do.  They’ll be getting men here to dig us out ..bet they’re doing that right now, this minute.”

 

Joe  said nothing to that…he could hear his  brothers movements creating sloshing noises from the water.  He wondered if there were rats in there, or worst still, snakes.  He mentioned the fact to Hoss who ignored him as he groped in the water feeling for the rocks and the end of the timber so that he could lift them from his brothers legs.

 

Rocks cluttered down and splashed into the water, there was the slither of grit and dust,  Hoss stood very still his hand rested gently upon Joe’s shoulder, it seemed to him that both he and Joe had stopped breathing until the rocks stopped falling.

 

“Hoss?  It’s getting really bad in here….”

 

“You don’t have to tell me that, little brother, I can smell it myself.” Hoss wrinkled his nose and rubbed his hand across his brow.  “I found the edge now, soon as I lift it up you move away, don’t waste time, Joe…”

 

“Go ahead, Hoss…”

 

Hoss ducked down, braced himself, heaved… “Move, Joe…move now….”

 

Joe wasn’t sure which way he was to move but he turned his body aside, brought over his legs and when a loud splash indicated that Hoss had dropped the timber back down,  Joe was relieved to know that his legs weren’t going to be crushed beneath it.

As he lay there he could feel Hoss hands very gently, but urgently, moving up and down his limbs, he waited for the pain, but there was nothing, he waited for Hoss to speak but again, there was nothing.

 

“Hoss?”

 

“It’s alright, Joe, I’m just trying to work out what to do next …”   Hoss murmured, “How are  you feeling?  You able to get on your feet?  How’s your arm?”

 

Joe  struggled to sit up, his arm hurt, it hurt badly and he clenched his lips in between his teeth in order to not groan or give Hoss any reason for concern.  He hugged his arm against his chest with his other hand and struggled to his feet.  His knees wobbled, he felt sick, terribly sick… “I’m going to throw up, Hoss..” he groaned

 

“Yeah, I know the feeling…” Hoss replied and reached out with his hands to touch the wall of rock that confronted him,  the feeble light of the lamp flickered as he moved it up and down, from side to side …he shook his head … “Joe, I don’t reckon on us getting out of here any time soon.”

 

The words didn’t seem to make much sense at first, then Joe realised what Hoss meant,  he spat into the water and made his way to Hoss’ side, reached out with his good hand to touch the rocks, then looked at Hoss… in the flickered shadows the candle flame created he saw his brothers face slick with perspiration,  streaked with dirt and dust, something black and shining seemed to be slithering down one side of his face,  he blinked “You’re hurt, Hoss?”

 

“Jest a scratch, it’s nothing.  We got to get out of here, this airs no good…”

 

“What about Adam? Candy?”

 

“They were ahead of us …” Hoss muttered, “They ain’t here with us.”

 

Joe nodded.  He stared at the rocks, stared hard and thought how that could mean they were alright, they had gone far enough ahead to be safe   or    perhaps not, perhaps beneath this mass of rocks and boulders lay the bodies of  their brother, their best friend.   He bowed his head and his brow touched the cold wet stone,  he felt too weak to care,  too weary and in too much pain to do anything but just stand there, and wait.

 

…………………..

 

Ben’s hand reached out and touched his sons back, gently enough but firmly, so that Adam turned his head, saw his father and after registering his nearness was able to recommence the task of removing the boulders.  “Hoss and Joe ..behind here … water levels rising,  air’s stale…”

 

Ben nodded as his son’s voice jerked out the words,  “We’ve plenty of men, they know what they’re doing.  Let’s get back and leave them to do it…”

 

Adam shook his head “No,  it’s my fault they’re there, I need to do this, I need to stay and help.”

 

Ben glanced at Candy, then at Adam, “Very well, we’ll all stay right here.”

 

McGarthy pushed his way through the crowd of men  who were now carefully and efficiently attacking the barrier to the two men trapped behind it, he came up close to Adam,  his face just inches away “Well, what happened?  Some engineer you are … there was no need to bring  anyone along this shaft, you led them into a dangerous situation. You realise this is all your fault?”

 

Adam drew in his breath, he bowed his head and was about to speak when Candy spoke for him “The fault is yours, McGarthy.  I’m no engineer, but even I could see how poorly protected the men would have been if they were working here,  we didn’t linger around, just long enough …” he paused and looked at Ben “It wasn’t Adams fault.”

 

“It was, “ Adam replied, “It was.   I could see how bad the timber was here,  every one rotted due to the amount of water …McGarthy, why didn’t you get the pumps here?  You must have known how these shafts were getting flooded out?”

 

“I’ve never  been down this far before” McGarthy admitted, “This old shaft was never used … I never thought anyone would come this way … but you, you had to come, interfering, poking about, and now this… you got yourself to blame for any man injured, or killed here, you realise that, don’t you?”

 

For a long moment Adam stared into the man’s pale cold eyes and then he nodded “I know.”   he looked at his father, then quickly looked away “I know that…”

 

McGarthy gave a grunt, a self satisfied snort as though of contempt, he looked at Ben and nodded “You heard that, didn’t you?”

 

But Ben turned away, he had two sons trapped behind a wall of rocks, he didn’t want to waste time with a man still trying to duck out of the responsibility of what had happened along with one who was all too quick to accept culpability for it all.

 

Chapter 42

 

McGarthy had not moved far from the mine entrance when he heard someone calling out after him with such insistence that, whether he wanted to or not, he had to stop to find out who it was,  only to find that it was Daniel deQuille.  He rolled his eyes rather and shook his head impatiently “You’re like a bad penny, turning up like this …it’s a bad time, deQuille.”

 

“Of course it is, “  Daniel smiled disarmingly, “But what other time do you expect a good journalist to turn up?   So?  What’s happened?  Who’s down there?”

 

“For heavens sake, deQuille, you can ask a hundred people those questions, why ask me?”

 

“Because you are the man responsible for the happenings in this mine. Sure I could ask anyone else but I want your story first…”

 

“I haven’t got a story.” McGarthy grunted and turned to move away then paused as a thought slipped into his mind , “Well, perhaps I have … let me tell you this for a start, I intend to sue the Cartwrights for every last dime they have for what they have done down there.   Some how or other they have caused the worst cave in this mine has ever experienced, lives will be lost there is no doubt about that,  the air down there is terrible,  hardly possible to breathe.”

 

“Are you saying the Cartwrights are responsible for this cave in?” Dan’s brow furrowed, he glanced over his shoulder to observe again the number of men streaming forwards to offer their services “Is it very severe?”

 

“Worst possible.” McGarthy said and gestured with one hand towards the mine “Fully operational this morning, then Adam Cartwright comes – claims to be an engineer – huh – takes a group of men down to an area that hasn’t been worked in years,  and the next thing you know,  the cave collapses …”

 

“Perhaps it was more due to lack of proper shoring.” Dan murmured with his pen poised over his notepad to mark down McGarthy’s response.

 

“There was nothing wrong with the timber works in that region of the mine.” Patrick asserted, and then clamped his mouth shut and hurried away back to his office, the door slammed loudly in Dan’s face.

 

“You won’t get the truth out of him,” a woman jeered as she tossed her head in the direction of the office, “Pointless expecting anything but lies from him.”

 

Another woman stopped to looked at Dan, her eyes slanted towards the office and she shrugged “Huh, doesn’t stir a muscle when the men get trapped inside there, but today has to be different don’t it?   Cartwrights and the law come down, so he has to rush to the rescue…much good it will do them, or him.”

 

The other woman laughed, it was more of a dry cackle than a humorous laugh, “Well, he didn’t stay down there overlong, did he? Can’t see anyone getting rescued in that short a time.”

 

“Do you get many cave ins like this ?”  Dan asked but the women huddled close now and rushed off, doubtless fearing they had already said too much.

 

For a moment Daniel stood looking about him and then realised that if he wanted to know ‘the truth’ as the women called it, then he should go where the men were, especially where the Cartwrights were to be located.   Not so long ago in writing his book Daniel had described the Philip Deidshiemer square set method of shoring timbers in the mines, he had even drawn a diagram in the book for all to see… now was his chance to see how effective, or not, such a system really was when it came to situations such as this one.

……

 

Joseph Cartwright was too weary and in too much pain to offer any help to his brother who was attempting to clear away the boulders claiming as he did so that he had to do something, he didn’t want to die like a rat trapped with no way out.

 

He was right, of course.  Joe knew it, but was too exhausted to attempt more than he already had achieved,  he had sunk lower and lower until now he was sprawled across some rocks, half submerged in water,  feeling the agony of his broken arm like waves billowing up and ebbing away, proof he was convinced that he was still alive.  When the pain stopped, it would be because he was dead.

 

Hoss wiped perspiration from his brow, from his face, it dripped from his chin and his shirt was in tattered wet remnants hanging from his arms, “Joe, you can’t just stop, that’s like giving in.  You got to fight, brother, you got to remember all the things you have to live for …think about that huh?”

 

Think about …Mary Ann, Joe closed his eyes, Mary Ann … beautiful Mary Ann.  “I love Mary Ann.” he whispered

 

“Shucks, sure you do.  She loves you too, wouldn’t want you to be wallowing in self pity and not doing nothing to git outa here.”   he dropped a boulder,  it crashed down spraying Hoss with water as it did so.

 

“Hoss,  I can barely breathe the air is so foul now…”

 

“I knows that but – but gotta keep trying, Joe.”

 

Joe nodded but he kept his eyes shut, it made no difference open or closed, it was dark anyway.   He heaved in a deep breath,  then another… the rancid taste of the air seized tight in his chest, he coughed and coughed harder …  he had told Mary Ann everything was alright, he would be home later for supper, nothing to worry about just going for a ride with Adam and Hoss and Pa….and he had swung Daniel in the air and hugged him tight.  It was all going to be alright.

 

Another boulder splashed down into the water “It’s getting higher.”  Joe muttered

 

“Yeah,  reckon so…if the air don’t get us, then the water will no doubt.” Hoss wiped his face with both hands and realised they were sore,  and some of the moisture he had wiped away wasn’t just sweat.  He bowed his head so that his brow touched the nearest rock,  and struggled to catch his breath “There must be another way out. Dang it, I ain’t gonna die in here jest to make McGarthy happy.”

 

Joe pushed himself upright as though the idea of another way out had some appeal in it,  well, yes, it had more than just some appeal, it would have been a miracle but one so very much appreciated.   He struggled to his feet, and lurched over to Hoss “Do you think there could be another way out of this?”

 

Hoss flexed his shoulders, his arms, his neck, making weary muscles crack as he did so.  Once again he wiped his face free from perspiration “Shucks, I don’t know, Joe.  There ain’t no way of seeing is there?”  he scowled over at the one flickering stub of a candle that still remained, “I guess we just got to wait… here, pick up a rock and start banging against these here rocks,  if Adam and Candy can hear that we are still here they’ll keep on trying to dig us out.”

 

Joe  picked  up a rock, the effort of doing so nearly toppled him over and he staggered a little under the weight although really it was the size he would have managed easily enough in different circumstances.   He thought of Mary Ann, of Daniel, and summoned all his strength to bring the rock against the barrier, there was a dull thud, and he groaned within himself.  Such a sound would not raise an eyebrow anywhere, it was barely audible.   He tried again, and again, and once he had got into some kind of consistency about the action it became much easier and the sound became louder and louder.

……………………

 

Ben Cartwright put his hand upon Adam’s arm and raised a warning hand “Did you hear anything?”

 

Candy yelled for silence and every man there just stopped what they were doing to listen, but all that could be heard was the slithering of the rocks and dust into the water,  and the sloshing sounds of feet moving back and forth.  Ben sighed and shook his head “Wishful thinking, I guess.”

 

Adam said nothing, his mouth was too dry to speak now and all he wanted to do was to carry on moving the rocks away so that eventually he would see Joe or Hoss grinning up at him.

 

Candy was working alongside Adam, the two men saying nothing but never stopping as the men around them used their tools to good use in trying to break down the wall of rocks that may well have buried both Cartwrights beneath it.

 

Daniel deQuille pulled at his cravat in order to loosen it,  the journey down in the cage was bad enough but having arrived at the destination the heat nearly knocked him over, it certainly caused him to stumble back a pace or two.  He followed the men he had accompanied down in the cage and looked around for evidence of the square sets that the mines had been using throughout the area, but he saw nary a one.

………………………

 

The shrill blast of the alarm whistle still shrieked through the air all the way to town, and the townsfolk paused in what they were doing to listen,  some stayed silent and still for a while in order to offer up a prayer for the ones that were hurt or families who may have lost a dear one in death as a result of whatever had happened. Others stayed to wonder how many losses this time and continued on their way.

 

In the school room  some of the children raised their heads like so many hound dogs getting the scent and snuffing the air, they looked at Lucy Brandon as though she would understand that they couldn’t stay to hear about the fall of Rome but had to go … just in case…because in the mines life was fragile,  there was never any one willing to guarantee surviving a week or a even a day when working on the rock face down a mine in Virginia City.

 

“Miss?”   “Miss, I gotta go…”  “Miss…”

 

The scuffle of so many boots as the children of the miners scrambled from their desks, grabbed for their belongings on the way out… Reuben watched them go and felt his insides turning over and over, he looked around at Sofia who was staring at the retreating figures of fellow pupils and wondering what to do .

 

“Miss?”

 

Miss Brandon looked around and there was Reuben Cartwright standing with his hand in the air “Miss, I got to go as well.”

 

“Go?” she paused and shook her head “Sit down, Reuben.  Your father isn’t a miner, and won’t be involved, sit down and pay attention.”

 

“But he could be, he could be involved.” Reuben pleaded and looked over at the windows where the other children were running as fast as their legs could carry them. It didn’t seem to matter to them that it would take hours before getting home, that whatever evil had happened to their family, would be hours past.  They ran because instinct and fear and love compelled them to be doing something other than sitting idle at a school desk.

 

“Please miss?”

 

Sofia stood up “Please, Miss, my daddy may be hurting in the mine ‘cos he was going to be down one of ‘em today and mommy was sad and please can we go and see if he is alright.”

 

Lucy Brandon shook her head, half her class had gone, she rapped on the desk with her ruler “Sit down, all of you…   that’s enough disruption. Reuben, Sofia,  I’m surprised at  you both your father would want you to remain here and to be calm.”  she frowned and glanced out of the window,  by the time she had returned to look at her students Reuben and Sofia were already closing the class room door behind them.

 

Hand in hand the two children ran from the building, across the school yard and into the town.   Sofia was soon panting and puffing, her legs were not as long as Reubens and she wasn’t so used to running as he, but she kept up as long as she could, pulled along by his hand tightly clasping her own.

 

“Reuben,  where are we going?” she puffed and slowly ground to a halt, her breath coming and going in huge panting gasps

 

“Dr Martins, he’ll be going to the mines, I heard him telling Pa once that he always went there when the alarm went off.”

 

“He’ll maybe have gone already.” the little girl said, trying very hard to recover her breath so that they could continue to run to Dr Martins.

 

Reuben nodded “Bridie will know where he is, she’ll know what to do…come on,  Sofia, don’t be such a slow coach.”

 

She grabbed his hand and held it tightly,  and instantly they were running again, as fast as they could go, hindered by Sofia’s short legs and frilly pantaloons and skirts, but on they went until finally they reached the Martins house.

 

When the door opened Sofia practically fell inside for she had been leaning against the doorframe for support,  thankfully Mrs Trevelyn proved to be quite adept at catching little girls and once she had been straightened back up the house keeper surveyed them both severely “Shouldn’t you both be at school?”

 

“Where’s Dr Martin?  It’s urgent?”   Reuben gasped, “Please, is he here?”

 

Tilly shook her head “No, my dear, he isn’t,  he’s been gone out on calls all day.”

 

“At the mines?” Reuben asked, his eyes as round as owls but Tilly shook her head,

 

“No,  dearie, not at the mines, at the homesteads.”  she closed the door after pulling them further into the house “Come in and catch your breaths while I get Mrs Martin.”

 

But even as she turned Bridie was already striding along to find them, her face concerned as though she knew why they were here, as though the alarm whistle had meant something important to her as well.   “Where’s your Pa? “  she asked in that firm warm voice of hers and Reuben told her in short gasps and how afraid for him they both were.   “Rightly so,” Bridie said and then turned to Tilly “Keep an eye on Mrs O’Connell,  while I take care of this matter.”

 

MrsTreveleyn would have loved to have been involved in ’this matter’ rather than care for the demands of a poor widow due to give birth but she stepped aside to let Bridie and the children leave the house, closing the door with a slam behind them.

 

Chapter 43

 

The Bucksburn Miners were arriving in shifts so that there was a never ending stream of men plying their tools, their strength and determination upon the rocks, these were passed along lines of men so that they were deposited safely away and the danger of building new barriers that would prevent a swift exit was neatly resolved.  Ben and Adam were exhausted as was Candy, all three men had reached the stage where their muscles were cramped  and their limbs shaking from having been pushed to the extremes of their strength.

 

Ben was the first to crumple, he didn’t even have the power left in his legs to walk away,  he just slowly sunk down upon the nearest rock, buried his face in his hands and tried to breathe as calmly as possible,  which was difficult anyway due to the foul air.  He had already tied a bandana around his lower face to prevent dust being inhaled but now he pulled that away to wipe the sweat from his face, after which he just remained there, heaving in deep  breaths and willing himself to get back to share the work with the other men.

 

Daniel had held back but now his pencil scribbled down words, sketched in the shape of men and rock and filth.  If nothing else he was determined that there would be at least one impartial witness to testify to what was going on  in that mine.  As his sharp eyes looked  around him it was quite clear to see from all the lanterns available there, that there were no square sets, no sturdy timbers to support the roof or prevent the walls from caving in … and no decent pumping system to clear away the water that seeped sludgily underfoot making the  area in which the men worked slippery and more dangerous by the minute.

 

Adams injured leg was beginning to buckle,  his heart beats were becoming echoes thumping in his ear drums,  he knew that if he didn’t stop voluntarily then he would collapse in an ignominious heap and even as he thought it his hand, slick with sweat, slid across the jagged edge of a rock and was torn across.  Candy gripped him by the wrist “Get out of here, Adam, get that seen too..”

 

“No …I …”

 

“Get it seen to, ,Adam.  You can’t do any more here.”  Candy hissed, and then straightened his back “There’s not much any of us can do any more.”

 

Adam stepped back, he turned to look at Candy as though he couldn’t believe what he had heard, “What are you talking about?  We can’t leave here?”

 

Candy was about to speak when a thin Chinese stepped forward,  nodding and gesturing and in garbled English entreated them to follow him.  The two men looked hastily at one another, hope in their eyes and unable to speak a word in case emotion robbed them of breath, but they followed the other man with a sudden unexpected burst of energy that could only have sprung from renewed hope.

 

“Here…” the Chinese miner pointed and there it was, a cleft in the wall big enough for a man to crawl through.   Several men were very carefully removing rocks and boulders and shards of stone, very gently carrying them away in order to widen the gap without there being any fear of anything collapsing upon the person moving through to the other side.

 

Adam leaned into the darkness, forcing his eyes to see into shadows … “HOSS  …. JOE”  his voice trickled and bounced off the rocks  “HOSS  … JOE…”

 

Ben was on his feet pushing his way towards where his son was leaning against the boulders,  waiting to hear some response but there was nothing but the dripping of water down the walls, sliding off into the puddling mass at their feet.

 

Dan deQuille put his pencil away and folded over the notebook which he slipped into his pocket.   Sometimes even he knew when he was being too intrusive on others grief.

The men working around the aperture continued silently moving away rocks, and slowly the gap widened enough for Adam to slide through,  he turned to take the lantern from someone’s hand and then moved further into the area where his brothers had been trapped.  He held the lantern high, someone had struck two candles within it and they fluttered casting shadows as he swung it from right to left, back and forth.

 

As he stepped further into what appeared to be little more than a large gap between  the solid rock face that was the back end of the shaft and the barrier created by the cave in, his feet slipped against the rocks submerged in the water and he found himself nearly waist deep in the cold seepage but once he had steadied his footing he again held the lantern higher and called his brothers names …  it seemed to take some while  before he heard a sound, a voice from beyond the ring of light the lantern created.

 

For just a second or two he froze, unable to move another step, afraid he had mistaken the sound for something other than Hoss’ voice but then it came again and this time he pushed himself forward the lantern held at arms length before him and with relief saw Hoss, supporting his little brother,  leaning against the hollowed out walls

 

“Dadgumit, Adam…” Hoss’ voice wobbled, if there was a sob hidden away within the words no one was going to comment on it,  no one would have cared “Joe’s passed out,  I got him before he went under the water…been standing here so long … got no feeling left in my arms.”

 

More light as more men made their way through the gap, the water began to eddy back and forth creating little waves as men waded through to reach them.   Candy was there, and several of the miners all eager to lend a hand, to pull Joe into other arms and carry him through to safety.   Hoss practically slithered down the wall, prevented from falling face down into the water by Adam and Candy grabbing at his arms  “Shucks,” he muttered, “My legs ain’t got no more strength left in ‘em.”

 

…………………………….

 

Bridie stopped the horse and sat very still on the leather padded seats of the buggy, the reins limp in her hands.   Reuben and Sofia sat on either side of her, wide eyed and open mouthed as they saw the crowd of people milling around near the mine entrance.  Men, women and some smaller children stood some ways apart watching while other men were coming out and even more were going into the mine.  It was just the thought of the women with children that had encouraged Bridie to bring the two children along with her,  knowing that other children would be exposed to whatever had happened gave her adequate excuse to bring the boy and girl along with her even if whatever had happened would involve their father.

 

“Wait here.” she said suddenly, so suddenly in fact that Reuben jumped, and looked at her with wide startled eyes “Just do as you’re told, stay here and don’t move.”

 

Sofia looked at her brother and as Bridie stepped down from the buggy she slid across the seat and sat closer to  him, reaching out for his hand “It’s noisy here, Boo…” she whispered “It makes my ears hurt right down to my toes.”

 

“P’raps Pa ain’t here, Sofia.  Maybe he’s home with Grandpa.”

 

“He said he would be here, he said so to Mommy and she said Uncle Joe and Uncle Hoss would be here too.”

 

“Shush…look,  there’s Mr deQuille.”   Reuben pointed to where Daniel was striding out through the crowd,  looking around and then gesturing to several men who came forward immediately to set up camera equipment.

 

“What’s he doing?” Sofia queried, her smooth brow now furrowed in puzzlement

 

“I think they’re going to take pictures with that box thing.  I remember Uncle Joe saying he was going to get one.”

 

“What does it do?”

 

“I jest said…it takes pictures…now…be quiet.”

 

Sitting very still now, hand in hand, they watched as Bridie made her way towards a group of women and children,  they could see from her face that whatever she had asked of them was answered in a way she would have preferred not to have heard for her eyes widened and her mouth opened,  she glanced anxiously over at the buggy and then back to the mine where people were still coming back and forth, and then she began to make her way back up towards them.  The vehicle lurched slightly to one side as she got back into it and settled into the seat, with a determined look on her face she picked up the reins and slapped them down on the horses rump so that it moved immediately “Right, children, I’m going to take you home.  Sit very still now…”

 

“But …home…but …” Reuben protested and looked over his shoulder as the mine began to disappear from view

 

“No but’s, Reuben, and Sofia don’t fidget.”

 

“Is … is my daddy in that mine?” Sofia’s voice was a squeak, and when Bridie looked down ar the little girl she saw big blue eyes blurred with tears “Is he, Bridie?”

 

She firmed her lips and stared ahead at the track, all she could think of was that Olivia and Hester and Mary Ann needed to know where their men were and the situation in which they were placed.   She shook her head, raised a hand to wipe her eyes and continued to get the horse moving at a good steady pace towards the Ponderosa.

…………………..

 

The cabin was clean.  When Billy had found it some days back along it was full of cobwebs and dust,  but he had enjoyed cleaning it and planning on how he would be able to hide away there.  He had brought some food along  another day,  and coffee.. In fact he had provided very well for himself and was now more than grateful that he had located what appeared now to be a God send.

 

He carried the unconscious woman through the door and carefully lowered her down upon the bed.  It had really been little trouble to have caught up with Mistral and to have straightened the buggy so that he was able to  settle Mary Ann upon the bench seat and bring her safely to this out of the way cabin.

 

Once she was settled on the bed he went out to see to the horses, and vehicle.  Logic told him he needed to conceal them from anyone who may have thought to come that way,  and once he had done that he returned to where she was and carefully closed the door behind him.

 

Sunlight, feeble though it was, struggled through the wide gaps in the wood of the door, sending dust motes dancing within the shards of brightness.   He carefully worked the handle of the sluice to get water into a pail and then brought it to the bedside where, once he was seated, he was able to wipe away the blood from her face.   The wound was from her scalp, and he was relieved to  notice that there was no injury to her pretty face once he had wiped away the blood.  Her eyes fluttered as the cold water touched her skin,  and her lips moved as though she were about to say something but then she was still.

 

Billy looked at her intently,  he thought of her name, Mary Ann, and decided that it suited her, it was young and innocent sounding.  He carefully removed her bonnet so that he could check how far and how deep the injury was, and very gently began to sponge it clean.

 

She stirred, raised a hand as though to try and stop him, then let her arm drop back upon her side.   Her eyes opened and looked up at him with a totally blank look in them, as though she saw nothing …she sighed then and closed her eyes as though she had seen nothing that could impel her to remain awake.

 

Chapter 44

 

The murmur of voices grew louder as men began to emerge from the mine, bedraggled and exhausted for each man who had spent time attempting to free Hoss and Joe were men who had breathed in the poisonous air, worked in the fearsome heat, toiled hard and long and therefore suffered as a result.   They came some in a state of near collapse and others strong enough to support them.  Faces grimed and blackened with the filth and dirt but with runnels where the sweat had streaked their faces, clothes torn and dirty, hands grazed and blistered, and in some cases, torn and cut.

 

Hoss  was the first of the Cartwrights to  be brought out on a makeshift stretcher carried by some of the more able men who had been waiting to go down in the cage for a shift, Daniel de Quille made sure he had a picture taken immediately, the flare from  the flash causing the men to blink like owls even though it was still daylight when they stepped from the mine’s entrance.

 

Ben came next supporting Joe who looked about him like a man lost and struggling to remember what it was he was looking for, his right arm dangled loose at his side.  The fact that Ben looked as though the weight of his son was going to topple them both over caused several men to rush across to help, and for once Ben was not too proud to allow others to bear the burden for he was almost spent of his energies now.  He paused, wiped his face from sweat, and tears, and looked behind him for his eldest son whom he knew to be close by.

 

It took some moments for Adam to  reach his father’s side.   He had stepped out into the daylight and looked around him, and then felt sick,  so much so that he had had to lean against the rock face in order to gather himself together.   Relief, yes, that certainly was partly to blame,  relief that his brothers and father were safe, and shock too,  that everything had happened so quickly, that life could have been snatched from those whom he loved so rapidly, had once again been impressed upon him.

 

He also felt the burden of a personal guilt,  after all his coming to the mine was a matter between himself and Candy,  but his  brothers had chosen, along with Ben, to accompany them.   Their choice perhaps, but even so, Adam felt the responsibility and took it to heart.  He was wiping his face on a very limp bedraggled bandana when Candy limped over to join him   “Well, Adam?”    he didn’t say anything else, he didn’t really know what to say, but stared into the other mans eyes and then looked away.

 

“Alright, Candy?” Adam murmured and pushed himself away from the rocks and slowly  walked to where his father was waiting, “You weren’t hurt at all?”

 

“Exhausted.” came the reply, and Candy brushed his sleeve across his brow, “Battered and bruised like most … how’s your hand?”

 

Adam glanced down at it,  shook his head,  then shrugged.  The leg he had injured some years ago  when serving  in the China Seas pained him,  and it felt heavy and weak as though at any time it would let him down and buckle from under him.  He shook his head as though to shake thoughts of such a thing happening out of his mind.

 

They didn’t speak again until they were in the cabin where  Doctor Schofield and another doctor from the Pyramid Mine were in attendance with some  medical staff, and when they did speak it was merely to answer the questions the doctors posed to them.   Joe’s arm was broken, but a clean break thankfully.   He was shocked, dehydrated and suffering heat exhaustion, it was Timothy Schofield’s opinion that he had come off lightly but Joe made no comment about that except to wearily nod his head and mentally accept the fact that yes,  he was one of the fortunate ones, he would go home later to his wife and family.

 

Hoss insisted on getting off the stretcher saying it was danged uncomfortable and he could have walked, but as soon as he stood up he fell down.  Thankfully his father and brothers were elsewhere and so didn’t have the heart stopping shock of seeing their big man collapse like a toppled tree.   Schofield gave him as thorough an examination as circumstances permitted and recognised that along with the other symptoms found in all the victims of the mine collapse, Hoss had a fractured skull and collar bone.   He would need total bed rest when he returned home.

 

Adam’s hand was cleaned thoroughly and then stitched very neatly, after being examined by Doctor Hay who was part of the Pyramid medical team,  he was declared well enough to  ‘go about his duties’ which Adam found rather ironic,  he almost felt like asking him where his ship was to be located.  Ben suffered the indignity of being scolded for going into the mine ‘at his age’ and ‘should have known better’.   Thankfully his condition was robust at the best of times, and there were no problems other than the exhaustion and shock most of  them were exhibiting.

 

Candy approached Adam, who was seated on a bench that ran along the wall of the cabin that served as a makeshift hospital,  “I was thinking it would be better to leave things until you’ve written up  your report, Adam.”

 

He sat down beside the other man and frowned as Adam continued to just stare across the room,  it was only when Ben came and sat on the other side that Adam seemed to jerk into awareness “Yes, of course.   I’ll write my report later.”

 

“I have one to write up as well…” Candy sighed and leaned forwards, his back bowed as a result, he buried his face in his hands “What a mess.”

 

Ben nodded “You said the man was already dead when he was brought to the mine…what made you say that?”

 

Candy didn’t answer at first, he just kept his face buried in his hands and after running his fingers through his hair which was matted and filthy like everyone else’s,  he raised his head and looked at the older man “Two bullet wounds in the back.  No blood on the rocks upon which he was placed.   I think whoever killed him hoped that the water would eventually rise high enough to conceal him.”

 

“Well,  there’s more than water there now to hide him away,” Ben muttered and the memory of the rocks falling made him shiver, he shook his head “Any idea who it was? Has anyone mentioned anything to you?”

 

“No, not yet, I mean, I don’t really need anyone to tell me, I recognised him even in the state he was in, it was Samuel Mayhew.”

 

Adam bowed his head and stared at his boots,  he tried to remember who else it had been who had been called Mayhew,  his eyes closed,  more than anything else he wanted to sleep and to escape into oblivion as long as he possibly could.  Mayhew.  Of course,  the woman with the wagon … Samuel Mayhew’s wife.

 

Joe  appeared,  unsteady on his feet and his face haggard and strained, he looked at the three of them and nodded “Dr Schofield reckons we need to get Hoss home as soon as possible.”

 

Ben stood up immediately, waited for the room to stop spinning and then agreed that needed to be done, he looked at Adam and touched his arm “Come on , son,  we need to get home.”

 

For a moment he thought Adam would put up some resistance, that for some reason his eldest son would want to remain there, to put forward his case or to confront McGarthy whom no one had seen since they had left the mine, but Adam merely looked at Joe and seen the look in Joe’s eyes, and quietly acquiesced.  For a moment they looked at one another, Ben got to his feet and promptly sat back down again, “We’ll be ready in a moment.”

 

Joe nodded,  he muttered that he would go and see to Hoss, leave them to get their strength back … gratefully the three men sat there,  of course they would go home,  of course they would…just for a while, they so needed to rest.

 

From the office windows McGarthy watched as the crowds dispersed.   There would be work necessary in clearing out the mess but his mind was already working out that perhaps it would be better left as a permanent barrier to prevent further ‘intrusions’ and ‘inspections’ in that area.   His eyes followed the course of the newspaper men, not only those from the Enterprise but from the Chronicle as well.  Someone said all publicity was good,  even bad publicity, but so far as McGarthy was concerned any publicity was bad news.   He wiped his hands on a handkerchief, hands that were immaculately clean, whether from the blood of the men killed or injured since his arrival at Bucksburn Mines was perhaps a different matter.

 

He breathed with relief when the newspaper men were gone, and de Quille, who had taken it upon himself to go down into the mine, hadn’t been killed, although a little battered.  He wondered if Ben Cartwright was going to come charging into his office, thumping the desk and demanding explanations…. Well,  McGarthy had his explanation all ready for anyone who was willing to listen, he wiped his hands on the handkerchief again and returned to his desk.

…………….

 

Billy Buckley had coffee brewing by the time Mary Ann opened her eyes again.  She sighed deeply and tired to sit up, only to have his hand rest gently upon her shoulder and his voice saying “Stay still, rest, you’ve had a shock.”

 

For a moment she just stared at him as though it was the most normal thing in the world to wake up and find a complete stranger looking down at you,  a man at that, a man who looked vaguely familiar.   She shook her head and struggled against the restraint of his hand “No, it’s alright, I need to get up.  I’m alright.”

 

“I don’t think you are, Mary Ann,  you’ve had a heavy fall from your buggy,  you’ve been knocked out cold for over two hours,”  Billy pulled up a chair and sat down upon it, his face was almost level to her own, “I can’t possibly let you leave just yet.  It really would be far better if you just lay still until you feel much better.”

 

She gave him a somewhat cold smile, more of a grimace than anything else, “I can assure you,  Mr … Mr …?”

 

“Buckley, William Buckley.”  he nodded as he spoke as though to emphasise his name,  one she needed to remember.

 

“Mr Buckley, you’re very kind and  thoughtful, but I really do need to get home.” she paused, “Did you say I fell out of my buggy?”

 

“Yes,  the horse was spooked by the siren, you know…the alarm whistle from the mine.”

 

She frowned, looked at him and put a hand to her head “I don’t remember anything about that, but my head does ache,  it hurts quite a lot … “  she felt with her fingers and then looked down and saw the blood there,  stared at it for a moment then looked up at Billy “How did you know my name?   Did I meet  you before?  Where am I?”

 

Chapter 45

 

Bridget Martin, known to her dear friends as Bridie, and to Olivia’s children as Flannel, was more than nervous as she set the horse towards the Ponderosa.  The wheels of the buggy bounced over the track leading from the Bucksburn, the children clung to one another and all the while she fretted over how she was going to tell her dearest friends of what had occurred, and what she should really do next.  She also doubted herself as to whether or not she had done the right thing, for the children’s sake as well as the wives of the men in the mine.  She began to think she should have stayed and seen whether or not the Cartwrights were safe before she went to the Ponderosa to relate what had happened.

 

Sofia was crying, tears rolled down her cheeks and she sobbed in that heart stopping quiet way children have when they are too frightened to wail out aloud.  Reuben sat beside his sister holding her hand and wishing she would stop crying, it made him want to cry because it just didn’t know what to do to quieten her and he was sure that Bridie was wrong in going home first.

 

“Flannel,  could we –  would it be alright if we went back?” he suggested rather tentatively, and when she didn’t reply but seemed to set her face deliberately in a way that indicated she didn’t want to listen, he tugged at her sleeve “Please, Flannel.”

 

Sofia sobbed and in a stuttering voice cried to go back to see her daddy,  “I want to see my daddy,” she wept, “I want to see him.”

 

“You’ll see him when he gets home,” Bridie said in her most calm and placating manner of voice, “He’ll be home very soon, you’ll see.”

 

“But what if he isn’t” Reuben replied with his own eyes now filling with tears and he quickly brushed his sleeve across his face, “Please Flannel…”

 

“I’m scared to go home to mommy…” Sofia sobbed, “I want – I want – I want to see my daddy.”

 

Bridie sighed, bowed her head and frowned, they were only saying what she was fretting over herself.   Her bonnet tipped slightly skew as she slowed the horse, and then  carefully manoeuvred the reins to turn it back in the direction from which they had come.  “Now look, you two,  when we get back  you stay in the buggy, do you hear?”

 

Sofia blinked tears from her lashes and rubbed her face dry, while Reuben nodded and squeezed his sister’s hand tightly between his fingers  “Pa will be alright, Sofee, you’ll see.” he whispered

 

“And Grandpa too?”  she murmured with big eyes staring up at her brother’s face, and then she looked at Bridie who was looking scared, although she tried not to show it when she realised the child was looking at her “Daddy will be alright, won’t  he, Flannel?”

 

“Well, “ Bridie cleared her throat, “That’s what we’re going back for, to find out.”

 

“But he will be, he will…and Grandpa too…”  Sofia heaved in a deep breath which ended in a hic-cough, “Uncle Hoss and Uncle Joe will be there, and they’ll be alright and then we can go home and have tea, can’t we?”

 

“No doubt we can, dearie.” Bridie muttered while under her breath she prayed that they would be able to do exactly that, she added a little in hoping that she was doing the right thing anyway.

 

Dan deQuille was approaching them in his own buggy and paused “You going to check on the Cartwrights?”

 

Bridie nodded, she wasn’t too comfortable with deQuille truth be told.  His drinking* had only been tolerated because of his position on the Enterprise but when Goodman* had sacked him, it had shocked him so much he had ’gone on the wagon’*, and so far, had managed to stay on it.   He looked at the children and then back again at Bridie “They’re alright, all four of them …so is the sheriff.”  he grinned “I’m off to write out a report,  you’ll enjoy it I’m sure.”

 

Bridie shifted her seat uncomfortably,   she wasn’t so sure whether she would enjoy it or not.  Some of deQuille’s reports had been proven to be hoaxes* after all, she wouldn’t want something as serious as this mines collapse to be dismissed as a hoax as well.  She nodded her head brusquely, which resulted in her bonnet tipping further over one eye, and urged the horse on.

 

“That means daddy is alright, doesn’t it?” Sofia grabbed at Bridie’s arm, “Oh Flannel, it means daddy is safe.”

 

“It seems so, but seeing is believing, so  be patient now, and let go of my arm, dearie, or we’ll all be in the ditch.”  but she smiled and her eyes were gentle,  she looked different too, more like the Bridie they loved, all the tension that had made her seem all  bristles and unBridie-like was gone.

 

“We saw Mr deQuille down there, he had a box thing…you know, Bridie, that thing that takes pictures. I bet he’ll put some great pictures in the paper.” Reuben enthused.

 

Bridie nodded, no doubt he would, that was what had made him such an excellent writer, he way he could use words.   She told the children the story deQuille had written the previous year …The Mystery of the Savage Sump * it had been called, about the discovery of an eyeless fish that thrived  in the very hot waters in the depths of the mines  and when the miners had found it and brought it to the surface, it had promptly died, even though they had put it in nice cool water .   Like many of deQuille’s stories there was a large percentage of readers who believed every word, and still some miners hoping they would be able to find this amazing eyeless fish*.

 

By the time they had reached the Bucksburn again she had come to the end of the story, answered various questions as patiently as she could and was now worried that in the very near future they would be off conducting their own search for this strange creature.

 

“Now, don’t forget, stay here, don’t move.”  she looked at them sternly and they looked very seriously back at her as she clambered down, adjusted her hat so that it sat neatly on her hair, and strode down to the large area where the injured would be waiting for attention.

 

Timothy Schofield saw her immediately and raised a hand “Come to help, Mrs Martin?  We could do with another pair of hands”  (which immediately offended most of the nursing staff there who were under the impression that they were doing a sterling job without needing any further ‘interference‘)

 

“I just came -” Bridie pushed her way past several people who were demanding attention “I just came to see if the Cartwrights …”

 

“Oh yes, them…” Schofield scowled and waved a scalpel vaguely to the right of him “Over there. “

 

Over there sufficed and Bridie pushed past more people,  until she came to where Candy, Ben and Adam were still seated.  “Thank the lord,” she exclaimed, “We’ve been so worried about you all.”

 

The three men looked at one another,  each was unsure what to say, Candy rubbed his jaw and shook his head as though he needed to shake away the exhaustion, while Adam stared at her as though he couldn’t understand what she was doing there….she was, it seemed to him, in the wrong setting.  Ben finally spoke up “Bride, what are you doing here?”

 

She looked at them with her eyes full of tears,  her lips trembled and she tried to think of some coherent reply but all she could think was that they looked terrible, exhausted and dirty and quite terrible.  She noticed the bandage on Adams hand, a stark clean white compared to the rest of him “What happened to your hand?” she managed to mumble although she really wanted to hug him close and sob on his shoulder.

 

“Oh, don’t know, can’t remember …” Adam replied staring at the bandaged hand as though surprised to see it belonged to him

 

“You cut it on a rock.” Candy said with a nod of the head and Adam nodded “Yes,” he said, “I cut it.  It’s alright now,  Dr Hay sewed it back up.”

 

“Sewed it ..sewed it back up?” Bridie stammered and a shiver went down her back, she looked at them, they were in shock, the strangely wide blank eyes and equally blank faces, she licked her lips “Where’s Joe and Hoss?”

 

Ben frowned, he knew he had to take responsibility as spokesman  now, he nodded in acknowledgement that she had asked the question and remembered that Joe had been standing there in front of them a while back, he wasn;t sure how long ago that had been, “Joe broke his arm.  Hoss has other injuries.”

 

“Other injuries?” Bridie gasped,  and wondered how she was going to tell Hester that her husband was hurt because of  ’other injuries’.

 

Schofield approached now wiping his hands on his blood stained apron, he nodded at them and then looked at Bridie “Hoss Cartwright needs to get to his bed and stay there for at least a week.  Nothing too serious,  fractured skull, broken collar bone.   He looked at her and raised his eyebrows,  gave her a nod and walked away.  So far as he was now concerned,  the Cartwrights were her problem.

 

Adam suddenly seemed to realise what was happening, and why Bridie seemed to be in the wrong place, he cleared his throat in order to concentrate “What are you doing here, Bridie?”

 

“To  be honest, Adam …” she paused, and shook her head, “Reuben and Sofia came for me,  they’d heard the alarm going off and came to get me because they were frightened about you all.  They knew you were going down the mine,  you see,  they were frightened…”

 

“Are they here?” Adam asked rising to his feet and when Bridie mentioned that they were in her buggy, waiting for her he nodded, his face softened, gentled in the way she expected as there had been mention of the children “Take them home, Bridie.  Tell them not to worry, we’ll be home as soon as we get some transport to bring Hoss along. “

 

“They’ll want to see you, I don’t think they’ll just take my word for it.” she said looking from one to the other.

 

Candy rose to his feet “I’ll get a wagon sorted out for Hoss.  Our horses should still be where we left them.” he looked at Bridie, “I should think the children could return home, Mrs Martin, as soon as they have seen Adam and Ben, couldn’t they?”

 

It was at this point that Joe appeared,  and he also seemed surprised to see her there, but nodded and smiled when she explained why.  Mentally he was only too glad that Mary Ann was not anywhere near the place, he looked at his father and Adam “There’s a wagon for Hoss.  Dr Schofield said he should get home now… I think he feels we’re getting in the way.”

 

Together the four men turned to leave, Bridie hovering behind them and wondering which one to grab hold of first as none seemed able to walk a straight line.  Joe was a worry with his arm in a sling and pain in his eyes, evidence that the break in his humerus

Was causing him difficulty and she wondered how he was going to manage on the horse all the way back to the Ponderosa.  She shook her head, poor Mary Ann and Hester, and Olivia, they were going to have their hands full once their men got home.

 

 

“DADDY!”   the voice of the little girl could be heard above the sounds of the machinery and the voice of the other men, like a bell it ran out clear for all to hear.

 

She scrambled down from the buggy and with arms outstretched ran towards the man in the black clothes, dirty and bedraggled though they were,  and how happy she was when he leaned forward to catch her up in his arms and hold her close.  Behind her and anxious not to be missed out was Reuben who clung to his father determinedly “Oh Pa,” he whispered close to Adam’s ear, “Oh Pa, I was so scared when I heard the alarm, I was so scared.”

 

Adam closed his eyes, the pleasure these children brought him was immense but at this point of time, when he felt so exhausted, it was like having a glass of clear cool water tingling refreshingly down into his inward parts and being rejuvenated .  He hugged them, kissed Sofia, ruffled Reubens hair,  and to their demands to know if it was alright, if they were alright, he could only nod, smile over and over and nod some more.

 

Chapter 46

 

Mary Ann Cartwright sat on the edge of the narrow bed and held the mug of coffee tightly between her hands, hugging it close to her chest.  Her eyes glanced around the cabin with the curiosity of any one who found themselves in a place of which they knew nothing,  while her mind asked such questions as was there a woman living here?  Was this man honest and law abiding?  How clean is this mug?

 

Billy Buckley, having provided her with the coffee, poured himself a mug and then pulled out a chair to sit down. He surveyed her thoughtfully as though overwhelmed by the fact that someone so unattainable was now, so suddenly, within his reach.  It occurred to him now that he didn’t know for sure how to proceed.  He was also embarrassed,  for he could now see the ring on her finger, and the fact that she was ‘with child’ was all too obvious.  However,  his feeling for her, the strange desire he had for her, was undiminished which only added to his frustration and feelings of inadequacy.

 

They sat in silence as they sipped the coffee and when her eyes stopped roving around the cabin and finally settled upon him, Billy felt awkward and young and gauche.

 

“Have you lived here very long?”  her voice was soft,  he had to crane his head towards her to catch the words,  so that she smiled at him as though to encourage him to speak.

 

“Not long.”  he paused, cleared his throat, “To be honest with you …”

 

“Yes?”

 

“I – er  – I found the cabin a while back and no one lived here so I just thought I’d  use it for a while, before I move on.”

 

“You don’t intend to stay hereabouts then?”

 

“No, “ he shook his head and a strand of lank hair fell across his forehead, he brushed it back with his hand, impatiently “No, I need to move on.”

 

She sipped her coffee “This is very pleasant, Mr Buckley, thank you.”

 

“I – I – what I mean is – how are you feeling now?  Do you think you’ll need a doctor?”

 

Mary Ann swallowed more coffee and looked at him over the rim of the mug.  She saw a thin sallow man, late 30’s perhaps early 40’s,  a thin face with large anxious eyes and a pinched mouth, a mouth that seemed to have too many teeth.  She wondered what kind of life he had led, and why he wanted to leave Virginia City.  She looked around the cabin again and tried to remember whereabouts she had been riding when the accident took place, but Billy cleared his throat and began to speak,

 

“I haven’t always lived here.”  he said and leaned forward, his cup held between his hands and his elbows on his knees, he frowned and stared down at the floor, “Truth be told I got involved with the wrong crowd at one time,  they tried to bring some sheep over the Ponderosa – do you know the Ponderosa and the Cartwrights?”

 

She swallowed the coffee that was in her mouth, and nodded “Yes, I do, in fact …”

 

“Well,  this was a turning point in my life really, to  be honest, not that I really appreciated it at the time, because it was like being at a cross roads in my life…has that ever happened to you, Mary Ann?”

 

“Yes,  it has, several times.” she nodded and thought of her brother Frank, and of the small township in Calico where he was buried.  She sighed and leaned into a more comfortable position,  the baby seemed to have decided to do something like an Irish jig, reassuring though it was that it was unharmed by her fall, it was still uncomfortable.

 

“Do you want another pillow? I think there’s one here somewhere.”  he jumped up and went to a curtained off area where he produced a cushion which he passed over to her with a smile, “I didn’t realise before … I mean …about the baby.”

 

She smiled shyly,  and after putting the cushion in a strategic place behind her she asked him “What happened with the Cartwrights?  What did you mean about it being a turning point in your life?”

 

“Oh, just that there was some trouble as a result … but Mr Cartwright helped me out, gave me the chance to put the matter right. He’s a very good man, is Mr Cartwright.”

 

“Yes, he is.”  Mary Ann nodded and eased her legs into a more comfortable position, realising as she did so that one of them was hurting, probably badly bruised, perhaps that was where she landed heavily, on that leg and her left shoulder.  She closed her eyes slightly and bowed her head as she tried to remember.

 

“Are you alright?  Do you need anything? Some water?”

 

“No, no, I’m alright, I’m just trying to remember what happened, and whereabouts it was, so that I can get my bearings.”

 

“Your bearings? Oh you don’t need to worry about that kind of thing, Mary Ann.  You’re quite safe here.”  he smiled, a pleasant gentle smile and she could see from his eyes that he was a kindly soul, the way he looked at her was totally non threatening.

 

“Thank you, Mr Buckley, you’ve been very kind, I am grateful.”

 

“Oh well,  really, it’s no trouble at all.  In fact…” he paused, swallowed hard, and shook his head “No, it doesn’t matter.  Forget that…”

 

“Forget what?   You’ve not said anything yet?” she smiled, her eyes twinkled and darkened as she looked at him.

 

“Mr Cartwright set me up with work in Virginia City you know.  I got on well with him, and his boys, especially Little Joe.”  he grinned, his eyes twinkled, it was obvious that he had some fond memories of that time.  “Did you know a girl called Sally Cass?”

 

“No,  I never met her but I heard about her.  She owned the Mercantile with her father, didn’t she?”

 

“That’s right,  she and her brother and father.  Her brother was shot down by a gunslinger by the name of ….”

 

“…Ed Payson.” she murmured, and frowned “Did you know her then, Mr Buckley?”

 

“Well,  over the years I was in Virginia City I got to know her very well, we were ..I had thought we were courting.   I had a good steady job working for Mr Jacobson and Sally, well, she was lovely, you know, the most lovely girl …” he paused and stared into the remains of the coffee in his mug, “I loved her you see.”

 

“But she loved Ed Payson?”

 

He looked up sharply, his face suddenly seemed pinched and angry looking so that she looked away and wasn’t sure if she was meant to apologise or what to do, so she stared at the door and waited for him to speak.  He did so after putting down his mug and shifting in his chair, “I was good friends with her father,  knew how they had suffered when Payson had shot the boy, her brother that is …”   he shook his head sadly, the pleasant mood  had gone, dissipated and faded away as he looked up at her, “She didn’t love Ed Payson, she didn’t even know him, not really.”

 

“Oh, I heard that her brother and Payson were always together at one point, surely she would have known him then.  Wouldn’t they have met at anytime before the shooting incident happened?”  she looked at him with big innocent grey eyes,  eyes a man could drown in and just briefly he wondered who the man was who had married her, who could hold her close at nights and be loved by her.

 

“I guess so.  I never thought of that before…”  he stood up, restless now,  unsure of what to do next,  he put the mugs on the table and walked to the door,  stood in the open gap and looked out across the wooded landscape “It’s nice here, ain’t it?  Kinda peaceful.  I wouldn’t mind a place like this for my own.”

 

“Mr Buckley,  did you …?”  she paused, and swallowed in a dry throat “Could I have a drink of water please?”

 

“I’m sorry, of course you can…one minute…” he was rushing to get the water into a clean mug,  working the handle on the sluice, and then anxious of face he passed it over to her “Are you feeling unwell?”

 

“Yes, I feel a little dizzy, faint.” she whispered and drank the water greedily, closed her eyes for a moment and waited for the dizziness to pass “I’m sorry about what happened with Ed Payson, and yourself.   Joe told me that Sally was never the same afterwards.”

 

“I don’t know.  I rode out right away after that … I can still hear her scream when I shot him.  You know, Mary Ann,  I regretted it the moment I had that gun in my hand, but  I was too proud to stop myself.  I remember Adam Cartwright was there, it reminded me of the time when I first met him…out on the rim rock with all those sheep, and I’d chased him up over the rocks and then he was just standing there, on the edge of a steep drop.  He turned then, the gun in his hand, he could have shot me as easy as ..as I shot Ed Payson years later on.  But he didn’t, he just did the very thing I should have done that night, he put the gun down …  you don’t ever want to know how many times I wished I had done that…put the gun down and got on with my life.  Perhaps Sally may have realised that I was the better man for her, perhaps…”  his voice faded away and he stared bleakly down at her.

 

Minutes ticked away, she sipped the water and kept her eyes closed,  willing the dizziness to pass.  He walked back to the door and then looked back at her, a scowl on his face “You know Joe Cartwright?”

 

“Of course I do, he’s my husband.”  she looked up at him, her grey eyes large and innocent, his dark and suddenly hostile.  “We have a son, Daniel,  and this baby is due in a few months time.”

 

“Joe Cartwright.” Billy whispered in much the same way he had once uttered the words “Ed Payson.”

 

“You said you knew Joe, from before the Ed Payson incident?”

 

He watched as she put down the cup, placed her hand upon her lap where the baby lay safe beneath her skirts.   He nodded, and then looked out at the view again.  Trees swayed and there was a slight moaning from the breeze that drifted through them, he bowed his head and wiped his brow with his forefinger “I didn’t realise you were married to Joe.   We got on alright you know,” he turned to her then, quickly, as though it was important to mention it now, “I got so that I thought he was a friend of mine. He never mentioned about the sheep or the matter that went before, nor did Adam come to that,  he never did say a word to anyone about it.”

 

“Well,  Ben always believes that if a man is prepared to wipe the slate clean then his friends should be there to help him keep it clean…” Mary Ann sighed, she was tired, her shoulder hurt as did her leg, she realised that other parts of her body were hurting now.  “Mr Buckley,  would you mind if you took me home now?  I do feel really unwell.    If I can get home then I’ll be alright.”  she thought of Hop Sing fussing over her, and Hester and Olivia would make sure she was pampered and cared for,  and Joe would send for Dr Martin or Bridie would come, it would be nice if it were Bridie.

 

He watched her for a moment, saw the colour draining from her face,  the eyelids fluttering and when she fell forwards he was just in time to catch her in his arms and swoop her back up onto the bed.

 

“Poor Mary Ann.  You’re so beautiful.” he whispered and stroked back some of the chestnut curls that had draped around her face,  “I think you’re even lovelier than Sally.”

 

She lay there so still, a pulse beat at the base of her throat, her breath was shallow but even, he leaned closer, nearer, looked down at the woman and kissed her cheek, then her lips.  She didn’t move, there was no reaction, nothing except that same shallow breathing.

 

“You are just so beautiful.” he whispered again, “Joe is just about the luckiest man in the world to have you as his wife.”

 

His hold on her hair tightened, he gripped a curl of it between his fingers and stared at her,  then, with a shudder he stood up and let the long tress of hair fall back upon her pillow.   He strode over to the door, leaned against the frame work and buried his face within his hands…love, so elusive to him, so elusive.

 

…………………

 

The sound of Cheng Ho Lee’s shrill Cantonese cries of lamentation was the first thing that alerted Olivia to the fact that something was wrong.  Fearing that the kitchen stove had somehow exploded,  or that the house was on fire, she hurried from the bedroom where she had just settled Nathaniel for his afternoon nap to find out what was going on.   She had just reached the bottom stair when Adam and Ben entered the main room,  ushering Sofia and Reuben in ahead of them, and all four looking in such a sorry condition that she came to a complete halt and just stared at them.

 

“Oh heavens, what has happened?  What … oh, Pa, Adam…” she felt tears welling up as she now hurried across the room to flling herself into Adams arms, whereupon Sofia grabbed her mother’s skirts and buried her face into them, sobbing heartily as she did so.

 

“It’s alright, sweetheart, don’t worry, it looks a whole lot worst than it is,” Adam soothed her,  running one hand over her head as he spoke,  “Cheng Ho Lee,  we need some decent coffee please.”

 

Reuben  stepped closer to Adam,  almost as though he had taken on the role of his father’s protector, while Ben lowered himself gratefully into his chair and leaned back, closed his eyes and allowed a sigh of relief to escape through his lips.   “Olivia, we’re alright, we came out of it lightly.”

 

“What do you mean?” she stared at her father in law and then at Adam, while at the same time she pressed herself closer into Adam, as though that would protect her from  any shock that would be forthcoming.  Adam nodded,  and was about to speak when Reuben said very quickly “Uncle Joe and Uncle Hoss got hurt…Uncle Hoss is worser than Uncle Joe,  Flannel’s taken him home in a wagon.”

 

“What?”  she stared at the boy,  pulled Sofia, still bawling, from her skirts and looked at Ben before returning to look at Adam “Is that right, are they injured?”

 

Adam sighed, gave Reuben a reproving look as, after all, children should be seen and not heard,  and took his wife by the hand while he briefly told her all that had happened.   They were sitting side by side on the big settee, with Sofia leaning against her father and Reuben seated as close as he could get to him.  Adam’s deep voice told Olivia all she needed to know and even when the room was finally silent she still sat looking at him in disbelief.

 

Cheng Ho Lee set down the coffee things and looked at his master and Ben, he bowed, “Perhaps good hot bath for masters?”

 

“Excellent idea,” Olivia said, “Thank you, Cheng Ho Lee, if you could prepare it for them…”

 

“Are Hester and Mary Ann home?” Adam asked, “Bridie wanted to be there to help with Hoss and Joe.  They’re both exhausted,  and shocked, but Hoss’ injuries will need attention  from Dr Martin,  Schofield fixed Joe’s arm, it was, thankfully a clean break.”  he bowed his head closer to that of his wife, “I’m sorry, it was all my fault.”

 

Reuben looked anxiously at his father, then at his mother …how could a mine cave in be his father’s fault.  “It wasn’t Pa, it wasn’t your fault.”

 

Adam sighed heavily, and looked at the boy, noticed the anxious fear filled eyes and forced a tight smile, “No, I didn’t cause the cave in,  Reuben, it’s alright, there’s nothing like that for you to worry about.”

 

“Then why did you say it was your fault, Pa?”

 

Adam sighed, scratched the back of his neck and glanced over at his father who had sat up to pay more attention, he shook his head “Nothing for  you to  be worried over,  forget I said it.”

 

Reuben nodded but still looked anxious.   While Olivia poured coffee and Sofia went to sit on her grandfathers lap, even though as she pointed out, he wasn’t very clean or tidy,  Reuben told them how they had heard the alarm from the mine and the children whose parents may have been involved had left the classroom, so they had run off as well.  He leaned closer to his father and placed a hand on Adam’s arm “We were scared something bad had happened to you, Pa.”

 

Adam smiled, a strange slow smile, he nodded, reached out a hand to touch the boys face and wished he didn’t feel so tired.  He then looked at Olivia “It was a disgrace down there, timbers were rotting,  there was no proper ventilation and no pumping system.  The air was stagnant and foul, no wonder so many men are ill so often, and the heat, it’s unbelievably hot.”

 

“A lot of the miners die young, you know.” Ben leaned forward, the cup balance carefully in his large work worn hand, “They work at levels so far down in the ground that the water is often scalding hot.  Sometimes it comes through the rocks at a tremendous speed and totally unexpectedly, catching them unawares, scalding them so badly that…”

 

“Pa, the children…” Olivia indicated with a slight inclination of the head and Ben nodded, and after looking rather disconcerted got to his feet and announced that he would like to take his bath now and then retire to bed.

 

Adam watched his father walk slowly from the room,  still a handsome figure of a man, but bowed of shoulder as though the events of the day had weighed too heavily upon him.   He looked at Olivia, looked into her lovely green eyes and gripped her hands more tightly between his own,  “It’ll be alright, Livvy, and Candy was safe, quite safe.”

 

Olivia nodded, she had watched Ben leave the room  and wished with all her heart that she could have lightened the load upon his shoulders, but then when she looked back at her husband, and saw the wistful sombre look on his face she worried as to what thoughts were lingering in his mind that would cause problems for the future.

 

Chapter 47

 

Hester was laughing at the way Daniel and Hope were playing together, the comfortable room that was Mary Ann’s pride and joy echoed to the laughter of children, Hannah clapping her hands and singing a tuneless little song (poor child could no more carry a tune than her father could) when the sound of Hop Sing calling her sent a shiver of apprehension down her back.

 

Hurrying now, scrambling over her skirts she ran to the porch to find Hop Sing rushing to a wagon, Bridie was scrambling down from her buggy with Joe beside her. Bridie voice, calling to some of the men to help get Hoss to the house, could be heard over everything else. Hester froze, her hands to her throat, her eyes so wide that Joe was unable to put a step forward, so palpable was the look of fear upon her face.

 

“What happened?” she whispered, she looked from Joe to Bridie, and then to the men who were rushing to the wagon, lowering the tail gate in order to reach the man lying upon the boards, “What happened?” she screamed “HOSS! Oh no, Hoss…”

 

Now Joe did move, he hurried to her side, grabbed her arm and held it tightly “Hester, he’s alright, he’s alright, just needs sleep and rest, and Bridie’s going to get Paul to come and check on him but he’s alright.” His voice wobbled, caught on a sob and he lowered his head so she couldn’t see the tears in his own eyes, “Oh Hester…” he whispered and turned aside as she pushed him away from her in order to reach her husband’s side

 

“Oh Hoss, Hoss,” she whispered and shook her head which caused the tears to fall “Bridie, Joe …what happened? Where’s Adam? Ben?”

 

Her hand hovered over her husbands face, and gently touched his cheek. Schofield or one of the medical staff had made some attempt to clean him but it had been a poor lick of a wet cloth, and the cut in his head had been carefully stitched and padded by the over worked doctor. Joe once more approached her, put his hand on her shoulder and held her back so that Jake and Hank could carry her husband indoors.

 

“He saved my life, Hester,” Joe said so quietly that she had to lean into him to hear what he was saying, “He has a broken collar bone, and other injuries, but he kept me safe above the water .. he never once complained of any pain, just made sure I was safe.”

 

“Oh Joe,” she murmured helplessly, and turned to watch as Hop Sing followed the men uttering shrill imprecations of what could happen if they dared to drop him .

 

“Joe’s arm is broken,” Bridie said, taking hold of Hester’s arm and guiding her to the house, as though she had found her sleep walking and needing help to find her way to her bed, Joe came close behind them gazing around and frowning now at the realisation that someone very close to his own heart was missing from the scene.

 

“I’m sorry, Joe, I didn’t realise.” Hester stopped, raised a hand to prevent them continuing to the house, and took several deep breaths, “That’s better. I’ll be alright now, I’m sorry about that … that silliness earlier. I was just so scared, I thought Hoss was …well …” she coughed and cleared her throat, then nodded “Yes, well, so let’s go inside. Bridie, did you say you were going to get Paul here?”

 

“Yes, Timothy Schofield attended to them at the site of the incident, but it was very cursory, there was so little time to really spend over long on every one. As soon as I know for sure that Hoss is settled and no worse than when we left the camp I’ll go back to town for Paul. He’ll need to check on Joe as well….”

 

Hester turned to her younger brother in law and nodded “Poor Joe, has it hurt very much?”

 

Joe didn’t answer immediately, he was looking around the yard, peering into the porch but still Mary Ann hadn’t come, hadn’t rushed through the door to sweep him into her embrace, to weep and console him. He glanced at Hester, and bowed his head, there was a logical explanation, Hester had heard Hop Sing, but Mary Ann was no doubt still inside, ignorant of what had happened, playing with the children … she wouldn’t know how much he needed her to be there, oh how much he needed her now.

 

They were inside the house and Hester could hear the sound of the mens feet scuffling along the landing floorboards, Hop Sings voice giving directions, she looked anxiously at Joe, who looked so distraught that her heart melted at the sight of him,

 

“Joe, you don’t look at all well. Perhaps you should …”

 

“No, I’ll be alright, Hester. You go and see to Hoss.” He smiled, a rather sickly grin really, and his eyes were lack lustre and dull. “I – I thought Mary Ann would be here, I’ll go and see where she is …” his voice trailed away when he realised that there was no one there listening to him for Hester had turned to go, to run up the stairs to attend to her beloved Hoss.

 

The sound of children’s laughter trickled into the room, such a sweet sound that he stood there to listen, unable to move, it seemed too unreal after the horrors of the day which seemed to be filling his mind now with renewed terrors. Mary Ann would be there with them and suddenly his legs went weak and he had to grope his way to a chair, into which he almost fell, and then he buried his face into his hands.

 

He was aware now of someone standing close to him, and turned, eyes blurred with tears “Mary Ann?”

 

“No, Joe, it’s me, Bridie.”

 

She came and knelt beside him, took hold of his hand and brushed back a lock of hair, and instantly his thoughts swung back to Hoss, to the agonies of the mine, the pressure of Hoss’ arms around him to prevent him falling ..

 

“Oh Bridie, Bridie…he must have been in so much pain, all that time he was supporting me, kept me from going under, from collapse …and not a word…”

 

Bridie said nothing but sat by his side and took hold of his hand, “Look, Joe, it does no good to punish yourself now. You need to get cleaned up and then into bed, you’ve suffered as great a shock as any of them, so, please, dear, do as I say and take care of yourself.”

 

“I’ve just got a broken arm…” he whispered and looked at her the way a child would look who was confused at his parents concern over something so minor when a flood had just swept through the house and taken everything with it, but she smiled wistfully and shook her head,

 

“No, dear, it isn’t a case of just a broken arm …” and as she was about to explain more Hannah came running into the room, stopped immediately and looked at her Uncle in surprise

 

“Uncle Joe, why are you all dirty like that?”

 

Joe glanced up, noticed the child and there running behind her came Hope and his own little Daniel who upon seeing his father gave a beaming smile and loud little laugh “Daddy…”

 

“Where’s my Pa?” demanded Hannah, looking reproachfully at Joe who was now hugging his son, and at Bridie who was making sure that Joe didn’t become careless with regard to his broken arm, “Where’s my Pa?”

 

Hop Sing came down the stairs at that moment, much to Bridie’s relief, he looked at the ailing young man, at Bridie who resembled a mother in mourning, and the three children. With a nod of the head he announced he was going to make coffee, children have lemonade and cookies, Mr Joe ‘maybe think perhaps’ having bath.

 

Upstairs in the bedroom Hester was gently pulling the sodden filthy boots from her husbands feet, then peeling off the socks … when he stirred she rushed to his side, put a hand to his face and kissed him gently. Hank and Jake quickly retreated, closed the door silently behind them.

 

In the big sitting room Joe rose to his feet, his son in the crook of his good arm, he looked around the room, “Hop Sing, where’s Mary Ann? Where’s my wife?”

……………

 

The bowl of food Billy Buckley handed over to the young woman smelt very appetising. She raised it to her nose and sniffed it, then nodded “It smells very pleasant, Mr Buckley.”

 

“My ma taught me to cook, and then … I guess I had to fend for myself for so long. But you need to eat, you have to feed yourself to get strong.”

 

“Yes, you’re right.” She nodded and picked up the spoon, “Have you never found anyone to marry, Mr Buckley?” she paused and then shook her head as though regretting what she had just said, which she did for his face had dropped and that wild look had returned to his eyes, “I’m sorry, that was very indelicate of me. I just had a kind of hope that there had been someone else for you, after what happened with Sally.”

 

He shook his head and dipped the spoon into the food, “I never found anyone to replace her to be honest,” he sighed, “I tried not to get involved with anyone else, but just lately I thought I had found someone.”

 

“Really?” she paused, and looked at him with a smile that made her eyes twinkle “Is it someone in Virginia City?”

 

He bowed his head down and the thought crossed his mind as to why women had to be so curious all the time. He sighed and said that no, it wasn’t, but she was beautiful.

 

“Well, Mr Buckley, I am sure she is, and I do hope that she cares for you too.” She sighed and stared into space, a wistful smile on her lips “It would be really wonderful if you and she got together, then you could settle down here, perhaps buy some land. You might be neighbours of ours…” she laughed, kindly, innocent.

 

“Do you think so?” Billy paused and looked at her, then shook his head as though to dwell upon such a fantasy, well, it was all a lie, no point in wasting time on it. “Well, I doubt it, I have to be moving on. Like I said before, I’m only borrowing this place until I can go.”

 

“But what will you do about the girl you told me about? Will she be going with you?” she spooned rich stew into her mouth, and chewed on it slowly, it was too good to rush through and she was hungry, she sighed “You couldn’t go without her, could you?”

 

“I hadn’t thought about it,” Billy replied honestly, and with a scowl told her to eat up before it got cold.

 

She looked at him and thought about what a strange man he was, and yet how kind and caring he had been to her. When she had fainted earlier he had been kindness itself, staying by her side, placing a cool cloth over her brow, holding her hand. He told her he would have gone into town for the doctor but then who would have been here to look after her had she needed help?

 

As she ate the food she thought over the day, for she could see from the window that daylight was fading now, she thought of Joe and little Daniel, they would be concerned about her whereabouts. Once again she tried to work out exactly where she had been when the accident had occurred, so far Mr Buckley had been loathe to give her any details, and try as she might she couldn’t remember why the accident had happened.

 

“I should get home soon, Mr Buckley. Joe will be worried about me being away from home for so long.”

 

Billy’s mouth twitched, contorted just slightly although he didn’t look up but tried to pretend he hadn’t heard her. Of course Joe would be worried about her, if he was home that is, after all, had she been HIS wife, he would never have let her out of his sight, especially in the condition she was in… Joseph Cartwright had always been one of those ‘kissed by good fortune’ one book had called it. Women fell at his feet, he could remember how they would laugh and joke about it in the saloons … he put the bowl down and walked over to the door to watch as the sun set and cool breezes drifted in to the cabin bearing the aroma of rain on the wind

 

“Where did you meet Joe, then?” it was torment to ask, to find out how another man, Joe Cartwright, had met her and fallen in love with her. He half turned to look at her, watched as she stopped eating, the spoon placed back in the bowl.

 

“Oh, we needed help getting to Calico, my brother was going to be a librarian and I was the school teacher. Joe and his brothers were our escorts. We were attacked by Indians …Frank, my brother, was killed.”

 

“And what happened? You obviously didn’t stay in Calico?” he folded his arms, staring at her face, wanting to imprint the dreamy expression that had drifted over her features, the way the big eyes had dilated and the lips parted into a small smile.

 

“Well, I did stay in Calico for a while …but I kept thinking about him, wondering how he was getting on, and if he had met anyone else. Then when I heard about a vacancy for a school teacher here, I took it. We met again and … and that was it, really, we’ve been very happy since.”

 

She looked over at him, their eyes met, and for the first time since being there, she felt afraid. “Mr Buckley, I think I should really be getting home.” She whispered.

 

“You can’t, it’s too dark now, and your horse banged itself badly in the accident. You’ll be alright here, you’ll be safe. I won’t let anyone hurt you, Mary Ann, not ever.”

 

“I don’t really think anyone would intend to hurt me, Mr Buckley…”

 

“Couldn’t you call me Billy …” he closed the door upon the darkening night and walked towards the table, then sat down again. “I wonder who owned this cabin,” he mused, “I found some books on the shelf… one had a name, Chris somebody or other…do you think he used to live here?”

 

Mary Ann wasn’t sure, she stared hard at the floor trying to remember, there was a Chris, once, some while back… but who was he? She shook her head “I don’t know, perhaps …I don’t really remember.”

 

“Doesn’t matter anyway, he hasn’t been here for a long time now.” Billy rose to his feet and stretched. “I’ll make us some coffee, and then I think you need to get some sleep.”

 

“I really think I should get home…” she replied in her best school marm manner and she struggled to stand, and just as before whenever she had attempted to do so, her leg gave way beneath her.

 

This time he didn’t reach out to catch her, instead she fell forwards, grabbed at a chair and saved herself from landing on the floor. As she struggled back onto the bed she looked over at him, he shook his head “You see what I mean? You’re hardly in any fit state to go home now, are you?”

 

She didn’t feel happy at the thought that he was right, she looked at him, saw the look of unconcealed triumph on his face and once again felt a trickling of fear touch her mind…what was going on in that head of his? Why didn’t he help her get home?

 

………………

 

Joe had fallen asleep almost as soon as his head had touched the pillow. Hop Sing had organised a bath for him, after which Dr Martin had arrived to check on their breaks and contusions, which he did with a thoroughness that even Timothy Schofield would have approved of… and then he had sat in the arm chair to wait for Mary Ann to come home, Hester had said she was visiting Marcy, so no doubt would be back before dark.

 

But it was dark now. A blanket had been placed over him, and the fire banked to keep the room warm, only the clock ticking could be heard. He shook his head and sighed, rubbed his face and then smiled as he thought that, of course, Mary Ann had not wished for him to be disturbed, he would find her upstairs, safely sleeping in their bed.

 

But he was hungry so his first thought now was to eat something, he wandered into the kitchen and felt more than relieved to feel strength in his legs. He hadn’t expected that, event though it had been an automatic reflex to just get up and walk. He found food that had been set aside for him and ate it, found the coffee and reheated it, drank it and glanced at the clock as he did so. It was 2 o’clock in the morning, outside it was dark, the sky was peppered with a generous display of stars…how could any man prefer to spend their life under the ground and not see what creation poured out before their eyes.

 

He shuddered at the memory of that day, shuddered and felt sick at the realisation that he had given no thought to his brother, Hoss, nor to Adam and Pa… he pushed the cup to one side and quickly hurried to the stairs. Perhaps the sound of his movements were louder than usual during the night for Hester suddenly appeared on the landing, just as he had reached the turn of the steps, and he saw her with her wide eyes and tousled hair, one hand clinging to her dressing gown, keeping it closed together “Joe?”

 

“I’m sorry – didn’t mean to disturb you.”

 

“I wasn’t sleeping, I’ve been with Hoss.” She smiled “I thought perhaps it was Mary Ann.”

 

“Mary Ann?” Joe frowned, then gave a slight grin “I was on my way up to her…”

 

“Oh that’s a relief,” Hester nodded, put a hand on his arm “When did she get back?”

 

“Well…I thought you’d know? I mean … I don’t know, I’ve not seen her.”

 

His throat was getting tight, his mouth going dry. “Mary Ann? Mary Ann?” he called out as he hurried along the landing, reached the door to their room and pushed it open “Mary Ann?”

 

The lamp on the hall table was burning, he picked it up and carried it into the room, set it down upon the bedside cabinet but there was no Mary Ann, there was no one in the room, no one at all.

 

Chapter 47

 

They both stared at the empty unruffled bed and then looked at one another, it was Hester who said “But I thought she had come home.”

 

“I thought she had seen me asleep and left me there rather than disturb me.” Joe couldn’t take his eyes from the bed, he screwed his eyes up tight and then opened then just in case it was just a …what do you call it…a hallucination. “But who put Daniel to bed? She must be here …she must be home.”

 

“I gave Daniel his supper with the other children,” Hester murmured and turned to where the child slept, sharing his room now with his cousins, “Then I put him to bed.”

 

“But – but didn’t you think it strange, that Mary Ann wasn’t home to do that?” his hand was shaking now, he felt sick, he wanted to cry but at the same time he was angry, that this should happen now, and why should it? Where was she?

 

“But Marcy’s place is so far from here, Joe.” Hester whispered, her voice had that slight sharpness in it that indicated she was struggling between hysteria and an extreme effort to remain calm, and logical, “Anything could have happened…” she gasped, of all things to have said that, she spoke again quickly in an effort to smooth over the previous words “I daresay night fell too soon, and she felt it safer to wait until morning to come home.”

 

He desperately wanted to snatch at that straw, and like a drowning man he did so, he looked at Hesters anxious frightened face, and swallowed a gulp of fear “Do you really think so?”

 

“Mary Ann’s the most sensible of us women, Joe, you should realise that by now?” Hester managed to put a little laughter into her voice “She wouldn’t risk driving in the dark, not in her condition.”

 

“You don’t think that there could have been an accident?” his voice was strained, his bowels were churning over and over now, and his stomach was knotting up causing pain in his abdomen

 

“Why think that? Mary Ann would never attempt driving in the dark, I’m telling you, Joe, she is so careful, and Mistral is a good little horse too, you know how steady she is…?”

 

They both knew they were struggling to make excuses, Hester was almost gabbling out the words now and Joe was feeling sick, he shook his head, grabbed at the lamp and hurriedly said ‘Excuse me…”

 

Hester watched him as he made a speedy exit down the stairs, then with a profound sigh she returned to her bedroom where Hoss lay deeply sedated in the big bed, his face calm, serene, as though the turmoil and horror of the day had happened to someone else entirely.

 

She kissed him gently on the cheek, and looked at his profile, at the strong shape of his nose, stubborn chin, generous mouth…to think she could have lost him, lost all that was so dear to her. How did other women handle such losses she wondered, how could they ever ever feel whole again if the one being that mattered most to them were to be snatched away.

 

She shivered and thought of Joe, of Mary Ann. As she looked at her husband she tried to think of any reason at all that would have prevented Mary Ann from returning home to her husband and family. Had she said anything before leaving that could have indicated that she would stay overnight with Marcy and Luke? Her thoughts tumbled over and over in her head until eventually she had to take up the candle again and leave the room to find Joe.

 

Her brother in law was pacing the floor, cradling his injured arm in his other hand, while he struggled to understand where his wife could have gone. At the sight of the flickering candle, and seeing Hester standing there at the foot of the stairs, he gave a wavering smile “Do you think she’s alright?”

 

“Of course she is, Joe. She’s perfectly safe. I keep telling you…”

 

“Yes, I know…she’s sensible and wouldn’t take risks.” Joe bit his lips and shook his head, “But I just got a bad feeling about this, Hester, Mary Ann wouldn’t have left it too late to come home, she would have been worried about Daniel, and I know she would never miss his bedtime.”

 

“Well, sometimes thinks happen, it is just possible she didn’t feel well, and decided to rest until the morning. Look, Joe, we have to be practical about this….there’s no point in adding to your worries and pain unnecessarily.” She placed a hand on his shoulder, and looked into the anxious face, the way the hazel eyes looked quite blank with fear “You’ve gone through so much today, Joe, you should rest, and in the morning we’ll send the men out to look for her.”

 

“Do you think she’ll be home in the morning?” he asked, his voice sounded like a helpless child, seeking solace and answers from someone who couldn’t give any more credible answer than he could have given to himself.

 

“Yes, she’ll be home as soon as she can get here. You have to remember it is some way from Marcy’s ..it’ll take some hours …”

 

“She shouldn’t have gone, not on her own.”

 

“She wanted to deliver the quilt we had finished for Marcy and Luke, she was determined to go. She is a grown woman, Joe, I can hardly force her to stay home when her mind is made up.”

 

Joe frowned, she’s making excuses now, trying to cover up just in case …but just in case of what? He shook his head and took hold of her hand, ashamed of his thoughts, it wasn’t fair to have thought such a thing not when Hester had so much on her mind just now, with Hoss…he paused …Hoss? He hadn’t even been up to see to his brother, to see if he was alright…”How is he? How is Hoss?”

 

“Sedated. He’s sleeping. Paul said he’s going to be alright, the thick skull of the Cartwrights saved him yet again..” she managed a smile, a slightly tremulous one, and blinked rapidly, she was obviously still shaken by her husbands condition, still scared that something could happen. “He’ll be alright.”

 

She said that in the same way she had said that Mary Ann would be home in the morning, it was a few words, but everyone weighed heavily with hope.

 

………………..

 

Mary Ann lay upon her back with her eyes closed, trying as best she could to appear as though in a deep sleep. Billy Buckley had sat and watched her for some time, occasionally getting to his feet and standing by the side of the bed staring down at her as though struggling inwardly with feelings and desires that aroused such a strong longing within him that, like a moth drawn to the flicker of a flame, he was constantly drawn to her. She had been aware of his presence each time and had waited, barely daring to breathe, his presence a darker shadow within the shadows concealed behind her eyes.

 

Each time he had moved away and returned to his chair she had relaxed a little, prayed for him to go to sleep so that she could get away from the cabin, find Mistral and get to Marcy’s place.

 

She knew she was close to the Double D, once Buckley had stopped talking she had thought hard about the few clues he had dropped in conversation, the reference to Chris and the siren from the mine ..it had all helped her to remember whereabouts she had actually when the horse had been frightened and ran wild. Little by little she planned her strategy, but it all depended on him sleeping deeply, and she wasn’t sure he would because he had drank so much coffee. But then again, she fretted, what if once he was asleep her leg gave way again and she collapsed, woke him up, what chance of escape then?

 

What was she really afraid of, she asked herself now as she willed herself to stay awake, stay calm, wait her chance. What had he actually done to harm her? Nothing, nothing at all. He had tended her wound in her scalp, and provided something to drink, to eat and a bed to sleep upon. He had done nothing to cause her to be fearful of him, except those occasional flashes of emotion, anger…bitterness…whatever they had been caused by they were there, beneath the surface of a kind person. Because they were there, it meant she doubted the sincerity of what he was appearing to be, and inwardly, she knew, that she was afraid.

 

Silence seemed to fill the cabin, nothing could be heard, she wondered if perhaps she had fallen asleep and he had left the little building. She waited a while longer, and then opened her eyes.

 

How dark the room was, apart from fleeting shards of moon light drifting in through the window there was no light. She concentrated on remembering where the furniture was placed, how far the bed appeared from the door and then very quietly she began to move, slowly at first into a seated position. There was no sound, and gathering her courage, she twisted her legs around and swung them over the edge of the bed, her feet touched the floor, and she sat for a moment waiting for her heart beat to slow, to become steadier.

 

Once again she mentally pictured the layout of the table and chairs, and where the door was and pushing herself from the bed she forced herself to walk across the room, pausing once at the table edge when her leg started to shake and she thought she would fall. She had reached the door, her hand was on the latch and all it needed was for her to pull it back for the door to open and then she would be able to slip out and make her way to the stable… if there was one of course.

 

One small tug was all it would take and it was then that Billy’s hand overlapped hers, and pulled it away from the door “Where do you think you’re going?”

 

Her heart nearly stopped, the disappointment was so great that she felt bile rise to her throat, she shivered involuntarily and his grip on her hand tightened as a result. “I I need the out house.” She stammered, “I presume there is one?”

 

“The outhouse?” he scowled at her and his mouth thinned over his teeth, “ You expect me to believe you?”

 

“All that coffee … I’ve sat for so long … I really do ….” She was panting, frightened, she wanted to cry, to scream, and the thought that she had to stay calm made her legs weak, she just didn’t think she would be able to now, her head felt so light as though it were about to float off her shoulders “Please, Mr Buckley?”

 

“You were going to try and leave, weren’t you? You were going to leave me?”

 

“No, of course not. I told you already I just needed the outhouse.” She tried to pull her hand away, but he held her tightly, so tightly that it hurt “Please show me where it is, I’m really feeling very uncomfortable now.”

 

How hard it was to try and say the words as though that was really all she needed to do, she told herself to pretend she was facing a classroom of naughty children rather than one angry man, but she couldn’t stop her body from shaking so that when he did release her she staggered back, her injured leg gave way beneath her and she landed rather sadly upon the floor

 

“You really are like everyone else, aren’t you, Mary Ann? Just another woman who lies and cheats to get what she wants. You were going to leave me here, weren’t you? Where were you going to go, to the Ponderosa to find that husband of yours? And what then? Bring him here I suppose and get me hanged for murder.”

 

“I don’t know what you mean, Billy. What murder? What do you have to do with Joe and murder?” she was still sitting there, her skirts gathered around her, feeling her wrist which was burning from the tightness of his grip upon it earlier.

 

“Oh now that has got your attention hasn’t it? All that sweet talk before, listening to what I was saying, that wasn’t really interest in me, was it? You were just waiting for the chance to go … well, you wouldn’t be the first woman I’ve had to see off, Mary Ann, killing a woman is no hardship after the first time.”

 

“Billy?” her voice was weak, she felt as though she was sinking into a deep morass of misery, of despair and terror “Billy, please … let me go home “

 

“Hah, I knew it, didn’t I just say so? I knew you wanted to get back to the Ponderosa and leave me here. Why lie about it, why do you women always have to lie about everything.”

 

He was scrabbling about for some matches now, she could hear his footsteps upon the hard dirt floor and then the rasp of a match, as though hypnotised she watched him put the tiny flame to the wick in the lamp.

…………………

 

Olivia reached out across the bed and felt only emptiness, the cold touch of the sheets meant her husband had been absent from her bed for some while. She lay quiet for a moment while she listened for any sound of his being in the room, but there were only the night noises usual to the room and the house.

 

She left the comfort of the bed and hurried to pull on her dressing gown, tying the cord around it as she made her way down the stairs and into the big room. She wasn’t surprised to find Adam seated by the embers of the fire, staring at the dying glow of the logs. Very quietly she went to his side and sat close beside him, close enough to be leaning into him, she slid her hand into his and was grateful when his fingers closed around hers. She rested her head upon his shoulder and said nothing, so that they sat together, looking into the fading fire, knowing there was nothing to say at that moment, it would all be said later.

 

Chapter 48

 

The interior of the cabin flickered into light as the wick ignited and he turned it higher, then looked at her. She could see his face change before her eyes, the eyes softened, his mouth gentled “I’m sorry, sorry … of course you’re different from other women, that was wrong of me to even think like that, here, take my arm, I’ll help you to the out house.”

 

His hand reached out to hers and she hesitated, her eyes fixed upon his face as she tentatively put her hand into his, she wondered if he could read the fear she was feeling but forcing herself not to allow on her face. “Thank you,” she whispered and allowed him to help her to her feet

 

“Lean on me, I,ll help you.” He slipped one arm around her waist and she steeled herself not to shudder from the revulsion she was feeling for him

 

Out into the night and she realised now that in fact she really did need to relieve herself, as he helped her stumble over the overgrown weed strewn pathway she thought over what he had been saying, what he had revealed to her…could it be true? Was she in the company of a murderer?

 

The out house was horribly primitive but it was what it was, she stayed there for as long as she possibly could while trying to work out what to do next. She realised that there was no hope of evading him and getting home with her leg and other injuries, the bruising of which was becoming more and more evident. The baby was still, and for that she was grateful. It had made its presence felt throughout the day which had been reassuring, but at the same time enforced her determination to get away.

 

He was waiting for her outside, leaning against a tree with his arms folded and obviously in deep thought. As soon as she emerged he hurried forward to offer his arm and to help her back to the cabin, it was as they passed the remains of the makeshift stable that she paused “Is my horse alright? Has she been fed?

 

“I fed her earlier, along with my horse. A man has to care for his animals in this world,” he spoke with some pride, a little pompous so she nodded and agreed with him, and allowed him to continue on to the cabin

 

He led her to the bed and waited for her to settle back against the pillows, then he returned to the chair in which he had been sleeping He did not extinguish the lamps light, but sat facing her, as though to make sure she wouldn’t even think of trying to escape.

 

“Mr Buckley…?”

 

“Billy, you said you would call me Billy…”

 

“Of course, I’m sorry, Billy.” She paused and closed her eyes, this was going to be the longest night of her life, she tried to unscrabble the words that were spinning around in her head and just when she felt that there was nothing to say after all, he asked her to say what it was she had on her mind.

 

“I I was frightened by what you said earlier, about murdering a woman, I couldn’t believe that you could do that…surely not, Billy?”

 

He frowned, had he really said that, admitted to murdering Mrs Mayhew? Had he said that? He closed his eyes and shook his head, then opened them again, looked directly at her face, into the large grey eyes that looked unblinkingly back at him.

 

“Did I say that?”

 

“Yes. Why would I make it up?”

 

He shook his head and put his fingers to his temples as though there was something there that gave him pain and needed to be eased out “I remember now, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to frighten you.”

 

“Did you kill someone?” she kept her eyes on him, on his eyes, “Did you?”

 

“Oh, Mary Ann, I’ve killed so many…since that time with Ed Payson. My life has been far far different to your husbands, you know?” he paused a moment, his eyes became hooded and he looked away, anything rather than have those large grey eyes looking thoughtfully into his, he shrugged after a moment or so had passed he began to speak again “I had no choice but to face down countless men who came and challenged me, and sometimes I wished that they would shoot me, end it all, because life was so empty.” He shook his head “You see, it’s not right to go through life, from one town to another, and always having to defend your reputation. I tried once to put the guns aside, to start anew, but they just wouldn’t let me.”

 

She said nothing to that, with no experience of such a life she couldn’t understand why it would be so difficult to change its direction to one that would have been so much safer, so much better. He looked at her, as though waiting for her to make a comment, some criticism but after some moments silence he continued “I thought getting work with McGarthy would provide me with the chance of a different life, but I was stupid I guess to have even dared to hope for anything with him …” he frowned again and began to fidget with his fingers, interlacing them restlessly

 

“McGarthy?” she leaned forward “Joe and Adam, they were going to the Bucksburn today, with Candy. I think Hoss and Ben were going too.”

 

“McGarthy wants them stopped, you realise that?”

 

“Adam said he did, but …” she looked at him, hoping that would be prompt enough for him to continue.

 

“I can’t tell you anything more, I don’t want to tell you, Mary Ann, you’d hate me for saying what I’ve done.”

 

She knew that she probably would because she already did, his voice was grating on her nerves now, her ears had picked out the self pitying whine of a man seeking to justify his actions, to cast blame upon someone else. She leaned against the pillows and closed her eyes, she wanted to sleep, her body ached so much that she could have cried, wept from pain and fear and despair.

 

“Funny thing is, I liked her, Mrs Mayhew I mean,” he was staring at her, even with her eyes closed she could sense the intensity of his eyes upon her “I didn’t want to hurt her, so I arranged things in a way that just perhaps the accident wouldn’t happen? Do you know what I mean?”

 

She shook her head, trying to remember the things she had heard from Joe, Hoss and Adam… she didn’t want to look at him, not now but it was like being in a room with a snake, one had to look just in case it struck out and then, if you weren’t prepared for it, what chance did one have ?

 

He stood up now and drew nearer to the bed, squatted down close to her so that his eyes were level with her own “Mary Ann, try and understand what it’s like, I didn’t want to hurt her.”

 

“Then why did you?”

 

“McGarthy …” he frowned and his lips twisted into that bitter thin line she dreaded “I shouldn’t have told you, it’s best you forget it, do you hear?”

 

She swallowed bile, shook her head, “I’m sorry, of course, anything you say…” her voice was fading, she just couldn’t lay there much longer, and now the baby had woken up and its movements made her feel vulnerable, frightened and very alone.

………………

 

Olivia woke up to find herself back in bed, warm and cosy with her husband sleeping beside her. One hand was resting lightly upon her bare shoulder, and her head was resting upon his other arm. With a sigh she turned into him, nudged her head into a more comfortable position and smiled drowsily at the thought that he had carried her up the stairs, removed her dressing gown and put her to bed. He stirred, sighed, a slight frown furrowed his brow … she watched his face for a moment in the light of a new dawn, and then leaned towards him to kiss away the creases so that he could sleep more restfully for what was left of the night.

 

Chapter 49

 

Mary Ann was surprised to open her eyes and to realise that she had actually fallen to sleep. After staring up at the shadows in the ceiling and accepting the fact that she had not been caught up in some horrific dream she roused herself drowsily to sit up and take stock of the current situation.

 

Dawn was fast approaching and that would mean her absence from home would surely have been noticed. Perhaps Joe was already on his way to rescue her, in which case there were only a few hours to wait. She looked over at Billy who was seated in his customary chair by the table and realised, with relief, that he was asleep. Surely, surely, this was her chance to escape.

 

His head had drooped and his arms were folded across his chest, his breathing was deep, she could see the rise and fall as his lungs filled and emptied of air…his gun was in the holster but the gun belt was draped casually over the back of the chair, the gun handle close to his reach and leaning against his leg was the rifle. He may have had only a woman to contend with but he was obviously not taking any chances.

 

She remembered over hearing Adam and Joe talking once about weapons, the theme of the conversation being that anything could be used as a weapon if desperate enough. Adam had been telling Joe about a time when he has used a wet towel as the only means of defence against some brute of a man, and Joe had agreed that even a glass of water, or a cup of hot coffee may be enough to provide those vital few seconds or moments for a chance to escape.

 

But she couldn’t see anything that she could use like that, not that she wasn’t quick witted enough just that some sense of pity for this unloved man touched her sensitivities. Everything she looked at would have meant causing him pain …and she never liked to cause anyone or anything pain of any kind.

 

There were also her own injuries to consider, her leg and shoulder, and her head throbbed dully as a reminder to that injury as well. But – taking a deep breath she moved away from the bed, and took several steps forwards, then cast an anxious look at the man at the table.

 

His eyes were wide open and he was looking directly at her. For a moment only he looked angry, then confused before he stood up and stretched “I suppose you need the outhouse again? Not surprised …so do I.”

 

He smiled and stepped forward, taking hold of her arm gently in his hand and leading the way to the door which he opened still with the smile on his face. She glanced again at him before turning away at the solicitous look she saw in his eyes as he gazed at her, “Come along, Mary Ann, this is the best part of the day, you can smell the freshness in the air. Do you think it will rain later on?”

 

She couldn’t speak, her lips were numb. They walked slowly to the outhouse, passing the stables and she glanced inside to see, with dismay, that Mistral was still harnessed to the buggy which, despite the collision seemed remarkably undamaged. It touched her heart to see the poor horse in that condition, Ben had always preached about the care of the animals coming before a mans own needs and here was poor Mistral, being neglected.

 

“Here we are … you first.” And he smiled gallantly, indicating the outhouse.

 

As she closed the rickitty door behind her Mary Ann felt a terrible sense of foreboding, there had to be something, anything, that could get her free from this man. As she fumbled with her clothing the baby began its early morning exercises, it tumbled and jiggled within her … well, of course, why hadn’t she thought of that before…??

 

She stumbled from the outhouse, clutching at her stomach “Oh no, no, please help me, please help me…”

 

“Why…what’s wrong … what’s the matter? Mary Ann …” mumbling, stumbling he hurried towards her, clutching hold of her, holding her tightly in his arms “What’s wrong? Please say you’re alright…please don’t be ill?”

 

……………

 

The pummelling on the door rattled through the house, accompanied by Joe’s voice shouting “Pa! Pa! Adam? Are you there …open the door…”

 

Cheng pulled the latch back and the door opened with such force that he was nearly knocked off his feet. Ben and Adam, bleary eyed and still pulling on their shirts were making their way down the stairs, rubbing their faces and scratching their heads, still yawning “What in the name of heavens is the matter with you, boy?” Ben snapped angrily while from one of the bedrooms came the thin wail of the baby.

 

It was one of those moments where realisation of something terrible was sensed before any word was spoken, the three men looked at one another and Ben cried in a voice full of anguish “Hoss? What’s happened to my son?”

 

Adam reached out a hand to place on his father’s arm, to steady him for the big man had faltered, seemed likely to fall, but even as he did so the look on Joe’s face led him to demand to know what had happened with a feeling that whatever it was had little to do with Hoss

 

“Mary Ann –“ Joe cried, raised his eyes upwards as though by doing so he could summon up the words without breaking down “She hasn’t come home, she left yesterday morning to go to Marcy’s … she isn’t back.”

 

Ben’s fears for Hoss were now transferred to sympathy and misery for his youngest son, he steadied himself and placed his hands on Joe’s shoulders “Speak plain, son, what do you think could have happened to her.”

 

Joe walked further into the room, leaned against the arm of the settee before slowly sinking into it, he buried his face in his hand “I keep telling myself that she’s alright, no doubt stayed overlong at Marcy’s and decided not to risk the ride home by herself in the dark. But I can’t” he paused, struggled to catch his breath and then looked from his father to his brother with hazel eyes blurred by tears “I can’t shake off this feeling that something’s wrong, she wouldn’t do that, she’s too –“ he brushed his hair back from his brow, shook his head “she wouldn’t miss looking after Danny, and she was worried about us going to that mine.”

 

Adam nodded and looked at Ben “I’ll get dressed, Pa, go and see what’s happened at Marcy’s”

 

Joe bounced up, colour flaring up into his cheeks “I’ll come with you,” he looked at Ben, hesitated a moment at the fleeting shadow of confusion on his father’s face, then said “Hoss was asking for you, Pa, I saw him just before I came here.” He bit his lip, he didn’t like to admit that he had spent hours sitting at the bedside of his sick brother, while Hester slept, anything was better than pacing the floor worrying about Mary Ann.

 

Adam paused half way to the stairs and looked anxiously at Joe “Are you sure you’re up to this, Joe? You look far from well yourself.”

 

“For Pete’s sake, Adam, , , I’ve wasted enough time as it is, if you –“

 

“Alright” Adam nodded, raised a hand to ward off further angry words, spoken he knew by a man exhausted from the previous days events as well as a night being driven crazy by fears for his wife, “I won’t be long.. Pa, will you be alright?”

 

Ben nodded and while Adam mounted the stairs as fast as he could for his leg was still paining him, his father sat down beside Joe and asked him gently to explain everything, slowly and clearly, just in case there was something that had been over looked previously but could be of use later on.

 

 

Olivia looked at her husband with a concerned look on her face, she was cradling Nathaniel in her arms, “What’s wrong, Adam? I heard Pa saying something about Hoss?”

 

Adam shook his head all the while pulling clothes on, buttoning them up, searching for socks “Hoss is alright, Pa’s going over later to see him. It’s Mary Ann, she hasn’t come back from that errand to Marcy’s.”

 

Olivia nodded “That’s right, she was taking the quilt there, she insisted on going, she was worried about Joe.” She looked down at the baby and seeing that he had drifted back to sleep paused in her rocking back and forth, “She may seem very calm and collected but she was frightened by what she had heard about him, McGarthy I mean. The fact that the three of you were going there with Pa really worried her.”

 

Adam pulled on his boots and nodded rather absent mindedly, “We’ll probably meet her on her way home.”

 

“No, I don’t think so. Mary Ann would never spend time away from home, from Daniel and Joe, she would have wanted to get back as soon as possible to make sure everything went alright at the Bucksburn.”

 

Adam looked at his wife and noticed the anxiety on her face, “You really think so?”

 

“I know Mary Ann well by now, dear, she would have never stayed away without really good cause, and that would be about something she couldn’t prevent, like …like the horse dropping dead, or a flood …”

 

“Well, it hasn’t rained that heavily yet for us to be worrying about floods.” Adam muttered and kissed her cheek, “I’ll be back as soon as possible.”

 

She watched him leave the room, unwashed, unshaven, and looking rather more anxious than he would have wanted her to have noticed. Nathaniel stirred in her arms and just as she was about to lower him into the cot, Sofia appeared “Mommy, what was all that shouting and banging?”

 

Downstairs Adam grabbed at his gun belt, checked that the gun was fully loaded and slipped it back into its holster. Joe rose to his feet, swayed slightly, and steadied himself with a determined effort while Ben looked anxiously at them both. Then, before he could say anything Adam had the door open, and both he and Joe had gone.

…………………

 

William Buckley as he had first introduced himself to Mary Ann, poured out a glass of water and handed it to the young woman, noticing with some regret the way her hand was shaking as she took it from him, “Are you sure about ..about what you said?”

 

He was nervous, frightened and with just cause for Mary Ann had spent the past hour groaning and retching and when she had cried in a shrill voice “It’s the baby, oh nooo, it’s the baby.” He had replied “What about it? What’s wrong?”

 

Now here he was, watching her as she struggled on the bed, had attempted to get back on her feet only for her leg to give way once again. “What do I do, Mary Ann? I ain’t never been with a woman having a baby before?”

 

“Get me a doctor, I need a doctor.” Mary Ann shrieked and screwed up her face as though it was an effort to stop from screaming

 

“I can’t leave you here on your own, it’s too far, anything could happen to you while I’m gone. Are you sure, Mary Ann, really sure?”

 

“Of course I’m sure, of course I’m sure…” she clenched her hands into fists, and hit the wall with one which made Billy jump back from the bed in case one of those fists struck him.

 

“I ain’t leaving, Mary Ann, I can’t … it’s too far …” he began to pace the floor, striking one clenched fist into the palm of his other hand, “I can’t let you have this baby, not here, not when I’m on my own. I don’t know what to do.. I ain’t never been in a situation like this before…what if something happens…”

 

Mary Ann groaned aloud, and heaved in a deep breath then she said as though suddenly inspired “My friend, Marcy, she lives near by..only a few miles…she could come and take care of me while you go for the doctor.”

 

He stopped pacing and frowned, looked at her and thought about what she had said, from the corner of her eyes Mary Ann watched as he licked his lips, scratched his nose, she gave another groan, “Please help me, Billy. I can’t have this baby on my own.”

 

“I’ll go, I’ll get your friend …I know where the ranch house is, I checked it out the first time I found this cabin. Please Mary Ann, please keep calm…don’t die on me, will you?”

 

She said nothing to that, just groaned long and hard …then watched as he grabbed his hat, buckled on his gun belt and hurried to the door. Then he paused and to her dismay walked purposefully back to the bed, he knelt down beside it and grabbed at her hand, holding it tightly between his own “Mary Ann, do you remember me telling you about the woman I – I love?”

 

“Sally?” she said between clenched teeth

 

“No, not Sally…the woman I fell in love with only a few weeks ago …it was you, Mary Ann. It was – is – you.”

 

“Me?” Mary Ann’s eyes flew wide open “But… I only saw you once …”

 

“How many times does it have to take? A man knows when he see the only woman he could possibly love. I’ll be back soon with this Marcy person, and then go for the doctor. Just – just remember, Mary Ann, that you are more precious to me than anything in the world.”

 

He kissed her hand then, several times over, and would have kissed her lips, her face, had she not doubled over and groaned again so that he got up as fast as he could and hurried from the cabin, casting a frantic look back at her before he closed the door.

 

She groaned and fell back upon the pillows, closed her eyes and felt tears, hot and wet, fall from her eyes. After some moments she heard the sound of the horse galloping away from the cabin, she listened intently, craning her head to the sound, until it faded away.

 

The tears still fell, but this time with relief. At last she was free from his odious presence, alone to make plans, to get away. She sat up and swung her legs over the side of the bed, straightened her skirts and took a deep breath, if only her leg was strong enough now, if she could only get from the cabin to the place where he had left Mistral. She wiped her eyes now, there was little point in wasting time crying when there was this chance to escape. She stood up, leaning now upon her stronger leg, and took a step forward … the memory of his face when she first went into ‘labour’ caused a mischivious grin to touch her lips, how frightened he looked, his eyes had nearly popped out of their sockets.

 

Her weakened leg buckled but she grabbed at the wall and clung to it, if only she had thought of ‘going into labour’ sooner, perhaps she would have been spared having to groan and wail for the past hour, having given herself a sore throat as a result, but it had been worth it, it had frightened him enough to leave. She had almost reached the door when she stopped and realised that in giving herself this chance of escape she had placed dear Marcy in great danger. She couldn’t imagine Billy Buckley being kind to anyone if he returned to find the cabin empty and his captive gone.

 

Chapter 50

 

The sound of a horse approaching the Double D at some speed caused Marcy Dent to panic, she turned from feeding the hens, dropping the bowl as she did so, and began to run to the house where she hoped to barricade herself inside should there be such a need. She was half way across the yard when the horseman appeared, pulled up the horse to a rearing standstill and then yelled “Are you Marcy?”

 

“Yes…who wants to know?”

 

“Mary Ann …” he swallowed on the rest of the name, try as he could – and he didn’t really try that hard – but he just couldn’t say ‘Cartwright’ …”Mary Ann’s gone into labour, she wants your help.”

 

“Mary Ann…” Marcy put a hand to her mouth, her eyes widened in alarm “You mean, Mary Ann Cartwright from the Ponderosa?”

 

“Of course I mean her…don’t just stand there, woman … she needs you there, right now…”

 

“Where? Where is she? Who are you..” she paused to stare at him, realising that this could be some trick, a means of taking advantage of her in some way, she looked at the door of the house and then back to him as he advanced towards her “What are you?”

 

“I’m a friend of Mary Ann’s … she had an accident yesterday and I took her to a cabin nearby…”

 

“A cabin? Near by?” Marcy stammered and looked at him as though he were an idiot, while he stared at her and was quite convinced that he had found one for sure.

 

“It belonged to someone called Chris…” he snapped impatiently “Not far from here.”

 

“Chris O’Dell. And she’s there? Really there?”

 

“How many more times do I have to tell you.” Billy cried, demanded, his dark eyes glared at her more vehemently than ever “Just hurry …”

 

“I’ll get ..”

 

“No, you come with me, now..” and without waiting for her to say another word he grabbed her arm, pulled her along and indicated that she mounted up into the saddle immediately. “We’ve wasted enough time here,”

 

She was too frightened to say a word, but clung to the pommel of the saddle with both hands and prayed mightily that everything he claimed was true even though it hardly seemed possible, she was sure Mary Ann’s baby wasn’t due for several more months yet.

…………

 

Adam slowed his horse and reached out a hand to wards his brothers, causing it to rear back before slowing “Joe, you look as though you’re about to collapse, you either take a few minutes to get yourself together now or go back home.”

 

Joe couldn’t believe what he was hearing, his eyes blazed green and his lips tightened into a stubborn line of refusal, but by now Adam had hold of the horse’s reins, forcing Joe to be still. “Leave me be, Adam, or by heaven I’ll kick you away from my horse.”

 

“Don’t even try doing that, Joe. You know I’m talking sense here. Just slow down, take some water, calm down …”

 

“Are YOU crazy???? That’s my wife who’s missing … she could be injured, she could be…she could be…” his lips went white and he swayed in the saddle, grabbed at the saddle horn, and forced himself to stay upright.

 

Adam dismounted and brought his canteen over to his brother, unscrewed the stopper  and handed it to him “Have you eaten?”

 

“Would you have eaten anything if it were your wife?” Joe snapped but grabbed at the canteen and gulped down some water, then, breathing hard he handed it back to his brother. “What if she’s been hurt, Adam, and the baby … I mean…what if ..”

 

“Joe, stop it.” Adam mounted into the saddle, and glared angrily at his little brother, “I’m sure she’s alright, it’s about time you started thinking the same…”

 

“I can’t,” Joe said quietly, and blinked furiously for his eyes felt like there was sand in them he was so exhausted, he hauled in a deep breath “I keep imagining her somewhere I can’t reach her, somewhere I can’t help her…”

 

“Then stop imagining and concentrate on the facts …” Adam growled and then urged his horse forward, confident that Joe would be right behind him.

 

His injured hand hurt, hurt a lot, his back ached, his leg felt weak, he was hungry and longed for a strong coffee but he wasn’t unmindful of Joe’s concerns for he knew had it been Olivia he would have been equally as concerned, equally as negligent of his own well being in order to ensure her safety.

 

He glanced down at the road and picked up the recent tracks of the buggy and Mistral’s prints leading towards the Double D. As though encouraged by them the two brothers rode onwards, the pale sun of a fall day washing over them.

……………

 

The cabin door opened and Billy pushed Marcy inside, as though to make sure that Mary Ann was still there and safe, he followed immediately behind the woman, who gave a cry of alarm “Oh Mary Ann…Mary Ann…”

 

Still seated on the bed, hugging the blanket around her, Mary Ann saw Marcy and could have wept with relief, she reached out her arms and Marcy ran into them. As the two women embraced Billy stepped back into the door frame “Is everything alright, Mary Ann…are you alright?”

 

“Thank you, Billy, I’ll be alright with Marcy here… you will go for the doctor now, won’t you? You did promise?”

 

Billy looked at them, his eyes narrowed, he looked at Mary Ann who tried to look as though she were in agony, and then at Marcy who looked as confused and frightened as he would have expected of her…then he nodded slowly, “I’ll go right now, but it will be a few hours, Mary Ann, before I get back, you do realise that?”

 

“I know, I know…” she groaned, and Marcy grabbed her hand and looked horrified enough to convince Billy that he really needed to get to town fast, “Please, please hurry.”

 

He vanished and within minutes they heard his horse galloping away. Marcy looked from the door to her friend “Mary Ann, he said…”

 

“It doesn’t matter what he said, Marcy. We have to go, we have to get out of here as fast as possible.”

 

“But, you can’t, not in your condition.” Marcy cried, looking in amazement at her friend “When was your last contraction? I’m not going to be responsible…”

 

“Marcy, please believe me, we have to go … it’s alright, I’m not in labour, I only said that to get rid of him. I need your help, Marcy, I hurt my leg when I fell from the buggy.”

 

“The buggy? Mary Ann…I don’t understand what’s going on, I …”

 

“Don’t ask questions, just help me because if he comes back and finds us both still here I don’t know what he’ll be capable of …”

…………….

 

Joe pummelled on the door of the ranch house and then stepped back to observe it, as though its solid appearance would disclose the secret as to why it remained unopen. He was still standing there when Adam approached him, limping more heavily than normal, “There’s a bowl of hen food been spilled over, the bowl broken…and horse prints nearby, seems as though a man has been here and taken Marcy with him. Double up I’d say…”

 

“Where do you think they’d be going? Do you think it could have been Luke …”

 

“No, I don’t ..”

 

They mounted their horses and turned into the direction the tracks led them, after a moment or so Adam said “This is taking us to Chris O’Dell’s shack.”

 

“Do you think so?” Joe frowned “Why would Mary Ann go there?”

 

Adam said nothing but shook his head doubtfully, it was hardly making sense unless Joe’s instincts were right and Mary Ann had been hurt, perhaps someone had gone to help her and then come for Marcy…he didn’t want to say another word, worried now that his own imagination was beginning to take on the stuff of nightmares.

 

“Over there…” Joe pointed to something that was lying on the ground, something bundled in a white sheet and fluttering in the slight breeze.

 

The dismounted yet again to look at the tracks and to identify the story they had to tell them…”Seems like Mistral went off the track, the buggy went over…” Adam muttered, indicating with the toe of his boot where the indentation of the collision was quite clear to be seen.

 

“Hester said Mary Ann was taking this quilt to Marcy… “ Joe held a corner of the aforementioned quilt in between his fingers, then nodded up towards the trees “Seems Mistral took the buggy way off course… something must have frightened the beast.” He frowned, “Do you think someone could have taken Mary Ann to Chris’ cabin?”

 

“We’ll soon find out..” Adam murmured “It’s not that far from here now..”

…………

 

Marcy looked around her anxiously, fearfully, then turned her attention back to Mary Ann “Do you think it’ll be safe?”

 

“Billy said that the buggy hadn’t been as badly damaged as he had first thought,” Mary Ann replied as she stroked Mistral’s neck while leading the animal, with the buggy, from the makeshift stable.

 

“Do you think he’ll come back?”

 

Mary Ann looked scared, her face went pale and she shivered “I don’t know, Marcy, he’s so unpredictable, that’s why we have to get out of here right away. Come on, help me now, the wheels got stuck against something.”

 

Marcy hurried over and together the two women struggled to push the wheel free, it gave way quickly causing them both to stagger forward and fall upon one another, Marcy giggled, “Sorry, Mary Ann…it’s just that I’m so scared he’ll be here and we won’t be able to get away.”

 

“Then there’s no point in giggling is there,” Mary Ann snapped feeling that she could have slapped Marcy if there had been the time to do so, “Lead Mistral out now, take her head…”

 

Mistral was a compliant beast and was happy to obey Marcy’s gentle handling, the buggy lumbered along behind her and it wasn’t long before Mary Ann was limping towards her friend “There now, it looks fine… come on, we need to get away from here.”

 

“What if he comes to the Double D? What shall we do?” Marcy whispered as she stepped up into the buggy.

 

“I don’t know, do you think we should head straight for the Ponderosa?” Mary Ann looked doubtfully at her friend, now that there was someone else to share the thinking with her she found herself no longer feeling quite as confident as formerly.

 

“It’s so much further to the Ponderosa …” Marcy said, her voice trailing away as though all that time travelling left Billy plenty of time to catch them up

 

“Then we’ll go to the Double D and barricade ourselves in, at least we can defend ourselves there should he come.”

 

They were about to send Mistral on the way when there came the sound of horses approaching, they looked at one another, saw dismay and fear in the others’ eyes and went pale “Too late…” whispered Mary Ann

 

“He’s come back…” Marcy grabbed at Mary Ann’s hand “He’s come back.“

 

 

 

Chapter 51

 

If fear could be so easily contagious then both women were utterly consumed by it…they groped for each others hands and stood as though paralysed.

 

Mary Ann felt her knees weaken and her body began to shake, the desire to scream was so strong as to be stifling.  Marcy, who had known Buckley for such short moments in comparison to Mary Ann stood as though frozen.  She was sure that were it not for her hair being so tightly braided it would be standing on end.

 

“He’ll kill us…” Mary Ann whispered and tightened her hands on Marcy’s, “He’s already killed one woman, he won’t spare any mercy on us, no matter what he said.”

 

“I don’t understand…oh Mary Ann …”

…….

 

Billy Buckley’s horse was a powerful beast and ate up the distance from the cabin towards town with the strength in its long legs.  All Billy could think of was Mary Ann suffering within the cabin.   How long, he wondered, did it take for a woman to deliver a baby?   Some women died in child birth, he had heard that said, and the thought of returning to the cabin to find Mary Ann in agony or dying over whelmed him with misery.

 

It would take him several hours to get to Virginia City, if he turned at the junction then he could reach Carson City in less time but with no guarantee of getting a doctor who would be available to help.  There was, he realised, another alternative, he could ride to the Pyramid Mining Co and get Dr Hay who always seemed more than accommodating in assisting the Bucksburn miners.

 

His mind teetered from one alternative to the other and when he reached the junction he drew the horse to a halt.   What if she were lying?  The thought trickled into his mind and stuck fast.  He gnawed on his bottom lip and scowled at the far off horizon while his horse pawed restlessly at the ground eager to continue with this early morning gallop.

 

Would she lie about such a thing?  Would she?  She was a woman after all, and when he thought over the time they had spent together it occurred to him that she had not once shown him any kindness, or appreciation for all he had done for her.  He reminded himself that she was a married woman and he should not expected to be like Gwen or the other women he had known in the past.

 

He turned the horse towards Carson City, but still hesitated to move onwards.  Mary Ann Cartwright.  Joseph Cartwright’s wife.He glanced around  as though the shadows threatened him with myriads of Cartwrights coming to save and protect her.  But it wasn’t as if she were alone,  there was the other woman there now, and whether she were lying or not all she needed was Marcy Dent to provide an arm to lean upon in order to

reach the horse, still harnessed to the buggy.

 

She had played him for a fool.

……

 

The two brothers urged their horses onwards knowing that they were not far from the cabin now.  Joe felt a coil of fear and anxiety knot in his stomach at the thought of anything having happened to Mary Ann.  Someone had obviously come to her assistance. Some good Samaritan who must have then gone to get Marcy …but who?

 

Adams thoughts ran along parallel lines to those of his brother, there was no doubting the fact that some one had come upon Mary Ann and provided her with help, and that Marcy had been brought along from the Double D by this same person.  He had an inkling of an idea of whom it could have been, but it was vague, tenuous.  He clutched at it for some tangible hold in his mind, but it slipped away like gossamer threads upon a breeze.

 

At last the cabin was within sight and standing together were Mary Ann and Marcy. The fact that they both looked terrified didn’t occur to him, he only felt as though his heart would burst with the joy of seeing her again, to see that she was safe, unharmed.   He had never in his life felt  greater relief than when he saw her now and forgetting his own weakness he drew the horse to a halt, and nearly fell from the saddle.

 

Mary Ann’s knee’s crumpled, she was crying, she was laughing …her hands went to her face and then stretched out towards him.  Then she was back on her feet and running towards him “Joe, Joe…thank God it’s you, thank God …  I knew you’d come, I knew you would …”

 

And then she was in his arms, sobbing on his shoulder one moment, kissing his face the next and he was stroking her back, talking nonsense as words tumbled from his mouth, the most important being the words ‘I love you, Mary Ann, I love you.’

 

Seeing his brother clinging to his wife and that Mary Ann appeared quite unharmed gave Adam a sense of pleasurable relief and he was about to dismount when he realised that Marcy was gesturing to him for attention.   Once she was within range of speaking she told him all that she knew, that Billy Buckley had rescued Mary Ann, had done her no harm, but something about him had terrified not only her, but Marcy as well.

 

“What exactly …did Mary Ann explain what it was … you are sure he never harmed her?”

 

She glanced now over her shoulder then turned to look up into his earnest brown eyes, and nodded “Mary Ann told me that he had admitted to killing a woman…she was afraid enough of him to think he would have killed us both now, had it been him coming here.”

 

For a moment Adam said nothing, then looked over at Joe who was now holding onto the side of the buggy for support, he frowned “Marcy, Joe needs medical attention …he’s far from well, could you take him to the Double D and keep him there while I go for a doctor?”

 

She stepped back, away from the big horse and nodded, and, knowing well enough that she would not let him down Adam  turned his horse in the direction that Billy had taken less than an hour previously.

…………..

 

The tracks were not difficult to identify and follow.  Billy had taken no pains to conceal his route, why should he indeed, after all,  he had not anticipated anyone in pursuit of him now.

 

The two horsemen galloped on, avoiding obstacles in their way, ducking beneath the errant bough of a tree or skirting a boulder that would send the horse flailing.  They rode with such speed that the animals were beginning to falter, to breathe more heavily and then there was no longer any reason for pursuit and Adam found that he was, in fact, pursuing no one, for Billy had turned back towards the cabin, had been riding towards him all the time.

 

Both men brought the horses to a halt and it was Billy who drew his gun, “I didn’t expect to find you here, Adam.”

 

“Put the gun away, Billy.   There’s no point in using it now.”

 

“Isn’t there?”  Billy frowned, he knew Adam had come from the cabin, there was no other direction he could have come from which led him to wonder what Mary Ann would have told them.  For  a brief moment the grip on the weapon faltered, “Funny how you and me always seem to find ourselves staring at one another over the barrel of a gun, isn’t it?”

 

Adam sighed and bowed his head, nodded and shrugged “Doesn’t have to happen now, though, does it?”

 

“First time we met, you had the advantage over me, remember?”

 

Once again Adam nodded “I remember.”

 

“Next time round you wanted me to draw on you … protecting your friend Ed Payson, you don’t have very nice friends, Adam, he wasn’t a good friend to you.”

 

“That’s not for you to judge, Billy.  But ..”

 

“And then the last time, still wanting to keep that scum alive, but you lost out didn’t you?   He wanted to have that chance of getting me for himself, didn’t he?”

 

“No, you’re wrong about that, Billy.”

 

Adam held the reins of his horse in both hands, now he rested them upon the pommel of his saddle, he could recall that evening when Billy came, all hot tempered and fired up, and how cool Ed was in comparison.   He sighed “No, you’re wrong, Billy, he didn’t want to shoot you.   He didn’t want you to shoot him either, come to that, he knew what kind of life you’d have – afterwards.”

 

He could see from the way Billy’s jaw tightened that he had the man’s attention now, and raised his eyes to look him full in the face “Ed Payson was a dying man anyway, he had come home to die, he just didn’t want to die in a shoot out, because he knew the other person would have a miserable life, I guess he was right about that, huh?”

 

“Yes, he was right about that, Adam.  From the moment he fell, and I heard Sally scream, I knew life was changed for me, and it has been …miserable.”

 

“But it doesn’t have to be, Billy.  Not now.  You helped Mary Ann, you kept her safe.  You could start afresh, shake off McGarthy and have a decent life.”

 

“You know I can’t, Adam.  You know what I’ve done, that sheriff friend of yours, he knows too.” Billy frowned and sighed “Mary Ann knows as well now.”

 

“About Mrs Mayhew?”

 

“Yeah, about Mrs Mayhew.  And there were others … seems once you start killing, it just keeps going on, one after the other.  Seems like after Payson there was always someone else.   I didn’t want to kill Mrs Mayhew, fact is, most people I didn’t want to kill.”

 

“Then put the gun down and give yourself that chance, Bill.”

 

Billy Buckley smiled, he shook his head “You know I can’t, Adam.  Mcgarthy’s the kind of man who’ll rat on anyone to save his own neck.  Sure, he didn’t actually kill anyone, but he paid us well for doing the jobs for him.  I can’t let you take me back to town, Adam.”

 

“I don’t want to shoot you, Bill.”

 

“Who says I’ll let you …”

 

Billy’s finger tightened on the trigger and the bullet sped forwards to fulfil its purpose, except that the other man had slipped away from the saddle,  his gun was in his hand and he had fired not just once, but twice, even before he had reached the ground.

 

For a moment Adam remained on his stomach with his gun poised in his hand.  He watched as Billy bent double, clutched at his shoulder, the gun falling from limp fingers.  The horse seemed to do a sideways step, back and forth while the man in the saddle swayed as though to the movement of the animal before he fell, heavily, to the ground.

 

Adam kicked Billys’ gun further away, out of reach of any faltering hand, and then he knelt at the other mans side, gently turned him onto his back and looked into the greying face “Billy?”

 

“Well, now, guess you finally did it, Adam, just like you always wanted …” Billy slurred his words, he could feel pain, but weakness was gathering, building momentum, he wanted to rage against the injustice of it all, the unfairness of life, the way he had always been dealt the worst hand but it all seemed futile now, he looked up into Adams face, the brown eyes, the sympathetic look and grimaced “I loved her, you know, she was like an angel …”

 

Adam nodded and looked at the other man with a kindliness that could often touch the stern features, “Bill, let me get you into town now, I don’t want you dying here like this.”

 

“Don’t want me on your conscience after all, huh?”  Billy sighed deeply and frowned, “I really didn’t want to hurt Mrs Mayhew, when I heard Tovey bragging about getting rid of old Sam…I thought I’d quit, get as fast as I could from here.  Didn’t go far enough though, only to that cabin and then … then Mary Ann came and I couldn’t leave her, could I?”

 

Adam looked away, up at the sky, blue it was, as blue as a summers day except that it was heading for winter now… he looked down at Billy Buckley, shook his head, and wished he could turn the clock back, as he did, so often.

 

Chapter 52

 

Euphoria can lead to hysteria as Marcy found out when they attempted to help Joe into the buggy only for Mary Ann to realise that with her leg and shoulder she was unable to do much to help at all.  Marcy, being slight of build, was almost on her knees trying to get  Joe upright for he had sagged sadly almost as soon as Adam had disappeared from view.

 

“What a bother, “ Marcy exclaimed trying to suppress an hysterical giggle, “What a mess we are making of this …”

 

“I’m sorry, not much help am I?” Joe muttered in a slurred voice for everything was now beginning to drift back and forth, weakness, hearing, sight ..all washing  back and forth like the waves of the sea.

 

“I’m not much better,” Mary Ann responded with a feeling of irritation again at Marcy, this was no laughing matter after all.  She leaned against the buggy and closed her eyes, shook her head “This is ridiculous, there’s only room for two of us anyway.”

 

Marcy nodded and forced her lips to stay tightly together while she looked at Joe and then at Mary Ann “I think we had best leave Joe here,  we can come back for him later.”

 

“What?  We can’t leave him here alone, what if Billy does come back, what if he finds Joe here and I’m gone…”  Mary Ann felt a different kind of hysteria to Marcy, she wanted to cry,  she felt desperately in need of some privacy for a good sob.

 

“Then stay here with him,” Marcy suggested and looked at Joe who was trying to set his features so that no one would realise that he was about to collapse.  “Look,  if you can get to the cabin,  with Joe,  I’ll go back and …” she frowned as though thinking so far ahead was beyond her capabilities, she then smiled and placed a gentle hand on Mary Ann’s shoulder “Luke will be back home by now,  he’ll know what to do…I’ll take the buggy back with me and then come for you both. “  she sighed “There’s little point in either of you taking the buggy and I don’t intend walking back to the ranch …”

 

Joe pushed himself away from the support of the buggy and nodded, “If you wouldn’t mind, Marcy, I’m sorry …” he turned to his wife and whispered “Not exactly the most heroic rescue, sweetheart.”

 

Mary Ann reached for his hand and held it tightly within her own, “You came just at the right time, darling.  You really did.”

 

Marcy wasn’t so sure about that, but had the wisdom to keep quiet as she gave Joe her shoulder to lean upon and made their way to the cabin where, within a short while Joe was settled down upon the bed that his wife had spent so many miserable hours earlier. He could smell her fragrance mingled with the mustiness of long neglected bedding, closed his eyes and allowed the  ebb and flow of his senses to possess his mind and body.

 

Mary Ann had just settled into the chair next to the  bed when there came the sound of gunshots and all three of them froze, then Joe elbowed himself into a seated position  as they turned their heads to stare in the direction of the door.  “Do you think it was Billy…and Adam?” Mary Ann whispered and clutched at Joe’s hand.

 

Joe felt his heart hammering against his ribs,  he forced his eyes to focus on the door,  willing his brother to appear,  to confirm that they were now safe, and all was well.  Marcy shivered, forced herself to walk to the door and peered outside, everything was still and nothing had changed apart from the look of confusion on Mistral’s face.

 

“I’m going to get Luke, you’ll be alright, you have a gun, don’t you?”  she looked over at Joe who managed to nod before fallling back upon the mattress and pillow.

 

Husband and wife listened to the sound of the buggy as Mistral trotted away with Marcy taking the reins.   When they could no longer hear it or any other sound  Mary Ann took hold of Joe’s hand and clasped it tightly against her “Oh Joe,  poor Joe,  what happened to you? “  she brushed her fingers along the profile of his face and leaned forward to kiss him, “I’m so sorry I wasn’t home and just added to all your problems.”

 

Joe’s hazel eyes opened and looked up at her, it seemed as though all that had happened at the Bucksburn Mine had taken place a long ,long time ago.  He could only look into her gray eyes and wonder how it could have been had he not found her.  “Tell me what happened to you, darling.  Just tell me that you didn’t get hurt because of  … of him?”

 

“No,  no,  in fact, I owe him a lot, he came and helped me …  Mistral was startled into bolting when the mine alarm went off,  the buggy flipped over and I fell out.  Really, I’m only bruised and a little battered.  Truly, dear,  Mr Buckley did nothing,  only helped me.”

 

He  believed her because he wanted to, needed to believe,  he didn’t question her as to why she and Marcy had looked so terrified when he and Adam had ridden up on them, he asked her nothing only accepted that his wife would not lie to him,  and that it was as she had said.

…………….

 

Marcy found her husband at home looking rather confused at finding the house empty and no food cooking,  he was just emerging from the cowshed when Marcy appeared in the buggy which caused Luke to stare rather “What’s going on, Marcy?  Isn’t that the horse and buggy Mary Ann uses?  What are you doing with it? Are you alright?”

 

Barely pausing to catch her breath Marcy clambered down from the vehicle and hurried to wards him, “Something …Mary Ann’s hurt, and Joe… and this man had Mary Ann, Luke…he came here, he came here and took me ….”

 

“Hush now, calm down…”  he put a hand on her arm, another touched her face and he looked intently at her until she was able to catch her breath “Right?  Better? Good….now tell me what’s happened?”

 

So as quickly as she possibly could Marcy explained what had happened, her eyes on his face, registering the way his face changed from concern to alarm to anxiety and when she had finished he told her to get back to the cabin, and he would follow with the wagon.   “We’ll take them home, sweetheart, back to the Ponderosa.”

 

“But Adams gone to get the Doctor,  he’d be expecting to find Joe and Mary Ann at the cabin.”

 

Luke frowned and paused to reflect a moment “Matt’s over by the hay loft, I’ll get him to bring the wagon round and follow you.  I’ll ride into town,  maybe meet Adam there…at least be able to direct him and the doctor  to the Ponderosa.”  he dropped a kiss on her cheek “Don’t worry,  Marcy, we’ll get this all sorted out, they’ll be alright.”

 

“Luke…”  she grabbed at his sleeve in order to stop him from rushing off  to  get the horses and wagon, “Luke there is another thing…  we heard gun shots, we aren’t sure who fired them but …”

 

“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it, now…go and find Matt while I get the wagon  ready.”

…………….

 

As often happens when a man rode into town with the body of another man draped over the saddle of another horse a crowd soon gathered as Adam halted in front of the sheriff’s office.

 

From across the way a young woman pulled a shawl around her shoulders and stared at the corpse,  a fist of misery tightened in the middle of her stomach and she turned quickly into the saloon to run quickly to her room.   From the window she could see more clearly through the crowd, looking down she could see the clothes, familiar clothes, and then felt the strength leave her body.   There was no doubt about it,  the dead man was Billy,  the man she had hoped to live the remainder of her life with…on her terms of course.

 

“You look like you saw a ghost,”  Esme, one of the other girls who worked in the saloon  picked up the hair ornament she had wanted to borrow from Gwen’s dressing table, “You alright?  Not sick or anything?”

 

“No,  no I’m alright, it’s just that some one I knew has …  just passed on.”

 

“Oh?”  Esme raised her eyebrows and hurried over to the window to peer down upon the crowd that had gathered to look over Billy’s body and form opinions of their own about the cause of his demise.  “Oh, looks like that gunslinger friend of yours….”  she frowned, her hard little face softened a little as she looked at Gwen, she put a gentle hand on her arm “You’re better off without him, dearie, he wasn’t a good sort, not at all.”

 

“You don’t know, you can’t say that…” Gwen cried in defence of the man she had cared about, “You know nothing about him, or me either come to that…”

 

Esme shrugged “I know his sort, Gwennie, and he wasn’t the kind of man a girl like you should waste time thinking about,  he’d never settle with anyone.”

 

“Yes, he would, he would have done…” Gwen returned to the window and stared down, the crowd were drifting away now, a few stragglers came and peered at Billy, and then strolled away.  “He would have done,” she whispered as though she needed the reassurance of the words, even if it was from herself and no one else.

……………

 

Roy glanced over at the door as it swung open and Adam stepped into the room,  Clem sighed and raised his eyebrows and Candy rose half way from his chair before settling back into it.  “Are you alright?” the sheriff asked concernedly for his friend looked far from ‘alright’,  even though he was attempting to look it.

 

“Billy Buckley.  I’ve his body outside,  it was self defence.”

 

Adam’s voice was sharp, he spoke out the words because they were necessary to be said,  then he looked at Clem who nodded towards the coffee pot , enough  said, a good strong cup of coffee would be perfect.  He pulled out a chair and sat down, looked at Roy and nodded at him as well.

 

“Seems you back to interfering in the law’s business again, Adam.” Roy grinned, “Seems like you can’t give up on the habit.”

 

“Huh, think I’ll go back to sea… it’s safer.” Adam grunted and accepted the cup of coffee from Clem, sniffed it and then slowly enjoyed the taste of it.

 

“So what happened?” Roy asked,  he turned to Candy who  was sitting, leaning back in the chair with a slight grin on his face “You don’t mind my asking, sheriff, do you?”

 

“No, go ahead, Roy,  don’t mind me…”Candy murmured good humouredly.

 

Adam drained the cup dry, and set it down on the desk.  He looked at the three of them “He’s confessed to the killing of Tilly Mayhew … he said Tovey killed Sam Mayhew.”

 

“Did he give any reason as to why?” Candy asked as he picked up a pen and pulled clean sheets of paper towards him.

 

“McGarthy’s orders.”  Adam passed a  hand across his jaw, felt the prickle of stubble against his fingers “He was on his way someplace else when he came across my sister in law, Mary Ann.  Some accident.  He looked after  her and that caused him to be delayed in leaving.”

 

“And you met up with him whereabouts?”

 

“According to him  he was coming into town to get a doctor to help Mary Ann.  She was at the cabin, the one Chris O’Dell used to live in. “

 

Roy pursed his lips, his moustache bristled as a result “And is she alright, is she safe?”

 

“Joe and I found her, she appeared well enough apart from looking scared out of her wits.  She had Marcy Dent with her…”  his voice trailed away, he bowed his head and stared at the floor boards, as though they would supply him with the answers he was seeking.

 

“Seems a shame that he got himself  killed in doing something decent for someone.” Clem said, “Seems like what they call ironical.”

 

Roy got up from his chair and placed a gentle hand on Adams shoulder “Once you finish on here, Adam, best you get to the doctor and get that hand seen to…”

 

Adam nodded, glanced from the floorboards to his hand, and sighed, “Sure, Roy.” he ran his hand across his jaw, felt bristles prickle his fingers “I will, thanks.”

 

Candy looked at him, concerned eyes, a thoughtful expression “We had a visit from a friend of Billys, Adam.”  he tapped the pen upon the desk several times, “A young woman called Gwen.  She gave a statement saying that she had lied about where Billy was the night Mrs Mayhew was killed.”

 

Adam grimaced and then shook his  head “He never had any sense…”

 

“No, appears not.”  Candy replied sadly, “She was quite adamant about what she had to say though, enough to back up our suspicions.”

 

Adam shrugged “But they were only suspicions, Candy.”

 

“There was also a witness to his being at the house of Widow Hawkins at the time just prior to the fire.  “

 

Again Adam passed his hand along his jaw line, he thought once more about Billy, about the man’s life, the good he had thrown away so casually.  He looked up again at Candy “He wasn’t all bad, you know?”

 

“He was weak,” Roy muttered as he picked up his hat, “He gave way to his feelings too quickly, he threw away all those chances to make something of himself… because inside he was weak, and bitter.  The kind of man who believed everyone was against him.”

 

Adam said nothing to that, perhaps Roy was right,  perhaps Billy had been weak and maybe all the negatives in his life had just weighed too heavy on that weakness.  If only … he nodded and stood up, “I’ll  come give you a statement once I’ve been to see Paul.”

 

“Do that,” Candy said kindly, “I’m sorry, Adam.  If we had caught him, he would have been hanged you know.”

 

Adam nodded, Billy’s good deeds could never outweigh the wrongs in his life, the killings in his past.  Clem  and Roy were outside and looking the body over when Adam stepped outside, his hat on his head but he didn’t even glance in the direction of where they were standing, he just directed his steps towards Dr Martins.

……………….

 

It was good to be  home again…Hester fussed over them like a mother hen, and Ben clucked quite a bit like one too.   It didn’t take long for Joe to be in his own bed, while Hop Sing mixed up some creams and ointments for Mary Ann to have rubbed into her bruises by Olivia.

 

It was to Olivia that Mary Ann divulged the details of her ordeal, as the ointments were gently rubbed into her leg and shoulder, and the cut on her head cleaned and gently tended, she told Olivia everything about those hours spent in the cabin with Billy Buckley.  Olivia said nothing,  concentrated only on covering the flesh that was marbled by the bruising, and making sympathetic noises every so often to reassure the other woman that she was listening.

 

It was only when Mary Ann mentioned about Adam riding into town to get a doctor and the gun shots that had been heard that Olivia paused in her actions and with a beating heart asked Mary Ann if they had seen anything of Adam since.

 

“No, nothing.   Luke rode into town , or rather took the road into town  in case he would meet up with Adam,  but I don’t know if he did or not.  As it was Marcy came back with Luke and the wagon sooner than Adam could have returned with Dr Martin.”

 

Olivia nodded but said nothing although she was now beset by anxieties yet again.  What if Luke had found Adam dead on the ground?   What if he had been injured?  She finished tending to Mary Ann’s head wound and reached out to pick up the shawl that she had knitted for the other woman during her confinement with Daniel, gently she placed it over Mary Ann’s shoulders and smiled “Well, you’re here, home, safe.  That’s all that matters.”

 

Except that it wasn’t of course,  now she had to worry about her husband, his safety, and whether or not he would be coming home, safe …

 

 

Chapter 54

 

The relief and joy of knowing Mary Ann was now safely home and resting with her little boy playing near by, didn’t lessen the anxiety the family felt for Hoss who had only once regained consciousness since being placed in his bed or for Joe who was now utterly spent and exhausted.

 

Once Mary Ann had eaten a little and attended to Daniel she insisted that she spent the rest of her time with Joe,  and there she sat by his side, watching as he slowly slipped into a feverish and restless sleep.  Occasionally he would open his eyes, look into her face and smile a weary but satisfied smile and then drift back to sleep.  It was sufficient for her to know he realised that she was by his side and he had accomplished what he had set out to do.

 

Hester remained by the bedside of her husband, occasionally relieved by Ben, who now divided his time between the rooms of both is sons, and realising each time what a blessing he had been given with his daughters in law.  Their loving loyalty to their husbands was touching, and when he joined Olivia in the sitting room  where she was tending the children he told her how grateful he was to have three such wonderful daughters.

 

“I used to wish for good wives for my sons,” he said quietly as he sat down opposite her, “I never realised before how grateful I am that my wish was granted.”

 

Olivia smiled and bent down to pick up a toy that Nathaniel had dropped and been unable to reach,  she said nothing to her father in laws compliment but watched as her son seized the little wooden soldier and began to chew at it vigorously,  Ben sighed and after a moment’s silence asked her if she was worried about Adam who had yet to arrive home.

 

“Yes,  I am.”  she replied honestly and looked up into his brown eyes “Strange how worrying it is now that he is home.   When he was away for so long  I worried for him, but it was in a kind of abstract way, I didn’t know the dangers he was facing, they were not – I suppose one would say – they were not real, if you know what I mean?”

 

“Of course,  I’ve spent many years worrying about Adam when he was at sea, and can understand exactly what you mean.   Abstract, yes, that’s a good word to describe how one could view it.   Now, of course, it is a physical and emotional reality, isn’t it?”

 

“Yes,  and he left so quickly with Joe,  I know he spent a restless night, and in pain with his hand … and Mary Ann said that there were gun shots -”

 

“Gun shots?” Ben interrupted and his dark brows knitted together above concerned dark eyes “I didn’t hear about that before..”

 

“She mentioned it while I was helping her earlier.  They heard the gunshots shortly after Adam had left the cabin for town.  Then nothing, nothing at all.”

 

“Do you think he met up with Buckley?”

 

“Yes,  who else could it have been but Adam and that gunman?”  she sighed, and looked over at the clock “Sometimes I hate clocks, it seems I am constantly looking at them, willing the hands to go faster, or slower…   Ben, I love Adam so much,  but the not knowing if he is safe or – or hurt in some way, tears at my heart.”

 

Ben nodded,  how often had he felt the same and even now he had that sickeningly leaden feeling in his own chest that indicated his concerns for all three of his sons.  He stood up and approached her, placed a hand upon her shoulder “He’ll be home soon, my dear. “

 

She nodded and glanced again at the clock.  Of course he’ll be home soon, she told herself, and when she glanced down there was little Nathaniel with his big honey brown eyes looking  up at her,  gummy smile and dimples, she leaned forward and stroked the curls of black hair  …of course he would come home, after all there was so much for him to come home to now.

 

In  his room  Hoss forced open his eyes and stared up at the ceiling.  He felt weightless, as though if he willed it so he could have drifted right up there and then look down on everything that was happening below him.   He was too tired to will that however, and turned his head slightly to the left.  Everything was misty, it seemed as though he was seeing everything shrouded through a haze.   His eyes finally came to rest  upon a woman who was sitting nearby with her head bent in concentration upon a book she was reading.

 

She sat in the light that came from the window so that her golden red  hair gleamed like a halo around her head, curls framed her face and every so often she would lift a  hand  in an attempt to push them back into place only for them to spring out again.  He could see that she had strong features, she wasn’t beautiful, and she wasn’t one of those scrawny looking women one saw in town.  He watched her as she raised her head and looked over at him, the depth of her blue eyes were beautiful,  and the concern on her face softened her features.   Briefly he wondered who she was as he closed his eyes and drifted back into that dreamlike state from which he had been roused.

 

He was dreaming, he could hear himself saying that this was a dream except that it was more than just a dream… he saw a list of names on a scrappy piece of paper, he was drawing a line through them, one by one as though they just didn’t matter although why he had written down a list of females he couldn’t recall.

 

Someone was laughing, a child, a little boy and he saw a reflection of himself in the window glass of the store, pretending to scratch his head and knocking his hat off as a result and then…catching it just before it reached the ground.  That was making the child laugh until there was someone else laughing and when he turned to see who it was he saw a tall woman standing there who clapped her hands in applause at his trick.

 

Then he was sitting beside her among wild flowers and tall grass, the breeze was blowing over and through them and her hair was disarrayed so that he helped her pin a curl back into place while he listened to her telling him about her first husband and how he had never returned from the war.

 

What was his name?  He saw himself with this woman sitting in the grass and tried to remember the name she had mentioned but it was no good, it didn’t come to mind, it was gone and the only name he could recall was hers “Hester.”

 

The name slipped from his lips and Ben leaned forward “Hoss?  Are  you awake, son?”

 

Hoss’ eyelids fluttered open and he looked up and stared into the face of a man who looked like his father.  He stared into the anxious near black eyes, saw the concern there and yet …. And yet …  “Pa?”

 

“Hoss?  Son?  It’s alright, you’re home, you’re safe…”   and a firm hand, a heavy hand, was laid gently upon the sick man’s shoulder.

 

Hoss closed his eyes again and tried to travel  back to the memories he had had previously, they had meant something surely?  This man though,  it was Pa, but different.  He couldn’t remember his father looking like this, looking …  haggard, thinner of face, his hair silver white.   Why goodness, his Pa was a rugged tough looking man, with near black hair and his skin dyed bronze from the sun.  They had been working hard for days upon days to get the house built, hadn’t they?  Pa had said his blisters hurt and Hop Sing had put salve on them, he remembered putting out his own hands to show them his blisters too …  and he had a brother, Adam, who had rolled his eyes and shaken his head before running off into the grasses and to where the  house stood.

 

It was just a skeleton of a house really, rafters bare to the sky, walls sturdy though…. He could hear Hop Sing chattering shrilly near by “Hop Sing?”

………………

 

Miss Brandon had said nothing about the way the children had run off during class.  This town was different from back East,  the children had to face daily situations that would have been unthinkable in the comforts of a school  back in the sophisticated county of her birth.

 

She looked over at the Cartwright children and pondered about them as they sat at their desks, Reuben with his head bowed and writing industriously, she knew he would be frowning in concentration and probably have his tongue sticking out of the corner of his mouth.   But Sofia, she had sat so quiet all morning, listless,  with little energy to put into her work for the day.   Occasionally Lucy had turned to observe her and seen the child staring at her, just staring.

 

“Sofia,” she had said, “Get back to your work, stop day dreaming.”

 

The child had closed her eyes and then reopened them before bowing her head to resume her work.   But there was little enthusiasm,  Sofia from the previous days had disappeared.

 

The lunch bell for recess was sounded and the children scuffled around their chairs and got ready to leave, some were boisterous and laughing, shouting, eager to pursue the activities of the brief respite.  Lucy Brandon had already noted the children still absent from school;, those whose family members had been involved in the incident in the mine the previous day.

 

“Sofia, just a moment please.”

 

The little girl paused and looked over at her brother who stopped also,  he nodded as though giving her permission to approach the teacher.   Within a minute she was standing in front of Lucy, her hands clasped together in the lap of her clean white pinafore.  Lucy looked down at her and smiled gently for Sofia was a pretty child, with her blue eyes and pale blonde hair braided like a crown around her head.  She wore a pale green dress over which the pinafore was pristine white, as were her stockings and her boots shone, she was obviously a very well cared for little girl.

 

“Sofia,  has something happened to upset you?”

 

The child blinked and bowed her head, only to be asked again the same question said so kindly that she had no reason to whisper “My daddy was hurt, and so was my Uncle Joe and so was my Uncle Hoss …  but my daddy went away this morning and he didn’t have his coffee, he always has his coffee in the morning, Miss Brandon,  but he went very quickly, he didn’t even say goodbye.”

 

“But that doesn’t mean he isn’t coming back, does it?” Miss Brandon smiled, it was in the words she spoke, a gentle smile wrapped around her words.

 

“I don’t know.”  Sofia whispered and looked up at Lucy with tears in her eyes “He always says good bye and gives me a kiss before he leaves, and he just left so early with his poorly hand.”

 

“Well,” Lucy looked over at Reuben who was hovering by the door waiting for his sister, “Don’t worry so much, dear, he’ll be home by the time you return from school, won’t he, Reuben?”

 

The brother nodded but it was brief and he said brusquely “Come on, Sofee, we got our lunch to eat  yet.”

 

Lucy Brandon watched them from the window as they walked, hand in hand,  to the shade of some trees.  It was still pleasant enough to go outside without coats but there was the chill of the fall in the air now.  She turned back to clean the board ready for the afternoon lessons.

 

Jimmy Carstairs came running through the school yard waving an arm in the air, he was one of those who was fortunate enough to live near the school  so  every so often he would go home to eat his lunch.   Now he ran with an excited flush to his face and yelled “I just saw a man brung into town on the back of a horse.  He was full of holes.”

 

Children clustered around  him, a man full of holes,  the picture conjured up in various minds were quite horrific, “What happened?”  “Who was it?”  “Was he dead?”

 

Jimmy stopped to catch his breath,  he wanted to make the most of this moment, “He sure was dead.  I saw him, he was just hanging there over the saddle, his arms just like this …” he held out his arms and then dropped them limply to his side as though that proved how limp a dead mans arms would be “And I saw the bullet holes, and the blood, he was bloody all right, covered in blood all red it was, dripping off of him.”

 

This, of course, was poetic licence on the part of the lad, but he knew no one there would see the body so he would be unchallenged about what he had seen, he had watched as the undertaker’s assistant had led the body laden horse away.  He turned to Rose Canaday “Your Pa looked him over and said it was the gunslinger who had been wanted in several states for murder.”

 

“Was it a bad man then?” Rose asked innocently and Jimmy nodded while another older boy said sarcastically “Of course he was a bad man, gunslingers are always bad men.  Don’t you know nothing,  and you the sheriff’s girl?”

 

“Who done it?”  another boy asked, “Another gunslinger?”

 

“No, it was Adam Cartwright.”  Jimmy looked over at Reuben and Sofia, and his face hardened, his lips thinned into a sneer “It was your Pa, he shot that man full of holes right from top to bottom.”

 

Reuben frowned “What do you mean?  Our Pa wouldn’t just shoot a man …”

 

“Well, he shot this one.  Bullet holes all over the body, I saw it… I really did.. I saw it.” and the childish voice rose shrilly as though he alone could prove what he had seen to be real.  “Your Pa was just standing there looking real pleased with himself, he was laughing and saying how easy it was …”

 

“No he didn’t…”  Sofia’s voice screamed out the words “No, my Pa wouldn’t kill a man full of holes and laugh, he wouldn’t … not my Pa.”

 

Jimmy looked surprised that anyone would challenge him, he was the one in authority, he was the one who saw …well, who saw nothing like his report but he saw something. Sofia was standing right up close to him, her hands on her hips and her face thrust closer to his own “You’re a liar.  A liar.”

 

“You take that back, Sofia Cartwright.  I ain’t no liar.”

 

“You are too.”  and for good measure she kicked him hard on the shins, and as he hopped onto one foot she kicked him hard on the other shin “Liar, Liar…”

 

Reuben ran forward to grab at her hands before  she had hold of Jimmy by the hair,  he pulled her back “Sofee, stop it, stop it.”

 

“He’s telling lies, he is …he is…”  sobbed the little girl and pushing her brother away she ran, she wanted her Pa,  she didn’t want to hear their lies and their laughter, she wanted to be with her Pa.

……………

 

Hoss’ eyes fluttered open and he gazed around the room and up into the face of a woman with amazingly blue eyes who was pushing back an errant curl behind her ear, she smiled at him “Hello, darling?”

 

“Hester?”

 

She leaned down and kissed his brow “Dr Martin is here to see to you.  I’ll just leave you for a moment.”

 

He grabbed at her hand and held it tightly in his “Just for a minute…”

 

She nodded and smiled,  and he felt his heart lift with contentment,  his wife,  his Hester.  She was beautiful …  and all his own.

 

Chapter 54

 

Sofia was not sure where she running,  she just allowed her feet to carry her as fast as they could from the playground and away from the children whose shrill cries she could hear trailing behind her.

 

She paused only when she got that pain in her side that forced her to do so,  and then  when she looked around her realised she had ran as far as C street.   She stood staring around her for a while until the pain subsided and just as she was about to set off again a hand grabbed at her arm “Sofia,  you got to come back, you can’t just run off like that, what will Miss Brandon say?”

 

Reuben was staring at her with his face looking trouble and concerned, his eyes blinked back tears and she realised that she had caused her brother to feel distressed,  she felt tears pricking her own eyes now and when she blinked they spilled over and splashed onto her cheeks “He was lying, Reuben”

 

“Sure he was,  Dave said he was going to ask his Pa about the body, and make sure exactly how many holes he had … you know Dave’s Pa’s the undertaker don’t you?”

 

She didn’t care about Dave or his Pa,  but he was leading her gently  back to the school while he was talking and she allowed him to do so.  There was little chance she would have found Pa anyway.  She glanced back over her shoulder and all she saw were a vast number of people going about their business.   “Pa wouldn’t shoot anyone full of holes, would he?”

 

“Of course not,” Reuben replied stoutly, “But Pa might have had to shoot someone, you know that?”

 

She nodded,  she didn’t like to say that someone might have wanted to shoot their Pa.  It all seemed far too horrible to think about that, and she clung tightly to her brother’s hand as the thought built up in her mind of her Pa being riddled full of holes.

 

The school children were trailing back into class when they returned, and there were some sour looks cast in Sofia’s direction,  but some sympathetic ones as well for she was only a little girl after all, and no one likes to see little girls upset, especially when they were as pretty as she was… Rosie Canaday came and squeezed her hand and pushed a paper bag into the other hand “My favourite candy, I saved it special for you.”

 

Miss Brandon looked at them and sighed, a tear stained little girl and a hostile looking little boy  indicated there had been some problem that had taken place before she had been out to supervise the playground.   Sometimes she would have loved to be back home, where nothing really happened very much.

………….

 

Paul Martin came down from the bedrooms with his medical bag thumping against his thigh as usual and looking thoughtful, which was also, as usual.  He smiled at Olivia who had risen to her feet as soon as he had appeared on the stairs “Well, nothing to be overly concerned about,  Olivia, all our patients will soon be on their feet again.  Hoss needs to be under more stringent care however, so I think I shall call in again about … yes, in about three days time.  I should imagine Joe will be quite well by then, his arm was a good clean break so will repair itself without further attention from me.”

 

Olivia smiled uncertainly and glanced over at Ben who had gone with Paul into the bedrooms and  stood  close by to observe and listen in to all that was taking place there, “So,  you didn’t see Adam at all?”  she murmured as calmly as possible, “Only Mary Ann mentioned that he was on his way to bring you here.”

 

Paul shook his head “No, my dear,  I came here on my own accord because I was in the area.  No doubt, if he went into town for  another doctor, he’ll be on his way home now,  with Timothy or James …  let’s hope it’s James,  otherwise we will all have to bear the brunt of Timothy’s ire.”

 

He chuckled good humouredly and refused any refreshments,  so she handed him his hat and watched as he walked from the house to his buggy.   She stood there for a moment alone  before Ben came and stood beside her  “Don’t worry,  my dear, Adam will be home soon. .. Hopefully without Schofield,  I can’t bear that man…”

 

“He means well,  Pa.”  she sighed and closed the door behind her, “It’s good to know everyone’s going to be alright though, isn’t it?”

 

“To  be honest, Olivia, those boys of mine have been nothing but trouble from the day they were born.  I didn’t get these grey hairs from nothing, you know?” he grinned at her and his dark eyes softened in his attempt to calm her fears so she smiled and nodded gratefully,  because she did understand what it must have been like for him, as it was for herself right now.

“I think I should be getting back home now, it won’t be long before the children are back from school.   Will you be staying on here, Pa?”

 

“For a little while,  I shall see you soon.” he kissed her cheek affectionately and watched as she stooped to pick up Nathaniel who had fallen asleep, thumb in his mouth and his black hair curling about his ears, such a contrast to his mother with her fair colouring and silver white hair,  he smiled again “Take care getting back… I’ll see you soon.”

 

Hester came down the stairs just as the door closed and she paused a moment,  then frowned “Has Paul gone?”

 

“Yes,  about five minutes ago.  I can go after him if you wish, my dear?”

 

“No,” she sighed and shook her head “No, it can wait.”

 

“Is there anything wrong?”   he walked towards her, concern for Hoss uppermost in his mind but she smiled rather warily and shook her head, assured him that all  was well and quickly turned back to the stairs to where Hoss slept.

 

Hop Sing came and stood beside Ben, both men stared up the stairs as though waiting for an explanation to come drifting down by its own accord, then Ben shook his head “Any idea what that was all about?”

 

Hop Sing shrugged “Missy Hester she worry about little missy Hope.”

 

“Hope?   Why, what’s wrong with her?” Ben asked and inwardly sighed,  more reason for more grey hairs, now he had grand children to worry about…. Life could be so cruel at times.  It dished out the blessings but always with the sour twist of some calamity along with it….

 

“Nothing wrong, Missy Hester worry too much.”  Hop Sing shrugged and hurried back towards the kitchen “You stay for meal Mister Ben?”

 

“No, its alright, I’ll get back to Adams place.”

 

Hop Sing nodded, not for a moment would he ever admit to the fact that he felt stabbed to the heart every time Ben ’preferred’ to go back to Adams place, that meant a preference for Cheng Ho Lee’s cuisine for sure.   Assuming wrongly and stabbing himself all over with unnecessary pain as a result the old cook closed the door to the kitchen and began slamming pots and pans about while offering up a prayer to the ancestors, in shrill Cantonese, for endurance and patience.

………………

 

Reuben was more than irritated by the behaviour of his little sister as she sat stony faced and sniffing throughout the journey home.  As soon as they were deposited in the yard both ran towards the house with a determination to be there first, to tell Ma what had happened, to be the first to tell the story and get Ma’s tender sympathy.

 

“Me…me first.” Sofia yelled pushing Reuben aside as they got wedged in the doorway

 

“No,  no…. you just stay there, Sofia, I’m oldest and I’ll tell Ma.”

 

“I’ll tell Ma, I will…” and clenching her fist Sofia aimed a blow at Reuben’s arm only to have it neatly deflected by Olivia who caught her daughters wrist in her hand and gave her a reproving look

 

“Well?  I can see something has happened today that’s annoyed you both.” Olivia said calmly and looking from  one to the other of them.  “ I don’t want to know what it is until you’ve washed up and calmed down.  Sofia … take that look off your face immediately, and apologise to Reuben …  Reuben,  stop looking so angry…”

 

“Sorry, Ma, it’s just that…”

 

“Reuben, I don’t want to know until you’ve both calmed down…Sofia, I haven’t heard you say sorry to your brother.”

 

Sofia rendered up the hardest word to utter when one feels totally woe be gone and put upon, then with head hanging she trudged to the wash room  followed by Reuben.

 

Olivia was sitting in her chair by her writing desk when they emerged looking just slightly less angry and together they presented themselves before her with big eyes and pensive expressions.  She looked from one to the other and tried to look less severe herself as she braced herself for some hair raising confessions,  “Well, now, tell me what happened … Reuben, you first.”

 

Reuben frowned and shook his head “It’s really up to Sofia to tell  you, Ma.  I guess it isn’t really anything I did.”  and feeling very virtuous he raised his chin to see the smile of approval he would get from his mother,  he was not disappointed, Olivia smiled and then looked at Sofia

 

“Well,  Sofia, what happened to make you so upset…your dress is dirty,  and your eyes look as though you’ve been crying.   Tell me what happened, dear.”

 

Sofia swelled up with pride,  her mother’s gentle smile, and mention of  her red eyes meant that the stage was all hers, she gave Reuben a slight nod to acknowledge his grand gesture and started to tell Olivia all about the incident at school   “…and I knew he was telling lies, Mommy, and he was, he was,  and he said he wasn’t so I kicked him ..”

 

“You did what?” Olivia exclaimed and shook her head “Oh Sofia …”

 

“I kicked him twice, because he said those things about daddy.   My daddy wouldn’t kill anyone with lots of holes,  he wouldn’t.  I told Jimmy and Jimmy said he did and then he laughed and thought it was funny.”

 

“Who laughed?” Olivia looked at Reuben who supplied the relevant information with a totally straight face

 

“Jimmy said Pa laughed about it… we know he wouldn’t do that, so we knew that Jimmy was lying.” Reuben explained.

 

“And I kicked him, hard.” Sofia added giving Reuben a glare as she felt he was about to steal her thunder as they say, “And then I ran and ran …   I wanted to find daddy,  and get him to tell them the truth.”

 

“You ran out of the school?”

 

Reuben cleared his throat “Only  out of the yard and it was during recess.  I stopped her getting into town, well, any further than C street.”

 

Olivia shook her head and looked at her children, one good thing had emerged in the telling of this story and that was that her husband was safe,  and for that she was truly grateful.   She put a gentle hand under Reuben’s chin and raised his face a little so that she could see his features more clearly…he was more like Robert than ever with that resolute mouth and determined chin “You did well to look after your sister, Reuben, well done.  Now, off you go,  if you have any homework to do, get started now.”  she smiled as he scampered off “I’ll get  you some milk and cookies in a moment.”

 

Now she turned to Sofia who resented her brother getting some fuss, so had a little frown making a horseshoe shape upon her brow,  Olivia smiled and drew the little girl closer towards her “Sofia, you must control  you temper, darling.   No matter what the cause of it,  you should not have kicked Jimmy.”

 

“But, mommy, he lied.”

 

“Yes, and no doubt he’ll be proven to  be a liar in due course.   But what if you had had an accident when you ran away?   You must think before you act, little girl, be more careful, more of a lady.”

 

“But I’m only a little girl, mommy….   I’m not a lady yet.”

 

Olivia laughed and stroked Sofia’s face “If you carry on like this I can’t see you ever becoming one either …  come here, dear.” and she drew her little daughter close into her arms “I’m proud of you for defending your daddy, but you must try to do it in a more …  well,  do it differently.”

“Can I have milk and cookies now, Mommy?”  Sofia whispered in her mother’s ear and when Olivia said yes, the child skipped off in delight.

 

For a moment Olivia watched her daughter and then sat down,  it recalled to mind times when she had been a child and just as wilful,  until that fateful day when the Bannock had come and taken them from their home … so much had changed  for her family then.  Nothing had ever been the same .

 

It was not long after the children’s return from school that the sound of a horse entering the yard was heard,  and finally Adam’s footsteps,  Olivia listened to them and felt as though each one was like the beat of her heart.  He came into the house with the gun belt in his hand,  wrapped ready to be placed safely away with the gun hanging within the holster.  He smiled at Olivia who was forcing herself not to run towards him, his arm outstretched she just slipped naturally into its circle and kissed him, she could feel the smile on his lips within his kiss “Sorry I didn’t get Paul …he was already in the area.”

 

“I know,  I was at Joe’s when he arrived…. Everyone ’s doing well, Hoss will need some extra care for a while, but other than that, all’s well.”  she leaned against him, one hand resting gently on his chest.

 

“I stayed in town to get my hand seen to,  Schofield insisted.” he released her in order to remove his hat and jacket, “Are the children home?”

 

“Oh yes,  they’re home …”  his wife replied with that slight touch of amusement in her voice that raised his eyebrows “I’m sure they’ll want to see you more than ever today.”

 

No sooner had she finished speaking than Sofia appeared, arms outstretched as she ran towards her father “Oh daddy, daddy… “

 

“What a welcome,” Adam laughed as he caught his daughter in his arms and swung  her off her feet and up into the air,  he saw Reuben now, standing sheepishly by the door but whose face lit up into a smile when he realised Adam was looking at him.

 

“I’m glad you’re home, daddy.” Sofia said in her sweetest tones, and kissed him on the cheek,

 

Adam looked at his wife, there was no doubting the look on her face, she was more than happy to see him home, safe and in one piece.

 

Now it was his turn to listen to the drama that had taken place in the school playground.  He had smiled, frowned, shaken his head and sighed;  he had looked angry, amused and worried and sometimes all three together which confused Sofia so that she faltered a little in the telling of the story.

 

She was sitting on his lap and holding Clarabelle .   They had eaten their meal and now they were dressed ready for bed, Ben was smoking his pipe and listening while he stared into the flames and waited for his son’s comments.  Olivia had Nathaniel in her arms, jigging him up and down on her knees and keeping him content, while Reuben sat beside Adam, leaning against him and listening to his sisters voice ’droning on’ as he would have described it had he been given the opportunity to do so.

 

“You didn’t riddle him with holes, did you, daddy?”  Sofia asked plaintively

 

“No,  I didn’t.  Just the one shot which he could have survived had a doctor been close at hand, as it was, he bled out and there was nothing anyone could do for him.”

 

Reuben wanted to know what the word survive meant and why did he bleed out which was duly explained, and after some seconds of silence while both children digested that information Sofia asked her father if the man had been a ’bad man.’

 

“Well,  I guess by most of his actions he would be considered a bad man, but he was kind in others, he helped your Aunt Mary Ann when she hurt herself.”  he frowned and memories of Billy Buckley came to mind, a younger man who had been given a chance of a new life years back.

 

“But he tried to kill you first, didn’t he, Pa?” Reuben asked in order to get the sequence of events straight in his mind.

“Yes, and I tried to talk him out of it but he fired at me several times …”

 

“Daddy, is it wrong to kill someone?”

 

Adam glanced over at Ben who raised his eyebrows and turned to look into the fire,  Olivia stopped bouncing Nathaniel on her knee and inclined her head towards her husband,  Adam sighed “Yes, it’s wrong to take a mans life, Sofia.”

 

“Then are you a bad man?”  she put her small dimpled hand against his cheek and looked sorrowfully into his face,  her eyes wide and innocent.

 

“Sofia,  sometimes things happen that aren’t right, no matter how hard we try to do the right thing … I didn’t want to shoot Billy, and I tried to stop the bleeding from the wound, but if I had just let him keep shooting at me he would have killed me… “ he frowned and looked into her face “One day,  and I hope it will be soon, there will be no guns, no killing, no danger for anyone.  It isn’t now,  life is how it is, and to survive it, then things are done that we would prefer not to have done…    do you understand?”

 

Sofia looked with her blue eyes into his face and then shook her head “I’,m  only a little girl,  daddy,  but I know you aren’t a bad man and I love you.”

 

“Well then,” he laughed although not with mirth, more with relief, “that’s all that matters, isn’t it?   Now then, off to bed with you…”  he swung her down from his lap and watched as she ran to kiss Ben good night,  assure him that she loved him too,  and then, taking Olivia’s hand allowed her mother to take her to bed.

 

Reuben hugged in closer to his father, and was rewarded with Adam’s arm around him, “Did you understand what I was saying, Reuben?”

 

“Yes, Pa.   I know what you meant …”  he closed his eyes and knew that had he had a gun, that day when the Downing boy had shot down his friends in the school yard, he would have shot him,  because when one faced death like that a man had to do something ….  He shivered “Do you think it will really happen, Pa?  No guns,  no killing?”

“Yes,  I do.” Adam replied simply “But I doubt if it will be in my life time.”  he smiled down at the boy “Now, off to bed….”

 

Adam and his father listened to the soft patter of Reuben’s steps upon the stairs, the opening and closing of the door to his room, Ben sighed and puffed on his pipe, then said quietly “I’ve written to Martha Frobisher,  about this business with Barrington.”

 

“Any reply?”  Adam asked leaning slightly forward and when Ben shook his head he sighed “Well,  I guess Candy will be going to see McGarthy … perhaps we’ll learn more about the connection from him.”

 

Ben blew out a perfect smoke ring, but made no comment …

 

Chapter 55

 

The funeral of Billy Buckley was a sad affair.   There were few mourners, Gwen wept at the graveside and placed a small bunch of wild flowers on the mound that covered the pine box in which he was laid.  Boot Hill was always a miserable place, and whoever came to mourn the dead there were always brought sharply face to face with their own mortality.

 

Adding to Gwen’s grief was the fact that only hours before he had been brought into town she had been in the sheriff’s office pulling to pieces Billy’s carefully contrived alibi, putting her so-called precious lovers head in the noose and all because she believed him to love someone else, someone beyond his reach but not his heart.

 

Ben Cartwright  watched the girl as she left the cemetery and felt a little pity for her, but, as  he reminded himself, she was young, and young hearts do mend, given time.  He replaced his hat and cast a last look at the grave before making his own way back to his horse.   He passed Gwen along the way and tipped his hat to her,  wondered for a moment why she was weeping so hard, chided himself for forgetting she must have loved the man and continued onwards to town.

 

Dorothea Tennant stopped him as he dismounted outside the Postal depot where he intended to collect the Ponderosa’s mail.  She gave him a rather tentative smile as he turned to her, removed his hat and gave her the benefit of his best smile “Dorothy, how are you?  Still at Widow Hawkins place?”

 

“She’s been a good friend, Ben, and yes, I’m staying there for the time being.” she drew in a deep breath, “Ben,  is it true that Billy Buckley is dead?”

 

“Quite true.”  Ben frowned, “I’ve just returned from Boot Hill where they’ve buried him.”

 

“Boot Hill?”  she sighed and shook her head, “What a tragic mess.   I can remember him when he used to come into the saloon for a drink with the friends he had made before he left…you know, after Sally Cass went after that Ed Payson”

 

Ben remembered and sighed,  he could remember a lot more than that, but nodded and waited for her to continue speaking “Ben,  how are your sons?  Have they recovered from the mine disaster?”

 

“Hoss is still quite unwell, but Joe and Adam, they’re coming along well, thank you.”

 

“You know that Billy and his – well – what can one call them?  His cohorts … were hired by McGarthy to get me evicted from my living quarters and threatened the store keepers …”

 

“I think we had drawn that conclusion a while back,” he smiled “Are things any better now?  Are you being served?”

 

“Yes,  by some, not by all, not yet.  I’m sure they’ll come round… it takes a while for a tight grip to loosen its hold, doesn’t it?”

 

He smiled and waited a while, wondering if there was anything else she would have wanted to say but she only nodded and continued walking on.  After glancing up and down the street he entered the Telegraph depot and approached Eddy for the mail, which, once handed over to him he casually sifted through.  The letter he was searching for was not there.

……………

 

Patrick McGarthy was pacing the carpet of his well appointed home, listening to the workmen as they busied themselves with the renovations to a house that he knew he would not be living in for much longer.   He scowled over at the desk where various papers and letters were scattered, the contents of which he had scanned through earlier and had dreaded receiving.  Well, so be it, the Virginia City  Mining Corporation  had given him a warning,  one he could not ignore without repercussions that he could not afford.    The mine was losing money, there was no doubt about that, it had been losing steadily for over a year now,  the ore extracted was low grade and the seams were petering out.   The Bucksburn Mine was really limping along,  and to install the renovations as demanded by the Mining Corporation was not only impossible but utterly futile.  It would be like throwing good money after bad.  Sheer waste of funds and resources.

 

Just like the work to the house really,  every day the workmen were there was costing him money, and he knew that the funds were not in the bank, he knew that he was bank rupt.   He  returned to the desk now and began to listlessly flick through the papers… the list of works required,  the statements of work carried out, the bank statements, the invoices.

 

The sound of a door opening  caused him to turn in its direction and for a moment he didn’t move, then he straightened up and took a deep breath “You?  What are you doing here?”

 

The woman standing at the door shrugged slightly before stepping further into the room,  she looked at him “I’ve never seen you look so scared before,  Patrick,  you’ve gone quite pale.”

 

“It’s just the surprise of seeing you here, Paloma…  I wasn’t expecting you.”  he gave a sickly smile and gestured to a chair which she declined,  “Why are you here?”

 

“Well,  Silas and I were getting rather anxious at not hearing from you.  Mr Jones,  Aubrey, had not been in contact for some while and we were wondering just what was going on here.  We have a lot riding on this business you know.”

 

McGarthy swallowed and gulped and looked at a loss, which he was, his mind was fluttering from one place to another …  he shook his head “Business?  What business?”

 

Now she did take a seat and looked at him with large dark eyes,  she was a beautiful woman,  of that there was no mistake, but there was a brittleness to her beauty,  something about her that made McGarthy shiver, and not from desire either,  she was too cold a person for him to be attracted in that manner.

 

“You seem to have forgotten that your brother Liam and my brother Silas entered into a contract some years ago?”

 

“Oh no -that ?  –  No, I hadn’t forgotten.” he floundered,  he knew he was sinking into deep waters, and for a moment he just stood there and stared at her, “It was to do with getting funds to back your brother’s campaign for Senator?”

 

“Well done.” the sarcasm was cutting,  the smile was thin lipped, her eyes swept over him and then she sighed “And about the Ponderosa?  Have you found out who it was who purchased the Ponderosa and then so generously handed it back to Ben Cartwright?”

 

“No,  no ..not yet… things have been happening here,  trouble …” he stared down at the papers and now began to shuffle them together into a neat and orderly pile,  “We had a major mine collapse.”

 

She shrugged “But surely that happens quite often, doesn’t it?”

 

“It shouldn’t happen as often as it does, but Liam was not that scrupulous a Director of the mining operations here,  he let things slide, and I’ve been scrabbling to get the funds to put everything together and …”

 

“Wait.” she raised a gloved hand “What exactly do you mean, Patrick?   Are you saying that you have no funds?”

 

“I –   well –   I guess so, just at the present moment.”  he went pale, the colour drained from his face and he could feel his knees going weak, having to admit it out loud to her, to anyone, made it all so real.  “Liam should never have made such an agreement with your brother, it was a fool hardy thing to do.”

 

“We  bought shares in this mining operation,  Mr McGarthy, a lot of shares.”  she stared at him, beneath the cold beauty of her features she was hiding her own dismay, her and her brothers future was trickling through her fingers,  going , going …gone.  “Are you in a position to re-imburse us?”

 

He shook his head, unable to utter the words,  all he could see before him was ruin, utter ruin.   He felt sick to the stomach as she stood up, very regal, very tall and quite splendid in her smart city attire,  she looked at him with such disdain that Patrick had to  swallow hard to prevent being sick.   “You seriously mean that our shares are worthless?”

 

“I can’t help it,” Patrick bleated, “It’s not my fault.  Liam invested the money and it’s gone,  I can’t produce funds from  nothing, can I?”

 

How many times in his life had he made the same excuses,  what a blessing that Liam was no longer there to defend himself or produce the papers that would expose his, Patricks, ineptitude and greed.  Liam was the brains behind the schemes the brothers had worked on,  but now, without him over these few years, nothing had gone to plan.

 

She breathed heavily  as though she couldn’t believe what he was saying,  as though she also was struggling to come to terms with loss and the inconvenience it would cost them.  She stared at him  again “And you really never found out who …”

 

“No, no…forget about that, whoever he was it’s as though he never existed.   I’ve had my contacts searching and scratching around for information and they have found nothing. “

 

“Except a connection with the Frobishers… a lawyer called Julian Frobisher?”

 

He frowned and looked at her narrow eyed “That’s right, in San Francisco.  A close friend of the Cartwrights.”

 

“And  quite dead.” she said coldly and walked to the window to survey the view beyond,  a quite beautiful view and for a moment her face softened as though proof that beauty like that could even touch a heart as cold and mercenary as hers.

 

“You know about them?”

 

“Yes,”  she nodded, “Silas and I are related to the wife …or rather..the widow.”

 

He just stared at her before clearing his throat “Why  do you want to know who this person is?   Is it some personal vendetta?”

 

She smiled then, a slow grimace that just lifted the corner of her lips, “No,  just money.   Any one with that much money …” she paused and a slight rise of her shoulders indicated that she had shrugged “Just think of it,  thousands of dollars just given away, just like that, and nothing paid back in return except a few measly coins that were in Ben Cartwrights pockets at the time.   Ridiculous, isn’t it?”

 

Patrick nodded,  at the back of his mind he longed to be able to make this persons acquaintance, make promises that would guarantee getting him out of the mess he was in.   He licked his lips “Have you no idea at all who it could be?”

 

“Silas has someone  working at Frobishers who is going through their files.  Always so useful having someone on the inside.”  she looked at him and frowned “You’ve been rather a disappointment,  Patrick.   You’ve left us in a very difficult position.”

 

“Well,  I’m not exactly happy about the position I’m in either …” he paused and frowned,  “I’m not unique you know?   The mines here are closing down due to the lack of silver ore in them.  The mines aren’t producing the millions they were,  some aren’t producing  anything,  they’re closing down and to be honest I doubt if many will survive into the next decade.”  *

 

“That isn’t exactly helping our cause, Mr McGarthy.”  she turned and picked up her purse,  “I see I shall have to do my own ‘excavating’ …   good day to you, Patrick.”

 

He watched her leave,  her perfume lingered in the air for a matter of moments but he didn’t move from where he sat.  He pulled out a large handkerchief and mopped his  brow, he was cold but was sweating.   Sitting alone in the big room  he could now hear the sound of her vehicles wheels scrunching on the gravel drive.   It was some moments before his heart stopped racing …what he asked himself, was going to happen now?  Had he expected help from them?    He had to admit not,  in fact, he had forgotten all about the Barringtons since the mine collapse.  He tried to gather his wits, to remember what exactly Liam had arranged with them, what their latest demands on him had entailed.

 

What was so significant about the Ponderosa?  Why was it so important to find out who funded the Cartwrights during the time they nearly lost it all?  She had said it was to get more money,  from probably the richest man in the territory, or  such was the implication.   He sighed deeply, shook his head and stared at the door,  when it opened and his butler announced “Sheriff Canaday and Deputy Foster.”  Patrick McGarthy thought he was going to have a heart attack.

 

 

Candy had been on the track to McGarthy’s home when the hired landau swept past them and he had a glimpse of a woman’s outline,  the veil concealed her face but it was enough for him to know that whoever she was had expensive tastes.   Now he walked into McGarthy’s  large opulent study and looked at the wretched man who slowly rose to his feet in front of him…   “Sheriff?  What can I do for you?”

 

Candy frowned slightly,  the man’s voice, devoid of the arrogance and bluster of previous times, was thin, nasal and sounded like a man defeated.   The sheriff nodded, “Patrick McGarthy you are under arrest for contriving the murders of Matilda and Samuel Mayhew, of  your foreman O’Connell, of intimidation and threatening behaviour, also on a charge of arson…”

 

“Wait, sheriff… wait there…you’ve got the wrong man, you’ve no proof of  all this?  It’s slander,  pure slander…”

 

“I’m sorry, McGarthy, but we have the testimony of several  people who were involved so  it would  be much better for you if you just admitted your guilt and came along with us.”

 

Patrick McGarthy was not the man his brother had been,  he didn’t know where or how to put up a fight against the charges that he knew were far from false.   He stared from one man to the other “I demand my lawyer.”

 

Candy nodded “Certainly, when we’re in town .”

 

“I never killed anyone,  never…”  McGarthy blustered

 

“You had best save your breath until you see your lawyer,” Clem advised,  “Now, if you’ll come this way, Mr McGarthy…”    and he pointed to the door,  nodded and waited for Patrick to step forward.

…………………………….

 

Paloma Barrington had noticed the sheriff and his deputy,  she had sunk back deeper into the cushioned seat in the hope that they would not get a clear picture of her and once they had passed them by she had looked back to see whether or not she was right in assuming they were headed for  McGarthy’s place.   She then sat very still,  without Silas by her side she was at a loss as to what to do next.

 

In Virginia City she made her way to the Hotel and to her room,  after removing her hat and outer coat she sat down by the window and observed the comings and goings of the town.   So, she thought, this was where Ben Cartwright had his empire.   She narrowed her eyes and noticed a tall broad shouldered man walking alongside an older man who wore spectacles, had a moustache.   That, she thought,  was surely Ben Cartwright himself.   The other man didn’t count, but she could remember the last time she met with Ben,  and it had been very pleasant,  and who better to tell her what they needed to know than him.

 

* By the early 1880’s most of the mines were producing so little that they were closing at a rapid number, thousands drifted off to search for gold in the newly discovered Yukon and Alaskan fields, for Virginia City the boom time was over.

 

Chapter 55

 

People’s heads turned as Sheriff Canaday and his deputy rode into town with Patrick McGarthy in custody.  A small crowd gathered around the sheriff’s office and watched the handcuffed man being led into the building,  and then slowly dispersed amid a uncomfortable amount of murmurings and mutterings.

 

There were several who watched with a more personal interest in the man than the majority.  From the hotel window of her suite Paloma Barrington watched McGarthy and the two men who seemed to guide him out of sight, when the door closed upon them she dropped the curtain and stepped back into the room.  McGarthy had been a disappointment and the thought of so much money having slipped through his fingers, their money, hers and her brothers, made her feel ill.   It was bad enough to have run through their inheritance as quickly as they had, but the shares they had invested in the Bucksburn Mines had been their secret safety cushion, the one thing they had relied upon to reap them another fortune, and a bigger, brighter future.

 

She sat down  and stared into the small fire that burned in the grate while her mind searched for solutions, answers, anything.   How was she going to tell Silas that there was nothing,  nothing at all for their planned future?   All that money, all those shares just worthless, not worth the paper they were printed on.

 

They had felt confident with Liam McGarthy, he had ideas,  bright and wonderful prospects for the future,  brilliant plans.   He was going to be their backer for when the time was right to launch Silas into the political arena,  it wasn’t going to be that hard, after all, she and Silas had established a social circle that involved many of the most influential men in Boston, New York and all it had needed was Liam’s release of the money.

 

She clenched her  small fist and thudded it down upon the arm of her chair, why hadn’t they acted sooner,  sooner when Liam was alive instead of waiting until now. Why on earth had Silas been so apathetic and so trusting in Patrick McGarthy,  just because Liam had been so gifted wouldn’t have meant that his brother would have been;   charming and persuasive – oh yes, all of that and more,  as a result of which more of their money had poured into a worthless project.

 

She rested her chin upon her hand and stared into the fire,  somehow she was going to have to let Silas know, somehow she had to find a way to cushion the blow,  money, she needed more money, and lots of it.

…………………

 

Dorothea Tennant was standing beside Clemmie Hawkins when McGarthy was taken into prison,  they stood and watched until the door closed and then looked at one another “Blimey, ducks,  looks like they caught up with him then.   Do you think it’s to do with what he did to you?”

 

“I don’t know,  Clemmie.”  Dorothy frowned and shook her head, “Ben didn’t really seem very talkative about what happened when I saw him earlier.”

 

“Oh, saw Ben did you?  When was that, duckie?”

 

Dorothy smiled, she loved the way Clemmie talked, it had taken her some time to get used to being called a duck, and various other expressions but she was getting the hang of the little Cockney widow’s vernacular now and it amused her.   Clementine was a character,  elderly indeed, but full of spirit and with an endearing twinkle in her eyes still.  Dorothy knew that Clementine had a soft spot for Ben Cartwright and any time his name came into conversation she would expect to know every single word, every breath he took,  before the matter could be closed until another time.

 

Clemmie listened now as Dorothea told her about meeting Ben after Billy’s funeral, they walked towards the hotel in which they were staying until Clemmie’s home was habitable again, heads together, one talking the other intently listening, much nodding of heads which caused the feathers in their bonnets to drift too and fro .

 

“Seems to me,” Clemmie said eventually “That all McGarthy’s hens have come home to roost, and about bloomin’ time too.”

 

Dorothea said nothing, she wasn’t really too sure what to say to that …

…………………

 

Bridie Martin listened to her house keeper, Mrs Treveleyn, as the information concerning McGarthy’s arrest was being relayed to her.  It had been a trying time for Bridie who was concerned about Mrs O’Connell’s condition, about Hoss Cartwright and how Hester was going to manage and also about Mary Ann who had come through such rough handling by that gunslinger but who knew at what cost?

 

She was only half listening to Tilly while her mind was wandering down various other avenues of care … after all she had the responsibility of the charity that she had set up with the aid of the Cartwright women,  and which had been a wonderful benefit to the town, but it just seemed to keep growing and the demands grew along with it.

 

“Of course,” Tilly Treveleyn said in that strong Cornish accent of hers, “it’ll take a clever lawyer to get him off the hook.”

 

“A clever lawyer?  Do you think so?”  Bridie paused and tried to remember what Tilly had been saying before that, “Why would he need a clever lawyer?”

 

“Oh Mrs Martin, you’re away with the fairies again, aren’t you?  Have you been listening to a word I’ve said?”

 

Bridie laughed good naturedly, and gave a slight shrug “Oh well, most of it, Tilly.”

 

“That’s a blessing then, I hate repeating myself as you know.  But you see,  it was mostly Adam Cartwrights evidence that seems to have swung things …”

 

“Wait a moment, Adam Cartwright did you say? But what has he to do with this arrest?”  Bridie paused in cracking another egg into the mixing bowl,  “You never mentioned him before, did you?”

 

“No, I didn’t,”  Tilly consented to admit, and watched as Bridie cracked the egg and picked up another “Do you really need to put four eggs  in the mix?”

 

“Four?  Have I put in three already?”

 

“You have indeed.”

 

Bridie sighed, sometimes she wasn’t sure which of the two of them was the Irish one…but she smiled dutifully and put the fourth egg away into the bowl with the others.  “How is Adam Cartwright involved in all this?”

 

“Because of Billy Buckley, of course.”  Tilly rounded her eyes and looked at her mistress as though she couldn‘t believe Bridie hadn’t realised the connection, she cleared her throat and folded her arms across her flat chest, “It was tantamount to a death bed confession it was…   Billy Buckley was lying there bleeding to death kind of thing and Adam Cartwright was there and so Billy told him all about how McGarthy had ordered him to do the killings…and setting fire to old Mrs Hawkins place and a whole lot more beside.”

 

Bridie sighed and stared into space for a moment “Will that hold up in court do you think?”

 

“And why would it not?   Surely a death bed confession – sort of thing – is like a death sentence to the man?  Not only that he had told Mary Ann Cartwright the very same thing.”

 

“Who?  Adam?”

 

“No, no,  isn’t it Billy Buckley I’m talking about?   When he had Mary Ann in that cabin he told her about what he had done.  Mary Ann Cartwright knows probably  more about it than anyone else apart from McGarthy.”

 

“Oh I doubt that…” Bridie frowned and began to mix up her cake ingredients,  Mary Ann hadn’t looked as if she were harbouring the secrets and horrors of any confession Billy Buckley was likely to have made to her,  oh no, the last time Bridie saw Mary Ann all she was thinking about was her unborn baby,  and little Daniel,  and, of course, Joseph.

 

She was annoyed now,  she didn’t want Tilly telling her all this gossip from town.  She was more than glad that McGarthy had been arrested and she  hoped that he would face justice, both legally and divine, but all this thrill seeking chatter she could well do without.  “Did I put in the sugar, Tilly?”

 

“How’m I to know that, Mrs Martin, haven’t I had enough on my mind just now?”

 

Bridie said nothing to that but watched as Tilly flounced off to set out the tea cups and pour out some thing hot to drink “I’ll take up young Mrs O’Connell some tea.”

 

Bridie nodded,  her mind returned to the treadmill of her anxieties among which Mrs O’Connell figured quite largely seeing how the woman had been taking up the spare bedroom for some weeks now.  She had had a fine baby boy too,  a sweet natured contented wee soul which, concerning the misery and grief his mother had been enduring for the past while, was more than a blessing.   Bridie poured the mix into the mouldings tins and slipped them into the oven, poor little mite, and still no name for him either.

 

Tilly went upstairs and looked at the baby, fast asleep, little fingers curled and hands dimpled.  She set down the tea beside the bed and helped Mrs O’Connell into a sitting position, then plumped up the pillows.   It seemed to her that Mrs O’Connell was more than well enough to get up and about by now,  but some ’mysterious’ ailment had seized her since the baby’s delivery and no matter what Tilly Treveleyn thought about it all, it made no difference to the state of Mrs O’Connells legs which just didn’t seem to want to work.

 

“Did I hear  you talking about McGarthy of the Bucksburn Mine?”  Mrs O’Connell asked as she took the cup and saucer from Tilly

 

“He’s been arrested.” Tilly said and turned to look again at the baby sleeping so contentedly at the foot of the bed “Isn’t he just a darling, though?”

 

“He has the look of my husband,” Mrs O’Connell said softly.  “So why was he arrested?”

 

“Who?”

 

“McGarthy?”

 

Tilly put on her most stern features before turning to the young girl in the bed, “Now, this is what I got from Mrs Foster, you know, the deputy’s mother…   she told me that Billy Buckley had made a death bed confession….”

 

Mrs O’Connell was just eighteen years of age, widowed, the mother of an infant baby just recently born.  She listened and absorbed the facts, imagined the fat wealthy slug of a man now pacing the floor of the cell in the building not so v ery far from this one.   Her Thomas had been a good man,  certainly older than herself, but a good man.  He would have so loved to have seen his son, but he had gone down that mine to save people from a cave in, even though he had only the day before been yelling at McGarthy of the dangers his mines were presenting to the people employed by him.   McGarthy was still alive, but her Thomas was dead …  he would never see his wee son.

 

She listened until Tilly had run herself dry, “I’ll have to get another cup of tea,” the older woman laughed “How about yourself?”

 

Mrs O’Connell shook her head and leaned against the pillows.  For the first time in weeks, since the baby had been born and she had nearly died in his delivery, she felt as though life was tingling through her limbs again.  Her heart was beating faster, stronger and suddenly she felt there was a purpose in living after all.

……………..

 

Joe Cartwright sat down beside his brother’s bed and looked at the other man who seemed to be in a deep sleep,  he placed a hand gently upon Hoss’ shoulder “You asleep, Hoss?”

 

“Yeah, I am.”

 

“You looked as though you were.” Joe replied with warm sincerity.  He leaned back in his chair and looked around the room,  he smiled to himself, it wouldn’t  be long before he and Mary Ann could reclaim it back as their own.  He loved the way the windows opened out to the view of the mountains and the lake, even on days like this one, when the sky was grey and rain drizzled finely, like mist upon the ground.  “I thought – if you were awake – we could have had a game of checkers.”

 

Hoss snored, and Joe grinned…   no doubt about it, he was bored, his arm hurt and it itched as well.  He had slept so much that there was no sleep left in him,  but at the same time his body still felt bone weary.   He got to his feet and walked to the window.

 

“Leaving already?” Hoss muttered with his eyes closed and assuming his brother was heading for the door.

 

“No,  just looking out of the window.”

 

“Humph, where’s Hester?”

 

“Downstairs with Hop Sing and Olivia.   Should be getting something to eat soon.  You still on mush?”  he grinned mischievously,  even if Hoss were ill he was still a good target for some teasing.

 

“Mush?  Is that what they’ve been feeding me with?  No wonder I feel as weak as a kitten.”

 

“I heard they got a whole big pan of it downstairs, just for you.  Should be about a weeks worth I reckon.”

 

“A week of mush?  How’m I ever gonna git my strength back on mush?”  Hoss wrinkled his nose in disgust “Baby food that’s what it is.”

 

“Well, you aren’t doing much just lying there, like some great big fat baby…guess they reckon it’s all you deserve to eat.”  Joe grinned and his eyes twinkled, he turned away from looking at his disgruntled brother and resumed his surveillance of the views from the window.

 

“Hey, Joe, you joshing me?”  Hoss opened one eye and then the other, he yawned, and reached up to scratch his head,  felt the bandages rough to his fingers “Shucks and dadgumit, when is this thing coming off?”

 

Joe chuckled and returned to sit down, “Well,  Dr Schofield came to check you out this morning,  Hoss.   He sure does make a prettier turban than those Paul Martins created in the past …”

 

Both brothers grinned at the memories of Pauls  lack of expertise with the bandages, some had been embarrassingly inept, so much so that they had been pulled off as soon as the door had closed  behind the good man.  Hoss flexed his shoulders a little and clenched his fists for a few minutes as though to get some life into them “Shucks, Joe, I have to be honest, I don’t feel exactly right just yet.   Ask Hester to cook me some real good Ponderosa steaks with creamed potatoes like she knows how I like ‘em.”

 

Joe grimaced “I don’t know,  Hoss.  Dr Schofield was quite specific when it came to what you could or could not eat.”

 

“Oh Lordy…” Hoss sighed and slumped back against the pillows on his bed.

…………….

In a bedroom  across the landing from the room where Hoss and Joe were,  Olivia was gently brushing through the thick long chestnut curls of her sister in law, Mary Ann.   The hair fell in loose waves down to her waist and was as soft as silk to the touch.  Mary Ann watched as Olivia brought the brush down its length and smiled “Olivia,  do you ever think of cutting all your hair off?   I read that it was quite popular back east for those who are involved with the Votes for Women league.”

 

“Perhaps so, Mary Ann, I mean by that, perhaps it is popular with those women who want to get the vote but it isn’t for us here.”

 

“Why not?  don’t you want to have equal rights to men?  Why shouldn’t we have short hair?  It would be much neater, and cooler.”

 

“With winter on the way, my dear, I prefer to keep my hair as it is.”  Olivia frowned, it was, she thought, not unnatural for Mary Ann to be the one of the three of them to be so involved with this issue of suffrage … the school teacher and lover of education would have a natural bent for such things, especially now, during a time of such change.

 

“But think about it, Olivia?  It would mean that our daughters could have privileges that we have been denied.  They could go to Universities, become doctors,  have a voice in society …” Mary Anns eyes sparkled, “If I had a daughter I would encourage her to fight for her rights,  not be just a wife and mother…”

 

“Is that all you see yourself as, Mary Ann…  just a wife and mother?” Olivia said gently, placing a hand upon each of the other womans shoulders and looking into the earnest young face in the mirror.

 

Mary Ann’s grey eyes looked into Oliva’s green eyes, she smiled and blushed just a little, “No,  you’re right, I don’t see myself as just a wife and mother.   How could I when I’m married to Joe, and there’s so much to do …”  her voice trailed away and she sighed,  “I love Joe so much.”

 

Olivia nodded and smiled and began to arrange Mary Ann’s hair into the style the young woman preferred.  Love?  Oh yes, she could tell Mary Ann all about love,  how Adam was the first thought of the day and the last thought at night …   how her heart skipped when his foot steps approached the door,  how she felt when he took her in his arms and –  Mary Ann’s yelp roused her from her thoughts, she apologised and forced herself to concentrate on the task in hand.  Just a wife and mother?   Olivia smiled,  oh no, there was so much more involved than being just a wife and mother!

 

Chapter 56

 

Candy looked up as the door opened and then inwardly groaned when the thin form of Mr Edward Hamilton stepped forward, closing the door  very firmly behind him

 

“I’ve come to see my client.”  his manner was brisk almost to the point of rudeness and Candy was  tempted to  deflect the mans visit except that he knew of no possible way of doing so,  he merely nodded and indicated the way to the cells

 

The murmur of voices grated on Clem Fosters nerves, and he looked at Candy and rolled his eyes “Reckon  Hamilton will manage to get him off the hook?”

 

“I hope not, Clem.  The mans a rogue, more than that even, he’s a murderer. “

 

Clem perched his ample posterior onto the corner of the desk and folded his arms across his chest “We don’t really have proof of that, do we?”

 

“I’d say a confession to Adam Cartwright evidence enough,  plus what he told Mary Ann Cartwright.  Plus enough of what we’ve seen and heard for ourselves.”

 

“Yes,  but it isn’t solid evidence is it?”  Clem tapped the desk with a stubby forefinger, “We haven’t got eye witness proof, have we?”

 

“I’m sure it won’t be long before we can get it.  McGarthy isn’t the most popular man in the territory.”

 

They paused then when Hamilton came out and approached them with a no nonsense look on his face “I demand bail for my client, until you can provide positive proof of your accusations you have no right to detain him here.”

 

“Mr Hamilton, your client is guilty of murder.  He may not have pulled the trigger of the guns that killed or caused the accidents …”

 

“Hearsay evidence doesn’t stand up in court, that’s how it is, sheriff. You should know by now that rock solid evidence, not hearsay, is the requirement of the law in these instances.”

 

Clem sighed and looked at Candy as though to say ‘I told you so…’ and the sheriff’s heart fluttered in indignation but he knew when he was beaten and drew out the necessary papers required to confirm bail had been set and paid for,  as he signed his name on the receipt of the sum of $2000 he murmured loud enough to be heard “I don’t intend to let this matter drop, Hamilton.   Your client has been responsible of culpable homicide and I intend to see him in court, with or without you in attendance.”

 

Hamiltons mouth twisted in what could have been called a smile, or perhaps a symptom of indigestion,  “I doubt if the Judge would agree, you need proof,  sheriff.”

 

“I’ve bodies in the morgue that provide enough proof, Mr Hamilton.”  Candy narrowed his eyes and stood up “Clem,  release the prisoner. “

 

 

It didn’t take long for the gossip mill to grind out the news that McGarthy had been released.   Paloma Barrington heard it as she paid for the hire of a carriage at Mansons Livery and Dorothy Tennant was privy to it in the General Mercantile. Amanda Ridley was standing by her side when the news arrived via one of her clerks, and she looked at Dorothy with raised eyebrows “Well, it  looks like he has more lives than a cat.”

 

“He’s more of a snake than a cat,” Dorothy replied in a tone of voice that indicated just how much she disliked the man, she shook her head “He’s a weaker man than his brother ever was, but for all that it pays to tread carefully around him.”

 

“No liking for him, have you?” Amanda said  as she smoothed back her hair, “You used to be very close to his brother though, if I recall rightly.”

 

Dorothy said nothing to that but placed her items in her basket and quickly left the store with Amanda Ridley watching her as the door closed behind her.  It irritated Dorothy that people could remember so far back, and she wanted to say in her defence that she and Liam were two different people back then, that it hadn’t mattered, that at one time she had been quite a wealthy woman in her own right… but what point was there in that?  Most remembered Liam McGarthy as the man who had wanted to take over the Ponderosa and had ended up dead.  They had never known him the way she had … she stopped there, and remembered how the time had come when even she had realised just how rotten to the core Liam McGarthy had been, and his brother, well, perhaps they were more alike than she had realised.

 

 

Tilly Treveleyn was full of the news when she returned and Mrs O’Connell,  Margaret by name, listened from the chair in which she sat nursing her baby.   “But he killed my husband.”

 

“May be so, but they say unless someone saw him do it…”  Tilly shrugged and removed her bonnet which she hung very carefully upon the allocated peg

 

“Of course no one saw it, he always made sure he wasn’t around, he paid others to do that kind of work.” Margaret shook her head and tears came to her eyes “I thought there would be justice at last,  someone  would see him pay for what he had done.”

 

“Unless someone came forward whom he paid to do the killings and told the sheriff then he isn’t ever going to face justice,” Tilly picked up her basket and then smiled gently at the sight of mother and baby together “You make a lovely picture, my dear.  I am so glad you are feeling so much better now.”

 

“What good will it do me,” Margaret whispered, “I’ve nothing .. Nowhere to go… no husband …I wish I were dead.”

 

Tilly shook her head and approached the young woman, placed a gentle hand on her arm, “Don’t be saying things like that, dear.   Mrs Martin and the doctor  will see you’re alright, you won’t be left out in the streets.”

 

Margaret shook her head, and then looked at her baby who was engrossed in doing what babies of that age did, suckle and sleep and soil diapers.  “My husband was such a proud man, he wouldn’t have wanted me to beg…”

 

“No one’s expecting you to.” Tilly replied staunchly and quickly turned away from the nursing mother to get on with her work.  At the back of her mind she wished she had not said anything about McGarthy getting bail, but she consoled herself with the thought that Margaret O’Connell would have found out eventually, gossip was rife in the town,  like a forest fire, she would have found out sooner or later.   As far as Tilly was concerned, the sooner the better…

 

 

Dorothea watched from the shelter of a store doorway as the lawyer and his client stood on  the sidewalk and discussed some matters at what seemed to be great length.  Eventually McGarthy threw his hands in the air in a gesture of impatient disgust and stalked away watched by both Dorothea and the lawyer, the latter eventually turning and making his way back to his offices.

 

Dorothea  watched as McGarthy stormed towards the Mining Corporation of Virginia City’s pompously large glass windowed building with the large words painted in gold letters at a time when it seemed there would never be an end to the discovery of gold or silver.   For a moment he stopped and stared at the words, stepped back into the road to view them at a distance and for a moment the watcher in the shadows wondered if he were going to throw a rock through the window.  He never did,  Liam may have done but not Patrick, he was too aware and too afraid to face the consequences even of that action.

 

He turned  back and began to retrace his footsteps, slowly, as though he had actually forgotten why he was there, or how he had arrived in town.   He had gone only a few paces when Dorothea stepped from the doorway and into his pathway.

 

For just a moment they stood facing one another in silence, then Patrick stepped back a little, just a few steps “What do you want?”

 

“I wanted to see what you looked like now,  Patrick … to see what kind of man you are now who tried to step into Liam’s shoes.”

 

“Liam?”  Patrick frowned “What has this to do with Liam?”

 

“Everything – and, I suppose, nothing.  We all create our own monsters after all,   perhaps Liam was yours because you could never match up with him, could you?”

 

“Huh,  and where did his big plans and ambition get him,  a noose around his neck, that’s what…”  Patrick hunched his shoulders and scowled at her “Anyway,  that’s long past now,  although I thought you would have been gone from here a while back.”

 

“No, I had – have – friends.   You went too far trying to get rid of me, Patrick.”

 

“You should never have come back here,  you knew too much, you were part of the reason everything went wrong for Liam,  for me …”

 

She didn’t say anything to that, after all he was possibly right,  but then Liam had betrayed her with promises, so what loyalty could he have expected from her.  As for Patrick he was sowing the bitter seeds that Liam  had sown those years ago.  She nodded then “Yes,  perhaps you are right, Patrick.   You see, when Liam wanted to marry me, he forgot to tell me about his wife safely and comfortably living in Chicago.  If he had not lied to me then perhaps things could have been better for us all.  But Liam lived by lying,  he lied about everything to every one, including you.”

 

“So I’m  finding out.” Patrick grumbled and shook his head wearily, “But I needed the Bucksburn,  I needed it to make profits, if Liam hadn’t been so hell bent on  getting the Ponderosa, on that personal vendetta of his, then things would have gone smoothly enough.  He lost his focus when he started wanting the Ponderosa.”

 

“Oh well, you could hardly blame him,  everyone talked about the Cartwrights sitting on a mountain of silver and all that nonsense.    Mr Rawlins of the Silver Dollar Mine told me all about it, you see.   We became good friends and then Caleb Shannon… well,  we were on good terms too. “

 

Patrick shrugged his shoulders and turned to go,  rather annoyingly she caught up with him and began to walk beside him,  people’s heads turned and noticed, he could see their eyes show interest, and imagined what would be discussed in their cosy homes later that day to their nearest and dearest.  He glanced over at her “I want you to go away, leave me alone.”

 

“I want never gets…” she intoned and smiled “An old cliché from my child hood.  But it’s fitting isn’t it,  Liam and yourself,  you both stretched out to get what you could never get …  Liam and Caleb Shannon told me all about the Barringtons you know.”

 

“The Barringtons?   What do you know about them?”  Patrick turned to face her, giving her a closer attention than before, “Well, spit it out, woman, what do you know about the Barringtons?”

 

“Another couple who want what they can’t have, and thanks to Liam never will.   Did he actually tell  you everything about them?”  she looked at him thoughtfully, could tell from the liverish look of his face and the yellow blood shot eyes that the past weeks had been taking their toll on him,  she sighed and nodded “Well, what a shame,  he took their money,  fed them false promises, got them beavering away at some self promotion while he spent it all and then left you to carry the can… as the saying goes.”

 

One large hand reached up and rubbed the side of McGarthy’s face, his stubby fingers felt the stubble around his chin and the thought came to him that he hadn’t been to the barber to have his shave that morning.  He shook the thought away, and bowed his head “They’re here now, the Barringtons – “

 

Dorothea smiled, just like Liam when he was in a difficult position he would come and talk to her about it,  expect her to find a solution but she looked at Patrick again and shook her head,  he was not Liam after all, just the brother that Liam thought was a joke and an embarrassment.  Even without trying Patrick would always make a mess of things.  She shrugged  slightly “Well, in that case perhaps you should pack your bags and go.   From what Liam tells me the Barringtons  don’t let a little thing like murder stop them from getting what they want – a bit like you really.”

 

He stepped forward now and grabbed her wrist,  holding her arm down concealed against her skirts, she winced a  little for he had some strength in those fingers of his, and then he stared into her face “Liam knew you for what you were, a dirty little gold digger,  he had no intention of marrying you.”

 

“Of course not, how could he, when he was married already.”  she winced again as his fingers tightened around her wrist

 

“You must know more about the Bucksburn than even I do,  Liam talked too much when he had been drinking, and don’t forget, I know that you did the dirty on him, I know how you talked to Rawlins and Cartwright.   Liam trusted you too much but I won’t make that mistake.”

 

“I wouldn’t want you near me, Patrick McGarthy,  I just wanted -”  she gave a small cry then, he had hold of her little finger and was pressing down hard upon it, pushing it against the palm of her hand “Let me go,  Patrick,.”

 

“You should have left town when I told you to,  all those weeks ago.  Pretending to be so hard done by,  better than you are, you should get out of here now before something rather unpleasant happens to you.”

 

“Such as what?  The same thing that happened to Mrs Mayhew?  Don’t forget,  your friend Billy Buckley’s dead now, and buried.  He won’t be able to do your little jobs for you, you’ll have to do them yourself.”  she pushed her face closer to his, “My advice is for you to get out of town before the Barringtons really get to know exactly what Liam – and you – did with their money.”

 

He released her then,  suddenly, so that she stumbled backwards and with her good hand reached out to rub at her wrist and fingers.   He strode away, a big bulky man, from the back so much like his brother that she could almost have forgiven him for hurting her.   People passed by and some looked over at her, from the doorway of the Mercantile  Amanda Ridley had watched the altercation between them and wondered what was going on., when Dorothea looked over at the store however, Amanda had been prudent enough to have vanished inside.

 

 

The rain that had fallen the previous day had brought a freshness to the land and as the driver of the carriage drove the veiled lady towards the Ponderosa  the sky seemed to become bluer, and the grass even greener.   She looked around her and enjoyed the view as most city dwellers unused to the unspoilt country often does,  until by its very nature it sends them running back to their coverts of glass and brick.

 

“When shall we be at the Ponderosa?”   she asked in her crisp tones and the driver glanced over his shoulder and shrugged “Been on the Ponderosa for about half an hour now, Miss.”

 

“And is it much further to the house?”

 

“Some time to go yet, Miss.”

 

She leaned back and frowned slightly, looked at his hunched over back and then turned to watch as the land skimmed past her.  So much land, such vastness,  mountains soared upwards and the smell of the ponderosa’s drifted with the dampness left from the rain.   No man should own so much, she mused,  and then began to calculate just how much land there actually was…   someone had told her when she enquired in town, that the Cartwrights owned over a thousand square miles of land,  a mountain of silver,  cattle of the very best quality and  three enormous houses, strings of horses …   Ben Cartwright must be, she decided, the wealthiest man in Nevada Territory.

 

The lake came into view and shimmered before her eyes as it reflected the blueness of the sky, here and there it darkened,  at times it was grey and sombre and at other times so iridescent that it hurt the eyes.   No one could resist falling in love with it,  and as usual she wondered just how much it had cost to possess it.

 

 

Mr Garvey looked up as the carriage arrived in the yard.   The last of the work on the restored ranch house was being completed and at first he had thought it was one of the ladies from the other house come to check to see when the workmen would finally be leaving.  He removed his hat and approached her as the carriage stopped.

 

“Can I help you,  ma’am?”

 

“Is this the Ponderosa?  Ben Cartwright’s house?”   her voice was cold, someone once said it rang out the way crystal glass can do, and now she was aware of it herself, the man standing before her looked decidedly uncomfortable at the sound

 

“Ben ain’t here just now,” Garvey drawled almost subconsciously drawing out the words as though to form a barrier between them, he was not an ingratiating sort, and her manner was a touch too ‘hoity toity’ for him.

 

“And what’s happening here?   I thought he lived here?”

 

“Normally he would live here but its being repaired, should be back in within a few weeks though, perhaps days even. “

 

She nodded and turned from him to observe the building. A big house, true enough,  not a grand looking house, a mansion with colonnades or Greek columns, just a simple big wooden house.   The driver began to fidget,  sitting on a hard bench seat and driving all this way was no good for his lumbago.  He coughed “You need taking any place else, Miss?”

 

She didn’t reply but looked at Garvey who was looking over at the house as though desperate to take flight and resume his work,  she glanced over at the barn and saw there a tall broad shouldered man who seemed to be watching them with more than the usual curiosity.  She raised a hand and beckoned him over “You there -”

 

“Who?  Me, Ma’am?”

 

“Come here a moment.”

 

The cowboy, for he appeared to be such from the way he was dressed, approached her and looked over the carriage as though the sight was one seldom seen by him.  He removed his hat and nodded “What can I do for you, Ma’am?”

 

She looked at him thoughtfully then, a handsome good looking man,  perhaps a little too sure of himself,  dark eyes and  a stubborn jaw.   She nodded “Do you know where Ben Cartwright is ?”

 

“Right now?  No, not exactly”  he scratched at his neck and looked thoughtful as he stared up at the sky, “Sometimes at this time of day he’s here, but lately he’s been busy in town.”

 

“In town?  I’ve just come from town.”

 

“Well,  I guess Ben wouldn’t have known that,  or that you would have wanted to see him so much.   If  you drive on back you might meet him on the way home…  or  …”  he paused and scratched his neck again and his brow crinkled into a frown, “Or I could tell him you have been and he could come into town tomorrow and meet up with you.”

 

She looked at him again,  for a moment, just for a moment, she wondered if he were making fun of her,  so she turned away so that she didn’t have to look at those brown eyes twinkling up at her.  “Would you tell him that Miss Barrington came.   I’m at the Whitney Hotel.”

 

“The Whitney Hotel,  Miss Barrington.” he repeated slowly as though he needed to say it slowly in order for it to stick in his mind “I’ll tell him, Miss Barrington.  What time do you want him to meet you there?”

 

She paused and cleared her throat,  “I’ll  be there all afternoon.  Tell him … 2 o’clock.”

 

“Will do, ma’am.”  he wasn’t wearing a hat so he touched his brow,  and nodded  “2 o’clock.”

 

She muttered something beneath her breath, it sounded like ‘utter waste of my time’ but could have been something different,  he turned back and walked to the barn where he watched as Hank turned the horses, the carriage followed with the grand lady scowling over at anything that swept past her gaze and  then they were lumbering away.   He glanced up at the sky and frowned,  clouds were gathering, there was going to be a storm, and, he mused,  in more ways than just the one.

 

Chapter 57

 

“Come on,  smile ….just a little one, for me?”

 

Sofia shook her head and clamped her lips tightly together,  even though her Pa leaned down to tickle her under the chin she just would not open her mouth so in the end Adam shook his head and folded his arms across his chest and looked very sternly at his daughter who looked at him with twinkling eyes and a strong desire to giggle.  She knew her Pa was teasing and the fun of the game was to hold out as long as possible,  so to stop from  giggling  she clamped her hands across her mouth to make sure they wouldn’t pop open of their own accord.

 

Ben came into the room  and smiled at his son,  then frowned slightly at the sight of Sofia with both hands covering half her face “What’s going on here?”

 

Sofia wriggled in her seat, and a little squeak popped out,  Ben looked again at Adam who shrugged and shook his head “I heard tell that my daughter has some new teeth growing but as she won’t let me see them, then I don’t  think it’s true,  I think – someone – has – been – exaggerating -” and he tickled Sofia at each word he uttered so that she gave a final gasp and then began to laugh out loud trying to push away his hands at the same time, “There you are, Granpa, didn’t I tell you?” Adam declared  and Ben nodded and smiled,

 

“A fine pair of teeth there, that’s for sure.”  he tweaked one of her pigtails and sat down at the table, “Garvey tells me there was a visitor at the house?”

 

“Ah yes, rather a fine lady … Miss Barrington no less.”

 

“Really?” Ben’s eyes widened and memories of Paloma Barrington came instantly to mind, causing him to colour, just slightly, but enough for Adam’s sharp eyes to notice.  He cleared his throat “So,  what did she have to say?”

 

“She wants to meet you tomorrow,  2 o’clock at the Whitney Hotel.” Adam smiled at Sofia  and leaned forward to tickle her some more,  there never was a more wriggly child and he just loved her throaty breathless giggle.

 

Sofia was fairly gasping for breath from laughing so much when Olivia came into the room with Reuben who was trying to explain some problem with his math,  both of them looked rather askance at Adam and Sofia who immediately sat back in their chairs,  Adam smiled at his wife “Sofia was just showing off her new teeth,  my dear.”

 

“Daddy was tickling me…” Sofia  said, casting a loving glance at her father, “But he tickled too much.”

 

Olivia looked at her daughter sternly,  sometimes laughing too much, being tickled too much, caused certain little accidents to occur but her daughter gave her a sunny enough smile so she put that concern to one side “Reuben has a problem with his math, Adam.   Could you help him as it doesn’t seem to make any sense to me whatsoever.”

 

Adam nodded and rose to his feet,  “Come on,  son,  let’s get this sorted,  it shouldn’t take long.”

 

“Miss Brandon said I was good at math, Pa, but I don’t think so, I can’t understand what it says.”

 

Olivia smiled at Ben, and then at Sofia who was showing off her new teeth to her grandfather who was thinking far more about Miss Barrington than anything that his grandchild could show him, he nodded distractedly and then turned to Olivia “I had a visitor today, or rather, Adam did.  Miss Barrington.”

 

Olivia frowned and shook her head “I don’t recall any Miss Barrington here.”

 

“No, she came to the main house, Garvey saw her and Adam happened to be in the barn, came out to meet her.”

 

Sofia realising that there was going to be some grown up talk and the attention had gone from her, slipped from her chair and ran into the other room.   Adam and Reuben were sitting together with heads bent over the book and papers Reuben had brought from school, she could hear her father’s deep tones explaining some solution to the problem  to her brother but it didn’t interest her.  She found Clarabelle, as well as Jessie, and decided to take them both out onto the porch to play.

 

Nathaniel was sitting happily with his toys and some bricks, but seeing his sister he clapped his hands and called out to her “Fee …Fee.”

 

“No,  no, ‘Thaniel,  I’m going out with Clarabelle and Jessie, you just stay there and be good boy.”

 

Nathaniel frowned,  his bottom lip quivered, dark eyes filled with tears “Fee?”

 

She paused and put the dolls down and then approached him, “Play with your bricks, good boy.”

 

The bricks were colourful, and she slowly piled one up atop the other, until she had built up a tall column of multi-toned bricks.  Nathaniel watched her with big eyes and a wide smile, he clapped his hands as the column grew taller and taller.   Sofia became increasingly engrossed with her project, the column grew and grew, it began to wobble, she placed another on top of the last one and just as she leaned to pick up a bright red brick the tower collapsed,  one brick bounced off Nathaniel’s head, causing him to give a yelp of pain.

 

The tower had gone,  Nathaniel put a chubby dimpled hand to his sore head, he wasn’t sure if he was more upset by the sudden pain or the fact that the beautiful tower had gone.  He began to yell, Sofia told him to quieten down  and began to gather up the bricks in order to rebuild them but he wasn’t in the mood to be placated,  having decided that the pain to his head mattered more.

 

“Oh be quiet, baby.” Sofia cried impatiently only for Nathaniel to cry louder.

 

Olivia appeared and shook her head, “Oh dear, poor Nathaniel, what happened to you?”  she leaned down and swung the baby up into her arms, held him close, and rocked him too and fro for a little while until he stopped crying, “Sofia, what did you do to him?”

 

Sofia’s mouth dropped open, what had she done to him?  That such an accusation could come from her own mother?  She felt suddenly bereft, even more so when Olivia swung away, crooning to her baby,  and walked to the other room without even listening to her daughters explanation.  It was so unfair!   Sofia picked up Clarabelle and kicked poor Jessie in with the bricks …  before hurrying out to sulk on the porch.

 

Adam  joined his father in the kitchen and leaned against the door frame “So, Pa, do you think you’ll go to  see her, Miss Barrington?”

 

“Well,  yes, of course.” Ben tried to appear nonchalant, “It will  be interesting to see what she has to say for herself,  and what explanation she has as to why she is here.”

 

“I would have thought that was obvious,  she’s come to see McGarthy, to find out about the Barrington claim to the money he has invested for them.”

 

“Well, it will be interesting to find out for sure.” Ben muttered hastily and looked over at Olivia, “I think you’d find Miss Barrington quite interesting,  my dear.   She’s – she’s very attractive,  and I think, from what I recall, very intelligent.”   he glanced at Adam who was leaning forward to play with his son’s toes and changing Nathaniel’s tears into smiles as a result “What did you think of her, Adam?”

 

“I didn’t really see her, Pa.  She’s obviously a well educated woman,  and – I would think – a little arrogant.”

 

“Oh,  really?   Did you think her attractive at all?”

 

Adam glanced at his father and frowned slightly,  he wondered why his father would ask such a question and then looked at his wife who was watching him with interest “Well, to be honest, Pa, I didn’t see her face, she was quite heavily veiled.”

 

Ben sighed, then nodded “I see, well, it will be interesting to find out why she’s here, and without her brother.”

……………………

 

Patrick McGarthy was more than happy to reach the haven of his home.   He noticed that the workmen had left now so all was quiet and calm.  He approached his study and after closing the door behind him slumped heavily into the large leather chair by his desk.   For a moment or so he stared down at the papers there,  all piled and scattered about just as he had left them.   With a sigh he began to pull them together and slowly look over at one before setting it to one side, and then another and another.

 

He ended up with three different  but neatly set out piles and once they were there he just stared at them for a while as though they would each volunteer some information out loud, thus assuring him that there was something positive to anticipate for the future.  As it was he knew that he had not enough money to pay  a nickel towards the house repairs, not enough to even pay the lawyer for the trip to the sheriff’s office.   Where had it all gone?

 

After staring at the piles of invoices, receipts, statements and so forth he rose to his feet and went to the picture of an old ruined castle somewhere in England.   He pulled it to one side, easily done as it was attached to the wall by small hinges, and then looked at the neatly installed safe.   He dialled the combination , heard the tumblers click one by one into place,  and then opened the safe door.

 

He had a plan and if everything worked out as he had thought while sitting alone in that cell earlier, then by  morning he would be well on his way from Virginia City, from the Bucksburn and its responsibilities, from this wretched life.   If he had enough money,  enough to set his foot on the first rung to a new beginning.

 

His fingers groped around inside the safe and he felt a lightning of his heart as they closed around the many rolls of dollar notes,  the tin box that contained the shares he and Liam had purchased in the Gould & Curry Mine years ago.  Hearst*, the owner of the G & C,  had suggested investing the money  there,  claiming that it was the safest and most lucrative of the mines in the locality,  and he had been proven right, time and time again.

 

He carried it all to the desk and set the tin box, with the rolls of notes, upon its smooth surface.  He pushed aside the piles of paperwork so that some fluttered, unnoticed, to the ground.  He methodically counted out the rolls, knowing  exactly how many notes there were to a roll;  he opened the tin box and read through the documents.

 

All he had to do was pack a bag with essentials and then go,  it would be that simple, that uncomplicated.   For the first time since Liam had died, Patrick realised his life had just been too complicated, far too much so,  for him to be free to enjoy life.  He had his chance to do so now …

………………

 

Bridie Martin removed her bonnet and her coat, shaking off rain drops as she did for a light shower had began to fall as she had made her way home from the clinic.   The evenings were drawing in now,  the Fall had really seemed to come far too quickly this year and after checking her hair in the hall mirror she made her way to the kitchen.

 

Mrs Treveleyn was there and assured her that there would  be something hot to eat within ten minutes, just time enough for her, Mrs Martin, to clean up a little,  “Will Dr Martin be eating with us this evening?”

 

Bridie replied that he would not, there had been an emergency somewhere,  she didn’t know where which was not uncommon for Paul was often called out who knew where.  Tilly nodded “I’ll keep his set by then, Mrs Martin.”

 

“Will you  take some up to Mrs O’Connell?”  Bridie asked as she worked the sluice handle and then washed her hands under the flow of water that ensued

 

“Oh!”   Tilly stood up straighter,  folded her hands together in the lap of her skirt and thinned her lips “Well now,  I’m afraid that won’t be possible.”

 

“Not possible,  why not?”  Paula looked at Tilly in bemusement,  “She hasn’t disappeared has she?”

 

Tilly looked affronted,  she straightened her back and added two inches to her height, “She has .”

 

“Has what?” Bridie asked as she dried her hands on a towel,  “Well?  Done what?”

 

“Disappeared.  Everythings gone,  the baby,  the things we have given her, everything.”   she shook her head in total disapproval, “And not even a note to explain,  not even a thank you for everything.”

 

Bridie stared at the prim faced house keeper and then thought of the  woman whose child she had delivered only weeks earlier, who had been ill all that time since …where on earth had she got the strength from?  Left?  How could such a sickly weak woman just get up and leave what little security she possessed ?

 

“But she’s ill?  How far does she think she’ll get with a  baby and being so ill?”  she sat down  suddenly upon one of the kitchen chairs and stared now at the golden crust of the pie that Tilly had prepared for their meal, “I don’t understand,  Mrs Treveleyn.”

 

“You’re too soft, too generous and too good natured for your own good, Mrs Martin.   You and your husband are just too kind and now you’ve been and had it all thrown back in your faces.  Oh I am that vexed …”

 

Bridie said nothing,  she wasn’t so much vexed as puzzled, and anxious.  She rose to her feet “We have to let the sheriff know,  that poor woman won’t be able to get far,  not with her health and that baby as well.   She could die out there,  Mrs Treveleyn, unknown,  uncared for …   poor woman,  what was she thinking!!”

 

Chapter 58

 

Twilight was falling over the town  when Bridie Martin stepped into the sheriff’s office.  Deputy Clem Foster greeted her warmly but with the news that Candy was now on his rounds with Deputy Watts. “Can I help at all, Mrs Martin?”

 

Bridie coloured slightly, she felt more comfortable when talking with Candy but Clem was drawing out a chair for her so she settled into it and then fidgeted a little with the clasp of her purse “I don’t really know if it’s important or not … “ she paused and shook her head “That’s stupid of me to say that, it is important and that’s why I’m here.”

 

“Is it a complaint, Mrs Martin? “ Clem sat down at t he desk and picked up a pen,  he looked up at her and then at the paper upon which he now began to write her name, the date and time  “In your own time, ma’am.”

 

“I want to report someone missing, well, two to be exact, a young woman, Margaret O’Connell and her baby, a boy, two weeks old.”

 

“Mrs O’Connell…and a two week old baby …her own baby, Mrs Martin?”

 

“Yes, I delivered him myself.   Mrs O’Connell is a widow, her husband was killed in a mine explosion and Mrs Mayhew -”

 

“Mrs Mayhew?  The woman who died in a wagon incident?”

 

“Yes, not long after she had brought Mrs O’Connell to us.”  she frowned slightly, then sighed deeply “It’s sad how things turn out, isn’t it?”

 

“Yes, indeed.” Clem nodded “Description…of the lady?”

 

Bridie answered as  best she could, she told Clem how Margaret looked,  what clothes she was probably wearing and that the woman was ill, very weak from a difficult delivery and loss of blood.

 

“Do you know of any reason why she would leave you?  It seems to me that she was well cared for,  and she had the infant to consider.”

 

“That’s why I’ve come here, I’m so concerned for her, I can’t see any reason why she should leave when she has no where to go.   McGarthy saw to that…”

 

“McGarthy?  Is this connected to the Bucksburn Mine?”  Clem put the pen down and gave Bridie a closer look,  which prompted Bridie to nod her head and look more anxious than ever.

 

“You see, McGarthy evicted her from the house almost as soon as her husband died in that mining incident.  She had no where to go,  Mrs Mayhew brought her to us to keep her safe especially as the baby was due.”

 

“I’ll  give Candy this information, Mrs Martin.   We’ll look for her, don’t worry, if she is as frail as you say, it won’t take us long to find her.”

 

Bridie looked at him thoughtfully, then rose to her feet and after quietly bidding him good night, she left him.

 

As she stood on the sidewalk Bridie wondered if there was anything else she should have added to her statement about the missing woman.  While she was contemplating whether or not there was something she may have forgotten , some vital clue to the reason as to why Margaret had left them,  a one seater buggy trotted by,  close enough to cause her to step back a little and look rather irritably at the driver.

……………………

 

Paloma Barrington was grateful that she was able to hire the single seater from Mansons,  the evening was calm and not too cold,  nor was the wind too brisk.  She had a good wrist control over the reins and the horse kept a steady pace as it took the buggy through the main street.

 

It took little time to get onto the road that led from town towards McGarthy’s house which loomed large upon the horizon as she urged the horse forwards.   There was little traffic going too or from the town,  a woman in another buggy who had looked over at her anxiously, as though to ascertain that there would be room for two vehicles to pass comfortably on the road.

 

A wagon lumbered along with a man slouched over, smoking a pipe, a boy seated beside him and spending the time by spitting every so often over the side simply for no other  reason  than to see how far it would  reach.

 

Several cowboys on the way to town,  none of whom  took any notice of her as they were arguing among themselves, as the buggy trundled on she could hear their voices fading into the distance.  Several people were walking into town,  a couple with a child, who ignored her,  a woman carrying a bundle with her head down,  a lone cowboy riding from town  who overtook her on the road.

 

The night was darkening.   She turned into the driveway of the house and sat there for a moment looking at the darker shadow that stood upon the brow of the hill.   The horse snorted and shook its head, its mane rippled along its neck.  Putting the brake on the vehicle she stepped down, careful not to soil her clothes.  Despite the darkness of the building it was obvious that at least two rooms were occupied as a light shone from them both.   Resolutely  Paloma Barrington strode up to the door and pulled the handle that would send a bell ringing within the building.

 

She looked around her,  trees rustled and some leaves drifted across the drive and lodged into the corner of the porch.  She remembered that when she had come the previous day some workmen were  there, adding the sound of hammers and saws and mens voices to the sounds to be expected in a large house.  The silence now was uncomfortable,  she shivered and looked back at the horse.  Perhaps this had been a foolish decision to come yet again to demand explanations from McGarthy,  but having failed to see Ben she was too restless to just wait for another day,  she needed answers, and whatever answers McGarthy could give her would be better than sitting alone in her suite wishing the hours away.

 

The door opened almost of its own accord, a young woman stood there, bobbed a curtsey and stepped aside to admit her.  “Is McGarthy home?”

 

“I believe he is, Ma’am.  In his study.”

 

“That’s alright, I know where it is …”  she walked forwards, head high and shoulders erect giving the young woman the impression of a very well appointed woman who obviously had money from the amount of jewellery she wore on her gloved hands and in her ears.

 

Within five minutes she was back looking less sure of herself and adjusting the veil over her face.  The  girl hurried forward to open the door for her and bobbed a curtsey which caused Paloma to stop and observe the girl “Has Mr McGarthy had any other visitors this evening?”

 

“Not that I’m aware of, Ma’am, although I did think … about half an hour ago there was someone with him.  I heard voices but no one came out of the study and he didn’t ring for any thing.  We’ve not heard from him since dinner …”

 

“Who is ’we’?”

 

“My father and myself.  We’re staff, for the moment.  Mr McGarthy said he would be hiring more later on.”

 

Paloma waved aside any further comment and then asked her  if the voices she heard were male or female to which the young girl shrugged “I couldn’t hear clearly…it could have been either but Mr McGarthy was angry, that I can tell you.”

 

Paloma nodded curtly and then strode on, hurrying now to reach the buggy and get away.   She heard the door close behind her and paused just a moment, to think, before hurrying on  towards her vehicle.

…………………….

 

Hester set the glass of milk on the small table beside the bed and then leaned forward to turn up the flame in the lamp “Are you comfortable , Hoss?”

 

“Sure I am, honey.”  Hoss blinked in the brighter light and reached for her hand “How much longer do I have to stay in bed?  Shucks, I’m almost forgetting what it’s like to have legs.”

 

“Nonsense,  it just needs a little more patience, that’s all.  Now, drink your milk.”

 

“Milk!” Hoss sighed and shook his head “How about something different?”

 

“Hoss, you want to get better don’t  you?   Milk is very good for you.”

 

“Hop Sing always said milk is poison…”  he picked  up the glass tentatively.

 

“That’s because his culture doesn’t drink much milk, but you seem to have done very well on it all these years so stop arguing.”  she shook her head as though exasperated with her adored husband while at the same time she removed her dressing gown and turned back the covers in order to slip into her side of the bed.  “It won’t be long now before we can be back in our own home.   Everything we’ve ordered is safely tucked into the barn, Adam said there’s so much stuff in there a hen couldn’t squeeze inside.”

 

Hoss smiled and sat with the glass of milk in his hands, “Happy then?  All  set to move in huh?”

 

“Mr Garvey said the workmen would be leaving tomorrow,  they’ll be there just to clear away all their things and tidying up.  Then we can start moving our belongings back into the house. Ben is so pleased.”

 

“It’ll be good,  although I think our girls will miss their little cousin.”

 

“As if we’re miles apart…” Hester giggled like a girl about to get a present and unable to keep her hands from tearing away the ribbons and wrapping paper.   “They’ll  be seeing  each other regularly, like before….    Drink your milk, Hoss.”

 

Hoss sighed heavily and sipped it, he hated milk, always had,  when he was younger he would give it to Joe to drink, and then avoided it as much as he could … but Hester, she was like an old watch dog, constantly making sure that he downed the wretched stuff.

 

“Hey, Hester, will I be able to help with the moving…?”  he asked hopefully but there came no sound other than the soft breathing of his dear wife as she drifted into sleep.

…………………….

 

The morning dawned in spectacular fashion, a sunrise of many different hues that made Olivia’s heart flutter with delight at its beauty.   The children had been settled on the wagon and Hank had driven off with the two sleepy eyed yawning siblings beside him.  Adam had come from the stables to wave them off and then re-entered the house,  a bridle and bit still in his hands along with a cloth, he kissed the nape of her neck and smiled “I’m going into town later on, sweet heart,  Pa has an appointment as well.”

 

“Oh yes, of course, this mysterious Miss Barrington.” she smiled and turned towards him “Do you have any idea why she’s wanting to see Pa?”

 

“A vague idea,  but we’ll find out more when Pa comes home.”  he turned at the sound of someone  banging on the front door,  then looked at her with raised eyebrows Sounds like someone’s anxious to get our attention.”

 

Gently releasing her from his embrace he led the way into the main room where Chen Ho Lee was opening the door to Candy and his deputy Clem.   Both men removed their hats when they saw Olivia and then glanced towards the stairs at the sound of Ben coming down  to join them.

 

“You sounded as though the whole town was on fire, Candy…morning Clem.” Adam smiled and perched himself on the arm of the settee “What’s wrong?”

 

“McGarthy’s dead.” Candy said immediately, “No point in wasting any time might as well let you know right away.   He was found by a member of staff.”

 

“Whereabouts was he?” Ben asked as he advanced closer to them, “In his house or at the mine?”

 

“In the study at his house.  Shot through the head.  Very neatly done,  too. “ Candy looked at Olivia “Sorry to bring bad news so early in the morning,  Olivia.”

 

Olivia said nothing but thought that it had been such a beautiful morning too, she nodded and mentioned coffee which both men agreed would be very appreciated. Adam gestured towards the chairs and the two lawmen sat down, Clem uncomfortably twisting his hat around between his fingers and Candy setting his hat down beside him and staring into the fire.

 

“I don’t suppose you have any idea of who did it, do you?” Adam asked and scratched the side of his nose thoughtfully “Or when it happened?”

 

“Sometime during the night, the girl who cooks there said McGarthy saw a woman in the evening,  she didn’t stay long.   She thinks  he saw someone earlier, there was an argument of some kind but she wasn’t sure whether that was a man or a woman as she didn’t see anyone come or leave.   That was about half an hour before his last, known, visitor.”

 

“And this visitor, who was she?”  Ben asked and smiled at Olivia as she entered the room with the coffee fixings on a tray which she set down on the table.

 

“The girl didn’t know her,  she thinks it was the same person who called earlier that day, but wasn’t too sure.  She’s in shock,  she’ll no doubt be able to tell us more later, Dr Martin had to give her a sedative.”

 

He nodded and smiled his thanks for the coffee Olivia handed to him, as did Clem.  Adam and Ben looked at one another and then at Candy.

 

“Any reason why you’ve come here this morning, Candy?” Adam asked, unconsciously tugging at the bandages of his injured hand.

 

“Well,  it’s known everywhere how McGarthy felt about you all … especially after that recent incident with the cave in.  How is Hoss by the way?”

 

Ben glanced up “He’s well, thank you, Candy, getting better and stronger by the day.”

 

“So you can rule him out of your investigations, Candy.” Adam said in that dry manner of his, “He may be improving but he isn’t strong enough to ride into town and kill anyone,  not that he would anyway, you know that?”

 

“Of course.” Candy nodded and so did Clem who was feeling uncomfortable now, and wishing he had found other duties to keep him in town.

 

Ben cleared his throat “Joe’s a lot better than he was, but not well enough yet to go far,  Paul thinks it’ll be some weeks before his arm can come out of plaster.”

 

Candy smiled weakly and then looked at Adam “Which just leaves you both …”

 

“Seems so.” Adam said and picked up  his cup,  sipped the coffee, and frowned “But  we weren’t in town last night.”

 

“And even if we were, we would have no reason to go near McGarthy’s.” Ben added.

 

“Clem and I have been all over that house,  apart from the girl and her father it was empty.   The study, where we found the body,  hadn’t been ransacked and nothing disturbed as far as we could see.   It was as though he had just fallen asleep at his desk, apart from the bullet hole in his forehead.”

 

“Whoever shot him,” Candy ventured to add “knows how to shoot pretty good,  looks like just the one bullet was fired and it was all that was needed.”

 

“The girl,” Adam leaned forward his eyes narrowed “Didn’t she hear a gun shot?”

 

“Nothing, but the house is large enough for her not to have heard if she were any distance from the study when the shot was fired.”

 

Ben put down his cup, it rattled against the saucer a little as he set it down on the table “So you haven’t got much to go on,  just what this girl has told you?”

 

“Her father saw the woman that called in the morning of the previous day,  he said she was a real fancy dame,” Clem said with a frown,  he glanced at Olivia and then at Candy, “Well, she was obviously wealthy,  she had Mansons hired carriage …”

 

Adam nodded “It could have been Paloma Barrington,  she drove out here to see Pa in Mansons hired carriage .. Could have come straight from seeing him earlier.”  he raised an eyebrow “And she’s staying at the Whitney Hotel.”

 

Chapter 59

 

It’s  a fact of life that bad news travels faster than good  and whereas for some the fact that McGarthy was dead could have been considered good news,  it still spread like wild fire around the territory.  Work at the Bucksburn dwindled to a halt as no one was there to instruct workers as to what to do.  With Buckley dead the closest to a foreman and manager McGarthy had ever had was gone.

 

When Dorothea  Tennant went to Roy’s that morning he was scribbling notes down on an old scrap book, nodded over to her and said in a monotone voice “Patrick McGarthy’s dead.  Did you know?”

 

She blanched slightly, news of McGarthy’s death was obviously going to get around town and Roy always had his ear to the ground.  It was the question he asked after the statement that made her catch her breath “How am I supposed to know?   Clemmie may be the biggest gossip in the territory but she’s a late riser nowadays so hasn’t been in town yet.”

 

“Hmm, that doesn’t usually stop her finding out.” Roy frowned and returned to his scrap book, “I heard he was shot … someone who knows what he – or she – is doing with a gun. “

 

“I don’t suppose you heard who did it yet, did you?” she teased slightly as she put her bonnet and coat onto a hook, “Breakfast won’t be long.  Have you made your coffee already?”

 

“Yep,  about an hour ago, shortly after Candy called around here with the news.” he wrote down some  notes on the scrap book and then rose to his feet and followed her into the kitchen “Talk is that you had an altercation with him on the street, shortly after he was released yesterday.”

 

“Goodness me,  Roy,  you are a fount of all knowledge today that’s for sure.” she swept a hand over her brow as though to collect  up stray ends of hair, and patted them into place, “Yes, I saw him, the bully that he is, I told him a few facts and how I felt about him …  and he shot off a few facts and how he felt about me… then we parted and, it seems, never to meet again.”

 

He nodded and put a gentle hand on her arm “Be careful, Dorothea,  people have a tendency to put two and two together and make five in this town.”

because there was no smile in her eyes which were wary and cautious “Thank you Roy,  you’re a good friend.”

 

“Don’t I know it.” she murmured and then looked at him with a smile, slightly forced because there was no smile in her eyes which were wary and cautious, “Thank you, Roy, you’re a good friend.”

 

“Well,  it wouldn’t do for folk to get the wrong impression, and I wouldn’t want any harm to come to you because of this, Dorothy.”

 

She patted his hand, which was still resting gently  upon her arm, touched by his concern and the way he called her Dorothy when she still thought of herself as Dorothea.  “I can’t see how his death can harm me,  Roy.  I was at Clemmie’s all evening and all night.   I’m presuming that was when he was killed? Shot?”

 

He nodded but gave her a narrow eyed look that made her feel a little uncomfortable,  as he returned to the other room  she picked out some eggs and cracked them into the skillet.   McGarthy…shot… and dead … good riddance to the man, and with a grim smile she smashed the shell of another egg just for good measure.

…………….

 

The children who lived closest to school were usually the last to arrive and Jimmy Carstairs excelled himself by getting there earlier than usual due to running as fast as he could in order to tell the other children the news … all the news.   He was red faced and puffing like a steam engine when he scurried up the last few yards into the play ground.  He had to bend over for a moment or two to catch his breath during which time a cluster of children gathered around him.

 

Behind him trailed David Riley,  also a town  body he was never the last to arrive, that honour usually went to Jimmy.   Today David arrived with Rosie Canaday who looked as pretty as ever although a little subdued.  Seeing the children bunched around Jimmy they made their way over and added themselves to the crowd.

 

“… anyhow he’s dead, and he’s in the morgue too… “ Jimmy was saying and looked at David Riley  whose father was one of the undertakers in town “Ain’t that right?”

 

“Dunno who you’re talking about,” David said with a shrug of the shoulders. His father had always stressed to him the importance of maintaining a dignified silence about their customers.  Dead they may be but their relatives and loved ones were still among the living and gossiping about  their departed loved ones could be quite upsetting.

 

“McGarthy of course,  McGarthy the chap they arrested the other day and let off, see, Rosie Canaday, if your pa hadn’t let him go free he would still  be alive today.” Jimmy’s eyes narrowed spitefully as he rounded on little Rosie who blinked and faltered a few steps back.

 

“Leave her alone, Carstairs,  it’s nothing to do with the sheriff.” someone said rather loudly, someone with a gruff voice which indicated to Jimmy that it was one of the older lads.

 

“It’s true though,”  Grenville Murdoch said solemnly “If he were behind bars no one would have had a chance of getting at him.  Anyway,  the sheriff couldn’t keep him there, he wasn’t guilty of anything.”

 

“He was to,” Reuben declared stoutly, “He nearly killed my pa, and uncles… and lots of others as well.  He was a mean bad man…”

 

“Huh,” Jimmy’s lip curled into a smile of perfect contempt “You’re a fine one to talk, your Pa’s just been arrested for killing McGarthy ….”

 

“No, he ain’t…” Reuben yelled although the memory of passing Candy and Clem on their way to school came to mind, and he remembered that they looked very very serious.  “He ain’t so.”

 

“He is so…”  Jimmy shouted, thrusting his face forwards so that he was almost nose to nose with Reuben “I jest saw ‘em go into the sheriff’s office …him … and the sheriff went in front and then Deputy Foster.  That means he was under arrest.”

 

“It doesn’t” David Riley scoffed and had the temerity to laugh “He’s probably just gone in to help with enquiries. “

 

“Yeah, that’s right.” Reuben said, he nodded his head emphatically, “My Pa always helps Uncle Candy and he ain’t under arrest.”

 

Rosie gripped tight hold of her books, she held them tight up against her chest and held up her chin “Uncle Adam didn’t kill no body,  daddy would have said so if he had.”

 

“As if your Pa would tell you about your precious Uncle Adam…”  Jimmy sneered and placed his hands on his hips, thrust out his chest and raised his chin “I saw ‘em,  and I’m telling you,  Adam Cartwright’s under arrest for murder.”

 

The next thing Jimmy Carstairs knew was the way his body contacted solid earth, he saw stars,  then it went black for a moment or two,  and something heavy was sitting on his chest …

 

Lucy Brandon stopped ringing the bell as the shouts and yells drowned the sound out,  she just picked up her skirts and ran across the playground where, after pushing through some children, she found Reuben Cartwright sitting astride Jimmy Carstairs with clenched fists shouting “Say you’re sorry, say you’re sorry …”

………………….

 

The printing presses were chugging out the news for Daniel DeQuille wasn’t slow about collecting in his scoops.   Deputy Watt had been obliging enough and he had seen for himself the sheriff and Clem riding out of town.   So, McGarthy was dead, shot through the forehead sometime during the evening.   Information was sparse and he looked ruefully at his notebook … there wasn’t much there to add to that which was being printed out.

 

He saw Amanda Ridley fussing around her window display and frowned,  he knew Amanda well enough to realise that she only fussed about like that when she was keeping an eye on  the main street to see what was going on.    He was about to cross the road to have a little chat with her when Candy, Clem and Adam Cartwright rode into town looking extremely serious.

 

He tipped his hat as they passed but not one of them glanced in his direction.  He noted that Adam Cartwrights hand was still bandaged and recalled the mine incident, well, it wasn’t easy to forget, it only happened a few days previously.   Hoss Cartwright nearly died,  Joe as well so it seemed … Adam Cartwright wouldn’t have liked that, he wasn’t a forgiving man,  he held grudges and had a long memory… Dan  narrowed his eyes and thought about things along those lines, thus proving to no one in particular that he knew Adam Cartwright far less than he thought he did.

 

 

Adam pulled out a chair and sat down while Clem gathered up four mugs and began to pour out coffee,  these were then pushed around the desk for each man to help themselves.  Adam had a lot of respect for Candy, just as Candy had for him, and he also respected the fact that Candy was a first rate honest man,  a good lawman,  but he lacked Roys experience, he lacked what some would call ‘a nose for things’ ‘ an instinct’ or to put it crudely ‘a gut feeling’.  It came with time but meanwhile, if he lived long enough, Candy was doing well by calling on those who had, over the years, succeeded in developing this so called gut feeling.

 

Adam sipped the coffee and listened as the three lawmen talked among themselves.  He knew that Roy would be looking around town for clues by now,  or writing down notes to make sure things weren’t overlooked and could be checked over later on.  He knew that Roy would be out asking questions and being plain downright nosy.  He wouldn’t be sitting in the office drinking coffee and talking things over with his deputies.  Roy didn’t believe in wasting time.

 

“Who had a grudge against McGarthy?” he finally asked, breaking into the conversation without any qualms whatsoever.  “Besides me, of course.” he grinned at that and the other three grinned back, two with less sincerity than Candy.

 

“Who didn’t,” Watts said and perched himself on the corner of the desk, “The people who worked for him, they had no respect or liking for him.  Even the other mine owners couldn’t stand him, he didn’t have the stature of his brother, lived in his shadow.”

“Some shadow,” Clem grunted, “The man was hanged for murder and other crimes were levied at him at the time if you recall.”

 

Watts didn’t, he was new to the area.  He observed Adam and wondered why  he had been brought into the matter anyway.   He was about to ask when the door opened and DeQuille stepped inside,  smiled at them all and nodded apologetically

 

“I just came to see if there was any further news on the murder … “

 

Candy frowned “Who said it was murder?  Could have been suicide or an accident …”

 

DeQuille glanced at Watts and then shrugged “Riley told me the man was shot neatly between the eyes,  an accident isn’t so neat and suicide isn’t either …”

 

“People talk too much about things they know nothing about in this town…” Clem grumbled and scowled over at DeQuille who had once put into the newspaper that a certain Cartwright thought he, Clem Foster, was a bad choice for sheriff because in his opinion he couldn’t find a flea on a dog!

 

“Any further progress that I could let my readers know?  You’re not under arrest are you,, Adam?”  he grinned as he made the remark but his eyes were rather like a shark’s when eyeing dinner.

 

“Helping with enquiries,” Adam drawled and smiled as he wondered what spin Daniel would put on that remark.

 

“Any clues?   Any idea as to who?  Why?”  Dan looked from one to the other hopefully,  but Candy just raised his mug and drank more coffee, Clem turned to check on whether there was enough left in the pot for another, Watts looked at  his boots and Adam stared at the Territorial Map with a blank look on his face as he nursed his mug of coffee between his hands “How’s your hand, Adam?”

 

“Sore.”

 

“Ouch, not good, huh?  Your brothers… how are they now?”

 

“Getting along fine.  If you want a complete medical report best go and see Paul Martin.”  and Adam took a gulp of coffee and swallowed it down.

 

Dan was irritated as much with them as they were with him, he stood there for a moment and then cleared his throat “Be alright if I go and look around at the scene of the murder?  Interview Mr Ford and his daughter?”

 

“Not just yet.” Candy said sharply, “We’re about to go there now.”

 

“Can I come along too…   freedom of the press and all that … ?”  Daniel looked again from one to the other and as there was no comment to that took it for granted that he was allowed to ‘tag along’.

 

The man who was helping with enquiries got to his feet and picked up his hat, something to do at last, he nodded over at Candy who instructed Clem to stay in the office and Watts to return home, his shift was over for the time being.

………………….

 

The McGarthy house was quiet,  there were no workmen creating havoc and noise, all of them had been instructed to stay away,  some, worried that they could be implicated in the murder, disappeared completely and permanently.

 

Adam and Candy exchanged a look, Adam raised his eyebrows and Candy shook his head, there had been enough traffic there anyway to disarrange any clear sign of who had been and when.  The doctors buggy,  the undertakers cart, Candy and his deputies, various other interested parties had all come and gone and left their presence in various little clues that someone like Hoss Cartwright would have picked up with out any difficulty at all.   Adam had less of an instinctive feel about reading sign, he was good,  but Hoss was best in his field.

 

They dismounted and tethered the reins to the rings fastened in the gate pillars.  Head down and intent on observation Adam stepped into the forecourt of the McGarthy home.   Dan DeQuille arrived in his buggy and left it by the wall of the house, he joined the two men and stared at the ground “What do you see?” he immediately asked.

 

Adam straightened himself up and pursed his lips “A mess …”

 

Dan and Candy exchanged sympathetic looks,  it was obvious that Adam was tetchy and both knew from experience that a tetchy Adam Cartwright boded ill for anyone getting on the wrong side of him.

 

After about half an  hour Mr Ford opened the big front doors and asked if they would like some refreshment.   He had watched from the big window for some time as the three men seemed to do little else but walk too and fro, sometimes getting down on their haunches, and at other times disappearing completely around the back only to pop back again as soon as he had lost interest.

 

Adam nodded curtly and the three of them entered the house, left their hats on a long brocade seat in the foyer and followed Mr Ford into the large kitchen.  His daughter was stirring a pan of soup,  fresh bread was on the table “We were expecting some one to come,  so thought we would prepare something just in case.”

 

They murmured their thanks and sat down while the food was served.  Dan was making notes in his head all the time, a description of the room,  the girl who served the food,  and the old man… everything was being neatly dovetailed into their relevant places for his next novel.

 

Candy was wondering how he could extract more information from the couple with Daniel there,  the man was a bottomless pit when it came to remembering facts and the sheriff was more than aware that as a member of the public Daniel came into the category of a loose cannon.  He had no fears about Adam although he realised that protocol required that the man should have been deputised.

 

Adam  broke some bread and glanced around the room, observing to the couple that it was very ample in size to which the girl replied that sometimes it felt too big. “It’s been alright while the work men were here, but when it is only Mr McGarthy and ourselves  then we do kind of rattle around in it.”

 

“Did you have any visitors to the back of the house last night?  Sometime before  you locked the house up for the night?”  and Adam looked at the girl who concentrated hard as though the answer was there somewhere at the back of her mind.  She shook her head

 

“The lady who came in the big carriage the day before was the only person we saw, or rather, I saw,  She didn’t come in the carriage this time though, it was a one horse single seater rig.”  she looked at her father who nodded in agreement, “The only people who come to the back are tradesmen,  or the workmen when they were here.”

 

“You didn’t see or hear any one prior to the lady …?” Adam frowned and shook his head doubtfully.

 

“We ain’t lying, Mister.” Victor Ford said quietly, “Although we did hear voices from the master’s study during the evening.”

 

Candy glanced over at Daniel who kept his head down and his ears open,  with a sigh Candy now asked if they could now recall who it could have been with McGarthy but both of them shook their heads “I couldn’t even tell if it was a man or a woman,  the only voice I really heard loud enough to recognise was the masters,”  Jenny said quietly,  “I head him say “Get out of this house.”  he was really angry.” again she looked at her father “That was about 7 o’clock wasn’t it?”

 

“That’s right, but we don’t know who that was, or if they came to the back or front door.”  Victor frowned, “I guess if you think we had someone come to the back, it could have been then abouts…”  he paused again “we don’t hear much while we’re in this part of the house, but Jenny had been upstairs cleaning near the study and overheard …  was able to hear what she has told you”

 

“Would you have seen anyone if someone came by the back entrance?” Candy looked from one to the other, Jenny shrugged her shoulders and answered only if they were in the area, but they never saw anyone at all.

 

“The back entrance is concealed from here,  and mostly we stay in this area,  our quarters are there -” she pointed to a large door “And  completely private.”

 

“So if you were to leave the house at all you would have to go through here to the back entrance?” Candy stated slowly as though setting it in his mind,  Daniel was already sketching a layout of the house in his minds eye as they spoke while Adam sipped his coffee and appeared in deep thought

 

“Yes, we would have to leave the kitchen and go through the main hall to the back.” Jenny nodded.

 

“This argument then,  it was before the lady in the carriage came?”  Candy repeated and Jenny nodded and confirmed once again that she had only stayed five minutes anyway.

 

“I didn’t hear her talk to the master or anything, not a sound.  It was as though she went in and came back out again right away.”  Jenny looked at her father who nodded in agreement.

 

They declined further food and rose from the table, thanked the couple and prepared to leave, Adam paused a moment “Were you employed by Mr Liam McGarthy ?”

 

“Yes,”  Victor Ford nodded, “We stayed on because he wrote to say his brother was going to take on the house, he kind of inherited us in a manner of speaking.”

 

“What did you do before you came here?” Adam smiled as he picked up his hat, all affability and charm,  the older man smiled back

 

“I ran a restaurant in Portland, that’s where we met Mr McGarthy .. Liam.   He suggested we came here.”

 

“And you left all your family behind?”

 

“Jenny and I,  we are family, there are no others.” Victor sighed and shook his head, “The war, you understand?”

 

Adam nodded and slipped his black hat over his head, Candy and Daniel followed suit and together the three men stepped onto the porch.   “Why did you ask him about the back of the house?” Daniel asked as they stepped onto the gravelled driveway

 

“Because someone drove a rig to the back of the house, tracks are reasonably fresh, and not as disturbed as those here in the front.”  Adam paused and pointed to a wide sweeping arc which he said had been from the carriage,  “The rig Miss Bannington used last night stopped just here … quite close to the porch.  There’s still traces of a foot print but it isn’t very clear… Hoss could tell you more about it if he were here.” he sighed wistfully it seemed to Daniel and pursed his lips again.

 

“So  we’re looking for … who?  A man or a woman?”  Candy frowned “Just how many visitors did McGarthy have last night …”

 

“Well, “ Daniel smirked, “You’re the sheriff, it’s your job to find out.”

 

Adam hid a wry grin at that comment but said nothing until they had reached their horses, Daniel clambered into his buggy and as he turned it round Adam nodded to Candy, “The hood of the rig was down,  it snagged some leaves from a shrub into which it was backed into…   my guess is that some could still be caught in the hinge and bracket of the hood.  Hope that helps?”  he winked and then put his horse into a trot, so that soon both he and Candy were taking the road back into town followed by Daniel who was already trying to spin the events into a money earning novel.

 

Chapter 60

 

On reaching town Daniel decided he would need to check on what was being printed, and, no doubt, to add a few tweaks of his own  before the Territorial was released. Clem Foster however, looked like a dark thunder cloud when Candy returned to the office, followed by Adam, and was instructed to check over the rigs in town.

 

“You want us to check all  the buggies and rigs in town?   Do you realise how many there are?” the deputy exclaimed and scratched his chin with a grimed forefinger.  “Candy, this is going to take forever.”

 

“Get some of the other deputies in to help,” Candy suggested, “Look,” he leaned on the desk and gave his deputy a conciliatory smile “It’s a single seater rig, possibly used by a woman … now, how many of them are really used here in town?”

 

“Plenty.” Clem grunted and looked at Adam “Didn’t you get any ideas while you were out there?”

 

“Oh plenty of ideas, but what Candy needs is hard fact, and you don’t get them by weaving ideas…. Except … the rig could have some leaves caught in the hinge of the hood,  you know, the bit where …”

 

“Yeah, yeah, I know…”  Clem sighed and reached for his hat “Oh,  by the way, Candy,  Amanda Ridley came in and mentioned about an altercation between McGarthy and that Dorothy Tennent whose staying over with Widow Hawkins.  She said they were having a real heated row and it looked as though McGarthy was hurting her at one time.”

 

Candy nodded and looked at Adam who was settling into a chair, “Anything else, Clem?”

 

“You know old Thad,?”

 

“The town drunk?” Candy sighed “What has he to say?”

 

“He said he saw a real fancy lady driving out of town around about half past seven last night.  Nearly knocked him over.”  he paused as though having to think hard about it “She took the road out of town.”

 

“We know,  she visited McGarthy.”  Candy turned to check on the coffee pot, and glanced at Adam who nodded in affirmation, had it been Roy offering the coffee then Adam would possibly have shaken his head.  “Anything else?”

 

“Mrs Martin still hasn’t found her missing woman… a young widow, with a two week old baby apparently.  She just took off and left them sometime yesterday afternoon, hasn’t been seen or heard of since.”

 

“Right …thanks.”   Candy nodded, but didn’t look back as the door closed  behind his deputy. He poured out some coffee and pushed the mug over to Adam before pouring himself some, “Well, any thoughts?”

 

“If  Patrick McGarthy had been more popular the list of who would want to get rid of him would be a lot shorter.”  Adam observed and Candy sighed and groaned in agreement, “What was Clem talking about … a widow and child missing?”

 

“Bridie came in yesterday and said a young widow, Mrs O’Connell,  had left their home yesterday afternoon.   You remember, Adam,  Mrs Mayhew brought her into town that night she was killed.”

 

“O’Connell?   Irishman.  He was killed a few weeks ago in an explosion at the Bucksburn?  Do you think she would try to kill him?”

 

“She might, after all, from what I heard tell she accused him of murdering her husband, and then McGarthy kicked her out of the house, left her homeless with a baby on the way.”

 

“Well,  McGarthy’s responsible for a lot of deaths due to his negligence.   Another thing, something you may have forgotten,  the body we found in the mine …”

 

“Samuel Mayhews?”  Candy leaned back and frowned, sipped his coffee and then shook his head “No, I don’t see it.  They had no family, there would be no personal grudge.”

 

“Jenny couldn’t tell if McGarthy was talking to a man or a woman… right?   Well, what if the man who killed Sam came to demand some payment from him?   Remember, they have just found out that the Bucksburn is closing down, there’s no work for them, no work – no pay.   We know Buckley is dead, and so is Tovey.  That leaves Harvey Miller, Tom Hancock, and Duncan Fellowes.  Either one, or perhaps all three, could have paid McGarthy a visit last night.”

 

Candy nodded slowly,  his mind dredging up the facts he had on the three men,  he sighed “But wouldn’t Jenny or her father have noticed them?  Three men clumping through the house would make some kind of noise surely?”

 

“They wouldn’t have got where they are if they didn’t know when NOT to make a noise.” Adam muttered and drained the cup, set it down on the desk and rose to his feet, “Well, I had better get going.  You’ve plenty to do without me taking up your time.”

 

“Er – um – yes, thanks Adam.”  Candy gave a rather weak smile and stood up,  paused a moment, “Thanks for your help this morning.”

 

“You alright about this?  Your first major case …”  Adam’s lips  barely twitched as he suppressed a smile, Roy he knew would take it in his stride,  but Candy was dithering, not really knowing which direction to take first.

 

“Sure, thanks again.” Candy nodded, and sat down again, reached for some paper and began to search for a pen, which he found hidden behind the blotter.

 

Adam left him scribbling down some notes,  and after closing the door quietly behind him made his way over to Bridie Martins home.

 

Mrs Treveleyn opened the door and ushered him into Bridie’s private sitting room where she was obviously busy with the household accounts.  Muttering numbers beneath her breath she glanced  up, then down, then back up again “Adam?”

 

“Sorry to interrupt, Bridie … I can always come back later.”  he smiled, dimples flashed, and she beckoned to a seat close to the fire.

 

“Paul is on his rounds just now.  I told him he should retire but he won’t, he said he didn’t know how to retire, or what to do with himself if he did.”

 

“Would you know what to do if you retired, Bridie?” he smiled and stretched out long legs.   His leg ached,  his hand hurt and the chair was comfortable.   He frowned “I came to ask you about this Mrs O’Connell?  I hear she has disappeared?”

 

“She left while Tilly was shopping and I was at the refuge.  I’m so worried about her, Adam, she’s just a young slip of thing and so frail, I thought she was going to die during labour to be sure …”  she put a hand to her eyes and wiped away a tear, blinked determinedly and tightened her lips,  then she cleared her throat, “I got so fond of her, poor lass, and the baby…such a dear little scrap.”

 

The door opened and Tilly peeked into the room “Coffee Mrs Martin?”

 

Adam shook his head and muttered that he was fine, but within minutes the tray came in bearing all the coffee fixings, plus cake.  Bridie smiled at him sympathetically “You don’t have to have any, you know.  It’s just that Tilly is a creature of habit, and we usually have a break for  refreshments at this time.”

 

Adam glanced at the clock and frowned, the hands were ticking away and he realised that very soon now his father would be having his meeting with Mrs Barrington.  He cleared his throat and looked at the cake, “Tell me more about Mrs O’Connell… what does she look like?”

 

So while she poured out the coffee Bridie explained all about Margaret O’Connell, with her flaming red hair, blue eyes and slight build.  “Only 19 or so,  such a clever girl, well read, intelligent.  Her husband was as well, he was no passing journeyman out for work, she told me how he was educated and had helped her so much.  They loved one another, Adam.”  she passed a dainty cup over to her guest and then cut into the cake,  paused with the knife in mid air as she thought about her recent lodger “She blamed McGarthy for what happened to her husband, and those other men …well, you must know the feeling, considering what you went through yourself recently.”

 

Adam nodded,  the second time in one day that reference was made to his feelings about McGarthy, and what had happened to Hoss and Joe.  She passed the plate with the cake upon it which he balanced carefully on the arm of his chair “I told the deputy yesterday that she was missing, but the big lummox, I daresay he forgot to mention it once news broke about McGarthy being killed.   She didn’t do it, Adam, she didn’t.  She may have had hate in her heart, but she would never have dreamed of killing him.”

 

“Frail pretty young girls have killed men for less reason, Bridie.”  he murmured as he then bit into the cake.

 

“Adam, I know this girl, I know her I tell you.   She’s heart broken, but not – not the kind to murder anyone.”

 

“You said she hated McGarthy?”

 

“So she did, and good cause too….her husband killed, no recompense for that, just kicked out of the house …  poor Mrs Mayhew killed while on an errand of mercy.  It mounts up, Adam, like sins all the way up to heaven.”

 

“… and justice falls like rain …” Adam quoted

 

“But no justice, you mean.  Nothing.  Poor lass.”  Bridie set down her plate with just a corner of the cake nibbled off, “Adam,  that baby is just two weeks old….  Why would she risk anything with a baby in her arms?  Where could she go?”

 

“Doesn’t she have any friends?  None at all?”

 

“She never mentioned any, but then, she seldom spoke, except to curse Patrick McGarthy and sing her husbands praises.”

 

……………………

 

Paloma Barrington  cut a swathe through the clientele at Del Monico’s towards the table where Ben was sitting.  He promptly rose to his feet upon seeing her approaching and smiled, which lessened the feeling of irritation she was feeling at the sight of the looks of disapproval that were being directed towards her.

 

Ben indicated a chair which the waiter drew back for her to sit upon,  still smiling Ben told her what a pleasure it was to see her again to which she smiled slowly with a slight nod of the head, a very elegant and well styled head at that.

 

“Thank you, Ben.   I didn’t think I would ever see you again,  when you didn’t come back to visit I thought that the reports your friends had been busy making on us had sent you rushing back home.”

 

Ben frowned slightly, rather confused, and then he remembered how Roy had spent his leisure time finding out what he could about the Barringtons,  he didn’t know what to make of such an introduction coming from her,  not right at the outset of their re-acquaintance.

 

“Roy’s a good friend, but as an ex sheriff he finds old habits die hard.”  he murmured, and then beckoned the waiter over, ordered some wine which she confirmed with a slight inclination of the head to be suitable for her also.  The menu card was then left with them both… “I’m sorry, I should have written an explanation but it was an emergency I assure you.”

 

“Oh Silas has his moments of paranoia,  he had taken quite a liking to you.  You seemed comfortable with us, not many are …” and as she said that her gaze swept with scorching scorn upon those assembled in the restaurant.

 

“Life is too short for prejudices of any kind to embitter a soul.” Ben said quietly, an ambiguous remark, but intended sincerely for it was true, neither Ben or any of his sons could abide prejudice

 

She smiled then,  and observed him again more closely for the intervening time had caused her memory of him to fade a little.   She recalled the dark eyes, and the silver hair, but now she could see that although no longer young,  nor middle aged,  he was still handsome, and well built.   Dressed in a smart grey suit that showed off his tan to perfection,  the silver grey embroidered vest that fit now better than ever, he looked far younger than his years.  In every way he pleased her,  and his voice, something she had remembered, was unchanged.

 

“Have you never wanted to travel, Ben, to leave here and travel the world?”

 

“Oh, but I have…travelled I mean.  I was a seaman for many years,  and yes, I’ve seen a fair bit of the world in my time.  Ship wrecked three times,  and seen some wonderful sights, but when I married my first wife I wanted to settle down.   It took a long time to reach this part of t he world,  and I have no intention of ever leaving it.”

 

The wine waiter came and poured a little in Bens glass, he tasted the sample and nodded approval, upon which the waiter served them both.   Another waiter hovered and asked Ben if they were ready to order.

 

The order made the waiters departed, alone once again the couple smiled at one another, a slightly shyer smile than previously “Tell me, how has life been treating you and your brother these past months?   What brings you here all this way …?   Have you met your sister…half sister I mean?”

 

She laughed, a soft chuckle that was both warm and sensuous, “So many questions, which to answer first I wonder… well, no, Silas and I have not met Martha, after so many years estrangement there hardly seemed much point now.   Why am I here?  Well, it was to meet someone who owed us a considerable amount of money.  Unfortunately I arrived too late.”

 

“Really?  For what reason?”

 

Paloma frowned,  paused a moment to think over her answer but before she could do so a voice from behind said “Excuse me…   Miss Barrington?”

 

She turned to see the sheriff and one of his deputies coming to wards them,  with a slight blush to her cheeks she nodded over to them while Ben said quietly “Candy, this isn’t very good timing.”

 

“I’m sorry, Ben, but I really need to speak to Miss Barrington.”

 

“Can’t it wait?” Ben now asked, and looked at Paloma “My apologies, Miss Barrington,  it seems …”

 

“I am sorry,  Ben, Miss Barrington… but I have to insist… it’s to do with the matter of the murder of Patrick McGarthy, and I don’t really think you would want us to discuss it publicly,, would you?”

 

Ben half rose now and scowled darkly at Candy who squared his shoulders resolutely, he had met the force of Ben’s tempers over the years and sometimes emerged triumphant.  Now all he had to do was remember he was the law in this town and Ben merely a citizen, well, some even disputed that fact… he  firmed his lips over his teeth and his blue eyes hardened.

 

“Candy, Miss Barrington is my guest and coming here like this is humiliating to her, and embarrassing for me…”

 

“And the more you shout the odds, Ben, the more embarrassing it will be.” Candy retorted and then looked at Miss Barrington,  drew in a deep breath “I am sorry, Ma’am,  it is inopportune I know, but there are some matters that are more important and have to be redressed as promptly as possible.”

 

“Seeing as  you put it so nicely, sheriff …” Paloma  murmured with ice in here voice.  She stood up, slowly, allowing anyone who was interested, and plenty were, to see just how elegant a figure she was, and how people of ‘real class’ no matter what their colour, dealt with ‘embarrassing moments’

 

Heads turned to watch them leave the restaurant and Ben, hurriedly depositing some money on the table,  striding angrily behind them like some irate dragon bringing up the rear.

………………….

 

Roy Coffee smiled slyly when he opened the door to see Adam Cartwright standing on the threshold,  he inclined his head and indicated the room beyond  into which his visitor entered and sat down in his usual chair.   He looked around the room, nothing had changed, the desk however was littered by paper, and a note  book, he nodded towards it “Working on some project, Roy?   Your memoirs perhaps?”

 

“My what? “ Roy scowled, fancy words still went over his head,  he glanced at the desk, “Oh that!   No, that’s to do with McGarthy, I’ve been working on it.”

 

Adam nodded and placed his hat on the floor,  “What have you come up with?”

 

“Well, I saw you ride off with the sheriff … took that dang fool of a reporter with  you.  That was a dang fool thing to do wasn’t it?”  Roy brushed a hand over his moustache, he didn’t want to talk serious business with the remains of the last meal tagging along there.

 

“Well, not much Candy could do, freedom of the press and all that …”  Adam cleared his throat, “Well, what can you tell me?”

 

Roy grinned and shook his head “Nope, you tell me first what you found at McGarthy’s place and then I’ll tell  you what I know.”

 

Chapter 61

 

Stepping out into the fresh air cleared Adams head a little, but he was slower than usual in buttoning up his outer jacket against the cold.   Roy closed the door and stepped up beside him, then frowned a little “Mind if I tag along, Adam?”

 

“I thought you were going to anyway.” Adam replied but his words contained a sigh, as though he would have preferred being alone.

 

Roy ignored it, he was used to Adams sighs, pouts, pursing of lips and pinching the bridge of his nose in exasperation most of which he had not as yet carried out.  He cleared his throat “Where do you think to go first?”

 

“Where would you go first, Roy, if you were still sheriff?”

 

“Well,” Roys voice now contained a sigh, a big one, he looked quizzically up at Adam and realised that either he had shrunk a little or Adam was still growing which, considering he was now middle aged, seemed hardly likely.  “I’d like to get my worst fears over with …”

 

“Very well… let’s go there then”

 

Adam knew exactly where Roy  meant to go,  the conversation they had shared together and the information they had passed on  between themselves had sufficed to make Adam more than aware of how anxious Roy was about one particular party who seemed caught up in the situation.

 

They were half way down C Street when Bridie Martin hurried towards them, a hand raised to get their attention.  For a moment Adam wondered if she had come to report the return of the little girl with the baby, but it was soon clear from the concern on Bridie’s face that that was not the subject on her mind,  she placed a hand on Adam’s arm “Is it true that the sheriff is making enquiries about single seater rigs?”

 

“Yes,  it is.” Adam glanced at Roy who had pushed himself closer in order to hear what was said.  “Why, were you out in one last night, Bridie?”

 

“No,  Paul was of course … I mean … Paul was on his rounds, do you want me to give you a list of his patients?”

 

“Not me, Bridie, the sheriff.” Adam grinned but Bridie shrugged “Well, I just saw your father and a very elegant lady go into the sheriff’s office with him, so didn’t dare interrupt them.”

 

Adam winced and glanced over his shoulder into the direction of the sheriff’s office,  then with a slight shake of the head he turned to look at Bridie “Paul wasn’t going any where near the McGarthy place was he?”

 

“Goodness me, no, he was heading towards the Sandersons place and then  onto  Hinkleys.  That’s the other side of the territory to McGarthy.”

 

“Then I doubt if you have anything to worry about on his behalf,” Adam smiled and glanced down at Roy who nodded in confirmation but that didn’t ease Bridie’s concerns for she shook her head and the frown on her face deepened,

 

“It’s just that when I left the sheriff yesterday, to report about the disappearance of Margaret O’Connell and the baby,  a single seater went past, the driver was so engrossed in their thoughts or something that she nearly knocked me over.  I had to step back sharply to avoid being knocked down”

 

“She?”  Adam prompted and beside him Roy tugged anxiously at his moustache and narrowed his eyes as he fixed them upon Bridie’s face

 

“Yes, she,  Dorothy Tennent.  Goodness knows where she was going at that time of night,  well, not exactly night, early evening really.  But she looked very distracted, she didn’t even notice me standing there, nor how close to the sidewalk she had been…why, she could have spilled the buggy over.”

 

Roy cleared his throat “I didn’t know she had a buggy.”

 

“I doubt if she has, Roy.” Bridie says, “She always uses Clemmie’s old thing…”

 

Roy stepped back and seemed to shrink a few more inches, while Adam just nodded and looked thoughtful before patting Bridie on the hand “Thanks, Bridie, I’ll let Candy know.”

 

“It was seeing you both heading towards Clemmie’s place that reminded me about it.” Bridie said and cleared her throat, “Actually I think they are both out,  at the refuge. This is their afternoon there.”

 

“Thank you, Bridie.”

 

There didn’t seem much else to say so she stepped away and returned to her own home,  glancing back once as she did so to see both men making their way towards Clemmie’s house.  She sighed and shook her head, frowned a little and hoped that whatever she had said would cause no harm.  Words, she knew, were like pebbles thrown into still water creating ripples that could be far reaching   … and dangerous.

 

Roy walked along with his chin on his chest, eyes downcast and fixed to the sidewalk, as though he had to watch every step he took in case some plank would suddenly spring loose and hit him in the face.  Adam nudged him with his elbow “You know, it may not be as bad as you think, Roy.”

 

“Son,  don’t try and soften the blow, I’ve been sheriff here too long …”  he said nothing for a while longer then as Clemmie’s house came into sight he tugged his moustache and said “You get a feeling in your bones, in your gut so to speak, when someone’s telling lies.  Especially when they ain’t used to saying ‘em.   Dorothy’s a good woman, Adam, she wouldn’t kill anyone.”

 

Adam raised his eyebrows and shook his head “You forgetting that time she helped one of your prisoners escape… passed him a handy little two barrelled derringer if I recall rightly.”

 

“You weren’t even here at the time…” Roy chided like a petulant child caught out in telling tales.

 

“No, but I heard all the details from some who were.”

 

Roy heaved a sigh and then stopped at the entrance to the building that housed Clemmie’s buggy and horse.   “That horse is almost as old as Clementine.  I can’t imagine it surviving the trip to McGarthy’s and back.”

 

“Roy,”  Adam looked at his friend sternly “You won’t find out for sure unless you take a look.”

 

Roy said nothing to that, he merely nodded and squared his shoulders.  The old horse looked over at him and then turned away as though hoping that if he ignored them they would go away.   Both men approached the buggy … Adam  ran a hand over the rim of the back wheel, damp soil came away in his hand “It’s been used recently”

 

“We know that,  Bridie jest said didn’t she?   Don’t mean she was at McGarthy’s, does it?”

 

Adam didn’t reply to that, the old mans affection for his house keeper was natural and quite touching,  he stepped back to view the buggy while Roy walked around it.  After some moments Roy said with a touch of misery in his voice “Of course, just looking at a buggy, and an old horse, don’t tell us nothing, does it?”

 

Adam, again, made no comment.  He stepped back as Roy passed him to walk out of the livery,  then followed with his hands behind his back while his fingers entwined the piece of twig and foliage between them.

…………………

 

“Am I under arrest?” Paloma asked haughtily  while Candy indicated a chair for her to be seated.

 

“No, not at all, and again I apologise for interrupting your appointment, but this is a murder enquiry and as such I have to see those people who appear to  be involved.”

 

“Involved?  You think I am involved in a murder?”  Paloma rolled her eyes and shook her head, before nodding “I see.  And who is the person I am supposed to have murdered?”

 

“No one has accused you of murder, Miss Barrington,  it’s just that you are involved because you visited the murdered man twice… and one of those times was last night.”

 

“Oh ..McGarthy…” she pursed her lips and her eyelids lowered and rose again, slowly,  with that sensual way that drew attention to the beauty of her eyes, and the length of her lashes.  She was a beautiful woman and knew it.   She also knew the effect she had on men,  and this sheriff was certainly one man she wanted to have an effect upon.

 

“Can I take down some personal details first, Miss Barrington…such as your name, address, date of birth.”

 

She looked at him then, piercing dark brown eyes,  then she turned to observe Ben who was seated a little further away, “Is this necessary, Ben?”

 

“It’s best to comply with the law, Paloma”  and his dark voice seemed to caress the name,  she smiled, she had never heard a voice like it before in her life and she looked back at the sheriff and gave the necessary details.

 

“How did you get to know McGarthy…Patrick… the deceased?”

 

“I met him some time after Silas and I met Liam, his brother.  That was ten years ago,  Liam had this mine and told us how many millions of dollars it was producing.   He had helped to finance the war effort …sadly for the wrong side … but it seemed an opportunity too good to miss. Silas and I felt that it would be a good idea to invest in the mine.  We put a large amount of money into it…”   she frowned at the memory, it had seemed an opportunity from heaven,  their inheritance was drying up, knowing that the mine would bring in such benefits helped them to continue in their life style without no change whatsoever “For a while, “ she continued, “the mine paid out on the shares,  dividends I think it is called.   Then slowly the payments dried up.  Liam had died of course some years ago,  and Patrick was now in charge.  He kept assuring us that all was well, nothing was wrong.”

 

“And you believed him?”  Candy looked at her sharply, he couldn’t believe that anyone would believe anything Patrick said and he didn’t under estimate her, she looked intelligent and shrewd enough to see through  Patrick.

 

“Life was busy, we had plans … political plans.   We had reason to be confident in these plans coming to fruition, although we would, eventually, need a substantial amount of money to bring them about of course.”

 

“You saw Patrick the day before his death?  Was that for personal or business reasons?”

 

“Of course, business.   I wanted to know what had happened to our money.   Aubrey Jones had told us that there were problems with the mine.” she paused and wondered how much they knew about Aubrey Jones,  she shrugged, it hardly mattered now, the fact that Patrick was dead made much of everything else inconsequential.

 

“Did you leave him on good terms?”  Candy glanced up, vivid blue eyes looked into her face, saw the pupils of her eyes dilate and her nostrils flare slightly, he took that to mean no, but she smiled and sighed,

 

“I thought so, whether he did I couldn’t say.”

 

“So why did you go back last night?”

 

“He sent me a message to go … I had to be there by 9 p.m … so I went. “  she leaned back into the soft leather of the chair and lowered her eyes to observe the notes that he was writing down, “You have very neat writing, sheriff.”  she smiled “I can read it quite clearly upside down.”

 

“Well if you read anything other that what you have said, please let  me know.” Candy muttered.   “You went and arrived about 9?”

 

“Yes, and the girl let me in, told me McGarthy was in his study. I went up…” she paused, this was the tricky bit,  this was where things could go wrong if she said the wrong thing.  The problem was,  the right thing to say could very well prove to  be the very worst thing of all.

 

“Yes?”  Candy prompted and in his seat Ben leaned forward a little to catch what she had to say, for she had a soft  deep voice which was not always so easy to hear.

 

“He was dead.  I looked at him and saw he was dead.  So I turned around and left, quickly.”

 

“Why didn’t you mention it to the girl?  Helped in some way?”

 

“Help?   But I told you, he was dead?” her eyes widened in surprise and she looked at Ben as though to say “Is the man stupid or what?”

 

Ben cleared his throat “What we mean is .. If you had mentioned something to the girl, she would not have had to be the one to discover his body , she was quite shocked by the discovery.”

 

“We would also have stood better chance of finding some clue as to who killed him.  Unless it was you?”  Candy snapped, and the frown on his brow deepened, “Was it you?”

 

“No,  he was more useful alive than dead.  Why would I want to kill Patrick McGarthy?  He was a fool and a bully, but he had his hands on our money…”

 

Candy sighed and pushed the piece of paper away from him as though it was giving him nightmares.  Ben cleared his throat, “Is there anything else you need to ask her, Candy?”

 

For a moment Candy didn’t answer but stared hard at the words written ’so neatly’ upon the paper, he looked up “Miss Barrington,  on the way to the McGarthy house, did you pass anyone who …” he stopped,  a foolish question to ask of a stranger, foolish enough to ask of a local man, he sighed “Did you pass many people on your way there, or back to town?”

 

“A few… a woman in a buggy , we passed one another.  She was going into town, in no particular hurry from what I could tell,  and there were some others,  oh I don’t know, I had things on my mind.”  she frowned a little now and then shook her head, “I can’t remember, only that woman because she looked over at me and caught my eye…you know how it happen?”

 

“Could you describe her?”

 

“It was dark, I don’t know how she looked… she was not blonde,  but that was all … dark clothes,  everything about her was dark… that is all.” she shrugged, she was not an imaginative woman, she had no perception of the shock Jenny would have experienced in finding Patrick dead,  nor did her imagination stretch to add some detail to the woman who passed her in a single seater rig.

 

Ben rose to his feet “Is that all, Candy?”

 

“For now.   Please don’t leave town until this is settled, Miss Barrington.”

 

She inclined her head,  picked up her cloak and rose to her feet in such an elegant poised manner that Candy blinked rather rapidly as a result.   As she sailed out of the office on Ben’s arm, Clem and Watts entered the building.  Their mouths dropped open… it was a good thing the wind didn’t change direction or they would have lived out their lives looking like perfect idiots.

………………….

 

Roy decided not to come with Adam to the sheriff’s office, he looked longingly at the building but shook his head “Look, Adam, I think I’ll go and make further enquiries around town.   I’m intrigued about this missing girl…what did you say her name was?”

 

“Margaret O’Connell.”

 

“And a two week old baby?   Well, I know enough about women who have had babies,  they can get mighty peculiar and with all that hate building up in her,  she could very well have been the one who killed McGarthy.”

 

“Do you think so, Roy, or are you hoping so …?” Adam asked kindly, but Roy just gave him a very narrow cold eyed look before he turned on his heel and strode away.

 

Adam watched him go and stood mulling things over for a little while, they had shared so many special moments, he and Roy,  and he knew the man so well.   He knew that Roy wanted some definite proof that his house keeper was  beyond reproach, but that at the back of his mind he might have to go a long way to find it.

 

Candy, Clem and Watts looked up and nodded over at Adam who approached the desk, “I hear you interrupted my father’s dinner appointment?”

 

Candy cleared his throat and nodded “Yeah, sorry about that, Adam.  It was unavoidable.”

 

“I doubt if my Pa thinks so.”

 

“True.” Candy agreed with a forceful nod of the head, “Very true.”

 

For a moment no one spoke, Candy and his deputies continued to stare at the sheets of paper that contained their notes about the case, then Candy looked up

 

“Anything else?  Or are you just standing there waiting for us to offer you a cup of coffee?”

 

“I was wondering how you were getting on with your search for – er – any particular buggy, and occupant?” Adam drawled as he stood fiddling with a rather mangled piece of twiggery

 

“Miss Barrington did go to the house, provided us with the exact time … 9 p.m.”

 

“We already knew that,  Victor Ford and his daughter told us.”

 

“She also told us that another woman passed her while she was on the way to McGarthy,  a woman …”

 

Adam handed the twig which still had several leaves on it, “Same as the shrub a buggy backed into last night…”

 

“You found the buggy?  Who owns it?”  Clem gasped, and looked at Adam in admiration

 

“Clementine Hawkins.” Adam replied and raised his eyes to stare at the map on the wall behind them.

 

“Widow Hawkins?” Watts exclaimed, “You’ve got to be kidding?”

 

“I left some of this still caught in the hinge …”  Adam cleared his throat and looked from one to the other of them, “Well, I had better get home, I have an irate father to confront and calm!”   he nodded “Thank you.”

 

There was no way of pretending the last two words were not laced heavily with sarcasm.  Their only consolation was the knowledge that if Ben were still annoyed over what had happened,  then Adam would have had every right in uttering the words as he had.

 

Chapter 62

 

It was some while later that Candy made his way home.  The day had been long and confusing.  So many things were going on through his mind that he was unusually quiet throughout the meal, so much so that Rosie and David hardly spoke a word at the table and were glad to get down and run off to play before bed time beckoned.

 

Ann  was sympathetic and like Hester with Hoss had the natural understanding of a loving wife towards a troubled husband, for it was plain to her that Candy was anxious and worrying about something.   Once the children had been put to bed and she had nursed little Samuel she prepared a sweet hot drink and brought it in to the study where she found him hunched over his desk, his eyes fixed to sheet upon sheet of paper.

 

“What’s worrying you, Candy?  And please don’t say it’s this murder case… it’s more than that, isn’t it?”  she pulled up a chair and sat opposite him so that they were seated face to face,  the lamp flickering shadows and the drink cooling in their cups.

 

“It is this case, sweetheart.   I keep looking at these statements trying to find the clues to  who could have killed McGarthy, but nothing, simply nothing, comes to mind.  There’s something in the back of my mind and I just can’t get at it… I ‘m sure it’s important but I just can’t find what it is.”

 

“Candy,  why not just put those papers away and come to bed, rest and sleep … let your mind relax a little.   You haven’t really been  yourself since that day in the mine with the Cartwrights, and you found old Sam Mayhews body. “

 

“Sam Mayhew… poor Sam.”  he flung a pen down on the desk and shook his head, “He and his wife are good,  I mean were good kind hard working people and both murdered.  I only know she was killed by Buckley because he confessed to it … and Tovey killed Sam but I only know that because Buckley mentioned it.  I’ve not even spent five minutes of my time trying to find out how true that is,  I’m as guilty of pushing him out of sight as those murderers who dumped his body  in that mine and hoped it would never be found.   Here I am worrying about a man who was a bully, a murderer except that he used others to do the killing for him,  and yet a decent man like Sam…   what kind of sheriff am I?  I couldn’t even go to the McGarthy house without calling on Adam to come with me.”

 

“You’re a good sheriff, Candy.  Don’t under estimate yourself like this… you never know, you may find that Sam and McGarthy’s deaths are connected in some way…”

 

“They are,   McGarthy saw to it that Sam was ‘removed’ and … and I’ve done nothing to prove it.   McGarthy’s dead and I’ve all these notes and statements trying to find out who killed  him  just because …  I don’t even know  why now, because of what?  He was like a rat in the sewers,  and yet here I am scrabbling around for clues to find out who killed him while Sam …”  he shook his head before sinking it into his hands, and heaving in a long deep sigh that was not quite a sob.

 

“Candy… oh Candy dear, please don’t take on so,  you know you’re a good sheriff, you would never have applied for the position if you didn’t think yourself capable of doing the job.”

 

“Sweetheart, I applied for the position because there was a good sized house available and you wanted to move into town.  That’s why, not because I thought I’d make a good sheriff, and now, of course, all that this is proving is that I’m not capable of it.”  he rose to his feet and walked to the window to gaze out upon the streets, dark and sombre, in the darker alley ways two legged vermin plied their trade,  he had his deputies patrolling the town and sometimes those who were lower than sewer rats were found and arrested,  he even managed to get some to trial.

 

The lights from the private houses twinkled like stars,  the harsher lights from the saloons with the sounds of the carousing from the men and women who frequented them drifting through the night air weren’t so much stars as brash little suns drawing in the unwary,  the cowboys flushed with their weeks salary, the miners who felt they deserved companionship and comfort.   He shook his head “I don’t know,  Ann,  it just seems so hard.   How did Roy manage so well,  he just seemed to coast along and handle things so easily.”

 

She was standing beside him now and slipped her hand into his hand, her fingers wound around his,  and she leaned against him,  “Roy had friends he trusted to help him,  darling, just as you have…. He didn’t do it all on his own, and over the years he grew in experience, just as you will.  Roy began just as you have, I daresay his first case scared him to death,  perhaps he thought of giving up as well.”

 

Their was just the slightest hint of reproach in her voice, for after all he had more or less blamed her desire to moving into town for getting him into this situation, but she kissed his cheek and stayed close to his side,  so that he would feel her love, warm and comforting and constant.

 

“Huh, Adam gave me a clue, said the buggy we were looking for belonged to Widow Hawkins… you should have heard her sound off at me when I went to ask her where she was last night.  You would have thought I was accusing her of sneaking out of the house for a forbidden romance of some kind.”

 

“A tryst … how sweet…” she laughed softly and snuggled closer to him, he released her hand to put his arm around her shoulders, “Widow Hawkins … how funny…. Why did Adam tell you it was her?”

 

“He didn’t …  he didn’t say it was her, just her buggy … “  he frowned and smiled “Of course, her buggy … Adam must have known but wanted me to find out for myself.  I’m so stupid…”

 

“What do you mean?  What are you thinking?” Ann looked at him as he hurried back to his desk and rummaged through his statements

 

“Miss Barrington said someone passed her in a single seater, dark haired because she wasn’t blonde …  her buggy was in the front of the house but this other one went round the back and snagged some of the shrubbery in the hood,  which identified it as being Widow Hawkins buggy, but the driver, if not Widow Hawkins must be someone  who can use it,  her lodger, Dorothy Tennent.”

 

He began to scribble down words, then pulled another sheet of paper from the pile, then another… he smiled, picked up his mug and sipped the warm beveridge, then looked at his wife.  “Dorothy Tennent…”

 

“She’s Roy’s housekeeper.”

 

Candy nodded “Yes, so she is…”   and released a sigh, “I’m sure Roy won’t mind giving me some advice on the case … I’ll pay him a visit tomorrow.”

……………….

 

Reuben hadn’t been too happy in handing over the little square of paper to his father.  It was a note from his teacher, Miss Brandon and on the ride home he was at times tempted to a. read it  b. throw it away after he had torn it in to pieces and c. face up to the contents of what it contained.

 

Adam hadn’t been too happy entering the house and expecting a verbal blasting from his father,  but found instead that Ben had yet to return home.   Their meal was quiet, and pleasant.  The children behaved impeccably well, so well in fact that both Adam and Olivia were on tender hooks wondering why.

 

Only Nathaniel was his usual little self, beaming at them all one moment, spitting his food out the next, and crying when he couldn’t get another  spoonful quickly enough. He smiled at his sister and held out his arms to her so that she would hug him, which she did, although mindful not to get her dress dirtied by his dribbles and  food.  He laughed at Reuben and managed a smile from him every so often and he, of course, charmed his Pa.

 

After the meal Adam stood up to do the last chores of the evening, he stretched to remove the kink in his back and as he relaxed discovered his son standing beside him holding a small square of paper up to him “It’s from Miss Brandon.”

 

Adam took the paper with his eyes fixed on Reuben’s face, he opened it and read it’s contents … a frown appeared on his brow and his lips thinned, his nostrils flared slightly and he gave a slight shake of the head.

 

Olivia watched her husband anxiously, the letter was obviously not commending Reuben for the excellent essay he had handed in,  nor for the fact that he had got his math correct.  She cleared her throat “Whats wrong?”

 

Adam handed her the note:

 

Dear Mr Cartwright

 

I need to write to you concerning the behaviour of  your son and daughter recently.  For some inexplicable reason they have both attacked a boy  during recess .. Giving no  reason other than calling the child a liar.  Reuben was particularly aggressive towards this child today, I had to pull him off in order that greater harm would not be done.

 

I cannot tolerate this kind of conduct in this school.   After the events that took  place earlier this year with the Downing boy I had hoped that the children would have peace and harmony when together so that there would be a healing, a security in knowing that their school days were of companionship and safety.

 

Please deal with this matter as soon as possible  or I shall have to take further disciplinary action.

 

Sincerely   Lucy Brandon”

 

Olivia put the letter down on the table and looked at her children with wide eyes, then she looked at her husband and wondered what he was thinking, prayed that he would do nothing rash.  Nathaniel began to cry as though he sensed a change in the atmosphere in the room, and she picked him up and put him on her lap, but he continued to grizzle so that she murmured that she would take him to his bed.

 

“Me too,  mommy.” Sofia said and slid from her chair to hurry after her mother but Adam’s voice  merely said “Sofia.   Sit down.”

 

Adam folded his arms across his chest and leaned against the table, he looked from one to the other of them and shook his head “Explain.   What happened?  Why did it happen?”

 

Reuben felt his knees go weak,  he wished he had been sitting down like Sofia,  but he drew himself up and explained about Jimmy and the lies he was saying,  and when he wouldn’t say they were lies and apologies Reuben hit him.

 

“Did you explain this to your teacher?”

 

“No,  she wouldn’t listen … she just raised her hand and said she didn’t want to know, I was a disgrace.”  Reuben hung his head, that comment by Lucy had hurt him severely, it had wounded his pride.

 

“That’s unlike Miss Brandon to say that … Sofia, what did you do?”

 

Confession never came easy to Sofia, she swung her legs about under the table and put her finger in her mouth and stared at the ceiling as though looking for whoever this Sofia was that daddy was angry with … “Sofia, I’m waiting for an answer?”

 

So she told him about kicking Jimmy and why,  he was a bad boy, spiteful and cruel. He told lies.  “Daddy, I did tell mommy  before …”

 

“Miss Brandon considers this as very serious, you know.”

 

“But Pa, he was lying, about you.” Reuben protested

 

Adam nodded,  sighed and looked over at the children who were well aware that if Miss Brandon took this seriously, then their Pa would take it even more so.   Sofia blinked fast, tears rose and fell, splashed on her dress but Adam was having none of that, he straightened up “Barn … now…”

 

Sofia blinked “Not me an’ all, Pa?”

 

“You an’ all… move…. Now….”

 

Oh dreadful place, the children trailed alongside their father and shivered as the doors creaked open.  Once inside Reuben gulped hard, blinked rapidly

 

“I thought I was defending you, Pa.”

 

Adam listened and sympathised, he recalled the number of times he had been in scrapes of similar type when a child, injustices seemed so overwhelming and so immediate, they just had to be sorted out right there and then…   he knew also that he had resorted to his fists many a time when in manhood,  probably still would should the need arise.  For Reuben the need had arisen,  and he had dealt with it accordingly.

 

“Reuben, how old is this boy…this Jimmy Carstairs?”  the children looked blankly at him, Sofia stared down at the straw on the floor and watched a spider struggling to wriggle past her foot.  “Reuben?”

 

“Older than us…  and bigger.” Reuben whispered, “But …”

 

“Do you remember when David hit you at school,  how upset everyone was? “

 

“Yes, Pa.”  He hung his head low, his bottom lip protruded, beside him Sofia continued to watch the spider and wondered if Pa would let her off, after all, she hadn’t hit Jimmy, this time anyway.

 

“What if you had really hurt Jimmy like that?  Would losing your temper…no matter for what reason, …have justified what you did?”

 

Reuben shook his head, he still felt right in punching Jimmy, and he still felt hurt by Lucy not listening to him.  “I – I didn’t hit him that hard,  I …”

 

“No, Reuben, that’s not the point I’m getting at here.  The fact is that no matter how right the reason may appear to you, as soon as you lose control of yourself and lash out like that, you lose something important,  you have to learn to control yourself, and find other ways to manage situations like this….now,  bend over.”

 

Now Sofia  was drawn forward, Adam looked at her and shook his head “ Sofia,  I can’t understand why you had to kick Jimmy … “

 

“But, daddy,” Sofia widened her blue eyes “he was saying bad things about you.”

 

“Haven’t you been listening to what I told your brother? “

 

He looked at her, she looked at him, blinked, bowed her head …  “Mommy said it wasn’t … lady … like…”

 

“No,  it wasn’t.”  Adam cleared his throat,  the incident involving Jimmy and Sofia had happened some days back and Olivia had dealt with it,  and Sofia had not been party to this latest incident,  “Don’t do it again…   if it happens again, Sofia,  you’ll get  a tanning just like your brother.”

 

Pausing just a moment to reflect on whether or  not he had acted fairly and in the interest of all parties Adam now drew them closer to him, Reuben looked tearful but wouldn’t let the tears fall until, Adam knew, he was in his own room.  Sofia was looking relieved,  but Adam felt it hardly fair to punish her now, and it would have undermined Olivia’s punishment given at the time of the misdemeanour.   “Listen to me now, both of you,  no more of this nonsense.   Tomorrow you apologise to Miss Brandon,  and …”  he sucked in his breath and looked at them both even harder “and you apologise to Jimmy and try to be friends with him.”

 

Reuben nearly choked, and Sofia went rather pink but together they left the barn, followed by their father.  As soon as they got indoors Reuben ran ahead up the stairs but it was Sofia who paused, and then peeked her face through the rails of the banisters and declared loudly “Jimmy Carstairs is a horrible boy, and he tells lies, and if he tells more lies I’ll kick him and bash him…”

 

Adam jumped to his feet for he had settled comfortably into his chair glad to have had the matter settled peaceably,  “SOFIA!!!”

 

Scared at her own daring the child took one look at her father’s face and bounded up the stairs to her room,  the door of which slammed shut within seconds.

 

The next few moments were rather painful ones for Sofia, but whether or not she had learned her lesson only time would tell….

 

Chapter 63

 

“Lady waiting to see you inside, boss.”   Deputy Watt stepped aside as Candy approached the door and pushed it open “Must admit, I’m a bit surprised at seeing her here but she insisted on seeing you.”

 

Candy nodded and entered his office, removed his hat and jacket and then looked over to where Dorothea Tennent stood holding her purse close to her chest and staring thoughtfully at the Wanted posters on the walls.

 

“Sheriff  Canady, I – I think I have something I need to tell you.”

 

“Please,  sit down, Miss Tennent”  Candy frowned slightly, Miss?  Mrs?  What did she call herself nowadays?   And was it Dorothy or Dorothea … she sat and looked over at him,  unlike Paloma Barrington she didn’t look self possessed only very nervous and rather frightened.

 

“Roy told me to come,  he said it was better that I came and told the truth rather than you found out later.”

 

“Well, Roy’s right,  it’s much better for you to come clean about things, and … I hope that you will do that, Miss Tennent?”

 

“Yes, of course.”  she nodded and bowed her head, stared at the desk and the number of pens Candy had there.   She watched as he pulled a sheet of paper from the drawer and began to write down the date  “I didn’t kill Patrick McGarthy.  I would have liked to,  but then I would have liked to have killed him the first time I saw him in town, when he threatened me and told me to clear out.”

 

“Why would he do that?  Why did he want you to leave town?”

 

“I knew too much.   There was a time when his brother, Liam and I were very close.  Liam told me things, a lot of things, except the one thing that mattered,  that he was married.   When I found out about his wife …” she shook her head, “Anyway, you’re not interested in past history.  Patrick was afraid that some of the things I knew about him and Liam’s business dealings …”  she paused and frowned “well, they weren’t ethical, or moral,, or even legal.  I tried to do the best to help with the situation back then, with the Cartwrights you know… and Mr Shannon being killed.”

 

Candy leaned back and put the pen down,  he knew that she would have to say what she felt she needed to say before she got down to the information he actually wanted from her.  He listened until she came to the conversation with Patrick the day of his released from prison.  “The way he spoke to me then, and all the threats he had made, I got to thinking about it, and decided to go and see him that evening,  tell him exactly what Liam thought of him, tell him some of the business dealings Liam conducted without his knowing…that would have taken the wind  out of his sails.”

 

Candy watched her,  he would never have thought of her as the vindictive type but it seemed she had a mean streak in her after all.  Perhaps all the years of covering for Liam,  and the time being here with the harrassment Patrick had meted out,  had just got to her.  He cleared  his throat “What time did you get to the McGarthy’s house?”

 

“I left about half past seven o’clock.   The road was pretty empty,  so I guess I got there just after 8.  I went round to the back,  that’s where I used to take the buggy before, when I was …was friendly with Liam.   That way people wouldn’t see me there.

I went inside,  there was no one about at all,  anyway, I didn’t think there was at the time but half way up the stairs I heard voices so I hid inside another room.  I was there for about ten minutes when I heard the gun shot…”

 

“You actually heard the gun shot?”

 

“It was very loud, it sounded muffled,  it might have been something heavy dropped on the floor, something like that… but I know what a gun shot sounds like and I thought that Patrick had shot whoever was there.   I waited for a while and then heard foot steps, running,  and when I looked out onto the landing there was no one there at all, a door closed …”

 

“The front door?  Back door?”  Candy asked jotting what he could down on the paper

 

“It wasn’t the front door,  possibly the back … no, it wasn’t the back door,  it sounded more like a door to another room.  After a while I decided that I ought to go and see what had happened… I went into the study and there was Patrick, dead.   There were rolls of money on the desk, and papers too..”

 

“Did you – er – did you take anything from the desk?”

 

Dorothy looked at him in amazement and shook her head “No, of course not, how could I do that?  Although I see what you mean, I could have done I suppose… but no, I couldn’t bear to touch it.  I just stared at Patrick and then realised that if anyone came and found me there they would think I had done it.”

 

“Why should they think that,  unless you had a gun in your possession.”

 

“I did,  a derringer.  Small but quite deadly.  I know how to use it as well, but I didn’t, I swear to you I didn’t.”

 

“Do you have it on you now?”

 

She foraged about in her purse and produced it with rather a shame faced look as she handed it to him.  Candy turned it round and round between his fingers and then breached it and smelt the chambers, then passed it back.  There was one bullet there, but no indication of it having been fired for quite a while.

 

“Why did you take it with you, Miss Tennent?”

 

“Huh,  with Patrick it was better to prepared for anything,  he was a horrible man, cruel, vindictive…  if necessary, if I had needed to do so, I would have used it without thinking twice about it.  But in cold blood,  no,  not like that.”

 

“But you just admitted that you would have used it on him …”  Candy paused to let the words sink in to her head, “You would have shot him, you took the gun with you, in case you needed to use it?  Perhaps, with the intention of using it?”

 

She shook her head at that, “No,  only in self defence.  I promise you, sheriff, I would never have used it otherwise.  Who ever killed him must have known he was unarmed,  or at least,  he appeared unarmed to me when I saw him there, sprawled over the desk.”

 

“And then what did you do?”

 

“I left, quickly.  I could hear voices from the servants quarters, that was when I was in the foyer and heading for the back door. “

 

“The  voices you heard from the study, which prompted you to go into another room, did you hear anything at all that was said…”

 

“It was hard to tell whether the other person was a man or a woman,  very soft spoken …  Patrick was shouting,  he said several times he wouldn’t pay any money no matter what, and then he said that they were to leave his house, or … get out of my house.”

 

“Do you think a person who had just shot Patrick would have been the sort of person to have helped themselves to the money that was on the desk?  After all, it was just lying there so you say.”

 

She shrugged “I don’t know … I couldn’t say although the person was demanding money,  but after he or she had left, they left a lot of money on the desk…  perhaps they went back after I had gone, and took it then.”

 

Candy nodded, looked at her thoughtfully and then passed some paper over to her, “I’m sure  you would like something to drink, Miss Tennent, would you care to write down your statement here, and sign it.  I’ll get my deputy to make us a cup of coffee.”

 

She nodded and picked up a pen, Candy beckoned to Watt “Get some coffee ready, would you?  I’ll be out for a short while.”

………………….

 

Roy opened the door and nodded at the sheriff, then beckoned to him to step inside.  “Is Dorothy  with you?”

 

“Yes, she’s writing her statement down now.”

 

“I told her to get to you right away.  I knew Adam had realised it was her as soon as he saw that buggy, I suppose he told  you it was ..”

 

“He told me the buggy belonged to Clemmie…. And I got a lot more than I bargained for when I went to talk to her about where she went …but it only left Dorothy.  I’m glad she came of her own accord, Roy.”

 

“Yes, she told me what happened, I wasn’t surprised, kind of expected it really.  But she’ll have told you the truth, Candy, believe me”

 

“Roy, what exactly did she tell you?”

 

Roy pursed his lips and the moustache bristled,  he sat down in his worn old chair and indicated the chair for Candy to take opposite him,  he then told Candy all that Dorothy had told him,  and as he listened, very attentively, the sheriff knew that it was just as Dorothy had explained to him, just what she was writing down now.

 

As soon as Roy had finished speaking  Candy leaned forward,  his eyes alert to the old mans face “Roy, do you trust Dorothy, do you really believe what she has told you?“

 

“Yes, I do.” Roy nodded solemnly,  his eyes narrowed and the bushy eyebrows  furrowed over them, “What are you getting at, Candy?”

 

“Its just that she said there was money and papers on the desk and that she didn’t touch any of it, yet when we got there  was nothing to be seen of any money or papers of any sort …  is it just possible that she may have been tempted to take some …”

 

“Oh yes, and what about the rest then?  I suppose she just simply slipped it back in the safe, tidied up around there a little huh?”

 

“I just needed to know, that’s all.   Roy, wasn’t so long ago that you were my side of the desk, remember?”

 

“I ain’t forgotten.  But I can tell you this now, young man,  Dorothy didn’t take any money.  I asked her specifically once she had mentioned it and she swore that she didn’t touch a bit of it.  She said it was blood money,  she wanted nothing to do with it.”

 

“Do you have any ideas as to what could have happened to it, Roy?”

 

Roy shook his head and slouched back into the comfort of the worn padded chair rest, “Look, Candy,  all I can tell you is what I got told by Dorothy and a few things I picked up from here and there.   It confirmed that she didn’t take anything… but …” he paused “that fancy lady you saw yesterday, the one dining with Ben Cartwright?  Is there a chance she took it?”

 

“She never mentioned seeing any money at all,  Roy.   She’s very self confident, very … well, very sure of herself.”

 

“But she needs money, doesn’t she?”

 

“How would you know that?”

 

“Because her sort always does…”

 

Candy thought about that for a moment and then nodded in agreement, “She did say Patrick had lost a lot of their money, if she had seen so much of it just there on the desk, she may well have been tempted to take it.”  he shrugged “How long does it take to stuff some money into one’s purse?”

 

“There’s also the other person, or persons, the ones in the study talking to McGarthy… they may have gone back to take it.”

 

Candy was silent again for a while, thinking that over, then admitted that it seemed unlikely, “Why would they have just left him, then gone into another room without taking the money anyway?   I don’t quite see why someone would go into  another room and not just get out of the house as fast as possible,  with or without the money.”

 

“Well,  I can’t help you there.   I don’t know why anyone would do that, unless he or she had heard Dorothy.”

 

“No, that doesn’t make sense either.   If they had heard Dorothy while arguing with Patrick and then killing him… no, doesn’t ring right,  perhaps would grab some of the money and run from the house, but not leave it there, go into another room, wait some while and then go back and take the lot.  No,  Roy,  I can’t see that…”  he stood up and sighed, picked up his hat “if you hear anything, let me know, won’t you”

 

“Of course.” Roy nodded and walked with him to the door, “I did hear several reports about that little girl, with the baby… “

 

“You did?  Reliable reports?”

 

“Well,  I think so…different people saying practically the same thing.   She was seen walking the main road out of town with the baby.  Someone said they thought she was heading for the Bucksburn,  but most just said she was walking, didn’t seem to be in any hurry.”

 

“I don’t think it was for that reason, Roy.  She was very weak and frail according to Bridie Martin,  walking from here to the mine… that’s quite a trek for her, I doubt if she would have managed it at all at a brisk pace.”

 

Roy nodded and held the door open for the sheriff to leave the building.  It had began to rain again…

………………………………….

 

Jimmy Carstairs watched Reuben cautiously as the younger boy approached him in the playground.  Several of the children noticed and stopped their play,  and turned to watch as Sofia followed her brother to where Carstairs was sitting eating his lunch.    “What do you want?”

 

Reuben was tempted then to turn around and walk away, perhaps give a snappy answer, but he steeled himself, his father had told him it wouldn’t be easy and Jimmy’s belligerent tone of voice certainly indicated that he wasn’t going to be bending backwards to be conciliatory in any way.

 

“Jimmy,  I just came to say I’m sorry, about what happened yesterday.” Reuben said in what he hoped was the best imitation of his father’s voice that he could do,  “It was wrong of me to have acted like that.”

 

“Yeah, well, it was too…”Jimmy’s scowl deepened “I was only saying what I saw.”

 

Reuben bit back on a quick snappy comment on that as well, but extended his hand, palm outwards “Sure hope we can put it behind us and be friends.”

 

Friends?  The word did stick in Reubens throat a little bit, and he stood there feeling a moron  with his hand outstretched to the other boy who looked at it in disbelief, before looking at Reuben “Really?”

 

“Sure.   Really.”

 

Jimmy wiped his own hand down the back of his pants and then took  Reubens and shook  his with well intentioned vigour, then he frowned again “I guess I should say sorry too, I was wrong to have said that about your Pa, I shouldn’t have come up here like I did.  Sorry …”

 

Reuben smiled, and nodded, he felt that in a way Jimmy’s apology was fair as it was said with a sincerity that he knew his own had lacked.  So he gave an extra firm shake of the hand before turning to walk away.

 

Sofia had watched with her hands behind her back and looking  thoughtful,  she didn’t move when Reuben walked off but surveyed Jimmy long enough for him to feel awkward “You alright, Sofia?”

 

She nodded “Yes, thank you, Jimmy.”

 

She walked away then,  quickly in order to catch up with her brother for worse was to come… they had to go and see Miss Brandon and apologise to her as well.  So it was that they entered the school house hand in hand in order to confront Lucy, who was writing on the board.

 

When she finally realised they were there she gave them a smile and indicated for them to approach.  Clearing his throat Reuben offered her his apologies for misbehaving,  Sofia echoed her brother, apologising so sweetly that Lucy was quite smitten and smiled, patted the child on the cheek and thanked them both.

 

“You may have thought I was unkind not to have listened to you, about the reason you fought with Jimmy.”  she looked from one to the other of them, “But as your teacher, and his, I can’t be seen to show favouritism.  You were in the wrong, no matter what reason,  so please,  don’t do it again.”

 

Their voices were thin and quavery as they promised that they wouldn’t do ‘it’ again. Then hand in hand they retreated and returned to the playground.  Faces turned to stare at them,  before play was resumed.  They both felt disgraced even though Annie Sales offered them both her best ever pieces of candy.

 

Chapter 64

 

The horse trotted around the corral, paused now and again to toss her head before she continued on.  The two brothers stood side by side leaning against the corral fence watching her, their eyes followed her every movement but their minds were far from  the horse, rather on  a subject much closer to their hearts.

 

“So, he didn’t get home until late, is that it?” Joe finally said resting his chin on  his arm and his hazel eyes apparently staring at the horse

 

“Yeah, late.  I waited up until 2 o’clock before he came strolling in.”

 

“That is late.”  Joe nodded and frowned, he scratched as far as he could reach within the cast of his broken arm

 

“Yeah,  it was…. He came in whistling.”

 

“Whistling? “ Joe’s eyebrows shot skywards “Whistling you say?  That’s bad…”

 

“Well, it isn’t good, that’s for sure.”

 

“Did he say where he’d been?”

 

Adam bowed his head and stared at his boots, sighed and shook his head “Nope,  just asked me why I was still  up so late.  I said ‘Yes, sure is late.’  and he just shrugged and muttered about he hadn’t noticed.”

 

“Aw, that’s bad.”

 

“He looked less cheery this morning though,  just grunted when spoken too, not that either of us bothered to get him into conversation.  You know what he’s like?”

 

“Yeah,  I know.    Didn’t he say anything at all?” Joe glanced at Adam wondering if his brother was holding back on something he should know.

 

“He said … last night just before he went upstairs … “Miss Barrington is a very charming woman.””

 

“And you said?”

 

“I said “Obviously, she appears to have charmed you at any rate.”  to which he gave that smug smile of his and started whistling again, not another word, just up to bed. “

 

“And is she as charming as he says…”  Joe asked rather tentatively, his tousled hair looking rather wild with the breeze that was blowing through.

 

They turned to leave the corral and walked slowly to the house,  Adam with his hands in his pockets and Joe hugging his old coat close around him.

 

“I don’t know,  Joe.  I haven’t met her yet.”  he shrugged  slightly and then looked at his brother and smiled, a gentle look now came to his features, softening them as it did so “How are you now, Joe?  Are you feeling much better?”

 

“I am, thanks, brother.  I still don’t sleep so good at night,  the dark …  well, you know how it is, I just feel like I’m being smothered.  I owe my life to Hoss,  you know … he kept me from drowning,  it really scared me the thought that he could have died because of me.”

 

“Joe, you can’t imagine how I’ve been feeling about it.  You shouldn’t have come with me, you know,  niether of you.  If -” he drew in a deep  breath and shook his head “I can’t bear to think about it.”

 

“Look,  Hoss and I – we’re not kids anymore – we made the choice to come along,  it’d been a while since we had all ridden into trouble together,  hadn’t it?”  he grinned but he fully understood how Adam felt, and in a way felt grateful for it, after all, it showed that big brother was still the same,  trying to keep them safe and protected.

 

They stepped into the house and removed their jackets, then went into the  main room where Mary Ann was talking to Hester, both ladies looking thoughtfully at a large sculpture of a man grappling with a horse,  they smiled over at Joe and Adam, “We’re trying to decide whether or not to take this to the house, or whether to donate it to charity.” Hester said gaily, trying not to look too happy at the idea of actually moving back to the big house.

 

“I’d best keep it if I were you,” Adam advised, “That’s one of Pa’s prized possessions,  he won it one year for  some event or other.”

 

“That’s right,”  Joe frowned “Should be another one somewhere, I thought there were a pair of them.”

 

“That’s right,” Adam nodded, “Hard to remember how many there were, Pa would set

them one place and then suddenly they’d disappear and next thing  we’d find them on top of some bureau or bookshelf …”

 

“Until they disappeared again.  I don’t think Hop Sing liked them.” Joe nodded, “We’re going up to see Hoss.”

 

“I’ll make us some coffee,  Hop Sing has gone to see Cheng Ho Lee, they’re playing Mah Jong this afternoon  at Hop Sing’s uncle in town.”  Mary Ann smiled and got to her feet, she had reached that stage in her pregnancy when a woman can become a little lop sided and lose their centre of gravity, getting up and down from some chairs was a feat of determination if nothing else.

 

Daniel appeared from the side of an arm chair with an impish grin on his face and raised his hand to his father to show off his latest acquisition which he had obviously snatched from his cousin Hope who was bawling her loss, toddling over to her mother with mouth wide open and tears streaming down her cheeks while pointing over to the gleeful victor of the tug of war.  Hannah was no where to be seen, but was later discovered fast asleep in the sunniest part of the room hugging onto her rag doll.

 

Hoss greeted his brothers with delight,  ”Shucks,  good to see you Adam.  How is everything ?   Did Pa sound off at you about his meal being interrupted by Candy?”

 

“Nope,”  Adam sprawled out in a chair, his long legs stretched out before him, he gave a half hearted shrug “Not a word.”

 

“Seems like our revered parent stayed out late last night, and has said nothing about his appointment at all.” Joe pulled up another chair and sat beside his brothers bed, a small table was near by upon which was the checkers board, all ready laid out.  Hoss looked over at Adam  who shook his head and looked glum,  Joe sighed as he surveyed the board “You sure he hasn’t told you anything at all about her?”

 

“Nothing at all, he must have told you both something about her when he met her last time, remember I was away then.”

 

Hoss and Joe looked at one another,  Hoss shrugged “He said she was very beautiful, but kinda cold… you know, the kind of female that is so lovely  but has a ‘You can look but don’t touch’ label on ‘em.”

 

“Yeah,  well, if that was the case it makes me worry even more about Pa now… he was merry as a cricket when he got home last night or rather early this morning.” Adam groaned, closed his eyes and tried to stop his brain from working over time.

 

“Adam,  how is that murder coming along … is Candy handling it alright?” Joe looked at Adam and thinking that his brother had dozed off, nudged him with his foot.

 

Adam re-emerged from his reverie “Candy?  Oh, I think he’ll work it out sooner or later.”   he frowned and leaned forward slightly “It’s interesting though… two women  go to the same man on the same night … and he ends up dead.  Which one did it do you think?”

 

“How’re we to know?”  Hoss grumbled, “I’m stuck here, Paul says I got to stay put until I stop getting headaches and wanting to go to sleep so much.  Joe, I saw you pick that counter up…”

 

“It’s one I just jumped and won from you, Hoss.”  Joe muttered and jingled the two counters in the palm of his hand, he smiled and leaned over the board concentrating on  the counters positions “What if niether of them did it?  I mean, that is possible isn’t it?  When you think of McGarthy and ask the question ‘who would want to kill this man?’ most of the Bucksburn miners would, and I would … considering the damage his neglect did to us…”

 

“Sure thing, could have been anybody.”  Hoss  sighed and made a half hearted attempt to win one of the checkers only to leave the way wide open for Joe “Who else was in the house?”

 

“Mr Ford and his daughter Jenny.  They said that they heard voices in the study where McGarthy was found so you could include whoever that was too… “

 

“Probably that’s who did it then…   whoever was in the study.   Who were the two women ?”

 

“Two women?  Oh, there was Paloma Barrington and the other was …” he paused, loyalty to Roy tugged at him but he shrugged and said “Dorothy Tennent.”

 

“You sure?” Joe frowned,  “Dorothy Tennent, mmm.”

 

“Well, unless it was Widow Hawkins.  It was certainly her rig that had been at the place …  and I can’t see Widow Hawkins killing McGarthy no matter how fond she was of her lodger.”

 

“Yeah,  Roys pretty fond of Dorothy as well.” Hoss muttered and watched Joe jump all over the board collecting checkers as he went.  “I think it could  be Miss Barrington.”  he paused “Or whoever was in the study that the girl over heard talking”

 

“Or -”  Adam frowned “one other possibility, a missing woman with a baby.  Mrs O’Connell.   But …” he paused and frowned “she’s ill, frail, I can’t see her walking all the way to the McGarthy place and shooting him, then walking back …not that she has-.”

 

“Has what?” Joe queried as he mounted his counters along the side of t he board and grinned over at Hoss.

 

“Has walked back, she hasn’t been seen since she left Bridie’s.”

 

“Maybe she’s dead as well.  If she’s that frail she wouldn’t be able to walk that far, not all the way from town to McGarthy’s.” Hoss suggested.

 

Adam nodded “I don’t  want to interfere, this is Candy’s first big case and even Roy said it was important for a sheriff to deal with his first without too much interference, kind of establishes a man in the towns eyes as being competent.  But …”

 

“But you can’t help yourself, can you?” Joe grinned, “Do you want me to ride into town with you?”

“No, Joe, I’m not going into town.  As I said, I can’t interfere, best leave it to Candy.” Adam sighed and stared at the ceiling, fidgeted a little in his chair while Hoss and Joe watched him, looked at one another and grinned,  “I think I’ll just go and see how he’s getting along,  I might be able to find out a bit about Pa and Miss Barrington …seeing as how Pa is so secretive about it all.”

 

“Sure, and I’ll come along to keep you company.” Joe said, putting his counters down into the box, “I’ll tell you all about it when I get back, Hoss.”

 

Hoss scowled at their backs, decided that today was a good day to get up and test his legs, but then felt dizzy and decided to stay put.  He lay his head upon the pillows and closed his eyes, thoughts of his Pa filtered through “Son of a gun, Pa…  no wonder  Joe and Adam have such a way with the ladies,  they took right after you.”

……………..

 

Paloma had just put the finishing touches to her hair when there came a knock on the door and after demanding who was it and getting the answer “Sheriff Canady and his deputy”  made  her  way across the room and opened to them.

 

Both men removed their hats and Candy bade her good morning and stepped into the room followed by Clem.  Paloma observed them both and then gestured to the chairs into which they settled “Well, gentlemen, what is the problem this morning ?  I presume that you wish for my assistance again, is that right?”

 

Candy scratched the back of his neck and then nodded “Yes, m’am.   We would be grateful if you could answer a few more questions.  Some fresh evidence has come up and we would like to ask you for your version of events.”

 

Paloma raised an elegant hand to her ear-ring which she toyed with for a moment before nodding her agreement, at which Candy explained how they had located the woman who had passed her in the rig,  and that this woman had been at the McGarthy house, but before she had arrived.

 

“So she must have been the one who killed Patrick?”  Paloma cried gleefully

 

“Not necessarily, ma’am”  Clem said quietly, “She claims that he was already dead when she got there.”   Paloma’s eyelids fluttered slightly, the pulse at her throat quickened,  other than that she seemed to freeze in her seat, motionless.

 

Candy smiled one of his kindly off beat smiles that made his blue eyes shine, “Could you describe the room to us … your first impression as you stepped into the room perhaps?”

 

“That is not so easy to do now,” Paloma sighed and bowed her head,  she had reasons of her own for keeping silent but stared at the pattern in the carpet for long enough before saying “I walked in and looked around the room,  there was a smell there, I had smelled it before, a gun had been fired.   The desk  had nothing on it at all,  a picture was crooked on the wall.  Patrick was slumped over the desk and I went to him, he was dead.  I thought ‘Suicide’ but then there was no gun.  I looked on the floor and on the desk … nothing.  I thought it was best to go as soon as possible, I didn’t want to get the blame, after all, there was bad history between us.”

 

“If you think really hard can you remember if there was anything on the desk?” Candy leaned forward a little closer, “for example, was the