The Pledge (by Krystyna)

Summary:  Adam and Joe go on a cattle drive while Reuben joins a gang, as life continues on the Ponderosa.

Rating:  T  (240,110 words)

Home is the Sailor Series:

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

 

The Pledge

Chapter 1

Spring brought soft breezes and warmth as the gentle wind touched ones face. The snow melt came down from the mountains and swelled the streams that burbled brightly through the land, passing hurriedly onwards to the lakes and rivers over pebbles and stones that resembled multi coloured jewels in its passing.

The grass became greener again and the cattle grazed contentedly with new calves being birthed and fattening on the rich milk their mothers yielded up to them. Spring flowers bloomed and bowed their heads to the sun as though in homage, while at the same time bending to the breezes that drifted through and around them..

It seemed as though the whole territory had come awake at last and as the last of the snows finally disappeared from the mountains the citizens of Virginia City took on a more colourful appearance. Instead of being muffled by their big heavy coats, bent double beneath the burden of the freezing winter weather, they strode upright and confident, with a word of greeting to their neighbour, a smile here and a smile there.

On the Ponderosa and surrounding homesteads and ranches, it was the time for cutting out the best stock for the cattle drive, branding the young ones, checking the stock and working out the investment value of them. It was hard work and little time to admire the daisies growing profusely in the meadow, or spend time soaking up the sun. Instead sweat soaked through their clothing, leaving salt stains on the backs of shirts, under the arm pits. Pants became uncomfortable as sweat dried and dust, ash and cow hide accumulated on them. Sweat formed in the creases of their hands causing them to slip on branding irons and blisters formed, lariats formed calluses on the palms of hands as the young calves fought to resist being dragged to the red hot Ponderosa Pine. They pulled on leather gloves which irritated as the sensitivity of touch was lost anyway.

Backs ached, legs felt heavy and arms grew clumsy by the end of the day, but each morning dawned with every man at their station ready for another days work until slowly the backs ceased to ache, and the body once more caught into the rhythm of the tasks.

The Cartwright’s were just such workers, the fires were kept burning, the branding irons kept red hot as each of the three brothers and their men brought in new calves for the Pine tree brand to be seared upon their hide. Ben Cartwright kept a strict tally, at times glowering in annoyance and at times glowing with delight as the numbers played their own tune to his demands. Each day he would indicate that this was the best year yet when only hours earlier he would have been shaking his head and muttering beneath his breath dire warnings that there would be no profit for them at the market this time.

At the end of the first week Ben chose to spend the evening with his eldest son and the family at Adam’s home. Cheng Ho Lee always prepared Ben’s favourite meal and was assured that it was every bit as good as Hop Sign’s. It was Cheng Ho Lee’s ambition to hear Ben say, one day, “I’d hate to admit it to Hop Sing, but this beats his hands down.” or words to that effect.

Ben sat now by the fire, for the evenings were still chilly, deciding on his next move in a game of chess with Adam. Both men staring with intense concentration on the board, Ben to make sure he won, and Adam with impatience as he waited for his father’s next move.

Reuben approached with his paper in one hand and a pencil in the other, he observed them both and as Ben picked up his Bishop the boy said in his clear voice “Grandpa, have you ever been shipwrecked?”

Ben sighed and paused for a moment. This gave him time for reflection as to his move and he held back, a frown on his face. Reuben came closer and leaned against his leg, “Grandpa, you were a sailor, weren’t you?”

“I was.” Ben nodded and one dark eyebrow rose above his eye, he looked at Adam and then again at Reuben “Why do you ask?”

“It’s for my essay. Mr Evans wants us to write about our Grandparents and you’re my grandparent, aren’t you?”

“I am.” Ben nodded and then added “Well, I’m your father’s father…” he bit down on his lip, that was true but it didn’t help because strictly speaking he wasn’t Reuben’s grand father, he cleared his throat “I’m the only one you can speak to anyway.”

Reuben frowned and he said “Oh!” as though suddenly realising the difficulty involved in such a simple question. “Well, you are my grandfather, because I haven’t got anyone else have I?”

“No, son,” Ben frowned and looked at the Bishop in his hand and wished he could get on with his move without being rude to the boy, “I guess not.”

“And anyway, you’re the only Grandfather I would want and …”

“Reuben, just say what you have to say,” Adam interrupted, his patience slowly wearing thin for the game had been overlong as it was with Ben changing his mind every so many moves.

“I only wanted to know if Grandpa had been shipwrecked.” Reuben’s shoulders slumped, his bottom lip stuck out, and his eyes darkened “It would be great if he had been, I bet no one else had a grandad who was shipwrecked.”

“I was shipwrecked,” Ben said with an emphatic nod of the head “In fact, I was shipwrecked three times. One time it was in the Magellan Straits, I thought for sure I was going to drown but along came a ship to rescue me. It was Abel Stoddard’s ship, and he hauled me out of the water, dripping wet, and hired me as one of his crew. I wasn’t in the navy like your father, so it didn’t matter if I changed ship so long as the Company they served was the same.”

Reuben turned to his father who inwardly sighed “Yes, Reuben?”

“Abel Stoddard was your grandfather, wasn’t he?”

Adam nodded and he watched as Reuben carefully wrote down that information on the paper. Would this game ever end, he looked to his father who was now deep in thought, obviously thinking of his time in the Magellan Straits no doubt.

“Grandpa, how did it feel being shipwrecked in the Magdalene Straights?” Reuben put his pencil to his lips and chewed at the end.

“Wet.” Ben said and with a wink at his son, placed the Bishop down on the board.

“Yes, of course.” Reuben nodded and laboriously noted that down “Were you scared? Were there sharks there? Did any of your sailor friends get eaten by sharks?”

“There were no sharks and no one that I knew got eaten that time.” Ben replied and Reuben sighed, and said “Oh!” in such defected tones that Ben felt he had let the boy down by not having a really very dangerous ship wreck after all. “Remember it was the Magellan Straits not Magdalene Straight.”

“Mag – ellen Straights.” Reuben wrote it down carefully.

“Straits.” Ben corrected and waited for Reuben to make the amendment.

“Grandpa, did you ever get shipwrecked where there were sharks, and did anyone get eaten?”

Ben sighed deeply and leaned against the back of the chair “Yes, there was one time when we were cast adrift just off of Matupit Island. The sharks swam towards us and I don’t think I have ever been so scared in all my days. I was a young lad then, just fourteen, but I shall never forget seeing them swimming towards me.”

Sofia had approached hugging her rag doll to her chest and with her head to one side as she listened intently, “Are sharks dangerous?”

Reuben rolled his eyes in dismay, one could almost hear the disgust as he muttered “Girls!”

“Very much so.” Ben assured her and was quite pleased to see her eyes widen while Reuben’s narrowed in concentration “Sharks are massive creatures, and their eyes are dead, totally dead. They never blink you know, and they have the most enormous teeth…”

“Ben.” a warning word from Olivia and slightly raised delicate eyebrows “Not too much detail, Pa.”

“Oh of course,” Ben coughed and modulated his voice, “How much detail can I give?”

Olivia smiled and rose to her feet, “Come alone, Sofia, time for bed.” she looked at Reuben “You have five more minutes, young man.”

Enough said, five minutes so make the most of them. Reuben leaned against Ben’s legs, “And did they eat you?”

“No, not me, not personally.” Ben smiled, quite enjoying this attention and the chance to relive his past adventure. It had been a long time since anyone had shown any interest and he glanced at Adam who was looking thoughtfully at him, his fingers covering his mouth so that it was hard to know if he were smiling or looking grim.

“Did they eat anyone?” Reuben licked his bottom lip and poised with his pencil, “I can write this in my next letter to Billy, he can put it in his story.”

“That’s good, well, you can write that these sharks swam right through us, there were twenty men, and when they left us there were only seven remaining. We seven were untouched. The sharks just swam right by us. I remember one came so close I could feel the roughness of his scales, you have to remember, Reuben, they are fish after all. So they don’t have fur, or hides like our cattle, or dog and cat…”

“Were they really big sharks, Granpa?” Reuben’s face contorted with determination to eke out every drop of information which he was scribbling down as fast as he could.

“Yes, they were really big.” Ben said quietly and his voice became grave “It was – quite horrible.”

Both men seemed to withdraw for a moment, mentally. It was as though their bodies were suspended between present and past as both relived their own encounters with the monsters of the deep. Adam broke the spell and tapped Reuben on the shoulder “Off to bed, young man. No more questions, you have enough for your story.”

“Oh but Pa, it isn’t a story, Mr Evans said it had to be – facts.” he couldn’t remember the word exactly, that was the closest he could get to factual, but he accepted his discipline from his father and gravely bade Ben good night, “See you later, Pa?”

“Of course.” Adam smiled and watched the boy make his way to the stairs.

Ben sighed and stared at the chess board, he shook his head “Just words to them, it doesn’t mean anything does it?”

“Best that way, isn’t it?” Adam replied remembering the nightmares he would have after Ben had enlivened his words in the past making them too realistic for a little boy with a big imagination.

“I still sometimes dream about them, you know. One of my best friends was …killed…when those sharks passed through us. Larry Gibson he was called, a first rate seaman too.”

Adam said nothing to that, he turned his attention back to the chess board, perhaps if he concentrated hard enough he would be able to put his memories of sharks and so forth back in the box from which they were swarming and manage a decent nights sleep.
…………….

Beatrice Evans kneaded the joints of her fingers carefully. She was very methodical in her daily practice of caring for her hands for without such attention and diligence she knew they would seize up and look like claws. Perhaps one day they would, perhaps she was just putting off the inevitable. But it was a habit now, a routine, and so far as she was aware it helped her hold back the time when her hands would no longer function normally. Even now it seemed as though the pain was becoming more constant and the medication had little curative power for as long as even a week ago.

She looked over at her husband who was correcting some of the children’s school work, and thought how handsome he was, and how wasted by coming to Virginia City to teach in one of its schools. She half closed her eyes and allowed her mind to wander back to the days when she had been a young girl in Michigan. That was before the war of course, not that it had affected her or her family too much. What a wonderful life she had had then, so safe, so secure and always there was the music.

She closed her eyes and there they were…mother and father, her sister Dorothy and brother Edward. Mother and Father played several instruments between them, Dorothy the violin and Edward the cello. Her instrument was the piano. She didn’t want to play any other instrument than the piano and had devoted her youth to perfecting her technique.

Edward Evans turned to look at his wife as the sound of her humming a tune reached his ears. He put down the pen to listen as he leaned back with his hands idle and recognised the tune, it was an old German melody, one they had especially enjoyed playing together before, well, before everything had changed.

The piece of music was called Frei aber einsam, and had been written by Brahms and Joseph Schumann.

She stopped and opened her eyes, and at seeing her husband smiling so fondly at her she smiled back in return. “One of my favourites, Johannes Brahms was so young when he composed this with Schumann. So many heartaches still ahead of him, but so hopeful”

“My dear Beatrice, are you then so sad? You are free of many responsibilities, but yet, perhaps Lonely?”

“You shouldn’t read too much into my choice of music, darling. Frei aber einsam is a piece my father particularly love and I love it because of him. We played it often together.”

Edward said nothing but turned to his work, paused a moment with pen in hand as he remembered the times in the past when Beatrice had played at concerts throughout the world. He could remember the applause, the flowers strewn at her feet, the meeting with various famous composers, some of whom had been quite notorious. Yes, he bowed his head over the papers, a lot had changed over the years and he didn’t feel any of them were for their good. Words on the papers danced before his eyes so that he had to look up to stare at the far wall and get the memories to drift away, their haunting were just too hard to bear. With a frown and a scowl he returned to the paper in front of him, but that this could be too much of a change for both of them did now intrude upon his thoughts.

 

Chapter 2

“Ma?”

The demanding note in her son’s voice cause Olivia a momentary hesitation before she turned to face Reuben who was standing by the doorway to the kitchen with a look on his face that appeared both imperative and appealing. She smiled by way of encouragement for him to speak so that the boy ventured further into the room and after taking in a deep breath Reuben made the request that had been worrying him since leaving school the previous day.

“Ma, may I take the Shenandoah into school to show everyone ?”

“The Shenandoah?” Olivia frowned as she thought of the damage that could occur to the delicately and beautifully detailed model of the ship her husband had captained for so many years. It had been a wedding gift from the crew and had stood on its shelf behind glass quite safe, apart from one previous encounter with school that nearly ended in disaster. She shook her head “I don’t think so, Reuben.”

“Aw, Ma.” the bottom lip quivered, “But Ma, I said ..”

“If you said you were going to take it into school then it was very wrong of you, Reuben.”

“I only said that if it was all right with you and Pa I would take it in.” Reuben said very quickly, “And no one would touch it. Mr Evans said he would make sure no one even breathed on it.”

“You’ll have to ask your father about it, Reuben.” Olivia said quietly and turned away to attend to the business of preparing breakfast. She could feel his eyes still burning into her back and added “You’ll not get me to change my mind, dear, but if your father says you may then do as you please, but be very careful with it.”

Reuben sighed rather noisily getting the clear message across to his mother that he didn’t know what all the fuss was about but she heard his footsteps as he ran from the room in search of his father.

Sofia entered holding Nathaniel by the hand and the two of them stood where Reuben had been moments earlier.

“Mommy?”

Olivia turned, an egg in one hand “Yes, Sofia?”

“Nathaniel has stuck a bead up his nose and I can’t get it out.”

Nathaniel pointed to his nose and began to whimper, he hadn’t really been too worried about it but the way Sofia referred to it now made it sound really quite terrible. His mother’s eyes widening as they did as she hurried to scoop him up must therefore mean it actually was something terrible!. He began to wail and clung to her with his little fists while she whisked him away calling out to Cheng Ho Lee to take over in the kitchen.

Left to her own devices Sofia discovered the jar of honey on the table and promptly scooped some out with her finger which she sucked contentedly as she strolled back into the large sitting room where her mother was wrestling with her infant son in an attempt to remove the offending object from his nose.

“It’s a big one, isn’t it?” she said helpfully as she leaned over her mother’s shoulder to watch.

“Sofia, just hold him still for me, will you?” Olivia asked, “Where on earth did he find such a thing…keep still, Nathaniel…and stop kicking.”
…………..

Adam paused in his work and nodded over as his son came running towards him, “Breakfast ready so soon?”

“No, Pa, I just wanted to ask you something.”

“Hmm,” Adam glanced from his son to the horse he was grooming, Kamille nodded her head as though permission was granted for him to cease his labours for a moment or two “What is it? Something important?”

Reuben nodded “Pa, can I take the Shenandoah to school? I told Mr Evans all about it and how you were Captain of it and he said that he sure would like to see it for himself.” he frowned for a second “I didn’t think he believed me when I said it had been your ship.”

Adam gave a slight smile, Mr Evans opinion hardly mattered to him but it obviously meant a lot to the boy. “Did you ask your Ma about it?”

“She said to ask you and if you said it was all right, then I can take it in today.”

“She didn’t mind then?” Adam’s brow creased slightly and he returned to using the brush to smooth out the dust and burrs from Kamille’s coat.

“No.” Reuben said quickly with his fingers crossed behind his back as he said so, and when Adam paused for a moment he wondered if his father were going to refuse his request right there and then.

“It’s very fragile, Reuben.”

“Sure, I know, Pa. I took it in once before and it was all right, no one touched it at all.”

Adam paused once more, he had been away at sea at that time, and had no recollection of the incident. He nodded “Well, if you make sure that no one touches it this time, I don’t see why not. But be careful with it, Reuben.”

“Aw, Pa, thank you. I can’t wait to show it to Mr Evans.” and with his voice trailing behind him Reuben ran back to the house leaving his father with a vague smile on his face as he resumed his work on the horse.
………………

Jenny Ford loved her work at Joe and Mary Ann’s house, she had almost convinced herself that the house belonged to her she had such freedom in coming and going as she pleased, and the children she adored.

Baby Constance’s eyes followed the young girl as Jenny carefully went about her business. The daughter of Joe and Mary Ann Cartwright was now six months old, and as pretty as her mother, and with her father’s eyes and mouth. She was a quiet contented baby and Jenny loved her with all the tenderness of her young heart.

The sound of Joe coming down the stairs whistling as he did so prompted the girl to turn to the stove and continue with the breakfast preparations. When Joe stepped into the kitchen carrying his son, Daniel, who was now a healthy 2 years old, it was Jenny who turned to give him a good morning smile.

“Good morning, Jenny, whereabouts is Mary Ann?” he placed Daniel into his chair which he pushed closer to the table, and then tickled his little girl until she gurgled with laughter up at him.

“She’s gone to the hen house to get more eggs.” Jenny replied and placed a bowl of oatmeal in front of Daniel who stared at it as though it were something she had pulled out from under a rock.

Joe frowned, it seemed to him that Jenny should have been collecting eggs and his wife standing at the stove cooking his breakfast. He dismissed the thought, after all, it was really between the two females to decide and so long as it was peaceable in the house why should he raise objections. He poured out coffee and sat down,

“Have you heard from your father recently, Jenny?”

“I see him today. He’s coming here to take me into town. Dorothy wants to buy me a new dress.” Jenny explained in her usual quiet rather staccato manner.

Joe nodded and sipped his coffee, smiled at Daniel and encouraged the child to eat his food while at the same time tickling Constance’s toes to get her to smile.

Mary Ann stepped indoors with a small basket laden with eggs, she smiled over at her husband and declared that the hens had never laid so many eggs for a long time. Joe watched as she placed eggs into a bowl, it seemed to him that his wife was forever young. When he looked at her he could recall the first time he met her as clearly as he saw her now. “Mary Ann, do you remember when we first met?”

She paused in placing an egg, it remained in her hand as she smiled, stared at nothing in particular, and drifted back to that time when she and her brother wanted to get to Calico.

“Your brothers weren’t too happy about taking Frank and me to Calico, were they?”

“Adam wasn’t, Hoss was smitten with your grey eyes and bright smile, as was I?”

She laughed at him then and shook here head, “No, you were not, Joseph Cartwright, not then anyway.”

He nodded, and the smile drifted away as other memories intruded of another woman he had loved and lost all those years ago. He turned to his daughter “Constance is going to be as beautiful as you when she grows up.”

“She already is.” Mary Ann said and came to stand beside her husband and drop a kiss upon his unruly head of hair, “I’ll miss you when you go on that cattle drive, Joe.”

“I know, and I’ll miss you all too.” he slipped a hand around her waist and gently pulled her towards him “But the time will pass quickly enough, you’ll see.”

“Well, I just wish you didn’t have to go. Couldn’t your Pa go instead?” she pouted a little, looking very young and sweet which made him laugh at her a little before she lowered her face to receive his kiss.

Jenny loved to see ‘her’ couple so happy together, with her limited range of understanding of human behaviour she could appreciate the love and happiness the two shared. She smiled as she cracked another egg into the skillet and carefully ensured the yolk remained unbroken. She had never been happier.

She still didn’t quite understand how she had arrived at Joe and Mary Ann’s house*. She remembered being quite content with her father in a very large mansion that belonged to a prosperous man on the outskirts of town. Then a lot of things had happened that she couldn’t get the grasp of at all; they had left the big house, her father had married a woman called Dorothy and she had come to live on the Ponderosa. It was all very vague to her mind, but despite that, she would not have wanted to be anywhere else but there.
………………

Hoss Cartwright looked anxiously over at his father as Ben came down the stairs into the big room. He sometimes saw glimpses of his father as he had been twenty odd years earlier, but they were only glimpses now. Ben Cartwright was aging, and it made Hoss worry that perhaps his father was going to be like one of those old grandfather clocks that tick away without anyone appreciating them that much apart from their function, which was to tell the time. Then suddenly the pendulums drop or crash down and everything just stops. Just like that…and perhaps, Hoss feared, his father would do the same. One day, he would just stop!

Hester gave Ben a smile and kiss on the cheek as the older man pulled his chair from the table and sat down, “Good morning, Pa. Sleep well?”

“Yes, thank you.” Ben smiled at her, squeezed her fingers between his own and then looked over at his son “Morning Hoss. Ready for today’s work?”

“As always, Pa.” Hoss dipped his head to concentrate on his food.

Hannah and Hope ate their breakfast and chattered at one another in their girly way, both looking as fresh as the morning. Ben observed them with a gentle smile curving his lips, and with a sigh he asked Hester to remind him just how old the girls were now.

“Well, Hannah’s just over four years old now, Pa, and Hope will be two soon. There’s not much difference between Daniel, Hope and Nathaniel, they were all born the same year.”

Ben nodded and helped himself to some ham, some eggs and bread. Years, all those years that had gone by, just like a river and quite unable to slow it down at all. He glanced up as Hester sat down, the baby, Erik, on her lap. A bright blue eyed baby with a growing fuzz of red hair, he could very well have been Hester’s own son with that colouring.

“Joe should be here soon, son,” Ben said quietly as he mopped up egg yolk with the bread, “I should think we will be finished the branding today. It’s been a good year.”

“One of the best.” Hoss agreed, he grinned “Remember that year we had a bumper yield of calves and took ourselves off for a holiday in San Francisco?” he began to laugh which caused his daughters to stop eating and observe their father with big eyes for when Hoss took to laughing he sometimes couldn’t stop, and then he would go red in the face and set them all off laughing as well.

“I remember it very well,” Ben said rather grimly, “We were nearly shanghaied.”

“Except for Adam, he was still here branding calves…” and for some reason that set Hoss off laughing again.

“It really wasn’t that funny, Hoss.” Ben muttered and glanced at Hester “Any more coffee, Hester.”

Hester smiled, she had heard the story about the San Francisco holiday countless times, and why on earth Hoss had to remember it now was anybody’s guess. She poured coffee for Ben and herself, and told the girls to eat up.

Hop Sing placed more food upon the table, his face creased into a big smile “I remember holiday very much.” he said with a slight rumbling of laughter in his words, “Good thing Hop Sing have plenty cousins in big city or Mr Ben, Mr Hoss they go long way to China maybe?”

Hoss burst out laughing again which pleased Hop Sing no end as he returned to his kitchen, Ben grumbled under his breath and gulped down coffee. Erik began to cry, and Hester muttered something about some men never grew up as she bore him away. It was a scene that made Hannah and Hope giggle and just as Ben was about to call for some sense the door opened and Joe stepped inside,

“What’s so funny?” he smiled at them all and achieved what Ben thought was nigh on impossible in that everyone stopped laughing and began to concentrate on eating. Hoss nodded over to his brother “Won’t be long, Joe. Any sign of Adam yet?”

“Sure, he’s talking to Jake outside.” Joe jerked his head in the direction of the door, “Pa, I should think we will be finished today. We agreed to go and help Luke with his herd, and I think Derwent Jessop was planning to bring his along too.”

Ben’s dark eyebrows shot up and he shook his head “We’ve enough with our own, Joe, we don’t have the time to be helping out everyone in the neighbourhood.”

“It isn’t everyone in the neighbourhood, Pa, just Derwent and Luke. They just need a hand with rounding up the loose ends so to speak.” Joe replied casting a look of concern over to Hoss who only shrugged, removed himself from the table and after calling out goodbye to Hester, ruffling his girls hair, moved away to join his brother.

Adam now stepped inside, removing his hat as he did so, and smiling at Hester as she walked towards them in order to kiss Hoss farewell. Ben was leaving the table now, saying goodbye to the girls and walking behind Hester to join them all at the door,

“You alright, Pa? We’re only finishing off today, you could give yourself a holiday.” Adam said cheerily and then wondered what he had said wrong when his father declared in a thundering tone of voice that he did not require a holiday, he didn’t ask for a holiday and he wasn’t going to have a holiday.

Chastened and rather mystified the three brothers left the house with Ben stomping out after them. At the doorway Hester, with the baby in her arms, watched as they mounted their horses and trotted out of the yard. She shook her head, Ben’s temper was getting shorter by the day.

Chapter 3

The boy stood on the raised platform upon which t he school teachers desk was placed. On the desk stood the model of the ship that his father had entrusted to him, and he glanced at it anxiously as he swallowed hard and prepared to tell his class mates about the ship, the seamen who had made the model and about his father, who had been the ship’s captain.

He had a good speaking voice which carried well to the back of the class, and Evans’ watched him with appreciation for most children of Reuben’s age tended to mumble and stumble over their words. They would introduce “word whispers” and stammer, or they would swallow whole group of words, lose confidence and falter to a stop. But Reuben’s clear narration held everyone’s interest and the children’s eyes followed him as he went to the desk and pointed out various features of the ship. He described what it was like during a storm and how men lost their lives when the waves crashed over the decks and hurled them into the foaming seas.

At the end Evans thanked Reuben and the boy could hear the sincerity in the man’s voice which made him blush with pleasure. He made his way to his seat and glanced over at Sofia who nodded and smiled at him in approval. He felt utterly content.

At the time of the noon break, as he sat with Tommy Conway, and Jimmy Carstairs, the dark shadow of several bigger lads loomed large over them until they were engulfed not only the shadow but by the three lads. . They were not bad or wild boys, but had reached the age when school bored them, so they would often swagger about the playground in an attempt to intimidate the younger ones. Perhaps they knew that their future lay only so far as their father’s permitted them to stretch, and usually that was no further than the local store or the family homestead. A future that indicated so ambition, no purpose, which meant that education was a total sham to them.

Ken Sommers nudged Reuben’s foot with his own big boot “Hey, that was a good tale you told in there.”

“It wasn’t a tale, it was true.” Reuben said immediately, raising his chin defiantly and his mouth lengthening into that stubborn line of obstinacy that indicated he didn’t intend to be pushed around by Sommers or any of his gang.

“Mebbe so, I heard tell some talk around town about your Pa, he was quite high up in the Navy, wasn’t he?” Sommers now said looking thoughtfully down at the younger boy who nodded, “Makes you wonder why he decided to leave the Navy and come back to this crumbling mess. Won’t be long before it’ll be a ghost town.”

“Yeah,” Rick Teague nodded, he was suffering the worst attack of acne a boy could possibly have to handle and tended to keep his head down low in the hope that no one would notice so much.

“Well, it isn’t that bad yet.” Reuben said casting a lingering look at his lunch which was still in the pail and not in his stomach where he preferred it to be.

“Yeah, but won’t be long before it is. Still,” Sommers sighed, and leaned forward so that his face was closer now to Reubens “The Ponderosa won’t suffer none even if the town were to crumble into ruins seeing how big it is.”

Billy Riley came running up and came to a skidding halt when he saw the three big boys surrounding the three younger ones, he hovered a moment and then ran back to the class.

Sommers stood straighter now “I was thinking, well, we was thinking, the three of us, how about we tried out that little boat of yours …”

“What do you mean?” Tommy said while Reuben frowned rather suspiciously as he felt a niggle of apprehension in the pit of his stomach, and not from lack of food either.

“Wal, could be fun to see if it floats on the pond over there?” Teague nodded over to the small pond just a short distance from the school yard.

Reuben shook his head “It isn’t a toy. It’s a real scale model of the Shenandoah and my Pa said I was to take good care of it. If it got broken he’d likely give me a tanning.”

The three lads looked at one another, Teague laughed as though the idea of Adam Cartwright tanning anyone rather amused him.

“Look, runt, you just go get the darn boat and we’ll test it out. Seems to me it needs to prove it’s decent for a sea voyage by now.” Sommers said, and he nudged Teague as he spoke and jerked his head towards the class room.

Evans was absent from the class room, he had gone to check the noise from a group of children towards the back of the building . The potential for mischief was always floating close to the surface during the lunch break, and he patrolled the area of the yard with strict regularity.

“It isn’t to go on the water,” Reuben said again, “It’s only a model.”

“Yeah, but you said it was a scale model of the real thing, which means it should float at least.” Teague said and his companions nodded and muttered agreement.

Tommy stood up with a courage that was truly remarkable considering what a shy and retiring lad he was, “You can’t touch it, you’ll get Reuben into trouble with his Pa if you do.”

“Aw, shuddup, pipsqueak,” Teague laughed and pushed the boy aside, while Mervyn Davis was already running back to the school room and emerged minutes later with the ship in his hand.

Laughing loudly at the prank Davis and the other two boys turned and ran towards the pond, followed by Reuben and Tommy, with Jimmy close behind them.

Evans heard the sound of voices, the laughter of bigger lads, the shrill protests of the smaller boys and came round the side of the building to find no one in sight. He stood for a moment lost in thought, wondering whereabouts the culprits were when Betty Sales tugged at the leg of his pants and asked him if it was alright to go to the pond to see if the boat floated.

“What boat?” Evans asked with a sinking heart.

“Reuben’s” came the prompt reply and when Evans saw the colour drain from Sofia’s face he realised exactly what the commotion was about and where to find the culprits.

 

He hurried as fast as possible with Annie and Sofia and several other children trailing behind him but by the time he reached the pond the Shenandoah had been tossed into the water. Reuben was grappling with Teague and Davis who were laughingly using their long arms to keep the small boy away from them while Sommers gave the little ship a firm push that sent it scudding across the water.

When Sofia saw her brother being kept away from the waters edge, and the little boat bobbing up and down on the water she gave a shriek and began to run faster. Reuben was now fighting Teague off, his fists whirling and hitting the air while Davis had his head in an arm lock and laughing at the boys attempts to escape.

“Lets see if it capsizes in a storm.” Sommers said and started to throw some big stones into the water, creating waves to send the vessel swaying back and forth, and from side to side.

“THAT IS ENOUGH!” Evans voice roared above the racket the boys were making, and silence immediately prevailed.

Reuben was released with a suddenness that sent him falling hard onto his backside, and the three bigger lads, duly aware now that they were in trouble, stepped away from the pond. Sofia however paid no heed, all she saw was her father’s precious ship getting water logged and valiantly fighting against the waves. She plunged into the water, which caused her skirts to balloon up but regardless of such an inconvenience she waded onwards until her hand touched the boat and she was able to grasp hold of it by the stern and lift it from the water.

She didn’t realise she was crying, not until she had waded back out with her skirts dripping around her legs and her boots full of water and she had to squelch onto the dry ground again. Reuben came up to her and put his arm around her shoulders “Oh Sofia, that was brave.” he whispered into her ear and she gave a rather weepy sob as she held out the boat to him.

Evans sighed and shook his head, a rather wet little girl couldn’t really sit in the classroom dripping all over the desks and floor. He looked around and found one of the older girls, for all the class were now assembled around them watching with fascination at the spectacle and wondering about its outcome. He beckoned to her, a tall fourteen year old with a bushy mane of hair that her mother attempted to tame every day.

“Louise, take Sofia to my house. Ask Mrs Evans to attend to her.” he turned to Sofia, and shook his head, “Sofia, go with Louise. I want you to promise to return as soon as your clothes are dry, do you understand?”

“Can’t I …”

“No, you can’t. Now, off you go, Louise, straight back, do you hear? Go on, Sofia, come back later.”

Sofia’s head drooped, she begrudgingly took hold of the older girl by the hand, cast a despairing look over her shoulder at Reuben and with a sigh was borne away.

“Please, sir.” Reuben stepped forward but Evans raised a hand to halt any further words from him; he could only watch as his sister squelched away with her head hanging and her skirts clinging to her legs.

 

Beatrice Evans was in the parlour when Louise deposited Sofia in the care of the Evans’ housekeeper, Mrs Price. Having delivered the child and the message from the teacher, Louise then scuttled back to the school. Like many pubescent young girls she had formed a crush on the teacher and would no more dream of disobeying a single word than she would have faced a raging bull.

Mrs Price took a look at Sofia and shook her head. Tutting to herself she told the girl to remove her boots, stockings, petticoats and skirt which Sofia did obediently but with sinking heart. She stood in the hallway half naked and shivered.

Mrs Price observed her thoughtfully and then nodded, “Well, now, I think you need to get warmed and dried. Follow me.”

Sofia did as she was told and followed the elderly woman who had all her possessions in a bundle in her arms. She was led into a large kitchen and eating area, and her Mrs Price pulled up a stool with one hand “Sit here, child.”

It was close to the stove, the warmth of which was very inviting. Sofia sat down and watched as the woman carefully hung each item of clothing where it could dry, the boots were placed on a small ledge that jutted from the front of the stove. It was quite fascinating to watch as steam began to rise up from them.

Now the woman got hold of a towel and rubbed Sofia’s legs dry, even right down to each little toe. “I suppose you want a hot drink now? I’m making one for the Mistress so may as well do one for you.”

Sofia nodded, big eyes blinked up at the old womans face and she smiled “So? What’s your name?”

“I’m Sofia Cartwright.”

Mrs Price stopped and turned to observe her again, then nodded “One of the Ponderosa Cartwrights?”

No one had said that to Sofia before, she felt a surge of pride well up inside her and she nodded “Yes, ma’am.”

Mrs Price nodded and recommenced attending to the drinks, hot milk with cinnamon for Sofia and a tray laden with silverware to be taken to the lady of the house. Sofia watched nimble fingers prepare everything, placing the silver coffee pot, and even some store bought sugar in a silver bowl with little silver tongs, along with a plate of cookies. “Drink up,” Mrs Price said and then left her alone in the kitchen.

The sound of someone entering the room made Sofia turn to thank Mrs Price but the woman who entered wasn’t the same person at all. She gripped her cup tighter as the woman approached her.

“So? Sofia Cartwright?”

The lady had a gentle voice, a pleasant sounding voice and there was a smile in it. Sofia nodded, a little wary after all she had experienced strange women with pleasant voices before and not so very long ago either.

“I’m Beatrice Evans, your teacher’s wife. I hear you fell into some water?” the blue eyes glanced at the clothes, and the boots which told their own sorry tale.

“I had to jump into the pond and save the ship.” Sofia whispered and held the cup closer against her chest.

“Oh, I see.” Beatrice nodded as though she really did see, and smiled again, “Whose ship was it?”

“My Daddy’s.”

“Oh dear, well, it wouldn’t do if your father’s ship sank, would it?”

“The big boys were norty, they put it in the pond and then they wouldn’t let Reuben get it out.”

“Well, that was very wrong of them.” she turned now to Mrs Price, hovering close by with the tray still in her hands, “Mrs Price, put the tray down would you? I’m sure Sofia would like to have a cookie with her milk.”

Sofia blushed, but accepted a cookie and thanked Mrs Price very nicely. Beatrice pulled up a chair by the table and observed the child thoughtfully “Are you related to Mary Ann Cartwright?”

“Yes, she’s my Aunt.” Sofia nodded.

“Would you give her a message from me. Tell her that I would love to see her one day. I used to know her when she was a little girl, you see.”

Sofia nodded, all big eyes and a milk moustache. A little frown appeared on the woman’s brow as though she had thought of something else to say but wasn’t sure whether to speak or not. Sofia drank a little more milk and nibbled the cookie, Mrs Price put the tray on the table and poured her mistress some of the coffee and set the cup and saucer close to the woman’s elbow.

It all seemed to Sofia as though she were lost in a little dream, that it was not real at all. She looked at her clothes and at the little boots steaming in front of the stove and wished she could put them on and return to the school.

Mrs Evans observed the child, still with that same thoughtful expression on her face. She didn’t pick up her cup, keeping her hands clasped tightly in her skirts. Finally she stood up, and looked at Sofia, reminded her about the message to give to Mary Ann and then left the room. Mrs Price, who obviously had the patience of an angel, picked up the cup and saucer, placed them on the tray and followed her mistress from the room with the laden tray in her hands.

Moments later she returned and fussed around the clothes, turning them round so that the other side could benefit from the heat, checking the boots and then fussing around preparing for the meal later on. It was as though Sofia had been quite forgotten as she sat there on the stool with her cup of hot milk in one hand and the cookie in the other.
…………….

Luke Dent and Derwent Jessop drove their herds onto Ponderosa land just as the mid day meal was concluded. The four Cartwrights and their men were slipping their dirty plates into the tub of water for old Sam to wash, while the men poured out coffee and sat around in groups to linger a while drinking and chatting.

Ben nodded over to Luke and Derwent who slipped from their saddles and strode towards the older man, shook his hand and thanked him again for the help he and his ‘boy’s’ were providing them.

Both herds together didn’t amount to too great a number. Looking them over Adam could see that the branding would take less time than they had assumed. He nodded over to Luke who had walked over to join him, being handed a cup of coffee as he did so.

“I thought you would have a bigger herd, Luke?”

“I had hoped we would have had this year, but we lost some during the winter. We’re lower in the valley and the snow settled badly. Lost too many.” Luke bit down on his bottom lip, and Adam wondered if he was going to develop his father’s envious attitude towards the Ponderosa, he hoped not, and nodded over to Jessop who was talking quite cheerfully to Hoss and Joe.

“How about Jessop?”

“Much the same. But he also had problems with the Bannocks and some Paiute that have come down from the mountains.” the frown settled back onto the man’s face, he shook his head “There’s just a few stragglers resisting being forced back onto the reservation, but we cut out a few head for them in the end and I think that will stop them thieving any more.”

Jessop came over now and nodded to Adam, he was carrying his branding irons, as well as Luke’s “Appreciate this, Adam. It helps a lot, I’ve brought some of my men over to help.”

Adam nodded and looked over at Hoss who was pulling on his gloves, “Well, I guess its time we got moving. The sooner we get this done, the better.”

“Er – Adam,” Luke arrested his brother-in-laws progress by placing a hand on the other man’s arm “While we’re away -” he sighed and then cleared his throat “I’m just a mite concerned about Marcy.”

Adam’s face immediately gentled and he nodded “Of course you would be, what would you want us to do?”

“It’s just that she’ll be quite lonesome while we’re away, and what with the baby … her condition… you know?” he looked anxiously at Adam who once again nodded “Do you think she could spend some time with Olivia? Or Olivia go and spend some time with her?”

“Of course, it goes without saying, Luke. I would have thought Olivia would have considered Marcy’s situation anyway.” he smiled and his dark eyes twinkled reassuringly so that Luke was able to pick up his own branding irons with his mind more on the job and less divided by his concerns for his wife and her well being.

Ben watched the men mount up and ride out, the fires were built up a little more and the branding irons inserted into the red hot embers. Joe had remained by the fires, and glanced up as Ben joined him, he raised his eyebrows “They seem to have a smaller herd than last year, Pa.”

“One of Jessops men said they had quite a few stolen by Indians. But I wouldn’t have thought that would have made such a difference in the size of herd. I hope they’re healthy cattle, Joe, I don’t want any of their stock passing on any disease to our herd.”

Joe nodded and straightened his back as he got to his feet, “I’ll get word to Hoss to keep an eye on them, I know Adam will be doing the same.”

Ben said nothing to that, but nodded in agreement. It wasn’t unusual for the cattlemen to bring their herds together for the spring cattle drive. In years past the numbers of cattle were vast, but although the Ponderosa still maintained a good average, with no losses, it seemed a lot of the smaller ranches were suffering.

The men from the Double D and Bar J knew the Ponderosa men from of old, and were soon mixing and mingling, working together in amicable harmony. The calves were dragged to the fires, branded and sent scampering off after their mothers no differently than the Ponderosa calves had done previously. By the end of the working days when the fires were allowed to die down and the irons were set to one side, the cowboys parted company for the evening, leaving only a designated number to guard the herds gathered together in the meadow.
……………

Joe Cartwright kissed his wife, yawned and lowered himself gingerly into his chair, “It’s been busy, sweetheart. I’m so tired I’m not even sure I can eat all this food.”

Mary Ann looked concerned, poured coffee into his mug and passed it to him, “I wish you weren’t going on this cattle drive, Joe.” she paused, “I know, I keep saying that don’t I? What a selfish woman I’ve become, I suppose I just don’t want to let you go.”

He held her hand and squeezed her fingers, Although he loved his children he was glad they were already in bed, sleeping. He just wanted time alone with Mary Ann, and asked her how her day had gone and what she had done. After boring him very slightly with the domestic details of her day, she then said “Olivia sent me a message, via Ezra, that Mrs Evans, the school teachers wife, wants to meet me. Apparently she told Sofia that she had known me a long time ago, when I was little.”

Joe frowned and then shrugged “Well, perhaps you did, my dear. Perhaps you were at school together?”

Mary Ann frowned and then shook her head “Well, perhaps, but I can’t remember any one called Evans.”

Joe chuckled “She wouldn’t have been called Evans then, that’s her married name isn’t it? Do you know her given name?”

Mary Ann laughed at her self, but shook her head avowing that she had no idea who Mrs Evans could be, but that she hoped she wasn’t anywhere as grim as her husband appeared to be..
Chapter 4

It had been a long day and supper time had been and gone by the time Adam returned home. No doubt it proved to be a blessing for Reuben and Sofia who were in bed when their weary father stepped into the house and slowly closed the door behind him.

Adam stretched slowly to remove the kinks in his back and then unbuckled his gun belt which he placed alongside his hat. He smiled as Olivia walked towards him and offered him her cheek, and then her lips for a greeting kiss.

“Are the children in bed already? Am I very late?” he said quietly and then frowned, very slightly, “Anything wrong?”

Olivia nodded, then passed him an envelope “From Mr Evans.”

She sighed as she said those three words and Adam felt a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. He remembered numerous notes from various teachers concerning Joe, but the only ones that gave him this sinking feeling had been the ones from Miss Jones, a formidable spinster who had developed more than a passing crush upon him. Mr Evans, however, was not going to be in that same category so it was with some trepidation that he took the envelope. He slowly opened it and extracted the slip of note paper, held it between finger and thumb “Do you know what this is about?”

“I’m afraid so.” she nodded, her eyes darker than usual, her hands clasped together in the lap of her skirts.

He cleared his throat and turned towards the light from the lamp, and began to read. It was well written, commending Reuben on his fine narrative and thanking Adam for permitting use of the model ship. Then came the real point of the letter in which Mr Evans related all that had happened during the noon break.

“I have dealt with the culprits and they have apologised to Reuben, although I doubt if any of them were actually sincere apologies. Your daughter, Sofia, however has to be highly praised for her prompt and brave conduct, even though it was rash and very unnecessary since I was there to rescue the ship. However, she plunged into the pond to ensure it’s safe keeping.

“I took it upon myself to send her to my home where my wife and housekeeper took care of her until her clothing had dried.

Once again, my sincere apologies for this event ever taking place in my school. I hope there will not be any future re-occurrence.”

He read it over again in case he had missed anything and then looked at his wife, raised his eyebrows “What exactly did happen?”

“Come and eat something first, things never look quite as bad after a meal. Apart from which you are tired, you need a moment to rest.”

He followed her into the other room and sat at the table, his brow creased as he thought over the letter, half listening to what ever Olivia was saying. As the plate of food was placed before him he asked if the two children were alright, and not hurt in any way.

“I think Reuben’s pride has taken a little bit of a beating, he feels he should have rescued the ship, not his sister. But, on the whole, they are quite alright, although glad to get to bed.” she smiled then and looked at him, but he seemed deep in thought and continued to eat.

“So Sofia jumped into the pond to save the ship?” he asked and his brown eyes twinkled, and he gave a little laugh as he tried to imagine the scene, “Poor Reuben, that would certainly have dented his ego.”

Olivia said nothing but poured out coffee for them both. Adam swallowed more food before asking “Do you know the names of the boys who nearly wreaked the boat?”

“No, Reuben wouldn’t tell me and I haven’t asked Sofia.”

“Evans’ letter was quite conciliatory, I thought.”

Olivia nodded and thought over the contents of the letter, then about the man himself. “His wife was very kind to Sofia, but it seems that she knows Mary Ann.”

“Mrs Evans does? Really?” Adam looked thoughtful but resumed his meal until he had eaten enough. “Did she say how well she had known Mary Ann?”

“No, she just asked Sofia to let Mary Ann know, and to ask her to visit at some time.”

Adam nodded, he thanked Olivia for the meal and rose to his feet, stretched again and walked into the other room where he made his way to the glass cabinet in which the ship had always been carefully displayed. He opened the door and reached out for it, and ran his hand slowly and carefully along the keel of the ship and then, with a sigh, placed it back upon its stand.

“I guess I should have just said ’No’” he sighed as he set the ship back on the shelf and closed the glass door of the display cabinet, “It would have spared Reuben the trouble it all caused.”

Olivia nodded but said nothing as she concentrated on darning the hole in her son’s sock. She was tempted to mention that she had actually said ’No’ to Reuben when the boy had asked her about taking the model to school and that had her husband asked her for her opinion before saying ’Yes,’ the whole problem would never have arisen at all.

Adam settled down beside his wife and watched her for a moment or two before the colour began to creep over the collar of her dress just as he had expected it would. Now that he had her attention despite her bending her head closer to the sock and not turning it in his direction at all, he placed his hand over hers and stopped any further industry on her part. She sat, needle in hand, which was captured gently within her husbands, “Now, tell me what happened to Sofia?”

“I already did,” she said quietly and raised her eyebrows as he leaned towards her and kissed her neck. “And Mr Evans mentioned it quite clearly enough in the letter.”

“Tell me again because I was distracted and didn’t hear it all,” he kissed her cheek, and then the corner of her mouth where it had lifted slightly in a small smile creating the little dimple which he so loved.

“She jumped into the pond to rescue the ship.”

“Then Mr Evans sent her to his home to dry her clothes. Mrs Evans saw Sofia…”

“Sofia saw Mrs Evans.” Olivia repeated, frowned a little, “She was well looked after, and came to no harm. I think she quite enjoyed her adventure, and felt it was a pleasant reward for just getting wet.”

He thought about that for a moment, then after a slight silence he drew her face towards him, kissed her lips “Don’t you think it odd that Mr Evans shows so much interest in our children?”

“I think you are looking for mysteries where none exist, my dear.” she whispered, and raised her delicately arched eyebrows, “What else could he do with a little girl soaking wet due to jumping into the pond?” she laughed at little at his downturn of a mouth and shook her head at him “Now then, Mr Cartwright, release my hand this instant or …”

“Yes?”

“I shall stab you with this needle!” and she laughed again, her green eyes twinkled at the way he rolled his eyes at her and withdrew his hand.

“Mrs Cartwright, darning socks really is not what I had in mind.”

“I know, but such mundane things have to be dealt with,” she said and resumed her darning with renewed energy.

He laughed lightly and moved slightly away from her then watched for a little while as she worked, a little frown on her brow as she concentrated on making the darn as neat as possible. A clumsily darned sock could be so very uncomfortable.

“And Mrs Evans claims to know Mary Ann?” he murmured as he now caught at a strand of her hair which he curled round and round his finger.

“Yes, she wanted Mary Ann to know she was in town so I sent a message to let Mary Ann know as soon as I could. I wonder if she knew Frank as well, perhaps Mrs Evans went to school with them both?” she snipped the wool with her scissors and bundled the sock into its partner, which she then placed into the basket which was close to her side.

Adam stood up and walked to the bureau to pour them both a little wine, “So, a mystery of sorts then?”

Olivia shook her head “Nothing on the scale of your most recent one, dear. Although,” she paused a moment, ” it does arouse one’s curiosity, doesn’t it?”

“Mr Evans does, has done since I first met him.” he sat opposite her now, and leaned slightly forwards the glass of wine between his long fingers “I do wonder what brought them here. Have you met his wife yet?”

“No, but I get the impression that she seldom leaves the house.” Olivia looked thoughtful, “Bridie thinks Mrs Evans is ill, but if she is she isn’t one of Pauls’ patients.” she grimaced “They seem to prefer Schofield.”

“But Schofield will be leaving here soon for Ohio, won’t he?”

“Yes, and ..” she paused as a small smile played around her mouth “the new doctor is someone else who knows Mary Ann.”

Adam raised his eyebrows but said nothing. His mind was still dwelling on Reuben and Sofia’s adventure at school and why the interest in them that the school teacher appeared to be showing. He sipped his wine and stared into the flames of the fire, for the evenings were still cool, and Olivia, sensing his change of mood, picked up another sock and carefully rummaged for the wool that would be the best match for it.
…………..

Widow Hawkins paused in her narrative of the latest gossip to Mrs Garston when the stage coach rocked to a standstill in front of the depot. Perry rushed out from the building to place the little foot stool by the stagecoach door which he then pulled open. After a moment a smartly dressed but dusty gentleman stepped down before turning to take the hand of the next passenger. A woman, with a veil protecting her face from the dust, was assisted down. Once her feet were on firm ground she glanced rather shyly around her before slipping her hand through that of her husband and awarding him a sweet smile.

“Is this Virginia City?” she murmured and whether it was addressed to her husband or to Perry was speculative, it was Perry who answered, however, and that in the affirmative.

Whether his answer assured her or not was also speculative, she simply pressed her fingers upon her husband’s arm as he gently folded her fingers beneath his own.

Pete Riley set down the last piece of luggage upon the sidewalk and tipped his hat, before clambering back up on the bench seat of the coach in order to take the vehicle to the rear of the building. The horses would be unharnessed and led over to the livery which took care of them. Ridley’s had failed to wrest the contract from Hansons despite Amanda’s best efforts to get it.

Widow Hawkins made her way to where the couple remained standing together looking rather like some abandoned piece of merchandise. After less than a second’s hesitation she introduced herself and asked if they were waiting for anyone in particular.

“I was told that we would be met by Dr Martin,” the gentleman said, removing his hat politely and with a pleasant smile on his face, after all he was mindful of the fact that this garrulous old lady could well be one of his patients some day.

“Oh yes, of course. You must be the new doctor and his wife,” Clemmie declared with a wide smile and a frantic batting of her false lashes “I’m Clementine ‘Awkins.” she extended her mittened hand which was duly shaken by both man and wife.

Before any other word could be spoken hurried footsteps were heard approaching them and then Paul Martin appeared, rather red faced and only very slightly puffing for breath. He smiled and extended his hand

“I am sorry for the delay, I had a patient to attend to, took a little longer than anticipated.” he shook their hands warmly “Paul Martin, pleased to welcome you to Virginia City.”

Clemmie watched with a slightly bemused smile on her face as they walked away. It had been polite of Paul to have included her in the brief introductory conversation with Dr and Mrs Colby, a handsome couple she thought. She nodded, feathers in her bonnet fluttered with the motion, and as she made her way to her home she felt a sense of pleasure at the thought of a couple moving into the town when so many were now moving out.

Bridie Martin was standing at the door of the house that had been secured for the use of the new doctor and his wife. She greeted them with her usual warm smile and ushered them inside, well aware as she did so that Mrs Colby would be giving her new home a very close scrutiny.

Alicia Colby removed her hat carefully while her eyes darted quickly around the large room into which they had stepped. It was comfortably furnished, and a cheery fire blazed in the hearth. The windows were large and Sun Mountain appeared as a back drop to a fine portrait as she looked through them. Stairs led from the room to the upper storey. Bridie indicated the kitchen and led her new associate into the large room which also led to the cooking area. The smell of food drifted around them, tantalising their noses with promises of a good meal, and Mrs Colby smiled and nodded her head in appreciation.

While Alicia removed her coat Bridie had the time to take a cake from the oven and place it carefully to one side.

“I do hope that you find everything to your liking, Mrs Colby.” she smiled at the young woman as she wondered just how long she would want to stay in a town that seemed to have slipped into a gradual decline.

Alicia thanked Bridie warmly, taking hold of Bridie by both hands and gripping them tightly before releasing her and declaring that everything smelled delicious. Her gratitude was just as it should have been for Tilly and Bridie had worked hard on getting the house cleaned and smartened up for their arrival.

In the other room Paul and James were in conversation about Virginia City and the people who made up their list of patients. “It isn’t as wild as it used to be,” Paul was saying as their wives entered the room “and with the mines closing down a lot of people are moving away. I’m not saying it will end up a ghost town just that times are changing and there are new discoveries of gold elsewhere in the new territories that are opening up. People are always chasing after their particular crock of gold when the chance comes.”

The door was pushed open and Perry appeared with the luggage which he brought into the house and set down upon the floor. James frowned as he watched the cases being piled one upon the other and then asked about a particular box which Perry assured him was on its way, even as he spoke Pete Riley stepped inside bearing a large box and also a valise both of which he carefully lowered upon the floor.

Having seen the younger couple settled into their home the Martin’s made their departure with smiles and handshakes all round and promises to ’get together’ very soon.

“How long do you think they’ll stay, dear?” Bridie asked her husband as they strolled back to their own home in C Street.

“Not as long as myself” Paul replied with a smile while thinking to himself what an improvement James Colby was to Timothy Schofield with his brusque manner and tactless remarks.

“Well, I hope they settle, they look such a pleasant couple.”

Bridie smiled, slipped her arm through his while thinking that lives experiences hadn’t robbed her husband of his positivity and for that she was grateful. She, on the other hand, was too much of a cynic to take anyone at face value anymore.

Chapter 5

Luke Dent wiped the sweat from his face with his bandana while at the same time keeping his eyes fixed upon the herd moving slowly across the meadow land below the rim rock. He could not prevent a smile of self satisfaction steal across his features at the sight of them all branded with the Double D on their sleek fat hides. He was congratulating himself on the wisdom of purchasing the land from the old homesteader in Colfax when he became aware of Derwent Jessop walking his horse towards him.

“They look good, Luke.” the other man said in a loud enough voice to carry over the sounds of the cattle.

“Don’t they just?” Luke grinned and as Jessop reached his side he leaned forward on his folded arms which rested upon the pommel of saddle, “That land I got was a blessing in disguise, Derwent.”

Derwent nodded “You know, our cattle look every bit as sleek as any Ponderosa beef out there. I reckon we could ask top dollar for them and get it.”

Both turned at the sound of horsemen approaching, and seeing Hoss and Joe Cartwright they grinned and nodded a welcome “Best place to look see what’s going on,” Luke said.

“You’re right about that,” Hoss agreed as he thumbed back his hat and looked down at the cattle grazing on the rich meadow grass “That’s a good herd of cattle there. I reckon we could ask top dollar for every one of them.”

Jessop laughed “That’s just what we were reckoning on ourselves, Hoss. Any idea as to when we’ll be starting on this drive?”

“Adam was saying something about the next two weeks. There’s still things to organise yet. You got enough men to handle your steers?” Joe leaned towards them, a lariat held loosely between his fingers which he swung casually back and forth as he spoke.

“I reckon so,” Luke nodded, looked over at Jessop who also indicated in the affirmative.
“You probably know some of them, Joe, they’ve ridden on these drives before with the Ponderosa.”

“That’s good, we don’t want any trouble makers or drunks. Just good honest hard working men who’ll be worth their pay at the end of the drive.” Joe said and if there was a slight edge to his voice no one took offence.

“And Adam is still going as trail boss?” Jessop asked, his eyes roving beyond Joe’s shoulder as though looking for the man in question down among the steers.

“He is, and I’m ram rodding.” Joe replied, “You’ve no problem with that have you, Derwent?”

“None at all, Joe. More than happy with the whole thing.”

“Good, because if you aren’t…” Joe raised his eyebrows and the other three men looked at him as though a little surprised at the way he spoke, but he forced a smile and shrugged “Just that I over heard some men talking about Adam not having been on a cattle drive for some years, and wondering if he had lost his touch.”

Jessop frowned “I hope they weren’t any of our men, Joe. I don’t want this drive to start off wrong footed.”

“Nor do any of us,” Hoss said hastily, “And Adam knows more about the job than most men, so’s you ain’t got no reason to worry none.”

“We’re not worried, Hoss.” Luke said, “After what happened during the winter I have the utmost respect for Adam, there won’t be any trouble from my men, if there is, they can walk!”

They touched the brim of their hats and turned their horses away from the Cartwright’s, walking their horses down the escarpment to the meadow below. Joe and Hoss watched them for a moment before Hoss turned to Joe with a scowl upon his face,

“How come you gotta mention that about Adam? I ain’t heard any such talk among the men about his being trail boss.”

“Well, I just wanted them to know, that’s all.” Joe grumbled a little subdued now and he flashed his brother a contrite look “Just in case.”

“In case of what, for Pete’s sake?”

“In case either of them think Adam can’t do the job.”

Hoss shook his head, looked at his brother thoughtfully and then turned Chubb in the direction the other two men had gone, Joe watched for a moment and then yelled “By the way, whereabouts are Pa and Adam?”

“In town.” came the short answer and Joe had to be content with watching his brothers back disappearing behind the boulders to re-emerge moments later on the track that led to the pasture and to where the cattle grazed.

Joe shrugged slightly and then looked more thoughtfully over the vast herd below. Jessop and Luke had indeed brought their best cattle and would be riding as drovers along with the men they would bring with them. Joe frowned, it wasn’t unusual for cattlemen to work along like this, it saved a lot of problems for the smaller rancher and in the past a number of ranchers had worked their bigger cattle drives in this fashion.

Joe frowned, the bigger the herd the more men would be required, more horses meant more wranglers, all of whom needed to be fed. Chuck wagons and stores would have to be accommodated as well. He rubbed his jaw, perhaps at the end of this drive there wouldn’t be such a profit after all.

It would take weeks as well, and it was hard back breaking work with each day bringing along its own challenges. Heat would bring flies, that could bring disease. Swollen rivers after the hard winter snows melt would be harder to ford, losing time, perhaps losing cattle. Men could get tetchy if the weather was too hot, or too cold, or even too wet. He sighed, and shook his head, there was so much involved in these treks with the vast herds moving across the land like some vast undulating canvas of different coloured hides. In some ways to see a herd on the move was awesome, in other ways it could be horrific.

He sighed again and gently turned Navajo’s head in order to move away from the rim rock. Perhaps, he mused, he was getting soft, enjoying his home life too much with his lovely wife and children. Perhaps he just preferred to stay close by home instead of undergoing this back jarring constant saddle sore journey. He shook his head and wondered if his brother, Adam, was wishing he were back on board a boat in the middle of the sea somewhere with nothing to worry about …
……………

Mary Ann picked out several squares of material and looked at them closely before placing them side by side upon the fabric that was draped across the laps of herself and her sisters-in-law. Satisfied that at least one suited the criteria required she put the others into the basket and began to re-thread her needle.

“I just don’t understand it,” she said quietly, “why tell Sofia that she knows me, when I don’t know her at all.”

“No one seems to know her very well,” Olivia smoothed out her square of crushed silk, and looked at it thoughtfully. It was a lovely shade of pink and she wondered if she would be able to eke out several more squares before the supply ran out, “but she definitely told Sofia she knew you.”

Hester frowned and squinted to get the thread through the eye of her needle, “Perhaps it was from a long time ago. When you were children.”

“I got the impression she was a lot older than me.” Mary Ann muttered, “I mean her husband looks older than Adam.”

Olivia raised her eyebrows at that comment, not being sure exactly what Mary Ann was implying. She sighed and decided to say nothing after all Adam was twelve years older than Joe, and nothing could change that fact. She smiled to herself, Mary Ann was still very young in some ways, but then she was younger than Joe, perhaps Adam did appear to be ancient to her. Age was a strange thing, she mused and drifted into a little day dream from which she was sharply and abruptly removed by the sound of her son crying.

Once peace was restored and the children resettled the three women continued with their sewing. Olivia remarked how pleasant it was when Ann and sometimes Marcy had been able to join them in these brief social moments, to which Hester reminded her that it had been a long winter and the pass seemed to take forever to clear.

“I liked it when Marcy came, she is such a sweet person,” Mary Ann sighed and looked thoughtfully at the far wall, “I can’t imagine how she will be able to manage in that house so far from anywhere while Luke is away on the cattle drive.”

“Perhaps we could get her to come here to stay,” Hester suggested and looked rather pointedly at Olivia who nodded, and said that she was going to visit Marcy soon and would put the idea to her.

“Marcy is far more independent nowadays,” she added as she picked out a floral patterned piece of fabric and set it alongside the pink crushed silk, “Marriage to Luke has given her a confidence that is quite admirable. I hope she comes to stay here with us, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if she turns the offer down.”

“But she is – how many months from her confinement?” Hester asked boldly and then sighed, “She has to remember that she will be several weeks without anyone close by.”

They lapsed into silence as they contemplated the terrible things that could happen to a pregnant woman alone and isolated for weeks on end. All three released their breath at the same time and then smiled sheepish grins at one another, Hester put her needlework down and stood up,

“Well, I think we deserve to have something to drink now. Come along, children, come and see what Hop Sing has made for you all.”

She clapped her hands as she walked to the kitchen rather resembling an elegant feminine Pied Piper as the children scurried out after her. Little Constance slept on, Eric snored but Hannah, Daniel, Hope and Nathaniel ran gleefully behind her, leaving Olivia and Mary Ann watching with those smiles on their faces mothers have when watching their children unobserved.
……………..

Ben and Adam Cartwright stood on the sidewalk outside the Telegraph depot and while Ben sifted through the various letters his son stood with a hand on his hip, watching the comings and goings of the townsfolk. His eye fell upon Dan deQuille who had stepped out of the offices of the Territorial Enterprise, and he wondered yet again why the man had ever thought he would be able to get away with stealing his, Adams‘, journals. Adam corrected himself, as the man said often as an excuse, he had merely borrowed them.

DeQuille saw the other man and promptly turned in the opposite direction, anything other than face the rancher. Adam sighed and turned to his father “Have you found it yet?”

“What? Found what?” Ben stuttered and immediately folded all the letters together much like a conjurer gathers up his cards before producing his trick, but there was no trick involved for Ben returned them all to the U/S Mail pouch into which Eddy would put the Ponderosa mail.

“Whatever it is that happens to be the most important piece of mail you have received or hope to receive in a long while. Come on, you can confide in me …whose it from?”

Ben shook his head and muttered beneath his breath about getting no peace to do anything in private and strode impatiently away from the other man who smiled and shook his head indulgently.

“Pa, if I didn’t know any better I would think you were expecting a letter from a woman.”

Ben raised his eyebrows and stopped, so abruptly did he stop that Adam bumped into him, both scowled at the other. “And why would you assume that it couldn’t be from a woman?”

Adam cleared his throat, “Well, no particular reason, Pa. Just that you haven’t mentioned anything about ..about anything like that….”

“Like what?” Ben snapped and his dark eyes kindled sparks, before darkening under his heavily hooded eyelids. He regarded his son steadily for a while before turning and striding along the sidewalk “I was thinking that now it was spring time, there was every possibility of Mrs Frobisher – Martha – to fulfil her promise of a visit to the Ponderosa. That – is – all!”

Adam raised his eyebrows in turn, and surveyed his father thoughtfully before turning away “Oh!” he said.

“What’s that supposed to mean? Why did you say ‘Oh’ like that?”

“No reason.” Adam shrugged nonchalantly, and looked over to the house where the Evans’ lived. “I think I’ll go and pay my respects to Mrs Evans, seeing how she rescued my daughter from wet clothes and a chill. Excuse me, Pa.” he tipped his hat politely to the older man and turned away, a slight smile creating dimples and mischief in his eyes.

“Huh, cheeky whelp.” Ben snorted and looked around him, realised he was close to Roy’s house and took himself off for a visit to his old friend “Get more sense out of Roy any day.” he muttered grumpily to himself.

It was Dorothy Ford who opened the door and smiled a welcome at him, she stepped to one side to admit him into the warm interior of Roy’s home “It’s good to see you again, Ben. It seems to have been a long time since you were last here.”

“It has, Dorothy. But it’s been a long winter, how are you and Victor? I thought you were moving away from Virginia City?” Ben smiled, set his hat down on the hat stand and followed her into what Roy referred to as the parlour.

“Victor changed his mind, Jenny seems to be so settled with Mary Ann and Joe, that he didn’t feel it right to uproot her and take her any place new.”

 

Ben nodded, thought of Jenny and her timid little ways and knew that had he a child like her he would not have found it easy to leave her with comparative strangers. Roy rose from his chair and greeted Ben with a nod of the head and smile “I was just thinking of you,” he said in that tone of voice many lonely people adapt without even realising it.
……………..

Adam stood on the porch and tapped his fingers impatiently against his thigh. He was looking up and down the street when the door opened and the woman who stood before him looked up, blinked and blushed, and then smiled “Adam Cartwright? What are you doing here?”

Adam regarded her without recognition, his brown eyes darkened, his brow creased and his slight smile was one of puzzlement “I am sorry, this may sound extremely rude of me but I don’t actually recall where we met before?”

She nodded, the expression on her face didn’t change, she was not offended by his lack of recognition, in fact, she appeared to be amused by it. She stepped to one side and bade him enter.

“I actually came to see Mrs Evans, but if it isn’t convenient…” he had removed his hat, holding it between his fingers and still looking at her as though seeking to recall her to mind.

“I am Mrs Evans, and it is convenient. Please come in.”

He glanced hastily over his shoulder, and then entered the house, when the door closed he felt a jolt of embarrassment, as though being alone in the house with this woman was, somehow, a breach of etiquette that could well come back to ‘bite him’. He turned and smiled “I just came to thank you for helping my daughter yesterday.”

“Your daughter?”

“Sofia – Sofia Cartwright.”

She nodded, her smile widened “A delightful child, you must be very proud of her, Adam. Or would you rather I called you Captain Cartwright?”

Chapter 6

There was a sound from the doorway which was the entrance to the kitchen, and another woman stood there, hands clasped and her head tilted as she glanced from Mrs Evans to Adam.

“Mrs Price, we have a guest,” Beatrice Evans looked at ‘her guest’ and smiled “Please make us some refreshment. What would you prefer, Captain?”

“Er – coffee – thank you.”

He still stood awkwardly at the entrance of the main room but when she turned to enter it he followed her, some distance between them, and glanced over to the door as though expecting Mrs Price to suddenly appear like the proverbial jack-in-the-box.

“Adam Cartwright, I would recognise you anywhere.” the smile on her face broadened as she sat down, and a slightly mischievous twinkle gleamed in her brown eyes “I know it has been many years since we met last, and no doubt I have changed – “ she sighed dramatically “it seems to be a woman’s fate to age so much less attractively than men.”

Adam frowned, he felt decidedly uncomfortable and he also felt as though his collar size had shrunk, he cleared his throat “Mrs Evans…”

“I wasn’t always Mrs Evans, you know. Once upon a time I was known as Beatrice Weiss.”

Her brown eyes looked directly into his, and she saw the recognition flood into his dark face, a slight smile graced his lips, and he nodded, slightly, slowly as though along with recognition came pleasant memories.

“Beatrice Weiss. But it must be …” he paused when she held up a hand to stop him advancing further along the subject of just how many years had passed since their last meeting, “I feel ashamed of myself for failing to recognise you, Beatrice, when, in fact, you have hardly changed at all.”

Now she laughed at him and shook her head “No, that won’t do, Adam. May I call you Adam? You do not mind, do you? Come, admit it, you didn’t recognise me and I don’t know if I shall ever forgive you for that.”

She was teasing him, and his smile widened, the dark eyes twinkled “Beatrice Weiss. But – the last I heard of you was that you were touring Europe, in fact, I recall being told that you were performing in London, before the Queen.”

“You heard that? Fancy … “ her voice trailed away, and she glanced over to Mrs Price who was bringing in a tray laden with refreshments, “Mrs Price, this gentleman can remember that I performed before the Queen of England, now, isn’t that a memory?”

“Indeed, ma’am, no doubt” Mrs Price muttered and poured out coffee into a fine cup, which she carried in its saucer to a side table close to Adam’s chair.

“I can remember going to hear you perform, Beatrice. I think the first time was when I was in France, with my Captain. I had not long enlisted..”

She nodded “I remember, we met at the soiree that they held after the performance. Your Captain was not quite as enamoured of the music.”

“No, sadly not, but he was totally captivated by you.” he smiled at her and was pleased that the compliment made her blush. “I heard that you were married, and retired. I recall wondering how you could possibly have left the life you had in order to settle down.”

“Ah, now, you misjudge me, Adam. You make it sound as though by being married I settled into some mediocrity in my life, but I did not. My husband and I were – are – very happy together. For some years Edward had been my manager, and continued to be so until I became ill. As it affected my playing, well, we felt it was better for me to retire.”

“I’m sorry.” Adam looked at her thoughtfully, then turned to pick up his cup and saucer, “Did you miss your life, the concerts?”

“At first, after all it had been my life for quite a number of years. But Edward helped with the transition. I had a child, a daughter. A sadness we shared was her loss.” for a moment a spasm of pain passed her face, twisted her lips into a bitter grimace, and then she was serene and calm again, looking at him with large brown eyes and a tender slight smile.

“Your illness, is it anything that can be cured? We have some excellent doctors here,” Adam paused, thinking back to the time when his life had been so often on the brink of being snuffed out, the time when amputation had seemed the only way to save his life if not a limb, his brow creased in a slight frown “Is there anything at all that can be done?”

“To cure these?” she held up her hands, showed the swollen knuckles, the strange claw like twist of her fingers, “Nothing can be done, it’s a form of arthritis, the body attacking itself they tell me. When my daughter died I was very ill, the shock you understand?” she shrugged, a delicate gracious lift of the shoulders “When I recovered I was left with this, it is not just in my hands, and some days are not as bad as others. It is just that, well, I will never be able to play the piano again as I once did.”

Adam put down the cup into its saucer, then placed them on the table, “I am more than sorry, Beatrice”

He didn’t know what else to say. Memories of times past when he had not long been at sea, and had been taken to hear her play when they had been berthed in France, and later when Captain of the Ainola he had seen her perform in Prague, had met her there and thought of her as a friend. Fleeting moments, a man and a woman in completely different spheres of life and now, memories of the music, her beauty, the magic of that piano seemed to float through his brain, and the thought of her illness, her affliction, touched him deeply.

She stood up, and followed him to the door “It’s strange, I haven’t spoken to anyone else about this …you stepped through the door and it all poured out, and I am sorry, I fear I may have embarrassed you.”

“No, not at all. I hope that you will not regret having spoken so freely to me, later.”

She shrugged, very slightly, “It doesn’t matter, people will get to know, perhaps. Your daughter is a delightful child, Edwards says she plays the piano.”

“She has only just begun to learn, my sister in law teaches her.”

“Mary Ann ?” Beatrice smiled, “Ah, another from my past. I remember teaching her, she was an excellent student. I had high hopes of her taking my place on the concert circuit. But her father was very obstinate and wouldn’t permit it. I believe she became a teacher too, did she not?”

Adam nodded, “Yes, she did.”

“And her brother, Frank?”

“He died in an Indian attack some years ago.” Adam twisted his hat between his fingers, memories of that time came back too, and he nodded as though acknowledging them “He was fine young man.”

“Yes, Edward and he got on well.” she watched as he left the house, “Thank you for calling by, Adam. It is somehow quite delightful to be reminded of my past, by someone who had once shared it, even if very briefly.”

Adam nodded, smiled and then left the house. He walked with a straight back and long strides, his mind drifting back to the time when he had sat among so many others enthralled by the music that she had played, wondering how and why music could affect the feelings so intrusively.

By the time he reached his horse and looked around for his father he felt a tinge of sadness and rather regretted his visit to the once famous Beatrice Weiss. The comparison of her then, and as she was now, seemed to him to be a cruel jest, perhaps jest was not the correct word, but whatever the word was, there was no doubt about it, it was cruel.

…………..

“You’re not very talkative?” Ben muttered as they loped slowly through the pass towards home, “I’ve hardly had a word out of you since leaving town.”

“Sorry, Pa.” Adam continued to look straight ahead, only appearing conscious of his father’s presence when Ben spoke to him.

“What happened between you and that Mrs Evans? I presume she was home and you did speak to her? Or did you wander into the Sazarac by mistake and get a taste of Sam’s bad whiskey?”

A brief, very brief, smile touched Adam’s lips, he shrugged “No, I saw Mrs Evans.”

“And?” Ben’s eyebrows rose high on his forehead. He had a higher forehead nowadays, his hairline was receding, much to his disgust, anther reminder of his ageing and his inability to hold back time.

“And -,” Adam paused and shrugged again, he pursed his lips, his eyebrows rose and lowered, his dark eyes became half concealed by heavy eye lids, “I knew her from a long time ago.”

“I see.” Ben now shrugged, and turned his head to observe his son, “So why the long face?”

“Sorry?” Adam looked at his father, startled at his father’s comment and then he smiled, a warmer more genuine smile this time, “She was a friend, very brief, you could even say momentary. She was a very lovely young woman, and very talented.”

“Ah.” Ben nodded, “In what way exactly – talented I mean?” he didn’t like to add that there were many ways a woman could be talented, and some of them were not very complimentary nor anything to boast about.

“She was a concert pianist, famous and very popular. Music was -” he paused as though he had to search and find the exact right word “it was as natural to her as breathing. To hear her play was like being transported to heaven. When the music stopped you seemed suspended there for the moment, hanging onto the echo of what you had heard, and then you came back to earth with a bump.”

“That good, huh?”

“Better than good, Pa.”

“And you saw her perform?” Ben checked his horse, slowed it down for the nearer to home they had come the more eager the animals to reach their stables.

“Several times.” he replied, and then drifted back into a reverie of what had once been and what a magical brief moment in time he had shared with Beatrice Weiss.

“And – er – just how good a friend were you with Mrs Evans?”

Adam sighed heavily and darted a sharp look at his father before frowning “Not that kind of friend, Pa.”

Ben opened his mouth and closed it again, he shrugged and decided to say nothing more until the time was right. It obviously wasn’t by the look of his son’s face so he encouraged Cinnamon into a faster canter in order to reach home sooner.

………….

Olivia was home and standing by a table arranging some flowers in a vase that Adam vaguely recalled being a wedding gift from Paul and Bridie Martin. He dropped his hat on the peg and unbuckled his gun belt while he watched her slim body, the thought occurred to him that his wife looked as beautiful from the rear as she did from every other angle.

“What are you thinking, Adam?” Olivia asked without turning around but carefully positioning a flower.

“I was thinking how lovely you are, and congratulating myself on my good taste.” he replied and laughed as he approached her.

His way was impeded however by someone catching hold of the leg of his pants and tugging at it, so that he looked down to see his son peeking up at him from behind the chair. Stooping down he picked the child up into his arms and carried him to where Olivia stood, now facing him, an indulgent smile on her face as he leaned forward and kissed her.

“You’re early.”

“I know, Pa and I went into town and forgot to return to the range and work along with everyone else there.” he smiled and bounced Nathaniel up and down in his arms, “I saw an old friend today.”

“Oh, in town?” she slipped an arm through his and together they walked into the kitchen area. While he sat down with Nathaniel on his lap, she sorted out cups into which she poured the hot coffee, a plate of cookies appeared on the table to which Nathaniel reached out and took one.

“Yes, I thought I would call on Mrs Evans and thank her for looking after Sofia. It turns out that she is Beatrice Weiss …or I should say …was Beatrice Weiss.”

Olivia nodded and sat down, cradled the cup in between her hands “Who is she? Beatrice Weiss? One of your many conquests?”

Adam frowned, “Olivia Cartwright, you are as bad as Pa, inferring such a thing!” his mock annoyance made her laugh, Nathaniel laughed too, drooling crumbs onto the table.
“Have you never heard of Beatrice Weiss?”

“No, not at all.” she smiled at him, innocent in her ignorance and reminding her husband yet again that his wife had lived a quite different life to his, perhaps no one else in the family would recognise the name, apart from Mary Ann of course. Olivia brought a serviette to the table in order to clear up Nathaniel’s mess, “Who is she?”

So he told her about the beautiful and famous Beatrice Weiss and how he had been taken to watch her perform by Captain Greaves when they were berthed in some harbour in France. How much her music had affected him and what a pleasure and privilege it had been to meet her personally afterwards at the soiree that had been arranged.

“Whenever I was able – if I happened to be where she was performing, I would go and attend the concert. I was Captain of the Ainola the last time I saw her perform, Daniel O’Brien and I went,” he picked up a spoon and turned it over and over between his fingers, “I remember wishing I were able to conjure up music like that – Daniel said the same – one fell in love with music, you know?”

“But not the pianist?” she added archly.

“No, although by that time we were on first name terms, and would meet occasionally, but for her music was her first love, and for me …at the time it was the sea, and the Ponderosa in equal measure ..I was torn between the two as you know.”

He reached out and took hold of her hand then, and she gently placed her free hand over his to press it gently between her own. What a restless man he had been, perhaps, she mused, he still was beneath this veneer of being a husband and father. She sighed and he raised her hand to his lips and kissed it gently.

“She left the concerts when she became ill, she taught music instead. That is how she knew Mary Ann and Frank Hornsby.”

Olivia looked thoughtful “We were talking about that this morning, wondering how Mrs Evans would know Mary Ann. Well, I suppose all one can say is that Mary Ann had a very good teacher.”

Adam nodded “Yes, she did.”

He finished his coffee, glanced at the clock on the wall, and stood up “I had best get back to work.”

He kissed her cheek, tweaked Nathaniel’s nose and ruffled his hair and then left the house, re-buckling his gun belt as he hurried across the yard to remount his horse. Olivia watched, waved as he rode away and then returned to the attentions of their son. How odd life could be at times, she thought, bringing together the flotsam and jetsam of humanity at such random moments. As she picked Nathaniel up into her arms she wondered why a once famous pianist and her husband would have decided to retire to Virginia City.

Chapter 7

Alicia Colby walked slowly down the main street of Virginia City, pausing here and there to look into shop windows and view the merchandise on display . She also paused at the stores that were closed, shutters at the windows preventing prying eyes from seeing what once had been promised prospective purchasers. It seemed to her that there were quite a number of these properties that told of past prosperity and present failure.

Amanda Ridley stepped from her Ladies Mercantile and watched the newcomer as Alicia strolled along the sidewalk. With her eyes slightly narrowed in order to observe the woman more closely Amanda soon realised who was approaching her and smiled a welcome “Good morning, Mrs Colby.”

Alicia stopped and surveyed Amanda with the same care that the other woman had been observing her a few moments earlier. She smiled and nodded, “Good morning.”

“Amanda Ridley.” Amanda announced and directed the newcomers attention to the legend emblazoned in gold across the top of the window, an impressive work of art in her opinion.

“Mrs Ridley, are you the owner of this establishment?” the doctor’s wife enquired after surveying the beautiful scroll work for a moment.

“I am …and it’s Miss. Miss Ridley.” Amanda made the correction in a quieter tone, she wondered if mentioning that she also owned the Mercantile and a Livery stables would make up for the lack of a Mister, but decided that Mrs Colby could consider that boastful.

Alicia looked at the items on display in the window and smiled, a small smile that played around the corners of her mouth “You have some very interesting items.”

“Even more interesting inside,” Amanda replied very promptly and stepped back to let Alicia enter the building.

In the thirty minutes Alicia spent in the store she learned all there was to know about the town, how it had been, and why it was now in this state of hiatus. Amanda meanwhile learned nothing whatsoever about why Dr and Mrs Colby had decided to move into Virginia City.
…………

Mary Ann stood on the sidewalk and brushed down her skirts before adjusting her bonnet. She felt a twinge of dismay when she came into town nowadays. The atmosphere of a town being abandoned touched her imagination and when she looked at the stores and the buildings that were now empty she felt that all the owners had betrayed the people there. It was too sad, and she sighed at the way things had to change.

“That was a big sigh for such a pretty lady.” a voice said from behind her, a pleasant voice with a smile wrapped within the words.

She turned quickly, prepared to snap out a comment that would shrivel the ‘fresh’ young man where he stood, but instead her eyes widened and she felt a flush of heat sweep over her “James … why … what on earth are you doing here?”

“Didn’t you get my letter? I did wonder if you had done or not, seeing as I received no reply.” he smiled at her, his hat in his hand and his eyes twinkling.

She nodded slowly, frowned slightly, “Yes, that’s right, I did get a letter from you and I did intend to reply but there was so much going on at the time that it slipped my mind. I do hope you forgive me?”

“There’s nothing to forgive,” he laughed “And how are you? You look very well, Mary Ann, I don’t think you will be on my list of patients for some while.”

“Oh, I hope not.” she replied very quickly, and then laughed at seeing the quizzical expression on his face, “I mean, I hope I remain healthy and do not require your services, Dr Colby.”

“And are you – settled here, Mary Ann?”

She frowned slightly now, the pause in the little sentence indicated that there may be more to the question that appeared at face value. She nodded, “I am. Thank you. I have two children now, and really am very happy. And you, James? Are you – happy?”

He nodded “Yes, perhaps a little doubtful now as to whether coming here was a wise move. I mean, with the town’s population dwindling as it is, nothing more.”

Mary Ann looked into his eyes, saw some amusement lurking there and was reminded how uncomfortable she often was made to feel when she was in Calico, and he would make little cryptic comments that went over her head but seemed to afford him amusement. She looked up and down the street and then back at him “Well, it was far too over populated for the doctors at one time. I should think it would be a quite comfortable number for them now, and, also, one has to remember the ranchers, homesteaders and so forth that would require their attention.. Paul -”

“Dr Martin?”

“Yes, Dr Martin used to be rushed off his feet, poor man, but now it will be much easier for him and the other doctors too. Have you been to the hospital?”

“I have, and shall be working there for some shifts every week. I believe Dr John Martin* used to do so as does Dr Schofield.”

She nodded, then smiled a little “It is strange, I came into town today to meet with a former acquaintance and bump into you instead…or rather …as well. And, do you think your wife will enjoy it here?”

“I hope so. You must meet Alicia, I believe she is in town today, getting to know the place.” he was about to suggest a time when they could meet together when he saw Paul Martin stepping out of the surgery, “I must go, I promised Dr Martin that I would accompany him on his rounds today. It was most fortunate to have seen you this morning, Mary Ann.”

He bowed his head and didn’t wait for her reply, but hurried to meet Paul who had raised his hand in greeting to Mary Ann. She waved back with a smile, and then continued on her way to the house where Mr and Mrs Evans lived which caused her to slip back into retrospection once again. She wished she didn’t have such an imagination, or such a good memory. Each empty house she passed provided a memory of those who had lived in it. If there had been children then she would recall who they were and the kind of pupil when they had attended her school.

It was, she thought to herself, like being haunted.

She finally reached Mrs Evans home and placed her hand on the gate. She shivered slightly for this had been the home of Mr and Mrs Shannon*, and their daughter Victoria. She had never met Victoria Shannon, but of course she knew all about her, no one involved with Joe Cartwright could have lived in Virginia City for long without being told all about Victoria Shannon.

“I’m being superstitious,” she scolded herself as she pushed the gate open and entered the garden.

Spring flowers were peeking through the carefully turned soil, the path was tidy and clear of weeds, and the door was newly painted, gleaming white in the sun. She took a deep breath and just as her hand touched the very highly polished door knocker, the door swung open.

“Yes?”

Mrs Price stood with her hands folded and her sharp featured little face upturned towards her. Mary Ann blinked not only at the suddenness of the door opening but at the sight of this little woman. “She looks like a bird, bright beady eyes and a sharp beak of a nose.” poor Mary Ann thought, “I daresay she is very capable, very efficient. Oh dear ..”

“Yes?” repeated Mrs Price with one hand on the door and obliviously prepared to close it upon a person who was standing there looking half witted.

“I’m Mary Ann Cartwright, I was hoping to see Mrs Evans. Is she available this morning?”

Mrs Price narrowed her eyes and then nodded “Step inside, Mrs Cartwright. Mrs Evans was hoping to see you … eventually.”

Mary Ann smiled but her eyes were wary, what exactly did this little woman mean by saying ’eventually’ in that tone of voice? Had she thought that Mrs Cartwright would ignore Mrs Evans’ summons, for that was what the message via Sofia had been really, a summons. Mary Ann followed the housekeeper into the main room, her eyes noting various features and her mind wondering how often Joe had been here in the past when courting Victoria Shannon.

Beatrice Evans was seated at the piano when Mary Ann saw her. At first the piano obscured her from the visitor’s sight, but upon seeing her now Mary Ann thought there was no more fitting place to have found her. This was how she always remembered her mentor, and she felt tears touch her eyes at the memories. She didn’t think back to the past very often, but when she did the happiest ones were when Beatrice Weiss now Evans were part of them.

“Good morning, Beatrice.”

Beatrice stood up and looked at the younger woman with a welcoming smile on her face, for she was a gentle looking woman. Her large eyes gave the appearance of never having been cursed with seeing anything evil, cruel or sinister and her smile was so natural as to be like a constant feature on her face. Upon recognising Mary Ann she hurried away from the stool and rushed towards her, “Oh my dear girl, what a wonderful blessing this is, to be able to see you again.”

Mary Ann’s face beamed with a smile as bright as the morning, and the grey eyes widened, darkened, and misted over with tears as she took hold of Beatrice’s hands and squeezed them within hers, only to release them quickly when a swift shadow of pain fell across the other woman’s face .

“I’m sorry, did I hurt you? Are you unwell, dear Beatrice?“ stammering and now shy, Mary Ann released the poor hands and leaned forward to kiss Beatrice on the cheek, “I am so glad to see you here, Beatrice. I can’t imagine what brought you to this poor place, but I am so glad you came.”

Beatrice’s greeting kiss was gentle upon Mary Ann’s cheek, and with a turn of the head she indicated that they should sit together on the big settee where they could talk. For a moment they sat there and said nothing, both of them lost in memories and wondering at what point in their lives should they begin to relate to the other.

“Tell me all about yourself, dear.” Beatrice now said, her hands resting in her lap within the folds of her skirt, “After I left, what did you do? What brought you here? Is it true that you were once school teacher here? Edward told me he saw your name in the records and I did wonder, could it have been you, my little student of all those years ago?”

Mary Ann laughed quietly and nodded “Oh yes, it was me. I enjoyed a brief time as school teacher here. After father died Frank and I decided to do something different with our lives and he saw an advertisement for a school teacher and librarian for a town out in the wilderness…Calico… “ she paused, bowed her head and thought again of the excitement both of them had felt at such an adventure, “Well, it didn’t quite work out, as Frank was killed on the way there. I did work as the school teacher but when the chance came to come here, I took it.” she smiled then, looked at Beatrice and was happy to see the smile on her face too, “I married Joe Cartwright and have two children.”

“And you are happy?”

The second time to be asked the same thing. Mary Ann nodded, the way Beatrice asked was in such a different tone than that of James Colby, and the pleasure on her face was sincere and sweet. Mary Ann nodded “I couldn’t be happier. Oh, Beatrice, you must come and visit us soon, I so would love to show off my children to you, and Joe is so handsome.”

“No doubt he is,” Beatrice nodded, and then placed a hand upon Mary Ann’s arm, “Did you not want to pursue a musical career? I had hoped that as my protégé you would have followed in my footsteps, despite what your father said.”

Mary Ann shrunk back a little, she nodded “I had hopes, Beatrice, but father, as you know, was a strong character. Perhaps I would have fought against that harder but then he became ill, and he needed help to manage the school.” she shrugged slightly, “I suppose you could say he played his ace card …”

Beatrice laughed at that, a good hearty laugh which caused Mrs Price to rattle the crockery on the tray, obviously laughter was not a common sound in that household. “Oh Mary Ann, what a thing to say, but yes, I can see exactly what you mean. Well, the world lost a star in the making, my dear, your talents as a pianist were outstanding.”

Mary Ann blushed, for so many years she had received little praise like this, she felt the stirrings of something within her that had lain dormant for so long. She smiled and then glanced down at the hand still resting upon her arm, she placed a cool gentle hand upon the swollen fingers “And you, dear Beatrice?”

“Oh, it is as you see. The illness that caused me to leave the concert circuit, worsened. I have good days and bad days …I am glad I left the concerts when I did, even though the circumstances were rather cruelly forced upon me.”

“I was always so grateful for the time you spent teaching me, Frank was quite besotted by you, you know?”

“Dear Frank, he was such a handsome boy. Did he not want to be a teacher like his father?”

Mary Ann shook her head and accepted the cup of coffee Mrs Price handed to her, such delicate pretty chinaware. The two women sat together, and chattered over old times, caught up with more modern times, drank another cup of coffee and ate a little cake. Time ticked by before Beatrice asked Mary Ann to play some music for her, just to let her hear whether or not her pupil had retained her ‘touch’.

As she sat with her head inclined slightly to one side while she listened to Mary Ann’s music Beatrice allowed her thoughts to slip back to the past, to times when she would make her way to the home of the Hornby’s, where a handsome youth would make sure he was there to pay his attentions to her, where a pretty young girl poured her heart into her music, where a bad tempered selfish father attempted to protect his fledglings from her influence only to fall a victim of it himself.

She wondered if Mary Ann ever realised, ever knew, the real reason why the lessons ended; why the dreams the two of them conspired together of a musical career had collapsed like a burst balloon. Beatrice watched and listened, and felt that perhaps not, had she known the truth then Mary Ann would have avoided this meeting, and washed her hands of her.

When the time came to leave Mary Ann made Beatrice promise to visit them on the Ponderosa. With a smile, a gentle pressure of the hands, and a kiss on her cheek, Beatrice promised that yes, she would come.

Mary Ann left the house that had once belonged to Caleb Shannon and his daughter Victoria with her head full of music and dreams. It was only when she reached the buggy and heard the town hall clock chime the hour that she came back to earth with a sigh and released her dreams to the air.

* The Commodore

Chapter 8

The weather was changing day by day. Nothing dramatic but just the usual gentle way nature had of drifting from one season into the next. Skies became bluer, and birds became more plentiful. Their song greeted the dawn and aroused the sleepiest heads to rise from slumber.

A week to go before the cattle drive was to commence and still so much to do. The cattle grazed and lazily roamed upon the rich spring grasses of the meadows, tails swished to remove the most stubborn flies and ears twitched to prevent them settling from one end to the other.

Adam and Joe Cartwright sat astride their horses and checked lists for a cattle drive was somewhat similar to a military campaign and it was one that Adam was particularly anxious to ensure went smoothly. Everything he and Joe could call to mind that could possibly go wrong had been considered and everything that could be done to prevent things going wrong had been accommodated.

Together they turned their horses heads and loped carefully back to camp where the fires were still burning and the very last maverick had been rounded up for branding. Hoss straightened his back and stretched to get the kinks out, he nodded over to his brothers and wiped sweating palms down the back of his pants

“I swear that’s the last one I’m branding.” he announced as he produced a large spotted square of cloth to wipe his face, “Seems that’s all I’ve been doing for weeks now.”

His brothers dismounted and walked, stiff legged, towards the fire where Ben was standing with a note pad in his hands ticking off the things he had listed down. He nodded over to the two of them “It’s been a good round up, Derwent and Luke have added a good number of cattle to the main herd, the best of their stock I believe.”

Joe grinned and stooped down to pick up the coffee pot, having poured out some into two mugs he handed one to Adam and kept one for himself. “I thought you were worried that they would be mangy and disease ridden.”

He grinned and winked over to Hoss “Yeah, weren’t you kinda worried that these here cattle of theirs would put our animals at risk of catching all kinds of mangy diseases.”

Ben sighed and pushed his hat to the back of his head, he tucked his note pad into the top pocket of his shirt “Well, I was wrong. That land Luke bought from that man in Colfax fed them up well over the winter. Despite their losses the two of them have done pretty well.”

Adam nodded “Paiute coming down and stealing from them, sounds bad news to me.
Must mean they’re back on the reservation and on starvation rations.”

“Yeah, if that Rhinehardt is still in charge no doubt they will be. Any hows, we did what we could to help before they were all moved on out. You reckon Sarah Winnemucca got that letter of your’n to the President?” Hoss’ brow crinkled in concern as his memory tracked back on time to their last visit to the reservation.

“I’ve not heard anything, Hoss.” Adam replied and swilled his mouth with the hot coffee, before spitting it out with a grimace “This is sludge, Joe.”

“Yeah, I know.” Joe tossed his away, the brown liquid slewing into the air before falling to the ground. “Well, I guess we had better head for home. Get ourselves a good nights sleep.” he yawned then, and rubbed the back of his neck “To be honest with you, I’m not looking forward to this cattle drive one bit.”

“No one looks forward to these cattle drives, “Adam replied with good humour, and he strode over to his horse and swung himself back into the saddle, a swift glance around at the camp, a touch to the rim of his hat to the men who would be still staying there to ‘nursemaid’ the cattle, and together the four Cartwrights were riding out from the range and heading towards their homes.

Joe had a lot on his mind and had been quiet, unusually so for him. Ben, naturally concerned for his youngest, rode up alongside him and for a while they loped along in companionable silence before he felt compelled to ask if there was anything he could do to help. Joe put on a look of surprise and opened his eyes wide as though he couldn’t believe his father felt a man of his age would require help, of any kind, from him.

“Why would I need help, Pa?”

“You’ve been very quiet and subdued. I was just wondering if there was anything at all worrying you that I could help but if you feel …”

“No, no, nothing, nothing at all, Pa. Everything’s fine.”

Ben nodded and shrugged slightly, he kept his eyes from straying to observe his son’s face but said nothing for a while. “If course, if you would prefer not to ram rod this outfit I could ask Luke to do so. I’d ask Hoss but I need him as we have a big logging contract coming up.”

“I said I was fine, Pa.”

“I know, I know.” Ben muttered in the manner of many fathers who were skilful at this kind of conversation.

Ahead of them Hoss was laughing at something Adam had said, Joe frowned and for a moment suspected that it had something to do with him. If his father had noticed he was worried then perhaps they had as well, it would be typical of them to think it a laughing matter.

“Did you know that the new doctor had been a friend of Mary Ann’s?” he glanced at Ben who kept his eyes ahead and resembled a lump of wood for all the reaction that statement received. “He was the doctor in Calico. Remember that time after – after we had escorted her and her brother to that town and were attacked by Cheyenne?”

“I remember.” Ben intoned and pursed his lips, narrowed his eyes, “So Mary Ann knew him from back then, did she?”

“Yep, she met him in town the other day. He and his wife have moved in, you know?”

“I had heard there was a new doctor in town.” Ben nodded, “Didn’t realise he knew your wife of course.”

“Well, he is here with his wife.” Joe muttered and frowned, “Mary Ann doesn’t know her. Apparently she wasn’t in Calico the same time as Mary Ann.”

“I see. You have yet to meet her then?”

“Yeah, I have yet to meet either of them.” Joe replied and snapped his mouth shut, his hazel eyes shaded below the brim of his hat darkened momentarily.

“Was he a good friend of Mary Ann’s?” Ben proceeded to ask and from the momentary silence wondered if he should have left well alone. Joe sighed deeply,

“ I got the impression it was, from what she said … she was really excited at the thought of all of us meeting up tomorrow night at the spring dance in town.”

Ben nodded, “Well, it will be – er – a good opportunity for us all to meet up with them, won’t it?”

To that Joe said nothing, but he lowered his hat just a little more and thought about Mary Ann and how she had been acting since meeting the new Doctor, and, of course, her old music teacher. He was going to mention about Mrs Evans but Ben had decided he had had enough of Joe and his worries and had spurred his horse on to catch up with Adam and Hoss.

Joe sighed and trailed along behind them, ignoring Hoss’ attempts to cajole him into riding along with them. Instead he tortured himself with speculative assumptions based on his wife’s cheerful mood. He had to admit that Mary Ann was mostly cheerful, but this was different, she was just a little too light hearted, perhaps even a little giddy. She talked too much and too often about Dr Colby, and not enough about Mrs Evans and didn’t even mention Mrs Colby. For someone with as mercurial a temperament as Joe her chatter only fed the flames of suspicion and doubt and sadly, jealousy.
………..

It had been a long day and Adam was tired when he got home. He slowly unfastened the chaps he wore and tossed them to one side while he glanced around the big room . It was a comfortable room, a welcoming one. He always felt pleased to step inside and find the fire burning, the furniture assembled in such a manner as though to embrace the newcomer. He had just put his gun belt away when Reuben approached him, followed closely by Sofia.

“Pa, can I ask you something?”

Adam nodded as he hung up his hat onto the peg and then closed the porch door behind him. He smiled at Sofia and winked, she attempted to wink back but had as yet failed to get the hang of it. “What’s wrong, son?”

“Well, those boys at school. They keep saying Sofia’s the real man of the house, and I ain’t.”

“You aren’t.” Adam corrected and raised his eyebrows as he walked into the room with them, Sofia clinging to his hand.

“But I am, Pa. I am and Sofia isn’t.” Reuben cried, horrified at the thought that his father agreed with the bullies at school.

Sofia tugged at Adam’s hand “I’m not a boy, I’m a girl.”

“You are indeed.” Adam agreed to that and smiled, he looked at Reuben “Why are they saying you are not?”

“Because it was Sofia who went into the pond and saved the ship.” Reuben groaned theatrically and rolled his eyes “I would have done but they were stopping me because they wouldn’t let me get near the pond. But that doesn’t mean I’m a cissy, does it?”

“Certainly not.” Adam smiled over at Olivia who had come out to greet him, “You were fighting them off and Sofia took advantage of the diversion to go into the pond and save the ship. It was good deployment, Reuben. Well done.”

Reuben’s eyes widened in delight, he looked at Sofia and his chest swelled with pride. “Yeah, that’s what I thought too.”

“And me an’ all.” Sofia declared and let go of Adam’s hand to follow her brother into the other room, their voices halloooo-ing loudly with pleasure.

Adam looked at his wife and took hold of her hand, “I‘ll just get cleaned up.”

“Don‘t take too long.” she smiled and kissed him, all the smells of the camp wafted up to greet her nostrils, sweat, and camp fire, burnt hide and more, she wrinkled her nose “On the other hand, take as long as you need.”.

He laughed at that and kissed her again, then released her with a sigh as he hurried off to the wash room.

Life had changed, but then again it had not really, not by so much. He looked at his face in the mirror and frowned, who was he fooling? It had changed almost like a 360* turnaround. Certainly he was back on the Ponderosa, and dealing with cattle, timber and all the things that he had ran away from when he went to sea, but he also had the responsibility of a wife, and children.

He ran his fingers along his jaw line as he peered at his reflection in the mirror, and then began to wash his face, the clean water sluicing over his hands, cooling his skin. Not so long ago he was responsible for hundreds of men under his authority on board a ship, now … he groped for a towel and dried away the soapy water. Now he had a beautiful wife, and children, and of course, the Ponderosa.

He pulled open the door to find Sofia standing there, her hands clasped together and her face upturned towards him “Daddy, are we going to the party tomorrow?”

“I believe we are.” he smiled and leaned down a little to scoop her up into his arms, “Why, do you want to stay at home?”

“No, I want to go. I want to see Annie and Rosie. But I don’t want to dance with Jimmy.”

Adam agreed that she really didn’t have to dance with anyone she didn’t want to, although it seemed to him she was a little unfair with regard to Jimmy.
………………..

Hester looked thoughtfully at the dresses that were in the closet and then closed the door upon them. It was no good, they were all frumpy and not fit to be seen. She looked at her husband who was jiggling Eric up and down in his arms, patting the little back with one of his hands with a gentleness that she had come to expect from him.

“Hoss, we can’t go tomorrow night.”

“S’alright, if you don’t want to go, honey, then we’ll stay at home.”

“That’s not what I mean. I want to go.” Hester sighed and sat down on the corner of the bed with a sigh and a scowl.

“Wal, make up your mind, sweetie, you either want to go or you don’t.” Hoss handed Eric over to his mother, the baby was sleeping, he always fell asleep once he was engulfed in Hoss’ arms.

“ I do want to go, but I can’t.”

Hoss gave his wife a blank look, like many men he had failed at the first hurdle. This conversation was tying him up in knots.

Hester sighed and carried the baby to his crib, then settled him down very carefully. After stroking back the fuzz of his hair, and covering him with the blanket she returned to the bedside and sat close beside her husband. She slid one hand into his,

“I haven’t anything to wear.” she sighed, and leaned her head upon his shoulder.

“Shucks, honey, I jest see’d a whole load of them danged frocks hanging up in them thar closets.”

She shook her head “They aren’t suitable, not any more. I think either they have shrunk or I’ve got fatter.”

Hoss surveyed her thoughtfully and put his hands on her shoulders, “Stand up.”

She did so and he carefully put his hands around her waist. He nodded, just as he thought, all was as it had been last time, his fingers met just where they always did. “You’re okay, honey, you ain’t no fatter than you was last time we had a town hall dance.”

“Oh dear.” she sighed and looked dismal. “My cousin Ann has a new frock, she bought it from Amanda Ridley’s Emporium.”

“Wal, ain’t no reason why you can’t have a new frock if’n you want one. You still got all day tomorrow to git into town and buy yourself one.”

“I can? Oh Hoss, you’re an angel. Thank you.”

Hoss scratched his head and shrugged, “Ain’t nothing,” he muttered and watched his wife waltz her way out of the room, humming a tune beneath her breath as she went down the stairs. He shook his head, women, he thought, were mighty strange critters.

Chapter 9

The Ladies Emporium was buzzing with ladies and Hester had to elbow her way to the counter with the purchases that she had managed to select with the help of Mrs Carstairs. Amanda greeted her with a smile and nod of the head. Her meetings with Hester Cartwright were always on very cordial ground as she never allowed herself to forget the manner in which Hester had entertained her at the Ponderosa all those years ago when Adam Cartwright had offered to help her out of her dire financial problems.*

It was hard, but she bit her tongue and didn’t make any of the sarcastic comments that came to mind as she carefully put the items into the oyster coloured box with the red ribbon. As she took the money from Hester she smiled “And a very wise choice, considering your colouring, Mrs Cartwright.”

She delivered the statement with the elegance of an assassin with a poniard but Hester had more on her mind than fencing words with Amanda Ridley. She smiled and nodded and carried her package through the throng, finally reaching the door and bumping into her cousin, Ann.

“Oh, last minute purchase, Hester?” Ann laughed, and Hester leaned towards her cousin to give her a hug, “I’m about to do the same. This year the spring dance rather caught me by surprise. These things do tend to creep up on one, don’t they?”

“Oh yes, and I wasn’t sure I was going to find anything either. Ann, I have just another hour before having to get back home, why not join me for some refreshment at The Palace Restaurant*”

“I can’t, Hester. I am really having to rush. Being in town brings so many other duties, and I can’t really stop. Is every one all right back home? How is the baby?”

“Very well, and Samuel?”

“Oh, thriving…must rush. I shall see you tonight.”

“Yes, but …” Hester sighed, her cousin had disappeared, whirling into the Emporium like an autumn leaf caught in the eye of the storm.

An hour to wait, or just get back home as soon as possible, Hester mused. She looked around and smiled to herself, within minutes she was hurrying across the main street to the Martins’ old house.

How comfortable and solid it looked, and she couldn’t refrain from smiling as she remembered how at one time it was right on the outskirts of town and then, as the town grew it was slowly swallowed up to became part of the town’s centre. She hurried up the drive and knocked, anticipating Tilly Trevelyn’s somewhat hesitant smile which could be interpreted as a grimace by the unwary and unknowing.

“Good morning, Mrs Cartwright.” Tilly trilled in her strong Cornish accent and stepped aside to let Hester into the house.

“Oh Tilly, you’ve been baking?” Hester cried as she untied the ribbons of her bonnet and set it down upon the hall bureau.

“Oh there’s a lot of baking to do, Mrs C, seeing as there will be a lot of hungry mouths at the hall this evening.”

Hester nodded and followed Tilly down the hall and into the parlour where Bridie was sitting by the small fire. There was another woman in the room, and Hester was reminded that Bridie was no longer solely her friend and dear companion, but also that of many others who had a claim to her time. The other woman stood up as did Bridie who made the introductions

“Hester my dear, this is Mrs Alicia Colby, our doctor’s wife. Mrs Colby, Alicia, this is Hester Cartwright of the Ponderosa.”

Alicia smiled and shook Hester’s hand with a firmness that was quite unexpected, but pleasing. “Are you the Mrs Cartwright who is married to Joseph?”

“Oh no, I’m married to Hoss, my brother in law is married to Mary Ann, I mean, Joseph is married to Mary Ann.”

Alicia nodded and upon Bridie sitting down, followed her example. Hester found a chair and did likewise. “Of course,” Alicia said, almost to herself, “I had forgotten her name for the moment. My husband knew her, Mary Ann that is, some years ago when she was the school teacher in Calico.”

“That is some years ago,” Hester said with a smile, “But you didn’t know Mary Ann yourself?”

“Oh no, I think she had left a good year before I moved there with my family. My father was the minister there, and my brother eventually took over as the school teacher.”

Hester nodded and glanced thoughtfully at the other woman. She saw a woman with excellent taste in her manner of dress who sat very straight backed with her hands neatly clasped in her lap. She was short in stature, and would in middle age be prone to plumpness. Her eyes were grey/blue behind spectacles that perched on a pretty nose. She was, Hester decided, unexpectedly nondescript. Even so, she had the effect of making Hester feel clumsy, big, and not very lady like. It put Hester on edge. She wished she had gone home and glanced miserably at Bridie who was chattering away about the work Mrs Colby was doing for the Refuge.

“It was Mary Ann and Hester who had the idea of setting the Refuge up in the first place,” Bridie was explaining to Alicia, “I don’t think I shall ever forget Mr deQuille’s face when we went in to confront him and demand that he put in an advertisement.”

“And an article to explain all our requirements.” Hester said rather absent mindedly.

The door opened and Tilly entered bearing a large tray laden with refreshments, Hester couldn’t fail to notice the way Mrs Colby’s eyes lit up at the sight of the cake and cookies, yes, definitely a lady who would run to fat in her middle years. Hester felt less lacking as she sat back and waited for her cup of coffee to be handed over to her.
…………..

Joe and Adam Cartwright were seated at the desk with maps set out in front of them, their faces stern with concentration. It was a well known trail that they were going to follow for the cattle drive, but even so there were changes that had to be incorporated such as new homesteads or ranches where the owners could well have fenced in their land against the marauding appetites of thousands of cattle. Provision had to be made for other routes to be taken were that to happen.

Hoss was playing with his little girls and showing them the techniques of a game of marbles with the result that Ben inadvertently put his foot on one and had to grasp for the back of a chair to stay up right. “How many times have I told you, Hoss, that this should be played outside!”

Hoss frowned “Shucks, Pa, I can’t remember, I ain’t played a game of marbles since Joe went to school.”

Ben shook his head and scowled so fiercely that Hannah ran to collect up the many coloured little balls of glass and carried them over to her Pa, while Hope ran to her grandfather and hugged his leg tightly while looking up at him with such love in her face that Ben couldn’t resist picking her up and hoisting her onto his shoulder. It had taken Hope quite some time to overcome her timidity and to love this man so much. Ben treasured the love she showed him more so as a result and found himself softening his voice when she was present.

He carried her over to where her Uncles were pencilling in an alternative route in the event of any misadventure taking place for in that unsettled period of time whole new settlements were born, and old ones withered away and became ghost towns.

“How is everything coming along? Adam, you got everything organised or going to leave it for another week?”

“No, I thought I would start to lead the cattle out next week. It’s a week earlier than planned, but it gives the cattle time to get used to the idea of following Big Red and grazing, so in the long run it will make it easier.”

“For them or for you?” Ben smiled as he set the little girl down, patted her on the head as though she were a pet dog and forgot about her as he leaned over the map. “This map is a year out of date.”

“A year?” Joe scoffed, “More like two.”

Ben raised his eyebrows “Well, be that as it may, it just means you have to look out for changes along the way.” he turned to Adam “You sure about having Big Red as your lead bull?”

“Oh yes, he has built up quite a harem over the past few weeks,” Adam grinned, his brown eyes twinkled, “He’ll lead them along and the rest will follow.”

“Mmm, and you have the Bar J and Double D cattle along with you don’t forget.” Ben straightened his back, he may not be trail boss, ram rod or anything else come to that, but he wanted to have his say on the matter never the less.

“Was a time,” Joe sighed and tapped the map with a pencil, “that we would have at least six other outfits joining up with us. Remember that year we had over 5000 head of cattle … we lost 250 one night in a stampede.”

“Yeah,” Hoss strolled towards them with a sigh, “I can remember that alright, Candy’s first cattle drive with us, and you were nearly killed.”**

“Huh, yeah, I forgot about that …” Joe muttered and glanced over at Adam who raised his eyebrows, “You weren’t here at the time.”

Adam sighed and nodded, he may not have been there but he had heard all about it, the fears and anxieties the family had endured when it was thought Joseph Cartwright would never walk again. He smiled as though wishing to brush the black clouds away and caught hold of Hope just as she was about to topple off the chair, she clung onto his black shirt until she was steadied up and was more than happy when he lifted her up into his arms. A little arm snaked across his back while her blonde head nestled into her Uncle’s shoulder.

“Well, we haven’t got to drive that many cattle this time, and I’m not expecting any other outfit to join with us at this stage.”

Ben nodded, his mind was back tracking, recalling the time when other ranches would combine their cattle with those of the Ponderosa, now most of those ranches had ‘gone under’, bankrupt, floundering. He sighed, a sadder indication of the economy and one he wished had not occurred. Still, at least they were still solvent, and Luke, as well as Derwent, were prospering too.

The clock marked the time and Hoss sighed, looked thoughtfully at the kitchen door and wondered if it was time to eat. Adam put the pencil down and nodded “Well, I guess I had better get home, I promised Olivia to take the children out for an hour this afternoon.”

Joe likewise tossed his pencil down on the map and nodded “I’ll see you all later. You never know, Pa, there may be a pretty widow for you to dance with tonight.”

“Why a widow?” Ben asked with a lift of the eyebrows, and a glance sideways at his eldest son who appeared ignorant of the comment.

“Could be some lady there waiting for you, Pa, who knows?” Hoss chuckled and plucked his daughter from Adam’s arms so that his brother could be free to collect his hat and gun belt before leaving the house.
……………..

Sofia was first to claim her father as Adam entered the house. She was all smiles and twinkling blue eyes with her blonde hair tied up in rags in order to produce the curls and ringlets of which she was so proud. “Daddy, I can’t come riding with you and Reuben because my hair isn’t done.”

Adam nodded and placed his hat on top of her head which caused her to squeal as she struggled to pull it back off. “Daddy, I’m going to dance with you all night. I don’t want to dance with Jimmy Carstairs and I don’t want to dance with David Riley either. I just want to dance with you.”

Adam shrugged and glanced over to Olivia who was setting the table for their meal, Nathaniel was in his high chair chewing on the handle of a spoon while Reuben was no where to be seen having taken it upon himself to saddle Max ready for their ride out, just in case Pa had forgotten.

“And what about Mommy? Who is going to dance with her?” Adam said as he approached his wife’s side and kissed her on the cheek, smiled into her eyes as he did so.

“Mommy can dance with Grandpa because he hasn’t got anyone to dance with yet.” Sofia announced “But when Ella’s mommy comes he can dance with her.”

“Oh, is that so?” Adam smiled and raised his eyebrows “And what makes you think that Ella’s mommy would want to dance with Grandpa?”

“Of course she will,” Sofia replied with that certainty that young children possessed, as though their knowledge of their parents and grandparents and all adults was vastly more superior than anyone else’s possibly could be…she sighed and sat down “Grandpa is very handsome, especially when he wears his best new suit.”

“Then why don’t you dance with him tonight, and let me dance with mommy?” Adam asked as he rinsed his hands and dried them on the towel, “He’d be very happy if you did, seeing how you’ll be the Belle of the ball.”

She frowned, and shook her head “I’m Sofia, not Belle.”

Reuben came in and smiled “Pa, I’ve got Max ready.”

Hopefulness eked out of his words, he knew his Pa was a busy man, and he knew that at times his own expectations may not be in line with Adams, but these moments were precious, more precious than either would know until much much later in years.

“I know, that’s good, will save some time after eating. Come on now, hurry up.” Adam nodded, smiled, and thought back to times when he had been a child of Reuben’s age, sometimes riding in the saddle in front of his father, often times seated on the hard bench seat of a wagon with the edge cutting into his legs or running through the long parched grasses alongside as the wagons wended their way through the Missouri prairie.
……..

Luke Dent rode his horse up the slope to reach the two riders as they sat astride their horses overlooking the rim rock in order to get a better view of the cattle sprawled below them.

“Hi, Uncle Luke.” Reuben’s young voice carried across the noise, shrill and excited. “Pa said I could come and look at the herds, he said you had some among ‘em.”

“I do, Reuben.” Luke smiled and then glanced over at Adam “Everything alright, Adam?”

“Everything’s fine, Luke. Why’d you ask?” Adam’s eyes darkened slightly but at the smile on Luke’s face they lightened again and he gave his brother in law a broad smile.

“Big Red seems to be getting himself ready to take the lead already.”

“He sure does,” Adam chuckled, “A natural leader, just the kind we want as lead bull.”

Reuben frowned “What does that mean, Pa?”

“Well, just what it says really, son. Big Red, that bull over there with the wider sweep of horns and red sheen to his hide, he’ll lead the herd out. The cattle will follow him you see, all we have to do is keep them in order, make sure they don’t run off and get lost. Cattle will follow their leader quite naturally. Makes it whole lot easier for us in the long run.”

Luke removed his hat and wiped sweat from his brow, then waved his hat back and forth, he smiled at the boy who was leaning forward on the pommel of his saddle, looking down at the cattle with avid interest “Reckon on coming along one year?”

“I sure will do, Uncle Luke. Soon as Pa says so.”

“I thought you were going to be a bronco buster like your Uncle Joe?” Luke laughed, and Reuben grinned and nodded.

“I am. Uncle Joe is riding ram rod with Pa, but he’s still a bronco buster, ain’t he, Pa?”

Adam nodded and then glanced up at the sun, “Well, young man, time to head for home. Ma will have our hides if we’re late getting back. See you tomorrow, Luke.”

They shook hands and shared a grin, mutual respect one for the other, and then Luke was watching as they turned away and slowly descended down the incline he had earlier ridden up. With a contented sigh he turned to look down at the cattle, and leaned forward upon his saddle horn as Reuben had done. He felt a glow of contentment as he watched the cattle milling about, grazing the rich grass, getting fatter. Every ounce of fat was worth a dollar more …

 

* A New Command
** Captain oh my Captain

Chapter 10

The Cartwright women were escorted into the hall by their husbands. Ben seemed to have taken the place of Big Red for he led them in with a smirk of pride on his face as they followed along behind him. The hall was full, music was almost drowned by the sounds of the chattering, the laughter, the deep baritones of the men mixed with the warbling tones of the women. Children from Sofia’s age group upwards ran about and played hide and seek, or grabbed at a cookie and some other delicacy from the tables as and when they could.

Sofia felt a glow of pride as she walked in beside her parents, her hand clasping tightly to that of her father. Her friends from school waved over at her, self conscious in their best new frocks, or their Sunday best cleaned up to look as good as new. All the men had left their gun belts behind, and she had stood and stared up at Deputy Clem and Deputy Mark and felt shy when they had winked at her as her father and Uncles had set down their guns. Grandfather had not bothered to wear one at all. He just looked so handsome, she thought, in his grey suit and smart brocade silver grey vest. Of course, Grandfather was just proud of the fact he could still get into his silver grey brocade vest !

It wasn’t long before everyone began to move about, separating into little groups, chattering awhile and moving on. Sofia saw Bridie and waved to her, only to have Jimmy Carstairs suddenly appear right in front of her and ask if she would like to dance.

“We kids have this time for ourselves,” he said as if he had attended the dances from time immemorial, “So better make the best of it.”

He extended his hand, it was sweaty and a bit sticky so she shook her head and clung closer to her father. Annie Sales ran up with her hair all in tight corkscrew curls, her spectacles quite steamed up, she looked longingly at Reuben who pretended he hadn’t seen her and stared over at the band as though the music was much more important.

“Hey, Reuben, ain’t you dancing yet?” Uncle Hoss smiled down at him, he had a glass of something in his hand and Reuben said he was thirsty but he wasn’t given anything to drink except pushed a little closer to the table where Mrs Hawkins was handing out glasses of orange and lemonade. It didn’t look anything like what Uncle Hoss had in his little glass, but Reuben didn’t mind, he was happy to notice his glass was much bigger.

The children did have time to enjoy themselves. There were games to play with prizes at the end of them, and it was Ben who gave the prizes out with lots of jokes and chuckles to make even the losers happy at just having taken part. There were the dances of course and every so often Sofia found herself having to hold Jimmy’s hand which she didn’t like, but he did.

Then suddenly the mood changed, it was as though someone had set off a cannon, or drawn a curtain across the room as mothers suddenly bustled about and children were rounded up and taken out of the hall. Sofia and Reuben were led away along with others and handed over to the care of Mrs Bradley, the seamstress.

Olivia kissed her children and smiled “Behave yourselves and get some sleep. We will come and collect you in the morning.”

The girls were taken to sleep in one room, divested of their dresses and all huddled together on the mattresses set out on the floor. The boys in their own room with their jackets and boots off. No one minded, it was all part of the fun of being away from home and the usual routine. There were giggles, and jokes, permitted until Mr Bradley came and ordered them to settle down and sleep. The youngest and smallest already were, and somehow or other, it wasn’t long before the older children were snoring happily along with them. .
………

Hester was the first to notice Alicia Colby and smiled shyly over at her. The straight back and stern features of the doctor’s wife were a little intimidating but Hester was never one to be put off. She looked over at her sisters-in-law and whispered “That’s Mrs Colby.”

Olivia looked and smiled, gave a polite nod of the head which was reciprocated. Mary Ann also looked and then looked again as she wondered why the handsome James Colby had married such a plain little wife. She was considering going to speak to her when the other woman turned her back on them and began to speak to someone else.

“How rude.” Hester whispered, and shook her head as though surprised at the manners of some people present.

Amanda Ridley came and was accompanied by Daniel deQuille. Of course, he would not have said he was accompanying her, but that he was there in order to write an account of the evenings proceedings.

The music began and the Caller began to shout out instructions for the first dance to proceed. Each Cartwright turned to his wife and escorted her onto the dance floor, followed by others …the sheriff Candy Canaday with his wife, Ann. Dr Colby with his wife and even Paul brought Bridie to the floor to open the evening with the very first dance.

Ben watched with a smile on his face, his pride in his sons and his daughters-in-law evident as the black eyes followed them around the room. He laughed at the fact that Hoss’ ’Hollooo’ was the loudest, and that Joe’s energy was the most frenetic. When Clemmie Hawkins joined him beside the punch bowl he nodded and greeted her fondly, for he had learned over the years that there was much to appreciate about the little widow .

“Not dancing, Clemmie?”

“Not for me, ducks, me feet are killing me.” she moaned and looked around for a chair to sit upon.

He led her to one with a plump cushion and brought her over a glass of punch, and listened to her chatter away for some moments. He didn’t admit it but he was quite relieved when Roy Coffee made his way over and took his stand beside him. Two old bachelors, he smiled, well, perhaps for now he could forget about the ‘old.’

After the energies of the first dance there was a gentle waltz. Olivia loved the way Adam would hold her in his arms, and place his hand gently at the base of her spine. She would look up at him and lean in just a little closer, his fingers would tighten just a little more around hers. The look in his eyes as he glanced down upon her made her shiver.

James Colby eventually led his wife over to where Mary Ann and Joe were standing together talking to Roy and Ben. With a polite bow James introduced himself to Ben and Joe, adding with a note of pride which Joe didn’t appreciate that Mary Ann and he were old friends. He then introduced his wife who was standing looking quite grim by his side.

Mary Ann gave Alicia the benefit of her warmest smile “I didn’t get to know you in Calico when I was there.” she said in her gentle voice.

“Oh you had left before I moved there with my family.” Alicia replied, “But I heard all about you.”

Joe laughed “All good things of course.”

She looked at him, smiled and flushed “Of course they were, Mr Cartwright. What else could they have been?”

Joe wasn’t sure how to answer that but when the music started for the next dance he turned to Mary Ann and took hold of her hand in order to whirl her into what was the polka. Mary Ann felt decidedly uncomfortable, it seemed to her that Mrs Colby just didn’t like her and that James Colby had somehow managed to offend Joe. She looked up at her husband and caught his eyes looking down at her, she smiled and settled in closer into his arms.

Ben was dancing now with Olivia, and Adam was standing beside the table watching them with a fond expression on his face when he was aware of someone jostling him. He turned and smiled a welcome at the man who now stood at his elbow, “Mr Evans?”

“Good evening, Mr Cartwright.”

“Is your wife with you this evening?”

“Sadly not, my wife is – unable to attend such functions.” Evans replied and sighed, he turned and ladled in some of the punch into a glass, “Normally I would stay home but Beatrice insisted I came. She’s very attentive to the niceties of what a town expects from the school master.”

Adam nodded with a smile fixed to his face, and turned to watch the dancing. Evans stood next to him, his head nodding to the music “Did you know my wife was your sister-in-law’s tutor on the piano?”

“She did mention it when I saw her the other day.” Adam murmured.

“Oh, you’ve met my wife then?” Evans frowned, “I hadn’t realised.”

“I wanted to thank her for looking after Sofia after the – er – incident with the boat.” Adam replied and looked at the other man rather thoughtfully as he wondered why Beatrice would have neglected to have mentioned his visit.

“Oh yes, of course, well, that was nothing.” Edward dismissed it airily, and shrugged. “My wife was intrigued by your daughter, she has a talent on the piano…did you know?”

“Sofia?” Adam raised his eyebrows, then shrugged “She enjoys her lessons with her Aunt, nothing else.”

Edward now gave him a strained look, and shook his head “Oh no, Mr Cartwright, you’re quite wrong there. Your daughter has a natural talent. I’m more than glad that it is Mary Ann who is teaching her to play, and love, music. That way it will be nurtured, and grow. You daughter -” he paused, and smiled “Well, I mustn’t run ahead of myself.”

Adam said nothing to that, but nodded and turned his attention back to the dance floor where Ben was spinning his daughter in law round and round, both of them laughing up at one another. It occurred to him yet again what a handsome man his father was, and how beautiful his wife as she spun in Ben’s arms.

Joe held Mary Ann very close to him while he thought over the way James Colby had spoken about her, and the memory came of the rather sharp manner in which Alicia had addressed her words. He sighed and whispered to Mary Ann that he needed some fresh air, and at her nod, led her from the room.

The sky was black with the spangle of stars dripping over head and a harvest moon slid from behind clouds. They walked hand in hand in silence until they came to a seating area behind the hall. Several other couples were strolling hand in hand near by, some closer than others.

“Mary Ann, just how friendly were you with that James Colby?”

“Why?” was her immediate response, probably because she was expecting him to ask and disappointed that he actually did.

“Because he spoke in there as though he knew you very well.”

Mary Ann shrugged and pulled a little moue of a face “Oh that’s just James trying to make more of nothing. I was the school teacher and he the doctor. The town was small, and we were thrown together quite a bit. At first,” she paused and mentally considered the first months of her living in Calico, “Well, at first I did think there could be a romance but to be honest with you, Joe, I just found myself thinking of someone else all the time. It’s alright having a handsome young man right under your nose, but … my heart already belonged to someone else. I knew that one day I would leave Calico to find that someone else and I did.”

She smiled at him then, squeezed the fingers of his hand, he frowned “His wife didn’t seem to be very happy at seeing you.”

“No, but I doubt if she would be pleased at seeing any woman who had known her husband for the best part of several years.”

Joe sat down beside her on one of the seats and held her hand in both of his, “Why didn’t you come looking for me earlier ?”

“Because I was afraid. I had a good paying joy and felt independent for the first time in my life, that means a lot to someone like me, Joe. Also James attentions were flattering, and I kept thinking that perhaps I should let it become more than it was, but then when I thought of coming to find you I was afraid.”

“Afraid of me?”

“Afraid of – well – just maybe you were still in love with your little Indian girl*. You were so heart broken on that journey, Joe. Whenever I thought of you, tried to recall your face, it was always with those tragically sad eyes staring at me … and I didn’t really have the courage to see them again, because if you were still suffering from her loss, then you would have no interest in me.”

He sighed and turned his face to look up at the sky, he closed his eyes and for a brief moment she quite dreaded what he was going to say next. Finally he turned to her, and smiled, brought her hand to his lips.

“I could have lost you forever.” he whispered.

“But you were suffering, Joe. I overheard Adam and Hoss talking together once, and they were so frightened and worried about you.”

“I’m glad you found the courage to come to Virginia City.” he said softly and drew her closer to him.

“It took me a week to pluck it from somewhere before I filled in that form for the post of school teacher here.” she laughed a little, “And don’t worry about James, he and I were the least suited of couples. He annoyed me immensely, he is far better suited to the wife he found.”

Joe said nothing to that although he did try to suppress a feeling of pity for the poor young doctor.

 

* To Fly with Eagles

Chapter 11

The school teacher mingled and stopped to speak to those willing to linger for a while with him. Most were parents of his students and conversation soon became centred upon the child’s progress or not so that he would smile, nod and continue to seek others with whom he could converse. So far as he was concerned school room topics belonged to the privacy of the school room, not where others could overhear for with the music, chatter, and general racket no conversation could really be made in private.

He was more than pleased to see Mary Ann and Olivia standing together watching the dancing and laughing at Hoss swirling Hester down the line of dancers and beneath the arch, causing the couple forming the arch to step back some way and breathe in deep to let them through.

Olivia saw him first and smiled, nodded a welcome so that he felt encouraged to step closer ”May I get you ladies anything to drink?”

Both ladies declined the offer very pleasantly, “Is your wife not with you, Mr Evans?” Olivia asked, “I had hoped to meet her so that I could thank her for looking after Sofia for me the other day.” her smile widened as she looked sincerely into his face “And while I remember, to thank you too. Reuben was so worried about the damage to the boat, but he told us how you checked it over and made sure nothing was broken.”

“It proved a very sea worthy little vessel, Mrs Cartwright.” he smiled, and then glanced at Mary Ann, “You’re Mary Ann Cartwright, aren’t you? My wife mentioned your visit the other day. I remember you when you were younger and Beatrice was your teacher.”

Mary Ann nodded, “Yes, fancy remembering me, I was just a child then. Your wife was such a wonderful teacher, and my brother Frank, he loved watching her play the piano. He thought she was like an angel.”

Evans smiled, a smile that bore the essence of sadness, grief for something that had once been, but was now lost forever. He sighed “Well, yes, as you say, it was a long time ago. I was sorry to hear that Frank had been killed, an Indian attack I understand?”

“Yes, in a way… I mean , yes, it was but there’s more to it than it sounds.”

He glanced at her, frowned slightly and bowed his head “Yes, quite often there usually is to such events. I am sorry for your loss though, Mrs Cartwright.”

Mary Ann flushed a little, suppressed grief can surge through many layers of daily living, a kind word, a hint of nostalgia, and it gushes forth whether one wishes it too or not. She cleared her throat “May I ask – Mr Evans – with your wife not being here, whether it would be possible, convenient, I mean, for us to just slip over to visit her for a little while. It seems a shame for her to be without company when we have such an abundance of it here.”

It was now his turn to flush, he glanced at Olivia who was smiling although her eyes were watching a young woman approaching her husband. “Well, if neither of you would mind? I know that Beatrice would very much appreciate some company, life is quite a lonely business lately.”

Olivia sighed and nodded, excused herself and walked to where her husband stood talking to the young woman who had handed him an envelope which he was hastily tucking into his jacket pocket. The conversation stopped when Olivia approached and for a second she felt an intruder, but Adam smiled and slipped his arm around her waist and turned towards the other woman “Angela, this is my wife, Olivia.”

Angela nodded, smiled and put out her hand “Good evening, Mrs Cartwright. I would introduce you to my husband if he were here but sadly he is out on manoeuvres.”

“Angela’s husband is in the army.” Adam explained with a smile on his face, “Angela is very involved with Indian Affairs, she works on behalf of the Commission set up by President Grant some years ago to look into fraudulent abuse of Indian Territory.”

Angela nodded, “We owe a lot to your husband for this help from the Government, however unwillingly it is given. Thankfully no one has acted to shut us down yet.”

Olivia looked up at her husband, knowing that such matters meant a lot to him, remembering also how much he had seen of the white mans abuse of the Native American. She sighed “You seem very young for such a serious work, Angela.”

“Oh, I was initiated into it a very long time ago when I was very young,” she smiled, displaying excellent teeth, but her eyes did not smile, they seemed too old for her face, as though she had already experienced far too much misery and sorrow for them to ever dance with mirth again. “Adam may have told you the story of Red Eagle and Angela Hay?”

Olivia had not heard that story, but smiled and asked her for how long she would be in town to which Angela replied only until the next day when she would be leaving to return to Washington.

She excused herself then, and Olivia watched her stroll over to where Joe and Hoss were standing together by the punch bowl. “What a pretty woman, but she seems – so sad.”

Adam sighed, glanced over at Angela and nodded “Yes, you’re right, but she dedicated her life to the cause when she was very little. She was a very strong minded, determined little girl, so I’m not surprised that she followed along the path Red Eagle led her.” he frowned and then turned, removed the frown in order to smile as he looked back down at her “Care to dance, Mrs Cartwright?”

She shook her head “I would like to, but Mr Evans would like Mary Ann and I to visit his wife, she is alone just now and it is only a few steps away to their house. Would you mind?”

He smiled, kissed her cheek, inhaled her perfume and kissed her again “Don’t be long.”

She smiled and turned to leave, glanced over to where Angela was now talking to Ben and Roy, with an elderly woman, one she recognised as a local widow, Martha Haye. The resemblance was strong enough for her to correctly deduce that Angela was Martha’s daughter which triggered the memory of a story she had once been told by Martha. It had been when they were first working at Bridie’s Refuge and sorting out clothes …

Mary Ann passed Olivia her cloak and smiled “I thought you were never going to come.”

“I couldn’t rush away, I met Martha’s daughter, Angela, and had to stop for a moment.”

“Martha Haye?” Mary Ann glanced over her shoulder to where the women were still in conversation with Ben and Roy. She slipped her arm through Olivia’s “I remember her telling me a rather gruesome story about a Paiute Indian her daughter had befriended when she was a little girl. I think they called him Squaw Charlie, and he was murdered, shot down, because they thought he had kidnapped and killed her…the little girl I mean.”

“I remember it now,” Olivia nodded, and gripped her friend’s arm more tightly, “I recall how Adam once told me he could never read Psalm 23 without remembering an act of injustice that his father had been unable to avert, although they tried so hard to do so. It was to do with Martha Haye and the Paiute, but Adam always referred to him as Red Eagle.”

“Of course, that was his name after all. Squaw Charlie was just the insult the townspeople labelled him with… people can be so … cruel.”

Olivia said nothing to that, but as they rushed across the road her mind did wander back to the little billet doux Angela had passed over to Adam, and which had been rather suspiciously slipped into his pocket.

 

Mrs Price opened the door and looked surprised to see the two pretty ladies standing on her doorstep, dressed in all their finery they looked quite out of place standing there. She, however, stepped aside to let them into the house and was about to speak when a voice enquired from within “Who is it, Mary?”

Mary Price led the women into the parlour and Beatrice’s pale features, haggard and weary as she glanced towards the entrance, now lit up with pleasure and showed the beauty that had once blazed upon her audiences throughout the world. She extended a hand and, rather than have it taken hold of by them, swept it to indicate the chairs near by her own.

“I apologise for not getting up to greet you. I am afraid this is one of my bad days. I have to stay in my wheel chair and rely on Mrs Price to push me from room to room.”

Mrs Price looked at her mistress and then at the two ladies “You’ll be alright then, Missus?”

“Yes, thank you, Mary. Unless…of course … our visitors would like some refreshment.”

The visitors declined, saying how they had had plenty from the hall. Mrs Price therefore retreated and the three women looked at one another, before Olivia and Mary Ann remembered they had been offered seats, so sat down.

“Mary Ann, what a joy to see you again.” the smile was bright, the eyes shone, but the colour in her cheeks was unnaturally high, it was obvious to them both that their visit was to be brief.

“Oh I did so want to see you again, Beatrice. This is my dear sister in law, Olivia Cartwright. Adam’s wife.”

“And Sofia’s mother?” she smiled and extended to Olivia a very sweet gracious smile, “How is she? Your daughter?”

“Very well, thank you.” Olivia returned the smile, and added her thanks to the woman for the care they had given Sofia after the pond incident.

“Oh, think nothing of it. She has determination that little one, but what could one expect, being Adam’s daughter.” Beatrice replied.

“She’s not actually Adam’s daughter,” Olivia said quickly, “Adam is …”

“I’m sorry, I assumed she was, however, she is delightful, a lovely child.”

“Thank you.” Olivia leaned back in her chair feeling that she had been ungracious, but her innate honesty could not have allowed her to let the compliment go and the wrong assumption to continue, she glanced over at Mary Ann who appeared quite oblivious to any problem.

“Beatrice, Olivia tells me you are an old friend of Adams, isn’t it amazing? How lovely to have all these connections here without any of us even realising.” Mary Ann cried, her warmth and sweet nature propelling her onwards into areas that would have had Olivia tip toeing around.

“Adam Cartwright?” Beatrice smiled and nodded, glanced at Olivia and her face became tender “Yes, he was a good friend, although I must be honest with you and admit that I really hardly knew him. Just sometimes one meets a person and feels so at ease with them. Do you not find that so? There is no thought nor inclination for romance, no flirtation involved. Just a kind of understanding that one could be open and honest about anything with one another. Adam was that kind of friend. He appeared into my life when I was at my peak as a concert performer, Edward was still my manager. I think I must have met your husband, Olivia, a mere handful of times, and yet I knew I could trust him with my life.”

Olivia nodded, she understood, she had had that very same feeling one day in San Francisco when she had approached him and asked him to help her escape back to the Double D.* She had known for sure he would help her, and he had …yes, she quite understood and any barriers to a friendship with this sadly crippled woman immediately fell.

They chattered as woman do who are relaxed with one another. They learned a little more about Beatrice, about her illness, the loss of their child. And she learned about them just a little more, and when it was time to leave they kissed one another‘s cheek and promised to call by another time.

As soon as the door closed the colour faded from Beatrice’s face, the eyes grew lustreless, and she firmed her lips against the pain. Mrs Price was not surprised at the tinkle of the bell that summoned her to her mistress’ side.
…………..

Timothy Schofield detested these affairs, constantly collared by patients who wanted to know why their medicine wasn’t working to which he would say that it must be otherwise they wouldn’t be standing there, prancing about, drinking wine or whatever . When he saw Adam approaching he sighed and picked up a glass which he filled with punch.

“I’ve only just come, give me time to enjoy one drink at least.” he muttered dourly.

“You can drink the bowl dry, Dr Schofield, if you so wish. I only want to know…”

Timothy raised a hand to stop the flow of words “You are not one of my patients. I do not have to discuss anything with you whatsoever.”

“We were wondering when you were actually leaving us, Dr Schofield, as we would have liked to have organised …”

“No, don’t want anything like that, or anything like this come to that… I’m leaving at the end of the month. Thank goodness for that…”

Adam nodded “Amen to that too.”

Schofield frowned, watched as Adam walked away, hands clasped behind his back as though by being so they would not be clasped around the doctors neck! Timothy shook his head, it seemed to him he was the only sane man in that building and after swallowing down two glasses of punch he turned, picked up his hat, and retired from the building.

He ignored Mary Ann and Olivia as they hurried through, brushing past him as they did so. Joe saw them and looked relieved at the sight of his wife, hurried over to her side and took hold of her by the hand “I was worried, you seemed to be gone so long.”

“We were at Beatrice’s, she was so lonely, Joe.” Mary Ann explained and kissed her husbands cheek sweetly.

“So Adam said, but I missed you anyway.” he smiled, his eyes looking roguishly at her as he swirled her into the waltz.

Ben watched them both, and nodded to himself. They were a handsome couple and no mistake, with a sigh he looked at Adam and Olivia, then at Hoss and Hester. He stood still for a while, holding his glass against his chest while his mind drifted to three other beautiful women, three other Mrs Cartwrights …

 

* Carpe Diem

Chapter 12

Once the hotel room door was closed behind them, and he had removed his hat, coat and gun belt, Adam Cartwright took the envelope from his pocket and settled down in a chair to read it.

Olivia had taken off her outer clothing too and now sat on the edge of the bed.   She glanced over to her husband and could see that what he was reading had all his attention for the moment so quietly began removing her shoes.  Too much dancing, her feet ached, she rubbed them for a moment before asking her husband if the letter was about anything important.  He put the letter down and smiled at her, a slightly wry twist of his lips, then stood up and walked to her, and took hold of her hand, drew her to her feet and held her close to him.

It didn’t answer her question but she let it drift away as she sunk into him, kissed those lips, rubbed the soft skin of her cheek against the rough stubble of his and raised her fingers to caress the back of his neck where his hair curled over his collar.

The knock on the door made them both jump,  even though he retained his grip on her hand he called out for whoever had knocked to enter.

It was Ben who stepped inside, hatless, his string tie loose and the collar of his shirt unbuttoned.  He apologised for interrupting but the pointed look he gave his son made it clear to Olivia that the meeting had been arranged. As it was Adam released her hand and returned to the desk, from where he picked up the letter and handed it to his father.

“Angela gave you this?”  he raised his eye brows and looked thoughtfully at Adam who nodded.

“She met Sarah Thocmetony there, in Washington.  Angela’s quite involved in Indian Affairs …”

Ben nodded, and gave a slight smile “Squaw Charlie’s legacy.”

Adam crossed his arms across his chest and smiled, nodded his head  “Yes, so it seems.   Sarah asked Angela to get this to us.  She doesn’t trust the mail service.”

Ben said nothing but slipped the letter into his pocket, “Sorry, Olivia.” he smiled at her affectionately before turning to his son “I’ll read this and we’ll discuss it tomorrow.  Goodnight, Livvy…you looked very beautiful this evening.”.he edged his way to the door “Goodnight, son.”

The door clicked shut and Adam turned the key, then pulled off his tie.  With a smile he turned his head to observe his wife “He’s right, you know.  You looked very lovely this evening.”

She smiled as she began to unbutton her dress “Thank you.”

He nodded “You look even lovelier  now.”

He reached out a hand and stroked her face, she turned her head slowly into his hand and kissed its palm whispering as she did so…”I love you more than you’ll ever know.”

He cupped her face between his hands “And I ..I love you …always and forever, my darling Livvy.”
………

Joe with Mary Ann, Hoss with Hester, Adam along with Ben met for breakfast at the big table in the hotel.  Olivia had taken time to collect the children from Mrs Bradleys before she would join them too.  The letter from Sarah Thocmetony Winnemucca was now in Joe’s hands with Hoss peering over his shoulder.

“Dadgumit, things don’t look good, do they?” Hoss muttered as he took his seat beside his wife and watched Joe slip the letter back into its envelope.

“That’s a strange situation she’s got herself into though, do you think it will have any success?” Joe asked as he looked alternately at Adam and his father.

“Entertainment value only,” Ben snorted and flapped out his napkin while his dark brows furrowed above the black eyes

“Well, it’s really a lost cause, isn’t it?” Adam said quietly, “Whatever they do will not change the Governments policy, Angela can petition as much as she likes it will make little if any difference. As for Sarah and Natchez, I guess so long as they feel they are doing something it will make them feel more positive for the future, until they realise nothing changes.”

He picked up the letter and slipped it back into his jacket pocket and then turned as Sofia’s clear voice calling to him floated across the breakfast room “Daddy…”

“Hey, pumpkin. Did you sleep alright?” he leaned towards her and caught her as she jumped up into his arms, to settle into his lap as though there were no other more rightful place for her to be.

“Yes, I slept in a big bed with Rosie and Annie Sales. But Annie Sales went home with Betty because they live in town and their Ma and Pa came for them when the party stopped. Daddy, that Jimmy Carstairs said I looked pretty.”

“Well, so you did, very pretty.” he smiled over her head at Reuben and winked, which was deemed sufficient for the boy grinned and took his seat beside his grandfather who ruffled his hair and asked him if he had slept at all.

Food was ordered, and duly consumed. If there was a rather subdued air among them the children did not notice but chattered about their evening as the high adventure of the week.

They were about to rise from the table when Dr Colby and Alicia arrived, and although she hesitated to approach them, James Colby did not but removed his hat and greeted them all with a hearty ’Good Morning, good to see you all looking so well.”

“Ain’t gonna git many patients that away,” Hoss laughed and James grinned and said something that sounded like he was happier seeing them healthy than not.

“Settled in alright, Doctor Colby?” Ben asked as he stood up and smiled over at Alicia who was trying to look inconspicuous. He had the impression that she spent her life trying to appear unnoticeable, and felt some pity for her. “I hope you like your new home, Mrs Colby.”

She blushed just a little and murmured “It is all very well, thank you.”

“Bridie was so excited at the thought of another doctor’s wife in town,” Olivia said with a warm smile for she also sensed that there was a sadness about the woman that perhaps too many dismissed as aloofness.

“Bridie? Oh, you mean Mrs Martin?” Alicia replied and a small smile came to her lips, it went very quickly but it did appear, “Yes, she was very kind, and very helpful.”

“She just can’t help herself, “ Hoss said with a chuckle in his voice “Wal, guess we had better git along. Nice to meet you both this morning.”

“And you also.” James replied, and kept the smile plastered on his face while all of them made their way from the table, nodding, smiling, muttering good bye as they passed him and Alicia.

Alicia Colby watched her husband carefully and when he turned aside to escort her to a small table set perfectly for two, she gave a sigh of relief. Her consuming passion was her husband, but riding side by side with that was passion’s evil twin, that of jealousy. She had watched to make sure, to her satisfaction, that Mary Ann Cartwright had received no more, nor less, attention from her husband than any of the other Cartwright wives. She had not, and therefore, Alicia’s nerves were soothed sufficiently to enjoy her meal.

The Cartwright’s gave the Colby’s no further thought as they made their way to their buggies which had been left at Ridley’s Livery. Anderson was there with his broad smile, and led the horses out harnessed and ready for the ride home. “Enjoy your evening, folks?”

“We sure did,” Hoss said, “How about yourself, Fred?”

“Aw, my missus had some sickness so I had to stay back with her, Dr Schofield came to see to her but he’s – well – he’s a strange one and no mistake. Didn’t spend much time checking her over at all. Now Dr Paul -” he paused as he angled one of the horses into a better position having noticed one of the wheels of that particular buggy wouldn’t clear the door jamb otherwise, “he would always spend a while chatting, being neighbourly and friendly but not Dr Schofield. I hope this new Doc will be more like Dr Paul and Dr Schofield or else I’ll have to be leaving town.”

“Aw, shucks, Fred, you can’t be doing that,” Hoss exclaimed as he helped Hester take her seat in their two seater, “Too many folk are leaving town as it is.”

Fred nodded, sighed heartily and thumbed back the battered old hat he wore. He was an efficient and hard working man, everyone knew how much Amanda relied on him to make the business run at a profit “I know, and it’s worrying. Remember a few years back when there was the big fire? All those millions spent building the town back and getting that fire service set up, and Sutro’ spending all those billions on getting his tunnel built… what was all that for I ask you? Now they’re up and leaving …” he shook his head “I guess there ain’t nothing as odd as folks, Hoss. Ain’t I right? Ain’t I?”

“You sure are, Fred.” Hoss grinned and nodded, passed money over above the cost of the nights hire and then clambered up to take his seat beside his wife “Alright, honey-bun, ready for home, huh?”

Hester nodded, and slipped her arm through that of her husbands, waved a hand in farewell to Fred who was watching them thoughtfully. Ben was on his horse, Cinnamon, with Reuben perched in the saddle with him, and he called out a farewell to the other man which Fred accepted with a finger to the brim of his hat.

Adam and Olivia, with Sofia settled in comfortably between them passed by, Adam nodded over at Fred and Olivia smiled while behind them came Joe and Mary Ann in their two seater, chattering like two love birds which brought a fond smile to the Livery Manager’s face as it brought to mind days gone by when he and his wife had once been so young and so in love.
…………….

“Adam, what was in Sarah’s letter that caused you all so much concern?” Olivia finally got around to asking as the horses went at a steady clip-clop through the main street of town, “You all looked very concerned. Is she alright? She hasn’t come to any harm has she?”

“No, she’s safe. She took my letter to President Hayes who was gracious enough to see her, and grant her a private interview.”

“That’s good, isn’t it?” she looked at him, her eyes wide and anxious for she knew only too well how much the Indian situation mattered to him and his family.

“Yes, but he was able to give her no reassurances. According to their records Rhinehardt is practically a saint. The words of a somewhat prejudiced Paiute delegation won’t make an ounce of difference to them. However, it would seem Sarah and Natchez do have some support from some very wealthy sponsors* who have suggested that they perform at the theatres,* relating their life story, the history of the Paiute, and the conditions they are in now…it’s hoped that through this they’ll get enough publicity to shame the Government into doing something more constructive.”

“What can the Government do, Adam?”

“They could do far more than they are,” her husband replied rather heatedly, and for a moment he said nothing more although his eyes narrowed and his mouth set into that familiar set line “Of course Winnemucca wants all his land back, he wants his people to live as they did before, but that’s an irreversible situation now. Not just for the Paiute, but for every tribe and nation of Indian existing.” he winced, as though the fact pained him, as indeed it did. “Well, perhaps they’ll be able to gain back some freedoms but somehow, I can’t see it happening.”

“Does this mean that there will be no more fighting, no more Indian wars?”

“I don’t know, Olivia. I would like to think so, but somehow…” he paused and then glanced down at his daughter who was staring up at him with big eyes, a slightly anxious strain to the lips. There was no mistaking the fact that she was concerned by the serious tone of the conversation her parents were engaged in so he leaned towards her and whispered, with a twinkle in his eyes, “We’ll be going over Miller’s Creek soon, Princess, do you think there’ll be any trolls hiding beneath it?”

“Oh no, not today,” she replied with certainty, “Anyway if there are, then they’ll have to face Uncle Hoss and I think Uncle Hoss will eat the troll up and chase it away.”

Adam laughed, and slowed the horses a little as they waited for Hoss’ vehicle to pass onto the bridge, the hollow sounds of the buggy wheels and the horse’s made Sofia smile

“Daddy, do you think the troll is going to say ’Who’s that clip clopping over my bridge?’”

“Well, I don’t rightly know, sweetheart.” Adam flicked the reins and his horses moved forwards, following behind Hoss and Hester’s vehicle, “Can you hear him?”

Sofia half rose and leaned forward, so precariously that Adam had to grab at her skirts to make sure she didn’t fall completely over “Clip clopping, clip clopping over your bridge, silly old troll.”

Her laughter brought a smile to both her mother and father’s lips, they looked at one another, their eyes met, they smiled at one another and settled back as the buggy drove off the bridge back onto the hard packed track towards home. Ben came riding alongside Joe’s buggy, Reuben clutching at the pommel and obviously wondering if he had chosen the best way to ride home.

Sofia turned to kneel on the seat in order to peek over the buggy hood, to see if any old troll – or young one come to that – would jump up and gobble up her brother and grandfather but they seemed mighty unconcerned so she settled back between Adam and Olivia with a sigh. “I don’t think it was a hungry troll today.”

Adam nodded, while Olivia took hold of her hand and held it tightly within her own.

The beauty of their surroundings touched them all, the early morning sun graced the tips of the trees, made gold the land about them. The water was as blue as the sky and rippled with silver tipped wavelets. Birds sang, trilling out their music with such enthusiasm that Sofia pursed her lips in an effort to whistle along with them. It was such a perfect day that it was easy to forget that not so long ago families of Paiute, Bannock, Shoshone would have made this same journey and called it home.

 

Chapter 13

Doctor James Colby put down his pen and stared up at the person who had just entered his surgery. It was obvious from the look on his face that he had been caught by surprise when he saw Adam remove his hat and continue towards him.  He stood up and raised his eyebrows “Are you looking for Paul?”

Adam shook his head and leaned against the corner of the desk “No, I wanted to talk over something with you.”

Colby nodded and sat down again, “Well, certainly, ummm, your health …?”

“I’m well, thank you.”. Adam pulled a chair towards him and straddled it, folded his arms across its back “I wanted to know what area of medicine you specialise in?”

James sighed and fidgeted in his seat “I’m just a country doctor, Mr Cartwright.  I specialise in looking after the sick, the old, the young and the dying.   After rusticating in Calico for years I can no longer claim to specialise in any particular area of medicine..”

“But you did once?” Adam persisted, a slight rise to the eyebrow seeming to emphasise the importance of the enquiry.

Colby gave a slight shrug “I trained in a good hospital and learned all I needed to be a well qualified medical practitioner. However, I wanted to experience the thrill of starting a new life in an entirely new world and Calico offered various different challenges.“ he glanced at Adam who looked slightly strained, like a man who had not much time to waste and had not anticipated a man’s life history in answer to a simple question. He sighed, “Well, after a year I realised I was stuck in a routine with no challenges at all.”.  he gave a slightly crooked smile and shrugged “And now we’re here, just as it seems everyone else is leaving.”

Adam nodded “You know Schofield’s leaving at the end of the month?”

“Yes, a brilliant doctor,” James intoned respectfully, “He’s wasted here.”

Adam pursed his lips and lowered his head so that his chin was resting on his arms “The thing is he agreed to see a child, examine her and, well, hopefully see if there was any possibility of a cure for her.”
“Not your daughter?” James asked with a note of sincere concern in his voice that warmed him to Adam a little more.

“No, a child I got to know a while back.  She’d been shot in the back, has been paralysed since.  Schofield intimated that he could do something to help her.”

James frowned, his face fell into intense grave lines as he considered what little Adam had told him.  “I’d need to see her before proceeding further. It sounds as though surgery would be required, very delicate surgery. I doubt if I would have the expertise.”

Adam nodded, “I appreciate your honesty, Dr Colby. But I would appreciate it if you would take a look at her, perhaps with Dr Schofield. I’m expecting her to arrive here within the week,” Adam replied as he rose slowly from his chair “I leave on a cattle drive soon, I wanted to make sure Ella will be in good hands before I go.”

James watched as the rancher stood up, tall and dark, hovering above him.  He stood up quickly in order to feel less intimidated “I can’t promise anything but if you can bring her to see me as soon as she gets here…”

“Schofield seemed confident he could help her.” Adam murmured as he picked up his hat, a slight frown creasing his brow.

“Well, Dr Schofield is an amazing doctor and surgeon “ the other man replied, picking up a pen and tinkering with it nervously, “But I shall be pleased to do as you requested, Mr Cartwright. I’m sure Dr Schofield will help wherever he can, and …and I will obviously do the best I can for her as well.“

Adam nodded, “Thank you,” was all he said as he and placed his hat upon his head and turned to leave the building.

Adam had not walked far from the surgery when his brother, Joe, appeared from the Hardware store, a list of things in his hands but a smile on his face as he saw Adam approach him. “Penny for your thoughts, older brother?”

“Oh, I just went to see Dr Colby.” Adam sighed and glanced back over his shoulder to where they could just discern the shadow of Colby by the window, “I wanted to see if he could help out little Ella.”

“Who?” Joe frowned, his eyes fixed on the window and narrowing when Colby’s shadow faded from view “Ella?”

“The little girl I told you about who had been paralysed …Sofia’s friend.”

“Oh yes, of course. You wanted Schofield to check her over, didn’t you? Do you think Colby is up to the job?”

“Not really. He didn’t seem too sure, in fact, he didn’t seem really very sure of anything.” Adam frowned and rolled his tongue across his teeth before looking at his brother “So? What have you got there?”

“Last minute check list.” Joe smiled and handed it over to Adam who stood with the list in his hands while he checked it over. While Adam did that Joe glanced over his shoulder back at the surgery “What do you think about them? Dr and Mrs Colby?”

Adam frowned slightly and looked up at his brother, he sighed and tucked the list into his pocket “They seem a decent enough couple, Joe. I think Dr Schofield’s presence has made him rather nervous.”

“Well,” Joe laughed “That’s understandable, the man makes everyone nervous.”

Adam nodded and then shrugged “Let’s have a drink, this could be the last time we get the chance to have one of Sam’s beers for a while.”

James Colby could see the two brothers as they walked together into the saloon.   He watched from the window until they had disappeared from view and then returned to the desk at which he stood in deep thought for some moments.

He considered for a moment  the fact that Adam Cartwright had sought him out as the doctor to attend to a paralysed child.  Of all the doctors in the town, including those still in attendance at the hospital, why seek him out?

Schofield was, of course, excellent in his field, as a doctor and surgeon, but. As Adam had speculated,  there was every likelihood that he would have left town before the girl arrived.  Upon doing so he would take not only his skills  but any information concerning those surgeons capable of carrying out the surgery.

He shook his head and put a trembling hand to his brow.  The very thought of such a delicate surgical procedure brought him out in a sweat.  After another moment he returned to his position at the window and considered how to approach  Cartwright without losing his respect.  He grimaced, in such a short period of time, he doubted that would actually have amounted to much.

The door opened and Widow Hawkins stepped inside, nodded her head and batted her famous eyelashes

“Hello ducky” she smiled, paused and leaned forward to observe him more closely “What’s up? You look a bit peaky?”
……….

The brothers strolled to the Telegraph and Mail Depot where Eddy handed over the leather pouch which contained the mail for the Ponderosa.

Alicia Colby saw them as they made their way to their horses.  She clutched at the handle of her basket and walked briskly towards them causing both men to pause and politely touch the brim of their hats.  As often happens at such an impasse no one seemed really sure what to do next.  Adam nodded and smiled, Joe did likewise but going a step further by murmuring “Good morning, Mrs Colby?”

Alicia nodded and after inhaling deeply greeted them both with a smile “Good morning,” she turned from Adam to Joe “I was sorry not to have had the chance to get to speak to your wife at the dance, Mr Cartwright.  I hope she is well?”

“Very well, thank you, Mrs Colby.”

“Please give her my best wishes.  It would be a pleasure to get to know her better … considering how  well she and my husband knew one another in the past.”

Joe coughed to clear his throat, smiled and nodded “I’ll let Mary Ann know,” he knew his smile had frozen on his face, and after bidding her farewell he turned to continue on to his horse.

Adam tipped his hat to the woman and stepped in line with his brother, then placed a hand upon his brother’s arm. “What was that all about it?”

Joe shrugged “Nothing.”

“Are you sure?”

“Look, I just said …it was nothing.  Just …just a sociable comment that’s all.”

“You don’t look … um … very happy about it?”

Joe stopped and turned to look at his brother, put his hands on his hips and looked, as he often could, belligerent.

“You heard what  she said?”

“Yes,”  Adam drawled and narrowed his eyes.

“Well then in that case you know just about as much as I do.”. he frowned and turned away, his horse tossed its head and he raised a hand to stroke the line of its jaw, “Best get home.”

Adam nodded, looked anxiously once again at his brother and sighed as he lowered the brim of his hat to shade his eyes before turning to his own animal. As he mounted Kami and settled into the saddle he wondered if he, or anyone else, would ever get to totally understand the complexities of his youngest brother.
……….
Mary Ann lowered the lid over the keyboard of the piano and then sat for a moment to let the music she had just been playing swirl around her until it finally drifted into the air. It was a feeling she could never fully explain except to someone else who loved music as passionately as herself.

Even her fingertips would tingle as though touched by electricity, so that brief pause allowed that feeling to also ebb away.

She shivered slightly and then stood up, pushing the stool aside in order to leave the piano and resume her other life, that life that existed outside of her music but was equally as consuming.

Daniel was playing with his animals, not real ones, just his model cows and horses.  His favourite horse was black and had real horsehair glued into place. This he was bouncing up and down on the floor, contentedly lost in his own world of make believe.  He looked up at his mother now and smiled, resembling his father so much that Mary Ann had to
lean down to pick him up and hug him close into her body.

“Who loves you, little boy?” She whispered into his ear as she hugged him close.

“Mommy does.  Daddy does.  Constance does,” he laughed up at her, eyes glowing with love and trust, playing the game and seeing the pleasure it gave her.

She kissed his plump cheek and turned to greet Joe whom she had heard approaching

from the hall.Daniel also turned, saw his father and clapped his hands enthusiastically “Daddy!”

“Hey, my boy.” Joe laughed, the sight of those he loved filling his heart with contented pleasure and he caught little Daniel in his  arms as  Mary Ann swung the child over to him.

Next she came to his side and leaned forward to kiss him, “You’re home early ” she laughed and accepted his kiss.

“I wanted to spend as much time with you as I could,” he hugged her close to him, Daniel giggled, being squished between his parents wasn’t uncommon.  It was all part of the game.

“Oh, Joe” she sighed and kissed him again “Thank you, that’s lovely. I’m so glad.”

“After all, ” he paused to kiss the tip of her nose “I won’t be here soon,a few more days and Adam and I will be riding out of here for who knows how long.”

The grey eyes of his wife darkened, her pretty mouth drooped, “I know, don’t remind me.   It’s going to seem like forever.”

“Olivia probably feels the same,” he put the boy down so that the child could return to his play.  “I shall miss you, Mary Ann,”

She squeezed his fingers between her own, leaned forward for another kiss.   He wanted to tell her then how he felt for her, tell her in words that would burn into her very heart and never be forgotten.  After all, he sighed, words are so easily forgotten, misunderstood.  He wanted her to know beyond any doubt how much she meant to him.

As they strolled arm in arm to the other room he considered the fact as he often did, that he must have loved Mary Ann from the moment he had first seen her.  He had been, at
the time, so steeped in misery at the loss of Little Moon that he  had not realised just what an effect those grey eyes had made on him.  Perhaps that had been the under lying reason why Victoria Shannon had known he didn’t love her.  He sighed, he had often said Victoria had known him better than he knew himself.

“That was a big sigh” she smiled at him,  “Are you worried about the cattle drive!”

“No more than usual,” he replied and bestowed upon her a tender smile, a lingering look from his hazel eyes, “No, I was thinking of when we first met.”

She nodded, smiled and released his arm to walk to where her baby daughter lay sleeping.  After making sure that the infant was comfortable she turned to her husband but was prevented from speaking by Daniel who ran to her with arms raised in a bid for her attention.  As she stooped to pick him up Joe mentioned his meeting with Alicia, which was greeted with raised eyebrows and a pout of the pretty mouth.

“How odd.  She didn’t appear bothered about getting to know me at the party. I thought her quite unfriendly, in fact.”

“Perhaps her husband wants to refresh his friendship with you -“.  it was a tentative hint thrown out in the hope of eliciting something from her ,but  if so she only shrugged her shoulders and continued on her way to the  kitchen where she placed Daniel in his chair.

“Well, I can’t think why with me particularly, Joe” she finally said as she turned her attention to fixing up coffee for them both, “James and I had no particular friendship.  There was no romance. No deep attachments.”

He regarded her thoughtfully for a moment and felt a momentary pang of remorse at the way he had spoken.  He wondered if she thought he had provoked the information from her by speaking as he had, and son turned to avoid eye contact.

She was silent for a moment as she busied herself with her preparations “I wish you had called in to see Beatrice”  she murmured. “She is so lonely, and would have so enjoyed seeing you.  It was strange, though …did you know they live in the big house where Victoria used to live?”

“Victoria?”. he paused, his mind blank for a moment and she nodded as she poured coffee into two cups.

“Yes, Victoria and her father, Caleb.” she placed the cups upon the table, then rummaged for a cookie for Daniel. “It was odd being there, I kept looking around the room wondering how often you had been there in the past, with Victoria.” she paused again and sighed “I must admit I did feel a little bit jealous but only a little bit after all, it was a long time ago and I wasn’t here at the time.”

She sat down now and smiled up at him, her big grey eyes wide and innocent as she cradled the cup in her hands.

“You felt jealous?”  he stammered as he sat beside her now and reached for his cup.

“0h yes, but only for a little while, after all, you weren’t to know I was still in Calico daydreaming about my suffering hero.”

“Oh, suffering hero? Who? Me?”

She laughed then, just a little “Yes, my suffering hero! ” She placed a gentle hand on his arm “When we met, you were only recently bereaved of some one you loved very much.”

So he had, and Joe nodded and looked at her thoughtfully,  she was attending to Daniel now and the child was chattering to her about another cookie.  Joe felt a niggle of shame as he thought over the conversation.  As he considered what she had said he realised that in just a few moments she had deftly reminded him that he had loved two women while she had loved no one but himself; for all those months away in Calico, without him there and it humbled him to think about it.  He further realised that in her innocent way she had  turned the tables upon him, and in doing so, had proven to himself how groundless his fears had been.

He reached out for her hand and kissed her fingers gently, gaining a kiss from her and the happy approval of their little son who clapped his hands without any idea as to why!

Chapter 14

The two horsemen looked down upon the vast emptiness that was spread out before them but neither of them spoke. The only sound to be heard was the raucous cawing of the buzzards wheeling too and fro above them, black specks upon the bluest of skies. Their cries slowly grating on the overstretched nerves of the two Cartwrights.

For a moment in time Hoss watched as the birds swooped  through the air.  Ugly birds, he thought, but beautiful in motion.   He sighed and eased himself in the saddle by standing slightly in the stirrups,

“One thing, Pa, they ain’t circling, which is good.” he lowered himself back into the saddle “Means no one and nothing is down there providing them with food.”. he frowned and thought over a whole litany of things he had endured since Ben had decided to travel and find out for himself if anything new had developed on the old Paiute reservatioin. He now mentally ran through that list… a rock hard stone strewn ground to sleep on, foraging for food for their supper, standing up for breakfast and now..his stomach rumbled… he scowled, at least it had taken less time to reach here than their previous visit as there were no cows to nursemaid along.

Ben sighed, he could almost hear his son’s reproach for coming along like this on what Joe had considered a whim. Once again he found himself saying the same thing now as he had said then, “I wanted to make sure that no one had returned to the old reservation, Hoss. As I said before that letter  from Sarah was written some time back.   She could well have returned …I don’t know, Hoss, I just didn’t feel comfortable about it all.” Ben turned black eyes to his son, irritated at what he felt was small mindedness on the part of the most compassionate of men. He shook his head “I discussed it with Adam , he agreed to have it checked out. He would have come with me if it hadn’t been for the cattle drive. We’ll be cutting it fine to get back in time to see them leave as it is.”

Hoss nodded “Yeah, but, Pa, even if they had returned, what could we have done about it? And anyhow, seems to me she’s found another way to help her people, ain‘t she?.”

“Her way, Hoss, isn’t necessarily the way her people would approve.”

Hoss didn’t exactly shrug but he was tempted to do so.  They turned their horses heads and slowly ambled away from the ledge that had provided a 360 degree view of the land that had once been home to the straggling remnants of the Wa’so Paiute .

Nothing moved, except the dust sifting its way over and between rocks as the slightest breeze wafted like a breath over the land.  The birds cawed raucously in the stillness, sending echoes eddying up to the sky.

Among the rocks a dozen people stayed so still they could have been taken as rocks themselves.  Black eyes watched as the two horsemen,  barely two specks on the rim rock, slowly disappeared from view.
……….

The stagecoach rocked to a standstill outside the depot and Denny ran from the building with the stool which he placed by the door with one hand while opening it with the other.  A woman stepped from the interior and murmured something to the little man who nodded, and hurried to the trunk of the vehicle from where he produced a wheelchair, neatly folded into its travelling mode.  It was the woman who dealt with it, unfolding it and then wheeling it to the vehicle where Pete was standing with the little girl in his arms.

It was obvious that the woman and the child were beyond tired, and as they were the only passengers Denny collected up their luggage and led the way to the address she had given him.

Clementine Hawkins was standing at the gate craning her head in the direction from which she anticipated her new tenants to arrive. A smile touched her mouth and she pulled the gate wide open in order to accommodate the little group and after shaking Mrs Soames by the hand stood to one side to allow them entry into the house.

“Mrs Hawkins?”. Emily asked as they stood in the large parlour, “I’m so sorry to have given you such short notice of our arrival. Everything seemed to happen at once. Anyway, here we are… I’m Emily Soames, this is Ella.”

“Pleased to meet you both, I’m sure,” Clemmie smiled and nodded her head at them both, making the feather in her hat flutter like a little flag “Now, you’re both tired, so best get settled  in.  There’s food prepared, everything’s ready for you. Oh, and here’s the key. If you need any ‘elp at all, duckie, I’m quite close by, the house with the white picket fence and the green door.”

She pressed the key into Emily’s hand and smiled, bobbed her head up and down again, and hurried away.  Emily watched her go and closed the door  behind her, then she smiled down at Ella “Well, here we are, Ella.”

The child nodded and looked around the room. It was warm and welcoming, a pleasant room, from the kitchen came the  smell of food cooking.

“Will Mr Cartwright come in a minute, Ma?  Will Sofia be with him?”

Her mother squeezed her hand , and untied Ella’s bonnet which she placed with her own on the bureau, “I didn’t tell him exactly when we would be here, dear.  I’m sure he, and Sofia, will come to see us as soon as they can.”

Ella frowned, she would have argued a little had she not been so tired, and she accepted her mother’s comment in silence.  Seeing that her daughter was not going to create any fuss Emily walked around the room touching this and that, picking up a book,  an ornament and then replacing it.  She smiled at Ella, “Well, there are certainly a lot fewer books here.  Your father would want to know where the library is, wouldn’t he?”

“It isn’t like home,” Ella said hesitantly, and smiled at her mother “But it is pretty. I like it.” she wheeled the chair to the big window as she was speaking, and watched from behind the lace curtain as people walked up. and down the street.  She recognised Mrs Hawkins and wondered who it was to whom she was talking Ella knew that they were talking about her and her mother, as the other woman looked over at the house before turning to continue her conversation with the old lady. Ella wondered who she was, she liked the look of her, and was about to tell her mother about what she was looking at when she noticed the younger woman had turned and was making her way towards the house.

“Ma, there’s a lady coming to visit.”

“Already? I wonder who it could be? Oh dear, and us looking so dusty too.” and thus unprepared and rather irritated Emily opened the door, and presented herself to the newcomer, forcing a smile to her lips and a banishment to the frown.

Olivia stood on the doorstep with a smile and rather shy look on her face.  As the door opened she nodded and introduced herself , adding quickly that she was Adam’s wife.
The relief and pleasure on Emily’s face was immediately accompanied by the door being opened wide to admit her guest .  The two women shook hands warmly,

“I am glad to see you here at last.” Olivia said “We have been waiting to hear from you for so long now.”

“I am sorry, so many things were going on…oh I am so glad to see you at last.  Ella, it’s Sofia’s mother.”

“Is Sofia here too?”

The voice was heard before the child appeared, the excitement on her face indicative of her anticipation at seeing her friend again.  That faded when there was no sign of Sofia, but Olivia was quick to explain that Sofia was at school and she was in town now to collect her and Reuben.

Ella clasped her hands together “Can she come here?  Can you bring her here to see me?”

“I will, but it will be a short visit, dear.  But a longer one next time, I promise.”

Emily placed a hand on Ella’s shoulder “We were delayed coming, my other daughter, Phoebe, was married and then Ella was ill.  Nothing serious, but it delayed us.  Will your husband, Adam …”

“Adam will visit, I’m sure of it.  He and his brother Joe will be leaving here on Monday though, as they have to take some cattle down to Yuma. I know he would want to see you before he left, but your coming today cuts it rather fine.  He’s very busy …” she glanced at the clock, “I must go.  I will be back in a little while with Sofia, but remember, it won’t be for long.”

Ella gave her a shy sweet smile and Emily escorted Olivia to the door with a smile which was as sweet as her daughters, she placed a hand upon Olivia’s arm “Thank you, I am so grateful to you and your husband for all your help.”

“You and your daughters helped Sofia when she was at her most loneliest“ Olivia said very quietly, her face grave and the green eyes looked at the other woman with a warmth that she made no attempt to conceal, .  We owe you so much, Mrs Soames.”

“It doesn’t seem so very much, not really, not now.”

Olivia said nothing to that but turned away quickly, and made her way from the house, wondering as she closed the gate behind her, whether or not the hoped for cure for Ella would really be possible.
……

“Where are we going now, Ma?”.  Reuben demanded as Olivia turned the horse and buggy into town, away from the route they usually would take for home.

“You’ll see,” Olivia smiled and flicked the reins, sending the horse trotting obediently back to where the Soames were waiting.

Ella was sitting on the proverbial pins and needles, and when the knock came she wheeled the chair into a position where Sofia could see her as soon as she stepped into the house.

Emily pulled the door open, and Olivia gently pushed Sofia forward, through the door into the room.

Olivia and Emily, mothers both, felt their hearts beat faster and their stomachs tighten with emotion as they watched the two little girls see each other for the first time.    Excitement, delight all escalated as Sofia ran towards her friend, a lot of squealing took place, as Reuben told his father later, it was like listening to a litter of little piglets at feeding time!

But friends, especially young girls that were brought together during critical times, had every right to squeal and hug, and for Sofia to caper about the room as she danced around Ella’ s wheelchair.

Emily stepped beside Olivia “Do you think the doctor will be able to help her?” she whispered

“I don’t know, Mrs Soames.   Did Adam say he could?”

“No, only …that he’d do his best.”

Olivia nodded, she didn’t know what else to say, but called to Sofia, it was time to leave.
……..

Adam returned home late that evening for with Ben and Hoss absent from home on their ‘fact finding’ mission he had other work to deal with at the big house, details that had to be tidied up in order to make the cattle drive as smooth as possible.

He had therefore missed the rather exuberant meal that had taken place at his own home, for it had taken time for Sofia to calm down, her excitement at Ella’s arrival making her boisterous and a little giddy. Reuben was not impressed, and once or twice he had hissed to his sister that if Pa had been there she would be taking a walk to the barn!

It had taken all Olivia’s self control to calm them down, and then, of course, Nathaniel caught the fidgets. Excitement it seemed was highly contagious and the little boy didn’t know whether he was supposed to laugh or cry and so in the end became naughty instead.

The excitement did, however, have the effect of tiring them out enough for bed to be a welcome relief to all. Sofia squirmed into her favourite position and hugged Clarabelle, and then hugged Olivia “Oh mommy, isn’t it just fine, just so fine? Ella being here at last. Do you like her, mommy?”

“She seems a very polite little girl, darling. Now, go to sleep. No nonsense or I will not ask daddy to take us to seem them tomorrow.”

Sofia sighed and closed her eyes, then immediately opened them again “Oh mommy, will tomorrow come really quickly?”

“Far more quickly if you go to sleep now.”

Sofia sighed contentedly, closed her eyes again “G’night, mommy. I won’t be able to go to sleep though.”

“Just try.” Olivia whispered and kissed her daughter’s brow before pulling the comforter over the little girl’s shoulders and bidding her good night.

Reuben was asleep by the time she went into his room, his snores indicated a little boy who had had a busy day and with a gentle smile Olivia attended to him, making sure he was warm, and then dropped a kiss on his brow.

Nathaniel was in no mood for sleep. He stood in his cot and gripped the rail tight in his little fists, and shook them until they rattled. Olivia shook her head at him, and forced his fingers open, uncurled them from the railings and settled him down.

“Sleep.” she raised one finger and looked sternly at him.

“No sleep. No want sleep.”

“Sleep, Nathaniel. No nonsense now, you behave yourself, do you hear?”

The bottom lip quivered, was pushed out for good measure, the dark eyes filled with tears and he bawled. “Good night, Nathaniel, go to sleep.”

By the time she had reached the top stair there was silence. She returned to the room, peeked inside and found him sound asleep, lying cross ways in the cot.

When Adam finally returned Olivia was near to falling asleep herself, but she greeted him with a smile, a kiss and the taking hold of his hands “Have you eaten yet? Coffee?”

“Hop Sing insisted I had something to eat. Coffee would be welcome…” he frowned and looked at her “You look tired? Have you had a busier than usual day?”

“Yes, Mrs Soames and the little girl, Ella, have arrived in town. I met them today.”

He grimaced, and raised his eyebrows “Oh, not the best of timing” he brushed a finger across his mouth and frowned “But at least they have time to see Schofield.”

“That is, if he will see them.”

He said nothing to that, but took hold of her hand and asked her about how the child had looked, to which Olivia told him the child had been ill, hence their delay, and she did look frail, far more so than she had thought she would.

“This is awkward, sweetheart.   There’s so much to do before I leave on Monday.  With Pa and Hoss away as well, it leaves everything just a little …well … tight with regard to timing. I shall need to see Schofield of course, and set up some arrangement with him to see Ella. Do you think we should go in tomorrow?”

“I think Sofia would like that, ” she smiled and squeezed his hands gently in hers.

He smiled and listened as she told him how excited the two girls had been to see each other again, by the time she had finished speaking they were both sitting at the big table in the kitchen, the coffee brewing and filling the room with its dense aroma.

“I’ll see Schofield tomorrow as well.  I did ask Dr Colby but he is new here, we don’t know his degree of expertise.”

“Perhaps Paul could be involved too” she smiled at him and looked so sweetly young that he involuntarily dropped a kiss upon her brow “What was that for?”

“Because I love you.  Because I’m going to miss you,”

She nodded,  smiled slowly and offered up her face for his kiss, his mouth upon hers … thoughts of Monday floated away as she leaned  closer and felt his arms draw her into him.

Chapter 15

Reuben had requested to spend the morning with his Uncle Joe so that he could ‘help’ with Kelim, and also with little Daniel’s riding lessons. He had been very proud of the fact that he was being entrusted with the care of his little cousin’s tuition, although Joe was always close by to ensure the safety of them both.

“Don’t you want to see Ella?” Sofia had asked after he had made his request to his father,

“Not really, she’s only another girl.” Reuben had said with a slight shrug of the shoulders and a rather nonchalant air.

“But Ella’s my friend, my special friend.” Sofia had then protested and looked appealingly at her father and mother “I told her all about you, Reuben, and she would want to see you.”

“But I don’t want to go and just hang around listening to girls talk.”

Sofia had not understood what he was complaining about, she had looked at Adam who was, it seemed, more interested in checking over a long list. She had then appealed to her mother with big sad eyes and Olivia had smiled before she had turned her attention to Nathaniel.

So now here she was in the surrey with her parents either side of her and riding into town. The horses pranced along with a jaunty air, it seemed that the joy of a spring day had got into everyone she saw as the women seemed to be wearing their brightly coloured clothes and little girls had pretty ribbons in their hair reflecting every shade of the rainbow.

It didn’t matter to her that at least three times Adam had threatened to turn back if she didn’t keep still, or keep quiet, or stop bouncing about. She had been so excited at the thought of seeing Ella again, and she could barely keep still as the surrey made its way to the rental in which the Soames’ were living.

Emily Soames had the door open before they had even got half way up the narrow pathway to the house. The smile on her face was one of welcome and of relief when she saw Adam who had removed his hat and was smiling at her.

“Come in, do come in.” she urged them although Sofia, of course, had needed no bidding for she was already in the room and giving Ella a hug before her parents had reached the threshold. “Thank you, Mr Cartwright for coming as well.”

“I – er – thought it best to come now as I will be away for a number of weeks from Monday. I wanted to get Schofield to see Ella as soon as he could.” Adam replied, turning his hat round and round between his fingers and smiling at Ella who didn’t notice one jot because of her occupation with Sofia.

“Will he come here? Or do you think I should take Ella over there?” Emily asked looking rather doubtfully at Olivia and then at Adam. “To be honest I just feel so overwhelmed by everything I don’t know what to do or say.”

“Well, I’ll go and see Schofield and arrange the matter for you. It may be -” he paused a moment and glanced at Olivia before returning to look at Emily “that he will be unable to do anything, you do realise that, don’t you?”

“I’ve been reconciled to that fact for a long time now, Mr Cartwright. I just want to hold onto the gleam of hope you have provided me these few months.”

Adam nodded, glanced over at Olivia again and excused himself from the house. Olivia sighed and looked at Emily, she knew only too well that Adam was already punishing himself for making promises that may not prove to have a fulfilment. Like her husband she herself had doubts, and gave Emily a brief smile before sitting down in order to chat as though they had been friends for years.
…………….

Jimmy Chang was in the surgery when Adam pushed open the door. He gave his friend a warm smile before waving to the chair in front of the desk “You look worried, Adam?”

“I am.” Adam sighed and removed his hat which he placed on the desk, “I think I’ve just got myself into a load of trouble.”

Jimmy frowned and looked anxiously at his friend, before taking a seat behind the desk, “You are sick? Your family – they are sick?”

“No, no,” the rancher shook his head and raised a hand to rub his brow, “I made a promise to someone and now I don’t know if it will have any chance of fulfilment.”

“But why come here?” Jimmy looked doubtful,after all if this was a timber contract, or something to do with mines, or cows, what possible good would he be? He ventured a smile, nodded “Ah, you want something to take with you on the cattle drive?”

“Take with me? What do you mean? No, it had nothing to do with the cattle drive.” Adam sighed “I rather wish it did. Did Scofield mention anything to you about a matter that I mentioned to him way back in January?”

“January?” Jimmy looked blank, his sloe black eyes narrowed and he shook his head, “Dr Schofield, you know, would not discuss a matter with me. He is too honourable elevated surgeon you understand?”

“Well, whereabouts is this too honourable elevated surgeon just now?” Adam asked reaching for his hat as he stood up.

“With Dr Colby. They go to visit old patient of Dr Schofield.”

“Any idea how long he will be?”

“No, but if I can help?” Jimmy smiled and rose to his feet as Adam half turned to leave the surgery, “I was able to help you once before, perhaps this time, I could help again.”

Adam dithered, then nodded “Seeing how Schofield isn’t available and time’s running out, perhaps so. If you haven’t anything you need to be doing instead?”

“I come.” Chang said in the manner of Hop Sing which always gave any Cartwright the impetus to move no matter what the situation.

“Let me explain first.” Adam said quietly as he watched Jimmy reach for his bag, then for his coat “A child was shot down, alongside her father, about two years ago…the bullet went into her back. She had not been able to walk since. I know Schofield is a skilled surgeon, and he has contacts too, but -”

Jimmy raised an imperious hand “The father – how was he?”

“He died.”

Jimmy nodded, looked thoughtful, and placed his hat upon his head before following Adam from the surgery. As they crossed the road Adam did mention that he had seen Colby and mentioned the case to him, but that he had not seemed too enthusiastic about taking the matter on.

“Dr Colby has much to take on, you understand?” Jimmy said, he smiled as he spoke, and nodded as though to emphasise what he was saying “Dr Schofield places many patients upon new doctor. It is difficult for him just now.”

Adam nodded but said nothing, he didn’t like to say that to him James Colby had just looked scared stiff at the thought of taking on the responsibility of surgery. He led the way to where the Soames lived and after knocking on the door stepped inside.

Emily stood up immediately, “Dr Schofield, how pleasant to meet you.”

Both men removed their hats and Emily felt a trifle puzzled as this Dr Schofield was not exactly what she had expected. Jimmy was a handome man, tall and well built, but he was definitely of Chinese origin. Certainly he had a neatly cut American hair style, and he wore suits made in the latest mode, but there was no disguising the fact that his hair was blue black, and that his eyes were almond shaped.

“I am Dr James Chang.” Jimmy said politely and bowed, “It is with my honour I have pleasure of meeting you.”

“Mrs Soames, I’m afraid Dr Schofield isn’t available just now, so Jimmy – Dr Chang – has agreed to come and see what he can do to help Ella.” as usual he was intuitive to the womans’ fears and placed a gentle hand on her arm “There isn’t another man I would trust so much as Jimmy, he saved my life some years ago when others wanted to – er – use a quite different method.”

Emily frowned and nodded, shook Jimmy by the hand and then indicated Ella who was sitting in her wheelchair watching and listening with a gravity on her little face that was a clear indication that she understood exactly what the situation was. Sofia stood beside her, one hand on the handle of the wheelchair, looking defiantly at them all although she wasn’t sure why. Perhaps deep within herself she was mindful of the fact that often seeing doctors meant pain, and she did not want her friend to have to experience any more than she had endured already.

“May I see the little girl in a room with bed, and if mother would be kind to come with me?” Jimmy asked as he removed his coat and draped it over the back of a chair, he then picked up his bag and followed as Emily wheeled the chair from the sitting room to a room down the hall.

Adam sighed and looked over at Olivia “Schofield wasn’t there, no one except Jimmy.”

She smiled and nodded “Well, that’s good, isn’t it? Jimmy’s a wonderful doctor.”

Sofia came and clung to her mother’s arm “He won’t hurt her, will he?”

“No, he wants to help find a way to make Ella better, so that she can run and play with you.” Olivia replied and took hold of Sofia’s hand, “Don’t you remember how he would come to look after daddy?*”

Sofia frowned, they were long ago memories, distant to her and vague, but she knew that her father had at one time endured great pain. She shook her head and leaned into Olivia’s body while she listened intently in case there were sounds from the other room that indicated her friend was getting hurt. Occasionally she would glance over at Adam who was already wishing he were somewhere else entirely.

Jimmy helped lift the child onto the bed and asked Mrs Soames to unbutton the dress and remove the upper clothing while the child lay flat upon her stomach. Gently and with the utmost patience he then began to feel along the child’s spine, he could see where the bullet had entered the body and gently asked the necessary questions relevant to the operation that had been performed to remove it.

He took his time, every so often asking the same question to the child “Can you feel this?” and when the answer became “No.” he became even more gentle in his probing and digging. Like many physicians of the time, and prior to him, Jimmy wished that there was something that would enable him to be able to peer through flesh and bone and actually be able to see with his own eyes exactly what damage had been done to the child’s nervous system. It would be another ten years before Rontgen* would astound the world with his discovery of the x-ray but until then the most vital knowledge came from the sensitivity of a man’s fingertips, his ability to ‘read’ what they told him, and to translate that into a meaningful diagnosis.

He had Ella turned onto her back and then checked her legs, they were thin and flaccid. He shook his head and looked at Emily “Does she do no exercises?”

“How can she? She can’t stand, she can’t walk ..” Emily cried, the stress making her words sound harsh, she broke off from speaking as a sob interrupted her speech.

“I know, Honourable Lady. But there are exercises that should have been done from the time she was strong enough to sit. Do not worry,” he smiled and nodded, dimples in his cheeks and a twinkle in his eyes, soothed her, “I shall show you what to do. It is not too late, but muscles need to wake up, get strong. Now…” he turned back to Ella, and moved to where her feet would rest against his chest “Tell me if and when you can feel anything, anything at all.”
…………………

The clock ticked away an hour and Sofia was bored so Olivia took her out of the house and to Bridie’s home. When Tilly opened the door and exclaimed in delight at the sight of them both another door opened and Bridie herself emerged with a big smile on her face and her arms extended in order to hug them both.

“Flannel …” Sofia cried and threw herself into the warm embrace of a woman whom she had loved ever since Bridie had created her first chocolate cake long ago in the house at San Francisco* “I haven’t seen you for oh so long.”

“I know, and I was just going to suggest visiting you as well.” Bridie crooned as she propelled the little girl into the parlour, “This is Mrs Colby. Alicia this is Sofia, Sofia Cartwright.”

Alicia observed the child and the child observed Alicia. Neither found the other particularly appealing, but Alicia’s attention was taken from the girl when Olivia walked into the room, and introductions were again made. Olviia smiled “We met a few days ago, Bridie. How do you do, Mrs Colby?”

“Very well, thank you.” Alicia replied and glanced uncomfortably at Bridie who seemed oblivious of any discomfort on the part of any of her guests.

“I’ll get Tilly to make another pot of tea. Sofia, would you like some lemonade? Go and ask Tilly to make some. Olivia, oh, how lovely to see you, dear.”

Olivia laughed “Dear Bridie, I saw you at the party only a few evenings ago.”

“I know, but we had no chance to talk about anything. All that music, and the chattering…goodness, I had a headache for the whole of the next day.” Bridie laughed, a warm chuckle that even brought a smile to Alicia’s lips. “How is everyone? How is Erik?”

Sofia came into the room then, bearing a glass of lemonade “Erik’s getting fat. He’s like a butter ball. That’s what Aunty Hester said, wasn’t it, mummy.”

Alicia frowned and shook her head “Little girls should not interrupt adults conversations, young lady.”

She raised her head and looked sternly at Sofia who quailed under the admonishment, and then looked over at her mother who expressed with her eyes that Sofia ignore the remark. Bridie now turned her attention to Alicia and frowned “Thank you, Alicia, but I really think that if there is any correction to be made it should be made by Sofia‘s mother, not by you.”

The younger woman flushed, her eyes moistened and for a moment Olivia thought the woman was about to burst into tears. Instead she nodded “You are quite right, Mrs Martin” she then looked at Olivia “My parents were such sticklers for etiquette and sometimes I find myself saying things that really are not for me to say, even though they do need to be said.”

Olivia gave a rather tight smile, and nodded, but said nothing. It was an odd sort of apology, she mused, but she was prevented from speaking as Tilly came into the room bearing a tray aloft which she set down upon the table next to Bridie. Sofia, duly admonished, crept closer to her mother and clung to her side, almost afraid to drink her lemonade.

“So,” Bridie leaned forward “Tell me all about this butter ball…has he any teeth yet? Is he crawling?” then she gave a light laugh and looked over at Alicia “You must forgive us, Alicia, this particular infant has a sad history and is important to me.”

Mrs Colby nodded and sipped her tea. She glanced over at Olivia who at that time was looking at her so that their eyes met. Olivia smiled, a kindly sweet smile and one that prompted a responding lift of the lips from the other woman who now prepared herself to submit hearing the story of Erik, his sad mother and his now happier future.

Chapter 16

Olivia was more than happy to leave Bridie and Mrs Colby in that cosy little parlour. As the front door closed behind her she took hold of Sofia by the hand and marched down the little path to the picket gate which she rather unceremoniously pushed her daughter through and onto the sidewalk.

“Mommy, why are you hurrying?” Sofia protested as she appeared to be propelled alongside her mother who was striding away from Bridie’s home as though her one aim in life was to put as great a distance as possible between them.

“Because -” Olivia snapped, and then took a deep breath, slowed her pace and looked down at Sofia. “Sofia, sometimes things happen that at times ..”

“…make you angry? Like that lady in there, did she make you angry?” Sofia said with her eyes wide, and in all innocence gazed up at her mother.

“No, and – yes.” Olivia stopped now and looked down at the child who was still gazing fondly up at her, “Sofia, there are times when it is important to keep quiet, to – to say nothing and at your age, you have to realise that it is good manners not to speak in adult company unless you are spoken to first. You know we all have to learn that lesson and it is very useful…be slow about speech but quick about hearing …”

“Daddy says that sometimes, he said that it comes from the bible and that it is important to keep our mouths shut at times and our ears open always.” Sofia nodded.

“Sofia, I’m meaning that -” Olivia raised a hand to her brow, “Mrs Colby was right in what she said, although it was not her place to say it, but if you had remembered your manners and not spoken at all, then there would have been no need for her to have said anything.” Olivia paused, looked at her daughter and wondered if what she had said made any sense to her at all.

“Sorry, mommy. I shall try to remember.”

Olivia nodded, “Please do.”

She took hold of Sofia’s hand and continued to walk towards the Soames’ house. The middle of the street was not the best place to have given counsel to her daughter but there were times when one just had to strike when the iron was hot so to speak. With Sofia’s butter fly brain to have left it until later during the day the reason for the lesson would have been lost.

She had, of course, been mortified when Mrs Colby had spoken as she had, and then had been amazed at the woman’s ‘apology’ after Bridie had corrected her. Of course Sofia had been in the wrong, and of course Olivia would have dealt with it but in a far more discreet manner, after all, Bridie was their host and it was unfair to have to involve her in such a situation. Mrs Colby had obviously no qualms about doing just that though!

At the doorway to the Soames house Olivia had calmed down, taken several deep breaths and was actually smiling when Emily opened the door. Jimmy Chang had concluded his examination of the child It was obvious from the look on Adam’s face that he was more than pleased to see her, and that she had obviously arrived back at an opportune time.

Adam indicated with a nod of the head that Sofia could go in to see Ella who was still in the other room. Sofia was a little bashful about doing so and practically tip toed through the door, perhaps the seriousness of the situation brought about a lowering of her usual exuberance. Or maybe noticing Ella’s still posture as she remained lying upon the bed with her eyes closed had that effect upon her.. Ella turned her head at Sofia’s appearance however and gave her little friend a smile, then, by using her elbows she pushed her self into a sitting position.

Sofia now smiled, relief at seeing her friends bright welcoming smile was reassurance that all was well so she sat down in Ella’s wheelchair, pushed the chair back and forth by pushing on the wheels, just as she used to with Reubens. ”Did it hurt?”

“What?” Ella asked as she watched Sofia with her smile still illuminating her face.

“When Dr Jimmy examined you? Did he pull your legs and make you bend them and stick them up in the air?”

“No,” Ella laughed, “No, nothing like that, and it didn’t hurt. Well, not much, in some places it did.”

Sofia nodded “When Reuben was shot that time they made him do a lot of exercises, and he had to take a lot of medicines. Do you have to take medicines?”

“Some. I was ill before I came here you know.”

“I know, I heard them saying.” Sofia nodded, this was quite a grown up conversation and she wheeled the chair closer to the bed in order to hear all about this illness.

“I had ’new-moan-ya.”

“Really?” Sofia widened her eyes, she had heard of this illness before, some people survived it and some people didn’t. She looked at Ella with renewed concern and realised that her friend must have only just survived it because she looked so thin and pale.

“They said I could have died.”

Sofia nodded, so she was right, poor Ella, she sighed heavily in commiseration and sympathy, “Well, you’re here now, you’ll get better very soon. Dr Jim will give you some of his special medicine, it’s very nice.”

Ella smiled “Phoebe is going to have a baby. She got married not long after you left town, and Miss Katherine left too. You know the old lady died? She fell down the stairs and got killed.”

“Did she?” Sofia’s eyes widened, yes, she did know, it had been in one of the few letters her parents had received from Emily. She had heard them mentioning it once but had hesitated to ask, she knew that talking about Katherine and Rosemarie upset her mother for some reason.

“Yes, and there was blood everywhere.” Ella nodded her head with some satisfaction, and then smiled, “Miss Katherine was nice after that, she came to see us and she paid for the doctors bill, but that’s a secret, Ma would not want anyone to know about that…”

Sofia nodded, adults, it seemed, always had secrets.

In the other room Jimmy was explaining to Emily, Olivia and Adam that he would prefer to make no comment on any further procedure until he had consulted with Dr Schofield.

“Dr Schofield is a surgeon, and his fingers are more skilled than mine for this important matter. I think it wiser to wait for him to see Ella and then, Honourable Lady, we can see what we can do. But,” he smiled slightly “She is tired, and her blood needs to be fed with good nourishment for I think her illness during the winter has put her body out of balance. I will provide you with a good tonic which will help her. It is better that should Dr Schofield recommend an operation that she should be stronger than she is now.”

Jimmy left thereafter and was not surprised to find Adam following him, he smiled and nodded at his friend as they stepped into the road, “You think I did not know what I was doing perhaps?”

“No such thing, Jim. I know you well enough to view anything you say as making good sense. I gather, though, that you don’t think she needs an operation?”

Jimmy stopped, right in the middle of the road which caused Mr Merriweather to slow his horse and navigate his wagon rather awkwardly around the two men. Adam acknowledged this action with a touch of the hand to his hat and a nod of the head, but Jimmy seemed oblivious.

“I do not think an operation will serve any purpose.”

“So she’ll always need a wheel chair?”

“I did not say so.” Jimmy resumed walking, a slight frown on his face “But she has had no exercises, her legs – no muscle – very weak.”

Adam nodded, memories of the exercises he had been forced to undergo * returned to mind and he winced slightly. Thankfully Ella wasn’t suffering the agony of severe burns, but even so after such a long period of inactivity it was not going to be easy for the child to build up muscle tone now.

“I want Dr Schofield to see her, before he leaves. They will need to hear what he has to say before I put forward any suggestion. If he feels an operation is needed then it could not be done here, there would be no one skilled enough.”

Neither of them ventured to mention James Colby, having come to an understanding about him without having said too much. He stopped Jimmy from walking on by a restraining hand on the other man’s arm “Look, Jim, I’ll be leaving on a cattle drive on Monday. I won’t be here to see to this matter, can I leave it in your hands? I know Pa and Olivia will keep seeing Mrs Soames and Ella, but -.”

Jimmy smiled and nodded, “I will do that, Adam. Take care yourself”

They shook hands and parted. Both men subdued and both men bearing a frown upon their faces

 

James Colby had watched the men from behind the window of the surgery. He had returned from the calls for which Schofield had required his company and found the note on the desk that Jimmy had left the doctors informing them of his whereabouts . The fact that Adam had taken Jimmy rather than himself, especially after having approached him about the matter, irritated him somewhat although he knew he couldn‘t blame the rancher for having done so. Memories of their discussion trickled in to his mind and he felt as though more needed to be said, to both clarify the situation and perhaps restore the man’s confidence in him

Noting that Chang had been delayed from making further progress by Mr Hanson stopping him for a conversation, James grabbed for his hat and hurried from the building.

He reached Adam just as the other man had placed his hand upon the picket gate leading to the house, “Mr Cartwright, could I have a word please?”

Adam turned, saw Colby and then felt a pang of awkwardness as he wondered if he had committed some breach of medical etiquette by taking one doctor to see the patient whom he had discussed with a different doctor only a short while previously. He walked the few steps to reach where Colby stood on the sidewalk “Yes, Dr Colby?”

“I was just wondering … I mean, I saw you and Dr Chang just now and thought that perhaps you had decided to take him instead of myself on your – on the child – you mentioned to me the other day?”

Adam nodded and removed his hat “Am I in breach of some medical procedure, Doctor?”

“Oh no, no – after all you have known Dr Chang for some years now and you know from personal experience what an expert he is in his field. It is just that having consulted me about the matter I was surprised to see you take him to see the patient.”

He had gone red, he could feel the colour mantling his face, and felt embarrassed. He could see the way the rancher was looking at him that his humiliation was obvious to him which made him fumble with his hat. Adam didn’t answer right away but nodded, and seeing the doctor’s discomfort explained that it was due to his own lack of time, and finding no one in the surgery except Jimmy had asked him along. Colby listened, nodded and was struggling to think of something sensible to say when Adam suggested that, perhaps, he would like a drink, and a chance to talk the matter over.

To some extent this made James feel more awkward, but he replaced his hat upon his head and agreed that that would be a good idea. The two men turned in the direction of the nearest saloon which Adam knew, at that time of day, would be quiet and probably empty of too many customers.

It seemed to Adam that Colby was a man struggling inwardly with a problem that was getting too big for him to handle. Having worked along with men on board ship for so many years Adam was adept at noticing the way men act when something gets under their skin. He knew it from seeing Joe wriggling like a worm when he had bitten off more than he could chew and regretting it, and how Hoss would bumble about and go quiet when he had a problem that was a mite bigger than it should have been.

He ordered two beers and located a table in a more private part of the room. Neither of them spoke and when Sam placed the glasses of beer upon the table both men removed their hats and took a gulp before setting them back down. Colby looked at the other man and nodded, “Thanks for that.”

“Well, I doubt if I’ll have a chance to sample Sam’s beer for a while,” Adam replied and smiled as he recalled saying much the same thing to Joe only the day before, “So, Dr Colby, what’s on your mind?”

“Is it that obvious?” James replied quietly, and lifted the glass to his lips again, drank from it and then set it back down.

“Well, something’s worrying you. If you need to talk about it, then feel free to do so now, but if you prefer to keep quiet, then just enjoy the drink and the chance to relax.”

Colby smiled, slightly, he glanced up at Adam “Do you? Relax I mean?”

It was Adam’s turn to smile now, he nodded “Whenever I can, Doctor.”

James sighed and for a few seconds his fingers moved the glass back and forth around the table, then he nodded “I wanted to be a surgeon. My father was a first rate surgeon in Maryland. I wanted to follow in his footsteps.”

“Nothing wrong in that,” Adam replied, “I did much the same.”

“Well, not long after I qualified I bungled an operation. It was – should have been – straightforward, but I messed up. I’d been drinking the night before, with friends and I should never had gone to the theatre as I was – hung over, tired. You know the kind of thing I mean?”

Adam nodded, raised his glass and gulped down some of the beer, “But?”

“But .. Yes, there’s always a ‘but’ isn’t there? I was able to get away with it, it was covered over, thanks to my father’s reputation. I learned my lesson then, never touched alcohol again when I was due for surgery. I became a first rate surgeon and everything seemed set for me to have a good future but -” he looked directly into the brown eyes facing him across the table, then with a sigh looked down at the table, the half empty glass, “A few years later during surgery there was an accident. It was not negligence, I was sober, dead calm, but it still happened. The patient died and my father disowned me, I lost my position.”

“But if it was an accident .?”

“A reporter dragged up the previous incident. The family involved in the second operation threatened to sue the hospital. The newspapers made headline news of it. My reputation was ruined. Worst still, my confidence in my abilities as a surgeon were shattered. I could never operate on anyone again.”

They were silent, both men raised their glasses and drank some of the beer and settled back in their chairs, James sighed and shrugged “I changed my name. I am a good doctor, really I am. But I moved to Calico and thought I was quite safe there, mouldering away in a quiet town.”

“So why leave?”

“Calico is closing down, like a lot of these sort of towns. Like Virginia City I guess…
Alicia wanted to go to San Francisco but I was nervous about going to the big cities, where they are more likely to know about me.”

“Why should they? It happened some years ago, Colby, you’ve changed, a lot has
changed.”

“Not in the medical profession…I mean, yes, a lot has changed, progress I guess. But in the social circles of the medical profession there is always someone who knows someone, you know how it is…circles within circles, that kind of thing.”

“Does your wife know?”

“No. I love my wife, Mr Cartwright. She has been raised by strict ethics, and I – I never had the confidence in her love for me to tell her. I know she wanted to move to San Francisco, and made all manner of excuses to come here instead. Unfortunately she has assumed an ulterior motive for my doing so.”

Adam looked blank for a moment and then remembered Mary Ann’s connection with the doctor and Calico, he nodded “Awkward.”

“I don’t want Alicia to know my past …”

“I think you should tell her, Dr Colby. A confidence like this should belong between husband and wife. If it were to be found out by some other source -”

James looked panic stricken, his eyes widened and he had to pick up his glass and drain it dry in order to quell the misery he felt. He looked at Adam “You won’t mention it to anyone, would you?”

“If you thought that I would, Dr Colby, then you’re a bigger fool than you take yourself for.”

James nodded, apologised and stood up, Adam did likewise, they shook hands and after James had thanked the other man and left the building, Adam resumed his seat and sat there for a moment, before he also emptied his glass and after picking up his hat, left the building.

Daniel deQuille had learned to lip read. He looked at his notes and tapped it with his pencil, he wondered if he could unearth a little more about this particular story. Perhaps his contacts in Maryland would be able to help … and with Adam Cartwright away from home for a few weeks, what better chance would there be for a scoop?

*A New Command

 

Chapter 17

The sun was warm and was generous in scattering sunlight in swathes across the town so that when deQuille left the saloon he had to pause a moment for his eyes to adjust from the dark interior. As he stood in the batwings with a smug smirk on his face an arm reached across his body and strong fingers gripped the lapel of his jacket, before propelling him around to face Adam Cartwright.

For a second deQuille thought his last moment had come, his heart fluttered into his throat and his eyes watered. The grip on his jacket tightened and he was momentarily lifted from the ground by the force behind the fist that held him captive to the one man he had hoped not to see … especially at such close quarters.

“Whatever -” Adam practically snarled as he released his hold on the man’s clothing, “whatever you think you heard or saw in there, you didn’t ..understand?”

“But, it’s news. It’s …”

“It’s nothing. William, I’m telling you here and now, it is nothing!” Adam’s eyes sparked and then narrowed “If I come home and find that you have printed anything, anything at all about Dr Colby, then what happened to you a few weeks ago will pale into insignificance. Do you understand what I mean?”

“You wouldn’t!” Daniel tossed his head, “You wouldn’t dare.”

“Don’t push me too far, Will.” Adam said quietly and in a tone of voice that was quiet and conciliatory, and in some way more frightening that his previous growl, he frowned, “I mean it, Will, give the man a chance.”

“He’s a doctor, he could ruin lives, people have a right to know that he’s a risk.”

Adam sighed and shook his head, “You’ll never learn, will you? William Wright who hides behind a nom-de-plume.” he bowed his head so that his eyes pierced into those of the reporter “I wonder what we would find it we started scratching around into your background, Will.”

Daniel raised his chin, prepared to out stare the rancher if necessary but he was spared that by Amanda Ridley appearing with a broad smile on her face but a wary look in her eyes. She looked from one to the other, “Something going on here, gentlemen? Or is it alright for me to interrupt?”

Adam relaxed his shoulders and politely removed his hat, and inclined his head to the woman in greeting “I was just leaving, good to see you, Amanda.”

“And you. I have a new shipment from Paris if you are interested. I hear you will be away on Monday, so I’m sure your wife would be most pleased to get a little momento from you.”

Adam laughed and shook his head, then he looked at Daniel who was trying to regain his composure in front of Amanda “Don’t forget, Will. I meant what I said.”

Daniel nodded, looked pained and swallowed hard. Both he and Amanda watched as the tall rancher strode with his usual assurance across the road from where they observed him entering the little house Mrs Soames was renting.

“What happened?” Amanda asked immediately.

“Just another altercation between myself and the good Captain.”

“Commodore.” she corrected with a tight lipped smile and a teasing look in her eyes.

“Ah well, yes.” Daniel smiled slowly, “I wish I knew …” he paused, and shook his head, “Well, never mind, I don’t and so that’s it.”

“I thought you had learned your lesson about being too curious about Adam Cartwright’s business, Will?”

“I have.” he replied and wished that some would forget that he was William Wright and just remember him as he was now known, “I have, Amanda.”

Amanda nodded and after another sharp look at him, as though to assure herself that he meant what he said, she continued on her way to her Ladies Mercantile.

She was fond of Daniel, perhaps over fond of him, but she never allowed herself to forget that he had a wife and children tucked away safely in Ohio. As she pushed open the door of her store and greeted Mrs Carstairs with a smile and nod of the head, she wondered if she should abandon her feelings for him and attempt to find someone else whom she could love.

Daniel closed the door of his office and stood in silence at his desk for a moment or two. Then he removed the notebook from his pocket and read over what he had written, tore out the pages and ripped them into pieces. He scattered them into the bin and glanced over at the door as though seeing there, in his mind’s eye, the three men who had beaten him to an inch of his life not so long ago. He refused to believe Adam capable of such a foul underhand way of dealing with him as in sending men to beat him to a pulp. The man was too respectable and honourable to even contemplate such a thing, but there were other ways and for now Daniel felt it better to leave things alone. Of course, should it become necessary in future, well, he had a first class memory …

Oh Sofia didn’t want to leave her friend and sulked when Adam said it was time to go. She and Ella had spent time drawing and colouring in their pictures, and she held hers up to her father to show him how it was not yet finished “Only a little more time, daddy, please?”

Adam tapped his fingers on the arm of the chair, he looked at the clock and then at his wife who smiled at him and raised her eyebrows. He thought of all the things that had yet to be done in town and sighed, refused another cup of coffee and rose to his feet which brought a wail of dismay from his daughter.

“I have a few things still to do in town, so if Mrs Soames doesn’t mind…” he smiled at the woman and upon her nod of the head picked up his hat, “Another hour, young lady. That’s all. Be ready to leave when I come back.”

The look of delight on Ella’s pale face and the whoop from his daughter brought a smile to his lean features, he nodded at his wife “I’ll check for mail and then see if Schofield is available.”

Olivia had hoped to spend a little time in town with her husband but acquiesced to his statement without comment. She found Emily pleasant company and enjoyed chatting to her, and it was always a pleasure to hear first hand from another person about the things her husband neglected to tell her about his adventures. She settled back into her chair and smiled at Emily who was more than happy to continue with the stories about life in Bodie under the rule of Rosemarie Royale.

Adam didn’t go to Amanda’s Emporium or Mercantile. Instead he went to the jewellers and looked over some of the things there that he thought would please his wife. After a short time spent there he left a little poorer and Mr Jacobi a trifle richer. He then collected the mail from Eddy who wished him well on the cattle drive and hoped he would have good weather. The curse of bad weather was something all ranchers dreaded. It made a bad job ten times worse.

He saw Schofield getting down from his one horse buggy outside the surgery and managed to reach the man before he disappeared into the environs of the building. Schofield had seen him too and out of curiosity had lingered a while by his vehicle, making a lot out of getting his medical bag from within, by which time Adam was at his side.

“I hear the child is here in town.” Schofield said immediately before Adam had even had time to catch his breath, “Widow Hawkins informed me when I went to see her earlier.”

Adam nodded “She is, and I was wondering if you would consider her as a patient although…”

“Although?” Schofield raised his eyebrows and puffed out his chest, “You have already consulted a colleague of mine on the matter, Mr Cartwright?”

“Was that wrong? Dr Chang is ..”

“I was referring to Dr Colby.”

“Ah ..yes…mmm.” Adam felt his collar tightening and nodded, and now, of course, he had gone a step further and involved Jimmy Chang. Capital sins all of them, he heaved in a deep breath “I didn’t know then, when I saw Dr Colby, when they were arriving in town and as there was every possibility that I would not be here when they came, and you could have left town, I needed to know some doctor would be available to take care of them.”

“In which case, Mr Cartwright, you picked the wrong doctor. I would not consider Dr Colby a good choice for a patient of that ilk.”

Adam swallowed, he didn’t like Schofield and was finding it hard not to let it show. Then again, it crossed his mind that Schofield wouldn’t have cared even if he did…he raised his eyebrows and looked at the man thoughtfully.

“I realised that and when I knew the Soames had arrived, with my time being limited I consulted with Dr Chang instead. He saw Ella this morning and wants to discuss the matter with you.”

“Ah!” Schofield made the exclamation sound like a cannon being fired, his eyes bulged and for a moment Adam was reminded of Khedive Ismail *, another portly influential figure who thought too much of himself. Schofield followed his exclamation with a nod of the head “In which case it is out of my hands.”

“You are a surgeon, Dr Schofield, Jimmy is …”

“Dr Chang is a very efficient and credible doctor. He is not a surgeon however….” Schofield pursed his lips and now resembled one of those fat litte fishes that had graced many a dinner plate during Adams’ days at sea, however, puffer fish Schofield was not, he released his breath and nodded “I respect Chang a lot so if it is all well with you, Mr Cartwright, I shall discuss the matter with him.”

Adam nodded and tucked visions of the Khedive and the puffer fish to one side, he could be humble when he chose to be, and murmured a contrite “Thank you.”

Schofield nodded “When do you leave?”

“On Monday.”

The doctor frowned, obviously mentally working out a time schedule, after a moment he said that he would see the child with Dr Chang as soon as they could meet together. He shrugged and turned away, then seeing Adam still standing there he stopped “It won’t be today. I have too much to do. I have surgery to perform at the hospital in half an hour.”

That was that then, Adam nodded and bit down on his bottom lip, frowned “Well, thank you, I’d appreciate all the help you can give her. Would you let my father and my wife know about your decision so that they can keep me informed.”

“Why? You’re not her father, are you?”

Having performed his coup de grace Schofield bustled off, his bag swinging at his side and slamming the door after he had passed through. Adam nodded as though confirming to himself something he was thinking and then left, his head bowed and the mail bag swinging in his hand as he walked.

He told Emily that Dr Schofield and Dr Chang would be consulting with her in due course, as to when, he could not say but it would be within the next few days as Schofield would soon be leaving town.

“You’ll be in good hands, Mrs Soames.” he assured her and smiled over at Ella who was sitting in her chair listening attentively, perhaps with more attention than one would expect from a child of her years.

Sofia was a good girl and made no fuss when it was time to leave. She had her picture rolled up neatly and ready to show Reuben, and Grandpa. Hand in hand with her father she walked down to the surrey and smiled down at Adam as he swung her up into the seat.

“Hi there, Sofee.”

She turned and blushed, Jimmy Carstairs was standing there with a big grin on his face. Adam looked at the boy and smiled, nodded “How are you, Jimmy?”

“I’m fine, Mr Cartwright. Going fishing with Billy in the creek”

“Be careful not to fall in.” Adam’s smile widened as he helped his wife aboard the vehicle and then walked round it to take his seat.

“’Bye, Sofee, see you on Monday.”

Sofia bowed her head in shame, a boy had spoken to her and Jimmy Carstairs of all people. She clutched at her drawing and sighed heavily, above her head Adam and Olivia exchanged a look, a smile.

In the surgery Timothy Schofield and Jimmy Chang were discussing the matter of a little girl who had been confined to a wheelchair for so long after being shot in the back. Both men were first class in their respective fields and therefore brought to their discussion all the experience and knowledge they possessed. It was agreed that they would see the child that evening, after Schofield had completed his round of surgery at the hospital.

……………

Reuben had enjoyed his morning with Uncle Joe and Aunt Mary Ann who had provided him with a fine mid-day meal. Joe had watched with some amusement and pleasure as the boy had held his little cousin, Daniel, by the back of his shirt in order to stop him from falling out of the saddle of the pony. It was the Cartwrights’ way to teach their children to be good riders as soon as possible, in that way it was a natural progression from walking and running and any fear of the animals would be eliminated.

Reuben understood that philosophy only too well, after all he had never ridden a horse until he had arrived at the Double D with his mother and sister and he had been nearly six years old then.** He remembered how timid Sofia had been around horses, and how long it had taken her to relax when around the animals. Seeing the smiling face of his cousin and knowing he was having a part in the child’s development gave Reuben an immense sense of pride.

“You’ll be teaching Nathaniel soon,” Joe said as he took his son into his arms and grinned down at his nephew. Hard to believe that the boy was Adam’s adopted son***, it was so natural to think of him as a Cartwright. He placed a kindly hand on the boy’s shoulder “How’s Sofia getting on with Buster?”

“She’s alright, for a girl.”

Joe grinned, and said nothing to that, the note of scorn in his nephews voice would, he knew, change over time. They walked to the house where Mary Ann had prepared a meal for them “Do you still hear from Billy Webb?”

“Oh yes, he’s goes to a smart school now, you know.” Reuben paused, thought for a moment and smiled “I guess he’s changed a lot now.”

“I guess he has,” Joe nodded, remembering the bully who had nearly killed Sofia and had eventually been revealed as a victim of cruelty himself. It had been one of those strange miracles that had brought the boy together with his natural family and a measure of happiness as a result.

“He has a whole stable of horses to choose from now, you know?” Reuben said with a slight note of regret in his voice.

“Well, you have a whole corral full yourself, don’t you? And you like Max well enough?”

Reuben grinned and nodded “Max is a good horse but I would love to be able to have Kelim for my own.”

Joe nodded and smiled, the boy had loved Kelim from the moment he had first seen him, but the colt was still too young for breaking in just yet, although he was being trained up for it. Daniel bounced about in his father’s arms in protest at being held and was set down to walk. He was a sturdy little boy now, a headful of curls and a face covered in smiles. More like Joe than even Joe realised, although Mary Ann saw it well enough and loved the child even more so, if that had been possible .

“I think Nathaniel will be good with horses. He isn’t afraid of them at all. He comes sometimes and sits in the stalls when I’m grooming Max. Pa lets him sit on Sports back as well. Pa said he has a good back on him, Nathaniel I mean -” he grinned up at his Uncle and was gratified at receiving a smile back.

Reuben had a great affection for his Uncles, a feeling that was tempered with a deep respect for them both too. Their knowledge of the world in which they lived and their love for the Ponderosa and the peoples of that territory was proven in so many ways that Reuben thought of them as heroes. He swung a bridle and bit in one hand until he passed the stable where he hung it up on the hook.

“Uncle Joe, will you and Pa be gone a long time on this cattle drive?”

“Some weeks.” Joe replied regretfully, “It depends on the weather, and how easy a trek it will be. We know the way well enough by now, but there’s always other things to be taken into consideration that could cause problems.”

“Oh, you won’t die though, will you? Or Pa?”

Joe looked down at the boy and gave a slight smile, he shook his head “Don’t intend to, Reuben.”

The boy nodded and then, child like seemed to dismiss it from his mind, gave a whoop and a spring in the air, then ran all the way to the house as though he had suddenly developed a Hoss type appetite and just couldn’t wait to get at the table and eat! Behind him a little boy ran as fast as his legs could go, whooping as he went, a shrill treble in imitation of his cousin.

Joe sighed, he could remember as a child lying awake praying, hoping, that nothing would happen to his father when he was absent from home. Watching shadows flit across the ceiling of his bedroom and wondering if Pa would be safe, if Adam would be alright, because he knew, as a child, just how suddenly death could come upon a person. He remembered that day when it had touched their lives with horrific force and his mother had died…he shuddered, best not think about it, and like Reuben tossed it aside in the hope that it would go away.
……………..

Hoss Cartwright sat down on the hard packed ground and stared into the flames of the camp fire which was slumbering down now for the evening was drawing in. They had travelled faster than usual, as Ben was determined to reach home before Monday. At the rate they were pushing the horses Hoss estimated that they would reach the Ponderosa ranch house before evening next day.

He yawned and watched as his father stretched out on his bedroll, and pulled a blanket over himself. It reminded Hoss of all those times on the trail that he and his father had shared in the past. They could talk, lots of things to talk about, there was the past and the future to discuss, laugh over, regret at times.

Talk had turned to the cattle drive about to take place and how good it was that Adam and Joe were sharing that time with Luke Dent and Derwent Jessop. That had led to talk about the Bishops, little Amy Bishop and the fight over The Truckee Strip. Derwent‘s cousin had contributed a lot to that, and killed Amy too..so it was good to have made a friend of a Jessop, considering what had happened in the past.

Then they had got to talking about Luke Dent and how he and Olivia had been taken by Bannock all those years back, and how hard life had been for them as a result. Hoss swilled his mouth with the coffee and swallowed, sometimes, he thought, the past held onto echoes that could be repeated.

“Pa?”

“Yes, son?”

“My head still itches. I still reckon we’re being followed.”

“I don’t think so, Hoss. But if you feel that worried about it, then perhaps you should keep watch for the next few hours, huh?”

Hoss nodded, he had been thinking of doing just that, so he swallowed more coffee “Pa?”

“What now?”

“I’ll wake you up when it’s your turn.”

“My turn?”

“Yeah, to keep watch.”

Ben mumbled something beneath his breath, Hoss and his itchy head, and his bunions, and his …well, never mind that … he yawned and pulled the blanket higher. As he drifted into sleep he could feel the ground vibrate as Hoss moved about, he heard the sound of wood being heaped onto the fire. He yawned again… he’d be home tomorrow and thank goodness, he didn’t have to worry about going on that cattle drive.

Chapter 18

There was a letter for Adam that had travelled all the way from Albany, New York and once Reuben had returned home and regaled them with all his news, for it was always exciting to be a little boy enjoying time away from his family, Adam settled down to read it. He recognised the childish handwriting from a letter he had received some years previously and was intrigued as to what news his young friend had to tell him.

“Who is it from, Pa?” Reuben leaned forward to look at the stamps on the envelope, “It’s come a long way.”

“All the way from Albany, New York.” Adam agreed, and smoothed out the paper and began to read. It was always exciting to receive a letter, and Olivia drew closer in order to share in the news of these people from Albany of whom she had only heard reference to but had never yet met.

[i]“Dear Uncle Adam

You don’t mind me calling you Uncle do you? You know that for a long time I wanted you to be my daddy, but I am very happy now that Pa is my daddy now. I wanted to write and let you know that we are all doing very well.

I go to a school with lots of girls. Peter goes to a special school so that he learns to read and write and he can talk a little too now. He can sign faster than I can talk and Ma says that is a real miracle. Baby John is growing fast, and because he watches Peter a lot he is learning to talk in sign language too. Daddy says that soon it will be the quietest house in the whole of Albany because we will soon all forget how to speak normally, we shall just let our fingers do it for us.

I often think back to when you came and helped us, and I don’t have nightmares about it at all any more. The man has gone away for ever now, and daddy says that is a good thing. But I wanted to thank you for the pendant too, because mummy says it is very special, and I can only wear it on very special occasions. They have put it away for when I get married, so I suppose that is a really special occasion, isn’t it?

It is all a long time ago when we lived in that little house and I do dream about it sometimes, because the fields were so lovely covered with the wild flowers in the spring and then smooth and white in the snow. One day I shall write a story about it all, but not about the man.

I just wanted you to know that we are all very happy here and I hope that you are too.

Yours sincerely
Lilith Martin.” *

“Is she a cousin then?” Reuben wanted to know as he turned his attention away from playing cats cradle with Sofia.

“No, not really. But we were very close friends, when she needed to have a friend.”

“Who was the man she talked about?” Sofia now asked, “Was he a bad man?”

“Sadly so,” Adam replied and slipped the letter back into the envelope, and leaned back into his chair, almost unconsciously he reached out for Olivia’s hand to hold in his, for the letter brought back memories not only of a little girl but of her step mother also* and of love,sadness and loss.

“When will Grandpa and Uncle Hoss be back?” Reuben now asked, “Will Grandpa come here and stay with us again when you go away?”

“He may, if he wants to be bothered with a noisy little whipper snapper like you.” Adam grinned and braced himself for his son to launch himself on him, which Reuben did springing himself up from the floor into his father’s lap.For a brief few moments there was some fun wrestling between them until Olivia called a halt when it seemed that Nathaniel was about to join in. Fears that the baby may well be tossed across the room in her mind she snatched him up and carried him away in order to leave the two ruffians to slug it out.

Sofia stood up from her place on the rug and cradled Clarabelle in her arms and with her nose in the air she walked away to her mother saying, “I don’t know why boys have to fight all the time.”

Adam laughed and stood up with Reuben squirming and kicking while tucked under his father’s arm. In one deft move Adam swung his son from under his arm and deposited him on the rug.

It was later when the children had been put to bed and they sat together in front of the fire, the clock ticking away the time, that they got to discuss the letter, and the people about whom it was about, “Did it bring back many memories?”

“Some,” Adam replied, “But they are just that, memories. It was a miserable time for Barbara, and for the little girl.”

“The Man Lilith mentioned, that was her father, wasn’t it?” Olivia glanced up at her husband and when he nodded, but said nothing, she turned her gaze to the fire and thought about things her sister, Katya, had mentioned about their own father. Allegations that she had refused to believe. “Did he hurt Lilith?”

“No, not at all. He loved her dearly, although I think once she had reached maturity he may have considered her much like he did most women. He was a brute, Barbara should never have married him, but then, we are all wise in hindsight, arn’t we?”

“You don’t regret -”

He kissed her then, stopping the question from being asked and in a way answering it more eloquently. His fingers gently caressed her face, ran along the outline of her profile, and then he kissed her brow, her nose, her lips.

After a while as she lay in his arms with her head upon his shoulder the clock struck the hour and she whispered “I wish I could stop time.”

“I guess many people have wished that, I know that I have …” he smiled and leaned his cheek upon her head. He could smell her hair, the womanly smell of her, her perfume from her clothes.

“It seems strange you going away again. Not like before, when you went to sea, but …well, you are still going away from home, from us.”

He nodded, she could feel the movement and sighed, “Adam, you will promise me to come back safely?”

“I will promise you anything, my love, if it makes you happier.”

“And you will send me cables whenever you can?”

“I promise I will send you cables ,” he smiled, his fingers stroked her arm, gently back and forth, and then caught at a tendril of hair which he wound around one finger.

“Mary Ann will miss Joe too…and Marcy …”

“Look after her, won’t you, sweetheart? She’s a long way off and isolated out there.”

She smiled and looked up at him “I’ve already arranged something with Bridie…she will be alright.”

He kissed her again …the sound of the flames burning into the logs, the ticking of the clock, the creaking of timbers as the house settled, like an old man easing his bones, but they heard nothing …
……………..

Emily Soames waited by the doorway of the room in which the two doctors stood over the body of the little girl lying, once again, upon the bed. Schofield intimidated her but at the same time held her respect for he had spoken to her with a gentle politeness, and examined Ella with considerable care and compassion.

Opposite him Jimmy stood listening to Schofield’s murmured comments and nodding every so often. His deference to the other man was borne from his culture in respecting their elders, as well as the admiration he had for the man’s knowledge and skill.

Finally they left the bedside and Ella was allowed to sit up, it was Jimmy who lifted her up and placed her gently back into the wheel chair.

Schofield nodded over to Emily and indicated it was time to talk, they followed her to the other room where they sat down facing one another. For Emily it seemed as though the wait before either of them spoke lasted an eternity.

“The bullet – was extracted whole, was it not?” Schofield asked and she nodded and agreed it had been completely intact. “And the doctor who removed the bullet was satisfied that there would be no lasting damage?”

“He wasn’t sure. He made no promises either way.”

“There was no infection?” Jimmy now asked and Emily shook her head,

“No, none at all.”

She fidgeted with her fingers in her lap, her mind casting back to that terrible day, her husband dead in one room, and her child lying on the operating table in the other…she shivered. Schofield and Jimmy exchanged looks, Schofield rubbed his chin and his eyes focussed upon her thoughtfully. She was obviously a very caring mother, perhaps for weeks she had been in shock, unable to comprehend all that had happened. Perhaps that was why nothing was done for the child, perhaps she had been unable to understand the instructions, perhaps she had been afraid to implement anything that could have caused more pain. He shook his head and stood up,

“I can do nothing for her,” he declared, “She does not need an operation now, it is too late. Any surgery now will only cause renewed problems for the nerves in that area and prevent her making any progress at all.”

“Progress, what do you mean by progress?”

Jimmy stood up, his hands clasped together in front of him and looking thoughtfully at the woman. Schofield was looking already for his hat and upon finding it picked it up, it was obviously time to leave. It was Schofield who spoke next “The doctor who attended your daughter should have been more thorough in following up on the operation.”

“He did visit once or twice.” Emily said quietly, “But doctors are expensive and ..and I had to pay for a funeral, there was no income with my husband’s death and … and he stopped coming after a little while.”

Schofield mumbled something under his breath and shook his head, “Your daughter needs medication to build up her strength after the pneumonia, and the journey has been too much for her. Dr Chang will take care of her from now on, you can trust his advice and counsel. Believe me, good woman, another operation would be the death of her.!”

Emily felt her heart drop, physically she sagged, and then rallied “I have enough money for anything she needs, if she should have …”

“I told you, she does not need an operation. Dr Chang will take over for now, just do as he tells you.” he slapped his hat upon his head, nodded brusquely “Good day to you, ma’am”

Emily cast a despairing look at Jimmy, who bowed in his elegant manner and said simply that he would call in tomorrow when he would discuss a few more details with her.

As she closed the door Emily Soames felt that she had accomplished nothing in bringing her daughter on such a long trek. Had it not been for the sound of her daughter calling her from the other room, she would have sat down and wept. But Emily had lived for many months putting her weeping to one side for the sake of this child, and so she tucked it away again, rallied herself and put on a smile. She wondered how much longer she would be able to do so and continue to convince her daughter that all was well, everything would be alright.
……………….

Ben woke up to the sound of movement in the camp, and thought that Hoss was putting another log on the fire. He moved carefully however, and sat up while one hand reached for his gun, only to find that the holster was empty.

“Hoss?”

“Here, Pa.”

He was awake now, and his eyes looked into the dark eyes of someone else, seated opposite him and who had obviously been waiting patiently for him to wake u p.

There were several others standing close by, like some guard surrounding the throne of some dignitary or other. He stood up immediately and looked for Hoss only to find him standing close by.

“Sarah? What are you doing here?” Ben asked immediately and upon having asked the question the young woman stood up as though to face him, as one would have said, ‘man to man’.

“Ben Hawk face … Hoss has told me you have received my letter?”

“I – yes – we did. I thought you were in Washington?”

Sarah Thocmetony nodded “I come to tell you that things are very bad at the Fort Hall reservation where they have taken my people. The Great White Chief Hayes listens but does nothing, it is like speaking to the wind, words are blown and scattered and lost.”

“How bad are things now, Sarah? What do you want from us? How can we help?” Ben gestured towards a large upturned log and upon this she sat down, her head bowed.

“You must know that in 1870 Bannock and Shoshone were moved to the Fort Hall reservation and refused the right to areas outside, including the Camas Prairie.”

“Camas?” Hoss interjected, “Ain’t that some kind of plant?”

“Yes, it is the camassia quamash, and a major food item for our people. * The Bannock were promised that the Camas Prairie would be included in their reservations but it was not and now -” she shook her head, “the people are starving.”

“Ain’t they able to get the camas somehow?” Hoss suggested, and pushed a mug of coffee into Sarah’s hands believing that the trembling he saw was due to being cold, although the night was, in fact, warm.

She looked down at the mug, as though not sure what it was, but she didn’t drink it, instead she looked at Ben again “Hunger is killing Shoshone, Bannock and Paiute, so they were allowed to the Camas Prairie to collect some camas but there was not so much there, the white settlers have set their hogs and animals to eat it. They beat the people back, so there was little to harvest.”

“Go on, Sarah. Say what you need to say, my dear.”

Sarah nodded, and then turned her face up to look into the kindly features of this man who had befriended her people so many years ago.

“You have heard of Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce? For a while the army thought the Pauite would join with them in their war, but a delegation went to the Fort in Boise to explain they would ride the peace road with them and not fight with the Nez Perce. Chief Buffalo Horn* went to the Territorial Governor to ask that they can go to the Camus Prairie but they have been refused because the white settlers will not permit it. There is talk of war…”

“War? Real war you mean?” Hoss said quietly, his blue eyes fixed upon her face, and behind her the dog soldiers* moved restlessly and indicated that they should move on.

“What does your father say about this?” Ben asked Sarah now and for the first time she raised the cup to her mouth and drank from it, then set it back down upon the log.

“They call my father Bad Face now, because he will not go to war against the Americans.* He has requested to return to the reservation here but it goes unheeded. There are already attacks as the Bannock and Shoshone move westwards from the reservations.”

“Will they come here … ?” Ben now asked anxiously, “Is that why you are here? To warn us?”

“No, I mean, yes, if this develops into a war then yes, it will reach here. But the Shoshone and Bannock only want the Camus Prairie back. Please, Ben Hawkface, will you write to the President, will you ask him to let them have the camus again? If my people can eat and survive, they will not fight.” she stood up now and the men behind her grouped closer “They threaten my father and his followers, because he will not fight the Americans. But he is old, and younger Paiute want to fight. I come to warn you to be careful, Ben.”

“Thank you, Sarah. What are you going to do now?”

“I must return to the reservation, I fear that they will harm my father and family. One cannot trust the Snake people…although,” she sighed and her shoulders slumped, “there is good among them, but when people starve, and are murdered for want of food, trust is a commodity easily lost.”

“Will you let me know what happens, what I can do to help.”

“Just write, letters, in the papers for your people to read …anything…” she took hold of his hands which he had outstretched towards her and she held them tightly “My people are dying, Ben Cartwright. Rinehart is slowly killing them. If there is war he will exact vengeance very cruelly.”

“Then he will have to be stopped, somehow.” Ben replied grimly.

They released hands and as silently as they had come the little group vanished into the darkness of the trees surrounding them.

 

 

 

Chapter 19

Both Joe and Adam had planned that the day before leaving for the cattle drive would be a family day if the weather promised to be fine enough . With the sun shining brightly and just a warm breeze caressing their faces they soon had the horses hitched to the buggies and picnic hampers tucked securely away. Hester, knowing that Ben and Hoss would not arrive home until late in the evening was more than pleased to help Hop Sing load their hamper onto the vehicle, and the two girls on the seat inside. Baby Erik, wrapped in shawl was passed up to her by Hop Sing once she herself was on board.

“Goodbye, Hop Sing.” Hannah cried and Hope echoed “Bye Hop Ting” and waved their hands while the breeze made their sun bonnets flap around their faces.

Mary Ann waved Jenny off as the girl left the house in the surry beside her father. The outing with Victor had been arranged weeks earlier, so that she would have some time visiting him and Dorothea. Jenny always loved these occasions with her family so was quite unaware of missing out on a Cartwright picnic. Slipping her arm through that of her father’s she waved gaily back at the woman standing in the doorway while Joe struggled to get their hamper into the back of their buggy.

Daniel was more than excited, while Constance regarded everything with the solemnity that came from a little infant. Joe and Mary Ann sat with Daniel between them and the baby in her mother’s arms. With a smile at one another the couple turned the horses round in the yard and headed for the Ponderosa‘s main ranch house.

Here was Hester with the children and as soon as she saw Joe and Mary Ann she got her buggy into position and followed on behind them so that they could ride the mile or so down the track to where Adam and Olivia would be waiting.

Reuben had been allowed to ride on Max. He was more than pleased to do so even if it was just to show off in front of his cousins. Adam and Olivia sat together, as Joe and Mary Ann were, with Sofia between them and Nathaniel on his mother‘s lap.

Cheng Ho Lee raised a solemn hand to see them off while his mind was on the food he had prepared for Hop Sing’s lunch, and the moves he was going to use in the coming game of xiangqi (Chinese checkers)

It had been left up to Joe to choose the picnic site so it was no surprise to discover that the route to this area was longer than most had hoped for,so by the time they reached it children were fractuous, babies were bawling and Adam was looking grim.

Joe was, however, totally unfazed. He jumped down from his seat, and grinned hugely at them all. After assisting his wife down and then catching Daniel as the boy jumped into his arms he turned and with a sweep of his hand presented them with the view which was, by Ponderosa standards, one of the best.

The children ran and skipped and jumped in the long grass and spring flowers. Babies calmed as mother’s soothed them, and Adam put his arm around his wife and kissed her while Joe carried his baby girl to his favourite spot under the wide spreading boughs of a tree. By the time he arrived there she was sound asleep and remained so as he placed her gently upon the ground in the hollow between the roots of the big old tree.

He then returned to the buggy and lifted out the hamper, Adam passed him with their hamper and called out to Hester that he would be back soon to collect hers. With Erik in her arms Hester strolled beside Mary Ann and Olivia and then laughed, it seemed she just couldn’t stop laughing .

“What’s so funny, Hester?” Joe asked as he passed her to help Adam unload the last buggy.

“Oh,my, I was just thinking…well, look at us … and it seemed not so very long ago that we had a picnic here, and I was just expecting Hannah.”

Mary Ann nodded with a twinkle in her grey eyes “That;s right, and Joe brought me here to meet you all. Oh my goodness, Olivia, I was never so frightened in all my life as I was then, coming on a family picnic and not knowing any one of you.”

Adam raised his eyebrows “I wasn’t here at the time?”

“No, it was long before you came back from wherever you were …Eygpt I think…” Hester smiled and watched as he continued on his way with Joe laden with Hop Sing’s hamper.

“Yes, but what’s so funny about that?” Olivia asked looking puzzled, and then calling “Adam, don’t forget the blanket.”

“Oh, it just struck me as funny, I guess. Thinking back to then, and now, well, look at us? Children and babies everywhere.”

Mary Ann and Olivia looked at one another, Mary Ann mindful of their blanket had already collected it and was hugging it close in her arms, while Olivia was carrying Nathaniel who had wriggled and bounced himself to sleep throughout the journey.

Hester sighed contentedly “I remember Hoss telling me that he once overheard Ben telling Candy that he had given up ever seeing a grandchild of his on the Ponderosa.”

“Well, I don’t think Ben has any reason to complain now,” Olivia chuckled and slipped her arm through that of her husband just as he passed by with a blanket over his shoulder.

“Complain about what?” Adam now asked smiling at the three women and thinking how lovely they were, so different, and yet so precious.

“Oh grandchildren.” Mary Ann said with a giggle and hurried to catch up with Joe, leaving her brother in law totally confused as a result.

The sky could not have been bluer for a spring day and the breeze was just enough to cause the daisies to bend their heads to it as they gaily gazed up to the sun. The water of the river glimmered a reflection of the trees and hillside on the opposite bank. It was idyllic.

Hampers were emptied out and everyone shared out the food between the; certain favourites of Hop Sings competed against those of Chengs. Mary Ann excelled in her cakes and desserts, Olivia with her pastries and patties, while Hester produced bread and rolls which she said with a wink hadn’t a dent anywhere, which caused Mary Ann to giggle again. Something which only added to the confusion of the two men present who had no idea as to what they could have been referring.

After they had consumed enough they sat and talked while the children ran and played, rolled down the hillside and waded in the shallows of the river. Daniel cried when a frog jumped right between his feet, having stepped on it. Nathaniel found some tadpoles and thought they were edible…he soon found out they were not.

Reuben and Sofia played tag with Hannah, while Hope and Nathaniel ran around trying to make sense of the game and constantly falling over. Then Adam and Joe began to chase the children around and caused havoc as a result. It was just too much excitement, so that they were all rounded up for the last meal of the day, which was really eating what was left over from lunch.

“Well, I guess we had a good day, huh?” Joe said rather whimsically as he lifted a very weary Daniel up into the seat of their buggy.

His wife smiled and nodded, Constance slept satisfied and content. Daniel complained that his legs felt funny and his tummy had a wiggle in it. Despite that Joe clambered aboard and carefully turned the buggy towards home.

Adam did likewise with Sofia leaning her head against him for she had run herself weary, and Nathaniel sat sucking his thumb and watched the grass and flowers bending beneath the wheels of his uncle’s vehicle and bouncing back up again only to be flattened once more when they passed over them, not that he saw that of course. He was happy, he had eaten his fill, despite the tadpoles, and played, and been kissed by all the girls. What more could a little lad like him want?

Hester followed along and wished, as she looked back to where they had romped most of the day, that her husband and Ben had been there to share in the fun. It had been a glorious day, but even so, it could have been more so had they been there too.

They parted company in the order in which they had met together. Cheng Ho Lee was there to receive the near empty Hamper belonging to his Cartwrights and Hop Sing was beaming at the doorway waiting to receive his family. Mary Ann and Joe returned to a quiet, empty house. As they walked into the main room they kissed each other tenderly,

“It’s been a good day, hasn’t it?” Joe whispered huskily.

“I’ll remember it forever.” Mary Ann replied and with a sigh carried her baby up the stairs to her crib.

The hours were ticking away and the pleasure of the moment was going to fade away, she just knew it, and then, suddenly, it was going to be Monday.
………

Ben and Hoss dismounted from their horses and led them to their stalls. In silence they tended to the animals before closing the stable doors behind them and walking stiff legged and weary to the house.

Hester was opening the door to them with a smile on her face. The light from the room shone behind her and she looked just about the most welcome sight Hoss had seen since, well, since the last time he had seen her with that smile on her face, welcoming him home.

“Did you have a good trip? Was everything alright?” she asked as she closed the door and her two weary men removed their hats and then their gun belts.

Ben looked at Hoss before he looked back to Hester, “We had a good enough trip, until last night.”

“What happened last night? Are you hurt?”

“No, no, nothing like that…” Hoss sighed and grimaced, “Pity Joe and Adam ain’t here to hear about this, Pa.”

“Hear about what? Is it serious? Oh do tell me what’s wrong?”

Ben was first to sink into his big chair by the fireside, he stretched out his legs and sighed, closed his eyes, “We rode just about as fast as we could, hoping to get here sooner but …” he shrugged, “It’s a fair distance away and there’s only so much one can expect from the horses.”

Hester shook her head and looked imploringly at her husband who took her hand in his and led her to the settee. “We met Sarah last night.”

“Sarah? Whose Sarah?”

“Sarah Thocmetony. Winnemucca’s daughter, only he ain’t called Winnemucca anymore, they call him Bad Face.”

Hester looked blank, her eyes however indicated that she understood the implications of what they were saying and she nodded “What did she have to say?”

“THere’s trouble brewing, possibly a war with the Bannocks and Shoshone.” Hoss sighed, and shook his head, “She’s hoping that it won’t come to much, but they’re already attacking homesteads and heading towards the west.”

“Will it affect us here?”

“She isn’t sure, it depends how the army handles it I guess.” Hoss squeezed her hands gently between his, “It just sounds worse than it is, honey. I reckon on it being alright. You aint got nothing to worry about.

“What about the cattle drive? Adam and Joe?” Hester now asked, her voice low pitched, almost as though she were too frightened to raise her voice.

“We ain’t sure, they could be fine, depends on where the Bannock are and whether or not they cross each other’s path.”

Ben leaned forward and reached for his pipe, he stared at the empty bowl for a second as though unsure whether to fill it or not; he then looked over at his daughter in law and shook his head “We can’t change things now, Bannocks or not, the cattle drive has to go ahead.”

Chapter 20

Adam and Joe listened attentively to the information that their father was passing onto them. Niether man spoke until Ben had finally concluded speaking and then Adam asked, as he buckled on his gun belt, what the older man intended to do.

“I’ll write a protest to the President, to the army, to the Indian Affairs Bureau…to whatever newspaper I can think of…” Ben replied and with a sigh placed both hands on his hips, he shook his head “But I think the die is cast, there is nothing anyone can do except register a formal complaint.”

Joe nodded and even as he cast an anxious look at his brother he added the same thought to his fathers. “If the army try to force the white men back, there will be only further aggression against the Indian. They can’t win, can they?”

Ben shook his head “No, and further aggression, as you term it, won’t help them either. From what Sarah says her father and some Paiute refuse to ride with the Bannock and as a result are being treated pretty hostily by them. I hope the Government recognises the support Winnemucca is giving them, even though it is a passive one.”

“I doubt it,” Adam muttered as he now buckled on his chaps, he looked at his father and frowned, the dark eyes darkening as a result “Perhaps there will be more promises made, but they won’t be kept while they employ men like Rhinehardt. If ever a man was out to see an end to every Indian in sight, he was one of them.”

“What does Sarah intend to do, Pa.? Did she say?” Joe now asked as he reached for his hat..

“She’s riding to the Fort to help as translator to Captain Horton.”

Adam and Joe exchanged a look that consisted of raised eyebrows and grimaces, Ben straightened his back and now placed a hand on a shoulder of each of his sons, “Look, be careful. I’m not saying you’ll be riding into a horde of wild Indians but it is possible that your paths could cross.”

Adam nodded, “I know what you’re saying, Pa. Don’t worry, by the time we reach any trouble spots this so called war could well be over.”

“This so-called war hasn’t started yet, Sarah’s living in hopes that it never will.” Ben said quietly and followed his sons out of the house and onto the porch of the big house. “Well, this is it, then. Are you ready? Got everything you need?”

Adam nodded and Joe quipped that if they haven’t it will be a relief to be able to blame Adam, for a change. Chuckling amongst themselves the three men made their way to their horses and mounted up. Hoss was already astride his horse, and nodded over at them with a grin,

It took little time to ride to where the cattle were grazing in the flat lands, despite the steep inclines and rocky terrain there was still plenty of places for them to graze and wander. The cowboys were in place, the chuck wagon lumbered to the front, Luke Dent and Derwent Jessop turned their horses round to join the Cartwrights, removing their hats in greeting as they did so.

“All ready then?” Adam asked and got an answering nod from each of them.

Hands were shaken and promises without words left unspoken. Ben and Hoss remained where they were while Joe and Adam rode to where their wives were seated in Adam’s two seater. The babies had been left with Jenny for the air was thick with dust already, and the sound of the many cattle below the rim rock was a constant background noise.

Both women smiled and looked calmly as their husbands, who had ridden up to them bare headed. Both men whispered their goodbyes, their promises, their words of love and affection that were meant to compose their women but instead caused their hearts to break. As they kissed their men goodbye and urged them to take care both women kept telling themselves over and over that nothing could happen, nothing would happen…their men would come home as they always did. Then Mary Ann would remember the time when Joe had nearly been crippled and Olivia thought of other times when her husband had nearly been killed. They bit their lips, forced themselves to remain dry eyed until the two men had ridden away.

“Can you still see them?” Mary Ann whispered as she struggled to see through the dust and her tears.

“Yes, over there, to the right …” Olivia replied and pointed to where Joe and Adam could be seen riding out to take the lead ahead of the herd.

Adam’s voice trickled over the sound of the cattle, an eerie lonely sound “Move ‘em out.”

Big Red raised his head and glowered, he shook his shoulders and began to move forwards. Behind him there was what seemed a ripple of movement as the cattle began to move. Adam and Joe were still riding forwards, Adams arm raised then sweeping down to signal the words already spoken.

The cattle drive of spring, 1878, was now underway.
……………………

Hester had remained home having seen enough cattle drives off in her time, and as she was expecting her husband and father in law to return mid-day, she wanted to prepare a pleasant and relaxed meal for them. Hop Sing had taken laundry into town and hoped to visit relatives while there.

There was always a degree of nervous tension on such days. Stomachs fluttered and turned over at the least sound, and it was easy to be startled at nothing very much. But despite this Olivia left Mary Ann at her home and kissed her cheek gently for she had promises to keep and despite her worries left her sister in law at the door of her home. Nathaniel was more than pleased to see his Mother, for he found his cousin Daniel a rather formidable little boy, he would far rather have been left to play with Hope whom he loved.

Sofia and Reuben had been reluctantly packed off to school at the usual time, lamenting as they said their good byes that they wanted to see Daddy leave, but neither of their parents paid attention to their wheedling so off they had gone with Ezra.

Reuben had promised to take care of the house and the family “After all, I’m the man of the house when daddy isn’t here.” he had reminded Sofia…several times just in case she had forgotten the first time.

“And I’ll look after you, Reuben.” she had replied, “’Cos mommy has to look after daddy when he’s here, doesn’t she?”

Reuben made no comment to that, they had said their goodbyes, hugged tightly, been prised away, hugged some more and then Adam had lifted Sofia onto the wagon seat and pretended to swat Reubens behind as he chased him round the wagon and up into his seat.

But they had left home with heavy little hearts and worries of their own whirling about their heads.
………

Marcy opened the door to the light knocking upon it and upon seeing Olivia standing on the threshold with Nathaniel in her arms promptly burst into tears. The two women hugged together, while Nathaniel was allowed to run inside to find the cat.

“I’m sorry, Olivia, I shouldn’t cry, but it seems as though the heart of the house has gone when Luke isn’t here.”

Olivia sighed and nodded as she followed her friend into the sitting room. Nathaniel was happily playing with the cat and it’s latest kitten. As usual whenever she entered the parlour Olivia would look around and recall the past days of her life there. As a child with her sister and brothers, her beautiful mother and grump of a father. Then later when she had moved there with her mother in law, Abigail, and the children. She sighed and shook herself back to the present day and turned to regard Marcy.

Dear Marcy who had come from San Francisco with her and fallen in love with Luke and was now her sister in law. Dear Marcy who showed every sign of being very pregnant indeed, with the more rounded features that sometimes went with it at times. Now Marcy forced herself to smile and began to prepare coffee and cookies, the sound of which brought Nathaniel running to his mothers side with the kitten tucked rather uncomfortably, for the kitten, under his arm.

“Marcy, how are you keeping health wise? Have you seen the doctor at all?” Olivia asked as she extricated the kitten and prevented Nathaniel running off to recapture the poor thing.

“Oh, it’s too far to town to see a doctor. I’m keeping well, and the baby is healthy, it certainly moves about a lot.” Marcy smiled at her friend, a smile that was meant to reassure her that all was well.

Olivia sat down and pulled Nathaniel up onto her lap. She watched as her friend poured out the coffee and gave the child a cookie, then, as she drew the cup towards her she said in a gentle tone of voice “Marcy, I promised Luke that I would take care of you. It will be a long and lonely time if you stay here by yourself. I was thinking….”

“Oh Miss Livvy, don’t worry about me, I’m alright, truly I am.” Marcy interrupted with a smile, and cut Olivia a slice of cake.

“We do worry about you, Marcy, do let us help. If anything were to happen to you how could I ever face my brother again?” her eyes looked into the other woman’s face and recognised the conflict there, she put her hand upon Marcy’s, “Please, Marcy.”

“Well, you see, there’s the chickens, and the dairy animals…and I have work to do that will keep me busy.”

Poor shy Marcy, she blushed at the thought that her friend would be so concerned about her, and that she would have to leave her comfortable home. Olivia nodded “I understand but you have to think of the baby, Marcy. Look, I have a suggestion to make and it is up to you whether or not you agree with this, but why not come back with me today. Tomorrow morning we can go into town and see Dr Martin. He will be able to check out if everything is proceeding well with the baby. Then you can come back here or back to the Ponderosa. What do you say?”

Marcy put a hand to top of her skirts, beneath which the baby was kicking. She thought of her friends suggestion and slowly nibbled her cake “I don’t know, Miss Livvy.”

Olivia frowned, she picked at the cake, Nathaniel took a little and hoped he could get more, “Look, why don’t we go to Carson City and see the doctor there, just to check out that everything is alright and to confirm that the dates are right?”

Marcy looked up and now it was her turn to looked into the face of the woman opposite her and see her friends anxiety, she nodded, “I’ll come with you and see Dr Paul. I don’t know any doctors in Carson City. I feel a bit …well …you know?”

She blinked and gazed down at her plate, sighed, and Olivia smiled, Marcy was still the same shy sweet Marcy. She put her son down so that he could run around, drank some coffee and very casually said “We could go and see Bridie too. She’s concerned about you, she would love to see you.”

Marcy looked at the cake, she took in a deep breath and shrugged her slight shoulders, “I don’t want to be any trouble.”

“You won’t be, you couldn’t be any trouble at all, dear Marcy. Would you do that?”

Marcy could feel the baby kicking against her hand, and then glanced over at Olivia. She knew Luke had been concerned about all those weeks of loneliness at the Double D for he had mentioned it several times to her. She also knew that what Olivia said was sensible, it would be wise to see a doctor.

“Yes, very well. I’ll go and pack a few things.” she nodded and stood up, “I’d love to see Bridie again. It seems to have been so long since I saw her.”

Olivia smiled, and nodded. Marcy made her way upstairs to what had once been Olivia’s own bedroom and where not that many years ago Adam Cartwright had agonised over his injured leg,. Olivia listened to the sounds of her friends footsteps on the floor boards above and smiled, looked at Nathaniel and winked. So far, so good.

It was over an hour later before Marcy was seated in the buggy. There had been little jobs to tidy up, loose ends to tie up, chickens to be rounded up and so on and so forth until Olivia thought they would never be taking the road to the Ponderosa, either that day or the next. Nathaniel had fallen asleep by the time they finally set off, the horses jogging along quite contentedly on a fine spring day with the sun shining down from a blue, blue sky.
……………..

Emily Soames answered the door to the gentle tapping upon it and stepped back in surprise at the sight of Jimmy Chang and a very pretty young Chinese woman who stood politely by his side. Unlike Jimmy Su Ling wore Oriental dress, preferring that to the western clothing that at one time she felt would be sufficient to identify her as a solid American citizen. Life in the real world had taught her differently, however, and so she stood there beside her husband and smiled at the woman who looked anxiously at them.

Jimmy bowed politely and Su Ling likewise, as they stepped into the house Emily closed the door “Is anything wrong, Dr Chang?”

“No, there is nothing wrong, nothing for you to worry about.” he assured her, “This is my wife, Su Ling. She wished to meet you and welcome you to Virginia City. Also to say hello to Ella.”

Emily indicated for them to take seats and offered them refreshments but this was declined, very politely of course. Ella, in her wheelchair, was fascinated by the sight of Su Ling, and smiled rather shyly at her.

“Ella? I am Su Ling. I shall come with husband to see you so that we can make you well again.”

It was a simple statement, Ella looked at Emily, and appeared confused. Surely the other doctor had not made sure assurances? Emily sat down and taking hold of Ella’s hand in hers asked Jimmy what actually was she to expect with this treatmentm after all the other doctor had spoken as though there was no hope of any cure or improvement.

“Dr Schofield is fine surgeon you understand.” Jimmy said patiently and with his usual pleasant smile, “He could see that Miss needs to be stronger, legs stronger, before operation can be considered. It may take long time. Needs patience, you understand?”

Emily looked clearly confused, she looked at Su Ling who smiled but said nothing. Jimmy nodded “Ella has been neglected by doctor in other town. Neglect means weakness, legs are weak, no muscle, no strength. Illness during winter brings further weakness. We must make her strong, make whole of Ella strong. Mind and body must be balanced so that when strong enough we can see surgeon who can come and see if operation would be good for her. Do you understand, Mrs Soames?”

Mrs Soames thought about it, nodded and looked at Ella. Gently she squeezed her daughter by the hand and nodded as she heard Su Ling say that it would take time, need patience but she didn’t mind that, so long as she had a hope to reach out for and hold on to

Jimmy smiled and looked at his wife, “Su Ling will show you what exercises to do. It is important that these are done every day, so that legs get strong.”

Emily rose to her feet now, slightly dazed as though everything was happening a little too quickly “Today? But Ella‘s not very strong…”

“Not lose time, Mrs Soames.” Jimmy said, his good natured face growing solemn, “I bring medicines for little girl to take, soon she will be very strong, You will see.”

Su Ling nodded, and rose up in her dignified way, she bowed to Mrs Soames, “We start? Not lose time, make Ella strong again.”

Ella looked at them wide eyed, to be strong again, what more could she ever long for? Being strong again would mean running and playing with Sofia, going to school, riding a horse. Her heart beat so fast beneath her dress that she could barely breathe..

 

Chapter 21

Dr Paul Martin was growing old. He accepted it with much better grace than Ben, and knew that whatever happened sooner or later he would have to retire. In the meantime he appreciated that he could still be useful as a doctor, and made good use of his time. He was and always had been a popular doctor, at times struggling on alone, until more doctors came along, and, of course, the hospital being built.

He looked up from his notes as the door opened and turned to face the two women who had stepped into the surgery. He could see at a glance that one was very pregnant and yet was a stranger in town, although he had met her before he just couldn’t remember exactly when or where.

“Dr Martin, Paul…this is Marcy. My sister in law.” Olivia smiled and was relieved to see the recognition in Paul’s eyes. The old man shook Marcy by the hand and greeted her warmly

“Well now, it has been some time since I saw you last, Mrs Dent.” his smile widened and his eyes twinkled “And I see we have a new member of the family coming along ?”

Marcy blushed a little and glanced at Olivia, then she nodded, “Yes, but to be honest, Dr Martin, I haven’t seen a doctor so I’m not sure of my dates. Olivia thinks it would be a good idea to have you check me out, so to speak.”

The thought of being ‘checked out’ made her blush and she felt fidgety, nervously clutching and unclutching at her purse. Paul nodded “Of course, and very wise too. Now, Olivia, if you wouldn’t mind just waiting here, and Mrs Dent, Marcy isn’t it? If you would come this way with me.”

A last look over her shoulder at Olivia who gave her an encouraging nod of the head and Marcy obediently followed the old man into the consulting room. Olivia waited and looked at the clock, then sat down to think of what to do with the remainder of the day until they needed to get home.

Nathaniel had been left to play with Hannah and Hope. The novelty of baby Erik had worn off with the two girls now, they just wanted to get on with enjoying time with someone who was mobile and could converse, even on the limited scale that Nathaniel possessed.

As she watched the townspeople pass by the big window of the surgery, Olivia thought of Adam, and of the night he would have spent with Joe and the other cowhands. How far would they have got, she wondered. Had it rained there or stayed as dry as when they had departed? Was the horse Adam had chosen to use proving a good mount? Most of all, was he alright?

Thoughts of her husband were still on her mind when the sound of movement came from the door of the other room, and Marcy appeared adjusting her blouse modestly and looking shyly over at Olivia with a little smile on her lips.

“Well,” Paul smiled and rubbed his hands together, “This little mother will be having her baby by the end of June. She’s in good health, and so is he. Well, he or she … doing very well indeed.”

Olivia stood up and nodded, she looked fondly at the doctor and then at her friend. Paul frowned “Now then, from what Marcy tells me her mother had the babies quick, and it often follows that a daughter takes after the mother in such things. Of course, it doesn’t always happen but it is a good rule of thumb we like to take notice of so that plans can be put into action.”

“What plans do you mean, Paul?” Olivia asked seeing Marcy’s anxious face and noting the way Paul fidgeted with his spectacles.

“Just that when she gets closer to her time, she needs to be where a doctor can reach her quickly. Perhaps at the beginning of June she could move into town, stay with us because I know Bridie would be more than pleased to be able to deliver the baby. I would suggest perhaps getting to know a doctor in Carson City so that Luke could get there in case of an early delivery.”

“Luke’s away from home. He’s on the cattle drive with Adam and Joe.” she said and smiled gently at the other woman, “They may not get back until June.”

Oh dear, just saying that made it seem so far away. Such a long time to wait, so much could happen before they got back…she shivered and sighed, forced a smile as she heard Paul ramble on. They both nodded agreement when necessary, and then bade their farewells. Paul watched them go and then before he could do anything more the door opened again and Schofield strode into the building. Paul sighed, greeted his colleague and retired to his desk to sort through some notes, and to write up new notes under the name of Mrs Marcia Dent.
……………..

From her position behind the lace curtains of the window of her home, Alicia Colby watched the two women leave the surgery and turn in the direction away from the stores. She traced the path of their walk with her eyes and knew that the direction they were taking was to Bridie Martin’s home. Nursing her cup and saucer delicately in her hands she watched them both until they had disappeared from sight, rounding the corner and hidden from view.

How she wished she had never come here but had insisted on going on to San Francisco. James with all his fuss and fancies, his promises of a better future here. How stupid could a man be! Wasn’t it obvious that people were leaving? The mines were closing down? Hadn’t her father tried to talk some sense into his son-in-laws thick head and reason with him about staying at Calico for a few more years before moving on to ‘Frisco?

Oh no, James Colby knew best. He always knew best! Alicia drank her tea and the cup rattled as she placed it back on the saucer. Why had he come here of all places? What excuse was it he had given ? Oh yes, the mines, and the accidents that occurred and would require better doctors, and the newspaper report stating how Virginia City was soon to lose one of its best surgeons. What did that matter? For goodness sake, James wasn’t a surgeon? What on earth possessed him to think he could replace a surgeon?

When the door opened she was still standing by the window, staring out at the view of Sun Mountain and the sprawl of buildings beneath it. She didn’t turn her head as she recognised James’ footsteps. “Haven’t you any work to do?”

James frowned and glanced over at her. He was mid way into pouring out a cup of coffee, preferring that to the tea Alicia made. “I thought I would come and spend a little time with you between calls. I have to attend Miss Pilgrim with Dr Schofield in half an hour.”

“Miss Pilgrim? Young and pretty I suppose?” she glanced over her shoulder at him, and noticed how his shoulders had stiffened, his mouth tightened so that with some satisfaction she turned her attention back to the window.

“As it happens Miss Pilgrim is nearly 80, suffering the early stages of palsy.”

“Oh, I’m supposed to believe that, am I?” she glanced at her cup, realised it was empty and moved towards the table where James still stood.

“You can come with us if you wish, my dear. Miss Pilgrim is lonely, she would appreciate the visit of another woman to whom she could chat.”

His voice was cold, the words crisp and neatly delivered like so many barbs to cut into her like little whip lashes. She lowered her head and shrugged “I’m not interested in your patients to that extent, James. I don’t intend to be here that long so don’t try forcing me into doing all those good social things doctors wives are supposed to do.”

“A good Ministers daughter would do the same, would she not?”

She said nothing but pursed her lips as she poured out her tea. “James, if we had gone to San Francisco as I had suggested, life would be 100 percent better than this.” she looked at him directly, noticed how he avoided looking at her, “I’m right aren’t I?”

“No, you are not.”

“But -”

James shook his head, put a hand on her arm “Alicia, I want you to stop talking about San Francisco, do you understand? I do not intend to go there, nor practice there. I wish to remain where I am.”

“Just one thing you forgot to add, James… I’m here too, and I don’t want to stay here. Do YOU understand ?”

James lowered his head now, but the hold on her arm tightened so that she had a struggle to shake it off. “Why not admit it, James. There’s only one reason why you wanted to come here, and it isn’t to practice medicine.”

“Don’t be so ridiculous. What other reason would I have had…” he had forgotten his coffee, it remained cooling in its cup still on the tray. He gave her a shake of the head, a puzzled frown between his eyes, “Well, what other reason do you think it was?”

“Think? I don’t have to think, I know…” she raised her chin and drew closer to him, the sleeve of her dress brushed against the sleeve of his jacket “Mary Ann Cartwright. That’s the reason why we’re here in this stinking corpse of a town”

James stepped back, if his wife had struck him with the back of her hand it couldn’t have caught him more by surprise. Yet, he knew, he had to admit it, he had known that she had this fancy in her head from the way she had treated Mary Ann, had spoken so scathingly about her to him. He shook his head,

“Firstly you couldn’t be more wrong. I have nothing but respect for Mary Ann. She had a hard time, a terrible experience when she arrived at Calico. I could have sparked an interest I suppose but she didn’t welcome it, never encouraged it. She would never even think of doing anything that would endanger her marriage as she loves her husband very much.”

“And you? Would you encourage it if she let you?”

“No.”

Their eyes met and locked. Anger made her eyes shine, brought a colour to her cheeks that had been missing for weeks. Sadness made his face look long and melancholy, he sighed now and shook his head

“Secondly, it’s unfair to refer to Virginia City in the manner you have done. It is also very unladylike language. I would prefer you not to use it in future.”

Chided like a child. Alicia felt tears sting behind her eyes. She turned her head away and forced herself to walk with some dignity to the window again. James watched her for a few moments, wanted to tell her he loved her but found his throat clemmng up before he could utter the words. After a moments cold silence he bade her good day, and left the room.

She watched him as he strode down the pathway to the picket gate and slammed it shut behind him. She shivered, chided herself for a fool, knew that if she continued on as she did that she would kill whatever love he had for her. Did she want that love? Oh yes, indeed, even a woman like her, reared in a cold unloving home, wanted to be loved, would thrive on love. Life had changed so much when they had first met after all, and as she thought back to those days she had felt a longing to turn back the clock…
………….

As James Colby made his way back to the surgery his thoughts returned to the fiasco of a meeting with his wife Words tumbled about his head, the things she had said, the things he had said in reply and perhaps should have phrased differently. He loved her still, didn’t he? Then why hadn’t he told her so?

She had been such a shy little thing when they had first met. Understandable really considering the overbearing pompous man her father was, and the meek subservient woman her mother. But she had come alive as a result of their love for he had seen the warmth, the passion that lay behind that quiet solemn exterior. The more he had shown her the way he had loved her, the more she had opened up to him, like the shy bud of a rose slowly unfurling its beautiful petals. She had been beautiful too, those first months had been wonderful, joyous. It wasn’t until her father had begun to exert so much pressure upon their relationship, striving to get them to conform to how he lived, how he expected a wife to be, how a husband should treat her. No, he had seen his wife slowly wilt, and gradually the frost had come to touch the remaining petals so that they became rigid,cold, frozen.

He paused in mid-stride, then turned and made his way back to the house. There was still fifteen minutes before he needed to be with Schofield. Fifteen minutes in which he had to tell her, tell her everything, how he loved her, needed her and even, yes, even tell her about what had happened in the past. As he pushed open the front door he remembered the way Adam had counselled him, how such secrets as his could kill a loving relationship if revealed by the wrong person. Not that anyone knew, except Adam Cartwright, after all, his own family had no idea where he was now, he would be safe, completely safe from anyone finding out.

In his office Daniel deQiulle was writing out an Editorial. It was not very long, just a pleasant farewell to an excellent surgeon and doctor, what a shame there was no one of his calibre to replace him. He sat back and smiled thoughtfully…tapped his pencil upon the paper and considered the conversation he had overheard, the subsequent discussion, if one could call it that, with Adam afterwards. Well, what did it matter, it was just an honest comment after all. Schofield was an excellent surgeon and if anyone mentioned that there was a new doctor who had just moved in to replace him…he would shrug his shoulders and simply say “Oh, is there?”
…………..

Bridie was more than pleased at seeing Olivia and Marcy. After hugging her close she held her at arms length and surveyed the slight figure with an appraising eye and then nodded, “Well, you are coming along very nicely, m’dear.”

Upon that comment she turned and led them into the parlour. Tilly, always on the lookout for visitors and seeming to be constantly making cups of tea or coffee or lemonade, bustled off to the kitchen to get refreshments ready. Having not met Marcy before but having heard much about her she was curious to see how the young woman compared with herself for efficiency of service.

Bridie asked various questions relating to Marcy’s well being, and how her life was which could have been deemed impolite in some circles but Bridie had always considered herself a surrogate mother to the young woman since the days they shared the tasks between them at the San Francisco home of Olivia Phillips. Now, here they all were, Olivia, Marcy and herself sitting cosily together and who would have thought it…both herself and Marcy married.

They had a laugh over past goings on when Booth Phillips was making a nuisance of himself, and how Bridie had threatened to shove him down the front steps with a wet mop if she showed his face at the house. They reminisced with sadness over old Abigail and how her dementia had caused so much heart ache, although they all eventually admitted they had occasions to laugh about too.

“What a blessing that day was when you met Adam Cartwright in the park, Olivia.” Bridie said and smiled her thanks at Tilly who placed the refreshments on the table. She made the necessary introductions and Marcy smiled shyly while Tilly gave her a businesslike nod of the head which, once she was in the hall, she regretted and wished she had returned the sweet smile she had received.

“It was, Bridie.” Olivia hugged herself at the memory and the dreamy expression on her face showed how precious that brief moment of time was to her. “I remember forcing myself to walk steady so that I wouldn’t slip on the ice and look silly in front of him. I must admit, I was quite …well…quite overwhelmed at the sight of him.”

“So was I,” Marcy said as she accepted a slice of the cake handed over to her “I was terrified of him. He looked so big in that uniform of his, but so handsome too. I remember hoping that my brother, Jacko, was serving with him and then, of course, found out later that he was”

They nodded, smiled for Marcy still sounded surprised even now at the memory of her brother walking into the house with Adam. Bridie sipped her tea, which she always preferred very strong as she had been used to drinking it in Ireland, while her friends drank their coffee and ate the cake. After some moments of chatter had passed she looked thoughtfully at Marcy and then at Olivia

“Now, Marcy girl, I think we need to put some plans into action.”

“What do you mean, Bride?” Marcy frowned, getting a feeling that she was going to be persuaded to do something that perhaps she would not want.

“About this baby of yours…” Bridie nodded and narrowed her eyes in that knowing look that many a mid-wife gets about ’babies and such’.

“I’ll be alright, Bridie, Olivia and I have chatted about things already, haven’t we, Olivia?”

Her friend smiled, and nodded but said rather sternly “But Bridie has more experience than us, Marcy. Let’s see what she has to suggest.”

Marcy sat back and resigned herself to her fate. She knew that they were being considerate of her, and she also knew they were quite right and she should be more grateful. Bridie nodded and smiled,

“Now look, my girl, there’s many a young woman like you living on their own and having their babies. It happens all over the world, and in some cases it has disastrous results. Not always, just sometimes.” she paused and wondered if that was paramount to telling a lie as she knew for sure hundreds of women died birthing their babies, and the babies promptly followed along after their mothers in far too many cases.

She turned aside to look at the fire, and sighed, hadn’t she herself lost a child because of poverty and being alone. It had been a wonder she had not died herself but for the kindness of a neighbour. Oh yes, she had brought many a baby into the world since she was a girl of 16 in her native Ireland, and she had seen many a mother laid out for burial because they had had no help in the delivery.

“Now this is what I was thinking…that baby is due in the summer, I reckon on it being June.” she nodded, “What I will do is come for a holiday from the end of May, and stay to make sure that baby arrives safe and sound.” she beamed at them both “After all, I delivered little Daniel, didn’t I? And Mary Ann would have been quite alone in the house, buried up to the eaves in snow it was …”

Marcy looked at Olivia who smiled and nodded, she looked at the cake on her plate and thought of the summer months…then she smiled over at Bridie, “That would be grand, Bridie. Just grand.”

“In the meantime, make sure you keep close to Olivia. Now then, another slice of cake?”

More than relieved to get off the subject of her baby Marcy reached out for another piece of Bridie’s cake, and then that set off another topic of conversation, the time spent in the kitchen baking cakes and how much the children had enjoyed helping to make them.

…………..

Schofield gave a hurried glance at his watch and sighed, Colby was five minutes late and here he was striding towards him looking like the Grim Reaper was just a mere footstep away.

“Cheer up, man,” he growled in a voice that would cheer no one apart from a sadist, “Nothing’s as bad as all that, hurry along now, we’re late.”

James nodded but said nothing as he clambered aboard the buggy. It dipped on one side as Schofield took his seat and then flicked the horses on. They did not speak, not even to discuss the medical notes of the patient they were about to attend. Schofield because he didn’t believe in wasting breath, and James because his heart was too heavy with misery.

He had told her, he had held her hands and kissed her before he told her how much he loved her, and having, he thought, reassured her on that point, he had kissed her again. Then he had told her about what had happened in his younger days, how his career had been ruined. The first due to his own stupidity, the second because of an error and the third because of an interfering journalist.

But she was not interested in the second or third causes, after all it had all stemmed from that first stupid idiotic decision of his to operate while still suffering from the influence of alcohol. Of course she had reacted the way he had known and feared that she would, but had hoped that she would not.

As he sat like a carved image in the buggy James Colby saw his life flash before his eyes, and the last ten minutes were considerably the worst ten minutes of that life span. She had cried, she had sobbed, she had struck him with her fists and told him he was a fool, and that she was equally as great a fool for having married him. Why oh why hadn’t he just gone ahead and married that empty headed silly little Mary Ann Hornby after all and spared her all this horror.

It had been futile staying there to plead, cajole, soothe her. Nothing would have been of any use, he knew that for he knew his wife so well. He bowed his head and sighed, well, he had brought it upon himself, he should have told her right away and then she would have known whether or not to pursue the courtship. As usual he had made a grievous error of judgement.

In her home Alicia Colby had taken refuge in the bedroom. The door was locked just in case her husband returned home to talk about the situation a little more. She had thrown herself upon the bed and sobbed. After ten minutes of hearty sobbing she threw herself off the bed and began to pace the floor, striking one hand into the other until even that was not sufficient. First the hair brush was thrown at the wall. Then the silver backed hand mirror was cast at the cheval mirror so that exploded into shards of glass. She watched as it shattered, large pieces and small, falling onto the carpet to leave the frame and backing staring blankly at her.

Footsteps on the stairs and a knocking on the door as her housemaid called out “Mrs Colby, Mrs Colby…”

She didn’t want to be Mrs Colby anymore. She turned back to the bed and fell upon it in tears. At the same time she didn’t want to return home, a failure, married to a failure. How her father would gloat. Her brother and sister in law would flaunt it under her nose every day for the rest of her life.
……………

 

Big Red was proving to be a Big Asset. Because he was so big he needed to eat, and he was greedy. As he roved ever onwards the herd followed him, grazing as they went along. The cowboys loped alongside keeping to the perimeters of the herd and rounding up any strays as happened to take the chance to run off .

Sam Downing, the cook, had accompanied the Cartwright family on so many cattle drives that he was very well respected by the crew, he not only had charge of the food, but was also in charge of medical supplies. Having worked among the hospitals during the war he had a good working knowledge medically and was well able to deal with most things that could occur on these kind of treks.

The remuda was in the hands of young Leroy Millsbank whom some of the crew affectionately referred to as Millie due to his youth, gangly frame, long hair and pimples. Joe had taken pains to explain to him that even though he was the youngest man there, his job was one of the most responsible as he had charge of the spare horses. Each man there would change horses at least three times a day. Leroy believed Joe and took him at his word, while Joe hoped that he had said enough to buoy up the boys confidence in himself and the task in hand.

Luke and Derwent were elected point riders at the lead steer, this would mean they had to make sure Big Red, in his eagerness to eat and graze, would not wander off track or decide to go ’womanising’ when he had to have his mind on only the one job of leading the herd. There were also the swing riders and the flank riders that would be riding alongside the herd, the swing riders one third of the way back and the flank riders two thirds of the way back* . The least desired position were the tail riders, who had to keep the weaker, and therefore, the slower, cattle moving. They rode in a constant cloud of dust, excrement by the mound and the smell followed them throughout the day.

Ben Cartwright had set the mould as to how the Cartwrights would work a cattle drive, for some trail bosses made life harder for their men than it already would be. It was not unknown for some to forbid gambling and drinking in the evenings, and harsh treatment meted out if the rules were broken, for, on such expeditions as these, there had to be rules. But Ben knew that to make life so harsh for the men would make for an unhappy crew, and Adam, knowing only too well what life with an unhappy crew could be on board ship, followed that same example his father had set.

Trail Boss and ram rod rode ahead of the herd, along with the chuck wagon. In some ways Adam and Joe’s role would be as scouts, negotiators if there were any confrontations with ranchers, travellers or indians along the way. It was Adam’s responsibility to ensure the way ahead was clear for the herd to move onwards, if it wasn’t then Joe would be sent back to report to Luke and Derwent and the herd ‘bedded down’.

The first night had been calm and quiet. The evening was warm and pleasant and sleep had been welcome. Shifts had to be set up in order to ensure that the herd was settled and at the first sign of any trouble Adam would have to be the first informed. The men had talked among themselves, played a little poker, bragged a little of this and that, and then been glad to get into their bed rolls.

It was a slow progress but going fast cost money for cattle could run off fat far too easily. As Adam and Joe had started the second day they felt confident that all was well. They had a good crew and Big Red was happy to be ‘in charge’.

Chapter 22

Hester slowly braided her hair into the coronet style that kept it out of her way and reasonably tidy. Erik had been fretful during the night and she herself felt weary as a result. With his usual loving kindness Hoss had suggested that she ride in to town with him, perhaps the spring air would blow away the cobwebs but she felt too lethargic to ride all that way, especially with three children going along with them.

Hannah and Hope watched as their father mounted Chubb and waved their hands, “Will Pa be gone long?” Hannah asked her mother who was standing behind them, hand raised and eyes thoughtful.

“No, only into town to collect the mail and attend to some business.”

“Is biz’niz important?” Hannah now asked as she took hold of Hope by the hand and led her into the house.

“Very much so.” Hester smiled and leaned down to kiss her eldest child on the brow, the solemn blue eyes looked up at her, and then with a nod of the head she was gone, a little girl growing up too fast.

Time had to be spent in the dairy, and Hester got to work with the milk, turning the churn carefully until she could hear the milk separating. There were chores for her despite Hop Sings kindly assistance in the house, and there were times when she wondered how other women managed on the little homesteads and ranches who had less help than herself. It was a long and arduous life for many, lonely too if the town was so far from home that once a month was the only chance the woman had to journey there for the essentials.

She worked along to the sound of her children’s voices in the yard. Shrill laughter, silence, then Hannah’s voice being bossy as usual and Hope’s little squeaky voice protesting and then singing. As the waited for the butter to form, to hear the slap slap against the sides of the butter churn she smiled, the sound of her little girls’ voices singing the old nursery rhymes were a pure delight.

Now the butter was ready to be shaped and she located the wooden paddles in order to do this last task before going in to attend to Erik. Soon she would have to teach Hannah how to do the task, children needed to be taught at an early age. As she separated the golden yellow mound of butter and patted them into shape she thought back to her own childhood when such a task was left to the servants. It had been Hop Sing who had taught her to work successfully in the dairy, and she wondered now what her mother would have said seeing her doing a menial task such as this…but she enjoyed it. She looked forward to the time when she would share the task with her little girls, just as Olivia did with Sofia, or had done before the child went to school.

Job done. She wiped her hands clean and surveyed the fruits of her labours. Golden butter, bearing the Ponderosa brand from the stamp that Hoss had carved out for her. She picked one up and carried it out with her, closing the door of the building behind her and making her way into the house.

Hop Sing nodded and smiled as he accepted the butter and placed it in the cold cupboard where the milk was stored away to keep fresh and cool Pushing an errant curl behind her ear Hester returned to the main room and then paused to look around her. A brief moment just to enjoy the sight of the big room, a fire burning in the hearth despite a mild day, her daughters playing happily with the dolls house and the little wooden people that their father had lovingly carved for them, and the infant in his crib.

Well, he must have exhausted himself as well for he slept soundly and she walked over to observe him. How odd that he was so like the Buchanan family, that red gold hair spiking over his skull, the pale skin. She stroked his cheek and decided to leave him until he woke up and cried for his feed.

Ben looked up as she came to the desk where he was seated. He sighed and hurried to slip the paper he had been reading into the drawer “Time for a coffee, Hester? Already?”

“I suppose it is,” she glanced at the clock and nodded, “I’ll go and get us some, I could do with some right about now.”

He nodded, distracted and she had to repeat herself before getting his attention and then she only received a grunt in acknowledgement as he turned over papers and picked up, then put down his pen.

“Are you alright, Pa?”

For a moment he looked embarrassed, ran his hand over the back of his head in a gesture that was now so familiar to her, a mannerism that his son Adam had adopted too. She smiled and shook her head at him then strolled away, if he wanted to talk then he would in his own time.

When she returned with the coffee set out on the tray with the cookies he liked, and which the girls were munching at with their dolls circled around them she asked him again what was wrong. He took the cup from her and slowly stirred in the sugar, round and round went the spoon and she watched it with a detached look on her face. Finally he cleared his throat, swallowed some of the hot liquid and then set the cup back down.

“I was looking at Elizabeth’s picture.”

She nodded, thought for a moment as to why he would do that this particular morning, was it the anniversary of her death perhaps? Which would mean her brother in laws birth date and which she knew, it was not . He glanced at her and gave a wry smile,

“I was thinking of Adam and Joe this morning, going on the first cattle drive together in years. I suppose it made me feel a little … well, a little bit maudlin. It made me recall the number of times over the past years we have had to say good bye to Adam and never know if he were ever going to get back from wherever that ship of his would take him. This time, of course, he has his brother with him, and I don’t have those self same fears.”

“Even though …?” she raised her eyebrows and left the rest of the sentence unsaid, after all they both knew what she meant.

“Yes, even though…” he smiled and picked up the cup again, swallowed more coffee before picking up a sheet of paper which he handed to her.

“This is old.” she said quietly looking at the yellowing paper and fading ink.

“Yes, I can remember the day it was written. Marie and I were spending a little private time together when we heard Adam bellowing at Joe, and Joe giggling. That usually meant Joe had upset his elder brother in some way so I came down to make the peace and found Joe running around the room waving that sheet of paper gleefully over his head while Adam was trying to control his temper yet at the same time trying to catch him.”

Hester laughed, and glanced into the big room. She knew it wouldn’t have changed that much from the time Ben was talking about, and could so well imagine that naughty little Joe with Adam trying to catch him.

“So who won?” she said with a laugh still in her voice.

“Oh, I guess Joe did…much to my shame I scolded Adam for not letting his little brother have the paper to scribble over, Adam slammed out of the house, and Joe tossed the paper in the air and ran to me for cuddles.”

“Oh dear.” Hester shook her head, still with that smile and twinkle in her eyes.

“Later I picked up the paper and that was when I read what Adam had written. I have to say I felt mighty ashamed.”

Hester frowned then, the smile slipped, “Can I read it?”

“Of course, I doubt if he even knows I still have it. I tucked it behind the picture of his mother…it seemed, somehow, appropriate.” he picked up his cup again, “I like to read it at times.”

Hester nodded and smoothed out the paper.

 

“Memory…Adam Cartwright…May 18th 1845

I wish I had the memory of my mother.
Not just a picture of a lady in a frame.
I wish I could recall her voice,
And the way she would say my name.

I’d like to say her skin was soft to touch
As she’d hold my hand in hers;
She’d say: “Adam, I love you very much”
as she would hold me in her arms.

I remember a woman with pale golden hair,
Her eyes were blue as the nordic sea.
And she laughed and sang without a care
As she held her child….but it wasn’t me.

I have the memory of a lady I called Ma,
although Inger was her name.
But she wasn’t the lady who first married my Pa,
The lady, behind glass, in a frame.

I called her Ma, but she was not mother,
And she loved me and held me dear.
But when she said ‘Son’ to another,
It sounded differently to my ear.

And…would my mother have kissed me so gently?
And held me close like that?
Would she have called me ‘sweetheart’
And ‘Darling’ and other words like that?

I know a woman with bold dark eyes
And hair as wild as the wind
She says, “Adam, call me Mother.”
Then with a smile away she flies.

She holds her son close and kisses him
In a way none had ever held me.
Her eyes dance and devour him with love,
But my mother…is in a picture, in a room, up above.

She laughs and sings to her baby,
And takes him by the hand.
She holds him close in a warm embrace,
In a way, I’ll ne’er understand.

I wish I had a memory of Elizabeth
Not just words about her from Pa..
She only lives when I dream of her
So close and yet always too far…

“Mama” I say, “Don’t go, don’t go away.”
But she’s just a picture behind glass,
A memory that fades with the day
just a pretty face from the past.

How I would love a memory of Mama,
To remember her voice and her smell
To recall the way she would hold me
Those things I could cherish so well.

She would tell me that she loved me,
That the sea and the sky aren’t always so blue.
Nor the grass so green when it withers,
She’d say “But I’ll always love you!”

If I had a memory of my Mama,
Of her warm, loving and laughing,
If I could remember the smell of her,
And her touch and her smile…

But I won’t, and I don’t,
Because she’s Elizabeth…my Mama in a picture,
Behind glass
In a frame”
………………………..

 

The whine of a bullet ricocheting from a boulder sent Hoss Cartwright ducking down to avoid the chips of stone striking into his face. He waited a second or two before daring to raise his head in an attempt to locate his assailant among the rocks. He had narrowly avoided being shot from his horse minutes earlier and that only because he had leaned down to check his stirrup. As a result a bullet had winged over his head, taking his hat along with it.

Now as he waited behind the boulder for the gun man to reveal himself Hoss wondered just how many men there could be out there among the rocks. His heart was doing a little jig beneath his ribs and the tension within himself was mounting. He had fired off several bullets and now checked his gun, made sure it was fully loaded and waited. Waiting was always the hardest thing to do in situations like this one, and waiting with the sun beating down on one’s unprotected head made things even more prickly and difficult.

Another shot and this time he was able to see the direction from where the bullet had been fired. He lowered his head and waited a little more. Two more bullets shot in rapid succession. He glanced up and frowned, all from the same location, and no supporting fire from any where else. That meant there was only one gun man hiding up there in among the rocks and boulders.

Very slowly he inched his way along the dry boulder strewn ground to where he could get a better bead on the gun man. Two more shots were fired down upon his previous location. He didn’t wait for the last echo to whine out of earshot but fired back instantly.

Very faintly he heard the startled cry of a man in pain. That involuntary gasp and cry as a bullet finds its mark. He craned his head forward to hear any other sounds, like the clatter of the gun falling upon rocks or more groans to indicate the level of injury sustained.

There was only silence.

He stepped out of the protective shelter of the rocks and began to inch his way towards his combatant’s position. Holding the gun at the ready he kept his ears open for the least sound of danger in order to leap for cover.

The gun man was leaning back against the rocks when Hoss came across him. Blood was spreading from the wound in his chest, staining the white linen shirt a bright crimson. It looked repugnantly out of place and pitifully foreboding. Hoss’ nose wrinkled in distaste at the sight of it even as he stepped closer to his ambusher. The wounded man was stubbornly struggling to reload bullets into the empty chamber of his revolver even as Hoss leaned forward and gently, but firmly, took it from him.

The other man turned pitifully towards him, his eyes widened and his mouth dropped open. He may have wanted to speak, but no words came forth from his lips, he groaned and slumped forwards upon his face.

Hoss shook his head and stepped closer to the other man, slowly and carefully turned him onto his back. The laboured breathing of the man indicated that the wound was severe and needed urgent attention but just for a while Hoss sat by the mans side, his arm cushioning the man’s head against the harsh brutality of the rocks

But he was not a man. Not a full grown man who had toughed life out, who bore the scars of a harsh life upon his face. This was a youth, barely any sign of stubble upon his jaw, his skin smooth and tanned. Someone that one would look upon and remark on his being a fine looking boy.

It was hard to take a life. For Hoss Cartwright it made his heart literally ache in guilt and remorse for life was something to treasure and to value. He wondered why a complete stranger, a youth, would want to hide away in the rocks and shoot at him with the intention of killing him. As he looked at the young face he could recall seeing it, but it had just been fleeting glimpses here and there. Nothing substantial, nothing that would give a clue to him as to why this could have happened.

But there was still hope. The man/boy had not yet died, with proper medical attention he could perhaps survive the wound. Gently Hoss hauled the man over his shoulder and began the laborious descent down to where Chubb was waiting

The ride into town took twice as long as usual as the horse and rider were forced to make it a slow ride, for Hoss did not want to cause more pain to the youth who had regained his senses once or twice, groaned aloud before passing out again. Hoss had found his hat easily enough but he had not taken the time to find the other horse, time, minutes, they all mattered when a life was at stake.

Roy Coffee saw him ride into town and hurried over to assist in helping Hoss lower the youth down into his arms, then together they bore the body into the surgery. Hoss only once looked up and over at Roy

“Do you think he’ll live?”

Roy said nothing, he looked at the waxen pallid features of the youth and decided it was wiser to say nothing.

Paul Martin was in the surgery with papers strewn across his desk which he was carefully reading through. He reacted with remarkable swiftness when Roy shouldered the door open and Hoss entered with the body of a man in his arms. “Who’s this? What happened?”

Hoss shook his head even as he lowered the injured man onto the examination bed, “Shucks, Paul, I don’t know who he is, he just started shooting at me like all get out as I rode here. Weren’t nothing I could do but shoot back.”

Paul nodded, glanced at Roy and shook his head, then at Hoss “Well, you had better go and see Candy. Tell him about it. I’ll attend to this.”

Hoss nodded, glanced at the youth and thought once again what a handsome looking lad he was and sighed as he stepped out onto the sidewalk and closed the door behind him. Roy joined him, and put a gentle hand on the big man’s shoulder,

“How about a drink first, Hoss. Candy won’t mind if we have a talk over a glass of something.”

Hoss could not speak, he swallowed hard and then looked at the old sheriff, “Do you reckon he’ll die?”

“Come on, let’s get that drink.”

“No, Roy, hang on in thar a moment, do you reckon he’ll die?”

“I don’t know, Hoss. I’m not a doctor, any more’n you are.”

They walked side by side to the saloon, the Silver Dollar which was the closest to the surgery. Roy ordered a beer for himself and whiskey for Hoss. There were several customers and the girls were already circulating around with wide smiles, swishing flashy short skirts and lot of leg. Hoss and Roy took their chairs at a table, and Roy gave a sigh as he watched how Hoss slumped into his, took the glass of whisky and downed it in one.

“I’m sorry, Hoss, I know how hard you find it to take a life. Let’s hope the boy lives.”

“Do you know him, Roy?”

Roy nodded, “I do. His name is Grant Jefferson. He’d moved in to town with his folks only six months ago.”

“I ain’t never met him, Roy. Don’t even know his folks.”

“Well, they’re good living people, Hoss. Have several children, Grant’s their eldest. Caleb Jefferson is a tailor, works at the Gents Outfitters and I believe that his wife does sewing for Amanda Ridley.”

Hoss nodded, he wasn’t really interested in details, but he wanted the time to pass so he could get back to make sure the boy was still alive. Time passed quicker if someone was there to talk to, so he forced himself to listen. The whiskey was making its way down and feeling warm, he wondered if he should chase it down with another one. He had never been much of a drinker but this shooting had rattled him more than most.

“It’s been a while since something like this has happened, hasn’t it?” Roy said quietly “Been kinda quiet on the Ponderosa for sometime, ain’t it?”

“Yeah, guess it has at that, guess that’s why I’m feeling – feeling so bad about it. Him being so young, an’ all.”

Roy nodded and sipped at his beer, “Remember that time you and your brothers got holed up in an ambush and your Pa had to come to the rescue?”

Hoss thought back, nodded, and sighed. He wished more than anything that his brothers were right with him now. His mouth felt dry, he licked his lips, “I reckon I’ll go see how Paul is getting on and then go tell Candy.”

Roy nodded, and rose to his feet but Hoss placed a gentle hand on the old man’s chest “It’s alright, Roy. I’d best deal with it myself.”

He noticed as he picked up his hat that there was a hole in it. He swallowed hard and took himself to the surgery.

Paul Martin sat before his desk and stared down at the paper. A white oblong that gleamed almost glacially among the paraphernalia he had upon the highly polished walnut surface. He clasped his hands together, as though in prayer although the time for prayer had now passed. He closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose as though to release the tension that existed there. An anxious fraught hour. One of many he had experienced since coming to Virginia City. If he were to pray for anything it would be for more modern facilities, another doctor, perhaps even two, or would that be pushing the Almighty too far? He sighed deeply and replaced his spectacles.

 

The notepaper continued to torment him, as though by its mere existence it was forcing him to face facts, stop the delaying tactics, pick up that pen and write. Write what? Another medical report on the death of a young man? How could he rephrase the words to make them sound more meaningful, more sincere? Would he read the report one day and remember that he had spent a mere hour trying to coax life into a body the mind of whom had ceased to exist some hours previously?

There was a gentle tap on the door and Hoss stepped inside, glanced at Paul, saw no sign of the body but then, of course, he would have been in the other room, perhaps Dr Schofield was operating on him even now. “How is he, Dr Martin?”

Paul didn’t realise it, but his face said more than his words, it usually spoke for him before he had even opened his mouth. It did so on this occasion and Hoss blanched, “No hope?”

“No,” Paul shook his head, “No, son, there was nothing I could do to save him.”

Hoss sat down, his hat upon his lap, and for some moments he remained silent. He knew that Paul Martin would be feeling every bit as much guilt and regret as he felt himself,
“You did your best for him, Dr Martin. You always do that for your patients.”

“But they still die.”

“Some. Not all.”

Paul heaved a sigh. He was tired, more than just tired really, his head felt as though there were a vice tightening around it. He closed his eyes,

“I have to tell his parents. I failed him.”

“No, you didn’t, sir. It was me, I failed him, after all, it was me that … that fired the gun that killed him.”

Paul shook his head now, he looked at the younger man with the earnest blue eyes and anxious face and put his hand on Hoss’ shoulder “From the hole in your hat, I doubt if you did so willingly.”

Hoss glanced down at the hat, the hole was there alright, for everyone and anyone to see. He wondered if that would be any comfort or consolation to Mr and Mrs Jefferson.

Chapter 23

Olivia had found the little red velvet box an hour after she had returned from Marcy’s. But now, as she listened to Marcy telling Nathaniel a story and quietly rocking him to sleep, she had tip toed to the bedroom to take another peek, to read his words and to just feel that he was close to her instead of riding with a whole herd of cows.

The letter was, as often in his case, short but not because of his lack of knowing what to say, more because he had so much he wanted to say that he needed to ‘cut it short’ or find himself babbling.

“My dearest sweetest wife, Olivia

Did I ever tell you how I fell in love with you the moment I saw you? Your funny little red hat and scarf, your little red nose, and the warm air breathed out into the cold from your lips. Oh how I remembered your face so often during that time on the South China seas and I would wonder, why is it I can remember every detail of that sweet face when I had seen you only two, three times.

I think, during the hardship of that miserable time, the thought of your face, your voice, kept me sane. I can recall one time when I saw so clearly the way you looked at the roses I had bought for you, that wonderment on your face as though you could not believe someone had taken the time to think of you in that way.

Sweetheart, I am going to be away for a while now. At least you know I’m not in a little boat on the wide, wide seas… but I wanted to leave you something to remember how much I love you.

Thank you for your loving me …

Adam.”

The brooch inside was exquisite, a swirl of diamonds that formed a stem and emeralds for leaves while rubies formed a ruby red rose and rosebud. Rosebuds, red velvet leaved roses…she could remember the day so well, and with a sigh she kissed the letter and a tear slipped upon the paper creating a smudge.
…………..

“You’re late.” Ben said quietly as Hoss closed the door behind him, “Later than we thought you’d be, has there been any problems.”

Hester had said nothing, the look on her face had been sufficient to indicate her concerns. She kissed his cheek and her blue eyes looked into his, saw something there that made her reach for his hand and hold it tight before he released it to take off his hat and toss it onto the peg. He looked around the room as though seeing it through fresh eyes. He looked at it like a man would who could very well have lost everything he loved just a few hours earlier. He appreciated anew the solidity and the reality of his home and those he loved so much.

“HOss, there’s blood on your jacket.” Hester whispered and Ben rose from his chair, the concern on his face only too obvious as the dark eyes widened, narrowed as he observed the streaks of blood on Hoss’ clothing.

“It’s alright, I’m jest fine. I jest run into a bit of trouble when on the way into town.”

“What kind of trouble?” Hester demanded immediately, her eyes wide and immediately she grasped hold of his hand again.

“Someone taking pot shots at me.” Hoss replied.

“Seems you dealt with it. Did you kill him?” Ben frowned, and looked more attentively at his son,

“Yeah, I killed him.” Hoss’ brow furrowed and he bowed his head, “I killed him.”

Ben raised his eyebrows at Hester who bit her lips but chose to remain silent. They both watched as Hoss walked into the kitchen. They could hear the sound of the pump working, water trickling into a glass. Ben put a gentle hand on Hester’s arm and gave a slight shake of the head

“He’ll talk when he’s ready.” he said quietly even though Hester pulled her arm away from him and began to walk quickly to the kitchen. Then paused, she had never known Hoss in this situation before, nor the way he was reacting to it now. She stepped back and with her hands clasped together waited for the big man to re-emerge from the kitchen.

Hoss didn’t take long, he drank enough water to assure himself he would never feel dry mouthed again, then steeled himself to explain to his family what exactly had happened. Just for a moment he wished Adam and Joe were there, instead of Hester. He didn’t want his beloved wife to think of him as a monster, a man who shot down young boys. He splashed water over his face, dried it on the towel and then walked into the other room.

He sat with Hester beside him holding his hand and told them what had happened, Ben had nodded and reminded him that it had been a pretty common occurrence at one time. They had all had to shoot back or be killed, it didn’t make it any pleasanter but it was the reality of the times in which they had been living.

Hoss nodded “I saw Candy, had to write out a statement. He didn‘t have anything much to say but one of the kids the lad hangs about with came to the office while I was there; he looked all kinda scared and flustered like.” Hoss frowned, scowled, just for a moment there was a fleeting glimpse of anger on his face and he looked at Ben with some belligerence on his countenance, rather out of place with his previous misery, “He told us that the kid – Grant Jefferson – was a loud mouth, always boasting about what he could do, what he wanted to do. Claimed that one day he’d make a big name for himself.” his brow puckered up again and he shook his head, “One day he got to boasting how his folk would one day own as much land as the Cartwrights. Folk in town, he said, were scared of the Cartwrights, too scared. He was going to show them all that there was nothing to be scared of, no Cartwright would tell him what to do.”

“And so he decided to get rid of one of them?” Ben gently prodded.

“They taunted him a bit, said he was just a loud mouth, that he was just blowing hot air. Then yesterday they dared him to do something about it and he said he would, he’d show them all right. He’d make a name for himself and take out a Cartwright. They laughed at him, said he was all talk.”

Ben nodded, Hester tightened her grip on her husband‘s hand. There were always men like that who had to prove themselves to be big men. Odd how children wanted to run as soon as they learned to walk, youths wanted to be considered men as soon as they left school. Give them a gun and they had to prove themselves bigger than anyone else. Cast a bigger, longer shadow .

Ben stood up and leaned forward to place a gentle hand upon his son’s shoulder, “It’s hard to take a life, Hoss.”

“Yeah.”

“He obviously had no qualms about taking yours.”

“I know that -”

“Doesn’t make it easier, huh?”

“Nope. It don’t.” Hoss tightened his mouth and the blue eyes widened, he shook his head again, “Pa – it weren’t no man I shot, it was a boy. A young ’un.” he looked and sounded confused, puzzled. “He wanted to kill me and I didn’t even know him. I fired two, maybe three, shots at him and it was just a chance shot that got him. I swear, I wouldn’t have killed him else.”

“I know it.” Ben replied, nodded, passed a hand over his jaw and sighed before he sat down again. “I’m sorry, Hoss. I’m sorry it had to be you.”

“Who he shot at?” Hoss asked, looking at his father with a slightly puzzled look on his face.

“No, I’m sorry it had to be you who shot him.”

Hoss stared down at the rug on the floor, and then covered his face with his hands. He wondered if he would ever forget the sight of Grant’s face, or forget his name. It was a horrible terrible thing to take a life, but for such a sad, empty reason. Just because the youngster wanted to make a name for himself? Now the only time anyone would remember his name was when they saw it carved on the gravestone.
………………..

The sound of the clock chiming the hour trickled through the closed door as Ben gazed out at the setting sun. His son’s experience had unsettled him, made him realise that perhaps they had become complacent. Life had changed so much over the past decade that they no longer left the ranch anticipating an ambush behind every rock, and Hoss, tender hearted Hoss, had become even easy going since marrying and becoming a father.

He sighed and rubbed along his jaw line, then looked up again as the moon slid behind some clouds. He was vaguely aware of the sound of the door opening, closing and then could smell her perfume. He turned and smiled as Hester approached, a shawl around her shoulders.

“Is Hoss alright?” he asked and gave her his gentle smile that made the dark eyes softer.

“Yes. He’s just feeling very guilty about the fact that the boy was so young.”

“Hmmm, I’ve known others as young want to make a name for themselves. There was a lad called Billy, who had all his future ahead of him…he wanted to get rid of a rival and ended up making a name for himself by shooting a one time gun shooter.” he sighed and shook his head but again his face softened as she came and stood by his side.

For a moment they stood there, side by side, shoulder to shoulder, gazing up at the moon. It was Ben who began to talk, to reminisce, “You know, it’s very quiet by the lake. That’s why I like to be there. Water, of course, has always had an influence on me, after all, I was a seaman for many years. My father in law used to sit by the harbour staring out to sea. He would sit there so deep in thought that a cannon could go off beside him and I doubt he would even notice. He would wait to hear if the sea was calling his name.”

“How old were you when you went to sea, Pa?” she leaned against him, comfortable with this intimacy with her father-in-law.

“The sea called me when I was barely in my teens. Oddly enough, I can still remember the mixture of emotions I felt as I sailed from the harbour on my first ship. The sudden realisation on the following day that there was nothing, nothing at all between me and the water that was all around us for hundreds of miles. The ship seemed so small and frail that panic stopped me breathing for seconds at a time. Then some hardy seaman came by and gave me a brush and told me to start keelhauling the deck.”

“Was it the lake that made you realise you wanted this for your paradise?” she was smiling at him, the moon graced her features with its silver light, he could see her blue eyes smiling at him.

“Yes, I suppose it was, and now I go there as often as possible especially as the sun is rising. Nothing is more beautiful as the reflection of the sun in the water. I sit on the rocks and stare out across the water and disappear into my own thoughts, my dreams, my memories. Memories …. ah, so many, so diverse, so – well, so terrible some of them. Promises made, and broken. Love – ah yes, all of that, of course and hearts broken.”

Hester frowned, looked at Ben and bowed her head. Adam’s poem that he had read that very morning, Hoss’ near death experience, they must have unlocked a need for the normally reticent man to speak out. She said nothing but looked away then back up to the moon, and wondered about all those memories about which he was speaking. Before she could speak Ben began to talk a little more.

“Sometimes when I look over the water on a turbulent day, and in saying that I don’t mean just the weather, or the water, but perhaps within myself, I feel a closeness to Elizabeth. I always think of her when I am at the lake, I try to imagine her there by my side just as you are now. She alone of my wives understood how passionate I could feel about things at times. Oh, I’m not discounting Inger’s gentle patience, or Marie’s high spirited teasing. It’s just that Elizabeth, she had that quiet understanding that calmed me.”

“Are you thinking of Adam’s poem., Pa? Is that what you mean?”

Ben shook his head, frowned very slightly and shrugged, “Well, perhaps that is why Adam and I never feel the need to show too much emotion to one another. We are like shades of the other, reflection, illusory perhaps, but constant. I know his depths and his lows, as well as his highs and he knows everyone of my depths, lows and highs.”

His rough calloused hand patted hers gently and he smiled, in the moonlight Hester could see his features softened, she could see the handsome man who had captured the hearts of three very lovely women, and she sighed. Ben bowed his head and his deep voice became softer “It’s when I sit there, or just walk along the banks of the lake, or look across the waters that I can understand Adam so well because it is as though the waves in the many colours and shapes and forms are showing and revealing him to me, just as they reveal myself, more intimately than a mirror. I doubt if that makes sense unless you have an affinity to the waters as I have.”

“And then he left for the sea, after all?” she whispered.

“Yes, it was something I had dreaded in the pit of my guts for as long as I could remember. Dreaded the day he would come up to me and say ‘I can hear the sea calling my name.’” his voice drifted away and they both glanced up at the moon at the same time, just as it once again slid behind a cloud and hid away from their sight.

Chapter 24

The moon shone upon countless horns, making them gleam white, somewhere one of the men was playing a soft tune on a harmonica. Joe rolled out of his bedding and clambered to his feet, brushed himself down and yawned. He scratched his head and made his way to the chuck wagon where his brother was already drinking hot coffee, they exchanged a nod of the head, Adam poured out the coffee into a cup and handed it to him.

“Ready for your shift?” his voice was soft, it had to be, cattle could be easily spooked even by an over loud voice on a quiet night.

“Yeah, guess so.” Joe ran his tongue over his teeth and grimaced, “Feels like I swallowed a desert.”

He had slept too heavily, it left him with a headache, a dry mouth and his eyes seemed glued together. He scratched his chest and sipped the coffee. “Wish Hop Sing would come along on these treks.” he grumbled.

“No point in that, he’d be half way to China by now. You know how he hates the smell of cows.”

“He isn’t the only one.” Joe grinned and rubbed his eyes, yawned and drank the last of the coffee “Ready?”

Adam nodded, and together the two brothers made their way to the horses and mounted up . The leather of their saddles creaked as they settled into them, the horses snickered and tossed their heads. In a short while they were relieving the two men who had been patrolling the herd, a nod of the head was sufficient, with heads lowered the two others rode away, only too happy to be getting into their bedrolls for a few hours sleep.

The cattle stirred and shifted, horns flashes this way and that, sometimes the whites of their eyes could be seen, the smell of them clung to the men’s nostrils and Joe involuntarily sneezed. Just a ripple of movement, huge shoulders flexed, heads were raised and eyeballs rolled.

Adam began to whistle a tune softly under his breath, while carefully loosening his lariat just in case. Above them the clouds parted and the moon beamed down, casting silver light over the mass of bodies heaving and thrusting together. Still Adam whistled, soft and low, Joe wondered what the tune was and just hoped that the cattle liked it. He swallowed in a gulp and reached for his lariat.

It was the graveyard shift, the one no one liked because there was no time afterwards to snatch some sleep. The day would begin and they would just have to get on with it.

When they rode close together they would whisper a few words before riding slowly onwards, watchful for anything that could spook the cattle. For Adam it provided time to think back to times he would pace the deck of a ship, look at the sky, watch for signs in the clouds for changes in the weather. Joe thought of previous cattle treks, times when there was trouble, time when men came back with broken limbs, sometimes, lifeless.

This was just the start to the cattle trail, and already bones were aching and the smell was nauseating. They all knew that in a few more days muscles would be relaxed and honed to the rhythm of their horses gait, that they wouldn’t smell the stench and it would be automatic to roll out of their blankets ready for their shifts.

Above their heads a shooting star blazed on its momentary passage to earth. How many thousands of years had it hung there anonymous among so many thousands, and now, as it plunged its trajectory course in a blaze of glory, it would perhaps be noticed and for a single second or so, wondered at in awe. Joe watched it fall, on the opposite side of the draw Adam did likewise, both recalled incidents when they had watched others burn up and die, perhaps times they had shared with another, or in solitary moments such as this one.

The morning dawned with hues of pink and purple, they rode into camp together, had a hasty breakfast, drank their coffee and rode out to lead the herd onwards. The ground was hard packed and dry, the out riders fastened bandana’s around their noses and mouths knowing that this was just the start of the real discomfort. There were a lot more days like it to come.

Those who had never been on a cattle drive before wished they had not bothered now. They ached everywhere, and dust and grit got into places that a man wouldn’t even mention in polite society. Ahead of them and away from the worst of the dust and dirt the chuck wagon rambled along, Sam whistled and occasional spat tobacco juice into the ground.

Just a little further along Adam and Joe rode at a walking pace, keeping their eyes constantly scanning the land around them. At one time they would have anticipated a war party about to descend upon them, but that danger had been long past. A few Indians would pass by perhaps, try and bargain for a cow or a horse or even a side of bacon. Times had changed but they both knew a foolish man was one who became too complacent, especially with the knowledge that the Bannock and Shoshone were itchy just now.

High in the sky buzzards wheeled and dived, swept low over the herd seeking out for themselves the weak and weary, the ones who had decided not to go on with the herd but fell behind, and if the cowboy was not up to his job, would be easy prey for the scavengers of the skies.
……………..

Hoss was glad to see a new day dawn. Sleep had been elusive and he knew he had disturbed Hester, but the face of the boy had haunted him throughout the night and now that day light had arrived at last, he just wanted to get down to work and get the image of what had happened right behind him.

Ben glanced over at him, his dark eyes narrowed and his lips thinned. He looked then at Hester who smiled and picked up the coffee pot.

“Didn’t sleep so good, huh, son?”

“No, sir, I dang well didn’t.” Hoss buried his face into his cup and gulped down coffee, he sighed and scratched his head, “I just feel real bad, Pa. That lad had not long got out of school, and … for pete’s sake what was he doing of taking pot shots at me fer?”

“You said that his friend told you he wanted to make a name for himself.” Ben said quietly, “Well, we’ve had our fair share of lads who have wanted to do that, haven’t we?”

“I guess we have, got so’s it was getting so quiet around here I never expected it to happen agin.”

“It doesn’t pay to forget this is still wild country.” Ben muttered and sighed, “I’ll go into town later and see the lad’s parents.”

“No, Pa, I should be doing that, after all…” Hoss paused and shook his head, heaved a deep sigh and rose to his feet. “Leastways I should ride in with you.”

So much for not being haunted by the lad, still, he reached for his hat and slapped it on his head, he heard Hannah say “Pa, you got a hole in your hat? Why you got a hole in your hat?”

He could only bow his head, call out his farewells to Hester who hurried to reach him and kiss him goodbye. She could see, as she watched the two men stride out to the corral, that her man had the world of troubles upon his shoulders, and big though he was, they were weighing him down.
……

Caleb Jefferson was a small wiry unattractive looking man with large eyes that made him look like a startled calf. His wife was younger and attractive enough to have a person wonder what she saw in the more whimsical make up of her husband. It was she who opened the door to the Cartwrights’ knocking and enquired as to who they were and what they wanted.

Both men removed their hats, “Ma’am, I’m Hoss Cartwright…” the big man gulped at the sight of the red rimmed eyes and pallid features of the woman who blanched at the sound of his name as though he had physically struck her. “I and my Pa here, we jest came to say we’re mighty sorry, I’m sorry, for what happened to yout boy.”

“You were the one shot him.” she sobbed and turned her head away in order to bury her face in a scrap of cloth that passed for a handkerchief.

A sound from behind her indicated that her husband had decided to make an appearance, he put his hands on his wife’s shoulders and turned her away from the persons at the door and therefore came into full view.

He looked them up and down, then turned his eyes back to Hoss “You the one shot my boy?”

“Mr Jefferson, believe me, I had no intention to kill your lad. He was shooting at me from behind the rocks and I had no idea …”

Caleb nodded and ushered them both into the house. Susan, his wife,, had retreated to a chair having gathered up a baby en route, it now sat in her lap staring wide eyed and mystified at them all. Another child about four years old sat silently by her side on the floor.

“Sit down, please.” Caleb indicated a sturdy settee and then settled upon a chair, looked at his wife and then back at the Cartwrights both of whom were feeling uncomfortable and miserable.

“Mr Jefferson, Mrs Jefferson, like I said, I had no idea that your boy would be killed, I just had to fire back at whoever was shooting at me else be killed myself. I didn’t realise he was so young until I found him.”

“I heard you brung him into the doctors to get looked at.” Caleb sighed and blew his nose into an enormous handkerchief.

“I did, sir. At the time I was hoping that the doc would be able to save him.” Hoss nodded and clung tighter to his hat as though it would protect him from the grief of these people.

“I thank you for that, we -” he turned to his wife “we thank you for that kindness”

Ben looked at the man thoughtfully; although he and Hoss had not been sure as to what kind of reception they would have received at this house of mourning this courtesy was far from expectations. He cleared his throat

“Mr Jefferson, we’re at a loss as to understand why your son was on the Ponderosa at all. By rights he should not have been there anyway, and as Hoss said, he was firing from behind the rocks at him. Do you have any explanation? Did he have a personal grudge against us or Hoss ?”

Susan Jefferson shook her head and wiped her eyes “Grant was always head strong. He was the eldest son of my husbands first wife,” she looked over at Caleb and upon his nod which she took as his acceptance of what she was saying, she continued “He didn’t settle here at first, then he got in with a crowd of boys who were always big mouthing about something or other. One day he came home and – and he had a gun, said he’d been learning how to use it.”

“He got it from those louts he hung around with, nothing we said made no difference. We hardly saw him. In a way we lost him weeks ago” Caleb stroked his chin, “I guess we’re more upset at the loss of the boy we once had, before we came here. He was – had been – a sweet kid.”

Susan nodded and turned her attention to looking to the needs of the baby who had started whimpering. Caleb sighed and shook his head “We’re not rich, but we’re not poor either. I’m good at what I do, Mr Cartwright. But it wasn’t enough for Grant. He didn’t want to take up a trade, he just wanted to be the fastest gun, get a reputation, have his name written in the papers. Got so I didn’t even understand half of what he was talking about most of the time.”

Ben nodded “I can understand that, having three sons myself, I know at least one who went got in with a wild crowd during his youth.”

“I daresay they settled down in time though, didn’t they?” Caleb sighed and looked at Hoss, who suddenly felt as though he was being told that Grant would never have that chance now. He was dead.

“They did, in time.” Ben murmured and stood up, he put out his hand to Caleb and was relieved when the tailor took hold and shook it, and then shook Hoss’

“Don’t blame yourself, Hoss Cartwright.” Caleb said quietly, “Grant wouldn’t have cared had he shot you plumb dead. Believe me, somewhere or somehow his heart just turned to stone these past few months.”

Ben and Hoss nodded, looked over at Susan who didn’t look in their direction at all. After muttering their goodbyes, shaking Caleb’s hand once more and repeating their sympathies the two Cartwrights stepped back out of the house and into the sunlit street.

“What do you think of that?” Hoss asked Ben as they replaced their hats and strode out down to where they had left the horses.

“Well, she may well have had more to say, Hoss. I get the feeling that there wasn’t much love between father and son. Sad though it is, it happens.”

They both slipped into thoughts of their own for a while, then Hoss said quietly “Hey, Pa?”

“What?” Ben frowned and raised his eyebrows

“This wild kid of yours…you sure you tamed him yet?” he chuckled and wrinkled his nose as he so often did when something amused him.

“Did I say I had one wild kid? I thought I mentioned …”

“Hey, Pa, you gotta be joshing me…” Hoss guffawed now but Ben felt he had said enough on the subject and decided it was best to say nothing more. Let Hoss think what he liked about who he liked…if he really wanted to.

 

 

Chapter 24

 

The days passed like leaves falling from the trees at the start of autumn, one by one, little by little until they could look back and see a whole heap of them. Two weeks of steady moving on, with the dust and grit gettingt down one’s throat and into every crevice a human body possessed. The yelling and shouting above the racket of the animals rasped one’s throat and made it as dry as a tinder box. The din of the animals, constantly every minute of every hour, made one’s ears ring and the horrible thing was that there was no escape from it. The smell of the beeves, the stink of their excrement, the resulting flies and to add to all that, the discomfort of one’s own sweat.

The dawning of another morning and the Cartwright brothers drank their coffee, ate their food, and walked, stiff legged to their horses. Millsbank, bleary eyed and yawning, had the animals ready for them and was rewarded with a pat on the back by Joe and a nod of the head from Adam.. In perfect synchronization they mounted into the saddle and rode away from the camp

Leroy rubbed his eyes and yawned again. Time to get the other horses ready for the cowboys. He could see Luke Dent approaching him and nodded a greeting. Sounds came from the camp that indicated a new day on the trail was underway. Men’s voices murmuring, Sam clattering about in clearing away the last of the dishes, the fires hissing against the sap of the wood dripping into the flames, and in the distance the lowing of the cows, the occasional tuneless whistle of the cowboy on watch, and then the creak of leather as saddles were set upon the backs of the horses.

It had been hotter the more distance they put between themselves and the Ponderosa. The sun scorched down mercilessly and every man there was aware of every other man’s stink. The need to reach a river was now becoming paramount and after some moments riding Adam paused his horse to look beyond the next ridge and into the sky. He glanced over at Joe and smiled, nodded “Not far from water, Joe.”

“More than glad of that, brother, this heat is getting a mite uncomfortable.” he didn’t mention the stiffness of his clothing from dried sweat, dust and how uncomfortable he felt as a result. He didn’t need to because he knew Adam was enduring the same. He glanced over his shoulder to see the approaching dust cloud that heralded cattle on the move.

“Best find it as soon as we can.” Adam’s voice intruded upon his thoughts and he immediately turned his horse’s head towards the direction where, from previous years experience, he anticipated finding the river.

It was broad and wide, sluggish and muddy, but it was water. Joe, as ramrod, spun his horse round to relay the trail boss’ orders to the men, while Adam rode on to follow the river to where, perhaps, the water would be cleaner and better for the men. The cattle he knew wouldn’t care, so long as they didn’t go crazy and stampede into it for the grazing grass during the past few days hadn’t contained much in the way of nutrients and moisture for the beasts. Here though, despite the river not being in full flow, the grass on the opposite side was green and rich.

He was back to where Joe had left him when the cattle appeared, moving faster now, but being well controlled by the men who had ridden in closer, tighter, in order to channel them in an orderly fashion to the river.

Joe joined his brother and nodded “This is usually faster and cleaner than this…”

“Usually.” Adam nodded in agreement, “it’ll be good enough for the cattle, and the grazing looks good. We could ride on ahead, Joe, and see if there’s any reason for the river to be this low.”

“Well,” Joe thumbed back his hat, his eyebrows rose high on his brow and he wiped sweat with the back of his hand leaving a trail mark of dust “shouldn’t be nothing for miles except Garvey’s ranch and he’s always been helpful in letting us through his land. Last year he had a few hundred head to add to our herd, and rode along with us Maybe he’s had a bad year, he might be holding water back for his own cattle”.

“Well, a lot can happen in a year.” Adam said quietly and moved his horse forwards so that it had to wade into the water.

The cattle were doing their usual pushing and shoving to get into the river, spreading out and filling the river bed, churning up the mud, slurping up the water. Luke pushed his horse through to where Adam and Joe were walking their horses with the ripples from the cattle’s foraging reaching their shins.

“This water doesn’t look as fresh as I thought it would be,” Luke grimaced, “I reckon we’d end up muddier after a bath than before we got started.”

“We’re riding up to Garvey’s now, he should be able to tell us what’s happened.” Joe said as they continued to ride on, “The grazing is good though, just get the cattle through and let them spread out some.”

Luke sighed and touched the brim of his hat, like everyone else he was dusty and dirty, but he gave the brothers a grin as he turned back to his task.

Matt Garvey was riding towards them and they met halfway, with a smile and nod he stretched out a hand which the brothers shook “Saw your dust, thought it was time for the Ponderosa cattle to be coming through.”

“Where’s your brother?” Adam asked, remembering the lean dark man who had settled there years back, and had always been the negotiator between them. Of the two men Silas Garvey was the man with whom they did business, enjoyed a form of casual friendship. It was Silas they had expected to have met and welcomed them, “Everything alright with you all?”

Matt bowed his head, pursed his lips and then rubbed his jaw. He had turned his horse to ride back to the buildings just a few miles further along, an indication that the brothers could ride along with him and enjoy some hospitality.

“My brother died last year. Things haven’t been so good; hard in fact.”

“How hard?” Joe had asked, thinking back to the first time they had ever met the Garvey family, how Hoss had enjoyed apple pie and he had helped fence off the range with the other men in order to ensure their cattle didn’t damage more of Garvey’s land than was necessary, a legal requirement by law.

“May have to sell, except that I can’t see how anyone would be buying. Not here. Not now.” Matt replied and looked sullen, he turned his head in the direction from which they had come “The river’s drying up, we’ve had drought this year, had to sell what was left of the herd after tick fever hit us hard. That was after Si died …” He removed his hat, bowed his head and gulped hard before replacing his headgear, “There’s been a town built a few miles along your route. You’ll have to divert your herd a mite, they won’t want you driving it through their nice new main street.”

The coldness in his voice was a clear indication that things were not good between him and the townsfolk, and when Adam ventured to mention that, Matt nodded. A mean town boss maybe?

“True enough. Some good folk there no doubt, and some probably wondering why they came to this God forsaken place, after all, there’s little enough for them ” he shrugged “Some homesteaders lost their crops this year too. We didn’t even have the rains during the winter that elsewhere had… the grounds dry, no goodness left in it.”

“It seems good for pasture down by the river,” Joe said and his brow creased into a frown for Matt had always been the surly sullen one of the two brothers, perhaps his pessimism was talking more than his common sense.

“Close to the river, yeah, it’s good enough. But if the river starts drying up even worse than it is now, well, even that will be gone.”

Adam looked around at the ground as they were riding along, his worries that the land would not be providing for the herd was compounded by the dryness of the soil and the amount of dust the horses were kicking up. He said nothing and in silence the three men arrived at the house which had once been a bustling hive of industry.

The door of the building creaked open as though unwilling to yield to the touch of the woman now standing on the porch, wiping her hands on her apron with a slight frown on her face.

“My wife.” Matt said with a nod of the head at the woman, “Got myself married last year.”

For some reason neither Adam or Joe could muster up the enthusiasm or good will to congratulate him. They dismounted and after looping the reins over the rail, followed Matt into the house. His wife could have been a lump of wood for all the attention he gave her, walking past and removing his hat with not a word. Adam and Joe removed their head gear and greeted her with a mumbled “Ma’am,” a smile, and nod of the head.

She followed them into the house and Matt turned “These are the Cartwright boys from the Ponderosa. They usually stop by when pushing through.”

She nodded and walked to the stove, within minutes three mugs of coffee were slammed down on the table. Joe cleared his throat “What happened to Mrs Garvey and Sally?”

Matt pulled out a chair and nodded to the two chairs that were available for them, they sat down, and the woman moved away. The rich smell of stew floated into the room as she raised the lid of the pan, “You ready to eat?”

Her voice was gratingly harsh as though she resented having to ask. In a year there seemed of marriage there appeared be no love left between them. Both brothers felt decidedly uncomfortable.
Adam assured her immediately that they were fine, coffee was good, and Joe nodded and assured her that they were happy with the coffee. Matt shrugged, the sound of a lid being slammed back onto the pan vibrated around the room. She walked out of the building and the door closed with a slam.

“She’s a moody one.” Matt said without any embarrassment at all, he sipped the coffee, and sighed “Silas had a disagreement with one of the townsmen, there was a bit of a scrap in the saloon and he fell awkward. Just one of those things that happen, an accident pure and simple.”.

“That killed him?” Joe asked with his mug half raised to his mouth.

“It fractured his skull, he spent two days in town dying. Sally and Susie, they didn’t want to come back. I had married ‘Tilda by then, so I guess they just wanted to be free of the whole shebang.”

Adam and Joe decided to leave the rest of the story unsaid, although Adam did ask Matt what the disagreement was about which prompted the other man to shake his head dolefully, “Land of course. They wanted to build on our land, and my brother didn’t want to sell.”

“So, if you did put the ranch up for sale, there would still be buyers, wouldn’t there?” Joe ventured to ask.

“Sure, at their price.”

Adam sipped his coffee and thought back to what he remembered about Silas Garvey. He had been a man with a dream, ambition and he had been stubborn, he had that obstinancy about him whereby he would rather have shrivelled up and died than accept any ‘low offer’. The river could dry up, the land go completely barren, but he’d not have budged even when the winds started blowing the dust into the house.

“Where are Susan and Sally now? ” he asked quietly, staring into the muddy coloured contents of the cup.

Matt shrugged “They left. I had to sell some land and Susan took her cut and I ain’t heard from her since. Like I said, she wanted to be rid of the whole mess.”

“What about your wife? Is she happy to stay put?” Joe glanced over his shoulder at the sound of the door opening and the footsteps on the floor indicated her return.

Matt shrugged “That’s up to her. I still got this place and some land, they didn’t take it all!”

Adam nodded, finished the coffee and got up from the chair. He shook Matt’s hand and wished him well, nodded over to the woman and left the house, he was followed by Joe who walked alongside him, in silence to their horses.

“We’ll have to plot an alternative route next year.” Adam sighed.

“There’s not that many to choose from.” Joe replied and swung himself into the saddle, then paused a while to look at the ranch and the out buildings “You know, it’s a shame to see it like this. Silas Garvey had a great place here, last year it looked like it was really going to make good.”

“Before the town came …” Adam muttered, “One of the mysteries of the west, mushroom towns, dying homesteads, fading dreams.”

Joe shivered, he looked over at his brother “Do you think it could happen to us? To the Ponderosa? After all, the mines are closing down, people are moving out .”

Adam shook his head, “Well, it won’t happen without us putting up a fight to maintain the status quo.”

Joe nodded, a slight smile touched his lips “At least there’s a town, we can send cables and stock up the chuck wagon, and if possible, even a bath.”
………………

The cattle spread out along the rivers bank, the water was there available and decent grass too. Sam set down his chuck wagon and prepared food more appetising than Mrs Garvey’s, and as the men ate he sat down to compile a list of things that were necessary for the next stage of the journey. He tapped his pencil upon the paper and nodded over to Adam “Come off well, so far, Adam. Just a few bumps and bruises to attend to and no cases of colic or indigestion as a result of my cooking.”

“Wouldn’t have expected there to be,” Adam grinned, and spooned more of the beans and bacon into his mouth, after swallowing he added “Coffee’s always good to wash it down with too.”

Sam grinned, “Here’s my list. A new town huh? You gonna let the boys loose tonight?”

“Some.” Adam nodded and set down his plate into the bucket of water Sam used for the washing up.

Joe came to slip his empty plate into the bucket, he was still drinking his coffee, “The men are wondering if they can go into town.”

“We’ll need a few to stay with the herd. You can arrange that, Joe. We’ll check the town out and tomorrow move the herd closer, then the others can go into town tomorrow night. No point in staying overlong, we don’t want to lose the time we have made up already.”

Joe nodded, he gave his brother a grin “And can I come along tonight, please, sir?”

Adam smiled, shrugged and looked over to Luke and Derwent, “Best ask them along too. Don’t take too long about it, Joe,, I want to send off some cables to Pa and Livvy, and get these things for Sam.

Chapter 25

It wasn’t long before signs of a towns whereabouts became more and more obvious as they followed the trail indicated by Matt Garvey. Telegraph poles suddenly began to appear as they were strung along the skyline which gave both brothers a feeling of optimism, it meant there was a means by which they would be able to send off their cables.

Not long after they sighted the poles they rode into the town.

The town was small; that embryonic state of new builds where the air seems full of the clean smell of new timber framed buildings and the smell of too many humans living on top of one another hadn’t permeated to ruin it all. The upright and cross beams of buildings yet to be built lined the main street and both Joe and Adam wondered if they were going to find the things they needed in such a newly formed settlement.

A fat man leaning against the post supporting the porch of the main Store watched the group of riders as they walked their horses along. “You men lost?”

Adam turned to him and gave an acknowledging nod of the head “Well, we are new here, so you could say that.”

“Huh.huh. Everything’s new here.” the fat man chuckled and hooked his thumbs into the belt that kept his pants from falling down. “Where you from?”

“The Ponderosa.”

The man’s eyes narrowed and he glanced from Adam to Joe, then at the other men, he nodded “Cattle drive, huh?”

“S’right,” Adam nodded and leaned upon the pommel of his saddle with both his hands, the reins loose between his fingers.

“The Ponderosa.” he rubbed his stubbly chin and then looked more keenly at the two brothers “Ben Cartwright’s spread, ain’t it?”

“S’right again.” Adam nodded once more and looked across from the inquisitor to where another man was approaching, “Do you have a Telegraph Office here?”

“Just further up along.” came the reply but before they could move a hand was raised “I’m thinking you’re Ben’s boys aint’cha?”

“We are.” Joe spoke up now, “Do you know our Pa?”

“Knew him years ago. I was on the wagon train with him when we had that skirmish with the Cheyenne. Reckon you’re a mite smaller than we thought for, boy, because when you was born we thought for sure you were the biggest baby we had ever seen.”

Adam grinned and turned his head away so that Joe would not see him, and Joe got a little red around the collar “I reckon you’re thinking of my brother, Hoss.”

“Hoss! Yeah, that’s right, that’s what they called the little feller. So you ain’t Hoss?”

“No, I’m Joe Cartwright, my brother here – Adam.” Joe’s thumb jerked in the direction of his brother who turned and nodded once again to the fat man who was looking at them all rather curiously.

“So, old Ben remarried , huh?” his gaze swept over the group of men “These ain’t all his boys, are they?”

“No, sir, they are not.” Joe snapped and was about to pursue the subject further when Adam interposed to ask if there was a saloon in town yet?

“Wal, what a question to ask, that was one of the first buildings to go up. Over there to your right.”

Adam thanked him and then walked his horse on. He nodded to the other man who had stopped by the post to observe them. Behind him the other men followed, but whereas Joe and Adam, Luke and Derwent dismounted outside the Telegraph Office the others headed for the saloon.

“Original,” Joe grinned at the sign painted across the windows of the saloon, “The Silver Dollar. Wonder if the bar hand is called Charley?”

“Or Sam?” Derwent chuckled.

They were smiling at the thought as they entered the Telegraph office, and looked around them for the clerk who emerged from the back room. From the size of the building it was obviously his living quarters with the front providing the public service of sending telegraph cables and mail.

The clerk’s eyes swivelled from one man to the other, he nodded and accepted their messages, along with their money, and also the letters that had been written by them. The cables would be received quickly with their short messages of assurance that all was well; but the letters, though taking longer, would contain words that were too private and intimate to be shared in public. He assured them the cables would be sent straightaway and as they left the building they could hear the first of them being tapped out.

“I’ll see you in the saloon,” Adam said and nodded over to the store “I’ll get Sam’s things before the place closes.”

“What’s this place called anyway?” Luke asked, “I forgot to ask, and didn’t notice as we rode in.”

A man’s voice floated towards them, “It’s called Buffalo Flats.”

Adam paused in his intention to get to the mercantile in order to observe the man and listen to what he had to say. It was Derwent who said “Long time since there were any buffalo here.”

“True enough, but it sounds good.” The newcomer looked them up and down, and smiled, before he extended his hand “I’m Nate Carney. I keep the law around here.”

Joe glanced around and his every expressive eyebrows rose high “A sheriff already? Hardly seems enough folk in town to cause trouble here.”

“Oh, trouble comes from the oddest of places, Mr Cartwright.” another smile, he nodded, “I heard old Phil just now mention your name. So, you came with your cattle is that right?”

“They’re bedded down by the river… well, what used to be the river.” Joe muttered with a jerk of the head in the direction from which they came.

“Hmm, you passed the Garvey place?”

“We did. I was sorry to hear that Silas Garvey had died recently.” Joe said quietly, “He was a hard working man, and honest.”

“That’s true enough, can’t say the same about his brother. He’ll run that place to nothing within the year. Not that there‘s that much left of it.”

Adam and Joe looked at one another but refrained from commenting to that remark. It got them both thinking however, and Joe nodded thoughtfully “It’s a shame, last year Silas joined us with his herd for the cattle drive. This year….”

“This year he’s dead and there’s nothing but an old milk cow still standing there.” Carney shook his head “A shame, but life out here is full of sudden turns and twists, ain’t that so, Mr Cartwright?”

Joe nodded, “ I guess it is.”

Luke and Derwent gave the lawman a sidelong glance and walked into the saloon. He gave them both just as sidelong a look back, perhaps slightly more narrow eyed though. He then scowled slightly “Make sure your men cause no trouble, Mr Cartwright.”

“They won’t.” Joe replied and watched as the other man walked away.

Joe looked at Adam, who gave a slight shrug and muttered about going to the store. For a moment Joe stood by the horses and watched his brother cross the road to the building with[b]Mercantile – all you need here[b]painted on the board by the door. He stayed where he was long enough to see his brother come out of the store, get stopped by Carney half way across the street. Words were exchanged, a nod of Adam’s head and then each went their separate ways, Adam joined Joe and raised his eyebrows

“There’s a man who takes his work seriously.”

Joe nodded “Yeah, wouldn’t like to tread on his toes.”

“I wonder if he was around when Garvey had his ‘accident’” the emphasis his brother placed on that one word caused Joe to gave him a sharp sidelong glance but he refrained from saying anything although he allowed himself a sigh, and nodded. He wondered if his brother were thinking along the same lines but remained silent as he and Adam entered the saloon.

The fat man was there, and at the sight of Adam and Joe greeted them as though they were his long lost brothers, “I guarantee you don’t remember me, do you?”

His fat forefinger prodded Adam in the chest, his grin exposed a good set of teeth, and his fat was ruddy with excitement. Adam rubbed his chest slowly as though the prodding had damaged something behind the shirt material. He shook his head “At the time you speak of, Mr …”

“Ah, true enough, you were only a small boy at the time. A real little whipper snapper you were to be sure, and into everything, wanting to know about how anything and everything worked. Well, I’m Philip Shrieber.”

Adam nodded and shook the plump hand but with less enthusiasm than Shrieber may have liked, “I was the architect. You told me you wanted to build your own house. Do you remember now?”*

“Of course,” Adam nodded, he remembered Philip Shrieber vaguely back along, but this fat sweating person certainly didn’t live up to the memory, “I thought you were going to build big cities, and mansions …”

Shrieber shook his head “I suffered a severe calamity, my dear boy. I got married.”

The married men there smirked behind his back, and Adam bowed his head to hide a grin, “I’m sorry it didn’t work out for you, Mr Shrieber.”

“Thank you, but it’s something I’m working on. The railway are paying me a good sum for building this town, so I can’t complain.”

Joe paused in lifting his glass to his mouth “The railway?”

“That’s right. They’re going to build a railway line right across to Monroe. There will be towns like this being built everywhere.”

“We didn’t see any sign of a railway …how far away is it?” Luke now asked.

“Oh you won’t be able to miss it. That’s why we got ourselves the telegraph, the railway company insisted it was installed. Scared of progress slowing down if there weren’t one, I guess…” he sniggered, but seeing their straight faces returned to the subject under discussion “I should say about ten miles north from here. They had to divert some of the river to provide water for the works and the men, of course. It’s a huge project but Pacific Railways are well funded.”

Joe and Adam looked glumly at one another, Joe shrugged “Ah well, at least we know now where the rivers gone.”

Adam paid for the man to have a drink on them, listened to him prattle on for a little longer and then shook his head, “I’ll best get going with the supplies. Joe, don’t be too late getting back.”

Joe nodded, he would have saluted but he didn’t really feel like teasing his big brother just now. There was a lot more to think about, like taking a herd of cattle across or through or over a railway camp. Life was getting more complicated by the day.
……………

Sam was more than pleased to take all the fresh supplies that Adam brought with him. One of the men approached Adam and asked if it would be alright for them to ride into the town for a drink to ‘wet their whistle’ having done their shift. Adam listened to him and noted that there were five in total, including Leroy.

“Take care of the kid,” he said while he turned aside to accept a mug of coffee from Sam.

Once he had emptied his mug he took one of the horses from the remuda and rode to the draw, where he could see the cattle spread out before him. The grazing was good, especially close to the river banks, although he had to remind himself that not so long ago it would have all been under water, before the railway moved in to divert it.

He turned his horse back and returned to camp. Joe had arrived now, and greeted him with a nod of the head.

“I met the others on the way to town.” he said as he dismounted, and led the horse into the picket line, “They should be back for the late evening shift.”

Together they walked to where a camp fire was burning en route to which Joe collected a cup of coffee. For a while both were silent until Joe glanced over at his brother,

“You’re quiet, something bothering you?”

Adam shrugged and passed a hand across his mouth, before looking up into the smiling countenance of his youngest brother “Last year, when you saw him, did Silas Garvey mention to you about the railway coming this way, or a town being built?”

“No. Last year when we came by he rode along with us, excited at bringing along some cattle of his own. Seeing how things are here came as a bit of a shock, it was – well – a total reversal of what we expected.”

“You thought he’d be joining with us again?” Adams brown eyes flicked up to observe Joe, who nodded.

They were quiet for a while, Joe drank his coffee and wiped his mouth on the back of his hand, “Hey, Adam, you don’t think that Matt Garvey could have been the man who had the argument with Silas , do you?”

“I was thinking along those lines.” Adam admitted, he quirked an eyebrow “The sheriff didn’t seem the sort that would turn a blind eye to that kind of – accident- if it had happened the way Matt said, I mean, in the town. I can’t see Carney letting Matt home without having to face some time in jail.”

“Perhaps you’re right and he didn’t kill Silas in town, he could be lying about that…”

Adam nodded and stared into the fire, then he sighed and shook his head, “Well, he certainly lied to us about quite a few things, that’s for sure. Still, it isn’t any of our business right now, Joe. We have to get these cattle to Billings or we’ll lose our market.”

Joe shook his head and shrugged “I kinda thought of Silas as a friend.”

“I know.” Adam nodded and slapped his brother gently on the shoulder, “Perhaps we can look into it a little more closely on the way home.”

“Sure, if you have a mind to?” Joe muttered and glanced over his shoulder to watch as two of the men rode into camp. He nodded over to them and watched for a while as they led their horses to the remuda and dismounted, then made their way to the chuck wagon for coffee. He leaned into his brother “This railway … I would have thought Silas would have mentioned it though. That’s what makes me wonder about …”

“I said we’ll look into it on the way home.” Adam muttered in that terse manner that had often rattled Joe in the past. Noticing his brothers mouth tighten Adam leaned closer “We have another problem that concerns us, and that’s this railway being built across Garvey’s land, or what was his land, and where we would normally be driving our cattle. What happened to Silas has to take second place just now, Joe. I was thinking we could ride out to the railway camp first thing tomorrow morning. It’s ten miles north right? We could be there within …what? …two to three hours, two hours if we really push the horses which I would prefer not to do.”

Joe nodded, “Sounds good to me. The grazing is good here, I doubt if the boys will mind hanging around with the town so close by.”

“Well, there’s water enough for the cattle, and the men won’t mind a day of rest either, we’ll just have to make sure they keep to their shifts.” Adam stood up and eased his leg which ached more than he would have wanted from all the riding. Joe pretended not to notice knowing how sensitive his brother could be about any weaknesses he could have, but it worried him none the less.

* (The house that Adam built.)

 

Chapter 26

Hoss Cartwright rode slowly into the yard of his brother Adam’s house as there were letters to be handed over to Olivia for them, and a message from Ben to say he had been delayed so would come later in the day.

He drew Chub to a halt and dismounted, while his eyes were fixed on the little boy kicking a stone around in the dust. Reuben paused enough to look up, nod over at his Uncle and then resume kicking the stone. For a moment Hoss was reminded of another little boy, and sighed for the memory was of a not particularly happy time in the child’s life. And Reuben, Hoss could see, was definitely not happy.

He walked over and called to Reuben for attention. The boy stopped and put his hands in his pockets and watched as his Uncle approached. He didn’t smile, he didn’t feel like smiling. He waited until Hoss had drawn level and then, as usual when having to talk to the children, had to squat down to be eye to eye with them.

“You alright, Reuben?”

The boy heaved a sigh and shook his head “I’m fed up being the man of the house.”

“Oh, making it hard for ya, are they?”

“Yeah.” he kicked the pebble again, shrugged and looked up into the kindly eyes of his Uncle “Ma wouldn’t let me have dough nuts for breakfast, she said it’s not right for a growing boy. Sofia won’t do her chores when I tell her to, and that means I have to groom Max and Buster. And Nathaniel is just plain naughty, he just runs away and hides. He don’t do nothing I tell him to.”

“Yeah, that’s hard,” Hoss sighed and straightened up, bending so low gave him back ache. “I remember having a little brother just the same. Seems to me that that brother of your’n is more like your Uncle Joe than Daniel ever will be.”

Reuben nodded “I know. Aunt Mary-Ann says Daniels more like being your son because he …”

“Yeah?” Hoss raised his eyebrows, this was all new to him, he was curious.

“Well, Daniel likes eating.”

“Oh I see. Well, so do I.” he grinned and felt good seeing a smile spread over the boys face, but that soon vanished into a wistful sigh.

“I can’t go and see Kamil, I’m just too busy.” he dug his hands deeper into his pockets and bowed his head, another sigh drifted upwards.

“Too busy?” Hoss shook his head as though dismayed at the idea, “Shucks, Reuben, you mean you’ve been too busy to do anything … like fishing?”

“Fishing?” Reuben’s eyes popped open, “I ain’t been fishing for a long time. Pa takes me sometimes, but he’s busy lots of the time. Now he ain’t here and – and I can’t go…”

“Why not?”

Reuben shrugged “’Cos I’m head of the house and got respons- able- ities.”

Hoss scratched the back of his neck, his hat tipped a little over his eyes but he ignored that fact, he nodded “Shucks, that won’t do. The head of the house needs some time to himself so’s he can – kinda – relax a mite. You like fishing?”

Reuben nodded but looked glum “I sure do, last time I went Pa and me, we caught a whole load of fish, enough for a supper two days running.”

“That’s good fishing, but you know something, Reuben, your Pa … he ain’t the best fishing man in the family, no, sir, and do you know why he ain’t? It’s because he’s too serious, he don’t relax enough. He takes it all far far too seriously.”

“I don’t know, Uncle Hoss, he always takes his jacket off and rolls up his sleeves. He even goes to sleep”

“Sleeping and relaxing are two different things.” Hoss clapped a hand upon the boys shoulder, and looked sternly into the upturned freckled face “I think you and me need to do a bit of relaxing…how’s about it?”

Reuben’s eyebrows shot up, he even ventured a grin “Do you reckon we could?”

Hoss nodded, “I just got these letters to give to your Ma. Now you go and get Max saddled up, get your fishing gear, and we’ll go to my favourite fishing pool. Only -” he frowned “I don’t want you telling your Pa or Uncle Joe where abouts it is, alright?”

“Oh sure, alright, Uncle Hoss.”

“Well, don’t hang around here, son, go git…”

Reuben ran off with a whoop, and Hoss watched him with a grin on his face before turning towards the house. It was a fine day, he flexed his shoulders and nodded, the best kind of day for fishing.

Olivia agreed whole heartedly with her brother-in-law, she thought it a fine idea that Reuben should spend some time with his Uncle Hoss. Sofia sulked but was promised a ride into town with Aunt Hester later on. Taking the letters from Hoss, she then walked to the door and waved them both off. The sound of Nathaniel wailing indicated that she had not the time to linger, but turned to find her little son at the bottom of the stairs and rubbing his head, bawling loud enough to waken the dead!

 

“This,” Hoss said to his nephew as they jogged along side by side towards the lake “is one of the best days for fishing. D’you want to know why?”

“Why, Uncle Hoss?”

“Because …” Hoss stuck a finger in his mouth, then held it up to the wind, frowned, nodded, and winked over at the boy “because everything is just set fine, winds in the right direction and the sun is shining.”

“Do fish know if the wind is in the right direction, Uncle Hoss/”

“Do fish ..? Son, the fish know everything about the wind. Now, let me tell you about a time I went fishing down at that fishing hole and got me a whole load of fish, and do you know what happened? Wal, on this particular day I went home with a chest full of gold.”

“A chest? D’you mean a box, Uncle Hoss?”

“A box, yeah, that’s what it was…full of gold dust. And do you know where it came from? Leprechauns, that’s where.”

Reuben sat back in the saddle and thought about that, he looked thoughtfully at his Uncle, and frowned “Real leprechauns, Uncle Hoss?”

“As real as you are… little men in green suits. ‘Course, your Pa and Uncle Joe they didn’t believe me, but they soon found out how wrong they could be. Well, here we are.” Hoss nodded and looked around him, he smiled at Reuben, “You feeling relaxed now, son?”

“A bit relaxed, Uncle Hoss.”

Hoss nodded and dismounted, Reuben slid out of the saddle and together they walked to where Hoss had his favourite fishing pool. They set down their rods and then looked at one another. “Now to be really relaxed, Reuben, you have to take off your boots and socks, like this.”

Hoss settled down and pulled off his boots and socks, tossing them over his shoulder one by one. Reuben did likewise. He watched now as Hoss approached the water and looked down, very thoughtfully, he stood very still for some moments until Reuben wondered what it was he was looking at. Then the big man squatted down and leaned forwards and spread out his hands above the surface of the water until palm and fingers just broke the surface.

“Saw a man do this once years ago. It worked for him, and by jiminy, it always works right for me.” Hoss whispered as Reuben squatted down and spread out his hands on the water, when he opened his mouth to speak Hoss put a finger to his lips, shook his head, so they stayed there for about a minute without speaking, just feeling the water.

Satisfied at last Hoss straightened up and picked up his rod. En route they had stopped to dig up the worms, a procedure that Reuben had quite enjoyed, as a number of worms obliged by popping up after Hoss had tapped the earth a number of times. It was something, Hoss said, that Adam had told him he had noticed on one of his jaunts, how worms always came up after gulls ‘danced on the ground’ in imitation of rain drops.

“You’d never have thought it, would ya?” he told his wide eyed pupil, who shook his head in delight as yet another worm had been plucked from the earth.

So now here they were, worms wiggling on the hooks, and cast into the water. Hoss didn’t sit down, nor go to sleep, he just stood there for some time very quiet until there was a jerk on the line … he and Reuben shared a grin, and then before he knew it, Reuben had a tug on his line too, so they were both pulling in their fish and grinning happily at one another as both were landed into the grass.

After a while Hoss decided it was time to really relax, they had caught enough fish for several suppers, and with the sun still warm to their faces the two fishermen left the lines to float in the water, while they lay on their backs and just enjoyed doing nothing. Within minutes both of them were asleep, even though Hoss had said that they needed to keep an eye on the fish because their was a mother bear around who would just love to help herself to them.
…………

The two brothers could overlook the camp site from their location, it was spread out so clearly before them that it was similar to looking down at a scale model of the real thing. The only difference was the vast number of people coming and going, lines of them toiling and working. They looked at one another and saw the same thing on the others faces, the same thought as they watched the work being carried out just a mile from where they were seated.

“Interesting,” Adam murmured, “Just ten miles between us and yet we never saw a sign of them until now.”

“Yeah, and, there’s the river alright.” Joe pointed to the gleam of sun reflected upon the water, “Must have taken a lot of men to dig out a new river bed to get it to flow here.” he drew in his breath “I can’t see Silas Garvey, or any of the other homesteaders that were here, agreeing to having their water diverted as it has been or selling out to them.”

Adam nodded, he sighed and his fingers beat a tattoo upon his thigh as though he was too deep in thought to reply. “Let’s go and see who’s in charge of all this.”

They had just turned their horses towards the slope that would take them to level ground and the final mile to the camp when there was a boom, followed by a vibration beneath the horse’s feet as the earth moved. From beyond they could see a puff of smoke from a hillside, scree and rock began to tumble down to the surface below.

“They’re blasting.” Joe muttered.

“Hopefully our cattle won’t be disturbed by it, should be far enough from it -” Adam said in a terse manner, he shook his head though as if the situation both irritated and worried him.

Together they rode across that final mile and into the camp. No one stopped to pay them any heed, they had work of their own to do and time was obviously of the essence. They walked their horses through the throng of men there, all of them appearing to know exactly what they should be doing and when, a well organised machine consisting of who knew how many. They could see that the men were mainly Chinese labourers, Irish navvies, and all of them toiling hard to set down the tracks for the railway line that was to one day ferry the multitudes from one place to another in faster time than a horse or stage coach ever could.

They dismounted outside the buildings that were in a huddle to the east of the camp, one of which had a board on which was painted the words “Managers Office”. Joe and Adam removed their hats and pushed open the door to enter the building.

Several men stopped what they were doing to look over at them. A large man dressed in a smart suit indicated to the others that they could leave which they did, one of them knocking, whether deliberately or not, into Joe’s shoulder. The man in the suit stood up and extended his hand, “George Novak, gentleman, what can I do for you? Come for a job, have you? We’re still hiring … $35 a month. Are you Irish? Poles?”

“No,” Adam replied as he shook the man by the hand, somewhat reluctantly, as did Joe, “My names’ Adam Cartwright, this is my brother Joseph. We’re from the Ponderosa.”

“Cartwright. Let me see now…that name sounds familiar.” he frowned and looked at them both, his eyes ranged from the top to the bottom of them, “You the ones built the trestle bridge … won the contract from old man Fuller?”

Joe nodded, “We did, you’ve a good memory, mister.”

“It’s a good bridge. Good sound timber too.” Novak smiled and sat down behind his desk, waved a hand at the chairs for them to sit upon. “I had not long been employed by the Railway at that time, but it made a big impression, not only on me either. Still talked about by my bosses even now.”

Adam frowned, and glanced at his brother who was looking at the map which showed the route of the railway. It was going to be a long job, and he began to wonder how long it would take, how much money would be spent on it. $35 a month was less than they paid their men, and that was for Irish labourers. He wondered how much the Chinese would be paid and wasn’t surprised, later on, to find out they got $27 despite being 80% of the work force, and the most willing to do the dangerous work of blasting areas for the track, work that cost many their lives*

“Well, what can I do for you, seeing as you don’t seem to be needing work here?”

Novak’s eyes roamed from one to the other of them now, restless eyes in a handsome face, a face with a permanent smile.

“The fact is that we are driving our herd across this land, Mr Novak,” Adam said in a very polite tone of voice, while he swung his hat from his hand in a casual manner.

“Across this land?” Novak’s smile seemed to broaden, “Well, I’m sorry, as you can see that won’t be possible.”

Adam nodded “I can see that, but the problem is that we have driven our cattle on this route for some years now. We know where the areas are fenced off, as by law they must be, so that the cattle pass through without causing any damage to anyone’s crops or land. By law you should have notified us that this work is underway, and by law, you should have the area fenced off so that the cattle won’t just take it upon themselves to go for a free for all right through your camp. Without this prior notification any damage our cattle do now, will be your responsibility.”

Novak listened and nodded, his smile never quavered for a moment, but at the end of Adam’s explanation he shrugged and stood up, “The railway company has bought this land, and paid thousands of pounds to have the river diverted in order for our men to work here. There’s no way we will let your cattle rampage through our camp, Mr Cartwright.”

Adam pursed his lips and shrugged as well, Joe cleared his throat “The thing is, Mr Novak, cattle can be plain stubborn things, they see wide open spaces and they’ll just ride on right through anything in their way. Especially with water ahead of them.”

“Hmm, cattle get mighty thirsty.” Adam sighed and nodded.

Novak frowned, his smile lessened but remained fixed to his face, his eyes narrowed however and were rather more flinty “Look, do you realise how much the Government pays for each mile of railroad land, $18,000, gentlemen for every mile. Every railway company working to get a network of track laid needs to lay track as fast as they can, or they lose money. The Government loses money. You are expecting me, us, to stop work and allow your cattle to walk through and over what we are doing?”

“It’s difficult, Mr Novak, but not that difficult. At present we’re camped about ten miles from here. We can afford another day to stay where we are before we have to move on. All we need is a clear road to move them through.”

“Can’t you divert them elsewhere? Look -” Novak turned to the map, and traced with his finger the land already covered by the track and that which was not “You could take your cattle there.” he jabbed at a destination some distance from where they were currently located, “It may add a day to your journey, but it will lead you away from here, that way, no one gets to lose.”

Joe looked over at Adam who was scanning the map carefully, he rose to his feet in order to look at it more closely, “There’s a town here, new, you’ve not marked it on your map.”

“I – er – I hadn’t got round to it.” Novak went rather red around the collar, “I should have done. My apologies.”

He didn’t look like a man who went in for making apologies easily, both Cartwrights acknowledged it with a nod of the head and resumed examining the map.

“You’ve diverted the river from its natural river bed, that’s not always a good thing, water tends to return to its origins.” Joe murmured.

“It’ll do us for now, we just need it for these several miles.” Novak retorted quickly.

Adam frowned, “The town is right in the middle of where you wanted us to go, and Garvey’s ranch is not far from it. We can’t take that route. The only other way is here….” he pointed further east and sighed “It’ll add two days to our journey.”

Joe nodded, he stared at the map so hard he was beginning to see stars, but there was no other recourse, unless they just drove the cattle right through the railway camp. He wondered if that were possible but thought of the damage done to the tracks, to the men working there. Hundreds of cattle moving fast through and over land would cause a significant amount of harm. Adam was tapping his fingers against his thigh again, and looking at the blue line on the map that indicated the new river. “We’ll need that water.”

Novak shrugged “It’s there for the taking, I ain’t going to stop you or your cows from getting it, just don’t come through this camp.”

Adam frowned, “Or what?”

“Or we’ll have to shoot you, your cows, and whoever else happens to be in the area.” Novak replied and the smile was gone, replaced by a thin tightly pursed mouth.

“Well now, we wouldn’t want that, would we?” Adam replied and looked down his nose at the man as though he were nothing more than dirt on his boot.

“No, Mr Cartwright, we wouldn’t. I can’t spare the men, or the time.”

Adam nodded, heaved in a deep breath, “Another thing, you’ll have to stop blasting while we’re around here. Cattle can stampede at the slightest thing, and if the cattle do that, sir, nothing will stop them. They’ll just go and head wherever they want to go. You need to be mindful of that…”

“If we don’t do the blasting, we can’t proceed with laying the track.” Novak shook his head and was about to speak when there was another boom, the shack and everything in it, shook. He looked at the brothers, “We need to get the land clear, if we stop blasting we’ll lose time, and time is money.”

“Mr Novak, you blast while our cattle are on the move, you’ll be losing more than time and money, you could be losing lives.” Joe’s voice rose, as it always did when he was getting exasperated. “It will be just for a few days.”

“A few days, are you crazy? Do you realise how much money we’ll lose.” Novak wiped his brow, and shook his head “Look, gentlemen, I’m trying to be reasonable here. But if I lose the company money, I lose my job.”

The three of them stared at one another, it seemed as though they had reached stalemate.

Chapter 27

Novak sighed and rubbed his chin, while Adam bowed his head, chewed his bottom lip and stared at the papers on the desk, Joe breathed heavily and glared at the map.

“Do you mean you bought Garvey’s land?” Joe suddenly piped up, “All of it?”

“No, not all of it. Silas Garvey wouldn’t sell at all, but after he died his brother accepted an offer. He sold us most of his land but retained enough for what he wanted.” he turned to the map “That strip there.”

Three pairs of eyes examined the strip referred to, and Novak, seizing his chance, took it.

“Look, gentlemen, that land is a strip between us and Garvey…do you reckon it being large enough for your cattle to pass through without coming onto Railway property?”

The Cartwright’s frowned and stared thoughtfully at the land indicated, Adam got closer and with a pencil put a neat x where the town was, and another neat x where Garvey’s ranch was positioned. He looked at Joe, frowned, “What do you think?”

“Well, I didn’t see any of his cattle on the land…”

“He doesn’t have any,” Novak promptly mentioned, the hope in his face that there was going to be a peaceable solution only too obvious. “We bought most of his herd, after all, men need to be fed.”

Joe and Adam nodded, although they were still looking at the map. “It will reduce time by a day.” Joe muttered.

“Yes, but Garvey didn’t indicate any willingness on his part on letting us pass through, did he?” Adam sighed, frowned and then shook his head.

“Look, Adam, Matt Garvey knows that he and his brother let us over their land every year…”

“That land is now Railway property, that strip we’re looking at is practically going pass their front door and front yard!”

Joe thinned his lips and scowled, Novak began to sweat and Adam shrugged “We’ll have to see Garvey again and discuss it with him. Look, Mr Novak, Joe’s right, there has been a legal precedent set, we passed through Garveys land every year since Joe was knee high to a grasshopper.But we do need a guarantee from you that you’ll refrain from blasting until we have the cattle a good days distance from here.”

“I’ve already explained,” Novak said with his smile well and truly gone, “If I stop blasting and don’t get the land cleared for the next mile or so of track it will put me behind schedule.”

“Stampeding cattle would put you further behind, Mr Novak, plus you may need to replace a number of men…” Adam’s voice trailed away and he replaced his hat smoothly over his head, “Thank you for your time, Mr Novak. We’ll be moving our cattle tomorrow morning, once you see the dust cloud you get your men to stop blasting otherwise that dust cloud will be moving right over you”

Novak passed a nervous hand over his mouth, nodded and followed them from the building. For a moment they stood together on the frontage and then parted, shaking hands as they did so, after all, there was little point in leaving with bad feelings worse than there was already.

The brothers walked slowly to their horses and led them to where they could get water, while the horses drank their fill, both men filled their canteens while watching everything that was going on. Novak had disappeared back inside the cabin, the door closed.

“D’you think he’ll keep to his end of the bargain?” Joe asked, lowering his hat to shield his eyes

“Oh yes, he hasn’t been in the business long enough to become hard skinned and flinty hearted. He still has some scruples.”

“I hope you’re right, brother.”

Adam said nothing to that but once his canteen was filled, he plugged in the stopper and within minutes both of them were mounted and riding slowly away from the camp.

Some moments passed in silence before Joe said “I’m surprised you didn’t say something.”

“About what?”

“Those men.”

“Which men are you meaning/” Adam frowned and yet kept his eyes straight ahead, if he knew to what Joe was referring he gave no indication of it.

“The labourers, the Chinese ..the working conditions they have to contend with…surely you could see it for yourself.”

“I did.” Adam nodded slowly.

“Then why didn’t you say something?”

Adam’s frown deepened, his brothers voice was becoming strident, high pitched as usual when he was all fired up about something. He drew in a deep breath and shook his head,

“What was I supposed to say, Joe?”

He looked now at his brother, a sidelong glance before turning away from him Joe shook his head “You could have said the men were working in dangerous conditions, they looked malnourished, their clothes …”

“When did you last change your clothes, Joe?”

“Wha-a-t?”

“When did you last change your clothes? How many clean shirts do you have in your saddle bags? How often have you shaved since leaving home?”

“What has that to do with anything?”

Adam sighed, he relaxed his hold on the reins to slow his horse and draw closer to his brother, “Novak didn’t have to agree our terms, the Railway Companies are a law unto themselves and they do have the gun power to shoot the lot of us. I had to negotiate that agreement with him.. How far would we have got had we decided to go on a crusade about the working conditions of his Chinese and Irish labourers?”

“It isn’t a crusade, it was just being .. It was being fair, being … well…being human.”

“Look, Joe, I noticed they have a laundry there, right? That means whatever rags they are wearing are cleaned regularly. We haven’t removed our clothes in two weeks! The dust and grit I’m wearing along with these pants will enable them to stand upright even when I’m not wearing them. They have water and can wash, we have to share a basin between us and shave every other day because we are limited on water … that includes our men too, so, what are you saying? That we treat our men badly?”

Joe was silent for a few moments as he jogged along beside his brother, “They’ve dangerous work, Adam. Blasting, and laying that track…”

“Our men have dangerous work too, and working conditions on a cattle drive are far from ideal. You know that, Joe? You’ve been on enough of them?”

“I guess so, but…”

“No but’s, Joe, I don’t want to listen …”

Joe’s mouth fell open, his eyes narrowed and he swallowed hard “What’s got into you, Adam? You used to always be ready to stand up and fight for the underdog..”

“I said – enough -.” Adam growled and firmed his lips over his teeth, swatted away a fly from his face with one hand and shook his head.

“I still think…”

“Stop thinking about it, Joe. Just stop.”

Joe stopped. He scowled some more and urged his horse to walk on faster, to go into a jog so he didn’t have to ride alongside his granite headed brother who watched him with dark angry eyes. It seemed to Adam that the older Joe got the harder it was to reason with him, or perhaps, he sighed, perhaps he had expected his brother to approach things more logically as he matured instead of going off at a tangent whenever he felt injustice was being meted out to any one.

He knew Joe had a point, but only up to a point. The Chinese faced terrible racial discrimination, most states of America would not allow them to have full citizenship but were expected to pay taxes on the low income they received, and they were treated harshly. But there was another face to the matter, as Adam had tried to explain to his over emotive brother, just at the present moment the Chinese labourers were far better off then they themselves were, when the hours of labour ended they could go to eat, sleep, wash whatever…whereas they themselves still had all those cattle to nursemaid.

Also the majority of Chinese had their Tongs. The Tongs that would take a percentage of their money from them and promise them that it would ensure the safety of their families in China, or a nice girl to spend time with at the weekend. There were always two ways to look at a matter.

By the time he had caught up with his brother Adam found Joe somewhat more rational, there was no talk about the Chinese or the Irish, only about getting their cattle across that narrow strip of land in front of Garvey’s front porch and the fact that Matt Garvey had not admitted to selling out most of his land to the Railway..
…………

Beatrice Weiss was more than pleased to welcome Olivia and Mary Ann to her home, especially when Sofia was with them. Sofia loved to visit the pretty woman who would, when she felt well enough, play the piano for them. But whether she did or not was not important for every time she went there Beatrice would insist that the little girl played some music for her.

While Mary Ann and Olivia would sit drinking tea and listening, Beatrice would sit beside her little pupil and watch the way her fingers would touch the keys, or would explain how to read the sheet music until it was easier to read than a lesson on history. Sofia loved these moments, she nurtured them and dreamed about them. So whenever her mother or Mary Ann suggested going to town and visiting Beatrice, Sofia’s heart would skip a beat with sheer anticipation of pleasure.

Today had been no exception, the piano sounded so mellow and true that the music seemed to flow. Mr Evans had been there too, seated in a big chair with a cup of coffee in his hands and a smile on his face. He had clapped his hands when she had finished playing and told her she was a joy to listen to, and Beatrice had looked down at her and smiled that lovely gentle smile which made Sofia feel so very proud.

Adam and Joe had been away three weeks now, and they had moved comfortably through a warm springtime.. It was a lovely season, even though it was overly warm they had enjoyed showers of gentle rain. Flowers were blooming among the wild grasses as well as in the homes of the towns folks gardens. But sitting in that shaded room at the piano was all that mattered, Sofia was totally enamoured by music.

Mary Ann admitted to Olivia that she had been the same at Sofia’s age. “I suppose every little girl has to have an obsession about something.”

She smiled down at her niece as they walked to the ice cream parlour. A treat for the day, and Olivia was happy to go along with it since Reuben was out fishing with Hoss, again, and Ben had taken Nathaniel under his wing, which meant that he would take the little boy to play with his other grand son, Daniel.

They had received cables from their husbands and felt grateful for them, and just that morning when they had arrived in town, Eddy had given them a letter each, from Joe and Adam. As Sofia enjoyed her ice cream both women opened their letters to devour the contents and smiled at one another, nodded and sighed. All was well.

Both Adam and Joe wrote in a different style about the same thing, but both had confirmed that the cattle were moving on well. They had passed the Railway and had not interfered with progress in any way although Garvey’s porch had nearly been shattered. Another ten days and they would be at Billings.
……………..

Timothy Schofield had gone, he had left a legacy of brilliance at surgery but utter contempt for his patients otherwise. His rudeness would be remembered long after his skills at the operating table were forgotten. A sad epitaph but sadder still in that there were not that many to mourn his leaving them. Not that Timothy cared that no one but Paul and Bridie were there to wave him off on his journey to Ohio.

“A pity.” Paul sighed under his breath.

“Yes,” Bridie agreed with a nod of her head. They both knew as to whom they were referring.

“He was such a good surgeon.” Paul slipped Bridie’s arm through his, and shook his head “It will be hard to find another as good.”

“Or as rude.” Bridie muttered and with a twinkle in her Irish eyes.

Paul refrained from comment.

 

 

 

Chapter 28

The house was settling for the night. Ben slept in his room and dreamed of ships sailing upon a sea of cattle horns, while Hoss and Hester lay side by side in the big bed, with the window open to let in soft warm breezes that caused the net curtains to drift over the carpet. Two little girls slept in their beds and a golden haired baby was sound asleep in his crib.

Mary Ann and Jenny Ford had retired to their rooms earlier than usual that night. Jenny to sleep and Mary Ann to write in her journal the events of the day. She wrote about Beatrice and how happy Sofia was playing that big piano. She ended with a question…what had happened so long ago when her father had stopped Beatrice from teaching her music? It was something she had never seriously thought about being so young at the time, but now… now it was beginning to nibble at the back of her mind and raise questions.

In the house that Olivia called home, she awoke at the sound of footsteps pattering past her room. Peering around the door she watched as Sofia pushed open the door of her brother’s room, with Clarabelle clutched closely in her arms, a poor raggedly remnant of her former glory.

Olivia shook her head, this would not do, children needed their sleep and it was now early morning. She walked quickly to her son’s room and pushed open the door, then paused at the sound of whispered voices from within.

“I can’t sleep.” Sofia whispered, a hiss of words right up close in Reuben’s ear so that he winced and shrugged her away. “He’s not on that boat again, is he?” she whimpered, and Reuben sighed and sat up, punched a pillow and rubbed his eyes.

He would never admit it to his baby sister, but he had been getting all hot and bothered by Adam’s absence too. It had been weeks now, and although Ma reassured her that their father was safe and well the big boys at school had enjoyed talking, very loudly, about all the things that had gone wrong on cattle drives. They had experienced their brothers, or their fathers going away for weeks at a time and coming back with broken limbs and sometimes, according to them, not coming home at all. And he had listened, wide eyed, panic stricken, and forgotten the number of times his Uncles had gone away and come back quite safe and sound. But now, here was Sofia, and she was scared too. He shook his head at her question and tried to be brave,

“No, dopey, he’s on a cattle trail. Don’t you remember anything he told us? He and Uncle Joe will be away with all those cows for ages and ages yet.”

“How long is ages and ages?” she whispered as she nestled in closer beside him.

“Oh, probably a few more week or so.”

“That’s seven and seven equals fourteen days.”

“Yeah, that’s right.” he frowned “Well, maybe a bit more than that, perhaps …I think it will be a long time yet.”

She sighed and put her thumb in her mouth. It was a comfort to know he wasn’t going to be on that boat. For a while they lay side by side trying to get to sleep, but it was elusive. Shadows came and went across the ceiling, they heard Nathaniel call out for daddy, and Sofia sniffed and felt something heavy in her chest. Reuben gulped down misery and slipped out of bed to go and look out of the window.

It was so dark. He tried to imagine what it was like for his Pa and Uncle Joe and those other men, Uncle Luke and Mr Jessop. A hard ground to sleep on, lots of cows everywhere. He bowed his head and thought about his Pa and knew that more than anything he wished he were back home already.

He heard nothing as he stood staring out into the dark, his eyes fixed upon a bright star that blinked far far away. His feet were bare and cold on the floor and his night shirt seemed to glow just a little from the way the moon shone through the window.   He had his elbows on the cill and  his chin cupped in his hands and his face upturned.

Olivia could see the contours of his face clearly in the moonlight. She wondered if he was thinking of his father, perhaps he was praying, perhaps he was just thinking aloud.  She didn’t know for sure which, but couldn’t take her eyes from the sight of her son looking so forlornly up at the moon.

It wasn’t often that she would find Reuben in a quiet moment like this . Normally at this hour he would be asleep, and she would have to rearrange the bedding to make sure that he was warm. But for a while she stood there and just watched him and thought of how proud Robert, her first husband, Reuben’s father would be of him. His dark, overlong hair and his profile was that of a handsome boy.  Large eyes, tip tilted nose, well defined mouth and a resolute chin.  People in town who didn’t know that he was not Adam’s natural son would often say how much the boy resembled him, but now, looking at him like this, Olivia could see how much the boy was growing up like his own father. He would become, one day, a handsome man.

“Pa …” he closed his eyes and sighed, his head drooped.  He sighed again, turned away from the window just slightly to look across the room where Sofia was sitting holding onto Clarabelle and looking, owl like, at her brother..

Olivia would have stepped in then, bustled them into their beds and scolded them for not being asleep. But it was a scene she felt she needed to share, even though as an onlooker, for the mood was resembling her own so much that she felt she could not tear herself away nor interrupt, not just yet. She looked back at the boy, her son, and hoped that he had not seen her lurking in the shadows, and as a consequence been frightened. She waited there, holding her breath, and heard Sofia call out to her brother “What you doing there?”

“It’s alright, Sofee. I was just looking outa the window.”

“Did you see Pa?”

“No – not a sight of him, he won‘t be there, he‘s a long way away now..”

Sofia hugged Clarabelle closer, her large blue eyes looked as though she had been weeping, if she had been, then it must have been soundless for Olivia had not heard a sound from her.

“Reuben, will Pa be alright?”

“Sure he will, I told you already, he’ll be coming home soon, you’ll see.”

His feet made little padding sounds as he returned to the bed, and put his arm around his sister’s shoulders and drew in close to her, pulling a blanket over them both.

“Reuben, Pa will be lonesome tonight, won’t he?”

Olivia felt her heart plunge as she heard the whispering voice, and waited to hear what the her son would say, for he was silent for a little while before speaking …”I’ll say a prayer for him, Sofee.  Then God will keep him safe and bring him home to us.”

“Will you, Boo, will you?”

Reuben nodded “Don’t forget, he’s with Uncle Joe, he isn’t really all alone.”

“But he is, Boo, he is. He hasn’t got us. He said he was always lonesome inside himself if he didn’t have us.”

Olivia turned away, she couldn’t bear to listen to her children talk like this, it was too close to the echoes of feelings and thoughts she felt within herself.
……………

It was Monday, a new day at school. The children hurried to get ready, heavy eyed and listless, and Olivia, recalling the old adage about eavesdroppers wished that she hadn’t been privy to their chatter only a few hours earlier. She felt miserable, but proud too as she knew what she had listened to were echoes of the love she felt for Adam. That it came from her two children touched her heart.

Ezra waited patiently to take the children into school and nodded his head at the ‘Missus’ as he called her when the two little ones were herded out and helped up onto the rig. He knew from experience that this was a Monday morning where there would be little conversation and he would have to make sure neither of them fell asleep and as a result tumbled off the vehicle.

 

Hoss reached town and glanced over the list of hardware he needed. He was muttering under his breath when he saw the woman approaching him, a baby in her arms and a little girl clutching to her skirts. For a moment his heart sunk, like all men suffering from a guilty conscience, he dreaded meeting anything that would remind him of the incident over which he felt so much angst. True, he had felt much better after meeting the Jeffersons, and he had attended the boy’s funeral, even putting a donation into the box towards the cost. But it had been a sorrowful affair, and he had wished he had not gone, for it added to his feelings of guilt when the Jefferson’s had so pointedly ignored him.

Now here she was, a basket over one arm and a baby in the other. He measured the distance between where he stood, by his horse in the road, to the store itself. Would he manage to reach inside before she saw him, or they might collide on the sidewalk or …he heaved in a deep breath and decided to just stand where he was and wait.

She paused though when she saw him, indecision on her face as obvious as though it had been written there in large writing. She looked at her basket, at the baby and then at him. Their eyes met.

There was nothing else he could do but remove his hat and nod a greeting, “Morning, Mrs Jefferson.”

She nodded and walked nearer to him, then stopped again “Mr Cartwright. Hoss, isn’t it?”

“Yes,m.” he nodded, eager to build bridges and hope it would remove the last trace of guilt he felt, although he knew, nothing could do that really.

They stood facing one another for a moment and then she stepped closer to him, so that they could converse in low voices and not be overheard. “Thank you for coming to Grant’s funeral.”

He nodded and wanted to say that it was the least he could have done, but felt tongue tied so said nothing. He licked his lips and frowned, “You and Mr Jefferson alright, M’am? Ain’t nothing you need, is there?”

Her lips thinned into a smile, she shook her head “Caleb provides well for us, Mr Cartwright. I don’t need nothing materially.”

Hoss nodded, and looked at her, perhaps the guilt was still obvious on his face for she looked softly at him and put a hand on his arm “Mr Cartwright, please don’t feel guilty about what happened. Grant brought it upon himself, he brought – well – he brought everything onto himself.”

“If I had known how young he was, M’am, I would have tried reasoning with him, tried to talk him out of shooting at me, but as it was..”

“As it was you did what you had to do, and that was to defend yourself.” her voice was colder, clipped although her eyes were gentle and there was a kindness in her face as though she understood how he was suffering. “Mr Cartwright, believe me, Grant was not going to respect you standing there to talk to him, he’d just have shot you done with no remorse at all. He was a cruel, vindictive boy and grew into an unmanageable young man.”

“He was, well, he was still too young to die like that, M’am/”

She nodded, her eyes still on his face as she stepped back a pace, she looked down at the child and told her, in a quiet voice, to go and get herself some candy. Then she returned to where she had been standing,

“Mr Cartwright, if you hadn’t shot him, Grant would be dead anyway. I think I would have shot him myself, some day, sometime, it would have happened. He was young in years, but in other ways he was far too old. And he was evil, Mr Cartwright.”

“No one’s really evil,, Mrs Jefferson.” he said in a soft voice, and his head bowed as though he didn‘t like hearing the things she was saying.

“They say one shouldn’t speak bad of the dead, don’t they? But they also say ‘Tell the truth and shame the devil’, isn’t that right?” she placed a hand on his arm, and sighed, “Let me just say, Mr Cartwright, once he came home with that gun, I slept with a pistol under my pillow every night …”

Now she drew away from him, nodded and stepped away, “Good day, Mr Cartwright.”

Hoss was too tongue tied to say a word, he mumbled something and nearly dropped his hat, then watched her as she gathered up her little girl and walked confidently down the street.

“Cat got your tongue, Hoss?” the Manager of the Hardware Store said with a chuckle in his voice and Hoss turned to see the man standing just where Mrs Jefferson had been just moments earlier.

“Just coming, Jed. Got a fair sized list here for you, hope you can handle it.” Hoss said, and with a nod, a rather tight smile, he followed Jed back into the dark interior of the store.……
Chapter 29

The river spun across in a broad swathe of rippling currents and for a moment Adam and Joe leaned upon their saddle horns and observed it without speaking. After a while they turned the horses to follow the route of the water in an attempt to locate its safest and most natural ford. Not so far behind them came the chuck wagon with Sam keeping a cautious eye on the two men ahead.

“I’ll try crossing here,” Adam said with a nod over at his brother.

“Do you want to throw me a line?” Joe asked anxiously and after a moment’s hesitation Adam unwound his lariat and fixed the loop to the pommel of his saddle, nodded again at Joe, who returned the nod with one of his own. “Be careful.”

“I will. Just make sure you haul me in if the going gets – er – you know..” and with a grin and a wink Adam slowly edged his horse into the water.

Joe watched as the horse stepped into the river from the slope of the bank Sam had reached Joe’s side by the time the water had reached Adams thigh and it looked as though the horse would have to swim to reach the other bank. The old man clambered down from the wagon and walked over to the ram rod who was carefully playing out the rope so that if the current were to sweep horse or rider away they could haul Adam back in to safety.

“Don’t look too bad, Joe.” Sam muttered, peering over his spectacles at the rider who was now half way across.

“I think so, Sam.” Joe smiled, “About time we found this water, I could do with a bath.”

Sam grinned and nodded “Yeah, you could at that.”

They chuckled between them for even Sam could not rid himself of the smell and the dust totally. They knew that the men would be every bit as grateful as the cattle to reach not only this river at last, but from what could be seen beyond, good lush green grass.

“Seems we’re the first of the cattle drives to cross over,” Joe muttered as he continued to play out the rope to Adam, “That means we have first pickings at the grazing.”

“Well, we were earlier than usual.” Sam said and turned towards his wagon, “Looks like my turn next.”

“Just wait for Adam to get back, Sam. You may need help.”

Sam shrugged, spat on the ground in way of an answer and clambered up onto his seat. He sat there long enough to see Adam on the other bank, the water having reached his waist. The horse was shaking itself as though disgusted at having got wet but Adam raised a hand and beckoned, indicating that it was safe for the wagon to cross.

Joe wasn’t so sure that Sam should go without help so as soon as the wagon had rolled into the water he walked his horse in alongside. From the other bank Adam had also walked his horse back to do the return trip and guide the chuck wagon across. With the brothers acting as outriders to ensure the wagons safety it wasn’t long before they were trundling up the slopes of the bank with water gushing from the wagon as it went.

“I sure hope my dry goods ain’t damaged.” Sam yelled as they rode alongside the wagon and up the slope onto the flat grass where he rode further in order to find a site where he could make camp and start preparing for the evening meal.

“So do we,” Adam replied with a grin, he turned to Joe, “Best go and tell the men to bring the herd along. Tell them to keep them tight together, once they smell the water they could run wild.”

“They’ll just head for the water anyway.” Joe shrugged and carefully began coiling Adams rope which he held out to him.

“Sure, but I don’t want them running off too much fat in the process.” Adam’s smile widened as he took the rope and fastened it back onto his saddle.

“What’ll you do while I’m gone?” Joe said, looking over his shoulder and measuring the miles he would have to travel before he reached the herd and returned.

“Oh,” Adam sighed and looked slightly contrite, “I guess I’ll just strip off and have a bath while I’m waiting.”

Joe chuckled and shook his head “Before the waters get muddied, huh?”

“You got that right, brother.” Adam slapped Joe on the thigh and his dark eyes twinkled up at him, “Sorry you can’t join me.” he teased with a grin, and a wink.

“Yeah, I’m sure you are.” Joe nodded, raised a hand in a wave to Sam and turned his horse to re-enter the river.

Adam watched his brother until he had reached the other bank safely, had waved a hand in salute and ridden off to get the herd moving. After a quick glance up at the sky to check on the time, another quick look over at Joe’s retreating back, Adam began to slowly unbutton his shirt, unbuckle his gun belt,

“Sam, how long before there’s any hot water?”

“What? You want coffee?”

“Soon as you can, and hot water for shaving…”

Sam yelled out ten minutes but by the time the words were out of his mouth Adam had already stripped down to his skin and dived into the water. Getting rid of a layer of dirt and dust took a while, enjoying the sensation of water on clean skin took slightly longer, luxuriating in the fact that this was a moment to savour took another five minutes. Sam was standing on the river bank with a mug of hot coffee when he stepped out, wiping his face free of water with his fingers. As he passed Sam he took the mug and smiled at the old man.

“Sorry I ain’t got a nice fluffy towel for your lordship.” Sam chuckled as he poured himself coffee, “Hot waters over there for your shave.”

Adam nodded, spent a few moments just standing drinking the coffee while the hot sun dried and warmed his body, then he pulled clean clothing from his saddle bags, got dressed, tossed his soiled clothing into a calm reedy area of the river and only then went to the bowl of warm water to begin shaving.

Trail Boss’ privileges he told himself with a grin, pity the ram rod missed out.

 

The dust cloud heralded the herd as the beasts headed for the river, the sound of their lowing and deep throated calling to one another drifted over from one bank to the other. Within minutes the clear rushing rippling waters were churned up and muddied as hundred of animals pushed their way through, the cowboys riding alongside with lariats at the ready to catch any cow that got a mind to stand still for a moment and thereby cause a dam to the flood of ‘meat’ pushing their way across. Once they were all over they were then allowed to graze, to return to the banks of the river to drink, wade and wallow and then returned to grazing again.

Joe approached his brother with a mug of coffee in his hand and a grin on his face “Well, now, don’t you look all gussied up. Going any place?”

Adam laughed and shook his head. He had rinsed his old clothing in the river and they now were spread out on the boulders drying off. “Its good to feel clean at last, even if it is only for a short while.”

“Yeah, I bet it is.” Joe chuckled, and stretched “I’m going in soon as the waters have cleared a bit.”

“Better go upstream then, the cattle are never fussy where they dump, little brother.”

“Yeah, and thanks for reminding me of that fact.”

“Wouldn’t want you coming out of there smelling worse than when you went in.” Adam winked and strolled over to the chuck wagon to watch as the men began to settle the cattle down for the evening, constantly riding their horses too and fro, eyes watchful.

Luke dismounted and nodded over to his brother-in-law “Good place to camp. Looks like we must be the first of the drovers coming through.”

“Seems so, means we get the best grazing.” Adam replied and nodded over to the men who were walking their horses to where Leroy was waiting.

“Well, if you’ll excuse us…” Luke grinned and looked around for Joe, saw the younger man strolling along the river bank and hurried to catch him up in order to find a safe place for their own ablutions.

Adam looked up at the sky and smiled, leaned against the side of the wagon and nodded, it was going to be a good evening.
…………..

They had made good time, the cattle had followed Big Red and he himself had been happy to meander along trailing the vast herd behind him. Adam and Joe felt more than happy with what had been, so far, a reasonably effortless cattle drive.

“No stampedes, rustlers, outlaws or Indians.” Derwent mused as he leaned against the shafts of the wagon nursing a mug of coffee between his hands.

“Almost too easy.” Luke drawled and turned his head casually in the direction of the Cartwright brothers who were leading their horses from the remuda and were preparing to saddle up. “I’ll get the men organised, Adam.”

Adam nodded, “We’ll ride on ahead, if I recall rightly the town of New Gorge isn’t far from here. There’s several good saloons there, and a telegraph office…”

“And no need to rush, gentlemen” Joe grinned as the men had looked at one another with that hopeful look that comes on a man when having been deprived for so long of a smoky alcohol sodden place to rest weary limbs. Suddenly nothing seemed better than a saloon, no, better still, a choice of saloons. “There’s good grazing from here onwards, this will be our last stop before Billings.”

There were chuckles among the men, some back slapping and winks of the eye as they began to break camp. By the time they were finishing their breakfasts Adam and Joe were riding on towards New Gorge.

It had been, as Luke and Derwent had said, a reasonably decent cattle drive, even the irritation over the railway had been resolved without a problem although Matt Garvey may have questions to ask when they made the return journey about why they chose to drive their cattle through his front yard. They hoped that the fact he had sold off most of the surrounding land to the town and to the railway had left that the only place to go would placate him.

They paused within an hour of their ride however, and Adam brought out his telescope from his saddlebags to scan the horizon, after a moment he passed it to Joe with a smile.

“Well, it’s still there. I can remember there being a very decent place where we can have a bath.”

“A hot bath, with soap…” Joe closed his eyes and sighed “mmm,,mmm”

“The hotel had a good restaurant.”

“Makes a welcome change from Sam’s cooking.”

“Pa always liked this town, remember how he insisted on staying overnight in the hotel? He used to say it had the softest bed of any hotel he had ever been in…”

“Yeah, after several weeks sleeping in a bed roll on rocks, anything is softer and better.”

Joe chuckled and remained in the saddle scanning the horizon, “You know, there’s something odd …”

“Odd? How do you mean – odd?” Adam queried and realised that Joe wasn’t smiling any more, a frown was creasing his brow and he shook his head as he returned the telescope to his brother.

Adam immediately put it to his eye and scanned the outline of the town yet some miles distant. After a moment he put the telescope down and shook his head “Let’s go and have a closer look.”

Chapter 30

Standing in the middle of the deserted street, Adam Cartwright felt a shudder trickle down his spine. He had ridden through other towns like this, towns that had shot up at some time past and died just as quickly. He had always wondered what had happened, and about the people who had once lived in those towns. Where had they gone, and why? What had their lives been like and what had brought them together in the first place?

As he stood there, a rifle in one hand and his other hand resting on the butt of his gun, he had an uneasy feeling that the dead town was more alive than any other town he had ever been in before. The buildings seemed to be standing closer together, watching, waiting, whispering. It felt as though they were turning towards him, their shuttered up windows and doors like blank dead eyes willing him to look into their innermost souls for all to be revealed.

Seated on his horse beside him Joseph Cartwright looked from left to right, the reins loose within his fingers, his stomach feeling hollow and his mind registering dismay, disappointment and a touch of horror. Like his brother he had ridden through other towns like this, and every time had felt the hair raising, skin crawling feeling overwhelm him.

“I don’t understand, Adam. Last time we came through it was still as it always had been, and Hoss and I had a steak dinner at the Palace Restaurant.”

They both turned their eyes in the direction of the building to which Joe referred, but it stood forlorn and empty. Even it’s sign had fallen down and lay shattered on the planks of the sidewalk.

Nothing moved. There was no breeze to send the tumbleweed drifting here and there, or to make loose shutters swing back and forth, or doors to thud open and shut. Dust had settled over just that single year; the wood of buildings, sidewalks and railings were long bleached by the suns heat and the cold wind of winter. The writing on signs and windows were faded, some with words already obliterated by the weather.

They walked their horses down through the main street, paused occasionally to look at a particular building, the hardware store for example with the shutters still intact and the door securely padlocked. Perhaps the owners had intended to return one day to find their stock still intact on the shelves. .

“Well, something has happened here“ Adam muttered “And whatever it has been, it was nothing good”

Numerous questions arose in their minds. Joe felt a lump in his throat as he recalled how only the previous year the sidewalks had had people on them, children skipping about, cowboys had ridden by on their horses. What dreams and hopes had been born and nurtured here only to flounder and die?

Adam chewed on the inside of his cheek for a moment, contemplating what he could see and realising once again that man, his hopes and dreams, were not infinite.

Houses that had been homes, havens of love and domesticity, stood side by side empty and forlorn with blistered paint, shuttered windows, and locked doors. it was like so many eye sockets and closed mouths watching as they rode slowly past them. Gardens long neglected, but showing the colour of spring flowers in those which had once been well tended and cared for by their owners. Things that were so sweet had struggled to survive, had fought the tangled growth of weeds and foliage to reach to the sun.

“This is miserable,” Adam muttered softly, as though talking aloud would shatter the silence and be an intrusion to the quietude.

“You know, I find this strange,” Joe said as he turned to look at his brother, “A few weeks ago we ride into a town that is so new and promising so much and … and now this …”

Adam nodded, “Last time I came through here there was a bakers shop – I can remember the smell of it. I even mentioned it to Hoss, he was riding ram rod that year. ” he paused again, pursed his lips “I remember Hoss saying the smell of bread sure makes a man feel hungry.”

“Something really strange happened here.” Joe said and stopped his horse outside the saloon, one of the several he had mentioned to Luke and Derwent, that had raised the cowboys hopes of an evenings drinking and pleasure. “In just a year, Adam, and everyone, just gone.”

“Well, it’s been some time since I’ve been hereabouts, but as you say, this happening within a year, it must have been something -” he paused and looked at Joe just as his brother slid from the saddle, “Joe, do you reckon it’s because of the railway?”

Joe frowned, removed his hat and twisted it round and round between his fingers as he stared at the gold lettering still clearly seen on the saloon windows announcing “Bowman’s Saloon”.

Adam pushed against the door only to find that it was locked, a stout padlock and chain indicated that although the owner had left the place, he didn’t want anyone pilfering his stock if there was any still inside. Joe practically tip toed up behind his brother and then stood looking up and down the street.

“I came here last year with Luke, and Hoss. Sam was getting food stuffs -” he turned to look across to the store and frowned, then looked again at Adam, he nodded “They didn’t say anything about the railway but I guess if they knew or rather, as soon as they found out about it, they may well have decided to abandon this town.”

“And build another one closer to where the railway would be going?” Adam raised his eyebrows, and scratched the back of his neck, “Well, that makes sense.”

“It also means that just perhaps the people who lived here, just loaded their wagons and moved towns.”

Adam glanced up at the sky and then at his brother, “Do you remember where the Telegraph Office used to be?”

“Used to be?” Joe grinned, “Can’t see it getting up and moving itself, brother.”

They shared a smile, then turned to walk along to where Joe could remember where the Telegraph Office was located. “There it is,” he gestured towards the building with all the theatrics of a stage hall magician.

“Let’s see if it’s still in working order.” Adam suggested and led the way to the building, which they found also padlocked.

It took Joe no time to shoot the padlock off, and together they pushed open the door, swollen now with disuse. The equipment had gone, in its place only dust, mouse droppings and faded yellow paper. A few letters were still in their relative pigeon holes and had gathered dust.

“Doesn’t take long for a town to die, does it?” Adam said with a hollow ring to his voice.

“Let’s get out of here, Adam. It’s – it’s like – dead.”

Opposite them was another saloon, a restaurant and a Gent’s Outfitters. The only difference to this saloon was that the door was wide open, the padlock and chain broken on the sidewalk. Perhaps another traveller had ridden through and chosen The Holy Moses * in order to quench his thirst.

They stepped inside, one half of the batwings had been torn off, no doubt due to the winter storms. The brothers looked about them and then at one another,

“Well, at least the boys won’t go thirsty,” Joe muttered, and gave a wry grin, “And it’ll be a cheap round for all concerned.”

He watched as Adam walked to the centre of the room, paused, and looked around him. Then he went to the large counter and slowly passed his hand along the wooden surface.

The dust of months dropped from his fingers, along with some cobwebs and, no doubt some mouse droppings. Joe didn’t move from the spot just allowed his eyes to look over the debris of someone’s life, one of the centres of relaxation and entertainment for the local people and those riding through. Adam took a dust covered bottle from a shelf behind the counter. The bottle was opened, and some of the contents bubbled out in a froth spilling over his fingers.

“Champagne…” Adam sighed and raised his eyebrows, glanced over his shoulder at Joe , “Should never be enjoyed alone…here’s to those who sat here before us, wherever you may happen to be.”

Joe nodded, stepped further into the saloon now and found the glasses which he polished on a rag, Adam poured in the wine, they watched the bubbles fizz and sparkle, looked at one another before they drank enough to cut the dust, and some of the misery.

“It doesn’t take long, does it?” Joe said, leaning upon the dusty counter and leaving imprints of his elbows there as a result.

“No,” Adam replied,appreciating what Joe meant without having to ask for any explanation.

“I hope the people here, some of them at least, have moved to the new town, that their dreams and hopes come to fruition.”

They drank some more of the champagne, Adam nodded in approval “Good vintage.”

“Yeah, odd to find it here though.”

“The man obviously had taste.” Adam grinned wryly

“Wonder if his real name was Moses?”

They shared a smile and emptied their glasses. They didn’t refill them but preferred to walk back into the sunlight.
…………..

Luke and Derwent rode into the town flanking the chuck wagon. Leroy and several others followed on behind leaving a few men to oversee the cattle. Adam and Joe stood on the sidewalk outside the Palace Hotel and watched them as they made their way down the main street, their faces registering the same range of emotions they had felt themselves only hours earlier. Leroy, being young and inexperienced of such things, looked overwhelmed.

“Any food in the Mercantile?” Sam yelled from his perch on the wagon seat.

Joe approached and placed a hand upon the horse’s harness and nodded “Further down there’s a store that wasn’t padlocked, looks like some others have been there before us, but best go there than break into this one. There’s plenty there, but the dry goods has been got at by rats and mice. Tinned goods … “ Joe thumbed in the direction of the store further along the road with the faded name “Taylor’s Mercantile” on the board.

“Yeah,” Sam nodded “Been here often enough to recognise the place, young Joseph. Seems like I can take my pick, huh?”

“Whatever you like, Sam.” Joe grinned.

“Hey, reckon I could cook in the kitchen of the hotel, huh? Always wanted to be chef at some high falutin’ place like that.” Sam clambered down and rubbed his hands together, his face split by a wide grin as he looked around at the buildings.

“Looks like you got your wish,” Joe smiled and slapped the old man on the shoulder, then he looked over at Luke and Derwent, Leroy and the other men. “Well, looks like this is it, boys. We’re thinking it could be that they just moved on over to the new town…”

“Buffalo Flats?” Derwent said, pushing his hat to the back of his head.

“Yeah, Buffalo Flats.”

Luke nodded “I remember last year the bar man at the other saloon saying there was a rumour of a railway coming through but that it wasn’t coming anywhere near here. I did ask how it would affect them, but he just shrugged,said he didn’t know. Seems like they chose to just get up and go.”

Leroy looked over his shoulder as he dismounted “I don’t rightly like it here.”

“There ain’t no ghosts,” Derwent said with a smile and nodded over at the youth “They just up and left here, that’s all.”

“Fancy that, and leaving all their things behind too….” Leroy shook his head in disbelief, “I done read about towns like this, never thought to come across one though.”

Luke caught Adam’s attention and asked about the chances of sending telegrams but Adam shook his head. “They took all the equipment with them when they left,”

Luke nodded, muttered that that made sense seeing how it was Government property and sighed. His concerns for Marcy had increased as the weeks had passed, but he said nothing more just tied the reins of his horse to the hitching rail and stood, feeling awkward, in front of the hotel.

*Creede, Colarado had a saloon of that name.

 

Chapter 31

While Sam made his way into the hotel and towards the kitchen, the men trailed in behind him. Some had encountered such towns before but there were others who were quite over awed by the sight of this abandoned property. Their eyes swivelled from left to right, to the ceiling and back again. A festoon of cob webs was woven from light fitting to light fitting, a mouse scurried away to disappear into the wainscotting, a cat hissed from the doorway and narrowed it’s amber eyes before hastening away.

“You ain’t gonna get me sleeping hereabouts, ” Leroy whispered and his voice seemed to bounce from wall to wall
.
The brothers had not followed their men into the hotel, instead Adam touched Joe on the arm and jerked his head towards a building that bore the legend “Sheriff’s Office.”
“Let’s go see what we can find there, could be some explanation about what happened here.”

Joe could see the sense in that and quickly turned to follow his brother across the main street. Neither of them was surprised to find Luke catching up with them, a slight smile on his face.

“Don’t mind my coming along do you?” He adjusted his hat to a jauntier angle, and grinned as though taking it for granted that his presence was more than welcome.

Adam explained their destination and the reason why “It would be good to know what caused this exodus,” he said, “After all, it could have been some disease that wiped them out, wouldn’t want to be taking anything like that back with us!”

Luke nodded agreement but kept silent as they stopped at what had been the sheriffs office and jailhouse .Here the door had come off its hinges and the windows had been broken.   Adam pushed back his hat with his thumb and surveyed the building thoughtfully. While Joe and Luke stepped inside to check on the papers that had been left upon the desk.

Yellowing posters still clung feebly to the walls, although pale patches of wood made it apparent that some had long been blown away.  Holes in the wooden walls … Adam touched them with his fingers and pursed his lips.  Bullet holes. The chair in which he imagined the sheriff had once sat was now resident in one of the cells.   He absent mindedly reached out and set it aright, and found the sheriff’s badge on the floor beneath it.

Well, bad weather could have caused some damage, but no accounting for the bullet holes though.  He stepped back to join Joe and Luke at  the desk, they shook their heads,  there would be no answers found there.

Once again they stood  in the middle of the deserted street and Joe felt a shudder trickle down his spine.  “Adam, if it’s all the same to you, I ‘d like to visit the house of a couple I’d got to know over the years.…   kind of, well, you know.?”

Adam nodded, somehow it made sense, a kind of closure, making sure that those one actually knew had gone, but had been happy to go. That there was nothing mysterious, or murderous in their departure.

Joe led them to a house with a tangled, overgrown garden and stood at the gate that at his touch collapsed at his feet. With a sigh he shook his head, and gazed once again around him, at the house, the garden and the neighbouring buildings. Everywhere was ruination.

“If this is what a year brings about, imagine what it will be like in ten years!” Luke said with a sigh in his voice, he had removed his hat as though subconsciously showing respect for the dead, although there was no proof that anyone had died. Yet the town had the air of a grave yard, Adam and Joe were feeling the same melancholy touch them.

Adam chewed on the inside of his cheek for a moment, contemplating what he could see and realising once again that man, his hopes and dreams, were not infinite. Luke was rubbing his jaw, his brow furrowed   as he surveyed the house.  He didn’t want to say out loud that he felt rather like a voyeur being there,  peeking into the home and lives of the people who  had once lived there.

“Seems  they’ve gone too,” he muttered

“Yeah, seems so.” Joe licked lips, “They  were a good family, hardworking ..decent.”

“I guess  most in town here were, Joe.” Luke agreed, passed a hand round the back if his neck and looked at Adam “I’ve an idea, mind if I leave you here and see you later?”

Adam had no reason to object, he nodded and joined his brother in the garden while Luke strode off alone, replacing his hat as he did so as though having his own project, something to do, banished the ghosts.
.
Joe stood now at the door of the house with its blistered, swollen and broken wood.  He turned to survey the frontage of the building from the doorstep and in the garden he saw in the corner of the tangled mass a burst of colour. It was unexpected and both men gazed at it with a feeling of wonder, at the stubborn refusal of the delicate flowers to be choked out of existence among the tangled growth of weeds and foliage.

It was Joe who pushed open the door. Melancholy  settled upon his shoulders even more so as he gazed about him. This house had been a haven of love once. He   knew that from having.  sat in this room, drinking coffee, laughing, talking, swopping yarns.

“What were they called, Joe? ” Adam asked seeing the quite tragic expression on  his young brothers face, and understanding him so well, knowing he was feeling miserable at the sight of this room.

“Sam and Lucy, they had children, Henry and Anna”

Together they headed towards the stairs, and saw  something that touched their. hearts yet again. Something that was like a finger prodding deep into their. innermost emotions.   But it was Adam who walked up the faded carpeted stairs, the colours of the pattern now impossible to discern, and upon the step below the half landing he stooped and reached out for what had lain there for – oh, how long?

The little doll was dust covered and grey. But when he turned its face upwards he saw the colours still fresh, the creamy skin, the  rose bud mouth  and blue eyes with the black painted sweep of its brows and lashes.

He carefully replaced it upon the step “I guess  they dropped it on the way out.” he said quietly

Joe nodded.  More than anything now he wanted to get away from that house, escape the by gone  memories.  He wanted to get back to the men, to hear voices, to laugh and chatter; to eat Sam’s food and drink whatever the Hotel management had squirreled away.

“Its not as if they were dead, Joe” Adam said kindly and placed a hand upon Joes shoulder

“How do we know. it’s just as  though everything else is!”

Adam said nothing but tightened his lips and turned to the door, “Come on, time to go.”

Joe closed the door, and this time neither of them glanced at the brave little flowers reaching for the sun. Nor could they put into words the feelings they were experiencing. They had both ridden through abandoned towns before, hadn’t they?

Luke met. them at the gateway just as they stepped over the crumpled gate.  He smiled and handed over  a yellowing news sheet, the closest  a town such as this could boast  to a local newspaper

“YOU were   right, Adam.   The coming of the railway was headline news ..”

Joe snatched the paper from Luke’s hands and scanned the article before handing it to Adam. It certainly had been headline news, the railway was coming, the river was being diverted, a new town with the promise of a wonderful future was promised to any who chose to take up the challenge. It was just that it was not going to be anywhere near there.
…………………..

Bridie Martin was more than pleased to see her husband home at last. She had spent the evening fretting and wondering what was taking him so long when he had promised to be back so much sooner. With a smile on her face she went to greet him, kissed his cheek and smiled when he kissed hers, then she helped him out of his jacket. It was far too warm for his coat, but the faithful black jacket was light and serviceable without being too heavy.

“Sorry I’m later than expected, Bridie, things went a little awry today.” he smiled and put down his medical bad, placed his old hat on the stand.

“Well, as the poet says, “The best laid schemes of mice an’ men, gang aft agley.” his wife quoted as she led him into the parlour and saw him settled into his chair by the hearth, the low evening sun light whispered across the room and softened the outlines of the couple as she drew up a chair to sit beside him.

They reached out their hands and their fingers curled around each others and Paul sighed. How pleasant it was to come home to this at the end of the day. They settled into silence and only the ticking of the clock could be heard until Bridie said softly, “Paul, dear, I have to talk to you about something…I mean ..someone.”

He didn’t speak in answer just nodded and waited, and when she was silent for a while longer he turned “Who is it, Bridie? Has something happened to Marcy/”

“Oh no, no…Marcy is very well, blooming like the proverbial rose.” Bridie smiled and her face softened before settling back into more serious lines “No, I’m very concerned about Mrs Colby.”

“Hummmph,” Paul sighed and his chin sunk upon his chest and he nodded “And I’ve been worried about young James for some time too. Just once in a while he has come to work and I’ve smelled alcohol on his breath. I asked him about it once and he gave me some excuse and an apology. Promised it wouldn’t happen again, but it has …” he frowned, “He’s an excellent doctor, you know? Gentle with the patients, tough when he needs to be, a pleasure to be with and I have every confidence in his abilities, well, I did have.” He paused again and shook his head, “I do have.” he corrected himself and looked at her, “A doctor can’t be too careful, one mistake, a life lost, could ruin his career, damage our practice.”

“I don’t think you would lose anyone from your practice, Paul, you’re too well loved.”

“I’m old.” he smiled and squeezed her fingers gently within his own, “Now, tell me, what worries you about Mrs Colby?”

“She’s always been a rather prickly creature, hasn’t she? A little self righteous perhaps, and she makes the women at the hospice feel uncomfortable, as though they lack something, don’t measure up …do you know what I mean/”

Paul nodded, “Yes, I have noticed it and when she is with James it is as though she cannot bear to be near him. She makes it very obvious that their marriage is not a happy one.”

“Oh dear,” Bridie shook her head, “I had not noticed that, I so seldom see them together.”

“I asked him what was ailing him, if he was happy being here and he said he was, he preferred it to Calico but that it is possible they may have to move on as Alicia was not settled.”

Bridie nodded and for a moment thought about that with a seriousness on her face that wasn’t often seen for she was usually always with a smile and twinkling reassuringly kind eyes “Paul, perhaps that is the cause of their unhappiness. Perhaps he came here when she wanted to be elsewhere. Perhaps..”

“No, dear, it’s no good assuming and clutching at straws. I have a feeling that there is something more serious going on in that young couples lives, and – well – it is not for us to interfere. They will have to do what most couples do, and work it out for themselves.”

“Isn’t there anything we can do to help them though, Paul? I so dislike seeing her as she is now, so – so wrapped up in her misery that she can’t seem to see any good in anyone or anything.”

Paul shook his head “Kindness isn’t always appreciated, my dear, but perhaps if you keep on being yourself,” he smiled then and squeezed her fingers once more “perhaps you will thaw her out and the healing will begin.”

“And what about James?”

“Well, if he comes in smelling of alcohol again, I shall have to have a serious word with him. Threaten him with suspension until he has sorted out whatever the problem is .. But I hope it doesn’t have to come to that, we need him here.”
……………

The saloon was beginning to fill up as the evening deepened. The bar keep nodded over to Daniel deQuille and poured him out a glass of lemonade. The newspaperman had faced up to his alcoholism, the beating he had endured few weeks earlier followed by the long hospital stay had shaken him. He had been suspended from his job once before and had known he risked losing it again. He was now concentrating on turning over the proverbial new leaf, again. His first step had been to request his regular haunts to prepare anything without alcohol so that he had something in a glass to hold onto. Several, including Paul Martin and Roy Coffee, did mention that he was putting himself at risk of temptation by going to the saloons anyway, why not just take himself off to a restaurant or coffee house? But, as he explained, it was in the saloons that the real news was to be found, the gossip and the facts that would or could be printed in the next days Enterprise.

He took his glass over to a table in the corner, one he preferred as it gave him a good view of everyone who entered the saloon and the opportunity of catching their eye should he feel them newsworthy enough. He had just sat down when James Colby came in and ordered a whiskey, looked around him and seeing Daniel made an attempt to avoid eye contact.

“Dr Colby!” Daniel called over to him in a voice that could only be referred to as stentorian “Come and join me, sir.”

James faltered, drank the glass dry and nodded to the barkeep for another one. Daniel, from his vantage point, watched, frowned and sighed. When James came and sat down opposite him Daniel looked at the glass very pointedly, before looking deliberately into the doctor’s eyes and raised his eyebrows

“Well, doctor, and how are you settling in, I see you have a preference for Bourbon, once a favourite of my own I have to say.”

James, with the glass halfway to his mouth, paused, looked at the glass which Daniel was bringing to his mouth, and hesitated. “I had a busy day!”

“Oh yes, busy days, I know all about them. Nothing like having to catch a deadline you know. Whiskey chasers and beer, always there to provide the necessary motivation when you need it.” Daniel’s lips twisted into a cold grimace and he nodded “Well, I recognise a man who likes his drink, having trodden down that particular road myself many a time.”

James Colby blanched slightly, and lowered the glass “I don’t really like your insinuation, Mr deQuille.”

“I wasn’t insinuating anything, Dr Colby. I was merely stating the facts. What set me on the road to alcohol, well, that’s a long and sorry story, and I don’t even have a wife here to blame it on. Perhaps that was the reason, yes, perhaps because I didn’t have a wife here, but the truth is, Dr Colby, it won’t be long before your glass of whiskey will become a bottle here and a bottle to take home with you. Isn’t that so?”

James said nothing, he thought of Alicia, for a moment he saw her hard cold eyes looking at him with loathing. At one time it was with reproach, confusion and dismay, but not now, his drinking was becoming too regular, and several times he had been drunk enough to have passed out only to come to his senses with her voice shrieking her disgust at him.

He frowned and looked down at the whiskey. He longed to drink it but when he glanced up he met deQuille’s eyes, the mocking look within them, the slight sneer on his lips. He looked at the lemonade in the journalist’s glass and again at the bourbon in his own which he picked up and drank in one gulp.

Daniel swallowed down some lemonade and tried not to think how smoothly the whiskey would have slid down his throat, the pleasure of the alcohol as it slowly influenced the mood, softened the light around him …he cleared his throat “Dr Colby, if I were you, I’d be very careful about just how much alcohol you take, after all, you wouldn’t want another incident to take place here that happened back east, would you?”

James Colby’s face drained of colour, his eyes widened and for a moment Daniel thought the man was going to have a apoplectic fit.

The two men sat at the table and for a moment neither of them moved While James fought to get his breathing under control, Daniel struggled to find the right words to explain how he knew and what he knew without the Doctor assuming the very worst. But what was the very worst? Daniel thought that perhaps the other man’s misdemeanours could become tomorrows headlines?

“How – no – I mean – what do you mean?” James stammered, he put a hand to his face, then pulled out a handkerchief to wipe his brow, “What do you mean?”

“I overheard your conversation some weeks ago, with Adam Cartwright. I swore I’d not tell a soul, but, Dr Colby, you needed a shock, you’re heading for trouble if you think you can continue to drink the way you are…”

Daniel leaned forward and gripped the man by the wrist, despite James’ attempts to pull away the journalist kept a tight hold “Look, man, I’ve been down that road, I lost my standing and I lost my job. I know what it is like to crave for a drink, I know what it is like to work and only be thinking of when I could get over to the saloon for the next one. But YOU are a doctor, YOU have the lives of people in your hands …don’t you see how little you can afford to risk your future? Don’t let whiskey be your master, Colby, you must learn to be the master of it.”

Colby said nothing, he sat like stone and stared at the other man before he stood up and pushed himself away from the table and with his back ramrod straight, he walked out of the saloon.

James Colby heard the man following him and quickened his steps, but when he realised that Daniel was going to keep right behind him, he stopped. It would indeed look too ridiculous if the two of them were to be seen running down the street in pursuit of one another. He stopped and turned round to face his antagonist,

“How much do you know?”

Daniel shook his head “Very little. I overheard what you told Cartwright, but I promised him that I would not take it any further. I could have found out everything I needed to know about you, it wouldn’t have been difficult, I have contacts …”

“Then why didn’t you? A man like you in your career, hardly honours a promise.”

“Hmm, in most cases you are right there. But I suffered as a result of interfering in Cartwright’s business once before, and I think among other things I have come to realise how precious a promise is, especially when it affects the future of a man such as yourself.”

“A man like me? A drunken mistake of a man?”

“I don’t think so, no one thinks that of you, Dr Colby. I’ve been hearing many fine things about you from a lot of different people. You’re a good man, a good doctor.” Daniel swallowed a gulp, he could hardly believe he was saying these things, it was as though he had experienced an epiphany, he was getting quite heady with the positives he was saying and he put a hand on the other mans arm “But, if you keep drinking like you are now, I will be the first man to let the world know what a fake you are.”

A fake. James Colby stared into the other mans face and saw there only kindness, a fellow sufferer like himself. He shook his head and smiled ironically and said “You know, if things were different, I would ask you to join me in a drink or two and pour out my woes.”

Daniel chuckled, nodded “I’m sure I would have done just the same, if things were different.”

James glanced over to where the gate to his house was and raised his eyebrows “Perhaps you could join me in a cup of coffee?”

Daniel shook his head, “No, thank you, I have work to do still, I have to get the paper to bed as we say in the printing business. But, Dr Colby, don’t feel you have to do this on your own. Dr Martin is a good man, talk to him, get help from him… and…anytime you need to, I’ll be more than pleased …” he extended his hand, and felt a sense of delight he had not experienced in a long time when James seized it and gripped it hard within his own,

“I won’t forget.” James said quietly.

“No,” Daniel murmured quietly, “No, don’t forget, Dr Colby. You really can’t afford to.”

Chapter 32

Alicia Colby stepped back from the road as the stagecoach swept past. The dust from the wheels and horses upon the road billowed up and speckled her skirts, and with a sob caught in her throat she retreated back into the safety of the store behind her. How she hated this town, this dirty, noisy, uncaring town, and this latest ignominy just about proved just despicable the place really was.

Amanda Ridley saw her enter and with a smile approached her. With a kind gesture she took Alicia’s arm and led her to a chair, “Here, Mrs Colby, sit awhile, would you like a glass of water?”

Alicia gulped down the sob, looked rather wildly around her and then up at the other woman. She had always thought of Amanda Ridley as a hard faced cold hearted business woman who was out to get every nickel she could from the populace of Virginia City before the whole lot of them disappeared elsewhere. Seeing the gentleness in Amanda’s face, the kindly way she brushed down the dusty skirts was a revelation, although she did allow her thoughts to trickle into assumptions of a more negative and mercenary motive for the actions.

“I – I’m not here to buy anything.” she stammered as she accepted the the glass of water.

“I’m not expecting you too,” Amanda laughed a little, her eyes twinkled, “My customers usually walk in, not fall in backwards. I’ve told Pete before, many times, not to drive that vehicle so close to the sidewalk. One of these days there’s going to be a bad accident and I would prefer it not to be right outside my establishment.”

She uttered the word ‘establishment’ with some pride and Alicia nodded as though understanding exactly what she meant, after all, she had no intention of being the person splattered on the sidewalk in front of any body’s ‘establishment’.

“It’s just – I wasn’t thinking – I should have been paying more attention to the traffic.”

“Yes, of course. Are you feeling better now? Would you like me to help you home?”

Alicia straightened her shoulders and stood up “No, that’s quite alright, I’m not that – that shaken as to not be able to find my way home.”

Mrs Carstairs and Amanda watched her stride out of the building and turn left, they looked at one another and Mrs Carstairs shrugged “She’s a strange one.”

“A sad one, I think.” Amanda said quietly, and sighed “You know, she reminds me of how I was once, a while back along. She must be very lonely.”

“She doesn’t exactly encourage people to be friendly with her, Miss Ridley. She’s as prickly as a porcupine and as cold as a lump of ice.”

Amanda nodded her head slowly, her eyes watching the doctor’s wife as she strode down the road, her back straight, and her face …well, she couldn’t see Alicia’s face but she imagined it, blank of expression, determined and …utterly miserable.

 

The stagecoach rolled to a halt and the passengers within it jolted to a halt seconds later. Dust slithered through the open windows and onto their clothing and the ladies bonnets slid askew. Pete’s erratic style of driving and abrupt way of coming to a halt had been sadly influenced by his reading about Ben-Hur’s chariot racing and despite being told that he was not in a competition, a race or any other such thing, he still wanted to prove to himself and anyone else who would be interested that he could have driven a chariot like the best of them.

“That was some wild driving,” one of the passengers muttered as he almost fell out of the vehicle.

“Just call me Je-hu!” Pete replied, thus proving his knowledge of Ben-Hur was not as accurate as he had thought.

He did however put a hand out to assist the ladies who once again adjusted bonnets and jackets, brushed the dust from their clothing and smiled rather wistfully at one another.

There were two ladies and one little girl of about eight years of age. They had shared a reasonably pleasant journey together all the way from San Francisco, and had chatted very amicably with the gentleman and shared out candy, of which the child and Mr Weems had eaten the most.

Mr Weems tipped his hat to the two women and reminded them again that if they needed any banking advice to go to him. He accompanied his words with a gesture towards his Bank, and then shook their hands. By the time he had entered the Bank of which he was the Manager, the ladies had parted company and gone their separate ways. The younger woman taking her daughter away with her and the older woman standing beside her luggage looking rather nostalgically about her.

“Can I help you at all, M’am?” Pete now asked, removing his hat as he did so for he rather liked the look of this woman in her smart though dusty clothes, and her gentle face with eyes that was constantly roving as though looking for someone, or just …looking.

“Oh thank you, how kind of you to offer. I would appreciate it if you could get my luggage taken to the International or should I go to the Whitney? I think the Whitney would be better. Would you be able to arrange that for me?”

“Certainly, no trouble at all.” Pete promised and walked into the depot, whistled to Donnie who was chewing some tobacco and spitting into the spittoon “Move yourself, boy, the lady wants help with her luggage to the Whitney.”

Before Donnie had touched the first suitcase Pete was standing beside the lady once again, “Have you been here before, M’am?”

“Oh yes, a very long time before.” she sighed, and shook her head as though the sight of the town both surprised and dismayed her, “I never thought it would grow so big.”

“Must have been some years ago since you were here, then?”

“Yes,” she nodded, “Yes, it was some years ago. None of this was built then you see. There was nothing but shanty buildings, the most ricketty looking saloon, and tents, rows upon rows of tents. People wanted so much to ‘find the elephant’.” she smiled at him as he looked at her with respect in his eyes, “Have you heard that expression recently, Pete?”

“Not for a long time. No, the mines are closing down now, although there are still enough working, and I don’t think it will do the old town much harm to have some folk move away.” he looked at Donnie who was carrying his burdens valiantly along, and looking reproachfully over his shoulder to see what was preventing the lady from following her luggage.

“Perhaps not,” she replied and after thanking him for his help, which really hadn’t been much and certainly not worth her mentioning, she hurried along after Donnie.

The clerk in the depot came, wiping his hands on his apron and watching as the elderly woman walked away, “Mrs Frobisher?”

“Yes, that’s right, Mrs Martha Frobisher.” Pete said with a sigh, “I can remember her from years ago, beautiful she was, had a mass of red hair and a temper to go with it.”

“Still a nice looking woman,” the clerk observed.

Pete nodded, but his mind was on a young woman with red hair who washed the clothes of the miners and then, very carefully, sifted the tubs of water through fine muslin afterwards. They had made up a song about her, and the other women too, it was rather rude, but it rebounded on them later when they handed in their pokes of gold and were riding out of Virginia City in their carriages and coaches.

Martha Frobisher didn’t hurry to the hotel, she wanted to take her time, to try and locate familiar landmarks if such could still be found in such a gaudy built up town as this was now. How hard to distinguish where they had set up their laundry among the muddy aisles that had threaded their way between the tents created by the many feet of hopeful men and women, by bewildered and confused children.

She was totally lost between the world of her past memories and the present so that with a sigh she shook her head as though to cast away nostalgia and to enter the plush interior of the Whitney Hotel.
………..

Jimmy Carstairs and Reuben Cartwright sat down on the log by the school house and began to eat their lunch. They had slipped into a comfortable companionship that was not quite a friendship but was certainly better than had been some months earlier. They even ’swopped’ food from each others lunch pails.

“When’s your Pa coming back?” Jimmy asked as he chomped on a thick piece of pork sandwiched between wedges of bread.

“Soon.”

“You said that yesterday.”

Reuben shrugged “Just means it’ll be sooner then.”

“Heard from him?”

Reuben paused and frowned, he nodded “Ma had a letter from him. He’s alright. My Pa’s trail boss you know?”

“Yeah, you said that lots of times already.”

Reuben nodded and filled his mouth with food so that he didn’t have to talk for a while. Jimmy looked over to watch the children playing, and sighed,

“Bet you miss your Pa, don’t you?”

Reuben nodded “Yeah, I do. So does Sofia.”

“I know she does, she looks kinda sad sometimes.”

“You still like my sister – like you did – before?”

Jimmy bowed his head, blushed so that his freckles disappeared for a second or two, “Yeah, I guess so.”

Reuben sighed, and shook his head, and began to polish an apple on his shirt front while he watched his sister walking around the yard arm in arm with Rosie Canady.

“Do you miss not having a Pa?” he asked Jimmy who was watching Sofia as well, probably more intently that her brother had been, for Reuben had to repeat the question before the other boy turned to him and frowned.

“Why’d you want to know?” he asked defensively and his fists tightened into two balls so much so that his knuckles went white.

“I just wondered. My real Pa died when I was a kid, before Sofia was born …I really missed him. Sometimes I feel bad that I don’t miss him now, I guess I should do, shouldn’t I?”

He looked anxiously at Jimmy as though the other boy would understand how he felt, but Jimmy didn’t as he still lived in a world without the joys of a good father always there to care and protect him. Jimmy sighed and shook his head,

“I don’t know, I miss my Pa, and my Ma misses him a whole lot. But he only died a few years ago, before we came here.” he shook his head and decided to say nothing more, he had promised his Ma, and yet, he wished so much he could have a Pa, like Reuben did. He stood up, “You sure are lucky having a Pa like Adam Cartwright, Reuben.”

“I know. That’s what I mean you see? He’s just such a great dad that I can’t rightly remember my real father. Do you still remember your Pa?”

Jimmy nodded and picked up his lunch pail, he looked at Reuben with a rather fierce expression on his face and said in a very wobbly voice “I don’t want to talk about it any more.”

Reuben blinked, nodded “Sure, Jimmy, sure, I understand.”

“No, you don’t,” the other boy said, “No one does.”

Reuben reached out a hand but the boy ran, he didn’t want a friend any more, not just now, he just wanted to be alone.

He saw Sofia and Rose laughing together, and in a state of pique didn’t step aside to avoid them but collided right at them. While he continued running off, the little girls were sent toppling over like a pair of skittles.

It was Reuben and David Riley who came to help them to their feet, Sofia was all for running after Jimmy to give him a ’kick’ but Reuben grabbed at her arm “No, So-fee, don’t do that, you don’t understand.”

But he thought he did, just a little.

He found Jimmy crouched close to a large shrub close to the school building, and despite the other boy looking as though he were wanting to get away from him, Reuben sat down and put a hand on his arm “It’s alright, Jim. I do understand, really I do.”

“No, you don’t.” Jimmy shook his head and buried his face into his hands, “it’s just that I miss him so much, and really, it’s hard because my Ma’s so lonely and she has to work so much. Sometimes – sometimes I can hear her crying, and when I ask her if she’s alright she pretends that she is, but she isn’t, not really.”

“I know, I can remember when my Ma was like that too, she was sick after she had Sofia and I was really scared she was going to leave me too. it’s a horrible black feeling isn’t it?”

Jimmy looked at the other boy and wiped away the few tears that had fallen upon his cheeks, he didn’t say anything, he just nodded. Reuben frowned and thought back to those days when he had been very little, with a squalling baby in the house and his mother so ill. He had heard snatches of conversation that, because he was a little one they had thought he would not understand, but he had understood enough to be terrified of losing her too.

“I was very little when my daddy died, but I remember how it was afterwards. I guess that’s why I want to hold onto my new Pa so tight, I’m scared you know, every night, I’m scared that he might not come back. He’s got hurt a lot of times, when he was on that ship, and I think… I think…what will we do if he gets hurt again? Or if he doesn’t come back.”

Jimmy nodded, he wiped his nose on his sleeve and swallowed hard on the thickening that was in his throat, “But he always does come back, doesn’t he?”

“Yes, but my other daddy didn’t … “

They looked at one another, Jimmy nodded “I know, mine didn’t either… he just went out one night, and never came back.”

They sat side by side, shoulder to shoulder, saying nothing more because there was nothing more that could be said. It was something they would never speak of again, nor even to refer to, but they knew, they both knew and understood the pain of loss.

Chapter 33

A woman followed Martha to her suite of rooms, and carefully brushed out the dust from the travelling clothes the traveller had been wearing before hanging them into the closet. While that was being done, and her belongings carefully unpacked Martha walked to the wide windows and looked out over the town and towards the majestic view of Sun Mountain.

She could remember her first sight of it, and the tumult of a camping site. The noise of so many people yelling and shouting, the tents being erected, hammers being plied to build the timber framed properties, few though they were at the time. Oh what a noise, what a horrible sight for a gently reared young woman to see and her husband, a respected lawyer, thinking he could make a fortune digging a hole in the ground.

She shook her head and turned away from the sight to regard the woman who was just tidying away the last of her garments. “Have you been here long, dear?”

The younger woman glanced up and smiled “Some years now, M’am, since ‘63.”

Martha nodded, she and Julian had left long before that so she turned back to the window and watched the people moving around, toiling about their own business.

“I was here before Henry Comstock came, before they called it Virginia City. It was a cut throat place to live in then.” she said quietly, half to herself, and the woman looked at her and nodded as though she understood exactly what she meant.

“Wild Indians and crazy miners,” she smiled as though that made her an authority on the back history of her town.

Martha nodded and gave a slight smile, “Yes, I suppose so.”

“Would you like me to open the window for you, M’am?”

Martha frowned, she wondered if she looked so hopeless that she was even incapable of doing that small task for herself, but shook her head and said she would do it herself later, should she so wish.

“Do you know if any of the Cartwrights are in town at present?” she was looking out at the view as she asked this, there was no one walking about that she could see looking anything like Ben or Adam Cartwright although her eyes caught sight of Paul Martin and a younger man getting down from a buggy, medical bags slapping at their hips as they entered the surgery.

“I wouldn’t know, M’am. I think they are on a cattle drive just now, although Mr Ben Cartwright has not gone with them. Usually we don’t see much of any of them when there is a cattle drive, far too much work to do”

“Yes, of course there is.” Martha nodded, and turned back to look at the woman and then at the room “Thank you.”

“I could make enquiries should you wish, M’am?”

“No, that’s alright. I shall hire a buggy tomorrow and take myself to the Ponderosa.”

“It’s a long way, M’am. Best you hired yourself a driver and cab for the day. You Don’t want to risk getting lost on the range out there.”

Martha thanked her for her concern, and then watched her as she left the room. With a slight shake of her head she sat down on a very comfortable looking chair and stretched out, perhaps she was old, perhaps that was why she wanted to just relax and rest for a while. She smiled, poor Ben, in the throes of all that work and here she was, about to land in their midst. Well, he couldn’t accuse her of not preparing him for her visit, she had mentioned it often enough in her letters to him.

The room was warm, sun shone in swathes across the carpet and she closed her eyes. She had never wanted to come back here, even when Julian had returned several times, she had refused to come. Now, here she was …and she still wasn’t sure if she had done the right thing in coming or not.
…………..

Paul Martin opened his bag and went to the drugs cupboard in order to check the medicines and drugs that would be required to replace those already used. He looked over at his companion and smiled,

“Thank you for your help, James. I never thought Gabe would let me operate on that leg but you sweet talked him into like as easily as a well greased gate.”

James Colby returned Paul’s smile and opened his medical kit in order to check what he had there, “I didn’t realise you were such a skilled surgeon, Dr Martin.”

“I’m a country doctor, James, and had a very rudimentary education in surgery a very long time ago. Living here forces me into situations that I would not be able to take on back in a more civilised territory. Dr Schofield, of course, was a most well qualified surgeon but sadly lacked your persuasive manner.”

Colby sighed and looked at the old doctor with something like respect and dismay. Since his conversation with deQuille he had felt as though he were walking on a tightrope. It had not been so difficult to forego the drinking, he just immersed himself in his work, in researching back on previous studies and reading through the medical brochures such as The Lancet, The Modern Practioners Bible and so forth.

He was also working hard to break down the resentment his wife bore him, the town, the people in it, and life in general. That was harder than giving up the drink!

“Dr Martin…”

“Paul. Call me Paul.” the elderly doctor’s smile widened, “You’ve been here long enough not to have to stand on ceremony with me.”

“I know, sorry, thank you.” James gabbled, feeling like a small boy being rebuked for something by an elderly uncle.

Paul nodded and closed his bag with a snap of the lock, then he looked at James with the same expression he would look at any patient who was reticent about disclosing symptoms of his disease.

“James, I wanted to talk to you about something, it is personal, but I believe Jimmy has gone to see Ella Soames and her mother just now so we shall be free of disturbance for a while.”

The younger man blinked rapidly, glanced to the side of him as though hoping there was some way of escape afforded him there, but found nothing. He sat down instead and licked his lips, nodded and composed his face into what he hoped was featureless.

Paul leaned against his desk and looked once more at the other doctor “You’re a good doctor, James. I am really pleased that you decided to settle here and work along with us.”

“Thank you, sir.” James nodded, released a deep breath and looked down at the floor, he anticipated the ‘but’ and waited.

“But I have been worried about you. In fact, I had my doubts about you at times.” he paused and frowned, it was never easy talking to a colleague on personal issues. He had never dared to do so with Timothy Schofield but then it would have been pointless to have done so, the man would never have understood that he needed to make changes.

Shadows of people passed the window, going back and forth about their business, and James wondered what else was going to be discussed, whether or not he should actually say something himself or wait until he was forced to reveal matters he had suppressed for so long. Paul picked up a pen and stared at the far off wall,

“Occasionally you came here smelling of alcohol. It concerned us all, because, after all, people’s lives are in our hands and the last thing we need is …”

“Dr Martin, may I speak? May I say something before you proceed?” James had half risen from the chair, his face reddening and his eyes dilated, “I want to explain.”

Paul relaxed, an explanation at this stage was far better than wading into a morass of warnings and kindly meant threats so he pulled out a chair and sat down, nodded his head and smiled by way of encouragement.

“For a start my real name is not Colby, although legally I believe I have used it so long that it is now.”

James frowned, that was a clumsy start, he shook his head as though to re-start afresh, Paul waited with anxious eyes and a placid expression on his face.

“My father is an eminent surgeon. I have heard Dr Schofield quote him on several occasions, and read his articles in various medical books. He and I parted on bad terms because I allowed myself to perform an operation when still under the influence of drink. I really thought I was in control, it was a straightforward operation but …but the patient was a ‘bleeder’, there was no way of knowing that before the operation and … and we tried so hard to stop the bleeding but his medical records never indicated he had haemophilia, his family never knew although always worried about things that happened which other doctors should have realised were symptoms of his condition.”

“But the fact you were under the influence of drink …?”

“I wasn’t, I mean, I was slightly hung over from the previous night … my hands were steady, I saw clearly what had to be done…it was a clean operation but I was not aware of all the facts.”

Paul nodded, “Your father thought you should have been?”

James licked his lips and raised his head “There had been an incident years earlier and I had been drunk. I was to blame.”

“But you were not struck off?” Paul half rose from his chair, his immediate thought being of the risk he was taking having such a man on his staff.

“No, my father and others covered over for me, the person would have died, my – my condition did not really make much difference but evenso, I should never have been there, I should have – I should not have attended the operation.”

“Great Heavens, man, I should say not!” Paul felt a kindling of anger curdling inside of him now and he shook his head in dismay, “So, this other situation put your father in a very difficult situation?”

“Yes, he could see, and so did the other doctors, that some leeway could have been permitted, I was not drunk, and the patient was a haemaphiliac, but the shadow of my first stupid operation came back to haunt me. I was not struck off, Dr Martin, but was advised to go elsewhere.”

“I see, so you changed your name and moved out west, where no one would know you?”

James nodded, “Things have been difficult at home, Alicia hates it here, wanted to go to the city, but I couldn’t afford to go there in case I met someone who knew me. I told her what had happened and she now hates me for having deceived her. I can’t blame her, because it’s true. I did deceive her, and her family. On top of that, I brought her here.” he shrugged, and looked so forlorn that Paul felt his outburst of indignation die within him, he rose up instead and put a hand on the mans shoulder.

“These things always come back to haunt us, James. Every doctor and surgeon on earth dreads the day when a patient dies while they are being treated by them. The one consolation is that if one has done ones very best, and one’s conscience is clear before God and his fellow man, then they can hopefully rise up from such a situation.”

“Has it happened to you, sir?” James looked up rather wistfully, and Paul nodded,

“Yes, I have lost patients that should not have died. Sometimes it seems out of our hands, they seem to be recovering and then suddenly, they’re gone. There are times I have made rash decisions…” he bit down on his bottom lip and shook his head while his brow creased into corrugated lines “I once thought to amputate a man’s leg, and from the hip too. Can you imagine the devastating change that would have made to his life? Thankfully Jimmy Chang knew of an alternative method of healing, and taught me the lesson of not being so pompous as to think I knew it all.”

“I want to make a success of my life, Dr Martin. I won’t drink again, I swear that to you on my oath. But, I don’t know how long I can stay here now, Alicia is suffering …”

“Yes, Bridie and I had noticed.”

“I love her, even now that she has changed so much, I can still see glimpses of the girl I loved and married.”

“Then, my boy,” James smiled and placed a gentle hand on his associate’s shoulder, “You must woo her all over again.”

“Woo her?”

“Yes, flowers, candies, meals out… the kind of thing ladies enjoy, the attentions they need like a rose needs water.” he paused and the anxious look returned to his face “I shall have to discuss the matter of your previous – er – situation with Dr Chang, you do understand that, don’t you?”

James felt his heart sink, but he understood and nodded acceptance. He could only hope that whatever Jimmy’s opinion was it would not be too negative or change the decision that he felt Paul had already made in his favour.
……………

It was an afternoon in which Mary Ann would take Sofia to see Beatrice Evans. An occasion they both enjoyed and looked forward to, and one which Beatrice found both a joy and sweet torment. Sofia was the age her own child would have been had she lived, and listening to the little girl on the piano often caused the pianist pangs of sadness as she wondered if her daughter would have been as talented.

Mrs Price had softened a lot too, smiling a welcome as she opened the door and stepped back for the little girl to bounce into the house. After a drink of lemonade and a little chatter between the ladies, Sofia would be taken to the piano, and encouraged to run through her scales while Beatrice and Mary Ann would listen, murmur commendation or not, and after a while give Sofia some music to play.

“It reminds me of the times you came to my home to teach me.” Mary Ann said quietly, while at the back of her mind she wondered if this time, this day, she would be able to find out why Beatrice had stopped coming.

“Yes, I was thinking exactly that same thought. You were such a pretty little girl, Mary Ann, I can remember sitting beside you watching your fingers fly up and down that keyboard and hope that you would go on to greater things.”

They both sighed at the same time, looked at one another and shared a smile. Mary Ann took in a deep breath

“My mother loved music. It was she who asked you to teach me, wasn’t it?”

“Yes, it was. It was a tragedy that she died so young. I was not sure how it would affect your brother or yourself.” Beatrice frowned slightly, “Frank became very withdrawn about that time, restless. Did you notice that?”

“I think we all did, he had been such a happy child, my hero in all things.” Mary Ann’s shoulders sagged, her hero who had died so miserably. “He and father clashed a lot, it seemed suddenly they were always arguing.”

“Yes, I remember.” Beatrice glanced over to Sofia and called out “Slowly, Sofia, that piece was too fast, try from the beginning again.”

Sofia bowed her head, and obediently began to restart the piece. Beatrice hummed along for a while and then looked at Mary Ann,

“You were more distant too, it affected your playing.”

“I lost my motivation when mother died,” Mary Ann admitted, “I found father so remote and Frank no longer my play fellow. My world had changed. Then you left me as well. I was devastated anew.”

Beatrice in a rush of emotion placed her hand gently upon the other womans, she sighed and shook her head “I couldn’t stay any longer, dear, I had to leave.”

“But why? You never gave any explanation, I thought I had done something wrong, that my playing was so bad…I stopped my music and allowed my father to talk me into teaching school…I never understood how you could have stopped coming to see me.”

Mary Ann bit down on any further words, she could hear herself sounding like a spoiled child and she shook her head, “I’m sorry, Beatrice, I was young, and it happened at a bad time for me.”

“I know. I understand. It was something that I couldn’t have explained to you, Mary Ann, you were so young, so innocent.”

Mary Ann frowned, “What do you mean?”

She looked into the other woman’s face, the eyes that they say are a mirror of the soul, she shook her head “Did Frank…did Frank do something bad?”

“No, no…nothing like that, Frank was a hurt sad boy, but he was a good honest lad too.” again her hand went over Mary Ann’s and she squeezed her fingers gently, “No, it wasn’t Frank.”

Mary Ann said nothing to that, but looked down at their entwined fingers, memories came in a rush, shadowy things that suddenly took on substance, sounds that she had heard and not understood. She looked up “Was it my father?”

Sofia had finished her piece of music and turned to them with a smile “Did I do it right, Miss? Was I good?”

She sat on the stool by the piano and looked at the two women, silence trickled through the room and she shivered.

“Why’s Aunty Mary Ann crying?

Chapter 34

Clouds were hanging so low as to appear to be grazing the roof tops of the buildings in the town of Billings. The smells of human habitation, coupled with that of the cattle, of the train waiting for the cattle to be loaded into the trucks, mingled and spread like a canopy through which everyone walked, talked and behaved as though they were non-existent. It was life as they knew it, and had to grow accustomed to it, or move on. It was as simple as that.

The public baths were everything they expected. Luke and Derwent had accompanied them there and the four men had made the most of every moment to tease from their pores the accumulation of all those weeks driving the cattle. It was afterwards, clean and still glowing from the warmth of the baths, that the four men had parted company

Luke and Derwent had completed their business, taken their money and had shaken Adam and Joe’s hands in order to return home. They chose not to indulge themselves by remaining any longer in town. As Luke said they wouldn’t be able to sleep on a soft feather bed now, so why bother to hang around when they had wives awaiting them back home.

Adam and Joe thought along the same lines, they also had wives and family back home, and they longed to see them but there was still business to be finished off, so once the cables had been sent off to confirm all was well, they booked into a hotel. Some of the men had scattered into the town, determined to enjoy having money in their pockets and to enjoy all that Billings had on offer. Sam had checked over his chuck wagon ready to make the return journey with edibles to feed any of the men who would accompany him back.

The Cartwright brothers did not intend to accompany him back.

They booked into separate rooms and then went to town to buy new clothes. True enough they could have got what they had worn washed and attended to by the laundry that the hotel had assured them was very efficient, but they knew from previous experience that for some reason the smells would travel along with them, Perhaps it was all in the mind!

They had not said anything about staying or going, it was as though they just fell naturally into a mutual consent about remaining in town. Clean now and feeling pleased that all had gone so well on the journey, they ate at a decent restaurant and chatted about nothing relevant. There didn’t really seem much point at that moment in time to spoil a pleasant evening by discussing what was to be done next.

They saw Leroy and Fletcher riding out of town as they were leaving the restaurant, Fletch told them that they were going to head for home. It reminded them that Fletcher was related to Leroy and had obviously promised the boys’ mother that he would be returned safely and as soon as possible when the drive was over. They stood together on the sidewalk and watched the two riders leave town on fresh horses. They both knew that Leroy would be more than happy to have left the remuda behind, they would have been sold off to the livery who were always grateful to buy ‘fresh’ mounts.

“Joe?” a woman’s voice and shrill above the noise of the people passing by, someone determined to be heard “Joe Cartwright?”

Both men turned and removed their hats as a woman hurried towards them clutching at her bonnet as she did so, as though if she didn’t it would take flight of its own accord. Joe nodded and smiled, Adam raised his eyebrows and his smile came a mite later, but Susan Garvey didn’t seem to mind or notice.

“Joe, by all that’s wonderful!” and the delight she felt at seeing him was so obvious that Joe almost blushed.

“Mrs Garvey? What are you doing here?” Joe blustered, then turned to Adam “You remember my brother, Adam, don’t you?”

She smiled and her eyes twinkled, she extended her hand “Of course, it’s been a long time since we saw you …I mean … well, you know what I mean.”

They shook hands and smiled politely, then she turned back to Joe “Lots of changes, Joe, since I saw you last year.”

Both men nodded, it was Joe who answered “Sad ones, Mrs Garvey. We are sorry for your loss. It must have come hard for you and Sally. Where is Sally by the way? Is she here with you?”

“Sally? No, she isn’t here, she moved away with her husband up north. She didn’t want to be anywhere around this area any more.”

“She always was restless.” Joe admitted with a wry smile.

Susan Garvey nodded, glanced around her and looked momentarily embarrassed so Adam suggested that perhaps they could find a quieter place where they could talk, should she wish it. Of course she did, and grateful for the offer suggested that they went to her home, which was not so far away.

Her home was a small apartment above the Apothecary, and once they had stepped inside she hurried to draw back the curtains in order to bring light into the rooms. She talked, as women often did, apologising for the size of the place, and for it being so cramped ‘No room to swing the proverbial cat’ she laughed as she hurried to put a kettle on the stove and prepare coffee.

“I suppose you saw Silas and his woman?” she said over her shoulder at them as they settled down in to the comfortable chairs around the table.

“We did meet her, yes, briefly.” Joe replied and placed his hat on the chair beside him.

“She doesn’t seem very happy being there.” Adam added as he put his hat on the table beside him and glanced about the room.

“Good. I’m glad. I hope she rots.” came the swift response and as both men were not expecting such a comment from a woman they had always considered to be kindly and gentle, they said nothing.

She fussed over making the coffee, and then once it was prepared poured it into three cups which she set down on the table. Sitting down she faced them both and sighed, shook her head and shrugged

“I’m sorry, I should not have said that but she and I were always at odds with one another. She was a town girl, had no idea about what life was like running a ranch, especially one which seemed to be always struggling to make it through the year, every year. Matt brought her home one day and said they were married. We had no idea he had planned on taking a wife but there you are, suddenly there was another mouth to feed, another responsibility. She didn’t work either, just idled the days away and Matt, well, he got lazier and lazier”

“He never did pull his weight.” Joe muttered remembering how, even as a youngster, he had been only too aware of the difference in the brothers.

“We could have made something of the place if we had had the help from him.” Susan said with a fierceness that came from her pride in her husband, and the years of hard work they had put into the ranch.

Adam nodded in sympathy for he could clearly recall meeting the brothers on cattle drives of the past “Last year, though…Silas had a herd of his own, didn’t he?”

“Yes, he joined up with the Ponderosa and Double D then. Proud of it he was, felt he had achieved something at last. There were times when we thought we would never get from under, you know? But it was when he returned that things – “ she stopped, bowed her head and struggled to control herself, “Sorry.” she mumbled and reached for a handkerchief to dab at her eyes.

“What happened?” Joe asked kindly, and placed a gentle hand on her arm.

“As I said Matt was married by then, if you recall, Joe, he didn’t accompany Silas on the round up.” she looked at the younger man, and Joe nodded, thoughtful with the realisation as to why the lazy lump of a man had not ridden out with Silas.

They stirred sugar into their coffee and drank a little, then waited for Susan to continue, which she did after staring at the coffee pot for some moments. “Almost as soon as Si stepped through the door, Matt produced a letter, several letters in fact. He had kept them from Silas. He’d been corresponding with the Pacific Railway and making deals, he wanted it to be done and dusted, you understand? The matter settled with by the time Silas came home. I never knew anything about it, nor did Sally.. If it hadn’t been for the Railway company insisting that both of the brothers signed the Agreements, seeing how they were equal partners in the ranch, then Silas would never have known about it.”

“We heard that he had refused to sell his land. About his accident.” Joe picked up his cup and his hazel eyes dwelt upon the woman’s tragic countenance, the big eyes brimful with tears.

“He refused time and again. The money from the sale of the cattle had been set aside for Sally, for her wedding. That was when she left home, glad to go, to start afresh with her husband. We were both broken hearted at seeing her leave but I think we knew that it was for the best, I sometimes think that Silas knew he would never see her again.”

They were silent, sipped their coffee and all three wondered what to say next, how to take the leap onto the next step of the conversation. Susan muttered that she should have provided them with some food, but they assured her they had just eaten, there was no need for food.

“It was the next day, a man called Novak came to the ranch and insisted on seeing Silas. They went into the barn and talked for a long time. I never saw Novak again he rode off in his fancy rig and Silas just said that he and Matt had business to discuss. Matt suggested that they went to Buffalo Flats to talk it over…” she laughed then, a short, sharp burst of humour with in fact, no humour in it. “Oh yes, the town, Matt had sold off land months before and the town was being built. Silas had been furious at the time, they had argued about it but it was done and there was nothing Si could do about it. Matt had sold some land that he had claimed as his own years ago, and he had kept to the boundaries so really, Si didn’t have a right to argue.”

 

“That was a lot of land.” Adam said thinking of the size of the town they had seen, and of how much bigger it was going to get over time.

“It wasn’t just our land, quite a few of the neighbouring ranchers sold out too. They had had enough of struggling on land that gave so little back. Unless you lived close to the river there was no goodness in the soil really. I think, at the time, the fact that so many of our friends had sold up for the town to be built stopped Silas from throwing Matt out. But the town was being built, and Si told me that it was because of the railway. Mr Novak confirmed that during their discussion in the barn. I knew Silas was torn in a way, after all, railways would bring prosperity of a sort to an area, that was why so many from the town further north just chose to move over.”

“We rode through it, it’s dead.” Joe muttered, his voice flat, monotone, as though to emphasise just how bleak it had been.

“Oh, I thought some of the folk would stay on, it had been a good town. I think some of them thought they would go back there and pick up from where they left off if the railway didn’t come about. The Railway wanted a lot of land. Well, Silas went to visit those that were left of his neighbours, and they were all for selling out because a – how does the proverb go – a bird in the hand is better than two in the bush. They wanted money, it got them out of debt and then they could move on, move away from their worries and responsibilities, shut down on their dreams.”

“But Silas wouldn’t?” Adam prompted seeing how she had run dry, and had need of the coffee to wet her mouth.

“As I said he was torn because he could understand how they were feeling. Years of hard work, mounting debts, nothing to show for it. He and Matt rode off and I thought they would probably come to some amicable agreement because they seemed almost cheerful when they left. Matilda was convinced they would sell, that they would be able to leave the ranch and go someplace else. She wanted to get back to San Francisco or Sacramento. Later that evening they brought Matt home in the back of a wagon. Said there had been a fight and he had fallen, but no one ever told me who the fight was with, why my husband was the only one who had been injured.”

“Wasn’t Matt involved in the fight at all?” Joe asked now, and she nodded and said that he had fought, there were the bruises on his knuckles to prove it. Nate Carney had seen it, Matt claimed but it had been an accident, just a bit of a brawl that went wrong.

“It was strange,” she said quietly, “The Railway had our land, because Silas died and Matt sold almost all of it off. Then they started changing the course of the river and suddenly, Matt didn’t want to leave. He had all the money from the sale, enough land to live on I suppose, but … but once they started diverting the river he kind of went …odd.”

Joe and Adam looked at one another, then back at her. “Odd?” Joe repeated.

“Yes, as though seeing the river being diverted made him angry, and Matilda got strange with him too. Suddenly Matt was wanting to stay on his land, and she realised that he had all that money from what he’d sold, and she was stuck with him. It was -” she paused “It was horrible to be there with them, so I left as soon as I could. I stayed at the old town long enough to know I couldn’t settle there, not with so many moving out., So I came here.” she shrugged, “Matt gave me a fair share of the money, I can’t fault him over that, but I couldn’t stay there any longer. You understand, don’t you?”

Adam thought of Matilda and nodded, Joe thought of the dried up river and grimaced. “You did the best thing,” he said quietly.

“Did no one admit to hitting Silas, being responsible for the fall he took?” Adam asked as he reached for his hat and stood up.

Susan rose to her feet also, she shook her head, “No, Nate said that he had made enquiries, no one saw anything or anyone …”

“Was Novak there?” Joe now asked as he stood away from the table and reached for his hat, “Any one from the railway?”

“Some men who were passers-by, no one knew who they were. Mr Novak was not there.”

They emptied their cups and she refilled them, it was Adam who asked about the old town, as they seemed to have slipped into the habit of calling it. What had really happened to have caused so many to leave so quickly.

“It was like totally abandoned, Susan,” Joe said with his hazel eyes looking the puzzlement he felt, “And in just a year.”

“Oh, it did happen quickly. It only needs the folk on the top of the pile to get up and go, to talk big, you know what I mean? The Mayor and Council decided they would be much better off in a town with a railroad running through it, be more progressive is the word they kept using. Then they went, all of them. Found out later they had all bought shares in the company, had homes built already … and on my husband’s land too.” she gave a hic-cough, blinked rapidly and swallowed more coffee.

“So once they left, everyone else just followed along, just like that?” Adam frowned and glanced at Joe who shifted uncomfortably in his chair. The same thought trickled through their minds, could this happen to Virginia City?

She nodded, “Some people began to talk about how they had been thinking of moving on anyway. They just scattered, not everyone wanted to chance their futures on Buffalo Flats. Once the Nobs moved out, you see, the Mercantiles suffered loss of trade, some businesses that depended on them for their profits could no longer manage what they got from the townsfolk who were left. The saloons did a good trade because when people get confused and depressed they want to gather together, drink and talk it all over. But I reckon in less than a month practically everyone was gone.”

“Leaving their goods behind them? Champagne in the saloons, food stuffs in the mercantiles?” Adam quirked an eyebrow.

She shrugged and said there was no accounting for the logic behind some folks thinking, she had thought it was like a safety net, they could always come back either to stay, or collect their goods at a later time.

Joe stood up and reached for his hat, then paused to look at her “Did you ever know a family called Salisbury? Lucy and …”

“Yes, of course I knew them. They left quite early in the exodus,” she smiled at the mention of such a word, “or the flood, whichever you feel most appropriate for the occasion. He had a good job to move to in Abilene, and had to get there to meet some kind of deadline. They were a dear family…” her voice trailed away as though her mind was wandering back to when she was waving them all goodbye. “I left not long after that.”

“Tell me, Susan, was there trouble in the jail house? We noticed bullet holes ..” Joe raised his eyebrows and shrugged as though to indicate that really the matter was not really important.

“Oh that,” Susan smiled, “The sheriff was one of the first to leave, some of the townsfolk didn’t like that so they shot the place up. You see, once he left there was no law in the town, and the people were scared. The deputies didn’t want the responsibility either so I guess that was another reason for leaving, talk went around that when there was no law then the lawless move in and take over. There was scare mongering about gun law, and the place becoming a haunt for outlaws, you know the kind of talk, Joe? They just talked themselves into having another excuse for quitting the place.”

The brothers nodded, perhaps it went some way to answering their questions. They shook her hand, thanked her for her hospitality and made their way to their next port of call which was a meeting at the offices of the Cattlemen’s Association.

…………..

If it had not been for Sofia telling Olivia about her Aunt Mary Ann crying, and how she had been hustled out of the room by the housekeeper, Olivia would never had doubted her sister in law’s reasons for being very quiet and ‘unlike herself’. Over the course of a few days since Sofia’s last music lesson in town, Mary Ann had been decidedly withdrawn, even depressed. To the kind enquiries from Hester and Olivia she had said she missed Joe, very much. No doubt she did, and Olivia felt for her in this regard for she missed her own husband too. However, it did no good to indulge in misery and worry, especially when children were to be assured that all was well. Olivia told herself that Daniel was still too young to notice, but Sofia’s comments niggled constantly in the back of her mind.

When Saturday morning came with the sun bright in the bluest of skies, Olivia decided it was time to visit Mrs Evans and discuss the matter with her. She had talked it over with Hester and both women had agreed that Mary Ann’s mood had changed from the time of that music lesson. They had not exactly drawn straws to see who would be the one of them to visit Beatrice, but Olivia was the one with the best excuse to go into town. As Hester said, Erik was teething and Sofia would love to see Ella.

Of course, Sofia was thrilled at the thought of seeing Ella again. Reuben was going to spend some time with David Riley and Jimmy Carstairs, on the promise that he behaved and made sure he was ready to be collected at the agreed time. Both children were elated. Nathaniel was happy to be with his cousins, and as Olivia waved good bye to him it was to see him toddling off hand in hand with Hope.

Mrs Soames opened the door and expressed her delight at seeing them. Ella and Sofia hugged as though they had not seen each other for months, but when Emily asked Olivia to stay awhile it was with some regret that Olivia had to make excuses, but with the promise that she would return as soon as possible after all, she so wanted to hear about how Ella was getting on.

She had to pause on the sidewalk as Fred drove the hired carriage past her. Fred should have retired some while back, being rather myopic, but he needed the money and Amanda Ridley knew he was a reliable worker. He drove too fast, but he usually got his passengers to their destination safely and never objected to helping them with luggage and so forth. He was amenable, and that counted for a lot.

Mrs Frobisher sat back in the leather seats and was jolted along the main street wondering why the Council didn’t deal with pot holes, surely they had the money to spare? She glanced casually from side to side, looking for familiar faces, but when she did see Olivia, she didn’t recognise her, although it seemed to her that she should have done. She looked back over her shoulder as the young woman stepped out onto the road and made her way across to the other side.

Martha was half way to the Ponderosa before she realised who she had seen. She laughed a little to herself but it was too late now, and she knew, there was always another time, a better time, in which they could both spend time to catch up on past times.
………….

Mrs Price was pleased to welcome Olivia to the house, assuring her that Beatrice would be pleased to see her. Mrs Price knew that Olivia was the kind of visitor whose calm exterior and quiet manner eased her mistress into pleasanter moods and as she ushered Olivia into the room she went off in a happier frame of mind than when she had gone to open the door.

Beatrice was reclined upon a chaise lounge, her face was pale and her eyes were sunken and darkly hollowed. For a moment Olivia just stood and stared in dismay at the other woman, she had never expected to see her looking so frail and fraught. She realised that what she had intended to discuss with Beatrice would have to be put to one side.

Beatrice must have sensed her presence for she opened her eyes and upon seeing her gave a warm smile and stretched out her hand “Olivia, how lovely to see you.”

She raised herself into a sitting position and Olivia hurried to plump up a cushion to place behind her back, to rearrange the shawl across her legs. Beatrice sighed and nodded, then patted Olivia on the hand “That’s alright now, thank you, dear.”

“I’m so sorry to see you unwell like this, Beatrice. Would you rather I left you in peace? I can come back another day?”

“No, it’s alright. This is just one of those bad days, I get them more often now, I suppose it is because I am growing old.” she smiled as though to assure Olivia that really she wasn’t old, that she wasn’t really having a bad day. She sighed and leaned back into the pillows “Sofia is very gifted, Olivia. You must be very proud of her.”

“Yes, we are, Adam loves music, he’s really pleased that his daughter is a natural musician.”

Beatrice laughed and nodded “Well, yes, indeed she is, I hope nothing changes that.”

“Should it?” Olivia frowned, a natural gift was always there, surely?

“Things happen. A pianist always needs to be constantly at work to keep the gift in its rightful place.”

Olivia nodded, she understood that to mean that the rightful place was the first place, above everything and anything and …anyone. She looked at Beatrice’s hands, and wondered if putting her music in first place had resulted in the poor misshapen fingers now.

“How is Mary Ann?” Beatrice now asked, her voice soft, gentle but urgent enough to command an answer. Olivia hesitated long enough in answering for Beatrice to nod, and answer for her “She’s unhappy?”

“Yes, you could say so.”

Beatrice nodded again, as though she had expected nothing less from Olivia, she sighed as well and said that she had expected a visit after all, Sofia had witnessed her Aunt’s distress that day of her last music lesson.

“Yes, I did upset Sofia. But Mary Ann has been very quiet since then too, enough for us to be concerned. Do you know how we can help her?”

Beatrice shook her head “Not really.”

“But something happened here, if you know anything…”

Beatrice took hold of Olivia’s hand, squeezed her fingers gently within her own “It is something only Mary Ann had deal with. If she hasn’t told you or Hester the reason for her distress, then you must leave her to find her own way.”

“Her own way? From what?”

“The past.”

Olivia leaned back, shook her head and released her hand “The past? Something happened in the past and you know about it?”

“Yes, I know about it. It concerned me but even though it does, I can’t tell you what it is, Olivia. It wouldn’t be fair to other people, or to Mary Ann.”

Olivia said nothing, she looked at the resolute determined look on Beatrice’s face and shook her head. “It’s obviously upset you a lot too.”

“Yes, at the time and ever since…” was all that Beatrice said to that comment and when the door opened and Mrs Price stepped into the room she smiled “It’s alright, Mrs P, no need for refreshment, Olivia is leaving now.”

So that was it, she was dismissed …Olivia stood up, nodded and smiled a false smile, for she didn’t want to smile now, she felt anger and sadness battling away in her heart. “Good bye, Beatrice.”

Beatrice had her eyes closed again when Olivia closed the door behind her.

 

Chapter 35

Olivia left Beatrice’s house with her mind churning over and over about the conversation she had shared in those few minutes she had spent with the older woman.  She was confused as well as a little angered by the manner of her dismissal. Logic and compassion forced her to consider that Beatrice  was a sick woman, perhaps more so than most realised.  It was also true that the matter was private between Mary Ann and Beatrice, and that she had to respect how something in the past did not involve her, and was therefore, none of her business.

Olivia paused at the gate and looked back over her shoulder to the house, it remained closed off, silent.  She closed the gate and walked on, making her way to Emily Soames home and telling herself that if Mary Ann was really as distressed as she and Hester believed, then she would eventually confide in them, in her own time.

Emily opened the door with a smile, “I’ve made coffee, come in, Mrs Cartwright.  I’ve so much to tell you.”

Olivia smiled, what a difference from one house to another, but she closed the door behind her and followed  Emily into the other room.  The sound of little girls laughter trickled from one   room to the other, Sofia’s was more of a giggle, infectious and endearing, and as she listened to them Olivia began to relax. As Emily sat opposite her and smiled with warmth and friendliness Olivia decided to put the matter of Mary Ann and Beatrice Evans where it belonged… out of her head.

“They sound happy, don’t they?” Emily’s smile widened, “That’s how they were from the moment they first met. That’s a good thing, isn’t it?”

Olivia nodded “Yes, I suppose they both knew they needed one another at the time.”

“Yes, Ella was – well, as she still is, and a little frightened too. Her life in Bodie was lived in the shadow of what had happened to her father, and to her. Sofia was frightened too, confused about what she was being told, and what she knew was the truth. I feel bad not believing her when she kept insisting she was Sofia and not Alice…”

Olivia suppressed a shudder. The thought that her irrepressible little girl had been suffering and they had been unable to help was the stuff of nightmares. But she smiled and nodded over at Emily “Well, as we said earlier, they needed one another, didn’t they? I am so grateful to you and Ella for the friendship …the haven…you provided for her.”

“Mrs Cartwright, Su Ling has told me about the way her husband helped your husband. It sounded a quite impossible task.”

“Yes, bad enough for two other doctors to feel his leg should have been amputated. Adam refused and objected most strenuously, as you can imagine.” her smile faded, her memories of that time cast a dark shadow over her and she shook her head in dismay in allowing herself to dwell within them, “How has Jimmy been getting on with Ella’s treatment?”

Emily took a deep breath and clasped her hands tightly together in her lap, her eyes glanced anxiously over to the bedroom where they could now hear the girls speaking in low tones. But when she looked at Olivia her face was calm, her eyes wide and hopeful.

“I was, to be honest, very anxious when the other man, the surgeon, Dr Schofield wasn’t it? Well, when he said there was nothing he could do and then left town my confidence was very low. I know your husband said that he was not promising a cure by this surgeon, but I had hoped that he, Dr Schofield, would have given us some hope for Ella, some kind of indication that her life would not be spent in that wheelchair.”

“But Jimmy…”

“Oh Dr Chang has been wonderful. So kind and patient, and yet very disciplined and strict which is what we have both needed, both Ella and I.” she leaned against the back of her chair and smiled “I tend to be too sentimental, when things looked hard for her I would let her stop her exercises, rest and do what she would prefer. Dr Chang has told me to toughen up, because if she never faces the hard things now, then life will only get harder.”

“He told my son the same thing when Reuben was unable to walk for a while. Of course we had the help of Hop Sing and Cheng Ho Lee. Our doctors in the western world have to realise that there is a lot to learn from the healing practices of the Eastern world.”

Emily nodded “I think I am learning more every day. I can’t thank Dr Chang enough for all his help and for what he has done for Ella.”

Olivia nodded, sighed a little and again found herself thinking back to those days when James Chang would ride all the way from town to debrade Adams leg and to smear on the silver ointment that soothed and healed. “How is Ella now, is there any hope, has Jimmy indicated any promise of her being able to walk?”

Emily now shook her head and for a moment the hopefulness on her countenance dropped before she smiled, a very brief smile, “He has not made any promises at all. But it doesn’t matter because she is much stronger now. Her legs are stronger, there is muscle tone in them now and in herself she is happier. I do the exercises with her every evening befoe she goes to bed. Dr Chang and Su Ling come in the morning. Each day I see a little more strength there, sometimes I wonder if I am imagining it. Sometimes I think I see a muscle flex, or her toe move …then it is gone and I am left wondering, did I really see it? But we continue on, we won’t give up”

Olivia nodded and accepted the cup and saucer Emily handed to her, she smiled over at her as she raised the cup to her lips. No, it never did to give up. If Adam had done so, he would probably be dead long ago.
……….

Mary Ann closed her journal and locked it with the little key which she put into her jewellery box. Sometimes she would write only a few sentences, sometimes pages when her pen would fly across the paper as though compelled by a mind of its own.

She put the little book with its brocaded cover into her drawer among her hosiery and then closed it. For a moment she just sat there looking into the mirror and wondering how strange life was, with its many convolutions, and the way with a spin of the wheel someone could come into one’s life again and send the wheel spinning as though out of control.

She had discussed that with Joe once, but he felt that it was up to each one to be in control of the wheel, and no circumstance should cause us to be out of control, or if so, only temporarily. She wondered if that were possible when other people were spinning along on the same wheel.

Eventually she rose to her feet and walked over to the big window overlooking the corral and stables This was where she would look down upon Joe exercising the horses, and watch Daniel being taught to ride, sometimes Reuben would be there, holding onto his little cousins breeches to make sure he didn’t roll out of the saddle while the fat little pony dutifully trotted round and round the paddock.

Life was good. She turned away from the window and straightened her shoulders. She was not going to let anything Beatrice said ruin her joy in life. From now on she was in control again. She smiled, but it wavered.

As she reached the door she heard Jenny‘s clear voice and the voice of others in the vestibule being welcomed into the house. There was the cry of a baby and she recognised Erik‘s husky voice, and Daniel‘s boisterous shout as he took over his cousins and led them to play. Hester was here. Dear Hester, poor worried Hester. She smiled now, and the smile touched her grey eyes and made them sparkle. She was loved, what else mattered other than that?.
……………

Olivia left Emily and hurried along to see Bridie. Sofia had asked to stay, just a little longer with Ella, and Olivia had agreed telling her that she was to be ready with no fuss when she returned for Reuben would be waiting and it would be unfair to him to make him hang around for her.

Bridie was not home and to her enquiries Mrs Treveleyn informed her that Mrs Martin had gone to see Marcy at the Double D. Olivia nodded, smiled and assured Tilly that that was all she had wanted to know, just to make sure that little Marcy had not been forgotten.

She walked quickly away from the Martins now with her mind on her brother, wondering how he would feel becoming a father and dear Marcy, what a beautiful little mother she would become. She paused when she heard her name being called and upon turning saw Mr Evans hastening to wards her. Her heart sunk of all people she really didn’t want to stop and speak to him, but he was almost upon her now, removing his hat and smiling.

“Mrs Cartwright, what a pleasure to see you?”

“Thank you, Mr Evans.” she returned his smile and tried to put warmth into her greeting for anxiety about Beatrice put an uncomfortable edge to her voice which she could hear and didn’t particularly like.

“You have been to see my wife?”

“I have. I was sorry to see her unwell, so my visit was very brief.”

He nodded and fidgeted with his hat, sighed “Yes, she told me that it was brief, she told me that she had been rather abrupt with you.”

“No, not really. Well, perhaps she may have thought so, but I think she is unwell and I was really intruding on her time.”

He looked at her keenly and his eyes told her that he was not fooled although his lips maintained their pleasant smile.

“May I speak to you about something personal?” he ventured to say stepping back as he spoke in order for her to walk forward across the alley and up the steps onto the next block.

“I don’t know, Mr Evans. Is it about something that I have a right to speak about with you? Or your wife?” she paused and turned, appearing to look engrossed in a pair of boots on display in the window of the Gents Outfitters.

“Perhaps we could go elsewhere, where it is more private?”

“I have to collect my children, Mr Evans. I have told them to be ready by a precise time, it would not be right for me to be late.”

He nodded, and sighed again, a frown creased his brow and for an instant she was reminded again that he was a very good looking man. “Mr Evans, if this has something to do with my conversation with Beatrice earlier… “

“Yes, it has.”

“Then perhaps it would be best if we did not discuss it at all. As Beatrice stressed, it is up to Mary Ann and herself to resolve the matter.”

He shrugged then and gave a wry smile, more of a grimace really “To be honest with you, Mrs Cartwright, it does also involve myself.”

She looked at him thoughtfully and then shook her head “I don’t really think I have any right to share any confidences with you, Mr Evans. Not unless Mary Ann and Beatrice were in agreement.”

He looked at her again, his eyes became hooded by his eyelids, he stared down at their feet and then nodded “Yes, you are right.”

He spoke in a sigh, the words drifted out and then he nodded again, placed his hat upon his head and bade her farewell. For a moment she stood there and watched him walk away from her, straight backed and head high.

She shook herself back to the moment, this was no time for wool gathering she told herself and hurried to Mrs Soames’ home where she met an impatient little boy, looking rather sticky and grubby. Sofia came skipping out of Mrs Soames looking pink and pretty, blue eyes sparkling and a smile on her lips.

As Olivia drove her buggy down the main street with her children beside her she didn’t see Edward Evans as he stood by the gate of his home. But he saw her, and watched her vehicle as it trundled down the road, being skilfully driven and weaving in and out among the traffic. |

Once she was out of sight he removed his hat, and walked slowly to his home, pushed open the door and stepped inside. His wife was playing the piano, a slow piece by Chopin. He paused a moment and half closed his eyes, one of his favourite pieces, it touched his heart. He could have wept.

 

Chapter 36

Years before when she had been a young woman, well, barely a woman then, but married to a man as young as herself, Martha Frobisher had travelled through this land and loathed it. She could recall quite clearly riding in the old wagon that Julian had bought at an exorbitant price, her arm through his and looking around her feeling only dread at the vastness surrounding her. Mountains laden with dark woodland that bristled with threat and foreboding. When she had seen the lake for the first time however, it had taken her breath away, had touched something within her that resonated with her love of all things beautiful.

She and Julian had sat side by side and just stared for so long that it had hurt their eyes. She could remember asking him if they would ever be able to buy the land and he had laughed and made some joke about when his ship came in which was funny because he suffered from mal de mer even when walking in a deep puddle.

So they had turned their wagon and the weary horse and finally arrived at the Washoe. It was not the world they were reared in, gentle Julian with his love of books and knowledge of Law, and she, born to a wealthy if unhappy family. They had found a place to set up their own site, Julian bought all that he was told was necessary to make his fortune which was a griddle pan, a shovel and a piece of paper legalising his claim.

She remembered all of those things as Fred drove the carriage through the Ponderosa, the track so well worn and hard packed now that it was a definite road, and smooth to travel upon. Well, she told herself, what could one expect after so many years and the woodland was less dense and dark there on the mountains, and she was sure there were no longer any Bannocks or Paiutes lurking behind each and every one.

“That’s Mr Adam Cartwrights place,” Fred yelled to her over his shoulder and she glanced down to where he pointed and nodded.

A fine building, stables, barn and corral all set out neatly before her, smoke rose from one chimney, she assumed that was the kitchen for it was too hot to have fires in every room now. Horses were doing what horses do when enclosed in a corral, some just stood watching the others, some pushed against the bars, but mostly they just seemed happy to stand about and let the warmth of the sun permeate their flesh and bones.

The carriage trundled along and Fred slowed it in order to turn into the yard that led to the Ponderosa ranch house and then yelled “Ben Cartwright’s place.”

It was the same but it was different. She sat there for a while staring at it, and remembered the first time she had seen it. Years back, when Julian was playing at being a miner hoping for the Big Bonanza. She had opened her laundry then, competing with several others but still making money, well, pokes of gold dust which she hid carefully away. Pensively she recalled the day Ben Cartwright had arrived in among the hotch potch of tents, shanties and cabins. He had a lanky lad with him who looked unimpressed by what he saw and someone had spat on the ground just as Ben was about to put his foot down.

Then there was the fight because back then anything and everything was settled by fists, guns or knives. Julian was trying to avoid being involved but somehow did, and then the next thing…he was sprawled out on the ground with bodies being thrown around and falling down, but he was the only one that never bounced back up. It had been Adam, the lanky youth, who had drawn Ben’s attention to the poor man laid out in the mud and between them had rescued Julian before he had been either trampled to death or drowned in the mud.

Ben Cartwright. She shook her head and smiled, Fred turned and said “You want me to stay, jest in care thar ain’t no one home?”

She nodded and was grateful for his help in getting down onto the level ground, she adjusted her hat, just in case all the bouncing about had dislodged it somehow, and then smoothed down her skirts. She was about to make sure the buttons of her jacket were suitably ‘done up’ when the door opened and a little boy ran onto the porch.

Not really a little boy, just a toddler with a cheeky grin, dimples and curling black hair. He paused when he saw her, and his dark eyes turned to look at Fred, then the carriage and then the horses and then he shrunk back a little into the legs of the man behind him.

Ben was smiling that wide generous grin that she could recall so well. His near black eyes opened in astonishment, for he had leaned forward a little in order to pick the child up and hold him before checking to see who his visitor could be.

“Martha?” his exclamation boomed, the child turned to look at her and lowered his brows as though acknowledging the presence of an intruder upon his time with his Grandpa. “Martha…when did you get into town? Why didn’t you let me know you were coming?”

She laughed, stretched out her hands to take hold of his for he had stretched out one hand to welcome her, “I came yesterday, I’m staying at the Whitney Hotel just now. I didn’t want to impose, Ben.”

“You wouldn’t have been imposing. You never could…well, well, Martha …” his voice trailed away, the boy clung to his neck, and watched her as she came closer and shyly he placed his head upon Ben’s shoulder and viewed her from under his long lashes. “Fred, Mrs Frobisher will be staying. Could you collect her luggage from the Whitney and bring it out?”

Fred nodded, inwardly he grumbled but he said nothing because he knew Ben would pay well, probably double what Miss Ridley would charge. By the time he had turned the carriage and taken the road out Martha was being ushered into the comfortable chair in the big room and Hop Sing was bobbing his head in delight

“Hop Sing remember Honourable Lady, most happy seeing you again, make you good food, make you very smiling and happy.”

“It’s good to see you again, Hop Sing.” she replied and with a sigh sat down and observed the room, observed the old cook and then looked up at Ben. “It’s good to be here at last, Ben.”

“I was beginning to think you would never get here. All those letters saying you would be here and then nothing…but you are here now, for how long will we have the pleasure?”

He sat down in the chair opposite her the boy dandling on his knee but still clinging close, He wondered what she was thinking about him, wondering perhaps how it was that so much time had passed by, and during that time they had both grown old.

“We were really sorry about Julian,” he said in an effort to break the silence that had fallen between them, “I’m sorry I was unable to get to the funeral.”

She shook her head and gave a slight shrug, it was some time back now, there was little point in splitting hairs about it. “Time moves on, Ben. It either overwhelms us or we get on with life and survive …somehow.”

He nodded and was about to speak when Hop Sing returned bearing a tray laden with all that was needed for them, he passed a cookie to the child who sat up straight to accept it with a quiet thanks. Ben seemed to suddenly remember that the boy was there and not a mere appendage to his knee, he smiled, gently caressed the boys back “This is Adam’s son, Nathaniel.”

She could hear the pride in his voice, the son of his own first born, yes, that was something to be proud of, and she smiled, “He looks like his father.”

“Yes, too much so, there are times when -” he paused and shook his head, “Well, enough of that, no point in looking backwards now.”

Hop Sing was pouring the coffee, handing her the cup in its pretty saucer, and smiling, there were dimples in his cheeks too, and his sloe black eyes were twinkling with the pleasure of seeing her. She could remember him as a young man, plump and vibrantly healthy, and always happy to do whatever Ben bade him, he was more friend than anyone else she had ever known Ben to possess.

Nathaniel seemed to think that time spent with Hop Sing in the kitchen was better than staying on Grandpa’s knee, perhaps even he sensed that the two people were going to engage in talking, and it would be too many words that he would not understand. Better to go and listen to Hop Sing jabber away in Cantonese, he was beginning to understand some of those words now.

Martha watched as the little child hung onto the edge of Hop Sings’ tunic, nibbling at his cookie. Then she turned her eyes to Ben and smiled, “Its good to see you again, Ben.”

Ben Cartwright leaned back into his chair and balanced the cup and saucer in his big hands, hard working hands, different from Julian’s which had always been soft fleshed and pale skinned. But then Julian had worked most of his life in an office, apart from that brief foray when he pretended to be a miner.

“I hope you enjoy your stay here, Martha. Hoss and Hester were looking forward to your visit, when you first wrote to say you were coming. What delayed you for so long?”

She paused, the cup half way to her lips, and then she smiled “Fear of the unknown perhaps, fear of leaving the comfort of all I knew back home. Without Julian to guide me these past years I have been rather adrift, making plans to go to Europe, then back East and here of course, but I always procrastinated. I kept thinking it was foolish of me, an old lady, to take to wandering the countryside again.”

“Well, Martha, you have never been foolish, and I for one, never ever accept the fact that just because the years have flown by, I have become old…and nor should you.”

They laughed together, a companionable happy laugh and in the kitchen Hop Sing nodded his head and said “Tian zuo zhi he …” (heaven made union)

Nathaniel nodded, he dimpled a smile at the venerable old man and said “He he he.”
…………………

Reuben was excited, he had enjoyed being with the boys, his ‘gang’ from school. It had been something so different that he couldn’t stop talking about it and didn’t seem to notice that his mother was giving him only scant attention. Her monosyllabic answers were quite sufficient, he didn’t pause for breath until Sofia yawned very loudly and leaned against her mother’s arm and said “I’m not listening no more, Reuben.”

“But, Sofee, it was such fun, you gotta listen. Jimmy said..”

“Don’t want to hear about him.”

“But he’s my friend. He said that…”

Sofia put her hands over her ears and closed her eyes, she began to hum a tune until Reuben stopped talking, his face dropped and his shoulders slumped. “You’re a spoil sport, Sofia Cartwright.”

Sofia just stuck her tongue out and closed her eyes tighter so that she didn’t have to see his face. Olivia, suddenly aware that there was about to be a squabble between her two told them to behave, to sit still, be quiet.

“But mommy, Reuben …”

“I said, quiet. Both of you. Don’t spoil a happy time by arguing. Reuben, I’m glad you had such fun with your friends. Would you like to do it again?”

She looked at him and smiled, anything rather than have him sitting there sulking beside her and the reward of his pleasure coming back to his face made her feel restored to equanimity. She looked at Sofia, “Now, young lady, don’t be rude to your brother, take your hands away from your ears and tell him about your time with Ella. I know he is just longing to hear about it all.”

She looked at her son sternly, that no nonsense from you look that meant he had to be polite and listen to his sister as she began to prattle on about Ella and the sweet cakes that Mrs Soames had made. He sighed good naturedly and leaned against his mother’s arm, and she, sitting between them sighed too. War had been averted yet again.

She couldn’t shake off thoughts about Beatrice and Edward Evans though. They trickled through her head even as she could hear her children chatting, their voices carrying back and forth across her as she drove the horses homewards. She had resolved not to dwell on anything that involved Mary Ann, quite rightly so, she knew it was between her and Beatrice and was something to do with the past. That was Mary Ann’s business, and so she had to let go of it. It was the way she had been dismissed that rankled, it had been so high handed of the older woman, and even though Olivia tried to tell herself that Beatrice was a sick woman, her dismissal was still more like a rebuke than anything else. After all that there was Mr Evans – what was the matter with the man? Why had he wanted to discuss with her thing about which she had no knowledge?

She was confused, and more than a little annoyed. She urged the horses on a little faster having resolved in her mind to visit Hester rightaway, after all, she had to collect her little Nathaniel from the main house. The horses trotted obediently onwards, and it was only due to her skill that they didn’t ride straight into the carriage that Fred was in control of …well, in a manner of speaking of course!

She had to draw the horses to a standstill and wait for the carriage to pass by, Fred may have seen her but then he didn’t slow down to acknowledge her so it as more than likely that he had not. What she wondered was Fred doing on the Ponderosa? Who, she wondered, could possibly have been visiting, or rather, staying…for she had not seen any occupant in the carriage, unless the unfortunate person had toppled off the seat and was rolling about semi-conscious on the carriage floor!

Chapter 37

Olivia was the first to arrive at the Ponderosa and followed her children as they ran to the door which opened so quickly upon their approach that it caught them by surprise. Ben stood there with his hands on his hips and a big grin on his face, the look that indicated to Olivia mischief for there were times when Ben could look like a little boy planning all sorts of nefarious deeds.

“Ben?” she frowned slightly and slowed her footsteps “What are you up to?”

“No, no, nothing? Who? Me? No, nothing at all.” Ben protested and laughed which made Reuben stop and stare up at his grandfather, and ask him if he was alright.

Sofia had no such qualms, she just ran on straight ahead and then stopped in her tracks. Martha had left her chair to approach the door but had stopped when Sofia had ran indoors, she smiled and nodded, so this was the little girl who was now so grown up, “Well, Sofia, what a big girl you have become.”

“Do I know you?” Sofia asked rather doubtfully, her head to one side as she viewed Martha rather suspiciously.

“You did, once upon a time. You came with your mother and Adam, and your brother when you were in San Francisco. That was a long time ago now though, and I suppose you have forgotten.”

Sofia nodded “I think I have. I don’t think you are my Grandma, Abigail, are you?”

“No,” Martha laughed, a quiet soft laugh that stopped when she looked up to see Olivia and Reuben.

“Oh Martha!” Olivia exclaimed, stopping in her tracks and then hurrying onwards in an odd jerky movement that quite intrigued Sofia who was still trying to work out who this lady was. “Oh Martha, how lovely to see you here. This is such a splendid surprise.”

They hugged one another warmly and Olivia could smell the sweet perfume of the older woman, her softness and fragility. Martha released her and then stepped back, shook her head and sighed contentedly “Oh Olivia, you look lovely.”

Ben was right there behind them, hovering as though he couldn’t get enough of them. Nathaniel came running for his Momma, hands outstretched and little legs hurrying in order to be picked up and held close so that he could survey the other lady from the safety of mother’s arms.

“Martha, oh it has been too long.” Olivia sighed and looked at Reuben “Reuben, do you remember visiting Martha and Julian when we were in San Francisco? Come and say hello.”

Reuben shook Martha’s hand in a very grown up manner, he had a very vague memory of the older couple but as he said he was very young back then. This impressed Martha and she laughed again, and said he was a very wise child.

“Well, I don’t remember” Sofia protested looking rather cross, “I don’t think I ever did see you before.”

No one said anything to that, Olivia just steered her daughter in the direction of the kitchen and told her to go and help Hop Sing.

No sooner had they all settled in various chairs around the hearth then the door opened and Hester arrived, Erik in her arms and looking hot and flustered.

“I should have taken the buggy. I forgot how long that walk is with a babe in arms and the heat already. Hannah and Hope are dragging their feet as usual, you would think that having younger legs they would be able to at least keep up with me.” she leaned down to usher the little girls into the room, upon which Hope declared ‘Thanwell.” and ran off to find her little cousin, and Hannah looked for Sofia who appeared like a Jack in the Box from the kitchen.

“Olivia, I saw your buggy outside…” Hester pulled off her sun bonnet and nearly tipped Erik out of her arms as she did so. “How did you get on in town?”

Then she saw Martha who was smiling at her from her position in the chair, but seeing Hester’s eyes now fallen upon her, she stood up and stepped forward to be introduced to this flaming haired young woman.

“Martha – may I introduce Hester, and Erik …oh, and Hannah and Hope.” Ben said with a note of pride in his voice that didn’t go undetected by his daughter in law who awarded him a smile.as she stepped up to shake hands with their visitor

“We have been expecting your visit for so long, Mrs Frobisher…”

“Martha…please…call me Martha.”

Hester nodded, smiled “Hoss will be so pleased to see you. Olivia, could you take Erik? I must see to your room, Mrs … I mean … Martha.”

Martha watched her hurry up the stairs and then looked at Ben, who smiled with that big smile of patriarchal pride many men adopt when they think they have achieved great things with very little effort. She looked at Olivia now holding the baby, literally, and sat down again,

“Ben, when was the last time I saw Hoss?” she asked thoughtfully and Ben sat down opposite her and stroked his chin, while baby Erik dribbled contentedly in Olivia’s arms and upstairs they could hear Hester’s footsteps on the floor boards of the spare room.

“Oh, I think he was just a little boy, Martha.”

“If you could ever imagine Hoss being little,” Olivia said with a smile.

“It was just before you left Virginia City, Hoss never had reason to visit you in ‘Frisco, not even when I would have reason to do so.” Ben said, “It must have been after Joe was born.”

“I remember, yes, and before Marie died. I remember how Julian wanted to come to her funeral, Ben, but life was less simple then, and travelling more hazardous.”

“Hard to imagine now…” Ben smiled at her, and then at Olivia “So much has changed.”

“It has indeed,” Martha nodded, “I actually enjoyed riding through the Ponderosa today, knowing that there wasn’t a Paiute or Bannock behind any tree, ready to attack me at any moment.”

Olivia nodded thoughtfully, she hadn’t realised until then that Martha would have been in Virginia City when she and her mother and brothers had been taken by the Bannock. Perhaps she had been one of those townspeople who had caused her father to turn his back on the town? She shrugged the thought away, she like Martha and preferred not to spoil the friendship with doubts and negatives of time long gone.

Hester returned and looked pleased with herself, she smiled at them all and retrieved Erik, and just as she was about to speak the door opened and Hoss stepped into the room.

More introductions, and to the background of children’s chatter and laughter, a baby wailing for food, and the clutter from the kitchen as Hop Sing prepared more coffee and refreshments for ‘special guest’ Martha was made welcome to the Ponderosa.
………………

Bridie Martin sat on the opposite side of the hearth in the Double D while she carefully stitched some smocking on the little garment that she had worked on all morning. Her needle darted in and out with enviable skill and dexterity, while her mind flitted over the matters of most concern at that moment in time.

Marcy was baking, preparing the main meal of the day and looking happy, relaxed and healthy. She had several times told Bridie that there was no need for her to stay any longer than they had arranged, that she was very well, and that the baby was ’quite happy’. But it seemed to Bridie that things had changed a little since her arrival, and that the baby had decided to turn about sooner than it should have done. To Bridie’s practised eye it seemed to her that this baby was going to arrive much sooner than they had anticipated. Of course, Marcy had insisted that her dates were correct, but after discussing it in more depth came to the conclusion that she really didn’t have a clue as to when she had conceived.

Bridie contented herself with the knowledge that Paul had been satisfied that all was well, and he had overseen the safe delivery of most babies in the territory, or so it seemed.

“Marcy, why not sit down and rest a little now, dear.”

“I will, I will Mrs Martin, I just have to make sure this is finished and I can put it in the oven to cook.”

Bridie sighed, and was about to speak when there was a rap on the door and Marcy stopped working, seemed to freeze to the floor and then with the colour rushing to her face hurried to open to the knock. There was a mumble of voices and then the door closed and Marcy came running into the room, her face glowing with excitement.

“Oh I thought it was Luke home, then …of course …realised he would not be knocking but look, the second best thing, Mrs Martin, a cable from him. Willard just brought them from town.”

She waved two envelopes in her hand and then sat down, taking a deep breath as she did so. For a moment she sat there, her hands in her lap and holding the envelopes between her fingers until Bridie said “Well, open them …let’s see what they say?”

The first was ripped open immediately and informed Marcy that Luke was on his way home. “One week away, my darling.”

“Just think, only a week away, Mrs Martin.” she hugged the cablegram to her chest, and took a deep breath, “Oh thank goodness, I shall be so glad to see my Luke here again.”

Bridie made the appropriate noises and then waited for the next envelope to be opened. It was a letter, and Marcy frowned and shook her head “Oh dear, I still can’t read all these joined up words, would you read the letter for me, please, Mrs Martin?”

The letter was not long, but the writing was terrible, Bridie had to concentrate hard to read it :

“My deer sister, Marcy

I am back now from what was a trip east, nearly to Washington but not quite. But I heer you have a baby due …I will be coming to Virginee City soon, and will come to see you and your husbind. I would like to see you and the baby too. Tell the Captain all is well. Me and Armstrong did a good job. He will be pleased. But now, Marcy, I have to go, so I shall see you soon. Take care. From your brother Jacko.”

“Jacko. Oh my goodness, Mrs Martin…do you remember Jacko?” Marcy laughed, memories of that time before Adam and Olivia were wed, when Jacko had arrived in the big house in San Francisco, and Bridie was just their dear old Flannel…she sighed deeply, “Oh, he was always my favourite brother.”

Bridie smiled and nodded “He seems to have a charmed life too.”

They shared a smile, the letter was carefully folded and replaced into its envelope and handed over to Marcy to keep safe. Marcy rose to her feet and smiled, smoothed her arpon and skirts over her bump, and returned to her task of preparing the meal. Bridie bowed her head and continued to thread through her smocking…
…………….

The night was full of stars, the chuck wagon was parked by the rocks and the horses cropped the sparse grass that grew in and round the camp. A fire burned brightly, sending sparks flying skywards until they were lost like little red soldiers fleeing an oncoming army.

The men were settled around the fire and had enjoyed a meal that Sam had cooked for them, each one of them nursed mugs of coffee in between their hands. Luke was lying on the ground, his feet towards the flames and his back resting upon his saddle. The coffee was good, a dash of something extra in it had smoothed its bitterness. He stared into the flames and thought of his little wife, he wondered how long it would be before he had a son, or daughter, and sighed with contentment. Not long now, he would soon be home.

Derwent was leaning against a boulder, he too was staring into the flames and wondering what it was that made fire so hypnotic. They had eaten well, and were all now past the talking stage, each man there wanting to be isolated with thoughts of their own. Leroy stood up and walked to the bucket where he dropped in his cup and plate, he looked at the men there and felt that he had grown up over the past few weeks, from a youth to a man. He was proud of that fact, he had been commended by the trail boss for being such a conscientious worker, and he knew that he had been, for not one horse had been lost, or suffered any mishap while he had been in charge.

“That town was strange, wasn’t it?” Fletcher muttered, breaking into the silence as memory of the dead town slipped into his mind.

“Yeah, it was.” Sam replied and poured out more coffee for those who raised their mugs for a refill. Leroy regretted having put his in the wash bucket and went to the wagon to get a fresh one.

“Why did they leave all their stuff behind?” Leroy asked as he resumed his place around the fire, “All those stores with their goods there, and the saloons…fancy leaving bottles of champagne and stuff like that … why would they do that?”

“Well, if Adam’s right and they have just moved along to Buffalo Flats, they can always go with a wagon and take their stock should they feel the need to do so.” Fletcher muttered.

“The law of the range,” Sam said, “If you ain’t going to use it, leave it for those who come along after jest in case they can use it. Seemed to me that was what happened in some of them places.”

They nodded agreement, the law of the range was an unspoken one, but universally understood. They sipped their coffee, Luke said they were glad that they had caught up with them in time to make most of the journey with company. Sam agreed, it was good to have the men together like this, it made the evenings pleasant and sociable.

“Just think, no cows…” Derwent sighed and lowered himself into his bedroll.

“No smells.” Fletcher laughed

“Thank goodness,” Leroy muttered and swallowed the rest of the coffee before casting it into the bucket.

Chapter 38

It was confusing to Alicia, she could not quite understand exactly what was going on in her household. Even though she was fighting hard against it, and goodness me, she was trying really hard, there was an air of concord about the house that was lessening the grip of resentment and hostility that she had more or less fostered since their arrival.

Even her dislike of Mary Ann Cartwright was slowly fading. It was almost alarming if it had not been such a relief to get rid of something that had been like a stone weighing her down so much.

As she took her seat at the breakfast table she looked around the room, no, she looked around her dining room and admired how the sun was slanting at just the right angle to make the colours of the flowers look more beautiful. James’ had brought her them the previous day after his rounds. She looked also at how the sun just reached the back of the books on the shelves, bathing their spines in golden light so that the titles seemed to shine. She loved her books, and most of those on the shelves were favourites of hers…poetry, the classics, books on botony and painting and … oh, well, it all looked just how she always wanted a room of her own to look.

She had fought against this feeling for weeks now, resisting James’ overtures at first with snapped off replies to his questions, disinterest in his work, flouncing out of the room when he came in full of smiles and sweet talk.

Then one day she had glanced behind her and seen his reflection in the mirror … she should not have done that, she told herself later, it had been her undoing. She had seen the rigidity of her shoulders and proud head, and she had seen the sadness in his face, the look of loss in his eyes, the way his head had drooped as though the burden she had placed upon him was too much for him to bear.

But the next time they met he had been smiling, chatting, and she had leaned forward to catch a whiff of alcohol, because if he were that miserable, then he obviously had swallowed at least half a bottle of Bourbon to be so relaxed and convivial now.

There had been no smells, no evidence, no proof of his imbiding. There had been no glasses left for her to find, no bottles of anything at all for her to discover. The housemaid had looked bemused and horrified when Alicia had approached her to hint at the master hiding away bottles of anything alcoholic. To Alicia’s amazement the little woman had almost laughed at her, “Didn’t you know, m’am, but Master signed the Pledge. Him and Mr deQuille together.”

That had taken the wind right out of Alicia’s sails. James had not mentioned it to her, but why not? Then she had told herself the answer, why should he? Would she have been interested? Well, the way she treated him, he had every right to assume that she would not have been interested at all.

She looked up as the door opened and her husband stepped into the room, he smiled at her and bade her good morning, had she slept well?

“Thank you, James, I did sleep well. And how are you?”

He looked at her, slightly doubtful, mostly hopeful. Then he looked down at the table and waited for the girl to serve out the breakfast, before he looked up at his wife again and smiled “I’m alright. Thank you.”

Alicia nodded, smiled again. How polite they were, she thought, polite and civil. But that was better than a few weeks ago, when it would have been so frigid, so cold and perhaps she would have tossed down her napkin and left the room for no reason at all, except that he was the man sharing the meal with her in this awful terrible place she did not want to be living in .

“You look tired, James. Were you late home last night?” a tentative enquiry, she picked up her cup, and looked over the rim at him.

He did look tired, and thinner of face. He glanced up “A woman had a baby boy last night, she’s going to call him James.”

She smiled, she felt a glow of pride touch her heart and then felt surprised…sometimes that had happened in Calico, a grateful parent would name their infant after the doctor who delivered it. She had always been so proud when James came home to tell her. She wondered how many women were calling their babies James here, in Virginia City?

“And there was a shooting in the saloon, a young man shot someone.” James’ brow furrowed in the familiar corrugation and his eyes shadowed, “They were so young.” he glanced at her, “I didn’t disturb you, did I? I know I was later coming home…”

She shook her head, no, he didn’t disturb her because they slept in separate bedrooms. She had stipulated that within a week of moving here, when the smell of alcohol would belch out at her in their bed. She looked at her meal and then up at him

“The flowers you brought me yesterday look lovely, James. Thank you.”

He looked surprised, the housemaid in the act of pouring more coffee looked amazed and nearly forgot herself and overfilled the cups. Alicia felt her cheeks colouring, had it been so long since she had been civil to her husband? She said nothing more, she needed to concentrate on her meal.

James looked at his wife’s bowed head and then at the flowers, he wanted to say something but couldn’t find the words. The rest of the meal was eaten in silence, but it was pleasant, it was amicable.
…………..

Sofia hugged Ella and then sat down beside her with a smile “Ella, there is going to be the Founders Day Fete soon, you will come, won’t you?”

Ella looked excited, her face flushed and her eyes shone “A fete? Whereabouts? What happens?”

“Oh, it will be on the big field on the edge of town, and there will be stalls full of candy, and cakes, and drinks. One time there was a man making ice cream, real It -tal- lion ice cream. Another time there was some pink stuff, sweet and sticky and it was like eating sugar on a stick.” she licked her lips and rounded her eyes “Mmmmm, de lic ious.”

Ella laughed “I’ve never had sugar on a stick before. What else happens?”

“Well, there are fun games to play, and there’s a horse race …my daddy sometimes rides in it, and so does Uncle Joe.”

“Do they win?”

“Not always, sometimes.” Sofia frowned, she could recall that there was a family joke about a time when Uncle Joe had won the race but she couldn’t remember much about it except that her daddy had to give Uncle Joe a very expensive rifle.

“What else, Sofia…what else?”

Sofia smiled, it was exciting to see Ella so happy to hear about the Fete, so she told her about the arm wrestling, “Uncle Hoss always wins that.”

“It’s because he’s so big and strong, I saw him once, Mommy said he was like Goliath.”

Sofia thought about that, then nodded “I think so,” she agreed and then told Ella about the Flapjack eating contest “Uncle Hoss usually wins that too. He doesn’t eat any breakfast to make sure he can eat as many flapjacks as he can. He has a big appetite.”

“I guess so, to be that big …” Ella nodded thoughtfully. “Is there anything that we can do? Races and things like that?”

“Some, not many. Mostly we just run around and we have money to spend on anything we like.” she frowned “There was one time when a boy pushed me in the river and I nearly drowned. Uncle Joe dived in and saved me.”

“Your Uncle Joe is a hero then.” Ella looked grave, and put her hand into Sofia’s “That was a naughty boy who did that, why did he do it? Is he still in town now?”

Sofia shook her head “No, he isn’t in town any more. He was called Billy. He was not a nice boy, but he is now. He writes letters to Reuben.”

“But why did he push you in the river?”

Sofia shook her head, thinking about it now, she still didn’t understand why Billy had pushed her like that, she sighed “He was unhappy.”

She sighed, Ella looked at her friend and then sighed as well. There was nothing more to be said on that subject. They sat together for a while in silence and then Sofia smiled and chatter recommenced.

In the other room Emily Soames listened to the girls and then smiled over at Olivia who was wondering how Mary Ann was getting on with Beatrice Evans. Would she be able to explain without offending the older woman why Sofia didn’t want to have any more piano lessons there? As she listened to Emily telling her about the progress Ella was making with her exercises, Olivia began to consider the fact that perhaps she should have been the one to explain about her daughters refusal to go to Beatrice. But then again, how could she tell the woman that Sofia had been so upset at the sight of seeing her Aunt reduced to tears the last time they were there.

She smiled and nodded, murmured how wonderful it was that Jimmy was helping Ella and then, wrenching her thoughts away from Mary Ann and Beatrice, she raised the subject of the Fete, it was a safe subject to discuss after all.
………….

It had not been difficult for Mary Ann to broach the subject of Sofia’s refusal to attend her piano lesson. Beatrice had rather anticipated the non arrival of her little pupil and as Mary Ann did not labour the point or cover all the reason for Sofia’s absence Beatrice felt reassured that it would not be long before Sofia would be back.

Mrs Price brought in the customary tray laden with refreshment and Mary Ann smiled, sat down and looked over at Beatrice with her grey eyes limpid and gentle. “Olivia said that last time she saw you, that you were unwell.”

“It was not a good day, dear. This condition of mine flares up and makes me quite ill. I’m afraid that upon retrospect I was rather abrupt with your sister in law. I hope she understood and was not offended.”

“She understood, Beatrice. Olivia is very compassionate.” Mary Ann smiled at Mrs Price and accepted the fine bone china tea cup from her, “But you are feeling better now?”

“At present.” Beatrice replied and watched as Mrs Price placed her cup and saucer on a side table, “Mary Ann, was I wrong in telling you what had happened? It has preyed on my mind ever since, and I hate to think that I caused you further distress about the matter.”

Mary Ann paused with the cup hovering by her lips, she sipped some of the tea and then placed the cup upon the saucer with a deliberateness that was prompted by her determination to speak about something she would have pretended she knew nothing about.

“I didn’t like what you told me but later when I thought about it, I think I suspected all along.”

“You did? But how?” Beatrice blushed a little, and sat slightly more upright.

“Oh I don’t know how,” Mary Ann shrugged and gave a little wistful smile, “Children do absorb things without realising, don’t they? I knew you were beautiful, my mother loved your music and thought you were wonderful. As a child I was made to feel very honoured that Papa had asked you to teach me to become a pianist. I thought he was doing something for me, and for Mama.”

“But then you realised …”

“Not then, not really everything. Just that at times I thought it was strange that he would be there, hovering in the back ground when he should have been teaching at school. There were times when the expression on his face would confuse me. I didn’t understand then about how men react to the women that appeal to them… in that way.”

“In that way… yes, I suppose that is rather a polite description.” Beatrice smiled, a twist of the lips, no humour in it at all of course.

“I could use the words… lust after.” Mary Ann said with a slightly colder tone of voice.

“Mary Ann, believe me, I did nothing to encourage your father. I truly did not…”

“I believe you, Beatrice. You did not have to do anything, the music, your talent, your beauty.. that was all he needed.”

Beatrice frowned, nodded “Can I tell you … everything?”

“You mean there’s more?” Mary Ann stared at the other woman, she set the cup and saucer down upon the table and sat back in her chair as though trapped, she blinked and shivered, “You mean …my father…?”

“Years before when I was a child, your father and I were at the same school, We grew up together in the same town, that is how we knew one another so well. I think he always did love me a little, but our paths went in different directions as I concentrated on my music and he on his teaching. Slowly our lives went in totally different directions. I met Edward, and your father met your mother. Frank was born and so were you….and it so happened that I was struggling to become a successful musician, Edward was my manager, and we met your father …”

“And he still loved you?” Mary Ann whispered, thinking of her mother, her lovely sweet mother. How did it feel to know her husband loved someone else?

“No, he didn’t, he loved your mother very much. I was becoming quite well known on the concert circuit, but my health was always uncertain and so during one of those times when I was unable to keep up with the tours and so forth, your father asked me to teach you. Your mother had died, and I needed the money. Apart from which it was a pleasure to teach someone with talent, like yourself.”

“And then it happened?”

“Yes, it happened.” Beatrice paused a moment, hovered between indecision as to how far she should go in revealing the secrets so long concealed from this young woman.But she had said enough to commit herself to more so after taking a deep breath she continued..” After it happened, Edward gave your father the thrashing he deserved. Frank saw it, the fight I mean. He was very young, he came running out, begging them to stop.”

The two of them lapsed into silence, Mary Ann gripped her fingers tightly within the ball of her fists, and bit down upon her lips, she stared at the floor, and longed to go home, to be with baby Constance and Daniel.

“And what happened?” she heard her voice ask, “I mean..was that when you decided to leave me? Us?” Mary Ann struggled to breathe for a moment, she even put a hand up to loosen the lace collar at her throat, then steadied for she always prided herself as being a ‘modern woman’ not given to fainting fits or ‘the vapours’ “Obviously you had to leave, how could you have borne to stay longer?”

“Yes, that is what happened, Mary Ann, it just that one time, dear, but Edward and I left as soon as we possibly could. Shortly after that my little girl was born.” she sighed again and looked thoughtfully down at the floor as though in an attempt to collect her thoughts and her words.

Mary Ann swallowed hard, once again she put a hand to her throat as though her little lace collar was choking her, she shook her head “It’s very hard to accept, to understand…” she licked her lips “The child…was she my father’s?”

“To be honest with you, Mary Ann, I do not know. Perhaps, perhaps not…it didn’t matter to either of us, Edward and I loved her. She meant the world to us.” Beatrice said very softly and with some difficulty for she was now always in pain, she moved away from her chaise longue and sat beside the younger woman, placed a hand over the clenched fists “Mary Ann, we are all fallible, we make mistakes in our lives. I should have left your home as soon as I realised that your father’s feelings for me had been reawakened. But I did not, I allowed myself to think it would be alright, ,nothing would happen. But it did. Your father was -”

“I know what my father was, Beatrice. I have known what my father was like for a long time before he died. Frank loathed him, I never knew why, but of course, I do now. I was wary of him, of his moods, and yet I always told myself he loved my mother so much, he had to be a good man, surely, for her to have loved him.”

Beatrice smiled and nodded “He was a good man, but he was weak, and he couldn’t resist putting his hand to the flame.”

“Getting burned as a result…”

“Oh, yes, true enough. But my little girl was so lovely, Edward was a good father to her and he never blamed me for what happened. He could have done, couldn’t he?” a pained expression passed over Beatrice’s face, and for a moment Mary Ann saw the doubt that she had had to live with slip over the lovely features of the other woman.

“Then you left and returned to the concerts?”

“Yes, my daughter was born, I returned to the concerts, Edward was my manager, and the father to a lovely little girl. It was a hard life, but one I loved… so many people, so many concerts and wonderful countries to visit. It was a wonderful life. But then this illness, my little girl’s death, everything …”

They lapsed into silence once more, hand in hand, exhausted by talking and neither knowing what else to say.

 

Chapter 39

“Do you know where Pa is?”

Hoss Cartwright blurted out the question even before he had removed his hat, his blue eyes swivelled around the room as though Ben would materialise like some genie out of a bottle. The look on his face and exasperation in his voice caused his little girls to laugh. He slapped down his hat and scowled as Hester got to her feet and hurried over to give him a welcome home kiss. It was obvious from his hot and bothered appearance that he was far from his genial self.

“He’s gone out, dear.” she smiled and kissed his cheek.

“He’s gone out in the best buggy and gone out with Aunty Martha.” Hannah said in her squeaky voice

“Gone out on pic nic.” Hope added as she hugged onto her father’s leg like the proverbial barnacle on a ship’s hull.

“Dangblast it!” Hoss groaned and began to unbuckle his gun belt “He was supposed to be in town this morning to sign a contract with Mr Bannister.”

“Gone on pic nic.” Hope repeated.

“With Aunty Martha.” Hannah grinned, she loved hearing her Pa cussing and hoped for a repeat performance.

“Shucks, I done waited for two hours, wasting time…Bannister ain’t none too pleased either. I sure wish Adam and Joe would get back soon, seems I have to do three mens work around here nowadays.”

He slouched himself down onto the settee and opened his arms wide in order to accommodate his two little girls who swarmed over him with smiles and kisses which he loved but wouldn’t admit to because then he would lose his bad temper. He didn’t often lose his ‘equilibrium’ as Adam called it, but when he did he liked it to last in order to enjoy the effect it had on everyone.

Hop Sing came into the big room and nodded over at Hoss “Mr Ben go on pic nic with Missy Martha.”

“I know, so I’ve already been told.” Hoss groaned, “Sure wish he had told me his plans before I went dashing off to town like some idjit.”

“Idjit?” Hannah laughed and shook her head, and nearly rolled off her father’s knee she was laughing so hard.

“No, daddy, no…” Hope shook her head, she didn’t want her daddy to think of himself as an idiot. She kissed him and hugged him so tight that Hoss felt he was being strangled.

“Missy Martha one very pretty lady. Mr Ben look at her with poppy eyes. She say he as handsome now as ever.” Hop Sing nodded and smiled so much it looked as though his face was split in half.

“She sees him through rose tinted glasses, you mean, Hop Sing.” Hester laughed now and picked up the tray to bring it to the other lower table.

“No, no, poppy eyes, memories and dreams… very romantic” he nodded and smiled again, before leaving the room with Hope following on behind in anticipation of being given some thing sweet in the kitchen. She knew she was Hop Sings favourite, but then, all kids think they are Hop Sings favourite.

“Your father did say he was going to take Martha into town and then to the theatre.” Hester smiled at Hoss who was now examining his thumb where he had blistered it earlier that day.”And after that to Del Monico’s for a good meal.”

“Which means he’ll be late home.” Hoss groaned and shook his head “Which also means I ain’t gonna have a chance to discuss things with him before bed.”

“You can stay up late and see him when he gets back..” his wife said, raising her eyebrows and smiling as she did so.

“Yeah? By which time it will be time for me to get up again to do all the work around here.”

Hannah looked from her mother to her father and sighed “I’ll help you, Pa.”

“So will I, dear. What do you want us to do first, chop the wood, shoe a few horses, hang a new door on the stable?”

Hoss frowned, he looked at his wife and shook his head “You serious?” he asked, which prompted Hester to lean over and kiss him very tenderly and pat him on the cheek.

“We’ll do whatever it is you want from us, dear.”

Hoss flopped back into the settee, and sighed deeply, “I just wish Adam and Joe were back.” he grimaced as he accepted the cup of coffee from his wife, “They sure are going to git a surprise when they see Martha here”

“Mmm, even more of a surprise to see how your Pa has taken to this visit from her.” Hester said quietly and poured herself some coffee and then handed Hannah a cookie, “Go and see what your sister is up to, dear. I don’t want her eating too much before dinner.”
……………..

Mary Ann knocked lightly on the door before pushing it open and stepping into the porch. By the time she was opening the inner door to the big room Sofia was reaching up to the handle but stepped back for her aunt to step inside.

“Mommy, mommy, Aunty Mary Ann is here…” and after making the announcement Sofia flung herself into her Aunt’s arms.

“I hope I’m not intruding…” Mary Ann laughed at the welcome she was given and accepted the kiss on her cheek from Olivia as she gently disengaged Sofia’s arms from her, “Where are the boys?”

“In the stable. Reuben has been busy in there and Nathaniel wanted to help. Sofia, it may be a good idea if you would go and check on them. You know how Nathaniel tends to get into things and perhaps you could check on Buster, you have neglected him rather of late.”

Sofia frowned a little, pouted her protest but was wise enough to know that the adults wanted some private time so with a slight shrug she turned and ran out into the yard. Olivia watched her for a moment and then turned to her sister in law, before reaching to take hold of her hand.

“Where’s Constance and Daniel?”

“I left them with Jenny. She’s very good with them, and I didn’t really want to take them into town.”

Mary Ann followed Olivia to the circle of chairs and settee’s that embraced the big hearth, there was no fire burning as the day was warm enough, windows were open to let in a breeze so soft that it was barely noticeable. They sat down side by side, a little apart, just enough, and after Olivia had made a comment about shopping, Mary Ann shook her head

“No, I went in to see Beatrice. I needed to find out more about this matter …”

“This matter?” Olivia frowned, and shook her head “Mary Ann, you have to realise…”

“I know, Beatrice told me how rude she was to you, and asked me to apologise on her behalf. She was feeling too ill to wrap things up with good manners and polite words.”

“Oh I could see she was ill, and to be honest she had every right to speak as she did.” Olivia smiled, “I am sorry, Mary Ann, I hope you didn’t think I was prying into your affairs. Hester and I were concerned for you and after Sofia had told us you were upset, and you wouldn’t say why, it seemed only fair that one of us should find out so that we could help in some way. Of course I soon realised that there are boundaries of what one should know and should not ,”

Mary Ann nodded “Thank you, Olivia. I know you were both concerned about me, it was just that what I had been told came as a shock.” a slight frown, the very slightest of crinkles in her smooth brow, she shook her head now, “It’s strange really, that despite it being a shock it was, upon thinking about it, not a surprise at all. I mean, some things were but …”

Her voice trailed off and she stared rather vaguely at the gridirons without speaking, Olivia squeezed her hand gently “Mary Ann, it is still none of my business. Whatever the matter was between you and Beatrice has to be respected and kept in it’s proper place, which is between you both.”

“I know,” Mary Ann nodded again, “Yes, I know you are right, it is just that it weighs heavily on my mind and I want to let go of it. Do you know what I mean?”

Her grey eyes looked imploringly up at Olivia and the older woman nodded, and again squeezed her hands, “Look, dear, sometimes when you share a secret, especially when it involves other people like Beatrice, then you have to think of the consequences.”

“Consequences?”

“Yes, of course. If you were to be asked by Beatrice if you had told anyone …do you think she could trust you with how she felt about other things knowing you had told me, or Hester? And once you had told me, would you be comfortable knowing that I now knew something very personal about yourself?” Olivia frowned slightly as she pondered on how to express herself more clearly on this sensitive matter “If Sofia had not told us how upset you had been, would you have mentioned it to us?”

Mary Ann thought for a moment. The clock chimed the hour but both women remained silent. Then Mary Ann nodded, “you’re right, I wouldn’t have mentioned it to either of you not until I knew exactly what had happened and even then …” She frowned and then continued “It isn’t about me, not really.” Mary Ann sighed, bowed her head and tapped her foot on the floor as though impatient now to either say something or get up and leave. “It concerns my father…”

“In that case, it really is none of our business, is it? Don’t you think it would be kinder to leave it as it is? If you were needing to tell anyone at all, perhaps you should mention it to Joe.” now Olivia paused once more for she knew only too well how a women needs to confide in another woman at times. She smiled gently, “So long as we know you are alright, Mary Ann, thats really all we need to know. And so long as you know we are always here to help you?, But this secret belongs to the past and really the only person you should confide in, is your husband.”

Again Mary Ann hesitated, then she sighed and nodded “Yes, you’re right. I suppose that is really what I needed and wanted to hear from you. Just to get my thinking straight on the matter.”

A noise from behind them and in ran Nathaniel holding a hand up and with tears in his eyes “Mommy, mommy…”

“Oh dear, come here, let me see…” Olivia leaned forward to pick the little boy up onto her lap and stared at the finger that Nathaniel waved under her nose, steadying the child’s hand so that she could actually focus on the injury she nodded and sighed, kissed it better and sent him running off happily back out of the room.

Mary Ann sat there for a moment or two to gather her thoughts and was startled out of her reverie when Olivia said “I saw Pa in the best rig taking Martha out for a pic nic, well, I presume it is a pic nic from the size hamper I saw in the back.”

“Oh really?” Mary Ann’s eyes widened, she smiled and then laughed a little, “Do you think there’s a little romance brewing there?”

“Well,” Olivia raised conspiratorial eyebrows, “We shall have to wait and see…but they did look rather charming together.”
………………

The lake looked more beautiful on this pleasantly warm day. May time was always a month of changes, weather was balmy and calm, sweet smelling and gentle. Blue skies were clear of clouds and the softest of breezes touched the heads of drowsy flowers as they basked in the sunlight among the tall grasses. Ben guided the horses down to a slight incline and then drew them to a halt.

Martha sat with a slight smile on her face, she watched as the blue lake reflected the sky, and the hills with the dark clustering of trees upon their ridges. “It’s very beautiful here, Ben.”

“Yes, it is. One of my favourite spots. In fact, I remember stopping the wagon here all those years ago and wondering whether or not to build the house here. Our house for the boys and myself.” he smiled slowly and his dark eyes grew if possible slightly darker with reminiscences. “Adam and Hoss got down from the wagon and ran through the grass, and I just stood here and looked at those hills, the lake … it took my breath away”

“I can well believe it, Ben. The first time I saw the lake, with Julian, it took ours away too. Had we had the money we would have purchased land here. Perhaps beaten you to it, even.” and she looked at him and laughed.

Her laugh was young, it contained the beauty of youth, it’s promise and vigour. Only the young look at an older person with a jaundiced eye, forgetting that wrapped within the folds of years was still the person they had been at 18, 28 even 48 … white hair and the wear of the years created unfair judgements on the person within.

Ben took her hand and assisted her down from the buggy, and while she adjusted her skirt he went to the back of the vehicle to get down the pic nic hamper and a blanket. It was Martha who spread the blanket out for them to sit upon and Ben who opened the hamper.

“Well, Hop Sing certainly was out to impress.” he observed with a wry laugh.

She looked in at the food, the bottles of wine and the gleaming chinaware and cutlery. As Ben produced two glasses she set out the plates and food, before observing. “This looks far too much to eat, he won’t be disappointed if we have to take some back, will he?”

“Well, ,we’ll eat some, take a stroll around and then come back and eat some more.” Ben chuckled and handed her a glass of wine, a Reisling, “Thank you for coming to the Ponderosa, Martha. Its been a long time.”

“Yes, it has, perhaps I should have come before when Julian was alive, he loved visiting your Ponderosa. Seeing the boys…strange how things happen, isn’t it, Ben? I think to some extent I was frightened to leave San Francisco, it became a kind of haven.”

“Why were you frightened? What exactly were you scared of…” he looked puzzled, but sipped his wine and waited for her to speak.

“Perhaps of the memories I had of this place, of the Washoe…the violence and the fear. You have to remember that I lived among those people,, while you were safely miles away on your ranch. I never knew from one day to the other if Julian would come back alive from our claim.”

Ben nodded, it was true, one had to live in a place to know what it was really like. He had only made brief excursions into the mining camp, and what he had seen had not made him hurry to return more often. She sighed, and shook her head, “It was not fair, the way greed makes people so savage. Brief hopes extinguished, lives destroyed for a dream. I watched young families arrive in their wagons, sometimes young couples who had walked miles upon miles…and they would always stop and stare as though bewildered, and then you would see the fear in the womens’ eyes, and the doubt in the mens as they stared out upon all those tents and cabins with barely enough space between them to walk around.”

“I can imagine, I saw that too…suddenly the realisation that the dream was going to be a nightmare to start with, and sometimes, the nightmare never came to an end.”

“Too many women broken hearted when their husbands came back laid out on a plank because some claim jumper had chosen to make a claim on their stake. Sometimes they didn’t even have the courtesy to bring them home, but left them in the mud with a bullet in the back, or their throats slit.”

Ben placed a large calloused hand upon that of hers, and gently squeezed it “That was then, my dear. Years ago, and you managed to escape it and carve out your own home elsewhere.”

“Yes, true enough and if I keep talking like that I shall put us both off of Hop Sings food.” she grimaced and gave a light hearted shrug of her shoulders, “But you asked, and that is as fair an answer I can give you.”

He nodded, “But what do you think of the changes now?”

She handed him a serviette and plate before answering “I never thought it would grow to be such a fine town. You have just about everything you need here. I read about the big fire in ‘76 of course, it must have cost a lot of money to rebuild it all.”

“Millions. But the money was there, so long as the gold was.” he smiled and now he grimaced, a slight downturn of his mouth “And then we had a cholera outbreak and after than the drift began.”

“The drift?” she looked puzzled and placed some chicken pie on the plate with potato salad, and a slice of rye bread upon his plate.

“People began to look after another dream. Gold in Alaska, the Yukon, the Indian territories. It seems no sooner does an idea get voiced than dreams and hopes get raised and the exodus begins.”

“Is it very bad, this drift?”

“Not yet.” Ben said quietly, “So long as the big mines keep bringing out the gold and silver, Virginia City should survive.”

Martha drank a little of the wine, looked up at the sky and smiled “God is in his heaven and all is well…”

He laughed at her then, and nodded. Conversation turned to other subjects, his sons, his daughters in law, his grand children. Within less time that they realised one bottle of wine was emptied, and he was giving her his hand to help her to her feet so that they could go for their stroll.

“It’s been lovely, Ben. Beautiful.”

He nodded and they stopped, standing together arm in arm to look over at the blue waters. Some geese flew overhead, beating their wings slowly as though to some tune and then gradually lowered themselves until they were gliding upon the lake’s surface. Without realising it they both released a sigh at the same time, looked at one another and laughed.

Chapter 40

The flames from the fire cast flickering shadows over the faces of the two men, shade and light swept over Adam’s high cheekbones, and appeared to glance from Joe’s brow.
Now that there were no cattle to nurse along, the journey from Billings took far less time, as they were able to go at their own speed and take different routes that reduced the journey even more so

They had skirted round that dead town.  Neither wanted to disturb the dust once again, or arouse memories from the past once more.   The town would settle like dry bones in to a graveyard of different peoples hopes and aspirations.

Joe carefully nestled the coffee pot back into position over the fire while Adam checked on the food supply. It was not long before the satisfying sizzle and smell of bacon being fried accompanied that of the coffee. Joe sat down and stretched out his legs, folded his arms behind his head and smiled contentedly after all the night was warm and pleasant, they had made a profit from the cattle and agreed with the Cattleman’s Association various aspects that covered the future of Ponderosa cattle in an increasingly demanding market. They were also close to home now, and he anticipated a good nights sleep after eating.

“Don’t suppose you got many evenings like this on your boat..” he muttered with a grin.

“It was not a boat,” Adam replied as he carefully turned over the bacon in the pan, “It was a ship, you can put a boat on a ship, but you can‘t put a ship on a boat.”

Joe nodded and thought about that for a moment, he nodded again, “Did you ever get bored in your cabin on your ship out there on the great blue yonder.”

Adam smiled slowly and glanced over at his brother, saw the lazy smile on the handsome face and the twinkling eyes reflecting the glow of the fire.

“Yes, a lot of times. Life is very restrictive on a ship, that’s why it was important to keep the men busy all the time.”

“Doing what? Scrubbing the deck?”

“That and polishing the brass.” Adam grinned and was about to explain a little more about the way one had to survive boredom on board a ship when there came sounds from close by that, although indistinct, clearly indicated a need now for caution.

He stood up slowly and reached for his rifle which was propped up against a boulder only to hear a voice snap out the command to leave it well alone.

“Leave it be, step away with your arms away from your sides.”

Joe jumped to his feet now, and half turned only to stop from any further action by the presence of a man stepping into their camp, a rifle in his hands covering both of them.

“Just step away from your gun belt.”

Joe did as told, stepping closer to his brother and looking narrow eyed at the stranger.

“What do you want? State your business, mister, after all we ..” Adam paused, “Sheriff Carney?” he leaned slightly forward, “It is Sheriff Carney, isn’t it?”

The man sighed, nodded and lowered the rifle, “I saw your fire, wasn’t sure who you were, have to be careful around here …”

His voice drifted, he struggled to speak and swayed alarmingly so that Joe stepped forward immediately in order to catch hold of the sheriff just as he was about to collapse.
Adam deftly caught the rifle as it was released from the man’s limp hand, and then helped his brother half carry, half drag the man to where he could be set down onto the ground. Adam glanced over at the fire, “Build it up a little more so we can see what’s going on here..”

Joe did so, and it took little time for the dry wood to burn and throw more light upon the three men. Blood slicked the sheriff’s clothing and it didn’t really take so long to discover the wound in his shoulder. Thankfully it was a clean wound, the bullet having passed straight through. Bloody and painful, but it could have been far worse. Joe soaked a cloth in water and gently cleaned around the affected area, then used it as padding. Nate Carney groaned a little but didn’t make a fuss, he was semi-conscious as it was and apart from muttering about his horse seemed prepared to accept Joe’s ministrations gratefully. It was obvious he must have ridden some distance after having been shot for the blood he had lost had soaked through his clothing. He ground his teeth at Adams’ gentle probing but relaxed once that had been completed.

While he seemed to waver between consciousness or not, Joe went in search of the man’s horse, finding it not so very far away and leading it into the camp where it was put onto the hobbling line with their own animals. By that time Carney seemed to have recovered his senses enough to be coherent and pull himself into a sitting position.

“Thanks. I had hoped to hold out for a bit longer, can’t tell you how glad I am at seeing your camp. Could do with some coffee..”

He struggled into a more comfortable sitting position and accepted the mug of the hot brew with an alacrity that indicated he had been without a drink for some time, he sighed and closed his eyes “That’s like nectar, thanks again.”

“What are you doing out so far from town, sheriff?” Joe asked, squatting on his haunches beside the older man, “How’d you get this wound.”

Nate frowned, and looked at them both thoughtfully, the familiar look of someone trying to recall their faces, their names, passed over his face which prompted Adam to introduce themselves and add ‘from the Ponderosa.’ as a nudge to aid the man’s memory.

“Of course, I remember now, you were on the cattle drive, asked about Silas Garvey’s death, didn’t seem to quite believe it was an accident.” Nate nodded, as though pleased with himself for remembering. “The Ponderosa. Close to Virginia City, ain;t it? You must know Roy Coffee, he’s the sheriff there?”

Adam nodded, “Know him well, he’s a good friend of ours. Retired now though.”

“Of course, yes, he must be pretty long in the tooth by now. Guess he would be past retiring age.” Nate Carney sighed and glanced over at Joe who was watching him thoughtfully, “You didn’t seem to believe that Silas Garvey’s death was an accident?”

Neither Adam nor Joe commented on that, Adam went to the fire and checked on the beans in a pan and Joe replenished coffee in their cups. The sheriff emptied his cup and hoped for a refill, which he received, and then told them that he had been out hunting a killer.

“Seems he got you…” Joe muttered, pointing to the injury in the mans’ shoulder.

“Yeah, his last shot. Unfortunately for him I got him as well.” Nate replied and sighed, “I had little choice, he ambushed me further along. I’d been trailing him for a few days too.”

“A killer you said?” Adam raised his eyebrows and nodded “Anyone we’d know?”

“Odd you should ask, Mr Cartwright. This man killed Silas Garvey.” he looked pleased at the reaction of the brothers for a slow smile slipped once more over his face, “Thought you would find that interesting. First off I was happy to believe Garvey was killed by accident, a fall during a slight scuffle in the saloon. After you went I began to wonder if you knew or suspected something that I had been too trusting to accept so I paid a call on Matt Garvey.”

“And his wife?” Joe added.

“Oh yes, and his wife.” Nate nodded, and then shook his head, “Matt made a pile of money from the sale of his land, first for the town and then the railroad. We thought he would up and leave seeing how all he had left was enough to raise a milk cow and a few pigs. Someone had said he was acting odd but it wasn’t until I went there and saw it for myself … he, to put it kindly, was like a man whose brain had gone to sleep. Kept saying it was the railroad’s fault and they should never have diverted the river. Anyhows, he got to talking and something he said about his brother made me think there was more to the story of Silas falling over and banging his head“ he paused then and looked at the two brothers with narrowed eyes and muttered “…you know it took him two days to die, don’t you?”

The brothers nodded, Adam dished up the beans and bacon and passed a plate to the sheriff, and a plate to Joe. For himself he just tipped the rest of the bacon into the pot with the beans.

“Seems that Silas told Matt something before he died, something connected to Matt’s wife. Now…” he stabbed the air with his fork “it was obvious there was no love lost between Matt and his wife, Tillie, whereas before when Matt had all that money there was no greater love match since Napolean and Josephine.”

Joe allowed a slight smirk on his lips, he wondered if Hoss would have asked Nate who exactly Napolean and Josephine were had he been there. As it was he stuffed his mouth with beans and bacon and waited for Nate to continue.

“At first Matt wouldn’t tell me what Silas had said, that woman was hovering around closer than a flea on a dogs back. Wasn’t until we were outside and I asked Matt what he was going to do about the money and his future prospects when he just shrugged, said he had given most of the money to Susan Garvey, for her and the daughter.”

There was a silence now as they ate the food, drank their coffee. Adam put more wood on the fire and in the flare of flames Nate said that had caught him by surprise, and he had asked the man why, to which Matt had said he couldn’t in all conscience keep it.

“’I know my brother was murdered, and in a way, I had a hand in that murder,’ he told me. I immediately thought it was one of the railway men, but no, turned out to be his wife’s brother. He’d hit Silas so hard there was no chance of the man coming out alive even if he hadn’t thumped his head on the floor. Matt said he gave Mrs Garvey, Susan, the money to spite his own wife and her brother, because it was over the money that Silas was killed.”

“And did the man confess?” Joe prompted, hugging his knees as he would had he been a child listening to Adam telling him a bed time story.

“No, not then any rate. Matilda was sure that Matt still had most of the money hidden away, so she and her brother went looking for it. Matt arrived a little less sober than usual, found them, and got beaten up as a result.. He told me it gave him a lot of pleasure seeing their faces when he admitted giving most of the money to Susan Garvey. Well, he was able to tell me that before he died.”

Adam and Joe looked at one another, Joe put down his plate and Adam stared into his empty cup as though he’d find the answers to the universe at the bottom of it.

“Not a very happy story, sheriff.” Adam finally concluded.

“No, it wasn’t. Matt died, Matilda went off with her brother. I followed them as soon as I could, and somewhere or other they parted company. I wasn’t sure which trail to take but thankfully chose the right one, although who was the worst of the two of them I couldn’t say. I got Matilda’s brother, Jeremiah Tunstall by name. I told him he was under arrest and he took a shot at me. A few minutes later he was dead and I was ..” he shrugged, no explanation was needed.

Neither Adam nor Joe asked about where exactly Tunstall’s body was now, the sheriff had been wounded, there would have been little chance of hauling dead weight up onto the saddle of a horse. Perhaps they would come across it on the way home, perhaps not.

After a moment or two’s silence Joe ventured to ask Nate if he had lived at the deserted town that they had passed through on the way to Billings. Nate had laughed but shaken his head “No, I came to Buffalo Flats courtesy of the railway. Then I got to thinking of Roy Coffee and what a life he had had, and decided to apply as acting Sheriff to the town. My Pa and Roy had worked as circuit sheriff’s in this territory years ago, when there were no towns to speak of, only homesteads and small settlements.”

Adam nodded, “I remember those days, a lawman would come for six months at a time, every two or three years, depending on how large the circuit was.”

“My Pa thought highly of Roy and I met him several times, you know. Yes, I thought I’d take on the job, in memory of my Pa and Roy Coffee.”

“We’ll remember to tell him, Nate.” Joe said quietly, “He’ll be mighty pleased to know.”

“You do that, young man, I’d be mighty obliged.”

Adam cleared away the dishes and cups, banked down the fire a little and suggested they got some sleep as they wanted an early start in the morning. After making sure that Nate was comfortable and checking on the horses, the two brothers bedded down.

Apart from the night noises there was silence…. The night sky shone bright with stars tht seemed to drip from the heavens, a few sparks flew skywards as though eager to add their luminosity to those shining from above.

Nate Carney settled down to sleep, he felt weak from loss of blood and talking so much had probably not been the best idea. It was not long before he was snoring, adding his bass to Joe’s baritone.

Adam listened to them for a while before he also slipped into sleep. He had thought of the two Garvey brothers, the two wives, and the money. It occurred to him, once again, about the different values people set upon things, that money meant more than loyalty and integrity, even more than a brother’s life. He drifted into sleep knowing that no such betrayal could ever rend apart his affections for his brothers, nor theirs for him. Time had already proven that over and over again.

Chapter 41

The aroma of sizzling bacon aroused Joe from sleep and bleary eyed he rubbed away the sleep and rolled out of his blanket. After yawning and stretching he nodded over at his brother and ambled off to check on the horses. Adam strolled over to the sleeping lawman and squatted down beside him, checked his forehead and frowned slightly as the clammy feel of fever touched his fingers.

Nate opened his eyes and looked up into the dark eyes of the man leaning over him, with a sigh he shook his head “Not feeling so good.” he murmured, and then sunk back upon the saddle.

“You don’t look so good either.” Adam replied, and carefully raised the shirt front to check on the binding of the wound. “Quite a bit of seepage, it’ll need redressing.”

“Did more damage than I thought.” Nate muttered and struggled into a sitting position, managing only with the aid of Adam’s arm around him. “He had a buffalo rifle, fired at close range.”

“Pretty fortunate to still be walking, sheriff.”

“I know, and I appreciate your help, Mr Cartwright. I had no chance of reaching town alive if I hadn’t come across the two of you.”

Adam nodded and began to carefully remove the soiled clothing, the binding . He scrutinised , both the exit and entry wounds carefully and sighed “They’re not much to look at that’s for sure. We need to get you to a doctor as soon as possible and get these seen too. I think some of your clothing went in with the bullet, caused an infection.”

Nate nodded and leaned back upon his saddle which had been his pillow for the night. “There’s a town just a few miles south of here. It’s closer than Buffalo Flats, has a good doctor there too.”

Adam gave a slight smile “Been wounded before, huh?”

“More than enough times, should have learned my lesson by now, I guess.”

Adam cleaned the wound as carefully as he could and provided some padding which he bound carefully by tearing Nate’s shirt into strips. He said nothing while he worked at assisting the injured man, concentrating on the task with his usual diligence to such duties. After Nate had been helped into a clean shirt, one of Adams’ own, the sheriff was more than grateful for some coffee but refused anything to eat.

Adam and Joe ate in a companionable but thoughtful silence. They swallowed down the food with gulps of hot coffee and then discussed the next move to their journey, now seriously hampered by the sick sheriff.

“Well, we can’t leave him here, that’s for sure.” Adam said quietly as he emptied his cup and rose to his feet “As soon as we can we move out and take him to the town he was talking about.”

“Sure, I know where he means, stopped over there several times myself.” Joe nodded and concluded by gulping down the last of the coffee. “Adam, where do you think this Matilda is now? After all, she don’t seem the kind of woman will take kindly to being done out of all that money, or finding out that her brother’s dead.”

Adam shrugged “Guess that’s a matter for the sheriff and the law to deal with, Joe. At present we need to see he gets to a doctor and then we head for home.”

Joe nodded, “Suits me fine, I can’t wait to see Mary Ann again”

The smile on Adams face broadened, he nodded, there was no need to say a word really, his face said it all.
…………..

The town was large enough to contain two churches, a number of saloons, restaurants and hotels, and even a theatre. Joe told Adam as they rode down the main street that the last time Adam would have seen the place was about a year before he went to sea, but that over the years Joe had seen it grow from strength to strength. It brought to mind the dead town they had recently ridden through and both agreed that life in their vast territory seemed to be something of a gamble. On the crest of a wave one moment and plunged to the depths of the ocean floor the next.

Nate was in high fever by the time they reached the first Doctors, and while Adam helped the sheriff get from the horse to the surgery, Joe pushed through the doors and demanded the attention of the doctor.

It appeared that Nate Carney was not unknown to the Doctor who looked aghast at seeing him in such a poor condition and while he and Adam managed to get the sick man onto the examination table Joe did his best to answer the Doctors quick fire questions. Finally Doctor Curtis snapped out “Alright, you can leave now. My assistant and I will deal with this…come back in a few hours.”

The brothers accepted their dismissal without comment, there was after all nothing to say although they felt a heavy foreboding weighing them down as they shut the door upon the room. For a moment they both stood on the sidewalk, hats in hand and heads bared to the sun, looking up and down the street watching the traffic passing by and thinking over what to do next.

“I think we should notify the sheriff of what happened,” Adam said quietly, “If Nate doesn’t make it, it’s better the law knows before hand rather than after the event.”

“Huh, why? What difference would it make?” Joe frowned, he was hungry, having to share his supper and rush his breakfast had left him with a lean stomach, and he wasn’t even Hoss Cartwright!

“Because I’d rather go to him, than have him coming after us.” Adam replied and slowly stepped from the sidewalk and made his way to the building opposite that bore the sign “Sheriff‘s Office and Jail“

The man standing by the window as they walked into the office turned to look at them both before nodding a greeting. He was a florid faced man, of medium height and steely grey blue eyes. “Poole, Jefferson Poole…I‘m the sheriff hereabouts. I saw you go into the Docs across the street. Was that Nate Carney you half carried into the surgery?”

“Yes, it is,” Adam replied turning his hat around between his fingers and his brows lowering over his dark eyes, “He was shot while hunting down a killer by the name of Tunstall.”

“Tunstall huh?” Poole‘s eyes widened, “I‘ve a poster out on him. There‘s a substantial reward for him. You boys involved in his arrest? Could be some bounty coming your way if you were?”

.They watched him as he walked over to his desk and pulled out a wad of posters from a drawer. After thumbing through them he flicked one out and laid it down for them to see “There you are, a thousand dollar reward.”

“Well, we weren’t involved, sheriff. Nate Carney stumbled into our camp last night, wounded, and told us that he’d killed Tunstall. I should reckon the man’s body is still out there, somewhere, but should anyone come in claiming they had shot him, and wanting the bounty, you can call them the liars they are ..” Joe raised his chin and looked at the other man as though that was what the sheriff was going to call him, should he so dare!

“Well, sit awhile, boys, and let me have the details…” Poole leaned back in his chair, and picked up his pen, pulled a sheet of paper towards him and nodded “Names first…”
………….

“Where now?” Joe asked looking up at the sun and seeing it was well past the noon hour, as his stomach rumbled at the same time as he asked the question, his brother merely tapped him on the shoulder and nodded over to the nearest restaurant.

“Nah, not there,” Joe said quickly, “If we’re going to eat, I know a better place than that.”

“What’s wrong with it?” Adam asked as he turned to follow his brother down the street, tipping his hat to a lady as he passed her by.

“Well, one year I kind of got into a fight with one of the diners. He was getting a little too friendly with one of the waitresses, and she didn’t like his attentions much so I kind of assisted him out of the building. But then she got to paying me a lot more attention than I liked and it got -” he rubbed the back of his neck, “Well, it got a bit awkward.”

Adam smiled and nodded, “I hope this was before you were married, younger brother.”

“Sadly not so, that was what was so awkward. You see, the year before, when I was single, me and this – er – lady – we did get kind of friendly. I guess she wanted to pick up from where we had left off.”

Adam smiled and shook his head as though in despair of such antics, but the restaurant to which Joe took him was a pleasant enough affair and it was not long before they were seated and being served a decent sized meal. As Adam said later it may not have been up to Hop Sing’s standards but it was pretty darn good.

They spent the good part of an hour eating, drinking and chatting and were about to leave the establishment when Sheriff Poole came in, saw them and after removing his hat, approached their table.

“Sorry to intrude, but just to let you know I’ve sent out two of my deputies to find Tunstall’s body. Thought that would settle any one stumbling upon it and claiming the reward.”

Adam nodded agreement while Joe muttered that that was sound idea. As the sheriff didn’t move but stood there moving his mouth without anything coming out of it, Joe was prompted to ask him if there was something the matter, something else they should know.

“Tunstall had a sister.” Poole said, and it occurred to the brothers that if they were playing poker Poole could have been holding the best hand at the table and no one would know. He just stood there, blank faced and staring out of the window..

“We already told you her part in all this.” Adam replied, getting up from the table now and picking up his hat.

“You said she separated from her brother.”

“We did.” Adam nodded, and glanced over at Joe who was putting down money for their meal. “Nate told us that he wasn;t sure which trail to follow when it split, just chanced that he was on the right one with Tunstall.”

“Tunstall’s sister is known as the brains behind them both. She won’t be happy knowing he’s dead.”

“I guess not,” Adam narrowed his eyes, “What exactly are you aiming at, sheriff?”

“Well, I was figuring it may be a good idea to form a posse and get after her, before she gets to doing any harm.”

“That’s a good idea too,” Adam replied turning as though to leave, Joe was behind him.

“Was wondering if you boys would want to ride along with us, seeing as how you have met her.”

Poole’s eyes wandered from one to the other of them and there was no doubting the anxiety in them, although his face was calm and showed no indication of worry. Adam and Joe shook their heads simultaneously,

“No, sorry, Sheriff, but we have to get home.” Adam said in a very quiet voice, and continued towards the door.

“If she stays loose, she could come gunning for you..” Poole’s eyes flicked nervously from one to the other of them but followed them out into the street where Adam said rather tersely that he couldn’t see why Matilda Tunstall should ‘come after them’.

Poole sighed and shrugged “I’m just warning you, is all. She’s got an evil streak in her a mile wide. She’d have been happier knowing you had left Carney to die out there.”

“Well, we didn’t,” Joe said and shrugged, “So if you’ll excuse us, Sheriff, we need to go and see how Nate is before we get on our way.”

“There’s a $500 reward for her.” Poole almost shouted as they stepped into the Main Street.

Adam said nothing to that nor did Joe, they continued on their way to the Doctors and when the door opened assumed, correctly, that the Doctor had concluded his examination and administered the necessary medication. They were proven correct on both counts upon seeing Nate Carney sitting up fully dressed with his arm in a sling, and although he looked ill, he certainly looked much healthier than when they had brought him in a few hours earlier.

Dr Curtis looked reasonably pleased to see them and thanked them both for bringing his patient to him, “He’d have been dead had he not stumbled upon your camp last night.” he said with a emphatic nod of the head, “Lost a lot of blood and that wound had festered, but he should recover with rest and time.”

Nate was too weak to get onto his feet but his handshake was firm as he thanked them both, wincing a little even then for the movement caused ripples of pain to shoot through his body. Adam explained how they had informed Sheriff Poole about what had happened and how Poole had subsequently warned them about Matilda Tunstall being on the loose. “She could come gunning for you, Nate.” Joe said quietly,

“Maybe, I’ll have to take my chances on that,” Nate replied calmly enough, he glanced at the doctor and then back at them “I won’t be at Buffalo Flats for a while, so she’ll have to come hunt me down here. I’ll be ready for her…” he paused and gave a grim smile, “Thanks for letting me know.”

They closed the door behind them, closing it upon the smells of antiseptics, blood and human perspiration, the kind of smells that linger in the nostrils for some while after a visit to a hospital or small town Doctors surgery.

 

“Well, Joe, I reckon we owe ourselves a drink before we head on home.” Adam said and placed his hat at a jaunty angle on his dark head.

“Lead on, brother, I’m right behind you.” came the reply caught up in a chuckle as the speaker strode along beside his long legged brother.

The saloon they entered was not overly full, and the bar tender looked up and welcomed them with a nod, recognised Joe and asked how the Big Man was…obviously alluding to Hoss. As Joe and the bar tender chatted or gossiped whichever word one preferred to use, Adam found a table and chairs and settled down into one of them, while he waited for his beer to arrive.

-The smell of the saloon was a familiar one, smoky and sulty, human sweat and other smells common to men who worked hard at their living, rather stale perfume from the ladies who paraded from table to table, lingering here or there, and sometimes staying that while longer with some man who showed a little more attention.

A woman drifted by their table and trailed her fingers along Joe’s back, while giving Adam a ‘come hither’ look from her painted eyes but neither of them responded to her attentions so she sauntered away to find some other victim who may fall to her charms.

They didn’t linger too long, time was racing away and they wanted to put some distance between them and the town before night fall. They left the saloon, replenished their food supply at the store, and finally mounted their horses and rode out of the town, Joe taking the lead of the pack horse which dutifully plodded along behind them.

Chapter 42

Both brothers felt a sense of relief upon putting the town behind them and the drama of Nate Carney, the Garvey brothers tucked neatly out of their plans. They both agreed that the whole thing had been rather neatly resolved, even if it had led to the deaths of several men and Nate Carney escaping his grave by a very narrow margin.

By night fall they had made camp and watched the sun set, the flames of the fire burned every bit as brightly as the previous night, and the nights before that, and the food they ate was fresher as a result of their stop over in the town. Although neither of them would admit to it they were both more than glad to pull their blankets over their weary bodies without having any further disturbance, for Joe had fully anticipated a furious Matilda Garvey to appear at their campsite and Adam had expected very much the same thing. Nothing had been said, perhaps both of them felt by mentioning it they would be tempting fate!

Adam was edgy when he woke up and rolled out of his bed. Yawning he checked the horses and attended to their needs before seeing to his own, and then building up the fire in order to prepare breakfast. He kept asking himself if he had slept alright, had some kind of dream disturbed him and jangled his nerves, what made him want to look over his shoulder all the time, or have his rifle close at hand as he cooked the meal and prepared coffee.

Joe woke up with a headache, and complained of a stiff neck. He was bleary eyed as he stumbled to the fire and took the cup of coffee from his brother, he sipped it and sighed before sinking down on a boulder and stared with glazed vision into the bushes surrounding them.

“You know, anyone could sneak up on us hereabouts.”

Adam sighed and shook his head “What made you say that?”

“Just thinking, that’s all.” he gulped down more coffee and then accepted the plate of bacon and eggs, “How long before we get home do you reckon?”

“Should be on Ponderosa territory tomorrow morning. Then another twenty four hours and we’ll be home.” Adam gave a rather tight smile, “Sadly no towns between here and there, so the girls will have to enjoy the surprise of our arrival.”

“Yeah,” Joe smiled, a dreamy lazy smile and his hazel eyes twinkled, “I reckon Constance will have changed a lot since I last saw her. Babies change so much within days and we’ve been gone two months. Drat, I hate these cattle drives.”

Adam nodded, and sat opposite his brother with his plate in one hand and fork in the other. They ate slowly, savouring the food, enjoying the morning.

The sun hovered on the horizon hidden behind the boughs of trees and shrubs and high boulders, but suddenly it seemed as though it had been sucked up from the ground to appear resplendent in the blue sky. By this time the two men had cleared the camp, completed their ablutions and were mounted, ready to ride out.

Joe glanced over his shoulder and smiled, nothing had happened, they were alright. What ever nightmares he had conjured up in his dreams had not taken place after all. Behind him Adam rose with his reins loose in his fingers, his mind on other things. He still felt that nervous tension in his stomach, and he could imagine Hoss saying how his head was itching as though he were being followed. He smiled to himself at the thought, even though he had to admit his brother had never been wrong and now, he was even beginning to think the same way, that something was making him feel as though his nerves were stretched thin as a violin string.

“You know, Adam,” Joe said with a grin on his handsome face, “This has been one of the most boring trips I’ve undertaken with you as trail boss. Nothing happened all the way to Billings, and here we are nearly home.”

“Nearly home isn’t the same as actually being home, little brother.” Adam smiled, and shifted in his saddle, he felt uneasy. He wanted to tell Joe to put his horse into a run, but when he looked about him what was there to run from? They had moved away from the trees and the shrubs, this was empty land now, boulder strewn and full of gulleys, and gulches and ravines and … good hiding places for people who may want to ambush them.

“Ah, Don’t be such a doom merchant,” Joe laughed, “Just think how pleased Mary Ann and Olivia will be when we walk indoors the day after tomorrow”

“It’s usually on the way home that we get problems.” Adam said quietly, and felt a shiver trickle down his back.

Memories of Eastgate, fool that he had been, striding into that saloon and announcing to his brother, and to the world in general, just how much money they had got. Well, he had paid the price for that, hadn’t he? He shook his head, why on earth think of that now? Peter Kane of all people? He hadn’t allowed that spectre to raise its ugly head for years, probably because since Peter Kane there had been others to haunt his dreams,…Jiang Peng for one and Cassandra Pelman.

Cassandra Pelman, odd how she had briefly touched his life again only those few months ago when Jotham had been brought to the ranch. His brow wrinkled and he wondered how Jotham Morton had fared since returning to Washington. He shrugged his shoulders as though to cast off the shadows of those haunting him and glanced up at the sky.

“You’ve not heard a word I’ve said,” Joe muttered peevishly, he had turned in the saddle, one hand resting on its back so that he could lean towards his brother. “Where did you go?”

“Oh, not so far away.” Adam replied with a sigh in his words.

“Huh, thinking of Livvy, yeah? I wonder how they have been getting on while we’ve been away. Luke should be home now, guess he’ll have seen a difference in Marcy.”

Adam nodded, he wasn’t really interested in small talk like this although he knew it helped to pass the time and to keep memories from crowding his brain. He glanced around him again and squared his shoulders, prepared for anything. He heard Joe sigh, and saw his brother shake his head.

“Adam you look like you’re about to take a walk up those steps to the gallows again.”

“What?”

“Yeah, that time Lassiter appeared, just in time to spare your hide and Pa’s from swinging from a rope. You look just that same way as then, so stop it huh? You’re making me nervous.”

“I was just thinking, that if Hoss were here…”

“I know, I know, he’d say his head was itching.” and Joe laughed.
,,,,,,,,,,,,,

Olivia stretched out her arm and felt the empty bed by her side. She sighed, but didn’t open her eyes to confirm what she already knew. Every morning she would reach out for him, even though one part of her brain told her he wasn’t there. But she couldn’t help herself, it was her little private ritual because on the mornings when he had been there then the bed still felt warm, there was still the imprint of his body upon the mattress and pillow, still his smell … but not to day. Not yet.

Nathaniel was wailing and she forced open her eyes and forced herself to get up and out of the bed. She wedged her feet into her slippers, groped for her dressing gown and hurried to the room where Nathaniel slept, only he was wide awake now and crying for her, for breakfast, for attention.

It was a Saturday, there was no reason to rush around to get the children to school. She pulled open the curtain to let the sun dance into the room and picked her son from his cot, hugged him and oh, dirty diaper…nothing woke one up more thoroughly! She kissed his damp cheeks and told him she loved him, and was greeted with a rather sloppy wet kiss back.

“Mommy?” Sofia’s voice from behind her and she turned to look at her daughter who stood there looking at her mother with a little frown on her brow “Mommy?”

“Yes, Sofia?”

“Is daddy home yet?”

“Not yet. Soon.”

“Will he be home for the celebration?” Sofia was all big eyes and pink cheeked, her hair tousled but she was dressed in a square patterned shirt and her ’work’ dungarees. Even though she thought it herself, Olivia found herself thinking that her daughter looked really cute.

“The celebration?” she muttered as she wrestled with Nathaniel to get the child changed and washed and cleaned.

“The Founders Day celebration. I’ve told Ella all about it, she wants to come too.”

Olivia paused to think and did a quick calculation as to days and dates, then she shook her head, “He’ll be home in time for that, pumpkin. Pass me that shirt from over there.”

“Mommy, will daddy be in the horse race again? I told Ella that daddy was always in the horse race.”

Olivia succeeded in getting her wriggling son into clean clothes, then frowned slightly, “Well, I don’t know, Sofia. Daddy hasn’t been here for the Founders Day pic nic for a long time. I can’t even recall him being in a horse race since we moved here.”

“Uncle Hoss says daddy always was in the horse race and one time Uncle Joe won it and Granpa said that was because daddy had a hay burner instead of a good horse. Why didn’t daddy ride a horse?”

“A horse?” Olivia said and gave Reuben a smile as the boy appeared behind his sister, yawning and stretching “Sleep well, Reuben?”

“Sure did.” Reuben looked at his sister “Pa rode a horse, you dim wit.”

“No he didn’t, Granpa said daddy rode a hay burner and that was why Uncle Joe beat him, and Uncle Hoss said he won a lot of money because of that.”

“A hay burner IS a horse, you dope. Don’t you know anything yet?” the scorn in his voice was cutting and Olivia snapped out that he should be more polite and not to call his sister names.

“I’m not,” he protested, “I’m just saying a hay burner is a horse, just that it’s a horse that eats too much hay, and Granpa doesn’t like them. He didn’t like Kami either when she first came.”

“Yes he did,” Sofia said immediately

“He didn’t he said she was a hay burner and not worth keeping.”

Olivia rolled her eyes heavenwards, this was going to be one of those days ..she just knew it, and as though to emphasise her thoughts there was a bump and a howl as Nathaniel had slipped on the stairs and rolled his way down the last three.
………….

When Luke Dent had pushed open the door to his home he was surprised to see Hester baking bread in his kitchen. His surprise turned to anxiety immediately as before Hester could say a word he demanded to know where Marcy was and why was Hester there…

“Marcy’s in the garden, she’s picking some herbs for the meal …she’s very well, Luke.” she laughed at him as she watched the anxiety slip from his face as easily as his removing his jacket “We did promise you that we would all take care of her.”

“Thank you, Hester.” Luke laughed at himself, a boyish youthful laugh, “Is she keeping alright? Is she … well?”

“She’s very well” Hester smiled and picked up the jacket and hat he had cast down in order to put them on their correct placing, the closing door as he dashed back outside made her sigh as she recalled those times when Hoss had been absent from home too long, and she could just imagine the delight Marcy would be feeling. She just hoped that Marcy wouldn’t be so excited that she would go into labour, that would really put paid to all their plans.

Not that there were really any set plans, just that it had been hoped that should the baby arrive in time Bridie would be at the Double D prepared to help deliver the infant, and everything would be tidy, and organised.

The squeal from outside caused a trickle of apprehension in Hester’s stomach but when there was laughter and the sound of Marcy’s voice repeating her husband’s name over and over Hester gave a sigh of relief and thumped the bread mix just one hefty blow before putting it into the tin.

“Home, Luke… I can’t believe it. Oh it seems to be so long since you left.”

“For me too, dear girl.” Luke hugged her as close as he could, “Marcy, you look – well – you look so well.”

He laughed at her, a gentle sweet prideful laugh and she stepped back and put both hands on her stomach, what did it matter that she had expanded so much in the time he had been away, wasn’t it his child she was carrying after all? The pride in his voice was so real, such music to her ears, that she could have cried.

“Am I ugly?” she whispered as she nestled into his arms again.

“Ugly? Oh my dear girl, you are the most beautiful sight to my eyes in the whole world.” he kissed her then, just to assure her that what he said was real, true, because there was no other joy in life than that of being loved, and giving love in return.

Chapter 43

They were on home land now. The markers indicated that they had crossed the Ponderosa border line and were now on their own territory, not that one could see any great difference from the scrubby boulder strewn land they had already ridden through. But both of them exchanged a smile, a nod, as though feeling in their blood that stirring that says, home.

Joe had not realised how much or how often his thoughts had turned to food during this trip. Not that Adam wasn’t a good cook, well, perhaps even that was stretching things but he could rustle up something edible for a camp stop over. Joe couldn’t help but think of Mary Ann’s cooking, and whenever Adam handed him a plate of – something – he would look down at it and wince, very slightly, and think of what his wife would have rustled up instead.

Adam wasn’t at all bothered. He ate because he needed to survive, and in his life time he had eaten some very weird and wonderful things in order to do just that. So what if the bacon came a little charred and the eggs were not to perfection… it was food, and one should be grateful, after all, as a boy he had eaten grass, worms, anything to have kept alive.

He pushed the scraps of food around on his plate and glanced over at Joe who sat opposite him. “Good huh?”

He grinned, he could see that Joe was not enjoying the food, and noticing the curl of his brother’s lip knew that if he got a reply it wouldn’t be a polite one. He scraped up the remainder of food on his own plate and shovelled it in, chewed it slowly and then sighed, glanced up to heaven and then looked over at Joe,

“You know, when I was a boy there was a time when Pa and I had nothing left to eat. Hadn’t eaten in two maybe three days. Our wagon had broken down and Pa was trying to mend the wheel as best he could, and I wasn’t much help really being so little.” he pushed his plate to one side and picked up his mug of coffee, “We were down to our last water too, and we had known that there was a war party close by looking for survivors of the wagon train they had attacked earlier.”

“Were you on that wagon train?” Joe asked, frowning slightly and wondering if this story had any point to it.

“No, but we rode upon it, at the time Pa and I were travelling alone.”

“Risky, wasn’t it? Being alone I mean, in Indian territory.” he scooped u p some food and stuffed his mouth with it.

“Everything back then at that time was risky, Joe.” Adam sighed and then frowned slightly, his dark eyes hooded, his mouth pursed. “But I hadn’t really known much different really, except if we hit on a settlement or homestead and stayed there for a while”

“So what happened? Did Pa find some food for ya?”

Adam didn’t reply at first, his mind had wandered back to that time, he had been terrified by so much so often that he was numb to any eventuality. A child exposed to too much can reach their limits and then just endure what happens thereafter. He endured. He watched his Pa, handed the tools over to him, carried over the near empty water canteen, and noticed his father’s anxiety fall over his face as so often had happened in the past.

“Well? What happened?” Joe urged, eating the last of the food and setting down his plate.

“Oh, Pa said to eat the grass, so I did.” Adam frowned, “I remember thinking it tasted foul, but if Pa said to eat it, I would…then he told me to go to sleep and when I woke up I’d have a surprise.”

“Did you? Have a surprise I mean?”

“Yah, I opened up eyes and looked right into the face of the meanest looking Irequois you could imagine. Back then, where we were the seven nations of Indians were still strong, and we were in their territory. Dacotahs, Irequois, Pawnee … I just stared up at him and he stared down at me and said something I didn’t understand and grabbed me by the hair.”

“Where was Pa?”

“Close.” Adam shrugged and stirred the wood ash in order to get more heat from the fire, “I didn’t even think about what this Indian could do, like scalp me or take me away, I just stayed still and stared at him. Then he nodded, got up and walked away.”

“Just like that?” Joe frowned, and looked wary, wondering what the bottom line to this story was going to be.

“Yeah, he left a haunch of venison for us, and water, and Pa gave me a lecture on being grateful for small mercies. I didn’t understand what Pa was talking about of course, there was nothing small about a haunch of venison after all.” he smiled slowly and then emptied his mug of coffee, before leaning over to pick up the coffee pot to get a refill.

“So how come this Indian didn’t scalp you or carry you off?”

“I don’t know, Joe. Pa never said, never explained. After that I always knew that when I got right down to rock bottom, something would turn up….some small mercy would come along.”

Joe frowned and sighed, he nodded “Bet you Pa had saved his life sometime, and he was repaying a debt.”

“Mmm, doubt it, we had never been in that part of the territory before then.”

Joe sighed and shook his head “Well, seems odd but shows there are good folk everywhere, doesn’t it?” he stood up and stretched “How come I never heard that story before?”

“Joe, if I were to tell you everything that happened when Pa and I were travelling it would take a life time.” he rose to his feet and with the mug in his hands strolled over to where the horses were nodding close by; the view ahead was one of rocks and boulders building up to high buttes and gullys, and for a moment that same feeling of foreboding trickled through his bones.

After finishing his drink and clearing the camp site, he and Joe killed the fire and began to saddle up the horses. He searched for and found his compass in his belt pocket and checked their location before he tucked it away again. He glanced over at his brother but Joe was whistling a tune and fixing the cinch strap of his saddle. Perhaps if they just pushed the horses a little today they could get home sooner. He didn’t need to suggest anything to Joe, he knew his brother would find that more than welcome.

They hit the river within the hour and rode through it with the water splashing high and the coolness of it feeling refreshing on such a hot day. The horses tossed their heads and nodded as though they too wanted to say how good it felt. They scrabbled up onto dry land again and trotted the animals along until the sound of a rifle shot rippled through the air, echoing and echoing through the stillness. Joe’s horse rolled its eyes and Adam’s beast shook his head, the brothers looked at one another.

Just the one shot, then nothing. Joe pointed westwards and looked at his brother, usually three shots were the signal for distress, but one shot could indicate that someone was in need but unable to fire off the other two shots.

Adam twisted the reins between his fingers and turned the horse towards the sound, behind him Joe followed.

“Adam, do you reckon it could be squatters?” Joe asked, pulling his hat lower to shade his eyes.

“I don’t know, could be. If it were squatters and they were hunting then there would be more than the one shot, wouldn’t there?”

Joe nodded, and together they rode onwards, whoever it was happened to be on Ponderosa territory and would, therefore, have no rights to be there. Joe remembered the lecture from his father many years ago “Let one of them think they can make camp on our land then the next thing you know there’ll be a whole horde of them, a township…best get them off our land as soon as you see ‘em.”

And that was what they did, every time. Of course there was that time when old Grandma Hoag came along with her wagon load of trouble, but that was soon sorted to every one’s satisfaction. Even Ben had seen the logic of giving some land away there, where it suited him. Joe frowned, he hadn’t thought of the Hoag’s in years, never seen hide nor hair of them since they had ridden out of the yard that day, smug and happy at the results of their feud.

They had drawn their guns out of their holsters by the time they had ridden upon the reason for the gun shot. A dead horse sprawled upon the ground was never a good sight to come upon, and the fact that someone had taken to shooting it meant that that someone was still hanging around, with a loaded weapon, and in need of a horse. They both dismounted and approached the animal.

Adam grimaced, a downturn of the mouth that indicated his thoughts, the animals hide was slick was perspiration, salt outlines appearing as the sweat was drying in the sun. Joe stood up from having knelt to check the beast “Been ridden hard, for too long.”

His brother nodded in agreement, “Left his gear though.”

“Perhaps the ride has taken a toll on him too, couldn’t carry it not knowing just how much further he would have to go before he found help.”

“Well, he wouldn’t have, would he? Found help, I mean.”

Joe sighed and shook his head “No, I guess not. There’s nothing from here to the line shack half a days ride away.”

“He’s not likely to know that, is he?” Adam muttered, stepping back and glancing around him, his gun in his hand and prepared for any kind of action necessary.

“Means he must still be hereabouts.” Joe said quietly.

Both men immediately lowered their eyes to scan for some signs of footprints that would indicate in which direction the man would have gone, Joe stooped onto one knee and examined one print closely and frowned “Who ever it is, he’s light on his feet.”

“Mmm, not much by the way of prints is there. One here though…” and Adam waved his pistol in the direction of some prints close to some boulders.

“If anyone’s there, they would have seen us.” Joe said with some conviction in his voice, “Why doesn’t he show himself?”

“Injured perhaps? When the horse came down he may have got trapped beneath it…no, if he had been injured he’d not have been able to drag himself over here.”

“Took his canteen though.”

Adam nodded, “And his rifle.”

He paused, frowned and then signed to Joe to move closer into the shelter and protection of the rocks. Dust drifted from beneath his fingers as he placed a hand upon the hot boulders, he raised a hand for silence as though he could sense that Joe was about to speak and when silence came he could hear it, the sound of someone close by, breathing.

He turned to Joe and nodded, signed that someone was behind the boulder and for Joe to circle around, he put a finger to his lips, silently as possible.

As cautiously as possible Adam inched his way around the boulder, he saw a booted foot, stepped back and away a pace in order to get a better angle on whoever possessed the foot, and aimed his gun “Alright, mister, best show yourself now and come down from there..”

There was no response apart from a scuffling sound and the withdrawal of the foot, obviously the person was also angling himself into a better position to blow the head off of anyone who drew any closer.

“You’re not going to get far without a horse. Best you get down and show yourself now.”

Adams voice was crisp, blunt, no one hearing it could mistake it for what it was, a threat and a warning. He glanced up and saw the outline of his brother inching through the rocks.

“You’re on Ponderosa land. You’re trespassing. If you…”

The bullet passed him by an inch, he could almost feel the breeze as it went on by. He knew if he swung around to face the man then he was a bigger target but he had to take that risk, knowing that Joe was getting into position above. Before he had made another step there was another gunshot, this time it actually raked across his boot, marking the leather before it hit the ground.

Adam darted back into the cover of the rocks, discretion, he told himself, was the better part of valour. Well, how often had that line been quoted…he gripped more tightly to his gun handle, “You’re playing a dangerous game, mister. You should know you’re outnumbered.”

Just above Joe inched his way along, he had heard the two shots and hoped to goodness that Adam was alright, that perhaps he had fired the shots, that the man who they sought was already dead or prepared to give up. He slid between two boulders and stepped cautiously forwards, his gun raised and ready … there before him crouched their opponent, slim and long haired and looking as mean as ever she did in her husband’s cabin that day they had first met.

“Matilda Garvey?” he spoke before he thought, she spun around and stared at him, her lips parted and her eyes widened, but it didn’t stop her from firing directly at him.

Chips from the rock as the bullet struck it glanced from off his jacket, and he flung himself back out of her direct line of fire. Hearing the shots Adam realised he had the chance to step away from his refuge and had taken the opportunity of approaching the gunslinger from the front. He saw her, aimed his gun and said quietly “Drop it, Matilda.”

But she didn’t, despite knowing she was now cornered by both men, one behind her and one in front. There was only one thing that she could use to her advantage and that was her gender. She blinked large eyes, shook her head, pushed a strand of hair from her face.

“Don’t shoot, Adam, Joe…”

Her voice was softer than they had heard her speak before, as though she had softened it to remind them that she was vulnerable as a woman. Both men retreated away from her, allowing her space to make her way down from the crevasse, and then stand on the ground before them. Without a word she handed over her gun and nodded,

“I didn’t know I was trespassing on anyone’s land.” she shrugged as though it really was no big deal, “So? This is the Ponderosa, huh?”

They didn’t reply, Joe stepped forward to take the gun and Adam just stood there with his still in his hand. “What are you doing here, Matilda? We thought you would be miles away by now, not coming in this direction.”

“You wouldn’t want to know,” she said with a bitterness in her voice that was more familiar to them, “I don’t have to answer to you anyway.”

“No, you can do your answering to the sheriff.” Joe said quietly and frowned as he realised that having to take her into Virginia City was going to add time to their return home. He glanced over at Adam, who nodded,

“Joe’s right. We met up with Sheriff Carney, Matilda. We know all about Matt and Silas, and about your brother, Tunstall.”

She was all interest now, her head jerked up and her eyes dilated, “My brother, did you see him? We had arranged to meet in Virginia City, split up hoping to fool that sheriff.”

Joe shook his head “No, I’m sorry, Matlilda, I’m afraid the sheriff wasnt fooled as much as you hoped.”

“Jethro?” she glanced from one to the other of them, noticed the looked that passed beween them and braced herself, anticipating the worst.

“There was a shoot out, I’m afraid your brother was killed.”

“Killed?”

The word slipped from her lips in a husky sorrowing voice, low and disbelieving. Her face registered confusion, dismay

“I don’t understand, how was he killed?”

Joe sighed slightly impatiently “As I said, there was a shoot out, Nate Carney followed him when you split on the trail. There was a shoot out, your brother lost out.” Joe said very quietly.

 

Now she raised a hand to her mouth as though to stop it quivering, her eyes filled and spilled over with tears and then she screamed, a long, harrowing sound that echoed among the rocks in which they stood, and filled their heads so that they stood away from her and away from her lamentable shriek of pain.

Then she crumpled down upon her knees, buried her face in her hands, rocked back and forth and moaned while tears for her brother trickled through her fingers. Joe and Adam looked at one another, they had seen many deaths, experienced the pain of it themselves, but it hadn’t made them immune to another humans pain. They waited a decent amount of time and then stepped forward to assist her to her feet.

“Where are you taking me?” she sobbed, wiping her nose upon her sleeve like a child would have done, the same naivete, the same trust..

“To the sheriff in Virginia City. Carney says you’re wanted for murder in several states, Matilda. Pity Matt and Silas didn’t know that …” Joe murmured as he put a hand under her elbow to encourage her to walk forward.

“Matt and Silas…” she whispered, her face a blank. Then she shook her head, “Fools both of them.”

“In that they trusted you, yes, I guess they were.” Joe replied, his voice hardening as sympathy for her slowly ebbed away.

She faltered then, and dug her heels into the ground, pulled her arm free as she looked wildly about her, as though somewhere, somehow she could find some way out of the situation in which she now found herself.

“There’s nowhere you can run to, Matilda. No where to hide.” Adam now said in a gentler tone of voice, “You either come along with us or …”

She shook her head, “You don’t understand,” she whispered and once again sunk down upon her knees, and began to sob.

“We understand enough to know that if we leave you here with hardly any water, you;ll likely be dead by tomorrow.” Joe said and pulled her to her feet, “It’s best if you come along with us, Ma’am.”

She staggered slightly as she got to her feet. Tears smeared dust in streaks across her face, but they still fell, and looked at them both as though not remembering who they were, why they were here. She looked as though she had been struck by a thunderbolt.

Chapter 44

Adam had begun to rearrange their packages on the pack horse, putting some on their own animals in order for the animal to accommodate a rider. He looked at Joe and nodded, “She can ride up here.”

“I don’t want to, I don’t want to…” Matilda screamed and once again pulled her arm free from Joe’s grasp, spun round and began to run back to where the dead horse lay, then she stopped as though remembering that she had already taken the rifle with her up into the bluffs.

Undeterred she began to head for the rocks, but Joe was quick on his feet and ran as fast as he could in order to grab at her yet again. He caught hold of her jacket, and she twisted away from him leaving the jacket to be pull away from her and to hang loose in his hands. Casting it to one side he continued to reach out for her, but now she had gained the rocks, scrabbling for hand holds and kicking at him with her booted feet as she struggled to find some refuge.

“What are you going to do, Matilda, throw rocks at us?” Joe yelled, and then yelped as a rock bounced towards his head.

She could remember where she had left the rifle and she chided herself for being so stupid as to have dropped it there. As she edged her way between narrow clefts she remembered how she had resorted to her pistol, putting the rifle to one side, and then, of course, they had cornered her.

“Fool, fool,” she moaned to herself, and then dashed tears from her eyes as she slipped, her foot sliding against the gritty soil, and behind her Joe’s fingers clasped around the heel of her boot.

“I’m not coming with you, I’m not, I’m not.” and she kicked out with her free foot, heard Joe grunt, felt her foot released and hurried onwards.

It was here, just here, she recalled, where she had put down the rifle and used her gun instead. She stood up, turned and looked but there was no rifle, only Adam Cartwright standing there, hands on his hips and his lips pursed as though he were some school teacher about to scold an errant pupil.

“It isn’t here, ‘Tilda, I’ve already got it.”

She could feel her heart pounding against her ribs, her breath came and went in gasps, behind her she could sense Joe’s close presence, and knew that yet again they had her cornered and caught.

“Silas and Matt – I didn’t mean to – have it end that way.” she whispered, her head hung low, greasy lank hair framed her face, some drifted in the breeze as she raised her head to look at him, “Jethro just lost his temper that evening at the saloon, Silas was ranting on about something and there was a scuffle, Jethro didn’t mean to kill him.”

“With your brother’s reputation, Matilda, I find that very hard to believe.” Adam said quietly as he leaned to one side in order to reach for her rifle which he had propped up against some rocks.

“You can’t imagine how hard it was to live with Matt afterwards. That clunk head was only half the man his brother was, I soon found that out as soon as Susan Garvey had left. Jethro didn’t believe him, about the money I mean. Why would any man give all his money to his sister in law? For Pete’s sake, I tell you, the man was mad.”

“He was your husband,” Adam replied with a finality in his voice that brought a flash of defiance in her eyes. she tossed her head and raised her chin as though daring him for a fight and had she been a man Adam would have expected a fist to come next.

But she turned as though defeated, and looked at Joe with loathing as she inched past him. The brothers exchanged a look, before threading their way back down to level ground.

She was crying again now, wiping her face as she walked towards the horses, sniffling and snorting and gulping for breath. As they approached the horses she stopped, sniffed, and shook her head,

“I’m not going with you, I’d sooner die.”

“You’ve no choice, Matilda.” Joe cleared his throat, “You should have known that sooner or later you’d have to pay the consequences of your actions.”

She shook her head again, then looked at Adam “Is it right, that Jethro’s dead?”

He nodded, felt a pang of sympathy at the look of distress on her face, “He wasn’t just my brother, you know, he was my twin. I was just an hour older, that’s all. We looked after one another. Always did. If he’s dead, I don’t want to live.”

Adam sighed, he was getting impatient now and wished that she would just shut her mouth and get on with it. Joe was likewise growing tired of waiting and put a hand on her arm “Come on, Matilda, get up onto the horse..”

She just stared at the pack horse, realised there was no saddle and hesitated, but she had grown up around horses all her life, and without too much fuss was soon astride the beast. She glared at them both as Joe tied her wrists together and gave her a sharp look from his hazel eyes. Enough said, he didn’t trust her to take any chances of turning the horse round and running off with it.

He stepped back and looked up at her, “I’m sorry, Matilda, sorry for your loss.”

But she didn’t reply, she just turned her head away and stared out to the far off horizon. Without Jethro in her life she was empty, they may as well have put a gun to her head and pulled the trigger for all she cared.
………………

Mary Ann was intrigued by the whispering she could hear as she came down the stairs with Constance in her arms. She had heard the knock on the door and had looked out of the window to see an unfamiliar horse nodding over the hitching rail. Confident that Jenny would answer to the visitor she continued feeding the baby, before leaving the room to see who had called.

The whispering stopped as she drew nearer to the porch (or as Joe liked to call it, The Vestibule) and she peered around the inner door to see Jenny standing quite close to a young man who was fumbling with his hat and looking rather flushed in the face.

Jenny turned to Mary Ann with a sweet smile on her face and her eyes wide and shining. Over the course of the year in which she had been with the Cartwrights this pretty girl had changed into a very lovely young woman. Her difficulties in communication and behavioural matters only added to her sweetness and innocence. It seemed that the young man had found both this and her looks an attraction for his eyes were fixed upon her as she made the introductions.

“Miss, this is Willard. I met him when I was at the Double D helping Miss Marcy last week.” her smile lit up her face and shyly she turned to the youth and put a hand upon his arm, “It’s alright, you know. You can come in, I’ve baked a cake and we can have some with coffee.”

“Well, um, if’n that’s alright with the Missus?” he darted a look over at Mary Ann who was looking from one to the other in bemusement.

But she nodded anyway, after all, she didn’t view Jenny as hired help having to ask for this and that, they were friends, as much as Jenny’s mental capacity allowed such. It seemed she was perfectly able to consider this young man as a friend, and maybe more besides.

“Yes, come in, er , Willard.” she heard herself say and stepped aside for the lad to enter the house.

“I done promised Miss Jenny I’d come calling, Ma’am.” he said and a quiff of blond hair flopped over his brow as he nodded his head to go along with the words.

“Oh well, it is very nice to meet you, Willard. Do you have any other name?”

“Oh sure I do, Ma’am, I’m Willard Richard Gordon.” he looked around for somewhere to put his hat, “I come from Illinois.”

“Oh, you’re a long way from home, Mr Gordon.” Mary Ann said as she led them into the kitchen, where Jenny immediately began to prepare the coffee. Mary Ann was bemused to see that a cake, beautifully made and decorated was already set out on display.

Constance dribbled and waved a hand in its direction, but Mary Ann was too interested in observing Jenny and Willard as they almost waltzed in slow motion around each other, exchanging smiles and making big eyes and smiling private little smiles no one was supposed to notice but themselves.

So how long have you been at the Double D?” Mary Ann sat down, settling the baby on her lap and smiling at them both, their innocence was quite endearing really.

“Oh, some months now. My Pa went with Luke on the cattle run, he’s just got back. Mr Luke said I could come and see Jenny.”

“And how is Mrs Dent? Marcy?”

“Mrs Dent?” Willard sat down on the chair that Jenny pulled out for him, he felt himself blushing and looked up at her with a smile, one to which she responded immediately.

“Yes, Mrs Dent.”

“Oh, she’s well, very well in fact. Mighty big, you know. I -” he paused, no doubt this was not the time to discuss such things with this very pretty lady who looked as though she was in a dream, looking from him to Jenny as though she may wake up any moment and may be not like what she was awake to… “She’s fine, Ma’am.”

Mary Ann nodded, and then looked at Jenny “Well, Jenny, arn;t you going to cut the cake?”

As she sat there watching Jenny cutting cake, smiling and dimpling at Willard and he smiling and making big eyes at her, it crossed Mary Ann’s mind that she would soon be looking for another helper. It seemed to her she was doomed as all her staff came and went whereas Olivia and Hester still had their long standing loyal helpers in the form of Hop Sing and Cheng Ho Lee.

She smiled at Jenny and ate her cake, feeding crumbs to the baby and glad that Daniel wasn’t around making his demands,. No doubt about it, the girl knew how to turn out a very good cake, and she sighed, and hoped that Willard wouldn’t mind eating cake every day until the girl learned to cook properly. Teaching the girl to prepare and cook a decent meal was something that Mary Ann had failed to accomplish
,,,,,,,,,

Ella and Sofia were busy making raffia dolls. Their little fingers worked artlessly at tweaking this and that and forming the little limbs and bodies, and then making faces and changing some to little ladies and some to little men.

“We could sell these.” Ella suggested.

“I think we should.” Sofia replied solemnly, “Once we have enough we could go out and offer them to people. How much shall we charge?”

“A dime?”

“No, no, that’s not enough.” Sofia’s brow wrinkled, “I think we should charge two dimes.”

“Two dimes?” Ella’s eyes opened wide “But that’s a lot of money, Sofia. Two dimes will be …” she paused while she did some ‘sums’ “ two dimes is twenty cents.”

Sofia shrugged, in all honesty she had no idea about money, she just liked the different colours of the coins and the way they jingled when she had some. She put her little raffia dolly in her lap and stared into space “Well, shall we ask for … a nickel each?” she smiled at her friend, “They’re pretty.”

“A nickel is worth five cents.” Ella said and put aside her raffia gentleman, looking at him thoughtfully and wondering if they were worth even as much as a nickel. Sofia had other ideas, she nodded, and patted Ella gently on the arm,

“I think two nickels.” she smiled and picked up her little lady and Ella’s little man and made them dance in her lap by holding onto one of their legs “That will be two nickels equals… um … “

“ten cents.” Ella said.

“Ten cents.” Sofia giggled, “So we can charge a dime each, can’t we?”

Ella rolled her eyes and shook her head, but she began to giggle too. This she thought, was quite an adventure.

Emily Soames was now quite used to seeing Sofia pushing the wheel chair out of the house and down the street. She called out that lemonade and cookies would be ready soon and not to be too long.

In the sun the two little girls made their way along the sidewalk, sometimes a wheel would get stuck between some planks and some kind person would help Sofia get it out again., as soon as that happened a little raffia dolly would be held under their noses and a little girl would say “Would you like to buy this handsome little man” or “This pretty lady is only a dime…”

They didn’t meet with much success but never the less they picked their stop just outside the church, for as Sofia said, people who go to church always felt good, and feeling good meant they felt generous, so they would give more than a busy lady doing her shopping with lots of children. Or, as Ella added, a dusty cowboy who just wanted to spend his money on drink.

The ruse worked well enough, and hot and sweaty, Sofia pushed the wheel chair back to Emily Soames’ with plenty of dimes and nickels in her pockets, “Enough to buy lots of sugar candy floss at the Founders Day picnic.” she said with glee.

They sat gravely side by side sipping their lemonade and dividing the spoils between them. This worked wonders for Sofia’s knowledge of arithmetic as to how many of one thing went into another thing…Ella basked in her friends praise and then complained of a headache, whether it was too much sun, too much excitement or just too much of Sofia

Chapter 45

It was Clem who turned the key of the door after leading Matilda Tunstall Garvey into the cell. She allowed him to take her there as though she were sleep walking, unaware of what was happening and oblivious of the three men who stood by and watched her as she was taken away.

“She’s been like that ever since we started out this way.” Adam said quietly, “I think the shock of knowing her brother was dead …” he shrugged as though there was no further need to say more.

“Mmm,” Candy nodded and then sat down, indicating to his friends that there were chairs available so why not do likewise? “Matilda and Jethro Tunstall. I knew Jethro some years back when I was in Arizona. The size of a house with a temper of an enraged bull. Always wanting to fight. His reputation as trouble preceded him, of course, so he was always going from one place to another with trouble following him and meeting up with him wherever he went. So, he’s dead, huh?”

“According to Sheriff Carney.” Joe nodded.

“Well, I’m not sad at the news, that’s for sure.” Candy replied and pulled a wad of Wanted posters from his drawer.

While Joe and Adam looked on the sheriff riffled through the posters and drew out two which he placed upon the desk, pushing them over for the brothers to see.

“Jethro and Matilda Tunstall. They caused mayhem in their home state and between them killed at least six people. Some in cold blood. I reckon we can add Silas and Matt Garvey to the list, huh?”

Adam nodded “Of course, you knew Silas and Matt, didn’t you?”

“When we were driving cattle, yes. Silas and Susan were always hospitable.” Candy smiled, and pointed to Matilda’s poster “There’s $500 reward, gentlemen. You brought her in, you can claim the bounty.”

“We didn’t go seeking her, Candy. Rather just came across her …” Adam pushed the poster back.

“Yeah, if’n we hadn’t I reckon she would have died out there, her horse was dead, and all she had was a half full canteen of water.”

Candy nodded “Still, it will be yours to claim…” he glanced at them as they looked at one another with blank faces, he shrugged, and set the posters to one side while the others he put back into the drawer. “I’ll contact Sheriff Carney and notify him that she’s here.”

“I doubt Sheriff Carney will be in Buffalo Flats for a while, Candy. Best contact Sheriff Poole at Boulders Creek.” Adam murmured.

Candy jotted down the contact details and then leaned back, twisting the pen between his fingers he grinned at them both “Well, boys, had a good trip?”

“Yeah,” Joe nodded, and yawned, “Slow but nothing out of the ordinary. You know how it is, some times the odd stampede, or flooded river happens along to relieve the monotony, but nothing like that happened on this trip.”

Adam chuckled, a deep rumble that made his eyes twinkle, “No, nothing happened, Candy, not on my watch anyway.”

“Glad to have you boys home. I hope two ladies who will be very pleased to see you both.” Candy replied as he rose to his feet in order to shake their hands.

The Cartwright brothers nodded, shook hands and with big smiles on their faces left the building, leaving Clem standing there with mouth open “They didn’t even stay for coffee.”

“More important things to do, Clem.” Candy mused as he stood by the window and watched the two men striding down the sidewalk towards their horses.

“Look, Joe, I have to see about this money, or Pa will be chewing my head off, so why not go …” he paused and grinned, “Er – perhaps not -” and he nodded over to Joe to look across the road where a certain lady was walking along with a little boy dragging on one hand and an infant in a stroller being pushed along by the other.

“Mary Ann,” Joe cried and with a whoop he was dashing across the road, having to hold onto his hat with one hand as he did so and weaving in and out of traffic which swerved to avoid him.

Mary Ann continued on her way, thoughts of Jenny and Willard, and of Daniel wanting to go for a pee filled her head so when a pair of arms wrapped around her waist and lifted her off her feet, causing her to lose her grip on the stroller she gave a shriek. Daniel stepped back in alarm as her mother released his hand and fell into a pile of mops and buckets stacked outside the Mercantile, while the stroller continued on its merry way without any help from anyone at all. Constance was rescued by Mrs Garston who tut-tutted loudly as the stroller rolled gracelessly into her skirts.

“How dare you..” Mary Ann shrieked and with clenched fist twisted round to defend herself against this unwanted behaviour only to stare into the amused face of her husband whose eyes danced merrily along with his smile.

“Mary Ann?” He whispered and put a hand to her fist, holding it fast within his own, and then, without a care, kissing her right there and then. “I’m home, sweetheart.”

Mrs Garston tut-tutted even more loudly at this unseemly display, even if it were between husband and wife. She pushed the stroller along and very loudly Har-hummed, while several ladies by tittered and laughed, and then walked away whispering to each other and casting eyes at the couple. Some cowboys rode by and whistled and gave a cheer.

Mrs Garston was having none of this nonsense. She raised her parosol and jabbed Joe in the back with the point, “Joseph Cartwright, stop this nonsense at once.”

Joe did stop, mainly because he was out of breath and Mary Ann had begun to cry, tears had to be hastily mopped up. “I can’t believe you’re home.”

“Mrs Cartwright, this is most unseemly behaviour.” Mrs Garston said in a very loud imperious manner, “And your daughter could have caused an accident had I not saved her. As for your son…” and with a twirl and flourish she pointed to poor Daniel who was being assisted out from among the mops and pails by Mr Anderson.

Daniel was crying, he was excited at seeing his father and ran into his arms, but he was also dismayed at the excitement and surprise at finding himself among the mops, which had caused him to wet himself. Regardless of such a misdemeanour he hugged his father’s legs with all the strength he could muster. Constance just gazed serenely around her, beaming smiles upon everyone and shrieking just to add to the harmony of it all.

Mary Ann mopped up her tears, and kept saying “Oh Joe,” and Joe hugged Danny tight before realising his jacket sleeve was getting rather damp and letting the boy back down on the ground.

From outside the bank Adam watched and smiled at his brother and sister-in-law, then with a rather dreaming look on his face he stepped into the dark interior of the building and approached the counter.

Mr Weems came out of the office and nodded over to him, “Welcome back, Adam. A successful trip?”

“Very much so.” Adam replied, and removed his hat, “If I could have a word with you, Mr Weems.”

“Of course,” the banker said and beckoned to the clerk to bring out the necessary files for the up coming transaction.
…………..

Mary Ann wanted to get home as soon as she could for her purpose in her visit to town had been accomplished, and having Joe home took precedence over everything else. He was only too happy to comply and was sitting beside his wife in the buggy with Daniel between them, Constance on her mother’s lap, the stroller neatly roped to the back and the horse on a rein trotting behind when Adam came back out of the bank.

The brothers exchanged a grin, a nod and touch of the finger to the brim of their hats. For a moment Adam stood there and watched, his head to one side, remembering the kid in the green jacket who would be dashing about on his piebald, getting the girls in town all broken hearted and a different girl in the buggy about to get her heart broken .

He sighed, no point in looking back to the past, with all its history and entanglements, not when there was so much to look forward to in the present and future.

He paused, glanced around him and walked quickly to Roy Coffee’s home. It would take him only a little while to pass on Carney’s best wishes to the old man. It would take him no time at all to overtake Joe on the way home.

Roy was more than delighted to see Adam, and dragged him inside where Dorothy Ford promptly disappeared into the kitchen to make coffee and produce cake. Adam had no choice but to set down his hat and take a seat as he listened to Roy’s introductory monologue which consisted mostly of questions awaiting answers.

“I met up with a friend of yours, Roy.” Adam was finally able to say as he balanced a plate on his knee and drank his coffee. “Perhaps you won’t remember him as he was quite a lad at the time, Nate Carney?”

“Nate Carney?” Roy’s brow crinkled, “Son of Roy Carney, my partner back in the days? My word, so you met up with that young rapscallion, did you?”

“He wanted me to thank you, Roy.” Adam sipped down some coffee, Dorothy made excellent coffee, the kind one took time over drinking.

“Thank me, for what? Heavens forbid, Roy and me nearly got ourselves killed a zillion times over, those days were full of never knowing what the next hour was going to bring, let alone the next day or week. Adam, if you ever could wish for a finer friend to be looking to your back, it would be Roy Carney. So, what’s Nate doing nowadays? What mischief is he up to?”

“He’s a sheriff. Wanted to follow in your footsteps, Roy. You and his fathers.”

“Is that so? Wal I’ll be jiggered, I always thought he was headed for trouble, that boy. He got into more mischief …almost as much mischief as you and your brothers ever did. Thought for sure he’d end up on one of my Wanted posters.” he chuckled, his cheeks reddened and his moustache bristled. “So, he’s a sheriff…wal, wal.”
……..

It took Adam an hour to extricate himself and he hurried to his horse and mounted up only to hear Paul Martin’s voice behind him. Turning he saw the doctor and his wife hurrying along to catch up with him.

“Welcome back, Adam.” they chorused and Adam leaned down to shake both their hands.

“Were you going to go off without seeing us?” Bridie chided him with a shake of the head and looking quite mischievous.

“Er -”

“Come along in, young man. We want to hear all about your adventures.” Paul said and his kindly eyes beamed up to Adam who smiled at the thought of being considered a young man now.

“We have so much to tell you…” Bridie chimed in as though Paul’s manner of persuasion just wasnt enough.

James Colby drove past just in a two seater then with his wife by his side, they both nodded over at Adam and smiled at the Martins who waved back. Adam narrowed his eyes, looked at Bridie and raised his eyebrows, she in turn merely smiled and nodded towards her home.

A hint, as the saying goes, is, of course, as good as a wink to a blind horse so Adam dutifully turned his horse towards their house and was removing his hat and settling down in Bridie’s little parlour being fussed over while the long suffering Mrs Treveleyn prepared some refreshments.
……………

Beatrice Evans had watched Joe and Mary Ann from her window and remained standing there for some while after they had ridden out of town. Mrs Poole waited for her mistress to turn and ask for her assistance back to the day bed which was now in the back room where the sun shone most of the day. Mrs Poole was a caring little woman, and had been Beatrice’s wardrobe mistress back in the days of the concerts and recitals. Now she obediently tended the sick woman with the loving care of a mother, and was equally as devoted to Edward. She had suffered with them when their little girl had been ill, and had stood by them after the child’s death, the slow creeping illness that had robbed her mistress of her fame and talents, and now she stood by, steadfast as a rock in turbulent waters, as Beatrice’s days slowly ebbed away.

“She’s so happy,” Beatrice sighed, “I wish I had never told her about her father, Mrs P, but it seems that she has found the man who will fill her world just as Edward has mine. I so hope she will be as happy…”

“Hmm,” was Mrs Poole’s reply to that and she approached her mistress and put a hand upon her arm, “Come along, come and rest now.”

But Beatrice still stood at the window, watching people going about their business. She knew many there had never heard of Beatrice Weiss, the famous concert pianist. Nor did they care anyway. To them she was the sickly wife of the town school teacher. Nothing more.

She sighed and bowed her head. It had been sweet of Mary Ann to call by earlier that day, just as a friend, bringing a bunch of sweet smelling violets along with her son and daughter. Beatrice had thought the children were entrancing,the fact that Daniel was overawed by the sight of this woman with the odd hands (he would have bad dreams about them later) made him behave himself and be unusually quiet. Little Constance had sat on her mother’s lap and coo’d at Beatrice and won the woman’s heart as easily as butter melts on hot toast. It had been a successful and pleasant visit, although kept brief. But is had settled things in both their minds, they were friends and the past didn’t matter, nor would it intrude.

She followed Mrs Poole into the other room and settle down upon the day bed, drawing her shawl about her. In a very short time she was asleep, dreaming of another little girl who had once sat upon her lap, plump fingers tapping at the keyboard of the piano while mother had watched and guided her little hands over the black and white keys.
…………….

Hoss Cartwright saw the buggy bouncing along the track and narrowed his eyes a little just to make sure that who he thought he saw in it was actually Joe and Mary Ann with the children. With a whoop he pulled off his hat and waved it excitedly over his head.

“HEY, JOE.”

Joe pulled on the reins and turned to watch as the big man on the black horse made his way across the meadow to the track . He was down on the ground waiting for Hoss by the time he had crossed the distance, whereupon he dismounted and hurried over to engulf his little brother in a man size bear hug.

“Good to see you back, brother. Have a good trip? No stampedes nor nothing? Where’s Adam?”

“Hey, and good to see you too, brother. Hey, you been eating again? You been putting on weight?” Joe chided with a laugh as he good naturedly tapped Hoss on the belly.

“Look, I bin doing the work of three men around here, I done lost weight, let me tell ya, not put it on. Anyhows, you don’t look like you bin wasting away yourself?”

Joe laughed and gave Hoss a hug of his own “It’s good to see you again, Hoss. It’s been too long.”

“You had no trouble then?” Hoss grinned over at Mary Ann and winked, receiving a sweet smile from her, a wave from Daniel and nothing from Constance as she had fallen asleep.

“None whatsoever, quite boring, in fact, really boring. Just aching bones from so much riding. Adams’ in town dealing with the money ..fact is, I thought he would have overtaken us by now.”

“Mmm, well, look, why not come straight on to the house..”

“I have a little boy to tidy up.” his sister in law replied with a laugh, “and I don‘t mean Joe this time either..”

Hoss slapped his hat upon his head and smiled his sweet smile of bliss, “Sure glad you and Adam are back. My, there’s a whole back log of work to get through …”

Laughing heartily he remounted his horse and turned in the direction of home, leading the way as Joe and Mary Ann followed along in the buggy. At the fork in the trail leading to Joe’s house they paused a while, Joe leaned forwards to catch Hoss’ attention “Tell Pa we’re home.”

“Why not call by later and tell him yourself.” Hoss grinned, touched the brim of his hat and turned his horse from the buggy.

Joe smiled at Mary Ann, he had spent too long a time away from her to want to share time with her and family now. He kissed her, whispered he loved her, and then headed on towards home.

Chapter 46

Adam was very mindful that time was ticking along and that if Olivia were to see Joe and Mary Ann driving along homewards she would be wondering where her own husband could have got to.

He loped his way at a steady pace out of town and smiled as he thought of his wife, the children, and like Joe had wondered beforehand, he pondered on the changes he would see in them all, particularly little Nathaniel. Ah well, he reassured himself that this was not like all those months, sometimes years, when he would be at sea.

He lowered his hat and urged the horse on, wishing that the miles were shorter and time was not slipping away so quickly. He was still on the public road when he came across a wagon sprawled across it, not exactly blocking his way, but from the look on the faces of it’s owners it was certainly going to be a cause for some further delay. With a sigh of resignation he dismounted and nodded over to Mr and Mrs Garston,

“Anything I can do to help?” he offered and hoped that the unwillingness in his voice was not too obvious to the couple.

Mr Garston shrugged and grimaced while wiping his hands on a soiled cloth, his wife, however, proved yet again that no matter what the situation her vocal chords could be well and truly relied upon. In strident tones she gave the full details of their misadventure to their rescuer, while hovering behind him constantly to make sure that he carried out the execution of the repairs to her exacting standards.

It was frustrating and time wasting, but the wheel was retrieved from where it had rolled into a clump of shrubbery, found to be undamaged, the search for the relevant pin and necessary equipment located and with much heaving and grunting involved the wheel was neatly reattached to its axle, pinned into place, and declared safe for travel.

“Well, there’s no point in carrying on now,” Mrs Garston protested, “We’re far too late, we’ll just have to get back to town. What a waste of time that was!! Henry, this is just Too Bad!”

Henry nodded in agreement, gave a watery smile to Adam and clambered back onto the seat, “Thanks Adam,”

Adam nodded, it wasn’t a pleasure so he didn’t say it was, he just stood by wiping his hands free from oil onto his handkerchief. As the dust from the wheels of the vehicle drifted over him, he shook his head, adjusted his hat and remounted his horse.

Now, perhaps, he could get on…
………….

James did not know the territory beyond the boundaries of the town all that well. When the trail forked to the left, and being shaded by trees and shrubs, therefore looking quite pretty and shaded, he directed the horses to follow it along.

This was the first time Alicia had agreed to go for a ’little drive’ with him. He had collected his medical bag as a matter of course, but he had also arranged for a pic nic hamper to be prepared and this had been placed strategically between himself and his wife.

He had not been happy to see how carefully Alicia had settled the basket between them, but he put a smile on his face and swore to himself that by the end of their little trip things would be even more improved between them.

It had taken time, but Pauls advice was slowly having effect. James had sent flowers, sought out the kind of books she enjoyed, taken her to the theatre twice now, and even though they still slept in separate bedrooms (her excuse being that when he returned late from his ’call outs’ he disturbed her) there was and had been a continual thaw in her attitude to him. Each small step had spurred him on to think of different and more pleasant ways to please her.

Alicia twirled her parasol and looked around her with interest. The sky was as blue as it could be on a delightful May day, and the sun was pleasantly warm. Wild flowers bloomed alongside the roadside, nodding their sleepy heads as the wheels of the buggy rolled past them. The sound of the horses hooves made a soft thudding sound, and if she closed her eyes it was like a pleasing rhythm that resonated through her body. It seemed to her that she was rather hasty in arranging the hamper as it was, because more than anything she would have loved to have slipped her arm through his and hug him close to her.

She smiled at him and received an answering smile in return. She swirled her parasol and he flicked the reins to send the horses just a little faster. She was about to speak when the buggy rounded a corner and emerged from the woodland onto the yard of a well concealed ranch.

Stables and barns were to the left, and ahead of them was the ranch house itself. To the left of the house, almost hugging it, was an orchard. The boughs of each tree heavy with the most beautiful blossom.

“Oh it’s lovely.” Alicia exclaimed.

Against the blue of the sky the blossom looked more delicate than ever, the sun shone as though to show off each petal to its fullest advantage. James was about to speak when the door opened and a man stood there, saw them and ran towards them.

Momentarily James thought they were under attack, and flung an arm across to protect his wife but then he realised that the man was asking for help, urgent help.

“Can you do anything? Get a doctor from town?”

“I am a doctor.” James said and looked at the distraught man anxiously, “Can you tell me what’s wrong?”

“My wife, she’s having a baby…I mean….she is having a baby, right now…”

James didn’t hesitate but leapt down and then turned to Alicia “I’m sorry, I have to help. Could you find your way back to town? See if you can find Paul…?”

Alicia shook her head, find Paul when James was every bit as good a doctor? Nonsense. She closed her parasol with a snap, and descended from the vehicle in order to follow the two men into the house. James paused “Alicia, I’m -”

“I can help. Just tell me what to do.” she replied and looked at him so sternly that he had no choice but to nod acceptance and hope that she wouldn’t get in their way.

Luke led the way to the room where Marcy lay, a poor distressed Marcy at this particular moment. James went to her side immediately, felt her pulse and checked her vital signs, before asking when the pains had started, had her waters broken, when was she actually due?

Marcy whispered her replies and then groaned as another contraction seized her, she writhed and groaned before relaxing a little and looking around for Luke who came to take hold of her hand and kiss her fingers.

James removed his jacket and as he rolled up his sleeves asked Alicia to get his medical bag, and when she returned to boil some water.

“She’s early,” he told Luke, who was looking like many soon to be fathers, very pale and panic stricken. “If, that is, she has her dates right in the first place.”

“Dr Martin seemed happy with the dates she gave him.” came the immediate response as though he had to defend his wife from any allegation of ignorance made against her.

Alicia came in and handed over the bag, which James opened, checked his instruments and then looked over at Luke “I need to make a full examination, if you don’t mind?”

Luke wasn’t sure what exactly the doctor was implying by that, but held more tightly to Marcy’s hand and whispered reassuring words to her. James sighed, looked at his wife,
“Boiling water to sterilise my instruments, dear.”

Alicia nodded, and went to find the kitchen and put the kettle on to boil. She sighed and smiled, he had called her ’dear’, and for some reason that had made her heart beat faster than all the flowers and candies he could have thought to get her.
…………..

At last! Adam dismounted in his own stables and after attending to the horse set it loose in the corral with several others that were milling about there. He brushed his hat against his legs, hoping to remove some of the travel dust before entering the building. He pushed the door open and stepped through the porch into the big room.

He smiled, his eyes twinkled and he drew in breath to call out “Hallooo, I’m home.” but there was an emptiness to the room and a silence that was so profound that there seemed little point in saying a word.

He cleared his throat and walked towards the hearth, picked up one of Nathaniel’s toys along the way and set it carefully down on the settee. Upon hearing a sound he turned and smiled, saw Cheng and although the joy he had momentarily felt wavered somewhat the smile remained fixed on his face.

“Missy gone, not here. She go see Missy Soames in town.”

“Missy Soames?” Adam’s mind went blank, who was Missy Soames.

“Then she bring children home from school.”

Cheng Ho Lee bowed, smiled and seemed genuinely pleased with himself, but Adam stood there as though dumb founded, as though all his castles in the air had tumbled down and drowned him. He coughed “Well, I see .. In that case…”

“Perhaps you have bath? I make you special drink, make you feel good. Have bath, drink, surprise Missy.”

“I was intending to anyway…surprise Missy, I mean.” Adam scratched the back of his neck, grinned and felt reasonably stupid, but Change had made some valid suggestions, and a good hot bath, soak out the aches of the journey, and the dust and the smell.. he sighed, and nodded “Thanks Cheng, I shall go and do just that!”

Cheng bowed and suggested that perhaps clean clothes?
……

Sofia sat and with crayon poised thought carefully about what she was going to draw on her poster. With an air of concentration and deliberation she began to outline her drawing. On the opposite side of the table Ella was doing much the same. The two little girls were silent as they industriously drew their pictures, smiling secret smiles hidden by the long hair that covered their faces from anyone looking upon them.

Their plan to raise money by the sale of the raffia dolls had hit a hurdle! Someone had complained to the sheriff about the two children touting for business outside the church. ‘Scandalous’ had been the word used. They had also opined that it was quite wrong to play on the sympathies of the public by having one of them sit in a wheelchair!

Candy had despatched Clem to explain to the girls that they could not solicit for funds of any kind without a proper licence. This had raised questions that the poor man had no answers too, for each ..the two children and the deputy …were so ignorant of the proceedings and the ‘things to do’ that they tied themselves in knots and decided that perhaps it was better just to simply stop.

As Clem closed the door and congratulated himself on handling things very well, Sofia had looked at Ella and with a loud sigh declared they would just have to think of something else in order to raise the funds they needed.

“We can write to the Mayor and ask for a license.” Ella suggested.

A very good idea. This then was their latest project. The poor man was going to receive a petition the like of which he had never seen before, nor was ever likely to see again!

Olivia kept an eye on the clock and finally decided that it was time to leave, Nathaniel had fallen asleep on the hearth rug in front of the hearth, curled up around the cat who had a paw on his head and another wrapped around his waist. It was a sweet picture but Olivia was aware of passing time and things needed to be done at home before supper.

She still had to collect Reuben from David Riley’s. Mr Evans had set them a science project and they had agreed to work on it together. Olivia knew from past experience that keeping check of the time was the last consideration on those boys minds which would mean further delay as it always seemed to take so much time to extricate Reuben from such situations.

Sofia came to her mothers summons and smiled, thanked Mrs Soames very prettily and then turned to Ella “Now then, don’t forget?”

“No, I won’t…” her little friend promised and waved Sofia and Olivia good bye.

Nathaniel, still asleep, sighed deeply as Olivia carried him to the Riley’s and knocked on the door. It took ten minutes to get Reuben extricated from his studies, during which Sofia complained that she could have stayed at Ella’s all this time and Nathaniel woke up and started bawling.

Olivia’s nerves were beginning to fray at the edges by the time she had the three of them mustered up in the buggy alongside her and started on her way to the Ponderosa. It was always pleasant to spend time with Emily Soames but today she was feeling anxious. When Emily had asked if she were feeling alright for she seemed rather subdued, she had found herself telling the other woman that she had thought Adam would have been home by now, the days were dragging, she was missing him and needing him home.

Emily’s sweet consideration had been comforting but then made her feel guilty as Emily had no comfort in knowing that some day her husband would return home to her and her child. Olivia had adroitly changed the subject but left feeling more nervous than ever.

She knew Luke was home, and she knew that Adam would have had other things to deal with that perhaps Luke had not…but oh, these last few days were dragging out sooo long. It seemed to her that the children noticed his absence and fretted too, they seemed to be arguing among themselves more, Nathaniel was being naughty and she seemed to be losing that calm exterior that most people associated with her.

She urged the horses onwards and told herself, “Not long now, he’ll be home soon.”
….

The bath had been a great suggestion on Cheng’s part although Adam told himself he would have thought about it, eventually. He nearly fell asleep once or twice, but roused himself to go about his ablutions with his usual care, emerging from the bathroom buttoning up his clean shirt sleeves and looking resplendent.

“Did Olivia say when she would be home? Does she stay long at Mrs Soames’ when she visits?“ he asked as he buttoned up the other sleeve with a slight frown and pout.

“Not say, but maybe home very soon now..”

Adam nodded and flicked a glance over at the clock. Very soon now, huh? He strolled out to the porch and stood framed by the doorway. His hands on his hips and his eyes roving around the yard, the stables, at the horses in the corral.

The sun was beginning to sink, there was an hour before sunset, it was going to be a beautiful one too…he smiled slowly, and released a long sigh. He was home, and Olivia was on her way to him now …

Chapter 47Chapter 47

Seeing the buggy entering the yard, circling around the stables and drawing to a halt gave Adam’s heart a lurch … not just at the sight of Olivia, but of his children too. The sight of them brought an instant smile to his lips and he stepped forwards from the door with eagerness to meet them as they seemed to tumble from the buggy.

Olivia saw the man standing in the doorway, his hands on his hips, a white shirt and black pants, and she could barely speak, barely breathe …she tugged on the reins perhaps a little sharper than usual for the buggy lurched when it came to a stop. Sofia was shrieking “Daddy. Daddy’s home.” and Nathaniel had woken up, yawned and then turned big eyes to the door to see Adam there so he added his cries to those of his sister while Reuben just seemed to roll out of the vehicle and run towards his father.

She sat there a moment to see them welcome him back, to watch as he leaned down to pick up the toddler and swing him high, to caress Sofia’s head and to tweak Reuben’s nose.

“Miss me?” he asked them and then raised his eyes to look into hers.

‘Miss me’ his eyes said to hers and the smile on his lips and the dimples in his cheeks seemed to be showing to her the same excitement, the same enthrallment as she felt on seeing him for the first time in months.

With Nathaniel still in his arms, for the little one didn’t want to let go of daddy so soon, Adam walked in long strides towards his wife, and took her hand to help her from the buggy. Olivia felt as though she were walking in a dream, everything around her seemed hazy and misted in muted colours, while sounds seemed over loud, but the touch of his fingers upon her hand steadied her, so that she floated into his arms and held him close.

She heard Reuben’s “Aw, not that again…” and Sofia’s sigh as the door closed behind them, Nathaniel’s arm snaked around her neck so that he was hugging onto them both, but all she really was aware of was his lips upon hers, the warmth of his skin upon her face, the smell of recently washed hair, cologne, his breath …

“Home ..” she whispered and closed her eyes while she sunk her head upon his shoulder.

“Home..” he whispered as his fingers stroked her hair as gently as he had just caressed Sofia’s, “At last.”

“I was getting worried.” she raised her eyes to his and realised she had tears misting her vision, she blinked them away, this was a happy time, no time for weeping.

“No need to have been.” he murmured and lowered his head, kissed her again.

“Daddy!” Nathaniel cried and kissed his father on the cheek, then gave his enchanting giggle, “Home.”

“Home.” Adam repeated and broke away from his wife in order to swing the child around in a circle in the yard.

Olivia slipped her arm through his, hugged it close against her body and smiled up into his face. Together they entered their home and closed the door behind them.
………….

Hoss tossed his hat upon the bureau and untied the holster, then the gun belt which he placed safely out of reach of little fingers. “Hey, Pa, Hester…” he paused as he saw Martha “Oh howdy, Miss Martha.”

Ben came from around the study area, his brow creased in concentration “Huh, glad you’re home, boy, I want a word with you about this contract with Bannister.”

Hoss grinned “Sure, Pa, but ..just to let you know, Adam and Joe are home. Wal, to be honest, I kin say Joe is home and Adam is on his way home.”

“Talk sense, son, are they home or not.” Ben was in no need for nit picking, either they were or they weren’t, his scowl deepened, “Hmm, if Adams home perhaps he can make some sense of this contract.”

Hoss grinned, and left Ben to his assumption that Adam would be able to create miracles. Seeing his father return to the safety of his study Hoss ambled over to where his wife was sitting, carefully darning some patch in some garment. Martha looked up and smiled,

“You’ll be glad to have your brothers back, Hoss?”

“I sure will, Ma’am. Seems like I’ve had to be every which place all at the same time just lately.”

Hester glanced up “Did Joe say whether or not everything was all right?”

“Yeah, sure, he said it was boring. Nothing happened.” Hoss yawned “Which is more than can be said for around here. I got timber growing where it shouldn’t, and cattle grazing where they ain’t got any right to be. Fencing and water holes need attention. Shucks, I jest can’t keep up with myself no more.”

Hester laughed, “Well, you have no need to worry about all that now, dear. Your brothers will be sure to be here bright and early to start work tomorrow.”

Hoss sighed and nodded, he leaned down to pick Erik up from his crib and the baby gave a sleepy yawn, and blinked “He sure is putting on weight, Hester.”

“He likes his food, just like -” she paused and looked at Hoss, smiled “like his Pa.”

“Shucks, Joe said the same thing…said I was putting on weight, dadgumit.”

Hester put her darning away and stood up, she approached her husband and kissed him gently on the cheek “You’re perfect as you are, darling.” She stroked the baby’s red gold hair and smiled “And so is he.”

She looked at Hoss and saw the gentle smile, how the blue eyes softened, and sighed with contentment. It hadn’t taken long for little Erik to steal her husband’s heart after all, and she turned away with a tightening in her throat that one can often get when emotion robs one of the power of speech or the ability to find the right words.

The sun was setting now, the ruddy glow burst in streaks into the room. Hop Sing came and began to arrange the table for the evening meal. He looked about him and smiled, nodded to himself, things and people change but some things remain the same he told himself.

Hannah and Hope came from upstairs, hand in hand, and stood there to look around them, to locate where those they loved were standing or sitting. Hoss smiled, his pride in his girls evident on his face and Martha, seeing it, turned to see what it was he was smiling at. Seeing Hannah and Hope she sighed, and nodded, for they presented a pretty picture one being so dark and the other so fair.

Having not had children of her own, Martha appreciated the way these children were, and the fact that they had accepted her so warmly, so kindly. Even now Hope was wriggling up onto her lap and demanding she tell them a story, while Hannah ran to help Hop Sing, carrying in the knives and forks very carefully and setting them out upon the table under his watchful eye.

Ben strolled out again, and smiled “Pity the boys couldn’t join us this evening.”

“Wouldn’t just be the boys, Pa.” Hester laughed, “And the girls, and the children.”

“Bless me, that’s true. I was wool gathering …” Ben chuckled and passed a hand gently over Erik’s head.

“Well, we’ll see them in the morning,” Hoss said, “And I’ve got all the necessary chores lined up for them too.”

“I’ll need to check with Adam first on how the cattle drive went, I know from his last cable that he was pleased with the profit. I hope he remembered to bank it with Weems.” Ben frowned, “And I’ll want him to look over that contract.”

“Sure, and then can I have him go check the timber for me?” Hoss laughed and passed Erik on to his wife.

“You can do that, Hoss. If you don’t want to check it out for yourself.” Ben smiled at Martha, and thought it was pleasant seeing her there, even though it was only for a few more days. “I’m glad they got home in time to spend a few days with you, Martha.”

“I’m more than glad too, Ben. I would have hated to return home without seeing them.” Martha replied, her eyes twinkled and she smiled her soft smile and sighed, very softly so that no one could hear her.

………………

Sofia clung tightly to Clarabelle as she listened to her father telling them about the empty town. Reuben sat beside his father, leaning into his shoulder with eyes round and mouth slightly open as he saw before his eyes the deserted buildings, the lonely streets. The more Adam told them the more their eyes widened, Sofia strangled Clarabelle in a death grip, Reuben’s breathing was getting more rapid.

Olivia looked up at them and smiled, what better picture could she have wished for than to see her son and daughter sitting on either side of her husband, listening enthralled to his adventures. “They’ll have nightmares,” she warned him softly, and he smiled and winked.

The clock struck the hour and both children groaned audibly, time was up and bed awaited. Sofia clung tighter to her daddy “And no one was there at all, not a single person?”

“No one, they had all gone.” Adam grimaced and shrugged as though to say that was it, the end.

“No cats, or rats, or mice?” she whispered leaning upon his chest and liking the sound of his heart beating beneath her ear.

“Never saw one.” he cleared his throat and looked over at his wife who raised her eyebrows, as though to say this was your problem, you sort it out.

“And not even a spider?” Sofia sighed.

“Oh plenty of spiders. Cobwebs everywhere.” Adam admitted and slowly disentangled himself from their arms and stood up.

“Aw, Pa, do we have to go to bed. You haven’t finished your story yet.” Reuben protested.

“That will leave more to be told to you tomorrow.” Adam smiled and swung Sofia from the settee and into his arms “Now then, Princess, off to bed with you.”

She clung tightly around his neck and giggled, “You take me…”

“I will indeed. Are you coming, Reuben?”

“Yes, sir.”

Adam grinned and passing his wife, dropped a kiss upon her golden head. Up the stairs with one child on his arm and the other trailing behind him. Olivia smiled as she heard his voice quoting some lines from Shakespeare’s Richard III

“..girdling one another
Within their alabaster innocent arms:
Their lips were four red roses on a stalk,
Which in their summer beauty kiss’d each other: “

Then a door opened and closed, soft footsteps as Reuben ran to his room followed by the firm steps of her husband. She sighed and put aside her work, and looked around the room. The moon was gilding the clouds now, soft light came in streaks across the floor, the clock ticked away a new hour. She could hear Cheng Ho Lee clearing things in the kitchen and knew that he also, would soon be going to his private room to sleep. His day was long, and he was always busy.

In her room Sofia raised her hand and with her fingers touched her fathers lips, “Daddy, I didn’t like that town.”

“Nor did I.” he caught at her fingers, her touch was too light and tickled making him want to sneeze.

“All those windows and no one there to look out. Like eyes …you won’t go again will you?”

“Probably not.” he smiled, perhaps one day they would go through it again, another cattle drive, after all, cattle had to be driven along old familiar routes. He thought of the railway and wondered if that would cause disruption for them the coming year. He sighed and smiled down at her, “Forget about it for now. Have you enjoyed school? How’s Ella?”

“I like school now, a bit.”

“Only a bit?”

“Huh.” Sofia nodded, she sighed, heavy eyed. “I missed you, you won’t go away again, will you?”

“Not unless your grandpa wants me to go somewhere else.”

“Oh no, not yet.” she clung to him then, “don’t go, tell grandpa to go instead.”

But he just laughed softly and kissed her nose, “Go to sleep, Pumpkin.”

“But I can’t…” she whined and clung tighter.

“I’m sure you can. Hush now, sleep.”
…….

Reuben was reading a book by the light of his bedside lamp, but he put it away when Adam entered the room, “Pa, do you think there were ghosts in that town?”

“No, memories perhaps, not ghosts.”

He leaned down and straightened the blanket, then looked at Reuben “How’s school? How’s Kami? Have you ridden the colt yet?”

“Kami’s fine, I rode her some times and so did Ma. I wanted to wait until you came home to see about the colt, Pa. Schools alright, Mr Evans is a good teacher. I like him.”

Adam smiled and recalled the first time he had seen Evans, and how prime and proper the man appeared to be to him. He nodded “Good, I’m glad. What else have you done while I’ve been away?”

“Been fishin’ with Uncle Hoss. Jimmy Carstairs and me, we got ourselves a good place for a den, but its secret…” he paused and wondered if he had broken his promise to Jimmy by even mentioning it to his Pa. He sighed.

“It’s alright, I won’t tell anyone.” Adam smiled, remembering how Little Joe and his friend Mitch always had secret dens that no one was ever to know about but always did.

“Pa, I sure would like to see that town one day.”

“You will, I’ll take you sometime. Perhaps on your first cattle drive.” Adam frowned, and sighed, the poor place would look even more wretched by then.

“I bet there are ghosts there.”

“Only in your mind, son.” Adam stood up and lowered the flame in the lamp, “Time to get to sleep.”

“Sure. I’m glad you’re home, Pa. I missed you.”

“I missed you too, son.”

Just words. But they meant more than gold.
…………………….

Later when Olivia came to him in their big bed he whispered words of love and wished that all that he felt in the words could be expressed more fully. How could one word really summon up all the feelings he had in his heart and contained in his body.

He stroked her long hair and curled it between his fingers, kissed her lips and eyes, and heard her voice whisper the same words back to him. He wondered why he had ever bothered buying that expensive silk nightdress and chemise, she never seemed to wear them for very long…. Not that it bothered him, not really, not at all….

Chapter 48

Somewhere during that long night that followed the harrowing hours of a never ending afternoon a clock chimed the hour as a baby’s first cry drifted through the rooms. The woman in the bed sunk back onto the pillows and sighed deep and long while those in the room continued with their tasks .. A woman to hold her hand and whisper words that now had no meaning, a husband who wept and shook fearful but grateful sobs, and a doctor who carefully brought the baby out into the world.

The baby wailed, small fists flailing and little lungs inflating as he bellowed. James looked over at Luke “Congratulations, Luke, you have a son.”

Luke nodded, too full of emotion to speak. He went to the bedside and Alicia stepped to one side and with a smile watched as he took her place and held Marcy’s hand, “Marcy, we have a son.”

Marcy was exhausted, the labour had been long and intensive, far longer and harder than she had thought it could have been. She heard Luke’s voice from afar off, and nodded her head, forced a smile.

“A perfect little boy,” James said as he wrapped the baby in a towel and handed him to his father, “A handsome lad, Luke, Marcy.”

Luke took his son into his arms and held him to the woman in the bed, who opened her eyes and smiled. What a funny looking little scrap this was indeed? And her own son? Hard to believe that this was all over now. She nodded again and smiled into Luke’s eyes, this was a proud moment and the sight of her husband’s pride in her baby made her feel as though everything was worth while after all – yes, everything.

James smiled and nodded at them both, it was a scene he had witnessed many times now, a new birth and the joy it brings. He looked at his wife and his face softened at the sight of her dabbing her eyes and smiling through the tears. She had been wonderful, he thought, and so diligent and gentle in her care of Marcy. He approached her and put a hand into hers, “ALicia…”

She shook her head, too full of emotion to speak, and dabbed again at her eyes. She could feel her husbands fingers tighten around hers, felt his lips upon her cheek and his whispered “Thank you.”

What was there to thank her for? She had done what a woman should do for another woman in such circumstances surely? But she knew he meant more than that, just as all she had done today, this night, was more than just sitting by a woman’s side during her labour.

Luke stood up and passed the baby to Alicia, “What do you think, Alicia, isn’t he handsome?”

She smiled and looked at the little face. In all honesty he looked like a little frog, but she nodded and stroked the baby’s cheek and said simply “He needs a bath…”

James had dealt with the cord and before long Alicia was cleaning the baby and laughing at the way it moved, all jerks and judders, as though this being born business had some getting used to. By the time he was dressed and wrapped in the shawl fondly knitted by Olivia, he was making little mewling sounds and his eyes were rolling in his head making both her and Luke chuckle.

But James was surprisingly quiet as he got on with the business of dealing with Marcy and when he said, “Alicia, put the kettle on, we need more hot water” in a rather businesslike manner, both of them turned to the bed with upraised eyebrows and a definite lack of smiles.

“Is something wrong?” Luke asked immediately, fear trickling through the words while Alicia clutched the baby tighter and felt her heart thumping within her chest.

‘Is something wrong?’ were words often repeated at times like this for everyone knew the high mortality rate among new borns and the mothers who laboured so hard to give birth in that still wild and rugged country. Luke and Marcy had been blessed in the fact that James and Alicia had strayed out of their way and found the ranch at such an opportune time. Others were far less fortunate…

James was bent over the woman in the bed, little Marcy who was groaning and writhing and then a cry as a contraction seized her and Luke ran to the bedside “Is this usual?” he whispered to the doctor.

James didn’t reply to Luke, he stood bent over at the foot of the bed and only said to Marcy “Push, gently now, Marcy, just gently.”

Marcy gasped, groaned and sobbed. Tears streamed down her face, and she shook her head, clutched at her husbands hands until Luke winced and James was saying “Just once more, Marcy.”

Alicia couldn’t move. The kettle would have to wait for her feet felt as though nailed to the floor. The tiny baby in her arms wriggled a little as though in protest at being held so tightly and gave a little cry, a whimper of a sound which made her whisper “Shush, shush now.”

Taking his eyes from the face of his wife, Luke Dent glanced anxiously over at Luke,

“What’s wrong, what’s happening?”

His voice was low, as thought he were afraid of saying anything too loud in case Marcy could hear and it would cause her further distress. Tears of pride and joy moments earlier were gone and his face was ashen as his eyes widened in appeal.

James Colby paused but a moment to look up the distressed man, he nodded and raised a hand, as though a mute request for silence.

Marcy groaned, writhed and suffered…her husband wiped sweat from her brow and made soothing noises to which she paid no heed for she no longer heard them. In the corner of the room Alicia stood looking out of the window and instinctively rocking the baby in her arms, whispering nonsense words to him in order to shut out the sounds of the agonised woman from her hearing.

A whimper of a sound, James looked up and smiled, caught Luke’s eyes and nodded again. “Luke, you have a daughter.”

A cry, a baby’s wail at greeting life beyond the womb, perhaps a cry of distress as she sought the comfort of her twin. The baby in Alicia’s arms opened his mouth and yowled, and she turned wide eyed in amazement at the sight of this double miracle of birth.

Luke was dumbstruck, he sat as though stunned as James carefully laid the baby girl on the blankets and dealt with the cord. “She’s small, but perfect.”

Luke mouthed the words, then cleared his throat..”Twins?”

“Yes, twins. Beautiful aren’t they?” James said as he bundled the baby into another towel and handed her to Luke, “She must have been lying behind her brother because I never heard more than the one heart beat. Paul must have believed the same, because he never considered the possibility of Marcy having twins.”

Luke stood up and carried the baby girl to the window where Alicia still stood. They looked at one another, then at the babies, so small, so fragile and delicate, both open mouthed and yelling.

“Luke?” Marcy whispered for her husband, “Luke, is it over?”

“Unless you have another baby tucked away, my dear girl, I think we could say…yes, it is all over now. You clever girl.” Luke replied and came to sit beside her, kissed her forehead. “Marcy, we have a son, and a daughter….”

She blinked up at him, baffled, disbelieving and he beckoned to Alicia to bring over the boy so that Marcy could see him, while he himself showed her the little girl. Marcy looked from one to the other of them, then at Luke, she shook her head “Well, now, how on earth did we manage that?”

James continued with dealing with other matters and finally stood up, took himself to where a bowl of water awaited him and scrubbed his hands and arms, then dried them on a towel. He smiled at Alicia and caught sight of the pride on her face, pride and ..love?

“I suggest you let Marcy hold her babies, they may need feeding…good for babies and mother to know one another as soon as possible.” James said, approaching the bed and smiling down at the woman in the bed “How do you feel, Marcy? Tired?”

“Very tired,” she replied wearily, “But, Dr James, aren’t they beautiful?”

“You did very well, Marcy. The babies are small as one would expect of twins, and they did arrive a little earlier than they should have done. They need to be fed and kept warm.” James placed a gentle hand on Luke’s shoulder and squeezed it gently, the man would have a lot of work and a lot of sleepless nights ahead of him.

“Good thing I got home in time,” Luke laughed, and placed a baby to the left and to the right of Marcy’s arms. “Well there now, there’s my world, wrapped up in the arms of the woman I love.”

Alicia hic- coughed, and turned her head in order to wipe away tears. She reached for her husband’s hand and was filled with emotion when he took hold of hers and squeezed her fingers gently between his own.

Once, some years before, she had pledged to love, honour and obey this man, and for the past year she had not done any of those things. During the past hours as she had sat at the bedside of a woman giving birth, had watched her husband tend to someone else’s needs and deliver those two beautiful infants, she had appreciated once again the fact that to love someone, truly love them, one had to give, been willing to give, and forget a little about how much one took.

Luke kissed his wife again and walked with the couple out of the room and down the stairs. “Thank you, James, Alicia. Thank you so much for all you have done for us.”

“Marcy will be very tired, Luke. She’ll need some help. I’ll stop by at Bridie’s and let her know what has happened. I’m sure she will come and see Marcy and yourself as soon as possible. No doubt she will arrange for someone to call by each day to make sure that Marcy is alright.”

“Olivia and Hester have been here regularly, no doubt…”

“Yes, no doubt they’ll be glad to help as well.” James shook the proffered hand warmly, “Congratulations, Luke. Any idea what you will call them yet?”

Luke shook his head, still dazed and slightly bewildered. He glanced over their shoulders to see several of his men hanging around the yard, and yelled “It’s a boy”

A cheer went up. He laughed, James and Alicia walked slowly to their buggy and heard him then yell “And a girl.”

There was a laugh, warm and good natured from his men, then a cheer and shouts of good wishes as the doctor and his wife drove out of the yard, the men were gathering in order to ‘wet the babies’ heads.’

They rode out to a new day hand in hand and heavy eyed. There was a long drive ahead of them, Alicia sat closer to her husband and lay her head upon his shoulder.

“I love you, James.”

He could barely speak. He had to cough to clear his throat, and he turned to kiss her brow, but she offered him her lips, which he kissed instead.

“I could have lost you, my dear, I nearly ruined the most important thing in our lives.” ALicia whispered as he returned to concentrating on driving the horses. “I’m sorry.”

He shook his head, turned slightly to put a finger to her lips,”Alicia, I love you, more than life. Please believe me…”

The horses slowly stopped as he took her in his arms and kissed her, as a man in love would kiss the woman he adored. She, in turn, kissed her husband like one who had only now realised what true love really meant.

Chapter 49

Man and boy stood at the entrance of the stables and looked around to note the work they had achieved together that morning.   Adam placed a hand gently but firmly upon the boys shoulder and smiled down at him. “Well done, son.”

The words were murmured softly and he hoped the boy understood how much he meant by saying them, not just that “we did a good job mucking out the stalls this morning” but well done for all the boy had achieved while his father had been absent from home. Reuben felt himself swell with pride, the grip on his shoulder tightened slightly when he looked up to smile at Adam “Thanks Pa.”. and then generously added that Sofia had helped too, in her way, considering she was a girl after all!

Adam nodded while thinking that it wouldn’t be long before his son would be revising his opinion of girls quite considerably.  They put their tools away and were about to leave when Reuben asked Adam if he could ask him something. Adam’s heart fluttered a little, birds and bees time he pondered and cleared his throat, prepared himself and nodded “Sure, go ahead.”

“That town you told us about …you used to go there before, didn’t you?  I mean, when people lived there.”

Adam scratched the back of his neck and raised his eyebrows hoping relief wasn’t too obvious.  “Yes, we did.”

“And now no one lives there at all?”. Reuben leaned into Adam slightly, against the bars of the stall where Kami ate her oats .

Adam nodded, “Something bothering you about it?   I told you already there are no ghosts.”

Reuben shook his head and plucked straw from a bale “No,nothing like that, just that I heard Ma talking to Miss Ridley and I noticed myself how folk are leaving town.   Will it happen to Virginia City like that town?  Will no one live there one day?”

Adam hauled in a deep breath, exhaled and paused awhile, then looked down at the anxious face turned to himself “It could.  Towns evolve, it’s just that sometimes it isn’t always in the direction we would want.”

Reuben nodded, he didn’t look surprised or frightened at his father’s reply, he did sigh however as he put forward his next question.

“What will we do?  What will happen to the Ponderosa?”

Adam nodded, it was a good question.  He looked at Kami before turning to face the boy “Well,  we were here before Virginia City existed and grew so big, guess we’ll just stay put after all folk still need cattle, and horses..”

“And timber?”

Adam smiled “And timber.”

“Will we go to Carson City instead?”

“I guess we will..”. Adam drawled as he turned to leave the building, then paused, “I suppose Virginia City filled a need, with all that gold, and now the gold and silver mines are closing down, I guess that need isn’t so great anymore.”

“And then everyone will move away?” Reuben’s face crumpled a little, and he stared down at the ground and shuffled the dust around “I wouldnt like that, I like the town how it is.”

“Well, when I was your age there wasn’t any town there at all, it’s like I said a town, like …” he paused and the grip on his son’s shoulder tightened, “Sounds like we have a visitor, and in a hurry too .”

They left the building quickly in time to see Luke Dent bringing his horse to a slithering halt and one of the ranch hands hurrying forward to catch at the bridle and slow it down. Adam was about to send Reuben to get his Ma when Luke stumbled towards him.  Adam’s first thought was that the man was drunk, his next was that something had happened to Marcy and as he was about to ask what was wrong,  whether or not Marcy was safe and well, Luke flung his arms around him and hugged him.

Reuben didn’t need telling, he just ran for the house yelling for his mother while Luke succeeded in totally flummoxing his brother in law. “Adam,.Adam..”. Luke stammered “I’m the proudest man ..father …in the world.  Where’s Livvy?  I have to tell Livvy.”

“Tell Livvy what?”.  Adam demanded following Luke as the man ran to the house..

Olivia was already at the door, her face pale with concern and when Luke grabbed her and lifted her off the ground she squealed and demanded to be put down , while behind her Sofia was yelling “What’s happened? What’s the matter with Uncle Luke?”

“Luke, stop capering around like a fool and tell us what’s happened?   Is Marcy alright?  Is she safe?”

His sister’s voice sobered Luke instantly and he released her and looked around at the puzzled faces staring at him. He hauled in a deep breath and in quite reverent tones said softly “I’m a father.”

Now relief and the tense faces relaxed into smiles and hugs from Olivia and a slap on the back from Adam.  Luke nodded and now converted back to the more reticent man that he was, he smiled, blushed a little as though his previous conduct now embarrassed him, and followed them into the house.

“Well, what do you have, Luke? ” Olivia asked “Is Marcy well?  When did all this happen?”

“A few hours ago.”. Luke said and accepted the mug of coffee Adam handed him with a nod of thanks, “Marcy’s well, she’s alright. I’m not sure how it happened but James Colby and his wife turned up at our front door ..” he paused as though he had just realised how unusual such a visit was and he had not even asked them why they had come.  He swallowed the coffee and nodded “But Marcy’s fine, just fine.”

“But she’s early ..” Olivia said, her brow furrowed as she attempted to work out the times and expectations of the baby’s arrival.

Luke shook his head “Not  in the case of twins.  Dr Colby said they usually are a little earlier than usual.”

“Twins?” Olivia exclaimed and took a step backwards as though the surprise had knocked her feet from under her.

“Yes, twins.”. Luke sunk down in a chair and buried his face in his hands “I still can’t believe it.”

“Twins?” Adam murmured “Boys or girls?”

Luke glanced up and smiled “Best of all, one of each.  A boy and a girl.  And they’re perfect.   Marcy wanted you to know right away, Livvy.  She’s so proud of them.”

“But who’s looking after her now, Luke?  You didn’t leave her on her own did you?”

“No,  of course not.   But I promised her I would come and tell you, and if you could come … she wanted to see you.”.Olivia glanced at her husband who smiled but said nothing.

He looked at Luke and shook his hand, congratulating him sincerely.   “I have to go to work as soon as I have eaten, and the children go to school so I should think it will be a fine day for you to see your nephew and niece.”

Sofia opened her mouth to make both a protest and a plea.  She would love to see twins, little babies sounded fascinating but Adam was shoo-ing them into the kitchen where Cheng had been preparing their morning meal.

“Have you named them yet?”  Olivia asked as she sat down to oversee Nathaniel eat his meal.

“We thought of some names ..” Luke said shyly, and thanked Cheng for the plate of food placed in front of him

“And who is looking after Marcy now?”. Olivia gave her brother a stern look, as though she found him very neglectful of his wife to have left her alone with the new borns.

“Bridie arrived.  The Colby’s must have told her so she came right away and after that Marcy said for me to come here.”

For a moment he seemed overwhelmed once again by all that had taken place, the hours of agony for Marcy, the anxiety for him as the hours ticked by, the shock upon realising that not one but two babies were about to arrive in the world. He gave a strange little laugh, “You know, I have no idea what the Colby’s were doing in my front yard, but thank God they were there when we needed them.”

Sofia opened her mouth again but got a stern look from her father so filled it with food instead. Uncle Luke was certainly different today, and she looked at him closely, unshaven, tears filling his eyes and disappearing again, and his eyes red rimmed too. His hands were shaking when he picked up his fork to eat the meal, and he kept shaking his head as though he still couldn’t believe what had happened.

Olivia kept giving her husband little sly glances from the corner of her eye and hoping he would get the message that perhaps it would be a good idea to get the children off to school as Luke was obviously longing to talk about what had happened. Sometimes the need to talk helped reality set in and acceptance of the situation to grow. Sofia dawdled, aware of those little glances as well and gave her father little glances of her own, but Adam ate his food, gulped down coffee and then finally got to his feet.

So far as he was concerned a man could talk about blood and gore to his hearts content at any time, but women’s situations, labour and so forth, no… not at meal times, not at any time come to that, and with a nod he pushed himself away from the table.

“Come along you two, school … Luke, congratulations again.”

He dropped a kiss on his wife’s head and accepted her smile as he walked away to collect his hat and gun belt. He heard Sofia’s protest “But I want to see the babies….”

Hank was ready to take the children to school.  Sofia’s head full of the agony of childbirth ..what amazing things to share with the girls ..and then the joy of twins.  Just fancy that!   She didn’t know anyone who had had twins before.  Ella would find it all just heavenly.

Chapter 50

Adam allowed himself a slight smile upon entering the Ponderosa yard and not seeing his brother Joe’s horse waiting at the rail, swishing his tail and tossing his head as he waited for his master. One of the hands came out of the bunkhouse and raised a hand in greeting, yelled out that it was good to see him back home.

It was early, the sky was still streaked with pink clouds tinged with vermillion and looking stunningly beautiful against the blue sky. He wondered if there would be rain later or whether the sun would rise up and burn the clouds away.

As he had expected the family were still at breakfast and for a moment he stood in the door way just listening to the laughter, the chatter. A baby wailed and for a moment he forgot and had to remember about Erik, well, no doubt he would see a change in the little chap after two months absence.

He removed his hat and set it down on the bureau, then stepped into their view. Ben was dabbing at his mouth with a napkin while Hoss was chewing on his food and waving a fork in the air. Hester was helping Hope cut her food up with baby Erik on her lap, cradled within her skirts while Hannah drank down her milk. At the end of the table, where once he would have been seated sat someone else, someone he had not expected to see for Olivia had left the matter of Martha’s visit untold.

But it was Martha who saw him first and rose from her chair, “Adam? Oh, you’re home, how lovely to see you again.”

Her smile was in her eyes as she excused herself from the table and came to meet him, taking hold of his hands and looking up into his face “I am so glad to see you again, Adam.”

“Thank you, Martha. Have you been here long?” he had kissed her cheek, and placed a gentle hand on her shoulder, the sincerity in his eyes as warm as the affection in her own.

“Oh, a few glorious weeks, Adam.”

There had been a chorus of greetings from all around, and Hop Sing came to nod at him and smile “You have coffee, Mr Adam?”

“Thanks, if there is any …” he picked Hope up and hugged her, and then of course had to do the same for Hannah who, he said, was getting to be a heavy girl now, a kiss on the cheek for Hester and a comment about Erik who was looking more like Hester than ever.

He settled down on one of the chairs and placed Hope on his lap, “How has everything been here? Apart from enjoying Martha’s company what else has been going on?”

“Nothing much.” Hoss said matter of factly, and swallowed his food “Fact is, I bin so busy while you’ve bin gone that I hardly know what’s bin going on anyhow.”

Ben smiled and nodded, Martha resumed her seat at the table and continued to eat, and Hester sighed contentedly. Perhaps, Adam thought, this was the time to give them the latest news but Ben spoke first “Did you see Weems?”

“I did, Pa. All went well.”

“And you had no trouble?”

Adam stretched his shoulders a little, and Hope looked up at him and smiled, such a cute child, so he smiled back “No trouble. The Garveys are dead.”

“Shucks,” Hoss paused and his mouth fell open, not a pleasant sight seeing how there was a mass of food waiting to be swallowed, he obliged and gulped. “Both of them?”

“Yep, and a new town being built on their land.” Adam helped himself to some bacon, and nibbled at it. Hope laughed and settled into his shoulder, she loved her Uncle Adam.

“A new town, huh?” Hoss creased his brow and then shook his head “What happened to the old one?”

“They just up and left it…it’s …empty.” Adam shrugged and looked at his father, “The railway’s setting up a new line across Garvey’s land heading along to Bodie. It may mean considering a new route for the drive next year.”

“What were prices like this year?” Ben asked, stirring sugar into his coffee and looking thoughtful.

“Very good. We were early, our cattle got first payouts, but the buyers are getting cagey, they need the beef but want lower prices. Next year may not be so profitable.” he chewed on the bacon and swallowed, then washed it down with the coffee.

“I’ve a contract I want you to check over this morning, Adam, it’s with Bannister.” Ben sighed and leaned back, “Anything else happen?”

“Oh, well,” Adam shrugged “We got caught up with Matt Garveys killers, that was what delayed us some. Then we had to take her into town…”

“Her?” Hester leaned forward almost smothering her son within the folds of her bosom as a result.

“Yeah, her. Matt Garvey married a spitfire called Matilda Tunstall and …”

“Jethro Tunstall any relative of hers?” Hoss asked with blue eyes widening, “If so you want to stay clear of him, he’s got a reputation for killing just for the sake of it.”

Ben nodded and sighed “I heard the same, if …”

“He’s dead, his sister, twin sister I should add, is now safely in Candy’s jail. Which reminds me…”

“Dead you say? You kill him?” Hoss asked leaning forward as though he had to see Adam’s face to make sure he was not stringing him along with a fairy tale.

“No, the sheriff of Buffalo Flats shot him.”

“Buffalo Flats? Whar’s that?” Hoss scowled and looked as though he had missed something which made Martha laugh and Hannah giggle.

“Buffalo Flats is the new town I was telling you about. Hey, Pa, do you recall a sheriff, called Carney?” Adam glared at Hoss and then looked annoyed with himself for getting sidetracked.

“Carney? Sure, a friend of Roys.” Ben smiled and settled back into his chair, “Martha, you may even remember him? Phil Carney?”

Martha nodded “Yes, I do. He and Roy went around looking like Siamese twins.”

“Ah, twins.” Adam said and for some reason put his hand in the air as though if he didn’t get attention for this announcement it would never actually get said.

“Yes, a lovely gentle man, Julian was quite taken by him. Very intelligent too…” Martha sighed, “He thought there was going to be a lot of history in the making in this territory, and he was right, of course.”

Adam slumped back, his hand down and he shook his head as though aware that he had lost his chance because Ben now asked him why he had mentioned Phil Carney.

“Because it was his son, Nate, who killed Tunstall.”

“Yep,” said a voice from the doorway, “And then we had to take Nate to Buffalo Flats…”

“Whar’s Buffalo Flats…” Hoss muttered.

“That new town I told you about, don’t you ever listen to a word I say, Hoss Cartwright?” Adam growled.

“Ah yes, the new town on Garveys land. Pity about that …” Hoss sighed.

Adam sighed too and looked on as Joe sauntered into the room. Mary Ann had told Joe about Martha’s being at the Ponderosa so the greeting between them was less affectionate than had been between Adam and herself, but it was sweet enough..

Hoss swallowed coffee and looked at his younger brother, “I thought you told me nothing had happened this trip?”

“Nothing did, not nothing out of the ordinary.” Joe said and leaned forward to pick up some bread.

“That ain’t what Adam’s bin saying.” Hoss muttered and looked at his two brothers as though one of them was telling a load of stories and he wanted to know which one.

Adam put little Hope down and removed himself from the table “Oh, just by way of letting you know, Luke Dent rode by this morning.”

“Oh great, how did he get on? Get a good profit for his cattle..” Ben asked as he rose to his feet in order to find the contract he wanted Adam to look through.

“He’s a father now.” Adam said quietly as he followed his father to the study

“A father?” Hester cried and this time poor Erik nearly tumbled out of her skirts as she jumped up from her chair and then sat down again.

“Yes.” Adam replied and paused “Twins …a boy and a girl.”

There were the expected murmurs of delight and so forth and then Joe’s face fell, he looked a little pained “Twins huh? Hope they won’t be called Matilda and Jethro.”

Ben grunted and shook his head “When you two are finished gossiping like a couple of old ladies, I’d like to get down to some work around here.”

Adam and Joe nodded, put on contrite faces and followed Ben into the study area, while at the table the breakfast continued, Hop Sing bustling around filling cups with coffee and replenishing platters with bread and hot bacon and Erik grizzling because he wasn’t sure what was going to happen to him next.
……………….

It was very hard for a little girl to sit still during lessons. Mr Evans’ voice seemed to have a drone in it that particular morning and Sofia began to get a head ache. She stared at the board and watched him put some figures on it with the chalk, but she wasn’t interested, she just wanted to get out and tell her friends all about these babies.

The more she thought about it the more implausible this baby business sounded. All that agony as Uncle Luke had called it…what was going on there? She chewed on the end of her pen and then had to spit out the little wooden bits, and then she didn’t know for sure where to spit them out so wiped them down her skirt. She swung her legs too and fro, and stared out into space. Two babies at one time? How could anyone hide two babies and Aunt Marcy being so tiny too. But then she did get that big bulge out front, so must have had them under her skirts all the time. That was it, surely?

Mr Evans watched the pupils in his class and noticed how distracted Sofia was, and how she swung her legs and stared out into space, or out of the window. It was obvious nothing was penetrating that head of hers this morning. He stood beside his desk and looked over at Reuben who worked as diligently as ever, his tongue protruding out of the corner of his mouth in concentration.

David Riley and Tommy Conway were whispering together, a little giggle received distracted glances from Jimmy Carstairs who then grinned as though he was ‘in on the secret’. Mr Evans rapped on the desk with his cane, “Pay attention, boys.”

That was enough to get them back into order but it made no difference to Sofia who sat as though totally unaware of what was going on around her.

Edward Evans sat down in his chair and looked down at the papers on his desk. He wondered if any of his students had any idea of what it was like to be a teacher, this authority figure, and yet be a man whose life was slipping away from him. He looked again at the children. Annie Sales writing furiously on her paper, almost fast enough to steam up her glasses.

No, it was strange this life… a pretence. He came each day to teach subjects he loved to pupils of whom he had grown fond. He was like some kind of toy taken out of the box in order to perform while the real Edward Evans, the feeling, tender hearted man within that toy who went through all the motions of teaching, was actually slowly falling apart at the seams.

Enough of that, he told himself. Children need to be taught, they don’t need to be hampered by anyone else’s problems, especially those of the man they looked up to, respected. He was an authority figure and therefore he didn’t have problems, and if he did … he sighed …well, if he did, they probably wouldn’t care anyway.

That child was getting to be very annoying so he rose to his feet “Sofia Cartwright.”

He had to repeat himself until Sofia roused herself and looked up at him. She blinked as though only now realising where she was, and then she stood up.

“Come here.”

She heaved a sigh as though it was just too much bother, and walked up to the raised area where the desk was placed. She raised her eyes and looked into his…Edward nodded,

“Have you written out your essay?”

An essay? She had to think about that and then remembered the bit of paper she had brought with her with her scrawled little story on it. “Would you like to read it to the class?”

She wasn’t sure what was wrong with him, he seemed to be talking through gritted teeth.. She bowed her head and sighed again “It’s only short. I don’t know how to spell long words yet.”

“I gave you an essay to write, so, if you have one, please read it.”

She nodded and returned to her desk in order to get the essay. All the children had their heads up now and were listening and attentive to what was going on. Reuben felt his nerves being stretched, usually he read over his sister’s scribblings to make sure there were no major errors, but today had been taken up with Uncle Luke’s news so he had forgotten about it.

Sofia returned to the desk and tensed, waiting for Mr Evans to pronounce sentence, a bit like when the Red Queen had ordered her soldiers to ‘chop off his head’ in that book she and Ella hated so much because it was about a girl called Alice.

“Please read it out to the class.” Mr Evans said and motioned with his head for her to turn round with her scrap of paper in her hand and face the children.

She could see them all there, staring at her. Reuben looked worried although she wasn’t sure why, if anyone should be worried it would be her, surely?

She couldn’t speak. Mr Evan’s prompted her “The title I gave you was To-day…all you had to do was write about what had happened to you, today…or rather..yesterday.”

She nodded, and sighed then looked at her paper, yesterday had been boring compared with today ..although even today had it’s moments, like now for example.

“Today …” she remembered, of course, Daddy came home yesterday and that had made the whole day shine. She looked at her paper and then at the class. She drew in her breath, and stared at the ceiling because when she had written down her ‘essay’ it had been before Daddy had come home and it had been … well, it was just that when Daddy came home the world spun right round from dull grey to colour and rainbows.

Mr Evans cleared his throat, she saw Reuben looking anxiously at her, the sun peeked through the windows. She held her paper in front of her and blinked, then looked at the class…

“Today my Daddy came home. He was away for a long time because the cows had to go to the market and when he came home he told us all about a town that had no one living in it anymore. A whole town full of buildings with windows that looked out on empty streets, and there were no cats, no dogs, no horses, no mice, and no people. No one lived there anymore. He said there were a lot of spiders and cobwebs and people had left lots of things behind them, like bottles of wine, and books, and toys. He said that it was a sad place because all the people had gone away. Today my Uncle came and he said that my Aunt had had two babies at the same time…and he said…”

“That;s alright, Sofia…” Mr Evans said very quickly, “Er – can you pass me your paper please.”

She clung to it, her eyes round “I can’t spell big words” she stammered again.

He didn’t move but held out his hand so that she had no choice but to hand him the paper. He glanced down and raised his eyebrows, looked at her, narrowed his eyes..”Go back to your seat, I’ll speak to you later.”

With that threat echo-ing through her head Sofia trailed to her desk, cast a forlorn look over at her brother and sat down.

“Class, continue with your work.”

Mr Evans seemed to bark out the words and everyone, even Sofia, bent to their task. He looked down at the paper

To day nothing happened and it was boring
………………..

It had become customary for Sofia to spend a little time with Ella at lunch recess. The Soames did not live too far from the school, and often times Ella would sit at the window and listen to the children at play and wish she were able to join with the fun she envisaged would take place there.

She knew nothing about playground bullying, how some girls were spiteful and unkind, and how some boys were bullies and hurt other boys smaller than themselves. Sofia never told her any thing that was hurtful or sad. They both harboured the hope that one day, soon, Ella would be able to take her place with the other children. As soon as her doctor had said she was well enough. Jimmy Chang still came and went through the exercises, and true enough her legs were stronger, she was healthier, and in every way there had been a wonderful improvement. But not enough yet for her to have an operation, or to go to school.

She listened to Sofia with wide eyes and a puzzled expression on her face. Surely Uncle Luke was exaggerating? Why would anyone suffer so much when the babies were under her skirts all the time. She listened and shook her head in amazement,

“Do you think it was true, all that pain and suffering?” she asked

“Well, Uncle Luke said that Dr James was there forever, and Mrs Colby too. They boiled enough water for a laundry.”

“Boiled water? Why?”

“Well, I think it was to clean the babies, after all, being stuck up those skirts for so long they would be very dirty, wouldn’t they?”

“I just don’t understand it.” Ella shook her head, “It seems very strange.”

“I told some of the girls what Uncle Luke said and Betty Sales said it was nothing like that and it was disgusting. She said it wasn’t something ladies talked about.”

Ella and Sofia exchanged a thoughtful look between them “Well, we’re not ladies, and nor is your Uncle Luke.”

“I know. I just said that was what he had said and she said she didn’t believe me, she said I was -” she paused and frowned, “she said I was a liar.”

“Oh, no, but I thought you were friends?”

“Yes, we are, just that she said it and it was – it made me want to cry. So I thought perhaps Uncle Luke had made a mistake somehow.”

They subsided into silence that lasted a full five minutes, so long in fact that Emily peeked into the room to ask if they were alright.

“My Aunt Marcy had twins, Mrs Soames. A boy and a girl.”

“Well, that’s lovely. And are they all well?” Emily smiled and glanced at the clock, time was ticking by, and it would soon be time for Sofia to return to school.

“Yes, my mommy is going to see them today. I wanted to see them too, but had to come to school instead.”

Emily nodded and smiled, Sofia stood up and said her goodbyes recognising by the way Emily stood that it was time to go. “Ella, did you send the petischon to the Mayor?”

“Yes, Ma posted it off for me.” and Ella smiled her sweet smile at her mother who inwardly quailed at the thought of that poor man receiving this missive from the girls.

“Well, that’s very good.” Sofia said and with flounce of her curls bounced out of the room.

It hadn’t solved the mystery of where babies came from, but at least one problem looked like being sorted out.

Chapter 51

The ranch house, nestled among the blossoming apple trees, looked like something from a fairy tale. The sun slanted down upon it, bathing it in golden rays, and it seemed to Olivia that nothing terrible could happen in such a beautiful setting. Of course, she knew differently, many sad and terrible things had happened there but not now, things were different.

She picked up Nathaniel and told him he had been a good boy, kissed his dimpled cheek and loved his smile as he turned his face towards her. Bridie was standing at the door, having heard the sound of her buggy and Luke’s horse. Her wide smile assured Olivia that all was as well as could be expected.

Luke swung her down from the buggy, taking Nathaniel in the crook of his arm, and together they entered the house. Bridie hugged Olivia and smiled, her eyes were moist with tears, happy ones.

“Oh Livvy, they are so adorable, so small.” she whispered, “I have just got Marcy to sleep, poor girl, she is exhausted.”

Olivia and Luke exchanged smiles, pride and love intermingled and they hurried to the room where Marcy slept. Luke gestured to Olivia, having put Nathaniel down to stand on his own two feet, “Come…” he whispered.

He was standing beside a crib, just the one for the time being, and she crept up to it and peered inside. “Goodness me, how do you tell them apart?” she said quietly and then blushed, laughed “Well, apart from the obvious….”

Indeed, how could they tell them apart? Both were so small, neither had any hair, eyes were firmly closed and they lay side by side looking like two peas in a pod.

“Aren’t they lovely?” Bridie said with a gentleness in her voice so customary to her motherly soul, “So alike and so …small.” she paused then and looked anxiously at the younger woman and with lower voice said “Had they been any bigger I doubt if Marcy would have survived the birth, and probably one of the babies would not have lived either. I should have realised when I was here last, I kept thinking that for a small delicately built woman Marcy was …” she dabbed her eyes and sighed, shook her head, “Ah well, no fool like an old fool so my mother used to say..”

It seemed to Olivia that Bridie was worrying too much over something that had nt happened. But, she acknowledged, what Bridie said had some merit, and she felt a tinge of guilt lay upon her own conscience as a result. But there was no point in saying anything more now, for as Olivia leaned over the cot one of the babies stirred and murmured, yawned to display tiny pink gums and a little tongue. Luke smiled and passed a hand across the baby’s cheek before looking at Olivia, “You can pick him up if you like?”

Nathaniel wasn’t too sure about all this, he stood watching as his mother held one baby and made odd little noises to it, then held another baby and made strange sounds to it as well. He looked at Bridie, and sidled over to her, leaned against her skirts and shyly reached for her hand. Bridie understood all too well, little children can feel very insecure when babies appear, especially when it is their mother who is holding them. She took hold of his hand and led him away, into the kitchen where she had just finished baking a batch of biscuits. Ginger snaps she called them, and one she offered the child.

He thanked her quietly and then she lifted him up and set him down on the window seat so that they could look out into the garden and see the birds flitting among the trees and the blossom She told him how soon he would be able to come and pick apples from the trees there, and eat them too.

He nodded solemnly and bit into his biscuit. “No babies.” he said suddenly and shook his dark head.

Bridie smiled and set him down upon her knee, still looking out of the window she told him a story of when she was a little girl in Ireland and by the time she had finished the story, the biscuit had been eaten and he was sound asleep, his dark curly head resting upon her ample bosom.

Marcy woke up and hugged Olivia tightly, she was obviously exhausted but so pleased to see her friend, so proud to show off her children to Olivia. They laughed when they got mixed up as to which was the boy, and which the girl, and then wondered what they could call them, and how would they ever be able to tell the difference. Olivia solved the problem by producing some pink wool which she tied carefully around the little girls wrist.

“What names have you decided to call them?” she now asked and both parents looked at one another and shook their heads.

“we keep thinking we have found the right ones but then they don’t seem to fit ..you know what I mean, it’s the same with a horse, you have to have the right name, don’t you?” Luke said earnestly.

“Our children aren’t horses, Luke.” Marcy laughed and leaned against the pillows.

“No, they aren’t they’re altogether more precious. All the more reason to get just the right names for them.” her husband replied and bestowed upon her brow yet another kiss.
…………..

Reuben was rather irritated by his sister. Not only had she not read out her written essay but had ‘made it up as she went along’ but she had also stirred up talk in the play ground. When the boys had whispered to him that his sister didn’t know where babies came from, he felt acute embarrassment. First because he didn’t really know for sure either, and he was quite positive that most of them didn’t know and had been hoping he would supply the answer. Well, he didn’t because he couldn’t. He had shrugged and said he would ‘sort her out’ and hoped that no one would come running up and asking him to explain ‘certain facts.’

The ride home with Hank had been very quiet. Neither child wanted to talk to the other having their heads full of complex questions and conundrums. Hank was more than glad, usually their chatter gave him a head ache.

Both were relieved to see Olivia at home. Both of them had been worried in case she had stayed over long at Marcy’s admiring the babies. Nathaniel ran up to them and showed them a cut on his finger “Cat.”

Sofia nodded and patted him on the head, having been scratched by that particular cat quite often herself she had the utmost sympathy for him. She ran up to her mother and hugged her tight, “Did you see them, Mommy, did you see the little babies?”

Olivia smiled and nodded “Yes, I did. They are very small, much smaller than you or Reuben had been when you were born.”

“But we’re not twins.” Sofia said with wide eyes.

“Thank goodness,” Reuben muttered, and scowled at the dark look his mother cast him, “Well, she kept going around talking about it at school, and telling ‘em what Uncle Luke said about all the pain and such. It was embarrassing.”

“Well, so?” Sofia stood erect, hands on hips and head held high, “I wasn’t talking to you and no boys anyhow!”

“No, but we got to get an earful from the other girls when you scooted off to see Ella.”
Reuben rolled his eyes and sat down, slump, arms folded across his chest and his lips pouting.

Sofia turned to her mother and shook her head as though to say “Boys! What do they know?”

“You shouldn’t have repeated what you heard at table this morning, Sofia.” Olivia said in her ‘firm’ voice, “What is said here in our home s not for repeating elsewhere.”

“I know, mommy.” Sofia said in her butter wouldn’t melt in my mouth kind of voice, and she batted her eye lashes for good measure. “But I was .. I was a bit not sure what happened, not really.”

“What is that supposed to mean?” Olivia put down the shirt she was sewing and tucked the needle safely away, “What was worrying you?”

“Well, where did Aunt Marcy get those babies from anyhow, that’s what I want to know.”

There was a snort from Reuben and he rolled his eyes, again.

“Hannah and Hope think there’s a shop in town where you can choose your babies, but … they’re only little, and they don’t know much, and, anyway, it isn’t true.” she paused and glanced at Olivia who was going a little pink around the cheeks, “Is it, mommy?”

Olivia cleared her throat, “Well, it may have seemed like that for them, after all, they didn’t – er – have to wait – I mean – they just went and collected Erik from Bridie’s, didn’t they? So, perhaps, that’s why they think there is a baby shop.”

Sofia nodded, narrowed her eyes as she thought about that fact. She leaned against the arm of the chair in which Olivia was seated. The little girl thought about what her mother had said for a moment, with her arms folded upon the arm of the chair, and one leg swinging too and fro, and her face very serious, after all, this was ‘very serious’ about which they were speaking “I know, because I looked for that baby shop all the time for ages and I never ever did see any sign of one. So it was Flannel who has the babies?”

“Humph,” Reuben blustered and got to his feet, “What rot! Of course there ain’t no baby shop. Don’t you have eyes in your head, Sofia Cartwright? Don’t you see what bulls do with cows or rams do with sheep…”

“Reuben!” Olivia said in a very stern voice and sat more upright as a result.

“Well? hasn’t she?” Reuben challenged.

Sofia frowned and shrugged “Of course I have, they’re just cuddling each other because they’re good friends.”

Reuben’s mouth fell open and Olivia turned around to stare very hard at the logs in the hearth. Sofia‘s bottom lip protruded in protest,
“Well? That’s true? I’ve seen it …” she frowned, and looked at Reuben who had gone a trifle red in the face, and Olivia who had picked up her sewing and said in a strange voice, as though it was being strangled through a tight throat, “Sofia, go and get your milk and do your homework.”

“But, Mommy…?”

“Off you go, we’ll talk about this some other time.” Olivia said keeping her head down and sewing very fast.

Sofia flounced off, her curls bouncing and her nose in the air. Reuben sighed and shook his head, “Girls!”

Olivia glanced up “And you, young man, can get on with your homework too. And no more mention about cows, sheep or anything else, do you hear?”

Reuben nodded. He wasn’t sure what was wrong with talking about the cattle, what he really wanted to know was how it related to what David Riley had referred to as Birds and Bee’s. He removed himself from the settee and took himself off to the kitchen to get something to drink, recalling to mind David’s words “Huh, she’s obviously not had the Birds and Bee’s lecture from your Pa, yet. Have you?”

He hadn’t wanted to admit that actually, no, he hadn’t.

Chapter 52

Having seen his sons riding off to attend to the word at the timber yard Ben turned his attention to his own plans for the day. Thankfully Adam had checked out the contract and confirmed that it was good and solid, although he did wonder why his father was bothering to deal with an old rogue like Gabriel Bannister.

Whilst Sofia and Reuben were struggling with matters at school and Olivia was coo-ing over the babies, her nephew and her niece, Adam rode off with a smile, listening to Joe and Hoss chattering away. The familiar banter between his two brothers was like a soothing balm to Adam, even though he were so much the older brother and assigned the ‘serious’ role in their lives, he knew he could give as good as he got in any verbal encounter.

MacManus had been foreman for some years now and when he saw the three horsemen ride into the camp he pushed back his greasy old peaked cap and allowed a twinkle to come to his eyes. He had been working for the Ponderosa now long enough to feel almost a member of the family and nodded a warm greeting to them as they dismounted.

“Glad to see you fellers here,” he grinned, wiped his hands on the back of his pants and extended it to be shaken “How was the cattle drive this season?”

“Boring,” Joe sighed, and looked around him with big eyes as though implying that he hoped for better and more interesting things to happen now they were here.

“Interesting,” Adam grinned and after shaking Mac’s hand, raised a hand in acknowledgement of a greeting being hailed over to them from some other members of the camp.

“Well, I’m more than glad to see you all. Adam, I got the ledgers ready for you to check over.”

Adam nodded and removed his hat as he followed Mac into the cabin referred to as the office. Hoss and Joe looked at one another, raised their eyebrows “How about some coffee before we start work, Joe?”

“Good idea. Something to cut the dust.” Joe chuckled and followed two other men into the interior of a larger cabin where food and supplies were available.

Sitting alongside the men who oversaw the timber work was always enjoyable. Familiar faces joined them at the table and the conversation revolved around the work, the latest news from family or friends, who had decided to stay and those who had chosen to leave. It was an isolated life in the camp, and some distance from town, although Carson City was nearer and when a man had time due for a break that was where he would be headed.

Ben was always interested in progress and for some years the circular saw had been used in his saw mills. Since 1869* a large scale bandsaw was developed and patented by Jacob R. Hoffman and Ben had made sure that his saw mill would be equipped with it.

Joe swallowed the coffee, which tasted like mud, and nodded “So, what do we have work wise today? Has Pa any special orders or contracts that need filling?”

Hoss wiped his mouth “I have work at the lumber mill, Joe. I want to make sure the order for Mr Dobinski is due for delivery.”

“It is,” one old timer assured him, and grinned, displaying a row of missing and rotting teeth, his breath smelled foul and Hoss leaned back a little to avoid a whiff that was coming in his direction “But glad of you coming along to have oversight, Hoss.”

“Huh, leaves me to go marking and checking the timber, does it?” Joe grumbled but his eyes twinkled and his smile was warm. No one ever minded riding along or walking along to mark out the timber that was grown big enough for the men to come along and saw down.

Not on a day like today, and Joe left the table with a slight swagger. The smell of sun upon pine needles and the duff on the ground always made him feel as though he were wandering through some kind of wonder land. As he got his tools ready Joe remembered the days when it was not so easy to go out into the timber, when the Bannock and Paiute still claimed much of the land for themselves and one never knew whether or not an arrow would wing its way into a man’s body as he passed by the magnificent trees.

But not now, not on a day like this one. As he mounted his horse Joe was whistling, a refrain that seemed to hang at the back of his mind and brought back memories of an evening when he had sang the song to his dear wife “I dream of Mary Ann with the long brown hair …”
….…..

Ben kissed Hester on the cheek and thanked her for her reassurances that she did not mind being left at home alone. She had laundry to attend to, as well as to attend to the three children and ensure that none of them ventured too close to the copper while it was boiling away to ensure the Cartwright’s sheets and towels were spotless.

Martha Frobisher adjusted her bonnet and looked over at the young woman who was jiggling Erik up and down on her lap which she buttoned up his little shirt. What a lovely girl Hester Cartwright was, Martha sighed, it seemed, with her beautiful gold red hair, as though she were looking back on a scene that could have been taken from her own life. A different life to the one she had lived to be sure, but had things been different, had their been children perhaps ..just perhaps…she would have been jiggling grandchildren of her own on her lap now.

Before leaving for town Hop Sing had prepared another one of his luxurious picnic hampers. This one he had made extra special as he knew it would be the last that he would be preparing for Ben and Missy Martha. Now, as Ben fastened it to the back of his two seater, Martha was still inside the house adjusting her jacket, fussing over her bonnet and wondering, just wondering, how this picnic was going to turn out.

She had such wonderful memories of Ben Cartwright from way back in the past. In some ways she had been rather angry with him for remarrying again although she should not have been, seeing how she was a very happily married woman. She and some of the other women in the camp (for Virginia City was little else but a vast sprawl of tents, shanties, and oddly assorted buildings at the time) had thought Marie Cartwright rather too grand a lady to settle to the hard life of a pioneer woman in a rough community.

It hadn’t taken long to laugh at herself though, for Marie was no grander than Julian had ever been. Poor Julian, dear wise clever Julian…she gave herself a last look in the mirror and hurried out of the house, having bade Hester goodbye with a wave of her gloved hand.

Ben was there to assist her into the vehicle and then came to sit at her side. “Are you taking me somewhere new today, Ben?”

He laughed “Yes, of course. I have shown you most of my favourite places on the Ponderosa, although of course I could never take you to see them all. The Ponderosa has some wonderful views, perhaps, one day, another time I can take you to see them ? .”

She laughed along with him, her eyes twinkled and she enjoyed the way his body moved when he gave that rough deep growl of a chuckle.

“There are some places of the Ponderosa I’ve not seen in a long time, and with the work of running the ranch as it is, I doubt if I‘ll be getting back to see them any time soon..”

“You could leave the work to your sons…they are more than capable.”

“Yes, that’s what I’m afraid of,” he admitted ruefully, and looked ahead between the ears of the horses to the road beyond, “They are all very capable, and I wouldn’t know what to do without any of them. Those years Adam was absent were too long, I missed him very much, Martha.”

She nodded and as the sun was hot she unfurled her parasol and held it in a way to shield their backs. “Julian was very fond of Adam, he viewed him as his own son.”

“I know it.” Ben nodded, and memories of the quiet mannered older man sifted into his mind, “Julian was a good man, I was very proud to think of him as one of my best friends, and most loyal one too.”

“Yes, he was, always.” Martha nodded. No doubt about it, Julian Frobisher was so loyal that even now she didn’t know most of what he would have done for so many of his clients.

The horses jogged along at a steady pace. There was little point in hurrying, going on a picnic should always be slow and meandering so that one arrived with pleasant anticipation of continuing in an ambient mood, rather than all hot and breathless. Ben smiled, he was too old to go rushing around anyway, best leave that to the younger ones as well.

They slipped into the pattern of conversation so familiar with old friends, although one would have thought their reminisces would have been totally consumed during the course of time she had been there. But no, there was always another anecdote to pull from the mother lode of nostalgia, another old friend to mourn the passing off, or laugh over their antics.

“I wish I had got to know your Marie better, Ben. We left shortly before Joe was born.”

“Yes, so you did.” Ben’s brow creased at the memory. Then he smiled, “I can still see the Assayers face when you produced all those pouches full of gold dust.”

“I do too. He couldn’t believe I hadn’t a mine of my own somewhere.” she giggled rather girlishly at the memory, “He kept weighing out the gold dust and shaking his head and I kept saying “Don’t you dare sneeze, Mr Merridew.”. It took until Hils Von Nessun came with her pouches to convince him that my ‘mine’ was from careful washing and sifting out of the laundry buckets.”

“Hils Von Nessun, wasn’t she the Dutch woman who ran the cook house next door to you.”

“Yes, and she swept the floors clean every night to make sure she collected every scrap of gold dust those miners had brought in with their clothing.”

“And then you were off …” Ben said quietly

“Oh yes, I couldn’t wait to be gone. Julian set up business in Frisco right away and it just took off …well, there was so much to do.”

The sun sparkled from above the trees, dappled them with shards of light through the boughs, the soft padding of the horses hooves echoed the beat of their hearts. Then they emerged through the trees to where the grass sloped down in a valley, covered in wild flowers, splashes of colour intermingling with the various shades of green.

“How lovely, Ben. So tranquil.”

He assisted her down and they walked to where Ben indicated a lone tree, its boughs spread out as though in welcome, offering shelter from the heat and brightness of the sun.
She carried the blanket while he came along with the basket which he placed down within the tree’s roots.

“You know, Martha, you don’t have to leave so soon. Why not stay for a while longer?” he smiled up at her as he raised the lid of the hamper and began to bring out the wine, the glasses which he set upon the blanket.

“I have already stayed long enough, Ben.” she frowned, “That sounds rude, I didn’t mean it to be. What I really meant was that I have stayed longer than I had intended. I wanted to see Adam again, and Olivia. And you.”

She placed a hand upon his, and he immediately placed his other hand upon hers, covering it with his own. She smiled and then withdrew her hand in order to bring out the dishes which she set upon the blanket and looked momentarily thoughtful. Ben frowned, “Anything worrying you, Martha?”

“No, not worrying me, just ..” she shook her head and shrugged “I am just so annoyed with myself. Julian and I could have shared so much with you and the family over the years, but because of my stubbornness in refusing to come back, we both missed opportunities to enjoy this beauty. Instead Julian worked so hard …” she swallowed a lump in her throat, “He didn’t have to work so hard for so many years, he could have retired long ago.”

“Then why did he?” Ben asked and leaned back against the trunk of the tree.

“He loved the work, he – well, I think he just wanted to feel useful, needed, of some use, even in his old age.” she smiled then, a flash of mischief in her eyes, “A bit like you really, Ben.”

“Now what would I do if I retired?” He chuckled, shook his head and picked up some chicken from his plate.

“He would say the same.”

“And you would say?” he teased, his dark eyes growing darker.

“Oh, I would say what I will say to you…that you could travel, go to Europe, see Paris or London in the summer? Enjoy Venice, or Switzerland… the world is your oyster when you are rich enough to enjoy it.”

He nodded, “I have seen all those places and yes, no doubt they have changed over the years since then, but for me…” he glanced at the views around him and sighed contentedly, “I have paradise on my doorstep, why chase round the world for what I already have?”

They sat at opposite ends of the blanket and Ben thought of other times he had enjoyed picnics under that tree. Times with Marie when she would lean against his shoulder, her head upon the hollow just perfectly curved in his body for her, and the smell of her would bring such a longing to hold onto her forever. Sometimes there would be three boys playing around, or flopping down beside them. But most times they would be alone, because she had loved it there so much.

Martha looked over the view as it was spread out before her. There was no doubt about it, this was the most beautiful land. Perhaps if she could ignore the fact that its history had been so violent and that even now the mining had destroyed so much beauty, perhaps then she could feel less ambiguity about it. She could remember times when a man would be brought in on the back of a donkey or mule, his body full of arrows because some Paiute or Bannock had decided they didn’t want him around, despoiling their land. She could remember too much perhaps, but every time she went into Virginia City and heard the thump thump of the mining machinery, and saw the raw land gouged out for mining, land that had once been as verdant as this valley, it had made her long for the safely of her cosy home in the city.

“Another thing I wish,” she said quietly “Was that I had got to know Olivia’s mother better. She died friendless, and from what I have been told she needed friends, desperately.”

“Yes, she did. She had survived a terrible ordeal, it was sad that the town spent more time gossiping and slandering her than being kindly and supportive. Sadly her husband rejected any friends they had anyway…even Marie had been unable to penetrate that man’s bitter heart.”

“I am quite glad that I was not here when they were taken by the Bannocks, I only saw her a few times with her children.. I think Olivia must have been the baby…”

“No, there was another, Katya.”

“Then I left here before that one had been born.” Martha sighed and nibbled at her food, “It doesn’t pay to be old, Ben. We have too many memories, and sometimes, the bad or sad ones interfere with the good ones, don’t they?”

Ben said nothing to that, he was indulging in a memory of his own, of Marie, and how she had kissed him and told him, under this very tree, that they were going to have a child. Yes, he remembered it so well he could almost taste her lips now.

Chapter 53.

The Mayor of Virginia City stared at the missive in his hand for some seconds. The hands of the clock on the wall ticked away merrily while he read the long and colourful scroll. Once he had finished it, he paused, stared at the clock and then re-read it. He cleared his throat and summoned his secretary who bustled in, glanced at his employers face and went pale.

“Yes, sir?”

“Would you see if Mr Evans, the school teacher, is available any time today, Gabe?”

“Mr Evans, the school teacher?”

“That’s who I said.”

Gabe Harnsworth glanced at the paper in the Mayor’s hand and then nodded, he closed the door quietly, assuming from the expression on the Mayor’s face that the man was about to experience a head ache.
……….

As Joe rode through the trees along with several other men – marking the trees designated for the saw, others that needed some attention, others requiring several more years growth – he grew slightly more sombre in thought. There had been a time when the trees had grown so thickly along the hillsides of the Ponderosa that it had been hard to make one’s way through them. To saw down one often brought several others down along the path of its fall. Now the trees were sparser, despite Ben’s adage of planting a new one to replace the old.

Times had changed and, he felt, that they would continue to keep changing. Perhaps it was a good thing for the trees, they could flourish again, grow abundant for a time when there would be more need for them once more. When he had been a boy, and then he smiled, fancy that, him, barely in his mid-30’s thinking back like an old man, but the fact remained, when he had been a boy and had ridden through the woods sharing a saddle with his Pa, or with Adam, the woods were dark, daylight never penetrated through them, and despite the fear of a Bannock arrow or a Paiute scalping knife, the trees formed a protective barrier around the Ponderosa.

Years had passed, demand for timber had grown for mines, houses, buildings ..that large school* for instance on C Street, built after the big fire, and supposed to accommodate 1000 students*..that had eaten up timber. Demand on the trees had been massive and as a result ..well, one could ride through the trees with day light streaming through dappling everything in its path with golden sunlight.

He glanced up at the sky line and narrowed his eyes. Was his mind playing tricks on him, had he been thinking over long about the times of the Bannock and Paiute that he was imagining them appearing now? He paused his horse and looked up at the horizon, at the man silhouetted against the blue sky. A horseman and because the sun was behind him hard to discern who he was, except that Joe could have sworn he had seen a feather fluttering from the horse’s bridle.

He blinked again and looked, but the horseman had gone.
……………..

Beatrice Evans wondered if she would ever see little Sofia Cartwright again. She missed the child for although there was a twinkling of mischief about her, the little girl had a love of music that brought about a seriousness to her little face and concentration only made her look even prettier.

Beatrice closed her eyes and in her mind music trickled as it so often did to those who loved music. Thoughts were seen via music, dreams and nightmares too. She looked over at the clock and wondered where her husband could have gone, for it was later than his usual hour for arriving home.

Mrs Poole brought in some lemonade and set it down by the side table, “Edwards late,” she said quietly.

“Yes, I thought the same.” Beatrice replied and sat up, glanced around the empty room, “I miss that child coming.”

“What child?” Mrs Poole frowned, and hoped that her mistress was not rambling about the child they had all loved, doted upon and would never touch their lives again except in memories and dreams.

“Sofia, Sofia Cartwright.” Beatrice smiled, “She reminded me of myself, when I was her age. Longing to do everything, to change the world, and then permitted myself to be chained to a piano for hours at a time each day. Time passes so quickly. Too quickly.”

Mrs Poole nodded, never a truer word, she thought as she drew back the curtains to allow more light to enter the room. She had been young when she had started working for Beatrice, and now, well, she was certainly well pass the bloom of youth. She looked at her mistress and frowned,

“You should go out, Miss Bea, go out and get some sunshine. It will do you good.”

“I don’t go out, Mrs P, you know that.”

Mrs Poole sighed, and nodded “Yes, I know, but what harm is there in going for a buggy ride with your husband one day. Why not go to that Ponderosa place and see the child for yourself, ask her to visit, if it will cheer you at all, won’t it be worth while?”

Beatrice said nothing to that, but closed her eyes again. As silence fell upon the room Mrs P made her exit. She had made the suggestion, like a seed, she would wait and see if it would germinate and blossom.
……….

Edward Evans looked at the paper and frowned, he sighed and shook his head, and continued to read. He then handed it back to the Mayor. The Mayor watched him with head inclined to one side

“So, is this what you teach your students, Evans? How to insult their elders and betters?”

Edward frowned “Certainly not. If I may just mention that the child, Ella Soames, is not a student of mine. The other child, Sofia Cartwright, is the daughter of Adam Cartwright…” he paused and watched the other man’s face, apart from a reddening around the collar, the Mayor remained stony faced. “Sofia is a very bright child. I think this letter shows that she is imaginative and …” he sighed “impulsive of course.”

“I’m not in the habit of receiving letters like this, Evans. Children in my day were brought up to be seen and not heard. Not heard! Whether by word of mouth or letter, they were NOT HEARD” he sat down and picked up a pen, then put it back down and scowled, “For a start what were they doing selling – touting – their rubbish in the street?”

“They were trying to raise funds for the Founders Day Celebrations. They do explain that in the letter.” Edward smiled and his eyes twinkled, if he hoped that would mollify the Mayor, it didn’t.

“Are you siding with these children? The next thing you will be getting them all to write letters to me about things that are of no importance whatsoever and consider it a school project…”

“They are obviously important to the children, sir. These children will be the youth of tomorrow, the future of our town, our territory. I like to nurture their ideas rather than crush them. Who knows where such imagination, and inventiveness, may lead?”

“That’s the future, Mr Evans.” the Mayor replied, and Edward thought that at least that was a breakthrough, he was being addressed with a prefix now, “Let the future take care of itself, I say, what we need to do is inculcate good manners and respect into our children.”

“The letter is not disrespectful, Mr Mayor.”

“It should not have been written to me. It should not have been written at all. It shows an obstinate attitude.” the Mayor stood up and took hold of each lapel of his jacket in his hand. “When the law dictates one thing, then one should abide by the law. Not decide to over ride the law by writing to the Mayor so that he will endorse a continuance of law breaking. Do I make it clear, Mr Evans? I think you will need to speak to your student and explain that to her. And make sure she gets the point, Mr Evans, I don’t want another letter from her objecting to your reprimand.”

“I understand, sir.”

“If you find that too onerous a task then I may have to send for Mrs Soames to explain why her child is not attending school and why she permits her to corroborate with the other child to write such rubbish.”

Edward stood up and collected his hat, the Mayor watched him go and as the door was about to close said “Adam Cartwright’s daughter did you say?”

“Yes, sir.” Edward nodded and as the door closed heard what he thought the Mayor said as being “Why am I not surprised?”

As he strolled home the school teacher was smiling to himself. He recalled to mind the first time he had seen the Cartwright brothers and had so wrongly misconstrued so much about them. Although he had very little contact with any of them he had grown to respect what they stood for, and through the children had grown to know a little about them. What had been so wrong about the letter anyway? True, the spelling was bad, but as Sofia had reminded him earlier, she was not good at spelling long words, and the drawings, well, they had been colourful and quite well executed. Little drawings of raffia dolls, little boys and girls.

He pushed open the gate to his house and was still smiling when he opened the door. Beatrice will so enjoy this little story, he mused, for he knew she was fond of the child. He stepped into the sun laden room and approached his wife, kissed her cheek and felt joy at the sight of her smile as she opened her eyes to look up at him,

“Sorry I’m late, I had to go and see the Mayor.”

“Oh, anything wrong?” she smiled, and placed a hand upon his arm, how silly to assume something was wrong, it could have been something very right, a promotion perhaps? A chance to teach at the big school …the Fourth Ward School they called it.

“Nothing wrong at all. Little Sofia Cartwright…”

“Aah, Sofia, I have been thinking about her.” she laughed, a light happy laugh. It touched his heart, one didn’t hear laughter from her very often nowadays.

“She had written to the Mayor, protesting at the fact that the sheriff had stopped her and her friend selling raffia dolls in town. It was very badly spelled out, but made the point. As Charles Dickens once declared ..The Law is an Ass. She didn’t actually put it in those words, but the principle is the same.”

“Why did he call you in, was it to correct her spellings?” her eyes were twinkling now and he squeezed her hands gently, one had to touch her hands so carefully for they pained her so much.

“No, to reprimand her for her cheek!”

“Dear me, yes, I suppose he would consider it cheeky, and disrespectful. How lovely. I think that is so funny, so … typical.”

Edward raised his eyebrows, typical of what? Of Sofia, of her being Adam Cartwright’s daughter? She was smiling an enigmatic smile because she was thinking of herself, when a child, for she would have done exactly the same had someone told her what to do about something she had set her heart upon. Yes, it would have been typical !
………….

Hoss Cartwright met up with his brother Adam in the timber camp and both men set about work that was needed doing. Not that Mac allowed for anything to become slip shod or overly casual. There was no room for such in a busy timber camp, no advantage to taking short cuts either. Work with the trees was hard,, and dangerous. Tools used needed to be sharp, and could cause damage if carelessly used. No, Mac ran a busy and profitable camp for the Cartwrights and when the family came by there was usually little for them to do apart from to show willing and work along with the men.

This was work Hoss particularly loved, blazing out the trees gave him time to caress the rough bark and give each tree a caress and pat, as though he were proud of their achievement in growing so much during the time they were parted. For Adam it was work he enjoyed because it was physical and he saw results for what he was doing. So whether it was lopping branches and boughs with a hatchet, or sawing through the great girth of a large pine was all enjoyable to him. The thrill as a vast giant of wood snapped from its roots and slowly leaned to the angle it was about to fall and then to watch it crash downwards was an emotion all timber men experienced in their lifetime.

Sometimes Adam found himself thinking of the sails on his beloved Ainola or Shenandoah when he looked up through the branches of the pines. It was how he would feel when looking up to the sky through a canopy of sail, rigging and masts. Nowadays he would experience a twist in the gut at the memory of those days at sea, and then smile and shake his head remembering the same experience when he was on board ship and looking up, would be reminded of the vast beautiful pines on the Ponderosa.

The three brothers worked hard along with their men, and at the end of the day slipped into their saddles and looped their reins through their fingers and waved farewell to Mac and the other men. Adam was pleased in the fact he could report the figures back to his father, and that they were showing a profit. Hoss could say that Mr Dobinski’s order was well on schedule. Joe, well, he was still puzzling over that horseman he had caught sight of, silhouetted in black against a blue, blue sky.

As they jogged along, sometimes talking in low tones among themselves, Joe began to wonder if it had been his imagination, had he looked up and briefly seen something that was not there? He wondered if his brothers had seen anything untoward and was about to ask them when Hoss picked up a topic to discuss that took them well away from the matter of strange horsemen appearing on the skyline and it seemed, only for Joe’s benefit.

They parted at the turnings off to Adam’s house, and then onto the Ponderosa, and still nothing said, nothing mentioned only Hoss’ casual “Don’t forget to come for supper to-night.”

Chapter 54

As they prepared to get ready for the short trip to the Ponderosa, Adam couldn’t help but keep glancing over at his wife.  Not only because in his eyes she was beautiful and deserved to be looked at, but also due to the fact that she had carried an air of sadness about her that he had not expected.  He wondered  if it was because she was worried about Marcy and ventured to ask, in a very quiet tone, if that were the case but Olivia had shaken  her head and replied that Marcy was far tougher than many thought her to be.

She brushed her hair slowly, her eyes fixed to the face of the woman reflected back to her in the mirror. Adam had always enjoyed watching her as the brush would pass and re-pass through the long smooth hair, but this evening she seemed to find it hard to push the brush along and her mouth lacked it’s customary calm smile.

After seeing to his tie he perched himself on the edge of the bed and looked into the mirror so that their reflected eyes could meet and look into each others.   He raised a  hand and gently caressed her hair, caught one strand and held it fast, as though by doing so he was declaring her his captive, then he smiled and shook his head,

“What’s wrong, sweetheart?”

She looked down at the dressing table and stared at the silver backed mirror, the brush, the comb…the little bottles of this and that  – she pushed them around with a finger and then cleared her throat, “Nothing’s wrong, Adam.”

“Oh come now, you can do better than that … if there was nothing wrong I wouldn’t be here now worrying about whatever it is that has upset you.  So, out with it… what’s the matter?”

“I told you, it – there – isn’t anything to worry about…”

She couldn’t meet his eyes however, and when his hand brushed  upon her shoulder she instinctively inclined her head to lean upon it and sighed.   “I’m sorry, Adam, I shouldn’t be such a misery tonight, but I feel … I don’t feel very happy.”

He bit down on his bottom lip, and frowned slightly, then with a sigh in his voice he quietly said how he had thought she would have been happy, after all, Marcy was sae and well, the babies also and Luke was practically delirious with joy.  “So, my love, what is the matter?”

He turned her face towards his, looked into the green eyes and frowned slightly, “Tell me?”

She heaved in a deep long sigh, and shook her head, but he raised those formidable eye brows of his and shook his head too, so that she found herself telling him how she had felt upon seeing those two little babies in Marcy’s arms.

“It reminded me of my own loss, our loss.  It made me look at Nathaniel and remember that he had been a twin, that if everything had gone according to plan we would have had two babies as well…”

He nodded and stroked her cheek very delicately with his forefinger, “I see, I understand.”

She looked up at him and frowned, very slightly.   How like a man!  An emotion akin to anger and irritation surged through her.  She wanted to hit him, the casual ‘I understand’ flung down like that as though he had suffered the loss, the longing, the misery.    Where had he been while she was suffering her loss and her grief?  What words of comfort  had he offered to her then, when she desperately had need of him.  She pushed him away and cried “How could you understand?  How can you say that when you weren’t even here at the time?”

She saw his eyes widen, the attentiveness in his face fade to wariness, guilt, and he drew in his bottom lip over his teeth and bit down on them, then shook his head.

“I know, I know all that… but you have to understand, my darling, that although I am a mere man, that was my child you lost, and … “ he paused, no point in making her feel guilty, after all, what was the point, “And it makes me feel wretched for you, dear girl, knowing how you had to to bear the pain and loss all by yourself as you did.”

Inwardly he writhed, it was not often that Olivia lost the control over her emotions.  When she did it always caught him by surprise because it would usually involved the children, and make him feel as though he had failed her, and them, to some extent.  Now he just felt guilty, very guilty, and wished he could find the words that would soothe her, calm her.  But she was right, only a woman, only a mother, could understand, truly understand, what it was like to lose a child even though it was at such an early stage of her pregnancy.

Where had he been at the time? Facing his own demons, acting on behalf of the Government in Cuba, pleading on behalf of all those who had been murdered?  He shook his head and moved away from her just as she was pulling away from him.
Silence settled between them, and she turned, noticed his closed off features, the hooded dark eyes staring out of the window and in effect, seeing nothing.  Her anger calmed, she shook her head and approached him,

“It wasn’t your fault, Adam.  I shouldn’t have said that, after all, I had barely got used to the idea of being … “  she sighed and bowed her head so that her brow leaned in upon his chest, and then his hand touched her back and gently stroked it, “It’s silly, and selfish of me, but I just felt jealous, holding those babies, so small, so perfect, and I couldn’t help but think would Nathaniel have had a brother that looked just like him, or would it have been a girl?  I kind of lost myself in a day dream, I felt sorry for myself.”

Adam said nothing, he thought back to that time, that strange time when Virginia City had been struck by a cholera epidemic and Joe and Olivia had been caught in it during the imposed quarantine.  It had all  happened then, and what had her loss been compared to some who had lost loved ones at that time?  But now, of course it was only natural that the grief and loss would loom large before her when confronted by those babies so safely delivered to Marcy and Luke.  He sighed and was about to speak when she looked up at him, her eyes big and her face looking pale “Kiss me, Adam, and tell me it’s all better now?”

So he kissed her, and he poured out his love to her, and his own guilt and sadness, and wished that they hadn’t had to go to the Ponderosa that evening after all.  Little footsteps padded over from the door, little arms flung around their legs and held them fast “Tiss me too, tiss me too.”

Adam laughed, broke away from his wife and leaned down to swoop up his son and swing him up high, up, up and away to the ceiling, down, down deep to the floor and then back again much to Nathaniel’s delight.  Then Adam swung the child into Olivia’s arms

“Count our blessings, sweetheart, after all, we do have Spike…”

She opened her eyes wide, and then she laughed, and hugged her boy close to her “Oh selfish woman that I am, and here’s my precious boy.” and she kissed him so sweetly that Nathaniel melted into her arms and settled his head upon her shoulder.

Adam looked on for a moment and then shrugged away the ghost of his own … just for a moment, and sometimes it had happened before, but just for a brief moment he felt a surge of longing for a woman who,  had she lived, may well have  held him like that, gently in her arms. He sighed, and shook the ghost away.

Reuben hurried in, “Are you ready yet, we’re late!”

Footsteps thudding down the stairs as Reuben made his way to where Sofia was whirling around the room trying to get her skirts to flare out and convince herself she was a princess.  Girls!  He snorted as he picked up his hat, when he got married, if he ever did, and that was hardly likely if he could help it, then he would never let her kiss him, or do any of that soppy stuff.  It was just too embarrassing.……

 

The table looked splendid, Hop Sing stood at its head as Mr Ben sat down, and he felt a well of pride trickle through him.  Missy Hester had made such a pretty floral arrangement to set the table off, and the crystal glassware shone to perfection.  Everything was very good.

Now all the family sat around the table and there was the chatter rippling through the room as many voices ebbed and flowed around him.  It was like the tide washing up on a pebbly beach, surging forward and then slowly sighing back upon itself, causing little ripples between the pebbles as they jostled one against the other with the passing of the water.

He looked around them, all of them gathered there for their last meal with Missy Martha.  Hop Sing liked her, she was a lady, and gracious in the way she viewed life, considered him, and seemed to love everybody.  He could remember a few of Mr Ben’s lady friends who were far from being ladies, that one called Linda Chadwick for a start, he shook his head and when Ben asked him if he were alright, he smiled, nodded and smiled again.
No, some of Mr Ben’s choices had been disasters, thanks to his ancestors that he had married three lovely ladies.   Hop Sing stepped forward to remove empty plates and take them away.  Some would call this a servile position for a man like him, but he found it as much a joy as a woman who had slaved to provide a meal for a beloved husband..did she find it servile?  Of course not.  He loved each and every one gathered at this table, yes, everyone.

He stood there again like a sentinel at his post, a new generation was seated here now and how pretty or handsome they all looked, even little Erik who was still all spit and drool.  Missy Hannah with her black hair and her mother’s sapphire blue eyes, so solemn and so sweet natured just like Mr Hoss.   Little Hope who would always be Little Hope just as Joe had always been Little Joe, picked at her food, happy just to be there with her fine blonde hair and eyes as dark as her grandfathers. And there was Erik, so like Hester that it was  uncanny, but Hop Sing was still a little worried about that situation, for he wondered if somewhere out in Ireland there was not a family  preparing to reach out and snatch him away.

He then turned to survey Joe and Mary Ann’s little clutch of babies…not that Daniel, the eldest of Mr Ben’s grandchildren, was a baby anymore.  A handsome boy with his hazel eyes and chestnut curls, so like his father but bigger built, yes, more like Mr Hoss perhaps.   Baby Constance with her sweet smiles was still a dumpling with dimples, and Hop Sing found her fascinating.

Reuben should really be classed as Ben’s first grandson and for that error Hop Sing admonished himself, for the boy was looking like his step father more and more every week.  How strange a quirk was that and Hop Sing decided to think about that another time, while he observed Sofia, ah well, Sofia, she was going to be beautiful one day, and he hoped that her confidence in herself would never diminish for he envisaged great things from that child.  Nathaniel… Hop Sing allowed his eyes to watch the child and his heart softened, no one could be anything other than charmed by Nathaniel Erik Cartwright, he was his father’s image, and now, as the little boy turned to offer something from his plate to Little Hope, the old man sighed and had to turn away.
That was his family ..the new generation of those he had loved for many years now.  He hoped that he would be with them for many more to come.……….

“Do you have to go, Aunt Martha?”  Sofia was saying to the white haired woman sitting beside her, “I wanted  you to stay here until we had the celebration for Founders Day.”

“Well, I have to get back home..”  Martha smiled and her eyes wandered around the room, and rested upon Adam whom she loved, and Ben, whom she also loved but not as he would have liked her to have, no, she still loved Julian too much. “No, dear, I have to go home.”

“But this is your home.” Sofia insisted, and sighed and looked at her mother “Mommy, tell Aunt Martha she has to stay here with us.”  she turned back to Martha, “you can come and live with us if you want to, we’ve lots of room.”

“Enough, Sofia,” Olivia said quietly, “Eat your food.”

Martha decided another subject may swing things away from her so she asked Sofia if she knew what she wanted to be when she grew up, at which Sofia surprised everyone by saying she wanted to be a doctor.

“A doctor?” Ben exclaimed “I thought you wanted to be a concert pianist.”

“No, well, sometimes if I have a holiday, but when I am working I am going to deliver babies like Aunt Marcy had two babies and …”

“Pa,” Joe cut in quickly, “On the way home Adam told me a quaint little story about the time he had to eat grass…and worms ..”

“Worms?”  exclaimed Reuben, and stared at his father with big eyes, “Aw, yeuk.”

“I was very young at the time and did as I was told …” Adam muttered with a scowl at his sibling and pouring water into a glass for his son.

“Quite a few times, yes, he did…” Ben nodded, and then looked around the table at the food laid out for them all to enjoy now, and he sighed deeply.   Guilt for all he had put his son through seared through him yet again.

“But then he had venison, supplied by an Irequois.” Joe grinned mischievously, as though determined to find out the truth of this tale.

“Yes, that’s right.”  Ben picked up his glass and took a deep gulp, those years of travel were times he preferred not forget, he didn’t enjoy tipping into their history, there was too much guilt to lay at his door, and too many sad memories to lay at his sons.

“So how did you manage that?   According to Adam you had travelled in Irequois territory..” Joe leaned back in his chair and winked over at Reuben who was all ears and eyes longing to find out more about this adventure.

“Well, you have to remember that the 1830’s were still very turbulent times, and travelling west didn’t get properly organised until the 1840’s *,  we were often on our own, perhaps that was why the Indians left us alone, perhaps they thought we were mad, or rather, I was…perhaps they were right.” he drank down some more wine.

Hop Sing jumped forward to refill the glass, he looked over at Adam who seemed to be engrossed in whispering something in his wife’s ear.  He obviously didn’t want to pay too much attention to this little story either.

“The six nations of Indians comprised of Huron, Ireqois, Delaware, Mohawk, Mohican, and Pawnee.   They were often at war among themselves, especially after the war when the colonies fought against Britain.   Anyhow, we were in pretty dire straits, and I didn’t think that Adam was going to survive, he was ill …so was I …. I went to get what food I could when I came across a man, an Ireqois brave, he had been ambushed by Pawnee.  His son was injured, as was he… “

“And you made them better?” Sofia cried, totally engrossed, “Was the little boy very badly hurt?  Did he die?”

“No, he didn’t die.  I was able to do something for him, and his father was very grateful and when I told him I had a son … he came to our camp, saw Adam, and knew that we had to have food, so he provided some of the meat he had caught.”

“And you ate it all up.” Hannah declared in her little sing song voice and everyone laughed a little, relaxed and nodded.

“I can’t remember much about it,” Adam said quietly, and sipped one wine, “It was – a strange time.”

“We met Inger not long afterwards.” Ben said and smiled, his face softened, his voice took on that tone of a man in love and he picked up his glass and emptied it,

“Inger…things were good for us then, for a while.”

Hester promptly changed the subject before everyone became morose, and Hop Sing bustled about, and Adam turned to Martha and caught her eyes, they shared a smile,

“I’m sorry you’re leaving, Martha. I had hoped we could have had some time together.”

“I know, but I have responsibilities back in Frisco that need attention.” her face softened, and she then looked over at Nathaniel “He’s so like you, Adam.  Although I never knew you when you were that young, of course, but … what a lovely child.  You are well blessed.”

Adam raised his eyes to meet those of Olivia’s and smiled, “Yes, Martha, we are, we are indeed.”

There was nothing she could say to that but returned his smile and turned her head away to look around the table and realise the blessings that seemed so abundantly poured out upon them all. She had every reason to be truly grateful.

Chapter 55

The evening trickled into time spent together with song and music. Mary Ann played some Chopin and then was joined by Sofia to play a little piano duet that they had been practising together for some time. Everyone applauded enthusiastically and Sofia felt her decision to be a doctor and not a concert pianist waver as even she was doubtful that doctors got much in the way of applause for all their hard work.

They sang songs like Oh my Clementine, and Sweet Betsy from Pyke, and Adam sang to them a song about a wind called Mariah before Hoss and Joe dueted to Oh Susanna which made baby Erik cry and Nathaniel put his hands over his ears and yelled “Stoppit.”

As they gathered up their belongings and the guests began to make their way to the door Martha was surprised to feel a little hand slip into hers and when she looked down Sofia was gazing up at her with big blue eyes and a forlorn look on her face,

“Are you alright, dear?” Martha asked and leaned down a little in order to hear what Sofia had to say.

“I’m just sad, is all. I thought you were going to stay here forever, but you’re not, are you?”

Martha sighed and shook her head “No, I have to get home. Do you remember coming to my house in San Francisco? You came once, with your Grandfather and mother, and Reuben.”

“Yes, I know, I remember. We were waiting for daddy to come home.”

“That’s right,” Martha nodded and straightened up, “But who knows, I may come back again for another visit.”

“Will you? Will you promise to come, will you?” Sofia’s voice became a little shrill and her father, standing at the door talking to Ben, turned to survey them, the child and the older woman.

Martha was attractive as one would have expected from a woman of great beauty when she was younger. Her red hair was now white but her eyes were still a piercing denim blue, and her skin despite being so fine was only just touched by the frost of older age. She was not tall but not short either, and her figure, though matronly, was elegant in her city smart clothes. All in all Adam did wonder if his father had had any particular reason for inviting her for this visit, apart from extending comfort to a woman recently widowed.

“I can’t make definite promises, Sofia, but if it is possible, then I shall do so.” Martha smiled and looked up to meet Adam’s eyes, “Adam, I’m so glad that you got back from that trip before I left for home.

“I wish you could regard this as your home too, Martha.” Adam found himself saying and smiled, his eyes twinkled, “But it was a joy to meet you again. What time will you be catching the stage tomorrow?”

“I believe it will be leaving at noon, so I shall have to make sure I get there in time.” she sighed, perhaps, after all, parting was not going to be so easy.

Adam nodded “You sure you couldn’t extend your visit for a little longer?”

“Quite sure, but thank you.” she looked down at Sofia, “Thank you, Sofia, I hope you grow up being all the things you want to be …” she paused and frowned “It won’t be easy if you want to be a doctor, but women are beginning to make a mark in a man’s world now, so whatever you decide to do, stick at it, won’t you?”

Sofia nodded, she wasn’t really sure what the woman was talking about but knew it was significant. She was quite sure she could stick at it, once she decided what to do.

The door closed and the visitors were gone. There was the clatter of dishes and cutlery being removed from the table, light footsteps overhead from Hannah and Hope as they ran across the floor boards to their beds, Hester’s voice drifting from the landing as she admonished them to hurry up and get to sleep.

Martha drew in a deep breath as though she had to absorb the moment with every fibre of her being. She could hear Ben and Hoss talking together and turned to look at them both as they stood by the hearth. Hoss was listening to Ben now, while at the same time trying to get a splinter out of the palm of his hand, while Ben stood with one foot on the log box, and a hand resting on his thigh. Quite an imposing pose, Martha thought, and watched them a moment longer before turning to a chair upon which she sat down.

It had been a splendid evening,, perfect for the end of her visit. She sighed and smiled to herself, perhaps she would return, but that would depend upon a number of things. Ben turned to her and smiled, removed his foot from the log box and slipped his hands into the top pockets of his pants, “Well, Martha, I hope you enjoyed this evening.”

“Oh it brought back many happy memories, Ben.” she replied, “And added to them, I assure you.”

“Pity Joe ain’t picked up on how to sing a song yet.” Hoss chuckled and slumped down into his chair, they all knew which was Hoss’ chair because it sagged more than any of the others.

“You all did very well,” Martha said, and laughed at the memory of Erik and Nathaniel’s lack of appreciation.

Hester came down and her hand rested lightly upon Hoss’ shoulder before she drifted to her seat, and sat down. “It was a great evening. I am glad you were here to share it, Martha.”

Hop Sing came, and laid down the tray full of cocoa and hot milk, Ben took himself off to the cabinet and poured himself a brandy and Hoss a whisky, while the ladies took their cocoa. Martha looked around at them, savoured the picture and nodded, this was an evening she would never forget.
……………

In the morning all the Cartwrights arrived in town to wave Martha away. The ladies waved their handkerchiefs like so many little white flags and the children in their mother’s arms waved plump dimpled fists, while the other children waved and waved. Sofia pouted up at her mother “I like Aunt Martha, mommy, you should have made her stay.”

“Martha had other things to do, Sofia. Life cannot stop still just to please little girls like you.”

Sofia frowned, that was the closest to a rebuke her mother had given her in some time, but she swallowed it quietly and watched as the stagecoach rounded the corner.

The ladies decided there were things that needed to be done, shopping and so forth being the priority. They gathered their chickens like so mother hens would do and led them to the Mercantile, and from the doorway of the Territorial Enterprise Daniel deQuille watched them and smiled. Time had passed, he mused, from the time there were only four Cartwrights to wrestle with, now there seemed to be a veritable tribe of them.

From his vantage point he watched as Dr and Mrs Colby strolled arm in arm along the main street of town, it was obvious from the attention each was paying the other that all was in accord there. DeQuille nodded to himself, some people needed their wives as an appendage to their lives, he himself, managed quite well without and with a sigh he returned to the dark environs of his office.

Alicia Colby smiled and nodded over at the Cartwright women, and when Olivia stopped she did wonder what was going to happen, what was about to be said. Mary Ann stood by Olivia’s side with a smile on her pretty face. It occurred to Alicia that these women were no threat to her, to her marriage or to her husband, if anyone was going to wreck it, it was herself. She returned their smiles and waited for Olivia to speak,

“Dr Colby, Mrs Colby … I believe thanks are in order for what you did for my brother, Luke.” a little laugh then, and it struck Alicia that perhaps Olivia was nervous, “I meant the help you gave my friend Marcy.”

“Oh yes,” James’ voice came close to Alicia’s ears, and she glanced at him with a proud smile, “The twins.”

“Luke was saying that it was a miracle that when he needed help, you happened to be there, in his front yard …” Olivia’s eyes roamed from James’ face to Alicia’s “both of you.”

“I think it was a miracle, yes.” James said and he looked at his wife and she smiled at him, a sweet smile that was so unlike how they usually saw her that both Olivia and Mary Ann were caught by surprise.

“We lost our way,” ALicia added, “Just followed the trees and then emerged into the most pretty sight, and then your – brother? – came out calling for help.”

“Well, thank you, both of you, he couldn’t stop singing your praises enough, in between telling me all about the babies of course.” Olivia smiled involuntarily, and shook Jame’s hand and then Alicia’s.

“Have they named the babies yet?” Alicia asked, and then smiled when Olivia shook her head.

“We’ll visit them regularly, just to make sure that they are keeping healthy.” James said quietly, now serious, “They are small, and the birth was a hard one.”

“Thank you, Doctor.” Olivia replied and with a slight nod of the head turned to follow her sisters in law into the Mercantile.

The four Cartwright men had taken themselves to the Bucket of Blood. Perhaps they were among a handful of townsfolk who would know the origin of the name of that particular saloon, one of the first to be built in the town. At the time of its being built there was so real town, just rows of tents, shanties and cabins and life was wild, fights broke out every night, so whenever the floor was mopped up and squeezed into the bucket, it was always red with blood*. It seemed the most appropriate name to give the old building.

Ben ordered the beers and paid for them before joining his sons at the table where they had seated themselves. It seemed that no sooner had they picked up their beers, drank down the first swallow when a hand was clapped down upon Adam’s shoulder with enough force for some of the beer to slop over his hand.

“Commodore Cartwright, Thomas Jackson reporting for duty, sir?”

Adam was on his feet right away, and had turned to shake Jacko by the hand, introduce him to his family and demand the man sit while he joined them in a beer. “What are you doing here, Jacko?”

Jackson removed his cap and nodded, sat down and squared his shoulders before accepting the tankard of beer that Sam had placed down in front of him, “Well, you did mention to me a while back that my little sister was expecting a baby, and I did kind of promise myself that I would come back to see how she was doing and what she had had…so, it was by way of thinking that perhaps the baby had arrived by now so I had best get back to find out what it was I had, a niece or a nephew.”

“By jiminy,” Joe exclaimed, “Your timing is good, she had the baby already.”

“Already?” Jacko gulped down the beer and shook his head, “Seems hardly any time since I knew. So, how is she…?”

“She’s well, Jacko. She had twins, a boy and a girl.” Hoss informed him and smiled, raised a hand for another round of drinks.

Jackson nodded and emptied his glass, “Twins huh? Well, that’s a first in the family, to be sure.”

The drinks came and talk ventured onto other things. Ben was curious about Jacksons sea faring days and Joe and Hoss listened enthusiastically as the two men bantered about sea life, ships and various parts of the vast seas they both had experienced, fought and battled upon. Adam alone kept slightly aloof, wondering if his old crew member had come to visit his sister or had some other reason. He leaned back in his chair and listened, smiled at some joke, some tall tale, nodded along with the rest of them. But he felt on edge, remembering the last time he had seen the man, him and Jotham Morton.

Finally Jacko got to his feet and shook their hands “Well, I had better get myself some kind of transport to take me to my sisters seeing how I don’t know one end of a horse from the other.” he grinned and picked up his cap and as he passed Adam he removed an envelope from his pocket and handed it to the other man, nodded and pausing just a second, saluted his former Commanding officer.

Adam sat down and cleared his throat, aware of three pairs of eyes watching him as he slipped the envelope into his inner jacket pocket. “Aren’t you going to read it, son?”

Adam shook his head and avoided looking into his father’s dark eyes, “No, if it’s bad news I don’t want to know, and if it is any other kind of news , then it can wait.”

He leaned back in his chair and smiled, raised a hand and signalled for more beer.

Chapter 56

Edward Evans had just closed the gate upon his garden when he saw the four Cartwright men leaving the saloon. He watched for a moment as they stood together and then separated, Hoss and Joe in one direction and Ben in another. Adam Cartwright remained where he was and seemed deep in thought before looking up and down the main street as though not sure in which direction to go.

The school teacher noticed that Ben Cartwright had disappeared into the house that belonged to Roy Coffee. When he looked back to where Adam had been standing he noticed that he had removed a letter from his pocket and was obviously wondering whether or not to open it there and then. Heaving in a deep breath Evans reined in his courage and hurried to where the other man stood, tapping the envelope upon his free hand as though hoping that doing so would reveal the contents without his having to bother to open it.

“Mr Cartwright? A word if you have time?”

Adam glanced up, an almost lazy sweep of the head and opening of the eyes in Edwards’ direction. The smile on his face emboldened the teacher and he found himself smiling back in return.

“What can I do for you, Mr Evans?”

Edward glanced around and looked towards the saloon, and Adam, always quick to take a hint, led the way back into the Bucket of Blood where Sam looked somewhat surprised but decided to say nothing. He took Adam’s order for two coffee’s and watched as the teacher and rancher took a seat at a nearby table.

“A problem, Mr Evans?” Adam smiled and as he did so he slid the envelope into the inner pocket of his jacket.

Edward waited until the cups of steaming coffee were on the table before sighing and nodding and with a lift of his eyebrows saying “Sofia.”

Adam said nothing, he picked up his cup and sipped the coffee, and looked at the teacher as though expecting him to continue with whatever it was he wanted to say. After a pause that lasted almost embarrassingly long he cleared his throat “Sofia?”

“Er – yes – I realise you have been away for some time so may be you and perhaps your wife do not know what she has been – er – doing.”

“Doing?” Adam echoed and frowned. He glanced over his shoulder as though expecting anyone nearby to jump up and explain what exactly it was that Sofia had been ‘doing’ but no one moved a muscle nor showed any interest, so he leaned forward to look more closely into the other man’s face, “What exactly do you mean …what has she been ‘doing’?”

“Well, how can I put it…”

“Just say it as it is, Evans, stop dithering.”

Had he been dithering? Evans swallowed and gulped a little, and nodded “Well, it seems that Sofia and her friend, the little girl in the wheel chair, got it into their heads to sell some raffia dolls they had made.”

“Very enterprising I’d say.” Adam smiled which disarmed the teacher who just blushed and then decided to swallow his coffee, “Nothing wrong in that, was there?”

“Well, some complaints were made that it was rather like soliciting or begging seeing how the little girl was in a wheelchair ..” he paused at the blank look on Adam’s face, and drew in a deep long breath “There’s a law about begging …”

“Go on.” Adam leaned back and listened to what Edward managed to stammer out, about the children having to be told by the deputy that they were wrong and how they then proceeded to write a letter of protest to the Mayor.

Adam raised a cup to his lips to hide his smile, he thought that rather innovative of them but waited for the teacher to continue. Edward shrugged “I was summoned to see the Mayor and was told in no uncertain terms that it was far from all right for students of mine to write such letters to him. To be honest, it was not an offensive letter by any means, in fact, quite charming, but …”

“Ella isn’t your pupil, is she?” Adam quirked an eyebrow

“No, she isn’t but Sofia is… but having said that the Mayor wasn’t really interested in whether or not Ella was one of my students, He was just …”

“Furious?”

“Yes, definitely, furious.”

“Hmmm.” Adam drained his cup dry and leaned back into the chair again, he regarded Edward solemnly “That puts you in a difficult situation, doesn’t it? Well, what did this letter say that put our Mayor into such a temper?”

“It was just a simple request to be permitted to sell their dolls, that they make themselves, and because they were not yet grown up enough to have a store could they please sell them as they were doing before Mr Foster stopped them from doing so.” Edward frowned “Mr Foster is the deputy.”

“I know.” Adam intoned slowly.

“Sofia is a very strong minded young lady, and I wouldn’t want to dampen her spirit in any way. IN fact, Mr Cartwright, she has the potential for going very far indeed if she keeps within the boundaries.” he sighed as though he already knew that Sofia was not a girl who would keep within boundaries that she didn’t recognise. He looked again at Adam, more in appeal than anything else. “Perhaps you could explain to her?”

“Explain what, Mr Evans?”

“That – oh well – that she can’t sell her dolls on the street and that she can’t write letters to the Mayor?”

“Why not?” Adam frowned, just a slight crinkle of his brow and he pursed his lips as he leaned forward “I understand about the by laws of this town, and I shall explain that to her. But why can’t she write letters to the Mayor? He is our duly elected Mayor is he not?”

“Of course.” Edward groaned and sighed.

“Elected by the people of this town to act as a servant to the people of this town ..is that not correct?”

“Yes, but …”

“Now, that is the problem you see.” Adam leaned back and stared up at the ceiling, “These elected officers forget that they are there to serve the people, which means that if someone chooses to write to them about anything that concerns them, they should give it proper time and attention. Is that not right, Mr Evans?”

“Of course it’s right,” Edward nodded in agreement, it had been such a long time since anyone had seen the matter from that perspective that it caught him by surprise. He nodded more enthusiastically.

“Good, in that case, Mr Evans, thank you for bringing the matter to my attention. I shall have a word with Sofia about this matter and …” he rose to his feet and pushed away the chair “shall write to the Mayor myself.”

Edward nodded, quailed a little and watched as the rancher left the saloon, tipping his hat to Sam as he left the building. The bat wings swung too and fro with his passing, and Edward Evans sighed, leaned back and then asked Sam for another coffee.

Adam was smiling as he left the saloon, he even chuckled to himself at the thought of his daughters enterprising spirit and the fact that she had had the temerity to write to the Mayor. He thought it would be a splendid thing if every child in the school wrote to the Mayor about something or other just to prove to the fat chap that they had that right to do so. But he eventually grew serious enough to look at it more objectively and appreciate the position that Evans’ had been put in.

Glancing at the town hall clock he realised he was late in meeting the family at Del Monico’s and hurried to get there in time. He arrived at the door where he met up with Hoss who had lost Joe altogether.

“Have you seen Joe?”

“No, not at all, why? Where did you lose him?”

“I didn’t lose him, he just went… vanished…one second he was with me and the next he was gone.”

Adam shrugged, knowing Joe he would arrive in due course, like the proverbial bad penny. He smiled at his father who appeared looking slightly distracted “Seen Joe, Pa?”

“Why? Have you lost him?” Ben asked glaring at his eldest son who shook his head and pointed to Hoss,

“Hoss lost him.”

Hoss groaned and looked aggrieved “I didn’t lose him, I …”

“Hey, Hoss,” Joe’s voice trickled through the throng of clientele pushing through the foyer of the restaurant “Where’d you get to, brother?”

Elbowing his way through to meet them Joe gave them all a grin, and led the way into the restaurant where the ladies and the children awaited them. The waiter was trying not to look flustered as he now had to accommodate the four men, beckoning to someone to bring along another table and shaking his head in apology for not having anticipated the need for such earlier.

Things had changed, even taking refreshment at the restaurants now seemed to require the discipline and precision of a military exercise.
………………….

Sofia sat on her daddy’s knee and listened very attentively to what he was saying. They were alone in his study because he had ‘summoned’ her there and so she knew that she had to be on her very best behaviour. She sighed at times but said nothing, just hung down her head and looked contrite and innocent. When Adam finished she looked up and smiled at him, one of her most beguiling smiles.

“But daddy, everyone loved our little dolls. They said so…”

“I know, sweetheart, I heard that they were very popular but even so…”

“But daddy, we weren’t doing anything wrong. We didn’t get in any one’s way or trip anyone up. We just stayed as quiet as mice we truly did …” she sat on his knee and pretended to be a little mouse grooming his ears and tweaking his whiskers and saying ‘squeak squeak’ for good measure.

Adam shook his head, he really wasn’t very sure how to handle this little girl on an issue that he found rather ridiculous himself. He tapped her on the shoulder before she got so carried away with her impersonation that she had forgotten why she was there,

“You were very good to be so – cautious – careful I mean, but the fact is that there is a law that forbids that kind of thing, and what Clem had to do was just warn you, that was all.”

“Well, he did. B-u-u- t…” she sighed “ we didn’t think it was very fair.”

“Sometimes laws don’t seem very fair, but perhaps it is because they are fair for other people instead.”

“Well, then, I don’t think it’s very kind.” she pouted and sighed, heaved up her shoulders to meet her ears before slumping back down again.

“Perhaps not, but laws are made for the protection of the people. Now, what would have happened if there had been an accident…”

“What kind of accident, daddy?” she turned her big blue eyes to look earnestly into his face and Adam pursed his lips and frowned, she shrugged “there wasn’t any accident anyway.”

“All right, let’s move on to this letter you wrote to the Mayor.” he cleared his throat, “You quite offended him you know.”

“What’s that mean? What’s offend mean?” her eyebrows contracted, she looked puzzled.

“You … made him angry.”

She again made an exaggerated shrug and then cupped her chin into her hands, with her elbows on her knees and still perched rather prettily on Adam’s knees. “Well, was he angry? Really?”

“I believe he was.” Adam nodded thinking what a pretty little thing she was, looking rather like a pixie as she sat there.

“Well, I don’t care.”

“Well, Miss Sofia, you should care, he is the Mayor and should be treated with respect.”

“What’s respeck mean?”

“It means .. Not being unkind …showing consideration …don’t ask me to explain what that means … it means being polite.”

“I did show polite…I said please and thank you ..so did Ella, and we drew some pictures for him of our dolls.”

“I’m sure it looked very colourful.”

“It did, I used my favourite colours, so did Ella.” she nodded, and pouted “He isn’t kind is he?”

“He’s a busy man. Now, off you go…and be good.”

He watched her skip out of the room without a care in the world. He shook his head and wondered whether or not it had been worth it, trying to explain something that didn’t really make a great deal of sense to him in the first place. Still, he could tell Mr Evans that the matter had been dealt with … sort of! …if nothing else.

He was about to return to his desk when he noticed his wife standing at the door way, she raised her eyebrows and smiled “Well, any success?”

He sighed heavily and shrugged “I think I’ve convinced her that the Mayor is an ogre.”

“ A view shared by many.” she laughed and stepped inside, slipped her hand into his while her other arm wrapped around his waist, “I’m sure you did well, darling.”

“Sofia – I think – has inherited the Von Richter* entrepreneur qualities in the family.” he murmured as he bowed his head to meet hers.

“Mmm, more than likely.” she didn’t say another word, but enjoyed the momentary pleasure of his kiss, because kissing Adam Cartwright was more than a meeting of lips, it was the sensory smell of him, the feel of his skin against hers and the warmth of his breath as it mingled with her own.

 

 

*Von Richter was the grandfather of Olivia’s first husband see The Commodore
Chapter 57

The sound of a carriage rolling into the yard brought Sofia and Reuben running from the stables, closely followed by their father who still held the bridle and bit in his hands as he came to see who was visiting them at such a time. Not that there was any specified time for visiting and Adam smiled upon recognising the school teacher, and then his smile widened when he saw Beatrice sitting by her husband’s side.

She looked lovely in the gentle light of the sun shining down upon her. A parasol protected her from the dust and heat, her expensively styled dress was half covered by a plaid blanket that Mrs Poole had insisted she used over her lap. There were quite a number of cushions that had accompanied the shawl and the parasol, all designed to make the long journey from town more comfortable. Now she sat there waiting for her husband to assist her down while her big eyes surveyed the building and then the children and then the tall man standing behind them.

“I hope we have not disturbed you -” Edward was saying as he walked towards Adam, his hand outstretched, “But Beatrice had a sudden desire to come and see this Ponderosa of yours and to meet you again.. Especially as you are such rare visitors to town nowadays.”

Adam shook the man’s hand, appreciating the fact that Edward came as Beatrice’s husband and not as Sofia and Reuben’s school teacher. He smiled and assured Edward that guests were always welcome at the Ponderosa. Sofia and Reuben stood close together, staring at Beatrice as though they couldn’t believe that such a grand lady had come to visit them. It was Sofia who ran to the carriage and stood at the side holding onto the door and smiling a welcome

“I never expected you to come and visit, M’am” she said with such a happy tone to her voice that Beatrice’s anxiety about the visit was immediately quelled.

“Nor did I, but someone with more sense than I suggested that I should come and visit you, as it seems I was missing my little visitor so much.”

Sofia blushed and stepped back as Edward came to assist his wife down from the carriage, lowering the little steps for her and taking her hand. Once she was standing on her own two feet Beatrice once again looked around and smiled at Adam “What a grand house you have here, Adam.”

“Thank you. Why not come on inside, it’s far too hot for you to stand here in the yard.” his voice contained a softness within it, as though the thought of Beatrice Weiss standing in the heat of the day was inconceivable, and gestured towards the house where the door stood open so that the warm air could drift inside.

Olivia was in the kitchen where she had been cooking and was now arranging her cakes upon a pretty dish; she was humming to herself as she did so being quite pleased at the way the cakes looked with their icing and sugar coating. She had just smoothed down her apron and brushed off the excess sugar that had somehow transferred it self there when Sofia ran into the room nearly knocking Nathaniel over in the process.

“Mommy, Mommy, Mrs Evans is here, and Mr Evans too. They’ve come in a big carriage and she looks so lovely, like … like a Queen from a story book.” all spoken in a great gush of words and conveying the excitement the child was feeling.

“Very well, dear. Thank you.” Olivia said quietly and fumbled for the belt of her apron in order to untie it. She cast it to one side and glanced at Cheng who nodded in understanding, lemonade, coffee and tea would now be required.

Edward was leading Beatrice into the house with her leaning upon his arm and smiling at everything and everyone. It reminded Adam a little of the soiree’s he used to attend long ago in the past when he and O’Brien and other officers would attend one of Beatrice Weiss’ concerts and then be invited to the evening party afterwards. Usually select informal affairs in which she would glide as serene as royalty. She took a high backed chair and smiled her thanks at her husband.

Olivia came into the room looking slightly flushed from her cooking and pushing a stray strand of hair away from her face. To Adam’s mind the two women offered to the eye the same contrast as one would find when looking at a hot house bloom and a sweet delicate meadow flower. He knew which he preferred and smiled at his wife as she made a greeting

“This is a surprise, and a pleasure. Such a perfect day for a journey through the Ponderosa too. Did you enjoy it, Beatrice?”

She looked directly at the other woman as though to show she was not intimidated by her, or her husband, not in her own home with her husband close by. Beatrice smiled and nodded “How could one not enjoy such a journey. Your Ponderosa is beautiful, although I should imagine that there are many other views to it that are even more intoxicating.”

Reuben frowned “You can’t get drunk on a view,” he pointed out and looked at his father who smiled down at him and nodded over to a chair, indicating that Reuben could take a seat if he wished.

“Oh I don’t know, Reuben,” Beatrice said quietly, “Sometimes the effect of a lovely view can make a person quite light headed, you know.”

Sofia hung close by; she was wearing a check shirt and her scruffy old dungaree’s because today was a day of play and chores. She wished she could have slipped away to change into one of her lovely dresses so that Beatrice could see her looking better than she did. She glanced over at her mother who was wearing a plain cotton dress, oyster pink with little flowers on it, and she sighed, even mother didn’t look very grand compared to Mrs Evans.

Beatrice stretched out a languid hand to take hold of Sofia’s and smiled at her “I’ve missed you, Sofia. Why have you not been to see me when your Aunt came to visit?”

Sofia blushed a little and wriggled inwardly, she shrugged and whispered a shy “I don’t know.”

“Well, perhaps you will come again soon, I want to hear how well you have done on that little piece of music you were learning with Mary Ann.” she glanced at Olivia “Does Mary Ann not live here as well?”

“No,” Olivia took her seat and raised her chin, “No, Mary Ann and Joe have their own house about a mile and a half distant from here. Then there is the main house, where Hoss and Hester live with Ben.” she smiled as Cheng brought in the refreshments, along with her little cakes were cookies, iced prettily and set out on another plate.

They talked about general things, about the weather and the distance one had to travel from the ranch house to town. Edward said that he could now see the difficulties in getting the children to school during the winter when the snows were so deep, and smiled at Sofia and Reuben in a way that they had not noticed him smile previously at them.

Nathaniel sat on his father’s knee, he ate a biscuit slowly while he observed the two strangers within his midst. When Beatrice spoke to him directly he hid his face into his father’s shirt and wouldn’t answer her, and for some time would just peek at her from the corner of his eye.

Talk led to other topics, they brushed aside politics always rather a sensitive subject although Edward did mention being involved in the Great Railway Strike of 1877*, only a matter of a year previously.

“We were in Martinsburg when the strike began.” Edward said as he helped himself to one of Olivia’s cakes, “Beatrice had been to see a specialist consultant there about her …her illness. But we never thought for a moment that we would have been caught up in such a terrible event.”

Adam leaned his chin upon the top of Nathaniel’s curly head, and smiled “We only read about it, but from what I recall the workers had had their wages cut for the third time in a year. I can’t imagine we would have many men still working here if we were to treat them in such a high handed manner.”

“True enough, nor would I be happy if my salary were cut like that either.” Edward smiled.

“It wasn’t really too bad until Governor Mathews* sent in the state militia to restore the train service. That’s when the fighting started.” Beatrice frowned and sipped her tea in such a dainty manner that Sofia told herself to remember it so that she could tell Ella.

“No, my dear,” Edward smiled and shook his head at her, “If you recall rightly the militia would not use force on the local people. That was when the federal troops were called in *.”

Beatrice looked blank of face and then nodded “Of course, you’re right. We had to stay in our hotel and were warned not to attempt to go anywhere near the train stations. I think some did, but it was a foolhardy thing to have done as they came in the line of fire, didn’t they, Edward?”

“Yes, but the problem was it spread so far…and so quickly … Maryland, Baltimore …even as far as Buffalo and Albany … the President had no recourse but to send in troops to restore order.”

“Quite a few people were killed though..” Adam raised his eyebrows and picked Nathaniel up, setting him down on the floor.

“Sadly so,” Edward said, “Yes, sadly so.”

Beatrice picked at her cake, and looked thoughtful “I’d never seen anything like that before, riots and looters, militia and soldiers…and fighting. It took over 40 days to restore order. 40 days stuck in that hotel before we could get home again.” she smiled then, suddenly, like the sun coming from behind clouds “Olivia, these cakes are divine. Adam, you never told me what a wonderful cook your wife is …”

Olivia cringed, for some reason she missed the compliment and saw it as a rather back handed way of reminding her she was not really much more than that, a cook ..Adam said nothing, but placed a gentle hand upon his wife’s shoulder, “Olivia is wonderful at everything she does,” and he smiled at her, meeting her eyes as he did so.

Sofia leaned upon the arm of Beatrice’s chair, swinging back and forth in her eagerness to be paid some attention to…and seeing an opportunity seized it “I can play you my piano if you like, Mrs Evans.”

“I do like, dear. I’d like it very much.” and Beatrice nodded, smiled and watched as Sofia ran over to her piano and with a deep breath raised the lid.

Adam watched and listened along with them all, occasionally he glanced over at Beatrice .Sofia had a natural talent and a love for music but she lacked experience, being a child after all, time was limited for her to practice and sadly, her inclination to dedicate time was lacking as well. He wondered as he listened what it was that Beatrice was really thinking, for her own talent on the piano was beyond superlative.

Once again he found his mind wandering back to the evenings he had heard her concert recitals; he could see himself in his uniform with O’Brien, seated in the theatre, listening avidly and transported to that other world where one who loves music could linger for as long as the music played.

Reuben came and leaned against the arm of his father’s chair, his body pressing against Adam’s arm. Adam glanced up and smiled at the boy who looked, to put it mildly, bored. Nathaniel was now seated on his mother’s lap and when Sofia stopped playing he clapped his hands. He was immediately followed by Beatrice and Edward, prompting the same from her parents.

“That was very good, Sofia. Do you practise with your aunt?” Beatrice asked and Sofia nodded, flushed pink in the cheeks and feeling very proud of herself.

Talk trickled to other subjects, Beatrice mentioned about Adam coming to the concerts, being at the soiree’ and looking so dashing in his uniform “What happened to that other handsome officer you used to come with, Adam?”

“O’Brien?” Adam said and frowned, then seemed to wilt a little as he said “He was killed in Italy along with his family.”

The conversation seemed to lull after that, and Edward sensed that if they were to stay any longer it would be felt an intrusion. He indicated to Beatrice that she looked tired, it was time to go.

No one insisted that they should stay, but accompanied them to the door. Sofia ran to sit at her piano and play more music, Reuben ran to the stables to attend to Max , a task which had been interrupted at the arrival of their visitors, Nathaniel ran into the kitchen to grab another cookie while Adam and Olivia waved their visitors away.

As the carriage made a wide turn in the yard and then drove out of sight, Olivia leaned her head upon Adam’s shoulder and sighed “Why did they come?”

Adam didn’t reply, he wondered the same and for some reason doubted that there would be another trip to the Ponderosa by the great lady and her husband any time in the near future.

Chapter 58

Having waved their guests farewell, Adam left his wife to continue with her work while he joined Reuben in the stables. The boy was working hard withsuch a fierce look on his face that Adam decided to ignore him until his son chose to speak up. He had learned that if he asked questions when the boy was obviously just thinking about something, he would just get rather abrupt answers such as ’Nothing’ ’It’s alright, thanks’ or a shrug of the shoulders and then the boy would shut up like a clam.

He whistled while he worked, little snatches of songs that he knew and it wasn’t until he was seated with his saddle straddling the ’work horse’ and was carefully polishing the leatherwork that Reuben sidled up to him. The boy had been thinking things over about those wretched birds and bees, and now seemed the best time to broach the subject. Perhaps his father would reveal more to him that his mother had, or even what he thought he knew based on what he had noticed about those cuddlesome bulls and cows.

“Pa?”

Adam stopped whistling to observe his son, duster in one hand and polish in the other. “Yes, son?”

“Can I talk to you about something?”

“You know you can talk to me about anything, Reuben.” Adam smiled, wavered slightly as memories of a conversation with Olivia hovered into mind.

“Well, you know Sofia?” the boy’s brow crinkled in concentration.

“I think so. You are referring to that little girl that lives with us?” Adam smiled, playing for time while he tried to work out what direction Reuben’s conversation would take them.

“Yeah, her.” Reuben shrugged off his sister with a shrug, he leaned more confidently against Adam’s leg, “Pa, she keeps on about babies and where they come from.” he paused and looked at his father’s face, wondering if he were mistaken in the way the man’s face had set into a blank expressionless feature. “She was talking about it at school. She thinks …” Reuben gave a laugh, very false and far too hearty “that ladies keep them tucked up their skirts.”

“Does she indeed?” Adam said tonelessly and began to polish the saddle more slowly, “What do you think?”

Reuben hadn’t expected to be asked the question, he had wanted answers, not having to supply them himself. He thought for a moment “Well, I seen calves being born, and baby foals too.”

“Well, then, so you know and you don’t have to ask, do you?” Adam smiled and nodded, gave a wink and continued polishing, he pursed his lips ready to whistle a little more when Reuben sighed,

“I figured it was the same with ladies.” Reuben announced with a slight flush rouging his cheeks.

“It is.” Adam nodded and polished a little more vigorously. There had to be a follow up to this conversation and he steeled himself for it, whistling now softly beneath his breath he waited.

“The boys at school said that ..well, they said I was stupid because I hadn’t had the talk about the birds and bees yet, and I wanted to find out what they meant by that…”

Adam nodded, “Didn’t they tell you?”

“No.”

“Then it was because they don’t know either.” Adam shrugged, “I would ignore them if I were you, because if they had known they would have been bragging about it and showing off just how much they knew.”

He remembered Joe coming home very quiet one day, and then confessing that the boys had discussed the matter of the birds and the bees, which, he angrily had exclaimed, had nothing to do with the birds and bees at all, not, he had further declared, that he could see!. It had all been rather smutty, laughed and giggled over, and the younger more naïve lads made to feel stupid and ignorant at their lack of knowledge.

Adam raised his eyebrows and turned to face his son, he drew him closer and put his arm around the boys shoulders,

“Reuben there’s a time and place for everything, you know. I don’t really think this is the time for you to know about this kind of thing as it is … well …it’s very personal, and very sensitive. Do you understand what I mean by that?”

Reuben frowned, “Is it to do with all that kissing and stuff?”

Adam smiled slowly, “Well, you don’t like it when I kiss your Ma, do you?”

“It’s kinda – silly.”

Adam nodded, “And what do you think about girls, the girls at school, not just your sister.” he smiled “Anyone you like there in particular?”

“Girls?” Reuben exclaimed with a tone of disgust, “No, I don’t like any of them in particular. They’re… well, they’re kinda ….” he squirmed a little “well, you know?”

“I see.” Adam shrugged, “No one pretty enough to attract your attention then?”

“Get my attention? Shucks, Pa, are you kidding me?” Reuben grew quiet and looked thoughtful, “Some of the bigger boys talk more to the older girls at break time.”

Adam nodded, and slapped his son gently on the arm “Well, son, it won’t be long before we shall have to talk about this more seriously, I don’t feel you’re ready for such a talk yet, but when you start wanting to talk to the girls and spend more time around them…then we’ll have to have a little chat, man to man so to speak.”

Reuben nodded and looked relieved, he smiled at his father and turned to leave, then paused “Pa, when are we going fishing again?”

“We’ll go later, after we’ve eaten.” Adam promised and with a look of relief on his face as well, he returned to his task of polishing his saddle, congratulating himself at having got out of the problem quite neatly. Of course, he wasn’t fool enough to imagine the subject would be forgotten, like the genie in the bottle, the matter had been broached, and was sure to be brought back some time. He just hoped it would be later rather than sooner.
……………..

Beatrice Evans leaned against her husband’s shoulder as the carriage rumbled on towards town. It was hot, dustier than when they had made the previous journey, and the views had faded away into nothing more than scrub land, boulders and straggling little shrubs that tried to survive the rugged terrain and heat of the sun.

She reached for her husband’s hand and was relieved to feel his fingers encircle hers,

“Edward, remind me why we came here?”

Edward Evans felt his pulses race just thinking about what she had asked, he cleared his throat and took in a deep breath “Because the specialist consultant we saw in Maryland suggested that you moved to a drier climate. He felt your health would improve. Then when I saw an advertisement for the position of school teacher here it seemed as though we were destined to move to Virginia City. Why do you ask, Bea?”

She moved away from him, the heat of his body against hers was becoming uncomfortable as well as painful, “I just wanted to be reminded.”

“Are you sure that’s all?” he probed, knowing that doing so may well result in hearing what he didn’t want to hear, knowing something that would cause him pain as a result.

“I think we should leave.” she said quietly, “I don’t like it here, not really.”

“But, darling, you never leave the house, you don’t have many visitors and you don’t go to see people.” Edward attempted a coaxing voice, a voice that would perhaps quench his wife’s desire to leave “I know it isn’t easy for you but …”

“Edward, I don’t feel any improvement in my condition, in fact, since I’ve been here I’ve only felt much worse, as though I am slowly fading away, sinking into a morass of pain of discomfort that I didn’t have in Maryland. I can’t survive here.”

Edward released his breath, and leaned back onto the cushioned padding of the carriage seat. He stared ahead and wondered if the driver could hear this conversation, if what was said would be repeated throughout town … he paused to turn and look at her, and could see from her eyes that she was, indeed, in pain. He nodded, “If you wish, dear.”

“Thank you, Edward.”

They continued on for a while in silence. The track into town was long and meandering, she thought of the children having to make the journey every day. “I’m sorry, Edward. I know how much you enjoy your work, and have enjoyed teaching the children here, but I just can’t stay.”

“It’s alright, Bea. You’ve made your point, I’ll deal with it.”

“I’m glad we came out today though, there is some beauty hereabouts and it was good to see Sofia in her own home. That will give me some happy memories of being here. She’s a talented girl.”

“When she sets her mind to it.” Edward replied and stared down at his feet, partially covered by her skirts. “How soon do you want to leave?”

“As soon as possible.” she replied quietly and leaned her head upon his shoulder, “I‘m sorry, Teddy, I did try, but I do hate it so.”

She didn’t often call him Teddy anymore, he couldn’t even recall the last time when she had done so. He sighed and patted her hand as though she were a child that needed reassuring and to some extent, that was just what she was, a very talented exceptionally brilliant child. “It’s odd how no one ever realised you were Beatrice Weiss.” he said suddenly, as though the subject had only just occurred to him.

“We had agreed not to announce it to the world,” she said, smiling up at him, “We wanted you to shine here, as the school teacher, not as the husband of a famous pianist. Not, that many would remember me anyway.”

“Adam Cartwright did.”

“Ah yes, but then he saw me when I was at my peak, darling.” she sighed, and stared out at t he road ahead of her, “Those days have long gone now. I’ll never play so well again. Not with …” she looked at her hands, resting within the folds of her skirt, and she shivered, “It’s all so unfair. Life, is so unfair.”

Edward said nothing, he did lean forward slightly to plant a kiss upon her head, but inwardly he agreed, life was, indeed, unfair.
…………………

Joe Cartwright dismounted and flung the reins over the bar of the hitching rail. For a moment he just stood there in the yard as though trying to decide whether or not to go to the house or one of the out buildings. He had just made a step towards the house, removing his hat as he did so, when Adam and Reuben appeared from the stables and with a grin he raised his hand and called out “Hey, Adam, Reuben?”

“Hey, Joe, good to see you,” Adam returned the grin with one of his own, “Anything wrong?”

“No, just wanted to have a word.” Joe replied and gave his brother a look that indicated that he preferred the word to be in private “Busy?”

“Not so much,” Adam said quietly and gave Reuben a slight touch to the back with the request that he go and inform his Ma that Uncle Joe was here.

The two brothers strolled companionably together across the yard and leaned against the corral fence. The sun had warmed the wood and Adam smiled slightly as the warmth seeped into his back, pleasant and soothing. He looked at his brother “Well, you going to tell me why we’re here or did you notice that the corral fence needed some shoring up before it fell down?”

Joe grinned and shook his head, he scratched his brow and shrugged “It may be nothing.”

“So?”

“Well, it was something that happened when we were up at the timber the other day. It’s been in the back of my mind since then. I thought it was a figment of my imagination at first, or even just a trick of the light..”

“You’re talking riddles, Joe.” Adam interrupted and raised his eyebrows.

“Sorry, I forgot you weren’t with me at the time, and I didn’t think to mention it unless you or Hoss did. But when neither of you did, I just dismissed it … but … my mind keeps nagging at me, and I dreamed about it last night, kind of saw it more clearly.”

“It?” Adam sighed “Talk sense, Joe?”

Joe nodded and scratched his head through the mane of thick hair “I was thinking about how it used to be, you know, when we first worked the timber? How we used to have to be so careful because we never knew if a Bannock or Paiute were behind any tree ready to take a pot shot at us.”

“Mmm, so?”

“Then I looked up and saw him, a horseman. He was on the skyline with the sun behind him.”

“Someone you knew? Recognised?”

“No, that’s the problem, that’s what made me think it was a figment of my imagination because I didn’t know him. One moment he was there, another moment he was gone. But …”

Silence hung between them and Adam nodded as though to prompt Joe further, Joe cleared his throat once again and raised his eyebrows.

“It was so brief but there was a feather drifting from his halter, and he had a rifle …” he paused again and looked down at the dust “I know I thought ‘Indians’ but when I looked up he was gone, so I thought ‘Idiot’ and when no one else mentioned it I tried to convince myself I hadn’t seen him.”

“Did you get eye contact? Was he looking directly at you?”

“No, as I said, he was just a dark silhouette against the sky.” Joe licked his lips “I dreamt about it last night, made me wake up with a jolt I can tell you…it was so real…but it reminded me of those details, the feather, the rifle.”

“A pity you didn’t mention it before we could have looked around to see what was there.”

Joe nodded, and frowned “Couldn’t we check it out now?”

Adam ran his tongue over his teeth, “I promised to take Reuben fishing…”

Joe was looking at him, hard, and Adam shook his head, put his hand upon his brother’s shoulder, “Let’s go and have something to drink and talk about this inside.. I’m sure Reuben will enjoy a different type of fishing today.” he glanced up at the sky, and smiled “Hopefully we might be able to find out more about this dream of yours.”

Joe shook his head “I don’t think it was a dream, Adam. That’s what worries me…”

Chapter 59

Sofia pouted and tossed her head in annoyance when her brother had run in to announce he was going fishing with Pa, oh and by the way Uncle Joe was here too. Her tantrums were soon laid to rest however when her mother assured her that they would visit Aunt Marcy and she could see the babies. She was suddenly a changeling, from bad temper and scowls to excitement and smiles.

Joe sauntered in and kissed his sister in law on the cheek and once again thought how blessed Adam had been to have such a lovely woman as a wife, a perfect match just as he and Mary Ann were and having parked his hat on the bureau he sat down and helped himself to a cup of coffee.

“Reuben, how would you like to come with me and your Pa on an adventure?” Joe asked just as Reuben appeared at the door with fishing tackle in his hands.

“We’re going fishing.” Reuben said defensively and almost brandished the fishing rod under his Uncle’s nose.

“Ah, but there’s fishing, and there’s fishing…” Joe winked and his face creased into such a big grin that Reuben turned tail to put the fishing tackle away and prepare for this grand adventure without saying another word. Uncle Joe was always such fun and when he said adventure, well, it could have been written in capitals so far as Reuben was concerned.

In his study Adam was reading the letter that had arrived via Jacko. He had left it on his desk unopened, as though it were a sleeping snake ready to bite as soon as he did so. But now, knowing that his wife intended to visit Marcy and would see Jackson, he could not well put it off for another day.

It was not as bad as he had feared, merely a letter of introduction, to a man called Maurice Stevens and a good friend to Sir Laurence Willoughby who had thought Adam and family could be of some assistance to him, Stevens, when he arrived in Virginia City.

Dear Adam,

This letter is merely a formal letter of introduction to a friend of mine, Maurice Stevens. He has been a good friend to the family since boyhood and shares the same enthusiasm for archaeology as my dear Rachel. In fact, Maurice has written several books on the subject mainly on British excavations of course.

Maurice will explain more fully as to why he has decided to shift his location to your neck of the woods. Something to do with kith and kin I believe.

I trust you are all well and thriving. Rachel joins me in sending to you, and your family, our fond and most sincere best wishes

Laurence

Adam smiled at the sight of the coat of arms at the top of the very expensive paper upon which Laurence had scrawled his letter. Just momentarily his mind drifted back, as it was wont to do, as to when he had first met this young Englishman. He put the letter down and was still smiling to himself when he re-entered the main room and smiled over at his wife. Sofia danced over to him, “Daddy, I’m going to see those little babies today.”

“Well, make sure that if you are allowed to hold them, you don’t drop them…and behave yourself,” he replied and looked at Reuben, “Son, did Uncle Joe explain?”

“Sure, Pa, we’re going on an adventure instead.” Reuben’s smile was so wide it really did nearly stretch from ear to ear. “I don’t mind not fishing if we have an adventure instead.”

Joe laughed and rose to his feet “Well, it may not turn out to be such a great adventure but it is something that needs to be looked into, just in case….”

“In case of what?” Olivia asked immediately as fears for her son rose to the surface and Adam, who had been about to mention the subject of the letter on his desk, closed his mouth as Joe assured her that there was no danger, it was just exploration, nothing else..

Adam grinned and buckled on his gun belt, slipped his gun into the holster and then kissed his wife as he picked up his hat. “Let’s go then, the day will be gone by the time we get there.”

“Where, Pa, where are we going?” Reuben’s voice floated through from the porch as Olivia watched them leave and then Adam’s deep voice saying the time honoured phrase “You’ll see when we get there.”

Joe closed the door behind them and Olivia smiled over at Sofia, “Well, go and get yourself ready, Sofia, I’ll go and get a basket of things ready for your Aunt and Uncle. Nathaniel, stop picking your nose and be a good boy….” and with a frown of admonition at her little son Olivia hurried away to the kitchen where she began to pack away various items for her family.

Sofia skipped about, found her shoes, found Clarabelle and then hurried downstairs again to find her mother standing at the buggy with Nathaniel safely inside. “Mommy, I’m so excited at seeing these little babies.”

“Yes, I know.” Olivia smiled and helped her daughter into the vehicle, “Hold tight to your brother and make sure he doesn’t bounce himself out of the buggy.”

“Mommy, I’m so happy I’m going to sing all the way there.”

Olivia sighed and nodded, and flicked the reins so that the horses ambled forwards. It wasn’t long before she was singing along with her daughter, old songs and new songs sang with laughter and merriment. Nathaniel sat quietly bemused and going glassy eyed until he fell asleep.
………………….

The two horsemen and Reuben rode at a steady lope to the lumber yard where Mac came out of the office area to greet them with a shake of the hand and a nod to Reuben who was a rare visitor to the timber men’s camp. The boy could recall being rather frightened of Mac when he had first met him, the big dark man with his red checkered shirt and big black boots, calloused hands with fingers like sausages and always with a five o’clock shadow around his jaw had haunted his dreams for a few nights afterwards. Now he liked the twinkling blue eyes and big generous smile of the man and greeted him very boldly with “Hi, Mac.”

Mach gave the boy a grin and then turned to Adam and Joe “Are you coming on in for coffee and a wee chat?”

“When we get back, Mac” Adam said, “We want to go up to the high ridge where we were blazing trees the other day….”

“Aye, well, we’ve not yet started on them so if you were thinking…” Mac said with an edge of defence in his voice that made Reuben feel a little uncomfortable in his presence.

“No, not at all, nothing like that,” Adam assured him, “There’s something we want to check up there, but thought first to see you about it.”

Mac nodded, and stood with his head to one side and his blue eyes narrowed as though wary of trouble coming his way.

“Have you seen any sign of Indians around here?” Joe asked leaning upon the pommel of his saddle and looking very seriously at their foreman.

Reuben turned his attention from his Uncle to the timberman, who looked thoughtful and then shook his head, “No, I can’t say that I‘ve seen any Indians at all. I did see what I thought was a makeshift camp the other day, and wondered if there were any Indians about but apart from that ..no, nothing.”

“Whereabouts was this makeshift camp?” Joe asked and as Mac gave directions another man wandered close by and attached himself to the group, once Mac had finished speaking he looked up at the two Cartwright and introduced himself

“Duke Murphy,” he said, “I signed on a few months back, first time I had the pleasure of meeting you.” he shook their hands now, and nodded friendly enough over at Reuben “You asking about Indians? “

“Have you seen any?” Joe asked and Duke nodded,

“Yeah, close to where Mac said he saw the camp…about three of them.”

“Paiute, Shoshone? Bannock perhaps?” Adam now asked and Duke rubbed his chin and shook his head,

“No knowing, Mr Cartwright. I ain’t from around these parts and only know Indians as …Indians.”

The brothers nodded, thanked them both and wheeled their horses around, Reuben did likewise, setting Max into a steady trot between his father and Uncle.

They wended their way through the trees and Reuben felt his heart quicken as they made a silent passage as the thick carpet of duff, long dead tree mould, and pine needles, padded the hoof beats of the horses. He had seldom been into the timber laden hills, his Uncles having never given him much consideration in the way of bringing him when there was work to do. No doubt had Adam been less at sea in the past then he would have been proud to have brought the boy along and to have taught him some of the craft..

Adam smiled and looked down at his son, watching the expressions on the boy’s face changing. “We’ll have to bring you up here more often, son. Help you get the feel of the timber and what it is like working with the wood.”

“Yeah, Reuben, you’ll like it. Better than branding steers to my way of thinking.” Joe nodded, a quick grin replaced the more sombre expression on his face as they had ridden through from the camp.

“Really?” Adam raised his eyebrows and inclined his head to one side “I never realised that before, Joe. And here we were thinking that you preferred to stay out of the woods. Shows how wrong we can be, huh?”

“Sure, well, I didn’t want to make you feel intimidated by a woodsman like me, after all, you are Bull of the Woods, don’t forget?” Joe chuckled and winked at Reuben

“What’s that mean, Pa? Why are you Bull of the Woods?” came the immediate response to Joe’s comment but Adam chose to ignore the question as at the same time Joe cried out, and pointed to the skyline above them.

“Over there, that’s where I saw him.”

Adam urged his horse up the incline and through the trees to where Joe had indicated and was soon joined by his brother and son. Both men dismounted, cautioning Reuben to stay in the saddle and to hug closer into the trees. Loosening the guns in their holsters both men began to carefully examine the ground for any sign of the horseman whom Joe claimed to have seen.

It seemed to take a long time to Reuben’s way of thinking. He remained in the saddle feeling rather numb in the nether regions, and with his heart pounding as he wondered what his Ma would have said at the thought of him being here like this, with his Pa and Uncle prowling around with their hands close to their guns. He was about to say something along the lines of ‘Shall we go home now’ when Joe let out a whoop,

“Over here.”

Hoof prints of an unshod horse, and where the animal had dumped at some time. Adam rubbed his nose while Joe squatted down to examine the excrement “Some days old, as expected.”

“Just the one horseman. Perhaps we can back track him to his camp, where Murphy thought it was…”

They walked the horses on lead reins while Reuben dismounted to walk along with them, his own horse ambling obediently behind him. Every so often the men stopped, squatted down and examined the ground. Each time they did so Adam would turned to Reuben and explain what it was they had seen, or were looking for, it was all part of the boy’s education, even if things were changing, some things necessarily remained the same. Adam would trace the outline of a hoof print with his finger and explain how they could tell how old it was, “See how the edges have crumbled and insects have walked through” or “What can you see here, Reuben?” and commend the boy for what he said, before explaining something the boy had missed. Then would stand up and walk on further.

Even excrement told a story, whether it was human or for a horse. Joe explained how a good scout could tell how long ago a man had urinated against a tree, just by running his hand down the trunk and smelling what he found. It was all rather interesting and Reuben wished he could have been a scout depending on this kind of information to save the life of the whole town from an imminent Indian attack.

“Here it is.” Joe said quietly.

The camp such as it was had been small. The men dismounted and as he swung his leg over the saddle Adam told Reuben to stay where he was, just in case the camp was not so abandoned as it initially appeared. Reuben nodded obediently, feeling slightly awed by the atmosphere his father and Uncle had brought to this little camp site. He watched as the two men walked around looking down at the ground as though it would surrender its secrets to them and then both Adam and Joe stopped so abruptly in their tracks that Joe bumped into his brother and nearly fell over. Both men now started to step a pace or two backwards, Adam with his hand outstretched as though to prevent Joe from moving forwards.

“Well, I guess that explains why they were here.” Joe said quietly.

“Must have been here the full seven days of the ‘cry’ period*. Whoever it was must have been quite important for them to have ventured this far.” Adam murmured.

“What is it, Pa? Can I see?”

“Stay where you are, son..” Adam said, and glanced warily over his shoulder.

From where Reuben sat on his saddle, the mound of rocks was little different to the burial mounds in the cemetery so he wasn’t really sure why his father and uncle had been so nervous or anxious about being there. Both had removed their hats and stood in respectful silence. Then they turned and left the grave, and in silence remounted their horses.

“Pa, what was the matter? Who was buried there?”

Adam leaned upon the pommel of his saddle, he looked at Joe and then at Reuben “Well, I should imagine he was an old warrior and he wanted to be buried at a place that was important to him. You have to remember that once all this land belonged to the Paiute, they were a very mighty people and in his youth he may well have lived here with his family.”

“And they came here to bury him?”

“Yes, quite a risk seeing how they are supposed to be on that reservation in Mono Territory. He would have been buried with his personal possessions, perhaps the mane or tail of his favourite horse … at one time they would kill their favourite horses and bury them with their men. There would be food and water provided for the long journey to wherever they believe he would go.”

“And what is the cry period you talked about?”

“They mourn the dead for seven days. Perhaps they started the singing and speeches on the journey with the body. Well, at least we know now why you saw your Indian, Joe, a good thing you didn’t come up to investigate at the time.”

Reuben looked anxiously at his Uncle “Would they have killed you?”

“They wouldn’t have been too happy to have seen me.” Joe admitted and shook his head, “That area will be taboo now. For some years family members will return at this time to sing over the body and remember him. Every tribe has it’s own customs, thankfully this tribe of Paiute don’t prefer sticking their corpses in the trees.” he gave a half smile but his eyes were sombre.

“Taboo? That means it’s out of bounds then, even for us?”

“Yes, that’s right,” Adam nodded and guided his horse between the trees, he glanced back to his son “Don’t forget, Reuben?”

“No, sir. But, anyway, this is our land now, they should have asked if they could bury him on our land.” he looked at his father, it seemed only polite after all that these people should realise that the Ponderosa was Cartwright territory now and they should have asked permission to bury people here.

Joe and Adam glanced at one another, Adam pursed his lips and narrowed his eyes, “Sometimes such things are not so important as respecting the rights of others, son. As I said all this was their land once, we need to remember and respect that.”

Reuben nodded. It still didn’t really make much sense to him, but if his Pa said the Indians could come and bury dead people wherever they liked on the Ponderosa then so be it. He looked at his father and smiled “Are you going to tell me what being Bull of the Woods is now?”

Adam laughed, a light hearted laugh, this was one question he didn’t mind answering, it was far easier than explaining all about birds and bees. Even so as they left the burial cairn behind, both Joe and Adam kept looking nervously behind and around them, as though expecting to see a Bannock or Paiute behind every tree.

Back at the timber camp Adam encouraged Reuben to go off with Hop Wang, who was a cook for the men there, and a relative to Hop Sing. Once he had seen his son strolling away under the careful watch of the other man Adam and Joe removed their hats and entered the cabin designated as Office to talk to MacManus.

They explained to the foreman about the burial mound, and together located it on the territory map. Adam marked it out with red ink and warned Mac to make sure that no white man would venture near it. “I can’t swear to it, Mac, but there could be a watch kept on it. I’m thinking it must have been someone important to the tribe for them to have risked leaving the reservation with the body and bringing it this far for burial. In which case …” he shrugged and put the pen down, then shook Mac by the hand “Thanks, Mac, you’re doing very well here.”

“We try to keep up with everything, boss. How’s Ben, it’s been a long time since we saw him up here?”

“Doing well.” Joe chipped in and glanced uneasily at the map with it’s red marking, as though it were going to haunt him. “He’ll no doubt be coming up with Hoss in a week or so.”

Mac nodded and after shaking Joe’s hand and waving the two men out of the office he returned to his duties. Adam was frowning as he walked to his horse and found Reuben already mounted on Max. Joe looked sombre as well, he looked over at Adam and raised an eyebrow “Do you think it could be old Winnemucca?”

“I was thinking the same, Joe.” Adam replied in a quiet tone of voice, “Anyway, I’m sure we’ll find out in due course.”

Chapter 60

The babies were every bit as small as Sofia had expected and for a while she stood by the crib totally mesmerised before declaring them to be rather red and funny looking.

Olivia shook her head in exasperation at her daughter and frowned, but Marcy laughed which softened Olivia’s expression into a smile.

“Well, you’re right, they do look just as you said, Sofia.” Marcy replied and picked up the little girl, still with the pink wool on her wrist. “They’ll change so quickly. The next time you visit you won’t recognise them.”

Sofia nodded sagely, and looked at Nathaniel, she had almost forgotten that there was a time when her brother resembled a wrinkled prune with hair. Olivia smiled at the picture of her daughter looking down at the babies and then turned to Marcy, “Have you thought of some names yet?”

Marcy had picked up one of the babies now and handed her to Olivia for a cuddle while she picked up her son, she looked at Sofia “Do you want to hold him?”

So Sofia sat in the chair and spread out her skirt to form a lap, and then Marcy laid the baby within her arms, they shared a smile before she looked happily down at the little infant sound asleep in her arms. “He’s asleep and he’s smiling.” she said with a sigh of contentment.

“We thought we would call the boy Philip, after your brother, Livvy. Philip James Dent.” and she smiled lovingly down at the baby nestled within Sofia’s lap, before she turned to the baby in Olivia’s arms “And the girl will be called Anna Martha Dent, after a dear friend of mine and your mother.”

Olivia smiled and nodded, “Thank you, Marcy. Wasn’t there anyone in your own family you would have wanted to name them for?”

Marcy shook her head, “Jacko’s the only brother who ever cared about me, but we had already chosen the names before he turned up. It was good to see him again, but baby didn’t look like a Jacko or a Thomas.” she frowned, “A name has to be comfortable with the look of the baby, doesn’t it?”

Olivia laughed “Oh yes, and the name has to be comfortable with the baby ..” which went right over Sofia’s head but as the two women seemed happy enough she said nothing but sat quite happy to sit there with baby Philip until he started squirming and wriggling when she called out to her mother for help, fearful that all that movement would see him land on the floor.

Nathaniel was quite happily helping Bridie make some cakes, little ones that he could poke his fingers in and lick the mix from them afterwards. He didn’t want to be bothered with babies and happily chattered to Bridie about nothing in particular.

Jacko and Luke came in just as the biscuits and cakes were cooked and everyone settled around the table, except Marcy who preferred to sit by the window to nurse the babies. Conversation veered to the letter that Jacko had given to Adam, the contents of which Olivia knew nothing.

“I don’t think it’s anything important, Missus. Just this English gent came up to me and asked if I were a friend of the Commodore’s and when I said that I was he asked me to pass it on to him when I got here.”

“But how did he know you were coming here?” Olivia asked with a slight frown on her face as she wondered why her husband hadn’t mentioned it, “And who is he?”

“Well, me and Armstrong, another member of the Commodore’s crew, we were having a quiet drink in a saloon … not that they’re called that there of course… and I think we were talking a little louder than normal. Have to admit we had had a few bevvies so no doubt we were noisier than usual. I was saying how I was coming back to see my little sister in Virginia City. “Ah,” says this gent, very smart he was, a regular toff. “Virginia City? Did I hear you mention Virginia City?”

Of course they were all laughing at Jacko’s impersonation of an English ’toff’, even Sofia could see how funny it was and giggled along with them. Jacko enjoyed the attention and almost forgot where he was in the story until Sofia prompted him.

“Thank you, little lady.” Jacko smiled at her and bobbed his head, “Well, of course I said yes, Virginia City in Nevada Territory, just in case he was mixed up with where it was…”Ah, that’s wonderful.” says he, “If you wouldn’t mind doing me the utmost favour and giving Mr Adam Cartwright of the Ponderosa this letter.” So I took the letter, all nicely writ out it was, with a red seal an’ all, and he thanked me nicely. So I said, ’”Fact is, who are you? I ain’t gonna give no letter to the Commodore if’n it means trouble for him.””

“Thank you, Jacko, that’s very kind of you.” Olivia smiled and bounced Nathaniel up and down on her lap with her green eyes twinkling happily at the man seated opposite them.

“Well, me and the Commodore have shared a few tricky times I can tell you, Ma’am. Perhaps I will get the chance to tell you one of these days…” he smiled at Sofia who wriggled with delight and could see Jacko as a pirate as easily as could be, all he needed was a patch over one eye. As it was the rather livid scar he had across his cheek would do very nicely.

“Did he tell you who he was?” Luke asked as he sipped his coffee and dunked a biscuit

“Oh yes, he said he was a friend of Lord Laurence Willoughby. Well, I remember him well enough from when we were on the Kuril Islands, and later in Egypt. So I thought any friend of the Lord’s was good enough for me. Anyhow he goes on talking and it seems he’s an ark-ee-oli-gist.”

“What’s that?” Luke and Sofia said together and laughed at one another afterwards as people often do when they‘ve shared a thought at the same time.

“I dunno, I never asked and then he was gone. Tipped his hat, very proper he was, and then he said “Toodle-pip” and went…”

“Toodle-pip?” Sofia repeated and giggled, “Toodle-pip!”

“I think they all say that over there in England, it’s their way of saying goodbye.” Jacko rolled his eyes dramatically but they all laughed and Sofia got down from her chair and danced around the room waving her arms about saying “Toodle-pip…pip pip pippin…tiffin”

Olivia stopped her once she realised that Sofia was getting into a silly mood which would be embarrassing for them all. As it was Nathaniel was watching with more than the usual curiosity and she was dreading what he was going to come out with when they got home.

Adam would think they had visited a mad house.
……………

Ben was adjusting the girth strap to his saddle when he heard the sound behind him and turned cautiously, his hand slowly dropping to his holster and the gun nestled therein.

“It is I, Ben Hawkface…Sarah Thocmetony.”

“Sarah?” he wheeled round in surprise, and his smile of delight at seeing her was obvious pleasure to her for her thin face darkened a shade and the smile widened. “How good to see you.”

He paused and frowned, the smile slipped from his face, “Has something happened?”

She nodded “Yes, bad things, Ben Cartwright.”

“Then come into the house and tell me about it. We have the house to ourselves, so if it is anything confidential you needn’t be anxious about being overheard.”

She shook her head “Nothing confidential…just everything bad.”

Ben put his hand to her elbow and gently ushered her to the house, he was not really surprised to see her brother Natchez* waiting for her in the yard, still astride his horse, from which a feather fluttered from its bridle.

Natchez didn’t follow them into the house. He preferred to remain where he was, trying to look as important a warrior as his forebears had been before him.

After ensuring that Sarah would not want to eat or drink anything Ben gestured to a chair into which she could sit, taking the seat opposite her and drawing it up closer to listen to what she had to say.

“We have brought the remains of Truckee my grandfather to bury him …it is on land he once walked and hunted and loved.”

Ben nodded, a frown creased his brow however and seeing it Sarah smiled sadly “It is on the Ponderosa, yes. But it is in the woodland, your sons have already located it, I know it will be honoured and respected.”

“My sons have …oh never mind, I’m sure they’ll tell me in their own good time. Well, Sarah, tell me what has happened. Why the need to bring Truckee’s bones here?”

“I told you and your son Hoss Cartwright that there was talk of war because of the bad things that are happening at the Malheur Reservation, did I not?”

“You did, Sarah. I wrote to several senators and to the Indian Agency but …”

She raised a hand, imperious but polite, and inclined her head. “It is not important now. It is too late. I saw the Agent Egan* with Left Hand*, Dancer* and Three Coyotes* at the reservation and they told me how they were starving on the reservation, they cannot buy clothes, our horses are being shot so that we can not leave or go hunting, women have been raped and no one cares. The people are dying, Ben Cartwright.”

She paused for a moment, before continuing “My people want me to go back to Washington to see the President Hayes and tell him of our problems. But already the talk of war has become war… and my father who they now call Bad Face* is planning to ride with the Shoshone, and the Bannocks and the Paiute although they have told General McDowell they would help to keep peace.”

“So why are you here now, Sarah, and not on the way to Washington?”

“You are our old and dear trusted friends, I came to tell you this…that I do not know how this war will be, I do not know how far reaching it will be, it could affect your Ponderosa.”

“You came to warn us?”

“To explain why we brought Truckee here to be buried, where he was free, leading a free people. He believed that when he met the first white man that the hoop was complete. That all men would be at peace with one another. He only ever wanted to have peace. Now … we have no land, we are paupers in rags, and have to go begging to those who came here, with nothing, but now have so much. We gave too much, Ben Cartwright.”

Ben said nothing to that, she was right but had they not given freely then it would have been taken from them anyway. She stood up, “Now I go to Washington and beg the White Father to help us, and not to go to war against my people.”

“Isn’t it too late for that?” Ben said sadly.

She looked at him with big black eyes sunk into her thin face, eyes that showed misery and pathos and sorrow. She nodded “Yes, there has already been too much killing, and too much misery.”

He followed her to the yard and walked her to her horse, a sorry looking beast and as she put her foot in the makeshift stirrup he touched her elbow “Would you – as a dear trusted friend – accept a gift from one who cares about you and your people?”

“A gift?” she looked suspicious.

“You need good horses, I can’t see those two broken down rejects getting you very far.” he smiled gently and was pleased at her answering smile, but she shook her head,

“And if white people saw us on these fine gifts of yours, Ben Cartwright, would we not hang? No, better for us to ride on what we have, let people see how proud we are still, even if we have to beg for help to save what few of us remain now.”

Ben said nothing but stepped back to help her mount up. It was true, even it he had given them papers to prove their ownership in the world in which they lived now, no one would read them. They would be torn to pieces and tossed in the air as she and Natchez were hanged for horse stealing. He raised a hand in farewell as she turned her horse around and followed her brother out of the yard.

Chapter 61

Ben was reading a letter, long overdue for a reply, when he heard the sound of horses entering the yard. He didn’t look back but smiled as it reminded him of years before, when the sound would herald his sons back from work. He shook his head and resumed his reading. Was it only old men who indulged in wallowing in nostalgia, slipping perhaps into the indulgence of self pity for a return to those gone by days? Perhaps not, but it left him with a feeling of anticipation for the feet approaching the door to be those of his sons.

“Hi Pa.”

Joe’s voice, eager and youthful as ever, prompted the old man to look up and turn his head towards the door. His youngest and eldest sons, followed by Reuben, came in, smiles on their faces, pleasure at seeing him written large over their features.

“Hey, Grandpa, we’ve been on an adventure.” Reuben said as he hurried over to sit on the arm of the chair and lean against Ben, “Up in the timber…”

Adam laughed “There goes our element of surprise.”

Joe nodded and stepped into the main room before sitting down on the chair opposite Ben, “I saw a Paiute some days back along, Pa, so we went to check out and see if everything was all right. Seems they’ve buried …”

“Truckee.” Ben said quietly and put down the paper onto the low table, “I had a visit from Sarah Thocmetony earlier..”

“Sarah?” Both brothers exclaimed, and exchanged a wary look, “Is everything alright, Pa?” Adam asked and looked at his son, “Reuben, go and see if Hop Sing has any coffee brewing, will you, son?”

Reuben, well accustomed to taking a hint when it was that broad, got to his feet and hurried out to the kitchen area. He knew better than to return too soon, so perched on a stool and watched as Hop Sing bustled about the room preparing the hot drink, setting out the cups, making sure everything was as it should be. Reuben also knew better than to offer to help as last time he had done so he got a sharp rebuke and told to stop foolishment although all he had done was pick up the sugar bowl.

Briefly Ben explained what Sarah had told him, there was little point in exaggerating or elaborating on the point but his sons listened intently and in silence. Joe had sat down and listened, his elbows on his knees and chin cupped in the palms of his hands, while Adam was leaning against the table, arms folded across his chest and his head inclined at an angle as though that would help him hear more clearly what his father was telling him.

“Where’s Hoss? Does he know about this?” Joe now asked, leaning back into the settee and looking so anxious that one would think a war party was about to swoop on them at any moment.

“I’ll tell him as soon as he gets home.” Ben said quietly,

“Are you going to warn the town, tell them what’s happening?” Joe continued and got to his feet, running a hand round the nape of his neck as though to ease some thing there that pained him.

Adam frowned and shook his head, “Did Sarah actually say we were in danger, Pa?”

“No, not really. It’s early days, and she is uncertain as to how it is all going to turn out. Her main concern was to explain about the burial site.” Ben replied and looked at Joe, “No need to panic, Joe, you have to remember the Paiute are in Oregon right now, and some way from us. If their horses are anything as bad as the ones Sarah and Natchez were riding I doubt if a war party would get anywhere near the borders before keeling over.”

“I should imagine deQuille will have the latest news and print it up in the Enterprise.” Adam muttered and shrugged “What’s Sarah doing right now? Any chance of us catching up with her?”

“What for?” Joe immediately asked, turning to look at Adam as though his brother had announced some preposterous idea “Why’d you want to catch up with her?”

“Just to talk, see what there is we could do.” Adam explained with more patience than he actually felt. He looked at his father who shook his head,

“They’d not want our help, I offered but she refused it.” his face fell into a slight smile, “She’s a proud woman, a very brave one too.”

“There’s never been any doubt about that,” Joe snapped as though only he had the right to defend Sarah, who had once been a childhood friend in the times past when the Paiute were still a force to be reckoned with…perhaps they still were.

Adam raised his eyebrows and said nothing, he kept his opinion to himself and nodded to Reuben who now stepped in with Hop Sing behind him, bearing a tray which he set down on the table.

“I’ll best be getting home,” he said quietly, “I didn’t intend to be away with Reuben quite so long.”

Joe said nothing but turned to stare at the logs on the gridirons, while Ben asked Adam if he wasn’t going to stay for coffee after all. But Adam knew his brother well enough to sense that Joe’s reaction to anything he said would not be productive so he refused the coffee, thanked Hop Sing and beckoned to Reuben to follow him.

As the door closed Ben turned to Joe “No need to have gone off like a rocket, son.”

“ I didn’t” Joe replied, “ I was just pointing out that there was no reason to go chasing after Sarah is all. She knows what she’s doing. Anyway, the help Adam gave last time doesn’t seem to have done much good, does it?”

Ben merely sighed, poured out coffee for two and leaned into his chair, “I doubt if it will affect us at all, son. It will no doubt blow over in a few days, most things of this kind seem to do nowadays.”

Joe only nodded and stretched out his legs. As he sipped his coffee he realised that he had been unfair in sounding off as he had, but the trip to the timber yard, seeing the grave and now the news of this war …it ate at the fringes of his good temper and patience.
……..

Adam and Reuben saw to their horses and in silence walked to the house. It struck Adam as they stepped out together that his son was growing and he commented on that fact as they stepped onto the porch, “You’re growing taller every week, Reuben. I reckon you’ll be taller than your Uncle Joe by this time next year.”

He was grinning and his eyes twinkled, and Reuben laughed, he knew he had a fair bit of growing to do that, even if Uncle Joe were the shortest of the four Cartwright men.

Olivia glanced over at them and nodded, smiled and continued to set out the table for their meal. “I thought you would be later than this.”

“We hurried back from Pa’s, just to make sure we weren’t too late. Did you have a pleasant time with Marcy?” Adam kissed her cheek, looked slightly anxious as though anticipating some comments that were similar to those from her previous visit, but was rewarded by a sunny smile from his wife,

“Jacko was there.” she said as she set down the last spoon in place.

“Jacko?” Adam seemed lost in thought and then nodded “Ah, Jackson, her brother? Of course; so, he found the place safely then?”

“He did.” she smiled, “He told us about some of your adventures.”

Reuben’s eyes widened, momentarily he forgot about his own adventure for the day, which didn’t seem so great now and had left him with a sore bottom, “Wow, Ma, wish I had been there.”

“Oh, I’m sure you’ll hear more about them when we see him again,” Olivia smiled, “Now, go and get yourself washed up.”

Sofia came down the stairs and looked around, she saw her mother and father standing by the table and Nathaniel playing quietly with his bricks and a wooden wagon with red wheels. With a smile she ran over to her father and jumped up to get his attention, “Daddy, a very funny man was at Aunt Marcy’s. He said he was a sailor and was on your ship.”

“Yes, Jackson was a good crew man. I owed him a lot.” he glanced over at Olivia, “He was one of the men who pulled me out of the yurt, rescued me from Jiang Peng.”

Sofia frowned, she put her hand on Adam’s cheek in order to get his attention back to her, “He said you were the best ever Captain, and there was another man he liked too, your friend but I can’t remember his name.”

“Daniel, Daniel O’Brien. I remember he served on the Baltimore with O’Brien for a while, after …after Tripoli.” a slight catch in his voice, even now he couldn’t bear to be reminded of the time he had learned about Hathaways’ death, and the ship sinking with such a loss of life. The brain tricked him as usual and caught at his words, so that he wished he had not mentioned it.

“Daddy, there was …”

“diddle bum.” chirped a voice from behind them and then a giggle of laughter so that they turned to see Nathaniel laughing as he ran in circles “Tiddly pop, bum bum bum, tootle pip.”

“What is he talking about?” Adam asked and chuckling he scooped the boy up and tossed him into the air “What rubbish are you spouting now, Spike?”

“Tittle tum, Sofee say it…” and Nathaniel laughed so much Adam thought it wiser to set him down on the ground before the child wet himself, as he was known to do when a fit of the giggles got to him.

Olivia shook her head and held up a warning finger to her son,with a stern look of reproof on her face, then she turned to Sofia.

“Sofia, go and get your hands washed, and take Nathaniel in with you. Make sure he’s clean and tidy.”

With a sigh Sofia grabbed at her brother’s hand and hauled him along despite his protests of ’Not want, me stay, S’fee.” and as they disappeared a defiant “Tottle bum” drifted into the room.

Olivia shook her head although she was smiling so that Adam slipped his arm around his wife’s waist and drew her into his side, he kissed her again, “Everything alright?”

“Of course.” she smiled and kissed him, then turned away in order to continue with her task, “You didn’t mention having a letter from some Englishman.”

“A letter?” Adam leaned against the table and folded his arms across his chest, little realising what a defensive action this was.

“Jacko said he delivered a letter to you when he arrived in town, some days back.”

Adam frowned and then nodded “Oh yes, that letter.”

She looked at him, and nodded “Yes, that letter.”

“Well, I forgot about it until this morning. A friend of Laurence’s apparently. He wants to visit Virginia City.”

Olivia nodded and sighed, she clasped her hands together and let them fall into the lap of her skirts and turned to him, “He’s an archaeologist.”

“So the letter said. I hope he isn’t going to start poking and prying hereabouts, the Paiute could return, they could …” he paused, and released a sigh, “Well, I hope he doesn’t go causing trouble.”

She smiled and came to him, then wrapped her arms around him and leaned into him “Oh, Mr Cartwright, I do love you.”

He smiled and held her close to him, the warmth of her body made his own relax, he was about to speak when he heard his daughter proclaim “I know where those babies came from.”

The spell was broken, they stepped apart and observed Sofia who was taking her seat at the table, she gazed at them with wide blue eyes and smiled.

“I know because …”

“Sofia, not now. This is not the time to talk about such things. Another time.” Olivia cautioned and glanced anxiously at Adam who was looking rather po-faced as he took his seat.

“Yes, but it’s important.” Sofia protested as she watched her mother lift Nathaniel up into his chair and Reuben took his seat.

“What is?” Reuben asked as he sat down and looked around the table. There were some pleasant smells coming from the kitchen, and his stomach growled in eager anticipation.

“Where babies come from, I know where they were all the time and I know…”

“Sofia,” Adam said quietly as he flipped out his napkin, “Your mother has already told you not to talk about such things now.”

Sofia frowned and looked at Olivia with a pout, she looked at her father with a scowl and at Reuben with a toss of the head “Well, anyway, they were up her skirts all the time and that means I was right and it has nothing to do with cows or sheep.”

All said in a great rush of words as though nothing was going to stop her from imparting such pearls of wisdom. Olivia half rose from her chair but was stopped at the sight of her husband getting to his feet, Sofia was lifted swiftly from her chair and tucked under Adam’s arm and carried out of the room.

“Where S’fee go?” Nathaniel asked pointing one chubby finger at the door which swung shut even as he spoke.

“Somewhere you don’t want to be just now.” Reuben intoned and sighed.

 

In the barn Sofia took her chastisement well, although she bawled a bit and insisted she had done nothing wrong. She just wanted to say, that was all, and when Adam pointed out that she had been told not to say anything about what she wanted to say, she bawled a bit more.

“Sometimes, Sofia, we just have to realise that there is a time and place to speak, and a time and place to be silent. When your mother tells you to say nothing, you say nothing. Do you understand?”

Sofia wiped her eyes and nodded “What if I see the house burning down and Mommy had said not to speak and so I don’t speak then…and what if…”

“Sofia, you’re being very silly now.” Adam muttered and shook his head, was there ever such an exasperating child. But then, yes, he knew there had been, his youngest brother had been twice as bad as this little girl had been ..so far anyway.

“But ,daddy, supposing …”

“Enough. Now, into the house… go..march…” he pointed to the door, “Hurry now or I’ll eat your dinner before you get there.”

It ended with a chuckle, this time!

Chapter 62

Daniel deQuille had not liked the news that came over the telegraph wires for him to print up in the latest edition of the Territorial Enterprise. As he watched the typeface being ‘put to bed’ and listened to the rollers as they printed out the information he had received he wondered if the news would sound the death knell for the town.

He had gone to the map to check out the location of the reservations and it had been a comfort to note that it was as far away as Oregon. But then he had got to thinking that nowadays no where was really as far away as it had been even twenty years ago. He had been in Virginia City during the Pyramid Lake* affair which had been bad enough, and the Paiute had lived far closer to their borders then. Thankfully there had been a long enough peace between the townsfolk and Paiute for everyone to have got comfortable with the status quo, in that the Agents of the reservations ensured no Piaute had the freedom to cause trouble in town. However, the thought of a war between whites and those Paiute who had once been ‘neightbours’ would send ripples through town, like an electric shock, and terrify them all. It would certainly shake them out of their complacency.

He peeled of the news sheet as it rolled off the press and took it into his office in order to read through the information. The main violence was from the Bannockand Shoshone at Fort Hall reservation who had acted aggressively throughout Boise City, Idaho. Governor Brayman* had notified Brigadier General O. Howard, Commander of the Military Dept of Columbia. According to deQuille’s information the letter confirmed that Brayman had despatched Col Bernard’s cavalry from Boise as a show of force, but not with a desire for conflict. At this point of time the Bannock, Shoshone and Paiute were moving west to the Snake River* having raided Glenn’s Ferry and King Hill Station along the way.

That was the situation at present and deQuille tugged at his beard and thought that, perhaps after all, there was little need for alarm as the Indian’s appeared to be concentrating their efforts away from Nevada Territory. He was also relieved to note that there was no mention of Winnemucca or his sons in the despatches he had been sent. That should relieve the townsfolk, he thought, and set the paper down on his desk thinking as he did so, that now was a good time for a stiff drink.

Sam the bartender was used to seeing deQuille and prepared the large jug of lemonade for the newspaper man. James Colby was seated at the table discussing some matter with Paul Martin and Daniel gave an inward sigh of misery and longing at seeing the glass of beer in front of Paul. It was however mitigated at the tall glass of lemonade in James’ hand. There was nothing more he could do but smile, accept the drink and take it, and himself, over to the table

“May I join you, gentlemen?”

James glanced at the lemonade and smiled, nodded, before he looked up at the man’s face. It was always good to see someone adhering to the doctrines of the Local Temperance League, someone in the same boat as oneself.

“You look a worried man, deQuille. Have you put a bet on the wrong horse?” Paul chuckled.

The wrong horse? What was the man blathering about? Daniel scowled and took a seat, then realised, of course, the Founders Day Celebrations. He shook his head, “No, no bets just yet.”

“I don’t even know who has entered the race this year,” Paul said and swallowed down the beer.

Both James and Daniel licked their lips and then sipped at the lemonade. Both were strengthened to ignore the little voice saying ‘Just one won’t hurt’ by the others company. Daniel leaned forward “I got news from Washington today…”

“Anything worth knowing or can we ignore it like we do most things?” Paul replied, a smile on his face and his eyes twinkling. He was proud of James, the man was showing some back bone and his skill as a doctor was becoming more and more evident as his confidence grew.

“Well, I don’t want to be an alarmist but..” Daniel glanced around at the number of clientele there were and felt safe enough to impart the information he had just printed up.

“Hmm, well, one thing that is reassuring is the fact that they are moving away from us. I don’t think we need be too alarmed.” Paul said quietly and swallowed more beer. He had very vivid memories of the conflict at Pyramid Lake*, and the last thing, the worst thing, that could happen was a repetition of those events.

“Do you think they’ll cancel the Celebrations for Founders Day?” James asked as he thought over the ramifications and how they would affect his wife.

“Not on your life it won’t.” Daniel gave a short bark of a laugh, “Through rain, and wind and fire…the celebration must go on.”

The other two men looked at one another, nodded and sipped their drinks. Daniel licked his lips and frowned “Do you think the Cartwrights know about this development?”

“How would they if you haven’t told them already?” Paul asked, draining his glass now and wondering if it would be unkind to order another one. He was convinced that James would not mind, nor would it affect him if he did, but Daniel, well, he had fallen off the wagon several times over the years and Paul didn’t want to be the cause of putting temptation in his way.

“Everyone will know about it by this evening anyway,” James said, “I saw Hop Sing in town just now, and Miss Hester too. They’ll be sure to take the paper back to the Ponderosa.”

“Good,” Daniel said and then wondered why he had said that, he picked up his drink and swallowed a mouthful wishing that it tasted more like beer than lemonade.
……………

The Founders Day Celebrations – and the only thoughts of a war of any kind revolved over the Tug of War, and various other competitive events organised for the fun and entertainment of the citizens of Virginia City.

No one would have thought or imagined that many of the ladies had almost passed out in fear at the thought of a load of rampaging Indians attacking them when they had read the news. Nor would they have realised that many younger men had decided to join the military in order to help out in the fight against those ‘mangy Paiute’. A few days with nothing happening in or around Virginia City had been all it took to calm everyone’s fears, the women calmed down, and the youths decided they were better off where they were.

By this time Chief Buffalo Horn* and some of his warriors, plus several white settlers, had been killed in a skirmish at South Mountain near Silver City. Chief Egan* had taken over command of the 500+ Paiute and Bannocks and was attacking settlers up and down the Snake River area.

The Cartwrights arrived as usual in convoy. Ben rode alongside the buggies that contained his sons, their wives and their children. Dressed in his newest outfit and looking very splendid Ben epitomised the picture many people had back east of the prosperous rancher of that era. His silver hair and dark eyes complemented the suit he was wearing, and several ladies looked at him, then looked at their husbands, and wondered how it was that Ben Cartwright looked far younger than his years, and as handsome as ever, whilst their husbands…well, rather than look at themselves it was easier to just sigh, and walk on by.

Adam and Olivia came in the first buggy with Nathaniel on Olivia’s lap and Reuben with Sofia in the back. Then there was Hoss and Hester with the little girls and Erik, all so eager to get down and join in the fun. After them came Joe and Mary Ann with Daniel and Constance, sitting hand in hand with the baby on Mary Ann’s lap and Daniel bouncing about between them.

“Can I get down now? Can I go get Ella?” Sofia cried as the buggy came to a halt in the area allocated for the vehicles.

“Reuben, go with your sister, will you?” Olivia asked as she was aided down by Adam, who had take Nathaniel in his arms.

“Aw, do I have to?” Reuben groaned.

“Hurry up, and do as you’re told.” Olivia said with a touch of ice in her voice, “Go on, hurry. She’ll be there before you if you dally any longer.”

Dragging his heels Reuben heaved another sigh and followed after his sister. Several of the boys from school greeted him but he had to just wave and pass them by as he toiled along to the Soames’ house.

Ella was in her wheelchair and flushed with excitement. Wearing a new dress and ribbons in her hair she looked very pretty and her smile when she saw Sofia was very sweet. Seeing Reuben bringing up the rear her smile widened,

“Hello, Reuben.”

Reuben swallowed, gulped, nodded. He looked at Mrs Soames and greeted her very politely as she closed the door behind her, “Can I carry the hamper for you, Mrs Soames?”

Emily smiled and thanked him, passing the basket over with appreciation as she then had both hands free to steer the wheel chair. Sofia pranced beside her friend, chattering on about nothing in particular except to say how lovely all the bunting was, the flags, the trestle tables laden with food, and the smell of things that floated over the field.

Reuben toiled along behind Mrs Soames wondering what on earth she had concocted that could weigh so heavy. He knew that similar hampers were being brought along by all the women, pleasant edibles for feasting on later; cakes and jams that would be among the exhibits on show in order to prove who was the best cook of this or that…he knew Bridie would not win the cake contest this time because she was still so busy with ‘those babies’ at the Double D.

Sofia was wearing her very best pink gingham dress with a pink ribbon in her hair. It complemented the dresses her cousins were wearing for Hannah was in yellow and Hope was wearing a soft apple green. The three Cartwright ladies had been industrious over the past weeks in sewing and preparing for this special day.

Hoss lingered at the stalls, of course, and was soon sampling some of the goods. He had not entered into the Flapjack Contest this year deciding that he would give the younger men a chance but nevertheless he couldn’t resist his feet taking him off to where the contest was being held. He was dismayed when he recognised Thomas Jackson among the men who were sitting at the long table, with Hank Myers opposite him. If Hester hadn’t restrained him Hoss would have pulled out a seat and demanded a stack of flapjacks there and then.

Hester handed over her jars of jam, chutney and pickles and wondered if she would have more success with them than she ever had had with her cakes. Mary Ann proudly set down her donation, a chocolate cake piped all over with chocolate cream and Olivia thought that her cake, just a plain old fruit cake, would languish on the side and be totally overlooked.

Ella’s eyes were everywhere; she giggled when confronted by several men dressed like clowns who were juggling coloured balls in the air, or tossing knives back and forth to one another. She was all smiles and shyness when introduced to some of Sofia’s school friends who were very friendly and offered to push her around but were told to not bother as Sofia was doing that … and Sofia was doing a very good job at avoiding the bumps and ruts in the field so that her friend would not be jostled about too badly.

Reuben had manfully struggled with Mrs Soames hamper until she had asked him to set it down on one of the tables. She had taken her offering, a sponge cake with cream and strawberries, to the table to nestle in with the others, when she bumped into a tall handsome man who raised his hat to her and smiled,

“Mrs Soames?”

Emily nearly dropped her cake and laughing both she and Ben Cartwright managed to catch it before it slid off the plate. “I am sorry, I was so determined to get to the table without dropping it…”

“I’m sorry, I distracted you.” Ben removed his hat now and smiled at her. He had a handsome winning smile and his black eyes gentled “It is Mrs Soames, isn’t it?”

“Yes, Emily Soames.” she glanced up at him and smiled, no one could resist Ben and his beaming face “It seems a long time since I saw you last, Mr Cartwright?”

He walked alongside her while she set down the cake and both of them surveyed all the different cakes set on the table, she grimaced prettily, “I don’t think mine will stand a chance.”

“I’m sure it will taste every bit as good as any of the others.” Ben assured her and took her elbow to guide her away and over an obstacle in their path.

They walked to where Ella and Sofia were, and Ben nodded at them and asked Emily how the treatment for Ella was coming along. Was she pleased at the progress?

“Very pleased. Dr Chang and Su Ling have been wonderful, and so patient.”

“Good, I’m glad. James Chang is a man I respect greatly, he saved my son’s leg you know, in fact, he saved Adam’s life. He came back to Virginia City just when we needed him, I always consider him to have been an answer to our prayers.”

She looked at him, saw the way his face had softened and wondered why people referred to him as a proud ruthless man, but then, she thought, one would have had to have been to have carved out such an empire as the Ponderosa.

“He seems very confident that the progress in Ella’s spine and legs could mean an operation would have more success now. He wants to give it a little more time though.”

“That’s understandable, the injury isn’t recent, is it? Her body has to adjust to changes…”

Emily nodded “She doesn’t let anyone know, even Sofia, how much pain she endures. She has strong medication, you know?” her face looked momentarily tragic and sad, then she shook her head, as though to banish such thoughts aside “She has been so looking forward to this day.”

“Yes, I – er – heard that she and my grand daughter upset the Mayor with their petition?”

She laughed, a pretty laugh, “Oh yes, I heard all about that. But they meant no harm, they just wanted to sell those little dolls so they could buy themselves some candy and so forth. They look lovely don’t they? Almost like sisters.”

Ben nodded and was about to speak when Mr and Mrs Colby appeared, and then along came Mr Evans. Seeing how they all wanted to speak to Emily Soames, Ben politely stepped aside and meandered to where his son’s were grouped together and in deep discussion. Hoss was laughing, his boom of a laugh accompanied by Joe’s high pitched cackle, whereas Adam looked more serious, a mere smile on his face. What, Ben wondered, had his two youngest been up to now!?

Chapter 63

“Anything wrong?” Ben’s voice still had that timbre in it that could silence the three younger men, each of whom looked at the other from the corners of their eyes.”Well? I have things to do without wasting time on you three nitwits.”

Adam shrugged and rolled his eyes while Joe sniggered and Hoss stared up at the clouds, it was Adam who eventually informed Ben that his brothers had put his name down for the horse race.

Ben frowned and looked at Joe and Hoss before shrugging “You don’t have a horse.”

“They arranged for Hank to bring Kami …” Adam sighed and rubbed the back of his neck.

“Look,” Joe said with a rather grand flourish of his hand as he pointed to his brother, as though Ben couldn’t see his son without help, “He’s not been around for who knows how long. It’s about time the folk here were reminded of what a great horseman he is.”

“Oh sure,” Adam muttered, “As though they are really interested or could care.”

“I’ve brought my horse too, rather Ezra brought him in. I thought it would be fun to race together like we used to.”

“Fun he says…” and Adam sighed and shook his head.

Hoss laughed and slapped his brother on the back, “Sure it’ll be fun. Jest like old times.”

“Oh yes? And who will you be betting on this time?” Adam almost snarled, and shrugged his brother’s hand from off his shoulder, “And what surety do you have on this race, Joseph?”

Joe raised his hands as though declaring his innocence. He smiled over at his father who was shaking his head, “Well, Adam, I can’t see what’s wrong it in.” Ben was saying just as Clem sauntered over with a clipboard and paper in his hands.

“Hey, Adam, Joe…I got you both down for the horse race. That right? Just checking to make sure …”

“Yep, that’s right.” Joe grinned and stared Adam in the eyes.

“No, it isn’t right,” Adam replied and was about to say more when Reuben, accompanied by several boys, ran over to him with a huge grin on his face.

“Pa? Is that right? I heard Ma telling someone you were in the horse race today.” the boy was flushed and excited, he looked proudly at his father and his Uncles and then turned to his friends and said, rather boastfully, “See, I told you, didn’t I?”

Adam said nothing but looked at Joe and then at Clem, then nodded “What time is it?”

“Half an hour…best be there and get ready.” Clem replied and then turned away with a grin, winked at Joe, and strolled off trying to look innocent.

But Reuben was ecstatic with delight, he hung on his father’s arm, and practically danced around him, “I saw Kami all saddled up and wondered why she was here, and then I heard Ma telling Aunty Hester you were in the horse race.”

Adam nodded and gave his brothers a narrow eyed glare, he had played enough games of chess to know he was beaten and muttering something like “Checkmate” for some reason the others didn’t comprehend he strode over to the area where contestants for the horse race were beginning to gather.

The two brothers led their horses from the holding stalls after confirming with the adjudicator that they were on the list of contestants. As they walked to the starting line people began to gather and Adam could see his wife and the children just as clearly as Joe could see Mary Ann and his son and daughter.

“You do remember the course, don’t you, Adam?” Joe whispered as they stopped by the others and jostled into position.

“How could I? I’m just a retired seaman remember?” came the snarled response.

Joe grinned, Adam’s bad mood made no difference to him after all he knew his brother well enough to notice the slight edginess that came when adrenalin kicks in and there was a glint in Adam’s eyes that Joe recognised from of old. He glanced over at Hoss and grinned, a hand signal passed between them unnoticed by their brother but signifying that both felt ‘all was well.’

Sofia had pushed the wheelchair with Ella in it as near to the front of the crowd as possible. Mrs Soames stood beside them, and found herself shoulder to shoulder with Ben who smiled down at her and was about to speak when the pistol went off and the line up of horsemen surged forwards.

Kami was a beautiful horse, bred for horse racing, whilst the other horses were, in the main, mustangs who liked a good gallop and could stop on a nickel. Ella had to put her hands to her ears to muffle the sound of the horses hooves thudding down so heavily upon the hard packed road. The noise of people yelling and cheering made her feel nervous and she looked up at Sofia who was jumping up and down

“I think I’d like to go back, to the stalls. Can we have some candy floss?”

Sofia scowled, candy floss? When her daddy was racing his horse, the most beautiful horse in the whole world? She shook her head “I will later on, I just want to see how daddy gets on.”

“Can’t we go now?”

Sofia frowned, and looked at Mrs Soames who was talking to Ben and Hester now, she sighed, “Why now?”

“I don’t like the noise…”

Sofia frowned, she shook her head “Just wait, the race won’t take long.”

Ella looked dismayed, her eyes rounded and she blinked back tears. People didn’t realise how trapped one could feel being so dependent on other people. People with two good legs who could be somewhere they don’t like and just turn away and walk off someplace else. People who didn’t need to ask for help to go places, or do things. “Please, Sofia.”

But Sofia had stepped closer to the front, standing as close as possible to her mother, pressing against her mother’s skirts and straining her eyes to see Adam . She looked flushed and excited and Ella knew that there was nothing she could do or say that would get to he other girl to help her.

Emily was in deep discussion with the Cartwrights and now Jimmy Chang and Su Ling had come along and were talking with them. Ella sighed and drooped her head, all around her was noise, chatter, laughter, dust and heat. She could have cried with frustration.

“Want a hand?”

She glanced up and saw Reuben standing beside her, “Are you alright? Do you want a better view?”

She shook her head, “No, I want to get away from here. It’s too noisy and too many people.”

Reuben was torn, he wanted to stay and see how Adam got on in the race, but at the same time he could see that the little girl was near to tears. He put his hand to the wheel chair and carefully turned it around and wheeled it away. Tommy Carstairs came running up and saw him, “Aint’cha watching the horse race?”

“Nah, Ella wants to get something to drink.” Reuben said, not knowing whether the girl wanted one or not, he leaned down to her level “Do you want some lemonade?”

She blinked back tears, relief was overwhelming her. Tommy looked at her and smiled, his freckles merged across his face as he did so. “Yes, please.” she said.

The two boys pushed the wheel chair across the grass to the stall where they sold Lemonade, David Riley was there and grinned, he nodded at Ella and asked Reuben why he wasn’t watching the horse race.

“My Pa don’t race,” he told them, but the boys already knew that Mr Riley didn’t even own or ride a horse, Ella nodded and thought Mr Riley very sensible.

They bought lemonade and Reuben felt guilty as he heard cheers and whoops from where the horse race was taking place. He sipped his lemonade and looked at Ella, then at Tommy and Davy. He couldn’t leave her with them, it wasn’t fair, they didn’t know her or she ..them. He was stuck with her, a girl. Wretched Sofia …where was she?

Kamille was striding out and enjoying the feel of the race. Adam was leaning forward and feeling the strength of the animal through his body. The excitement of the race was all consuming and he knew that every rider there would be feeling exactly the same. He had glanced both left and right a few moments earlier and seen Joe to his left and slightly behind him on the right was Judd Clancy. Sound seemed to fill his head yet at the same time fall away as he gave every concentration to the remainder of the race.

People were yelling and shouting, some guns were popping off although by rights no one was supposed to be wearing a gun. Now Kamille was racing ahead, striding out and making it look all too easy as she saw the finish line and the people thronging the sides.

Joe had fallen back but urged his horse onwards, encouraging her to put the last bit of strength into these last furlongs. Judd Clancy was finding it hard to keep up with the Arabian horse, and was thinking that if he didn’t win now then he would make an official protest because Cartwright’s horse was of a superior breed, bred for racing, what chance did they all have?

Kami was two lengths ahead of any other horse now, Joe, glancing up between his horse’s ears had a good view of the back of his brother and the lead horse. He hunched himself closer to Navejo’s ears and urged it on. If he was going to be second at least let him get as close to the winner as he could!

Judd’s horse strained hard to reach the animal ahead of him, spittle was drooling and flecking his chest, but Judd spurred him on. He had set his heart on that prize money, he needed it, there were debts to be paid off, the mortgage, he couldn’t give up now. Life was unfair, too unfair, why had Cartwright to enter the race with that dandy horse ? What chance did they have on winning?

The black horse that Judd was riding inched closer, its eyeballs were rolling in their sockets and sweat was whitening its coat. But still Judd pushed it to do more, to stride out just that extra inch…

Joe was edging nearer to the lead horse, but there was no possible chance of him gaining on her now. Kamille was making it look easy, eating up the road as she approached the tape. Both Cartwrights were lengths ahead of the others, so when Judd Clancy’s horse dropped dead, and Judd sailed over its head and landed with a crunching blow in the road they were unaware of the event.

Two horses, bunched close together, collided as they came upon the dead animal, one went down, staggered back up but had succeeded on getting rid of its rider. The other animal struggled to get to its feet and was abandoned by its rider who was making attempts to free himself from the stirrups.

It slowed the other horses slightly but the momentum of the race carried them all forwards. As Adam drew Kami to a stop amid cheers which were turning to mingled sounds of dismay, as he watched the crowds surge forwards to congratulate him and then ebb back in order to move further afield he could only dismount and wonder what was going on.

Joe joined him, dismounted and frowned “What’s happened?”

Adam shook his head and looked over his shoulder but his view was obscured by the crowd. Sofia came and hugged his legs “You won, daddy, you won.”

Clem came lumbering over to them “Well done, Adam, you won but I’m afraid there’s been an incident.”

The other riders were reining in their horses now and dismounting. Pete Howardson came and shook Adam’s hand and Joe’s, he had come in third. “Did you see what happened? No, I guess you didn’t …Judd Clancy’s horse dropped dead, right in the middle of the track.”

It wasn’t what anyone would want to hear, a decent horse dying like that, ridden to death someone muttered. A rider wiped sweat from his face, rubbed his horses nose and shook his head “Judd always pushed his animals too hard, there was no reason to think that horse could win, I heard Judd saying only the other week it was getting past its best.”

“He shouldn’t have entered the race.” someone else muttered.

Joe and Adam glanced at one another, Adam had a feeling he shouldn’t have entered the race either, he looked at Joe and neither brother could meet the others eyes. The joy of the moment was gone…

Olivia and Mary Ann had joined with their husbands and hugged them, congratulated them and their hands were being shaken, their backs slapped. Roy came and said it was a good race, a pleasure to see such a beautiful animal running like she did…and Ben gave his sons a rough hug of delight.

Adam was about to speak when a rough hand fell upon his shoulder, he turned, half expecting another townsman to congratulate him when a fist connected with his jaw.

“You Cartwrights,” a voice growled, “Can’t we go anyplace without you being there, poking your noses into things, why did you have to come today, what right did you have to bring that fancy horse of your’n to town? You killed my horse, you …” and the fist flew again cracking into Adam’s face.

Adam was aware of Sofia screaming, of hands grabbing at him but he balled his fist and let fly so that when Judd came at him again it was Adams fist that struck him in the face and sent him staggering back.

Both Candy and Clem stepped in to restrain them, Judd struggled in a determined effort to blot out the man who had prevented him from winning that race, while Adam stood back, still trying to gather his wits and appreciate exactly who or why he had been attacked.

Adam wiped blood from his face, the metallic taste filled his mouth and he spat it out and shook his head to clear it. Olivia was by his side now, clinging to one arm and asking him if he was alright. Judd was struggling still, pushing and pulling against the two lawmen who were attempting to lead him away. A woman came crying out his name, “Judd,Judd…” and flung herself at him, only to be pushed aside by his thrusting body.

And then Judd stopped. Like a machine that had been turned off he just flopped into Candy’s arms, his head down and his shoulders heaving. The woman now approached again and put her arms around him, he put his head upon his shoulder and sobbed.

“Guess some people are just sore losers.” someone muttered.

“Should be ashamed of himself.” Mrs Garston hissed and pulled Lucy, her daughter, away from the sight of ‘those men behaving like animals’. “Brawling like that in front of women and children.”

Adam and Joe led their horses away in silence. It seemed to them both a very hollow victory. Sofia clung to her daddy’s hand and walked beside him, all thoughts of Ella and her responsibilities to her little friend quite forgotten.

Chapter 64

No one enjoying the competitions or strolling around the stalls were aware of the fracas at the horse race.  Nor were they interested in the boys accompanying a little girl in a wheelchair.   Reuben, David and Jimmy didn’t mind keeping Ella company at all.  They made silly jokes while drinking their lemonade with her, enjoying her  laughter for she had not experienced the company of boys before and whereas girls at school would have ignored them, and thought the jokes puerile, she found them very amusing.

“Oh, look who’ s coming..” David Riley groaned on seeing Tommy Conway running through the crowds towards them.  “Pretend you can’t see him!”

Ella wasn’t sure why the three boys didn’t want to respond to this chubby lad with the red face running and waving at them. She was quite relieved when Reuben acknowledged the boy and David was not so ignorant as to ignore him.   Tommy finally arrived, huffing and puffing, and sweating profusely.  In between gasps he informed them of the result of the race with Adam Cartwright romping ahead with Joe Cartwright almost a length behind him to come in second.

The boys cheered and Ella clapped her hands, knowing that her friend Sofia would be delighted at such a result. Reuben was laughing and jumping about saying “I knew Kami would beat them all, I knew my Pa would come first.” until he realised that Tommy was stuttering on about something else. .

“But that ain’t all” Tommy wiped sweat from his forehead “Judd Clancey’s horse dropped dead and he blamed your Pa and hit him.  The sheriff and Clem had to separate them”

“Is my Pa alright?” Reuben asked and handed his glass to Tommy, “You can have this…see you later.”. He paused to turn to Ella “Sorry, Ella …”

They watched the boy run from them, weaving in and out between the people and making his way across the field thronging with laughing chattering families and out to where there was still a group of people gathered round the livery where Adam and Joe had their horses stalled.

Sofia was looking wide eyed and pale faced.  Seeing her brother running towards them brought tears to her eyes, so that by the time Reuben had reached them she was crying and blubbering, reaching out to cling to him,

“Daddy got hit by a bad man.”

“I know, Tommy told me.” Reuben gasped, “Pa didn’t kill Judd’s horse, did he?”

Sofia looked horrified, she wiped her eyes and then stepped back before putting her hands on her hips in disgust at such a suggestion.

“Where were you anyhow?  And don’t talk silly, Reuben. The horse just dropped down dead and Mr Judd went right over it and landed on the ground.  If you had been here you would have seen it too.”

Reuben opened his mouth and in an attempt to justify himself yelled ” I was looking after your friend cos you left her by herself.”

“I didn’t .. I …” she looked around for sight of Ella,but found no sight of her, her heart sunk anew, she felt slightly sick and whimpered “I wanted to see the race.”

“Well, so did I!  But I missed it because of you.”and in a fit of temper he gave her a shove which sent her stepping back and bumping into the legs of someone standing behind her. Their mother’s hand gripped Sofia’s arm and steadied her while admonishing them both for arguing,

“That’s enough…now then, isn’t it bad enough without you two arguing.”

Olivia’s calm voice settled down on them both and despite glowering at each other they became quiet.  Reuben looked for Adam and seeing him standing beside Joe he ran to him and flung his arms around Adam’s legs

Sofia wasn’t staying after having been reminded of her duty to her friend, and made a quick exit ..a flash of pink gingham disappearing among the crowd.

Adam gave his son a quick hug, but it was obvious he was distracted and when Reuben saw the bruising on his father’s face he could fully understand the reason why.

“Why did he hit you, Pa?”

Adam put a hand to his chin and rubbed it, then gave a rather lop sided grin “It wasn’t that hard a punch,” he said, “he was just disappointed at losing, that’s all.”

Ben shook his head and stepped alongside Adam. “It was more than that, Adam.   I’ve been talking to Mrs Clancey, it seems Judd was depending on this win ..”

“With that clapped out horse?” Joe exclaimed, his face still taut with the tension that the aftermath of the race had brought to him, “How could he ever have assumed he’d win on that..”

“And did you see the state of the animal” Hoss muttered as he left the stall where Kamille was enjoying some oats. “He pushed that crittur to its death.”

Ben sighed “He’s been selling stock. That horse was one of the few he had left on his homestead.  He’s in debt, afraid he’ll lose the lot, can’t pay the mortgage.”

They walked  together from the small groups still clustered around the track, and made their way to the fields where the pennants and banner’s fluttered from the stalls and the chatter and laughter enveloped them.

Hoss disappeared in order to join Hester and take part in the arm wrestling match.  He was making his way through the small crowd that had gathered around to watch when he heard his name being called and upon turning noticed a neat and tidy woman hurrying in her stride to catch up with him.

“Mr Cartwright?“ she smiled as she reached his side, “You maybe forgot me already? Susan Jefferson?“

Guilt immediately touched Hoss’ inner being as he removed his hat and nodded. How could he possibly have forgotten? “Sure, ma’am, I recall you to mind. How are you? Your husband?“

“Caleb died a few weeks back.“ she paused, “We didn’t realise he had such a weak heart and the loss of his son … and please don’t think you’re responsible for that, I mean, for Caleb… it was bound to happen, his dying I mean. As for his son, well, I doubt if Caleb would have survived the night if I had been the one shot him.“ a small frown creased her brow “I told ya I kept a gun under my pillow, didn’t I?“

“Er – yeah, I recalls you saying so rightly enough.“ Hoss nodded, and once again wondered why a woman would take a gun to her son, then remembered the lad had been her step- son and not that many years younger than herself. “I’m sorry, ma’am, I surely am for your loss.“

She nodded and her smile widened. She was obviously no grieving widow and Hoss felt himself blushing at the attention she was giving him. He could see Hester watching and hesitating to join them, so beckoned to her but it was Hannah and Hope who ran to her side while his wife decided to attend to Erik who was getting restless.

“Your little girls? How lovely.“ Susan Jefferson smiled and showed a genuine interest in them, before looking back at Hoss “My husband left me quite well provided for, Mr Cartwright. I’m leaving town tomorrow for San Francisco, with the children. I just wanted to meet up with old friends and say my goodbyes while I had the chance to do so.“

He hoped his relief didn’t show too obviously, but he shook the hand she offered him and wished her well. As she walked away with her children trailing along behind her, Hannah asked “Who was that lady, Pa?“

Hoss didn’t answer her but picked her up and carried her in the crook of his arm while Hope skipped along beside them. Hester smiled and he could see the question that Hannah had asked dangling in his wife’s eyes, “Susan Jefferson. Remember the boy I killed in the spring? She was his step-mother.“

“She was very pretty.“

“I reckon her step-son thought so too.“ Hoss sighed, and shook his head “She made it seem like I had done ‘em a favour by killing the boy.“

Hester said nothing but watched as Mrs Jefferson paused to speak to Mrs Garston, she then looked at her husband “We don’t know what kind of lives people live, Hoss. Now, stop fretting over it and get going…they’re waiting for you.“

He kissed her cheek and stepped into the ‘arena’ to take his place for the competition. For some reason his heart just wasn’t in it anymore and he wondered if this year the champion arm wrestler would be someone other than Hoss Cartwright.

Slipping his arm through Olivia’s, Adam steered her to where Joe was going to take part in the competition where the trunk of a tree had to be chopped through.  Mary-Ann smiled at them as they joined her and the children,

“He likes this challenge. Then it’s on to the tug of war next.” She looked at Adam “Are you going to join in?”

Adam shook his head and muttered something about his leg not being able to take the strain, and Ben laughed and told them that Hoss had been forbidden to take part as they reckoned his being on the team gave them an unfair advantage.

“Well, Joe enjoys it.” Mary Ann laughed and turned her attention to the contest that was about to take place.

Cheers rippled through the crowds…laughter, the shouts of children, Constance in her stroller called out for her daddy as Joe strolled to the tree assigned him, little Daniel turned to his mother, he wanted a better view so Ben swung him up into his arms to watch..

 

Sofia found Ella laughing with David Riley, the other lads had run off but David, for all his abrasiveness, was a sensitive boy and liked the little girl who was so shy and attentive.

“Why did you leave me?”. Sofia asked, her face screwed into a scowl.

“I wanted to leave.  The noise …  I did tell you.” Ella replied, “Reuben looked after me and brought me here, and I’ve had lemonade, and candy.” she smiled at David who suddenly felt like a worm and as such wanted to squirm away and disappear into a hole in the ground.

Sofia looked at David who sidled away in order to join his friends, while the two little girls sorted out their difficulty.Sofia leaned against the wheelchair and put her arms around her little friends neck “I’m sorry, Ella.  I wanted to see my daddy run in the race …and he got first.  I didn’t think … I’m sorry.”

Ella giggled, hugged her friend and settled more comfortably back into her chair.  Sofia took her place at the handles and leaned towards her ” Let’s go get some Candy floss?”

Ella nodded “Yes, candy floss.” in all her life she had never had candy floss and now it seemed to be the most important event of the day, a pile of sugary stuff on a stick, and she laughed aloud at the sheer enjoyment of the day as Sofia pushed her over the grass and around the strolling happy people.

 

The Mayor Virginia City opened the evening celebrations with a brief speech and glanced over the gathering with an oily smile.  When he saw Adam Cartwright standing
“four square” in front of him, he quailed a little at the memory of the letter that had arrived from the rancher.  Swallowing manfully he mingled through the assembled people and as music began located the two little girls. Ella in her wheelchair looking flushed and excited, while Sofia stood like a little soldier on guard beside her.

He was very aware of Adam Cartwright’s eyes on him, and when he turned his head slightly he could see Edward Evans observing him too.

“Well now, you’re Sofia and Ella, am I right?”

He smiled, the two girls stared at him. “Do you know who I am?” he asked in a rather jovial manner.”I’m the Mayor.”

The falsity in his voice struck a bad chord, Ella frowned and Sofia shrugged “We wrote you a letter.  You said we couldn’t sell our dollies.”

“Well, didn’t your teacher and – er – your Pa explain about that?”. he straightened up, he’d said enough, time to move on and talk to others, the ones who mattered, whose votes counted.

“It’s rude not to answer letters.”. Ella said in her very precise and clear voice.

“And it isn’t respeckful.” Sofia added.

The Mayor nodded, swallowed hard “Quite right, and it was a very nice letter..”

He raised a hand as though to pat her on the shoulder, but then thought better of it. He mumbled something beneath his breath and hurried away.   Ella and Sofia looked at one another,

“He’s a rude man.” Sofia said quietly to which Ella agreed with a nod of her fair head. For a moment they watched as people shook the Mayor’s hand, he slapped their backs, they slapped his, there was loud laughter.

The music was loud and merry, the “caller” bellowed out dance instructions, feet stamped upon the hard wooden floor as couples danced up and down, spun around, skirts swirling in multi coloured rainbow hued satin and cotton and homespun linen.  Children old enough to be allowed to join the dancing for a while ran in and out, grabbed at hands, jigged together in parody of their elders…

Adam watched as his father danced with Olivia. He stood by the buffet table with a glass of wine in one hand and the other resting on his hip. When Edward Evans joined him there he was not surprised, the men shook hands.

“How is Beatrice?” Adam asked, he had not expected to see her at the festivities, and had not been surprised at seeing Edward on his own.

“She’s not well… I mean, not well enough to attend such social events.” Edward replied and took a glass from the table, “Adam, we have to leave Virginia City. Beatrice needs to get away.”

“Needs or wants?” Adam asked and looked thoughtfully at the teacher, “It’s a shame, Edward, you’re a good teacher. The children have learned a lot from you.”

Edward couldn’t answer at first but gave a weak smile, then shrugged “I’ve enjoyed being here, teaching them…but Beatrice’s needs, or wants, come first. They always have done.”

Adam nodded and sighed “Yes, I suppose so. When do you go?”

“During the coming vacation. It gives me a chance to oversee the graduation of some of the older children. And time for the School Board to find another teacher.”

“Well, I’m sorry…” Adam sighed and extended his hand to be shaken, “You’ll be missed.”

Edward flushed a little around the collar, he hadn’t expected such words to be uttered by Adam Cartwright and mumbled his thanks as he shook hands. Both men then turned to pay attention to the dancing, both men with various thoughts filling their minds.

When Ella went home she was exhausted with joy and excitement.

Her first Founders Day celebration had been wonderful!

Chapter 65

The Manager of the First National Bank of Virginia City shook his head and looked at the two men seated in front of him with a concerned look in his eyes,

“I’m sorry, Adam, Joe…but I can’t really disclose confidential matters concerning our customers. All I can say is that the situation with the Clancy’s is unfortunate.” he shrugged, “What can one do when a man gambles so much as he does. He put all he had on a bet that he would win that race, relying on it to cover his debts should he win…no truer example of a fool and his money easily parted ever existed.”

“I know that he owes on the mortgage…” Adam said allowing his voice to drift so that Mr Weems could pick up the thread of his thought.

“Yes, the Bank will foreclose at the end of this week.”

Joe shifted in his seat, frowned as he looked at the Manager “So they’ll be homeless …”

“Yes, but he brought it on himself. Everyone knows that there’s no real value to the prize money of that horse race, it’s the side bets that make it worth while…if you’re a betting man, and happen to be a lucky one.”

“I see, thanks, Mr Weems.” Adam muttered and rose to his feet, beside him Joe did the same. “Is there any way we can help?”

“I can’t see how, Adam. You give him money and he’ll be in town the next day gambling it away.”

The brothers nodded, picked up their hats and shook the Manager’s hand before leaving the office. Joe sighed and shook his head as they stood on the sidewalk of C Street, the sun was hot, and he lowered his hat to shade his eyes

“Well, that was rather a waste of time, although I didn’t know Judd was a gambler.”

“Nor did I.” Adam admitted, and looked up and down the street, then looked across to the sheriff’s office, “Come on, I have an idea.”

 

Candy Canaday was more than pleased to see them both, after shaking hands with them he told them that Judd was still in custody. “He’s as angry as a hornet, and swearing to put a bullet between your eyes, Adam.”

“He’s the one killed his horse, not me.” Adam replied taking a seat and crossing one leg over the other as he faced the sheriff.

“Can’t you reason with him?” Joe suggested as he pulled up a chair and sat down, placing his hat on the desk as he did so.

“I’ve tried, so has Clem and so has his wife. He’s a fool, gambled everything away and near to losing his ranch ..”

“They foreclose on him at the end of the week.” Joe informed him and Candy shook his head and rubbed the back of his neck,

“No wonder his wife is in tears so much. Nice woman too…” he frowned “Sometimes things don’t weigh up fair at all for some folk.”

Adam nodded, “Look, Candy… Joe and I were thinking about that bounty money you mentioned a while back when we brought in Matilda Tunstall. We – er -” he scratched his nose and frowned as though the matter was something of quite serious concern, “We wondered if you could put it into the Clancy’s bank account, it’ll cover their mortgage and some of the debt they’re in.”

Candy rubbed his chin and looked at them both “He’ll gamble it away.”

“He doesn’t have to know about it. Just put it in the bank and it’ll give them a breathing space.”

“That’s all it will be, Adam. Another months time he’ll be in the same position as this…and you can’t bail him out every month until kingdom comes, can you?”

Adam and Joe looked at one another and both could read irritation in the others face, it was Joe who said “Just this once though, Candy?”

“Alright, just this once. I’ll take the money over to Weems this morning.”
……………

The home of Judd and Julia Clancy was situated some way from town. Neither of the brothers had ever been there before and were expecting to find some ramshackle cabin that was practically about to fall down like so many they knew about in the area. So they were surprised to see a sturdy building, with windows that gleamed brightly in the sun, the paintwork was in good condition and geraniums nodded in colourful display from the pots on the porch.

Hens clucked and clustered around their horses feet as they dismounted and tied the reins round the hitching rail. A rocking chair and small table with evidence of some sewing on it, moved slightly in the breeze, while one bold hen had hopped up to explore and pecked at the silk threads abandoned there.

They knocked and waited, knocked again and then the door opened as Julia Clancy peered round it at them. She blinked as the sun caught her eyes, then she blinked again as she recognised them both. “I wasn’t expecting visitors.” she paused “Especially Cartwrights.”

Joe cleared his throat “Would it be alright if we came in and spoke to you, Ma’am?”

“I don’t know, Judd wouldn’t like it.” she clutched at some material in her hand, held it against her throat as though it were a talisman to ward off evil.

“It seems to me that there’s a lot of things Judd wouldn’t like, Mrs Clancy, but we would like to discuss some business with you.” Adam said gently.

They were bare headed and the sun shone against their backs, Julia looked anxiously at them both and then stepped to one side, “it’s hot, have you come from town? I’ve some lemonade …or water ..coffee if you prefer?”

The inside of the house was very neat and clean. It was obvious that Julia Clancy was an industrious housewife, and even now as she poured out some lemonade she wiped over the surface of the table to remove spillage. The smell of something pleasant cooking drifted into the room, but she indicated where they could sit and both were soon wondering how quickly the cushions would be plumped up once they left.

“Mrs Clancy, we may as well get down to the matter right away …” Adam started and put down his glass on the coaster that was pushed towards him, “we know the bank will foreclose on this property by the end of the week.”

“Yes, but I keep praying that somehow …” hope momentarily gleamed in her eyes and then her shoulders slumped and her eyes filled with tears, “I don’t know what to do, Judd keeps promising not to gamble anymore, but he always does. We’ve lost everything that makes the place workable… he’s gambled it all away. I keep telling him, keep asking him to stop especially now we have a baby on the way…but he just says …” she stopped and dabbed at her eyes with the corner of her apron.

“We’ve arranged for some money to cover the payments for two months.” Joe said quickly, “If it helps, Ma’am…”

She stared at him, and then at Adam, puzzled and confused, and then frightened “Judd will never take money from a Cartwright.”

“It isn’t from us.” Adam said quickly, “It’s from the County. A payment of bounty that Sheriff Canaday is paying into your account.”

“It’s still from you though, isn’t it?” she whispered as though if she spoke any louder her husband would hear her.

“Judd need not know. Just sometimes a wife has to employ practical wisdom in some cases in order to protect herself and her family. If you want to stay here then there has to be some changes made, don’t you think?” Adam’s voice was gentle, as so often it was when addressing women or children, he smiled, his dark eyes softened.

Joe nodded and leaned to wards her “We were thinking that perhaps Judd could get work on the Ponderosa. We know he’s good with timber, and our foreman always needs good men to work at the timber yard.”

“Timber?” she paused and glanced around her. Love and longing were in her gaze, everything she looked at and polished so rigorously had a sentimental attachment to her. She loved her home, she wanted it to be a safe haven for her children, the one coming and those, she hoped, that would follow.

“Yes, our timber yard and saw mill. It’s some distance from here, and from town…he won’t have access to the gambling tables and saloons there. We could arrange for his pay to be put straight into the bank for you to draw on for necessities and so forth…” Joe looked at her earnestly, it was the best deal they could think of, the only solution to help Judd as well as herself. “Do you think Judd would agree to those conditions, if you were to appeal to him?”

“Working for the Ponderosa?” Julia heaved in a deep sigh, “I don’t know, Joe. He’s a hard man, once his mind is set on a thing he takes some shifting.”

“Well, there are other places he would be able to get work … we could talk to some of the other ranches around here? If you should wish us to …” Joe waited, glanced at his brother who was watching Julia’s face, could see the longing in her eyes, the renewed hope …”Otherwise it just means that the money we have put into the bank will be gone in a few weeks and the bank will foreclose anyway.”

Disappointment welled up in her face. A sudden hope that she was beginning to clutch at could be so easily snatched out of her reach. She clasped the material against her chest, and bowed her head “Judd will be so angry.”

“But what about you, Ma’am, do you want to stay here?” Joe prompted again.

“Of course I want to stay here,” she replied with sudden vehemence in her voice, “It’s our home, we’ve worked hard for years and it was only when Judd suddenly got the gambling habit that things started to go wrong.” she looked nervously at them both, her eyes moving from one to the other of them “He inherited this place from his uncle Seth. Back south we were just ‘poor white trash’ and getting this was … was like a miracle. We came out here with such hopes and dreams and it all went so well for a while, but then there was a bad winter and we lost half our herd, and the crop he planted failed because the ground was too wet and cold and …and nothing went right. He decided to chance what money we had …and he won a good sum, so he went back and won some more. He really thought he would – could – never lose.”

“But then he did.?” Joe sighed and she nodded,

“Oh yes, everything – he lost everything – he was so convinced he could regain that winning streak. He put every nickel we had on a bet on that horse race, even though his horse wasn’t in good shape. I told him he was a fool to try it, that poor animal …”

Joe nodded, poor animal indeed, he had struggled to keep going even when its heart was bursting from the strain. He stood up, Adam followed him and they reached for their hats.

“We’ll leave it with you, ma’am. You decide what you think best and if you can persuade Judd to work for the Ponderosa we’ll wait to hear from you.” Adam said with a slight nod of the head as he led the way to the door.

The sun was brilliantly bright and hung fat and golden in a blue sky. The hens clucked happily and a cockerel strutted proudly with head high and tail feathers gleaming purple and red in the sunlight… everything looked so ‘happy’ .

Chapter 66

Candy dismounted from his horse and rather than tie the reins round the hitching rail he led it to the water trough so it could get a good drink. The reins he looped over a bar of the corral.

He was pleased to see that he had remembered the Cartwright routine correctly, and that Joe and Adam would be at the main house, receivi