There Will Always be Rainbows (by Krystyna)

Summary: Events from the past come back to haunt Adam and his family.

Rating  T   WC 140,975

Home is the Sailor Series:

Home is the Sailor
The Iron Horsemen
There will Always be Rainbows
The Pledge

There Will Always be Rainbows

Chapter 1

In a house  near where a river flowed a young woman nursed her baby daughter and then wrapped her carefully in a shawl.  After kissing the baby’s downy head the mother tenderly settled her into the bassinet close by the big bed she shared with her husband.

It was January of 1878 and a time of heavy snows, strong winds and biting cold.   At times it was still possible to hear the sound of the nearby river which flowed at full spate due to the amount of snow melt that came from the mountains.

Her husband murmured some words in his sleep as she slipped back into the bed.  After kissing him gently she settled into her favoured position in order to try to get some sleep.   It was hard to drift back however as her mind kept returning to the previous week when her husband had returned home from the trip he had taken with his brothers to find his lost niece.

She was as happy as everyone else at the child’s safe return but her concerns had been for the man she loved who had become so ill that there had been fears for his life. The thought that he could have died so far away from her hovered constantly on her mind.  She lay there and tormented herself with her fears of what could have happened although her husband’s steady breathing and intermittent snoring should have reassured her that all was well. Regrettably it only reminded her of how close she had been to losing him.
………

In Virginia City the sheriff’s wife lowered the flame in the lamp and moved it to the centre of the table so that there was less likelihood of it being knocked over.  The wind whistled down the alleyway that ran between their house and next doors property.   For a moment she stood still to listen before returning to the crib in which her infant son slept.  A smile lingered about her lips as she touched his face very gently with her finger.  He stirred and sighed, little dimpled fingers opened and closed like the opening petals of a flower.

She knew this baby would be the last she would bear her husband and felt a pang of regret at the thought.  As she returned to her bed she heard the sound of horses trotting down the main street of town, the jangling of an old piano from the saloon close by to them, laughter and out of harmony singing.   With a slight frown on her face she got into her empty bed and pulled the covers over her head.

Her husband would be patrolling the town now.  One of his deputies would be with him. They would be carrying rifles in the crook of their arms just in case some drunk would let loose with his gun.   As she closed her eyes she thought of the home they had shared before moving into Virginia City.  She wished she could have turned back time so that they could enjoy the tranquillity of silence again.  Not only that but having the assurance of her husband safely in bed with her instead of risking his life, as he did, each night.
………..

Moonlight drifted lazily across the floor and touched the cot in which an infant slept soundly.  Nearby his mother lay in her husbands arms half asleep and wondering if she had been mistaken in having heard the sound of weeping.  It had drifted through her dreams to waken her.

There it was again and this time she knew she had to get up to make sure her daughter was safe and well.

The moon provided her with sufficient light to find a dressing gown to cover her for the soft silk nightdress that she wore provided little warmth.  Tying the cord  tightly around her she made her way to the bedroom, her feet padding lightly across the floor.

Her daughter was asleep but crying as though trapped in a bad dream.  Sitting by her side she smoothed back golden curls, whispered a song, and waited for the weeping to stop. As she waited  she remembered the day after they had brought the child home and how she had ripped up all the clothes her daughter had worn, the coat, the little fur hat, the pretty dress, everything.   She wouldn’t admit that she done it in anger, that she had ripped them  apart in a passion of fury. No, she had calmly, coldly taken her scissors and cut them to pieces, then fed the stove with all of them.

It took over a day for the house to be rid of the smell but the thought of those clothes touching her child’s body was abhorrent to her. Those clothes bought and touched by the  women who had kept her daughter from them…no, it was too much to expect.

She held the little girls hand in her own until there was calm and the tears stopped.  Even after that she remained  there until her husband came and stood by her side, held her in his arms.  She knew It wasn’t over yet and wished she could cut out the memories as easily as she had cut through the clothing.
…………..

A woman kept close to the shadows of the buildings, clinging to the wooden clapboard walls, ducking into alleyways when anyone appeared.  At times she paused to catch her breath or to change arms when the bundle she carried became too heavy for her weak frame to carry any further.

The moon favoured her by hiding behind clouds creating shadows within shadows.  She slipped on the snow and ice at times, but always succeeded in maintaining her balance. She couldn’t risk falling, in case the baby was injured and hadn’t he suffered enough since being born, poor lamb?

She held him tighter against her thin flat body as she drew near to the house she sought.  Now she was this much closer she wondered if she were doing the right thing. She hesitated, doubting herself, reminding herself how there was no alternative.   Hadn’t she already been so desperate that twice already she had  attempted to kill him! It would have been so easy to do, after all, he was so frail and thin.  So weak.  His cry was like the mewl of a kitten, his skin flaccid and loose around his bones.

No, this was best for him, and for her.   She reached the house and stood there for a moment then kissed his brow before setting him down upon the step.  She fussed over the scrap of blanket with which he was covered, kissed him again and then hurried away.
She didn’t dare to look back. She had to stand firm to her resolution.  What good was she to him anyway?   She slipped in the snow and grabbed at the wall to stop from falling.  Ahead of her was an alleyway.   She made her way to where a metal stairway zig zagged up the wall of the house.  Beneath this she took shelter. And waited.

Chapter 2

The sheriff and his deputy made regular rounds of the town every night. Not so regular that they could be timed to enter a saloon at any particular hour of business. Nor in the same location at any given time, but they were a seen presence, a known presence, and therefore created a sense of security for some, and wariness in others.

Watts held the shutter lamp for when dark corners and shadowy alleyways were to be encountered, so, contrary to Ann’s assumptions he did not have a rifle nestled in the crook of his arm, that was left for her husband to possess. Most of the sidewalks were blazoned by the lights of the saloons, or eating houses and hotels. Only the alleyways were sombre and required extra caution.

The snow still spiralled downwards, collected in corners where piles of it had already been amassed during the daytime hours. Candy pulled up the collar of his coat to prevent draughts and snow trickling down his back, Watts, with the shutter of the lamp closed, did likewise.

“Not the best night to be out” Mark observed wishing his teeth didn’t chatter quite so much.

“No, but I’ve known it worse.” Candy replied and sighed as he mentioned it. He nodded to one alley “Let’s check there.”

It was not well lit, shadows sprawled dark and glowering as they met one another in its centre. Mark pulled back the shutter and the feeble light gleamed back and forth as they entered the passageway between the Undertakers (Riley’s & Co promising the best service for the late departed) and Ridleys Haberdashery.

“Not much going on here.” Mark observed and swung the lamp in an arc making the flame of the candle flutter as he did so.

“What’s that over there?” Candy pointed to a huddle of rags beneath a stairway.

“Rubbish?” Mark suggested and shrugged, but then the ‘rubbish’ moved, just slightly, but enough to get his attention “Rats!”

“Too big for rats.” Candy muttered and took the lamp from his deputy to investigate closer.

The bundle of rags had an arm which was now stretched out towards them, a piteous mute expression of a cry for help. More pitiful was the fact that the arm was bare, and it belonged to a woman who no longer possessed the power of speech. Her eyes spoke for her, large in a thin white face as she pleaded for their help.

Candy approached her slowly, as though if he rushed towards her the movement would snuff out the last breath from her. Bending on one knee he took hold of her hand, so cold that it seeped through his gloves, “It’s alright, don’t be frightened.”

She said nothing, her eyes stared into his face only and her lips, blue with cold, barely moved. Passing the rifle to his deputy Candy shrugged out of his coat and wrapped it around her, and then very gently lifted her up into his arms. The warmth of the coat caused her to shiver involuntarily, her teeth chattered, and her eyes closed.

“Where are you going to take her,, Candy?”

“To the doctors….just carry on, Mark. And make sure that old Schroeder makes no trouble for you.”

Schroeder the local drunk, already locked in the cells and a regular inhabitant. Mark nodded and after leading Candy from the alley way continued on his rounds while Candy carried his burden to the doctors surgery.

Dr. Hay was on night duty and opened the door with a scowl on his face. He had just removed an appendix from young Antony Wood and was hoping for the evening to continue in relative quiet. Realising he was facing the sheriff he forced his face into a semblance of a grim smile

“What have we here, Sheriff?”

“A young woman, I found her in the alleyway.” Candy muttered and continued with her in his arms to where the surgery door was open.

Antony Wood, aged twelve, was alert enough to watch the proceedings with the attentiveness that most boys of that age would pay when the sheriff arrived with what looked like a frozen corpse in his arms. Half drugged though he was he watched with avid attention as Candy placed the woman on the leather bench seat and then removed his coat.

“She’s young,” Hay muttered, “Poor girl, emaciated, chilled to the bone, here…Candy, grab that blanket, we need to thaw her out.”

The young woman remained to all appearances quite lifeless as the doctor and sheriff carefully wrapped her limp body in a warm blanket. Hot bricks wrapped in cloth were then placed close to her feet and hips, while Hay opened the stove doors so that the heat gushed out into the room.

He took hold of her hand and checked her pulse at the wrist, hoping that it would strengthen as warmth entered her body, but he shook his head at Candy as though to signify that there was no change.

“Do you recognise her at all?” he asked the sheriff who shook his head while he continued to look at the once pretty face of the young woman.

“Well, if she possessed anything of value it’s been stolen from her.” Hay now said, which was an obvious fact, the woman’s clothing being so scanty that there was little that could hide a purse or even anything as slim as a letter.

Candy said nothing, he hadn’t wanted to check out for such things, her body was still hers to be respected and his hands were not seeking to violate it in any way. But, he admitted, Hay was correct, there was no where on her that could conceal anything she wore so little. Candy shook his head “What are her chances of survival?”

Hay touched the pulse at the woman’s throat, then again the pulse at her wrist. He brought a mirror to her mouth and nose, but it didn’t mist, the lips remained frozen in a twisted semblance of a smile. He shook his head “No, I’m sorry.”

The hot bricks were removed and replaced for some other who may need them, the doors of the stove closed. It was Candy who covered the pretty face with the blanket and Antony Wood sunk back onto his bed and was touched by a sadness he had never experienced before in his young life.

“I’ll go and check the alley, just in case I have missed noticing anything.” Candy said, but Hay was already busy washing his hands and whatever Candy found, or not, was his affair, as sheriff, to deal with, not the doctors.

Mark Watts was waiting at the corner of the sidewalk and asked briefly how the girl was, only to have his answer by a grim shake of the head. Candy buttoned up his jacket and took the lamp “I’m just going to check the alley, in case there was something there that we missed.”

Together they re-entered the passageway, and scanned the ground, the steps of the stairway, and found nothing but a ragged gingham shawl. After shaking it out free of snow there was still nothing to identify who the girl in the snow had been.
………………..

Tilly Treveleyn had heard the rapping on the door and shook her head in annoyance. It was late at night, and she had to fumble her way down the passage with a candle flickering to guide her along.   It seemed so unfair to her that people never left the good doctor and his wife alone.  Always coming along expecting them to drop anything and everything in order to see to their needs. What really irritated the frugal Mrs Treveleyn was that they often expected treatment without payment.

She held her candle at arms length in order for it to light her way to the door which she had opened quite prepared to give whoever it was waiting there, a piece of her mind.  Snow drifted into the hallway as she stood there looking from left to right, the flame of the candle fluttered and she had to shield it with one hand to keep it from going out. But there was no one in sight.   Not a soul.

She had been about to close the door when a mewling sound had caught her attention and upon looking downwards noticed the bundle covered over with a grubby blanket. A snort of disgust and the door had half closed but then the bundle had moved and gyrated.   A cat?  Kittens?  She had shuddered, she had no time for the feline species.  Even less for puppies.

But then there had been a whimper, a weak sound not unlike that of a kitten mewling but yet different enough to have aroused her curiosity. She had leaned down and removed the blanket… A familiar little face, blue eyes and a fuzz of golden blonde hair had looked up at her.  She had almost fallen backwards into the hallway, had blinked, gasped, staggered back a few paces and then exclaimed “Lawdy, lawdy”

The baby whimpered, his face had crumpled and his lips had quivered.  Realising how cold the infant must be Tilly had picked up the bundle without further hesitation and carried it inside.

‘Poor thing, you’re so cold so wet…  you must be hungry too. What will Miss Bridie say when she  sees you again.  Poor little scrap.”

She had carried him into the kitchen where it was still warm from the days activities. Then she had sat down by the stove with him in her lap, lifted him up and shaken her head. Undersized meant he was undernourished.  She had held him close to her and rocked him too and fro with one hand held to the fire and then rubbing his little feet. He made no sound at all, not even the weak whimper she had heard earlier. It was when she had turned him over that she had she found the envelope pinned to his diaper, addressed to Bridie.   The writing was cramped and thin, but it was familiar and confirmed her suspicions that little Master O’Connell had returned to his birth place.

Bridie had always been a light sleeper so it wasn’t long after Tilly had taken the baby into the kitchen that she appeared, yawning, lamp in one hand and struggling to tie up the dressing gown belt with the other.

“Tilly? What’s going on here?” she had muttered and blinked like an owl as she struggled to come to full consciousness.

“Missus, you’ll never guess, you’ll never guess in a million years.” came the reply and Tilly stood up, cradling the baby in her arms “It’s the baby.”

“I can see.” Bridie said now fully awake, and setting the lamp down on the bureau. “Where did it come from?”

“Not ‘it’. Mrs Martin, it’s the baby, Margaret O’Connell’s baby boy …”

She said no more as Bridie gave a startled gasp, and hurried to take the baby from the other woman and to look at it with incredulous eyes “Oh poor scamp, and here we were thinking you were safe in Ireland. What one earth has happened to you? Where is your poor mother…?”

The baby blinked, yawned, squirmed a little in discomfort for the warmth was creating other problems. Tilly handed Bridie the envelope without a word and then went in search of a bowl, towel and soap. ‘Cleanliness is next to Godliness’ was a maxim Tilly knew by heart and applied liberally. While the kettle was boiling on the stove, she also located some baby clothing, of which there was always a goodly supply, and set to work on cleaning and dressing the little mite.

Bridie had sat down and opened the envelope, she recognised Margaret’s thin writing, and how she cramped each word close together filling the scrap of paper as she did so. She turned up the flame and began to read:

“Dear Mrs Martin

I am so sorry …everything went wrong. I was on board ship bound for Ireland which as I told you in my letter was where my husbands parents were. We had not left harbour when one of the men on board the ship …took advantage …I told the Captain but he had no sympathy for a poor girl like me. He said I was a slut. I am not, dear Mrs, I am not. I told him I was a widow bound to my husbands home and family with his son, and he demanded money but I said I already had paid for the ticket and he said I had not. I was not on the passenger list.

‘Oh Mrs Martin, I didn’t know what to do. I cried and begged him to help me, for my child’s sake, for the sake of my dead husband but he was refusing to hear me and said I had to pay for my passage. But I had already done that, I told him, and told him. But then he said no money, no crossing over to Ireland and he threw me off the ship.

‘I was so distressed, not knowing what to do next so went to the local church but it was locked and no one came to my knocking. I could only think of coming back to you, who else was there who had ever shown so much kindness to a poor girl like me? Oh for the love of God, I was desperate and my money was so little. I had to beg for what I could get and do things for which I am mighty ashamed. May God forgive me but I had to get food for the baby somehow. Mrs Martin, please do not think bad of me…please look after my little boy. Find him a loving home, a family, not one of those places where they put babies and such, where he will be mistreated. I want him to have a good life…please, Mrs Martin, please.”

She had run out of paper but managed to scrawl in her name ’Margaret O’Connell’ in one corner.

Bridie re-read it, wept a little, shown it to Tilly who had cleaned, dressed and was now feeding the baby. They wept together as they thought of the young woman who had so bravely borne the loss of her husband and delivered their son.

Tilly looked down at the baby who was trustingly staring up at her with the bluest eyes. The milk had been sweetened a little and she rocked him in her arms before turning to Bridie “Well, Mrs Martin, here we have him, safe and sound. But someone left him on our doorstep?”

“It must have been her.” Bridie cried leaping up out of her chair and without a word running to the door which she flung open.

“MARGARET MARGARET”

The wind whistled as though taunting her, it whirled around her ankles and she shivered but nevertheless she ran out to the gate and looked up and down through the snow flakes.

“MARGARET MARGARET”

A hand on her shoulder made her jump, surely it was Margaret and she turned with a look of relief only to find her husband staring at her with an anxious face, tousled hair and his dressing gown becoming liberally peppered by snow.

“She’s not here. She’s gone.” Bridie whispered and wept as her husband wrapped one arm around her shoulders and gently led her back into the house.

The warmth of her home reminded her that out there in the cold was a young woman, bereft of her child, her dignity, of everything. She looked at Paul “Margaret was here. She left the baby …Paul, she could be anywhere by now?”

Her husband nodded and picked up the letter which he read through very carefully.

“Mrs Treveleyn, give the baby to Bridie and make us all a strong hot drink. I’ll get dressed and once I’ve had my drink I’ll go and see if Candy can help us locate this young woman.” he turned to his wife “I want you to stay here, do you understand? No running around town looking for Margaret. Mrs Treveleyn, tie her to the chair if necessary.”

“But, Paul…” Bridie protested but her husband only shook his head

“That’s enough, woman. You have that baby to care for now. Margaret has entrusted it to you, so do as you are told.”

Bridie swallowed her words and looked down at the baby who was now sleeping contentedly in her arms. She looked over at Tilly who was busy doing as her master had ordered, preparing them all a hot drink.

“Oh Tilly, whatever are we going to do now?”

Tilly just shook her head “I don’t know, Missus, but, knowing you, you’ll think of something.”

Chapter 3

By the time Paul Martin had managed to make his way to the sheriff’s office he was cold and weary. Snow plastered his coat and he had been forced to walk doubled over against the wind in order to reach his destination, clinging to his hat with one hand and his coat with the other.

It was Clem Foster who was in the office and feeding the stove with more wood in order to maintain some heat in the building. When the door opened, bringing with it a blast of cold air, he was none too pleased and stood up with a scowl which soon faded when he saw the state Paul was in.

“Hey, Dr Martin, come closer to the stove. You look like a snowman. Here, take your coat off and hang it here to dry out.”

Affable as always Clem was soon helping the elderly doctor to get warm again, pushing a chair close to the fire and handing him a cup of decent hot coffee which Paul held between his frozen hands for a few moments before venturing to taste it. From the cells came the snores and intermittent singing of several regulars who had been deposited there during Candy and Mark’s rounds.

“Where’s Candy?” Paul finally got around to asking, the delay caused not because he felt the matter lacking urgency, but because it needed a little time for his mouth to thaw out.

“Home. His shift ended half an hour ago.” Clem frowned “Anything important I should know about, Dr Martin?”

Paul gulped down more coffee and then nodded “We had a baby abandoned on our doorstep.” he paused and frowned “We know the infant, he was born in our house a few months ago.”

“Shouldn’t you be contacting the Foundling Society then, Dr Martin?” Clem pulled out a chair and sat down, pulled a sheet of paper from a drawer and picked up a pen. He stroked his jaw and thought for a moment “No sign of the mother?”

“None. That was what concerns us most, she must be in a very desperate condition to have left him on the doorstep. I mean, she would know we would have cared for her. A mother would have had to be desperate to leave a baby in weather like this, wouldn’t she?”

“Perhaps she has a man who doesn’t want the baby. Leaving it with you may be her best option for a new life.” Clem suggested and realising from the look on Paul’s face that he was entirely looking in the wrong direction. “Or, then again, perhaps …”

“She left a letter for us, the saddest letter …” Paul interrupted and then emptied his cup which he set down upon the desk very carefully as though even that required thinking about, “We were wondering if anyone could have seen her in town? Any reports at all of a woman who was alone, I don’t know, a woman who looked at her wits end.”

Clem shook his head “I don’t know, Dr Martin. As I said I’ve only just come on for the shift, Watts was with Candy he would know, but he left for home when Candy did.” he began to pull open drawers and rummage through their contents, then finally pulled out a sheaf of papers which he placed upon the desk “Candy doesn’t always write up his reports until early morning, it’s a long shift you know and in this weather a tiring one.”

Paul didn’t say anything, after all, who was he to judge? He knew all about long shifts, tiring ones and then long journeys home when writing out reports on the why’s and wherefores of patient care would be the last thing he would want to do.

“Nothing here, last thing written in was about something that happened yesterday afternoon.” he scanned through several sheets of paper that bore evidence of Candy’s neat close hand writing “Nothing here about any woman, except for one who was cautioned for soliciting.. if you know what I mean?”

Paul sighed, prostitution was becoming a little too common nowadays with the number of women who were desperate to feed their children, or just desperate to feed themselves. With the mining boom fading and stores closing, people moving out the towns economy was suffering. He shook his head, he wasn’t here to consider social reforms, he was here to find out about one sad lonely woman who seemed to have done a good disappearing act. He stood up and reached for his coat while Clem put down the papers and began to write, very carefully, a report about Paul’s visit.

“I’ll go and see if Candy is still up, I need to know urgently what has happened to this woman.” he sighed and struggled into his coat which had dripped a fine puddle on the floor “Thanks for the coffee, Clem.”
…………….

Candy had been unable to sleep. Usually after a long day and night patrol he enjoyed a quiet hour with Ann and then a good nights sleep. But not this night. The memory of that young woman haunted him, and as he sat by the fire of his comfortable home he couldn’t bring himself to discuss it with his wife but sat there staring into the flames as though they would dispel the mood he was now finding himself in.

The knock on the door was not overly loud but it seemed to echo. Ann had already gone to bed, knowing from of old that her husband would join her when he was feeling more relaxed about whatever it was that was disturbing him. Rather than the knocking disturb his family more than it already had done, Candy hurried to get up and answer t he door.

“Paul? What on earth brings you here at this time of night/”

“What indeed.” Paul grumbled and once more found his coat being taken from him and his hat parked where it could drip melted snow. “Clem said you hadn’t long finished your shift and I wanted to catch you before you retired for the night.”

“Come into the warm,” Candy urged and ushered the older man into the parlour like a fussy sheep dog herding in a lost lamb.

Paul nodded, looked around the room for sight of Ann but not finding her there he took the chair closest to the fire and stretched out his hands to the flames. Briefly he told Candy for whom he was seeking and was rewarded by a nod of the head from the sheriff and a deep sigh along with it.

“ I have a feeling that the young woman about whom you are speaking is the same as the one I and Watts found earlier this evening. I am sorry, Paul, but if she is, then -” he shrugged and shook his head

“Dead?”

“Sadly so. I took her body to Dr Hay’s as I knew you would have retired already. She – she looked like she had suffered greatly, Paul.”

“She came all this way to leave her baby on our doorstep.” Paul bowed his head and thought of the young woman, barely a woman really she was that young and frail when he had known her.

“A baby? Yes, I could imagine that to be right. She had a look of peace on her face if that is any consolation.”

“I had best go and see Hay, make sure it is Margaret.” Paul said quietly “I don’t want to go telling Bridie one thing only to discover later that I am wrong. She will be more than sad to know this news anyway.”

Candy nodded and followed Paul to the door, helped him into his coat and passed over the battered old hat, “Thanks, Candy. She was a good girl, and she had a good husband but when he died and McGarthy evicted her from her home, everything in her life just fell apart.”

“But she knew to come to you.” Candy said, hoping that it sounded like a positive from what was a most dire situation.

“Well, she knew she could leave the baby with us, she should have known she was welcome also.”
…………..

Dr Hay was more than pleased to welcome an old colleague and ushered Paul into his house with a smile and offers of a hot drink with ‘something in it to warm up the blood.’

After explaining why he had come Paul was led into a small back room where there were several bodies awaiting the attention of the undertakers. Dr Hay removed the sheet from one and Paul sighed, nodded and gazed thoughtfully down at the young face. Candy was right, there was a degree of peace upon those still, frozen features. But there was also a look of resignation, as though she had decided upon this course of action a long time before, that death was the ultimate choice and the best option for her.

“She left a baby, her son, on our doorstep.” he murmured to Hay who was watching the other mans face with a kindliness that had been missing when Candy had brought her to his surgery earlier that evening.

“I thought there was a child somewhere, I was concerned about what she would have done with it.” Hay nodded and dropped the sheet back over the young woman. “She was malnourished, a wonder she was able to walk at all. She must have collapsed not long after leaving her child. What is his condition?”

Paul sighed “Well, with care he could well thrive, but he’s in a sorry state.”

Hay nodded again and followed Paul from the room, he mentioned that Riley would be handling the funeral and Paul pocketed the information mentally. It was tantamount to being told that the costs of the burial would be forwarded to him seeing as he knew her and was caring for the child.

The snow had eased off when he left Hays surgery. With bowed head Paul made his return journey to his own home and pushed open the door. A reminder of what awaited him came with the sound of an infants crying, a thin reedy wail of a child in pain. He sighed, hunger caused pain, he knew that and was saddened at the thought.

Bridie was rocking the child back and forth in her arms and looked anxiously at Paul, who came and put his arm around her shoulders and kissed her cheek.

“Is it bad news?” she whispered and he nodded while he removed his coat for the final time that night.

He told her that Margaret had been found dead, that her last act in life was the safe keeping of her son. Bridie blinked back tears and stroked the baby’s cheek so that he stopped his wailing and fixed his eyes upon her face, his lips quivered as though he knew that the expression she bore was sad, sorrowful.

Tilly came with a bottle filled with more milk, warmed and sweetened which she handed to Bridie. She didn’t like to say a word about the young woman’s death but had she dared to venture to do so it would have been that it was a foregone conclusion that that was how she would end up. Nodding to herself she bade the couple goodnight and very quietly ascended the stairs to her bed.

The baby sucked eagerly at the milk while his blue eyes remained fixed upon Birdie’s face. Paul fussed around the stove and prepared them both something to drink themselves, while he wondered what on earth they were to do with the little chap. He passed his wife a cup of hot chocolate “I’ll go to the Foundlings Home tomorrow and see if they have room for him.”

She shook her head “No, Paul. Not the Foundling Home. I couldn’t bear to put him there, that isn’t why Margaret left him here with us. She said to find him a family to care for him, not … not that place.”

He had expected her to put up a fight for the child. The Foundling Home was crowded, that was true, but it was like all such organisations that was established for the good of the most vulnerable, overstretched, under funded and always more and more being placed there making it impossible for any child to know the individual attention each and everyone of them craved.

He looked at his wife and then at the baby in her arms, if they were only that much younger, and with more time available what a wonderful mother she would have been, and he loved her now more than ever.
Chapter 4

The room was cold, as rooms usually are in winter time without the benefit of a fire roaring in the hearth. For a moment Sofia just remained where she was, very still and warm enough in her bed. She didn’t want to open her eyes just in case she found herself in that pink room again with the fire burning and the toys on the shelves. She didn’t want to wake from her dream into the same reality where a pink room had a dolls house with little people in it that scolded and scowled at her.

If she had the courage to open her eyes she could, perhaps, find herself back in her real home, and in her own room where across the landing slept her brother in his own room too. If she had the courage she would open just one eye … so she did …

The room was home, she opened the other eye and looked around her at her treasures…there was Clarabelle sitting beside Jessie, and both looking a little lop sided. Perhaps they had had an argument during the night? The drapes had not been closed so she could see through the window but only just for ‘Jack Frost’ had been at his work again, she could see the filigree workings of his ‘magic’ paintbrush. But through the patterns she could see glimpses of moonlight on snow.

Her breathing became easier…snow. How glad she was that there was still snow. That meant the pass would still be closed, there would be no way of getting into town and that meant no school. Even the thought of school made her stomach quiver.

For a while she remained in her bed and listened to the sounds of the house as it began to wake to a new day. The sound of her father’s cough and then his footsteps passing the door to her room, and Reuben’s, and then down the stairs so that he could start his chores for the morning. After a few moments she heard the sound of movements in the kitchen which indicated that Cheng Ho Lee was already busy preparing their breakfast. Soon she would have to force herself out of bed because, small as she was, she had her own little tasks to perform

There was whistling now, that was Reuben. She imagined her brother pulling on his clothes and hurrying so that he could get out to help Pa. He was happy, she could tell that by the tune he was whistling. Perhaps it was because he knew that there would be no school today as well. She sighed contentedly and slowly moved her body out of the bed.

She hurried to the window and looked at the patterns that were iced onto the glass. Her fingers traced some and then she planted the tips of her fingers right in the centre of the ‘forest scene’ so that after just a few seconds the ice melted leaving five clear patches which dribbled water and through which she could peek. She saw her father striding over the iced over snow to the stable and then pushing open the doors. They resisted him for a while for the snow had mounted up high and he had to kick some of it away in order to get the door open. Heat from within drifted out in thin mists and vapour.

Her door opened and Reuben poked his head inside “Ain’t ya ready yet, lazy bones.”

“I’m coming.” she cried back and hurried to where her clothes were piled ready to pull on for the start of this new day.

She could hear Nathaniel chattering now, silly baby talk but out of which some words could be understood quite clearly. Her baby brother was growing up. Well, he was just over a year old now, who would have thought it? Her mother was singing softly, a sweet song that her own mother had taught her long ago. For just a second Sofia froze and listened as intently as possible, not just to her mother singing, or Nathaniel chattering, nor to the sound of Reuben jumping down the stairs to see how many he could miss out in one stride. She listened to all the sounds ..the clatter of the pans in the kitchen, the creak of the floorboards, the clock downstairs chiming, the cockerel crowing ..and she wanted to cry, because she knew she was safe, and she was home.

By the time Sofia was dressed and considering which shoes to wear Olivia was in the room with Nathaniel in her arms. She greeted her daughter with a wide smile, and that long lingering look that Sofia had began to become familiar with now. Olivia was not aware of it, but whenever she looked at her daughter for the first time each day the relief, and joy at seeing her was like a starving man who sees the first meal set before him, or a man dying of thirst in a desert being given a glass of water to drink.

Olivia set Nathaniel down to explore his sister’s bedroom which meant Clarabelle and Jessie both got mauled and several other toys were thrown in various directions. While he was distracted Olivia set her child down at the little dressing table and began to brush her hair. The long strokes of the brush always made Sofia relax and she looked up at her mother and smiled “Aunt Katherine used to brush my hair, and sometimes Phoebe did…”

Olivia swallowed a knot in her throat and shivered, struggled to keep the smile on her face and to continue brushing the long blonde hair. Sofia opened a drawer and pulled out a ribbon, a yellow ribbon to match her dress.

“Mommy, I don’t have to go to school again, do I?”

Olivia released her breath. This new subject caught her by surprise as her mind was still dwelling upon this Aunt Katherine whom she was attempting to discover more about without showing really too much interest. The pain any reference to those two women caused Olivia was immense, but along with the pain was the curiosity as to what her daughter could have been doing during the time she was away from home. What was her room like, her friend Ella to whom there was some references and Katherine who was mentioned more often than the formidable Rosemarie.

A mother’s love could be jealous, no woman wants her children to supplant her by another in their affections. So it was with Olivia, her mind and heart were tormented by the fact that this Katherine was still a presence in Sofia’s mind, perhaps in her heart. It hurt a lot, and she wanted to cut out the pain while at the same time dwell upon it and learn more.

“School?” she murmured distractedly and sighed, “Well, you will have to discuss that subject with your father, Sofia.”

“But I don’t want to go to school anymore. Can’t I have lessons with you here at home, and with Aunt Mary Ann?”

“As I said, you will have to discuss it with daddy.” Olivia put the brush down and picked up the ribbon, she carefully tied it to her daughters ringlets and was surprised to see Sofia’s brow pucker slightly as she looked at her reflection in the mirror. “What’s wrong? Do you want another ribbon?”

“Nooo, not really.” Sofia frowned “But Aunt Katherine always tied it in a fat bow, and you’ve tied it in a thin one.”

Olivia’s eyes widened, she shook her head “Don’t talk nonsense, Sofia, there is no such thing as a fat or thin bow, a ribbon is a ribbon and -.” she paused, enough of this nonsense, why on earth was she getting so annoyed over a conversation about a ribbon?

She knew why of course, and slammed the brush down upon the dressing table. “Come along, breakfast will be ready and you haven’t done your chores yet.”

“If I go to school that Charlie Beckett will still be there. She’s a naughty girl.”

“Yes, she is.” Olivia agreed whole heartedly about that and looked around for her son who had crawled under Sofia’s bed with Clarabelle.

“And she still lies.”

“I know.”

Olivia leaned down to coax her son from his covert, but Nathaniel clung tightly to Clarabelle and refused to come out. Sofia joined her mother and upon seeing Clarabelle being squeezed and generally mangled by her little brother caused her to open her eyes and gasp in horror.

“You’re naughty, Nathaniel. Give me Clarabelle. Give her to me now.” and her voice rose in pitch, ending in a squeal of dismay as Nathaniel spat out Clara belle’s nose with all the distaste a child his age could register.

“Nasty.” he said and dribbled all over Clara belle’s face.

“Oh, Nathaniel, you bad bad boy. I wish I never had a brother like you, you’re bad and naughty.” Sofia squealed as she knelt down now and reached out to grab her beloved doll.

Olivia now took hold of her arm and pulled her away from the bed, and forced her back onto her feet. She gave the child a little shake of the shoulders and shook her head

“Sofia. Don‘t you dare say anything like that to your brother again. He’s only a baby, he doesn’t understand. Don’t ever ever say such a thing to him again, do you hear?”

Sofia opened her eyes wide, she looked down at the bed where her little brother was peeking up at her. She shuddered with horror at the hurt he was doing to Clarabelle and her eyes welled up with tears

“But, he has Clarabelle, and he bit her nose off.”

“I can sew another back on.” Olivia said and shook her head again at her daughter, “At your age, Sofia, you should know better.”

“Aunty Katherine wouldn’t tell me off like that, she would understand, she would …”

“And that’s enough about this Aunty Katherine, Sofia. Not another word about her, do you hear?”

Sofia’s lips smacked together and pursed tight like a little red button. Her cheeks flushed and her eyes blazed, not with tears this time. Before she could say a word she was spared the discipline and trouble saying anything would have got her by Olivia hauling Nathaniel from under the bed and swinging him up into her arms. She pulled the doll from Nathaniel’s grasp and thrust it into Sofia’s arms before leaving the room with the baby bawling in her ear.

Sofia looked at the poor damp soggy face of her beloved doll and blinked tears, she shook her head in dismay and flung herself back on the bed. She couldn’t understand what exactly had happened, what it was she had said or done to upset everybody, but it seemed she had managed it, somehow!

Olivia reached the kitchen and set Nathaniel down in his chair. She wiped his face dry from tears and red dye that had mingled with dribble and told him to be a good boy. He didn’t particularly want to be good, but he knew that food was going to arrive soon and watched with interest as Cheng Ho Lee wrestled with the cooking. So much steam, so many smells, so much rattling of saucepans…Nathaniel loved it all and watched with avid interest.

Olivia set out the plates upon the table, blinking back tears as she did so. It was stupid, silly, to be upset like this when all she wanted to do was keep Sofia safe, totally safe from the influence and memories and fears of what had happened during her absence from home. She didn’t want to be beaten in her daughters affections by a stranger. This Katherine who had willingly kept Sofia a prisoner in her home, was now becoming more real in Sofia’s mind than she was when in her actual physical presence.

Cheng Ho Lee looked at his mistress thoughtfully “Missy not feel well?”

“I’m fine, thank you, Cheng.”

“Little Missy, she not feel well?”

“She’s just late getting herself organised.” Olivia murmured and then glanced at the doorway where Sofia stood with Clarabelle tucked under her arm “Come along, Sofia, you will have to do your chores after breakfast. Hurry now, or -”

Sofia took her seat at the table and scowled at Nathaniel who had reached out to grab at Clarabelle. Olivia was about to remonstrate when the outer door opened and Adam, with Reuben behind him, entered the room. They had already removed their coats and snow covered boots but looked chilled, both rubbing their hands together to get some warmth into them.

As always Adam kissed his wife and hugged her before taking his seat. He was close enough to Sofia to hug her, which he did, and to kiss her on the cheek.

“Sleep well, Princess?”

“I had a bad dream and when I woke up I wasn’t happy.” came the prompt reply and she glared at Nathaniel “And then HE bit Clarabelle’s nose off.”

“Oh, and who is HE exactly?” Adam raised his eyebrows and looked innocently at his wife who shook her head and shrugged.

“Him…that baby.”

“Well, sweetheart” Adam sighed and looked at Reuben was who doing what most sensible boys would do at that moment in time and that was tucking into his food. “It’s because he is a baby that he probably thought Clarabelle’s nose was something he could eat. And …while on the subject, young lady, don’t talk about your brother in that tone of voice.”

“But …!”

“And no but’s.” he nodded his thanks for his food to Cheng and picked up his fork, looked again at his wife who sat down, in silence, by his side.

The first meal of the day was not the most comfortable one shared around that table.

Chapter 5

Reuben was the first to excuse himself and hastily get ready to go back to the stables to attend to Max, he rather disinterestedly asked Sofia if she would go with him and was surprised when the little girl said that she would as Buster also needed attention.

Olivia watched her daughter leave the room and once gone she stood up to clear away the dishes but her husband prevented her from moving far as he caught hold of her hand and pulled her gently back towards him, “Wait a moment, Livvy.”

She paused and looked at him, then slowly resumed her seat and allowed him to take hold of both her hands in his, while he leaned towards her and looked earnestly into her eyes.

“What’s wrong? Something’s upset you and it isn’t just Sofia being silly about Nathaniel is it?”

Nathaniel upon hearing his name mentioned clapped his hands and cried “N’ail, N;ail”
And Olivia turned to give him her attention while she tried to find the words to answer Adam’s question. It was only when he squeezed her hand as though reminding him that he was still there that she sighed and looked at him, then shook her head

“It’s nothing, not really.”

“Livvy, that means it is something. Tell me? I don’t want to leave here worrying about you? Has something happened that I should know about?”

For a moment she hesitated, and looking into his eyes she could see the tiny reflection of herself looking back from within them. She shook her head “I don’t know, nothing really happened, nothing has happened. I need to just …”

“Just?” he prompted, very gently so that his voice trickled like a warm caress down her back and made her shiver.

“Adam,” she pulled her hand away from his, even though there was some resistance on his part, and then she clasped them both together in her lap and stared down at them. “When she was missing, it was a nightmare. I can’t even describe to you now how it felt. I wake up at nights now still trapped in those feelings, and it makes me feel sick, and I keep telling myself it’s stupid to feel like this, she’s home now, and she’s safe.”

“Yes, she is.” he nodded and placed his finger beneath her chin and raised her face up to look back into his eyes, “She is safe, Livvy.”

“I keep thinking of what it was like for her during that time. Was she as frightened as we were? As I was? Then she starts talking about Katherine .. She calls the woman Aunt Katherine for goodness sake? She’s been home two weeks now and it is as though all she remembers of that time were the good things, the fun and … the way Katherine was so ..so kind to her.”

“I believe that’s right, Katherine Royale was very loving and kind to Sofia. In fact, Sofia had her almost undivided attention, toys and clothes, whatever she wanted ..even Ella was provided as a playmate when it was noticed she could be getting lonely.”

“But, Adam, I don’t want Sofia remembering Katherine Royale as a kindly aunt. I want her to know that the woman was – was – evil. I don’t want Sofia comparing everything I do with what Katherine did, or contradicting me when I have to discipline her by telling me that Aunt Katherine would never do that .. And … and when I’m telling you this it all sounds so stupidly childish, but it is making me so miserable.”

Nathaniel’s dimpled hand touched her shoulder and he called her as though he could sense from his words that she was, indeed, miserable. She turned and gave her little boy a wobbly smile and then lifted him out of his chair to place him upon her lap. She then looked once again at Adam’s concerned face, the anxious dark eyes that were fixed upon hers.

“I wanted her home so much, and I suppose I thought she would just settle back into the usual routine here, and things would be happy as they were before. I wanted her to be my Sofia, not Katherine’s ..”

“She can never be Katherine’s, my sweet.” he caressed her cheek and then smiled at the baby who grabbed at his fingers in an attempt to pull them into his mouth and have a good chew. Nathaniel was teething and anything near his mouth was considered, by him, worthy of an experimental ‘chomp’. Adam managed to tug his finger free and then leaned back to observe Olivia.

He had noticed the way Sofia would refer to Katherine, but it had not been often and not enough for him to feel anxious about it. However it was obviously eating at Olivia and this concerned him considerably. He remembered how, not so long ago, Sofia had decided that Robert Phillips, her dead father, being her ‘real daddy’ was far superior to the man who had replaced him. It had aroused emotions that Adam hadn’t even suspected he had, so now, he had to consider how best to help his wife.

“Livvy, we have to accept the fact that those weeks with the Royales will have left a mark on Sofia, it was bound to, after all, whatever memories she has of them will always be there, won’t they?”

“I know, but -” she sighed again, bowed her head and looked at Nathaniel who was staring intently up at her face. She kissed his curly head and then stood up, “Adam, take no notice of me, I’m just being – well – I guess I’m jealous.”

“You have no need to be.” Adam stood up now, and put an arm around her waist, drawing her and his son closer to him, “You will always be Sofia’s mother, and she loves you. No one can change that.”

Olivia never said anything to that, she hugged Nathaniel closer and then said something about having to get him washed and dressed for the day. As she turned away, she paused and looked back at the man who loved so much, who was still standing by the table watching her with a quizzical look in his eyes “Thank you, for listening.”

He shook his head “I didn’t do much. I don’t want you to be unhappy.”

“I know.”

“Livvy, Sofia must be pretty confused just now, she hasn’t really had much to do with people beyond the family and some school friends so Katherine would have made a big impression on her. Try to see it from her point of view, and let her talk to you about it. I think if you make it too obvious to her that Katherine upsets you, Sofia will mention her a lot more, which will only confuse her further.”

Olivia nodded. She wanted to say that she didn’t want to talk about Katherine with her daughter, she wanted the woman expunged from the child’s memory totally. But she knew he was right, it would be the course of wisdom, and love, to let the child talk it out of her system. She hugged Nathaniel closer and then hurried to leave the room.

Adam sighed and rubbed the back of his neck as though there was a pain there that needed to be massaged out of existence. He stood quite still for a moment and then turned towards the table and poured himself another cup of coffee. With this in hand he strolled through the big room to his study and stepped inside.

There was paper work to be chased up. During his absence it had mounted up and during the past ten days of Sofia’s return work outside had forced him to leave such things for ‘another time’. With a glance to the clock he judged that he had at least an hour before Hoss and Joe would arrive to drag him down to the south pasture to check on the boundary fences there.

The book that he had been sent by ‘Mike’ Michaelson was still on the desk where he had left it so he picked it up in his hand and weighed it there for a moment as he mentally went through some of the points brought up in the volume. Then, with a slight smile, he turned to place it upon the book shelf. Once he had put it into place on the shelf he stepped back and picked up his coffee, then turned to take his seat.

He drank the coffee quickly for it was not so very hot now. After he had finished drinking it a thought struck his mind and he got to his feet, paused, turned to look at the shelves of books ranged along one wall. Books upon books, he had read them all, or most of them. One he had not completely read, and he approached it now to observe it anew. O’Brien’s journals. His hand hovered for a moment, before falling back to his side. He had started reading it, he could recall doing so during the time his father had stayed with them when the old house had been in the process of being rebuilt.

He stared at the spine of the journal, it looked innocuous enough, but within those pages lay so many memories, so much heart ache and soul searching. He had only read one of the journals to realise that he couldn’t face reading any more, not just yet.

With his hand on his hip and his head bowed he looked again at the book, at the words written on its spine “Daniel O’Brien. Private Journals” and once again his hand hovered, seemed to caress the leather and then as abruptly as before, moved it away.

Turning his back upon the shelves he sat at his desk and began to check his ledgers. There were outstanding bills that needed to be paid and various matters elsewhere to deal with, so little point in indulging in tormenting oneself with the actions of the past.
…………..

Buster was more than pleased to see his mistress again. Sofia had never been a devoted mistress, one must admit. Her care of him was very hit and miss, and it often fell upon Reuben or her father to deal with him. She stroked his neck and his soft muzzle, before picking up the brush to groom him. Close by Reuben was attending to Max, his own horse, and now he stopped a moment to observe her before saying “Bet you didn’t have a horse of your own when you were with those people you stayed with.”

“I had a rocking horse. A big one. Nearly as big as Buster.” she tossed her nose in the air and shrugged “It probably cost a lot of money.”

“Wouldn’t have got you very far though.”

She didn’t answer that as her mind went back to those days when she rode on the rocking horse and pretended she was back home riding Buster across the Ponderosa. She patted the plump little pony on the neck and whispered that she loved him in one velvet ear.

“What was it like then, living there without us? I bet you had lots of toys, didn’t you?”

Sofia frowned, yes, she had lots of toys, everywhere she had looked there were toys. But Clarabelle and Jessie were not there. She shrugged again “Don’t care anyway.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” her brother demanded.

“Nothing.”

Reuben frowned, this was the very first chance he had of talking to his sister about her absence from home, and as the days had gone by he had grown in curiosity about what it had been like. His feelings of guilt had been assuaged somewhat by her remaining quite normal towards him and his father’s assurance that he had done wonderfully well in his attempts to protect her. He continued for a moment brushing the bigger pony.

“Did you miss us?”

“Of course I did. I cried sometimes.”

That was to be expected, Reuben surmised, girls always cried over everything, even when not serious. He watched her for a moment as she brushed Buster’s coat with some vigour, and he smiled “Buster will like that, first time you really brushed him right.”

“I always brush him right. I’m not a baby.”

“Huh, that’s what you say.”

Sofia scowled and turned to glower at him “Don’t be mean to me, Reuben.”

“I’m not, I’m just saying, is all.”

He came closer and lounged against the bars of the stall to watch her for a little while longer “Do you wish you were still there with them? Sometimes I hear you talking about that Katherine person and I think you care for her a whole lot more than you care for us.”

“I don’t.”

“Do.”

“Well, I don’t, and you’re being mean to me and I’m going to tell daddy.”

“Huh, see if I care…”

She put down the brush and bowed her head so that her brow leaned upon Buster’s plump belly, two tears trickled down her cheek and she gave a sob. Immediately Reuben was by her side and hugging her “I’m sorry, Sofee, I’m sorry.”

“You were mean.”

“I didn’t mean to be, honest I didn’t. Please don’t cry. It’s just that you were gone a long time it seemed and sometimes I wonder …that’s all.”

She sobbed a little while longer and then wiped her eyes, “Well, don’t be mean to me, Reuben. I missed you and mommy and daddy and Nathaniel. I really did.”
“Even though you had that new friend ?”

“Yes, I just kept telling her all about you all the time. She thought you were a story I was making up but she knows now that you’re real. She liked you.”

Reuben frowned and pulled out a rather dirty handkerchief that had been used multiple times, he dabbed her cheeks with it, “Here you go, then, Sofee. I love you too. You’re my special sister, aren’t you?”

She nodded and to prove it she blew her nose on the handkerchief. Good and hard.

Chapter 6

Paul Martin examined the baby very carefully. This was nothing new to Paul, he took every care over each one of his patients whatever age, size or shape they came in. But this little scrap of humanity was struggling so hard to survive against the odds that he felt an overwhelming urge to pray for a miracle to keep him alive.

Hovering close by, and to Paul’s way of thinking, too close by, was Bridie. Her hands clasped together beneath her chin and her eyes fixed upon Paul’s back. Perhaps she was willing him to be able to perform miracles, perhaps she was praying that someone, somewhere, would do just anything to keep the little one alive.

The baby whimpered. Despite having had food fed to him very carefully every hour since his arrival he remained lethargic and weak. There was no strength in his voice, his e yes already had that glaze that came to those approaching death. Paul shook his head and straightened his back,

“Bridie, this little lad has only one thing going for him right now and that is his will to live.” he turned to her as she spoke and saw the helpless look drop over her face, “He’s alive and he’s fighting to stay that way.”

“Will he survive though, Paul?” there was a slight tremble to her voice, and she approached her husband to stand by his side and look down at the little bundle of skin and bone that was lying on the operating table.

Poor little mite. Eyes so big for his face, and every bone sticking out from flesh that hung upon him like a loose garment. His distended belly looked painful, the pathetic way his eyes fixed upon hers broke her heart. She shook her head “He will survive, Paul. I’ll make sure he does.”

Paul nodded but he didn’t smile, his eyes still held that concerned anxious look about them and when he placed his hand upon her arm she knew that he was leaving the responsibility of care to her. She wrapped the baby in a blanket and held him against her body.

“What will you do, Bridie?”

“Feed him up, give him lots of love and cuddles. Give him something to live for …” she whispered but more to the baby than to her husband. She glanced up at Paul and smiled “We shall have to see what happens, I suppose.”

He nodded and was about to speak when the door opened and Timothy Schofield strode in, looked at the scrap of humanity in the blanket and shook his head “I heard about the mother dying. Found in an alleyway next to the undertakers.”

Paul shot him a cold glare as though daring him to make any quip about the appropriateness of her choice of place to die, but Schofield said nothing as he placed down his bag, and removed his coat and hat.

Leaving the two doctors to get on with their tasks for the day Bridie carried the infant away to the Refuge. Well, it had started as a refuge, then became a kind of hospice but now it seemed to go under whatever name anyone thought of, it seemed to make sense as it filled such a number of issues for the townsfolk.

Dorothy Ford was already there having prepared both her husband’s and Roy’s meal for the morning. She was talking to Mrs Armstrong and Widow Hawkins but their conversation came to a halt when Bridie entered with the bundle in her arms.

“Let’s have a peek…” said one, and “’Ere, let’s have a butcher’s*” from Widow Hawkins who still hadn’t come to realise that Cockney slang was as unintelligible to those living in town as Swahili.

They crowded round and there were sighs and murmurs of sympathy and pity, then they left with much shaking of heads to get on with their assigned tasks and for Bridie to get on with her assignments for the day. Not that she gave much thought to them as she rocked the baby back and forth in her arms and tried to will him to live.

Mrs Armstrong tugged at her sleeve “Mrs Martin, why don’t you give him to me for a while. I’ll take good care of him for the next hour or so.”

“To be honest, Mrs Armstrong, I don’t know if …”

“It’s alright, whatever happens will happen I’m sure, but just let me have a hold. I’ll look after him. What’s his name?”

Bridie cleared her throat and felt rather uncomfortable after all Mrs Armstrong was not the cleanest person in the world and until she started working at the refuge hadn’t seen, let alone used a bar of soap for about three years.

“Paul O’Connell.” she said quietly and the other woman nodded, a gleam of remembrance in her eyes.

“His Pa was the one got killed in the McGarthy mine that time.”

“Yes, that’s right.” Bridie nodded and watched anxiously as the little shawl wrapped bundle was carried away from her sight.

She could hear Mrs Armstrong crooning to him though, and realised that the woman had a fine singing voice. If nothing else it would soothe the baby to sleep.
Work was there to be done not looked at and pondered over and Bridie, always a hard worker, set to in the hope that it would remove all worry about the baby. People were coming in now, trudging through the snow to see what they could find among the clothes that many had donated or to eat the food that others had prepared. Soup kitchen, medical care, a crèche for the infants, a little area where Dorothy read stories to small children and clothing to rummage through, sort out and provide for those who had so little.

Who would have thought it, Bridie thought as she neatly folded a little coat, that the idea she and the Cartwright ladies had conceived those few short years ago would have borne such fruitage. So many willing to help, so many willing to donate and as always the very many prepared to take and receive. Not that they could give much, words of gratitude, a little colour in their cheeks, hope in their eyes… but it was enough.

Even Mrs Garston and her daughter Lucy were now avid supporters of their ‘charity work’. Lucy had even become a quite amenable and pleasant young woman, and had changed to such an extent that she even had several young men interested in her. Not that one of them had yet plucked up the courage to approach Mr Garston or his wife on the matter of her hand in marriage. That was still a barrier to be surmounted by the most ardent, and he, as yet, had not made an appearance.

At the end of her shift Bridie looked around to see if she could locate little Paul but he was no where to be found. Widow Hawkins had long gone home, being so elderly now and in the cold weather she managed merely a few hours every other day. Dorothy had departed to attend to Victor and Roy, both men sharing the mid day meal with her when Victor was not on duty at the hotel. This was one of the days he was ‘off duty’ and Roy had to ‘share’ Dorothy with him.

Other women had come to work and were dishing out soup and bread, pouring out hot drinks for those who needed it. Bridie was beginning to feel flutters of panic in her heart, she wondered if she were having palpitations, if she were going to keel over from a stroke for she felt giddy and sick. Where was he? How could a baby disappear?

But then, he wasn’t a real baby was he? Just a scrap of bone and flesh wrapped in a blanket. She couldn’t even remember now what colour his eyes were … and that made her heart flutter even more wildly.

“Mrs Martin?”

She turned and there was Mrs Armstrong striding along towards her, a little breathless but smiling. The palpitations began to slow down. “Er .. Forgotten something, Mrs A?”

Mrs Armstrong shook her head “No, he’s asleep right now. I left him with Mrs Lockey.”

Bridie frowned “Mrs Lockey?”

“Of course. Who better?”

Bridie blinked, what was the woman talking about and then when Mrs Armstong began to laugh at her Bridie got annoyed “What’s going on?”

“Now then, don’t panic.” Mrs Armstrong chuckled, her plump bosom heave up and down with merriment and her cheeks flushed red as though everything was a great joke. “Now then, with all your nursing experience Mrs Martin, what do you reckon that baby needed more than anything else?”

“Warmth, food …” Bridie stammered

“Exactly. And when was the last time you were able to feed a little one?” and Mrs Armstrong gave a nod towards Bridie’s own ample bosom with a rather knowing smirk.

Bridie wasn’t sure but she was beginning to get an idea of what was going on, she gave the other woman a sidelong look and was rewarded with another chuckle “There’s over ten women in the shanties who have birthed during the past six months and all of them able to produce good milk. That baby has been fed every hour with good rich milk, just enough for him to enjoy. Bless, he even smacked his lips at one time.”

“Fed? Every hour?” Bride sat down and felt her body sag with relief, what could have been better, why hadn’t she thought of it herself? Ten nursing mothers all willing to provide milk for an infant as close to death’s door as to see it creaking open!

“Just enough mind,” Mrs Armstrong said in her usual boisterous manner, “Not too much at a time. But the women have all agreed to feed him until … well, until whatever happens, happens.”

That seemed to be the mantra for the day…whatever was going to happen, would happen. Bridie nodded “Thank you, I should have thought of it myself.”

“I dare say you would have done eventually.” Mrs Armstrong said magnanimously and smiled “But you looked fair exhausted yourself when you arrived. It was Widow Hawkins who suggested it, mind. I can’t take full credit myself.”

It was some time later when Dorothy Ford approached Bridie and asked her what her plans were for the little baby. “Victor knew his mother you see, he gave her the money to get to Ireland. He’s very upset that Margaret died.”

Bridie nodded and remembered the letter that the little woman had sent her with such hopes of a future in a country hardly able to promise a future for their own folk. She sighed, “To tell you the truth, Dorothy, I’m just taking it day by day. He’s fighting to survive, but -” she firmed her lips and nodded her head “one things for sure, he isn’t going to go to the Foundling home or the orphanage.”

“But what else can you do for him? You can’t keep him yourself/”

“If I can’t find him a good home, then … then I shall keep him. Paul and I will raise him as our own.”

Dorothy looked at her thoughtfully, then nodded and placed a gentle hand upon Bridie’s before she walked away. Bridie sighed and continued with her work… totting up the budget, not her favourite task … she had recognised the look in the other woman’s eyes. The look that said ‘Oh you’re too old to consider such a thing.’ well, perhaps so, but if nothing else prevailed then that was what it will be. If baby Paul survived this hurdle in his short life, he will have a home, a family, and a future, even if it was with a couple old enough to be his grand parents.

At the end of the day Mrs Mystrom carried the baby back to the refuge and placed him in Bridie’s arms. She also brought several bottles containing breast milk that the women had expressed for him to drink during the night. Shyly she handed it to Bridie and then quietly slipped away to her own baby, who slept plump and well in his crib back home.

Baby Paul sighed, his eyes opened and fixed upon hers, and Bridie smiled when she saw how blue they were, as blue as sapphires or a summers cloudless day.
(*Cockney slang …Butcher’s hook …. Have a look)
Chapter 7

It was good news at last when the first reports came that the snow in the pass had cleared and there was now the chance to get into town. It was news that caused Sofia’s heart to drop while it gave Reuben quite the opposite for he loved school. His mind was full of questions that needed to be answered, a thirst for knowledge that had Adams full hearted support and encouragement.

“Does this mean we will have to go to school now?” Sofia asked prior to going to bed and her eyes widened as she gazed soulfully at her mother and then her father.

“If the pass is clear and safe enough for you to travel through, yes it does.” Adam replied before Olivia could open her mouth. “And no arguments, Sofia. You’ll learn more there than you can from staying home.”

“Mommy teaches me and so does Aunty Mary Ann.” came the instant reply, then Sofia looked at her brother “Reuben can teach me what he learns when he gets back.”

“No.” Adam said firmly and his face conveyed that blank expression that meant he would brook no nonsense from her.

Reuben gave a whoop of delight and laughed “I can’t wait to see what the new teacher is like,” he declared “Miss Brandon was nice but …” his voice faltered as memories surfaced that he preferred to remain buried “I bet it’s a man this time.”

“Well, I’ll be riding into town with Hoss and Joe tomorrow, so I’ll find out for you.” Adam said while his hand sought for his wife’s fingers to give them a gentle squeeze.

“Can’t I come too?” Reuben asked immediately “Max is just bored in his stall now, he’d like a proper ride out.”

“No doubt, but I want to make sure the pass is really safe for us to travel through.” Adam murmured and smiled at his wife who answered with a smile of her own and a slight pressure of her fingers around his own.

“Mommy, I don’t want a man teaching me at school. Please let me stay home.” wheedled Sofia as she leaned upon her mother’s skirts and gazed forlornly up at her “I don’t like men teaching me.”

Reuben gave a snort of derision “You haven’t ever had a man teach you yet. How’d you know anyhow? You’re just a scaredy cat, Sofia.”

Sofia opened her mouth wide in protest but Adam gave his son a curt nod and lowered his brows “That’s enough, son. You haven’t had a man teach you either, so it isn’t fair to be unkind to your sister. It’s only natural to be wary of what you don’t know.”

Duly chastened Reuben shut his mouth and continued to read the book in his hands, he did however glance over at Sofia whom he just knew was thinking up ways to protest against school. He found it hard to understand why anyone would not want to enjoy the opportunity to learn so much, a fact that Adam had always found difficult to comprehend with his youngest brother, Joe.

After a pause of some seconds Sofia came to lean against her fathers long legs and look up at him with seeming adoration in her eyes “Daddy?”

“Yes, Pumpkin?”

“Mommy has learned me how to read and write and to add up and so my times tables.”

“That’s very good of Mommy,” Adam replied with a smile and he looked at Olivia and kissed her fingers. He then looked down at his daughter “And very good of you, too If you know how to read and write, and do math, you are well on your way to being a good student at school.”

“But I don’t want to be a good student at school. I want school to be here. I didn’t go to school …” she paused and clamped her mouth shut, lowered her head and muttered something beneath her breath but Adams hearing was sharp so that he heard what she was mumbling and pursed his lips and scowled so that when she glanced up again she knew and waited for him to speak, dreading what he was going to say.

“Sofia, you know that mumbling is very impolite”

“Yes, but ..”

“If you haven’t the courage to speak out then you should say nothing at all. Do you know what I mean?” he fixed his dark eyes upon her and she nodded, bit her bottom lip and bowed her head.

“I only said I didn’t have to go.”

“And what else did you say?” he prompted so that she stepped back from him, her hands clasped behind her back and her head bowed so that her eyes didn’t have to look at him, “Sofia, look at me when I am talking to you, and answer me honestly, what else did you say?”

“Just that … just that …” she glanced at her mother who had released a sigh as though anticipating what was going to be said. She looked at her brother who kept his head down and eyes on the book although his ears were wide open and he had no intention of missing a word of it.

“You said?” Adam prompted yet again.

“Just that in the other place I didn’t have to go to school.”

“And what other place was that?” Adam asked and leaned forward to catch the words for the child’s voice was fading.

“Just that … that place I was in before …” she looked up at him and sighed “before you came and found me.”

“Well, I can assure you, Miss, that when the time came for you to be schooled they would have sent you there without hesitation. Now then, no more is to be said about this, do you understand?”

She nodded and sighed, “But daddy…”

“And no but’s, Sofia.” Adam stood up and seemed to tower above her. He always did, after all he was over six feet tall and she was but a little girl, but when there had been ’words’ he always seemed to be like Goliath.

But Adam never enjoyed these scenes and preferred to end them as soon as he could on a better happier note, so he swung her up so that her nightdress billowed out around her legs, and then hugged her close before swinging her towards her mother “Give your mother a kiss goodnight, princess.”

So she did, a big wet one and a hug that went along with it. Then she was in his arms and sitting on his shoulder while he carried her up the stairs calling to Reuben to come along too.
……………..

By the time the children were settled in their beds, a story told and prayers said, Olivia had her husbands night cap ready for him and a log on the fire, while the lamp light glowed brightly on the table by her side.

He came and sat beside her, groped for her hand and held it tightly within both of his within his lap. “Everything with Sofia is a tug of war.” he lamented.

“I’m afraid so. She reminds me of Katya.”

Adam grimaced, gave a fake groan “Please…spare us that …”

“She won’t be like Katya though, Adam. She won’t have that same life that my sister had to endure.” and she leaned closer into him so that his arm folded around her shoulders and he could kiss her…which he did.

“Well, she’s like Joe as well, even though there’s no blood connection, she has a lot of his temperament.”

“Mary Ann asked me today about Katherine. Apparently Sofia has been talking to her about this Aunt. Mary Ann tried to draw her out a little to see how Sofia really felt about her, but then Sofia stopped talking about her.”

“What brought about the subject anyway?”

“Music. Apparently Aunty Katherine had a piano and encouraged Sofia to play on it. It was during her music lesson with Mary Ann that Sofia mentioned it. I suppose it was only natural for her to do so. But ..”

Adam sighed “But?”

“She’s been telling Hannah about her pink bedroom, her toys, her rocking horse, her doll’s house. Hester said that she was ’bragging’ about it all, and Hannah got confused and asked Hester for a pink bedroom too.”

Adam didn’t say anything to that, he just rolled his eyes and stared up at the ceiling while he tried to remember if Joe or Hoss had ever had such fancies. It always helped if he could remember incidents from the past because then he might just remember how he or Pa dealt with them… Nothing came to mind; perhaps, he mused, there was Joe’s friend Midge, who always seemed to have a better pony, better saddle, better most things …he sighed again.

“Adam?”

“Yes, darling?”

“Do you think she’ll keep this up for much longer?”

Adam had no answer to that but sat up straighter and reached for his glass of whiskey. He gulped down some and then set the glass down, “I hope not. But we have to face the fact that she went through an ordeal, then she spent a very pampered existence for a few weeks so it will all have made a big impression on her. She might never forget what happened, she may even just have a hazy memory of the people involved, but … “ he looked at her anxious face and shook his head “I’m sorry that you have to endure it, it’s hard for you I know, but be assured she loves you. I love you.”

Just to make sure she knew how much he loved her, he drew her into his arms and kissed her long and hard.

………………..
Hoss tiptoed from the bedroom and gently closed the door behind him. It seemed to him that his daughters had an uncanny ability to hear every breath his took as soon as he thought they were asleep. He paused but a moment, then upon not receiving a summons to go back in he quickly made a getaway to join his wife and father downstairs.

“Well done, son.” Ben grinned as he struck a match to the tobacco in his pipe, “You managed that in thirty minutes.”

Hoss nodded and shook his head “What’s all this talk about pink bedrooms, and dolls houses? All they wanted to talk about was having a pink bedroom and a dolls house. Oh, and a rocking horse. Where did all that come from?”

Hester glanced up from her darning, the needle flashed in the flames of the fire and her hair glowed golden red in the light of the lamp “From Sofia. She was here this afternoon and didn’t stop talking about where she had been … apparently those people in Bodie lavished everything on her. It must annoy Olivia to distraction, it certainly did annoy me.”

“Shucks, wal, I done promised to make ‘em a dolls house now. Dang it, as if I have the time ..”

“You’ll find time, darling.” Hester said sweetly, “You always do.”

Ben grinned “Thankfully I never had such problems. Boys are always much easier to handle.”

“Oh I don’t know how you can rightly say so, Pa, ‘sidering the trouble younger brother Joseph Francis caused once or twice and more times in our life time.”

The two men chuckled but Hester didn’t move and as Ben leaned forward to throw the match into the fire he was reminded of a poem that Adam once recited to them, at great length, about a lady of Shalott whose face froze as a mirror cracked from side to side…for Hester sat as though unable to move, her needle between her fingers and her face stiff, distant as though her thoughts were far, far away.

He glanced swiftly at Hoss who followed his father’s eyes and whispered “Hester?” and touched his wife’s arm very gently.

Hester shivered, then looked at them both with a sad smile, before slipping the needle back into one of the socks “Excuse me, I think I’ll get to bed. It’s been a long day. I’m rather tired.”

“Of course, sweetheart, anything you say.” Hoss said quietly and stood up as his wife rose to her feet. He took hold of one hand “Are you alright?”

She nodded and leaned forward to kiss him before she made her way to the stairs. How could she explain to him what it felt like not to have any hope of providing him with a son? To hold Mary Ann’s baby and cradle her in her arms knowing there would never be another baby of their own to fill them?

At the door to their daughters room she hesitated, then gently opened it to peek inside. Two little girls fast asleep… one so dark and the other so fair. She kissed their cheeks and smoothed out their blankets. For just a moment she stood there gazing down at them both, thanking God for them and knowing she was well blessed. She just wished she could be rid of this empty feeling that she knew would never be filled again.
Chapter 8

The three horsemen were well muffled up against the cold for though the grip of winter was loosening and the snow was easing away, the dampness of the air crept into their bones in a more insidious crafty way than previously.

At times they were forced to walk their horses and go in single file as the snow was still piled high in the passes, permitting only a narrow margin of track to be discerned and followed. At other times they were able to go into a lope three abreast as it would widen out. But they were constantly scanning the rim rock where the snow was still cushioned in high masses and every so often would send a trickle rolling downwards alerting them to remain still, prepared to make a wild dash should it all tremble sufficiently to cascade down upon them.

Eventually they were able to ride out onto the public road that led to Virginia City leaving behind the clean crisp but damp air behind them as the smells of human habitation drifted and then thronged about them.

They rode together through the main street of the town, glancing from left to right, noting the changes that winter had wrought upon the buildings, upon the townsfolk. Candy was lounging against the porch post outside the Sheriff’s office and raised a hand in welcome, a smile stretched across his lips and nodding at the sight of them. It was towards him that they steered their horses and dismounted.

“Good to see you all in town again. I gather the pass is clear now?” Candy said as he shook their hands warmly “Come on in and have a hot drink before you get on with your business here in town”.

They each accepted the offer, after all they were cold and chilled and the coffee Candy served was a whole heap better than anything Roy had ever managed to conjure up. Clem Foster was cleaning the rifles and Mark Watt was scanning through “Wanted” posters, each acknowledged the Cartwright boys with cheery halloo’s.

“Anything exciting happening in town, Candy?” Joe was the first to ask as he flipped his hat onto the desk.

“No, nothing …” Candy sounded almost disappointed, as though signing up to get the silver badge should have guarantee’d a constant daily supply of bandits, bank robbers and petty crooks to keep him busy.

“Been remarkably quiet,” Clem said with a grin as he returned one rifle to the rack. “Which is how I personally prefer it.”

The three brothers grinned at one another and took seats, stretched out long legs in order to benefit from the heat the stove was pumping out. Cradling cups of coffee in their hands they listened to Candy detailing some of the events that had taken place in town since they had last been able to get access to it.

“Victor and Dorothy Ford are thinking of leaving town, so you may be losing young Jenny soon, Joe.” Candy nodded over in the direction of the youngest Cartwright who scowled “Only a rumour but Victor seems to want to get out of here. Virginia City’s – well – it’s shrinking.”

“Yep,” Clem nodded and added more sugar to his coffee, “Times are changing. Gold is running dry in the mines. The bigger consortiums are pulling out.”

“I was talking to Daniel deQuille yesterday, he ventured to tell me that there’s a rumour going around that Adolph Sutro* is thinking of selling.” Candy shrugged “After all that money, and work on that tunnel even he’s quitting.”

“He hasn’t quit yet,” Mark Watts ventured to say, “And knowing Sutro he wouldn’t want the news broadcast that he was even thinking of doing so.”

All of them nodded in agreement to that for Adolph Heinrich Joseph Sutro, a Prussian by birth, was a hard headed, and some thought, a hard hearted businessman. Some reckoned he had dollars flowing through his veins for he had been one of the most forceful men ever to venture into Virginia City. Adam stared over at the safe tucked securely against the far wall as though within it were all the secrets of the Comstock, before venturing to speak

“It was the Yellow Jacket* disaster that brought about his idea of the tunnel, wasn’t it.”

Hoss nodded, “You weren’t here then, but yes, it was.” he frowned “45 miners suffocated in that mine.* It wasn’t the best of times, I can tell ya.”

“No, it weren’t,” Clem perched himself on the corner of the desk, “Sutro already had the plan for the tunnel worked out, it was the banks holding out on him that stopped it being built long before 1869. It was the Yellow Jacket disaster of April that year when the banks agreed to finance the tunnel.”

“And that money from the London bank*..thousands of dollars they invested in it.” Matt added with a definite nod of the head.

“Excuse me for mentioning it, but that danged tunnel has only just finished being built, ain’t it?” Hoss said and gained himself mutters of agreement. “So, if it’s taken all those years to git the thing done, why sell it?”

“Because the purpose for which it was built is running out.” Adam said and smiled slowly, wondering if he would have been involved in the project had he been there in 1869. After all he was an engineer by vocation and Sutro would have wanted good men to work for him.

“Have to admire him though,” Candy said, “He was earning $10,000 a month from his own company alone, his mills and roasting ovens earned him a fortune.”

“Well, they reckon it cost $5 million to get that tunnel done.* If he’s selling up, he’s going to have to find a buyer with a whole lot of money in his wallet.” Clem, who seemed to know just about everything there was to know about the matter, finished his statement by draining his cup of coffee and turning to pour out another.

“You haven’t got a few million dollars rattling around anywhere, have you, Adam?” Joe chuckled with a sly glance over at his brother who shook his head and shrugged.

“Much as I admire him, and that tunnel did save the mining companies a fortune, I don’t think I’d be interested in even buying any shares in the tunnel.” his brother responded and put down his cup onto the desk, “Anyway, enough chatter, time to get on.”

There was an immediate shuffling of chairs and bodies as the three Cartwright’s rose to their feet and reached for their hats “How’s Ann and the children, Candy?” Hoss asked, “Has the baby grown some?”

“He sure has,” Candy smiled and walked with them to the door “Adam, how is Sofia getting on? Has she settled back home alright?”

Adam paused for a moment, pursed his lips in a familiar pout and then nodded “She’s getting there.”

Hoss had immediate images of dolls houses and Joe pondered a moment on something that his wife had mentioned to him, but both kept silent on the subject and waited for their brother to speak. Adam chose to remain silent as he opened the door and stepped out into the cold blast which now seemed colder since enjoying the fug inside.

“How’s the new teacher working out?” Adam finally said as he pulled on his gloves.

“Doing well. A pleasant gentleman, with a nice wife.” Candy smiled, “ I think he’ll be a steadying influence on the children here. He’s older, in his 50’s I’d say. A pity you weren’t here, Adam, you are still a member of the School Board aren’t you?”

Adam shook his head “No, I lost the privilege when I left here to go to sea.” he smiled thinly, and glanced up and down the street. “And what about the Becketts? Are they still here?”

Candy shook his head “No, they moved on shortly after .. Well, shortly after Sofia went missing. Charlotte wasn’t the most popular child in town, and her father was spending more time in my cells than at home. They decided to quit.”

Adam said nothing to that either. He just nodded, narrowed his eyes and lowered his hat over his brow.

After some moments of silence Hoss asked his older brother what it was he was thinking about which raised a slightly wry smile to Adam’s lips, “Well, I was thinking of Sutro to be honest. There’s a proverb says Fortune follows the brave, and I reckon he’s one man who just about sums that proverb up to be true.”

“He sure was – is – a tough act to follow.” Joe admitted, “Do you reckon he would have asked you to work on the tunnel had you been here?”

“I doubt it, Joe. Sutro is a man who likes things his own way.” Adam replied and then rubbed the back of his neck “Mind you, his plan worked. That tunnel pumped out millions of gallons of water every day*, that’s a saving of a lot of dollars.”

Joe nodded and remembered the number of times he heard stories of Sutro, stripped to the waist, working along with his men on the tunnel when in its infancy. “He fought hard to get it built, and worked hard for it too. Strange that he should be thinking of selling it now.”

“He’ll only sell when he knows there’s a profit to be made… you can rely on him for that,” Adam muttered and nodded towards the Hardware store “I’ve a few things to get there.”

“I’ll collect the mail.” Joe ventured to say and looked at Hoss who was staring into space as though lost in a trance “What do you intend to do, prop up the bar in the Bucket of Blood I suppose?”

“No, I got a few things to do of my own. I’ll meet you there in about half an hour.” Hoss replied and with a nod of his head ambled off in the direction of Henry’s work shop.
There were numerous letters and packets to be collected from the Mail Depot and Eddy was more than happy to pass over the U.S Mail pouch to Joe, exchanging a few words of gossip before the younger man found himself on the main street again.

Dan deQuille was walking towards him and paused as though surprised to see him there, then gave him a curt nod of the head “The pass is open then?”

“Enough to just squeeze through.” Joe admitted with a grin, determined on this particular day to keep in a good mood with everyone. “Should be about a week before its completely clear.”

“Very good.” Dan nodded and after another nod of the head continued on his way.

Joe followed him with his eyes and frowned, then smiled, memories of Sam Clements came to mind, Sam and Daniel deQuille, between them both they had entertained the Comstock with their tall tales for many a long month. He pondered a moment as to how well Sam had done in comparison to Daniel and was reminded of what Adam had said earlier about fortune following the brave. Perhaps Daniel just hadn’t been brave enough, and on that thought Joe decided to take his courage in both hands and venture to Amanda Ridley’s Ladies Wear shop. There were a few items of his own he wanted to purchase without his brothers hanging over his shoulder voicing their opinions on what he should or should not buy.

Mrs Carstairs smiled as the door opened and recognised Joe Cartwright immediately. In a quiet ‘dignified manner’ (as instructed by the owner of the establishment, dignity at all times) she listened to Joe’s bashful request and led him to where the more intimate and delicate items could be purchased.

It took Joe half an hour of dithering and sighing and mumbling to himself to finally choose the dainty garments he wanted for his wife. As he parted with his money and watched Mrs Carstairs wrap the items away, completing the task with a bright red ribbon, he realised, as his brother had done months earlier, that some things could not be paraded through town. Certainly not in the Bucket of Blood. Stammering slightly he requested that he ‘called back later to collect them’ and blushing he hastened out of the building.
Hoss had sketched out a design for his daughter’s doll house and shown it to Henry who promised to have it cut to size for him to collect later on. “You do know how to build these things, don’t you, Hoss?”

“Yeah, a bit of glue and a few tacks should do it.” came the gruff reply for Hoss felt awkward, almost as much as his younger brother was feeling in the Ladies Wear shop at that moment.

“No, no, it isn’t just the house that you have to design…there’s the furniture.”

“The furniture?” Hoss frowned suspiciously.

“It has to be made to scale, and exactly as the girls would expect to find in their own house”

“Furniture?” Hoss sighed.

“And people…”

“People? What people?”

“Well, the people who will live in the house of course.” Henry replied, sticking a pencil behind his ear and looking at Hoss as though he was facing an ignoramus.

“People? In a doll house?” Hoss groaned and shook his head, then he flapped his hands in exasperation “Forget it, Henry. Perhaps another time.”

Henry watched the big man leave the work shop and smiled over at some of his work force who had been enjoying the exchange, “Alright, funs over…back to work.”
Roy Coffee opened the door to the sharp rapping and grinned as Adam removed his hat and stepped inside “Good to see you, Adam. Is everything alright back home?”

“Everything’s fine, Roy. Thank you.” Adam smiled and placed his hat on the book case, while he unbuttoned his coat,

Roy led the younger man into his parlour and called out to Dorothy to prepare something for their visitor. Mindful of the news he had heard earlier Adam did wonder how Roy was going to handle the loss of his housekeeper for whom he had grown such an attachment. He decided to say nothing unless Roy mentioned it first.

The two men chatted over various topics about which they shared an interest, that included a trip down nostalgia lane of course. Finally after the second cup of coffee had been drained dry Roy leaned forward in a rather conspiratorial manner

“Have you heard anything yet about Paul and Bridie’s new acquisition?”

“I have not,” Adam replied and narrowed his eyes “You mean, he’s got himself a new buggy at last?”

“No, nothing like that… a baby.”

“A baby? What? A baby horse? A baby what?”

“Just that, a baby. Left on their doorstep some weeks ago. Remember the cave in at the Bucksburn, and the young chap who was killed? O’Connell?”

Adam nodded slowly and sighed “Yes, of course, I remember it very well.”

“So you should, nearly killed Hoss off for a start.” Roy mumbled through his moustache and nodded.

“Well? Go on …what about O’Connell?”

“His wife had a baby, a boy. Tried to get to Ireland but it all fell through and she ended up back here. Sadly she died…” Roy paused and shook his head again “ Poor little girl. A sad ending.”

“And?”

“Ah yes, well, before she died she left the baby on Bridie’s doorstep… with a note.”

Adam scratched his nose thoughtfully, then glanced at the clock. “I had better go, Roy. I have two brothers to meet in the saloon. Care to join us?”

“No, that’s alright. I’m pleased you called in, Adam. Best regards to your father.”

“I hope we’ll get to see more of you when the Pass properly clears, Roy.”

They shook hands, and after he had left Roy closed the door, then returned to his chair by the fire. He was getting old, he preferred his warmth to carousing in the saloon. Old age had its compensations, and with that thought in mind he closed his eyes.
Chapter 9

The tall elegantly dressed gentleman seated in the far corner of the saloon glanced up and over at the doors as they swung open. He sat alone, which is how he preferred it, but he observed everyone who entered the building with acute interest. He was not particularly interested in anyone, just a student of people, a keen observer of his fellow man. He enjoyed observing, assuming facts about them and waiting to see how accurate, or not, his observations would prove to be.

The three men who stepped into the environs of the saloon could not have been more different and he raised his glass to his mouth as he watched them approach the counter. Men called out greetings, the bar keep was obviously on good terms with them, the saloon girls flashed their skirts and smiles at friends rather than potential clients,

A big built man went to the counter and ordered the drinks, loosening his coat as he did so and letting everyone see the gun belt and gun snug in its holster. He removed his hat, one of those often called a ten gallon hat for some reason best known to the millinary trade. The observer noticed the size of the mans fist as he thumped it down on the counter. Obviously a man who liked people to jump when he gave the orders.

He now turned his attention to the other two men, both of whom had loosened their coats and removed their hats. Gun belts were on obvious display and the way they looked around them indicated that they were making sure no one there was ignorant of their weapons. The smallest one flung his hat down on the chair beside him and leaned back, a smirk on his lips and his eyes narrowed as he looked around him. Obviously some scheme was brewing in what the observer considered to be a quick silver brain. The fingers tapping on the table also indicated a man who was nervous and impatient. This man, he thought, could be trouble, obviously a man with a quick temper and an arrogant attitude to life.

The third man was taller and bigger in build than his companion at the table. Dark hair touched with strands of silver indicated he was of middle age, the grim set of his mouth was proof enough of someone who didn’t welcome fools and would be quick to use his gun and his fists. A man who was aloof and dispassionate. His actions and movements indicated a man who thought before he acted.

The observer looked again at the first man who was now approaching the table and pulled out a chair to sit down. He noticed the way this man glanced about him, and then leaned forward to speak in a low voice to his companions. The smirk on the smaller of the three widened, the eyes of the dark haired man narrowed.

Perhaps they were planning a bank raid, or something worse? Watching carefully he finished his drink and caught the bar keepers attention, one more for the road. He waited for the drink to arrive and then asked, in a low voice, who the three men were who had just entered.

“They’re the Cartwright boys.” Jack replied as he placed the glass of beer upon the table. “From the Ponderosa.”

Well, he sighed, not bank robbers after all. Who had not heard about the Cartwrights of the Ponderosa. He raised his glass and began to drink slowly while he returned to his observation of the three men.

Joe Cartwright lounged back in his chair and smirked a little as he thought of the gift he had bought his wife. He had made sure it was her favourite shade of blue, very soft, very subtle. He thought of how she would look and then quickly raised his glass to drink some beer so his brothers would not catch the grin spreading across his face. He also thought of the comments he would have received from the clientele there had he strolled in with the oyster coloured box with the big red ribbon tucked under his arm.

Hoss was thoughtful, this thing about the doll house was nagging at him but he felt rather an idiot to mention it to his brothers. A man like him talking about a doll house? He sipped his beer and scowled at the thought of having to whittle little people to fit into something that small.

Adam was thinking over his conversation with Roy, the rumour of the Fords leaving town, and the consequences of Sutro selling his tunnel. Virginia City may have been shrinking but it was not a mushroom gold boom town like so many others, it would stay the course, but it would need investment and Sutro’s tunnel would still be a necessity.

“Hey,” Hoss’ voice seemed to boom in his ear and he turned to face his brother “Either of you know anything about doll houses?”

“What?” Joe snapped, nearly choking on his beer and glaring rather angrily at his brother. It was a rude intrusion into his day dreams, but talk about a doll house? “A what?”

The man in the corner nodded to himself, just as he had thought, a man with a quick temper. He wondered if there would be a fight, he had heard rumours of the Cartwrights and the fights they had been in were legend.

“A doll house.” Hoss muttered and leaned further towards his brothers “And keep your voice down, do you think I want everyone to hear what I’m talking about?”

“Why a doll house?” Joe asked wiping his mouth on the back of his hand and settling back in his chair “What’s going on in that brain of yours, Hoss?”

“Nothing much.” Hoss sighed which resulted in his brothers glancing at one another and grinning, Adam raised one eyebrow and nodded but said nothing.

Hoss sighed and leaned back to gulp down his beer “Hannah and Hope want a doll house like the one Sofia has.”

“Sofia doesn’t have one.” Adam replied and picked up his drink, he swallowed half the contents of the glass before setting it upon the table. “Why would you think that she did?”

“Because she was telling the girls about it, that’s why/” Hoss scratched the back of his neck and looked perplexed “Henry said that it has to have furniture and people in it…it just seems like a lot of hard work to me.”

“You don’t have to build one yourself,” Joe suggested gallantly, “Why not go to the Mercantile and see what they have in the Toys section.”

Hoss snapped his fingers with a click that would be the envy of any flamenco dancer, “That’s it, that’s jest what I’ll do. Thanks,. Joe.”

He scraped back his chair and picked up his hat, “Be back later, jest order me another beer will ya?”

He rushed out so fast that the swing doors nearly came off their hinges. The observer narrowed his eyes and shook his head, he had been right in this instance, that fellow was obviously very quick tempered! It hadn’t appeared to upset his brothers however who had looked bemused for a moment before starting to laugh.

“Who would have thought it,” Adam murmured, “Here we are talking about toys and doll houses …”

“Life has changed, hasn’t it?” Joe sighed and pushed his glass round and round in a circle creating patterns in the spilled beer that had puddled there during the course of the day. “Sometimes it’s almost like another world to the one we knew ..say about ten years ago?”

Adam nodded “Better or worse, Joe?”

He glanced up at his brother, his dark eyes thoughtful while he waited for Joe’s reply. His younger brother shrugged “Different is all.”

Adam nodded and sighed, he leaned back into his chair and picked up his glass, as he did so his eyes met those of the man in the far corner who was still observing them. He nodded and was greeted by a nod in return.

Now that he had himself been noticed the other man rose to his feet and left his table, he walked to the counter and paid his money, then tipped his hat as he approached the table.

“Either one of you Adam Cartwright?”

Adam nodded “I’m Adam Cartwright. What can I do for you?”

“I’m Edward Evans the school teacher. I took over from Miss Brandon some weeks ago.”

Both Adam and Joe rose in their seats and shook the mans hand. Adam indicated the chair that Hoss had just vacated but Mr Evans shook his head, smiled and declined the invitation to join them. The brothers sat down and politely waited for Evans to continue speaking.

“I – er – noticed that two of your children are students of mine, Mr Cartwright.”

“That’s correct, Reuben and Sofia are students of your school, Mr Evans.”

“They haven’t attended for quite some time. I was wondering if you intended for them to return any time soon.”

Adams eyes narrowed slightly, he looked the teacher up and down slowly, then nodded. “I should think quite a few of your students have missed schooling recently due to the snows, Mr Evans. It’s one of the hazards of living out here.”

Evans nodded “I realise that, Mr Cartwright. I merely asked seeing as you are yourself here today, and that led me to wonder perhaps your children would be present tomorrow.”

“I doubt it.” came the response, “The pass is clearing, but it isn’t safe enough for them to take the journey into town yet. Perhaps next week.”

Evans nodded and after a nod of the head took his leave. Both brothers watched him go with a bemused expression on their faces. Joe folded his arms on the table and grinned

“Well, older brother, what do you make of him?”

“He’s certainly conscientious.” Adam replied and got up to walk over to the counter “Three more, Jack.”

Jack nodded and got out three clean glasses, “What did you think of the new school teacher. Adam?”

“Not sure.” Adam replied slowly, “He’s been here a few weeks I believe?”

“Sure, he got here about a week after Miss Brandon left. Sure was a shame that she left, she was a nice young lady. How’s your little girl now, settled back in has she? That was a shame about what happened to her, wasn’t it? How’s the young fellow, Reuben?”

Adam nodded and muttered a reply, knowing that what he said would be repeated to whoever showed an interest. Jack was a mine of information and his quick fire way of asking questions was almost 90% effective.

When the swing doors re-opened both brothers were already half way through their second glass of beer. Hoss removed his hat, sat down and picked up his glass, “Well, that’s all settled. I just got to arrange for someone to collect it.” he looked thoughtful for a moment, “I got furniture for it too, comes in little packages.”

“Aah, that’s cute.” Joe grinned and patted his brother tenderly on the cheek.

“Enough of that, I felt embarrassed enough as it was ..shucks, them women in thar were smirking and carrying on some, I couldn’t git out of thar quick enough.”

Adam grinned and watched his brother empty his glass “I heard something interesting from Roy earlier.”

“Hey, yeah? How is he?” Hoss’ blue eyes widened and he grinned “I sure miss seeing him around Did he say anything about Miz Dorothy leaving town?”

“No, but he did tell me about a baby that was dumped on Bridie’s door step.” Adam raised his eyebrows “Seems kind of sad for a baby to start life being dumped on someone’s doorstep.”

“What sort of baby is it?” Hoss asked which received a hoot of a laugh from Joe, “Wal, I mean, is it a boy or a girl?”

Adam shrugged, and shook his head, then he grinned again “Hey, hark at us, we’re turning into old women gossiping about things about which we have no business whatsoever. Joe, what’s in the mail bag?”

Joe hauled the bag onto his lap and unfastened the buckles, he had just dipped his hand to remove the first letter when there came a crash of a chair being cast to one side, followed by a bellow of rage, the sound of money cascading on the floor and curses filling the air as several miners gave vent to their feelings about being cheated by a ‘four flusher’ by the name of Dick Jones.

The following fight could be heard some distance from the saloon and Mr Evans paused in mid-stride as he made his way home. He watched as the sheriff and deputy ran from their office and watched as they disappeared inside the saloon.

So, he had been right after all. He squared his shoulders in self congratulation, he had expected that there would be a fight as soon as he had set eyes on the Cartwright boys, and as a shot rang out, he just knew he had been proven correct. His observations never let him down!

Chapter 10

“A baby!” Hester exclaimed when Hoss dropped the into the conversation at dinner that evening. “A real baby?”

“So Adam said,” Hoss replied and reached for another slice of bread, winked at his little girls and hugged his secret within him as he thought of the pleasure they were going to get some time later that week.

“Didn’t he tell you anything more than that?” Ben asked taking advantage of Hester’s being totally discombobulated to pose the question to his son who didn’t seem to be taking the subject seriously enough for either of them to feel satisfied.

Hoss heaved a sigh and tried to think back to the conversation in the saloon, then shook his head “Nope, I don’t think so. Shucks, Pa, I had a lot on my mind. He just said that Paul and Bridie had a baby.”

“Was it a boy or a girl?” Hester now asked putting a plate hastily down and not realising that Hope’s head was in the way so that the next moment had to be spent rubbing the little girls blond curls and assuring her she was alright.

“I don’t know that either. I think he said but now I can’t remember. It’s one or the other.” he crinkled his brow, “Adam didn’t seem to think it was very important. Oh, there was a fight in the saloon, that was what interrupted the conversation.”

“How strange.” Hester said in a dream like manner and sighed.

“So you don’t know how they got to have this baby? I mean, it wasn’t by the normal process was it? “ Ben raised his dark eyebrows at his son and widened his eyes but that only elicited a puzzled stare in return and Hoss’ uttering a loud “HUH?”

“The baby isn’t Paul and Bridie’s own baby is it?” Hester now asked as though it had to be spelled out for her husband to understand and at that Hoss screwed up his face and shook his head

“I doubt it.” Hoss muttered,” I mean, they’re a bit old for that kind of thing ain’t they?”

Ben gave his son a long hard stare and Hester shook her head in dismay. Oblivious of the result of this conversation on his father and wife Hoss now took advantage of the silence to talk to his children both of whom were having a fit of the giggles even though neither knew exactly why.
“A baby?” Mary Ann exclaimed and raised her eyebrows “Are you sure that Adam said it was Bridie and Paul Martin?”

“Quite sure.” Joe removed his gun belt and set it safely away, “And another thing Candy told us …” he glanced around to make sure that no one else was in t he room before telling his wife about Victor and Dorothy’s decision to leave Virginia City. “Candy got the impression that Jenny may be wanting to go with them.”

Mary Ann sighed and carefully put her husbands coat and hat away for she didn’t like things like that being on display, hanging on hooks in the hall or porch was never her style. She closed the porch door behind her and then looked her husband again “Where did Candy think they would be going?”

“I don’t know, he may have said but it went out of my head at the time. I was thinking of other things.” he grinned and then blushed “I – er – just remembered something I left in the stable, I won’t be a moment, sweet heart.”

“Hurry up then, dinner is ready.”

At that moment Daniel came runny out with arms out stretched “Daddy … daddy…” and was promptly swung up into the air by his father who laughed at the sight of his bonny boy. “where you bin?”

“In town, son, now…just wait a moment while I go and get something.” he smiled over at Mary Ann and handed the child over to her before quickly running out into the cold once more.

She stood there and shook her head, ‘When would he learn’ she thought as she took her boy into the other room and smiled over at Jenny “Jenny, is the dinner ready? Joe, won’t be long.”

Joe was much quicker than even she thought he would be not that he appeared at the dining room table for he hot footed it upstairs as quickly as possible with the box under his arm and carefully placed it on the bed with the big red bow glistening in all its gaudy beauty.

“Sorry to hold you up,” he grinned at Jenny, kissed his wife, again, and then ruffled Daniel’s hair. As he pulled out his chair Mary Ann smiled at him and then asked once again about this baby of Paul and Bridie’s.

He shrugged “I wasn’t really paying too much attention. Adam just said that Roy told him that the Martins had a baby. Now let me think ..” he paused and stared at the ceiling and noticing that his little boy was doing exactly the same, so that for a little while they played a game between them to such an effect that Mary Ann forgot all about the baby and didn’t ask any more about it.

“I’ve some mail.” he said half way though the meal, “But I don’t think it’ll be anything but bills.”

He was wrong as it happened. There was a letter addressed to Mary Ann Cartwright who she opened later when they were sitting by the fire and having coffee.

“Dear Mrs Cartwright

It is some time since you were in Calico and no doubt you have long forgotten all about me. However, I did say at one time that were I able to get the opportunity I would move to Virginia City and take up an appointment there.

I was more than pleased to see that a position has become vacant here and I have applied for it. It is to assist a Doctor Paul Martin and Doctor James Chang.

I look forward to meeting you again and making the acquaintance of your husband. I shall bring my wife with me, Alicia May.

Sincerely Yours.
James Colby”

She read it through twice before handing it over to her husband with a little smile on her face, “Do you remember Dr Colby?”

“If he is the gentleman who drove you away in his buggy .. And claimed to have rescued you, yes, I do.” Joe scowled in a quite ‘ungentle manly’ manner.

“He was quite charming, and a very good doctor.” she sighed and took the letter back before slipping it into its envelope. “Well, it’s good to know that he married as well.”

That, Joe thought, was something of a relief. He thought of the box upstairs and muttered something about ‘”Wasn’t it time for you to get to bed, dear?”

It wasn’t time for Mary Ann to get to bed, it was in fact an hour earlier than usual, and she looked at him with a slight frown which he pretended not to see. For a few minutes they were silent while Mary Ann thought hard about several matters until she said “What was it you went to get from the stable?”

“Er – well – I couldn’t say…” came her husband’s reply as he examined his nails and shrugged.

“You didn’t come in with anything, so what was it?” she smiled and her eyes twinkled. “Is it something small? Is it in your pocket?”

“Certainly not. Who would I be buying things for anyway?”

She laughed then and joined him on the settee, leaned towards him and looked into his face, “Joe, you have a secret? What is it?”
“I don’t know what you mean?” he yawned and stretched and then brought his arms around her, and hugged her tight, kissed her lips and smiled into her grey eyes, “There might be something .. Upstairs.”

She looked at him warily, her eyes narrowed, “Are you teasing me/”

“Oh Mary Ann, I never tease you? Now, tell me the truth, sweet heart, do I ever tease you?”

She laughed again and dropped a kiss on his brow before leaving the settee and picking up her skirts ran up the stairs with as much dignity as a lady with two children should …or could… and when he heard squeals of delight coming from the bedroom Joe sighed contentedly, smiled and rose to his feet.

Glancing around the room to make sure fires were safe, lamps were low, he made his way to the stairs, and he took them two at a time in a most ungentle manly manner.
“A baby?” Olivia exclaimed as she pulled Nathaniel’s soiled clothing over his head and tossed them in heap on the floor.

“So Roy said.” Adam replied and picked up one of the letters that was on the low table.

Nathaniel ran off, his naked little body flashed past his father who swung out a long arm and caught him around the midriff. Swinging the infant up he passed him over to his mother, who proceeded to pull a clean garment over the child and grope for his arms to pull through sleeves.

“What was it…a boy or a girl?”

“A boy. Margaret O’Connell’s son,”

Olivia paused and stared into space which gave Nathaniel the opportunity to run off again, this time avoiding his father and skirting around the settee. Olivia left him to run, while she thought about Margaret O’Connell “Didn’t she go to Ireland? Well, no, of course she didn’t or she wouldn’t have left the baby with Bridie.”

“She died. Roy said her last mission in life was to leave her baby son safe. She had the baby at Bridie’s if you recall.”

“Oh yes, that’s right so she did.” Olivia sighed “How sad. Poor baby.”

Her husband was no longer paying her any attention for he was engrossed in his letter. She got up and located her son, and very deftly got him organised into a clean diaper and his night clothes. She sat and thought about Margaret for a moment, “Adam, that is so sad, we failed her. Our good intentions in town, failed her.”

Adam glanced at her and sighed, he reached out a hand which she took in her own and once he had kissed her fingers he put the letter down and called for Reuben and Sofia. Nathaniel was tossed into his mother’s arms, and taken upstairs to his bed despite his cries of “Dadad ,, Dadad…help.”

Sofia and Reuben came hurrying from the back room where they had spent the last half hour playing quite nicely together. Sofia, seeing no one else was occupying her father’s lap, immediately jumped up and took possession while Reuben bounced onto the settee beside him. He observed them both solemnly “I met the new teacher today.”

Reuben smiled, his eyes widened with interest. Sofia scowled and her mouth drooped. She leaned her head upon her father’s shoulders. Reuben spoke first, asking for details, in an animated fashion. Sofia just cringed in closer to her daddy.

“Well, he’s tall and even older than me.” Adam smiled and stroked Sofia’s head, “He looks a very pleasant man. I have a feeling he will be expecting quite a lot from you both. In fact, I think he will want you both to work hard and be good students.”

“I -I -” Sofia stammered but Adam put his finger to her lips and that shut her up.

“Did he look a nice teacher? I mean, he wasn’t cross looking or anything like that, was he?” Reuben asked on behalf of his sister.

Adam pursed his lips and thought about Mr Evans, he raised his eyebrows and wondered what it was about the man that had made him feel just a little bit uncomfortable. He couldn’t put his finger on it, so preferred to say nothing but nodded “He looked fine, a handsome man in fact. Smartly dressed and I noticed he polished his shoes.”

Reuben frowned, that didn’t matter much to him so he just looked at Sofia who had her hands over her ears as though if she didn’t hear anything she couldn’t be disturbed by bad thoughts. From upstairs came the sound of the bars of a cot being violently shaken and a baby giving protest to being put to bed. Olivia came downstairs looking reasonably serene and smiled at her two children.

“Has Pa told you the news about your new teacher…Mr Evans?”

Reuben nodded but now Sofia closed her eyes tight. Olivia looked at Adam and raised her eyebrows. Adam smiled at her and then said in such a merry tone of voice that it caught them by surprise “And there’s more… letters for you both.”

Sofia heard that, she lowered her hands and sat up straight “A letter for me,”

Adam nodded and produced a letter for both of them that he had hidden away behind a cushion. Sofia couldn’t believe it…a letter…for her. She looked with round eyes at her mother and then at Adam “A letter for me.”

“Well, open it up, Sofee, let’s see who it is from?” Reuben asked impatiently, while he held fast to his own letter.

She opened it carefully and there was a picture of her, as a mermaid, well, she thought it was her because it had golden hair. Her name was printed in big letters underneath “SOFIA”

She turned it over and there was a another name ELLA with lots of x x x “”What does that mean?”

Olivia looked at the letter and smiled “Ella’s sent you a picture and sent lots of love.”

“Oh, I thought she was cross with me.” Sofia sighed and looked at Adam with a smile, “She didn’t forget me. She remembered I wasn’t Alice.”

She hugged it to herself and settled back into Adam’s chest, while Reuben opened his letter and grinned “It’s from Billy.”

He read it quickly and smiled “He’s happy and he’s at a big boy’s school. He’s there with his cousin. He hasn’t forgotten me, and he said his Grandfather sends his best wishes to you both.”

“Well now, after all that excitement, I think you should get to bed.” Adam said and rolled his eyes at Sofia who was about to protest but laughed because she loved it when her daddy pulled faces at her.

The sounds of mutiny from upstairs had faded, Nathaniel had obviously fallen to sleep and the two other children made their way up the stairs with Olivia following along behind them.

While she was there Adam opened another letter, the writing of which looked familiar but which he failed to recognise. He read it and then quickly put it into its envelope. It had not borne good news.

“Adam

My best wishes to you and your dear wife.

I am writing in haste as I have just been informed that trouble is heading your way. It seems that too much interest has been shown in matters of confidence during my time as President. This interest comes from your area of Nevada and I fear that it is going to be followed up by the most stringent means.

Do be careful. Know your enemy.

If I know more I shall notify you immediately

Sincerely

U.S. Grant”

Olivia came and wrapped her arms around his shoulders, then dropped a kiss upon his dark curls “Are you going up to tell them a story?”

He nodded, kissed her hand and rose to his feet while she went to gather up the soiled clothing Nathaniel had been changed out of earlier. He had tucked the letter away into his pocket and so she had no chance to see it at all.

She could hear his voice interrupted at times by Reuben or Sofia’s and then he sang a song, something he did occasionally but not always. As usual it had the effect of stopping her from doing anything, her hands and the knitting needles dropped into her lap and she closed her eyes and let the words drift over her.

Chapter 11

There were other letters waiting to be read.   In the Ponderosa’s main house Ben was reading a letter  from an old army colleague of his which was causing him much hilarity.  Smoke billowed from his pipe like the outpourings from Versuvius and Hester was finally roused to ask him what was so amusing.

“Tom here ..” he tapped the page with the stem of his pipe, “He lost a leg during a scouting trip we were on, his horse rolled, he came off and the animal crushed his leg.  He lost the other leg a few years later when another mount did the exact same thing.”

“He must be a very bad horseman.” Hester observed with a frown on her face as she tried to work out how a man with only one leg could mount a horse and what caused Ben to find it all so amusing.

Hoss said nothing but remembered a time when his eldest brother had been faced with having to make the decision about having his leg removed.  There would have been no possible chance of his ever riding again had he allowed Paul to remove it!  He sighed at the memory  which caused his wife to glance anxiously over at him.

“Why did you think that so funny, Pa?” Hester now asked seeing that Hoss chose not to look in her direction.

” Oh just that he recently remarried, for the third time and …” Ben paused and then rather bashfully slipped the letter into its envelope. Some topics he knew ladies would not have found very funny, he cleared his throat “Tom always had a way with words…” Was all he chose to say further on the subject.

Hoss frowned slightly, but before he could speak Ben picked up another letter which had been addressed to himself “I heard from Martha Frobisher too. She’s asked to visit in the spring.  Would it be alright with you both if I were to say it was?”

Hester looked surprised that he thought he needed to ask and stammered that it was his house, he could invite whom he chose to visit.  To that Ben smiled gently at her and thanked her. “Martha never visited Virginia City once they moved to San Francisco. I always thought that a shame …” He said with something like a sigh in his voice..

“Why so,  Pa?” Hoss asked trying to remember the woman now for he had seen her only once since she moved away.

“Well, as you know Martha got enough gold from her laundry as old Timothy O’Brien did from his mining.  She had enough to set Julian up in business and buy property.” he smiled again at the memory of the red headed woman who scrubbed the tough mining jeans and shirts so thoroughly. Seeing that he had Hester’s interest he leaned forward a little in order to explain a little more “She knew Virginia City when it was a rough and ready huddle of shacks and tents. People lived almost ‘cheek by jowl’ in those days, it was a mud bath in the bad weather and a dust bowl in the heat of summer. Now she’ll be coming back to see the town on the decline and never knowing it at its peak and I find that quite sad.”

“They were here just before Annie O’Toole arrived.” Hoss mused staring up at the ceiling.

“They were .” Ben nodded and smiled.

Seeing both of her men lost in thoughts of a by gone time Hester asked Ben how had Martha made a fortune from her laundry business which prompted Ben to relate how many women had ‘struck gold’ by their washing the clothes of the miners very carefully.

“Gold would cling to the seams of their clothing and a good scrub on the board loosened it all so it fell into the water.”

Then Hoss  added ” Then they would sift it all out through muslin and there would be the gold dust, which they would collect up.”

“Martha was also very careful to sweep the floorboards every evening and sift through the dust … There was an amazing amount of gold dust could be found in those days that got tramped through on the miners boots and clothing. No one really noticed except for those astute women.” Ben sighed again and carefully tapped out the remainder of the tobacco from the bowl of his pipe into the embers of the fire “I hated the prospectors and miners coming here, but now, looking back,  it was all history in the making.”

“Things seem to have declined some ever since the great fire of ’76.” Hoss muttered “I’m glad we weren’t around at the time to have seen it .”

“I remember it,” Hester said quietly and shivered “The sky was glowing orange and red and black smoke was billowing up into the sky. Olivia said how glad she was knowing that none of you were hereabouts or we would all have been worrying about you. Mary Ann stayed here for the few days it was raging, she was too distressed to go home by herself. It was horrible, a horrible time.” and another shudder passed down her back.

Hoss gently put a hand on her arm and squeezed it. He could feel her shivering beneath the soft fabric of her sleeve but whatever he was going to say was prevented when his father stood up,

“No, it was bad enough riding into the aftermath some weeks later.” Ben stretched his arms and flexed his shoulders “Well, I’m going to bed. Goodnight.”

He kissed Hester on the cheek and received one in return. He was comfortable with this routine, he knew he was loved by this dear woman and it settled his day to be able to end it with this brief touch of her lips on his cheek, and his upon hers.

They bade him goodnight and listened to his footsteps as he mounted the stairs.  Hester smiled and turned to her husband “Your father is still a very handsome man, Hoss.”

Her husband nodded in agreement.  Hester came and sat closer, and leaned her head upon his shoulder “He would make a fine husband for the right woman.”

Again Hoss nodded he had no doubts about that at all . but where would they find the right woman?   Hester was already giving that matter serious thought! Hoss wondered if he should start writing up a list of available females in town.
…….

Although the letter from Grant remained on Adams mind he still said nothing to his wife about it.  After settling the children for the night he came downstairs as though there was nothing on his mind causing him any concern whatsoever.  He picked up the next letter, addressed to himself, and smiled at its contents before handing it to his wife to read.  He in the meantime went to the tantalus and poured himself some whiskey.  Olivia, he knew, would make herself some hot chocolate later.

She read the letter slowly before sitting with it in her lap and waiting for him to take his seat next to her. The letter was not long, it simply read:

“Dear Mr Cartwright
I am taking this opportunity to write and let you know that I have decided to come to Virginia City and see this Doctor so that Ella can have a chance to walk again.  The chair has opened up a new life for her but made me realise she is still facing many restrictions.
Your little girl was such a delight. She brought a very necessary few days of joy for Ella and although what those women did was wicked I am so glad it gave Ella a friend.

“Mrs Royale is dead.  She fell down the stairs and they say it broke her neck.  Miss Katherine is very calm about it all.  She is leaving for Warsop as soon as the thaw sets in proper.  She wants to start a new life same as us.

I hope to be in Virginia City in April with Ella. Thank you, Mr Cartwright.  I hope your dear wife is safe and well and your children also.
Mrs Soames”

Olivia passed the letter back to her husband and watched as he slipped it back into the envelope. “How suddenly  things change.” she murmured “Mrs Royale dead…and her daughter seeking a new life.”

“Well, as you say, Livvy, things change and often quite suddenly.” he kissed her then very gently and held her close in his arms as though the memory of those events, just a few weeks ago,  had reached out an icy hand to remind them to count their blessings.

“I’m glad” Olivia said with her voice husky from suppressed emotion “It may seem callous but I’m glad she’s dead.”

Adam said nothing to that, in the back of his mind he thought there were quite a lot if people glad about Rosemarie Royale’s death.

They sat side by side for a while before she stood up to go into  the kitchen, she paused before going however and asked him if he really thought Ella could be helped.

“I don’t know, sweetheart.  But she deserves the chance to find out.”

She nodded, smiled and left him so that he was able to pull out the letter from his pocket and read it through again.  He drank a little whiskey.  He was totally confused.  The letter was so totally unexpected, the contents so bewildering, that he could only stare at it until the written words began to merge into a blur.

He took another gulp of whiskey before getting to his feet and going to his study.   The only information about his past involvement with the Government was contained in O’Briens memoirs.  They were not Classified material, merely a mans personal daily jottings about the events that had taken place.  To Adams mind the one matter he felt really confidential was concerning the last adventure he had been involved in.  That had not concerned O’Brien, for he had died the previous year.

There had to be something …someone …who knew more about what had happened, and how!  He picked up his glass of whiskey and emptied it.

Olivia was at the door.  She was leaning towards him with that sultry look in her eyes and her mouth smiling a promise.   They drifted away however as she observed him “What’s wrong?  Is it bad news?”

She had seen the letter on his desk, but he shook his head and picked it up,  slipped it into a drawer before he reached out for her. “Its alright, my sweet.  Nothing …” he smiled as she came towards him, slipped into his arms.

Sometimes the joy of holding her in his arms outweighed all and everything else.  He swung her up into his arms so that there was a flurry of petticoats and skirts.  After one long kiss he carried her back into the other room; the clock chimed the hour, a log settled in the grate and sent up sparks.

……..

In Joe’s house Mary Ann had forgotten all about Dr Colby.  Her dainty gift from her husband had been worn for probably three minutes before being removed by his gentle loving hands.

Now they slept side by side, she in his arms with her hair sprawled across his chest, and his face nestled close to hers as their breath intermingled with the softness of a kiss.

Chapter 12

Since Adam’s retirement Olivia had become used to waking during the night to find her husband missing from their bed. There were times when he had bad dreams that disturbed him enough to waken him, and at other times he would wake at the hour when he would usually go for a walk on the deck of his ship. The brain upon retaining such habits would still prompt him to take that tour of inspection.

But it was for neither of these reasons that Adam now awoke and carefully left their bed as quietly as possible in order not to disturb his wife. The letter from Grant and its ominous warning nagged constantly at the back of his mind so that he found himself pulling on his dressing gown and slippers and as stealthily as possible going down the stairs to his study.

He re-read the letter. He was mildly amused at the thought that Grant had not signed it John Smith as he had signed so many letters in the past. He turned up the flame of the lamp and with elbows on the desk he rubbed his face with his long fingers as though by doing so he could get his brain to seize upon the very solution to the problem. None came and he found himself staring at the letter without seeing the words except in a blur.

What did Grant mean? What danger? What enquiries?

He ran fingers through his hair so that the dark curls became more tousled than ever. He pinched the bridge of his nose and squeezed his eyelids tightly shut. No inspiration came to mind. No solution to the matter at all.

Perhaps if he looked through O’Brien’s journals he could locate some clue to the mystery. He pushed himself from his chair and approached the book shelves. The leather spine of the O’Brien’s book was innocuous in itself, neat and tidy, just as he had left it. Well, wasn’t it? He pulled it from the shelf and looked at it in his hands. A leather hardback cover within which were 13 journals. They were written chronologically and in such a manner that each one could be removed from the cover without disturbing the other twelve.

For a moment he stood staring down at it and then began to turn each journal over. He had only read one, well, to be honest, part of one. The memories that had evoked had given him nightmares. Some memories, the unwanted ones, came back not in dreams but as tormenting moments of horror during ones sleep. He had decided not to read anymore until he had a more settled mind. He didn’t even want to read them now, but for the fact that it was necessary to see if there was anything within them, anything at all, that could unlock this enigma.

It was strange, he thought as he carried the book to the desk, how different the book felt. It no longer felt as though barely touched. That crisp newness seemed to be lacking…or was it his imagination? Was he grasping at straws.

He scratched his brow and then resumed his seat. Which one would be of most interest to any Government official, any person involved from back then? Who would want to stretch out an arm and turn back pages of time in order to – what? Accuse him of murder? Treason? Espionage?

He shook his head, he was becoming fanciful. It would not be long before he would be imagining that Dimitri was standing by his side blowing smoke from those hideous cigarettes of his. Would the Russians be renewing their interest in him now? He was so ignorant of current political affairs that the thought of those by gone adversaries caused him to turn to the journal which related to the loss of the Baltimore.

Well, there it was again…that thought of Dimitri Doestov and the smell of cigarettes. He shook his head and took out the journal. Just for a moment he weighed it in his hand and shook his head. Perhaps it was because he was tired. No, that was an excuse, he never felt tired at 2 a.m. He lowered his head and pursed his lips, his eyes scanned the heading O’Brien had penned down so long ago…

“Kuril Islands .. 1873 … and by some trickery on the part of a woman I lost my ship, my ships’ crew, and a Government official who was related to the President. It didn’t sit well. In fact it torments me to this day. The Baltimore was the foremost ship in the fleet, a prototype and I had had the privilege of being its Captain.

When I look back to this time in my life …”

Adam paused and looked more closely at the writing. Was it his imagination playing tricks again? Was the ink thicker, darker? He ran his fingers over the page and turned it over to look at the pages following ..one, two, three pages thicker than those preceding them, or following them. Smoother too. Several times he ran a finger over the paper and each time the texture was different, just those three pages. There was something else too, on the very edge of the page immediately after the third he noticed a brown stain. Was it a stain? He raised the journal closer and then ran his finger over it… a stain? A burn? How could that have got there? Had O’Brien started smoking?

He shook his head, this obsession about smoking, ridiculous! But it was odd …Adam looked at it more closely again and this time, for an instant, there was a smell. No, more than a smell, something familiar, something he had a memory of but which now slipped out of his reach.

He flicked over the subsequent pages and looked at the top and the bottom of them but there was no other marked by any stain. He asked himself again, was it a stain or a burn or scorch? Again he raised it to his eyes and ran his finger along the edge of the page. It seemed to him that it had, at some time, been scorched. But how?

For a while he sat there, his chin resting on his hand, his elbow upon the desk. He stared at the far wall as his mind trickled back to that time. 1873. Five years had passed since that fateful journey to the Kurils. It had been a miracle that they had found O’Brien at last, and the ship. Too many had died though, and Cassandra Pelman had nearly killed him. He shook his head, sighed and returned to his observation of the journal.

What was the difference about those three pages? He felt them again, checked the size, the weight of each page upon his fingers. It was odd but they were looser than the others too, as though they had been slipped in as an after thought. It was improbable, how could they have been an after thought when they contained important information. He opened the journal wide and stared at the centrefold, stared really closely before telling himself he was being stupid, melodramatic. Then he found something…

Apart from the smell that reminded him of Dimitri and his filthy smoking habits, he could now see little specks of ash that may have been brushed aside and yet been caught into the centre fold of the journal. He blew very gently along the pages from top to bottom and very slowly flecks of ash drifted over the paper from where they had lain trapped. He found none anywhere else … just there among the three pages that had been inserted in a different way, on different paper and with darker ink.

Once again he rubbed his face and pinched the bridge of his nose, closed his eyes and then opened them to stare down at the pages. He leaned back into the chair and stared at the far wall, before reaching for the cover and taking from inside another journal. He opened it and set it alongside the one he was examining.

It didn’t take long by comparing O’Brien’s writing with the writing on the three pages to see what had happened. Every so often the writer of the three pages had mistakenly slipped into his own form of writing; an ’e’ differed from O’Brien’s, or there was an elongated tail with a loop on a ’g’ or’y’. One had to look carefully, very carefully. It was such a good copy but, nonetheless, it was a copy of the original.

Why?

He closed the second journal and slipped it in among the others in the hard back leather folder. Why would someone copy O’Brien’s account of the loss of the Baltimore? That led to ‘Who’ being the next question? Who had access? Who knew about them? Who would be that interested?

He looked again at the three pages. Now that he knew what to look for the differences in hand writing were obvious. He would never have noticed the difference however had he been reading the account in the casual manner of a normal reader; someone had gone to great lengths to disguise his handwriting…or her handwriting…to create a facsimile of O’Briens.

But who?

He left the journal on the desk and walked to the other room, he made his way to the cabinet where the decanters were and chose a malt whiskey and poured himself a little into a glass to take back to the study. The rooms were colder, the temperature dropping as a result of the fires dying down and he shivered. Perhaps he should have got a hot drink but no, that would have taken too long. Whiskey would activate his mental faculties more quickly and efficiently.

He listened to the sounds of the house at this time in the morning. The sighs of wood settling, the tick of the clock, ash falling into the grate. Outside was the mournful sound of the wind, rising to a crescendo and then ebbing away. It was not so very different to his night patrols on board ship after all. He took another sip of the whiskey and having escaped the matter of the journals for just those few moments he once again turned his attention to the journal.

If there were questions there had to be answers. There had to be a simple explanation, but also a logical one. So far as he was aware there had been no Russians, no Arabs, no one at all who would be interested in O’Brien’s writings. Even his family had not been interested enough to keep them.

Facts.

What were the facts? Scorch marks. Different paper. Different ink. Ash from …ah, someone who smokes? His Pa?

He shook his head, took another sip of whiskey. Would his Pa be that interested in O’Brien’s journals as to pilfer./steal/borrow them without asking? No.

Would his Pa not have asked, and had he, for any reason, had an accident due to that wretched pipe of his … would he not have mentioned it? Of course he would have done.

Adam smiled to himself at the thought of Ben coming to him, woebegone look on his face, confessing to the borrowing and burning of O’Brien’s journal. Except, of course, that was not what had happened.

So it wasn’t Pa and no one else in the family smoked anyway. Adam emptied his glass and set it to one side.

That meant someone from outside had come to the Ponderosa and taken the journals… perhaps one at a time. Now he was back to one of his earlier questions…who?

Someone who was inquisitive and had always shown so much interest in Adams adventures when he had been at sea. Someone who smoked heavily and who had contacts everywhere. Someone who had, in the past, published accounts about Adam from ‘sources’ elsewhere.

Adam sighed, well, that meant just one person. He picked up his glass, realised it was empty and set it back down upon the desk. Daniel deQuille. It could not be anyone else but him.

The stairs creaked. Adam closed the journal and put it back in the leather cover, whih he then returned to the book shelf. He could almost sense Dimitri Doestov standing by his side, shaking his head, tapping ash into that stupid silver box.

What had he said once, that they were just little cogs in the machinery of politics that kept the world spinning? Adam shook his head, shivered as the cold settled into his bones. He walked to the window and pulled back the drapes, looked up into the black sky and thought about Daniel deQuille. A man who had left his wife and children in Iowa. A man who had a drinking problem. Who had been forced to resign his position until he had sorted the problem out. Had that been why he wanted to know so much about the Commodore? To spin his stories around this figure and recreate someone more in his own image than the real person?

He knew Daniel had never felt happy about Samuel Clements gaining so much fame as Mark Twain, while he still languished here in Virginia City. He had a brilliant mind. A quick wit. An amusing way to turn a story. Did he view himself as a failure in comparison to his now famous associate?

Adam sighed and closed the door to his study. It would be hard to get back to sleep and he hoped that his re-entry into bed would not disturb Olivia. He paused on the landing, peeked into the bedrooms of his children, and smiled at the sweet sleep they were enjoying. Reuben on his back, snoring lightly, one foot hanging over the side of the bed. Sofia curled up into a ball in the middle of her bed with Clarabelle in a stranglehold in her arms. Nathaniel with his bottom sticking up in the air and his face with that angelic innocence that tugged at his father’s heart. Quickly Adam settled the baby into a more comfortable position and then slipped out of the room.

Olivia stirred, opened her eyes and smiled dreamily as she became aware of the bed moving to he slipped back between the covers. She muttered “Cold feet….” and fell back to sleep.

Chapter 13

Cheng Ho Lee regarded his master thoughtfully as he poured out the coffee. It was not unusual for Adam to be an early riser, there were chores to be done before the family rose to start their day. Reuben would be downstairs soon ready to do his own assignments. His father’s shadow. Cheng Ho Lee smiled at the thought and then set down the coffee pot. The movement seemed to bring Adam out of a reverie for he glanced up, smiled and nodded at the other man,

“Cheng Ho Lee, has Daniel deQuille been here while I was away?”

The Chinese nodded, “Yes, one time came with letter from you for Missy.”

“Just the one time?” Adam frowned, disappointed. He had thought there would have been more regular visits, and the furrowing of his brows were indicative of his feelings for Cheng shrugged.

“He come through pass, stay and talk with Missy. Ah ..” he nodded vigorously, “He go into study, I follow …”

“Was he taking a book from the shelves?”

“No, he put book back. He say so -” Cheng paused to think back to that time and nodded again “He say he return book he borrow.”

Adam frowned, to his knowledge the journalist had never borrowed any book, he had never asked to borrow one either. He nodded and thanked Cheng Ho Lee and resumed drinking his coffee.

It was not difficult to come at any time and upon finding the house empty, or seemingly so, to enter it and help oneself. Was that what he had done? Grabbed at chances? But how often, how many times and, what was worse, what had he done with the information?

Of course the only person able to answer those questions was the newspaperman himself. Adam pushed himself away from the table and left the room. Once he had completed his chores he would take a ride into town and have a word with Mr deQuille…or whatever he liked to call himself.

Reuben joined his father in the stables in order to complete his chores. Once or twice Adam thought about asking the boy if he had ever seen deQuille in the vicinity of the house but felt that was unfair to do so. The boy would know nothing, after all, there had been school and then other matters that would have occupied his mind.

He was sawing logs when he was aware of Olivia standing at the entrance to the barn. With a smile, for she always looked so fresh and pretty in the early morning, he approached her and kissed her cheek. “Breakfast already?”

“Nearly.” she returned his kiss “You were very restless last night. Is something the matter?”

He shrugged and raised his eyebrows “Why would you think anything was the matter, sweetheart? I am often restless, that’s why I get up so as not to disturb you. Did I wake you up? I’m sorry if I did…”

“No, Adam, that won’t do.” she chided him gently, and lowered her eyes to look down at the saw dust on the floor from the logs he had been cutting through. “You have received a letter and not told me what it was about.” she shook her head “Don’t even think about denying it,” she raised a warning finger so that Adam closed his mouth and pursed his lips “I want the truth. What is it you are not telling me?”

He shrugged, what a little virago his wife could be he mused and leaned forward to kiss her cheek but she turned away and stared up at the trusses of the barn as though they were of more interest than a kiss from him. He sighed and shrugged.

“I had a letter from Grant.”

“Grant?” she paused, “Grant who?”

“Ex-President Grant.”

He watched her face, noticed how she drew the shawl tighter around her. He had noticed women do that when anticipating bad news. It was as though they were drawing around them an invisible shield to stave off the worse, to protect their weakest, most vulnerable, part of the body, their heart. She turned to look at him and her eyes were just a little greener. “I see.”

“No, you don’t see at all, my dear.” he reached out and took her hand which she allowed him to do without protest now.

He led her to the side of the barn and drew her closer so that they were both leaning against the far wall. Smells of new wood was everywhere around them, it mingled with the smell of old wood, damp, and mustiness. The smells of a barn that stored so much wood for their fires. She closed her eyes for a fraction of a moment and then looked up at him. Dark brown eyes looked back at her, his brows were slightly raised as though he was thinking anxiously about what he was to tell her. He smelt of soap, although his body was warm beneath his jacket and there was already a little whiff of sweat from his mornings exertions. She raised her hand to touch his cheek, he had already shaved, it was smooth beneath her fingers

“Tell me, you aren’t being ordered back to sea?”

He shook his head, a half smile lingered around his lips “No, nothing like that.”

“Then what is it?” she gripped one of his hands and held it tightly between both of hers, “Tell me, Adam. I need to know.”

“I can only tell you what I know, Livvy. I can’t really tell you more than that…” and he quietly told her everything the letter had contained before adding “I don’t really understand it myself. I did have an idea that …just perhaps…deQuille may know more about it all.”

“Daniel deQuille? But why? How?”

His smiled broadened, hadn’t he been asking the very same things last night. He kissed her fingers, before lowering her hand once again, “I think he’s been ’borrowing’ O’Brien’s journals. He’s always had a strange preoccupation about what he calls my adventures at sea. He must have seen one of the journals at some time, and .. Oh, I don’t know, it’s all speculation but it did kinda fit last night when I was trying to work out a solution to this matter of enquiries having been made. He was often getting information about things I was doing from back East. He has contacts in Washington. He may very well have stirred up a hornets nest …”

She didn’t speak, she wasn’t; really sure what to say and nor did he. They stood together side by side for a moment or two before Adam spoke a little more “I was thinking of going to town to find out from him if he had actually taken the journals, or even one of them. Then, in an attempt to check some facts …”

“It sounds a little far fetched. Why would he do something like that?” she frowned and then shook her head “To be honest, thinking of deQuille it would be more logical to ask why wouldn’t he do something like that. He has been here once or twice. The last time he braved the pass to bring the mail through. He was here when I got news that you had found Sofia.”

“Cheng told me that he saw deQuille in my study, returning a book.”

She shook her head “ I don’t know anything about that, my dear. I was far too delirious with joy at the news that you were on the way home. If I had only known …” she leaned in towards him “Don’t keep secrets from me, darling. I want you to trust me with anything. Everything.”

“I don’t keep secrets, Livvy. I just want to keep you safe from worrying about things that there may be nothing to worry about…” he smiled, then laughed “Listen to me, getting you worried about nothing when I didn’t want for that to happen.”

“No, you have to tell me, Adam. Trust is important between us. Haven’t we always said that? Remember how we promised to be honest, in everything?”

He nodded, chastened, but he still smiled. He loved her so dearly, he loved to see her angry, concerned like this because fire would come into those green eyes of hers; he loved to see her at any time, she was as part of him as he was of her. They kissed one another tenderly.

“PA!” Reuben’s voice and he was standing at the entrance to the barn, “Ma?” he hated it when his parents got soppy like this, he shook his head and then shrugged as he stooped to pick up some kindling “Breakfast is ready. Cheng said to tell you …”

Adam and Livvy looked at one another, shared a smile and a shrug but walked to the house hand in hand. “We are at your father’s for supper tonight, Adam. Don’t take too long in town, will you?”

“I don’t intend to be very long, it won’t take much time to discuss the matter with Daniel.”

“Make sure you discuss it, don’t deal with it the way you dealt with Sam Clements that time.” she chided and then laughed as he leaned in to kiss her. Behind them Reuben gave a snort of disapproval…!!

…………….

Everyone loved little Paul. With his bright blue eyes and fuzz of golden red hair, dimples and drool he was a delight. Over the week or so since Bridie had found him on her doorstep he had fattened out considerably. All the women in the hospice felt they had a claim to him, and as most nursing mothers had provided milk for him perhaps they were right.

Even Tilly loved the little scrap. She spent a lot of time bathing him and dressing him, singing little songs she could remember from her childhood in Cornwall, England. She often told him about the copper mines and how Cornwall was really ‘it’s own country’ and no part of the Great Britain who boasted about being its master. Paulie didn’t care, he gurgled and kicked his little legs about and tried to grab at her wispy grey hair.

Bridie loved him too, even though she was determined to remain as detached from him as possible. Paul had warned her that they were too old to have him to keep, as though he were a little puppy about to grow into a huge wolf hound! But Bridie knew that Paul was right. They were a busy couple, and aging too. She wanted the baby to have the best of homes. It was a promise she had made to Margaret O’Connell in her heart when she had learned of the young woman’s death. Apart from that, she did love little Paul, and she wanted him to be safe, to get the best a loving family could give him.

Mr Garston in his role as town busy body ‘extraordinaire’ visited Bridie in his pastoral role. He reminded her that he was one of the members of the Board for the Foundling Home. He was also Chairman of the Board for the Virginia City Orphanage. In these capacities he told her that the infant was an orphan, and should, therefore, be brought to the orphanage immediately.

Dr Paul Martin did not much like Mr Garston. He was not alone in that as 75% of the population felt the same way. He had listened to Garston’s lecture about foundlings and orphans and responsibilities and disliked the tone of voice he was using on Bridie, and as he was also present, on himself. He also knew that for every orphan the Town Council paid a decent sum of money for the infants upkeep and food. It was not much but it was adequate. There had always been rumours and gossip about just how much was actually spent on the children and other overheads. It was sad to say that some overheads seemed to be the lining of certain members pockets!

Needless to say Paul had informed Garston that the infant would stay where he was, until a suitable arrangement could be made for his welfare. When Garston began to bluster and protest Paul reminded him that as a doctor he believed the child was under nourished, weak physically, he needed close attention twenty four hours a day. That, he asserted, was beyond the Orphanage’s capabilities. Of course it was not, there were some very good caring people on the staff who would have stayed up 25 hours a day if it were possible, but Garston could see he was beaten at this stage of the game and made a retreat.

Bridie was more than aware that it could be a short lived retreat. She guarded little Paul carefully, and while she was not with him, Tilly took over. The women in the hospice also took their turn. There was not a moment in the babys day where a caring adult was not present.

When Bridie saw Adam Cartwright dismount outside the Territorial Enterprise offices she knew the pass was clear and safe. She watched him enter the building and smiled to herself, gave a slight nod of the head and continued on her way home. She had an idea. She would have to discuss it with Paul of course, but even without his knowing she allowed the seed of the idea to, well, settle in her mind and take root.

Chapter 14

Sofia was sitting at the table with her feet swinging back and forth as she earnestly plied her pencil to the paper. Upon being asked what it was she was doing by her mother she sighed “I’m drawing a picture for Ella.”

Olivia smiled and peeked over her daughters shoulder, nodded at the picture of two children, little girls, sitting among daisies and some other flowers. “That’s very pretty, Sofia.”

Sofia nodded and then put the pencil down “Where’s daddy?”

“He’s gone to town. He has to see someone about something important.” Olivia replied as she turned her attention to Nathaniel who was pulling out balls of wool from her work basket and throwing them across the floor.

“Has he gone to see Mr Heavens?” Sofia now asked anxiously and shrunk back a little into her chair.

“No, and his name is Evans ..not Heavens.” Olivia smiled as she answered, and began to replace the balls of wool while wagging a finger at her infant son whose mouth drooped as a result.

“I don’t want ..”

“Sofia, that’s quite enough nonsense. You have to have an education. Don’t you realise how hard it has been for women to achieve the right to go to school and be taught? There are still lots of children, little girls, who will never have such an advantage.”

“Well, I guess they’re very happy about that, because I’m not happy about having to go.” Sofia folded her arms defiantly across her chest and pouted.

Olivia caught hold of Nathaniel and placed him among his toys . She told him very sternly to ‘stay there and don’t move’ before returning to the table, pulling out a chair and bringing it closer to her daughter.

“I think you are being a little bit silly, Sofia. When I was a little girl I never went to school, nor did your aunt Katya. We would have so enjoyed going, being taught along with other children and playing with them too. We had to learn everything at home, which was alright in some ways as mother had been a teacher but there are other girls who never get to read or write because their mothers expect them to keep house, cook and do the chores all day.”

Sofia frowned “I want to learn to keep house and cook …”

“And do chores all day? Sofia, you will reach an age when you will love to read a book, to lose yourself in a story, to learn new facts about different lands ..all because you went to school and learned to read. You could even go to college….”

Sofia put her hands over her ears and shook her head vehemently “No, no no.”

From a corner of the room Nathaniel yelled in his high pitched squeak of a voice “No.no.no.”

Olivia sighed and shook her head, she put a hand on Sofia’s arm and forced her to pay attention “How will you feel when Ella comes to town, and she can read and write better than you? What will happen if as she grows up and writes her letters to you, you can’t read them and never get to know what is happening to her? How will you feel if she goes to school with Reuben and the other children in town and decides you are such an ignorant little girl that she doesn’t want to be your friend anymore?”

Sofia scowled, she shook her head and scrambled down from the chair “Ella’s my friend, she won’t want to go to school anyway.”

“Sofia, come back. I haven’t finished speaking to you yet, young lady.”

Olivia hadn’t shouted, she hadn’t raised her voice it had just been much quieter in fact, but also much sterner. Sofia shook her head and ran out of the room, her feet made little thumping sounds on the planks of the floor and then the door slammed shut as she fled out of the house.

Reuben was sitting in the hayloft reading a book, one of his favourites, about pirates and buried treasure on a faraway island. He could hear the scuffling of feet upon the rungs of the ladder and glared at his sister as her head appeared “Oh Sofia, what do you want?”

“I want to hide.”

“Well, you can’t hide here.”

“I can too.”

“No, you can’t. For a start I’m here and I know you’re here too now. And I know everywhere there is up here to hide …go away and hide someplace else.”

“You’re a horrible boy to me, Reuben. You’re mean and horrible.”

Reuben sighed “No, I’m not. I just want to read my book in peace and quiet.”

He brandished the book at her. The front page had the picture of a black bearded pirate with ear rings and a nose ring and very few teeth. She gave a squeal then lunged forward, grabbed the book and then hurled it downwards so that it hit one of the joists and then plopped into a pail of water.

Reuben looked horrified. He couldn’t speak for his distress only crouched there on his hands and knees looking down and watching as his book floated upon the water. Sofia was equally horrified at what she had done and had the sense to scamper back down the ladder and run out of the stable. She now headed for the barn where all the logs were stacked and where Adam had been working so hard earlier that morning.

Without pausing she dodged around the section of the wall where all different size of saws were mounted. She hurried past where axes and hatchets were carefully stowed away. She finally came to a halt when realising there was no where to go, she was confronted by a huge mountain of logs. She turned and now headed for the barn, her feet slipping on the remains of melting snow in the yard.

“Sofia. You wait…” Reuben yelled and she could tell from the sound of his voice that he was really upset. There was not so much anger in his voice, as distress. She could see him running out of the stables with the sodden book dripping in his hand.

She didn’t want to wait. She wasn’t sure what Reuben would do to her, if he would fight with her, hit her, sit on her, or just stand in front of her and cry. The likelihood of him crying seemed remote, the other things … more than likely. Reuben was the most placid of brothers but there had been times when he did lose his temper, and she knew in her heart of hearts that what she had done, would give him every right to lose it again.

She reached the barn and closed the door. It took some tugging but she managed it and then she slid the bar across so that no matter how much he kicked and punched at the wood he wasn’t able to get inside. Now it was her turn to scramble up into the loft where the straw was scattered liberally over the floor. She ran to the furthest corner and crouched there, hugging her knees to her chest, her arms around her legs and her cheek resting upon her knees.

She didn’t want to go to school. She just couldn’t understand why no one could see how much happier she was when she could stay home and be taught by her mother, and by aunty Mary Ann. It was much better that way, surely? Why did everyone have to be so cross. She raised her chin defiantly, she could guarantee that Aunty Katherine would not have forced her to go to school. Aunty Katherine had loved her, really loved her.

She felt tears well up in her eyes and plop over onto her cheeks. Aunty Katherine had called her Alice and didn’t believe when she said that her name was Sofia. Nor had she believed that Sofia had a brother, and a baby brother too. Aunty Katherine had not really loved her, had she?

Reuben had stopped thumping on the door of the barn. There was quiet now apart from her sobs, and the rustle of straw at her feet. After a little while the sobs stopped and she wiped her face smearing dust streaks across her cheeks. She looked around her and wondered what she could do now. There really was nothing she could do. She had left Clarabelle and Jessie behind, so couldn’t play with them. She had nothing to do at all.

She sat there so long that her bottom became numb. Her legs twitched. Straw got into her clothes and made her itch and scratch. She thought she saw a mouse or, worse, a rat? She shrunk further into a corner and stared at where she thought she had seen a little pink be whiskered nose but if it had been there it had gone now. She wondered where it would have gone? Closer to her? Would it bite?

Up in the loft, so higher than floor level, was the door through which the hay was taken through to be stacked there. With her head now buried in her arms the little girl didn’t notice it edging open, very slowly. When Reuben’s head appeared she was unaware of that too.

Reuben noticed his sister huddled in the corner and pulled himself through the door. It had taken him no time at all to mount the ladder and get up, now he was inside and quietly crawled across the floor to sit by her side.

“Sofia?”

“What?”

“Are you alright?”

Sofia sniffed and raised her head, her dirty dust streaked face was marked by the runnels of tears. He shook his head “Why are you crying? You’re alright, you didn’t get a book ruined in the water, did you?”

She shook her head and looked at him “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it, not really.”

“Then why do it?”

“I don’t want to go to school. I want to stay here with Mommy.”

Reuben sighed and shuffled into a more comfortable position, he shrugged “Well, you have to go to school. It’s good for you.”

“No, it isn’t, Reuben. It isn’t.”

He looked down at his book, still rather damp but not as damaged as he had initially feared. He opened it up and showed her a picture, then another, and another. “Did you like them?”

She frowned. To her way of thinking that was a stupid question. She didn’t like seeing the pictures of pirates, and boats on black seas flying a black flag with a skull and bones on it. She shook her head “No.”

“But you would like it better if you could read the story. It’s full of fun, and lots of things happening.”

She shook her head again, mermaids, princesses in ivory towers and long hair that reached right down to the bottom of the tower was more in her liking. She frowned, it hadn’t occurred to her before that she would never have known about them if someone had not read the stories to her. They would not have been able to read the stories if someone had not written them. She frowned, did they all go to school?

“Reuben, do you want to go to school with that Mr Evans?”

“Sure I do. Why not?”

“He might not be as nice as Miss Brandon.”

“He might be nicer. He might be fun.”

She shook her head, that meant Reuben was anticipating ball games and so such. She knew how much men liked running about and kicking things. She bowed her head back down upon her knees “I’m sorry about the book.”

“It isn’t too bad. It’ll dry out.” Reuben said hopefully.

“Girls should not have to go to school, ‘specially if a man is a teacher.”

“Aunty Mary Ann says that women – that means girls – should go to school and learn all about the things men learn. She says that one day girls will go to college and be doctors, and lots of other things too if they want to. I heard her and Ma talking about it, they said that it was …” he paused and drew in a long breath “e-mani-cipation.”

Sofia nodded. It meant nothing to her whatsoever. She looked at Reuben “But I don’t want to be a doctor.”

“Shucks, Sofia, you’re just a little girl yet. What do you know about what you want to be?”

Reuben sounded so grown up then. She looked at her brother with big eyes. “Do you want to be a doctor then, Reuben?”

He shrugged very matter of factly, at that point in time he just wanted to be a little boy enjoying a really good story about pirates.

Chapter 15

When Candy saw Adam Cartwright dismounting outside the Territorial Enterprise office he was somewhat surprised.  At the same time he was aware of a sense of shame within himself as he watched the tall rancher leave his horse and enter the building.

It seemed to Candy that life as sheriff had as many drawbacks as it had possibilities.  He knew he would never get over the fact that he, as the sheriff, had not been able to help Adam find Sofia.  True, he had located Reuben with Roy’s help, but being a lawman had held him back from being the friend that Adam needed, and to Candy’s way of thinking, the kind he deserved.   Had he just been a private citizen he could have done so much more, been such a better friend.

He rubbed along his jaw with long fingers, then, with a sigh turned into the building where Clem was writing out a statement by Mrs Clitheroe concerning a broken window caused by some hooligan boys.  As Candy removed his hat she turned on him and demanded to know what the law going to do about it?

Just for a moment Candy wished he could have seen Roy sitting at the  desk instead of Clem, but he wasn’t. With a sigh of resignation he smiled thinly and gently asked what exactly was the problem?
…………

Adam removed his hat as he entered the building and glanced around for some sign of Daniel.  The clattering of  the printing presses made quite a din and members of staff were shouting over to one another to be heard.  It all added to the cacophony of noise that drove him to the area marked very elegantly in gold leaf “Offices”.  He ignored the smaller  notice which said “Private”.

DeQuilles office was empty.  Adam stood in the doorway with his hat in one hand and looked around him.  The smell of cigar smoke hung heavily in the air, and he gave a slight involuntary nod of the head   as though it confirmed the suspicions he had about the newspaperman.   The desk was littered with papers, books, pens scattered across their surface.  Out of curiosity he approached the desk and casually glanced at what was there, but nothing, not a word that he could say was relevant to the journals involving himself.
A member of staff appeared and frowned at him then nodded an acknowledgement when realising who he was

“Ah Mr Cartwright …looking for Mr deQuille?    I’m afraid he’s not here just now.”

Adam sighed, why did people have to state the obvious SO obviously!

“Yes” he said curtly “I am looking for Mr deQuille.  I can see he is not here.   How long will he be away?”

“Not very long, sir.” The clerk smiled jovially not the least bit put out  by Adams cynical tone of voice, he didn’t even notice it.  “He’s no doubt at the Sazarac.”

Adam cast a glance at the clock. It was early, he thought to indulge in drinking.   A recovering alcoholic surely required more restraint .   The clerk  placed some papers on the already teetering pile and nodded “There was an incident there last night.  Mr deQuille is getting the story.  You know how it is, sir?”

Adam nodded “I’ll wait.” and pulled out a chair in order to so.
……………

Olivia didn’t believe it was punishing a child by using the maxim “Wait until your father comes home”.  To her mind it was unnecessarily cruel for a child to wait who knew how long before punishment was meted out.   It also  gave an unbalanced view to the children of the husband and wife partnership by placing all the punishment upon the husband’s shoulders.  How much better to deal with the matter as soon as possible and get it over with right away.

Looking at the wrecked book with a sigh did cause Olivia to wish Adam were still at home.  She was intending to discipline Sofia for her rude behaviour in running out of the house earlier when discussing school.  Seeing the dripping wet book sent a little shudder down her spine.  Sofia was still snivelling and repeatedly saying how sorry she was, how really really sorry.

“That’s quite enough now, Sofia.  Stop crying right now.”

Sofia gulped and amazed herself by stopping, just like that ..Olivia turned to Reuben
“Have you finished your chores?”

“Yes, Ma.”

“Then go into the kitchen and ask Chen if there is any way to dry the book out without damaging it further … Now – if you don’t mind!”

Reuben nodded, glanced anxiously at his sister and hurried away with the book in his hand.

Olivia regarded her daughter seriously for a moment while the child stood with head bowed and hands clasped together.  “Sofia, why did you throw the book like that?”

“I don’t know. I just did. I didn’t mean it to go in the water. I said sorry lots of times.”

“What did you say sorry for?”

“For throwing the book in the water.”

Sofia glanced up at her mother and noticed Olivia’s stern face.  It was obviously the wrong answer but she kept quiet as she wasn’t sure what it actually would be.

“Sofia, think again about why you  threw the book like that…remember what happened before you went to the barn?”

Sofia nodded. “I was sad because …”

“No, Sofia.  You were not sad.  You were angry because you didn’t like being told that you would be going to school.  Isn’t that right?”

“Yes, Mommy.  But I was sad too …”

Olivia closed her eyes for a second in exasperation.  “You were also very rude running out before you were given permission.”

Sofia nodded.  Olivia sighed again and put a gentle hand upon the child’s shoulder “You should get a spanking, Sofia, for what you have done but instead I shall punish you the way you would be at school.  You see that corner over there?”

Sofia looked at the corner of the room and nodded. “You will stand there, facing the wall until I tell you to join us.  While you are there I want you to think over , not what you did today, but why you did it.  Do you understand?”

Sofia nodded “Because I was angry?”

” And the reason why you were angry. Later we will talk about it again.”

Sofia nodded and walked to the corner, glanced piteously over her shoulder at Olivia who ignored her.  She could have wept when Olivia said sternly “Facing the wall, Sofia.”

She turned and faced the wall, her head hanging and not thinking about anything her mother had mentioned. Instead  she stood there feeling very sorry for herself and quite sure there wasn’t another child in the world so hard done by.

Nathaniel scampered in hugging his raggedy rabbit. He stopped at seeing Sofia standing quietly in the corner and observed her intently for a while.  Finally he went and stood beside her, his face to the wall.  He said nothing, nor did she but it gave her some comfort to have her baby brother standing stoically by her side.

It provided Olivia a chuckle when she saw them and she had to hurry back into the kitchen in order not to be seen nor, for that matter, heard!

…..

Daniel did a double take when he saw Adam sitting at his desk.  Had Adam not raised his eyes and seen him Daniel would have scuttled off in the hope of avoiding the oncoming confrontation.   He put on a bold face and strode into his office with a slight swagger of bravado .

“Ah, Adam.  What a pleasure to see you in town. The pass is clear now I take it?”

Adam said nothing.  He had spent so long trying to think of a suitable way to deal with Daniel that on seeing the man every idea he had thought up slipped away.  He waited for the other man to take his seat before finding his voice which sounded tight with anger even to his ears.

“Give me one good reason why I should not thrash you, Will.”

Daniel blanched slightly.  Adam Cartwright and just a few others in town still referred to him by his real name. It annoyed him immensely.

“I don’t understand, Adam?”. he shrugged and raised his eyebrows “why would you want to do anything of the sort?”

Adam shook his head “That won’t work,  Will.  You know very well why I’m here, and … to show how magnanimous I am I shall give you five minutes to explain by which time I will  have decided whether to get the sheriff here to arrest you for theft.”. he paused and narrowed his eyes “or give you the thrashing anyway.”

“Adam, what possible reason do you gave to accuse me of theft?”. he smiled slowly and smoothed down his beard, “I have never stolen from you.”

“Entering my house, taking journals from my study, damaging them …did you really think I would not have noticed your attempts of a cover up?”

Daniel frowned and stared down at the paper on the desk.  He picked up a pen and rolled it nervously between his fingers  “I’m sorry that happened, I tried to make it a fair copy.  I didn’t steal anything from you, Adam.  Everything was returned.”

“Everything?”. Adam narrowed his eyes “And for what reason did you feel you had the right to take them ?” he leaned forward closer to the other man “It had better be a good one!”

Daniel ran his fingers through his hair, then shook his head and shrugged “Just … fascination I guess and, lets be honest, you would never mention anything about what you did would you?“

“For a very good reason. As a naval officer I vowed not to reveal such things.”

“Yes, but, for heavens sake, Adam, you have to think about this, I knew the public…”

“Not good enough.” Adam snapped and rose to his feet, Daniel did like wise in order to feel less intimidated by having Adam Cartwright towering over him “You must have known the work I was on was classified?  Some even highly classified.   You had no right to take those journals from my home and read them.”

“I realised ..”

Adam leaned closer, moving so quickly that Daniel didn’t realise what was happening until Adam had grabbed hold of the other mans jacket lapels and shaken him like a dog shakes a rat.

“If you realised then you should have left well alone.” he shook Daniel again “And what have you done with the material you gathered ?  And who did you share it with?”
“I … I ..no one.  No body.”

Another shake so fierce that Daniel could barely breathe after which Adam released him so abruptly that the wretched man fell into his chair.

For seconds there was silence, then Adam leaned forward and casually straightened Daniels crumpled jacket, smoothing back the lapels with the finesse of a valet while he said “Now then, I’ll ask again.  Who else knows anything about the contents of those journals?”

Daniel raised a hand as though pleading for time to think, he shivered, stared at Adams clenched fists before nodding “I cabled a few of my contacts back east for more information.  But that’s all…honestly…”

Adam rubbed his chin, then his left temple before shaking his head and approaching the window. “They would have contacted their contacts,. It spreads out like a pebble thrown into a pool!”.

Daniel heard him and attempted to assure him it wasn’t like that, his contacts were very discreet but Adam shook his head.  “You don’t realise what you have done, Will.  The Government takes its secrets seriously, the slightest hint of something being looked at too closely is like a thread of a spiders web. The slightest tremble and the spider is alerted.”

Daniel shook his head and spread out his hands but the look Adam cast him was such a one that he almost wished he had received a thumping and be done with it.

Adam turned, picked up his hat and in silence left the room.  Daniel heard the sound of the exterior door closing and flopped back in his chair with relief at knowing his tormentor had now left the building.

Chapter 16

Bridie had not actually been waiting for Adam to come out of the offices, but she couldn’t actually say that she had not been lingering with intent to catch him while he was there. No sooner had Adam stepped foot onto the sidewalk that he was accosted by the good lady who called to him loudly as she ran over to stop him from disappearing from view again.

“Adam. Thank goodness” she puffed a little, running was really not her forte and she had to remind herself to stop doing it quite so often.

“Bridie.” he smiled at her although his eyes did not, they still seemed lost in the environs of deQuille’s office. “How are you?”

“I’m well. Thank you.” she placed a hand on her chest to help catch her breath “I really need to talk to you. Can you spare a moment to share a cup of coffee with me?”

“Certainly.” he sighed and offered her his arm which she accepted and was led to the Internationale.

“Adam, I would rather not go to a public place. Could you come home with me?”

He grinned, had it been anyone other than Bridie he would have laughed and made some quip about being propositioned, but he did not, he just did an about turn and together they strolled over to the Martins house. Neither of them spoke. Adam’s mind was still on his conversation with deQuille and Bridie was going over what she had wanted to say to Adam. At the door, which she pushed open, Bridie gave her companion a swift smile.

“There’s just someone I want you to meet.” she said as she took his hat and put it on the stand.

“Oh, someone I know?”

“Not yet.” she replied rather cryptically and straightened her shoulders.

Tilly peeked out of the kitchen and caught her mistress’ eye, and then quickly went back inside to prepare coffee. She was more than aware of some scheme brewing in Bridie’s sharp mind and was more than willing to give it her complete backing.

Adam walked into the parlour and glanced around, saw no one, and sat down in the chair that Bridie indicated. She stood there a moment as though to make sure that a. he was comfortable b. the chair didn’t give way beneath him and c. he was not about to get up and run. She then gave a contented sigh, a nod of the head and sat down opposite him.

“Adam, does the name Margaret O’Connell mean anything to you?”

He bowed his head and stared at the carpet, then looked back at her, nodded “Yes, I remember Margaret. I believe this is concerning her?”

“Well, yes.” Bridie replied in a tone that caused Adam to wonder if he had been wrong in his surmise. Bridie however rose to her feet and went to a writing bureau from which she extracted a letter. This was the missive that Margaret had written to her before her death, and which explained the circumstances of her return to Virginia City.

“Margaret died, as you know, and she left her baby son in our care. This is the letter she left us.”

He nodded and looked at the scrappy piece of paper, smoothed it out upon his knee and began to read. He shook his head occasionally, his brows knitted together and his lips thinned. After a second perusal he returned the letter and looked thoughtful. Bridie said nothing for a moment as though waiting for him to take the initiative.

“This is a very sorry state of affairs, Bridie.” he said finally.

“A cruel one, as though the poor girl had not suffered enough with the loss of her husband and the way McGarthy conducted his affairs.”

Tilly knocked and opened the door, entering quietly with a laden tray which she set down on the table which was set between Adam and Bridie. She would have loved to have stayed and listened, to have said her piece about the whole thing but she knew her place and left as quietly as she had entered. Bridie poured coffee and every so often glanced up over at Adam knowing that his silence indicated that he was thinking the matter over very seriously. As she passed him a cup and saucer he sighed,

“I will locate this captain and get the matter sorted out, Bridie. It may be too late for Margaret O’Connell but there may be other young women who are taken advantage of in this manner. I have contacts still in the shipping business and it won’t be hard to locate the ship and the Captain. I promise you, she will have justice, even if it is too late for her.”

“Thank you, Adam. I just wish Margaret were here to know that, it …” she stopped herself from saying anymore, it brought tears to her eyes and made her throat go tight to think about her little Margaret suffering. “There is another matter I wanted to discuss with you.”

Adam frowned, looked over the rim of his cup and swallowed the coffee. “Yes?”

She nodded “It’s Margaret’s child. A little boy. The sweetest natured child you could wish for, and nearly at death’s door himself when he was left here.”

“But he is alright now?” Adam asked with his cup poised in mid-air.

“Oh he is thriving, Adam. The ladies have been so wonderful.” she paused and cleared her throat, realising there was probably nothing to be gained telling him about the milk supply. “Mr Garston has been here and he wants the baby in the Foundling Home.”

“Which you disagree with?” he took another swallow of coffee quickly and put the cup back in the saucer.

“Of course. You read Margaret’s letter. How could I leave him there.” Bridie frowned, her face hardened a little “I don’t trust that man one inch of my life!”

Adam sighed and nodded, he didn’t know of anyone who trusted Mr Garston, and not that many who trusted his wife either. He chewed his bottom lip a little while waiting for whatever it was that Bridie was trying to say. Finally she put down her cup and stood up.

“Come with me, Adam.”

“Are you – er – sure?” he muttered with rather a wicked grin and she shook her head at him, and assured him that she was quite sure.

She took him into a back room, sparsely furnished for it was here that she did most of her office work. It was dark, but she went to the window and drew back the drapes. In the corner of the room was a crib and when the light came flooding through the window it touched upon the infant within. A little whimper and a hand wavered in the air catching Adam’s attention. He approached the crib quietly and peered inside at the baby who was just opening his eyes to a new day.

Adam frowned, his dark eyes darkened and he sighed again before standing upright. The baby had grabbed at one of his fingers and was holding it tight, deep blue eyes blinked sleepily up at him and a little mouth opened in a yawn.

“Have you named him?”

“Oh, Margaret named him when he was born. He was born here, you know. Paul delivered him and that was his given name, Paul. Of course, we all call him Paulie.” she came and stood at the crib and the baby, instantly recognising her, released Adam’s finger. Arms and legs gyrated in delight, he coo’d with pleasure at the sight of her and she leaned down and picked him up into her arms and held him close. “He is such a joy, Adam. Such a good baby.”

Adam nodded, narrowed his eyes “So… if he isn’t going to the Foundling Home, what do you plan for his future?” he paused, “Margaret had no family?”

“None living, and her husband’s family is in Ireland and I doubt if they would want to take him, after all, there are troubles enough in Ireland. Most families have too many mouths to feed as it its.”

Adam cleared his throat “So?”

“So ..er… I was thinking of asking …” she looked at him with eyes wide with appeal, “Adam, would it be asking too much if I were to ask you …”

He raised a hand, halted the words she had carefully rehearsed from the moment she had seen him ride into town. “Bridie, think for a moment before you say another word.”

“I am thinking, I have done nothing but think and when I saw you this morning I thought for sure that you would be able to help me.” Bridie patted the baby on the back, cradled him close to her cheek, “I want him to have the best of homes, Adam.”

“Of course you do.” he smiled then, and placed a hand on her shoulder “But, I think you are talking to the wrong Cartwright.”

“How do you mean?” she looked at him in surprise and frowned, rocking now too and fro as women do when holding a baby.

“Well, look at him … look at his colouring?”

“Yes, he takes after his mother. I remember the first time I saw Margaret thinking how she reminded me of .. Of Hester. They could have been sisters.”

Adam nodded and smiled “Well, then?” he narrowed his eyes and looked at her with a twinkle in them, “Tell me, Bridie O’Flanagan Martin … you didn’t really have Olivia and me in mind to adopt him, did you?”

She didn’t answer right away and then smiled, “Not you, after all Nathaniel is only a year old, but …”

“Well, as I said, you need to speak to the right Cartwright.” he cleared his throat, “Unless, of course, you want me to speak on your behalf?”

She gave a long drawn out sigh and looked up at him with big eyes and a bigger smile, “Oh Adam, would you, would you really?”

“I’ll do what I can … but I can’t make any promises…” he said as he headed out of the study and into the little hall where he collected his hat.

“I am so grateful, Adam. Just think, don’t you think it’s just perfect? A little boy. For Hester and Hoss?”

He nodded, placed his hat on his head and buttoned up his jacket. As he left the house he shook his head and chuckled within himself, Bridie, Bridie, he thought, how obvious a little trick that was, but… one could but hope for some success for what she hoped would come true.
Roy Coffee was Adam’s next port of call. Always pleased to see his younger friend Roy ushered him into the room by the fire and offered him something to drink. They settled down into companionable silence as flames crackled, the clock ticked away the time and Adam sipped yet another cup of coffee.

“So, what brings you into town, Adam? Nothing serious I hope?”

“Well, Roy, I’m not too sure.” Adam replied slowly and stretched out his legs. As briefly as possible he told Roy the whole story about the journals, Grant’s letter, his conversation with deQuille. At the end of it he shrugged, swallowed down the coffee and waited for Roy’s opinion.

“Wal, fact is young Adam, what were you a-doing of with them thar books anyhow?”

“They were sent to his family and his family sent them to me.”

“For safe keeping I daresay.”

“I daresay.”

“Hummmm.” Roy tugged at his moustache. “Seems to me, that that is whar they should have been kept. Safe …locked up … out of sight of anyone who may have been curious.”

Adam frowned, thought about it and sighed “So, you’re saying it was my fault?”

“I’m jest saying as how I see it, that’s all.”

Adam leaned back and nodded, he looked thoughtfully at the flames in the fire “To be honest, I hadn’t even read them, just a few pages of the first chapter and couldn’t carry on from there. Brought back too many memories, too much ..well … too much pain I guess. I didn’t think anyone would be interested in reading what amounted to a diary of events recorded by an old friend of mine.”

“DeQuille always was curious about your doings, Adam. You intrigued him. Let’s face it, you had more than your fair share of adventures when you were at sea.”

“Yes, true enough.” Adam said with a monotone listlessness to his voice.

“What do you reckon on happening now?” Roy asked, putting down his cup and surveying the younger man thoughtfully “Trouble?”

“Grant wouldn’t have written as he did if he didn’t know something was going to happen.”

“What’s the worst that could happen?” Roy leaned forward, his eyes beneath bushy eyebrows betraying his keen interest and concern.

Adam drew in a deep breath, exhaled slowly “Well, I don’t know, Roy. Arrest me for treason perhaps?”

“You sure on that?”

“Not really, I’m not sure about anything just now.”

“So, I take it that deQuille’s nosy parkering has rattled a few cages, got them remembering about you huh?”

“Trouble is, Roy, I’m not too sure which cages are rattling the loudest… I’ve made a lot of enemies along the way in doing what I was asked to do” he smiled wryly “Obeying orders … huh … I remember accusing Custer of that, murdering hundreds and being able to do so because he was obeying orders.”

“Don’t take it to heart, son. You’ll be alright. You ain’t no George Custer, that‘s for sure“

Adam smiled a trifle whimsically “Gorgeous George of the 7th Cavalry…that‘s how he was called. Grant thought he was a load of hot air, but look at him, he‘s a hero.”

“Adam…he‘s dead.” Roy paused a moment to let that sink in, then placed a hand on Adams arm “Just you let me know what I can do to help.”

Adam stood up, shook the proffered hand and smiled again “Thank you, Roy.”

The clock chimed the hour, he shook Roy’s hand again and quickly left the room, collected his hat and jacket before leaving the house.

Roy stood at the threshold for a moment and watched his friend mount the big horse before stepping inside and closing it the front door. He shook his head and stared into the fire for a moment or two. It seemed to him that at times, bad things happened to all the wrong people.

.
Chapter 17

Hester was having difficulty in concentrating on the work involved in preparing for the family meal. This was the weekly getting together of the family members where everyone could catch up with the latest news and just enjoy being in close association for a few hours. It was always done on a rota basis, and today it was her turn.

Hannah came running up and tugged at her apron “Ma, is Sofia coming today?”

“She is.” Hester nodded and looked at the table, had she enough glasses? Were there the adequate number of plates and cutlery settings necessary for everyone?

Hope suddenly appeared right under her arm so that Hester’s elbow actually hit her on the head. Hope rubbed it without complaint “Is Nat-an-uel come too?”

“He is.”

The little girl’s face beamed with smiles and she ran off causing her mother to smile at watching her and wondering why on earth she had been so worried about her just a few months earlier. She observed them for a moment, her little girls, and hugged contentment to herself and then with a sigh returned her thoughts to the meal.

Hop Sing enjoyed these occasions almost as much as everyone else in the family. He loved to prepare the dishes, decorate the cakes, ice the desserts. The clash of saucepan lids and the rattle of pans on the oven were like music to his ears.

“They’ll be here soon, Hop Sing.” Hester said and he nodded, ignoring her entirely for he had heard that expression said so often over the years that he could blithely shut his ears to it.

Sofia stood very still while Olivia tweaked her hair ribbon. She glanced up once or twice to check on her mother’s face, whether the green eyes twinkled with pleasure or were paler from suppressed anger. It was difficult to see from the angle at which she was standing so she ventured to ask her mother if everything was now ‘alright?’

Olivia bent down a little in order to be on the same level as her daughter “Yes, everything’s alright, Sofia. I want you to be a good girl this evening. No showing off. No talking about things …” she stopped herself from referring to the Royales, the pink bedroom, the doll house and especially Katherine. “that could upset anyone. Just be a good girl.”

Sofia nodded and wondered what her mother meant. To her way of thinking she was always a good girl, with just occasional lapses. Today was a lapse but talking about school was bound to create such surely?

“Will Daddy be home soon?

“Yes, I should think so.” Olivia smiled and turned to look for her youngest, Reuben was already standing at the door as though impatient to be off.

Nathaniel had found a sunny spot in the room, curled up and fallen asleep. As Olivia picked him up, very gently, and carried him to the big chair so the door opened, nearly knocking Reuben over, and Adam stepped inside.

“Daddy…” Sofia cried and ran towards him, arms outstretched.

Her father caught her and swung her into the air “My goodness, Princess, you look very grand today. Are we going to the Opera House?”

“No, Daddy, no…” she giggled and hugged him.

“Ah, it must be Del Monico’s ..”

“No, no, Daddy… we’re just going to Grandpa’s.” she tightened her hug which she hoped would remind him of how much his little girl loved him. Hopefully he would remember this when his wife told him just how naughty his little girl had been that day.

He gently placed her down on the ground “Hmmm, Grandpa’s for supper. That will mean lots of lovely food, and lots of cake and lots of…” he paused and rolled his eyes so that Sofia squealed and ran off laughing.

Adam’s face fell into more sombre lines now, he gave his son an involuntary hug and asked if he were alright, but Reuben only nodded and glanced narrow eyed over at his sister. Adam chose to ignore that and approached his wife who was struggling to put a jacket on Nathaniel without waking him up. Adam sat beside her, leaned forward and kissed her cheek.

“Did you get everything done in town that you wanted to do, dear?” she murmured and kissed him in return.

Nathaniel squirmed a little having been squashed between them. It didn’t disturb him unduly he was getting used to it.

“Some.” Adam glanced at Reuben, then at Sofia ..looked at his wife and raised his eyebrows, his wife shook her head very slightly. There had obviously been problems and he would have to wait to find out what they had been.

“I’ll clean up. I won’t be long.”

By the time he had cleaned up Nathaniel was dressed in his warmer clothing and the children ready to go. Olivia was pulling on her hooded cape and he gallantly assisted her, dropping a kiss on the nape of her neck as he did so, which sent a little shiver down her spine as a result.
Mary Ann and Joe were the first to arrive at the house, Constance was wide eyed with that bemusement often seen on babies as they look around different surroundings as though to make sure they really knew where they were. Daniel ran in, threw his ball at Hannah who said ‘Ouch’ when it hit her on the head. He actually said ‘Sorry’ and Joe took the ball from the floor and scolded him gently as he handed the ball to Hop Sing for safe keeping until they were to leave.

Hop Sing was well used to this kind of task having been the safe repository of many odd things such as sling shots, jack-knives, marbles and balls of various shapes and sizes.

Daniel, of course, grizzled at the loss of his toy but was handed some bricks by Hope who leaned in to kiss him. She was tender hearted and loved her cousins dearly, although she was especially fond of Nathaniel.

“Where’s Pa? Where’s Hoss?” Joe enquired as he pulled off his coat.

“They got home just five minutes before you arrived.” Hester said and smiled widely as baby Constance was passed over into her arms. “Oh she is growing so fast. Joe, she has your eyes.”

Joe nodded cheerily, he always thought Constance was far more like his beautiful little wife so any compliment that came his way was more than gratefully accepted.

Ben came down the stairs and greeted them all with a lift of the hand and wide smile. He stood there on the half landing for a moment or two just to observe them. Then with a sigh he made his way down to the big room, banishing his ‘ghosts’ and determined to enjoy the evening. He knew he would spend most of it watching his sons, his daughters in law, his grandchildren and marvelling that so much had happened in such a short space of time. If only …no, he had banished his ghosts, he had to remember that as well…but even so…!!

Hoss came down the stairs and called out a merry hi to them all, ruffled Daniel’s hair and chucked the baby under the chin so that she took one look at him and began to bawl. Hester handed her over to her mother and shook her head at her husband.

Just as Hoss was about to remonstrate and protest his innocence Adam pushed open the door, smiled at them all and removed his hat while he stepped into the room and allowed space for Olivia, Nathaniel (still asleep) Sofia and Reuben.

“Are we all here then?” Hoss asked in a loud voice which make Nathaniel jump and he began to bawl as well.

“Hoss, shush now, not so loud.” Hester scolded and her husband shrugged, grimaced and shook his head in an attempt to look as innocent as possible.

Nathaniel’s tears were soon over when he saw Hope. As soon as he was able he ran to his little cousin and the two were soon playing happily together while Hannah and Daniel and Sofia went into a little huddle of their own. Reuben, far too grown up to join in, stayed close to his father.

Hop Sing had done them proud, cooking one of his special meals of roast duck. It was not everyone’s favourite but he has a way of cooking it that most enjoyed. He had chicken for those who preferred. Creamy potatoes and lush carrots, “neeps” as the Scots termed the turnips, and other vegetables came on hot plates and set down on the table.

Ben found himself doing exactly what he had hoped he would not, but he found it hard not to do so. He longed for Marie to be there, to see her son jiggling a baby in his arms as he ate his meal, or attempted to. He wished Inger could see the pretty grand daughters she now had, one as blonde as herself. How Elizabeth’s heart would have melted at the sight of baby Nathaniel, a replica of his father if ever it were possible for there to be one. He sighed as he carved the duckling and he sighed again as he poured out the wine.

“Did Pa tell you that Martha Frobisher wrote? She said she was coming for a visit.” Hoss declared above the rattle of cutlery, clatter of plates, babble of voices.

“That will be lovely, she is a such a dear lady.” Olivia exclaimed.

Talk went in different directions for a while. Sofia was very good, she was quiet and said please and thank you very politely. Reuben sat and listened to the conversation, watching his grandfather, for whom he had the greatest respect, and his uncles, whom he thought were the best in the world, and his father whom he loved. Finally Hester brought the conversation around to the one subject about which she was most interested.

“So, Adam, what is this we have heard about this baby that the Martins have just now?”

All eyes immediately swivelled over to Adam who was struggling to chew on some duck and finding it just a little big tougher than usual (sorry, Hop Sing).

He swallowed and cleared his throat, drank some wine and looked over at Hester. He nodded “Yes, a lovely little chap.”

Hester leaned forward “It’s a boy then? You’ve seen it… him?”

“Yes, it is a boy and yes, I have seen him. Today. A few hours ago to be exact.”

“So? What’s the story about this, Adam? Do they .. I mean … are there no parents?”

Adam looked at Hester, saw the blue eyes, so earnest, saw the red gold hair springing out in curls and had to clear his throat and swallow more wine again.

“There are no parents, he was left on their doorstep by Margaret O’Connell, who died almost immediately afterwards.”

“Margaret O’Connell? I know that name. Where would I know that name from?” Hester muttered to herself.

“You were at the mine… when there was a collapse…you helped with the victims of the cave in if you recall.” Adam prompted kindly and she nodded, slowly, as though to herself as memories of that terrible event trickled through her mind.

“Of course, her husband was killed. She was standing out there for so long, waiting for news of him.”

Mary Ann now spoke about the woman who had given birth at the Martins and then disappeared. Was this the same woman? Was this the same child?

Adam nodded again and sighed, “She never made it to Ireland as she had hoped, everything went wrong so she came back to the only people she knew who had shown her kindness.”

“Paul and Bridie.” Ben said softly and nodded, it was a sad story, sad indeed.

“Will they put him into the Foundling Home?” Joe asked

“I hope not,” Mary Ann said immediately in a very scornful tone of voice “Mr Garston is far too harsh …”

“Be careful, sweetheart, he’s the man in charge…” Joe said quietly

“I don’t care, I have heard things …” Mary Ann muttered, then went a little red in the face and glanced over at Adam “They aren’t are they?”

“No, not at all.” Adam replied and before they could ask him anything else stuffed some more food into his mouth.

The subject changed course as he had hoped it would and the remainder of the meal was spent talking about the usual things families discussed at such occasions.

It was as they were preparing to leave the house that Hester approached Adam, handing him his jacket and hat with a smile “Did Bridie say what she intended to do about the baby?”

“The baby?” Adam teased slightly with a smile and twinkling eyes “Oh, that baby? Yes, she hopes some kind family will be prepared to provide a home for him.”

“Oh, does she have a family in mind?” she asked looking over his shoulder to make sure that Hoss was still engaged in conversation with Joe.

“I – er – well, I couldn’t say. Possibly.” he took his hat and smiled “He’s a handsome boy, Hester. The bluest eyes, like sapphires…”

Hoss came then and raised ‘his’ eyes “You talking about Hester’s blue eyes, brother?”

Adam said nothing, smiled and shrugged and kissed his sister in law briefly on the cheek. He could tell from her blue eyes that she had taken the bait…or the hint…depending just how one viewed it all.

Hester sighed contentedly as the last of her guests left the Ponderosa. Hannah and Hope were rounded up like two little chicks and sent to their beds. She looked at Ben, as he smoked his pipe, and she looked at Hoss as he set out the checkers for he enjoyed a game or two with her. “Hoss, we must go into town soon.”

He nodded and continued with his task, “Sure, honey bun.”

“Tomorrow .. Perhaps?”

Hoss frowned, then nodded. Of course, tomorrow would do nicely, he could collect that doll house.

Chapter 18

Despite the events of the day Adam had a good nights sleep and woke with a clearer head than he had expected. Having completed his chores, accompanied by Reuben, he entered the house prepared for breakfast. He was also prepared for a little chat with his daughter.

The previous evening at the Ponderosa had been pleasant. Ben, Joe and Hoss had listened while Adam had told them about his “conversation” with deQuille, each one offering their opinion as to how they would have dealt with the rascal of a journalist. Of course he didn’t mention everything involved although he suspected that his father would guess there were greater issues that his son was holding back from them. Adam was quite prepared for a father/son discussion sometime soon and wondered just how much he could say when he knew so little himself.

It had been Reuben who had told him about the incident of the book. Olivia would have mentioned it and was biding her time but Reuben whispered the lamentable tale when Adam had gone to say his good nights. He chose not to disturb the Minx but hear what Olivia had to say first.

He had listened and made no criticism of his wife’s handling of the matter although knowing he would have “done it differently”. But he was just a man with limited knowledge of how mothers handled daughters. It was only when Olivia asked him to “have a word” that Adam agreed to be involved.

So … Having washed their hands Adam and Reuben took their seats at the table. Reuben informed Sofia that he had seen to Buster for her to which she said a quiet “Thank you.”

They ate in relative silence, even Nathaniel behaved in eating his food quietly. If Sofia was aware of the impending storm she gave no indication of it.

Placing his napkin down on the table Adam pushed himself away from the table and stood up, he nodded over to Sofia who had finished her meal “Sofia, come with me.”

Reuben blinked rather nervously, the thought that his father would let Sofia know he had “snitched” on her made him squirm. Olivia nodded to her daughter and told her to “Hurry up now!”

Adam smiled at the little girl and held out a hand so that they left the house hand in hand as though going for a little stroll ..which they were, just across the yard to the barn.

Adam turned now and lifted her up to perch her on a straw bale. It prickled the back of her legs and itched just a little, but she knew it was best to say nothing about that while Adam sat down opposite her. His face became solemn as he looked thoughtfully into her face.

“Now then, pumpkin, your mother tells me you still don’t like the idea of going to school next week?”

She shook her head vehemently, her curls tumbled about her pretty face. “I want to stay here.”

“There’s no one here who can teach you as well as a properly qualified teacher, Sofia. Apart from which we all have too much to do with our own work.”. he sighed and leaned forward “There’s nothing to be afraid of, Sofia. Charlotte Beckett has left town. You’ll never run the risk of being lost again. Your new teacher seems a very pleasant man. And you’ll have your friends there.”

She nodded, he was right just as Ma had been, she knew that, but all the same she still didn’t want to go. She kept quiet and her eyes stayed fixed to the floor. After some seconds Adam mentioned about her bad behaviour …her bad temper, the book thrown into the water and spoiled. In a gentle tone of voice he asked her why? What had caused her to be so naughty.

She shrugged. How could she explain why she did something 24 hours ago? She shook her head knowing he was waiting for a sensible response to his question.

Finally he leaned forward and took hold of her hand. How small and dimpled it was as it lay in the palm of his and he curled his long fingers around it gently.

“Sofia, we know you have gone through a very strange time recently but you have to forget what happened in Bodie. There are things that happen in all our lives that we have to let go off so that we can get on with living. , Do you understand what I mean?”

She frowned and looked up into the earnest face looking at her, “But they were nice to me, daddy. They were kind and bought me toys and new dresses and …and Aunty Katherine said she loved me, she wanted me to be her little girl for always.”

Now it was Adam’ turn to be quiet for a while. He wondered if she had said this kind of thing to Olivia, and had she done so, felt his wife’s pain. He cleared his throat.

“Sofia, listen to me very carefully. Those women did not love you, they gave you nothing except what they felt you would enjoy to make you forget those who really loved you. They changed your name, didn’t they? They wouldn’t let you talk about your family did they?”

She sighed and shook her head, he could see the confusion on her face and wondered if talking like this was going to do more harm than good. He shook his head “Sofia remember how you felt when I found you? How glad you were to see me? How happy to see Uncle Hoss and Uncle Luke?”

A little frown creased her clear brow, she nodded. She remembered how she had seen them from the window, how she had banged on the glass to get their attention. She remembered the fear as she watched them walk away from her…and the joy when her daddy had stepped into the room. She remembered all those things now, and how little the toys and pink room had meant to her then.

Adam watched the thoughts and feelings flicker across her face one by one. For a while he said nothing until she looked up until his eyes “They were bad ladies, weren’t they?”

He said nothing to that either, waiting for her to speak about it, and this she did, telling him about trying to stay awake at night, how Rosemarie frightened her so much. It all tumbled out in a long spiel of garbled words until she slipped into his arms and held him tight. “I was naughty, i threw Reuben’s book in the water and I was naughty to mommy too..I didn’t want to be but it happened.”

He held her close and let her weep a little, then wiped her eyes on a clean handkerchief and then together they walked back to the house, hand in hand. Olivia looked over at him as Sofia ran into her arms to hold her tight. A little lift of the eyebrow from her to him, a wink of the eye from him to her. There was nothing else further to be said.

Chapter 19

Hester was not sure why this one particular baby now seemed so important to her. She reasoned with herself that there were quite a sad number of babies and infants in the Foundling Home and Orphanage in town. It had never even occurred to her to consider visiting either place.

She had thought of that baby from the moment Hoss had first mentioned it. She had found herself wondering what it looked like, how would Hoss feel if she broached the subject of seeing Bridie and, of course, the baby! Now that she knew that it was in fact a little boy she had been barely able to sleep from thinking about him. Everytime she had woken during the night she thought of him, wondered how her little girls would react to having a baby in the house.

She had busied herself in sorting out the baby clothes last worn by Hope. Some had not been worn more than once. Pretty garments knitted by Olivia,or sewn by herself and Mary Ann. When she mentioned about going with her husband into town he had said nothing more than that she had to wrap up warm and then given her a kiss on the cheek.

Ben had asked her to deliver some letters and check if there was any mail for them. The girls had asked to come with them but then realised how cold it was and chose to stay home in the warm.

So, here she was, seated beside Hoss in the buggy and hugging her basket of clothes that were in her lap. She sat close to Hoss, enjoying the proximity of her loving gentle giant of a man, feeling his warmth, aware of his strength. They chatted as they made their way from the Ponderosa but still she said nothing about her longing to see this baby. It wasn’t that she feared his disapproval, it was just in case upon seeing the babe she herself would feel nothing for it and Hoss with his big heart would swoop it up and it would all be just too big a mistake. So it was best to remain quiet just for a while.

She thought back to when Hope had been born and all the horrors that went along with it. Dr Schofield’s courage in carrying out that operation to deliver the baby safely and perform that hysterectomy had terrified them all. The fact that both mother and child survived was some kind of modern day miracle. The fact that the doctor subsequently wrote an article about it and had it published in medical journals through out the world had created an even bigger schism between Scofield and the Cartwrights. She had felt personally betrayed. Her loss of what established her womanhood had been made universally public. She had felt humiliated.

The other factor to be considered was that Hoss would never have a son! Nor even more daughters. It had been so unfair. The fact that had she died giving birth to Hope there would have been no wife for Hoss let alone more children, never occurred to her.

But this could be her chance to ease that sense of loss and provide Hoss with a son. She tightened her grip on the handle of her basket as her insides churned over with excitement at the prospect.

The town loomed before them and then within minutes they were jostling their way down the main street. “Where do you want me to leave you, honey?”

“Oh, here will be fine, Hoss. I’ll get the mail…”

He nodded and after clambering down walked to her side of the vehicle to assist her. “I’ll meet you outside the Martins place, shall I?.”

She nodded, smiled and with a calm smile on her face pushed open the door to the telegraph depot.

Less than twenty minutes later she was being admitted into Bridie’s parlour by the redoubtable Tilly. She stepped inside with a smile of pleasure on her face only for it to slip and fade upon seeing another woman seated opposite Bridie, sipping tea from the delicate porcelain cups Bridie loved so much. Bridie was seated by the fire, a crocheted blanket over her lap and one foot resting upon a stool.

“My dear Hester…”. Bridie exclaimed with genuine delight in her voice.

“Oh, Bridie, what on earth has happened to you?” and turning to the other woman “Good day, Mrs Ford.”

Dorothy Ford (previously Tennant,) smiled in her usual manner and put the cup back into its saucer “So nice to see you in town again, Mrs Cartwright. Is everyone well on the Ponderosa.?”

“Thank you, yes, everyone’s well. But..Bridie?” she turned again to the older woman, placing the basket on the poor and advancing to the other chair.

“Would you believe it?”. Bridie exclaimed in dismay “After getting through all the ice and snow this winter, I actually slipped on some little piece of melting snow just outside the surgery!”

“Which was very fortunate for if you had fallen elsewhere….” Dorothy said with an anxious smile and nod of the head.

“Yes as it happened.” Bridie sighed and beckoned to Hester to suit down, “I’ve banged my knee badly, it’s not damaged really, just bad bruising and a slight sprain of the ankle.”

Hester sat down, made sympathetic noises, and as Dorothy stood up to leave so the door opened and Tilly entered with the tray laden with more tea and cake. While Tilly arranged the tray onto the little side table Dorothy took her leave, promising to ‘look into that little matter’ with a smile and nod. Hester felt a flutter of nerves as she accepted the cup from Tilly and looked over at Bridie who was staring rather anxiously into the fire.

“Adam mentioned about .. about that baby.”. Heater stammered wondering why she felt so nervous, “I’ve brought some clothes for him as Adam said you were not placing him in the Foundling Home.”

“I should not indeed!” Bridie declared and looked quite animated, sitting bolt upright in her chair and nearly knocking over the table and its contents. “That wretched man Garston came wheedling his way round here insinuating that little Paul was to go there, but we refused any such thing.”

Hester nodded and sipped her tea, then listened to the story of how the baby had been abandoned, the dead mother, the letter and how the mothers’ in town combined their efforts to feed and nourish him.

“He’s a handsome little babe now, so he is…” Bridie said wistfully “But Paul and I … well, we’re not young anymore, and so busy, and now this …” she gestured to her leg. “Ring that bell, Hester, would you?”

Upon the tinkling of the bell the door opened and Tilly emerged enquiring as to what was needed now. Unfazed by her housekeeper’s rather angry tone of voice Bridie asked her to bring the baby down.

“What? Now? We’ve only just got him to sleep!’ came the immediate response.

“Its alright, I’ll go up, if you could show me the way, Mrs Trevelyan.”

Tilly nodded, glanced over at Bridie as Hester left the room. A conspiratorial wink and nod passed between the two women before Tilly stepped into the hall and asked Hester to follow her.

A flight of stairs and a narrow hall led them to a small room. Tilly stepped aside as she entered the room, and folded her arms hugging them into her waist “Here he is, the little angel, bless him,” she practically coo’d.

Hester stepped up to the crib and peeked down at the sleeping baby. She stood for a moment just staring until Tilly coughed as though reminding her she was not alone.

Hester stepped away and after another swift glance at the baby hurried out of the room.

Chapter 20

Once again Hester paused a moment, her hand on her chest and another on the door knob of the room she had just vacated. Tilly waited a while before asking in an anxious tone whether or not Hester was alright “I come over queer myself at times. Perhaps you should go down and talk to Mrs Martin and I’ll put another kettle on to boil. You look peaky, dear, you need to sit down for a minute or two.”

Hester nodded, and forced a smile, a polite thank you as she followed the busy little woman down the stairs to the front parlour where Bridie was seated. The smile the older woman had on her face slipped rather when she saw the state of her visitor and with a concerned sweep of the hand she indicated the empty chair that Hester had only recently vacated.

“My dear girl, what has happened? You look … well, I don’t know how to describe how you look!”

“I’ll go and make some more tea, looks like Mrs Cartwright could do with some.” Tilly muttered as she removed the tray with the empty pots and cups from the table and whisked them out of the room.

Bridie sighed and shook her head, then looked once again at her guest “What’s happened? Is it to do with the baby?”

Hester nodded and then took a deep breath, but still she said nothing but looked thoughtfully at the fire while Bridie fidgeted and fretted as to what was wrong. After some minutes Hester shook her head and looked at Bridie as though surprised to see herself sitting in her parlour. “Bridie, it was the strangest thing…”

“Yes, dear. What was?”

“The baby.”

“Oh, the baby? What was so strange about it, him, I mean?” Bridie leaned closer, and reached for Hester’s hand which she found, to her surprise, to be quite cold.

“Since I first heard about this baby I had such a strong compulsion to see him. It’s strange really, after all, I have two beautiful little girls of my own but I couldn’t get over the thought of this baby. You see, knowing for sure that one will never have another baby does seem so very final, don’t you think?”

Bridie nodded, it had been years since she had been in such a predicament, recalling only that she was eternally grateful that child bearing had natural limits on a woman’s body. She said nothing, it seemed to her that Hester needed time to think out what she wanted to say and who was she to begrudge her a few minutes when she was unable to get out and about as usual. Tilly re-emerged with tray laden with fresh tea pot and cups rattling upon their saucers. She glanced at Bridie but getting no response placed the tray upon the table and left her mistress to deal with the rest.

“I’m sorry, Bridie, I seem to be making a lot out of nothing really. I’m alright, honestly I am, it was just such a surprise to see the little boy like that…”

“But why? You were surely aware that it was a little boy?” Bridie smiled and was pleased to see a smile flicker at the corner of Hester’s mouth.

“Yes, of course I knew that and it was what has filled my head ever since.” she leaned forward to take the cup and saucer from the Irishwoman and then sat for a moment as though composing herself before she committed anything to be said out in the open “My mother had six children. Milton and Marlow, myself …we were the ones that survived. The other three were born in between times, as it were, and sadly none of them lived beyond a few weeks. The last child was a little boy. He was born when I was a child, and so he was the very last of the Buchanans.” she sipped her tea again and looked thoughtfully down at the carpet as though it would inspire her with words that would mean more than just a few words…”He looked so lovely, and so healthy. My mother was really happy as you can imagine, for she was a frail woman and the confinements had worn her down. I thought the baby was the most beautiful little piece of perfection and she would often be telling me not to ‘crowd him’ or lean on the crib to look at him. I think she blamed me for his death when he became ill several weeks after his birth. Perhaps she didn’t mean to, or it was just a child’s fancy but she was very different after his death.”

“Just towards you, dear? Or was she different to everyone?”

Hester frowned and then shrugged “Well, it was a long time ago. She was aloof and cold to everyone, yes, totally different. There were never any more babies from thereafter, and a great deal of hostility to bear in the meantime.”

“Grief does that, you know? The loss of a child is the cruellest cut of all of life’s strokes, I know, I lost a baby of my own.” Bridie sighed and set down her cut and saucer as though the memory of her child made her feel too weak to handle the delicate china.

“I know it was grief, I used to hear her weeping in her bedroom, but was always too afraid to step inside and offer any consolation. I doubt if I would have known how to have begun really. How can a child say or do the right thing to bring joy back to a woman who has suffered so many losses?”

Bridie nodded and looked at the woman seated opposite her. Hester was not a beauty like Mary-Ann, nor did she possess that younger woman’s gifts for music and art. Nor did she own Olivia’s looks and poise, her ability to appear perfect when falling apart inside. Hester was a woman with homely features, the most brilliant blue eyes, the most amazing red’gold mass of curling hair. She was not slim nor slender, she was not what artists would call ‘finely drawn’ but she had a beauty from within that drew people to her, like moths to a flame. Bridie nodded again and reached out a hand to touch hers,

“The baby upstairs reminded you of your little brother?”

“Yes. It was like looking down at Dryden all over again. I think my heart stopped for a moment and I just had to get out of the room in order to breathe properly.” she smiled a little whimsically “It seems a strange thing to say, but it seemed almost inevitable that he would be special because of how determined I have been in coming here to see him. As I said before, he was constantly on my mind…” she paused, as though aware that she was running on and that Bridie could be tired so she apologised although Bridie shook her head and assured her that there was nothing for which to be sorry about at all.

“As you know, my dear,” Bridie said after some silence had ensued “I have no intention of handing him over to the likes of The Foundling Home or the Orphanage. I brought the little boy into the world and helped his mother get through the worst of times …well, what we thought were the worst of times, little did we realise there were some things still to come just as hard for the poor girl.”

“Are there no living relatives?”

“None on her side and his are in Ireland. But whereabouts, and how to contact them I have no idea. The child needs a home, Hester, a family that will love him. Paul and I are too old to give him that now, although some would say not, but we have such demands on our time how could we possibly care for him?”

Hester put down her now empty cup onto the tray, “Bridie, I must talk to Hoss about him. But, unless you have some other person in mind, or some other family I should say, please keep us under consideration? I am sure that Hoss would dearly love him, for his heart is as large as the Ponderosa itself.”

Bridie nodded with a smile and a twinkling eye “Oh yes, I know that well enough. He is a gem of a man, to be sure.”

“And I have to consider Ben. It’s his home after all, and he may not be wanting another baby squalling through the night.” Hester’s brow wrinkled from the practicality of such a thought.

“True enough.” Bridie nodded “Although he’s a man who seems to be totally unconcerned about such things.”

Hester nodded “Yes, true enough. But even so, I can hardly go home with a baby and not consider his feelings.”

They were quiet for a moment as both of them tried to work out a way of circumventing Ben’s feeling well enough for them to remain unruffled. It was at that moment that the baby stirred, stretched and blinked his eyes open. Light shone down from the window and for a while he was happy to watch the dust motes in the sun but eventually he felt hungry and gave way to tears.

Downstairs both women stiffened and in the kitchen Tilly hurried to organise warm milk in a bottle. Hester stood up and smiled “May I?” she asked Bridie and then hurried from the room and up the stairs.

The baby paused in his crying when he was lifted from the crib and cradled in her arms. He peered up at her and concentrated his gaze upon the blue eyes, he could hear her voice whispering words that meant nothing but tickled his ears. He blinked and sighed, as content in her arms and she was holding him within them.

She didn’t even hear Tilly opening the door and the murmur of voices down below. Only when light was blocked out by someone standing in the doorway did she turn with the baby in her arms.

Hoss Cartwright stood in silence as he looked at his wife with the sun shining upon her from the window. Her hair looked like a golden mass of curls, a halo that glowed upon her countenance which shone with pure contentment. He had always thought her lovely, because Hoss could see far more than most, but at that moment his heart melted and he fell in love with her all over again.

“Hey, honey, I bin knocking on that dang door for hours.” he muttered and then tip toed into the room and grinned as he peered at the bundle in her arms “Hey, and who have we got here, huh?”

“This is Bridie’s baby, I mean, the baby Bridie has been caring for until she found him a good home to go to.” Hester said all in a rush of words, “Isn’t he lovely, Hoss? Look at how blue his eyes are?”

He looked and yes, he noticed how blue his eyes were, and how golden red his hair which was just a fuzz at the moment but the similarity to his wife’s colouring was too obvious to be avoided. He stroked the little cheek gently and smiled “Shucks, Hester, he looks just like you.”

She blushed then, and looked down at the infant with a smile “Oh do you think so?”

She laughed then, as though what she had said was rather silly, which it was, after all, she had noticed the similarity herself and had hoped to use it to her advantage when pleading her case to her husband. Hoss put his arm around her shoulders and hugged her close, he sighed and nodded “He sure is a cute little chap”

She nodded and waited for him to say something more, then the baby began to cry and Tilly appeared with the bottle of milk, took him from Hester’s arms and carried him away to where she could sit down and feed him.

Hoss and Hester watched for a moment and then Hoss said, rather loudly, “Well, Hester, I guess we had better be getting home. The girls will be waiting for us, and I got me a surprise for them.”

She said nothing but kept her eyes on the older woman feeding the baby by the window until her husband had propelled her out of the door. Neither of them said a word as they went down stairs, said their farewells to Bridie and left the house.

She slipped her arm through his as they made their way back to the buggy. He helped her up onto her seat and sighed, as he pulled the rug over her knees, she sighed. The buggy lurched to one side as he stepped into take his position in it.

“I got the doll house for the girls. Miss Harding got all the furniture and do-be-dats needed too. All I need is a bit of time and some glue and then they will have it, their very own doll house.”

She said nothing, her eyes stared ahead and all she could see was the road as it opened up between them. He squeezed her fingers gently “Guess you fell in love with the little tyke.?”

“He needs a family who’ll love him, Hoss.”

“You reckon we’re that family?” his brow crinkled and he chewed on his bottom lip as he waited for her answer.

“Oh yes, I do. I think we will be perfect for him. The girls will love having a brother of their own. Won’t they?”

Hoss paused, a brother, a son … he frowned, it wasn’t quite the same thing really, was it? He sighed and for several miles there was only silence as the horses pulled the buggy along the familiar route home.

“We’ll have to talk this over with Pa.” Hoss finally said.

She nodded, smiled at him, and then resumed her survey of the road ahead…only it wasn’t just a road, it was their future, a happy one with two little girls and a little boy, growing up together, playing and laughing and living together. She finally sighed and settled in closer to Hoss, her head on his shoulder, and her eyes closed as she built her castles in the air.
Chapter 21

Hannah and Hope were like restrained puppies let off the leash when the door opened and they saw the buggy turn into the yard.   They were always a source of great joy to  Hoss whose heart now did a double flip as he carefully drew the horses to a halt.  Would he ever feel this way about someone else’s child, he pondered.

Hester had no such misgivings.  After hugging her girls and listening to their chatter she asked them if Grandad were home to which Hannah nodded her dark head.

“Gran’pa is busy right now. He’s doing his sums in the big book.”

“Busy doin’ sums.” Hope repeated with a smile that brought dimples to her cheeks.

Hester sighed, that meant he was working on his ledgers and would be grumpy.  She was about to speak when she noticed that her girls had gathered around their Pa with big eyes full of curiosity as he struggled to get a large package out of the  trunk.   “Shucks, guess I should have brung it in the rig!  Tarnation!”

The girls giggled.  They loved hearing their Pa cuss although they were never allowed it themselves.  Now they crowded round with “What’s in there, Pa?”.   “What is it?”.   “Is it for us?”. “Is it a new chicken coop for Hop Sings chickens?”

“Hey, Hannah, make yourself useful, will you?  Pick up that package and bring it over to the barn.” Hoss asked nodding at the package still in the trunk.

“An’ me, Pa, an’ me.” Hope raised her hands to show how empty they were and was told to help her sister with the carrying over of the package.

“We don’t want no breakages, do we, girls?” Hoss declared as he nearly tripped over his own feet.

“No, Pa.” the girls giggled as they followed him to the barn bearing the smaller package carefully between them.

Hester watched with a smile.  Hannah would soon be going to school, and such a pretty child.  Hope was growing taller, her blonde hair such a contrast to Hannah’s black curls.  It occurred to her that a red headed child would be an even better contrast, at least one of their children would take after her.

With such thoughts trickling through her head Hester collected up the mail and headed to the house.  If she knew her Ben as well as she thought, he would be about due for a cup of coffee now.

The sound of horses sent Hannah and Hope running from the barn to see who was visiting.  After checking to ensure that the packages wouldn’t topple over Hoss followed to find his brothers and Reuben dismounting.  The girls were delighted to see their cousin and ran to him with shrieks of welcome, demanding to know where Sofia was, where was Nathaniel?

Adam watched as Reuben was led into the house by the girls, an indulgent parent smile on his face as he peeled off his gloves.  Joe stretched his shoulders and grinned before turning to his ‘big’ brother,

“Where did you get to, Hoss, we came earlier for you…had you forgotten we were assigned fence inspection up by Mile End corner?”

“Shucks, clean slipped my mind.   Hester wanted to go into town, and I had things to do …” he gave them the benefit of a grin, “I see you took Reuben instead.”

Joe grinned and nodded “He’s a good worker, did twice as much as you ever would!”

“Yeah, I bet …” Hoss chuckled and nodded towards the house, “I reckon Hester will have coffee brewin’ by now.”

The two brothers turned towards the house, Adam tucking the gloves in his jacket pocket while Joe was starting to unbutton his coat.  Hoss was about to step out with them when a thought occurred to him that this was as good a chance as any to talk matters over with his big brother. He placed a hand on Adam’s arm “Could you spare a moment Adam.”

“As many as you need, brother .” Adam smiled and did a neat about turn to follow Hoss back into the barn.  He saw the packages immediately and nodded over to them “You want my help with that?  What you got there, anyhow?”

He was tweaking one corner of the wrapping as he spoke with a grin on his face but Hoss said, very quietly, that he needed to talk to him about something “personal.”

“Alright, what is it then?” Adam leaned against one of the joists and folded his arms across his chest, “What’s on your mind, Missouri Mule?”

Hoss grinned at the expression Adam used, a term of endearment some would call it if they had any understanding as to what it alluded to for only Adam referred to Hoss in that manner.  A reference to times ago when Hoss had been born on the Missouri plains, and became his brothers special responsibility.

“Wal, I don’t know how exactly to say it…”. Hoss passed a hand round the back of his neck  and rubbed much as Aladdin had rubbed the lamp for the genie to appear.  He sighed “Tell me, Adam, you being in the situation you are an’ all…”

He paused again and once more rubbed at his neck, then scratched his head.  Adam sighed and straightened his back, he would have yawned had he not known his brother was struggling with something important, to him anyway.  His nimble brain skimmed over some facts , he unfolded his arms and put his hands in his pockets.

“Alright, so you went into town with Hester and collected your packages, while Hester visited …Bridie perhaps?”

“Yeah.  Yeah, that’s just what she did   and she saw that baby.  You know, the one you told us about?”

Adam pouted a little, from the direction this conversation was going it seemed likely he was going to get the blame for anything that was going to go wrong in this matter.  He nodded and raised his eyebrows.

“Hester sure was taken with the little fella.”. Hoss paused again before getting re-started “Fact is, I think she wants us to adopt him.  You know, like make him one of the family.”

“Can’t see any problem with that, its kind of what I expected seeing how close he resembles you both.  But…there is a but huh?”

“Wal, yeah …”. Hoss ran his hand over his jaw and gave that a rub, “I was wondering …wal, see like, he won’t really be ‘mine’, will he?  I mean, I’ll always know he was someone else’s won’t I?”

Adam shrugged “Why?”

Hoss looked at him blankly, Adam shrugged “why would you always be thinking he’s someone else’s?”

“You tell me, Adam?   Don’t you never think like that when you look at Reuben?   You got a son of your own now.  You telling me you don’t feel different about Nathaniel to how you feel about Reuben?”. he blushed a little as though realising he may well have transgressed by stepping on sensitive ground “Bloods thicker than water, ain’t it?”

Adam resumed his position in leaning against the post and folded his arms again across his chest.  He looked at Hoss and frowned slightly “To be honest, I never think about it.   Reuben’s my son,  Sofia’s my daughter just as much as Nathaniel.  If I treat them differently it would be only due to their age difference, after all, Nathaniel’s a baby and more vulnerable.  Reubens growing up, he’s able to stand up for himself more.”.

For a moment they were quiet, thinking along the same lines but going in opposite directions.   Hoss felt embarrassed now but was still determined to  thrash it out further, he cleared his throat first.

“So, if , say, someone came and threatened to shoot one of ’em …”

Adam shook his head and rolled his eyes.  Hoss decided to ignore him and pressed on regardless.

“So, he threatens to save one and shoot the other…which would you …”

“Now you’ re  being stupid, Hoss.  What are you trying to prove? To me? Or to yourself?  I love my kids. All of them. If I had to be in that position then there would have to be a third option.”

Hoss put his hands on his hips, he stared hard at Adam, then equally as hard upon the ground. “A third option, huh?”

“That’s what I said!”

Hoss  nodded and sighed.  Adam pushed himself away from the post and came to stand beside his brother, the placed his hand upon his shoulder.

“Hoss Cartwright, you surprise me.  You of all people.  You have a heart as big as any mans can be and you’re standing here talking rubbish.  All these years you have brought in sick and lame critters, and now, when one small baby needs a home, you’re …”

“No, you don’t understand.”. Hoss sighed and turned away so that Adam’s hand fell from his shoulder “When I saw Hester holding him, shucks, my heart turned somersaults. She looked so lovely, her face so full of love as it was, I knew she would want him.  What worried me was …wal, what if I let him down some how?  What if I didn’t love him enough?  A baby ain’t jest any ol’ critter to bring home is it?  It’s a responsibility.  A life long commitment.”

Adam nodded, he removed his hat and stared into it as though to inspect the hatband inside, he sighed “Well, yes, you’re right, it is a life long commitment.  One you and Hester have to agree together to take on between you.  But, Hoss, you won’t ever let any one down, nor anything.  If you commit to taking this child …”.

There was nothing more to be said, Hoss nodded, Adam smiled.   The one listening by the barn door slipped quickly away, unseen, unheard.
………

Daniel deQuille stepped into his office and removed his hat. As he looked around the room he realised that it was not in the tidy untidiness he usually left it.  Papers were strewn everywhere, drawers forced open and their contents rummaged through.  He turned to leave, to demand the attention of the sheriff but he didn’t get far.  A man stepped towards him and pointed to a chair.

“Sit down, Mr deQuille. We need to talk.”

Daniel knew the talk was going to be serious. Two men flanked either side of the door to ensure privacy …that was what Daniel considered serious.

At Ridleys  Livery, Jotham Morton was mounting a horse.  He turned it into the main thoroughfare of the town and turned into the direction of the Ponderosa.

Chapter 22

Hester was on pins as she waited for her brothers- in- law to finish discussing business with Ben and Hoss. She sorted the mail into little bundles, found one addressed to herself which was quite a novelty although she recognised the writing as her brother Marlow’s. They were very infrequent but whenever they came it brought a reminder of her brother Milton, whom she had loved, and so, with a sigh she placed it in her pocket to read at another time.

Adam and Joe took their mail, kissed her cheek and finally left, with Reuben hurrying on after them in order not to be left behind. Hoss walked with them to the yard and waved them off. When he returned he was whistling, his hands in his back pockets and looking calm and content.

Ben returned to his study and picked up his pen. Ledgers were his bug bear in life and he preferred to tackle them head-on. He was somewhat surprised therefore when Hoss and Hester appeared, bearing smiles and cups of coffee. Glancing anxiously at Hoss he recognised the sheepish grin, he sighed, and leaned back in his chair. When Hoss wore this grin on his face it meant he was wanting some kind of favour and anticipated his father’s flat refusal. Hester’s smile shone in her eyes, and when she sat down she drew in a deep breath as though preparing to face a monumental ordeal.

“So? What’s wrong?” Ben glanced from one to the other of them, sipped his coffee and then waited in trepidation.

“Pa, we want to discuss something with you. Something personal.”

“Personal?” Ben frowned and picked up his pen which he rolled between his fingers for a moment “Personal?” he repeated “Are you thinking of moving out, building a place of your own somewhere else?”

“No, Pa, nothing like that.” Hoss very quickly reassured him.

“No, Pa, although you may want us to move out when we tell you what the favour it.” and Hester smiled at him as though intimating that she couldn’t believe it if he did.

“Well, what is this news? This favour? Come on, I’ve ledgers to complete and I can’t sit around all day with you two dithering .”

Hoss took a deep breath and grimaced “Well, it’s like this, Bridie has a baby, as you know.”

“We want to adopt him…raise him as our own here on the Ponderosa.” Hester blurted and then looked up at Hoss, who gently took hold of her hand and smiled down at her.

“A baby?” Ben frowned.

“Yes, Pa, not very old. A few months only.” Hoss stammered, he was beginning to feel queasy. His father looked mighty fierce and his dark eyes had gone that much darker.

“This is the baby Adam was talking about the other evening?”

“Yes, sir. The same one.” Hoss nodded.

“Mmm, and you are seriously thinking of adopting him?” Ben began to tap with his pen on the blotter, while his mind mulled over certain pertinent facts that perhaps this couple had neglected to consider.

“He has no mother, and she had no family at all. His father was Irish, and yet no one knows where abouts in Ireland.” Hester said quietly “He’s beautiful, Ben, and …and I feel that …well…couldn’t we, who have so much, provide something for him.”

“And you don’t know anything other than those facts…an Irish father and a mother without kin?” Ben frowned, he never was a man for giving in too easily, and the tapping on the blotter got a little faster.

“Margaret O’Connell, that was his mother. Her husband was a foreman at McGarthy’s mine and was killed in the cave in there. Bridie told me that he was a very intelligent man, well educated. But that’s all they know about them, as a couple.” Hester was beginning to feel nervous, she had thought Ben would have jumped up and thought it a wonderful idea. She had thought, oh, just that he, with his big generous heart, would have said Yes, of course, just right away, and here he was sitting there like a granite statue!

“I see.” Ben now chewed on the end of his pen, and looked from one to the other of them, his son, his daughter-in-law. He sighed “Haven’t you enough children? Your daughters are growing up and need your attention, adding one more adds to your responsibilities as parents. What does Garston think? Isn’t he in charge of the Foundlings?”

“Aw, Pa, how can you even consider Garston? You know what a cheapskate he is?” Hoss slapped the back of his neck in frustration.

“Fact is, son, but there are babies, children, by the score in the orphanage and Foundling home. What makes this one particular baby so much more important than any of them? If you wanted another child so much, Hester, why didn’t you go looking for one there?”

Hester’s eyes flew wide open, she could feel tears pricking behind them and had to lower her gaze to her hands which she had clasped tight together in her lap. She shook her head, and couldn’t think of an answer. Hoss put a gentle hand on her shoulder and squeezed it fondly.

“Fact is, Pa, we just wanted you to know because this baby is special to us. You’ll understand more when you see him. We know it’s a responsibility, but it’s a good one, it’s one that we want to take on, and we just wanted you to know because we’ll be bringing him home… soon.”

Ben lowered his head and hid a slight smile. Then he looked up and raised his eyebrows, looked at them both very seriously “So long as you know there could be problems. There could be a day when someone from Ireland will come along and claim him as their own, or he may …”

“Pa, we done thought all that through. It don’t matter none. Fact is, some one could one day come and claim one of our gals, marry her and whisk her off to Timbuctoo, would be the same difference. We’d have loved her all those years and seen her taken from us. That would be how it happens. Wal, if someone comes from Ireland all that way to claim someone just for the name of him, then it would mean he’d be loved and cared for”

Hester looked up and smiled, dear Hoss, heart as big as all got out as the expression goes. She nodded and looked at Ben “In the meantime we would have had the pleasure and joy of caring for him, along with Hannah and Hope. They’d have a brother, and Hoss would have a son…” she floundered then, her tears spilled over and she dabbed at them hastily.

Ben stood up and came around the desk to wrap a gentle arm around her, he dropped a kiss on her curls “My dear girl, I just wanted to make sure you really understood the commitment you were making. Of course you can bring the child home…” he paused and frowned, “He isn’t in that package you took into the barn earlier, is he?”

“No, Pa.” Hoss laughed, relieved now and he shook his fathers hand as though having just been informed that he was, in fact, now a father. “No, he’s still with Bridie.”

“Well, then, what are you waiting for? Why not go and get him now? It’s a lovely day, the buggy’s still harnessed, why not go get him.”

“What? Now? Do you really mean that?” Hester gasped, clasping her hands together and then burying her face in them for she felt overwhelmed suddenly by it all.

“Jumpin’ Jehoshaphat,” Hoss whooped and caught her by the waist and spun her around, “D’you hear that, Hester, we can go git him now!”

Hannah and Hope came running, hand in hand, they stared at their parents and then rather doubtfully at Ben who was laughing quietly and shaking his head at the hilarity he was beholding. Hoss now left his wife to grab his girls and hoist them up, one on each shoulder, while Hester remained standing, eyes wide, her mind had gone blank, struggling to come to terms with what had happened. She tuned then to face Ben who was resuming his seat,

“Thank you, Ben.”

“Life is a precious gift, my dear. It’s a sad fact that too many are given it for it to crushed too early. You have a wonderful opportunity to give this one child a very happy life, Hester.”

She leaned over the desk now and kissed him, her smile spoke for her, and with a smile of his own Ben watched as she hurried away after her husband and daughters.

Hop Sing appeared with a puzzled frown on his face “What happen? What all confusion about?”

Ben shrugged and picked up his pen “What confusion, Hop Sing? Seems you’re about to become an Honorary Uncle again, that’s all.”

Hop Sing paused, gave that a seconds thought, then grunted “Huh!” and returned to the kitchen.
………….

Daniel deQuille felt his mouth going dry as he sat down and looked at the three men. They were all smartly dressed, pleasant enough to look at and were watching him with slightly bemused expressions of their own. The leader, or the spokesman, Daniel wasn’t too sure which, now approached him.

“Mr deQuille, it seems that recently you have been making enquiries about a lot of things that do not really concern you.”

“What things?” Daniel shrugged, leaned back in his chair and tugged at his beard. Now that the shock was over he decided that he would detach himself from what was about to happen and see where it led.

“Things concerning Commodore Cartwright, Captain O’Brien, certain …assignments …”

Daniel glanced from one to the other “I merely contacted some people I know to make enquiries on my behalf, that’s all.”

“For what reason? You must have had a reason?”

Daniel frowned, he didn’t think that these men would actually be interested in any reason he would have to give them. He looked at the mess of his office and at the broken open drawers, “Was this entirely necessary? You had only to wait and ask for what you wanted.”

“True enough, but we only have limited time.” the spokesman muttered and stroked his chin, narrowed his eyes and stared at Daniel thoughtfully. “You know, people who take sticks and poke about in hornets nests are likely to get stung. It would be much wiser to wait for the hornets to go wouldn’t it?”

“I don’t understand the point of your allegory.” Daniel intoned, and looked towards the window, noticing now that the shutter had been drawn down. “Look, you want the truth, don’t you? Alright, I’ll give you the truth, but I don’t expect you to believe me.”

“Why not try and see.”

Daniel watched as the other man took a chair and sat down. The other two men leaned closer to the door. From looking pleasant previously they were now beginning to look rather mean.

“I’m a newspaperman, as you know… Adam Cartwright has always been rather an enigma to me, he knew Sam Clements of course, who told me a bit about him, but in the main the man himself …”

“I’m not interested, Mr deQuille.” the man leaned in and narrowed his eyes, his lips thinned, his nostrils became pinched, “I’m not interested in stories. I want the facts. Why did you make enquiries about certain matters to Washington? Matters that were strictly off limits to the public.”

DeQuille shrugged and spread out his hands in appeal “How was I to know about that? The facts I found were in a book Cartwright has in his possession. I just borrowed it to see what was there, and wanted to know more.”

“Why? Why did you want to know more?”

Daniel sighed and shook his head, “I told you, Im a newspaperman, that’s what I do. I get facts and build a story around them. That’s all.”

The other man shook his head now, “Being a newspaperman can be a very dangerous job at times, Mr deQuille. You must have known those facts, as you call them, were not public knowledge?”

Daniel said nothing, he bowed his head and stared at the mess of papers on the floor. He couldn’t understand what they were meaning, what facts they were referring to that mattered so much. He glanced back up “It was just going to be a good story, that’s all.”

Everything went painfully black after that …he was aware of the pain, and the blackness, and the noise inside his head. Then there was nothing, nothing at all.
…………..

Jotham Morton jogged along the track and tried to familiarise himself with his surroundings. It had been some years since he had first ridden this way to the Ponderosa. He could remember now sitting side by side with Daniel, admiring the views, envying the owners of such, wondering why or how they were going to get Adam Cartwright to take on an assignment that would take him away from all this.

Strange how things turned out. Daniel dead, so tragically soon. He turned his head in the direction he expected would lead him to the Ponderosa and loped along comfortably with his memories for some time. It had been a long ride from Washington, by train mostly, thankfully. He had been more than aware that he was not alone. He had been in the service long enough now to know by instinct when he was being followed, or trailed, or when danger loomed. He wasn’t the green horn that he had been when on that first ride with Daniel.

He drew in his horse to look around him, scowled slightly at the realisation that he had had the wrong route but was now unsure which way he was actually to follow. He jerked his horse around and returned the way he had come until he succeeded in finding the main track.

The horse was bad tempered, a slight touch of colic was building up and it felt unsettled and distressed. He tossed his head, pranced a little, wanted to let his rider know that he was not comfortable and wanted to get back to his stall. Jotham, not an experienced rider, struggled to maintain control of the leads to which the horse subsequently reared up, tossed back his head, kicked out his forelegs and succeeded in tossing Jotham rather crudely out of the saddle.

The horse was relieved and bolted back towards town. Jotham however was left to roll down the embankment, bouncing off boulders and rocks as he went. Snow and ice went along with him until he was left sprawled out at the bottom of the incline, unconscious and out of sight.

At some point he regained his senses and heard the sound of a vehicle, voices singing ..they faded in and out, echoed a little in his head.
……………

Hoss and Hester couldn’t have been happier nor more content. Arm in arm as they rode along in the buggy, laughing and singing together, ignorant of the wretched man broken and lying at the bottom of the incline they thought only of the journey they were on now. Laughing and singing together as the wheels of the buggy went round and round, the horses trotted amiably along and their voices drifted into the heavens above…

Oh, don’t you remember sweet Betsy from Pike
Who crossed the big mountains with her lover Ike,
And two yoke of cattle, a large yellow dog,
A tall, shanghai rooster, and one spotted dog?
Saying, good-bye, Pike County,
Farewell for a while;
We’ll come back again
When we’ve panned out our pile.

One evening quite early they camped on the Platte,
‘Twas near by the road on a green shady flat;
Where Betsy, quite tired, lay down to repose,
While with wonder Ike gazed on his Pike County rose.

They soon reached the desert, where Betsy gave out,
And down in the sand she lay rolling about;
While Ike in great terror looked on in surprise,
Saying “Betsy, get up, you’ll get sand in your eyes.”
Saying, good-bye, Pike County,
Farewell for a while;
I’d go back to-night
If it was but a mile.

Chapter 23

All the way home from the Ponderosa ranch house Reuben had thought over and over again the things he had overheard being spoken between his father and Uncle. Some of it made little sense to him, probably because some of it he hadn’t really being paying much attention until his Uncle had mentioned about himself, and Nathaniel. He had frozen then, even though something inside himself had said ‘Yell out now, tell ‘em coffee is ready’ but he didn’t, he couldn’t.

He knew beyond doubt that Pa loved him, well, didn’t he? Pa said he did, and the way he acted so much as the best Pa ever could, proved it, didn’t it? But when someone asks another if they love them, it doesn’t mean to say that the answer is the truth, does it?

He had licked his lips that had gone suddenly dry, and listened. He couldn’t believe Uncle Hoss would suggest what he did, saying that about someone getting Pa to choose which child he would save …his own flesh and blood, and that was Nathaniel of course, or the other one… and Reuben had felt his scalp prickle all over when he had heard his Pa’s answer.

It didn’t matter about the coffee, and he hadn’t stayed to hear anything else said, he had just scooted out of the way so that he could think over what had been said. He had dwelt over every word and treasured them. He knew he would never forget them. Never.

Adam was whistling soft to himself as he rode Sport homewards. His lips twitched into a smile every so often at the thought of Hoss wondering if it were possible to love someone else’s child. He could have laughed at the thought had he had a mind to do so. Instead he thought about times shared with his brother, Hoss, throughout those years on the trail waiting for Pa to finally settle and say this was home.

“Pa?”

Reuben’s voice broke through the memories and he turned to the boy with a smile. It occurred to him then that the boy had been very quiet, perhaps he had had an inkling of what was going on with the baby being under discussion.

“Yes, son?”

“Is that right that Aunt Hester is going to have another baby?”

“Well, Aunt Hester seems mighty set on it.”

“That’s that baby you were talking about the other night, ain’t it?”

“Isn’t it? And yes, it is.” Adam smiled good humouredly. “Your Uncle Hoss was talking about it to me in the barn just now. Made me recall a time when he found some kittens that had been abandoned.”

“Oh? What did he do?”

“Brought them home of course, like he did most critters he found injured, abandoned or lost. Funny thing those kittens. The cat wouldn’t have ’em near her, spat like crazy. Hoss said it was because she was too old and didn’t want to be fussed, which was true enough. But we had a dog that had just had pups so he put the kittens in with her. I recall Joe started crying, he thought the dog would eat the kittens but she didn’t, she just let them get cosy and fed them along with her litter.” he frowned, “Now, if I recall rightly, she had had three pups but only one had survived. Anyway those kittens thrived but I don’t think they were ever sure whether they were cat or dog afterwards.”

“Uncle Hoss sure is a wise man about animals, ain’t he ..isn’t he, Pa?”

“He is, son. None wiser. None better.”

Reuben lapsed into thoughts of his own then, it seemed to him that the story had fitted in so well with what he had overheard that he wondered if his father knew he had been listening. He glanced over at Adam now but there was no hint about him to indicate that he had realised that there was an eavesdropper.

There had been many times when Reuben had felt the reassurance and comfort of knowing he was loved by this man, but now, today, he knew he would never doubt him again.

When they reached home and dismounted Reuben ran over to Adam and flung his arms around his waist and held onto him tightly “Hey, what’s brought that on?” Adam asked, his eyes wide with surprise.

“Nothing. No reason. I just wanted you to know I love you, Pa.”

Reuben looked up at Adam, his eyes wide and shining, his throat feeling tight with emotion. Adam smiled, ruffled the boys hair “Well, that’s good.”

He paused a second and then caught hold of the boy, very tightly. He was about to speak when the door opened and Olivia called out to them, followed by Sofia. The spell was broken, the moment came and was gone. But Reuben didn’t need the words said, he knew that sometimes words didn’t need to be spoken for a person to know what would have been said.

“Sofia, see what I have for you?” Adam laughed and waved an envelope in his hand.

“Is it for me? Really for me?” Sofia squeaked and ran to grab at it, giving her father a quick kiss on the cheek as he leaned down to hand her the letter. “Oh, it IS for me!”

Adam smiled and watched the little girl run back indoors, turned to his wife and kissed her. A long kiss. Long and lingering that made Reuben decide he would take the horses inside and see to them.

With their arms around each other Adam and Olivia walked to the house, as they made their way into the building Adam was telling her about the baby, and how Hester and Hoss were seriously considering adopting him. Reuben could hear his deep voice until the door closing cut off any sound .

Sofia ran to them waving a picture in her hand “It’s from Ella. She hasn‘t forgotten me.”

“Good friends never are forgotten.” Olivia said quietly and smiled up at her husband who nodded and then untangled himself from her arms in order to remove his hat and coat.

“I think she will have my letter by now, won’t she, daddy?” Sofia did a neat pirouette around the table with the letter fluttering from her hand.

“I should think so.” Adam replied as he leaned down to untie the holster’s leather throng from around his thigh.

“She’ll be here soon, won’t she, daddy?”

“May be, Princess, may be.”

Sofia stopped dancing around the furniture and came to him, holding up the picture for him to admire “That’s me with the long hair and that’s Ella. We’re Princesses.”

“Well, there’s never been any doubt about that as far as we were concerned, sweetheart.”

He returned the picture and then realised that Reuben wasn’t with them as he was about to open the door to call to his son, another little body came toddling as fast as he could towards him

“Up. Up.” Nathaniel cried as he wiggled his fingers and held his arms up to his father.

Adam’s arm swooped down and scooped the child up, he held him close against him and then looked over at where Olivia was standing. In that moment he had never felt happier.
……………
Bridie was more than amazed when Hoss and Hester presented themselves at the door. Hoss hurriedly removing his hat and brushing back any bits of hair that he still possessed while Hester blushed and tried to look calm and composed. Leaning heavily upon her stick Bridie led the way to the parlour and beckoned to the best settee while she herself settled back into her chair.

“You’re back very quickly. Is there anything wrong?”

“No, no, nothing’s wrong, Bridie. We just couldn’t wait, and I know it lacks good manners to be so impatient but …” Hester drew in a deep breath, “Ben said we should come and get the baby today, so, here we are … “

Hoss nodded, Hester’s elbow dug him in the ribs as a prompt to speak so he spoke “That’s right, Miss Bridie, we come to take the little fella home with us.”

“Well,” Bridie said but before being able to utter another word the door opened and Paul stepped into the room, acknowledged their guests and then walked over to his wife and gave her a kiss.

“I hope not to be too long, dear, but Candy’s just sent for me.” he looked apologetically at Hoss and Hester as he spoke, “Seems someone, or more, gave Daniel deQuille a beating.”

“Not too serious is it? Do you want me to come with you, Dr Martin?” Hoss asked half rising from his seat.

“No, I doubt if there is anything you can do to help.” Paul said rather tritely, and then hurried from the room leaving Hoss feeling rather deflated and settling slowly back onto the settee.
………………

Daniel deQuille was still unconscious when Paul arrived at the room where the staff members had found the journalist and carefully lifted him up to set him on the large leather upholstered couch in his office.

Candy and Vinnie Tyler were there, standing looking awkward and then relieved at the sight of the elderly doctor. One of the staff, wearing protective cuffs over his sleeves and a green peaked cap on a bald head stepped forward to ask the sheriff if they were still needed or if they could return to work. After permission was given to leave Candy watched them through the glass window that separated the rooms. No doubt the headlines were going to be changed and Daniel deQuille’s name would be featured more prominently that usual.

There was no doubt about the mess in the office, and no doubt that Daniel’s beating had been a severe one. Blood was splattered here and there among the papers in the area’s where he must have fallen during his beating. Whoever did it had meant business. Yet had stopped short of killing the man.

“How bad is he, Paul?” Candy leaned forward, looking down at the swollen bruised face of the usually rather dandified journalist.

“I’ll know better if I could get him to my surgery. However, I dare not move him until I can make sure of his injuries. The last thing I want to do is kill him by an act of kindness in taking him over the road.”

Vinnie muttered about getting statements from the staff and left Candy looking around the office, picking up bits of paper and reading through bits and pieces but finding nothing that could indicate what had happened or why.

“From what we have been told there was more than one man,” Candy volunteered when the silence had dragged on a little longer than he felt comfortable. “Three men, all very well dressed, smart, entered the office. They declined the offer of coffee and said they would wait for Mr deQuille here. After he had entered the office the shutters were pulled down and nothing was heard for about ten minutes after which …well, you can guess the rest.”

“No one came to help him then?”

“It would seem not.” Candy sighed and perched himself on the corner of the big desk.

“Well, he’s not in a good condition, Candy. I don’t think it would harm him to be taken to the hospital. I’ll get something arranged.”

“He looks really out of it.” Candy said sympathetically.

“He is, they’ve nearly killed him. To be honest, Candy, they may still have managed to do so, I should say the next 24 hours are vital.”
……………

There was no doubt in Bridie’s mind that Hoss and Hester were the most suited couple to take care of Paul. Tilly simpered a little when the little bundle was passed over to Hester, and she wiped a tear from her eyes as Hester bore the baby away with Hoss hovering close by her side, an arm around her shoulder as he shepherded her towards the buggy.

“They were very quick making up their minds, Mrs Martin. You don’t think…”

“They’re Cartwrights, Tilly. They don’t like wasting time.” Bridie said sharply, and straightened her shoulders as she watched the couple turn the buggy round and head towards the Ponderosa. “Well, he’ll grow up into a good strong man, Tilly. He’s been well blessed considering the start to life he has had, poor lamb.”

“Here, Mrs Martin, let me help you to your chair…you shouldn’t really be standing just yet, you know what the doctor said.”

“Stop fussing, Tilly. Of course I know what the doctor said… “ Bridie settled back into her chair and bowed her head, closed her eyes, before looking up and giving Tilly the benefit of one of her smiles “Thank you, Tilly. You looked after that baby so well, I am grateful.”

“To be honest, Mrs Martin, had I had the circumstances I would have loved to have raised him as my own.” Tilly dabbed at her eyes, and shook her head “But, as you say, he’s gone to the best place.”

Bridie nodded, she had never been so sure of anything in her life than that for a fact. Hoss and Hester had looked at that baby and been totally besotted with him. She smiled again at Tilly “Thank you, Tilly. You’re a good friend.”

Tilly sniffed, shook her head to regain her composure and muttered something about making some tea as she scurried back into the kitchen.
……………….

Candy had not long been seated at the desk and writing his report about Daniel’s attack when the door opened and Fred Anderson stepped inside, removed his hat and hurried to wards the sheriff. A placid good natured man Fred was a good solid worker and had been the manager of Ridley’s Livery and Hardware since Ben had arranged it several years back. The very day Amanda Ridley’s fortune had changed and she often said to Fred that he was like her ‘lucky charm’ although they both knew that was not true.

With a sigh Candy put his pen down and nodded to the vacant chair on the other side of the desk “What’s wrong, Fred?”

Fred cleared his throat. He wasn’t in the habit of making statements to any form of officialdom and now felt uneasy. He twitched his shoulders and cleared his throat again.

“One of my horses just come back.”

Candy nodded, several questions passed through his mind but he refrained from asking them in case it spooked Fred more. He merely suggested Fred tell him all about it, so Fred did so. After some moments had passed Candy got to understand that a customer had paid for a horse, promised to return with it at the latest the following day as he was going to the Ponderosa. That word alone had brought a sigh to Candy’s lips but he said nothing, just listened to how the horse had returned home without the customer and within only a few hours of having been hired.

“So, you’re not reporting a stolen horse or anything, Fred?” Clem Foster suggested as he passed the Livery man a mug of hot coffee.

“Of course not, I told you already, the horse came back but not the customer.”

“Any idea who the man was? Have you seen him before?” Clem asked as he poured more coffee into his own cup.

“I remember seeing him some years back, you remember, that time when there was that trouble with the Cartwrights and the Chinese. I remember him coming with some other men, Roy was sheriff then of course, you may not remember yourself, Candy but this man was in uniform then.”

Candy felt a squirm of anxiety niggle at his intestines, he nodded “I remember, Fred. Was his name Morton, Jotham Morton?”

“That’s the one, that’s his name. Jotham Morton. He signed a form with that name…and he ain’t come back.”

Clem and Candy exchanged glances before looking back at Fred, “Any blood on the saddle?” Candy asked.

“No, sir. She was just sweating a lot, ran herself ragged I reckon. She don’t look so good, reckon she’s got colic.”

Clem shook his head “Dang, Fred, what are you a-doing of hiring out a horse with colic.”

“She didn’t look like she had colic then, I’m only saying she might have not that she has…”

“Alright, Fred, go over there and write out a statement of what has happened. Try and remember the times involved too, if you can.” Candy indicated the other desk with a nod of the head, “Clem, do you know if any Cartwrights are in town right now?”

“I saw Hoss and his wife earlier this morning but no one else.” Clem replied.

Candy nodded, and rose to his feet. Deep in thought he walked over to grab at his coat and hat.

Standing on the porch buttoning up his coat he thought he saw the Cartwrights buggy moving at a gentle pace down the main street. Too far to call out, but then, he could have been wrong. He sighed and shook his head. Jotham Morton. Wherever he was, there always seemed to be trouble. Usually trouble that led directly to Adam Cartwright.

Chapter 24

After watching the Cartwright’s buggy drifting in to the traffic Candy decided that if there was a missing man then he needed to be found and quickly.  He turned back to his office and told Clem to take charge, then told Vinny to get some men together, a man needed to be found.

Vinny and Clem exchanged a glance of mutual sympathy. Neither had the assignment they would have chosen. Vinny hated the cold and the Ponderosa was a distance from town. He could see a long long trek ahead.  Clem preferred action outside rather than the stuffy confines of the office.

They watched the door close as Candy began to rummage around to get more cartridges.  He glanced up and over at his deputies “I don’t see any action.”

“This Jotham Morton, is he any body important, boss?” Vinny made the mistake of asking and realised it immediately when Candy stood erect and his blue eyes hardened in disdain.

“Any mans life is important, deputy.  You say anything so stupid again and you’ll be out of a job.”

Vinny gulped “Sure, I know, but I just wondered with his connection with Adam Cartwright …” his voice trailed into a sigh.

“It’s important we find him sooner than later, deputy.  He’s a colleague of  Adam Cartwright’s, been involved in Government assignments and his being here must mean something …” he choked back the words, then resumed his rummage for cartridges “Get moving, deputy!”
…………

Hester was more than pleased when her cousin Ann Canaday opened the door to her home.  She could have laughed aloud from sheer joy at the look of incredulity on Ann’s face as her eyes travelled from her cousin to the baby in her arms. Looking up at Hoss’ broad grin broke the spell,  she stepped back and ushered them inside.

“Hester, Hoss ..?”. she shook her head and then put a hand to her mouth “Where did you get that baby?   No! Wait! Is it the one Bridie Martin had left on her doorstep.?” she peeked down, smiled sat the sight of the baby, then plucked at Hester’s sleeve “Come in to the parlour, it’s warmer in there.”

Close to the fire was a crib in which Samuel Canaday slept soundly. An infant barely a month older than the babe in Hester’s arms and now being coo’d over by Ann.

“Tell me all about it?   What are you going to name him? Has he got a name already?  Oh Hester, this is so exciting. Are you keeping him?”

Hoss began feeling a trifle warm  around the collar now as often happened when ladies chatter became so animated, so when the door opened and Candy peered into the room he felt quite a measure of relief.

The sheriff didn’t even appear to notice the addition of another baby in the room.  A brief acknowledgement of Hester’s presence  by a nod of the head, a smile flashed over to his wife and then the real reason for the intrusion.

“Hoss, thank goodness …I need your expertise to track down a missing man – Jotham Morton.”

“Jotham?  But – I ain’t got a mount.”

“Get one from the livery.”. was the only answer he received as the sheriff disappeared leaving everyone in the room looking flustered.

“I guess –  ” Hoss stammered ” I’d best go.”

He did kiss his wife before following his friend from the house leaving both woman alone where, after a momentary lull, they regained their animation and delight over the baby.

Hoss found a horse and had it saddled and bridled by the time a small group of men had assembled just outside the Sheriff’s Office.  Roy Coffee was among them, warmly muffled up against the chill and looking more than eager to get started.

Hoss led his mount to join with the group while he thought over all the implications involved with Jotham Morton being back in their lives.
………..

The tasks for  the day completed left Adam with time on his hands.  The day was bright with sunshine, and despite a cool breeze, it was a perfect day for a ride.   After consultation with his wife he turned to Reuben and asked him if he would like to accompany him to town.

“I’ll take Kami,” Adam declared as he buckled his gun belt, “Sport deserves his rest.”
Reuben shuffled on his coat, a grin on his face and his eyes bright with delight.   Sofia ran up and stood on tip toe to kiss her father goodbye and then scampered off to continue her drawing for Ella.

Olivia slipped the note she had written to Bridie into Adam’s hand and slipped her arm through his, “Tell Bridie I’ll see her soon.”

He laughed and kissed her gently, then called over to his son to hurry up or he would go without him.

“Take care,” Olivia cried and watched as they strolled together to the stable, Adam with his hand upon Reuben’s shoulder.  It occurred to her that Reuben was growing taller and with that thought in mind turned back into the house.

Sofia had her head bent over her drawing, an intent look on her face as she coloured in the picture she had drawn for Ella. Without looking up she observed that she wished she had known Daddy was going into town as she would have got her picture finished in time for it to be posted off to ‘that place’ for Ella.

Olivia said nothing but stroked her daughters blonde head, and commended her on her neat drawing. Nathaniel was playing under the table, quietly content although that may well have been due to his having been given a sugar mouse which Chang Ho Lee had made for him.
……………..

Kamille looked elegant and fine as she stepped out with Adam in the saddle, beside him Reuben rode on Max feeling quite proud to be going with his Pa into town. The sky was blue, with small clouds and had it not been quite so cold one would have thought it a summers day. The sound of a hunting bird keening its cry out to the wilds fluted its way towards them, through the trees until it filtered away into the air.

Adam was explaining to his son what it had been like in previous days, when he would be riding with his Pa and Hoss would have been about Reuben’s age. Times when the Paiute had no reason to care about the white men, whatever their age, and more than once they had had to flee for their lives, hoping that they would reach some safety before death would bring them down.

“It’s hard to describe the fear riding through these woods was created by wondering if there were a Paiute or Bannock behind any one of them. When your Ma and her family were taken it sent everyone into a panic.”

“Even you, Pa?”

“Even me.” Adam sighed, “Granpa left to help your Granpa Dent find them, but it took quite a few days .. I think perhaps even weeks, before they were found and then negotiations had to take place to bring them back. It was not an easy time.”

He paused just then and looked around him. They were on the main track into town, no trees now, just the sheer sprawling vastness of a boulder strewn landscape with the track that wormed its way through to the town far beyond. Reuben looked at his father and frowned, wondered about the frown on his father’s brow, the pursed lips and narrowed eyes.

“You see something, Pa?”

“I thought I did,” Adam said slowly and carefully unfastened the loop over his gun, then reached for his rifle and made sure that was loose enough to draw out quickly, he glanced at the boy and then back to where something had caught his attention.

“Wouldn’t be a Paiute now, would it, Pa?” Reuben teased and smiled.

Adam didn’t reply to that, his mind was going through several avenues of thought, and one of them was what was the safest thing to do about Reuben, another was, where did the danger come from?

“Reuben, turn Max round and head for home. Don’t rush, just go casual and …” but he was unable to say anymore as gunshots rang out and splattered into the boulders around them.

Kamille, unused to such sounds, reared up, tossed her head and had it not been for Adam’s ability as a horseman he would have been certainly unseated. He managed to turn her head and to get her to move forward so that he could grab at Max’s halter as he passed Reuben.

A cluster of large boulders was close by and into these Adam swung the horses, dismounted so fast that one foot slipped beneath him and he almost fell, but he succeeded in grabbing his rifle and hauling Reuben off his mount.

“Behind there.” he pointed to the rocks and pushed the boy forwards so that Reuben scrabbled across the ground into the protective shelter afforded by the natural structure of the rocks.

Adam crouched down, rifle ready, poised. He glanced anxiously at Reuben and nodded to him, “Keep down. Whatever happens, just stay hidden.”

“Pa…”

A bullet spat splinters close to Adam’s face and he jerked back in order to avoid them. Immediately his own rifle was fired, even though there was little time to aim. His shot went wild but his assailant fired again and revealed himself rather carelessly so that when Adam fired again, it was with more success.

Minutes passed with gun fire ringing over the still calm air of the day. Reuben cringed down into his covert, his hands over his ears and his eyes closed except for the times he peeked every so often to make sure his Pa was safe.

An angry hiss between his teeth indicated to Reuben that his father was annoyed and looking he could see that the rifle had been set aside, obviously out of ammunition. Adam now withdrew his revolver, checked the chambers and then waited for a fresh onslaught.

But it never came. Craning his head at an angle he could hear the distant sound of hoof beats, and leading away from them. He shook his head, puzzled as to why the ambushers had decided to leave when, with time, they could have soon beaten him down.

Well, now was not the time to reason why, but a time to be grateful for small mercies. He rose to his feet and wiped his brow, looked over to Reuben and beckoned him over.

“Get Max and ride on home. Don’t say anything about this to your mother.”

“But, Pa, she’ll wonder why I come back so soon without you.”

Adam sighed, then nodded as he put his hand upon the boys shoulder “You’re right, no point in adding a lie to the problem. We’ll both go home. No point in heading on to town now anyway.”

“Do you think it was Paiute?”

Adam smiled, “No, I don’t think so, son.”

He helped the boy up into the saddle and then remounted himself. Kamille was restless, the smell of cordite and the sounds of gunfire had not done much to calm her. Adam led the way up the track and was deep in thought when Reuben cried “Pa, look? I think they did shoot a man?”

He immediately looked in the direction of Reuben’s pointed finger and saw, sprawled down below, the figure of a man. Narrowing his eyes he shook his head, surprised, alarmed, he could barely believe his eyes when he recognised Jotham Morton.

Now he could see the clear sign of the track being disturbed by a falling body, but whether Jotham had fallen as a result of a bullet or some other reason he could not see. He dismounted and checked the distance, then nodded as though to assure himself that it was not too steep for a horse to get down. Remounting he led the way through the to the bottom of the incline while thinking over and over again as to why exactly would Jotham be here. Had he been shot? The answer to that question came in the negative as they had heard no sound of gunfire since leaving the house. Could it have something to do with the letter from Grant? That question hung in the air for a moment and he had to tell himself that with patience he would soon find out.

Glancing back he checked on how well Reuben was managing with the descent for the scree was always unpredictable and remains of ice and snow had to be negotiated. He tormented himself for a while wondering if he should have sent the boy home, but how could he guarantee the boy’s safety had he done so? Although he was sure the ambushers had returned in the direction of town he could not be sure that they had not returned. That led to further questions of course as to whom they could have been, why shoot at them and was there a connection with them to Grant’s letter. Everything was tossed about in his head as he finally reached the level ground upon which Jotham was sprawled.

Reuben was close behind him and was at his side when he dismounted, he smiled over at the boy and handed him Kamille’s reins “Hold on to her for me, son. Keep watch now.”

“Sure I will, Pa.” came the prompt response, and the boy’s eyes narrowed immediately as he glanced around to prove that he knew exactly what he should do… watching out for his Pa, that was what he was doing and proud of it too.
Not so far distant the posse rode onwards. They had heard the gun fire which had prompted them to turn off in its direction. After all, they were on Ponderosa land now and gun fire could only indicate that a Cartwright may be in trouble.

Unbeknown to themselves their presence had already saved Adam and Reuben from further attack. The ambushers had seen the posse advancing and rather than risk being discovered or drawn into a shoot out with a larger force of men, they had mounted up and taken flight, back to Virginia City from where they had only hours earlier ridden out.

Chapter 25

Jotham Morton was totally unaware of the man kneeling beside him, or of the gentle hands that checked for a pulse and then began to unbutton his jacket. The length of time he had been lying there in such pain had taken it’s toll. Along with the pain had been the cold, and the damp as the snow upon which he had fallen had seeped through his clothing. He had shivered, listened to his own teeth chattering, attempted to move but fallen back. Then suddenly it had seemed not to matter anymore. Little point in trying to fight off the inevitable.

He had heard no gunfire and been totally unaware of riders approaching him. Even now as cautious fingers prodded his body he remained inert and still. Some tiny corner of his brain flickered awareness about something but even that was vague and tenuous.

Adam shook his head and rocked back onto his heels, despite the melting snow seeping into the knees of his pants he remained stationary for a while before looking over at his son. Reuben was looking about him as a good watchman should, so when his father called his name he was prompt to dismount and hurry over to join him.

“Yes, Pa?”

Adam gave the boy a reassuring smile, and placed his hand upon his arm “Remember this man? He’s an old friend of mine. He’s badly hurt, son.”

“Is he dead?” Reuben leaned forward, hands on his knees in order to support himself but get a better look.

“No, not yet anyway.” Adam stood up and brushed off snow from his pants, then looked directly into his son’s eyes “Reuben, can you do something dangerous for me?”

“Sure, Pa.” Reuben smiled, eyes wide and alert. He wasn’t afraid one bit. Danger? Pouf, what of it!

“Remember how you rode to town the time the Ponderosa was burnt down? Well, I want you to ride like that back home. Tell Ma to get a room ready for Jotham Morton. Explain what happened. Oh, and get Ezra or Jake to ride into town and get Dr Martin. Now, hurry.”

Reuben nodded, turned and remounted into Max’s saddle. He managed the ascent up the incline with surprising alacrity and it wasn’t long before Adam could hear the sound of his son galloping along the main track homewards.

He returned to his own horse and removed the bedroll, shook out the blanket and then took it over to where Jotham lay. Very gently removing the wet coat he then wrapped the dry blanket around the wounded man, wrapped him securely so that the blanket could provide some warmth to the cold flesh.

Next he bathed off the blood from Jotham’s head and face and winced at the lacerations and obvious broken bones. The nose and cheek bone could be reset, but they would never be quite the same again. He was wondering how he was going to get Jotham safely home when the man’s eyes flickered open, the eyeballs rolled about for a while and the eyelids fluttered as though not sure whether to close for good or attempt to remain open.

“Jotham? It’s me…Adam Cartwright.” he grabbed one of the flailing hands in order to stop their feverish frantic movements “You’re safe now. I’ll get you home and …”

“Adam?”

“Yes, it’s me, Jotham. Adam.”

“Adam. The book. 37. 37.” the lips moved a little more but no sound, no sensible sound or word came from them. He stared intently into Adam’s face before the eyelids closed down.

“Jotham?” Adam touched his friend’s face, his neck. The pulse was thin, reedy but still there, still promising that life was flickering within the frail broken body.

The sound of horsemen approaching caused Adam to stand, turn and withdraw his gun. With narrowed eyes and nerves tingling he waited to defend his friend and hoped that somehow he would get out of this current mess he found himself in.

……………..

“Ma! Ma!” Reuben was yelling for Olivia even before he had dismounted so that by the time he had reached the porch the door was opening and his mother, and Aunt Mary Ann, were there.

Seeing her son in such a state of agitation Olivia promptly picked up her skirts and ran towards him. Fear and panic made it impossible to speak at first, after all, Reuben had gone out with Adam, and now, he was back but without his father. She hugged the boy close and then wondered why Reuben so fiercely pushed her away.

“Where’s your father? Where’s Adam?” she cried, her voice shrill enough to cause Mary Ann to put a hand to her arm as though reassuring her that she was not alone.

“Pa said to tell you…” Reuben gasped to catch his breath, blinked rapidly and looked at his mother “It’s alright, Pa’s alright. He said to get the room ready for Jotham Morton. He’s been hurt… Mr Morton that is…and Jake has to get Dr Martin real quick.”

He watched her face contort and then settled into calmer lines. She nodded and turned back to the house, her hand on his shoulder “What happened, Reuben? How did you get to find Mr Morton? Was he coming here?”

“I don’t know, Ma. He must have fallen off his horse and rolled down the incline. I saw him first, Ma. I found him. Pa was just wanting to get back after the shooting.”

“Shooting?” Mary Ann stopped, which meant that they all stopped. Even Sofia who had come out to see what was happening, stopped in her running towards them.

“What shooting?” Olivia asked.

“Some men started shooting at us. Pa was great, Ma. You should have seen him. He was firing off his rifle and I swear..”

“That’s enough now.” Olivia said in a strange tone of voice and gave him a slight shove towards the house. “Get in and tell Cheng I need to see him.”

Mary Ann grabbed at her arm, Sofia clung to her skirts and somehow they all got into the house without being wedged in the doorway. “What do you think is going on, Olivia?”

“I don’t know, Mary Ann. I only know this for sure, and that is whenever Jotham Morton comes into our lives, it means trouble.”

She was about to say more then realised Sofia was standing there looking frightened and rather white faced, so she smiled at the child and told her there was nothing to worry about, Pa would be home soon.

“Is he hurt? Why isn’t he here with Reuben?”

“Because he is looking after a hurt friend, now, be a good girl and go and check on Nathaniel for me. I have things to organise. Hurry up now…”

She watched as Sofia did as she was told, although obviously with some reluctance. Then she turned to Mary Ann “Adam had a letter a while back, from President Grant. I mean, the ex President … not that that matters a fig, but something in that letter caused Adam, well, I could see he was worried about it although he didn’t really say much to me about it.”

“As usual!” Mary Ann sighed and shook her head, “When will these men realise that women can be quite strong and probably more helpful …” she paused as Cheng Ho Lee appeared from the kitchen and now stood politely before them.

“Cheng Ho Lee, we have an injured man coming to the house, would you get Jake to ride into town and get Dr Martin. Now, I wonder…”

“Injured man? Maybe good idea to take wagon to help Mr Adam get hurt man here?”

“Excellent thinking. Thank you, could you see to it for me? I’ll get the room ready.”
She turned to Mary Ann, “I am sorry, Mary Ann. I shall have to go.”

“I’ll come and help, Joe isn’t expecting me home for a while.” the younger woman smiled and together they made for the stairs.

Sofia was listening intently to her brother who was describing the battle, as he called it. Her eyes were wide and round, and her mouth was equally wide and round as she held her breath and listened. It seemed to her that her father was a hero, a wonderful hero who was capable to achieving anything and everything. All the same it frightened her as she remembered that flight from Bodie, the shoot out with the buggy being shred to bits by the bullets that had bounced off it and the rocks around her. She wanted to cry, the fear of that time washed over her and without warning she burst into loud sobs.

Such a reaction caught Reuben quite unprepared but he did what every good older brother does and walked up to her and hugged her. Nathaniel watching, listening, sat in his chair and his bottom lip quivered, his eyes filled with tears and within seconds he was bawling every bit as loudly as his sister.
……………

Hoss Cartwright pushed back his hat and shook his head “Dang it, Adam. How come you’re here?”

“How come you’re here, Hoss?” Adam turned to Candy, Roy and the other men who were still in their saddles observing the scene around them.

“Candy came, wanted me to help them track down a lost man, but it seems you found him before we did.”

Candy now dismounted as had Roy, they walked to where Jotham lay “Was he shot?” Candy asked.

“No, seems he just toppled down from the track down that incline. Perhaps the horse spooked or something.” Adam gave a wry grin “Jotham’s not a good horseman, being a navy man himself.”

“Huh, mmm.” Hoss scowled a little more and shook his head “I don’t like this, Adam. Jotham turning up here always means trouble.”

Roy nodded “I’m inclined to agree with Hoss, Adam. Do you have any idea who it was shooting at you and the boy?”

“None at all. Could be anyone.” Adam shrugged, after all nesters, squatters, even rustlers, any such type could have decided to take several pot shots for some reason or another, It had happened before, many times.

“Seems odd though.” Roy ran a hand across his mouth, brushing along his moustache, “The matter with deQuille and then this shooting and now this here Morton turning up like this …”

“Whoa, hold on there, Roy.” Adam held up a hand, glanced from Candy to Hoss, “what’s this about deQuille?”

Candy now decided to speak up before Roy could get a word in and forget who was sheriff around here now “Daniel deQuille was beaten, severely beaten, by three men. From the state of the office I would say they had been looking for something.”

“Did he know them?” Adam now asked and got an answering shake of the head from Roy, a shrug from Hoss.

“He wasn’t able to tell us anything, Adam. Dr Martin said the next 24 hours are vital. It could go anyway for him just now.” Candy placed his hands on his hips, “Anything you would like to tell us, Adam?”

“What about?” Adam narrowed his eyes. “I don’t know anything about Daniel being beaten up. What are you implying?”

“Nothing. It’s just that something about that attack, and this man being here …” he pointed to Jotham and now narrowed his eyes. “I’m just wondering if you have an inkling as to what is going on ?”

“No, I haven’t an inkling, as you put it, about what is going on.” Adam responded tetchily. He looked at Roy and then shrugged “Anyway, you found the man you were looking for… a pity you didn’t come sooner to catch the men who were shooting at Reuben and myself.”

Candy said nothing to that but frowned hard. It seemed just possible that the two events could be linked, it seemed just plausible that the men who attacked Daniel could have got to the Ponderosa in time to attack Adam. But at the end of the day, the why’s and wherefores were just too obscure. Would they have had time to get from town to the Ponderosa? Could it have been the same person? His head whirled with the whole situation but he gave Adam a long hard look,

“What are you doing about him?”

“Taking him home. Reuben’s gone on ahead to tell Olivia to get a room ready, and to send a man into town to get the doctor.” Adam sighed and rubbed a hand at the back of his neck, tension was building up. There were too many loose ends, too many questions. Like Candy he was attempting to make sense of the attack on Daniel, and the subsequent ambush upon himself. Were they linked? Where did Jotham fit into it all? And Daniel?

“We’ll get back to town before any man of yours will, Adam.” Candy said quietly, “I’ll ride out later to see you, and check on Mr Morton.”

“You do that.” Adam nodded and glanced again at Roy who nodded as though in compliance to some unspoken word and walked to his horse.

“I guess I had better get back to town too,” Hoss said and placed a hand on Adams arm, “Something’s not right about all this, Adam.”

“I agree.”

“I’ll see you later. Fact is I left Hester back in town with Ann. We -er – we got the baby.” he grinned, his face flushed. Even in dire conditions such as this he felt his heart flutter, and when Adam smiled and nodded, looked pleased for them, Hoss felt a glow trickle through him.

Adam watched them mount up, turn their horses and then lope out of the gully and up the incline. Then, with an air of impatience, he returned to the sick man swaddled in the blanket nearby.

“Well, Jotham Morton.” he shook his head, and then rubbed along his jawline“Why is it that whenever you appear in my life you bring trouble?”
Chapter 26

The room was not overly large and the fire that burned in the hearth had recently been fed with more fuel so that the heat was becoming uncomfortable to the three men who were within it.

Andrew Harcourt was the eldest of them, well built and handsome with dark hair greying at the temples.  He wore a neatly trimmed beard and had  pale blue eyes that seemed constantly narrowed as though he either  suffered from myopia or on the watch .  He had discarded his outer coat and was considering removing his jacket due to the heat in the room.   He sat at a table,  one hand stroking his closely trimmed beard, his eyes observing his companions with so casual an appearance that neither of them appeared to notice.

Timothy Maxim was short and stocky with thinning fair hair, a ruddy complexion and muddy blue eyes.  Although smartly dressed he lacked the confidence of a man at ease with himself, fidgeting constantly with his tie or the collar of his shirt.  He was leaning upon the wall staring out of the window, his fingers, when not fussing about his tie, tapped irritatingly  against the window frame.

David Atherton was seated at the table intent upon a game of Patience the cards slapped down upon the hard wooden surface with barely a whisper.  He was younger than Harcourt but older than Maxim.  Like his companions he was well dressed, his bespoke suit a credit to his tailor.  He was of a sallow complexion, dark eyes hooded by heavy lids, a slim moustache graced thin lips.

Maxim spoke , his voice breaking the silence in the room .

“The sheriff and his posse just got back.”

“Took their time” Atherton murmured and placed a Jack upon a ten of diamonds.

“Odd, their turning up like they did.” Maxim turned from the window and joined his companions at the table.  After watching Atherton for a moment he returned to the window, “I’d have thought they’d have been busy with things here in town, seeing to that newspaperman for starters.”

No one answered him he sighed and stuffed his hands into the pockets of his suit, too crumpled by his careless attitude to his belongings to be a credit now to anyone. “Do you think we killed him?”

“Who?” Atherton asked without looking up from the table.

“That newspaperman, deQuille.”

Atherton gathered in his cards and shuffled them,” I doubt it.  We know when to stop before it gets fatal.” his thin lips quivered into what may have been a smile.

“Yeah, I guess practice makes perfect” Maxim sneered and looked over at Harcourt. “You don’t have an opinion?”

“No.”

“Doesn’t it bother you anymore?” Maxim folded his arms across his chest and observed the other man but Harcourt shrugged, stopped stroking his beard.

“You know better than to ask.”

Maxim shrugged “You really don’t care, do you?”

Harcourt sighed as though existing in that room with its oppressive heat and irritating occupants were stretching his nerves to the limit.

Atherton was about to speak when the door opened and the newcomer brought with him a current of cold air that was not entirely related to the temperature outside.   He removed his hat and coat which Maxim took from him.   The air stirred and each man there straightened their backs and became alert and attentive.

“Mr deQuille is sadly unable to help the law with their enquiries.”. were the first words he uttered.

“He’s dead?” Maxim asked with a lift of the eyebrows..

“No.  Not yet anyway.”.the  newcomer approached the fire and stretched out his hands towards the flames. “But he could be within the next few hours.”

Atherton shrugged, Maxim raised his eyebrows and Harcourt remained silent. The newcomer looked at the three of them.

“But you found nothing?”

Harcourt now moved. He pulled a slim notebook from his jacket pocket and handed it to the other man “Found this in a locked drawer. He seems to have been making notes about the Cartwright family…details there of the women and some information about recent history. There’s a separate section where he has jotted down some details about Adam Cartwright, his assignments but the only thing of interest that could relate to the book are a series of names ..you’ll see what I mean towards the back.”

He leaned back in his chair then and gave the other a cool glance of appraisal. It were as though he viewed himself as the superior of the two, and was doing the man a favour by even sitting there in his presence.

“Good.” a smile briefly touched thin lips “I believe there was some gun play later? You nearly killed Adam Cartwright? I don’t recall telling you to do that.”

Maxim frowned and darted a nervous glance at Atherton who shrugged and volunteered the information that it had been unintended but Cartwright had appeared from nowhere.

“We didn’t realise who it was at first, by which time it was too late.” he added, somewhat lamely.

“You were told to get the book, not kill him.”

“We’ll get the book,” Harcourt said quietly, “But I got the impression from our employer that he would prefer to have Cartwright in custody so that we can find out exactly what he knows. Cartwright may have the book, but …”

“But ..exactly …he has the book, and if he understands what’s in it then we need to know.” a hardening of the voice, a sneer of the lips “Which makes it doubly stupid of you to have got into this shoot out. A dead body doesn’t tell us much, does it?”

No one answered that question. It hung in the air for a moment but Harcourt stood up and walked slowly to the window as though what he saw out of it was of more interest than listening to what this newcomer had to say.

Howard Mowatt glanced over at Harcourt with some impatience. It had been obvious that Harcourt had resented Mowatt’s being given the leadership in this assignment and it rankled in them both as both knew that he had the responsibility only because of his personal relationship with someone ‘senior’ in Government. It took some seconds before he got his temper under control and he wondered, not for the first time, whether the other two men were aware of the hostility that existed between them.

He turned to them now, noticed the way their eyes darted away to look elsewhere and knew beyond doubt that they were more than aware of it. They were like jackals waiting for the body to fall! That was when they would pounce. He shook his head and turned to pick up his hat and coat,

“I’ll deal with Cartwright. Best for the three of you to get back out of town. Disappear as you usually do.”

“Well, that’s good. I’m all in favour of disappearing.” Maxim muttered, “Seems to me this has been a waste of time and money.”

Mowatt looked at Maxim as though he couldn’t believe such specimens still existed on the planet. He shook his head “I’ll be in touch. You know where to disappear to, don’t you?”

Atherton nodded and watched as Mowatt shrugged into the coat and then let himself out of the room. He shrugged and returned to his seat at the table, pulled out his cards and began to deal himself another game of Patience.

“I don’t like it, this hanging around.” Maxim muttered and began to pace the floor with his head hanging and hands clasped behind his back.

“Why not? We’ve had to hang around before. It’s all part of the job.” Atherton intoned and glanced over at Harcourt “What’s going on between you and Mowatt?”

“Nothing that would interest you.” came the reply and Harcourt leaned closer to the window to see more clearly, if it were possible, the outline of the other man as he strode confidently down into the main thoroughfare of town.

“Everything interests me,” Atherton replied, “That’s how I stay alive because I notice things and not afraid to use what I notice should I need to do so.”

Harcourt turned slowly and looked coldly at Atherton, “You should be careful, Timothy. You could get to notice the wrong thing with the wrong person one of these days.”

Atherton shrugged, and turned his attention back to the cards on the table. A small smile played about his lips and stroked his moustache with the back of one hand .
…………………

Dr Timothy Schofield had arrived at the Ponderosa not long after Adam had arrived with the injured man and managed, with Cheng Ho Lee and Joe’s help to get him into the spare room. When the doctor had arrived Jotham was already unbooted and awaited his attention.

Not that Jotham was aware of anything. Adam had given him a good dose of laudanum and that had helped him drift off to where pain meant nothing. In that state he had been undressed, very carefully, and put into some nightwear.

“Well, gentlemen, as this is my patient, I had best get on with my examination.” Schofield muttered and rubbed his hands in order to warm them before touching the patient’s body. “I’ll need hot water and towels, and if I need anything else I’ll call for it.”

Cheng Ho Lee appeared in the door way at that precise moment bearing towels and hot water. He glanced over at Adam and Joe, and then placed what was necessary upon the night stand. Timothy looked and nodded, emitted a ‘Humph’ and proceeded towards the bed.

Joe and Adam left the room and made their way downstairs. Neither of them spoke until they were ‘safely’ in the large sitting room and able to settle into the large arm chairs.

“I’ve a bad feeling about all this, Adam.” Joe groaned and shook his head while a scowl settled over his handsome face.

“I know, I have the same.” Adam sighed and rubbed his face with his hands as though the action would help him remove the ‘bad feeling’ in some way.

For some minutes the two brothers remained silent. Cheng Ho Lee had come down stairs from the sick room and was bustling about in the kitchen. Adam was confident enough in his friend to know that a decent cup of coffee would soon arrive although he was thinking that he could do with something more than coffee at that moment.

He had been more than grateful when Joe had arrived having been told by Mary Ann about what had happened. Bearing in mind that Hoss and Hester had been in town to get the baby, Adam had tactfully suggested that his wife take the children to be introduced to the new member of the family. Of course Olivia protested but she had seen the wisdom of his suggestion as she hadn’t been ignorant of the look of horror on Sofia’s face when Jotham had been brought into the house.

Now Joe and Adam listened to the sounds of Schofield’s feet as the man shuffled his way around the bed ministering to his patient. Joe bit his lips and wondered what was going on while Adam closed his eyes and tried to make sense of what little Jotham had told him. 37? How was he expected to make any sense of that conundrum?
……………..

Hannah and Hope had been told by their parents that they would be bringing home a baby. Hope was rather unsure about this and Hannah had tried to explain that there must be a baby shop in town where you got them from and that was what Ma and Pa were going to do.

“Why though?” Hope had then asked
.
“Because when folk want another baby that’s what they do.”

“Do all folks do that then? Did Aunty Mary Ann go to the shop and get Constance?” she frowned “Did Nathan-u-al come from the shop?”

“Well, I guess they must have done.” Hannah shrugged and smoothed down her pinafore which she wore over her pink gingham dress. She looked at her sister and straightened hers as well.

“Do they go and ask the shop lady for a boy or a girl baby?” Hope now asked pushing her sister’s hand away from fussing so much over her apron.

“I guess so.”

They both had fallen silent after that and had to think a little more about it. Hop Sing came and smiled at them, then offered them both some candy mice but Hannah said no because she knew they would get sticky. Ma would, perhaps, not want them to be sticky when she got back home with this baby. Hope had wanted a candy mice, Hop Sing made them look so pretty she always felt a guilty pleasure in eating them. She knew that she would get sticky because she always did so when Hop Sing looked at her she shook her head too.

Aunty Mary Ann arrived first with Daniel and Constance. She smiled at the girls and then looked disappointed because Hoss and Hester had not returned yet from town. Hope was more than pleased to see her cousins, however, and ran off to play with them. Hannah stood by the door patiently waiting.

At last the buggy arrived and Hannah opened the door with Aunt Mary Ann close behind her. Hester and Hoss saw them clustered by the doorway and smiled at them, at each other, and then Hoss got down and helped his wife with the little bundle she was carrying. Hannah sighed, she had wondered if the shop may have run out on babies, but obviously not.

Mary Ann ran out to greet them and slipped an arm around Hester’s waist and peeked at the little face blinking up from the shawl that had once been Hope’s. She smiled and sighed “He’s lovely, Hester.”

Now Hester hurried inside and looked at her two girls who stood close together waiting for sight of this baby. She leaned down and lowered the baby to their level so that they could peer into the shawl. Hope put a finger on the baby’s cheek which caused the baby to open it’s mouth very wide.

“Is it a boy baby or a girl baby?” she asked looking wide eyed up at her parents.

“It’s a boy.” Hester said and dropped a kiss on Hope’s head, while Hoss came along and pulled off his coat and started chatting to Mary Ann who was telling him about Joe going to see if Adam had got home with the injured Mr Morton.

“Was the shop busy?” Hannah asked now and accepting her mother’s kiss with all the poise of a young lady.

“The shop?” Hester said as she carried the baby over to the crib that had been resourced from the attic earlier.

“Where you get babies from?” Hannah explained and was surprised when Hester laughed and ruffled her daughters hair.

Olivia arrived at that point carrying Nathaniel in her arms and with Sofia and Reuben trailing behind her. Hope lost interest in this baby in order to play with Nathaniel while Sofia sought out Hannah. Reuben remained by his mother’s side wishing he were back with his Pa and seeing what was going on there. This, he felt, was strictly female stuff!

The baby was passed from Hester to Olivia to Mary Ann and then back to Hester who placed him in the crib. The three of them gazed at him fondly and admired him sufficiently to satisfy the new mother and justify her actions, in her own mind at least, that she was right to have brought him home.

Ben had been to check on the stock with Ezra and a few other hands so by the time he did return Hoss was busy in the barn putting the doll house together. Ben, having seen many babies in his life time, asked his son if all went well and if he needed a hand with the ’project’. This, of course, gave Hoss ample time to tell his father all that had happened with regard to the ambush on Adam and Daniel deQuille being badly beaten up.

“Hmm,” Ben picked up a tiny window shutter and stared at the doll house to see which window it would ’fit’ “Does Candy think the two are connected?”

“Not sure, Pa. Seems odd though. Why beat up deQuille and then go and ambush Adam? Seems a mite odd.”

“But Jotham was not ambushed or beaten up?”

“No, seems he fell off his horse, or rather, the horse tossed him off. Adam said he wasn’t much of a horseman being a navy man.” Hoss sighed and carefully attached the door to the house. “Jotham Morton… here again.”

“And trouble too.”

“Well, can’t rightly say so, but an odd co-incidence that those things happened just as he arrives in town.” Hoss stood back to admire his handiwork.

“I take it from the buggies that Olivia and Mary Ann are here?”

“Yep, come to see the baby.” Hoss concentrated and decided to stick another shutter on a window.

“Guess I had better go in then.” Ben sighed and looked at his son “You’re alright about this, arn’t you, Hoss?”

“Sure, the girls will love it. I got me some little people to put inside and …”

“I meant, about the baby?” Ben frowned and shook his head, it seemed to him that Hoss’ priorities were somewhat muddled.

“Sure as anything. He’s a real cute little fella. Hester loves him already.”

“And you?”

“Wal, he’s a baby, guess love will grow along with him…” Hoss frowned, “But I am glad we got him, Pa. Just ain’t rightly settled into my mind yet that he’s here and he’s ours.”

Ben nodded and smiled, then left his son to his task. He was still smiling as he entered the house and heard the sounds of the voices of his daughters-in-law. As he removed his hat he could well understand what Hoss meant, men didn’t fall in love with babies the way women did. But it would grow each day, each hour, and he knew beyond any doubt that the infant they had brought home would have the best father a child could wish for in life.

Reuben appeared at his side with a smile, of relief Ben fancied “Hi Gran’pa, I’m glad you’re back.”

“I hear you and your father had quite an adventure earlier?” Ben said as he unbuckled his gun belt.

“Sure did, and it was a friend of Pa’s …well, I mean, we found a friend of Pa’s. He wasn’t shot thought.”

“But he is injured?”

“He sure is,” Reuben nodded and his face fell into anxious lines “I think Pa thought he was dead already.”

Hester appeared with flushed cheeks and sparkling eyes, “Pa, oh Pa, I thought you would never get here. Come and meet your new grand son.”

She grabbed at his arm and with a slight smile on his face Ben allowed himself to be pulled towards the crib where the baby was now awake and staring up at them all with bemused horror. He started crying even before Ben had got to look at him so that it was he who reached down and picked him up, cradled him in his arms and said with an authorities tone of voice “This little chap needs his diaper changed and something to eat.”

Nathaniel was prompt to appear “Me too…hungry.”

Hope said “Hop Sing has some candy mice.”

Hester took the baby from Ben and smiled “I’ll look after him, Ben.”

Olivia and Mary Ann watched as she carried the baby up the stairs in her arms, they smiled at one another and then smiled at Ben. Olivia sighed “If one didn’t know, one would think for sure that baby was really hers…”

“The resemblance is rather ..well…you would think so, wouldn’t you?” Mary Ann nodded and sat down as though it was all too much.

Sofia and Hannah stopped playing cat’s cradle and Daniel stopped reading a rag book seeing Hop Sing come into the room with a tray laden with food and so forth. Olivia went to the kitchen area and returned with pots of tea and so forth.

“Where’s your Pa?” Sofia asked her cousin who shrugged and helped herself to a sugar mouse.

Daniel said, with his mouth full of food “In the barn, I heard him hammering at something in there.”

Sofia looked around to see where Reuben had gone, but her brother had disappeared. She helped herself to a sugar mouse and licked its nose off “What’s he doing in the barn?”

No one knew. Ben had disappeared too leaving the two women to chatter together as they sipped their coffee and ate some cookies. Nathaniel and Hope were seated, as usual, side by side, eating cake. Daniel was eating anything he could reach off the table.

“Shall we go and see what your Pa is doing?” Sofia suggested.

Hannah was torn between eating another sugar mouse, having some cake or going to the barn. “Pa said it’s a secret.”

Sofia nodded, adult secrets were important. She took another sugar mouse…
Chapter 27

The chatter of women and the sounds of children laughing, shrieking, playing around the skirts of their mothers so that when Reuben stepped into the room he had to take a deep breath before he made the announcement “Everyone…look what Uncle Hoss has made!”

Of course he had to repeat himself until everyone stopped what they were doing and turned to the door whereupon Hoss made his great entrance holding in his arms the doll house.

Hester, holding the baby, felt a surge of pride in her man, as Hoss stepped into the room and with a big grin on his face declared “I jest got this done for my little girls”.

He bashfully carried the doll house to the table and set it down for everyone to see. Hope was first to run up to it and then stop dead in her tracks and look at her father as though wondering if she could possibly claim this as her own. Hoss nodded and tentatively she got nearer and touched the little door with her finger.

Hannah was by her side now, and she was peeking through the windows “Look there’s people inside.”

“Where? Where?” Hope squealed and then stepped back as she wondered just what people would be like who could fit into a house this small. Even at her age she knew, without understanding why, that people came a lot bigger than would fit in there.

Reuben was pleased for his Uncle but wasn’t interested in hanging about, so went in search of his Gran’pa. Little Daniel was more interested in grabbing at another cookie and shared it with Nathaniel who was too little to understand the delights and downfalls of a doll house. They snuck off to a corner near the bookcase and chomped happily at their food with no interest in what was going on.

Sofia stood on the spot with one hand still resting on the back of a chair and the other clenched by her side. For some reason her mind had gone blank. Emotions drifted back and forth in her head without making any sense at all. She stared at the doll house without even seeing it. She blinked rapidly in order to focus better but when she looked again the doll house was not the one on the table, but the one she had played with weeks earlier in that pink room.

“Sofee….Sofee… come and see. Come and see what Pa made for us. Look at the little people, look at the table and chairs …” Hannah cried in delight and ran over to where Sofia stood and grabbed at her hand, “Come and see.”

Sofia pulled her hand away, much to Hannah’s surprise. She shook her head, she didn’t want to see this doll house, she didn’t want to share this delightful toy with her cousins. She really wanted one of her own. Preferably the one she had loved so much in Bodie.

“Sofia?” Olivia came and looked at her daughter “Sofia, Hannah wants to show you their doll house. Now then, do go and see it and play.”

“I don’t want to.” Sofia said and shook her head, her ringlets bounced upon her shoulders.

“But Sofee,” Hannah looked dejected “You said you liked doll houses.”

“I liked my doll house.” Sofia said in a sombre tone of voice, “I liked my doll house best of all.”

Olivia approached her now and put a hand on her daughter’s shoulder “Sofia, behave yourself now. Your cousins want to play and they want you to play along with them.”

Again she shook her head and she saw the look of disappointment on her mother’s face and the puzzled expression on Hannah’s and didn’t understand why they could be so incapable of understanding what she felt like. But then, she didn’t really understand what she felt like. And even worse, she didn’t understand why she felt like it.

Hannah grabbed at her hand and pulled her towards the table and like an automaton she walked to over to it. She stared at the doll house. Hope was moving the people into different rooms. She could do so because the front of the house opened up so that the interior was revealed. Sofia looked at it and shook her head.

“My doll house had wallpaper on the walls, and it had rugs and little curtains at the windows.” she tilted her nose in the air, and shrugged her shoulders “Your doll house is very small.”

“It’s because it has small people in it.” Hannah replied matter of factly and held up a tiny carved out lady with a rather garishly painted face.

Hoss had sauntered off some moments earlier, like Reuben he preferred to be out of the way of the women and so forth. He wandered into the kitchen and helped himself to a slab of cake then strolled out into the yard where he found Reuben and Ben. Ben was putting grease on the back axle of the wagon, thick black sticky grease. Reuben was watching with avid attention. The wheel was propped up against the water trough.

“Need a hand there?” Hoss asked and ambled on over.

It took only moments longer for Ben to nod to the wheel and then Hoss rolled it over and with no trouble at all was able to lift the wagon high enough for the wheel to just slip perfectly into place. Reuben grinned with delight at his Uncle’s prowess and was about to say something complimentary when there was a loud cry from the house and then a flash of blonde hair, pink gingham and white knickerbockers heading towards the barn.

“Sofia?” Ben called and put the big brush with the axle grease covering it back down into the bucket.

“Sofee.” Reuben cried and ran in the direction of his sister, into the barn.

“Sofia!” came the stern voice of an irate mother as Olivia hurried from the house and ran across the yard towards where she had seen Reuben disappearing.

Hoss and Ben looked at one another and grimaced “Trouble!” Ben exclaimed with a sigh.

“Wonder what brought that on?” Hoss muttered.

“No doubt we will soon find out. Let’s get this job finished before we get roped into the debacle.”

Inside the house Hannah was sobbing into her mother’s lap. It was too bad that her cousin, her favourite person of all, didn’t like her doll house and had pushed it away so hard that it had slid across the table surface, thankfully stopping before it would have fallen off the other end. One of the little people had fallen out of a bedroom window however and bounced off the table into Nathaniel’s lap. Nathaniel, thinking it was something else to eat had promptly put it in his mouth and chomped on it. Of course it was not the expected cookie and was promptly spat out, but oh dear, the little person just didn’t look quite the same now.

Hope hadn’t much cared either way, she knew her place, she knew that Hannah would claim proprietorship over the new toy so she was content to hold a little figure in each hand and play that they were chatting to one another. It didn’t matter to her what Sofia did, because Sofia and Hannah seldom included her in their games anyway. She went and sat down with Dan, Nathaniel who weren’t interested in the little figures anyway.

Once Olivia had appeared in the barn Reuben did a smart about turn and escaped to join the men. He shrugged when they both looked enquiringly at him, so that they continued with the job of securing the wheel while he looked on. Ben let him hold the stick and stir more grease which was far more interesting that being in the barn with his wailing sister.

“Now then, young lady.” Olivia approached her sobbing daughter, “What exactly is this all about? Come along now, I want you to explain how you could be so rude as to upset Hannah like that?”

“No-o-o.” Sofia wept and rubbed her eyes.

“’No’ what exactly? Come along, I don’t intend to stay here all day listening to you bawling without a good reason. Sofia? Behave yourself now.”

Sofia struggled to stop the tears, she shook her head “I didn’t like it.”

“The doll house? What is there to dislike? It’s just a toy?”

Sofia blinked. She looked up at her mother and shook her head “But my doll house was so lovely and beautiful, mommy.”

“You don’t have a doll house, Sofia.” Olivia said and then paused, frowned “Sofia, tell me about the doll house you had?”

She drew the child closer to her then, and sat her down on her lap while she perched on a straw bale. Sofia stopped her crying and Olivia wiped her eyes and nose on a clean handkerchief. After a few false starts and hic-coughs Sofia explained about her lovely doll house in Bodie, in the pink room. How it had windows that closed and opened, shingles on the roof, carpets on floor, littler coverlets on the bed. Oh it was the best most beautiful doll house.

Some silence fell over them for a few minutes and Olivia wondered what she was to say next, she hugged the child close “Sofia, just because you don’t have a doll house now, doesn’t give you the right to spoil the pleasure that Hannah had in hers. You were unkind, very unkind, in what you said. You do realise that, don’t you?”

“I only told the truth, Mommy. MY doll house is – much bigger and better than that one.”

“Perhaps it was, but what you have to appreciate, my dear, is that that doll house Hannah has is very precious. Much more so than the one you had in Bodie.”

“It hasn’t got …” Sofia started to say but Olivia placed a finger on her lips and gave her a very stern look.

“The doll house Hannah has was made by her daddy. Your Uncle Hoss built that little house with love for his little girls. That makes it a very special house indeed, don’t you think?”

“But it doesn’t have …”

Again Olivia put a finger to the child’s lips “Sofia, what it lacks is not important. It is what it is and who made it that makes it important. Now, I’m going to leave you here to think about it. Don’t leave here until you can come into the house and say sorry to your cousin. Do you understand?”

Sofia scowled and Olivia shook her head and picked her up to set her down where she had been seated. “Don’t leave here. Think about what I have said, do you hear me?”

Sofia nodded. She watched her mother turn away and cried “Will you tell daddy?”

Olivia sighed and thought of Adam, with enough worries on his shoulders just now to sink a ship. She nodded “Of course.”

Sofia bowed her head, tears plopped down her cheeks and onto her skirt. She wished she had not been so naughty. She wished she could explain how she had felt. She wished that they would understand. It was all very confusing. Her head whirled and she just didn’t understand, not at all, exactly why she had acted so badly.

A shadow blocked out the light and she looked up to see Ben coming into the barn, wiping his hands on a rag. She blinked up at him and he smiled down at her, paused in cleaning his hands “In trouble, my dear?”

She nodded and tears plopped afresh from her eyes. He came and sat down on the bale, having lifted her up and then set her down on his lap. “Tell me about it?”

She had loved Ben from the moment she had seen him years before. It was she who had called him Gran’pa even before her mother had really got to know Adam. She settled her head upon his shoulder and sighed, his smell of perspiration, axle grease, tobacco and ‘his’ smell was comforting, warm. It was her security. She told him about what she had done and he, in his deep voice, asked her why?

“I don’t know. I can’t find the words, Gran’pa. Just I wanted my doll house again.”

“But that would mean being a long way from here, from us all.”

“I don’t want that, I want never to go there to those horrible ladies again. I just wanted my doll house. Hannah’s doll house is not as nice as mine and it made me feel …” she patted her chest “inside here went all tight.”

Ben nodded and sighed, his youngest son had been like that, mercurial in temper. Wanting things he couldn’t have and not content when told why he couldn’t have them. His tantrums had been legend and he had also experienced that feeling of tight chests, being unable to breathe, having to throw things and lash out. Perhaps they all did at times but as an adult one learns to control it, even pretend perhaps that such things no longer mattered. Lied and pretended. He wondered which course was better?

Adam had often quoted from Shakespeare about being just an actor on a stage, perhaps that’s really what they were, acting, pretending…afraid to show how they felt. He frowned, but one could not be a child forever. One could not reach out and demand, grab and desire what one could not have all the time. “Thou shalt not covet…” was the commandment but how do you explain what that means to a child. Didn’t Paul the Apostle say that if there was not a law forbidding it then he would not have known what coveting was?

But then Sofia wasn’t coveting Hannah’s doll house, she just wanted the one she had once had, for a brief time, That was understandable, surely? Of course it was, but what had been the problem? Perhaps the lack of what? Impropriety? Graciousness?

“Well, dear, I shall speak to your father and we shall see if we can get you a doll house. But the fact is that you were wrong to behave like that, weren’t you? Poor Hannah, she was so happy with her doll house, and you rather spoiled that for her. You were being a mite selfish, weren’t you?”

“Is that bad?” she whispered in a trembling voice but she knew the answer, really, she didn’t need him to spell it out. Selfish was thinking of only yourself, she had been told that many times.

“Yes, you should always try and think of other people’s feelings first. It is the kind thing to do. You want to be thought of as a kind person, don’t you?”

He held her close, his stubbly cheek rubbed against the top of her head, but she could feel the bristles through her hair and wished she could have stayed there just a little longer.

“Gran’pa, was I naughty?” of course she knew the answer to that too, hadn’t her mother just told her so? Didn’t she know that anyway, after all, she could still see the shocked look on her aunts faces, the dismay on Hannah’s.

“You were, dear. You were naughty.”

So they sat there together for a while until Sofia felt she was ’going to be a good girl now’ so Ben picked her up and set her down on her own two feet. He patted her on the shoulder, gave her one of his smiles which made his dark eyes spark

By the time Sofia re-entered the room the doll house was on the floor and the little girls were on their knees in front of it moving furniture here and there. Hannah looked up at her cousin, she recognised an unhappy little soul when she saw one, for she was moulded in her father’s fashion. She smiled “Sofia, come and see …”

Olivia watched as the three little girls hunkered down in front of the doll house. Hope eventually left to wander over to play with some toys which she shared with Nathaniel. Peace was restored.

Chapter 28

Adam was pacing the floor and Joe beginning to doze off when Schofield finally emerged from the injured man’s room. Huffing and puffing, pulling down his shirt sleeves, Schofield gave both men the impression that he had had his time wasted by being called in to attend to Jotham. Adam cast an anxious eye over at the clock while Joe rubbed his face and tried to look more alert.

“How bad is he, Dr Schofield?” Adam asked with a polite deference to the portly doctor.

“I’ve given him a strong sedative. He’ll sleep for a few more hours yet. He’s broken a number of bones but so far as I can see there is no internal damage. Don’t be surprised if he develops a fever although I doubt he has a concussion.”

He checked that the cuffs of his sleeves were straight and reached for his coat. Cheng Ho Lee, used to the doctor’s habits, rushed out with coffee on a tray which he set down on the side table.

“He seemed very concerned for your welfare, Mr Cartwright.” he reached for the coffee and sniffed it first as though to check it was of the correct flavour.

“Did he say something ? Anything?”. Joe enquired as he watched Schofield with some fascination as the man sipped the coffee.

“Nothing relevant.” Schofield finally said as he set the cup down upon its saucer with a flourish.

“Not to you, perhaps, but it could be very relevant to me.” Adam observed.

“True enough,” the doctor said gravely as though the significance of the statement had made sense. “He asked me who I was, did I know Adam Cartwright. I was to tell you to look out, that’s what he said ‘Tell him to look out for …’ But he didn’t say for what or whom. Later on he repeated 37 several times, that was when he became delirious. Can’t think I anything – oh yes, he said ‘They sent their best man to do the job.’ ” Schofield paused, glanced at the clock “Is that the time? I must take my leave, gentlemen.” he pulled on his coat and began buttoning it “Be careful with the medication I’ve left him, it’s strong stuff.”

At the doorway he paused again ” If his condition worsens best send for someone to see to him. Preferably not me, the trek from town once in a day is quite enough.”

“Pompous oaf!” Joe muttered as the door closed upon the doctor. “I hope he goes to Ohio sooner rather than later.”

Adam said nothing. He had turned towards the fire and seemed engrossed in watching the flames but he looked up and over to his brother when Joe came and stood by his side.

“Any ideas, Adam?”.

Adam shook his head “None at all. It’s something to do with O’Brien’s book, I’ m sure of it, but I’ve checked them and only two journals exceed 37 pages.” he shrugged, rubbed the back of his neck and looked at his brother “Have you got any thoughts on the subject, Joe?”

Joe’s hazel eyes sparked green, but apart from a shake of the head he said nothing. Adam’s years at sea were a total mystery to him. If he’d had his way his brother would never have gone to sea in the first place and he knew his father and Hoss agreed with him.

“Can you think of anything, anyplace, that could be linked to the number 37?” he finally suggested when the silence between them was getting uncomfortable.

“No, not at all.” his brother sighed and walked a few paces rubbing his neck or jawline with his eyebrows scowling above his intense dark eyes.

He was about to speak when the door opened and Sofia ran into the room, hurled herself at her father and wrapped her arms around his legs.

“Oh daddy, I’m sorry really I am I was norty and I was horrid but I didn’t mean to be but I was and I nearly broke the doll house but I was just so sad it wasn’t mine but Gran’pa said not to be selfish but I was I’m sorry.”

Olivia entered now with Nathaniel in her arms. Reuben was seeing to the horses. With a sigh she put Nathaniel down and began to remove his coat although he wriggled more than usual as he wanted to run to daddy too.

Joe hid a smile and shook his head “I think your daughter will be a great actress one of these days.” he said with twinkling eyes.

“She already is” Adam said, ” alright, Sofia, let go now.”

He put his hand on her shoulder and moved her away, gently, and turned her in the direction of her mother. Olivia gave him a slight rise of her eyebrows, indicating that explanations would come later. Nathaniel seeing his chance now ran, waddled, quickly over and grabbed at his father’s leg “Sorry daddy.”

He smiled up at Adam, dark eyes twinkling, dimples peeking, and Adam laughed and swung him up into his arms to hug him close.

“I see and what mischief have you been up to, huh?”

“I had best get back and see how my two have behaved” Joe laughed along with Adam for the sight of Nathaniel’s arms around his father’s neck was endearing in itself.

“Daniel was sick ” Sofia informed him as he reached for his outer coat “He ate too much cake and too many sugar mouses. Aunty Mary Ann was cross. He was sick in Gran’pa’s …”

“Sofia, that’s enough.” Olivia commanded, smiled and kissed Joe on the cheek “It wasn’t really as bad as all that, Joe.”

She was soon at her husband’s side and kissed him, receiving a kiss from him “How is Mr Morton?”

“Better than he was,” Adam assured her, and his eyes thanked her for asking. “Sounds as though you have had quite an eventful time too. ”
…………….

The smartly groomed man strolled casually down the sidewalk of C Street. Occasionally he would pause by a store and appear to admire himself in the glass window. He would brush the back of his hand across his beard or moustach in a slow deliberate movement. Without knowing him or his purpose in town one would be inclined to assume he had as big an ego as Dr Schofield who was at that moment, clambering from his buggy close by the surgery.

At some stage during his stroll the stranger disappeared entirely, having discovered a convenient side alley down which he took himself.

Timothy Mowatt passed the entrance of the alley and then paused. He half turned as a thought crossed his mind but unfortunately for him it was too late. A sharp jab in the back reminded him that carelessness costs lives, and in losing sight of Harcourt he had been very careless.

He had expected death but instead he heard Harcourts soft voice suggesting they went for a drink together, to the nearest saloon perhaps?

Harcourt pocketed the snub nosed derringer although he kept his fingers locked around it. As they made their way to the Silver Dollar saloon Mowatt looked around him for the other two men and felt curiously relieved when he couldn’t see them.

They pushed through the wing bats and took a seat at a table from where both had a good view of the door. A girl asked them if they wanted a drink and took their order. Once she had sasheyed away Mowatt asked Harcourt where the others had gone.

“You told them to disappear… That’s what they’ve done.”. Harcourt smiled, well, Mowatt presumed it was a smile, there was a flash of teeth within the beard to signify such..

“I told you allto disappear.”. Mowatt leaned back in his chair, thanked the girl for the drink and waved her away. No other services required, thank you!

“I had unfinished business of my own.” Harcourt replied quietly.

“You didn’t have to beat that journalist up so badly.” Mowatt muttered, leaning forward a little so his words could not be overheard.

“That was Atherton’s doing, not mine. He’s -“. Harcourt paused as though attempting to find the appropriate word for their mutual associate “He’s unreliable.”

Silence for a while as they drank some of the beer. Mowatt grimaced, it wasn’t up to his palate’s standards. Harcourt leaned into the back of his chair and looked about him with bemusement.

“Who decided to shoot Adam Cartwright?” Mowatt now asked; he pushed the glass around the table between his fingers.

“I did.”. Harcourt raised his eyebrows and shrugged “Don’t worry, he was in no danger. We shot at him, we didn’t intend to actually shoot him.” he gulped some beer, “I had my reasons.”

“Which were?”

“I said I had my reasons, you don’t need to know them.”

“As your superior , Harcourt, let me remind you who you take orders from, if I recall rightly I was put in charge of this assignment!”

Harcourt sighed as though he had heard enough, he folded his arms across the table and leaned forward, his face inches from the nose of his “superior”.

“Listen, Mowatt, as from now I act on my own. You’re no superior of mine and that’s a fact!”

“Orders were that we worked together on this… We get the book, we get Cartwright and we take both back to Washington with us.”

Harcourt shrugged again “Do as you like, but I’m no part of it.”

Mowatt frowned, he was so puzzled that he actually drank more of the beer. “Why not? You’re under orders to comply with what I tell you, same as Atherton and Maxim.”

Harcourt stood up, tossed some coins on the table “No, not any longer.”

He didn’t look back, but walked out into the street leaving Mowatt staring in confusion at the wingbats swinging to and fro from Harcourt’s passing.
………….

It was Dorothy Ford who opened the door to the persistent knocking. When she saw Candy standing on the doorstep she immediately stepped aside to admit him, saying as she did so that Roy was in the parlour.

The old man was carefully cleaning and oiling his pistols, his spectacles perched upon his forehead as he worked on the weapons. Candy had removed his hat and set it upon the hall table, he entered the room with a smile on his face as he continued to unbutton his coat.

“Starting a war then, Roy?” He said as he cast his coat over the back of a chair.

Roy put down his oil rag and rubbed his hands together “I like to be prepared for anything.” came the immediate response “Well now, what brings you here, apart from Dorothy’s excellent coffee?”

Candy smiled at the housekeeper who had nodded at the broadest hint possible and disappeared into the kitchen.

“So?” Roy’s bushy white brows rose and the faded blue eyes stared in Candy’s with every bit as much intelligence in them as when he would interrogate some law breaker across the desk in the sheriff’s office.

“This business with deQuille and Adam …what can you tell me about it?”

“What business do you mean?” Roy instantly countered as he leaned back into his chair and observed the younger man keenly.

“Let me put it another way … What do you know about how the two incidents are connected?”

“Two incidents? You referring to deQuille being beat up and what other?”. Roy’s moustache bristled and his brows lowered.

“Look, Roy, I saw you and Adam when we met up with them after that shoot out! You two seem to have a secret means of communication, don’t you? You know very well deQuille’s beating and that shoot out are linked in someway. ”

They paused as Dorothy brought in refreshments but once she had vacated the room Roy removed his glasses from where they were perched and put them on his nose,

“I don’t know what the connection is, Candy. There may not even be one. I suspect there is, and I just let him know that, after all, you obviously see a connection.”

Candy sighed “Daniel’s out of the worse but it was a near thing.”

“Has he said anything about what happened?”

“He hasn’t been able to speak.”

Roy nodded, removed his glasses and now set them down on the table. ” Best go and see what you can find out from Adam then…but don’t expect much out of him. Unless he feels inclined to speak you won’t find out much!”

“Has he always been like that?” Candy smiled and drank some coffee.

“Ever since I first knew him, got worse though going off to sea like he did!”

“Hmmm!” Candy paused to dwell upon that for a moment and then emptied his cup.

Chapter 29

The room was quiet, not even the ash dripping to the hearth disturbed the silence. The man at the desk sat alone, his elbow on the desk while he rested his head in the cup of his hand. He sat very still with his eyes fixed upon the pages of the journal he was reading. Occasionally he would rub his fingers across his brow as though to ease the dull ache that throbbed through his temples.

Eventually he straightened his back and sat upright, closed the journal and set it aside, placing it upon another that he had already finished reading. He leaned back, rubbed his face with both hands and after a moments pause pushed back the chair and stood up, leaving the desk and the study to walk into the other room.

He glanced at the clock and sighed, stretched to remove the kinks from his back and made his way to the stairs. He mounted them slowly, as a man with a lot on his mind is prone to do. He paused at the doors of his children’s rooms and peeked inside to ensure all was well with them. Reubens breathing came in little snorts and snores. Adam smiled, there seemed to be nothing causing his son any anxiety and he closed the door quietly, shutting out the scattered moonlight that spangled the bedroom floor.

Sofia was asleep with the covers over her head and he carefully pulled them down, to make sure she was still there and it wasn’t several pillows stuffed there to give an illusion of a sleeping little girl . Flushed of cheek the child stirred as the cooler air touched her skin, but aside from a sigh she slept on.

Adam regarded her thoughtfully before shaking his head impatiently. He recalled to mind the scene earlier when yet again he had been forced to administer discipline on this wilful child. Had she learned her lesson? He hoped so, but somehow doubted it. She was so like her Uncle Joe that it seemed rather remarkable that there really was no blood tie between them.

Olivia stirred slightly when he looked in on her. But she slept on, looking so sweetly alluring that Adam had to kiss her brow before leaving her snug in their bed.

He closed the door to make his way to the sick room where Jotham lay. Cheng Ho Lee had elected to sit with the injured man and now rose to his feet in deference to his master.

“How is he?” Adam asked after stepping to the bedside and looking down at the poor battered face. At least the battering came from rocks and boulders and could not be blamed on any man’s fists as in the case of deQuille.

“Fever gone.” Cheng replied softly, “He sleeps well now.”

“Very good. Thank you, Cheng. Best you go and get some sleep yourself.”

Cheng bowed according to the custom of his people and left the room. For a second or two Adam looked down at the man in the bed and then sat down in the chair Cheng had just vacated.

Jotham slept soundly. Although his flesh felt hot to the touch and the pulse a little too fast his condition was such that Adam was confident the man would survive this ordeal.
As he sat there by the bed with the soft glow of the lamp light causing his features to soften in the hazy golden glow he wondered what it was that Jotham was going to tell him.

What, for example, could possibly be significant about the number 37? He had read through the journals that had more than that number of pages trying to find some clue particularly on page 37, but he had found none!

He began to fidget. His nerves were strung tighter than a violin string. His eyes were weary from reading and his head ached from trying to work out what seemed an impossible conundrum!

He was about to start chewing his nails when Jotham sighed, a long drawn out emission of air as though his lungs needed to empty themselves entirely. Then his breathing resumed at a steadier pace.

For a while Jotham lay there trying to work out why his body felt so numb, so heavy. There was something wrong with his face and he raised a hand to touch it only for someone to grab at his wrist and prevent him from doing so.. A familiar voice said “Don’t touch that, the doctor will never forgive you if you spoil his handiwork.”

“Why? Whaddya mean?”. Jotham tried to frown but even that was too difficult. His speech…was slurred … it was hard to breathe properly.

“Some bones were broken, your nose, cheekbone ..should heal up well enough if you can keep your hands from messing with them.”

Jotham closed his eyes. Sighed again and then looked up to peer into the face of the man whom he had been seeking. He licked his lips and immediately a glass of some liquid touched his mouth, a supporting arm helped raise him high enough for him to swallow the cool liquid. After wards he was gently lowered down again.

“Can you speak, Jotham?”. Adam ‘s voice was a murmur in his ear.

“I think so.”

“Can you tell me why you’re here?”

Jotham fought weariness that fogged his brain, his eyes were heavy, he could feel himself drifting back to sleep. He could sense the urgency in his friend’s voice, he had to remember and tell him before the weariness engulfed him again.

“There was a list, names. The list … when you went to Alaska.” His voice sounded unreal, even to himself.He raised an arm and the back of his hand brushed against Adam’s chest “A list of names. Remember?”

Adam nodded. As if he could ever forget, apart from which he had just concluded reading O’Brien’s journal about the whole affair.

“What about it?”

“There were 42 names on the list.”

“Yes.”

“The 37th name, Adam … he was never found, never located.”

“I thought that after Cassandra Pelman died they had all been rounded up.”. Adam frowned, revisiting the past, especially his past, wasn’t always the best way he could think of spending time. He tried to conjure up names from the list, then realising Jotham was slipping back to sleep asked him what was so important about that name.

“I … I … Sent to you.”

“Yes, but I need to know…”

Jotham shuddered, he felt utterly drained now, he needed to sleep and pain was seeping through the warm comfort of the drug he had been given. He grunted the word pain in a groan so that Adam had to distract himself from thinking about a list of names to get up and pour laudanum into a glass for Jotham to swallow.

“Jotham..?”

“Not now. Later. Must sleep. So tired.”

“Just one moment, just tell me, give me some idea.”

Jotham sighed, sleep was sucking him back into the comfort of the womb of sleep. He struggled ” The boy…youth…died in the ice…”

“Yes? Go on…”

But it was too much. Jotham’s eyes rolled up, the eyelids closed and if Adam had been sadistic enough to have attempted shaking him awake, he would not have succeeded.

But at least he had a clue. Vague – yes. Tenuous – yes. But it was better than nothing. He returned to his chair and after observing Jotham for a moment, composed himself to endure a long watchful vigil.
Chapter 30

Olivia tip toed into the room some hours later she found Adam seated in a chair beside Jotham’s bed intently reading O’Brien’s journal. It was balanced upon his knee with the lamp light trickling softly over him. For a moment she thought he had not noticed her entry but in that she was mistaken for he was always immediately aware of her presence wherever they happened to be. He glanced up now and smiled slowly, wearily.

“How is he?” she whispered as she came into the room and set down the night light upon the small table.

“Recovering slowly.” Adam replied and took hold of her hand, and as was often the case, he turned it palm upwards in order to place a gently kiss within it.

She loved him for doing that, it was tender and sweet and reminiscent of their courting days. It also evoked within her a deep and passionate love for him, so that she leaned towards him and kissed him upon his mouth.

His sigh was echoed by one that came from the bed of the sick man, and both of them. Adam and Olivia, turned towards Jotham who was murmuring and muttering while still asleep. But his eyelids were fluttering and his fingers moved across the bed as though searching for something. Olivia wrapped her hand around that of her husband and whispered that she would get him something to drink for it was obvious that Jotham was struggling to waken.

“Coffee, my dear.” Adam whispered in return, “Thank you.”

He watched her slip from the room, the night light in her hand casting shadows over her and making her look alluring and young. Once the door closed however he turned his attention from his wife to the man who was now struggling to open his eyes.

“Adam?”

At last, no hint of fever in that one word, nor in the eyes that were turned towards his friend. Adam gave the briefest of smiles and brought his chair closer to the bed, after which he leaned towards Jotham and nodded.

“Can you remember what happened to you?”

“Oh, not much. I was heading to the Ponderosa and then suddenly my horse and I parted company. I can’t – no – I can’t remember what happened after I hit the ground.”

Adam’s eyes showed immediate concern, “You kept falling I’m afraid. Down an escarpment. Bounced off several rocks along the way.”

“I did? No wonder I hurt so much.”

“Do you need some medication? The doctor has left some pretty strong stuff for you.”

Jotham closed his eyes, momentarily giving Adam the impression that he was falling back to sleep. But when the injured man heard the door open and the sound of movement nearby he quickly reopened them and found himself looking at Olivia who was handing her husband a cup of coffee.

Olivia didn’t linger, knowing as she did that Adam needed to talk to this person about matters that were of no concern of hers even though the outcome of the discussion could very well become such. As she returned to her room fears that her husband was going to be recalled into service haunted her and the thought that he would be away from them again for such long lengths of time so overwhelmed her that she could have cried.

Chiding herself for being so shallow, so selfish and weak she blew her nose, blew out the night light and told her self to go to sleep. “I’ll know all I need to know later in the morning,” she told herself, even though she knew that sleep would be elusive, if it would ever arrived at all.
Jotham managed to get into a sitting position with the help of a strong arm lifting him and several pillows placed in position to support him. He looked a rather pathetic specimen of manhood in one of Adams nightshirts where bandages could be seen around his upper torso, his head bandaged, the nose stuffed with ‘packing’ over which some kind of plaster had been placed to keep the ‘packing’ from shifting position.

“Adam, have I been able to say anything to you at all. Anything that made any sense?”

“You mentioned number 37, and intimated that it was connected with Jack Lawson.”

“Jack Lawson? Was that his name? Poor lad, I never knew him of course, but remember Daniel telling me about his death.”

“He was rather confused as to where his loyalties lay but died a hero. I guess it didn’t really matter then which side he chose to be on, it all boiled down to dying there, in Alaska, in the end..”

“Well, I don’t know much about what’s going on, Adam. To be honest, I was hoping you would be able to make some sense of it from little I can tell you.”

“Go ahead, and let’s hope you’re right.” Adam gave a slightly wistful smile, picked up his coffee and began to drink from the cup as he prepared to listen to what Jotham had to say.

“Do you recall our last adventure? I don’t mean that jungle trek, and finding that poor soul … but afterwards, when we reached Washington and saw Hayes?”

“President Hayes?” Adam narrowed his eyes and put the cup down, “I think I remember Evarts more than Hayes.”

“Yes, I can well imagine.” Jotham shifted position, closed his eyes in an attempt to avoid wincing in pain but was unable to disguise it.

“Here…have this, it will ease the pain quickly, Jotham.”

The opiate was forced into his mouth, between his clenched teeth. He shivered as it trickled down his throat and then he nodded “Sorry, didn’t realise how much pain …” he shuddered again and took a deep breath “Sorry, I won’t take a minute.”

“Take as long as you need,” Adam replied gently and sat down, crossed his legs and drank the rest of his coffee.

Eventually Jotham’s breathing evened out and he was able to open his eyes, he looked at Adam and gave a whimsical smile of apology.

“Can you manage to tell me anything more?” Adam asked kindly and when Jotham nodded, very carefully, Adam drew the chair close to the bed once again.

“The matter concerning Senator Jefferson’s death … remember?”

“I do. I also recall that his wife was arrested for his murder.”

“She was.” Jotham would have nodded but decided not to do so as each time he had done so it had felt as though his head with burst with pain. “ But Evarts and Hayes were at great pains to mention a particular club…remember how we swore not to let them think we knew anything about it?”

Adam frowned now, “I remember. I preferred to forget it, but now that you mention it I remember it well. Professor Jefferson mentioned it before he died. He warned us that his brother had been a member and that it would be wiser to forget it. So we did!” he pursed his lips in familiar fashion and narrowed his eyes.

Jotham was silent for a while Adam presumed he was thinking over the adventure they had shared in Brazil, the heat, the snakes, the alligators. Horrible though that was it never haunted him so badly as that of the Alaskan adventure with O’Brien. The deaths of Rostov, ship’s carpenter, and of Jack Lawson, Lieutenant. He sighed heavily which seemed to rouse Jotham from his introspection, he licked his lips and Adam promptly got to his feet in order to provide some water for the man.

“Certain ones in Government didn’t realise O’Brien’s journals had been sent to you. Had they done so they would have acted before now… it was only when that Journalist, Daniel deQuille began getting in touch with his contacts and asking about various matters that they realised you were privy to some information that they needed…or thought they needed. This journalist has some contacts close to Government personnel, and one of them asked too many of the wrong questions. I guess you could describe it as igniting the fuse to a stick of dynamite.”

“Jotham, I have read and re-read Daniel’s journals and can find no hint of what you are talking about, for example, who is No. 37. What does he have to do with Jack Lawson? Or Alaska?”

“Jack Lawson is related to a very senior member of the Senate…”

“Is he Number 37?”

“No, but there is a connection. Can you remember the names on that list?”

“There were 42.” Adam murmured, “Some I remember quite clearly because of how involved they were with Pelman, and the Andres. Then with Cassandra and Jeffrey Metcalfe of course, some others.” his voice drawled to a close and he shook his head, “No 37 means nothing to me at all, and I can’t find any reference to whoever it could be in O’Brien’s book.”

Jotham frowned and sighed “Perhaps it isn’t there then, but someone thinks it is.”

“I guess so. No idea who that someone is…other than No. 37?”

Jotham indicated the need for something more to drink and after swallowing more water he rubbed his brow, felt the rough dressing binding his head together, he sighed “Adam, there was more than a list of names to the papers you collected, weren’t there?”

“Yes, maps and references to where large gold deposits could be found…mostly in the Yukon area.”

“Jack Lawson was a Confederate from a Confederate family, his brother worked in Government …”

“He was on the list and arrested.”

“Yes, he was but he knew about those papers and he told Metcalfe about them, who told Pelman. That’s why they needed Jack on board ship to get the papers. Not just for the names of possible traitors, but because of the location of the gold and other minerals.” he drew in his breath “Jack Lawson’s brother served a term in prison and came out swearing to kill you. He blames you for Jack’s death, and for the collapse of their plans, to restore the Confederacy.”

Adam shook his head “Are you telling me this has all to do with that?”

“My superiors told me that I was to warn you about Lawson, possibly using a different name. But the person who is No. 37 is the one who is pulling the strings. Going back to that journalist, when his contact started asking too many questions this person contacted Lawson.”

He paused, unable to continue, Adam sat back and thought over what had been said, it was not very coherent but he was getting a picture in his mind now, he leaned forward “What has that club Jefferson mentioned, what had that to do with it?”

“From what I can make out from the information given to me this person is more or less running the show.”

“If they…your superiors … know that, then surely they know who No. 37 must be? If that being the case, then they don’t really need me at all, do they?”

Jotham seemed to need to think about that, he closed his eyes, muttered that it was too involved for him just now and drifted into sleep. Adam sighed and shook his head, a few more names, situations, past events had been thrown into the mix but none of it seemed to come together to form a whole. It still left him wondering what, if anything, all this had to do with Daniel 0’Brien.

………………..

A shadow moved within shadows and a hand reached out to touch the shoulder of a man who was standing in a doorway observing the window in the building opposite.

“You fool! I could have killed you.”

“But you didn’t. Perhaps you’re getting too slow for this job, Mowatt.”

Mowatt shook his head and removed his hand from the butt of his gun handle, he peered into the dark to make out Atherton’s face “What are you doing here?”

“The same as you. Watching Harcourt.”

“I told you to disappear.”

“I did. Maxim left to return back to where he came from….but I decided to stay and see what was going on.”

“Nothing’s going on.” Mowatt grunted, and then looked at the window again, the light had gone out.

Atherton shifted from one foot to another, and got told to keep still or clear out. For a moment both men were silent before Mowatt asked, in a whisper, why they had shot at Adam Cartwright earlier.

“Harcourt suggested it, just shoot to warn him off.”

“Warn him off of what?”

Atherton shrugged “Who knows. He has some very persuasive ways about him does Harcourt. To be honest I thought he would be the one fingered to head this operation.”

“You thought wrong.”

“Obviously!” Atherton snorted with slight contempt and then looked back to the blackened window, “How long you staying here for?”

“As long as it takes.”

“Places like this do have a back exit you know?”

Mowatt said nothing to that but after a seconds silence shook his head, stuffed his hands in his pocket and strode away. Atherton watched him go, a slightly crooked smile on his face as though he found the whole thing amusing, highly amusing.

Chapter 31

In the home of Joe and Mary Ann Cartwright the moon light shone faintly into the room where the baby slept so soundly. Constance had been fed and gently laid to rest upon her pillow by her mother who stood gazing down at her before slipping away to rejoin her husband in their bed.

She had already peeked in to check on Daniel who was sleeping with his favourite toy clutched in one hand. He barely stirred as she tucked the coverlet back around him, and kissed his brow. She had stood there for a moment just to savour the sight of the child she loved so much. As she did so she thought of the new baby boy sleeping in the crib on the Ponderosa and wondered how life would readjust with him there.

She left Daniel to his sleep and made her way to the bed where Joe was sleeping as soundly as his son and daughter were now. She cuddled up close to him, wrapped an arm around his body and heard him murmur contentedly. Within minutes her eyes were closing, and she was slipping back into sleep.
Hester was awakened by the sound of the baby crying and hurried to where he lay in his crib. She reached down and picked him up, held him close and rocked him against her body. What a dear child he was, but oh how he smelled. Clean diapers were certainly required and she made haste to attend to that duty before taking him to be fed. Hoss snored contentedly, smacked his lips and muttered something about rhubarb pie.

They had discussed his name earlier and the girls had been asked what they would like to call their little brother but gave a list of rather incongruous names that both Hoss and Hester felt were a little awkward to use. Ben had been consulted and offered the opinion that as Hoss had never been known by his given name, Erik, perhaps it could be conferred upon their son.

She had felt such a glow of pride at Ben referring to this infant as Hoss and her son. Of course there were, as yet, no legal ties to bind them to him, but that would soon be adjusted. It was agreed the baby would be known as Erik Paul Cartwright. Two mother’s choices would be respected, Inger’s for her son and that sad little woman who had chosen to call her baby Paul, after the doctor who had delivered him.

She lowered the flame in the lamp a little so that the baby could relax in a more gentle light, and smiled down at him, stroked his cheek with her forefinger. He was so like the little brother she could remember smiling up at her from his cot all those years ago that she felt it was like a miracle to hold him in her arms as she was now. The baby smiled, his nose wrinkled and the blue eyes widened. Nothing could have been more perfect.
In the home of Adam and Olivia Cartwright the injured man slept soundly. A healing sleep one hoped, from which he would awaken with a clearer head and memory. Perhaps he could recall some pertinent aspects of the situation that currently eluded the man seated beside the bed.

There was a writing desk in every guest room, and confirming to himself that Jotham would sleep well whether he sat by the bed or not, Adam got to his feet and made his way now to the desk. Turning up the flame in the lamp he sat down, opened a drawer and removed note paper which he placed upon the desks surface. With pen in hand he began to write down several points.

“Question…the obvious…who is 37?

“Question… who sent Jotham here?

Question … why was Daniel so severely beaten )
Why was I shot at.. )

Question… what has Jack Lawson to do with )
This ? Is there a connection? )
Is No 37 on the list of names… ? )

Pertinent facts or assumptions: It has something to do with O’Brien’s book and the assignment to Alaska. All main antagonists are dead…or are they? Another question then which leads to the thought that whoever 37 is, was he pulling strings with regard to the Pelmans and Metcalfes at that time?

Which means No 37 has been an influential figure but in the background for a long time.

Daniel had the book, some parts were damaged and he rewrote those passages…did he notice something that prompted him to contact his agents in Washington and elsewhere? Whom would they have contact with? Did he make an honest copy of O’Brien’s journal?”

He stretched, closed his eyes and rubbed his temple in a little circular movement of his fingers. It only slightly eased the ache behind his eyes and down the back of his neck. No doubt about it, he was bone weary. Perhaps he should go and get some sleep, even if for only a few hours.

He glanced down at O’Brien’s journal, paused a moment as he wondered whether or not to start reading it through …again! But no, his eyes were weary, there was too much to think about and sometimes, when one slept, the brain somehow slipped into finding answers to various questions that previously had been unfathomable.
He glanced at the clock on the wall as he left the room, it was 3 o’clock in the morning. Perhaps two hours would suffice. Jotham was out of any danger, sleeping soundly, two hours would do no harm to him without supervision.

Olivia murmured slightly as he edged into bed. He closed his eyes and the dull ache behind his eyes began to recede. He would soon be asleep.

Sofia woke up and wondered if she were still dreaming. She had dreamt that she was in the pink room with the doll house. The beautiful doll house. She closed her eyes and tried to remember what it looked like, but all she could recall was the lady telling her that the little wooden dolls in the house were her parents, Emily and James. She closed her eyes and remember the satisfaction she had felt upon losing them the next day as she walked to Ella’s.

She settled comfortably back into sleep. Her thoughts were on Ella, and how soon she would be there in town and perhaps, one day, she would be dancing and running and walking just like any other little girl. Every little girl was a princess really, wasn’t she?

Reuben slept but he had left his bed and gone for a walk. He would remember nothing about it next day but at that point of time he was walking into the spare room where the injured man lay. He stood beside the bed and when the man whispered “Water” it was Reuben who gently helped him drink the water from the glass and then set it back down on the night stand.

Jotham muttered a thank you and vaguely watched as the little night shirted figure wandered back out of the room and closed the door.

Reuben crept back into his bed and fell back into a level of sleep that put an end to his desire to go walking.

Nathaniel sucked his thumb and in his little dreams saw sugar mice with black eyes. He sucked harder as the sugar mice turned into mice with twitching noses and sharp little teeth. They seemed to have decided that they didn’t want to be eaten and should give this little boy a taste of his own medicine. As they advanced upon him he screamed …

In her room Olivia woke up to the sound of her son’s cries. She was dimly aware of her husband sleeping by her side and was relieved to know that he was there and not forcing himself to stay awake by his friends side. It took little time to calm Nathaniel, but he clung to her so she sat in the little chair by the window and rocked him back and forth while she looked out upon the dark sky, the bright stars and the cruising moon. How many times had she looked upon the mood and wondered if her husband were alive and well, if he saw the same moon, if he would come home safely.

Adam shivered and in his sleep he saw Rostov fall upon the snow, blood blossoming like scarlet streamers upon virgin white linen. Jack Lawson was next to die, shot through the head and he fell so quickly, so fatally down into the snow, his blood mingling with that of Rostovs. It was always their eyes that haunted him most. Despite the assurances O’Brien had given him that their eyes had been closed, he still saw them staring up into the sky, the snow falling upon their sightless orbs.

He woke up, he always woke up at that point, he had never been able to get beyond it. Of course not, how could he? He had been shot himself, hadn’t he? Even in his dreams he could never change reality, he just felt the thump of the bullet, and then had fallen. He wondered as he woke up if he had lain there with his eyes open too.

………………

Daniel deQuille opened his eyes and looked up into the face of Amanda Ridley who had appointed herself as his personal nurse. The fact that she had fallen asleep and was therefore unaware of his return to consciousness rather discredited her for the position but she was redeemed when the man stretched out a hand and touched hers.

Apart from the fact that she nearly collapsed from fright, Amanda quickly rallied and called for the doctor or a nurse (a proper one with qualifications) to come and attend to the patient.

While they did what was necessary Amanda hurried out of the hospital to the sheriff’s office to inform a rather sleepy Vinnie Tyler and Mark Watts that the journalist was now awake and perhaps the sheriff needed to know.

The deputies decided such knowledge could wait until morning.

Daniel had had a soft easy going life, and would readily admit that the worst bruises he ever encountered was due to the poor suspension in the stage coach that had brought him to Virginia City. Now his every bone ached and pained. He was seeing faces that were blurred and unfamiliar. His teeth ached and when he ran his tongue over them he realised, with dismay, that one was missing and several others were sharp due to having been broken. He was sure he was going to die and closed his eyes again.

Why? Why had it all happened? What were those men in his office doing for Pete’s sake? All that mess and they had found nothing, but how was he to know if they had or not since he didn’t know what it was they were looking for?

The doctor was prodding and poking which made Daniel retch, he needed to vomit, there was something seriously wrong with his stomach. He was hot but was shivering. A cold pair of hands were touching him, it sent more tremors over him. He sighed and groaned.

A disembodied voice muttered “He’s going to be alright, he’ll be coming round soon.”

Another voice said “He needs some medication. He’ll be in a lot of pain.”

He was more than happy to comply when someone held a spoon to his mouth and explained to him that he needed to swallow the medication. He recognised the smell and taste, it was an opiate, he relaxed and allowed himself to float away back into sleep.
…………..

Cheng Ho Lee rose early and went to the sick room to attend upon Jotham and check on his needs. By the time Adam entered the room Jotham had a clean night shirt, had been washed, shaved and the bedding changed. Adam surveyed the man thoughtfully and was reminded of the number of times Hop Sing had done just the same for them. He felt chastened. How much they took for granted from these loyal men.

Jotham opened heavy eyes and turned them towards his friend, “I’m sorry to be the harbinger of bad news every time I come here, Adam.”

“It keeps life from getting boring.” Adam replied thinking how wonderful life was when it was boring, his dear Olivia, the children, rounding up cattle, digging out water holes, mending fences. He was still tired, his head pounded so when Cheng Ho Lee entered the room with a tray laden with food and coffee his smile brought dimples that showed his
appreciation more than words. Cheng Ho Lee accepted the unspoken thanks, bowed and left the room.

Over the first cup of coffee of the day Adam asked one of the questions on the list “Who actually sent you, Jotham? Who are your superiors this time?”

Jotham smiled although his eyes were still dulled by the pain of his injuries “Mr Evart sent me. He felt you were the only one who could get this situation sorted out. He has great confidence in you after what happened with Mrs Jefferson.”

“And what about Mr Hayes, our illustrious President?”

Jotham shook his head, winced and groaned “No, he doesn’t know anything about it. Evarts wants to avoid his getting to know.”

Adam said nothing but walked over to the window with cup in one hand, saucer in the other. He saw Reuben hurrying over to the stables in order to check on Max and the horses. Sofia ran behind him, her blonde hair in braids tied in pink ribbons. He sighed and turned to his friend in the bed, “Evarts huh?” he repeated and shrugged “Well, I guess that makes sense.”

Chapter 32

Adam made sure he was present at the meal table when the children returned so that he could share the breakfast with them all. Only his wife would have noticed how weary he looked, how lack lustre the eyes. To Sofia and Reuben he chatted as usual with them and when he mentioned that he would be going into town later Reuben immediately asked if he could go along also.

“Not this time, son.” Adam replied quickly, perhaps a little too quickly for the disappointment was hard for the boy to disguise. “I have some business to attend to and your Ma may have things for you to do here.” he excused himself and rose to his feet, placed the napkin by the plate “Don’t forget next week you both go back to school.” he looked at Sofia who had started back as though she had heard the most surprising thing of her life “And don’t forget it, Sofia. School! Do you hear?”

“Yes, Pa, but …”

“No but’s …there’s no reason for you both not to go to school and Mr Evans must be wondering why you aren’t there already.” he kissed Olivia and looked into her eyes, saw the concern in them, “I have some things I want to discuss with Daniel.”

“DeQuille? What would he know …” she stopped remembering that little children have big ears and what they didn’t understand of an adult conversation they could soon make up and terrify themselves in the process.

Adam merely smiled and kissed her “I’ve just a few things to do first.”

Reuben jumped up “Shall I get Sport or Mistral saddled up for you, Pa?”

“Mistral would be fine, thanks, son.”

Reuben threw his father a smile, pleased to be of service, he threw his napkin down and promptly left the room. Sofia tugged at her father’s sleeve

“Pa, will you take my letter for Ella to the man so it will get to her soon?”

“Leave it on the bureau for me.” Adam replied and tweaked her pigtail.

With a sigh Olivia watched as her husband left the room, then she shook her head, there was little point in worrying about things she didn’t know or understand. Having thought that she realised it was because she didn’t know or understand that was causing most of the worry.

In Jotham’s room the window was slightly ajar, a pleasant breeze drifted across the floor bringing with it the scent of the oncoming spring. The man in the bed slept soundly, a good dose of laudanum had eased his pain and once again made it tolerable to sleep.

Returning to the desk Adam sat down and opened Daniel’s journal. His friends scrawling hand writing swept across the pages and with a sigh he sat down to read, a pen in hand, determined to note down anything that could lead to the unravelling of this mystery.

“Memories, considerations of the Alaskan Assignment
I feel honour bound to say that as soon as we were given our orders to go to Alaska, by Commodore Pelman, a man I never liked and would eventually have reason to despise. It was the cryptic way we were forbidden to sail in those waters but had to pretend to be surveyors for the Alaska Commercial Company* in order to appease the Russians who may or may not be sailing in those waters … I just felt that there had to be more in the affair than what little we had been told.

We sailed with a full complement of men. Second Officer Philip Thomas, Officers Richard Friend, Jack Lawson and Timothy Masters. Of the officers on board Masters was the only one I would have come close to suspecting of treason. But I was wrong…my instincts were misdirected.”
Adam carefully underlined the comment made about the officers. He could recall his own initial doubts about Masters, a man who should have attained higher ranking but lacked the ability to lead others. Jack Lawson on the other hand excelled in such skills. The man on the bed sighed and stirred restlessly in his bed and after checking to make sure that Jotham was comfortable Adam returned to his task. He chewed on the pen though, trying to work out in his own mind what it was exactly that he had to look out for among all the words that Daniel had written.

“Adam didn’t mention anything about my marriage to Maria. Not until we had been at sea some time in fact. I missed her, terribly, after all we had been married such a brief time. I wish I had known about her connection with Jack Lawson, things could have been so different had I known.”

Adam jotted down that reminder. The relationship between Maria O’Brien and Jack Lawson. Cousins. He leaned back into the chair and frowned thoughtfully as he juggled with the possibilities of this being the link that would be the first rung of a ladder leading to No 37:s identity. He wrote it down on the notepad with a question mark.

“Another thing I should have noticed was that Lawson never mentioned knowing that he could speak Russian. Not even when we were discussing it with them. I guess had we known then some things would have been different. Then again perhaps not, after all, Adam later admitted that he had known, but as they say hindsight is a wonderful thing. The mistakes that we would be prevented from making were we only to know we were about to make them.

Josef Rostov had Russian family, but a man passionate about the debt of gratitude he owed America. An energetic busy man, he was liked by everyone although he was a hard taskmaster on his co-workers. Adam had the greatest respect for him. I think he liked the rough and ready way Rostov had about him, but then Rostov had a great respect for his Captain.”

Adam sighed and shook his head, such a respect for Captain that he willingly went to his death for him. Adam shivered as though a ghost had walked over his grave but then realised the breeze from the window was becoming too cold. After he had shut it down he checked the fire, placed more wood upon it and returned to the desk, casting an eye over at the clock as he did so. Another hour and then he would have to leave for town.

“I wondered for a long time why Adam had asked Jack Lawson along with us when we went to find Irena Pestchouroff . All we needed was to find her and collect some papers from her. It should have been so easy. When we left the Ainola I remember thinking that is was spring, surely even Alaska has spring?

The first storm hit us hard. It nearly killed us. I remember Lawson saying he wanted to go to sleep, I think we all did…the howling, the growling of that wind. The power of it. The snow was like nothing I had ever experienced before nor since. Thank goodness we were not on board ship and at sea when it hit. It toppled the sledge completely over. I remember it was then that we started reciting poetry, singing songs. Rostov sang songs in Polish, he said he wouldn’t translate the words as it would make even a seaman blush.
“Here, where the world is quiet,
Here, where all trouble seems
Dead winds’ and spent waves’ riot
In doubtful dreams of dreams;
I watch the green field growing
For reaping folk and sowing,
For harvest time and mowing
A sleepy world of streams.”
“I am tired of tears and laughter,”
“And men that laugh and weep,
Of what may come hereafter
For men that sow to reap;
I am weary of days and hours,
Blown buds of barren flowers,
Desires and dreams and power
And everything but sleep.”
We were found by Yu’pik who took us to their settlement and it was then Jack Lawson showed his true colours. He ran out on us. And Adam had known, or suspected it all along. How …I don’t know. But Adam’s instincts have always been a mystery to most men. Why should I be any different? Jack Lawson had gone on to Mekoryuk and we were too tired to do anything about it. I wonder at his stamina, how he managed it, for the three of us felt like dead men walking..not that we did, we just fell down and slept like logs.”

Adam put down the pen and leaned back, stretched his shoulders so that the shirt strained against the muscles of his body. From the bed there came a sigh, a groan so that he turned to see if Jotham were waking but upon noticing there was no chance of that happening he resumed his task.

Cheng Ho Lee came and placed a pot of coffee, hot and steaming, on the night stand. Adam murmured his thanks but did not look up from his scrutiny of the writing. He could see that this was where Daniel had begun his copy.

“It didn’t take much time to catch up with Jack. Although I was angry I can still recall feeling sorry for him. He was young, bitter with hatred that had been bred in him by the events of the war. I wish I had been able to talk to him man to man, instead of having to stand by in judgement as his superior officer. Had I had the chance to talk to him we may have discovered we had a lot in common…apart from the relationship he had with Maria, of course. But I never knew that until much later, when he had been dead for weeks. What a curse life can be at times …

After we found him it took little time to track down Irena Pestchouroff, not that I had the pleasure of meeting her as Adam took Jack with him in a bidarka (two seater kayak). It took me a while to swallow my pride at that, no friend likes to feel inferior to a man already proven to be a traitor. But I knew Adam well enough to suspect he had ulterior motives. No, that’s wrong, I should say, that he had superior motives, ones not fettered by envy or malice or anger.

They returned with the list and Jack Lawson looking confused, more relaxed, as though he had had a weight lifted from his shoulders. I should add some words here about Alaska, about the …”

Adam skipped the ramblings of his First Officer in describing the cruel beauty of the place, such words were trifling and irrelevant. He stood up, stretched again and poured out more coffee. Once more he walked over to the window and stood there, cup in hand, and once again he went over the questions in his mind that he had penned down.

So far there had been no solution although there was one tenuous thread that seemed to weave its way along the narrative. Even as he tried to track it down it wavered and disappeared from his mind. He shook his head and emptied the cup of coffee, glanced once again at the clock and realised he needed to make that trip into town.

Olivia was seated at the table with the children guiding them through their lessons. Nathaniel was seated in a high chair scribbling on a slate and looked up with glee as his father appeared. Freedom at last his smile seemed to indicate but it faded when Adam, after ruffling his curls, walked over to Olivia and kissed her cheek.

“I’m going into town now. Is there anything that you need?”

“Tell Bridie, should you see her, that I shall come on by very shortly.”

“Nothing else?”

“No, that’s all. Oh, Sofia would want you to post her letter to Ella.” she smiled and raised her face for another kiss

“Keep an eye on Jotham for me, will you?”

“Of course I will, darling.”

Sofia and Reuben glanced at one another as their parents kissed each other with that tenderness that was sometimes more passionate, more promising than any other kind. Then they were all smiles as he dropped a kiss on Sofia’s blonde head, tweaked Reuben’s nose and bade them farewell.

Olivia watched him with her eyes until the door was closed and he was gone from view. With a sigh she looked at the children, Sofia diligently writing words copied from her Primer and Reuben staring at the math problem as though, if he stared hard enough, he would find the solution, it would just leap out at him!

Nathaniel drooled on his slate and realised it made patterns. That kept him quiet for a while!
……………..

The room in which Daniel deQuille had been taken had that smell often lingering in hospitals and Candy hated it. He held his hat in his hand and followed the nurse as she led him to where the newspaperman lay, sedated and looking much the worse for wear. At the sight of him Candy felt truly sorry for the man, and after gazing down at the bandaged figure he cleared his throat loudly enough for the man to hear and be aware of his presence.

“Sheriff?” deQuille muttered and succeeded in opening one eye, “How kind! To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?”

Ignoring the sarcasm Candy shrugged “I came to see how you were, Mr deQuille, and to ask some questions.”

“Is that all?” Daniel groaned, “Well, I’m not dying as some had presumed would be the case. Was I meant to die, do you think? Was that the purpose of those men in attacking me?”

“I don’t know, sir. It would help if you could give me some description of them.”

“Good heavens, man, they walked through the offices, there were numerous members of staff who could give you better descriptions of them than I!”

“True enough, and I have them all noted down. But those members of staff didn’t see them with the attention to detail that you would possess, considering the situation you were in.”

“Horrendous. Awful.” Daniel moaned theatrically. He sighed and closed his eyes, or one eye rather, and shuddered. “Three men. Very well dressed. One shorter than the other two. Plump and his clothing too tight. Didn’t prevent him from appearing to enjoy thrashing me.”

“The other two?”

“The tallest had a beard. He was the spokesman, he was the one asking the questions. He didn’t actually, well, I can’t recall him actually raising a hand to strike me. Perhaps he did, I can’t remember. He was wearing a very well cut coat, I remember quite envying him when I first saw it. But then I got distracted when I saw the mess they had made of my office.”

His voice faltered, it was weakening and he coughed harshly. Candy wondered if he should offer him some water but before he had moved a nurse appeared, gave the sick man something to drink and after glaring at Candy, hissing “Five more minutes” she left.

“What were they looking for, any idea?”

“They were asking about Adam Cartwright. A book he possessed, I mean, possesses. I borrowed it. I seem to have asked too many questions from the wrong people. I don’t know why, there didn’t seem to be anything so important in the accounts I read.”

“Adam loaned you the books?”

Daniel said nothing, he chose to cough a lot at that point and to start breathing heavily. Candy waited for an answer but received none. Time was ticking away and he could see that Daniel had reached the stage of being unco-operative. He thanked the man, and took his leave, passing Amanda Ridley in the corridor as he did so. That was a surprise but he chose not to think more of it, he was confused enough as it was.

Chapter 33

In Mrs Albierno’s boarding house one of her boarders was carefully cutting off his facial hair with scissors loaned from his landlady.  Once satisfied with the task he lathered up his jaw line and began to carefully remove the remaining stubble.  The cutthroat blade moved swiftly across the skin, taking soap and bristles away to be lost within the bowl of warm water on the wash stand.

Eventually satisfied he dried his face on a towel and then peered closely into the mirror, running his finger tips across the smooth skin as he did so.

He was a good looking man, handsome with the beard but handsomer without it.  After ensuring that all traces of soap were gone, he smoothed back his hair and began to put on his coat, his hat, some gloves and then left the room.

Mrs Albierno did a double take as her lodger passed her with a polite smile and lift of the hat.  Not entirely impervious to the good looking males who lodged at her establishment she blushed, and then bustled on to her tasks.

Harcourt strode down the sidewalk with a thoughtful expression on his now hairless face.  He was about to cross the road when a horseman passed by threading his way through the traffic.  It was the horse that drew Harcourt’s attention initially.  An expert on horseflesh he was able to discern the pedigree of this excellent beast with a single glance.  Her origins were evident in every line of her elegant limbs.

He then gave his attention to the horseman and recognised the man as Adam Cartwright, one time Commodore and a pain in the neck  of a number of President Grant’s  members of staff, particularly those in the Army.  Close up and in the flesh Harcourt could see the kind of man he had heard so much about from so many others.  It showed as obviously as his horse displayed her pedigree.  The straight back, broad shoulders, firm wrist controlling the animal all indicated a confident man;  the lines of his face showed in his profile a stubborn chin, determined mouth and clear handsome eyes.

Harcourt gave a slight smile before turning aside to walk in the opposite direction.  He knew where he would go now, a slow ride to the Ponderosa on such a day would be delightful!
………………

Adam followed the nurse to the room where Daniel deQuille lay swathed in his bandages and self pity.  He didn’t move when Adam stepped into the room and placed his hat on the night stand.  No one spoke as the rancher pulled out a chair and sat down all the while looking thoughtfully down at the patient who seemed to be barely breathing in the bed.

“”Well, Daniel,  it seems you have stirred up more than enough trouble for one man to contend with!  I hope you’re satisfied.”

“Sympathy, coming from you, Adam, is much appreciated.” The journalist groaned. “They knocked out one of my teeth.”

“You got off lightly, deQuille.” Adam said grimly, “You  stepped into a situation way above your head.”

DeQuille said nothing but remained silent. His brain was already mulling over the fact that he had stumbled on the scoop that would elevate his career to new heights.  Perhaps he would become famous if he could only get up the strength to leave this hospital bed.   He could sense that Adam Cartwright was staring at him and waiting for some explanation.  But what was there to explain?

“I can’t talk.  I’m a sick man. I’ve said all I can remember to the sheriff already.”

“Good. I’ll see him later.  But first of all I want you to give me the names of all your contacts.”

“What?  I can’t do that!”

“Sorry, you’ll have to. They need to know they could be in danger.  If this is the result of the enquiries on you, just think what dangers they may have to go through because of your meddling!”

Daniel gulped. Nearly choked.  Adam said and did nothing but continued to give that long cold stare that Daniel could sense even though he hadn’t turned his own head to look at him.

Finally Adam sighed, crossed one long leg over the other. The chair creaked slightly as he shifted his body “Daniel, what did you find in O’Brien’s journal that interested you so much that you felt so compelled to pursue it?  Was it a significant name?  Place? Was there any slip of paper or notation found that you neglected to write down when you made a copy of the burnt pages?”

DeQuille groaned and the flesh of his face that could be seen blushed red.

“I just saw the names, that’s all.  I wanted to know more about the people you were involved with..Rostov,  Lawson. I met Lebedev’s  brother when he came here that  time with …with that other Russian Doestov.”. his voice trickled away, he closed his eyes and willed Adam to leave him alone.

“But why?  What was so important to you to chase after this information?  You must have known you were on dangerous ground even stealing ..”

“I stole nothing, I was just borrowing …”

“Stealing!” Adam said with such vehemence that Daniel inwardly shuddered.

Daniel sighed and silence settled between them. Adam was beginning to think it was more like dealing with a recalcitrant child than an adult when Daniel spoke again, a lowered tone of voice this time.

“I worked with Sam Clements while he was here * and when he left I never thought he’d get to be so famous on his stories, after all, they were no better than mine. Then I paid him a visit at his home at Nook Farm, Hartford, in* Connecticut.  He had so much – fame, money, this enormous house.  He lived next door to Harriett Beeching Stowe, you know*…” His voice drifted into a whisper, a tear stole down from his eye and dampened the pillow.

Adam knew exactly now what prompted Daniel’s actions…thwarted ambition,  envy, covetousness for another’s fame.  He said nothing however, but regarded the other man from beneath heavily hooded eyes.

“I thought a story about a dashing sea Captain’s adventures would appeal to readers everywhere…O’Brien’s journals were a gift, I couldn’t resist seeing what you were involved with and it kind of grew into an obsession.  I didn’t think anyone would place so much importance on them.”

“Someone obviously did .   look, Daniel,  try and remember the sections you copied out.  Had O’Brien marked or underlined a name or event … anything …that made it in any way significant?”

“I’ve already said, there was nothing. If I had seen anything I would have copied it down”

Adam sighed again, shook his head then rose to his feet and picked up his hat. He stood looking down at deQuille for a moment before turning to leave.

“I’m sorry, Adam. I should have asked you for permission.”

“If I recall correctly you did and if I recall rightly I refused.  I could have you arrested for theft, you know, and I still want the names of your contacts.”

“But I keep telling you, they’re confidential.”

“Not any more, I should imagine whoever sent his pals to get any information out of you knows every detail about them by now.  They could even be in a hospital or morgue as we speak!”

It was deQuille’s turn to sigh, there was a pause “In my jacket, inside left hand pocket there ‘s a seam, my list of contacts is in there.”

Adam nodded slowly, found the jacket and the seam hidden behind the inner pocket.  He withdrew the small pocket book and glanced through the list off names written within. After returning it in the jacket he bade deQuille goodbye and left the room.

Harcourt was standing beside Mistral along with a small crowd of onlookers who were admiring the animals finer points.  He stepped away as Adam approached and slipped out of sight as the rancher made his way through the group. A well built and handsomely dressed man approached Adam and asked Adam how much he would take for the animal only to receive a terse ‘she’s not for sale’ in reply.

Tight lipped and furrow browed  Adam walked the horse the distance from the hospital to the Sheriffs Office.  He was slowed down here by a group of spectators crowding around a body draped over the saddle of a horse.  Adam recognised the animal as Joe ‘s horse, Navajo.  The crowd parted to let him through and as he began to tie Mistral’s reins to the hitching rail Candy came out of the building with Joe and Clem.

“Found him when I was at Horseshoe Bend” Joe said quietly “can’t think what he was doing there. Never seen him before, have you?”

Both Adam and Candy leaned in closer to look at the dead man ‘s face. Both shook their heads “Never seen him before.” Candy muttered.

“No, total stranger.  So far as anyone can tell. He’s a mess. Someone took a lot of trouble to take to the Ponderosa though.” Adam muttered.

Riley the undertaker elbowed his way through the crowd, asked Joe his permission to take Navajo with the body, and upon Joe’s consent he led the horse away, the body swaying slightly as he did so. The crowd slowly drifted away to, leaving the men standing together watching as Navajo bore the body away .

“No horse then?” Candy muttered as they strolled to the office.

“No,  he was just lying on his back.  Spread eagled. As you noticed the birds got him first.” Joe frowned “No footprints. No indication of any horse being nearby.  Another thing -” he paused before looking at them both, “His throat was cut somewhere else.  There was hardly any blood where I found him.”

“He’s well dressed, smart city clothes and his boots had been polished.” Adam muttered and perched himself on the corner of the desk.

“Anything on him?”. Candy now needed to know but only received a shake of a head. From Joe.

Candy took Clem to Riley’s morgue and whereas Adam and Joe would have accompanied Roy in the past, neither one of them felt the inclination to follow along with the  sheriff and his deputy.   Adam sighed, rubbed the back of his neck and glanced in the direction of the  Silver Dollar, Joe nodded and they made their way over without a word being spoken between them.

Eventually seated at a table with a beer in front of them, both men relaxed a little. Adam, with a slight frown, asked Joe what he had been doing at Horseshoe Bend.

“Pa wanted me to check out the area.  He’s thinking of fencing it in.”

Adam shook his head “That’s not do-able, Joe.  It’s not good grazing ground there for a start.”

“You try telling him.” Joe grinned good humouredly, picked up his glass and sipped his beer “That man wasn’t meant to be found for some time, Adam.   No one ever goes there usually, just by chance Pa sent me and I wouldn’t even have seen him if not for the birds getting my attention.”

“What was your impression of him when you found him?”

Joe lounged back a little in his chair, frowned “Well dressed, shoes a good quality and polished.  Hands soft.  He’d worn a ring on his little finger at one time, that was obvious.  Definitely a city dweller, probably a stranger in town.”

“Well, I guess Candy will check out hotels and so forth.”.

“I checked his pockets, there was nothing on him to identify who he was, from what remained of his face he wasn’t old, probably my age.”

Adam nodded and picked up his glass, the beer was cold and refreshing.  He had just put down his glass when he realised a man was approaching the table and from the look on his face he was determined to confront them.  He immediately tensed his shoulders and sat straighter, Joe, noticing his brothers action turned  to see who was about to join them.

“Mr Cartwright?”.

“Mr Evans.” Adam inclined his head politely.

“Your children,  sir …”

“Will be at school on Monday, sir.”

Evans’ eyebrows rose, he frowned “I hope that they will be, sir.  Education isn’t a game to be toyed with, and despite their difficulties …”

“Difficulties?” Adam growled, his face darkened as a result of which Evans’ over bearing attitude diminished a little, he modified his tone of voice immediately.

“The distance they need to travel into town each day. They live further out than any of the others.  Children who arrive at school tired at the start of their day don’t do so well as those living in town.  It hampers their progress.  From what I have seen from the reports your son is an exceptionally bright child and…”

Adam raised a hand to halt the flow of words “I don’t mean to be rude, Mr Evans, but this is neither the time or place to discuss my children’s academic future.  They will be at school on Monday.  If you have anything to say then …”

Evans stared , nodded and muttered something before bidding them good day. Joe sighed and pushed his glass around between his hands “Wonder how long he’ll last here,” he mused, “Seems a mite over eager.”

Adam merely shrugged his shoulders, and stretched out his legs, then raised his eyebrows as he realised his brother was scrutinising him with narrowed eyes “What?”

“What? For Pete’s sake, Adam, have you looked at yourself this morning? You look like ..” Joe paused, the look on his brothers face sufficient warning to him to back off and change the subject.  However, he leaned towards Adam and in a low voice asked “Are you alright? ”

“Never better!” Adam retorted sharply and drained his glass before setting it back on the table.

“How’s Jotham?  Has he said anything yet that makes sense?”

Adam rubbed his chin, pouted a little “Nothing that makes much sense. Evarts sent him.”

“Who’s Evarts?” Joe asked, wide eyed innocence looked over the rim of his glass at his brother.

“The current Secretary of State.”

Joe nodded and put down his glass “Of course, I forgot that you weren’t just a lowly cowboy like us but rub shoulders with Government types.” He grinned good humouredly, “So it’s not so straightforward as we thought or rather, hoped!”

“No, and I just saw deQuille.  He’s in bad shape. I almost felt sorry for him.  I think his beating and my getting shot at are connected, the same men …”. he paused as he saw Candy enter the saloon glance around and then head in their direction.

It was Joe who ordered the drinks and by the time Candy was seated three glasses of beer were on the table.

“Well, what’s the news?” Joe asked quietly for the saloon was filling up now and it was wiser to be as discreet as possible.

“Not much.  He’s by way of a mystery.  Even the labels on his clothing were cut out.  He had his throat cut, from behind, right handed slash. Whoever did it knew what he was doing.”

“Apart from the mess from the birds there wasn’t the blood you’d expect to find from his manner of death, Candy.  He was killed someplace else!”

“Yes, Riley confirmed that fact.”. Candy sighed, shook his head and added “His clothing was clean.  Seems whoever killed him did so when he was naked or they redressed him.”

“They?  You think more than one man is involved?” Adam asked, looking more alert and interested now.

Candy said nothing for a moment but drank some of the beer.  Then he nodded “I think so.  Unless one man did it who had a lot of time on his hands.”. He swallowed some more beer “It would take time to murder someone, undress them and redress them.  The murderer would be in a mess himself.”

“Any idea when it happened?” Joe asked as he pushed away his glass feeling just slightly queasy.

“During the night I would think.” Candy answered and emptied his glass, “So far no body from a boarding house or hotel has come to report a blood stained room or boarder! So it could have been done out side somewhere.”

Adam nodded slowly “Do you think there could be a connection with deQuille’s beating?  Three well dressed men were responsible for that. And another thing, if the killer …” He paused as though to get the facts right in his mind “If he was undressed and then redressed, where did the extra clothing come from?”.

Candy shrugged “He had some available I suppose.”

“Why?   No one goes around with a case full of clothes unless they’re going on a journey, do they?”. Adam frowned, “Perhaps one of them was planning to run out on the others. He intended to board the train or stage out of here.”

Joe looked at Candy, then at Adam “A disagreement between them leading to one or two of them killing the other?”

The other two men nodded, Candy stood up and picked up his hat. “Well, that gives me a start on my enquiries anyway!”

The brothers watched him leave the saloon, Joe leaned in on Adam “Do you think this could involve Jotham?”

Adams mouth tightened, he was about to speak when two men approached the table, both removed their hats “About that horse of yours, Cartwright…”
Chapter 34

Apart from smoke rising from the chimneys the house was quiet with little evidence of anyone occupying it.  Several horses stood in the corral and paid silent observation to the horseman as he loped casually into the yard.

He glanced around him rather doubtfully but decided that as he had followed the directions he had been given this must be the building he sought.   He dismounted and tied the reins to the hitching post then strode over to the porch and rapped loudly on the door.

Olivia had just come from attending to Jotham and was rather startled at the sound of the loud rapping on the door. She frowned slightly, glanced at the clock and noted the time.

“It’s probably Dr Schofield,” she speculated to Cheng Ho Lee who took the tray from her and carried it to the other room .

Another rap on the door and she shook her head at the thought of confronting the irate doctor. The house was unusually quiet as the children, including Nathaniel,  had been collected by Hester to go to spend some time at Mary Ann’s.  As Hester said in explanation, children, even the best children  in the  world ( thus implying that their children did not fit that category) could make a lot of unnecessary noise when there was an invalid in the house. Taking the children “off her hands” would be the best way she and Mary Ann felt they could be of some assistance in the current situation.

Olivia had waved her children farewell and prepared Jotham a light meal while Cheng Ho Lee prepared the main meal of  the day. She had not been able to talk much to Jotham who ate little, spoke even less. It had put her in a slightly bad temper even though she couldn’t have explained to anyone as to the reason why. Now, to have to endure a visit from probably the most arrogant doctor in town, she was still frowning at the thought when she opened the door and was confronted by a total stranger.

The stranger on the doorstep removed his hat and gave her a charming smile, “Mrs Cartwright?   Mrs Adam Cartwright?”

Olivia nodded “Yes?”  she smiled, the frown vanished, he was such a charming looking man with such an affable smile “I’m Mrs  Cartwright, but if you want my husband I’m afraid you’ll have to wait as he’s in town, Mr – ?”

“Harcourt. Andrew Harcourt. Yes, I saw him in town earlier but it wasn’t convenient to stop and talk there.  I am a friend of his, Mrs Cartwright,  even though he may not realise it yet.”

Olivia was watching him as he spoke, and when he stopped speaking she was silent for a moment before asking him to step inside.  “Perhaps you would like something to drink, Mr Harcourt.  Cheng Ho Lee was about to make some coffee.”

Harcourt stepped inside and glanced swiftly around the room in which he now found himself.  He thanked her politely and removed his coat which Cheng took from him along with his hat and gloves.  Olivia indicated a chair close to the fire and then sat down herself in the chair opposite.

“Do you know my husband at all, Mr Harcourt?”  Olivia asked as she sat demurely opposite him, her hands clasped lightly in the lap of her skirts.

“No, not personally, Mrs Cartwright. By reputation, very much so. He is infinitely well thought of and respected in the navy.”

She smiled politely as she felt her spirits plunging.  First Jotham,  now Harcourt.  There was no doubt about it, Adam must be going to sea again, hence this man’s arrival. She cleared her throat and was about to speak when Cheng Ho Lee arrived with a tray bearing the coffee so she busied herself with preparing her guest a cup while hoping that her hands didn’t shake.

“So,” she smiled as she handed him a cup of the steaming beverage, “Are you in the Navy, sir?”

“I’m not a seaman, to be honest, Mrs Cartwright. I’ve suffered from mal de mer too much to even want to step foot on board a boat, but I do work for the Navy in another capacity.”

She said nothing to that but poured out her own coffee. “In another capacity? But still in the Navy?”

“There are a lot of different departments in the Navy..” he smiled, “All working together for the smooth running of that particular branch of the military defences of our country.”

She nodded “And which particular branch do you work for, Mr Harcourt?”

He smiled slowly and sipped his coffee, nodded and smiled his charming smile “This is excellent coffee, Mrs Cartwright. The best since I left Washington.”

She nodded rather absent mindedly, and was about to speak when there was a knock on the door. She excused herself and hurried across to open it and found herself looking at Paul Martin’s genial smile, “I’ve come to check up on the patient, Olivia. Is it convenient?”

“More than you know, do step inside. Would you like some coffee, Paul?”

“Delighted. Thank you. I’ll check on the gentleman first shall I?” Paul removed his hat and shrugged off his coat which she took with a smile that was far warmer than the one with which she had greeted Harcourt.

Paul paused at seeing Harcourt in the room, although the gentleman had risen to his feet politely to greet the doctor “Oh, is this the patient? I must say he’s looking remarkably well.”

Olivia hastened to correct Paul’s error, smiles were exchanged, hands shaken and introductions made after which the doctor made his way upstairs to attend to Jotham. Olivia watched his progress up the stairs with some relief at his having arrived at such an opportune moment, and then joined her guest back by the fire.

“Someone’s ill?” Harcourt asked politely, “Not one of the family, I hope?”

Olivia noticed how his glance had turned towards the children’s toys, a discarded book and she shook her head “No, it’s a friend of Adam’s. He had an accident recently and is quite unwell.”

Harcourt nodded, although his eyes lost the warm sparkle in them as his mind tried to figure out if there was a connection with the injured man and his particular mission. He smiled and drank more coffee. Olivia glanced towards the stairs and willed Paul to come down as soon as possible. As often happens in such cases both of them started to speak at the same time.

“Did you come …” “You have a lovely place here….”

Olivia paused, then as he did not continue she continued with the question she was going to ask “Did you come all the way from Washington to see my husband, Mr Harcourt?”

“I did indeed, Mrs Cartwright. Quite a journey, believe me,”

“Were you alone?” she asked although not sure why, perhaps she wondered if he had a wife, or associates, but her mind was occupied with worry about her husband, Jotham, the doctor and now this stranger..

“I met some – what shall I call them? – associates who travelled from Washington with me.” he replied quietly. “It was good to have some company on such a long journey.”

“Yes, of course …” her voice drifted as she heard Paul close the bedroom door upstairs and his footsteps upon the landing. “Excuse me, I’ll get another cup.”

Paul arrived with an amiable smile just as Olivia appeared from the other room bearing another cup and saucer in her hands. They shared a smile, she asked him how Bridie was and he confirmed that his wife was coming along well but her ankle was still swollen.

“How is your patient, Paul? Did you find him improved?” she poured out coffee and handed him the cup with a smile.

“I wish I had seen him earlier but Schofield gave me a good analytical report as you would expect.” his smile broadened, he glanced at Harcourt “Have you travelled far, sir?”

“Some distance, yes.”

Paul nodded, realised the man was not going to volunteer any further information and returned to look at Olivia “From what I can see he is making good progress. It will be a slow matter though, I hope he’s a patient man.”

“He’s been mainly comatose to be honest.”

“Yes, no doubt. It’s a wonder he didn’t kill himself” Paul sighed and looked concerned, then shook his head “Joe rode in just before I left town, brought a dead man along with him. I didn’t have time to see to him..the dead man I mean, as I wanted to get here as soon as possible. I did hear him say he had found the body at Horseshoe Bend.” he looked at Harcourt and for his benefit added that that was a rather boulder strewn area of the Ponderosa.

Olivia was about to venture a suggestion that perhaps it was one of their ranch hands, and that she hoped it was not, when there came another knock on the door, which opened before she could get to her feet. Ben removed his hat as he stepped into the room and smiled at his daughter-in-law who promptly hurried over to him, kissed his cheek and helped him out of his coat.

“I saw Paul’s buggy as I passed, and I believe you must be the owner of the horse, sir?”

Ben’s deep voice rumbled satisfyingly around the room, Olivia felt a sense of security settle over her and she smiled more sincerely than any other time since Harcourt’s arrival. Ben was ushered into the chair she had vacated while she, after hasty introductions, went in search of yet another cup and saucer.

Harcourt shook Ben’s hand and then resumed his seat. He could see in the man many of the things he had noticed about Adam, the stubbornness, the pride, the confidence. He told himself that any man who had built such an empire as the Ponderosa would certainly require all of those qualities.

“So, Mr Harcourt? What line of business are you in? I get the feeling that you are not a rancher but perhaps you are considering becoming one?”

“Ranching is not for me, sir. Although I congratulate you on building up such a grand place as the Ponderosa. It must have taken years of dedicated work.”

“It did, sir. My sons and myself have certainly sweated blood to get the Ponderosa built, as Dr Martin can testify.” he cast a smile over at Paul’s direction, and was rewarded with a guffaw of laughter and a vigorous nod of the head. “By the way, Paul, how is the patient?”

“Doing as well as can be expected.” Paul replied and then rose to his feet, “Well, I must go, thank you for the coffee, Olivia. Tell Adam I called in and that Mr Morton will no doubt be a rather testy patient for a while longer yet.”

Perhaps Ben was the only one there to notice the attention Harcourt paid to Paul’s comment once the name Morton was mentioned. As it was Olivia walked Paul to the door, asked him to give Bridie her best wishes and a promise that she would visit soon. Upon being asked about the baby she assured Paul that the infant was thriving, Hester was delighted and the little girls loved him.

Ben drank his coffee with his dark eyes fixed attentively upon Harcourt who appeared to have lapsed into deep thought and concentration as they awaited Olivia’s return to them.
…………………..

The brothers decided to ride home together. Adam had sent off cables to various places driving Eddy to distraction as a result as he recognised the names from having sent various cables to the same people under deQuille’s direction. Yes, he had agreed that he had the contacts’ addresses, and yes, he had agreed to send them because Adam had stressed the urgency and that deQuille himself had requested it. At the back of his mind Eddy fully expected the three well dressed gentlemen (for that was now common knowledge in town) to pay him a visit and mete out the same punishment as they had given deQuille.

Eddy had then proceeded to give Adam the Ponderosa mail which included a package, obviously a book, and a communication from someone in San Francisco which he opened and read with Joe waiting impatiently leaning against the Telegraph Depot’s wall.

“Anything important?” Joe finally had asked when Adam tucked the missive into his pocket.

“Something I promised Bridie concerning the mother of that baby. It’s been dealt with, for which I am more than grateful.”

Joe had nodded, waited for more information and had waited in vain.

As they rode side by side Adam suggested that they rode out to Horseshoe Bend and take a look around, but Joe demurred as it would have added hours to their journey. “We could do it tomorrow, get Hoss along.”

Adam nodded, that seemed the best solution, after all, Hoss was unlikely to miss anything.

“It’s an odd situation, Joe.” he said speculatively and he lowered his hat further as though that would assist his thought processes.

“What is? Finding that body at Horseshoe Bend? Well, I would say it was, after all, no one goes there usually. Seems someone must have known the area well enough to have taken the body there. I wonder who it was?”

“I wonder who killed him. Not pleasantly either.”

“It would have been quick.” Joe said thoughtfully, his brow creased, “But no one deserves to die like that, and to be abandoned as he was…to be honest, Adam, I’m surprised that they even bothered to re-dress him. Why go to all that bother? Why not bring him to wherever they wanted to dump him and … and then do the deed.”

Adam released his breath, he shrugged his shoulders “Well, I guess it’s Candy’s problem. I wonder if he regrets becoming sheriff?”

Joe switched his mind from corpses and murder to considering his friend Candy, the times they had shared together on round ups, branding, stampedes. He grinned “Of course he does, think of all he’s missing not being on the Ponderosa payroll.”

That brought the biggest grin to Adam’s face that he had worn all day.

Chapter 35

Andrew Harcourt was uncomfortably aware of the fact that he was fast becoming that most embarrassing of subjects – an unwelcome guest. It was obvious that Olivia was wanting to get on with other things, even if that was just to indulge in some conversation with her father- in-law, and Ben was looking harder faced and more suspicious as each minute ticked by.

After some awkward moments had passed Ben took the initiative and asked Harcourt what exactly he had come to see Adam about which made the poor man even more uncomfortable as he had to reply that that was a matter between Adam and himself surely?

Ben nodded solemnly and his tanned features set into even sterner lines “So, what exactly do you do for a living, Mr Harcourt?”

Olivia glanced anxiously at her guest, then at her father-in-law before she said in a quiet rather subdued voice that she believed Mr Harcourt was in the Navy. Ben’s face went a shade darker but he nodded his white head and pursed his lips before saying as normally as possible “A navy man? I would not have thought it, Mr Harcourt.”

“Well, I don’t actually have anything to do with ships and such, sir. I work more in the administrative side of things.”

Ben’s face registered nothing, perhaps he had never thought that all those ships going here and there needed management from an Administrative side, after all his sea going days were involved with the commercial aspect not the naval. He nodded and smiled at Olivia “Well, perhaps they have realised they owe Adam a few years extra pay.”

Olivia didn’t smile, nor did Harcourt. Ben grimaced, “Are you going to be in the territory for long, Mr Harcourt.”

“For as long as I need to be, sir.”

Harcourt put down the cup and saucer that he had been nursing for so long, he thanked Olivia once again for her kind hospitality and stood up “It seems that your husband has been delayed. But, if you do not mind, Mrs Cartwright, answering me this question …the patient your doctor has just seen, is he by any chance called Jotham Morton?”

Olivia and Ben exchanged a glance, she inclined her head but it was Ben who asked him why he would want to know. Harcourt nodded “I can understand your caution, Mr Cartwright, but believe me, as I told Mrs Cartwright earlier, I am a friend of Adams and have no desire to do him any harm. Jotham Morton and I are old associates, and I just wanted to make sure that it was him, that he was safe and well.”

Ben was silent for a moment or two, Olivia likewise. Harcourt was about to lose his patience when Ben nodded “Yes, the patient upstairs is called Jotham Morton. Whether or not he is the same man you claim to be associated with yourself, I wouldn’t know. His condition has been quite critical since he was brought here.”

“And – if you don‘t my asking – what caused his injuries?”

“He fell off his horse.” Olivia said bluntly.

“His horse actually tossed him off, and unfortunately Mr Morton’s fall was aggravated by a rather bumpy tumble down an escarpment. He sustained quite a few bad breaks and a concussion.” Ben added, watching the man’s face carefully as he spoke and satisfied by seeing a look of relief pass over Harcourt’s face.

“He never did get the hang of riding a horse,” Harcourt muttered and tugged at the watch chain that strung across his vest. He pulled out the watch and regarded the time, checked it with the clock ticking away the moments in the room “I wonder, would it be possible to go and see Mr Morton? To have a few words with him?”

“I don’t think so, Mr Harcourt.” Ben muttered and indicated the chair that had just recently been vacated “Why not sit down and tell us a little of yourself while we wait for my son to get home.”

Harcourt was clearly irritated by the suggestion, he glanced at the stairs as though indicating that he would rather be mounting them but then with a sigh resumed his seat. Olivia excused herself, saying that there were things she needed to do.

While the two men engaged in conversation she went to the kitchen, picked out her shawl and slipped outside, wrapping it closely around her for there was still a chill in the air despite the promise of spring.

Occasionally she glanced up at the window of the room where Jotham slept, or at the house wherein Ben and their guest were seated. Perhaps she should have stayed there, but she had felt uncomfortable, restless. Her nerves were strung out by the thought that Adam would be ordered back to sea and for a few moments she mulled over the fact that this was possible.

She walked to the corral and one of the horses immediately walked over to her, bowed his big head and indicated that he would appreciate a little fuss. It was almost a relief just to stand there and stroke the horse’s neck beneath his mane, or his soft velvet muzzle. She was chiding herself for being so foolish and worrying probably about nothing when she heard the sound of a horse and upon turning was more than delighted to see her husband riding into the yard.

The pleasure upon seeing Adam was quite a customary expression on her face and Adam smiled at the sight of it, but he could also see that there was something else too. A look of relief, a shade of apprehension…he frowned, his own smile wavering a little as he dismounted. His eyes noted his father’s horse, but also the horse of the stranger.

Olivia was already in his arms before he had a chance to speak, but he kissed her gently and asked her what was wrong, had something happened? Were the children safe?

Clinging to his arm and preventing him from walking towards the house until she had said what she felt needed to be said, Olivia explained all about the visitor. That Paul Martin had seen Jotham. That Ben didn’t seem too happy with Mr Harcourt.

“Do you know anyone called Harcourt?” she asked simply.

Adam’s mind drifted over lists of names, it was instinctive, automatic. He only shrugged slightly, and then looked again at her “You’re not hurt, not upset?”

“I’m more nervous than anything, Adam. He’s a navy man, he may have orders to take you back with him to Washington.” she paused, turned her head away, “He may say you have to go back to sea.”

He said nothing, they walked a few paces forwards before he stopped, turned her to face him and looked into her face. Her green eyes were swimming with tears, her lips thin as she struggled to prevent them from trembling. He placed a gently finger beneath her chin and up-tilted her face towards his own, “I won’t be going back to sea.”

“How do you know? You can’t promise …” but whatever she was going to say was swallowed up by his kiss. His mouth tenderly covering her own, leaving her calmer, quieter.
Harcourt stopped speaking when the door opened and Adam Cartwright entered the room. Olivia had returned to the kitchen to deal with making fresh coffee for her husband, feeling more confident now and less anxious.

“Mr Harcourt?”

Adam addressed the man who had risen to his feet, he nodded “Mr Cartwright.”

Introductions having been made Adam turned to his father, the pleasure and relief at seeing him there, knowing Olivia had had his comforting presence, was clearly shown by the smile he gave the other man.

“Hi Pa, I just left Joe on his way home. He found a dead body at Horseshoe Bend, you sure you didn’t already know about that? Not the usual place for any of us to be going, is it?” his teasing banter was just slightly too tense, and he didn’t wait for his father to reply but after casting his coat and hat upon the back of a chair he stepped further in to the room. “So, Mr Harcourt, I believe you know our patient, Mr Morton? How long have you known him?”

He sat down, one leg crossed over the other and Harcourt sat down once again, feeling less uncomfortable now that the man he sought was actually seated in front of him. He smiled his charming smile, his blue eyes crinkled at the corners as a result.

“I’ve known Jotham for some years, Mr Cartwright. If you have any doubts of my validity I can assure you that Jotham will provide me with good references.”

Adam said nothing, he just stared at the other man before nodding. “Well, if Jotham is up to a visitor then we shall have to see what he says about that…in the meantime, Mr Harcourt, perhaps you would like to tell me what this is all about?”

“I would like to but first I think we need to speak to Mr Morton. I would feel that whatever I said would be received better by you, after Jotham has confirmed my identity.”

Both Ben and Adam’s eyes narrowed at that suggestion but neither of them spoke and it was Adam who led the way up the stairs to the room in which Jotham was beginning to stir. Ben was prompted to go with them but then decided that it was more politic to remain where he was, kicking his heels as the expression goes and keeping his daughter-in-law company..

Olivia sunk down into her own chair and listened to the footsteps upon the landing, the opening and closing of the bedroom door before turning to Ben “Well, Pa, what do you think about all this?”

“I don’t know, my dear.” Ben replied honestly, “But I have to admit I thought all this kind of thing had ended once Adam had retired.”

“All this kind of thing just seems to follow him around like pitch…” she sighed, and closed her eyes as she leaned back against the chair, her head resting upon a cushion “I don’t think it will ever end.”

Ben decided it was wiser to refrain from saying another word, he sat down on the chair opposite her and tried to think of some other subject but, sadly, nothing came to mind.
……………

Jotham could see the two men approaching him and struggled to sit further up in the bed, he squinted rather at the man walking behind Adam and then allowed a brief smile to touch his bruised mouth “Andrew? What are you doing here?”

“Doing what I was assigned to do, Morton. And making a better job of it than you have done by the looks of things.”

“Huh, the wretched horse threw me.” Jotham groaned and looked at Adam, “This is Andrew Harcourt, Adam. He – er – was another one assigned to take care of you.”

“That sounds rather ominous.” Adam murmured and glanced at Andrew with a touch of frost in his eyes.

“I guess it does, Mr Cartwright.. Or may I call you Adam?” the pleasant smile reached the man’s eyes, and Jotham looked at Adam as though it would be doing him some kind of service if he would comply with the request.

“First of all, Adam, let me explain that I work for the same department as Jeffrey Jamieson. I see the name is familiar to you.”

“I am hardly likely to forget Jeffrey, he was a good friend, he saved my life several times over.” Adam bit his bottom lip, and suppressed the shiver that crept up his spine. Jeffrey Jamieson, it seemed, had reached out from the past and was now casting a long shadow.

“I’m glad of it, he was my mentor and someone I respected, still respect, very much. So, you will understand that the matter upon which Jotham and I are involved is indeed serious.”

“Go on -.” Adam prompted and sat down on the chair that had been set beside Jotham’s bed, Harcourt pulled up another and sat at the opposite side so that they were looking at each other with Jotham between them.

“You will of course realise it has something to do with O’Brien’s journals.” Harcourt said and frowned, “Yes, of course you do, I’m sure Jotham has told you that already. I believe that O’Brien’s family sent the journals to you?”

“They did.” Adam stretched out one long leg and folded his arms across his chest “Is there any significance to that?”

“None at all, they were blissfully unaware of anything untoward about them. In fact, no one gave them a second thought otherwise they would not be here now.” he glanced over to the desk where the pile of books, papers, inkwell and pens indicated the labour involved recently over them. “Sadly however Mr deQuille chose to look into them and his curiosity aroused what the Chinese call ‘a sleeping tiger’”

Adam inclined his head and frowned, he stared at the shape of Jothams legs under the cover of the blankets, he then shrugged “DeQuille’s contacts did that, unknowingly I presume.”

“Unknowingly, yes.” Harcourt nodded.

“This person, this ’sleeping tiger’ – is he number 37 on the list I brought back from Alaska?”

Harcourt bit down on his bottom lip, then shook his head “No, he isn’t. He works for him or her, you see, how ignorant we are of who this person actually is …”

“He or she?” Adam said quietly and glanced at Jotham who was listening intently as though he had never heard all this before now.

“Exactly. Whoever that person is instructed someone else to get hold of the book and you, and bring you back to Washington.”

“And would I have actually got to Washington?” Adam raised his eyebrows as though anything said would hardly surprise him so when Harcourt shook his head he nodded, it was as he suspected.

“No, you were not meant to get there, an accident en route, something like that…” Harcourt sighed, “That’s why I took the action I did the other day when I saw you riding into town. I wanted to send a warning to you to be aware of the danger you were in.”

“The other day?” Adam scowled, narrowed his dark eyes “You shot at me …and my son?”

Harcourt had the grace to go a little red around the neck line, he gave a slight twitch of the shoulders “There were two reasons for doing so…believe me you were in no danger.”

“Some of those bullets got pretty close to doing some damage.” Adam growled, struggling to suppress the mounting anger he was feeling. After all this time to still be used as some kind of pawn in someone else’s power game, the whole idea infuriated him.

“I’m riding with a group of men who do not know who I really represent. The men who are ordered to get hold of you, the book and to kill you once they find out just how much or little you know. I had to watch them beat deQuille nearly to a pulp, and when I saw you riding into town I could only think that this was the opportunity to send you a warning, a shot over the bows so to speak.”

“You stood by and let those men nearly kill deQuille? What kind of man are you?” Adam rose from his chair, his fists clenched, “And then you shoot at me, and my son?”

Harcourt nodded, his eyes went from Adam’s face to the fists, “You can beat me if you wish, Adam, I wouldn’t blame you. But the fact is that my life is in your hands now. If they report back to their superior that I have betrayed them, then I’m as good as dead.”

“DeQuille could have been killed…”

“I would not have let them go that far. I was in a position to restrain them then, before Mowatt came to take over.”

“Mowatt? Howard Mowatt?” Adam frowned and his fingers uncurled, his face resumed a more thoughtful pose, he sat down. “He’s in town?”

“He’s in charge of the operation to take you to Washington, with the book.” Harcourt sighed, “You know him?”

Adam’s long fingers tapped gently against his chin, he looked at Jotham who was listening intently to everything that was being said. After some seconds of silence Adam said “Who is the person Mowatt’s working for? Who is the man in charge of ’your’ little group of thugs?”

Harcourt nodded, his eyes went from Adam to Jotham to the desk whereupon the books were piled neatly where Adam had left them. “You found no clue in them, none at all?”

“No, none at all.” Adam repeated listlessly.

“Did O’Brien write down the list of names? Or refer to them at all?”

“He referred to some of them, those relevant to ourselves but no, not the whole list.”

Harcourt frowned “You know that Jack Lawson and Maria O’Brien were cousins, don’t you?” upon Adam’s nod he continued “Jack Lawson’s name and Maria’s name were on the list, as was Jack’s brother Philip.”

Jotham muttered then that Philip Lawson had been arrested and would have been shot for treason but mitigating reasons were put forward that rendered his sentence down to a few years in jail. He was now free.

“There was a name that was not on the list.” Harcourt murmured “Perhaps it should have been, yes, it should have been.”

Silence settled over the room and Adam glanced again at the books. He tried to recall a conversation he had had with O’Brien, about the names on the list, about someone who was not on it but yes, should have been.

“Do you mean Maria’s father?” he asked quietly.

Harcourt’s eyebrows now lifted and the blue in his eyes intensified, he nodded “Yes, that is who I mean. Melkevik. He was, and still is, a very influential man. His sister married Jackson Lawson, that is the family connection between Jack and Maria O’Brien. He has enough influence in so many spheres back east that he was able to get his nephew, Philip Lawson, safe from a firing squad and out of jail within a few years. Others were less fortunate.”

“And he is your superior …” Adam paused “I mean, the one ordering your little gang to apprehend me?”

“He’s ordering Mowatt to get you no matter what. He has a lot of years of ruthless business to keep concealed. When deQuille sent his contacts sniffing around, Melkevik went to whoever number 37 was to see how best to deal with the matter.”

For a moment Adam didn’t know whether or not to believe the man. For O’Brien’s sake he wanted to disbelieve him because it meant the shadow of treason fell upon his friend yet again, despite all the good he did for his country after the war. And what about Maria, an innocent tool of Pelmans? Or perhaps not so innocent after all. Perhaps more complicit than he or O’Brien could have known. Melkevik would have trained his children very well, for she had kept up the pretence for many years until her death.

He bowed his head and then glanced over at Jotham who was looking paler than ever. Of course, poor Jotham. Cousin to Daniel O’Brien, whatever dirt was thrown at one could naturally land on the other. He looked once again at Harcourt.

“Are you sure of your facts, Harcourt?”

“I am.”

Adam clasped his hands together, raised them to his mouth and frowned deeply. Melkevik after all this time? But he was not number 37. There was still so much unexplained, unknown.

Chapter 36

Jotham closed his eyes, he felt exhausted from the pain of his wounds and tense from lying in a bed between two combatants whose wariness of each other was tantamount to a duel. He wished he could have got out of the bed and walked away, better still, have provided the solution to the matter before he walked away.

He inched himself higher up the bed in order to rest more easily upon the pillows. Adam suddenly made aware of his friends discomfort turned to him and gave him some assistance, asked if he needed anything? Water? Medication?

“Coffee?” Jotham whispered “Strong with sugar.”

Harcourt sat with his chin resting on his chest while Adam left the room leaving the two men alone. Neither of them spoke although both of them were thinking fast and furiously over the details of what had already been discussed.

It was Cheng Ho Lee who entered the room with a tray laden with everything all three would have needed. Coffee smells permeated the room and when he was handed a cup Jotham was dismayed to find his hand was shaking. Cheng Ho Lee patiently and carefully held the cup for him, and by the time he had drank it empty Adam was once again seated by his side.

Harcourt waited for Cheng Ho Lee to leave the room before he looked at Adam “I guess you don’t trust me, Adam?”

“Why should I? I don’t know you, you’re here with men out to get me, you admit to shooting at me.”

“I admit to all those things, but sometimes it is necessary to hide among one’s enemies in order to get the information needed. Jeffrey was very good at that, he taught me well.”

Adam sighed only and pinched the bridge of his nose before he turned to Jotham “How long have your known him?”

“For as long as I have known you, Adam. We have worked together on various matters, including that situation with the Tong not so long ago”

Adam half closed his eyes, so far as he was concerned Jotham’s involvement with the situation regarding the Tong had been near disastrous. He glanced again at Harcourt,

“Won’t your ‘cover’ be blown if they know you have been here?”

“Maybe, but I shall say much the same to them as I have said to you.” Harcourt gave a rather sad grimace “It’s a miserable fact but at times it is hard to remember which faction one actually is working for; I have worked hard to get the trust of those men, so much so that they were surprised when Mowatt appeared to be the leader and not myself.”

“Mowatt …” Jotham muttered, “You do know who Mowatt is, don’t you, Adam?”

“He’s on the list I got from Irena Pestchouroff.” Adam replied quietly and pursed his lips, “He got away without being arrested?” he sounded surprised, the thought of Mowatt having escaped arrest hadn’t previously occurred to him.

“He was arrested.” Jotham said quietly, “He has close connections with Melkevik. He and Philip Lawson were arrested together. Both faced a trial for treason and both were sentenced to death by firing squad. But they had connections …”

“With Melkevik?” Adam surmised.

“And whoever controls Melkevik.” Jotham added.

Harcourt inclined his head in agreement and added “Both served together in prison and were released at the same time. Not so long after enquiries were being made about the Alaskan affair. Old coals being raked over. Names coming back to the surface that had been successfully hidden. Melkevik has most to lose, of course.”

“Why wasn’t his name on that list though? Surely if he has that much influence it should have been.” Adam got to his feet and paced the floor, he stopped at his desk and stared down at the journals there, at his notes. He shook his head, “Maria Melkevik’s name was there, the Lawsons, Mowatts.”

His finger idly flicked the corner of the pages that he was looking down upon, “Maria Melkevik married O’Brien, he admitted to me that he had been a Southern sympathise but his name was not on the list.”

“Because he was loyal to the Union once the war ended.” Jotham cried from his bed, “That list contained only those who had pledged to restore the South after the war, after Lee surrendered. Daniel would never have countenanced what he would have considered treachery.”

Adam gave a slightly twisted smile “Well, that’s where you’re wrong, my friend, for he did countenance it when it came to his wife’s safety.”

“She was coaxed, bribed, forced into it. Maria was the most naïve woman you could imagine and … and she adored her father.”

“Why wasn’t his name on the list though? His daughter, his nephews, Mowatt ..the connection with Mowatt, what is it exactly?”

Jotham looked at Harcourt, who in turned looked at Adam “Mowatt – Howard Mowatt – is Melkevik’s illegitimate son. Maria O’Brien’s half brother.”

“Did she know him?” Adam asked instantly as the image of Maria O’Brien floated into his memory, and he stopped flicking the pages of the journal in order to press his fingers upon them. He turned to Harcourt “Did she?”

“No, Melkevik concealed that fact from her and also from his wife. Nor did O’Brien know about him, Howard Mowatt fought for the South and emerged unscathed. But he was a bitter young man, and easy prey for the likes of Philip who manipulated Maria, and his own brother, Jack, into co-operating with them.”

“And no one knew about Melkevik’s own involvement? He was able to keep himself out of the matter so well that no one knew?” Adam frowned and leaned against the desk, his arms folded across his chest.

“You have to remember that Melkevik is a very powerful man. Even when that list was compiled he was influential in a lot of the decisions that swayed certain Politicians to endorse the policies that were made, its even possible that his name is missing because he was not, at that time, involved with that particular matter.” Jotham’s voice trickled into silence and it was Harcourt who picked up the thread of what the injured man was saying.

“Attention to Melkevik was minimal until September 1872. The New York Sun* published an article accusing Schuyler Colfax, the Vice President and other prominent politicians, of accepting stock in the Credit Mobilier in exchange for political influence in Congress*. You must have heard of it? It ruined many men and Colfax’ career was finished even though he was able to carry on as Vice President until his term was ended.” Harcourt rubbed his chin with his fingers and shook his head “That was when we first realised that Melkevik had such a big influence over Congress.”

“Was he not investigated along with the others involved?” Adam sighed, the matter was getting more political, more complex.

Jotham glanced at Harcourt and shrugged, “He was, but nothing happened. There were other matters, other situations that were being investigated. He slipped through the net.”

Harcourt stood up then, he shook his head “He didn’t so much as slip through the net, he succeeded in coming out of the whole thing untouched. But Jeffrey Jamieson and I, we got to work on the matter, it was Jeffrey who finally found out just how far reaching Melkevik’s influence was and yet …” he again shook his head as though in disbelief, “Yet we still were unable to find the man who pulls the strings.”

“Are you sure there is such a person?” Adam now asked, “That Melkevik isn’t the man you need to be rid of, which, if you don’t mind my saying so, seems to be the most logical thing to have done by now.”

Harcourt sighed and looked at Adam as though the man were mad “Attempts have been made but he slips out of reach every time. Jeffrey Jamieson…do you know what happened to him?”

“I know he died, in Japan.”

Harcourt shook his head “No, he didn’t. He was killed in a dirty little cellar in New York. He knew he was in trouble when he was in Japan, when he last saw you leaving with Cassandra Pelman under arrest on board your ship.”

“He said he saw someone in the crowd that he needed to follow.” Adam raised his head and stared up at the ceiling, his eyes fixed on the corner as though he could see once again his old friend walking through the throng of people on the quayside.

“He was able to send us some information regarding Melkevik, although, oddly enough we still didn’t realise the man he referred to was actually Melkevik. That knowledge came as a result of Jeffrey’s work.”

Adam gave a slight shrug, more in order to suppress the shudder that had trickled down his back, “Very well then. What happens now? Can’t those men be arrested? Mowatt? His other accomplices … who are exactly?”

“Timothy Maxim. He has returned to Washington with his report. He’s a cut throat from the gangs of New York, brought up from the gutter into thinking he’s something more than what he is, he’s out of his league so does what he is told, in the main.”

Adam frowned, nodded and waited for more. Harcourt rubbed the back of his neck, “Then there’s David Atherton. That’s an alias, his real name is Philip Lawson.”

“And they’re both in town?”

“Yes, both of them.” Harcourt frowned, a niggle of concern that crept over his brow “They know each other too well, they don’t trust each other, always juggling to get superiority over the other.”

“How exactly do you fit in, then, Harcourt?”

Andrew Harcourt gave a soft laugh “Years of creeping around in the dark, Mr Cartwright. You’ll never know how low you have to crawl just to garner a few words of information that could be worth more than the crown jewels in England, or just worthless grains of dirt. Jeffrey knew the art well, he had patience. That was the most important element in this game.” his frown deepened “Only it isn’t a game, it means lives are lost, sometimes quite cruelly. It can be merciless. Jeffrey found that out. When he was killed I asked to be put on this case, and it has taken a lot of time and patience to get where I am trusted, and feared, and even hated, by those men. They all had a hand in Jeffrey’s death. One by one they’ll all pay.”

Adam pursed his lips and narrowed his eyes “You sound pretty ruthless yourself, Mr Harcourt.”

“I guess it rubs off after a while.” the other man said slowly and then nodded as though he had nothing left to say, he looked at Jotham “Stay put, Morton, they don’t know you’re here, yet.”

Jotham gave a wry grin, a slight shrug “I don’t think I’ll be able to leave here even if I wanted to.”

“Adam Cartwright, a pleasure to have met you. I’ll be going back to town, just to keep a check on what’s happening there. I don’t trust those men, and I know for sure, they don’t trust me. I hope to see you soon.”

Adam nodded, they didn’t shake hands, the element of distrust was too strong but they had some respect for one another now. He walked with Harcourt to the door and led the way down stairs where the visitor thanked both Olivia and Adam for their hospitality, said his farewells and left the house.

“Did he explain what it was all about, son?” Ben asked quietly, his hand on Olivia’s shoulder as though to protect her should it be the news they both feared.

“Partly.”

“Can you tell us?” Olivia asked gently and he saw the appeal in her eyes, the anxiety etched around her mouth.

“Ghosts.” he murmured and stepped over to her, took her hand in his and nodded “That’s all.”

Ben frowned, his dark eyes darkened more so than ever, ghosts he knew had a way of reaching out and changing the whole course of a man’s life. He patted Olivia on the shoulder and kissed her cheek, looked sternly at his son,

“I’ll get back home then, see what Joe has to tell me about this body he found.”

Adam nodded a little absent mindedly, there was something he wanted to say but which had slipped away like the threads of a cob web in a strong wind.

Olivia turned to him, looked into his face “You’re not going to sea again?”

“No, I told you, I won’t be going back to sea.”

She fell into his arms then, wrapped her own arms around his body and held him close. If his heart was beating just a little faster than usual she did not notice but raised her face to his and gladly, greedily, accepted his kiss.

Chapter 37

It just didn’t fit somehow. There was something niggling at the back of his mind that just would not go away and hung like a scarlet thread through his thoughts for the remainder of the day.

The children returned home bright eyed and happy. Reuben settled to his chores and worked alongside his father in the stable and corral, checking the horses, ensuring clean water was available. Later they cleaned some of the tack and saddles before going to collect wood for the fires.

Nathaniel ran playfully around their feet and tugged at Adam’s pants, and then put his hands over his eyes “Can’t see me. Can’t see me.”

“Oh can’t I?” Adam laughed and caught him up into his arms, hugged him close and set him back down again.

“He thinks you can’t see him,” Sofia said holding tightly to Clarabelle “He thinks because he can’t see you, then you can’t see him.”

Reuben laughed “Did he tell you that?”

“No, I used to do it too when Uncle Booth was horrible.” Sofia replied matter of factly and ran to Adam to give him a hug “Uncle Hoss said he would make me a doll house if you are too busy.”

She hugged him tight, and Adam kissed her cheek tenderly for he loved his little girl, he even loved her when she was being naughty because it showed she had some spirit. He smiled over at Olivia and then set the child down to continue with her play.

Watching his three children Adam was at times surprised at the way his feelings were aroused, his desire to protect the vulnerable which had been part of his nature since childhood seemed to have doubled with the responsibility of these three lives. He knew that he felt nothing new, all fathers and mothers must feel the same way, but to him it was a miracle that had chanced to come his way.

Nathaniel fell over his feet and bumped his head, a wail of anguish as he rubbed at the affected part and Olivia picked him up and hugged him “You should look where you are going.”

A tender scolding one which brought the child more tears for it did not remove the hurt, so she kissed him and rubbed his poor head.

The evening meal was pleasant and happy, just as it was in the home of Ben Cartwright as he sat with his son, Hoss, and enjoyed the time with Hester and his grand-daughters, and the new infant in their midst. For while Ben harboured anxieties in his mind he gave no indication of any such thing while he shared that time with them.

At Joe’s home he teased his wife, kissed her and fussed over her, played with his son and cradled his little daughter in his arms and told his wife that Constance would one day be almost as beautiful as her. Yet he too had concerns drifting in his mind, causing him to feel anxious, even fearful, for what events could occur in the future.

Hoss was surprised when Ben mentioned, just after the dessert had been eaten and coffee poured, that he would be going to Horseshoe Bend with Joe and Adam in the morning.

“From what Adam was saying they’ll need you to come along too, Hoss.”

Hoss shrugged “Why?”

“Because …” and Ben nodded over to the little girls who were seated at the table with them, then wished he had kept his mouth shut until later that evening.

Hester helped Hope as the little girl balanced some pudding on her spoon and nearly dropped it in her lap, she glanced over at her husband and then at her father in law “Nothings wrong, is there?”

“No, no, I asked Joe to check it out this morning and he just wanted to see what we thought of his findings tomorrow.” Ben assured her and congratulated himself for actually telling the truth, nicely wrapped up as it was indeed.

Hester just looked at him with that knowing look in her eyes but refrained from asking anything more as she gave her attention to the baby. Hoss continued to spoon out another dishful of dessert, winked at his daughters and spooned some into their dishes as well.
………..

“Sweetheart, I’ll be going with Adam and Hoss to Horseshoe Bend tomorrow morning so I’ll be leaving pretty early.” Joe said as he stopped kissing his little wife’s neck, and turned down the flame in the lamp.

She sighed, drowsy now and content to just lie beside him, the warmth of his body like a snug protection from the chills of the night. “Horseshoe Bend, I thought you went there today?”

“I did, I want to show them what I found.”

“Was it anything exciting?” her eyes were closing, she sighed again and snuggled in closer to him.

Joe didn’t answer, he wouldn’t have called his discovery ‘exciting’. He put an arm around her and held her close to him. He should have mentioned it sooner, before he went to sleep, or tried to…he had a feeling he would find sleep hard now with the memory of that body flashing through his brain yet again.
…………..

Jotham had eaten a reasonable meal, and when Cheng Ho Lee removed the tray he settled down to sleep. It seemed he had slept so much for so long over the past few days that it was rather remarkable that he felt inclined to close his eyes and drift off again.

The discussion between Harcourt and Adam had worn him out, and as he closed his eyes he thought over the things that had been discussed. It was just scratching the surface really. There was so much more to be revealed, to be expounded upon. He wondered if the little Harcourt and he had told Adam would help the rancher find out what was relevant in the books.

He closed his eyes again and tried to sleep.

When the door opened he was still trying to sleep. He half opened his eyes and saw Adam enter, the lamp light was shielded so as not to disturb him but when he called out his friends name Adam turned the flame higher,

“Not asleep yet? I’m sorry, did I disturb you?”

“No, I couldn’t sleep. Too much to think about…” he watched as Adam made his way to the desk and sat down to reopen the books “Did talking to Harcourt help at all?”

“No, not really.” Adam replied and turned the chair around to face his friend “You’ve known him some years, worked along with him. Do you entirely trust him?”

“Yes. I owe him my life on at least one occasion.”

“And how about you…have you risked your life for him at all?”

“It happens with the work we do, Adam. You don’t trust him, do you?”

“As I said earlier, I don’t know him.” Adam replied quietly and withdrew into silence for a moment although his eyes never left his friend’s face, “Jotham, is Andrew Harcourt his given name or is that the name he uses for this particular assignment?”

Jotham frowned, he shrugged “I’ve always known him as Andrew Harcourt.”

Adam sighed and nodded, “I just wondered if he would have taken on a different one, I know that Jeffrey had to upon occasion.”

Jotham said nothing to that, he didn’t like the insinuation behind the statement but still he kept quiet. He made it clear to Adam that he wanted to get some sleep but that his friends activities would not disturb him as he could sleep through an earthquake should it ever happen.

Adam opened the journal and continued from where he had left off, his eyes scanned the pages down through the occasion where Jack and Rostov had been killed, his own injuries, O’Brien falling into the snow but after Lebedev had been shot. All that white, white snow and trails of scarlet blood … he closed his eyes on the memory and shook his head to dispel it further.

“It was long after Williamson had been arrested and put in the brig. Adam was ill, we all thought he was going to die from the fever and Jamieson suggested shaving off the Captain’s beard and hair. What with piling ice on him to lower the fever as well, I wondered what else we could possibly have done to help and though we all thought it was a mad process, even cruel, we put our faith in Jeffrey and did everything he suggested. We just wanted Adam to survive. The whole ship was so quiet. It seemed as though we were tip toeing around, speaking in whispers and afraid that the least noise would disturb him and cause his demise.

“I can look back on that time now and laugh, the way Adam reacted to losing his beard seemed out of proportion to the fact that he had been buried in ice for hours at a time. But Jeffrey knew what he was doing. Amazing man that he was…I respected him so much, I hope he realised that.

“It was when we were talking about that wretched list that I told Adam about my family, how we had supported the South. My brother had died at Bull Run. Odd now, I can barely recall what he looked like, but I remember it broke my mothers heart. I hadn’t mentioned that before to Adam, which is strange really considering those names on that list were all to do with the Confederacy being re-established. I remember how my heart dropped when he suggested that my name could be on that self same list… and I knew it couldn’t be because as I said then I would never endorse a policy that would endanger the United States as it stands now under a United Government.

“At the same time I understood why these people, 42 on the list in fact, would want to join together and attempt something, anything, in order to regain the security that was theirs in the past. I explained to Adam …it seems so pompous now … how so many families were poverty stricken now. Their land, property, exploited by carpet baggers, entrepreneurs, and everything going into their own pockets with nothing benefiting the south. Why? That war had all been so futile, so many lives lost for nothing …

“But that wasn’t the point of the conversation really. I had carried those papers with me and never once thought to look into them, I believed them to have been written in Russian and I knew nothing of that language so how would trying to check out my fears help? But I did have my fears and so I told him how Maria’s family were staunch confederates, and how they had lost everything. Philip Thomas had written the list of names so that we could understand them … all I wanted to know was that Maria was safe. When Adam said that Rupert Meredith Melkevik’s name was not on the list I just accepted it as a guarantee somehow, that that one name meant no one else was or could be on that list.

“Well, I was wrong…. Time proved that love can blind us to just about anything if we allow it to, and I did. Maria’s name had been on the list as Maria Melkevik. The Lawsons …Jack and Philip… both on the list…”

Adam leaned back in his chair, the wooden struts gave a little under his weight, there was a slight creaking. He picked up his pen and pulled over the paper he had been writing upon. In his minds eye he saw an infant hiding his eyes, thinking if he couldn’t see you, then you couldn’t see him. He shook his head slowly and began to write:

“Rupert Meredith Melkevik…. His sister married Jackson Lawson = Jack and Philip.

Maria Melkevik. … was that Jacks’ mother’s name? Was it she who was on the list?

No, Pelman used O’Brien‘s wife, Maria. So…Melkevik is a prosperous man, he was back then and still is now. He is, apparently, unscrupulous. His name is NOT on the list.

No. 37 …supposedly the name of the man who controls Melkevik. But why is he on the list? If he is as powerful and influential now as he must have been then, why is he on the list? If he controls Melkevik he must be very influential. Has it only recently happened? No 37 …was Howard Mowatt….Howard Mowatt is Melkevik’s illegitimate son.”

He tapped his mouth with the pen…the name had sprung into his head without even having to think about it, as so often happens when something is forgotten, as soon as one ceases to think and frustrate the brain with worry, it then comes to mind just like that…Adam closed his eyes and concentrated:

“ 37…Howard Mowatt. 38. Jethro Fairbanks. 39. Henry Fawcett. 40. Jack Price.
41… David Atherton. 42 … Jacqueline Andre.”

There they were, all the names he had thought he had forgotten and what had he learned about two of them…Howard Mowatt, son of Rupert Melkevik, half brother to Maria O’Brien. David Atherton was also Jack Lawson’s brother Philip who was also No. 22 on the list.

Another puzzle. One light gets blown out. Another blossoms into illumination. One person, two names.

So why was Melkevik’s name so conveniently omitted from the list? What was so mysterious about No. 37, when it was Howard Mowatt who was in town now, hunting for this book and for him.

It just didn’t fit right!.

Chapter 38

Candy turned up the flame of the lamp and brought it closer to the heap of  clothes on the table. Outside shadows formed and stretched out  across the street as though seeking to engulf the buildings opposite into their dark embrace.

Clem Foster picked up the shoes and looked at both before setting one down to examine the other more carefully.

“These ain’t hardly been worn, Sheriff. Good quality and looks to me like they was made back east.”

“Same as most of this clothing, Clem.  Good quality in everything, right down to his undergarments.”

Clem shook his head and stared at the shoes, secretly coveting them, he had never seen such good quality shoes in his life.  It was unfortunate that these  had been taken from the feet of the dead man.

Candy picked up the shirt and examined it closely before putting it back down with the other garments.  He folded it neatly for he liked things to be orderly. Being raised in the military had forced that habit into him.

“It’s odd.  Apart from the blood splatters caused by the birds most of these clothes are relatively clean. That was what puzzled Joe when he first found him.  There was hardly any blood in the vicinity where he was found but … there has to be some, the injuries causing his death would have caused a massive loss.”

“Dr Schofield said he’d been dead some time before his body was taken to the Ponderosa.   That’s some ride, a few hours from town I reckon”.

Candy nodded “Riley thought the same thing, Clem.  I think we need to look for more clothes.”

“More clothes?” Clem’s jaw dropped “Shucks, ain’t what we got giving us problems enough?”

“I meant blood stained clothing, Clem.   Two sets of clothing.  The murderers and his victims.” he fingered the shirt material between his fingers , it’s softness alone proved its good quality “We’ll get a search organised first thing in the morning …you and Watts get onto it.”

“What will you be doing, Boss?”

Candy sighed and reached for his jacket “I think I’ll ride out to Horseshoe Bend and see if I can find anything there.”  He turned as the door opened and Vinnie Tyler stepped inside from doing his rounds.  “I’ll see you in the morning.”

The two other men nodded as the sheriff left the building.  Vinnie walked to the stove and picked up the coffee pot, “Nothing much going on tonight, Clem,”. he mumbled as he poured the stewed coffee into a mug “That big game at the Sazarac is still going on. There’s talk it’ll go on for another day at least.”

Clem just nodded, he was too busy lamenting the fact that those shoes were too big for him.

Candy walked home deep in thought with his head bowed low and his hands stuffed into the pockets of his jacket.

He barely noticed the well dressed man entering the boarding house belonging to Mrs Albierno.  He merely paused to let the man pass him in order to  open the gate. Subconsciously it slipped into his mind that the passer by was the second man he knew of to be so well dressed.  By the time he reached his front door he was thinking it would only take one more well dressed gentleman to appear and that would account for deQuille’s three attackers.  Apart from the fact that one was dead of course…that rather complicated things a bit!
………..

Dr Timothy Schofield sat at the desk and carefully wrote out his report on the unknown man he had been called upon to examine.  He wrote carefully, the death rather intrigued him.

He wrote that the victim was a Caucasian male, five feet and ten inches in height. Well nourished.  Death had taken place at least ten hours prior to discovery of the body.  Death had been caused by a very precise slash across the throat which cut through the trachea beneath the larynx preventing the victim from crying out for help. The carotid artery was also severed preventing oxygenated blood to reach the brain and the jugular which caused extreme blood loss.

He put down his pen and considered the matter again, then he recommenced his writing, commenting on the way the blood had ” pooled” in the body indicating it had  lain on its back from his death onwards.  It had passed the stage of rigor, and apart from the injuries caused by the birds, which had not been bloody as blood had long ceased to circulate, the only major injury was the one causing death.

It was his opinion that a very sharp blade had been used to effect such a swift demise . An expert use of the blade indicating someone who was experienced in the art of killing.
He sighed and signed his name.  In the morning he would re-read through the report and make sure he had it right.  Not that he doubted anything, Schofield was more than convinced that he never made an error, not in anything.  He moved away from the desk and made his way to his sleeping quarters.  As he disrobed he realised he hadn’t referred to the fact that the victim had no defensive wounds so must have known his attacker, and from the angle of the wound had been facing him when it happened.

He shook his head regretfully.  The victim had been a handsome man, in his thirties, he had worn a ring at some time so perhaps there was a wife somewhere. Poor woman. The more he thought about it the more things came to mind. He shook his head in irritation, it meant he would have to rewrite his report!
…………..

Ann Canaday had become used to her husband returning home weary and worn.   When he stepped into the house he was greeted by a kiss and warm embrace.   It was some comfort, one he had lately taken for granted but knew he appreciated very much.  She helped him remove his jacket and hat and having disposed of them, walked with him into the main room. Supper was ready for him and he sat at the table, then reached out for her hand “Thank you.”

She looked surprised then smiled, leaned down to kiss his  cheek “What for?”

“For not asking questions.  For putting up with me so patiently.”

“It isn’t difficult, darling.  I know its been a hard day, I don’t ever want to make it harder.”

“You could never do that,” he smiled, his blue eyes looked less strained.

It was a warm comfortable room, the fire crackled in the hearth, the children were already sleeping, even six month old Samuel slept.   Candy felt himself relaxing and grateful for the chance to do so.   He listened to Ann bustling about in the kitchen, ignorant of the events of his day and he was grateful for that as well.  He didn’t want to bring the horrors of his day into his home, he felt tainted enough as it was!
……….

Olivia reached out for her husbands hand but felt only the emptiness beside her.  She sighed, closed her eyes and listened to the ticking of the clock .  She wondered if he had slept at all, had come to bed even?

It took no time to slip out of bed and pull on a dressing gown, to thrust small feet into her slippers and turn up the flame in the lamp.

She opened the door to Jothams room but the man was sleeping.  The soft glow of a lamp illuminating his face and softening his features.  Glancing across to the desk she saw the empty chair …everything neatly set out and put away.

She closed the door and made her way downstairs.  Soft footsteps padding their way to his study, then to the main room where he sat, staring into the flames of the fire.  He was so engrossed in thought that he didn’t hear her approach until she whispered his name.   Then he stretched out a hand towards her and drew her to his side.

“Sorry did I disturb you?” he whispered

“Only by your absence.” she whispered back in reply and leaned her head upon his shoulder.
……………….

Daniel deQuille was surprised to see the sheriff striding into his room early the next morning. He was even more surprised when Candy took a jacket from a paper bag, shook it out and held it up before him

“Ever seen this before?”

Daniel narrowed his eye and concentrated, he said no, he would have shaken his head but it hurt too much to do that, so he said “No. Should I?”

“You said your attackers were well dressed men. I just hoped this jacket would have identified one of them.”

“They were wearing coats. Long coats. One guy in particular wore a very smart one, looked bespoke to me. Another thing, they all wore shoes. Highly polished shoes. It was obvious they were out of towners.”

“Back east you reckon?”

DeQuille frowned “Did I tell you I was worried about my contacts? Adam Cartwright told me that …”

“You’ve seen Adam Cartwright?”

“Sure, he wanted to know my contacts, warn them that they could be in trouble. I should never have done it, I know it was stupid but I needed a good story. Each of my contacts mailed me to say they had been told to lay off, not one of them was able to give me a lead.”

“A lead?”

“An idea of what it was all about…that business with Adam Cartwright when he went to Alaska. It was all in O/Brien’s journals.”

“Which you borrowed?”

DeQuille sighed, “Not really, I didn’t borrow them…well, I did but not with Adams permission.”

Candy shook his head and carefully folded the jacket away “Well, you’re right, Daniel, you should never have got involved in all this. How are you feeling now anyway?”

“You can read about it in the Enterprise, it’ll take too long to tell you now.”

“Huh, well, I;ve not the time to listen anyway.” Candy muttered and with a nod of the head he left the room without a second glance at the man in the bed.
…………

Sofia sat down at the table and immediately noticed that her father was missing. She waited for a moment or two just in case he would come through the door and join them but when he didn’t she asked Reuben if he had seen him.

“Pa went out early. He’s going to go out with Gran’Pa and Uncle Hoss and Uncle Joe. They have a long way to go.” Reuben replied between mouthfuls of food.

“But I thought he was going to take us to school?” Sofia cried her eyes getting big in her face, and she looked over at her mother who was attempting to get some oatmeal into Nathaniel’s mouth. “Mommy, why isn’t daddy taking us to school?”

“Reuben’s just told you, Sofia. It’s something important that daddy has to do, so I will be taking you this morning.” she smiled at her daughter and then returned to try and coax her little boy into eating his breakfast.

“But Mr Heavens…”

“It’s Evans,” Reuben said sharply “Evans. E. V. A..N. S. not heavens, Evans.”

Olivia shook her head “That’s enough, Reuben don’t tease.”

“I wasn’t teasing, Ma, I was serious. If she goes into school calling our teacher by the wrong name they’ll all laugh at her.”

Sofia’s bottom lip immediately stuck out and began to tremble “I don’t want anyone to laugh at me. I can’t help it if I muddle his name. I keep forgetting. Mommy, do I have to go?”

“Don’t start complaining about school now, Sofia. You have had enough time to get used to the idea that you’ll be going today so eat your breakfast, and quickly, I don’t want to be late the first day of your getting back.”

Sofia bowed her head, struggled to eat her food. It stuck in her throat, she had to cough hard to dislodge it, her tummy felt sore, she drank her milk and spilled some down her clean white pinafore because she was so nervous she ‘missed’ her mouth. Olivia shook her head and told her to hurry up and get herself ready as they were leaving within the next five minutes.

Sofia longed for those five minutes to stretch and stretch but sadly they didn‘t and before she knew it she was seated beside Olivia with Nathaniel in the back with Reuben.

Reuben was more than happy to be getting back to school, he enjoyed everything about it, the lessons, the discussions, the association with friends. Of them both he should have been the one who found it hardest to go back, after all he had been bullied badly at one time, and then there was that incident with Downing and getting shot. But those situations had not diminished his enthusiasm for an education. He chattered away happily about school almost all the way into town.

Sofia grew quieter and more nervous as the journey took them nearer to town. She felt light headed with anxiety and when they finally pulled up at the school yard she just wanted to hold onto Olivia and never let her go.

“Hello, Sofia.” Annie Sales came running up with her cheeks glowing and her spectacles nearly falling off the end of her nose

“Sofeee, you‘re back.” Betty Sales was there right behind her sister, a wide smile on her face and her eyes bright with pleasure at seeing her little friend again

“Reuben, Sofia …” Rosie Canaday ran to the side of the buggy, grabbing at Sofia‘s arm as though to make first claim on her friend.

Reuben was happily swallowed up by his friends, David Riley bursting to tell him all about the latest horrible corpse his father had discussed with them all over the breakfast table. Tommy Conway and Jimmy Carstairs lagging behind as usual but had managed to thump their friend on the back in welcome.

Olivia sighed and was about to clamber down from the buggy when a gentleman approached and assisted her very carefully.

“Thank you, I was just about to meet the new teacher…” she stammered, adjusting her hat as she spoke as she was aware of it getting a little dislodged when stepping down.

“In that case you have met him, I’m Edward Evans, and you, I believe, are Mrs Cartwright?”

He had removed his hat and held it against his chest, a smile on his face and in his eyes. Olivia relaxed, she shook his hand and smiled “Yes, I’m Mrs Cartwright, I brought my children into school this morning..”

“Ah, I was expecting your husband but I am more than pleased that you came in his place, Mrs Cartwright. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

He paused for a moment then, for he had turned to watch the children as they mingled in the yard together. The late stragglers were arriving and hurried in past the teacher hoping not to have been noticed. He smiled at seeing the Reuben and Sofia, then nodded his head in satisfaction “I’m glad they’re here now, I’m sure we’ll get along just fine. Miss Brandon wrote an excellent report about your son, an exemplary student who has gone through quite an ordeal I believe…”

“Yes, but he has managed to put that behind him, thankfully.”

“I’m more than pleased to hear it, Mrs Cartwright. Now, your daughter….”

Olivia’s heart sunk, she thought back to Sofia’s previous term at school, and sighed inwardly. Mr Evans, despite the frown on his face, smiled, “I’m sure once she has settled into her first day she will get along really well. Miss Brandon said she has a very agile mind and is quick to learn.”

Olivia released her breath, nodded and decided to say nothing. They shook hands and parted. As she watched the lean figure of the teacher stride to the school house she hoped that her impression of him was accurate. He really seemed a very pleasant person and hopeful of good things in his students. She just hoped he was going to be proven right.

hapter 39

At the same time as Olivia watched her two children step into the school house the four Cartwright’s were dismounting from their horses at the location Joe claimed to have found the body. All four stood there in contemplative silence for a while, looking around at the sparse area of land with its huge boulders strewn here and there as though some giant had gathered them in his hand for a game of marbles and thrown them casually down before sauntering off and forgetting about them.

“You sure you found a body here, Little Joe?”

Joe gave Hoss a withering glare, not only because of his use of the word ‘Little’ as a prefix to his name (after all, no one called him Little Joe now, for Pete’s sake !!!) but because of the implied doubt in his brother’s voice.

“I did, and it was dead, and I took it all the way into town instead of burying it here as proof for you, Thomas.”

“Huh?” Hoss’ eyes widened “Thomas?”

“Yeah,” Ben grinned “As in ‘Doubting Thomas’. Alright, Joe, whereabouts was the body?”

Joe walked over to where the body had been found, where in fact the imprint was still quite clear as Hoss knew all along. He rubbed his jaw with one hand and shook his head “Your prints are all over the place, Joe.”

“Well, what would you expect, you galoot, I was here wasn’t I? I had to check him out first and … and then I had to chase off those buzzards before hauling him up on my horse. That wasn’t easy, you know? He was dead weight.”

“That’s cos he was dead.” Hoss muttered and stooped down to check out the imprints, Ben and Adam stood together watching, refraining from adding their prints to those where the body had been found.

“Are you sure you didn’t find any prints, Joe?” Ben asked after a few minutes of just standing and getting slightly bored. It had been a long ride from home and breakfast seemed a far distant memory.

“No, nothing. It was as though he just floated over here and landed where I found him.”

“That ain’t possible.” Hoss said standing up and looking very serious, he shrugged “Not unless it was a ghost. I read …”

“YOU read?” Adam grinned and winked at Joe who obliged by winking back with a slight smirk.

“I can read you know, and I read that ghosts don’t leave foot prints, and they don’t …”

“..carry dead bodies from one place to another.” Ben added, “Look, Hoss, stop wasting time talking so much. I’ve a lot to do today without just standing around here waiting for you.”

“Someone’s coming…” Joe said and turned to face whoever was about to appear while his gun hand hovered over the gun in its holster.

All four of the Cartwrights tensed, the myth that a killer always returned to the scene of the crime could, perhaps, hold true after all. As it happened Candy appeared, looked relieved at seeing them and promptly dismounted.

“I wasn’t sure where Joe had found the body, then saw you here.” he nodded at each of them in turn and then looked at Hoss, “Anything?”

“Not yet. Not long got here ourselves.” Hoss replied modestly.

Candy nodded again and then walked over to where Adam and Ben were standing, flicking their horse’s reins between their fingers. “I think I know who it is?”

“You do? Who exactly?” Ben asked, his dark eyes narrowed and he glanced over to where Hoss and Joe were wandering off in the direction of some rocks.

“One of the men who beat up deQuille.”

Adam frowned, “Are you sure?”

“Sure as I can be. He was well dressed, wore good shoes and was a stranger in town.”

“Doesn’t necessarily mean it was one of them.” Adam muttered rather cynically.

“No, it doesn’t prove it, but it gives me enough of a lead to work on it.”

Adam nodded and looked at his father before turning back to Candy “One of the three men has gone back to Washington, I guess you could check out and see if he actually got on the train at Golds Hill.”

“How’d you know that?” Candy scowled, his position as sheriff suddenly undermined and he got the feeling that he now understood how Roy must have felt when the Cartwrights were involved in any investigation of his.

“Because I had a visit from one of them yesterday. Seems there are four of them now, or, there were four of them if you are correct and this is one of them. He told me their names…Maxim, Mowatt and Atherton.”

“And the name of this informant of yours?” Candy’s blue eyes fixed upon Adam’s face, much as Roy’s would do in the past.

“Harcourt.” Adam paused and looked over to where Hoss and Joe had disappeared behind some rocks “They came from Washington. You could check out the boarding houses and hotels…”

“I will, fact is, I already got my deputies doing just that.” Candy sniffed and put his hands on his hips, turning his body in the direction of the two brothers who were doing the tracking. “Dang, I wonder how the body got there.”

“Someone brought him here.” Ben said with a slight shrug of the shoulders, “We just need to find out how and why.”

“Someone who knows this area, perhaps?” Adam muttered, and lowered his hat a little to shade his eyes and to obscure the sight of Candy scowling at him.

Candy was about to open his mouth when Joe gave a yell and raised a hand “Over here.”

Over here meant making their way across where the body had been found to a clump of boulders. Hoss stood up as they appeared and brushed dust from his pants from where he had been kneeling. He pointed to several foot prints and then swept his arm over to where the obvious marks of a horse could be seen.

“He brought a dead body on the back of his horse?” Ben said with a note of incredulity in his voice.

“Covered by tarpaulin, Pa.” Joe muttered and pointed to where the gleam of black tarpaulin could be seen protruding from a rock, “He made some attempt to bury it but looks like the birds came to investigate the smell of blood on it and pulled this much free.”

The five of them now gave attention to the tarp, tugging at it and pushing aside the rubble that had been brought over to hide it. Once it was exposed in all its gory glory then stepped back to observe it in silence.

“I reckon,” Hoss said after a few moments of everyone contemplating and saying nothing, “that whoever it was hauled the body over to then roll it from the tarp and left him there, then used the tarp to wipe out any tracks he’d leave on returning to his horse.”

“Probably thought no one would be here to find him for some time. After all, no one really comes here, it’s a bleak out of the way spot.” Ben said quietly, nodding as though to confirm his thoughts.

“The wind and rain, seasonal changes would wipe out any tracks that may have been found, well, any that we may be able to find now.” Candy sighed and rubbed the back of his neck.

“Why bring him here though?” Adam asked and looked at each of them as though they were in class and he expected the brightest student to provide the best answer.

“Because it IS out of the way. No one would look here for a missing stranger. No one would even know if a stranger was actually missing.” Joe replied and frowned, “Odd though, this poor guy was murdered somewhere and then brought all the way here. Seems hardly worth the bother. There’s so many other places a body could be hidden, even in town.”

“Well, we could turn the whole thing on its head and speculate that he wanted the body found here, on Ponderosa land.” Ben glanced at Candy “What do you think?”

“I think we need to find where he was killed, and who he actually was, and who he was with. If it turns out to be one of those four men that will narrow the list of suspects down to three.”

They each turned towards their own horses but as Adam made his way towards Sport he had his sleeve plucked by Candy. He paused and turned “Something you wanted to say?”

“Yes, Adam, deQuille mentioned that he had borrowed, without mentioning it to you, some books…and that you had visited him and asked for the names of his contacts. Any reason why?”

“Why? As in why did he borrow my books? Or why did I ask for the names of his contacts?”

Candy frowned, he sighed and bowed his head “Why did you ask for the contacts names?”

“Well, most of them reside in Washington. They were asking questions concerning certain prominent people, one or more of whom seem rather annoyed at such attention and sent their thugs to sort deQuille out. It seemed only fair that they were warned to keep their heads down. Apart from which I wanted to know their names for my own personal reasons.”

“Which were?”

“Personal.” Adam cleared his throat, raised his eyebrows and then went to turn away “Can I go now?”

“Adam, if there is anything you are concealing from me that may prevent me from finding who killed this man, you could well find yourself in serious trouble.”

Adam pursed his lips slightly and looked at Candy thoughtfully, he gave a slight shrug of his shoulders “I don’t know any more than you do, Candy.”

“It has something to do with those books?”

“I don’t know that for sure. It’s speculative.”

“What exactly is in those books, Adam?”

Adam bit down on his bottom lip, he scowled down at the ground and then gave another slight roll of the shoulders “Classified information.”

“You’re a private citizen now, Adam, that doesn’t count.” Candy gave a slight grin.

“You are correct, I am a private citizen but classified information always remains just that…and by rights it should not be in my possession.”

“Then why didn’t you return them?”

“Because the family that sent them to me just thought they were the private journals of a friend of mine. The interest shown in them from Washington reveals that they are far more than that…”

“Which brings me back to my original question…this matter is about those books.”

Brown eyes challenged blue, it was Joe who broke the ice that was creeping up by asking if they could move on, there were things to do.

Adam turned away, he knew at the back of his mind that Candy was right, the whole mess revolved around those books. At the same time he was right, with Washington involved the books could no longer be considered available to any one the public domain. Candy represented the law and here Adam felt he was treading slightly on quicksand.

Ben put a hand on his son’s arm and indicated that they spent a little time together before mounting up. It was time to talk. Father to son. Adam drew in a deep breath and waited.

“Adam, whatever it is you know, or think you know, you should tell Candy.”

“I don’t know enough to tell Candy.”

“Can’t you tell him anything at all?””

“He knows all there is to know just now. I’m still feeling my way in the dark myself. Harcourt said a few things that just opened up a whole new can of worms. I don’t want Candy wading in and messing up on what I’ve got.”

“He could be feeling the same way about yourself, son.”

Adam glanced over his shoulder at where Candy was mounting up, Joe and Hoss were already in the saddle, talking to him. Adam turned to his father “I’ve a few things to check up on, once I’ve done that I’ll go and tell Candy what I know. I’ve got to go into town anyway, so I’ll see you later and talk it through with you.”

Ben nodded, slowly, the anxiety for his son obvious on his face, “Look, Adam, don’t put yourself, or your family in danger.”

Adam gave a rather tight grin, his eyes hooded he turned away and mounted Sport, “See you later, Pa.”
Chapter 40

Sympathy for the Journalist Daniel deQuille was mounting with each copy of the Enterprise that was sold. Despite his injuries it had done nothing to quell the imagination of the writer as he described in details, lurid and plentiful, of his attack, and in his own office.

Mr Grayson approached Candy as the sheriff dismounted and waved a copy of the news paper in his face “What are you doing about this, sheriff? About time those animals were locked up and the key thrown away.”

Candy sighed, already in his short time as sheriff the number of keys he had been told to throw away would have grown into a sizeable mountain by now. He took the newspaper from Grayson and nodded “It’s being investigated, Mr Grayson, the people responsible will be apprehended shortly.”

That platitude had been doled out quite frequently too, Grayson and the few loiterers hanging around the jail house weren’t impressed as one man stepped forward to press the point further and then brought in about the murder victim that Joe Cartwright had brought in “I suppose that’s being investigated too?”

“It is.” Candy said stoutly and elbowed his way out of the small crowd into his office and firmly closed the door behind him and upon them.

Clem looked up and scowled “Hey, Candy, how did you get on?”

“Well, we found out the location and how the body could have got there. What news do you have?”

He sat at the desk and shook the newspaper in order to read the article about deQuille’s attack. The description of the three attackers was very detailed, he leaned in closer to make sure he was reading it right and then looked up at Clem “He’s written more here than what he told us.”

“Sure has, and I went to see him about it too.” Clem nodded and pulled up a chair so that he was sitting opposite the lawman. “The description of one of them fits our murder victim, don’t you agree?”

“It certainly seems to.” Candy said quietly and shook his head “This ties in with what I thought, that darn book.”

“What book?”

“Adam Cartwright has a book which deQuille borrowed, without permission. Seems it caused a lot of folk more interest than even deQuille anticipated.”

Clem wasn’t sure exactly what it was Candy was rambling on about but he leaned back in his chair and nodded anyway. He picked his teeth with the nail of his little finger and then said “There’s a lot of well dressed folk in town, Candy. We may be jumping to conclusions thinking those men who attacked deQuille were out of towners.”

Candy sighed, and ran his fingers through his hair “True enough, but those shoes were made in Washington D.C, or didn’t you notice the name of the company stamped into the leatherwork.”

Clem sighed, he had noticed, he noticed everything there was to notice about those shoes. He nodded “Yeah, I get your drift.”

“How did you and Watts get on this morning. Any success?” Candy glanced meaningfully over at the coffee pot and Clem got up and poured them both out a mug full.

“Well, it was kind of difficult. But Vinnie had had a row with his missus so he and Mark went and checked out the boarding houses and hotels in the south area of town. I checked out the area that includes the International and various other places ….there were several places we thought needed to be looked at more closely. One place, Mrs Albierno’s … she said a man of the description we gave may be someone who boards with her, he had a beard but shaved it off sometime yesterday. A good looking fellow too. Said the name was Harcourt.”

Candy swallowed quicker than he should have and choked, the name that Adam had used earlier in conversation with them. Harcourt. He managed to clear his throat and stood up, “Look, Clem, go to the ticket office and check if a Mr Maxim bought a ticket to Washington, get everything you can about him. When he arrived here, if alone, and when he left.”

“What about you?” Clem asked as he hurried to get his hat and pull on his coat.

“I’ll check out this Harcourt.”
…………..

Tommy Conway was bursting with wanting to tell his ’surprise’. He had been very patient for a little boy, listening half interestedly at the things David Riley was telling them about a corpse with no eye balls. Groaning inwardly when David got all the attention he was seeking and therefore encouraged to add even further details. By the time they all trooped back into class the murder victim was minus his arms, his legs and his nose. The fact that the body was found on the Ponderosa caused Reuben heart burn and he just knew that that must have been where his Pa had been going earlier that day, to make sure of the facts.

He sat down wondering if Uncle Hoss would find the missing parts and what would it be like finding someone’s arm or leg. Tommy Conway sat down at his desk with beating heart waiting for the ‘secret’ to be divulged. Sofia, too involved with playing with the girls and thus spared the details of murder victims, sat down feeling relaxed and pleased with being with her friends. She even quite ‘liked’ her teacher.

Mr Evans glanced around the class. There were 24 students in all, the eldest there was 14 years old and the youngest a mere 6 years. Sofia wondered what he was thinking, what lesson was going to be planned for them, and would she be able to do well enough to please him. Reuben was still worrying about his Pa finding horrible body parts scattered around the Ponderosa.

“Now then, pay attention, please.” Mr Evans gave another sharp look at them all. The older boys at the back stopped whispering and sniggering at some private joke they had cooked up, and paid attention as ordered. “I would like you to get your coats and hats on, we are all going for an excursion.”

They sat there staring at him like so many rabbits wondering what the trap was all about. He smiled and nodded “An excursion…we are going to visit the Conway Music Store. Mr and Mrs Conway have agreed to let us see all the instruments, even play on them should we so wish.”

Sofia could hardly believe it. Going to the music store? She had never been there before and neither had quite a few others for there were several mutters and mumbles, not all of them happy ones, as the children scampered from their seats and rushed to get their coats and hats.

“You didn’t say anything about this, Tom.” David Riley said accusingly.

“Didn’t get a chance, did I?” the hapless lad protested as he wound his scarf repeatedly around his neck.

“Form a queue. Very good. Pair up…Rosie and Tommy, together, take the lead. Rueben, hold onto your sister. That’s right. Betty and Annie Sales … good. That’s right. Pair up. No, you two chuckle heads, you do not need to hold hands.” Evans shook his head in mock exasperation as two big 14 year old boys made a game of catching at each others hands in order to join the queue. “Very well. Everybody ready. Let’s go.”

This was exciting. This was unusual. Sofia and Reuben looked at one another with big eyes. Whatever next? This new teacher was proving to be quite surprising.
……………

Adam dismounted outside the Telegraph and Mail Depot shortly after Candy had arrived back in town. He glanced up and down the street and then pushed the door open to enter the building. Eddy looked up with a grin “Good afternoon, Mr Cartwright, Adam.”

Afternoon already, no wonder his stomach felt hollow. He nodded a greeting and then wrote out a message which he handed to Eddy. He then gave Eddy the address and name of several men whom the message was to go to … it was the same message to them all.

Urgently require information re Rupert Meredith Melkevik. Stop. As soon as possible.

Eddy looked up “Is that all, Adam?”

“At the moment.”

“I’ll send them right now, do you want to wait and see if there is a reply?”

“I’ll come back later. If there is no reply while I’m in town could you get any delivered to my home address as soon as possible.”

Eddy nodded. It happened sometimes, a long trek to the Ponderosa may be necessary and had been in the past, and it always paid well. Any inconvenience on their part was certainly compensated above and beyond the call of duty.

Adam listened to the first of the messages being tapped out over the wires and then left the building. He glanced around him and recognised the lean figure of Andrew Harcourt entering the International. Without a second thought he strode towards the hotel and pushed open the doors to the coffee house just as Harcourt sat down.

The man was alone and didn’t appear to be expecting company as he peeled off his gloves and removed his hat. When Adam appeared at his table he didn’t appear surprised or dismayed, in fact he showed no emotion whatsoever. It was Adam who asked if he could join him, and to that Harcourt nodded.

“Well, Mr Cartwright, tailing me are you?”

“No, not intentionally.” Adam replied placing his hat upon the vacant chair beside him.

A waitress came and asked for their order, then departed. The two men sat for a while in silence. Finally Harcourt spoke “You don’t trust me, do you?”

“Mr Harcourt, as I said to you before, I don’t know you. I know nothing about where you came from, who you actually work for, or why you are here. I know you stood back and let two men beat a man so severely he’s now in hospital and you had no hesitation in shooting at me and my son. Give me a good reason to trust you, and I will.”

Harcourt frowned, “Jeffrey Jamieson had the highest regard for you. I remember him telling me about his visit here, with a youngster from your ship. Oddly enough it happened to co-incide with the visit of the President, Mr Grant. Impromptu I believe.”

“That doesn’t help, Mr Harcourt.” Adam frowned “Is Harcourt your real name? Where do you actually come from?”

“Look, Adam, I came here because I was sent here by two different factions. One from the same people for whom Jeffrey was working for, and the other for the people who would kill me without hesitation if they knew I actually worked for the Government. I can’t tell you any more than that surely?”

They paused as the waitress brought their coffee and set it down on the table, Adam released his breath and shook his head “I never thought O’Brien’s memoirs would create so much trouble.”

“I should imagine that in the main they are innocent enough. It’s just that whoever heads this faction, using Melkevik as his or her puppet, is fearful of what they could reveal about him.”

Adam picked up his cup and drank some of the coffee, he thought over what Harcourt had said before he placed the cup down again “I read and re-read those particular journals to which you referred. Until you came and added information about Lawson and Mowatt they were perfectly innocuous. But now…”

“But now you know that one person is on the list twice, under two different names. And No. 37 is Howard Mowatt. And Atherton is listed as Atherton as well as his actual name of Philip Lawson.”

“You remembered the name then? You were able to put the name to the number? Well, that removes the mystery of who No. 37 is and also the identity of Atherton. I didn’t know Lawson was on the list as Atherton.” Adam tapped his mouth with long fingers, and shook his head slightly at a thought that was trickling into his mind. “Have you actually seen that list ?”

“No, it was considered too …well, too inflammatory is the word Jamieson used to describe it. I believe it was destroyed. You have a good memory, Commodore to have recalled all those names.” his eyes narrowed and if he expected Adam to react when being referred to as Commodore he was mistaken, there was no reaction.

“You told me Mowatt was Melkevik’s son. What age is he? Younger than Maria? Older?” Adam asked in a quiet level voice.

Harcourt shrugged “You may well find out for yourself in due course. I’m sure he’ll be visiting you or attempting some contact with you at some time or other. He’ll want those books. He’ll want to know what kind of information you have and what you make of that information.”

Adam shook his head and frowned “Tell me, Harcourt, are you missing any of your associates? Apart from the one who you claim to have boarded the train back home?”

It was Harcourt’s turn now to frown and shake his head “No, I don’t think so. To be honest, I haven’t really been seeking them out. Mowatt and Atherton …” he paused “Well, Atherton should have gone with Maxim but I saw him in town last night at the card tables in the Sazarac.” he gave a thin smile, “I rather thought he would want to see you too, considering that you were with his brother, Jack, before he died.” he sighed and put the spoon more neatly into the saucer “You have to remember he and Mowatt go back a long way. They may decide to work together on this. They don’t always, you see, they tend to jockey for authority.”

“So why are you still here?”

“Well,” Harcourt frowned, “Mowatt ordered me to ’disappear’, he doesn’t want me around, but then he didn’t want Atherton or Maxim around either. Maxim left town. Atherton remained because he won’t take orders from Mowatt anyway. You could say they are bound by a common interest…that’s you, of course, and those books. I’m still here because Mowatt doesn’t know that I am under orders from the Government to oversee this operation to the bitter end.”

Adam shook his head and stood up, “I knew a man once who said that we are just little cogs in the machinery, we didn’t really matter because that’s how politics works. Every one is a pawn in a big game of chess. This is just another game, and I’m not going to be a pawn in it.”

Harcourt frowned and pushed aside his cup, “But, Commodore, you are, so am I. We’re all caught up in this particular game and it all started a long time ago. Perhaps even further back than the war between states, or when Alaska was purchased by America and those papers first came to Pestchouroff’s attention. You have to remember, Commodore, that politics is a very dirty game. No one comes out of it clean.”

Chapter 41

Edward Evans removed his spectacles and polished them slowly before he replaced them in order to observe the children. Mr and Mrs Conway had been very kind and co-operative in his request for this occasion. Instruments of all kinds were set out on display and available to curious little, and not so little, fingers.

Trumpets tooted or blared, triangles tinkled and guitar strings were twanged. Pipes, and flutes and clarinets were blown down and produced a cacophony of sound. A harp was regarded with awe and only the very tentative fingers touched the strings very briefly, before standing away to look at such a marvel. A piano stood in the corner, a baby grand it would have been called, and it was to this that Sofia shyly made her way. She looked at it and touched the key board.

“Do you like it?” Mrs Conway asked, hovering close because the piano was her pride and joy and she didn’t really want dirty finger marks to mar its glossy beauty and that would require intense polishing off later.

“Yes, it’s – it’s beautiful.”

Mrs Conway smiled the patronising smile most adults employ when quite sure the child to whom they are speaking doesn’t know the meaning of what they are saying.

“A piano is a thing of beauty.” she glanced anxiously in the direction of the harp to which she had noticed several children getting rather closer to it than she would have wanted.

“A piano is like a harp. My aunty Mary-Ann is teaching me to play it.”

“The harp?”

“No, the piano.” Sofia sighed and clasped her hands together, her fingers were itching “Can I just touch it? Just a little bit?”

Mrs Conway was perplexed, there was so much noise in the building with so many children touching so many different instruments that she wasn’t sure she had heard right. She leaned forward “What did you say, my dear?”

“Can I touch it? The keyboard?”

Mrs Conway frowned, she looked at Sofia a little more closely “You’re that Sofia Cartwright, aren’t you> The one who disappeared during the snows?”

Sofia nodded and shrunk back, she looked for Reuben. She wondered why Mrs Conway looked so cross, what had she done wrong?

“Is there a problem here?” Mr Evans appeared, tall and lanky with his blue eyes inquisitive and enquiring behind his spectacles.

“Nothing at all, Mr Evans. This little girl wants to play the piano, that’s all.” Mrs Conway said quietly and then surprisingly to Sofia, patted her on the head “Poor dear, she’s gone through such an ordeal of late.”

Mr Evans nodded “So I heard. Well, then, Sofia Cartwright, as everyone else is making such a noise I can’t see what harm your adding to it would do.”

Reuben appeared then, he frowned at Evans and said very loudly that his sister knew how to play the piano, she had lessons from their aunt Mary Ann. Mrs Conway smiled and was about to say something when Sofia just pushed past her, took her seat and raised the piano lid.

This was so unexpected. So exciting. She couldn’t wait to get home to tell Mommy and to tell Aunty Mary Ann too. What would she play? What could she remember? She took a deep breath and placed her fingers on the keyboard and simply played the scales.. Finger exercises, simple and modest. Up and down her little fingers flew. Gradually the building grew silent. Jimmy Carstairs attempt to blow a tune on a bugle drifted into a warble of noise and a solitary squeak.

Evans stood there and listened attentively. He tugged at his moustache and bowed his head, he removed his glasses and stood still, the children gathered around the piano and Rosie said in her clear voice “Oh Sofia, I didn’t know you could play the piano.”

“I’m not,” Sofia said rather scornfully “I’m just practising my scales.”

Evans shivered, raised a hand and said loudly it was time to return to school. He had seen enough. He knew those who loved music, and those who did not. He knew one who loved it enough to be doing something about it. It stirred something within himself that he had long buried.

The children regrouped and formed a queue. They followed Mr Evans out of the store and all chorused their thank you’s to Mr and Mrs Conway causing Tommy Conway’s heart to nearly burst with pride.

On the way back to school Reuben saw his Pa leaving the International, he waved but Adam didn’t see him. He watched his Pa walking to the sheriff’s office and then lost sight of him. He felt a glow of pleasure at this secret glimpse of his Pa.
………………..

Candy wasn’t too happy on seeing Adam stride into the office. He was still rankling after the exchange of words they had had on Horseshoe Bend and he wondered if Adam had ever got round to accepting the face that he, Candy, was now the law and not Roy Coffee.

“Something on your mind?” he asked as Adam pulled out a chair and sat opposite him.

“Something.” Adam nodded.

“Going to share?” Candy raised a quizzical eyebrow and Adam pursed his lips before giving a slow nod of the head.

“It’s a puzzle. It goes back a long time.”

“And involves those books of O’Brien’s?”

Adam inclined his head and was about to speak when the door was pushed open by Vinnie Tyler who began talking even before he had closed the door behind him,

“That guy who was supposed to board the train..he didn’t. He left theTahoe House Hotel with his baggage and railway ticket. They held up the train for ten minutes before setting off because he didn’t make an appearance.”

Candy and Adam exchanged a glance and then Candy nodded slowly and asked Vinnie if there was anything else, Vinnie nodded, flushed with his success and a little red around the neck he continued “Yes, Sheriff, I found his valise, and it isn’t a pretty sight either.”

“Where is it?” Candy rose from his chair immediately and headed for the door, picking up his hat as he went,

“I left it where I found it. Thought it better for you to see it as it is.”

Candy nodded in approval and followed by Vinnie, and Adam he left the building collecting Clem along the way.

The valise was not a pretty sight, the contents were even uglier. Thrown into a corner of the basement of the railway station it would have gone unnoticed, unseen, had Vinnie not been such a diligent deputy. Like a dog on a scent the man had been determined to prove he was more than a man with a badge pinned to his shirt. He stood back and watched the other men look, recoil, and then look again. It was his victory and he basked for his few moments of congratulation.

“Well, this is where the bloodstained clothing was put and from the marks on the floor and walls where the murder took place.” Candy muttered “Dark, damp and cold. The perfect place for a crime like that.”

“Whoever did it took their time though. He cut out the labels on the clothing. He had to clean himself up…” Adam murmured dropping a blood soiedl shirt back into the valise with a grimace.

“Murdered him in the dark.” Clem muttered, “No one would notice if his own clothes were stained, night shadows can hide a lot of things.”

“No, I reckon he wore a coat, remember how deQuille said he liked the long coat one of them was wearing? I reckon he took it off to kill this man …what’s his name by the way, anyone know?” Candy asked.

“Maxim, Timothy Maxim,” Adam said quietly and the sigh in his voice was one of regret, a life lost in such a way should be regretted.

“Then afterwards he put the coat back on and returned to wherever he came from.” Candy concluded.

They stepped back and looked around them. “Needs some lighting in here,”Clem suggested “So’s we can see things more clearly.”

“See to it.” Candy said and turned away closely followed by Adam.

They walked together in silence back to the Sheriff’s office where Candy poured out coffee for them both. “Well, what were you going to say before we were interrupted?”

It didn’t take long for Adam to tell Candy the few pertinent facts of the matter which had the sheriff looking at him at times rather doubtfully and at other times with total confusion on his face. At the end Adam apologised if he hadn’t present the matter very clearly “It’s a case of too many loose ends,” he said lamely, “And this latest event, Maxim’s death, just adds another thread to the mix.”

“I would have thought the risk of a violent death came with the task he was involved in,” Candy said slowly “And with the people with whom he was associated.”

“Yes, I agree but the thing that puzzles me is why he was sent back to Washington in the first place. They came all this way here, beat up deQuille, get nothing out of him, and then he’s sent home. It doesn’t make sense.”

“Nothing makes sense, Adam. This Harcourt for example, can you trust him? If he’s working for both factions, who is to say that he’s who he is?”

Adam heaved a sigh and shook his head, “I don’t know, Candy. Jotham trusts him, and he’s known him for some years.”

The ticking of the clock on the wall became the only sound for some minutes as both men gave the matter more thought, finally Candy shook his head “Politics, it’s a strange world, one I have no idea about, and quite honestly, prefer it to continue that way.”

“This murder isn’t about politics, though.” Adam reminded him, “It’s down to a basic human trait which could be …”

“Hate? Revenge?”

“Any of those and plus a few others. We won’t know until we find the killer.” Adam rose to his feet and reached for his hat, “Thanks for your time, Candy.”

Candy said nothing to that, inclined his head and stood up to walk with Adam to the door. Standing there for a moment he watched the tall rancher walk away and cross the road back to the Telegraph and Mail Office, then he slowly, thoughtfully, closed the door.

There was nothing waiting for Adam and after a pause of a moment he turned and went back to the coffee house where he found Harcourt nursing yet another cup of coffee. The man glanced up and grinned “Can’t keep away, can you?”

“I just came to tell you that your friend, Maxim, was murdered.” Adam replied pulling out a chair and sitting down opposite Harcourt, whose face darkened at the news. “Know anything about it?”

“That, for a man of your intelligence, is rather a stupid question.” Harcourt replied and beckoned to the waitress for more coffee “The last I knew Maxim was on the train heading back to Washington.”

“Why?” Adam leaned forward, his face intense and eyes dark, “Why was he sent back? He hadn’t accomplished much, if anything, being here except enjoy beating up deQuille. What was the point of sending him all this way and then getting him to go back?”

Harcourt frowned more heavily, snapped a thanks to the waitress and then leaned back in his chair to observe Adam “Why are you so interested in what happened to him? He was the least intelligent of the three of us. He was one of those men who just obeyed orders and never questioned them”

“For either faction that you work for, isn’t that a good thing? Someone who doesn’t argue about what he has to carry out, someone who can be directed in any direction ..”

“Oh Maxim wasn’t stupid, don’t get me wrong. He was loyal to his superiors and he wouldn’t obey – well, he wouldn’t obey me if I told him to disobey an order from Mowatt for example. I can’t imagine why he was killed, and to be honest, I had not even considered the matter of his having been sent back when so little had been accomplished.”

Both men drank some coffee and set the cup down at the same time, spoons rattled in the saucers, it was Harcourt who spoke first “Mowatt just told us to disappear. I didn’t think Atherton would because he doesn’t trust Mowatt. I didn’t because I don’t trust either of them. I haven’t disappeared and I haven’t hidden myself away, yet neither of them has approached me, or threatened me or shown any suspicion of me. Something Maxim said or did must have triggered something in one of the other two… how did he die?”

He fired off the question so abruptly that Adam was surprised, he had assumed the man would have known, that it was quite common knowledge already but he supplied the answer in a non committal tone of voice and watched as Harcourt shook his head, scowled deeper than ever “Maxim didn’t deserve a death like that. But I guess we’ll never know why until we find the killer.”

Adam leaned back in the chair and regarded the other man thoughtfully “Do you want the books? O’Brien’s journals?”

Harcourt grinned, “Why? Are you going to make a present of them to me?”

“I might. I’ve read through them time and again, there’s nothing in them that I can see but as I don’t really know for what I am looking for, it hardly matters now. The three of you obviously know something about them I don’t, so, if you have them then …”

“Then the other two will come looking for me? You want to draw ‘em away from yourself, huh?”

Adam shrugged now, he raised his chin and narrowed his eyes “Well, do you want them, or not? Just how important are those books really, Mr Harcourt?”

Andrew Harcourt said nothing to that, but stared at the far wall as though thinking deeply on other subjects. He sighed “Very well. I’ll ride out with you and collect them.”

“No,” Adam stood up, “I don’t want you anywhere near my place. I’ll bring them to you, this evening.”

Harcourt smiled very slowly, but his eyes were cold, he merely nodded “Alright, I’ll be waiting for you here.”

“Alone?”

“Of course.”

Adam nodded, picked up his hat and strode out of the building, the door closed slowly behind him.

Chapter 42

Olivia had taken Nathaniel to visit Bridie, and so her morning had been taken up with helping her friend with various tasks that Tilly Trevelyn was not privy too. As she had promised to collect the children from school Olivia’s intention was to stay in town as the distance to and from the Ponderosa was too time consuming to return there only to turn round and come back.

Hence she missed seeing Adam in town, their paths crossed as they went their various ways. There was wool to buy for her stock had dwindled over the winter months. There was material to select for Sofia needed new dresses, Nathaniel new clothes and Reuben was growing so fast that it was hard to keep up with him. It was pleasant to browse around the stores, to meet the townspeople she had got to know and who enquired about the baby that Hester and Hoss had taken into their family.

Eddy found Adam just as he was about to leave town, there were two cables in reply to his enquiries. There were several more to come but as he was going to return later he asked Eddy, as a favour to him, to keep the place open should there be further responses. Knowing that this always meant a fair recompense, Eddy agreed to do that favour.

As Olivia strolled around town and had a pleasant hour with Ann and little Samuel, Adam was riding back to the Ponderosa.

Jotham Morton was reading through O’Brien’s journals when Adam opened the door to the bedroom. A quick glance at the rumpled bed and then to the desk where Jotham was reading with a thoughtful look on his face. He nodded over to Adam as though the man had just stepped out for a moment “These make interesting reading, Adam. I can remember Daniel talking to me about this, the journal is almost verbatim for what he said.”

Adam nodded and pulled up a chair in order to sit astride it and watch the other man as he continued to read through the journal with a quite dreamlike smile on his face. After a moment he broke the silence by remarking that he and Daniel were very close, as cousins.

“Yes, we were like brothers in lots of ways. We differed in opinion during the war between the states, like many relatives did. It didn’t lessen my respect for him, nor his for me. Afterwards he was very bitter about the loss of life, he felt it was a total waste, cruel and unnecessary.”

“Some would argue that all war is just that ..cruel and unnecessary.” Adam murmured and picked up one of the sheets of paper upon which he had scribbled some notes. “One of the men who came here to get the book, was murdered. Joe found his body, and he’s now been identified.”

“Murdered?” Jotham frowned, “Which of them was it?”

“Maxim.”

Jotham said nothing but looked thoughtful, then shook his head

“Everything’s so vague. I can’t remember much …” he rubbed his brow and the colour began to fade from his face, “I think I need to get back to bed. I was probably too ambitious getting up yet.”

Adam was prompt to get up and give his friend an arm to lean upon, once in bed he gave Jotham a dose of the medication Paul had left him, and then returned to the desk. He glanced down at the books and closed the pages of the one Jotham had been reading.

“Jotham, how long exactly have you known Harcourt?”

“Well, I guess ever since Jeffrey Jamieson recruited me into the service. It was after the trial, court martial, if you remember? I went on board ship under Captain Jenkins, not very pleasant, and when I got back there was a letter from Jeffrey asking me to contact him. I did, and I signed up to work under him. He told me about Harcourt, said that he was one of his best agents. Later on I met Andrew and we got on well enough, he was a very experienced field agent, taught me a lot.”

“Does he often get sent to work on these kind of assignments, you know, like the one he’s on now.”

“That’s part of the job, Adam. You have to remember that you never even knew Jeffrey existed on board the Ainola until Metcalfe had been discovered and you needed help.”

Adam nodded, he thought of Nathaniel and his little game of hiding his eyes and thinking no one saw him because he couldn’t see them. It seemed the same with Jeffrey and Harcourt, in plain sight all the time but never seen. He drew in a deep breath “Jotham, tell me something… can you remember anything about the number 37?”

“I thought you had remembered who it was …”

“I have, I know who number 37 is on the list Irena gave us. But I want to know what you had been told about it.”

“It is important then?”

“I don’t know,” Adam rubbed his jaw with his fingers and looked at Jotham’s puzzled face “Sometimes the last thing we are told may be the first thing we remember after a bad fall, like the one you had when the horse threw you. You immediately mentioned the book, and number 37…that was all that seemed important to you. I just need to know why? Whether you knew something else about the number, or if you had just been told to tell me how important it was.”

Jotham closed his eyes and it was obvious to Adam from the contortions of his face that the man was struggling to remember certain facts, any thing that would fit into what Adam wanted. After a while he sighed and leaned back against the pillows,

“I was briefed as usual by my superior, there’s no need to tell you who that is, but he’s been in the service even before Jeffrey Jamieson was… he told me to get to you and warn you that you could be in danger. The facts were not clear but it had something to do with O’Brien, and some journals that O’Brien’s family had given you. That was all.”

“Are you sure? What about the number 37?”

Jotham sighed and slipped further down in the bed “There was no mention of that number. I recognised Harcourt when he boarded the train with the three others. I thought I recognised some of the others but I knew they were not anything to do with us. I had been told not to contact Harcourt if I saw him as he was under cover. It was all – well, that sort of thing.”

Adam shook his head and then scratched his brow, winced a little as though he were in pain “Anything else?”

“Sometimes I thought they knew I was there too, I even felt they were following me at times but it was just co-incidence. As Andrew said, they didn’t know I was here so obviously I was imagining things. Anyway, it happened that -” he paused and rubbed his brow, “Yes, that’s right, I overheard them talking, it was by sheer accident but Andrew was talking to one of them, and I heard him saying how important the books were, that there was something about the number 37 and the other man said that Cartwright had to be stopped from finding out about 37. I think that’s right, it’s still rather hazy in my head. I may have got it wrong… but it puzzled me and I thought it over and over as to how a number could be so important and what did it have to do with Daniel’s book?”

“Well, it obviously made a big impression on your mind as it was the first thing you mentioned. Anyway, I’ll get Cheng Ho Lee to make you a good meal, and leave you to get some rest. I have to go out again. Be careful, Jotham.”

“Of course.” Jotham smiled and put out his hand which Adam took in his, “Thank you, Adam. You’ve been a good loyal friend to Daniel and myself.”

Adam nodded and with the books tucked under his arm he left the room. Cheng Ho Lee had prepared some food for him which he ate, swallowed down by coffee. Having got a promise that Jotham would get a good meal , Adam collected his gun belt, his hat and jacket, then tucked the books into a saddle bag. “Cheng Ho Lee, I’ll be back as soon as possible. Tell Livvy not to worry if I’m a little late.”

Cheng Ho Lee nodded, gave his usual slight bow and returned to his tasks. He felt a niggle of apprehension however and wished that the sick man upstairs were not there because then he would have followed his master, just to make sure that he did return home, late or not.

During the journey back into town Adam thought over his conversation with Jotham and Harcourt. He had read his two cables, both of which had confirmed some things in his mind and left other details open to speculation. He remembered that he had promised to see his father at some time but time was running out, he would see him in the morning.
………………

Mrs Albierno shook her head and looked rather worried as the two deputies made their enquiries.

“I run a clean boarding house, Mr Foster, I’ve never had any complaints.”

“There’ve been no complaints made, Mrs Albierno.” Clem said patiently, “But we just want to know if you have had any lodgers here by the names of Atherton, Mowatt or Harcourt.”

She nodded her head and pushed a wisp of hair back behind one ear, “Mr Harcourt is one of my lodgers. A very quiet pleasant man. He had a beard when he first came but since has shaved it off. Looks much better without it too.”

“Is he here now? Is it possible to talk to him?”

She shook her head “No, he booked out this afternoon. Took his possessions and left. I did ask if he wanted to leave a forwarding address but he said he wasn’t sure where exactly he was headed. Then he said he may be staying at the Ponderosa, he has a friend there.”

Clem nodded, thanked her sincerely and together with Vinnie Tyler left her closing the door and worrying about her lodger whom she had quite taken a shine to. The deputies made their way back to the sheriff’s office and found Candy and Mark Watts carefully examining the contents of the valise that had belonged to the dead man. Candy tossed back a blood stained shirt and offered the opinion that the murderer must have intended to return at some point, leaving the things behind had been a ridiculous thing to have done otherwise.

“He killed the man there,” Watts said quietly, “There was plenty of evidence of that too.”

Clem had no doubts about that, he and Vinnie exchanged looks, grateful that they had not had to see what the extra lighting had revealed down in the basement of the railway station. Clem told them that Harcourt had left Mrs Albierno’s but that the other two men had been staying at the International. They were still there although not in their rooms.
………………….

Olivia listened to her children’s excited chatter with more than a touch of relief. The excitement Sofia had felt from her excursion to the music store bubbled over so that her voice got quite squeaky at times. Reuben’s description of Jimmy blowing the trumpet made them all laugh, even Nathaniel clapped his hands with pleasure at the sound of their laughter.

They were a merry happy little band as they rolled into the yard and clambered down from the buggy. “Will daddy be home?” Sofia cried as she ran to the porch.

But Daddy wasn’t home and Cheng Ho Lee delivered Adam’s message with a tone of gravitas that made Olivia feel a little uncomfortable. Removing Nathaniel’s coat and warm clothing gave her time to think, and wish that her husband had been more communicative about the situation. She cast a glance up the stairs as she passed them, just perhaps their patient would know a little more than she, perhaps he would or could be persuaded to tell her a little more.

She was considering the matter when there was a familiar knock on the door and Ben strode into the house “Where’s Adam?”

“He’s gone into town.” Olivia replied and shook her head in exasperation, a feeling that her father in law knew too well. “I think he took the short cut because we didn’t pass on the road.”

“He agreed to come and talk to me about what was going on.” Ben growled and looked up at the stairs “How’s the patient?”

“I don’t know, I’ve just got in myself.”

Sofia ran up and grabbed at Ben’s hand “Gran’pa, guess what happened today at school. Guess, Gran’pa?”

“In a moment, Sofia, I have to see Mr Morton first.” Ben said and shook the little hand away, leaving the little girl confused and looking up at him with a pained expression in her eyes.

Jotham was half asleep when Ben entered the room sounding like the proverbial herd of elephants. He turned bleary eyes towards the rancher who was now standing at the side of the bed “Mr Cartwright? Is everything alright?”

“I don’t know, Mr Morton. Is it?”

Jotham frowned, blinked to clear his vision and sighed “If you’re looking for Adam he’s gone in to town. Said he had something to do.”

“Anything to do with those darn books?”

“He took them with him.” Jotham indicated the desk with a nod of the head, “I think he’s going to give them to Mowatt or – was it Harcourt?” he rubbed his brow “I’m sorry, Mr Cartwright, I just can’t seem to retain all the information, but I do know he’s gone into town.”

Ben nodded and rubbed his jaw, then he pulled up a chair and sat down “Mr Morton, I think it’s time that you told me all that you can remember. Right from the beginning. And don’t say a word about it being classified information or Top Secret or any rubbish like that. If my son is in any danger I need to know just how much and by whom.”
………………….

Howard Mowatt left his room at the International and crossed the landing to the room that Atherton was staying in. He rapped loudly on the door and called the man’s name several times but received no answer. He rattled the handle for good measure but the door was locked. He peered through the keyhole and all the could see was a glimpse of a very tidy room.

Howard Mowatt shrugged and shook his head, perhaps Atherton was down stairs waiting for him. They had a plan for the evening and this was the first hitch, he didn’t like ’hitch’s’ even one this small.

The clerk at reception was of little help he had not seen Mr Atherton but had the feeling that he would be at the Sazarac as usual. Mr Atherton liked the gaming tables and had won some money when he sat in on the big game that was still being played there. Mowatt doubted that, he knew that Atherton would not be distracted by a card game when there was business on hand.

He left the hotel and stood on the sidewalk outside to look around the town and gather his thoughts. He no more trusted Atherton than Atherton trusted him. Perhaps that was why he had left already, to get to their destination first. He was deep in thought when he saw Adam Cartwright ride into town, and watched as the broad shouldered rancher stopped his horse outside the Telegraph and Mail Office. The building was open, he saw Adam take some cables from the tall skinny clerk and pay over some money. For some time Adam stood there reading through the two cables he had been given before taking out two slips of paper from his pocket which he seemed to be comparing with what he had just received.

Mowatt watched as Adam stuffed the cables back into his pocket and left the building. As soon as he had closed the door Eddy locked it after all it was against company policy to remain open out of hours. Blinds came down and lights in the building were extinguished plunging the sidewalk and the rancher into the shadows of darkness.
…………….

Harcourt glanced up as Adam entered the coffee house. He was seated in the corner of the room which was slightly curtained off as though for those requiring privacy. There were several customers already there and their voices offered a soft back ground accompaniment to the silence that Adam now felt surrounded him.

The waitress had been replaced by an older woman who took his request for coffee with a nod and bustled efficiently to attend to the business of providing for his needs. He removed his hat and placed it on the table, then unbuttoned the top of his jacket before easing himself into the chair.

The coffee arrived, steaming hot and the woman bustled away back to attend to other customers who had just arrived, the tinkling of a bell provided a clue to their presence. The two men sat for a while in silence, each almost ignoring the other.

Harcourt was older than Adam by some years but still a very handsome man. He could well have passed for a man ten years younger than his actual age. He drank his coffee before speaking “You didn’t bring the books?”

“I have them in a safe place.” Adam replied in a monotone drawl, the tone of voice he used when a subject had become boring and he just wanted it over and done with as soon as possible.

“You agreed that you would bring them here this evening and hand them over.”

Adam ignored the ice in the other man‘s voice. His brow creased slightly in irritation, he sipped more coffee and very deliberately, slowly, placed the cup upon the saucer before looking at Harcourt and surveying him for a few moments.

“You knew who No. 37 was all along, didn’t you? There really was no mystery to that number at all, was there?”

Harcourt scowled then shook his head “I needed you to find out …”

“But I couldn‘t find out, as you put it. There was nothing to find out. Daniel never knew who was on that list bar a few people with whom he was acquainted. He had names but not numbers. In fact, there were no numbers. Just a list of names. They numbered 42.”

Harcourt frowned more deeply, his eyes became slightly wary, as he tried to recall to mind what he could have said to have led Adam to that conclusion. He decided to try and talk his way out of it by mentioning the fact that Jotham knew about it, so it had to exist, and it had to be serious or he wouldn‘t have been sent to Virginia City to get the books.

“Jotham knew nothing about any number and he hadn‘t been told about the list either. He was sent here, yes, to warn me that I was in danger but he didn‘t know anything more than that, oh yes, the books…all he knew was that it involved Daniel‘s books.”

“I told you, those books are the clue to the whole thing. I need to get them before Mowatt and Atherton do. Jotham knew about the number, of course he did, it was the first thing he told you, wasn’t it?”

“It was just mind games, Harcourt. You must have seen Jotham on the train, was worried that the man you were with at the time may have seen him too so engaged him in a conversation that would make Jotham wary of approaching you. You thought of the number 37, then referred to the books. You knew Mowatt was the 37th name on the list. That’s why it was so deliberately mentioned by you, because you intended to link him with the list and to Melkevik should it become necessary.”

Harcourt sighed heavily and picked up his cup, noticed it was empty and replaced it upon its saucer. He glanced up at Adam “And the books? Their importance to Melkevik?”

Adam shook his head “Melkevik has no interest in the books. Melkevik is just a poor old man dying from cancer. His daughter’s death was the last straw for him, he stopped fighting the illness, he’s too poor to pay for all the medical bills. He isn’t the wealthy scion of a vengeful family as you have made out, Harcourt.”

Adam now pulled the cables from his pocket and placed them on the table “Did you think I wouldn’t check up on the facts?”

Harcourt looked at the cables, then up again at Adam. Slowly he read through each cable, some gave more information than others, some confirmed some facts and provided new ones. He read what Adam had only read earlier…how Melkevik lost his fortune during the war and had spent his remaining years trying to claw it back for his daughter but upon her murder, and that of her children, he gave up everything…his fight for his lost fortune, his fight against the illness that was destroying him. He was just a lonely old man.

Harcourt pouted and then pushed the papers over to Adam “Your distrust goes a long way, Adam.”

“You just overplayed your hand, Harcourt. Jeffrey never did that, and for a man in his profession he was honest. You were not, and your insistence upon Melkevik being this wealthy powerful puppet master …” he sighed and shook his head “One of the facts Daniel mentioned about his father -in-law Rupert Meredith Melkevik was that the war had impoverished him. That was one of the hooks Pelman and Philip Lawson used on Maria O’Brien that with the Confederacy restored, her father would have his fortune back. That, of course, was an impossibility.”

“Any other facts you would like to share with me?” Harcourt sneered, his handsome face slightly discoloured by his discomfort.

“Only that the man was utterly honest, and completely neutral, which is why he lost his fortune.”

Harcourt nodded, “I knew I was clutching at straws by bringing Melkevik’s name into the equation. I convinced Jotham about the validity of his involvement. I’m afraid that Jotham is far too gullible for this kind of business. It doesn’t do to be so naïve.”

“He believed a man he trusted, and he trusted you, Harcourt. He had no reason not to, after all, you were trained by Jamieson, why should he doubt you for a moment?”

Harcourt sighed deeply, and shook his head “Everything is built on lies you know, Adam.”

“In your case, it certainly seems so.”

“Well, that’s politics for you … try and find an honest politician, huh?”

Adam dismissed the image of an irate Russian puffing on his cigarettes and hissing “Politics, pah!”

He raised his eyebrows and shrugged “What now? What relevancy have the books now? Who exactly are you? Who is Mowatt? And who is David Atherton apart from names on a list and not once mentioned in Daniel’s books?”

“So many questions, Adam. Do you really expect an honest answer from me now?”

Adam shrugged “I don’t know. I had hoped so, or at least enough for me to believe that you have some integrity.”

“Integrity? Ah, such a word!” Harcourt sighed and rose to his feet “You had best come along with me, Adam. Somewhere more private, where I can discuss this more openly with you.”
Chapter 43

Whatever Adam felt about that request inwardly he revealed nothing, although his hand did loosen the gun in his holster to ensure a quick withdrawal were it to become necessary. He picked up his hat, put some coins on the table to cover the cost of the coffee, and followed Harcourt out of the coffee house.

Both men were quickly swallowed up in the shadows and were revealed only those occasional times when a shaft of light from a window caught them in its beams.
…………

Jotham Morton was struggling out of the bed when Olivia opened the door with a tray laden with his supper. She quickly placed that upon a night stand and hurried over to him, grabbing at his arm and forcing him to sit back down onto the bad.

“What are you doing, Mr Morton? You know you are not in a fit state to leave here.”

“I have to get to town, Mrs Cartwright, I just realised something important, something I should have told Adam before he left.”

Olivia could feel the colour draining out of her face, she cleared her throat and shook her head as she placed a trembling hand upon the man’s shoulder “Is my husband in danger, Mr Morton? Is there something I should know?”

Jotham shook his head which caused immediate pain and with a sigh he collapsed back upon the pillows “I told Ben, I told Ben everything I knew but there was just this one thing that I had forgotten. No, I hadn’t forgotten… I just didn’t realise the significance of it all and …”

“Mr Morton, please. Just tell me. Is my husband in any danger?”

She knew it was really a silly ineffectual question, after all she had known her husband was in danger ever since Jotham Morton stepped or rather was dragged into the house. It was just now, coupled with how Ben had rushed from the house earlier, that it all seemed too much for her, the reality rushed in and cast aside the excuses she had used to herself to push the dangers away.

“Yes, he is, that’s why I was sent here. My superior sent me here to warn him and also to try and find out …” his face went ashen and he shook his head, again the pain made his eyes water and he had to put a hand to his face as though that would stop it further “For years we have had some problems in the department, my superior suspected there was a …a traitor, someone betraying us in little ways, subtle ways. Nothing big you understand, nothing that we could grab hold of and be able to use in order to accuse and arrest him. We had our suspicions nothing more.” he closed his eyes “I’ve probably already told you too much. I’m sorry.”

Olivia shook her head “Don’t be sorry, I need to know, Mr Morton and … Mr Morton, please, please, wake up.”

Jotham had done all he could, the pain was too intense and had drawn him back to the only place from which he could escape it. She stood there for a moment and then as gently as she could raised his legs back up into the bed and covered him over. Then she put the tray of food on the table closest to his reach and silently left the room.

Nathaniel was crying. He was just a baby still and when things hurt or were uncomfortable, or a bad dream pursued him, all he could do was cry for his Momma. She walked to him and lifted him from his crib, and carried him downstairs, humming a little tune because she knew that worrying would not help Adam, whatever was going to happen, would happen and she was unable to prevent it.

Cheng Ho Lee came to the door and looked at her, saw the pale features and wide dilated eyes and bowed “Cheng Ho Lee has business in town, Missy Cartwright. Alright for him to go?”

She nodded, something in the back of her mind, a memory of something but whatever it was had gone, but it left her feeling more relaxed, more reassured. “Be careful, Cheng Ho Lee.”

He bowed slightly and then was gone.
……………….

Mark Watts and Vinnie Tyler were the deputies overseeing the towns care that evening and both looked somewhat startled when Ben Cartwright threw open the door and strode into the office, glanced around him and snapped “Where’s the sheriff?”

“He’s home, Mr Cartwright. It’s been a long day and we’re the ones on duty.” Mark volunteered the obvious answer.

“Is there anything we can do to help, sir?” Vinnie asked removing himself from his perch on the corner of Candy’s desk in order to look more officious.

“No, I doubt it. Have you seen my son in town at all?”

“Er, which one, Mr Cartwright?” Mark gave a slight grin as though to remind the rancher that there were three sons and they were not mind readers.

“Adam – my son, Adam?”

The deputies looked at one another and shook their heads, “No, sir. Nary a sign of him.”

“Sorry, Mr Cartwright.” Vinnie added “But we’re on patrol duty in an hour, should we see him shall we tell him you’re looking for him.”

Ben scowled, muttered something to the equivalent that he may have found him by then and slammed his way back out again. The Deputies looked at one another, raised their eyebrows and shrugged. It never paid to get on the wrong side of Ben Cartwright, they both knew that much and felt they had got off lightly.

Ben stood on the sidewalk and scratched his head. The whole business made no sense to him whatsoever. Jotham’s rather garbled explanation went over his head to some extent but it did seem as though Adam were about to step into a barrel load of snakes.

He walked over to the Bucket of Blood and enquired there if anyone had seen Adam, but there had been no sighting so he left there feeling more agitated than ever. At the Sazarac the bar tender there shook his head “There’s been a big game played here for the past few days, Mr Cartwright. I would have seen him if he had been here, but he ain’t never sat in on any of the big games as you know.”

Ben nodded, sighed and asked for a drink. He was tired, thirsty and worried, the combination always left him with a mighty big thirst.
……………

Adam kept his hand resting on the handle of his gun as he walked alongside Harcourt. The other man was silent, and he himself felt disinclined to talk. He passed one or two of the townsfolk one of whom stopped to ask him how Olivia was before they were free to continue on their way.

“Down here.” Harcourt nodded towards an alley which was obscured by darkness, and Adam paused, glanced behind him, and tightened his grip on the gun. Well, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

He followed Harcourt down the alley, took a right hand turn and then stopped when Harcourt indicated the building beyond. It looked as though it would collapse if someone were to breathe too heavily upon it. He looked at Harcourt “Are you kidding?”

“It’s the best I could find, I need to keep my cover don’t forget.”

“Your cover?” Adam said scornfully, “From Mowatt and Atherton I presume?”

“You still don’t realise what kind of men we’re dealing with here, do you? I guess you’ve cast me as the bad guy, but I assure you, I’m not…” Harcourt stepped through the doorway and promptly disappeared.

With a frown, another quick glance around him Adam walked up to the door and into the building. The door closed behind him. It occurred to him that it closed very quietly, perhaps someone had oiled the hinges? He saw Harcourt ahead, a match scraped and there was light, an old lamp flared and light flooded into the room. It had been someone’s home once, but cobwebs festooned the joists and covered the glass window more effectively than lace curtains ever could.

“Well?” he asked as he removed his hat and placed it on a dust covered table, “What now?”

Harcourt said nothing, his mouth opened but there was no sound. Adam didn’t even have time to ask another question as the blow to the back of his head snuffed out the light as well as the sight of the other mans face. He was unconscious before he hit the floor with a thud.

Two men stepped out of the shadows and one gently put the toe of his foot against Adams shoulder to raise him slightly from the floor, he knelt a little and seemed anxious to ensure the man was still alive. After a brief nod to the other man both of them turned to Harcourt who stood there as though he couldn’t believe his eyes.

“I see you weren’t expecting us, Andrew?” Mowatt said quietly

“Did you get the books?” Atherton asked and smiled really pleasantly, even his eyes twinkled as though he found the whole thing amusing.

Mowatt pulled his gloves on more snugly “Of course, we don’t need the books. O’Brien’s memoirs hold as little interest to us as he does…it’s all dead news, like him really.”

Harcourt frowned, he sighed and then shrugged “Well, at least we’re agreed about that. I guess no one will ever know how irrelevant those books were .”

“Well, I wouldn’t say they were irrelevant. They were very helpful, in fact. If that nosey journalist hadn’t gone poking his nose around we would never have had the opportunity of finding out about you.”

“About me?” Harcourt gave a muffled laugh, he shook his head, shrugged his shoulders.

“You’ve been playing a double game for too long, Harcourt.” Atherton said in a kind tone of voice, as though he actually sympathised with the man. “But we had to find out for sure, you see.”

“It could have been you or Maxim, we weren’t exactly sure which of the two of you it was, but then you went and killed Maxim. That…sorry to say …really was a step too far.” Mowatt’s voice was cold, hard, like his eyes which bore into Harcourt’s with unflinching hatred.

“Maxim never questioned the fact that we came here, beat up that stupid newspaperman and then ordered him back home. All that way from Washington for what? We fed him the same lies about the books, and he believed them. But he never questioned his orders. He came, he did what he was expected to do, and then he went.” Atherton sighed again, and found a table to perch on as he removed his long coat and carefully folded it over the back of a chair.

“Of course he went, but he didn’t actually go where he was intended. He trusted you, Harcourt. You led him someplace and killed him. Now, perhaps you could tell us why?” Mowatt raised his eyebrows and waited.

Harcourt shrugged “You wouldn’t understand.”

“Try us.” Mowatt said as he carefully removed his coat and placed it along with Atherton’s.

Atherton had moved closer to Harcourt now, he indicated for the other man to removed his long coat and after Harcourt had done so Atherton moved in and checked for the whereabouts of any weapon on his person. A small but deadly derringer was revealed and tossed to one side. Harcourt remained silent.

“Mr Harcourt, we haven’t all night, you know. I suggest you talk for your own sake.” Mowatt now muttered and smiled.

“Then what happens? Will you kill me? What about Cartwright? Will you kill him too?”

“That rather depends on you, Mr Harcourt.” Atherton grimaced and stepped away from the other man.

Harcourt frowned “Maxim murdered Jeffrey Jamieson. He worked with you on that, didn’t he?”

Atherton shook his head and pulled a face, one of tragedy and sorrow. He was a very feeling man. “Jeffrey Jamieson. Is that what this is all about? Old Jeffrey? Look, we did him a favour, he was dying anyway. Some illness or didn’t you know that?”

Harcourt nodded “I knew that, but he didn’t have to die the way you killed him. Maxim told me what you did, the bits missing from the official documents”

“So you judged him and executed him, is that it?” Mowatt asked quietly.

Harcourt looked down at Adam’s prone body and felt a twinge of sympathy for the man. He looked up at Mowatt and Atherton “Why involve him?”

“The Commodore is still very well thought of in certain quarters, we knew they would send someone to rush to his rescue if he were in any danger. They sent Morton which seemed appropriate enough seeing his connection with O’Brien and Philip Lawson.” Mowatt laughed, a good shoulder shaking laugh “You know, it’s quite funny really, if you think of all the time he must have spent trying to work out what was in those books. Trying to find what was so important as to have the newspaperman beaten up and Jotham Morton coming all the way to the Ponderosa to warn him of danger.”

“Did he find out about you, Harcourt?” Atherton asked as he carefully ensured that his gloves fitted really snugly.

“There’s nothing…” Harcourt began and then stopped, he watched as Atherton began to uncoil some rope, very slowly. He glanced around him, looked hopefully for some means of escape. Atherton was binding his hands together behind his back. He felt as though time were standing still, slipping away and he could no longer hold it back.

“You wanted those journals, didn’t you? You wanted to read what O’Brien had to say about your son. Isn’t that right? Philip Lawson was not Jacks’ brother, he was Jack’s half brother, Philip was your son and you wanted to find out who betrayed him, and how Jack really died. Isn’t that right?”

“You’re talking too much.” Harcourt said in a dry voice, “Just get on with it.”

Atherton placed the noose around Harcourt’s neck, and stepped back “It wasn’t Philip’s fault either, he trusted someone …someone he should have kept well away from; he trusted Jeffrey, Jeffrey Jamieson.”

So that was it, Andrew Harcourt thought …after all this time, the man he wanted to avenge had in fact been instrumental in the death of his son, Philip and the betrayal of all those loyal to the Confederacy. All that time ago, all those lies ago… what a waste of time, and lives. He didn’t feel anything now, not for his son, not for Jamieson. He just felt devoid of any feeling at all.
…………..

When Adam finally managed to open his eyes the first thing he saw was Harcourt. Then he became aware of the pain in his arms and shoulders, plus the pulsating agony in his head so that he had to close his eyes again and concentrate on his breathing. If he could get the breathing right perhaps the pain would subside and he could take in what he was seeing.

He had to screw his eyes up once or twice to get them to focus but when they stopped being blurred he was able to understand why Harcourt didn’t quite look like the man he had been speaking to not so long ago. After the torture the man had been hanged, and was suspended from the same joist as Adam himself.

As his body weight pulled upon the sockets of his arms and wrists Adam struggled to understand why he had been kept alive. He tried to think of the snatches of conversation he had overheard as he had drifted in and out of consciousness. One thing was for sure, he wasn’t going to look in Harcourt’s direction again if he could help it.

There had to be a way out of the situation, there always was a way out of the situation. He looked up into the roof space where the shingles were missing in so many places, but all it confirmed was the fact that the joists were solid and strong. There was nothing near his feet for him to get some form of leverage. There was only empty space in which he was hanging like a carcase hanging from a hook in a butchers shop.

He closed his eyes as the pain seemed to intensify. This, he thought, was a cruel way to die. But then he thought of Harcourt and decided that perhaps not, there were worse ways.

He was formulating some plan, some means of getting free when he smelled the smoke. For a moment, just a moment, he thought he was hallucinating and that the nightmares of Jiang Peng were haunting him now. He renewed his struggles to get free, but the ropes binding his wrists remained stubbornly tight and ate more into his flesh as he struggled.
…………

Candy came to the door and was about to greet Ben when they both heard the shouting as Vinnie Tyler ran into the middle of the main street and yelled “Fire. Fire.”

Mark Watts was ringing the fire bell, people were running from the saloons and eating houses, voices shouted “Where” and others were yelling “Hanson’s livery…” “Where?” “The old livery behind Hanson’s Hardware.”

Everywhere confusion. People ran and got in each others way, someone was yelling to form a water queue, some people still didn’t know where the fire was and thought it was a hoax so returned to their tables in the restaurants.

“Have you seen Adam?” Ben yelled above the noise of the crowds, the fire bell ringing and little Samuel bawling from upstairs, disturbed by the hellish sounds from the street.

Some dogs added their voices to the racket, the crowd were streaming in one direction now and Candy had pushed Ben to one side and merely muttered something about duty calling as he grabbed at his hat and ran from the house. Ben had only one thing to do now and that was to follow the younger man and hope that wherever Adam was, he would be safe.

The Virginia City Fire wagon arrived rather haphazardly and various townsfolk were shoved over as the firemen organised themselves to fight the flames that were now roaring through the roof. It was an old building and long deserted but its proximity to other properties determined the prompt action to extinguish the flames as quickly as possible.

In the building Adam coughed and choked. The flames had not yet reached the area in which he was hanging, but the smoke was black and thick, he closed his eyes and prayed that someone, somehow, would come before he died. He thought of Livvy, of the children, he heard Nathaniel laughing close by and thought that he was closer to dying than he had realised.

He shook his head, he wasn’t going to die, not like this, not like a rat caught in a trap. He turned to look behind him and gave a groan of despair as two black eyes bore into his…Jiang Peng. Here?

Jiang Peng writhing in the fire as a silken red dragon flared into flames and wrapped itself around him. Jiang Peng looking like a demon as Adam strove to fight against the flames and felt the searing heat burn into his own flesh. Jiang Peng who haunted his dreams and seemed now to be there, his face glaring down into his own …the black eyes and the bared teeth and …then Adam lost consciousness.

“Over there… over there…” Sam the Manager of the Sazarac yelled and pointed to movement coming from the burning ruins “Someone’s coming out of the place …”

Ben turned his head to follow the pointed finger, others were looking, Vinnie Tyler was running forwards and had momentarily stopped, as though he couldn’t quite believe what he saw. Candy looked at Ben, stared at him in a way that was disconcertingly confusing, and then started to run towards the building, and then Ben was running too, as fast as his legs could carry him.

Two men were coming from the building carrying what seemed like a body between them. It was as they got closer that Ben recognised Cheng Ho Lee, the other Chinese he didn’t know, but he certainly knew the body that was being carried out between them.

Wrists still bound together, eyes closed, face blackened but there was no mistaking Adam Cartwright as the two men carried him away from the burning building. Ben turned to follow them, with Candy close by his side. Behind him the noise of the fire, of the crowd, of the machinery faded into a nightmarish din as Ben’s heart seemed to pulsate in his ears and drown out sound.

Cheng Ho Lee and his companion carried Adam as far as they could, suffering themselves from smoke inhalation they almost dropped the man on the ground while they struggled to breathe. Cheng Ho Lee turned to look at Ben and nodded, looked down at Adam and placed his hand on the man’s shoulder “I go now.” was all he said.

Jimmy Chang and Paul Martin were suddenly there, Ben wasn’t sure when they appeared, or if they had been there all the time but he could hear Jimmy talking to Cheng Ho Lee and his companion. Then Paul was kneeling on the sidewalk and checking Adam’s vital signs while Candy was untying the rope from Adams wrists.

“We need to get him to the surgery. I can’t treat him here.” Paul muttered and yelled for some help from the crowd that had gathered now. Several men turned aside to assist in lifting Adam up and carrying him away.

Ben followed feeling much like a dog that had been kicked but had to follow his master, except that the man he was following was his dearly beloved first born. He looked behind to see Candy talking to Cheng Ho Lee’s companion who was nursing his arm, but gesturing towards the furnace before being led away by Jimmy.

By the time Adam was taken into the surgery for Paul’s attention, and the two Chinese had been taken to another section to be treated by Jimmy, Candy arrived to join Ben in the waiting room.

“There was another body there.” Candy muttered in a low voice. “Huang Fu said there was another man, he was already dead so they left him there. Their main concern was to save Adam.”

Ben could only nod, he rubbed his face with both hands, realised he had lost his hat and then looked forlornly at the door behind which Paul was tending to Adam. “He will be alright, won’t he?”

Candy was surprised to be asked such a question from Ben Cartwright, he had never known his old Boss to doubt his sons’ abilities to survive the odds no matter which son it happened to be. He nodded “Huang Fu assured me that Adam was alive when they cut him down. He’ll be alright.”

Chapter 44

Jimmy Chang quietly closed the door on the examination room where his two patients remained recovering from what had just taken place. Ben and Candy had both jumped to their feet hoping that it was Paul with information about Adam. Jimmy glanced at them both thoughtfully, which prompted Ben to ask how the two men were and if he knew exactly how they had come to be at that old building in time to rescue Adam.

Jimmy nodded and pulled up a chair upon which he sat, his young face was smooth and yet his dark eyes held so many years of mystery of sadness. He looked at Ben and then at Candy, “Cheng Ho Lee and Huang Fu are well, a few minor burns that will heal very soon. They breathed in too much smoke but they are strong, it is not too harmful for them. They are well.”

Ben and Candy both nodded, looked at one another and waited for Jimmy to continue.

“You know the history of those men? They were slaves to Jiang Peng, and when your son destroyed that mans empire they and others vowed to protect the man who had saved t heir lives and those of the families they could get out of China. But, the Empress has a long arm, and much power. When the she recalled the Tong they knew she could at anytime change her mind. It was known that Adam was involved in some enterprise that was of great danger. Huang Fu and others had the man, Harcourt, under careful watch since your son left him this afternoon. They waited for Cheng Ho Lee, and were too late to save the man, Harcourt.”

“They did that, for my son, for Adam?” Ben said quietly, “after all this time?”

“Ah, Mr Ben, you have no idea what life under the rule of Jiang Peng and the Empress in China is like. You should remember others who escaped from him and when they went to their homes found nothing but dead bodies. A vow is not something we break just because of time. A vow can be passed down through the generations were it sacred enough.”

“Is there any chance that they heard anything said at all?” Candy asked quietly.

“They told me nothing about that, Sheriff Candy.” then slowly the young Doctor stood up, bowed slightly and left to return to his patients.

“I’ve a lot to be grateful for, “ Ben said quietly, “Thank goodness, if it hadn’t been for them Adam could be dead.”

They slipped back into silence. Ben’s eyes strayed to the clock on the wall ticking away the minutes. He felt as though life was ticking away along with the them.
……

Deeply unconscious the man on the operating table made no move as the Doctor’s capable hands carefully tended to his injuries. Not that there were so many, for which Paul was grateful. A cool damp cloth covered Adam’s eyes and those Paul could only pray had been affected by the smoke and nothing else. The blow to the back of the head had been carefully cleaned and stitched, a neatly applied piece of padding and bandages had taken care of that injury.

Smoke inhalation was a problem but it was not severe. The main area of the fire had been further away from where the two men had been left hanging and Paul was quite certain that Adam’s lungs would recover quickly enough having been removed from the danger before the worse had happened. The main external damage was to Adam’s wrists which had been securely bound above his head before the rope was secured to the joist. The resulting rope burn to the skin and flesh had been deep. After cleaning the wounds Paul covered them with a cool ointment and bandaged them.

He had given Adam a sedative and pain killers. The strain on the man’s arms, shoulders and neck would have been severe after all he was no light weight, and every moment he had hung there he would have got heavier, that was the way gravity acted. Paul tutted to himself, he didn’t need to understand Newton’s law of Gravity to understand that fact.

After a while he stepped back from the bed and placed a gentle hand on Adam’s shoulder, “You got out of this fairly easy, Adam. It could have been far worse.”

His soft murmur of a voice permeated Adam’s consciousness, he coughed to clear his throat, tried to raise his hands but found he couldn’t. The weakness was numbing, he gave a croak of a sound which brought a smile to Paul’s face “Didn’t expect you to wake up so soon, son. Guess you’re feeling pretty bad huh? Well, believe me, you’ll be feeling worse before you get better.”

Adam’s mouth merely twitched, Paul removed the cloth from over Adam’s eyes and when his patients attempt to open his eyes met with an instinctive shutting them tightly again , he replaced the cool cloth “Your eyes are affected by the smoke, Adam. They’ll be much better in an hour or two.”

“Pa?”

“Sure, he’s here, with Candy. Do you want to see them?”

“Hahummm”

“I take it that means yes, well, no doubt they’ll want to see you. Just wait a moment and don’t move from that bed.”
Adam dismissed that comment with the contempt it deserved. There was no possible way he would be able to get off that bed no matter what the circumstances. Beneath the cloth covering his eyes Adam kept them firmly closed but when the door opened he turned his head and forced a slight smile to touch his lips.

“Pa? Is Candy with you?”

Ben and Candy had both paused at the doorway, the sight of Adam Cartwright lying prone on that bed with a cloth covering his eyes, his wrists bandaged and hands limp across the sheet that enshrouded his body was both a cause of relief and misery. Ben sighed “Yes, son. Candy’s here.”

“What do you have to tell me, Adam?”

“Two men …Mowatt and Atherton … they’ll be leaving town…soon as they can.”

“They did this to you?” Candy murmured.

“Killed Harcourt…but …Harcourt killed Maxim.” Adam paused for breath, gulped and struggled for a moment. “No books … just a catalyst…” he stopped again and raised one hand which Ben gripped tightly in his own, “Sorry Pa… meant to see you.”

“Don’t worry about that, son. I think we have Cheng Ho Lee and his friend for saving your life.”

Another brief smile came to Adam’s mouth “I thought it was Jiang Peng. I swear my
heart stopped beating.”

He couldn’t speak after that, it had been a struggle anyway so hoping he had said all that was necessary he closed his mind to words except for one “Livvy?”

“I sent someone to tell her what’s happened.”

Adam heard the door close, and as Ben was still standing within touching distance he assumed Candy had left to pursue the two men. He wondered if they would have left town during the mayhem of the fire, or if they would leave as though nothing had happened, just casual, as though two visiting businessmen in their smart city clothes and well cut coats.

He knew he was beginning to unravel a little…memories were drifting to the surface that he had suppressed for years, it was a struggle to breathe just like that last time when he had to confront fire and all that came afterwards which had been so terrible, such unimaginable pain. He gave a deep sigh and slipped into the darkness of unconsciousness.
……………
Atherton faced Mowatt across the table in a small building tucked discreetly away from the goings-on of the main part of town. He poured another finger of whiskey into a glass and gulped it down quickly, then closed his eyes before letting his head sag upon his chest.

“You shouldn’t have done it, Mowatt.”

“Keep your voice down, Atherton, no need to broadcast it to the world.”

Mowatts dark brown eyes bulged slightly, he looked around him to make sure they were not being observed. He looked again at his companion “He had it coming to him. We can’t afford someone like him to mess things up now.”

Atherton didn’t answer, he was still seeing the body of one of their associates dangling from that joist. He had set fire to the building, in a way a symbolic gesture of being rid of something he didn’t want to remember. Of course, that hadn’t worked. He licked his lips and realised they were dry so poured out some more whiskey.

“He was Phil’s father…” he muttered.

Mowatt nodded, grinned and his eyes twinkled “Did you notice his face when he realised that it was Jamieson who first found out about the list? That is was Jamieson who got his son arrested?”

“I thought he already knew.” Atherton sighed, “But then we didn’t realise about him until after Maxim … left.”

“You’re not going soft on me, are you, Atherton?”

“No, why should I after all these years, you should know you can trust me by now.”

“I don’t know any such thing. Look how long Harcourt was with us? I trusted him with a lot before I got to thinking that something wasn’t sitting right.” he frowned then and glanced once more at his companion “I even thought the traitor was you, especially when you didn’t go along with Maxim.”

“I’ve always covered your back, Mowatt. I suspected Harcourt as well, Maxim was ..well, he was so stupid.”

“He did what he was told, he kept his focus.”

“Look where that got him.” Atherton responded immediately, bitterly.

They fell into silence, both nursing their glasses between nervous fingers. A woman approached them and raised her eyebrows, an open invitation if ever there was one, but then it was that kind of place. Both men ignored her and so she sashayed away to invite another stranger who had stepped into the building and may have wanted some ‘company;.

“What now?” Atherton muttered “You realise we killed Adam Cartwright? This town won’t be too happy about that.”

“You have lost your nerve, haven’t you? Adam Cartwright was long overdue what he got, Timothy, don’t you forget it. If it hadn’t been for him that list would have been lost and who knows, all our plans could have been fulfilled.”

Atherton nodded, he looked thoughtfully at the man opposite and frowned “What about Morton?”

“What about him?” Mowatt swallowed the whiskey and wiped his mouth on the back of his hand before reaching for the bottle. He refilled his glass and then leaned forward so that his head nearly touched Atherton’s “We’ll leave him be. He can take his report back to his superiors, and let them know how we feel about traitors. They may think twice before meddling in our business again.”

“It’s a strange thing how it’s turned out, isn’t it?” Atherton twisted the empty glass between his fingers “Phil Lawson being your cousin, and you being a kind of brother in law to that Daniel O’Brien. Do you think your father ever told his daughter about you?”

Mowatt put down his glass with a thud, whiskey spilled over his fingers and something akin to hatred sparked in his eyes. He lowered his head so as not to reveal his feelings and swallowed hard in order to control his voice “My father decided to have nothing to do with my mother and me, he refused to acknowledge us. Wiped his hands off of us. I tell you, Timothy, it made me laugh when I realised who Philip Lawson was, especially as Phil had no idea of the connection to me. You know what lesson I learned?” he gulped down his glass, “Don’t trust women. Don’t ever let a woman into your life. My father as you call him, promised to marry my mother and then dropped her for someone who was wealthier and could help promote his business. Oh sure, he climbed up the ladder pretty quick, but I was watching him all the time. Rupert Meredith Melchevik..huh, his little girl was so devastated at losing her comfortable life after the war that Phil and Jack had no trouble getting her involved.”

“Did he ever know?”

“About Maria? Oh yes, he found out. I made sure he found out. All his talk about neutrality. Still, that’s another lesson learned, there ain’t no middle of the road, Timothy. You have to take a side.”

Atherton leaned back in his chair, he watched as Mowatt poured out more whiskey, the bottle was empty, there was a demand for another and a sulky looking woman brought over a fresh bottle which she left on the table. Mowatt picked it up and pulled the cork out between his teeth and spat it out. As he poured out the whiskey he smiled again and looked up, his brown eyes gleamed with malice.

“What was I saying? Oh yes, about women. You see, if Philip Lawsons’s mother had been a good girl then Harcourt would never have been able to sweet talk her into doing the dirty on her husband. It got him all bitter and twisted when he found out though. He wasn’t like Jack, who was Lawsons rightful son through and through. Nice lad, was Jack. I would have liked to have read those journals of O’Brien’s just to read about how Jack really died.”

Atherton nodded, he rubbed his chin with long fingers and then reached out for the bottle, “So? We leave Morton to report back what’s happened here? About Harcourt and Cartwright?”

“Yes, that’ll give Evarts heart burn for sure.” Howard Mowatt smiled slowly, “They wanted to find out whom they could trust, or not …we did them a favour flushing Harcourt out for them.”

“So we go back and report to the Director that we’ve achieved our assignment, is that it?”

“That’s it. Then we wait …the war isn’t over yet, you know.”

Atherton nodded. He knew, as he raised the glass to his lips, that while there were memories burned into the heart and brains of those who were involved in the conflict of that bloody war, it would never be over. Hope still burned bright in many, many hearts. He smiled as he thought about the Director, and how so few knew who he actually was. Yet so many in Government looked to him as a bright star in the Senate, speaking on behalf of so many, yes, a very public figure and with every possibility of becoming the next President of a United States.

If they only knew …

Chapter 45

Jotham Morton couldn’t stand the pain in his head any longer and pushed himself into a sitting position.  The food on the tray was cold and unappetising, the coffee looked like sludge. But it wasn’t his stomach he was interested in, for he pushed the tray aside in order to reach for the medication that stood at the far corner of the table.

He gulped down enough to have had Paul Martin hyperventilating in panic. As it began to take effect Jotham finally succeeded in relaxing, the pain began ebbing away and memories started to return almost crystal bright.

He had to talk to Adam, to Ben, there was something he had to tell him, them, someone   With an effort of will he clambered from the bed and  made a clumsy effort to reach the door and as he did so his legs weakened once more leaving him wondering why his legs felt so heavy and weak.  His fingers grasped at the handle  and as he went to turn it the door opened and Olivia Cartwright stepped forward, paused and looked at him in surprise before her face registered dismay.

“Mr Morton, what are you doing?  Why are you out of bed?”

He couldn’t move, he couldn’t speak and when she put out a hand he took it gratefully in his own and with her help managed to walk back into the room.  He gestured to a chair and with her assistance he managed to sit down before he’d have fallen.

“Is Adam back?” Was the first thing he asked and to that she shook her head and told him that after his conversation with Ben the rancher had rushed out of the house and had not returned either.

“I remembered something,” he spoke in a very soft voice as though he had barely strength enough to raise it louder. It occurred to her that he seemed worse than when he had first recovered consciousness and felt guilty as she wondered if it was due to her neglect in any way.  “Adam has to know, will you be able to get a message to him?”

“What?  Now?”

He nodded and watched her face as it took on an alertness which made the green in her eyes darken

“What is it?   Tell me and I will get Jake to take it to Adam.”

Jotham gave a half smile, in regretful tones he said “I didn’t realise how easily fooled I had been.  When you trust someone for years and they have saved your life, you stop doubting what he tells you, you stop thinking for yourself ..”. he frowned to force himself to concentrate. “I believed a lie, so when I was told another, and another they all fitted together, except that really they didn’t..”

“They didn’t?” Olivia frowned and wondered if the poor man was now delusional.

“He said that Atherton was really Philip Lawson and that meant that the same man was on the list twice, as Atherton and Lawson…do you understand that?”

“Yes,  Atherton and Lawson were the same person so was on the list twice.”. she stared into his face, forcing him to concentrate.

“No, but you see, that was what he said, but it wasn’t true. Philip Lawson couldn’t be Atherton, because Philip Lawson died last year. Harcourt was the one who found his body.”

Olivia nodded, and wondered for a moment if Jotham had fallen asleep for he sat so still.  She put a hand on his shoulder and he shivered and looked at her anxiously.

“I read the report later. So why didn’t I remember that?  Why did I just accept what he told me so easily?  I trusted him,  I would have staked my life on his integrity.  He lied about that …Atherton is just Timothy Atherton, a man wanted by the law in several States for a multitude of crimes.  He and Harold Mowatt have worked together for years, it was Harcourt’s job to flush them out.”

“Mr Morton, ” Olivia shook his shoulder now “Mr Morton, you’re not making any sense. I thought Mr Harcourt was working with you ?”

Some sense slipped into Jotham’s eyes, his jaw tensed and his lips firmed, “He was supposed to have been, but there were too many lies.  No wonder Adam could make no sense of Daniel’s books.  And I helped mislead him,  Mrs Cartwright. I repeated all the lies Harcourt told me ..he must have sat here and gloated at the things i was telling Adam.  The lies he told, he sat there listening as I repeated them to Adam.”

“What message do I send Adam, Mr Morton?  What do I tell him?”

“Tell him not to trust Harcourt.  He’s the traitor, he’s working with them, he must be otherwise why so many lies.”

Olivia looked at Jotham rather anxiously then turned to leave the room. As she did so there came a loud banging at the door.

Excusing herself she quickly left the room and closed the door carefully behind her. Jotham leaned back in the chair, closed his eyes and tried to gather in all the threads that had spun far and wide as a result of Harcourt’s lies.

Olivia opened the door cautiously for the night was dark and the knock on the door was that of a stranger. It never paid to be too trusting in the world in which they lived. She was relieved to see Eddy from the Telegraph & Mail office and opened the door to him “What’s happened, Eddy? It’s late for you to be riding out of town?”

“Ben Cartwright sent me, M’am, Got a message for you. He said to tell you that there was a fire in town and Adam was in it but not badly hurt.”. he swallowed and took another breath “Dr Martin’s looking after him just now. Ben said for you not to worry and they’ll be home soon, probably tomorrow.”

Olivia shook her head, the message in its simplicity was more worrying than no message at all. “A fire? But what would Adam be doing in a fire?”

“Ben said to tell you not to fret yourself none. Ain’t no reason you coming into town because he and Adam are alright.”

Eddy turned his hat round and round between his fingers knowing from the look on her face that the reassurances were having no effect . She glanced anxiously towards the stairs where a sick man and three children were, and Cheng Ho Lee not home just when she needed him.
………..

Atherton and Mowatt drank the second bottle dry, it made Mowatt more morose than ever while Atherton just grew sleepier. When Athertons head began to roll on his shoulders and then sag forward, Mowatt rose unsteadily to his feet and rolled his way from the table.

A woman in a tight black and gold coloured dress happened to be walking by with a bottle of whiskey in one hand and two glasses in the other. Her eyes were on the cowboy waiting for her by the stairs so she didn’t notice Mowatt whose path she was about to cross. The collision was unavoidable and as Mowatt cursed and jumped to one side
In order to avoid further entanglement she dropped the two glasses on the floor. The sound of breaking glass was equivalent to a gunshot.

Atherton roused up and staggered to his feet, Mowatt, off balance and teetering, grabbed at the girl who screamed. The cowboy, young and impetuous, withdrew his gun and Atherton, catching the movement from the corner of his eye instinctively pulled a gun from a holster and fired. He fired four times. The boy stood no chance and toppled like a fallen log to the floor.

Now that she had something to scream about the woman couldn’t even muster up a squeak but stood with mouth flapping open the bottle still in her hand.

Tracey the bar keep sent his counter hand running for the sheriff and by the time the batwings had swung shut the woman began to scream in earnest, accompanied by shrieks from another girl who had ‘seen the whole thing’ from the landing upstairs. Men pushed back therir chairs, crowded around the body while Tracey grabbed the man nearest to him which happened to be Mowatt.

“He’s dead.” Someone said matter of factly and as it happened to be Riley the undertaker it was taken for granted that he knew what he was talking about.

Mowatt attempted to shrug off Tracey’s hand but then found the grip tightening. “Let me go this instant or you’ll have reason to regret this.”

Tracey scowled, an ugly man when happy but far uglier when he was not, he turned towards the door just as Candy and Clem stepped inside.

There was no sign of Atherton.
……….

Adam was irritated at the fact that he was meant to just lie there on the bed doing nothing. His father’s pacing the floor got on his nerves so that he finally pulled off the cloth from his eyes and struggled to sit up.

His vision was blurred but he had expected that, he blinked rather rapidly and looked at his father who had stopped his pacing and now stood, hands on his hips, staring back at him.

“Well? Have you anything else to tell me?” Ben snapped, “Going off as you did, without any back up?”

Adam raised a hand as though to ward off any further questions. “Where’s Candy?”

“Gone to find those two men who nearly killed you, of course!”

Adam attempted to flex his shoulders, it hurt worse than he thought possible. He stifled a groan and got off the bed

“We need to find them.”

“We need to leave it to Candy.” Ben said in cold clipped tones as he grabbed at his son’s arm and prevented him from moving further.

Adam shook his head, and placed a hand upon Ben’s arm, gently pushed him away.

“No, Pa, not now.”.

He reached the door and then turned to look back at his father “Are you coming?”
Chapter 46

The cold air slapped Mowatt in the face as soon as he stepped out of the saloon. He stumbled over his own feet so clumsily that Clem had to grab him to keep him upright. The acrid smell of smoke drifted over to them, a reminder of the property and what remained in it.

“Where are you taking me? Who are you? Do you know who I am? Release me this instant!”. he could hear his own voice in his head, whining, shrill. It disgusted him, self loathing flowed through him with the acridness of vomit but he couldn’t stop the protest ” You have no right …”

“We have every right, Mister. You’re under arrest and can spend the rest of the night in my cell until you’re sober.”

Mowatt scowled and turned to look around him “Where ‘s Atherton? He was the one fired off those shots. If anyone’s to blame for anything it’s him. I didn’t do it. I didn’t even use my gun. All I did was …a little stumble.”

Candy said nothing and after a quick glance at Clem could see that his deputy had not realised exactly whom it was they had arrested. Only one man would be looking for someone called Atherton and with a smug feeling of achievement Candy continued to drag Mowatt to the jail house.

In an alley Atherton gathered his coat closer around him. He watched Mowatt being led away by the two lawmen and allowed a small smile to play upon his lips. He had never rated Mowatt as much and had no respect for him whatsoever. This man was shallow and cruel, and Atherton detested the pain Mowatt and Maxim enjoyed inflicting upon their victims.

True enough he had just killed a youth but when someone draws a gun he should anticipate dying as a consequence. “He who lives by the sword shall perish by the sword”” so the good book said, and that meant guns too.

He could smell the smoke that drifted in the air, he could taste it too. He sighed, sooner or later someone was going to find those bodies hanging there. He was glad in a way that he had prevented Mowatt from harming Cartwright although he had to admit it was a far from pleasant death, dying in a fire. Helpless into the bargain.

He rubbed a hand across his chin and turned away from the sight of the three men heading towards the jail house. It was a chilly night but there were plenty of warm places available to sleep in. They had deposited their valises at the stagecoach terminal, and it was towards that building he now strolled.

It amused him how easy it had been to get Mowatt drunk. Atherton knew how to play the drunk well enough, he knew his limits too and once he had reached it he stopped drinking. Mowatt was too full of booze and the need to talk to realise just how little his companion was actually drinking and that suited Atherton very well indeed.

Two men were walking towards him and for a moment Atherton took no notice until he realised one of them slowed his pace every so often to rub his eyes. He was bare headed too, and it was that which caused Atherton to look more closely at him.

So he had survived! Atherton felt a tingle of apprehension trickle down his spine. How, he wondered as he ducked back into the shadows, had this man possibly got out of that building alive? He shook his head while a bemused smile drifted over his mouth. Mowatt had once said the Commodore had more lives than the proverbial cat.

The older had stopped and it seemed to the watcher that he was concerned for the other younger man. So, he was suffering then, something had happened to him and Atherton leaned against the wall of the building to watch the two men follow the previous three inside.

Timothy Atherton folded his arms across his chest and frowned; he was confident that Mowatt would talk, as drunk as he was he would talk sooner than usual. This had always been an odd case, right from the start he had thought it strange that Mowatt would be the one in charge. It had made him wonder if the Director was losing his touch. He had always been scrupulously careful in the past and, after all, he had far more to lose than any of the rest of them.

But then, after thinking about it, the solution of the matter was simple. Mowatt was replaceable, the Director wanted rid of him, he was a loose thread. Weak and shallow. The Director had hundreds of loyal men, and women, who were waiting for the chance to restore the Confederacy, just waiting for the order to mobilise.. Mowatt didn’t amount to much in comparison.

Candy’s blue eyes twinkled when the door opened and two Cartwrights stepped inside.

“Your timing is perfect.” he grinned, “We’ve just arrested one of the two men we were after.”

Ben and Adam glanced at one another but it was Adam who asked which one.

“Mowatt.” Clem said as he tossed the keys onto the desk, “Drunk.” he added for good measure.

“Sit down, Adam, before you fall down.” Candy pushed over a chair into which Adam settled, “I don’t think we’ll have much trouble getting him to talk.”

Adam nodded “Just one man left then, Timothy Atherton.”

“He can’t have got far.” Clem said, “If he’s as drunk as his companion we’ll probably find him sleeping it off down some alley.”

Candy shook his head. “No, I don’t think he’s as drunk as you’d think. He fired off four shots and hit the target … four times.”

Ben nodded “What target?”

“A young cowboy who made the mistake of pulling a gun on Mowatt.”

Adam pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed “Mowatt and Atherton kill a man, set fire to a building in the hope of killing another then go for a drink somewhere. Most killers would getva horse and try to put as much distance between them as possible.”

The other three men looked at one another “Your point being?”

Adam raised his shoulders in a painful shrug “Well, it almost looks as though they wanted to get caught …or just one of them wanted the other caught.”

“Why would they do that if they’re working together for the same person?” Clem asked and looked over his shoulder at the sound of Mowatt shouting from the cells.
Chapter 48

Mowatt confronted the sheriff with a surly and discontented scowl.  When Candy asked the man if he would like some coffee in order to clear his head before making a statement Mowatt’s scowl only deepened.

“Mr Mowatt, you do realise the seriousness of the charges that are being made against you, don’t you?”

“Charges?” Mowatt raised his head to glower indignantly at the sheriff, “What charges can you possibly bring against me?  I’m a legitimate businessman visiting this town with a view to investing a considerable amount of money here,  is this how you treat prospective investors?  Check my wallet.  You’ll find my business cards there.  You can cable my office.  You can …”

“Mr Mowatt, I’m sure I’ll find every thing as you say I will, but it doesn’t change the fact that you are a murderer and an arsonist and probably,.. ”

“Whoa there, sheriff?  What are you saying? You should think a little harder about the implications of your accusations before you  go shooting your mouth off like that!  Just what evidence have you that I have killed anyone?  As for arson, that’s ridiculous! ”

Candy said nothing for a moment, then shook his head slowly from side to side “It won’t do, Mr Mowatt.  We do have a witness and …”

“I didn’t shoot anyone.  No one can accuse me of shooting anyone.  I just stumbled and fell against some woman.  I swear, I wasn’t even aware of anyone else there.”

Candy looked at him again and then walked away, paused and turned back “Do you want a lawyer?”

“A what?  A lawyer?  Sheriff, why would  I want a lawyer?”

In the outer office Clem poured coffee into several mugs and set them down on the desk.  Both Cartwrights sat looking as stern as he had ever seen them and the sight of Adam’s bandaged wrists and blackened clothes was a sobering reminder of the ordeal he had gone through earlier. Clem pushed the mug over to Adam and nodded “I put extra sugar in fer ya, Adam.” his brow furrowed in a concerned frown “My old mother always swore by it, said it was good for shock.”

Adam nodded, he stared  at the cup and watched the steam rising from the hot coffee.  He felt inordinately weary, and his hands felt as though thousands of red ants were scurrying up and down all the arteries and veins they could find.  He knew it was a result of the ropes around his wrists having cut off the circulation of oxygenated blood which would now be flowing back into his hands and fingers..   He wasn’t even sure if his hands had the strength to pick the cup  up so remained motionless until Candy re-entered the room.

“He’s denying everything. Claims to be a bona fide businessman.”

Ben nodded and picked up his mug, sipped the coffee and simply stated that it was to be expected, after all if he  was confident that all witnesses, bar his accomplice, were dead then he would naturally assume that the  sheriff would be unable to furnish proof of the charges.

Candy cradled his cup between his hands and looked at Adam “The business cards in his wallet confirm his name and business address in Washington. A prestigious company dealing in Commercial Trading of bespoke footwear, handstitched in Italy.”

This elicited a sigh from Clem.  Adam reached out for the mug but thought better of it, he withdrew his hand “Why not just bring him out here to make his statement.  See what his reaction is when he sees me,  then get him to tell you where Atherton would be now.”

Candy drank down his coffee, wiped his mouth dry and nodded.  “Clem, bring out the prisoner.”

Mowatt was somewhat reluctant to enter the outer office. He walked ungraciously forward and slumped down onto the chair Clem indicated.   Candy sat opposite with pen, ink and paper on the desk which separated them. Mowatt didn’t even notice the other two men seated in the shadows of the room.

“I refuse to tell you anything.”. Mowatt stated emphatically and leaned back, stared defiantly at Candy as though challenging the sheriff to proceed.

“I’ve all your personal details here,” Candy tapped the business card and then looked up at the other man “So tell me, Mr Mowatt, why are you really here? Please don’t insult our intelligence by saying you are here to sell shoes.”

A shrug of the shoulders was Mowatt’s response to that, and Candy glanced at him with cold blue eyes before scribbling some details on the paper, without looking up from his task of writing he said “Your friend, Atherton, where do you think he would be now.”

Another shrug of the shoulders , Candy shrugged also ” We know you arrived here with three other men  and were responsible for an assault upon one of our citizens and the subsequent murder of a man known to us as David Harcourt. After which you attempted to destroy any evidence by setting the building on fire.  Do you have anything to say to those charges?”

Mowatt appeared for a moment to be giving it some thought, he opened his mouth and closed it again.  Candy pressed on, his eyes still fixed upon Mowatt’s face “The body of a man called Maxim …also a colleague of yours and -”

Mowatt now leaned forward “I don’t know these men.  I never murdered anyone and I never set fire to any building.”

“You travelled from Washington with these three men …Harcourt, Maxim and Atherton.”

“There were a lot of people on those trains, you can’t accuse me of knowing them all.”

“Who killed Maxim?”

“I don’t know who you’re talking about.”

“Who killed Harcourt?”

Mowatt yawned, noisily.Candy leaned forward and stared into the other man’s face “More to the point why did you kill Harcourt?  Don’t deny it, we know you did.”

Mowatt sighed as though bored, he rocked on the chair tilting it onto its back legs and it was then he saw the Cartwrights.  At first he didn’t quite recognise or realise who Adam was but when he did his jaw dropped in total dismay and amazement.

“Is this some kind of joke?” he finally succeeded in saying as Adam stepped nearer to the desk so that more light revealed him to the accused.  “What’s going on here?  I demand my lawyer.”

“Tell us where Atherton is, Mr Mowatt?” Candy drawled.

“I don’t know any -” he stopped short of saying anything more, stared at Adam as though he were seeing a ghost and closed his mouth in an obstinate line of denial.

Candy waited another moment then stood up “Clem, take him back to his cell.  Unless,” he turned to Adam “you would like to press charges now, Mr Cartwright.  Attempted murder, wasn’t it?”

Mowatt pushed himself away from the table,shook his head again “I didn’t murder anyone.  I don’t know what you mean?”

“I could write it all down for you,” Adam said in a voice still husky from the result of smoke inhalation.  “How and why you killed Harcourt.  I don’t know why you decided to attempt my death as well, perhaps just because I happened to be there.”

Mowatt licked his lips and realised his dry they were, his throat was burning, he desperately needed a drink.  He shook his head again and said nothing.

Adam looked from him to Candy “He’ll talk once we find Atherton.”

Candy nodded and gave a grin, nodded over to Clem “Take him away, Clem. It won’t be long before we find his accomplice, and when we do,  they can have a cosy little reunion here together.”

The three men stayed silent until Mowatt was back in the cell. To the sound of the jangle of keys Candy turned to Adam “What do you intend to do?”

Before Adam could say a word Vinnie Tyler threw open the door “Sheriff, they just found a body, looks like he must have been  hanging from one of the joists in that fire .  Not a pleasant sight.”

Candy sighed and nodded “I guess they found Harcourt.”

He picked up his hat as he passed to the door, followed by both Ben and Adam.  Vinnie wiped sweat from his face  leaving black streaks as he did so “Any coffee?”

He almost fell into the chair Candy had just left and took the cup from the other Deputy.  “It was a darn awful thing to see Clem. I swear I’ll have nightmares now for weeks.”

Clem was going to make some sarcastic remark then noticed how Vinnie was shaking so much that he was spilling his coffee.

In his cell Mowatt paced the floor until eventually deciding to lean against a wall and look at the sky from the window. He cursed himself for a fool in trusting Harcourt and being suspicious of Atherton. Perhaps it had been that vague family connection with Philip Lawson, perhaps because he had allowed that to influence him. But he was an experienced professional in his field, he should have set such emotions aside, shouldn’t he?

But Harcourt had been so plausible, even The Director had trusted him. Or had he? Mowatt returned to the bunk and sat down on the thin mattress. Perhaps The Director had even suspected hhimself, Mowatt! The thought sent shivers down his spine but prompted the desire to get back to Washington as planned and as soon as possible.

If only they hadn’t seen Harcourt going down that alley with Cartwright they would have been on the last train from Gold Hill but then that would have left Harcourt free to spin out more lies. He stared down at the floor and thought hard about what to do next.
…………

Jothan Morton had fallen asleep not long after eating the first substantial meal since the accident. He had confided in Olivia, who had proven a wonderfully patient listener, how inadequate he had felt compared to his cousin, Daniel. He also told her more about the hardships of the trip to Brazil he had undertaken with Adam the previous year.

Olivia listened because here was a man revealing to her some of the things her husband hadn’t shared with her. She understood why, but it thrilled her to hear someone tell her of his stubborn hard headed courage, and his proud refusal to run from a situation. She wondered as Jotham spoke what exactly her husband would be facing now.

Jake had not hesitated to do as she had requested and that was to go to Hoss and Joe with the news that Adam,and perhaps Ben, may need their help. She had bowed her head and listened to Jotham while imagining her brothers-in-law riding towards town and, hopefully, meeting the other two Cartwrights on the way home.
…………

Adam stood beside his father and watched along with the weary crowd of fire fighters, of the curious and the morbid thrill seekers, as Candy elbowed his way to the area where the corpse was laid. The building was still smoking and would do so for another 24 hours at least. The thought that his body could be lying beside that of Harcourt sickened him and he half turned to walk away.

“Don’t say a word, Cartwright. I have a gun pointing at your father and you know for a fact I won’t hesitate to use it if you don’t do as I say.”

Adam simply bowed as head as though acknowledging the order. Atherton muttered something beneath his breath and then nudged the other man with gun. It was time to move away without drawing attention to the fact.

It wasn’t difficult as Ben was caught up in a conversation with Mr Rawlings, the crowd was pushing this way and that as some chose to return to their homes to report back their evenings adventure to anyone who was interested enough to listen. The fire crew were tidying things up and making sure they had done enough to contain the smouldering ruin.

Adam slipped away into the shadows with Atherton close behind him.

Chapter 48

The two men strolled away from the crowd in such a casual manner that no one could have suspected the playing out of yet another hazardous game for Adam Cartwright.  He followed the direction of the other man without a word, with blank features but alert eyes.

Atherton stopped for a moment as though to get his bearings and then plucked at Adam’s sleeve and with a jerk of the head indicated a building opposite.  Adam was somewhat bemused to see it was the Public Library and gave his captor a quizzical  lift of the eyebrows.  Atherton approached the door and after taking some small object from his pocket inserted it into the keyhole, gave a twist of the wrist and pushed open the door.   Another jerk of the head at Adam who stepped into the building and was then pushed forwards several paces as Atherton followed behind him.  The door closed with a soft thud .

It was not entirely dark, it was possible to see the outline of furniture and Adam was pushed towards some chairs and a desk behind the book shelves marked Romantic Novels.

“Take a seat, Mr Cartwright.”

Atherton’s voice came softly through the gloom, a surprising sound and unexpected, but Adam did as ordered and sat down. Atherton now struck a match, the rasp of it was followed by the smell of sulphur, the flare of the flame which Adam followed with his eyes  as Atherton applied it to the wick of the lamp.  Once the  lamp was lit Atherton set it carefully upon the desk, not too bright a light in order not to attract attention from any curious passer by.

He pulled out a chair and sat down.  He placed the gun slowly upon the desk at his elbow and then surveyed Adam thoughtfully as though only just realising that now they were here, something had to be said or done.

“How are the hands?  Painful?” he sounded apologetic, sighed and stretched out his legs “It happened to me once.I was hanging from a beam, just like yourself. But it was for hours.   Took a long time before they were anything like they had been before, but I doubt if you”ll have too much to worry about.  How did you get out of there?  I didn’t think we’d been seen.”

“You were.” Adam replied slowly “By some friends of mine.”

“Ah,well, that’s good.  Always good to have friends when things are getting a trifle hot” he smiled at his own joke before clasping his hands together and leaning closer towards his companion.

He was so close that Adam would see the throb of the vein at his throat, it was steady and regular and a clear indication that Atherton was not feeling in any way challenged by the situation,  Adam glanced at the gun and then back to the other man.

“If your intention is to shoot me I would prefer it if you did it somewhere else only Miss Tyndale is a timid soul and would never recover from finding me dead in her library.”

Atherton chuckled and shook his head, in the half light provided by the lamp Adam could see shadows under the man’s eyes, the pupils of his eyes dilated and an old scar showed white across the bone of an aquiline nose.  Atherton sat back further away from Adam, as though unwilling to undergo further scrutiny from him.   He slowly unbuttoned his  coat and hooked one leg over the other .

“Well, Adam – you don’t mind my calling you Adam, do you? – I know a lot about you.  Heard good and bad things of what you have done, what you are capable of which is why we are here now.  I want to know what you have found out about what’s been going on?”

Adam shook his head and frowned, the dark eyebrows formed questioning arcs and Atherton shrugged “A man of your intelligence must have drawn some conclusions?”

Adam now leaned further back into the chair, it creaked a little and he clasped his hands together upon the desk top.

“Yes,  Some.”

“Put aside your personal feelings for now, Adam.  I know you must think me to be the most callous man alive, but believe me, I am not.”

Adam’s lips  held the ghost of a smile and he shook his head while at the same time his brown eyes observed Atherton closely.   Atherton raised his face and his eyes scanned the titles of some of the books on the shelves.

“Seemed a logical place to come and talk things over.  Here. In a library.  After all, this all started because of a book.  Whether it comes under the heading of Romantic Novels though…!” his voice drifted into a sigh “What would you say?  Would Fiction be more appropriate?”

Adam shook his head “Daniel wouldn’t write down anything fictitious.”

“No, no he wouldn’t.” Atherton agreed and looked sombre and pensive. “Daniel was always honest, straight as any man could be, which is why I respected him so much. Oh yes, I knew him many years ago when we both fought on the same side.  He was a brave young man destined to go far if he lived long enough.  Of course the war ended, he chose his path and I remained firmly fixed on mine.”

Adam inclined his head as though acknowledging what the other man was saying.  Atherton stroked his jaw with thin fingers and observed Adam from beneath heavily hooded eyes.

“Daniel’s journals were not really what this was all about, you know that, don’t you?”

Adam shifted slightly in his chair “If this is going to be any kind of confession wouldn’t you be better off telling it to the sheriff.”

“Oh I”ll leave that to Mowatt.” Atherton dismissed the suggestion with a shrug of the shoulders. “If that newspaperman hadn’t kept on making his enquiries no one would have been any the wiser about them.  But his enquiries caused several of his contacts to start asking questions of their own and in the process getting too close to some matters that my Employer would prefer to remain buried.”

He looked thoughtfully at the gun as though considering whether it was safe to leave there.  He stroked his upper lip  and glanced once again at the books upon the shelves.

“We had also been experiencing problems with various assignments going wrong, or information being misapplied or misdirected.   That and your busy body newspaperman was making things difficult for us. Then when one of our best men was killed The Director decided we needed to flush the traitor out.   The enquiries from these contacts  provided an opportunity to put our bad eggs in one basket as it were and see which of them was the man we wanted.”

Adam eased himself more comfortably into the chair. Outside the darkness was closing in, shadows drew closer around them. He thought of deQuille and asked Atherton why it had been thought necessary to have given him such a beating.

Atherton shrugged and leaned more heavily upon the table..

“It kept everyone thinking that the books were what we were mostly concerned about. But Harcourt was playing a game of his own, which resulted in Maxims murder. It made everything so …well, so bloody!”

He stepped away from the table, picked up the gun and then put it in its holster.  “I don’t even know why I’m talking to you here, like this;  perhaps I want to just clarify things to you so you can understand why some things happened.”

Adam shrugged, a familiar roll of the shoulders, he pursed his lips and shook his head “I’m not interested, Atherton. You and Mowatt work for people who obviously have no regard for the law or any respect for a mans life. Why should I listen to you after what you have done?”

Atherton stared at him, saw the cold blank look in his eyes and turned away “They say life is like a stream that flows ever onwards, like time I suppose, but recently I just feel as though I’m trapped in some stinking stagnant pool.”

“If you are, then its one of your own making.” Adam murmured and slowly stood up and away from the table.

Atherton raised the gun, “Now then, stay there where I can see you. I don’t want to shoot you, Adam, but I will if I have to.”

Adam raised his hands as high as his waist, palms outwards “Atherton, who exactly are you working for?”

“I can’t tell you that, Adam. Suffice to say his name was not on that list you brought back from Alaska. He succeeded in hiding in full view, and still is..perhaps history will one day reveal it.”. he moved a few paces away from the desk the gun still steady in his hand “People forget, you know, and they assume others have forgotten too but that’s not so. People are still united behind the goal of re-establishing the confederacy, it will happen you know.”

Adam was about to speak when there came a movement from behind one of the bookshelves. Both men turned to see who it was and whereas Adam stepped back to avoid any confrontation Atherton swung his gun in the direction of the shadows and fired.

In the gloom of the dim lighting the guns flashed as they spat lead. There came a groan, deep and sorrowful, and Atherton slowly crumpled to the floor.

A shadow emerged from within shadows, Adam leaned forwards and turned up the flame, smiled as the older man came forwards slowly holstering his gun. “You alright, son?”

Adam nodded and glanced at Atherton before looking up at Roy again “Where did you spring from, Roy?”

The ex-sheriff grinned “I saw the light when I was strolling on by…and I know how careful Miss Tyndale is about such things. Then I found the side door unlocked.”

Adam said nothing to that, he knew how careful Miss Tyndale was about locking all doors as well!

Chapter 49

Olivia slept lightly when ever her husband was away from home but knowing her husband was in danger, despite Ben’s message made her even more wary about falling asleep.

She made sure that Jotham was comfortable and that his medication would provide him with a deep sleep through the night. The children were all sleeping deeply unaware of any thing that would have alarmed them, dreaming their own little dreams that brought contented smiles drifting over their faces.

She pulled her shawl closer around herself and made her way downstairs to wait Adam’s return home. A glance at the clock, a fresh log on the fire before she curled up in the settee to begin her vigil.

But sleep is like a thief that dashes aside the best of intentions as it steals upon one and closes weary eyes. Olivia was startled awake by sounds in the house, and equally startled to find that she had indeed fallen asleep despite all attempts not to do so.

Flames had devoured most of the log, the room was cold, the clock still ticked away the moments but other sounds could be heard too, those of someone moving about in the kitchen.

Adam was home! With relief causing her heart to beat faster she hurried to the kitchen, only to find herself confronting Cheng Ho Lee who was carefully putting fuel to the kitchen stove.

She pulled the shawl tighter and swallowed disappointment, she even managed to greet him in a sincere voice and ask him if his errand in town had been successful. Then she saw the bandages on his arm, could smell the smoke on his clothes and looked at him more anxiously

“You’re hurt, Cheng? What happened? Is Adam alright?” she knew he was alright, Ben’s message had said so, hadn’t it? Wasn’t that why she had sent Jake to tell Hoss and Joe?

Cheng bowed, “All very good, Missee.”

He nodded again, gave her one of his enigmatic smiles and hurried away to his room, taking the smell of smoke and charred wood along with him. The door closed behind him as softly as a whisper.

It was nearly two o’clock in the morning. For a moment she stood in the middle of the kitchen staring at the door leading to his room and hoping that his ‘all very good” included Adam’s well being. She was tired, weariness washed over her and she forced herself to go to the sink and pour water into a glass. After drinking some she returned to the large sitting room to recommence her vigil.
………..

Mowatt watched with reluctant displeasure as Atherton was assisted into the cell. A bandage around his head and another around his torso was evidence of his coming out the loser and his shut off expression sufficient to warn Mowatt to say nothing. Clem turned the key in the lock and watched as Atherton sprawled himself out on the bed.

It struck the deputy that as accomplices they didn’t seem very happy to see one another. With a jangle of keys he returned to the outer office where Roy Coffee was explaining to a weary Sheriff Canaday what had taken place.

Seated nearby were the two Cartwrights, father and son, and it crossed Clem’s mind if Ben had told Adam the panic he had felt when discovering his son had vanished among the dispersing crowds.

Roy was more eloquent than he should have been for an old man caught up in such an adventure but his adage of once a sheriff, always a sheriff, was one he lived by and weariness and old age had nothing to do with it. Like others in town he had been aroused by the commotion caused by the fire and gone out to watch. He had seen Adam being approached by Atherton in the crowd and watched carefully as body language often spoke louder than words.

He had followed at a discreet distance and watched them enter the library. Knowing from the times of his nightly patrols around town where Miss Tyndale kept the key to the back room Roy had carefully got inside and made his way to where the faintest light had shone and had found Adam with the other man.

Bearing in mind he was no longer a sheriff and that instincts could be wrong, he bided his time until Atherton looked as though he were going to shoot an unarmed man. Force of habit and respect for Adam’s hide had prompted him to take the necessary action.

Candy rubbed his face and tried to put some life back into weary muscles. He wondered occasionally during Roy’s narrative if the old man had ever felt so weary. He was eventually able to gratefully thank Roy for his help and .bade him goodnight. Once Roy had gone and Clem had prepared yet another mug of coffee, he asked Adam if Atherton’s arrest now closed the matter for good and all. Adam’s slight shrug did little to lighten his mood..

“I’ve all the evidence I need to have them charged with murder. Judge Humphries can put them on trial anytime he chooses.” Candy stated with emphasis on certain words that were meant to warn Adam to say nothing that would burst this particular bubble. He was too tired to deal with further complexities.

Adam shook his head. It sent trickles of pain down his spine and across his shoulders when he did, his hands were at that painful stage where to touch anything was like grasping a handful of hot coals. But desperate for something to drink he reached out for the mug of coffee and forced himself not to make a sound as he picked it up, then proceeded an attempt an explanation that would indeed stop Candy deluding himself further.

“You have to realise that this is a situation that started years ago, probably before the end of the war. Certain Confederate officers and gentlemen didn’t agree with Lee and by the time he surrendered a list of loyal men and woman had already been drawn up. That list had Mowatt, Maxim and Atherton’s names on it.”

Ben sighed and nodded “This is the list you and O’Brien had to get when you went to Alaska.”

“Yes, it also had Marie O’Brien on the list under her maiden name of Melkevik. Her cousins Philip and Jack Lawson were also on it.”

Candy sighed and ruffled his dark hair, try as he might he couldn’t shake of his weariness Clem’s coffee just wasn’t doing it for him. “What has that to do with those two now? The wars over and life goes on.”

” The war isn’t over for some of those on that list. It’s just being fought on a different battle ground. They’re using politics, the legal system and, of course, the dark side to all that, are people like those two who use brute force and murder. It’s all part of the process for those who want to keep the war alive to do just that and make sure they win. There’s still a lot of hate being bred in to young hearts, Candy.”

“Adam, you can spout poetry if you feel you have to, but those two men are guilty of murder and nothing will stop them from being tried for just that reason. Forget the past, it isn’t relevant.”

“Very well, if you insist. But don’t be surprised if Judge Humphries is suddenly unable to put those men on trial, or if some fancy lawyer arrives in town to post bail for them. Once their head man knows they’ re in jail he’ll be pulling strings for their release.”

Ben frowned and glanced anxiously over at his son, then rose to his feet “I think we should be getting home. Olivia will be getting worried about you.”

It seemed like comic timing that as he spoke Hoss and Joe pushed the door open and stepped inside ,removing their hats as they did so.

“What are you two doing here?” Ben immediately demanded and when Joe explained Adam gave a short laugh while Ben shook his head and slapped his youngest son gently on the shoulder.

“Do you mean we’re too late?”. Hoss grumbled as he replaced his hat and headed for the door.

“As usual…” Ben replied and closed the door to step out onto the sidewalk. He looked up and down before turning toAdam “Do you really think they’ll walk free?”

Adam nodded to which Ben muttered that meant they would get away with murder but to that his son only shrugged and said it wouldn’t be the first or last time. As it was obvious he was not prepared to say anything more Ben stepped in line with his sons and made his way to where the horses awaited them.

In his office Candy reached for his hat and happily left the office for his home. He preferred to put to one side all that Adam had said, and looked ahead to the final few hours of the night that he could spend with his wife.

Chapter 50

Adam didn’t disturb his wife upon his return home. She had so obviously fallen asleep while waiting for his return that he knew she must have been truly weary to have succumbed. The fire was almost out, her knitting lay in her lap,and her head rested upon her arm creating a peaceful picture of a slumbering beauty.

Very carefully he pulled the shawl around her to provide her greater warmth and then carefully rebuilt up the logs on the fire. He finally settled into the chair opposite and stretched out his legs, closed his eyes and waited for sleep to claim him too.

But sleep was capricious, and persisted in eluding him. His body ached so much that when he thought over the events of the day he could barely believe so much could have happened in such a short space of time.

His eyelids closed, his breathing grew heavier and his body relaxed into the warm cocoon that preludes sleep. Just as sleep was about to snatch him away a thought trickled into his mind, his eyes opened and nerves jangled.

Olivia was still sleeping, he watched her for a moment and felt the most tender love for her nudge aside the thoughts and anxieties that had roused him from sleep. He got up and as he passed his wife he brushed the back of his hand over her hair, a curl of which had escaped from her braid.

It was the sound of a glass clinking against glass that roused her from sleep. It gave her the greatest tingling sensation of relief, pleasure and love to look over to see Adam pouring whiskey into a glass. “Adam!”

He turned to her, his eyes crinkled as his smile widened, and she was in his arms and holding him close within her own.

“When did you get home?”

“Just a few moments ago. I didn’t want to disturb you.” He kissed her then, and she was sinking into his embrace when her nose detected the smell of smoke, and she stepped back noticed the bandaged wrists, the smoke blackened clothes, and her eyes widened in dismay.

“Oh, Adam… what happened? Are you alright?” her hand reached out and brushed his face with her fingers with an exquisite tenderness that was like balm to his soul. “Adam, you frighten me at times. Do you realise that? Whatever’s happened to you? Your hands ..?”

He kissed her again, harder, enjoying the fact that she was worried about him, that she would fuss over him and scold him and he loved her for that, loved her for waiting up for him, and loved him. He kissed her neck where her hair grew in wisps “There was a fire in town… ”

“I know, Cheng Ho Lee was burned, but he said everything was alright.”

“Yes, it is, now. Look, its late, you’re tired..” he stroked back her hair, looked at her with his eyes heavy with love for her “you need some proper sleep before the children wake and need you.”

“But ..”

A finger to her lips silenced her protests, she stepped away “Are you coming too?”

“Later.” He released her then, his fingers drifted from hers and he nodded with a smile as she pulled her shawl around her and made her way to the stairs.

Physical weariness, pain, all played their part in cooling his ardour, but so were other things and the fact that he needed to talk to Jotham.

He drank the whiskey and then went to the room where Jotham slept. The lamp on the desk was shining a glimmer of light so he turned up the flame in order to lighten the room, and then he shook Jotham awake.

Jotham woke with his eyes scrunched up against the light, then he slowly opened them to observe his friend in amazement. “Adam, what happened to you? You look a mess? Did you get my message?”

Adam pulled over a chair and sat down “What message?”

“About Harcourt?”

Adam signed and shrugged, “What about Harcourt?”

“You can’t trust him.” Jotham struggled into a sitting position. Adam leaned forward to place a pillow behind his friends back while Jotham explained “It was the dreams. At first i thought I was confusing the dreams with reality but then i realised that my dreams were telling me I was right. But I trusted him, Adam, I tried to convince you that what he was saying was the truth because I wanted it to be the truth. Do you understand?” his eyes bore into Adam’s, pleading for him to understand,”I wanted to believe him, but he was lying all the time”

“What made you distrust him?”

“The way he insisted on the importance of No, 37. He kept on about the list, the names and numbers, but Daniel didn’t have a list, he didn’t know the order of names. Then of course …one lie leads to another, and I fell for it because I trusted him.”

Adam said nothing but waited for Jotham to swallow some water and then continue “It was the day when he was going on about Mr Melkevik, it contradicted what I knew about the old man. I even believed him about that…it was then I started getting the dreams.”

“You knew Melkevik couldn’t be the man Harcourt described?”

“Marie”s father was just a sick old man, when he found out the way she and Daniel died he gave up on life.”

“You know he was Mowatt ‘s father?”

Jotham frowned, nodded “I didn’t pay too much attention to that but he was young once, such things happen. I don’t think Marie ever knew.”

“Do you know who The Director is?”

“We know that there is someone who is known by that appellation. Who he really is, I don’t know but there are those who probably do and Harcourt was assigned infiltrate Mowatt’s cell to find out. Something happened in the course of his investigations to change him.”

“Something to do with Jeffrey Jamieson?”

“Yes, he found out that the men he was working with had been responsible for Jeffreys death.” Jotham sighed “Jeffrey was like a legend in our department. Harcourt wanted revenge. He lost his focus and dwelt more on his personal feelings .”

Adam nodded “Harcourt’s dead, Jotham, He died in the fire this evening.”

Jotham nodded “was it an accident?” when Adam shook his head he sighed ” Atherton or Mowatt?”

“Both of them. They told Harcourt that his son, Jack Lawson, had been arrested as a result of Jeffrey’s investigations. He must have died a very disillusioned man.”

“His hero was responsible for his sons death?”. Jotham sighed and sunk back against the pillows, “I almost feel sorry for him.”

“Atherton and Mowatt are in the cells, for murder.”. Adam rose to his feet, and set the chair back against the desk “The books, Daniel’s journals, were helpful though and whoever The Director is,he probably knows that too. You need to contact Mr Evarts and give him what information you can. Will you feel able to do that?”

Jotham frowned “I’m not sure but I’ll try.” he signed again and rubbed his face “you know President Hayes doesn’t intend staying in office for long. We do know that the man known as The Director is in very high office, whoever he is …well, it is possible he could be our next President.”

A wet kiss woke Adam from sleep. He had chosen to sleep in the chair beside their bed as he was aware that he smelled, he had been too weary to wash or clean himself. He opened his eyes slowly to see Sofia staring anxiously at him “Daddy, you have to wake up.”

“I am..” he yawned and stretched, groaned as his body protested,

“Pa?” Reuben leaned into his line of vision “Ma said you got to have a bath. You smell bad.”

“I do…I mean, yes, I know.”

“And you can’t go into town again.” Reuben stood up, crossed his arms and gave his father a very stern glare.

“No” Sofia said with a nod of her flaxen head, and wagged her little finger at him “No, you got to stay here. You keep getting beat up when you get into town.”

A tug on the shirt sleeve and Adam glanced down to look into Nathaniel’s face, a cherubic smile and bright eyes beamed up at him “Lubs you daddy.”
Chapter 51

Jotham left the house in the vehicle that took the children to school.  With assurances that he would stay close to Jake for support he insisted that he would be quite safe.
There were, he explained, certain phrases  that had to be included in his cables in order to identify him as the sender, something else to direct the message to the right person. Adam was past caring, he felt he had done enough and only wanted to see the end of the matter.

He was more than happy to see Jotham seated beside Jake with Reuben and Sofia in the back seat waving cheerily to him as he stood beside Olivia on the porch.

They had no sooner closed the door than Hop Sing arrived looking particularly grim faced as he entered the house. He acknowledged Cheng Ho Lee with a bow which was returned by a deeper one from the younger man.  He then placed a covered basket on the table and looked at both men.

“Have you come to eat breakfast with us, Hop Sing?” Adam asked “Only  you’re a little late.”

“You not talk so cheeky, ” Hop Sing snapped, “Mr Ben say good friend  Cheng Ho Lee get bad burn I come make good. Mr Ben also say you Number One son hurt, have salve, ointment, good to make better.”

Cheng Ho Lee bowed low once again and expressed humble appreciation for care while Adam looked at Olivia in the hope of getting some help from her in escaping the worse and best of Hop Sing’s  salves, ointments and who knew what, but Olivia decided it was time to change Nathaniel’s diapers.

She had seen the torn flesh caused by the ropes that had been bound around his wrists.  She had carefully rewrapped the wounds with clean bandages after he had bathed and cleaned himself to be presentable for the children.   In her opinion Hop Sing’s arrival was a blessing, and she was not going to stand in the way of her husband getting good treatment nor of Cheng Ho Lee getting the best available.

Adam had told her how Cheng and Huang Hu had rescued him, and her gratitude to the dear man had overflowed in profuse thanks.  When Cheng had left she had had a vague hope it was in order to assist Adam, but at the same time hoping that Adam didn’t actually require any help and that Cheng really had gone to town on personal business.
Now both men succumbed to Hop Sings ministrations while at the same time answering the questions that Ben had been unable to provide.
……..

Reuben clambered down from the buggy and waited for his sister to join him at the school yard. He gave a grin to Jotham just before Jake turned the buggy “Don’t go getting on a horse again, will you, Mr Jotham?”

“That I won’t,” Jotham assured him as he rose a hand in farewell.

The school bell was tolling, they were later than usual as Jake had been extra careful not to cause Jotham too much discomfort along the journey.  Jotham could hear  the sounds of children’s laughing chatter, like the sounds of birds twittering at dawn, which brought a smile just fleetingly to his lips.

“Here you are, Sir.  Just one moment and I’ll give you a hand to get down.”

That hand was certainly gratefully accepted as Jotham leaned upon it to make his way to the Telegraph office.  Eddy welcomed them with his big generous smile and said something about the early bird catching the worm for he had just opened for business.
Jotham wrote down his lengthy cable and handed it over. It made little sense to Eddy who suggested that perhaps Jotham should cut down on the words and save himself some money.

“This is going to cost you quite a tidy  sum as it is now, Sir.”

“It must go as it is, and don’t change a word of it.” Jotham stressed, then grimly added to knew Morse code and would know if Eddy deviated by a single phrase.

Eddy had sent  and received enough weird and wonderful messages in his time but accepted the gentleman’s warning with his usual good humour.  Within minutes he was tapping out all the information Jotham had written down and Jotham could relax a little knowing it was on its way to Mr Evarts Department of National Security.  He had done the little he could do, and after paying Eddy he turned to Jake for assistance out of the building.

Smoke from the fire still hovered like a black cloud over the town and both men paused to look over at it, knowing that it could have been where Adam died. A townsman paused, saw their interest and stopped by their side.

“It was due for demolition, saved the Council some money.” he observed, jingling some coins in his pocket as he spoke.

“I hear someone died in the fire.” Jotham murmured and the man nodded and ventured the information that he’d heard it was some stranger in town.

They watched as he strolled off still jingling the coins in his pocket and quite uncaring about a lost life.  Jotham sighed and then asked Jake to assist him to the sheriff’s office.
Candy was a man used to snatching a few hours sleep and sat at the desk looking fresh faced and bright eyed although a dark smudge beneath the nose indicated he had either brief often to shave off his bristles there or was growing a moustache.

He recognised Jotham and beckoned to Vinnie to bring the man a seat and some coffee.  Jake sat further back and sat on a spare seat, having been given his orders not to lose sight of  his charge for an moment he fully intended to do just that.   He gratefully accepted the coffee the deputy handed him.

“It’s good to see you up and about, Mr Morton.” Candy said rather cagily, “You were quite badly knocked up from that fall you had.”

“I was, but it taught me a lesson not to consider myself an expert about horse riding.” Jotham smiled wryly “I believe you have two men here in custody, sheriff?”

Candy nodded and frowned slightly “Yes, I do. The remaining two of a party of four men who came from Washington … but, of course, you probably know more about them than we do.”

“Yes, unfortunately I do.” Jotham frowned, something that was still rather painful for him to do, and he was well aware that he cut a rather incongruous figure compared to the handsome young sheriff. “I suppose Adam’s explained that this business is strictly confidential.”

“For something that’s strictly confidential, Mr Morton, these men have certainly caused a lot of public concern. Murder, arson, attempted murder, grievous bodily harm to a public citizen…nothing confidential about any of that.”

“I realise that, but what has to be kept confidential are the reasons behind these crimes. It’s difficult to explain, no doubt, to a person -.” he paused seeing from the way Candy’s face was setting that he was about to venture onto dangerous ground “These men are answerable to their crimes, Sheriff, of course they are but the reasons they carried them out can’t become public knowledge and if they are tried here, in Virginia City, that is bound to happen. After all it would be part of their defence.”

Candy frowned rather ferociously. He had anticipated some difficulty getting them to trial on the basis of what Adam had said, but to be told the same thing by Adam’s friend and supposed colleague came as both a surprise and irritation.

“Does Adam know that you were going to come in to see me about this?”

“No, of course not.” Jotham frowned, trying to imagine what his friend would say, perhaps he would be more understanding about things that the sheriff, after all Adam was savvy with things political and secretive.

“So, are you suggesting that I set them free? Are you posting bail for them? Are you going to see justice done?”

There was no hiding the peevishness in Candy’s voice and Jotham sat steadily and patiently until the verbal assault was over, concluded by a rather flat demanding “Well?”

“I would rather you kept them here, Sheriff, under custody. I have informed my superiors of the situation and they will have to return to Washington to face those charges there.”

Candy frowned, stared at Jotham as though he had two heads and leaned back against his chair “Look, Mr Morton, the crimes were committed here, in this town. Your friend Mr Cartwright was nearly killed by them. A journalist was so severely beaten…”

“I know, I understand everything you say, Sheriff, but the fact is that there are matters relative to these crimes that are of national importance and which cannot become part of the public domain. Please, understand, Sheriff, I am well aware of what they have done, and please believe me when I tell you that they are guilty of even more crimes about which you know nothing. They have to answer for those as well.”

“And you’re telling me that the crimes committed here are way down on the list of importance.” Candy’s blue eyes deepened with the intensity of his anger, he shook his head “That won’t do, Mr Morton. That won’t do at all.”

“I’m sorry, Candy,” Jotham said quietly hoping that by using the mans personal name it would soften the message being given to him, “But if you were to discuss this with Adam you would get a very similar response.”

Candy sighed and stared down at the papers on his desk. Carefully written statements that listed the crimes of which the two men were guilty and which were due to be handed to Judge Humphries for attention. The hoped for trial was obviously not going to take place. He rubbed his jaw, and shook his head,

“It doesn’t seem right somehow.” he muttered.

“I understand that, and I do know how you must feel about it but believe me, Candy, they will get their just desserts. They won’t be walking away from these crimes nor the others they have committed.” he paused for a moment, “Did you ever meet a man called Jeffrey Jamieson?”

“Briefly, some years ago. Another friend of Adams, and also if I recall from the conversations the Cartwrights have had about him, a close confidante of the Presidents, I mean, the previous President.”

“Those men are responsible for his death among others. A death far less pleasant than some of which you accuse them of here.”

Candy sighed and looked up at Jotham’s honest countenance, battered though it was, he nodded now “What will happen with them?”

“I’ve been in contact with my superiors, as I said, and they will arrange for an armed escort to come and take them to Washington. If you could keep them here in custody until then and not allow anyone, no matter by whose authority they claim to be acting, no one to post bail for them, or attempt to convince you to release them into their custody. It is possible that could happen. Your deputies and yourself need to be aware of that, and extra vigilant as a result.”

“Are they really that important?” Vinnie now interposed hugging a pile of wanted posters
Against his chest.

“Oh yes, they have a long backlog of crimes to answer for…I believe a man called Timothy Maxim is already dead?”

“In the morgue awaiting burial.” Candy said quietly “Another man, Andrew Harcourt, was responsible for his death.”

“And not very pleasant it was either.” Vinnie interjected once again.

“No, I can imagine it wouldn’t have been.” Jotham sighed “But the man responsible for that crime has already died.”

“And that wasn’t pleasant either.” Vinnie muttered and turned away grumbling to himself and knowing from the glowering look from Candy that he had said quite enough.

Jotham stood up and extended his hand to Candy, “Are we in agreement then, Candy?”

Candy nodded, and accepted the proffered hand a little less grudgingly than he would have done five minutes earlier. When Jotham and Jake left the building he sunk back onto his chair and breathed a sigh of relief.
…………..

Olivia had insisted that Cheng Ho Lee ‘rested’ for the remainder of the day, a suggestion that was backed up by Hop Sing who gave his protégé a long lecture on how to survive living with the Cartwrights. Taking advantage of a rest period whenever the chance came alone was one of the rules on his list.

Hop Sing had stayed a while to get to enjoy Adam’s company and to get to know the infant Nathaniel a little better. This new generation of Cartwrights seemed too spread out for his liking, he would have been much happier had Adam decided to build an extension onto the house that would have accommodated them all.

He told Olivia how well the new baby was settling in, and how Hannah and Hope had such pleasure in playing with their new brother. It seemed to Olivia as she listened to him that she had lost touch with her dear friend and the children, even though, in fact, it had only been a matter of days since they had all been together. Oftentimes hearing things third hand about those one loves can have the effect of making the distance in time and miles appear so much longer.

She sent Hop Sing away with a message to Hester that she would be visiting soon, and to thank Joe and Hoss for their help even though it had not been, thankfully, needed after all. After seeing the old man disappear in his buggy out of the yard she turned to her husband who was standing beside her “I guess we should call and see them soon.”

“Of course we should,” he replied and slipped his arm around her waist “But not just yet, huh?”

“I didn’t really mean right this minute.” she laughed, her eyes teasingly green as she looked into his face, “After all, you need to rest.”

“I do?” he frowned, “But -”

“No ‘but’s’ Mr Cartwright, you have had hardly any sleep for far too long, and you have injuries to consider, don’t forget.”

“My shoulders could do with a bit of a massage” he laughed, teasingly at her, and lowered his head to kiss her.

“I’m very good at massaging your shoulders.” she whispered, her lips tingling against his as she spoke.

“I know.” he arched an eyebrow and was about to kiss her again when there was a firm knock on the door.

They pulled apart as though they had not been married for so long, and she blushed and he looked annoyed as the door was pushed open.

“Can I come in? It is such a long time since I saw you all I just couldn’t resist coming to visit today.”

Little Marcy stepped inside and smiled her shy pretty smile. Dear little Marcy, with a dear little bump beneath her skirt indicating that she had news of her own to share with them which she didn’t wish to keep to herself any longer.
Chapter 52

The delight and joy at seeing her sister in law was evident by the way Olivia flung her arms around Marcy and hugged her while all the time exclaiming “I can’t believe it, dear Marcy.”

Once Marcy was released from Olivia’ s embrace Adam kissed the younger woman on the cheek and congratulated her on her coming event which made Marcy laugh. Nathaniel was suitably bemused and regarded this newcomer with a solemn gaze from the safety of his play area and when Marcy swooped down on him declaring how much he had grown and how handsome he was he gave his parents a sidelong glance to ensure whether or not such a thing was permitted.   Seeing Olivia standing looking enthralled by it all and his father with a vague smile on his face Nathaniel allowed himself to be picked up, hugged and kissed before turning to his parents with outstretched arms for ‘protection‘..

“He’s shy'” Olivia explained in the manner of so many mothers in similar situations, “when he gets used to you again he won’t let you alone.”

Adam stepped forward to take Marcy’s coat gloves and hood for the spring had yet to blow softer warmer breezes their way and Olivia and Marcy led Marcy to where they took their seats in the big chairs beside the fire.

Cheng Ho Lee, hearing voices as they drifted into his room, roused himself and made his way into the kitchen to prepare refreshments.  Hop Sing’s kindly admonition to rest had to be set aside as other duties, according to his rules, took priority.

Having been raised in a household of men  Adam was always amused and interested in watching and listening to the different dynamics women brought to a conversation or gathering . Usually he would have sat and been more involved now but as it was obvious the conversation would revolve around topics that held little interest for him, and feeling very much the odd man out, literally, he excused himself and explained he was late seeing to his duties.

The horses looked over at him with little interest and shuffled out of his way as he passed them by, taking a blanket along with him he threw it upon some fresh straw in the corner and settled himself down to sleep.  He was bone weary, his hands were weak and his wrists burned.  He closed his eyes and if he had been counting sheep he would not even have reached the number ten before he fell into a deep sleep.

“Well,” Olivia leaned forward to grip hold of Marcy’s hands in her own “How have you been keeping? How far are you gone? When is the baby due?”

Marcy, unused to such attention blushed and laughed shyly, she squeezed Olivia’s hands and released them before sinking back into the cushions “Oh, I think I must be at least four months as the baby is now moving and I don’t feel sick anymore. I think it will arrive about October time so there is a lot of weeks to wait just yet.”

“But you are looking after yourself, aren’t you? You are eating well?”

“Oh yes, very well. Luke takes care of me as though I were a precious piece of glass, and he is so excited at the thought of being a father again”

Olivia nodded, a subtle reminder that once before Luke had had little ones to love whom he had lost years ago to some white man’s sickness far out there in the untamed west. He didn’t talk much about those times but that was not due to lack of feeling, more so the contrary. Marcy smiled gently, and looked at her friend “Olivia, how has it been here? It seems such a long time since I last saw you.”

“It has been a long time,” Olivia nodded in agreement and set her child down to play, although Nathaniel was slow to leave her side, leaning against her skirts and looking over at the other lady under his eyelashes.

Cheng Ho Lee arrived then with refreshments and some buttermilk for the child, and cookies. So Olivia was able to settle him down to eat and drink while she and Marcy chattered. How amazed Marcy was to hear that Hoss and Hester had a little son, Erik. Even more amazed when she learned of his origins, and she sighed and smiled, saying that it was wonderful, like a miracle.

Cheng Ho Lee left them as contented and merry as could be, and took himself into the kitchen to prepare for the mid-day meal. He assumed there would be an extra one at the table after all the trip to and from the Double D was long, and a visit of just an hour or so would have been unthinkable.

In the stable stall Adam slept on. So deeply asleep that not even dreams disturbed him or haunted him. He seemed totally beyond their reach.

Olivia suggested, during the course of their chatter, that they visit the main house, so that Marcy could meet the new Cartwright and they could see that there was a new Dent due in the autumn. Marcy was a little shy at first but the sweet coaxing from her friend soon roused her from her natural timidity and it was not long before the women were attired for the journey, and little Nathaniel wrapped up warm with the promise he was going to be able to play with Hope.

Finding her husband asleep brought a smile to Olivia’s face and she gently restrained Nathaniel from running to waken him knowing as she did what hardships he had gone through during the night and how little sleep he had achieved. She kissed his brow gently and fussed over the blanket before quietly leaving him and returning to the house to ask Cheng Ho Lee to tell Adam where they would be when he woke..

“You know that you should be resting, Cheng Ho Lee. What am I to say to Hop Sing if he should ask me how you were and if you were taking care of yourself.”

Cheng Ho Lee’s face creased into a smile and he nodded with what was almost a wink of the eye as he said that it was best to say nothing to Honourable friend but if he insists to tell him that all was well.

It took little time for them to reach the Ponderosa and the door opened as though they were in expectation for Hester had heard the sound of the buggy entering the yard. Her smile broadened, if that were at all possible, at seeing Marcy and there were great hugs between them all leaving Nathaniel to run into the house to find Hope and Hannah.

He was somewhat annoyed to find them both fussing over the baby. He didn’t really like this baby, for no reason other than that he was a baby himself still and didn’t understand the way attention could swing from one person, no matter the size, to another so quickly. Hope soon decided that her little playmate was far more interesting than a baby who did very little apart from blow bubbles and spew.

“Oh Marcy, look at you. When is the baby due?” Hester exclaimed as she hugged Marcy yet again.

“October I believe, Miss Hester.” Marcy blushed, still shy, the long gaps in time spent away from them made meeting them afresh harder each time. “I hear you have a son?”

“Yes, Erik, do come and see him. He is such a good baby.” and taking Marcy by the hand she led the younger woman over to where Hannah was rocking the cradle with a look of martyrdom on her face. “You know that he isn’t …well, we’ve adopted him.”

Marcy nodded “But he looks as though he could actually be yours, even more so than Hannah or Hope.” Marcy murmured glancing over at the girls for Hannah had also abandoned the baby in order to play with Nathaniel and Hope.

“”I know,” Hester sighed with adoration and amazement in her voice, “It’s perfect though isn’t it? Hannah is so like Ben’s family, with her dark hair, and Hope is so like Hoss’ mother being so blonde, and now I have Erik and he could be my very own son for the fact he has such ginger hair and blue eyes.”

Olivia laughed and hugged Hester warmly, “Don’t say ginger, he has the most lovely head of hair, just like your own, it is beautiful, like spun gold.”

“Yes, like Rapunzel…” Hester’s smile widened and she led t hem both to the big settee where they sat down, “Ben and Hoss have gone out to the south pasture, Joe has gone with them so I am expecting Mary Ann at any moment. We were going to come to yours, Olivia, but Hop Sing warned us to stay here due to everything that has happened .” she frowned, “To be honest, Hoss was very vague about everything when he got home and Ben was so tired I didn‘t dare ask this morning at breakfast. So, what exactly did happen, Olivia?”

Marcy looked anxiously at Olivia and frowned, then looked at Hester whose face showed her concern. Olivia sighed and was about to speak when they were interrupted by Hop Sing arriving with refreshments, such perfect timing as always, and then the front door opened and Mary Ann stepped inside saying in her sweet mellow tones “Is it Marcy’s rig outside? Is she here?”
…………….

Adam woke up with a heavy head and wondering why he was in the stable and not in his bed. He rubbed his head and shook off the straw that had woven itself into his hair, and then got to his feet. The horses turned their big heads to observe him and then decided than he was of no particular interest to them so got on with their own business. He had reached the door and was about to step into the yard when the buggy with Jake driving turned into the yard.

“How did you get on, Jotham.” he raised a hand and then waited for his friend to get down from the vehicle. “Did you get the cable sent off alright?”

“Yes, everything went well. Thank you, Adam, for all your help, I am grateful, and I know that others will be too.”

Adam shrugged “Well, I didn’t really do much except get in the way and cause more upheaval no doubt. Did you get a reply to your cable?”

“Not yet. There was a lot involved and I have to wait instructions with regard to Mowatt and Atherton.”

Adam pursed his lips in a familiar pout and narrowed his eyes “What do you mean? What instructions?”

“About their getting back to Washington of course.”

Jotham looked at Adam and frowned, he had fully expected his friend to have anticipated such a move and maybe Adam had when recalling his previous conversation with Candy. With the frown still on his face Jotham walked slowly towards the corral fence, and leaned against the top most bar with Adam doing likewise, standing close beside him.

It was still blowing a chill wind, so both men pulled up the collar of their coats, Jotham pushed his hands back into his pockets, they were still cold from the long journey home. Adam stared out at the view beyond, at mountains still snow capped which caught the wind that blew down upon them now.

“Those men committed crimes here, Jotham.” Adam said in a very quiet sombre tone of voice.

“I know. I‘ve discussed this already with your sheriff.”

“Discussed what exactly?”

“That they will have to go to Washington under guard, and face charges there. That makes sense doesn‘t it? They may have committed crimes here but these pale into insignificance compared to the things they have done back there and in other states. They have to be questioned and …”

“Questioned? About what and by whom?” Adam frowned again, and shook his head in an impatient gesture. “Jotham, don’t forget I know the kind of games politicians play. You take people like them back to Washington and what do they want most of all? Justice? No, they want information. They want to know exactly who it is they work for and who gave them orders for whatever crimes they committed.”

“Adam.”

“No, let me finish. You said that the man behind all this is big, powerful. He could even become the next President. That shows just how powerful he is…he couldn’t care less if those men died tomorrow for whatever reason. They‘re dispensable. They‘re just a means to an end. But for your department…they have answers to all the questions they need to make sure that this man never gets to be any higher than he is already. Perhaps they may even be able to topple him down altogether.”

“No, Adam, they will answer for their crimes. They have to, our society is based on justice after all and those men will face a trial. They will – they will have to hang, they have no other alternative.”

Adam again shook his head and then he bowed it to stare at the ground at their feet before he looked up and shook his head yet again “Yes, there is an alternative and you know it. They‘ll ask questions and those men will say ‘Sure you can have the answers but on condition that we go free.’ and then one day when I‘m in Sacramento or San Francisco I‘ll see them strolling down the street, with a new name, new job, or maybe the same job but new employers….”

“I don’t think so, Adam. Those two men have gone too far in some of the crimes they have committed. I doubt if even their employer will bother to protect them now.”

Adam sighed and rubbed his chin with his fingers, he looked at the bandages at his wrists and then frowned again “I could be dead now if it were not for Cheng Ho Lee and Huang Hu. It would have been those two men who would have been responsible. Would you still just arrange for them to ride back home with some guards?”

Jotham sighed now, a long deep sigh, and he shook his head “Adam, you took orders when you were in service, you had no choice but to obey them.”

“I had a choice.” Adam retorted defiantly, “But I chose to obey them, yes, I know that, and you are right. You are only obeying orders after all.”

Jotham winced, the sarcasm in his friends voice made his stomach turn over. He put a hand upon Adams arm “Sometimes things have to be done in order to maintain the security we enjoy today, Adam. I have to obey the orders I have been given.”

“I thought your orders had been to warn me about these men, and to flush out the traitor, which turned out to be Harcourt.”

“Yes, that’s right.” he bowed his head in his turn now, and stared at the ground “I thought you would understand. It was hard enough to get your sheriff to see what I was getting at but he agreed in the end.”

“Candy isn’t a political thinking man. He’s a law abiding one. He’s a good sheriff.” Adam paused and bit down on his bottom lip chewing at it for a moment or two, “I warned him that those men would never be put on trial here, and that there might be an attempt to get them from prison. I didn’t realise I had to warn him against you.”

“Oh Adam, you’re making this very difficult.” Jotham sighed, and shook his head in frustration “I have to do what I have been ordered, and that means arranging for those men to be taken back to Washington. If the Government can find out the answers to the questions they need then they will then go on trial for their crimes. That will include the crimes committed here. I promise you…”

“You aren’t in a position to make promises, Jotham.” Adam said thrusting his hands into his pockets and kicking at the pebbles beneath his feet as though embarrassed now to look up into his friend’s face.

“Even so, I have to obey my orders.”

Adam nodded and then looked up at him “Yes, I suppose you must, just don’t tell me anymore about them.”

“I was going to say that I shall have to move into town, Adam. I need to be close to those men, to make sure…”

“Candy will make sure they’ll be kept in their cells until you tell him to release them.”

“I know that, but I need to make sure I get the cables as soon as they come in. It’s a fair
distance from town and I can’t afford to lose time. I also need to know whom to expect from the department who will be acting as guards.” he put out a hand again and placed it upon Adam’ arm wondering as he did so if Adam would shake it off but it remained there while he continued speaking “Thank you for all you have done for me, I am grateful. I could have died had it not been for you.”

“Chance and unforeseen occurrence, Jotham. I just happened to be there at the right time. Odd though…that was the first attempt on my life Harcourt made.” Adam shrugged now, a familiar gesture but lacking something, Jotham felt that once again he had been a disappointment, that he had failed to measure up to Daniel O’Brien’s stature in Adams opinion.

“What did you do with Daniel’s book?”

They were walking now towards the house, heads down and hands in their pockets. Adam paused momentarily “I took them into town to give to Harcourt, then changed my mind. They’re in a safe place.”

“Didn’t you think to bring them back?”

“To be honest with you, Jotham, I wasn’t really thinking about them very much last night. There were other matters on my mind if I recall.”

He pushed the door open and allowed Jotham to step into the house before him, “I doubt if your employers would find them of any interest. Now that Harcourt has been flushed out there isn’t anything that would help them put a name to the man they are most concerned about just now.”

Jotham’s brow crinkled, it pained him to frown as his broken nose and cheekbone were still far from repaired, but it was involuntary and he grimaced as he did so “I think they know who it is, although I don’t. It could be just that they need something, anything, that will bring him to a full stop. You do know what I mean, don’t you?”

Adam nodded. He knew what he meant alright, and he sighed “Politics is a dirty business, my friend. You should have stayed in the navy.”

“Jeffrey Jamieson thought I was better at this job than as a seaman.” Jotham smiled slowly, “I’ll just get my things and leave. I did ask Jake to wait for me and take me back, that was alright wasn’t it?”

“If Jake had no objection it’s alright by me. He’ll be able to collect the children from school.”

Jotham nodded and turned to the stairs, he mounted them like a man who was about to be hanged on the gallows.

Chapter 53

Adam spent the intervening moments pacing the floor and when he finally paused by the fireplace he rubbed his hands together as though they were cold.  At the sound of footsteps he  turned to watch Jotham come down the stairs.  Morton had no possessions, those he had brought from Washington were still in the hotel room awaiting his return, but he had spent the time to remove the remainder of the dressings that had bound his wounds.

Their eyes met, and Adam nodded slowly “Are you going to be alright?”

“I’ve managed so far,” Jotham snapped irritably, then he paused as though regretful of the way he had responded to his hosts question. Standing on the bottom step he said “Adam, I know you’re right.  I’ve been involved in this work long enough to know how things  work with politicians. It’s like a game with them, always trying to gain another inch of ground or to find that scrap of information that puts them just ahead for a moment, perhaps that vital moment that restores order again.  It’s a constant fight to make sure that everything is kept under control by the right people.”

Adam nodded and turned away, he passed his hand in a familiar gesture, covering the lower part of his face before lowering his hand and dropping it to his side.

“Are you sure you’re on the right side, Jotham?”

Jotham nodded, he touched his face gingerly for since he had removed the last of the dressings his bones  now felt tender and vulnerable.

“Yes, because those I work for have the welfare of the people of this country at heart” he paused, then glanced over to Adam with a slight furrow between his eyes “When you were given that list of names, Adam, most  of those people were just sincere honest men and women who wanted to re-establish the Confederate states, not by war but by negotiation, by political involvement on level ground…”

“That argument falls flat on its face, Jotham, when you consider Pelman and Metcalfe were on that list.  What about Mowatt?  And the others?”

“Those people were vulnerable, Adam.  No, not Pelman, nor Metcalfe…not them, they were the ones who used the more vulnerable, they exploited them.  But things moved on from that time and the man who now controls people like Mowatt, or Atherton has  already gained so much power that if he were to become the next President ..” He shook his head, waved one hand to wards Adam, “then God help America.”

They were silent for a moment as each weighed up the words that had been spoken so earnestly by Jotham.  Adam shook his head, rubbed his fingers across his mouth and chin and looked thoughtfully into the fire .

“Is he a name on that list?”

“I don’t know, Adam.  I don’t know who he is, as I’ve told you before I suspect that the head of my department would know.  But he’s clever, very clever.  They need solid evidence to use as a lever to flush him out, ruin him.”

“And that proves you’re on the right side, huh?”

“Yes.  He’s evil.  Didn’t you once say that a man is known by the men  he gathers around him?”

Adam shrugged, it seemed a senseless conversation, although it was all logical.  Jotham was sincere, Adam could see that and appreciated it. He nodded finally and put out his hand which Jotham took willingly in his own.

“Adam, if …as you suspect, they release Mowatt and Atherton , I  can assure you, they won’t live long.  There are too many with long memories of what those men have done.”

Adam sighed “If there is anything I can do, Jotham…”

“I’ll let you know.”
………..

The end of the school day and the usual clatter of children’s feet upon the floor boards could be heard along with the  scraping back of chairs as they eagerly sought to escape their confinement from class.

Evans stood by the door and watched them  as they grabbed their outer clothes and chattering together left the class room.

“Sofia Cartwright one moment please.”  he glanced at Reuben who had stiffened protectively “It’s alright, Reuben, you can come too.”

The children walked hand in hand back to the teacher’s desk and stood round eyed and anxious waiting for him to speak. Evans took from the desk a sheet of paper and held it out towards Sofia, “Do you know what this is?”

She looked up at him and blinked, looked again at the paper and nodded “Yes, sir. It’s sheet music.”

He smiled, and nodded. Most children would have said a piece of paper with squiggles, or perhaps with music notes on it. Most children, but not Sofia Cartwright.

“Do you know how to read sheet music?” he leaned against the desk, his arms folded and smiled more widely, it softened his face and his eyes twinkled. Sofia nodded, and said that yes, she knew, her aunt was teaching her, and so was her father.

He nodded as though he found that interesting and then pointed to several of the notes, asking each time what it was and she replied that it was a quaver, a semi-quaver, a clef.. Which she hesitated over as it was the sign in stave that fixes the place for each note and she sometimes forgot its meaning. She didn’t get them all right either, for some she didn’t know or forgot because she was becoming nervous.

He paused and put the paper down, “If you were to play a piece of music allegro do you know what I would want you to do?”

She looked at Reuben and then back at him and shook her head, “Daddy hasn’t told me that word, nor has Aunt Mary Ann. I’ve only been learning to play for a little while yet.”

He frowned, perhaps the answer displeased him but nevertheless he didn’t release them but turned to Reuben “Do you play any musical instruments, young man?”

“My Uncle Hoss is teaching me to play the harmonica.” Reuben piped up, “He’s real good at it. My Ma says …”

Evans raised a hand, he wasn’t interested in what Mrs Cartwright thought, but he could well imagine he would no doubt think along the same lines. “So, you father plays what? The piano?”

“No, Aunty Mary Ann plays the piano, she was the teacher here once, you know.” Reuben replied although Evans had addressed the question to Sofia.

“Yes, I know.” Evans pushed himself away from the desk now “So what interest does your father have in music, Sofia?”

“He plays the guitar, he sings too…and he sometimes plays on the piano, but not good, not like Aunty Mary Ann. I think he’s only learning like me. He went to college you know? He knows all about music.”

She was talking fast, she wanted to get home, this conversation was making her nervous and she could see Jake coming in to the school house, his hat in his hand and looking anxious. Evans saw him too and nodded, “It’s alright, I just needed to talk some things over with them.”

Jake nodded and watched as the teacher gave them a nod as though that was his permission for them to leave. As they reached the door Sofia looked back over her shoulder at him and saw him looking very earnestly at the piece of sheet music in his hands. She wondered if she had been doing some kind of test and wished now that she could have answered more of the questions correctly.
……………

It was a quiet meal time. Adam had withdrawn a little into himself and Olivia sensed that, even though he laughed and smiled when the occasion needed him to, he was not relaxed, and she knew, loving him as she did, that he was holding back something from her. The fact that Jotham had gone worried her, especially as Adam had given her a very brief and abrupt explanation of why.

The children were tired. Friday evenings were often when they were most wearisome, for school days were long and made longer due to the journey too and from town. Nathaniel was teething and kept pushing his food away, screwing up his face and shaking his head.

As they neared the end of the meal Sofia said “Mr Evans is silly you know.”

Adam frowned “Don’t talk disrespectfully of your teacher, Sofia. That’s not right.”

Reuben frowned “Well, he didn’t seem to know very much about music. He didn’t even know what a clef was…”

“And he kept asking me to tell him what the notes were. He didn’t know what a quaver was, and he didn’t know anything.” Sofia raised her little chin defiantly as though that proved how silly her teacher was, “I had to tell him, didn’t I, Reuben?”

“He didn’t even know to call sheet music by its proper name.” Reuben shrugged “Even I know that!”

Adam shook his head and looked sternly at them both “He no doubt had his reasons for asking you those questions. I don’t think Mr Evans is a silly man, and I don’t want either of you to talk like this about your teacher again. Do you understand me?”

Sofia’s shoulders slumped, she had wanted her father to praise her, not scold and she looked over at Olivia for some comment from her but her mother was busy trying to stop Nathaniel from misbehaving with his food. Reuben looked at Adam thoughtfully,

“Why do you think Mr Evans asked Sofia all about the music then, Pa?”

Adam heard the question through all the things that were rattling about in his own head, he frowned, and shook his head “I think Mr Evans has a keen interest in music, maybe he wanted to see if either of you two did as well.”

“He wanted to know if you were .. interested in music that is.” Reuben said before filling his mouth with some food, “He wasn’t interested in my harmonica playing.”

“Well then,” Adam muttered as he pushed away his plate, “he must be interested in something more serious than your harmonica. Sofia, eat up now, don’t waste your food.”

He smiled at her, but it didn’t reach his eyes, and she looked at him and then at his bandaged wrists and thought he was in pain, and with that in mind she gave him one of her brightest smiles and chattered on about other things until the plate was empty and Olivia was clearing away and they were allowed to leave the table.

Now that she was alone with her husband she reached out and took hold of his hands, and he smiled and raised her hands to kiss them. Her smile was gentle, the kind she would give to the children if they were running a fever, but her eyes were talking their own message, one of her love for him, her concern and worry.

“You don’t have to tell me, darling, but I know something is worrying you…is it anything I can help you with? Anything at all?”

He smiled then, a slow gentle smile that did reach his eyes and sparked the hazel richness in them, “No, Livvy, there’s nothing you can do. Probably that is what is wrong, there’s nothing I can do either.”

“It’s something to do with Jotham’s leaving?”

“Not so much that, but in some ways, yes. Things were said…” his voice trailed away and he sighed, “Sometimes the past just keeps coming back, and brings the ghosts with it.” he glanced down at his wrists, they were less painful now, Hop Sings unguents and salves had worked their magic as usual. “I shall have to go into town tomorrow, Livvy, and just make sure he’s alright.”

She tightened her hold on his hands then, as though by doing so she could get him to change his mind. It was then that there came the sound of horses in the yard and both of them froze. “I’ll see who it is,” he said very quietly and rose from the table.

The children had always been told never to run and open the door when it was night and dark outside, especially if they heard horsemen. In the world in which they lived visitors were few and far between, and sometimes, not the kind one wanted nor welcome. They stood together by the fire, the toys still in their hands and their faces turned to the door which Adam opened slowly, just as slowly as he had withdrawn the gun from its holster which he held behind his back.

It was Jotham who stepped into the room, followed by Candy and Ben. Adam raised his eyebrows at the sight of his father who only quirked one dark eyebrow back in return.

“What’s wrong?” Adam asked and stepped aside to let them in while he slipped the gun back into the holster.

Candy glanced at the children and Olivia, seeing the look, and the way her father in law appeared anxious at the sight of them promptly picked Nathaniel up and ordered the two others to get up the stairs.

Sofia had run over to Ben and hugged him but at the sound of her mother’s voice she turned, looked up at him and then at her father who smiled and said “Good girl.” in such a gentle voice that she loved him and felt less troubled as she hurried up the stairs.

“See you later, Pa.” Reuben called from the half landing, “Goodnight, Gran’pa.”

Once they were alone in the big room Jotham sunk down on the big chair and looked weary and exhausted, Candy shook his head and started pacing the floor and Ben rubbed his chin and shook his head. Adam finally demanded “Would one of you tell me what has happened?”

Candy stopped pacing, Ben sat down on the settee and Jotham closed his eyes and groaned. “Mowatt’s dead.”

“Mowatt? But how?” Adam sunk down on the arm of the settee, “How?”

“Hanged.” Candy said quietly, “Ben had just arrived at the office and we were talking. Mr Morton had been there about half an hour, and Vinnie went to the cell block to take the prisoners their supper. Everything was more or less normal, we had already noticed that the prisoners didn’t seem to be on very good terms with one another, and Vinnie said they were still pretty surly.”

Jotham nodded “Well, I went out to check into the hotel and Mr Cartwright came along with me. We were going to have a night cap at the Sazarac later.” he paused and glanced over at Candy who resumed the story.

“Well, I went on my rounds as usual, leaving Vinnie and Matt to guard the prisoners. Apparently Vinnie heard someone yell from the cell block. He went to check it and Mowatt was hanging from the bars at the window, his belt around his neck. Vinnie opened the cell door and Atherton brought the stool down on him, he fell and ..”

“Atherton’s free? Out there?” Adam demanded to know, his eyes dark now with worry, concern, anger.

“Matt had not heard anything, the first he knew was when Atherton came out with the gun and forced him into the cell before locking him inside. Thankfully I was back from my rounds not long after Atherton got away.”

“Hanged?” Adam said disbelievingly, “But how could he hang in one of the cells?”

Candy sighed heavily again and slumped even lower in his chair, misery stamped all over him. “That’s just it, there was no way he could have hanged himself or for that matter anyone hang him. Paul Martin said his neck was broken before the belt was put round his neck and attached to the bars of the window.”

“It all goes back to Atherton.” Jotham said quietly, “He’s a cold blooded, callous killer and for some reason he didn’t want Mowatt to get back to Washington alive.”

“Perhaps he had orders to make sure Mowatt didn’t get back … and maybe Mowatt had the same orders about Atherton. It was probably a case of who grabbed the chance to perform the deed first.” Adam sighed and rubbed the back of his neck, “Well, have you formed a posse or what?”

“We don’t know where he is, where he went.” Candy replied with a worried expression in his blue eyes “He could have stolen a horse and ridden out of town, he could have -” he waved a hand in a gesture of a man tired of trying to second guess himself. “He’s a ghost, just disappeared into thin air.”

Ben stood up and looked over at his son “I’d best be getting home, but I’ll be back in the morning to see what you think we should do. Alright, son?” he tapped Adam gently on the arm, as though reassuring him that all would be well, as he always did, as he always had done in the past.

Adam walked his father to the door and after watching him mount his horse and turn to leave he closed the door firmly against the night.

Chapter 54

For a brief moment no one moved or spoke, then Adam excused himself saying that he needed to say goodnight to the children before they went to sleep. Candy and Jotham exchanged a glance but said nothing, and one, being a father himself, wished he were back home and able to do the same.

Reuben was in bed and looked up over the bedcovers with big eyes “Is everything alright, Pa? Is anything wrong?”

“Just a little something, nothing for you to worry about.” Adam reassured him and straightened the rumpled bedding.

A patter of feet and he turned to see Sofia running towards him, eyes moist with tears and a trembling mouth “Oh Daddy,” she cried and flung her arms around his neck, “Are you in trouble? You aren’t going to be arrested are you?”

Adam gave a soft laugh and tweaked her nose “Certainly not. Why should you think I would be in trouble?”

She sighed and settled into his lap, her head against his chest and the pleasant beat of his heart beneath her ear “’Cos when you go into town you get beat up and hurt and perhaps Uncle Candy was going to put you in his cells to keep you from getting troubled again.”

“Well, I think I’m a lot safer here at home with you two, and Ma is a far better looking jailer than Candy ever will be.”

Reuben smiled slightly at that and Sofia frowned to think about that, “Are we jailers, Pa?”

He didn’t reply to that but laughed and set her aside “Time for you to get into bed.” and with a pat on her bottom to send her on her way he then turned to Reuben “Are you alright, son? Nothing worrying you, is there?”

“No, Pa, not now. So long as you are alright.”

Adam nodded slightly, and took hold of his son by the hand “May all your days end like that, son. It’s not often one can go to sleep with no worries on their mind.”

Reuben nodded, his eyes were growing heavy “Mr Evans doesn’t think much of my harmonica playing. He was more interested in Sofia’s playing the piano.”

Adam sympathised although his sympathies were more in line with Mr Evans.

Olivia had tended to Nathaniel and settled him into his crib, after which she had gone downstairs and prepared coffee for her guests. It gave Adam a tug at the heart to see his baby son so contented sleeping with his thumb in his mouth and tousled black curls all awry. He stroked the downy cheek gently with his thumb and then made his way to where Sofia was curled up in her bed, Clarabelle tucked securely beneath her arm.

“Pa, I’m sorry I was mean about Mr Evans.” she whispered reaching out for his hand which he took in his own . How small it was resting within the cup of his hand, little dimples chasing across it and her nails so pink with their half moons perfectly formed.

“Well, don’t get into the habit of criticising him. You have to respect your teachers, you know that, don’t you?”

“Are your hands alright now, daddy?”

“Much better.”

“And your poorly wrists?”

“They’ll be better soon.”

“Clarabelle was real upset that you were hurt again, and she cried. She made my pillow all wet.”

He smiled and stroked back a curl from off her face and knew that was her way of telling him how she had wept for him. He couldn’t believe that he could love her and her brother so much, so he kissed her brow and whispered to her to get to sleep as quickly as possible.
The coffee was being poured out and handed around so he took his cup from Olivia after which she made her excuses and went into the other room to do some sewing repairs. The soft murmur of their voices would be hear but no words distinguishable. It was, she felt, better that way. The men could talk without feeling restrained or inhibited by her presence. She smiled at the thought of Mary Ann’s comments were she to tell her, she would have said “It won’t always be that way, there’ll be a time when they’ll be listening to what we have to say one of these days.”
Jotham’s face was tight with anxiety and Adam knew that could partly be due to concern of an accusation of negligence by his superiors for the way he had conducted himself with this task. He felt a pang of sympathy for the man and turned towards him now with a question. .

“Have you had any response to your cable?” he asked and Jotham shook his head which obviously caused some pain as he winced when doing so. “In which case you wouldn’t know what your orders really were, would you?”

“No, but the fact is I should have stayed with the sheriff and made sure those men came to no harm. They were my responsibility.”

Candy shook his head “No, they were mine. I should have stayed there and got Matt or Vinnie to do the rounds.”

Adam sighed and rubbed the back of his neck in exasperation “Well, there was nothing either of you could have done, was there? Short of being in the cell with them how were you to know that one of them was going to kill the other. Atherton’s free, he’ll want to get back to Washington and report to his superior. He’s made of pretty tough stuff considering his injuries.”

“I would have thought Mowatt to have been the stronger of the two. Atherton must have caught him by surprise, he’s a strong man alright.” Candy murmured, “He won’t want to be riding about too far though, so my guess is he will be lying low someplace.”

Jotham frowned “Knowing Athertons track record those wounds are mere scratches, they won’t stop him doing or going wherever he wants. I always felt he was the more dangerous of the four, and I should have realised he’d manage to get out of this somehow.”

“We have lookouts at the livery stables, at the railway station and in the morning we will be able to conduct a better search in town. But it is possible he could be heading here.” Candy’s eyes swung towards Adam and then back to stare at the cup and saucer on the table. “Jotham thinks he may come here.”

Jotham nodded “It’s just a thought, going full circle if you like but it occurred to me that just may be the books are more important that we thought after all.”

“Go on.” Adam prompted and sighed as he picked up his cup and drank some of the hot brew. Those books again, but as he waited for Jotham’s opinion he was already forming one of his own.

“Those enquiries by deQuille’s contacts was the start of this, and it served it’s purpose in some ways, in that both parties, the Governments and Atherton’s, were able to use it as a means to get Harcourt exposed as the double dealer he was. We kept dismissing the books after realising there was no connection with the lists or Mr Melkevik, isn’t that so?”

“Yes.” Adam nodded, “It was Harcourts insistence on Melkevik being involved and the journals proved that he was quite innocent.”

“Yes, they did.” Jotham nodded, rubbed his brow where the pain was throbbing now and he looked anxiously at Adam once again “Have you read all the books?”

“Not thoroughly, I concentrated on the Alaskan situation as it seemed to involve the things Harcourt mentioned.”

“It seems to me that there must be much more involved about those books, Adam. There is something in O’Brien’s journals that whoever The Director is, wants suppressed. Something that perhaps even Daniel didn’t realise he had noticed but referred to somewhere. What do you think? Could it be something like that?”

Adam put down his cup and nodded “Yes, I was thinking along the same lines as you. It all started with those books, Daniel’s journals, and, of course, they do cover his career not mine. I mean, after the Chinese venture we parted company and his assignments went in a different direction to mine.” his voice trailed off, and he began to chew on his inner cheek as he pursued his thoughts.

Jotham stood up and began pacing the floor, rubbing his head, then the back of his neck while Candy felt like the round peg in a square hole and poured himself some more coffee.

“Which brings us back to the thought that he may come here, for the books?” he finally said, causing the other two men to stop their thinking and dithering and stare at him as though they had totally forgotten that it had been mentioned before, “Well, that’s why we came here from town, just to be sure.”

“You do have the journals here, don’t you, Adam?” Jotham asked quietly.

“Yes, all of them. I took the ones Harcourt wanted, the Alaskan ones, into town in my saddlebags. They’re still there.”

Candy nodded “Best get them all together and in your safe.”

Adam looked at him thoughtfully, then looked at Jotham who was now chewing his fingernails in much the same manner as Joe would do when he was nervous or worried. Then he got up and went to his study, returning with the journal in his hands which he placed upon the low table.

“The journal consists of 13 individual books within the one cover. Easy enough to just extricate one at a time … I don’t know how many deQuille actually took, or what exactly piqued his interest enough to send out enquiries to his contacts back east. I always just assumed it was the Alaskan affair. I’ll get them now.”

He was gone only a short time, returning with the two books he had taken in his saddle bags to town. It took no time at all to slip them into their place between the covers and other books. Then he closed the cover and looked at Jotham “That’s all of them. Do you want to take them now, or shall I put them in the safe?”

Jotham shook his head “I was never ordered to bring back the books so I guess you best put them in the safe. My superiors only wanted to warn you that you were possibly in danger because of them, they never said anything about bringing them back to Washington.”

“Perhaps they would be safer, when this business is over, if you did though. It may be, as you and I think, that there are references to things we are ignorant about now but which Daniel wants us to find out. Things this so called Director suspects are there and could lead to him.”

Candy nodded and said it made sense to him, it all started because of deQuille and his infernal nosy parkering and the books. “Why were you sent them anyway?”

“His family didn’t want them.” Adam sighed and looked sadly at the running title of Daniel’s journal, written in his friend’s handwriting, so familiar and seemingly so innocuous.

“What family? His parents were dead. Marie’s father, Mr Melkevik, was dying…” Jotham frowned, “Was there a letter of some kind with them?”

“Of course. From his grand father, Terence O’Brien. He said they had been sent him and he didn’t want them. He thought as I was so close to Daniel I would prefer to have them here.”

“Terence O’Brien, yes, he was a good man.” Jotham sighed and bowed his head.

“Was?” Candy picked up on the word.

“Yes, he died some years ago. He couldn’t have sent you the journal, Adam.”

There was silence for a moment and all three men stared at the innocent looking journal in its leather cover with O’Brien’s scrawl written on it. Adam excused himself and went to his study, returning minutes later with a letter in his hand which he handed to Jotham.

It was a very cordial and pleasant letter from seemingly an old man who cared a great deal about his grand son. “Even as a child he stood out as one who would do well for himself. I was especially fond of him. Now I am very proud of him and all his achievements.”

Jotham sighed “Well, it’s all very pleasant, except for one thing, and that is, that it was written by a ghost.”

Adam leaned forward, his hands clasped between his legs, “Having lost touch with Daniel over the years, whenever we did meet up conversation was never about family. I can remember it was sometime during the voyage to Alaska before he even admitted to me that he was married. Are you sure Terence O’Brien is dead?”

“Of course, he happens to be my Grand father too. Had you forgotten Daniel and I are cousins?” Jotham smiled, his eyes twinkling for a second before they went sombre again, “My Grandfather supported the Union cause as did I, but he tried to keep as uninvolved with our decisions as possible. I think, towards the end of the war he chose to be more neutral. To him the deaths of so many for whatever cause was wrong. He was a good man. I respect, loved him, very much. So did Daniel.”

Candy stood up and began pacing the floor now, his hands behind his back and looking very dark and forboding. “Whoever wrote that letter knew your Grandfather, Jotham. They also knew the connection Adam and Daniel had and for some reason sent the journal here for safe keeping? Until it was needed or for it to become completely forgotten?”

“I think the latter,” Adam said as he leaned back in his chair “Whoever sent it wanted me to have it as a memory of O’Brien and for it to gather dust and be forgotten.”

“And then deQuille got nosey.” Candy sighed and sat down again, running his fingers through his dark hair and making it stand on end.

“It means that it could have been The Director who sent it, or … the head of my department.” Jotham suggested.

Adam just shook his head “Not necessarily. But whoever sent it didn’t want to be identified, did they? Who do you know, Jotham, who would know your Grandfather so well?”
Chapter 55

Candy watched Jotham’s face contort as he struggled to think and reason on what Adam had just said.  Jotham passed a trembling hand across his brow and pressed his fingers against his eyes for his head was clamouring now with pain, nauseau caught at his throat.

“Let me read it again?” he asked, struggling to keep the tightness of pain and anxiety at bay.

Adam passed the letter back to him and then went to the tantalis to pour out whiskey for  Candy and himself, brandy for Jotham.   They were silent while they watched Jotham read and re-read the letter.

“Did you notice how his only reference to me is how proud he was upon hearing that I was going to Brazil with you.”. he looked up at Adam with a look of dawning realisation on his face.  “Grandfather had been dead several years before that took place .”

“Not only that but it wasn’t common knowledge,” Adam murmured, “I didn’t even know that you would be in Brazil until I arrived there and met you at the hotel.”

Jotham picked up the letter again and held it closer to his eyes then put it down, rubbed at his face  “I wasn’t meant to go to Brazil on that assignment.  It was very short notice and I was ordered to leave with barely a day to prepare .  I told Harcourt that he was far the better man for the job but he said he had another assignment.”

“Harcourt!  The man who killed Maxim and got killed in the fire?” Candy exclaimed .
Adam nodded confirmation before he picked up the letter,

“Did he know Terence  0’Brien, Jotham?” aAdam asked as he read the letter again,  “Would he have been in a position to forge a letter like this?”

“It’s a good forgery, Adam, good enough to have fooled me at a first glance had I not known grandfather was dead.”

“But think, man,think”. Candy cried insistently “could he have written it?”

Jotham drank some of the brandy very slowly, then put down the glass “He knew grandfather, of course he did, he served under Terence O’Brien when grandfather was in the Army.  That was how Harcourt got to know Philip’s mother, and seduced her.  Thankfully my Uncle stood by her but Grandfather never trusted Harcourt after that  and had him posted to Albany, as far from my Aunt Phyllis as possible.”

Adam sat down and stretched out his legs, he nursed his glass in between his fingers and stared up at the ceiling.

“You know, a lot of this so called mystery comes down to family resentments, hatreds.…revenge.  Do you think that when he heard of his sons death something – well, perhaps – in his head – snapped.”

Candy, comfortable in the opposite armchair , leaned forward “But the letter … and the books ..?”

“Grandfather wrote several bitter letters to Harcourt.  I know,  because Harcourt showed them to me once, even laughed about them.  He could easily have copied Grandfather’s style, it wasn’t too different from his own.  It was one of his skills that the Department often used was his ability to copy anything, he was a perfectionist. He would have easy access to the books as well. They were in the Archives in the Classified section.  No wonder The Director, as he calls himself, felt safe with them there.”

“And then for some reason Harcourt decided to send them to Adam  just to get them out of the way until ..well, should he ever need them,” Candy turned to Adam “What do you think, Adam?   It’s possible, isn’t it?”

Adam nodded, “It all seems to fit into place.   Perhaps suddenly someone else was showing interest in them if, as you said, Jotham, they were safe in the Classified Archives.”

Jotham leaned back and closed his eyes “I’ m sorry, Adam, but I really feel quite ill.”
Candy and Adam immediately came to the other man’s assistance and by sharing his weight between them managed to get him upstairs and back into the room he only recently had vacated.

Olivia was on the landing as they finished getting Jotham onto the bed.  Stepping into the room she ushered them out with the quiet explanation that she would deal with the patient.

“I’d best get back to town too,” Candy said as the two men went down stairs together “This is an odd situation,Adam. All this political stuff makes even a straight forward murder complicated.”

He picked up his glass and emptied it before setting it back onto the table.

“I’ll get a search set up first thing.  Somehow I think this bird is too clever to get caught easily,”

He picked up his hat and pulled on his heavy coat. They shook hands at the door with the sheriff assuring his host that he would be quite safe.  It was with a sense of misgiving that Adam watched the tall figure stride over to his horse , mount up and ride slowly out of the yard.

Atherton was also suffering the ill effects from his wounds and the strenuous effort it had taken to deal with Mowatt.  Adrenalin  had played a major factor in that despite the advantage he had by being the bigger man and Mowatt so totally unprepared.   By the time Vinnie had appeared Atherton was still strong enough to deal with him, take the gun and make his getaway.

But his body was reacting now and he knew he needed some help.  Being observant was part of his professional business and he had made a point of noticing a lot about Virginia City during the brief and chaotic time he had been there.   He knew where there were vacant houses, abandoned as their owners deserted the town for richer pickings elsewhere.   He knew where doctors could be found and pharmacists, and there were the other places like the brothels, and the cheap boarding houses where no questions would be asked.

Right now he needed a bed where he could sleep off the weariness caused by his exertions and loss of blood. The wounds he had sustained may have been mere flesh wounds but they had caused their damage and were now a hindrance.

He settled on finding an abandoned house, safer he felt than going anywhere where eyes could notice and mouths could talk.  He kept to the shadows and made his way to an area where several houses had been abandoned over the previous year.

It took but a moment to force a door open.  With the right skill it was possible to get into any place.  He had chosen a small building surrounded by other properties that were all swathed in darkness as their occupants slept.  A baby’s wail drifted into the night, a dog barked, an indication that someone in one of those silent houses would soon be up and about. Striking a match he moved around quickly, bumping into furniture that had been left behind, he struck another match, located the fireplace and noticed  the stump of a candle, just enough to provide light to see around the place.

Before too long he had found a rolled up mattress in the corner of the room.  Forgotten perhaps as the family had piled other belongings onto their wagon  and gone.  He was soon curled up upon it and drifting into a deep sleep.

Not for him feelings of concern or compassion for his victims.  He was paid well for the work he carried out, and so he always did a professional job. Emotions got in the way, he learned that a long time ago.  As for Mowatt, well, Atherton had never had much respect for the wretched man.  The only man he respected was The Director.
………

Adam was asleep in the chair when Olivia came downstairs after tending to Jotham.  She was considering about getting a blanket to cover him so as to cause least disturbance when he stirred and opened his eyes.

“How’s Jotham?” was his immediate enquiry even as he reached out for her hand to draw her down next to him.

“Running a fever, riding into town was obviously over ambitious.” she smiled at him and leaned her head upon his shoulder so that his arm came to cradle around her waist “Do your shoulders still hurt?” she whispered.

“Yes, but you’ve done enough nursing for the night. You’re tired, and to be honest, so am I.”

“Let’s just sit here awhile and enjoy the last of the fire then, together,.”

Adam looked at the dying flames nibbling at the burning red embers of the logs still remaining in the grate, he sighed and closed his eyes “You know, this is a very strange situation.”

“What? Sitting in front of the fire with your wife?” she teased, and raised her face to his so that their mouths touched in a long and tender kiss.

“This matter of Daniel’s journals, and Jotham, and those men coming here to town to beat up poor deQuille, and then prepare to leave.”

“Except they don’t because Mr Harcourt kills one of them.” she drew in closer to him, and took hold of one of his hands in hers and squeezed his fingers gently.

“Yes, because he had found out that they were responsible for killing a man he respected very much, and maybe because his son had been a victim of theirs too, just by being part of their organisation.” he frowned “Hard to believe that all these years later Jack Lawson comes to my attention again.”

“Jack Lawson? Who was he?”

“A young misguided youth who died bravely in Alaska. He was – had been – manipulated by several very clever men, and his brother…Philip Lawson. Philip was on the list I brought back, but it turns out he was Jacks half brother, the son of Harcourt. Odd that, isn’t it?”

“That there’s an illegitimate child involved? Why strange?” she glanced up at him, and smiled slightly. “There are, sadly, numerous of them born every day, even here.”

“Just that Mowatt was illegitimate too… only he had no doting step-father, he was callously abandoned by the man who was also Maria O’Brien’s father. Don’t you find it strange that so many, in one family, suddenly come altogether? Think of all those years of simmering hatreds, resentments … and there they all are, together, sent to beat up a curious newspaperman.”

“Ah, but you are forgetting that they were sent to find out who was the traitor among them. And Jotham was sent to do the same.”

Adam nodded, but slowly, his thoughts dwelling on those faraway children, perhaps Philip never knew about his father, his real father, but Mowatt would have known about Melkevik fathering him, and hated him for all that he stood for, his wealth, his neutrality, his daughter even. He sighed and shrugged “People are – fascinating and terrifying in equal measure.”

She smiled at that, and wondered what it was he was thinking about these oh so fascinating people. She glanced up at him from beneath her lashes, “Jotham is related to them too, did you forget that?”

“I had!” he grinned and flashed her one of his quick smiles that brought out his dimples so endearingly. “Cousin chasing after cousin. Vengeful father seeking revenge.”

“Who was the vengeful father?”

“Harcourt. He never knew that Jamieson, whom he respected so much, had been the cause of Philip’s arrest in the past, which was later to end in Philip’s death. Atherton took great care to let him know that before they killed him.”

“All that time trying to bring them to justice for killing Jamieson only to find that in a way, Jamieson was responsible for Philip’s death.” she murmured and watched as the last log cracked open sending an explosion of sparks and red embers into the grate. “Come now, you must be needing some sleep.”

But Adam was staring into the fire, a fixed stubborn look on his face and a slight frown on his brow. She pulled at his hand and shook her head at him, smiled and leaned down to kiss him again “Come along, Captain Cartwright, you need to sleep.”

“Commodore” he laughed gently, “I managed to reach the rank of Commodore, Madam, or had you forgotten?”
……………

Atherton stirred in his sleep and woke up. The first streaks of dawn, a new day, were filtering in through the dirty cob webbed window. He shivered, the morning had dawned cold. He felt stronger after having slept so well. He rubbed his stubbled chin and contemplated his situation. His belongings had been left at the luggage store in the railway station, along with Mowatts. He reached inside his jacket and pulled out his wallet, and Mowatts which he had taken from the dead mans body before Vinnie had entered the cell. He smiled, plenty of money in both of them. He would go to the barbers, then eat. Then think of what else to do next …there was plenty of time, all day stretched ahead of him.

The sound of horses sent him hurrying to the window to stare out at the posse of men riding out of town. He smiled and wondered whereabouts exactly they would be headed, in which direction would they be looking for a man who had gone nowhere.

Chapter 56

Ben and Joe arrived early that morning, both anxious to see Adam and confirm for themselves that he was still safe and recovering from his ordeal.  The fact that Jotham was ill prompted Ben to volunteer Hop Sings services which Olivia kindly deflected with an assurance that he was making a good recovery.

“He should never have gone out so soon,” she said as she passed them off a cup of coffee “His face needs time to heal.”

Reuben looked up from his breakfast, “He’s got a wonky nose.”

Sofia pushed her nose to the side “like dis.” she grinned which caused Nathaniel to laugh and clap his hands.

“Its not as bad as that,” Olivia said, tapping Reuben on the head to quell his exuberance, but the boy turned now to Joe to ask about Mistrals colt and when could he see it again.

“Where’s Hoss?” Adam asked turning to his father while Joe and Reuben got talking horses.

“I told him Candy was going to form a posse today, he thought he would ride into town to see if he could help in any way.”

Adam nodded and frowned “I don’t envy Candy just now. He’s feeling he let everyone down with what happened.”

“He underestimates his value,” Ben said quietly, “He’s a good sheriff.”

“Adam,” Joe stood up and turned to his brother. “Reuben tells me he’s done his chores first the morning, would it be alright for him to come back with me and see the colt.?”

Adam glanced over to Olivia, a slight nod from her confirmed it to be agreeable with her so with a whoop Reuben was up and away to saddle Max.  Joe was grinning and watched him, while Sofia turned to her mother and asked if she could go too.

“But you’re not interested in horses,” Olivia said “And we have chores to finish yet.”

Ben smiled as he got to his feet “I know two little girls who would like to see you later, Sofia.”

“Can I, mommy?” she  turned appealing eyes to her mother, then to Adam “Please?”

“Well, I had intended to visit later anyway.” Olivia said, “so once we have chores finished we can go”.

Ben turned to Adam “What plans do you have for the day, Adam?  You won’t be doing anything foolish by going into town?”

“No, I have some work to do, here, with Jotham”. Adam frowned as he spoke, and Olivia got up from the table excusing herself while she went to prepare a tray for Jotham’s breakfast.

Sofia hurried to her room to dress Clarabelle and Jessie for their visit to Aunt Hester’s, and heard her mother go into Jotham’s room with the laden tray.  Chinaware and cutlery rattled, and she heard Jotham’s voice thanking Olivia and then the door closing and her mother’s steps going back down the stairs.

Adam was playing a game with Nathaniel  when Olivia came downstairs but he looked up and asked her how Jotham was, and if she felt it necessary for a doctor to attend to him.

“I think he’ll do well enough,” Olivia said as she dropped a kiss on her little sons dark curls, “he seems to have slept off the fever.”

Satisfied with that Adam excused himself from the table and went to his study.  She heard the door close and looked over at Nathaniel who was regarding her solemnly with  half his breakfast decorating his face.

“Well, that just leaves you and me,” she smiled and lifted him carefully from his chair ” let’s see what we can do cleaning you up!”
……………

Jotham had slipped into sleep when Adam entered the room a little later.  He put the journal down upon the bed while he went to pull aside the drapes and slightly open the windows. There was the slight  smell of the sick room and the fresher air provided a welcome change.   He then approached Jotham and gently shook him awake.

“I think I have the answer.” he said as Jotham opened his eyes and struggled to sit up.  “Its only speculation but you can check it for yourself when you get back to Washington.”

He pulled a chair closer to the bed and then sat down, Picked up the journal and turned to one book from which several slips of paper, acting as book marks, bristled for attention.
Jotham was fully alert now. Olivia had been right in saying he had slept out the fever.  The food he had eaten also had refreshed him, he nodded enthusiastically “Speculation or not, its better than nothing!”
Adam smiled at that while noting that his companion had more animation in his voice and a sparkle in his eyes.  Picking up the journal Adam set them down on his lap and opened the cover.

“I guess the first mistake I made was concentrating on the Alaskan assignment.  That was mainly due to all the talk about that infamous list we had been assigned to get and the connection it had  with Lawson. This morning I thought I would start to read through what Daniel had written about the time he was a prisoner in Kuril.  You may not recall that he was accompanied by a Government official by the name of Hastings who died there.”

Jotham shook his head and looked doubtful “I remember him telling me about the horrors of the Kuril prison and how he escaped but nothing about anyone called Hastings.”

“Hastings had been sent to work in the Embassy in Tokyo except that things didn’t work out for them. The ship they were on was attacked and taken over by Metcalfe‘s men as a result they became prisoners on the Kuril Islands.  This is what Daniel says:

“Just prior to his death Hastings became very ill. Starvation, lack of natural light and the horrors of imprisonment took its toll.  In a fever ridden state he became delirious and told me of the horror he experienced when attending a club in Washington with Senators  Langton and Haversham.  The address, he assured me,  was high society’s most prestigious.  He met some very highly connected business men, and Government ministers.

“I let him ramble on for awhile until I realised he was telling me that the club carried out the utmost atrocities, that nothing was normal but debased and foul.  He became highly emotional as he described some of the things he witnessed and I recall trying to silence and calm him as he mentioned repeatedly the names of those involved.””

Jothams face had now lost its colour.  For a moment he stared at the far wall and then sighed “That sounds rather familiar.  Is it possible that he  was referring to the same club that Professor Jefferson* made us swear never to mention?”

Adam nodded, and closed that book and then pulled from the covers of the journal another which he opened slowly.

“This was with reference to a meeting with several officers when in Washington shortly after the Jiang Peng affair.  He writes this

“An interesting and pleasant evening with fellow officers celebrating the end of our tour in the S. China seas. It was marred, for me anyway, by the behaviour of Captain Langton who became drunk and began to insinuate that he knew where we could have a better time at a club his brother often visited when in the city.  It brought to mind instantly memories of Hastings ramblings, and I asked Langton if his brother was in politics.  He looked amazed at my ignorance, his brother was Senator Robert Langton. A man destined to restore the fortunes of the southern States. I left them to continue without me. It made me sick to think of those in office, making decisions that affect all of us while they could be living such debased private lives.   It made me seriously consider resigning my commission.””

Both men were silent now.  Jotham looked at Adam and raised his eyebrows “Is there any more?”

“Several other references to Senator Langton’s private affairs that Daniel came across either accidently or not…but none of them paint the picture of the honest hardworking Senator the world is shown and has everyone fawning at his feet.”

“Robert Langton!” Jotham breathed and leaned back against the pillows. “He has a wife and children …”. he paused and rubbed his jaw nervously “Do you recall how Professor Jefferson warned us to forget the references he made to that club?”

Adam gave a slight half smile “Yes, I do. His reasoning was that there were those in our Government who were members of it, but due to the code of secrecy …” he paused himself then and appeared lost in thought “We didn’t even mention it to Evarts even though a clandestine society was mentioned by him.”

Both men thought over the time they had spent with President Hayes and Senator Evarts, both of them felt a shiver go down their backs as a result. Adam flicked anxious eyes over to Jotham and then mustered a grin, tapped his friend resolutely on the arm

“But Daniel was under no such restriction. Jotham,  do you think Langton could be the man controlling Atherton and the others? Is he, possibly, whom you keep referring to as The Director?”

Jotham was again silent for a while before he nodded, at first as though to himself only but then inclusive of the other man.

“0h yes, it fits his personality alright, he’s ruthless and ambitious. But he has – what do you call it – charisma. That’s the danger, you see? If Evarts and the Head of my Department think it’s him …“ again a long pause as he considered options for a moment, “0nce or twice our department has crossed  swords with him over some issue.  He always succeeded in coming out of the matter making us appear as though we were victimising him and his people. He’s clever,  crafty …” he paused and sighed “but I wonder if this will be enough to prevent him achieving his ambition.”

” Jefferson told us to say nothing about this club, and do you recall how we both got the impression that Everts knew about it from the questions he asked us*  ?  This will be a good lever, perhaps the one you need, to prevent him achieving his ambitions..“

Jotham nodded, “So why would Harcourt send these books to you?  No one suspected there could be anything important in them. So …?”

Adam frowned, his half hooded eyes stared down at the words on the page before him “I don’t know, Jotham. I could speculate but that would not a real explanation. He’s the only one who could tell us and he isn’t around anymore, is he? I don’t think we’ll ever know what his reasons were, but something must have happened at around that time …”

“Yes, around that time his son died. Philip Lawson was found with several others involved in some crime that we had to investigate. It was Harcourt who found his body. He – well – he changed after that, became obsessed with finding out who really killed Jeffrey Jamieson …he volunteered to infiltrate the men Philip has been working with, to help us, he said, to find out who The Director was…”

“Perhaps you’ll find out more when you return to Washington, Jotham. This could well open more doors to you…” Adam closed the last book and slipped it between the leather covers that bound all thirteen together. “There may be even more in the other books that will give more information. I’ll leave them here for you to look through.”

Jotham closed his eyes and settled back against the pillows. He felt the weight of the books lifted from the bed as Adam picked them up and carried them to the bureau. He heard the scrape of the chair across the floor as Adam. took it from the bedside.
He heard Adam saying something about coffee, he thought how pleasant that would be and yet said nothing. He wanted to think, he wanted to gather up all the threads and knit them together to make sense.

*  see Written in Stone

Chapter 57

Sofia was delighted to join her cousin Hannah again. They had formed a close bond, even closer now since the time of Sofia’s disappearance over the winter time.  Hand in hand they ran to where the doll house was set out and Sofia squeaked in pleasure at seeing how Aunt Hester had made little curtains at the windows, crocheted little rugs for the floors and even painted flowers growing up the  exterior walls.

“Do you like it?”. Hannah whispered looking into Sofia’s face apprehensively and no doubt wondering if her friend would have another tantrum and send it hurtling across the floor.

“Oh, it is lovely.” Sofia admitted with a long sigh, and forced herself not to say a word about the ‘other one’ she had played with in that other place no one now mentioned.

Nathaniel and Hope immediately paired off and sat under the table to build with bricks, knock them down and build again.  There were other toys but currently this was their favourite.  When Nathaniel wasn’t chewing them or throwing them he enjoyed building them.  Hope loved him, and every so often grabbed him round the neck to give him a wet slobbery kiss  which he would wipe away with typical masculine disdain.

Baby Eric didn’t mind one bit being passed from his mother to Olivia who held him close in her arms, and enjoyed the warm baby smell of him,  his blue eyes followed her lips as she sang softly to him, rocking him too and fro as she walked round the room.

Hop Sing came shuffling out from the kitchen to ask how his patients were and looked dismayed at the news of Jotham’s recent collapse.

“Why for he go to town, ride horse?  He not good on horse? Why for do stupid thing and make more work for Hop Sing!”

“I’m sure he’ll improve after a day or so,  Hop Sing.”. Olivia said passing Eric back to his mother in order to attend to the demands of her own son who was tugging at her skirt for her cuddles to go to him not ‘that other baby’.

“Huh, best for Hop Sing go see for himself.  Fool man may go on horse again and kill himself.”

The two women said nothing to that as Hop Sing swung away  to attend to the matter at hand.  They knew from experience there was little point in trying to cajole him out of a bad temper.  Hester dropped a kiss upon Eric’s brow and gently placed him back in the
crib.

“I’ll go and get some coffee, Olivia.  I just know he’ll  be off to sort out Mr Morton’s aches and pains.  No doubt give Adam a scolding too.”

Olivia smiled and nodded, and tried to put Nathaniel back  on the floor but the little one was tired of being kissed so much by Hope who had wandered off to join her sister
and Sofia.  He was also a little jealous and aggrieved at his mother cuddling the other baby.  When Olivia passed the crib and paused to look down at the blue eyed infant Nathaniel placed a dimpled hand on her cheek and cried “no baby”.
………..

Reuben loved the horses.  After dismounting from Max he ran over to the corral to call out to the colt who was now known as Karim.  Joe was not too sure about the name and called the animal Harry when Reuben wasn’t around.  The colt didn’t mind what they called him  but trotted over in anticipation of sugar lumps and fussing.

Joe watched with a smile as the boy stroked Karim’s velvet nose, he leaned against the door post of the stable block and plaited straw with agile fingers as he observed Reuben and recalled days gone by when he had been a child like him, and enthralled by every new colt that trotted into his life.

Mary-Ann came out with her hand to her hair for the breeze was getting up a little and catching at her curls as though it were teasing her to loosen as much of them as possible to drift across her pretty face.

“Is everything alright?  I thought you would be gone longer than this.” she didn’t mind that he was home much sooner, not at all, and slipped her arm through his so that she could lean against him and feel the lean body reassuringly close.

“They’re as well as could be expected I guess.” Joe replied with his eyes still on Reuben “it doesn’t seem so long ago that I was that little boy and bossy big brother would be telling me to calm down and get on with some work.”. he grinned then, feeling  a secret pleasure at the memory of big brother’s deep voice as it  broke into his thoughts.

“That was because he was hoping to turn you into a responsible hard working young man.”. she laughed up at him and he kissed her gently, then laughed at the look of disgust that had flashed across Reuben’s face for the boy had turned just at that instant to ask his uncle a question.

Kissing was  still an art Reuben was to discover held many delights as his uncle Joe could tell him oh so well.
…………

Atherton passed a hand over his smooth chin and nodded in approval as he pressed the coins into the barbers hand.  He had bought different clothes and was wearing the more typical working clothes familiar to most of the cowboys and miners drifting through town.  His expensively cut coat and suit had been discarded casually it would seem in the old house in which he had slept through the night.  Perhaps he would go and get them back, perhaps not, he barely gave them a second thought.  He was confident that his identity was sufficiently hidden for him to merge with the majority of folk in town.

He appeared unarmed, quite the handsome citizen who would rely on the law to fight his his battles for him.  He smiled as he entered the restaurant and sat down, perfectly at ease, and ordered a meal with coffee. The waitress cast him a lingering look from beneath her lashes, and smiled in the way many woman had in the past and he hoped would do so in the future.

As he cut through his ham his attention was drawn to the sound of horses.  Heads  turned in the direction of the window and Atherton watched as Candy and several of the posse rode down main street towards the sheriffs office.

An old miner chewed bacon and swallowed coffee, “Huh, back with their tails between their legs again.  Chasing ghosts, that’s what they’re doing.”

Another old man stood up and threw down his napkin “He’s a good sheriff, doing his best to catch whoever killed young Tony.”

A woman ventured to speak “He’s not got the instincts you had, Roy.  Tony’s killer..”

The man called Roy gave her a steel blue glare and quickly interrupted  “They arrested Tony’s shooter if you recall rightly, ”

“Yeah, then let him walk free!” The old miner guffawed, and swallowed more coffee.

Atherton watched the scene play out before him.  He ate his food like any innocent  by stander would, and looked from one to the other as any one ignorant of the situation would, chewing and swallowing and suppressing the need to laugh.

Roy Coffee paid for his food and walked out of the restaurant, then stood on the sidewalk with his hands on his hips as he watched Candy wearily dismount and walk into the building.

The old man sighed and bowed his head in thought.  Memories trickled through his mind as he recalled the time when he was a rookie sheriff , trying hard and often failing.  Then slowly things fell into place, he honed an instinct that brought him more victories against crime than losses.  But it took time, and Candy, well, if he gave himself time he’d get those instincts too, he’d make a good sheriff.

The on looker watched him cross the road, then push open the door and enter.  The door closed shutting out the world.
……….

Hop Sing pushed open the door of Adam’s home and stood looking about him as the quiet settled around him like the mists that hover low over the ground. The fire was burning, logs glowed red with ash settling in the hearth.  The clock ticked and it seemed to the old man a trifle over loudly .

Movement caught the corner of his eye and he nodded, smiled as Cheng Ho Lee approached and bowed in respect to his senior.

“Mr Adam upstairs now with visitor.” he cast his eyes upward and nodded.

A curt nod of the head was the only answer he got as Hop Sing made his way across the room and up the stairs.  Adam and Jotham paused in what they were doing and looked towards the door with innocent curiosity.

“Hop Sing?   Good to see you, but why are you here?”

The little man uttered several short pithy remarks back in Cantonese which made Adam laugh and Jotham look anxious.  Adam tugged at his ear and grinned at the man in the bed “You’ve upset him.”

“Me?  How?”. Jotham glanced at Hop Sing with a frown “I am sorry, Mr Hop Sing but …”

Hop Sing raised a hand for silence, from behind his back he produced his basket of herbal remedies and slowly advanced towards the bed……

Chapter 58

Hop Sing didn’t allow Adam a chance to wriggle out of having his wrists rebound after further treatment.  Both men cringed like schoolboys before a tyrannical headmaster as the old man tended to their injuries and listened to a scolding from the irate –  but really tender hearted – old man that was blistering in its admonition against further foolishment!

Cheng Ho Lee didn’t get away with anything either as his senior in service insisted on ensuring that he was in good condition too. All three men breathed long sighs of relief when they heard the crunch of wagon wheels turning in the yard taking Hop Sing back to the Ponderosa.

Adam watched his old friend from the window and smiled at the proof of the affection that had brought Hop Sing to deal with them.  There were many memories of such devotion that went far into the past and with a sigh he ran his hand over the back of his head, rubbed his neck and turned rather shyly to wards where Jotham sat in bed surrounded by the open books.

“Well, I guess we had better get on.” he murmured and made his return to his chair, picked up a book and began to continue from where he had left off with O ‘ Brien in the Adriatic.
………….

Candy had also cringed at the sight of Roy Coffee striding into the office, he nodded over to the coffee pot but Roy just shook his head “How’s Tyler?”

“Dr Martin said he’ll be alright, no serious harm done. It stunned him more than anything else.”

Roy nodded and narrowed his eyes as he took in the slope of the broad shoulders, the downcast mouth “How are you, son?”

Candy slumped down into his chair and swivelled it until he was facing Roy, he shrugged, shook his head and picked up a pencil “I don’t know, Roy.  I can’t understand this man.  I can’t understand how he could just shoot down young Tony, murder a man and attempt to do the same with Adam, then kill his own associate, walk out of here … ”

Roy nodded at the defeated shrug of the shoulders that followed Candy’s comment.  He rubbed his chin and removed his hat, “Look, for a start witnesses admit Tony drew a gun and so there could be a claim for some self defence but as for the rest, and killing his associate right there in his own cell..well, its a strange business alright because it seems to show to me that this is a man who just plain likes killing.”

“Roy, what should I do now?  The man’s vanished.   I’ve a watch on the station and the stage depot..warned the liveries to keep their eyes open but …nothing.  He’s simply disappeared.”

Roy shook his head and smiled “Aw, ain’t so bad as that, you know for a fact that no one properly disappears.   It’s still early on in the search too.  You got to learn patience, son.  I reckons he’s jest lying low, figuring his next move.  No doubt waiting for the heat to cool down.  That’s when he’ll make his mistake.  You just got to think ..motive.”

“Motive?  Apart from trying to escape?.”

“Look,  young Candy, you gotta go back to the beginning.  What was the first thing he and his so called associates did?  And why?”

Candy frowned, remembered the battered features of Daniel deQuille and then nodded. “The books…”

“Just what I was thinking.   Seems those books got a lot to do with all this…now, who was it they nearly got burning alongside the fellow they’d killed?”

“Adam.”

Roy nodded and smiled again “So you keep thinking along those lines and I reckon you’ll soon work out where your killer will be headed.”.

Candy frowned “You don’t think he’ll head out back to Washington then?  Or just stick closer to town”.

“I guess that’s just what he would want you to think.  But for what its worth I reckon there’s something important about them books , you mark my words!”

Candy gave a half smile as he recalled to mind the conversations he had recently had with Adam and Jotham about those self same books. It seemed Roy understood even without the knowledge he himself had gained recently. He stood up and shook Roy’s hand, thanked him and was about to speak when the door opened and Hoss Cartwright walked in, pulled off his hat and acknowledged both men with a grin and nod “Thought you’d want help on tracking down the galoot who broke jail, Candy.”
Roy and Candy glanced at one another, and after bidding both men farewell Roy left the two younger men . He barely gave a thought to the man who was stepping out of the restaurant and had paused briefly to look back at him as he made his way home.

Atherton lowered his hat and rocked back and forth on his heels for a moment before appearing to nonchalently stroll along with his hands in his jacket pocket.  Although he wore no obvious side arms he had his gun carefully concealed and within easy reach were he to need it.  He frowned as he thought of what to do next and realised he was annoyed at the fact that the sheriff had returned to town.

He wasn’t to know Candy had returned because his horse had a loose shoe. Atherton had been relieved at the direction the posse had taken earlier which had been opposite to the one he himself was going to take. He stopped to lean against a post and think and while he did so he watched an attractive woman engage a man in conversation across from where he stood.

Daniel deQuille removed his hat out of courtesy as Amanda Ridley stopped him from entering the Territorial Enterprise office.  Her enquiries into his health led to her relating the latest happenings in town which made him fidget rather.  He was not yet fully recovered and standing for any length of time made his back ache.

He listened for as long as he could,  nodding and mumbling words while occasionally he looked up and around him in nervous jerky moves of the head.  His eyes slid from object to object, person to person.   He noticed the cowboy lounging against the post, their eyes met, he turned his attention back to Amanda.

Atherton was anxious now to move on.  His instincts warned him that brief though it was, that eye contact was enough for a man like deQuille to remember the man who had beaten him so severely a few days earlier.  He didn’t want the sheriff to realise he was still in the area and without a sound he turned and walked away so that when deQuille looked again, he was gone.

When deQuille stood in his office, carefully tidied from its disarray by his staff, memories of his ordeal flooded through his head and he had to sit down when his legs became too weak to support him.  He remembered the men, and glanced nervously at the door as though anticipating their return.  The door handle rattled but it was his secretary who appeared and gave him a beaming smile, words of welcome to which Daniel paid no heed.   Atherton was right, deQuille remembered him well, and the proximity of his attacker made the poor man wish he had stayed in his hospital bed.

“Go and get the sheriff, I need to talk to him…tell him its urgent!”

DeQuille wiped his hand over his mouth which was as dry as a desert after a six month drought.  As the door closed the one thought that came to his mind was his need for a drink.
Atherton looked over several horses that were nodding sleepily near the water trough by the Bucket of Blood. He had watched their owners strut their way into the saloon moments earlier.  By his reckoning they would stay in the saloon long enough for him to get well out of town.  One of them would report a stolen horse but by the time he did the sheriff would have returned to his posse without knowing anything  about  it.

He chose the animal that looked the freshest. A good sturdy beast that didn’t mind a change of rider at all and obediently turned in the direction Atherton led it.

As Candy and Hoss listened to deQuille’s secretary relaying the message given him, Atherton was riding out towards the Ponderosa.
……….

“Adam, listen to this.”

The exclamation from Jotham alerted Adam’s immediate attention.   He put down the book he had been reading and enjoying as O’Brien had a good style of writing.  Jotham nodded and cleared his throat before speaking.

“This book covers Daniel’s time in Paris with Maria -.”
“After his resignation?”

“No, it was when he was Captain of the Baltimore…her first voyage.”*

They looked at one another as though even that point was significant.  Jotham cleared his throat again and once he was assured of Adams complete attention started to read

“I saw Metcalfe yesterday.  The second time.  I wasn’t sure before hence did not mention it, but this time there was no mistake.  I know he recognised me as our eyes met and he raised his glass in salute and nodded over at me.  He didn’t seem to mind my knowing he was there and the smile on his face was, well, I suppose one could describe it as triumphant, gloating.

He was talking to a man who had his back to me at the time but who now turned to see who it was to whom Metcalfe was paying attention.  I recognised him immediately and so did Maria for she grasped my arm and her face was full of alarm.  Robert Langton just stared at me, his eyes cold, expressionless.  Then he saw Maria.  For a moment it looked as though he was at a loss, he stared at her as hard and loathsome as she stared at him.  Then Metcalfe said something to him and it broke the suspense of the moment.

Maria begged for us to return home immediately, and during the journey told me that she had known Langton and his family many years ago.  They had renewed their acquaintance more recently when involved with her cousin, Philip and the Pelman affair**.  Robert Langton she told me, was one of the cruellest and most ruthless men she knew.  When his family lost everything during the war he had made an oath to get it back.   Knowing as I did how much influence he now had in Government, I would say he was well on the way to fulfilling his oath.

But why was he here?  Why with Metcalfe?  I shall have to let Adam know that I’ve seen him and put him on the alert. Now he is captaining the Baltimore …  I can’t help but think there is danger of some sort.”

Jotham put down the book and looked, rather glassy eyed, at his companion who sat very still, a slight frown furrowing his brow, his lips slightly pursed as he thought over that last statement. Then Adam nodded “Yes, he was right. He was about to sail into terrible danger. Strange that he never mentioned Langton to me then.”

“He probably didn’t connect Langton with anything, until Hastings mentioned him when they were prisoners together. Even afterwards he may have felt it had nothing to do with the situation he was involved with …Pelman was dead, Metcalfe also …”

“But Cassandra, and Langton were very much alive.” Adam raised his eyebrows and then nodded “I think this is enough to stop Mr Langtons gallop to the Presidency, don’t you?

* The Commodore
** Captain oh my Captain
Chapter 59

Hoss accompanied Candy to deQuille’s office and leaned against the door frame as the nervous journalist stammered out his reason for sending for the sheriff.

“How sure are you that this is the man we’re looking for, deQuille?”. Candy asked with a cynical glare in his blue eyes. He had his sympathies for the man, after all he was still suffering the results of his injuries, but Candy was realistic enough to know that those same injuries could be the cause of hallucinations in a man with as vivid an imagination as the journalist. Fear, however, was etched in the lines of the man’s face and the nervous manner in which he tugged at his beard.

“Positive.  He stared at me, right into my eyes.  You don’t forget the eyes of a man who was rather enjoying beating the life out of you.”.  deQuille shivered, “I wish I had never got  to see those books.”

Hoss pushed himself away from the door and nodded grimly “Yeah, don’t we all!”

DeQuille winced, as well he may, but he accepted the reproof and merely looked sheepishly down at the floor as the two men left the room. As Candy was about to close the door deQuille cried “Sheriff, you will get a man to protect me, won’t you?”

Candy turned the frown still on his face “You do realise that I could arrest you for burglary.  Breaking into Adam’s property, stealing his possessions, being the cause of this mess..”

Daniel flushed scarlet and raised his hands in an appeal to Candy to stop “I didn’t break into the house, and I returned the books, and … And I am the one that got beaten up.”

Candy opened his mouth to speak but closed it again. What was the point of even trying to reason with the man?  He closed the door of the office behind him and followed Hoss into the street.

They were halfway to the Sheriff’s office when Vinnie Tyler approached and fell into step with them.  Apart from having his arm in a sling Vinnie appeared remarkably well. As he explained to Hoss the only real pain came from a dislocated shoulder so he had, he grinned, really not so much to complain about. He was leading his horse along behind them when a man shouted from the doorway of the Bucket of Blood “Sheriff, Sheriff, someone stole my horse.”

Vinnie and Candy looked at one another which led to Hoss heaving a sigh at the thought of a delay to the hunt for the killer.  Amos Bradley crossed the road at a fast trot, his face furrowed in anger.

“I just bought that crittur, paid too much for it anyhow and now a thievin’ piece of scum has gone off with it.”

“Tell my deputy the details ..” Candy muttered then paused and glanced back at the saloon, and then at the offices of the Territorial Enterprise. It was just possible, just perhaps, that the horse thief and deQuille’s assailant were one and the same. A man lounging about and observing the newspaper journalist would have had to pass the saloon and if need be, a convenient horse would be there for the picking. He gave a slight shrug, no harm in asking, and no time wasted if he were proven right. “What did he look like?  Did you see him?”

Amos nodded “Only his back as he rode out.   Good thing I wasn’t armed otherwise I would’ve put a bullet in his smart tan jacket.”

Candy and Hoss looked at one another, then at Amos “A tan jacket?” Hoss asked, and thought of deQuille’s very careful description of the man who had stared at him from across the street in an obviously brand new tan jacket.

“S”right, and a black hat.”. Amos put his hand on his hips “You going to get my horse back?”

Candy nodded and then turned to Vinnie “I need your horse, Vinnie.  Mine has a loose shoe.”

Vinnie passed the reins over to the sheriff and said nothing, Candy took them and then asked Hoss if he was going to accompany him.  Hoss nodded “Amos, what direction did this horse thief take, or have you forgotten?”

Amos glanced over his shoulder and jabbed his thumb in the direction of the Ponderosa

“That way,” he said.

………………

Atherton paused his horse, jerking its head back cruelly.  He was a superb rider but he was unused to the western style saddle, and also to the vast emptiness of the terrain in which he was travelling.

He looked up at the sky, a cold blue in which several large birds of prey wheeled round and round.  He glanced behind him to the town some miles distance now, and then looked again at the track wending its way ahead.

Ever since he had started working for The Director, Atherton had enjoyed a good life.  Most of his assignments had been in sophisticated modern cities or towns, perhaps in Europe, perhaps in and around America.  Gas lit lamps shedding light wherever one went contrasted evilly with the dark sinister alleys down which he could carry out his work before returning back to the glitz and light of the theatres, the restaurants and plush comfortable hotels.

Now here he was sitting astride a stolen horse and riding into the wilds of somewhere he didn’t really want to be.  He turned his horse back towards the location of the town and the animal, sensing his riders restlessness, pranced on the spot and tossed its head.

His hesitation unnerved him, he shook his head as though to cast off the frustration he was feeling. The vastness of this territory, the emptiness, stripped him down to an insignificant nothing. He felt – alone, terribly alone. As he looked back at the tracks he had left he remembered telling The Director that he didn’t like this assignment, it had not felt “right”. Perhaps it should have been easy but he had  hated every moment. Again he shook his head and again he turned the horse around, this was the last part of the task, he told himself, no point in backing out now..  It would take barely a few more hours then he could get back to civilisation.

But he hated those birds hungrily hovering overhead and the weak March sunlight casting shadows over the rubble strewn track. .  Rocks, boulders, sparse scrubby shrubs looked ugly and the stuff of nightmares but he urged his horse onwards. At the back of his mind he hoped that upon his return Robert Langton would take into account every hour of this miserable job and pay him accordingly.
………..

“He’s left a good trail.” Hoss muttered pointing to the tracks the stolen horse had left, “Seems he stopped here for some reason.  He’s not too far ahead now.”

“He doesn’t know the locality, probably checking his bearings.”. Candy replied feeling a smug glow of satisfaction at the prospect of getting Atherton sooner than later.

“Makes it easier to track him down then.”

The two men set their horses into a faster pace, hoping by doing so they would close in on their quarry all the sooner.  Both men didn’t think about much, just concentrated on the task ahead .

Atherton drew the horse to a halt and bowed his head to listen to the sounds around him. He was a man who had had to live by his wits and cunning for years, and even here, in this place that was as close to hell as he could imagine, he knew he couldn’t afford to become careless.  Then he bit down on his bottom lip at the realisation that he had not been mistaken.  He was being followed and his pursuers were not that far off.

For a moment he hesitated, after all it was possible the men riding towards him could just be other travellers on the way to the Ponderosa but his instincts warned him that, even if that were the case, it was wiser to get off the track.

He turned the horse round and headed for a clump of large boulders grouped together and not too far distant off from the track.  It afforded him good cover and slipping from the saddle he pulled the rifle from its sheath and got into position for his ambush.

It seemed no sooner had he done so than Candy and Hoss cantered into view, their eyes intently scanning the track for the sign of his passing. Atherton felt a sense of some satisfaction at recognising the sheriff  as the sun glinted momentarily on the star pinned to Candy’s jacket. His instincts had been right and as Hoss pointed to where their quarry had turned off the road so Atherton fired the rifle.

The shot went wild but as a warning it was more than adequate.  Hoss and Candy dismounted and sent their mounts running while they scrabbled to the protection of some rocks .

“I”ll climb up there,” Hoss jerked his thumb upwards “It’s a good place to flush him out.”

Not hesitating to see if Candy agreed with him or not, Hoss began his ascent up the scree, his booted feet at times sliding over the rubble strewn passage that he took between rock to rock. Several bullets whistled towards him, splinters from the boulders cut across his hand and he cursed beneath his breath as beads of blood seeped from the skin.  He returned fire and beneath him Candy did likewise.

Atherton threw the rifle to one side, it was empty of bullets already and useless. Whoever had owned the horse had obviously used the rifle previously and not taken the time to fully reload. Amos’ carelessness could, Atherton thought briefly, cost him this brief battle.  He pulled his revolver from the shoulder holster and aimed towards Candy.  Several bullets hissed their way towards the sheriff who had rashly exposed himself in order to gain further and better coverage.

Ignorant of how few bullets Atherton actually still had but more than aware that it only took one to kill or injure, the two men hunkered down, took aim and fired off a volley in return..

Atherton fell back against one of the boulders as a bullet struck him. The smell of cordite was heavy in the air, and the echo of the gun fire still resounded in his ears. He felt no pain, all he had actually felt was just a thump in the chest. Now the worst of it was the choking feeling bubbling in  his throat, the inability to breathe.

It was odd, he thought, to die in the very worst place he could imagine.  He stared up at the sky and waited for his life to flash before his eyes.  That was what people said, wasn’t it? Before you died your life would flash before your eyes and so he closed his eyes, but his memory flickered back only to some 15 years earlier, and his first glimpse of the most beautiful woman he had ever known.

He had fallen in love with her immediately, and she, oh so lovely, let him think she loved him too.   Through her he had met Robert Langton, and her brother, Jeffrey Metcalfe.  Then the war had come – the bitter years of hate had been lived through and then there had been nothing to show for it except a promise Langton had made him. Of course, like Langton himself, it had proven false.

But there was still Cassandra.

He sighed, he could hear  footsteps crunching their way towards him.   An arm raised him gently from the position he was in and settled him more carefully elsewhere.  He was aware of it but was numb, feeling nothing.

He opened his eyes and saw the blue of sky, like the blue of her eyes.  He saw her so clearly, heard her laugh trickling through his head.  He had let Langton think that everything he had done was for him, for the so called cause; and of helping him to the Presidency so that then there could be a restoration of all their lost property and land. He had let Langton think that but no, he grimaced, blood choked him. It was all for her, just her.

Hoss leaned forward to hear what the man had said, Candy raised an eyebrow “What did he say?”

Hoss rocked back onto his heels, he looked sadly  at the dead man and closed the eyes that stared blankly at the sky.

“Well?” Candy asked as he stood up and replaced the gun into its holster.

“A name, a woman’s name … Cassandra*”.

Candy nodded, the name meant nothing to him, but Hoss knew someone to whom it would be very significant.

*Captain oh my Captain
The Commodore

Chapter 60

When Hoss pushed open the door of the big room in Adam’s house he found his brother and Jotham playing a game of chess. It was a pleasant scene of two men engrossed in an intent game while a fire slumbered pleasantly in a red glow of burning logs in the background and a low table laden with refreshment within hands reach.

Adam glanced over at Hoss and smiled “Hoss? Good to see you? How did you get on? Has Candy found his man yet?”

Hoss sighed and removed his hat which he put down on the bureau close to the door. It struck him then as though for the first time how closely Adam’s home mirrored that of the Ponderosa’s main ranch house. The familiarity of it would have caused Hoss to smile but not this time, he just nodded and approached them, knew from Adam’s face that he suspected something significant was about to be said.

It was always the same with Adam, Hoss mused. His body language, his facial expressions, were so indicative of what he was thinking, of how he was thinking. He sat down and nodded, yet at the same time no one could be more inscrutable when he chose to be.

“Wal, we got him.” he said as the weight of two pairs of eyes boring into him began to take its toll, “This man Atherton. Candy and I caught up with him some miles on the track towards here.”

“Did he have anything to say?” Adam asked while Jotham added to Hoss’ nervous tension by clinking the chess pieces in his hand, several rooks by the look of it.

“Just one word, ‘Cassandra’.”

Hoss watched as Adam’s eyes darkened and the muscles of his jaw line tautened. Jotham glanced hastily over at his friend and then at Hoss “Nothing else?”

“No, he died after that, he just said ‘Cassandra’. Thought you would know who he meant by that.” he looked from one to the other of them, Adam sighed and nodded, Jotham pursed his lips and frowned.

“The witch had someone else under her spell by the sounds of it.” Adam murmured and after a pause he shrugged and then gave his brother a brief smile “Well, that seems to be an end to the matter, doesn’t it? You seem a little cast down though, Hoss. What’s wrong?”

“Wal,” Hoss scratched his head, “All this what’s been going on, seems to me more than just a case of having them books stolen. Seems to me that Atherton was coming out here to get you, and the books, and I don’t rightly feel you’ll be safe while they’re here in this house.”

Jotham nodded and gave a slightly wry smile “They won’t be in this house for much longer, Hoss. I’ll be taking them to Washington with me.”

“Are they so important?” Hoss asked and when Adam nodded and Jotham sighed, he scratched his head “You know, Mr Morton, you and your cousin sure have caused this family a whole lot of grief. Every time you put in an appearance there’s trouble.”

Jotham laughed quietly, “Do you want me to promise never to darken your doorway again, Hoss?”

“I would be mighty obliged if you would. Nothing personal but it just seems that my brother here just about scrapes through with his hide intact after an encounter with you.”

Adam picked up one of the chess pieces and looked at it thoughtfully before resetting it down, “You know, Morton, those books could still be trouble. Langton is going to know about his four men being wiped out before long, and I can’t see you reaching Washington safely with them in your possession A man as powerful as he is will have his men watching every sea port, every rail station to make sure you don’t get back to Washinton with the information those books possess..”

“Are you suggesting that I post them onto my superiors?” Jotham’s brow creased and he looked more subdued as a result.

“No, I don’t think they would arrive at their destination if you did.”

Hoss shook his head “Hey, one moment there, Adam. You ain’t thinking of going along to Washington with them thar books are ya?”

“What if I was?” Adam quirked an eyebrow and Hoss glowered at him from under his brows and shook his head,

“Dang it, Adam, I’d sit on you until this galoot is out of sight and sound of ya. ’Sides which we got a whole heap of work ahead of us what with the spring round up.”

Jotham leaned back in his chair and sighed, “I wouldn’t expect you to come with me, Adam. You aren’t under orders now, and I wouldn’t like to incur Hoss’ wrath, nor your father’s either come to that, and I would certainly not want to take you from your charming wife. No, it will be alright. I’ll contact my superiors and arrange security.”

Hoss frowned “If’n I recall rightly wasn’t that Harcourt part of your security? And weren’t he also part of Atherton’s little party as well?” he raised his eyebrows once again “Seems to me you ain’t in a position to trust anyone.”

Adam smiled, and nodded, “Seems to me you’re right, Hoss.”

Jotham sighed and rubbed his chin, “Well, I won’t be going any place for a while yet, but I need to alert my superiors as to what we have found out. You seem to forget they don’t yet know what we do about Langton.”

“Write a message and I’ll get it sent off,” Adam looked down at the chess board, “It was your move by the way…”

Hoss looked at them both and frowned. He rubbed his jaw and grimaced, he wanted to ask a whole load more of questions and mull over the answers but it seemed to him that the two men had closed ranks. There was nothing more to be said about the subject. He rose to his feet,

“Yeah, well, I had best get back home, don’t forget what I said, Adam, there’s the spring round up to get on with and I reckon Pa wanted you to be trail boss this year seeing how you ain’t taken your turn for some whiles now.”

Adam nodded “I hear you, Hoss.” and smiled at his brother affectionately, “Thank you.”

It was only two words but Hoss knew his brother meant them sincerely, he smiled and whether deliberately or not, managed to knock the chess board as he moved to leave his chair. The sound of toppling chess pieces and Jotham’s groan, Adam’s hiss of annoyance somehow gave him a little satisfaction, it was just like home…and years gone by …and all that teasing and banter and irritation.

“See y’all.” he said with a grin as he reached for his hat while he caught the cushion aimed at his head with his other hand.
………………

Ezra returned from town some hours later and knocked politely on the big wooden door which Olivia opened. Her greeting was always warm, despite the fact that Ezra always felt a twinge of guilt at the sound of it. “I brung a cable for Mr Morton, Miz Cartwright.”

He held out the brown envelope and she thanked him politely so that he placed his hat back on his head “And tell ’im I sent off the other one, jest like he said to do.”

“Thank you again, Ezra.”

He nodded, smiled and walked away. It was odd, he thought, that message he had been been given to send off. Eddy had shaken his head and mumbled saying it made no sense, just like the one he had just received and handed over to Ezra to deliver. All those words that weren’t words at all, just random letters spelled out across the slip of paper and once or twice Eddy had cussed because he had made a mistake and had had to put it right.

Weird goings on, Ezra thought to himself and put his hands in his pockets as he stomped his way to the bunk house.

Jotham looked more than relieved when the envelope was passed over to him. Ben, who had returned with Olivia and the children in order to spend the evening with them, looked over and frowned “Everything alright, Jotham?”

Jotham smiled “I hope so, Mr Cartwright.” and carefully slit the envelope open.

Adam paused at the bottom step of the stairs having spent a little time with the children as they settled into their beds. He saw the brown envelope in Jotham’s hands, the slip of paper taken from it and glanced uneasily over at his wife who was pretending nothing had happened that was at all unusual.

It was, after all, just a cable, wasn’t it? Olivia sat down in her chair and smiled at her father-in-law, and saw the slight tightening of his jaw line. Why was it that whatever Jotham Morton was involved in, caused them this anxiety? But she could answer that question herself quite easily, because Jotham Morton existed in a world of shadows and complex happenings and that world had once impinged upon her husbands. Who knew, but that it may even now reach out and suck him back into its environs?

Jotham read the encrypted message as quickly as Reuben would have read his ABC. He then slipped the paper back into its envelope and cast it into the fire. All four of them watched it burn as Adam strolled back to his seat and sat down. Olivia and Ben noticed the brief glance the two men exchanged, the query, the response, the satisfaction… no word spoken, but all was well. So far.

“About those books,” Ben suddenly said and as he spoke a half burned out log crumbled into the embers with a whoosh sending red sparks up the chimney and devouring the last of the cable that Jotham had thrown into the flames. “What is going to happen with them?”

“I shall have to take them to Washington with me. Just the relevant pages of course.” Jotham smiled with his lips but his eyes looked blanked off and the frown creased above his sadly misshapen nose.

“Will you be safe with them on your person?” Ben leaned forward “I’m not asking out of mere curiosity, but out of concern, Mr Morton. After all, I can remember when my son was sent to bring back just a list of names and he barely survived doing that… your cousin nearly died too if I recall rightly.”

Olivia sighed and dropped a stitch in her knitting. She bowed her head and concentrated on picking it up again so that she didn’t have to look up and observe the faces of the three men in the room and sitting so close to her. Adam’s hand rested lightly upon her knee, before he removed it in order to pick up his glass of whiskey. It was enough, she knew that he understood and that was his way of reassuring her that she had nothing to fear.

Or did she? She sighed and tucked the stitch back onto the needle. Jotham was talking now, his voice was steadily modulated as he explained to Ben and herself that according to the cable he had just received there was no cause for alarm. The Director (he had not revealed the name of the man to them, nor had Adam) was being kept busy with various concerns so that his attention of the matter of the books had been diverted for the time being.

“And when he hears that all four of his men have been killed?” Ben raised his black eyebrows and looked rather fierce some with his white hair and black eyes boring into Jotham’s.

“Then he will no doubt think of something, although perhaps he may be glad to see the back of them. He knows now who had been the traitor among them, and he’s dead. He had little respect for Maxim, that we do know so the poor man was dispensable. Mowatt and Atherton…well, they had been around a long time, perhaps they both knew too much and it was time for them to go.”

“That sounds very cold blooded.” Ben grunted and sunk back into his chair, he cast a black look at Adam as he would have done years back when he considered his son was getting too close to the wild and bad company in what was to become Virginia City. The warning was clear. Don’t you be getting involved with the likes of them again, my boy!

“It is, but we know The Director’s tactics of old. When you know their modus operandi it becomes clearer as to their objectives and motives when a new operation is under way. He had his reasons for putting those four particular men together, it won’t trouble his conscience too much now they have been – removed.”

Ben looked far from happy with this explanation and again darted a black look at his son who shifted uncomfortably in his seat. There were times when, even now, his father had the ability to ruffle the younger man. Jotham nodded and raised his eyebrows before speaking again

“It seems to be significant that the four of them were involved with events and personages mentioned in Daniel’s books. Even the fact that Cassandra Pelman was mentioned by Atherton proves the link to them. I do think it was intended for the four of them not to return safely to Washington, with or without the books.”

Ben shook his head again, and puffed vigorously on his pipe sending clouds of smoke wreathing around his head to drift to the rafters above. Adam looked thoughtfully at his father and then at Jotham “But there is still some danger for you, Jotham. If as you say The Director is tidying up anyone who was associated with the Pelmans, and others involved in those assignments, what is to stop him trying to kill you.”

Jotham frowned and then shrugged “It’s a risk we all undertake on this business, Adam. You know that well enough, as your father just pointed out. You put your life on the line more than once when on duty.”

Olivia began to cast off her stitches, the little garment she had knitted was nearly finished. She looked up once and saw Jotham looking at her, they exchanged smiles before she bowed her head to continue her work.

“You can’t go to Washington alone, Jotham. You’ll be too vulnerable.” Adam murmured.

Ben tapped out the hot tobacco from the bowl of his pipe. It glowed red as it fell into the fire and sent up sparks. “We’ll arrange for someone to go with you, Morton. You won’t go alone.”

The other man frowned, shook his head “Mr Cartwright, I appreciate your concern, and you too, Adam. I have undertaken assignments far more dangerous -” he paused, and realised that he was wrong, Robert Langton had a long arm, a lot of power, he had never been involved so personally with such an antagonist. “Thank you, but I will manage very well. There are always ways and means to every situation.”

He rose to his feet, far steadier now than he had been when Hop Sing had arrived earlier in the day. “Thank you for all you have done for me, it’s been a pleasant evening. Good night, Mr Cartwright.”

Ben shook the proffered hand, Jotham bade his host and hostess goodnight and made his way to the stairs. Ben watched him go up each step and frowned before turning to his son, “Don’t even think of going with him, Adam.”

His son said nothing but reached for his wife’s hand, squeezed it gently before letting it drop back into her lap.

Chapter 61

Candy listened attentively to all that Adam told him, he nodded now and again before finally all the talking was done. Joe and Hoss looked from each other to the sheriff and then to their brother. Candy sighed “Well, what exactly is it that you want me to do? Escort your guest to the train station and then onto Washington?”

“I just feel he needs some protection, whoever sent those four men here will still want whatever evidence is contained in those books and -.”

Hoss groaned aloud, drawing attention to himself as he did so “Dang them thar books.” he picked up his hat and slammed it onto his head “Why don’t you just burn the lot of them. I’m going to go for a walk.”

Joe watched with round eyes as his big brother stormed out of the building and then he turned to Adam and shrugged “He thinks you’ll be going with Jotham and back to all that funny business.”

“It wasn’t ‘funny’ business, Joe.” Adam snapped, his own temper shortening by the minute. “Anyway, I’ve a herd of cattle to take to Yuma or had you forgotten?”

Joe sniggered, his hazel eyes twinkled as they disappeared in the laughter lines around them “Oh sure, with me as ram rod. It’ll be a holiday!.” and for good measure he gave his brother a hearty slap on the back.

Candy smiled as he thought back to the times he had shared time with Joe and Hoss on those cattle trails, the dust, dirt, smells “Well, should be better than risking a journey to Washington. I’ll see what I can do, Adam, to safeguard your precious friend.”

The two men shook hands before the two brothers collected their hats and left the sheriff’s office. Clem put down the rifle he had been cleaning, and joined Candy at his desk “There’s a lot Adam left unsaid I reckon.”

Candy nodded “I guess so, Clem. Perhaps it’s safer that way, some things aren’t meant for us to know.”

Clem pursed his lips, he was about to say ‘But we’re the law around here’ but something prevented him from doing so. He could see the two brothers through the window as they were crossing the road and frowned “I reckon Adam Cartwright should have stayed put right here instead of going off to sea, seems life ain’t been quite settled since he went and did that, dang fool thing to do too.”

Candy smiled slowly as his deputy’s mumblings echoed in his ears. Well, he thought, a man has to do what a man feels it is right for him to do, despite the odds, Adam had come back home, hadn’t he?
………………

Two men watched as Adam and Joe Cartwright pushed open the batwings to the saloon and disappeared inside. After a nod and a wink they detached themselves from the wall that appeared to be propping them up and followed through into the interior of the saloon. After hesitating at the threshold stepped up to where Adam was leaning against the counter while Joe was flipping a few coins down to pay for the drinks.

“SIR!” the taller heavier built man barked as he stood behind Adam making the other man – and Joe – jump.

Other customers turned to survey the scene as Adam turned to look at the man standing behind him. “Reporting for duty, SIR!”

A snappy salute from both men and broad grins on their faces as Adam stared at them both, before recognition dawned and he threw back his head to laugh as only he could at some thing that truly amused him.

“I don’t believe it! Where did you two rapscallions appear from?” he took their hands and shook them both vigorously, “Armstrong? I never thought I would live to see the day when you came back into my life. Jacko…have you seen your sister yet?”

“Arrived just an hour ago, sir.” Jackson replied with the pleasure at seeing his ex-Commanding Officer again bringing a flush to his face. “I doubt if I’ll have time to visit her either, as we have to move on quite sharp.”

At that the smile left Adam’s face as abruptly as it had settled. He turned to the bar keep and ordered two more beers and paid for them, then indicated that the two men joined him and Joe at a table tucked discreetly behind a screen.

“Why are you here?” he asked almost as soon as he had sat down.

Armstrong picked up his glass and gulped down some of the beer while Jackson did the explaining. It didn’t take long to tell Adam that they had received orders to get to Virginia City in order to escort a friend of the Commodore’s to a certain location and there hand him over to two other men who would then continue on the journey until passing him to another two and so on and so forth.

“It’s a security detail, sir.” Armstrong said, wiping his mouth on the back of his hand. “As soon as the said person is ready to leave, we’re to escort him to the first hand over.”

“And then what?” Adam asked as he turned his glass round and round upon the table as he thought over what he was being told.

“Then we report back to Frisco.” Jackson replied, “We’re between ships just now, sir.”

“They thought we would be able to handle any trouble, sir.” Armstrong added.

There was silence for a while, all four men lifted their glasses and drank from them. Jackson sighed and remarked it was a good beer they served here to which Joe offered to buy him another.

“No, thank you, Mr Cartwright, best keep a clear head.” Jackson replied then turned back to Adam “How is Marcy, sir? Is she keeping well?”

“She’s doing very well, Jacko. I think you will have a niece or nephew in the fall.” Adam replied and smiled at the flush of pleasure that spread over Jacko’s face.

“She was a good little sister,” he said quietly, “Used to have a rough time with my brothers and Pa, but she and me, we covered for each other and did well enough. Will you tell her …” he paused and sighed “Best not, sir, I wouldn’t want her to think I didn’t care enough to go and see her.”

“Are you sure you can’t spare the time,” Joe said quietly, “Surely a day or two here and to see your sister would do no harm.”

“We were told speed was of the essence, Mr Cartwright.” Armstrong replied with a knowing look at Adam.

Joe nodded and glanced at Adam. It rankled rather the way the men addressed him as though the implication that he was inferior to his brother because of what they had shared of Adam‘s past life., It was always a sensitive area as far as Joe was concerned, those missing years that excluded them so much while Adam himself was constantly, it seemed, in danger for some reason or another. Adam, however, appeared not to have noticed his brother’s reticence and slipped into conversation with the other two men about some experience on board ship. Armstrong, one time Sergeant of Marines, and Jackson, who had accompanied Adam on that ill fated trip into Jiang Peng’s quarters, had earned Adam’s trust years ago, and Joe, listening to them could well understand the respect the two seamen felt for his brother. It wasn’t long before he found himself laughing along with them, and that surprised him because he had resisted such overturnes and yet found himself overwhelmed by them,

“Can I join you gentlemen?”

The voice from behind them caused Adam and Joe to turn round. Both of them caught by surprise at the sight of Jotham Morton smiling back at them. Adam pushed back his chair and stood up

“Were you expecting them?” he said quietly.

“Yes, it was in the cable I received last night.” Jotham replied quietly.

Adam nodded, a swift glance and the portmanteau under Jotham’s arm confirmed to him that the man had what was needed. “When do you leave?”

“Right now.” Jotham said, he extended his hand and shook Adam’s with more vigour than normal, “You’ve been a true friend, Adam. Thank you.”

“Are you well enough to travel? Jotham, do you need anything?”

“I’m perfectly well enough. I’ll only be sitting after all. Plenty of time to just sit and admire the scenery.”

Adam nodded and smiled, beside him Joe had got to his feet, he also shook Jotham by the hand. Armstrong and Jackson finished their drinks, said their farewells and left the saloon. Adam didn’t go with them, it was better not to draw too much attention to the two men by their association with him. Jotham patted the calfskin portmanteau and nodded “All’s well, Adam. You’ll hear from me sometime.”

“I’m sure I will.” Adam replied and watched as his friend walked away.

The batwings closed and he watched them swing too and fro for a moment. The other customers had long returned to their drinks and conversation and gambling. He turned to Joe and raised an eyebrow “Best get Hoss a beer.”

“Yeah, he’ll be here in a moment.” Joe replied in the tone of voice of a man who was still waking up from a dream.

Adam raised a hand, extended three fingers and sat back down. By the time the three glasses of beer were placed on the table Hoss was ambling through the batwings with a frown on his amiable face.

“Shucks, Adam, I thought I just saw your friend Morton just now. Is he well enough to be out on his own?”

Hoss slapped down his hat, then sat down and picked up his beer. He pulled some letters from his pocket and peeled off several for his brothers, three for Adam, four for Joe. The others he replaced into his pocket. It was as though all thoughts of Jotham Morton had fled from his mind.
A woman with a small child walked towards the three men and they would have passed her without paying her any attention had she not dropped a package. Her exclamation and the child’s voice stopped Jotham’s progress, he paused and stooped to pick up the package and pass it back to her. She thanked him and walked on, taking hold of the little girl’s hand as she did so.
Jotham walked at a comfortable pace towards the train station where he boarded the train just as it was about to chug away. Armstrong and Jackson had boarded a moment prior and taken their seats. Unless one knew no one would have thought the two men were ensuring the safety of the other, or that they even knew him. They conversed among themselves and ignored Jotham completely. Two days into their journey they would depart and return to San Francisco. Two other watchdogs would take their place to ensure the safety of the man, and the documents it was assumed he carried in the portmanteau.

Twelve hours after his departure a woman, plump and elderly, neatly attired and weeping copiously waved farewell to her daughter and grandchild. Tucked in her bodice were several very important pieces of paper that Robert Langton would have paid a fortune to possess.

Jotham Morton had a pleasant and uneventful journey to Washiington… so did the old lady.

……
Adam, Joe and Hoss returned home in good spirits. Hoss seemed in particularly high humour, grinning to himself and winking at them every so often as though they knew exactly what was going on but at the same time knowing that they did not! It annoyed Joe so that he got snappy with Hoss, but it didn’t stop Hoss from being really cheerful, even whistling one of his favourite tunes. One he knew would deliberately annoy both his brothers.

When they parted to go their separate ways both Joe and Adam were more than happy to say goodbye to Hoss and attain the serenity of their own homes.

Olivia kissed Adam tenderly as she helped him out of his outer coat, “Jotham’s left.”

“I know, I saw him in town.” he smiled and placed his hat on the peg, “He’s alright, he’ll be safe.”

“He’s a pleasant man, and I liked him, but -” her brow crinkled and Adam kissed her gently.

“I know, Livvy, you don’t have to explain.”

She was about to say something more when Sofia came running with Nathaniel toddling as fast as he could behind her. She was holding tightly to Clarabelle and hugging her close as she attempted to force Nathaniel to let go of the ragged doll’s foot which he gripped determinedly with both hands.

“Daddy, tell Nath’el to let go.” Sofia squealed as she tugged again and Nathaniel landed flat on his bottom as a result, and Clarabelle swung both ragged legs free in Sofia’s arms.

Reuben sauntered out, a half made bridle in his hand “Pa, I reckon Karim will be old enough to break in soon.”

“Really? Well, that’s good, son.” Adam smiled, ruffled the boy’s hair and picked Nathaniel up in order to stop him from bawling.

“Daddy, Nathan-ee-well is so bad. He ate Jessie’s nose off. That’s two times he’s done that now. Mommy said she won’t sew another one on but she needs a nose, daddy.”

“Everyone needs a nose, darling.” Adam assured her and strolled over to the big chair where he sat down with Nathaniel on his lap and Sofia immediately climbing up to ‘share’ as much lap as she could while Reuben settled at his feet on the floor.

It warmed Olivia’s heart to see them, and with a sigh of contentment she sat down in her chair “Any news? Have you seen Anne? Do you know how Bridie is?”

She raised her head and her eyes met his, it was just a fleeting second but it might as well have been eternal. Love and assurance shared. She lowered her eyes to listen to the news, a slight secretive smile on her lips, a smile that spelled contentment, joy, peace and security in her world that was gathered around her at that moment.

Eventually he reached into his pocket and withdrew the letters. One for Reuben from Billy which was seized with a whoop of delight. An invoice for some new hardware, and a letter from Mrs Soames containing a little note for Sofia. There was also a letter for Olivia which she took from Adam with rather a concerned look on her face. Who could be writing to her? Where from and why?

Billy’s letter contained some sad news. His grand mother had recently died and everyone had been very quiet and sad as a result. His grades at school were good, and he had written a book already. “You are in it, Reuben, you are the hero’s best friend, because naturally I’m the hero.”

Reuben didn’t mind not being the hero, but being the hero’s best friend pleased him very much.

Ellie had written a very short note, but had drawn a picture of a house with a garden and apple tree’s. There was a swing hanging from the tree from which magnificently large apples (and very red) were growing. Two little girls were there, one on the swing and one standing with a big smile. There wasn’t a wheel chair in sight.

Mrs Soames had written to confirm that she would be leaving Bodie within the week and should be arriving in Virginia City before the end of the month.

“I have contacted the doctor whom you mentioned, and he has arranged to see Ellie as soon as we arrive. I am renting a small property from a lady called Mrs Hawkins, it seems to be everything I need and want just now.”

He glanced over at Sofia and smiled, it would seem that she would soon have her little companion with her although pray that the very optimistic drawing Sofia was showing her mother would be achieved. He could only hope Schofield would be up to the task of rectifying the errors other doctors had made on the little girl from Bodie..

Olivia’s letter was from her sister-in-law Morgan. As soon as she had seen the signature Olivia’s heart had dropped, for she always thought of Morgan with a sigh, poor Morgan she would think. But the letter was buoyant and happy, sad bitter Morgan was a thing of the past, her second marriage to the Frenchman had been a joy and she now had twin sons to fill her life and make it complete.

“My dear Olivia, whenever I think of those days in San Francisco my heart drops, and I recall the way Booth and I treated you so shabbily. I was blinded to your kindnesses because of my misery…will you ever forgive me?”

Olivia tucked the letter away. She had been too happy in her marriage to Adam to be bitter about Morgan, poor Morgan.

Time passed before news came about Robert Langton. Daniel deQuille had the information in bold print as the headline for the main news item of the week

DEATH OF PROMINENT SENATOR

Senator Robert Langton was found dead at his home in the early hours of Tuesday morning. His body was found by his wife when he failed to join the family for their breakfast that day. Senator Langton had long been considered as a potential President of the United States and had already began to formulate his campaign for election. With regard to his death an announcement has been made that no foul play is suspected.”

The remainder of the article was about the man himself, his achievements and his aspirations.

Adam passed the paper over to his father who was sharing the table with him at Del Monico’s. Ben read the information and nodded thoughtfully “What do you think?”

His dark eyes fixed upon his son’s face, Adam shrugged after all he didn’t have to think, a letter from Jotham had told him all he needed to know. Senator Langton had chosen the easy option – death rather than shame, better than scandal, better than facing ruin as disclosure of his conduct would follow ever more disclosures. The loyalty of the grave was far more steadfast than that of fast fading friendships of those who had sworn fidelity but did not wish to be considered an associate of his now.

It was finished, it was all over.

Adam and Ben strolled out of the restaurant and stood on the sidewalk for a moment as light rain fell around and upon them. As they stood there the sun broke out from behind dark clouds. Adam smiled and tapped his father on the chest, nodded towards the sky

“One reassuring thing about the weather, after the rain, there’s always a rainbow.”

It was a magnificent rainbow too, spanning in a kaleidoscopic arc across the sky; one end disappeared into the mountains and the other who knew where? It didn’t matter. Ben nodded, no, it didn’t matter. It was a rainbow, and it was beautiful.

The End

13th August 2016

Next Story in the Home is the Sailor Series:

The Pledge

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6 thoughts on “There Will Always be Rainbows (by Krystyna)”

  1. I can’t believe I’m caught up. I’ve been reading all the CC stories for the last several months and have thoroughly enjoyed each one. They are all so unique in their plots but have the common thread of all that Bonanza means woven throughout. I don’t know how you do it, Krystyna. I was enthralled with this last story. The mystery you built around Jotham and Harcourt, and O’Brien’s journal had me guessing all the way to the end. You’re characters are so real, even the children, and bringing in connections to past stories was fantastic. As someone else commented, the ebb and flow of the story follows life’s patterns – good times and bad, ups and downs. I can’t say enough about how much I love the family relationships, especially Adam and Olivia. In this story especially with her worrying if Adam would be recalled. I worried about that too. I am impatiently waiting for the next installment. There are a few threads to be tied up and I can’t help but wonder what adventure our favorite MiB will be sent on next. I hope it won’t be too much longer. Thank you for wonderful series.

    1. It is a pleasure and a joy to write stories when the reward is a review as encouraging as this one, AC. Every time I thought I had found the culprit another thread emerged that needed following up. Thank you so very much for your review, AC, it came just at the right time!

  2. i just love your stories. It was great. I did sometimes go back to Captain, oh my Captain, to help me remember what happened in that. I will look out for the next part.

    1. Thank you, conny1971, it is always a spur to the imagination to receive such a review. I hope to get started on the next in the series today…thank you so much.

  3. I so thoroughly enjoyed this tale of love, mystery, betrayal and friendship. Each and every scene was perfect and timed exactly to provide the maximum amount of suspense but also normalcy, just like life. Your stories seem realistic to me because of that fact, life has gradual twists and turns just like your plots and there is both waiting and fast developments. Thank you for a timeless glance into my beloved CC series universe and I can’t wait for the next installment of the “Home Is The Sailor” series!! You are so talented and I so enjoy reading your magnificent work. Pplleeassee never stop writing!

    1. I am so pleased that you enjoyed this short(er) story of the series. In a way it was a looking back to the days when Adam was at sea, so a dip into C.C history. Miss Kitty, your reviews are such an encouragement to me to keep writing, and I thank you deeply for them. While you are prepared to read them, then I shall do my best to continue writing them. Most sincerely, thank you so much

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